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

Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Luke 18:9-14

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 30, 2010

Luk 18:9  And to some who trusted in themselves as just and despised others, he spoke also this parable.

Which, however, might truly happen, nay often has happened, so that it may be historical. The introduction to the parable shows its scope and the design of its introduction, namely, to rebuke the supremacy of the Pharisees, and their boasting and contempt of other men.

In the former parable Christ taught one condition of prayer-perseverance. In this He teaches another—humility, for the humble prayer is heard by God, the proud one is rejected, as Ecclus. xxxv. 21. See what has been said thereon. The Fathers thus connect these words with the preceding verse, that is with faith.  S. Augustine (Serm. xxxvi.), on the words of the Lord that faith is not of the proud but of the humble, says, “Christ subjoins a parable on humility as opposed to pride:” Theophylact, “Because pride more than other feelings vexes the minds of men, He very frequently speaks of it.” The Gloss, “That no one, from what has been said, may flatter himself on his knowledge, or his confession of faith,” Christ shows that our works, and not our professions, will be judged by God, and amongst these He chiefly notes humility.

Luk 18:10  Two men went up into the temple to pray: the one a Pharisee and the other a publican.

Two men went up. The one a Pharisee, with the pharisaical pride, puffed up and haughty. The other a publican, that is a sinner, and deprecating pardon. Publicans were held infamous by the Jews, nay, were termed Parisim—that is, public robbers, for, as Suidas says, from Jamblichus, “The life of a publican was one of open violence, on account of their exactions and unjust tribute, their unpunished robberies, their unprincipled conduct in business, and their unblushing usury.”

Luk 18:11  The Pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican.

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus within himself.  The Jews prayed partly kneeling and partly standing, when their prayer was longer than usual—sacrifice or psalmody. For in the temple there was no place to sit, except for the High Priest and king alone, as I have showed on Eze_46:2. The word “standing” is added here to show the pride of the Pharisee; he raised his head to heaven as if to dispute with God, or to claim and exact the measure of his merits. “For a humble man,” as Theophylact says, “is humble of aspect, but this Pharisee is seen to be proud both by his habit and bearing.” The Arabic reads, “The Pharisee stood praying.” The Pharisee, therefore, stood proudly. 1. As being secure and confident in his own merits, and as calling God to judgment. 2. He stood first, or among the first, near the altar. 3. He stood with his neck and face erect and fixed on heaven, as if heaven were his debtor. The publican, however, stood 1. Trembling and fearful, confessing his sins. 2. Afar off, at a distance from the altar, the last, or among the last. 3.With his face cast down towards the ground, not venturing to look up to heaven, showing his fear and penitence by the place in which he stood and by his appearance. Hence Bede says, allegorically, “The Pharisee is the people of the Jews, exalting their merits by the righteousness of the law. The publican is the Gentile confessing his sin apud se.” The apud se of the Pharisee is referred in the Syriac to “standing,” standing apud se—relying on himself, trusting to himself, insisting on his own merits and dwelling on them. The Syriac reads, “serveto.” Our version more rightly connects the apud se with “orabat.” He prayed with himself in his soul and mind, for the pride in his heart so puffed him up, that he would not pray or speak but with himself—he did not deign to do so before others. He prayed like the Pharisees outwardly, in a grave inflated pompous tone. Hence S. Basil on Isaiah ii. says, “He prayed a apud se not apud Deum—for he acted like himself when he fell into the sin of pride.”

He prayed—In his own way, for he did not pray to God, but he praised himself. S. Augustine (serm. xxxvi) on the words of the Lord according to S. Luke: “What did he ask of God? Seek from his own words. We find nothing. He went up to pray; he would not ask of God, but preferred to please himself, and heap insults on the devout publican as well.

I give thee thanks. “He is not blamed,” said S. Augustine (serm. xxxvi.), “because he gave thanks, but because he wished for nothing to be given to him. Whoever says ‘I justify myself,’ is worse than the Pharisee who proudly called himself righteous, but who also gave thanks to God.

“He gave God thanks,” says S. Bernard (de Grad. Humil.), “not because he was good, but because he was alone: and not so much for the good which he had himself, as for the evil which he saw in others. He had not cast out the beam from his own eye, and he recounts the motes in his brothers’ eyes. For he says ‘unjust’—’extortioners.'”

I am not as the rest of men.  He should at least have said “as many others,” for what does “other” mean, but all men except himself? “I,” he said, “am righteous, the rest are sinners;” that is, I alone am righteous, all the rest are wicked. The proud man, to exalt himself the more, especially despises and depreciates others.
S. Gregory (lib. xxiii. Moral. c. 7) describes four species of pride in this Pharisee. The first is, when men think that they have good, e.g., virtue a se. The second, when they ascribe this to their own merits. The third, when they think that they have that which they have not. The fourth, when they wish to be singular, and therefore despise and speak evil of others. The three last of these are clearly shown in the proud and false righteousness of this Pharisee. The first appeared in him because he ascribed his righteousness, not to God but to his own works, and said of God, with the Pagan, “Let God give me strength, let Him give me wealth, I will order my mind myself.” “If, in fine,” says Theophylact, “he had believed that it was the gift of God that he had graces not his own (aliena), he would not have held other men in contempt, remembering, that even he himself was naked as far as regards his own virtue.”

As also is this publican.  “See,” says an Interlineator on S. Augustine, “how the vicinity of this publican was the occasion of greater pride to the Pharisee.” The Syriac has, “Nor as this publican,” supply, “am I a public sinner.” Of his pride, he judges rashly and falsely that the publican was wicked, when in truth he was a penitent and justified. The Pharisee sinned therefore, 1. In judging rashly; 2. In despising the publican; 3. In reviling and insulting him, for he casts up to the publican his sins.  S. Chrysostom in the Catena: “All human nature did not satisfy his contempt, but he attacked this publican. Whoever reproaches others, commits many offences. 1. He makes the other worse, for if he is a sinner he who is rebuked rejoices to find a partner in his wickedness; if righteous, he thinks highly of himself. 2. He harms the Church; for his hearers revile it. 3. He causes God to be blasphemed. 4. He makes the other more shameless, and engenders hate towards his rebuker. 5. He renders himself obnoxious to punishment.

S. Bernard (de Gradib. Humil.): “The Pharisee, while rejoicing in himself, insults other men beyond measure. David does otherwise. He says, ‘All men, are liars.’ He excepted no one, lest he should deceive him; for he knew that all have sinned, and have need of the glory of God. The Pharisee deceived himself alone, when he excepted himself from the common reproach, lest he should be excepted from mercy. The Pharisee makes light of mercy while he dissembles his misery. The Prophet says, as well of himself as of all others, ‘All men are liars.’ The Pharisee admits it of all men but himself. ‘I am not,’ he said, ‘as other men.'”

Luk 18:12  I fast twice in a week: I give tithes of all that I possess.

I fast twice in a week. In Sabbato. This is ‘by synecdoche, the chief day of the week being put for the whole week, which is called sabbatum. Hence the Arabic, “I fast two days in every week.” Theophylact says that “the Pharisees fasted on the second and fifth days;” but he gives no authority for it.

I give tithes of all that I possess. Not only of the first-fruits which the law compels, but, for my desire for a higher and a willing service, I give tithes of all things whatever, as flesh, eggs, fish, to which I am not bound. This Pharisee had branded other men as if they were adulterers and unjust, while he himself alone was pure and just. He would prove himself pure by his fasts, which are the mother of purity, and to be just by his giving tithes of everything. “As regards impurity,” says Theophylact, “he makes boast of his fasting, for from luxury comes wantonness. Against usury and injustice he brings forward his giving tithes of every thing that he possessed. ‘So far am I,’ he said, ‘from usury and unfair dealing, that I put aside what is my own.”‘ So S. Ephrem, in Catena.

Morally. S. Gregory here observes (Homily vii. on Ezekiel): “The Pharisee, who published his fasts and gave tithes, thanked God, as if his guardianship were on the watch throughout the circuit of his whole city; but because he had not noticed one opening, that of pride in himself, there the enemy took possession of him. While therefore he was silent on what he ought to have declared, he unhappily spoke of that on which he should have held his peace; and through his pride, his merits, if he had any, were diminished, for while he held humility in contempt, he augmented his sins.”

Luk 18:13  And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast, saying: O God, be merciful to me a sinner.

And the publican, standing afar off. The publican did not resent the insult offered by the Pharisee, nay, he admitted it, confessed it, and sought pardon for it with patience. He was, therefore justified before the Pharisee.  S. Chrysostom, in his Homily on David and Saul, says, “The publican accepted the disgrace and washed it out. He acknowledged his sins, and laid them down. This accusation was to be his remission, and his enemy was changed involuntarily into his benefactor. How many labours ought that publican to have undergone, fasting, sleeping on the ground, watching, bestowing his goods on the poor, sitting long in sackcloth and ashes, that so he might lay aside his sins? But when he did none of these things, by a mere word he was rid of all his sin; and the insults and reproaches of the Pharisee, which seemed to overwhelm him with contumely, bought him a crown of righteousness, and that without toil, without labour, and without long delay.”

Standing afar off. Afar from the altar and the holy place, for he thought himself unworthy of these from his sins. He was not so very far off though, but the Pharisee was able to point to him, and he to hear the Pharisee.

And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven. He dared not, from modesty, humility, and reverence. He would not so much as lift his eyes, as if thinking himself unworthy to look to that heaven which was the abode of the glorious God, who was offended at sins. Wherefore with eyes cast down to the ground, he humbled himself. So S. Cyril in the Catena.

S. Theophylact gives the cause of his thinking himself unworthy of the heavenly vision; and S. Augustine: “That he might be looked upon by God, he looked not upon himself. He dared not look up. Conscience weighed him down. Hope lifted him up. Again he showed by his posture that he had sinned against the Heavenly Host, that is against the Angels whose inspirations he had resisted; against the Saints, whose prayers he had made of no avail; against God Himself, whose commandments he had broken.”

But struck his breast.   His breast, in which was his heart, that is his will, which is its own cause and origin of all sins. “He struck and beat it,” says Euthymius, “as if to exact punishment from it: and to show that because of it he was worthy himself of stripes.” The beating of the breast is a sign of penitence and a contrite heart. Hence this was formerly the act of one who confessed and was penitent, and it is so still. To beat the offending breast is both an ancient and modern custom of Christians.  S. Augustine in his 8th Sermon “On the Words of the Lord according to S. Matt.,” says, “At this ‘Confiteor’ you beat your breasts. What is this but to confess what is lying hid in them, and by a visible blow to chastise an invisible sin? Why do you do this, but that you hear ‘Confiteor tibi Pater.’ Therefore our accusation of ourselves in our confession is the praising of God. For we confess ourselves to be sinners, but God to be without sin, holy and good. We therefore ask pardon of Him. The Pharisee, from his proud and unreal prayer, was the more defiled with sin. The publican was more righteous than the Pharisee, not directly and simply, but indirectly and negatively; for indeed he was righteous, but the Pharisee was unrighteous, and he returned to his house even more so than he came out.” “For,” says Euthymius, “he who so condemned himself was justified by God;” and S. Paulinus (Eph. lviii.), “What righteousness built up, that pride pulled down. The publican, from a contrite heart, was accepted as an accuser of himself, and obtained pardon from his confession of sins, from the degree of his humility; that holy Pharisee (holy as the Jews are holy) bearing away the pack-load of his sins from his boast of holiness.”

Luk 18:14  I say to you, this man went down into his house justified rather than the other: because every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled: and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

S. Bernard (serm iii. de Annunc.): “The Pharisee returned empty because he pretended to be full. The publican, who emptied himself, and took pains to show that he was an empty vessel, carried away the greater grace.”

4 Responses to “Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Luke 18:9-14”

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