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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons of St. Leo the Great > Sermon 17

Sermon 17

On the Fast of the Tenth Month, VI.

I. The duty of fasting is based on both the Old and New Testaments, and is closely connected with the duties of prayer and almsgiving

The teaching of the Law, dearly beloved, imparts great authority to the precepts of the Gospel, seeing that certain things are transferred from the old ordinances to the new, and by the very devotions of the Church it is shown that the Lord Jesus Christ came not to destroy but to fulfil the Law Matthew 5:17 . For since the cessation of the signs by which our Saviour's coming was announced, and the abolition of the types in the presence of the Very Truth, those things which our religion instituted, whether for the regulation of customs or for the simple worship of God, continue with us in the same form in which they were at the beginning, and what was in harmony with both Testaments has been modified by no change. Among these is also the solemn fast of the tenth month, which is now to be kept by us according to yearly custom, because it is altogether just and godly to give thanks to the Divine bounty for the crops which the earth has produced for the use of men under the guiding hand of supreme Providence. And to show that we do this with ready mind, we must exercise not only the self-restraint of fasting, but also diligence in almsgiving, that from the ground of our heart also may spring the germ of righteousness and the fruit of love, and that we may deserve God's mercy by showing mercy to His poor. For the supplication, which is supported by works of piety, is most efficacious in prevailing with God, since he who turns not his heart away from the poor soon turns himself to hear the Lord, as the Lord says: be ye merciful as your Father also is merciful....release and you shall be released. What is kinder than this justice? What more merciful than this retribution, where the judge's sentence rests in the power of him that is to be judged? Give, he says, and it shall be given to you. How soon do the misgivings of distrust and the puttings off of avarice fall to the ground, when humanity may fearlessly spend what the Truth pledges Himself to repay.

II. He that lends to the Lord makes a better bargain than he that lends to man

Be steadfast, Christian giver: give what you may receive, sow what you may reap, scatter what you may gather. Fear not to spend, sigh not over the doubtfulness of the gain. Your substance grows when it is wisely dispensed. Set your heart on the profits due to mercy, and traffic in eternal gains. Your Recompenser wishes you to be munificent, and He who gives that you may have, commands you to spend, saying, Give, and it shall be given to you. You must thankfully embrace the conditions of this promise. For although you have nothing that you did not receive, yet you cannot fail to have what you give. He therefore that loves money, and wishes to multiply his wealth by immoderate profits, should rather practise this holy usury and grow rich by such money-lending, in order not to catch men hampered with difficulties, and by treacherous assistance entangle them in debts which they can never pay, but to be His creditor and His money-lender, who says, Give, and it shall be given to you, and with what measure ye measure, it shall be measured again to you Luke 6:38 . But he is unfaithful and unfair even to himself, who does not wish to have for ever what he esteems desirable. Let him amass what he may, let him hoard and store what he may, he will leave this world empty and needy, as David the prophet says, for when he dies he shall take nothing away, nor shall his glory descend with him. Whereas if he were considerate of his own soul, he would trust his good to Him, who is both the proper Surety for the poor and the generous Repayer of loans. But unrighteous and shameless avarice, which promises to do some kind act but eludes it, trusts not God, whose promises never fail, and trusts man, who makes such hasty bargains; and while he reckons the present more certain than the future, often deservedly finds that his greed for unjust gain is the cause of by no means unjust loss.

III. Money-lending at high interest is in all respects iniquitous

And hence, whatever result follow, the money-lender's trade is always bad, for it is sin either to lessen or increase the sum, in that if he lose what he lent he is wretched, and if he takes more than he lent he is more wretched still. The iniquity of money-lending must absolutely be abjured, and the gain which lacks all humanity must be shunned. A man's possessions are indeed multiplied by these unrighteous and sorry means, but the mind's wealth decays because usury of money is the death of the soul. For what God thinks of such men the most holy Prophet David makes clear, for when he asks, Lord, who shall dwell in your tabernacle, or who shall rest upon your holy hill ? he receives the Divine utterance in reply, from which he learns that that man attains to eternal rest who among other rules of holy living has not given his money upon usury : and thus he who gets deceitful gain from lending his money on usury is shown to be both an alien from God's tabernacle and an exile from His holy hill, and in seeking to enrich himself by other's losses, he deserves to be punished with eternal neediness.

IV. Let us avoid avarice, and share God's benefits with others

And so, dearly beloved, do ye who with the whole heart have put your trust in the Lord's promises, flee from this unclean leprosy of avarice, and use God's gift piously and wisely. And since you rejoice in His bounty, take heed that you have those who may share in your joys. For many lack what you have in plenty, and some men's needs afford you opportunity for imitating the Divine goodness, so that through you the Divine benefits may be transferred to others also, and that by being wise stewards of your temporal goods, you may acquire eternal riches. On Wednesday and Friday next, therefore, let us fast, and on Saturday keep vigil with the most blessed Apostle Peter, by whose prayers we may in all things obtain the Divine protection through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Source. Translated by Charles Lett Feltoe. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 12. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1895.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/360317.htm>.

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