The Divine Lamp

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Oct 11: Cornelius a Lapide on Today’s First Reading

Posted by Dim Bulb on October 11, 2010

Gal 4:22  For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman and the other by a free woman.

Abraham had two sons. Ishmael, by his handmaiden, Hagar, who was, therefore, but a wife of secondary rank; and Isaac, by Sarah, his wife of honour. The latter was his heir; the former received such gifts as the father chose to give him. Cf. Gen 25:5, 6.

Gal 4:23  But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh: but he of the free woman was by promise.

He who was of the bondwoman. Ishmael was born according to the laws of natural generation, by which Abraham, though an old man, was able to raise up seed from his youthful bondwoman, Hagar.

He of the freewoman was by promise. Isaac was not born according to the usual laws of generation, for Sarah, his mother, was then sterile by age, so that Abraham could not in the order of nature beget a son by her. He was born by promise, i.e., by the supernatural power of God, in fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham.

Gal 4:24  Which things are said by an allegory. For these are the two testaments. The one from Mount Sina (i.e., Sinai), engendering unto bondage, which is Agar (i.e., Hagar).

Which things are said by an allegory. An allegory with rhetoricians is a continued metaphor. With ecclesiastical writers it is identical with a type or figure in which things and events of the Old Testament represented their parallels in the New.

For these are the two testaments. Sarah and Hagar signify respectively the two covenants, the New and the Old. There are four senses of Scripture: (1.) The literal, as e.g., when it is said that Abraham begat Ishmael of Hagar naturally, and Isaac of Sarah supernaturally; (2.) the allegorical, as when it is said, “These are the two testaments;” (3.) the tropological, of which we find an example in verse 29; (4.) the anagogical, which is used in verse 26.

The first testament (covenant) referred to here is that made by God with Moses on Mount Sinai, in which God promised to be the God of the Hebrews, and to give them the land of Canaan, and the Hebrews on their part promised to keep the law of their God, whether moral, judicial, or ceremonial. The second testament (covenant) is that made with Christ and Christians at Jerusalem, in which God promised to be the God of the Christians, and to give them a heavenly inheritance; and the Christians on their part promised by Christ and His Apostles to preserve the faith of Christ, and to obey His precepts. This latter appears throughout the Gospels, and especially in the record of the Last Supper, given by S. John in chap 13 et seq. There Christ confirmed this covenant in His own blood, as is narrated by SS. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul.

The one from Mount Sina (Sinai). The Old Covenant, given from Mount Sinai, made slaves of the Jews, by bringing them under the shadows of burdensome ceremonies, obliging them to obedience under fear of punishment, or by the promise of earthly goods, such as abundance of corn and wine and oil.

Which is Agar. Hagar the slave typifies the covenant of slavery.

Gal 4:26  But that Jerusalem which is above is free: which is our mother.

But that Jerusalem which is above is free: which is our mother. The Christian Church, typified by Sarah, the mistress, is contrasted with the Jewish synagogue, typified by Hagar, the bondwoman, in four points: It is above; it is Jerusalem; it is free; it is a fruitful mother.

1. Why is it said to be above? Because (a) Christ, its Head, descended from heaven, and thither ascended to rule the Church from above. (b) Because the Church is perfected by heavenly things, faith, hope, and charity, which come from above (c) Because, the efficacy of the Sacraments is from above, and shows God Himself present in His Church, as though He had come down from above. (d) Because her conversation is in heaven, and there with her Spouse are her heart and treasure. (e) Because she is striving for her eternal crown laid up in heaven. Cf. Rev 21:2.

2. Why is she called Jerusalem? Because Jerusalem means the vision of peace. This God provides for His Church, so that she rejoices, not in earthly but in heavenly peace, according to the promise of her Lord. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you” (S. John xiv. 27). This peace comes from a good conscience towards God, self, and all men. Literally too the Church is entitled to be called Jerusalem, because there she had her beginning, as the Jewish Church had at Sinai. Hence the prophets repeatedly designate the Christian Church by the names of Sion or Jerusalem.

3. Why is she called free? Freedom is fourfold: (a) Civil, to which is opposed the status of slaves. (b) Moral, by which is excluded slavery to passion and lust, to the fear of adversity. In this the Stoics placed the perfection of happiness, and desired that every man should be able to say of himself: Though the world were shattered around him, its fragments would strike, but not daunt him (Hor. Odes, iii. 3, 7). (c) Spiritual, springing from that perfect charity which casts out fear, by which we are able to serve God, not in servile fear, but in filial love; not with material ceremonies, but in spirit and in truth. This is the freedom in the Apostle’s mind here. (d) Celestial, which excludes all slavery of mind or body to pain, and is the perfect bliss of mankind.

The Church already enjoys moral and spiritual liberty; by hope and desire it tastes beforehand the heavenly freedom it is one day to possess.

4. Why is she called a mother? Because out of Gentile barrenness, which was subject to devils, the Church has been collected, and has borne, and still bears, many spiritual children to Christ, and this not from Jews alone, but from Jews and Gentiles, without distinction.

Gal 4:27  For it is written: Rejoice, thou barren, that bearest not: break forth and cry thou that travailest not: for many are the children of the desolate, more than of her that hath a husband.

Rejoice, thou barren. Rejoice, 0 Church, called out of the Gentiles; thou who wast once barren, without faith in God, and formerly not wont to bear children to Him—now that thou art espoused to Him break forth and cry. The synagogue, whose husband was the law, or even God Himself, not as a father tender, but as a lawgiver terrible, brought forth Jews only according to the flesh. But the Church embraces as a mother all the nations that believe on Christ. Therefore the synagogue has borne to God comparatively a small number of spiritual children. She bare the Prophets, the Patriarchs, and a few other righteous men, and that not in her own strength, but by the power of Christ, the father of the New Covenant.

The Apostle quotes Isa. 54:1. The Jews indeed interpret the passage of their return to the earthly Jerusalem. The Millenarians understood it of the thousand years of sensual happiness which they pretended that the Saints would spend on earth after the Day of judgment, as Jerome testifies of them. S. Paul, however, makes it clear that Isaiah was speaking of the happiness and fruitfulness of the Christian Church. Of this S. Ambrose writes very beautifully (de Virgin. lib. i.): “The Church is immaculate in conception, fruitful in offspring, a virgin in chastity, a mother in her family. We are born of a virgin who has been impregnated, not by a man but by the Spirit; who brings forth, not with bodily pain but with angelic rejoicing; who feeds her children with milk, not of earth but of the Apostles. She is a virgin in the Sacraments, and a mother in the virtues she produces. She is a mother to the nations, and Scripture testifies to her fruitfulness, saying: ‘The desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.’ Whether we interpret this of the Church among the nations, or the soul of each individual, in either case she is married to her heavenly Spouse by the word of God, without any deviation from the path of chastity.”  S. Jerome, too, says, in his comments on this passage: “The Church, long time barren, bore no children before Christ was born of the Virgin; but when she bore to Abraham, i.e., the elect father, Christ as Isaac, the laughter of the world, whose very name spoke of heavenly mysteries, then she brought forth many children to God.”

Abraham in Hebrew is (according to Jerome) the elect father, with a mighty sound.

1. Abraham was first called Abram, the lofty father, and as such begat Ishmael from Hagar. Then when he entered into a covenant with God, and received the promise of the birth of Isaac, and of the possession by his seed of the land of Canaan, his name was changed to Abraham, the father of a great multitude, i.e., of a numerous offspring, to be begotten of Isaac according to the flesh, and of Christ according to the spirit. This is a sounder interpretation of the name than that given by Jerome.

2. Symbolically, Abraham represents God. From Hagar, the bondwoman, i.e., from the synagogue, he begat Ishmael, the bondservant, i.e., Moses and the Jews, who were under subjection to the Old Law. To them Abraham was a lofty father, giving the law in thunder from the heights of Sinai, and manifesting himself as a great and terrible Lord. On the other band, Abraham, i.e., God, begat from Sarah, the freewoman, i.e., the Church, Isaac, laughter, who represented Christ and His followers, heirs of the promises. To them Abraham was the father of a great multitude, gathered by Christ out of all nations, and regenerated by faith and baptism. Or if we take S. Jerome’s interpretation of Abraham as denoting the elect father with a mighty sound, then we see the fulfilment of the name in the preaching of John Baptist, of Christ, and the Apostles, who with a loud voice called all nations to enter into the kingdom of God.

3. Isaac, i.e., Christ, is said to be born of Sarah, i.e., the Church, not as though the Church were actually the mother of Christ, or existed before Him, but because, in the Divine mind, the Church was, as it were, prior to Christ, and stood for His mother. For God first called the synagogue into existence, and then substituted for it the Church. Consequently, He had in His mind the idea of the synagogue first, of the Church second; and out of this He decreed that Moses should be born as the eldest son of this idea, and that he should reduce to actuality the remaining parts of the idea by instituting the synagogue. Similarly, He willed the creation of the Church, and the birth of Christ, as the first-born of His idea of the Church, who should carry out the idea, and found the Church of which He should be Himself the chief cornerstone. Hence Christ and Christians are called children of the promise and of the predestined purpose of God, because their existence was the product of the Divine will as the father, and of the Divine thought as the mother.

Gal 4:31  So then, brethren, we are not the children of the bondwoman but of the free: by the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free.

Lapide offers not commentary on this verse.

Gal 5:1  Stand fast and be not held again under the yoke of bondage.

Be not held again under the yoke of bondage. You once served idols and devils: why do you now wish to serve the shadows and burdensome ceremonies of the Mosaic law? The Greek for entangled is rendered by the Vulgate contained, by Vatablus implicated, by Erasmus ensnared. The Judaisers, says S. Paul, are enticing you to their law as into a net, in which, if you are once entangled, you will be unable to escape from its legal windings and toils.


One Response to “Oct 11: Cornelius a Lapide on Today’s First Reading”

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