C301_De sancto Dominico Sermo
St. Vincent Ferrer, O.P. Sermon on the Feast of St. Dominic
"You are the salt of the earth, " (Mt 5:13 ) This is the text to be read as today's gospel. Just as the whole office and the solemnity of the present day is about the most glorious father and confessor of our Lord, St. Dominic, so also is our sermon. God willing, we shall have many good teachings etc. But first let the Virgin Mary be hailed etc.
For some explanation of this text and the introduction to the aforesaid material, it must be known that all corporeal visible creatures which are in this world, have one task in general, namely to represent and signify spiritual and invisible things. And this is one of the more principal reasons. Why did God create the world? To represent invisible and spiritual things. The reason is, because as long as we live in this life and are mortal, we cannot see spiritual things but through figures and like representations. This defect is on the part of flesh which impedes, because it can see only corporal things. It is like someone who would hold green sapphires or rubies in front of his eyes, and whatever he sees would be green or red. It is not a defect on the part of the eyes, but from the unknowing glass or gems which view reality only through its own color. So it is with us. The eyes of the soul have a body like a sapphire, and so they can see only corporeal things, but putting down the sapphires, namely the flesh, immediately they see spiritual things, angels and souls. See the defect, and so it is that in this life we do not see spiritual things. And this is the common teaching in philosophy in III De anima, and in theology. The Philosopher (Aristotle) says, "It is impossible for us to understand except through phantasms," i.e. likenesses. In theology also Dionysius (the Areopagite) says, "It is impossible for us otherwise to see divine light unless it was covered over by a veil of images (velamine figuratum).
Because of this God. knowing that spiritual things cannot be seen by us in this world, created the world in which each creature, howsoever tiny, represents and figures spiritual things. For example, none of you ever sees Christ, nor the Virgin Mary, nor one of the apostles in this world. So a skilled painter paints images not to be adored, but to represent Christ, the Virgin Mary and the other saints. And so God, the most clever artist of all, paints this world like an easel filled with representational images. And so the Apostle says, "For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable," (Rom 1:20). This teaching therefore is clear through reason and authority, that all corporeal creatures have the same general task.
So Christ wished that the invisible and spiritual perfection of the apostles and of those following the apostolic life, be prefigured through one corporeal creature, namely, by salt. And so Christ says to the apostles and those following the apostolic life, and especially to St. Dominic our father, "You are the salt of the earth, " (Mt 5:13 ). The theme is clear now. Next, the material which I want to preach to you.
I have noticed therefore three properties in salt through which it signifies to me the apostles and especially St. Dominic our father:
First, salt heals infections.
Second, salt preserves from corruption.
Third, it delights us when we eat.
From these three conditions salt represents St. Dominic, and so it is said to him especially, "You are the salt of the earth, " (Mt 5:13 ).
First, I say, that salt heals infections. About this in 4 Kgs, ch. 2 the text says, that that holy prophet and friend of God, Elisha, came to the city of Jericho and the officials and rulers of the city came to him, saying to him that that city was noble and beautiful, having good lands, but it had a defect, because the waters, he said, are polluted and make the land sterile, and bloat the people who drink of that water. "And so, Father, you who are so holy and a friend of God, are you able to take care of this and provide a remedy?" The prophet responded: "It pleases me. Give me a new pitcher." And when they brought the pitcher, he said, "Now I need salt." When they brought it he sprinkled it on the waters. When he did this he said, "Thus says the Lord: I have healed these waters," (4 Kgs 2:21). The waters were healed on that day according to the words of Elisha, which is found in 4 Kgs 2.
Here are four secrets to be revealed.
First that it is the city of
Second what are these infected waters.
Third, what is the new pitcher.
Fourth what is the salt healing and purifying the waters.
Jericho The city of Jericho signifies the church. Jericho according to the Hebrew meaning stands for "moon." Behold universal Christianity, namely, the church, rightly passes through the phases of the moon. For in the moon we find seven phases or states. The first is the new moon. Second is waxing. Third, full. Fourth, waning. The fifth is the moon turning around (gyrans). The sixth is eclipsing. The seventh will be the perfect moon.
The same for the church. First it was like the new moon in the time of the apostles, because then Christianity first appeared, and strict, and then the Christians went about simply, there was little of the great pridefulness or vanities in the prelates like now. Second, next it was waxing, in the time of the martyrs, because many were converted because of the miracles which they were performing, and so the church increased. Third, in the time of the holy doctors it was full, for from their preachings and teachings, and examples of holiness they illuminated the whole world. In the time of Augustine all of Africa was Christian. Fourth, it was waning, at the time when the religious orders of Preachers and Minors began, because then because of sin they would have perished, suddenly and quickly; and so these religious orders came to correct those sins. The fifth phase is rotating, when the moon rotates it is not seen for two or three days. So it is now, almost no obedience is shown to the pope. Some are saying that the pope is above the council, others the opposite. Sixth it shall be eclipsed, and this in the time of the antichrist, because then it shall appear to be dead. Just as some simple folk say when the moon is eclipsed, that it died, and would appear bloody all over. Such shall be the time of the antichrist because of the outpouring of Christian blood. Seventh, after the death of antichrist it shall be perfect, because then all shall return to the faith of Christ. Behold the phases of the church. And so the church is signified by Jericho, i.e., the moon. About this last phase David says, " as the moon perfect for ever, and a faithful witness in heaven," (Ps 88:38).
Infected Waters Second we must see what these infected waters of this city are. These waters are the vices, sins and wicked manner of living of Christians, because before the coming of St. Dominic all peoples were infected. The faithful were given to forgetfulness, virtues were held in contempt. About this the Apocalypse, " and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter," (Rev 8:11).
New Pitcher But Elisha said, "Let's have a new pitcher." Behold, the Order of Preachers is called a pitcher (vas). Because it is made up of many brothers, it is called new and old, more so than all [other orders]. If we wish to speak with respect to the essential vows which are angelic chastity, apostolic or evangelical poverty, and general obedience. And as for the office of preaching, which is to travel about through the world, not to construct buildings, this is the religious order (religio) of St. Dominic as to its essentials. Christ already ordained all this.
Christ was the first, because St. Thomas says in II-II, q. 88, a. 4, ad 3m, that the apostles leaving everything to follow Christ, vowed pertaining to the state of perfection, from which is implied that they vowed these, namely chastity, poverty and obedience to Christ. The same regarding the office of preaching, he commanded them saying, "Go into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature," (Mk 16:15). Behold the religious order (religio) of Christ. It is the very same as that of St. Dominic. Therefore we have and we embrace three vows, namely, angelic chastity, evangelical poverty, complete (generalem) obedience, so let anyone of this order watch out for himself. So go preaching; don't settle down in one place. And so the story of St. Dominic says, "He thought to institute an order which would be called the Order of Preaching Brothers. And would so be." (Jordan, Libellus, #40). Behold, therefore how it is a very old religious order (religio). And a good religious observing these on the day of judgment, when kings and great prelates shall stand on the earth with others, he himself shall stand with the apostles elevated with the Judge, with Christ. Oh what an honor this shall be!
Here is the answer to a litigious question, between clergy and religious. The clergy say that they were the original religious order, which is not so. For there were no clergy until Holy Thursday, yet there were religious before, namely the apostles who had taken the aforesaid vows.
But the religious order of St. Dominic is called a new pitcher or vessel with respect to ceremonies. We wear black cappas (exterior capes), and white scapulars. Also that we eat in our refectory, and similar things. With respect to these ceremonies, it is a new vessel. About this vessel we can say what Christ said of Paul, who was the first in the office of preaching, first, that is, principal, and ultimate with respect to the vocation to the apostolate, "this man is to me a vessel of election, to carry my name before the Gentiles, and kings," (Acts 9:15).
Salt Fourth we must find the meaning of salt in the vessel. It is this, Dominic, in the vessel of the order, from its first property, because salt heals from infection. So St. Dominic placed in a new vessel heals the infections of the sins of this world.
For the whole world was infected with great envy of one other, but St. Dominic comes preaching the love of God and neighbor. And God prefigured this. For his mother saw in dreams that she would bear a dog with a blazing torch in his mouth, who emerging from her womb seemed to set fire to the whole world. She was amazed at this, and enlightened by God, said that her son would be a great watchdog for the flock of Christ, who would bark at the wolves of hell. With fire in his mouth, he was to inflame the world to the love of God and neighbor.
He also heals from the infection of lust, because the infection of this sin before the coming of St. Dominic was so great, that almost no one was clean. But St. Dominic came preaching chastity and poverty, and peoples responded with devotion. This too God had already prefigured, because his godmother had a vision of St. Dominic having a star on his forehead, which lit up the whole earth with its light. Stunned, the godmother joyfully told of her vision. In this is implied that just as the star is pure and bright, so he should lead peoples to the brightness and purity of chastity.
Also, the whole world was infected with pride, pomp and vanity, but at the preaching and teaching and example of St. Dominic many people were humbled, setting aside the vanities of jewelry, armor, horses, gold and silver cups and similar things. This God showed, because when he was yet a nursing child, maybe one year old, he was seen frequently having left his bed, to lie down on the ground, showing humility.
Also the world was infected with gluttony. For few observed Lent, or the fasts in the four seasons (Rogation Days), or the vigils of saints. St. Dominic gave evidence that he was purified from this infection, for scarcely ten years old, he already abstained from wine and fasted often on bread and water.
Also the world was infected with avarice, usury, theft, robbery, and deceits, but St. Dominic by his preaching and through his example purified it. This is signified by a deed, when he was in Palencia where there was a great famine, and the poor were dying of starvation, the rich were saying, "Let us keep our goods for ourselves, and our children, because we don't know how long this shall last." But St. Dominic, sold his books and furniture and gave it all to the poor. His example provoked the rich to give alms.
Also about the sin of anger, because the people preferred not to let go of or forgive injuries; they wanted vengeance. St. Dominic came preaching patience and he made peace. He demonstrated this by his actions. When he was preaching in Carcassonne, where there were many heretics, and they were throwing filth and garbage and other things at him, he bore up under it all patiently.
And so the world was lazy for spiritual goods. No one cared to do penance. But St. Dominic showed them by word and example. Three times a day he disciplined himself with an iron chain.
It is clear then, that St. Dominic, like salt placed in a new vessel, healed and purified the waters of sin. And so about St. Dominic it can be understood the word of Augustine in the Homily, "The Lord sent the apostolic salt for the preserving and extinguishing the corruptions of the waters of sinners," (See Augustine, On the Sermon on the Mount, Book I, Matthew 5, ch. 6, # 17).
PRESERVES FROM CORRUPTION
I say that the second condition of salt is that it preserves from corruption. It doesn't just cure and clean what is already corrupt, but it also preserves. This is clear because when a man wishes to preserve meat or fish, he puts salt on them, which absorbs moisture. Although this is clear, nevertheless there is a scriptural authority, of Tobias, who caught a fish, of which he ate a part, "...and they took it with them in the way: the rest they salted as much as might serve them, till they came to Rages the city of the Medes," (Tob 6:6).
So too of St. Dominic. For I find that this world should have been corrupted and destroyed for well over two hundred years and more. But the Virgin Mary, wishing still to preserve the world, put salt on it, namely St. Dominic, and saved the world. For in the stories of the saints and in the life of St. Dominic in two places we read of a vision which St. Dominic and St. Francis both experienced. When they were in Rome working for the confirmation of their orders, the pope and cardinals were raising difficulties over such new things, because they were seeking confirmation of a status which was both higher and lower.
A higher status, because it was both a contemplative life of study, and active. By performing spiritual works, by celebrating, and preaching, the starving are satisfied with the word of God, and those ignorant in the faith are instructed, etc. And the dead, that is sinners, are buried in the wounds of Christ. The captives of the devil, too, are redeemed. The campaign is engaged; the demons are conquered. O how many castles, i.e. sinners, are made subject to Christ by preaching.
Secondly a lower status, because greatly despised, because they were beggars, and so the pope was not inclined to confirm them, because they could repay nothing.
One night, when St. Dominic was praying in a certain church, and St. Francis in another, Christ was seen by them with three lances, wishing to destroy the world. These saints were saying to themselves, "O shall there be there no holy one in heaven who can call back this wrath?" And suddenly the Virgin Mary came, like a mother coming quickly to snatch her child from devouring wolves, saying, "O son, you are now bearing lances, you who are accustomed to bearing nails in your hands for the world." Christ replied Saints Dominic and Francis were listening "My mother, how much more should I do, since I have showered the world with so many graces? I sent the patriarchs, and prophets, and they killed them; and finally I myself came, etc. History tells, how up until now, I have not spared [graces]. "
These three lances, destructive of the world, are the three great tribulations about to come shortly over the world. First is the tribulation and persecution of the antichrist, which lance can be said that it pierces the whole world. Second shall be the conflagration of the world through fire; the whole world is burned, etc. Third is the judicial sentencing by Christ. Of these three lances, scripture testifies, allegorically in 2 Kgs 18 About Absalom, the traitor and rebel son of David. He was killed by three lances from Joab, the captain of the army. The story says, "So he [Joab] took three lances in his hand, and thrust them into the heart of Absalom," (2 Kgs 18:14).
Why did God wish that Absalom be killed by three lances, since one would have been sufficient, especially for a man suspended etc. It was a figure. For the son betraying God the Father is this whole world acting against the commandments of God, expelling their father, namely God from the world as much as possible. But the prince of the army, namely Christ, kills them with three aforesaid lances.
Even in the time of St. Dominic the world ought to have been destroyed by Christ and corrupted, but the Virgin Mary added the salt, namely Dominic, gaining an extension. Think here how the whole world is now in this extension, and we do not have a fixed time, but he said conditionally: "If converted, OK (bene), otherwise I shall no longer spare them."
Now let us see if the world in these [our] lands, is corrected. I believe that never were there so much pomp and vanities, etc. as there are now, nor such lust, unless in the time of Noah. For the hotels [hospitia], and even the villas are filled with prostitutes. Mix bad apples with the good, and shortly all are rotten. Same for avarice and usury, because they change its name. Usury they falsely call "assessments" (censualia), but when the intention is not buying or selling, but of lending, it is usury. Also not for a just price. Whatever you receive beyond the allotted price is usury and damnation. Same too with simony in the clergy; they ultimately have all the sacraments for sale in some way or other. Same for envy. If someone among religious has some excellence in disputation, or the science of preaching, others are envious. It is the same with clergy and laity about gluttony. Already you see that [the fasts of] Lent are not observed, nor vigils of the apostles, nor the rogation days observed etc. You know about anger, it is already worse against both God and reason. If someone does another injury, and they cannot get to him, contrary to divine law, they kill his innocent friend, for it is against divine and human judgment to kill an innocent person. About sloth, the world comes to this, that all are judged to be lazy, unless they are doing business, but if someone takes some time off for a work of God and of prayer they are called lazy. In the evening [of time] it will be apparent who was lazy, and because the world is not corrected, it is even worse these religious orders, who were founded to correct the world are already destroyed. So if St. Dominic or Francis should come now, they would not recognize their religious orders.
Since the world has not been corrected, does it not follow, then, that in a short time it will be destroyed before the coming of the day of judgment? So for the other objections respond, "Behold the salt, St. Dominic." On his account we praise God saying: "Blessed be the redeemer of all, who providing for the salvation of mankind gave St. Dominic to the world."
DELIGHTS IN DINING
Third, I say that the other condition of salt is that it gives delight in dining, conferring flavor on food. To make this clear, a quotation: "But if the salt lose its savor," i.e. it fails in how it salts food, "wherewith shall it be salted? It," the food, "is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men," (Mt 5:13). The food of the souls are good works and spiritual things. Citation: "Labor not for the meat which perishes, but for that which endures unto life everlasting," (Jn 6:27). And so Christ says, "I have meat to eat, which you know not," (Jn 4:32). The "meat" of Christ which satisfies him, are the works of virtue.
But this food was insipid before the coming of St. Dominic. The temporal lords, having abandoned the virtue of justice gave themselves over to tyranny. St. Dominic came, salting, recalling them to the virtue of justice, to being content with their returns, etc. The same for the insipid meat of prelates, because they cared more about their incomes that about souls. St. Dominic added the salt of his teaching by which they ought to care more for souls than their incomes. How many religious were living dissolute lives, caring nothing of their religious practices, but St. Dominic called them back to religious observance. How many irreligious clergy, praying their divine office only superficially (nisi a.e.i.o.u) and almost all were cohabiting, prowling the taverns, were led back? How many moneylenders, were buying for less than the fixed price, or selling expecting more [were converted]? How many cruel civil servants, permitting the poor to die of starvation, were returned to piety, mercy and liberality. How many self-indulgent women by his preaching did he return to chastity etc. Finally God said, "O this salt, I wish that it be set on my table."
And see how. The story is told how Christ appeared to him, inviting him to his glory. Then St. Dominic called twelve brothers in the Bologna convent, and before them composed his will such that it was fitting that he leave to his brothers a firm humility, namely that they take pride not because of sanctity or knowledge. Second he left to his brothers a treasure of poverty, by which the kingdom of heaven is purchased, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," (Mt 5:3). Third he bequeaths fraternal charity, and having kissed the brethren, and having received the sacraments, he died.
They tell of the glorious vision which God showed to him, of two ladders of which Christ was holding the top of the first, and the Virgin Mary the other. And crowned with a golden crown he entered glory. If one asks "Why two ladders? Is not one sufficient?" The answer is, to indicate that the order of Preachers sends brothers not only by one ladder, namely of the contemplative life, but also by the other, namely the way of the active life. The Celestines and those like them ascend by the latter of contemplation. The Knights of St. John, of St. James, of St. George, and the Brothers of Mercy, ascend by the other scale, namely, of the active life. But the Brothers of St. Dominic by two, namely the contemplative by study, and the active, by preaching. "Have salt in you, and have peace among you," (Mk 9:49).