Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Matthew 8:5-11 for Monday of the First Week of Advent
Posted by Dim Bulb on November 12, 2011
Mat 8:1 And when he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him:
Mat 8:2 And behold a leper came and adored him, saying: Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.
And, behold, a leper, &c. This same miracle is related by S. Mark (Mark 1:40), and by Luke (Luke 5:12). From a comparison of these it would seem to follow that the miracle was not performed immediately upon our Lord’s descent, at the very foot of the mountain, for Luke says that it came to pass when he was in a certain city. And both Mark and Luke speak of other miracles as previously performed. But S. Matthew’s narrative appears to be the most chronological, according to which it may be said that this miracle was the first which Christ wrought after His descent. So S. Jerome, Jansen, and others. As to what S. Luke says, that, it took place in a certain city, we must understand, near the city. For by the law lepers were ordered to be kept entirely apart, and were forbidden to enter towns and camps, lest the inhabitants should catch the disease. Some think that the Levitical law only forbade lepers living in towns, but not their passing through them, so that this leper might have been cleansed by Christ as he was passing through this city. This city, as may be gathered from the fifth verse, was Capernaum.
How great, how incurable and contagious, a disease was leprosy is plain from hence, that lepers, both by the ancient law and the usage of all nations, were debarred from consorting with their fellow men. For in lepers there is a contagion which spreads by contact with the whole, whom they are able to infect by the stench of their ulcers and their fetid breath. With them, by the contagion and the infection of the disease, the face is disfigured, the hair falls off, the nostrils are enlarged, the bones are eaten away, and the tongue swells, in short, every kind of disease, and all their symptoms, are found as the accompaniment of leprosy. Physicians teach that it may be considered an elephantine disease, and incurable. How, says Avicenna, can leprosy be cured, since it is an universal cancer, when even a single cancer is beyond the power of medicine? Moreover, hot and stony and salt regions, and such as are exposed to excessive vicissitudes of cold and heat, are peculiarly liable to this disease. Such regions were Palestine and a part of Egypt. Wherefore Galen says, “In Alexandria many labour under elephantia (leprosy) as well on account of their way of living as of the heat.”
Adored him, i.e., falling down upon his knees and face, for S. Mark γονυπετω̃ν, i.e., falling at his knees. The leper did this not with the design of rendering Him civil honour, but that he might give to Christ the highest worship of religion, as is plain from his so humble and believing petition. For he did not request Christ to ask God, as Moses did, but If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. As though he had said, I know that Thou hast the power of God, and therefore dominion over diseases, so that Thou canst control leprosy by the right of a master, and canst, by Thy command alone, drive it from me. I ask Thee, therefore, that thou wouldst deign to do this. For if Thou wilt, the thing is done, and I am healed. So S. Chrysostom says, “To the spiritual physician, he offers spiritual hire—viz., believing prayer, than which nothing of more worth can be offered to God.” Also the Interlinear Gloss says, “To will He adds the attribute of power, for as great as His will so great is the power of God. For whatsoever He wills, that He is forthwith able to perform. According to the words of the Psalmist, ‘Whatsover the Lord willed, that did he in heaven and earth.’” (Ps 35:6, Vulg.) This leper therefore had faith in the Divinity of Christ, partly from His inward illumination and inspiration, partly from His miracles, several of which Christ had already performed in this first year of His preaching. For this leper was healed in the second year, as I have said in the Chronotaxis, nu. 22. Again, the words, if Thou wilt, denote the desire of being healed, mingled with resignation. For he resigns himself to the will of Christ, that if He wishes it, he may be cured; if He be unwilling, he may remain unhealed.
Mat 8:3 And Jesus stretching forth his hand, touched him, saying: I will, be thou made clean. And forthwith his leprosy was cleansed.
And Jesus stretching forth his hand, touched him, that He might show that He was above the law, which forbade contact with the leper. The law forbade this touching of a leper from fear of contagion. But there was no danger of such contagion in Christ’s case, but rather the certainty of healing the leper. When, therefore, Christ touched the leper, He did not do so as against the law, but rather as fulfilling the spirit of the law.
2. He touched him out of kindness, that He might show His love for the leper.
3. He touched him, says S. Cyril, that the saving efficacy of the Flesh of Christ might be made manifest. Whence Victor of Antioch, on S. Mark (chap. i.), says, “The Word, willing to show forth Its indivisible union with the Flesh, wrought many miracles and signs through the ministry of the body.” And Bede says, “God stretched forth His hand, and touched human nature by His Incarnation, and brought back to the Temple those who were cast out of the camp of the people of God (the lepers), that they might offer their bodies a living sacrifice to Himself, to whom it is said, ‘Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.’”
I will, be thou made clean. From these words the Fathers prove the Divinity of Christ and His omnipotence. Maldonatus cites them at length. Thus S. Ambrose: “He saith, ‘I will,’ because of Photinus, He commands on account of Arius, He touches on account of Manichæus.” For Photinus taught that Christ was a mere man, and not God, whose attribute is an almighty will, by which, he says, “I will, be thou clean.” Arius taught that Christ was inferior to the Father, and, therefore, did not Himself command, but received the Father’s commandments. Manichæus taught that Christ had not real flesh, but only in appearance, such as could not in reality either touch or be touched.
And forthwith, &c. There was no interval between Christ’s command and its fulfilment. He spoke and all things were made, because His will was omnipotent. (Genesis 1.) The Arabic translates, the man was cleansed from his leprosy: for the words, the leprosy was cleansed, are a figure of speech. By this miracle Christ shows that He came into the world as a physician that He might heal all diseases and purge away all filthiness.
Mat 8:4 And Jesus saith to him: See thou tell no man: but go, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.
And Jesus saith to him. (S. Mark, threatened, ie., commanded him with a severe and stern countenance.) He did this to avoid ostentation, and to teach us not to boast of our virtues and gifts, but rather conceal them.
But go, shew thyself to the priest; Mark has to the high priest. “He sends him to the priests,” says S. Jerome, “on account of humility, that He may appear to show deference to them, so that they henceforth might either believe and be saved, or else be held without excuse; and, lastly, that He might not be accounted to violate the law.
The gift which was to be offered to the priest by lepers who were cleansed was a lamb, or, if the leper were poor, two turtle doves, or two young pigeons. (Lev 14:13, &c.)
For a testimony unto them, i.e.,. the priests. By the word Testimony, some understand the law, as though He had said, “Offer the gift enjoined, that thou mayest fulfil the law which Moses commanded.” For in the 119th Psalm the law is often called by the name of testimony. That is to say, it is the Divine will, which God testifies that He would have done by us. There is, however, no reason why testimony should not be taken in its ordinary acceptation.
This then was the testimony which the leper gave to the priests that he was cleansed from his leprosy, namely, an ocular inspection of his body and his limbs, which was made by them, And if they saw that he was healed, they accepted his gift as a thank-offering to God; but if he were not healed they refused it.
Tropologically: leprosy signifies mortal sin, especially that which is contagious, such as heresy is in an especial manner, because of its extreme foulness and infectious nature. So S. Augustine (lib. 2, Quæst. Evan., quæst. 40); Theodoret, Radulphus, and others, on Levit. xiv. Hence the cleansing. of leprosy is the symbol of the sacrament of penance, and of sacramental confession, whereby sins are forgiven. From this type, S. Jerome on the sixteenth chapter of S. Matthew proves the power and efficacy of this sacrament against the heretics, showing how the priests must be cognisant of the various kinds and varieties of sins. S. Chrysostom (lib. 3, de Sacerdotio) does the same, teaching that the office of a Christian priest is far more powerful and excellent than was that of a priest of the order of Aaron, because to these latter it was not granted to heal leprosy, but only to declare that it was healed, whilst to the former it is given not merely to declare that sins are forgiven, but really to cleanse and absolve them. And this was the reason why, when Christ came down from the mount, where He had taught the Evangelical Law, He willed that His first miracle should be the cleansing of the leper, chiefly because the various stages of leprosy best represent the foulness and plague of sin, and the cleansing of leprosy the forgiveness of sins. And so Christ in His Passion assumed the appearance of a leper, that He might take upon Himself and heal the leprosy of our souls. Wherefore Isaiah says (Isa_53:4), “Surely He Himself hath borne our sicknesses, and carried our griefs; and we esteemed Him as though He were a leper, stricken of God, and humiliated. But He was wounded for our iniquities; He was bruised for our wickednesses.” (Vulg.) See what I have said on leprosy on Lev. xiii. and xiv. This was why Christ appeared to the monk Martyrius in the form of a leper, and suffered Himself to be carried on his shoulders to the gates of his monastery, where He disappeared. Yet did not Martyrius feel His weight, because Christ bore him who carried Him, as S. Gregory says (Hom. 30 in Evang.). Christ appeared in the same form of a leper to S. Louis, Bishop of Toulouse, who was a grandson of S. Louis, King of France, as is related in his Life.
Mat 8:5 And when he had entered into Capharnaum, there came to him a centurion, beseeching him,
And when he had entered into Capharnaum (Capernaum) & c. This was the second miracle by which Christ confirmed His teaching upon the mount, as S. Jerome says. This is the passage from which we gather that the city near to which the leper was healed was Capernaum, as I have already said. Moreover, the leper was a Jew, and the centurion was a Gentile—probably a Roman, a captain of 100 men or more. L. Dexter, in his Chronicle, lately published, says that this centurion was Caius Cornelius, a Spanish centurion, the father of Caius Oppias, also a centurion, who stood beside Christ on the cross, and beheld the signs which were done in heaven, and the sun, and the earth, and the rocks, and was converted to Christ. Both father and son afterwards preached the Gospel in Judæa and Spain.
There came to him. Came to him. There is an antilogy here; for Luke (Luke 7:1) relates the same miracle differently. He does not say that the centurion himself came to Christ but sent to Him, first Jews, then his friends, to ask the favour of Him that He would heal His servant. Wherefore in S. Luke we must supply from S. Matthew, that after his friends, the centurion himself, last of all, came to Christ, either for the sake of doing Him honour, or because of the urgency of the disease, and the imminent peril of death. This is the opinion of S. Chrysostom (Hom. 26), Theophylact, and Euthymius. Or you may suppose that the centurion is here said to have come to Christ, and besought and answered Him, not personally, but by his friends. This is the opinion of S. Augustine and Bede.
Mat 8:6 And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, and is grievously tormented.
Mat 8:7 And Jesus saith to him: I will come and heal him.
My servant. Greek, boy: for servants were under subjection, and were bound to render obedience and reverence, like sons. Moreover, this servant was dear and precious to the centurion, as Luke says.
Lieth at home sick of the palsy. That was, says S. Hilary, “like a corpse in a bed, with all his limbs useless—unable to stand, or do anything.” Paralysis, says Celsus, is an unstringing of the nerves. It is a disease in which half the body is dead, without the power of motion or feeling. And so Galen says (Comment. lib. 4). It is called hemiplexia, i.e., semi-apoplexy, because it affects half the body; for when the whole body is similarly affected, it is called apoplexy.
Grievously tormented, and so at the point of death, as S. Luke says. For this was sudden and acute paralysis. There are other slow forms of paralysis, which are without this excessive torture and immediate danger. The torment here spoken of seems to have been convulsion and drawing up of the nerves, which have their origin in the brain. For when they are unnaturally twisted and stretched, they cause intense anguish, as William Ader shows, from Galen (lib. de Ægrotis et Morbis a Christo sanatis, c. 2), in which work Ader shows that those sick persons were despaired of, and incurable by natural means, and were therefore reserved by God, for Christ, as the Arch-physician. Such an one was this paralytic. S. Ambrose says the same thing (Epist. 75), “The Lord Jesus saved those whom no one else was able to cure.”
There is, in the account of this miracle, a second antilogy. S. Luke says, When he heard of Jesus he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, &c. Luke says, he asked him to come; whilst Matthew, and indeed Luke himself, relate what seems a contradiction of this in his saying, Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof, but only say the word. The explanation is, that the words asked and sent, so far as they relate to the word come, apply to the Jewish ambassadors of -the centurion. They had less faith and humility than the centurion, who only asked through them that Christ would heal his servant; but the Jews added of themselves the request that He would come and heal him by touching him. And so, by means of the elders, he asked Jesus to come. For what the ambassador saith, that he who sent the ambassador is reckoned to say. Luke, therefore, after his manner, for the sake of brevity, rolls together what was done and said by the Jews and the centurion, without distinguishing or separating one from the other.
Others give a different explanation, namely, that when the centurion sent the Jews, he sent them to ask Christ to come and heal his servant; but after they had gone, being illuminated by God, and his faith and humility having increased, he repented of what he had done, and desired and asked that Christ, without being present, would heal, him. But this would be inconsistent with what is said in Luke 7:7, where the centurion, through the Jews, is reported to have said at the first, Wherefore also, I thought not myself worthy to come unto thee. For if he had thought himself worthy that Christ should come unto him, much more would he have thought himself worthy to come unto Christ.
Mat 8:8 And the centurion, making answer, said: Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed.
But only say the word. Meaning, There is no need that Thou shouldst be present to touch my servant; but though Thou art absent, give the command, and my servant will be immediately healed. The centurion therefore believed that Christ was God who is everywhere present, and commandeth and worketh whatsoever He will, or at least, that Christ was an extraordinary prophet, and most dear to God—in other words, the Messiah promised to the Jews, who, in God’s name in Judæa, ordered all things according to His own will.
Mat 8:9 For I also am a man subject to authority, having under me soldiers; and I say to this, Go, and he goeth, and to another Come, and he cometh, and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
For I am also a man subject to authority. If I have authority over a few soldiers, so that they obey my behests, how much more, O Christ, who hast power over all things, canst Thou make diseases obey Thee? Or, if I, who am placed under the authority of my tribune and of Cæsar, can yet give my orders to the soldiers under me, how much more canst Thou, O Christ, who art under the power of none, but art God omnipotent and Lord of all, do whatsoever Thou wilt? so that even if absent Thou shouldst say to the disease, I mean my servant’s palsy, Go away, immediately it will depart: if Thou shouldst say, Come, straightway it would come. For diseases are, as it were, Thy ministers and satellites, whom Thou at a nod sendest upon the guilty, and whom, when sinners repent and are suppliant, Thou recallest. S. Jerome commends the faith of the centurion, who, though he was a Gentile, believed that one who was paralytic could be healed by the Saviour; his humility, in that he deemed himself unworthy that He should come under his roof; his prudence, because he beheld the Divinity lying hid beneath Its corporeal veil, for he knew that not that which was seen, even by unbelievers, could help him, but that which was within, which was unseen.
Mat 8:10 And Jesus hearing this, marvelled; and said to them that followed him. Amen I say to you, I have not found so great faith in Israel.
Jesus hearing this, marvelled. Whence Origen says, “Consider how great a thing, and what sort of thing, that was which the Only-Begotten God marvels at. Gold, riches, kingdoms, principalities in His sight are as shadows, or as fading flowers. None of these things therefore in His sight are wonderful, as though they were great or precious. Faith alone is such: this He honours and admires: this He counts acceptable to Himself.”
You will ask, could wonder really exist in Christ? I would lay down that in Christ, according to the common opinion of theologians, besides that Divine knowledge which He had as God, there was a threefold knowledge, as He was man. 1. Beatific, by which He beheld the essence of God, and in the enjoyment of which He was blessed. 2. Infused, by which, through the appearances sent into His soul by God, at the very moment of His conception, He knew all things. 3. Experimental, by which those things which He understood by infused knowledge, He daily saw, heard, and understood experimentally.
I answer therefore, that in Christ wonder did not exist properly and absolutely, as something which flows from the depths of the heart. For wonder arises in us when we see or hear something new. But Christ, by means of infused knowledge, knew all things before they were done. Since therefore He was omniscient, nothing was to Him new, unknown, unexpected, or wonderful. Christ, however, stirred up in Himself, as it were, by experimental knowledge, when He met with anything new or wonderful, a certain, as it were, interior act of wonder, and the outward expression of that wonder, that so He might teach others to marvel at the same. Thus S. Augustine (lib. 1. de Gen. contra Manichæos): “Who indeed, save Himself, had wrought in the man that very faith at which He marvelled? But even if another had wrought it, why should He marvel who had foreknowledge? That the Lord wondered signifies that we must wonder, for whom it is needful as yet that we should thus be moved. But all such movements in Christ are signs, not of a perturbed mind, but of one teaching authoritatively.” So also S. Thomas. Very well saith S. Cyprian (Tract. de Spectaculis), “Never will he wonder at human works who has known himself to be a child of God. He has been cast down from the height of his nobility, who is able to admire anything after God.”
And said to them that followed him, & c. When Christ says I have not found so great faith in Israel, you must understand Him to speak of the ordinary run of people at the time of His preaching, for there was without doubt greater faith in the Blessed Virgin, in Abraham and Moses, and John the Baptist, and others. Or as S. Chrysostom, I have not found so great faith, that is, in proportion, for this centurion was a Gentile; those were believing Israelites. The same S. Chrysostom prefers the faith of the centurion to the faith of the Apostles at their first vocation. Hear S. Chrysostom: “Andrew believed, but it was when John said, Behold the Lamb of God. Peter believed, but it was when Andrew had told him the glad tidings of the Gospel. Philip believed, but by reading the Scriptures. And Nathanael first received a sign of Christ’s Divinity, and then offered the profession of his faith.” Hear likewise Origen: “Jairus, a prince of Israel, asking in behalf of his daughter, said not, Say the word, but Come quickly. Nicodemus, when he heard of the Sacrament of faith, answered, How can these things be? Martha and Mary said, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died, as though doubting that the power of God is everywhere present.”
Mat 8:11 And I say to you that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven:
And I say unto you, &c. Christ here predicts the calling of the Gentiles, and the rejection of his fellow Jews who refused to believe (vs 12). He alludes to Isa 53:5, &c., where is predicted the calling of the Gentiles from the four quarters of the earth, their grace and glory. Shall sit down i.e., shall rest, says S. Hilary. But the Greek is α̉νακλιθήσονται, i.e., shall lie down as on a triclinium, or couch. They shall feast as guests at a magnificent entertainment. For to this the kingdom of heaven, and the felicity of Christ and His saints, is often compared, because of their perfect joy, security, and satisfaction. There is an allusion to Ps. xvii. 15, “When thy glory shall appear, I shall be satisfied” (Vulg.); and Ps. xxxvi. 8, “They shall be inebriated with the richness of thine house, and thou shalt give them to drink from the torrent of thy pleasure” (Vulg.)