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Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 2:13-23

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 29, 2013

Mat 2:13  And after they were departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him.

“And after they were departed,” &c. There is a great diversity of opinion among commentators and critics regarding the time which intervened between the departure of the Magi and the flight into Egypt. Indeed all the hypotheses advanced hardly, at best, exceed probable conjecture. (vide Patrizzi, Lib. iii., Dissert, xxx., &c., de Evangelis. Mandiut, Dissert. iv., &c.) The most probable arrangement, and the one that will most easily reconcile the apparent discrepancy between St. Matthew here, and St. Luke (Lk 2:22–39), is effected by inserting in this place all that is described by St. Luke in the above passage relative to the purification. After the purification, the holy family retired to Nazareth, their native place (Luke 2:39). It was there the Angel appeared to Joseph, and from thence they fled into Egypt, in obedience to the Angel’s admonition, in order, among a variety of other reasons, to be altogether outside the dominions of Herod. There is no real discrepancy between St. Matthew here and St. Luke; as the one only omits what the other describes. St. Matthew says nothing of the purification. St. Luke, on the other hand, says nothing of the flight into Egypt, described here by St. Matthew; one supplies what the other omits; without the slightest contradiction or discrepancy.

On this subject St. Augustine observes, “that each Evangelist so interweaves his narrative as to present the appearance of a connected series of events, so arranged as to seem to omit nothing. For, while omitting what he means to pass over, he so connects what he wishes to express, that one event would seem to follow closely on the track of the other” (De Comm. Evan. c. 5). At the same time, the Evangelist does not assert, that the events described immediately followed one another, or that other events did not intervene.

“An Angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph.” Whenever God deigns to manifest His divine will in sleep, or through the medium of dreams (a mode of making known the divine will, not unusual in the Old Testament), He so arranges it, that no doubt whatever of the real nature of the communication exists (Mt 2:20).

“Arise, and take the child and His mother.” On a former occasion, he called her “thy wife,” at the time when Joseph had suffered much anxiety on account of her as his spouse. Now, all this anxiety being over, the Angel calls the Virgin mother by a higher and more exalted title, that of “mother” of the child, “His mother,” Mother of God.

“And fly into Egypt.” Egypt was chosen as the place of safety, because being not very far from Palestine to the south, it was completely outside Herod’s jurisdiction, and enjoyed an independent government, and also in order to the fulfilment of the prophecy of Ozee referred to (in v. 15). For, the Israelites to whom the prophecy of Ozee (Hosea) directly refers, had dwelt in Egypt 200 years, and having been brought forth from thence by Moses, were a type and figure of our Lord when brought from Egypt, and this typical relation is the more clearly perceived from the circumstance that it was through the blood of the Paschal Lamb they were delivered, which was a most expressive type of Christ. There are several other reasons for preferring Egypt for this honour of receiving our Lord, mentioned by commentators, which it is not necessary to refer to here in detail.

“For it will come to pass,” &c. Our Lord might have saved His Son from Herod’s cruelty, by an effort of His power. Hence, as St. Fulgentius remarks, it was not from fear or necessity His flight proceeded, “fugit non humana formidine sed dispensatione divina. Fugit, non necessitate, sed potestate. (“he shuns human fear but not divine direction. He escapes, not of necessity, but of choice Fulgentius de Epiph). But the economy of God’s wisdom would have it otherwise. He wished to give a proof of the human nature of His Son, which the exercise of Divine power in His infancy might give some grounds for doubting. He wished to show His power by weakness. His wisdom by folly, &c. (1 Cor. 1)

Mat 2:14  Who arose, and took the child and his mother by night, and retired into Egypt: and he was there until the death of Herod:

“By night.” The very same moment he received the Divine mandate, he obeyed, without any previous preparation for his journey. We see here the commendable faith, the blind, unhesitating, unmurmuring, unquestioning obedience of Joseph, his humble submission to, and reliance on, God’s providence. Some expositors say it was to the event here recorded, the words of Isaias (Isa 19:1) mystically refer: “Behold the Lord will ascend upon a swift cloud, and will enter into Egypt, and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at His presence,” &c. These words, however, more appropriately refer to the threat of the Lord to punish the Egyptians by means of the Assyrians, whom He would send to execute vengeance, and utterly destroy their idols. Mystically, Egypt signifies the world, as St. Jerome teaches, in which idolatry was destroyed by Christ; and in the mystical sense, the passage quoted may be said to refer to our Lord’s entrance into Egypt on this occasion, which may be said to denote that He would be received by the idolatrous nations, and that their false worship would be destroyed by Him. The fruits of mature sanctity, which so long distinguished Egypt in the numerous hermits, anchorites, and holy monks—these angels in the flesh—who peopled its deserts, such as the Pauls, the Antonies, the Macariuses, &c., may be fairly attributed to the early visit of the infant God to that country, which, together with Babylon, formed the great centre of infidelity and vice in ancient times. Historians and ecclesiastical writers narrate several wonderful occurrences which took place in Egypt on the occasion of this visit of the infant God. Among the rest, it is related by St. Jerome (in Isaiam xix. 1), that the idols of Egypt crumbled to pieces, at the entrance of our Saviour. The same is referred to by Rufinus and Palladius, as a very ancient tradition.

Till the death of Herod.” Herod’s death occurred after a reign of thirty-four years, from the death of Antigonus, and thirty-seven from the date of his appointment as king by the Romans (Josephus Antiq. Lib. xviii. c. 8; do Bello, Lib. c. 33). Nothing certain can be determined regarding the time our Lord spent in Egypt. Some say, three years; others, five; others, seven; others, eight.

Mat 2:15  That it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Out of Egypt have I called my son.

“That it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke … Out of Egypt have I called my Son.” The quotation referred to in this verse is taken from the prophet Ozee (Hos 11:1), according to the Hebrew version, and the words immediately and literally refer to the Hebrew people, when leaving Egypt. Elsewhere, also, the Almighty calls the Hebrew people, His son. “Israel is my son, my first-born” (Exod. 4:22) These words are not fulfilled in our Lord in the sense of their having originally and literally referred to Him, as the words of Micheas are fulfilled in Him, “Et tu Bethlehem, terra Juda,” &c., because it was to Him these words of Micheas refer, directly and exclusively; nor in the sense either that they mystically referred to Him, as the words, “ego ero illi in patrem,” &c., although originally referring to Solomon, were, in a mystical and more principal sense, fulfilled in Christ, in which sense also the words, “os non comminuetis ex eo,” mystically referred to Christ, and were principally intended by the sacred writer to be understood so. But, they were fulfilled in this sense, that what is said of “Israel” applies still more strictly and more accurately to Christ, inasmuch as He was, by excellence, “the Son of God,” just as the words spoken by Isaias of the hypocrites of his time, “populus hic labiis,” &c., were verified in the hypocrites in the days of Christ, although Isaias did not directly refer to them. In the same way, the prophecy of Isaias (Mat. 13:14), “hearing you shall hear,” &c., although meant for the obstinate Jews of the days of Isaias, was literally and equally true of the Jews, in the time of Christ. Hence, said to be predicted of them and verified in them. In this latter sense, the words, “out of Egypt,” &c., were fulfilled in the person of Christ; and in His recall from Egypt Israel may be also said to be in a certain sense, a type of Christ; and hence in this sense also, the prophecy might be said, in some respects, to be typically verified in Him.

Mat 2:16  Then Herod perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceeding angry: and sending killed all the menchildren that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.

Herod, seeing that the Magi did not return, very likely, conjectured that they saw through his wicked designs regarding the Divine infant. Ignorant of the heavenly guidance that directed them, he became exceedingly angry, and sending his executioners, he “killed all the men children,” &c. Most likely, for greater security’ sake, he was influenced in extending the age of his intended victims to the period of “two years,” &c.—as he extended the place or area not only to Bethlehem, but to “all the borders thereof”—lest possibly the infant of whom so much was said in the prophecy of Micheas, and by Simeon and Anna at His presentation in the temple (Luke 2:25–38), might have attained a size and an amount of strength not attained ordinarily by children of His age. Probably Herod, engaged in important State business, either did not mind the lapse of many days, and the delay in the return of the Magi; or, if he did, most likely he thought that, disappointed in their search, they returned home without calling on him, according to promise, in order to escape the ridicule to which their disappointment in their foolish search might subject them. But when the account of the wonderful things that occurred at the presentation (Luke 2, &c.), reached his ears, he then clearly saw he was baffled by the Magi, who may have seen through his wicked designs, and this caused him to be enraged. Sending his soldiers or executioners, he slew all the male children that were in Bethlehem and in all its confines, including all those who had been two years old and under, up to the time he had ascertained the star to have appeared, according to the diligent inquiries made of the Magi. Probably, as Herod had extended the district, “and all the confines thereof,” so he also extended the age of his intended victims to the period of two years, for greater security’ sake, lest, possibly, the infant might escape of whom so much was said both in the prophecy of Micheas, and by Simeon and Anna, on the occasion of the Purification. He may have imagined that, possibly, the holy infant might have attained a size and strength too great for His age. Perhaps, He would be equal in both to children born nearly two years before Him. From the words of this verse, some commentators suppose that the star appeared to the Magi, two years before, the infant was born. But, manifestly, the Magi regarded the star as the sign of the King already born, rather than of one to be born, “qui natus est rex,” &c. Others say, the Magi did not reach Bethlehem for two years after the apparition of the star, which was the cause why Herod fixed on the period of “two years.” But it is very unlikely that Mary and Joseph remained so long in Bethlehem; although, indeed, we are not bound by anything mentioned in the Gospels to believe that the Magi adored him in Bethlehem any more than at Nazareth. For, although Herod directed them to go to Bethlehem, it may be that the guiding star led them elsewhere. However, the common opinion is, that the Magi came shortly after our Lord’s birth, and the murder of the children; “and two years old” may be accounted for on the grounds already assigned. The words, “according to the time,” &c., are to be connected not with the words of preceding sentence, “from two years old,” but, rather with the words, “and under,” as if he said; he slew all the children who were two years old and under that age, up to the time that, by diligent inquiry, he ascertained from the Magi that the star appeared, so that, as he regarded the apparition of the star as a certain sign that the infant was then born, fierce as he was, he did not indulge in the gratuitous cruelty of slaughtering all the male children of Bethlehem, including those who were only a few days old. He excepted from this, the children born after the appearance of the star. Hence, the words, “according to,” &c., mean, up to, the time he ascertained the star to have appeared. Although this cruel deed on the part of Herod is passed over in silence by Josephus, it is mentioned by Celsus, against whom Origen wrote (Contra Celsum, Lib. i. n. 48), by Justin, in his Dialogue with Typhron the Jew. Josephus himself admits that Herod was becoming every day more suspicious and cruel. He slew his son-in-law, Josippus; his beloved wife, Mariamne; his sons, Alexander and Aristobulus; his third son, Antipater. The omission on the part of Josephus cannot be of any weight against the positive testimony of St. Matthew, who described this cruel deed shortly after it occurred. Macrobius also (Lib. ii. Saturnal, c. 10) mentions, among the many witty sayings of Augustus, that on hearing that, together with the children whom Herod killed in Syria from two years old, he ordered his own son Antipater to be put to death (he had already slain Alexander and Aristobulus), Augustus observed, “it was better to be Herod’s hog than his son,” in allusion to the law among the Jews regarding unclean meats, swine’s flesh among the rest.

At what time this infanticide took place is disputed. Some say, shortly after the departure of the Magi, towards the next Pasch, which occurred in March, for it was then, they say, Herod died in the thirty-seventh year of his reign, having a few (five) days previously put his son, Antipater, to death on a charge of plotting against himself and his reign. Others, and among them A. Lapide, say, it occurred fully twelve months and more after they departed, about the fifteenth month of our Lord’s age, and these say that the words, “a bimatu et infra,” mean, that Herod put to death only the children who attained the second year of their age or thereabouts, more or less, say, fifteen months, according to the time he ascertained the star to have appeared to the Magi.

Mat 2:17  Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet, saying:
Mat 2:18  A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

“Then was fulfilled,” &c. The words of Jeremias (31:15), here quoted, are not so much “a prophecy” in regard to the event to which they originally referred, viz., the abduction of the ten tribes into captivity, as a narrative of a past event. In the prophecy of Jeremias, mention is made of the tribe of Ephraim only, from which Jeroboam, their first king, had sprung. It was the chief of the ten tribes that were carried into captivity. Rachel, the grandmother of Ephraim, then in her grave, is, by a bold figure of speech, represented by Jeremias, as deploring and loudly bewailing her children as they passed by her tomb into captivity, in order to convey an idea of the sad fate and misfortunes that awaited them in a strange land. Here the Evangelist, accommodating the words of Jeremias to his present purpose, says his words are fulfilled in the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, inasmuch as a similar, or rather a greater, cause for mourning has arisen in Israel under Herod, more calculated still to cause lamentation than the abduction of the ten tribes—the cause of the lamentation referred to by Jeremias. St. Matthew compares what happened now under Herod, with what happened on the occasion referred to by Jeremias. Between both there existed the mere relation of similarity. Under the type of the former calamity, the Holy Ghost wishes, in that passage of Jeremias, to denote the slaughter of all the martyrs, and the wailing of their mother, the Church—signified by Rachel—over the first fruits, or rather flowers, as the Church terms them, of all the martyrs put to death for Christ. “Salvete flores martyrum” (Hymn in Festo SS. Innocentium).

“Rachel,” the mother of Benjamin, was buried near Bethlehem, on the confines of Juda and Benjamin; and as the people of Juda and Benjamin were interspersed in that district, near Bethlehem, Rachel, although not the mother of Juda, is still said to mourn all the children; of whom those of Benjamin, “in the confines of Bethlehem,” formed a part. Moreover, both Juda and Benjamin formed one kingdom, so that what happened one might be said to be common to the other.

Rachel “would not be comforted, because they are not.” These words mean, in reference to the Israelites led into captivity, that those taken away were to remain in captivity, far away from the land of their fathers. In reference to the Holy Innocents, they mean, without taking at all into account the crowns of immortal glory in store for them, “that they are not in life, having been put to death.” In both the Hebrew and Septuagint of Jeremias, we have “lamentation, and weeping, and mourning”—three terms. In St. Matthew only two—“lamentation and great mourning.” Probably, St. Matthew, only quoted the substance of Jeremias, and the word “great” may be said to convey the idea of “weeping” expressed in Jeremias.

“In Rama.” “Rama” means “high.” Hence, St. Jerome, understanding it of any high place, makes it a common noun—“a voice was heard on high” (Jer. 31:15). The Greek interpreter of St. Matthew, following the Septuagint on Jeremias, makes a proper name—“a voice was heard in Rama”—a city in the tribe of Benjamin, seven miles from Bethlehem, near Gabaa, on the confines of Juda and Benjamin. The words convey an idea of the loud wail which was heard seven miles off, reaching from Juda to Benjamin, showing their common grief. The version of St. Jerome conveys the same idea—A wail was heard on high, and ascended aloft. It may be allusive to the usages of the Jews, who, on mourning occasions, were wont to ascend high mountains, to wail and express their deep grief.

Mat 2:19  But when Herod was dead, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph in Egypt,

“But when Herod was dead.” The period of our Lord’s sojourn in Egypt must depend on the period of Herod’s death. This is very uncertain. Josephus (De Bel. Jud. Lib. i. c. 33), says that he reigned thirty-seven years, from the time he was first appointed king by the Romans, and thirty-four, from the time he slew Antigonus. From this, some infer that whereas Christ was born in the thirty-second year of Herod’s reign, and, most likely, went into Egypt in the first year of His birth, He remained about five years in Egypt, and returned the fifth or sixth of His age. These several epochs are disputed by others. Hence, we can determine nothing with absolute certainty on this point. After Herod, no one else was appointed king of Judea—it would seem, by Divine dispensation, the true King of the Jews being now born, who returns to His kingdom on the death of the intruder, by whom was wielded the sceptre which had now passed away from Juda. Herod’s end was most frightful. He died of a complication of most loathsome diseases, and the excruciating tortures in which he closed his wicked life must be regarded as a just punishment for his crimes. Josephus describes his last days (De Antiq. Lib. xvii. c. 6.; De Jud. Lib. i. c. 33). The same historian informs us that, shortly before his death, he meditated a horrible deed of cruelty. He caused to be collected all the chief men among the Jews into one place, called the Hippodrome, and had them guarded there. He then gave instructions to his sister, Salome, and to her husband, Alexas, to have them all slaughtered immediately after his death, so that all Judea and every family among the Jews, to whom he suspected his death would be the cause of great joy, would be plunged into mourning on that occasion (Josephus de Bel. Jud., Lib. i. c. 31).

Mat 2:20  Saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel. For they are dead that sought the life of the child.
The Angel does not tell Joseph into what part of “the land of Israel” he is to go, in order that, being left still in doubt, he would have occasion to consult God, and be consoled by the further manifestation of the care which God had of himself and the child.

“They are dead.” He refers to Herod, as is clear from the words (Mt 2″19), “Now Herod being dead.” It is to him the Angel refers. The plural, by a Hebrew idiom, is used for the singular, a thing quite common in the SS. Scriptures. Thus (Exod. 32:4), we find, “hi sunt Dei tui,” &c., although only one golden calf was made. Also (Exod. 4), the Lord, addressing Moses, says, “mortui sunt qui quærunt animam tuam,” although, as we are told (Exodus 2), only Pharao sought his life. Similar words are employed by the Lord, in calling back His Son from Egypt, to those addressed to Moses, who, as a deliverer, was an expressive type of Christ. Similar is the phrase, “dedit terra ranas in penetralibus regum ipsorum” (Ps 105), although there is question of Pharao only. Also “scriptum est in prophetis; erunt doeibiles Dei,” found in one prophet only (Isa. 54:13, and in the Acts 13:41). What is spoken by only one prophet, Habacuc (1:5), is said to be spoken “in the prophets.” So it is also here in the case of Herod.

Mat 2:21  Who arose, and took the child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.

“And came into the land of Israel.” He came first to that portion of it nearest Egypt, viz., a portion of the tribe of Dan or Simeon.

Mat 2:22  But hearing that Archclaus reigned in Judea in the room of Herod his father, he was afraid to go thither: and being warned in sleep retired into the quarters of Galilee.

Archelaus was appointed king in his father’s will, subject to the approval of Augustus Cæsar, who constituted him ethnarch of one-half of the country over which Herod, his father, ruled, with a promise of making him king hereafter, if he deserved it. The other half, Cæsar divided, and gave to two other of Herod’s sons, Philip and Antipas. It was this Antipas, that disputed with Archelaus for the whole kingdom (Josephus Ant., Lib. xvii. c. 11). When, then, the Evangelist says, “he reigned in Judea,” it merely signifies that he exercised supreme civil power there, although he had not at the time the name or title of king. “In Judea”—inhabited by Juda and Benjamin; so called to distinguish it from the kingdom of Israel, inhabited by the ten separated tribes. The fact of his being constituted king in his father’s will, and being saluted as such by the soldiers and people, on his father’s death, would warrant the impression that he reigned there.

It may be that Joseph returned from Egypt shortly after Herod’s death, before Archelaus set out for Rome to see Cæsar, to justify his conduct, and obtain the ratification by Cæsar of his father’s will. It was not unusual with Hebrew and Greek writers to designate those as “kings,” in a wider signification of the term, who enjoyed any principality, even beneath the kingly dignity. Archelaus was ultimately banished by Cæsar into Gaul.

“He was afraid to go thither.” It may be that Joseph, on his return, was desirous to go to the Temple of Jerusalem, to return God thanks, before finally returning to his native dwelling-place of Nazareth. But, owing to the well-known cruel disposition of Archelaus, which afterwards cost him his crown (Josephus Antiq., Lib. xvii. c. 15), he feared to go there. It might be that Joseph, in his anxiety and apprehension for the safety of his heavenly charge, feared that the child would be recognised, owing to the occurrences which took place at Bethlehem and Jerusalem at his presentation; and he could expect no mercy from the wicked Archelaus, the worthy heir and rival of his father’s cruelties. Joseph naturally feared, he would not be safe anywhere within the dominions of Archelaus. It is related, as an instance of Archelaus’ cruelty, that he put to death, or rather cut to pieces, several thousands of the Jews in the temple, at the Paschal festival (Josephus, Lib. xvii. c. 9). Hence, being “warned in sleep” (χρηματισθείς means, receiving a Divine oracle), “Joseph retired into the quarters of Galilee,” where Herod Antipas, a prince of milder disposition, ruled, and where the circumstances of the child’s birth were not so well known.

Mat 2:23  And coming he dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was said by the prophets: That he shall be called a Nazarene.

“Nazareth”—an obscure town at the foot of Mount Thabor, where nothing was known of the extraordinary events connected with the birth of our Lord, and where He could not be suspected of being one of the infants sought for in Bethlehem. This was supposed to be the birth-place of the Blessed Virgin, where she resided when she received the message of the Angel (Luke 1:26), and where our Saviour “was brought up” (Luke 4:16). No cause for jealousy on the part of the Herods could be apprehended from this quarter, out of which it was not thought anything good could come (John 1:46). It was a fit asylum for the infant Saviour.

“That it might be fulfilled … that He shall be called a Nazarite.” “That,” denotes the event or consequence, as if he said, from this resulted the fulfilment of the words of the prophets regarding Him, “That he shall be called,” &c. This passage has been a source of perplexity to commentators, who cannot find, either in the writings of the Prophets in general, or of any one amongst them in particular, that our Redeemer would be called a Nazarene or Nazarite at all, or that He would be called so from the place of His education. St. Jerome (Epist. xx. ad Damasum), says, “We cannot find it either in the Greek or Latin copies.” He writes to the same effect (in Isa. 11), and in his commentary on this passage (Matthew 2), he says, “that the Evangelist, by using the word ‘Prophets’ in the plural number, unmistakeably conveys, that he quotes not the exact words, but the sense of the prophecies which regarded Christ.”

The question which creates the great difficulty here is, where was it prophesied of Christ that “He would be called a Nazarene?” Commentators are divided in accounting for this. One class say, if the original Hebrew word for “Nazarene” be written with a Zain (ז) Nezir, then the word Nazarene will signify holy, consecrated, or set apart. Now, throughout the entire Scriptures, particularly the prophetical writings, our Lord is spoken of as holy by excellence. Thus, St. Jerome (in hunc locum) says, “Nazarene” is interpreted, holy. The appellation of Nazarene was given to the most distinguished types of our Lord—Samson (Judg. 15), Joseph (Gen. 49:26)—on account of their being separated from the people by their distinguished virtues, and, as such, types of Christ. According to these interpreters, it was the result of God’s wonderful providence that our Lord, by reason of His education at Nazareth, would be called “a Nazarene.” He was called so, no doubt, out of contempt by the Jews. But it was a title of dignity given by God, expressive of His incomparable sanctity, His eternal consecration in the intrinsic nature of the Divinity by which His human nature was assumed to a personal union. This interpretation is adopted by Tertullian. (Lib. iv. Adversus Marcionem; Eusebius Demon. Evangel.; St. Jerome in c. ii. Matt., &c.) To this interpretation might be added, that the appellation of “Nazarene” applied to Samson, &c., who were types of Christ, was verified and fulfilled in Him, as the antitype, when, from the place of His education, He was called a Nazarene, sometimes out of contempt.

The generality of commentators, however, understand the allusion to be to the words of Isaias (Isa 11:1), “There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.” The holy Fathers, all Catholics, the most distinguished Jewish expositors of Scripture, the chiefs of the Rationalistic school, among them Rosenmuller, say, these words refer to Christ. St. Jerome tells us that in the original the word for “flower” signifies a Nazarite, so that the passage should be literally and strictly rendered, “a rod … and a Nazarite (Netzer) from his root.” In this the word is written not by Zain (ז) Nezir, as is supposed in the former interpretation, but by Psade (צ) Netzer, a flower or other “bud.” It, moreover, is against the former interpretation, that the word “Nazarene,” as applied to the types of our Lord, Samson, &c., is written in the Septuagint, Ναζαραιος; whereas, as applied to Christ, it is everywhere written in the New Testament with an ῶ, Ναζῶραιος. Hence, in this interpretation, the Evangelist means to convey that our Lord had chosen Nazareth for his dwelling and place of education, in order that from this would appear that the title or epithet of “flower” or bud (Netzer) given Him by the prophet Isaias (Isa 11:1), was fully verified in Him. The Jews called Him a “Nazarene,” out of contempt, as a term of reproach. But, to the believers who saw in the appellation a fulfilment of what was, in substance at least, if not in express terms, predicted of Him by the Prophets, it served as a further confirmation of their faith. The word, Prophets, although, according to this latter interpretation, referring to Isaias only, is, according to Jewish usage, used in the plural for the singular. The words, “to be called,” are frequently used to express, and are synonymous with, “shall be” (Eccles. 6:10; Isa. 14:20; Luke 2:23). Hence, here the words mean, “He shall be a Nazarene,” as was predicted by Isaias regarding Him.

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Bishop MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 2:1-12

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 29, 2013


In this chapter, we have an account of the arrival of the Magi at Jerusalem, attracted thither by the wonderful appearance of a star, which indicated the birth of the true King of the Jews (1–2). The trouble, which the intrepid announcement by the Magi caused Herod and all his followers (3). The convening of the Sanhedrim; the prophecy of Micheas relating to the birth-place of the Messiah (4–6). The hypocritical affectation of reverence on the part of Herod, for the infant King, on making inquiries regarding the apparition of the star (7–8). The reappearance of the star which conducted the Magi to Bethlehem, where, on entering the house indicated by the star, falling down they adore our Lord, presenting, at the same time, gifts expressive of their faith in His Divinity and humanity (9–11). The Divine intimation given to the Magi not to return to Herod, and to Joseph to fly with the child and his mother into Egypt, in order to baffle the wicked designs of Herod (12–13). Joseph’s prompt, unmurmuring obedience, thus verifying the prediction of the prophet (14–15). The slaughter of the holy innocents, and the completion of the prophecy of Jeremias (16–18). Herod’s death; Joseph’s return with the child and his mother to their native country, in obedience to the Divine injunction (19–21). His fears of Archelaus, Herod’s cruel son and successor; his departure for Nazareth, in obedience to the Divine admonition, whence resulted the fulfilment of a prophecy, relating to our Divine Lord (22–23).

Mat 2:1  When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of king Herod, behold, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem,

“Therefore,” is resumptive of the preceding narrative, or rather, continues it, The Greek particle, δε, has sometimes this meaning. Hence, rendered “therefore.”

“Jesus,” the name given to the Son of God by Joseph, in obedience to the instructions from heaven (mT 1:21–25).

“Was born.” The circumstances of His birth are given (Luke 2), and passed over by St. Matthew.

“In Bethlehem of Juda,” refers to the Bethlehem situated in the portion assigned to the tribe of Juda, which, united with Benjamin, formed the kingdom of Juda, as distinguished from that of Israel. The Greek has (Ιουδαίας) “of Judea,” the reading followed by the Greek Fathers and by some Latins. St. Jerome says, “Judea” crept into the text instead of “Juda,” through the error of copyists. Moreover, we read (v. 6), “And thou, Bethlehem, the land of Juda.” However, it might be said as regards this latter reason, that Judea might mean only the portions assigned to Juda and, Benjamin, as it is said Archelaus reigned in Judea (v. 22); and many regard Judea as the correct reading as contradistinguished from Samaria and Galilee. It embraced Juda. “Of Juda,” distinguishes it from another Bethlehem, which was in the tribe of Zabulon in Galilee (JosH19:15). The place, the time, and other circumstances of our Redeemer’s birth are mentioned by the Evangelist not alone for the sake of historical accuracy, but also to show that our Redeemer was born in the place, and at the time marked out in the ancient prophecies (Mic. 5:2; Gen. 49:10).

“In the days of Herod the king.” This was Herod the Great, surnamed ASCALONITES, a foreigner from Idumea. He was not a Jew, but only a proselyte to the Jewish religion. He was raised to the throne by the Romans. He is called “king” to distinguish him from other potentates of that name, as he was king not only of Judea, but of the adjacent districts. He is thus distinguished from his son, Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee, who beheaded the Baptist, and mocked our Lord at His Passion (Luke 13:31; Matt. 14); and also from his grandson, Herod Agrippa, whom Claudius made king of Trachonitis, Galilee, and Iturea. It was by this Herod Agrippa that St. James the Greater was put to death, and St. Peter cast into prison. (Acts 12) The mention of “Herod the king” in this passage shows that the sceptre had now passed away from Juda, and the period for the birth of Christ had arrived (Gen. 49:10). This Herod, in whose lifetime, according to the Gospel narrative here, our Lord was born, died in the spring of the year 750, urbis conditæ. But the reckoning of the Christian era begins with the year (U.C.) 754. Hence, the Christian era is post-dated by, at least, four years.

“Behold,” shows the arrival referred to, to be an unexpected event; and also, that it occurred soon after our Redeemer’s birth.

“There came wise men.” The original for wise men, is, Magi. There is a great diversity of opinion regarding the profession, character, and number of these Magi.

As regards their profession, the more commonly received opinion seems to be, that among the nations of the East, particularly the Chaldeans and Persians, the Magi were their men of learning, whose profession was the study of astrology and the investigation of the truths of natural philosophy. The same class were termed Philosophers, among the Greeks, Brahmins among the Indians, Chaldeans, among the Babylonians, Hierophants, among the Egyptians, Druids, among the Celtic nations (Cicero, Lib. 1; de Divinit. Strabo, Lib. 16–9; Tertullian against Marcion 1). They were held in great consideration by their countrymen. From among them the kings were chosen, and they usually presided over and directed the councils of kings. Among the Persians, no one was raised to the kingly dignity, who was not first imbued in the science and discipline of the Magi. (Cicero, Lib. 1; de Divin. Plato Alcib. 1, &c.) Owing to the abuse made in subsequent ages of the profession of the Magi, the term, at first a title of honour and repute, became a term of disrepute subsequently, like the words, sophist, astrologer, tyrant, &c., which originally were terms of honour and repute, Hence, we find the reproachful epithet given to Simon Magus. The Magi who visited our Lord were, according to St. Jerome (in cap. 2 Danielis), “the philosophers of their own nation,” distinguished for their elevated position and learning.

As regards the CHARACTER or DIGNITY of the Magi, it is held by many, that they were kings. They were called such by some of the holy Fathers and ecclesiastical writers (St. Augustine, Lib. 3, de Mirabilibus Scripturæ; St. Cyprian de Baptismo Christi; St. Chrysostom de Nativitate Christi; St. Anselm, Theophylact, Bede, St. Thomas, hic. &c.) Most likely, they were not mighty potentates, ruling over extensive countries; but rather petty princes or kings of subordinate rank, in the districts wherein they resided. It is usual in Scripture to call such by the name of “kings,” as (Gen. 14) in the case of the four kings vanquished by Abraham, and of the friends of Job, also called kings. (Tobit 2:15, &c.)

Were they rulers of extensive districts, very probably, the Evangelist would make mention of it, as the visit of such to our Lord would redound to His glory. Moreover, Herod would seem to treat them as inferiors. “Sending them to Bethlehem … bring me word again,” &c. The words of Ps 72, “The kings of Tharsis,” &c., and of Isa. 60, “Kings shall walk in the brightness of thy rising,” &c., applied by the Church to the event of the Epiphany, are not opposed to this opinion. For, the words quoted may be regarded as referring, in a general sense, to the conversion of the Gentiles and of their kings, who from every country would enter the fold of Christ, and pay our Redeemor divine honours. This general reference is applied by the Church to the Epiphany in particular, when the first fruits of the Gentiles were presented to our Lord. In truth, if strictly interpreted, the words would prove, that the Magi Were kings of Ethiopia, of Tharsis, of the Islands, of Saba and Arabia (Ps 72; Isa. 60); nay, that all kings came to worship Him, in the stable. “And all kings of the earth shall adore Him” (Ps 72:11).

As regards the time of their visit, there is a diversity of opinion. The commonly received opinion in the Church, as indicated in her arrangement of the festivals of the Epiphany and Purification, would seem to be, that they came shortly after our Lord’s birth, before the Purification and Presentation in the Temple. This opinion is well founded on the words of St. Matthew in this verse, which clearly convey, that the Magi made their appearance at Jerusalem very soon after our Lord’s birth. “When Jesus was born, behold,” &c. Others, however, fix the date of the arrival of the Magi after the Purification, and these differently assign different periods after it, more or less remote, according to the meaning attached by them to v. 16, and to the term of “two years and under” fixed on by Herod. The advocates of this opinion are chiefly influenced by the narrative of St. Luke (Lk 2:39) who states that our Lord and His parents returned to Nazareth immediately after His presentation, which took place, “according to the law of the Lord.” This narrative they cannot reconcile in the supposition that the visit of the Magi took place before the presentation, with that of St. Matthew (Mt 2:13), who states that our Lord and His parents set out for Egypt by divine admonition, immediately after the visit of the Magi. Hence, as our Lord could not be presented in the Temple at the appointed time, “according to the law of the Lord” (Luke 2:39), if He left previously for Egypt, as St. Matthew says He did immediately after the departure of the Magi (Mt 2:13), they conclude, that the visit of the Magi must be after the Purification and presentation in the Temple. The interval is more or less prolonged by the several advocates of the latter opinion. “We need not, however, depart from the commonly received opinion, which fixes the date of the visit of the Magi, before the presentation;” and the apparent discrepancy in the narratives of both Evangelists may be reconciled, by supposing that after the visit of the Magi, our Lord was presented in the Temple; and having proceeded thence, to Nazareth, Joseph was there admonished in sleep, and proceeded at once from Nazareth to Egypt (see Mt 5:13, Commentary on). The supposition that the visit of the Magi occurred, on the occasion of one of the annual visits Joseph and Mary were wont to make to Jerusalem, is utterly gratuitous. The sacred text says, they visited Jerusalem (Luke 2:41). There is no mention of their having visited Bethlehem, which was out of the way, on their visit to Jerusalem. The difficulty founded on the term of two years fixed upon by Herod will be explained (Mt 5:16, see Commentary on).

As regards the COUNTRY whence they came there is also a great diversity of opinion. Some say, they came from Chaldea, where the science of the Magi flourished; others, among them St. Basil, from Mesopotamia; others, with Justin Martyr, Tertullian, St. Hilary, &c., from Arabia Felix, where the gifts presented were found in abundance; others, from Persia, where the name and profession of the Magi were celebrated, and the custom prevailed of presenting gifts to kings on the occasion of visiting them. All we can glean with certainty from the Gospel is that they came from some country “east” of Jerusalem. They came to Jerusalem, the capital of Judea, where they naturally expected to obtain the most authentic tidings of the place where the king of the Jews was born.

As regards their NUMBER, nothing certain can be known from the Gospel. The common opinion, however, has been that they were three in number. This is asserted by St. Leo the Great in his Sermons; St. Maximus of Turin; Ven. Bede, in Matthew 2; Origen, in Gen. Hom. xiv. § 3, &c. (See Mt 5:3, commentary on.)

Mat 2:2  Saying: Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and are come to adore him.

“Saying: Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” These words may mean: Where can we find that celebrated King of the Jews, that long expected Messiah referred to in their ancient prophecies (v. 4) who is now born; or, where is He who, unlike others, is not merely elected or assumed by men to be King of the Jews, as was Herod by the Romans, but is born such; is such, from His very nativity? One thing the Magi assert, without doubt or hesitation, viz., the fact of His birth; another thing they inquire about, viz., the place where He is to be found. They probably supposed the birth of their Messiah would be welcome news to all Jews and Jewish proselytes. It had been long expected. Most likely, they had no idea of the feelings it produced in the jealous mind of Herod, or if any such idea entered their minds, most probably, they courageously spurned it. Strengthened by the same divine grace that summoned them from home, and sustained them on their toilsome journey, they continue their search for the new born King, and fearlessly proclaim it in the very presence of Herod. Hence, St. Chrysostom (Expositio super Mattheum) remarks, “O happy Magi, who in the presence of a most cruel king, before they knew Christ, became confessors of Christ.” By manifesting Himself to the Magi, our Lord wished to receive testimony from the learned and exalted, as well as from the unlearned and lowly who bore it to Him at His nativity, from Gentiles as well as from Jews. The active, laborious faith of the distant Gentiles condemned the sloth and infidelity of the Jews, among whom He was born, and to whom He was first promised.

“For we have seen His star in the East.” Most likely, this was a luminous body more brilliant than the stars that belong to our system, having the appearance of a star, but not one in reality, as may be conjectured from its motion from east to west—the opposite of the course of our stars; from its brilliant appearance by day and by night; from its moving at one time, and continuing stationary at another; from its position in the lower regions of the atmosphere, so as to indicate localities; and especially, from its standing over the house where the divine infant was. The Magi, who were addicted to the study of astronomy, and observed the course of the heavenly bodies, were particularly struck with the unusual brilliancy of this star. Their attention was, probably, arrested the more on account of the prophecy of Balaam regarding the star that “would rise out of Jacob” (Num. 24:17), of which prophecy, they were probably made aware. For, the nations of the East, whence Balaam had sprung (he was brought “from Aram, from the mountains of the East,” Num. 23:7), were extensively imbued with his prophecy, in which it was declared that a star would indicate the birth of a mighty ruler, who, according to the belief in general circulation, was to arise in Judea. Seeing, then, the star in question, the Magi concluded, while the grace of God interiorily enlightened them, “giving intelligence to those who saw it” (St. Leo, Serm, de Epiph.), that it indicated the long expected birth of this great Ruler, regarding whom the traditions of the earth were so explicit and universal. (Tacitus Hist. Lib. v.; Suetonius in Vespasianum; Cicero de Divinit. Lib. 2; Virgil Eclog. iv.; Suidas, &c.) Hence, in Greek, the definite article is used before star, τον ἀστἑρα, “the star,” which was spoken of long before, as the index of His birth. (St. Chrysostom Hom. vi.) If this star were not long before expected, neither Herod nor the people of Jerusalem would have been so much moved; they would have treated the whole affair derisively, as an idle, unmeaning dream.

“In the East.” This may mean: We saw His star (which appeared in) the East, or we (being in the East) saw His star shining over Judea. Some expositors adopt the former meaning. These maintain that the star which appeared in the East moved on before the Magi, and guided them to Judea. This is the commonly received opinion, and it also accords best with the sense of the holy Fathers and of the Church, which, in her hymn, sings, “Stellam sequentes prœviam.” Others advocate the latter opinion, viz., that from the East they saw the star over Judea, and came directly thither to pay their homage.

“And are come to adore Him.” It may be that the Divinity of our Lord was made known to the Magi, and the honours they paid and the gifts they offered Him, in His lowly state, would, in a great measure, warrant this opinion. For, they could hardly venerate or honour Him as a mere earthly monarch, in the destitute condition in which they saw Him. However, the word “adore” does not, of itself, convey this; neither does the prostration which it involves. The word is often taken in Scripture to signify mere civil honour and respect paid by one man to another. Here, however, if we consider all the circumstances, it seems all but certain that the Magi meant to pay our Lord divine honour (see 5:11, commentary on).

Mat 2:3  And king Herod hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

Herod was very jealous in regard to the Royal power which he was anxious to transmit to his family. It was this feeling that prompted him, as Josephus informs us, to put to death all that belonged to the Royal race of the Machabees, and all who might have any claim whatever to the throne of Juda. Hence, he was seized with the greatest consternation at the announcement made by the Magi.

“And all Jerusalem with him.” The greater portion of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, content with their present state, feared any change. Addicted to earthly pleasures and sunk in the sleep of sin, they were insensible to the exalted blessings their long-expected Messiah had in store for them. All these were troubled, and sympathized with Herod. The few just dared not express their feelings of joy for fear of irritating a sanguinary jealous tyrant who, out of jealousy, regarding the preservation of his usurped power, had already committed the greatest deeds of cruelty, so that according to external appearances at least, they felt with Herod and seemed to feel as he felt.

Mat 2:4  And assembling together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where Christ should be born.

“The chief priests,” may denote all those, who filled the office of High Priest among the Jews. In Herod’s time, the office was not for life; it became venal. It was vacated almost annually, and filled up by several persons in one lifetime. Or, more likely, the words denote the heads of the twenty-four sacerdotal families, according to the division made by David (1 Chron 24:4). Those were called “princes of the sanctuary and princes of God” (1 Chron 24:5), “chiefs of the priests” (2 Chron 36:14). They constituted a portion of the Supreme Council among the Jews. Hence, Herod convoked them, as the most influential and learned among the priests, whom they represented. The sacerdotal body was too numerous to admit of all being called together.

“And Scribes of the people.” These were a class of men among the Jews whose peculiar office it was to preserve the sacred records, to announce and expound the SS. Scriptures to the people; and, in cases of doubt, to point out the bearing of the SS. Scriptures on such cases. Those who are designated “Scribes” by SS. Matthew and Mark, are called “Lawyers” by St. Luke (Lk 7:30; 11:46), although he also calls them Scribes (Mt 5:21). The term “Scribes” also designated learned men, like Esdras. Hence, it is said of him, “et ipse Scriba velox in lege Moysi” (Ezra 7:6); and our Redeemer speaks of “a Scribe instructed in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 13:52). The corresponding Hebrew word (Sopharim) according to etymology means, either those learned and well versed in books, or those whose duty it was to announce and narrate; the duty of the Scribe being to announce the SS. Scriptures to the people. These, with the heads of the priestly families, constituted the chief council over which the High Priest presided. Hence, they presided at the judgment of condemnation passed on our Divine Redeemer (Matt. 20:18; Mark 14:53; Luke 22:66). Against them, as the spiritual guides perverting the people by word and example, our Redeemer unsparingly hurls His heaviest denunciations. In the Old Law, and before the Babylonish captivity, their authority was very extensive, embracing military and forensic interests. But, in the time of our Lord, their office was confined to matters appertaining to religion, such as the reading, interpretation, and knowledge of the Law. Although each tribe had its “Scribes,” they were chiefly confined to the Tribe of Levi, whose exclusive duty it was to attend to religion (Calmet in hunc locum). It was because of the supreme authority which the Sanhedrim exercised in matters of religion, that Herod convered it to ascertain where the Messiah was to be born, according to the predictior of the ancient prophets. Hence, it appears he looked upon the “King of the Jews,” inquired after by the Magi as the Messiah or Christ, so long expected by the Jewish nation.

Mat 2:5  But they said to him: In Bethlehem of Juda. For so it is written by the prophet:

They all—the full council—unanimously declared, that it was in Bethlehem of Juda, He was to be born, according to the testimony of the prophet Micheas, whom they quote, as, in the following verse. It seems to have been the common opinion among the Jews, that it was in Bethlehem the Messiah was to be born (John 7:42). “For so it is written,” that is, written by the prophet as follows (Mt 2:6), which places the matter beyond all cavil or dispute. The council quotes the prophet Micheas to leave Herod no cause for doubting the accuracy of their response.

Mat 2:6  And thou Bethlehem the land of Juda art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come forth the captain that shall rule my people Israel.

“And thou Bethlehem, land of Juda,” &c. There is some difference in the reading found here in St. Matthew and Micheas (Mic 5:2). In Micheas we read, instead of “land of Juda,” “and thou Bethlehem, Ephrata.” Ephrata was another name for Bethlehem (Gen. 35:16, 19; 48:7), and the Evangelist, or the Scribes, &c., add the words, “land of Juda,” to distinguish it from another Bethlehem which was situated in the tribe of Zabulon (Josh 19:16). As regards this and other discrepancies between the reading of the passage, as found here and in the Prophet, St. Jerome (in Micheam) observes, that the Scribes, &c., quoted for Herod, not the precise words, of the prophet Micheas, but their meaning as agreed upon at the time; and St. Matthew records historically their words, and not precisely those of the Prophet. “Art not the least among the princes of Juda;” the contrary of this is read in Micheas, “art a little one among the thousands of Juda.” In order to reconcile these opposite readings, some read Micheas interrogatively thus, “art thou a little one, &c.”? the intended answer to which, “by no means,” coincides with the reading of St. Matthew. Others say, the meaning given in St. Matthew is implied in the reading of Micheas, as if the Prophet said, considering your edifices, number of citizens and material greatness, thou art, indeed, very small. But, if we look to the princes you gave, such as David, and art to give hereafter—the Messias—thou art, by no means, small or insignificant “among the princes,” which is interpreted thus, “in principibus,” that is, in giving princes to Juda. The Septuagint reading of Micheas (χιλίασιν) “thousands of Juda,” is substantially the same as in St. Matthew. The Hebrew word, Eleph, signifies both a prince and a thousand; because among the Israelites a prince governed a thousand (Jansenius Iprensis denies this meaning of Eleph. He contends that the Hebrew word, Alluph, and not, Eleph, signifies a thousand). But the meaning is the same; for the words signify “thou art by no means insignificant among the leading cities of Juda, inhabited by thousands, over which princes are appointed to rule,” or “thou art by no means small among the populous cities of Juda,” entitled from their thousands of inhabitants to be ruled by princes. The Hebrew people were divided by Moses into thousands of families, each of which thousand families had its own prince or ruler (Exod. 18:25; Judg. 6:15).

“Who shall rule.” The Greek word for “rule” (ποιμᾳινεῖ) is a pastoral expression, familiar even to Pagan writers. (Homer, &c.) It conveys an allusion to the pastoral and mild rule of the Messiah, who would rule His people not with “an iron rod” (Ps 2:9), as He shall rule His Gentile enemies; but with the mild staff of pastoral authority. The words following these, quoted from Micheas, “and His going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity,” which show that the words of the Prophet can only apply to the Messiah, Man-God—are not quoted by the Scribes for Herod, as they had no immediate connexion with the question regarding the place of Christ’s nativity.

“My people Israel.” The words “my people” are not found in Micheas (Mic 5:2), where we only read, “who is to be the ruler in Israel.” The words “my people” were inserted by St. Matthew, or rather by the Scribes, whose words St. Matthew historically records, to convey an idea of the universal reign of the Messiah, not only over Juda, among whose cities Bethlehem, humanly speaking, was rather insignificant, but over the entire people of Israel, embracing all the peoples of the earth who were spiritually numbered in Israel, and born of Abraham, through Isaac, the heir of God’s promises.

Mat 2:7  Then Herod, privately calling the wise men learned diligently of them the time of the star which appeared to them;

“Then”—after ascertaining the birthplace of the Messiah, according to the prediction of the ancient prophecies—“privately calling the wise men.” He wished to know noiselessly all about the appearance of the star which indicated the birth of the Messiah, in order to compass his murderous designs the more securely, by removing all grounds for excitement among the people, which the public discussion of the particulars respecting the apparition of this miraculous star was calculated to produce in so large a city, and among a people who had been so long anxiously awaiting this happy event.

“Learned diligently the time of the star,” &c. He concluded that the Messiah must have been born at the time of the star’s appearing; and having already ascertained the place, he would now ascertain the time of His birth, in order to ensure the success of his designs on the life of the child, so that if the Magi should proceed home without returning, he still would have secured all the necessary information to enable him successfully to effect his wicked purpose. Our Redeemer calls his son, who, no doubt, inherited his father’s vices, a fox “Go, tell that fox” (Luke 13:32).

Mat 2:8  And sending them into Bethlehem, said: Go and diligently inquire after the child, and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I also may come and adore him.

The murderous hypocrisy displayed here may be easily seen from the steps he had taken to kill Him (Mt 2:16). Of course, he meant to do away with Him. “After the child.” He could not bring himself to style Him the “the King of the Jews,” as the Magi had designated him. Perhaps he employs this simple form to conceal more effectually, by this affected indifference, his murderous designs. It was, possibly, from the same motive he omitted sending any person to accompany the Magi, lest the presence of his satellites might put either the people of Bethlehem or the parents and supposed attendants of the child on their guard. No doubt, be his wicked designs what they may, this was all arranged by the overruling providence of God, who is sure to compass His ends, sweetly, but infallibly. “Deus, cujus Providentia in sui dispositione non fallitur” (Dom. vii., Post Pentecost).

Mat 2:9  Who having heard the king, went their way; and behold the star which they had seen in the East, went before them, until it came and stood over where the child was.

“Having heard the king,” of whose wicked designs and feelings on the occasion of the intelligence imparted by them, they were, doubtless, unconscious, “went their way” towards Bethlehem, whither he despatched them (v. 8).

“The star they had seen in the East.” From this, some expositors infer, contrary to the commonly received opinion, that the star did not move before them from the East guiding them on their journey. However, there seems to be no argument here against the common opinion; for, it is not denied that it did go before them.

“Went before them”—appeared in its original brilliancy. This would rather imply that the star did go before them in the previous part of their journey. It disappeared at Jerusalem, in order to force the Magi to prosecute their search by making inquiries through the ordinary human channels of information, and thus proclaim the birth of the child whom they came to seek.

“Stood over where the child was.” It moved no longer; so as to indicate to them that they had now reached the term of their journey. It is quite clear that this was not one of the stars belonging to our system, from its position in the lower regions of the air, otherwise, it could not indicate a particular place; from its motion from East to West, and from North to South—Bethlehem-was seven miles to the south-west of Jerusalem—also from its appearing, most likely, in the daytime; as, probably, it was in the daytime, the Magi left Herod for Bethlehem in search of the child; and also from its remaining stationary; the fixed stars in the firmament and the comets, which are in the upper regions of the atmosphere, being ever in motion.

Mat 2:10  And seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

The reappearance of the star filled them with exceedingly great joy. All their fears and doubts are banished; for, now they have a heavenly, divine indication assuring them of the prosperous issue of their journey. Now, by anticipation, they enjoy the well-earned reward of their toilsome journey, of their undoubting confidence in trusting themselves to the guidance of God’s unerring providence, in whom no one ever confided and was confounded. “In Te Domine, speravi, non confundar in æternum” (Ps 31)—“In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped, let me never he confounded.”

Mat 2:11  And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and falling down they adored him: and opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

“The house” is commonly understood by the holy Fathers, to refer to the stable where our Lord was born. This is called, a house, in accordance with Jewish usage, which gives the name of “house” to every dwelling place. Thus the Psalmist (104:17) calls the heron’s nest his house, “Herodii domus.” Others say it refers to some more commodious dwelling to which our divine Lord was transferred. Those who, with St. Epiphanius, &c., maintain that it was only two years after His birth the Magi adored our Lord at Bethlehem (v. 16), after sojourning in the meantime at Nazareth, are unanimous in asserting, that the place where the Magi saw our Lord was a house different from the stable where He was born. The same opinion is adopted by others who do not share in the views of St. Epiphanius, &c. But, the common opinion of almost all the holy Fathers and ancient writers is, that the word “house” refers to the stable in which our Redeemer was born.

“They found the child with Mary His mother.” Probably, Joseph was absent on some domestic business on this occasion, Providence so arranging it, lest the Magi, who might have learned from the Sybilline books, or from other sources, that the future deliverer of Juda was to be born of a virgin, should imagine he was the father of the child; and the Blessed Virgin, having brought forth our Lord without the throes of childbirth—the punishment of woman’s sin—was, in the absence of all attendants, able to mind her ordinary domestic duties; or, if Joseph was present, which is most likely—as it is hard to think, after all he suffered, he would be deprived of this consoling spectacle—he was designed in the phrase, “Mary, His mother,” since, with her, he was the guardian and protector of Jesus Christ.

The phrase, “Mary His mother” without being meant to exclude Joseph, conveys that Joseph and Mary so acted in the presence of the Magi that, by Divine instinct, these understood that our Lord was not begotten after the manner of other children, but by the power and operation of the Holy Ghost. Most likely, the Blessed Virgin, who was, doubtless, endowed with the gift of tongues, conversed with the Magi, and narrated to them the wonders connected with the birth of the adorable infant. Hence, interiorly enlightened by Divine faith, “falling down, they adored Him,” not merely as the tribute due to an earthly king, but as a homage due to the God of heaven.

Whatever may be the etymological meaning of the word “adore” (προσκυνεῶ)—which in the Scriptures of the Old Testament is sometimes used to designate mere civil respect and reverence (Gen. 23:7), in the New Testament, however, it has always reference to religious worship—it is the opinion of the holy Fathers generally, among them, Irenæus, Chrysostom, &c., that here the word denotes Divine honour, and that these Magi were enlightened by the Holy Spirit to believe in our Lord’s Divinity, and to adore Him, as God; and, indeed, the entire history of their coming to Jerusalem, with all its circumstances, would hardly leave us any grounds for arriving at any other conclusion. For, as Patrizzi well observes (Diss. xxvii. de Magis), it is clear the Magi regarded our Lord in a different light from other kings; for, how could it possibly happen, that one would proceed to venerate a foreign king hardly ushered into existence, and that from a far distant country, without any hope of emolument; nay, with manifest danger arising from the jealousy of another king? Arriving at Jerusalem, where they discovered that Herod reigned, if they thought of a mere earthly king, would they not have supposed Him to be Herod’s son; that the only place to find Him was the Royal Palace; why then cry out, “Ubi est qui natus est, &c.”? And although they find Him to be unknown to the Jews themselves; still, they have no doubt regarding Him. They perceive that the sources of information consulted are the oracles of the ancient Prophets, and the answer to their question to be given from that quarter. If there were question of a mere earthly king, could Herod’s offer to adore an infant king, born of his own subjects, in his own dominions, have any meaning? Although they discover Him without the ordinary insignia of royalty, in a state of humiliation, they still “fell down and adored Him.” Could this be so if they had only human ideas regarding Him? They must have regarded Him in the true light of a Man-God—the repairer of the human race, especially as it was not unlikely that the Spirit of God enlightened their minds, and that the Blessed Virgin disclosed to them the wondrous circumstances of His birth, &c., rather than as the carnal Jews expected Him as a temporal ruler, who was to subject to His sway all nations; for, viewed in this latter capacity, they should naturally entertain feelings of aversion for Him.

“And opening their treasures,” &c., that is, the caskets in which they carried the precious gifts destined for the new-born King. It was a custom among the Easterns that no one would visit a king or prince, at least for the first time, without presenting gifts to him. The law of Moses prescribed “non apparebis in conspectu meo vacuus.” (Exod. 31, &c.) Thus we also find the Queen of Saba bringing costly gifts to Solomon, and receiving costlier still (2 Par. 9:12). The Magi present to our Lord “gold,” &c., gifts with which their country abounded. We are informed by Ezechiel (27:22) and by Pliny (Lib. xii. c. 14) that these gifts were found in great abundance in Arabia, from which the Magi, most likely, had come. In the time of St. Epiphanius (Expositio Cath. Fid.) it was a tradition among the Jews, that Abraham gave his children, by Cetura, gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and now the Magi, their descendants, after his example, present the same gifts to the infant God. Whether they believed Him to be the Man-God (which is most likely) or not, those gifts are interpreted by the holy Fathers to have a very marked and significant adaptation for expressing this belief. Even though they did not understand this significance, still the holy Fathers are almost unanimous in asserting that the providence of God arranged those gifts so as to convey this meaning, just as the anointing of our Lord’s feet by Magdalene had reference to His death and burial (“ad sepeliendum me fecit”), although, probably, she never meant it. “Gold” is a present suited for a king, or to express royal dignity; frankincense, which was used in sacrifice, was a suitable gift to be offered to God; and “myrrh,” which was used for preserving and embalming bodies, suited as a present to Him as a mortal man; so that these presents were a real and practical profession of belief in His kingly dignity, in His Divine and Human natures. This was well expressed by an ancient writer, the poet Juvencus: “Aurum, thus, myrrham regique hominique Deoque dona ferunt.” These gifts denote that this was He of whom the Prophets sung (Isa. 40; Psa. 71), “Omnes de Saba venient aurum et thus deferentes;” “Reges Tharsis et Insulæ munera offerent, reges Arabum,” &c. These gifts signified the offerings we should present to God: of charity, symbolized by gold; of prayer and devotion, by frankincense; of mortification, by myrrh. They also denote the three kinds of good works most agreeable to God. Almsdeeds (“gold”), by which we assist our neighbour; prayer—“frankincense,” by which, we invoke and worship God—sacrifice is included; fasting—“myrrh,” by which we regulate our passions and affections. We thus offer to God all we have or are: by alms, our works and our substance; by prayer, our souls; by fasting, our bodies.

It is uncertain whether they all offered these three gifts, or one offered one gift, another a different one—one “gold,” another “frankincense,” and a third “myrrh.” From this triple form of gift, some infer that the Magi, who certainly numbered more than one (for the Evangelist calls them in the plural, Magi), were three in number. Others maintain, whatever their number may have been, that each presented this triple form of gifts, “gold, frankincense,” &c., as a public protestation of their faith in our Lord’s kingly dignity, signified by “gold” in his Divinity; and Humanity signified by the “frankincense and myrrh.” This would seem to be the more probable opinion. The first who held their number to be three was St. Leo (Sermons xxx. de Epiph.), if we, perhaps, except Maximus of Turin. Origen, it is almost certain, was of this opinion (in Gen. Hom. xiv. § 3). The ancient pictures or sculptures in use in the Roman Church, ages before St. Leo, always represented the number of Magi as three, and three only, which shows the opinion prevalent among the faithful of their time.

Mat 2:12  And having received an answer in sleep that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their country.

“Having received an answer in sleep,” it may be that the Magi consulted God in prayer as to their future course, and that they received an answer what to do, in order not to expose themselves or the holy infant to danger. The Greek word for “answer” (χρηματισθεντες) however, merely signifies that they were favoured with a divine oracle, or intimation of the divine will, irrespective of their having consulted God or not on the subject. God, whether directly, as St. Jerome understands the Greek word always to mean, or through an angel, notified to them His will. This was a mode of ascertaining with certainty the divine will not unusual in the dealing of God with His creatures, as recorded in the Old Testament and the New. Whenever God is pleased thus to communicate His will, He places beyond all doubt, in whatever way may seem best to His infinite wisdom, that it is He that thus reveals Himself, so as to distinguish such communications from delusive phantoms or the other devices of the spirit of error. In obedience to the divine instructions, the Magi returned to their own country by a different route from that by which they came. It is remarked by expositors of SS. Scripture that this shows us how we are to return to our heavenly country, viz., in a way different from that by which we came, infected with the sin of the old Adam. The Magi ascend gradually higher in the scale of divine favour. First, they are conducted by a star of unusual brilliancy; next, they receive instruction through the oracles of the ancient Prophets; and finally, from God Himself.

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Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 1:18-25

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 29, 2013

Mat 1:18  Now the generation of Christ was in this wise. When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost.

“Now, the generation of Christ was this.” After having shown that our Lord was of the seed of David, the Evangelist, to prevent any misconception regarding the manner of His birth, to which the mention of Joseph, as husband of Mary, and the seed born of her might give rise, now proceeds to show that His birth took place in a way quite different from that of all other children. The Greek word for “generation,” ᾕ γενεσις, means “the birth,” hence the words mean, “the birth of Christ took place in the following now and unheard of manner.”

“Espoused,” is generally understood by the Fathers to mean, married, delivered over to him as wife to a husband, and not merely engaged. He is called her “husband” (vv. 16–19), and she his “wife” (v. 20). The Greek word bears the signification of being married (Luke 2:5). It is, moreover, observed that if the Blessed Virgin was merely engaged to Joseph, and exhibited signs of pregnancy while living apart in her father’s house, the Almighty would have hardly sufficiently consulted, humanly speaking, for her character or life which, in these circumstances, would be forfeited to the law, and this is commonly assigned as one of the chief reasons why the Blessed Virgin was engaged in marriage at all. Patrizzi, however (Lib. iii., Disser. xv. de Som. Joseph), maintains, that at the time of his dream (v. 20) Joseph was not married, but only betrothed to the Blessed Virgin. His reasons are:—

1. If married, Joseph would surely have accompanied her on her visit to St. Elizabeth immediately after conceiving the Son of God (Luke 1:39), and have known the mystery of her miraculous conception so loudly proclaimed by Elizabeth (Luke 1:43).

2. He interprets “took unto him,” he now took as his wife her to whom he was before only espoused. For, “doing as the Angel commanded” (v. 24) would, according to him, imply some course of action different from merely passively allowing her to remain in his house.

3. The Greek word μνηστευθεισης signifies espousals, as contradistinguished from ελαβε, married, as appears from Deut. 20:7. St. Jerome also says of Joseph, “Omnia futuræ uxoris noverat” (Comment. in hunc locum). St. Chrysostom (in Matt. Hom. iv. 82) would seem to be of the same opinion.

According to Jewish usage (Philo de spocialibus legibus, p. 788), those espoused were regarded as man and wife; hence, Joseph is called “the husband of Mary,” and this St. Jerome tells us (in Matt. c. 1) is in accordance with Scriptural usage, and hence, whosoever violated another’s spouse was regarded as an adulterer (Deut. 22:24) and punished as such.

As for consulting for the honour of the Virgin by means of marriage, it would not be regarded as a dishonour for a woman to have conceived of her espoused before marriage. Intercourse between them, although forbidden, was not regarded as entailing dishonour. (Selden Uxor. Heb.) Espousals were dissolved by a bill of divorce like marriage (Deut. 24:13; Patrizzi loco citato).

“Before they came together,” a modest expression for conjugal intercourse. “Before,” until, by no means implies carnal intercourse, afterwards; for, as St. Jerome clearly demonstrates from several Scriptural examples against the (Arian) heretic Helvidius and others, such words as, before, until, &c., convey what happened or took place before an event, but by no means signifies what happened afterwards. That point is left undetermined. Thus, “Sit on my right until” I make Thy enemies Thy footstool (Psa 110) by no means conveys that He ceased to sit at His father’s right hand afterwards. “The raven did not return to the Ark till the waters were dried up upon the earth” (Gen. 8:7). This does not imply that it returned afterwards.

“She was found with child” quite unexpectedly by Joseph, who, with all a husband’s care, observed the condition of his blessed spouse. Probably he observed it when she was advanced three months in her pregnancy, after her return from visiting Elizabeth.

“Of the Holy Ghost.” These words are not to be connected with “was found,” as if Joseph knew the meaning or cause of her pregnancy, the contrary appears from the Angel dissipating his fears (v. 20); but with the words, “with child,” as if to say of her pregnancy, the Spirit of God, the source of all grace and holiness, was the author who brought this about by His power and operation, not as the father of Jesus Christ, but as supplying the place of father. Although the conception of Christ was an act of the entire Trinity, still, being an act of sovereign goodness, grace, love and fecundity, it is, by appropriation, ascribed to the Holy Ghost, as the effects of power are attributed to God the Father, and acts of wisdom to God the Son.

To the several reasons commonly assigned why our Lord had chosen to be born of a married woman, St. Ignatius, martyr, adds another, viz., ut partus ejus celaretur a Diabolo, that the devil would be baffled, while thinking Him to be born in the ordinary way. Upon this idea, St. Bernard (Hom. 2, N. 3) on the words, “missus est,” enlarges considerably, and shows that while God might have accomplished the work of redemption in whatever way He thought proper, still, in order to show how far He exceeded the demon in wisdom, He wished that the same instrumentality and course of action should be employed in man’s redemption that had so successfully accomplished his fall. In the one case, the devil tempted the woman, and through her triumphed over the man; in the other, the woman would deceive the serpent in miraculously bringing forth a son, the mystery of which was concealed from the devil, so that her son, Christ Jesus, would triumph over him publicly, and destroy his empire.

Mat 1:19  Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately.

The Virgin’s conception is evidenced by the testimony of Joseph, to whom it caused such perplexity, and of the Angel by whom this perplexity was removed. Both are here adduced as unexceptionable witnesses of this miraculous occurrence.

“A just man.” If he were “a just man,” and therefore observant of the law in all things, should he not expose her, as prescribed (Num. 5:12)? And, moreover, are not those who are conscious of another’s sin commanded to bear witness against him (Lev. 5:1)? The jealous husband who suspects his wife’s fidelity, is allowed in Num. 5:12 to bring her before the priest, but not bound to do so. And as regards Leviticus, it is only when interpellated by the judge, one is bound to expose another’s sin of which he is conscious.

Apart, however, from these answers, the observation does not apply at all here, inasmuch as the word “just” does not refer here to the mere virtue of justice generally regarded as one of the four cardinal virtues; but, it means the aggregate of all virtues including goodness, benevolence, meekness, &c., with which holy Joseph was eminently endowed; and it was because he was thus charitable, meek, and considerate, that he did not wish to expose her publicly, to make a public example of scorn of her, as the Greek word (δειγματισαι) clearly means, but he wished “to put her away privately,” probably by giving her privately a bill of divorce, which he was not bound to give publicly, nor explain the causes of giving it. Others think he meditated leaving her and going into some distant country. It is quite clear that Joseph, whose virtue was tried in an extraordinary way on this occasion, strongly suspected the Virgin, the signs of whose pregnancy were beyond doubt, and with whom he had not cohabited, to be guilty of adultery. Yet still, knowing her great virtue, he was inspired by Jesus Christ himself, whom she bore in her sacred womb, with the prudence of adopting the wise course of parting with her. He would thus consult for himself, and avoid the imputation of sanctioning crime by living with a suspected adulteress, and of carrying patience to the excessively foolish extent of permitting the supposed offspring of sin to be attributed to him. He purposed doing so “privately” to consult for her character.

Mat 1:20  But while he thought on these things, behold the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost.

“Thought” had been anxiously revolving these things within himself during his waking hours, without coming to any determinate resolution. From this appears the prudence of Joseph, who acted neither rashly nor without reflection; and his meekness and secrecy, by not divulging his suspicions to any one, not even to the Virgin herself.

“Behold” arrests attention, the matter being a subject of admiration.

“The Angel of the Lord,” generally supposed to be Gabriel, the same who announced the mystery of the Incarnation.

“In sleep.” Whenever the Almighty deigns to manifest His will through dreams, He allows no doubt to exist regarding the reality and divine origin of His communications, as in the case of Abimelech, Pharao, Nabuchodonosor. Whenever clear, certain proofs of divine communication do not exist, then the observance of dreams, which come either from natural causes or the demon, is strictly prohibited (Deut. 18:10). God made known His will to Joseph on this occasion. Indeed, by disclosing to him the private thoughts which God alone, the searcher of hearts, could know, He sufficiently indicated the divine character of the communication.

“Joseph.” The Angel addresses him in a kind, consoling manner, because his suspicion, so far as he was concerned, seemed well founded.

“Son of David,” reminds Joseph of the promises regarding the birth of the Messiah, from the family of David; and thus prepares him for the revelation regarding the conception of our Lord, which he was about to disclose.

“Fear not,” as if you were fostering an adulteress.

“To take unto thee,” to retain in your house and live with her whom thou hast already repudiated in thy mind, and banish all thoughts of either dismissing or leaving her.

“Mary thy wife,” who has been faithful to thee and perfectly sinless.

“Conceived.” The Greek word, γεννηθὲν, means “born,” to denote that our Lord was perfectly formed, that all His members and faculties were matured from the first moment of His conception in His mother’s womb.

“Is of the Holy Ghost,” that is, brought about by no human intervention, but by the power and operation of the Holy Ghost; while the word “conceived” shows that the Blessed Virgin had, according to the order of nature, performed the part of mother in conceiving our Lord, the words, “is of the Holy Ghost,” show that, by a stupendous miracle, in the order of nature, the Holy Ghost had, by His divine operation, supplied the place occupied by a father in the natural order, without, at the same time, being the father of our Lord, since the human nature of Christ received none of the substance of the Holy Ghost, so as to establish, as in the natural order, the relation of paternity.

Mat 1:21  And she shall bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus. For he shall save his people from their sins.

Bring forth a son.” Having assured Joseph of the supernatural conception of her offspring, the Angel now tells him what that offspring is. “Shall bring forth,” as a true mother. From this is refuted the error of Valentinus and others who asserted that our Lord brought a body with Him from heaven, and did not take flesh in the Virgin’s womb.

“A son,” and not a daughter. He does not say, as was said to Zachary, “she shall bring forth a son to thee,” because it was not for Joseph, but for the entire world, our Lord was brought forth, “parvulus natus est NOBIS,” &c. (Isa. 9:6).

“And thou shalt call his name Jesus.” Joseph is reminded in these words, of the care he is to bestow on the infant, of whom, although not the father, he is still constituted the natural guardian and foster-father, and also on the mother, on whom, far from sending her away, he should bestow all possible care and attention.

“Jesus.” This is the proper name of the Son of God, brought down from heaven by the Angel, and bestowed on Him at circumcision. It signifies Saviour, the same as the Hebrew word Jesuah, with a slight change of termination, which is derived, according to some, from the Hebrew verb Jasah, to save, or according to others, from the word Jehosuah, of which it is a contraction—compounded of Jehovah, Lord, and suah, salvation, contracted Jesuah, the Lord Saviour. This is the etymological reason of the word assigned by the Angel himself, “for He shall save His people from their sins.” The corresponding Hebrew word is sometimes written Jehosuah, and sometimes, particularly in books written since the Babylonish captivity (as in Esdras 2:2; Nehemias 7:7), in a contracted or shorter form, Jesuah, and this latter is the form preserved in the inscription of our Saviour’s cross in the Church of the Holy Cross, Rome. In every instance the Septuagint interpreters render Jehosuah, Jesus; and so do Philo and Josephus. In the Vulgate it is always rendered Josue, by St. Jerome. In the Old Testament, we sometimes find the same persons called Jehosuah and Jesuah, which proves both terms to be identical. Thus, for instance, the High Priest, the son of Josedec, called Jehoscuah (Aggeus 1:1; Zach. 3:8), is called Jesuah (1 Esdras 5:2; 2 Esdras, or Nehemias 12:26). It was by no means unusual with the Jews to contract and shorten words, as in the case of Jehosuah into Jesuah. In the New Testament, we find the word Jesus—the proper name of the Incarnate Son of God—applied to Josue, the son of Nun (Acts 11:4, 5; Heb. 4:8). He was a distinguished type of Him who was pre-eminently entitled to the appellation of “Saviour,” not of one people alone, but of all peoples, from every tribe of the earth, embracing Jew and Gentile.

Mat 1:22  Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying:

“Now, all this was done.” Some interpreters, among whom are St. Chrysostom, Irenæus, &c., say those words were spoken by the Angel, and form a continuation of his discourse to Joseph (vv. 20, 21). All this mysterious silence on the part of the Virgin, which caused you such perplexity, or rather, this mysterious pregnancy itself on the part of your virgin spouse, Mary, without human intervention, the cause of this perplexity, took place, &c. The generality of commentators, however, say they are the words of St. Matthew, explaining the foregoing words, and adducing the testimony of the Prophet as an additional argument corroborative of the testimony of the Angel. For, with the Jews, whom St. Matthew addressed, the fulfilment of this remarkable, well-known prophecy of Isaias would carry great weight. Patrizzi (De Evang. Lib. iii., Dissert. xv.) advocates the former opinion, chiefly on the grounds—1st, that if “all this” were the words of St. Matthew, they would embrace the message of the Angel to Joseph, which certainly did not take place, in order that the prophecy might be fulfilled. 2ndly. That if these were not the Angel’s words, he would not have sufficiently instructed Joseph as to the divine and supernatural origin of the child of the Virgin’s womb, while the words of the Prophet would have effectually done this. 3rd. The Gospel narrative of what Joseph did (v. 24) would seem to convey that he did it at the close of the Angel’s address, and that, therefore, the words of this verse and of v. 23 were comprised in it.

“That the word might be fulfilled.” The particle “that,” when there is question of the fulfilment of a prophecy, does not precisely express the cause, as if to say, the cause of the event taking place was in order that the prophecy might be fulfilled, since the event to take place was prior, in the mind of God, to the issuing of the prophecy. For, the prophecy was made, because the event it regarded was to take place. It means the consequence, so that, the consequence of all this was the verification of the prophecy. However, while generally denoting the consequence, it might be said here, in some sense, to indicate the cause also. For, among the causes of the conception of Christ by a virgin, was the verification of the promises made by God to the Fathers, which promises were contained in the SS. Scriptures. It may be said to refer to a cause, and to a consequence, at the same time. For, He who issued the prophecy, because He determined on bringing about the event, accomplished the event, because He predicted it, in order to vindicate His veracity, a prophecy, being a kind of promise which a man of veracity fulfils, because He made it.

Mat 1:23  Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

“Behold” arrests attention when a matter of great importance is in question. “A virgin shall be with child,” &c. This celebrated prophecy is found in Isa. 7:14. It was uttered on the occasion of the second expedition of Rasin, king of Syria, and of Phacee, king of Israel, to destroy the kingdom of Juda, over which Achaz then reigned, and of the whole race of David (Isa. 7:6). Achaz with his people were seized with the greatest consternation, owing to the combination of these hostile forces against him. The Prophet was commanded by God to go and reassure Achaz, and tell him not to be afraid; and in proof of the verification of God’s promise, he tells him to ask for some sign either from heaven or the lowest depths. Achaz incredulously refused to ask for any sign; whereupon the Prophet, addressing him and his attendant princes and the whole house of David, as well for the present as for all future times, tells them that the Lord Himself shall give a sign that he and his people shall be saved from destruction. That sign, which is a prodigious, unusual event, is, that a virgin should conceive, without any reference to a man. The Prophet makes no allusion whatever to a man. The Hebrew word for “virgin,” alma, in the several places of SS. Scripture in which it is used, is applied only to one really a virgin, or reputed such in common estimation (Gen. 24:43; Exod. 2:8; Song 1:3; 6:8). St. Jerome (in cap. vii. Isaias) tells us that in the Punic language, which is derived from Hebrew sources, alma, signifies a virgin, and that, as far as his memory served him, he never knew it to be applied to any but to a virgin, and that a virgin young in point of years, “virgo abscondita quæ non patuit virorum aspectibus.” Thus are answered the objections of the Jews against the proof of our Lord’s divinity founded on this passage of Isaias. Moreover, the sign given is that which Achaz refused, “pete tibi signum,” and on his refusing to ask for a sign, a something unusual, uncommon, derived from “the depth of hell, or the height above,” Isaias gives such a sign, “dabit ipse Dominus vobis signum.” There would be nothing extraordinary in a virgin, after ceasing to be such, conceiving and bringing forth a son. In chap. 9:6 the prophet Isaias speaks of the same, as “Wonderful, the Mighty God, the Father of the world to come,” &c. But, how could the birth of Christ and His conception by a virgin, after so long an interval, serve as a sign to reassure Achaz that his enemies would not succeed against him? What connexion is there between the conception on the part of a virgin and the liberation of Achaz and his people? Resp. 1st. There are several signs given in SS. Scripture which occurred after the event to which they referred (Exod 3:12; 1 Sam 10:7–9; 2 Kings 19:29; Isa. 37:30; Jer. 44:29). We are not necessarily to admit that the Prophet gives Achaz here a sign of his liberation. Achaz impiously refused to ask for a sign. Then, the Prophet, transported in spirit beyond the present time, regards with delight a sign of a still greater liberation—the liberation of the human race by the Virgin’s Son—and this sign he gives to the entire family of David, even at the remotest period, without, confining it to Achaz and those who accompanied him and shared in his distrust and incredulity, “molesti estis Deo meo.” 2ndly. The connexion between the liberation of Achaz and the conception by a virgin may be easily traced. It was a thing well known at the time that a virgin, of the house of David, would conceive and bring forth the Messiah. Unless this were the constant tradition of the Jewish Church, surely, the Apostles would not advance an assertion so incredible and difficult to prove. Micheas, contemporary of Isaias, refers to it, as a matter well known and expected by the men of his day (c. Mic5:1–3). Hence the Prophet wishes to inform Achaz that the designs of his enemies, who wished to extirpate the race of David, could not succeed, as the verification of the well-known decrees of God in regard to the birth of a ruler in Israel (Mic 5:2), from a virgin, of the house of David, would forbid it. In truth, this sign given by Isaias was consequent and dependent on the permanent duration of the family of David; so much so, that if the family of David were destroyed, this sign could not take place. Hence, if this sign could not be questioned, neither could the duration of the house of David; and, therefore, from this sign could be concluded that the attacks of the enemies of Achaz, who was of the family of David, would be foiled.

“And they shall call His name Emmanuel, which is interpreted,” &c. In the original Hebrew of Isaias, the corresponding term for “they shall call” is carath, which St. Jerome tells us, in his commentary, should be rendered, THOU shalt call, or “HE or SHE shall call.” If rendered in the third person singular, it refers to the Virgin, who is to conceive—she shall call Christ by this name; if, in the second, “thou shalt call,” addressed to Achab and the house of David—then, it embraces the entire spiritual house of David at all times. Hence, rendered by the Evangelist, “they shall call.” St. Jerome observes (in Isa. 7:14), that, in quoting texts of Scripture, the sacred writers quote not precisely the words, but their meaning. “Call,” in accordance with Scriptural usage, signifies “to be,” and “name” is put for the reality or thing indicated. Hence, the words mean; He shall be, in reality, and shall possess the quality of being “God with us;” just as in c. 9, it is said, “And His name shall be called Wonderful,” &c., that is to say, He shall in reality be, and shall really possess the qualities here indicated. The words may also mean, they shall proclaim Him to be “Emmanuel,” or God with us, residing amongst us, by His incarnation, to which it is clear from the context there is reference here, wherein “the word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us” here on earth, in the visible form of man which He assumed (Baruch 3:38), in which alone He is capable of being a Jesus or Saviour, to save us from our sins. This will answer an objection that our Lord was not called, Emmanuel, in the Gospels, by the people among whom He lived; since Emmanuel only expresses an attribute or quality, just as He was not called “Wonderful” &c., by His contemporaries. These terms, like Emmanuel, only expressed the qualities He would possess; Jesus alone is His proper name. In like manner, in Jer. 23:6, Dominus justus noster, only expresses a quality, but not His proper name.

“Which being interpreted is, God with us.” A similar explanation is given (Mt 27:8, 33, 46). The interpretation of these words is no argument against St. Matthew having written in the Syro-Chaldaic, the vernacular of the Jews at the time; as it is quite common with all writers, to explain certain compound words, or notable foreign words, which were not in use among the people.

Mat 1:24  And Joseph rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife.

“Joseph rising up,” shows the prompt obedience of Joseph. He obeyed promptly and without delay.

“Did as the Angel commanded him, and (that is, or, namely) took unto him his wife.” According to those who hold that Joseph had been at this time married to the Blessed Virgin, by this is meant, that he retained her and gave up all ideas of privately separating from her, in whatever way that was to be done. According to those who hold with Patrizzi that the Blessed Virgin was up to this only espoused or betrothed to St. Joseph, the words mean, that Joseph now married the Blessed Virgin and took her to his own house. This latter opinion seems to be borne out by the literal meaning of the expression used in reference to the Blessed Virgin (v. 20), “Fear not to take unto thee.” “And he took unto him,” would seem in the Greek παρελαβεν to denote marriage, to which μνηστευθεισης, espoused, expressive of betrothal, is antithetical. Most likely, on being interrogated by Joseph, the Blessed Virgin disclosed to him the great mystery operated in her (Luke 1:38–43), which, from humility, she hitherto concealed.

Mat 1:25  And he knew her not till she brought forth her first born son: and he called his name Jesus.

“And he knew her not,” a modest expression for conjugal intercourse. The particle “and” has the force of “but, however, he knew her not,” a signification the particle often bears before a negative (Matt. 12:5, 39, 43; 26:55–60; Acts 7:5, &c.). The sentence, “and he knew her not,” &c., is thrown in incidentally between the words, “he took unto him his wife—and he called His name Jesus,” the two things enjoined on him by the Angel. The birth of our Lord, consequent on which He was to receive His name from Joseph, is only incidentally introduced in the parenthetical sentence, “and he knew her not till,” &c., the object of which is to show that not only did a virgin conceive, but also a virgin brought forth a son without any human intervention.

“Until.” St. Jerome ably refutes the error of Helvidius, Jovinian, &c., regarding the perpetual virginity of our Blessed Lady, which error these heretics would fain deduce from these words, as if Joseph knew her afterwards, as also from the words “first-born,” as if others were afterwards born of her.

St. Jerome shows, from several Scriptural examples, that the particle, until, and others such, in negative sentences, only convey what was not done, without any inference to what afterwards occurred (Gen. 8:7; Num. 20:17; Deut. 7:24; Psa. 70:18; 109:1; 111:8; 2 Kings 22, &c.). The Evangelist’s only object in this form of words was to show, that Christ was born of a virgin, without any reference to any future occurrence. St. Jerome derisively asks, if any one said, “Helvidius did not do penance till he died,” would it imply he did penance afterwards?

“First-born” does not imply the birth of others, afterwards; otherwise, as St. Jerome argues against Helvidius, the law requiring the first-born to be consecrated to God a month after birth (Num. 18:16) could not be complied with till other children followed. The word only implies, that no other was born before Him; but not, that others were born after Him.

Similar is the answer to the objection founded on the words, “came together” (v. 18). Patrizzi gives another answer. He denies that “coming together” means conjugal intercourse at all; and hence, he says, that St. Jerome dealt rather liberally with Helvidius, in admitting this meaning. He asserts, that the words mean, “before they were married,” and that they refer to the interval between espousals and marriage.

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Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 1:1-17

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 29, 2013


In this chapter the Evangelist gives the pedigree of our Blessed Lord, which he divides into three series, comprising fourteen generations each. The first series commencing with Abraham and ending with David (vv. 1–6), is composed partly of his patriarchal ancestors, but chiefly of those who exercised the office of Judges among the Jewish people. The second commencing with David, who is repeated as the head of this series, and ending with the Babylonish captivity (7–11), embraces our Redeemer’s kingly ancestors. The third commencing with the deportation of the people to Babylon, after which all independent kingly authority ceased among the Jews, and ending with our Lord, embraces mostly His ducal ancestors. We have next the history of our Lord’s miraculous conception—the Virgin’s pregnancy—the perplexity which it occasioned Joseph, from whom the mysterious operation of the Holy Ghost was hitherto kept secret (18–19)—the consoling assurances of the angel sent to dispel his doubts and calm his apprehensions (20–21)—the Prophecy of Isaias relating to this wonderful conception by a virgin (22–23)—the unhesitating obedience of Joseph (24–25).

Mat 1:1  The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham:

“The book.” This word in its general acceptation, with the Hebrews, means a writing of any kind. Here, it signifies a narrative or catalogue “of the generation” that, is to say, of the genealogy or ancestors “of Jesus Christ.” In this sense it holds the place of Preface or Title to this first chapter. The Hebrew word, Sepher, corresponding to the Greek, Βιβλιος, denotes any writing or narrative. As Moses speaking of the first Adam says (Genesis 5:1), “This is the book of the generation of Adam,” so St. Matthew here employs the same form of language in reference to Christ to convey that He is the second Adam, “the Father of the world to come” (Isaias 9:6); the principle of a second birth more happy and of a more exalted character than that which was derived from the first, who was a type of Christ (Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15) Maldonatus is of opinion that the words form the title of the entire Gospel. According to him “generation” refers not only to the descent, but also to the entire life and actions of Christ as recorded in this Gospel. His opinion is improbable; the words mean, the record or roll of the pedigree of our Lord.

“Of Jesus Christ.” “Jesus,” derived from a Hebrew word signifying “to save” (see v. 21), is the proper name of the Man-God, and denotes his Person and Divinity. “Christ,” derived from a Greek word signifying “to anoint” denotes his office as Prophet, Priest, and King, all of whom were anointed with oil on entering on the peculiar and sacred functions of their office. Our Lord was anointed in virtue of the Hypostatic union, which was a spiritual and essential unction, whereby He was set apart as Prophet, Priest, and King. This was the oil of gladness wherewith He was anointed (Heb. 1:9). In thus referring to the name and office of the Son of God, St. Matthew wishes to arrest the attention of the Jews by conveying to them that he is about giving the history of their long-expected Messiah, which means the Anointed.

“The Son,” that is, the descendant. The Hebrews designated by the name of “son” every one descended from another, no matter how remotely, in a direct line.

“Of David, the son of Abraham.” Those two are mentioned because to them were made the promise in a special way that Christ would be born of them; of Abraham, as head of the race; of David, as head of the family. David is placed first for brevity sake, otherwise the construction should run thus: “The son of Abraham, who was the father of David, from whom Christ was descended” (St. Jerome). Others assign as a reason for this construction that the promises made to David regarding Christ were more recent, and of a more special character, being made, not alone to the Jewish race, but to the family of David. Hence, the Jewish people, including the very babes and sucklings, everywhere style the Messiah as “the son of David” (Matt. 21:15; John 7:42, &c.), pointing to his royal dignity as heir to the throne of David on which He was to sit for ever, “and the Lord God shall give Him the throne of David, His father, and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32). Hence the Prophets everywhere speak of our Lord, as Son of David. In truth, the Son of David, was one of the characteristic names of our Lord. (Isa. 9:7; Jer. 23:5; Ezek. 34:23; Amos 9:11). The promise first made to David on this head is recorded (2 Kings 7:12, &c.), confirmed (Psa. 88:13), and renewed to Solomon (3 Kings 9:5). St. Matthew wishes to convey that all these promises were fulfilled in Christ.

“The son of Abraham” may either refer to David, who was the descendant of Abraham, or to Christ, who was the son of David and of Abraham. In this latter construction the conjunction, and, is understood. To Abraham and David both were made promises regarding Him. The former construction is preferred by many, inasmuch as it followed, as a matter of course, in the minds of all the Jews, that being the son of David, He should also be a son of Abraham.

From the birth of Abraham to that of Christ there elapsed an interval of about 2004 years; and from the death of David to Christ, a period of 1013 years.

St. Matthew studiously traces the genealogy of Christ to Abraham through a successive series of forty-two, with the view of convincing the Jews that He was their true Messiah, whom they should, therefore, honour and worship. In St. Luke, whose Gospel was written for the use of the Gentiles, our Lord’s pedigree is traced up to Adam, the father of the whole human race. The Gospel of St. Matthew being written for the Jews, the genealogy commences with Abraham, whom the Jews called their father.

Mat 1:2  Abraham begot Isaac. And Isaac begot Jacob. And Jacob begot Judas and his brethren.

“Abraham begot Isaac.” Writing for the Jews, St. Matthew commences the genealogy of Christ with Abraham, in whom they gloried as their father, the founder of their race, to whom they were wont to trace up their genealogies. He was, moreover, the first, after Adam, to whom a promise was made that Christ was to be of his seed. St. Luke’s Gospel being written for the use of the Gentiles, the pedigree of our Lord is traced up to Adam, the father of the entire human race, “Isaac” alone mentioned out of all the other sons of Abraham, as it was of him Christ was born. But in Isaac shall thy seed be called (Gen. 21:12; Rom. 9:7).

“Judas and his brethren.” The brethren of Judas are mentioned, while no similar mention is made of the brethren of Isaac and Jacob; because the Jewish people, whom St. Matthew addresses, were descended from the twelve sons of Jacob, the eleven others as well as Judah, their descendants constituting one and and the same people, of whom Christ was born. These were the twelve pillars of the Jewish people and of the kingdom of Christ.

Mat 1:3  And Judas begot Phares and Zara of Thamar. And Phares begot Esron. And Esron begot Aram.

“Of Thamar.” It is remarked by commentators that all the women mentioned in the genealogy of our Lord were, with the exception of His Immaculate Mother, publicly subject to reproach. One of them being guilty of adultery—Bethsabee; another of incest—Thamar; another, a harlot—Rahab; and the fourth a Gentile—Ruth. Rahab, too, was a Gentile, a native of Jericho. The reason commonly assigned for this is, that being united to their husbands out of the ordinary way, and owing to an unusual combination of circumstances, these women presented a very expressive type of the sinful Gentiles, who were aggregated to the people and Church of God through a new vocation. Other reasons are assigned, viz., that our Lord, having come to save sinners, deigned to have among His ancestors some who were very expressive types of those whom He came to save (St. Jerome). Again, the Evangelist wished to humble the pride of his countrymen by reminding them of the gross sins of their Patriarchs in whom they were wont to glory so much (St. Chrysostom). The first reason seems the more probable. Jacob’s incestuous connexion with Thamar is recorded (Gen. 38). “Phares and Zara,” being twin brothers, are both mentioned, as presenting in the circumstances of their birth an expressive type of the Jews and Gentiles, the mystery of whose vocation is referred to by the Apostle (Rom. 11:25). The same figure was expressed in the birth of Jacob and Esau; but as this latter did not belong to the people of God, having sold his birthright, and thus a type of the reprobate, all mention of him here was, therefore, omitted by the Evangelist.

Mat 1:4  And Aram begot Aminadab. And Aminadab begot Naasson. And Naasson begot Salmon.

“Aminadab.” Lyranus referring to a Jewish tradition, states that this Aminadab was the leader of the tribe of Juda on the egress of the Hebrews from Egypt; the first also to lead the way and to enter into the Red Sea, which miraculously opened a passage for the Israelites. To him the words refer (Cant. 6:1)—“My soul troubled me for the chariots of Aminadab.” He was succeeded by his son Naasson, in the desert.

Mat 1:5  And Salmon begot Booz of Rahab. And Booz begot Obed of Ruth. And Obed begot Jesse.

“Rahab.” Being one time a harlot, afterwards became converted (Heb. 11:31). She was a native of Jericho. In consequence of her humanity in concealing the Hebrew explorers, she was saved with her whole house and kindred, and associated with the people of God (Josue 6:25).

“Ruth,” a native of Moab. Our blessed Lord, who came to save all, Jews and Gentiles, deigned, in order to inspire all with confidence in His mercy, and with hopes of forgiveness, to count among His ancestors Gentiles as well as Jews; and it is with this view the Holy Ghost moves the Evangelist to record this fact.

“Booz begot Obed.” Some commentators are of opinion that some generations are omitted here, that the Booz referred to here was not the immediate father of Obed, because between Salmon and Jesse inclusively, only four generations existed, and between them a period of 366 years elapsed, too long a period for four generations to extend over. However, this argument proves nothing, the age of man, for several reasons, being then far greater than at any future period. (Natalis Alexander, Calmet, &c.)

“Jesse.” Reference is made to him in the prophecy of Isaias, which regards our Redeemer, “egredictur virga de radice Jesse” (Isa. 11:1). He was also called, Isai. He was not held in any great consideration among the Jews. Hence, Saul scornfully calls David “the son of Isai” (1 Kings 20:27).

Mat 1:6  And Jesse begot David the king. And David the king begot Solomon, of her that had been the wife of Urias.

“David the King”—the first king among the ancestors of Christ. To him was made the promise of a perpetual kingdom. Our Lord’s Royal dignity is here indicated, as He was heir to “the throne of David his father” (Luke 1:32).

“That had been (the wife) of Urias.” This recalls the memory of David’s sin, and at the same time conveys that God, far from having, in consequence, rescinded His promises to David, had, on the contrary, fulfilled them in her seed, who was his accomplice in guilt. “That had been of Urias” conveys that, having ceased to be Urias’s wife, she was married to David at the time of Solomon’s birth, who was, therefore, the issue of lawful wedlock.

Mat 1:7  And Solomon begot Roboam. And Roboam begot Abia. And Abia begot Asa.
Mat 1:8  And Asa begot Josaphat. And Josaphat begot Joram. And Joram begot Ozias.

 “And Joram begot Ozias.” From the history, or rather from all the catalogues of the kings of Juda in succession (1 Chron3:11, &c.), it is quite certain that three kings who reigned in immediate succession are here passed over by the Evangelist. For, Joram begot Ochozias; Ochozias begot Joas; Joas begot Amasias; who begot Ozias referred to here, also called Azarias. So that Ozias, or Azarias, was not immediately the son, but rather the great grandson of Joram, said to be begotten of of him in accordance with the Jewish custom of designating by the name of son even the remote offspring of a man in a direct line, just as Christ is said to be “the son of David and of Abraham.” Why these three generations were passed over is variously accounted for. It surely could not be on account of their great wickedness. Two of them, Joas and Amasias, were reputed good kings; and Solomon and Manasses, who are mentioned in the genealogy, were worse than even Ochozias. The reason generally assigned by commentators following St. Jerome is, that the Evangelist, having in view, for some mysterious reason of his own, to divide the genealogy of our Lord into three classes, consisting of fourteen generations each (v. 17), passed over these three rather than others, on account of the malediction pronounced by God, through the mouth of the prophet Elias, on the house of Achab (1 Kings 21:21; 2 Kings 9:8), viz., that He would utterly destroy his posterity. Hence, as Joram had married Athalia, the daughter of Achab, his descendants to the fourth generation were expunged by the Evangelist from the catalogue of the ancestors of Christ. Very likely, these names were expunged from the public records St. Matthew had before him. The reason of this omission was, no doubt, understood by those to whom St. Matthew wrote; nor would such omission interfere with the truth of the history. They were not naturally, but civilly, destroyed by such exclusion; just as the tribe of Dan, on account of its wickedness and forbidden commerce with the idolatrous Gentiles, is excluded from the catalogue of the saints numbered out of the tribes of Israel (Rev 7:5–8). No more of those lineally descended from Achab are excluded by the Evangelist, as the malediction of God on the children for their parents’ crimes does not usually, according to the measure of the Law, extend beyond the fourth generation (Exod. 20:5). Athalia, the mother of Ochozias, is called the daughter of Amri, king of Israel (2 Kings 8:26), although only his grand-daughter, in accordance with the Jewish usage already referred to. From other parts of Scripture it is clear that Joram was married to Achab’s daughter (4 Kings 8:18). It was on account of Ochozias being descended from Achab that Jehu slew him (2 Kings 9:27, &c.), in obedience to the Divine command on the subject (2 Kings 9:7). The omission of these three generations does not much affect the design of the Evangelist, which was to show that Christ was descended from David. He would be equally the son of David whether these generations were expressed or omitted.

Mat 1:9  And Ozias begot Joatham. And Joatham begot Achaz. And Achaz begot Ezechias.
Mat 1:10  And Ezechias begot Manasses. And Manasses begot Amon. And Amon begot Josias.
Mat 1:11  And Josias begot Jechonias and his brethren in the transmigration of Babylon.

“Josias begot Jechonias and his brethren.” This verse presents some difficulties—1st, because of the four sons of Josias mentioned (1 Chron 3:15; 2 Kings 23:30, 31), viz., Johanan, the first-born; the second, Joakim; the third, Sedecias; the fourth, Sellum,” there is none called Jechonias; and Jechonias, the father of Salathiel, had no brethren; he had but one brother, Sedecias. There would also seem to be wanting, as the text stands, some one generation of the thrice fourteen (v. 17), in either the second or third of the series. The question is, in case there be an omission of one generation, to which series, second, or third, is the omission to be referred.

Various solutions have been given by commentators to these difficulties. It is held by many commentators that the “Jechonias” mentioned in the text is the same as Joakim, the second son of Josias, who was appointed king after Joachaz, by Pharao Nechao, king of Egypt. (2 Kings 23:34; St. Ambrose, in Lucam; St. Jerome, in Matth.; Irenæus Lib. Hor. iii., &c.) After Josias was slain at Mageddo (2 Kings 24), his son Sellum, reckoned as his fourth son, although Sedecias was younger, mounted the throne immediately under the name of Joachaz, as appears from Jeremias (Jer 22:11), where, writing at the time that Joachim, the successor of Joachaz, was reigning, the Prophet says—“Thus saith the Lord to Sellum, son of Josias, king of Juda, who reigneth instead of his father … in the place to which I have removed him, there shall he die,” &c. Sellum, who went by the name of Joachaz, also, died in Egypt, whither Pharao Nechao transported him. (2 Kings 24)

Sellum is placed last, or “the fourth” among the sons of Josias (1 Chron 3:15), on account of the short duration of his reign, which lasted only three months. He was succeeded by Joachim, who reigned eleven years. Joachim was succeeded, though not immediately, by his brother Sedecias, who is reckoned as the “third” son of Josias, although, in point of years, the youngest. That he was younger than Sellum is clear from this, viz., that Sellum was twenty-three years when he began to reign (2 Kings 23:31); and after an interval of more than eleven years, during which the reign of Joachim lasted, Sedecias, on mounting the throne, was only twenty-one years (2 Kings 24:18). That Sellum or Joachaz was also younger than Joachim is also clear, as the latter was twenty-five years after the deposition of Joachaz, who was only twenty-three years and three months before (2 Kings 23:31). Hence, Joachaz is not to be confounded with Johanan, the first-born of Josias, who, it is generally supposed, either died before his father, or from some cause or other never ascended the throne. The advocates of the exposition now given, say that this Joachim is the Jechonias here referred to by St. Matthew, “Jechonias and his brethren.” These expositions supply the omission of one generation, which, it is generally admitted, occurs here, thus; “And Jechonias begot Jechonias, and Jechonias begot Salathiel.” So that the Jechonias who is said to have begotten Salathiel in the text (v. 12), is not the son, but the grandson of Josias.

There is, however, no evidence in Scripture that Joakim, the second son of Josias ever bore the name of Jechonias. Hence, Maldonatus rejecting the former solution, hazards a conjecture of his own. Setting out with the general admission, that there has been some error, or rather omission in this passage, arising from the transcription of copyists, he says the omission should be supplied in a manner most in accordance with the truthful catalogue of the ancestors of our Lord given in the Old Testament; and, consequently, he supplies it in this way: “Josias begot Joakim and his brethren, and Joakim begot Joachin, also called Jechonias” (1 Chron 3:16; Jer. 24:1); and Jechonias begot Salathiel (v. 12).

Others adopt different other hypotheses. Patrizzi adopts the opinion of Harduin, who maintains that by the Jechonias first referred to, “Jechonias and his brethren” is meant Johanan, the first-born of Josias, who is supposed by almost all other expositors never to have ascended the throne. It is hard to say which of the suppositions is the more probable solution of the difficulty. As regards the first solution already given, it might be conjectured that as Joachin, the son of Joachim, was called Jechonias, so might Joachim himself have borne the same name which might be common to both. This, however, is merely conjectural (see v. 17).

There is also much diversity of opinion in explaining in which of the series, second or third, one generation of the thrice fourteen (v. 17) is wanting. Those who hold that it is wanting in the second series, maintain that Jechonias mentioned in v. 12 as father of Salathiel, commences the third series. Hence, the second commencing with Solomon and ending with Josias inclusively, contains only thirteen generations. Those who say it is wanting in the third series, maintain that Jechonias, father of Salathiel, belongs to the second series; and they prefer this arrangement, because, according to their ideas, St. Matthew, in dividing our Redeemer’s lineage into thrice fourteen generations, had in view to note the threefold condition of the Jewish people under judges, who chiefly constituted the first series; under tings, who constituted the second; and dukes, who constituted the third. Hence, Jechonias and his brethren, kings of Juda, should be ranked in the second series. But, it may be said in reply, that the throe sons of Josias who reigned, were only the mere creatures of the kings of Egypt and Babylon, who made and unmade them at pleasure; and hence they could hardly be said to reign at all. Moreover, all who belong to any one of the three series, need not be necessarily of the same denomination. In the first series, were found men who were not judges, Abraham, Isaac, &c.

Others maintain, that even taking the text as it stands, without supposing any error whatever on the part of copyists, still fourteen generations (the word “generation” meaning the persons, or ancestors of Christ, of whom a catalogue is now given) may be reckoned. Of these expositors some, among whom is Harduin, say that David, who closes the first series, is to be twice repeated, as is indicated in v. 17. For, he is made as much the head of the second series, although closing the first, as Abraham is of the first; while, as regards the close of the second series, what is repeated is not Jechonias, but “the Babylonish captivity.” Hence Jechonias should be reckoned in the third series. Others say, with St. Augustine (de cons. Evangel.) that Jechonias, and not David, should be repeated twice, as ending the second, and commencing the third series, which closes with our Lord.

“In the transmigration of Babylon.” “In” means, about, or, on the eve of, because Josias was dead some years before the Jewish people were carried away captive to Babylon; “transmigration” means carried away captive. There was a threefold transmigration (Jer. 52:28–30; 2 Kings 25); the first, under Joachim, the son of Josias, in the beginning of Nabuchodonosor’s reign; the second, under Joachin, son of Joachim, in the eighteenth year of Nabuchodonosor’s reign; the third, under Sodecias, in the twenty-third year of Nabuchodonosor. This last deportation, which included almost the whole people, was effected by Nabuzardan, the general of Nabuchodonosor.

Patrizzi (De Genere Christ. Dissert. ix.) maintains that the words, “in the transmigration of Babylon,” are not to be connected with the word “begot,” since Josias was dead before the transmigration or deportation of the Jews to Babylon, which occurred in the reign of his sons; but that there is an ellipsis in the passage, the word τους (“those who were”) being omitted. Hence, the words mean, “Josias begot Jechonias and his brethren (those who were), in the transmigration of Babylon.” The captivity is by no means to be confounded with the transmigration. For, St. Matthew says, “after the transmigration,” which, surely, cannot mean the term of seventy years’ captivity (Jer. 25:11; Dan. 9:2), since it was during the captivity, and not after it, “Jechonias begot Salathiel,” when the triple deportation of the people to Babylon had been completed. “The transmigration,” or carrying away, which embraces the triple “transmigration,” is referred to as a remarkable epoch in Jewish history to close the second series with. Under the sons of Josias, the carrying away began and was completed. Not so the period of captivity embracing seventy years, during which some of those belonging to the third series were born.

Mat 1:12  And after the transmigration of Babylon, Jechonias begot Salathiel. And Salathiel begot Zorobabel.

“After the transmigration of Babylon” was completed, and during the seventy years’ captivity, or of their detention at Babylon.

“Jechonias begot Salathiel.” This, most likely, happened after the death of Nabuchodonosor, when his son, Evilmerodach, ascending the throne, brought forth Jechonias from prison and bestowed on him kingly honours (2 Kings 25:27; Jer. 52:31). Had he a son at the time of his captivity, Nabuchodonosor would have appointed this son, rather than his uncle, Sedecias, to succeed him on the throne. It was, therefore, during the captivity he begot Salathiel. The curse of sterility pronounced by God against Jechonias (Jer. 22:30) had only reference to the exclusion of his children from “the throne of David” (Jer. 22:30). For, reference is made in v. 28 to his seed, who “would be cast on a land they knew not.” While after his captivity his uncle, Sedecias, reigned in his stead, none of his sons, Salathiel and Asir (1 Chron 3:17) ever saw the land of Juda. Under Zorobabel, his grandson, the Jews returned to their country.

The promise regarding our Lord sitting on the throne of David had reference only to His spiritual kingdom, of which there was to be no end.

“Salathiel begot Zorobabel.” In 1 Chron 3:19 it is said, “Of Phadaia were born Zorobabel and Semei.” It is most probable that the Zorobabel spoken of by St. Matthew is a different person altogether from him of whom there is mention in Paralipomenon. For, the list of the posterity of both is quite different in St. Matthew and Paralipomenon. St. Matthew describes Abiud as the son of Zorobabel; in Paralipomenon, there is no mention whatever of him. Hence, there is no contradiction between St. Matthew and Paralipomenon; since in the catalogue furnished by the writer in this latter book there is no mention whatsoever made of the sons of Zorobabel, Abiud or Reza, spoken of in the catalogue of St. Matthew here and Luke (Lk 3:27).

Mat 1:13  And Zorobabel begot Abiud. And Abiud begot Eliacim. And Eliacim begot Azor.
Mat 1:14  And Azor begot Sadoc. And Sadoc begot Achim. And Achim begot Eliud.
Mat 1:15  And Eliud begot Eleazar. And Eleazar begot Mathan. And Mathan begot Jacob.
Mat 1:16  And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

“Who is called,” which, by a Hebrew idiom, signifies, who is in reality “Christ,” that is, the Anointed, or the Messiah. As an exposition of the interpretations and hypotheses advanced for the purpose of explaining the apparent discrepancies between the genealogies of our Lord given here by St. Matthew and by Luke (Lk 3:23–38), might render inconveniently diffusive the commentary on this chapter, already sufficiently protracted on other points, we shall content ourselves here with merely noting the chief interpretations on this subject, reserving a fuller exposition for the commentary on Luke 3. It may not be amiss here to observe, that whatever may be the difficulties to be found in any of the leading opinions at this remote period of time (and they are very great, whichever hypothesis we adopt), a strong extrinsic proof of the genuineness of both genealogies is found in the fact, that the genealogies of Matthew and Luke have never been objected to by the Jews of their day, whether believers or unbelievers, who had every opportunity of knowing the state of the case, and many of whom would gladly charge the Evangelists with inaccuracy or inconsistency, if such really existed. And this proof is the more convincing, if it be borne in mind, that the Jews were always remarkable for paying the greatest attention to genealogies, particularly where there was question of direct descent from the most illustrious of their ancestors; and moreover, that they would naturally watch with jealous care, that no mistake should occur, and no false allegation be allowed to pass unchallenged, in the case of the ancestors of the Messiah especially, and of His descent from David, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham, to whom the promises regarding Him were made. Notwithstanding this strong extrinsic argument, there have not been wanting at all periods of the Church, from Celsus, in the second century, to Strauss in our own day, enemies of the Christian name, to urge the inaccuracy or inconsistency of the two genealogies, as an objection to the veracity or inspiration of the New Testament. If it were not a matter perfectly certain at the time, that by tracing the genealogy of Joseph, St. Matthew at the same time gave the genealogy of the Blessed Virgin, the Jews, for whom he wrote, and who had before them the genealogical tables, since lost, which would clearly show Joseph and Mary to be of the same tribe and closely united in the same family, would certainly have urged as an objection that he promised to give the genealogy of Jesus Christ, from Abraham and David, and only gave that of Joseph, whom, in the very passage, he declares not to be the father of Jesus Christ. This would clearly show Joseph and Mary to be of the same tribe and family, and that by giving the genealogy of Joseph, the Evangelist gave that of Mary also, the only earthly parent of Jesus Christ. The Evangelist’s reason for giving the genealogy of Joseph, rather than that of Mary, is found in the fact, that it was not usual among the Jews to trace genealogies through the female line (St. Jerome). Even in the case of Judith, it is given through the male line (Judith 8:1), and St. Matthew writing for the Jews would naturally conform to their custom. Moreover, among the Jews, the genealogy of the mother was not considered the true one, but only that of the father. Now, St. Joseph passed externally for the father of Jesus Christ; and if Joseph was not shown to be of the house of David, the unbelieving Jews (for St. Matthew wrote for the Jewish people, believers and unbelievers) would regard the account of our Saviour’s miraculous conception, as a mere fabrication, and would maintain that Christ was not descended from David, and, therefore, had no claims to be considered the promised Messiah. Now, the above probable hypothesis, which explains the reticence of the Jews, utterly unaccountable, save in the supposition, that by giving the pedigree of Joseph, St. Matthew gave that of Mary also, receives confirmation from the fact that the Blessed Virgin would appear to have no brothers. For, neither in tradition nor in SS. Scripture do we find mention of any such near connexions of our Lord, as we should naturally expect if they existed, the more so, as we have reference made to the immediate female relative of the Blessed Virgin (John 19:25). This again leads us to believe that the Blessed Virgin was an heiress; for, contrary to what was customary in the case of women, she went to Bethlehem with. St. Joseph to be registered (Luke 2:5). She must, therefore, have an inheritance, and should, consequently, in accordance with the Jewish law, (Num. 36:8) marry a kinsman, in order that the inheritance should not pass out of the tribe or family. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin must, therefore, be of the same family; and by giving the genealogy of St. Joseph, St. Matthew gives that of the Blessed Virgin also.

The difficulty, however, still remains, regarding the two genealogies, between which there are but few points of agreement. One traces our Lord’s descent downwards from Abraham; the other, upwards to Adam. The number of generations in St. Luke is 77; in St. Matthew, 42. They are even far greater in the former than in the latter from the point of contact in David. The one mentions Jacob, as the father of Joseph; the other Heli, &c., &c. Both would seem to give the genealogy of Joseph; but as this could not by any means regard natural descent; hence, various interpretations are advanced to reconcile their apparent discrepancy. There are two leading interpretations, considered the most probable. According to the first, St. Matthew gives the natural genealogy of St. Joseph; St. Luke, that of the Blessed Virgin. In this interpretation, when St. Luke speaks of Joseph as the son of Heli (τοῦ Ηελι), he means the son-in-law, married to the Blessed Virgin, the daughter of Heli, who must, therefore, be identified with Joachim, whom tradition represents as the father of the Blessed Virgin. This would easily account for the difference of numbers of generations in both. This interpretation, however, has against it, its novelty; it was unknown until the fifteenth century, and whatever may be said in regard to a few of the Fathers cited in favour of it (Irenæus, Origen, Tertullian, and Athanasius), it cannot be questioned that the weight of authority is in favour of the leading interpretation to be referred to, in the second place. It moreover traces our Lord’s pedigree to Nathan, and not to Solomon, to whose family the promises were made (2 Sam 7:12–16). Again, the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph being most probably nearly related by the father’s side (since the Evangelist could not attain his object with the Jews in giving any other than the paternal genealogy), they would surely coincide before reaching the third or fourth generation, and it is hard to conceive how so wide a divergence as that given in the gospels could exist between them. Again, the grammatical construction in St. Luke’s Gospel would be fatal to this interpretation, and the insertion of a parenthesis, besides being arbitrary and dangerous in principle, when there is question of interpreting the Word of God, would not much mend matters. Finally, the Virgin’s name is not at all introduced by St. Luke, who professes to give the genealogy of our Lord through St. Joseph.

In the second interpretation, it is maintained that in both Matthew and Luke we have the genealogy of St. Joseph—as, indeed, the words of the text itself expressly state—in the former, his natural; in the latter, his legal genealogy. This legal relationship arose under the Levirate law, resulting from a peculiar enactment of the law of Moses (Deut. 25:5) “When brethren dwell together, and one of them dieth without children … his brother shall take her and raise up seed to his brother: and the first son he shall have of her, he shall call by his name, that his name be not abolished out of Israel.” The application of this law to the case of Joseph is founded on the authority of Julius Africanus, who lived in the third century, and says he had it from the relations of our Lord himself. His statement is this: Estha, the mother of Heli and Jacob, was married successively to Mathan and Melchi; of the former, she begat Jacob; of the latter, Heli. Jacob and Heli were, therefore, uterine brothers, having the same mother, but not the same father (Eusebius Hist. Eccles. Lib. 7). Now, Heli having died childless, Jacob married his widow, and had for issue, Joseph, who was the natural son of Jacob, but the legal son of Heli. As Mathan and Melchi, to whom Estha was successively married, need not be at all related, it is no wonder that the two genealogies branch off very divergently without meeting again save in Zorobabel and Salathiel, till they reach David, through Solomon on the one side, and Nathan on the other. This interpretation is commonly adopted by the Fathers. As both genealogies, the natural and legal, were regarded of the greatest importance among the Jews, it is no wonder the Evangelists give both. The interpretation of Africanus, however, as it stands, unless there be some error in transcription by copyists, does not well accord with the text of St. Luke, in which Heli is given, not as son of Melchi, who is two generations in advance, but of Mathat. But be the difficulties in removing the discrepancies in both genealogies what they may, at this remote period, the Jews, who had the best means of knowing accurately the date of the case, saw none; otherwise, they would have at once objected, which is a clear proof that no such discrepancy really existed.

Mat 1:17  So all the generations from Abraham to David, are fourteen generations. And from David to the transmigration of Babylon, are fourteen generations: and from the transmigration of Babylon to Christ are fourteen generations.

 If we begin by counting Abraham, and end with Christ, we have but 41 generations; hence, apparently, a name must be repeated or supplied to make up the three fourteens, or 42. By putting David at the end of the first series and beginning of the second, we shall have: Abraham, 1—David, 14; David, 1—Josias, 14; Jechonias, 1—Christ, 14. The repetition of David’s name is suggested by the Evangelist himself: “From Abraham to David … From David to the transmigration,” &c., making David the head of the second fourteen, and therefore to be counted as much as Abraham is of the first. There were in reality more than three fourteens, but for some mysterious reason of his own, St. Matthew, who omitted some generations (see v. 8), wishes to divide the entire into three fourteens, according to the catalogue of names expressed by himself. Many Catholic and Protestant writers, and among the rest Harduin, who is a great authority in chronological matters, adopt this mode of computation. If we suppose a generation omitted, then a different division is made: Abraham, 1—David 14; Solomon, 1—Joachim, 14; Jechonias, 1—Christ, 14.

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Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 87

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 28, 2013


THIS is one of the Songs of Sion—a song of praise concerning Jerusalem, the City of God. It was a favourite thought of Hebrew prophecy that Jerusalem, as the dwelling-place of Yahweh, was an inviolable sanctuary. When the city was overthrown by the Chaldeans (i.e., theBabylonians) in 586 B.C., the conviction of Jerusalem’s spiritual inviolability became more prominent. Even though it had fallen politically, Jerusalem could still become the great centre of the pure worship of God, the spiritual home of all true believers. With the spread of Judaism and the increase of proselytism among the heathens, Jerusalem tended to be regarded more and more as the mother of foreign peoples (cf. Isa 55:1; 44:4 ff; 2:2ff.). The thought of Sion’s universal spiritual motherhood is the central thought of this poem. Wherever the Jewish worshipper may be, he looks to Jerusalem as to his mother; thither his heart turns in prayer, and thither he pilgrims when opportunity offers in order to take joyous share in the liturgy of the Temple.

The psalm begins with the praise of Jerusalem as the city of God’s own dwelling, and the object of His special choice and love (vv. 1-3). Then, in verses 4-6 the Lord tells wondrous things (gloriosa) of Sion. It is the centre not merely of Palestine, but of all the world. Egypt (called here by the poetic name Rahab) and Babylon look on Sion as the home of Yahweh’s worship, and because they have learned to acknowledge Yahweh as their God, regard themselves as citizens of Sion. PhiUstia, Kush, and Tyre are represented, too, among the loyal friends of Yahweh, and as citizens of Sion, are spoken of as born there (verse 4). While it is thus true that all the great heathen nations have given children to Sion, Sion herself is universal mother of all her children; whether born far away or within her walls, the boast is made that in Sion they were born. When the Lord reads through the list of the peoples He finds everywhere His own, His worshippers, Jews of the Diaspora, and fervent proselytes. Over each nation appears, as it were, the rubric: “These were born there” (in Sion)—(vv. 5-6). Considered as the mother of the sons of God throughout the world, as the metropolis of the Messianic Kingdom, Sion is the abode only of the glad and joyous (verse 7).

This psalm should be read along with Ps 46 and Ps 48. There is no indication of exact date in the psalm; but modern commentators are probably right in assigning it to that portion of the post-Exilic period when proselytism was already flourishing

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Father McSwiney’s Summary and Brief Notes on Psalm 87

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 28, 2013

Text in red are my notes.

The keynote of this Psalm is given in v. 9 of the foregoing (i.e., Psalm 86:9 which reads in the Douay-Rheims: “All the nations thou hast made shall come and adore before thee, O Lord: and they shall glorify thy name.”)The probable date of its composition is that period of the reign of Ezechias (Hezekiah), when the prospect of the accession of numerous proselytes impressed the public mind. The contemporary prophecies of Isaias tended to raise the expectation that God would be acknowledged by the nations. The great Passover of Ezechias had brought into religious fellowship, not only many of the separated tribes, but “strangers” also (2 Chron. 30:25). The offerings sent to the Temple, after the overthrow of Sennacherib’s host (2 Chron. 32:23), may, in part at least, have been presented by aliens. At this epoch, three of the five nations mentioned in the Psalm, Egypt (Rahab) and Ethiopia (= Cush, or Kush) were allied with Judah. The embassies from Babylon (recorded 2 Chron. 32:31; 2 Kings 20:12) witness to a friendly disposition towards the Jews. As for the Philistines (= the “foreigners,” (allophyloi of I.XX.), what we read of their defeat (1 Kings 18:8), and of the vigorous measures taken by this King for the suppression of idolatry, favours the probability that the Jewish religion may have made some way among them. The period of Jewish history to which we assign this Psalm would naturally suggest its composition, and, by the immediate and primary fulfilment of the inspired poet’s forecast, typify, at least, its complete realization in the Christ and His Church. Hence, whether directly or typically Messianic, no Psalm could be more appropriate to the Epiphany Octave.

v. 1. “His foundation,” i.e., God’s. Both in text and LXX. His is masculine. Syriac, “His foundations are on His holy mountain.” “Mountains of holiness,” lit., Sion, to which David
brought the Ark, Moriah, the Temple Mount (1 Sam 6:1-20; 1 Chron 13:1-14; 1 Chron 15:1-28). Like Rome, the holy City was built on its own cluster of steep hills. Cf. Ps. 45:3; Isa 14:32.

v. 2. “Gates of Sion;” by synedoche, a part for the whole (cf. Ps. 9:15), or, as the most
prominent part of the city, the place for meetings and judgment.

“Dwellings,” i.e., the others towns of Palestine, which, while Jerusalem remained unscathed, had been ravaged by the Assyrian hordes (see Isaiah 8:5-10)

v. 3. “With glorious [words, promises] is it spoken of thee [by God],” whom the poet, in the verses following, introduces as speaking—so literally. Selah marks the transition to a detailed description of these glories,

v. 4. “Rahab” = “ferocity,” “insolence,” “pride.” Egypt is so named twice by Isa 30:7; 51:9; cf. Ps 89:11; Isa 19:18—25. At the time assigned above, Egypt was in alliance with Judah, to ward off the advance of Assyria. In Isa 37:9, Tirhakah (Vulgate, Tharaca) is mentioned as going forth to attack Sennacherib (“And he heard concerning Tirhakah, king of the Ethiopians,” &c).

“As those,” or, “Among those.” “As [belonging] to the number of those that know Me.” ” Know,” in the deeper sense so frequent in the Divine Scriptures (cf. Ps. 1:6; 36:11; St. John 10:14-15). “This-one, that one,” i.e., each of the above-mentioned. ” Born:’ Vulgate reading,
with some Codd. of LXX., instead of the Greek egenneetheesan (= were born), has egeneetheesan (= were), renders “were there,” “was there.” Talmud (Tr. Sanhedrin, 90), “A stranger, who becomes a proselyte, is a child that is born,” cf. St. John 3:1-10. Syriac, “Be mindful of Rahab and Babylon, who acknowledge Me. Lo, the Palestinians and Tyre and the people of the Ethiopians: That [man, nation (?)] was born there.”

“People,” in the unpointed original, the context alone determines whether the Hebrew am (- people) or im (= with) is meant. The Hebrew language did not originally have vowels in its alphabet; the Massoretes during the Middle Ages invented a system of symbols (called points, or vowel points) for indicating a vowel. The unpointed original of the middle part of this verse could be translated to read: Behold the foreigners (or Philistines), and Tyre, and the people of the Ethiopians, (Douay-Rheims); or behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia (KJV).

v. 5. The poet repeats the Divine utterance of v. 4 in his own person. St. Jerome, “But to Sion it shall be said, a man and a man (vir et vir),” &c. Syriac, “And to Sion it is said, a giant-man is born in her, and he himself has founded her.” LXX. [Cod. Vatican), “Mother Sion [Sion is my mother (?)], a man shall say; and a man is born in her,” &c. This is followed by Roman Psalter, Tertullian, St. Augustine, and by several Latins. St. Jerome assigns the Greek μητηρ, ( = mother), of LXX. to a scribe’s mistaking the interrogative μητι ( = Vulgate, Numquid?), for it.

The three-fold “was born” corresponds to the three-fold use of the Hebrew zeh (= “one,” “another,” “a third”) (Isa 44:5).

v. 6. St. Jerome, “The Lord reckoned (numeravit scribens popuios) [when] writing (i.e., registering) peoples; he was born in her (ipse natus est in ea)”

v. 7. Father McSwiney has some technical notes on this verse that will probably be of no interest to most people. Many scholars agree with the assessment of the early 20th century form critic Hermann Gunkel that the verse is “completely meaningless.” The Hebrew of this verse reads: And singers as well as flute- players [shall say (?)], All my fountains are in thee. The Vulgate reads: The dwelling of all within thee is as [the dwelling] of-those-that-rejoice. Due to the textual problems translations of (and interpretations of) the verse vary considerably (see the comment on this verse in the New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture).

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Father McSwiney’s Summary of and Brief Notes on Psalm 102

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 28, 2013

The verse numbering here follows that of the NAB. Notes in red are my additions.

The fifth of the Seven Penitential Psalms, which may be safely referred to the period of the Captivity, a date still further confirmed by its general resemblance to the writings of Jeremias, and to the parts of Isaias which treat mainly of that period (Isa 40-66).

The poet’s personal woes are closely blended in their sources with those of the captive nation. The reproaches (v. 9) he daily undergoes, to all appearance from his fellow-exiles, point to one on whom the responsibility for the disasters of his country was somehow fixed by his companions in bondage. It might well be Jeremias himself (cf. Lamentations 3). This, however, is at best a plausible conjecture. The Psalm is assigned in the Synagogues to the Minor Day of Atonement (a reference to Yom Kippur Katan, not Yom Kippur). The Title is noteworthy, as it describes the character of the Psalm, and marks the circumstances for which it is suited. The other Inscriptions are either historical, or, as far as can be made out, musical.

vv. 2, 3. A prayer made up of phrases occurring in older Psalms, and hence spontaneously adopted by the earnest suppliant,

Verses 4—12gives us the poet’s plaint; his health and strength have given way under affliction,

v. 4. “Like [lit., in] smoke.” The Hebrew b‘ [= in, with] frequently introduces a comparison. “Like smoke,” so LXX. and St. Jerome. As smoke vanishes, leaving no trace, so too were the captives in danger of being absorbed by the Gentiles by whom they were surrounded. “With burning” (in text, כּמו מוקד), rendered in Targum, “caldron,” “stew- pan;” Qimchi, “hearth;” Isa 33:14 has”Everlasting burnings”, cf. Job 30:30; Lamentation 1:13.

v. 5. The image of heat and fire continues in verse 5 where the psalmist compares himself to dried, withered grass. His troubles are such that he forgets to sustain himself with food.

v. 6. He is worn away by incessant grief and prayer, cf. Job 19:20; Lament, 4:8.

v. 7. “Pelican;” in text, qâ’ath, a bird dwelling in marshes; “pelican” (“cormorant” suggested by others), a mere guess. Since a pelican lives near water, the image of a pelican in the desert suggests the psalmist’s life is in danger due to a lack of sustenance (see verse 5).  Many modern translations employ the term desert owl or vulture in place of pelican, apparently not getting what the image was meant to convey.

“Owl” (kos); LXX., “night-raven;” St. Jerome, “bubo solitudinum” (the owl of desert places); in
text, kôs, rendered by some “pelican,” or “cormorant,” on account of its pouch (kôs = cup). The basic meaning of the Hebrew word kôs is a cup or container. It was apparently used as a descriptive for several different types of birds: e.g., the pelican because of its pouch, and the owl because of its cup shaped eye cavity. Because of the ambiguity of the word used here translations of verse 7 vary. Some think the two bird references are identical: pelican-pelican. As previously indicated others amend the text and have two species of birds that frequent deserted places.

v. 8. “I was sleepless;” Targum, “I kept watch all night.” the Hebrew tsippôr (rendered “sparrow”) means any singing bird, hence not a night bird. The verb, therefore, denotes rather “keeping a look-out ” for danger from attack, &c. The Hebrew shâqad has the basic meaning of to watch during sleep time. The psalmist sleepless watching may be taken as motivated by the threat of his enemies in verse 9. The NABRE understands the psalmist to be comparing himself to a troubled sparrow, unable to sleep and cooing mournfully.

“Lonely,” driven into solitude, away from its mate and its brood. The psalmist’s loneliness may be due to the enemies mentioned in the next verse.

v. 9. “Mad,” cf. St. Luke 6:11, “frenzied with hate.” The LXX (Septuagint) takes meholalay of text as equivalent to mehal’lay ( = “those praising me”)—to my face, false friends, or those that flattered me, when I was well off.

“Swore;” LXX., Vulgate, “against me,” which may mean, “conspired against me. St Jerome understood it as “cursed by me,” i.e., When they curse, they imprecate on themselves and others my misery and degradation; cf. Isa 65:15; Jer. 29:22.

v. 10. Ashes and mourning are my daily portion, cf. Ps. 42:4; Lament 3:16.

v. 11. “Because of,” lit., “from the faces of”—the psalmist is implicitly making a confession of his sin which has provoked God’s wrath; cf. Ps. 90:7—9. The Hebrew translated literally would read: From the faces of your frothing. A frothing or foaming mouth is a common image of anger, wrath, or indignation.

“Hast dashed me down,” so LXX. and St. Jerome. If we apply this to the captive nation, Israel (see the second part of the psalm, verses 13-23), hitherto the object of God’s predilection, is now in all the worse plight for being cast off. The Rabbis understand it of some previous exaltation, which aggravates the bitterness of the present misery; cf. Isa 22:18-19; Lament 2:1.

v. 12. “As a shadow stretched-out,” lengthening itself. Explained by Rashi (famed Jewish Commentator of the Middle Ages), “The shadows lengthen at even-tide, but vanish when it is dark.” Cf. Ps 109: 23. This figures the near approach of death. Note the reappearance of the withered grass image from verse 5.

Basic summary of vv. 13—23. Weak and short-lived though I be, Thy might is eternal, wherefore the cause of my wearing grief—Israel’s bondage —will assuredly end. Or, God’s fidelity to His promise, rather than His eternity, is foremost in the poet’s thought.

v. 13. “Sittest-throned,” as King of the everlasting theocracy. Note that the transitory nature of the psalmist-his days are coming to an end like the evening, he is as transitory as withered grass-is being contrasted here with God’s sitting enthroned forever, remembered unto all generations.

v. 14. “Time,” “set time.” “Time,” now that Israel, repentant, turns with earnest longing to the Holy City, yearns even for its ruins. “Set time,” the close of the seventy years foretold by Jer 25:11-12; Jer 29:10.

v. 15. “Dust,” “pulverem” of Vetus Itala and St. Jerome. , Vulgate term terræ may be so rendered. The Holy City of Jerusalem is in ruins as a result of the Babylonian conquest, but even in ruins it is near and dear to the people of God.

vv. 16-18. Verses 17-18 are to be read in connection with v. 16, which describes the result of the Divine Self-manifestation in the redemption of the chosen people, a restoration vouchsafed in answer to prayer (see v. 18). The verbs in these two verses (17-18) are Preterites in text, but are to be rendered in Future perfect.

“Destitute,” in verse 18 is the Hebrew ‛ar‛âr = literally, “stript,” “denuded.” LXX., “humble,” or “afflicted;” St. Jerome, “vacui” (empty, destitute); Targum, “rendered desolate.”

vv. 19-23. “Written,” elsewhere in the Psalms the memory of great events is left to oral tradition; this is the sole exception. The anticipations of vv. 17, 18, 20—23, are to be recorded for “an after generation” = “a people created,” i.e., as in Targum, “to be created;” cf. “a people born,” i.e., “to be born,” Ps 22:32. It seems that before the prophecy of Daniel (9:24—27), the advent of the Messias was expected to coincide with the return from exile; such appears to be the belief of this psalmist.

v. 22. “In order that [men] should proclaim,” &c.; in the Hebrew text, sâphar, “to tell,” “to narrate,” without a pronoun i.e., “men” (or some equivalent, such as “people”) is not in the Hebrew.

Future generations (19) are to heed the fact that God has rebuilt Zion and manifested his glory there (17) in response to his people’s pleading (18). This looking down (20) in response to the pleading (21) will lead the former suppliants to declare God’s name on Zion, and praise him in Jerusalem (22), where many peoples and kingdoms will praise him.

v. 24. St. Jerome here agrees with the text, which LXX. have read with other —traditional-—vowels. ”

He ” ( = God, or more likely, the people), “answered” (equivalent, as often in New Testament, to “said”) “to Him in the way of His might” (i.e., might shown forth in the punishment of the exiled people; Old Itala, “virtutis ejus”). “the fewness of my days tell me” (tell me taken from v. 25). “His might,” so in text (= kethibh), but corrected in margin, “my might,” “my strength” (
= Qeri). The verse is a reminiscence of Deut. 8:2, q.v. ” Way “—here is this life of trial, cf. Ps. 84:6, in the text (high roads),

v. 25. A prayer that he may be spared to see the restoration of his people, wherein he contrasts his fleeting life with the eternal years of God, the ground of his assurance of the reinstatement of Israel, vv. 26—28. Quoted in Heb. 1:10—12, not as an accommodation, but in direct proof that the Christ is the Lord, who “of old,” &c.

v. 27. “They shall perish;” no contradiction here with the Scriptures that promise “a new heaven and a new earth” (2 St. Peter 3:13). The poet considers, for the moment, the perpetual oscillation of the creature between being and not-being; he abstracts from what is permanent in this process of change. The figure of the “garment” is borrowed from Isa 51:6, 8.

“They shall bechanged;” the notion of the metascheematismos, or “transformation” of visible Nature, meets us in Isa 34:4; 51:6, 16; but especially in Isa 65:17; 66:22.

v. 28. “Thou art He; ” “He,” a Divine title (Deut. 32:39, in text), and it occurs four times in the latter prophecies of Isaiah.

Shall dwell”—in the land, cf. Pss 37:29; Ps 69:36.



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This Week’s Posts: Sunday, September 29–Sunday, October 6, 2013

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 28, 2013

In Dedicatione S. Michaelis Archangelis ~ I. classis
Commemoratio: Dominica XIX Post Pentecosten V. Septembris

Today’s Mass Resources (Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms).

Last Week’s Posts.


Today’s Mass Readings.

Today’s Divine Office.

Navarre Bible Commentary on Zechariah 8:1-8.

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 102.

St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 102.

Update: Father McSwiney on Psalm 102. Summary and brief notes.

Update: St John Fisher’s Commentary on Psalm 102. In two parts. Online book.

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Luke 9:46-50.

St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Luke 9:46-50.

Navarre Bible Commentary on Luke 9:46-50.


Today’s Mass Readings.

Today’s Divine Office.

Navarre Bible Commentary on Zechariah 8:20-23.

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 87.

Update: Father McSwiney on Psalm 87. Summary and brief notes.

Pending: Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 87.

Pope John Paul II’s Commentary on Psalm 87.

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Luke 9:51-56.

St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Luke 9:51-56.

Navarre Bible Commentary on Luke 9:51-56.


Today’s Mass Readings.

Today’s Divine Office.

Navarre Bible Commentary on Nehemiah 2:1-8.

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 137.

Pope Benedict XVI’s Commentary on Psalm 137. On verse 1-6, the subject of today’s responsorial.

Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Matthew 18:1-5, 10. On verses 1-10.

Bishop MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 18:1-5, 10. On verses 1-10.

Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 18:1-5, 10. On verses 1-10.


Today’s Mass Readings.

Today’s Divine Office.

Navarre Bible Commentary on Nehemiah 8:1-4a, 5-6, 7b-12.

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 19.

St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 19.

St Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary/Lecture on Psalm 19.

Pope John Paul II’s Commentary on Psalm 19.

St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentaries on Luke 10:1-12. On 1-7 actually.

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Luke 10:1-12.

Navarre Bible Commentary on Luke 10:1-12.


Today’s Mass Readings.

Today’s Divine Office.

My Notes on Baruch 1:15-22.

Navarre Bible Commentary on Baruch 1:15-22.

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 79.

Pending: My Notes on Psalm 79:1-2, 3-5, 8-9. The verses used in today’s responsorial.

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Luke 10:13-16.

Navarre Bible Commentary on Luke 10:13-16.


Today’s Mass Readings.

Today’s Divine Office.

Pending (maybe): My Notes on Baruch 4:5-12, 27-29.

Navarre Bible Commentary on Baruch 4:5-12, 27-29.

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 69.

St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 69.

St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentary on Luke 10:17-24.

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Luke 10:17-24.

Navarre Bible Commentary on Luke 10:17-24.

Dominica XX Post Pentecosten I. Octobris ~ II. classis

TODAY’S MASS RESOURCES (Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms).

Next Week’s Posts.

Posted in Catholic, Catholic lectionary, Daily Catholic Lectionary | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentaries on Luke 10:1-7

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 28, 2013

This post contains three brief sermons encompassing Luke 10:1-7. The first is on verses 1-3; the second on verse 3; the third on verse 4-7.

ON LUKE 10:1-3

10:1-3. After these things the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them two and two before His face, unto every city and place, whither He was about to enter. And He said unto them, The harvest indeed is great, but the labourers few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into the harvest.

THE Holy Ghost by the mouth of the holy prophets commanded the ministers of the saving word of the gospel, saying, “Sound the trumpet on the new moon: on the solemn day of your feast.” And to the new moon we may compare the time of our Saviour’s coming. For a new world arose for us, in which all things have become new, as the very wise Paul assures us in his writings. For he says, “The former things have passed away: behold, all things have become new.” By the new moon therefore, and solemn feast, we understand the time of the incarnation of the Only-begotten, when a trumpet sounded loudly and clearly, even that which proclaimed the saving message of the gospel. For is not that a time which invites us to keep festival, when we were justified by faith, and washed from the pollutions of sin, and death abolished, which had tyrannized over us, and Satan ejected from his mastery over us all; and in which by sanctification and justification we have been united to our common Saviour Christ, and enriched with the hope of unending life and glory. These are the loud trumpet’s sounds, and they run not only through Judaea, like that law which was of old, but throughout the whole earth.

And this is pictured for thee in the writings of Moses. For the God of all came down in the likeness of fire on Mount Sinai, and there was a cloud, and darkness, and gloom, and the voice of the trumpet with a loud ringing sound, according to the Scripture. But the notes of the trumpet were, it says, few at first, but afterwards they waxed longer, and became louder and louder continually. What then was it which the shadow of the law signified to us by these things? Was it not this: that |273 at first there were but few to publish the Gospel tidings; but afterwards they became many? And Christ began the work: and having first chosen the twelve apostles, He afterwards appointed, it says, seventy others. And that, not as though those who had been already called to the honour of the apostleship had been guilty of any neglect, or been led into anything unbecoming, but because a great multitude was about to believe in Him. For not Israel only was caught in the net, but also the crowds of the Gentiles. For that the message of salvation would take possession of the whole world, the God of all declared by one of the holy prophets, saying of it, “Judgment springeth up like couch-grass in the furrows of the |274 field.” For like as the couch-grass springs up in the furrows that are left without cultivation, and takes possession of them, and spreads everywhere, constantly advancing onwards, so in an exactly similar manner has judgment, that is to say, the grace that justifieth the world as declared in the saving tidings of the Gospel, taken possession of every city and place.

Besides these twelve therefore, there were also seventy others appointed by Christ. And again a type of this was prefigured in the words of Moses. For at God’s command he also chose seventy, and God sent the Spirit upon those who had been chosen. And yet again, we find the twelve disciples, and these seventy also, indicated to us by the shadow of the law. For it is thus written in the Exodus concerning the children of Israel; “And they came to Marah 2: and the people could not drink the waters of Marah; for they were bitter. And Moses cried unto the Lord, and the Lord shewed him a tree; and he cast it into the waters, and the waters were made sweet.” Now Marah, when translated, means bitterness; and. is taken by us as a type of the law. For the law was bitter, in that it punished with death. And of this Paul is witness, saying, “He that hath despised Moses’ law is put to death without mercy at the mouth of two or three witnesses.” It was bitter therefore, and unendurable to those of old time, and was unacceptable on this account, just as were also those bitter waters. But it also was sweetened by the precious cross, of which that tree there shewn by God to the blessed Moses was a type. For now that the shadow has changed to the spiritual contemplation, we behold with the eyes of the mind the mystery of Christ, that lay hid in the types of the law. Although therefore the law was bitter, it has now ceased to be so any longer.

“And after Marah, they came, it says, to Elim.” And Elim again when translated means an ascent or increase. And what again was there at Elim? “Twelve wells of water, it says, and seventy palm trees.” For as we ascend to more perfect knowledge, and hasten onward to spiritual increase, we |275 find twelve wells, that is, the holy Apostles: and seventy palm trees, those, namely, who were appointed by Christ. And very excellently the disciples 3 are compared to wells, and the seventy, who were subsequently chosen, to palm trees. For as from holy wells we draw from the disciples of our Saviour the knowledge of all good: while we praise the seventy also, and, so to speak, call them palms; for this tree is strong-hearted, and firm of root, and very fruitful, and constantly grows besides the waters. And such we affirm the saints to be: for their mind is pure, and steadfast, and fruitful, and habitually delights itself in the waters of knowledge.

Therefore, to return again to what we were at first saying, the Lord “appointed other seventy.” But some may perchance imagine that the former had been dismissed, and deprived of the honours of the apostleship; and that these were promoted in their stead, as being better able to teach than they were. To remove therefore such thoughts from our minds, He Who knoweth hearts, and is acquainted with things to come, even as it were apologized, saying, “The harvest indeed is great; but the labourers are few: pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into His harvest.” For just as lands covered thick with produce, and broad and long, require numerous and able labourers; so the whole earth, or rather the company of those about to believe in Christ, being great and innumerable, required not a few teachers, but as many as would suffice for the work. And for this reason Christ appointed those who were to be the allies, so to speak, and assistants of the twelve disciples. They went therefore on their mission, being sent two and two to every city and village, crying, as it were, in the words of John, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”

But observe this: that while He said, “Pray ye the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into His harvest,” He did it Himself. And yet Who besides is Lord of the harvest, that is, of the dwellers on earth, but He Who by nature and truly is God. “For to Him belongs the whole earth and its fulness,” as Scripture says: and He is the Creator of all, and its Fashioner. But inasmuch as it belongs to the supreme God |276 alone to send forth labourers, how was it that Christ appointed them? Is He not therefore the Lord of the harvest, and God the Father, by Him and with Him, the Lord of all? All things therefore are His, and there is nothing of all things which are named that belongs to the Father, which is not also the Son’s. For He also said to the Father, “Those whom Thou gavest Me out of the world, Thine they were, and Thou gavest them unto Me.” For, as I said, all those things that belong to the Father are declared to be, and are, the property of the Son, and He is radiant with His Father’s dignities. And the glory of the Godhead belongs to Him, not as a thing conferred and given Him by another; but rather He subsists in honours which are His by nature, as He also doth Who begat Him. And the wise John also affirms that we all are His, thus saying of Him: “I indeed baptize you in water: but after me cometh He Who is mightier than I: He [Who] shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost, and in fire. Whose fan is in His hand, and He will cleanse His floor, and will gather the wheat into His garner, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”

May it be our lot then as rational wheat, to be carried into God’s treasure house, oven into the mansions that are above: that there, in company with the rest of the saints, we may enjoy the blessings which God bestows in Christ: by Whom, and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever, Amen 4. |277

ON LUKE 10:3

10:3. Go: behold, I send you as sheep among wolves.

ALL those who praise the divine and sacred Word correctly, and without error, are, we affirm, the allies of the doctrines of truth, and its host teachers; well knowing how to guide whosoever wish to advance in Christ, rightly unto every good work, and to the life incorruptible, and to participation in the blessings bestowed upon us. Of these most wise Paul also declares, that they are “the lights of the world, holding the word of life.”

Now of these illustrious and famous men the divine disciples were the commencement, and stand foremost in order: for they had as a schoolmaster Him Who is the Giver of all understanding; and Who richly bestoweth His light upon those who love Him. For He is the true light Who illumineth the heavens, even the powers who are above; and delivereth from ignorance and darkness those also upon earth. And observe how He made the appointed teachers of all beneath the sun to be ready workmen, conspicuous for their earnest zeal, and able to win the glory of apostolic victories; preferring none of this world’s affairs to the duty of proclaiming their sacred message, and so bravely disposed in their manly mind as to be superior to all fear, and no whit terrified at hardships, nor alarmed at death itself, when brought upon them for Christ’s sake. For “go,” He says: and in this word “go,” He encourages them to be courageous; makes them eagerly desirous of saintly victories; establishes them in the steadfast resistance of all temptation; and permits them not to shrink from the violence of persecutions. For just as valiant generals, when the battle begins, and the enemy discharge their shafts, encourage those under their command bravely to resist the attacking foe, and to bear themselves manfully against the enemy; using such words as these; ‘Fellow soldiers, let none of these things that |278 ye see trouble your mind; we are not weak and inexperienced in warfare, but know well the ways of battle: we have coats of mail strongly made; armour and swords; bows too and darts: by exertion we shall purchase the victory; stoutheartedness will win for us a right glorious renown:’ so does the Saviour of all, if we may so speak, send forth the disciples against the hosts of unbelievers, saying, “Go; behold, I send you as sheep among wolves.”

What sayest Thou O Lord? How can sheep converse with wolves? When was a wild beast ever at peace with the sheep? Scarcely can the shepherds protect their flocks by gathering them into folds, and shutting them up in enclosures, and frightening the beasts of prey by the barking of dogs, yea, and even themselves fighting in their defence, and running risks to protect the more weakly members of their flock. How then does He command the holy Apostles, who are guileless men, and if we may so speak, sheep, to seek the company of wolves, and go to them of their own accord? Is not the danger manifest? Are they not set as a ready prey for their attacks? How can a sheep prevail over a wolf? How can one so peaceful vanquish the savageness of beasts of prey? Yes, He says, for they all have Me as their Shepherd: small and great; people and princes; teachers and taught. I will be with you and aid you, and deliver you from all evil. I will tame the savage beasts; I will change wolves into sheep; I will make the persecutors become the helpers of the persecuted: and those who wrong My ministers I will make to be sharers in their pious designs. For I make and unmake all things, and there is nothing that can resist My will.

And that this was the actual result, we may see in instances which really occurred. For the divine Paul was a blasphemer, and persecutor, more injurious and cruel than any wolf against those who believed in Christ. Did he then persist in this conduct? Did he continue to be a wolf even unto the end? Far from it: for he was called by Christ, and experienced an unlooked for change. He who in old time was a wolf became more gentle than a lamb; and preached the faith which once he persecuted. And a change so unexpected in its manner was the wonder of all men, and Christ was glorified, Who had changed him from a beast of prey into a lamb. And this the |279 divine Jacob had in his blessings before announced concerning him: “Benjamin is a ravening wolf: in the morning he shall eat flesh: and in the evening divide victual.” For the wise Paul was of the tribe of Benjamin, and, at first, he resisted those who believed in Christ like a ravening wolf; but when a short time had elapsed, a space, so to speak, as from morning to evening, he divided victual. For he taught and preached Jesus: and to those that as yet were babes in intellect he offered milk; but set before the full grown strong meat. In the morning therefore he eats flesh, and in the evening divides victual.

And thus much then briefly respecting the blessed Paul: but let us next discuss from a similar point of view the calling of nations. Let us see whether they too also were not at one time beasts of prey, and fiercer than wolves against the ministers of the gospel message of salvation, but were transformed unto the gentleness and guilelessness which are by Christ’s help. They too persecuted the holy apostles, not so much like men struggling with wolves, as like beasts of prey, raging savagely against sheep. And though they wronged them not, but rather called them to salvation, they stoned them, they imprisoned them, they persecuted them from city to city. And yet those, who thus acted at first, afterwards became gentle and guileless, and like the sheep which once they persecuted.

And who else accomplisheth all these things but Jesus Christ our Lord? For He also it is “Who hath broken down the fence wall that was in the middle, abolishing the law of commandments contained in doctrines; Who hath made the two nations into one new man; Who hath made peace, and reconciled both in one body unto the Father.” For that there have been joined unto the faith in concord and unity of mind and will, the savage in company with the gentle; the impure and sin-stained with the saints; those, that is, of the herds of the Gentiles with those of Israel who believed; the prophet Isaiah shews, thus speaking in the Spirit: “And the wolf shall graze with the lamb; and the leopard rest with the kid; and the bear and the cow shall graze together; and the ox and the lion eat provender together, and their young ones shall be with one another.” Consider, my beloved, and understand that those who were sanctified by faith did not |280 conform to the habits of the heathen, but on the contrary those who were called of the heathen conformed to them. For such beasts as the wolf and lion, the bear and leopard, are eaters of flesh; but those animals which are of a gentle nature, kids and lambs, and steers, feed upon grass. But those beasts of prey, he says, shall graze with these gentle ones, and eat their food. It is not therefore the gentle ones who have conformed to the habits of the savage: but, on the contrary, as I said, the savage who have imitated them. For they have abandoned their cruel disposition for the gentleness that becometh saints, and been changed by Christ, so that the wolves have become lambs; for He it is Who hath made them gentle, and united, as I said, the two nations unto a mind full of the love of God. And this of old the hierophant Moses cried out, saying, “Rejoice, ye nations, with His people; ascribe majesty unto God.” Let us therefore exalt Him and honour Him with praises because of the Saviour and Lord of all: by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever, Amen. |281

ON LUKE 10:4-7

10:4-7. Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes; and ask not the peace of any one by the way. And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace to this house. And if there be there one5 worthy of peace, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you. And in that house remain, eating and drinking of their things: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Change not from house to house.

THE prudent and skilful bee visits the flowers in every field and meadow, and gathering the dew that has settled upon them, so makes sweet honey. And Solomon leads us to imitate her conduct, saying, “Draw near to the bee, and learn how industrious she is, and how excellent is her workmanship. She is beloved, therefore, and praised by every man, and her labours kings and private persons employ for their health.” Come, therefore, and let us also, wandering, as it were, around some intellectual meadow, gather the dew let fall by the Holy Ghost upon the divine message of the Gospel, that so being enriched in mind we may bring forth the spiritual honey, even the word profitable and useful to all who thirst after the communication of the divine doctrines, whether they be noble and illustrious, or obscure and private persons in a humble rank of life. For it is written, “Good words are as honeycomb; and their sweetness is healing to the soul.” |282

Now these fair and good words, what else are they than those certainly which Christ spake unto us, making those who love Him skilful by repeated teaching in virtuous pursuits? For take here also as a proof of what I have said the sense of the passage just read to us. “Carry,” it says, “neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes.” Consider, I pray you, here again the nature of the pathway of apostolic virtue set before them. For it was right that they who were to be the lights and teachers of all beneath the heaven, should learn it from no other than from Him Who is the Word that came down from above—-from heaven: the fountain of wisdom and intellectual light; from whom cometh all understanding, and the knowledge of every thing that is good. What, then, He requires of them is, that in preaching to men everywhere the Word that He spake, and in calling the inhabitants of the whole earth to salvation, they should travel about without purse, or scrip, or shoes; and journey rapidly from city to city, and from place to place. And let no man on any account say that the object of His teaching was to make the holy Apostles refuse the use of the ordinary articles of equipment. For what good would it do them, or what harm, to have shoes on their feet, or go without them? But what He does wish them to learn by this command, and to endeavour to practice is certainly this, that they must lay all thought of their sustenance upon Him, and call to remembrance the saint who said, “Cast thy care upon the Lord, and He shall feed thee.” For He giveth the saints what is needful for life, nor speaketh He falsely where He saith, “Be ye not anxious for yourselves as to what ye shall eat, and what drink: nor for your body, what clothing ye shall wear: for your Father knoweth that ye have need of all those things. But seek first His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

For verily it was fitting and necessary that those who were adorned with apostolic honours, should have a mind free from covetousness, and altogether averse from the receiving of gifts, and content, on the contrary, with what God provides. “For the love of money is the root of all evils” as Scripture declares. They, therefore, in every way must be free and exempt from that which is the root and nourisher of all evils, and must expend, so to say, all their zeal upon their necessary |283 duties, not being exposed to Satan’s attack, us taking with them no worldly wealth, but despising the things of the flesh, and desiring only what God wills.

For just as brave soldiers when they go out to battle carry nothing with them but such equipments only as are suitable for war, so also it was right that those who were sent out by Christ to carry aid to the world, and wage war in behalf of all who were in danger against the “world-rulers of this darkness,” yea, and against Satan himself, should be free from the distractions of this world, and from all worldly anxiety; that being tightly girt, and clad in spiritual armour, they might contend mightily with those who resisted the glory of Christ, and had made all beneath the heaven their prey. For they had caused its inhabitants to worship the creature instead of the Creator, and to offer religious service to the elements of the world. Armed, therefore, with the shield of faith, and the breastplate of righteousness, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, they must prove themselves invincible antagonists to their enemies; and not drag after them a heavy load of things worthy of blame and condemnation: such as are the love of wealth and hoards of base gains, and eagerness after them: for these things turn aside the mind of man from that behaviour which pleaseth God, and permit it not to mount upward to Him, but humble it rather to feelings set upon dust, and earthly things.

In enjoining them, therefore, to take neither scrip nor purse, nor, moreover, to trouble themselves about shoes, He clearly teaches them that his commandment requires them to abandon all carnal wealth, and that His wish is that they should be free from every impediment in entering upon the duty to which they were especially called, of preaching, namely, His mystery to men everywhere, and of winning unto salvation those who were entangled in the nets of destruction.

And to this He adds that “they 6 were not to ask of the |284 peace of any one by the way.” But what harm would this have done the holy apostles? Come, therefore, come, and let us see the reason why it was not right for them to offer greeting to those that met them. Thou doubtless wilt say that it was because it might sometimes happen that those who met them were not believers: and that therefore it would not have been right for those who were ignorant of Him Who by nature and verily is God to be blessed by them. What, therefore, do we say to this? Does it not then seem an incredible supposition that this was the reason why they were commanded not to ask of the peace of any one by the way? For they were sent forth “not so much to call the righteous as sinners to repentance.” And how, therefore, was it not fitting that they who were about to enlighten all who were in darkness, and to bring them unto the acknowledgment of the truth, should rather use gentleness and great kindliness instead of roughly withdrawing themselves from associating with them, and even refusing to ask of their health? For certainly with other good qualities, gentleness of address becometh the saints, and greetings, provided they are made in a fitting manner. And, moreover, those who met them would, of course, sometimes not be unbelievers, but men of their own persuasion, or 7 who had already been enlightened, and to whom it would even be their duty to offer an acknowledgment of love by a kindly greeting.

What, therefore, does Christ teach by this? He does not enjoin them to be rude, nor command them to lay stress upon the not making salutation: such conduct He rather teaches them to avoid. But it is not a thing unbefitting to suppose that when |285 the disciples were travelling about among the cities and villages, to instruct men everywhere in the sacred doctrines, they might wish to do this, perhaps, not with haste, but, so to speak, in a loitering manner, making deviations from the road, and permitting themselves to pay visits, because they wished to see some one or other as being an acquaintance or friend, and so would waste prodigally in unnecessary matters the fitting time for preaching. With great industry, therefore, says He, be zealous in delivering your sacred message; grant not to friendship an unprofitable delay, but let that which is well pleasing to God be preferred by you to all other things: and so practising an irresistible and unhampered diligence, hold fast to your apostolic cares.

Besides this He further commanded them “not to give holiness to dogs, nor again to cast the pearls before swine,” by bestowing upon unbelievers their society in lodging with them: they were rather to grant it to such as were worthy of having it deigned them, by being sons of peace, and yielding obedience to their message. For it would have been a most disgraceful act for them to wish to be intimate with any who were still resisting Christ’s glory, and guilty of the charge of ungodliness. “For what part hath the believer with the unbeliever?” For how could those who had not as yet even listened to their words, but made their instruction, however worthy it was of being embraced, an occasion sometimes even of ridicule, receive them as meriting their admiration? So too at Athens some once ridiculed the divine Paul. For he indeed taught them “that God dwelleth not in temples made with hands,” being incorporeal and infinite, and That Which filleth all, but is contained by none: and declared that he preached unto them “Him Whom though they knew Him not, they imagined they rightly worshipped.” But they being given up to superciliousness, and greatly priding themselves on their fluent tongue, said in their folly, “What would this seed-picker 8 say? For he seemeth to be a setter forth of |286 foreign gods.” Seed-picker was the name they gave to a worthless bird, whose habit it was to pick up the seeds scattered on the roads: and in comparing to it the divine Paul, these foolish men were ridiculing the word of salvation then offered them.

Christ therefore commanded them to lodge with the sons of peace, and to eat at their cost, affirming that this was by a just decree; “for a labourer, He says, is worthy of his hire.” And therefore, let not any of those who acknowledge the truth, disregard or be careless of the duty of honouring the saints: for they bless us, when “sowing to us things spiritual, they reap of us things carnal:” and “the Lord also commanded that those who preach the gospel shall live of the gospel:” since also according to the law of Moses, “those who offered sacrifices shared with the altar.” And let those who are careless of honouring the saints, and illiberally close the hand, be assured that they are deprived of their blessing. But may it be our lot to be partakers of the blessing prepared for them with God, by offering to them as fruit whatever we possess; and by feeling pleasure in so doing; “for Christ loveth a cheerful giver:” by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever, Amen 9. |287  (source)



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St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentary on Luke 9:51-56

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 28, 2013

9:51-56. And it came to pass that when the days were fulfilled for His being taken up, that He set His face to go to Jerusalem: and sent messengers before His face, and they went and entered into a village of the Samaritans to make ready for Him. And they did not receive Him, because His face was as though He would go to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw it, they said, Wilt Thou that we bid fire come down from heaven to consume them? But He turned and rebuked them, and went to another village.

Those who are abundantly endowed with vast wealth, and pride themselves on their ample riches, assemble fit persons to their banquets, and set before them a sumptuously furnished table, producing by a diversity of dishes and sauces of various kinds a pleasure superior to the mere satisfying of hunger. But from this no benefit arises, but rather great injury to the banqueters. For more than a sufficiency after the calls of hunger have been satisfied is always hurtful. But those who possess heavenly riches, and know the sacred doctrines, and have been illuminated with divine light, nourish their souls by feasting them on instructive discourses, in order that they may become both fruitful towards God, and skilled in the pathway unto all virtue, and earnest in accomplishing those things by means of which a man attains to a happy issue. To this intellectual and holy table, therefore, the sacred Word invites us; for it says, “Eat and drink, and be drunken, my friends.” But friends of whom? evidently of God. And it is worthy of note that we are to be drunken with these things, and that we can never be satiated with that which is to our edification. Let us see, therefore, what kind of profit the lesson from the Gospel sets before us upon the present occasion.

“For 19 when,” it says, “the days were fulfilled for His |254 being taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” By which is meant, that as the time had now come when at length having borne for us His saving passion, He should ascend to heaven, and dwell with God the Father, He determined to proceed to Jerusalem. For this is, I think, the meaning of His having set His face. He sends, therefore, messengers to prepare a lodging for Him and His companions. And when they came to a village of the Samaritans, they were not received. At this the blessed disciples were indignant, not so much on their own account as because they did not honour Him Who is Saviour and Lord of all. And what followed? They murmured greatly: and as His majesty and power was not unknown to them, they said, “Lord, wilt thou that we bid fire come down from heaven, and consume them?” But Christ rebuked them for so speaking. And in these last words lies the purport of the lesson: and therefore let us accurately examine the whole passage. For it is written, “Churn milk, and it becomes butter.”

It would be untrue, then, to affirm that our Saviour did not know what was about to happen: for as He knows all things, He knew, of course, that His messengers would not be received by the Samaritans. Of this there can be no doubt. Why, then, did He command them to precede Him? The reason of it was His custom assiduously to benefit the holy Apostles in every possible way: and for this end His practice sometimes was to put them to the proof. As for instance, He was sailing once upon the lake of Tiberias with those named above; and while so doing he fell asleep purposely: and a violent wind having risen upon the lake, a rough and unusual storm began to rage, and the boat was in danger, and the crew in alarm. For He intentionally permitted the storm and the fury of the tempest to rage against the ship, to try the faith of the disciples, and to make manifest the greatness of His power. And this, also, was the result. For they, in the littleness of their faith, said, “Master, save us, we perish.” And He at once arose and shewed that He is Lord of the elements; for He rebuked the sea and the tempest, and there was an exceeding great calm. And so also on this occasion: He knew, indeed, that those who went forward to announce that he would lodge with them would not be received by the Samaritans; but He permitted |255 them to go, that this again might be a means of benefiting the holy Apostles.

What, then, was the purpose of this occurrence? He was going up to Jerusalem, as the time of His passion was already drawing near. He was about to endure the contumelies of the Jews; He was about to be set at nought by the scribes and Pharisees; and to suffer those things which they inflicted upon Him when they proceeded to the accomplishment of all violence and wicked audacity. In order, therefore, that they might not be offended when they saw Him suffering, as understanding that He would have them also to be patient, and not to murmur greatly, even though men treat them with contumely, He, so to speak, made the contempt they met with from the Samaritans a preparatory exercise in the matter. They had not received the messengers. It was the duty of the disciples, treading in the footsteps of their Lord, to bear it patiently as becometh saints, and not to say anything of them wrathfully. But they were not yet so disposed; but being seized with too hot indignation, they would have called down fire upon them from heaven, as far as their will went. But Christ rebuked them for so speaking.

See here, I pray, how great is the difference between us and God: for the distance is immeasurable. For He is slow to anger, and long-suffering, and of incomparable gentleness and love to mankind: but we children of earth are quick unto anger, hasty unto impatience, and refuse with indignation to be judged by others when we are found out in committing any wrong act; while we are most ready to find fault with others. And therefore God the Lord of all affirms, saying; “For My thoughts are not as your thoughts, nor your ways as My ways; but as the heaven is far from the earth, so are My ways from your ways, and My thoughts from your thoughts.” Such, then, is He Who is Lord of all: but we, as I said, being readily vexed, and easily led into anger, take sometimes severe and intolerable vengeance upon those who have occasioned us some trifling annoyance: and though commanded to live according to the Gospel, we fall short of the practice commanded by the law. For the law indeed said, “Eye for eye; tooth for tooth; hand for hand:” and commanded that an equal retribution should suffice: but we, as I |256 said, though perhaps we have suffered but a trifling wrong, would retaliate very harshly, not remembering Christ, who said: “The disciple is not greater than his teacher, nor the slave than his master;” Who also, “when He was reviled, reviled not again; when suffering, threatened not; but committed His cause to Him Who judgeth righteously.” As treading this path much-enduring Job also is justly admired: for it is written of him, “What man is like Job, who drinketh wrongs like a draught?” For their benefit, therefore, He rebuked the disciples, gently restraining the sharpness of their wrath, and not permitting them to murmur violently against those who sinned, but persuading them rather to be longsuffering, and to cherish a mind immovable by ought of this.

It benefited them also in another way: they were to be the instructors of the whole world, and to travel through the cities and villages, proclaiming everywhere the good tidings of salvation. Of necessity, therefore, while seeking to fulfil their mission, they must fall in with wicked men, who would reject the divine tidings, and, so to speak, not receive Jesus to lodge with them 20. Had Christ, therefore, praised them for wishing that fire should come down upon the Samaritans, and that so painful a torment should be inflicted upon them, they would have been similarly disposed in many other instances, and when men disregarded the sacred message, would have pronounced their condemnation, and called down fire upon them from above. And what would have been the result of such conduct? The sufferers would have been innumerable, and no longer would the disciples have been so much physicians of the sick, as torturers rather, and intolerable to men everywhere. For their own good, therefore, they were rebuked, when thus enraged beyond measure at the contumely of the Samaritans: in order that they might learn that as ministers of the divine tidings, they must rather be full of longsuffering and gentleness; not revengeful; not given to wrath, nor savagely attacking those who offend them.

And that the ministers of God’s message were longsuffering, |257 Paul teaches us, saying, “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were, condemned to death; for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. Being reviled, we bless; being defamed, we persuade: we have become the offscouring of the world; the refuse of all men up to this day.” He wrote also to others, or rather to all who had not yet received Christ in them, but, so to speak, were still afflicted with the pride of the Samaritans: “We pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”

Great, therefore, is the benefit of the gospel lessons to those who are truly perfect in mind; and may we also, taking them unto ourselves, benefit our souls, ever praising Christ the Saviour of all: by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Ghost, for ever and. ever, Amen.

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