Friday, April 20, 2012

Valerius Herberger on St. George the Knight (April 23)

TODAY WE commemorate St. George, whom our forefathers called one of the chiefest of the saints because he did not go on foot like the others but rode a horse. Tres equites esse in coelo. “There are three who ride in heaven: Christ, Martin, and George.” Ambrose and Jacob de Voragine say a great deal about him, but already at the Council of Nicaea the holy fathers doubted whether the story were true. So because we do not like to build on shaky ground, let me merely draw from it what may redound to the glory of our paschal King, Jesus Christ… Formerly it was said that St. George was a noble knight and warrior in the time of Emperor Diocletian, and that he delivered the citizens of Silena from the hideous, venomous dragon, to whom they were daily compelled at first to give two lambs, and later, a lamb and a man—which misfortune at last fell upon the king’s daughter herself. All well-educated scholars count this a fabrication of a creative man who wished by such a parable to draw a picture of a faithful ruler, or perhaps of the Lord Jesus Himself. For a faithful ruler must be a valiant George, that is, a “builder up of land, city, and honor.” He must have the mind of a builder, as Moses says in Deuteronomy 1:13. (Those interested may read the sermon in Part 9 of Magnalia Dei, Medit. 5, on Deut. 1, p. 672.). And he must risk his own life and limb for his subjects, as King Alfonso reminds himself in his seal, where next to a pelican he has the words: Pro lege et pro grege. “For the law and the people.” 

But above all, the Lord Jesus is very admirably depicted to us in this parable. The oppressed citizenry of Silena is mankind. We ought to have been eternally silenced and speechless before God because of our sin. We were brought into such great misery by the hellish dragon, who disguised himself as a venomous serpent in the Garden of Eden, and with his deceitful breath tricked Adam and Eve. Still today he seeks our doom and downfall. He is ever on the prowl, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Yet in our sorry plight we are rescued by Jesus Christ, the noble Lord (Luke 19:12), the doughty Champion (Is. 9:6), the Giant of twofold substance (Gigas geminae substantiae), the true valiant George and “builder of the land” of His Church, with the true quick-witted mind of a builder. After all, He was the Craftsman present when God created heaven and earth (Prov. 8:22). He leapt down to us from heaven on the steed of His tender humanity, like a true leaper, in collibus saliens, leaping on the hills (Song of Songs 2:8). Therefore the Church sings on Ascension: Saltum de coelo dedit in virginalem ventrem, et inde pelagus seculi. “He leaped down from heaven into the womb of the Virgin, and thence to the sea of mortality.” “His right hand had to help Him” (Is. 6:53). He armed Himself with the javelin of His holy cross, and so overcame the hellish dragon. He trampled underfoot the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15) and destroyed the works of the evil one (1 John 3:8) and bound the adversary of our soul with eternal bonds like a chained dog so that he can have no power over us. Now in what manner we ought to be grateful is shown to us by the rescued maiden and little lamb. We are to gain a clean heart, and a humble, timid, yielding, gentle mind, and to love Jesus with a virgin’s love (Rev. 14:4; Matt. 25:1). We are to follow Him as little lambs do their shepherd, and willingly to surrender ourselves to be slain for His glory. (As said above on Misericordia Sunday in Hertzpostille Part 1, p. 340.)

The Gospel that we read is therefore expounded today because the name George is clearly evident in this text: “My Father is a vinedresser,” or field-worker. In the Greek it says, “My Father is a Georgos,” or George, a builder of the land and worker of the soil…

(Translation © Matthew Carver, 2012, from Hertzpostille II, 148ff.)

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