Cornelius a Lapide on Matthew 5:20-24 for Sunday Mass (Extraordinary Form)
Posted by Dim Bulb on June 26, 2010
This post has only been partially edited. I’ve included the commentary on verses 17-26.
Mat 5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
17. Think not that I am come to destroy (Gr. καταλϋσαι, to dissolve, abolish) the law and the prophets. Christ’s special meaning in this place is that He came to fulfil the moral precepts of the Law by teaching and expounding them more perfectly, and by substituting the sanction of eternal for temporal rewards and punishments, and by adding to things of precept evangelical counsels of perfection, as will be plain from what follows. It is also meant that Christ supplied the imperfection of the Law of Moses by justifying us through faith and the sacraments of the New Law, which He instituted, which the Law of Moses could not do.
Mat 5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
18. Verily I say, &c. Verily, Gr. Amen—i.e., “in truth;” whence Aquila translates the Hebrew amen by πεπιστομενως—i.e., faithfully, truly, certainly. As S. Jerome says (Epist. ad Sophron.), “Amen is the word not of one who swears, but of one who affirms something he is about to say, or confirms something which he has said. In the former case it is prefixed, in the latter it is affixed, as it were a seal.” This may be seen from Deu_27:26, &c., and 1Co_14:16. Wherefore the LXX translate the word by γενοιτο, may it be done. In this place Amen has the meaning of affirming and gravely asserting.
Moreover, Christ Himself is called Amen, Rev_3:14: “Thus saith the Amen, the Faithful Witness.”
Until heaven pass away. Not by nature and the perishing of nature, but by the mutation of its condition—that is, until heaven be changed from this state of corruption to a new and glorious state at the Resurrection. In other words, before the end of the world, when heaven and earth shall pass away, i.e., shall be renewed, it is necessary that all things which are written of Me in the Law be fulfilled. Or, rather, until heaven pass away means until it wholly perish. The sentence is a hypothetical one, and means, sooner may heaven be destroyed, sooner the earth be riven in twain, sooner the universe come to an end, than the minutest point of the Law not be fulfilled, either in this life or in the life to come. So long, therefore, as heaven and earth shall stand, so long the whole Law shall stand. Heaven and earth shall endure for ever, much more shall the whole Law endure eternally, according to these words of Christ, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Whence the Greek is in the past tense, έως άν παρέλθη, meaning, the whole frame of the universe shall perish sooner than the Law of God.
Hear S. Irenæus. “Now, of the name Ίησοϋς, Jesus, the letters iota and eta, i and e, make up the number 18. These, say the Valentinians, are the eighteen Æons; and this is why the Saviour said, one jot or one tittle, &c.”
A similar phrase is used in a similar sense (Psa_72:7): “In his days justice shall arise, and abundance of peace until the moon be taken away;” also Psa_89:37, meaning, “The sun and moon shall endure for ever, much more shall the throne of Christ remain eternally.”
One jot. Christ, speaking to Hebrews, said, one yod, as the Syriac has. For the Greek translator substituted the equivalent, iota. Yod in Hebrew, like iota in Greek and i in Latin, is the smallest letter in the alphabet. From the letter yod, although the least, Valentinus, as S. Irenæus testifies, constructed the greatest heresy—viz., that of his Æons, in truth portents of names, rather than names of real existences.
Or one tittle (Vulg. apex) of the law. He calls the apices of the law, not the Hebrew points and accents, which were not invented by the Rabbin until long after the time of Christ, but the tops or little extremities of the letters in which the Law was written.
Till all be fulfilled. All things, that is, which have been spoken concerning Me and My acts, My Church and Sacraments in the Law and the Prophets. Again, all things mean all which have been commanded, or promised, or threatened.
Mat 5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
19. Shall be called the least. Shall be accounted the least; shall be looked upon as vile; shall be had in contempt by God and the holy angels, as the last of men, and altogether unworthy to be admitted into the kingdom of heaven, but to be damned and cast into hell. Wherefore S. Chrysostom and Theophylact interpret least to mean not at all, because in heaven there are none who are not great, as S. Augustine says, “all kings of heaven, sons of God.”
In the kingdom of heaven. Strictly so called, say S. Chrysostom and Theophylact. But S. Augustine and others interpret the kingdom of heaven here to mean the Church.
But whosoever shall do and teach, &c. Great, viz., a doctor, father, and prince of the disciples whom he has taught. And all the commandments of the Law are reckoned as having been done, when whatsoever has not been done is pardoned by God, says S. Augustine. For a fault is corrected and compensated for by penitence. As S. Bernard says (Tr. de dispensat. et præcept.), “A part of rule is regular correction.” When, therefore, the guilty one undergoes this, he fulfils the rule.
Moraliter. Learn from hence the right way and method of teaching, that a doctor should first do what he is about to teach. Christ, says S. Luke, began to do and to teach. He was first Himself poor, humble, meek, a mourner, and then He taught, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Let a doctor therefore examine his conscience before God before he teach, whether he be poor in spirit, meek, and soon; let him see whether he cleave to the world or to Christ, for that he may be Christ’s he ought to break his pledge of friendship with the world, and be able to say with S. Paul, “If I yet pleased men I should not be the servant of Christ.”
Mat 5:20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
20. For I say unto you that except your righteousness shall exceed, &c., i.e., be more abundant, excellent, full, and perfect. Your righteousness, i.e., your observance of the Law. For it fulfils that which the Law declares to be just or righteous. It also makes us really just before God. As the Apostle says, “Not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” (Rom_2:13.)
Mat 5:21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
21. Ye have heard that it was said, i.e., commanded. Ye have heard, i.e., from the Scribes, teaching and expounding the Law of Moses. Christ here begins to show in detail that He was not dissolving the Law, but fulfilling it, and that Christian righteousness ought to excel Judaic and Pharisaic righteousness. Christ therefore here proposes and prefers Himself and His own doctrine both to the Scribes and Pharisees, who by their δευτερώσεις, or traditions, perversely interpreted the Law, as is plain from verses 20 and 43, and to the Law of Moses itself. For Christ added to the Law precepts of explicit belief concerning God the Three in One, and concerning Christ’s Incarnation, Passion, and Redemption. He moreover supplied the defects and imperfections of the Old Law, for the Law of Moses was given to the comparatively uninstructed Jews, and this Law Christ perfected by His Evangelical Law.
Thou shalt not kill. Many thought that by this law murder only was forbidden, but Christ here teaches that by it even all angry words, blows, reproaches, are forbidden, for such things are, as it were, preludes leading by a direct road to homicide.
Mat 5:22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
22. But I say unto you, &c. Christ here explains and fulfils the commandment, Thou shall not kill, and teaches that even inward anger is forbidden by it. I say unto you. I decree, assert, and sanction, I who am Legislator of all law, Evangelical, Mosaic, and natural.
Whosoever is angry. The Greek adds ει̉κη̃, rashly, without cause. But the Roman Codices, S. Jerome, and S. Augustine (lib. 1, Retract., c. 19) omit it. But those or similar words must be understood. For unlawful anger is what is here treated of; since anger for a just cause, as for example against sin and sinners, is both lawful and praiseworthy. Anger has been for this very purpose implanted in man’s nature, that it should make them brave against vice, and against those things which are really their enemies.
Observe, anger is the thirst for vengeance, and is itself a mortal sin if it deliberately contrive, or wish for, any serious evil of body, or goods, or reputation of one’s neighbour, or rejoice in such evils, even though he deserve them, for he who is angry rejoices in them not as fruits of justice but of revenge. But anger is a venial sin if it desire some trifling calamity to one’s neighbour, even though the anger be violent, and flame out both internally and externally. Lastly, anger is no sin at all if it be assumed from zeal for righteousness, for the extirpation of sin and sinners. Such was the anger of Mattathias when he slew the legate of Antiochus, who was forcing the Jews to sacrifice to idols. (1 Mac.2:25.) Such was the anger of Christ when He drove the buyers and sellers out of the Temple.
Hear S. Chrysostom on the words in Ps. iv., Be ye angry and sin not: “We may be angry lawfully, for Paul was angry with Elymas, and Peter with Sapphira. But I should not call this anger without qualification. I should call it philosophy, carefulness. The father is angry with his child, but it is because he cares for him. It is he who avenges himself who is rashly angry, but he who corrects the faults of others is of all men the meekest. For even God is angry, not to revenge Himself, but to correct us. Let us therefore imitate Him. Thus to act is divine, otherwise it is human anger.” Hear also S. Gregory (on Job v. 2, Anger slayeth the foolish man): “There is an anger which springs from zeal for righteousness. This is the anger which, because Eli had it not, he roused against himself the vengeance of the wrath of God. For the sword of the eternal Ruler flames against him who is lukewarm in correcting the vices of those who are placed under him.”
Shall be in danger of the judgment. Judgment here is to be taken in a somewhat different sense from that in which it occurs just above, Whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. For there the human tribunal by which men were condemned to death for murder is meant; but here is understood the Divine judgment, which judges and condemns venial anger to temporal punishment, such as purgatory, but deadly anger to eternal punishment, i.e., to hell.
How vile a thing anger is! See S. Basil and S. Chrysostom (Hom. on Anger); Cicero (4 Tuscul.), where, among other things, he says, “Is there anything more like to madness than anger—anger which Ennius well calls the beginning of madness? The colour, voice, glare of the eye, impotence of words and deeds, what have they to do with sanity? What is more shameful than Homer’s Achilles—than Agamemnon quarrelling? Anger brought Ajax to madness and death.”
But whoso shall say to his brother, &c. Raca. 1. S. Chrysostom thinks raca here signifies thou, as if any one should say contemptuously to his neighbour, Go thou about thy business, what wouldest thou?—to address any one as thou out of disrespect.
2. Theophylact says raca means one worthy of being spat upon, for רוק rok means spittle; but this would be a worse form of reproach than to call any one a fool, which Christ here places as the worst reproach.
3. Some think raca here is the Greek ρακος, ragged.
4. And more probably, S. Augustine, Rupert, Anselm, and others think raca is an interjection of despising and opposing, and that by it are denoted all the tokens of an evil-disposed mind, whether murmuring, shouting, or spitting, or wrinkling the brow, and so on.
5. And last, S. Jerome, Angelus Caninius, and others think that raca is a Hebrew word, derived from ריק ric, i.e., “empty,” though not in brain, as S. Jerome says, for that would be a fool; but empty in purse; so that raca would mean a man of straw, a pauper. So the Vulgate translates Jdg_11:3.
Lastly, George Michaelis, the Maronite (in Proœmio Grammaticæ Syriacæ, c. de præstantia Syr. Linguæ) says raca is Syriac, and has three meanings—1. A tortoise, which animal is considered so deformed by the Syrians that they nauseate and abhor it; so too, the Italians, when they would speak of a man slow and deformed, say, pare tartaruga, like a tortoise. 2. Raca, from rac, “he has spit.” For the Syrians, when they would burn any one up with ignominy, call him raco, i.e., “spat upon;” or raca is the same as rauco, i.e., “spittle;” for a Syrian, to show that he made no account of a person, would say, “Thou art but as spittle to me.” 3. Raca with the Syrians means one despised, vile, abject, dirty; and this is the sense in which I think the word raca is here used by Christ. Thus far Georgius.
It is certain that raca is more than to be angry, less than to say, Thou fool! Again, raca is ambiguous. It may be venial, or it may be mortal; but to say, Thou fool, is certainly a mortal sin.
In danger of the council. Gr. συνεδριω, from which word the Jews called their highest tribunal the “Sanhedrim.” As though Christ had said, “He shall be obnoxious to the judgment of the highest court, the Sanhedrim.”
Observe, the Talmudic Doctors, and from them Franc. Lucas, Maldonatus, and others, say that the Hebrews had three courts: The first din mammona, which was a court for the trial of money causes; it was a court presided over by three judges. The second court was din mishpat, or the Court of Judgment, i.e., for capital offenses. By this tribunal cases of murder were examined and decided. This court consisted of twenty-three judges. The third was the Sanhedrin, which consisted of seventy-two judges, by which grave causes and crimes were tried, such as heresy, false prophets, idolatry, apostasy, &c. Christ, omitting the first, alludes here to the two latter tribunals, and calls the second the judgment, the third συνεδριον, the Sanhedrin, the council. The meaning is, that the proportion between anger and a reproachful word, and between the punishment of both, was the same as between the judgment of Mishpat and the Sanhedrin, or the highest tribunal—that as the latter excelled the former, so the penalty of an opprobrious word exceeded the penalty of anger. For in this comparison, as is usual, it is not necessary to make everything apply. There is, then, a catachresis in the words judgment and council. For by judgment is signified the lesser fault of anger, and consequently the lesser condemnation and penalty; and by council the greater fault and the severer punishment.
The meaning then is, as a murderer under the Old Law was in danger of the judgment—namely, that his cause should be tried by the criminal judges, and he himself condemned to death; so in like manner anger, which is the first step to murder, is a criminal cause, and consequently pertains not to the lowest tribunal of Mammona, but of Judgment, not human but Divine; so that if it should be intense and voluntary, that is, with a deliberate intention of inflicting death or grave evil upon his neighbour, he should for this be condemned to death, not temporal but eternal.
But if anger should break forth into a rough word, such as raca, a man would sin grievously—grievously I say, because he would manifest anger by an outward sign, which would pertain to the tribunal of the Sanhedrim, to be heavily punished, according to the degree of the fault. But if he should say, Thou fool, it would not be a case for the Judgment, but would render him liable to the damnation of hell.
From this explanation it appears, in opposition to the Stoics and Jovinian, that there are degrees of faults and punishments, that some sins are worse than others, and so deserve a severer punishment from God. Whence there is sin which is venial, and there is sin which is mortal. Consequently, in opposition to Calvin, there is clearly a distinction between hell and purgatory.
But whosoever shall say, Thou fool, &c. Under this word fool, we are to understand all kinds of revilings, calumnies, reproaches, curses, which are mortal sins, if the be uttered grievously to dishonour our neighbour, or if the desire to do him injury and revile him, spring from the heart. For the gravity or triviality of a contumelious word must be weighed by the intention of the speaker. If you say it in joke, or not really to dishonour, but to correct, it is not formal, but material contumely, says D. Thom. (2. 2. q. 72, art. 2). Hence parents may severely correct and reprove and rebuke their children, and masters their servants, if it be done with moderation, and for just correction. Thus Christ calls Peter Satan (Matt. xvi. 23), and Paul calls the Galatians “foolish” (Gal_3:1). Again, the gravity of the contumely must be measured by the dignity of the person spoken to. For to say to a grave and honourable man, “Thou fool,” is a grave contumely; but to call a man a fool who really is one, is a comparatively light reproach.
Of hell fire. The Arabic has, the fire of hell. S. Jerome observes that Christ here first uses the word Gehenna for hell. It is nowhere in the Old Testament used in that sense. Gehenna is derived from ge, a valley, and Hinnom or Ennon, a Jew so called. Gehenna is the valley of Hinnom. It was a pleasant vale near Jerusalem, in which parents were accustomed to burn their children in sacrifice to Moloch; and they beat drums that their cries and wails might not be heard. Hence the same place was called Tophet, i.e., “a drum.” Wherefore, Christ here speaks of the Gehenna of fire, to show that nothing but fire, and that eternal fire, is meant. See Isa_3:33, where Gehenna and its torments are graphically depicted. For Tophet is ordained of old, &c.
Mat 5:23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
23. Therefore, if thou bring thy gift, &c. If thy brother have anything to complain of in thee, any wrong for which to expostulate with thee, as that thou hast called him raca, or fool. This is the force of therefore in this passage. It would appear that the Scribes taught that all sins, and especially violations of the Sixth Commandment, were expiated by sacrifices and offerings at the altar of God, even when no satisfaction was made for a wrong done to one’s neighbour. But Christ teaches the contrary, and sanctions the law of justice and charity, by which He bids that satisfaction must first be made to our neighbour who has been injured by us either in word or deed. Wherefore he subjoins the following:
Mat 5:24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
24. Leave there thy gift, &c. This is a precept both of law and of natural religion, which has been by Christ in this place most strictly sanctioned, both because by the Incarnation of Himself He has, in the very closest manner, united us all to Himself and to one another. This greater union, which we have therefore through Christ, demands greater love and unity among Christian brethren: so He has said, “A new commandment give I unto you, that ye love one another.” Furthermore, the sacrifice of the Eucharist is more holy than the ancient sacrifices. It is the gathering together and the communion of the Body, of which we all partake; and therefore we are all mutually united to Christ and one another. Hence it is called communion, that is, the common union of all. Since therefore the Eucharist is a sacrifice, as well as a Sacrament and profession of mutual love and peace, it is necessary that all discord should be done away, and that those who have offended should reconcile themselves to those whom they have offended before this holy Synaxis, lest they be found liars. For in truth he is a liar who takes the Sacrament of union, that is, the Eucharist, and is not in union with, but bears a grudge or rancour against, his neighbour.
This is why it used to be the custom at Mass, that before Holy Communion, Christians were wont to give one another a holy kiss, as a symbol of reconciliation and union, in place of which what is called the Pax is now bestowed.
S. John the Almoner, Patriarch of Alexandria, to fulfil literally this precept or counsel of Christ, was once standing at the altar to say Mass, when he remembered that a certain cleric had conceived a hatred for him, and although he was the offended party, yet he asked his pardon first, and being thus reconciled, he went with him joyfully to the altar and finished the sacrifice, saying with confidence to God, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” as Leontius records in his Life. He adds that the same John repelled Damianus, a deacon, from Communion, and said to him, “Go first and be reconciled to thy brother.” Damianus promised so to do, when the Patriarch gave him the Sacred Mysteries.
Mat 5:25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
25. Agree, Gr. ευ̉νοω̃ν, i.e., be of good will, Syriac, a friend: with thine adversary, Gr. τω̃ α̉τιδίκω σου, i.e., thine accuser, thy prosecutor, Syriac,Beel dinoch, “the master, or lord of thy lawsuit,” Arabic, with him who is at law with thee: the uttermost fathing, i.e., of thy debt.
You will ask, who is this adversary? 1. Tertullian (lib. de Animâ), answers, it is the devil. He is Satan, i.e., our adversary.
2. S. Athanasius, or whoever be the author of Quæst. S. Script. ad Antioch. (quæst. 26), thinks the adversary means the flesh: for it is an adversary to the soul. “For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh” (Gal_5:17). But we must not agree either with the devil, or the flesh, which is what we are here told to do by Christ.
3. The same Athanasius says with better reason, elsewhere, that it is our conscience, for this is our adversary, and stings us when we do ill, until we agree with it, by following its dictates.
4. SS. Augustine, Anselm, and Bede are of opinion that God, or the law of God is meant, for these fight against our lusts. Wherefore clearly we ought to consent unto them, lest we incur the punishments with which they threaten us. But these are mystical, or symbolical interpretations.
Wherefore I say with SS. Jerome, Hilary, and Ambrose, that by our adversary is here meant any one who has been unjustly offended, or injured by us, and is therefore in a position to be able to accuse us before God. With such a one Christ in the preceding verse bade us be reconciled.
Note that there is here a Hebraism, and a parabolical form of expression, in which it is not necessary to adapt every word, but the general scope and meaning is what must be chiefly considered. And these, in this case, are rather hinted at than expressed. The sense then is this:—As a debtor, or one who is accused by a prosecutor before a judge, acts prudently if he agree with his adversary before judgment, and so escape the condemnation of the judge, prison, or infamy, so in like manner do thou act; and if thou hast injured thy brother in any way, as for instance by calling him raca, or a fool, thou hast made thyself a debtor, as it were, to restore him to honour: come in then, and be reconciled with him speedily, before thou be delivered as guilty to God the judge, who by a righteous vengeance shall deliver thee to prison, until thou shalt pay all thy debt. That prison is hell, or purgatory, according to the greater or less heinousness of thy sin. The word until, seems to bear a reference to purgatory, as though it signified terminable punishment, which is purgatory, whereas the punishment of hell has no end.
Mat 5:26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
26. Farthing. Greek, κοδράντην. This is a word which has been borrowed from the Latin, like many others which are found in the Evangelists, such as prætorium, centurio, &c.
The quadrans, here translated farthing, was the fourth part of the Roman as, and is put for any very small coin. And the spiritual application is, that every debt, even the very least of the fault of anger, must be paid and atoned for after this life, in the place of justice. Wherefore in this life, where is the place for mercy, agreement and pardon, let us be reconciled to our adversary—i.e., whomsoever we have injured, either by word or deed. I have read in a history that a certain servant who had departed this life appeared to his master, who asked him of his state and condition. The servant answered, “I am in that place where every debt is exactly and rigidly reckoned, and where not so much as a straw is overlooked.” Doctor Jacobus also relates that a certain religious man, who had departed this life, appeared in vile raiment and with a sad countenance, and said to a companion, “No one believes, no one believes, no one believes how strictly God judges, and how severely He punishes.”