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’s Commentary on Matthew 17:14-20

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 4, 2012

Mat 17:14  And when he was come to the multitude, there came to him a man falling down on his knees before him saying:

And when He was come, &c. Luke adds, And it came to pass the day following, when they came down from the mountain, &c. From this it is plain that this lunatic was cured on the day following the Transfiguration.

Mat 17:15 Lord, have pity on my son, for he is a lunatic, and suffereth much: for he falleth often into the fire, and often into the water.

A lunatic, Gr. σεληνίαζεται, that is at the changes of the moon, at new and full moon he suffers from epilepsy, not from any natural cause, but because he is beset by a devil. The Arabic has, he is grievously vexed at the time of the new moon. Whence Mark 9:17-18 has: “And one of the multitude, answering, said: Master, I have brought my son to thee, having a dumb spirit. Who, wheresoever he taketh him, dasheth him: and he foameth and gnasheth with the teeth and pineth away,” as is common in epilepsy. And Luke 9:38-39 has: “Master, I beseech thee, look upon my son, because he is my only one. And lo, a spirit seizeth him, and he suddenly crieth out, and he throweth him down and teareth him, so that he foameth; and bruising him, he hardly departeth from him. ” Hence Origen, SS. Chrysostom and Jerome teach that the ordinary epilepsy is not to be ascribed so much to the moon and the state of the humours of the body, as to the devil, who makes use of the changes of the moon and vicious secretions. Mahomet, it is said, suffered from epilepsy, and it was thought that he was seized and influenced by the Holy Ghost. For this reason too the Turks venerate persons suffering from epilepsy, as though they were under the influence of the Holy Ghost, and were prophets. When the moon is new and at the full, she increases and agitates the humours, especially the melancholic and phlegmatic humours of the brain, over which she has power. And she so acts upon them that they disturb the brain, and cause noises, spittings, and agitation of the whole body. For they who are afflicted with mania and epilepsy, are especially troubled with black bile, that is melancholy, at the time of full moon, because then the moon brings more light and heat, though weaker than those of the sun. But the sun sets free, and puts into motion the black bile, though it does not consume it. The black bile when set in motion, will produce these foamings, and noises, and gnashing of the teeth. And epileptic patients, on account of the phlegm and crude humours, are afflicted when the moon is waning, but especially at the new moon, because then the moon has less light and heat. And phlegm and phlegmatic humours are intensified by cold, especially when it becomes excessive.

Mat 17:16 And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.

I brought him, &c. After the manner of men, he ascribes to the Apostles what was the fault of his own want of faith.

Mat 17:17 Then Jesus answered and said: O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? Bring him hither to me.

O unbelieving and perverse generation, &c. Origen thinks these words were addressed to the nine Apostles who remained below, when Christ took the other three with Him to the top of Tabor. He thinks that, as far as these nine were concerned, faith was weak. As S. Hilary says, “Whilst Christ had gone up upon the mountain with three of the Apostles, a kind of torpor of faith crept over the remaining nine, who were left with the people, both because they heard from the father of the lunatic, and saw with their own eyes the magnitude of the evil, and the violence and raging madness of the demon within him.” But, with greater probability, SS. Jerome, Chrysostom, and Theophylact think these words were spoken to the father of the lunatic, and to the Jews and Scribes. For in them was greater incredulity, and by consequence they were more to blame that the devil was not cast out, than the disciples were. This may be gathered from Mark 9:24, when the father, being asked by Christ if he believed in Him, answered, I do believe, Lord. Help my unbelief. Nevertheless, Christ privately rebukes the Apostles (Matt 17:19-20), because they had less faith than there was need of in so great a work. To the Jews, therefore, Christ said, 0 unbelieving and perverse generation. And Christ goes on to tell them that the reason why His disciples could not heal the child was not any want of power either on His part or on theirs. It was as though He said to the father of the child, “I have given them power to cast out devils, but the obstacle is thine own unbelief and that of the Jews, which oppose the grace of God; because thou dost not believe, but doubtest whether I and they are able to heal him.” Thus S. Cyril. “The words of Christ,” says S. Jerome, “are like those of a physician, who should see a patient acting contrary to his orders. He would say, ‘How long shall I keep coming to your house? How long shall I have my trouble for nothing, whilst I order one thing and you do the contrary?’ But it was not so much that He was angry with the man, as with his fault, and that in the person of one man He reproved the Jews for their unbelief, since he added immediately, bring him hither to Me.”

Bring him, &c. Mark adds (9:20), “And they brought him. And when he had seen him, immediately the spirit troubled him and being thrown down upon the ground, he rolled about foaming.” After the demon perceived the Lord, he convulses the child,” says Titus of Bosra, “because, being angry at the presence of Jesus, and fearing Him, lest he should be driven out, he began to rage, and horribly to vex and torment the lunatic.” Mark proceeds, “And He asked his father how long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, ‘Of a child. And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if Thou canst do anything’ [If Thou canst. See the incredulity which Christ reproved, for he doubted Christ’s power], ‘have compassion on us, and help us.’ Jesus said unto him, ‘If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.'” By believing in Me thou mayest obtain the healing of thy child. Suitably did Christ require that he should have faith in Him. It was not fitting that he should heal those who did not believe in Him, or that He should thrust His benefits upon those who turned away from Him. Mark proceeds, “And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.'” That is, I believe, but I am weak in faith, do Thou increase and strengthen it that whatsoever there is in me of doubt and unbelief may be taken away. We cannot doubt that Christ did hear such humble and such fervent prayers, and did take away from him all unbelief; for by and bye He healed the child, as the child of one believing.

Mat 17:18 And Jesus rebuked him, and the devil went out of him, and the child was cured from that hour.

And Jesus rebuked him (i.e., the devil), &c. Mark adds: “And when Jesus saw the multitude running together, he threatened the unclean spirit, saying to him: Deaf and dumb spirit, I command thee, go out of him and enter not any more into him. And crying out and greatly tearing him, he went our of him. And he became as dead, so that many said: He is dead. But Jesus taking him by the hand, lifted him up. And he arose” (Mark 9:25-27). From all this we see how very powerful and malignant this devil was, who had made the child deaf and dumb, and who dared so to resist Christ, and to bring the lunatic to the very point of death. From hence it seems probable that this demon had belonged originally to one of the superior orders of angels. For they too invade and possess men. This was why Christ’s disciples could not cast him out, but his expulsion was reserved for Christ Himself, Who by His mighty power and command drove him forth. This is the meaning of the Greek—ε̉πετίμησε, i.e., He rebuked, and (Mark adds) with threats commaded the devil , saying, I command thee, go out of him; and if thou dost not obey, I will punish thee severely. This, too, was why Christ said to His Apostles, when they asked Him why they could not cast him out, this kind goeth out by nothing save by prayer and fasting.

Mat 17:19 Then came the disciples to Jesus secretly, and said: Why could not we cast him out?
Mat 17:20 Jesus said to them: Because of your unbelief. For, amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain: Remove from hence hither, and it shall remove: and nothing shall be impossible to you.

Jesus said, &c. The Arabic has, on account of the smallness of your faith. The Apostles had faith, but to cast out so powerful and fierce a devil greater faith was required than the Apostles possessed: whence the Syriac renders the next verse as follows—if there had been in you faith, &c.

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