A Sermon by Brother Nicolas of Landouzy, OCist, of the Monastery of Foigny, given on the First Sunday of Lent, ca. 1275 AD
Ed. & Trans. Leland R. Grigoli
See, now is the proper time; see, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2).
These are the words of the Apostle which we recite in church on the first Sunday of Lent, but they can be easily applied to any day of penitence. He says: See, now is the time. ‘See’ is a demonstrative adverb. We are accustomed to use it to demonstrate innovations, wonders, and worshipful things, and so the word ‘see’ reveals an innovation. Adding ‘now is the time’ reveals a shortness of time. Adding ‘proper’ to the saying reveals its utility to us, and by concluding ‘day of salvation’, he reveals the wholesomeness of virtue. So the words of the Apostle gather together the innovation of grace, the shortness of time, the utility to us, and the day—the wholesomeness of virtue. The innovation calls us forth so that we see, the shortness of time so that we fear, the utility to us so that we do, and the wholesomeness of virtue so that we love.
People gladly see innovations, and what greater innovation is there than to fast and to be weakened so that we are made strong, to be made ill so that we might be healed? Particularly when Paul says: When you receive food, you are fortified (Act. 9:19), and in Kings: Eat and drink; a longer road awaits you (3 Kings 19:7). But in these days we are called to fast, by which the body is weakened and made ill. It is thus a wonder to see a frail body made strong in war, and strengthened in sickness. But strength is twofold: interior and exterior, spiritual and bodily. Thus, although fasting weakens the exterior strength and the body, it strengthens and solidifies the spiritual interior, whence the Apostle says: When I am more ill, then am I more strong and powerful (cf. 2 Cor 12:10). And Gregory says, “Unless a person becomes weak by his or her own will, he or she will not draw near to Him who is above.” And also: “When we are weakened in our bodies, then we attain God.” And Bernard says: “A strong spirit lives in a weak body.” This is the innovation which we read about in Judges: The Lord will wage new wars and overthrow the gates of His enemies (Jg. 5:8)—overthrow the doorway of demons, whence it says in the Gospel: This type of demon cannot be expelled except through prayer and fasting (Mt. 17:20 ; Mk. 9:28). And so Paul says, “See something new.” Second, ‘see’ is used to demonstrate miracles. What greater miracle is there than to purchase glory from indignity, wealth from poverty, anguish from health, and life from death? And so Augustine says, “The merchant of heaven came to receive indignities, to give honors, to swallow grief, to give salvation, to undergo death, to give life.” Third, we enthusiastically see worshipful things. What greater worshipful thing is there than the time of Lent and penitence by which Hell is shut up, Paradise is opened, war is declared on vices, the Enemy conquered? And so ‘see’ is well said. See something deserving innovation, admiration, veneration.
This is followed by: Now is the time, which is to say the shortness of time because the time is now, it is upon us, and what must be done should be done promptly, whence it says in the Apocalypse: Time is brief (Apoc. 1:3). First, time is short because of its flow, whence it says in Ecclesiastes: A generation passes away, and a generation arrives (Eccla. 1:4). And the Poet says, “The years pass in the manner of flowing water.” We all die, and we disperse like water over the earth, etc. (2 Kings 14:14). Second, time is also short because of the shortness of life, whence it says in Job: The days of humans are short (Job 14:5). And in Ecclesiasticus: The number of the days of a person’s life is a full hundred years (Eccli. 18:8). Gregory says, “Everything which happens is brief.” The Psalm says: My days descend like a shadow (Ps. 101:12). Job says: My days pass more swiftly than one who is cut down by a woven dart (Job 7:6). Because of this, Ecclesiasticus says: Do not hesitate to turn to the Lord (Eccli. 5:8). And Ecclesiastes says: Whatever you can do by your hand, do immediately (Eccla. 9:10). And the Poet says:
“A person who puts off the time for living righteously is like the farmer who hoped that the river would flow away, but it flowed on, forever winding.”
Third, time is also short because of the vanity of material things. As Ecclesiastes says: Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity (Eccla. 1:2). The Psalm says: Sons of men, why do you delight in vanity (Ps. 4:3). And Wisdom says: How is pride useful to us, etc.? All things pass like a shadow (Wis. 5:8 -9). And the Psalm says: They sleep their sleep and will discover nothing (Ps. 75:6). And in Luke, speaking about the rich man, it says: Oh my soul, you have many good things, etc. And hearing him He said, “Fool, do you know these things which you have bought will claim your soul this night; whose then will they be, those things you have bought (Lk. 12:19 -20)?” Fourth, time is short because of celestial power. I pass over this briefly—All power has a short life (Eccla. 10:11).
This is followed by: proper, where our utility is noted. For it is the proper time for healing because of the abundance of medicine, the skill of the doctor, and the abundance of humors. The abundance of medicine is the plenitude of grace through Christ, whence it says in John: We all receive from His abundance (Jn. 1:16). And also: Full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14). And in Ecclesiasticus: The medicine of all is in the haste of the cloud (Eccli. 43:24), i.e. of the humanity of Christ, and so it says, “Gazing from far off I see the coming power of God and a cloud covering the whole land.” Second, it is the proper time because of the skill of the doctor. The skilled doctor is Christ because He needs neither syrup, nor drug, nor bandage, for He restores everything with only His word. As the Psalm says: He sent His word and it healed them, and He saved them from their ruin (Ps. 106:20). And in Wisdom: Neither herb, nor syrup or drink, nor poultice—a bandage—cured them, but your word (Wis. 16:12). Accordingly, blessed Agatha says: “I never showed a worldly doctor my body, but I have Lord Jesus Christ, who restores everything with His word alone.” Third, it is the proper time because of the appearance of humors—of vices. As Bernard says: “Crooked humors, evil morals.” Those humors were bloody from the time of the Law and were not reduced by a mixture of honey and vinegar. For the Law does not have honey, the honey of divine sweetness and the roots of faith from which the mixture of honey and vinegar is concocted, from which crooked humors—evil morals—are extracted and flow away from the face of the Lord, whence it says: Just as wax flows before a fire, so sinners perish before the face of God (Ps. 67:3). Peter flowed away from that face into tears, whence it says: The Lord looked at Peter and he wept with love (Lk. 22:62). And similarly Mary Magdalene watered Jesus’ feet with her tears (cf. Lk. 7:38).
This is followed by: See, now is the day of salvation, where we note the virtue—the wholesomeness—of penitence. Clearly, virtuous penitence is healthy. Penitence first purges us, having been cleaned and pressed, from sin (Eccli. 2:13), as Ecclesiasticus says. God remits sin because of hardship, as Ezekiel, David, 2 Kings, and the King of Niniva in Jonah make clear. Second, penitence is because it strengthens us to virtue, whence it says in Ecclesiasticus: The furnace proves the vessels of the potter, and the trial of hardship proves humans righteous (Eccli. 27:6). And in Deuteronomy: I humbled you and I strengthened you (cf. Deut. 8:16). And also in Romans: Hardship creates endurance (Rom. 5:3). Third, penitence gladdens the soul. As it says in James: Consider every joy, my brothers, when you fall into diverse temptations (Jas. 1:2). “So that you are not deemed unworthy, if evil flourishes in the world, you must suffer because a Christian should not be exalted in worldly things, but should rather be humbled.” No evil person lives in heaven; none of you live in the world. But you ought to rejoice because of that good which you seek, regardless of what happens on the road. Fourth, penitence is associated with Christ, whence it says: I am in tribulation with Him (Ps. 90:15). And it says in Daniel: And an angel of the Lord descended with Azaria and his companions into the furnace (Dan. 3:49). Fifth, penitence is crowned with immortal life, whence it says in Jacob: Blessed is the person who endures temptation, for when one is tested, he or she will receive the crown of life (Jac. 1:12), which He deigns to give to us, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns as God forever and ever. Amen.
 Gregory the Great, Homiliae in evangelia 32.2 (Étaix 1999, p. 279 ln. 57-58);  Peter Damian, Sermones 28 (Lucchesi 1983, p. 165 ln. 71-72);  Bernard of Clairvaux, Epistulae 254.8 (Leclercq and Rochais 1977 v. 8, p. 259 ln. 20-21);  Augustine of Hippo, Ennarrationes in psalmos 126.96.36.199 (Dekkers and Fraipoint 1956 v. 1, p. 192 ln. 16-17;  Ovid, Ars amatoria 3.61 (de Verger 2002, p. 228);  Gregory the Great, Moralia in Job 13.27 (Adriaen 1979 v. 2, p. 686 ln. 2-3);  Horace, Epistolae 1.2.41-42 (Ferry 2001, p. 14);  Responsory Aspiciens a longe;  Vita sanctae Agathae BHL 133;  Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermones super cantica canticorum 36.4 (Leclercq and Rochais 1977 v. 2, p. 6 ln. 16);  Marginal gloss on Jas. 1:2 . Froehlich et al. 1992 v. 4 p. 513.