The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Archive for February 12th, 2014

Commentaries for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 12, 2014

READINGS AND OFFICE:

Readings from the New American Bible Revised Edition. Used in the USA. Times sensitive link.

Readings from the New Jerusalem Bible. Used in most English speaking countries.

THEMES, PREACHING IDEAS, SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY: Some further suggestions and resources on the individual readings are given further below, after the commentaries.

Lector Notes.

Doctrinal Homily Outline.

Lector Works.

COMMENTARIES ON THE FIRST READING: Sirach 15:15-20.

My Notes on Sirach 15:15-20.

Word-Sunday Notes on Sirach 15:15-20.

Navarre Bible Commentary on Sirach 15:15-20.

SUGGESTIONS FOR HOMILIES ON, OR FURTHER STUDY OF, THE FIRST READING: Man’s free will; God not the author of evil; God’s omniscience

Online Resources:

On First Reading: Splendor of the Truth 102-105. Pope St John Paul II. On Grace and Obedience, Free Will, Etc.

Catechism of the Council of Trent on Free Will.

Catechism of Pope St Pius X on Free Will.

Further Suggestions:

Introduce the Book of Sirach to the Congregation. It’s always a good idea to spark interest in the reading of the bible; especially of the books of the OT which often get overlooked. You could preach to them on the value of the book, or on specific themes to introduce them to it.  A good bible dictionary or introduction to Sirach would be helpful here. I recommend the following (6 & 7 are brief online aids):

1. Catholic Bible Dictionary. Edited by Dr. Scott Hahn. Amazon.
2. McKenzie’s Dictionary of the Bible. Fr. John McKenzie. Amazon.
3.The Men and Message of the Old Testament. Peter F. Ellis. Rather outdated but still useful. Amazon.
4. New Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture. Amazon
5. Jerome Biblical Commentary. Amazon
6. Brief Online Introduction to Sirach.
7. Online Overview of Sirach. Brief summary of individual chapters and sections.

COMMENTARIES ON THE RESPONSORIAL: Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34.

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 119.

Pope Benedict’s XVI’s Commentary on Psalm 119.

(1) Psallam Domino’s Notes on Psalm 119 (118) 1-8.

(2) Psallam Domino’s Notes on Psalm 119 (118) 17-24.

(3) Psallam Domino’s Notes on Psalm 119 (118) 33-40.

Pending: My Notes on Psalm 119. On verses of the day.

SUGGESTIONS FOR HOMILIES OR FURTHER STUDY ON RESPONSORIAL THEMES: On obedience to God’s word. On the reading and study of Scripture.

Homily: The Reading of the Bible. Fr. Johannes Zollner. Online book. Homily beings near bottom of the page. Treats of 1. Are We Allowed To Read the Bible? 2. Ought We to Read It? 3. How Should We Read It?

1). Vatican II and the Reading of Scripture: Faith as s Dialogue of Love.
2). Vatican II and the Reading of Scripture: Revelation of God in Scripture.
3). Vatican II and the Reading of Scripture: Tradition and Magisterium.
4). Vatican II and the Reading of Scripture: THE Goal of Catholic Bible Study.

COMMENTARIES ON THE SECOND READING: 1 Corinthians 2:6-10.

Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 2:6-10.

Father de Piconio’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 2:6-10. On 6-16.

Father Callan’s Notes on 1 Corinthians 2:6-10.

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 2:6-10.

Update: St Augustine’s Sermon on 1 Cor 2:9. On Jn 5:35 and 1 Cor 2:9.

Update: St John Chrysostom’s Homiletic Commentary on 1 Cor 2:6-10. On 6-16.

Navarre Bible Commentary on 1 Corinthians 2:6-10.

Word-Sunday Notes on 1 Corinthians 2:6-10.

SUGGESTIONS FOR HOMILIES OR FURTHER STUDY OF THE SECOND READING: The Revelation of God’s Wisdom.

On the Use and Abuse of Holy Scripture. Consists of biblical references under various headings.

Scripture and the theme of Wisdom. Biblical references under various headings.

Reason and the Mystery of Revelation: Fides et Ratio #13-15.

COMMENTARIES ON THE GOSPEL READING: Matthew 5:17-37.

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Matthew 5:17-37.

Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 5:17-37.

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 5:17-37.

Update: St Augustine’s Sermon on Matthew 5:22.

Update: (1) St John Chrysostom’s Homiletic Commentary on Matthew 5:17.

Update: (2) St John Chrysostom’s Homiletic Commentary on Matthew 5:27-37.

Navarre Bible Commentary on Matthew 5:17-37.

Word-Sunday Notes on Matthew 5:17-37.

SUGGESTIONS FOR HOMILIES AND FURTHER STUDY OF THE GOSPEL READING:

The  Catechism on Jesus and the Law (577-582).

The Catechism on the New Law of the Gospel (1965-1974).

Vatican II on the Old Testament.

Jesus Reveals the Father: Fides et Ratio # 7-12.

GENERAL RESOURCES: On one or more of today’s readings.

The Sacred Page Blog: The Surpassing Righteousness of the New Law. Commentary and reflections on today’s readings. b Catholic biblical scholar Dr. Michael Barber.

St Charles Borromeo’s Parish Bible Study Notes.

Lector Notes.

Thoughts From the Early Church. Brief excerpt on a homily on the Treachery of Judas by St John Chrysostom.

Scripture in Depth.

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Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 2:6-10

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 12, 2014

This post opens with Fr. MacEvilly’s brief analysis of chapter 2 followed by his notes on the reading. Text in purple indicate his paraphrasing of the scripture he is commenting on.

ANALYSIS OF 1 CORINTHIANS CHAPTER 2

In this chapter, the Apostle shows how far he himself acted in accordance with the economy of God in excluding human wisdom in the work of redemption, when he came to preach the gospel to the Corinthians. His preaching was recommended neither by the graces of oratory, nor by the powers of reasoning, because he wished that their faith should rest on its proper basis, viz., the powerful grace of God (verses 1–5). He next asserts his own dignity, and says that, although he rejected all the aids derived from human wisdom in preaching the gospel among the Corinthians; still, he discoursed on another and more exalted kind of wisdom, on befitting occasions—a wisdom far different from that of men or demons (6)—a wisdom concealed from the world in all past ages, and now revealed for our temporal and eternal glory (7)—a wisdom unknown to the devils (8); and according to, the prophecy of Isaias, fully comprehended by God alone (9). But, though hidden and mysterious, it was made known to the Apostle by the revelation of God’s spirit, who is intimately acquainted with the divine secrets; and who alone knows the hidden thoughts of the divine mind (10, 11). This was the spirit from whom the Apostle received a knowledge of the general benefits and gifts conferred through Christ on his Church, of which gifts he treats in proper circumstances in a manner suited to the capacity and requirements of his hearers; he treats of the exalted truths of faith before those only, who are far advanced in Christian knowledge (12–13). Because it would be useless to treat of them before persons not sufficiently versed in the principles of faith. To such men, truths of this kind would appear folly. Hence, he declined proposing them to the Corinthians (14, 15). He should not be judged or undervalued for this line of conduct; for, to judge him, acting in this way, would be to judge and instruct God himself (16).

6 Howbeit we speak wisdom among the perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, neither of the princes of this world that come to nought.

 It is not, however, to be imagined that we are devoid of wisdom. We discourse on the true and exalted wisdom contained in the Christian economy, but it is only before those who are advanced in spiritual knowledge—(a wisdom quite different from the wisdom of this world) which has been rejected by God, (chap. 1:20)—or from any description of wisdom introduced by the princes of the world—viz., the devils, whose power is destroyed.

In this verse, the Apostle asserts his own dignity, lest the Corinthians, despising him, might undervalue his teaching, and attach themselves to others who displayed more wisdom and oratorical skill in their discourses. He says, he was not devoid of true wisdom, but that they were not in a condition to hear it treated of. However, he discoursed on it before “the perfect,” i.e., those who were advanced in Christian knowledge, and were practised in the principles of faith. Similar is the idea conveyed by the word “spiritual man,” (verse 15), and also Hebrews (chap. 5 verse 14). By the “wisdom” of which he speaks in this verse are meant the abstruse truths of Christian faith—predestination, vocation, grace, &c., of which the Apostle treated in his Epistles to the Romans, Ephesians, Colossians—as also the various effects of redemption, and the mystical and moral meanings contained in the different mysteries of Christ’s Death, Resurrection, Sepulture, Ascension, which are fully explained on befitting occasions by himself, and by St. Peter, in his Catholic Epistles. “The princes of this world,” viz., the devils, who are frequently termed such in Scripture.

7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden, which God ordained before the world, unto our glory:

The wisdom of which we discourse before those advanced in Christian knowledge, is the wisdom of God hidden in mystery; or the wisdom of the mystery of God, which has been hidden; a wisdom which God has ordained from eternity, to serve our glory in Christianity here, and in heaven hereafter.

“But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden.” The “wisdom” refers to the mode in which the great mystery of man’s redemption was accomplished, and to the different consequences of the same. This “wisdom” was hidden “in mystery,” because no one could understand it, till it actually took place. Similar is the idea conveyed (Eph. chap. 3). The word “hidden” refers to “wisdom,” as appears from the Greek, σοφιαν ἐν μυστερίῳ, την αποκεκρυμενην. It was the wisdom contained in the mystery of the whole economy of redemption that was “hidden” and unknown, until it was revealed in time by its full accomplishment. Estius explains the words “in a mystery,” to mean privately, or to a few.—Secreto ct apud pauciores. This is rather an improbable meaning; for, the Apostle said this already, at least equivalently, by saying, he spoke it only “among the perfect,” who were but few.

8 Which none of the princes of this world knew. For if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory.

A wisdom unknown to the devils, for, had they known it they would have never instigated the Jews to crucify the author of glory, from whose death such great benefits have accrued to the human race.

Of the wisdom contained in the mysteries of Christ’s incarnation and crucifixion, and the effects following from them, and the secret ways of God in bringing about the great work of redemption, “the princes of this world,” that is to say, the devils, were ignorant; otherwise they would have never crucified the Lord of glory by the hands of the Jews: since, by this they destroyed their own dominion. There is another interpretation given of the words in the preceding passage, “wisdom of God,” which understands these words of the Son of God, hidden in the mystery of the Incarnation. This interpretation is not at all probable; for, it is by no means clear, that the devils did not know Christ to be the Son of God. The contrary is deducible from several passages of the gospel; it is even asserted by many that Satan’s pride arose from envy at the future Incarnation of the Son of God. Moreover, it is not clear, that he would not crucify him out of hatred and malice, although he should have known him to be the Son of God. It was the economy and designs of God in the crucifixion of his Son the devils were ignorant of.

9 But, as it is written: That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard: neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him.

But the wisdom of which we speak is that in which are fulfilled the words of the prophet Isaias (64:4): “Neither hath eye seen, nor ear heard, nor the mind of any man conceived, what God has prepared for those that love him.”

Of this passage, taken from chap. 64, verse 4, of Isaias, which approximates nearest to the Hebrew, and, consequently, to our Vulgate version, the Apostle does not so much quote the words as the sense, which he accommodates to his present purpose. In the writings of the prophet, as here, the words refer both to the blessings conferred on us in this life, in the multifarious wisdom of God displayed in his Church, and to their final completion in heaven. They are quoted by the Apostle to prove, that the wisdom, of which he treats, is unknown to the devils, as in the preceding verse, since Isaias foretold, that no human experience or knowledge could fathom it. God alone could fully know it. “The eye hath not seen, O God, besides thee, what things thou hast prepared for them that wait for thee.”—(Isaias, 64:4). “O God, besides thee,” just qtioted, exclude every creature from a full knowledge of the wisdom in question. “For them that love him.” In Isaias it is, “them that wait for thee.” The sense of both is the same. These latter words are not opposed to the gratuitousness of predestination and of graces consequent on it; because, these graces are gratuitous, although the end of eternal life, to which, as means, they conduct us, is given in consideration of our good works; it is to their accomplishment in heaven that the Apostle principally refers in the words: “What things God hath prepared for them that love him.”

10 But to us God hath revealed them by his Spirit. For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

But, although this wisdom be mysterious, and for ages hidden from the world, it has been made known to us by the revelation of God’s spirit, who is intimately acquainted with all the secret counsels of God.

In this verse the Apostle answers an objection which might be made to him, viz.:—If these things be so hidden and mysterious, how came you to know them? He answers, that he has known them from the revelation of God’s spirit, who is intimately acquainted with the secrets of God. “Searcheth all things.” These words express perfect and intimate knowledge, and contain an allusion to the mode in which human knowledge is acquired; for the Holy Ghost sees all things intuitively without requiring to search for them.

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Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 5:17-37

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 12, 2014

17 Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

Our Redeemer now guards against the imputation, to which the promulgation of loftier precepts than those to be met with in the old Dispensation might expose Him, viz., that He meant utterly to abolish the Old Law—by showing that, far from that, He came to accomplish and fulfil it. Others (Maldonatus, &c.), connect this with the preceding verse, thus: He wishes to impress upon those who “were the light of the world” HOW “their light should shine before men,” both in their conduct and teaching, viz., by a more careful and perfect observance of the law, following His own example, and by not imagining, that, as members of His household, they were released from strict observance.

“To destroy,” by violating the precepts and abolishing the teachings of the law By “the law,” which sometimes comprises the entire Old Testament, are meant here the five books of Moses, and by “the Prophets,” the rest of the books of the Old Testament. The books containing the law are put for the law itself. Our Redeemer fulfils the moral law, the chief portion of the law, which, as comprising the natural law, was unchangeable, by a more clear exposition of its precepts, and by incorporating it with His own law; by observing it Himself, and teaching others to do so; by giving grace, whereby it might be fully observed; by superadding counsels of perfection so useful to ensure its full observance. He fulfilled the ceremonial law, by substituting the reality for the figure; by bringing about the realities, which in their mystical signification these ceremonial precepts typified; (by executing a promise one rather fulfils than destroys it). He also fulfilled the ceremonial law, by inculcating the spiritual obligations it signified. Even when abolishing the ceremonial precepts in their literal acceptation, He fulfilled them; since it was predicted of them that they were to be abolished after a time. He fulfilled the Prophets, since He fully verified and accomplished the ancient prophecies. He fulfilled the judicial law, by commuting temporal sanction into threats and promises of a spiritual and eternal character.

18 For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled.

Far from coming to destroy and utterly abrogate the law; on the contrary, I solemnly assert, “Amen, I say to you,” that until the end of the world, when “heaven and earth,” that now are, shall pass away in their present corrupt form, and be changed into a “new heaven and a new earth” (Apoc. 21:1), the slightest point of what the law contains (and the same is true of the Prophets), shall not be left without its due fulfilment. The ceremonial law shall be fulfilled in the realities which it typified; the judicial, in the rewards of a higher and more exalted kind which it shall administer, the moral, in the unchangeableness of its preceptive binding moral force, at all times, under pain of sin, and in the sanction which its observance or violation, in the smallest degree, shall entail; although, indeed it is to the completion and exhibition of the promises of the law He here refers; He also refers to the addition of precepts completing and perfecting the law. “Amen,” if prefixed to a sentence, is assertive; if after it, it is confirmatory. Our Redeemer, in employing it, as He does frequently, conveys that peculiar significance should be attached to the subject which it precedes. In the Old Testament, it is never found at the beginning of a sentence; sometimes, however, it is found at the end of a sentence. In the New, it generally commences, but seldom ends a sentence. “Heaven and earth pass away,” i.e., till the end of the world, when the present heaven and earth shall change their form, and there shall be “a new heaven and a new earth.” Others interpret the words: Sooner shall heaven and earth pass away, and cease to be (a thing utterly impossible), than any part of the law be unaccomplished; just like the phrase, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle,” a thing utterly impossible.

“One jot,” (ιωτα ἓν), iota unum. The iota is supposed to have been placed here for the Hebrew jod, the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. “One” “tittle” (κεραία), the very point of the smallest letter, the smallest mark distinguishing one letter from another, v.g., G from C (St. Jerome); κεραία, “tittle,” is the little top or distinguishing mark of a letter, which indicates the most trivial precepts or ordinances of the law. “Till all is fulfilled” (see above).

19 He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But he that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

As, therefore, I am come to perfect and fulfil the law, whosoever shall violate even what may be regarded as one of the least of these commandments, which I am about to propose, either from the law, or superadded for perfection’ sake by myself. He calls them “least,” not in themselves; but as they may be regarded by men, and by the Pharisees, who regarded the external act, v.g., of homicide as sinful; but not the deliberate intention of perpetrating it.

“And shall teach men so.” The particle, “so,” is interpreted by some to mean: As I am just now teaching; so that it refers to the man who teaches well, but through frailty, violates the commandments, not practising what he teaches. In this interpretation, “least” means, shall be lowered in his grade, and not obtain the place he would otherwise be entitled to. For, the violation of the least commandment, such as to be angry from a sudden impulse, would hardly utterly exclude from heaven. Others, more probably, understand the words to refer to the man that violates the least precept, and shall teach others they may lawfully “do so,” and violate the commandments after his example. Such a man “shall be called,” that is, in the judgment of God, shall be pronounced to be, and shall be in reality, “least,” that is, utterly excluded from heaven; or if, by “the kingdom of heaven,” we mean the Church, such a man shall be excluded from the society of the faithful, as a propounder of erroneous doctrine, and ultimately from heaven, unless he repent. “Least” is used in preference to excluded, as containing an allusion to the least commandment.

Our Redeemer is manifestly alluding to the Pharisees, who not only violated the law in certain points relative to interior acts of the will; but also taught men that interior acts and intentions, v.g., of adultery or murder were not sinful, and should not be heeded; that they might be indulged in with impunity, and without moral guilt.

In the preceding verse, our Redeemer shows how He came to fulfil that portion of the law which pertained to promises, types, and judicial sanction for its observance. In this verse, He shows how He fulfilled the moral law—the chief and most important branch of the law—by giving an example of observing it Himself, and teaching others the duty of observing it; and by declaring that any man who, like the Pharisees, violates the law (in even what men would consider its least precepts, as the Pharisees regarded deliberate sins of thought), would merit everlasting exclusion from the Church and the kingdom of God’s glory.

“But he that shall do and teach;” he does not add, “the least commandment,” because it is required to observe all the commandments, and teach properly in regard to them.

“Shall be called,” shall be in reality, and pronounced so in the judgment of God, “great,” deserving of the highest place and dignity in that house where “there are many mansions,” in which “star differs from star” in brilliancy and glory, and in which, those who instruct many unto justice shall shine as stars for all eternity. “Great, and least” are antithetical. So are, “shall break, and so teach,” and “shall do and teach.”

20 For I tell you, that unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

“For I tell you,” &c. Here is contained an illustration and particular application of the preceding verse. “Least in the kingdom of heaven,” means exclusion from it. “For, I tell you … shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

“Your justice.” The observance of the moral law is called “justice,” because it is by keeping the law, we are justified. “Factores legis justificabuntur” (Rom. 2); “Si vis ingredi vitam serva mandata” (Matt. 19:17). “Scribes” (see 2:4); “Pharisees” (see 3:7). Our Lord here introduces “the justice” or observance of the law by the Scribes, &c., because they were regarded as the most observant among the Jews, and still it was defective. Their observance of the law was confined to external acts; they regarded of no consequence interior acts of the will, and taught others the same. Hence, they shall be “least;” in other words, “shall never enter the kingdom of heaven.” What our Redeemer condemns, is not their observance of the law, apart from the motive and false teaching, as far as it went; but, He condemns it as defective, not going far enough. Hence, He says, “unless it abound more,” exceeds theirs, be fuller, more perfect, either as regards teaching or practical observance, it will not do.

This verse may be connected with the preceding, of which it is an application and clearer illustration; or, with verse 17, thus proving, He came not to destroy the law, since He requires a more perfect observance of it than was ever practised or exhibited by even the most observant among the Jews, who were the teachers and guides of the people, viz., “Scribes and Pharisees.” The more perfect observance required, as is inferred from the following, consists—1st. Not only in external observances merely, but in the regulation of the internal thoughts and feelings. “Whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her,” &c. 2ndly. In avoiding what the law merely tolerated from necessity, v.g., bill of divorce, usury, vengeance, &c. 3dly. In observing the law, not merely according to the letter, as explained by the Scribes, &c., of whose exposition we have an example in the words, “odio habebis inimicum,” but according to its spirit and the intention of the Divine legislator.

Mat 5:21  You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill. And whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment.

Our Redeemer now proceeds to fulfil the law (v. 17), so far as regards the moral or chief portion of the law is concerned. In the first place, He clears away the false glosses and interpretations put upon the precepts of the moral law by the Scribes and Pharisees, whose justice He condemns, inasmuch as they not only themselves violated certain important precepts of the law, which they regarded as of little value—those “least commandments” (v. 19); but also taught “men” (to do) “so,” i.e., do the same, by their false interpretations of the law. In the next place, it seems most likely that in the following discourse, wherein as legislator, He promulgates the New Law, He even, in a certain sense, corrects the Old Law itself, not by destroying it, as containing anything bad, or anything opposed to the New Law—for, in itself the law was “holy, spiritual” (Rom. 7:12–14), and every one of its precepts is “holy, just, and good”—(Rom. 7:12), but, as imperfect; for, “it brought nothing to perfection” (Heb. 7:11). He supplies its defects, and perfects it, by more clearly evolving the precepts of the natural law which it contained, by superadding evangelical counsels, and certain points of explicit faith. He opposes Himself and the law He promulgates to Moses and his law as the more perfect to the less perfect, as the covenant of a better hope, containing and fulfilling better and more exalted promises, imperfect testament, which was only intended as an introduction to His (Heb. 7:19). This shall be more clearly seen in the interpretation of each passage.

“You have heard,” when the books of Moses were read for you, as usually happens each Sabbath in your synagogues (Acts 13:14, 15), “that it was said to them of old,” i.e., it was enjoined by the law of Moses, on your fathers, to whom it was first promulgated in the desert of Mount Sinai. He omits the name of Moses, lest the mention of it might be any way invidious, as He is about perfecting His law and more fully developing it; and although the law given by Moses was the law of God, still we find Moses introduced as its promulgator. “Lex per Moysem data et.” (“The Law was given through Moses,” John 1:17)

“Thou shalt not kill,” by which is prohibited the taking away our neighbour’s life out of revenge or on our own personal, private authority; or, without some justifying cause, arising out of the just exercise of the commands of public authority, or necessary self-defence.

“And whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment,” i.e., liable to capital punishment, or death, as a homicide, such being the punishment awarded by the law to homicides when brought before the tribunal called, “the Judgment.” These latter words are not found in the law, but they are there in substance. The terms expressive of the punishment of such a crime in the law are, “dying, let him die” (Lev. 24:17); or, as our Lord is quoting the words, according as they “heard” them from the Scribes and Pharisees, who gave the substance of the penalty contained in the law, the word, “judgment,” may mean, liable to be brought before the tribunal appointed to investigate into the cause of murder, as to whether it was justifiable or not, which is but an epitome of the several enactments on the subject (Exod. 21; Deut. 19), and in case it was wilful, death was the consequence.

Cardinal Baronius (Tom. 1. Annal.) relates, from the Talmudists, that there were three tribunals among the Jews. The first, consisting of three judges, who took cognizance of trivial cases, such as cases of theft, rapine, &c.; the second, composed of twenty-three judges. This tribunal, called “the Judgment,” referred to here, took cognizance of causes of grievous moment, and was armed with the power of life and death. The third, called the Sanhedrim—a term of Greek origin—composed of seventy-two judges, had jurisdiction in matters of the greatest moment, involving the public interests of religion and the State. It is a matter of doubt whether this had anything in common with the Council of Seventy Elders appointed by Moses to assist him in the government of the people (Num. 11:16, 17, 24). This latter tribunal (Sanhedrim) existed at Jerusalem only, and exercised judgment there only. The other tribunals, of three and of twenty-three judges, were appointed in the several cities and tribes (Deut. 16:18). It is recorded (2 Chron 19), that a similar arrangement was made by king Josaphat.

Mat 5:22  But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

“But I say to you.” Here our Redeemer fulfils the law by more fully explaining it, and correcting the false interpretations of the Scribes and Pharisees, who confined the prohibition of the precept to mere external acts, as is implied in the foregoing, and by the extension of the prohibition in this verse, in accordance with the natural law, to internal acts of consent, as entailing grievous moral guilt, and the heaviest punishment. “But I say to you.” “I,” the legislator of the New Law, the teacher sent down from heaven, the Prophet like unto Moses, raised up by God for you (Deut. 18:18). “I say to you,” that not only he who commits homicide, but, “whosoever is angry with his brother” (to which the Greek adds, εικη, without cause, but rejected by St. Jerome as spurious and as introduced by copyists).

“Angry” conveys the state of strong, passionate resentment and excitement, desiring (as is implied by the subject matter) and tending to deprive our neighbour of life, or inflict on him grievous bodily harm—just displeasure and indignation at the conduct of others, if moderated by reason, is not prohibited here as sinful—“shall be in danger of judgment;” that is to say, shall sin mortally and incur eternal death, just as in verse 28, the internal desire of adultery, though punishable by no earthly tribunal, entails grievous moral guilt.

“Raca.” This supposes the internal feelings of grievous anger referred to in the preceding, to proceed to reproachful language. “Raca,” a vile, contemptible, brainless wretch. This involves a greater amount of guilt and a heavier mortal sin than the mere internal feelings of anger, similar to that of which the Council of Seventy-two took cognizance among the Jews, and shall entail a heavier punishment in hell.

“Fool,” a still more reproachful term, probably involving a charge of impiety and irreligion; since, among the Jews, impiety was regarded as folly of the greatest kind. The use of such a reproachful term involves a degree of guilt so great, that there is no analogous tribunal among the Jews to take cognizance of it, and it deserves a punishment more grievous than that inflicted by the Sanhedrim, such as the sword or stoning; it deserves, that one would burn in the unceasing fire of Gehenna, an emblem of hell.

“Hell fire.” No doubt, hell fire is the punishment reserved for the preceding sins also, according to the interpretation now given, which supposes them to be mortal; but, to express the heinousness of this latter sin, which involves the most grievous insult and contumely, aggravated by the manner and circumstances of its utterance, relative to cause and persons, and their relation to each other, our Redeemer, who speaks in accommodation to the notions of His hearers regarding the guilt of sin, as seen from the tribunals before which it is brought, wishes to convey, that there was no tribunal on earth to award punishment analogous to that entailed by the sin of grievous contumely and insult, expressed by the word, “fool.” Others understand the passage thus: they say, that in the two preceding kinds of sin there may be some grounds for doubting their heinousness; and hence, they should form the subject of investigation. But, as regards this latter one, there can be no doubt whatever. It is clearly mortal, and, without further investigation, deserving of eternal punishment. However, looking to the kinds of crime adjudicated on and punished by the tribunals, “Judgment” and “Council,” with which our Redeemer compares internal anger and the uttering of the contumelious word, “Raca,” the former interpretation seems the more probable. The sin in each case is supposed to be mortal, of course, if deliberately indulged, but differing in degree, and the intensity of the eternal punishment it entails. Similar are the degrees of mortal sin described by St. James (1:15), “when concupiscence hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; but sin, when it is completed, begetteth death.”

“Hell fire.” In Greek, the Gehenna of fire. This Gehenna, or Valley of Ennom, so called from the man who possessed it, called also “the Valley of the children of Ennom,” was a delightful valley near Jerusalem, at the foot of Mount Moria, irrigated by the waters of Siloe, as we are informed by St. Jerome, also Josue (15:8; 18:16). In this valley, the Israelites, imitating the impiety of the Chanaanites, erected an altar and burnt their children as victims to Moloch, the god or idol of the Ammonites, called by others, Saturn; and as they were wont to drown the cries of the children by the beating of drums or cymbals, the place was called on this account, Topheth (Jer. 7; 2 Kings 16:13; 21:20; Isa. 30:33), from Toph, a cymbal or drum.—Others derive Topheth from Toph, a cymbal, owing to the music practised there as being a place of joy and merriment.—In this valley, the Israelites sacrificed their children (Psa. 106:37-38). This valley the pious king Josias afterwards rendered abominable by casting into it the bones of the dead (2 Kings 23:10) The Lord, moreover, menaced the Jews (Jer. 7:32) that the valley would no longer be called Topheth, nor the Valley of the son of Ennom; but the valley of slaughter, that they should bury their dead in Topheth, and that the carcases of this people should be meat for the fowls of the air (Jer 19:12), and that He would make it the receptacle of all the abominations of Jerusalem. After their return from the Babylonish captivity, the Israelites so abominated this place, that, following the example of the pious king Josias (2 Kings 23:10), they cast the carcases of the dead and all the filth of the city into it; and as perpetual fire was needed to consume all this offal, it was termed the Gehenna of fire. Hence, on account of its abominable destination, and the impious rites performed in it at the sacrifices offered to Moloch, it was a fit emblem of the receptacle of the damned, and most likely it was really regarded as an emblem of hell, although it is used in SS. Scripture, for the first time by our Divine Redeemer, in this sense.

“Of fire,” to show the everlasting burning which continues there. It means, Gehenna, ever on fire, a fit emblem of hell.

Beelen holds, that hell fire is not directly referred to here; that the words only mean, that such a man is deserving of a punishment more grievous than that awarded by even “the Council,” which was stoning or the sword. He deserves to be cast into the Valley of Ennom, ever on fire, and to be burnt there. This is, no doubt, a fit emblem of hell fire, and was regarded by the Jews, as such.

Mat 5:23  If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee;

“Therefore,” is expressive of a plain inference from the foregoing, as if He said: Such being the obligation of avoiding a grievous violation of fraternal charity, no less in thought or word, as explained by me, than in action; and such being the grievous punishment which every such violation shall entail, should you recollect, in the discharge of the most meritorious duty, such as the offering of sacrifice—an act most agreeable and pleasing to God—that you gave “your brother,” i.e., any fellow-creature, just cause of offence, by calling him “raca,” or “fool,” &c., you should at once interrupt that work, should it be practicable to do so, and become reconciled, by making due reparation to the offended party, or at least form the resolution of doing so when practicable, and as soon as circumstances shall permit; otherwise, your work shall be displeasing to God, who prefers fraternal concord and the necessary duty of charity to any gifts whatsoever. “Offer thy gift,” i.e., sacrifice, a work most pleasing to God. This has reference to Jewish sacrifices. But it refers still more so to the sacrifice of love and concord, so far as it concerns us, viz., the Blessed Eucharist—“unum corpus multi sumus,” &c. (“We are one body though many,” 1 Cor. 10:17)

The allusion to sacrifice may also arise from this, that, probably the Scribes taught, that all violations of the precept, “thou shalt not kill,” might be expiated by sacrifice. Our Redeemer here teaches the contrary; and shows how our justice must exceed theirs in preferring the duty of charity to sacrifice. The necessary duty of charity and just reparation must be first fulfilled, if we wish that God would be pleased with any act of religion, be it ever so exalted. If this be true of sacrifice, how much more so, when less exalted and less meritorious works are in question.

“Thy brother hath any thing,” &c. This supposes that he is the offended, we the offending party; he the party to whom reparation is due from us. Should we be the offended party, and “have any thing against him,” all required of us, as a matter of duty, is to pardon him from our hearts for the personal offence, as, in that case, he is the party to seek reconciliation and make due reparation. I say, as a matter of duty, for, high Christian perfection might suggest more; also there is question of personal offence; for, a man is not bound to forego injury in property; and he should, moreover, on public grounds, uphold, by the prosecution of evil-doers, the well-being of society.

Mat 5:24  Leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift.

“And go first to be reconciled,” &c. The mode of doing this must depend, in a great measure, on circumstances. We must go actually and seek the necessary reconciliation, unless circumstances and motives of prudence should point out an opposite line of conduct, as the most conducive to the permanence of charitable relations in future; and in this latter case, it is preceptive to go in spirit and in will. Indeed, like all affirmative precepts, this is to be a good deal modified by circumstances and considerations of prudence.

25 Be at agreement with thy adversary betimes, whilst thou art in the way with him: lest perhaps the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.

A continuation of the subject of reconciliation with our offended neighbour, and a new motive for doing so. In the preceding verses, is urged its necessity, in order that our other actions would be pleasing to God. In this verse, it is urged, in order to avoid the punishment which the neglect or voluntary omission to make due reparation would entail upon us.

“Thy adversary” (αντιδικος), an antagonist in a law suit; thy offended or injured fellow-creature. The words of this verse are, in their literal sense, allusive to the case of litigants on their way to a court of law, where the offending party wisely arranges matters, settles the case with his “adversary,” to avoid the penalty which the judge would award, perhaps the disgrace of imprisonment which might ensue. But, in their spiritual sense and application to the subject in hand, which is chiefly intended by our Redeemer under the guise of legal and forensic terms, all of which need not be applied to the chief subject of illustration, they are meant to convey, that we should be reconciled with our offended brother, “the adversary,” “who has something against us” (v. 23), while “in the way,” i.e., in this life, journeying to eternity and approaching nearer and nearer to the judgment seat of Jesus Christ, before which we must all “appear” (2 Cor. 5:10). “Lest perhaps, the adversary deliver thee to the judge,” by remitting the matter to God, who will take cognizance of it in His own time, or, lest his just cause and the injury unatoned for should plead with the judge against thee.

“The officer,” the devil and his angels. It is not, however, necessary to apply every word and part of a parable to the subject illustrated. The whole idea is, lest neglecting to discharge the duty of just reconciliation and reparation, you die in your sins, and be condemned by the just judgment of God, to everlasting and unchangeable punishment in the gloomy prison of hell, out of which there is no escape or ransom. It is not necessary, as regards the chief subject, to inquire into the application of the word, “officer,” or “last farthing,” &c. These terms are merely used to perfect the parable; and, probably, not intended to be applied to the chief subject.

26 Amen I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing.

In this is conveyed the rigour with which the sentence of the Eternal Judge shall be carried into execution in the life to come. If there be question of condemnation for mortal guilt, and of hell’s prison, whereas, full satisfaction—“the last farthing”—can never be made, the culprit shall not leave it for eternity. Some writers, from the particle, “until,” regard it as possible that reparation would be made in the case, and the accused party would leave his prison; and hence, they derive an argument in favour of the doctrine of Purgatory. But this does not necessarily follow from the text. It can be understood, and, most likely, ought, of never-ending punishment, as St. Augustine says, “donec pœnas œternas luent,” i.e., always paying eternal punishment. The meaning would be, “you must remain there, till you pay the last farthing, and if unable to pay it, then you shall never leave it.” If there were question of venial sin, then, the interpretation would be different. But it serves no purpose to be adducing weak or dubious arguments in proof of a doctrine clearly established from other undoubted sources. It only does mischief. And the enemies of the faith will be sure to enlarge upon the weak arguments, as if no better were forthcoming, leaving the undoubted arguments unheeded. (See comment. on 2 Peter 1:15).

27 You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not commit adultery.

“Thou shalt not commit adultery.” After treating of the sins springing from the irascible appetite, so natural to man, our Lord now proceeds to treat of the sins appertaining to the concupiscible appetite, not less natural to man in his present fallen state. This precept—the sixth—immediately follows in order, the preceding in the Decalogue.

“Adultery,” under which is included fornication, and all other external acts of illicit intercourse.

28 But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart.

“But I say to you, that whosoever shall look upon woman to lust after her.” “To,” may mean the consequence of looking on her; so that lusting after her is the result of looking, which implies that the act of coveting or lusting must be fully deliberate, and voluntarily indulged in. The mere look is not sinful. It is only the look, followed by deliberate desire and consent, that is so. Or, it more probably means, the end, the purpose for which he looked on her (προς), viz., for the purpose of indulging in desires of sinning with her, if the occasion or opportunity offered. In either interpretation, it is supposed, that in order to be a mortal sin, a thought or desire against chastity must be deliberately indulged and fully consented to. What is said of looking applies equally to the other senses, hearing, touch, &c., which are the inlets of sin and death. Sin is equally committed through them, if they are made the organs for admitting into the soul the deliberate desire of committing the external prohibited act. Although human laws, which cannot directly reach the soul, cannot punish or take cognizance of internal desires, the latter shall entail mortal guilt before God, the just Judge and searcher of hearts. But to be sinful, desires or thoughts should be wilful and deliberate, as is clear from the words of our Lord just explained. Wicked thoughts, if resisted and battled against, far from being sinful, only prove a source of greater merit. In this our Redeemer perfects the Old Law, and corrects the false interpretations of the Scribes and Pharisees. Although coveting another’s wife was prohibited by the Ninth Commandment of the Decalogue; still, some expositors say the Scribes understood the Ninth Commandment of that concupiscence, or these internal sins of adultery merely which were made known by some external act, and only in circumstances in which they would lead to the violation of the Sixth Commandment, which, according to them, was confined to the commission of the act of adultery, but did not extend to internal acts of consent, as such. Josephus, a Pharisee, speaking of Antiochus Epiphanes, says he committed no crime in merely wishing to rifle the temple of Diana, “quia voluntas tantum, ac non perfecisse sacrilegiuem non vidatur res supplicio digna.” (Lib. xii.; Antiq. c. xiii.) Moreover, it is likely they confined the prohibition of the Ninth Commandment to coveting their neighbour’s wife only, but not to the coveting of women in general. No doubt, the Ninth Commandment did prohibit internal acts of consent; but it did not declare so expressly or so precisely as our Lord did, that looking on a woman with impure eyes and coveting her entailed the guilt of adultery. Our Redeemer, then, more fully explains the Sixth Commandment; first, as forbidding, under pain of incurring the guilt of adultery, mere internal acts, without any external manifestation. Secondly, as referring not only to our neighbour’s wife, but to any woman whatsoever. “Shall look ON A WOMAN.”

From these words may be derived a very salutary lesson as to the custody of our senses, particularly when the holy virtue of chastity is in question, “pepigi fœdus cum oculis meis ut non cogitarem quidem de virgine” (Job 31); “ne respicias in mulieris speciem” (“Let not thy eye be caught by a woman’s beauty” Sirach 25:28 vulgate)

29 And if thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than thy whole body be cast into hell.
30 And if thy right hand scandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body go into hell.

From the allusion made by our Redeemer in the foregoing to the scandal or spiritual ruin sometimes occasioned by looking at a woman, He takes occasion to inculcate a general lesson regarding the necessity of avoiding scandal in general, and the occasions of sin, and of putting away any person or thing, be they ever so dear, useful, or necessary for us, that may prove a source of scandal, be the removal or avoidance of such object ever so painful, and should it cost us the greatest sacrifice in life. The words of these verses are to be understood metaphorically. The idea is borrowed from the treatment used by surgeons, who, on seeing danger to the body from any diseased limb or member, at once amputate it, be it ever so necessary, in order to save the rest of the body. This exaggerated metaphor never can bear a literal signification, as it is never necessary to amputate any member of our body to avoid sin; and hence, it is never allowed. But, in its exaggerated form, the metaphor conveys that if such amputation were necessary (which it never is or can be) it should be done, if the salvation of our soul required it. “The right eye” and “the right hand” give an idea of objects very dear, very near, useful, and necessary for us. The words, “pluck it out,” “cast it off”—a very painful operation, imply great torture and suffering in parting with it. It is better we would part with this object, however dear, however great the pain or privation such parting would entail; and sacrifice the gratification its presence gives us, than after enjoying it for a time, suffer, on its account, in the end, the eternal torments of hell. The allusion to the looking after a woman in preceding verse suggests the idea of “the eye,” in the first place, as one of the inlets of sin, and one of the most necessary members or organs of the body. “Scandalize thee.” The word, scandal, primarily and literally conveys the idea of a stumbling block of offence against which one jostles and is made to fall. Transferred to a spiritual signification, it means, whatever is the occasion of our spiritual ruin, that is, whatever is the occasion of our falling into mortal sin, which causes the spiritual death of the soul. There is hardly any point of Christian morality upon which we should observe such vigilant care as upon the subject of avoiding the proximate occasions of sin; nor is there any other point upon which those who are charged with the care of others, should so inexorably insist as upon this, particularly if there be question of the external and proximate occasion of sins against chastity. A melancholy experience unhappily attests that the only means of obtaining a victory on this point is flight. In this point particularly, owing to the corruption of human nature, the words of the Holy Ghost are verified, “qui amat periculum in illo peribit.” Every other means of avoiding sin, every other remedy, shall prove unavailing if this be neglected. As a general rule, it may be laid down, that so sure as a man voluntarily exposes himself to the proximate and external occasion of this sin in particular, so surely shall he fall. Hence, the rigour with which the most approved spiritual writers treat this case, although mild in regard to almost every other; so close is the connexion they trace between frequenting the occasion and the commission of sin (see St. Alphonsus Liguori in his Moral Theology and all his spiritual works “ON THE PROXIMATE OCCASIONS OF SIN”); also our Commentary (1 Cor. 6:18).

31 And it hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a bill of divorce.

“Whosoever shall put away his wife,” &c. In this form of expression, it is clearly conveyed, that putting away or divorcing one’s wife, even for a just cause, was not commanded, but only permitted or tolerated in the Old Law (see 19:8). All that was commanded, as is here expressed, was, that in case a man divorced his wife, she should get from him a (written) “bill of divorce,” and it was only after the wife left her husband’s house, furnished with this written bill of divorce, the act of separation was valid. As regards the power of divorcing their wives granted to husbands in the Old Law, it is to be observed that the law of Moses permitted this divorce solely on account of some uncleanness, (Deut. 24:1, &c.) Many understand the words, not only of a sin against purity, but of any uncleanness, whether physical or moral. At a later period of Jewish History—after their return from captivity—a great dispute arose on this point; and in our Redeemer’s time, the Jewish doctors of the two famous schools of Hillel and Schamai, took different views of the question; the former contending for the sufficiency of any cause, however trifling; the latter restricting the privilege of divorce to the case of adultery (see Matt. 19:1–10), (Dixon, vol. ii. 296).

2ndly. The privilege of divorcing was not given to the wife, but to the husband only, although, towards the end of the Jewish kingdom, females of the higher class, claimed to themselves, after the example of Roman matrons, the right of divorce. The law of Moses permitted the aggrieved wife not to give a bill of divorce herself, but to seek it at the hands of the judge (Exod. 21:10).

3rdly. This permission of the law of Moses most probably dissolved the vinculum of the former marriage, so that it was dissolved in foro interno et Coram Deo (see commentary on Matt 19:3-12).

4thly. The husband could receive back his divorced wife, after giving her a bill of divorce, unless she was married to another; but not, once she was married to another (Deut. 26:1–4; Jer. 3:1), thus consulting, for public decency, lest husbands might seem to have given their wives for a time to another, which would savour of a community of wives. He was commanded to give a bill of divorce, in order to consult for the condition of his wife; and this also was hampered with conditions, all of which should concur in order to render valid the bill of divorce. The consequence was, that the bill of divorce was rendered very difficult; and time for deliberation was given to the husbands in case they rashly resolved in sending away their wives, even for a just cause (see Carrière de Mat. vol. ii., p. 170–179). Our Redeemer altogether abolishes this law of divorce, so far as the vinculum or marriage tie is concerned, which is never dissolved after consummation, if there be question of Christian marriages. (Concil. Trid. §§ xxiv. Can. vii.—See chapter 19)

32 But I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, excepting the cause of fornication, maketh her to commit adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery.

Our Redeemer here declares, that if a man put away his wife without a justifying cause—“excepting the cause of fornication”—he incurs the guilt of adultery, to which he unjustly exposes her. For, quantum in se est, he makes her commit adultery, and a man incurs the guilt of the sins, which by his injustice he occasions (Rom. 1:32). But if the husband have a just cause for sending away his wife, and for dismissing her, quoad thorum, then, should she commit adultery, she herself is guilty of the sin, by putting herself perversely in the occasion, and not he. Although there are several causes that justify a separation, quoad thorum et mensam in the New Law, in which the rights of the husband and wife, as regards the marriage contract, are made equal (1 Cor. 7:4; Mark 10:12), still, our Redeemer only instances that of “adultery;” because, it was the only cause peculiar to the marriage state, arising out of it exclusively, that justified a separation. The other causes usually alleged, as warranting a separation, would justify a departure from any contract whatsoever, v.g., the attempt of one party to bring the other into sin, and cause his spiritual ruin, and so with the rest. Moreover, “adultery” is the only permanent cause of separation, even after the party so guilty had done penance, and made all possible reparation. Even if this were done, the innocent party is not bound to take back the adulterous party. The other causes are not permanent, but temporary, ceasing, when the offending party becomes repentant.

That the vinculum, or tie of marriage, is not dissolved in case of adultery, as the Catholic Church teaches in regard to consummated Christian marriages (Conc. Trid. §§ xxiv. Can. xii.), is clear from the general form, without any exception, used here by our Divine Redeemer, that “whosoever shall marry her that is put away” (whether with cause or without it; no distinction is made), “committeth adultery.” The same is clear from St. Mark 10:11, 12; Luke 16:18. St. Paul (1 Cor. 7:11) gives the wife who left her husband, even with a just cause, no alternative but to remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. That St. Paul speaks of a departure from a just cause, is clear from his giving her the option referred to. Had she left without some justifying cause, the Apostle would have given her no such alternative. He would have commanded her to return at once and fulfil her plighted obligations (see c. 19:4–9).

33 Again you have heard that it was said to them of old, thou shalt not forswear thyself: but thou shalt perform thy oaths to the Lord.

Here, our Lord passes from the sixth to the second precept of the Decalogue. “Thou shalt not forswear thyself.” These words are found in substance, although not identically (in Exod. 20:7; Levit. 19:12; Deut. 5:11), where the original Hebrew word, scau, signifies, thou shalt not take the name of God in vain, or falsely. For, “in vain,” means also, “falsely.” Hence, our Redeemer here quotes only the substance of the law. These words have reference to assertory oaths.

“But, thou shalt perform thy oaths,” &c. These words are quoted substantially from Numbers 30:3. They refer to promissory oaths, and mean, that whatever we promise the Lord to do, whom we invoke by oath, we should fulfil it. By others (among them, Suarez), these latter words are understood to convey that in our oaths we should swear by the true God, and not in the name of idols, “et per nomen ejus jurabis.” (Deut.)

34 But I say to you not to swear at all, neither by heaven for it is the throne of God:

“Not to swear at all.” The Scribes and Pharisees understanding the words, “in vain,” to mean only falsely, which signification also, as has been observed, the Hebrew word, scau, bears, interpreted the prohibition contained in the Second Commandment, as simply meaning, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in a lie;” and hence, they inferred that it was not prohibited to invoke His holy name irreverently, on every occasion, no matter how trivial or unimportant the cause; 2ndly, as appears from the following verses, and 23:16, they interpreted the words, “the Lord thy God,” strictly, so that in this commandment was not conveyed the prohibition to swear by creatures, whether common, such as heaven and earth; or those consecrated to God, such as Jerusalem, the Temple, &c. They also taught that such oaths were not binding, save in cases favourable to their own avarice (20:16).

35 Nor by the earth, for it is his footstool: nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king:

It was, then, in reference to these false notions of the Pharisees on the subject of oaths, that our Redeemer tells us “not to swear at all,” in the sense in which an oath was allowed by the Scribes and Pharisees, i.e., not to invoke the holy and adorable name of God rashly and without cause, nor, to swear by creatures either, without the like cause; since, in swearing by them, we swear by God, their Creator, whose attributes they reflect, whose creatures they are, and who is intimately connected with them. “Heaven is the throne of God, the earth His footstool.” These words contain an allusion to Isaias (66:3), and are understood figuratively in accommodation to human ideas. These words mean, that the majesty and immensity of God are resplendent in them.

“City of the great king,” are allusive to Psa. 47, “Mount Sion, founded on the sides of the north, the city of the great king.” From the city where God resides, and is specially worshipped, chosen preferably to all others, His Majesty is resplendently reflected.

36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.

“By thy head,” &c. The mention of heaven and earth, &c., as specially belonging to God, suggests to our Redeemer, to prevent swearing by our head, as if our head belonged to ourselves, so that we might dispose of it, as we thought proper. He meets this insinuation by saying that, although given for our use, it is not ours exclusively; we neither created it, nor can we change its condition. “Thou canst not make one hair white or black.” It belongs to God, as do all the other members of our body, of which the head was the principal. This form of oath, “by the head,” was common among the Greeks and Romans, from whom, in their intercourse with them, the Jews probably borrowed it.

37 But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil.

“Let your speech be yea, yea,” &c. The meaning is, when you assert any thing, content yourselves with mere simple affirmation of its truth; when you deny anything to be true, confine yourself to mere denial, without having recourse to swearing, to corroborate what you assert or deny. These particles are doubled, to express the certain truth of what is asserted or denied.

“And that which is over and above these,” for the greater confirmation of what we say, viz., an oath, “is of evil.” By “evil,” some interpreters (Maldonatus, &c.) understand the evil one, or the devil. The Greek, τοῦ πονηροῦ, the evil, would render this opinion probable; and according to it, our Redeemer would institute an opposition between Himself, or rather between His precepts, “I say to you,” &c., and the suggestions of the devil. I command one thing, viz., to abstain from all oaths, in the sense already assigned. The devil suggests to you to employ oaths in the same sense, viz., unnecessarily and frivolously. The devil may be said to be not so much the suggester, as the occasional cause of all oaths, inasmuch as he was the first source of sin; and the necessity for having recourse to oaths in any circumstances, arises from sin. This latter sense, although, according to it, “from evil,” is referred to the devil, hardly much differs, in substance, from the interpretation, which understands “from evil,” not to refer directly to the devil, but to the wickedness and duplicity of man, his inconstancy and weakness, arising from the evil principle of sin, implanted in his nature, in its present fallen condition. Our Redeemer does not say, that what is beyond more assertion or negation is in itself evil; but only that its necessity and existence are derived from evil, as already explained.

Our Redeemer’s prohibition here of swearing would seem to be founded on three reasons—1st. The danger of perjury, to which the habit of swearing exposes us (St. Augustine, in hunc locum). In Eccles. (23:9), we have, “Let not thy mouth be accustomed to swearing,” &c. 2ndly. On account of the reverence due to God’s name. For, if it would be indecorous to be invoking the name of man on every trivial occasion, how much more so when there is question of the holy and adorable name of God? To this reference is made in the words, “Nor by heaven, for it is God’s throne,” &c. 3rdly. On account of the good faith and mutual confidence which should exist among Christians. This would render swearing unnecessary; and, to it reference is made in the words, “Let your speech be yea, yea,” &c.

Our Redeemer does not prohibit resorting to an oath, in certain circumstances, and when vested with certain conditions, viz., “judgment,” with a cause or necessity; “justice,” when its object is just and lawful; and “truth.” “Thou shalt swear: as the Lord liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in justice.” (Jer. 4:2). In such circumstances an oath is an act of homage, in recognition of God’s supreme veracity. It is, however, when vested with these conditions, that it is an act of homage; and only then is it lawful.

That it is sometimes lawful to swear, is a point of Catholic faith against the Anabaptists and Wickliffe. The Apostle tells us that an oath is the termination of controversy (Heb. 6:16). Moreover, we have the example of God swearing, “Juravit Dominus,” &c. (Heb. 6:13) The Apostle swears. So do Abraham, Moses, &c. (See Comment. St. James 5:12).

Here is what the bishop wrote on James 5:12~St. James here proceeds to caution the converted Jews against a vice resulting from impatience, which vice being prevalent among the Jews of old, was, most likely, not wholly eradicated after their conversion; this was the abusive practice of indiscriminate swearing in common conversation. It appears from the Gospel, that there were erroneous doctrines taught by the Jewish doctors, and consequent abuses on two points, connected with the taking of an oath. The first was, that no matter how trivial or unnecessary the occasion of an oath might be, it was not sinful to invoke the name of God, provided it was done in truth; and hence, in the prohibition (Exodus, 20:7), “thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” they understood the words “in vain,” to mean, falsely, or in a lie—a signification which the original Hebrew word bears, but not exclusively, as they interpret it. Secondly, they held, that an oath by creatures, except in the cases favourable to their own avarice, “by the gold of the temple” (Matthew 23:17), was not binding. These erroneous and abusive teachings our divine Redeemer corrects in his Gospel (Matt. 5:34), and tells men “not to swear at all,” i.e., indiscriminately and in common conversation—even though their assertions should be true, in the sense, in which swearing was permitted by the Jewish teachers; and he also declares that swearing by heaven, or earth, was equally binding with the direct invocation of the name of God, since his attributes were reflected both in one and the other. Now, as St. James, the disciple, is to be supposed to have in view the same prohibition, which he heard from the lips of his Divine Master, his words; in this passage, are to be understood in the same meaning.

St. James, any more than our divine Redeemer, does not prohibit our resorting to an oath, when accompanied with the necessary dispositions of “judgment, justice, and truth” (Jeremias, 4:2); for, then, it is an act of homage in recognition of the supreme veracity of God, who knows all truth, and is incapable of sanctioning falsehood of any kind. But to be invoking God’s name on every occasion, is only insulting him, and profanely irreverencing his holy name. That it is sometimes lawful for Christians to swear, is a point of faith defined against the Anabaptists and Wicliffe, and clearly proved, from the example of God himself, “juravit Dominus et non pœnitebit eum,” from the examples of Moses, Abraham, St. Paul, &c. “Nor by any other oath,” i.e., by any other mode of invoking God’s veracity, as witness of truth. “But let your speech be, yea, yea; no, no;” in Greek, the word “speech” is not found, it is, ἤτω δε ὑμων το ναι, ναι, και το οὒ, οὔ; but let your yea be yea; and your no be no; the word, “speech” was, most likely, introduced here from (Matthew, 5:37), as both passages referred, in the mind of the interpreter, to the same thing. “That you fall not under judgment.” In some Greek readings it is, that you fall not into hypocrisy. The reading adopted in our Vulgate is, however, the most probable. They would fall under judgment or condemnation, by swearing in violation of God’s law and prohibition.

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Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 5:17-37

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 12, 2014

This section (Mt 5:17-48) may be divided into the following paragraphs: 1. The general relation of the New Law to the Old, Mt 5:17–20; 2. its interpretation of the fifth commandment, Mt5:21–26; 3. its view of the sixth commandment, Mt 5:27–32; 4 its obligations springing from the second and the eighth commandment, Mt 5:33–37; 5. its opposition to the “lex talionis,” Mt 5:38–48.

17 Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

1. General relation of the New Law to the Old. Jesus develops this general relation in four propositions: a. The New Law is the fulfilment of the Old (verse 17); b. the Old Law shall not pass till all be fulfilled (verse 18); c. the sanction of the fulfilment or the nonfulfilment of the Law is reward in, or exclusion from, the kingdom of heaven (verse 19); d. the Pharisaic observance of the Law is not sufficient in the New Law (verse 20).

α. The New Law is the fulfilment of the Old. a. The transition from the beatitudes and their application to the discussion on the law is explained in various ways: The beatitudes are the general outlines of Christianity; our Lord must therefore descend to particulars after laying down the general principles [cf. Knabenbauer]. Again, the Sadducees among the hearers of Jesus desired nothing more than an abolition of the law, the Pharisees feared nothing worse, and the disciples were left in doubt by what had been said; hence Jesus must from the start declare his position in this vital question [cf. Fillion, Schanz]. Schöttgen contends [Hor. Heb. et Talm. de Messia, ii. 611; Dresd. 1742] that about the third century the Rabbis expected a Messianic dispensation in which the Law would be wholly abolished; but Weber [Altsynagogale Theol. p. 360] shows that the passages cited by Schöttgen may be otherwise interpreted. While Jesus gains the good will of his Jewish audience by this implied eulogium of the law, he forestalls the future accusations brought against him as a destroyer of the law.

But how did our Lord fulfil the law and the prophets rather than destroy them? Mald, enumerates four ways of fulfilment: Jesus himself observed the law, he perfected it by his interpretation, he brought us the grace needed to observe it in its perfect interpretation, and finally, he fulfilled the promises contained in the types and prophecies of the law and the prophets [cf. Faber Stapulensis, Estius, Lapide, Calmet, Arnoldi, Schegg, Reischl, Coleridge, iii. pp. 66 f., Grimm, iii. p. 75, Schanz, Fillion, Meschler, i. p. 304].

As to the question whether Christians are bound by the decalogue on account of its promulgation by Moses, Bellarmine, Vasquez, Lorin. answer in the affirmative, Suarez in the negative [cf. Suar. de leg. L. ix. 11, 20, 22; L. x. 2, 15], though all are agreed that the matter of the Christian decalogue does not differ from that of the Jewish, and that Jesus has added a new binding force to these natural precepts.

Against the opinion of a few [cf. Keil] who maintain that Jesus speaks in the present passage only of the law and not of the Messianic prophecies, the common consent of interpreters asserts that “the law and the prophets” means the whole inspired canon of the Old Testament. Though our Lord did not appeal to any prophecies in the immediate context, he had recourse to their testimony repeatedly in his public life [Jn. 5:46; Lk. 4:21; 18:31; 24:27, 44; Mt. 22:40].

18 For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled.

b. The permanency of the Old Law. [1] The word “amen” means fidelity, faithfulness; faithful, firm; truly, surely [cf. Lk. 9:27]. The Jews employed the word to confirm their contracts and their oaths [Num. 5:22; Deut. 27:15; Neh 5:13], placing it either at the beginning or at the end of their words [cf. 28:6; Gesen. thes. i. 116]. At the end of the doxology it was repeated in Pss. 41:13; 72:19; 89:52; in the New Testament the word occurs as an asseverative particle only in the sayings of Jesus Christ, and in the fourth gospel it is repeated in this meaning [Jn. 1:32; 3:3; 5:19]. The apostles use the word in the doxology [Rom. 1:25; 9:5; Gal. 1:5; 1 Pet. 4:11]; from its use in the synagogues it has passed also into the church services as a responsory [1 Cor. 14:16].

[2] Heaven and earth cannot properly be said to pass away, though they will be changed [Mt. 24:35; 2 Pet. 3:10; 1 Jn. 2:17; 1 Cor. 7:31]. The expression seems to be equivalent to our “never,” as we infer from Pss. 72:5, 7; 89:4; 33:20, 21; etc. In this meaning the expression may be compared to the Rabbinic formulas: “Everything has its end, heaven and earth have their end, except one thing which has no end, and this is the law” [Bereschith R. x. 1]; and “[The law] will remain always, for ever and ever” [Midrasch Cohel. f. 71, 4; etc.].

[3] One jot refers to the smallest Hebrew letter called “yodh.” The “tittle,” according to the Greek text κεραία, means in the language of the Greek grammarians the accents and diacritic signs; but in the language of St. Matthew it seems to refer to the small distinctive characteristic by which ה differs from ח and ב from כ. Hence even the most unimportant points of the law shall have their place in the Messianic dispensation.

[4] “Till all be fulfilled” is not subordinate to what precedes [cf. Meyer, Keil], but coördinate with it; hence we must not interpret, “as long as the world stands shall no precept of the law, however imperfect and easy, pass away till all its injunctions are put into practice,” but rather thus: “till heaven and earth pass, the law shall not pass; till all be fulfilled, the law shall not pass.” The first member, therefore, asserts the mere fact of the permanency of the law, while the second adds the reason for its perpetuity, drawing it from the will of God.

19 He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But he that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

c. The sanction. Explanations. [1] Hilgenfeld [Historisch-kritische Einleitung in d. N. T. p. 469] is of opinion that this verse and the following are not in keeping with the general meekness and love of Jesus Christ and must therefore be regarded as interpolated by the opponents of St. Paul. But, on the one hand, the opposition in the early Church between the Pauline and the Petriue Christians is wholly hypothetical; on the other, St. Paul himself is quite emphatic in enforcing the observance of the law [cf. Rom. 3:31 f.; 4:23; 15:4; 1 Cor. 9:9; 10:6; Col. 2:17; Heb. 9:1–9; etc.].

[2] The opinion of interpreters differs considerably concerning the true meaning of the word “to break”: it means “to transgress” or “to violate” according to Chrysostom, Opus Imperfectum, Alb. Dionysius, Cajetan, Estius, Jansenius, Maldonado, Barradas, Sylveira, Arnoldi, Coleridge; “to explain falsely” according to Br. Pasch. Ans. laud.; “to mutilate” according to Chromatius; “to abrogate,” Schegg, Bisping, Schanz, Weiss; “to destroy” Jer.=ome, Zach. Chrysostom, Salmeron; both “to destroy” and “to transgress” according to Lapide, Keil. Since the meaning of the word is determined by the preceding verses, there is no good reason for changing it in this verse.

[3] “These least commandments” are those which Jesus is going to develop in the following discourse, and which he calls “least” through modesty [Chryspstom]; or they are called “least,” because not to kill and not to commit adultery is the least that can be expected of us [Augustine, Bede, Rabanus, Dionysius, Salmeron], or because they are least in the opinion of the Pharisees, or because they are the least of their own kind of mortal sins, as e.g. the sin of impure desire [Maldondado, Estius, Sylveira]; but here again it is preferable to understand by the least commandments those of which Jesus has been speaking in the preceding verse, where there is question of the jot and tittle of the law [Hilary, Jerome, St Bruno, Paschasius, Cajetan, Sa, Arnoldi, Reischl, Schegg, Schanz, Fillion]. St. Paul has diverse illustrations of the importance of even insignificant incidents in the Old Testament [cf. 1 Cor. 9:9; Gal. 4:29, 30].

[4] The clause “shall so teach men” has been understood to mean, whoever transgresses the law himself, but exacts its observance from others; or, whoever teaches men so as I do [Jer. Est. Coleridge]; but most probably the “so” refers to the preceding clause, whoever destroys one jot or tittle of the law, and teaches men according to his view of the law.

[5] The “least in the kingdom of heaven” is not there at all [Thomas Aquinas], or is unworthy of it Glossa Ordinaria, Paschasius], or is condemned to eternal punishment [Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius, Cajetan, Maldonado, Lapide, Calmet], so that he “shall be called the least” by those “in the kingdom of heaven” [Anselm of Laon, Tostatus]. But Estius well remarks that according to this explanation Satan might be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; and according to Mt. 11:11 our Lord says, “he that is the lesser in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” [John the Baptist]. It appears, then, more probable that “the least in the kingdom” is he that occupies the least place in the same, and is therefore far removed from the dignity of doctor whose office he exteriorly fulfils. The case of such a teacher appears to be considered by St. Paul, 1 Cor. 3:11, 15.

[6] Far different is the condition of him “that shall do and teach” even the smaller precepts of the law; for he shall occupy the high place prepared for the doctors in the kingdom of heaven.

Mat 5:20  For I tell you, that unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

d. Insufficiency of Pharisaic justice. In the preceding verse Jesus has spoken about those that shall be great in the kingdom of heaven, and about the least in the same; now he mentions those that shall not enter at all, drawing from this class another proof for the statement that he did not come to destroy the law but to perfect it. He has proved this first from the perpetuity of the law in itself; secondly, from the sanction of the law in the New Testament; now he proves the same from the superiority of the law in the Messianic dispensation. The “for” may therefore be explained as connecting this verse with v. 17 [Schegg, de Wette, Hilgenfeld]; but there is a closer connection with vv. 18, 19, in which our Lord alludes to great and small precepts, to the letter and the spirit; hence he rejects in the present verse the Pharisaic distinction between great and small precepts [cf. Mt. 22:35–40; 23:23], and declares their obedience to the letter as insufficient. “Justice” has here the meaning it had in v. 6; the Fathers of the Church are therefore right in defending, on the one hand, the holiness of the Old Testament against the Manicheans and other heretics, and, on the other, in extolling the superiority of the New. For the Christian dispensation is no correction of the Jewish [Socinians], nor is it a mere explanation of the same [many Protestant theologians], but it is its fulfilment and perfection.

Mat 5:21  You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill. And whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment.

The fifth commandment. This section contains first the Christian statement of the fifth commandment [vv. 21, 22], and then it gives two special additions well calculated to enforce the exact observance of the Christian law [vv. 23, 24; 25, 26]. a. Christ’s statement of the fifth commandment. [1] “You have heard that it was said to them of old” recalls to the mind of our Lord’s hearers what they had heard in the synagogues. Similar expression we find in Jn. 12:34; Acts 15:21; Rom. 2:13. But then it is asked: who are they “of old”? All agree that they are the Israelites of former times; but their relation to what was said is viewed in different ways:—

[a] Many render the passage, “said by them of old”; though this rendering is grammatically possible, it is in the present case inadmissible. In the New Testament ἐῤῥέθη with the dative of person signifies the person addressed [cf. Rom. 9:12; Rev6:11; 9:4; Gal. 3:16], while the speaker is indicated by ὑπό or διά with the genitive [cf. Mt. 1:22; 4:14; 13:35; etc.]. Moreover, the contrast between “it was said to them of old” and “but I say to you” requires that “they of old” should be the hearers and not the speakers, as “you” is the dative of the persons addressed. Again, this rendering is more in accordance with the traditional teaching of the Fathers [cf. Schanz].

[b] Others contend that “said to them of old” may refer to what had been said to the Israelites by their religious teachers from the time of Moses downward [cf. Holtzman]. But this interpretation is not probable, because Jesus quotes the words of the law [Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17; Lev. 24:17; Ex. 21:12], and therefore not the exposition of the scribes.

[c] We infer, therefore, that “said to them of old” refers both to the promulgation of the law on Sinai and to its repetition to the people by its religious teachers. What follows is therefore opposed not only to the law of the Old Testament, nor only to the teaching of the Pharisees and scribes, but to both. a. That the following teaching was not opposed to the law alone is clear from the passages quoted as said to the ancients, that are not contained in the law. Where does the law say, e.g. that we should “hate our enemies” [v. 43]? There are many passages, on the contrary, in which the law of universal charity is at least implicitly inculcated: cf. Lev. 19:17, 18, 33, 34; Ex. 33:4, 9; Prov. 24:17; 25:21; Rom. 12:20. We grant that the hatred of God’s enemies as such was enjoined in the Old Law, but we deny that hatred of strangers, of men, of brethren, as such was not forbidden. This distinction gives the clue to the divine command of destroying the seven nations [Ex. 23:24; Deut. 7:2; 23:6; 25:19] who on account of their idolatry and their inveterate hostility to the Jews were extremely dangerous to the people.) β. That Jesus does not wish to oppose only the false interpretations of the scribes and Pharisees in the sermon on the mount is plain from those passages in which he opposes his precepts to the Mosaic law itself: cf. vv. 31, 38; again, from those precepts in which he gives counsels of Christian perfection rather than commands: v. 39; finally, from the fact that our Lord was to fufil and perfect the law, so that his doctrine differs from that of the law as the perfect differs from the imperfect [cf. Knabenbauer, Schanz, Fillion, Lapide, Maldonado, Paschasius Radbertus, Jansenius Barradus]. Such an imperfect law is not unworthy of God; the rudeness of the Hebrew people was not yet trained to bear a more perfect moral code, so that its state would have been rather deteriorated than improved by demanding a high moral perfection of it.

—Thou shalt not kill. The Old Law. Our Lord quotes first the Old Law according to Ex. 20:13, and to this he adds the sanction, which is neither a mere Rabbinio gloss [cf. Meyer], nor foreign to the Old Testament legislation, but has its equivalents in Ex. 21:12; Lev. 24:17; Numb. 35:16; cf. Gen. 9:6 [Paschasius, Jansenius, Barradus, Lapide,. Bruno, Schanz, Knabenbauer etc.]. It was customary at the time of our Lord to add in Scripture explanations the sanction to the law, or at least to add the positive to the negative precepts. “Judgment” stands here instead of the “punishment” inflicted by the judgment. Our Lord appears to refer to the local court which had power to inflict penalties up to the simple capital punishment [cf. Deut. 16:18; 2 Par. 19:5]. The more complicated and difficult cases were decided by an upper court which had its seat in the sanctuary [Deut. 17:8; 19:16 ff.]. According to Josephus [Antiq. IV. viii. 14; B. J. II. xx. 5] the local court consisted of seven members, but Sanhr. i. 6 shows that in the larger towns there were courts consisting of 23 members. We need not mention the opinion of Lightfoot and Schöttgen, who contend that the “judgment” refers to the divine judgment, since capital cases had become so frequent that the Sanhedrin did not dare to condemn all the murderers.

Mat 5:22  But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

But I say to you. Christ’s statement of the law. Jesus distinctly forbids three violations of fraternal charity not included in the Old Law: [a] Though the Old Testament contains warnings against the sin of anger [Ps. 37:7-88; Sirach 27:33; 28:1–5], and though its spirit may be said to forbid anger, still its letter nowhere expressly prohibits this passion. The clause “without cause” following “angry” in Syr. It. Irenaues, Chrysostom, Augustine, Opus Imperfectum, is probably a late addition in order to remove the impression that all anger is sinful; the same addition is found in 1 Jn. 3:15, but probably for the same reason. Ephes. 4:26 shows that there is a justifiable anger [cf. Rom. 13:4; Col. 2:18; Ps. 4:5]. Though anger may under circumstances be laudable, and though even inordinate anger may be only a venial sin, Jesus supposes in the present passage that inordinate anger is “genere suo” mortal [cf. Thom. 2a, 2ae, 158, 2, 3]. This we infer from his sanction of the law. “Brother” properly means one having the same father as one’s self, hence tribes-man, or, among the early Christians, fellow believer [cf. v. 47]; but it is not necessarily coextensive with neighbor [cf. Lk. 10:29; Ignatius Epistle to the Trallians, viii. 2]. The perfection of the Christian law consists, therefore, in prohibiting under the same penalty the inordinate impulse leading to murder, under which the Old Testament forbids murder itself.

[b] The second member prohibits the manifestation of inordinate anger by means of offensive words. The word “Raca” means “vain,” “empty” [Lightfoot, Buxtorf, Wünsche.], and employed as an opprobrious term it signifies “empty of head,” i. e. a man that is stupid, or has no common sense [a dunce, dullard]; cf. James 2:20; Sibyll. iii. p. 418; Jerome, Opus Imperfectum, Bede, Hilary, etc.

[c] The third member prohibits the manifestation of inordinate anger by means of highly insulting terms. “Fool” must probably be understood in the sense it has in Ps 14:1; Ps 53:2 [heb.]; Deut 32:6; 2 Sam 13:13; Is. 32:6; Ezek 13:3. In all these cases the folly consists rather in a perversity of will than in a defect of intellect, so that the “fool” is wanting in moral rectitude and uprightness.

[d] Jesus threatens a triple punishment for the triple sin, and expresses the same respectively by “judgment,” “council,” and “hell-fire.” Though Chrysostom believes that the judgment and the council signify temporal courts, it is commonly admitted that they denote spiritual punishments. Aug. distinguishes the three courts by their relation to the punishment: In the judgment there is still room for self-defence, so that the sentence may be a favorable one; in the council the guilt is certain, but the greatness of the punishment is deliberated upon; in “hell-fire” both sentence and punishment are irrevocably determined. Though this gradation is clear and ingenious, we cannot infer from it that the present passage distinguishes between venial and mortal sin [cf. Bellarmine de amission. grat. 1. i. c. 9; t. 4 de controv. fidei; Grimm, iii. p. 85]. Since “judgment” denotes the court before which, according to the Old Law, murder was tried, we cannot admit that in the New Testament venial sin should be “guilty of the judgment.” We believe, therefore, with most commentators, that in each of three cases there is question of mortal sin [Dionysius, Maldonado, Barradas]. “Judgment,” “council,” and “hell-fire” express, therefore, three different degrees of eternal punishment, the third of which exceeds the first two so far that it cannot he represented by any earthly evil. Schanz sees in the three degrees an allusion to the three ways in which the Jews inflicted capital punishment: simple execution, execution by means of stoning or hanging, and execution with a surrender of the sinner to hell. “Hell-fire” has parallel expressions in Is. 66:24; Mk. 9:43, 48; Lk. 16:24; it is, therefore, not a mere allusion to the “valley of Hinnom” [gehenna] with its perpetual fire consuming the carcasses of dead animals and the offal of the city, which Josias [2 Kings 23:10; 7:32] had ordered to be thrown there in order to abolish the existing idolatry of Moloch, and its cruel sacrifices of innocent children in the fire of the idol [1 Kings 11:7, 33; 2 Kings 17:17; 2 Chron 28:3; etc.].

Mat 5:23  If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee;
Mat 5:24  Leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift.

Practical conclusion. The guilt of sinful anger is so great that one polluted by it cannot perform even an act otherwise most pleasing to God. Theophylact, Euthymius, Faber,Schegg, etc. contend that our Lord’s precept extends to any case of discord, whether it be culpable on the part of the offerer or not. But the words of the text imply that the discord is occasioned by the fault of the offerer; otherwise, the latter would be wholly at the mercy of his brother’s imagination. This is also the common interpretation of the Fathers: Augustine, Jerome, Opus Imperfectum, Bede, Glossa Ordinaria,  Cajetan, Salmeron Barradas, Sylveira, Maldonado, Lapide, Arnoldi, Grimm, Schanz, etc. Chrysostom appears, at first, to favor the opposite view; but on comparing the context he is found to agree with the majority of the commentators. “Offer thy gift at the altar” alludes to Lev. 2:1; that the priests alone could lay the sacrifice on the altar follows from Lev. 1:3; 4:4; 17:1–6. The Greek word expressing gift in the passage is so general in meaning that it embraces any kind of offering [Mt. 8:4; 15:5; 23:18; Heb. 5:1; 8:3]; the lxx. use the word in all meanings. The illustration is taken from the Hebrew sacrifice in order to render it intelligible to the hearers. As the precept cannot be restricted to the Hebrew ceremonial, which was not to last, so it cannot be limited to sacrifice in the strict meaning of the word, but applies to all good actions, especially to prayer. It may not be possible to go in body in order to effect the reconciliation, but it is always possible to do so in spirit, by an act of contrition and a thorough change of heart. This is the opinion of Augustine, Glossa Ordinaria, and Paschasius Radbertus, while Chrysostom sees in the words a special reference to the Eucharist.

25 Be at agreement with thy adversary betimes, whilst thou art in the way with him: lest perhaps the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
26 Amen I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing.

Second conclusion. Chrysostom, Euthymius, Theophylact refer the passage to this life; but such teaching of worldly prudence is wholly out of keeping with the context of the discourse. Weiss’ explanation as an “argumentum ad hominem” weakens the meaning of the words. Nearly all the other commentators understand the passage as referring to the reconciliation with our brother who will otherwise accuse us before the judgment-seat of God. The illustration is taken either from the Jewish law [Deut. 21:18 f.; 15:1] according to which the accuser and the accused had to appear together before the judge, or from the Roman code which allowed the accuser to bring the accused by physical force to the judge. When once the judicial proceedings were begun, there was no reconciliation possible; all compromises had to take place on the way. The “way” signifies our time of life; the prison symbolizes either eternal and temporal punishment, to be inflicted according to the condition of the subject [Alb. Faber Stapulensis, Cajetan, Sylveira, Lapide, Tir. Salmeron, Reischl, Coleridge, Grimm, etc.], or always eternal punishment [most Latin Fathers and commentators: Chromatius, Opus Imperfectum, Paschasius, Bede, Rabanus, Zach. Chrysostom, St Bruno, Dionysius, Maldonado, Jansenius, Barradas, Arnoldi, Schegg, Schanz, Augustine etc]. The words of the passage do not imply a possible release from the prison, but merely state that freedom cannot be obtained till all has been paid [cf. Lk. 12:58 f.]. It follows that we cannot base a solid argument for the existence of purgatory on this passage [Jansenius]. The adversary in question is the person we offend [Cajetan], or the law and word of God [St Bruno], or the Holy Spirit [Chromatius], or God himself [Augustine], or the devil and the flesh [cf. Jerome], or several of the foregoing together [Coleridge, Knabenbauer]. The “officer” is the angel of torments [Chromatius], or the angel who gathers the cockle [Glossa Ordinaria; cf. Mt. 13:41, 42], or the angels that are to come with Jesus to judgment [Augustine, Pasch. Arnoldi, Schanz], or the bad angel [Zach. chrys. Maldonado].

Mat 5:27  You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Mat 5:28  But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart.

The sixth commandment. Here our Lord explains first the perfection of the law forbidding adultery, then shows its urgency, and in the third place states the law forbidding divorce,

a. The law against adultery, vv. 27, 28. The law is quoted from Ex. 20:14; cf. Deut. 5:18. Jesus prohibits even to “look on a woman to lust after her.” “Woman” is to be taken generally, so that it means virgin, married woman, or widow [Euthymius, Cajetan, Jansenius etc.]. The looks prohibited are first those that spring from evil desire or are connected with it; then those that excite evil desire; and lastly the looks “cum morosa delectatione,” because they at least dispose men for the evil desire [Euthymius Cyril, Basil, Augustine, Dionysius, Opus Imperfectum, Thomas etc.]. “To lust after her” (28) or the evil desire, is forbidden not merely because it disposes men to commit the sin actually, but because the desire in itself is intrinsically bad; because he “hath already committed adultery with her in his heart.” This reason advanced by our Lord himself shows also that there is no question of the manifestation of the bad wish, which would be rather seduction than a sin committed in one’s heart.

The Greek verb “to commit adultery” signifies properly to have intercourse with the wife of another; according to this view it is only the rights of the husband that can be violated, not those of the wife [Deut. 5:18; Lev. 20:10; Plato’s Republic ii. 360 B; Lucus Brugensis de mar. xii. 1], But “a pari” the Christian law forbids the husband to desire or to have intercourse with any one, married or unmarried, except his wife; and if the Greek word be taken in its wider sense, the present law prohibits any desire after or lustful look at a woman with whom intercourse is forbidden. It is true that even the Old Testament forbade such unchaste desires after the wife of the neighbor [Ex. 20:17]; but this prohibition regarded more the social order of the family, while our Lord’s prohibition, “thou shalt not lust,” starts from the principle that by a sinful desire one commits the same kind of wrong as by a sinful act.

Mat 5:29  And if thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than thy whole body be cast into hell.
Mat 5:30  And if thy right hand scandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body go into hell.

b. Urgency of the foregoing prohibition. The obligation of the preceding prohibition is so great that it cannot be transgressed even in case its observance demands the greatest sacrifices from us, and it binds under pain of eternal perdition. Our Lord mentions the “right” eye and the “right” hand, because according to popular opinion the “right” members are preferable to the left [Ex. 29:20; 1 Kings 11:2; Zach. 11:17; Passow s. v.]. Here it is asked whether “eye” and “hand” must be taken figuratively or in their proper meaning:

[1] Maldonado, Arnoldi contend that our Lord speaks of these members in their proper meaning, so that his words bid us to sacrifice even our right eye and our right hand, if it be necessary, in order to secure our eternal beatitude. The reasons for this view are: [a] the force and beauty of language; [b] the context in which there is question of “looking” on a woman; [c] the following words in which the loss of the whole “body” is mentioned.

[2] Hilary, Athanasius, Cyril, Chrysostom Theophylact, Euthymius, Jerome, Opus Imperfectum, Augustine, Brune, Thomas, Cajetan, Barradas, Sylveira, Lapide, Schegg, Schanz, Fillion, Knabenbauer. etc. understand “eye” and “hand” in a figurative sense, so that our Lord bids us to sacrifice anything, even though it be as dear to us as our right eye, rather than suffer the loss of our soul. It is true that some of the foregoing writers apply this especially to the satisfaction of mind and will, others to the pleasures of the body, others again to friends and relatives, others to earthly advantages; but they all admit the figurative meaning of “eye” and “hand.” The reasons for this view are the following: [a] If there be question of the literal removing of “hand” and “eye” in order to avoid sin, there is no more reason why we should remove the “right” eye or the “right” hand rather than the left, since the one may be as much an occasion of sin as the other. [b] It is never necessary to remove any member of the body in order to avoid sin, because the will is the sole cause of the sinfulness of our outward actions, [c] The word “body” in the subsequent clauses signifies the whole person, so that it, too, has rather a figurative than its proper meaning, [d] By removing either eye or hand, we do not obtain the end proposed to us by our Lord, since the will always remains. Adding the external evidence for the figurative meaning, it is clear that we must explain the words of Jesus in their figurative sense, i. e. as bidding us to sacrifice for the preservation of our spiritual life any good even though it be as necessary for our bodily life as is the hand or the eye. The verb “to scandalize” has no equivalent in the classical Greek; it corresponds to the Hebrew verb meaning “to stumble,” i. e. to take scandal. In the lxx. it occurs first Sirach 9:5; 23:8; 35:15; the Greek word from which the term has been borrowed signifies properly the piece of the trap on which the bait is fastened.

Mat 5:31  And it hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a bill of divorce.

c. Divorce. [1] The Jewish law. The law here referred to is that of Deut. 24:1 f., where the Jews sending away their wives “for some uncleanness” are commanded to give them a bill of divorce. This document served the dismissed wife as a proof that she was free to marry again; but after her second husband had dismissed her, or was separated from her by death, she could not again become the wife of her first husband. Though the “uncleanness” sufficient to divorce the wife is rather vague, and was understood by the Jewish Rabbis of the school of Hillel in a very wide sense, the law of Moses was really a restriction of the custom that had been prevalent among the Hebrews. Both the writing of the document and the impossibility of future reconciliation were calculated to make the husband more circumspect in his proceeding against his wife. The Mosaic law, therefore, did not command divorce under any circumstances, but implicitly permitted it; it directly commanded that in case of divorce a bill of divorce must be written. The implicit permission of divorce has been explained as the permission of something less good [Thomas], or as the permission of something bad that had ceased to be sinful on account of dispensation [Maldonado], or as the permission of something sinful that was not punishable under the law. In any case, the reason for the permission was the hardheartedness of the Jews on account of which untold sufferings and perhaps the violent death of the wife might have followed, if marriage had been indissoluble.

Mat 5:32  But I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, excepting the cause of fornication, maketh her to commit adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery

The Christian law. a. The fact that Jesus contrasts his law with that of the Old Testament, which contained only the permission of divorce, renders it antecedently probable that in the Christian dispensation this permission will be withdrawn. The wording of our Lord’s law confirms this probability; for he that marries her that is put away committeth adultery; and whosoever shall put away his wife maketh her to commit adultery, either forcing her to contract a second marriage or placing her in the danger of incontinency. In any case, the marriage is not annulled by the preceding divorce, and the permission of divorce is therefore withdrawn. It may be noticed in passing, that adultery is throughout represented as the violation of the rights of the husband.

But the simple clearness of this law is seriously obscured by a clause which presents at first the semblance of a possible exception to the general law. For Jesus says “excepting the cause of fornication.” The Greek Church has been led by these words to abandon the absolute insolubility of marriage; many Protestants also base on them their allowance of divorce; even among Catholic writers living before the Council of Trent straggling expressions of doubt are found, though rarely, and not in the works of great theologians. The Council of Trent [sess. xxiv. can. 7] teaches expressly that according to the doctrine of the gospels and the apostles the bond of matrimony cannot be dissolved through the adultery of either husband or wife. In point of fact, the parallel passages of Holy Scripture are unanimous in maintaining the doctrine enounced by the Council: Mk. 10:2 ff.; Lk. 16:18; 1 Cor. 7:3, 4, 10, 11, 39; Rom. 7:2, 3. The same must be said of the patristic doctrine on this point down to the earliest ages of the church: Hermas, Past. 1. ii. mand. 4; Justin. Apol. i. 15; Athenagoras Legat. pro christ. 33; Theophylact  Ad Autolic. iii. 13; Origen in Matt. t. xiv. n. 23, 24; Chrysostom in loc.; Basil, Moralia reg. 73 c. 1; Augustine De serm. Dni. in monte, i. 16, 43; etc. [cf. Binterim, Denkwüdigkeiten, t. vi. pp. 100–138; Palmieri, De matrim. pp. 141–167; Perrone, De mat. pp. 243–364].

It cannot be replied that the foregoing passages of the Scriptures and of the Fathers state the general rule, while Mt. 5:32 and 19:3 ff. gives the exception to the rule. For most of the Fathers directly refer to the last passages of Matthew, so that they would have to acknowledge the exception, if the evangelist’s words contained any. One of the foregoing passages of Scripture expressly gives the case in which matrimony contracted between infidels may be dissolved, viz. if either of the married parties be converted to Christianity and thereby incur the actual odium of the other partner [cf. 1 Cor. 7:12]; the apostle would therefore have also stated the exception in which Christian marriages might be dissolved, if there were any. This the more, because he distinctly considers the case of divorce “a mensa et thoro,” and knows no alternative except either reconciliation or perpetual continency. Moreover, it is probable that both St. Mark and St. Luke, and it is certain that St. Paul, wrote after St. Matthew; at best, therefore, the first gospel contains an exceptional case that was wholly abrogated by a later universal legislation. Since it is therefore certain that Christ’s law does not permit divorce “a vinculo” even in the case of adultery, how are we to understand the exception stated in the first gospel?

Solutions [a] A number of writers explain the term “fornication” not of carnal intercourse, but of idolatry and of vice in general [cf. Augustine ad loc.; Retract. I. xix. 6]. Though Bruno, Dionysius, Bede, Glossa Ordinari Zach. chrysostom, Anselm of Laon, favor this meaning of “fornication,” and though in the Old Testament idolatry is often represented as fornication, this view rather augments than solves the difficulty; for it tends to give us as many exceptions as there are mortal sins.

[b] Gratz and Döllinger contend that “fornication” in the text refers to carnal intercourse before marriage, which according to these authors rendered matrimony invalid, if it had not been manifested to the other party. But the whole context supposes that there is question of true marriage, and of what happens in the married state; besides, the Greek word meaning properly “fornication” has also the specific meaning “adultery,” as is evident even from its figurative meaning of “idolatry” in which the sinful person or nation was conceived as an unfaithful spouse of God.

[c] “Fornication” is explained as meaning concubinage; according to this view the exception stated by our Lord is the case in which there is no real marriage on account of some invalidating impediment, such as consanguinity, etc. [Patrizi Schegg, Aberle]. It may be true that in 1 Cor. 5:1 “fornication,” or its Greek equivalent, signifies “incest,” and in Acts 15:20; 15:29; 21:15 simple fornication; but it does not follow that the word therefore means regularly “concubinage.” This is not even the case in the instance of the Noachic commandment, and the prohibitions of the apostles recorded in the foregoing passages of Acts cannot be placed on a level with the so-called Noachic prohibition. The weakness of the new converts to Christianity rendered such legislation necessary, on account of the widespread sins of the flesh among the pagans. Besides, if Jesus were considering the case of mere concubinage, he would rather strictly command the dismissal of the woman, than pass it over by way of tacit permission. Deut. 24:1 does not support this opinion, because the “uncleanness” there mentioned does not signify an “impedimentum dirimens.”

[d] The expression “excepting the cause of fornication” cannot signify “setting aside the case of adultery, though I know that license exists which I am not going to confirm.” It is true that Aug. Bellarm. Dreher adhere to this explanation; but the view implies difficulties which it would be hard to answer. It supposes that the whole discourse is directed against the Pharisaic traditions, and simply ignores the Deuteronomic legislation; besides, it does not well agree with Mt. 19:9; it does not strictly adhere to the proper meaning of the Greek word rendered “cause” [λόγος means properly “reason,” but considered as a Hebraism it may signify “thing,” “matter,” “cause”], and finally it does not throw much light on the true position Jesus took with regard to the case in question.

[e] Bleek, Keim, Weiss, etc. assume that the clause which causes the present difficulty is a late addition. But this supposition is against the evidence of all Greek codd., of the verss., and the Fathers. Besides, it impresses one as if the sacred text were tampered with for dogmatic purposes.

[f] The Greek word “fornication” [πορνεία] means real adultery [cf. Jn. 8:41; Ecclus. 26:12; Amos 7:17; Os. 3:3; Chrysostom, Euthymius, Hilary, Augustine, etc.]. The evangelist does not express that crime by the same word as in the preceding verses, because in v. 28 he considers adultery in thought, while here he treats of adultery in deed [Weiss], the sinfulness of which he wishes to emphasize. Supposing this, Hug, Grimm, etc. are of opinion that our Lord grants to the Jews or the new converts to Christianity a temporary dispensation from the indissolubility of marriage in case of adultery. The reasons advanced for this view are the following: [a] This is the obvious meaning of the texts Mt. 5:31; 19:9; [β] this explains why Matthew alone records the exception found neither in Mk. 10:11, nor in Lk. 16:18, nor again in 1 Cor. 7:10; [γ] it is also remarkable that the first evangelist alone represents Jesus as speaking to the Jews and the Pharisees, while according to the second gospel he speaks to the disciples alone, adding the wholly unknown equality of rights between husband and wife, and in the third gospel the words of our Lord are not set in any definite frame of circumstances; [δ] this permission fully agrees with Jewish thought and practice, because the Hebrews regarded it as a matter of conscience to expel an adulterous wife [Prov. 18:22; Mt. 1:19], guilty as she was of a capital offence; [ε] though this stage of the law does not attain to Christian perfection, it surely surpasses the Jewish standard with its wide margin for the practice of divorce [Deut. 24:1 ff.]; [ζ] it cannot be said that this view places an adulteress in a better condition than an innocent wife, since the former was always liable to be punished with death; [η] admitting this interpretation, it remains true that according to the doctrine of the gospel marriage cannot be dissolved in case of divorce, since St. Matthew [Mt. 5:32 and 19:9] says nothing expressly on this point, and since his implied statement [if there be any], is done away with by the law of the second and the third gospel, the principle of doctrinal development holding even in the apostolic times; [θ] this explanation admits more easily the existence of causes for imperfect divorce besides adultery; [ι] though the Fathers may be made to harmonize with this view, it must be confessed that they generally deduce the indissolubility of Christian marriage not merely from the second and the third gospel and 1 Cor. 7:10, but they commonly quote also the first gospel for this dogma.

[g] Considering, however, that the tenor of the law is the same in the first gospel as in the second and the third; and that our Lord had no sufficient motive for being harder in his dealings with Gentiles than he was with the Jews; and moreover, that St. Matthew would have signified the fact in some way, if he had recorded a law that was to be of only temporary value: the preceding view loses some of its probability. The ancient and common explanation, which agrees with the foregoing in admitting the proper, though wider, sense of the word πορνεία. and also the exceptive value of the clause “excepting the cause of fornication,” but which explains the dismissal as meaning divorce “a thoro et habitatione” and not “a vinculo,” is therefore more satisfactory than any of the other solutions. The following are additional reasons in favor of this latter view: [α] It explains the context “and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery”; [the omission of the Greek article before ἀπολελυμένην shows that the law is general, and not restricted to the unjust dismissal]; [β] It explains why the text itself [v. 32] implies that carnal intercourse of the divorced wife with another man is adultery in any case, and that the husband is accountable for the sin if he has sent his partner away without sufficient cause [Basil]; [γ] it agrees with the context of Mt. 19:3 ff. [Mk. 10:3 ff.], where Jesus reëstablishes the primitive indissolubility of marriage which admitted no exception and to which our Lord added no exception [this latter addition should have been made to the law, and not afterward, when another question had come up for discussion]; [δ] if Jesus had permitted perfect divorce in case of adultery, he would have rather relaxed than perfected the former law according to which a bill of divorce had to be given—in other words, the license abolished by Moses would have been legally reestablished; [ε] while the absence of the article before ἀπολελυμένην in Mt. 5:32 demands this explanation, the text of Mt. 19:9 at least admits it. Jerome, Bellarmine, Jansenius, Franz Lucas, Palm, explain the passage as meaning “whosoever shall put away his wife [which is wholly illicit except it be for fornication], and shall marry another, committeth adultery”; while Mald, resolves the sentence into “whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, committeth adultery” [cf. Mt. 5:32] and “whosoever shall marry another [the former being dismissed for whatever cause], committeth adultery”; [ζ] the Latin and the Greek Fathers, of the fourth century at least, commonly teach that divorce “a vinculo” is impossible, while divorce “a thoro et habitatione” is allowable in case of adultery, and most theologians teach that the Fathers derived this doctrine from the first gospel; [η] if it be said that the Jews could not have understood the words of Jesus in this way, because imperfect divorce was wholly unknown to them, this manner of reasoning destroys most of the Christian mysteries contained in the words of Christ, because they were unknown to the Jews before our Lord revealed them; [θ] though one or more exceptions may be advanced against the foregoing considerations taken singly, they hardly avail against the collective force of the arguments stated.

Mat 5:33  Again you have heard that it was said to them of old, thou shalt not forswear thyself: but thou shalt perform thy oaths to the Lord.

The second and the eighth commandment. It would lead us too far to investigate here the nature of the connection between the preceding and the following parts of our Lord’s discourse: Chrysostom is of opinion that the observance of the seventh commandment is implied in the perfect observance of the eighth; Thomas makes our Lord pass from the precepts concerning the irascible faculties to those concerning concupiscence, and from these again to the rules of the rational faculties; Maldonado sees no special order in the successive points touched upon by our Lord. At any rate, in what follows Jesus first states the precepts of the Old Testament [v. 33], secondly, he formulates the negative precepts of the New Testament [vv. 34–36], and finally he expresses the positive law of the Christian dispensation [v. 37].

Law of the Old Testament. In the first part our Lord quotes the sense of Ex. 20:7 [cf. Deut. 5:11], but adheres almost to the words of Lev. 19:12; in the second part he gives the sense of Num. 30:3 [cf. Deut. 23:21; Ps. 23:4]. The sum of the law thus quoted appears to be contained in the two statements: “it is not allowed to swear falsely” and “only oaths by God himself are binding as such.” This is confirmed by Mt. 23:18.

Mat 5:34  But I say to you not to swear at all, neither by heaven for it is the throne of God:
Mat 5:35  Nor by the earth, for it is his footstool: nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king:
Mat 5:36  Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.

The Christian law. Jesus opposes two statements to the foregoing two: “it is not allowed to swear at all” and “oaths sworn by God’s creatures are binding as such.” Owing to the Greek conjunction employed in the second part of the Christian law [μὴ-μήτε, not μηδὲ], Jerome, Tholuck, Ewald, etc. believe that “not to swear at all” is a mere summary of the four particular forms expressly indicated, i. e. of the oaths by heaven, by the earth, by Jerusalem, and by one’s head, so that Jesus did not forbid an oath by God himself. But the partitive value of the Greek conjunction seems to have passed out of sight in the New Testament language [cf. Rev 9:21; Winer, Grammatik des neutest. Sprachidioms, 55, 6], and the opposition between Christ’s law and that of the Old Testament demands that “not to swear at all” embraces also oaths by God himself. Nor do we think that the Salmant. [Curs. theol. de iuram. c. 11, punct. 4] are justified in interpreting the words of Jesus in this passage as a mere counsel; if they contained only a counsel, there would be no real comparison between law and law. On the other hand, it cannot be maintained that our Lord forbids all swearing absolutely [cf. Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Chrysostom, Hilary, Jerome]; for we have instances in Sacred Scripture in which God himself, or our Lord, or the apostle Paul confirmed a statement by oath [cf. Gen. 22:16; 26:3; Num. 14:23; Is. 45:23; Lk. 1:73; Acts 7:17; Heb. 6:13; Mt. 26:63 f.; Rom. 1:9; 2 Cor. 1:23; 11:31; Gal. 1:20; Phil. 1:8; etc.]. Scripture itself shows, therefore, that the prohibition “not to swear at all” must be understood like the prohibition “not to kill”; both killing and swearing divested of their qualifying circumstances are morally bad, and as such fall under a negative precept [Cajetan, Dionysius, Jansenius, Barradas Knabenbauer etc.]. The special forms declared by our Lord to contain real oaths are partially alluded to even in the Old Testament: cf. Gen. 42:15; 1 Sam 1:26; 1 Sam 20:3; 2 Sam11:11; 2 Kings 2:2; etc. Christ’s language is peculiar in this instance, because he gives a reason for his commandments; the general argument supposes that to swear by a creature manifesting an attribute of God is to swear implicitly by God himself.

Mat 5:37  But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil.

The positive Christian law. The positive perfection of the Christian dispensation consists in the fact that a simple affirmation or denial has the value of an oath: “that which is over and above these “is not pronounced to be “evil,” but “of evil.” The word “evil” may, according to the original text, be either masculine or neuter; according to the former supposition, the expression signifies “the evil one” or “the devil,” the father of lies and author of the necessity of the oath [Chromatus, Chrysostom, Euthymius, Theophylact, Bruno, Maldonado Arnoldi]. Though this view agrees well enough with the meaning of the passage, it is not sufficiently reverential on account of the foregoing instances in which God himself employed the solemn oath; hence it is preferable to regard “evil” as neuter, signifying the evil disposition of man that renders the oath necessary either on account of the fallaciousness of the speaker or the incredulity of the hearer [Augustine, Schanz, Knabenbauer etc.]; James 5:12 agrees with this doctrine of our Lord.

 

 

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