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

Father Callan’s Commentary on Matthew 25:1-13

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 28, 2012

I’ve included in this post some  quotations from the Fathers of the Church, the Catechism, etc. These are in red text.

1. Then shall the kingdom of heaven be like to ten virgins, who taking their lamps went out to meet the bridegroom and the bride.

This Parable of the Ten Virgins (verses 1-13) is peculiar to St. Matthew.

Then; i.e., in the Day of Judgment, at the second coming of Christ.

The kingdom of heaven means the Church militant; the ten virgins represent all the faithful. The number “ten” is not accidental, because it took just so many to make a company among the Jews. The virginity here attributed to them means purity of faith, absence of spiritual fornication through corruption of doctrine.

Taking their lamps. Marriages, in the East, were, and are still, always celebrated at night.

Went out to meet the bridegroom. The bridal procession among the Jews was as follows: the bridegroom, accompanied by his friends, went to the home of the bride to lead her, with joy and gladness ( 1 Macc 9:37-39) , to his own house; or, if that was too small, to some apartment large enough to accommodate the wedding party. The bride was accompanied from her father’s house by her youthful friends and companions (Ps 45:15), and others, here called “virgins,” joined the procession along the way, to enter with the rest of the company the hall of feasting (Cant 3:4). Bridegroom means Christ, who will come at the end of the world to take the Church, His Bride, to Himself (Trench).

And the bride. These words are not found in the best MSS. and should be omitted here.

2. And five of them were foolish, and five wise.

Five foolish . . . five wise. All were virgins, because all had the true faith, but the difference between them was that the faith of the foolish virgins, being without good works, was dead.

Origen: They that believe rightly, and live righteously, are likened to the five wise; they that profess the faith of Jesus, but prepare themselves not by good works to salvation, are likened to the five foolish.~Quoted in Aquinas’ Catena Aurea.

Lumen Gentium 14:  They are fully incorporated in the society of the Church who, possessing the Spirit of Christ accept her entire system and all the means of salvation given to her, and are united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. The bonds which bind men to the Church in a visible way are profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical government and communion. He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a “bodily” manner and not “in his heart.”(Cfr. S. Augustinus, Bapt. c. Donat. V, 28, 39; PL 43, 197: Certe manifestum est, id quod dicitur, in Ecdesia intus et foris, in corde, non in corpore cogitandum. Cfr. ib., III, 19, 26: col. 152; V, 18, 24: col. 189; In Io. Tr. 61, 2: PL 35, 1800, et alibi saepe.) All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.(Cfr. Lc. LC 12,48): Omni autem, cui multum datum est, multum quaeretur ab eo. Cfr. etiam (MT 5,19-20 MT 7,21-22 MT 25 41-46 Jc 2,14)

3. But the five foolish, having taken their lamps, did not take oil with them:
4. But the wise took oil in their vessels with the lamps.

Lamps . . . oil. The lamps represent faith; oil, good works.

St Augustine: Or, “The lamps” which they carry in their hands are their works, of which it was said above, “Let your works shine before men.” [Matt 5:16]~Quoted in Aquinas’ Catena Aurea.

Cornelius a Lapide: Thus their lamps are dying out, yea, as the Syriac hath it, they have been extinguished; according to the words of S. James, “Faith without works is dead.” The lamp, therefore, is the faithful mind, or faith itself. The oil is good works, without which faith is dead, and, as it were, extinct; but with them, alive and burning. The light, or flame of the lamps, is charity. For this is fed by zeal for good works, just as the flame of a lamp is fed with oil. The vessel is conscience, or the believing soul. And this is the reason why we place a lighted candle in the hands of dying persons, denoting, or at least praying, that they may have faith with works, that like brides with burning lamps, they may worthily meet Christ the Lord, as it were their Bridegroom.~From the Great Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide.

5. And the bridegroom tarrying, they all slumbered and slept.

The bridegroom tarrying represents the delay in Christ’s second coming. Our Lord never gave any hint as to the exact time when He should come. We know neither the day of our own death, nor that of the end of the world. Hence it behooves us ever to watch.

Slumbered; i.e., ceased to look for His coming; not that all had sinned, or were unprepared.

Pope St Gregory the Great: To sleep is to die, to slumber before sleep is to faint from salvation before death, because, by the burden of sickness we come to the sleep of death.~Quoted in Aquinas’ Catena Aurea.

6. And at midnight there was a cry made: Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet him.

At midnight means at the most unexpected time (Luke 12:40; 1 Thess 5:2).

A cry refers to the voice of the last trumpet (1 Thess 4:15). Actually, the verse in 1 Thess speaks of a cry of command, the voice of an archangel, and a trumpet.

St Jerome: Suddenly thus, as on a stormy night, and when all think themselves secure, at the hour when sleep is the deepest, the coming of Christ shall be proclaimed by the shout of Angels, and the trumpets of the Powers that go before Him. This is meant when it says, “Lo, the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him.”~Quoted in Aquinas’ Catena Aurea.

7. Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.
8. And the foolish said to the wise: Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out.

Give us of your oil, — words which signify the miserable plight of those who, at the last, shall find themselves in the presence of the Judge without good works, with no fruits of faith.

St Gregory Nanzianzus: But then what advocate shall we have? What pretext? What false excuse? What plausible artifice? What device contrary to the truth will impose upon the court, and rob it of its right judgment, which places in the balance for us all, our entire life, action, word, and thought, and weighs against the evil that which is better, until that which preponderates wins the day, and the decision is given in favour of the main tendency; after which there is no appeal, no higher court, no defence on the ground of subsequent conduct, no oil obtained from the wise virgins, or from them that sell, for the lamps going out,51 no repentance of the rich man wasting away in the flame,52 and begging for repentance for his friends, no statute of limitations; but only that final and fearful judgment-seat, more just even than fearful; or rather more fearful because it is also just; when the thrones are set and the Ancient of days takes His seat,53 and the books are opened, and the fiery stream comes forth, and the light before Him, and the darkness prepared; and they that have done good shall go into the resurrection of life,54 now hid in Christ55 and to be manifested hereafter with Him, and they that have done evil, into the resurrection of judgment,56 to which they who have not believed have been condemned already by the word which judges them.57 Some will be welcomed by the unspeakable light and the vision of the holy and royal Trinity, Which now shines upon them with greater brilliancy and purity and unites Itself wholly to the whole soul, in which solely and beyond all else I take it that the kingdom of heaven consists. The others among other torments, but above and before them all must endure the being outcast from God, and the shame of conscience which has no limit. But of these anon.Taken from his Sixteenth Oration. (Notes: 51-Mt 25,8; 52-Luk. 16,24; 53-Dan 7,9; 54-Jn 5,29; 55-Col 3,3; 56-Jn 5,29; 57-Jn 3,18; 12,48).

9. The wise answered, saying: Lest perhaps there be not enough for us and for you, go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.

This answer of the wise virgins does not imply a lack of charity; they only wished to express their inability to supply what God alone can give.

St John Chrysostom: But the wise answered, saying, “Not so, lest there be not enough for us and you;” hence we learn that none of us shall be able in that day to stand forth as patron [marg. note:  of those who are betrayed by their own works, not because he will not, but because he cannot].~Quoted in Aquinas’ Catena Aurea.

Again, St John Chrysostom: Let us not then, in order that for a single moment (for such is this present life) we may live luxuriously, draw on ourselves punishment through endless ages: but let us toil for a moment, that we may be crowned for ever. See ye not that even in worldly things most men act in this manner: and choose a brief toil in order to a long rest, even though the opposite falls out unto them? For in this life indeed there is an equal portion of toils and reward; yea, often, on the contrary, the toil is endless whilst the fruit is little, or not even a little; but in the case of the kingdom conversely, the labor is little whilst the pleasure is great and boundless. For consider: the husbandman wearieth himself the whole year through, and at the very end of his hope of times misses of the fruit of those many toils. The shipmaster again and the soldier, until extreme old age, are occupied with wars and labors; and oftentimes hath each of them departed, the one with the loss of his wealthy cargoes, the other, along with victory, of life itself. What excuse then shall we have, tell me, if in worldly matters indeed we prefer what is laborious in order that we may rest for a little, or not a little even; (for the hope of this is uncertain;) but in spiritual things do the converse of this and draw upon ourselves unutterable punishment for a little sloth? Wherefore I beseech you all, though late, yet still at length to recover from this frenzy. For none shall deliver us in that day; neither brother, nor father, nor child, nor friend, nor neighbor, nor any other: but if our works play us false, all will be over and we must needs perish. How many lamentations did that rich man make, and besought the Patriarch and begged that Lazarus might be sent! But hear what Abraham said unto him: “There is a gulf betwixt us and you, so that they who wish to go forth cannot pass thither.” (Lc 16, 26) How many petitions did those virgins make to their fellows for a little oil! But hear what they also say; “Peradventure there will not be enough for you and for us;” (Mt 25, 9) and none was able to bring them in to the bridal chamber.~Taken from his Ninth Homily on Second Corinthians 

St Jerome: For these wise virgins do not answer thus out of covetousness, but out of fear. Wherefore, each man shall receive the recompense of his own works, and the virtues of one cannot atone for the vices of another in the day of judgment. The wise admonish them not to go to meet the bridegroom without oil, “Go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.”~Quoted in Aquinas’ Catena Aurea.

10. Now whilst they went to buy, the bridegroom came: and they that were ready, went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut.

Went in with him to the marriage, which represents the reception of the Elect into the abode of the Blessed.

St Jerome: After the day of judgment, there is no more opportunity for good works, or for righteousness, and therefore it follows, “And the door was shut.”~Quoted in Aquinas’ Catena Aurea.

11. But at last came also the other virgins, saying: Lord, Lord, open to us.
12. But he answering said : Amen I say to you, I know you not.

Lord, Lord, open to us. Not that they had obtained oil, or enriched meanwhile their faith by works; they wished only to entreat for mercy. The Judge answers them (verse 12) that it is too late, the time for work and merit is over forever.

St Hilary: Yet though the season of repentance is now past, the foolish virgins come and beg that entrance may be granted to them.~Quoted in Aquinas’ Catena Aurea.

St Jerome: Their worthy confession calling Him, “Lord, Lord,” is a mark of faith. But what avails it to confess with the mouth Him whom you deny with your works?~Quoted inAquinas’ Catena Aurea.

St Jerome: “Amen I say to you, I know you not.” For “the Lord knoweth them that are his,” [2 Tim 2:19] and he that knoweth not shall not be known, and though they be virgins in purity of body, or in confession of the true faith, yet forasmuch as they have no oil, they are unknown by the bridegroom. When He adds, “Watch therefore, because ye know not the day nor the hour,” He means that all that has been said points to this, namely, that seeing we know not the day of judgment, we should be careful in providing the light of good works.~Quoted in Aquinas’ Catena Aurea.

13. Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.

Watch ye therefore. The whole purpose of the parable is to teach us vigilance and preparation against the coming of Christ, whether at the end of the world, or at our own death.

Pope St Gregory the Great: “Forasmuch as ye know not the day of judgment, prepare the light of good works. For He who has guaranteed pardon to the penitent has not promised to-morrow to the sinner”~Quoted by Cornelius a Lapide in The Great Commentary.

St Augustine: For indeed we know the day and the hour neither of that future time when the Bridegroom will come, nor of our own falling asleep each of us; if then we be prepared for this latter, we shall also be prepared when that voice shall sound, which shall arouse us all.~Quoted in Aquinas’ Catena Aurea.

Catechism of the Catholic Church #672:Before his Ascension Christ affirmed that the hour had not yet come for the glorious establishment of the messianic kingdom awaited by Israel[Acts 1:6-7] which, according to the prophets, was to bring all men the definitive order of justice, love and peace.[Isa 11:1-9] According to the Lord, the present time is the time of the Spirit and of witness, but also a time still marked by “distress” and the trial of evil which does not spare the Church[Acts 1:8; 1 Cor 7:26; Eph 5:16; 1 Pet 4:17] and ushers in the struggles of the last days. It is a time of waiting and watching.[Matt 25:1-13; Mk 13:33-37; Jn 2:18; Jn 4:3; 1 Tim 4:1].

6 Responses to “Father Callan’s Commentary on Matthew 25:1-13”

  1. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on Matthew 25:1-3. […]

  2. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on Matthew 25:1-13. […]

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  6. Idah Chikuya said

    Simple and easy to understand , thank you

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