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 Matthew 18:21-19:1

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 12, 2010

Mat 18:21  Then came Peter unto him and said: Lord, how often shall my brother offend against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?

Then came Peter, &c. Peter was led to ask this question in consequence of what Luke (xvii. 4) says Christ added upon this occasion. “And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” Where seven times means the same as often, or indeed always, when thy brother repents. But Peter did not clearly understand whether seven times were to be taken definitely for the precise number seven, or whether it were to be taken indefinitely for as often as might be needed. He asks therefore Christ to explain His meaning, and to tell him exactly how often he was to forgive his brother his trespasses. Peter’s breast was narrow as yet, carnal, and bounded by the flesh. He could not understand the infinite abyss of mercy which there was in the Divine nature of Christ.

Mat 18:22  Jesus saith to him: I say not to thee, till seven times; but till seventy times seven times.

Jesus said to him, &c. That is, times innumerable thou shalt forgive thy brother’s trespasses, if he repent. This is what I meant when I said (as in Luke xvii. 4) Thou shalt forgive him seven times. By seven times I meant seventy times seven, that is always, times without number. So SS. Chrysostom and Augustine (Serm. 15 de Verb. Dom.). “I dare to say that if he shall sin against thee seventy times eight thou shalt forgive him, or a hundred times eight. For if Christ found a thousand sins and forgave all, withdraw not thou thy mercy. For the Apostle says, “Forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you.”

Symbolically, S. Gregory (Jib. 32, Moral, cap. 12) teaches that eleven is the symbol of sin, because this number transgresses the number of the Decalogue, ten. But seven is the symbol of totality, because in the seven first days of the world God created and set in order this whole universe. Again, in seven days, perpetually recurring, the whole of time is included. Seventy-seven is composed of eleven times seven. Therefore, seventy-seven signifies that all sins of every kind must be forgiven. This number, then, is the symbol of the plenary and perfect remission of all sins, whensoever a sinner
repents. “Christ,” says S. Hilary, “has an allusion to Lamech, who said, when confessing his homicide, ‘ Vengeance shall be taken of Cain sevenfold; but of Lamech, seventy times seven'” (Gen. iv. 24). See what I have there said. For as Lamech was punished, as it were, in seventy-seven generations, for as Josephus says, he had seventy-seven sons, who all perished in the deluge, so Christ our Saviour, by whom all sin is done away, was born from seventy-seven generations. For in the genealogy of Christ, as given by S. Luke, from God and Adam unto Christ there are numbered, inclusively,
seventy-seven generations.

Moraliter: Learn from hence the breadth of the heart, and the abyss of the love of Christ, who wishes us to forgive our brother seventy times seven, that is, whenever he offends against us. For if he wills us weak men to have so great charity and liberality, what do we think must be the abyss of love which He hath in Himself? Appositely says S. Augustine, “He sins once, I forgive. He sins a second and a third time, I forgive. He sins a fourth time: he must be chastised. Let us correct by words, and if need be, by stripes. But let us forgive the offence, let us put away the fault from our memory, that even though some discipline be imposed for love’s sake, gentleness may not depart out of our heart.” This number will be far greater, if with Origen we take the words exactly. For Christ said not, seventy times and seven times, but seventy times seven, that is to say four hundred and ninety; as it is clearly in the Greek, ἑβδομηκοντακίς (hebdomēkontakis). So many times does Christ wish us to forgive a penitent his offences. According to this meaning there will be an allusion to the seventy weeks of Daniel. For these make four hundred and ninety years which elapsed from the decree for rebuilding Jerusalem unto Christ, by whom there is full remission of all sins. See what I have said on Daniel ix. 24.

Mat 18:23  Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened to a king, who would take an account of his servants.

Therefore is the kingdom of Heaven is likened, &c. The scope and signification of this parable will become apparent from the postparable statement: So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts. This is the end in view of the parable, and the parts of it which pertain to this are to be referred to the thing signified. The other emblems are only for the adorning of the parable, having nothing to do with its signification, strictly speaking. Such mere emblems in this case are the command in ver. 25, for the sale of the wife and children; and the accusation of the cruel servant by his fellow-servants (ver. 31). Again the scope of the parable is intimated by the word therefore, which has reference to the preceding verse. The force of it is as follows: “That ye may know how pleasing it is to God, and how it has been enjoined by Him, that we shall forgive our brother who has trespassed against us just as often as he repents, I therefore subjoin a parable, in which I compare the kingdom of Heaven to a king taking account of his servants.”

Mat 18:24  And when he had begun to take the account, one as brought to him, that owed him ten thousand talents.

Ten thousand talents.  An Attic talent was equivalent to six hundred golden crowns. Ten thousand talents therefore would make a sum of six million golden crowns, a vast, an immense sum, altogether beyond the ability of a poor man to pay. And this sum would be twenty times as much, if we take the value of a Hebrew talent as our standard, for it was worth three thousand shekels, or twelve thousand French crowns. Thus ten thousand talents would be equivalent to a hundred and twenty million French crowns. And as Christ was speaking not to Greeks but to Jews, He would speak of the Hebrew talent.
Consider then, that according to this parable, God requires of a sinner, who has committed but one mortal sin, more than if a master should require of a poor slave more than a hundred and twenty million crowns. For a single mortal sin, forasmuch as it is committed against God, and as far as in it lies, robs God of His Deity, is a far greater injury to God than all injuries done to all kings could be. It is a far greater debt than all the debts of all mankind, which are owed by them to all other men. For as God is far above all men, yea though they seem infinite in number, so does an injury against God surpass all the injuries done to men, and contract an infinite guilt and debt of punishment. Wherefore this vast amount of debt pertains rather to the thing signified, that is to say, mortal sin, than to the actual parable of the servant. For what servant could contract a debt of one hundred and twenty millions, unless he stole the king’s treasury, or destroyed, or betrayed a whole realm? Moreover if one mortal sin be a debt of one hundred and twenty millions, of
how many millions will his debt consist, who has committed a hundred, a thousand, yea many thousand mortal sins? Now this suits the words seventy times seven. As though it were said—if God forgives you so vast a multitude of sins, far more in comparison than ten thousand talents, much more ought we to forgive all the trespasses of our neighbours, which are of far less consequence against us. Especially since God forgives us, upon this condition, our great faults, that we should forgive our neighbours their few and small faults. See Matthew vi. 14. The reason is an a priori one. Because God is infinite goodness, so also is sin an immeasurable evil. From hence it follows that no mere creature can make any equivalent satisfaction for mortal sin. Yea not all the works of the saints can make compensation for even one sin. Therefore in order to make an equivalent satisfaction for sin it was necessary that the Son of God should become incarnate, and should suffer; as the Fathers teach. Lastly: sin is rightly compared to a talent, because like a talent and weight of lead it sinks a man down to hell.

Mat 18:25  And as he had not wherewith to pay it, his lord commanded that he should be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.

And when he had not wherewith to pay it. It was the law amongst various
nations that if a debtor could not pay, his creditor might sell him with his wife and children, and pay himself with the price for which they were sold. That this was the custom among the Jews is seen from 2 Kings iv. 1., where the wife of a prophet who had died, said to Elisha, “Behold the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen.”

Mystically: S. Jerome, “As the wife of the just man is called wisdom, so also the wife of the unjust and the sinner is called folly, whose children are evil thoughts.”

Mat 18:26  But that servant falling down, besought him, saying: Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.

But the servant falling down, upon his knees, or his face: Besought him.  The Syriac have worshipped him. The Arabic has, Be patient, and I will give thee what is thine. This servant, that he may escape the sale of himself and his family into slavery promises mountains of gold. “O my master! I will pay thee all I owe.” But this was impossible. But he would gain time, that through the delay he might employ the prayers of his friends to bend the mind of the king,
whom he knew to be liberal and large-hearted, to forgive him the debt. And in this he was not mistaken. Hence it follows:

Mat 18:27  And the lord of that servant being moved with pity, let him go and forgave him the debt.

The lord of that servant being moved with pity, & c. The things are spoken parabolically to show how pleasing to God are a humble confession of sin, and prayer for pardon. Again there is signified how infinite is God’s mercy which immediately forgave this vast debt of sin to the servant who asked for it. Here is the scope of the parable. It is a priori reasoning. Because God is essentially good and kind, therefore it is His uncreated and infinite goodness and kindness which does good to all, and pardons and spares all, just as it is the property of fire to give heat, and of the sun to give light. Thus the Church prays, “O God, whose nature and property it is to have mercy and to forgive,

Mat 18:28  But when that servant was gone out, he found one of his fellow-servants that owed him an hundred pence: and laying hold of him, he throttled him, saying: Pay what thou owest.

But when that servant was gone out, he found one of his fellow-servants that owed him an hundred pence. This would amount to about four pounds of English money. See here the narrowness and covetousness of the human breast as compared with the largeness and liberality of the heart of God.

Mat 18:29  And his fellow-servant falling down, besought him, saying: Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.

And the fellow servant falling down, & c. He humbles himself before his fellow servant, and asks him to forgive him the hundred pence, in the self-same words with which that fellow servant had obtained from his master the remission of one hundred and twenty millions of crowns. But it was all in vain.

Mat 18:30  And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he paid the debt.

Greedily and rigidly does this servant stand upon his rights. And thus using them, he abused them, being unmindful of the mercy and clemency which the Lord had shewn to himself. Therefore he provoked the rigour of the justice of the same Lord against himself, and in fact had to suffer it.
Mat 18:31  Now his fellow servants seeing what was done, were very much grieved, and they came, and told their lord all that was done.

This has to do with the adornment of the parable. For thus servants act in the houses of their masters, and in courts of princes. But this does not apply to the thing signified by this parable. For the saints and the blessed do not carry to God, or accuse the cruelty, or the sins of men, but rather excuse and cover them, and pray for them.

Mat 18:32  Then his lord called him: and said to him: Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt, because thou besoughtest me:
Mat 18:33  Shouldst not thou then have had compassion also on thy fellow servant, even as I had compassion on thee?

I forgave thee all the debt. Arabic: according to my mercy towards thee. My mercy towards thee ought to have been the stimulus and the measure of the mercy which thou shouldst have shewn to thy fellow-servant. Measure I say, not equal, but proportional. For as I remitted ten thousand talents, it was thy
duty to remit a hundred pence.

Mat 18:34  And his lord being angry, delivered him to the torturers until he paid all the debt.

Syriac, burnt with anger: delivered him to the tormentors. It appears from history, and from the civil law of the Romans, to whom at that time the Jews were subject, that debtors were accustomed to be delivered by their creditors to tormentors, who cast them into prison, and scourged them. The Emperor Constantine I. out of Christian benignity abolished the punishment of scourging debtors with scourges loaded with lead. Moreover, tormentors are demons, says Remigius, who torment souls of sinners in hell in a thousand ways. Until he should pay, i. e., he must be tormented for ever. For he could neverpay that debt of ten thousand talents. So Chrysostom, Euthymius, Theophylact. Note: at this point Father Lapide goes on an excursus on this question raised by the text:Is then every fault and its penalty which has been remitted by God to a penitent sinner reimposed by Him on account of such ingratitude and mercilessness? Since this may not be of interest to everyone I’ve appended his treatment of it to the end of this post.

Mat 18:35  So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.

If you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts. from the very
bottom of your heart. For there are many who forgive with their lips, but not with their hearts. Christ, therefore, bids that the gall of rancour be cast out of the heart, and the honey of love substituted in its place. This parable, therefore, teaches how dreadful it is to keep anger and revenge against our neighbours in our minds; and, on the other hand, how pleasing it is to God to lay them aside, and convert them into love, even as God receives the penitent sinner to His grace and the bowels of His love, and buries in oblivion all his past offences, even as though they had never been committed. Moreover, not once, but seventy times seven—that is, always—must we forgive our neighbour who repents of the offence which he has committed against us. In order to show this, Christ spake the parable of the Ten Thousand Talents—that is, of a very vast debt. Let us, therefore, who are but weak men, imitate God, who forgives us our daily offences against Him, and those very many and very grievous, as often as we repent. And therefore He bids us pray daily, Forgive us our debts, even as we forgive them that are indebted to us.

Mat 19:1  And it came to pass when Jesus had ended these words, he departed from Galilee and came into the coasts of Judea, beyond Jordan.

This is the same history as that related by S. Mark (x. 1), by S. Luke (ix. 51), and, as it would seem, by S. John (vii. 1). So Jansen, Francis Lucas, and others. Maldonatus, however, denies this with respect to S. John : but his arguments will be refuted by the exposition of the context. It is plain from John that these events took place about the Feast of Tabernacles, which was celebrated in SeDtember. Christ went up to that feast, that He might gradually prepare Himself for death. He was crucified in the following March. Luke adds, that Christ journeyed through Samaria. Hence it follows, that Christ—leaving the direct route from Samaria to Jerusalem—proceeded to the Jordan; and having crosses it, passed through Persea and entered the borders of Judea from the east, and arrived at Jerusalem about the middle of the Feast of Tabernacles, as John has (vii. 14). This explains the expression,
beyond Jordan, in the text. Beyond, or across Jordan, must be connected
with the verb came, not with the words coasts of Judea, as is plain from Mark. For Christ, about the borders of Judea, crossed over the Jordan, that He might be farther away from the observation of the Pharisees, when He was teaching and healing the multitudes.

Excursus on 18:34~And his lord being angry, delivered him to the torturers until he paid all the debt.

It may here be asked—Is then every fault and its penalty which has been remitted by God to a penitent sinner reimposed by Him on account of such ingratitude and mercilessness? For that seems to be asserted in this parable.

I say, 1. This parable is true in foro humano, juridically, and in a parabolic manner, especially because civil right granted to a donce may be rescinded by the donor on account of ingratitude. For so great would be the feeling among men with respect to the pride and cruelty of the wicked servant of the parable, that every one would think he deserved to pay and atone for his former debts and sins, not as though what had been forgiven revived, but because they were all virtually included in his subsequent cruelty. And thus we see princes inflict punishment upon those who had offended them, and whom they had afterwards spared, if they subsequently carry themselves in an arrogant and ungrateful manner towards them. They exact the penalty of all their previous offences. Whence they are considered to have only conditionally pardoned them, the pre-supposed condition being that they shall amend, and be grateful, and carry themselves modestly.

I say, 2. That all this does not find a counterpart in foro divino, and in the thing signified by the parable. For God does not reimpose upon the sinner whom He has forgiven and who will not forgive his fellow men their trespasses against him, the sins which He has before forgiven. The reason is because God in His infinite clemency, forgives sins not conditionally, but absolutely and irrevocably to the penitent, according to the words, “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” Rom. xi. 29. Wherefore although the sinner who has been the object of pardoning grace, again fall into the same, or other sins, and will not forgive his neighbour, and thus proves
himself ungrateful to God, yet does not the circumstance of this ingratitude so aggravate his sin, that on account of it all sins which have been already forgiven by God, are again imputed to him. For since God is the chief Goodness and Holiness, He cannot recall and set up afresh, sin which has once been done away. I may add that this ingratitude is not a peculiar sin, but only a general circumstance of all sin. General, I say, because in all and every sin there is a certain amount of ingratitude towards God. Wherefore in the court of the most good and merciful God this ingratitude does not aggravate the sin to which it is attached in the same way that it aggravates it at an earthly tribunal, among men. Wherefore the similitude and comparison of the parable are not to be sought for in this, but in the way in which Christ applies the parable in verse 35, viz., that God will not forgive the offences of those who do not forgive their neighbours, those offences I say, which they have in other ways contracted, or which they contract by their refusal to forgive others, or by their cruelty towards their neighbour. Wherefore sins
which have been once forgiven by God are forgiven for ever, nor are they in any case recalled by God. So Theologians teach with S. Thomas, (3. p. q. 88. art. 1 and3).

I say 3. These things are true, but not sufficient. They do not exhaust the whole scope and force of the parable. For in it it is expressly declared, And his lord being angry, delivered him to the torturers until he paid all the debt—that is to say, the ten thousand talents which had been already remitted. And it is subjoined, So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts; namely, He will recall all your past sins which have been already forgiven, even as the lord recalled the past debt of his servant which had been already remitted.

This remitted debt, therefore, and sin is said to be recalled and to return, through that subsequent mercilessness and ingratitude. 1. Because this want of mercy is a deadly sin; for to be unwilling to forgive our neighbour a fault, is to cherish hatred, anger, and revenge against him, which is clearly mortal sin. And thus by this means the former state of sin and liability to hell returns. For he who will not forgive is a debtor to the wrath of God in the same way that he was previously, on account of other sins. For this sin is irremissible, because so long as a man will not forgive his neighbour for a trespass against himself, so long will not God forgive him his own faults. In this very way, therefore, that a similar new sin of mercilessness is committed, by means of it, in a kind of way, past offences against God seem to live again, because the state of sin and the liability to hell live again.

2. Because this ingratitude is a great aggravation of sin, and that in a deadly manner, if we believe Soto (in 4 dist. 32, art. 3), who asserts that it must be mentioned by a penitent in confession. Others take a milder view—that the circumstance of ingratitude aggravates the sin to which it is attached, only venially. For this ingratitude attaches itself to all sin. Theologians teach that it is especially to be discerned and taken account of in four kinds of sins; namely, hatred, apostasy, obstinacy and impenitence. For these four are directly repugnant to the very essence of the remission of sins; that is to say, either to faith, or charity, or repentance.

3. Although this ingratitude be not in itself mortal sin, yet it is often a cause of mortal sin. For God, on account of this ingratitude, withdraws the more plentiful supply of His grace from the sinner, and permits him to be more severely tempted by the flesh and the devil. Hence it comes to pass that he falls into more dreadful mortal sins, by which that former multitude of faults returns, which is signified by the ten thousand talents. God will require of him as much as the former debt amounted to, because of his want of mercy; although the debt may be of other sins than those which had been remitted, that the words may be fulfilled, “He shall have judgment without mercy, who hath shewed no mercy.” (James ii. 13.)

7 Responses to “Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Matthew 18:21-19:1”

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  2. […] Lapide’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (Matt 18:21-19:1). […]

  3. […] Lapide’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (Matt 18:21-19:1). […]

  4. […] Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Matt 18:23-35. This post actually includes commentary on 18:21-19:1. […]

  5. […] Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (Matt 18:21-35). Includes commentary on 19:1 as well. […]

  6. […] Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (Matt 18:21-35). Includes commentary on 19:1 as well. […]

  7. […] Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Matthew 18:23-35. Begins at verse 18. […]

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