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 5:13-19

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 6, 2012

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Verse 13. You are the salt of the earth.

There are two properties in salt : to give savour, and to preserve from corruption. What is termed savour in food (sapor) is wisdom in man, and expressed by the word salt. What is called in other things conservation (conservatio) is in men confirmation in good lives, and is termed in the inspired writings edification. The Apostles are called the salt of the earth, therefore, because they are men, and ought to teach by their wisdom, and edify by their lives. S. Augustin (i., De Serm. Dom.) shows why Christ spoke the above words. He had urged the Apostles before to the highest perfection of life: “Blessed are the poor in spirit;” and He desired to show that they ought to aim at being such, because they were the salt of the earth. By the earth here, S. Augustin says, men are to be understood. This is also certain from the custom of Scripture.

This is more necessary of observation because, as S. Chrysostom and Theophylact have said, the Apostles were called the salt of the earth, as about to be the masters, not of one man, or of a few men, but of the whole world (Matt 14:15).

St. Mark (9:50) and St. Luke (14:34) relate that on another occasion Christ used the same comparison. But it is an easy and probable conclusion that He did this, not once only, but frequently as the case required, as we often do in our teaching.

But if the salt have lost its savor. μωρανθη—Infatuatum fuerit: that is, loses its savour and sharpness. Doctors of the Church do this when they either teach wrongly or build up badly.

Wherewith shall it be salted? That is, the salt itself (St. Matt 9:50); for there is no salting of salt. If the teacher teach amiss, by whom shall he be taught? If he live badly, by whom shall he be corrected? for there is no doctor doctorum. Not that the teacher cannot be corrected, but it is not usual nor easy.

But to be cast out. To be trodden under foot by the passers-by, as things thrown out into the streets.  The meaning is that other things, even if they have lost their natural virtue, are still useful for other purpo.ses. Gold money is broken up—it is no longer money, but it is still gold; it will not serve for commerce, but it is useful to the goldsmith. Food is tainted—it is not set before men, but it may be given to the dogs. A garment is worn out, it is thrown on to the dunghill—it will no longer warm men, but it will enrich the ground. But salt, if it has lost its savour, is useless for the dunghill, and will not manure the ground—nay, it makes it sterile (Ps 107:34; and St. Luke 14:35). That which is of the most use, when decayed, becomes the most useless. The branch is most necessary for the production of fruit, but if it wither nothing is more valueless (Ezek 15:2, 3, 4).

Verse 14. You are the light of the world. You who ought to enlighten the world by your doctrine and example; the world has no teachers of goodness but you. Christ probably meant by the three words—salt, light, and the city—to signify one and the same thing. This, as we learn from S. Jerome, was the custom of the Syriac, which was the language He used (Note: Aramaic = Syriac). Not only here, but in many other passages, we see Christ using many similes, one upon another, to express the same thing. Of this S. Matthew (chapter 13) gives many examples. One thing must be observed, that Christ was the one only true Light “which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world ” (St. John 1:9; 3:19; 8:12; 9:5; 12:35, 36).

Christ is called the true Light because He is the supreme Light in Himself, with whom, if not the Apostles alone and other holy men and Doctors, yet St. John the Baptist, than whom there was none greater among those born of women, may compare. But the other John said truly, he was not that light; yet of him the Evangelist writes: “He was a burning and a shining light” (John 5:35). As in this passage of S. Matthew the Apostles are called the light, all Christians are called the same (Philippians 2:15; Ephes 5:8; 1Thess 5:5). Christ is the Light by His own nature: others by His grace and gift, because they are enlightened by Him: Christ, because He lightens every man that cometh into the world, not only extrinsically by His example and doctrine, but also by His intrinsic grace: the Apostles, as lighting others, not only by their example, but also by their doctrine ; Christians by their example.

A city cannot be hid. The first part of the comparison is wanting. You are a city, or like a city, placed on a hill. St. Jerome shows that the Apostles and Prophets are the mountains, because, being on high places in the Church, they are seen by all. The Author also observes that they are described as towers (Ps 122:7), although the meaning here is a mystical one, the literal being different. In the same sense they are here compared to a state (civitati), or rather to a city (urbi).

“Cannot.”—That cannot, you ought not to, be hidden. Christ does not admonish them to live uprightly lest they give offence, because their example, like a city on a hill, cannot be hid; but He warns them not to conceal themselves.

Verse 15. Neither do men light a candle. The meaning of these words is clear. Their object is not—so S. Jerome thinks—that Christ uttered them to give the Apostles courage and confidence to preach the Gospel freely; as if one should exhort a champion to fight strenuously and with courage, because the eyes of all were upon him. Others think that He intended to warn them to live circumspectly, lest they should give offence—for a city set on a hill cannot possibly be hid.

Nor were they to resemble a candle put under a bushel, but one placed in a candlestick, which cannot but be seen by all (St. Paul to the Philippians 2:15, and 1 Peter 3:16). S. Chrysostom and Theophylact explain it thus: Christ’s meaning seems to be, to exhort the Apostles to shine brightly both by word and example, and not to spare their labour. Besides, He had kindled them as lights; that is. He had made them Apostles, and had therefore placed them above others, as a city on a hill, that they might be conspicuous, and shine, and teach, and not be hid. For a city is not built upon a mountain that it may not be seen, nor is a candle lighted that it may be hid under a bushel, but that it may be placed in a candlestick, and light all, and be seen by all. Christ says this in other words (St. Luke 2:49), and S. Paul exhorts S. Timothy “to preach the Word ” (2 Tim 4:2). The words that follow—”So let your light shine—confirm this opinion. The words “under a bushel” are put, probably, because a bushel was very fit for concealing the light. So  Luke 8:16.

Verse 16. So let your light shine. Christ elsewhere seems to teach the contrary (Matt 6:1, 2, 5), and many things in that place to the same purport. The answer is easy. The word ” that ” in this instance does not show the cause, but the result, as in John 9:39 and 1Cor 11:19. St. Chrysostom (Hom. 10. on Romans; Hom.  27 on 1Cor., and on S. Paul’s words, “There must be heresies”),
John Damascene, with other authorities of the Greek Church, say that the word is not causative, but illative. For Christ did not command the Apostles to act rightly that they might be seen by men, which chapter 6 forbids; but so to live that every one who saw their actions might glorify, not them, but their Father who is in heaven, and of whose grace it was that they did them. This is not forbidden in that 6th chapter of St. Luke.

Is it not lawful, then, ever to do good that we may be seen by men, when we should not otherwise do it? It is lawful if only we do it not for our own sakes, but for the sake of God. It is lawful with that object, but not as the final object to do good. It is lawful to come thither, but not to remain there; our minds must lead on to the glory of God. Before they came to God they stood still; nay, they fell. He who wishes to be seen by men when well-doing, wishes it not that he himself, but that his Father in heaven may be glorified—he wishes, not himself, but God to be seen. For no one wishes to be seen by men that he may merely be seen, but that he may be given some glory by being seen. If he seek not glory, or if he seek it not for himself, but for God, even if he desire to be seen, he does not appear to desire it. In this sense St. Peter wishes Christians who live righteously to desire to be seen by the Gentiles (1 Pet 2:12). In this sense Christ seems to have said: “Let your light so shine”. In this passage the word “that” signifies, not only the event and consequence, but the end and cause. He compared the Apostles to a candle; but the candle is lighted that it may be seen, and, as we have said, Christ does not there proceed as by leaps, but gradually: “Glorify your Father who is in heaven”.

Verse 17. Do not think. We must first see to what end Christ said this, and how far it agrees with His previous words. Many think that Christ said this because He had been already accused by the Jews of being about to destroy the Law, or because He certainly knew that he would be so accused, which we see to have subsequently happened (S. Matt 7:29; Matt 15:9; and S.John 9:16).

Some think that, because Christ had already made transition to a more perfect interpretation of the Law, He desired to advise them that they must understand even from this that He was not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it; that is, to bind them more closely to it, and interpret it more perfectly to the mind of the Giver of it (verses 21, 22). So say S. Chrysostom and Theophylact. The Author, whoever he was, seems to have touched the true case (Hom. x.). Christ had said to the Apostles: “You are the light of the world,” which should be explained, as we have said, at once of their life and doctrine. He teaches them now, by His own example, how they ought to live and teach; that they ought to keep the Law better than it had been kept heretofore, and explain it better than the Scribes and Pharisees, lest they should think that because they were the disciples of Christ, that is, of the Lawgiver Himself, they might break the Law; as they who are of princes’ households are used to be free from almost every law. As if He had said: I Myself, who made the Law, am not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it; and “unless your justice abound more than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (verse 20). Thus precept follows precept.

Now we will speak of the meaning of the words. How does Christ say that He is not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it, when, in fact, He did destroy and abrogate it? For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John (S. Matt 11:13; Heb 7:12), and therefore Christ is contrary to the Law, and cannot profit those who keep the Law (Gal 5:2.).

They who reply that “Christ said that He was not come to destroy the Law because, although He would destroy it. He would not do so per se, but by the Apostles after His return into heaven; as He said that He came not but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (S. Matt 15:24)—not that He did not come to other sheep, but that He would bring in those sheep not per se but by the Apostles”; do not appear to see to what end Christ said this. He wished, as before said, to urge the Apostles to keep the Law perfectly, inasmuch as He Himself had come not to destroy but to fulfil it. In the same way, then, in which He Himself had kept it. He wished the Apostles to keep it; and in the way in which He abrogated it. He abrogated it not by the Apostles, but per se. The true meaning, then, is this. Christ came not to destroy the Law but to fulfil it:

1. Because as long as the Law had need to flourish, He, though as God He was bound by no Law, both fulfilled it most strictly Himself, and took care that the Apostles should do the same. Both He Himself and the Apostles were circumcised. They went up yearly to the feast and kept Paschal. As to the accusation that He did not keep the Sabbath because the disciples plucked the ears of corn (S. Matt 13:1-2) and ate with unwashed hands (S. Matt 15:2), these were calumnies of the Pharisees, who interpreted the Law not according to the intention of the Giver, but according to their own will and tradition, as Christ convicts them of doing in these passages.

2. He is said not to have destroyed but fulfilled the Law, because He interpreted it by His righteous interpretations. For when He said, “I am not come to destroy,” as if wishing to show how He fulfilled it, He added those more severe interpretations of it in verses 21, 22, 23, 24. So say S. Greg. Nyss. (Cont. Jud), Euthymius, and Theophylact (in Comments.).

3. Christ fulfilled the Law, because He gave us the grace by which it could be fulfilled. For previously, as S. Augustin says, “He commanded, but He did not assist “; after His coming, He both commands and assists. Before this it was a heavy body, a weight without a soul. He infused into it the grace and spirit, like a soul by which it is moved and acts, as in S. John 1:17; S. Augustin (Cont. Faust., xi. 5 ; xix. 7) ; S. Chrysostom (Hom. xvi.).

4. He showed forth the promises of the Law, and represented what had been shadowed forth by the ceremonies and types. So almost all the ancient authors interpret it—S. Ireneus, iv. 27,67; Tertullian, Da Patient.; S. Hilary, iv.; S. Athanasius, Contra Omn. Haeres.; S. Cyril, De Adorat.; S. Augustin, Quæst. 69 in Nov. Test. In accordance with these are the words of Christ (S. Luke 24:44). That is, as the Evangelists, and most especially S. Matthew, say, ” That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Prophets”.

5. Some add a fifth way in which Christ fulfilled the Law—that for its temporal rewards and punishments He substituted eternal ones. And thus, as there were in the Law and the Prophets four parts—(1) Promises and Prophecies, (2) Precepts of the Decalogue, (3) Ceremonies, (4) Judgments—Christ fulfilled all. The Promises and Prophecies, by showing what was promised and what foretold; the Moral Precepts of the Decalogue, by a better interpretation; the Ceremonies, by showing their signification: as, for Circumcision of the flesh, Baptism and Circumcision of the heart; the Judicial, by the change of corporeal and temporal rewards and punishments into spiritual and eternal.

This is how He abrogated the Law: not by destroying, but by fulfilling; not by violating, but by perfecting: “As a painter,” says Theophylact, “who puts the finishing touches, and adds the colour to a picture which he has begun, but only sketched in outline, destroys the first draft and produces a new one “. He destroys indeed, not by dissolving but by completing: not by blotting out.

In what sense the Law is said to have lasted only until the time of John the Baptist is another question, and one not to be explained here, but in Chapter 11. It is sufficient now to know that the Law lasted only to John Baptist, not because it was abrogated by him, nor immediately. When he began to preach it began to sicken, and it was to die not long after the death of Christ. The Law was abrogated because it was perfected by the Gospel. When the Gospel began to be preached, it began to be abrogated; and the more the Gospel flourished, the more the Law declined; and when the Gospel was fully preached, the Law was fully done away.

Verse 18. Amen. אמן in Hebrew signifies truth (Isa 65:16). Thus, “Amen, I say unto you ” is the same as “I say to you in truth ” (S. Luke 4:25; S. John 16:27). The word has a twofold meaning—one of confirmation of what was said before, as Deut 27:26, 1 Cor 14:16; the other, as an affirmation of what is about to be said, as in this place and in others innumerable. The former is more frequently found in the Old Testament, seldom in the New Testament. The latter is met with abundantly in the New Testament, seldom or never in the Old Testament. The reason seems to be, that the writers of the Old Testament used the Hebrew and not the Syriac language, and in Hebrew, אמן “Amen,” is rather a word of confirmation than of affirmation. The Greek and Latin versions followed the Hebrew as from common use.

Until pass. Until they perish (Ps 102), until they be dissolved (1 Pet 3:10), until they be changed. A Hebraism בּלה often found in the New Testament; παρελευσεται is used in S. Matthew 24:35; Matt 26:39, 42, S. Mark 13:31, S. Luke 21:33; as is   παρενεγκε for the Hithpael of בּלה  Mark 14:36, 5. Luke 22:42, and μετατιθεμενης (Heb 7:12).

Heaven and earth. The whole world, which is believed to stand on the firmest foundations. “Heaven and earth, the chiefest of the elements, as is supposed, are to pass away, but the least particle even of the commandments of the Law cannot be annulled” (S. Hilary). Scripture elsewhere uses similar comparisons (Ps 50:4; Jer 33:20-21).

One jot or one tittle. Some explain it that Iota is the least of all the letters, and the top is the least part of it. As if we should say: “Not even the very least commandment of the Law, or the least part of the least commandment, can be destroyed”. But this explanation has no place in the Greek or Hebrew in which this Gospel was written, nor in the Syriac in which Christ spoke; because the Iota has no top. Christ, then, calls the apex or tittle the least part of the letter, as the head or tail of Iod, a thing most minute; for everyone is aware that there were no points in Hebrew in those times. The letter Iota from this passage, although the least of all the letters, caused the greatest of all the heresies (Irenaeus, 1. 3).  The reference here is to the gnostic and their bizarre, symbolic speculations concerning the production of what they termed the Æons. See St Irenaeus’ Adversus Hæreses (Against Heresies), Book 1, Chapter 2, paragraph 2.

Verse 19. Of these least commandments. Some ancient authorities would have the cross and death of Christ to be intended, because, although they seem a small thing, no man has any safety who is ashamed of them. Thus S. Hilary, and others mentioned by Theophylact. But it is not clear that the cross is meant, and it is doubtful which may be termed the least of the commandments of Christ. Some, like S. Augustin (Serm. 1., Dom. in Mont), refer to the precontext, as if it had been said: “Whosoever shall break one of the least of these My commandments, which I have come not to destroy, but to fulfil”. The word “these” seems to support this view. Others think that the reference is to what follows, as S. Chrysostom, The Author, and Theophylact. It more probably means the least of the commandments of the Old Testament, which were ceremonial and judicial, and which Christ would not allow to be kept after the Gospel, but abolished, and because the text continues: “Unless your justice abound more than that of the Scribes and Pharisees,” &c. (verse 20). The word “these,” then, does not refer to the same things as Christ had spoken of, but to like ones— like, because each appeared to be the least.

Christ calls the commandments of which He was about to speak “the least,” not because they were so in reality, but only in the opinion of the Pharisees, who thought them the least, or rather nothing at all. These, as depending entirely on the judgment of men, thought murder, which is a visible act, a sin, but the desire to perpetrate it, which they could not see, they, perhaps, thought no sin.

And shall so teach men. The word “so” is a single syllable, but it contains a great difficulty, and upon it turns the meaning of the whole sentence. S. Jerome and others think that it means “as I teach and command,” as if Christ had said: “Whoever does not keep one of the least of these commandments, although he teach others that they are to be kept, shall be the least in the kingdom of heaven”. With this agree the words of Christ (Matt 23:2-3). S. Jerome thought that the same Scribes and Pharisees were meant. But this explanation seems less applicable here, because Christ blames not only the life, but also the doctrine of the Pharisees (S. Matt 5:21). The opinion of all the other authorities seems better—”so,” that is, as he who does not keep them himself, and teaches others that they need not—S. Chrysostom (Hom., in Matt, xv.). The Author, S. Augustin (De Serm. Dom., i.), S. Gregory (bk. xix.. On Job).

Shall be called the least. Some explain “the least” by “no one”— minimum non nulli nullum interpretantur—as S. Chrysostom and Thcophylact, because, probably, they thought it a senseless thing that he who does not keep the commandments of Christ may still have some place in the kingdom of heaven, because he has not broken the great commandments, but only the least, the infraction of which is venial. This explanation is answered by the fact that what Christ called, as in the opinion of the Pharisees, the least, were in truth the greatest. For he who does not commit murder, but has the desire to do so, and he who does not commit adultery, but who looks upon a woman to lust after her, because his righteousness does not exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. The whole meaning of this passage depends on what is understood by “the kingdom of heaven,” which shall be explained hereafter. Meanwhile, the words “the least” may be taken as equivalent to “the last”—i.e., someone. Lest the force of the words carefully used by Christ should be lost, He said that such an one should be the last—the last, but still someone—because he broke the least of the commandments, using a forcible paranomasia. He said “he shall be called” because he shall be, as in verse 9—unless we explain it by “shall be pronounced,” shall be declared by the sentence of Christ the Judge, by which everyone shall appear what he is.

In the kingdom of heaven. S. Augustin (De Serm. Dom., i.) and S. Gregory (Moral. xix. 5), and almost all others, say that in this place the Church is meant by the kingdom of heaven: lest, if the actual kingdom of heaven be understood, a contradiction follows—that whoever breaks one of these commandments should have a place in the kingdom of heaven, when Christ almost immediately adds: “Unless your justice abound “. S. Chrysostom and Theophylact explain it apparently better, considering it to mean the time of the Resurrection, and the last day, and the day of Judgment. Then, whoever has not kept one of these least commandments shall be called: that is, declared by the sentence of the Judge, the least. Such an one will not be in no place, because he will rise again and be judged; but he will be in the last place, for he will be cast out into outer darkness.

Some ask why Christ makes no mention of those who neither do nor teach the great commandments; and of those who teach, but do not; and of those who do, but teach not; and of those who teach the least, and do not; or of those who do, and teach not.

The sole question was of the Pharisees alone, who did not that which they thought the least, and who taught men not to do them. If, then, he who has not kept one of the least of these commandments shall be in the last place, that is, shall be called the least, where shall he be who has not kept the greater? He also shall be in the last place. There they will, therefore, be equal and unequal-equal, as each will be last, each in the last place, which is hell; unequal, for in that last place, as in the first, which is the kingdom of heaven, there will be many mansions, and some will be tormented with a greater punishment than others. They who are in the first place, that is, the kingdom of heaven, will also be equal as being all to receive the same power (S. Matt 20:10); and unequal, because “In my Father’s house there are many mansions ” (S. John 14:2), and because “Star differeth from star in glory” (1 Cor 15:42). Equal in the kind of honour, unequal in the degree; as all kings are equal in dignity, but unequal in wealth and power.

5 Responses to “Juan de Maldonado’s Commentary on Matthew 5:13-19”

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