The Day of God’s Triumph: A Sermon by Honorius Augustodunensis

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A portrait of Honorius in a manuscript of his Speculum Ecclesiae

In celebration of Our Lord’s glorious Ascension, we offer our readers a sermon on today’s feast by Honorius Augustodunensis, taken from his Speculum Ecclesiae, like the sermon on the Holy Cross we posted a fortnight ago.

Read the English below or download a PDF of the translation and Latin text.

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The Triumph of Christ, Johann Theodor de Bry (1561-1623) after Titian

On Our Lord’s Ascension

The sun was raised aloft, and the moon stood still in her course.[1] Christ is the eternal sun who sheds his radiance upon all the choirs of angels; he is the true light[2] who enlightens every soul, who long lay concealed behind the cloud of his flesh, wreathed in the shadows of our frailty. Emerging at last from the shadows of Hell, today he rises gloriously above the stars and, raised above all the decorated ranks of angels, he sits, Lord of majesty, at the right hand of the Father. The moon, that is the Church, stands still in her course, gleaming in his light, when in the person of the apostles she saw him ascend into heaven. For the apostles showed themselves to be the Church’s course when they taught her the course of good living, and taught her how to order her course[3] after the Sun of justice. O! what brilliant horns the new-born moon has beamed forth today, when the Sun reaching the heights of heaven has infused her with a ray of eternal light! O! how serene her face as she stood in her course, when she saw her flesh penetrate the heavens in her Head, her Redeemer, her Spouse, her God! She saw them, I say, through the eyes of the apostolic chorus, who were her course, and of the Virgin Mother of God, her type! O what joy burst forth today among the angels in heaven when the Son of God, who had gone from his palace into the Prison for the sake of his servant, yea from his fatherland into banishment, an exile for an exile, now returns in triumph to his Father’s kingdom! And so today is clept the day of God’s triumph, when the victor over death triumphant was welcomed by the senate of the celestial court with hymnic praises, glorifying the author of life!

Ascension 5
Roman Triumph, Francesco de’ Rossi (1510–1563)

The Romans had the custom of according victors a triumph in the following manner: After a general or consul subdied a nation to Roman rule by arms and returned victorious with the spoils, and senate and the entire Roman people went forth to meet him merrily, welcoming him with songs and canticles of praise. He donned the purple, received the diadem entwined with laurel and gold, and was driven to the City in a golden chariot encrusted with glowing gems pulled by four snow-white horses. Noble captives preceded the chariot, walking bound with golden chains. Behind the chariot followed the meaner captives, their hands bound behind their backs. Spoils too are carried in procession, and thus the crowned victor was led with great revelling to the high temple, and then the booty was meted out amongst the people.

Ascension 6
Triumphus Caesari, Andrea Andreani

Roman nobility used to afford the honour of a triumph to the greatest victors for some worldly glory, but God willed to prefigure the glory of Christ the greatest victor even through his enemies, since they would become his friends. Verily the triumph of the Romans’ kingdom preceded today’s triumph in figure, for Christ, the King of glory, the sole ruler, vanquished the tyrant’s kingdom, took captive the captivity he had captivated, and enthralled the rebellious world to the heavenly commonweal. today the Victor returned to his fatherland with noble prey and the senate of archangels with all the heavenly host goes forth to meet him merrily, welcoming their victorious king in joyful strains of mirth. He dons the purple, for he is crowned with glory and honour by his Father for the Passion he bore. He receives the diadem wreathed with gold and laurel when he is adorned by the multitude of angels and men around him. The splendour of gold represents the brightness of the angels, and the viridity of laurel represents the viridity of faith.

Der Triumph Christi - 1836 - Joseph von Fuehrich - Joseph von Fuehrich - German Romanticism - Deutschland und die Ostmark - germany and Austria - Peter Crawford
Triumph of Christ, Joseph von Führich, 1836

These things are made into a crown to grace Christ’s head when human weakness is elevated to the angelic state in glory, as the Prophet says: By all these thou shalt be adorned as with a crown[4]. Concerning this crown, it is written: Thou shalt bless the crown of the year of thy goodness.[5] For Christ is the year of God’s goodness, having been made a sharer in our mortality[6]. His years are the twelve apostles; his days, the just; his hours, the faithful; his nights those who yet wander in the shadows of sin and unbelief. The crown of this year is the multitude of men and angels standing ’round him in eternal glory. The chariot bedecked in gold and gems that bears the triumphant victor points to the Gospel, radiant in wisdom and miracles; by making Christ known, it causes the world to exult in triumph. The wheels on which the chariot rolls forward are the Evangelists by whom Christ’s triumph is brought out before the eyes of all. This chariot is drawn by snow-white horses, because Christ is driven in the chariot of the Gospel around the four regions of the world by doctors brilliant in the virtues. Holy Writ says that the chariot of God is attended by ten thousands[7], because all the writers of the Old and New Testament preach Christ’s triumph. Thousands of them that rejoice[8] surround the chariot when today many myriads of angels receive our Lord in triumph. Noble captives bound in golden chains go before the chariot, since those our Lord redeemed, bound by the chains of charity, seek after celestial things. The meaner people follow with bound hands, since the people bind themselves with the fear of God against evil deeds, and thus are borne up to heavenly joys. A procession of spoils accompanies the chariot, since today the multitude of saints are raised aloft with the resurrected Christ. The Victor is led into the high temple with songs, since Christ is born triumphant into the temple of the heavenly Jerusalem to strains of angelic quires. Then the booty is meted out amongst the people, since sundry charisms are bestowed on the faithful by the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, whence it is said: Ascending on high, he led captivity captive; he gave gifts to men.[9] Yea verily, human nature, in which here below he suffered many evils for our sake and from us, today is transported from earth to the heavens above the loftiness of the angels to the right hand of the Father. The Victor led that captivity captive that was so long detained in the jail of hell, and dragged it into his Father’s palace. He  gave gifts to men, when he poured forth the Holy Ghost over them and vouchsafed them the knowledge of all tongues.

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Triumph of Christ the King with the Four Continents, ca. 1700 – 1799

Today, dearly beloved, God’s magnificence is elevated above the heavens[10], but his spouse, his body, i.e. the Church, is still oppressed by many afflictions amongst the Babylonians. Yet the prince of death is conquered and the world subdued, and like Christ, who ascends triumphantly to the heavens today, so the Church, having overcome Antichrist and trampled upon the world, shall ascend triumphant into heaven. Goliath is laid low by her Spouse and she is delivered from her enemies, and so she is raised up from this vale of tears, a circular moon rises at full wax and, settled in the bride chamber of the everlasting Sun, is made a peer of the angelic stars. Hence she herself extols Christ ascending with jubilee[11] in the Canticles, saying with exultation: Behold! He cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping over the hills,[12] whose person is expressed in the prophet Idithun, which means “Leaper.” For Christ indeed came into the world leaping upon the mountains, and skipping returned to heaven. He gave a leap from heaven when he went from his Father’s see into the Virgin’s womb. Thence he leapt into the manger, and from there onto the gibbet of the cross, from the cross to the grave, from the grave to the depths of the abyss, from the abyss into the world, and from there he skipped into heaven. His going out is from the end of heaven, and his circuit even to the end thereof.[13]

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Triumph of Christ, Philips Gale, ca. 1565

Today, he has leaped over every mountain and hill, since he has raised the humanity he assumed from us above every height of angels and saints. The Gospel shows us how he ascended into heaven. He appears today before his disciples as they were at table; as master he upbraided them for their incredulity; as Lord he commanded them to preach the Gospel to the whole world; as God he granted them the power to perform miracles in his name. He thereupon ate with them to prove his body was flesh in sooth, and instructed them to remain in Jerusalem awaiting the Holy Ghost he had promised them. Then he led them to Bethany and lifting up his hands, he blessed them; as they all looked on he was raised, taken up by a cloud, and carried off into heaven. They stood gazing after him on the heavens, and lo! two angels clad in white robes stood before them and foretold that in the same way he had now departed he would return in judgement. One hundred and twenty were those who saw him ascend, among whom was Mary his mother with the apostles. Together they went back to Jerusalem rejoicing, and persevered in prayer and praising God every day till they received the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. This was prefigured in the patriarchs and prophets, when Enoch, the seventh patriarch from Adam, was carried off into paradise, and when the prophet Elias was raised up into heaven in a fiery chariot.

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The triumph of faith over nature, philosophy and science, Peter Paul Reubens, circa 1626

There is a bird that manifests to us the feast of this holy day. The eagle soars higher than every other bird and fixes her gaze on the very ray of the sun. When she entices her young to fly, hovering over them and expanding her wings,[14] she takes them up in the oars of her wings and teaches them to fly. Thus did Christ, sublimer than all the saints, penetrate into the heights of the heavens, when his Father exalted him above all the angels in his right hand. He expands the wings of his cross around us, defends us from demons, raises us from harsh servitude, and adopts us as sons. Placing us over his shoulders like lost sheep he carried us back to the flock. He flew over us and enticed us to fly, when scaling the heights, she showed us, his members, how to follow him, our head, with good works. Ezekiel expressed this through the four animals,[15] which John later saw praising the Lamb day and night.[16] Verily was Christ a man in his birth, a calf in his death, a lion in his resurrection, an eagle in his ascension.

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The charadrius or caladrius (BM Lyon, MS PA 78, fol. 36r)

There is a white bird called a charadrius,[17] which can be used to test whether a sick man will survive. If, when brought to the sick man, she turns her face from him, he shall die, but if she looks and firmly fixes her gaze on him, he shall live. Mouth agape, she drinks the sickness from him, flies high into the sun’s ray, and sweats off from herself the infirmity she drank, while the once-sick man rejoices in his health. The white charadrius is Christ born of a Virgin. He is brought to the sick man when he is sent from the Father to the sickly human race; he turns his face from the Jews and leaves them in death. Turning his face to us, however, he recalls us from death and bears our infirmity himself when he goes up on the cross; sweat and blood flow out from him. Then he flies into the heights of the heavens to the Father with our flesh and grants everlasting salvation to all. The very place where he ascended still cries out to us that no obstacle can stand in the way of those who wish to scale the heavens. Truly the footprint that he left upon the sand as he ascended still remains at that place, and though every day the faithful bear away earth therefrom, the print can not be effaced. What is more, when a church was built over that place, and closed up on top like a rotunda, the space of air through which he ascended could not be closed up, and so remains open to this day. Each year, a storm of howling gales comes down to this church from the heavens and knocks all the people within to the ground, showing with what terror Christ will come in judgement, forcefully shaking heaven and earth. Then forsooth shall the heavens pass away with great fury and the elements shall melt away from the heat.

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The Harrowing of Hell, Viktor Vasnetsov, 1905

And so, best beloved, since there be no other name under heaven given to  men, whereby one can be saved, but in Christ Jesus,[18] who allowed himself to be raised up on the cross for us like the serpent;[19] whom the Father, after he had drunk from the torrent of death[20] exalted today above every name[21]  to the summit of the heavens; and who purchased us with his own blood[22] and incorporated us into himself; let us give glory to his praise[23] and acclaim him with jubilation, that he might join us, his members, to himself where he himself revels in the glory of the Father. Which eye hath not seen, &c.[24]

Ascension (Dosso Dossi)
Ascension, Dosso Dossi

Notes

[1] Habacuc 3:2, Vetus latina: Elevatus est sol, et luna stetit in ordine suo.

[2] John 1:9.

[3] Cf. collect Da nobis, quaesumus, Domine for the fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Corpus orationum 899).

[4] Song of Songs 4:8

[5] Psalm 64:12.

[6] Cf. the prayer Deus, qui humanae substantiae.

[7] Psalm 67:18.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ephesians 4:8.

[10] Psalm 8:2.

[11] Ascendit Deus in jubilatione, Alleluia for Ascension Sunday

[12] Canticle of Canticles 2:8.

[13] Psalm 18:7.

[14] Deuteronomy 32:11.

[15] Ezekiel 1.

[16] Apocalypse 4:8

[17] See Physiologus 5 and Deuteronomy 14:18.

[18] Acts 4:12

[19] Numbers 21

[20] Psalm 109:7.

[21] Philippians 2:2.

[22] Acts of the Apostles 20:28.

[23] Psalm 65:2.

[24] 1 Corinthians 2:9. Honorius ends all the sermons in this collection with an evocation of eternal glory, culminating invariably in this verse from St Paul.

2 thoughts on “The Day of God’s Triumph: A Sermon by Honorius Augustodunensis

  1. Just came across this post and I wanted to note how fortuitous it is that you and I both posted translations of this sermon for this year’s feast — you can find mine at http://nathaniel-campbell.blogspot.com/2020/05/sermon-for-ascension-honorius-augustodunensis-speculum-ecclesiae.html . I’ve also posted the sermons for Easter Day (http://nathaniel-campbell.blogspot.com/2020/04/sermon-for-easter-day-honorius-augustodunensis-speculum-ecclesiae.html ) and Pentecost (http://nathaniel-campbell.blogspot.com/2020/05/sermon-for-pentecost-honorius-augustodunensis-speculum-ecclesiae.html ).

    Liked by 1 person

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