Honorius Augustodunensis: A Sermon for the Invention of the True Cross

Our friends who have followed the translation of the Gemma animae will certainly enjoy Honorius’ sermon on the Feast of the Invention of the True Cross, part of his sermon collection Speculum ecclesiae

Tracking the wood of the Cross through all the surprising places it appears in the typological narratives of the Old Testament, he gives us a vivid impression of the medieval view of salvation history, showing how  “all the ages of the world are united to Christ by the Cross” (Gemma animae 1.49), and that “the just in the Old Testament were participants in the sacrament of the Eucharist” (ibid., 1.57). The just men of all times participate in Christ’s Passion in the Eucharistic moment of faithful suffering.

It ought to be read alongside the mass commentary section on the Canon, Gemma 1.50 – 58.

The text is written in a playful alliterated rhymed-prose whose exact replication in English eludes our humble skills, though we do bring out the rhymes from time to time, lest a reader fail to get a sense of the spirit of the original. We have lightly amended the Latin of the PL according to an exquisitely beautiful 12th-century Admont manuscript. The figure on f. 1v may be a rare portrait of Honorius himself.

The illustrations are taken from the Dialogue in praise of the Holy Cross, a remarkable illustrated dialogue produced at St. Emmeram in Regensburg around 1170, not too long after Honorius’ own death (probably in the same city). We hope to write about this manuscript in the near future.

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



On the Invention of the Holy Cross

trans. by Gerhard Eger and Zachary Thomas

The light of thy countenance O Lord, is signed upon us.[1] The light of God’s countenance is Christ, who is the splendor of his glory and the figure of his substance,[2] who is the true light that enlighteneth every man,[3] which the teeming shadows could not overcome. This light is signed upon us[4] when Christ’s name is emblazoned with chrism on our foreheads by the impression of the Holy Cross. This sign of our salvation, dedicated in the blood of the unspotted Lamb,[5] is venerated by angels and men. For by its reconciliation we are saved from death and restored to life. By it our damages are paid to the heavenly court, and the bliss of the angelic hosts is doubled.[6] For Almighty God equipped the palace of the heavenly Jerusalem with a full garrison of splendiferous ranks of angels to the praise of his name, but the first archangel deserting him wickedly destroyed this arrangement and, drawing a party of angels away from heaven, he led them with him into Hell.

Desiring to repair the damage caused by this great fall, God created man from the mud, and put him into a Paradise of all delights.[7] He allowed him free access to all paradise’s pleasures, but forbade him the fruit of just one tree, binding him to obedience. But the devil, pricked with envy—for he had been deprived of every good that this mud-clot was to gain the lofty height of glory from which he had been expelled for his arrogance, induced man too to fall in the same way he had. He spoke treacherously of God’s likeness and coaxed man to covet it. What need to recount what followed? Man trusted the devil, and tasted the forbidden tree. By a tree he is disgraced, and loses God’s grace. From paradise cast into exile, he suffers many miseries meanwhile, and is sentenced to death in trial.

Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 8.25.16 PM

This victorious Cross that restored all things in heaven and on earth has been prefigured in sundry ways since the beginning of the world. By it the chrism, baptism, and the sacraments of Christ’s Body for us, and anything it blesses is purified. By it all the devices of our cunning enemy are undone, and all adversities are overcome.

And therefore the Father’s Only-Begotten rose from his throne of glory, put on flesh, and came into the prison for his deluded servant. He whose form is immortal became corruption, the eternal Creator becomes a worm in order to reconcile him to God. He bested the devil who tempted him as he had the first man; triumphing on the tree of the Cross he bound the strong man, and redeeming man called him out of exile into the heavenly fatherland.

In the beginning God planted a garden of delight with every tree beautiful to the sight and sweet to eat,[8] and ordered the Tree of Life to sprout in its midst, from whose fruit if man had eaten, he would have remained permanently in a state of bliss and never died. Paradise, called the Garden of Delights,[9] is the Church, where are found all the delights of the Scriptures, where diverse trees beautiful to the sight and sweet to the taste are set out. Further, the Tree of Life is the Holy Cross, from which man picks the fruit of eternal life. Whoever eats of it worthily shall not see death forever.[10] This is the tree that was transplanted by the waters,[11] because all the streams of Scripture proclaim the Holy Cross. Abel is slain by a tree,[12] and Christ is fixed to a tree. All the kinds of living things are raised above the waters of the Flood by a tree, because the Church, using the Cross as its cane, rises from the dangerous waters of this world to the stars.

Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 3.37.31 PM

Abraham stood under a tree when he served the Lord in the three angels, whom he adored as one when he rejoiced exceedingly that he had seen the coveted day:[13] just so the faithful people stand under the branches of the Cross through faith, ministering to the Lord in his members, honoring him in three persons and adoring his majesty in its unity. They adore exceedingly, so that they may see the Lord’s day in bliss.

A ram is ensnared by its horns amidst the briars, when the same Abraham offered up his own son to God; Christ is entangled by the horns of the Cross amidst the Jews, when he was killed for us as a sacrifice to the Father. Hence the prophet saith: Horns are in his hands.[14] He held horns in his hands, when he spread forth his hands in the arms of the Cross for a people who gainsaid him.[15] There his power was hidden, but death went before his face[16] as it fled from the elect on account of the Cross. He appeared before us in a burning bush, when he came down to free his people from their affliction in Egypt. This bush which was kindled by the fire, is the Holy Cross around which blazed the flames of the Jews’ wrath, envy, and ire. By the bush’s thorns we understand their sharp tongues. The Lord appeared unto Moses in the bush’s flames, when Christ hung from the Cross before the Synagogue in the fire of his passion. And he descended to free his people from Egypt, as he descended into hell to liberate his peeps from hell’s crypt. Whence Moses saith: I beseech thee, Lord, send whom thou wilt send.[17]

Moses’ staff is changed into a serpent that devours the serpents of Pharaoh’s magicians. This staff is the Holy Cross that mortified Christ’s flesh in his torment, and this death defeats our twin deaths of body and soul. With this staff he divides the sea, redeems the people, and drowns the pursuing enemy in the waters; which is all to say that the Holy Cross confects holy Baptism by which the whole lot of the redeemed are snatched from death, and the pursuing enemy, i.e. original sin, is brought to ruin. By this staff the rock is struck twice and water is brought forth, while Christ is fixed to the two trees of the Cross and the water of redemption is drawn out of him.

Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 8.27.38 PMScreen Shot 2020-05-05 at 8.27.47 PMScreen Shot 2020-05-05 at 8.27.54 PM

When the people were making the journey from Egypt in the desert and were unable to drink the water for its bitterness, the Lord showed Moses a tree, which he cast in the water, changing it into fresh water.

The people whom Moses leads out of Egypt back to the fatherland, are the Christian people whom Christ leads out of this world back to the fatherland of paradise. He made the waters fresh for them through a tree, because through the Cross from death he set them free. For just as water carries in its wake all that it catches in its swell, so death drew all it had snatched into the maw of Hell. So it had been bitter to the former people, because it had dragged them down into the bitterness of divine punishment. But the Lord showed Moses (whose name means “drawn from the water”) a tree, when he made the virtue of the Holy Cross known to the people he had drawn from the water of Baptism. This tree makes water drinkable, because for love of Christ’s Cross many began to covet death, for they hope to be dressed in the garments of immortality once they have shrugged off this mortal coil.

’Tis said that this wood was brought to Jerusalem and cast into a pond called Probatica. In reverence whereof an angel descended each year into the pond, stirred the waters, and what sick man soever went down into the waters first emerged healed. At the time of our Lord’s passion, however, in a drought the pond dried up and the log showed up. Soldiers seeking material for a rood found this wood, and they deemed it altogether apt. And so they took it and fashioned a Cross therefrom, saddled it on Christ’s shoulders for him to bear, and raised him upon it for the salvation of the people like the serpent in the desert. Then the government was set upon his shoulder,[18] since through the victorious sign of the Cross his Father made him prince over all things in heaven and on earth. He is the angel of great counsel who came down to the tree, i.e. the Cross, into the pond, i.e. Judea, and stirred it with signs and miracles. Hence the one who descends into this water is healed, namely the Christian people who descend into the waters of baptism and are regenerated.

Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 3.37.01 PM

This Holy Cross is the pole on which the two men bore grape clusters,[19] for the prophets, going before, and the apostles, following behind, bore Christ, who hung on the Cross like the cluster on the pole, to the world in their preaching.

It is the fishing rod whose hook was cast by the Father into the ocean of the world, catches the Leviathan, and extracts the prey it had devoured from its stomach. It is also the mast of the Church’s ship, to which the veil of faith is lashed, held fast on all sides by the cables of good works, and so the Church, born on the tree by the spiration of the Holy Spirit, makes its course safely aCross the roiling waves of this world, and blissfully puts into the long-desired port of eternal life.

Once upon a time, the Cross was devised as a form of punishment to torment those condemned for wicked crimes, as today thieves and robbers are hanged by the neck, deemed unworthy of any other death. Thus the Jews said: Let us condemn him to a shameful death.[20] But after believers everywhere began to venerate it, and so many yearned to be crucified upon it for Christ’s sake, it was decreed that the death penalty should be administered by the gibbet instead of by the Cross.

Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 8.29.55 PM

Now, since the Cross is the glory of angels and men, let me reveal some of its mysteries to you.

In the beginning God created the world and divided it into four regions, for the very reason that he had predestined it to be restored, once it fell, through the Cross. Moses prefigured this sign when he marked the doors of the house with lamb’s blood in four places: the lintel, the threshold, and on both doorposts. It was also expressed in letters, when in ancient days the letter T was created in the form of the Cross, as Ezekiel announced. For the Holy Spirit snatched this prophet from Babylon and set him down in Jerusalem, and the glory of the Lord appeared to him there. The Lord then commanded the man clothed in linen garments to go through Jerusalem and sign the foreheads of those that mourned and sighed with the letter tau. Others were to follow and kill all those not so signed, beginning from the sanctuary.[21]

The prophet is led from Babylon into Jerusalem by the Holy Spirit, since prophecy is transferred from the Synagogue to the Church by the Spirit. “Babylon” means “confounding,” and the Synagogue is confounded, scattered amongst all nations on account of her infidelity. “Jerusalem,” however, signifies “vision of peace,” since it is foretold that she will see the true peace of Christ in heaven. The glory of the Lord appeared in her, when her majesty was revealed by the writings of the prophets. The man clothed with linen goes through Jerusalem, marking the foreheads of those mourning and sighing with a thau, i.e. the letter T, since the order of priests traverses the Church at the Lord’s command, impressing the sign of the Cross with chrism upon the foreheads of those doing penance and hastening to the faith. But those who follow slay those who are not signed, since demons cast down those who are not protected by the sign of the Cross in their souls. They begin from the sanctuary, since they first destroy Judea, where God’s sanctuary was. X, the first letter in Christ’s name, is written in the form of a Cross, and as a numeral it expresses the number ten and suggests the Ten Commandments of the Law, which the Lord came not to destroy, but to fulfill,[22] when he held up the Cross.

Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 8.31.11 PMScreen Shot 2020-05-05 at 8.31.20 PMScreen Shot 2020-05-05 at 8.31.28 PM

Thus we see that in the Cross’s form, the whole Christian religion finds its norm. Forsooth, the three upper corners denote the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, while the fourth one that holds up the three demonstrates veneration of the Unity. Paul the Apostle’s profound ingenuity reveals for us the Holy Cross’s profound mystery. “May God grant you,” quoth he, “that you may be able to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth.”[23] The Cross’s breadth is those two parts by which our Lord’s hands are stretched apart. The width we understand as two-fold love, which embraces our friends in God and our enemies for God’s sake. The length of the Cross is that part upon which the hanging body is extended. By this length we teach perseverance in good works to the very end, because he who perseveres to the end shall be saved.[24]

The Cross’s height is the part that rises above the head, where Pilate fixed the plaque inscribed in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. It signifies hope of heavenly things, the hope for equality with the angels to be got by means of the Cross’s victory. The depth of the Cross is the part beneath the feet, hidden in the earth. It declares! God’s hidden mercy, which upholds the entire world lest it perish in the grip of the evil one. Those who follow our Lord duly carry this Cross if they crucify themselves to the vices and concupiscences,[25] renounce carnal desires, and desire to live in obedience to God’s commands. They must hang stretched out upon this Cross, since they must be continually intent on spiritual things and never turn towards vice, but rather always propel themselves upwards in mind to grasp heavenly things.

If the Cross is laid on the ground, one can see that it stretches toward the East, South, North, and West, because the four parts of the world are marked for Christ’s kingdom by the Cross. For he said: “If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all things to myself[26] Then he was raised from the earth on the Cross, and the four-fold world was drawn to him by the sign of the Cross. But if the Cross is fixed in the ground and set up, one part of it points to heaven, one penetrates the earth, and one part points both ways to the right and left. Part is turned toward heaven, because the triumph of the Cross restores the heavens.

Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 8.32.55 PM

Part penetrates the earth, because the banner of the Cross renews heavenly things. Another part penetrates even unto Dis, because the Cross’s ensign destroys the armies of Hell. One part points to the world’s right and left because by the Cross’s virtue the good will be sentenced for glory on the right, and the wicked for punishment on the left. And on that day the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the heavens, and the light of the sun and moon will be blotted out, because the Cross of Christ will shine before the judgment with such a light that it will smother even the splendor of the sun and moon by its brightness.

Since today we celebrate the finding of the Holy Cross, dearly beloved, it is meet that we should relate to your charity how it was found.

After the Jews carried out God’s design, which his hand had decreed for them to do, i.e. after they crucified the Lord of glory alongside the thieves for the salvation of all men, they hid the adorable cross, the life-giving cross with the thieves’ crosses, burying them in the place of Calvary. Thus Christ, the ship’s captain, was killed by pirates, i.e. the perfidious Jews, and the Church’s ship itself, i.e. the holy Cross, was submerged in the depths of the earth by Charybdis, i.e the Synagogue. And so the Church finds herself enveloped by the tempest of persecutions and the storms of martyrdoms. Swimming through endless whirlpools of divers torments that would wreck any ship, scarcely escaping the undertow of persecution, she is borne aloft to the calm of peace. For the good Lord is ever watchful, and the tempest of persecutions is contained and quelled, the tranquillity of peace poured out on the world, and the ship of the Church, hidden for over two hundred years by now, is raised up from its hiding place and restored to the faithful.

Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 4.07.59 PM

Yea verily, Constantine, that stout defender of the Church, held the reins of power at that time. Binding him with bit and bridle,[27] God’s piety compelled him to draw near him, for when he wished to save him in soul, God covered his whole body with leprosy. Having been converted to the faith, he is baptized by Pope Sylvester; he is cleansed from leprosy forthwith; he secures peace and joy for the universal Church; Helena, the emperor’s mother, receives the faith and is dipped into the laver of salvation; a vast crowd of Jews and Gentiles are instructed in faith and baptism. Hereafter, Constantine, about to wage war on the pagans, feared for the outcome thereof, but the King of kings consoles him: appearing unto him at night as a man gleaming bright, he shows him the sign of the Holy Cross; promises him victory thereby. After awakening, he told his dream to his friends; he made a cross out of a military banner and made it to be carried before his hosts. His enemies turn in flight, his army is safe, he returns victorious through the sign of the Cross. Helena, therefore, inflamed with love for the Holy Cross, hastens to Jerusalem. She gathers the Jews together, demands that they show her the site of Calvary, which had been covered by thick brambles and thickets, and was hence unknown. For forty years after Our Lord’s Passion the Romans had utterly destroyed Jerusalem and, a long time thereafter, Ælius Hadrian built another city in another place, which he named Ælia after himself. We read that the Lord suffered and was buried without the gate, and both places can today be seen by all in the city which now is Jerusalem.

The Queen offers the Jews a reward if they should reveal the site of the Cross; she threatens punishment if they should conceal it. They aver that the site is unknown to them; they are all condemned to be cast into flaming fire. Terrified, they put forward a man, Judas by name; he knows all things, they claim. This he denies, is cast into a well, and wastes away from hunger and thirst. Then he promises to point out the site; he is led out. He betakes himself to the site, the Queen and the people following; he pours forth prayers on bended knees. The place shakes; the smoke of incense rises up from the earth. Forthwith they break up the earth with hoes. A dead man is brought over; he is placed on Christ’s cross and rises again, he bears witness to the virtue of the Holy Cross by resurrection and voice. Then they also found the shining nails with which the Jews pierced the hands and feet of Our Lord, and they gave thanks to God the bestower of all good things. Judas and all the Jews believed in Christ and were baptized, then he was made bishop of the church of Jerusalem and eventually suffered illustrious martyrdom for the church entrusted to him. After the Cross was found, the devil appeared with a hideous screech; he asserted that all his rights were taken away by this Cross. “Judas,” he spake, “handed over his Lord and led him to death. Now another Judas has handed over all my secrets, has led all my arts to nothingness, when he brought forth this tree. But my servant Julian shall soon be king, and from him thou shalt have the deserts of thy treason.” Which things thereafter befell: for Julian the Apostate afflicted this same Judas, then a bishop by the name of Quiriacus, with exquisite torments. But Helena built a church at great expense; put part of the Cross therein; bore part to Constantinople, the city of her son. Let all the redeemed, therefore, rejoice in this day, sing praises to Christ the Redeemer, who after he trod the winepress alone,[28] ruled all nations as God from the Cross, in which winepress the cluster of cypress[29] is pressed, and through whose drink the restoration of life is made clear to us all. With this staff, finally, the good shepherd drove his sheep to the palace of the Church.

Hence the holy pope Alexander, whose feast we keep today, was driven by love of the Cross. After he had been set over his flock, he was seized by the pagans, bound in chains, subjected to hunger and thirst in prison, hung on the rack, raked with iron claws, and cast into a burning furnace. Untouched by the fire, he was finished off at last with a rain of stabs through every part of his body. Two priests, Eventius and Theodolus, suffered with him in prison, were tried in the fire, and finally beheaded.

Trusting in their merits and prayers, approach today the throne of glory, so that through the triumph of the Cross sacred to God, with them you may ring out the eternal Alleluia in the fullness of bliss. Which the eye hath not seen, etc.[30]

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 10.19.19 PM


What follows below is found in ancient books about the tree of the Cross.[31]

At the time of King David, a certain Jew found in the forest a tree covered with three kinds of leaf. He cut it down and carried it to King David that he might admire it. When the king saw it, he forthwith understood what would happen in it, and he adored it every day as long as he lived. Solomon his son not only adored it for the sake of his father, but gilded it over entirely. When the Queen of the South came to hearken to the wisdom of Solomon, she prophesied about the tree saying, “If Solomon knew what this tree portends, he would adore it no longer. A certain philosopher of the king heard this, and told his lord what he had heard. The king sent him after the queen, who had already departed, with many precious gifts to give to the queen’s philosopher without her knowledge, in order that he might inquire of his lady what she said the tree portended. When the queen’s philosopher received the gifts, he ordered him not to show himself to the queen. Then he secretly inquired of the queen about this matter. She replied saying that a certain man would hang upon it by whom the entire kingdom of the Jews would be destroyed. After he heard this, King Solomon removed the gold from the tree and cast it into the depths of a pond. Thenceforward an angel of the Lord descended each year into the pool, in which the sick were healed at the angel’s descent not by the water, but by the tree. At the time of Our Lord’s passion this pond was dried up, and the Cross was taken up therefrom which Christ bore upon his shoulder up to the gate.


[1] Psalm 4:7.

[2] Hebrews 1:3.

[3] John 1:19.

[4] Psalm 4:7.

[5] See 1 Peter 1:19.

[6] Because men are joined to their ranks.

[7] See Genesis 2:8.

[8] Genesis 2:9.

[9] The late 12-th century Hortus deliciarum manuscript is thought to have been inspired by Honorius’ writings.

[10] John 8:51.

[11] Psalm 1 (Jerome’s Hebrew psalter)

[12] Perhaps with a club, as in the above image from the Dialogue in Praise of the Holy Cross.

[13] See John 8:56. Christians adore the Trinity so that they may see the last day, just as Abraham adored the trinity of angels and rejoiced to see Christ’s day.

[14] Habacuc 3:4 (Lauds canticle, sung at Lauds of Good Friday)

[15] Cf. Isaias 65:2 and Romans 10:21.

[16] Habacuc 3:5.

[17] Exodus 4:4.

[18] Isaias 9:6.

[19] See Numbers 13:23.

[20] Wisdom 2:20.

[21] See Ezekiel’s vision in chapters 8 to 10.

[22] Matthew 5:17.

[23] Ephesians 3:18.

[24] Matthew 10:22, 24:13

[25] Galatians 5:24.

[26] John 12:32.

[27] See Psalm 31:9.

[28] Isaias 63:3.

[29] Canticle of Canticles 1:13.

[30] 1 Cor 2:9. Honorius ends all the sermons in this collection with an evocation of eternal glory, culminating invariably in this verse from St. Paul.

[31] The following appendix is found in the Admont MS.

Consolation in Times of Plague, from the Gemma animae


It is very good to build churches and to contribute vessels, vestments, and other ornaments for their decoration, but it is much better to expend the same means for the relief of the poor, and to despatch one’s wealth through the hands of the poor for deposit in the heavenly treasury, and there to make ready a house not made with hands, eternal in heaven, where he will live forever with the angels. 

Mark you, however, that holy places do not save those whose wicked works cut them off from the Church, while not even the most dreadful places hinder those who live a pious life. For Nadab and Abihu are consumed by fire in God’s tabernacle; while Korah, Dathan, and Abiram are swallowed up by the earth in front of the tabernacle. The priest Eli’s neck is broken in the holy place, and Uzzah is struck down by the ark. Joab is killed next to the altar, and King Uzziah is covered with leprosy in the Temple. Finally, the Temple itself is desecrated and destroyed, and the people are led away into captivity as violators of the Law.

On the other hand, Joseph does not perish in the cistern or in prison. Moses is not drowned in the river. Job does not die on his dung heap nor Jeremiah in his muddy cistern. No harm comes to Daniel in the lions’ den nor to the three young men in the furnace. Peter survives in prison and Paul does not perish on the sea. Indeed, the devil fell even from heaven, and man from paradise. But God visits the just of the earth and, raising them out of hell, places them among heavenly things.

job-on-dungheap.gif – The Evangelical Calvinist

Stained Glass, Light Metaphysics, and Medieval Allegorical Commentary

Stained Glass

“The Old Testament is this vault which rises in a single rib, in a single groin, and the New Testament is the same rib that returns […]. And the keystone of this mystic vault is Jesus.”–Charles Péguy

The windows that exclude weather and let in the light are the doctors who stand against the storms of heresy and shed the light of the Church’s doctrine upon us. Light shines through the window glass, and this glass is the mind of the doctors, who contemplate, as if in a mirror, the heavenly things hidden in the figures (GA 1.130).

For those devoted readers who have followed us through Honorius’ Gemma Animae, here is a little meditation I wrote on his method of allegorical commentary.

According to the mystical tradition derived from Dionysius, and expounded by St. Thomas (e.g. I-II, q. 101), the liturgical symbol is the privileged medium through which the Christian soul contemplates the Divine Light in this life. Direct vision of the Divine Light must await the state of bliss. At the present time, since we have not entered into the pure light of eternity, “we need the ray of Divine light to shine upon us under the form of certain sensible figures.”

Otherwise invisible to us, the Divine Light appears through the filtered, differentiated light of incarnate figures. In the Old Dispensation, these figures were the narratives of salvation history and the ritual practices of the Old Law, which found their highest expression in the Temple liturgy, through which (according to Aquinas) the initiated could actually glimpse Christ as through a glass very darkly.

Christ comes as the Sun, shining through these figures and revealing that they were likenesses of him all along: “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer all these things?” In the New Law, the liturgical symbol becomes a diaphanous membrane through which we may contemplate the whole sweep of Christ’s redemptive work in the figures of salvation history, and even glimpse something of our heavenly end.

Image result for sainte chapelle
Detail of stained-glass, Sainte Chapelle

With this in mind, the mode of revelation ascribed to the liturgical rites by the allegorical commentators may be understood through an aesthetic analogy with the Gothic stained glass window. In fact, from a historical point of view, the same Dionysian metaphysics inspired the conception of the Gothic style, with its use of light and color, and the Scriptural-allegorical optic of certain liturgical commentators as they sought to “illuminate” the “spiritual gem” of liturgical ritual.

Revelation is like the construction of a cathedral. God laid the stones and painted the windows in the Old Testament. He illuminated them in the New. The Temple is the Cathedral, media autem nocte. At Easter dawn the light of the Resurrection and the flame of the Holy Spirit flood through these windows to reveal the whole program of sacred history, its inner coherence and its splendor, the inner life that, though obscured, had animated it from the beginning. The High Priest in his cerulean robe, whom we once glimpsed in the shadows, suddenly is revealed as Christ himself. The dark forms of the lower ministers, the priests and levites, the hanging lanterns, suddenly spring into view as the orders of acolytes and deacons, Christ’s priests, and the doctors of the Church, disguised there all along, only waiting to be revealed. The Temple cultus was our cultus in germ; in Christ it finally springs into flower.

Dark cathedral.jpg
Gloucester Cathedral (Source)

And even now the sun has not ceased rising. Through the illuminated colors of the liturgy of the new High Priest, we look further and catch some glimpse of the realms of light where angels sing and the saints rejoice, their earthly pilgrimage accomplished, the devil finally defeated. At times, at the Sanctus for example, the angelic song bursts through and the Heavenly and Militant churches are united in anticipation of their final reunion around the Altar of the Lamb. On the eschatological nature of liturgical cult, Fr. Quoëx writes:

The state of blessedness is the ultimate sacred reality to which the first two states of cult are ordered. The provisional realities, shadows, and figures of this world will give way to the eternal rest toward which man tends and in which, through the merits of Christ, he will be established as body and soul. There, “in this state of the Blessed, nothing in regard to worship of God will be figurative; there will be naught but ‘thanksgiving and voice of praise.’” Thus, the Angelic Doctor cites Apocalypse (21:22): “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.

The role of the Doctor is to help Christians to see the pure Light of Christ shining through the colorful pageant of the liturgical rites. As a friendly guide, he takes us up to the glowing windows of the rites one by one, pointing out the crowds of figures to him and deciphering the dense episodes of salvation history: a liturgical exegesis.

The doctor performs an act of Apocalypse, revelation, unveiling. This act has an eschatological dimension, because at the same time that he makes us glimpse the limbs of Christ working in the liturgy, he causes us to yearn for the light to overcome the mediating forms entirely, for faith to cease and vision to begin. So by “decoding” the liturgy, the commentator trains us to wish for the state of glory.

Allegorical commentary is not merely didacticism, or arcane scholastic exercise, or a childish “Where’s Waldo?” where the game is to spot Christ wherever you can. It came from a belief about the nature of Revelation itself. These commentators were convinced that liturgy was the ongoing drama of Biblical Revelation happening before their eyes, a continuation of the Incarnation that, like the sun shining through the stained glass each morning, flooded the dark world with Light and revealed Christ’s manifold presences in the Church. This drama invited intelligent viewing, and even active participation.

The Biblical narrative is not consummated once and for all on Calvary, but again and again when the sun rises on each Eucharistic celebration. The monk’s lectio divina in the dark of the night finds its completion in the Eucharistia at daybreak, when the protagonists are cast on the Eucharistic stage and he takes active part in the drama of salvation history: might catch a glimpse of Moses coming through the sea, or see Joshua blow his triumphant horn.

As the sun rises with the morning Eucharist in Sainte Chapelle, the dark figures buried in the stories of stained glass are irradiated with the light cast by the Sun who banished the shadows and fulfilled the figures. The companies of prophets and patriarchs renew their ceaseless homage to their Antitype, the Christian joins in worship with all the saints and patriarchs through whom God has revealed himself, and the humble species of the Eucharist is projected in pied beauty on the canvas of the chapel walls.

We can’t all pray with the illuminated book of Sainte Chapelle, but through the window of the liturgical commentary we can see the Scriptural types cast upon the walls of our own churches wherever we are.

Gemma Animae (148-149): The Cloister as Paradise

Ch. 148
On the Cloister

Convent Thoughts by Charles Allston Collins

The form of the cloister beside the monastery is taken from Salomon’s portico built next to the temple. The apostles all lived in this place and they met in the temple to pray, and “the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and everything they owned was held in common” (Acts 4). Following this form, religious live together in the cloister and meet night and day in the monastery for the divine service. To this day some of the faithful leave the secular world and lead a common life in the cloister.

CAP. CXLVIII. – De claustro.

Claustralis constructio iuxta monasterium est sumpta a porticu Salomonis constructa iuxta templum. In qua apostoli omnes unanimiter commanebant, et in templo ad orationem conveniebant, et multitudini credentium cor unum et anima una erat, et omnia communia habebant (Act. IV) . Secundum hanc formam religiosi in claustro unanimiter degunt, nocte ac die in monasterio ad servitium Dei conveniunt. Et fideles adhuc saecularia relinquunt, communem vitam in claustro ducunt.

Ch. 149
The Cloister is Paradise

The cloister also signifies Paradise (Genesis 4) and the monastery Eden, the more hidden part of Paradise. There, there was a fountain of concupiscence; in the monastery there is a fount of Baptism. The tree of life is in paradise; the body of the Lord in the monastery. The diverse fruit trees are the various books of Sacred Scripture. The cloister’s secretum is a figure of heaven, in which the just are separated from sinners just as the professed religious are sequestered from those in the secular state.

The cloister presents us with an image of the heavenly paradise [1]. The fountain and the tree of life signifies Christ, who is the fountain of life and the food of the blessed in eternal life. In the monastery two choirs sing God’s praises; and in the heavenly paradise the angels and saints will praise the Lord in sweet concert unto the ages of ages. The multitude of persons living in the cloister have one heart and one mind in religion and possess all things in common, and in the heavenly homeland all the elect will have one heart and one mind in love, and all will possess all things in common, because whatever each one lacks he will have in that place where God will be all in all. In the cloister each monastic has his own proper place, and in paradise each one will receive his own rooms according to his merits [2].

CAP. CXLIX. – Quod claustrum sit paradisus.

Porro claustrum praesefert paradisum (Gen. IV) , monasterium vero Eden securiorem locum paradisi. Fons in hoc loco voluptatis, est in monasterio fons baptismatis; lignum vitae in paradiso est: corpus Domini in monasterio. Diversae arbores fructiferae sunt diversi libri sacrae Scripturae. Secretum enim claustri gerit figuram coeli. (0590C) In quo iusti ita a peccatoribus segregantur, sicut religiosae vitae professores a saecularibus in claustro sequestrantur.

Porro monasteria praefert coelestem paradisum. Fons et lignum vitae signat Christum, qui est fons vitae et cibus beatorum aeternaliter viventium. In monasterio duo chori laudes Deo concinunt; et in coelesti paradiso angeli atque sancti in saeculum saeculi dulci concentu Dominum laudabunt. Multitudo in claustro conversantium unum cor et unam animam in religione habent, et omnia communiter possident, et in superna patria omnes electi cor unum et animam unam in dilectione habebunt, et omnes omnia communiter possidebunt, quia unusquisque quod in ea minus habet in aliis habebit, ubi Deus omnia in omnibus erit. In claustro singuli singula loca secundum ordinem tenent, et in paradiso singuli singulas mansiones secundum merita recipient.



[1] Anciently, the area in front of the church enclosed by a walled courtyard was called the atrium or paradisus. It often included a garden, as today in the old Roman basilicas such as St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. To enter a basilica, therefore one had to enter a garden. This symbolism was often reinforced by the decoration of the nave and especially of the apse, which might include a scene of the Garden of Paradise.


Gemma Animae does not much apply this symbolism for the Church itself, but has transferred it to the monastery grounds, which contain the same sort of interior walled courtyard that the ancient basilicas once had in front of the church building.

[2] We saw the same idea in ch. 140 in his gloss on the monastic choir stalls, which represent the houses of the just in the Kingdom.

Epiphany and its Octave (GA 3.16 – 21)

Ch. 16
On the Sunday Dum medium silentium

Image result for theophany painting

The Sunday that occurs between Our Lord’s Nativity and Epiphany signifies that time when the Lord was in Egypt. Hence the Communion antiphon Tolle puerum et matrem eius (Matthew 2).

CAP. XVI. – De Dominica, Dum medium silentium.

Dominica, quae inter Nativitatem Domini et Epiphaniae occurrit, significat tempus illud quo Dominus in Aegypto fuit, unde et in communione, Tolle puerum et matrem eius (Matth. II), canitur.

Ch. 17
On the Saints and their Octaves

We celebrate the birthdays of saints because through death they were born from this world into eternal life. We keep their octaves because in the octave, i.e. in the Resurrection, their glory will be doubled in Christ.

CAP. XVII. – De sanctis et octavis eorum.

Natalia sanctorum ideo celebrantur, quia de hoc mundo in aeternam vitam per mortem nascebantur. Octavae vero illorum ideo coluntur, quia in octava, id est in resurrectione, gloriae eorum per Christum duplicabuntur.

Ch. 18
On Epiphany


Formerly the Octave of the Ides of January was a feast for the triple triumph of Augustus Caesar. We celebrate the same day, which we call the Lord’s Epiphany, for three reasons: because a star showed the way to Our Lord and he was revealed to the nations on that day, and after thirty years he was baptized in the Jordan on the same day, and one year later on the same day he was manifested as God at the wedding of Cana through the conversion of water into wine. Thus it is called Epiphany or Theophany, which means appearance or manifestation or showing forth. For it is said that on this day the Lord fed the five thousand from the five loaves. Thus the first nocturn concerns the star’s appearance, the second nocturn the Magi’s visit, and the third Our Lord’s baptism. In the sacraments of the Mass the subject is the conversion of water into wine and the feeding of the people from the loaves.

CAP. XVIII. – De Epiphania.

Octava Idus Ianuarii olim habebatur celebris ob triplicem triumphum Augusti Caesaris. Hanc eamdem diem, quam Epiphaniam Domini vocamus, ob tres causas celebramus, quia Dominus stella duce illa die gentibus est revelatus; et post triginta annos eadem die in Iordane baptizatus, et revoluto anno ipsa die per aquae in vinum conversionem ad nuptias Deus est manifestatus. Ideo Epiphania vel Theophania appellatur, quod apparitio vel manifestatio aut ostentio interpretatur. Traditur enim quod hac die quinque millia hominum de quinque panibus Dominus satiaverit. Itaque in primo nocturno stellae apparitio. In secundo nocturno Magorum visitatio. In tertio Domini baptizatio. In sacramentis missae agitur aquae in vinum conversio, vel populi de panibus saturatio.

Ch. 19
On the Magi

Image result for chinese christmas painting magi

The king Zoroaster was the first to discover magic, and from his seed came Balaam who prophesied this about Christ: Orietur stella ex Jacob, et consurget homo de Israel (Numbers 24). The Magi who came to the Lord with gifts were descended from Balaam. Now Magi are a kind of astronomer, experts in the stars. Our Lord wanted to be sought by these men because he wanted a testimony from the wise men of the world on the basis of which the gentile peoples might believe. He wanted to be found by three men because he wanted to be worshipped in the three parts of the world, namely Asia, Africa, and Europe. He wanted to be found through a star because he wanted the people to be converted through Sacred Scripture. He wanted to be found on the twelfth day after his nativity because he wanted to draw the world to himself through the twelve apostles. Now Our Lord wanted to be baptized for three reasons. First, to “fulfill all justice”; second, to endorse the baptism of John; and third to sanctify the waters for us. He wanted to be baptized after thirty years before he began preaching because he wanted to teach the people at the perfect age after he had gained wisdom. He wanted to be baptized by John and no other because from him he wanted a witness among the people because the Jews believed that John was a prophet.[1]

CAP. XIX. – De Magis.

Primus Zoroaster rex magicam invenit, de cuius semine Balaam exstitit, qui de Christo hoc praedixit: Orietur stella ex Iacob, et consurget homo de Israel (Num. XXIV). Ex cuius progenie hi Magi fuerunt, qui ad Dominum cum muneribus venerunt. Magi autem sunt dicti, quasi mathematici, scilicet in stellis periti. Ideo autem Dominus ab his quaeri voluit, quia testimonium a sapientibus mundi habere voluit, quibus et populus gentium credidit. Ideo vero a tribus inveniri voluit, quia a tribus partibus mundi scilicet Asia, Africa, Europa, coli voluit. Ideo hoc per stellam fieri voluit, quia per sacram Scripturam populum converti voluit. Ideo in duodecimo die a nativitate sua hoc fieri voluit, quia per duodecim apostolos mundum attrahere voluit. Propter tres autem causas Dominus baptizari voluit: primo, ut omnem iustitiam impleret: secundo, ut Ioannis baptismum comprobaret: tertio, ut aquas nobis sanctificaret. Idcirco autem post triginta annos baptizari, et tunc praedicare voluit, quia nos adepta scientia in perfecta aetate populum docere voluit. Ideo vero a Ioanne, non ab alio, baptizari voluit, quia ab illo testimonium ad populum habere voluit, quia videlicet populus Iudaeorum illi, ut prophetae, credidit.

Ch. 20
On Matins of the Epiphany

In this night, we do not sing the Invitatory, because turn down Herod’s deceitful invitation to the Magi, yet the sixth psalm we sing is Venite exsultemus (Psalm 94), because we celebrate that in the sixth age of the world the gentiles came to the faith. In the third nocturn, we sing the antiphon Fluminis impetus[2] and the psalm Deus noster refugium (Psalm 45), because we remember that, in the third age, the city of God (civitatem Dei), i.e. the Church, was gladdened by the river of baptism. And so in the third nocturn we frequently sing Alleluia, because we announce that in the third age, joy came through the baptism.

CAP. XX. – De Matutinis.

In hac nocte invitatorium non cantamus, quia subdolam Herodis invitationem cum Magis declinamus; in sexto tamen loco psalmum, Venite exsultemus (Psal. XCIV), canimus, quia sexta aetate mundi gentes ad fidem venisse plaudimus. In tertio nocturno antiphonam fluminis impetus (Psal. XLV), et psalmum Deus noster refugium (ibid.), psallimus, quia tertio tempore flumine baptismatis civitatem Dei, scilicet Ecclesiam, laetificasse cognovimus. Ideo in tertio nocturno Alleluia frequentamus, quia in tertio tempore per baptismum laetitiam advenisse annuntiamus.

Ch. 21
On the Octave Day of Epiphany

On the Octave Day of Epiphany, we celebrate the baptism of the Church, as in the antiphons Veterem hominem[3] and Te qui in spiritu.[4] Baptism is performed with water, since this element is clearly contrary to fire. Now, the fire of punishment is lit by the kindling of sin, but extinguished by the water of baptism. Hence is it written that in the beginning the Holy Spirit sustained it, for water washes filth away, extinguishes thirst, and restored the image, and so by baptism we are washed of the filth of our sins, drink from the fount of life, and are restored to the image of God.

CAP. XXI. – De octava Epiphaniae.

In octava Epiphaniae baptismus Ecclesiae celebratur, sicut in antiphonis, Veterem hominem, et te qui in spiritu. Ideo autem in aqua baptizatur, quia hoc elementum igni contrarium comprobatur. Fomite vero peccati ignis poenarum accenditur, sed per aquam baptismatis exstinguitur. Ideo hanc Spiritus sanctus in principio fovisse legitur. Aqua enim sordes abluit, sitim exstinguit, imaginem reddit, ita nos baptismate a sordibus peccatorum nostrorum lavamur, a fonte vitae potamur, imagine Dei renovamur.


[1] This chapter quotes the antiphon Tribus miraculis.

[2] Fluminis impetus lætificat, alleluia, civitatem Dei, alleluia.

[3] Veterem hominem renovans Saluator venit ad baptismum ut natura quae corrupta est per aquam recuperaret incorruptibili veste circumamictans nos.

[4] Te qui in spiritu et igne purificas humana contagia Deum ac redemptorem omnes glorificamus. These and the rest of the day antiphons of the Octave of the Epiphany were of Greek origin, translated into Latin and put into the Roman liturgy at the request of Charlemagne. They were not received into the Roman curial breviary and were therefore not included in the Tridentine breviary.