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 MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 25:1-13

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 25, 2013

Mat 25:1  Then shall the kingdom of heaven be like to ten virgins, who taking their lamps went out to meet the bridegroom and the bride.
Mat 25:2  And five of them were foolish and five wise.
Mat 25:3  But the five foolish, having taken their lamps, did not take oil with them.
Mat 25:4  But the wise took oil in their vessels with the lamps.
Mat 25:5  And the bridegroom tarrying, they all slumbered and slept.

“Then,” at the final coming of the Son of man, when He shall appear unexpectedly, to judge the living and the dead—for, it is of this subject our Lord is treating in the foregoing—“shall the kingdom of heaven,” that is, His Church, gathered from all portions of this world, “be like to ten virgins,” &c., that is to say, something shall take place in His Church, on the occasion of His last coming, similar to what is about being stated in the following parable of the ten virgins, “who, taking their lamps, went out to meet the bridegroom and the bride.” “Went out,” may refer to their preparation to go forth; for, it was only afterwards they did so (v. 6), “go ye forth to meet him.” Or, it might be said, that our Redeemer here mentions, by anticipation, and in a general way, the fact which is afterwards more particularly detailed. “To meet the bridegroom and the bride.” The Greek copies have only, “to meet the bridegroom.” And this would seem to accord better with the usage then prevailing, to which there is reference here, of young virgins remaining at the house of the bride, expecting the coming of the bridegroom, who, on his part, was also accompanied by his male attendants, to fetch her from her father’s house to his own, or some other place, where the marriage feast was celebrated. Hence, the phrase, ducere uxorem, to signify, marrying a wife. On this occasion, the young maidens went forth to meet the bridegroom on his approach to the house of the bride, and accompanied him thither. Moreover, we have only the bridegroom mentioned (verse 6), “Behold the bridegroom cometh … meet him.” However, the Vulgate has the words, “bride and bridegroom.” They are also quoted by the most distinguished of the holy Fathers (St. Hilary, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, &c.); and the words may be explained, of the bride and bridegroom leaving the bride’s house for that of the bridegroom, accompanied by these virgins. It might be also said, that the words, in the application of the parable, may refer to the same person, viz., our Divine Redeemer, who, since His Incarnation, may be regarded both as Bridegroom and Bride, under different relations, as St. Hilary expresses it. For, he says, as the Spirit is bridegroom to the flesh, so is the flesh bride to the Spirit. The number, “ten” is used in SS. Scripture, to denote or symbolize an indefinite multitude. It would appear, too, that “ten” was the usual number of bridal attendants in Judea. The “five wise virgins,” are termed such, because they made prudent provision for the future. The others are termed, “foolish,” for the opposite reason. It is not meant, that the number of reprobate and elect is equal. It is only meant to convey, that even among those having an exterior of piety, who observe purity, and practise certain external acts of piety, nay, even of mercy, adds St. Augustine, symbolized by the burning lamps, there shall be found some excluded from the heavenly banquet.

The literal meaning of the parable hardly needs any explanation. Torches were generally carried on the occasion of nuptial celebrations, which took place at night. A bundle of rags, wound round the end of an iron rod, is said to have served as a torch, the oil being, from time to time, replenished, by dipping the rod in a vessel (Kenrick). The chief matter for explanation is, the scope and application of the several parts of the parable. Regarding the scope of the parable, there can be but very little difficulty. It manifestly is—as appears from verse 13, “Watch you therefore,” &c.; as also from verse 44 of the preceding chapter—to stimulate us to continued vigilance, and preparation against the coming of our Lord to judgment. It is to this the foregoing examples of the householder, of the faithful servant, &c., manifestly tend. And, although it directly refers to the General Judgment, it also includes the particular judgment, of which the general shall be but a public ratification. Hence, it refers to the coming of our Lord, at the hour of death, which is included under coming at the last day. As to the application of the parable—by “the kingdom of heaven,” is meant the Church, composed of good and bad. Now, we cannot distinguish between both. But then, the parable of the ten virgins shall be clearly illustrated; and although the reprobate, who shall then have been condemned to hell, could not be called the members of the Church; still, they are termed such, having been members during life, before God’s judgment was made manifest and executed upon them.

The “ten virgins” are understood by some (Chrysostom, Theophylact, &c.), of those who really were virgins; but some were virgins only in body, their souls not being replenished with sanctifying grace and charity. The others, designated “wise,” were virgins in soul and body. These expositors say, that the object of the parable is to show, that however exalted the virtue of virginity may be, still, it will not suffice, without the works of mercy and charity. But the most generally received opinion is that of St. Jerome, who holds, that, while the word includes virgins as a particular in a general, and hence applied to them by the Church in the Gospel of the Mass for Virgins, it refers generally to all the faithful who are called “virgins,” on account of the integrity and sincere purity of their faith, whose hearts are not sullied with the prostitution of idolatry, nor their bodies with the sinful pleasures of lust. On the other hand, the Scripture is wont to call heretics and infidels by the name of harlots and adulterers.

The “spouse,” denotes our Lord, who shall come at judgment to espouse His glorious Church, and with her celebrate the eternal nuptials in His heavenly kingdom.

By the “lamps,” is commonly understood, the light of faith which all these are supposed to be gifted with, probably accompanied with external good works; for, as to those who had lived immoral lives, they can hardly be said to be in expectation of, or care for, the coming of the heavenly Bridegroom. The difference, however, between the wise and unwise virgins in this interpretation, arises from the difference of intention with which their works were performed. The works of the one class were done purely for God, and from motives of charity; whereas, those of the other, were done from motives of gaining human applause and through empty vanity, like the Pharisees of old, for which they already “received their reward.”

By “the oil,” wherewith the “wise virgins trimmed their lamps,” are commonly understood, good works, without which the “lamp is extinguished,” or “faith is dead.” All had “lamps,” that is, faith; but only those who had the oil of charity, or good works, were admitted to the nuptial feast—faith, without good works, being insufficient for salvation.

The vessels for containing the oil, mean, the souls or consciences of the faithful. To take oil in their vessels, means, to treasure up an abundance of good works against the coming of our Lord, to “lay up treasures to themselves in heaven, where neither the rust nor moth doth consume,” &c. (6:20).

“The delay of the spouse,” refers to the time between our Lord’s Ascension and the General Judgment. And St. Chrysostom remarks, that our Redeemer wishes to convey to His disciples, that He would not come immediately, as some of them erroneously imagined. The word has reference also to the impatience of the virgins who were awaiting Him. For, although the longest time, relative to eternity, is but very short; still, the ardour of His disciples seemed not to be satisfied with anything short of His immediate approach. At the same time, our Redeemer did not wish to convey to them expressly that His coming would be deferred, for fear of rendering them secure or remiss. However, His coming at the death of each was necessarily speedy, as well as uncertain; and thus, they should not fail to prepare themselves. “They slumbered and slept.” “Slumbering,” which precedes perfect sleep, denotes, the infirmities and sickness, which usher in men’s death, which is expressed by, “they slept.” Between the final coming of our Lord and His first coming, the faithful, yielding to the necessities of nature, shall “have slept.” Death is frequently represented in SS. Scripture, as a state of sleep; since, men are to be once more roused and resuscitated at the General Resurrection. Others, understand, slumbering and slept, to express, that men shall have ceased to think of our Lord’s coming, so that He will come when they are not expecting Him.

Mat 25:6  And at midnight there was a cry made: Behold the bridegroom cometh. Go ye forth to meet him.

“At midnight … a cry,” &c. By “cry,” is meant, the Archangel’s trumpet, which St. John (5:28), calls, “the voice of the Son of God.” “Midnight,” denotes, that His coming shall be concealed from men, and that the summons shall be sent forth when least expected, or, this may be an ornamental part of the parable. (SS. Jerome, Chrysostom, &c.) Others infer from this, that Christ will come to judge the world, at the hour of midnight. St. Jerome tells us, that this was an Apostolical tradition. Hence, formerly at the vigil of the Pasch, the people were not allowed to leave the church till after midnight, from an impression, that Christ would come to judgment, at that hour, as He came at the same hour formerly to slay the first-born of the Egyptians, and liberate the Hebrew people. However, all this regarding the hour of Christ’s coming is very uncertain; for, our Redeemer Himself says, “You know not the day nor the hour.”

Mat 25:7  Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.

The trimming of their lamps, by all these virgins, after being roused from sleep, denotes, that after all the faithful shall have been resuscitated by the trumpet of the Archangel, they shall proceed to meet their Judge, and, consulting memory, to examine their consciences, regarding the account they are to give for the actions of their entire lives.

Mat 25:8  And the foolish said to the wise: Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out.

This is one of the ornamental parts of the parable, having no further significance or illustration; for, on the last day, the reprobate will know well, that the just cannot impart to them any portion of their merits; that each one shall be judged according to his own works, whether good or evil. The words, however, convey to us, the straits and despair to which the wicked shall be reduced on beholding the inevitable damnation to which they are doomed, without any prospect of alleviation or reprieve, from the intercession of friends, or the merits of God’s saints, and the unavailing regrets in which they shall indulge at that hour, for not having availed themselves, during life, of the means of securing their salvation.

The words, “our lamps are gone out,” show, that without the oil of good works, charity, which is the flame that emanates from the lamps, is lost; inasmuch as, without performing good works, which are prescribed by God’s Commandments, we forfeit God’s grace and friendship. Hence, we must be ever employed in good works, if we wish to preserve and keep alive the holy flame of Divine charity.

Mat 25:9  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, also, is ornamental, and merely intended to complete the literal narrative. If it has any meaning at all, it conveys to us, that at that hour, the just, however they might assist sinners during life, can give no assistance to them, now that the time of mercy and merit is past; that even the just shall tremble for their own salvation. The words may also convey, the reproaches which the reprobate shall meet with on that day, for having, during life, performed their actions to please men who “sell” the oil of flattery, and adulation, and foolish passing applause, which are of no avail, but rather a subject of regret at judgment. “But, let not the oil of the sinner fatten my head” (Psa. 140:5). In the literal reading of this verse there is supposed to be an ellipsis, and the words, “we fear” (φοβουμεθα), understood thus—“(we fear) lest there be not enough,” &c. (Beelen.)

Mat 25:10  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.

This is, like the preceding, ornamental. At the same time, it conveys to us, the fruitless regrets of the reprobate, when, too late, and the time of merit is passed, for not having performed the good works, whereby they might have earned the kingdom of heaven. The coming of the bridegroom represents, the coming of Christ to judgment. The entrance of those who were ready, denotes, the admission of the elect to the joys of heaven, “the nuptials of the Lamb” (Rev 19:7). “The door was shut,” expresses, that the time of doing good is past, and “the night come when no one can work.”

Mat 25:11  But at last came also the other virgins, saying: Lord, Lord, open to us.

In this verse is conveyed, the despair and anguish of spirit of the reprobate on seeing themselves for ever banished from the glory and beatific vision of God. This anguish is most pathetically described by the Wise man. (c. 5:1, &c.)

Mat 25:12  But he answering said: Amen I say to you, I know you not.

“I know you not,” signifies, the knowledge of love, benevolence, and approbation, as if He said: Although well known to Me, still, I do not wish to have any intercourse with you. I disown yon, as My children and friends. I reprobate and reject you from the pure joys of My eternal kingdom (see 7:23).

Mat 25:13  Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.

This is the great lesson, which the entire parable is primarily intended to inculcate, and to which the preceding parables, from v. 42 of the preceding chapter, as also the following parable, and the several parts of each parable have reference. To the words of this verse, is added, in the Protestant versions, “Wherein the Son of man cometh.” But, these words are rejected by the best critics, and omitted in the chief MSS. They were, most likely, introduced from the margin, as more clearly completing and expressing the sense. For, the words, even in our version, mean: You know not that last day, nor that last hour, when the Lord shall come unexpectedly, like the midnight thief—the hour upon which depends an eternity of happiness or misery. According to the preparation we shall have made, and the vigilance we shall have employed to be always ready and to have the oil of charity and good works always burning in our hearts, with our consciences always pure before God, shall our doom be determined.

But, it may be asked, how can the inference, “Watch ye, therefore,” &c., be deduced from the example of the ten virgins, since, all are supposed to have slept, the “wise,” as well as the unwise? Resp. The example of the wise virgins is not proposed to us in this sense: that as they kept a bodily watch, we should watch spiritually; but only in this sense, that as they prudently provided against the uncertain coming of the spouse, so, we should prudently provide against the uncertain coming of our Lord, in such a way as not to be caught unprepared; this we shall escape, by constantly watching in the performance of good works. Hence, our Lord in this sense, infers, “Watch ye, therefore,” &c., as if He said: In order that no such misfortune as befell the unwise virgins may befall you, so that that day should find you unprepared, and thus subject you to exclusion from My kingdom, prepare against that uncertain day. In other words, watch continually in good works, and be not remiss, as you must be persuaded, that any preparation you may make on that day, shall come too late. It is, of course, to be observed, that although our Redeemer directly refers to His coming at the General Judgment, He also includes His coming at the death of each, when the final doom of every man is to be decided, and the sentence to be solemnly and publicly repeated at the General Judgment, already irrevocably pronounced.

We are admonished, therefore, not to live negligently, content merely with the light of faith; but, that we should provide ourselves with the oil of charity and good works, before the arrival of the hour of death; so that, when the Spouse shall have arrived, and demanded an account of our actions, we may have sufficient oil to trim our lamps which shall light us into the banquet-hall of the heavenly kingdom.

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