Father Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Matthew 19:3-12
Posted by Dim Bulb on July 30, 2016
Mat 19:3 And there came to him the Pharisees tempting him, saying: Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?
And there came to him the Pharisees, &c. They had no doubt (from Deut 24:1) that this was allowable for any grave cause. So Origen, SS. Jerome and Bede. Came, not when Jesus proceeded from the confines of Judea to Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Tabernacles (see John 7:1), but after the feast was over, and He was returning to the borders of Judea and had again crossed the Jordan. This is plain from John 10:40; for Matthew passes over in silence both the going to Jerusalem and the return from thence. John’s words are as follow: Jesus and his disciples came into the land of Judea: and there he abode with them and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Ennon near Salim (John 3:23). This question, concerning the putting away a wife, seems to have been very hotly debated in the time of Christ, just as it is now. Therefore the Pharisees proposed it to Him, that they might tempt Him, and find an occasion for carping at Him. For if Christ should say, It is not lawful to put away a wife, He would incur the hatred of many rich and carnal men who made a practice of divorce. But if, on the other hand, He should assert that divorce is lawful, then they were ready to insinuate that His doctrine was imperfect and carnal—His doctrine, I say, Who professed to be the teacher of spiritual perfection, the Doctor sent from Heaven. The Abyssinians at the present day, like the Jews, frequently put away their wives, and marry others. Indeed, they sometimes take them only for a month, or a year.
Mat 19:4 Who answering, said to them: Have ye not read, that he who made man from the beginning, made them male and female? And he said:
Mat 19:5 For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh.
Who answering, &c. Some think from this passage that Adam was created a hermaphrodite, and had in himself both sexes. But away with such puerilities. The meaning is as follows: Since Holy Scripture did not say in the case of other animals (Gen 1:27), that God made them male and female, but only as regards man, by this it is signified that it is only the marriage of the human race, and that of one male with one female, which was instituted by God. This union or marriage between Adam and Eve was so ordained that he could not put her away and marry another. So SS. Chrysostom, Jerome, Theophylact, Euthymius. Again, from the fact that of one Adam two persons were made, namely Adam and Eve, and because Eve was formed from Adam, it is shown that monogamy is right, viz., that a wife ought not to be separated from her husband, forasmuch as she is a part and a member of him. For as Plato says (Dial. de amore), “As it were of two imperfect parts one perfect man is formed.” As therefore a member, such as the head, cannot be separated from a man, as to its origin and formation, so ought the marriage of one man and one woman to be perpetual and indissoluble, so that it can only be dissolved by death, even as the head can only be separated from the body by death. Wherefore Our Lord adds by way of explanation, For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife. Plato, and from him S. Basil (lib. de Virginit.), adds that this is the cause why a man seeks a wife, as it were a part cut off from himself; and as a magnet attracts iron, so does a woman a man.
And said, viz., God, by the mouth of Adam, as a prophet, instituting marriage with Adam and Eve. For this cause: Because the woman being formed out of the man becomes flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. Shall cleave, Greek, προσκολληθήσεται, i.e., shall be agglutinated, shall adhere closely and undividedly to his wife, by the most close and intimate bond of matrimony, and that leaving the society and often the home of his father and mother, he may dwell with his wife.
Mat 19:6 Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.
Now they are not two, but one flesh. (Vulg.) Greek, εὶς σάρκα μίαν, i.e., into one flesh. This is commonly expounded of corporeal union. But it is better to take it more simply and purely as a Hebraism, signifying one human being, one civil person. For, by synecdoche flesh denotes the whole man. As therefore such a part of the body as the heart ought not to be separated from the body, so ought not a man to be separated from his wife. From hence it follows, moraliter, that a man and his wife ought so to love one another as the heart and the soul love the body to which they belong, and the body loves them. (See Eph. 5:28.) Again, from hence it follows that there is a common power over either body, that a man should have the same power over his wife’s body that he has over his own, and, vice versa, as the Apostle teaches (1 Cor. 7:4). I have said more on this subject in Gen 2:24.
Mat 19:7 They say to him: Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorce, and to put away?
They say, &c. The Pharisees object to Christ, Why then did Moses command? In order to make their objection the stronger, they use the word command, whereas Moses, as Christ observes in the following verse, only permitted the bill of divorce. It was only that sort of command which is conditional, not absolute. Moses had commanded that if the Jews would put away their wives, they could only do so by giving a writing of divorcement. I have fully entered into every thing connected with this bill of divorce on Deu_4:1. We must here supply from S. Mark 10:3-4, that when the Pharisees asked Christ whether it were lawful to put away a wife, He first answered and said unto them, “what did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away.” Thus Christ as Matthew here has it in the fourth verse unfolds the original institution of marriage by God, and its indissolubility. Then the Pharisees rejoined, Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorce, and to put her away? Jesus answered, Moses permitted this because of the hardness of your hearts. But it was not so from the beginning. Thus by prefixing the words in Mark, and affixing those in Matthew, we show the agreement of the two Evangelists.
Mat 19:8 He saith to them: Because Moses by reason of the hardness of your heart permitted you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
Moses…permitted. He alters the Pharisees word, command, into suffered, or permitted. Moses suffered you to put away your wives, when you hated them, lest if you could not divorce them, you should kill them. For so great was the hardness and carnality of your hearts that ye would rather put them to death than be without the pleasure of a new and desired marriage.
From the beginning. When man’s nature had become corrupted by sin, man changed and corrupted this institution of God, and gave occasion for divorce and polygamy.
Mat 19:9 And I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery.
And I say, &c. Christ used those words upon two occasions. 1. Publicly in this place to the Jews and the Pharisees. When He here promulgated His new law, by which He revoked the power of giving a bill of divorce, and brought back marriage to its primeval institution and indissolubility. 2. Shortly afterwards He repeated the words in private to his disciples. (Mark 10:10-12.)
I say, i.e., I enact, and as the Lawgiver of the New Law, I ordain, and bring back marriage to its original rectitude and steadfastness. And I declare that whosoever shall put away his wife and shall marry another shall be accounted, and shall be in fact an adulterer.
Except it be for fornication. That is, except on account of adultery. For what in those who are free is fornication, in the married is adultery. And this dissolves marriage quoad thorum, though not quoad vinculum. For the adulterer does not keep the faith which he gave to his spouse. Whence he may be put away by his spouse, according to the saying, “With him who has broken troth, let troth be broken.”
From this exception, the Greeks, according to the testimony of Guido the Carmelite (Tract. de Hæresibus), and modern heretics gather and conclude that if whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; then, on the contrary, whosoever shall put away his wife on account of fornication, and shall marry another, does not commit adultery. Whence they are of opinion that marriage is dissolved by adultery, not only quoad thorum, but quoad vinculum, that under such circumstances a man may contract another marriage. Thus Luther, Calvin, Erasmus, and speaking generally, the Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists, and among Catholics, Catharinus, and Cajetan. And so in practice the Greeks and heretics act. But this is an error condemned by the perpetual tradition of the Church, and by S. Paul (Rom 7:1, and 1 Cor 7:10-11), and expressly by the Council of Trent (Sess. 24. Con. 6, 7). To the argument deduced à contrario, Paul of Burgos, on this passage, (additione 2. ad Lyran.) replies by admitting the consequence, but adds that Christ was speaking only of the Old Law, in which on account of fornication a bill of divorce was allowed to be given. But there is this difficulty in such a reply, that Christ both here and in the fifth of Matthew expressly opposes His own words, that is the evangelical Law, to Moses and the Old Law; in fact He repeals that bill of divorce which Moses had allowed. Verses 8 and 9. “He saith unto them, Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” Observe how plainly Christ opposes His own word to the sanction which Moses had given to the bill of divorce, and how He condemns whosoever makes use of it, as guilty of adultery.
I say therefore that it is better with S. Augustine (lib. 1. de adult. conjug. c. 9.) to take the word except negatively, so that the expression, except for the cause of fornication, means the same thing as apart from the cause of fornication. This is supported by the Greek and Syriac which have, not an adulteress. As though Christ only intended to affirm that a chaste and faithful wife might not be put away, but intended to say nothing about an adulterous wife, in order to escape the hatred of the Pharisees and the people, who were at that time used to divorce.
The word except, can be taken in its proper, exceptive sense, but it should be referred not to the words which immediately follow, and marry another, but only to those which preceded, whosoever shall put away his wife, so as to make an exception in the case of fornication. Then the words would be taken as follows, Whosoever shall put away his wife, which is not lawful, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery. The Ethiopic favours this view, translating as follows, Whosoever, on account of any other cause than on account of fornication, shall put away his wife, and marry another, is an adulterer. Similarly the Persian, Every man who puts away his wife, and not on account of adultery, and marries another, is an adulterer.
3. Most clearly and aptly from Theophylact and Augustine (lib. cont. Adamant, c. 3), you may refer this exception to both what precedes and what follows. Thus, Whoso shall put away his wife, unless for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery. He commits adultery, I say, both by putting away his wife, as well as by marrying another. That is, he is twice an adulterer. Christ gives an answer to both the questions put to Him, for the Pharisees had asked two. And both answers are true. For even though a man should only divorce a chaste wife, without marrying another, he commits adultery, both because he breaks the law of marriage, by violating one of its conditions by putting away an innocent wife, as well as by causing her to commit adultery, as Christ explains in Matt 5:32. For verbs of the Hebrew conjugation Kal, often in Hiphil, signify the double action as above. This is well known to Hebrew scholars. Whence from the contrary you can only infer as follows, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery. Therefore he who puts away his wife on account of fornication, and marries another, does not indeed commit adultery by divorcing the adulteress, but by marrying another. It is the same form of expression as if you should say, “He who breaks his fast without a dispensation, and gets drunk, commits sin. Therefore he who does not fast, having a dispensation, does not sin by eating, but sins by getting drunk.”
I say, 2. Christ here concedes divorce to a man on account of the fornication of his wife, quoad thorum, but not the dissolution of marriage, so that he may marry another. This appears, 1. because Mark and Luke lay down a general proposition, and omit this exception. This is what Luke says, Luke 16:18: “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.” For he does her a great wrong, breaking the troth which he had given her.
You will say, why then does Matthew add this exception? I answer, because the Pharisees had virtually proposed two questions to Christ. The first was, whether it was lawful for any cause to divorce a wife? The second, whether when a wife was put away by a bill of divorce, the marriage was dissolved, and another might be entered upon? For they put away their wives that they may marry again. Christ then replies to both questions; and as it seems by means of two propositions. 1. Whoso shall put away his wife except for fornication, commits adultery. 2. Whoso shall marry another, commits adultery. For together with the bill of divorce he abolishes polygamy, which had hitherto been allowed. The pronoun whosoever must be repeated. Matthew, here as elsewhere studying conciseness, throws two sentences of Christ, each with its whosoever, into one. Hence that saying is true, “I labour to be brief, I become obscure.” The same thing is proved, 2. by what precedes, when Christ by the original institution of marriage, which fornication does not annul, proves that matrimony is altogether indissoluble. 3. Because in what follows, this exception is not to be understood, as if it were said, “And he who shall marry her that is put away, except for fornication, commits adultery.” For so she that is put away on account of fornication would be in a better position, with respect to another contract of marriage, than an innocent woman who has been divorced. 4. Because S. Paul so teaches (1 Cor 7:10-11), and the Fathers passim. SS. Jerome, Chrysostom, Bede, in this passage, S. Augustine in his two Books on Adultery, Innocent I. (Epist. ad Exuper.) Concil. Milev. (Can. 17). Forojuliense (Canon 10), Nannetense (Can. 10), Florentin. (in instruct. Armeniens.) Trident. (Sess. 14, Can. 6). Origen, in this passage (Tract. 7), animadverts severely upon certain bishops of his time, for conceding with Tertullian (lib. 4, cont. Marc.) and Ambrosiaster (in Cor. vii.), second nuptials to wives on account of the adultery of their husbands, saying that it is lawful for.the innocent spouse to put away an adulterous partner, and to marry another. The same license is given by the Council of Illiberis. (31 quæst. 1 cap. Si qua mulier.) Also in Concil. Aurelian 1, cap. 10. But the decrees of those Councils are either apocryphal, or else are cited imperfectly by Gratian.
Mat 19:10 His disciples say unto him: If the case of a man with his wife be so, it is not expedient to marry.
His disciples say, &c. Case, i.e., matter, business. So the Syriac translates, If the case of those who are married be thus, if the indissolubility of marriage be so great, if a man be so strictly bound to his wife, that he cannot put her away for anything except fornication, but must live with her, though she be odious, quarrelsome, deformed, nasty, and so on, and must have close connection with her until death, it is better not to marry a wife, as the Syriac has it. For the Greek γαμη̃σαι applies both to men and women.
Mat 19:11 Who said to them: All men take not this word, but they to whom it is given.
To whom it is given: Arabic, those who are given, viz., to God and continence. So in Religious Orders those who are converted are called given, i.e., to religion.
Take not this word: Origen and Nazianzen (Orat. 31.) translate Χωρου̃σι are not capable. And by capacity they mean a natural inclination to celibacy, which all have not. But it is better to translate with the Vulgate do not receive, or contain. As it were, narrow vessels do not receive into them, do not embrace so arduous a counsel as that of celibacy, but only those to whom is given by God this great gift of continency. Where observe, although all the faithful may not have the gift of continency, so that they have continence in act, as all the just have not the gift of perseverance, by which they actually persevere in justice, yet all the just have the gift of perseverance in such sense, that they may, if they will, persevere in God’s grace. Thus in like manner all the faithful have the gift of continence in the first instance. And by it they may contain if they will; viz., if they assiduously beg of God the grace of continence, and if they co-operate with that grace by guarding their eyes, by fleeing from sloth, and so on. Thus SS. Chrysostom, Origen, Theophylact, Euthymius, Jerome in this place, S. Augustine (in Psalm 138), S. Ambrose (lib. 3, de Viduis), Tertullian (lib. de Monog.), and others. Christ in this place, as well as S. Paul (1Cor 7:7), gives the counsel of continence to every believer. For nothing is counselled except what is in man’s power and good pleasure with God’s grace, which truly He offers and provides for all who ask it. It is otherwise with the gifts of prophecy, tongues, healing, miracles. For the grace of these God does not offer to every one, but only to a few of His elect for the common good of the faithful. Listen to S. Jerome, “It is given to those who have wished, who have laboured that they may receive.” So, too, Euthymius says, “It is given to those who ask, but not for mere asking, but to those who ask fervently and perseveringly. What is meant is that virginity is a gift of God, given to those who ask for it as they ought to ask.” So also Auctor Imperfecti, “When He says, to whom it is given, it is not meant that it is given to some and not to others, but He shows that unless we receive the help of grace, we have no power at all of ourselves. But grace is not refused to those who desire, for the Lord says, Ask and ye shall have.” And S. Chrysostom, “If it is a work of election, wherefore is it that He immediately said, Take not this word, &c.? It is that you may learn thoroughly the peculiar nature of this warfare, that it is not like a kind of necessity bestowed as it were at random. It is given to those who freely choose it. He spoke as He did in order that He might show the necessity of grace from above—which grace is provided for all who seek it, if we would come forth victors in this warfare.” S. Chrysostom adds that we ought not to be slothful in our resolution of continence, because some may fall from continence. Since soldiers falling in battle do not discourage their comrades, but rather stir them up to fight more valiantly. Lastly, the same S. Chrysostom suggests a consideration, by means of which celibacy is shown to be not only possible but easy to every one. “Consider with thyself,” he says, “that if thou wert a eunuch, either by nature, or by the wrong-doing of man, thou wouldst be deprived of these pleasures, and wouldst obtain no reward by being deprived of them. Give thanks therefore to God, because thou wilt obtain great rewards and bright crowns, if thou livest thus as they do without any rewards at all. Yea, indeed thou mayest do it much more easily, safely and pleasantly than they can, both because thou art strengthened by the hope of recompense, and because thou rejoicest in the consciousness of thy virtue, and art not tossed by such vast billows of desire. For the cutting off a member is not like the bridle of reason. yea verily, it is reason alone which restrains such waves as these we are speaking of. For I should not say that this sting of desire proceeds from the brain, or from the loins but from a lascivious mind, and from neglecting to watch over the thoughts.”
Mat 19:12 For there are eunuchs, who were born so from their mothers womb: and there are eunuchs, who were made so by men: and there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. He that can take, let him take it.
There are eunuchs, &c. Who when they might be husbands, become eunuchs for Christ’s sake, says S. Jerome. Christ here speaks of three sorts of eunuchs. 1. Those who are such by nature. 2. Those who have been made eunuchs artificially, that they may guard queens and noble matrons. 3. Those who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of Heaven’s sake. Christ here alludes to Isaiah lvi. 3, 4, 5, where the prophet foretells that there should be such eunuchs in Christ’s church, and promises them a name better than of sons and daughters, yea an everlasting name.
Made themselves eunuchs: This expression has two meanings. 1. That it is in our power with God’s grace to make ourselves eunuchs, i.e., chaste and celibate, and to keep so by a perpetual vow. This is the force of the verb, have made themselves, signifying a moral inability to beget children. If it were not so, He would have said, There are who make themselves eunuchs, or who endeavour to do so. But he says, have made themselves, i.e., have taken from themselves the power of generating, that is to say by a vow of continence. So S. Epiphan. (Hæres. 53), S. Fulgentius (lib. de fide ad Pet.).
Origen took these words literally. He mutilated himself out of his love of chastity. But he was wrong in doing so, both because such self-mutilation is unlawful, as well as because lust is not thereby quenched but inflamed. Hear S. Chrysostom: “When He says, Have made themselves eunuchs, He does not speak of the cutting off of members, but of the suppression of evil thoughts. For he who mutilates himself renders himself liable to a curse. Neither is concupiscence thereby assuaged, but is made more troublesome.” For eunuchs sin in thought, through the desire of lust, grieving that they cannot fulfil it. See what I have said on Sir 20:2, and Sir 39:21.
For the kingdom of Heaven, that by continence they may merit it. So Origen, Hilary, Chrysostom, Euthymius, and S. Augustine (de Virgin. cap. 23). Falsely, therefore, do the heretics expound for the kingdom of Heaven to mean for the sake of preaching. As though it meant, There are some who abstain from marriage that they may be more free to preach the Gospel, or that they may be free from the anxieties which matrimony brings with it. For continence is not only to be praised and desired for such reasons as those, but for its own sake; because it is a great virtue, and because the victory over himself, by which a man overcomes lust, raises his mind to meditate upon and follow after heavenly things. Wherefore chastity makes men angels.
He that is able, &c. Arabic, He that is able to carry it, let him carry it. Note here the evangelical counsel of celibacy, proposed, yea counselled, by Christ to all men, though not commanded. For these words, he that is able, &c., are those of one exhorting and animating to celibacy, say SS. Jerome and Chrysostom. Moreover, it is signified that as Christ gives this counsel, it is in our power to fulfil it, if we will invoke the grace of God, and co-operate with grace. Nor does the expression he that is able do away with the force of this; for all that this means is, that continence is a difficult thing. And he who is willing to put constraint upon himself, generously to withstand lust, to mount up to the lofty pinnacle of continence; let such an one embrace the same, let him receive it. All the faithful, then, have the power of continence, not proximate, but remote. So the Fathers already cited on verse 11. Hear S. Chrysostom, speaking in the name of all: “All, therefore, cannot receive it, because all do not wish. The palm is set before them: he who desires glory does not think of the labour. No one would conquer if all were afraid of danger.” Hear, too, S. Jerome (lib. 1, cont. Jovinian). “The master of the games proposes the reward. He invites to the course. He holds in His hand the prize of virginity. He points to the most pure fountain, and chants, Whoso thirsteth, let him come unto Me and drink. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” From these things it appears how foolish and carnal is Calvin’s exposition, which is as follows: “You, 0 ye Apostles, think that it is a good thing to live without a wife; but I forbid any one to attempt so to do unless he is certain that he can live without a wife.” For Christ does not forbid celibacy, but exhorts to it. Neither can any one be certain that he has the gift, except either he have a revelation from God—which is given to very few—or else by experience has had proof of his own continence. And how can a man be certain about his continence before he has made the trial? Still worse is what Luther taught—that it is as impossible for a man to be without a wife as to be without food or drink. No doubt it is impossible for the heretics, but not for the orthodox, who are strengthened by faith and the grace of Christ.