Sermon on the Two Cities

by Honorius the Solitary, trans. Zachary Thomas

Honorius the Solitary († ca. 1133), a wandering hermit and charismatic teacher, wrote over a dozen books of Christian doctrine, now largely forgotten, and a collection of sermons. He taught the faith with a vivid and lively style that often bordered on the theatrical, but always drove his message home. In the sermon below, he fuses Pauline metaphors of spiritual combat (Eph. 6) with Augustine’s epic narrative of salvation history in the City of God, depicting history as a pitched battle between the City of God (Jerusalem) and the City of Man (Babylon), between Christ the King and that rebel without a cause, Satan. The battle rages. Both armies field champions. Whose side are you on?

Happy are those who love you, Jerusalem, and who rejoice in your peace.[1]

Beloved, since you have flocked to the pastures of life today in greater numbers, hoping to feed your hunger for the word of God on the fodder of Holy Scripture, you must be served things old and new from the Lord’s treasury,[2] according as the Good Shepherd has appointed for sheep and goats.

For though one profession of the Christian religion joins you into one flock, I sorely fear that on the Last Day the Supreme Pastor will not put you all into the one sheepfold. Rather, your place will depend on your morals. Many of you are eager to hear God’s word, and even more eager to do it. You are Christ’s sheep, and you will stand on the right at the Judgment. But many of you care nothing to hear God’s word, and neglect to fulfill it in your works. There are even many of you who cannot stand to hear God’s words, and who despise us when we offer salutary teachings, and with us Christ who is the Truth. You are counted as goats, and you will stand on the left. And so we must supply both what is suitable for the sheep, and what is good for the goats. Eventually, the true Shepherd will come and separate you out, as sheep from goats, and make the sheep to lie down in green pastures where they shall not want,[3] and deliver the goats to Hell, where death shall be their shepherd.[4]

For there are two cities, brethren, one of which is called Jerusalem, the other Babylon. The king of the first is Christ, of the second, the Devil. The citizens of these two cities are mixed together in this life, like soldiers enlisted in the same army. But they are locked in a mighty struggle, waging a bitter conflict against one another, sometimes openly, sometimes in secret. Their strife will not end until this world passes away, and then the citizens of Jerusalem will celebrate victory with their King in the glorious land above, while the citizens and king of Babylon writhe in the prison below in everlasting punishment.

For in those realms above, our omnipotent God, like a great architect, founded a magnificent city, the heavenly Jerusalem. He set it up as a most brilliant republic with a most proper and beautiful constitution, establishing the most noble angels as a venerable Senate, and drawing up the rest of their ranks as legions of an invincible army. But a certain prince seized power in this republic, sparking a civil war with his brethren, that is the archangel Lucifer dared to seek equality with the supreme Emperor. At once Michael the Archangel, the prince of Heaven’s armies, met him in battle, defeated him, and expelled him and all his followers from the territories of that lofty city, and forced him to wander as an exile in this world.

When, in exile, he not only stirred others to rebellion, but arrogantly usurped a kingdom for himself, the eternal Emperor planted the Garden of Paradise in a beautiful place as a sort of fortified outpost, where he posted the first man as a prince to defeat the tyrant. But the tyrant overthrew him by trickery, subjected him to his rule, and forced him to depart into exile with him. The man sired two sons in exile, one of whom belonged to the earthly city, the other to the heavenly. Between them a civil unrest soon arose, and Abel was slain by Cain, and so in his place was born Seth, another citizen of Jerusalem.

Cain, a citizen of the earthly city, was the first to found a city, in whose domains the devil-king’s army gathered strength, but he perished in the flood along with his whole people. Seth, who had no lasting city here, but sought the one to come, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,[5] led the army of Christ the King forward, and it weathered the fury of the Flood in the Ark, as if in a fortress. Then, just as previously two men had gone forth from Paradise, so from the Ark two armies marched forth to the place of battle, as out of a city, when the elect came forth from Sem, but the reprobate from Ham. Then Sem, a citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem, founded the earthly Jerusalem as a figure of the one above, and there the army of God’s elect mourned their ongoing exile. But Nimrod the giant, of Ham’s seed, founded Babylon, where the army of the reprobate ruled pompously under the dominion of their king, the Devil.

Meanwhile the people of God were suffering exile in Egypt, grievously afflicted under the wicked king Pharaoh, but were saved by their own king with wondrous signs and miracles, walked dry shod over the Red Sea, and Pharaoh along with his whole people was drowned in pursuit.

The King of the heavenly city led his army in a column of fire by night and in a cloud by day, fed them for forty years with angelic bread containing all sweetness within it, refreshed them with honeyed water drawn from a rock, and led them into a land flowing with milk and honey. After defeating their enemies on every side, they returned to Jerusalem, the city of Melchisedek, King of Peace. There King David reigned as leader of this army, as a figure of Christ. He taught the Lord’s army, still strangers and aliens in this world,[6] to seek the future homeland.

Then Nabuchodonosor, King of Babylon and a wicked prince, captured Jerusalem and took God’s people into captivity, tormenting them for seventy years with various outrages. But their king rescued them once more, and restored the fortresses taken from them. As the conflict grew more dire all around them and no one came to the struggling people’s aid, the King of glory came down from the palace of heaven, put on a breastplate of human flesh, and brought swift aid to his soldiers. He sought out the tyrant and prince of this world, challenged him in direct combat, vanquished and put him to flight, then took off his breastplate of flesh to pursue him below, where he captured and bound him in the abyss, along with his queen, death. Then he laid waste to his realm, freed the prisoners being kept there, strapped on once more the fleshly battle armor he had put off, and proceeded to lead the crack corps of the apostles and the legion of martyrs against the dense lines of enemy troops, ordering them to destroy the citizens of Babylon wherever they found them. Then he journeyed back to the castle of heaven, where he sent the Holy Spirit to give his troops courage and sure hope of victory. In addition, he sent a numerous host of confessors, virgins, and other faithful Christians to the battlefront, and set up crowns as rewards for the victors.

So the Supreme Emperor’s elite units will be fighting manfully with the whole armor of God against the powers of darkness and the spiritual forces of evil, and strove vigorously against his adversaries with the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation, and the sword of God’s word,[7] when the Antichrist shall fall upon them with his whole strength, overrunning Christ’s castles with legions of evildoers. But the good King will come to the aid of his soldiers in the midst of battle, and put an end to this protracted war at last. He will cast Babylon, rebel against his realm, along with its king and its whole people, into the lake of fire and sulfur, and his Spouse, who has wandered in exile and captivity for so long, he will marry, crowning her with glory and honor.[8] After the victory he will decorate his soldiers, invite them to his wedding, and accompanied by them in triumphal glory, with the whole courtly retinue of angels cheering by, the King of glory shall enter into the heavenly Jerusalem to rule there in peace forever.[9]

And so, happy are those who love you, Jerusalem, and who rejoice in your peace. Those love her who believe what is said concerning her[10] and her King, Christ Jesus, and put her precepts into practice. Those rejoice in her peace who use the virtues to subdue the flesh’s vices, which assault the spirit,[11] and rest from the tumult of the world in the love of heavenly peace, and from the business of worldly affairs in the tranquility of spiritual life.

Now the Church, the faithful people, extending from the first member, Abel, to the last of the elect, is called Jerusalem, which means ‘vision of peace,’ because one day she will rule the heavenly Jerusalem and enjoy the vision of eternal peace. This Jerusalem is built as a city[12] from living stones,[13] i.e. all the elect, and is most exquisitely disposed in its laws and justices. The religion of this city is the worship of God, her law the love of neighbor, her desire the peace and harmony of its citizens, her king the Prince of peace. In ancient times she was ruled by the patriarchs, then the prophets, and later by the apostles, who established her civil laws; after them the bishops, who confirmed their predecessor’s statues by their decrees.

The senators of this city are religious superiors, devoted to the contemplative life. Through their writings, sayings, and examples, this republic is governed, and her people decently ruled in their morals and disciplines. The soldiery of this city are the martyrs, who have fought unto death for her Emperor’s laws. The people of this city are the whole faithful, living not according to man but according to God. They are sons of God and citizens of this city who do not live by their own will, which is to say according to the desires of the flesh,[14] but according to the will of God, when they keep his commandments. They are chaste, modest, humble, merciful, kindly, peaceful, patient, flourishing in all virtue. The city is inhabited by such citizens, and this Jerusalem is built as a city with such stones. The gymnasia of this city are the exercises of virtue; her dramatic theaters, the outlay of the divine office. Her way of life is like a stadium in which she runs for the prize of eternal life;[15] her martial arts schools and contests are the martyrs’ deeds.

But the multitude of the wicked, from their first member Cain to the last of the reprobate, are called Babylon, which means “confusion,” for they will put on eternal confusion,[16] and, embarrassed by the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem, will be moved far off. She is built out of agreement in wickedness[17] and malice, and its laws teach vice and crime.

Her religion is idolatry; her law, the voracious stomach and sexual immorality; her desire, civil discord. For her king is one who smolders with envy and hate, and was a murderer from the beginning.[18] The rulers of this city were the tyrants of old; then the philosophers and poets, who taught her a multitude of errors; after them came the heretics, who divided her among themselves with their divers heresies. Her senators were demon-worshipers and inventors of crimes; her soldiers, persecutors. Her people are all infidels and do not walk according to God, that is to say, according to God’s commandments, but according to their desires. These men are sons of the devil, not subject to God, but enslaved in their vices: they live at their own pleasure as citizens of Babylon. And they are prideful, shameless, malevolent, unclean, robbers, fornicators, harsh, cruel, indulging every vice. Such are the throngs who gather in his city, and she boasts over sons of this ilk.

Now the citizens of these two cities strive against one another with deep hatred, and wage unceasing war on one another. The Jerusalemites attack the Babylonians with holy preaching and salutary admonitions, trying to snatch them from the snares of the devil and draw them into their company. For their part, the Babylonians attack the citizens of Jerusalem with concealed hatred and open persecution, and never cease to inflict harm on their persons and property. In this conflict, Cain goes on deceitfully murdering his brother, Ham mocks his father, Ismael harries Isaac, Esau hates Jacob, Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery, the Egyptians oppress the Hebrews, David is chased out by Saul, Jezabel plots against Elias and Herodias against John, Judas takes money for Our Lord, Simon offers Peter a bribe, and each member of the Synagogue takes up arms against the Church’s members.

This Jerusalem is beset by foreign enemies and undermined by traitors within. The pagans, Jews, and heretics—her open enemies—come against her with a large army and besiege her with the engines of persecution and the battering rams of perverted dogmas; but bad Catholics, citizens in name only, her secret foes, attack her from within by their degenerate morals. She, though struck by many blows, never falls from her state of rectitude because she is founded on the firm rock of Christ.[19] Often her citizens flee over to her enemies’ camp, become ensnared in various errors, and madly fight against her. Eventually they regret living among the tents of Cedar,[20] and they run back to their Emperor’s castle through penitence, put on the weapons of justice,[21] sally forth bravely against the foe, and regain their king’s good graces by their zealous efforts. For their part, the citizens of Babylon, feigning friendship, mingle with the citizens of Jerusalem as false friends, though they are actually spies. But when the arms of virtue are offered to them, they flee back to their side in terror.

Now the body of each believer is a citadel of this city, wherein the soul dwells as its prince and the virtues as its people. Against it contends the army of vices. A host of enemies besieges this citadel outwardly and a faction of citizens destabilizes it from within, when his neighbors do him bodily harm and the vices and desires of the flesh overthrow his interior goods. But he who holds this citadel by bearing all adversity patiently will receive the laurel crown of beatitude from the King of glory in the palace of the heavenly Jerusalem.

Since both kinds of citizens are mixed together in this life, they cannot easily be identified, especially since they come to church with us, participate in Christ’s sacraments with us, fast with us, preach with us, and perform the other holy works by which Christ’s soldiers earn heavenly rewards. But the Emperor of heaven has placed a certain sign on his own by which they can be recognized. This sign is love. By this he says, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.[22]

Dearly beloved, we are worthless servants[23] who forsake the life-giving edicts of our Emperor, and follow the death-dealing counsels of the Foe by walking in carnal desires.[24] Not only are we excluded from the palace of our King and the fellowship of our countrymen in the heavenly Jerusalem. In addition we are cruelly abused here below by our enemies’ many blows. For on account of our sins foreign wars are kindled, civil riots break out, and our loved ones are taken captive by pagans; and diseases, famines, aches and pains, deaths of men and animals, inclement weather, drought, destructive rains, thunder, lightning, blight, freezing cold, extreme heat, wicked kings, corrupt judges, heedless priests, rioting of wild beasts, theft of our property, and other such things justly befall us for our sin.

Need I say more? Laws are promulgated commanding unjust things, meeting out punishments, imprisonment, tortures, blows, exiles, amputations of limbs, confiscation of goods, various bodily abuses, and every sort of execution. Crushed by so many punishments and evils, alas! we have become even more stiff-necked, and go confidently into the outer shadows as if we expected to find there luxurious beds made up by servants, banquets and pleasures laid out, attentive servants to wait on our every need, all our friends round about us, and heaps of gold and jewelry set before us. We do not know, or rather pretend we do not know the verse: There is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.[25] Nay, there is a land of darkness smothered in the shadow of death, a place of chaos and everlasting fear. There one finds a fiery oven, wherein is crying and gnashing of teeth, unquenchable flames, a lake of fire and sulfur, dens of dragons, burrows of fiery snakes, and the terrible presence of the demons. Such are the places prepared for God’s enemies.

And so, dearly beloved, since none can avoid this wretched fate, let us strive with all our strength to evade that great evil of eternal death, and gain instead the immense good of everlasting life, when Christ our King comes at the Last Judgment with his winnowing fan to separate the wheat from the chaff, casts the reprobate into unquenchable fire, gathers the elect like wheat into the barn of heaven,[26] grants peace within Jerusalem’s borders,[27] and hands over the kingdom to God the Father.[28] Then, God will be all in all, whose name be blessed forever. Amen.[29]

If you want to read more of Honorius, see his recently published work on the symbolism of the liturgy, Jewel of the Soul (Dumbarton Oaks 2023).
Zachary Thomas and Gerhard Eger run the blog Canticum Salomonis, which provides translations like the above, humor, and occasional essays on the Latin liturgical tradition. Their goal is to spread interest in some of the more neglected periods, rites, and aspects of Western liturgy and to encourage study of the clerical culture of the Middle Ages, especially through its liturgical commentaries. They also showcase exemplary works of early modern liturgics.


[1] See Tobias 13:18.

[2] See Matthew 13:52.

[3] See Psalm 22:1–2.

[4] Psalm 48:15.

[5] Hebrews 13:14, II Corinthians 5:1.

[6] See Ephesians 2:19.

[7] See Ephesians 6:11–17.

[8] See Hebrews 2:9.

[9] See Psalm 23:7–10, and the antiphon Rex pacificus (Cantus Index 004657).

[10] Psalm 86:3.

[11] See Galatians 5:17.

[12] Psalm 121:3.

[13] See I Peter 2:5 and the hymn Urbs Jerusalem beata (Cantus Index 008405).

[14] See Galatians 5:16.

[15] See I Corinthians 9:24–27.

[16] See Psalm 131:18.

[17] See Wisdom 10:5.

[18] John 8:44.

[19] See the antiphon Haec est domus Domini (Cantus Index 002998).

[20] Psalm 119:5.

[21] II Corinthians 6:7.

[22] John 13:35.

[23] Luke 17:10.

[24] See Galatians 5:16.

[25] Ecclesiastes 9:10.

[26] See Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17.

[27] Psalm 147:3.

[28] I Corinthians 15:24.

[29] See I Corinthians 15:28 and II Corinthians 11:21.

IMAGES: Paintings by Pierre-Antoine Demachy (1723–1807):

Title: Fairground show in an imaginary crossroads in Paris.

Demolition of the Saint-Jean-en-Grève church, in 1800 (P78).

The festival of the Supreme Being, at the Champ-de-Mars.

The Collège des Quatre-Nations, seen from the entrance to the courtyard of the Louvre