Of vultures. The vulture, it is thought, gets its name because it flies slowly. The fact is, it cannot fly swiftly because of the large size of its body. Vultures, like eagles, perceive corpses even beyond the sea. Indeed, flying at a great height, they see from on high many things which are hidden by the shadows of the mountains. It is said that vultures do not indulge in copulation and and are not united with the other sex in the conjugal act of marriage; that the females conceive without the male seed and give birth without union with the male; and that their offspring live to a great age, so that the course of their life extends to one hundred years, and that an early death does not readily overtake them.
What can they say, those people who are by nature accustomed to mock the mysteries of the Christian faith, when they hear that a virgin gave birth, yet maintain that childbirth is impossible for an unmarried woman, whose virginity is undefiled by intercourse with a man? What they do not deny is possible in vultures, they think is impossible in the mother of God. female bird gives birth without a male and no-one disputes it; but because Mary, betrothed as a virgin, gave birth, they question her chastity. Do we not make them aware that our Lord, from his very nature, affirms the truth?
Vultures regularly foretell from certain signs that men will die. This is one such sign, from which they learn and make ready: when opposing armies prepare for the lamentable event of war, the birds follow in a large flock, signifying by this that many will fall in battle – to be the vultures’ prey. Again of vultures ‘There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture’s eye hath not seen’ (Job, 28:7). Who is meant here by the word ‘bird’ if not he who by his ascension made a place in heaven for our fleshly body, which he assumed? Christ is also fittingly represented by the word ‘vulture’. The fact is, if a vulture, in flight, sees a corpse, it sets itself down to feed on it, and is often overtaken by death when it descends to the dead animal from a great height. It is right, therefore, that Christ, who was God’s mediator and our redeemer, should be signified by the name ‘vulture’. While remaining in the heights of his divinity, like the vulture flying on high, he saw the corpse of our mortality below and descended from heaven to the earth beneath; he deigned, indeed, to become man for our sake; and when he sought man, the living thing that had no life, he who in himself had eternal life, met his death at our hands. But the aim of this vulture, Christ, was our resurrection, because when he had been dead for three days, he delivered us from eternal death.
For the treacherous people of Judea saw Christ as a mortal man, but little thought that by his death he would destroy ours. They, indeed, saw the vulture, but paid no attention to its eyes. They would not consider the ways of Christ’s humility, by which he raised us to the heights, and so were like the bird that knows not the path. For they gave no serious thought to the fact that Christ’s humility raised us to heaven and the purpose of his death was to restore us to life. Thus ‘the fowl does not know the way, the eye of the vulture has not seen it’, means that even if the Jews saw Christ, whom they put to death, they were unwilling to see how far the glory of our life would follow from his death. They were, in consequence, incensed to commit cruel acts of persecution, they refused to hear the words of life, they rejected the preachers of the kingdom of heaven by arresting them, treating them savagely, putting them to death. The preachers, rejected, left Judea where they had been sent and were dispersed among the Gentiles.
Such is the nature of the vulture, that the sinner can also be represented by it. The vulture follows the army to fill itself with corpses, as the sinner follows the evil men of the Devil’s army, modelling himself on their ways. The vulture feeds on the corpses of the dead as a sinner delights the in carnal desires which bring about death. The vulture willingly goes on foot, and for this reason is called by some gradipes, ‘footslogger’, in the same way that the sinner loves and longs for earthly things. Sometimes the vulture flies on high, as the sinner also raises his mind to heavenly things, but with what purpose no-one else knows. For who looks at the eyes of the vulture, that is, at what lies behind men’s thoughts? The Almighty reserves this to himself; he alone knows the thoughts of men. Note also that Isidore says that the vulture gets its name from volatu tardus, slow in flight. For it leaves the ground slowly when it takes flight, as the sinner hardly ever or never abandons his earthly desires.