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

Maldonado’s Commentary on Matthew 9:14-17

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 3, 2012

Mat 9:14  Then came to him the disciples of John, saying: Why do we and the Pharisees, fast often, but thy disciples do not fast?

When the others had been answered. S. Luke (Luke 5:33) says that the Pharisees themselves came. S. Augustin (De Consens., 2. 27) harmonises this by saying that both came, but that S. Luke mentioned only the Pharisees, S. Matthew only the disciples of John. But S. Matthew seems to speak as if he wished to signify that the Pharisees did not venture to come to Christ; for they had said a little before (verse 11), not to Christ, but to His disciples, “Why doth your Master eat with publicans and sinners?”

It would seem more likely that the disciples of John were sent by the Pharisees secretly. They would do this perhaps the more readily because there would appear to have been some little emulation between the disciples of John and those of Christ (S. John 3:26). Besides, S. Luke says that the Pharisees came because, at their instigation, the disciples of John came.

But Thy disciples do not fast. (S. Luke 5:33). As if they wished to mark an immoderate use of food and drink. This is very probable, and is more in accordance with the spirit of the Pharisees; for, by the words “eat” and “drink,” they wished to notify the intemperance of the disciples, and through them to brand the Master Himself. Christ alludes to this (Matt 11:18-19). They were blown up in their opinion and praised themselves: ” Why do we fast?” Lest they should appear to praise themselves, they take the disciples of John as their fellowpartners in the praise. They accuse Christ and His disciples, not only of the want of religion, but also of being intemperate and drunken. By their words, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often? ” (verse 14), they hint at more than they say. Wherefore we and not Thou? unless that we are holy and just and are of God, Thou a sinner and of men. When we fast, you meanwhile sit at table and  banquet and take your pleasure with men that are sinners.

Mat 9:15  And Jesus said to them: Can the children of the bridegroom mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then they shall fast.

Can the children of the bridegroom?  Greek: οι υιοι του νυμφωνο, or, as our version reads in Mark 2:19, the children of the marriage. It is plain who are meant by the children of the bridegroom or of the marriage, for Christ speaks of His disciples, of whom the question was proposed. But why they were so called has been matter of doubt. S. Ambrose (v., On S. Luke), S. Jerome, Bede (in his Commentary.), think that they were so called because they were spiritually born of Christ. They seem more correct who say that it is a Hebraism, by which the friends of the bridegroom are called the sons of the bridegroom, or of the marriage. They keep his marriage with various signs of joy, such as are celebrated in our corrupt times by feasts, dances, games; but then by feasts like that of the marriage of Cana of Galilee. Christ therefore said that they could not fast, because it was opposed to the celebration of marriage; for, as they who are of the kingdom are called the children of the kingdom, so they who celebrate the marriage are called the sons of the marriage, or friends of the bridegroom, as S. John Baptist calls himself (Jn 3:29); but Christ is the bridegroom, as is shown in the parable of the marriage (Matt 22:2; Matt 25:1-10; Rev 19:7-9). His espousals, if we may so speak, are celebrated here (Matt 22:2; Matt 25:1), but the marriage in heaven, where He in a manner consummates it with the Church, His bride (Rev 19:7-9), because He will then introduce her into His chamber, that is, into heaven, where she enjoys His perpetual embraces.

Mourn. Why did Christ not say fast, because there was no question of mourning, but of fasting only? This comprehends all other kinds of grief, and Christ answers more than His adversaries asked—so that from denial of the genus He might go on to that of the species with more force. For if one cannot be an animal, how can he be a man? If the sons of the bridegroom cannot mourn, how can they fast? To mourn here does not mean to shed tears or to lament, but to be sad, and, as the Latins say, to be in grief and disorder: as the dead are said to be mourned for a time, not because the living lament them continually, but because they wear a mourning garment for them.

It may be asked why S. John Baptist and his disciples fasted, if the sons of the bride-chamber cannot fast. For he also was a son, that is, a friend of the Bridegroom, who heard his voice and was glad (S. John 3:29). The answer may be that this was done necessarily that all men might by all means be enticed into salvation, and that, both by a singular mode of life, like S. John’s, and a general one, like Christ’s—as Christ Himself signifies (Matt 11:18-19). Besides, though S. John was a friend of the Bridegroom, he was not properly a son, that is, a disciple. He prepared the way for others to come to the marriage, but he did not come himself. They who came would have to come by a rough way; when they had come they would have, not a rough, but a joyful and pleasant life, as long as they were with the bridegroom, as a festive celebration required. But why did not Christ Himself, if not His disciples, fast? For the same reason. He was the Bridegroom, and was celebrating His own marriage, but He Himself gives another reason (verse 16).

But the days will come. Christ says “days” by a Hebraism for time. They would have plenty of time to fast when the Bridegroom was taken from them. Christ does not say when He shall have departed from them, nor when He is dead, but “when He shall be taken from them,” signifying that He would be miserably taken away by those very Pharisees with whom He was now speaking. “Then,” He said, “they shall fast.” That is, then they shall mourn. For, as He previously said mourn for fast, the genus for the species, so He now says fast for mourn, the species for the genus, as if He had said: “As they are now celebrating My marriage, and therefore do not fast, so then they shall mourn My death, and therefore they shall fast “. Christ alludes to the custom of mourning for the dead with fasting; for they who mourn generally abstain from food. The event not only proved this saying, but also made it clear. For we know how continual the Apostles were after the Ascension of Christ in fasting and prayers (Acts 13:3; 2 Cor 6:5), in stripes, in imprisonment, in seditions, in labours, in watchings many, in hunger, in thirst, in fastings many.

Mat 9:16  And nobody putteth a piece of raw cloth unto an old garment. For it taketh away the fulness thereof from the garment, and there is made a greater rent.
Mat 9:17  Neither do they put new wine into old bottles. Otherwise the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish. But new wine they put into new bottles: and both are preserved.

And nobody putteth. Christ said this to show that He did wisely in not compelling His disciples to fast, as S. Jerome, S. Chrysostom Hom 31), and Remigius have taught. Christ proves this by two examples: the one of the piece of new cloth in the old garment, and the other of the new wine in the old bottles—things which have no especial mutual agreement. The meaning is easy; the adaptation of words and examples is difficult. Christ, no doubt, willed to show that their mode of life should be adapted to the catching of disciples and their manner of life, lest, if they had been compelled to fast in the beginning, they might have been deterred from continuing what they had begun. It is therefore certain that the disciples are compared to a garment and to old bottles, and an austere and rough kind of life to a patch of cloth, new as yet, and to new wine. The meaning is that, as a patch of new cloth is not added to an old garment because it tears it worse, and new wine is not put into old bottles because it would burst them, when weakened by age, through the fermentation of the wine, so it is not fit that a life of greater hardship, and altogether unlike their former one, should be prescribed to disciples accustomed to ease, lest they should go back from the new course which they had entered upon hopefully. So Euthymius and Theophylact understand it, nor, apparently, can a better explanation be desired. Tertullian (iii., iv., Cont. Marc) says that the old garment and the old bottles are the ancient Law, and the new cloth and the new wine are the Gospel; or, at least, he does not oppose them when they say so. S. Ambrose, however (viii., On S. Luke), says that the old garment and the old bottles are the fast; S. Hilary, S. Jerome, S. Chrysostom, and Bede, that they are the Pharisees; S. Augustin (Serm, clxxxvi. de Temp), that they are all carnal men. ” The carnal man,” he says, ” does not receive spiritual things; the carnal is the ancient, grace is the new.” The first opinion seems the best.

It may be objected that John’s disciples were the old garment and the old bottles, and that he proposed fasts and a very hard life to them. It has been answered, on verse 15, that he did this of necessity, because he was preparing the way to Christ, which must needs be one of hardship and difficulty; that is, a life full of tears, fasts, and every kind of penitence. But it was necessary that the Lord should be more kind and mild than the servant, and should anoint those whom the servant had wounded. Again, it may be objected that the disciples of Christ were new, and could not be compared to old garments and old bottles. In reply, either through infirmity, as Euthymius thinks, or, as seems more probable, through their former wholly dissimilar modes of life, they are called  “old “. For as yet, not having laid aside their original habits, like a garment worn out or old bottles, they were feeble and unable to contain new wine. ” I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” S. John 16:12). It may also be said that fasting was an ancient and approved custom, and that the Pharisees objected to Christ that neither He nor His disciples fasted, as if they were careless about keeping ancient customs. There were certain fasts enjoined by the old Law of which S. Luke speaks (Acts 27:9), but the Pharisees did not allude to these, which were of ancient date and universal observance, like the fasts of the Church now, but to their own and to those of John’s disciples, which were not commanded nor common, but voluntary and peculiar to themselves, and by keeping which they boasted themselves to be Pharisees; that is, singular persons, more holy than the rest, as the Pharisee, in S. Luke 18:11-12, who, when praying in the Temple, said: “O God, I give Thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men,” &c. As to the opinion of Marcion, derived from this passage, that there was so great a difference between the Old Testament and the New, that there could not have been one and the same author of both, Tertullian (iii., iv., Cont. Marc), and S. Epiphanius (Her. xlii.) have sufficiently refuted it, and it is not worth further consideration. S. Augustin (viii., Cont. Fanst.) has replied to a similar heresy of the Manicheans.

A piece. Greek, επιβλημα. An additament, as some render it, or rather, if the Latin would allow it, an addition (adjcctamentum).

It taketh away the fulness thereof. This is an ambiguous sentence, because the Greek   το πληρωμα may be either the nominative case or the accusative. If the nominative, the meaning will be that the fulness of it, that is, the patch, which was added to the old garment to fill up whatever was wanting, will take something from it; that is, will wear it away and tear it. This sense, Theodore, the Interpreter of the heretics, has followed both in his rendering and explaining of the passage, and, as it appears, with very little judgment. If an accusative, the meaning may be twofold—(1) The subject of the word tollit is repeated from the word immittit, as if Christ had said: ” Otherwise whoever does this takes away fulness from the garment “. This is the explanation of Erasmus, and is better than Beza’s, because, although Beza makes το πληρωμα not the nominative case, but the accusative, he does so erroneously, referring the word “tollit ” to the person who added the patch.

Nothing can be better than our own version, because the Evangelist calls that part of the garment which, when the patch was put in, was entire, πληρωμα, “the fulness “—and which, not he who added the cloth, but the cloth itself, takes away by its stiffness. Christ, according to the Hebrew custom, calls מלא which means whole and entire, “fulness”; as in the example which follows, not he who put the new wine into the old bottles, but the new wine itself, because it was too strong for the old bottles to bear, burst them; that is, took away their fulness. The meaning is, that if a new patch is inserted into an old garment, or if new wine is put into old bottles, that which ought to preserve the garment destroys it, and the wine, which is put into the bottles to preserve it, by bursting the bottles, renders its preservation impossible. So, if too hard a mode of life be prescribed for disciples, who were previously weak and accustomed to old habits, for their improvement; the very thing which ought to make them better, by deterring, repelling, and driving them away, makes them worse; and that which was committed to them, like the new wine in the old bottles, to preserve and perfect them, as they are unable to bear it, destroys them by a kind of despair, and the wine perishes. Judas affords a living proof of this. The office of an Apostle was committed to him when he was not fit for it, and, like the new wine in the old bottles, not only in his life but in his very person, like a bottle too much blown up, he burst asunder and the wine was lost; that is, the apostolic office was in some measure affected with dishonour.


One Response to “Maldonado’s Commentary on Matthew 9:14-17”

  1. […] Maldonado’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (Matt 9:14-17). […]

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