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. The light of God’s countenance is Christ, who is the splendor of his glory and the figure of his substance, who is the true light that enlighteneth every man, which the teeming shadows could not overcome. This light is signed upon us 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, 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. 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. 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.
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, 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, 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. This is the tree that was transplanted by the waters, because all the streams of Scripture proclaim the Holy Cross. Abel is slain by a tree, 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.
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: 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. He held horns in his hands, when he spread forth his hands in the arms of the Cross for a people who gainsaid him. There his power was hidden, but death went before his face 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.
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.
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, 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.
This Holy Cross is the pole on which the two men bore grape clusters, 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. 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.
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.
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, when he held up the Cross.
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.” 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.
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, 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” 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.
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.
Yea verily, Constantine, that stout defender of the Church, held the reins of power at that time. Binding him with bit and bridle, 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, ruled all nations as God from the Cross, in which winepress the cluster of cypress 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.
What follows below is found in ancient books about the tree of the Cross.
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.
 Psalm 4:7.
 Hebrews 1:3.
 John 1:19.
 Psalm 4:7.
 See 1 Peter 1:19.
 Because men are joined to their ranks.
 See Genesis 2:8.
 Genesis 2:9.
 John 8:51.
 Psalm 1 (Jerome’s Hebrew psalter)
 Perhaps with a club, as in the above image from the Dialogue in Praise of the Holy Cross.
 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.
 Habacuc 3:4 (Lauds canticle, sung at Lauds of Good Friday)
 Cf. Isaias 65:2 and Romans 10:21.
 Habacuc 3:5.
 Exodus 4:4.
 Isaias 9:6.
 See Numbers 13:23.
 Wisdom 2:20.
 See Ezekiel’s vision in chapters 8 to 10.
 Matthew 5:17.
 Ephesians 3:18.
 Matthew 10:22, 24:13
 Galatians 5:24.
 John 12:32.
 See Psalm 31:9.
 Isaias 63:3.
 Canticle of Canticles 1:13.
 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.
 The following appendix is found in the Admont MS.