by Humbert of Romans
III. Its Agreeableness in the Eyes of God
To understand how much the office of preachers is pleasing to God, it is necessary to note that their discourses are like hymns. Nehemiah reports that
“the singers entered upon the possession of their cities” (II Esdras 7:73)
on their return from the Babylonian captivity, and the gloss explains that these singers where those who preached with harmonious and persuasive voices the sweetness of the celestial home. This singing is as pleasing to God as is the playing of musicians to the ears of princes who summon them to their palaces to entertain. And it is to His subject and spouse, the Church, that the Sacred Spouse addresses this invitation:
“Let thy voice sound in my ears, for thy voice is sweet” (Song. 11:14),
or in other words as the gloss says: “I wish to hear you preach, for that is very pleasing to me.”
Again, it can be said of preachers that they are the hunters whom Jeremiah had in mind when he said:
“I shall send them many hunters and they shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and out of the holes of rocks” (Jer. 16:16).
And rightly do the commentators interpret the words of the sacred text; for preachers, like keen huntsmen, seek sinners of all kinds, souls yet untamed which they wish to offer as a banquet to the Lord. He is as pleased to see this prize on His table as the noblemen of the earth are with a tasty venison. Do we not read in Genesis that Isaac ate with pleasure the kill of Esau? (Gen 25:28.)
The pleasure that God takes in this hunt for souls is such that He prompts preachers to devote themselves to it, speaking to them as Isaac spoke to his son:
“Take thy weapons, thy quiver and bow, and go abroad; and when thou has taken something by hunting, make me savory meat thereof, that I man eat: and my soul may bless they before God” (Gen 27:3-4).
Notice again that it is precisely from zeal for souls that preaching comes; that is why St. Paul, that great preacher, declared to the Corinthians that for the welfare of their souls he felt himself
“urged with a divine emulation” (II Cor. 11:3-4),
that is, with a vehement zeal. St. Augustine teaches that no sacrifice is accepted by God as much as zeal for the salvation of souls. If, then, the sacrifice of animals was so pleasing to Him in ancient times, as is written of Noah’s sacrifice:
“He breathed its odor as that of the sweetest of perfumes” (Gen. 8:21),
how much more pleasing should be the offering of souls presented to Him by preachers!
Preachers are also called soldiers of Christ, as St. Paul wrote to Timothy:
“Conduct thyself in work as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (II Tim. 2:3),
and the gloss adds “by preaching.” For them, to preach is to fight, for they make war on the errors against faith and morals, which are opposed to the rule of their Sovereign. In this “they are prefigured,” says the gloss, by Dositheus and Sosipater who with Maccabaeus were leaders of the army of God’s people (II Maccabees 7:19). In fact, their zeal, like that of the Maccabees, transformed them into valiant soldiers, capable of doing battle with the agents of error, and worth of having applied to them the words of the Psalms:
“The Lord is strong and powerful in battle” (Ps. 23:8).
By them is extended the domain of the divine King to whom they subject the people, even those who rebel against His yoke.
“The Arabs being overcome besought Judas for peace” (II Macc. 12:11),
which means, according to the gloss, that the infidel nations which were vanquished by the truth and the steadfastness of the holy preachers, consented to forswear their errors and embrace the Catholic faith, joining those who confess Christ. It is at the command of Christ that preachers, like faithful warriors, come and go according as they are commanded; and these words of Zachary can justly be applied to them:
“I will encompass my house with them that serve me in war, going and returning” (Zach. 9:8),
that is, as the gloss says, with those who according to my precept, traverse the world in every direction. It is this, indeed, that preachers do, men truly worth of being loved and who surely will be loved by their King. Faithful soldiers, they fight His enemies, subject the nations to Him and obey Him generously in all things! If an earthly monarch highly valued such a soldier as David, of whom it is written, that he made a good impression on Achis because he fought successfully in his army (I Kings 29), how much more will the King of heaven esteem the preachers who struggle so valiantly and so fruitfully for His glory?
Those who would please the might offer them, on certain anniversary days, whatever they know they like, such as first fruits of their orchard, delicate fish, and such. But the Lord of all things loves souls above all:
“O Lord who lovest souls” (Wisdom. 11:27).
This is the unique present which preachers offer to Him, and He receives with delight. That is why it is said in the psalms:
“After her shall virgins be brought to the king”;
these young girls represent the souls made innocent by repentance. After this the Psalmist adds:
“Her neighbors shall be brought to thee.”
This is, says the gloss, what preachers do, who, preaching in season and out of season, bring back souls to God
“with gladness and rejoicing” (Ps. 44:15-16);
for it is with the greatest joy in the Church and in heaven that this offering of souls is received.
Furthermore, according to St. Paul, the preacher is a legate sent by God to attend to sacred matters.
“For Him I am an ambassador” (Eph. 6:20), says St. Paul.
And as an ambassador who has faithfully acquitted himself of his commission earns the favor of his prince, so also the preacher who fills honorably his mission gives pleasure to God. And like a cold rain which comes at harvest time relieving the oppressive heat and refreshing the tired workers, so the faithful legate assures repose to the Prince who sent him.
Preachers are also compared to carpenters, stonecutters, masons and other workers of this kind, for they are charged with constructing in the hearts of men a house exceedingly pleasing to God Who said Himself:
“My delights were to be with the children of men” (Prov. 8:31).
Workers capable of erecting beautiful palaces are so much desired by princes that they are sought in the most distant countries. Thus in the legend about St. Thomas the Apostle it is recounted that for a similar reason the king of the Indies had him summoned from a very distant place to be his prime minister. Who can doubt that God Himself, seeing preachers eagerly preparing a pleasing abode for Him, takes great pleasure in viewing their activity?
Listen to the text of Job which the gloss applies to preachers.
“The children of merchants,” says he, “have not trodden this unexplored land” (Job 28:8).
Preachers are happier and more fearless than these merchants; they carry on their spiritual trade throughout the land, exchanging their wisdom for precious acts of faith and numerous good works. In this manner they win souls for God according to the example of St. Paul who, as he says himself, worked unceasingly
“to win a greater number of them” (I Cor. 9:21)
“by preaching,” adds the gloss. The Lord in His turn exhorts preachers when He says:
“Trade till I come” (Luke 19:15).
If material gain, of which the parable speaks, was worth of this high praise of the master to his servant:
“Well done, good and faithful servant; because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many; enter into the joy of thy master” (Matt. 25:21),
how much dearer to God ought to be that business in which He wins spiritual treasures which are souls?
Finally, preachers are the best ministers of God. This is why the Apostles wanted to reserve preaching to themselves. They said,
“We will devote ourselves to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).
For, of all the offices whose object is the service of God, none requires so elevated a spirit as that of preaching; preachers ought
“to announce His works” (Ps. 63:10)
and consequently must have a knowledge of them. To do any job well there is nothing more necessary than intelligence.
“A wise servant,” says Proverbs, “Is acceptable to the king” (Prov. 14:35),
and from this we can conclude how pleasing the office of preaching is to God.
By summing up the preceding we shall understand the pleasure that God takes from holy preaching, which is a most beautiful song, a fruitful hunt, a very agreeable sacrifice, a courageous militia in the service of the prince, an offering which pleases the taste of the great, the faithful execution of a command confided to an ambassador, the construction of a royal palace, a business which increases a householder’s goods, and the wise service of a minister in behalf of his master. And this pleasure is enjoyed not only by the Divine Master, but also by all inhabitants of the heavenly court who, in union with Him, address to the preachers the invitation of the Canticle:
“Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the friends hearken; make me hear thy voice” (Song 8:13).
These friends are, according to the gloss, the angels and the just who reign in heaven with God.
This is an excerpt from the Preachers Institute publication:
On the Formation of Preachers
and the Paperback by clicking the image above.