The Divine Lamp

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

Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 5:43-48

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 18, 2015

43 You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thy enemy.

You have heard. The love of one’s enemies. This section first states the law of the Old Testament, then it gives that of the New, and thirdly, it adds the motives for conforming to the latter, [a] The first part of the Old Law is taken from Lev. 19:18, where there is question of loving a fellow Israelite. It is true that the word “neighbor,” especially its Hebrew equivalent, may have the extensive Christian meaning [Lk. 10:25–37; Mt. 19:19; 22:39; Mk. 12:31, 33], but in opposition to “enemy,” as it stands in the present passage, it has the more limited meaning of “friend” [Job 2:11; 19:21; Cant. 5:16]. The second part of the Old Law, “and hate thy enemy,” is not expressly stated anywhere in the inspired writing. Still, it is not necessarily a legal corruption of the Pharisees, since it may be more or less legitimately deduced from the law. For the latter expressly imposed only the love of a fellow Israelite, so that its silence with regard to others was apt to be interpreted negatively; moreover, the hatred of the foreigner was represented in Scripture as something sacred and pleasing to God [Pss. 5:11; 9:19, Ps 22; 27:4, 5; etc.] since it tended to make the Jews more tenacious of their own law and religious doctrine. We need not admit with Hilary, Augustine, Paschasius, Anselm of Laon, Salmeron, etc. the permission of a personal hatred of one’s enemy [cf. Thomas Aquinas. 2a 2ae, q. 25, 8, 9]. This accounts also for the narrow sympathies of the Jews, vestiges of which are found in profane writers [Tacit, hist. v. 5; Josephus Antiq. XI. vi. 5; Cicero, pro Flacco 28; Juvenal, xiv. 103 ff.; cf. 1 Thess. 2:15; Keim, 2. 260].

44 But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: ‎

But I say to you. The New Law. First, we are bound in general to love all men, even our enemies; then the enemies are specified as those that harm us by their hand, or by their tongue, or in their heart. These we are bidden to benefit in three ways: by loving them, by assisting them with temporal goods, and by praying for them [cf. Salmeron Anselm of Laon]. Since this obligation is hard to accomplish, Jesus considers it necessary to add special motives for its fulfilment.

45 That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. ‎
46 For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? do not even the publicans this? ‎
47 And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? do not also the heathens this? ‎
48 Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.

That you may be the children of your Father. Motives. The motives Jesus gives for fulfilling the law of loving our enemies may be reduced to three: the sonship of God, the hope of reward, the similarity to God. The sonship of God to be acquired by loving one’s enemies is hardly the supernatural sonship of adoption, though v. 8 alludes to it; the context determines this sonship as consisting in similarity of action, since it appeals to the benefits God bestows alike on the good and the bad. As God loves his enemies for his own sake, so we must love our enemies for God’s sake, thus becoming like unto God in our behavior. This high excellence of the love of one’s enemies was recognized even by the pagans: Seneca de benef iv. 6; cf. de ira, ii. 34; de clem. ii. 6; ep. 81. The second motive for loving one’s enemies is the promise of reward; Christ’s hearers are supposed to expect a higher reward than the publicans and the heathens will receive, since these were excluded from the Messianic blessings. It may then be inferred that the special reward of loving one’s enemies will consist in sharing in the Messianic blessings. The third motive for loving our enemies is again the perfection with which God loves both friends and enemies, a perfection which we are to emulate. That the admonition to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect refers primarily and directly to the love of our enemies is plain from the context, from the parallel passage in the third gospel [Lk. 6:36], from the almost unanimous consent of commentators [Euthymius, Augustine, Paschasius, Bede, Glossa Ordinaria, Thomas Aquinas, Cajetan, Maldonado, Jansenius, Sylveria, Barradas Arnoldi, Schanz, Fillion etc.], and from the nature of the case, since the highest perfection consists in the highest love. Chrysostom gives the steps by which we may reach this height: not to inflict an injury, not to avenge an injury received, not to have recourse to the “lex talionis,” to offer one’s self to suffer injustice, to give more than is unjustly asked of us, not to hate the one that has injured us, to love our enemy, to return good for evil. These several degrees are also contained in the words of our Lord explained in this section.


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