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 16:24-28

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 5, 2012

Mat 16:24  Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Then Jesus said, &c. This medicine of self-denial and the cross Christ opposes to natural love, which Peter had shown to Christ when he would have hindered His Passion. Therefore He spake this not to Peter only, but to the other Apostles, yea even to the multitude, as Mark 8:34 says . This is a sort of axiom of Christ’s school, if any one will come after Me, &c. It means, says Chrysostom, “Thou, 0 Peter, suggestest unto Me, spare Thy life, be propitious to Thyself, but I say to thee that not only is it hurtful to thee to keep Me from My Passion, but not even thyself canst be saved, unless thou shalt suffer and renounce thy life. Christ gives three commands, first, let him deny himself; second, let him take up his cross; third, let him follow Me.”

If any man will, &c. Christ does not compel, nor use violence, says S. Chrysostom, but invites the willing, and kindly allures and draws them. For who would not long and burn to follow Christ, the Son of God? But as God bids all follow Christ, so likewise He bids them freely choose and embrace self denial. Again Christ draws all men, when He says “come after Me.” He means, ye will not be the first in the cross, in death, in martyrdom. I, your Captain, will go before you; wherefore follow Me because I will precede you, not only by My example, but by My help, and I will make you certain of victory and the crown, if only ye will follow Me and earnestly co-operate with My grace. Thus Cato going before his soldiers through the sands of Lybia, said, “Have experience of your perils by mine. I will command nothing except what I do myself first.

Let him deny himself: i.e., Let him put away from him his own judgment, and human affection. For this is the dearest to a man of all things, by which man is delighted and fed, so that he thinks it is man himself. For man is that which flourishes and lives in man. He bids therefore that every one should mortify his natural affections, so far as they are repugnant to the will of God.

Christ, as it were, says to Peter, Be thou willing to act in all thy judgments, desires, affections, and notably in the death of the cross as God hath appointed for thee, that thou mayest embrace that will, although nature and natural affection would dread it, and flee from it according to the words, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not” (John 21:18). Whence Origen explains let him deny himself to mean, Let him deny his life by undergoing death for the sake of faith in Me, even as I undergo the death of the cross for God’s sake. After a like manner let every believer deny himself, i.e., his own desires, his own imaginations, his own human reasonings, his own will; and let him conform it in all things to the will of God. So too with regard to his senses, so far as they desire things forbidden by God, let him say, I will not see, or hear, or taste those things, because I wish to follow the law of God, and to please God, and not to give satisfaction to my carnal appetites.

S. Gregory observes, (Hom. 32 in Evang.) Christ does not say, Let him deny his riches, but let him deny himself, so that a man should go away from himself, and become a stranger to himself, yea that he should leave off to be what he was and begin to be what he was not, and become as it were a new and another man. “It is less,” he says, “to deny what a man has; but it is far more to deny what he is. It sufficeth not to relinquish what is ours unless we leave also ourselves.” S. Gregory then asks the question, “Whither shall we go out of ourselves?” And he answers, “We have become something different through our fall into sin from that which we were made. Let us leave therefore ourselves, as we have made ourselves by sinning: and let us remain ourselves such as we have been made by grace. Behold, he who was proud, if he has been converted to Christ, has been made humble; he has left himself.” He shows us the same thing by the example of Paul, “Let us consider how Paul had denied himself, when he said, ‘I live, yet not I’; forasmuch as that cruel persecutor was dead and the pious preacher had begun to live, I Christ indeed liveth in me. ‘” It is as though he said plainly, I indeed am dead to myself, because I live not after the flesh. Nevertheless I am not dead essentially, because I live in Christ spiritually. Therefore let the Truth say, let It say, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself; because except a man cease from himself, he cannot draw nigh to Him who is above himself: nor is he able to apprehend that which is beyond himself, if he knows not how to slay that which he is.

S. Chrysostom (Hom. 56.) illustrates the same principle by a similitude. “If thou understandest what it is to deny another, then wilt thou rightly perceive what it is to deny thyself. He who has denied another, if he see him beaten with rods, if cast into chains, he does not assist him, he is altogether unmoved, as one who is wholly apart from him. Thus too He wills us by no means to spare our own body, that not even though it be beaten, nor burnt, nor suffer any other thing, we should spare it.” Victor of Antioch adds, “He hath not said, a man must not be too self indulgent; or that he should not spare his own flesh too much; but rising to a very lofty height, let him deny himself, He says, or abjure himself, that is, let him have no commerce with himself, or with his own flesh, but let him so conduct himself, as though it were not he himself who bears the cross but some other person.” Note this word abjure. For as in baptism we renounce Satan, and as it were abjure him, so ought we fully to deny, and as it were abjure ourselves, that is our lusts. For these are more the enemies of our salvation than the devils themselves. For we dread the devil, but our lusts flatter and deceive us, and profess to be our friends. For there is greater danger from one who secretly lies in wait than from an open enemy.

In the Lives of the Fathers (l. 5, libello 1, de profectu patrum, num. 7) the Abbot John gives the following proofs of self-denial and a holy life: “Be patient under injuries, and not soon angry: be a peacemaker, and not rendering evil for evil: not looking at the faults of others, nor exalting thyself; but be subject with humility unto every one: renouncing all fleshly pleasures, and the things which are after the flesh, in humility of spirit in fasting, in patience, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, and in labours, shutting thyself up in a sepulchre, as though thou wast already dead, that death may every day seem to be very nigh unto thee.” S. Agidius, a companion of S. Francis, a very holy man, and enlightened by God, was wont to give these paradoxes of self denial which follow:

“If thou wilt see clearly, pluck out thine eyes, and become blind.
“If thou wilt hear well, be thou deaf.
“If thou wouldst speak well, become dumb.
“If thou wouldst walk well, cut off thy feet.
“If thou wouldst work well, cut off thine hands.
“If thou wouldst love well, hate thyself.
“If thou wouldst live well, make thyself die.
“If thou wouldst gain, learn to lose.
“If thou wouldst be rich, become poor.
“If thou wouldst live in pleasure, afflict thyself.
“If thou wouldst be secure, have perpetual fear.
“If thou wouldst be exalted, humble thyself.
“If thou wouldst be honoured, despise thyself, and honour those who despise thee.
“If thou wouldst have what is good, bear evil.
“If thou wouldst be at rest, work.
“If thou wouldst be blessed, desire to be evil spoken of.
“Oh how great is this wisdom, to know how to do these things! and because they are great, they are not given unto all men.”
“The same Agidius gives the following as the way of salvation, and perfection through self denial:
“If thou wilt be saved, do not ask of any human creature the reason wherefore anything befalls thee.
“If thou wilt be saved, make it thy business to rise superior to every consolation and honour which a creature can give thee.
“Woe to those who desire to be honoured for their wickedness.
“If any one contendeth with thee and thou wishest to overcome, be overcome; for when thou thinkest thou hast won, thou has lost.
“If thou lovest, thou shalt be loved.
“If thou fearest, thou shalt be feared.
“If thou doest service, service shall be done unto thee.
“If thou actest well to others, others shall behave well towards thee.
“Blessed is he who loves, and seeks not to be loved again.
“Blessed is he who serves, and seeketh not to be served. And forasmuch as these things are great, fools cannot attain unto them.”

There are three things which ought more especially to cleave to thy mind. The first is to bear willingly all tribulations. The second, to be more and more humble on account of everything which thou doest, or receivest. The third, faithfully to love those good things which cannot be seen with bodily eyes.

Let him take up his cross. That as I have borne Mine, he may follow with alacrity Me, Christ, as it were the first cross bearer, and the Standard Bearer and Captain of the cross bearers—I who bore My cross, on which I was to be crucified, on My shoulders to Mount Calvary. Luke adds the word daily, to signify that every day, and sometimes every hour, some trouble will come to every one, which he ought to bear bravely and patiently; and that throughout his whole life; and thus must every one live upon the cross, and die upon the cross with Christ. “He takes up his cross” says S. Jerome, “who is crucified to the world, to whom also the world is crucified, who follows a crucified Lord.” This cross is, 1. persecution and martyrdom; 2. any affliction or tribulation sent by God; 3. temptation of the devil, permitted by God for our probation and humiliation, and to increase our reward; 4. self denial and the mortification of our lusts.

His cross. That is, His own cross, i.e., every one has his peculiar cross; one has it from spouse, or children, or relations; another from character; a third from rivals; a fourth from misfortunes; a fifth from poverty; a sixth from exile, bonds, and so on.

2. His own cross, i.e., commensurate with his strength. For God does not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, says S. Paul. He gives to every one a cross as a sort of medicine suitable to the vice from which he suffers. Thus to him who is inclined to pride, God gives some despite, or temptation of the flesh, such as He permitted to come upon S. Paul. The cross He gives to the covetous is loss of goods. To the learned, a fall into some mistake, or bad repute, lest he should be puffed up, and think too highly of himself.

3. His own cross, i.e., decreed by God from eternity for his good. When therefore thou feelest the cross, think upon God, and say, “0 Lord, I willingly accept this cross from thy Fatherly hand, for this is the cross which has been appointed to me from eternity, and decreed by Thee for the destruction of my faults; wherefore I render unto Thee boundless thanks. For I know and believe that by it Thou wouldst make me like unto thy well beloved Son, here in patience, and hereafter in glory. ‘For, whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren.’” (Rom 8:29.)

4. As S. Gregory says (Hom. 32. in Evang.), “The cross is taken up in two ways, when either by abstinence the body is affected, or by compassion for our neighbour the mind is afflicted. Let us consider how in both ways Paul bore his cross. For he said, “I chastise my body and reduce it to servitude, lest perchance preaching to others, I myself should be made reprobate.” (Vulg.) Next let us hear his mind’s cross through compassion for his neighbour. For he said, “Who is Weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?” Behold how the perfect preacher carried the cross in his body, to give an example of abstinence. And forasmuch as He took upon Himself the failings of other men’s infirmity, He carried the cross in His heart.”

Mat 16:25  For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.

For he that will save his life, &c. Greek and Vulgate, his soul. Forasmuch as the cross is bitter and gives pain, “Christ,” says S. Chrysostom, “here animates believers to take it up, by the great reward and the crown of glory which it brings. It is as though one should say to a husbandman: ‘If thou shouldst keep thy corn, thou losest it; if thou sowest it, thou renewest it. For who does not know that the corn, which decays in the dust, springs up from the same dust in a renewed form?’” Origen explains this verse in two ways. 1. Thus: If any man (being a lover of life present) spares his soul through fear of death, and thinking that his soul will perish by that death, he shall lose it, withdrawing it from life eternal. But if any one (despising life present) shall contend for the truth even until death, he shall lose indeed his soul so far as pertains to this life; but since he shall lose it for Christ’s sake, he shall make it safe for the life eternal. The other explanation is as follows: If any one understands what true safety is, and wishes to gain it for the salvation of his soul, he, by denying himself, loses his soul (so far as carnal pleasures are concerned) for Christ’s sake; and losing his soul in this way, he saves it through works of piety. Thus far Origen. The former explanation seems to be the more correct, and may be amplified thus. He who in this life, fleeing from the cross and self-denial, wishes to preserve his soul—that is, his life—and therefore denies Me and My faith in persecution; or wishes to save his soul—that is, the desires of his soul—he shall lose his soul in the life to come, in hell. But he who shall lose his soul in this life for Christ’s sake—either by dying for Him in persecution, or by denying his lusts for His sake—he shall find his soul, which he lost in this life, in the life to come. He shall find it in eternal glory, in the bosom of Christ, Who shall raise and glorify the soul which was exposed to death for His sake. The antithesis between lose and save requires this meaning.

Mat 16:26  For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul?

For what doth it profit, &c. Lose—Greek, ζημιωθη̃, i.e., make loss, be fined. The meaning is, What assistance shall it be to thee—for this is the meaning of the Greek ω̉φελει̃—to have gained all the riches, honours, and pleasures of the whole world, if on account of them you destroy yourself, and be fined as to your soul with the eternal torments of hell? According to the words, “If you lose all things, remember to save your soul.” For wealth and pleasure, if you lose, you may recover! but the soul once lost, is lost for ever. 0 foolish children of Adam, why do ye so love these fleeting things, that for them ye lose your souls, and deliver them to everlasting burnings? 0 insensate, who for a drop of pleasure purchase eternal pains.

Or what exchange shall a man, &c., exchange; Greek, α̉ντάλλαγμα, i.e., compensation, exchange, price, ransom. For thy soul is above all price, all compensation; because it has been purchased and redeemed by the precious Blood of Christ, the Lord our God. Wherefore the whole world is an insufficient price for the soul of one man. For if once thou shalt lose it, by no price canst thou redeem it, nor be able to buy back thy soul with any other soul, because thou hast but one. Here, indeed, the soul is able to redeem her falls by repentance, by tears, and by good works: but in the Day of Judgment there will be no longer place for repentance and redemption. Behold, therefore, the deceit of Satan and the folly of man. Satan buys the soul of a sinner from him at the cheapest rate, for the brief pleasure of gluttony, of luxury, and so on. “He offers an apple, and deprives him of Paradise,” says S. Bernard.

Mat 16:27  For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels: and then will he render to every man according to his works

The Son of Man, &c.—according to his works, i.e., according to what he hath wrought, not according to what he hath known, understood, believed.

Shall come in the glory of His Father. This is the incentive with which Christ stirs up all to heroic acts of self-denial, of the cross, and of virtue. Hear what S. Jerome says (Epist. 1, ad Heliodorum): Thus he invites him to a solitary life, and to take up his cross—”Dost thou fear poverty? Christ calls the poor blessed. Art thou terrified at labour? But no athlete is crowned without sweat. Dost thou think about food? But faith is not afraid of famine. Dost thou fear to wear out thy limbs upon the bare ground? But the Lord lieth with thee. Does the infinite vastness of the desert affright thee? But do thou walk in Paradise in thy mind. That day will come, it will surely come, in which this corruptible and this mortal shall put on incorruption and immortality. Blessed is the servant whom the Lord shall find watching. Then when the earth with its inhabitants shall tremble at the sound of the trumpet, thou shalt rejoice. Then shall the most mighty kings tremble in their nakedness. Plato, with his disciples, shall be found a fool. The arguments of Aristotle shall not profit. But then shalt thou, a rustic and poor, exult. Thou shalt laugh, and say, Behold my crucified God, behold the Judge, who, wrapped in swathing-bands, cried in the manger.” Thus S. Jerome, pathetically but truly.

Mat 16:28  Amen I say to you, there are some of them that stand here, that shall not taste death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

Amen I say to you, &c., in His kingdom. Syriac, into His kingdom. Christ promised that a reward in the heavenly kingdom should be given for good works of self-denial and the cross. Now, lest any one should find fault that it was to be put off for many ages, He shows that it was in reality near; He shows that very kingdom in the transfiguration, after a few days, to some yet alive.

Shall not taste of death, i.e., shall not die. It is a metaphor taken from the deadly cup which was given to persons condemned to die.

In His Kingdom. You will ask what was this kingdom of Christ; and when some of the Apostles standing there beheld it? S. Gregory answers (Hom. 32, in Evang.), and Bede, that this kingdom of Christ was the Church, and its diffusion throughout all nations, which verily the Apostles beheld, yea, brought about. Christ says this, says S. Gregory, that from the spread of the Church’s kingdom, which they were about to behold, they might learn how great would be their future glory in the heavenly kingdom, which in this life is invisible. For God, by the visible things, which He sets forth, confirms the hope of the invisible promises. And, 2. Some think that it was to take place at the resurrection, and in the day of judgment, of which Christ spake in the preceding verse. But I say it took place in the Transfiguration of Christ. For in it they beheld Christ’s glorious kingdom as in a glass. Three of the Apostles, namely, Peter, James, and John, had a foretaste of this kingdom. This view is plain from what follows. All the three Evangelists who relate the Transfiguration, place it immediately after this promise, as though it were the fulfilment of it. Thus SS. Hilary, Chrysostom, Jerome, Ambrose, Theophylact, and others, passim. Whence S. Leo says (de Transfig.). In the kingdom, that is in royal splendour. For in His Transfiguration Christ gave to His Apostles a specimen of the glory, the joy and the happiness which the Saints shall obtain in the Heavenly Kingdom, that He might thereby animate them to Evangelical labours and sorrows, and that they might animate others to the same. After the same manner S. Jerome animates Eustochium. “Go forth,” he saith, “for a little space from thy prison, and picture to thine eyes the reward of thy present labours, which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man. What sort of day will that be when Mary the mother of the Lord shall meet thee with choirs of virgins? When after Pharaoh with his host has been drowned in the Red Sea, she shall sing the antiphon to the responsive choirs, as she bears the timbrel. Let us sing to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea. Then shall Thecla joyfully fly to embrace thee. Then too the Spouse Himself shall meet thee, and shall say, Arise and come, My kinswoman, and My fair one, for lo the winter is passed, the rain is over. Then the angels shall wonder and say, who is this that looketh forth as the morning, beautiful as the moon, chosen as the sun? Then the little ones, lifting up the palms of victory, shall sing with concordant voice, ‘Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest!’ Then the hundred and forty and four thousand before the Throne, and before the Elders shall hold their harps, and shall chant the new song.”

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