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Archive for December 9th, 2010

Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Matthew 11:11-15

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 9, 2010

Mat 11:11  Amen I say to you, there hath not risen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist: yet he that is the lesser in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Amen I say to you, &c. Luke adds the word prophet (Luke 7:27): There hath not arisen a greater prophet. Whence Toletus from SS. Ambrose and Hilary observes that Jesus does not use the word greater of John absolutely, but as restricted by the word prophet. For the Apostles were greater, or certainly in every, way the equals of John. But, on the contrary, I should say that by the expression Prophet, Christ leaves it to be understood that there had been no person who was greater than John, for the prophets were accounted in the olden time, and really were, the most holy of men. So that as none of the prophets were greater than John, it may be gathered that there was no one else who was greater.

Christ therefore tacitly here calls John the greatest of all men, for otherwise He would not conclude from thence that he was more than a propbhet, which He proceeds to prove. This must be understood of the worthies of the Old Testament—that is to say, of all time prior to Christ. John, therefore, is not here compared with Christ Himself, or the Blessed Virgin, or the Apostles, who followed Christ and who (by reason of their Apostolic dignity) were not less than John, but rather indeed greater than he. You may say that Moses was greater than John, because it was said of him (Deut 34:11), “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses.” I reply, that it goes on, “Whom the Lord knew face to face, in all the signs and the wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt.” Which means, that there was no prophet like unto Moses in his familiar converse with God, and the power by which he smote Egypt with plagues. But in other things John was equal with, yea greater than, Moses and the rest of the prophets.

Besides other distinguishing characteristics and prerogatives of John, his spirit, prophetic office, life, and actions were more sublime than those of the other prophets, as S. Jerome asserts, and S. Austin (lib. 2, contr. advers. leg. et proph. c. 5). For John was, as it were, a standing miracle in his conception, in the womb, in his birth, in his angelic life. He was conceived, by a miracle, of barren parents; by a miracle he recognized Christ in the womb; and saluted and adored him; by a miracle, when he was born he communicated universal gladness; by a miracle, at his circumcision he restored the use of speech to his dumb father; by a miracle, he went when a boy into the desert, and there lived like an angel all his life. Whence the Church sings of John—

O boundlessly happy, of merit most lofty,

Of purity snow-white, pollution thou hatest:

O martyr most valiant, of deserts the lover,

Of seers the greatest.

And so John has the crowns of virginity, prophecy, and martyrdom, in addition to the crown of a doctor.

Yet he that is the lesser, &c. 1. The least of the blessed in heaven is greater, that is, more blessed and more perfect, more excellent and glorious than John, who was still a mortal traveller. Christ adds these words that He may stir up His hearers to follow after the blessedness of His salvation by means of the evangelic law which He himself brought in. For this is the Kingdom of Heaven from which Christ began and continued His preaching.

2. With greater propriety and force, you may say with S. Chrysostom and others, that Christ here opposes, and in one sense places Himself lower than John, but in other respects prefers Himself to John. He says, “I have declared that among those born of women there is not a greater in the Old Testament than John; but lest ye should think that he is the greatest of all, and the Messias, I add, that Christ, who is younger than John, is, nevertheless, greater than he.” It is as though Christ said, “I, Christ, who in age, and in the opinion of the common people, am less than John in preaching, in the kingdom of Heaven am greater than he, because I so preach that I at the same time inspire grace, by which believers in Me may indeed attain this kingdom.” Whence it seems that a comma should be placed after the word least, not after kingdom of heaven. In the Gr. Christ is here called ό μικρότερος, i.e., less than, junior to John. The Heb. would be. kaccaton, or the little one, that is to say, the least, the lowliest, as Christ was when He said, “As for me, I am a worm and no man, the very scorn of men, and the outcast of the people.” The comparative is often put for the superlative.

3. Our Maldonatus explains thus: The less, that is, the least Christian in the kingdom of Heaven, or the Church, which preaches and leads to the kingdom of Heaven is greater, that is, of higher dignity than John. Greater, I say, by reason of the status of the Church; and he is able to be greater from the nature of the Gospel, than John was. For the new law of Christ is the law of grace, which we are always able to increase. Whence John the Baptist and all the old fathers received their grace from Christ and the new law.

Symbolically, S. Cæsarius says (dialog. 3), “The least, or the youngest of the Apostles was John the Evangelist, who is greater than John the Baptist, because the Apostle leant upon the bosom of Christ.”

Mat 11:12  And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.

Note: this verse is considered to be one of the most enigmatic in the entire Bible; hence, a bewildering array of interpretations have been advanced down through the centuries, some of which Lapide gives below. For what is in my opinion (for whatever that’s worth) a much better understanding of the logion, see Brant Pitre’s book JESUS, THE TRIBULATION, ANDTHE END OF THE EXILE, pages 159-176.

From the days of John the Baptist, &c. This pertains to the praise of John, and shews that he was more than a prophet, because he first began to preach the kingdom of heaven. And so efficacious was his preaching joined to his holy life, that many who were baptised by him repented, and changed their course of life, and with great zeal strove for the kingdom of heaven. And now, I succeeding to John, promote this zeal by Myself and My Apostles, yea and will more and more promote it.

Wherefore the kingdom of heaven now (βιάξεται, i.e.) suffers force, is invaded, is seized by force. 1. Because men in vast multitudes, being stirred up by the preaching of John run to obtain it with zeal, with avidity, one pushing before another, as though it were some rare merchandise.

2. Because the kingdom is now compassed by all, not by natural instinct, as the Jews would maintain, but by the supernatural power of grace. The kingdom is, as it were, invaded, in such sort that sinners, publicans, harlots, Gentiles, by the fervour of their repentance, take it beforehand, as it were, seize it by force, away from the Pharisees and Jews, who thought that it belonged to them alone as the children of Abraham. It is as though He said, the Pharisees and Christians contend for the kingdom of Heaven, but the Christians seize it from the Pharisees by force. Whence SS. Hilary and Amb. say, “Christ is seized, since He, born among one sort of people, is chosen by others.” Amb. adds, “The Church has taken away the kingdom from the synagogue. Christ is my kingdom. The kingdom of Heaven is taken by force when Christ is denied by those of His own household, and is worshipped by the Gentiles. He is taken by force when he is rejected by the former, but cherished by the latter.”

3. Because for the kingdom of Heaven’s sake worldly men do violence to themselves by the cultivation of repentance, poverty, continence, mortification.

In the Lives of the Fathers there is related the vision of a certain anchorite who beheld that a disciple of his merited seven crowns in Heaven in a single night, because he had seven times bravely withstood evil thoughts. By this he perceived that as often as any one struggles against sinful thoughts and desires he merits a crown from God. For it is written, The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.

Beautifully does S. Ambrose comment on this passage, “We do violence to the Lord, not by compelling Him, but by weeping before Him, not by provoking by injuries, but by entreating with tears; not by blaspheming through pride, but by sorrowing through humility. 0 blessed violence which is not chastised with indignation, but is condoned in mercy—blessed violence, I say, which draws forth the goodness of Him who suffers the violence, and contributes to the profit of him who uses violence. An evil thing is done, and no one is blamed: violence is suffered, and religion is advanced. Whosoever shall do most violence to Christ shall be accounted most religious by Christ. We come upon the Lord in the way, for indeed He is the way, and after the manner of robbers, we endeavour to spoil Him of what is His. We desire to take His kingdom, His riches and His life. And He is so rich and so liberal that he does not resist. He does not deny, and after He has given all, He still possesses all.” Afterwards he speaks of the manner and the weapons of this violence, saying, “We attack him, not with swords, nor staves, nor stones, but with meekness, good works, chastity. These are the weapons of our faith, by which we strive in our contest. But in order that we may be able to make use of these arms in doing violence, let us first use a certain violence to our own bodies, let us carry by storm the vices of our members, that we may obtain the rewards of valour. For to seize the Saviour’s kingdom we must first reign in ourselves.”

And the violent, &c. Those who invade the kingdom of Heaven in the sense in which I have just spoken. He alludes to an opulent city set upon a mountain, which must be stormed by great force, which is in fact stormed by soldiers who covet its riches. He alludes especially to the kingdom of Canaan, or the Promised Land, which the Hebrews under Joshua conquered by force of arms. This was a type of the kingdom of Heaven. In like manner Heaven is to be won by the sons of earth climbing up on high by their heavenly conversation…. And because this is impossible to mortals, God has granted that what we cannot climb with corporeal feet we should reach by the affections of our minds.

In the life of S. Perpetua and her fellow-martyrs, we read that she was forewarned of her martyrdom in a dream. She beheld a golden ladder reaching from earth to heaven, which was hedged in and surrounded on all sides by knives and sharp swords. By this ladder they had to climb up to heaven. At its foot lay a horrible dragon who sought to hinder the climbers. She saw moreover one of her companions, Satyrus by name, bravely mounting the ladder, and inviting his companions to follow him. When she had related her vision they all understood that they were to suffer martyrdom. And so indeed it befell. Thus let each believer consider that with his utmost energy he must struggle up to Heaven by means of a ladder hedged about with knives.

Mat 11:13  For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John:

For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied, &c. This sentence is expressed more clearly in Luk_16:16—The Law and the prophets (i.e., prophesied), until John: since that time the Kingdom of God is preached and every one uses violence to it. (Vulg.) The Law of Moses and all the Prophets prophesied up to the time of John: i.e., darkly and by enigmas they foretold and promised Christ and His heavenly kingdom, by promising terrestial good things, such as abundance of corn and wine and oil, and a rich and peaceful earthly kingdom like that of Solomon, which was a figure and a type of the celestial kingdom to be brought in by Christ. But John was the first who clearly and openly began to preach this heavenly kingdom of Christ, and to point out Christ as it were with his finger to the Jews.

Again the Old Testament which consists of the Law, or Pentateuch, and the Prophets, under which are the Hagiographical books, such as the Psalms, prophesied until John, that is, they taught the ignorant Jews not so much to love as to fear God, by the hope of temporal rewards, and to worship Him by means of sacrifices, and external rites and ceremonies, which were shadows and types of Christ. But John began to preach the new doctrines of repentance and the love of God, through hope in the kingdom of Heaven, and of obtaining celestial good things by means of internal acts of contrition, piety, and the worship of God, by which we are truly and perfectly justified through Christ.

Christ here compares and parallels prophecy with prophecy, i.e., the doctrine of John’s prophecy with the doctrine of the Law and the Prophets. For John was a mean between the Old and New Testaments, as it were the horizon of both, dividing and determining the New from the Old, as Salmeron says. He was the morning star of the Gospel who put an end to the shadows and the obscure night of the old Law, and ushered in the clear day of the new Law.

Mat 11:14  And if you will receive it, he is Elias that is to come.

And if you will receive it, he is Elias, &c. That is if ye wish to receive John, and to believe him, as ye ought to do. Whence the Syriac translates by the imperative—If ye wish, receive ye. For he shall be Elias unto you, because he being endowed with the spirit and power of Elias, shall convert you to God and Christ, in the same way that Elias shall convert your children and descendants at the end of the world by a like zeal and purity of life to the same Christ. Thus S. Jerome says, “John is Elias which is for to come, not because the same soul was in both, as the heretics think, but because they had the same grace of the Holy Spirit. John was girded as Elias was. Like Elias he lived in the desert. He suffered from Herodias as Elias did from Jezebel. And as Elias shall be the precursor of the Second Advent, so was John of the Lord when He came in the flesh to save us.”

There is a reference to Mal 4:5, “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet.” The Jews even to this day are eagerly expecting Elias from this prophecy of Malachi, that he may shew Christ unto them, and explain all the doubtful matters of the Law; and therefore they hold him in great account. This was why Christ compared and equaled John to him.

Mat 11:15  He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

He that hath ears to hear. Gr. of hearing, i.e., to understand and obey. The Arabic has, hearing ears. For the Heb., which has a deficiency of compound words, uses simple in the place of compound words, as hear instead of obey. The meaning is, He that hath a teachable and obedient mind, let him hear, understand and obey the things which I say, namely, let him believe John to be a prophet and more than a prophet, when he declares that I am the Messiah, and henceforth let him receive and worship Me as the Son of God and the Saviour of the world. There is special reference to Christ’s declaration that John is Elias. For this is mystical, and requires intelligence, as S. Jerome says. Christ was wont by this phrase to rouse the attention of His hearers to important subjects.

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Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Matthew 11:11-15

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 9, 2010

Ver 11. “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Chrys.: Having first delivered the Prophet’s testimony in praise of John, He rested not there, but added His own decision respecting him, saying, “Among them that are born of women there has not arisen a greater than John the Baptist.”

Raban.: As much as to say; What need to recount one by one the praises of John the Baptist; “I say verily unto you, Among them that are born of women, &c.” He says women, not virgins. If the same word, mulier, which denotes a married person, is any where in the Gospels applied to Mary, it should be known that the translator has there used ‘ mulier’ for ‘femina;” as in that, “Woman, behold thy son!” [Joh_19:26]

Jerome: He is then set before all those that are born in wedlock, and not before Him who was born of the Virgin and the Holy Spirit; yet these words, “there has not arisen a greater than John the Baptist,” do not imply that John is to be set above the Prophets and Patriarchs and all others, but only makes him equal to the rest; for it does not follow that because others are not greater than him, that therefore he is greater than others.

Pseudo-Chrys.: But seeing that righteousness has so great deepness that none can be perfect therein but God only, I suppose that all the saints tried by the keenness of the divine judgment, rank in a fixed order, some lower, some before other. Whence we understand that He that hath none greater than Himself, is greater than all.

Chrys.: That the abundance of this praise might not beget a wrong inclination in the Jews to set John above Christ, he corrects this, saying, “He that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Aug., Cont. Adv. Leg. et Proph., ii, 5: The heretic [margin note: Manichee or Marcionite] argues from this verse to prove that since John did not belong to the kingdom of heaven, therefore much less did the other Prophets of that people, than whom John is greater. But these words of the Lord may be understood in two ways. Either the kingdom of heaven is something which we have not yet received, that, namely, of which He speaks, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, receive the kingdom,” [Mat_25:34] because they in it are Angels, therefore the least among them is greater than a righteous man who has a corruptible body. Or if we must understand the kingdom of heaven of the Church, whose children are all the righteous men from the beginning of the world until now, then the Lord speaks this of Himself, who was after John in the time of His birth, but greater in respect of His divine nature and supreme power. According then to the first interpretation it will be pointed, “He who is least in the kingdom of heaven, is greater than he;” according to the second, “He who is less than he, is in the kingdom of heaven greater than he.”

Chrys.: The kingdom of heaven, that is, in the spiritual world, and all relating thereto. But some say that Christ spoke this of the Apostles.

Jerome: We understand it simply, that every saint who is already with the Lord is greater than he who yet stands in the battle; for it is one thing to have gained the crown of victory, another to be yet fighting in the field.

Ver 12. “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.13. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.14. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.15. He that hath ears to ear, let him hear.”

Gloss, non occ.: That what He had last said should not lead any to suppose that John was an alien from the kingdom of heaven, He corrects this by adding, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”

Greg., Hom in Ev., xx. 14: By the kingdom of heaven is meant the heavenly throne, wither when sinners defiled with any evil deed return in penitence, and amend themselves, they enter as sinners into the place of another, and take by violence the kingdom of heaven.

Jerome: Because John the Baptist was the first who preached repentance to the people, saying, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand;” rightly therefore from that day forth it may be said, that “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” For great indeed is the violence, when we who are born of earth, seek an abode in heaven, and obtain by excellence what we have not by nature.

Hilary: Otherwise; The Lord bade His Apostles go “to the lost sheep of Israel,” but all their preaching conveyed profit to the publicans and sinners. Therefore “the kingdom suffers violence, and the violent take it by force,” for the glory of Israel, due to the Fathers, foretold by the Prophets, offered by Christ, is entered and held by force by the might of the Gentiles.

Chrys.: Or; All who come thereto with haste take by force the kingdom of God through the faith of Christ; whence He says, “from the days of John until now,” and thus He brings them in haste to His faith, and at the same time adds support to those things which had been spoken by John. For if all things were fulfilled until John, then is Jesus He that should come; wherefore He adds, “All the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John.”

Jerome: Not that He cuts off all Prophets after John; for we read in the Acts of the Apostles that Agabus prophesied, and also four virgins daughters of Philip; but He means that the Law and the Prophets whom we have written, whatever they have prophesied, they have prophesied of the Lord. That He says, “Prophesied until John,” shews that this was now the time of Christ’s coming; and that whom they had foretold should come, Him John shewed to be already come.

Chrys.: Then He adds another token of him, saying, “And if ye will receive it, this is Elias who was to come.” The Lord speaks in Malachias, “I will send you Elias the Tishbite;” [Mal_4:5] and of the same again, “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face.”

Jerome: John then is said to be Elias, not according to the foolish philosophers, and certain heretics who bring forward their metempsychosis, or passing of the soul from one body to another; but because (as it is in another passage of the Gospel) he came in the spirit and power of Elias, and had the same grace and measure of the Holy Spirit. But in austerity of life, and fortitude of spirit, Elias and John were alike; they both dwelt in the desert, both were girded with a girdle of skins; because he reproved Ahab and Jezebel for their wickedness, Elias was compelled to fly; because he condemned the unlawful union of Herod and Herodias, John is beheaded.

Chrys.: “If ye will receive it,” shewing their freedom, and requiring of them a willing mind. John the Baptist is Elias, and Elias is John, because both were forerunners of Christ.

Jerome: That He says, “This is Elias,” is figurative, and needs to be explained, as what follows, shews; “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”

Remig.: As much as to say, whoso has ears of the heart to hear, that is, to understand, let him understand; for He did not say that John was Elias in person, but in the Spirit.

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