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

Cornelius a Lapide Commentary on Matthew 5:17-19

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 30, 2011

Mat 5:17  Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

Do not think that I am come to destroy (Gr. καταλϋσαι, to dissolve, abolish) the law, or the prophets. Christ’s special meaning in this place is that He came to fulfil the moral precepts of the Law by teaching and expounding them more perfectly, and by substituting the sanction of eternal for temporal rewards and punishments, and by adding to things of precept evangelical counsels of perfection, as will be plain from what follows. It is also meant that Christ supplied the imperfection of the Law of Moses by justifying us through faith and the sacraments of the New Law, which He instituted, which the Law of Moses could not do.

Mat 5:18  For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled.

For amen I say, &c. Amen—i.e., “in truth;” whence Aquila translates the Hebrew amen by πεπιστομενως—i.e., faithfully, truly, certainly. As S. Jerome says (Epist. ad Sophron.), “Amen is the word not of one who swears, but of one who affirms something he is about to say, or confirms something which he has said. In the former case it is prefixed, in the latter it is affixed, as it were a seal.” This may be seen from Deut 27:26, &c., and 1 Cor 14:16. Wherefore the LXX translate the word by γενοιτο, may it be done. In this place Amen has the meaning of affirming and gravely asserting.

Moreover, Christ Himself is called Amen, Rev 3:14: “Thus saith the Amen, the Faithful Witness.”

Til heaven and earth pass. Not by nature and the perishing of nature, but by the mutation of its condition—that is, until heaven be changed from this state of corruption to a new and glorious state at the Resurrection. In other words, before the end of the world, when heaven and earth shall pass away, i.e., shall be renewed, it is necessary that all things which are written of Me in the Law be fulfilled. Or, rather, until heaven pass away means until it wholly perish. The sentence is a hypothetical one, and means, sooner may heaven be destroyed, sooner the earth be riven in twain, sooner the universe come to an end, than the minutest point of the Law not be fulfilled, either in this life or in the life to come. So long, therefore, as heaven and earth shall stand, so long the whole Law shall stand. Heaven and earth shall endure for ever, much more shall the whole Law endure eternally, according to these words of Christ, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Whence the Greek is in the past tense, έως άν παρέλθη, meaning, the whole frame of the universe shall perish sooner than the Law of God.

Hear S. Irenæus. “Now, of the name Ίησοϋς, Jesus, the letters iota and eta, i and e, make up the number 18. These, say the Valentinians, are the eighteen Æons; and this is why the Saviour said, one jot or one tittle, &c.”

A similar phrase is used in a similar sense (Ps 72:7): “In his days justice shall arise, and abundance of peace until the moon be taken away;” also Ps 89:37, meaning, “The sun and moon shall endure for ever, much more shall the throne of Christ remain eternally.”

One jot. Christ, speaking to Hebrews, said, one yod, as the Syriac has. For the Greek translator substituted the equivalent, iota. Yod in Hebrew, like iota in Greek and i in Latin, is the smallest letter in the alphabet. From the letter yod, although the least, Valentinus, as S. Irenæus testifies, constructed the greatest heresy—viz., that of his Æons, in truth portents of names, rather than names of real existences.

Or one tittle (Vulg. apex) of the law. He calls the apices of the law, not the Hebrew points and accents, which were not invented by the Rabbin until long after the time of Christ, but the tops or little extremities of the letters in which the Law was written.

Till all be fulfilled. All things, that is, which have been spoken concerning Me and My acts, My Church and Sacraments in the Law and the Prophets.  Again, all things mean all which have been commanded, or promised, or threatened.

Mat 5:19  He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But he that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

He therefore that shall break, &c. Of these least commandments—viz., which the Law just spoken of commands, or in respect of which I am about to explain and perfect the Law. This is why He subjoins, I say unto you that unless your righteousness, &c (verse 20). It does not mean, then, that all the commandments of the Law are very small; but that he should be condemned who should break one of even its smallest precepts, or, like the Pharisees, pervert them by a false interpretation, as by teaching, for example, that only outward adultery, not inward concupiscence, was forbidden by the Law. We must observe in this place that commandment is to be taken strictly for a weighty precept binding under the penalty of mortal sin, like the Ten Commandments. For he who shall break one such commandment, although the least in the Decalogue, shall surely be condemned. For it is entirely probable that certain trifling things in the Old Law, although they were commanded by God Himself, bind only under venial sin and temporal punishment. Such, I mean, as taking a bird together with her young ones in the nest, seething a kid in its mother’s milk, &c. Not such as these are here called least commandments, but those which are least amongst the great commandments, such as to look upon a woman to lust after her, which the Pharisees considered a very small thing, and scarcely a sin at all.

Shall be called the least. Shall be accounted the least; shall be looked upon as vile; shall be had in contempt by God and the holy angels, as the last of men, and altogether unworthy to be admitted into the kingdom of heaven, but to be damned and cast into hell. Wherefore S. Chrysostom and Theophylact interpret least to mean not at all, because in heaven there are none who are not great, as S. Augustine says, “all kings of heaven, sons of God.”

In the kingdom of heaven. Strictly so called, say S. Chrysostom and Theophylact. But S. Augustine and others interpret the kingdom of heaven here to mean the Church.

But he that shall do and teach, &c. Great, viz., a doctor, father, and prince of the disciples whom he has taught. And all the commandments of the Law are reckoned as having been done, when whatsoever has not been done is pardoned by God, says S. Augustine. For a fault is corrected and compensated for by penitence. As S. Bernard says (Tr. de dispensat. et præcept.), “A part of rule is regular correction.” When, therefore, the guilty one undergoes this, he fulfils the rule.

Moraliter. Learn from hence the right way and method of teaching, that a doctor should first do what he is about to teach. Christ, says S. Luke, began to do and to teach. He was first Himself poor, humble, meek, a mourner, and then He taught, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Let a doctor therefore examine his conscience before God before he teach, whether he be poor in spirit, meek, and soon; let him see whether he cleave to the world or to Christ, for that he may be Christ’s he ought to break his pledge of friendship with the world, and be able to say with S. Paul, “If I yet pleased men I should not be the servant of Christ.”

5 Responses to “Cornelius a Lapide Commentary on Matthew 5:17-19”

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