Gemma Animae (72-77): On Spiritual Warfare and Origen’s Commentary on the Book of Joshua

The Mass as Spiritual Warfare

Joshua (Royal)
Detail of a historiated initial ‘E’ showing Moses giving the book of the law to Joshua, at the beginning of Joshua, Royal MS 1 C VII, f. 2v (Source).

This section continues and extends the themes the comparison, introduced in Ch. 44, “On Christ’s Battle,” between the spiritual combat of the Church Militant and the very real combat of the Israelites in the conquest of the Holy Land. Honorius assigns each of the liturgical ministers a part in this grand army.

The basis for this allegory, and the many martial allegories of later sections, is found in the typological exegesis practiced by the most ancient Fathers, who identified Our Lord Jesus with the prophet Joshua. The Fathers saw an intimate connection between the two that began with their identical names, since Jesus and Joshua are the same word in Hebrew and in the Septuagint Greek.

In his homilies on the Book of Joshua, Origen pointed out this special importance of Joshua. In him the name of Jesus first appears in the Bible as the warrior and Moses’ right hand. The following quote appears also in the Glossa Ordinaria:

Thus we first become acquainted with the name Jesus when we see him as the leader of the army; not as one with whom Moses joined his leadership, but the one to whom Moses granted primacy. Moses was not able to choose mighty men. “You,” he says, “choose mighty men for yourself from among the sons of Israel.” Therefore, when I become acquainted with the name Jesus for the first time, I also immediately see the symbol of a Mystery. Indeed, Jesus leads the army (Origen, Homilies on Joshua, trans. by Barbara Bruce, Fathers of the Church vol. 105, Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America, 27).

Jesus is given many special privileges. Unlike the others, Jesus goes up with Moses to the mountain. In the battle with Amalech, he is chosen to lead the people. He is the only one to minister in the tent before the glory of God’s presence. All of these privileges lead Origen to conclude that Joshua-Jesus is an image of Christ:

To what then do all these things lead us? Obviously to this, that the book does not so much indicate to us the deeds of the son of Nun, as it represents for us the mysteries of Jesus my Lord (29).

Jesus’ assumption of leadership after Moses’ death is a figure of Christ who leads God’s people after the death of the Law:

Moses did not say, “Let the sun stand still.” Nor did he command the greatest elements as Jesus did. Jesus says, “Let the sun stand still over Gibeon and the moon over the valley of Aijalon.” Scripture adds to this and says, “Never in this way did God listen to a man” (33).

Like his bellicose Old Testament figure, Jesus leads the people of God through the spiritual battles of the Christian life, never deserting us in our struggle against the demons and vices:

Not at that time only did my Jesus make the sun to stand, but also, and in a much greater way, at his coming. When we wage war against our enemies and “fight against principalities and powers and rulers of these dark things, against the spirits of wickedness in the heavens,” “the sun of our righteousness” constantly stands by and never, at any time, deserts us or hastens to go down. For he himself said, “Behold, I am with you for all days.” He is not only with us for a doubled day, but “he is with us for all days until the end of the age,” until we prevail over our adversaries (33).

Jesus son of Nun faced his foes in physical combat, but our adversaries are spiritual vices:

Within us, indeed, are all those breeds of vices that continually and incessantly attack the soul. Within us are the Canaanites; within us are the Perizzites; here are the Jebusites. In what way must we exert ourselves, how vigilant must we be or for how long must we persevere, so that when all these breeds of vices have been forced to flee, “our land may rest from wars” at last? (34).

Joshua (Waters manuscript)
Joshua in silver armor leads the assault on Jericho, Walters Manuscript W.805, fol. 124v (Source)

Ch. 72
On the spiritual warfare of Christians [1]

In another way, the Mass portrays the harsh struggle and the triumphant victory by which our enemy Amalech was laid low and a way opened for us through Jesus toward our homeland. For Jesus, our commander, fought with the devil and restored to man the heavenly republic that had been destroyed by his enemies. Though he could have called forth twelve legions of angels (Matthew 26) or seventy-two thousand soldiers, he mustered only the tiny company of the twelve apostles, and with them assaulted seventy-two kinds of tongues.

The procession of the pontiff, clergy, and people is like the mobilization of an emperor and his army for war. Since they wear albs and capes and other stately vestments, they look like soldiers going to war, who wear cuirasses and shields. When they leave the choir, it is like they are going forth from the royal court. The cross and standards we carry in procession are like the ensign and standards of the imperial army. In fact two armies go forth, since the singers follow behind in good order. Among them are the choir masters  [magistri] and lead singers [praecentores], like unto the captains and sergeants who stir up the cohorts for war. Then the priors follow, as the leaders and generals of the army.

[1] Origen shares Honorius’s enthusiasm for spiritual warfare:

See. Do you wish to learn again which battles, which wars, await us after baptism? Do not learn them from me but again from the Apostle Paul, who teaches you, saying, “For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in the heavens.” Those things that were written are signs and figures. For thus says the Apostle, “For all these things happened to them figuratively, but they were written for us, for whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” If, therefore, they were written for us, come on! Why delay? Let us go forth to the war, so that we may subdue the chief city of this world, malice, and destroy the proud walls of sin (61).

Presenting the liturgy as spiritual warfare is very useful, among other ways, because it unites liturgical devotion closely with the spiritual and moral life, also conceived as spiritual warfare. The Christian who fights his faults throughout the day comes to Mass to find his great Leader fighting the Devil on the Cross, and takes strength from his example.

CAP. LXXII. – De pugna Christianorum spirituali.

Missa quoque imitatur cuiusdam pugnae conflictum, et victoriae triumphum, qua hostis noster Amalech prosternitur, et via nobis ad patriam per Iesum panditur. Iesus quippe imperator noster cum diabolo pugnavit, et coelestem rempublicam ab hostibus destructam hominibus reparavit: qui cum posset producere duodecim legiones angelorum (Matth. XXVI) , vel septuaginta duo millia militum, instruxit tantum agmen duodecim apostolorum, et expugnavit septuaginta duo genera linguarum. Pontificis namque et cleri, populique processio, est quasi imperatoris, et cuiusdam exercitus ad bellum progressio. Hi cum subtus albis, et desuper cappis, vel aliis solemnibus vestibus induuntur, quasi milites pugnaturi subtus loricis, desuper clypeis muniuntur. Cum de choro exeunt, quasi de regia curia procedunt. Quasi imperiale signum et vexilla a signiferis anteferuntur, cum ante nos crux et vexilla geruntur. Quasi duo exercitus sequuntur, dum hinc inde ordinatim cantantes gradiuntur. Inter quos vadunt magistri et praecentores, quasi cohortium ductores ac belli incitatores. Sequuntur priores, quasi exercitus duces atque agminum ordinatores.


Joshua (Joshua Roll)
Portion of the Joshua Roll; scenes before the battle at Gibeon – the moon and sun are seen at the right (Source)

Ch .73
How the bishop acts the part of an emperor in a spiritual manner

The pontiff comes forth with his staff, as the emperor with his scepter. The sancta are carried in front of him [1], as the imperial insignia before the king. A cross is carried before the archbishop, as before the emperor; he is arrayed in the pallium, as the king is honored with his crown. A crowd of people follows like an army on foot. When they process from the basilica it is as troops pouring out from the king’s city. When we process to another church, we march to besiege a town, and when we enter it with song we accept that town’s submission and conscript auxiliaries for our army. When we return to the monastery,** we hasten to the field of battle. We carry the reliquary box against the demons, as the sons of Israel carried the ark against their Philistine foes. When we enter the church, we arrive at our station. When the bells ring the trumpet of war riles the soldiers up for battle. Now they are arranged in battle line when they take their places on each side of the choir. The one who holds the cross with the banner before the archbishop is the standard bearer who carries the flag before the emperor in battle.

[1] Sancta is the word used by the Ordo Romanus to describe the sacrament, and especially the particles of consecrated bread left over from a previous papal Mass that were used again in the next stational liturgy. Before the Mass began, the sancta were carried in on a paten and presented for the pope’s veneration. He determined whether there was a sufficient amount, then sent it up to the altar to await its use the first Fraction:

Et tunc duo Acolyti tenentes capsas cum Sancta apertas, et subdiaconus sequens cum ipsis tenens manum suam in ore capsæ, ostendit Sancta Pontifici, vel Diacono qui præcesserit. Tunc inclinato capite Pontifex, vel Diaconus salutat Sancta, et contemplatur, ut si fuerit superabundans, præcipiat ut ponatur in conditorio.

There is also evidence, however, for sancta being used to refer to the relics of saints, often carried during the entrance procession in medieval liturgies. Since he mentions the scrinium, a reliquary box, just below, it is hard to know which sancta he is referring to. In his commentary on the Fraction, he also spoke of the pontifex and seemed to be referring to the papal liturgy.

CAP. LXXIII. – Quod episcopus spiritualiter agat vicem imperatoris.

Procedit pontifex cum baculo, quasi imperator cum sceptro. Ante pontificem portantur sancta, sicut ante regem imperialia. Ante archiepiscopum crux portatur, sicut ante imperatorem gestatur; qui pallio decoratur, sicut rex corona perornatur. Comitatur turba plebis, quasi exercitus pedestris. Cum de basilica procedunt quasi de regia urbe turmae proruunt. Cum ad aliam ecclesiam procedimus, quasi ad castellum expugnandum pergimus: quod cum cantu intrabimus, quasi in dedicationem accipimus et inde auxiliarios nobis accimus; cum vero ad monasterium redimus, quasi ad locum certaminis tendimus. Scrinium cum reliquiis portamus contra daemones, sicut filii Israel portaverunt arcam Dei contra Philistiim hostes. Cum ecclesiam intramus, quasi ad stationem pervenimus. Cum campanae sonantur quasi per classica milites ad praelium incitantur. Quasi vero acies ad pugnam ordinantur, dum utrimque in choro locantur. Qui crucem cum vexillo coram archiepiscopo tenet, est signifer, qui vexillum coram imperatore in pugna fert.

Ch. 74
How the cantor is the standard bearer and trumpeter

The cantor who begins the chant is the trumpeter who gives the signal to commence the battle. The choir masters who direct the choir in each side are the leaders to dress the lines for the fight. Chanters cover their heads with caps, and carry sticks or tablets in their hands, because in a fight soldiers protect their heads with shields and guard themselves with weapons of war.

CAP. LXXIV. – Quod cantor sit signifer et tubicina.

Cantor qui cantum inchoat, est tubicen qui signum ad pugnam dat. Praecentores qui chorum utrinque regunt, sunt duces qui agmina ad pugnam instruunt. Cantores capita piliolis tegunt, baculos vel tabulas manibus gerunt; quia praeliantes caput galeis tegunt, armis bellicis se protegunt.

Ch. 75
On spiritual warfare

Battles commence with the clash of trumpets and the shouts of men; our spiritual combat begins with the clash of bells and the clergy’s song. For our battle is “not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We fight like skilled soldiers when we sing with all our might from each side of the choir. The hot darts of concupiscence are our mortal foes, which the strong repeal with the shield of faith. The throngs of vices press in close, but we knock them down with the sword of God’s word.

CAP. LXXV. – De bello spirituali.

Bellum cum tubarum clangore et turbarum clamore committitur; et nostrum spirituale bellum cum campanarum compulsatione, et cleri cantatione incipitur. Geritur namque bellum non contra carnem, et sanguinem; sed adversus principes, et potestates, adversus rectores tenebrarum harum, contra spiritalia nequitiae in coelestibus (Ephes. VI) . Quasi ergo strenui milites pugnant, dum totis viribus utrinque cantant. Ignea tela concupiscentiae nequissimi hostes immittunt, quae fortes viri fortiter scuto fidei repellunt, hostes vitiorum acriter insistentes gladio verbi Dei prosternunt.

Ch. 76
The cantors are our captains

The chanters stir the rest into harmony with their hand and voice, as if leading them in hand-to-hand combat and spurring them to great deeds with their voice. Meanwhile the pontiff stands at the altar and recites a prayer for those in the struggle, just as Moses prayed for the Hebrew warriors on the mountain (Exodus 17).

CAP. LXXVI. – Quod cantores vicem ducum agant.

Cantores manu et voce alios ad harmoniam incitant, quia et ducere alios manibus pugnando, et voce hortando ad certamen instigant. Interim stat pontifex ad altare, et pro laborantibus orationem recitat, sicut et Moyses in monte pro pugnantibus orabat (Exod. 17) .

Ch. 77
The cantor plays the role of a herald

The reader who recites the Epistle is the herald who announces the emperor’s edicts in the camp. The better voices are chosen to sing the Gradual and Alleluia, as the fighters with the strongest arms are picked for single combat. When some people falter in song, others come to their aid; so when some are sorely oppressed in battle, sturdy hearts come to their aid. Lastly, the chanters iubilate the Sequence with voice and organ, because they celebrate victory with applause and song. The deacon who reads the Gospel from a high place is the herald who after the battle calls the dispersed ranks together with his trumpet. When the bishop addresses and exhorts the people, this signifies that the emperor praises his victorious troops. When the oblations are then brought up, it means that the spoils are being divided among the victorious army while the emperor looks on. The offertory chant is the praise they offer their emperor.

CAP. LXXVII. – De cantore, quod vicem praeconis agat.

Lector qui Epistolam recitat, est praeco qui edicta imperatoris per castra praedicat. Meliores voces ad Graduale vel Alleluia cantandum eliguntur, et fortiores manu ad duellum producuntur. Iam deficientibus in cantu, alii succurrunt; ita multum laborantibus in praelio, alii constantes corde subveniunt. Deinde sequentiam cum voce et organis iubilant; quia victoriam cum plausu et cantu celebrant. Diaconus qui Evangelium in alto recitat, est praeco qui peracto bello agmina dispersa cum tuba convocat. Quod episcopus populum exhortando alloquitur, significat quod imperator victores laudando affatur. Quod tunc oblationes offeruntur, significat quod spolia victoribus coram imperatore dividuntur. Cantus offertorii, est laus quam offerunt imperatori.

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