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

Juan de Maldonado’s Commentary on Matthew 13:31-35

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 11, 2011

Text in red, if any, are my additions.

Mat 13:31  Another parable he proposed unto them, saying: The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field

Christ puts out a third parable of the same kind; for as yet He has spoken of the sowing—that is, of the beginning of the Church. The Kingdom of Heaven (or “of God”) cannot simply be equated with the Church in all instances, but neither can it be completely divorced from it in all instances. The phrase is both complex and comprehensive and, as a result no all embracing definition of the Kingdom is easily given (see here).

By the first (i.e., the Parable of the Sower, Matt 13:1-23) He spoke of the different effects of the Gospel, as it fell upon a good or a bad soil, when first sown. By the second (the Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat, Matt 13:24-30), how it was vitiated by evil seed sown by the devil. By this third (the Mustard Seed, Matt 13:31-32), how great virtue the good seed of the Gospel possesses, from how small a beginning it springs, and to what an admirable size it grows. The kingdom of heaven in this parable, as in the
two preceding, signifies beyond doubt the Gospel, or, what is the same thing, faith, evangelical doctrine, the Word of God—as S. Ambrose {On S. Luke xiii.),S. Chrysostom (Hom. xxxvii.), Bede, S. Augustin (Serm. xxxi., xxxiii., de Sanct.) all agree. S. Hilary also thinks that Christ Himself is the kingdom of heaven, and the grain of mustard seed. Others, however, think this the Church, They all arrive at the same end. For Christ, the stone cut out without hands, is said to have been made a great mountain (Dan 2:35), and the Gospel (verse 33) is compared to leaven, because it has a hidden power of increasing; and the Church is often called the moon in Scripture, because in the beginning it is small and thin, and increases day by day till it is full. So the Church in the beginning was small and obscure, beginning at Jerusalem (S. Lnke 24:47) and always increasing until it filled the whole world. This can truly be said of Christ, who was to rule (Ps 72:8). S. Augustin refuted the Donatists by no other argument than this. They shut up the whole Church Catholic in one corner of Africa, as the followers of Calvin do now in Geneva. S. Augustin said that it was impossible that, after so many years, the Church could be confined within limits so narrow. “The Church,” he said, “is like the moon. If a man do not see the new moon on the first or second day, he may be excused; but he who does not see it when it is full must be blind.” This appeals much more to the followers of Calvin now, as I think, than it did to the Donatists of those times. For if the Donatists were called blind by S. Augustin because they could not see the Church four hundred years after Christ, what would he have called the followers of Calvin, who, one thousand five hundred and eighty years afterwards, not only cannot see it, but deny
that it can be seen any where at all.

To a grain of mustard seed. The kingdom of heaven is, no doubt, likened to the mustard seed because, as is said in the following verses, although small in the beginning, it grows to a great size.

Mat 13:32  Which is the least indeed of all seeds (” Quod
minimum quidem est omnibus seminibus”); but when it is grown up, it is greater than all herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come, and dwell in the branches thereof.

S. Jerome, or whoever was the translator, made use, not from ignorance, but from certain design, of a solecism. The LXX., as we have said, in their idioms, often did the same, for the Greek words, μικροτερον μεν εστιν παντων των σπερματων, in the comparative degree, have the force of the superlative. The Greeks often use the comparative for the superlative, as when the Apostles disputed among themselves which was the greater, that is, the greatest. The translator, therefore, renders the comparative by a superlative to express the true meaning, and yet keeps the construction of the comparative, to show that the Greek has the comparative, and not the superlative. How the grain of mustard seed is said to be the smallest of all seeds, when, among others, the seed of the poppy is still smaller, some commentators, apparently to little purpose, have laboured to explain. For it is not said to be the least of all because it is really the smallest, but because it is one of the least of all. In proverbial sayings, such as this most probably
was with the Hebrews, when anything very small is spoken of, it is customary to compare it to a grain of mustard seed. Christ uses this comparison not once only, but often, as in Matt 17:20, as in such cases we speak not philosophically and with exactness, but in a popular and general sense. For the people think the mustard seed to be the smallest, or, at any rate, one of the smallest of ordinary seeds, as Matthew 5:26) puts a farthing for the least of all coins. Not that it is actually the least, but one of the least, for a mite is certainly smaller. Therefore, S. Luke, meaning the same thing, did not say farthing, but mite (Lk 12:59). The birds greatly prefer the seeds, and, in summer, when they are ripe, they come and perch upon the branches to feed upon them. This is the meaning of the words: ” The birds come and dwell in the branches thereof”. The word dwell is used for perch, or settle (sedere), as, on the other hand, settle is often used for “dwell,” the Hebrew.

The expression may apply to kings and princes, and all who, as S. Paul says (1 Tim 2:2), are in high places; to signify those who are sustained by the Gospel and the Church, and, as S. Chrysostom says, bear the sign of the cross on their foreheads. For, in Dan 4:9, the birds which were in that great tree, what were they but the kings and princes who lived, as it were, under the shadow of Nebuchadnezzar? It seems more likely to me that if the birds mean anything they are a reference to the nations (see Ezek 17:22-24).

Mat 13:33  Another parable he spoke to them: The kingdom of heaven is like to leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened.

Christ sets forth another parable, and of a different kind, but having the same signification—the very great increase, that is, from a small beginning, of the kingdom of heaven. Leaven has many different properties. It is the corruption of a mass too much heated, and, as it has heat in itself, it has the power of increasing that with which it is mixed. Because of the first-named property it is commonly used in a bad sense, as in Matt 16:6, and 1 Cor 5:6, 7.

From the second property it is used for good, and the kingdom of heaven is compared to it. As leaven, when small in quantity, if mixed with a mass pervades the whole, and makes it much greater than it was, so the Word of
God, sown in one place, pervaded the whole world. So the Church, in the beginning the least of all things, was in a short space of time propagated in all parts of the earth (Ps 80:11).

Which a woman took. Our Lord’s having mentioned a woman rather than a
man was only, in all probability, because it was more a woman’s work to grind than a man’s, though some explain the woman of divine wisdom. The woman, therefore, is either no part of the parable, but is put because women mostly did that particular work, or, if a part, it signifies an Evangelical Doctor, who pours the Word of God into the minds of his hearers, like leaven poured into the mass. We should look, not at the sex, but at the performance.

Hid in three measures of meal. The Hebrews call a particular liquid measure sata, (Aramaic, seah) which, according to Joscphus (Antiq., ix. 2) and S. Jerome, held an Italian modium and half.   S. Epiphanius tells us that there were three sata. The Hebrews say that in the book the measure was increased after the Babylonian captivity.

Mat 13:34  All these things Jesus spoke in parables to the multitudes: and without parables he did not speak to them.

And without parables He did not speak to them. That is, there, in that assembly; for both before and after He put forth many other parables (as in chapters 20-22 and 25), as S. Chrysostom, HoM. xlviii.; Euthymius and Theophylact say—vide verse 11). S. Mark (4:33) adds “according as they were able to bear”. Some explain this, adapting themselves to catch the minds of their hearers, in a sense wholly contrary to the intention of Christ, for He spoke to them in parables, not that they might understand better, but that they might not understand at all; as explained on verses 13 and 14. S. Mark’s words, “according as they were able to bear,” mean only that Christ spoke obscurely, to take whom He could, as He explained Himself in another place when He had put forth a similar parable (Mark 19:12). Or they may mean what Euthymius says, “as they were worthy; for they were not worthy that Christ should speak to them openly and without parables “: as He Himself said (verse 13).

Mat 13:35  That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world.

The word “that” does not signify here the cause of Christ’s speaking to them in parables. He did not do so to fulfil the words of David, but because His hearers were unworthy of being spoken to by Him openly; as explained on verses 11, 12, 13. Nor did the Evangelist wish to teach that the prophecy of David was properly fulfilled by Christ; for it was not a prophecy, but a history of past events, of which David spoke.

Nor does the word במשׁל (mashal) which David used there signify the kind of parable which Christ put forth here, although the Hebrews call both kinds במשׁל “parables “. The Evangelist here calls expressions which are obscure and shadowed out by similitudes, “parables “. When David said (in Ps 78:2), “I will open my mouth in parables” he called he called במשׁל brief and pointed sentences “parables,” such as the Greeks call ” apothegms”.

The Evangelist applied what David said in another sense to a meaning not the same as his, but similar to it; as his custom was (Matt 2:15-17).

2 Responses to “Juan de Maldonado’s Commentary on Matthew 13:31-35”

  1. […] UPDATE: Juan de Maldonado on Matt 13:31-35. […]

  2. […] UPDATE: Juan de Maldonado on Matt 13:31-35. […]

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