Ver 15. “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.16. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.17. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church: but if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a Publican.”
Chrys., Hom., lx: Having above given a severe sentence against those who were the cause of offence, making them to fear on all sides; so now that they to whom the offence is offered should not fall into the opposite fault of supineness and indifference, seeking to spare themselves in all things, and so be puffed up; the Lord here checks such a tendency, commanding that they be reproved, saying, “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go, tell him his fault between thee and him alone.”
Aug., Serm., 82, 1: Our Lord admonishes us not to overlook one another’s faults, yet not so as seeking for matter of blame, but watching what you may amend. For our rebuke should be in love, not eager to wound, but anxious to amend. If you pass it by, you are become worse than he. He by doing you a wrong hath done himself a great hurt; you slight your brother’s wound, and are more to blame for your silence than he for his ill words to you.
Aug., City of God, book i, ch. 9: For often we wrongly shun to teach and admonish, or to rebuke and check the wicked, either because the task is irksome, or because we would escape their enmity, lest they should harm or obstruct us in temporal things, whether in gaining objects we desire, or in holding what our frailty fears to love. But if any one spares reproof of evil doers, because he seeks fitter occasion, or fears to make them worse, or that they may be an impediment to the good and pious living of other weak ones, or may grieve them, or turn them from the faith; herein there is seen no considerations of covetousness, but the prudence of charity. And much weightier reason have they who are set over the churches, to the end they should not spare to rebuke sin; though not even he is free from this blame, who, though not in authority, wots of many things in them to whom he is bound by the ties of this life, which should be touched by admonition or correction, but neglects to do so; shunning their displeasure on account of things which he does not unduly use in this life, but wherewith he is unduly delighted.
Chrys.: It is to be noted, that onewhile the Lord brings the offender to him whom he has offended; as when He says, “If thou remember that thy brother has ought against thee, go, be reconciled to thy brother:” [Mat_5:23] otherwhiles He bids him that has suffered the wrong to forgive his neighbour; as where he says, “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” [Mat_6:12]
Here He has devised yet another method, for He brings him who has been grieved to him that grieved him, and therefore says, “If thy brother sin against thee;” for because he that did the wrong would not readily come to make amends, because of his shame, He draws to him, him that has suffered the wrong; and not only draws him there, but with the very purpose of correcting what was done amiss; whence He says, “Go and tell him his fault.”
Raban.: He does not command us to forgive indiscriminately, but him only that will hearken and be obedient, and do penitence; that neither should forgiveness be unattainable, nor sufferance be too far relaxed.
Chrys.: And He says not, Accuse him, nor, Chide with him, nor, Demand redress,– but, “Tell him of his fault;” that is, remind him of his sin, tell him what things you have suffered from him. For he is held down by anger or by shame, stupefied as one in a deep slumber. Wherefore it behoves you who are in your right senses to go to him who is in a disease.
Jerome: If then your brother have sinned against you, or hurt you in any matter, you have power, indeed must needs forgive him, for we are charged to forgive our debtors their debts. But if a man sin against God, it is no longer in our decision. But we do all the contrary of this; where God is wronged we are merciful, where the affront is to ourselves we prosecute the quarrel.
Chrys.: We are to tell his fault to the man himself who did it, and not to another, because the party takes it with the more patience from him, and above all when they are together alone. For when he who had a right to demand reparation, shews rather a carefulness to heal the sore, this has great power to propitiate.
Aug., Serm., 82, 8: When any one therefore offends against us, let us be very careful, not for ourselves, for it is glorious to forget an injury; forget therefore your own wrong, but not the wound your brother has sustained; and tell him of his fault between him and you alone, seeking his amendment and sparing his shame. For it may be that out of shame he will seek to defend his fault, and thus you will only harden, while you sought to do him good.
Jerome: Thy brother is to be reproved in private, lest if once he has lost a sense of shame, he should continue in sin.
Aug.: But the Apostle says, “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others may fear to do the like.” [1Ti_5:20] Sometimes therefore your brother is to be spoken to between thee and him alone, sometimes to be rebuked before all. What you must do first, attend and learn; “If thy brother,” says He, “sin against thee, tell him of his fault between thee and him alone.” Why? Because he has sinned against you? What is it that he has sinned against you? You know that he has sinned, and therefore since his sin was in private, let your rebuke be in private too. For if you alone know of his trespass, and proceed to rebuke him before all, you do not correct but betray him. Your brother has sinned against you; if you alone know thereof, then he has sinned against you only; but if he did you a wrong in the presence of many, then he has sinned against those also who were witnesses of his fault.
Those faults then are to be rebuked before all, that are committed before all; those which are done in private, are to be rebuked in private. Discern times, and the Scriptures are consistent.
But why do you correct your neighbour? Because his trespass has hurt yourself? Far be it from thee. If you do it from self-love, you do nought; if you do it from love of him, you do most rightly. Lastly, in what you shall say to him, keep in view for whose sake it is that you ought to do it, for your own or for his, for it follows, “If he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother;” do it therefore for his sake, that you may gain him.
And do you confess that by your sin against man you were lost; for if you were not lost, how has he gained you? Let none then make light of it when he sins against his brother.
Chrys.: In this it is made plain that enmities are a loss to both sides; for he said not, he has gained himself, but, you have gained him; which shews that both of you had suffered loss by your disagreement.
Jerome: For in saving another, salvation is gained for ourselves also.
Chrys.: What you should do if he does not yield is added, “If he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two.” For the more shameless and stubborn he shews himself, the more studious should we be of applying the medicine, and not turn to wrath and hate. As the physician, if he see that the disease does not abate, he does not slack, but redoubles his efforts to heal.
And observe how this reproof is not for revenge, but for correction, seeing his command is not to take two with him at first, but when he would not amend; and even then he does not send a multitude to him, but one or two, alleging the law, “That in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand.” [Deu_19:15] This is that you may have witnesses that you have done all your part.
Jerome: Or it is to be understood in this way; If he will not hear thee, take with thee one brother only; if he yet will not hear, take a third, either from your zeal for his amendment, that shame or admonition may move him; or for the purpose of meeting before witnesses.
Gloss., ap. Anselm: Or, that if he affirm that it is no trespass, that they may prove to him that it is a trespass.
Jerome: If yet he will not hear them, then it must be told to many, that he may be held in abhorrence; so that he who could not be saved by his own sense of shame, may be saved by public disgrace; whence it follows, “If he will not hear them, tell it to the Church.”
Chrys.: That is, to those that are over the Church.
Gloss., ap. Anselm: Or, tell it to the whole Chinch, that his infamy may be the greater. After all these things follows excommunication, which ought to be inflicted by the mouth of the Church, that is, by the Priest, and when he excommunicates, the whole Church works with him; as it follows, “And if he will not hear the Church, let him be unto thee as an heathen, and a publican.”
Aug., Serm., 82, 7: That is, regard him no longer in the number of thy brethren. Though even thus we are not to neglect his salvation; for the heathens themselves, that is, the gentiles and pagans, we do not indeed regard in the number of our brethren, yet we ever seek their salvation.
Chrys.: Yet the Lord enjoins nothing of this sort to be observed towards those who are without the Church, such as He does in reproving a brother. Of those that are without He says, “If any smite thee on the one cheek, offer to him the other also.” [Mat_5:39] as Paul speaks, “What have I to do to judge them that are without?” [1Co_5:12] But brethren he bids us reprove, and turn away from.
Jerome: That He says, “As a heathen and a publican,” shews that he is to be more abhorred, who under the name of a believer does the deeds of an unbeliever, than those that are openly gentiles. Those He calls publicans, who pursue worldly gain, and levy contributions by trading, cheating, and villainous frauds, and perjuries.
Origen: Let us look well whether this precept extends to all sin; for what if any one sin any or those sins which are unto death, such as unnatural crimes, adultery, homicide, or effeminacy, it cannot be meant that such as these are to be admonished privately, and if he hear you, forthwith to say that you have gained him. And not rather first put him out of the Church, or only when remaining obstinate after monition before witnesses, and by the Church? One man, looking at the infinite mercy of Christ, will say, that since the words of Christ make no distinction of sins, it is to go against Christ’s mercy to limit His words only to little sins. Another, on the other hand, considering the words carefully, will aver, that they are not spoken of every sin; for that he that is guilty of those great sins is not a brother, but is called a brother, with whom, according to the Apostle, we ought not so much as to eat. But as they who expound this as referring to every sin give encouragement to the careless to sin; so, on the other hand, he, who teaches that one having sinned in little sins and such as are not deadly, is, when he has spurned the admonition of the witnesses and the Church, to be held as a heathen and a publican, seems to introduce too great severity.
For whether he finally perishes, we are not able to decide. First, because he who has been thrice told of his fault and not hearkened, may hearken the fourth time; secondly, because sometimes a man does not receive according to his deeds, but beyond his trespass, which is good for him in this world; lastly, because He said not alone, “Let him be as a heathen,” but “Let him be to thee.” Whosoever then when reproved three times in a light trespass, does not amend, him we ought to hold for a heathen and a publican, avoiding him, that he may be brought to confusion. But whether he is esteemed of God also as a heathen and a publican, is not ours to decide, but is in the judgment of God.
Ver 18. “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.19. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.20. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Jerome: Because He had said, “If he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as a heathen, and a publican,” whereupon the brother so contemned might answer, or think within himself, If you despise me, I also will despise you; if you condemn me, you shall be condemned by my sentence. He therefore confers powers upon the Apostles, that they may be assured that when any are condemned after this manner, the sentence of man is ratified by the sentence of God. “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose upon the earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Origen: He said not in the heavens (in caelis), as when He spoke to Peter, but in heaven (in coelo), for they are not yet attained to the like perfection with Peter.
Hilary: To hold out a great and terrible fear, by which all men should be reached in this present life, He pronounces that the judgment of the Apostles should be ratified, so that whosoever they bound on earth, i.e. left entangled in the noose of sin, and whosoever they loosed, i.e. accorded the pardon of God’s mercy to their salvation, that these should be bound and loosed in heaven.”
Chrys.: And be it noted, that He said not to the Primate of the Church, Bind such a man; but, If ye shall bind him, the bonds shall be indissoluble; leaving the other to his discretion.
And see how He has set the incorrigible person under the yoke of a twofold necessity; to wit, the punishment that is here, namely, the casting forth out of the Church, when He said, “Let him be to thee as a heathen;” and the future punishment, saying, that he shall be bound in heaven; thus by the weight of his penalties lessening his brother’s wrath against him.
Augustine: Otherwise; When you begin to hold your brother as a publican you bind him on earth, but take heed that you bind him with just cause; for an unjust cause breaks rightful bonds. But when you have corrected him, and agreed with him, you have loosed him upon earth, and when you have loosed him upon earth, he shall be loosed also in heaven. You confer a great boon not on yourself, but on him, as he had done the hurt not to you but to himself.
Gloss., ap. Anselm: But He holds out a ratification not only of sentences of excommunication, but of every petition which is offered by men holding together in the unity of the Church; for He adds, “Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree upon earth,” whether in admitting a penitent, or casting out a froward person, “touching any thing which they shall ask,” any thing, that is, that is not against the unity of the Church, “it shall be done for them by my Father which is in heaven.” By saying, “which is in heaven,” He points Him out as above all, and therefore able to fulfil all that shall be asked of Him. Or, He is in the heavens, that is, with saints, proof enough that whatever worthy thing they shall ask shall be done unto them, because they have with them Him of whom they ask. For this cause is the sentence of those that agree together ratified, because God dwells in them, “For where two or more are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Chrys.: Or, because He had said, It shall be done unto them by My Father; therefore, to shew that He is the Giver together with His Father, He adds this, “where two or three, &c.”
Origen: And He said not, “I will be,” but “I am in the midst of them;” because straightway, as soon as they have agreed together, Christ is found among them.
Hilary: For He who is peace and charity, will set His place and habitation in good and peaceable dispositions.
Jerome: Or otherwise; All His foregoing discourse had invited us to union; now to make us embrace peace more anxiously, He holds out a reward, promising to be in the midst of two or three.
Chrys.: Yet He said not barely, “Where they are gathered together,” but added, “in my name,” as much as to say, If any man look upon Me as the chief motive of his love to his neighbour, I will be with him, though his virtue be shewn towards other men.
How is it then that those who thus agree together do not obtain what they ask for? First, because they ask things not expedient, and because they do not bring on their parts that which they ought to contribute; wherefore He says, “If two of you,” that is, who shew an evangelic conversation. Thirdly, because they pray seeking vengeance against those who have grieved them. And fourthly, because they seek mercy for sinners who have not repented.
Origen: And this also is the reason why our prayers are not granted, because we do not agree together in all things upon earth, neither in doctrine, nor in conversation. For as in music, unless the voices are in time there is no pleasure to the hearer, so in the Church, unless they are united God is not pleased therein, nor does He hear their words.
Jerome, vid. Origen in loc.: We may also understand this spiritually; where our spirit, soul, and body are in agreement, and have not within them conflicting wills, they shall obtain from My Father every thing they shall ask; for none can doubt that that demand is good, where the body wills the same thing as the spirit.
Origen: Or, In whatever the two testaments are in agreement, for this every prayer is found acceptable to God.