Sermons on the Apocalypse, the Holy Name, and the Proverbs by John Mason Neale. London: J.T. Hayes, 1871.
HAVING DONE ALL, TO STAND. "I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is; and thou boldest fast My Name, and hast not denied My faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth."--REV. ii. 13.
THAT first clause,--"I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is,"--would it lead us to think that there was the loving message for this poor afflicted Church of Pergamos (or, as it should rather be, Pergamum), which we really know is to follow? One thing I should take for certain. The works, known to GOD, done by one who dwelt where Satan's seat is, must be either illustriously good,--the bright candle in the night,-- or deeply wicked,--the outer, double darkness. Well;--and these works are indeed worthy of everlasting remembrance; and see how that which enhanced them is mentioned twice over; "where Satan's seat is,''--"where Satan dwelleth."
But now, why could it be said that Satan dwelt in Pergamum more than in any other of the seven cities to whom S. John wrote? why that his seat was there? or rather his throne; for it is the same word with our English; and as, when applied to the Throne of GOD'S glory, so it ought to be used of the hellish caricature of that Kingdom? It is absolutely unknown. And I think I can see the reason why it should be so. If we knew the peculiar temptation this Church had to conquer, we should perhaps sympathise less with the teaching for ourselves. Some great manifestation of Satan's power was exercised against Pergamum; some bitter temptation he either has bent, or does, or will direct against us. Pergamum conquered; and we shall see how; and by the same means, my Sisters, must we conquer.
Ah! and first we get the old story: the high road of suffering! Antipas was "My faithful martyr." Now, is it not most remarkable that this glorious title, My martyr, My faithful martyr, given to no other Saint, should not for ever have kept alive the memory of Antipas, what he did, how he suffered? And yet absolutely nothing is known of him. In the later martyrologies, indeed, we have a long history of his passion; but clearly only as a legend, written by one who knew no more of the facts than ourselves. Now, if you like to take this as a proof that GOD'S greatest Saints are often those of whom the world knows least,--so it undoubtedly is, and this may be another proof of it. But I am inclined to think that this is not the true explanation. I do not believe that Antipas was the name of any individual martyr. The word paV in Greek means every one. As Antichrist, being interpreted, is He that resists CHRIST, so Antipas means He that resists every one; that is, who, simply, by himself, stands up against a world of evil-doers. Like those glorious verses about Abdiel, in the revolt of the Fallen Angels, which always stir my heart like a trumpet:
"So spake the Seraph Abdiel, faithful found
Among the faithless, faithful only he:
Among innumerable false, unmoved,
Unshaken, unseduced, unterrified,
His loyalty he kept, his faith, his zeal."
Antipas, then, in this sense, every martyr of every age has been and must be; and singularly enough, one such Martyr of Pergamum history tells us of. You have some of you read, and I hope all of you have heard of, the letter written by the Church of Lyons in France to the Churches in Asia, seventy years later than the Epistle of S. John, concerning the glorious martyrs there in a local persecution; when the slave S. Blandina, being bound in a chain of red-hot iron, thence encouraged her fellow-sufferers to hold out; when the aged Bishop, S. Pothinus, died under the buffeting of the mob,--then one of the foremost soldiers in this brave fight, then one of the first athletes in this brave race, was Attalus, a Pergamene. I have seen the very dungeon in which they were confined; a dungeon to which you can only obtain access by crawling in like a worm.
Now then: how did this Church of Pergamum stand firm where Satan dwelt? Look at those two clauses; "And thou boldest fast My Name, and hast not denied My faith." That is one of the texts that at first sight seem so disappointing in their conclusion. I have spoken to you before now of that in the Epistle to the Ephesians: "Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of GOD, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day; and having done all,"--well, what? To win a complete victory? to crush down Satan utterly? Nothing less. Having done all, to stand. To hold your own, and that all: the whole result, simply not to yield. And take another example. "Therefore seeing we have received this ministry,"--this ministry of binding and loosing,--this ministry according to the voice of which the Incarnate Word is given to us under the similitude of Bread and Wine,--this ministry of which He Himself is the Great High Priest,--seeing we have received this ministry,--and further, as we have obtained mercy,--now surely, it must be, we shall carry the whole world before us! And alas! it is only, we faint not! Not to faint, the highest results of the greatest gifts that GOD can bestow on man! And so here. "And thou holdest fast My Name, and hast not denied My faith." Think first of that Name,--the only Name given under Heaven whereby one can be saved, the Name which has healed the sick, cast out devils, raised the dead, yes, and greater miracle still, turned stony hearts into hearts of flesh, warmed icy coldness into a fervour of love; that Name, like ointment poured forth; that Name, so sweet, so mighty, so exalted above every name; think first of that; and then of holding it fast; and what ought to be the strength of one who clings tight to the Tower of all strength. And then what a disappointing conclusion, "And hast not denied My faith."
My Sisters, when I look at you, I can a little understand what this means. You go out, we will say, and do and suffer what you could not do nor suffer except by the power of that Name, which not only in your Litanies and your professions, but in your very hearts, you hold fast. You come home: and, by and by, some little temptation,--some word spoken unkindly in the common room, some piece of obedience taken amiss, some misunderstanding of some Sister,--and would you not be most joyful if you could always say that you had resisted a thing in itself so little? Would you not in your next self-examination feel as thankful, or more thankful, for victory over this very miserable little fox, as over the lion that roared against you before?
Yes; this I take to be the meaning of such apparently disappointing clauses. For the great work you put out all your energies, you employ all your watchfulness, you call into action all your prayers; and down go the walls of your spiritual Jericho. But then comes a poor little Ai; and the first thing is, "Make not all the people to labour thither, for they are but few;" and the next thing will be, "O LORD, what shall I say, when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies?" No one, my Sisters, has greater need of this warning than (not you especially, but) all who have embraced the Religious Life; because the very height of its aim and enterprises seems to make little worldly, casual temptations small and contemptible; and the moment you think a temptation contemptible, Satan's victory is half won.
I was speaking to you the other day of the promise made to this same Church,--of the white stone and the hidden manna. But it is worth while to notice, how the promise of the reward is peculiarly adapted to the self-denial by which the reward is won. It goes on to specify among the temptations of Pergamum, "Thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, to eat things sacrificed unto idols." That, then, is Satan's line: and our dear LORD'S reward is the hidden manna: is Himself, sacramentally eaten in this world by His faithful; but there, the even yet more precious, more glorious, more delicious manna of the Beatific Vision.
And then, to look back to the beginning of the text, what more solemn words can there be for you, than those four first? We know what has been said of your works in the assembly of the Church. But what, when the Head of the Church takes them into His own knowledge? "I know," not your works only, but "thy works:" each one: those secret, hidden things, all those tides and counter-tides of temptation and impulse, which she hardly knows herself, which she has not the power of expressing to an earthly Priest, no, not even if he were endowed to the very full with the power of laying open the soul that GOD gave to S. Francis de Sales, or to S. Vincent de Paul! I know; and not now only, not now first. Long ago,--so He might say to each of you,--I, on the watchtower of My Cross, knew them; knew them, when I was winning the power for thee to gain thy virtues, when I was suffering additionally for each of thy sins. I knew them; and I knew thee; knew with what strength or infirmity, with what faith or unbelief, with what courage or listlessness, thou wouldst cleave to My Name, thou wouldst keep My faith." And oh, my Sisters, think of that knowledge first; and then what becomes of every other opinion, of all other praise or blame! "I know thy works, and where thou dwellest."
Ah! and what when the accomplished works are known, and known happily? "And where thou dwellest." Not now constrained to dwell with Mesech, and to have an habitation among the tents of Kedar, but in one of the many mansions of our FATHER'S House, whither our dear LORD hath gone before to prepare a place for us. "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna." And, thus called to look on the everlasting Alleluia of Heaven, we are reminded of the temporary Alleluia of earth, from which we are now, for a season, called to part. Some of you may hardly realize the intense, and, so to speak, personal feeling of affection with which the Saints of the middle ages regarded this dear word: how they bade it farewell as to a most beloved friend; how they counted the days of its absence, in yearning desire for its return. I will read you the old Spanish service: The Dismissal of the Alleluia. I can imagine some men calling it childish; but if so, it is glorious in its very childishness. And thus it runs. It was said at the First Vespers of the First Sunday in Lent. The Chapter was this:
Alleluia in Heaven and in earth; in Heaven it is perpetuated, on earth it is broken. There in constancy; here in faith. There beatifically; here sorrowfully. There without vocal pronunciation here with terrestrial music. There by Angels; here by sinners. Grant, O LORD, that those whose ministry we endeavour ourselves to imitate, may be our happy companions in the eternal Alleluia.
V Thou shalt go, O Alleluia. Thou shalt have a prosperous journey, O Alleluia.
R And again with joy shalt thou return to us, O Alleluia.
V For in their hands they shall bear thee up, that thou dash not thy foot against a stone, O Alleluia.
R And again, &c.
V I will direct thy ways, O Alleluia.
R Thou shalt go out with joy, and be led forth with peace, O Alleluia.
V The mountains and the hills shall break forth before thee into singing, O Alleluia.
R And all the trees of the fields shall clap their hands, O Alleluia.
V There shall no evil happen unto thee, O Alleluia.
R Neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling, O Alleluia.
So they sang their farewell. But whether our Alleluia does return to us in safety, whether our Angels will bear it up in their hands, that it dash not its foot against a stone, that must depend on our real penitence in Lent. If no true Kyrie Eleison, then certainly no true Alleluia Perenne at last. My Sisters, as each Lent comes round, I am anxious more than I can tell you,--it may be, nervously anxious,--that no miserable deceit or effort of Satan may prevent you, each of you, entering on it as you ought. He has so many, many ways to hinder a good beginning. As in the case of Job, illness; some perplexity among one's friends; some difficulty in one's own confession; some unkindness among yourselves; some mistake made by your poor Priest. But let us all try to remember this: that how we enter that Porch of Easter is all in all to us: every commencement of Lent is the time when we ought to make up our minds to do better than ever before; and when you, dear Sisters, should now ask yourselves--and, depend upon it, I shall ask you--how far you think you have given reasonable (ah me! or even unreasonable) cause of offence to others.
Why? That our Alleluia may come back to us unharmed, brighter, dearer, happier, now. Why? That we may one day, in that eternal Easter, in that perpetual spring, merit to attain that, of which the highest strains of the Church Militant are but the poorest, meanest shadows, the everlasting Alleluia of Paradise! And now, &c.