The Divine Lamp

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

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 25:31-46

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 9, 2014

Mat 25:31 And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty.

In the preceding parables of the talents, ten virgins, &c., our Redeemer wished to inculcate vigilance in preparing for His coming judgment. Now, laying aside all figurative language, He clearly and graphically describes the mode in which He is to exercise judgment.

“When the Son of man.” As man, Christ will judge the world, “and He hath given Him power to do judgment, because He is the Son of man” (John 5:27). It is in His human form, now regarded with contempt, that the just and the impious shall behold Christ clothed “in the majesty and glory,” which is due to Him, as the true Son of God.

“Shall come,” that is, make His appearance visibly. There is a tacit contrast here between His first coming, in lowliness, and His second, in power and majesty.

He shall not come alone. He shall be accompanied by “all the Angels.” So that, heaven being, for a moment, vacated, all the Angels shall descend with the Judge, as attendants, to add to the solemnity of the scene, and to act as messengers of His will, and to execute His decrees (Zach. 14:5).

“Then He shall sit on the seat of His majesty,” that is, shall appear as a glorious Judge in the exercise of His judiciary power. He already sits on the right hand of Majesty on high. That glory is now concealed from the world. But then, it shall be visibly seen by all mankind. The imagery is borrowed partly from the custom of kings, who come, accompanied by the princes of their court, to enact laws, or solemnly dispense justice; and partly from Eastern usage, in keeping the sheep and the goats asunder.

The word, “sit,” is allusive to the posture of kings and judges in dispensing justice. Hence, the words are more expressive of His judicial power than of His bodily posture. What “the throne of His majesty” is, is not easily ascertained. Some understand it, of the bright cloud on which He shall appear seated. Others, of the choirs of Angels, upon whose shoulders, He shall be borne in triumph. Hence, some of them are called “thrones,” their functions, or office, being, to uphold the majesty of God.

Mat 25:32 And all nations shall be gathered together before him: and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats:

“And all the nations shall be gathered”—by the ministry of Angels—“together before Him.” “All nations,” embracing all men, of every age and nation, without exception. The words, “all nations,” carry more weight than, all men. It adds to our ideas of the majesty of the Judge, to proclaim Him as the Judge of all nations, without distinction of Jew or Gentile, Christian or unbeliever. “He is appointed by God judge of the living and of the dead” (Acts 10:42).

They “shall be gathered together,” in some determinate place, which is generally supposed to be the Valley of Josaphat, and the surrounding districts (Joel 3:2), sanctified by the laborious life, preaching, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of our Lord. We are informed by St. Paul, that the just shall be snatched into the air to meet the Judge, when, doubtless, they shall receive, at His right hand, the sentence of approval. The wicked shall remain at His left, on the earth.

“And He shall separate them,” &c. This He shall do by the ministry of Angels, as the shepherd returning home at evening, separates the sheep and the goats, that were, during the day, allowed to roam through the same pastures, just as the wicked are, during life, undistinguished, even in God’s Church, from the elect.

Mat 25:33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left.

He compares the elect to “sheep,” on account of their innocence, simplicity, meekness, and beneficence; the wicked to “goats,” because of the offensive smell, the lascivious, impure nature, the quarrelsome dispositions of these animals.

“He shall place the sheep,” that is, the elect, “on His right,” as the more honourable place, viz., in the air, whence they shall ascend to heaven. The “right hand,” is the symbol of happiness, glory, and triumph. “The goats,” or reprobate, “He shall set on His left,” the symbol of misery, servitude, and opprobrium. They shall also occupy a lower position on the earth, whence they shall be swallowed down to hell, that shall open wide its jaws to receive them for ever. This sitting at the right hand and at the left, denotes the election of the one, and the reprobation of the other. This division was typified by the ordinance of Moses, commanding the Israelites, after entering the land of promise (Deut. 27), that these six tribes, whose fathers were born of the freedwomen, wives of Jacob, viz., Lia and Rachel, would stand upon Mount Garazim to bless the people; and the other six, whose fathers were born of handmaids, except Reuben, whose crime with his father’s wife, caused him to be numbered with those descended from handmaids, would stand towards, or, near Mount Hebal, to curse, that is, to answer, Amen, as it is commonly understood, to the maledictions, to be pronounced by the Levites. This was done, as we read (Josh 8:33).

Mat 25:34 Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

“Then shall the king say,” &c. Having called Himself, “the Son of man,” and exhibited Himself, under the figure of a “shepherd,” He now assumes the title of “King,” it being the part of a king to dispense rewards and punishment, and exercise judiciary power, and also to invite others to a participation of His kingly state and power.

“Come, you blessed of My Father,” &c. He commences the general judgment with His elect, as the most honourable; and, moreover, to show that God is more prone to dispense blessings, than to utter maledictions; more disposed to reward than to punish.

“Come,” from darkness to light; from servitude to the liberty of the sons of God; from labour to rest; from war to peace; from death to life; from the society of the wicked to the company of angels. “COME,” and be eternally united with Me; inebriated with the plenty of My house, and ingulphed in the torrents of My delights.

“Ye blessed of My Father.” “Blessed,” by Him to whom, by appropriation, belong power and predestination, “with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places” (Ephes. 1), through the merits of My blood. This blessedness includes their predestination, in the first place; and next, the spiritual blessings of justification actually conferred on them, together with the future blessings of glorification and happiness, now about to be conferred on them; “whom God loved and predestined, BEFORE the world; called FROM the world; cleansed and sanctified IN the world: and now shall exalt and magnify AFTER the world” (St. Augustine, Soliloquies).

“Possess.” (The Greek word, κληρονομησατε, signifies, to possess, by hereditary right, as Sons of God, His heirs and co-heirs of His Son.)

“The kingdom,” of heaven, the empyreal heaven, with all its ineffable delights, the society of the Blessed and Angels, possessing for ever, the qualities of glorified bodies and beatified souls.

“Prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” In this, is conveyed more than is expressed. It means, prepared for them from all eternity, in the predestinating decrees of God, which is clearly expressed by St. Paul in other words, “He hath chosen us in Him BEFORE the foundation of the world” (Ephes. 1:4). Hence, this preparation of the kingdom means, the predestination of men for that kingdom. It also may mean, actually prepared at creation. For, God created the empyreal heaven, to be the eternal abode of the Saints. The Sonship of God, conferring a right to His inheritance, is merited by adults. Hence, they receive the crown of glory in heaven, not only by right of inheritance, generously granted by God; but, also as the reward of merit. While infants can only have the title of inheritance, as sons of God, adults must also have the twofold title of inheritance and merit.

Mat 25:35 For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in:
Mat 25:36 Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me.

In these two verses are recited six corporal works of Mercy, to which is likewise added a seventh from Tobit (12:12), viz., burying the dead. Hence, we commonly reckon seven corporal works of Mercy. Our Redeemer selects out of the entire catalogue of good works, whereby the elect merited heaven, these works of Mercy, to show, how much He values the exercise of mercy, and to impress upon His followers, that, whatever else they may do, however heroic their other actions may be, if they omit showing mercy, they can never be united with Him, who is Mercy itself; nor can they, otherwise, obtain admission into the kingdom of His mercy.

If we do not love our neighbour whom we see, “how can we love God whom we see not?” (1 John 4:20). It is true, that among the elect, there shall be many on whom this duty cannot devolve, having been themselves poor and miserable; themselves the objects of corporal mercy and compassion. But, our Redeemer instances this among the many other examples of virtue and good works, to show its great importance; and because, it is the virtue most necessary for upholding society, and binding its several members more closely together.

He says, “I was hungry,” &c., to convey to us, that, as head of His mystical body, He was sharer in the sufferings of all the other members, and alleviated in their exemption from suffering; and He shows the merit of succouring the poor, when it is Christ Himself we are succouring. St. Paul beautifully explains this union of the members of Christ’s mystic body. (1 Cor. 12:12, &c.) “I was hungry,” &c. I, who am your Creator, your God, your Redeemer. I, the great source, from which proceed all blessings, as well in the natural as in the supernatural order. I, who endured so much to save you from the eternal torments of the damned. “And YOU gave ME to eat,” shows, the great merit of exercising the works of mercy; since, it is not man, but God, we are relieving. That wretched, ragged—nay, sinful beggar, is the representative of Jesus Christ, and whatever we do for him, our Lord will regard as done for Himself. These seven corporal works of Mercy, expressed by the words, visito, poto, cibo, redimo, tego, colligo, condo, include the spiritual works of Mercy, also, which are so clearly marked out, and so strongly commended in SS. Scripture, viz., to correct the sinner, to give counsel to those in doubt, to instruct the ignorant, to console the sorrowful; to bear the imperfections and injuries of our neighbour; to pardon our offenders; to pray for the salvation of our neighbours. These are expressed in the words, consule, castiga, solare, remitte, fer, ora.

Whether our Redeemer is to utter those words, sensibly, in presence of the elect and reprobate, it is hard to ascertain. The Judgment shall not take place, like the Resurrection, in the twinkling of an eye, ictu oculi. For, it is described in such a way as would imply some delay. “The judgment sat, and the books were opened.” (Dan. 7:10; Rev 10.) Most likely, this opening of the Books, refers to the particular knowledge disclosed through the conscience of each one, in displaying his actions (Rom. 2:16). It is most likely, that, while the power of God shall make known to each one, by a sort of particular judgment, through the medium of his own conscience, what are his particular deeds, his merits or demerits; and, shall have this made known in particular to all the rest of mankind, He shall sensibly utter the sentence of approbation and condemnation, and address it in general terms, to the assembled human race. It also seems to be most generally agreed upon, that, while our Redeemer shall utter, in a loud voice, the sentence of the elect and of the reprobate, He will not utter, in a similar voice, the motives of His sentence, “I was hungry,” &c., but that these shall be made known privately, by a sort of spiritual instinct or revelation.

That the infants who died without baptism shall appear, on this occasion, and see the glory of the Judge, seems to be generally agreed upon; but what their judgment or amount of privation is a matter not generally agreed upon; nor, indeed, can it be determined. That they shall not be admitted to the kingdom of heaven, is quite certain. It is commonly held they shall enjoy, for ever, the greatest natural felicity, ever enjoyed on this earth, united to God by natural love and knowledge of Him. (St. Thomas Q.D. 33. Q. 2 art. 2 ad. 5.)

As regards infidels, it is commonly supposed, that, as “he who doth not believe is already judged” (John 3:18), the infidels shall appear to receive the sentence of eternal damnation, without any particular investigation into their lives, however wicked in other respects. The form of judgment, recorded by St. Matthew, regards the faithful, of whom some shall be rewarded for their good works; others condemned for their wicked works, or omission of good works. Ven. Bede reckons four classes of men at the last judgment. 1. Those who shall exercise judgment, and not themselves be judged, viz., the Apostles. 2. Those who shall neither exercise nor undergo judgment, their sentence of condemnation having been already pronounced, viz., the impious and unbelievers. 3. Those who shall undergo, and shall pass judgment—viz., the multitude of the faithful who obeyed the Gospel. 4. Those who shall not themselves judge, but shall undergo judgment, and be condemned, viz., the wicked Jews, who lived before the Gospel law, and the wicked Christians, who disobeyed the Gospel.

Mat 25:37 Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry and fed thee: thirsty and gave thee drink?
Mat 25:38 Or when did we see thee a stranger and took thee in? Or naked and covered thee?
Mat 25:39 Or when did we see thee sick or in prison and came to thee?

This is expressive of the astonishment of the elect, on seeing themselves so munificently rewarded for their comparatively trifling deeds of charity; and of their humility, in seeming to be unconscious of having done anything good, referring all to His grace. It is not likely, that the just shall utter such words on the occasion; but, the words are introduced to give our Lord an opportunity of subjoining the following important declaration.

Mat 25:40 And the king answering shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.

“As long as you did it,” &c. “As long.” Inasmuch as you did it; so far, as you did it “to one of these least ones,” among Christians, who, from their lowliness and wretched condition, whether voluntarily undertaken, as in the case of the voluntary poor; or, whose lot was cast in humble and distressful circumstances, whom He now calls His “brethren,” deigning to exalt them to a brotherhood with Himself. From the very beginning He was pleased to address them, as such: “Whosoever shall do the will of My Father … he is My brother,” &c. (12:50); also, “I will declare My name to My brethen” (Heb. 2:12).

Mat 25:41 Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels.

“Depart from Me,” you, who are so unlike Me, and never studied to become assimilated to Me in your lives. “Depart,” far away, so as never to see My face. “From Me,” who am Justice, Sanctity, Life, the Supreme Good, the Sovereign Beatitude. I can no longer endure your presence. “You cursed,” hateful to God, and execrated by Him. He does not say, “cursed” of My Father, as He said of the just, “blessed of my Father,” to show, that God is not the author of their misery, as He is of the happiness of His elect. They themselves were the authors, the cause of their own misfortunes, owing to the wicked lives which they led. The words, “Depart from Me,” refer to the pain of loss, which is reputed by many to be the greatest torment of the damned.

But, where are they to go from Him? “Into everlasting fire.” These words denote, the pain of sense. “Fire,” to last, not merely for a time; but, for ever. “Prepared for the devil and his angels.” Although the antithesis is very marked in the other parts of the sentence, “Come, ye blessed;” “begone, ye cursed;” “possess the kingdom;” “depart into everlasting fire;” still, it is not fully carried out in these words. For, in reference to His elect, He says, “prepared for you,” in order to show, the beneficent designs of God in their regard; and to convey, that if they obtain heaven, as the reward of merit, this is attributable to the predestinating mercy and grace of God. But here, He says not, “prepared for you;” but, “for the devil and his angels,” to show, that, so far as He is concerned, God did not wish for their damnation, but rather for the salvation of all; and that they brought it upon themselves to be involved in the fate of the demons. It was not God prepared this torture for them. It was they themselves that did so. The words, “Depart from Me,” express the pain of loss, “into everlasting fire,” the pain of sense, and the eternity of both. The words also convey the unspeakable severity of the pains of the damned; since, they are to be sharers in the inconceivable tortures, which these fiends of hell have earned for themselves. The fire of hell was “prepared for the devil and his (associate) angels,” antecedently, to the sin or creation of man.

Mat 25:42 For I was hungry and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty and you gave me not to drink.
Mat 25:43 I was a stranger and you took me not in: naked and you covered me not: sick and in prison and you did not visit me.

Here is assigned the cause of their condemnation, viz., their omission to succour Him. The words, as regards the reprobate, are very striking. “I was hungry.” I, who gave you all you had, or hoped to have. I, to whom you were indebted for everything. “I was hungry,” and suffering in every way; and with the means of relieving Me within your reach, you refused to do so. You refused to pay Me back even the tithes of what was my own. In the words which express the cause of the condemnation of the reprobate, two things are to be observed:—

Firstly. That they are represented as condemned for mere sins of omission; and if such be the severity of the sentence against those who omitted doing good, what shall be the punishment of those who never ceased to do evil? If he be condemned, who neglected to solace the afflicted, what shall be his punishment who added affliction to affliction, who persecuted the poor and the needy?

Secondly. The comparatively trifling things required of the reprobate, in order to escape damnation. Even though they might have committed other grievous sins beyond number, still, if they had shown a merciful, beneficent disposition to relieve those in distress, they would, most probably, have inclined God to forgive them, to grant them, in consideration of their merciful deeds, grace and mercy in turn, full time and grace for repentance. Having shown no mercy, they dried up the fountain of mercy, and received a judgment without mercy, in consequence.

It may be laid down as a general truth, founded on experience, that, in the end, a good death awaits those who show mercy to the poor. Indeed, the experience of God’s dealing with His creatures would show this to be generally true. So that we may say, that the final conversion of great sinners, the grace of true repentance accorded to them, was owing to their having themselves shown mercy; that although God had reason to condemn them, considering their many outrages, which provoked His anger, yet even in His anger He remembered their deeds of mercy, and spared them accordingly.

Let us hear St. Augustine on this subject: “Scriptum est, ‘Sicut aqua extinguit ignem, ita eleemosyna extinguit peccatum,’ proinde illis, quos coronaturus est, solas eleemosynas imputabit. Tanquam dicens; difficile est, si examincm vos, et appendam vos, et scruter diligentissime peccata vestra, non inveniam unde vos damnem. Sed ite in regnum. ‘Esurivi enim et dedistis mihi manducare.’ Non, ergo, itis in regnum, quia non peccastis; sed quia peccata vestra eleemosynis redemistis” (St. Augustine, Ser. 33, de diversis). So that the words of our Lord are literally fulfilled. It is because, they ministered to His wants, in His suffering members, that those, who were wicked before, are now saved, and crowned with glory. The same may apply to all the just, who received the grace of final perseverance, on account of their deeds of mercy, which they would forfeit had they neglected to show mercy.

Hence, whether we consider those among God’s elect, who were once sinners, or those who preserved their innocence, it may be said, that, while their salvation was the immediate result of God’s infinite mercy; it was remotely, in every case, the result of their mercy to the poor, which influenced God to favour them with a judgment of mercy.

It is, unfortunately, equally true of those who are hard-hearted towards the poor, however observant in other respects, that, in almost every case, they die a bad death, and receive “a judgment without mercy, as they themselves did not show mercy.”

Mat 25:44 Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not minister to thee?
Mat 25:45 Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen: I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me.

They shall thus arrogantly question Him, in a fit of despair, charging our Lord with being an unjust judge, condemning them unjustly. This they shall not do in words, but in their thoughts, their conscience bearing testimony against them. For, our Redeemer would not permit them thus to gainsay His just judgment. The just and the reprobate shall both utter these words, but from quite different feelings; the former, from feelings of humility, which made them seem unconscious of the good they did, and of gratitude to God, for all His mercies, to which they ascribe their salvation; the latter, out of feelings of pride and despair, endeavouring to make excuses for their sins, “ad excusandas excusationes in peceatis.” Had they the smallest feelings of charity; had they the bowels of commiseration, they would not have failed to see, in the afflicted poor, the image of Him, who Himself became poor to make us rich, nor would they have refused Him any assistance, in the persons of the poor, who gave even the last drop of His precious blood for them.

One is touched, says St. Chrysostom (Hom. 80 in Mattheum), with compassion on beholding a beast die of hunger, and we are borne naturally to relieve him; and yet, without emotion, we hear our Lord and Master calling for bread, in the person of His starving poor, and are insensible to the pressing wants of our brother, purchased by the blood of Christ. We are deaf to the voice of God, who demands of us, to succour His poor members, only for the purpose of bestowing His treasures on us. We appear indifferent to the praises and crowns which the Son of God will bestow in the midst of the assembled nations: and to the ineffable glory with which the just shall be clad as their recompense. What tears should suffice to deplore such blindness and insensibility? What excuse for these miserable wretches, upon whom, neither the fear of punishment, nor the hopes of eternal goods, can make any impression?

This dialogue between our Lord and the damned, although it shall not take place in words, is introduced to give us an idea of the heinous nature of the crime of inhumanity to the poor.

Mat 25:46 And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting.

The sentence of the Judge shall not be in vain. It shall be executed without delay, without appeal, without any diminution or remission of punishment.

“And these”—the last-named class, the reprobate—“shall go into everlasting punishment.” The earth shall open, and hell swallow them down into its seething furnaces of lurid fire and burning brimstone for ever, before the just ascend into heaven. (This is implied in the order of narrative given here), in order to increase the felicity of the just, by the contrast of their happiness with the misery of the reprobate, and by the consideration of their escape from these dreadful torments, owing to the gratuitous mercy of God, which they shall unceasingly magnify and extol for all eternity.

In this verse, is contained a clear refutation of the errors of Origen, and of the Anabaptists, regarding the eternity of the pains of hell. For, it is said here, the damned will go into eternal punishment, as the just into life everlasting. The Greek word for “everlasting” is the same in both (αἰώνιον).

The eternal duration of punishment for a sin committed in an instant may seem strange, but, even human laws visit certain crimes committed in an instant with exile, or death, which is a sort of eternal exclusion from society (St. Augustine, Lib. 21, c. 11); and in reference to the eternity of God’s punishment, we should bear in mind—1. That the will of the sinner is such, that he would sin eternally, if he could. 2. That the offence is offered to an eternal God, a God of infinite majesty. 3. That sin deserves punishment as long as its guilt remains unexpiated; and, as in hell there is no redemption, no grace, no expiation, the guilt of sin remains for ever. Hence, God, who must hate sin, must punish it as long as it remains, that is to say, for eternity.

This applies as well to believers, as to unbelievers. For, it is to believers, the sentence, or rather, the cause of the sentence, applies; since, it is not to the want of faith, but of good works, the damnation of the reprobate is ascribed in this passage.

Thus shall have ended the terrible “day of the Lord,” this last of days, after which there shall be no longer days, nor years, nor times, nor seasons, nor ages. Time is now closed for ever. An awful eternal silence shall reign over what was once the face of Nature. All that shall remain of this immense creation shall be a boundless chaos. Man shall have entered the house of his eternity. We should all provide against this dreadful moment, which awaits all, not by mere wishes, not by mere barren desires of conversion; but, by labouring to perform the good works which the Sovereign Judge shall, on that day, demand at our hands—good works of charity and beneficence, towards “these least ones”—His afflicted poor, we should “make sure our vocation and election” (2 Peter 1:10).

At present, in regard to every one, may be repeated the words of Moses to the Jewish people, “I call heaven and earth to witness this day, that I have set before you life and death, benediction and malediction” (Deut. 30:19). To us in this life is proposed to choose between the joys of heaven and the pains of hell; the broad and the narrow way. Upon the choice we shall make now while we have time, while the day for working lasts, must depend, the term of either eternal happiness or eternal woe we shall arrive at in eternity, “Janua cœli, ora pro nobis.”


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