Sermons of Saint Vincent Ferrer

Many thanks to Fr. Albert Judy, O.P. of the Central Province who has translated a number of the homilies of the Dominican preacher St. Vincent Ferrer (1350-1419) and made them available here.

In Epiphania domini, Sermo primus

Sermon on the Feast of the Epiphany (Mt 2:1-12)

An excerpt:

The star stood above the place where the child was. And the kings were amazed when they did not see a palace there, or a noble house, and they looked at each other saying, “How is it that the star is not moving?” Maximus says that the star emitted new and brighter rays, which told the kings “Here is the king whom you seek.” The kings dismounted from their horses and beasts, and one of them coming to the entrance of the cave lifted up the door covering a little, asking, “Who is here?” He saw the Virgin weaving and sewing. The other two kings approached, and when they saw the Virgin Mary, they immediately were seized with great devotion. She said to them, “My lords, what do you seek?” They asked: “Do you know where the one is who has been born King of the Jews, because we wish to adore him.” The Virgin Mary did not say that she did not know, but she said, “Lords, the great ones, the rabbis and rectors of the city ought to know.” She spoke the truth, and immediately the kings hearts were fully enflamed. And again going out they looked for the star which was standing immediately above, and not moving. It was even more beautiful. They returned to the Virgin and they said to her, “Have you a son?” She responded, “Yes, my lords.” “How long is it since you gave birth?” She replied, “Lords, today is the thirteenth day.” The kings said “Dear young woman, please show him to us.” Then the Virgin, knowing that they had come with good intentions, picked up the child from the manger, and held him out to them. They said: “What is his name?” The Virgin Mary replied, “Jesus.” In hearing the name they prostrated themselves and adored him saying, “O Savior, it is good that you have come. O Lord such is your humility that you have wished to come in a stable of this miserable world. You who are infinite in divinity, are now confined in humanity. You who are Creator, have become a creature. You who are immortally and invulnerably safe, have become vulnerable and mortal. O Lord this is such a grace!” And weeping they kissed his feet. Then adoring the mother, they said, “O Chamber of Paradise, Temple of God, Chalice of the Holy Spirit. O Blessed, you have brought to us a Savior.”

The evangelist says that opening their treasures they gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold for a great king, frankincense for the true God, and bitter myrrh for one who would suffer. And so the prophecy of David was fulfilled of this day saying, “The kings of Tharsis and the islands shall offer presents: the kings of the Arabians and of Saba shall bring gifts: And all kings of the earth shall adore him: all nations shall serve him,” (Ps 71:10-11). Note, they “shall serve him,” namely for the good reward and remuneration which he gives to his servants. Otherwise one serves the world, which brings death to his servants and delivers his soul to the devil, for eternal punishment. But Christ gives grace to his servants in this world, and glory in the next. Therefore he is to be served, and so Christ said, “The Lord your God shall you adore, and him only shall you serve,” (Mt 4:10).

Then the holy kings prayed to God, that He might show them if they should return to Herod. But the Evangelist says, that “having received an answer in sleep,” from an angel, “that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their country,” (Mt 2:11).

Think a moment here, when Joseph came and saw such gold, incense and myrrh, how he rejoiced. But on the other hand he was saddened, that he was not judged worthy to be present for such a special event. St. Bernard says that they gave all of their gold out of love of God.

Morally:

·From the example of the kings we ought to offer the gold of our conversion. Such a person can say with David, “I have loved your commandments above gold and topaz,” which is a precious stone, “therefore was I directed to all your commandments: I have hated all wicked ways,” (Ps 118:127-128).

·Second, the frankincense of devout prayer, saying, “Let my prayer be directed as incense [in your sight],” (Ps 140:2).

·Third we should offer the myrrh of penitential affliction. And such a one can say, “You shall … make me to live. Behold in peace is my bitterness most bitter: but you best delivered my soul that it should not perish,” (Is 38:16-17).