At that time Peter said to Jesus: Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed Thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit in the Throne of His Glory, ye shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My Name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit eternal life. (Mat. 19:27-29)
1. Hearing from the Lord that a rich man would enter the Kingdom of Heaven with difficulty, and realizing that he along with his fellow disciples had utterly spurned the blandishments of this deceitful world, Peter wanted to know what greater reward they or other despisers of the world ought to hope for in recompense for the greater merit of their attitude. In reply to the Lord he said: “Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed Thee; what shall we have therefore?” We should note carefully here that he boasts not only that he had left everything, but also that he was following the Lord, for according to Plato and Diogenes and certain other philosophers it is absolutely stupid to trample down the riches of this life and to do it, not to obtain eternal life, but in order to win the empty praises of mortal men, stupid of their own accord to undergo the labours of this age apart from the hope of future rest and peace. But he is perfect who goes away and sells everything that he has and gives it to the poor, and then he sets out to follow Christ. For he has an inexhaustible treasure in heaven.
2. Thus Jesus spoke fittingly to Peter when he questioned Him as follows: ‘Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit in the Throne of Glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’ For He taught those who labour in this life for the sake of His Name to hope for a reward in the next, that is, at the resurrection, when we who had been born into this failing mortal life shall be born to immortal life by rising from the dead. It is indeed a just recompense that those who had forsaken the glory of high human office should sit there singularly glorified by Christ as judges with Him of human behaviour, and that those who could not be torn by any argument from following His steps should come to the pinnacle of judiciary power by following Him.
3. But let no one think that at that time only the twelve apostles will judge, just as not only the twelve tribes of Israel are to be judged. Otherwise the tribe of Levi, which is the thirteenth one, would retired unjudged, and Paul, who is the thirteenth Apostle–because Matthias was elected in place of Judas, who left the straight and narrow–would be deprived of his place as judge, although he himself says ‘do you know that we will judge the angels? How much more then should we judge the worldly things.’ For we should be aware that all who have left all their goods and followed Christ after the example of the Apostles will be judges with Him, just as every race of mortals is to be judged. For because totality often tends to be denoted in the Scriptures by the number twelve, the great number of all who are judging is denoted by the twelve thrones of the Apostles, and the totality of those who are to be judged by the twelve tribes of Israel.
4. From this we should note that there are going to be two classes of the elect in the judgment, one of those who judge with the Lord, about whom it is said in this passage that they have left everything and followed Him, and a second one of those judged by the Lord who did not leave everything like the others, but took pains just to give alms to the poor of Christ every day from the property they owned. Thus they are going to hear in judgment: ‘Come you who are blessed of My Father and take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink,’ and so on; the Lord recalls these also at the beginning of our reading, when a certain prominent man asked Him what good thing he had to do to be able to have eternal life: ‘If you wish to enter into life’, He said, ‘keep the commandments. Do not murder, do no commit adultery, do not steal; give no false testimony; honour your father and mother; and love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ Therefore he who keeps the Lord’s commandments enters into eternal life; but he who not only keeps the commandments but also follows the counsel of the Lord which deals with spurning the wealth and pomp of this world not only lays hold on life for himself but will also pass judgement with the Lord on the lives of others. And so it is that, as I have said, there are two classes of the saints at judgment.
5. Moreover we find from what the Lord says that there will be two classes of sinners there, one made up of those who have been initiated into the Mysteries of the Christian Faith but who refuse to put that Faith into practice, to whom it is testified that it should be said at the judgment ‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat’, and so on. The other consists of those who have either never take up the Christian Faith and its Mysteries or, having taken it up, have rejected it through apostasy, of whom He says: ‘He who does not believe is judged already because he has not believed in the Name of the Only-Begotten Son of God.’ Because such men did not want to worship Christ even in words, they shall not be worthy even of hearing His words by which they shall be brought to judgment, but come to this judgment only insofar as they will be sent off to eternal damnation along with those who are judged as sinners.
6. But now that we have briefly recalled these matters with due fear and trembling, let us instead turn our attention to the most joyous promises of Our Lord and Saviour, and let us see the extent of the generous Grace with which He promises to those who follow Him not merely the rewards of eternal life but also excellent gifts in the present age. He also said ‘everyone who leaves his home or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or sons or fields on account of My Name will received an hundredfold and will possess eternal life’. The deeper anyone who has renounced worldly passions or possessions to be the disciple of Christ progresses in His love, the more men he will find there who rejoice to support him with heartfelt affection and with practical care, comrades in the same calling and that same way of life who delight in receiving him, made poor for Christ’s sake, in their homes and fields, and in cherishing each other with a greater devotion and love than does a wife, parent, brother or child of the flesh. For the ‘hundredfold’ he speaks of does not indicate the number of those who express Christ’s love or who serve the faithful for Christ’s sake, but the totality and perfection with which they serve one another in mutual love.
7. We have often experience an example of this matter for ourselves, most beloved brothers, when we have gone away to some place on urgent business and found every monastic dwelling open to us as if they were our own, have noticed each and every man bent to our service with heartfelt devotion, and most particularly we see the whole thrust of this reading most perfectly fulfilled in our father Benedict of blessed memory, whose venerable assumption we celebrate with proper reverence today. For he left everything and followed Christ when, spurning his achievements in the service of the king and the prospects he might have expected, since he was a nobleman by birth, he hastened to set out on his journey to Rome, to the abodes of the Blessed Apostles, in order to take up a more perfect manner of living there where the glorious head of the whole Church shines forth through the most exalted Apostles of Christ, because among the peoples of the English the Faith and Teaching of the Church was blossoming but was as yet undeveloped. As a result he was educated in Christ there, took the tonsure in that part of the world, became thoroughly acquainted with monastic teaching there, and was to have passed the whole span of his life there too had not the apostolic authority of the lord pope prevented him and instructed him to return to his homeland, in order to escort to Britain Archbishop Theodore of holy recollection.
8. A short time after this, secular rulers too became aware of his devotion to virtue, and took pains to grant him a site for building a monastery, and that not taken away from any of the lesser persons but given from their own property. Once he had taken possession of it, he swiftly established the monastery most perfectly within and without according to the teaching of a rule, not setting out decrees for us of his own devising, but putting forward most sure and certain statutes from long-established monasteries which he had learned while on his travels, to be observed both by himself and his followers. Nor must it seem tedious to any of you, brothers, if I speak of well-known matters, but rather you should judge it a delight that I speak the truth when I relate the spiritual achievements of our father, for whom the Lord fulfilled what He promised to His faithful followers in what is clearly a miracle, in that ‘everyone who has left his home or his brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or fields on account of My Name will receive an hundredfold in the present age and eternal life in the age to come’.
9. He did indeed leave his kinsmen when he abandoned his homeland; he received an hundredfold in that he was not only quite properly regarded as an object of respect by everyone in this land because of his hard and virtuous toiling, but he was also cherished by all who had the opportunity of knowing him both in Gaul and in Italy, and also at Rome and in the offshor islands, so much so that the apostolic father himself was to offer Abbot John, the choirmaster of the Church at Rome, to take with him to Britain from Rome–as you lovingly remember–for hte advancement of this monastery, which he had recently founded to the pope’s delight. It was through John that this same monastery was to learn the canonical method of singing and ordering the service following the rite of the holy and apostolic Church of Rome.
10. He left his houses and the fields he had owned for Christ’s sake, since he hoped to receive from him a field of paradise that ever grows greed and an house not made by hands, but an eternal one in heaven. He left his wife and sons in that though he had not taken a wife and had sons born by her, through love of chastity he still disdained taking a wife by whom he might have sons, preferring to belong to that one hundred and forty-four thousand of the elect who sing before the Throne of God and of the Lamb a new song which no one can say except them. ‘For these are they who have not been defiled with women and who follow the Lamb wherever it leads them.’
11. And he received an hundredfold when numerous people longed to receive him in their homes as he travelled, not only in those regions but also overseas, and to refresh him with the fruits of their fields, and when many women and many men devoted to God were ready and willing to minister to him with no less eagerness of affection than to their own kith and kin on account of the outstanding steadfastness of his spirit. He received an hundredfold in houses and fields when he obtained these sites in which he could build his monasteries. If he had put aside a wife for Christ’s sake he would also receive this hundredfold, in that the blessing of charity when among men abstaining on account of the fruit of the Spirit would be vastly greater than an hundredfold compared to being among those formerly lusting on account of the flesh. He deservedly received an hundredfold spiritual sons for the sons after the flesh he disdained to have. Now the number one hundred, as has often been said, stands figuratively for perfection. And we are indeed his sons, we whom our godly provider led into this moanstic house; we are his sons, we whom he caused to gather together spiritually in a single family sworn to holiness, sprung as we are in the flesh from various parents; we are his sons, if we keep to the virtuous road he took by imitating him, if through growing weary we do not depart from the proper path he taught us.
12. For we brothers who were able to know that man remember to tell with frequent instruction those whom after his death the blessing of heaven has gathered into the fellowship of our brotherhood, that so long as he was in physical health he used to lend every effort to work for the glory of the Holy Church of God and especially for the peace, the honour, and the tranquility of this monastery. Having crossed the sea so many times he never returned empty-handed or profitless, as is the habit of some, but once brought back a goodly store of holy books, then the venerable gift of blessed relics of Martyrs for Christ, then masons to build a church, then glaziers to decorate and also to secure its windows, then again he brought teachers for the singing and for ordering the service in the church for the whole year, next he carried with him a letter of privilege sent from the lord pope by which our freedom might be kept safe from any outside interference, then he brought pictures of holy stories which could be displayed not just to beautify the church but also to teach those who looked upon them, inasmuch as those who are not able to read might learn the works of Our Lord and Saviour through beholding the images themselves.
13. He took pains to labour so hard in these and similar actions for this very reason, namely that there should remain no need at all for us to work in this way; he visited places overseas so frequently for this very reason, that we who overflow with a feast of every kind of the knowledge that brings salvation might be able to live quietly within the bounds of our monastery and serve Christ with a firmly founded freedom. And even when he was afflicted by physical weakness and was in considerable pain, in among the proper thanksgivings due to God he took pleasure in always repeating the tales of the proper monastic rules which he had learned or taught, of the church services which he had seen in all the cities and especially at Rome, and of the holy places which he remembered visiting as a young man.
14. And so, worn out by the lengthy exertions of his holy duty and debilitated by the prolonged martyrdom of the weakness of old age, after the hundredfold gifts of this present life, he passed over to the life which is eternal. Therefore, dearest brothers, it is necessary for us as his good sons and deserving of such a great parent to be sure to follow his examples and precepts in all things, so that no lure of the spirit or the flesh might call us back from following in the footsteps of such a great teacher, so that we ourselves who have left behind the passions of the flesh and worldly possessions, who through the love of conversing with the angels have disdained to marry wives and to sire sons after the flesh, might be worthy, as the merit of our spiritual blessings grows, to receive an hundredfold from the companionship of the saints in the present age and to possess eternal life in the age to come, with the aid of the Grace of Our Redeemer, Who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, throughout all the ages of age. Amen.
The translation of the above Homily by St. Bede the Venerable is taken from “Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow” published by Oxford University Press, edited and translated by Christopher Grocok and I.N. Wood, pg. 1. The above section of the book, as well as the original Latin text can be found for free on google books here.