Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Matthew 24:37-44
Posted by Dim Bulb on November 21, 2010
This post begins the commentary at verse 36 even though the reading starts at 37. Notations in red are my additions.
Mat 24:36 But of that day and hour no one knoweth: no, not the angels of heaven, but the Father alone.
But of that day (namely, of My glorious coming to judgment) and hour, &c. As if He had said, “Do not, 0 My apostles, ask Me when I shall come again as Judge, or what shall be the day of the general Judgment, for no one except God knoweth this: and He willeth not any other being to know it.” “He held them back,” says Chrysostom, “from wishing to learn that which the angels are ignorant of.” As to the time when the world shall come to an end, there are various opinions.
1. Many suppose that the world will come to an end after it has existed for six thousand years, as it was created in six days, according to the saying or prophecy of Elias, “six thousand” (years?) “the world.” (Sex millia mundus, Lat.) This opinion is probably true, as I have shown at length on Rev 20:4. Most scholars today, of course reject this.
2. Some think that there will be just as many years after Christ to the end of the world as there were from the Creation to Christ. They gather this idea from Hab 3:2, “0 Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years Thou shalt make it known.” But this passage has a different meaning, as I have there shown.
The third opinion was one which supposed the world would last as many jubilees after Christ as there were years in His earthly life. This calculation would place the end in A.D. 1700.
4. Druitlimarns, who flourished about A.D. 800, and who wrote upon S. Matthew, says, “Our ancestors have left in writing that the world was created, the Lord was conceived and crucified, on the 25th of March, and in like manner the world will be destroyed upon the same day; but in what year they say not.” But these things have no foundation.
Note: the following 3 paragraphs are a summary of Lapide’s position by the translator.
5. A fifth calculation was put forth by a contemporary of à Lapide, whose name he does not give, whom he calls a jester rather than a reckoner, which fixed on 1666 as the end of the world.
“If,” says à Lapide, “you object to this ‘joculator’ the words of Christ, ‘of that day knoweth no man,’ he answers, that only applied to the time when He was speaking, and that the day might be known afterwards by revelation or in some other way.”
But all this à Lapide characterises as frivolous and old wives’ fables.
But the Father alone: because from eternity He had determined in His own mind, and appointed this day, which He keeps secret. Now by the word only, the Son is not excluded, neither the Holy Ghost, for They know the day and the hour of the Judgment equally with the Father, since They have all the same essence, majesty, will, mind, power, understanding, and knowledge. For it is a theological principle, that if the word “only” be added to any of the essential attributes of the Godhead, such as wisdom, and be ascribed to one of the Divine Persons, it does not exclude the other two Persons, but only creatures, which are of a different nature and essence. But in Personal Attributes, the expression “only” does exclude two of the, Divine Persons, as when it is said, “The Father only begets;” “The Son only is begotten.”
You will say, Mark adds (Mark 13:32), neither the Son, for so it is in the Greek, Latin, Syriac, Arabic, Persian, Egyptian, Ethiopic. Various answers are given. The best is that which is common among the Fathers. It is that the Son, both as God and as man, by infused knowledge, knows the Day of Judgment and of the end of the world, for it pertains for Him to know this, inasmuch as He has been appointed the Judge of the world. But Christ denies that He knoweth this as man, and as He is God’s messenger to us, because He did not know it so that He could reveal it to us, or because He had not been commissioned by the Father to reveal it to us. As an ambassador who was questioned concerning the secrets of his prince would reply that he did not know them, although he did know them, because he did not know them as an ambassador. For an ambassador declares only those things which he has a commission to declare.
Christ’s meaning then is, “God only knows what year and day and hour the end of the world and the Judgment shall be. And although God has caused Me, Christ, as I am man, to know the same, as I am that one man who is united to the WORD; yet as I am the Father’s ambassador to men, He hath not willed Me to make known that day, but to keep it secret, and to stir them up continually to prepare themselves for it.” There is a like mode of expression in St John 15:15.
There are some who explain thus: that Christ, qua man, knoweth not the Day of Judgment; but that He knoweth it as He is the God-man. That is to say, Christ as man knoweth it not by virtue of His humanity, but of His divinity. So S. Athanasius (Serm. 4, contra Arian.), Nazianzen (Orat. 4, de .Theolog.), Cyril (lib. 9, Thesaur. c. 4), Ambrose (lib. 5, de Fide, c. 8).
Maldonatus gives another explanation. He says that Christ, even as He is God, knoweth not the Day of Judgment in, as it were, an ex officio sense, because it is the office of the Father, alone to predestinate, decree, and determine the Day of Judgment; and, by consequence, that He knows it, and reveals it when He wills. For providence, in which predestination is included, is a special attribute of the Father. But this explanation is somewhat too subtle and abstruse.
Mat 24:37 And as in the days of Noe, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
And as in the days of Noe, &c. Like the Deluge, which suddenly and unexpectedly drowned all men, shall My Advent come upon all. This is made plain by the subsequent verse.
Mat 24:38 For, as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, even till that day in which Noe entered into the ark:
For, as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking. Feasting and carousing without any concern, “Bacchanaling as if no ruin would fall upon them” (St John Chrysostom).
Mat 24:39 And they knew not till the flood came and took them all away: so also shall the coming of the Son of man be.
And they knew not, &c. You may say, “From the darkness of the sun and moon, and the falling of the stars, and the other dreadful signs, men will know that the end of the world is near.” As Luke saith, Men’s hearts withering with fear, and with looking for those things which are coming on the earth. “Therefore the end of the world cannot be unexpected by them.” I reply, that after the darkening of the sun and moon, and the other signs, God will give a certain space of quietness and peace; and then men will forget the signs, and will give themselves up to pleasures, to gluttony and lust, even as they did before. Then will God put an end to them and to the world, crushing them with a sudden destruction. In like manner, dying persons will seem to revive for a little while, but soon grow worse and expire. So, too, a candle when it is burnt out will flicker up with a last effort before its flame, like a breath, departs and is extinguished. Again, so great shall be the hardness and the wickedness of the multitude of the ungodly at that time, that even though they do behold the sun and moon darkened, yet will they apply themselves to the gluttony and the luxury to which they have been accustomed, and will not think of the end of the world so nigh at the doors. Thus was it with Belshazzar, when he was feasting with his lords, on the night when he was besieged and slain by Cyrus, until he beheld the fateful hand which foretold his destruction by the words, Meni, Tekel, Phares. Wherefore S. Augustine teaches that at the end of the world, the righteous will be sorrowful on account of these signs, but the wicked will indulge their bent, and rejoice.
Mat 24:40 Then two shall be in the field. One shall be taken and one shall be left.
Then two shall be in the field, &c. In the Day of Judgment Christ will separate companion from companion, neighbour from neighbour; as, for example, husbandman from husbandman. Him who has lived justly and piously He will take up with Himself to glory. But his companion, who has lived wickedly, He will leave in his sins, and condemn to everlasting punishment. For as S. Ambrose says (in Luke 17:35), “He who is taken is carried away to meet Christ in the air; but he who is left is condemned. Christ says this, that no one may trust to good society merely because he lives among the righteous. He would also show how exact and searching will be that judgment, which will separate father from son, wife from husband, brother from brother.”
Mat 24:41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill. One shall be taken and one shall be left.
Two women, &c. He instances the same thing (as in the previous verse) in persons grinding at a mill. For formerly mills were in use which were not turned by wind or water, but by hand. These were worked by male and female slaves to grind flour (see Ex 11:5).
Mat 24:42 Watch ye therefore, because you know not what hour your Lord will come.
Watch ye therefore, &c. That is, “think continually that death is certain, but the day of death uncertain. I say the same of the Day of Judgment, both that particular judgment which comes to every one at death, as well as the general Judgment, which shall take place at the end of the world. Wherefore prepare yourselves for both by giving heed to virtue and good works.” For as S. Jerome saith (in Joel 2.), “That which shall happen to all in the Day of Judgment is fulfilled in each at the day of death.” And S. Augustine (Epist. 80) says, “In whatsoever state a man’s last day shall find him, in the same state shall the world’s last day come upon him; because as the man dies, so shall he be judged. Therefore ought every Christian to watch, lest the coming of the Lord find him unprepared. But that day shall find unprepared the man whom the last day of his life now shall seize unprepared.”
Moreover, the reason why God wills that this day should be unknown to us is, that the uncertainty may be a never-failing stimulus to us in the practice of every virtue. “For,” as S. Chrysostom says, “if men knew surely when they were to die, at that time only would they seek to repent.”
The devil, therefore, in order that he may take away this stimulus of uncertainty, gets rid of it by degrees, and in part. He persuades every one that they have at least one year to live. When that has come to an end, he tells them they have another, and so on interminably. He causes men to believe themselves so strong and well, that they can surely live this one year. Year by year he does this, and puts such a thought into their minds as, “You are in very good health; you will not die this year.” Thus it comes to pass that being, as it were, certain of life, they neglect repentance from year to year, deferring it to the year in which they are to die. Wherefore, when that year comes to each in which it is God’s decree that they shall die, they, in like manner, persuade themselves that they will not die in it. Thus it comes to pass that they are always unprepared when certain death and the last day overtake them. Wherefore this idea, instigated by the devil, must be crushed. Every one should say to himself at the beginning of each year, of each day, “It may be that thou shalt die this year or this day. Therefore so live as if thou wert to die to-day.” This was the advice which S. Anthony was wont to give to his disciples, as S. Athanasius testifies, “When we awake out of sleep, let us be in doubt whether we shall see the evening. When we lay us down to rest, let us not be confident that we shall come to the light of another day. Thus we shall not offend, nor be carried away by vain desires. Neither shall we be angry, nor covet to lay up earthly treasures. But rather by the fear of departure, from day to day we shall trample upon all transitory things.” Barlaam also taught the same to his Josaphat, “Think that this day thou hast begun the religious life. Think that this day also thou wilt finish it.” S. Jerome says, “So live as though thou shouldst die today; so study as though thou wert to live always.” The same Father (Ep. 16, ad Principiam) says that Marcella was wont to praise that saying of Plato, “that philosophy was a meditation upon death;” and the precept of the Satirist, “Live mindful of death: time flies.” She therefore so lived as though she always believed herself at the point of death. When she put on her clothes, she remembered the grave, offering herself to God as a reasonable, living, acceptable sacrifice.
Mat 24:43 But this know ye, that, if the goodman of the house knew at what hour the thief would come, he would certainly watch and would not suffer his house to be broken open.
But this know ye, &c. Here we must supply what is to be understood, somewhat as follows. But forasmuch as a man knows not this hour, and is not willing or able to watch at every hour, therefore the thief, as his manner is, comes at the hour in which he thinks the householder is not watching, but sleeping, and so robs his house while he is asleep. It is clear that this is the meaning from the Greek, which has in the past tense, If the master of the house had known in what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken through. You must supply, “But because he did not know the hour, he did not watch, and did suffer his house to be broken into and robbed.”
By the thief, S. Hilary understands the devil. “The thief,” he says, “shows that the devil is very watchful to take from us our goods, and to plot against the houses of our souls, that he may dig through them whilst we are careless, and given up to the sleep of our own devices; and he would pierce through them with the darts of enticements. It behoves us, therefore, to be prepared, because ignorance of the day sharpens the intense solicitude of expectation ever suspended.” But it is better to apply the words to Christ. For so He Himself explains, applying this parable of the thief to Himself in the following verse.
Mat 24:44 Wherefore be you also ready, because at what hour you know not the Son of man will come.
Be you also ready, &c. the Son of man will come, to judgment, both the particular judgment of your own soul, and the general Judgment of all men at the end of the world. Christ therefore compares Himself to a thief, not as regards the act of stealing, but as regards silence and secrecy, in that the thief chooses the hour in which he thinks the householder will be absent or asleep, that so he may come upon him unawares, and rob his house. In like manner Christ summons those who are careless, and not waiting for Him, to death and judgment. Whence the Apocalypse warns every one saying, “Behold, I come as a thief” (Rev 16:15). And S. Paul (1Thess 5:4) says, “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all children of the light, and of the day.” Truly hath the wise man said, “The life of mortals is a vigil.”
The truth of this sentence of Christ is seen in daily experience. For we see very many men seized by death at a time when they think themselves to be in good health, and are forming grand projects in their minds. They think death is far distant, and promise themselves many years of life. And yet both experience and the warning of Christ should teach them to do the very opposite. When they appear to themselves to enjoy the most perfect health, they should think that death is lying hid at the very threshold of their doors, and should believe that they are then about to die when thoughts and hopes of long life are suggested to them, either by the devil or their own concupiscence. So would the day of death never come upon them unawares, nor overtake them as a thief.
Thus did the wise and holy men of whom we read in the Lives of the Fathers (lib. 5, libello 3, de Compunc. n. 2). Abbot Ammon gives this precept of salvation to a certain person, “Entertain such thoughts as evil-doers who are in prison have. For these men ask, ‘Where is the judge, and when will he come?’ And they weep in expectation of their punishments. After this manner ought a monk to do. He should ever be chiding his soul, and saying, ‘Woe is me, who have to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, to render unto Him an account of all my deeds.’ For if thou wilt always meditate thus, thou wilt be safe.” And Abbot Evagrius said, “That is divine, to picture the dreadful and terrible judgment. Consider the confusion which is laid up for sinners, which they shall endure in the presence of Christ and God, before angels, and archangels, and powers, and all men. Think of the everlasting fire, the undying worm, the blackness of hell; and in addition to all these things, the gnashing of teeth the fears and torments. Consider likewise the good things which are laid up for the righteous—confidence before God the Father and Christ His Son, and before the angels. Consider the heavenly Kingdom and its gifts of joy and rest.” And, Abbot Elias saith, “I am afraid of three things—the first, the going forth of my soul from the body; the second, when I shall meet God; the third, when sentence shall be pronounced against me.” Abp. Theophilus, of holy memory, said, when he was about to die, “Blessed art thou, 0 Abbot Arsenius, because thou always hadst this hour before thine eyes.” In the same work we read that a certain old man saw one laughing, and said to him, “We have to give an account of our whole life before the Lord of heaven and earth, and dost thou laugh?”