Fathers of the Church
Sermon XII: on the Fast of the Tenth Month, I
by Leo the Great in 440-461 | translated by Charles Lett Feltoe, M.A
I. Restoration to the Divine image in which we were made is only possible by our imitation of GOD's will.
If, dearly beloved, we comprehend faithfully and wisely the beginning of our creation, we shall find that man was made in GOD's image, to the end that he might imitate his Creator, and that our race attains its highest natural dignity, by the form of the Divine goodness being reflected in us, as in a mirror. And assuredly to this form the Saviour's grace is daily restoring us, so long as that which, in the first Adam fell, is raised up again in the second. And the cause of our restoration is naught else but the mercy of GOD, Whom we should not have loved, unless He had first loved us, and dispelled the darkness of our ignorance by the light of His truth. And the LORD foretelling this by the holy Isaiah says, "I will bring the blind into a way that they knew not, and will make them walk in paths which they were ignorant of. I will turn darkness into light for them, and the crooked into the straight. These words will I do for them, and not forsake them ." And again he says, "I was found by them that sought Me not, and openly appeared to them that asked not for Me . And the Apostle John teaches us how this has been fulfilled, when he says. "We know that the Son of GOD is come, and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true, and may be in Him that is true, even His Son ," and again, "let us therefore love GOD, because He first loved us ." Thus it is that GOD, by loving us, restores us to His image, and, in order that He may find in us the form of His goodness, He gives us that whereby we ourselves too may do the work that He does, kindling that is the lamps of our minds, and inflaming us with the fire of His love, that we may love not only Himself, but also whatever He loves. For if between men that is the lasting friendship which is based upon similarity of character notwithstanding that such identity of wills is often directed to wicked ends, how ought we to yearn and strive to differ in nothing from what is pleasing to GOD. Of which the prophet speaks, "for wrath is in His indignation, and life in His pleasure ," because we shall not otherwise attain the dignity of the Divine Majesty, unless we imitate His will.
II. We must love both God and our neighbour, and "our neighbour" must be interpreted in its widest sense.
And so, when the LORD says, "Thou shalt love the LORD thy GOD, from all thy heart and from all thy mind: and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself ," let the faithful soul put on the unfading love of its Author and Ruler, and subject itself also entirely to His will in Whose works and judgments true justice and tender-hearted compassion never fail. For although a man be wearied out with labours and many misfortunes, there is good reason for him to endure all in the knowledge that adversity will either prove him good or make him better. But this godly love cannot be perfect unless a man love his neighbour also. Under which name must be included not only those who are connected with us by friendship or neighbourhood, but absolutely all men, with whom we have a common nature, whether they be foes or allies, slaves or free. For the One Maker fashioned us, the One Creator breathed life into us; we all enjoy the same sky and air, the same days and nights, and, though some be good, others bad, some righteous, others unrighteous, yet GOD is bountiful to all, kind to all, as Paul and Barnabas said to the Lycaonians concerning GOD'S Providence, "who in generations gone by suffered all the nations to walk in their own ways. And yet He left Himself not without witness, doing them good, giving rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling our hearts with food and gladness ." But the wide extent of Christian grace has given us yet greater reasons for loving our neighbour, which, reaching to all parts of the whole world, looks down on no one, and teaches that no one is to be neglected. And full rightly does He command us to love our enemies, and to pray to Him for our persecutors, who, daily grafting shoots of the wild olive from among all nations upon the holy branches of His own olive, makes men reconciled instead of enemies, adopted sons instead of strangers, just instead of ungodly, "that every knee may bow of things in heaven, of things on earth, and of things under the earth, and every tongue confess that the LORD Jesus Christ is in the glory of GOD the Father ."
III. We must be thankful, and show, our thankfulness for what we have received, whether much or little.
Accordingly, as GOD wishes us to be good, because He is good, none of His judgments ought to displease us. For not to give Him thanks in all things, what else is it but to blame Him in some degree. Man's folly too often dares to murmur against his Creator, not only in time of want, but also in time of plenty, so that, when something is not supplied, he complains, and when certain things are in abundance he is ungrateful. The lord of rich harvests thought scorn of his well-filled garners, and groaned over his abundant grape- gathering: he did not give thanks for the size of the crop, but complained of its poorness (3a). And if the ground has been less prolific than its wont in the seed it has reared, and the vines and the olives have failed in their supply of fruit, the year is accused, the elements blamed, neither the air nor the sky is spared, whereas nothing better befits and reassures the faithful and godly disciples of Truth than the persistent and unwearied lifting of praise to GOD, as says the Apostle, "Rejoice alway, pray without ceasing: in all things give thanks. For this is the will of GOD in Christ Jesus in all things for you ." But how shall we be partakers of this devotion, unless vicissitudes of fortune train our minds in constancy, so that the love directed towards GOD may not be puffed up in prosperity nor faint in adversity. Let that which pleases GOD, please us too. Let us rejoice in whatever measure of gifts He gives. Let him who has used great possessions well, use small ones also well. Plenty and scarcity may be equally for our good, and even in spiritual progress we shall not be east down at the smallness of the results, if our minds become not dry and barren. Let that spring from the soil of our heart, which the earth gave not. To him that fails not in good will, means to give are ever supplied. Therefore, dearly beloved, in all works of godliness let us use what each year gives us, and let not seasons of difficulty hinder our Christian benevolence. The LORD knows how to replenish the widow's vessels, which her pious deed of hospitality has emptied: He knows how to turn water into wine: He knows how to satisfy 5,000 hungry persons with a few loaves. And He who is fed in His poor, can multiply when He takes what He increased when He gave.
IV. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the three comprehensive duties of a Christian.
But there are three things which most belong to religious actions, namely prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, in the exercising of which while every time is accepted, yet that ought to be more zealously observed, which we have received as hallowed by tradition from the apostles: even as this tenth month brings round again to us the opportunity when according to the ancient practice we may give more diligent heed to those three things of which I have spoken. For by prayer we seek to propitiate GOD, by fasting we extinguish the lusts of the flesh, by alms we redeem our sins: and at the same time GOD's image is throughout renewed in us, if we are always ready to praise Him, unfailingly intent on our purification and unceasingly active in cherishing our neighhour. This threefold round of duty, dearly beloved, brings all other virtues into action: it attains to GOD's image and likeness and unites us inseparably with the Holy Spirit. Because in prayer faith remains stedfast, in fastings life remains innocent, in almsgiving the mind remains kind. On Wednesday and Friday therefore let us fast: and on Saturday let us keep vigil with the most blessed Apostle Peter, who will deign to aid our supplications and fast and alms with his own prayers through our LORD Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in 1867. (LNPF II/XII, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.