The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Leopold Fonck’s Commentary on Luke 7:36-8:3

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 11, 2010

Note: actually, this post deals only with the parable our Lord tells in the reading.  I’ve included a note in the text from Father Joseph Fitzmeyer’s Commentary on the Gospel According to Luke.

41. A certain creditor had two debtors; the one owed twenty pounds, and the other two: 42. and whereas they had not wherewith to pay, he forgave them both. Which therefore of the two will love him most? 43. Simon answering, said: He, I suppose, to whom he forgave most.  And he said to him: You have judged rightly.

This short parable forms part of the Evangelist s account of the sinful woman who anointed the sacred feet of our divine Saviour with precious ointment in the house of Simon the Pharisee, and who received from Him the remittance of her sins. Christ had been invited to a meal by the Pharisee and had accepted the invitation. During the repast a sinful woman, well known in the city, came into the banquet hall with an alabaster vase filled with precious ointment. She bedewed the divine feet of Jesuswith her tears and dried them with her hair, kissing them unceasingly whilst she anointed them with the precious balsam (v. 36-38).

The host was greatly scandalized that our Lord should thus permit an unclean, sinful woman to touch Him; for, according to Pharisaical views, her touch was defilement. He, therefore, came to the conclusion that this teacher so highly extolled could be no true Prophet, far less “the Prophet,” otherwise He would have recognized this person to be a sinner and would have kept far from her (v. 39). “And Jesus answering, said to him: Simon, I have some what to say to you. But he said: Master, say it” (v. 40). Thereupon our Lord proposed to him the parable which He then applied to the present case.

To treat of the parable exhaustively and in all its bearings would necessitate an exact explanation of every individual detail of the whole narrative. For this we must refer to the authorities named in Appendix, Parable 53.

“A certain creditor had two debtors, the one owed twenty pounds, and the other two” (v. 41). This is a very simple example taken from life. The debtors (χρεωφειλέτης, as in the parable of the Unjust Steward, Luke 16, 5) are mentioned first, because they are to furnish the lesson of the parable. Their creditor is described as δανειστής , the general term for those who lend money, and does not necessarily imply a usurer or a banker (τραπεζίτης, Mt. 25, 27). According to our reckoning, 500 denarii would be about twenty pounds or one hundred dollars.

The creditor made a present of the loan to each debtor, as they were poor and had no means of repayment. Here the actual story comes to an end. But our Lord adds a question, in order to draw attention to the lesson which the parable is to illustrate: “Which therefore of the two will love him most?” (v. 42 b). The Pharisee, thus questioned, returned the apparently obvious answer: “He, I suppose, to whom he forgave most,” and then our Lord merely confirms his words: “You have judged rightly” (v. 43). There is no occasion to construe this confirmation in a bitter ironical sense, as if the meaning of the words were: “You have spoken judgment against yourself.”

Our Lord then subjoined to the parable its application to the present case, whilst at the same time He defended Him self from the reproach involved in Simon’s rash judgment. In the most effective manner He contrasted the manifestations of the despised sinful woman s great love with the scant kindliness shown by the host: “And turning to the woman, he said unto Simon: Do you see this woman? I entered into your house, you gave me no water for my feet; but she with tears has washed my feet, and with her hairs has wiped them. You gave me no kiss; but she, since she came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil you did not anoint; but she with ointment has anointed my feet” (v. 44-46). Simon may have observed towards his guest the common rules of politeness incumbent on every one, but he did not go beyond, on any point, what was prescribed by the barest necessity, nor did he offer the celebrated Rabbi any special mark of friendship or esteem; whilst the poor woman was unwearied in manifesting in the most touching manner her humble love for our divine Saviour.

Our Lord, in drawing this contrast, shows us that the greater and lesser love mentioned in the parable have reference, in reality, to His divine Person. Without straining the text and the connection of the simile with His subsequent words, we cannot controvert this reference and application of it to our Lord. But then there follows the necessary conclusion that we must recognize in the image of the debtors a reference to the sinful woman and the Pharisaical host, and in the creditor a reference to Christ, who remits the greater as well as the lesser debts of men. Without this reference to the divinity of Jesus, the parable and its application to the sinful woman would be quite unintelligible.

The rationalist critic has not failed to perceive this and seeks to avoid the inference by a familiar and favorite expedient. Everything except “the words of Jesus in verses 41, 42, and 47, which are scarcely fabricated,” is set aside as “Luke’s framework” and “an appendage of Luke’s” (H. G. Holtzmann in his “Hand-Commentar,” I, 1, 346-8, and Julicher, II, 300, 2, who regards verses 39-43, and 47, as “absolutely indispensable”). Such an unscientific mauling of the text, the mere result of prejudice and unfounded assumptions, is its own condemnation. Julicher states clearly enough the real reason for denying the genuineness of the text: “To treat of Jesus as the creditor of the two (Simon and that woman) is, on the ground of synoptic Christology, absolutely impossible,” since, according to this Christology, as pruned and trimmed by the critics, Jesus must have been but a mere man! It is, however, not to be inferred that, because the relations of the debtor with his creditor have reference to similar relations between Simon, the sinful woman, and Christ, the Pharisee s guilt is therefore to be described, in comparison with that of the woman, as ten times less; nor are we to conclude that he received an actual remission of his sins, nor that he manifested himself in the smallest degree grateful. Our Lord would simply impress upon Simon that he, who from his Pharisaical point of view considered himself far superior to this sinful woman, and who regarded his debt as much less, was in reality far behind her in the love of God, and therefore had far less right to hope for the riches of the Messianic kingdom peace and pardon.

From the greater and the lesser degree of love our Lord then draws this conclusion: “Wherefore I say to you: Many sins are forgiven her, because she has loved much. But to whom less is forgiven, he loves less” (v. 47).

The words present considerable difficulty, so little in keeping do they seem with the parable. For in the latter, stress was laid upon the fact that the remission of sins had the effect of exciting grateful love, whilst these words imply that the sinner s great love obtained her forgiveness. Many Protestant exegetists define on, “because,” as merely meaning the indication by which the remission of the sins is made known: “She has shown before our eyes so much love that it is clear (her) many sins must have been forgiven her.” Julicher maintains as beyond contradiction that “verse 47 indicates love as caused by forgiveness; ὅτι (hoti) introduces the evidence given by her love.” He makes the wicked Jesuits responsible, quite as unquestionably, for the contrary interpretation.

“A proof that love covers a multitude of sins was precious to the Jesuits, including Maldonatus” (II, 287). If this be so, many of the early Fathers of the Church, to whom also this proof was precious, should be reckoned amongst the Jesuits. “Probatum est,” says St. Peter Chrysologus of this passage, “quia dilectio delet et abluit universa peccata” (Sermo 94. M. 52, 466 C). St. Luke himself must have been quite Jesuitical in his ideas, for Holtzmann and G. Weiss assure us that “Luke regarded love as the cause of the remission” of sins, that is to say, he regarded “love not as the evidence of, but as the reason for, the forgiveness” (ibid. p. 339).

Most Catholic expounders from the oldest times have upheld this as the clear and unquestionable meaning of Christ s words. Jansenius of Ghent, whom even Professor Jiilicher can scarcely reckon amongst the Jesuits, speaks of the perversion of the sense thus: “. . . aliquid putant subintellegendum in hac sententia, hoc modo: Remittuntur ei peccata multa, unde factum est, quoniam, pro quod, dilexit multum. Alii sic: Remittuntur ei peccata multa, quod hinc constat, quia dilexit multum.” And then he adds: “Sied hae interpretationes nimis sunt violentae: unde praedicta expositio scripturis etiam aliis conveniens potius sequenda est” (p. 370 b A).

But whilst we are thus compelled, according to the clear and emphatic words of Christ, to recognize that love was the anterior cause of the remission of this woman s sins, at the same time, we are by no means to assume that this truth excludes the acceptance of the other, which is that this love, continued after forgiveness, had been obtained and displayed itself by manifold external signs. As it effects the remission of sin in the soul as soon as it is really present, then, where love is manifested in such an extraordinary and unmistakable manner as in this instance of the sinful woman, we must rightly regard this love as a sign and a result of this remission.

However, in the parable, Christ could scarcely adduce love as the cause of the forgiveness in the example chosen. For, in general, one would not be at all likely to find amongst men a creditor who would remit a debt because of the debtor s love for him. On the other hand, this example was most suitable for the end which our Lord had in view, as it must have brought home to Simon how utterly unjustifiable was his condemnation of the sinful woman. For as the greater measure of the debtor’s grateful love was a sign of the preceding remission of his great debt, so also the proofs of this sinful woman’s extraordinary love must have shown the Pharisee that she had received the remission of her debt of sin.

Note: “It has often been thought that the sinful woman comes to Jesus as a penitent, seeking forgivenes of him; her love would then be the condition of her pardon. The clause in v. 47b, hoti egapesen poly, “seeing that she has loved greatly,” is in itself ambiguous; and in this interpretation, the conjunctive hoti would be given a consecutive nuance, implying that the forgiveness shown to her is the result of her love. This interpretation, known since patristic times and used in a number of modern commentaries (Wellhausen, Loisy, Lagrange, Holtzmann, etc.), has to cope with the almost opposite sense of v. 47c, “but he to whom little is forgiven loves little.” However, it has been pointed out time and again that the conjunctive hoti could be understood not as the reason “why the fact is so, but whereby it is known to be so” (ZBG 422)). Consequently, it should rather be understood that the sinful woman comes to Jesus as one already forgiven by God and seeking to pour out signs of love and gratitude (tears, kisses, perfume); in this understanding, the love of v. 47b is the consequence of her forgiveness, and v. 47c integrates the parable with the narrative. It extends the pronouncement of Jesus.” Father Joseph Fitzmeyer, The Gospel According To Luke, I-IX, pg 686-687.

Fitzmeyer goes on to note that this understanding of the verse was held by St Ambrose, St Cyprian, and a number of other earlier commentators.  I would add that it was also held by a number of Jesuits whom Julcher seems to hate so much; among them Cornelius a Lapide (see below).  The text itself is fraught with several textual difficulties, including the fact that the Greek “hoti” must be taken in a special causal sense to get the interpretation of Ambrose, Cyprian, Fitzmeyer, etc.  Such a sense is not impossible, but it is unusual.

Cornelius a Lapide, S. J.~But it seems more probable that her sins were forgiven at some time antecedent, i.e. when she felt true contrition for her offences. Because when by the grace of God she had been led to see the heinousness of her sin, so deep was her contrition and sorrow, that she thereby regained the divine favour, and so her love for God and her sorrow for her sins impelled her to show openly the reality of her repentance, and therefore before Christ could say unto her, “Thy sins are forgiven,” she had obtained forgiveness by reason of her complete penitence.

Our Lord, in the second part of verse 47, pointed out to Simon the second debtor in the parable to whom the saying must be applied: “But to whom less is forgiven, he loves less.” It was left to the host to make the application in secret to himself, individually. If he regarded himself, in comparison with the sinful woman, as owing a smaller debt, he showed sufficiently by his behavior that he had little love for Christ. These words, therefore, by no means convey a verdict as to the remission actually granted to him or the degree of love which he actually possessed; and just as little are they to be regarded as embodying a principle applicable universally to the relation of love to the forgiveness of sins.

In conclusion our divine Lord formally and emphatically declared to the woman that her sins had been forgiven her, and, without paying any attention to the muttered remarks of the guests present, dismissed her with the words: “Thy faith has made thee safe: go in peace” (v. 48-50). The woman had received with faith the tidings that Jesus was the Messiah. Filled with love and repentance she approached Him, and now she could leave Him and return home with the blessed consolation of pardon, with the peace of soul, for which she had sought so long and which she had at length found. The lesson which is contained for all in the touching story is that collectively we are all sinners in the sight of God, and that we must, according to this humble penitent s example, seek for pardon with faith and repentant love seek it from Him whose divine Heart is overflowing with love and mercy for the loving and repentant sinner. As to other questions to which this narrative may give rise, the various commentators must be consulted.

4 Responses to “Father Leopold Fonck’s Commentary on Luke 7:36-8:3”

  1. […] Father Leopold Fonck on Today’s Gsopel, Luke 7:36-50. See previous note. […]

  2. […] Father Leopold Fonck’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (Luke 7:36-50). […]

  3. […] Father Leopold Fonck’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (Luke 7:36-50). […]

  4. […] Father Leopold Fonck’s Commentary on Luke 7:36-8:3. […]

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