EN : Iacobus de Voragine, Sermon IV for the feast of Saint Bartholomew

Translated by George Ferzoco

‘Skin for skin, and all that a man has he will give for his life.’

According to the Gloss, skin is given for skin, because often when a blow is directed toward an eye, we put our hand to it, so as to be hurt in the hand rather than the eye, as if it were said : Job resisted exteriorly many blows, because he preferred not to be struck interiorly.

One must also note that there are four types of skin : of nature, of blame, of grace, and of glory.

The first skin is worn by all men. In regard to himself the same Job declared : ‘You dressed me with skin and with flesh.’ But it is this skin that Bartholomew set aside for many reasons.

Firstly, he set it aside as a sign of fervent charity. People who suffer from excessive heat have the habit of removing their clothes. When the blessed Bartholomew set aside his skin, that fire of love that filled him was made clear. This is what is meant when it is said : ‘Jonathan loved David like his soul’. In fact he removed his tunic and he gave it to David. By Jonathan who signifies the gift of the dove, the blessed Bartholomew is signified, for he was filled by the Holy Spirit. Thus he who loved David (that is, Christ) like his soul, removed his tunic and he gave it to David when due to the love of Christ he allowed himself to be skinned alive.

Secondly, as an increase in purety. The branches of trees that have their bark removed appear more white. In the same way Bartholomew, stripped of the skin of mortality, became more pure of spirit. One reads in this regard : ‘He has pulled the bark off my fig tree [that is, Bartholomew, who had was humble, productive and sweet], making it naked he stripped it bare’ and so on, ‘its branches were made white’. And : ‘Remove the rust from silver, and a most pure vessel will come forth’.

Thirdly, in the hope of future immortality. In fact, man happily strips himself of his old clothes, in order to wear gold-coloured clothes. Likewise Bartholomew truly desired to strip off the clothes of his mortality, because he knew he would be adorned with the clothes of immortality. ‘The queen stands up [that is, the soul that directs the body well] on the right in golden clothes [that is in the glorified body]. The king ordered Jonathan to remove his clothes and to dress in purple [that is the glorified body, which will result after the general resurrection].

Fourthly, he set aside his skin in the odor of beauty. According to the ancient law, the high priest would remove the skin from the offering, and set fire to it as an offering to the Lord, creating a most beautiful scent. Thus was the skin removed from the blessed Bartholomew who, enflamed by charity, was sacrificed to God and produced a most beautiful scent. ‘He has tested them like gold in the fire, and he has received them like the sacrifice of the offering.’

The second skin under discussion is that of blame, and it is threefold.

One is that worn by the sensuous, which is the old skin : ‘He has made my skin old’. It is said that sensuousness is old, as it quickly leads man to old age, as the man immersed in this vice ages within himself until he dies : ‘I have aged among all my enemies’, etc., such that, as she is herself a stinking mud, she makes man filthy and old : ‘Every woman who fornicates shall be trod upon like a turd in the road.’

Another is that worn by the proud, and this skin is inflated by the wind. ‘Ephraim feeds upon the wind.’ Augustine : ‘O skin that is inflated ! Why are you stretched ? As it is inflated by the wind, it will burst once it is pricked.’ ‘Remember that my life is but wind’ (that is, a simple burst will make it move from here to there). ‘O my God, make them like a wheel, and as straw before the wind’, and just as quickly it is cast upon the ground. ‘You have raised me and as if you have placed me before the wind you have totally dashed me.’

Another is that worn by the miserly, and this is a black skin : ‘if the Ethiopian can change his skin’, etc. ; And the miser takes on a bodily black, because to make money he burns day and night, and he is punished by freezing : ‘Our skin is burned like an oven’. The miser also takes on a spiritual blackness because, like avarice, it is mud, and the soul immersed in mud becomes black. ‘Woe to he who multiplies that which is not his, and who accumulates a thick mud against him’.

Bartholomew did not wear this triple skin, because he hated worldly goods, he fled honours, and he maintained a true chastity.

The third skin is that of grace which is worn by the just when they imitate Christ’s life. In effect, Christ is adorned with a skin that is a white, red and chosen way of living. ‘My beloved is white and red, chosen out of thousands’. ‘He shall be neither sad nor troubled’, hence the whiteness. ‘Among those who hated peace I was a peacemaker’, thus the redness, and peaceful in certain charity. ‘Learn from me that I am sweet and humble of heart’, here is that which supersedes all else. Bartholomew was covered with this skin, for his way of life was happy, peaceful and sweet. This is why it is said in his legend : ‘He persevered, always of the same disposition, and happy and joyful in his soul.’

The fourth skin is that of the glory of which the saints are dressed. This is why one reads the sanctuary was covered by three types of skin : some red, some violet, and ash-coloured sacks, which were made from the skins of goats. It was also covered by great black, but beautiful, skins. ‘I am black but beautiful, daughters of Jerusalem, like the skins of king Solomon.’ The saints, thus, have worn a beautiful skin in the brightness of their bodies : ‘He was given splendid white linen to cover himself.’ Of violet skin in subtlety : these skins in effect are of the colour of the air. In fact the bodies of the saints that are presently large and heavy will become as subtle as the air. ‘An animal body is sown, a spiritual body rises’. They are dress of skin reddened in immortality. This colour is in effect very bright ; this is why one commonly says of ruddy men : ‘He is very much alive’. ‘The just will live for all time.’ Of goat skin in its agility, which makes the saints like a flash of lightning : ‘Will you send lightning ?’ The saints, in their agility, are also compared to a cloud and to a flying spark : ‘The clouds file past in their magnificence. Like the spark out of the fire they fly.’ They are also compared to fast-flying birds. Birds fly quickly when they have many feathers, a light body and are aided by the wind. Similarly the saints will be covered by the feathers of virtue, they will have a light and glorious body, and they will be supported by the Holy Spirit. ‘There where the breath of spirit was, they advanced.’

As well, one can say the skin signifies three things : either temporal goods — ‘On your tunic you have worn a cloak’ — or mortal life — ‘God made tunics of skin for Adam and his wife’ — or that which covers the body — ‘You have dressed me with skin and flesh’. Saint Bartholomew, thus, gave the goods of this world for the substantial goods of heaven : ‘If you want to be perfect, go and sell what you have, give it to the poor (and follow me).’ He also gave his temporal life for the perpetual and glorious life : ‘He who hates his life in this world (will keep it in eternal life). And he gave his bodily skin for the glorified body : ‘It is the Saviour who awaits us, Our Lord Jesus Christ.’