Sermon for the Resurrection of the Lord
Maria Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought
spices, so that they might go and anoint Jesus" (Mark 16:1).
Since we should carry out spiritually what we read that these
women did corporeally, we should first consider what was done
morally: these three women, what spices they bought, from whom
they bought them and at what price, what they did then, and how
they then anointed Jesus.
These three women signify the three lives: lay, regular, and clerical.
The life of laymen is active and secular; the life of religious
is contemplative and spiritual; the life of clergy- men is rather
mixed and shared, partly secular inasmuch as they possess worldly
things and partly spiritual inasmuch as they administer divine things.
These three lives are signified elsewhere in the gospel where
it is said, there are two in the field, two at the mill, and two
in bed, "One will be taken and the other left" (Luke
17:34-35). The mill, which turns constantly, signifies the world,
which is always changing. One at the mill--these are the laity,
who use worldly things, with great labor and difficulty. The bed
signifies rest. Hence, in bed are the religious, who, having abandoned
secular occupations, take delight in the leisure of contemplation.
And in the field are the clerics who <sometimes labor with
secular concerns,> at other times rest in spiritual sweetness;
just as those in a field are sometimes drooping while tending
the crops, at other times taking delight in the shade of the trees.
But in every order, some are good and some are bad. When it is
said that one is taken and another is left, it is not referring
to any particular order, since the good man is taken to glory
and the bad man is left for punishment. Consequently, no one,
regardless of his order, should despair, since he is able to be
saved if he buys spices in order to anoint Jesus. For in every
group, he who acts righteously is acceptable to God.
These three lives, however, are also signified by the three men
whom the prophet Ezechiel saw in a vision as saved, namely, Noah,
Daniel, and Job (Ezechiel 14:14). Noah, who guided the ark in
the flood, signifies the clergy who rule the church in this world.
Daniel, who as a man in contemplation was free of all desires,
signifies the religious who with total desire cling to the contemplation
of heavenly things. Job, who had wife, off-spring, flocks, arms,
servants and handmaidens, signifies the laity, who possess such
things in this world.
The spices, however, are the good works that sweetly perfume the
heavens with the fragrance of virtues. Solomon speaks of these
in the canticles: "Awake, O north wind, and come, O south
wind! Blow upon my garden, let its fragrance be wafted abroad"
(Song of Songs 4:16). For the north wind, which is a cold wind,
signifies the devil, who has been frozen in evil. It is also written
that every evil is revealed by the north wind. The south wind,
however, which blows warm, symbolizes the Holy Spirit, who inflames
the minds of the faithful to love. For love has been poured out
into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to
us. The garden, however, is the soul, in which virtues have been
planted like fruitful grasses. He says, therefore, that the north
wind flees and the south wind comes, inasmuch as the devil departs
and the Holy Spirit approaches; he blows upon the garden and inspires
the soul, and so spices flow and good works come forth.
These spices are bought from him of whom James the apostle says,
"Every best endowment and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17). "Apart
from me," he says, "you can do nothing" since "the
branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine"
(John 15:4-5). Further, since he is not in want of our goods,
as he is rich above all and in all things, it should be said that
he demands and requires from us this set price alone, that in
return for his benefactions, we offer him thanks and praise. If
these proceed from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from
genuine faith, he accepts them over gold and silver and precious
gems. Beware, therefore, Christian, lest you believe that you
have bought from him any good whatsoever at any other price, because
if perchance you ascribe any good thing, whatever it may be, to
your own merits and virtues, you do injury to him from whom all
goods proceed. Rather, for all the good things received, offer
praise and thanks to him from whom, in his mercy, you have received
them. For what do you have that you will not have received? Consequently,
you have completely discarded the arrogance of those who say,
"Our lips are with us; who is our master?" (Psalm 11
:5); since if perchance you should say this, you would return
an indignity for every good thing.
But as there are diverse women, so they make diverse ointments
with which they anoint Jesus in different ways. Laymen should
indeed take six kinds of spices to make the ointment, that is,
the six works of piety that Christ will commend in judgment. "I
was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me
drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you
clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and
you came to me (Matt. 25:35-36). These sweet-smelling perfumes
having been offered, Jesus himself shows how much he delights
in their fragrance: "Come," he says, "O blessed
of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation
of the world" (Matt. 25:34). And for making this ointment
from these spices, the oil of mercy is necessary. It is the same
oil that the Samaritan poured on the wounds of the injured man
so that he might cool the hot pain and sooth the tumors. If therefore
you feel the heat of anger, the pain of hatred, or the tumor of
pride, anoint Jesus with this ointment so that you may be healed,
since nothing works better for avoiding the vices of the mind
than good works.
But Religious, who have renounced all possessions, although they
do not have anything with which to make this ointment, should
buy other perfumes from which to make their own ointment, namely
prayer, meditation, and reading. Hence, the ingredients of devotion
having been mixed, the unguent of contemplation may be made. However
sweet it is, so much more fully does he pray who makes it. You
secular men, however, are able to listen but cannot yet hear,
since the animal-like man does not perceive those things that
are in divine scripture just as another hears a song but does
not perceive the melody. "O how abundant," he says,
"is thy sweetness, which thou hast laid up for those who
fear thee" (Psalm 30 :20 ). That sweetness is partly
tasted already by those who, although in the body on earth, are
to some degree already in heaven in the spirit, saying with Paul,
"Our conversation in heaven" (Phil. 3:20) is that manna
hidden (Heb. 9:4) in the savoring of reading, meditation, and
From these two ointments, however, the clergy should make a third
ointment, so that now they sit at the feet of the Lord with Mary
and listen to his word, now, with Martha, they are busy with many
things (Luke 10:40) as they perform the works of charity.
Moreover, the lay life should anoint the feet of Jesus, the regular
life the head, and the clerical life the body. For the feet of
Christ are the poor, the head is the divinity, and the body is
the church, as is shown in many instances in scripture. Indeed,
Jesus himself sits in heaven and his feet walk the earth. The
poor of Christ are those whom the lay life, following the example
of Mary Magdalene, should anoint with works of piety, as the prophet
says, "Share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless
poor into your house, etc." (Isaiah 58:7). If you have done
this, you have anointed the feet of Christ. The head of Jesus
is understood to be his divinity, since according to the apostle,
man is the head of woman, Christ is the head of man, and God is
the head of Christ (I Cor. 11:3). This head, which is the principle
of all things, the regular life should anoint with the ointment
of contemplation so that, earthly things set aside, it may fly
to heavenly things, ascending from virtue to virtue until it sees
the God of gods in Zion. It asks, therefore; it seeks; and it
knocks (cf. Luke 11:9). It asks by praying, it seeks by meditating,
and it knocks by reading, so that it may learn the way, so that
it may discover the life, and so that the truth may be opened
to it. That very Jesus, our lord, who is your truth and life,
is the way to those asking in humble and devout prayer, the life
to those seeking in simple and discreet meditation, the truth
to those knocking in faithful and diligent study.
Moreover, the clerical life should anoint the body of Jesus, that
is the church, supporting her equally with word and example (cf.
Luke 24:19) so that it may imitate him who began to act and to
teach. The man who has so acted and taught, he will be called
great in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus wishes to be anointed with these ointments, Jesus who is
for this very reason called Christ; that is, he is anointed not
only by the father, who anoints him with oil, but [...?] also
by his faithful, so that all may come together in the fragrance
of their ointments. In the preeminent one who is blessed above
all things, world without end. Amen._
Sermon of Pope Innocent III (No. 27 in Vat. lat. 700, 35vo-36vo),
edited and translated by John C. Moore, "The Sermons of Pope
Innocent III," Römische Historische Mitteilungen 36 (1994) 81-142).
Made available here through permission of translator, Prof. John
C. Moore of Hofstra University HISJCM@vaxc.hofstra.edu
This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book.
The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted
texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.
Paul Halsall August 1996