St. Dominic

Humbert of Romans
Fifth Master General of the Order of Preachers



There are eight subjects connected with preaching: first, traveling; second, conduct when one is among men; third, manner of conversing familiarly with men; fourth, living with strangers; fifth, participation in secular affairs; sixth, advice to be given to those who seek it; seventh, hearing of confessions; eight, the prefaces of sermons or of conferences.

XXX. Travelling: Biblical Figures

The travels that a preacher ought to make are figured and praised by the Scriptures in many ways. Some preachers are slow to undertake them and must be aroused; others act imprudently and must be admonished; while many are deserving of praise and should be imitated.

We begin, then, by explaining the figures which have reference to these journeys, then we shall give the reasons for making them, and what may be found blameworthy and what praiseworthy in them.

The first of the biblical figures is furnished by the clouds along the way, sometimes toward the west, or the east, or the south, or the north, becoming in every place the manifestation of the grandeur of God. It is written “By his magnificence the clouds run hither and thither” (Deut. 33:26). According to the gloss this magnificence is realized b y preaching.

The second figure is manifest in the flash of lightning: “The Lord,” says Exodus, “sent lightning running along the ground” (Exod. 9:23). St. Gregory tells us that the lightning furrows the sky when the preacher, by the brilliance of his miracles, penetrates the hearts of those who hear him with the fear of the Lord.

The third figure is given us in the heavenly creatures who were shown to Ezechiel, going and coming, signifying preachers. The prophet said: “This was the vision running to and fro” (Ezech. 1:13); that is of being in action.

A fourth figure is to be found in the strong horses of which of which the prophet Zacharias said that they “went out and sought to go and run to and fro through all the earth” (Zach. 6:7). These horses, according to the gloss, are the preachers of whom God asks the question in the Book of Job: (Wilt thou give strength to the gorse of clothe his neck with neighing?” (Job 39:19.)

The fifth figure is that of the travels of the royal envoys of whom the Book of Esther speaks: “And these letters which were sent in the king’s name were sealed with his ring, and sent by posts: who were to run through all the provinces, to prevent the former letters with new messages” (Esth. 8:10); and the gloss applies these verses to the activity of preachers.

Finally, a sixth figure is found in the movement of the soldiers mentioned in the Book of the Maccabees: “And it came to pass that through the whole city of Jerusalem for the space of forty days there were seen horsemen running in the air, in gilded raiment and armed with spears, like bands of soldiers” (II Mach. 5:2). This is the mysterious symbol of preachers who for all time are consecrated to repentance and who go and preach throughout the whole Church.

XXXI. Preachers Traveling: Encouragement of Apostolic Journeys

It is necessary to remark that in spite of the fact that Scripture call the preacher a “foot” because of his manner of traveling, there are some who, because of laziness (or for one of the other reasons enumerated in section sixteen where we treated of the frivolous pretexts which hinder preaching), are reluctant to set out on their ministry and need to be spurred on.

The considerations for making Apostolic journeys are many. The first is the advice given them in Scripture. The Book of Proverbs says: “Run about, make haste, stir up thy friend” (Prov. 6:3). Is not the preacher the friend of man and ought he not to arouse them from slumber?

The second consideration is to be found in the excellent examples which are given them; for Christ as soon as He began to preach, had no place on which to lay His head. He went from city to city and from village to village, preaching everywhere in Galilee (Matt. 4 and Mark 6).

No more than their Master, the Apostles had no home where they could rest peacefully; they traveled across the world and preached everywhere (Mark 16). When, then, is to be thought of those preachers who are content to remain in their homes or in their cloisters?

The third consideration for traveling is the ardor of their adversaries which ought to provoke preachers to emulate them. The Pharisees, says St. Matthew, traversed land and sea to gain proselytes (Matt. 23:15); heretics, at the risk of their lives, go into all places and enter into houses and into the countryside in order to pervert souls, like the three hundred foxes of Samson (Judges 15). “The devil, as a raging lion, goes about seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8). How shameful, then, in the face of such enemies who labor for the damnation of souls, are certain preachers who refuse to take on step to save the soul of another.

The fourth is found in the nature of their office which does not consist in remaining in one place but in traveling wherever good calls them. “I have appointed you that you should go” (John 15:16), to all places, said Our Lord to the Apostles and through them to every preacher of the Gospel.

The fifth reason for traveling is the need that men have of assistance. In fact, man naturally runs to the help of those in danger; this is why it was said to the angels who symbolize preachers: “Go, ye swift angels, to a nation expecting and trodden under foot” (Isai. 18:2).

The sixth consideration is found in the expressed wish of Him who sends preachers; and on this point the will of the Lord is immovable and He will not hear of dispensation, even because of persecution. He told them: “Go, behold I send you forth as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3).

The seventh is the eloquent example of those engaged in secular affairs; they do not stop for a m moment during their entire life, but travel everywhere in order to heap up riches. This is what the Apostles did in the spiritual order, when they journeyed through many lands, gaining souls for God. What will those servants say on the day of judgment, to whom Our Lord had said: “Trade till I come” (Luke 19:13), and who like the slothful man have hidden the money received from the Master, making no attempt to derive benefit from it? St. Gregory commenting on the verse: “Behold the judge arrives,” poses the same question in these words: What fruit shall we then show for our labors? Before the supreme Judge “Peter will appear with converted Judea, Paul leading, so to speak, the entire world; then Andres with Achaia, John with Asia, Thomas with India. What shall we say, we unfortunate ones, who after the business has been confided to our care, shall appear before the Lord with empty hands.”[1]

XXXII. The Preacher on a Journey: Things to Avoid

On this point let us note that there are some preachers who, from sheer frivolity, are ever ready to travel. The words of Jeremias can be applied to them: “Thus saith the Lord to this people, that have loved to move their feet” (Jer. 14:10), which he finds reprehensible, for he adds: “and have not pleased the Lord.” Indeed, as Seneca has said, to remain within oneself is the proof of a wise soul, and one’s inclinations are manifest in one’s behavior.

Some are always eager to travel to get away from the discipline of the cloister, like children who run away from school. Sara, who is the symbol of the religious state, “afflicted her (Agar) and she ran away.” But the angel of the Lord said to her: “Return to thy mistress, and humble thyself under her hand” (Gen. 16:6,9).

Others, slaves to their stomachs, finding the table of their convent too frugal, become like the dogs of which the psalmist speaks: “Who shall suffer hunger: and shall go round about the city” (Ps. 58:15). They also resemble the goliards[2] who wandered from house to house for much the same reason. The Lord said to His disciples: “Do not go from house to house,” looking for nourishments, but, “remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they have” (Luke 10:7).

Others, moved by natural affection, wish to be always visiting some one of their relatives. The lives of the Fathers of the desert offer them this lesson: A brother, it is said, having learned that his mother had come to visit him, refused to receive her and had her told that he was content to see her in the next world. Does not the psalmist say: “Forget thy people and they father’s house?” (Ps. 44:11.) Why, then, do we visit so often those whom we ought to forget?

And again, some who are preoccupied with temporal affairs such as wills and the like forget the advice of Paul to Timothy: “No one serving as God’s soldier entangles himself in worldly affairs, that he may please him whose approval he has secured” (II Tim. 2:4).

Others travel out of curiosity, wishing to see this or that, to investigate or to listen to what is none of their business, like the women of whom St. Paul said: “And further, being idle, they learn to go about from house to house, and are not only idle but gossipers as well and busybodies, mentioning things they ought not” (I Tim. 5:13). They are of the company of those monks whom St. Benedict called aimless vagabonds and whom he disliked so much.

Others are the victims of imprudent prelates, who are continually sending their charges everywhere, exposing them to considerable danger. “My people,” said the Lord through Jeremias, “have been a lost flock, their shepherds have caused them to go astray, and have made them wander in the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their resting place” (Jer. 50:6).

Others, and this is worse still, disregarding obedience, go where they have not been sent by their superiors. “I did not send prophets, yet they ran” (Jer. 23:20). Sometimes, contrary to the rule under which they have made profession, they travel on horseback, or take money with them, or commit similar offenses, forgetful that Our Lord commanded His disciples to carry nothing with them on the way, not even a staff (Matt. 10:9). They travel without rhyme or reason and they produce nothing of good by their journeys, whereas it is written: “I have appointed you that you should go and bear fruit” (John 15:16).

In bringing this article to a close, let us note that there are three evils resulting from too much traveling, which befall religious preachers.

The first is a distaste that arises in the faithful; for it is a fact that excess begets distaste as the Book of Proverbs tells us: “Withdraw thy foot from the house of thy neighbor, lest having his fill he hate thee” (Prov. 25:17).

The second is the spiritual harm which the preacher lays himself open to; for it is exceedingly difficult to remain for a long time among seculars without suffering harm. Seneca himself said: “Every time I have been among men, I have gone from them less a man.”

The third is the discredit that comes to his ministry; for usually what is seen a great many times becomes less appreciated. As Our Lord said: “No prophet is acceptable in his own country” (Luke 4:24), because he has lived there too long a time and has been seen too often.

Let us conclude that every excess in this matter must be avoided, even though there should be a reason for traveling.

XXVIII. The Preacher on a Journey: Laudable Practices to be Observed

For voyages to be worthy of praise, they ought to have seven conditions.

The first is the ability of the travelers to preach; for everyone is not called to the apostolic ministry. That is why Our Lord said to the Apostles: “But what here in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

The second is the intention to produce spiritual good, following the example of St. Paul who said to the Romans: “. . . always imploring in my prayers tat somehow I may at last by God’s will have a prosperous journey to get to you. For I long to see you that I may impart some spiritual grace unto you to strengthen you” (Rom. 10:11).

The third is the security which obedience adds; for this reason Isaias, although he wished to go to the people, asked that he be sent under obedience: “Lo here am I, send me” (Isai. 6:8).

The fourth is vigilance, for a traveler if he does not take care will easily lose his possessions either through the connivance of his enemies, or through some chance happening, or by any other cause; thus speaks St. Paul: “See to it therefore, brethren, that you walk with care” (Eph. 5:15).

The fifth is that continually, whether on the road, or in a house with a few, or publicly in a crowd, the preacher should be preoccupied with the good to be done. “Casting their seeds,” the Psalmist has said, not only when they were stationary, but when “Going, they wend and wept” (Ps. 125:6).

The sixth is to moderate the fatigue of the journey for there are some who travel such a great distance before stopping that they are unable, when they arrive at their destination, either to celebrate Holy Mass, or recite the Divine Office reverently, or preach properly, or do anything else but sleep. It is to correct these that Ezechiel described the heavenly animals which symbolize preachers: “The sole of their foot was like the sole of a calf’s foot” (Ezech. 1:7), whose step is very limited.

The seventh is to devote oneself continually to prayer during the journey;, as David who did not cease from repeating: “Direct my way in thy sight” (Ps. 5:9). Also, good religious have the habit of reciting every day certain special prayers for the success of their journey.

When the preacher arrives at the end of the voyage and has to remain among seculars, he must watch his conduct; and concerning this we must discuss:

Firstly, why the preacher must conduct himself well?
Secondly, what are the conditions of good conduct?
Thirdly, how can it be kept?

XXXIV. The Necessity of Conducting Oneself Well

First of all, it is the duty of a preacher to live in such a way that he glorifies God, not only by his words, but also by his example, as the Divine Master commanded the first preachers, saying to them: “Even so let your light shine before men, in order that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16), and this is what produces good conduct. “Behave yourselves honorably among the pagans,” says St. Peter, “that, whereas they slander you as evildoers, they may through observing you by reason of you good works God in the day of visitation” (I Peter 2:12).

Secondly, the duty of the preacher is to use all the means at his disposal for the salvation of souls; but he will obtain this result better by edifying conduct than by speech. For St. Peter tells us: “In like manner also let wives be subject to their husbands; so that even if any do not believe the word, they may without word by won through the behavior of their wives” (I Peter 3:1). If, then, good conduct is so efficacious in a lay woman, how much more will it be in the preacher who adds to it the authority of his word?

Thirdly, it is also his duty to help the sick, not only by his words and prayers, but also by the merit which results from his good conduct and which brings such great consolation to the sick. Ecclesiasticus says, “And they (physicians) shall beseech the Lord, that he would prosper what they give for ease and remedy, for their conversation” (Ecclus. 38:14). This can be applied not only to physicians of the body, but also to those of the soul.

Fourthly, they must also be a credit to their apostolate, following the example of the great Apostle who said to the Romans, “As long, indeed, as I am an apostle of the Gentiles, I will honor my ministry” (Rom. 11:13), that is, by a good life, and so he was able to say to the Corinthians: “We give no offense to anyone, that our ministry may not be blamed” (II Cor. 6:3). If our conduct shows that we do not practice what we preach, we will not be following the example of the Apostle and we will be justly held to account.

Fifthly, the duty of the preacher is, finally, to confound his adversaries; and this can best be done by a holy life. “Yet do so with gentleness and fear, having a good conscience so that wherein they who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (I Peter 3:16); and again: “For such is the will of God, that for doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (I Peter 2:15).

Sixthly, but to silence them is not enough; we must change their heart, and only the example of a good life can produce this change. St. Paul said to Titus: “Show thyself in all things an example of good works, in teaching, in integrity and dignity; let thy speech be sound and blameless, so that anyone opposing may be put to shame, having nothing bad to say of us” (Tit. 2:7-8).

From what has been said, it is obvious that exemplary conduct glorifies God, is a means of saving souls, gives consolation to the sick, adds honor to preaching, and is a powerful weapon in the battle with the enemy. All these things must be realized by the preacher and in order to do so, even though he lives in the midst of the world, he must continually lead a good life.

XXXV. The Conditions Necessary for Exemplary Conduct

There are many things by which we can determine whether or not a preacher is leading a good life in the midst of the world.

First of all, his conduct must be good in the eyes of God, for although he might outwardly appear to be full of merit, if he is not pleasing in God’s sight he is a hypocrite. St. Paul defended himself against such a charge saying: “And in this I too strive always to have a clear conscience before God” (Acts 24:16).

Secondly, it is necessary that his behavior be commendable not only before God and in secret, but also publicly in the eyes of men: “But be thou and example to the faithful,” and the Apostle to Timothy, “in speech, in conduct, in charity, in faith, in chastity” (I Tim. 4:12).

Thirdly, it is necessary, that this goodness of life be manifest in all things and not just apply to some of our actions. St. Paul says to the Hebrews: “For we are confident that we have a good conscience, desiring to live uprightly in all things” (Heb. 13:18), and also toward everyone. This is the reason why he says to the Romans, “To no man render evil for evil, but provide good thins not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of all men” (Rom. 12:17). He says boldly to the Corinthians: “For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience that . . . in the grace of God – we have conducted ourselves in the world” (II Cor. 1:12). And not only “at one time” but “continually,” as the Acts of the Apostles say, where St. Paul makes this statement: “Brethren, I have conducted myself before God with a perfectly good conscience up to this day” (Acts 23:1). In the same vein St. Peter said: “Be you also holy in all your behavior” (I Peter 1:15); that is to say, in all things, in the eyes of all, in every place, and at all times.

Fourthly, it is necessary that your conduct be serious, for it is not fitting for a preacher to act in a frivolous of foolish manner. As St. Gregory remarks, the words of a preacher are not accepted when there is an appearance of levity in his manner.

Fifthly, it is necessary that he be resolute in his good conduct, for some, who in the beginning are good, but after they have been thrown in contact with the wicked, they begin to follow their ways; much like the chameleon which takes the color of that which it touches. Of these it is written in the Book of Psalms: “And they were mingled among the heathens and learned their works” (Ps. 105:35). Jeremias gives this advice to the Jews: “And if thou wilt separate the precious from the vile, though shalt be as my mouth: they salt be turned to thee, and thou shalt not be turned to them” (Jer. 15:19).

Sixthly, good conduct must be fruitful, because it is not fitting that a preacher remain idle among the people. He is bound always to labor to produce some good fruit, as did the Apostle who could say of himself: “Watch, therefore, and remember that for three years night and day I did not cease with tears to admonish every one of you” (Acts 20:31).

Seventhly, his conduct must not only be good but also pleasing and amiable, as it is written of Tobias: “And all his kindred, and all his generation continued in good life, and in holy conversation, so that they were acceptable both to God, and to men, and to all that dwelt in the land” (Tob. 14:17).

But for this amiability many conditions are requisite. One is wisdom in words. “A man wise in words,” says Ecclesiasticus, “shall make himself beloved” (Ecclus. (20:13).

Another is a willingness to help, for a philosopher has said, a service rendered leads the way to friendship. St. Paul was always at the service of others as he said to the Corinthians: “As I myself in all things please all men, not seeking what is profitable to myself but to the many” (I Cor. 10:33), as if to say: “It is by my eagerness to render service that I please all.”

Another is meekness in action: Ecclesiasticus has also said: “My son, do thy works in meekness, and thou shalt be beloved above the glory of men” (Ecclus. 3:19).

Another is respect for established customs. St. Paul was observed to conform to all things, as far as he reasonably could; for “every beast loveth its like” (Ecclus 13:19).

Another is humility in all one’s relations with others; for if it is indeed true that “pride is hateful before God and men” (Ecclus. 10:7), it will be equally true that humility will render the preacher lovable to all.

Another is tenderness and compassion; for nothing is more consoling to the sufferer than sympathy: “And he preserved for him men of mercy, that found grace in the eyes of all flesh,” Ecclesiasticus says, praising the heroes of the old Law (Ecclus. 44:27).

And finally, the evidence of virtue; for such is its power that wherever it shows itself, it makes itself loved. It is said of St. Sebastian that, since God had overwhelmed him with grace, he could not but be loved by everyone: and Cicero in his treatise on friendship also said that there is nothing which more surely wins our good-will.

XXXVI. Means Which Will Insure Good Conduct

It would be of little value to the preacher to know why he should conduct himself well, and what constitutes good conduct, if he did not conform his life to it; it is important, then, for him to see the means that will serve this end.

Firstly, he should consider the good examples he meets with; for a painter, who would reproduce a beautiful scene, will be most successful if he examines it very closely. It is written in the Book of Proverbs: “And by the example received instruction” (Prov. 24:32). What a beautiful exemplar is the Son of God! St. Bernard said of Him: “O Good Jesus, how sweet it was for men to live near to you!” What a wonderful example is found in the great Apostle who could say to the priests of Ephesus: “You know what manner I have lived with you all the time since the first day that I came into the province of Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and tears and in trials the befell me because of the plots of the Jews; how I have kept back nothing that was for your good, but have declared it to you and taught you in public and from house to house” (Acts 20:18).

Another is the care with which the preacher should instruct himself, like the novice who, thanks to the instruction of his master on regular discipline, learns to practice what he formerly did not know how to do. This is what the Apostle impressed on his beloved disciple, saying: “I write these things to thee hoping to come to thee shortly, but in order that thou mayest know, if I am delayed, how to conduct thyself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God.” (I Tim. 3:14-15).

Another means towards the end of good conduct is found in the obeying of our legitimate superiors, and in good works; this may be observed in the servant to whom his master says: “Do this, and he does it” (Luke 7:8). And St. Paul commands Titus, his disciple, and also a preacher: “Show thyself in all things an example of good works, in teaching, in integrity and dignity” (Tit. 2:17).

Yet another is prudence. It is, in fact, this which teaches us to live well in the midst of a perverse and deceitful world. The Apostle, St. James, says: “Who is wise and instructed among you? Let him by his good behavior show his work in the meekness of wisdom” (Jas. 3:13).

Studious application is still another means, indeed, one of the most useful. A woman who wants to appear beautiful will take great pains in adorning herself. Virtuous men on their part should be as zealous as Ecclesiasticus says: “Studying beautifulness” (Ecclus. 44:16); that is to say, they should show zeal for a good life, and apply themselves especially to the exemplary conduct which befits the preacher.

We must also note the diligent effort necessary to keep unstained by the impurities of the world. To succeed in this, it is necessary to use extreme diligence. St. Peter, when speaking of the virtues which make for a holy life, said: “Do you accordingly on your part strive diligently to supply your faith with virtue, your virtue with knowledge, your knowledge with self-control, your self-control with patience, your patience with piety, your piety with fraternal love, your fraternal love with charity” (II Peter 1:5-6).

And yet another means is the correction of our defective inclinations which ought to be cast aside, just as we throw off old clothes, and put on new. St. Paul says: “That as regards your former manner of life you are to put off the old man,” and a little further on, he adds: “and put on the new man, which has been created according to God in justice and holiness of truth” (Eph. 4:24).

Let us add, also, vigilance over oneself, for whoever does not keep a guard over himself when among the wicked will easily lose his virtue, like the traveler who loses his cloak in an inn frequented by thieves. The Apocalypse tells us: “Blessed is he who watches and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame” (Apoc. 16:15). In this text, the garments represent good conduct done in public.

Finally, let us mention the need to purify ourselves frequently from the stains which we contract; as one washes garments which have become soiled. Leviticus says: “If a man touch anything of men (the unclean) he shall wash his clothes” (Lev. 15:6), which are, as we have said, the symbol of exterior and visible conduct. Virtuous men should also examine their conscience frequently, and get from others their observations on their conduct in order that, if there appears to be anything wicked in them, they may be able to cleanse themselves by contrition, confession, and the amendment of their ways.

There are some preachers who are so reserved when not preaching that in their ordinary conversations they never say an edifying word, which is greatly to be deplored. There are, and this is worse still, those who chatter thoughtlessly in the manner of worldly people. Others, finally, maintain a happy medium between taciturnity and thoughtlessness, and edify all by their words; these last are much to be praised.

XXXVII. The Reproach Incurred by Those Whose Conversation is not Edifying

About this class of preachers it ought to be remarked how little they conform to the model which Our Saviour Jesus Christ offers them; for His words were not only edifying when He preached publicly but also when He conversed intimately. Thus He would sometimes talk while walking on the road as He did with the two disciples of Emmaus: “Beginning then with Moses and with all the prophets, he interpreted to them, “writes St. Luke, “in all the Scriptures the things referring to himself.” And so well did He do it that they afterwards said to themselves: “Was not our heart burning within us while he was speaking on the road and explaining to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:27,32).

As other times while resting during the course of a journey, His words would edify His listeners as with the Samaritan woman; St. John says: “Jesus therefore, wearied as he was from the journey, was sitting at the well” (John 4:6); and he reports at length all the admirable words of the Saviour to that woman. And so it was with His companions on a journey. St. Matthew tells us He spoke to those who followed Him about the centurion: “Amen I say to you I have not found so great a faith in Israel. And I tell you many will come from the East and the West and will feast with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 8:10-11). He spoke in like manner to those who met Him on the way, as in the case of the ten lepers: “Go, show yourselves to the priests: (Luke 17:14). And again, in the houses where He was received with hospitality He spoke sometimes before the feast and while it was being prepared, as with Magdalen; “Who also seated herself at the Lord’s feet and listened to his words” (Luke 10:39), while Martha was busy with the preparations. Sometimes during the feast itself, when “Observing they were choosing the first places at table, he said to them, ‘When thou are invited to a wedding feast do not recline in the first place . . .’” (Luke 14:7-8). Or He would speak after the feast as in the discourse after the Last Supper.

At all times His words edified those around Him, sometimes at night as with Nicodemus (John 3:2), sometimes during the day as with Nathaniel (John 1:48), or with the disciples as one may read in all the pages of the Gospel, or with His adversaries, as St. Luke tells us, addressing Himself to the Doctors of the Law and to the Pharisees (Luke 14:3).

He spoke thus not only before His death as He Himself observed when He said: “These are the words that I spoke to you while I was yet with you” (Luke 24:44), but also after His resurrection as St. Luke relates: “During forty days appearing to them and speaking to them of the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).

And not only Christ has left us these examples, but also the preacher par excellence, St. Paul, who said: “For three years night and day I did not cease with tears to admonish every one of you” (Acts 20:31).

We have, then, at all times, as models for intimate and edifying conversation our Saviour Jesus Christ and His great Apostle, St. Paul, whom every priest should imitate. St. Gregory says in one of his homilies:[3] “It is necessary, O priests, that all those whom you will meet receive from you the salt of the word: if you find that such a one is straying along the paths of lewdness, counsel him to moderate his passion, in order that by keeping a guard on himself in what is permissible he may refrain from what is forbidden. If you deal with a married man, teach him not to give himself up wholly to the things of the world, lest he place them above the love of God; and that in granting to his spouse what is her due, he will keep himself from displeasing his Creator. And if you meet a cleric, recommend to him that he lead a life which will be an example to the laity, lest the latter, noticing in him things worthy of reproach, will attribute them to our holy religion, and their esteem for it will be lessened. In the case of a monk, exhort him to show by his life, his actions, his words, and his thoughts, the respect which he has for his holy habit, and to show himself before God such as his monastic dress makes him appear in the eyes of the world. If you meet a man already virtuous, recall to him that he must advance still more in sanctity. If he is a sinner, admonish him to correct himself. And so whoever you meet shall receive from you the salt of holy words,” concludes St. Gregory.

This duty is imposed not only on priests, by on every Christian. Thus the greatest of the popes, St. Peter, said to the faithful: “If anyone speaks, let it be as with words of God” (I Peter 4:11); and the greatest of Doctors, St. Paul, wrote to the Ephesians: “Let no ill speech proceed from your mouth, but whatever is good for supplying what fits the current necessity, that it may give grace to the hearers” (Eph. 4:29.) How serious and urgent, then, is this duty of the preacher whose mission is to teach virtue, when the same obligation falls upon every priest, and even upon every Christian?

Besides, we should remember that a private conversation on virtue is usually more fruitful for our neighbor than a sermon addressed to a large assembly; this is true for two reasons: the first is that he discusses with each on what is most necessary to each, as a doctor prescribes much better when he visits his patient at his home and than he would do in a public lecture. Indeed, this is a truth which Ecclesiasticus recalls to us: “Treat not with a man without religion concerning holiness, nor with an unjust man concerning justice, nor with a woman touching her of whom she is jealous, nor with a coward concerning war, nor with a merchant about traffic, nor with a buyer of selling, nor with an envious man with giving thanks, nor with the ungodly of piety, nor with the dishonest of honesty, nor with the field laborer of every work, nor with him that worketh by the hear of the finishing of the year, nor with an idle servant of much business” (Ecclus 37:12-14).

The second reason is that, in these private conversations the words penetrate more profoundly, as an arrow shot straight at someone will hit him with greater force, than when it is shot haphazardly at many. This is why Tobias addressing himself familiarly to his son said to him: “Hear, my son, the words of my mouth, and lay them as a foundation in thy heart” (Tob. 4:2). To which his son replied: “I will do all the things, father, which thou has commanded me” (Tob. 5:1). But, I ask you, who has ever replied thus to the teaching received in a public discourse?

Let us remark also that these conversations can contribute to the good reputation of the speaker, for there is no greater proof that a man’s heart is overflowing with God, than the pleasure which he takes in often speaking of Him. We judge the hears of men by their words, says St. Gregory; and St. Isadore says also the tongue of a man reveals his character and his spirit is judged by the language he speaks. This is the reason why preachers who speak often of God are reputed as men of virtue and sanctity.

These conversations finally are a source of merit; for if a laborer, who works with his hands, earns more the more he uses them, so also the preacher acquires more merit the more he uses his tongue for good, not limiting himself to public sermons, but also making private exhortations. For this reason it is written: “The Lord hath given me a tongue for my reward” (Ecclus. 51:30).

From the preceding it can be seen that there are four motives which ought to urge us to fill our private conversations with edifying words: the example given to us by those who are greater than we, the command addressed to those who are less than we, the fruit which our neighbor gains from it, and the personal profit which we receive ourselves.

XXXVIII. The Guilt Incurred by Those Whose Conversation is Entirely Worldly

Preachers who are forgetful of the sanctity of their vocation and who in their intimate conversations talk of vain things prove in themselves what has been written in the Psalms: “If he came in to see me, he spoke vain things: his heart gathered together iniquity to itself. He went out and spoke to the same purpose” (Ps. 40:7). When they go into the cloister which is dedicated to contemplation they bring to their brothers only outside rumors, and when they go out they act the same among the laity.

And sometimes with them this is the effect of a diabolic impulse, for it pleases the devil greatly to put into a mouth called to proclaim the glory of God and to procure the well-being of souls, words which dishonor it and cause scandal. This is, according to St. John Chrysostom, the evil spirit who dictates to us the vain words which we speak.

At other times worldly talk is due to the emptiness of the heart because the tongue can only draw from the heart what it finds there; and it is quite natural that a vain manner of speaking should signify the vanity of the heart. Vain words are, as St. Isidore says, the indication of a conscience and a heart full of vanity.

At other times frivolous talk is the effect of thoughtlessness; for there are many who do not reflect before they speak; but allow themselves to say anything that comes into their minds, chattering endlessly. An example of this is told in the lives of the Fathers: an old man who wished to visit St. Anthony accompanied two brothers who were also going to pay him a visit. When they were on the ship which was to transport them, the brothers conversed for a long time on many frivolous subjects. On their arrival St. Anthony said to them: “Was this old man a good companion on your voyage?” Excellent,” they replied; then addressing himself to the old man, St. Anthony asked: “Were these brothers good companions to you on your trip?” “Without doubt they are good,” said he, “but their house has no door: who wishes may enter, and it is often an ass.” – Thus he replied for they had spouted out like fools whatever came to their minds; whereas it is written in the Psalms: “The mouth of the just shall meditate wisdom (Ps. 36:30), or in plain words, we should weigh our words before opening our mouths. St. Ambrose also gave this important advice: “Let your word first be corrected before arriving on the tongue.”

Insipid and idle talk is often attributable to a lack of good ideas of thoughts; and many speak in such a manner because they have nothing else to say although it would be better if they remained silent. By so doing, they could pass for wise men, even though they are only mediocre, for a wise man, as Ecclesiasticus observes, “is one that holdeth his peace, because he knoweth not what to say” (Ecclus. 20:6).

And again this manner of speaking may be the effect of too much intercourse with people whose talk is vain; for the preacher by mixing with such people becomes used to their language and forgets how to speak as befits his own state, as a Frenchman living among people who speak another language partly forgets his own and adopts this new language. “Their children,” who had returned from captivity, “spoke half in the speech of Azotus, and could not speak the Jews’ language, but they spoke according to the language of this and that people (II Esc. 13:24), for it was the language of the women whom their fathers had married.

Sometimes this prattling is due to a lack of proportion, just as one consumes, needlessly, wine and bread in a house where they are not distributed wisely, so the thoughtless man who does not weigh and measure his words speaks superfluously (Ecclus. 21:28). St. Gregory says: “Those who do not know how to measure their words will inevitably fall into vain discourse.”

Preachers should guard against this evil. They are, indeed, the mouth of God, according to Jeremias, who said:” “If thou wilt separate the precious from the vile thou shalt be as my mouth” (Jer. 15:19), and this is applied particularly to preachers. It would be wrong, therefore, for the mouth of God to speak idly. Their mouth is also a fountain whence flow the sweet waters of wisdom, and it would be unnatural that there should flow froth from it at the same time bitter and senseless discourse. St. James said: Does the fountain send forth sweet and bitter water from the same opening?” (Jas. 3:11.) Furthermore, this mouth is consecrated to divine things and consequently studiously ought to avoid the words of the world; for what is consecrated to God should not be put to profane use. You have dedicated your mouth to the gospel, said St. Bernard, and it is henceforth forbidden you to open it in vain talk. To do such a thing would be a sacrilege.

Preachers ought to remember that they do not belong to the world (John 15:19); but that they are the disciples of Jesus Christ Who said to them: “You are not of this world” (John 8:23). Even though they are in the world they ought not to forget the language of heaven to adopt that of the world, as a Frenchman cognizant of the nobility of his native language does not readily abandon it to adopt another. “He who is from the earth,” says St. John, “of the earth he speaks”; while “he whom God has sent the words of God” (John 3:31,34), and not those of the world.

If children who are obliged to speak Latin in school, are shamed when they are punished for lapsing into the vernacular, how much more ought those to be ashamed whose duty it is to help souls with their speech, when they fall into childish talk! “Of every idle word that man shall speak, they shall give account on the day of judgment” (Matt. 12:36). How much more shall preachers! “For the lips of the priest shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth” (Mal. 2:7), and St. Bernard adds, “but not from nursery rhymes and fables.” All the more, then, should he refrain from these inanities, who is at the same time both priest and preacher!

We read in the lives of the Fathers that two sisters, having married two brothers, lived in the same house and promised each other that they would not utter a worldly word until death. What a shame it is to see preachers abandon themselves to all kinds of empty conversations when two women are able to maintain dignified speech all their lives.

St. Isidore says also, in his tract On the Supreme Good: that it is not right for Christians to have on their lips vain words; for as depraved morals spoil good conversations, so evil conversations corrupt good morals. But if this corrupting of conversations must be carefully avoided by all Christians, how much more should it be avoided by the preacher whose essential duty is the edification of his neighbor!

Lay people, it must be admitted, have some excuse when they give themselves over to empty conversation; for they are ignorant of Holy Scripture, which would have taught them what to say. This excuse does not hold for preachers who know the Scriptures in detail and have a mission to explain them to the people. It is not, says St. Ambrose to them, a light responsibility when you possess in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, in Josue and in Judges, in Esdras and in Kings, in the Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles, the words that God has spoken and the marvels that He has performed, to neglect these treasures to speak of worldly things and to listen to such things.

St. Gregory, also, observes in his Dialogues, that by giving ourselves over to worldly conversations we pass readily from harmless things to harmful, and from trifling things to grave, and that consequently our voices addressed in prayer to Almighty God will go unheard inasmuch as they have been soiled in these conversations. Thus, it may be seen to what harm the preacher, destined as he is to speak for the good of his neighbor, exposes himself when he abandons himself to vain words, for even the prayers which he says after he preaches will be fruitless.

XXXIX. What Must be Observed in Conversation in Order That it be Edifying

Those who make up the third class of preachers, that is to say, those who in their private conversations have in mind the edification of their neighbor, ought to study the words of St. Gregory who advises the teacher to consider what he should say, to whom he should say it, when he should say it, and how much he should say.

Firstly, concerning what he should say, let us note that it is necessary for him to have recourse sometimes to good examples, and now and then to certain worldly observations. In regard to the holy words he must not speak them at random, but choose the most striking and lucid so he will be easily understood; they must be both pleasing and profitable to the listener. Examples should have an obvious authority, so that they may not be received with scorn; they should be at the same time truthful, so that they may be believed; they should also be edifying, so that they may not be told in vain. Finally, when he finds it necessary to make some worldly observations in order to reach his listeners, he should deviate as little as possible from the divine word, as St. Peter recommends: “If anyone speaks, let it be as with words of God” (I Peter 4:11). Besides these borrowings from worldly remarks and observations should be rare, and always mixed with something spiritually useful.

Secondly, in regard to those whom we converse, let us observe that there are some with whom we should not discuss certain subjects, as we have already remarked in Section 17, On Preachers Who Lack Judgment. While with others, certain subjects are permitted, although anyone at all should not treat of them. It is not right, indeed, that one who lacks authority or the talent should instruct his superiors; Ecclesiasticus warns us: “In the company of great men take not upon thee: and when the ancients are present, speak not much” (Ecclus. 32:13). But there are other persons with whom we can freely express ourselves as long as the conversation is sensible; we can act in this manner with inferiors, simple souls, and lay people.

Thirdly, as to the choice of a favorable time, we ought to speak only to those who, being temperate and sober in all things, have kept their minds clear and disposed to understand what is said to them; or to those who are in the meantime free from other occupations, for Our Lord did not speak to Martha whom He saw to be busy, but to Magdalen whose mind was free (Luke 10:40); or to those who are willing to hear, for the word should never be addressed to one who is unwilling to listen. When Our Lord wished to speak to Simon the Pharisee, He first disposed him to listen, saying, “Simon, I have something to say to you”; and he replied, “Master, speak” (Luke 7:40). The most favorable time to speak is when we can introduce into our worldly conversations, prudently and simply, some words which will do good and counteract evil.

Fourthly, in regard to how much we should say, our conversations should not be too frequent, to exuberant, or too prolonged, lest we bore our listener. We will have arrived at a just mean in this manner when we know how to speak in a few words, simply, and in turn.

Fifthly, in regard to the manner of speaking, it should not be forgotten that this should vary according to the diversity of the persons, as St. Paul taught Timothy, saying: “Do not rebuke an elderly man but exhort him as you would a father, and young men as brothers, elderly women as mothers, and younger women as sisters in all chastity” (I Tim. 5:1). Let us recall also the counsel of Our Saviour Who advises us to correct ourselves sometimes in secret and sometimes before witnesses (Matt. 18:15-17).

Finally, according to the circumstances we should be brief or wordy, keeping in mind the state of the persons and the matter we are treating of. Doubtlessly, many other observations should be made at this point, but they have been already given.[4]

XL. The Preacher Who Receives Secular Hospitality

Among those preachers who are so poor that they have to depend on hospitality for sustenance, there are some whose confidence in God is weak and who sometimes take great pains during their journey to procure the hospitality which will insure them all that they think is necessary. Our Lord condemned them in advance when He said to His disciples: “When I sent you forth without purse or wallet or sandals did you lack anything? And they said, ‘Nothing’” (Luke 22:35-36).

Other preachers are so solicitous about their needs that they sometimes leave the country where they could do the most good, in order to avoid the discomfort of poor hospitality and to seek better. This, of course, is contrary to the example of Our Lord, Who often went to preach at Jerusalem, even though He received no hospitality after preaching but was obliged to seek it at nightfall in Bethany as we read in St. Matthew (Matt. 21).

There are others who do much worse for they go so far as to carry provisions with them, contrary to the rule which forbids this. These also are condemned by Our Saviour Who said: “Take nothing for your journey, neither staff, nor wallet nor bread nor money” (Luke 9:3).

Others are careless about where they seek hospitality, sometimes stopping at the homes of men whose reputations are bad or suspect, whereas the Lord has said: “And whatever town or village you enter, inquire who in it is worthy” (Matt. 10:11); and the gloss adds that the host should be chosen according to the testimony of his neighbors, lest perhaps his bad conduct prove harmful to the preaching.

Some preachers expect or demand more than is necessary in the way of food and drink, which is very unseemly in the poor of Jesus Christ. For did He not say: “Remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they have” (Luke 10:7); as if He had said: “That which you find prepared for you in that house ought to suffice you.” It is not becoming for preachers to look for unusual things.

Yet, others during their stay show little or no signs of virtue and leave behind them a poor reputation. Very different are they from the prophet Eliseus of whom his hostess said to her husband: “I perceive that this is a holy man of God who often passes by us. Let us therefore make him a little chamber and put a little bed in it and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick, that when he cometh to us, he may abide there” (IV Kings 4:9-10).

Others return again and again to the homes of those who have shown them devotion and end up by becoming a burden to them. St. Paul avoided this inconsiderateness by supporting himself with the work of his own hands: “We worked night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you,” he wrote (I Thess. 2:9).

Some preachers after receiving all that their hosts can shower on them show no sign of gratitude and never think of offering payment for anything they have received. The Saints are different; in order to show their appreciation for anything they receive, they serve all before God and before men. The prophet Elias is an example of this kind when he sends forth to heaven his ardent prayer of the son of the widow who had given him hospitality: “O Lord my God, has thou afflicted also the widow, with whom I am after a sort maintained, so as to kill her son?” (III Kings 17:20); and at his prayer, life was returned to the child. The prophet Eliseus is another example, when he addresses these words to his hostess: “Behold thou hast diligently served us in all things, what wilt thou have me do for thee? Hast thou any business, and wilt thou that I speak to the king, or to the general of the army?” (IV Kings 4:13); and when she answers that she is sorrowful because she has no child, he, by his prayers, restores to life a son who had died. St. Paul furnishes us another example when he writes to the Romans: “But I commend to you Phoebe, our sister, who is in the ministry of the church at Cenchrae, that you may assist her in whatever business she may have need of you. For she too has assisted many, including myself” (Rom. 16:1). According to the gloss, this woman, who belonged to the highest nobility, took care of all the needs of the Church of Cenchrae, and St. Paul, knowing that she was going to Rome on business, out of gratitude recommended her to the Christians of that city in such a strong manner.

There are also some preachers, who by their displeasure with those who have refused them hospitality expose themselves to reproach and censure; such find their condemnation in the words of St. Luke: “Jesus,” he says, “having steadfastly set his fact to go to Jerusalem sent messengers before him. And they went and entered a Samaritan town to make ready for him; and they did not receive him, because his face was set for Jerusalem. But when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, wilt thou that we bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them, saying, ‘You do not know of what manner of spirit you are; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them’” (Luke 9:51-56).

From the forgoing we conclude that a good preacher should not trouble himself about finding the lodgings where the hospitality is exactly to his taste; he should not turn aside from places where he could do good because he fears to find poor hospitality there; nor should he carry with him provisions in defiance of the rule; he should carefully avoid any suspected houses; he should learn to be content with a little; he should leave behind him a good reputation; nor should he be a burden to his hosts; he should show them gratitude; he should hold no bad feelings against those who refused to receive him.

XLI. The Preacher in Secular Affairs

There are some preachers who are so averse to taking part in the affairs of the world that they refuse to help their neighbor, even spiritually; they are like the ostrich which does not take care of its young. Their conduct does not conform to the example set by Our Lord. For Jesus had such compassion for the crowd that came to hear Him that He miraculously provided food for them in the desert so that they might not faint from hunger on the way home. It is written of Him: “That he went about doing good and healing all that we in the power of the devil” (Acts 10:38). Does not St. Paul also at one time comfort by letters those whom he has converted (I Cor. 16); at another time take up a collection for them; and at yet another time show a heartfelt compassion for them? “Besides those outer things,” he said, “There is my daily pressing anxiety, the care of all the churches! Who is weak that I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not inflamed?” (II Cor. 11:28-29.) In the primitive church, the holy Apostles shared equally in caring for those whom they had converted, even going so far as to provide the necessities of life, as is told in the Acts of the Apostles.

We know how the heretics take care of their converts, tirelessly collecting alms to provide for the needs of the poor who join them, and by such example attracting new disciples to their false beliefs. How much more care ought we to expect the preachers of the truth to take of their charges!

This is what the gloss understands in regard to the text where Jesus says to St. Peter: “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). This is done, it adds, by providing the faithful with even the temporal needs which may be necessary. On the text where St. Peter says to the rulers of the community: “Tend the flock of God which is among you” (I Peter 5:2), the gloss again explains that this is done by providing for the needs of those to whom we have preached the gospel.

What we have said above is quite sufficient to show any preacher worthy of the name that he ought not to withhold from his listeners any aid, spiritual or temporal, according to the conditions of the time and the place. Many, says St. Gregory,[5] are wholly taken up with the spiritual side of the care of souls and completely neglect anything having to do with the temporal. By thus neglecting what belongs to the life of the body, they will not be able to do a great deal for those confided to their care. Their preaching will very often be scorned. Content to reprove sinners and offering nothing that would help them in the present life, thy will never get a favorable hearing from them. The mind of the needy, in fact, refuses to accept any teaching which does not enjoin mercy; whereas the seed sown by the words takes root easily in the hearts of those who hear it as soon as it is watered by the charity of the preacher.

Then there is the other extreme in which we find preachers who are always busy with the affairs of their neighbor; at one time for a friend, at another time for a woman, or it may be for anyone at all who might come along. To these St. Gregory[6] addresses these remonstrances: Some forgetting that they have been made shepherds only of the souls of their brothers, put all their heart and all their efforts into assisting them in their temporal affairs, and become filled with satisfaction each time they present themselves. When, indeed, they are not thus employed, they do not cease to think of them day and night, when they could be tasting peace, being free in this regard. This peace becomes for them a hardship, for they delight only in action, and they become bored if they no longer have worldly affairs to interest them.

This preoccupation of a preacher, consecrated to the religious state and to poverty, engenders three evil consequences. The first is to inspire a contempt for his state; according to St. Gregory, Jeremias deplored this when he said: “How is the gold become dim, the finest color is changed, the stones of the sanctuary are scattered in the top of every street?” (Lam. 4:1.) The gold, says St. Gregory, becomes dim by mixing in completely human affairs; the holiness of life is soiled; the beautiful color is lost when the public esteem for those who were judged as good religious diminishes. For when one who is dressed in a holy habit permits himself to become immersed in worldly affairs, it is as if he were to lose caste in the eyes of men, and the respect which they had for him were to vanish. The stones of the sanctuary are scattered when we see those engaged in the tortuous paths of secular affairs who, for the honor of the Church, should devote themselves in the secret of the sanctuary, to the interior life of the supernatural.

The second evil coming from a preoccupation in worldly things if the danger of falling into the devil’s hands; for these worldly occupations are like snares, and the devil, the untiring opponent of the preacher, seeing him engaged in these activities, seizes him without difficulty, like a hunter whose snares have captured an animal. “For he hath thrust his feet into a net, and walketh in its meshes. The sole of his foot shall be held in a snare, and thirst shall burn against hem” (Job 18:8-9); that is to say, according to the gloss, he is devoured by the devil, who is here likened to “thirst,” for he is always the cause of the downfall of men.

The third evil is to check the work of preaching, for these occupations distract anyone engaged in such work; this is what the preacher should above all avoid, according to the advice of St. Luke: “Carry not a wallet” (Luke 10:4). And what, asks St. Gregory, is the wallet if not the worries of the age? It is better, therefore, that whoever has taken upon himself the duty of preacher should not carry at the same time the burden of worldly affairs, lest this new weight bow his head down to the earth and never let him look up, in his preaching, to the things of heaven.

This is so true that Our Lord prevented one of His disciples from going to bury his father so that he would not be delayed in the ministry of preaching. “Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but do thou go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60). For the same reason He did not want any of His disciples to stop and greet anyone on the road: “Greet no one on the way,” He said (Luke 10:4). And St. Gregory, commenting on this, says that He did not permit them the time for salutations on the road, in order to show with what haste we ought to travel on a journey, the purpose of which is to preach the Gospel. Finally, for the same reason, He does not want them to worry about the necessities of life, and He repeats to His disciples: “Carry not a wallet” (Luke 10:4) lest, says the gloss of St. Gregory, they be taken up with the cares of temporal needs, and be unable to devote themselves to the eternal interests of their neighbor.

If, then, in order to avoid hindering our preaching, we ought not to bury our parents, nor greet those whom we meet, nor be solicitous about our temporal needs, how much more should we forswear other worldly activities!

The pagan Jethro reprimanded Moses, seeing him too much absorbed in the controversies of the people (Exod. 18), and if his reproach seems justified, even though Moses was entrusted with these affairs, how much more justly should the preacher be reprimanded on whom the conducting of worldly business does not fall? It is the stranger Jethro, says St. Gregory,[7] who judges these things sanely, when he blames Moses for entering into the controversies of the people beyond what is reasonable, advising him to appoint other judges to deal with them; in order that he might penetrate even more deeply the spiritual mysteries which he was to teach the world. What a lesson for us!

This is also the reason why St. Paul did not wish anyone to handle secular business, who seemed to be more fit for the spiritual life. “If therefore you have cases about worldly matters to be judged, appoint those who are rated as nothing in the Church to judge” (I Cor. 6:4); in order, says St. Gregory, that preferably they be appointed to the administration of temporally things, who were the least gifted in spiritual things.

For this reason the Saviour chose, as the first preachers, men who were poor; He wanted their spirit to have that clarity and purity necessary for the spiritual life, and to be free from the distractions of temporal affairs. Give to inferior persons, says St. Gregory, the lesser duties; to pastors, the ministry of higher things; for the eye which watches from the heights must not be blinded by dust, which the care of earthly things stirs up. This conclusion will certainly be approved by those who rightly judge that preachers should not take part in temporal affairs, even for their own benefit, much less for the benefit of others.

And that is why St. Gregory,[8] believing always that a preacher is at fault when he completely cuts himself off from the affairs of man and also when he meddles in them to excess, says to the leaders of the Church, who ought to help the people by their preaching: Let not any pastor neglect the things of the interior life, in order to occupy himself with those of he exterior; but let him not neglect either paying some attention to exterior affairs, in order not to shut himself up too much in the interior. Thus, he must have sufficient interest in things pertaining to his exterior life, but such that his interior life will not suffer; and his devotion to the interior life must not be such that it would be prejudicial to the discharge of his exterior duties. Thus, we can understand the words of Ezechiel: “Neither shall the priests shave their heads, nor wear long hair: but they shall only poll their heads” (Ezech. 44:20). They are forbidden, says St. Gregory,[9] both to shave their heads, and to wear their hair long, signifying that they should not exclude completely the temporal well-being of their charges, but not to the point of allowing it to overrule them; they are, on the other hand, allowed to cut their hair in order to remind them that, while performing the duties necessary for the temporal life, they must not allow themselves to be completely absorbed in temporalities.

It is necessary, then, to maintain a happy medium and to take care not to become absorbed in anything that savors of worldliness, nor to be taken up with the worldly interest of our friends of the flesh; but only those things alone should interest us, which savor of God, such as works of piety, re-establishing of peace, prayer for those in the depths of misery, giving counsel to the simple, and other things of this nature. Thus, did St. Paul forbid to his disciple Timothy any preoccupation with secular affairs, exhorting him to the things of God only: “Train thyself in godliness” (I Tim. 4:7).

It is important not to place any hindrance to the spiritual profit of souls, by doing anything that might repulse them, but rather we must be helpful to all, in all things, according to the counsel of St. Paul (I Cor. 10:33). The preacher should not take part in such odious affairs as the accepting of compromise, inquisitions, canonical visits, judiciary instructions and similar things, in which he will often run the risk of injuring many people. For this reason Our Lord answered the one who asked Him to intervene with his brother in the sharing of an inheritance: “Who has appointed me a judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14.) If He Who is the rightful Judge of the living and the dead repudiates, in the capacity of preacher, this office of judge, is it not so much more right that poor preachers should refuse this also?

There are other affairs which lead us into danger because of the consequences that they entail, such as marriages, promotions to dignities and to ecclesiastical charges, assisting in the counsel of princes and other offices of responsibility. A well advised preacher will see that he does not lose himself in trying to save others. “What does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own souls?” (Matt. 16:26) – a maxim which we cannot repeat too often nor meditate on too long.

Other undertakings which are prolonged indefinitely, such as the execution of wills, tutelage over certain persons, the obligation to keep deposits fore certain works, or other similar commissions, should be eschewed by the preacher so that he may have full liberty to perform properly all the functions of his office. The Apostle recommends this expressly to Timothy: “No one serving as God’s soldier entangles himself in worldly affairs” (II Tim. 2:4), for to place ourselves in such a position is to entangle ourselves in such a way that we will not be able to disengage ourselves when we wish.

Finally, if we undertake to discharge some affairs, it must be from necessity and not by inclination, which prompts St. Gregory[10] to say: We can sometimes through compassion tolerate the acceptance of earthly tasks, but we should never look for them by choice.

XLII. The Preacher Giving Counsel

This subject has an eminently practical character since it frequently happens that preachers are sought for counsel. Thus we see in St. Luke[11] crowds of people, publicans and soldiers, coming to St. John the Baptist in the desert asking: “What must we do?” St. Matthew shows us also a young man approaching Our Lord Jesus Christ and asking Him: “Good Master, what good works shall I do to have eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16.) Finally, after St. Peter’s preaching, “On hearing this they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and to the rest of the Apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37.)

But it must be observed that among all those who came to Our Lord to interrogate Him, there were some who did not do this with a good intention, but rather to test Him; for example, the Pharisees, of whom it was said: “There came to him some Pharisees, testing him, and saying, ‘is it lawful for a man to put his wife away for any cause?’” (Matt. 19:3) and in another circumstance: “Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” (Matt. 22:17.) St. Luke tells also, “A certain lawyer got up to test him, saying, ‘Master, what must I do to gain eternal life?’” (Luke 10:25) Fact to face with such people Our Lord keeps a discreet reserve, and knowing their cunning, He answers them with prudence, as we see in the pages of the Gospels which we have just recalled. Thus, He gave to preachers of all times an example to which they can conform.

Some of the faithful seek counsel on matters of temporal interests, and we should not refuse them when charity demands it; thus we see the example of Joseph advising Pharaoh to gather the fruits of the earth in the time of plenty, for the common good of his people (Gen. 41). Others, such as the sick, ask advice about their health; and again we should advise them when we know what will do them good. Thus, St. Paul counseled Timothy, “Use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and they frequent infirmities” (I Tim. 5:23).

And what is better, others ask counsel about the things of the soul and their salvation; preachers should respond promptly and eagerly to these, for advice of this sort, according to as it is good or bad, will lead to salvation or damnation.

Indeed, it sometimes happens that in a very grave matter disastrous advice will be given. This happens sometimes through lack of knowledge; and so it is necessary to consult learned men, and not the foolish whose ignorance leads into error. “Advise not with fools” (Ecclus. 8:20), says Ecclesiasticus.

At other times, the evil is done through pusillanimity; for there are some who do not dare speak the truth to princes, unlike John the Baptist, who fearlessly said to Herod: “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18).

At other times, harm is done because of flattery; for there are some preachers who wish only to please, and in cases where restitution is called for, and in other equally g rave matters, the give only advice that will be acceptable. They imitate the wicked prophets whom Ezechiel cursed: “Woe to them the sew cushions under every elbow; and make pillows for the head of persons of every age to catch souls” (Ezech. 13:18). For according to the commentaries, we should understand these words as referring to those who flatter sinners in their evil ways. Indeed, sinners tricked by these flatteries remain undisturbed in their sins, as though resting willingly on soft pillows or cushions.

Again, the harm results from false pity, as in the case of those who are moved by pity for the state of the unhappy, and reassure them saying they are not obliged to sell in order to restore what they owe, or something similar; while Exodus says on the contrary: “Neither shalt thou favor a poor man in judgment” (Exod 23:3).

At another time, greed will cause the preacher to give bad advice, causing great harm. For instance, there are certain priests who advise to use for the celebration of Masses or for anniversaries or other similar works, what should paid back in restitution, and so this money falls into their hands. It is of these that Ezechiel said: “They violated me among my people, for a handful of barley, and a piece of bread, to kill souls which should not die and to save souls alive which should not live, telling lies to my people that believe lies” (Ezech. 13:19).

In other cases, the bad advice is given to win the favor of men, as with those who love to have it said that in the confessional their counsel if good; and so by this means they attract to it great crowds. Thus did Absalom who in order to attract the people assured all who came to submit to his judgment that their case was good (II Kings 15).

Advice of this nature causes a great many evils. One of them is the error into which those who receive it fall; for they depend upon the advice and are deceived, and yet their mistake does not excuse them for: “a mischievous counsel shall be rolled back upon the author” (Ecclus 27:30); and again, all should “beware of a counselor” (Ecclus. 37:9).

A second evil is the harm that befalls so many others; for bad advice given to a particular person can, in certain cases, injure a great number. Roboam is an example of this; when he listened to the evil counsel of the younger people rather than the ancients and resolved to stand firmly opposed to his people (III Kings 12), with the result that great misfortune fell on Israel! So too, from the evil counsel of a prince, a great number of evils falls on his subjects.

A third evil is the harm done to himself by the one giving the advice; for there is no more excuse for him who endangers the salvation of a soul, than there is for a doctor who through culpable ignorance, prescribes for his patient something that is injurious for the health of the body. “If a blind man guide a blind man, both fall into a pit” (Matt. 15:14). The same sentiment is read in Paralipomenon: “Whatsoever you judge, it shall redound to you” (II Par. 19:6).

A fourth evil is the dishonor which reflects on the entire community, whether it be the Church, a college, or a Religious Order, when one of its members gives injurious advice in what pertains to the salvation of souls. It is for this reason that the Lord, thinking to console His Church, deprived so long of wise counselors, said through Isaias: “I will restore thy judges as they were before, and thy counselors as of old” (Isai. 1:26), that is, such as governed the primitive Church.

A fifth evil is the danger to which prelates expose themselves. For they will have to answer for the mistakes of those they have appointed as advisors in the salvation of others. Thus, Mathathias did not make the first on who came along his sons’ advisor, but chose one who had proved himself and had shown himself worthy: “I know,” he tells them, “that your brother Simon is a man of counsel: give ear to him always” (I Mach 2:65). And likewise, in Deuteronomy it is written: “Thou shalt appoint judges and magistrates” (Deut. 16:18); that is to say, take for judges those who have learning and the reputation of a teacher.

The last evil coming from bad advice is the scandal which is inevitable; for although bad advisers may hide their ignorance for a time, yet it will be revealed and reach the knowledge of their superiors, causing much misery, scandal and trouble: “God,” said Job, “bringeth counselors to a foolish end” (Job 12:17); this must be understood, according to the gloss, of certain preachers who are incapable of giving wise counsel.

And so, in order to avert the dangers to which imprudent advice exposes souls, it is necessary that directors study carefully the teaching of the learned, especially in matters of restitution, simony, ecclesiastical censures, irregularities and dispensation from them, vows, marriages, promises and oaths, for here one meets with grave and compromising difficulties.

Of these cases, the first two relate to the natural law; the third and fourth, to the positive law; the fifth, to obligations willingly contracted with God; the sixth, to the will of God on men; the seventh, the one to man, the other to God.

In order to avoid the dangers attached to giving advice, one should add to his study, the habit of conferring with superiors and the learned about difficult cases; as Moses commanded the leaders of the people: “If anything seem hard to you, refer it to me, and I will hear it” (Deut. 1:17).

In some cases, it is well to delay giving an answer in order to have time to study or to take counsel with others, following the example of Job who said: “The cause which I knew not, I searched out most diligently” (Job 29:16).

Again, to gain time, we may let it be believed that we lack the authority in the proposed case and so postpone answering to another occasion; for it is better not to give advice when we are doubtful than to risk giving it when we are uncertain. “If thou have understanding, answer thy neighbor: but if not, let thy hand be upon thy mouth” (Ecclus. 5:14).

In the preceding, we see the manner in which advice is asked of preachers, and how it should be given; we see, also, what causes bad advice to be given, what the unfortunate effects will be, and what precautions we must take in order not to be exposed to them.

XLIII. The Preacher Exercising the Ministry of Confession

Let us note here that a large number of those who have been affected by the words of a preacher will be disposed to go to confession to him; but there are some preachers who, although they have the necessary faculties for this work, refuse to hear the confessions of the people. They are, in this respect, like a farmer who is eager to sow but des not wish to gather; for it is by preaching that one sows and by confession that one gathers the fruits. As Isaias said: “Sow and reap” (Isai. 37:30)

Some have no objection to hearing confessions from time to time, but they will hear only certain classes of people; but if the tribunal of human justice is accessible to the whole world, so should the tribunal of souls be open to all. Deuteronomy prescribes: “There shall be no difference of persons. You shall hear the little as well as the great” (Deut. 1:17).

Some are willing to hear all who come along, just as they present themselves; however, they prefer to hear those who have sinned less and consequently have less need of their help, than those who are more in need of their counsel; whereas Our Lord said: “I have come to call sinners, not the just” (Matt. 9:13), in order that they do penance. It is recounted in regard to this, that a jester having entered the Church while Lenten services were in progress, observed those who went to a certain priest, who was a good man to confess themselves; but this priest heard only the young girls, refusing to hear the old women who presented themselves to him. The jester leaving the Church began to shout in the streets and in the public places: “The old women do not have souls! The old women do not have souls!” Denounced as a heretic, he was questioned by the bishop, and confessed boldly to having made the statement and said he was ready to prove it. A day was fixed for his trial and presenting himself, he said: “Your excellency, you know well a certain priest and you hold him, without doubt, to be a good man and a worthy ecclesiastic.” This was granted without difficulty and he continued: “With my own eyes I saw him send away from the confessional the old women and hear only the young girls. If the old people had souls, they would have more need of confession than the young girls, who have lived less and consequently have sinned less. If, then, this good man and worthy ecclesiastic does not wish to hear the old women, we must conclude that it is because they have no souls.” Whereupon, the crowd started to laugh at what he had said; but instead of laughing at his reply, we would do better to hold in derision those priests who prefer to hear the confessions of innocent children or young girls or nuns, or other souls of this kind who are in a good state, to great sinners. As it is written in St. Matthew: “It is not the healthy who need a physician, but they who are sick” (Matt. 9:12).

There are some who are ill-fitted to be good confessors, either because of moral weakness, or lack of judgment, or some other deficiency in their nature. But, they fearing neither the danger of scandal, nor the temptations arising from what is heard in the confessional, nor the important counsels which must be given, fool-hardily accept to hear indiscriminately all who come to confess. Soon they are driven by curiosity to learn the secrets of others, and to interfere in exterior things, not having the habit nor the inclination to remain in themselves; soon they are driven by their zeal for souls, real but imprudent. And so it often happens that they lose themselves in their efforts to lead others to the harbor of salvation. They are like those who in trying to save someone who is drowning throw themselves into the same danger and perish with him, as it is said in Ecclesiasticus: “He that loveth danger shall perish in it” (Ecclus. 3:27).

Others jealously attach themselves to their penitents, and cannot tranquilly endure them to go to other confessors, although it is sometimes beneficial for a sick person to consult several doctors. Our Lord did not act so with the lepers who asked for mercy; He sent them to others saying: “Go, show yourselves to the priests” (Luke 17:14).

Other priests are more interested in temporal gain than in the sanctification of souls, using the confessions which they hear as an opportunity to beg. The Apostle St. Paul said to the Philippians: “Not that I am eager for the gift, but I am eager for the profit accumulating to your account” (Phil. 4:17); and again: “I do not seek yours but you” (II Cor. 12:14).

Some priests by means of confession become so familiar with certain women that they bring dishonor upon both themselves and the religious life. St. Augustine brings out the gravity of this fault saying: There is something worse than fornication; it is the continence which becomes criminal and the sanctity which become infamous; then we blaspheme against religion when we remain interiorly chaste by laborious struggle, and offend without scruple by our shameless and unedifying exterior attitude.

There are others insufficiently educated and having no desire to instruct themselves in the work of the confessional, who cause much harm, now by questioning, again by absolving, or by advising or by those other ways treated at length in the last chapter of our Treatise on Offices.[12] They forget that virtue of commendable action does not consist in doing a thing, but in doing it well, as St. Mark says of our Saviour: “He has done all things well” (Mark 7:37).

From the preceding, we may conclude, then, that a preacher, provided he is fit to hear confessions, ought to do it voluntarily; to exclude all preference for certain classes of people; to prefer those who are most in need; to know, however, that if one is unfit for this office, he should not be over eager to do it; not to be sorry when those whom he has confessed go to others; never to make the hearing of penitents an opportunity for begging; never to permit themselves, through confessions, to become familiar with women; finally, to avoid every other fault which prevents one from discharging this holy ministry well.

XLIV. Preambles or Exordia of Conferences and Sermons

First, let us note that it is sometimes unnecessary to precede the sermon with a preamble or prayer; for example in the Chapters of Religious, only members of the community are ordinarily admitted. In the other case, it will suffice for the preacher to ask a prayer, as is done in parishes where sermons are often given. In other circumstances, it will be necessary to give first an exordium; for example, in the case of solemn sermons, or when a large audience is expected, but as yet the people have not all arrived, or when one speaks unexpectedly, in order to explain the reason for giving t he sermon.

In these exordia or preambles, we must be brief, for if we weary our listeners, it will prove detrimental to the rest of our sermon.

The exordium should be pleasing, so as to prepare our audience to listen with attention, good-will, and docility; just as writers do in the prefaces of the books which they publish.

The exordium must always be terminated by asking devoutly for the prayers of the congregation, that God may bless the sermon; for thus did St. Paul, speaking to the Thessalonians: “Brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified” (II Thess. 3:1).

The theme of the exordium may refer to the person of the preacher, for instance when the preacher is a religious of the Order of Friars Preachers or Friars Minors visiting a parish, where both he and his Order are unknown.

He will make known, therefore, at the beginning, the spirit and the mission of his Order, so that it will not be thought that he is preaching in order to collect money. He should therefore say with St. Paul: “I do not seek yours but you” (II Cor. 12”14). And when he feels his own insufficiency, he shall say with Jeremias: “Ah, ah, ah, Lord God, behold I cannot speak, for I am a child” (Jer. 1:6). If he is obliged to preach in the capacity of a prelate, or by obedience, he shall declare it in these words of the Apostle: “Since I am under constraint, woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (I Cor. 11:16).

Or the exordium may be inspired by a consideration of the audience to whom the sermon is addressed. One may recommend to them, for example, that they should not only listen to, but especially practice what is going to be preached to them, according to the advice of St. James: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only” (Jas. 1:22). They should be reminded that there is a great diversity among those who listen, for some will let the fruits of the sermon perish, while others will gather them in, as is recounted in the parable in which Our Saviour begins: “The sower went out to sow his seed” (Luke 8:5). Or the preacher shall promise reward to the good and punishment to the wicked, as St. Paul said to the Hebrews: “The earth that drinks in the rain that often falls upon it . . . (and) that which brings forth thorns and thistles . . .” (Heb. 6:7,8).

Also, the exordium may be taken from the subject of the sermon about to be preached. If the sermon is on those highest and most impenetrable mysteries, the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Sacrament of the Sacred Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ, a prayer should be offered for the understanding necessary to speak well of such sublime mysteries, following the example of the Apostle St. Paul who said: “At the same time pray for us also, that God may give us and opportunity for the word, to announce the mystery of Christ” (Col. 4:3). If the sermon is about the beautiful deeds of the Saints, and for the purpose of giving glory to God, or to honor these worthily, or to draw from their lives profit for the people, a few words should be said in praise of them; as we read in Ecclesiasticus: “(Let) the church declare their praise” (Ecclus. 44:15). If the subject of the sermon is important for salvation such as penance, an exhortation should be made in order to dispose the people to listen favorably to this serious subject, with the invitation of St. James: “With meekness receive the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (Jas. 1:21).

At another time, a text quoted at the beginning of the sermons will furnish the subject of the exordium. If it is obscure or offers difficulty to the understanding, the Holy Spirit should be invoked that He Himself might deign to explain what has been proposed, as is written in the Book of Wisdom: “And who shall know thy thought except thou give wisdom and send thy Holy Spirit from above?” (Wisd. 11:17.) If the subject is an important one, its importance should be called to the attention of the people, as the author of the Book of Proverbs did when he said: “Hear, for I will speak of great things” (Prov. 8”6). If attention is to be drawn on the authority of the speaker it should be remembered that it is not man but God Who speaks in every word of our Sacred Scriptures; that it is on them that the preacher principally depends, and that the holy men who composed them have spoken under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.[13] For this reason the prophets often said: “Hear the word of God,” as if to say: “This is why you ought to listen, for it is the Lord Himself Who speaks.”

Sometimes the preacher will be inspired by the liturgical year. If it is during Advent he shall give reasons for speaking of this season, as, according to the Acts of the Apostles, the prophets did: “And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel onwards, have also announced these days” (Acts 3:24). If it is Lent, which is a time of penance, he shall show that it is fitting to preach on penance during this season, as John the Baptist and our Saviour have set the example, making this the first and principal subject of their preaching. If it is the paschal season, the preacher should explain that it would be unworthy of a tongue made of flesh to remain silent during this time, for He Who gave us the tongue to speak is resurrected according to the flesh, as St. Gregory observes.

Finally, the inspiring thought of the exordium can be drawn from the end of the preaching itself. For example, it can be shown that the preaching has for its unique end the production of real fruits. “We, at least,” says St. Paul, “are not, as many others, adulterating the word of God” (II Cor. 2:17), as fault which those commit who seek pleasure in the word and not fruit. Or, again, the preacher may show how easy it is both to find the word and to profit from it, as it is written in the Book of Proverbs: “The leaning of the wise is easy” (Prov. 14:6). Or, the reasons may be shown for giving a brief exposition of doctrine: “Thy lips are as scarlet lace,” says the Canticle of Canticles (Cant. 4:3), which signifies, according to the gloss, the restraint imposed on our lips.

From what has just bee said, we can clearly see that in certain cases an exordium should precede the sermon, and in other cases be omitted; what qualities the exordium should have and from what sources it should be drawn.






Chapter 6    Top

[1] St. Greg., in Homil. Designavit.
[2] Goliards were wandering students, who during festivals passed from castle to castle, from convent to convent, singing or reciting their poetry; their love of good living and their unquenchable thirst were renowned; their songs, sometimes erotic, made them suspect by the Church which prohibited them from singing the Office.
[3] St. Greg., super Designavit
[4] See supra, Section 17.
[5] St. Gregory, in Pastorali, part 2.
[6] Ibid.
[7] St. Gregory, in Pastorali, part 2
[8] St. Gregory, in Pastorali.
[9] Ibid.
[10] St. Gregory, in Pastorali.
[11] Luke 3, et seq.
[12] In his Treatise on Offices, Chapter 47, Blessed Humbert gives clear, sensible, and practical instructions on the manner of exercising the office of superior, professor, preacher, confessor, and even the subordinate offices of porter, wardrobe keeper, cellarer, etc.
[13] II Peter 1:21.

Text from the 1951 Newman Press edition, Walter Conlon O.P. editor

Return to Home page.

To Praise * to Bless * to Preach