c273 De sancte Iacobo Sermo
St. Vincent Ferrer, O.P. – Sermon on St. James, Apostle (Eph 2:1)
"[He] grows up into a holy temple in the Lord," (Eph 2:1) This is read in today's epistle. For a brief statement of these words, and for an introduction to our material, it must be known that there is clearly found in Holy Scripture this difference between the life of the good and just, and that of the wicked. For the life of the just -- of the good -- always grows and is augmented; the life of the wicked however shrinks and is diminished. The text indeed says, "But the path of the just, " that is, strictly the way of penitence, of the fear of God and devotion, "as a shining light, goes forwards and increases even to perfect day. The way of the wicked is darksome: they know not where they fall," (Prov 4:18-19). Note as if "the shining light goes forwards." From which it goes out, it continuously ascends, and brightens the more at the hour of prime than at dawn., and at terce than at prime, and so on. So it is in the life of the just; it continually grows. The reason for this difference between the good and the wicked is, because just persons are in the grace of God. Behold here the light. And whatever they do, they deliberate, whether they be thoughts of the heart, or sayings of the mouth, or works of the body. What is more, natural functions are meritorious for them. About thoughts and the rest there is no doubt, from the fact that they are in grace, but of natural functions, like eating, that they might serve God. Same for sleeping , even laughter, that afterwards they might weep. All is meritorious, so that one good person always ascends. He is better today than yesterday, and tomorrow than today, and so the Apostle assigns a reason when he says, "And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good," (Rom 8:28), even past sins, as the Gloss says. Reason: because when he thinks on sins committed, a just person becomes more humble, and so they sometimes are turned to merit. But sinners do not ascend, rather they descend from sin into sin. Gregory says "…a sin, which is not washed away through penitence, by its own weight soon drags (one) to another (sin)," (Morals on the Book of Job, Bk. XXV, ch. 9, n. 22). Behold the difference between the good and the wicked. And so wishing to show us the holy and perfect life of St. James, we have taken the theme of growth, how, living in this world, saying he "…grows up into a holy temple in the Lord," (Eph 2:1). The theme is clear.
And now I turn to the matter to be preached. I find that St. James grew in three stages:
First, he grew as an apostolic disciple (discipulum apostolicam).
Second he grew as an evangelical envoy (legatum evangelicalem),
Third, as a celestial dweller (habitatorem caelestialem).
Three strides which he made up to heaven are subtly touched upon in the theme, the first is touched in the first word, the second in the second, and the third in the third.
I say that St. James first grew in apostolic discipleship. With others he would have been very holy, and this is touched upon when he says, "He grows up into a holy temple in the Lord," (Eph 2:1). For it is a theological teaching that a person living a good life is the temple of God, because the Holy Spirit dwells in him, and there is no greater honor and more useful than to cling to the king and pope, Jesus. About this the Apostle says, "Know you not, that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Cor 3:16).
Now hear how St. James ascended that he might be an apostolic disciple. It is said that he was the brother of John, and a son of Zebedee, who when once they were at the sea of Galilee, Christ passing that way called them, saying, "Young men, come follow me." And his words had such power that they were illuminated in their intellect and enflamed in their heart, and "they forthwith left their nets and father, and followed him," (Mt 4:22). See how he grew from fisherman into an apostle of Christ.
Morally. James, coming to Christ, left behind his nets and his father. Here he sets an example for us religious, especially those who ought to follow Christ, that we leave behind our nets, that is our retinues (retinentia), according to its etymology, just as business and worldly occupations which religious, clergy and laity hold on to so that they are not able to follow after Christ. For example about religious. For business is a greater trap which the devil has for entangling religious, that he involves them in dealings so that they dismiss preaching under some excuse, either securing peace, or arranging a wedding, there they place themselves or visit that they might have friendships, or favors of the masters (ambasiatas dominorum). Many begin their holy life and preaching with great fervor and good intention, but the devil in the aforesaid dealings entangles them etc, which although they be good, nevertheless they let go of the best, namely preaching, which is the special duty in the church of God, as the Decretals has "Cum ex iniuncto," etc., "extra de haeret." The Apostle warns of these things, who was preaching to the unbelievers that they might be baptized, who out of devotion wanted to be baptized by him. Already you see that it is good to baptize, nevertheless he said, "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel"(1 Cor 1;17) as if saying "I give thanks to my God that I have killed no one." Again the Apostle said, "It is not reasonable that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables," (Acts 6:2). And you, religious, you involve yourselves in businesses etc and you leave behind your nets etc. and scripture agrees saying to religious, "My son, meddle not with many matters…" "and if you be rich, you shall not be free from sin," (Sir 11:10). Note lest your acts might be in many things. Many are three or four etc. Two are not many. A religious has to do two things, namely to celebrate and to preach. These to David shows in Ps 106, saying, "And let them sacrifice the sacrifice of praise," the mass, which includes the whole seven of the canonical hours, "and declare his works with joy," (Ps 106:22), preaching in exultation, which preaching indeed includes study. If the religious might say, therefore can I not have money, he responds: Because if you were rich, you should not be immune from sins. The same for clerics, because many are entangled in businesses, others involve themselves in businesses in the houses of their lords, others appoint themselves procurators, others are shield bearers and associate with soldiers etc., others merchants, others moneylenders. And so the Apostle speaks against such, "No man, being a soldier to God, entangles himself with secular businesses; that he may please him to whom he has engaged himself," (2 Tim 2:4).
A cleric exercise three affairs: namely to celebrate, to minister sacraments, and to preach, or to serve the commands of the bishop. Many lay people too are entangled, because many are merchants, who would be nothing if they did not have a place in all associations. The same too for lawyers, who make themselves a part in all litigations, when it is said of the merchant. O nothing happens without him. The same about such civil servant or lawyer, because although you might have secular businesses, nevertheless they are businesses which pertain to the home and for providing for the home, and you set aside superfluous business, etc. History tells about a great and clever merchant, entangled in many businesses, to whom God says, "By the multitude of thy merchandise, your inner parts were filled with iniquity, and you have sinned: and I cast you out from the mountain of God, and destroyed you, O covering cherub,"(Ez 28:16). There begins the construction "O Cherub," that is, the fullness of knowledge for doing business, etc. And so from the example of St. James nets are left behind, otherwise behold what Christ says, "And take heed to yourselves, lest perhaps your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and the cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly," (Lk 21:34).
Second, his father is to be left behind, namely he about whom Jesus Christ said to the Jews, "You are of your father the devil," (Jn 8:44). They say how he begat sons of a wicked wife, whom he had taken from the beginning, namely of disobedience. They say how he was created in great dignity. and he was holier at that time than Michael. But because he was disobedient, wishing equality with God, then he took that wife, and from that same aforesaid wife begat a thousand thousands of children, demons obeying him and consenting in sin. Finally from the same wife he generated Adam and Eve, and today daily he begets, when he tempts men that they act against the commandments of God. When you perceive such things, immediately go after Christ, and you shall be able to say with David,"My father and my mother have left me: but the Lord has taken me up," (Ps 26:10).
Second, I say that St. James grew as a disciple as an evangelical envoy, which is pointed out when it is said that he "grows up into a holy temple," (Eph 2:1), because although all those who are canonized are saints, the apostles are more excellent. "He has sanctified those called," (Soph 1:7), that is, the apostles, whom he has especially called. It is said when Christ was to ascend into heaven on the day of the Ascension, having called the apostles he made them evangelical envoys saying, "Go into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature," (Mk 16:15). Now who was the first of the apostles who fulfilled this vocation, by going out into the world? Not Peter, nor Andrew, nor John etc. But James himself. St. James having received permission from those in Jerusalem, the Virgin Mary and the apostles, journeyed to Spain, preaching Christ, for Christ had said to them, "you shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth," (Acts 1:8). And so it was St. James himself who came to bear witness to the ends of the earth. His evangelical mission, therefore, is clear. One might object "It is true that he first went to Spain, but he did little good, because he converted only nine disciples there." It is said that just as Christ converted twelve apostles, who were twelve grains of wheat for bearing fruit, because the whole world was converted, so St. James. For those nine disciples were nine fruitful grains who converted all of Spain. In this he fulfilled the word of Christ who said, "In this is my Father glorified; that you bring forth very much fruit, and become my disciples," (Jn 15:8).
Second he returned to Jerusalem, there he found the other disciples and apostles gathered, and he began to dispute there against the Jews and the priest of Hermes. They rose up against him by saying, "We will dispute with him. He never studied or wished to preach. It is said how St. James was preaching about the Trinity, how he was one God in essence and triune in persons. etc. , proving this by reasons and authorities and miracles. But the Jews and teachers were spoke out against him, deriding him: "It seems, indeed, that you are a fisherman, and never knew the scriptures, 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord,' (Dt 6:4)." It is told how he replied to them, offering an analogy from the one sun, where there is the Father generating, namely the substance, and the Son namely the ray generated, and the Holy Spirit, namely the heat. Again in the aforesaid citation there are found three words, namely Lord, which is the name of power, which is attributed to the Father, God, the name of wisdom, which is appropriated to the Son, and Our, the name of goodness, which is attributed to the Holy Spirit.
Second he preached that Christ is God and man, and the Jews contra, because it is against the scripture, "O Israel, if you wilt hearken to me, there shall be no new god in you: neither shall you adore a strange god," (Ps 80:9-10). I reply that although Christ began to be man recently, he however did not begin to be God recently. It is said to be like the son of a king or emperor now ten years of age, when he becomes a soldier he nevertheless does not become anew the son of the king etc.
Third when he preached about the passion of Christ, then the Jews opposed: "Why this? Since Moses said, 'The Lord is as a man of war, Almighty is his name,' (Ex 15:3). And besides, if he had been omnipotent, why is it necessary that he suffer and die? Could he not remit all by saying: 'Let us henceforth be friends.'?" I reply that mercy and justice are in God essentially, but in us, accidentally. And therefore just as God cannot dismiss his essence, so neither his mercy and justice. If he had forgiven all, where was his justice? If all were damned by the rigor of his justice, where would have been his mercy? So he wished to find a way, that he might show simultaneously both his infinite mercy and his justice. The mercy was shown because he, innocent and without fault, willed to suffer. Justice however, by paying a most sufficient price etc., "Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows," (Is 53:4).
Fourth when he was preaching about the sacrament of the altar, etc. And the Jews opposed: "You say that the gentiles might come to your sacrifice, and you make them adore bread and wine, when nevertheless scripture says, "You shall love the Lord thy God with your whole heart, and with your whole soul, and with your whole strength," (Dt 6:5). I reply that from the beginning of the world up to the end, God wished to be adored in a corporeal form, since God in his substance cannot be seen, as in the time of Moses in the ark [of the covenant], and in the cloud, etc., and now in this image. Bread gives life. And about the use of bread David said, "Exalt you the Lord our God," this is said to clergy, "and adore his footstool," (Ps 98:5), i.e. the consecrated host, this is said for all the people. So the Jews were not able to contradict him, moreover St. James triumphed over all, and the prophecy of Christ was fulfilled, "For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to resist and gainsay," (Lk 21:15).
Third I say that he grew as a celestial dweller, which is shown when it is said, "He grows up into a holy temple in the Lord," (Eph 2:1). "Who is like to you, O people, who are saved by the Lord?" (Dt 33:29). This is especially said of the apostles. Just as St. James was the first apostle to exercise the evangelical mission, so he was the first of the apostles who entered paradise. And here it can happen such a consequence, because just as he is called James the Greater, although the other was older by some days, so also he entered paradise first and can be said to be greater than the other apostles. It is called his martyrdom. The Jews seeing that they could not overcome him with arguments, resorted again to king Herod, who desiring to please the Jews, issued a sentence of beheading against St. James. It is told that as he was led to martyrdom, he cured a man suffering from dropsy.