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 the ‘Christ’ Category

Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 86

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 3, 2019


Arg. Thomas. That Christ, good and gracious, may hear the desires of them that beseech Him. The Voice of Christ to the Father. During the Fast. A Prophecy concerning Christ, and counsel always to pour forth prayer to God. Concerning laudable prayer.

Ven. Bede. David, signifies the Lord the Saviour: either because the interpretation thereof is held to be, strong of hand and desirable, or because He Who is God over all, blessed for ever, derived from David’s stem.

Throughout the whole Psalm the Lord Jesus Christ makes His prayer: in the first portion uttering words which can clearly be applied to Him only, Bow down Thine ear, O Lord, &c. In the second part, He prays yet more humbly for His members, whose Head He is: Teach Me Thy way, O Lord. In the third portion, He utters again in His own person what specially belongs to Himself: O God, the proud are risen against Me.

Syriac Psalter. Of David, when he built a house unto the Lord, and a prophecy of the calling of the Gentiles. Further, a special prayer of a righteous man.

Eusebius of Cæsarea. A Prayer of David, and a prophecy of the calling of the Gentiles.

S. Athanasius. A Psalm of address, of prayer, and supplication.


1 Bow down thine ear, O Lord, and hear me: for I am poor, and in misery.

This Psalm, though bearing the name of David in the superscription, is held by the Greek Fathers, (Z.) S. Basil and Theodoret, to be of a much later day, and to be probably the composition of Hezekiah. There are two circumstances on the face of the matter which lend weight to this adjudication of it away from David. First, the Psalm, if Davidic, stands alone in this third book of the Psalter, with no companion. Secondly, it is in a considerable degree a cento from earlier Psalms, or at any rate borrows many of its thoughts and phrases from them, and at least three passages are derived from the Pentateuch, and thus it is structurally unlike the original Psalms of the Prophet King. Yet it is a King of Israel who speaks throughout, whether as author of the Psalm, or as having it put in his mouth by one of the Korhite poets, and therefore we may truly say with S. Augustine, (A.) that it is our Lord Jesus Christ Who prays for us, Who prays in us, and is to be prayed to by us. He prays for us, as our High Priest; He prays in us, as our Head; He is prayed to by us, as our God. Let us then recognize our own words in Him, and His words in us. He saith, then, in the form of a servant, and thou, O servant, in the form of thy Lord, sayest, Bow down Thine ear, O Lord. He boweth down the ear, if thou lift not up thy neck. For He draweth nigh to the holy, but departeth far from the uplifted, save those humble, whom He hath Himself lifted up. It is not to the rich, but to the poor and needy, (Vulg.) to the humble penitent, confessing his sin, and needing mercy, not to him who is full and haughty, who boasteth, as in want of nothing, and saith, “I thank Thee, that I am not as this publican.”* Bow down Thine ear, then, as a kind physician stoops over the couch of a sick man, too feeble to raise himself or to speak aloud,* and hear me, pouring my griefs out. It is spoken in the Person of Christ, Who asks to be heard,* first because of His voluntary humility,* so that His Father needs to bow down to Him; and next, because of His voluntary poverty, poor, in having no help from friends; needy, as lacking all earthly riches.

2 Preserve thou my soul, for I am holy: my God, save thy servant, that putteth his trust in thee.

Taking these words as the prayer of Christ on behalf of His human soul and life, (L.) that He might not be slain untimely by His enemies, before He had fulfilled His work; there is no difficulty in the words I am holy,* for in Him, the Holy One of God, was no sin at all. But how can guilty man take these words upon his lips, and make such a plea to God? Because Christ, (A.) our Head, is not only Holy in Himself, but is the cause of holiness in others. He hath given us the grace of Baptism and remission of sins, so that, as the Apostle saith, when after speaking of many kinds of sinners, he adds, “Such were some of you, but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”* Each of the faithful may therefore say, I am holy. It is not the pride of conceit, but the confession of gratitude, (Z.) and the acknowledgment that we have been solemnly dedicated to God’s service, and are therefore holy in at least the same sense that the utensils of Divine worship are so. (Cd.) And then, so far from expressing self-confidence, it is an acknowledgment of the increased peril of the Saint, of his greater need of a Saviour, because his very holiness exposes him to more malignant attacks from his spiritual foes. “The enemy,”* observes one of the most eloquent of early preachers, “aims at the general rather than at the soldier; nor does he beset the dead, but the living; so too the devil seeks not to ensnare sinners, whom he holds already as his subjects, but toils to ensnare the righteous.”* Save Thy servant. He asks for salvation, as he had just before asked for preservation and safe-keeping, lest he should lose the gift when bestowed, and then he adds the reason, by saying, that putteth his trust in Thee, because when God saves His servant, He is saving His own property; and when He saves a servant that trusteth in Him,* He proves Himself faithful and just in that He fulfils His promises. And observe how precisely, in this sense, the words agree with Hezekiah’s prayer in his sickness: “Remember me, O Lord, I beseech Thee, how I have walked before Thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in Thy sight.”* And this reference further points the fitness of the Psalm for its use in the Visitation of the Sick,* as prescribed by the Latin Church.

3 Be merciful unto me, O Lord: for I will call daily upon thee.

It is one and the same God and Man Jesus Christ, (C.) Who asks mercy, and Who bestows it; teaching us that God’s loving-kindness must be earnestly intreated by perseverance in prayer; as He saith Himself in the Gospel, “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”* Daily, (Symmachus) or with LXX., Vulgate, and margin of A. V., All the day. That is, for each of us, prayer at all periods of our lives, in the dawn of youth, in the noon of maturity, in the evening of old age; (C.) and again, as all the day embraces darkness and light, so our prayer should ascend in adversity and prosperity alike. (Ay.) We may pray with the whole day in yet another sense, with clear and enlightened minds, which have cast away the works of darkness. (R.) And though each of us cries to God in his own time, and passes away to be succeeded by another, (A.) yet each of us, as a member of Christ, does but swell the petition that goes up unceasingly from Christ’s Body, which is, as it were, but one man on earth, crying through all the day of this world till the night of the doom cometh, while our Head is, yet more unceasingly, pleading for us in the eternal day of heaven to the Father.

4 Comfort the soul of thy servant: for unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

It is He Who was forced to say, (D. C.) “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death,”* that utters this petition, that His Father may rejoice (A. V., LXX., Vulg.) His soul by the deliverance of the Patriarchs from Hades, by His own Resurrection, and by the justification of His people through that means. For us, the first and last clause have a close, yet contrasted connection. (R.) Rejoice the soul which Thou didst first sadden, by leaving it to its own miserable liberty, free to descend into the depths of sin and sorrow, abandoning Thy glorious and happy service; (A.) rejoice it, because I have lifted it up from the earth, where is nought but grief and bitterness, to Thee, where there is pleasure for evermore. Lift up your heart, then, from the earth, as you would your wheat, storing it high up, lest it should rot on the ground. How can I? asks a sinner. What cords, what engines, what ladders do I need? The steps are thine affections, the path is thy will. Thou ascendest by loving, thou descendest by neglect. Standing on earth, thou art in heaven, if thou love God.* Note, too, the going-up in these verses, how the ascent is made by prayer. The petitioner is first described as poor, then holy, next trusting, after that calling, finally, lifted up to God.* And each epithet has its fitting verb; bow down to the poor, preserve the holy, save the trusting, be merciful to the caller, rejoice the lifted-up. It is the whole gamut of love from the Incarnation to the Ascension, it tells us that Christ’s humiliation will be our glory and joy.

5 For thou, Lord, art good and gracious: and of great mercy unto all them that call upon thee.

This is what gave him courage to lift up his soul to receive consolation, for as S. John saith, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all,”* so we may say, God is sweet, (Vulg.) and in Him is no bitterness at all; while on the other hand, there is little sweetness and much bitterness in fleshly consolations.* And God is not only sweet, but gentle (Vulg.) so that He does not repel those who approach Him, but endures their imperfection. (A.) For He listens to our prayers, however unskilfully worded, and broken by wandering thoughts; nay, receives them graciously, and hearkens to them; whereas a human friend, if he saw his acquaintance, after accosting him, turn away without awaiting reply to his questions, and address some one else; and still more a judge, who found the very man who had appealed to him, turning to gossip with others in court,* would never tolerate such discourtesy. Again, God is good, in that He deals lovingly with His servants, laying few and easy commands upon them, and helping them by His grace to obey these commands; while He is gracious, in that He does not exact the full rigour of just penalty from repentant sinners, but receives them readily back into grace and favour, which is the force of the A. V. ready to forgive. And these same attributes are those of which the Apostle makes mention, beseeching his Corinthian disciples “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.”* Of great mercy. His mercy is great and plenteous,* (A. V. Vulg.) because it is sufficient for all sin and all sinners. But copious though it be, He will not waste it, for He reserves it for all them that call upon Him. Hence we gather, first the advantage of perseverance in prayer, for we shall be continually heard, and receive mercy if we enrol ourselves in that number, (C.) as there is no respect of persons, nor any stinting, with God; and next, what it is we ought to call for. (A.) Upon Thee, the Psalmist says, and this shows us the meaning of that other saying, “Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer,”* that there may be a calling in prayer which is no true calling upon God. For you call on the thing you love, for which you are inwardly crying out, which you wish to come to you; it may be money, rank, the death of an enemy; but in that case you are calling on them, not on God, and are making of Him merely an instrument for your appetites, not a hearkener to your better longings. Call on God, then, as loving Him, and as desiring Himself, and He will be of great mercy unto you.

6 Give ear, Lord, unto my prayer: and ponder the voice of my humble desires.

7 In the time of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou hearest me.

The Psalmist asks that God may not only give ear, (R.) that is, mercifully permit the supplicant to approach Him in prayer, and listen to him, but that He will ponder or attend, that His wisdom may come into operation as well as His mercy,* and the two may jointly fulfil the petition to the uttermost. (D. C.) In the time of my trouble, as respects Christ, is spoken of His suffering life, (A.) and especially of His Passion; and as regards Christians it means the whole time of their sorrowful exile and pilgrimage here on earth, far from their Country, for the more they love and long for that country, the sorer is the daily trouble of the pilgrimage. It is also true of any special persecution,* distress, or even of inward temptation, according to that saying of a Saint, Prosperity closes the mouth, adversity opens it. For Thou hearest me. (Ay.) The Carmelite reminds us in this place of the prevenient grace of God, which hears our prayers before we utter them, nay, which has heard them from all eternity, foreseeing that they would be offered, and has inspired us with the will and desire of uttering them. Observe, finally, that all the Psalm, down to this point, (P.) may be taken as the prayer of Christ in His Passion on behalf of His whole Church, for He saith Himself, (L.) “I knew that Thou hearest Me always;”* but especially “when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save him from death, and was heard for His piety.”*

8 Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord: there is not one that can do as thou doest.

If we take this Psalm as the utterance of Hezekiah,* these words will form the fitting reply to the insulting message of Rab-shakeh: “Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria. Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, by destroying them utterly, and shalt thou be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered them which my fathers have destroyed?”* The verse, if applied to the Father, refutes the Semi-Arians,* who asserted that the Son was not Consubstantial with Him, but only a Being of similar substance and nature to God, that is, like Him;* whereas confession of the co-equality of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the Undivided Trinity removes this difficulty at once. We have here, moreover, the reason for taking refuge with God,* and for calling upon Him only, because there is none like unto Him, in essence, in power, in wisdom, in goodness;* whether amongst men of exalted rank and power, as kings or judges, or amongst the purest saints and loftiest angels. Yet, we are told, “Ye are Gods;”* and again, that “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” There is no contradiction, for though we shall reflect His glory, (Ay.) as a pool reflects the sun, we shall not be like Him in essence,* for He is eternally and self-existently Almighty, all-wise, all-good, whereas we are but His creatures, deriving our faculties and graces from Him as their source. Even the Son, as speaker in this Psalm, fitly addresses these words to the Everlasting Father, because He utters them in the nature of His Manhood, whereby He is inferior to the Father, albeit co-equal with Him in Godhead.

There is not one that can do as Thou doest. (Z.) It is the voice of the Church concerning Christ. For His created works are not intended only, nor His providence over all His creatures, visible and invisible, but His restoration of His creation, His destruction of the tyrant, His slaying of death, which He effected by His own death, and that successful fishing of the whole world which He wrought by a few mean fishers, not to cite His deeds of miraculous power. (L.) Not one. And yet He promised His disciples, “He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do.”* But He clears up the difficulty later, saying, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” He wrought miracles of His own inherent power, they by derived and commissioned authority. Accordingly, the Prince of the Apostles saith, “Why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk? The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified His Son Jesus; and His Name, through faith in His Name, hath made this man strong.”*

9 All nations whom thou hast made, shall come and worship thee, O Lord: and shall glorify thy Name.

This, in its literal sense,* seems to be looking forward to the effect on the nations around of Sennacherib’s overthrow, fulfilled when “many brought gifts unto the Lord to Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah, king of Judah: so that he was magnified in the sight of all nations from thenceforth.”* But it has a deeper significance in foretelling the ingathering of the Gentiles, whence it is used as the Epiphany antiphon to the whole Psalm.* The words were uttered, remarks S. Augustine, (A.) when but a few, in the one Hebrew nation, worshipped God, and were believed in defiance of sight, and yet now that they are in process of fulfilment, men doubt them. He applies the verse himself to refutation of the Donatists, who held that the true faith of the Catholic Church was limited to one corner of Africa. (L.) All nations, not only as typified by the Wise Men from the East, but further, by the converts of many peoples and languages, made on the Day of Pentecost;* the first fruits of the commission, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.” Whom Thou hast made. That is, not merely some out of every nation under heaven, but men once more appearing as God made them, in His own image and likeness,* now restored and renewed by Christ’s redeeming grace, (L.) not as defaced by the devil and by their own free-will abused to sin. So it is written in another Psalm, “The people which shall be created, shall praise the Lord,”* created, that is, anew by the supernatural and regenerating grace of Christ, for “of His own will begat He us with the word of truth.”* Shall come and worship Thee.* Not necessarily by bodily motion from one place to another, but by believing, in whatsoever places they are, as is spoken by the Prophet: “Men shall worship Him, every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen.”* And glorify Thy Name. It is true of the Saints now, who obey the Apostle’s precept, “Glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”* It will be true of all nations at the last day,* when,* willing or unwilling, they must adore Christ sitting on His throne, worshipping Him, some in love and some in fear, but all glorifying His Name, according to the prophecy in the Song of Moses and of the Lamb chanted by the Saints on the sea of glass, saying, “Great and marvellous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of Saints. Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy Name? for Thou only art holy; for all nations shall come and worship before Thee, for Thy judgments are made manifest.”*

10 For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone.

This is the reason why the worship of false gods must cease,* and why all nations shall come and glorify the Lord, especially in the Day of Judgment, when His marvellous power shall be fully displayed, so that the Apostle dwells particularly on the word great, as betokening His manifestation then, saying,* “Looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” There is, (L.) besides, a confession of the Trinity in Unity in the verse. Thou art great, applies peculiarly to the Everlasting Father, the Lord and Source of all; and doest wondrous things, tells us of the Son, by Whom the worlds were created, the mystery of redemption effected, the miracles of the Gospel wrought; Thou art God, teaches us that the Holy Ghost is a Divine Person, not a mere influence or manifestation, (C.) while alone joins the Three together in One indivisible Godhead.

11 Teach me thy way, O Lord, and I will walk in thy truth: O knit my heart unto thee, that I may fear thy Name.

The LXX. and Vulgate translate, (L.) Lead me in Thy way, but as Lorinus truly observes, with no variation of meaning from the original, which does not signify the communication of a bare speculative knowledge, but practical instruction, and actual guidance in the paths of God’s commandments. (A.) Thy way, Thy truth, is Christ. Therefore the Body goes to Him, and comes from Him. He saith, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.”* It is one thing for God to lead us to the way, and another to lead us in the way. They who are out of the way are not Christians, or at any rate not Catholics, but are being led towards the way. But when that is done, and they have become Catholics in Christ, they are led by Himself in the way itself, that they fall not. And I will walk in Thy truth. Some,* especially of the Greek Fathers, take these words as contrasted to some extent with the preceding ones, and interpret the way as denoting action, and truth as signifying contemplation. (Z.) But it is better to take it as denoting progress in holiness, or as covering the entire ground of a devout life. The prayer is like that of the penitent sinner,* asking God to put out His hand to guide him, as a blind and sickly child asks for the help of a wayfarer to put him in the straight road. It is asked, How can words such as these be put into the mouth of Christ? They answer, (L.) for the most part, that the Head is speaking here for His members, not for Himself, just as He spoke to Saul in the vision near Damascus. (D. C.) But the Carthusian will have it that this is the prayer of the Saviour that His human soul might be led in that way of God which brought it down to the Patriarchs in Hades, thence into Paradise, next to be reunited with His Body in the Resurrection, and finally to be exalted together with it to heaven at the Ascension. O knit my heart unto Thee. This version, albeit giving a very deep and beautiful meaning, does not exactly express the original, in which the words unto Thee are not found. It is true that the heart may be so knit to God as to be interpenetrated with His fear, as an old poet tells us:

No,* self-deceiving heart, lest thou shouldst cast
Thy cords away, and burst the bands at last
Of Thy Redeemer’s tender love, I’ll try
What further fastness in His fear doth lie.
The cords of love soakéd in lust may rot,
And bands of bounty are too oft forgot:
But holy filial fear, like to a nail
Fastened in a sure place, will never fail.
This, driven home, will take
Fast hold, and make
Thee that thou darest not thy God forsake.

But the A. V., with S. Jerome and Symmachus, gives the correct rendering: Unite my heart, make it so whole and undivided that it may entirely love and fear Thee,* not partly fear Thee and partly fear the world; nor divide its worship between Thee and other gods;* and further, that whereas it is now disturbed and broken up with the waves and storms of passion, trouble, and sin, God may still it, (L.) and bring it to a perfect quiet, presenting an unruffled and tranquil surface, like the Sea in a great calm. He unites the heart of the whole Church too,* by granting it unity of faith towards God and of love towards brethren. But the LXX. and Vulgate read, Let my heart rejoice, that it may fear Thy Name. It is lest we should be ensnared by over-confidence, the Doctor of Grace warns us, (A.) that this is written, lest the excitement of unrestrained joy, even in spiritual things, should cause us to stray from the road.* Or, as another great Western Doctor comments, although the Saints are certain, even here, of their hope, yet they have reason to dread temptation, so that joy and fear are mingled in their spiritual experience. (L.) So we are to take heed that we do not find written in this place, Let my heart rejoice that it may feel secure, but that it may fear, in order that between the rejoicing of hope, and the fear of temptation we may be tried and chastened, and feel gladness in God’s pardon, yet so as never to forget that we may fall again. We need,* as has been well said, to be glad in our victory, but to fear because of the conflict.* Yet the Greek Fathers take it in a deeper and more spiritual sense, alleging that the fear of God is itself a source of true and pure delight to His Saints. (Z.) And thus one of themselves has truly said,* “The fear of the Lord is a paradise of delights, but where the fear of the Lord is not, there will the foxes dwell.” Only it must not be a servile fear lest God should punish us, which is an impure feeling;* but a loving fear, lest He should leave us, which is pure. And with this latter fear even the Lord Jesus, in His Manhood, was filled, so that we may take the words of Him, (D. C.) and explain them in the light of His bitterest cry upon the Cross.

12 I will thank thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and will praise thy Name for evermore.

The Vulgate word here for give thanks is, as usual, confess, that is, make grateful acknowledgment of bounties. But the Latin commentators constantly take it of confession of sin, and therefore one of them,* dwelling here upon that duty, tells us to lay particular stress on the words with my whole heart. (Ay.) For the heart, that is, the intellectual part of man’s being, is made up of four things, thought or imagination, memory, understanding, and will. Each of these should play its part in a good confession. There ought to be thought, in careful preparation for the Sacrament of penance; memory, in duly recalling former offences; understanding, in a full recognition of the enormity of sin, and the grievousness of one’s own faults; will, in the firm resolution to amend. But, taking the words in their more literal signification, we may note that the whole heart here is the result of the prayer in the verse before, that God may unite the heart. Henceforth it gives thanks to Him under all circumstances, in adversity as well as in prosperity, and puts its entire trust in Him, not confiding partly in temporal successes, and yielding Him but a divided confidence. And as Christ, in His human nature, gave us the most perfect example of entire devotion to God the Father; (D. C.) these words apply to Him as well as to His Saints, who plead for blessings to come in the best of all ways,* by showing themselves mindful and grateful in respect of past favours. And will praise Thy Name for evermore. This evermore is threefold. It is the whole life of the pardoned sinner,* thenceforth devoted to God’s glory and service; it is the continuous life of the Church Militant on earth, wherein, throughout succeeding ages, the praise of God never ceases, so that our Head can speak of this act of His Body as His own; it is, finally, the everlasting Alleluia of heaven, which awaits the Saints who have conquered.

13 For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the nethermost hell.

Here is the special cause for gratitude. And taking it of the Head, (A.) as so many do, we see in it a prophetic thanksgiving for the Resurrection. S. Augustine, dwelling on the word nethermost, and arguing fairly that the word implies the existence of at least two hells, urges, that when we take the whole verse of Christ, we must interpret the first hell to be this earth, so called from lying so far beneath heaven, and from being so defiled with sin, and harassed with trouble. Into this first hell the Lord came by His Nativity; into the second or nethermost, the grave and place of departed spirits, He came by His death, and was delivered thence by the Resurrection. But if the words are to be put in the mouth of one of His members, then it is a thanksgiving for being rescued from that part of Hades where the rich man lay in torments, parted by a great gulf from that happier place where Abraham carried Lazarus in his bosom.* In that nethermost hell no one gives thanks to God, nor can any come forth thence, wherefore deliverance from it is truly great mercy, seeing that it confers everlasting blessings. (Z.) And Euthymius, who ascribes the Psalm to David, in taking the nethermost hell to mean the double guilt of adultery and murder into which the king fell, so that deliverance from it means pardon of mortal sin, and may be thus applied to every penitent similarly rescued,* has warrant from the Proverbs on his side, wherein the sin of lust is more than once so described. For the Wise Man saith of a strange woman that “her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death; and again, “her guests are in the depths of hell.”*

14 O God, (C.) the proud are risen against me: and the congregations of naughty men have sought after my soul, and have not set thee before their eyes.

Here is the anticipation of the Passion, of the secret council of the Chief Priests and Pharisees, followed by the cries of the multitude for the Crucifixion of the Lord. And then, spoken of His Body the Church, it is a cry for protection against heathen persecutors, seeking the lives of Christians, and still more against heretics and false brethren,* plotting against that faith which is the very soul of the Church’s being. (A.) And the individual believer prays in these words to be delivered from the principalities and powers of evil,* those ghostly enemies which wage unceasing war against the soul.

15 But thou, O Lord God, art full of compassion and mercy: long-suffering, plenteous in goodness and truth.

Here he showeth the cause of this suffering, (Ay.) why God permitted them so to rise against Christ, and to deliver Him over to death. And he saith that this was of God’s great mercy, Who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, so that the Passion of Christ was a work of great compassion and mercy. And the Son also is here referred to, as voluntarily giving Himself as a sacrifice for us, according to His most true promise; He Who was longsuffering, in that He bore so much for ourselves, plenteous in goodness, because He came to save, plenteous in truth, because He ever taught the truth, (A.) as even His enemies acknowledged, saying, “Master, we know that Thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth.”* And therefore He is styled in the Apocalypse, “Faithful and True.”*

Note, further, that there are seven names of God set down here,* answering to seven of His energies, and as many classes of men with whom He is in certain relations. He is Lord to them who serve Him, and He demands service from all; as it is written, “The nation and kingdom that will not serve Thee shall perish.”* He is God, to them that worship Him, for “the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation.”* He is full of compassion, for “His mercies are over all His works;”* He is full of mercy, in that He helpeth the unhappy. He is longsuffering with sinners: “Therefore will the Lord wait, that He may be gracious unto you.”* Plenteous in goodness, in bestowing His eternal rewards, for “eye hath not seen, O God, what He hath prepared for him that waiteth for Him.”* And truth, in punishing the guilty, for “let God be true, but every man a liar.”*

16 O turn thee then unto me, and have mercy upon me: give thy strength unto thy servant, and help the son of thine handmaid.

Because of all the attributes of God enumerated in the previous verse, He is now called on to show His saving power. And the commentators, with almost one voice, agree in explaining this passage of the prayer of Christ for His Resurrection. In saying, Turn Thee unto Me, or as LXX.* and Vulgate have it, Look again upon Me, He asks for His Father’s protection, for “the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers.” In saying, Have mercy upon Me, He asks for deliverance from misery; in adding, Give Thy strength (or with Vulg. empire) unto Thy servant, He asks for judicial power over the world, and that because of His perfect obedience. This He foretold, earlier than His Passion, saying, “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son;”* and He confirmed it after His rising again,* when He said to His disciples, “All power is given unto Me in heaven and earth.”* In saying, Help the Son of Thine handmaid, He asks for the Resurrection, and that in His character as the offspring of that pure Virgin who answered the Angel’s message with the words, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word.”* Several of the Latins dwell on the ambiguous word puero, meaning child as well as servant, here found in the Vulgate, (C.) and remind us that it is spoken of Him touching Whom, by reason of His innocence, the Prophet saith: “Unto us a child is born,”* Who was like a child in His poverty, His holiness, His placability, and His obedience.

Each of His members,* too, can utter this prayer, who is God’s servant and child because of adoption and obedience, who is the son of His handmaid, the Church, who may look for a share in that empire of which the Lord said to His Apostles, (R.) “In the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”* For the promise is not limited to them, inasmuch as He saith in another place, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne.”* And although all Christian men are proud to bear the title of servant of God, (L.) as all Christian women, like S. Agatha before the prefect, rejoice to call themselves by the name of handmaid,* yet none is so exactly the son of a handmaid as a convert from the bondage of Paganism, who has entered into the glorious liberty of the children of God, and acquired in Baptism the strength of the Holy Ghost, (A.) strength sufficient to overcome all the spiritual enemies of the soul.* Note, moreover, the deep humility of the double expression, servant, and son of Thine handmaid. They are no mere repetition,* for a man may be reduced into a state of servitude from one of freedom, as a captive in war, albeit sprung of noble ancestry; but if he be the son of a handmaid, he is born a slave, and has had no time of liberty to look back upon. And in this sense the children born of the Church, God’s faithful handmaid, are His from the first moment of their spiritual creation.

17 Show some token upon me for good: that they who hate me may see it, and be ashamed: because thou, Lord, hast holpen me, and comforted me.

Hitherto he has asked for internal consolation,* for secret bestowal of help; but now he asks for an external sign of favour, to the dismay of his enemies. And, still applying the Psalm literally to Hezekiah, we may bear in mind two such proofs of Divine favour towards him; the destruction of Sennacherib’s army, and the going back of the shadow on the sun-dial of Ahaz. The Chaldee,* ascribing the Psalm to David, represents this as a prayer for a miracle, that of the spontaneous opening of the gates of Solomon’s temple, to be vouchsafed him for David’s sake, when bringing up the ark into its new sanctuary. Applied to Christ,* the Greek Fathers prefer to take the sign here of the Virgin-birth of the Lord, according to that saying in Isaiah, “The Lord Himself shall give you a sign. Behold, a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His Name Immanuel;”* a sign which was truly for good, (A.) and made the spiritual foes of man ashamed. But the Latins take it of the Resurrection, looking to that other saying, “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall be no sign given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas; for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”* That they who hate Me may see it, and be ashamed,* with that wholesome confusion which leadeth to repentance, (D. C.) that they may be converted and live; or, if they resist obstinately, with the final shame which awaits them at the doom, when the sign of the Son of Man shall appear in heaven, for the good of His servants, (A.) and the destruction of His foes. Applying the verse to the Christian soul,* they remind us,* on the one hand,* of that sign of the Cross which fortifies us against evil,* and affrays our enemies; and on the other, yet more deeply, that we have been “sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise.”* And both these meanings appear in that victory of the Church through the sign which Constantine is said to have beheld in heaven, on the eve of his decisive triumph over his Pagan opponent. (C.) Thou, Lord, hast holpen Me, and comforted Me. Thou hast holpen Me in the battle, comforted Me amidst the sorrows of the Passion; (R.) holpen Me when I was in the grave, comforted Me in the joy of the Resurrection. And in like manner,* the Lord shows a sign upon us for good, whenever He converts sinners by the example of Saints, or works any great deliverance for His people,* whom He helps in their life-long struggle here, and comforts with the everlasting blessedness of heaven.


Glory be to the Father, Who is great, and God alone; glory be to the Son, Who is full of compassion and mercy; glory be to the Holy Ghost, Who giveth His strength unto His servants.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

Various Uses

Gregorian. Friday: Matins. [Epiphany: II. Nocturn. Sacred Heart: III. Nocturn.]

Monastic. Friday: I. Nocturn. [Epiphany: II. Nocturn.]

Parisian. Saturday: Compline. [Epiphany: II. Nocturn.]

Lyons. Thursday: Sext. [Epiphany: II. Nocturn.]

Ambrosian. Wednesday of Second Week: II. Nocturn.

Quignon. Friday: Compline.

Eastern Church. Third Psalm at Nones.


Gregorian. As preceding Psalm. [Epiphany: All nations whom Thou hast made shall come and worship Thee, O Lord. So in all the other uses. Sacred Heart: Thou art good and gracious. O Lord* and of great mercy unto all them that call upon Thee.]

Monastic. Bow down * Thine ear, O Lord, and hear me.

Parisian. Be merciful unto me * O Lord, for I have called to Thee all the day long.

Ambrosian. Preserve Thou my soul, O Lord* for I am holy.

Mozarabic. For Thou, Lord, art good and gracious * and of great mercy unto all them that call upon Thee.


Make glad,* O Lord, the countenance of Thine household; and deliver our souls from the nethermost hell, that protected by looking upon Thy countenance, we may with spiritual power tread fleshly desires under foot. Through. (1.)

Lead us,* O Lord, in the way of Thy truth: that we may rejoice in fearing Thee, and give thanks to Thy holy Name, that we may be sealed with good works, and our enemies may be ashamed. Through. (1.)

O good and gracious God,* of great mercy to them that call upon Thee, bow down Thine ears to our prayer, and of the abundance of Thy mercy do away our transgressions, and that we creep not prostrate on the ground, set us upright to look on Thee. (11.)

Have mercy on us,* O Lord, who cry to Thee all the day long; and be gracious to them that call on Thee in trouble, that when we praise and worship Thy majesty, Thou mayest favourably accept us, and when we fear Thee because of our doings, Thou mayest graciously pardon. Make glad, then, our hearts with obedient fear of Thee, and comfort our doubting minds with the sweetness of Thy consolation. But as Thou art sweet and gracious, let us drink in sweetness from Thine indulgence; and find Thee loving and gracious in bestowing reward. (11.)

O Saviour and Lord,* Whom the unrighteous wickedness of them that rose against Thee smote; Whom the congregation of the ungodly, raging with its tongues, crucified; Grant that we may ever follow Thee in the deep mystery of Thy loving-kindness, that, as Thou didst for us bear the Cross and grave, we triumphing therein over a conquered world, may go our way into heaven. (11.)

O Lord our God,* save Thy servants, who put their trust in Thee, for Thou art good and gracious, and of great mercy; look upon us, and have mercy on us, that our heart may rejoice in the greatness of Thy Name, may fear Thee so as to be glad; lead us in Thy way, and as we walk in Thy truth, comfort us with Thy help, and help us with Thy consolation. (11.)

We pray Thee, O Lord,* that guarded by the sign of Thy Cross, and kept safe under its guard, we may be delivered from all the snares of the devil. For Thine.

O Lord, (D. C.) lead us Thy servants in Thy way, that we may walk in Thy truth, so that Thy great mercy may bedew us, and Thou mayest deliver our soul from the nethermost hell, and make us to share in everlasting glory. (1.)

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St John Chrysostom’s Homiletic Commentary on Matthew 5:17-24

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 23, 2019

“Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the Prophets.”

Why, who suspected this? or who accused Him, that He should make a defense against this charge? Since surely from what had gone before1 no such suspicion was generated. For to command men to be meek, and gentle, and merciful, and pure in heart, and to strive for righteousness, indicated no such design, but rather altogether the contrary.

Wherefore then can He have said this? Not at random, nor vainly: but inasmuch as He was proceeding to ordain commandments greater than those of old, saying, “It was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not kill;2 but I say unto you, Be not even angry;” and to mark out a way for a kind of divine and heavenly conversation;3 in order that the strangeness thereof might not disturb the souls of the hearers, nor dispose them quite to mutiny against what He said, He used this means of setting them right beforehand.

For although they fulfilled not the law, yet nevertheless they were possessed with much conscientious regard to it; and whilst they were annulling it every day by their deeds, the letters thereof they would have remain unmoved, and that no one should add anything more to them. Or rather, they bore with their rulers adding thereto, not however for the better, but for the worse. For so they used to set aside the honor due to our parents by additions of their own, and very many others also of the matters enjoined them, they would free themselves of4 by these unseasonable additions.

Therefore, since Christ in the first place was not of the sacredotal tribe, and next, the things which He was about to introduce were a sort of addition, not however lessening, but enhancing virtue; He knowing beforehand that both these circumstances would trouble them, before He wrote in their mind those wondrous laws, casts out that which was sure to be harboring there. And what was it that was harboring there, and making an obstacle?

2. They thought that He, thus speaking, did so with a view to the abrogation of the ancient institutions. This suspicion therefore He heals; nor here only doth He so, but elsewhere also again. Thus, since they accounted Him no less than an adversary of God, from this sort of reason, namely, His not keeping the sabbath; He, to heal such their suspicion, there also again sets forth His pleas, of which some indeed were proper to Himself; as when He saith, “My Father worketh, and I work;”5 but some had in them much condescension, as when He brings forward the sheep lost on the sabbath day,6 and points out that the law is disturbed for its preservation, and makes mention again of circumcision, as having this same effect.7

Wherefore we see also that He often speaks words somewhat beneath Him, to remove the semblance of His being an adversary of God.

For this cause He who had raised thousands of the dead with a word only, when He was calling Lazarus, added also a prayer; and then, lest this should make Him appear less than Him that begat Him, He, to correct this suspicion, added, “I said these things, because of the people which standeth by, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.”8 And neither doth He work all things as one who acted by His own power, that He might thoroughly correct their weakness; nor doth He all things with prayer, lest He should leave matter of evil suspicion to them that should follow, as though He were without strength or power: but He mingles the latter with the former, and those again with these. Neither doth He this indiscriminately, but with His own proper wisdom. For while He doeth the greater works authoritatively, in the less He looks up unto Heaven. Thus, when absolving sins, and revealing His secrets, and opening Paradise, and driving away devils, and cleansing lepers, and bridling death, and raising the dead by thousands, He did all by way of command: but when, what was much less than these, He was causing many loaves to spring forth out of few, then He looked up to Heaven: signifying that not through weakness He doth this. For He who could do the greater with authority, how in the lesser could He need prayer? But as I was saying, He doeth this to silence their shamelessness. The same reckoning, then, I bid thee make of His words also, when thou hearest Him speak lowly things. For many in truth are the causes both for words and for actions of that cast: as, for instance, that He might not be supposed alien from God; His instructing and waiting on all men; His teaching humility; His being encompassed with flesh; the Jews’ inability to hear all at once; His teaching us to utter no high word of ourselves. For this cause many times, having in His own person said much that is lowly of Himself, the great things He leaves to be said by others. Thus He Himself indeed, reasoning with the Jews, said, “Before Abraham was, i am:”1 but His disciple not thus, but, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”2

Again, that He Himself made Heaven, and earth, and sea, and all things visible and invisible, in His own person He nowhere expressly said: but His disciple, speaking plainly out, and suppressing nothing, affirms this once, twice, yea often: writing that “all things were made by Him;” and, “without Him was not one thing made;” and, He was in the world, and the world was made by Him.”3

And why marvel, if others have said greater things of Him than He of Himself; since (what is more) in many cases, what He showed forth by His deeds, by His words He uttered not openly? Thus that it was Himself who made mankind He showed clearly even by that blind man; but when He was speaking of our formation at the beginning, He said not, “I made,” but “He who made them, made them male and female.”4 Again, that He created the world and all things therein, He demonstrated by the fishes, by the wine, by the loaves, by the calm in the sea, by the sunbeam which He averted on the Cross; and by very many things besides: but in words He hath nowhere said this plainly, though His disciples are continually declaring it, both John, and Paul, and Peter.

For if they who night and day hear Him discourse, and see Him work marvels; to whom He explained many things in private, and gave so great power as even to raise the dead; whom He made so perfect, as to forsake all things for Him: if even they, after so great virtue and self-denial, had not strength to bear it all, before the supply of the Spirit; how could the people of the Jews, being both void of understanding, and far behind such excellency, and only by hazard present when He did or said anything, how could they have been persuaded but that He was alien from the God of all, unless he had practised such great condescension throughout?

For on this account we see that even when He was abrogating the sabbath, He did not as of set purpose bring in such His legislation, but He puts together many and various pleas of defense. Now if, when He was about to cause one commandment to cease, He used so much reserve in His language,5 that He might not startle the hearers; much more, when adding to the law, entire as it was, another entire code of laws, did He require much management and attention, not to alarm those who were then hearing Him.

For this same cause, neither do we find Him teaching everywhere clearly concerning His own Godhead. For if His adding to the law was sure to perplex them so greatly, much more His declaring Himself God.

3. Wherefore many things are uttered by Him, far below His proper dignity, and here when He is about to proceed upon His addition to the law, He hath used abundance for correction beforehand. For neither was it once only that He said, “I do not abrogate the law,” but He both repeated it again, and added another and a greater thing; in that, to the words, “Think not that I am come to destroy,” He subjoined, “I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.”

Now this not only obstructs the obstinacy of the Jews, but stops also the mouths of those heretics,6 who say that the old covenant is of the devil. For if Christ came to destroy his tyranny, how is this covenant not only not destroyed, but even fulfilled by Him? For He said not only, “I do not destroy it;” though this had been enough; but “I even fulfill it:” which are the words of one so far from opposing himself, as to be even establishing it.

And how, one may ask, did He not destroy it? in what way did He rather fulfill either the law or the prophets? The prophets He fulfilled, inasmuch as He confirmed by His actions all that had been said concerning Him; wherefore also the evangelist used to say in each case, “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet.” Both when He was born,1 and when the children sung that wondrous hymn to Him, and when He sat on the ass,2 and in very many more instances He worked this same fulfillment: all which things must have been unfulfilled, if He had not come.

But the law He fulfilled, not in one way only, but in a second and third also. In one way, by transgressing none of the precepts of the law. For that He did fulfill it all, hear what He saith to John, “For thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.”3 And to the Jews also He said, “Which of you convinceth me of sin.”4 And to His disciples again, “The prince of this world cometh, and findeth nothing in me.”5 And the prophet too from the first had said that “He did no sin.”6

This then was one sense in which He fulfilled it. Another, that He did the same through us also; for this is the marvel, that He not only Himself fulfilled it, but He granted this to us likewise. Which thing Paul also declaring said, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”7 And he said also, that “He judged sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh.”8 And again, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid! yea, we establish the law.”9 For since the law was laboring at this, to make man righteous, but had not power, He came and brought in the way of righteousness by faith, and so established that which the law desired: and what the law could not by letters, this He accomplished by faith. On this account He saith, “I am not come to destroy the law.”

4. But if any one will inquire accurately, he will find also another, a third sense, in which this hath been done. Of what sort is it then? In the sense of that future code of laws, which He was about to deliver to them.

For His sayings were no repeal of the former, but a drawing out, and filling up of them. Thus, “not to kill,” is not annulled by the saying, Be not angry, but rather is filled up and put in greater security: and so of all the others.

Wherefore, you see, as He had before unsuspectedly cast the seeds of this teaching; so at the time when from His comparison of the old and new commandments, He would be more distinctly suspected of placing them in opposition, He used His corrective beforehand. For in a covert way He had indeed already scattered those seeds, by what He had said. Thus, “Blessed are the poor,” is the same as that we are not to be angry; and, “Blessed are the pure in heart,” as not to “look upon a woman for lust;” and the “not laying up treasures on earth,” harmonizes with, “Blessed are the merciful;” and “to mourn” also, “to be persecuted” and “reviled,” coincide with “entering in at the strait gate;” and, “to hunger and thirst after righteousness,” is nothing else than that which He saith afterwards, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them.” And having declared “the peace-maker blessed,” He again almost said the same, when He gave command “to leave the gift,” and hasten to reconciliation with him that was grieved, and about “agreeing with our adversary.”

But there He set down the rewards of them that do right, here rather the punishments of them who neglect practice.10 Wherefore as in that place He said, “The meek shall inherit earth;” so here, “He who calleth his brother fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire;” and there, “The pure in heart shall see God;” here, he is a complete adulterer who looks unchastely. And having there called “the peace-makers, sons of God;” here He alarms us from another quarter, saying, “Lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge.” Thus also, whereas in the former part He blesses them that mourn, and them that are persecuted; in the following, establishing the very same point, He threatens destruction to them that go not that way; for, “They that walk ‘in the broad way,’ saith He, ‘make their end there.’ ” And, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon,” seems to me the same with, “Blessed are the merciful,” and, “those that hunger after righteousness.”

But as I said, since He is going to say these things more clearly, and not only more clearly, but also to add again more than had been already said (for He no longer merely seeks a merciful man, but bids us give up even our coat; not simply a meek person, but to turn also the other cheek to him that would smite us): therefore He first takes away the apparent contradiction.

On this account, then, as I have already stated, He said this not once only, but once and again; in that to the words, “Think not that I am come to destroy,” He added, “I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.”

“For verily I say unto you, Till Heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all come to pass.”1

Now what He saith is like this: it cannot be that it should remain unaccomplished, but the very least thing therein must needs be fulfilled. Which thing He Himself performed, in that He completed2 it with all exactness.

And here He signifies to us obscurely that the fashion of the whole world is also being changed. Nor did He set it down without purpose, but in order to arouse the hearer, and indicate, that He was with just cause introducing another discipline; if at least the very works of the creation are all to be transformed, and mankind is to be called to another country, and to a higher way of practising how to live.3

5. “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called least in the kingdom of Heaven.”4

Thus, having rid Himself of the evil suspicion, and having stopped the mouths of them who would fain gainsay, then at length He proceeds to alarm, and sets down a heavy, denunciation in support of the enactments He was entering on.

For as to His having said this in behalf not of the ancient laws, but of those which He was proceeding to enact, listen to what follows, “For I say unto you,” saith he, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of Heaven.”5

For if He were threatening with regard to the ancient laws, how said He, “except it shall exceed?” since they who did just the same as those ancients, could not exceed them on the score of righteousness.

But of what kind was the required excess? Not to be angry, not even to look upon a woman unchastely.

For what cause then doth He call these commandments “least,” though they were so great and high? Because He Himself was about to introduce the enactment of them; for as He humbled Himself, and speaks of Himself frequently with measure, so likewise of His own enactments, hereby again teaching us to be modest in everything. And besides, since there seemed to be some suspicion of novelty, He ordered His discourse for a while with reserve.6

But when thou hearest, “least in the kingdom of Heaven,” surmise thou nothing but hell and torments. For He was used to mean by “the kingdom,” not merely the enjoyment thereof, but also the time of the resurrection, and that awful coming. And how could it be reasonable, that while he who called his brother fool, and trangressed but one commandment, falls into hell; the breaker of them all, and instigator of others to the same, should be within the kingdom. This therefore is not what He means, but that such a one will be at that time least, that is, cast out, last. And he that is last will surely then fall into hell. For, being God, He foreknew the laxity of the many, He foreknew that some would think these sayings were merely hyperbolical, and would argue about the laws, and say, What, if any one call another a fool, is he punished? If one merely look on a woman, doth he become an adulterer? For this very cause He, destroying such insolence beforehand, hath set down the strongest denunciation against either sort, as well them who transgress, as them who lead on others so to do.

Knowing then His threat as we do, let us neither ourselves transgress, nor discourage such as are disposed to keep these things.

“But whosoever shall do and teach,” saith He, “shall be called great.”

For not to ourselves alone, should we be profitable, but to others also; since neither is the reward as great for him who guides himself aright, as for one who with himself adds also another. For as teaching without doing condemns the teacher (for “thou which teachest another,” it is said, “teachest thou not thyself”7?) so doing but not guiding others, lessens our reward. One ought therefore to be chief in either work, and having first set one’s self right, thus to proceed also to the care of the rest. For on this account He Himself hath set the doing before the teaching; to intimate that so most of all may one be able to teach, but in no other way. For one will be told, “Physician, heal thyself.”8 Since he who cannot teach himself, yet attempts to set others right, will have many to ridicule him. Or rather such a one will have no power to teach at all, his actions uttering their voice against him. But if he be complete in both respects, “he shall be called great in the kingdom of Heaven.”

6. “For I say unto you, Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of Heaven.”1

Here by righteousness He means the whole of virtue; even as also discoursing of Job, He said, “He was a blameless man, righteous.”2 According to the same signification of the word, Paul also called that man “righteous” for whom, as he said, no law is even set. “For,” saith he, “a law is not made for a righteous man.”3 And in many other places too one might find this name standing for virtue in general.

But observe, I pray thee, the increase of grace; in that He will have His newly-come disciples better than the teachers in the old covenant. For by “Scribes and Pharisees” here, He meant not merely the lawless, but the well-doers. For, were they not doing well, He would not have said they have a righteousness; neither would He have compared the unreal to the real.

And observe also here, how He commends the old law, by making a comparison between it and the other; which kind of thing implies it to be of the same tribe and kindred. For more and less, is in the same kind. He doth not, you see, find fault with the old law, but will have it made stricter. Whereas, had it been evil,4 He would not have required more of it; He would not have made it more perfect, but would have cast it out.

And how one may say, if it be such, doth it not bring us into the Kingdom? It doth not now bring in them who live after the coming of Christ, favored as they are with more strength, and bound to strive for greater things: since as to its own foster-children, them it doth bring in one and all. Yea, for “many shall come,” saith He, “from east and west, and shall lie down in the bosoms of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”5 And Lazarus also receiving the great prize, is shown dwelling in Abraham’s bosom. And all, as many as have shone forth with excellency in the old dispensation shone by it, every one of them. And Christ Himself, had it been in anything evil or alien from Him, would not have fulfilled it all when He came. For if only to attract the Jews He was doing this, and not in order to prove it akin to the new law, and concurrent therewith; wherefore did He not also fulfill the laws and customs of the Gentiles, that He might attract the Gentiles also?

So that from all considerations it is clear, that not from any badness in itself doth it fail to bring us in, but because it is now the season of higher precepts.

And if it be more imperfect than the new, neither doth this imply it to be evil: since upon this principle the new law itself will be in the very same case. Because in truth our knowledge of this, when compared with that which is to come, is a sort of partial and imperfect thing, and is done away on the coming of that other. “For when,” saith He, “that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away:”6 even as it befell the old law through the new. Yet we are not to blame the new law for this, though that also gives place on our attaining unto the Kingdom: for “then,” saith He, “that which is in part shall be done away:” but for all this we call it great.

Since then both the rewards thereof are greater, and the power given by the Spirit more abundant, in reason it requires our graces to be greater also. For it is no longer “a land that floweth with milk and honey,” nor a comfortable7 old age, nor many children, nor corn and wine, and flocks and herds: but Heaven, and the good things in the Heavens, and adoption and brotherhood with the Only-Begotten, and to partake of the inheritance and to be glorified and to reign with Him, and those unnumbered rewards. And as to our having received more abundant help, hear thou Paul, when he saith, “There is therefore no condemnation now to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit:8 for the law of the Spirit of life hath made me free from the law of sin and death.”9

7. And now after threatening the transgressors, and setting great rewards for them that do right, and signifying that He justly requires of us something beyond the former measures; He from this point begins to legislate, not simply, but by way of comparison with the ancient ordinances, desiring to intimate these two things: first, that not as contending with the former, but rather in great harmony with them, He is making these enactments; next, that it was meet and very seasonable for Him to add thereto these second precepts.

And that this may be made yet clearer, let us hearken to the words of the Legislator.

What then doth He Himself say?

“Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shall not kill.”10

And yet it was Himself who gave those laws also, but so far He states them impersonally. For if on the one hand He had said, “Ye have heard that I said to them of old,” the saying would have been hard to receive, and would have stood in the way of all the hearers. If again, on the other hand, after having said, “Ye have heard that it was said to them of old by my Father,” He had added, “But I say,” He would have seemed to be taking yet more on Himself.

Wherefore He hath simply stated it, making out thereby one point only; the proof that in fitting season He had come saying these things. For by the words, “It was said to them of old,” He pointed out the length of the time, since they received this commandment. And this He did to shame the hearer, shrinking from the advance to the higher class of His commandments; as though a teacher should say to a child that was indolent, “Knowest thou not how long a time thou hast consumed in learning syllables?” This then He also covertly intimates by the expression, “them of old time,” and thus for the future summons them on to the higher order of His instructions: as if He had said, “Ye are learning these lessons long enough, and you must henceforth press on to such as are higher than these.”

And it is well that He doth not disturb the order of the commandments, but begins first with that which comes earlier, with which the law also began. Yea, for this too suits with one showing the harmony between them.

“But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment.”1

Seest thou authority in perfection? Seest thou a bearing suited to a legislator? Why, which among prophets ever spake on this wise? which among righteous men? which among patriarchs? None; but, “Thus saith the Lord.” But the Son not so. Because they were publishing their Master’s commands, He His Father’s. And when I say, “His Father’s,” I mean His own. “For mine,” saith He, “are thine, and thine are mine.”2 And they had their fellow-servants to legislate for, He His own servants.

Let us now ask those who reject the law, “is, ‘Be not angry’ contrary to ‘Do no murder’? or is not the one commandment the completion and the development of the other?” Clearly the one is the fulfilling of the other, and that is greater on this very account. Since he who is not stirred up to anger, will much more refrain from murder; and he who bridles wrath will much more keep his hands to himself. For wrath is the root of murder. And you see that He who cuts up the root will much more remove the branches; or rather, will not permit them so much as to shoot out at all. Not therefore to abolish the law did He make these enactments, but for the more complete observation of it. For with what design did the law enjoin these things? Was it not, that no one might slay his neighbor? It follows, that he who was opposing the law would have to enjoin murder. For to murder, were the contrary to doing no murder. But if He doth not suffer one even to be angry, the mind of the law is established by Him more completely. For he that studies to avoid murder will not refrain from it equally with him that hath put away even anger; this latter being further removed from the crime.

8. But that we may convict them in another way also, let us bring forward all their allegations. What then do they affirm? They assert that the God who made the world, who “makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, who sends the rain on the just and on the unjust,” is in some sense an evil being.3 But the more moderate (forsooth) among them, though declining this, yet while they affirm Him to be just, they deprive Him of being good. And some other one, who is not, nor made any of the things that are, they assign for a Father to Christ. And they say that he, who is not good, abides in his own, and preserves what are his own; but that He, that is good, seeks what are another’s, and desires of a sudden to become a Saviour to them whose Creator He was not.4 Seest thou the children of the devil, how they speak out of the fountain of their father, alienating the work of creation from God: while John cries out, “He came unto His own,” and, “The world was made by Him?”1

In the next place, they criticise the law in the old covenant, which bids put out “an eye for an eye,” and “a tooth for a tooth;”2 and straightway they insult and say, “Why, how can He be good who speaks so?”

What then do we say in answer to this? That it is the highest kind of philanthropy. For He made this law, not that we might strike out one another’s eyes, but that fear of suffering by others might restrain us from doing any such thing to them. As therefore He threatened the Ninevites with overthrow, not that He might destroy them. (for had that been His will, He ought to have been silent), but that He might by fear make them better, and so quiet His wrath: so also hath He appointed a punishment for those who wantonly assail the eyes of others, that if good principle dispose them not to refrain from such cruelty, fear may restrain them from injuring their neighbors’ sight.

And if this be cruelty, it is cruelty also for the murderer to be restrained, and the adulterer checked. But these are the sayings of senseless men, and of those that are mad to the extreme of madness. For I, so far from saying that this comes of cruelty, should say, that the contrary to this would be unlawful, according to men’s reckoning. And whereas, thou sayest, “Because He commanded to pluck out “an eye for an eye,” therefore He is cruel;” I say, that if He had not given this commandment, then He would have seemed, in the judgment of most men, to be that which thou sayest He is.

For let us suppose that this law had been altogether done away, and that no one feared the punishment ensuing thereupon, but that license had been given to all the wicked to follow their own disposition in all security, to adulterers, and to murderers,3 to perjured persons, and to parricides; would not all things have been turned upside down? would not cities, market-places, and houses, sea and land, and the whole world, have been filled with unnumbered pollutions and murders? Every one sees it. For if, when there are laws, and fear, and threatening, our evil dispositions are hardly checked; were even this security taken away, what is there to prevent men’s choosing vice? and what degree of mischief would not then come revelling upon the whole of human life?

The rather, since cruelty lies not only in allowing the bad to do what they will, but in another thing too quite as much; to overlook, and leave uncared for, him who hath done no wrong, but who is without cause or reason suffering ill. For tell me; were any one to gather together wicked men from all quarters, and arm them with swords, and bid them go about the whole city, and massacre all that came in their way, could there be anything more like a wild beast than he? And what if some other should bind, and confine with the utmost strictness those whom that man had armed, and should snatch from those lawless hands them, who were on the point of being butchered; could anything be greater humanity than this?

Now then, I bid thee transfer these examples to the law likewise; for He that commands to pluck out “an eye for an eye,” hath laid the fear as a kind of strong chain upon the souls of the bad, and so resembles him, who detains those assassins in prison; whereas he who appoints no punishment for them, doth all but arm them by such security, and acts the part of that other, who was putting the swords in their hands, and letting them loose over the whole city.

Seest thou not, how the commandments, so far from coming of cruelty, come rather of abounding mercy? And if on account of these thou callest the Lawgiver grievous, and hard to bear with; tell me which sort of command is the more toilsome and grievous, “Do no murder,” or, “Be not even angry”? Which is more in extreme, he who exacts a penalty for murder, or for mere anger? He who subjects the adulterer to vengeance after the fact, or he who enjoins a penalty even for the very desire, and that penalty everlasting? See ye not how their reasoning comes round to the very contrary? how the God of the old covenant, whom they call cruel, will be found mild and meek: and He of the new, whom they acknowledged to be good, will be hard and grievous, according to their madness? Whereas we say, that there is but one and the same Legislator of either covenant, who dispensed all meetly, and adapted to the difference of the times the difference between the two systems of law. Therefore neither are the first commandments cruel, nor the second hard and grievous, but all of one and the same providential care.

For that He Himself gave the old covenant also, hear the affirmation of the prophet, or rather (so we must speak), of Him who is both the one and the other: “I will make a covenant with you, not according to the covenant which I made with your fathers.”1

But if he receive not this, who is diseased with the Manichæan doctrines,2 let him hear Paul saying the very same in another place, “For Abraham had two sons, one by the bondmaid, and another by the freewoman; and these are two covenants.”3 As therefore in that case the wives are different, the husband the same; so here too the covenants are two, the Lawgiver one.

And to prove to thee that it was of one and the same mildness; in the one He saith, “An eye for an eye,” but in this other,

“If one smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”4

For as in that case He checks him that doth the wrong with the fear of this suffering, even so also in this. “How so,” it may be said, “when He bids turn to him the other cheek also?” Nay, what of that? Since not to take away his fear did He enjoin this, but as charging yourself to allow him to take his fill entirely. Neither did He say, that the other continues unpunished, but, “do not thou punish;” at once both enhancing the fear of him that smiteth, if he persist, and comforting him who is smitten.

9. But these things we have said, as one might say them incidentally, concerning all the commandments. Now we must go on to that which is before us, and keep to the thread of what had been affirmed. “He that is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment:” so He speaks. Thus He hath not altogether taken the thing away: first, because it is not possible, being a man, to be freed from passions: we may indeed get the dominion over them, but to be altogether without them is out of the question.

Next, because this passion is even useful, if we know how to use it at the suitable time.5 See, for instance, what great good was wrought by that anger of Paul, which he felt against the Corinthians, on that well-known occasion; and how, as it delivered them from a grievous pest, so by the same means again he recovered the people of the Galatians likewise, which had fallen aside; and others too beside these.

What then is the proper time for anger? When we are not avenging ourselves, but checking others in their lawless freaks, or forcing them to attend in their negligence.

And what is the unsuitable time? When we do so as avenging ourselves: which Paul also forbidding, said “Avenge not yourselves, dearly beloved, but rather give place unto wrath.”6 When we are contending for riches: yea, for this hath he also taken away, where he saith, “Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?”7 For as this last sort is superfluous, so is the first necessary and profitable. But most men do the contrary; becoming like wild beasts when they are injured themselves, but remiss and cowardly when they see despite done to another: both which are just opposite to the laws of the Gospel.

Being angry then is not a transgression, but being so unseasonably. For this cause the prophet also said, “Be ye angry, and sin not.”8

10. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council.”

By the council in this place He means the tribunal of the Hebrews: and He hath mentioned this now, on purpose that He might not seem everywhere to play the stranger and innovator.

But this word, “Raca,” is not an expression of a great insolence, but rather of some contempt and slight on the part of the speaker. For as we, giving orders either to our servants, or to any very inferior person, say, “Away with thee; you here, tell such an one:”9 so they who make use of the Syrians’ language say, “Raca,” putting that word in stead of “thou.” But God, the lover of man, roots up even the least faults, commanding us to behave to one another in seemly manner, and with due respect; and this with a view of destroying hereby also the greater.

“But whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”10

To many this commandment hath appeared grievous and galling, if for a mere word we are really to pay so great a penalty. And some even say that it was spoken rather hyperbolically. But I fear lest, when we have deceived ourselves with words here, we may in deeds there suffer that extreme punishment.

For wherefore, tell me, doth the commandment seem overburdensome? Knowest thou not that most punishments and most sins have their beginning from words? Yea, for by words are blasphemies, and denials are by words, and revilings, and reproaches, and perjuries, and bearing false witness.1 Regard not then its being a mere word, but whether it have not much danger, this do thou inquire. Art thou ignorant that in the season of enmity, when wrath is inflamed, and the soul kindled, even the least thing appears great, and what is not very reproachful is counted intolerable? And often these little things have given birth even to murder, and overthrown whole cities. For just as where friendship is, even grievous things are light, so where enmity lies beneath, very trifles appear intolerable. And however simply a word be spoken, it is surmised to have been spoken with an evil meaning. And as in fire: if there be but a small spark, though thousands of planks lie by, it doth not easily lay hold of them; but if the flame have waxed strong and high, it readily seizes not planks only, but stones, and all materials that fall in its way; and by what things it is usually quenched, by the same it is kindled the more (for some say that at such a time not only wood and tow, and the other combustibles, but even water darted forth upon it doth but fan its power the more); so is it also with anger; whatever any one may say, becomes food in a moment for this evil conflagration. All which kind of evils Christ checking beforehand, had condemned first him that is angry without a cause to the judgment, (this being the very reason why He said, “He that is angry shall be in danger of the judgment”); then him that saith “Raca,” to the council. But as yet these are no great things; for the punishments are here. Therefore for him who calleth “fool” He hath added the fire of hell, now for the first time mentioning the name of hell. For having before discoursed much of the kingdom, not until then did He mention this; implying, that the former comes of His own love and indulgence towards man, this latter of our negligence.

11. And see how He proceeds by little and little in His punishments, all but excusing Himself unto thee, and signifying that His desire indeed is to threaten nothing of the kind, but that we drag Him on to such denunciations. For observe: “I bade thee,” saith He, “not be angry for nought, because thou art in danger of the judgment. Thou hast despised the former commandment: see what anger hath produced; it hath led thee on straightway to insult, for thou hast called thy brother ‘Raca.’ Again, I set another punishment, ‘the council.’ If thou overlook even this, and proceed to that which is more grievous, I visit thee no longer with these finite punishments, but with the undying penalty of hell, lest after this thou shouldest break forth2 even to murder.” For there is nothing, nothing in the world more intolerable than insolence; it is what hath very great power3 to sting a man’s soul. But when the word too which is spoken is in itself more wounding than the insolence, the blaze becomes twice as great. Think it not then a light thing to call another “fool.” For when of that which separates us from the brutes, and by which especially we are human beings, namely, the mind and the understanding,—when of this thou hast robbed thy brother, thou hast deprived him of all his nobleness.

Let us not then regard the words merely, but realizing the things themselves, and his feeling, let us consider how great a wound is made by this word, and unto how much evil it proceeds. For this cause Paul likewise cast out of the kingdom not only “the adulterous” and “the effeminate,” but “the revilers”4 also. And with great reason: for the insolent man mars all the beauty of charity, and casts upon his neighbor unnumbered ills, and works up lasting enmities, and tears asunder the members of Christ, and is daily driving away that peace which God so desires: giving much vantage ground unto the devil by his injurious ways, and making him the stronger. Therefore Christ Himself, cutting out the sinews of the devil’s power, brought in this law.

For indeed He makes much account of love: this being above all things the mother of every good, and the badge of His disciples, and the bond which holds together our whole condition. With reason therefore doth He remove with great earnestness the roots and the sources of that hatred which utterly spoils it.

Think not therefore that these sayings are in any wise hyperbolical, but consider the good done by them, and admire the mildness of these laws. For there is nothing for which God takes so much pains, as this; that we should be united and knit together one with another. Therefore both in His own person, and by His disciples, as well those in the Old, as in the New Testament, He makes so much account of this commandment; and is a severe avenger and punisher of those who despise the duty. For in truth nothing so effectually gives entrance and root to all wickedness, as the taking away of love. Wherefore He also said, “When iniquity abounds, the love of the many shall wax cold.”1 Thus Cain became his brother’s murderer; thus Esau; thus Joseph’s brethren; thus our unnumbered crimes have come revelling in, this bond being dissevered. You see why He Himself also roots out whatever things injure this, on every side, with great exactness.

12. Neither doth He stop at those precepts only which have been mentioned, but adds also others more than those: whereby He signifies how much account He makes thereof. Namely, having threatened by “the council,” by “the judgment,” and by “hell,” He added other sayings again in harmony with the former, saying thus:

“If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go away;2 first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”3

O goodness! O exceeding love to man! He makes no account of the honor due unto Himself, for the sake of our love towards our neighbor; implying that not at all from any enmity, nor out of any desire to punish, had He uttered those former threatenings, but out of very tender affection. For what can be milder than these sayings? “Let my service,” saith he, “be interrupted, that thy love may continue; since this also is a sacrifice, thy being reconciled to thy brother.” Yea, for this cause He said not, “after the offering,” or “before the offering;” but, while the very gift lies there, and when the sacrifice is already beginning, He sends thee to be reconciled to thy brother; and neither after removing that which lies before us,4 nor before presenting the gift, but while it lies in the midst, He bids thee hasten thither.

With what motive then doth He command so to do, and wherefore? These two ends, as it appears to me, He is hereby shadowing out and providing for. First, as I have said, His will is to point out that He highly values charity,5 and considers it to be the greatest sacrifice: and that without it He doth not receive even that other; next, He is imposing such a necessity of reconciliation; as admits of no excuse. For whoso hath been charged not to offer before he be reconciled, will hasten, if not for love of his neighbor, yet, that this may not lie unconsecrated,6 to run unto him who hath been grieved, and do away the enmity. For this cause He hath also expressed it all most significantly, to alarm and thoroughly to awaken him. Thus, when He had said, “Leave thy gift,” He stayed not at this, but added, “before the altar” (by the very place again causing him to shudder); “and go away.” And He said not merely, “Go away,” but He added, “first, and then come and offer thy gift.” By all these things making it manifest, that this table receives not them that are at enmity with each other.

Let the initiated hear this, as many as draw nigh in enmity: and let the uninitiated hear too: yea, for the saying hath some relation to them also. For they too offer a gift and a sacrifice: prayer, I mean, and alms-giving. For as to this also being a sacrifice, hear what the prophet saith: “A sacrifice of praise will glorify me;”7 and again, “Sacrifice to God a sacrifice of praise;”8 and, “The lifting up of mine hands is an evening sacrifice.”9 So that if it be but a prayer, which thou art offering in such a frame of mind, it were better to leave thy prayer, and become reconciled to thy brother, and then to offer thy prayer.

For to this end were all things done: to this end even God became man, and took order for all those works, that He might set us at one.

And whereas in this place He is sending the wrong doer to the sufferer, in His prayer He leads the sufferer to the wrong doer, and reconciles them. For as there He saith, “Forgive men their debts;” so here, “If he hath ought against thee, go thy way unto him.”

Or rather, even here too He seems to me to be sending the injured person: and for some such reason He said not, “Reconcile thyself to thy brother,” but, “Be thou reconciled.” And while the saying seems to pertain to the aggressor, the whole of it really pertains to him that is aggrieved. Thus, “If thou art reconciled to him,” saith Christ, “through thy love to him thou wilt have me also propitious, and wilt be able to offer thy sacrifice with great confidence. But if thou art still irritated, consider that even I readily command that which is mine to be lightly esteemed, that ye may become friends; and let these thoughts be soothing to thine anger.”

And He said not, “When thou hast suffered any of the greater wrongs, then be reconciled; but, “Though it be some trifle that he hath against thee.” And He added not, “Whether justly or unjustly; but merely, “If he hath ought against thee.” For though it be justly, not even in that case oughtest thou to protract the enmity; since Christ also was justly angered with us, yet nevertheless He gave Himself for us to be slain, “not imputing those trespasses.”1

For this cause Paul also, when urging us in another way to reconciliation, said, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”2 For much as Christ by this argument of the sacrifice, so there Paul by that of the day, is urging us on to the self-same point. Because in truth he fears the night, lest it overtake him that is smitten alone, and make the wound greater. For whereas in the day there are many to distract, and draw him off; in the night, when he is alone, and is thinking it over by himself, the waves swell, and the storm becomes greater. Therefore Paul, you see, to prevent this, would fain commit him to the night already reconciled, that the devil may after that have no opportunity, from his solitude, to rekindle the furnace of his wrath, and make it fiercer. Thus also Christ permits not, though it be ever so little delay, lest, the sacrifice being accomplished, such an one become more remiss, procrastinating from day to day: for He knows that the case requires very speedy treatment. And as a skillful physician exhibits not only the preventives of our diseases, but their correctives also, even so doth He likewise. Thus, to forbid our calling “fool,” is a preventive of enmity; but to command reconciliation is a means of removing the diseases that ensue on the enmity.

And mark how both commands are set forth with earnestness. For as in the former case He threatened hell, so here He receives not the gift before the reconciliation, indicating great displeasure, and by all these methods destroying both the root and the produce.

And first of all He saith, “Be not angry;” and after that, “revile not.” For indeed both these are augmented, the one by the other: from enmity is reviling, from reviling enmity. On this account then He heals now the root, and now the fruit; hindering indeed the evil from ever springing up in the first instance: but if perchance it may have sprouted up and borne its most evil fruit, then by all means He burns it down the more.

13. Therefore, you see, having mentioned, first the judgment, then the council, then hell, and having spoken of His own sacrifice, He adds other topics again, thus speaking:

“Agree with thine adversary quickly, whilst thou art in the way with him.”3

That is, that thou mayest not say, “What then, if I am injured;” “what if I am plundered, and dragged too before the tribunal?” even this occasion and excuse He hath taken away: for He commands us not even so to be at enmity. Then, since this injunction was great, He draws His advice from the things present, which are wont to restrain the grosser sort more than the future. “Why, what sayest thou?” saith He. “That thine adversary is stronger, and doeth thee wrong? Of course then he will wrong thee more, if thou do not make it up, but art forced to go into court. For in the former case, by giving up some money, thou wilt keep thy person free; but when thou art come under the sentence of the judge, thou wilt both be bound, and pay the utmost penalty. But if thou avoid the contest there, thou wilt reap two good results: first, not having to suffer anything painful; and secondly, that the good done will be thereafter thine own doing, and no longer the effect of compulsion on his part. But if thou wilt not be ruled by these sayings, thou wrongest not him, so much as thyself.”

And see here also how He hastens him; for having said, “Agree with thine adversary,” He added, “quickly;” and He was not satisfied with this, but even of this quickness He hath required a further increase, saying, “Whilst thou art in the way with him;” pressing and hastening him hereby with great earnestness. For nothing doth so much turn our life upside down, as delay and procrastination in the performance of our good works. Nay, this hath often caused us to lose all. Therefore, as Paul for his part saith, “Before the sun set, do away the enmity;” and as He Himself had said above, “Before the offering is completed, be reconciled;” so He saith in this place also, “Quickly, whilst thou art in the way with him,” before thou art come to the doors of the court; before thou standest at the bar, and art come to be thenceforth under the sway of him that judgeth. Since, before entering in, thou hast all in thine own control; but if thou set thy foot on that threshold, thou wilt not by ever so earnest efforts be able to arrange thy matters at thy will, having come under the constraint of another.

But what is it “to agree?” He means either, consent rather to suffer wrong?” or, “so plead the cause, as if thou wert in the place of the other;” that thou mayest not corrupt justice by self-love, but rather, deliberating on another’s cause as thine own, mayest so proceed to deliver thy vote in this matter. And if this be a great thing, marvel not; since with this view did He set forth all those His blessings, that having beforehand smoothed and prepared the hearer’s soul, he might render it apter to receive all His enactments.

Now some say that He obscurely signifies the devil himself, under the name of the adversary; and bids us have nothing of his, (for this, they say, is to “agree” with him): no compromise being possible after our departure hence, nor anything awaiting us, but that punishment, from which no prayers can deliver. But to me He seems to be speaking of the judges in this world, and of the way to the court of justice, and of this prison.

For after he had abashed men by higher things, and things future, he alarms them also by such as are in this life. Which thing Paul also doth, using both the future and the present to sway his hearer: as when, deterring from wickedness, he points out to him that is inclined to evil, the ruler armed: thus saying, “But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is a minister of God.”1 And again, enjoining us to be subject unto him, he sets forth not the fear of God only, but the threatening also of the other party, and his watchful care. “For ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.”2 Because the more irrational, as I have already said, are wont to be sooner corrected by these things, things which appear and are at hand. Wherefore Christ also made mention, not of hell only, but also of a court of justice, and of being dragged thither, and of the prison, and of all the suffering there; by all these means destroying the roots of murder. For he who neither reviles, nor goes to law, nor prolongs enmity, how will he ever commit murder? So that from hence also it is evident, that in the advantage of our neighbor stands our own advantage. For he that agrees with his adversary, will benefit himself much more; becoming free, by his own act, from courts of law, and prisons, and the wretchedness that is there.

14. Let us then be obedient to His sayings; let us not oppose ourselves, nor be contentious; for first of all, even antecedently to their rewards, these injunctions have their pleasure and profit in themselves. And if to the more part they seem to be burdensome, and the trouble which they cause, great; have it in thy mind that thou art doing it for Christ’s sake, and the pain will be pleasant. For if we maintain this way of reckoning at all times, we shall experience nothing burdensome, but great will be the pleasure we reap from every quarter; for our toil will no longer seem toil, but by how much it is enhanced, so much the sweeter and pleasanter doth it grow.

When therefore the custom of evil things, and the desire of wealth, keep on bewitching thee; do thou war against them with that mode of thinking which tells us, “Great is the reward we shall receive, for despising the pleasure which is but for a season;” and say to thy soul; “Art thou quite dejected because I defraud thee of pleasure? Nay, be of good cheer, for I am introducing thee into Heaven. Thou doest it not for man’s sake, but for God’s. Be patient therefore a little while, and thou shalt see how great is the gain. Endure for the present life, and thou shalt receive an unspeakable confidence.” For if we would thus discourse with our own soul, and not only consider that which is burdensome in virtue, but take account also of the crown that comes thereof, we shall quickly withdraw it from all wickedness.

For if the devil, holding out pleasure for a season, but pain for ever, is yet strong, and prevails; seeing our case is just the reverse in these matters, the labor temporary, the pleasure and profit immortal, what plea shall we have, if we follow not virtue after so great encouragement? Why, the object of our labors is enough to set against all, and our clear persuasion that for God’s sake we are enduring all this. For if one having the king his debtor, thinks he hath sufficient security for all his life; consider how great will he be, who hath made the Gracious and Everlasting God a debtor to himself, for good deeds both small and great. Do not then allege to me labors and sweats; for not by the hope only of the things to come, but in another way also, God hath made virtue easy, assisting us everywhere, and putting His hand to our work. And if thou wilt only contribute a little zeal, everything else follows. For to this end He will have thee too to labor a little, even that the victory may be thine also. And just as a king would have his own son present indeed in the array; he would have him shoot with the bow,1 and show himself, that the trophy may be reckoned his, while he achieves it all Himself: even so doth God in our war against the devil: He requires of thee one thing alone, that thou show forth a sincere hatred against that foe. And if thou contribute this to Him, He by Himself brings all the war to an end. Though thou burn with anger, with desire of riches, with any tyrannical passion whatever; if He see thee only stripping thyself and prepared against it, He comes quickly to thee, and makes all things easy, and sets thee above the flame, as He did those children of old in the Babylonian furnace: for they too carried in with them nought but their good will.

In order then that we also may extinguish all the furnace of disordered pleasure here, and so escape the hell that is there, let these each day be our counsels, our cares, and our practice, drawing towards us the favor of God, both by our full purpose concerning good works, and by our frequent prayers. For thus even those things which appear insupportable now, will be most easy, and light, and lovely. Because, so long as we are in our passions, we think virtue rugged and morose and arduous, vice desirable and most pleasing; but if we would stand off from these but a little, then both vice will appear abominable and unsightly, and virtue easy, mild, and much to be desired. And this you may learn plainly from those who have done well. Hear, for instance, how of those passions Paul is ashamed, even after his deliverance from them, saying, “For what fruit had ye then in those things, whereof ye are now ashamed?”2 But virtue, even after his labor, he affirms to be light, calling3 the laboriousness of our affliction momentary and “light,” and rejoicing in his sufferings, and glorying in his tribulations, and taking a pride in the marks wherewith he had been branded for Christ’s sake.

In order then that we too may establish ourselves in this habit, let us order ourselves each day by what hath been said, and “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, let us press on towards the prize of the high calling:”4 unto which God grant that we may all attain, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

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St Augustine’s Sermon on Matthew 5:22

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 23, 2019


[I] 1. THE section of the Holy Gospel which we just now heard when it was read, must have sorely alarmed us, if we have faith; but those who have not faith, it alarmed not. And because it does not alarm them, they are minded to continue in their false security, as knowing not how to divide and distinguish the proper times of security and fear. Let him then who is leading now that life which has an end, fear, that in that life which is without end, he may have security. Therefore were we alarmed. For who would not fear Him who speaketh the truth, and saith, “Whosoever shall say to his brother, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”1 Yet “the tongue can no man tame.”2 Man tames the wild beast, yet he tames not his tongue; he tames the lion, yet he bridles not his own speech; he tames all else, yet he tames not himself; he tames what he was afraid of, and what he ought to be afraid of, in order that he may tame himself, that he does not fear. But how is this? It is a true sentence, and came forth from an oracle of truth, “But the tongue can no man tame.”

[II] 2. What shall we do then, my brethren? I see that I am speaking indeed to a large assembly, yet, seeing that we are one in Christ, let us take counsel as it were in secret. No stranger heareth us, we are all one, because we are all united in one.3 What shall we do then? “Whosoever saith to his brother, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire: But the tongue can no man tame.” Shall all men go into hell fire? God forbid! “Lord, Thou art our refuge from generation to generation:”4 Thy wrath is just: Thou sendest no man into hell unjustly. “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit?”5 and whither shall I flee from Thee, but to Thee? Let us then understand, Dearly beloved, that if no man can tame the tongue, we must have recourse to God, that He may tame it. For if thou shouldest wish to tame it, thou canst not, because thou art a man. “The tongue can no man tame.” Observe a like instance to this in the case of those beasts which we do tame. The horse does not tame himself; the camel does not tame himself; the elephant does not tame himself; the viper does not tame himself; the lion does not tame himself; and so also man does not tame himself. But that the horse, and ox, and camel, and elephant, and lion, and viper, may be tamed, man is sought for. Therefore let God be sought to, that man may be tamed.

[III] 3. Therefore, “O Lord, art Thou become our refuge.” To Thee do we betake ourselves, and with Thy help it will be well with us. For ill is it with us by ourselves. Because we have left Thee, Thou hast left us to ourselves. Be we then found in Thee, for in ourselves were we lost. “Lord, Thou art become our refuge.” Why then, brethren, should we doubt that the Lord will make us gentle, if we give up ourselves to be tamed by him? Thou hast tamed the lion which thou madest not; shall not He tame thee, who made thee? For from whence didst thou get the power to tame such savage beasts? Art thou their equal in bodily strength? By what power then hast thou been able to tame great beasts? The very beasts of burden, as they are called, are by their nature wild. For in their untamed state they are unserviceable. But because custom has never known them except as in the hands and under the bridle and power of men, dost thou imagine that they could have been born in this tame state? But now at all events mark the beasts which are unquestionably of savage kind. “The lion roareth, who doth not fear?”6 And yet wherein is it that thou dost find thyself to be stronger than he? Not in strength of body, but in the interior reason of the mind. Thou art stronger than the lion, in that wherein thou wast made after the image of God. What! Shall the image of God tame a wild beast; and shall not God tame His own image?

[IV] 4. In Him is our hope; let us submit ourselves to Him, and entreat His mercy. In Him let us place our hope, and until we are tamed, and tamed thoroughly, that is, are perfected, let us bear our Tamer. For oftentimes does our Tamer bring forth His scourge too. For if thou dost bring forth the whip to tame thy beasts, shall not God do so to tame His beasts (which we are), who of His beasts will make us His sons? Thou tamest thine horse; and what wilt thou give thy horse, when he shall have begun to carry thee gently, to bear thy discipline, to obey thy rule, to be thy faithful, useful7 beast? How dost thou repay him, who wilt not so much as bury him when he is dead, but cast him forth to be torn by the birds of prey? Whereas when thou art tamed, God reserveth for thee an inheritance, which is God Himself, and though dead for a little time, He will raise thee to life again. He will restore to thee thy body, even to the full number of thy hairs; and will set thee with the Angels for ever, where thou wilt need no more His taming hand, but only to be possessed by His exceeding8 mercy. For God will then be “all in all;”9 neither will there be any unhappiness to exercise us, but happiness alone to feed us. Our God will be Himself our Shepherd; our God will be Himself our Cup;10 our God will be Himself our glory; our God will be Himself our wealth. What multiplicity of things soever thou seekest here, He alone will be Himself all these things to thee.

[V] 5. Unto this hope is man tamed, and shall his Tamer then be deemed intolerable? Unto this hope is man tamed, and shall he murmur against his beneficent Tamer, if He chance to use the scourge? Ye have heard the exhortation of the Apostle, “If ye are without chastening, ye are bastards, and not sons;1 for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? Furthermore,” he says, “we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence; shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live?”2 For what could thy father do for thee, that he corrected and chastised thee, brought out the scourge and beat thee? Could he make thee live for ever? What he could not do for himself, how should he do for thee? For some paltry sum of money which he had gathered together by usury and travail, did he discipline thee by the scourge, that the fruit of his labour when left to thee might not be squandered by thy evil living. Yes, he beats his son, as fearing lest his labours should be lost; forasmuch as he left to thee what he could neither retain here, nor carry away. For he did not leave thee anything here which could be his own; he went off, that so thou mightest come on. But thy God, thy Redeemer, thy Tamer, thy Chastiser, thy Father, instructeth thee. To what end? That thou mayest receive an inheritance, when thou shalt not have to carry thy father to his grave, but shall have thy Father Himself for thine inheritance. Unto this hope art thou instructed, and dost thou murmur? and if any sad chance befall thee, dost thou (it may be) blaspheme? Whither wilt thou go from His Spirit? But now He letteth thee alone, and doth not scourge thee; or He abandoneth thee in thy blaspheming; shalt thou not experience His judgment? Is it not better that He should scourge thee and receive thee, than that He should spare thee and abandon thee?

[VI] 6. Let us say then to the Lord our God, “Lord, Thou art become our refuge from generation to generation.” In the first and second generations Thou art become our refuge. Thou wast our refuge, that we might be born, who before were not. Thou wast our refuge, that we might be born anew, who were evil. Thou wast a refuge to feed those that forsake Thee. Thou art a refuge to raise up and direct Thy children. “Thou art become our refuge.” We will not go back from Thee, when Thou hast delivered us from all our evils, and filled us with Thine own good things. Thou givest good things now, Thou3 dealest softly with us, that we be not wearied in the way; Thou dost correct, and chastise, and smite, and direct us, that we may not wander from the way. Whether therefore Thou dealest softly with us, that we be not wearied in the way, or chastisest us, that we wander not from the way, “Thou art become our refuge, O Lord.”

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Extraordinary Form: Commentaries for the Ninth Sunday After Pentecost ()

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 23, 2019

Dominica IX Post Pentecosten ~ II. classis






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Extraordinary Form: Third Sunday After Pentecost (Dominica III Post Pentecosten)

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 23, 2019

Dominica III Post Pentecosten ~ II. classis





  • Homily Notes on Luke 15:4. On the Human Soul. Can be used for sermon preparation, meditation points, or points to further study.

Posted in Bible, Catholic, Christ, Extraordinary Form, Latin Mass Notes, Notes on the Lectionary, Scripture, SERMONS | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 28:16-20

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 23, 2019

Mt 28:16. And the eleven disciples went into Galilee, unto the mountain where Jesus had appointed them. 

“And the eleven disciples,” that is, Apostles, who were His chief disciples. He says, “the eleven,” since the twelfth, Judas, having already flung down to the Chief Priests the price of his treason, in despair, hanged himself (Mt 27:5).

“Went into Galilee, unto the mountain where Jesus had appointed them.” This apparition to the Apostles in Galilee did not take place till at least eight days after Easter day, as St. Augustine shows from the history of the Gospel (Lib. 3 de Consen. Evang., c. 25), and is clear from John (Jn 20:26, &c.) St. Matthew makes no mention of what occurred to the Apostles at Jerusalem, during the eight days following Easter day.

It is not mentioned by any of the Evangelists, when or where “Jesus had appointed” to meet His disciples on a mountain in Galilee. Probably, it was in one of His previous apparitions. Neither is it said, what the mountain is. It is quite certain it was not the mountain from which He ascended, as this was in Judea, near Jerusalem (Acts 1:12). Hence, it is commonly supposed to be Thabor, which St. Peter, from the several manifestations and operations of our Lord that occurred there, calls, “the holy mount” (2 Pet. 1:18). It is commonly supposed, that this was the remarkable apparition referred to by St. Paul (1 Cor. 15:6), when our Lord appeared to “more than five hundred brethren at once.” Probably, our Lord instructed His Apostles to gather together His followers in Galilee, to enjoy His presence on this occasion; although this is not mentioned by the Evangelists, any more than is His appointment regarding the mountain. St. Matthew makes no mention of any other apparition of our Lord to His disciples. This He mentions as being the most remarkable of all.

Mt 28:17. And seeing him they adored: but some doubted. 

“And seeing Him they adored,” prostrated themselves before Him, confessing Him to be the eternal Son of God, now risen triumphant from the tomb. “But, some doubted.” There is a diversity of opinion as to the meaning of these words. It is not easy to see how, on this occasion, any of the Apostles doubted our Redeemer’s resurrection; for, even Thomas had already been convinced of it (John 20:28). Hence, many expositors refer the word, “doubted,” not to this occasion of His appearing on the mount; but, to the former occasion, when Thomas and, probably, others had entertained doubts when at Jerusalem; hence, they interpret the words to mean, “but some had doubted,” as if the words meant: They all now openly confess Him to be God, and adore Him, although heretofore, on some occasions, some of them had doubted (but now doubted no longer) the truth of His resurrection. And, as St. Matthew mentioned this as the first and only apparition of our Lord to His disciples, he probably, recorded, at the same time, what occurred at some of His preceding apparitions, viz., the doubts entertained by some of His Apostles regarding the reality of His resurrection. Others, who refer the words, “some doubted,” to the present occasion, understand them of some of the other disciples, and the five hundred followers of our Lord. It may also mean, that among the Apostles themselves, some doubted on this occasion, not the truth of His resurrection; but the reality or identity of His person, whether He was the Lord who had truly risen, just as the Apostles, seeing Him walk upon the sea, doubted if it were He, and not rather a ghost. Hence, our Redeemer, in order to dissipate their doubts—

Mt 28:18. And Jesus coming, spoke to them, saying: All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. 

“Coming” nearer, “spoke to them,” addressed them familiarly in His usual, well-known tone of voice, in order to remove every feeling of doubt and uneasiness. Many things were spoken by our Lord to His Apostles, during the forty days’ interval between His Resurrection and Ascension, respecting the future government of His Church—“speaking of the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). But St. Matthew records, out of the many things He treated of, only these which it was most important for us to know, and, particularly, the precept and power given to the Apostles to preach the Gospel to the entire earth, which was the summary of all He then said. In order, however, to inspire them with greater confidence in undertaking a work so arduous, and, humanly speaking (taking into account their former character and position, together with the perversity and intellectual powers of the world) to them impossible, He refers to the plenitude of power given Him in heaven and on earth, from which fulness of power their commission was derived.

“All power in given to Me in heaven,” &c. As God, He had all power from eternity; as man, He had, from His Incarnation, in virtue of the hypostatic union of the Divine Person with human nature, received all power, or, the power of excellence, as it is called. Besides, all power was given Him in a more eminent degree, which He merited by a special title, through His Passion and Cross, His humiliation and sufferings. While He might have referred to this triple power, it is to the latter He, most likely, refers here in particular. He merited, by His humiliations, to be exalted (Phil. 2:8-9).

His humanity, after His resurrection, being endowed with immortality, became, in a new form, sharer of the Divine glory and power; and, having despoiled the devil of his usurped dominion, obtained full power over the entire redeemed human race. It is, then, because He died and rose again triumphant from the tomb, that “all power was given to Him,” by His Father, “in heaven,” placing Him at His right hand, and proclaiming Him as the King of Angels; “and in earth,” to establish His Church, and gather her from all nations, to unite in one body all His members, and reign supremely over all creation. This universal dominion of Christ is referred to (Dan. 7:14; Eph. 1:20, &c.; Phil. 2:10, &c.; Acts 10:36, 42).

“All power,” means, perfect, absolute, full, unrestricted dominion “in heaven and earth” (Rev 17:14), that is, over all creatures, both in heaven and earth. As He had been humbled beneath all creatures; so, now, He is exalted beyond them all, and receives “all power,” that, is, dominion and right to govern them.

Mt 28:19. Going therefore, teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. 

“Going, therefore,” since all power is given to Me, and, “therefore,” I have full authority to send you. Hence, as I am about to leave this world, and return to My Father, I send you, as I have a right to do, as My legates and visible representatives, to exercise power in My behalf.

“Teach all nations,” without distinction of Jew or Gentile. St. Mark (Mk 16:15) says, “going into the entire world.” What are they commissioned “to teach all nations?” St. Mark tells us, “preach the Gospel to every creature,” the tidings of salvation through Christ, the Gospel in which is contained “the science of salvation” (Luke 1:77), a knowledge of the necessary truths of faith, relative to the Trinity, Incarnation, Redemption, remission of sins, &c. This is unlike His former mandate addressed to His Apostles, when they were first sent to the lost ones of the house of Israel—“in viam gentium ne abieritis.” The former mandate is now withdrawn; and He now tells them not to confine their ministrations to the narrow precincts of Judea; but, as He has ransomed the entire world, and received all nations as His inheritance, they were to instruct all nations, without exception or distinction, in the necessary truths of faith.

“Baptizing them in the name of the Father,” &c. After having instructed mankind, including Jew and Gentile, in the Faith, the Apostles were next to “baptize them.” Those whom you shall have discipled (which is the force of the Greek word, μαθητευσατε), and who shall have embraced My faith, you will next “baptize.” The necessity of baptism, as also its matter, had been already clearly expressed by our Redeemer (John 3:5). Although the matter of baptism is not clearly expressed here, the Church has, from the beginning, declared it to be natural water, and condemned all such as held the contrary, v.g., Hermias, &c., who held, that as the baptism of John was in water, and Christ’s “in the Holy Ghost and in fire,” Christian baptism was not to be administered in water. Baptism was instituted by our Redeemer in place of circumcision, as a sign for distinguishing and recognizing His followers, and as a proof of their incorporation with the body of His Church. It was, however, not a mere barren sign, but a sign operative of grace, cleansing from sin, and conferring the Holy Ghost. “He saved us by the lover of regeneration and renovation of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5).

“In the name of the Father,” &c. The form of baptism is here assigned, which consists in the express invocation of the three Persons of the adorable Trinity, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Hence, the Church has, at all times, taught, that the essential form of baptism requires, besides expressing the act or baptizing, “Ego te baptize” (or, baptizetur servus Christi, which latter form—allowed only in the Greek Church—was declared valid by Eugene IV., ad Armenos), the express and distinct invocation of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity. And, although, according to some, this might not, strictly speaking, be proved from these words; still, the Apostles understood the words in this sense, and transmitted it so to the Church, which, from tradition, has pronounced the distinct invocation of the Trinity to be essential, and condemned all who asserted the contrary, such as the Marcionites and Priscillianists, whose baptism was condemned in the Council of Nice, because they did not employ the above form. The words, “in the name,” besides expressing the invocation of the name of the Blessed Trinity, expresses, also, invoking the virtue, power, Divinity of the Trinity, from which baptism derives all its efficacy. It was usual with the Jews to baptize, in their own form, all who were converted from the worship of false gods. Even with Pagan nations, it was customary to wash the entire bodies of such as wished to be initiated into their religious rites. Our Redeemer wished that no one should be introduced into His Church, unless, after profession of faith, through the mystical laver, whereby they are regenerated into spiritual life, and adopted into the Sonship of God. In the word, “name” (not, names), is expressed the unity of nature—nomen Trinitatis unus Deus (St. Jerome); and the distinct terms, “of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” separated by the copulative conjunction, express the Trinity of Persons in God. In a word, they express the adorable mystery of the Unity and Trinity of God, the foundation of Christian faith.

St. Mark (Mk 16:15,) expresses this commission in almost similar words. “Go ye into the whole world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.” The “whole world,” embraces “all nations,” the Jews included; “every creature,” embraces all rational beings who were capable of profiting of the preaching of the Gospel. “He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but, he that believeth not, shall be condemned.” The promise and threat contained in these words, involve a precept to confer and receive baptism. Hence, they are similar to the words of St. Matthew, “baptizing them in the name of the Father,” &c. The error of the Anabaptists, founded on the words, “he that believeth,” &c., is refuted by the universal practice and tradition of the Church conferring infant baptism. St. Augustine also refutes this error by saying, that infants do profess their faith through the sponsors and the Church, so that those who have sinned by the perverse will and act of another (viz., Adam), also believe they are justified and saved through the will and acts of others, viz., the Church and their sponsors. At all events, it is quite clear, the words here only regard adults; to them alone could the Gospel be preached. To them alone, could the words, “believe not,” which refers to positive rejection of the Gospel after it was preached to them, apply. From other sources, viz., tradition and the practice of the Church from the beginning, is derived a certain argument in favour of infant baptism.

The argument derived from this passage, in favour of the sufficiency of faith alone, is hardly worth noticing. The form, “he who believes,” &c., like every other affirmative proposition, always implies, provided there be no other obstacle; provided everything else be fulfilled. He speaks of faith, animated by charity and good works. Thus, v.g., we read, “he who shall invoke the name of the Lord, shall be saved,” which means: provided he do everything else required. For, we read elsewhere, “Not every one who says, Lord, Lord,” &c. (Mt 7:21.) Moreover, in these very words, more than faith is required, “he that believes and is baptized.” And in the words of St. Matthew, “Teaching them to observe,” &c., it is conveyed, that the observance of God’s Commandments is no less necessary for salvation than is faith.

Mt 28:20. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world. 

“Teaching them to observe,” &c. This refers to the practical precepts and commandments which they should “observe,” by the performance of good works, after receiving faith and baptism. Besides faith, the observance of the Commandments, and the assiduous persevering practice of virtue, are indispensable for salvation.

Our Redeemer enjoins three things on His Apostles, intimately connected with one another, which they should perform on their mission, as His vicegerents throughout the whole world—1st. Preaching the doctrines of faith, “teach all nations.” The Greek word for “teach” (μαθητευσατε), is clearly expressive of dogmatic teaching. Hence, for it, St. Mark has, “preach the Gospel.” 2nd. The conferring of baptism, to introduce the nations into His Church. 3rd. The inculcation of a practical observance of His Commandments, and of the precepts of a holy life, “teaching them to observe,” &c. The Greek word for “teaching” (διδασκοντες), is well suited to express moral teaching.

Before baptism, they were to be instructed in what appertains to Christian faith; after it, in those things which appertain to morals and a holy Christian life, manifested by good works.

“And behold, I am with you,” &c. This glorious and magnificent promise, so consoling to all the children of the Church, was very opportunely subjoined by our Redeemer to the preceding command given to the Apostles to preach the Gospel to the nations of the earth. He enjoined on them a most arduous work, humanly speaking, impossible of accomplishment, considering, on the one hand, the position and character of the Apostles—weak, humble, illiterate, ignorant fishermen; and on the other, the intellectual pride and power of the world—the nature of the doctrines they were to propound, their opposition to the hitherto received maxims of the world, and their opposition to the corrupt and cherished passions of mankind. He was sending them, as lambs to conquer wolves. He was, moreover, Himself shortly to withdraw from them, and return in triumph to His Father. Any wonder, then, that they should be dispirited and desponding at the arduous work of converting the world, which lay before them? But, our Redeemer, at once, dispels all grounds for despondency. He tells them, that He will protect, assist, and strengthen them, as He had hitherto done, and promises that His never failing assistance, while they are engaged in His sacred work, shall be ready at hand when needed.

“And behold.” Ever bear in mind, what I am about communicating to you. It is this: “I am with you.” “I”—“to whom is given all power in heaven and on earth”—I, the Omnipotent God, the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father—the Word, from the beginning, by whom all things were made; I—who “have conquered the world”—“in whom the prince of the world has nothing—to whom My Father has promised to place all My enemies as a footstool under My feet—in whom all the fulness of the Divinity dwelleth corporally”—I, the Infallible Truth, who shall ever perform My promises. “Am,” unchangeably, unceasingly. (The present tense, “am,” is employed to convey His Immutability. It embraces all times, the future no less than the present.)

“With you,” not merely by My Omnipresence, as I am with all creation; not merely by the ordinary assistance of My grace, which is given to all men rightly disposed; but, in a singular way, granting you a special, extraordinary assistance, aiding assisting, protecting, guarding you from error or failure; so that you shall securely and infallibly succeed, as My representatives, in the heavenly work of preaching to the nations of the earth, converting them to My faith and Church.

“All days,” without a moment’s intermission, interruption, or interval. That this was the kind of assistance promised, is clear from the importance of the mission here confided to them—from the solemn manner in which our Redeemer previously invokes and appeals to the Divine and Supreme Power conferred on Him—also, from the form, “I am with you,” which implies, something singular and uncommon (Murray, de Ecclesia). It may also include, though not directly intended here, His abiding presence in the adorable Eucharist.

“Even to the consummation of the world.” Thus “showing,” as St. Jerome expresses it, “that they would always live (in their successors), and that He would never depart from the faithful.” “Qui usque ad consummationem sæculi se cum discipulis, futurum esse promittit et illos ostendit semper, esse victuros et se nunquam a credentibus recessurum” (St. Jerome).

That the words, “consummation of the world,” mean the end of time, and not the end of the age of the Apostles, or first age of the Christian era, as some Protestants pretend, is clear from this, that the assistance here promised is given for the mission of converting, baptizing, and teaching. The mission referred to and the assistance promised, are inseparably united, and connected with one another, “Go, teach,” &c., “And behold, I am,” &c. The words clearly show, that the assistance promised, was to ever accompany the work of the mission prescribed, and to cease only with its termination. Now, the mission of converting, &c., has not ceased with the Apostles, but, is to last in full force to the end of time. Hence, also, the assistance promised, is to continue in the Church till the end of ages. Moreover, it was promised for the conversion of “all nations.”

And hence, as this work of universal conversion could not be performed by the Apostles themselves in person, both it and the assistance annexed to it, were to continue in their successors, to the end of time.

From this text, is proved the indefectibility of the Church to the end of ages. 2ndly. Her unfailing sanctity, “vobiscum sum.” 3rdly. Her Catholicity, embracing “all nations,” which the efficacious promise of our Redeemer conveys. 4thly. Her Apostolicity. 5thly. Her Infallibility.

Similar is the promise, “And I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you for ever” (John 15:16). “But when He, the Spirit of truth, shall come, He will teach you all truth” (John 16:13). Christ’s remaining with His Church, being with them all days to the end of time, is the same as the Holy Ghost remaining. For, such assistance and permanent continuance with the Church, being an actus ad extra, are, like all operations, ad extra, ascribed to one. Person, common to the two other Persons of the adorable Trinity.

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St John Chrysostom’s Homiletic Commentary on Hebrews 6:10-20

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 21, 2019

This post contains an excerpt from St Chrysostom’s 10th homily on Hebrews, followed by his 11th homily.


Ver. 10. “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work, and1 the love, which ye have showed toward His name, in that ye have ministered unto the saints and do minister.” O how did he here restore their spirit, and give them fresh strength, by reminding them of former things, and bringing them to the necessity of not supposing that God had forgotten. (For he cannot but sin who is not fully assured concerning his hope, and says that God is unrighteous. Accordingly he obliged them by all means to look forward to those future things. For one who despairs of present things, and has given up exerting himself, may be restored by [the prospect of] things future.) As he himself also said in writing to the Galatians, “Ye did run well” (Gal. 5:7): and again, “Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain.” (Gal. 3:4.)

And as in this place he puts the praise with the reproof, saying, “When for the time ye ought to be teachers” (c. 5:12), so also there, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed.” (Gal. 1:6.) With the reproof is the praise. For respecting great things we marvel, when they fail. Thou seest that praise is concealed under the accusation and the blame. Nor does he say this concerning himself only, but also concerning all. For he said not, I am persuaded, but “we are persuaded better things of you,” even good things (he means). He says this either in regard to matters of conduct, or to the recompense.

In the next place, having said above, that it is “rejected and nigh unto a curse,” and that it “shall be for burning,” he says, we do not by any means speak this of you. “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work, and love.” (Ver. 10.)

[5.] Why then did we say these things? (Ver. 11, 12) “But we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end; that ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

“We desire,” he says, and we do not therefore merely labor for, or even so far as words go, wish this. But what? “We desire” that ye should hold fast to virtue, not as condemning your former conduct (he means), but fearing for the future. And he did not say, ‘not as condemning your former conduct, but your present; for ye have fainted, ye are become too indolent’; but see how gently he indicated it, and did not wound them.

For what does he say? “But we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence unto the end.” For this is the admirable part of Paul’s wisdom, that he does not expressly show that they “had” given in, that they “had” become negligent. For when he says, “We desire that every one of you”—it is as if one should say, I wish thee to be always in earnest; and such as thou wert before, such to be now also, and for the time to come. For this made his reproof more gentle and easy to be received.

And he did not say, “I will,” which would have been expressive of the authority of a teacher, but what is expressive of the affection of a father, and what is more than “willing,” “we desire.” All but saying, Pardon us, even if we say what is distasteful.

“We desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of your hope unto the end.” Hope (he means) carries us through: it recovers us again. Be not wearied out, do not despair, lest your hope be in vain. For he that worketh good hopeth also good, and never despairs of himself.

“That ye may not become dull.”2 Still3 “become”; and yet he said above, “seeing ye are become dull4 of hearing.” (c. 5:11.) Observe however how he limited the dullness to the hearing. And here he hints the very same thing; instead of ‘that ye may not continue in it,’ he says [this]. But again he leads on to that future time for which they were not yet responsible; saying in effect “that ye may not become too slothful”: since for that which is not yet come we could not be responsible. For he who in regard to the present time is exhorted to be in earnest, as being remiss, will perhaps become even more slothful, but he who is exhorted with reference to the future, not so.

“We desire” (he says) “that every one of you.” Great is his affection for them: he cares equally for great and small; moreover he knows all, and overlooks no one, but shows the same tender care for each, and equal value for all: from which cause also he the rather persuaded them to receive what was distasteful in his words.

“That ye be not slothful,” he says. For as inactivity hurts the body, so also inactivity as to what is good renders the soul more supine and feeble.

[6.] “But followers” (he says) “of them, who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” And who they are, he tells afterwards. He said before, “Imitate your own former well-doings.” Then, lest they should say, What? He leads them back to the Patriarch: bringing before them examples of well-doing indeed from their own history,1 but of the thought of being forsaken, from the Patriarch; that they might not suppose that they were disregarded and forsaken as worthy of no account, but might know that it is [the portion] of the very noblest men to make the journey of life through trials; and that God has thus dealt with great and admirable men.

Now we ought (he says) to bear all things with patience: for this also is believing: whereas if He say that He gives and thou immediately receivest, how hast thou also believed? Since in that case this is no longer of thy faith, but of Me, the Giver. But if I say that I give, and give after an hundred years, and thou hast not despaired; then hast thou accounted Me worthy to be believed, then thou hast the right opinion concerning Me. Thou seest that oftentimes unbelief arises not from want of hope only, but also from faintheartedness, and want of patience, not from condemning him who made the promise.

“For God” (he says) “is not unrighteous to forget your love” and the zeal “which ye have showed toward His Name, in that ye have ministered unto the saints, and do minister.” He testifies great things of them, not deeds only, but deeds done with alacrity, which he says also in another place, “and not only so, but they gave themselves also to the Lord and to us.” (2 Cor. 8:5.)

“Which” (he says) “ye have showed toward His Name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” See how again he soothes them, by adding “and do minister.” Still even at this time (he says) ye are ministering, and he raises them up by showing that they had done [what they did] not to them [the saints], but to God. “Which ye have showed” (he says); and he said not “unto the saints,” but “towards God,” for this is “toward His Name.” It is for His Name’s sake (he means) that ye have done all. He therefore who has the enjoyment from you of2 so great zeal and love, will never despise you nor forget you.

[7.] Hearing these things, let us, I beseech you, “minister to the saints.” For every believer is a saint in that he is a believer. Though he be a person living in the world, he is a saint. “For” (he says) “the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife by the husband.” (1 Cor. 7:14.) See how the faith makes the saintship. If then we see even a secular person in misfortune, let us stretch out a hand [to him]. Let us not be zealous for those only who dwell in the mountains; they are indeed saints both in manner of life and in faith; these others however are saints by their faith, and many of them also in manner of life. Let us not, if we see a monk [cast] into prison, in that case go in; but if it be a secular person, refuse to go in. He also is a saint and a brother.

What then (you say) if he be unclean and polluted? Listen to Christ saying, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” (Matt. 7:1.) Do thou act for God’s sake. Nay, what am I saying? Even if we see a heathen in misfortune, we ought to show kindness to him, and to every man without exception who is in misfortunes, and much more to a believer who is in the world. Listen to Paul, saying, “Do good unto all men, but especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:10.)

But I know not whence this [notion] has been introduced, or whence this custom hath prevailed. For he that only seeks after the solitaries, and is willing to do good to them alone, and with regard to others on the contrary is over-curious in his enquiries, and says, ‘unless he be worthy,3 unless he be righteous, unless he work miracles, I stretch out no hand’; [such an one] has taken away the greater part of charity,4 yea and in time he will in turn destroy the very thing itself. And yet that is charity,5 [which is shown] towards sinners, towards the guilty. For this is charity,1 not the pitying those who have done well, but those who have done wrong.

[8.] And that thou mayest understand this, listen to the Parable: “A certain man” (it is said) “went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves” (Luke 10:30, &c.); and when they had beaten him, they left him by the way-side, having badly bruised him. A certain Levite came, and when he saw him, he passed by; A priest came, and when he saw him, he hastened past; a certain Samaritan came, and bestowed great care upon him. For he “bound up his wounds” (Luke 10:34), dropped oil on them, set him upon his ass, “brought him to the inn, said to the host, Take care of him” (Luke 10:35); and (observe his great liberality), “and I,” he says, “will give thee whatsoever thou shalt expend.” Who then is his neighbor? “He,” it is said, “that showed mercy on him. Go thou then also,” He says, “and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37.) And see what a parable He spake. He said not that a Jew did [so and so] to a Samaritan, but that a Samaritan showed all that liberality. Having then heard these things, let us not care only for “those that are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10), and neglect others. So then also thou, if thou see any one in affliction, be not curious to enquire further. His being in affliction involves a just claim on thy aid.2 For if when thou seest an ass choking thou raisest him up, and dost not curiously enquire whose he is, much more about a man one ought not to be over-curious in enquiring whose he is. He is God’s, be he heathen or be he Jew; since even if he is an unbeliever, still he needs help. For if indeed it had been committed to thee to enquire and to judge, thou wouldst have well said thus, but, as it is, his misfortune does not suffer thee to search out these things. For if even about men in good health it is not right to be over-curious, nor to be a busybody in other men’s matters, much less about those that are in affliction.

[9.] But on another view what [shall we say]? Didst thou see him in prosperity, in high esteem, that thou shouldst say that he is wicked and worthless? But if thou seest him in affliction, do not say that he is wicked. For when a man is in high credit, we fairly say these things; but when he is in calamity, and needs help, it is not right to say that he is wicked. For this is cruelty, inhumanity, and arrogance. Tell me what was ever more iniquitous than the Jews. But nevertheless while God punished them, and that justly, yea, very justly, yet He approved of those who had compassion on them, and those who rejoiced over them He punished. (Amos 5:6.) For “they were not grieved,” it is said, “at the affliction of Joseph.”

And again it is said “Redeem [Ransom] those who are ready to be slain: spare not.” (Prov. 24:11.) (He said not, enquire curiously, and learn who he is; and yet, for the most part, they who are led away to execution are wicked,) for this especially is charity. For he that doeth good to a friend, doeth it not altogether for God’s sake: but he that [doeth good] to one unknown, this man acts purely for God’s sake. “Do not spare” thy money, even if it be necessary to spend all, yet give.

But we, when we see persons in extreme distress,3 bewailing themselves, suffering things more grievous than ten thousand deaths, and oftentimes unjustly, we[I say] are sparing of our money, and unsparing of our brethren; we are careful of lifeless things, but neglect the living soul. And yet Paul says, “in meekness instruct those that oppose themselves, if peradventure God should give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, and they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil who are taken captive by him, at His will.” (2 Tim. 2:25, 26.) “If peradventure,” he says; thou seest of how great long-suffering the word is full.

Let us also imitate Him, and despair of no one. For the fishermen too, when they have cast many times [suppose it], have not succeeded; but afterwards having cast again, have gained all. So we also expect that ye will all at once show to us ripe fruit. For the husbandman too, after he has sown, waits one day or two days, and is a long while in expectation: and all at once he sees the fruits springing up on every side. This we expect will take place in your case also by the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father and also to the Holy Ghost be glory, might, honor, now and for ever and world without end. Amen.


[1.] Having boldly reflected on the faults of the Hebrews, and sufficiently alarmed them, he consoles them, first, by praises, and secondly (which also is the stronger ground), by the [thought] that they would certainly attain the object of their hope. Moreover he draws his consolation, not from things future, but again from the past, which indeed would the rather persuade them. For as in the case of punishment, he alarms them rather by those [viz. things future], so also in the case of the prizes [set before them], he encourages them by these [viz. by things past], showing [herein] God’s way of dealing. And that is, not to bring in what has been promised immediately, but after a long time. And this He does, both to present the greatest proof of His power, and also to lead us to Faith, that they who are living in tribulation without having received the promises, or the rewards, may not faint under their troubles.

And omitting all [the rest], though he had many whom he might have mentioned, he brought forward Abraham both on account of the dignity of his person, and because this had occurred in a special way in his case.

And yet at the end of the Epistle he says, that “all these, having seen the promises afar off, and having embraced them, received them not, that they without us should not be made perfect.” (c. 11:13.) “For when God made promise to Abraham” (he says) “because He could swear by no greater, He sware by Himself, saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.” (c. 11:39, 40.) How then does he say at the end [of the Epistle] that “he received not the promises,” and here, that “after he had patiently endured he obtained the promise”? How did he not receive? How did he obtain? He is not speaking of the same things in this place and in the other, but makes the consolation twofold. God made promises to Abraham, and after a long space of time He gave the things [spoken of] in this place, but those others not yet.

“And so after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.” Seest thou that the promise alone did not effect the whole, but the patient waiting as well? Here he alarms them, showing that oftentimes a promise is thwarted through faintheartedness.1 And this he had indeed shown through [the instance of] the [Jewish] people: for since they were faint-hearted, therefore they obtained not the promise. But now he shows the contrary by means of Abraham. Afterwards near the end [of the Epistle] he proves something more also: [viz.] that even though they had patiently endured, they did not obtain; and yet not even so are they grieved.

[2.] “For men verily swear by the greater, and an Oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. But God because He could swear by no greater, sware by Himself.” Well, who then is He that sware unto Abraham? Is it not the Son? No, one says. Certainly indeed it was He: however, I shall not dispute [thereon]. So when He [the Son] sweareth the same oath, “Verily, verily, I say unto you,” is it not plain that it was because He could not swear by any greater? For as the Father sware, so also the Son sweareth by Himself, saying, “Verily, verily, I say unto you.” He here reminds them also of the oaths of Christ, which He was constantly uttering. “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, he that believeth on Me shall never die.” (John 11:26.)

What is, “And an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife”? it is instead of, “by this every doubtful question is solved”: not this, or this, but every one.

God, however, ought to have been believed even without an oath: (ver. 17) “wherein” (he says) “God willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it [lit. “mediated”2 ] by an oath.” In these words he comprehends also the believers, and therefore mentions this “promise” which was made to us in common [with them]. “He mediated” (he says) “by an oath.” Here again he says that the Son was mediator between men and God.

Ver. 18. “That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible that God should lie.” What are these two? The speaking and promising; and the adding an oath to the promise. For since among men that which is [confirmed] by an oath is thought more worthy of credit, on this account He added that also.

Seest thou that He regardeth not His own dignity, but how He may persuade men, and endures to have unworthy things said concerning Himself. That is He wishes to impart full assurance. And in the case of Abraham indeed [the Apostle] shows that the whole was of God, not of his patient endurance, since He was even willing to add an oath, for He by whom men swear, by Him also God “sware,” that is “by Himself.” They indeed as by one greater, but He not as by one greater. And yet He did it. For it is not the same thing for man to swear by himself, as for God. For man has no power over himself. Thou seest then that this is said not more for Abraham than for ourselves: “that we” (he says) “might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us.” Here too again,1 “after he had patiently endured he obtained the promise.”

“Now” he means, and he did not say “when2 He swore.” But what the oath is, he showed, by speaking of swearing by a greater. But since the race of men is hard of belief, He condescends to the same [things] with ourselves. As then for our sake He swears, although it be unworthy of Him that He should not be believed, so also did [the Apostle] make that other statement: “He learned from the things which He suffered” (c. 5:8), because men think the going through experience more worthy of reliance.

What is “the hope set before us”? From these [past events] (he says) we conjecture the future. For if these came to pass after so long a time, so certainly the others will. So that the things which happened in regard to Abraham give us confidence also concerning the things to come.

[3.] (Ver. 19, 20) “Which [hope] we have as an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil: whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made High Priest forever after the order of Melchisedec.” He shows, that while we are still in the world, and not yet departed from [this] life, we are already among the promises. For through hope we are already in heaven. He said, “Wait; for it shall surely be.” Afterwards giving them full assurance, he says, “nay rather by hope.”3 And he said not, “We are within,” but ‘It hath entered within,’ which was more true and more persuasive. For as the anchor, dropped from the vessel, does not allow it to be carried about, even if ten thousand winds agitate it, but being depended upon makes it steady, so also does hope.

And see how very suitable an image he has discovered: For he said not, Foundation; which was not suitable; but, “Anchor.” For that which is on the tossing sea, and seems not to be very firmly fixed, stands on the water as upon land, and is shaken and yet is not shaken. For in regard to those who are very firm, and philosophic, Christ with good reason made that statement, saying, “Whosoever hath built his house on a rock.” (Matt. 7:24.) But in respect of those who are giving way, and who ought to be carried through by hope, Paul hath suitably set down this. For the surge and the great storm toss the boat; but hope suffers it not to be carried hither and thither, although winds innumerable agitate it: so that, unless we had this [hope] we should long ago have been sunk. Nor is it only in things spiritual, but also in the affairs of this life, that one may find the power of hope great. Whatever it may be, in merchandise, in husbandry, in a military expedition, unless one sets this before him, he would not even touch the work. But he said not simply “Anchor,” but “sure and steadfast” [i.e.] not shaken. “Which entereth into that within the veil”; instead of ‘which reacheth through even to heaven.’

[4.] Then after this he led on to Faith also, that there might not only be hope, but a very true [hope]. For after the oath he lays down another thing too, even proof by facts, because “the forerunner is for us entered in, even Jesus.” But a forerunner is a forerunner of some one, as John was of Christ.

Now he did not simply say, “He is entered in,” but “where He is entered in a forerunner for us,” as though we also ought to attain. For there is no great interval between the forerunner and those who follow: otherwise he would not be a forerunner; for the forerunner and those who follow ought to be in the same road, and to arrive after [each other].

“Being made an High Priest forever after the order,” he says, “of Melchisedec.” Here is also another consolation, if our High Priest is on high, and far better than those among the Jews, not in the kind [of Priesthood] only, but also in the place, and the tabernacle, and the covenant, and the person. And this also is spoken according to the flesh.

[5.] Those then, whose High Priest He is, ought to be greatly superior. And as great as the difference is between Aaron and Christ, so great should it be between us and the Jews. For see, we have our victim4 on high, our priest on high, our sacrifice1 on high: let us bring such sacrifices as can be offered on that altar, no longer sheep and oxen, no longer blood and fat. All these things have been done away; and there has been brought in in their stead “the reasonable service.” (Rom. 12:1.) But what is “the reasonable service”? The [offerings made] through the soul; those made through the spirit. (“God,” it is said, “is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth”—John 4:24); things which have no need of a body, no need of instruments, nor of special places, whereof each one is himself the Priest, such as, moderation, temperance, mercifulness, enduring ill-treatment, long-suffering, humbleness of mind.

These sacrifices one may see in the Old [Testament] also, shadowed out beforehand. “Offer to God,” it is said, “a sacrifice of righteousness” (Ps. 4:5); “Offer a sacrifice of praise” (Ps. 50:14); and, “a sacrifice of praise shall glorify Me” (Ps. 50:23), and, “the sacrifice of God is a broken spirit” (Ps. 51:17); and “what doth the Lord require of thee but” to hearken to Him? (Mic. 6:8.) “Burnt-offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast had no pleasure in: then I said, Lo I come to do Thy will, O God!” (Ps. 40:6, 7), and again, “To what purpose do ye bring the incense from Sheba?” (Jer. 6:20.) “Take thou away from Me the noise of thy songs, for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.” (Amos 5:23.) But instead of these “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” (Hosea 6:6.) Thou seest with what kind of “sacrifices God is well pleased.” (c. 13:16.) Thou seest also that already from the first the one class have given place, and these have come in their stead.

These therefore let us bring, for the other indeed are [the offerings] of wealth and of persons who have [possessions], but these of virtue: those from without, these from within: those any chance person even might perform; these only a few. And as much as a man is superior to a sheep, so much is this sacrifice superior to that; for here thou offerest thy soul as a victim.

[6.] And other sacrifices also there are, which are indeed whole burnt-offerings, the bodies of the martyrs: there both soul and body [are offered]. These have a great savor of a sweet smell. Thou also art able, if thou wilt, to bring such a sacrifice.

For what, if thou dost not burn thy body in the fire? Yet in a different fire thou canst; for instance, in that of voluntary poverty, in that of affliction. For to have it in one’s power to spend one’s days in luxury and expense, and yet to take up a life of toil and bitterness, and to mortify the body, is not this a whole burnt-offering? Mortify thy body, and crucify it, and thou shalt thyself also receive the crown of this martyrdom. For what in the other case the sword accomplishes, that in this case let a willing mind effect. Let not the love of wealth burn, or possess you, but let this unreasonable appetite itself be consumed and quenched by the fire of the Spirit; let it be cut in pieces by the sword of the Spirit.

This is an excellent sacrifice, needing no priest but him who brings it. This is an excellent sacrifice, performed indeed below but forthwith taken up on high. Do we not wonder that of old time fire came down and consumed all? It is possible now also that fire may come down far more wonderful than that, and consume all the presented offerings:2 nay rather, not consume, but bear them up to heaven. For it does not reduce them to ashes, but offers them as gifts to God.

[7.] Such were the offerings of Cornelius. For (it is said) “thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.” (Acts 10:4.) Thou seest a most excellent union. Then are we heard, when we ourselves also hear the poor who come to us. “He” (it is said) “that stoppeth his ears that he may not hear the poor” (Prov. 21:13), his prayer God will not hearken to. “Blessed is he that considereth the poor and needy: the Lord will deliver him in the evil day.” (Ps. 40:1.) But what day is evil except that one which is evil to sinners?

What is meant by “he that considereth”? He that understandeth what it is to be a poor man, that has thoroughly learned his affliction. For he that has learned his affliction, will certainly and immediately have compassion on him. When thou seest a poor man, do not hurry by, but immediately reflect what thou wouldest have been, hadst thou been he. What wouldest thou not have wished that all should do for thee? “He that considereth” (he says). Reflect that he is a free-man like thyself, and shares the same noble birth with thee, and possesses all things in common with thee; and yet oftentimes he is not on a level even with thy dogs. On the contrary, while they are satiated, he oftentimes lies, sleeps, hungry, and the free-man is become less honorable than thy slaves.

But they perform needful services for thee. What are these? Do they serve thee well? Suppose then I show that this [poor man] too performs needful services for thee far greater than they do. For he will stand by thee in the Day of judgment, and will deliver thee from the fire. What do all thy slaves do like this? When Tabitha died, who raised her up? The slaves who stood around or the poor? But thou art not even willing to put the free-man on an equality with thy slaves. The frost is hard, and the poor man is cast out in rags, well-nigh dead, with his teeth chattering, both by his looks and his air fitted to move thee: and thou passeth by, warm and full of drink; and how dost thou expect that God should deliver thee when in misfortune?

And oftentimes thou sayest this too: ‘If it had been myself, and I had found one that had done many wrong things, I would have forgiven him; and does not God forgive?’ Say not this. Him that has done thee no wrong, whom thou art able to deliver, him thou neglectest. How shall He forgive thee, who art sinning against Him? Is not this deserving of hell?

And how amazing! Oftentimes thou adornest with vestments innumerable, of varied colors and wrought with gold, a dead body, insensible, no longer perceiving the honor; whilst that which is in pain, and lamenting, and tormented, and racked by hunger and frost, thou neglectest; and givest more to vainglory, than to the fear of God.

[8.] And would that it stopped here; but immediately accusations are brought against the applicant. For why does he not work (you say)? And why is he to be maintained in idleness? But (tell me) is it by working that thou hast what thou hast, didst thou not receive it as an inheritance from thy fathers? And even if thou dost work, is this a reason why thou shouldest reproach another? Hearest thou not what Paul saith? For after saying, “He that worketh not, neither let him eat” (2 Thess. 3:10), he says, “But ye be not weary in well doing.” (2 Thess. 3:13.)

But what say they? He is an impostor.1 What sayest thou, O man? Callest thou him an impostor, for the sake of a single loaf or of a garment? But (you say) he will sell it immediately. And dost thou manage all thy affairs well? But what? Are all poor through idleness? Is no one so from shipwreck? None from lawsuits? None from being robbed? None from dangers? None from illness? None from any other difficulties? If however we hear any one bewailing such evils, and crying out aloud, and looking up naked toward heaven, and with long hair, and clad in rags, at once we call him, The impostor! The deceiver! The swindler! Art thou not ashamed? Whom dost thou call impostor? Give nothing, and do not accuse the man.

But (you say) he has means, and pretends. This is a charge against thyself, not against him. He knows that he has to deal with the cruel, with wild beasts rather than with men, and that, even if he utter a pitiable story, he attracts no one’s attention: and on this account he is forced to assume also a more miserable guise, that he may melt thy soul. If we see a person coming to beg in a respectable dress, This is an impostor (you say), and he comes in this way that he may be supposed to be of good birth. If we see one in the contrary guise, him too we reproach. What then are they to do? O the cruelty, O the inhumanity!

And why (you say) do they expose their maimed limbs? Because of thee. If we were compassionate, they would have no need of these artifices: if they persuaded us at the first application, they would not have contrived these devices. Who is there so wretched, as to be willing to cry out so much, as to be willing to behave in an unseemly way, as to be willing to make public lamentations, with his wife destitute of clothing, with his children, to sprinkle ashes on [himself]. How much worse than poverty are these things? Yet on account of them not only are they not pitied, but are even accused by us.

[9.] Shall we then still be indignant, because when we pray to God, we are not heard? Shall we then still be vexed, because when we entreat we do not persuade? Do we not tremble for fear, my beloved?

But (you say) I have often given. But dost thou not always eat? And dost thou drive away thy children often begging of thee? O the shamelessness! Dost thou call a poor man shameless? And thou indeed art not shameless when plundering, but he is shameless when begging for bread! Considerest thou not how great are the necessities of the belly? Dost not thou do all things for this? Dost thou not for this neglect things spiritual? Is not heaven set before thee and the kingdom of heaven? And thou fearing the tyranny of that [appetite] endurest all things, and thinkest lightly of that [kingdom]. This is shamelessness.

Seest thou not old men maimed? But O what trifling! ‘Such an one’ (you say) ‘lends out so many pieces of gold, and such an one so many, and yet begs.’ You repeat the stories and trifles of children; for they too are always hearing such stories from their nurses. I am not persuaded of it. I do not believe this. Far from it. Does a man lend money, and beg when he has abundance? For what purpose, tell me? And what is more disgraceful than begging? It were better to die than to beg. Where does our in inhumanity stop? What then? Do all lend money? Are all impostors? Is there no one really poor? “Yea” (you say) “and many.” Why then dost thou not assist those persons, seeing thou art a strict enquirer into their lives? This is an excuse and a pretense.

“Give to every one2 that asketh of thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” (Matt. 5:42.) Stretch out thy hand, let it not be closed up. We have not been constituted examiners into men’s lives, since so we should have compassion on no one. When thou callest upon God why dost thou say, Remember not my sins? So then, if that person even be a great sinner, make this allowance in his case also, and do not remember his sins. It is the season of kindness, not of strict enquiry; of mercy, not of account. He wishes to be maintained: if thou art willing, give; but if not willing, send him away without raising doubts.1 Why art thou wretched and miserable? Why dost thou not even thyself pity him, and also turnest away those who would? For when such an one hears from thee, This [fellow] is a cheat; that a hypocrite; and the other lends out money; he neither gives to the one nor to the other; for he suspects all to be such. For you know that we easily suspect evil, but good, not [so easily].

[10.] Let us “be merciful,” not simply so, but “as our heavenly Father is.” (Luke 6:36.) He feeds even adulterers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and what shall I say? Those having every kind of wickedness. For in so large a world there must needs be many such. But nevertheless He feeds all; He clothes all. No one ever perished of hunger, unless one did so of his own choice. So let us be merciful. If one be in want and in necessity, help him.

But now we are come to such a degree of unreasonableness, as to act thus not only in regard to the poor who walk up and down the alleys, but even in the case of men that live in [religious] solitude.2 Such an one is an impostor, you say. Did I not say this at first, that if we give to all indiscriminately, we shall always be compassionate; but if we begin to make over-curious enquiries, we shall never be compassionate? What dost thou mean? Is a man an impostor in order to get a loaf? If indeed he asks for talents of gold and silver, or costly clothes, or slaves, or anything else of this sort, one might with good reason call him a swindler. But if he ask none of these things, but only food and shelter, things which are suited to a philosophic life,3 tell me, is this the part of a swindler? Cease we from this unseasonable fondness for meddling, which is Satanic, which is destructive.

For indeed, if a man say that he is on the list of the Clergy, or calls himself a priest, then busy thyself [to enquire], make much ado: since in that case the communicating4 without enquiry is not without danger. For the danger is about matters of importance, for thou dost not give but receivest. But if he want food, make no enquiry.

Enquire, if thou wilt, how Abraham showed hospitality towards all who came to him. If he had been over-curious about those who fled to him for refuge, he would not have “entertained angels.” (c. 13:2.) For perhaps not thinking them to be angels, he would have thrust them too away with the rest. But since he used to receive all, he received even angels.

What? Is it from the life of those that receive [thy bounty] that God grants thee thy reward? Nay [it is] from thine own purpose, from thy abundant liberality; from thy loving kindness; from thy goodness. Let this be [found], and thou shalt attain all good things, which may we all attain, through the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father and together with the Holy Ghost, be glory, power, honor, now and for ever and world without end. Amen.


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St John Chrysostom’s Homiletic Commentary on Hebrews 5:1-14

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 21, 2019

[1.] The blessed Paul wishes to show in the next place that this covenant is far better than the old. This then he does by first laying down remote considerations. For inasmuch as there was nothing bodily or that made a show,2 no temple for instance, nor Holy of Holies, nor Priest with so great apparel, no legal observances, but all things higher and more perfect, and there was nothing of bodily things, but all was in things spiritual, and things spiritual did not attract the weak, as things bodily; he thoroughly sifts this whole matter.

And observe his wisdom: he makes his beginning from the priest first, and continually calls Him an High Priest, and from this first [point] shows the difference [of the two Dispensations]. On this account he first of all defines what a Priest is, and shows whether He has any things proper to a Priest, and whether there are any signs of priesthood. It was however an objection in his way that He [Christ] was not even well-born, nor was He of the sacerdotal tribe, nor a priest on earth. How then was He a Priest? some one may say.

And just as in the Epistle to the Romans, having taken up an argument of which they were not easily persuaded, that Faith effects that which the labor of the Law could not, nor the sweat of the daily life, he betook himself to the Patriarch and referred the whole to that time: so now here also he opens out the other path of the Priesthood, showing its superiority from the things which happened before. And as, in [the matter of] punishment, he brings before them not Hell alone, but also what happened to their fathers,3 so now here also, he first establishes this position from things present. For it were right indeed that earthly things should be proved from heavenly, but when the hearers are weak, the opposite course is taken.

[2.] Up to a certain point he lays down first the things which are common [to Christ and their High Priests], and then shows that He is superior. For comparative4 excellence arises thus, when in some respects there is community, in others superiority; otherwise it is no longer comparative.

“For every High Priest taken from among men,” this is common to Christ; “is ordained for men in things pertaining to God,” and this also; “that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for the people,” and this too, [yet] not entirely: what follows however is no longer so: “who can have compassion5 on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way,” from this point forward is the superiority, “inasmuch as himself also is encompassed with infirmity; and by reason hereof he ought as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.”

Then also [there are] other [points]: He is made [Priest] (he says) by Another and does not of Himself intrude into [the office]. This too is common (ver. 4), “And no man taketh this honor to himself, but he that is called of God as was Aaron.”

Here again he conciliates6 them in another point, because He was sent from God: which Christ was wont to say throughout to the Jews. “He that sent Me is greater than I,” and, “I came not of Myself.” (John 12:49; 14:28; 8:42.)

He appears to me in these words also to hint at the priests of the Jews, as being no longer priests, [but] intruders and corrupters of the law of the priesthood; (ver. 5) “So Christ also glorified not Himself to be made an High Priest.”

How then was He appointed (one says)? For Aaron was many times appointed as by the Rod, and when the fire came down and destroyed those who wished to intrude into the priesthood. But in this instance, on the contrary, they [the Jewish Priests] not only suffered nothing, but even are in high esteem. Whence then [His appointment]? He shows it from the prophecy. He has nothing [to allege] perceptible by sense, nothing visible. For this cause he affirms it from prophecy, from things future; “But He that said unto Him Thou art My Son, to-day have I begotten Thee.” What has this to do with the Son? Yea (he says) it is a preparation for His being appointed by God.

Ver. 6. “As He saith also in another place, Thou art a Priest forever after the order of Melchisedech.” Unto whom now was this spoken?

Who is “after the order of Melchisedech”? No other [than He]. For they all were under the Law, they all kept sabbaths, they all were circumcised; one could not point out any other [than Him].

[3.] Ver. 7, 8. “Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears, to Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared; though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.” Seest thou that he sets forth nothing else than His care and the exceeding greatness of His love? For what means the [expression] “with strong crying”? The Gospel nowhere says this, nor that He wept when He prayed, nor yet that He uttered a cry. Seest thou that it was a condescension? For he could not [merely] say that He prayed, but also “with strong crying.”

“And was heard,” (he says), “in that He feared; though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.” (Ver. 9, 10), “And being made perfect He became the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him: called of God an High Priest after the order of Melchisedech.”

Be it with “crying,” why also “strong [crying] and tears”?

“Having offered,” (he says), “and having been heard in that He feared.” What sayest thou? Let the Heretics1 be ashamed. The Son of God “was heard in that He feared.” And what more could any man say concerning the prophets? And what sort of connection is there, in saying, “He was heard in that He feared, though He were Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered”? Would any man say these things concerning God? Why, who was ever so mad? And who, even if he were beside himself, would have uttered these things? “Having been heard,” (he says), “in that He feared, He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” What obedience? He that before this had been obedient even unto death, as a Son to His Father, how did He afterwards learn? Seest thou that this is spoken concerning the Incarnation?

Tell me now, did He pray the Father that He might be saved from death? And was it for this cause that He was “exceeding sorrowful, and said, If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me”? (Matt. 26:38, 39.) Yet He nowhere prayed the Father concerning His resurrection, but on the contrary He openly declares, “Destroy this temple and within three days I will raise it up.” (John. 2:19.) And, “I have power to lay down My life, and I have power to take it again. No man taketh it from Me, I lay it down of Myself.” (John 10:18.) What then is it; why did He pray? (And again He said, “Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and scribes, and they shall condemn Him to death. And they shall deliver Him to the Gentiles, to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify Him; and the third day He shall rise again” (Matt. 20:18, 19), and said not, “My Father shall raise Me up again.”) How then did He pray concerning this? But for whom did He pray? For those who believed on Him.

And what he means is this, ‘He is readily listened to.’ For since they had not yet the right opinion concerning Him, he said that He was heard. Just as He Himself also when consoling His disciples said, “If ye loved Me, ye would rejoice, because I go to My Father” (John 14:28), and “My Father is greater than I.” But how did He not glorify Himself, He who “made Himself of no reputation” (Phil. 2:7), He who gave Himself up? For, it is said, “He gave Himself” up “for our sins.” (See Gal. 1:4.) And again, “Who gave Himself a ransom for us all.” (1 Tim. 2:6.) What is it then? Thou seest that it is in reference to the flesh that lowly things are spoken concerning Himself: So also here, “Although He were Son, He was heard in that He feared,” it is said. He wishes to show, that the success was of Himself, rather than of God’s favor. So great (he says) was His reverence, that even on account thereof God had respect unto Him.

“He learned,” he saith, to obey God. Here again he shows how great is the gain of sufferings. “And having been made perfect,” he says, “He became the Author of salvation to them that obey Him.” (Cf. supra, pp. 384, 391.) But if He, being the Son, gained obedience from His sufferings, much more shall we. Dost thou see how many things he discourses about obedience, that they might be persuaded to it? For it seems to me that they would not be restrained. “From the things,” he says, “which He suffered He” continually “learned” to obey God. And being “made perfect” through sufferings. This then is perfection, and by this means must we arrive at perfection. For not only was He Himself saved, but became to others also an abundant supply of salvation. For “being made perfect He became the Author of salvation to them that obey Him.”

[4.] “Being called,” he says, “of God an High Priest after the order of Melchisedech”: (ver. 11) “Of whom we have many things to say and hard to be uttered [or explained].” When he was about to proceed to the difference of the Priesthood, he first reproves them, pointing out both that such great condescension was “milk,” and that it was because they were children that he dwelt longer on the lowly subject, relating to the flesh, and speaks [about Him] as about any righteous man. And see, he neither kept silence as to the doctrine altogether, nor did he utter it; that on the one hand, he might raise their thoughts, and persuade them to be perfect, and that they might not be deprived of the great doctrines; and on the other, that he might not overwhelm their minds.

“Of whom,” he says, “we have many things to say and hard to be explained, seeing ye are dull of hearing.” Because they do not hear, the doctrine is “hard to be explained.” For when one has to do with men who do not go along with him nor mind the things that are spoken, he cannot well explain the subject to them.

But perhaps some one of you that stand here, is puzzled, and thinks it a hard case, that owing to the Hebrews, he himself is hindered from hearing the more perfect doctrines. Nay rather, I think that perhaps here also except a few, there are many such [as they], so that this may be said concerning yourselves also: but for the sake of those few I will speak.

Did he then keep entire silence, or did he resume the subject again in what follows; and do the same as in the Epistle to the Romans? For there too, when he had first stopped the mouths of the gainsayers, and said, “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” (Rom. 9:20), he then subjoined the solution. And for my own part I think that he was not even altogether silent, and yet did not speak it out, in order to lead the hearers to a longing [for the knowledge]. For having mentioned [the subject], and said that certain great things were stored up in the doctrine, see how he frames his reproof in combination with panegyric.

For this is ever a part of Paul’s wisdom, to mix painful things with kind ones. Which he also does in the Epistle to the Galatians, saying, “Ye did run well; who did hinder you?” (Gal. 5:7.) And, “Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain” (Gal. 3:4), and, “I have confidence in you in the Lord.” (Gal. 5:10.) Which he says also to these [Hebrews], “But we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation.” (c. 6:9.) For these two things he effects, he does not overstrain them, nor suffer them to fall back; for if the examples of others are sufficient to arouse the hearer, and to lead him to emulation; when a man has himself for an example and is bidden to emulate himself, the possibility follows at the same time. He therefore shows this also, and does not suffer them to fall back as men utterly condemned, nor as being alway evil, but [says] that they were once even good; (ver. 12) for “when for the time ye ought to be teachers,” he says. Here he shows that they had been believers a long while, and he shows also that they ought to instruct others.

[5.] At all events observe him continually travailing to introduce the discourse concerning the High Priest, and still putting it off. For hear how he began: “Having a great High Priest that is passed into the heavens” (c. 4:14); and omitting to say how He was great, he says again, “For every High Priest taken from among men, is appointed for men in things pertaining to God.” (c. 5:1.) And again, “So Christ also glorified not Himself to be made an High Priest.” (c. 5:5.) And again after saying, “Thou art a Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedech” (c. 5:6), he again puts off [the subject], saying, “Who in the days of His Flesh offered prayers and supplications.” (c. 5:7.) When therefore he had been so many times repulsed, he says, as if excusing himself, The blame is with you. Alas! how great a difference! When they ought to be teaching others, they are not even simply learners, but the last of learners. (Ver. 12), “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that some one1 teach you again which be the first principles2 of the oracles of God.” Here he means the Human Nature [of Christ]. For as in external literature it is necessary to learn the elements first, so also here they were first taught concerning the human nature.

Thou seest what is the cause of his uttering lowly things. So Paul did to the Athenians also, discoursing and saying, “The times of this ignorance God winked at: but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent, because He hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained, whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30, 31.) Therefore, if he says anything lofty, he expresses it briefly, while the lowly statements are scattered about in many parts of the Epistle. And thus too he shows the lofty; since the very lowliness [of what is said] forbids the suspicion that these things relate to the Divine Nature. So here also the safe ground was kept.3

But what produces this dullness? This he pointed out especially in the Epistle to the Corinthians, saying, “For whereas there is among you envy and strife and divisions, are ye not carnal?” (1 Cor. 3:3.) But observe, I beseech you, his great wisdom, how he always deals according to the distempers before him. For there the weakness arose more from ignorance, or rather from sin; but here not from sins only, but also from continual afflictions. Wherefore he also uses expressions calculated to show the difference, not saying, “ye are become carnal,” but “dull”: in that case “carnal,” but in this the pain is greater. For they [the Corinthians] indeed were not able to endure [his reproof], because they were carnal: but these were able. For in saying, “Seeing ye are become dull of hearing” (c. 5:11), he shows that formerly they were sound in health, and were strong, fervent in zeal, which he also afterwards testifies respecting them.

[6.] “And are become such as have need of milk, not of strong meat.” He always calls the lowly doctrine “milk,” both in this place and in the other. “When,” he says, “for [i.e. “because of”] the time ye ought to be teachers”: because of that very thing, namely the time, for which ye ought especially to be strong, for this especially ye are become backsliding. Now he calls it “milk,” on account of its being suited to the more simple. But to the more perfect it is injurious, and the dwelling on these things is hurtful. So that it is not fitting that matters of the Law should be introduced1 now or the comparison made from them, [such as] that He was an High Priest, and offered sacrifice, and needed crying and supplication. Wherefore see how these things are unhealthful2 to “us”; but at that time they nourished them being by no means unhealthful to them.

So then the oracles of God are true nourishment. “For I will give unto them,” he saith, “not a famine of bread, nor a thirst of water, but a famine of hearing the word of the Lord.” (Amos 8:11.)

“I gave you milk to drink, and not meat” (1 Cor. 3:2); He did not say, I fed you, showing that such [nourishment] as this is not food, but that [the case is] like that of little children who cannot be fed with bread. For such have not drink given them, but their food is to them instead of drink.

Moreover he did not say, “ye have need,” but “ye are become such as have need of milk and not of strong meat.” That is, ye willed [it]; ye have reduced yourselves to this, to this need.

Ver. 13. “For every one that partaketh of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.” What is “the Word [doctrine] of righteousness”? He seems to me here to hint at conduct also. That which Christ also said, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees” (Matt. 5:20), this he says likewise, “unskilled in the word of righteousness,” that is, he that is unskilled in the philosophy that is above, is unable to embrace a perfect and exact life.3 Or else by “righteousness” he here means Christ, and the high doctrine concerning Him.

That they then were “become dull,” he said; but from what cause, he did not add, leaving it to themselves to know it, and not wishing to make his discourse hard to bear. But in the case of the Galatians he both “marveled” (Gal. 1:6) and “stood in doubt” (Gal. 4:20), which tends much more to encourage, as [it is the language] of one who would never have expected that this should happen. For this is [what] the doubting [implies].

Thou seest that there is another infancy. Thou seest that there is another full age.4 Let us become of “full age” in this sense: It is in the power even of those who are children, and the young to come to that “full age”: for it is not of nature, but of virtue.

[7.] Ver. 14. “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age [perfect], even them who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Those had not “their senses exercised,” nor did they “know good and evil.” He is not speaking now concerning life [conduct], when he says “to discern good and evil,” for this is possible and easy for every man to know, but concerning doctrines that are wholesome and sublime, and those that are corrupted and low. The babe knows not how to distinguish bad and good food. Oftentimes at least it even puts dirt into its mouth, and takes what is hurtful; and it does all things without judgment; but not [so] the full grown man. Such [babes] are they who lightly listen to everything, and give up their ears indiscriminately: which seems to me to blame these [Hebrews] also, as being lightly “carried about,” and now giving themselves to these, now to those. Which he also hinted near the end [of the Epistle], saying, “Be not carried aside by divers and strange doctrines.” (c. 13:9.) This is the meaning of “to discern good and evil.” “For the mouth tasteth meat, but the soul trieth words.” (Job 34:3.)

[8.] Let us then learn this lesson. Do not, when thou hearest that a man is not a Heathen nor a Jew, straightway believe him to be a Christian; but examine also into all the other points; for even Manichæans, and all the heresies, have put on this mask, in order thus to deceive the more simple. But if we “have the senses” of the soul “exercised to discern both good and evil,” we are able to discern such [teachers].

But how do our “senses” become “exercised”? By continual hearing; by experience of the Scriptures. For when we set forth the error of those [Heretics], and thou hearest to-day and to-morrow; and provest that it is not right, thou hast learnt the whole, thou hast known the whole: and even if thou shouldest not comprehend to-day, thou wilt comprehend to-morrow.

“That have,” he says, their “senses exercised.” Thou seest that it is needful to exercise our hearing by divine studies, so that they may not sound strangely. “Exercised,” saith he, “for discerning,” that is, to be skilled.

One man says, that there is no Resurrection; and another looks for none of the things to come; another says there is a different God; another that He has His beginning from Mary. And see at once how they have all fallen away from want of moderation,1 some by excess, others by defect. As for instance, the first Heresy of all was that of Marcion; this introduced another different God, who has no existence.2 See the excess. After this that of Sabellius, saying that the Son and the Spirit and the Father are One.3 Next that of Marcellus and Photinus, setting forth the same things. Moreover that of Paul of Samosata, saying that He had His beginning from Mary. Afterwards that of the Manichæans; for this is the most modern of all. After these the heresy of Arius. And there are others too.

And on this account have we received the Faith, that we might not be compelled to attack innumerable heresies, and to deal with them, but whatever any man might have endeavored either to add or take away, that we might consider spurious. For as those who give the standards do not oblige [people] to busy themselves about measures innumerable, but bid them keep to what is given them; so also in the case of doctrines.

[9.] But no man is willing to give heed to the Scriptures. For if we did give heed, not only should we not be ourselves entangled by deceit, but we should also set others free who are deceived, and should draw them out of dangers. For the strong soldier is not only able to help himself, but also to protect his comrade, and to free him from the malice of the enemy. But as it is, some do not even know that there are any Scriptures. Yet the Holy Spirit indeed made so many wise provisions in order that they might be safely kept.

And look at it from the first, that ye may learn the unspeakable love of God. He inspired the blessed Moses; He engraved the tables, He detained him on the mount forty days; and again as many [more] to give the Law. And after this He sent prophets who suffered woes innumerable. War came on; they slew them all, they cut them to pieces, the books were burned. Again, He inspired another admirable man to publish them, Ezra I mean, and caused them to be put together from the remains. And after this He arranged that they should be translated by the seventy. They did translate them. Christ came, He receives them; the Apostles disperse them among men. Christ wrought signs and wonders.

What then after so great painstaking? The Apostles also wrote, even as Paul likewise said, “they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” (1 Cor. 10:11.) And again Christ said, “Ye do err not knowing the Scriptures” (Matt. 22:29): and again Paul said, “That through patience and comfort of the Scriptures we may have hope.” (Rom. 15:4.) And again, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable.” (2 Tim. 3:16.) And “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” (Col. 3:16.) And the prophet, “he shall meditate in His Law day and night” (Ps. 1:2), and again in another place, “Let all thy communication be in the law of the Most High.” (Ecclus. 9:15.) And again, “How sweet are Thy words unto my throat.” (He said not to my hearing, but to my “throat”); “more than honey and the honeycomb to my mouth.” (Ps. 119:103.) And Moses says, “Thou shalt meditate in them continually, when thou risest up, when thou sittest, when thou liest down.” (Deut. 6:7.) “Be in them” (1 Tim. 4:15), saith he. And innumerable things one might say concerning them. But notwithstanding, after so many things there are some who do not even know that there are Scriptures at all. For this cause, believe me, nothing sound, nothing profitable comes from us.

[10.] Yet, if any one wished to learn military affairs, of necessity he must learn the military laws. And if any one sought to learn navigation or carpentry or anything else, of necessity he must learn the [principles] of the art. But in this case they will not do anything of the kind, although this is a science which needs much wakeful attention. For that it too is an art which needs teaching, hear the prophet saying, “Come, ye children, hearken unto me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” (Ps. 34:11.) It follows therefore certainly that the fear of God needs teaching. Then he says, “What man is he that desireth life?” (Ps. 34:12.) He means the life yonder; and again, “Keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips from speaking guile; depart from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.” (Ps. 34:13, 14.)

Do you know indeed who said these things, a prophet or a historian, or an apostle, or an evangelist? For my own part I do not think you do, except a few. Yea and these themselves again, if we bring forward a testimony from some other place, will be in the same case as the rest of you. For see, I repeat the same statement expressed in other words. “Wash ye, make you clean, put away your wickedness from your souls before Mine eyes, learn to do well, seek out judgment. Keep thy tongue from evil, and do good: learn to do well.” (Isa. 1:16, 17.) Thou seest that virtue needs to be taught? For this one says, “I will teach you the fear of the Lord,” and the other, “Learn to do well.”

Now then do you know where these words are? For myself I do not think you do, except a few. And yet every week these things are read to you twice or even three times: and the reader when he goes up [to the desk] first says whose the book is, [the book] of such a prophet, and then says what he says, so that it shall be more intelligible to you and you may not only know the contents of the Book, but also the reason of the writings, and who spake these things. But all in vain; all to no purpose. For your zeal is spent on things of this life, and of things spiritual no account is made. Therefore not even those matters turn out according to your wishes, but there also are many difficulties. For Christ says, “Seek ye the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33.) These things He said, shall also be given in the way of addition: but we have inverted the order and seek the earth and the good things which are in the earth, as if those other [heavenly] things were to be given us in addition. Therefore we have neither the one nor the other. Let us then at last wake up and become coveters of the things which shall be hereafter; for so these also will follow. For it is not possible that he who seeks the things that relate to God, should not also attain human [blessings]. It is the declaration of the Truth itself which says this. Let us not then act otherwise, but let us hold fast to the counsel of Christ, lest we fail of all. But God is able to give you compunction and to make you better, in Christ Jesus our Lord, with whom to the Father together with the Holy Ghost be glory, power, honor, now and for ever and world without end. Amen.

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Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew Chapter 27

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 23, 2018


In this chapter, the Evangelist records the second meeting of the Sanhedrin, early next morning, when they decided on having our Lord sent before the Governor, in order to obtain his sanction for the ignominious death they desired to inflict on Him (Mt 27:1–2). The fruitless repentance and sad end of the traitor, Judas (Mt 27:3–5). The hypocritical affectation of religious scruples on the part of the High Priests, who would not have the price of blood devoted to any other than charitable purposes, viz., the purchase of a burying-place for strangers, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Zacharias relating to this very subject (Mt 27:6–10). The questioning of our Lord by Pontius Pilate, the Governor, who himself seemed to attach no weight to the clamours and false charges on the part of the Jews—the great wonder which our Redeemer’s silence, under the circumstances, caused him (Mt 27:11–14). Pilate’s idea of rescuing our Lord out of their hands, by proposing Him or Barabbas, as equally the object of the people’s choice. The testimony borne in favour of our Lord by Pilate’s wife. The preference given to Barabbas, the robber and murderer—the loud call for our Lord’s crucifixion. The release of Barabbas, and the sentence of the death of the cross passed on our Lord by Pilate, though this weak, temporizing judge, who had recourse to the most humiliating, painful expedients to have Him released, was manifestly convinced of His innocence. The insulting treatment received by our Lord at the hands of the soldiers in Pilate’s hall, who afterwards lead Him out for crucifixion (Mt 27:15–31). His bitter crucifixion, rendered still more bitter by the circumstances that accompanied it. The bitter potion given Him to drink. His associates in suffering, two thieves, one placed each side of Him. The division of His garments. The sneers and taunts of His enemies, reproaching Him in the midst of His torments (Mt 27:32–44). The darkness that brooded over the earth from the sixth till the ninth hour. His death, which occurred in a preternatural manner (Mt 27:45–50). The wonderful events that occurred in connexion with it. The testimony of the centurion on witnessing them, in favour of His Divinity (Mt 27:51–54). The taking down of His sacred body from the cross, by Joseph of Arimathea, who also bestowed on it the rites of decent sepulture in his own now tomb, hewed out of a rock (Mt 27:55–61). The application to Pilate by the Chief Priest and Pharisees for a band of soldiers to guard the sepulchre, which, being granted, they also adopt the additional precaution of affixing the public seal to it (Mt 27:62–66).


Mt 27:1. “And when morning was come.” The time is more precisely determined by the other Evangelists: “And straightway in the morning” (Mark 15:1); “And as soon as it was day” (Luke 22:66). “All the chief priests and ancients of the people”—SS. Mark and Luke add, “and the Scribes.” These three orders constituted the Jewish Sanhedrin or Supreme Council of seventy-two Judges or Senators. “Held a council against Jesus.” St. Mark (Mk 15:1), speaks of “the whole council.” Most likely, the Council that condemned our Lord on the previous evening, having been dissolved, Caiphas took care to summon all the members of the Sanhedrin against the following morning, so that the increased number of assessors, and the day time alone suited for judicial proceedings, would add greater solemnity and weight to the judgment of the preceding night, which condemned Jesus to death, and thus Pilate could hardly resist their united authority, “to put Him to death.” St. Matthew, who omits giving a full account of the gross indignities to which our Redeemer was subjected on the preceding night in the hall of Caiphas, omits all account of what occurred at this second, or morning meeting, probably, because it might be only a repetition of what he before described as having occurred before the judges on the preceding occasion. We are, however, informed by St. Luke (Lk 22:66, &c.), that they questioned Him, “If thou be the Christ, tell us.” Although some expositors, with Maldonatus, are of opinion, that St. Matthew (Mt 26:63, &c.), anticipates what should be described here; the general opinion, however, is, that all that St. Matthew there describes occurred at night, and that the same was again repeated in the morning, as recorded. (St. Luke 22:66, &c.) The three Evangelists describe the mocking of our Lord as occurring at night, and alter He declared Himself to be the Christ (Matt. 26:67). “Then they spat in His face,” &c., when He was condemned to death for blasphemy. The same captious question, proposed the preceding night by the High Priest (Mt 26:63), was next morning repeated in presence of all the Council (Luke 22:66). So that whether He denied or asserted it—and He did mildly, but firmly, assert it (Luke 22:66)—it would prove equally a subject of accusation before Pilate.

Mt 27:2. Having then elicited from Him a confession, which they regarded as a grave charge, both on religious grounds, viz., blasphemy against God; and civil grounds, viz., affectation of supreme temporal power, and sedition against Rome, “they brought Him—St. John (Jn 18:28), says, ‘from Caiphas’—bound.” Most likely, they had removed the cords which bound Him, when questioned before the Sanhodrin, and then, again, they bind Him before leading Him forth. St. Mark (Mk 15:1), says, they “bound Jesus.” “And delivered Him to Pontius Pilate, the governor.” This they did, because, most likely, now that Judea was reduced to a Roman province, and ruled, like other provinces, by a Roman Governor, the power of life and death was vested in him alone (John 18:31), and the instances in which they put men to death, were only tumultuous, riotous proceedings, in which the multitude exceeded their legitimate power, as in the case of Stephen and others; but such proceedings were not legal. Or, if we suppose the Jews to have still the power of life and death in certain cases, they had not the power of inflicting death by crucifixion, on our Redeemer. Hence, they required Pilate’s sanction to inflict on Him this kind of death, introduced by the Romans. They also wished to make it appear, that parties no way concerned with our Redeemer, judicially put Him to death, and had Him crucified, as infamous, between two robbers. Stoning was the death marked out in the law for Him, as a blasphemer. But crucifixion could be inflicted by Pilate. They also wished to remove from themselves the stigma of having acted against Christ, from envy. The chief reason, however, is that assigned by St. John (Jn 18:31). They had no power themselves to put Him to death. But God permitted all this, to verify His predictions, that His Son should be tortured even by the Gentiles. So that as He redeemed all, Jew and Gentile, all should be accessory to His death. By a just judgment of God, as they delivered up the Son of God to the Romans, to be crucified; they were, in turn, delivered over to the iron legions of Vespasian and Titus, to be butchered and banished, and their city levelled to the dust.

Mt 27:3. Judas, now seeing that our Redeemer was condemned by the Jews, and declared worthy of death; and knowing, from their determined hostility towards Him, that they would insist on Pilate’s acceding to their wicked desires, “repenting himself,” was sorry for what he did. Most likely, he hoped that our Redeemer would either confute their silly charges; or, whether miraculously, or, in some other way, would extricate Himself out of their hands. Now, seeing that it was otherwise; as His death was most certainly determined on, he repented of what he did, not, however, with that repentance which involved hope in the Divine mercy, but, from a feeling of remorse and torturing pain. The devil, who entered into him, and instigated him, now opens his eyes to the magnitude of his guilt, in order to drive him to despair. Hoping to rescind the wicked contract which he made with them, and that by giving up the price of his Master, they might, in turn, set Him free, he “brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the Chief Priests,” &c.

Mt 27:4. “Saying: I have sinned in betraying innocent blood,” that is, an innocent man. He did not leave the Jews the extenuating excuse, that in crucifying our Redeemer, they had the testimony of one of His own bosom friends, who was best acquainted with His manner of life. His very traitor bears testimony in His favour, so that, besides the testimony of His doctrine, and good works, and miracles, even this last testimony borne Him by Judas and Pilate’s wife, renders them inexcusable.

“But, they said: What is that to us? look thou to it.” This shows the obstinate malice of the Jews. They insinuate, that they cared not whether Jesus was innocent or guilty; having Him now in their power, they are determined, at all hazards, to wreak vengeance on Him. “What is that to us?” They make light of co-operating in the death of a man, declared by His very betrayer to be innocent.

Mt 27:5. “And casting down the pieces of silver in the temple.” Most likely, while some of the priests had proceeded to Pilate’s house to accuse Jesus, others proceeded to the temple for the discharge of their priestly functions, on this solemn festival; and when Judas had confessed his guilt, and brought back the money to the Chief Priests, &c., at either the house of Caiphas or Pilate, and they paying no heed to him, refused accepting the money, or rescinding the contract, he, at once proceeded to the temple, and threw the money there at the feet of the ministering priests, so as to rescind the contract, as far as he was concerned; so that the money—which, if thrown away in the house of Pilate or Caiphas, would be gathered up by the servants, and never restored—would be gathered up by the priests, and given back to those who gave it to him; and being flung into the temple, it would be sacred, the price of innocent blood unfit for profane use.

“And went and hanged himself with a halter.” St. Peter (Acts 1:18), describes his death rather differently, and still more circumstantially, “and being hanged, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out,” the result of which was (Acts 1:25), “that he might go to his own place,” that is, to his destined place in hell’s torments. The Greek in Acts 1–18 for, “being hanged” (πρηνης γενομενος), should rather be translated, “being precipitated headlong.” Hence, some expositors find a difficulty in reconciling St. Peter’s account of Judas’ death, with that of St. Matthew, απελθων απηγξατο, which is commonly rendered, “going, he hanged himself.” Both accounts are perfectly consistent; and taken conjointly, both, most probably, give a full account of the manner of Judas’ death. Going, he hanged himself, as did Achitophel before him, who was a typo of him as to his crime and fate, (2 Sam 17:23); and while hanging for some time, the rope either breaking, or giving way, he was precipitated headlong, and falling on a hard protruding substance, he burst asunder, and his bowels gushed forth; or, it may be, that being suspended, his head downwards, owing to the exertion, he became swollen, and his bowels burst forth. Either supposition will reconcile the narrative of St. Matthew here, and of St. Peter (Acts 1–18). St. Matthew records the kind of death, whereby Judas sought to put an end to his miserable life; St. Peter, the mode in which he actually did die, the latter resulting directly from the former.

It is to be observed, that although Judas, apparently had the different ingredients of penance, he had it not, however, in reality. His sorrow did not contain the hope of pardon. It was rather dark despair. Neither was his confession, “I have sinned,” &c., made to those to whom alone was granted the power of absolving him: “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven.” The Jewish priests had no such power.

Mt 27:6. These consummate hypocrites, who “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matt. 23:24), scruple to employ for sacred purposes the price of blood, and make no scruple to unjustly shed that blood. The word, “corbona,” is a Syriac term, signifying a gift, and most commonly, a gift presented to the sacred treasury. Again it denotes the treasury itself, or place set apart in the temple for pious offering, which was in the Court of the women. There was no prohibition in the law against receiving such money. There was a prohibition against receiving the wages of a strumpet, or the price of a dog (Deut. 23:18), and by analogy, they inferred that the price of blood should be equally objectionable and prohibited.

Mt 27:7. After due deliberation, these hypocrites, affecting a charitable disposition for the poor, their object in reality being to perpetuate the infamous end of our Redeemer, delivered over to death by one of His own disciples, of which the purchased burying ground would serve as a lasting monument, “bought with them (the thirty pieces of silver), the potter’s field,” so called, either because it belonged to some potter; or, because the soil was employed for pottery purposes, and being now exhausted, and consequently, of scarcely any value, was sold for the trifling sum of thirty pieces of silver, “To be a burying place for strangers,” whether foreign Jews who resorted to Jerusalem, and had no burial place of their own, as the inhabitants of Jerusalem had, who deemed it a great solace to be buried in the tombs of their fathers; or, more probably, to Gentile foreigners, who came in crowds to Jerusalem, and being regarded as impious, were not allowed to be buried with the faithful Jews. The application of the price of our Saviour’s blood to the purchase of a cemetery for strangers, signified, that true rest is in store for those who, being strangers to the people of God, have obtained the rights of citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem, “cives sanctorum,” &c. (Ephes. 2:19), by sharing in the merits of the Cross of Christ, and by being buried with Him in baptism unto death (Rom. 6:3-4).

Mt 27:8. “Wherefore, that field was called haceldama,” &c. The providence of God so ordained it, that what the Chief Priests meant to be a lasting monument of reproach to our Redeemer, would serve as an eternal monument of their crime, and especially of the treason of Judas; and tend to the glory of Jesus, as is insinuated by St. Peter (Acts 1:19). “Haceldama” is a Chaldaic term, signifying, “the field of blood,” or, the field purchased for the blood money received for the betrayal of Jesus by His own apostate disciple, who, after declaring the innocence of his Master, in a lit of despair hanged himself with a halter.

Mt 27:9. The same was ordained by God for me verification and fulfilment of the ancient prophecies. “By Jeremias the prophet saying: And they took the thirty pieces of silver,” &c. These words are not found in any part of Jeremias; but, they are found substantially, and in sense, in the Prophet Zacharias, not according to the Septuagint; but, according to St. Jerome’s version (Zech 11:12-13). Hence, different commentators have differently recourse to several ways for accounting for the introduction of the name of Jeremias here, instead of Zacharias. Some say, with Origen, that it arose from a mistake of copyists, who, owing to manuscript abbreviations, mistook, Ιριοδ, that is, Ιερεμιου for Ζριοδ, or, Ζαχαριου. Others, that the Evangelist only quoted the prophet in a general way; “Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet, saying,” &c., without mentioning any particular prophet, a thing quite common in the Gospel of St. Matthew (Mt 1:22; 2:5, 15; 13:35, &c.); and that afterwards some one, wishing to particularize the prophet, wrote in the margin, “Jeremias,” because Jeremias “bought a yield” (Jer 32:9). This marginal addition, in course of time, made its way into the text of all the Latin and most of the Greek copies. “Jeremias” was not found in the Syriac, nor in some Latin MSS. in the time of St. Augustine. The error of those who wrote Jeremias instead of Zacharias in the margin, might be easily accounted for, inasmuch as the passage from Zacharias, according to the Septuagint, which alone was used by the Greek and Latin Churches before the time of St. Jerome, had hardly anything in common with the quotation here given by St. Matthew. Others say, that this prophecy might have been found in some of the prophecies of Jeremias now lost. For, he wrote more books than we have now extant (2 Macc 2:1). Others, in some apocryphal writings of Jeremias. The sacred writers quote from such occasionally. St. Paul is supposed to have done so (2 Tim. 3:8), in reference to the names of the Egyptian magicians, Jannes and Mambres. St. Jerome assures us, he was shown by a Nazarene, a writing of Jeremias, in which this quotation was found. The writing, however, was not canonical. Others suppose, that this prophecy of Jeremias was not written; but handed down, by the tradition of the Jews. Similar in that quoted by our Redeemer in reference to the Tower of Siloe (Luke 13:4).

Others, among whom is St. Augustine, &c., quoted by Benedict XIV. (de Festis, &c.), are of opinion, that the quotation is made up of two different members, one from Jeremias (Jer 32:9), relating to a field Jeremias purchased from his uncle’s son, for “seven staters and ten pieces of silver,” a sum different from that mentioned here; the other from Zacharias (Zech 11:12, &c.), having reference to the thirty pieces offered by the High Priest to Zacharias. The quotations, according to these interpreters, are not verbally taken from either prophet, but only the sense of them; and these also maintain, that St. Matthew quotes only one prophet, Jeremias, passing over Zacharias—a thing not unusual with the Evangelists, when giving a quotation from different prophets, as may be seen (Mark 1:2, 3), where, quoting a text, the first part of which is from Malachias, the other from Isaias, the Evangelist only mentions Isaias, without at all mentioning Malachias—however, the more common opinion is, in whatever way the introduction of the name of Jeremias may be accounted for, that the quotation of St. Matthew is substantially the same as the words of Zacharias (Zech 11:12-13). In that passage of Zacharias, the Lord seeks for His wages—“bring hither My wages” (v. 12)—from the Jewish people, through the prophet, in return for the several benefits conferred on them; and He complains, at finding it so insignificant, as not to exceed in value thirty pieces of silver, &c. (See Zech. 11:12, &c.) The command of God that the prophet would cast these thirty pieces to the statuary or potter, and its execution (Zech. 11:13), looking to prophetical usage, are but a prediction of what was to happen at a future day, when the Chief Priests, instead of a suitable reward for the benefits conferred on their nation by Christ, gave Judas thirty pieces of silver to betray Him. These pieces Judas cast into the temple, and they were afterwards given to a poor potter as the price of his field. The words then mean: “And they”—the Chief Priests—“took the thirty pieces of silver”—which were cast into the temple—“the price of Him that was prized,” viz., the Messiah, “whom they prized of the children of Israel,” that is, whom those who were of the children of Israel, to whom He was sent, prized at so low a sum, the price of a common slave, “and they gave them unto the potter’s field, as the Lord had appointed to me,” that is, had commanded the Prophet Zacharias to do.

“They took.” In the Hebrew it is, “I took.” The prophet spoke in the first person to show, that he did what the Lord commanded him; the Evangelist, in the third person, to show that the priests had fulfilled, what the prophet practically prophesied in this matter. However, the Greek word, ελαβον, might be rendered in the first person, “I took,” &c. “The price of Him that was valued,” is ironically termed by the prophet (Zech. 11:13), “a handsome price.” “Of the children of Israel,” that is, those who were of the children of Israel. Some expositors join these latter words with, “the price of Him that was valued,” thus: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of Him that was valued of the children of Israel, whom they prized,” at so low a price, “pretium appretiati a filiis Israel quem appretiaverunt.”

Mt 27:10. “They gave them unto the potter’s field.” St. Matthew more clearly expresses the object of the prophet, who speaks in the first person: “I cast them into the house of the Lord to the statuary” (Zech. 11:13). “As the Lord appointed to me.” These words are not found expressly in the prophet; but, they are found virtually there, inasmuch as it was by the command of God the prophet threw the thirty pieces of silver in the temple to the statuary or potter; hence, he did as the Lord appointed. St. Matthew adds these words, to show, that all this did not happen by chance; but, by the express command and deliberate will of God, wishing beforehand to foreshadow and prophesy by act, what was to happen our Lord in the fulness of time.

Mt 27:11. “And Jesus stood before the Governor.” He “stood,” as one arraigned for trial, before Pilate, who governed Judea as President, in the name of the Emperor Tiberius. After having described the tragical end of the unhappy Judas, the Evangelist now returns to the subject of our Redeemer’s Passion. As each of the Evangelists has only recorded a part of the circumstances of the Life and Passion of our Lord, several, circumstances are described by St. John (Jn 19:28–32), which are here omitted by St. Matthew, and which should be prefixed to this verse (Mt 27:11), as having taken place before what is recorded here. Pilate being no way moved by their general charges against our Lord, and their clamorous demands for His punishment, they thon proceed to more specific charges, which are recorded by St. Luke (Lk 23:2). These are threefold, and all, so many gross calumnies. In Pilate’s letter to Tiberius, in this cause of Christ, still extant (Hegesippus, Lib. 5), he states, that the Jews brought a fourth charge against our Lord, viz., that He practised magic, in virtue of which, He performed some miraculous wonders: “In Beelzebub, the prince of devils,” &c. (Matt. 12:24.) The accusation relating to His having affected sovereign power, was most calculated to affect Pilate, who was charged with maintaining the cause and sovereignty of the Romans. It was only after hearing these specific charges from the Jews, whom Pilate addressed outside his house, as they would not enter, lest they might be defiled and prevented from partaking of the Pasch (John 19:28), he returns to the Governor’s hall, within the house, where our Lord had been left, and, passing over the other charges as perhaps frivolous, and no way concerning him, as Governor, asks Him, “Art Thou the King of the Jews?”—this being the only charge that concerned him as representative of Cæsar, whose authority it might prejudice, as it involved, in some sense, the grave and practical charge of preaching up the refusal to pay tribute to Cæsar. For, it followed, naturally, that whoever aimed at sovereign power, as here imputed to our Lord, would interdict the giving of tribute to any other claimant to the same supreme power. Origen remarks, that the way in which Pilate put this question, showed clearly he gave no credit to it, as if he said: Is it possible that you, who are so lowly and contemptible among your fellow-countrymen, could pretend to be the king so long and anxiously expected by them?

“Jesus saith to him: Thou sayest it,” a modest form of asserting a thing; “thou sayest what is true.” Before these words should be placed, in the order of narration, those recorded by St. John (Jn 18:34–37), “sayest thou this thing of thyself, or have others told it to thee of Me?” Was it from his own knowledge, or the suggestion of others, he asked such a question? Our Redeemer thus insinuated, that Pilate was only reciting the charges of His enemies; and that Pilate himself, although bound in duty to see that no one should usurp the authority of Cæsar, had no reason, although so long Governor of Judea, to suspect Him of the offence imputed to Him. Pilate being somewhat irritated by this question, at once tells Him, that He, as a stranger, could know nothing about the king, or the characteristics of the king, whom the Jewish nation was so anxiously expecting; and that it was His own nation, and its chiefs, that delivered Him over for judgment. “Am I a Jew?” “Thy own nation, and the Chief Priests … what hast Thou done?” (John 18:35). Seeing that Pilate had questioned Him, not captiously, but with a view of eliciting the truth, our Redeemer replies, that His kingdom is not of such a nature as would cause Pilate any uneasiness; that His kingdom “was not of this world,” &c. (John 19:36.) Then Pilate asks Him, “Art Thou then a king?” (Jn 19:37), be your kingdom of whatever description it may. Our Redeemer answers, as in this verse (Mt 27:11), “thou sayest that I am a king;” and He further states the object of His mission, which was “to give testimony to the truth” (John 18:37).

Pilate then asks, “what is truth?” and, as if he cared not for an answer, felt no way concerned or interested in the whole affair, he at once, abruptly, without awaiting a reply, goes out to the Jews and tells them, “I find no cause in Him” (John 18:38).

Mt 27:12. “When He was accused by the Chief Priests,” &c. St. Mark says (Mk 15:3), “they accused Him in many things,” confiding more in the multitude of their charges and in their violent clamour, than in the truth of what they advanced against Him.

“He answered nothing” Our Redeemer was silent for several reasons—1st. Because the charges brought against Him were manifestly false and undeserving of a reply. 2nd. Because a reply would irritate the Jews still more. 3rd. Lest He might be discharged by Pilate, and thus the decree of God, wishing Him to make atonement for the sins of man by the death of the cross, would be frustrated; and, finally, to make atonement by His silence for all the sins of evil speech of which mankind were guilty; and to leave us an example of suffering patiently in similar circumstances. He also wished to fulfil the prophecies (Isa 53:7), “like a sheep brought to the slaughter … and shall not open His mouth.”

Mt 27:13. The words of this verse evidently insinuate, that Pilate brought our Redeemer outside to hear the crimes laid to His charge by the Jews, and then asked, what He would reply to the accusations.

Mt 27:14. “And He answered not … so that the Governor wondered exceedingly.” He admired His meekness, contempt of death, and elevation of soul in such perilous circumstances, and became convinced of His innocence; so that he endeavoured, by all means, to set Him free, saying, “he could find no cause in Him” (Luke 23:4). He wondered greatly to see a man, who could so easily justify Himself, observe silence in such circumstances; for, it was evident His enemies were actuated by rage, and could prove nothing against Him.

But they, seeing this, became more earnest in their accusations, “saying: He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place” (Luke 23:5). By alluding to Galilee, they wished to inspire Pilate with terror, lest sedition might be excited by this man, Pilate himself being aware that Galilee had given birth to many seditious and rebellious characters, such as Judas, and those whose blood Pilate himself had mingled with their sacrifices (Luke 13:1), Theodas, &c. (Acts 5:36, 37.) The mention of Galilee suggested to Pilate a means of extricating himself from his embarrassment. He asked if He were a Galilean; and on being answered in the affirmative, he sends Him to Herod, to whose jurisdiction He belonged; and who, on the occasion of the solemn festival, came to Jerusalem.

St. Luke minutely details all that occurred in connexion with our Redeemer’s being sent to Herod, the contumelious treatment He was subjected to in Herod’s presence, and the ignominious manner in which He was again sent back to Pilate (Lk 23:7–13). When Pilate saw that He was sent back by Herod; he, in order to set our Redeemer free, said to the Chief Priests, whom he called together, “You have brought this man to me as one that perverteth the people”—this was the principal charge for Pilate and Herod to take cognizance of—“and behold … I find no cause in this man … No, nor yet Herod,” &c. (Luke 23:14.) Then, this weak, temporizing judge bethought himself of a means of satisfying the fury of the Jews, without involving himself in the crime of condemning an innocent man. He orders Him to be scourged. “I will chastise”—that is, scourge Him—“therefore, and release Him,” hoping that their fury would relent on beholding the pitiable condition to which the cruel flagellation would have reduced Him. Hence, after it, he brought Him forth, and exclaimed, “Behold the Man” (John 19:5). This expedient failing, he adopted another means of securing His release. It is recorded as follows, by St. Matthew:—

Mt 27:15-16. “Now upon the solemn day” (St. John 18:39, expressly mentions the Pasch, as if by excellence, “the solemn day”) “the Governor was accustomed to release,” &c. This custom was, most likely, introduced originally among the Jews, in commemoration of their liberation from the Egyptian bondage. And the Romans on obtaining the sovereignty of Judea, continued it, as they did several other usages, as a privilege granted to the people, the Governor himself being the party to carry it into effect, at the instance of the people, on the anniversary recurrence of each Paschal solemnity. Pilate now hoped that, by proposing to them a notorious prisoner, named Barabbas, “a murderer” (Luke 23:19); “a robber” (John 19:4, &c.), and leaving them to choose between him and Jesus, they could not for an instant, hesitate in their choice of Him, who had done so many acts of mercy in their favour, before a notorious murderer and robber. What humiliation to the Son of God, the author of life, to be put in competition with a notorious robber and murderer, and made equally the object of the people’s choice.

Mt 27:17. It would seem from St. Mark (Mk 15:8), that it was the people who first called on Pilate to grant them the usual privilege of having a criminal pardoned at their request, and that Pilate seized on this opportunity thus presented to him, for extricating himself from his embarrassment. He then proposed to them, to choose between Jesus and Barabbas, not doubting but they would call for the release of Jesus. The usage would seem to be, that the Governor would propose a certain number of criminals, from among whom the people might make a choice; but, that the people had not the privilege of choosing indiscriminately any criminal, whom they pleased, for release. For, if this were the case, the people might have said: We do not choose either Jesus or Barabbas; but somebody else, perhaps, some less obnoxious member of the gang of seditious robbers, of whom Barabbas was the notorious leader.

Mt 27:18. Pilate well knew, that they were actuated in the whole case by feelings of jealousy and envy. Although many interpreters question Pilate’s sincerity in his expressed desire to release our Lord; still, it seems more probable, he sincerely desired to set Him free. St. Luke expressly says so (Lk 23:20), and so does St. Peter (Acts 3:13).

Mt 27:19. While waiting for the answer of the people, regarding the choice of a criminal to be released to them, a fresh testimony of our Redeemer’s innocence was furnished to Pilate. His wife had been troubled with some startling dreams relative to our Lord. She calls Him a “just man,” as did Pilate himself (Mt 27:24), an epithet long before applied to Him by Isaiah 53, “justificabit ipse Justus servus meus multos.” What the nature or subject of her dream was, cannot be known. All the Evangelist records of it is, that it had the effect of causing her much suffering. Most likely, it revealed to her the grievous evils in store for her husband, in case he condemned “this just man,” the innocent Jesus. Some say, this dream was caused by the devil, who now recognising Christ for the Son of God, saw the consequences of His death. But this is not likely. Most probably, the devil already knew Him to be the Son of God. But, we have the testimony of St. Paul (1 Cor. 2:8), that the devils, “the princes of this world,” did not know the economy involved in the death of Christ, otherwise, they would not have crucified Him. And if they wished to prevent His death, they would have acted rather on the Jews, whom they instigated to murder the Son of God. Hence, most likely, the dream came from God, in order that every sex would bear testimony to Christ, as well as the very elements that eloquently testified to His Divinity at His death. And the dream was sent to his wife rather than to Pilate himself, in order that her message would be publicly delivered, in the presence of His enemies. Besides, Pilate’s testimony might be liable to suspicion. For, many would say: he merely wished for some pretext for extricating himself out of the embarrassment, in which the condemnation of Christ, whom he knew to be innocent, would involve him.

Mt 27:20. The same is recorded by St. Mark (Mk 15:11). Pilate gave them time to deliberate about the answer, as to which of the two they would have released to them; and, in the meantime, the Chief Priests brought every influence to bear on them, to ask for Barabbas.

Mt 27:21. After due time for deliberation, he now again proposes the question, “Which of the two would they have released to them?” Their answer, calling for Barabbas, naturally disappointed and embarrassed Pilate. Hence, he cries out:

Mt 27:22. “What shall I do with Jesus, that is called Christ?” Their answer discloses their obstinate cruelty: “Let Him be crucified.” In St. Luke, the words are twice repeated, “Crucify Him, crucify Him” (Lk 23:21), which revealed their determination to put Him to a cruel death.

Mt 27:23. Pilate then said to them, “Why,” crucify Him? “What evil hath He done?” St. Luke (Lk 23:22), informs us that, for the third time, Pilate said, he “found no cause in Him,” that is, he could discover no crime committed by Him to warrant His death. Thus, Pilate, three times, bore testimony to His innocence. Pilate could, doubtless, find no cause in Him. But, not so with His Heavenly Father, who saw in Him the bail, the surety for sin, of which He took upon Himself the full imputability. For, “the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). Their only answer was, “Let Him be crucified.”

Mt 27:24-26. Here Pilate devises another and most cruel expedient for satisfying the fury of the people, without involving himself in the crime of condemning Him. He orders Him to be scourged, hoping, that the fury of the people would relent on beholding the pitiable condition to which the cruel flagellation would reduce Him. Hence, he afterwards presented Him to the multitude, “Behold the Man” (John 19:5). The washing of his hands by Pilate, &c. ( Mt 27::24-25), occurred after our Lord was scourged (Luke 23:22), and is given here by anticipation. The circumstances and order of this flagellation are recorded more fully by SS. Luke and John. St. Luke mentions (Lk 23:18–22), that Pilate, after our Lord’s return from Herod, calling together the Chief Priests, &c., said, “I shall chastise Him,” that is, scourge Him, “and release Him.” He does not, however, tell us afterwards, what this chastisement was, how or when it took place. He ends his narrative of Pilate’s conversation with the Jews, by simply informing us, that overcome by their clamorous importunity, after releasing Barabbas, “he delivered Jesus up to their will” (Lk 23:25). But, St. John, who wrote after St. Luke, distinctly informs us (Jn 19:1, &c.), that this chastisement was scourging; and that its object was to cause the people to relent at the sight of the man presented to them in such a pitiable state after his flagellation. St. Matthew and St. Mark, however, refer to the scourging of our Lord in such a way, as if it would seem to have taken place, not so much for the purpose of appeasing the multitude, as preparatory for crucifixion. For, as we are informed by St. Jerome, the custom with the Romans was to scourge first, those who were doomed to the ignominious death of the cross. And as St. John insinuates, that the scourging had for object to appease the multitude; hence, some expositors hold, that our Redeemer was scourged twice, and mocked twice by the soldiers; once, before the sentence of death was pronounced upon Him, in order to appease the fury of the Jews;—to this, St. John refers (Jn 19:1, &c.)—and a second time after the sentence, in compliance with the law or custom of the Romans, in such cases. This latter scourging, they say, is referred to by Matthew and Mark. The more probable and more common opinion, however, is, that He was scourged, &c., but once; and that, before the sentence was pronounced, as in St. John. To the same scourging, St. Matthew refers, when he says (Mt 27:26), “having scourged Jesus,” already. This one flagellation answered the requirement of the Roman law quoted from St. Jerome, and the Greek word for, “having scourged” (φραγελλωσας), which refers to a past action, will fully bear out the meaning. Hence, in referring after the sentence of death was pronounced by Pilate, to the scourging and the insulting treatment of our Redeemer in Pilate’s hall by the soldiers, both St. Matthew and St. Mark repeat, out of the proper order of narration, what took place before the sentence of death was pronounced, as we are informed by St. John. (Jn 19:1, &c.)

How painful this cruel flagellation was, may be inferred from the character of the executioners—heartless Pagan soldiers, dead to every feeling of pity—and from the object Pilate had in view, viz., by the shocking appearance He would present, to satisfy the rage of His enemies. According to the Jewish law, no criminal could receive forty stripes; but, as our shameful and sinful excesses, which He was expiating, outraged every law of reason and religion, so, these barbarous executioners are regulated by no law in His regard. They discharged on Him a shower of blows. It is said, that it was revealed to St. Bridget, that the number of stripes He received was above 5000. Hence, the excessive cruelty of His executioners, and the number of stripes they inflicted, coupled with the exquisite sensibility of His sacred body (for by its perfect organization it was framed for punishment), place the tortures of our Blessed Lord beyond the power of conception. He was scourged at a pillar, which, or, at least a portion of it according to some, is to be seen in a little chapel of the Church of Saint Praxedes, at Rome. This pillar was formerly kept at Jerusalem in Mount Sion, as we are informed by St. Gregory Naz. (Orat. 1, in Julian); St. Paulinus (Epis. 34); Ven. Bede (de locis Sanctis), St. Jerome, &c. It was brought to Rome in the year 1223, by John Cardinal Columna, Apostolic Legate in the East, under Pope Honorius III., as we are informed by the inscription over the little chapel in the Church of St. Praxedes.

The scourges are said to be made of leather thongs or cords. Others say, He was scourged, after the Roman manner, with rods. The Roman fasces were composed of rods, with an axe, for the scourging and execution of criminals.

“Delivered Him to them to be crucified.” Pilate did this by a judicial sentence, condemning Him to the death of the cross. But this occurred only after He was mocked by the soldiers, crowned with thorns, &c., as is very accurately and minutely described by St. John. (19 Hence, in St. Matthew’s description, the order of events is not observed.

Mt 27:27. “Then,” does not mean, that the following occurrences took place immediately after He was delivered by Pilate to be crucified, as in preceding verse. It only means, that they happened at the time of, or, during His Passion. We are informed by St. John (Jn 19:2, &c.), that this mocking of our Redeemer, &c., took place immediately in connexion with the cruel scourging. Hence, “then,” refers not to “delivered Him to be crucified,” but to the words, “having scourged Jesus.”

“The soldiers of the Governor,” his body-guard. Most likely, they constituted the Prætorian cohort, who were always at the service of the Prætor or Governor in his province. This band was stationed in the Citadel Antonia, midway between the palace of Pilate and the temple.

“Taking Jesus into the hall,” or, as St. Mark more clearly expresses it (Mk 15:16), “into the court of the palace,” where the Governor resided. It would seem, that this was done by four soldiers, who acted the part of Lictors (John 19:23). In this hall, very probably, was the Prætor’s tribunal, and they made our Redeemer ascend this, in derision of His Royal dignity.

“Gathered together unto Him the entire band.” “The band,” or cohort, being the tenth part of a Roman legion, would vary in number according to the number in the legion, which was sometimes more, sometimes loss. The ordinary number constituting a legion, was 6000. Hence, “the band,” or cohort, probably contained 600. These were gathered together for the purpose of mocking and insolently deriding our Divine Redeemer.

Mt 27:28. “And stripping Him” of His clothes, which had been put on Him after He was scourged, or stripping Him for the purpose of scourging Him. Then, after this cruel deed, when He was yet naked, “they put a scarlet cloak about Him,” in derision of His Royal dignity, such being worn by kings and emperors. It is doubtful, whether our Lord, after being scourged, had been clothed again with His own garments, and then again stripped of them, when the soldiers mocked Him; or, whether the words, “stripping Him,” do not refer to the act preparatory to His flagellation. St. Mark (Mk 15:20), calls it “purple.” But as “purple” is sometimes taken to denote a bright red, hence the words, purple and scarlet, are interchanged; and the two Evangelists, as well as many other writers, make no distinction between both words.

Mt 27:29. “And platting a crown of thorns, they put it upon His head,” in derision of His kingly dignity. “And a reed in His right hand,” to serve as a sceptre for this mock King of the Jews. There is some diversity of opinion regarding the nature and materials of this crown. The thorns from it, which are exhibited in the Holy Chapel, built by St. Louis, for the reception of this pious relic of the Crown of Thorns at Paris, are very large and sharp. The pain caused our Divine Redeemer, by the pressure of these sharp thorns into His sacred head and temples, must have been excessive. From it we can learn the excessive enormity of our wicked thoughts of consent, which it was intended to expiate.

“And bowing down … Hail, King of the Jews.” This also was done in derision of His Royal dignity.

Mt 27:30. “And spitting on Him, they took the reed and struck His head,” thereby pressing the crown of thorns more deeply and more firmly on Him, which was to our Blessed Lord, a source of the deepest humiliation and torture. We see from the foregoing, how our Lord was derisively clothed with all the ensigns of Royalty, and insultingly treated by the soldiers as the mock King of the Jews—1st They gather around Him the entire cohort to wait on Him. They place Him on some lofty stone or bench, as on a sort of tribunal, as St. Clement, of Alexandria, informs us. They give Him for a Royal crown, that of thorns. For a Royal vestment, they throw a scarlet cloak around Him (probably, this was a cast-off cloak of some Roman officer). They gave Him a reed for a Royal sceptre, and the acclamations with which He was greeted were the derisive genuflexions of the soldiers, spittle, blows, and stripes, all of which our amiable Saviour bore with astonishing humility and meekness, and they merited for Him, that “every knee, whether in heaven, on earth, or in hell, should bend,” at a future day, before Him.

Here, in the order of narrative, should be inserted, what is recorded by St. John (Jn 19:4–16). Pilate had either instructed or permitted the soldiers to treat our Lord in the contumelious manner just now described by St. Matthew; and also to torture Him with the crown of thorns, in order that the pitiable appearance He would present, might cause the Jews to relent. Going forth, he said to the Jews (John 19:4), “I bring Him forth to you, that you may know, that I find no cause in Him.” And immediately after, Jesus came forth from the Governor’s hall, bearing the crown of thorns and the purple garment; and then, Pilate pointing to His miserable condition, with a view to exciting their commiseration, said, “Behold the Man;” see the wretched being, whom you have charged with aspiring to Royal dignity, and with meditating the overthrow of Cæsar’s power. Think you now is there anything to be dreaded from Him on this score? Instead of relenting, the people, instigated by the Chief Priests, cried out, “Crucify Him,” &c. Pilate, being irritated at this, replied, “Take Him you and crucify Him, for I find no cause in Him.” They replied: Although, He may not have transgressed against the majesty or laws of Rome, He has violated a law of ours, which entails death, by making Himself the Son of God; and, as Governor, you should punish the violation of our laws. Pilate was seized with religious awe on hearing this. Yielding to the absurd notions conveyed in the Pagan Fables, respecting the progeny of the gods, he feared that Jesus might be son of Jupiter, or of Hercules, &c., and that he would incur the anger of the gods, if he punished Him. The character of the wonders performed by our Lord, the fame of which must have reached Pilate, together with the magnanimity displayed by Him, were calculated to strengthen the belief in the mind of Pilate. Hence, entering the hall again, he asked our Lord, without receiving a reply, “Whence art Thou?” (John 19:10), as if he said, of what father or mother or stock art Thou descended? from heaven or earth? Our Redeemer saw, that the Pagan mind of Pilate was incapable of comprehending the truth of the answer respecting the eternal generation of the Son of God; He, moreover, knew that Pilate was ready to deliver Him up to the Jews; He was, therefore, silent, it being useless to give any reply. Pilate, thinking his authority was slighted, boasts at once of his authority, telling Him he had power to crucify Him, and power to release Him. Our Redeemer, hitherto silent, could not permit this arrogance of Pilate, which detracted from the glory of His Passion, that depended altogether on the dispositions of His Heavenly Father, to pass unreproved.

Pilate boasted of having authority over our Redeemer, who shows him that any authority he may have had, must come from a higher power, and “begiven him from above,” and that it depended altogether on the adorable dispositions of that higher power, whether He was to be released or crucified, whether He would voluntarily undergo or escape death. But, that it did not depend on Pilate. Similar is the reproach conveyed to the Jews in the Garden of Gethsemani, “you are come out, as against a robber” (Mt 26:55); “but this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). Our Redeemer adds (John 19:11), “Therefore, he that delivered Me to thee, hath the greater sin,” as if He said, because thou hast permissive power from God against Me, and art about to exercise it, however unjustly, and art about to condemn Me unjustly to death in virtue of that permissive power; hence, those who, from malignity and envy, have delivered Me to thee have sinned more than thou hast. For, although thou dost act unjustly, and out of regard for human respect, and thus dost sin grievously against justice and the duty of thy office; still, thou doest so, in a certain sense, unwillingly; and hence, those, who from envy and malice, have thus forced thee to this course of injustice, have committed a greater sin. Pilate, whose conscience was thus indirectly taxed with injustice, and whom the reply of our Redeemer left in still greater doubt, as to His Divine origin, sought with greater earnestness to release Him. He had done so already four different times (Luke 23:4–15, 20–22; John 19:4–12). He did it now with greater earnestness, for the reason already assigned, “from thenceforward.” But the Jews seeing that their charge of blasphemy had no effect on Pilate, revert to their original charge of seditious conduct; and knowing Pilate’s weakness, and the terror with which the jealous disposition of Tiberius had inspired all his Governors, when there was even an approach to the crime, læsæ majestatis, they, at once, threaten to accuse him to his imperial master of the charge of disaffection, and of protecting his enemies. This moved Pilate very much (John 19:13–16). Here, then, in the order of narrative, is inserted, what is recorded and supplemented by St. John (Jn 19:4–16), viz., how our Redeemer was shown to the Jews in a pitiable state by Pilate, with the view of exciting their compassion, and inducing them to relent; how the Jews being nowise appeased by this sad spectacle which Jesus presented, our Redeemer was again questioned by Pilate, on the charge of claiming to be the Son of God; and after various efforts on the part of Pilate to release Him, how the Jews clamorously calling for His death, and charging Pilate himself with disaffection to Cæsar, Pilate at length yielded to their desires, and mounting his tribunal, gave Jesus over to them to be crucified. After this, the soldiers taking off the purple cloak from Him, led Him forth to be crucified, as in following verse.

Mt 27:31. After the soldiers had mocked our Blessed Lord, and subjected Him to treatment the most ignominious and humiliating, “they took off the (purple) cloak from Him,” this cast-off worn garment which was quite worthless. (Here, St. Matthew reverts to the subject treated of in 27:26, “he delivered Him,” &c., after inserting some circumstances which occurred in connexion with the cruel flagellation.) “And put on His own garments.” This was done, very probably, to make Him more remarkable, and thus humble Him the more in presence of the crowded city. They might also have in view, to establish a claim to His clothes (of greater value than the worthless scarlet cloak), which, according to the usages of the time, belonged to His crucifiers. We find that they afterwards divided His garments among them. There is no mention made of their having taken the crown of thorns off Him. Most likely, this was left on Him to add to His ignominy. Moreover, it was, probably so deeply inserted into His head, that it could not conveniently be removed.

“And led Him away (from the Prætorium) to crucify Him.” Most likely, a crier or trumpeter preceded them, summoning the people to witness the sad, ignominious spectacle, in accordance with the usage prevailing among the Romans on such occasions. It is not easy to conceive the insults and injurious treatment inflicted on our innocent Saviour on this His last journey to Calvary. Very probably, He was goaded on by the soldiers, a subject of diversion to the people, who from their houses and in the midst of their repast, beheld Him, advancing under the heavy weight of His cross. He thus verified the words of the Prophet, “in me psallebant, qui bibebant vinum” (Psa. 69:13).

We can form some idea of the fatigue our Redeemer must have endured in this last journey while bearing His cross, if we consider the several journeys He was obliged to undergo during the day and the preceding night. From the Supper Hall, He went on the preceding night to Mount Olivet and the Garden of Gethsemani, more that a mile from Jerusalem; thence, He was brought back to the house of Annas, an equal distance; thence, to the house of Caiphas; thence, to the house of Pilate; thence, to the palace of Herod; and thence again to the Hall of Pilate; and, finally, He was obliged to set out on this His last journey, “bearing His own cross” (John 19:17). It was customary for those condemned to the death of the cross to carry their cross to the place of execution. This cross, which was considerably longer than the body of the culprit to be nailed to it, our Redeemer was obliged partly to carry, and partly to drag after Him; which, owing to the roughness of the road, and the bruised and wounded state of His body, must have caused Him excessive pain.

Mt 27:32. “And going out” of the gate of the city, of the road leading to the place of execution, seeing our Redeemer exhausted, and fearing He might not survive, so as to he made die the ignominious death of the cross, meeting “a man of Cyrene, namea Simon, they forced him to take up His (our Redeemer’s) cross.” This Simon, supposed by some to have been a Jew, or at least a Jewish proselyte, was father of Alexander and Rufus, well-known disciples of our Lord. It may be that St. Mark (Mk 15:21) mentions this circumstance, because it was a great honour to them that their father had carried our Lord’s cross. Others say, he was a Gentile, and from this circumstance, they would have us infer, that the true, obedient disciples, who were to carry His cross after Him, were to be chiefly found among the Gentiles. It is disputed, which “Cyrene” is here referred to, whether that of Lybia, in Africa, where a Jewish colony had settled in the time of Ptolomeus Lagus, or that of Syria or Cyprus, founded by Cyrus, whence the name Cyrene.

“They forced Him.” In the original, it means, impressed. The original term (αγγαρος), is derived from the Persian, and signifies, a courier, sent to carry public intelligence. The king’s couriers had a right to press horses and vehicles, either for the post, or the public service generally, and, when necessary, could compel the personal attendance of the owners. Hence, the word is generally employed to denote impressment, or forcing one to do a thing against his will (see Mt 5:41). Some modern writers assert, that this Simon was a Jew, from Cyrene, in Lybia; and, being a well-known disciple of our Redeemer, was forced by the soldiers, at the instigation of the Jews, to carry our Redeemer’s cross. Some say, he helped our Redeemer to carry the cross, both carrying it at the same time. But, the most common and best founded opinion is, that after our Redeemer had been unable to carry His cross, it was laid on Simon, who carried it alone to the place of execution, Luke (23:26), says, “they laid the cross on him, to carry after Jesus.” Here, it is said, “they forced him to take up His cross.” Our Redeemer Himself, as was the custom with men condemned to be crucified, had carried the cross, that is, the transverse part of it, the oblong portion trailing after Him on the ground. This caused Him great pain, considering the ulcerations caused by the cruel scourging. It was only when He was fainting, they placed it on Simon, after they passed the gate of the city that led to Calvary.

Here should be inserted what is described by St. Luke (Lk 23:27–32), regarding the “multitude of people and of women, who bewailed and lamented Him.” Far from sharing in the feelings of His enemies, they rather shed tears of sympathy in His sorrows. Turning to them, He told them to weep not so much for His sufferings—although, this He did not prevent—as for the dreadful evils which were soon to come upon them, when they would bless “the barren,” &c., as happened at the taking of Jerusalem, soon after, when, not only were their children slain, and those under seventeen sold, as bond slaves, but even unhappy mothers, in some instances, from extreme pressure of famine, devoured their own children (Josephus, de Bel. Jud. Lib. vii. c. 8). “And they shall call upon the mountains,” &c., a proverbial form of expression, denoting utter despair, in presence of unavoidable calamities (Hos 10:8). Many of the Jews, at the taking of Jerusalem, hid themselves in the vaults and sepulchres, sooner than surrender to the Romans (Josephus). Very probably, among those pious followers, were the Galilean women, who ministered to His wants, Martha and Mary also included, whom the dread of His enemies did not prevent from giving full expression to their affection for our Lord, on this, his last road to Calvary.

St. Luke adds here (Lk 23:32), “And there were also two other malefactors led with Him to be put to death.”

Mt 27:33. “And they came to the place which is called Golgotha.” The Chaldaic, or Syriac form, is, Gol-Goltha, second I being omitted for euphony’ sake, as Babcl is used for Bal-bel. “Which is the place of Calvary,” or, the place of skulls. Calvary was a sort of knoll, called so, most likely, in consequence of the skulls of persons executed or buried there being scattered about, according to the opinion of St, Jerome, Bede, &c. Some ancient writers, Origen, Theophylact, &c., say, it was called so, from the skull of Adam, which, they conjecture, was buried there. But if this were the case, it is not likely, the Jews would have made it the place for the execution of malefactors, &c. The Evangelist, in interpreting Golgotha, which means, skulls, used the words, “place of Calvary,” to show that the word, Golgotha, that is, skulls, had reference to place. St. Paul (Heb. 13:11), assigns the fourfold reasons—literal, allegorical, anagogical, tropological—why our Lord was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem (see Commentary on). St. Jerome, St. Augustine, &c., say, it was on the same mountain Abraham was about to offer up Isaac—a distinguished typo of Christ—for, Mount Moria is in the vicinity of Calvary.

Mt 27:34. “And they gave Him wine,” &c. In some Greek copies, for wine we read ὄξος, vinegar. However, St. Jerome and St. Hilary read, wine, as in our Vulgate. St. Mark (Mk 15:23), has, “wine mixed with myrrh.” The most probable mode of reconciling this discrepancy is, that the Greek word, ὄξος, vinegar, sometimes denotes a poor sort of wine, and the Greek word for “gall,” χολῆ, sometimes means, a bitter drug. It is used by the LXX. to signify, absinthium, so that it denotes the same thing with the myrrh, referred to by St. Mark. It may be, that both ingredients, “myrrh” and “gall,” were added, to render it more bitter. It was customary, before crucifixion, to give persons, about to be executed, a potion, out of pity and humanity, in order to give them some consolation and refreshment, and also to strengthen them to bear their torments with greater fortitude. But, such was the malice of the Jews, that this potion was converted into a nauseous, bitter draught, not to be endured. The drink here given is different from that referred to (Mt 27:48), and by St. Luke (Lk 23:36), St. John (Jn 19:29). In the former are verified the words of the Psalmist, “dederunt in escam meam fel;” in the latter, “et in siti mea potaverunt me aceto.” The former was given before His crucifixion, and it was wine; the latter, in the crucifixion, and it was vinegar.

“And when He had tasted, He would not drink.” He “tasted” it, lest He might seem, from indignation, to despise it. “He would not drink,” that is, swallow it, being determined to submit to the painful death of the cross, without any mitigation or alleviation of His sufferings. He refused to partake of the draught usually presented to criminals on the point of crucifixion, out of feelings of humanity, to mitigate their sufferings. Others, who do not admit that the Jews would present this drink to our Lord, from such a benevolent motive, say, His object in refusing was, to show His horror of the inhuman malice of His enemies.

Mt 27:35. “After they had crucified Him.” It is observed by some commentators (A. Lapide, &c.), that St. Matthew, in referring to the crucifixion of his Divine Master, not only indulges in his usual brevity in narrative; but, that he also, from a feeling of horror, at the indignity and atrocity of this punishment being inflicted on the Son of God, represents it, not so much as present—it being a thing too much to bear—but as past, “after they had crucified Him.” It is a point of faith, that it was with nails, which pierced His hands and feet, our Redeemer was fastened to the cross (John 20:25, &c.; Psa. 22), “foderunt manus meas,” &c. It may be that cords were also used to fasten His body to the cross. Some say, that a sort of prop was fastened to the cross, on which His feet could rest. But, this is unlikely, as our Redeemer did not stand, but was suspended from the cross (Acts 5:30; Gal. 3:13). The number of nails employed is also disputed. Some say, there were four. Others, only three; one through each hand; and one through both His feet, placed one over the other. One of these nails may be at present seen at the Church S. Crucis, at Rome. I myself, had the happiness of reverently touching it with my beads and pectoral cross. Very likely, the two thieves were also hung on the cross with nails; as, otherwise, St. Helena could have no difficulty in recognising our Redeemer’s cross, from the track of the nails; whereas, it was only by a miracle it could be ascertained which was the true cross. It is most likely, that these rough nails were driven through the palms of the hands, where the sense of touch is most acute. This opinion derives great probability from the words of the Prophet Zacharias, “quid sunt plagæ istæ in medio manuum tuarum?” (Zech 13:6). Others say, the nails were driven through His wrists, where the touch is most acutely sensitive, and, obliquely passing through the wood, came out at the surface of His hand, thus rendering the wound larger, and the pain more intense.

The intensity of our Redeemer’s tortures may be estimated from the nature of the wounds inflicted—the boring of His hands, &c.—from the weight of His body hanging from His perforated hands and feet—from their continuance for three hours—from the dislocation of His limbs, “foderunt … dinumeraverunt omnia ossa mea.” (Psa. 22)

Tertullian (Lib. contra Judeos, c. 13), asserts, that He wore the crown of thorns on the cross. This is rejected by others, who say, that after having mocked Him, the soldiers took away the mock ensigns of royalty, and led Him forth to Calvary in His own clothes.

It would occupy, and perhaps, needlessly, too much space to enumerate the causes, literal and moral, which made our Redeemer submit to the ignominious death of the cross, in preference to any other, both on the part of the Jews, and of His eternal Father. The Jews had chosen it for the ignominy it entailed, and thus to abolish the name of Christ for ever. The Heavenly Father had chosen it, as most suitable to confound the folly of human pride; as the most suitable means of reparation, viz., by means of wood, our ruin having been brought about by means of the wood of the tree in Paradise; as most suitable, to show forth the excessive charity of God for us, in submitting to so ignominious and painful a death, and the severity of His justice, which demanded such reparation for sin, &c. Some commentators say that our Redeemer was crucified with His face towards the west, with His back to Jerusalem, to show the election of the Gentiles and reprobation of the Jews. Thus were also verified the words of Jeremias (Jer 18:17), “I shall show them the back, and not the face, in the day of their destruction.” “Oculi ejus super Gentes respiciunt” (Psa. 66:7).

The day of our Redeemer’s crucifixion was the 25th of March; the hour, about midday. St. John says, it was “the sixth hour” (Jn 19:14), from sunrise, which was midday. “It was the third hour,” according to St. Mark (Mk 15:25). But, he means “the third hour,” now closing, which was the commencement of the sixth hour. For, each hour in the computation of their four watches contained three hours among the Jews and Romans. Tertullian (Lib. contra Marcion), and others, say, that our Lord was crucified on the same day, in the vernal equinox, on which Adam was created, and was crucified at the same hour, at which he ate the forbidden fruit.

“They divided His garments,” &c. The four Evangelists describe the division of the garments, the inscription of the title, and the crucifixion of the two robbers, not in the same order. St. Mark (Mk 15:24, &c.), follows the same order of narrative with St. Matthew. St. Luke (Lk 23:33, &c.), describes the crucifixion of the robbers first; then, the division of the garments, and finally, the inscription of the title. St. John, whose order of narrative is deemed the most accurate, as he wrote after the others (Jn 19:18, &c.), places the crucifixion of the robbers first, the title next, and the division of the garments in the last place.

The words of our Redeemer on the cross, described by St. Luke (Lk 23:34), “Father, forgive them,” &c., should be inserted before these words, in the order of narrative. Then, “they divided His garments, casting lots.” This is more circumstantially and more distinctly narrated by St. John. (Jn 19:23, &c.) He informs us, that the soldiers divided His garments into four parts, so that the soldiers, who were four in number, received a part, each. From the words of the soldiers, in reference to the seamless (inner) garment, “Let us not cut it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” it is clearly inferred, that they cut up into four parts our Lord’s outer garment, according to the form after which the Jewish outer garments should be made (Deut. 22:12). These outer garments had four seams, and four corners, to which strings or fringes should be attached. Some imagine that our Lord wore four outside garments, besides the seamless coat, which was an inside garment, and that the soldiers took one each. But this is improbable. They divided the one outer garment into four parts. In the account of St. John, the words of Scripture are clearly fulfilled, “They divided My garments,” which is implied in the words, “Let us not cut it,” as had been done to the other. “And upon My vesture they cast lots,” which is clearly expressed in the words, “Let us cast lots for it.” From St. Mark, however (Mk 15:24), it would seem, that they cast lots for the four parts into which the vestment was divided. “The coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout.” The weaving of it began at the top, or upper part, and it was woven without any seam to the bottom. This “coat,” most probably, worn next His person, Euthymius tells us, was, according to the opinion of the ancients, woven by the hands of His Immaculate Mother. It is now preserved at Treves, and an object of religious worship to the faithful. The same author, after rejecting, as improbable, the opinion of those who assert that our Redeemer had five garments, one for each of the four soldiers, besides the seamless coat, regards it as a probable conjecture, that our Lord had three garments; that, besides the seamless coat, He had a flowing robe, and outside that, one corresponding to a cloak, covering all. For, St. John speaks of our Lord’s garments in the plural: “They took His garments” (Jn 19:23). Nor is this opposed to the mandate He gave His Apostles on the eve of going on their mission. For, there He speaks of two coats of the same kind.

The division of our Lord’s garments into four parts, denoted the extension of the Church to the four corners of the world; while the seamless coat denoted the indivisible unity which heretics alone attempt to rend and cut asunder. As the division of the garments of the two robbers did not contain any mystery, and did not directly belong to the history of our Redeemer’s Passion, the Evangelist says nothing of it, although, it is very probable a like division and distribution took place in their case also, in accordance with the prevailing usage of the time, regarding the destination of the garments of criminals subjected to execution.

What a source of humiliation to our Redeemer to hang naked on a cross, subjected to the derisive gaze of a scoffing multitude, “operuit confusio faciem meam.” (Psa. 59) It must have added to His painful humiliation to see His garments thus divided, as if He were given over to death, and no hopes entertained regarding Him. Probably, in this division of His garments, the soldiers added insulting, jeering taunts, injuriously, and wantonly mocking Him, as if they were dividing among themselves the precious robes of Royalty. This however, added to our Redeemer’s glory, as thus the Scripture of the prophet was fulfilled (Psa. 22:19).

“That the word might he fulfilled,” &c. These words are wanting in many of the ancient Fathers and versions, including many Greek and Latin codices. Hence, many learned critics supposed they were inserted here from St. John (Jn 19:24) by transcribers. However, the authority of the Vulgate outweighs all these, the more so, in this instance, if it be borne in mind, that of all the Evangelists, St. Matthew is most careful and desirous to show everywhere, that the ancient prophecies were accomplished in our Divine Redeemer.

Mt 27:36. “Watched Him.” The Greek adds, ἐκεῖ, there, on Mount Calvary. The soldiers who acted as Lictors, and the Jews also kept watch, lest any of His disciples should come and take Him down, or He Himself might miraculously descend from the cross. But, contrary to their designs, this only tended to the glory of Christ, in removing any grounds for doubting the truth of His resurrection. Had they themselves not watched Him, they might have charged His disciples with having taken Him down alive from the cross. It also shows their fears, arising from remorse of conscience.

Mt 27:37. “And they,” that is, the soldiers, His executioners, by the command of Pilate (John 19:19), “put over His head,” that is, on the portion of the cross, which was above His head, “His cause written,” that is, the alleged crime for which He was condemned to death. Mark (Mk 15:26) calls it, “the inscription of His cause;” Luke (Lk 23:38), “a superscription;” John (Jn 19:19), “a title.” They all mean the same thing, viz., the words written, or, rather, legibly cut on a board or tablet placed over His head, and indicating to all the charge on which He was condemned to death. It is not likely, that the words were inscribed on the arm of the cross, placed above His head, as it would hardly contain space enough to have the words inscribed in large, legible characters, in three languages. It is a very ancient Oriental custom to have these titles either attached to every malefactor condemned to death, or borne before him. This title of our Redeemer was written in three languages, which were consecrated on the cross of Christ; the Hebrew, the vernacular of the country; the Greek, then most extensively diffused; and the Latin, on account of the majesty of the Roman Empire. It is given differently by the four Evangelists, who agree, however, in substance. That given by St. John, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” is generally considered to be the most exact title, because St. John saw it at the crucifixion, and wrote after the other Evangelists; and also, this corresponds with the title, which, as a most precious relic, is preserved at Rome, in the Church of the Holy Cross. In this relic, the only word perfectly legible is “Nazarenus.” As the Hebrew form, like all Hebrew writings, was written from right to left; so, in the Greek and Latin inscriptions, the same order, contrary to the usual custom, was observed. The writing of the title in three languages, the language of the Jews, and the principal languages among the Gentiles, showed that Christ had suffered for all mankind, and broke down the middle wall of partition between the Jewish and Gentile peoples.

The title showed forth the name of the culprit—“Jesus;” His country, “of Nazareth;” His crime, “King of the Jews.” Although Pilate meant these words to signify (who affected to be) “King of the Jews,” still, by a Divine instinct guiding his hand, he was directed to write, in a still more exalted sense, the real cause of Christ’s crucifixion, viz., that He was crucified because He was really the “King of the Jews,” the long expected Messiah, the eternal Son of God, whom it was meet, according to the ancient prophecies and the decrees of His Heavenly Father, that the Jews would put to death, in order to redeem the human race, and rescue it from the slavery of sin, by the effusion of His most precious blood.

And although the Jews eagerly desired that Pilate would change this “title” (John 19:21)—it may be, they returned from Calvary to Pilate’s house; or Pilate himself might have been at Mount Calvary—still, Pilate obstinately resisted all their solicitations, the providence of God so guiding him, and, very probably, Pilate had in view, now that his fears of being accused before Cæsar were removed by the crucifixion of Christ, to restore to Jesus the honour of which he unjustly deprived Him, by sanctioning the high titles with which He was greeted by His followers. Moreover, he may have wished to take vengeance on the Jews for forcing him to condemn an innocent man, by branding the whole nation with the indelible stigma and the infamy of having crucified their own King. But, whatever might have been Pilate’s intention, God, who had suggested to Pilate the very words of the title, did not allow him to alter it for the reason already referred to, viz., to show that, as according to the prophecies, the King of the Jews was to suffer on a cross; therefore, the true cause on the part of God, why Jesus was crucified, was, that He was really King of the Jews.

Mt 27:38. “Two thieves”—highway robbers and brigands, with whom, owing to the shameful corruption of successive Roman Governors, Judea was then infested—“were crucified with Him.” This was, probably, done by Pilate, as a cloak for his iniquity, lest he should seem to be so influenced by others, as to punish the innocent and spare the guilty. It was also done at the suggestion of the Jews, for the greater humiliation of our Lord, to render Him more infamous, as associated with such wicked characters, well known to be such by all the people. “On the right,” &c. He was suspended in the midst, as the most infamous of the three. But this only tended to the glory of Christ, by verifying the prophecies regarding Him. “Et cum iniquis reputatus fuit” (Isa. 53:12; Mark 15:28).

It also denoted, that all mankind were called to a participation in the fruits of His Passion, who came in the midst of guilty, sinful men, to sanctify all by His innocence; that He would, however, make a distinction between the faithful, represented by the penitent thief, who implored the Divine mercy, and the unbelievers, represented by the impenitent thief, who blasphemed Him, and that the day would come when He would place the former on His right hand, and the latter on His left.

Mt 27:39. “They that passed by,” including those who were accidentally passing, as also those who went out expressly, “and stood beholding Him” (Luke 23:35), “blasphemed Him,” by their jeers and scornful scoffs, reproaching Him with His imputed crimes, so ignominiously punished, and by moving their heads in an insulting, scornful manner. This was predicted (Psa. 109:25). These jeers and reproachful scoffs, addressed to the Son of God—the Holy of Holies—were so many “blasphemies.” Such conduct showed the heartless cruelty and barbarous inhumanity of the Jews. For, the greatest criminals, while enduring torments, claim our commiseration. Hence, they added considerably to the sufferings of our Divine Redeemer. “Whom thou hast smitten, they have persecuted” (Psa. 69:27).

Mt 27:40. “And saying: Vah,” &c. “Vah,” an interjection, denoting derision and scorn, similar to “fie” with us; as much as to say, Thou impious, shameless braggart. It is not found now in the Greek versions. The Greek of it in other places of SS. Scripture is, ναὶ, corresponding with the Hebrew, Heah. It has reference to Psalm 35:21, the same as Euge, Euge, for which the Hebrew is Heah.

“Thou, that destroyest,” &c. The Greek means, Thou destroyer of the temple, &c., and builder of it … save Thyself, &c., that is, show now that Thou canst carry out Thy foolish boasting by saving Thyself from an ignominious death. “If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Similar was the suggestion of the devil, “si filius Dei es, mitte te deorsum” (Mt 4:6), equally foolish and perverse. For, it is because He is Son of God, He should remain and die the death of the cross, to vanquish death itself, “ero mors tua, O mors;” and it is rather by His rising from the tomb, than by His descent from the cross, He should prove Himself to be the Son of God.

Mt 27:41. “In like manner also, the Chief Priests,” &c. Another class, who insulted our Lord on the cross.

Mt 27:42. “He saved others,” &c. The reproaches of the Chief Priests, &c., against our Lord, speaking to one another, were still more malignant than those of the people. They scoff at His miracles, whereby He saved others from death, and insinuate that they came not from God, but from Beelzebub. If His miracles were performed by the power of God, God would now save Him from an ignominious death; and hence, they insinuate, that He was an impostor and false prophet. They next reproach Him with the assumption of Royal dignity: “If He be the King of Israel”—in allusion to the “title” placed on His cross by Pilate—“let Him descend from the cross.” In this they show themselves deserving of censure, inasmuch as they had no reason for thinking that His descending from the cross would prove Him to be “the King of Israel,” and the promised Messiah. On the contrary, it was because He was the King of Israel and the promised Messiah, He would remain on the cross to redeem the world. They also state an untruth, that in the event of His descending from the cross, they would believe in Him, as is proved by their not believing in Him after a still greater miracle of His power displayed, in His resurrection. They would have rather ascribed His coming down from the cross to magic and diabolical agency, to which they often before attributed His other miracles.

Mt 27:43. They add a third subject of reproach, viz., His vain and presumptuous confidence in God. But this confidence in God on the part of a man in great straits, should be rather a subject of praise than of reproach; and these men falsely judge, that a release from suffering should result from confidence in God; whereas, the contrary frequently happens in the case of the greatest saints; God, for their greater good, thus testing their virtue. In these jeering scoffs of the High Priests, &c., are literally fulfilled the prophecy regarding Christ, in whose Person the Royal Psalmist speaks (Psa. 22:8). The Passion of our Lord is the subject of that Psalm. To the same, reference is made (Wisdom 2:16-17), where, in the person of the Jews, the Wise man says, “He glorieth that He hath God for His Father. Let us see then if His words are true,” &c.; (Wis 2:21), “These things they thought and were deceived, for their own malice blinded them.”

“Let Him deliver Him, if He will have Him,” that is, if He loves Him. But the very reverse would be the result. It is because God loved Him, as His well-beloved Son, He subjected Him to the death of the cross.

Mt 27:44. St. Luke (Lk 23:36) mentions a third class, who mocked and scoffed at our Lord on the cross, viz., the soldiers, who acted as His executioners. He was finally mocked by the robbers who were crucified along with Him, as SS. Matthew and Mark testify. The Evangelists use the word, “thieves,” in the plural number, by a figure quite common in Scripture, by which the plural is employed for the singular. Thus it is said (Luke 23:36), “the soldiers offered Him vinegar,” whereas only one soldier did so. Only one of the thieves reviled our Lord (Luke 23:40). Whether the penitent thief, in the first instance, joined his associate in reviling our Lord, and became afterwards converted, is disputed; but the most common opinion among the Latin Fathers is, that he did not, from first to last, revile our Blessed Lord. St. Luke circumstantially relates what is only expressed here in general words by St. Matthew. He also describes the conversion of the penitent thief, and the promise of salvation made to him by our Redeemer. (Lk 23:39, &c.)

Mt 27:45. Before this, should be inserted in historical order the words addressed by our Blessed Lord to St. John and His own Blessed Virgin Mother (John 19:25–27).

“From the sixth hour there was darkness,” &c. As the crucifixion of our Lord occurred at the vernal equinoxes, when the days and nights are equal, “the sixth hour” corresponded with our twelve o’clock, the sun having risen at six in the morning, and set at six in the evening. The darkness occurred at the time the sun occupies the highest place in the heavens, and his light is brightest, which sets forth in the clearest manner, the preternatural quality of the darkness referred to.

Eusebius, in his Chronicle, and other ecclesiastical writers, quote a passage from Phlegon, in his History of the Olympiads, in which he says that “in the fourth year of the 202 Olympiad, there occurred the greatest eclipse ever known. It was night at the sixth hour, that is, twelve o’clock at mid-day, and the stars were visible.” He also speaks of an earthquake, at the same time, at Bithynia. These authors entertain no doubt whatever of the identity of this eclipse and the earthquake with those which occurred at the death of Christ. Their date is the same. The fourth year of the 202 Olympiad commenced in the summer of the 32nd year of our era, and closed at the summer solstice of the 33rd year—the year in which it is almost universally agreed our Redeemer was crucified—the hour of the day the same, mid-day—the earthquake and darkness simultaneous in both cases. The eclipse must have been preternatural, as it could not take place, in the natural course, at full moon. Moreover, according to the Astronomical Tables, there had not been an eclipse of the sun in the 33rd year of our era—the year referred to by Phlegon. But there had been one in the 29th year of our era, on the 24th of November, at nine o’clock in the morning, which could have no connexion with that mentioned by Phlegon (Bergier, Dict. Theol. Eclipse).

Owing to the mention of “the sixth hour,” by St. Matthew, a question is here raised about reconciling St. Mark and St. John, regarding the precise hour of the crucifixion. There is no even apparent discrepancy between the other Evangelists. St. Mark (Mk 15:25) says, “It was the third hour, and they crucified Him.” St. John (Jn 19:14–16) says, “It was about the sixth hour,” when Pilate condemned Him to the death of the cross. To reconcile these apparently conflicting statements—for, it is quite certain from the Evangelists, that our Lord was crucified after He was condemned—has caused interpreters no small perplexity. Some would have it, that there was an error of copyists, who transcribed third for sixth, or sixth for third, in either of the Evangelists, the Greek letter which designates three (γ) being mistaken for (ς) which designates the number six. In which—Mark or John—the mistake occurred, is also a matter of dispute. The greater extrinsic authority is in favour of the correctness of the reading of St. Mark, in regard to which there is no variety of codices; whereas, in some codices, there is a variety, as regards St. John. For instance, the Codex of Cambridge, and one of the Royal codices, dated the eighth century, have the third hour instead of the sixth in St. John. Some of the ancient writers quoted by Griesbach (Novum. Testam. Græce in Joan 19:14), are in favour of the reading of these codices. Among those writers is the author of the Paschal Chronicle, who says, “that in the copy of the Gospel written by St. John’s own hand, and preserved in the Church of the Ephesians,” the third hour is found instead of the sixth. Patrizzi (Annot. c. xcv.) seems to lean to this opinion. The mode of reconcoiling both Evangelists, commonly adopted by those who maintain the accuracy of the reading in both is as follows: By hour, they understand, not common hours of sixty minutes each, but great hours, containing each, three common hours. According to the division of time, introduced by the Romans, and adopted by the Jews (see Mt 20:1), the day was divided into four equal parts, each part containing three common hours, and the night, into four equal parts, or watches, of three hours each. Following this computation of time, these interpreters say, both accounts are perfectly consistent, as our Lord was crucified towards the close of the great hour, termed the third, which commenced at nine o’clock, and terminated at twelve. And “about the sixth hour,” viz., some time before twelve o’clock, when the great hour termed the sixth, commenced. For, the four great hours were termed—first, commencing at six, and terminating at nine o’clock; third, commencing at nine, and terminating at twelve; sixth, commencing at twelve, and ending at three p.m.; and ninth, commencing at three, and ending with six, or sunset. Mauduit undertakes to refute this opinion in a Dissertation (xxxvi), in which the reasoning is more specious than solid.

For, the first great hour commenced at sunrise, corresponding at the equinoxes with our six o’clock, and ending at nine. The next great hour, termed “third,” from the common hour immediately preceding, commenced at nine, and ended at twelve o’clock, or mid-day. The next, termed sixth, commenced at twelve o’clock, and ended at three p.m., and the next, or last great hour, termed ninth, commenced at three o’clock, and terminated at six, or sunset.

As regards the darkness which took place at the crucifixion of our Lord, there is a great diversity of opinion as to its nature and extent. That the darkness was preternatural, can hardly be questioned by any Christian. If produced by a total eclipse of the sun, it must be preternatural; for, it occurred when it was full moon, and the sun in the opposite side of the heavens, it being Jewish Paschal time, which always took place on the fourteenth of the moon. Moreover, a total eclipse can naturally last only a quarter of an hour at most; whereas, this lasted three hours. Some interpreters suppose the darkness to be caused by the preternatural accumulation of the densest clouds, similar to that preternaturally brought on the land of Egypt, by the stretching forth of the hand of Moses. At all events, from whatever cause proceeding, it would seem, from what is recorded as happening near the cross, that the darkness was not so dense as that the bystanders could not see one another, or see what was passing.

As to the extent of this darkness, those who have recourse to the hypothesis of a thick mist, arising from sulphureous vapours, such as precede and accompany earthquakes, limit it, as a matter of course, to the vicinity of Jerusalem. Origen and some others confine it to the land of Judea, a signification which the words, the “entire earth,” sometimes bear in SS. Scripture. These say, if we confine it to the land of Judea, it would more forcibly point out the heavy anger of God, forcibly shadowed forth, as about to fall on the Jewish nation in particular, in punishment of the horrible crime of Deicide, the guilt and consequences of which they invoked “on themselves, and on their children.” Most of the ancient Fathers and writers, and many eminent modern interpreters, understand it to extend to the entire earth. In proof of this universal extension of the darkness, they quote the positive declaration of three Evangelists; also, the authority of Thallus, in his Syriac Histories, from which, though now lost, passages are quoted by Tertullian, Eusebius, &c., with whom Phlegon, already quoted, is perfectly in accord. We are told by Suidas, that Dionysius, the Areopagite, who was at Hieropolis, in Egypt, at this time, on observing this eclipse of the sun, said to his friend, Apollophanus, “aut Deus naturæ patitur, aut mundi machina dissolvitur.” These events were recorded in the annals of the Roman Empire. Tertullian, in his apology, refers the unbelievers of his day to these archives, in proof of the phenomena which occurred at the death of Christ, “Eum mundi casum”—referring to the eclipse—“relatum in Archivis vestris habetis.” Some writers, however, attach no great weight to these latter testimonies. They question whether Thallus lived before Christ, and they endeavour to show that the writings, ascribed to Dionysius, are spurious. In their objections to the universal extension of the darkness, they go too far, judging of what was clearly preternatural, as they would of the occurrence of merely natural phenomena.

The Fathers, all of whom (except Origen, who is followed by Maldonatus), hold the universal extension of the darkness, say, the sun withheld his light, out of sympathy with his Lord, so as not to witness such a horrid act of parricide as the Jews committed, in crucifying the Author of life, the great Creator of the universe. “It appears to me,” says St. Jerome, “that the great luminary of the world hid his rays, not to witness the Lord hanging on the cross, and not to afford light to the impious blasphemers.” Most likely, the Almighty had in view, in the phenomena which occurred at the crucifixion, to prove the Divinity of His Son, and confute those who challenged Him, “si filius Dei est, descendat de cruce,” &c.

Mt 27:46. “And about the ninth hour,” &c., corresponding with our three o’clock in the afternoon. St. Mark says, “At the ninth hour.” But, there is no contradiction, as men usually say a thing happened at the ninth, which happened about that hour, whether shortly before or shortly after it. It would seem that nothing occurred, and that silence prevailed from the sixth till the ninth hour; that, during the darkness, the Jews were seized with awe. Similar silence prevailed during the Egyptian darkness, which was a type of that occurring at the death of our Lord.

“Jesus cried with a loud voice.” This loud cry was manifestly preternatural, as always, when men are either dying or in dread of death, the voice first fails, and becomes weak. “Eli, Eli, lamma Sabacthani.” These words commence the twenty-first Psalm, and our Redeemer, by using them, wishes to convey to the Jews, that He was the subject of this Psalm; that David spoke in His person, and that the entire Psalm, which minutely describes, beforehand, His Passion, was literally fulfilled in Him. In this Psalm, according to the Septuagint rendering, the pronoun, “My,” is expressed but once, “O God, My God,” and the words, “look upon Me,” are inserted. But, the Hebrew has it, as spoken here by our Lord, according to the narrative of the Evangelists. Instead of “Sabacthani,” the Hebrew in the Psalm is Azabtani; but, it is to be borne in mind, that after their return from the Babylonish captivity, the Jews spoke not the pure Hebrew, but the Syro-Chaldaic, in which language our Redeemer on the cross said, “Sabacthani,” the Chaldaic, for “Azabtani.” St. Mark (Mk 15:34), has, “Eloi, Eloi.” This signifies the same as “Eli, Eli.” But, most likely, it was the latter form our Redeemer used, as this would give clearer grounds for the mistake on the part of those who overheard Him, that He called for Elias.

“Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Our Redeemer made use of this vehement appeal not as a question having for object to ascertain what He did not know; for, He knew all things. It is merely a complaint, uttered for the purpose of awakening our attention to the cause of His mysterious abandonment by His Father, for the purpose of conveying to us, that He was abandoned, because He became a vicarious offering in our place, to atone for the sins of the world, and to cause us to inquire, why He was abandoned, and thus to increase our love and gratitude. These words are said by some of the holy Fathers, to have been uttered in the person of sinners, for whom He suffered. This, they say, the following words would show: “Longe a salute mea verba delictorum mcorum” (Psa. 22). They may be also a prayer, entreating His Heavenly Father to put an end to His sufferings, and to allow them to continue no longer, “exauditus est pro sua reverentia” (Heb. 10:7). The word, “forsaken,” merely signifies, that He was left to suffer fearful torments without being rescued from them; or, it may mean, that His Divinity withdrew from His human nature every, even the slightest, consolation.

Our Lord thus conveys to us, that, although He bore all this meekly and uncomplainingly, in the course of His Passion; that, while His great patience, His praying for His persecutors, His tender solicitude for His Blessed Mother, &c., might lead men to suppose He suffered but little; still, He suffered most intensely on the cross, as He did in the garden, when He prayed that, “this bitter chalice might pass away,” &c. From the words our Lord uttered after this, it would seem He had been alive on the cross after “the ninth hour,” as He had been affixed to the same cross before the sixth. Hence, He hung on the cross more than three hours, which shows us the extent of His suffering, and is calculated to challenge our deepest gratitude and love. It is to the loud cry, “My God,” &c., St. Paul refers, when he says, “qui, cum clamore magno,” &c. (Heb. 5:7).

The shocking blasphemy of Calvin, who says, this loud cry proceeded from despair, on the part of our Lord, is sufficiently refuted by His dying words, so full of sweetness and calm resignation, “in manus tuas commendo spiritum meum.”

The seven last words of our Redeemer on the cross are—1. “Father, forgive them,” &c. (Luke 23:34). 2. “Amen, I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). 3. “Woman, behold thy son; son, behold thy mother” (John 19:26, 27). 4. “Eli, Eli,” &c., here. 5. “I thirst” (John 19:28). 6. “It is consummated.” 7. “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” (Luke 23:46).

Mt 27:47. St. Jerome understands this of the Roman soldiers, who, having heard from the Jews that Elias was to return at the coming of the Messiah, ignorant of the Syro-Chaldaic idiom, imagined our Redeemer was calling on Elias, when He exclaimed, “Eli, Eli,” &c.; and this derives probability from the fact, that it was the Roman soldiers that gave Him the vinegar (Luke 23:36). Should it refer to the Jews, St. Jerome is of opinion, that they, intentionally perverting our Lord’s words, in derision of His claims to be the Messiah, affected to think He called on Elias, for the purpose of attributing weakness to Him, in calling on Elias to come to His aid.

Mt 27:48. St. John (Jn 19:28) gives the connexion between this and the foregoing. He says, that our Redeemer, in order “that the Scripture might be fulfilled,” viz., the words of the Psalmist, “in siti mea aceto me potaverunt” (Psa. 69:22), said, “I thirst.” Such thirst was the natural effect of the exquisite tortures He had been enduring—of the almost entire effusion of His sacred blood. He had, morever, tasted nothing from the preceding evening, and He was parched from continual journeyings, watching, and afflictions. The words convey to us His ardent thirst for the salvation of souls. A vessel of vinegar was usually at hand on occasion of crucifixion, according to some, for the purpose, in case of fainting, of reviving the exhausted vital spirits of the sufferers. In the present instance, it is maintained that the vinegar was given by the Roman soldiers, not only for the purpose of deriding Him (Luke 23:36), as mock King of the Jews, but also, for the purpose of torturing Him with the bitter draught which caused still greater thirst, and of prolonging His tortures. Others maintain, that it was rather for the purpose of accelerating His death the vinegar was given, as vinegar has the effect of penetrating and instilling its virulence into all the wounds and members of the body, and thus accelerating death. The Roman soldiers were anxious for this, as the day was far gone, and the hour for dinner long past.

“One of them,” the soldiers (Luke 23:36), “took a sponge, and filed it with vinegar.” There was a vessel of vinegar placed there (John 19:29). The “sponge,” which absorbed the fluid, was more convenient for ministering a drink than a vessel would be, to one raised aloft. He could suck out of the sponge the fluid it absorbed. “And put it on a reed.” St. John (Jn 19:29) tells us, the “reed” was a stalk of hyssop, around which they fastened the sponge. A certain kind of “hyssop” grows longer in the East than with us. This was sufficiently long to reach, with the outstretched hand of a man, the mouth of our Redeemer, suspended on the cross.

Mt 27:49. “And the others said: Let be, let us see,” &c. The meaning of “let be” is, hold, be easy, disregarding everything else, “let us see,” &c. The words, “let be,” is read in the singular here, “sine,” as if addressed by the bystanders and soldiers to the man who gave him the bitter potion, as if to say, cease from giving Him vinegar, which may accelerate His death before Elias comes, who may find Him dead on his arrival; or, in the opinion of those who hold, that the vinegar had rather the effect of prolonging life, stay, do not prevent Him from being refreshed with vinegar, in order that, by prolonging His life, we may “see whether Elias will come,” &c. In consequence of the phenomena which accompanied our Redeemer’s death, they doubt whether He was not the Messias, whose precursor, both Jews and Christians believed Elias to be; and this the Roman soldiers, most likely, heard from the Jews. St. Mark (Mk 15:36) employs the words, “stay ye,” in the plural, sinite, as if addressed to the bystanders by the soldier who administered the vinegar. Likely, both versions are true. The soldier addressed the bystanders, and they, in turn, addressed him, according to the meaning already assigned. Some even understand the words to mean, “stay,” that is, keep aloof, leave Him alone, as it is only when alone, Elias who would not come in a crowd, will approach Him. This potion was different from that in verse 34; both were given in different circumstances.

Mt 27:50. “With a loud voice,” which was preternatural; since, a man’s voice on the point of expiring, fails and becomes weak. But, in the case of our Lord, His voice was preternaturally and miraculously restored. And He cried out “with a loud voice,” to show the perfect voluntariness of His death; and that it took place, not through any failure of the powers of nature. “He had power to lay down His life, and power to take it up again” (John 10:18); and also to show, that He was God, which the centurion inferred from this fact (Mark 15:39). St. Luke (Lk 23:46) tells us, He uttered, with a loud voice, the words, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit,” as if to say, He deposited His soul with Him, because He was to resume it again. St. John (Jn 19:30) tells us, “And bowing down His head, He gave up the ghost.” He bowed down His head before giving up the ghost, which is done by all other men after expiring, to show He did so voluntarily, and not from any infirmity. “He commends His spirit,” as a deposit, into the hands of His Heavenly Father, from whom He is shortly to receive it back, to be united to His body at the Resurrection.

Mt 27:51. “And behold.” St. Augustine observes, that “behold” shows these things to have happened, in consequence of and after the death of Christ; hence, what St. Luke states (Lk 23:45) is mentioned by anticipation. “The veil of the temple.” Josephus tells us (Lib. 5 de Bel. Jud., c. 5), that there were two veils in the temple—the one, before the Holy place or Sanctum; the other, before the Sanctum Sanctorum. It is not agreed among the ancients which of these two veils was rent in two. The words of St. Paul to the Hebrews 10, would add weight to the opinion which understand it of the inner veil; and this was properly, “the veil.” Various reasons are assigned for this. Besides the general reason affecting all these prodigies that occurred at the death of Christ, viz., that they had for object to show His power and Divinity, and to show forth the detestation of Jewish barbarity towards the Son of God, there are special reasons assigned also, and among these, as regards the rending of the veil, is, that it was meant to show, by a very bold figure of speech, that the temple could not stand the shocking impiety practised towards its Lord and Master, and that it manifested its horror by rending its garments, in imitation of the Jewish people on occasions of impiety, and especially of blasphemy. It was also mystically meant, to teach us that the mysteries of the law, hitherto concealed before the coming of Christ, were now clearly made known to us, by the faith secured to us through the death of Christ; and also to show us, that the road to heaven, the true sanctuary, typified by the Sanctum Sanctorum, was now opened to mankind, by His death (Heb. 9:8).

“And the earth quaked.” This was meant to show the Divinity of our Redeemer, the Lord of heaven and earth. He it was that caused this quaking of the earth, in virtue of His Divine power, of which the earthquake is a striking indication. It also meant, as did the splitting of the rocks, to mark the natural horror which all creatures felt at the shocking crime of the Jews, and their sympathy with the Lord of creation in His barbarous sufferings. The quaking of the earth is sometimes employed in Scripture, to denote the anger of the Almighty. (Psa. 18, &c.) It is the opinion of some, that this was the same as the earthquake which happened in the reign of Tiberius Cæsar, the greatest on record. It is mentioned by Pliny and Macrobius. The latter tells us, it destroyed no less than twelve cities in Asia. Origen and others, however, maintain, that the present earthquake went no farther than the Temple of Jerusalem, and the portions mentioned in SS. Scriptures, viz., the veil, the rocks, the tombs, &c.; and they seem to think the confining of the earthquake to Jerusalem and the temple, &c., would more clearly indicate, beforehand, the destruction of the Jewish temple and worship, in punishment of Jewish impiety, in crucifying the Lord of glory.

“And the rods were rent.” St. Cyril (Catechesi 13) tells us, traces of this are visible in Calvary to the present day. Shaw, the Oriental traveller, tells us, after minutely examining everything on Calvary, that the aperture in the rock on Calvary is a miracle, which must inspire one with feelings of religious awe and wonder. Millar, in his history of the Propagation of Christianity, states, that a Deist was converted on seeing that the fissures in the rock were contrary to what takes place in ordinary earthquakes, as these immense fissures were not according to the veins and weakest parts of the rock. These extraordinary events, which could not be considered fortuitous, indicate the atrocity of Jewish impiety, the anger of God, the Divinity of our Lord, the hard, stony hearts of His crucifiers, who stood unmoved, while the very rocks were melted unto pity.

Mt 27:52. “And the graves were opened,” in virtue of the efficacy of the death of Christ, who, though crucified, was the Lord of life and death, who conquered death, and restored life to man. Whether the graves were opened immediately on the death of Christ, or only after His resurrection, is disputed. Some maintain, that the graves were now opened, in order to show that it was done, in virtue of Christ’s Passion; but, that it was only after our Lord’s resurrection, the dead arose; because it was meet, that He who was the first-born among the dead, “the first-fruits of them that sleep” (1 Cor. 15:20), should be the first to rise, and then others after Him. Others, who cannot see the meaning of graves opening, without the dead arising, maintain, that it was only after the resurrection the graves were opened. So that the entire of these two verses (Mt 27:52–53), are affected by the words (v. 53), “after His resurrection.” But, that St. Matthew records the events mentioned in this verse by anticipation, in connexion with the death of Christ; because, it was in virtue of the merits of His death, they occurred.

“Many bodies of the saints”—reanimated and reunited to their souls—“arose,” from the slumbers of the tomb, to enter on an immortal life. It is most likely, that these never again returned to the tomb; but, that they were brought by our Lord into heaven, as so many trophies to grace the triumph of His ascension. This is the common opinion of modern commentators. Nor are the words of St. Paul (Heb. 11:40) opposed to this, as there reference is made to the laws affecting the General Resurrection of all; here, to a special and exceptional privilege.

Mt 27:53. The Evangelist mentions, by anticipation, the events of this verse and the preceding; because, they belong to the prodigies having immediate connexion with the death of Christ.

“The Holy City,” Jerusalem, so long consecrated to the true worship of God, where stood His holy Temple; and although now polluted by the crimes of the Jews, still, it was, hitherto, the seat of His religion, consecrated by the presence and miracles of the Son of God, and the mysteries of His life, death, and resurrection. In it, was accomplished the work of Redemption; and from it, the Gospel of Salvation was sent forth into the entire earth.

“They came into the Holy City”—the graves being outside the walls—“and appeared to many,” to those witnesses alone pre-ordained by God; to those whose faith it was important to have confirmed, as our Lord Himself appeared not to all the people, but to His Apostles, &c. Who these “saints,” thus raised to life, were, cannot be known for certain. It is most likely, they belonged to that class who had some peculiar relation to Christ, either of descent, or promise, or type, or hope, or faith, or chastity, or sanctity, such as Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Melchisedech, David, Job, Jonas, Moses, Josue, Samuel, Isaias, Jeremias, Ezechial, and the other prophets; and, most likely, some of them belonged to those, who lately died in sanctity and in the faith, such as Simeon, &c. The fact of their having been recognized by their contemporaries, would prove that they were not long dead. However, the ancient Fathers and Prophets might, from certain peculiar qualities, be recognized by the Jews existing at this time, and especially, by the favoured persons, those “many” to whom they appeared. The object of their resurrection was, doubtless, to show that the power of the grave was destroyed by the life and immortality purchased for us by Christ; and thus to serve as a pledge of the General Resurrection; and also to be the associates, witnesses, and heralds of His resurrection.

Mt 27:54. “The centurion, and they that were with him watching Jesus.” St. Mark (Mk 15:39) says, “The centurion who stood over against Him, having seen the earthquake and the things that were done,” viz., the darkness, splitting of the rocks, &c.; but especially seeing that He gave up the ghost, loudly crying out in this manner (Mark, ibidem), “were greatly afraid,” lest the vengeance which they felt assured, God would inflict for the murder of His Son, would, in the first instance, fall on themselves, as His executioners. St. Luke says (Lk 23:47), “The centurion … glorified God,” by his faith and confession of the truth, “saying: Indeed this was a just man.” St. Mark (Mk 15:39), “Indeed this man was the Son of God.” It is very likely, the centurion and the soldiers said both, viz., that He was a “just man,” unjustly punished; nay, what He proclaimed Himself to be, “truly the Son of God,” whose Divinity these wonderful events proclaimed.

They heard the Jews say, our Lord was crucified for proclaiming Himself the King of the Jews, the promised Messiah, the Son of God. Hence, seeing the wonders wrought in attestation of it, they at once proclaim Him to be what He said He was, viz., the natural Son of God. These may be regarded as the earliest among the Gentiles, whom the merits of Christ’s Passion and His grace reached, and also the first-fruits of Christ’s prayer on the cross for His persecutors. St. Luke (Lk 23:48) assures us, that not only the Roman centurion and his associates, but also that “all the multitude who came together to that sight and saw the things that were done, returned striking their breasts,” partly from feelings of sorrow and detestation of the horrid deed now perpetrated, in which they had concurred; and partly, from fear of the vengeance it would entail. These might be regarded, as shadowing forth the conversion of the Jews, which took place especially at the following Pentecost. There is no mention made of the Chief Priests becoming converted, or being any way affected by the death of Christ.

Mt 27:55. “And there were many women afar off,” that is, viewing our Redeemer’s sufferings from a distance, as the Greek words (ἀπὸ μακρόθεν) signify. That the Blessed Virgin was among those present and near the cross, we learn from St. John (Jn 19:25); so near that our Redeemer could address her. Very likely, the women referred to here, may have been sometimes near the cross, and at other times, farther away from it, owing to the soldiers and crowds who came to see the spectacle. These women are here commended for their constancy and love, for having followed Him, and having after the Apostles deserted Him, stood by His cross, witnesses of His patience and meekness, and death—for having followed Him far away from their own country, and for having administered to Him and His, by their personal services and kind offices, and for having out of their own means supplied His wants.

Mt 27:56. “Among whom was Mary Magdalen,” commonly supposed to be the same, of whom mention is made as the sister of Lazarus and Martha. Out of her, our Lord had cast seven devils, and, now, from gratitude for the recovery of health of mind and body, she follows Him unto death. “And Mary, the mother of James and Joseph.” She is called, “Mary of Cleophas,” from her husband, Cleophas. She was the sister of the Blessed Virgin (John 19:25).

“And the mother of the sons of Zebedee,” called Salome (Mark 15:40). There were others besides. But these are specially mentioned as being the most remarkable in their pious offices to our Blessed Lord. Moreover, these remained for His sepulture, when the others went away. It is very probable, that St. John took the Blessed Virgin away from the scene of sorrow immediately after the death of her beloved Son. St. Luke says (Lk 23:49), “And all His acquaintance, and the women … stood afar off.” From this it appears, that some men also were there, as contradistinguished from the “women.” Thus were verified the words of the Psalmist, “amici mei et proximi mei … et qui juxta me erant, de lunge steterunt.”

The words, “all His acquaintance,” are not meant to convey, that all His acquaintance were there even at a distance, but only that such as were recognizable there—and St. John is the only one of whom express mention is made in the Gospel—were at a distance, and this latter is to be understood in a comparative sense. They were at a distance, compared with the soldiers and the crowd that were insulting Him; but, still near enough to witness His sufferings and hear His voice whenever He spoke. Here in due order of narrative should be inserted some occurrences mentioned by St. John only, in the history of our Lord’s Passion (John 19:31–37).

Mt 27:57. “When it was evening,” when evening approached, shortly before sunset; for, as the Sabbath commenced at sunset, they could, then, take no active steps towards taking down from the cross, or burying the body of Jesus.

“There came a certain rich man,” &c. This is mentioned, because, no poor or humble man could approach the Roman Governor on such a business. “Of Arimathea.” He was a native of this place, or sprung from it, although it is thought he resided at Jerusalem, as appears from his having hewed “his own monument out of rock,” &c. (Mt 27:60.) Arimathea was a town of Judea which St. Jerome tells us was the same as “Ramathaim Sophim” (1 Sam 1), eighteen or twenty miles north-west of Jerusalem. “Named Joseph.” This minute description gains greater credit for the narrative. It was a name celebrated in the history of the people of God, rendered specially illustrious by the Patriarch, Joseph, the son of Jacob; and another Joseph, still more illustrious, the foster-father of the Son of God. “Who also himself was a disciple of Jesus.” This accounts for the pious solicitude manifested by him to have the honour of sepulture paid our Redeemer, and to have Him rescued from the ignominy of having His sacred remains cast into the common receptacle of malefactors and criminals. St. John (Jn 19:38) tells us, “he was a disciple, but in private for fear of the Jews;” he was “a noble counsellor” (St. Mark 15:43); “a senator, a just and good man” (Luke 23:50, 51), “who also himself waited for the kingdom of God.” Being a “counsellor,” βουλευτης, or, decurio, which in the Provinces of Rome, designated a municipal honour equal to that of Senator at Rome. He belonged to the Sanhedrin, and, most likely, attended the Council that sat in judgment on our Blessed Lord, but he “did not consent to their counsel and doings” (Luke 23:51). To him may be applied, in a special manner, the words of the Psalmist, “beatus vir qui non abiit in consilio impiorum”—“he had been expecting the kingdom of God,” which means, that he firmly believed Jesus to be the Messiah, whose coming he had ardently longed for.

Mt 27:58. “He went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus.” St. Mark (Mk 15:43) observes, that he did this courageously, or “boldly,” to convey to us the spirit of fortitude with which God, on this occasion, endowed him who hitherto was only “in private a disciple of Jesus,” from feelings of fear. He begged our Redeemer’s body, for the purpose of honourable interment, and to have it removed from the bodies of the common herd of malefactors, thus fulfilling the words of Scripture, “erit sepulchrum ejus gloriosum.” St. Mark informs us, that Pilate wondered that He should be dead so soon (for sometimes persons crucified lived for some time, nay, for two days, on the cross); and that he sent for the centurion, to know if it were so, and having been assured of it by the centurion, who guarded Him, he gave the body to Joseph, or, as it is here, “he commanded the body to be delivered.” All this was brought about by God’s overruling providence, in order that there would be no room for questioning or cavilling about the truth of our Redeemer’s death, or the reality of His resurrection from the dead. Pilate wished, by this, to make some atonement for the crime of condemning to death an innocent person; and, most likely, Joseph pleaded his well-known innocence as a reason for obtaining His body, in order to secure for it the rights of decent sepulture. “To be delivered,” that is, given back. For, Pilate himself gave Him to His executioners, and now he demands Him back.

Mt 27:59-60. “Taking His body” (“down,” from the cross, Mark, Luke), “wrapt it up in a clean linen cloth,” which he bought for the purpose (Mark 15:46), which was, therefore, not only clean, but quite new.

“And laid it in his own new monument, which he had hewed out in a rock.” St. John adds, “wherein no man had been yet laid” (John 19:41). The piety of Joseph towards our Blessed Lord, is manifested—1st. By his having taken Him down from the cross; thus, regardless of the censure of his countrymen, who regarded the touch of such a body as a pollution. 2ndly. By his having wrapped it up in fine linen, which he bought for the purpose, and, aided by Nicodemus (John 19:39), perfuming it with spices, composed of “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound,” thus sparing no expense to bestow on Him the honours of a costly burial, bestowed on the rich and noble alone among the Jews. 3rdly. By placing Him, who had not whereon to lay His head during life, and no burial-place at death, in His own new sepulchre, hewn in a rock, in his garden, which was nigh at hand. All this, although intended by Joseph solely to honour his Lord, was, still, arranged by God’s providence, to ensure the faith in His resurrection. For, as no other was laid in the tomb, so, no other could be said to have risen; and, as it was hewed in a solid rock, it could not be said, the disciples took away the body, through any opening in the walls, or by undermining the foundation, or raising the roof of the monument. If such was the piety of these holy men towards the dead body of our Redeemer, how great should not be our respect, reverence, and devotion towards His living, immortal body, which we daily receive in the Blessed and Adorable Eucharist?

“And he rolled a great stone to the mouth of the monument, and went his way,” to prevent any violation of the place, or of His body, and to secure the linen and the spices. This was intended by Providence, to insure more firmly the faith of the Resurrection.

Mt 27:61. “The other Mary,” refers to Mary, the mother of James and Joseph (Mark 15:47). “Sitting over against the sepulchre.” That there were more than these two present, is clear from St. Luke (Lk 23:55); but these two are specified, because, they were more remarkable, and showed the most sedulous anxiety. These pious women could not be torn from the cross while our Redeemer hung upon it, and, without mingling with the men, who were engaged in depositing His sacred body in the tomb, they remained close enough to the sepulchre to see “how His body was laid” (Luke 23:55), in order, that, after the Sabbath was over, on which no work could be done, they might come back and embalm His body with spices and ointment, which they purchased for the purpose, immediately after He was committed to the tomb (Luke 23:56). From the next chapter, it will be seen that they came back for the purpose of executing their pious intention.

Mt 27:62. “The next day, which followed the day of preparation,” viz., the Sabbath-day. However, the Evangelist does not call it by that name, since, as regarded the Jews, it was anything but a Sabbath, or a day of religious rest. Here, the Chief Priests are silently taxed with inconsistence. Those who heretofore had so often calumniously charged our Lord with a violation of the Sabbath, while performing works of charity and benevolence, make no scruple whatever in going to a Pagan judge, and demanding an armed guard to place them at the tomb, or, in sealing up the tomb and closing it—all operations involving much labour, and not permitted, either by law or tradition. Friday is called “preparation,” or Parasceve, because, on that day, the Jews prepared all things appertaining to food, &c., required on the following day—the Sabbath—on which day, they were not allowed to dress food, kindle a fire, &c. (Exod. 16:23–29).

“The Chief Priests,” &c., maddened with rage against Jesus, are not content with persecuting Him even unto death; but, they must follow Him, beyond the grave, destroy His fame, and blot out His name for ever. How admirably these wicked men illustrate the description given of the impious (Isa. 57:20-21; Job 15:21). The very attempt at guarding against imposture in the case of our Redeemer, not only argues their disregard for the Sabbath, and convicts them of trying, deliberately and knowingly, to stifle the truth of His resurrection, while it deprives them of all pretext for saying, His body was stolen; but, it furnishes the strongest confirmation of the resurrection, “iniquity has lied to itself,” and the words of Scripture illustrated. “There is no wisdom … against the Lord” (Prov. 21:30); “He destroys the wisdom of the wise,” &c. In other cases, they might plead innocence; here, they sin inexcusably, against the known truth, and against the Holy Ghost.

Mt 27:63. “We have remembered, that this seducer said,” &c. Lest Pilate should wonder they did not ask for an armed guard before this, they affect forgetfulness of what they had before been aware of; now, affecting to remember it, they wish to adopt precautionary measures. Although our Redeemer referred to His resurrection, on some occasions, in addressing the Jews (Matt. 12:39; John 2:19), still, they did not clearly understand Him; since, He spoke clearly to His Apostles alone on this subject. Hence, it must be from Judas, who betrayed his Master’s secrets, as well as His person, they heard it, or from the general rumour regarding it, which prevailed among the people. Their chief object in this proceeding was to foil, as far as possible, the prediction of Christ, which they feared would be verified on this subject, and the prodigies which occurred at His death served to awaken their apprehensions still more.

“That seducer,” the opprobrious epithet they bestowed on the Author of life, and God of all truth.

“After three days I will rise again,” that is, three days commenced, or partially accomplished, or, within three days, or, after the third day shall have arrived.

Mt 27:64. The Chief Priests, therefore, ask Pilate to have “the sepulchre guarded until the third day,” that is, the close of the third day. Our Redeemer did not say at what hour He would arise. This explains what they understood by the words, “after three days.” For, if the words meant that He would not rise till after three days, there would be no meaning in placing a guard till the term of three days had passed, as His disciples would not think of removing Him till the term specified by Himself had expired. Moreover, the guard should be continued, not until the third day, but after the third day; since, it was only then, in the supposed interpretation, He was to arise.

“Lest His disciples come,” &c. This was sheer hypocrisy and pretence. Their object in asking for a guard was, that they would prevent His rising, and, if necessary, to apprehend, or kill Him. For, in reality, they had no fears of His frightened, scattered, timorous disciples, who, if themselves imposed upon, could have no motive in perpetuating the deception, but, rather, every motive in exposing it, and confessing their own error, nor any hopes of succeeding in such an attempt, considering their position among their countrymen. They lacked all the human means of successfully propagating the deception. They had neither eloquence, nor wealth, nor family influence, nor numbers. This the High Priests well knew. Their fear about the disciples was a mere frivolous pretence. Their real motive in asking for a guard, was to prevent our Redeemer’s prediction being verified.

“So”—in case they succeeded in persuading the people of the fact of His having risen in accordance with His own prediction on the subject—“the last error shall be worse than the first.” The first error, or imposture, was the teaching of Christ, and particularly His claiming to be the Son of God. This error would be included in that regarding His resurrection; and, moreover, would derive further confirmation from it. Since, His raising Himself from the dead by His own power, in accordance with His prediction, would surely prove His Divinity.

The truth of this would involve Jews and Romans in the odium of having put to death the Author of life, and might serve as an incentive to wars and rebellions; and hence, the “last error” would be worse, in itself, because, it not only contained the former error, but also the most demonstrative proof of it, worse and more pernicious in its consequences, both in regard to Jews and Romans, and in regard to the numbers it would infect, and the difficulty of eradicating it; “worse,” in its extent, as it would extend, not alone to Judea, but to the uttermost bounds of the earth. Thus, these wicked men became prophets of their own disgrace, and of the glory of our Blessed Lord.

Mt 27:65. “You have a guard,” a company of soldiers, already placed at your service, for the crucifixion of this man. You are hereby allowed to use it, for the purpose of watching the sepulchre. The Greek, εχετε, may be rendered in the indicative or imperative, but the Vulgate version—habetis—in the indicative, is the most common, and the best sustained rendering of it. Some expositors (Calmet, &c.), by “guard,” understand a company of soldiers, appointed to guard the temple. But there is no evidence that these could be used for any other purpose. Others understand it, of the band stationed in the Castle of Antonia, for the purpose of quelling any tumult in the city.

“Go, guard it as you know,” adopt whatever means you may think prudent and effectual. Pilate thus insinuates, he had no wish to mix himself up any longer in their local and religious concerns.

Mt 27:66. “And they departing,” going to the sepulchre, and bringing with them the appointed guard of soldiers, “made sure the sepulchre with guards,” by placing the necessary guard of soldiers around it. They probably communicated to these soldiers their real or pretended fears, regarding the resurrection of our Blessed Lord. Most likely, they threatened them with the consequences, on the part of the Governor, in case of unfaithfulness; and promised great rewards, in case they proved faithful, until after the allotted time had passed. They, probably, had also instructed them, in case our Redeemer were really to arise, to put Him to death, as they may have formed the same notions of His renewed and immortal life, that they entertained regarding Lazarus, whom they thought to kill, after he was resuscitated from the grave (John 12:10).

“Sealing the stone” (σφραγισαντες) with the public seal—“the stone” referred to (v. 60). They thus secured the sepulchre, in two ways, with the public seal, and with a guard of soldiers. Whether this was Pilate’s seal, or that of the High Priests, is disputed. The latter is the more common opinion. St. Chrysostom, however, holds the former. They took these extraordinary precautions against the guard, in case they should be tampered with, and against the disciples also. Darius acted similarly, in regard to Daniel (Dan. 6:17). All these extraordinary precautions, to guard against imposition, only served to render the truth of our Lord’s glorious resurrection more certain and indisputable. Thus, the Almighty turned the devices of His enemies against themselves, “destroying the wisdom of the wise, and rejecting the prudence of the prudent,” and He thus demonstrated that, “there is no wisdom, no prudence, no counsel, against the Lord” (Prov. 21:30).

Posted in Bible, Catholic, Christ, Notes on the Gospel of Matthew, Scripture | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Luke 3:10-18

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 15, 2018

Lk 3:10. “And the people asked him.” The Scribes and Pharisees, whom John had reproached so sharply, “had despised the counsel of God” (Lk 7:30), and therefore, paid no heed to John’s preaching; but, “the people,” who were well affected, touched by his preaching, “asked him, what shall we do?” what works of penance shall we perform? what fruits, worthy of penance, shall we produce, in order to evade the threatened ruin, and be worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven, which you announce as near?

Lk 3:11. “He that hath two coats,” &c. The Baptist specially enjoins works of mercy, and alms-deeds, among the most deserving fruits of penance. Not that they are alone to be performed; but, because they commend themselves most to us. They wonderfully commend us to God, and incline Him to show mercy to us in turn, “peccata tua eleemosynis redime,” &c. He refrains from inculcating severe penitential works, in the first instance, for fear of scaring the multitude away from the way of perfection. He inculcates the exercise of mercy, which will obtain of God abundant grace, to perform these painful works of penance with alacrity, “Quod superest, da Eleemosynam, et ecce, omnia munda sunt vobis” (Luke 11:41). “That hath two coats,” and one of them superfluous, let him give the superfluous one to him who wants it, “that hath none.” The same is inculcated on the man, who hath meat to spare, let him give it to his neighbour, who wants it. Under these two works, clothing the naked, and feeding the hungry—the two things most necessary, before everything else, for sustaining human life—are included all the other works of mercy, corporal and spiritual. The words of this verse clearly demonstrate the necessity of exercising the corporal works of mercy, in relieving our indigent brethren; and the Baptist inculcates it on the multitude without distinction, as a precept binding on all classes of persons.

Lk 3:12. “And the publicans also came to be baptized.” Who the publicans were (see Matthew 9:11). The Greek, τελωνης, is not accurately rendered by the Vulgate, publicanus, the publicans being men of rank among the Romans, who farmed the revenue. Here, the word means a tax-gatherer, employed by the Publicani. Among the Jews, the collector of taxes, especially if he were a Jew, was regarded as an extortioner and apostate, and classed with the worst description of sinners, peccatores ex officio (Tertullian de Pudicitia, c. ix) Their occupation was not, of itself, illicit. For, if it was licit for rulers to impose, it must also be for others, to collect taxes. Hence, the Baptist here does not tell them to give up this calling in life, which he would do, in the first instance, if it were unlawful. But, owing to their excessive and unjust exactions, their grinding oppression of the poor, the publicans, as a class, were regarded in the light of public sinners; and they are regarded by our Redeemer frequently in the Gospels, as outside the pale of salvation. Here, touched with the preaching of the Baptist, they come to be baptized; thus verifying the words of our Lord, “the publicans and the harlots will go before you into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 21:31).

Lk 3:13. They asked John what they were to do, in order to avoid the wrath to come. He only tells them, “Do nothing more than that which is appointed for you.” The Greek word for “do”—πρασσεὶν—means also, to exact, the meaning it has here. He tells them, in collecting taxes, to exact no more than is assessed on the people, in each case, by the legally constituted authorities. In this, it is not implied, that cessation from unjust exactions was sufficient for them, or fully constituted the fruits of penance he required them to bring forth. He only imposes this on them, in the first instance, to avoid the sin to which they were particularly liable, and which was ordinarily committed by them, from a belief that their fidelity in this respect, would merit for them grace to do the other things required of them in common with all; to practise works of mercy among the rest. The first thing to be enjoined on all is, the mastery over their predominant passion, and the performance of the peculiar duties of their state. This, however, though necessary for all, is not sufficient; they must, in addition, fully observe the precepts of avoiding evil, and of doing good. From the words of the Baptist, it is clear, the office of Publican was not bad, save in its abuse. He does not enjoin on them to exact nothing, but only to exact nothing beyond their due.

Lk 3:14. “The soldiers,” as a class, though there are many saints among them, are most indifferent, not very susceptible of religious impressions, and greatly exposed to sin. These also are cautioned or warned by John against three vices to which they are subject, viz.:—1st, violence, or, the violent use of the arms which, put into their hands against the enemy, are sometimes employed by them in oppressing their fellow-subjects, for the purpose of unjust exactions; 2ndly, calumny, in falsely accusing their innocent neighbours of crimes against the State, and giving false information against them, in order to partake of their confiscated property; 3rdly, pillage, to support the extravagance and dissipated habits for which their ordinary pay was unequal. The Baptist here taxes the vices peculiar to the military state; inculcates their avoidance, with the firm hope, that if military men overcame themselves in this respect, they would ultimately practise the virtues, which are obligatory on all men, and avoid the vices condemned in all, by the law and commandments of God. From the words of John here it is legitimately inferred, that warfare is a lawful profession to engage in. The Baptist only tells them to avoid the vices incident to that calling. The same is fairly inferred from our Lord’s treatment of the Centurion (Matthew 8:10), and from Peter’s conduct towards Cornelius (Acts 10:36), neither of whom tells those whose faith they praise to abandon the profession of arms.

The Greek word for “calumniate,” συκοφαντησητε—from συκον, a fig, and φαινῶ, to declare, strictly denoting, to inform against the exporters of figs, is allusive to the law prohibiting the exportation of figs in Attica during seasons of scarcity. When there was a plentiful harvest, the law was useless. Still, as it was binding at all times, in consequence of not having been repealed, ill-natured and malicious people took occasion from it to accuse all persons transgressing the letter of the law. Hence, all busy informers, have ever since, been branded with the odious name of sycophants. With an accusative of the person, as here, it signifies, to oppress any one, to annoy him by frivolous accusations, especially under pretence of law. With a genitive of the person and an accusative of the thing (Luke 19:8), it signifies, to take away any thing from a man on the same pretences (Parkhust, Greek Lexicon; Potter, Antiquities, Book i. c. 21).

Lk 3:15. “And as the people were of opinion,” &c. The end of the Baptist’s mission was twofold—to preach penance, in order to dispose the people for receiving the Gospel; and to preach faith in Christ, and render Him testimony. He had already performed the first part, and now he enters on the second object of his mission. The Greek for “opinion,” προσδοκῶντες, means, desiring, hoping. On considering John’s wonderful birth, life, preaching and baptism, which was to be instituted in a new form by the Messiah (Ezechiel 36:25); being also aware that the period of our Lord’s coming was near—the sceptre having passed from Juda, and the seventy weeks of Daniel having been accomplished—the people began to hope, that John might have been the desired Messiah. They were revolving these thoughts in their hearts, when John, either informed by his disciples, of the opinion currently circulated regarding him, or being inspired by the Holy Ghost; or, if we make the testimony rendered by him here to be the same as that given (John 1:20) and rendered on the same occasion, being interrogated on the subject, at once rejecting the high prerogative falsely ascribed to him, proclaims the Divinity and infinite superiority of our Lord over himself. This public declaration of John given “to all,” was providentially deferred until John himself having been reputed to be the Messiah, his testimony regarding our Lord would carry with it greater weight, and would seem still more to proclaim the glory and Divinity of the Son of God. It is disputed whether St. Luke here refers to the occasion described (John 1:20). If both occasions be identical, then, St. Luke and the other synoptists must have described it by anticipation, since, they describe it as occurring before our Lord’s baptism; John thus supplying, as was his wont, what they omit; namely, the circumstances of the deputation from Jerusalem, to whom our Lord rendered this testimony. If both occasions be different—and the words of the Baptist, addressed to the deputation (John 1:26), “there hath stood one in the midst of you, whom you know not.” … “The same is He that shall come after me,” &c. (John 1:27) would favour this opinion; for, he spoke of our Lord as Him of whom he before had said, “that He was to come after him”)—then, John learned their feelings from inspiration or from his Disciples.

Lk 3:16-17. (See commentary on Matthew 3:11-12.) Here is what Fr. MacEvilly wrote in his commentary on Matthew:

(Mt 3:11). “I indeed baptize you,” &c. These words need not necessarily be connected with those of the preceding verse, as if spoken at the same time, or immediately after them, by the Baptist. From St. Luke (3:15) it would seem that they were spoken by him to refute a false notion, which he knew existed in the minds of the people regarding himself, as if he were their long expected Messiah. It may be, he knew their feelings from the faculty divinely granted him of penetrating the secret thoughts of their hearts; or, he may have learned their opinions from the discourses of the people, or from some of his own disciples who associated and moved among the people; or, it may be, if we consider these words spoken on the occasion recorded (John 1:19), that he learned it from those who were deputed to make inquiries of himself personally on this debated subject. Some commentators, however, think the occasion referred to (John 1:19–27) different from this, inasmuch as the occurrence, referred to in John, took place after Christ’s baptism by John, and the occurrence here recorded, before it. Moreover, he says (John 1:26), he speaks of our Redeemer as “standing in the midst of them,” of whom he before said, that, “He was to come after him;” here, and, St. Luke 3, he insinuates the contrary. If the three other Evangelists refer to the same occasion, referred to by St. John (Jn 1:19–27), it must be said, that they narrated by anticipation, as if occurring before Christ’s baptism by John, what only occurred after it. The people seeing the extraordinary sanctity of John, and the repute in which he was held, looked upon him as the Messiah, who was expected about this time by the Jews; because, the term marked out for His coming, in their ancient prophecies, had now expired. The rite of baptism which John administered, confirmed them in this impression, as the giving of baptism was considered a peculiar mark that was to distinguish the Messiah (John 1:25; Ezechiel 36, “effundam super vos aquam mundam,” &c.) This was divinely disposed, in order to show forth the humility of the Baptist, and add greater weight to his testimony regarding our Lord, while raising Him infinitely above himself, whom the people held in such high veneration for his extraordinary sanctity and austerity of life. The Baptist, in bearing testimony to our Lord, compares, 1st, his person; and, 2ndly, his baptism, with the Divine Person and the baptism of our Lord, and exalts the latter, in an infinite degree, as was meet, beyond the former.

First, as to His Person, he says, that our Lord, “who is to come after him,” his junior in point of birth in the flesh, and in regard to the time of his public preaching and manifestation to the world, to come after him, was “mightier” than he, as possessing within Himself infinite efficacy and power, which He displayed in all His actions, reaching not only the bodies, but the souls of men. The words, “mightier than I,” are probably allusive to the description of the qualities of our Lord as given by Isaias (Isa 9:7), who calls Him “the Mighty God.” His supereminent dignity is such that John is unworthy to be His servant, or to perform the most menial office for Him. One of the most menial offices assigned to servants or slaves of the lowest description among the ancients, Romans, Greeks, Jews, &c., was to carry, to bind and loose their master’s shoes. According to the other Evangelists it said, he is not worthy to stoop down and untie “the latchet of His shoes.” The meaning is the same as that conveyed by St. Matthew here, viz., that he is unworthy to perform the most menial office in His regard. Or, it may be that the Baptist used both forms of expression, viz., that he was unworthy to carry His shoes, or even to stoop down and untie them.

Secondly, as to his baptism, exalting Christ’s baptism above his own, he says his baptism merely reached the bodies of men. Its effect was merely to wash or baptize them with water, “unto penance,” as a sign of the spiritual cleansing which they needed, as a protestation of their need of penance for their past sins, but, of itself, it did not reach the soul, so as to impart grace or remit sin; whereas, the baptism of Christ, who was infinitely “mightier” and more powerful to impart efficacy to any rite He would institute, was not confined in its effects to the body; it reached the entire nature of mankind, it poured into their souls “the Holy Ghost,” who with the active properties of “fire,” cleansed and purified their whole interior, and lit up in them the burning flames of Divine love.

“He shall baptize,” &c. If the word, “baptize,” be taken in its plain, literal signification, then, it includes the rite of baptism, instituted by our Lord in water, as is indicated (John 3:5; Matt. 21:25), and the passage means: He shall institute a baptism, the effects of which shall not merely reach the body, and typify interior cleansing (like the baptism of John); but it shall confer the Holy Ghost, who will produce effects of cleansing, purifying, enlightening and warming, symbolized by the natural effects and active agency of “fire.” “And fire.” The word “and” signifies, that is, fire.

If the word, “baptize,” be taken figuratively to signify the effects of baptism in both cases; then, the words mean: the effect of my baptism is merely to wash the body externally, as a sign of the desired cleansing of the soul. But the effect of His baptism shall be, to pour the manifold gifts and energy of the Holy Ghost into the souls of men. It seems quite clear, that it is in this latter sense the words are to be understood; since, it is not the matter of his own baptism and that of Christ which John is here contrasting, but the effect of both, the latter being far more exalted, and as far superior to the former, as the cleansing of the soul is above that of the body: and the cleansing power and efficacy of fire, is above that of water. This latter sense is allusive to the signification given the word by our Redeemer Himself (Acts 1:5), where He speaks of the baptism of the Spirit; or, of receiving the gifts of the Holy Ghost; and the word, “baptism,” is taken figuratively elsewhere, to denote the gifts of sanctifying grace received through suffering, “habeo Baptismum … et quomodo coarctor,” &c. Hence, theologians distinguish the threefold baptism of water, blood, and the Spirit, the effect being substantially the same in all. The figurative understanding of the word, “baptize,” here does not, by any means, warrant the Methodists and Quakers in regarding baptism as a spiritual effect, and not as an external material rite; because, elsewhere (Matt. 27; John 3), the words must be taken literally, to mean an external rite. For, according to a received canon for interpreting SS. Scripture, the words should be understood literally, unless there be some reason or necessity for taking them figuratively. Now, in the passage referred to, there is nothing either in the context, or the laws of Hermeneutics, to warrant us in departing from the plain and obvious meaning of the words; whereas, in this present verse (11), we are forced by the very nature of the language employed, to understand the words figuratively; since, no one can, in the literal sense, be “baptized in the Holy Ghost and in fire.” The figurative use of a word in some passages of SS. Scripture would by no means force us to use it figuratively in every other passage, particularly when the context would imply the contrary. Now, the baptism of John was clearly an external rite performed with water; so was that also given by St. Peter to Cornelius, the Centurion. “Can any one forbid water, that these should not be baptized?” (Acts 10:44–48.) With water also did Philip baptize the Eunuch (Acts 8:38). The words, then, refer to the abundant effusion of the gifts of the Holy Ghost by our Lord on His faithful followers, through the rite of baptism, instituted by Him in water.

“Fire” is variously interpreted. But it is, most likely, meant to convey an idea of, and symbolize, the active properties and working of the Holy Ghost in the soul. The leading properties of fire are: to consume, enlighten, inflame, transforms all into itself. So it is with the Holy Ghost. Once He takes possession of the souls of men, like “fire,” He cleanses from their sins the truly penitent, who believe in Him. He enlightens, inflames, and transforms them into Himself.

(Mt 3:12). “Whose fan is in His hand.” In these words, the Baptist, after describing the great mercy and goodness of our Lord, in the plentiful redemption He bestows on the just and repentant, refers to Him, in His judicial character, and points out the rigorous judgment He shall execute on the unrepenting sinners, and on those who shall fall away from justice. This He does with the view of terrifying the unrepenting Jews, and also of removing any false feelings of undue confidence they might conceive, as if having once received the Holy Ghost, they need not be over cautious in regard to the future. The words convey a figurative allusion to the mode, employed by the Jews, of separating the chaff and other filth from the good grain, by means of a “fan” or winnowing shovel. By the “fan” is meant, the judgment which our Lord, “to whom His Father has given all judgment” (John 5:22), shall exercise at the last day, on all mankind. This judgment, although distant, is still virtually present and quite near. (“His fan is in His hand,” ready for execution.) This is intelligible, if we consider that the longest period of time, in the measure of God, and compared with eternity, is but a mere point; and, moreover, this judgment virtually takes place at death, which is quite near to each one.

“Thoroughly cleanse His floor,” that is, the grain on His floor. This may refer to His Church, in which are to be found good and bad; or, to the entire universe, which is “His.”

“The wheat.” The good, who persevere in the performance of good works.

“The barn.” Heaven.

“The chaff.” The wicked, the worthless, who have not done good, and have been workers of iniquity.

“Unquenchable fire,” that is, hell fire, which shall never be extinguished, as it needs no fuel, save the undying breath of an angry God. It means also, that the fire never destroys, or utterly consumes, but burns and tortures for ever, such as fall into it. The Greek (ασβεσῶ) means, unextinguished, unquenched, eternal, ever-enduring. The words contain an allusion to the passage of Isaias (Isa 66:24), “Vermis corum non moritur,” &c. “Quis de robis habitabit cum igne devorante … ardoribus sempiternis?” These words refute the heresy of Origen regarding the finite duration of the pains of hell, or their cessation after a certain period. Modern Origens on this subject are cropping up of late in this country.

Lk 3:18. By these and other similar discourses full of grace and holy unction, the Precursor announced beforehand the glad tidings of redemption by Christ which was soon to be accomplished; and by exhorting the people to penance, and announcing the Gospel truths beforehand, he disposed them for faith in the coming Redeemer, of whom he was the Precursor.

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