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Innocent III:
Sermon for the Resurrection of the Lord

Maria Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Jesus" (Mark 16:1). Since we should carry out spiritually what we read that these women did corporeally, we should first consider what was done morally: these three women, what spices they bought, from whom they bought them and at what price, what they did then, and how they then anointed Jesus.

These three women signify the three lives: lay, regular, and clerical. The life of laymen is active and secular; the life of religious is contemplative and spiritual; the life of clergy- men is rather mixed and shared, partly secular inasmuch as they possess worldly things and partly spiritual inasmuch as they administer divine things.

These three lives are signified elsewhere in the gospel where it is said, there are two in the field, two at the mill, and two in bed, "One will be taken and the other left" (Luke 17:34-35). The mill, which turns constantly, signifies the world, which is always changing. One at the mill--these are the laity, who use worldly things, with great labor and difficulty. The bed signifies rest. Hence, in bed are the religious, who, having abandoned secular occupations, take delight in the leisure of contemplation. And in the field are the clerics who <sometimes labor with secular concerns,> at other times rest in spiritual sweetness; just as those in a field are sometimes drooping while tending the crops, at other times taking delight in the shade of the trees. But in every order, some are good and some are bad. When it is said that one is taken and another is left, it is not referring to any particular order, since the good man is taken to glory and the bad man is left for punishment. Consequently, no one, regardless of his order, should despair, since he is able to be saved if he buys spices in order to anoint Jesus. For in every group, he who acts righteously is acceptable to God.

These three lives, however, are also signified by the three men whom the prophet Ezechiel saw in a vision as saved, namely, Noah, Daniel, and Job (Ezechiel 14:14). Noah, who guided the ark in the flood, signifies the clergy who rule the church in this world. Daniel, who as a man in contemplation was free of all desires, signifies the religious who with total desire cling to the contemplation of heavenly things. Job, who had wife, off-spring, flocks, arms, servants and handmaidens, signifies the laity, who possess such things in this world.

The spices, however, are the good works that sweetly perfume the heavens with the fragrance of virtues. Solomon speaks of these in the canticles: "Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden, let its fragrance be wafted abroad" (Song of Songs 4:16). For the north wind, which is a cold wind, signifies the devil, who has been frozen in evil. It is also written that every evil is revealed by the north wind. The south wind, however, which blows warm, symbolizes the Holy Spirit, who inflames the minds of the faithful to love. For love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. The garden, however, is the soul, in which virtues have been planted like fruitful grasses. He says, therefore, that the north wind flees and the south wind comes, inasmuch as the devil departs and the Holy Spirit approaches; he blows upon the garden and inspires the soul, and so spices flow and good works come forth.

These spices are bought from him of whom James the apostle says, "Every best endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17). "Apart from me," he says, "you can do nothing" since "the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine" (John 15:4-5). Further, since he is not in want of our goods, as he is rich above all and in all things, it should be said that he demands and requires from us this set price alone, that in return for his benefactions, we offer him thanks and praise. If these proceed from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from genuine faith, he accepts them over gold and silver and precious gems. Beware, therefore, Christian, lest you believe that you have bought from him any good whatsoever at any other price, because if perchance you ascribe any good thing, whatever it may be, to your own merits and virtues, you do injury to him from whom all goods proceed. Rather, for all the good things received, offer praise and thanks to him from whom, in his mercy, you have received them. For what do you have that you will not have received? Consequently, you have completely discarded the arrogance of those who say, "Our lips are with us; who is our master?" (Psalm 11 [12]:5); since if perchance you should say this, you would return an indignity for every good thing.

But as there are diverse women, so they make diverse ointments with which they anoint Jesus in different ways. Laymen should indeed take six kinds of spices to make the ointment, that is, the six works of piety that Christ will commend in judgment. "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me (Matt. 25:35-36). These sweet-smelling perfumes having been offered, Jesus himself shows how much he delights in their fragrance: "Come," he says, "O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 25:34). And for making this ointment from these spices, the oil of mercy is necessary. It is the same oil that the Samaritan poured on the wounds of the injured man so that he might cool the hot pain and sooth the tumors. If therefore you feel the heat of anger, the pain of hatred, or the tumor of pride, anoint Jesus with this ointment so that you may be healed, since nothing works better for avoiding the vices of the mind than good works.

But Religious, who have renounced all possessions, although they do not have anything with which to make this ointment, should buy other perfumes from which to make their own ointment, namely prayer, meditation, and reading. Hence, the ingredients of devotion having been mixed, the unguent of contemplation may be made. However sweet it is, so much more fully does he pray who makes it. You secular men, however, are able to listen but cannot yet hear, since the animal-like man does not perceive those things that are in divine scripture just as another hears a song but does not perceive the melody. "O how abundant," he says, "is thy sweetness, which thou hast laid up for those who fear thee" (Psalm 30 [31]:20 [19]). That sweetness is partly tasted already by those who, although in the body on earth, are to some degree already in heaven in the spirit, saying with Paul, "Our conversation in heaven" (Phil. 3:20) is that manna hidden (Heb. 9:4) in the savoring of reading, meditation, and prayer.

From these two ointments, however, the clergy should make a third ointment, so that now they sit at the feet of the Lord with Mary and listen to his word, now, with Martha, they are busy with many things (Luke 10:40) as they perform the works of charity.

Moreover, the lay life should anoint the feet of Jesus, the regular life the head, and the clerical life the body. For the feet of Christ are the poor, the head is the divinity, and the body is the church, as is shown in many instances in scripture. Indeed, Jesus himself sits in heaven and his feet walk the earth. The poor of Christ are those whom the lay life, following the example of Mary Magdalene, should anoint with works of piety, as the prophet says, "Share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house, etc." (Isaiah 58:7). If you have done this, you have anointed the feet of Christ. The head of Jesus is understood to be his divinity, since according to the apostle, man is the head of woman, Christ is the head of man, and God is the head of Christ (I Cor. 11:3). This head, which is the principle of all things, the regular life should anoint with the ointment of contemplation so that, earthly things set aside, it may fly to heavenly things, ascending from virtue to virtue until it sees the God of gods in Zion. It asks, therefore; it seeks; and it knocks (cf. Luke 11:9). It asks by praying, it seeks by meditating, and it knocks by reading, so that it may learn the way, so that it may discover the life, and so that the truth may be opened to it. That very Jesus, our lord, who is your truth and life, is the way to those asking in humble and devout prayer, the life to those seeking in simple and discreet meditation, the truth to those knocking in faithful and diligent study.

Moreover, the clerical life should anoint the body of Jesus, that is the church, supporting her equally with word and example (cf. Luke 24:19) so that it may imitate him who began to act and to teach. The man who has so acted and taught, he will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus wishes to be anointed with these ointments, Jesus who is for this very reason called Christ; that is, he is anointed not only by the father, who anoints him with oil, but [...?] also by his faithful, so that all may come together in the fragrance of their ointments. In the preeminent one who is blessed above all things, world without end. Amen._



Sermon of Pope Innocent III (No. 27 in Vat. lat. 700, 35vo-36vo), edited and translated by John C. Moore, "The Sermons of Pope Innocent III," Römische Historische Mitteilungen 36 (1994) 81-142).

Made available here through permission of translator, Prof. John C. Moore of Hofstra University

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Paul Halsall August 1996

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