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 Maas’ 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.

Then shall the kingdom of heaven. Parable of the ten virgins. In the preceding parables our Lord has warned us to be ready for his coming in a negative manner, i. e. by not living in the state of sin; now he adds two parables in which he describes the positive conditions of our readiness. “Then” refers to the time of the second advent and the subsequent judgment; “shall the kingdom of heaven be like” signifies here as before [cf. Mt 13:24; 18:23; etc.], “then shall happen in the kingdom something like the event described in the following parable.” The number “ten” is used in the parable, not to indicate our five internal and five external senses [cf. Jerome, Gregory], nor probably on account of the perfection of the number [cf. Dionysius], nor on account of its expressing universality [cf. Thomas Aquinas, Jansenius, Maldonado, Lapide, Schanz], but because the Jews often employed this number to denote an indefinite amount of individuals [cf. Lightfoot, ad h. l.; Gen. 31:7; Lev. 26:26; Num. 14:22; Lk. 19:13; Knabenbauer etc.]. The “virgins” in the parable do not signify merely those that have kept their virginity [cf. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius, Schanz], though it is true that the parable accidentally teaches the insufficiency of virginity alone; nor do the “virgins” symbolize the whole human race whether believing or unbelieving [cf. Jerome, Hilary], for the unbelievers cannot be said to go to meet our Lord; but the word denotes all the believers in Christ [cf. Opus Imperfectum, Bede, Paschasius, Alb. St Bruno, Dionysius, Cajetan, Jansenius, Maldonado, Lapide, Calmet, Schegg, Augustine, serm. 93, 2; Gregory hom. in ev. 12], for as Jesus is the bridegroom [cf. Mt. 9:25], so is the Church his bride [cf. Eph. 5:25 f.; 2 Cor. 11:2], including every believing soul.

“Who taking their lamps” or torches made by winding rags about a piece of iron, and fastening it to a thick wooden staff; the oil was poured on the wick, the vessels containing the oil not forming part of the torch. The lamps and the oil signify not faith alone [cf. Opus Imperfectum, Dionysius, Jansenius, Maldonado, Fillion], but either faith enlivened by good works [cf. Hil. Chrys. Orig.], or good works done with due charity [cf. Gregory the Great], or both external communion with the Church and internal participation of its supernatural life consisting in sanctifying grace [cf. Knabenbauer, Hilary, Theophylact, St Bruno]. “Went out” is not a mere proleptic expression to denote what the virgins did after the bridegroom’s coming was announced, nor does it refer to the respective homes of the ten virgins [cf. Jansenius], but it implies a solemn procession either from the house of the bride to meet the bridegroom coming with his companions to fetch the bride, or from the house of the bridegroom to meet him on returning with the bride to his own house. Usually, the marriage feast took place in the house of the bridegroom [cf. Smith, B. D. s. v. marriage]. “To meet the bridegroom and the bride,” or as most Greek codd. and Method. Basil, Chrysostom, Dam. Augustine [serm. 93, 6; qu. 59 ex 83] read, “to meet the bridegroom,” a reading adopted by most recent commentators; if “the bride” be retained, the virgins must have awaited the procession on its way back to the house of the bridegroom. The bride may signify our Lord’s human nature [cf. Hilary, St Thomas Aquinas], or the Church triumphant cf. Dionysius,  Maldonado]; Cajetan rejects the latter view, because the coming of the bridegroom is verified at the hour of death in the case of every individual.

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.

“Five of them were foolish” because they did not provide for the future [cf. Cajetan], “and five wise” because they had taken the necessary precautions [cf. Jansenius]. This is expressly set forth in the words of the evangelist: “the five foolish … did not take oil with them,” except what was actually in their lamps, so that they did not anticipate the possibility of a delay on the part of the bridegroom; similarly, the “wise took oil in their vessels with the lamps,” thus being prepared for the coming delay. “The bridegroom tarrying” indicates that Jesus will not come immediately [cf. Chrysostom, Jerome, Paschasius, St Bruno, Thomas Aquinas, Jansenius, Maldonado]; “they all slumbered,” or were heavy with sleep, since it was night-time. The sleep of the virgins cannot signify the state of tepidity [cf. Origen, Opus Imperfectum. Keil], since the prudent virgins also slept [cf. Augustine, Paschasius]; nor can it well signify the sleep of death [cf. Chrysostom, Hilary, Jerome, Augustine, Gregory, Euthymius, Bede, Paschasius, St Bruno, Thomas Aquinas, Dionysius, Jansenius, Lapide, Arnoldi], since we cannot suppose that at the time of the second advent no men will be alive [cf. Mt 24:30, 31]; the sleep has therefore been explained with greater probability as referring to the venial sins into which all men are constantly betrayed [cf. Cajetan], or to the burden of our daily cares and anxieties [cf. Schegg, Schanz], or again to the state of forgetfulness of the Lord’s promised coming [cf. Maldonad, Fillion, Knabenbauer], or finally it has been regarded as a mere embellishment of the parable without any special meaning.

Mat 25:6  And at midnight there was a cry made: Behold the bridegroom cometh. Go ye forth to meet him.
Mat 25:7  Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.
Mat 25:8  And the foolish said to the wise: Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out.
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.
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.


“And at midnight” shows again the extraordinary delay of the bridegroom, since usually the festivities occurred in the evening; parabolically, midnight either signifies the unexpectedness of the second advent [cf. Augustine serm. 93, 8; St Bruno, Theophylact, Cajetan, Jansenius, Maldonado], or it shows that the Lord’s coming will happen in the night [cf. Chrys. Jer.]; the second view does not harmonize well with Mt. 24:31; 1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:15. “There was a cry made,” probably not by the companions of the bridegroom, but by the spectators; otherwise the foolish virgins could hardly have expected to buy their oil in time; in its parabolic meaning, this cry denotes the sound of the trumpet and the mighty voice of the angel. “Trimmed their lamps,” i. e. drew up the wick and replenished it with oil which had been almost wholly consumed while they slept. “Give us of your oil” is merely added to complete the parable, since in the last day there can be no question of such a petition on the part of the wicked; it shows, however, the tardy repentance of the sinners [cf. Lapide, Knabenbauer]. The answer of the wise virgins shows that no one can expect to be saved by the merits of his neighbor [cf. Jerome, Chrysostom, Euthymius, Paschasius, Dionynius, Jansenius]. “Lest perhaps there be not enough” implies that even the just shall have to fear the divine judgment, though they be not conscious of great sins [cf. 1 Pet. 4:18; 1 Cor. 4:3; St Bruno, Paschasius, Alb. Dionysius, Cajetan, Jansenius, Maldonado]. “Whilst they went to buy, the bridegroom came,” so that the time for penance is over at the time of the second advent [cf. Jn. 9:4; Jerome, Paschasius]. “They that were ready went in with him,” according to the intention of both bridegroom and virgins [cf. Paschasius]. “The marriage” is the feast described in Rev19:7, 9.

Mat 25:11  But at last came also the other virgins, saying: Lord, Lord, open to us.
Mat 25:12  But he answering said: Amen I say to you, I know you not.
Mat 25:13  Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.

“At last come also the other virgins,” according to the parable, though the wicked will certainly never return to the gates of heaven; but the greatness of their loss is indicated by their pleading, “Lord, lord, open to us,” while the irreparability of their fate is shown by the words of the bridegroom, “I know you not.” The bridegroom knows only those united to him by the bond of sanctifying grace [cf. Rom. 6:3; Jn. 15:4; Col. 2:19]. Jer. warns us not to exceed the bounds of sound interpretation in explaining the parable: we cannot, e.g., infer from the five wise and the five foolish virgins that only one half of the believers will be saved [cf. Cajetan]; nor must we seek a special meaning for the vessel in which the virgins carried their oil, nor for those that sold the oil [cf. Knabenbauer]. The lesson inculcated by the parable is stated with impressive earnestness: “Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.” Our ignorance of the time of our Lord’s coming is therefore most useful, because it is calculated to keep us watchful and attentive in our supernatural life [cf. Chrysostom].

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