Sermon "Inveni David"
on the Feast of Saint Nicholas
St. Thomas Aquinas
Translated by Athanasius Sulavik
See Angelicum 82 (2005), 19-53, for full article with introduction and notes.
I have discovered David my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him; my hand will help him, and my a m will strengthen him (Ps. 88:21-22). The wonders of God are inscrutable to man, hence Job (5:9): He does wondrous things and unsearchable. Among these are the wonders God accomplishes in His saints, about which Augustine says: It is a greater thing to justify man than to create him, since creation passes away but justification endures. Hence, God is wonderful in His saints (Ps 67:36). We are not able to scrutinize these wonders that God accomplishes in his saints unless He who searches the mind and heart should instruct us. Let us, therefore hasten back to Him through prayer and ask him at the outset to grant me something to say, etc. I have discovered David my servant, etc. From these words we are able to learn four commendable things about this holy bishop: first, his wondrous election; second his singular consecration; third, his effective execution of office; and fourth, his unshakable and steadfast stability. His wondrous election is pointed out in these words: I have discovered David my servant; his particular consecration is pointed out in these words: with my holy oil I have anointed him; his effective execution of office is pointed out in these words: for my hand shall help him; and his abiding steadfastness is pointed out in these words: and my arm shall strengthen him. [His wondrous election] Let us then look at what it [the text] says: I have discovered David my servant; and here we can consider four ways of understanding a discovery. A discovery implies rarity, investigation, disclosure, and conviction from experience. First, I say that a discovery implies rarity, because rare things are said to be discovered. It would be laughable to say: “I discovered people on the Little Bridge.” But what is rare is said to be discovered, as we see in Proverbs (31:10) where it is asked: Who shall discover a strong woman? As if to say, only with difficulty is a strong woman to be found because a woman is naturally delicate and frail. Secondly, things sought for are said to be discovered, as it says in Proverbs (2:4): If you will seek for it as [other men seek for] money, you will find it, namely divine knowledge. Moreover, the Gospel speaks about a woman searching for a lost coin, until she finds it (Lk 15:8). Thirdly, a discovery implies disclosure, as we read in the Gospel: The kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household searching for a treasure hidden in a field; when he finds it, he goes and sells all that he has etc. (Mt 13:44). When a treasure is brought forth from the earth and shown to others, then it is said to have been discovered. Fourthly, a discovery implies conviction from experience. When a person doubts something and afterwards comes to know it with certainty, he declares: “I have discovered this to be so.” And in just this way Solomon declares: I have discovered that a woman is more bitter than death (Eccles. 7:22). The Lord discovered blessed Nicholas in these ways. First, he discovered in him something very rare, namely, virtue in the prime of his youth, which is rare among youths; hence it says in Proverbs: Youth and pleasure are vain. This is a rara avis, namely, that as a youth he was not subject to vanity; and because blessed Nicholas preserved his holiness from childhood, he is said to have been discovered. For he himself "while still a little boy used to afflict his body with much fasting." I Also the saying in Hosea (9:10) [comes to mind]: I discovered Israel like grapes in the desert, I discovered the sons of Israel as first fruits of the fig tree. The fig ripens later than other fruits, but if it ripens in prime season it is said to be "discovered." Likewise, children who preserve their holiness from childhood are called the first fruits of a fig tree and are said to be discovered, and this is pleasing to God; thus in Micah [we read] (7:1): My soul desired the first ripe figs. Fish and fruit in season are very much desired; so, too, very desirable to God is the man who carries the Lord's yoke from his, youth, as is said in Lamentations (3:27): It will be good for a man, when he has borne the Lord's yoke from his youth, because a young man shall walk according to his way, even when he is old he will not depart from it (Prov. 22:6). At the same time, if such as these should depart from the path of holiness, they return to it more easily. Secondly, the Lord discovers in blessed Nicholas what He seeks. And what does the Lord seek? Surely, He seeks a faithful soul, hence [we read] in John (4:24): God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. And why does God seek out the man with a faithful soul? I say: whoever takes delight in dwelling with another person seeks out that person. So it is with God, because it gives Him delight to dwell with a faithful soul. Hence He says: My delights are to be with the children of men (Prov 8:31). And God discovered in blessed Nicholas a faithful soul, because he was frequently in church faithfully at his prayers; so, what is said in Hosea (12:4) is suitably said of him: He wept and made supplication to Him, and He discovered him in Bethel. Bethel means “the house of God.” Notice how rightly it is said that He discovered David, for David possessed great virtues from his youth: he slew a bear and a lion, he was preferred over all his brothers, and he was also most devout. The Psalmist says: As with the marrow and fat, that is, of devotion, let my soul be filled (Ps 62:6); and Sirach (47:1): As the fat taken away from the flesh, thus was David separated from among he children of Israel. And blessed Nicholas was eminently holy. Thirdly, the Lord discovered in blessed Nicholas something outstanding, namely a pious affection. What makes a person stand out? I say that nothing makes a person so outstanding as piety and a ready will to do good for others. God is hidden in Himself, yet He is revealed to us through the benefits He grants. So, in Sirach it is said about those who show pity toward others: These were men of mercy, whose pious deeds have not failed (44:10), and the church declares their praise (44:15). And in another place it says: The lips of many will praise him who gives freely of his bread (Sir 31:28). Blessed Nicholas was especially “sympathizing with and showing pity from his heart toward the afflicted, and indeed having given them gold, he relieved the poverty of virgins. Thus, what Hosea (14:9) says can be applied to him: From me is his fruit discovered. And this is why the Lord says rightly: I discovered David, my servant. A servant is one who carried out his lord’s work; and the principal work of the Lord is mercy, as the Psalmist says: And His tender mercies are over all His works (Ps 144:9). Therefore, the Lord’s servant is the one who exercises mercy toward the poor. As the Apostle says: We are servants for Jesus’ sake (2 Cor 4:5). Fourthly, the Lord discovered in blessed Nicholas something tested by experience, namely faithfulness, which is greatly sought after; thus the Apostle says: Now what is sought after in stewards, except that a man be found faithful? (1 Cor 4:2); and the Book of Wisdom (3:5) says: He tested them, and found them worthy of Himself. A faithful man must be a servant, so that he refers all that is his to God. You pray, you perform works of mercy, whatever kind of good you do, it is necessary that you should refer it to God. Hence it is said: He has been tested in this, and was found perfect (Sir 31:10). Blessed Nicholas is such a man, and for that reason he is called my servant (Ps 88:21). Many people, on the other hand, do not serve the Lord but themselves; as the Apostle puts it: They that are such serve not Christ but their own belly (Rom 16:18). If you are doing good in order to get prebends, you are serving yourself, not God. A good bishop ought not be like these sorts of people, but rather he ought to be upright [innocens] in his own person, devout before God, merciful to his neighbor, faithful in all things in respect to everyone. [His singular consecration] We move on now to his consecration, which is indicated by these words: with my Holy oil I have anointed him (Ps 88:21). It should be noted that the consecration of bishops and of certain others is done with oil; there is hardly and consecration for which we do not use oil. To show the power of oil, note that we use it for four reasons: namely, to heal a wound, to fuel light, to give flavor to food, and to soften. First, I say that we use oil to heal. Thus in Isaiah we read (1:6) Bruises and sores and bleeding wounds are not bound up, nor dressed nor softened with oil. Secondly, we use oil to fuel light, hence in Exodus (25:6) a precept was given to the sons of Israel that they offer oil for making ready he lamps. Thirdly, we use oil to give flavor to food, therefore we read that King Solomon sent Hiram oil as foot. Fourthly, we use oil to soften, thus it is said: His words are smoother than oil (Ps 54:22). First, I say that we use oil to heal a wound, through which [image] we understand healing grace. Thus we read in Luke (10:34) that the Samaritan who wanted to take care of a wounded man poured [on his wounds] wine and oil. And since blessed Nicholas was anointed with the oil of healing grace, because he had full soundness of [spiritual] health and was equipped to anoint others, we are told that wine and oil were poured─that is to say, the wine of stern correction and the oil of mercy and comfort. Secondly, we use oil to prepare lamps, and this signifies the studious quest for wisdom. It is said about this oil: Let not oil be lacking from your head (Eccles 9:8), and in Zechariah (4:14): These are two sons of glistening oil. Since oil functions a fuel for light, therefore the prophets were anointed with oil. Thirdly, we use oil to give flavor to food, and this signifies spiritual joy. Just as seasonings make food tasty, so also spiritual joy makes good works easy. When we are sad, even a small task seems difficult; but when we are joyful, even a difficult task seems easy. So, we find in the Psalms: That He may make your face cheerful with oil (Ps 103:15). God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your companions (Ps 44:8). And in Isaiah (61:3): The oil of joy, in place of mourning. Therefore priests are anointed with oil, that is to say, with the oil of gladness. From all this we see that spiritual gladness belongs to those who are surrendered over to divine worship; Let your priests be clothed with joy etc. (Ps 131:9). Fourthly, we use oil to soften, and this signifies mercy and kindness of heart, both of which blessed Nicholas possessed, since he was utterly filled with mercy and devotion. It is said in Deuteronomy (33:24): O Let him be pleasing to his brothers, and let him dip his foot in oil. Oil is diffusive of itself; mercy is the same way. Just as oil spreads over things, mercy spreads over every good work. Therefore, unless you have mercy, your labors are nothing; hence the Apostle says: Pity avails for everything (1 Tim 4:8). You ought to consider that in the future, according to the merits of graces the evidence of rewards will appear in the glorified bodies of the saints, and that even in this life the signs of their affection appear [in their earthly bodies]. This is evident in the case of blessed Francis, where the signs of the passion of Christ became visible, so vehemently was he affected by the passion of Christ. In blessed Nicholas’ case, signs of mercy appeared when “his tomb sweated oil,” thus indicating that he was a man of great mercy. In Deuteronomy (32:13) we find: So that he might suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the hardest stone. This pertains to a king. [His effective execution of office] Next comes the way in which he carried out his office, when it says: My hand shall help him (Ps 88:22) etc. God does not have a bodily hand, but His strength is called His hand. Now see the four ways by which the hand of God helped Nicholas: by drawing him to Himself and snatching him from evil; by guiding him; by strengthening him; and by working miracles through him. First, I say: the hand of the Lord, that is to say His strength, helped blessed Nicholas by drawing hi to Himself and delivering him from evil. We read in the Psalms: Stretch forth your hand from on high, rescue me and deliver me from the many waters and from the hand of strange children (Ps 143:7). Secondly, the hand of God helped blessed Nicholas by guiding him. Just as we normally use our hands to guide others, so the Lord uses His power to guide the just. Again the Psalmist says: The wickedness of sinners will be brought to and end, but the Lord will guide the just (Ps 7:10). Isaiah (8:11) speaks in a similar way: He has taught me by His strong hand, that I should not walk in the way of this people. Thirdly, the hand of the Lord, that is to say His power, helped blessed Nicholas by giving him strength, hence in Ezekiel (3:14): And the hand of the Lord was with me to strengthen me. And he was greatly strengthened. Fourthly, the hand of the Lord, that is to say his power, helped blessed Nicholas by working miracles through him, hence in Acts (4:30): You will stretch out your hand [to heal], and signs and wonders are performed in the name of your Son. Blessed Nicholas was filled with he power to work miracles. Who is there that has ever sought the glory of the world and obtained it as did blessed Nicholas, who was but a poor bishop in Greece? The Lord adorned him with miracles because he showed the greatest mercy. Know that the Lord has made his holy one wonderful (Ps 4:4). It was mercy that made blessed Nicholas an extraordinary man, and the Lord [Jesus Christ] strengthened him even unto everlasting life. May He lead us there, who lives [and reigns] with the Father and the Holy Spirit, [God, for ever and ever. Amen.]