Sermons on the Apocalypse, the Holy Name, and the Proverbs
by John Mason Neale.
London: J.T. Hayes, 1871.
SERMON IV. Preached on the Commemoration of the Holy Name, 1858. THE NAME OF GLORY. "I will praise the Name of the LORD most High."--Ps. xiii. 6.
FIRST let me tell you of the place, before you hear of the persons, and of the thing done.
A huge, solemn church, but simple and plain to severity: the grand piers and arches towering up without one sculpture or wreath of flowers to decorate them: the glass, colourless and grey, no figures of Saints, no histories of Martyrdoms, no quaint devices or symbols: the building itself of cathedral size, but no tower, no preparations for a tower: the enormous service-books, bound in solid oak, knobbed with the mighty scutcheons of brass, and backed with huge hog's skin, all in plain black letter,--for your decorations, dear Sisters, were not allowed in that Order. So far as you can see,--for it is Matins, and there are but two lights on the Altar, and one by the preacher,--in the deep, deep chancel two rows of monks (there may be three hundred) in the white habit: their cowls drawn over their heads, for it is intensely cold, the lantern of each on the ground by his side, to be flashed out upon the Antiphonary when the Responses have to be sung:--but now intense silence, while the Abbot, standing in his place, preaches to his brethren.
The church is in the then newly founded Abbey of Citeaux: the Abbot is the last Father of the Church, Saint Bernard.
Ah! dearest Sisters! those days of huge monasteries, those days when thousands of men and women took upon themselves the LORD'S yoke, and bare His burden, are gone in every part of the Church: and, from the very nature of things, cannot return. The piles stood, though all the fervour was fled: Citeaux remained, the place where a few luxurious scholars passed their time in literary indolence: but the life and love and earnestness had gone, before the destroyer swept away the framework; the kernel had decayed, before he also crushed the shell. But ah! dearest Sisters, though of that Abbey not one stone stands now upon another, though, in the neighbouring villages of that part of France, the farm-horses are watered from the stone coffins of those early monks, that of which the Abbot was preaching remains ever fresh, ever new: will remain to the end of the world: is to be our comfort, our hope, our joy, no less than it was to those Cistercians in the first fervour of their existence: for he was preaching the Sermons we still have on the Name of JESUS.
Dear Sisters, it is a singular pleasure to me whenever the monthly day of our Commemoration of that most dear and blessed Name comes round: a day, I hope, we should not forget, even when we may be for a season dispersed in the service of GOD. And this I have thought: that it might not be without its profit to you, nor yet to me, if on these days I were always to speak to you on that one subject, and no other. No fear of our exhausting its glories: no fear of our coming to the end of its comfort, were we to live together long after the time when, in all probability, the last survivor of us will be returned to dust. Those old Saints of the middle ages, how dearly they loved to set it forth, everywhere, by all means, in every curious work of art: not merely of church art, mind you, but of household and domestic furniture. Go, for example, into many of the farms round here, and notice the fire-dogs that stand in the yawning chimney: how they are wrought at the sides into those most blessed of all letters, the I. H. C., by which our dear LORD is set forth. Nothing so mean, that it was thought unworthy of this monogram: nothing so glorious, that it was considered unfit to have that excelling glory added thereto. There they taught us the great lesson that I would fain teach you,--" Do everything in the Name of the LORD JESUS." Yes: silver and gold and gems conspired together to mark out this Name on the paten, or the chalice, or the shrine: the manufacturer of Limoges worked it out in his enamel, the art of producing which we are only beginning to recover: in the monastery potteries they burnt it in on their tiles: in convents they embroidered it on chasuble and cope: in the glorious windows of churches the light came in, sanctified, as it were, and hallowed by the Name of the True Light. I know all this very well. But I know also that the poor peasant was encouraged, with his clasp knife, to consecrate his house by carving the same Name on the hutch of his door, or the barge-boards of his roof: the Name of Salvation could never be out of place among the dwellings of those who looked to be saved: the Name which to adore will be the work of eternity, could never be out of place for the meditation and the worship of earth. Then, what hymns did they not write, the great poets of the middle ages, from the Golden Meditation of S. Bernard, part of which you have now been singing, downwards! What Litanies did they not make in its honour, investing it with every attribute that the heart of man can conceive, all too weakly, all too coldly, to satisfy the intense fervour of their own love! This Saint wrote sequence after sequence in its honour: that Saint composed a JESUS Psalter: and on all hands there came in a flood of beautiful legends, which, told as allegories, or mere tales at first, were by the simple faith of ruder hearers assumed to be, and related as, matters of fact: as that when the blessed Martyr Ignatius had been torn in pieces by the lions of the amphitheatre, this Name was found inscribed on his heart. Then, not content with seeing the same Name in Joshua, the leader of his people to the Land of Canaan, in Joshua the son of Josedech, the noble High Priest, the man "wondered at" of the Jewish Restoration, they saw it also in deeper and more recondite mysteries. In the three hundred and eighteen servants of the Father of the faithful, they saw the three letters, I. E. S., which make up the monogram of our LORD'S Name. They took those letters in their later form, I. H. C., or I. H. S., (the H. being, as some of you may not know, only the long E which it is intended to represent,) and in I. H. S. some saw the initials of JESUS Hominum Salvator: JESUS the Saviour of men: other some, of In Hoc Signo, by this sign: in I. H. C., some saw JESUS Hominum Consolator: JESUS the Comforter of men: some, JESUS Hominum Conservator: JESUS the Preserver of men. And then again, as the great Doctors of the middle ages had each their own especial title, --as S. Bernard was the honey-mouthed Doctor, as S. Bonaventura was the Seraphic, as S. Thomas Aquinas was the Angelic, as Alan of Lisle was the Universal, so for our dear LORD the love of those centuries made a title also, and worshipped Him as the Luminous Doctor. It would be easy enough to write a whole volume on the history of the worship of this Name of JESUS, and plate after plate might be filled with the devices in which it occurs. But with you, dearest Sisters, I must look at it in another way, as all our salvation, all our desire, the Name to which you are dedicated, the title which you bear. I always trust that, whether here or absent, there is not one of my dearest Sisters who does not daily consecrate her lips by the repetition of that Litany--that Litany which so few times, since we were knit together as we are, have omitted, and for those few we need that dear LORD'S pardon, Who has not forgotten us, though we have forgotten Him. Take it again in that way, and think how many faithful followers of the Crucified have breathed out their souls with this word on their lips--the last word which GOD grant I may utter myself, the last word, if He allows me to stand ,by the deathbed of any of you, which I would hear from you. It is this Name, my Sisters, which must sweeten every bitter cup we have to drink: this Name, which must smooth every hard path we have to tread: this Name, which must lighten every labour: this Name, which must soothe every pain. The only Name worth a life-long labour, a life-long suffering, worth life itself: worth life! it is life: it is eternal life: it is everlasting blessedness. If it pleases GOD to give us means ever to erect our new house, where, as I hope, He may long be served, we will endeavour to have some outward and visible sign in its very fabric that this Name we desire to honour above and beyond all created names: that for the sake of this Name we desire to live: that, in the strength of this Name we hope to die.
And as to these monthly days of its recollection: I trust, my Sisters, that not only in your Hours you call it to mind, but that all through your prayers it forms, as it were, the base and groundwork of all you say and all you ask. I trust that, while you have been kneeling in the Presence of JESUS, the Name of JESUS, as S. Bernard says, has been meditated in your heart, and has thence leapt into your mouth. It seems as though the Universal Church had not been able to fix on one generally received day for the celebration of such a Feast. Some Churches especially celebrated it on the Circumcision, when it was first given. Some, on the Octave of the Epiphany, and not unfitly. Some, when there were two Sundays after Christmas, dedicated the second to the Name of the Infant Whom Christmas gave; and if there were not, fixed its commemoration, abidingly, to the tenth of January. Some, as our own Sarum use, fixed it on the 7th of August. I have taken some little pains to discover why to that day, but, as yet, I cannot tell you.
Well all these commemorations are good: but there is one that is better--one that GOD grant I always may see here: and that is, the daily and hourly commemoration of that which ought never to be out of our thoughts, and not long together out of our lips: the commemoration of being like Him. O dear Sisters, this process of being transformed into His Image, is needs slow: an-d who knows what time may be given us for carrying it on? Who can tell whether you, who are now altogether, may not be now altogether, as for nearly the first time, so for the last? Yes: the command given to Joseph is also given to you. Whatever others may call that dear LORD, thou shalt call His Name JESUS. "JESUS, be Thou my JESUS!" was one of the commonest of epitaphs in mediaeval times. Thou shalt call Him so, oh how earnestly, in prayer! thou shalt call Him so, oh how earnestly and yearningly, by fixing thine eyes on that Cross, as the dying Israelite on the brazen serpent: thou shalt call Him so, by clinging to Him, oh how entirely, as Peter on the surges of the sea: thou shalt call Him so, by leaning on Him, oh how tenderly and confidingly, as the Bride coming up from the wilderness. "Thou shalt call His Name JESUS." Oh, from how many things we need to be saved! but how, most of all, from that which is most dangerous of all, from ourselves. Think how often your Sister's life is threatened by the taint and corruption of your fallen nature: think how often you need to be saved from your own temper, from your own carelessness, from your own coldness! O blessed Name, thus to be an antidote against all sicknesses, thus to be an armour against all attacks.
This Name, then, ever in your hearts: this Name, then, often in your lips--but is that all? Is there not something yet more glorious to look forward to? Is there not to be a special honour in the days of peace, as there has been in the time of war? They shall see His Face: and His Name shall be in their foreheads. Then, dearest Sisters, the sanctification commenced here will be perfected there. Then the Baptismal Cross will give place to the Bridal Crown, That Name which is, as it were, the Kiss of the Prince, will be the completeness of joy, the fulfilment of hope.
GOD so make, dearest Sisters, this precious Name your shield here, that then it may become your diadem there!
And now, &c.