John 1:19, "Who Art Thou?"

John Lewis
Catholic Maryland 1761-12-3
GTM.000002, American Catholic Sermon Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Georgetown University

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At Annapolis 3 December Advent 1761

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Tu quis es? Who art Thou? (John 1:19)

The surprising manner of life and zealous preaching of St. John the Baptist move the Jews to send today a solemn embassy of Priests and Levites to ask him, who he was. They clearly understood that the time foretold by Daniel & other Prophets for the coming of the Messiah was now expired & therefore are in doubt if he was not the Person and seemingly desirous to know the truth inquire of Him Who art thou? (John 1:19) The great Precursor, who in his long and solitary retirement in the desert, had dived profoundly into the useful knowledge of himself instead of Answering that he was the greatest amongst the born of Women, a Prophet, and more then a Prophet, as he was styled by truth itself humbly tells 'em, he was nothing but the Voice of one crying in the desert (John 1:23) exciting them to prepare themselves for the coming of their great Redeemer they had so long sighed for. A bright example! Dear Christians of true humility and perfect knowledge of ones self, but which upbraids severely our haughty Pride and stupid Ignorance in this great, this only necessary Science.

Give me leave Dear Christians to put this Question likewise here 2 present to every one Who art thou? & if I should appear too rough in pressing it home, remember that in preparing you for the due celebration of the coming Jesus Christ in human flesh. I supply tho' unworthy the place of John the Baptist;

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rough as well in habit, as in words & Gestures, & that I am not the Ambassador of the Jews, but of Jesus Christ himself.

The knowledge of ones self, is so necessary a branch of our duty, that it is not only frequent- ly recommended in holy Scripture, Ancient Fathers, & all Spiritual Writers, but was esteemed as the greatest part of Wisdom, even by the moral Heathen. All knowledge without this serves to puff us up with Pride, whereas this alone makes us rise unto salvation. Notwithstanding such is our misery, so great our blindness, that while we labor earnestly to attain the knowledge of all things else, we take no pains to know ourselves. However as it behooves every one to know himself, let him often put this grave & serious Question to himself Who art Thou? & see what you can answer to it as you are men, as you are Christians, & as god has placed you, or you have placed your selves without once consulting his holy Will in such or such a state of Life. These three Reflections will lead us to the knowledge of our selves, help us to acquire that great virtue of Humility so conspicuous in the Baptist & shall be the subject of this discourse. Tu quis es? My Dear Hearer who art thou? A man, a noble Creature indeed, little less than Angels (Psalms 8:5) , were he truly sensible of his dignity, were thoroughly convinced of the end of Creation, but by his own extravagant Folly become much worse than beasts, pursuing with greater eagerness the brutal pleasures

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of this Life & thereby drawing on himself endless miseries in the next. But of what is this man composed? Of a body formed of Earth, of a Soul created out of nothing by the omnipotent Power. What is this body? I am ashamed Says St. Bernard, to say what it is, if you must know says this Saint In it's birth it is a little filthy corrupted matter sperma foetidum, while it lives a vessel a sack of dung, vas stercoris; when it dies it is meat for worms. esca vermuim. Now tell me says the Holy Ghost by the wiseman, Dust & Ashes why art thou proud? Why so much care to beautify & adorn a heap of Dung? To what End so much delicacy in pampering a loathsome carcass, which is shortly to become the food of worms? 1

But perhaps proud man thou gloriest in the nobler part of thee, the precious soul? This indeed is one of the most perfect works of God's Creation, bearing his image capable of knowing & possessing of him for ever. But alas! Most wretched & deformed It no sooner has a being, but by original Sin it becomes an Enemy hateful & detestable to its maker. While it lives upon the Earth, all the luster of its beauty is tarnished, by ignorance, weakness & malice; It is subject to 1000 miseries, obnoxious to innumerable temptations from the wickedness & vanity of the world, from the restless malice of the Devil, & above

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from the soft enchanting allurements of its most cruel Enemy its own flesh. It's in a fearful uncertainty as to its future state of happiness or misery & when it leaves the Body, unless it has complied exactly with the End of its creation becomes the fatal object of god's Eternal hatred.

Now vain man! Answer who art thou? Has thou beheld enough of thy own wretchedness to confound thy pride and vanity, to give thee a knowledge of thy self & inspire thee with humble Christian Sentiments. If this be not enough I must take the Liberty to put the Question a little farther. Who art thou? Each one here will answer without scruple I am a Christian: & I wish I may not with as little scruple reply as st. Paul did to King Agrippa [*] would to God thou wert not almost but Quite a Christian (Acts 26:29) ! Since thy actions seem to derogate so vastly from this noble character? For what do we understand by a Christian? He is the adopted son of God, Brother to Jesus Christ Sanctified by the grace of the holy Ghost, & by all these titles is heir to heaven & has a right to eternal Happiness. But as his prerogatives are great, so are likewise his obligations. A Christian is a disciple that is a follower an imitator of Jesus Christ. He has solemnly at the sacred font, renounced the world with all its vanities, the flesh with all its concupiscences, the devil with all his works.

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He is obliged by his holy Profession to take up his Cross, to deny himself & so follow his Dear Redeemer through the rough paths of Penance & mortification. In fine he must be guided entirely according to the Sacred self denying maxims of the Gospel. If this be so, as we must believe unless we renounce our Faith, who art thou! My Christian Brother! Dost thou think thy self not almost but quite a Christian? I am afraid thou can'st not say it, least thy works should contradict thy words. If thou art in reality & not almost a Christian how comes it that thou takes so little pains to follow the great example of thy Lord & Master? How comes it that thou art so much in love with the world. So soon deluded by its detestable maxims? So easily carried away by its wicked customs, & hast so great an Esteem of all its foolish vanities? What is the reason thou yieldest almost without Resistance to the smallest temptations of the flesh, that thy concupiscence is more ungovernable than that of beasts? & that instead of carefully avoiding its soft allurements exposest thy self without fear or scruple to the nearest occasions of its most bewitching charms? What can be the cause thou art so little apprehensive of the crafty malice of the Devil & takest so little care to arm thy self against him, that he no sooner sets upon thee than thou art overcome? If thou art a true Christian, what is become of thy sacred vows of Baptism? Why dost thou basely leave thy colors, & cowardly desert the cause of thy illustrious Captain Jesus Christ?

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If thou art his disciple compare thy life with the rigid precepts of the Gospel, view thy self in that unerring not false & flattering glass & then tell me, who art thou? Answer seriously if thou canst, that thou behavest thy self like a child of god, an heir of heaven? Be confounded at thy past neglect and henceforward efficaciously resolve to live like a Christian. But this will not be enough, you must give me leave to press my Question a little more in particular; for besides the general Rules of a Christian each state has its particular obligations, & 'tis upon a faithful compliance with these, that each ones salvation and perfection in a special manner depends.

Once more then? Tu quis Es? Dear Christians Who art thou? I am Rich & born of wealthy Parentage, & therefore you think you have a Right to the first Place. You have so in this world & 'tis convenient you should keep it to preserve the beauty of Peace & blessing of Order. But do not fondly imagine this preeminence will wait upon you any further than the Dust. The grave which will shortly be thy Palace knows no distinction of degrees. The worms have no respect of Persons & will as greedily prey on thy putrid corpse as on that of thy vilest slave. Thy titles of honor will leave thee with thy Breath & in the world to come nothing but thy virtuous actions can entitle thee to the least degree of honor. There thy Riches will gain ye no respect, but poverty of Spirit will be preferred before them. This may suffice to curb

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thy pride, till the sight of thy obligations can do it more effectually. What are these obligations? They are many. As thou art Rich & placed in a higher station than others, so thou art more strictly obliged to virtue. First out of gratitude to God, who has dealt so liberally with thee. 2dly because thou hast had a better education & greater opportunities of being instructed in thy duty. 3dly above all because example is of greater force either as to vice or virtue. As thou art Rich, thou hast innumerable obligations of doing good & consequently as many to comply with. From hence proceeds the formidable danger of thy state.

As thou hast greater opportunities of doing good and stricter obligations to practice a virtuous Life, so thou art exposed to far greater temptations & more numerous occasions of vice, & therefore without more efficacious graces, which few take care to beg, & which fewer dispose 'emselves to receive, art in a dreadful hazard of receiving here thy portion of felicity, of forfeiting thy claim to true and lasting happiness.

Reflect seriously ye that are Rich and tremble at the dismal woes pronounced so often in Holy Scripture against the Rich and Powerful. Do not miserably delude yourselves that your chief Business in this world is to pursue your sports, pastimes & Pleasures. Tho' you are exempt from the labour of the Poor,

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you will find work enough to manage your Estate to support your family, to defend the oppressed, to protect orphans & widows, to relieve the Poor. Remember that you are only Stewards of your Riches, & that god will exact a most vigorous account of them as well as of all your other talents he has so liberally bestowed upon you. Endeavor therefore so to improve 'em that you may be Rich for a blessed Eternity & let this Sentence of the Holy Ghost be always in your thoughts. To the poor & humble mercy shall be granted but the powerful; shall powerfully suffer torments. This is a very short compendium of your obligations, but time will not permit to enlarge anymore, I shall proceed to put the same Question.

My Christian Brother Tu quis es? Who art thou? I am poor & of low descent. You are ne'er the worse for that nor farther from being quite a Christian. On the contrary if you are also poor in Spirit, as in worldly goods your condition is rather to be envied than despised. Blessed are the poor in spirit says our Lord Savior for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:3) . But tell me are you brought to this necessity thro' your own Extravagance, negligence &c or has providence placed you in this mean condition notwithstanding all your honest and just endeavors? If you are poor & needy thro your own fault, receive this due chastisement with an humble Resignation to the just judgment of

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of Almighty God, & endeavor to repair by patience what you have lost by sloth or negligence. If you are born of poor Parentage & notwithstand all your just endeavors still continue poor, tell me farther are you content with your mean condition? Do you adore the wise and merciful hand of Providence, who has placed you in this humble State and thereby taken from you innumerable occasions of offending god. Are you really poor in Spirit have you a real contentment of all the transitory goods of this Life, of all its fading glory, of all its fleeting Pleasures: If you have your state is infinitely preferable to that of Kings & Princes & the greatest Monarch upon Earth would give 10000 worlds at the hour of death, to be in your condition.

But alas! I fear you love the merit of your Poverty, & thereby make yourself as poor and despicable in the world to come as you are in this. For if you are so poor in your homely cottage as the Prince on his throne, if your Rags serve only to make you sigh the more earnestly after Riches if your humble state, makes you envy and Prize the glory of the world you are far from imitating your Divine Redeemer & as far from having any share in those blessings he has laid up for the Poor. Endeavor then not to frustrate his merciful Providence over you, but labor to be as poor in Spirit as you are in worldly Goods, to be as humble in mind as you are in condition, & the Kingdom of heaven will be your Reward.

Tu quis es? Who art thou? I am a Parent, and master of a Family. A weighty charge! & I wish you'd seriously consider it.

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You are a kind of a Bishop in your Family as a Holy Father very aptly expresses it, 2 & obliged in great measure to perform his office, & art liable as well as he to render an account at the great Tribunal of the Souls committed to your care. Episcopus a Bishop in the original language signified on Overseer, & so are you, since you are obliged to oversee, to have a watchful Eye that every one under your command performs his duty. Enter therefore a little seriously into your self and let us see how you comply with this weighty charge? Are you really careful that every one fulfills his obligations? I wish you could entirely satisfy your conscience in this Point. You are perhaps careful enough in all things that regard your temporal Interests; But are you as solicitous in all things that regard their Spiritual and corporal necessities? So you take care as you are a Parent, to make a competent Provision for your Children according to your State and abilities or rather do not you squander away what belongs to 'em in Idle company, drinking, gaming & the like extravagances, & thereby turning 'em as I may say naked into the wide world, force 'em upon measures destructive both to Soul & body. Do you take care to have them well instructed in their duty both to God and man, and as they grow in age, to increase in Virtue? Are you diligent to curb their Early passions, to nip their budding vices; to study their Inclinations, that so you may the better judge what state of Life will be the most proper for 'em. As you are the Master or Mrs of a family you ought to look upon your servants and slaves as your fellow Creatures, as your Brothers in Jesus Christ,

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and called to the same inheritance of glory, and abhor the unchristian Practice of treating em with contempt & loading em with injurious language you are obliged to compassionate their miseries and above all to watch over their Soul, to see that they frequent the Sacraments, that they are punctual at their Prayers, that they neither learn nor retain any vicious habit, in fine that they are instructed & comply with all the duties of a Christian; to this End you are under a rigorous obligation to give 'em good Examples to be foremost in all the duties of a pious family, as frequenting the Sacraments, constant public Prayers & pious Reading especially on Sundays & holy days. This how great, how Rich soever you are is your indispensable duty & no pretense of more important business can exempt you from it. David was a powerful King, had a numerous People to govern & yet was so far from neglecting the care of his own family, that he tells us he would not permit the impious to remain in his House, nor the speakers of Iniquity to come into his Presence. Reflect on this Dear Christians & remember what St. Paul says, that he who takes no care of his domestics is worse than an Infidel and has denied his faith (1 Timothy 5:8) & that Terrible Sentence in the Book of Wisdom. A most heavy Judgment is prepared for those who rule, if they do not comply with the obligations of their Charge. Give me leave to put the same Question to Servants & Slaves & I shall conclude.

Tu quis Es? Who art thou? I am a Servant, a Slave for Life. Rejoice! You are in a happy state both in order to this Life & next.

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If you were only sensible of your happiness, well contented with your condition. You are free from innumerable cares of this world & supposing you live in a regular Christian Family art in an easy road to eternal felicity in the world to come. You have few or none to answer for but your self, & your obligations are both few in number & easy to be complied with. your whole duty as a Servant or Slave may be reduced to these three heads. To be nicely faithful in what is committed to your charge, to be punctually obedient to the commands of those over you & to be extremely careful in loving & keeping Peace & quietness among one another. These my Dear Children are no hard commands, to one who has the least love for god or care of his own Salvation. But are these obligations complied with when you are slothful in your work, negligent in squandering away or permitting things to be lost or wasted that are committed to your care? When you always grumble to execute what is commanded you? No certainly this is not to be a Servant according to the precepts of the Gospel. If then you desire to be a truly Christian Servant so as to gain a Reward in heaven; you must not be an Eye Servant as St. Paul styles it (Ephesians 6:6) , that is only seeming to be diligent when your master's Eye is over you, but you must make a conscience of your Business & consider tho' nobody sees, nor takes Any notice of you that all your actions are open & naked to the all seeing Eyes of God. You ought not to dispose of any thing without their consents.

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You should husband & manage every thing as if it were your own. You ought to be so far from murmuring at the commands of your Master or Mrs but cheerfully & readily submit, & let 'em dispose according to their own will & Pleasure. In fine you ought to use endeavor to procure Peace & charity among one another, & be sure never to be the cursed instrument of Jars or discords by acting the devil's Part in making a Christian family like hell, where neither Peace nor Charity, but eternal feuds & Quarrels, everlasting boils & wranglings reign.

Thus Dear Christians I have briefly put this weighty Question Who art thou? to all here Present, I have set you in the way to arrive at the greatest of Sciences the perfect knowledge of yourselves, by touching upon some part of your obligations as Christians & according to your different states of capacities you may be rank under: what remains is that you endeavor to profit by this useful Lesson: consider & reflect attentively what you are according to the three capacities I have mentioned by this means you will certainly acquire & ground yourselves in true humility which is the only solid foundation of Virtue in this Life & securest hope of Glory in the next. which &c—

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It is with singular satisfaction


1. St. Bernard, Meditationes Piisimae de Cognitione Humanae Conditionis, in Patrologia Latina, vol. 174, p. 489.

2. Unknown source.