Claude De Vert: Preface to Volume 1 of the Explanation (1709)

As we promised in the introductory post, here are excerpts from the Preface to the first edition of volume one of Claude de Vert’s Explication simple, littérale, et historique des cérémonies de l’Église (1709 – 1713).

PREFACE to Volume 2

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[1. Encouragement by Protestant Ministers]

It has been several years since M. Jurieu[1] undertook in one of his books to attack the ceremonies of the Mass and even to subject them to mockery. I found myself charged at that time by M. the Bishop of Meaux, and also by my own interest, to refute this minister, who had used me as a sort of witness and proof of his own ideas. Thus I wrote him a letter[2] on the subject. Since it was clear from certain places in his work that mystical and symbolic explanations were not to his taste and left no impression on him, I thought it best to accommodate myself to his dispositions. In other words, in my response the only explanations I admitted were those that were simple, natural, and historical, against which I judged M. Jurieu would have no objection. It pleased God to grant my attempt so much success, that my letter has remained without response for fifteen years.

But this is not the only effect that this manner of explaining the ceremonies of the Church has produced. It has also pleased a great number of new Catholics. Even several converted ministers were intrigued by my explanations and did me the honor of writing to say (and these are their own words):

“We have always been convinced that in order to give an account of the ceremonies of the Church, especially to new converts, one must make use of common sense, give the facts as simply as possible, and in the end explain things as naturally as possible. We have already experienced the cogency of your natural explanations with two completely opposite sorts of people, namely, with some grudging converts who saw only superstition and mummery in the Church’s rites; and with some old ecclesiastics who would hear nothing about the literal sense or about the traces of ancient customs in the liturgy, recognizing only mystery and speculation in it.”

They said that neither of these groups were able to resist my historical reasons, and the connection I made between the letter and the spirit left them speechless.

They were certain that a full discussion of all these things would be well received by both scholars and the unlettered, and even by stubborn opponents of the Church. M. Jurieu’s brief controversy had not provided the occasion for such a discussion, but the wish and need of the Church compelled me. The attempts that I had already made in my letter had given them so much pleasure that they were impatient for a complete treatment of the subject. Further, in my explanation of the Introit, Kyrie eleison, Collect, Secret, Supra quae propitio, etc., of the mingling of a part of the Host in the chalice, I had said things that no one had yet thought and that promised countless further discoveries.

Moreover these ministers plied me with innumerable questions and difficulties which they implored me to answer. And so this is the occasion and, so to speak, the foundation of the present work that I present to the public.

At the same time another ministers, one of my friends, who had also converted some years ago, but converted sincerely in good faith, through persuasion, intelligence, and knowledge, brought me one of his nephews who was still in the grips of error. […]

He was already very prejudiced against our ceremonies and especially against the exterior cult of our Religion. After having questioned me on many practices, he appeared so content with my responses (all literal and historical) that he said to his uncle (who later told me) that one more meeting with me would be enough to remove all his scruples and doubts.

[Another Successful Conversation with a Protestant Lady….]


[2. Support from Catholic Ecclesiastics]

To these proselytes, and others that I have not named, I could add a large number of Catholics: ecclesiastics and laymen of every state and personality. M. Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux especially (and all know that his name alone is synonymous with knowledge, eloquence, beauty, genius, and zeal for the Church) often did me the honor of urging me, face to face and in writing, to explain and develop all this material to its fullest extent. I did this in two or three conferences. He listened, made objections, gave counsel, and offered his advice on difficult and delicate points. I will always remember how he encouraged me not to attack the Mystical Authors or their reasons, telling me that all I had to do was lay out the facts and establish them soundly, and the truth speak for itself.

But he isn’t the only who encouraged me to work my ideas into a book. M. the Bishop of Chalons sur Saône, so well versed in this discipline, and engaged since the start of his episcopate in the correction of the usages of his church, which he is reforming wholesale and in a manner worthy of his zeal and intelligence: the Breviary, the Missal, the Ritual, and Ceremonial. After approving my Letter to the Minister Jurieu, he asked if:

“I might give a more ample, literal, and historical explanation of the ceremonies of the Mass and in general of the whole Office.”

Others told me:

“The quickest and easiest way to refute every calumny the Heretics advance against the practices of the Church is to trace them back to their origin and institution. Hence we learn the true reasons for the ceremonies, and we see their simplicity. We prove that it was necessity or utility that introduced them, and that they have been preserved either for decency or out of fear of innovation. Because the reasons are simple and natural, we see their connection to the ceremonies immediately. It has been said that the primary reason the ministers of the Protestant religion declaim against the ceremonies of the Catholic Church is that they see these ceremonies only through the mystical reasons that some Catholic authors have given to them, without seeing the natural sense that the same authors presume as the basis of everything they say.”


[On the Usefulness of this Method in Seminary Education]

M. Wateblé (who recently passed away), Superior of the seminary of Beauvais, also asked me many times to share my reflections on this question, assuring me that they would be welcomed in the seminaries of the Congregation of the Mission [….]. He said that, if he had only known these reasons a long time ago, then our seminaries would have embraced them, and this manner of explaining the ceremonies would be held in high regard. This holds as much for the priests of St. Lazare as for the Jesuits, the Fathers of the Oratory, for the congregation of St. Sulpice, and other ecclesiastics who form clergy in the seminaries. In these excellent schools, after having given the seminarians the primitive and fundamental reasons for the ceremonies, we could present them other reasons for their edification, to nourish their piety; I am referring to what I call secondary and subsidiary reasons: spiritual and symbolic ideas and pious moralities. In these holy congregations, in their frequent conferences on the practices and uses of the Church, we could develop the analogy of all these different senses and teach them to join the spirit with the letter, and figurative and allegorical explanations to literal and historical ones.

[The Catechism of Montpellier already does this]


[3. Justification for this Method from the Fathers]

In the interest of justifying this approach with examples and authorities, we see that always and in all times the practices and ceremonies of the Church have been interpreted in their proper, primitive, and necessary sense, and whenever people have understood them, they have given as far as possible simple and natural reasons in preference to those called mystical (mystiques) and figurative (figurées), and often enough even to their prejudice and exclusion. Therefore, my project is neither new nor unique. I am merely following and imitating nearly all of the authors who have ever written on this subject.

St. Jerome, for example, in his Letter to St Paulinus, St. Augustine says that the Host is broken at the Mass in order to distribute it to the faithful, ad distribuendum comminuitur. Behold: another entirely simple and natural reason for the Fraction of the Host, and very different, as we shall see, from the allegorical reasons to which the Protestants accuse us of having reduced this practice.

[Mass on Holy Thursday morning]

St. Isidore (7th c.) and the Rule of the Master written about the same time, teach us that the washing of the altars, which is still practiced today in many Churches on Holy Thursday and Good Friday is done in order to remove the dust and odors that may have collected on the tables throughout the year. In addition, they washed and purified the walls and sacred vessels, so that the whole Church was washed and set in order from the vaults to the pavement in preparation for Easter.

Amalarius, not content with the various mystical reasons given for the custom of reserving only the Body of Our Lord on Holy Thursday, without the Blood, concludes (along with the Bishop of Meaux[3]) that a more simple explanation is that this species is corrupted more easily than bread. Thus we see that this author seems to prefer this reason to the “mystical” reasons. The same author says that the priest washes his hands at Mass in order to clean and purify them from any uncleanness he may have come into contact with by touching the bread received during the Offertory. His testimony is all the more credible because Amalarius certainly cannot be accused generally of preferring simple and natural explanations. Indeed Cardinal Bona reproaches him for his excessive subtilty (quandoque nimium subtiliter). The Ordo Romanus VI, St. Thomas Aquinas, Durandus, the Jesuit P. Scortia, and others give the same reason.


[St. Thomas on the Use of Incense]

Now, what are we to make of St. Thomas’s response to the objection regarding the use of incense in the Church (this irrefragable doctor, who cannot be contradicted with impunity in the Schools of Theology, where he justly bears the excellent title of Angelic)? It is to dispel bad odors: Ut scilicet per bonum odorem depellatur si quid corporaliter pravi odoris in loco fuerit, quod posset provocare horrorem.[4] Dominic Soto, Cardinal Bellarmine, Genebrard, Scortia, Gavantus, M. Meurier, and others whom we cite later on in the work, all adopt the same reason.


[The Paschal Candle]

In the Benediction of the Paschal Candle, the Church herself teaches us that its purpose is to give light during the night: Cereus iste, in honorem nominis tui consecratus, ad noctis huius caliginem destruendam indeficiens perseveret. Thus it is left burning until the morning (flammas eius lucifer matutinus inveniat[5]).


The Council of Trent teaches us (along with the whole tradition) that water is mixed into the wine in the chalice as an imitation of Our Lord Jesus Christ who, we think, did the same: quod Christum Dominum ita fecisse credatur.[6] And why did our Lord dilute his wine at the Last Supper? Because, as St. Thomas and many theologians and scholastics tell us, it was the custom of the place to do so (secundum morem illius terrae).

[4. Conclusion]

The method we have supposed is not novel, its purpose is not unusual or surprising. Rather to the contrary, there are authors who absolutely reject every mystical reason, regarding their different applications as impractical. And the truth is that since everything in ritual and discipline is subject to perpetual change, it is quite difficult to assign mysteries to the Church’s customs and practices. Let us say, for example, that I want the chasuble, which was once entirely round and reached down to the floor, to be a symbol of charity which (according to St. Peter) covers a multitude of sins. Today this vestment is significantly shortened, trimmed and open at the sides. What possible relation could this modern garment have with the proposed mystical reason?

Or again, the Cardinal bishops were once seven in number. They could represent the seven angels or seven Churches of Asia. But now that there are only six, what can they represent? The six wings of the Seraphim? Hence the difficulty or rather the impossibility of allegorizing practices that are subject to such variation.


[Apology for Mystical Reasons]

Thus, following the understanding and taste of all these different authors, I have seen fit to explain the ceremonies of the Mass in their simple, literal, and historical sense, but with this difference, that I do not go so far as some of them. God forbid that I should ever condemn the mystic writers or mystical reasons. On this point I hold to what I said in my Letter to M. Jurieu, and to what I shall say again in the present work. To put it simply, everything I say here about historical reasons is always without prejudice to the mystical reasons. Further, even if I seem to privilege these latter, it is not that I have made my own decisions, but that I have sought the truth, and I will always be happy to learn from not only pastors and superiors, but from the littlest disciples and smallest children of the Church. Quaero non affirmo.


[1] A Protestant leader.


[3] Communion sous les deux especes, pag. 167.

[4] De Vert omits the rest of Thomas’ response, which adds a spiritual explanation: “[The use of incense] has reference to two things: first, to the reverence due to this sacrament, i.e. in order by its good odor, to remove any disagreeable smell that may be about the place; secondly, it serves to show the effect of grace, wherewith Christ was filled as with a good odor, according to Genesis 27:27: “Behold, the odor of my son is like the odor of a ripe field”; and from Christ it spreads to the faithful by the work of His ministers, according to 2 Corinthians 2:14: “He manifesteth the odor of his knowledge by us in every place”; and therefore when the altar which represents Christ, has been incensed on every side, then all are incensed in their proper order.”

[5] Of course, even a cursory fair reading of the Exultet, with its florid descriptions of Christ as the Light of the World, and comparisons of the candle with the Pillar of Fire, would make it one of the strongest arguments against the validity of De Vert’s reductive literal sense.

[6] Again, De Vert neglects the spiritual reason given in the same chapter of Trent: “Monet deinde sancta Synodus, praeceptum esse a Ecclesia sacerdotibus, ut squam ino in calice offerendo miscerent: tum quod Christum Dominum ita fecisse credatur, tum etiam quia e latere ejus aqua simul cum sanguine exierit, quod Sacramentum hac mixtione recolitur; et cum aquae in Apocalypsi beati Joannis populi dicantur; ipsius populi fidelis cum capite Christo unio repraesentatur.”

Gemma Animae (49-56): Further commentary on the Roman Canon

“But there are six orders of crosses, because the world is made in six days, and Christ’s body is restored by the same six-fold number.”

This section of Gemma Animae‘s commentary on the Roman Canon is organized around the several sets of signs of the cross made over the offerings. The multiplication of these signs of the cross was a medieval phenomenon that inspired a raft of mystical interpretations and became a stock object of ridicule for critics of medieval liturgy.

Scholars say that the primitive meaning of these signs was indicative, pointing out the offerings as they are mentioned in prayer: Haec ☩ dona, haec ☩ munera, etc. Honorius seems to go far beyond this literal sense, interpreting them through layers of Scriptural themes.

He takes them as place-markers, divisions of the larger plot of the Canon, which he understands as a story, a recapitulation of salvation history in six acts. The life-giving Cross stands at the center of this history, following humanity through every age. Along the way, every generation is united to the Cross (crux) through its cruciform suffering (cruciatus).

Though we might disagree with the way it has been grafted onto the Mass ritual, I think his account of sacrifice is rather theologically astute, not ridiculous at all. The way it integrates the creation, redemption, and passion is deeply Scriptural and soundly orthodox.

As John Behr has observed, from Genesis’s “Let us make man in our image and likeness” to John’s “Behold the Man,” history as the story of God’s creative action reaches its summit in the God-man Christ. In the Canon of the Mass, the Church re-performs this creative action, taking matter from the earth, breathing upon it with the Holy Spirit, and thus making sacramentally present the New Adam, the fairest of the children of men, and along with Him His Body the Church.

From a theological point of view then, our Canon is the daily-repeated completion of God’s creative act in the Church, every day the Incarnation made present and efficacious on the altar. So it makes sense why Honorius sees a special significance in the “Amen”–God’s creative word, the Hebrew equivalent of the Latin “fiat”–that ends the Canon:

We say Amen to confirm the whole sacrament because through this word the world is created. For Amen means fiat, the word God used to create the world when he said: Fiat lux, etc.” (GA, Ch. 99).

Further, Honorius’ historical vision is taken straight from the Book of Revelation: history as the patient com-passion of Christ’s saints in the hope of glory. Honorius makes the connection between the Cross (crux) and the “sufferings” (cruciatus) of the Old and New Testament saints explicit in the chapters below.

Ultimately we are free to dispense with the literal particulars of Honorius’s commentary: the six orders, the five-fold divisions, etc., etc. But in what is most important for theological understanding, I think Honorius has given a deeply satisfying account. What is the sacrifice the priest designates with signs of the cross? Medieval commentary can help us regain a vision of the full cosmological grandeur of the sacrificial act, a vision firmly based in Scripture and the Fathers.

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Chapter 49
On the Cross

This sacrament (sacramentum tantum) is accomplished through the Cross alone, because Christ hung on the cross as the sacrifice of the Father, where he redeemed the world in a four-fold manner. But there are six orders of crosses because the world is made in six days, and Christ’s body is restored by the same six-fold number. For a blessing is given through an odd number, which cannot be divided into two equals. We make either three crosses, and thus express our Trinitarian faith; or we sign through five crosses, and denote the five-fold passion of Christ. Through these six orders of crosses we comprehend the whole history of the world, expressing it as a unity united through the cross of Christ.

CAP. XLIX. – De cruce.

Hoc sacramentum tantum per crucem fit, quia Christus sacrificium Patris in cruce pependit, et in cruce quadruplum mundum redemit. Sex autem ordines crucum fiunt, quia sex diebus mundus perficitur et senario numero corpus Christi reficitur. Per imparem vero numerum, qui in duo paria non potest dividi, benedicitur; quia corpus Christi permanens non scinditur. Aut enim tres cruces facimus, et fidem Trinitatis exprimimus: aut per quinque signamus, et quinquepartitam Christi passionem denotamus. Per sex ordines cuncta mundi tempora comprehendimus, quae per crucem Christo unita exprimimus.

Ch. 50
On the First Order and the Three Crosses

In the first order we make three signs of the cross at Haec dona, an allusion the first age before the Law, which had three phases: one ran from Adam to Noah, the next from Noah to Abraham, and the third from Abraham to Moses. The just men in this age had faith in the Trinity and made tribute to Christ from afar through their sacrifices, and also bore many terrible sufferings for their faith. For in the first age, Abel offered Christ in the form of the lamb and for his sake suffered the pain of death. In the second age, Melchisedech offered Christ’s Body and Blood in bread and wine and for his faith in Christ he suffered the ravages of war with the kings of the Gentiles. In the third age, Abraham sacrificed Christ in the person of Isaac, slaughtered the ram, and bore various hardships for his faith.

CAP. L. – De primo ordine, et de tribus crucibus

In primo ordine, tres cruces facimus ubi Haec dona dicimus, et primum tempus ante legem innuimus, quod tribus interstitiis distinguimus, quia unum ab Adam usque ad Noe, aliud a Noe usque ad Abraham, tertium ab Abraham usque ad Moysen. In quibus iusti in fide Trinitatis Christum a longe suis sacrificiis salutaverunt, et multos cruciatus in hac fide pertulerunt. In prima quippe aetate, Abel Christum in agno obtulit, et pro eo cruciatum mortis pertulit. In secunda, Melchisedech Christi carnem, et sanguinem in pane et vino obtulit qui cruciatus bellorum a regibus gentium in fide Christi pertulit. In tertia, Abraham Christum in Isaac sacrificavit, in ariete mactavit, qui variatos cruciatus in hac fide toleravit.

 Ch. 51
On the Second Order, and the Five Crosses

In the second order we make five signs of the cross, at Benedictam, ascriptam, portraying the time of the Law, in which the just men portrayed Christ through the five sacrifices of the books of the Law and suffered many torments for their faith.

Five is divided into two parts, three and two, just as this age is divided into two parts. One was from Moses to David, another from David to Christ. The number three signifies the judges from Joshua to David, the kings from David to the Babylonian captivity, and the princes from Zorobabel to Christ. The number two on the other hand signifies the priests and prophets, among them Moses, who immolated Christ in the form of the Paschal Lamb, and according to the Apostle suffered many things for his faith in Christ, whom he preached in the Law (Hebrews 11).

Samuel anointed Christ in the person of David,and both of them expressed Christ in their sacrifices, and as figures of Christ bore persecution at the hands of the unfaithful king Saul. Elijah and the other prophets gave figures and signs of Christ in their sacrifices, words, and writings, and were struck with many punishments for their faith.

CAP. LI. – De secundo ordine, et de quinque crucibus.

In secundo ordine, quinque cruces facimus, ubi Benedictam, ascriptam dicimus, et tempus legis exprimimus, quo iusti per quinque librorum legis sacrificia Christum expresserunt, et multos cruciatus pro eius fide pertulerunt. Quinque namque in duas partes, scilicet trinarium, et binarium solvitur; et illud tempus in duo interstitia dividitur. Unum a Moyse usque ad David fuit, alterum a David usque ad Christum exstitit. Per trinarium, iudices a Iosue usque ad David, et reges a David usque ad captivitatem Babylonis, et principes a Zorobabel usque ad Christum notantur. Per binarium vero sacerdotes et prophetae significantur, ex quibus Moyses Christum in paschali agno immolavit, qui Apostolo teste multa adversa pro fide Christi toleravit, quem lege praedicavit (Hebr. XI); Samuel Christum in David unxit, qui uterque Christum et sacrificiis expressit, et in figura Christi persecutionem a perfido rege Saul pertulit; Elias et alii prophetae Christum sacrificiis, vocibus, scriptis praemonstraverunt, et pro eius fide varia supplicia perpessi sunt.

Ch. 52
On the Third Order

In the third order we take bread in our hands and bless it, signifying the time of grace in which Simon received the new-born Christ into his hands as the living bread and blessed him with great joy. Next we raise the chalice and bless it, portraying the time of the Supper, in which Christ raised up bread and wine in his hands, blessed them, and gave them to the apostles as his Body and Blood. For this reason to this very day when the words of the Lord are recited in this order (in ordine), the bread and wine are changed into his Body and Blood.

CAP. 52. – De tertio ordine

In tertio ordine panem in manum suscipimus, et benedicimus, et tempus gratiae innotescimus, quo Simeon Christum iam natum panem vivum in manus accepit, et gaudens benedixit. Deinde calicem levamus, et benedicimus, et tempus coenae exprimimus, quo Christus panem et calicem manibus elevavit et benedixit, et inde corpus et sanguinem apostolis tradidit. Unde adhuc cum verba Domini in ordine recitantur, panis et vinum in corpus et sanguinem Domini commutantur.

Ch. 53
On the Fourth Order

In the fourth order we make five crosses at Hostiam puram, recalling the time when Christ received five wounds on the Cross and redeemed the five ages [1].

[1] I.e., the three-fold time before the Law, the Law, and Grace.

CAP. LIII. – De quarto ordine, et de quinque crucibus.

In quarto ordine, quinque cruces facimus, ubi Hostiam puram dicimus. Et illud tempus ad memoriam reducimus, quo Christus quinque vulnera in cruce accepit, et quinque saecula redemit.

Ch. 54
On the fifth order and the three crosses

In the fifth order we say three signs of the cross at omnia bona creas, sanctificas, alluding to the Body of Christ, viz. the primitive Church, which received the Trinitarian faith and withstood many torments for Christ.

CAP. LIV. – De quinto ordine, et tribus crucibus

In quinto ordine, tres cruces ubi Omnia bona creas, sanctificas dicimus, et corpus Christi scilicet primitivam Ecclesiam innuimus, quae fidem Trinitatis accepit, et multos cruciatus pro Christo sustinuit.

Ch. 55
On the sixth order and the five crosses

In the sixth order we make five crosses at per ipsum, expressing the Body of Christ, this time the Church gathered from amongst the Gentiles who reverently received the five-fold Passion of Christ and patiently bore various sufferings in imitation of it.

CAP. LV. – De sexto ordine, et de quinque crucibus.

In sexto ordine quinque cruces facimus, ubi Per ipsum dicimus, et item corpus Christi, videlicet Ecclesiam de gentibus exprimimus, quae Christi quinquepartitam passionem veneranter excepit, et eam imitando patienter diversa tormenta pertulit.

Ch. 56
On the five orders of crosses

Thus through five orders of crosses we symbolize the five ages of the world saved by the Cross and by the Body of Christ. Per Christum Dominum nostrum is said five times in the Canon because the world is redeemed through Christ’s five wounds. In the sixth order the chalice is touched with the oblata because in this way Christ is shown to have drunk the chalice of his Passion on the Cross for the sake of all at a certain age in time. When we say Per ipsum, we make four signs of the cross over the chalice with the oblata and a fifth on the side of the chalice, because thereby we make known that Christ received four wounds on the hands and feet and a fifth in his side. When the body of Christ has been confected, we touch the lip of the chalice, and in this way we signify that when the body of the first man had been formed, God breathed the breath of life into his face and from him brought the woman to life (Genesis II). In a similar way God, per quem, cum quo, in quo omnia, breathed the Holy Spirit into the face of the perishing human race and out of it gave life to the Church through his Body. The chalice is touched in four places because the human race, scattered to the four corners of the world and brought to life by the four parts of the Cross, will be raised to life through Christ at the end of the world.

CAP. LVI. – De quinque ordinibus crucum.

Item per quinque ordines crucum, quinque aetates mundi designantur, quae per crucem et Christi corpus salvantur. Unde et in Canone quinquies Per Christum Dominum nostrum dicitur, quia per quinque vulnera Christi mundus redimitur. In sexto ordine calix cum oblata tangitur, quia in certa aetate Christus calicem passionis in cruce pro omnibus bibisse innuitur. Cum Per ipsum dicimus, quatuor cruces super calicem cum oblata facimus, quintam lateri calicis imprimimus; quia Christus, quatuor vulnera in manibus, et pedibus, et quintum in latere suscepisse innotescimus. Confecto ergo corpore Christi, labia calicis tangimus, ac per hoc, quod formato primi hominis corpore, Deus spiraculum vitae in faciem eius spiravit et mulierem ex eo vivificavit (Gen. II), significamus. Et hoc Deus, per quem, cum quo, in quo omnia, in faciem mortui humani generis Spiritum sanctum spiravit, et Ecclesiam ex eo per corpus suum vivificavit. Per quatuor autem partes calix tangitur; quia humanum genus in quatuor mundi partes dispersum, per quatuor crucis partes vivificatum, in fine mundi per Christum ad vitam resuscitatur.

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Gemma Animae (81): Christ’s Duel with the Devil

Ch. 81
The Battle with the Philistines


Now, as we have already explained, this battle happened before hand when David met Goliath and freed the people from his tyranny (1 Kings 17), because Christ also dueled the devil and saved the people who had been oppressed by him.

The Philistines were making war on Israel, and the host of demons was waylaying the human race; their enemies had sent troops against the people of God, and the devils raised up tyrants against the just; the enemies were protected by a wall, and the demons refined their wiles through the philosophers and poets. Goliath taunted God’s armies, and the devil mocks God’s devout through idolatry. David is sent into battle by his father, and Christ is dispatched into the world to wage his contest. David pastured sheep, and Christ led the flock to the fields of life. David defeated a bear and a lion, and Christ overcame the devil’s temptation. David left his sheep and hasted to the place of battle, and Christ, deserted by his disciples, came into the enemy’s assembly place.

At David’s arrival there was great shouting in the camp, and when Christ came among the Jews the cry went up “He deserves to die!” David puts on Saul’s suit of arms, but takes them off again (I Kings 17), and Christ is dressed in Pilate’s military uniform, i.e. the royal purple and the scarlet mantle, then stripped of them immediately [1]. David carried a staff against the Philistines, and Christ carried the cross against the devil. David took a milk bucket, and Christ took a jar of vinegar. The enemy is toppled by a sling and stone, and the devil is beaten by Christ’s flesh. For we should understand the sling to be Christ’s flesh, the stone his soul, and David his divinity. The stone hurled by the sling pierces Goliath’s skull because Christ’s soul, driven from his flesh by cruel torture, invaded and despoiled the tyrant’s dominion of Hell. He kills him with his own sword, because by his death Christ conquered the author of death. The people rejoice at David’s return, and the faithful people celebrate Christ’s return from Hell. David is received by singing crowds on his way back to Jerusalem, and in Christ’s ascent from Jerusalem into the heavens he is met by the angels singing hymns of praise.

[1] 1 Samuel 17:38-40:

Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet (galea) on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail (lorica). David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

Temptation painting.jpg

CAP. LXXXI. – De pugna Philistaei.

Hoc ut dictum est in figura praecesserat, quando David cum Goliath congressus populum a tyrannide eius eruerat (I Reg. XVII), quia et Christus cum diabolo duellum subierat et populum oppressum ab eo eripiebat. Philisthim namque Israel impugnabat, et daemonum caterva humanum genus vexabat; hostes contra populum Dei aciem direxerant, et daemones contra iustos tyrannos incitaverant; hostes se vallo munierant, et daemones per philosophos et poetas errores firmaverant. Goliath agminibus Dei exprobrabat, et diabolus cultoribus Dei per idololatriam insultabat. David a patre suo ad pugnam mittitur, et Christus a Patre in mundum ad certamen dirigitur. David oves pavit, et Christus innocens ad pascua vitae congregavit. David ursum vel leonem superavit, et Christus diabolum se tentantem superavit. David ovibus derelictis ad locum certaminis tendit, et Christus a discipulis derelictus ad conciliabula hostium venit. Veniente David clamor in castris oritur, et Christo inter Iudaeos veniente clamor reus est mortis exoritur. David a militibus armis Saul induitur, moxque eisdem exuitur (I Reg. XVII), et Christus a militibus vestibus Pilati, scilicet purpura et Chlamide coccinea induitur, moxque eisdem exuitur. David contra Philistaeum baculum portavit, et Christus crucem contra diabolum baiulavit. David mulctrum, et Christus accepit vas aceto plenum. Hostis funda et lapide prosternitur, et diabolus Christi carne vincitur, Per fundam quippe, Christi caro; per lapidem, eius anima, per David, deitas intelligitur. Petra itaque de funda excussa frontem superbi penetrat, quia anima Christi, de carne tormentis excussa, regnum tyranni penetrans infernum spoliat. Proprio ense victum iugulat, quia per mortem auctorem mortis vicit. Reverso David populus laetatur, et Christo ab inferis regresso populus fidelium congratulatur. David Ierusalem veniens a turbis cum cantu excipitur, et Christus ab Ierusalem coelos ascensurus ab angelis hymnologis laudibus suscipitur.

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

The Mass as Spiritual Warfare

“εὖ γε, ὦ Λακεδαιμόνιε ξένε, λέγεις. τὴν ἀνδρείαν δέ, φέρε, τί θῶμεν; πότερον ἁπλῶς οὕτως εἶναι πρὸς φόβους καὶ λύπας διαμάχην μόνον, ἢ καὶ πρὸς πόθους τε καὶ ἡδονὰς καί τινας δεινὰς θωπείας κολακικάς, αἳ καὶ τῶν σεμνῶν οἰομένων εἶναι τοὺς θυμοὺς ποιοῦσιν κηρίνους?”

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.