In the footsteps of the Dumb Ox, we come to the Third Sunday in Advent:
Now, when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ,” &c. — S. Matt. xi. 2-4.
IN the preceding Gospel the Advent of Justice was treated of: in this Gospel the Advent of Grace is considered. Mention is here made of S. John Baptist, whose name is interpreted the grace of God; or, as he in whom the grace of God was. Four things are here spoken about S. John — (1) his imprisonment; (2) the question about the Advent of Christ by the disciples whom He sent; (3) the answer of the Lord; (4) the manifold commendation of John. He was praised chiefly on four accounts — (1) for the strength of his constancy; (2) for the rigour of his clothing; (3) for the dignity of his office; (4) for the holiness of his life. Firstly, when John had heard; secondly, “Who art thou;” thirdly, “Go and shew John again,” &c.; fourthly, “He began to say unto the multitudes concerning John.” And, again (1) of the commendation, “What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?” (2) “A man clothed in soft raiment.” (3) “Yea I say unto you, and more than a prophet.” (4) “This is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send My messenger before thy face,” &c. But afterwards it ought to be known concerning the bonds that three kinds of people are said to be in bonds. The godly are placed in the bonds of precepts; the impious, in the bonds of sinners; the condemned, in the bonds of the tormentors. Of the first, Ezekiel iv. 8, “Behold, I will lay bands upon thee.” Hos. xi. 4, “I drew them with the cords of a man; with bands of love.” Of the second, Prov. v. 22, “He shall be holden with the cords of his sins.” Isa. x. 4 (Vulgate), “That you be not bound down under the bond.” Of the third, Wisdom xvii. 2, “Fettered with the bonds of darkness.” S. Matt. xxii. 13, “Bind him hand and foot, and take him away and cast him into outer darkness.” The first bonds are to be sought for; the second bonds to be dissolved; and the third to be avoided. For three reasons the bonds of the teachers are to be embraced (1) because by them safety is obtained against all evil; (2) because he who is bound by them is protected by the wisdom of God; (3) because from them he goes forth to government. Of the first reason, Eccles. vi. 30, “Then shall her fetters be a strong defence.” Of the second reason, Wisdom x. 14, “And left him not in bonds.” Of the third reason, Eccles. iv. 14, “Because out of prison and chains sometimes a man cometh forth to a kingdom.” There are not only the bonds of preceptors to be embraced, but the bonds of sinners to be dissolved. For the sinner is bound with the chains of pride, of avarice, of luxury, and of an evil tongue. Of the first chain, Job xxxix. 5, “Who hath sent out the wild ass free? Or who hath loosed the bands of the wild ass?” By the wild ass pride is understood. Job xi. 12, “For vain man would be wise, though man be born like a wild ass’s colt;” whence the bands of the wild ass are the bands of pride. Of the second chain, Isa. v. 18, “Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity.” Riches are vanity. Of the third chain, Prov. viii. 22, “Immediately he followeth her as an ox led to be a victim, and not knowing that he is drawn like a fool to bonds,” (Vul.), for the hands of a woman are the bonds that draw. Ecc. vii. 27, “And I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands.” These are the bonds that are to be dissolved.
These bonds are loosened in four ways — (1) by the grace of justification; (2) by the grace of contrition; (3) by the modesty of confession; (4) by the penance of satisfaction. Of the first way, Ps. cxvi. 16, “Thou hast loosed my bonds,” that is to say, the Lord has done this by infusing grace. Of the second way, Dan. iii. 25, “Lo, I see four men loose;” where it is said the fire consumed the chains of the children. By the fire contrition is understood. Psalm xxxix. 3, “While I was musing the fire burned.” Of the third way, Hos. v. 13 (Vulg.), “And Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah his band.” Judah is interpreted as confessing. So that he saw his band when being penitent; he saw himself bound by the band of sinners; he declares himself in confession, that he maybe loosed. Of the fourth way, Nah. i. 12, 13, “I have afflicted thee. And will burst thy bonds in sunder.” So are loosed the bands of sinners; but the bands of the tormentors are to be avoided for three reasons — (1) because they are dark; (2) because they are cruel; (3) because they are eternal. Of the first reason, Wisdom xvii., “Fettered with bonds of darkness.” Of the second reason, Eccles. xiii. 15, “He will not spare to do thee hurt, and to cast thee into prison.” Of these bands, Isa. xxviii. 22, “Lest by chance he should be bound with our fetters.” Of the third reason, S. Jude 6, “He hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness.” He speaks of demons. From these chains may God deliver us, to Whom, &c.