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

Archive for March 23rd, 2011

Bernardin de Piconio on 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 23, 2011

In this chapter the Apostle reminds the Corinthians that faith and baptism are not sufficient to ensure salvation, without perseverance and obedience, using the example of the people of Israel, who were delivered from bondage in Egypt, but did not enter the land of promise. And applying this to the question under consideration in the two previous chapters, he gives his final decision as to participation in pagan sacrifices, admitting the general principle asserted by the learned men, but forbidding the practice as likely to occasion scandal.

1. For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed the sea;
2. And all were baptized in Moses, in the cloud and in the sea;
3. And all ate the same spiritual food;
4. And all drank the same spiritual drink: (And drank of the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ).

All our fathers were under the cloud. He said in the last chapter, All run, but only one receives the prize; I chastise my body, lest I prove reprobate. The same idea is enforced and repeated here. All our fathers were delivered from bondage in Egjpt ; all were under the protection and guidance of the fiery column that led their march, a cloud by day, Ex 13:21, Num 9:15, 16, and covered them with its shadow when they rested, from the heat of the sun. All passed through the waters of the Red Sea to deliverance and freedom. This is a (figure of Christian baptism. The cloud overhead represents the water of baptism, ready to descend, with the grace of the Holy Spirit. The water of the sea is the immersion in the fount of regeneration. The destruction of the Egyptians is the blotting out of sin. Estius suggests that in their passage they were not improbably sprinkled and wetted with the foam of the sea. All subsisted on the manna from the skies, which is called spiritual food because it was prepared by the hands of Angels, and tasted variously according to the palate of the consumer, but always wonderfully and deliciously; and because it was a type of Christ, the living bread who comes down from heaven, and of the holy Eucharist, which confers in this life desires and graces miraculous and supernatural, and eternal life hereafter. And all drank of the spiritual rock, the water which flowed miraculously and supernaturally from the rock in Horeb struck by the rod of Moses, Ex 17:6, and which continued to follow them, at least for some distance, in their wandering in the desert. And as the passage of the Red Sea was a figure of Baptism, so this rock was a figure of Christ, from whose side, struck by the spear, water flowed for the refreshment of his Church.

Theodoret says: The sea was a type of our baptism; the cloud of the grace of the Holy Spirit; Moses, of the priest; his rod, of the cross; Israel crossing the sea, of those who receive baptism; the Egyptians foflowing, hosts of evil spirits, pursuing, baffled, defeated; Pharao, of the devil, ruined and overthrown.

Divine grace warms and illuminates, like the fiery cloud; refreshes like the same cloud by day; supports and sustains, like the column. It gives us the fire of charity, the calming of the passions, the strength to persevere. The fire, the cloud, the column, never desert or leave us.

Cornelius a Lapide enumerates fourteen points of resemblance between the manna and the holy Eucharist.

The water from the rock follows us on our march. The grace of Christ is never wanting to us. I am with you all days.

All this is true, but there is nevertheless another and further truth, which the Apostle presents in the following verses.

5. But in most of them God was not well pleased; for they were overthrown in the desert.
6. And these things were done in figure of us, that we may not be desirous of evil things, as they’ desired.
7. Nor be you made idolaters, as some of them were: as it is written: The people sat to eat and drink, and rose to play.
8. Nor let us commit fornication, as some of them committed fornication, and fell in one day twenty-three thousand.

In most of them God was not pleased. In spite of all this, two only of the whole number of the people of Israel, who came out of Egypt, and of whom there must have been at least three millions, entered the land of promise, namely, Joshua and Caleb. The proportion of the numbers is not, however, what the Apostle insists on, merely saying, the greater number. The Vulgate will bear the meaning, with many of them, God was not pleased, the proof of which was that they fell in the wilderness. Your dead bodies shall lie in the solitude, Num 14:32. They longed for flesh to eat instead of the manna, Num. 11:4, 33, 34. God sent them quails in abundance, but while they were eating, his wrath came upon them, and many died of a pestilence. The place where this occurred, and the dead was buried, was called the graves of concupiscence. They worshipped the golden calf, as described in Ex 32 and, having offered incense before it, sat down to feast, and rose to dance round the idol. Twenty-three thousand were killed by the Levites, by command of Moses, on that day. Many years afterwards they committed fornication with the daughters of Moab, on which occasion twenty-four thousand were killed. Num 25:9. The Apostle does not confuse these two histories, but the numbers being so close, it was not worth while to state them separately.

9. Nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them tempted, and perished by serpents.

Nor let us tempt Christ. There is an ancient tradition that the Angel who conducted the people of Israel in the desert, was Christ, or represented Christ. The people tempted or distrusted the promises of God, but the occasion particularly referred to here is recorded in Num 21 when they were discouraged at the length of their route, which led them all round the land of Edom, and spoke against God and Moses, saying. Why didst thou bring us out of Egypt to die in the desert? In punishment for this fault, many were killed by fiery serpents.

10. Nor do you murmur, as some of them murmured, and perished by the exterminator.

Nor do you murmur, as some of them murmured. This probably refers to the insurrection of Core, Dathan, and Abiron, related in Num 16 On this occasion,
the three conspirators, and their families and households, were swallowed up by an earthquake, and two hundred and fifty men who offered incense with them, were destroyed by fire from heaven. But unhappily the great bulk of the men of Israel took their part, and mnrnmred against Moses and Aaron (v. 41) saying. You have killed the Lord’s people. God’s anger then broke out in a pestilence, so terrible that it would have occasioned the instant destruction of the whole nation, if the intercession of Moses and Aaron had not protected them, and which, as it was, caused the death of fourteen thousand and seven hundred.

It is obvious that all these five instances of God’s justice in ancient times, and the way they are put, are intended by the Apostle to point to the case of the Corinthians. They lusted after evil dainties, the feasts in the idol temples. They were at least in danger of being made idolaters, by taking part in such proceedings. They encouraged sin by their presence in buildings consecrated to the worship of Aphrodite. They distrusted the promises of Christ, as we shall see further on, by denying the reality of the resurrection of the body. And they murmured against the authority claimed by the Apostles, and set up rival teachers like Core, Dathan, and Abiron.

11. And all these things happened to them in figure; and are written for our reproof, upon whom are come the ends of the world.

All these happened to them in figure. Tertullian says that God, when he made Adam, thought of Christ. When he ordained the ancient law, he thought of the Church of Christ. The things are written for our reproof, in the Syriac, for our instruction or admonition, who live in the last age of the world. Saint Paul was not acquainted, any more than we are, with the date of Christ’s return to judgment.

12. Therefore who thinks himself to stand, let him see he falls not.

Who thinks himself to stand, as the Hebrews, stood on the seashore after their deliverance, and saw their enemies overwhelmed in the flood. Yet they fell in the wilderness.

13. Let not temptation take you, except what is human. And God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above your power, but with the temptation will make also an escape that you may be able to endure it.

Let no temptation take you, but what is human, slight, ordinary, easily overcome. This has reference, not to the nature of the sin, which is always apostasy, but to the power and violence of the motive employed. If you frequent the pagan temples, your faith may be very severely tried. And even if more serious temptation, as in time of persecution, should find you out, not seeking it, God will, in that case, give you not escape only, but proventus in Greek εκβασιν, good success, triumph, and victory, and enable you to bear whatever your enemies inflict on you, and defeat their malice. The Greek and the Syriac read: No temptation has assailedyou, except what is human. As in Heb 12:4. You have not yet resisted unto blood. So Saint Chrysostom understands the words.

To sin not, is like the Angels. To sin only through ignorance and infirmity is human. To sin with deliberate determination and knowledge, is to sin like devils. Until we can attain the sanctity of angels, all sin should be feared and avoided, but at least let it be human, of infirmity, not diabolic, of fixed resolve.

Apostasy is especially the sin of evil spirits, by which they lost their eternal inheritance, at once and for ever.

 

 

Posted in Bible, Catechetical Resources, Devotional Resources, liturgy, Notes on 1 Corinthians, Quotes, Scripture | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

My Notes on Exodus 17:3-7 for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 23, 2011

I’ve made use of the RSV in this post. The copyright holder allows copying of the RSV under the following restrictions:

The [New] Revised Standard Version Bible may be quoted and/or reprinted up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher, provided the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible or account for fifty percent (50%) of the total work in which they are quoted.

Notice of copyright must appear on the title or copyright page of the work as follows:

“Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 [2nd edition, 1971] by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

Although the text of the reading is on verses 3-7 I’ve included brief notes on verse 1-2 as well.

1 All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim; but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people found fault with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you find fault with me? Why do you put the LORD to the proof?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people murmured against Moses, and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?”

The fact that the people traveled as a whole (“congregation”) unified group “in stages” implies that the going was fairly easy or, to be more exact, leisurely.  God had been providing for their need for water on the journey (Ex 15:22-27), as well as for their need for food (Ex 16:1-35), this in spite of their grumbling against Moses (Ex 15:24; 16:2) which, in reality, was a grumbling against God (Ex 16:7-8). Now, in our present passage, they are once again grumbling about water.

Because there was no  water in the place they were camping Therefore the people found fault with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you find fault with me? Why do you put the LORD to the proof?” It appears that in blaming Moses the people had forgotten (was it a willful act of forgetfulness?) who was actually behind their journeying in the desert (Ex 3:8), and who was directing Moses (Ex 3:10).  Moses’ question, “Why do you put the LORD to the proof?” recalls the earlier grumbling for water at Marah: “There the LORD made for them a statute and an ordinance and there he proved them,  saying, “If you will diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases upon you which I put upon the Egyptians; for I am the LORD, your healer” (Ex 15:25-26).  It is against this backdrop that the people’s accusatory question (verse 3) to Moses must be seen:

3.  But the people thirsted there for water, and the people murmured against Moses, and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?”

The irony of course is that their children had been killed in Egypt by the Egyptians (Ex 1:22), and their death was wrought by means of water which they now crave. Also, was not the first plague-one of the diseases God would not afflict the Israelites with if they were obedient (Ex 15:26)-the turning of the waters of Egypt into blood so that it could not be drunk (Ex 7:14-24)?  And was it not by water at the sea that God saved the Israelites, their children and their cattle (Ex14:10-31), while Pharaoh’s soldier’s, horses and chariots were cast into the sea? (Ex 15:4; 15:21). And, as we have already seen, did not  God previously manifest his power to give his people drink (15:22-27)? Yet, in spite of these many manifestation of his power to punish or save with water the people still grumble!

4 So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand the rod with which you struck the Nile, and go.
6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.

Take in your hand the rod with which you struck the Nile, and go. Ouch! What Moses is to do is intended by God to be a none to subtle reminder to the people of one of the events we have just spoken of, the changing of the waters of Egypt into blood, the first powerful manifestation of God’s intention to save his people.  Here Psalm 95-which mentions this event-is instructive: “Harden not your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work” (Ps 95:8-9).

7. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the faultfinding of the children of Israel, and because they put the LORD to the proof by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

Pope Benedict XVI: In the First Reading we see the Jewish People suffer in the desert from lack of water and, in the grip of discouragement, complain and react violently, as on other occasions. They even reached the point of rebelling against Moses and almost of rebelling against God. The sacred author says: “They put the Lord to the proof by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?'” (EX 17,7). The people demanded from God that he meet their expectations and needs, rather than abandoning themselves trustfully into his hands, and in their trial lost their trust in him. How often does this also happen in our lives? In how many circumstances, rather than conforming docilely to the divine will, do we want God to implement our own plans and grant our every desire? On how many occasions does our faith prove frail, our trust weak, our religious sense contaminated by magical and merely earthly elements? In this Lenten Season, as the Church invites us to make a journey of true conversion, let us accept with humble docility the recommendation of the Responsorial Psalm: “Oh, that today you would hear his voice: “Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, where your fathers tempted me; they tested me though they had seen my works'” (Ps 95[94]: 7-9)~Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent, 2008.

Is the Lord among us or not? see St Paul’s teaching that the rock which Moses struck was Christ and its meaning in 1 Cor 10:1-13. See Father Callan’s commentary on these verses here.  Bernardin de Piconio’s can be found here.

Posted in BENEDICT XVI CATECHESIS, Bible, Catechetical Resources, Catholic, Christ, Devotional Resources, liturgy, Quotes, Scripture | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Matthew 20:17-28

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 23, 2011

Text in red, if any, are my additions to the commentary.

Mat 20:17  And Jesus going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples apart and said to them:

And Jesus going up to Jerusalem. This was the last journey of Christ to Jerusalem. From S. John 11: 54., &c., it is clear that after raising Lazarus He had departed to the city of Ephraim, to escape the hatred of the Pharisees, and now from that city on the approach of that Passover, when He was put to death by the Jews, He went up to Jerusalem according to the law. And truly He went up that He might accept, and, as it were, eagerly seize the cross and death appointed for Him in Jerusalem, and prepared by the decree of the Father for the redemption of the world.

Mat 20:18  Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be betrayed to the chief priests and the scribes: and they shall condemn him to death.

We go up. That is, because Jerusalem, and especially the temple were on Mount Sion. Again, we go up, in order to submit to the Cross, according to that saying, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, &c.” Again He says “we go up” to mark this stedfast purpose, as S. Chrysostom paraphrases, “Ye see how I go of My free will to death; when then ye shall see Me hung upon the Cross, think not that I am no more than man: for though to be able to die is human, yet to be willing to die is more than human.”

Lastly, we go up, as if to our triumph on the citadel of Jerusalem and Calvary; for on the cross Christ triumphed over death, sin, the devil and hell; as the Apostle teaches, Col 2:15.  The we go up also provides a contrast with and the Son of Man shall be betrayed, &c.  It is Jesus alone who will suffer at that time, but, as the Gospels make clear, the time will come for the disciples to suffer as well. Note that this Passion prediction, like the first one (Matt 16:21-26), is followed by a reference to the disciples future sufferings. Besides the various Passion predictions in the Gospels see also Matt 10:16-39; Mk 13:9-13 Lk 21:12-19; Jn 13:36-38.

The Son of Man shall be betrayed, &c. “For,” says Rabanus, “Judas betrayed the Lord to the Jews, and they delivered Him to the Gentiles, i.e., to Pilate and the Romans. To this end the Lord refused prosperity in this world, but chose rather to suffer affliction, that He might shew us who have fallen by delights through what bitterness we must needs return; whence it follows to be mocked and scourged and crucified(see next verse).  “The whole salvation of men,” says S. Chrysostom, “rests on the death of Christ; wherefore there is nothing for which we are more bound to render thanks to God than for His death. He imparted the mystery of His death to His Apostles in secret, because the more precious treasure is ever committed to the more worthy vessels.” And again, “when sorrow comes at a time we are looking for it, it is found lighter than it would have been had it come upon us suddenly.”

Mat 20:19  And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified: and the third day he shall rise again.

To be mocked and scourged and crucified. These were the three principal parts of the passion of Christ.

And the third day he shall rise again. This is the honey of the resurrection in which is hidden the gall of the passion. Whence S. Augustine (De Civ. l. 18) says “In His passion He shews us how we ought to suffer for the truth; in His resurrection we ought to hope in the Trinity, whence He says ‘and on the third day He shall rise again. ‘” And S. Chrysostom “This was said, that when they should see the sufferings, they should look for the resurrection.” And S. Augustine adds the reason “For one death, that namely of the Saviour according to the body, was to us a salvation from two deaths, both of soul and body; and this one resurrection gained for us two resurrections.”

Morally, Christ often repeats the mention of His passion, that He might commend His love to them, and they might love Him in return, and repay love for love, blood for blood, death for death. For the Cross of Christ is the furnace and fire of love. Wherefore S. Bernard (De Quad. Deb.) says “Thou owest to Jesus Christ thy whole life, because He laid down His life for thine, and endured bitter torments that thou mightest not endure eternal torments;” and in conclusion he says, “When therefore I have given Him all that I am, and all that I can, is it not like only a drop compared to a river, or a grain of sand to a heap?” And again he says (Tract. de dilig. Deo) “If I owe my whole self in return for my creation, what can I add now for my re-creation, and for my re-creation in such a manner? For it was more easy to create me than to re-create me. For He who created me at once and with a word only, in re-creating me spoke many words, and performed wonderful acts, and endured afflictions, and not only afflictions, but indignities: in His first work He gave me to myself, in His second He gave Himself to me; and when He gave Himself He restored me to myself. For my creation and for my re-creation I owe myself for myself, and that doubly. What shall I give to God for Himself? for even if I could repay myself 2 thousand times over, what am I compared with God?”

For the sake of Christ therefore we should not refuse to endure reproaches, crosses and flames; for to Him belongs our life and all that we are, for He Himself bought and redeemed us not with gold, but with the Divine price of His own blood.  S. Leo (Serm. 8, de Pass.) says, “Thy cross, 0 Christ, is the fountain of all blessings, by which is given to them that believe strength out of weakness, glory out of reproach, life out of death.”

Mat 20:20  Then came to him the mother of the sons of Zebedee with her sons, adoring and asking something of him.

Then came to Him the mother, &c. Then, when they had heard from Christ that His death was at hand, and after death His Resurrection, after which they expected the glorious kingdom of Christ; wherefore they lose no time in making a request that they may themselves obtain the chief place in it above the other Apostles.

The mother of the sons of Zebedee. By name Salome. See S. Mark 15:40., S. Matt 27:56.  S. Mark says that the petition came not from the mother but from the sons. The petition of the mother proceeded from the petition of the sons, so that the sons spoke by the mouth of their mother.

Asking something of him; saying, as S. Mark has it, we would that Thou shouldst do for us whatsoever we shall desire, for they feared that if they expressed their desire for the first place Christ would at once refuse it. They wish therefore to bind Christ by a general petition, which if He granted He would be unable to refuse the particular petition. This is the manner of women. In the same way Bathsheba introduced her petition to Solomon to give Abishag to Adonijah in marriage, 1 Kings 2:21, Solomon consented; but afterwards when she made her request known he refused, saying, Ask for him the kingdom.

Mat 20:21  Who said to her: What wilt thou? She saith to him: say that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left, in thy kingdom.

Who said to her, &c. Christ wisely refuses the general petition, and would have her express it particularly, lest she should be asking for something foolish and unworthy, which He foresaw she would do, in order that He might teach us to do like He did.

She saith to him, &c. S. Chrysostom says, “They wished, since they had heard that the disciples should sit upon twelve thrones, to obtain the primacy of that seat, and they knew that they would be preferred before the rest with the exception of Peter; but fearing that Peter was preferred before them, they dared to say, ‘Grant that one of us may sit on Thy right hand and the other on Thy left.'” We may learn from this how bold and blind and insatiable ambition is to which she incited these two Apostles, because they had seen that in the Transfiguration which was the beginning of Christ’s kingdom they were preferred by Christ to the other Apostles.

But the mother is to be excused because she makes her request of Christ, her kinsman according to the flesh, for her sons whom she loved, even more than herself. So S. Jerome says, “The mother asks this from womanly error, and affectionate piety, not knowing what she was asking.”

In the same way or manner S. Chrysostom excuses her sons. “Let not any one,” he says, “be disturbed at our saying that the Apostles were so imperfect, for the mystery of the Cross had not yet been consummated; the grace of the Spirit had not yet been infused into their hearts. Wherefore if you wish to learn what their virtues were, consider what they were after the Spirit had been given, and you will see that all restlessness of mind was removed from them. For this reason only their imperfection is made known that you may perceive clearly what they were suddenly made by grace.”

Mat 20:22  And Jesus answering, said: You know not what you ask. Can you drink the chalice that I shall drink? They say to him: We can.

You know not what you ask. Because ye know not, in the first place, of what sort My kingdom is—namely, a spiritual and heavenly one, not a carnal and an earthly one. Secondly, because ye are asking for the triumph before the victory; “for the kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” Thirdly, because you suppose that this kingdom is given by right of blood to those who seek it, whereas it is given only to those who deserve and strive. Let bishops and princes, then, follow this example of Christ, and make answer to their friends, their sons, and to importunate women, when they ask them for prebends, dignities, and appointments for which they are unfitted, “Ye know not what ye ask.” My prebends and appointments are not mine to give as I please, and because I so choose, to my relations and servants; I am a steward, not an owner; God will require an exact account of my stewardship. For great is the injury to Christ and His Church, and it is the cause of many evils, if appointments and benefices are given on account of relationship and friendship, to unworthy persons.

You know not what you ask. First, because ye think that My kingdom is an earthly one, and one of outward show, like that of David and Solomon; whereas it is spiritual and heavenly. So S. Chrysostom says: “He says this to show that they were seeking nothing spiritual.” Secondly, because they were asking for what had already been promised—namely, to sit with Christ, and with Him to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. So S. Hilary: “They know not what they ask, because there was no doubt about the glory of the Apostles, for His former discourse had made it clear to them that they should judge the world.” But among these thrones they seemed to have asked for the first, and the next to Christ, though they had not yet been specially promised by Christ to them. Thirdly, because they were asking for what exceeded the measure of their gifts and merits. Bede says: “They know not what they ask when they ask for a throne of glory which they had not yet merited.” For the first thrones in Heaven belong to those who are of greater—yea, of the greatest-merit. Fourthly, because they were asking at an unsuitable time, when the Passion of Christ was at hand. As S. Chrysostom says: “Ye speak of honour, but I speak of labours and toil; for this is no time for rewards, but rather for slaughter, battles, and perils.” Fifthly, because they were asking for what was contrary to their vocation; for they were called to follow Christ in His poverty and cross, not to strive after honours. Sixthly, because they ought to have sought for the labours of the cross, by which they might merit honours. Seventhly, because they asked to sit on the left hand as well as on the right. For those condemned in the judgment will stand on Christ’s left hand; which is, says S. Chrysostom, as it were to say, “I have called you to My right hand, and you wilfully are hastening from My right hand to My left.” But this is a mystical meaning; the most suitable meanings are the first, the third, and the sixth.

Can you drink, &c. Through the Cross and Passion the way lies for Me to My kingdom, therefore the same way might be trodden by you if you desire it.  S. Bernard says, that “Christ like a good and wise physician first drank the draught Himself which He was preparing for His own, i.e., He underwent His Passion and Death, and so He became immortal and impassible; thus teaching His own how they might confidently drink the draught which produces soundness and life.”  S. Chrysostom and Theophylact say that Christ called His Passion a cup, because He so willingly endured, and, as it were, drained it, as a thirsty man would a cup of wine. In Scripture, and among profane writers, the cup signifies the lot, whether good or evil, which God appoints, and as it were administers to each man.

S. Cyprian, understanding martyrdom by the cup, says, “A fiercer conflict is now at hand (for God had revealed to him that the Valerian persecution was coming), for which the soldiers of Christ ought to prepare themselves with firm courage, considering that for that very reason they daily drink the cup of the blood of Christ, so that they may also themselves be able to shed their blood for the sake of Christ.” For at that time they used to communicate daily, and that under both kinds, bread and wine.  S. Chrysostom remarks how “Christ encourages and draws them on by the way in which He puts the question. For He did not say, can ye shed your blood, but can ye drink the cup? Then, drawing them on, He says, which I shall drink of, so that by sharing with Him in His labours they may be rendered more ready to undergo the same.”

Christ also calls His Passion a baptism, because in it He was wholly immersed and plunged, i.e., He died.

They say to him: we can. John and James seem to have understood the meaning of the cup; and yet as they had shown their ambition in asking for the primacy, so they rashly answer, that they can drink the cup, whereas, in truth, they could not yet do so; but afterwards they were able, through the grace of Christ given by the Holy Ghost on the Day of Pentecost.

Mat 20:23  He saith to them: My chalice indeed you shall drink; but to sit on my right or left hand is not mine to give to you, but to them for whom it is prepared by my Father.

He saith to them, &c. Christ here foretells the martyrdom of James and John. For S. James, preaching Christ more fervently than the other Apostles, first suffered martyrdom for Him, being slain by Herod with the sword.  S. John also drank of this cup when he was plunged by Domitian, at Rome, before the Latin Gate, into a cauldron of boiling oil, and came forth renewed in strength; so that by a new miracle he was a martyr by living rather by dying.

Again, not only Prochorus, S. John’s disciple, in his Life of S. John (the truth of which is rightly suspected by Baronius), but also S. Isidore declares that S. John really drank the cup of poison, but that he also drank it without harm; whence also he is generally represented in pictures holding a cup. And, lastly, we may say that the whole life of S. John was a continual martyrdom, for he lived a very long time after all the Apostles, to the year of our Lord 101; and this long absence from Christ, his beloved—after Whom he was continually longing—was a lengthened martyrdom to him, as it was also to the Blessed Virgin, to whom he had been given as a son by Christ on the Cross.

Again, S. John underwent a special martyrdom while he stood with the Blessed Virgin by the Cross on Mount Calvary, and beheld Christ—his Life, Whom he loved more than his own life—suffering the bitter pains of the Cross for three hours.

But to sit on my right or my left hand is not mine to give, &c. The Arians thought that it is here said that it was not in the power of Christ to give this, but of the Father, and consequently, that Christ was not equal (Greek, όμοούσιος) to the Father; but they are in error. For Christ is here putting an antithesis, not between Himself and the Father, but between James and John (who were ambitiously seeking the first place in His kingdom) and those to whom it of right belonged. The point of the argument lies in the word you, which is read in the Vulgate, though not in the Greek and other versions. Whence Remigius says: “It is not Mine to give to you—i.e., to proud men, such as you are, but to the humble.” Again: It is not Mine to give to you as My kinsmen according to the flesh; for it is given not to the person, but to the life (as S. Jerome says), not from favour, but according to merit.

Mark, that Christ does not grant what these two ask for, that the rest of the Apostles may not be provoked through being excluded; nor does He refuse it, so as to make these two sad. So S. Jerome. “He said not, ‘Ye shall not sit there,’ that He might not discourage the two brethren; neither did He say, ‘Ye shall sit there,’ that He might not stir the others to anger;” but by holding up the prize before all, He might encourage all to strive for Him. So a just king, presiding over a contest instituted by him, if his kinsmen and friends should come to him and say, “Give us the prize,” justly makes answer—” It is not mine to give the prize to you, but to those for whom it is prepared and decreed, namely, to those who strive in the contest and gain the mastery.”

Again it is clear from S. Luke 22:29-30, that this kingdom is Christ’s to bestow. I appoint unto you a kingdom as My Father hath appointed unto Me, that ye may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the Twelve tribes of Israel. Christ, however, says here that it belongs rather to the Father, both because as man He was always subject to the Father, and also that by giving them a proper reason He might send them away from Himself and refer them to the Father, so that they might humble themselves before Him; and be prevented by shame from asking for it; and also lastly because as wisdom and works of wisdom are proper to the Son and works of goodness to the Holy Spirit, so works of power and providence, to which it belongs to predestinate men to the kingdom, are proper to the Father.

But to them for whom it is prepared by My Father. The interpretation of Euthymius is narrow, who explains those as being Peter and Paul. Narrower still is the interpretation of Hilary who says that Moses and Elias are meant; for he thinks that the Transfiguration is alluded to in which Moses and Elias saw the glory of Christ in His kingdom and shared in it. Narrowest of all is the interpretation of S. Chrysostom, who says that the place on the right hand and on the left will be given to none; because no one, he says, can be exalted to the right hand of Christ, since He alone sits at the right hand of the Father. But these interpretations are too narrow, for Christ speaks generally of all the elect. Wherefore the highest places in the kingdom of Heaven are prepared by God for those who after striving most earnestly gain the victory. Wherefore by the right and left hand are to be understood pre-eminence in the kingdom, which will be granted to those who are first in humility, charity, patience, and zeal in preaching the Gospel. The Abbot Athanasius, we read, was caught up into Heaven and heard the choirs of the blessed singing the praises of God, and when he would join their company he heard a voice which said to him “no one enters here who has lived carelessly, go thy way, strive diligently, and despise the vanities of the world.” It is also related of the holy Furseus (Bede, Hist. Ang. lib. 3, cap. 19) that he was caught up to Heaven and heard the angels and saints singing: “They shall go from strength to strength: unto the God of gods shall they appear in Sion.” Let us advance therefore from strength to strength, and we shall ascend from glory to glory, from angels to Cherubim and Seraphim, from the lowest to the highest throne in Heaven.

Mat 20:24  And the ten, hearing it, were moved with indignation against the two brethren.

And the ten, hearing it, &c. You will ask how it was that the other Apostles heard the request of the two brethren. The most probable opinion is that of Francis Lucas, who says that Salome and her sons spoke privately with Christ, but that He answered so that the rest should hear what He said and understand from His answer what the two had asked for. For He knew that they were all suffering from the same disease of ambition, and He wished to heal them all. Also since they were infected with the same desire, they detected the desire of the others: for every one measures others by himself, and imagines that they have the same desires and ambition as himself.

The ten were not so much displeased at the ambition of James and John as troubled with the fear that they would be placed after them; for they too desired the first place; so dogs, though at other times friendly, are angry and snarl at each other when they are gnawing the same bone.

Ambition indeed begets envy, and envy begets anger in him who desires the same honour lest it be taken from him by another.  S. Basil, in his homily against envy, mentions an effectual remedy against this vice, “not to set a high value on anything belonging to this world, such as wealth or glory; for he who has succeeded in subjecting all worldly things to his reason, and has devoted himself to the pursuit of the true beauty and honour, will be very far from esteeming any one happy, or to be envied on account of any worldly advantages; and he who is of such a spirit as never to admire anything belonging to this life will never be under the dominion of envy.”

Mat 20:25  But Jesus called them to him and said: You know that the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them; and that they that are the greater, exercise power upon them.

You know that the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them, &c. Christ here does not find fault with the civil or ecclesiastical power which is exercised by princes and bishops, as the Anabaptists maintain; for this is needful in every commonwealth for good government. A tyrant does not care for the interests of those under him, but consults only his own advantage and honour. Whereas true princes seek the good of their subjects, and are the servants rather than the lords of the commonwealth, as Aristotle says.

And they that are greater, &c. That is, they rule imperiously, and exercise an irresponsible power over those subject to them.

Mat 20:26  It shall not be so among you: but whosoever is the greater among you, let him be your minister.
Mat 20:27  And he that will be first among you shall be your servant.

It shall not be so among you, &c. The Vulgate reads in verse 27, will be your servant, and with it agree the Syriac, Egyptian, and Æthiopic versions. In these words Christ teaches not so much the way and means by which a man may obtain the primacy in the Church as how one who is a primate ought to behave himself in the Church, namely as the least of all; and by setting before them this rule of humility He deters the Apostles from ambitiously seeking the chief place. It is plain that this is the meaning because this verse is in antithesis with the preceding: for He contrasts His own gentle, benignant and wholesome rule with the imperious and tyrannical authority that is exercised over the Gentiles.  S. Gregory (Pastor. part 2, c. 6), teaches how a prelate ought to unite authority with gentleness, and act with authority against the refractory and with gentleness towards the obedient, “Let a ruler,” he says, “be a companion in humility to those who do well, but let him be firmly opposed with a righteous zeal against the faults of delinquents.”

At the same time Christ shows in these words by what way we ought to advance towards the highest place in Heaven, namely, by the way of humility. And for this reason the Pope prefers this title, Servant of the servants of Christ. This is what S. Peter, the Vicar of Christ taught the pastors of the Church, “Feed the flock of God, which is among you, &c. (1 Epist. v. 2.)

Likewise on account of this saying of Christ, S. Francis wished the prelates of his Order to be called ministers and brothers minor (minorite friars), both that he might employ the very words of the Gospel, which he had promised to observe, and that his disciples might learn by their very name that they had come to the school of Christ to learn humility. For Christ, the Teacher of humility, that He might give His disciples a perfect rule of humility said, “Whosoever will be chief among you let him be your minister, &c.”

Even as the Son of Man, &c. S. Francis Xavier furnished a rare example of this humility of Christ, and recalled it to this age when it had, as it were, gone out of fashion. For when he was appointed by the Pope Apostolic Legate of India, he would have no servant, although the Viceroy of the King of Portugal offered him several, and urged him to accept them; but he ministered to all, both in bodily and spiritual services. He used himself to hear the confessions of the sick, and comfort the sorrowful; he used to administer medicines to the sick, and cleanse their bodies and wash their bandages, and catechise the ignorant and children; and besides he used to attend to and feed the horses of his companions. and when some one said that these things were unworthy of an Apostolic Legate, he answered that there was nothing more worthy than Christian charity and humility which became all things to all men that it may gain all: which Christ through His whole life continually enjoined by word and deed. So that by this conduct he did not lose, but increased his authority. Moreover Christ himself while on earth had not even one servant, but made himself the servant of all.  S Chrysostom (Hom. 40, the Epis. to the Cors.) says, “Listen to Paul; these hands, he says, have ministered to my necessities and to them that were with me. That teacher of the world, and man worthy of heaven, scrupled not to serve innumerable mortals; while you think it a disgrace unless you have your herds of servants in your train: not seeing that this is a great disgrace to you. God gave us hands and feet that we might do without servants. What is the use of crowds of servants?”

Mat 20:28  Even as the Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give his life a redemption for many.

A redemption for many. Not as if Christ died only for the predestinated, as the heretics formerly called Predestinarians, and Calvin, in recent times, maintained: for that Christ suffered and died for all men S. Paul clearly teaches (2 Cor 5:14. and  S. John 1 Jn2:2). The words for most are put for all, Euthymius says, because these all were not few but many. So many is taken for all in this chapter (Matt 20:16), and Matt 26:28, and Rom 5:19, and elsewhere. Or for many; because although Christ died for all, and obtained for all and bestowed upon all means sufficient for salvation, yet the fruit of His death, and salvation in its completeness falls to the share of the just only and those who persevere until death in righteousness. So S. Jerome, Maldonatus and others

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