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

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Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Hebrews 3:7-14

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 16, 2019

Text in purple indicates Fr. MacEvilly’s paraphrase of the scripture he is commenting on.

Heb 3:7 Wherefore, as the Holy Ghost saith: To-day if you shall hear his voice,
Wherefore, since in order to profit ultimately by your present privileges in belonging to the family of God, you must persevere in the faith; let me address you in the moving words, addressed by the Holy Ghost through the mouth of David, to your fathers: “To-day if you shall hear his voice,” either through the preaching of the prophets, or by interior inspiration.
Heb 3:8 Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the desert,
Render not your hearts hard, insensible, and callous to the impressions of divine grace, as happened your fathers in the place called “provocation or contradiction,” on the day of temptation in the desert; therefore, called, temptation.

Some Commentators suspend the sense from, “wherefore,” to “take heed” (verse 12), enclosing the prophetic oracle within a parenthesis. The connexion in the Paraphrase seems more simple and natural. “To-day, if you hear his voice,” &c.; these words are taken from Psalm 95 and are the words of David (see Heb 4:7). This Psalm was composed by David, in all likelihood, on the occasion of some great festival in Jerusalem; it was recited during divine worship, and written for all times; hence, it is employed in the canonical hours at the commencement of the divine office, as an Invitatory, calling on us to adore God and sing his praises with greater fervour of soul. “If you shall hear his voice,” through what medium soever, be it internal, by inspiration, or external, by preaching, “harden not,” &c. “As in the provocation,” &c. These words are commonly supposed to refer to the occasion recorded (Exodus 17), when the people at Raphidim murmured against Moses for want of water, the place was, therefore, called “Meriba,” i.e., contention or contradiction, and “Massa,” “temptation,” two words, which are repeated in the Hebrew of this Psalm. Others say, there is reference to the 14th chapter of Exodus, when, on the return of the spies, the people having rebelled against Moses, God swore the oath referred to in the Psalm.

Heb 3:9 Where your fathers tempted me, proved and saw my works,

In which desert, says the Lord, they tempted me, proved and saw my wonderful works.

Where,” (in Greek, οὖ, when), viz., in the desert, “tempted me.” The Psalmist adds greater force to his words by abruptly introducing God as speaking. One tempts God, when he unlawfully wishes for an extraordinary manifestation of his attributes, either in the order of nature or grace (v.g.), when he expects God to perform a miracle, in the order of nature or grace, to save him corporally or spiritually from the imminent peril to soul or body, to which he voluntarily and unnecessarily exposes himself. “Proved” (me, is added in the Greek). Some understand this word to mean the same as “tempted” so as merely to express a more minute degree of tempting God;—others refer it to the following, thus: they tempted me, although, after examining my stupendous miracles, (“proved”) they “saw,” that no exception could be taken to them.

Heb 3:10 Forty years: for which cause I was offended with this generation, and I said: They always err in heart. And they have not known my ways.

Wherefore, in consequence of these and other similar instances of incredulity and distrust, I was for the space of forty years offended with this generation, and I said within myself, these are always erring in heart, madly following the bent of their passions, and blind in intellect, not knowing or attending to the ways of my commandments, or of my miracles:

Some connect “forty years” with the preceding, “they saw my works forty years.” “For which cause I was angry,” &c. It is better, however, connect it with the following (as in Paraphrase), because at the time of this oath on the part of God, they were not forty years out of Egypt. Moreover, in the 17th verse St. Paul joins it with “offended.” “For which cause,” i.e., therefore, “forty years I was offended.” For “offended” we read in the Roman Psaltery, “I was very near to,” but it will come to the same with the preceding; he “was very near to them,” to be an eye-witness of their infidelities and to punish them for the same. The Greek word, προσωχθισα, may be rendered in both ways; it literally means, to loathe, to be weary of. There is a difference between the Vulgate and the Roman Psaltery, which arose from this: the Council of Trent left the correction of the Missal and Breviary to the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff; and when the correction of the Breviary took place under Pius V., it was deemed right to retain the reading of the old Roman Psaltery in this Psalm, which was regarded as a hymn of Matins. This correction of the Breviary took place before the corrected edition of the Vulgate by Clement VIII.; therefore, no change was made in the words of the Breviary.

Heb 3:11 As I have sworn in my wrath: If they shall enter into my rest.

And, on this account, I have sworn in my wrath that they shall never enter the land in which I promised them rest.

As I have sworn,” &c. Some readings have, “to whom I swore;” both readings are good; the Hebrew word “asher” means “as” and “to whom”—“if they shall enter,” “if” in such cases has often the meaning of “not,” as in the oath of the people to save Jonathan, “if a hair of his head shall fall,” i.e., a hair, &c., shall not fall. And this, it would seem, was a familiar form of oath among the Jews: should, if, however, retain its ordinary meaning, then the imprecation, “may I not be God, may I be a liar,” or the like, is understood, and not expressed, through reverence for the person of God. The Apostle applies this Psalm to the faithful of his day; and in his reasoning, it regards the whole term of this life. These words of David are not confined to his own day. The man who at any time hardens his heart and becomes incredulous, will never enter into God’s rest. In the Psalm “my rest” immediately referred to the land of Chanaan.

Heb 3:12 Take heed, brethren, lest perhaps there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, to depart from the living God.

Do you, therefore, brethren, take care, lest the heart of any of you be infected with the dreadful evil of infidelity, by which you would renounce, through apostacy, the living God.

“Take heed, brethren,” &c. From this salutary warning, it appears, that many among the Hebrews, yielding to the force of persecution and the errors of false teachers, were on the point of apostatizing from the faith. “The living God,” designates the true God, opposed to false gods, who have no life or existence.

Heb 3:13 But exhort one another every day, whilst it is called to day, that none of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

But rather exhort and encourage one another to perseverance every day, whilst the term of time expressed by “to-day,” lasts, i.e., during this life (in which alone you can work); so that none of you become obdurate, owing to the false allurements of sin.

“The deceitfulness,” i.e., the false allurements of sin, which, by withdrawing you from the true and substantial goods, and promising blessings and pleasures never to be realized, deceive you, and cause you to harden your hearts against the calls and impressions of divine grace. Hence, hardness and insensibility of heart are, oftentimes, the punishment of continuance in sin.

Heb 3:14 For we are made partakers of Christ: yet so, if we hold the beginning of his substance firm unto the end.

For, although we have been, by our incorporation with Christ in baptism, made partakers of his grace, and rightful heirs of his glory, having become a part of the mystical body of which he is head, we must still bear in mind, that all these privileges will avail us finally, only on condition of our perseverance to the end in the steady profession of faith, which is the basis and foundation of our new spiritual existence.

Let us encourage each other to perseverance, for our present advantages, our incorporation with Christ, will avail us only on condition of our perseverance. By “the beginning of his substance,” or (as the Greek word, υποστασεως, means) of his subsistence, is meant, faith; which is the root and foundation of all justification—Council of Trent—and the source from which we acquire a new spiritual existence, as it were, a new subsistence and personality, having become “a new creature.”—(Gal. 6:15).

 

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St John Chrysostom’s Homiletic Commentary on Matthew 10:16-22

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 25, 2018

HOMILY XXXIII
Matt. 10:16

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”

Having made them feel confident about their necessary food, and opened unto them all men’s houses, and having invested their entrance with an appearance to attract veneration, charging them not to come in as wanderers, and beggars, but as much more venerable than those who received them (for this He signifies by His saying, “the workman is worthy of his hire;” and by His commanding them to inquire, who was worthy, and there to remain, and enjoining them to salute such as receive them; and by His threatening such as receive them not with those incurable evils): having I say, in this way cast out their anxiety, and armed them with the display of miracles, and made them as it were all iron and adamant, by delivering them from all worldly things, and enfranchising them from all temporal care: He speaks in what follows of the evils also that were to befall them; not only those that were to happen soon after, but those too that were to be in long course of time; from the first, even long beforehand, preparing them for the war against the devil. Yea, and many advantages were hence secured; and first, that they learnt the power of His foreknowledge; secondly, that no one should suspect, that through weakness of their Master came these evils upon them; thirdly, that such as undergo these things should not be dismayed by their falling out unexpectedly, and against hope; fourthly, that they might not at the very time of the cross be troubled on hearing these things. For indeed, they were just so affected at that time; when also He upbraided them, saying, “Because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your hearts; and none of you asketh me, whither goest Thou?”3 And yet He had said nothing as yet touching Himself, as that He should be bound, and scourged, and put to death, that He might not hereby also confound their minds; but for the present He announces before what should happen to themselves.

Then, that they might learn that this system of war is new, and the manner of the array unwonted; as He sends them bare, and with one coat, and unshod, and without staff, and without girdle or scrip, and bids them be maintained by such as receive them; so neither here did He stay His speech, but to signify His unspeakable power, He saith, “Even thus setting out, exhibit the gentleness of “sheep,” and this, though ye are to go unto “wolves;” and not simply unto wolves, but “into the midst of wolves.”

And He bids them have not only gentleness as sheep, but also the harmlessness of the dove. “For thus shall I best show forth my might, when sheep get the better of wolves, and being in the midst of wolves, and receiving a thousand bites, so far from being consumed, do even work a change on them: a thing far greater and more marvellous than killing them, to alter their spirit, and to reform their mind; and this, being only twelve, while the whole world is filled with the wolves.”

Let us then be ashamed, who do the contrary, who set like wolves upon our enemies. For so long as we are sheep, we conquer: though ten thousand wolves prowl around, we overcome and prevail. But if we become wolves, we are worsted, for the help of our Shepherd departs from us: for He feeds not wolves, but sheep: and He forsakes thee, and retires, for neither dost thou allow His might to be shown. Because, as He accounts the whole triumph His own, if thou being ill used, show forth gentleness; so if thou follow it up and give blows, thou obscurest His victory.

2. But do thou consider, I pray thee, who they are that hear these injunctions, so hard and laborious: the timid and ignorant; the unlettered and uninstructed; such as are in every respect obscure, who have never been trained up in the Gentile laws, who do not readily present themselves in the public, places; the fishermen, the publicans, men full of innumerable deficiencies. For if these things were enough to confound even the lofty and great, how were they not enough to cast down and dismay them that were in all respects untried, and had never entertained any noble imagination? But they did not cast them down.

“And very naturally,” some one may perhaps say; “because He gave them power to cleanse lepers, to drive out devils.” I would answer as follows: Nay, this very thing was enough especially to perplex them, that for all their raising the dead, they were to undergo these intolerable evils, both judgments, and executions, and the wars which all would wage on them, and the common hatred of the world; and that such terrors await them, while themselves are working miracles.

3. What then is their consolation for all these things? The power of Him that sends them. Wherefore also He puts this before all, saying, “Behold, I send you.” This suffices for your encouragement, this for confidence, and fearing none of your assailants.

Seest thou authority? seest thou prerogative? seest thou invincible might? Now His meaning is like this: “Be not troubled” (so He speaks), “that sending you among wolves, I command you to be like sheep and like doves. For I might indeed have done the contrary, and have suffered you to undergo nothing terrible, nor as sheep to be exposed to wolves; I might have rendered you more formidable than lions; but it is expedient that so it should be. This makes you also more glorious; this proclaims also my power.”

This He said also unto Paul: “My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”1 “It is I, now mark it, who have caused you so to be.” For in saying, “I send you forth as sheep,” He intimates this. “Do not therefore despond, for I know, I know certainly, that in this way more than any other ye will be invincible to all.”

After this, that they may contribute something on their own part also, and that all might not seem to be of His grace, nor they supposed to be crowned at random, and vainly, He saith, “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” “But what,” it might be said, “will our wisdom avail in so great dangers? nay, how shall we be able to have wisdom at all, when so many waves are drenching us all over? For let a sheep be ever so wise, when it is in the midst of wolves, and so many wolves, what will it be able to do? Let the dove be ever so harmless, what will it profit, when so many hawks are assailing it?” In the brutes indeed, not at all: but in you as much as possible.

But let us see what manner of wisdom He here requires. That of the serpent, He saith. For even as that animal gives up everything, and if its very body must be cut off, doth not very earnestly defend it, so that it may save its head; in like manner do thou also, saith He, give up every thing but the faith; though goods, body, life itself, must be yielded. For that is the head and the root; and if that be preserved, though thou lose all, thou wilt recover all with so much the more splendor.2

On this account then He neither commanded to be merely a simple and single-hearted sort of person, nor merely wise; but hath mixed up both these, so that they may become virtue; taking in the wisdom of the serpent that we may not be wounded in our vitals; and the harmlessness of the dove, that we may not retaliate on our wrongdoers, nor avenge ourselves on them that lay snares; since wisdom again is useless, except this be added. Now what, I ask, could be more strict-than these injunctions? Why, was it not enough to suffer wrong? Nay, saith He, but I do not permit thee so much as to be indignant. For this is “the dove.” As though one should cast a reed into fire, and command it not to be burnt by the fire, but to quench it.

However, let us not be troubled; nay, for these things have come to pass, and have had an accomplishment, and have been shown in very deed, and men became wise as serpents, and harmless as doves; not being of another nature, but of the same with us.

Let not then any one account His injunctions impracticable. For He beyond all others knows the nature of things; He knows that fierceness is not quenched by fierceness, but by gentleness. And if in men’s actual deeds too thou wouldest see this result, read the book of the Acts of the Apostles, and thou wilt see how often, when the people of the Jews had risen up against them and were sharpening their teeth, these men, imitating the dove, and answering with suitable meekness, did away with their wrath, quenched their madness, broke their impetuosity. As when they said, “Did not we straitly command you, that ye should not speak in this name?”1 although able to work any number of miracles, they neither said nor did anything harsh, but answered for themselves with all meekness, saying, “Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.”2

Hast thou seen the harmlessness of the dove? Behold the wisdom of the serpent. “For we cannot but speak the things, which we know and have heard.”3 Seest thou how we must be perfect on all points, so as neither to be abased by dangers, nor provoked by anger?

4. Therefore He said also,4

“Beware of men, for they shall deliver you up to councils, and they shall scourge you in their synagogues: and ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and the Gentiles.”

Thus again is He preparing them to be vigilant, in every case assigning to them the sufferance of wrong, and permitting the infliction of it to others; to teach thee that the victory is in suffering evil, and that His glorious trophies are thereby set up. For He said not at all, “Fight ye also, and resist them that would vex you,” but only, “Ye shall suffer the utmost ills.”

O how great is the power of Him that speaks! How great the self-command of them that hear! For indeed we have great cause to marvel, how they did not straightway dart away from Him on hearing these things, apt as they were to be startled at every sound, and such as had never gone further than that lake, around which they used to fish; and how they did not reflect, and say to themselves, “And whither after all this are we to flee? The courts of justice against us, the kings against us, the governors, the synagogues of the Jews, the nations of the Gentiles, the rulers, and the ruled.” (For hereby He not only forewarned them of Palestine, and the ills therein, but discovered also the wars throughout the world, saying, “Ye shall be brought before kings and governors;” signifying that to the Gentiles also He was afterwards to send them as heralds.) “Thou hast made the world our enemy, Thou hast armed against us all them that dwell on the earth, peoples, tyrants, kings.”

And what follows again is much more fearful, since men are to become on our account murderers of brothers, of children, of fathers.

“How, then,” one might say, “will the rest of men believe, when they see on our account, children slain by their fathers, and brethren by brethren, and all things filled with abominations?” What? will not men, as though we were destructive demons, will they not, as though we were devoted, and pests of the world, drive us out from every quarter, seeing the earth filled with blood of kinsmen, and with so many murderers? Surely fair is the peace (is it not?) which we are to bring into men’s houses and give them, while we are filling those houses with so many slaughters. Why, had we been some great number of us, instead of twelve; had we been, instead of “unlearned and ignorant,” wise, and skilled in rhetoric, and mighty in speech; nay more, had we been even kings, and in possession of armies and abundance of wealth; how could we have persuaded any, while kindling up civil wars, yea, and other wars far worse than they? Why, though we were to despise our own safety, which of all other men will give heed to us?”

But none of these things did they either think or say, neither did they require any account of His injunctions, but simply yielded and obeyed. And this came not from their own virtue only, but also of the wisdom of their Teacher. For see how to each of the fearful things He annexed an encouragement; as in the case of such as received them not, He said, “It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city;” so here again, when He had said, “Ye shall be brought before governors and kings,” He added, “for my sake, for a testimony to them, and the Gentiles.” And this is no small consolation, that they are suffering these things both for Christ, and for the Gentiles’ conviction. Thus God, though no one regard, is found to be everywhere doing His own works. Now these things were a comfort to them, not that they desired the punishment of other men, but that they might have ground of confidence, as sure to have Him everywhere present with them, who had both foretold and foreknown these things; and because not as wicked men, and as pests, were they to suffer all this.

And together with these, He adds another, and that no small consolation for them, saying,

“But when they deliver you up, take no thought1 how or what ye shall speak, for it shall be given you in that hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you.”2

For lest they should say, “How shall we be able to persuade men, when such things are taking place?” He bids them be confident as to their defense also. And elsewhere indeed He saith, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom;”3 but here, “It is the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you,” advancing them unto the dignity of the prophets. Therefore, when He had spoken of the power that was given, then He added also the terrors, the murders, and the slaughters.

“For the brother shall deliver up the brother,” saith He, “to death, and the father the child, and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.”4

And not even at this did He stop, but added also what was greatly more fearful, and enough to shiver a rock to pieces: “And ye shall be hated of all men.” And here again the consolation is at the doors, for, “For my name’s sake,” saith He, “ye shall suffer these things.” And with this again another, “But he that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.”5

And these things in another point of view likewise were sufficient to rouse up their spirits; since at any rate the power of their gospel was to blaze up so high, as that nature should be despised, and kindred rejected, and the Word preferred to all, chasing all mightily away. For if no tyranny of nature is strong enough to withstand your sayings, but it is dissolved and trodden under foot, what else shall be able to get the better of you? Not, however, that your life will be in security, because these things shall be; but rather ye will have for your common enemies and foes them that dwell in the whole world.

5. Where now is Plato? Where Pythagoras? Where the long chain6 of the Stoics? For the first, after having enjoyed great honor, was so practically refuted, as even to be sold out of the country,7 and to succeed in none of his objects, no, not go much as in respect of one tyrant: yea, he betrayed his disciples, and ended his life miserably. And the Cynics, mere pollutions as they were, have all passed by like a dream and a shadow. And yet assuredly no such thing ever befell them, but rather they were accounted glorious for their heathen philosophy, and the Athenians made a public monument of the epistles of Plato, sent them by Dion; and they passed all their time at ease, and abounded in wealth not a little. Thus, for instance, Aristippus was used to purchase costly harlots; and another made a will, leaving no common inheritance; and another, when his disciples had laid themselves down like a bridge, walked on them; and he of Sinope, they say, even behaved himself unseemly in the market place.

Yea, these are their honorable things. But there is no such thing here, but a strict temperance, and a perfect decency, and a war against the whole world in behalf of truth and godliness, and to be slain every day, and not until hereafter their glorious trophies.

But there are some also, one may say, skilled in war amongst them; as Themistocles, Pericles. But these things too are children’s toys, compared with the acts of the fishermen. For what canst thou say? That he persuaded the Athenians to embark in their ships, when Xerxes was marching upon Greece? Why in this case, when it is not Xerxes marching, but the devil with the whole world, and his evil spirits innumerable assailing these twelve men, not at one crisis only, but throughout their whole life, they prevailed and vanquished; and what was truly marvellous, not by slaying their adversaries, but by converting and reforming them.

For this especially you should observe throughout, that they slew not, nor destroyed such as were plotting against them, but having found them as bad as devils, they made them rivals of angels, enfranchising human nature from this evil tyranny, while as to those execrable demons that were confounding all things, they drave them out of the midst of markets, and houses, or rather even from the very wilderness. And to this the choirs of the monks bear witness, whom they have planted everywhere, clearing out not the habitable only, but even the uninhabitable land. And what is yet more marvellous, they did not this in fair conflict, but in the enduring of evil they accomplished it all. Since men actually had them in the midst, twelve unlearned persons, binding, scourging, dragging them about, and were not able to stop their mouths; but as it is impossible to bind the sunbeam, so also their tongue. And the reason was, “it was not they” themselves “that spake,” but the power of the Spirit. Thus for instance did Paul overcome Agrippa, and Nero, who surpassed all men in wickedness. “For the Lord,” saith he, “stood with me, and strengthened me, and delivered me out of the mouth of the lion.”1

But do thou also admire them, how when it was said to them, “Take no thought,” they yet believed, and accepted it, and none of the terrors amazed them. And if thou say, He gave them encouragement enough, by saying, “It shall be the Spirit of your Father that shall speak;” even for this am I most amazed at them, that they doubted not, nor sought deliverance from their perils; and this, when not for two or three years were they to suffer these things, but all their life long. For the saying, “He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved,” is an intimation of this.

For His will is, that not His part only should be contributed, but that the good deeds should be also done of them. Mark, for instance, how from the first, part is His, part His disciples’. Thus, to do miracles is His, but to provide nothing is theirs. Again, to open all men’s houses, was of the grace from above; but to require no more than was needful, of their own self-denial. “For the workman is worthy of his hire.” Their bestowing peace was of the gift of God, their inquiring for the worthy, and not entering in without distinction unto all, of their own self command. Again, to punish such as received them not was His, but to retire with gentleness from them, without reviling or insulting them, was of the apostles’ meekness. To give the Spirit, and cause them not to take thought, was of Him that sent them, but to become like sheep and doves, and to bear all things nobly, was of their calmness and prudence. To be hated and not to despond, and to endure, was their own; to save them that endured, was of Him who sent them.

Wherefore also He said, “He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.” That is, because the more part are wont at the beginning indeed to be vehement, but afterwards to faint, therefore saith He, “I require the end.” For what is the use of seeds, flourishing indeed at first, but a little after fading away? Therefore it is continued patience that He requires of them. I mean, lest any say, He wrought the whole Himself, and it was no wonder that they should prove such, suffering as they did nothing intolerable; therefore He saith unto them, “There is need also of patience on your part. For though I should rescue you from the first dangers, I am reserving you for others more grievous, and after these again others will succeed; and ye shall not cease to have snares laid for you, so long as ye have breath. For this He intimated in saying, “But he that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.”

For this cause then, though He said, “Take no thought what ye shall speak;” yet elsewhere He saith, “Be ready to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”2 That is, as long as the contest is among friends, He commands us also to take thought; but when there is a terrible tribunal, and frantic assemblies, and terrors on all sides, He bestows the influence from Himself, that they may take courage and speak out, and not be discouraged, nor betray the righteous cause.

For in truth it was a very great thing, for a man occupied about lakes, and skins, and receipt of custom, when tyrants were on their thrones and satraps, and guards standing by them, and the swords drawn, and all standing on their side; to enter in alone, bound, hanging down his head, and yet be able to open his mouth. For indeed they allowed them neither speech nor defense with respect to their doctrines, but set about torturing them to death, as common pests of the world. For “They,” it is said, “that have turned the world upside down, are come hither also;” and again, “They preach things contrary to the decrees of Cæsar, saying that Jesus Christ is king.”1 And everywhere the courts of justice were preoccupied by such suspicions, and much influence from above was needed, for their showing both the truth of the doctrine they preached, and that they are not violating the common laws; so that they should neither, while earnest to speak of the doctrine, fall under suspicion of overturning the laws; nor again, while earnest to show that they were not overturning the common government, corrupt the perfection of their doctrines: all which thou wilt see accomplished with all due consideration, both in Peter and in Paul, and in all the rest. Yea, and as rebels and innovators, and revolutionists, they were accused all over the world; yet nevertheless they both repelled this impression, and invested themselves with the contrary, all men celebrating them as saviors, and guardians, and benefactors. And all this they achieved by their much patience. Wherefore also Paul said, “I die daily;”2 and he continued to “stand in jeopardy” unto the end.

6. What then must we deserve, having such high patterns, and in peace giving way to effeminacy, and remissness? With none to make war (it is too evident) we are slain; we faint when no man pursues, in peace we are required to be saved, and even for this we are not sufficient. And they indeed, when the world was on fire, and the pile was being kindled over the whole earth, entering, snatched from within, out of the midst of the flame, such as were burning; but thou art not able so much as to preserve thyself.

What confidence then will there be for us? What favor? There are no stripes, no prisons, no rulers, no synagogues, nor aught else of that kind to set upon us; yea, quite on the contrary we rule and prevail. For both kings are godly, and there are many honors for Christians, and precedences, and distinctions, and immunities, and not even so do we prevail. And whereas they being daily led to execution, both teachers and disciples, and bearing innumerable stripes, and continual brandings, were in greater luxury than such as abide in Paradise; we who have endured no such thing, not even in a dream, are softer than any wax. “But they,” it will be said, “wrought miracles.” Did this then keep them from the scourge? did it free them from persecution? Nay, for this is the strange thing, that they suffered such things often even at the hands of them whom they benefited, and not even so were they confounded, receiving only evil for good. But thou if thou bestow on any one any little benefit, and then be requited with anything unpleasant, art confounded, art troubled, and repentest of that which thou hast done.

If now it should happen, as I pray it may not happen nor at any time fall out, that there be a war against churches, and a persecution, imagine how great will be the ridicule, how sore the reproaches. And very naturally; for when no one exercises himself in the wrestling school, how shall he be distinguished in the contests? What champion, not being used to the trainer, will be able, when summoned by the Olympic contests, to show forth anything great and noble against his antagonist? Ought we not every day to wrestle and fight and run? See ye not them that are called Pentathli, when they have no antagonists, how they fill a sack with much sand, and hanging it up try their full strength thereupon? And they that are still younger, practise the fight against their enemies upon the persons of their companions.

These do thou also emulate, and practise the wrestlings of self denial. For indeed there are many that provoke to anger, and incite to lust, and kindle a great flame. Stand therefore against thy passions, bear nobly the mental pangs, that thou mayest endure also those of the body.

7. For so the blessed Job, if he had not exercised himself well before his conflicts, would not have shone so brightly in the same. Unless he had practised freedom from all despondency, he would have uttered some rash word, when his children died. But as it was he stood against all the assaults, against ruin of fortune, and destruction of so great affluence: against loss of children, against his wife’s commiseration, against plagues in body, against reproaches of friends, against revilings of servants.

And if thou wouldest see his ways of exercise also, hear him saying, how he used to despise wealth: “If I did but rejoice,” saith he. “because my wealth was great: if I set gold up for a heap, if I put my trust in a precious stone.”3 Therefore neither was he confounded at their being taken away, since he desired them not when present.

Hear how he also managed what related to his children, not giving way to undue softness, as we do, but requiring of them all circumspection. For he who offered sacrifice even for their secret sins, imagine how strict a judge he was of such as were manifest.1

And if thou wouldest also hear of his strivings after continence, hearken to him when he saith, “I made a covenant with mine eyes, that I should not think upon a maid.”2 For this cause his wife did not break his spirit, for he loved her even before this, not however immoderately, but as is due to a wife.

Wherefore I am led even to marvel, whence it came into the devil’s thought to stir up the contest, knowing as he did of his previous training. Whence then did it occur to him? The monster is wicked, and never despairs: and this turns out to us a very great condemnation, that he indeed never gives up the hope of our destruction, but we despair of our own salvation.

But for bodily mutilation and indignity, mark how he practised himself. Why, inasmuch as he himself had never undergone any such thing, but had continued to live in wealth and luxury, and in all other splendor, he used to divine other men’s calamities, one by one. And this he declared, d, when he said, “For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me; and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.”3 And again, “But I wept for every helpless man, and groaned when I saw a man in distress.”4

So because of this, nothing of what happened confounded him, none of those great and intolerable ills. For I bid thee not look at the ruin of his substance, nor at the loss of his children, nor at that incurable plague, nor at his wife’s device against him; but at those things which are far more grievous than these.

“And what,” saith one, “did Job suffer more grievous than these? for from his history there is nothing more than these for us to learn.” Because we are asleep, we do not learn, since he surely that is anxious, and searches well for the pearl, will know of many more particulars than these. For the more grievous, and apt to infuse greater perplexity, were different.

And first, his knowing nothing certain about the kingdom of heaven, and the resurrection; which indeed he also spoke of, lamenting. “For I shall not live alway, that I should suffer long.”5 Next, his being conscious to himself of many good works. Thirdly, his being conscious of no evil thing. Fourthly, his supposing that at God’s hands he was undergoing it; or if at the devil’s, this again was enough to offend him. Fifthly, his hearing his friends accusing him of wickedness, “For thou hast not been scourged,” say they, “according to what thy sins deserve.”6 Sixthly, his seeing such as lived in wickedness prospering, and exulting over him. Seventhly, not having any other to whom he might look as even having ever suffered such things.

8. And if thou wouldest learn how great these things are, consider our present state. For if now, when we are looking for a kingdom, and hoping for a resurrection, and for the unutterable blessings, and are conscious to ourselves of countless evil deeds, and when we have so many examples, and are partakers of so high a philosophy; should any persons lose a little gold, and this often, after having taken it by violence, they deem life not to be lived in, having no wife to lay sore on them, nor bereaved of children, nor reproached by friends, nor insulted by servants, but rather having many to comfort them, some by words, some by deeds; of how noble crowns must not he be worthy, who seeing what he had gotten together by honest labor, snatched away from him for nought and at random, and after all that, undergoing temptations without number, like sleet, yet throughout all abides unmoved, and offers to the Lord his due thanksgiving for it all?

Why, though no one had spoken any of the other taunts, yet his wife’s words alone were sufficient utterly to shake a very rock. Look, for example, at her craft. No mention of money, none of camels, and flocks, and herds, (for she was conscious of her husband’s self command with regard to these), but of what was harder to bear than all these, I mean, their children; and she deepens the tragedy, and adds to it her own influence.

Now if when men were in wealth, and suffering no distress, in many things and oft have women prevailed on them: imagine how courageous was that soul, which repulsed her, assaulting him with such powerful weapons, and which trod under foot the two most tyrannical passions, desire and pity. And yet many having conquered desire, have yielded to pity. That noble Joseph, for instance, held in subjection the most tyrannical of pleasures, and repulsed that strange woman, plying him as she did with innumerable devices; but his tears he contained not, but when he saw his brethren that had wronged him, he was all on fire with that passion, and quickly cast off the mask, and discovered the part he had been playing.7 But when first of all she is his wife, and when her words are piteous, and the moment favorable for her, as well as his wounds and his stripes, and those countless waves of calamities; how can one otherwise than rightly pronounce the soul impassive to so great a storm to be firmer than any adamant?

Allow me freely to say, that the very apostles, if not inferior to this blessed man, are at least not greater than he was. For they indeed were comforted by the suffering for Christ; and this medicine was so sufficient daily to relieve them, that the Lord puts it everywhere, saying, “for me, for my sake,” and, “If they call me, the master of the house, Beelzebub.”1 But he was destitute of this encouragement, and of that from miracles, and of that from grace; for neither had he so great power of the Spirit.

And what is yet greater, nourished in much delicacy, not from amongst fishermen, and publicans, and such as lived frugally, but after enjoyment of so much honor, he suffered all that he did suffer. And what seemed hardest to bear in the case of the apostles, this same he also underwent, being hated of friends, of servants, of enemies, of them who had received kindness of him: and the sacred anchor, the harbor without waves, namely, that which was said to the apostles, “for my sake,” of this he had no sight.

I admire again the three children, for that they dared the furnace, that they stood up against a tyrant. But hear what they say, “We serve not thy Gods, nor worship the image which thou hast set up.”2 A thing which was the greatest encouragement to them, to know of a certainty that for God they are suffering all whatsoever they suffer. But this man knew not that it was all conflicts, and a wrestling; for had he known it, he would not have felt what was happening. At any rate, when he heard, “Thinkest thou that I have uttered to thee mine oracles for nought, or that thou mightest be proved righteous?”3 consider how straightway, at a bare word, he breathed again, how he made himself of no account, how he accounted himself not so much as to have suffered what he had suffered, thus saying, “Why do I plead any more, being admonished and reproved of the Lord, hearing such things, I being nothing?”4 And again, “I have heard of Thee before, as far as hearing of the ear; but now mine eye hath seen Thee; wherefore I have made myself vile, and have melted away; and I accounted myself earth and ashes.”5

This fortitude then, this moderation, of him that was before law and grace, let us also emulate, who are after law and grace; that we may also be able to share with him the eternal tabernacles; unto which may we all attain, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory and the victory forever and ever. Amen.

Posted in Bible, Catholic, fathers of the church, Notes on the Gospel of Matthew, Notes on the Lectionary, Scripture, SERMONS, St John Chrysostom | 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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St John Chrysostom’s Homiletic Commentaries on Hebrews 1:3-8

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 9, 2018

This post St John Chrysostom’s second and third homilies on Hebrews. The first on Heb 1:3-5; the second is on Heb 1:6-8.

HOMILY II

Hebrews 1:3.

“Who being the brightness of His Glory and the express Image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins.”

[1.] Everywhere indeed a reverential mind is requisite, but especially when we say or hear anything of God: Since neither can tongue speak nor thought1 hear anything suitable to our God. And why speak I of tongue or thought?2 For not even the understanding3 which far excels these, will be able to comprehend anything accurately, when we desire to utter aught concerning God. For if “the peace of God surpasseth all understanding” (Phil. 4:7), and “the things which are prepared for them that love Him have not entered into the heart of man” (1 Cor. 2:9); much more He Himself, the God of peace, the Creator of all things, doth by a wide measure exceed our reasoning. We ought therefore to receive all things with faith and reverence, and when our discourse4 fails through weakness, and is not able to set forth accurately the things which are spoken, then especially to glorify God, for that we have such a God, surpassing both our thought and our conception.5 For many of our conceptions6 about God, we are unable to express, as also many things we express, but have not strength to conceive of them. As for instance:—That God is everywhere, we know; but how, we no longer understand.7 That there is a certain incorporeal power the cause of all our good things, we know: but how it is, or what it is, we know not. Lo! we speak, and do not understand. I said, That He is everywhere, but I do not understand it. I said, That He is without beginning, but I do not understand it. I said, That He begat from Himself, and again I know not how I shall understand it. And some things there are which we may not even speak—as for instance, thought conceives8 but cannot utter.

And to show thee that even Paul is weak and doth not put out his illustrations with exactness; and to make thee tremble and refrain from searching too far, hear what he says, having called Him Son and named Him Creator, “Who being the brightness of His Glory, and the express image of His person.”

This we must receive with reverence and clear of all incongruities. “The brightness of His glory,” saith he. But observe in what reference he understands this, and so do thou receive it:—that He is of Him:9 without passion: that He is neither greater, nor less; since there are some, who derive certain strange things from the illustration. For, say they, “the brightness” is not substantial,10 but hath its being in another. Now do not thou, O man, so receive it, neither be thou sick of the disease of Marcellus11 and Photinus.12 For he hath a remedy for thee close at hand, that thou fall not into that imagination, nor doth he leave thee to be hurried down into that fatal malady. And what saith he? “And the express image of His person” [or “subsistence”13 ]: that is, just as He [the Father] is personally subsisting, being in need of nothing,14 so also the Son. For he saith this here, showing the undeviating similitude15 and the peculiar image of the Prototype, that He [the Son] is in subsistence by Himself.

For he who said above, that “by Him He made all things” here assigns to Him absolute authority. For what doth he add? “And upholding all things by the word of His power”; that we might hence infer not merely His being the express image of His Person, but also His governing all things with absolute authority.

See then, how he applies to the Son that which is proper to the Father. For on this account he did not say simply, “and upholding all things,” nor did he say, “by His power,” but, “by the word of His power.” For much as just now we saw him gradually ascend and descend; so also now, as by steps, he goes up on high, then again descends, and saith, “by whom also He made the worlds.”

Behold how here also he goes on two paths, by the one leading us away from Sabellius, by the other from Arius, yea and on another, that He [Christ] should not be accounted un-originated, 1 which he does also throughout, nor yet alien from God. For if, even after so much, there are some who assert that He is alien, and assign to Him another father, and say that He is at variance with Him;—had [Paul] not declared these things, what would they not have uttered?

How then does he this? When he is compelled to heal, then is he compelled also to utter lowly things: as for instance, “He appointed Him” (saith he) “heir of all things,” and “by Him He made the worlds.” (Supra, ver. 2.) But that He might not be in another way dishonored, he brings Him up again to absolute authority and declares Him to be of equal honor with the Father, yea, so equal, that many thought Him to be the Father.

And observe thou his great wisdom. First he lays down the former point and makes it sure accurately. And when this is shown, that He is the Son of God, and not alien from Him, he thereafter speaks out safely all the high sayings, as many as he will. Since any high speech concerning Him, led many into the notion just mentioned, he first sets down what is humiliating and then safely mounts up as high as he pleases. And having said, “whom He appointed heir of all things,” and that “by Him He made the worlds,” he then adds, “and upholding all things by the word of His power.” For He that by a word only governs all things, could not be in need of any one, for the producing all things.

[2.] And to prove this, mark how again going forward, and laying aside the “by whom,” he assigns to Him absolute power. For after he had effected what he wished by the use of it, thenceforward leaving it, what saith he? “Thou Lord in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Thine hands.” (Infra, ver. 10.) Nowhere is there the saying “by whom,” or that “by Him He made the worlds.” What then? Were they not made by Him? Yes, but not, as thou sayest or imaginest, “as by an instrument”: nor as though He would not have made them unless the Father had reached out a hand to Him. For as He “judgeth no man” (John 5:22), and is said to judge by the Son, in that He begat Him a judge; so also, to create by Him, in that He begat Him a Creator. And if the Father be the original cause of Him, in that He is Father, much more of the things which have been made by Him. When therefore he would show that He is of Him, he speaks of necessity lowly things. But when he would utter high things, Marcellus takes a handle, and Sabellius; avoiding however the excess of both, he holds a middle [way]. For neither does he dwell on the humiliation, lest Paul of Samosata should obtain a standing place, nor yet does he for ever abide in the high sayings; but shows on the contrary His abundant nearness, lest Sabellius rush in upon him. He names Him “Son,” and immediately Paul of Samosata comes on him, saying that He is a son, as the many are. But he gives him a fatal wound, calling Him “Heir.” But yet, with Arius, he is shameless. For the saying, “He appointed Him heir,” they both hold: the former one saying, it comes of weakness; the other still presses objections, endeavoring to support himself by the clause which follows. For by saying, “by whom also He made the worlds,” he strikes backwards the impudent Samosatene: while Arius still seems to be strong. Nevertheless see how he smites him likewise, saying again, “who being the brightness of His glory.” But behold! Sabellius again springs on us, with Marcellus, and Photinus: but on all these also he inflicts one blow, saying, “and the express image of His person and upholding all things by the word of His power.” Here again he wounds Marcion too;2 not very severely, but however he doth wound him. For through the whole of this Epistle he is fighting against them.

But the very thing which he said, “the brightness of the glory,” hear also Christ Himself saying, “I am the Light of the world.” (John 8:12.) Therefore he [the Apostle] uses the word “brightness,” showing that this was said in the sense of “Light of Light.” Nor is it this alone which he shows, but also that He hath enlightened our souls; and He hath Himself manifested the Father, and by “the brightness” he has indicated the nearness of the Being [of the Father and the Son3 ]. Observe the subtlety of his expressions. He hath taken one essence and subsistence to indicate two subsistences. Which he also doth in regard to the knowledge of the Spirit4; for as he saith that the knowledge of the Father is one with that of the Spirit, as being indeed one, and in nought varying from itself (1 Cor. 2:10–12): so also here he hath taken hold of one certain [thing] whereby to express the subsistence of the Two.5

And he adds that He is “the express Image.” For the “express Image” is something other1 than its Prototype: yet not Another in all respects, but as to having real subsistence. Since here also the term, “express image,” indicates there is no variation from that whereof it is the “express image”: its similarity in all respects. When therefore he calls Him both Form,2 and express Image, what can they say? “Yea,” saith he, “man is also called an Image of God.”3 What then! is he so [an image of Him] as the Son is? No (saith he) but because the term, image, doth not show resemblance. And yet, in that man is called an Image, it showeth resemblance, as in man. For what God is in Heaven, that man is on earth, I mean as to dominion. And as he hath power over all things on earth, so also hath God power over all things which are in heaven and which are on earth. But otherwise, man is not called “Express image,” he is not called Form: which phrase declares the substance, or rather both substance and similarity in substance. Therefore just as “the form of a slave” (Phil. 2:6, 7) expresses no other thing than a man without variation4 [from human nature], so also “the form of God” expresses no other thing than God.

“Who being” (saith he) “the brightness of His glory.” See what Paul is doing. Having said, “Who being the brightness of His glory,” he added again, “He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty”: what names he hath used, nowhere finding a name for the Substance. For neither “the Majesty,” nor “the Glory” setteth forth the Name, which he wishes to say, but is not able to find a name. For this is what I said at the beginning, that oftentimes we think something, and are not able to express [it]: since not even the word God is a name of substance, nor is it at all possible to find a name of that Substance.

And what marvel, if it be so in respect of God, since not even in respect of an Angel, could one find a name expressive of his substance? Perhaps too, neither in respect of the soul. For this name [soul] doth not seem to me to be significative of the substance thereof, but of breathing. For one may see that the same [thing] is called both Soul and Heart and Mind: for, saith he, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Ps. 51:10), and one may often see that it [the soul] is called spirit.

“And upholding all things by the word of His power.” Tell me, “God said” (it is written), “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3): “the Father, saith one,5 commanded, and the Son obeyed”? But behold here He also [the Son] acts by word. For (saith he), “And upholding all things”—that is, governing; He holds together what would fall to pieces; For, to hold the world together, is no less than to make it, but even greater (if one must say a strange thing). For the one is to bring forward something out of things which are not: but the other, when things which have been made are about to fall back into non-existence, to hold and fasten them together, utterly at variance as they are with each other: this is indeed great and wonderful, and a certain proof of exceeding power.

Then showing the easiness, he said, “upholding”: (he did not say, governing,6 from the figure of those who simply with their finger move anything, and cause it to go round.) Here he shows both the mass of the creation to be great, and that this greatness is nothing to Him. Then again he shows the freedom from the labor, saying, “By the word of His power.” Well said he, “By the word.” For since, with us, a word is accounted to be a bare thing, he shows that it is not bare with God. But, how “He upholdeth by the word,” he hath not further added: for neither is it possible to know. Then he added concerning His majesty: for thus John also did: having said that “He is God” (John 1:1), he brought in the handiwork of the Creation. For the same thing which the one indirectly expressed, saying, “In the beginning was the Word,” and “All things were made by Him” (John 1:3), this did the other also openly declare by “the Word,” and by saying “by whom also He made the worlds.” For thus he shows Him to be both a Creator, and before all ages. What then? when the prophet saith, concerning the Father, “Thou art from everlasting and to everlasting” (Ps. 90:2), and concerning the Son, that He is before all ages, and the maker of all things—what can they say? Nay rather, when the very thing which was spoken of the Father,—“He which was before the worlds,”—this one may see spoken of the Son also? And that which one saith, “He was life” (John 1:4), pointing out the preservation of the creation, that Himself is the Life of all things,—so also saith this other, “and upholding all things by the word of His power”: not as the Greeks who defraud Him, as much as in them lies, both of Creation itself, and of Providence, shutting up His power, to reach only as far as to the Moon.

“By Himself” (saith he) “having purged our sins.” Having spoken concerning those marvelous and great matters, which are most above us, he proceeds to speak also afterwards concerning His care for men. For indeed the former expression, “and upholding all things,” also was universal: nevertheless this is far greater, for it also is universal: for, for His part, “all” men believed.1 As John also, having said, “He was life,” and so pointed out His providence, saith again, and “He was light.”

“By Himself,” saith he, “having purged our sins, He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” He here setteth down two very great proofs of His care: first the “purifying us from our sins,” then the doing it “by Himself.” And in many places, thou seest him making very much of this,—not only of our reconciliation with God, but also of this being accomplished through the Son. For the gift being truly great, was made even greater by the fact that it was through the Son.

For2 in saying, “He sat on the right hand,” and, “having by Himself purged our sins,”—though he had put us in mind of the Cross, he quickly added the mention of the resurrection and ascension. And see his unspeakable wisdom: he said not, “He was commanded to sit down,” but “He sat down.” Then again, lest thou shouldest think that He standeth, he subjoins, “For to which of the angels said He at any time, Sit thou on My right hand.”

“He sat” (saith he) “on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” What is this “on high”? Doth he enclose God in place? Away with such a thought! but just as, when he saith, “on the right hand,” he did not describe Him as having figure, but showed His equal dignity with the Father; so, in saying “on high,” he did not enclose Him there, but expressed the being higher than all things, and having ascended up above all things. That is, He attained even unto the very throne of the Father: as therefore the Father is on high, so also is He. For the “sitting together” implies nothing else than equal dignity. But if they say, that He said, “Sit Thou,” we may ask them, What then? did He speak to Him standing? Moreover, he said not that He commanded, not that He enjoined, but that “He said”: for no other reason, than that thou mightest not think Him without origin and without cause. For that this is why he said it, is evident from the place of His sitting. For had he intended to signify inferiority, he would not have said, “on the right hand,” but on the left hand.

Ver. 4. “Being made,” saith he, “so much better than the angels, as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” The “being made,” here, is instead of “being shown forth,” as one may say. Then also from what does he reason confidently? From the Name. Seest thou that the name Son is wont to declare true relationship? And indeed if He were not a true Son (and “true” is nothing else than “of Him”), how does he reason confidently from this? For if He be Son only by grace, He not only is not “more excellent than the angels,” but is even less than they. How? Because righteous men too were called sons; and the name son, if it be not a genuine son, doth not avail to show the “excellency.” When too he would point out that there is a certain difference between creatures and their maker, hear what he saith:

Ver. 5. “For to which of the Angels said He at any time, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee. And again, I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son”? For these things indeed are spoken with reference also to the flesh: “I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son”—while this,3 “Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee,” expresses nothing else than “from [the time] that God is.” For as He is said to be,4 from the time present (for this befits Him more than any other), so also the [word] “To-day” seems to me to be spoken here with reference to the flesh. For when He hath taken hold of it, thenceforth he speaks out all boldly. For indeed the flesh partakes of the high things, just as the Godhead of the lowly. For He who disdained not to become man, and did not decline the reality, how should He have declined the expressions?

Seeing then that we know these things, let us be ashamed of nothing, nor have any high thoughts. For if He Himself being God and Lord and Son of God, did not decline to take the form of a slave, much more ought we to do all things, though they be lowly. For tell me, O man, whence hast thou high thoughts? from things of this life? but these or ever they appear, run by. Or, from things spiritual? nay, this is itself one spiritual excellency,—to have no high thoughts.

Wherefore then dost thou cherish high thoughts? because thou goest on aright? hear Christ saying, “When ye have done all things, say, we are unprofitable servants, for we have done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:10.)

Or because of thy wealth hast thou high thoughts? Dost thou not see those before thee, how they departed naked and desolate? did we not come naked into life, and naked also shall depart? who hath high thoughts on having what is another’s? for they who will use it to their own enjoyment alone, are deprived of it however unwillingly, often before death, and at death certainly. But (saith one) while we live we use them as we will. First of all, one doth not lightly see any man using what he hath as he will. Next, if a man do even use things as he will, neither is this a great matter: for the present time is short compared with the ages without end. Art thou high-minded, O man, because thou art rich? on what account? for what cause? for this befalleth also robbers, and thieves, and man-slayers, and effeminate, and whoremongers, and all sorts of wicked men. Wherefore then art thou high-minded? Since if thou hast made meet use of it, thou must not be high-minded, lest thou profane the commandment: but if unmeet, by this indeed [it has come to pass that] thou art become a slave of money, and goods, and art overcome by them. For tell me, if any man sick of a fever should drink much water, which for a short space indeed quencheth his thirst, but afterwards kindleth the flame, ought he to be high-minded? And what, if any man have many cares without cause, ought he therefore to be high-minded? tell me, wherefore? because thou hast many masters? because thou hast ten thousand cares? because many will flatter thee? [Surely not.] For thou art even their slave. And to prove that to thee, hear plainly. The other affections which are within us, are in some cases useful. For instance, Anger is often useful. For (saith he) “unjust wrath shall not be innocent” (Ecclus. 1:22): wherefore it is possible for one to be justly in wrath. And again, “He that is angry with his brother without cause,1 shall be in danger of hell.” (Matt. 5:22.) Again for instance, emulation, desire, [are useful]: the one when it hath reference to the procreation of children, the other when he directs his emulation to excellent things. As Paul also saith, “It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing” (Gal. 4:18) and, “Covet earnestly the best gifts.” (1 Cor. 12:31.) Both therefore are useful: but an insolent spirit is in no case good, but is always unprofitable and hurtful.

However, if a man must be proud, [let it be] for poverty, not for wealth. Wherefore? Because he who can live upon a little, is far greater and better than he who cannot. For tell me, supposing certain persons called to the Imperial City, if some of them should need neither beasts, nor slaves, nor umbrellas, nor lodging-places, nor sandals, nor vessels, but it should suffice them to have bread, and to take water from the wells,—while others of them should say, “unless ye give us conveyances, and a soft bed, we cannot come; unless also we have many followers, unless we may be allowed continually to rest ourselves, we cannot come, nor unless we have the use of beasts, unless too we may travel but a small portion of the day—and we have need of many other things also”: whom should we admire? those or these? plainly, these who require nothing. So also here: some need many things for the journey through this life; others, nothing. So that it would be more fitting to be proud, for poverty if it were fitting at all.

“But the poor man,” they say, “is contemptible.” Not he, but those who despise him. For why do not I despise those who know not how to admire what they ought? Why, if a person be a painter, he will laugh to scorn all who jeer at him, so long as they are uninstructed; nor cloth he regard the things which they say, but is content with his own testimony. And shall we depend on the opinion of the many? Therefore, we are worthy of contempt when men despise us for our poverty, and we do not despise them nor call them miserable.

And I say not how many sins are produced by wealth, and how many good things by poverty. But rather, neither wealth nor poverty is excellent in itself, but through those who use it. The Christian shines out in poverty rather than in riches. How? He will be less arrogant, more sober-minded, graver, more equitable, more considerate: but he that is in wealth, hath many impediments to these things. Let us see then what the rich man does, or rather, he who useth his wealth amiss. Such an one practiceth rapine, fraud, violence. Men’s unseemly loves, unholy unions, witchcrafts, poisonings, all their other horrors,—wilt thou not find them produced by wealth? Seest thou, that in poverty rather than in wealth the pursuit of virtue is less laborious? For do not, I beseech thee, think that because rich men do not suffer punishment here, neither do they sin. Since if it were easy for a rich man to suffer punishment, thou wouldest surely have found the prisons filled with them. But among its other evils, wealth hath this also, that he who possesseth it, transgressing in evil with impunity, will never be stayed from doing so, but will receive wounds without remedies, and no man will put a bridle on him.

And if a man choose, he will find that poverty affords us more resources even for pleasure. How? Because it is freed from cares, hatred, fighting, contention, strife, from evils out of number.

Therefore let us not follow after wealth, nor be forever envying those who possess much. But let those of us who have wealth, use it aright; and those who have not, let us not grieve for this, but give thanks for all things unto God, because He enableth us to receive with little labor the same reward with the rich, or even (if we will) a greater: and from small means we shall have great gains. For so he that brought the two talents, was admired and honored equally with him who brought the five. Now why? Because he was entrusted with [but] two talents, yet he accomplished all that in him lay, and brought in what was entrusted to him, doubled. Why then are we eager to have much entrusted to us, when we may by a little reap the same fruits, or even greater? when the labor indeed is less, but the reward much more? For more easily will a poor man part with his own, than a rich man who hath many and great possessions. What, know ye not, that the more things a man hath, the more he setteth his love upon? Therefore, lest this befall us, let us not seek after wealth, nor let us be impatient of poverty, nor make haste to be rich: and let those of us who have [riches] so use them as Paul commanded. (“They that have,” saith he, “as though they had not, and they that use this world as not abusing it”—1 Cor. 7:29, 31): that we may obtain the good things promised. And may it be granted to us all to obtain them, by the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father together with the Holy Ghost, be glory, power, honor, now, and for ever, and world without end. Amen.

HOMILY III

Hebrews 1:6–8.

“And again when He bringeth in the First-Begotten into the world, He saith, And let all the angels of God worship Him. And of the Angels He saith, Who maketh His angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire. But unto the Son He saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.”

[1.] Our Lord Jesus Christ calls His coming in the flesh an exodus [or going out]: as when He saith, “The sower went out to sow.” (Matt. 13:3.) And again, “I went out from the Father, and am come.” (John 16:28.) And in many places one may see this. But Paul calls it an [eisodus or] coming in, saying, “And when again He bringeth in the First-Begotten into the world,” meaning by this Bringing in, His taking on Him flesh.

Now why has he so used the expression? The things signified [thereby] are manifest, and in what respect it is [thus] said. For Christ indeed calls it a Going out, justly; for we were out from God. For as in royal palaces, prisoners and those who have offended the king, stand without, and he who desires to reconcile them, does not bring them in, but himself going out discourses with them, until having made them meet for the king’s presence, he may bring them in, so also Christ hath done. Having gone out to us, that is, having taken flesh, and having discoursed to us of the King’s matters, so He brought us in, having purged the sins, and made reconciliation. Therefore he calls it a Going out.

But Paul names it a Coming in, from the metaphor of those who come to an inheritance and receive any portion or possession. For the saying, “and when again He bringeth in the First-Begotten into the world,” means this, “when he putteth the world into His hand.” For when He was made known, then also He obtained possession of the whole thereof, He saith not these things concerning God The Word, but concerning that which is according to the flesh. For if according to John, “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him” (John 1:10): how is He “brought in,” otherwise than in the flesh?

“And,” saith he, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” Whereas he is about to say something great and lofty, he prepares it before hand, and makes it acceptable, in that he represents the Father as “bringing in” the Son. He had said above, that “He spake to us not by prophets but by His Son”; that the Son is superior to angels; yea and he establishes this from the name [Son]. And here, in what follows, from another fact also. What then may this be? From worship. And he shows how much greater He is, as much as a Master is than a slave; just as any one introducing another into a house straightway commands those having the care thereof to do him reverence; [so] saying in regard to the Flesh, “And let all the Angels of God worship Him.”

Is it then Angels only? No; for hear what follows: “And of His Angels He saith, Which maketh His Angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire: but unto the Son, Thy Throne, O God, is for ever and ever.” Behold, the greatest difference! that they are created, but He uncreated. While of His angels He saith, who “maketh”; wherefore of the Son did He not say “Who maketh”? Although he might have expressed the difference as follows: “Of His Angels He saith, Who maketh His Angels spirits, but of the Son, ‘The Lord created Me’: ‘God hath made Him Lord and Christ.’ ” (Prov. 8:22; Acts 2:36.) But neither was the one spoken concerning the Son, nor the other concerning God The Word, but concerning the flesh. For when he desired to express the true difference, he no longer included angels only, but the whole ministering power above. Seest thou how he distinguishes, and with how great clearness, between creatures and Creator, ministers and Lord, the Heir and true Son, and slaves?

[2.] “But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.” Behold a symbol of Kingly Office. “A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Thy kingdom.” Behold again another symbol of Royalty.

Then again with respect to the flesh (ver. 9) “Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity, therefore God, even Thy God, hath anointed Thee.”

What is, “Thy God”? Why, after that he hath uttered a great word, he again qualifieth it. Here he hits both Jews, and the followers of Paul of Samosata, and the Arians, and Marcellus, and Sabellius, and Marcion. How? The Jews, by his indicating two Persons, both God and Man;1 the other Jews,2 I mean the followers of Paul of Samosata, by thus discoursing concerning His eternal existence, and uncreated essence: for by way of distinction, against the word, “He made,” he put, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.” Against the Arians there is both this same again, and also that He is not a slave; but if a creature, He is a slave. And against Marcellus and the others, that these are two Persons, distinguished in reference to their subsistence.3 And against the Marcionites, that the Godhead is not anointed, but the Manhood.

Next he saith, “Above Thy fellows.” But who are these His “fellows” other than men? that is Christ received “not the Spirit by measure.” (John 3:34.) Seest thou how with the doctrine concerning His uncreated nature he always joins also that of the “Economy”? what can be clearer than this? Didst thou see how what is created and what is begotten are not the same? For otherwise he would not have made the distinction, nor in contrast to the word, “He made” [&c.], have added, “But unto the Son He said, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.” Nor would he have called the name, “Son, a more excellent Name,” if it is a sign of the same thing. For what is the excellence? For if that which is created, and that which is begotten be the same, and they [the Angels] were made, what is there [in Him] “more excellent”? Lo! again ὁ Θεὸς, “God,” with the Article.4

[3.] And again he saith (ver. 10–12): “Thou Lord in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Thine hands. They shall perish, but Thou remainest, and they shall all wax old as a garment, and as a vesture shalt Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but Thou art the same and Thy years shall not fail.”

Lest hearing the words, “and when He bringeth in the First-Begotten into the world”; thou shouldest think it as it were a Gift afterwards super-added to Him; above, he both corrected this beforehand, and again further corrects, saying, “in the beginning”: not now, but from the first. See again he strikes both Paul of Samosata and also Arius a mortal blow, applying to the Son the things which relate to the Father. And withal he has also intimated another thing by the way, greater even than this. For surely he hath incidentally pointed out also the transfiguration of the world, saying, “they shall wax old as a garment, and as a vesture Thou shalt fold them up, and they shall be changed.” Which also he saith in the Epistle to the Romans, that he shall transfigure the world. (See Rom. 8:21.) And showing the facility thereof, he adds, as if a man should fold up a garment so shall He both fold up and change it. But if He with so much ease works the transfiguration and the creation to what is better and more perfect, needed He another for the inferior creation? How far doth your shamelessness go? At the same time too this is a very great consolation, to know that things will not be as they are, but they all shall receive change, and all shall be altered, but He Himself remaineth ever existing, and living without end: “and Thy years,” he saith, “shall not fail.”

[4.] Ver. 13. “But to which of the Angels said He at any time, Sit thou on My right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool?” Behold, again he encourages them, inasmuch as their enemies were to be worsted, and their enemies are the same also with Christ’s.

This again belongs to Sovereignty, to Equal Dignity, to Honor and not weakness, that the Father should be angry for the things done to the Son. This belongs to His great Love and honor towards the Son, as of a father towards a son. For He that is angry in His behalf how is He a stranger to Him? Which also he saith in the second Psalm, “He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn, and the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall He speak unto them in His wrath, and vex them in His sore displeasure.” (Ps. 2:4, 5.) And again He Himself saith, “Those that would not that I should reign over them, bring hither before Me, and slay them.” (Luke 19:27.) For that they are His own words, hear also what He saith in another place, “How often would I have gathered thy children together, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left desolate.” (Luke 13:34, 35.) And again, “The kingdom shall be taken from you, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” (Matt. 21:43.) And again, “He that falleth upon that stone shall be broken, but on whomsoever It shall fall, It will grind him to powder.” (Matt. 21:44.) And besides, He who is to be their Judge in that world, much more did He Himself repay them in this. So that the words “Till I make thine enemies thy footstool” are expressive of honor only towards the Son.

Ver. 14. “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” What marvel (saith he) if they minister to the Son, when they minister even to our salvation? See how he lifts up their minds, and shows the great honor which God has for us, since He has assigned to Angels who are above us this ministration on our behalf. As if one should say, for this purpose (saith he) He employs them; this is the office of Angels, to minister to God for our salvation. So that it is an angelical work, to do all for the salvation of the brethren: or rather it is the work of Christ Himself, for He indeed saves as Lord, but they as servants. And we, though servants, are yet Angels’ fellow-servants. Why gaze ye so earnestly on the Angels (saith he)? They are servants of the Son of God, and are sent many ways for our sakes, and minister to our salvation. And so they are partners in service with us.

Consider ye how he ascribes no great difference to the kinds of creatures. And yet the space between angels and men is great; nevertheless he brings them down near to us, all but saying, For us they labor, for our sake they run to and fro: on us, as one might say, they wait. This is their ministry, for our sake to be sent every way.

And of these examples both the Old [Testament] is full, and the New. For when Angels bring glad tidings to the shepherds, or to Mary, or to Joseph; when they sit at the sepulcher, when they are sent to say to the disciples, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?” (Acts 1:11), when they release Peter out of the prison, when they discourse with Philip, consider how great the honor is; when God sends His Angels for ministers as to friends; when to Cornelius [an Angel] appears, when [an Angel] brings forth all the apostles from the prison, and says, “Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people the words of this life” (Acts 5:20); and to Paul himself also an Angel appears. Dost thou see that they minister to us on God’s behalf, and that they minister to us in the greatest matters? wherefore Paul saith, “All things are yours, whether life or death, or the world, or things present, or things to come.” (1 Cor. 3:22.)

Well then the Son also was sent, but not as a servant, nor as a minister, but as a Son, and Only-Begotten, and desiring the same things with the Father. Rather indeed, He was not “sent”: for He did not pass from place to place, but took on Him flesh: whereas these change their places, and leaving those in which they were before, so come to others in which they were not.

And by this again he incidentally encourages them, saying, What fear ye? Angels are ministering to us.

[5.] And having spoken concerning the Son, both what related to the Economy, and what related to the Creation, and to His sovereignty, and having shown His co-equal dignity, and that as absolute Master He ruleth not men only but also the powers above, he next exhorts them, having made out his argument, that we ought to give heed to the things which have been heard. (c. 2:1.) “Wherefore we ought to give more earnest heed” (saith he) “to the things which we have heard.” Why “more earnest”? Here he meant “more earnest” than to the Law: but he suppressed the actual expression of it, and yet makes it plain in the course of reasoning, not in the way of counsel, nor of exhortation. For so it was better.

Ver. 2, 3. “For if the word spoken by Angels” (saith he) “was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken to us by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him?”

Why ought we to “give more earnest heed to the things which we have heard”? were not those former things of God, as well as these? Either then he meaneth “more earnest” than [to] the Law, or “very earnest”; not making comparison, God forbid. For since, on account of the long space of time, they had a great opinion of the Old Covenant, but these things had been despised as vet new, he proves (more than his argument required) that we ought rather to give heed to these. How? By saying in effect, Both these and those are of God, but not in a like manner. And this he shows us afterwards: but for the present he treats it somewhat superficially, but afterwards more clearly, saying; “For if that first covenant had been faultless” (c. 8:7), and many other such things: “for that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” (c. 8:13.) But as yet he ventures not to say any such thing in the beginning of his discourse, nor until he shall have first occupied and possessed his hearer by his fuller [arguments].

Why then ought we “to give more earnest heed”? “Lest at any time,” saith he, “we should let them slip”—that is, lest at any time we should perish, lest we should fall away. And here he shows the grievousness of this falling away, in that it is a difficult thing for that which hath fallen away to return again, inasmuch as it hath happened through wilful negligence. And he took this form of speech from the Proverbs. For, saith he, “my son [take heed] lest thou fall away” (Prov. 3:21, LXX.), showing both the easiness of the fall, and the grievousness of the ruin. That is, our disobedience is not without danger. And while by his mode of reasoning he shows that the chastisement is greater, yet again he leaves it in the form of a question, and not in the conclusion. For indeed this is to make one’s discourse inoffensive, when one does not in every case of one’s self infer the judgment, but leaves it in the power of the hearer himself to give sentence: and this would render them more open to conviction. And both the prophet Nathan doth the same in the Old [Testament], and in Matthew Christ, saying, “What will He do to the husbandmen” (Matt. 21:40) of that vineyard? so compelling them to give sentence themselves: for this is the greatest victory.

Next, when he had said, “For if the word which was spoken by Angels was steadfast”—he did not add, much more that by Christ: but letting this pass, he said what is less, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” And see how he makes the comparison. “For if the word which was spoken by Angels,” saith he. There, “by Angels,” here, “by the Lord”—and there “a word,” but here, “salvation.”

Then lest any man should say, Thy sayings, O Paul, are they Christ’s? he proves their trustworthiness both from his having heard these things of Him, and from their being now spoken by God; since not merely a voice is wafted, as in the case of Moses, but signs are done, and facts bear witness.

[6.] But what is this, “For if the word spoken by Angels was steadfast”? For in the Epistle to the Galatians also he saith to this effect, “Being ordained by angels in the hand of a Mediator.” (Gal. 3:19.) And again, “Ye received a law by the disposition of Angels, and have not kept it.” (Acts 7:53.) And everywhere he saith it was given by angels. Some indeed say that Moses is signified; but without reason. For here he says Angels in the plural: and the Angels too which he here speaks of, are those in Heaven. What then is it? Either he means the Decalogue only (for there Moses spake, and God answered him—Ex. 19:19),—or that angels were present, God disposing them in order,—or that he speaks thus in regard of all things said and done in the old Covenant, as if Angels had part in them. But how is it said in another place, “The Law was given by Moses” (John 1:17), and here “by Angels”? For it is said, “And God came down in thick darkness.”1 (Ex. 19:16, 20.)

“For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast.” What is “was steadfast”? True, as one may say; and faithful in its proper season; and all the things which had been spoken came to pass. Either this is his meaning, or that they prevailed, and the threatenings were coming to be accomplished. Or by “the word” he means injunctions. For apart from the Law, Angels sent from God enjoined many things: for instance at Bochim, in the Judges, in [the history of] Samson. (Judg. 2:1; 13:3.) For this is the cause why he said not “the Law” but “the word.” And he seems to me haply rather to mean this, viz., those things which are committed to the management of angels. What shall we say then? The angels who were entrusted with the charge of the nation were then present, and they themselves made the trumpets, and the other things, the fire, the thick darkness. (Ex. 19:16.)

“And every transgression and disobedience,” saith he. Not this one and that one, but “every” one. Nothing, he saith, remained unavenged, but “received a just recompense of reward,” instead of [saying] punishment. Why now spake he thus? Such is the manner of Paul, not to make much account of his phrases, but indifferently to put down words of evil sound, even in matters of good meaning. As also in another place he saith, “Bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”2 (2 Cor. 10:5.) And again he hath put “the recompense” for punishment,3 as here he calleth punishment “reward.” “If it be a righteous thing,” he saith, “with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you, and to you who are troubled rest.” (2 Thess. 1:6, 7.) That is, justice was not violated, but God went forth against them, and caused the penalty to come round on the sinners, though not all their sins are made manifest, but only where the express ordinances were transgressed.

“How then shall we,” he saith, “escape if we neglect so great salvation?” Hereby he signified, that that other salvation was no great thing. Well too did he add the “So great.” For not from wars (he saith) will He now rescue us, nor bestow on us the earth and the good things that are in the earth, but it will be the dissolution of death, the destruction of the devil, the kingdom of Heaven, everlasting life. For all these things he hath briefly expressed, by saying, “if we neglect so great salvation.”

[7.] Then he subjoins what makes this worthy of belief. “Which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord”: that is, had its beginning from the fountain itself. It was not a man who brought it over1 into the earth, nor any created power, but the Only-Begotten Himself.

“And was confirmed unto us by them that heard [Him].” What is “confirmed”? It was believed,2 or, it came to pass. For (he saith) we have the earnest;3 that is, it hath not been extinguished, it hath not ceased, but it is strong and prevaileth. And the cause is, the Divine power works therein. It means they who heard from the Lord, themselves confirmed us. This is a great thing and trustworthy: which also Luke saith in the beginning of his Gospel, “As they delivered unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word.” (Luke 1:2.)

How then was it confirmed? What if those that heard were forgers? saith some one. This objection then he overthrows, and shows that the grace was not human. If they had gone astray, God would not have borne witness to them; for he subjoined (ver. 4), “God also bearing witness with them.” Both they indeed bear witness, and God beareth witness too. How doth He bear witness? not by word or by voice, (though this also would have been worthy of belief): but how? “By signs, and wonders, and divers miracles.” (Well said he, “divers miracles,” declaring the abundance of the gifts: which was not so in the former dispensation, neither so great signs and so various.) That is, we did not believe them simply, but through signs and wonders: wherefore we believe not them, but God Himself.

“And by gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to His own will.”

What then, if wizards also do signs, and the Jews said that He “cast out devils through Beelzebub”? (Luke 11:15.) But they do not such kind of signs: therefore said he “divers miracles”: for those others were not miracles, [or powers,4] but weakness and fancy, and things altogether vain. Wherefore he said, “by gifts of the Holy Ghost according to His own will.”

[8.] Here he seems to me to intimate something further. For it is not likely there were many there who had gifts, but that these had failed, upon their becoming more slothful. In order then that even in this he might comfort them, and not leave them to fall away, he referred all to the will of God. He knows (he says) what is expedient, and for whom, and apportions His grace accordingly. Which also he [Paul] does in the Epistle to the Corinthians, saying, “God hath set every one of us, as it pleased Him.” (1 Cor. 12:18.) And again, “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” (1 Cor. 12:7.)

“According to His will.” He shows that the gift is according to the will of the Father. But oftentimes on account of their unclean and slothful life many have not received a gift, and sometimes also those whose life is good and pure have not received one. Why, I pray you? Lest they might be made haughty, that they might not be puffed up, that they might not grow more negligent, that they might not be more excited. For if even without a gift, the mere consciousness of a pure life be sufficient to lift a man up, much more when the grace is added also. Wherefore to the humble, to the simple, it was rather given, and especially to the simple: for it is said, “in singleness and gladness of heart.” (Acts 2:46.) Yea, and hereby also he rather urged them on, and if they were growing negligent gave them a spur. For the humble, and he who imagines no great things concerning himself, becomes more earnest when he has received a gift, in that he has obtained what is beyond his deserts, and thinks that he is not worthy thereof. But he who thinks he hath done well, reckoning it to be his due, is puffed up. Wherefore God dispenseth this profitably: which one may see taking place also in the Church: for one hath the word of teaching, another hath not power to open his mouth. Let not this man (he says) be grieved because of this. For “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” (1 Cor. 12:7.) For if a man that is an householder knoweth to whom he should entrust anything, much more God, who understands the mind of men, “who knoweth all things or ever they come into being.”1 One thing only is worthy of grief, Sin: there is nothing else.

Say not, Wherefore have I not riches? or, If I had, I would give to the poor. Thou knowest not, if thou hadst them, whether thou wouldest not the rather be covetous. For now indeed thou sayest these things, but being put to the trial thou wouldest be different. Since also when we are satisfied, we think that we are able to fast; but when we have gone without a little space, other thoughts come into us. Again, when we are out of the way of strong drink, we think ourselves able to master our appetite, but no longer so, when we are caught by it.

Say not, Wherefore had I not the gift of teaching? or, If I had had it, I should have edified innumerable souls. Thou knowest not, if thou hadst it, whether it would not be to thy condemnation,—whether envy, whether sloth, would not have disposed thee to hide thy talent. Now, indeed, thou art now free from all these, and though thou give not “the portion of meat” (Luke 12:42), thou art not called to account: but then, thou wouldest have been responsible for many.

[9.] And besides, neither now art thou without the gift. Show in the little, what thou wouldst have been, if thou hadst had the other. “For if” (he says) “ye are not faithful in that which is little, how shalt any one give you that which is great?” (Luke 16:11.) Give such proof as did the widow; she had two farthings,2 and she cast in all, whatsoever she possessed.

Dost thou seek riches? Prove that thou thinkest lightly of the few things, that I may trust thee also concerning the many things. But if thou dost not think lightly even of these, much less wilt thou do so of the other.

Again, in speech, prove that thou canst use fitly exhortation and counsel. Hast thou not external eloquence? hast thou not store of thoughts? But nevertheless thou knowest these common things. Thou hast a child, thou hast a neighbor, thou hast a friend, thou hast a brother, thou hast kinsmen. And though publicly before the Church, thou art not able to draw out a long discourse, these thou canst exhort in private. Here, there is no need of rhetoric, nor of elaborate discourse: prove in these, that if thou hadst skill of speech, thou wouldest not have neglected it. But if in the small matter thou art not in earnest, how shall I trust thee concerning the great?

For, that every man can do this, hear what Paul saith, how he charged even lay people; “Edify,” he says, “one another, as also ye do.” (1 Thess. 5:11.) And, “Comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thess. 4:18.) God knoweth how He should distribute to every man. Art thou better than Moses? hear how he shrinks from the hardship. “Am I,” saith he, “able to bear them? for Thou saidst to me, Bear them up, as a nursing-father would bear up the sucking-child.” (Num. 11:12.) What then did God? He took of his spirit and gave unto the others, showing that neither when he bare them was the gift his own, but of the Spirit. If thou hadst had the gift, thou wouldst perchance3 have been lifted up, perchance wouldst thou have been turned out of the way. Thou knowest not thyself as God knoweth thee. Let us not say, To what end is that? on what account is this? When God dispenseth, let us not demand an account of Him: for this [is] of the uttermost impiety and folly. We are slaves, and slaves far apart from our Master, knowing not even the things which are before us.

[10.] Let us not then busy ourselves about the counsel of God, but whatsoever He hath given, this let us guard, though it be small, though it be the lowest, and we shall be altogether approved. Or rather, none of the gifts of God is small: art thou grieved because thou hast not the gift of teaching? Then tell me, which seems to you the greater, to have the gift of teaching, or the gift of driving away diseases? Doubtless the latter. But what? Tell me; doth it not seem to thee greater to give eyes to the blind than even to drive away diseases? But what? Tell me; doth it not seem to thee greater to raise the dead than to give eyes to the blind? What again, tell me; doth it not seem to thee greater to do this by shadows and napkins, than by a word? Tell me then, which wouldst thou? Raise the dead with shadows and napkins, or have the gift of teaching? Doubtless thou wilt say the former, to raise the dead with shadows and napkins. If then I should show to thee, that there is another gift far greater than this, and that thou dost not receive it when it is in thy power to receive it, art not thou justly deprived of those others? And this gift not one or two, but all may have. I know that ye open wide your mouths and are amazed, at being to hear that it is in your power to have a greater gift than raising the dead, and giving eyes to the blind, doing the same things which were done in the time of the Apostles. And it seems to you past belief.

What then is this gift? charity. Nay, believe me; for the word is not mine, but Christ’s, speaking by Paul. For what saith he? “Covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way.” (1 Cor. 12:31.) What is this, “yet more excellent”? What he means is this. The Corinthians were proud over their gifts, and those having tongues, the least gift, were puffed up against the rest. He saith therefore, Do ye by all means desire gifts? I show unto you a way of gifts not merely excelling but far more excellent. Then he saith, “Though I speak with the tongues of Angels, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I have faith so as to remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:1, 2.)

Hast thou seen the gift? Covet earnestly this gift. This is greater than raising the dead. This is far better than all the rest. And that it is so, hear what Christ Himself saith, discoursing with His disciples, “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples.” (John 13:35.) And showing how, He mentioned not the miracles, but what? “If ye have love one with another.” And again He saith to the Father, “Hereby shall they know that Thou hast sent Me, if they be one.” (John 17:21.) And He said to His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that ye love one another.” (John 13:34.) Such an one therefore is more venerable and glorious than those who raise the dead; with reason. For that indeed is wholly of God’s grace, but this, of thine own earnestness also. This is of one who is a Christian indeed: this shows the disciple of Christ, the crucified, the man that hath nothing common with earth. Without this, not even martyrdom can profit.

And as a proof, see this plainly. The blessed Paul took two of the highest virtues, or rather three; namely, those which consist in miracles, in knowledge, in life. And without this the others, he said, are nothing. And I will say how these are nothing. “Though I give my goods to feed the poor,” he says, “and have not charity, I am nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:3.) For it is possible not to be charitable even when one feeds the poor and exhausts one’s means.

[11.] And indeed these things have been sufficiently declared by us, in the place concerning Charity:1 and thither we refer the readers. Meanwhile, as I was saying, let us covet earnestly the Gift, let us love one another; and we shall need nothing else for the perfect acquisition of virtue, but all will be easy to us without toils and we shall do all perfectly with much diligence.

But see, even now, it is said, we love one another. For one man hath two friends, and another three. But this is not to love for God’s sake, but for the sake of being beloved. But to love for God’s sake hath not this as its principle of Love; but such an one will be disposed towards all men as towards brethren; loving those that are of the same faith as being true brothers; heretics and Heathen and Jews, brothers indeed by nature, but vile and unprofitable,—pitying and wearing himself out and weeping for them. Herein we shall be like God if we love all men, even our enemies; not, if we work miracles. For we regard even God with admiration when He worketh wonders, yet much more, when He showeth love towards man, when He is long-suffering. If then even in God this is worthy of much admiration, much more in men is it evident that this rendereth us admirable.

This then let us zealously seek after: and we shall be no way inferior to Paul and Peter and those who have raised innumerable dead, though we may not be able to drive away a fever. But without this [Love], though we should work greater miracles even than the Apostles themselves, though we should expose ourselves to innumerable dangers for the faith: there will be to us no profit from any. And these things it is not I that say, but he, the very nourisher of Charity, knoweth these things. To him then let us be obedient; for thus we shall be able to attain to the good things promised, of which may we all be made partakers, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father with the Holy Ghost, be the glory, now and for ever and world without end. Amen.

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St John Chrysostom’s Homiletic Commentary on Hebrews 1:1-2

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 9, 2018

HOMILY I

Hebrews 1:1, 2.

“God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the Prophets, hath at the end of the days1 spoken unto us by His Son: whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds.”

[1.] Truly, “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” (Rom. 5:20.) This at least the blessed Paul intimates here also, in the very beginning of his Epistle to the Hebrews. For since as it was likely that afflicted, worn out by evils, and judging of things thereby, they would think themselves worse off than all other men,—he shows that herein they had rather been made partakers of greater, even very exceeding, grace; arousing the hearer at the very opening of his discourse. Wherefore he says, “God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the Prophets, hath at the end of the days spoken unto us by His Son.”

Why did he [Paul] not oppose “himself” to “the prophets”? Certainly, he was much greater than they, inasmuch as a greater trust was committed to him. Yet he doth not so. Why? First, to avoid speaking great things concerning himself. Secondly, because his hearers were not yet perfect. And thirdly, because he rather wished to exalt them, and to show that their superiority was great. As if he had said, What so great matter is it that He sent prophets to our fathers? For to us [He has sent] His own only-begotten Son Himself.

And well did he begin thus, “At sundry times and in divers manners,” for he points out that not even the prophets themselves saw God; nevertheless, the Son saw Him. For the expressions, “at sundry times and in divers manners” are the same as “in different ways.” “For I” (saith He) “have multiplied visions, and used similitudes by the ministry of the Prophets.” (Hos. 12:10.) Wherefore the excellency consists not in this alone, that to them indeed prophets were sent, but to us the Son; but that none of them saw God, but the Only-begotten Son saw Him. He doth not indeed at once assert this, but by what he says afterwards he establishes it, when he speaks concerning His human nature; “For to which of the Angels said He, Thou art My Son,” (ver. 5), and, “Sit thou on My right hand”? (Ver. 13.)

And look on his great wisdom. First he shows the superiority from the prophets. Then having established this as acknowledged, he declares that to them indeed He spake by the prophets, but to us by the Only-begotten. Then [He spake] to them by Angels, and this again he establishes, with good reason (for angels also held converse with the Jews): yet even herein we have the superiority, inasmuch as the Master [spake] to us, but to them servants, and prophets, fellow-servants.

[2.] Well also said he, “at the end of the days,” for by this he both stirs them up and encourages them desponding of the future. For as he says also in another place, “The Lord is at hand, be careful for nothing” (Phil. 4:5, 6), and again, “For now is our salvation nearer than when we believed” (Rom. 13:11): so also here. What then is it which he says? That whoever is spent in the conflict, when he hears of the end thereof, recovers his breath a little, knowing that it is the end indeed of his labors, but the beginning of his rest.

“Hath in the end of the days spoken unto us in [His] Son.” Behold again he uses the saying, “in [His] Son,”2 for “through the Son,”3 against those who assert that this phrase is proper to the Spirit.4 Dost thou see that the [word] “in” is “through”?5

And the expression, “In times past,” and this, “In the end of the days,” shadows forth some other meaning:—that when a long time had intervened, when we were on the edge of punishment, when the Gifts had failed, when there was no expectation of deliverance, when we were expecting to have less than all—then we have had more.

And see how considerately he hath spoken it. For he said not, “Christ spake” (albeit it was He who did speak), but inasmuch as their souls were weak, and they were not yet able to hear the things concerning Christ, he says, “God hath spoken by Him.” What meanest thou? did God speak through the Son? Yes. What then? Is it thus thou showest the superiority? for here thou hast but pointed out that both the New and the Old [Covenants] are of One and the same: and that this superiority is not great. Wherefore he henceforth follows on upon this argument, saying, “He spake unto us by [His] Son.”

(Note, how Paul makes common cause, and puts himself on a level with the disciples, saying, He spake “to us”: and yet He did not speak to him, but to the Apostles, and through them to the many. But he lifts them [the Hebrews] up, and declares that He spake also to them. And as yet he doth not at all reflect on the Jews. For almost all to whom the prophets spake, were a kind of evil and polluted persons. But as yet the discourse is not of these: but hitherto of the gifts derived from God.)

“Whom He appointed,” saith he, “heir of all.” What is “whom He appointed heir of all”? He speaks here of the flesh [the human nature]. As He also says in the second Psalm, “Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance.” (Ps. 2:8.) For no longer is “Jacob the portion of the Lord” nor “Israel His inheritance” (Deut. 32:9), but all men: that is to say, He hath made Him Lord of all: which Peter also said in the Acts, “God hath made Him both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36.) But he has used the name “Heir,” declaring two things: His proper sonship1 and His indefeasible sovereignty. “Heir of all,” that is, of all the world.

[3.] Then again he brings back his discourse to its former point. “By whom also He made the worlds [the ages].”2 Where are those who say, There was [a time] when He was not?

Then, using degrees of ascent, he uttered that which is far greater than all this, saying,

Ver. 3, 4. “Who, (being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power,) when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; being made3 so much better than the Angels as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”

O! the wisdom of the Apostle! or rather, not the wisdom of Paul, but the grace of the Spirit is the thing to wonder at. For surely he uttered not these things of his own mind, nor in that way did he find his wisdom. (For whence could it be? From the knife, and the skins, or the workshop?) But it was from the working of God. For his own understanding did not give birth to these thoughts, which was then so mean and slender as in nowise to surpass the baser sort; (for how could it, seeing it spent itself wholly on bargains and skins?) but the grace of the Spirit shows forth its strength by whomsoever it will.

For just as one, wishing to lead up a little child to some lofty place, reaching up even to the top of Heaven, does this gently and by degrees, leading him upwards by the steps from below,—then when he has set him on high, and bidden him to gaze downwards, and sees him turning giddy and confused, and dizzy, taking hold of him, he leads him down to the lower stand, allowing him to take breath; then when he hath recovered it, leads him up again, and again brings him down;—just so did the blessed Paul likewise, both with the Hebrews and everywhere, having learnt it from his Master. For even He also did so; sometimes He led His hearers up on high, and sometimes He brought them down, not allowing them to remain very long.

See him, then, even here—by how many steps he led them up, and placed them near the very summit of religion, and then or ever they grow giddy, and are seized with dizziness, how he leads them again lower down, and allowing them to take breath, says, “He spake unto us by [His] Son,” “whom He appointed Heir of all things.”4 For the name of Son is so far common. For where a true5 [Son] it is understood of, He is above all: but however that may be, for the present he proves that He is from above.

And see how he says it: “Whom He appointed,” saith he, “heir of all things.” The phrase, “He appointed Heir,” is humble. Then he placed them on the higher step, adding, “by whom also He made the worlds.” Then on a higher still, and after which there is no other, “who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person.” Truly he has led them to unapproachable light, to the very brightness itself. And before they are blinded see how he gently leads them down again, saying, “and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty.” He does not simply say, “He sat down,” but “after the purifying, He sat town,” for he hath touched on the Incarnation, and his utterance is again lowly.

Then again having said a little by the way (for he says, “on the right hand of the Majesty on high”), [he turns] again to what is lowly; “being made so much better than the angels, as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” Henceforward then he treats here of that which is according to the flesh, since the phrase “being made better” doth not express His essence according to the Spirit,1 (for that was not “made” but “begotten,”) but according to the flesh: for this was “made.” Nevertheless the discourse here is not about being called into2 existence. But just as John says, “He that cometh after me, is preferred before me” (John 1:15, 30), that is, higher in honor and esteem; so also here, “being made so much better than the angels”—that is, higher in esteem and better and more glorious, “by how much He hath obtained by inheritance a more excellent name than they.” Seest thou that he is speaking of that which is according to the flesh? For this Name,3 God the Word ever had; He did not afterwards “obtain it by inheritance”; nor did He afterwards become “better than the Angels, when He had purged our sins”; but He was always “better,” and better without all comparison.4 For this is spoken of Him according to the flesh.

So truly it is our way also, when we talk of man, to speak things both high and low. Thus, when we say, “Man is nothing,” “Man is earth,” “Man is ashes,” we call the whole by the worse part. But when we say, “Man is an immortal animal,” and “Man is rational, and of kin to those on high,” we call again the whole by the better part. So also, in the case of Christ, sometimes Paul discourseth from the less and sometimes from the better; wishing both to establish the economy, and also to teach about the incorruptible nature.

[4.] Since then “He hath purged our sins,” let us continue pure; and let us receive no stain, but preserve the beauty which He hath implanted in us, and His comeliness undefiled and pure, “not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” (Eph. 5:27.) Even little sins are “a spot and a wrinkle,” such a thing, I mean, as Reproach, Insult, Falsehood.

Nay, rather not even are these small, but on the contrary very great: yea so great as to deprive a man even of the kingdom of Heaven. How, and in what manner? “He that calleth his brother fool, is in danger” (He saith) “of hell-fire.” (Matt. 5:22.) But if it be so with him who calls a man “fool,” which seems to be the slightest of all things, and rather mere children’s talk; what sentence of punishment will not he incur, who calleth him malignant and crafty and envious, and casteth at him ten thousand other reproaches? What more fearful than this?

Now suffer, I beseech you, the word [of exhortation].5 For if he that “doeth” [aught] to “one of the least, doeth it to Him” (Matt. 25:40), and he that “doeth it not to one of the least doeth it not to Him” (Matt. 25:45), how is it not the same also in the matter of good or evil speaking? He that reviles his brother, reviles God: and he that honors his brother, honors God. Let us train therefore our tongue to speak good words. For “refrain,” it is said, “thy tongue from evil.” (Ps. 34:13.) For God gave it not that we should speak evil, that we should revile, that we should calumniate one another; but to sing hymns to God withal, to speak those things which “give grace to the hearers” (Eph. 4:29), things for edification, things for profit.

Hast thou spoken evil of a man? What is thy gain, entangling thyself in mischief together with him? For thou hast obtained the reputation of a slanderer. For there is not any, no not any evil, which stops at him that suffers it, but it includes the doer also. As for instance, the envious person seems indeed to plot against another, but himself first reaps the fruit of his sin, wasting and wearing himself away, and being hated of all men. The cheat deprives another of his money; yea and himself too of men’s good will: and causes himself to be evil spoken of by all men. Now reputation is much better than money, for the one it is not easy to wash out, whereas it is easy to gain possession of the other. Or rather, the absence of the one doth no hurt to him that wanteth it; but the absence of the other makes you reproached and ridiculed, and an object of enmity and warfare to all.

The passionate man again first punishes and tears himself in pieces, and then him with whom he is angry.

Just so the evil speaker disgraces first himself and then him who is evil-spoken of: or, it may be, even this hath proved beyond his power, and while he departs with the credit of a foul and detestable kind of person, he causes the other to be loved the more. For when a man hearing a bad name given him, doth not requite the giver in the same kind, but praises and admires, he doth not praise the other, but himself. For I before observed that, as calumnies against our neighbors first touch those who devise the mischief, so also good works done towards our neighbors, gladden first those who do them. The parent either of good, or evil, justly reaps the fruit of it first himself. And just as water, whether it be brackish or sweet, fills the vessels of those who resort to it, but lessens not the fountain which sends it forth; so surely also, both wickedness and virtue, from whatever person they proceed, prove either his joy or his ruin.

So far as to the things of this world; but what speech may recount the things of that world, either the goods or the evils? There is none. For as to the blessings, they surpass all thought, not speech only; for their opposites are expressed indeed in terms familiar to us. For fire, it is said, is there, and darkness, and bonds, and a worm that never dieth. But this represents not only the things which are spoken of, but others more intolerable. And to convince thee, consider at once this first: if it be fire, how is it also darkness? Seest thou how that fire is more intolerable than this? For it hath no light. If it be fire, how is it forever burning? Seest thou how something more intolerable than this happens? For it is not quenched. Yea, therefore it is called unquenchable. Let us then consider how great a misery it must be, to be forever burning, and to be in darkness, and to utter unnumbered groanings, and to gnash the teeth, and not even to be heard. For if here any one of those ingeniously brought up, should he be cast into prison, speaks of the mere ill savor, and the being laid in darkness, and the being bound with murderers, as more intolerable than any death: think what it is when we are burning with the murderers of the whole world, neither seeing nor being seen, but in so vast a multitude thinking that we are alone. For the darkness and gloom doth not allow our distinguishing those who are near to us, but each will burn as if he were thus suffering alone. Moreover, if darkness of itself afflicteth and terrifieth our souls, how then will it be when together with the darkness there are likewise so great pains and burnings?

Wherefore I entreat you to be ever revolving these things with yourselves, and to submit to the pain of the words, that we may not undergo the punishment of the things. For assuredly, all these things shall be, and those whose doings have deserved those chambers of torture no man shall rescue, not father, nor mother, nor brother. “For a brother redeemeth not,” He saith; “shall a man redeem?” (Ps. 49:7, LXX.), though he have much confidence, though he have great power with God. For it is He Himself who rewards every one according to his works, and upon these depends our salvation or punishment.

Let us make then to ourselves “friends of the mammon of unrighteousness” (Luke 16:9), that is: Let us give alms; let us exhaust our possessions upon them, that so we may exhaust that fire: that we may quench it, that we may have boldness there. For there also it is not they who receive us, but our own work: for that it is not simply their being our friends which can save us, learn from what is added. For why did He not say, “Make to yourselves friends, that they may receive you into their everlasting habitations,” but added also the manner? For saying, “of the mammon of unrighteousness,” He points out that we must make friends of them by means of our possessions, showing that mere friendship will not protect us, unless we have good works, unless we spend righteously the wealth unrighteously gathered.

Moreover, this our discourse, of Almsgiving I mean, fits not only the rich, but also the needy. Yea even if there be any person who supporteth himself by begging, even for him is this word. For there is no one, so poverty-stricken, however exceeding poor he may be, as not to be able to provide “two mites.” (Luke 21:2.) It is therefore possible that a person giving a small sum from small means, should surpass those who have large possessions and give more; as that widow did. For not by the measure of what is given, but by the means and willingness of the givers is the extent of the alms-deed estimated. In all cases the will is needed, in all, a right disposition; in all, love towards God. If with this we do all things, though having little we give little, God will not turn away His face, but will receive it as great and admirable: for He regards the will, not the gifts: and if He see that to be great, He assigneth His decrees and judges accordingly, and maketh them partakers of His everlasting benefits.

Which may God grant us all to obtain, by the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ, 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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A Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture [Mark 2:1–12. Mat. 9:1–8. Luke 5:17–26]

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 8, 2018

The Cure of the Paralytic, and Forgiveness of Sin
[Mark 2:1–12. Mat. 9:1–8. Luke 5:17–26]

JESUS returned to Capharnaum, and, as He was teaching in a private house, a great multitude of people, coming to hear Him, filled the house and crowded round it. But behold, four men brought a paralytic1 on a bed, and as they could not get near to Jesus on account of the throng2, they went up on the roof3 of the house, and making an opening4, let down the paralytic in his bed.

Jesus, seeing their faith5, said: “Son, be of good heart, thy sins6 are forgiven thee.”

Now there were among the crowd some Scribes and Pharisees7, who, hearing these words, thought within themselves: “He blasphemeth. Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus, seeing their thoughts, said to them: “Why do you think evil in your hearts? Which is easier8, to say: ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee?’ or to say: ‘Rise up, take thy bed and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins, I say to thee: ‘Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thy house.’ ” Immediately the man arose, took up his bed9 and went forth in the sight of all. And all the people wondered and glorified God10, saying: “We never saw the like!”

Note:

1. A paralytic. i. e. one who was wholly paralysed, so that he could use none of his limbs, but had to be carried about.

2. The throng. The people being packed together as tightly as they could be in the passages and rooms, passing through was quite an impossibility.

3. On the roof. A staircase on the outside of the house led directly to the roof.

4. An opening. By removing a part of the roof, which was at the same time the ceiling of the room below.

5. Their faith. The extraordinary amount of trouble they had taken to convey the sick man to Jesus as speedily as possible, proved both their faith and their desire for help.

6. Thy sins. As the lame man lay before Jesus and raised his eyes to Him, he trembled before the Holy One of God, and, contrite and abashed, cast down his eyes. But Jesus beheld his contrition, and tenderly, addressing him as “Son”, comforted him and forgave him his sins

7. Scribes and Pharisees. Our Lord’s miracles and increasing fame in Galilee had stirred up the Pharisees and Scribes throughout the whole land. They came to Capharnaum not only from Galilee, but also from Judæa and Jerusalem to watch Jesus (Luke 5:17).

8. Which is easier? It is easy enough to say the first, for nobody can look into a man’s soul, and see whether he be really cleansed from sin or not. Any deceiver or false prophet could say such words without his deception being proved; but to say to a lame man “Rise up and walk” is a very much harder thing, for it can be proved on the spot whether his words have any power or no.

9. Took up his bed. Our Lord, by His word, cured the man so instantaneously that he was able to take up and carry off his bed without help. This should have proved to the Pharisees that our Lord’s former words: “Thy sins are forgiven thee,” had been equally powerful, and had remitted the man’s sins. Jesus had proved that He was no blasphemer; and as his enemies could not deny His power, they remained silent.

10. Glorified God. The people were seized with a holy awe, for they felt that only a divine power could have worked such a miracle: and the Gospel says that “they glorified God who gave such power to men”. For as Jesus, the Son of Man, stood before them in a lowly human form, they did not perceive that He was God, and had worked this miracle by His own power, but believed that God had given the power to Him, a man.

Commentary

Proofs of our Lord’s Divinity. 1. He saw the contrition, faith and hope which were in the soul of the paralysed man, in the same manner as He read the secret thoughts of the Pharisees: therefore He was Omniscient. God alone is Omniscient: therefore Jesus is God. 2. Jesus is Omnipotent; for by His will and word He instantaneously cured the lame man. Even as at the creation He said: “Let things be,” so now He said to the palsied man: “Arise!” 3. Jesus, by His own power, absolved the lame man of his sins. This, as the Pharisees very rightly judged, is the prerogative of God, who is offended by sins, and who knows the heart of the sinner: therefore Jesus is God. Had He not been God, He would have been assuming to Himself a divine right and power, and would have been a deceiver and a blasphemer.

Blasphemy. It was the Pharisees who were blasphemers, because, in spite of His miracles and holiness, they despised Jesus and accused Him of blasphemy. Their reason must have told them that God would not be with a blasphemer, and that therefore no blasphemer could work such mighty miracles. But their evil wills and evil hearts obscured their reason, and made them obstinate and defiant. Their unbelief was without excuse.

The dignity of the soul. Jesus first healed the palsied man’s soul, and then his body. He desired to teach us by this that He came to cure and save souls, that the soul is worth more than the body, and that the health of the body can only avail those whose soul is healthy. Our love of ourselves ought therefore to be bestowed first of all on our souls.

The necessity of contrition. The sick man possessed real contrition. His sins oppressed and tormented him more than his bodily infirmity; and with one beseeching glance he prayed to Jesus for forgiveness. Jesus saw that the state of his soul pained him more than that of his body, and that what he most craved for was pardon and peace; and therefore He said to him: “Son, be of good heart, thy sins are for given.” If the sick man had no contrition, he would not have obtained pardon.

The Compassion of Jesus on repentant sinners. He lovingly addressed the sick man as “son”, and consoled him.

The object of sufferings. The severe malady of the lame man was perhaps a consequence or a punishment of his sins. God allowed this terrible infirmity to overtake this sinner and torment his body, so that he might learn to repent of his sins, and thus save his soul from everlasting perdition.

Sins of thought. The Pharisees sinned grievously by thought.

The forgiveness of sins by priests. You have just heard that God alone can forgive sins. But does not a priest forgive sins in the Sacrament of Penance? Yes, but he does so not in his own name and by his own authority as Jesus did, but in the name and by the authority received from God—our Lord having left to the apostles and their successors the office of forgiving sins. By the Sacrament of Penance our Lord gave to his Church a really divine power, for the comfort and salvation of sinful men. Let us too, then, “glorify God who has given such power to men”.

Indulgences. The palsied man receives first the forgiveness of his sins, then his temporal punishment (the palsy) is removed. This is exactly what is done by indulgences, which are granted for the purpose of removing temporal punishment. Only he who is cleansed from mortal sin and is in a state of grace, can gain an indulgence.

Application. Do you suppress all bad thoughts—such as envy, pride, impurity, unkindness—as quickly as possible? God sees into your heart. If a bad thought occurs to you, say at once: “Begone!” and turn your thoughts to something that is holy.

Do you make a good act of thanksgiving after you have been to confession?

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Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 24:15-35

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 18, 2018

Mat 24:15 When therefore you shall see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place: he that readeth let him understand.

When, therefore you shall see,” &c. “Therefore,” would seem not so much to express a conclusion, as a continuation of the discourse, and to indicate that our Redeemer was passing on to another topic, or to another sign of the “end,” concerning which they questioned Him. Having described or pointed out the signs, common to the destruction of Jerusalem, and of the world, indifferently, in the foregoing, He now proceeds to give the distinctive signs of the destruction of Jerusalem, in reply to the first question, “When shall these things be?” as far as verse 29; and then, He commences to give the distinctive marks of the approaching destruction of the world, to the close of the chapter. In giving the signs of both indifferently in the foregoing, our Redeemer wishes to impress upon us the dreadful nature of the evils and woes that shall befall the wicked at the end of the world; since, of these, the shocking evils inflicted on Jerusalem, the bare recital of which, even at this remote period, makes us shudder, were but a mere figure—evils, the very sight of which, forced Titus, this hardened man of blood, at the head of the iron legions of Rome, stretching forth his hands, to invoke Heaven as witness, that he was in no way responsible for these unutterable woes. (Josephus de Bel. Jud. Lib. v. c. 10, &c.)

The abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the Prophet.” In these words, there is allusion to Daniel (9:27), “there shall be in the temple abomination of desolation: and the desolation shall continue even to the consummation, and to the end,” because, the temple, no matter what efforts may be made, never can be rebuilt. In 12:11, “the abomination unto desolation shall be set up,” &c., Daniel speaks of the end of the world, whereas in 9:27, he speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem, to which our Redeemer distinctly refers here. Commentators are greatly divided as to what “the abomination of desolation,” means. Those who say, there is allusion here to the end of the world, (Irenæus, &c.), mean by it, Antichrist, who “shall sit in the temple of God … as if he were God” (2 Thess. 2:4). But, it is clear from St. Luke (21:20), where, for “abomination of desolation,” we read, “when you shall see Jerusalem compassed about with an army, then know that the desolation thereof is at hand,” that our Redeemer distinctly refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, of which He here gives a premonitory sign in reply to the question of the disciples; and, moreover, in the passage quoted from Daniel, there is no allusion to the reign of Antichrist, but only to the desolation of Jerusalem; hence, various interpretations of the words, in connexion with this event, are given. By it, some understand, the statue of Cæsar, placed by Pilate, in the temple; or, the equestrian statue of Adrian, which, St. Jerome tells us, was placed in the sanctum sanctorum. But, although a statue or idol was an abomination with the Jews (see 1 Mach. 1:57, where the Greek for, “abominable idol of desolation,” is the same as here, βδέλυγμα τῆς έρημώσεως), and the words, “standing in the holy place,” would suit this interpretation; still, neither statue could be referred to, as a sign of the devastation of Jerusalem. For, the placing of Cæsar’s statue happened before our Redeemer spoke these words (if it was placed there at all by Pilate, which is questioned by some, as Josephus says nothing about it), and that of Adrian was placed there after the destruction of Jerusalem, and could not, therefore, serve as a warning, to leave a city that was to be destroyed. Hence, some commentators understand by it, the army of the Romans, who, in approaching and entering Jerusalem, in a hostile spirit, would not hesitate to display their idols on their banners, and offer sacrifice to their gods. These things were an abomination to the Jews, and this abomination portended desolation and utter ruin. And they would “stand on the holy place,” that is, Jerusalem, which the Evangelist calls, the holy city (4:5). It was such as yet, not having been yet wholly abandoned by God. This refers to the time of Cœstius Gallus, prefect of Syria, who surrounded Jerusalem with an army; but afterwards, raised the siege, and retired inglorious from before the walls of Jerusalem. It could not refer to the final destruction, under Titus, as then, there was no opportunity for escaping. Others, by “abomination of desolation,” understand, the occupation of the temple by seditious Jews and turbulent malefactors (the Zealots), who got possession of the temple at the time of Cœstius, and held it for three years and a half, in spite of the Jews themselves, until its final destruction by Titus. These made the sacred enclosures of the holy house, a place of carnage and a citadel of defence. They were guilty of the greatest atrocities within its walls, and filled the different halls with pools of innocent blood, sparing neither priests nor people. (Josephus de Bel. Jud., Lib. iv. c. 3, 5, 6, &c.) This seems to be the most probable interpretation, because these really stood in the temple, as Daniel predicted. They profaned it, and committed atrocities there, and this was both the sign and immediate cause of its destruction. For, had they given it up, the Romans would have spared it. Perhaps, however, it might be better to understand the words, of the Roman invading army, and of the Jewish Zealots, who defended the temple. For, the besiegers and defenders of Jerusalem were an abomination. The Romans, on account of their idols; the Zealots, on account of their crimes, and the carnage they were guilty of. Both stood in the holy place, where they “ought not” (Mark 13:14). (The Hebrew for holy place means, “super alam”—“above the wing,” or extremity of Jerusalem and the temple, “there shall be desolating abominations.”) Both stood at the extremity of Jerusalem and the temple; nay, in the very temple. The Zealots, who made it a citadel, and its halls, places of carnage; the Romans, by undermining, burning, consuming it, and slaughtering the Jews there like cattle, and introducing their standards, adorned with, images, of their false gods. The union of both the former interpretations in this one, will fully explain the entire passage; particularly, if we understand it, of the attack of Cœstius, which preceded that of Titus, and of the defence made against him by the Zealots. The Hebrew of the Prophet Daniel, which has “abominations” in the plural, would seem to refer to the abomination on the part of the Romans, and that on the part of the Jews themselves. It was in consequence “of an old tradition among the Jews, that the city would be destroyed, whenever the hands of the Jews themselves would profane their temple” (Josephus, Lib. v. c. 2), that many of the better classes among the Jews fled from Jerusalem, as from a sinking vessel, after the withdrawal of Cœstius; and relying on the same tradition, but particularly on the prophetic warning of our Lord, the Christians, and among them, St. Simeon, Bishop of Jerusalem, who lived till the time of Trajan, fled to the territories of king Agrippa, and to the city of Pella in particular, beyond the Jordan.

Maldonatus understands by, “the abomination of desolation,” or, “the abominable or horrid desolation,” the desolation itself; and he says it was not given as a sign, by any means, of the desolation, since it could not be a sign of itself. Our Redeemer gave, as a sign, the surrounding of Jerusalem by an army. For, Maldonatus holds, that our Redeemer used both phrases, “when you shall see Jerusalem compassed about by an army” (Luke 21:20)—which was a sign of impending destruction—and, “when you shall see the abomination of desolation,” &c. When you witness these two events, then you are to conclude, that the prophecy of Daniel, regarding the utter ruin of Jerusalem, is fulfilled. According to him, the words of this verse, “when you see the abomination,” &c., are not connected with the words of next verse, “then, they that are in Judea,” &c., nor is their sense any way suspensive or dependent on them. The sentence concludes fully with the words of this verse, “he that readeth, let him understand.” The interpretation, however, which makes them dependent on the following verse, is the one more commonly adopted. Hence, the words mean: “When you shall see Jerusalem surrounded with an army,” viz., of Cœstius, and immediately after, or in connexion with it, an abominable band of brigands establish themselves in the temple, or, “the holy place,” “where they should not” (Mark 13:14). Then, “he that reads, let him understand,” that is, whoever has sense, let him understand that the words of Daniel (9:27), “and there shall be in the temple the abomination of desolation,” &c., are fulfilled. Some interpreters (Patrizzi, Lib. 1, cap. 1, de Ev. M., §§ 2, &c.), understand these to be the words, not of our Lord, but of the Evangelist, encouraging the faithful to understand the verification of the words of Daniel. In this interpretation, the words are parenthetical, containing an allusion to the words of Daniel (9:25), and the sense of the foregoing suspended until the sentence is completed in the next verse, thus: “When you shall see,” &c., verse 15 (he that heareth let him understand), “then, they that are in Judea,” &c., verse 16.

Mat 24:16 Then they that are in Judea, let them flee to the mountains:

Then,” when you shall see all this happening, it shall be a signal for you to escape, with all haste, for your lives. “Those who are in Judea,” where Jerusalem is situated. It includes all the land of Israel and Galilee, which were first destroyed by Vespasian. “Fly to the mountains,” places difficult of access, and a safe retreat from an enemy. St. Luke (21:21) adds, “and those who are in the midst thereof depart out; and let those who are in other countries not enter into it.” Maldonatus refers, “then,” to all the preceding signs, viz., when you shall hear of wars, &c., and see the other signs of the devastation of Jerusalem, “then,” fly with as much speed as possible.

Mat 24:17  And he that is on the housetop, let him not come down to take any thing out of his house: 

House-top,” is allusive to the flat roofs of the houses in Judea, where the people used to walk, &c. The houses were provided with two staircases—one inside; the other, outside on the street. By the latter, or, as some suppose, over the flat roofs of the other houses, to the city walls, they are recommended to fly. “Let him not come down,” &c. Descending in the most expeditious way possible, let him make no delay, by entering the house, to take anything out of it for his approaching flight. Let him busy himself only about the most expeditious way of accomplishing his escape.

Mat 24:18  And he that is in the field, let him not go back to take his coat. 

He that is in the field,” whether walking or labouring, “let him not go back to take his coat,” however necessary for his journey; but, let him fly as quickly as possible, in whatever costume he may chance to be at the time. In southern countries, husbandmen, when at work, used to leave their upper garments, the cloak and coat, at home.

The words of this, and of the preceding verses, 16 and 17, are proverbial or hyperbolical forms of expression, conveying the imminent nature of the danger, and the necessity of immediate and speedy flight, as well as the magnitude of the evils that were approaching, since men should sacrifice everything sooner than encounter or endure them. Although six months elapsed between the raising of the siege, by Cœstius, and the march of Vespasian into Galilee, and a still longer period between it and the siege of Jerusalem, by Titus; still, this would be very short, when we consider the lingering delays that oftentimes embarrass those who are leaving their beloved country for ever. Hence, our Redeemer urges them to the greatest expedition and haste in their flight, on their beholding the signs He gives them of the ruin and unutterable woes that were to befall the unhappy Jerusalem.

St. Luke (21:22) adds, as the cause of all this urgent admonition—“For, these are the days of vengeance, that all things may be fulfilled, that are written,” in the book of Daniel, and the other prophets, concerning the ruin of Jerusalem, and the vengeance to be inflicted on the Jews, for all the just blood they shed, from that of Abel downwards.

Mat 24:19  And woe to them that are with child and that give suck in those days.

Those who are with child, or that give suck,” cannot fly with sufficient speed; nor can they leave their charge behind, as easily as those can, who leave their money, &c., on account of the strong natural affection of a mother for her offspring. They shall be, therefore, caught and butchered by the Romans. Our Redeemer selects them, in preference to the aged and decrepit; both, because, of the happiness and ease they are wont to enjoy, and which shall now be converted into the greatest tribulation; and also to show the fearful havoc and indiscriminate slaughter that shall take place, since the pregnant and nursing women, who are ordinarily spared in war, shall meet with no mercy from the Romans. Perhaps, also, he alludes to the straits to which some unhappy mothers were to be reduced in the siege of Jerusalem, when, as we learn from Josephus, they devoured their own children, to appease hunger.

Mat 24:20  But pray that your flight be not in the winter or on the sabbath. 

As in the preceding, He refers to two classes of persons; so here he refers to two periods of time, unsuited for flight. “In winter,” the state of the weather, and of the roads, render flight very troublesome and inconvenient. “Or on the Sabbath,” when the converted Jews, although the Mosaic ceremonies were then abolished, would still observe the law, regarding a Sabbath-day’s journey, and would, under no circumstances, transgress it, although, in cases of necessity, or danger of life, this did not oblige; still, some Jews did not admit even this exception. At this time, the converted Jews were permitted, though not bound, to observe the Mosaic ceremonies, and our Redeemer here speaks in accommodation to their well-known feelings on the matter. The words of this verse mean: Pray to God, that you may escape these dreadful evils, and that nothing may obstruct your flight; and they also convey to us, by a familiar illustration, an idea of the menaced calamities, which would be such, that they should fervently pray for any circumstances that might mitigate their severity. St. Luke tells us the reason (21:23), “For, there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon the people.” History fully testifies to the fearful fulfilment of this sad prediction (Josephus, de Bel. Jnd., Lib. 3–7).

Mat 24:21  For there shall be then great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, neither shall be. 

For there shall be great tribulation,” &c. St. Augustine says (Epistle 8), that while it would be difficult to determine, from St. Matthew or St. Mark, whether there was reference here to the Day of Judgment or to the siege of Jerusalem, St. Luke determines it as referring to the latter, just as he clearly points out what “the abomination of desolation” refers to. He explains in what these dreadful evils shall consist: “they shall fall by the edge of the sword … Jerusalem shall be trodden down,” &c. (21:24.) The word, “for,” shows it refers to the foregoing. It is assigned as a reason for their rapid flight.

Great tribulation, such was not from the beginning of the world, nor shall be.” Any one who reads the account, given by Josephus, of the dreadful and almost incredible calamities which befell the unhappy Jews, in the siege of Jerusalem, may clearly see how this was fulfilled. And although, it may be, that during the persecuting reign of Antichrist, the sufferings may be more general; yet, hardly shall any fall so heavily, in point of horror and intensity, on any particular race or people, as those are said to be which were inflicted on the Jews. Moreover, the tribulation of the faithful, under Antichrist, shall not be such a tribulation of vengeance as that of the Jews. For, as their crime of Deicide, coupled with their obstinate resistance to grace, and their monstrous ingratitude, far exceeded the guilt of any other nation; so, was the vengeance more severe. Hence, even the punishment inflicted on Sodom, in this life, which was but a type of that inflicted on it, in the other, was not so severe as the protracted misfortunes inflicted on the Jews, in the siege of Jerusalem, which were only a feeble type of the eternal misfortunes in store for these miserable and ungrateful Deicides, who invoked the blood of the Son of God “on themselves, and on their children.”

Mat 24:22  And unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved: but for the sake of the elect those days shall be shortened. 

Unless these days,” employed in the siege of Jerusalem, “had been shortened,” and rendered fewer, than the anger of the Romans called for, and the iniquities of the Jews merited, for which no punishment, however protracted or intense, was too severe, “no flesh,” no person from out the Jewish nation, “should be saved,” from utter ruin and destruction. Had the Romans met with greater resistance and delay, and had they endured more hardships and sufferings, for any protracted time, as the natural strength and powerful fortifications of Jerusalem would give grounds to apprehend, the likelihood is, that, not only would every living soul within the precincts of Jerusalem be put to the sword; but, by a general edict, which would be carried out cheerfully by all other peoples throughout the earth, by whom the Jews were held in hatred, the Romans, then all-powerful, would decree the utter extirpation of the Jews, and abolish for ever the name of Jew, throughout the entire earth, almost all then subject to the dominion of Rome. Hence, there would be no Jews from whom “the elect” would be descended. The words, “no flesh,” refer to the Jews exclusively. From this we see, how God ordains everything for the good of His elect.

But for the sake of the elect,” those whom God had, by His eternal decree, elected to grace and glory among the Jews, whether these living and converted, or those to be afterwards converted, or to be born in course of time of the Jews then existing. “But for the sake of the elect,” lest the merciful decrees and designs of God on them should be frustrated, “those days shall be shortened.” St. Mark says (13:20), “But, for the sake of the elect, which He (the Lord) hath chosen, He hath shortened these days.” In truth, such was the strength of Jerusalem, that, were it not, that the Zealots were blinded by Divine justice, to destroy the stores of provisions, which would have served for years (Josephus, Lib. 6, c. 1), and were also seized with unusual fear to abandon their strong fortifications, and weaken, by their cruel carnage and bloodshed, the strength of the city, Jerusalem might have held out for years against the Romans. Hence, Josephus (Lib. 3, c. 11), and elsewhere, attributes the success of the Romans to the interposition of God. And the same historian informs us (Lib. 7, c. 16), that Titus, on entering the stronghold of Sion, and beholding the strength of the place, declared, it was God that assisted the Romans, who could not otherwise succeed; and going round, and, seeing the ramparts filled with corpses, raising his hands, he called God to witness, that this was none of his doing. Hence, he refused a golden crown, presented to him by the neighbouring nations, stating, that not he, but God, who was angry with the Jews, was the cause of these wonderful successes (Baronius, a.d. 72, ex Philostrate).

St. Chrysostom (in Matth. 77), extols the Providence of God, who makes the three other Evangelists, who did not live till the siege of Jerusalem, the narrators of these events. St. John, who survived it, says nothing of it, in order to strengthen our faith in the predictions of our Redeemer. And, doubtless, it was with the same providential design, God employed Josephus, himself a Jew, and no Christian, to chronicle the fulfilment of these predictions, so minute in details. The words of this verse, although directly and immediately meant for the time preceding the destruction of Jerusalem, apply also to the persecution of Antichrist, who shall be allowed to “tread under foot the holy city” (Apoc. 11:2), that is, the Church of Christ, “two and forty months,” that is, three years and a half; “and, to make war with the saints, and to overcome them” (Apoc. 13:7). His persecuting reign, which would destroy the whole human race, and would seduce almost all, shall be shortened to the above period of three and one-half years, “for the sake of the elect.”

Mat 24:23  Then if any man shall say to you, Lo here is Christ, or there: do not believe him. 

Some commentators say, that our Redeemer here pauses to treat distinctly of the events, that are to occur after the ruin of Jerusalem, and between that period and the end of the world; and that He refers, in a particular way, to what shall take place before the end of the world, of which the ruin of Jerusalem was a type and figure. (Maldonatus, Jansenius, &c.) Others hold, that He continues to treat of the events, that are to precede the destruction of Jerusalem, and of those which are to precede the Day of Judgment, indifferently—the former being a type of the latter—as far as verse 29, where He directly and specially treats of the events connected with the Day of Judgment.

It would seem, that the words of our Redeemer, as far as verse 29, apply to the time preceding the siege of Jerusalem, and may be easily explained regarding it. They can be also explained of the events that are to take place, before the final end of all things, prefigured by what preceded the ruin of Jerusalem. Hence, it could be maintained, that, in the following six verses, our Redeemer treats of both events.

Then,” that is, during the wars of the Romans, preceding the siege of Jerusalem. It may also refer to the period intervening between the taking of Jerusalem and the end of the world; and particularly to the time approaching the last end of all things; and, although thousands of years may elapse between both events, still, it may be said to have happened “then;” taking into account the measure of time with God, with whom “a thousand years are as one day” (2 Peter 3:8); “a thousand years in Thy sight are as yesterday,” &c. (Psa. 89) And our Redeemer, when addressing the Apostles, and, through them, the faithful of all succeeding ages (for, St. John, alone, among them, lived till even the time of the destruction of Jerusalem), speaks in such a way, as to leave them uncertain as to the near approach of the Day of Judgment, thus to keep them always in readiness for its approach. Hence, although “then,” were referred to the period of the general judgment, it could be explained as above; in the same way as the advocates of the other opinion are forced to explain the words, “immediately after the tribulation of those days” (v. 29). But, in this verse, I would take “then” to refer immediately and directly to the times preceding the capture of Jerusalem, without excluding the other in a secondary and subordinate sense. “If any man shall say to you,” My faithful followers, who shall be alive then; for, the Apostles shall be dead, Lo! here is Christ,” who is come to save and liberate His people from all their evils; “or there, do not believe Him.” The Jews were aware that the time of the Messiah was at hand, from the fulfilment of the prophecy of Jacob, regarding the passing of the sceptre from the tribe of Juda. Hence, some flattering Vespasian said, that he, as the conqueror of Judea, was the Messiah. (Suetonius in Vespas.) Others, flattered Herod in the same way. Each of the three leaders of the Jewish factions then at Jerusalem, Eleazar, son of Simon; John, son of Levi; and Simon, son of Goria, gave himself out for the Messiah. So did a certain impostor, in the reign of Adrian, who wished to be called Barchochabas. Son of the Star, as if he were the star referred to in the words, “orietur stella in Jacob.”

This shall most clearly take place in the days of Antichrist also. “Do not believe him,” that is, do not hearken to any such false rumours, so injurious to the true Messiah, whom you believe Me to be. These are words of warning, addressed to such of the faithful as might have been slow in attending to the admonitions of our Redeemer, about leaving Judea, and might have lingered at Jerusalem, or the neighbouring places, until it would be too late to betake themselves to flight.

Mat 24:24  For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets and shall shew great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect. 

He tells them not to believe such false statements, and that such statements shall be circulated, our Redeemer assures us. “For, there shall arise false Christs,” men who shall pretend to be Christ, the Saviour of their people; “and false prophets,” who shall aid these impostors, by proclaiming among the people, as their agents and instruments of seduction, that they are the true Christ. As Christ had His true prophets to prepare the people for His coming, so shall these false Christs have their false prophets too.

And shall work great signs,” &c. By the aid of magic, they shall perform great prodigies, as the seal of their mission and teaching. They shall perform these false miracles, by the aid of the demon, the father of lies, “insomuch as to deceive,” by their plausibility, “(if possible) even the elect.” By “elect,” are meant, those elected to final and eternal happiness. Although the “elect” are not impeccable, and may (as they sometimes freely do) fall away from faith and grace during life; still, considering the infallible purpose of God’s decree, predestinating them to final glory, to be attained by the free exercise of good works, and the free co-operation with His efficacious graces, it is not possible, they would continue in sin, or die in sin. God’s infallible purpose of Divine election shall so guard, guide, protect, and assist their free will by His efficacious graces, that, though they may be and are free to sin, and to persevere in sin to the end (for “not to be able to sin, is not a gift of this life, but the reward of the other,” says St. Augustine, (de corruptione et gratia, c. 11), still, they will not sin always unto the end; but, they will freely repent, if in sin, and dio in God’s grace and favour. Hence, the perseverance of the elect is necessary, not by an absolute necessity, or in sensu diviso; but, by a kind of moral necessity, in sensu composito; and, supposing the Divine decree predestinating them, necessitate, as logicians say, non consequentis; sed consequentiæ. None of God’s elect shall perish; “no one can snatch them out of His hand” (John 10:28).

The words, “to deceive (if possible) the elect,” show the magnitude of the temptation; and how it shall tell upon others. This shall be particularly true of the times of Antichrist. (2 Thess. 2:9; Apoc. 13:13, &c.)

Mat 24:25  Behold I have told it to you, beforehand. 

I have foretold it to you,” that is, to such of My followers as shall be then alive, in order to guard against them, and to stimulate His followers to flight, so far as the ruin of Jerusalem was in question; and by good works, to make sure their election, since, it is only on the prevision of good works is founded God’s predestinating decree; and should anyone grow remiss, on account of supposing, that he was of the elect (of which no one can be absolutely certain in this life, without a revelation), such a person would give good grounds for supposing, that he is not of the elect. Moreover, if one were certain he was elected, this should be no reason for sinning; on the contrary, he should, by obeying God’s Commandments, manifest his gratitude, and increase the treasure of merit and degree of happiness in store for him.

Mat 24:26  If therefore they shall say to you, Behold he is in the desert: go ye not out. Behold he is in the closets: believe it not. 

He more fully explains the words of verse 23, “here, or there.” By mentioning two places, the most opposite—the open desert, and the inmost recesses of a house—he wishes to convey, that, no matter in what place, or in what character, any such pretender should appear, he is not to be heeded. Some say, the word, “desert,” where this false Messiah was supposed to gather his forces, to free his people, has reference to Simon, the son of Goria, who, after collecting immense multitudes of every class, in deserted and mountainous places, after reducing Idumea to subjection, was admitted into Jerusalem, and tyrannically oppressed the citizens. The word, “closets,” is thought to have reference to Eleazar and John, the leaders of the Zealots, who, before the destruction of Jerusalem, successively got possession of the interior of the temple. (Josephus de Bel. Lib. vi. &c.)

Mat 24:27  For as lightning cometh out of the east and appeareth even into the west: so shall also the cowling of the Son of man be. 

In order to guard you against the deceitful wiles of these impostors, take this for a certain sign of My second coming, which alone the faithful can expect—since, they believe in My first coming already—it shall not be confined to any one place, or obscure locality; it shall not be, like My first coming, in humility, confined to an hidden corner of Judea, and the obscurity of night; but, like the lightning of heaven, which at once appears brilliant, effulgent, and dazzling, at the same moment, in the opposite parts of the heavens; so shall My coming be sudden, glorious, and seen from afar, visible to the entire earth, dazzling all mankind by its splendour and brilliancy, when it shall make itself known, not merely in one part of the earth, but throughout the vast expanse of the heavens, so that it shall convince the world at once, of the truth of My appearance. Whosoever, therefore, shall appear in any one place, or corner, and pretend to be the Messiah, is convicted, from this sign, of being an impostor. Perhaps, these words are also intended to correct the carnal notions, which the Apostles formed of the glorious coming of our Redeemer, whose kingdom, they imagined, would commence in Judea. Our Redeemer, on the contrary, conveys to them, that it would be heavenly, and all celestial, different altogether from what they imagined it would be.

Mat 24:28  Wheresoever the body shall be, there shall the eagles also be gathered together. 

The words of this verse are supposed by many to be allusive to the passage of (Job 39:30), where, treating of the eagle, God says, “wheresoever the carcass shall be, she is immediately there.” By some the words are supposed to be a Hebrew proverb, conveying, that no very great exertion or labour is needed for uniting those that are naturally united, and have a natural and irresistible tendency towards each other. He compares Himself to the carcass (the Greek for body is, πτωμα, a dead body), on account of His death, endured for our sakes, to procure glory for us, like that of His own glorified body. He compares His elect to “eagles,” because, as the eagle, this noble and royal bird, harmlessly escapes the lightning, so shall the elect escape unhurt, and stand in great constancy amidst the woes and lightnings of the last day. Moreover, as the eagles scent from an incredible distance, a dead body, and are carried aloft through space in quest of it, so, shall the elect be borne aloft in the air to meet Christ (1 Thess. 4:16), the great centre of attraction. To this St. Luke alludes (17:36).

The words of this verse would seem to be an answer to an implied complaint which might arise in the minds of His Apostles, viz., if Thy reign be thus brilliant, heavenly and passing, like the lightning, how can we enjoy it? He says, that His elect shall be permanently gathered to Him, so as to remain with Him, to enjoy Him. As the eagle, which is instinctively attracted to a carcass, floats aloft in air, crossing seas to enjoy it; so, shall they, after the resurrection from the tomb, renovated in youth like the eagle, be drawn to Him to enjoy Him, to feast with Him, and continue with Him for ever. The words, according to the Greek, ὅπου γαρ το πτωμα, &c., “for, where the body is,” &c., may be also regarded as illustrative, in a certain sense, of the preceding. They are a proverbial form of expression, showing, that a thing cannot be concealed. For, as the eagles scent their prey from afar, and make towards it; so, My glorious coming into the world shall not be hidden, but known to all. Wherefore, the faithful, like eagles of acutest sense, shall perceive My Divine presence, shall be attracted towards Me, and refreshed by My glory for ever. Hence, then, there shall be no need to inquire where is Christ; since, His coming shall be conspicuous and known to the entire world. Our Lord compares His elect to “eagles;” because, the reprobate shall not be borne aloft to meet the Judge, nor attracted to Him. They shall be reluctantly forced to appear at judgment.

St. Hilary infers from this verse, that our Redeemer will judge mankind in the place where His sacred body was raised on the cross, buried, and rose again. Thither shall all mankind proceed to be judged, near Jerusalem, in the valley of Josaphat, as the Prophet Joel teaches (Joel 3:2).

Mat 24:29  And immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light and the stars shall fall from heaven and the powers of heaven shall be moved. 

Immediately after the tribulation of these days.” This refers, according to those who hold, that in the preceding verses our Redeemer is treating of the time preceding the end of the world, to the persecutions by “false Christs and false prophets,” especially Antichrist. According even to those, who hold, that in the preceding, He is treating of the incredible woes, that, from several sources, are to precede the destruction of Jerusalem, the word, “immediately,” is to be explained in the sense given already to “then,” in verse 23, that the interval between the taking of Jerusalem and the end of the world, of which there is question in this verse, however long, in a human point of view, and according to human calculations, is, according to God’s view and measure, but an instant. (2 Peter 3:8; Psa. 89). Hence, in the New Testament, the whole term of the New Law is termed, “the last hour.” St. Peter says, the end of all “is at hand” (1 Ep. 4:7). Even in human calculations it is very short for each individual, since it virtually takes place for each one at death, when his eternal doom is sealed. Moreover, by “immediately,” our Redeemer means to convey, that no other remarkable change in religion, which would concern the faithful, is to occur between the ruin of Jerusalem and the end of all things. Hence, in the early ages, many imagined the Day of Judgment to be at hand, which forced St. Paul to correct this error. (2 Thess. 2 &c.)

The sun shall be darkened,” &c. This shall occur before the coming of the Judge (Luke 21:25–27; Joel 2:21). Many understand those words, in a metaphorical and spiritual sense, to refer to the Church and her condition, to the events that shall take place in her, and the persecutions she shall endure, at the end of the world. But, by comparing St. Luke (21:25–27) with St. Matthew, it is quite clear, the words are to be understood literally, of the physical and stupendous phenomena, which shall take place both in the skies and on the earth, previous to the glorious coming of Christ to judgment. The sun shall withhold its light, as happened at the death of Christ. It shall become “black as sackcloth of hair” (Apoc. 11:12). As its first light pointed out a newly created world; so, shall its darkness indicate the final end of the same. “The signs in the sun and the moon and the stars” (Luke 21:25), are what is here referred to by St. Matthew, about the darkening of the sun, &c. “The moon shall not give her light.” She shall have none to give, on account of the darkness of the sun, from which she borrows her light; “she shall be as blood” (Apoc. 6:12).

The stars shall fall from heaven;” that is, they shall be so obscured from the sight of men, that they would seem to fall from heaven (Isaias 13:10). Besides, this may be understood literally; because comets and other stars generated in the air shall fall (Joel 2:30; Apoc. 6:13). St. Augustine (de Civit. Dei, c. 24), says: “Ignited exhalations, like to stars, shall be discharged from sky to earth, more wonderfully than happens now.”

And the powers of heaven shall be moved.” By these, are commonly understood, the heavenly bodies or stars, which are frequently termed in SS. Scripture, “militia cœli, the army or host of heaven.” (Deut. 17:3; 4 Kings 17:16; 21:3–5; Isa. 24:21, &c.; Jer. 8:2, &c.) These “shall be moved,” from their place, and shall cease to perform their usual courses and functions, of giving light, heat, &c. According to this class of interpreters, these words express, in a general way, what is expressed in a particular way, in the preceding words, “the sun shall be darkened, the moon refuse her light,” &c. The same idea is repeated in this verse, in a general way, for greater emphasis’ sake. On seeing these different signs and changes, which shall precede the coming of the Judge, men shall be seized with fear and consternation, at the prospect of the evils that are about to fall upon the world. Others, by “the moving of the powers of heaven,” understand, an extraordinary movement and agitation of the entire machine of the heavens, a shaking of their very foundations and hinges, as it were, which, by their disorderly movement, shall exhibit symptoms of an expiring world. It is the idea conveyed by Job, when he says, “the pillars of heaven tremble at His nod” (Job 26:11). These “powers” are called “the poles of the world” (Prov. 8:26). The same idea is conveyed by St. Peter (2 Peter 3:10), “the heavens shall pass away with great violence.” Estius understands, by the “moving of the powers of the heavens,” the ceasing of the heavens to exert any influence on the earth, so that on the earth, and in the condition of the seasons, we shall witness the most strange changes; we shall see the summer, cold; and the winter, hot. The signs in the heavens shall be accompanied with corresponding signs in the sea, on the earth, and in the elements—all calculated to inspire men with dread and terror. The opinion, which understands, by “powers,” the Angels, meaning the same as the words, cœli cœlorumque virtutes, is now commonly rejected as utterly improbable.

Mat 24:30  And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven. And then shall all tribes of the earth mourn: and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty. 

And then,” immediately after the preceding signs. “The sign of the Son of man.” The most commonly received interpretation, understands this of the cross of our Redeemer, which alone could be termed, “the sign” (τὸ σημεῖον), His certain, well-known standard, whereby He achieved the victory over death and hell, and merited glory for Himself and us. Hence, the Church chaunts, in the Office of the Holy Cross, “hoc signum crucis erit in cœlo, cum Dominus ad judicandum venerit.” It was by the cross He was known, and rendered celebrated throughout the world. This standard of the cross shall be borne aloft by angels before the Judge descending to pass judgment, as a trophy of victory, as the royal ensign of power and authority. Thus shall it be shown, that by His cross, Christ merited glory and judiciary power, that those are ungrateful and inexcusable, who spurned the charity which He displayed when He submitted to be crucified for the salvation of all; now, the humble followers of the cross shall be seated with Him; and its enemies hurled to the abyss of hell. Whether the real cross, on which Christ died, shall appear, after its several parts have been collected and united by the power of God; or, merely an image or resplendent figure of it, formed in the air, is disputed. The latter opinion seems, to some, the more likely, as thus we shall avoid the useless multiplication of miracles, in the collection of the scattered particles of the wood of the true cross. Besides, the word, “sign,” favours this latter view. Some commentators hold the opinion, which, however, does not exceed the bounds of probability, as the SS. Scripture and the Church are silent upon it, that the other instruments of our Saviour’s Passion—the nails, the scourges, the thorns, &c., shall also appear with the cross on that day, shining resplendent in the heavens.

And then shall all the tribes,” that is, all the impious and infidels, who refused to receive our Lord, or obey His Commandments, and the Jews particularly, of whom it is said, “videbunt in quem transfixerunt” (John 19:37). The elect cannot be referred, to. Far from mourning, those who conformed their lives to the model of Christ suffering on the cross, shall be filled with ineffable joy and consolation. “They shall, then, stand in great constancy,” viz., the just, “who love His coming” (1 Tim. 4:8). When, then, it is said, “all the tribes of the earth shall mourn,” there is an example of what logicians term, distributio pro generibus singulorum, and not pro singulis generum. The Greek word for “mourn” (κοψονται), conveys the idea of striking their breasts. The words of this verse are allusive to Zacharias (12), as appears from Apocalypse (1:7). The passage from Zacharias, most likely, referred to the wailing of the faithful Jews over the death of Christ, to which their sins gave occasion, according to St. Jerome. Still, it is, by accommodation, applied by our Redeemer to the unavailing wailings of the infidels, on beholding Christ, whom they slew and rejected; just as the words which St. John (19:37), quotes from Zacharias (12:10), “and they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced,” although originally referring to the faithful Jews, who were to regard our Redeemer in a spirit of faith, and upon whom was poured out “the spirit of grace and of prayer” (Zacharias 12:10), are, by accommodation, applied to the unbelieving Jews, who shall, on the last day, behold Him exhibiting His wounds; so, that having before refused voluntarily to believe in Him and bewail His death, they shall then be forced to look on Him involuntarily, and indulge in unavailing regrets.

And they shall see,” immediately after the preceding signs, “the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven.” These words are allusive to Daniel (7:13), “ecce in nubibus quasi filius hominus veniebat.” After our Lord had ascended, and had been taken up by the Angels in a cloud into heaven, it was said by them, “sic veniet, quemadmodum vidistis rum,” &c. (Acts 1:11.) He shall come now, a second time, clothed with human nature, not, however, retaining its mortality or infirmities; but, “in the clouds of heaven,” which shall symbolize His glory, by their brightness, and serve as a triumphal car, on which He shall appear seated. No longer shall He appear in lowliness, or poverty, or debasement, as at His first coming; but, “with much power and majesty.” The Greek is, with “much power and glory.” His power will be seen from the resuscitation of all the dead, at His sole word of command; from their suddenly assembling in one place; from His irrevocably passing sentence on all, according to their deserts; from His receiving the homage of every creature, in heaven, earth, and hell, including angels, men, and devils, who shall acknowledge Him as their Lord and Judge. His “glory,” or “majesty,” shall appear from the glorious brightness of His body; from the hosts of Angels accompanying Him, and heralding in His approach; from His appearing seated on the clouds of heaven; and from the sounds of trumpets; from the thunders, lightning, and earthquakes which shall precede His coming (Apoc. 6:15, 16).

Mat 24:31  And he shall send his angels with a trumpet and a great voice: and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the farthest parts of the heavens to the utmost bounds of them. 

Send His Angels,” &c. Similar is the description (1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:15, 16). He says, “His Angels,” to convey, that He is their Lord and Master; they, His messengers.

With a trumpet and a great voice.” Whether this shall be a real trumpet or not is disputed. The most commonly received opinion is, that it refers to a noise, louder than thunder, which, by the instrumentality of Michael and the other Angels, the Son of God shall cause to reverberate throughout creation. Its effect shall be, to rouse the dead from their long slumber, owing to the efficacious power of God. The word, “and,” means, that is, “a great voice,” the latter words being explanatory of the former. In the Greek it is, “with a trumpet of great voice.” What words shall be uttered by it, is uncertain. It is commonly supposed, that it shall distinctly announce the words, “Arise, ye dead, and come to judgment,” or the words, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet Him” (26:6). Others suppose the passage to simply mean, that by the efficacious power and will of God, the dead shall rise from their tombs, and be awakened from their long sleep, as those who are asleep are roused by the noise of a loud trumpet. The former is most likely. This trumpet, which shall proclaim the descent of the Son of God to final judgment, had been prefigured in the Old Testament; in the first place, by that which proclaimed the majesty of God when promulgating His law on Mount Sinai; again, by the trumpets with which the people were wont to be summoned by the Priests to the Tabernacle of the Covenant. (Num. 10, &c.) The sound of trumpets is usually employed to usher in the approach of kings and great princes. The metaphor is borrowed from war, where a trumpet is employed to gather the soldiers, and terrify the enemy; here, it is conveyed, that the sound of trumpets shall be employed to announce the approach and majesty of the Sovereign Judge, to gather the human race, and inspire the enemies of God with terror and alarm.

And they shall gather together His elect from the four winds,” that is, from the four quarters of the earth, east, west, north, and south, the principal points from which the winds blow. The words, “from the four winds,” are a Hebrew form, denoting, all quarters of the globe. The “winds,” according to the Hebrew notions, denoted not only the cardinal points of the heavens; but, they also marked the regions, in the direction from which any of them blew.

From the farthest parts of the heavens to the utmost boundaries,” &c. The Greek word for “farthest parts,” and “utmost boundaries,” is the same, ακρων; απʼ ἄκρων οὐρανων ἕως ἄκρων, &c. It denotes, from the utmost part of the earth, to the utmost part of heaven (απʼ ἄκρου γης ἕως ακρου ουρανου), as St. Mark has it (13:27). The phrase is but a fuller and more explanatory repetition of the preceding. It signifies, the extreme points of the heavens farthest asunder, such as east and west, right and left, including all the intermediate space—not so fully expressed in the preceding words—where the earth and sky would seem to meet. From all parts under heaven shall the elect be gathered; not carried by Angels, as was the Prophet Habacuc (Dan. 14:35); but, in virtue of the glorious gift of agility, they shall be, at once, transported into the air to meet the Judge. Similar are the phrases (Deut. 4:32), “From one end of heaven to the other end thereof.” Also in the Psalm (18:7), “His going out is from the end of heaven; and His circuit even unto the end thereof” that is, from the extreme cast to the extreme point of the west. The reprobate, being devoid of this gift of agility, shall be carried by Angels, like Habacue. “And He shall send His Angels, and they shall gather all scandals from His kingdom.” But, having addressed Himself to his disciples, in order to console them, He makes mention only of “the elect.” Some commentators think the words contain an allusion to the souls of the just, which shall be transferred from the highest heavens, to reanimate their resuscitated bodies, and shall proceed to the place of judgment. The former interpretation is, however, the more probable, as it accords better with the words of St. Mark, and the allusion to “the four winds.”

Mat 24:32  And from the fig tree learn a parable: When the branch thereof is now tender and the leaves come forth, you know that summer is nigh. 

And from the fig-tree learn a parable.” “Parable,” here means, an illustration. The fig-tree was very common in Judea; and hence, any allusion to it, or illustration borrowed from it, was quite intelligible. Whenever it put forth its leaves, it was a sign that summer was nigh. This is accounted for on physical grounds, and is known from experience. St. Luke (21:30), says, “when they now shoot forth their fruit.” But, by “fruit,” he means, the young shoots and leaves, the same as is here expressed by St. Matthew.

Mat 24:33  So you also, when you shall see all these things, know ye that it is nigh, even at the doors. 

Know that it is nigh even at the doors.” What “it” refers to, what it is that is, “at their doors,” would not be so clear were it not that St. Luke clearly expresses it. It is, their redemption, their perfect exemption from all evils and fears, when in the full enjoyment of God’s glorious and heavenly “kingdom” (Luke 21:28–31). “It” does not refer to the coming of the Son of man. For, among “all these things,” already described, “the sign of the Son of man appearing in heaven,” is mentioned. Hence, it refers to the near or immediate approach of their redemption, when, after the reprobate shall be in great terror and alarm, and shall weep, His elect may “look up and lift up their heads” (Luke 21:28), at the prospect of hearing the consoling invitation, to “come and take possession of the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world,” which is to succeed these precursory signs, already described. This is the perfect redemption of the glorified sons of God, after which inanimate creation itself sighs and groans, like a mother longing to be delivered from the painful throes of childbirth (Rom. 8:19–22).

Mat 24:34  Amen I say to you that this generation shall not pass till all these things be done. 

Amen I say to you, that this generation shall not pass,” &c. What, “this generation,” refers to, is not easily seen. Some understand by it, with St. Jerome, the human race, and particularly, the Jewish people, whom our Redeemer frequently calls, “this generation” (Luke 17:25; Matt. 23:36). And our Redeemer’s object would be, if we limit the word to the Jewish people, to convey, that while other nations and tribes and peoples would pass away, before the Day of Judgment, without a vestige of them being left, the Jewish people would be preserved, as a testimony of their foolish expectation of their Messiah, according to the false conceptions they had regarding Him; and also, as an argument of God’s mercy, in calling them at the end of the world, to the faith, by sending one “from Sion, who would turn away iniquity from Jacob” (Rom. 11:26). His object in saying it, if we understand the words of the human race, would be, to assure us, that the world would not end till all these things would happen, so certain was His assertion; and this is conveyed in words of the following verse: “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” &c. Others, with St. Chrysostom, understood, “this generation,” of the new generation of faithful believers, begotten by Christ; as if He said: that, no matter what evils would arise, what persecutions it had to encounter, the Christian religion would continue for ever to flourish on earth, until the Church militant would exchange her state for that of the Church triumphant. Others say, that it refers to the generation of men whom He was addressing; and, then, these give “all these things” a restricted meaning. As in the preceding, our Redeemer had been referring to the precursory signs and accompanying events, both of the destruction of Jerusalem, and of the Day of Judgment—the former being a type and figure of the latter—these expositors confine “all these things” to the signs and events relating to the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened, before all the generation He then addressed, had passed away, that is, they happened in the lifetime of some of them. The chief objection to this interpretation is, that it restricts, without any seeming justification, the words, “all these things,” to only a part of the things referred to, viz., those relating to the destruction of Jerusalem. It might, perhaps, be said, that as the signs and events relating to the destruction of Jerusalem, were types of those which shall precede, and take place on, the Day of Judgment, all shall take place on the former occasion, viz., the events relating to Jerusalem, literally; and those having reference to the Day of Judgment, typically, during the lifetime of some men, who were living at the time our Redeemer uttered those words.

Others, by generation (γενεαν) understand age, or period of time, thereby meaning, the period of time which was to elapse between Christ’s first and second coming, which is termed the last age of the world, and hence, termed by St. John, “the last hour,” and by St. Paul, “the ends of the world” (1 Cor. 10:11), being the last period of time within which any remarkable change in religion shall take place, until the end of all shall arrive. Hence, the words may mean, all these things shall happen, before the final end of this age on which we have entered shall have arrived. The coming of the Son of man shall put an end to the age on which we have entered. No other remarkable religious change shall take place until His final coming.

Mat 24:35  Heaven and earth shall pass: but my words shall not pass.

Heaven and earth shall pass away” as to their present external form, “transit figura hujus mundi” (1 Cor. 7:31); but, not as to substance; for, they shall be transformed into a “new heaven and a new earth.” “But My words shall not pass,” without being fully accomplished. The words may also moan, sooner shall the heavens—which, “He hath established for ever, and for ages of ages” (Psa. 148:6)—and the earth, “which standeth for ever” (Eccles. 1:4); sooner shall these things, which the Scripture itself describes as eternal and immoveable, pass away, than My words be unaccomplished. This meaning is fully warranted by the words of St. Luke (16:17), “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than for one tittle of the law to fail.”

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 18

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 9, 2018

PSALM 18
DAVID’S THANKS TO GOD FOR HIS DELIVERY FROM ALL HIS ENEMIES

1 Unto the end, for David, the servant of the Lord, who spoke to the Lord the words of this canticle, in the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul: and he said:

2 I will love thee, O Lord, my strength:
3 The Lord is my firmament, my refuge, and my deliverer. My God is my helper, and in him will I put my trust. My protector, and the horn of my salvation, and my support.

What he expressed in one word, “my strength,” he now explains by several words, “my firmament, my refuge, my deliverer:” as if he said, I may justly call him my strength, when he is all the above names to me. When I lie down, he is my firmament; when I am in danger, he is my refuge; should I fall into the hands of the enemy, he will deliver me; and thus, in every respect, he is my strength and my courage. “My God is my helper, and in him will I put my trust: my protector and the horn of my salvation;” In the height of his affection to God, he repeats the epithets he used in the preceding verse, “my helper, my protector, and the horn of my salvation;” which correspond to “my firmament, my refuge, and my deliverer.” His “helper,” because he keeps him upright, prevents him from falling, (rock being the derivation of the word in Hebrew,) according to Psalm 40, “He has put my feet on a rock;” and he therefore most properly adds, “in him will I put my trust” as being the surest of all foundations. “My protector,” in the Hebrew, “my shield,” to protect him from his enemies: “the horn of my salvation:” a most familiar expression in the Scriptures, to signify the power or means of salvation; being a metaphor, taken from horned animals, who use their horns for protection; thus, in Psalm 132, “I will bring forth a horn to David.” I will make David all powerful to conquer his enemies; like a rampant bull, with his horns full grown, and not like a sluggish calf, that has not yet got them. Ezech. 39. “In that day a horn shall bud forth to the house of Israel.” Micheas 1:4, “I will make thy horn iron.” Lk. 1, “He hath raised up a horn of salvation to us.” God, then, is called a “horn of safety” to David, and to all the just, because through him they are powerfully armed against their enemies, by putting their strength not in themselves, but in the Divine help and assistance; in the spirit of the apostle, “I can do all things in him who strengtheneth me.” The expression, “horn of safety,” corresponds with, “and any deliverer,” for God delivers us through the “horn of safety:” that is, through his own saving power. Finally, the word, “my support,” comprises all the rest, and corresponds to “my strength:” for whosoever God supports, he frees, protects, and confirms.

4 Praising, I will call upon the Lord: and I shall be saved from my enemies.

A conclusion from the preceding. I will, therefore, constantly praise God for so many benefits received; and in my difficulties, with unbounded confidence, will I apply to him, certain of being delivered from all manner of enemies.

5 The sorrows of death surrounded me: and the torrents of iniquity troubled me.
6 The sorrows of hell encompassed me: and the snares of death prevented me.

He now enters, in detail, on God’s favors to him. He was in manifest danger of death, when Saul was lying in wait for him, to kill him, which danger he describes in various metaphors. “The sorrows of death surrounded me.” I was surrounded by so many dangers, that I despaired of my corporal safety; and, therefore, depressed with the grief and trouble of mind, incident to those whose death is at hand; “and the torrents of iniquity troubled me:” The grief and trouble above named, from the number, that like a torrent invaded and “troubled me,” after the manner of those who are hurried down, and whirled about by a roaring torrent. “The sorrows of hell encompassed me,” a repetition of the first part of the preceding verse, with the substitution of “hell” for “death.” They are, however, synonymous, for before the death of Christ, all went to hell, though not the same part of it; and, therefore, death and hell meant the same; the sorrows of hell, then, mean such sorrow as those usually suffer who are about to depart from this world to the next; “and the snares of death prevented me:” a repetition of “the torrents of iniquity troubled me.” For, as David was troubled with the “sorrows of death,” by reason of the multitude of wicked ones rising up against him, so “the snares of death” that “prevented” [encompassed] him, was the cause of the pains of hell to him. By the “snares of death,” he means the conspiracies of the wicked against him; and thus the meaning of the two verses is, that David, reflecting on his imminent danger of death, from the open invasion of his enemies rushing on him, like a roaring torrent, carrying everything before it—as well as from the conspiracies of the same enemies, in lurk for him, with snares, as for the unwary—was in great trouble.

7 In my affliction I called upon the Lord, and I cried to my God: And he heard my voice from his holy temple: and my cry before him came into his ears.

Having told the extent of his danger, he now says that he had recourse to God through prayer, and that he was heard. “In my affliction.” In the height of my troubles from Saul’s persecution, and in many similar troubles, “I called upon the Lord,” in whom I am wont to put my entire confidence; “and I cried to my God.” A repetition in much use with David. “And he heard my voice from his holy temple.” My prayer reached the very summit of heaven, which is the temple of God; not made by human hands; truly holy, and can neither be violated nor polluted; “and my cry before him came into his ears.” A repetition, and to some extent an explanation, of the preceding verse; as much as to say, my importunity bursting forth with great affection, poured forth in his sight; that is, poured forth by me, with God before my eyes, has been heard.

8 The earth shook and trembled: the foundations of the mountains were troubled and were moved, because he was angry with them.

The effect of having been heard by God, for he received such help from him against his enemies as enabled him to master and destroy them, and get possession again of his kingdom. The anger of God towards his enemies is most poetically described, for as the entire kingdom is in confusion when the king is angry, and makes preparation for war; so, when the King of the whole world is angry, the whole world is confused; and especially the three visible elements, earth, air, and water. He does not mean to imply that these three elements were actually confused, though the words seem to mean so much; but he means to tell us that such is God’s anger, that it can rock the earth to its very foundations; that it can cause in the air constant storms, dark clouds, thunder and lightning; and lastly, that it can so dry up the fountains, and the rivers, and the sea itself, so as to expose the caverns and the sources of the fountains. Beginning with the earth. “The earth shook and trembled; the foundations were troubled, and were moved, because he was angry with them.” When God is angry with the earth, every bit of it shakes and trembles, not only on its surface, but to its very center. And such concussion ensues not only when God is angry, but also when he makes known his presence on earth, for the earth is then in fearful reverence, acknowledging the majesty of the Creator. Thus, on the resurrection of Christ, there was a great motion of the earth; the same happened at his death; and in another Psalm we read, “At the presence of the Lord the earth was moved.” “Because he was angry with them;” not with the earth and the mountains, but with the people living thereon, and that by reason of their sins.

9 There went up a smoke in his wrath: and a fire flamed from his face: coals were kindled by it.

A further explanation of God’s action on the earth, when he chooses to show his presence thereon, making the earth not only to tremble, but even to smoke and to burn, which, Exod. 20 and Hebrews 12, tell us happened when he gave the law on Mount Sinai, “There went up a smoke in his wrath;” that is, in his anger he kindled such a fire on earth that created an immense smoke, “and a fire flamed from his face;” heat and smoke were accompanied by a destructive fire; “coals were kindled by it;” the anger of God made it burn so as to turn the whole earth into live coals, as he says in another place, Psalm 104, “Who looketh on the earth, and makes it tremble: who touches the mountains, and they smoke.”

10 He bowed the heavens, and came down, and darkness was under his feet.

Passing from the earth to the air, he shows what happens there when God wishes to manifest his presence or his anger. God is said to bow the heavens when he lets down a cloud in which he appears. The clouds ordinarily appear as a part of the heavens, and it is in a cloud God was wont to show himself, as appears from Num. 9, 1 Sam 3:8, Mt. 17, and in other places. “He bowed the heavens, and came down;” this means he let down a cloud, and showed himself in or through it; “And darkness was under his feet.” God dwelt in the cloud, as if he had darkness under his feet; all metaphorical expressions, to give us to understand that God may be present without one seeing him.

11 And he ascended upon the cherubim, and he flew; he flew upon the wings of the winds.

He goes on describing God’s action on the air, when he means to display his anger to man. He brings before us God in the shape of a man in arms, on a chariot, moving with the greatest velocity, and discharging his weapons against his enemies. The clouds are his chariot, according to Psalm 104: “Thou makest the clouds thy chariot, who walkest upon the wings of the winds.” The swiftest winds are his horses, who carry the clouds hither and thither. His weapons are the lightning that he shoots from the clouds. A truly wonderful description! No chariot lighter than the clouds, no horse fleeter than the wind, no weapons compared to the thunder of heaven. The chariots, too, fight from a vantage ground, whence they can harm without being harmed. “He ascended upon the Cherubim;” that is, God uses not only the clouds as a house or tent, but he uses them as a chariot, with the Cherubim as charioteers, and the winds as his horses. He is said “to ascend upon the Cherubim,” and “to fly on the wings of the winds:” that we may understand that he is not governed by, but that he governs the charioteers; and that he is the principal mover and guide both of the chariot and its driver. These expressions hold too, because God uses the services of the Angels in moving the clouds, which are a sort of aerial and most rapid chariots, as being drawn by the winds, a sort of winged quadrupeds, and, therefore, instead of walking, fly, and that fleeter than any bird.

12 And he made darkness his covert, his pavilion round about him: dark waters in the clouds of the air.

Lest it may be supposed that God appeared visibly in the clouds, as he would in a chariot, he says he was invisibly present, and for that purpose made use of dark clouds, as a symbol of his being invisible. There is in these words a most elegant and poetic metaphor. “He made darkness his covert.” God so wrapped himself up in the dark clouds, that he lay as if in a hiding place, the dark clouds acting the part of a screen to him. “His pavilion round about him,” the same clouds being like a tent round about him, covering him on all sides. “Dark waters in the clouds of the air,” the tent above named being a dark cloud, as dark as those fully charged with rain, and when so dense and aqueous, may not improperly be called “dark waters in the clouds of the air.”

13 At the brightness that was before him the clouds passed, hail and coals of fire.

A description of the celestial warfare from the clouds, as if they were the armed chariots of the Deity. At the word of God the cloud opens, hail and lightning, like red hot coals, are at once projected. “At the brightness that was before him, the clouds passed.” Beautiful! The clouds burst by reason of the brightness of the latent Deity, as if they could not stand such brightness, and therefore burst and dissolve in his presence, vanish and pass away. “Hail and coals of fire” issue forth in abundance from the rupture. It happened in Pharaoh’s time, Exod, chap. 9, “And the hail and fire mixed with it drove on together.” The same happened in Josue’s wars against the five kings, Jos. 10, and on various other occasions.

14 And the Lord thundered from heaven, and the Highest gave his voice: hail and coals of fire.

A repetition of the above in different language. The cloud bursts, the dreadful crash called thunder is heard, generally followed by the thunderbolt. It is elegantly styled “His voice,” not only because God alone can produce or emit it, but because the sound is so great and so terrific, that to God alone it should be attributed as his own voice. Hence, God himself says to Job, 40, “If you have an arm like God, and if you thunder with like voice.” “And the highest gave his voice,” from which proceeded hail and lightning like red hot coals.

15 And he sent forth his arrows, and he scattered them: he multiplied lightnings, and troubled them.

An explanation of the preceding verses, particularly of the words, “coals of fire.” These coals of fire were sent out on the bursting of the clouds, because God “Sent forth his arrows,” meaning his lightning. “And multiplied” them, and in such manner “Scattered and confused his enemies.”

16 Then the fountains of waters appeared, and the foundations of the world were discovered: At thy rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the spirit of thy wrath.

God’s wonderful action on the waters next. They were suddenly and miraculously dried up. It happened in the Red Sea, and in the Jordan, as we read in Exod. 14, and Josue 4, on which occasions the bottom of the sea and of the river was exposed; which bottom is called here “The foundations of the world,” because they are so much lower than the surface of the land. “The fountains of waters appeared.” At God’s bidding, the waters were dried up, and then appeared the bottom of the fountains, and of the rivers, and of the sea; and thus “The foundations,” or the lowest parts of the earth, “Were discovered.” “At thy rebuke, O Lord.” What dried them? God’s rebuke—his order. How did he rebuke them? “At the blast of the spirit of thy wrath.” A metaphorical and poetical appellation of the wind, through whose agency, God in his anger, and for the purpose of rebuke, dried up the waters; for the Scripture tells us, Exod. 14, that it was by a scorching wind that the waters of the Red Sea were dried up. Thus, what he might have simply expressed as follows, You, Lord, by a most powerful wind, dried up the waters of the sea; he expresses in a more elegant and figurative manner, when he says, You rebuked the waters for hindering the passage of your people; you blew on them in the spirit of your wrath, and at once they fled; as he expresses it in Psalm 114, “What ailed thee, O sea, that thou didst flee?”

17 He sent from on high, and took me: and received me out of many waters.

He now returns to relate God’s kindness to him in delivering him from his enemies. From the seventh verse to the present, he dwelt entirely on the power of God; and as he commenced by saying, “The torrents of iniquity troubled me,” and spoke in the foregoing verse of God’s spirit drying up the waters, so as to expose the bottom of the sea, and of the rivers, following up the same metaphor, he says now, “He sent from on high and took me.” He reached out his hand from on high to the very depth of the torrent, and “Took me,” and thus brought me out from “Many waters;” that is to say, rescued me, drowned and overwhelmed in a multiplicity of troubles.

18 He delivered me from my strongest enemies, and from them that hated me: for they were too strong for me.

What he said in a metaphorical sense in the last verse, he now explains in ordinary language; the words, “they were too strong for me,” must be taken in an imperfect sense, according to St. Jerome; for he assigns a reason why he had more need of the assistance of God, as his enemies were stronger than himself.

19 They prevented me in the day of my affliction: and the Lord became my protector.

God’s goodness acknowledged again. My enemies, without any provocation, were the first to injure me; attacked me off my guard, “prevented,” (that is, surrounded,) me without my knowing it; but the Lord was watching for me, and rendered all their machinations harmless.

20 And he brought me forth into a large place: he saved me, because he was well pleased with me.

Again and again he brings up his delivery. To show how deeply God’s goodness was fixed in his mind. “He brought me into a large place.” When I was angustiated in a place where I may be easily overcome he brought me into “a large place,” where I may roam about at pleasure, having my enemies at a distance. “He saved me because he was well pleased with me.” My salvation from so many imminent dangers was all owing to his immense mercy in so loving me. For though David presently will put his own merits forward, he well knew that these very merits are God’s gratuitous gifts.

21 And the Lord will reward me according to my justice; and will repay me according to the cleanness of my hands:
22 Because I have kept the ways of the Lord; and have not done wickedly against my God.
23 For all his judgments are in my sight: and his justices I have not put away from me.
24 And I shall be spotless with him: and shall keep myself from my iniquity.
25 And the Lord will reward me according to my justice: and according to the cleanness of my hands before his eyes.

Having praised God for having delivered him from his enemies, he now adds that his delivery will be always sure to him, not only through mercy, but even through justice, because he not only hitherto did, but for the future will, lead the life of the just. For God, just in himself, loves, helps, and protects the just, “will reward me according to my justice.” Having done so heretofore, he will continue to reward me according to my merit, “Any according to the cleanness of my hands.” As I feel my justice not only in my heart but in my hands; that is, to just within and without, just in my heart, just in my actions, so God will reward me before himself and before men, and will guard me within and without. Is not this presumption? Why trumpet so his own merits? There is no presumption when the thing is done with sincerity, and God acknowledged to be the author of all our merit. Nehemias did so, so did Esdras, Ezechias, Isaias, and Esther. But how could David make such assertions? He who had been guilty of murder and adultery! He who exclaimed, Psalm 19, “Who can understand sins? From my secret ones cleanse me, O Lord;” and, in Psalm 114, “For in thy sight no man living shall be justified.” This objection leads some to think that David does not speak absolutely of his own justice, but of the justice of his cause, as compared with that of his enemies; others will have it that he limits his justice to his having remained in the true faith which his enemies did not, but the expressions, “Because I have kept the ways of the Lord;” “All his judgments are in nay sight;” “I shall be spotless with him,” are adverse to these opinions. We must only say, then, that David upholds his justice, inasmuch as he always had a sincere desire of serving God, and a firm purpose of never violating his law, and should he chance to slip, that he at once repented, and sincerely returned to God. The expression, “Who can understand sins?” may be understood of venial sins that are not inconsistent with justice; and the words, “For in thy sight no man living shall be justified,” may be understood of that justice which man may have independent of grace. For in such manner can no man be justified, for the just are only so through God’s sanctifying grace.

26 With the holy thou wilt be holy; and with the innocent man thou wilt be innocent:
27 And withe the elect thou wilt be elect: and with the perverse thou wilt be perverted.

A reason for his having said he would get according to his justice from God, because God gives to every one according to his works. He speaks to God here, “With the holy thou wilt be holy;” with the pious and the merciful thou wilt deal kindly and mercifully. To the man who is innocent, that is, who doeth no injury, thou wilt do no injury, nor permit others to do it. “With the elect thou wilt be elect;” with the sincere and pure minded, (for such is the meaning of the Hebrew,) you will deal sincerely and candidly; “And with the perverse thou wilt be perverted:” he who showeth not mercy shall not meet with mercy from you; who harms shall be harmed by you; who acts not honestly, but roguishly, him will you similarly deal with.

28 For thou wilt save the humble people; but wilt bring down the eyes of the proud.

He explains the two last verses, as if he said: “With the holy, thou wilt be holy; and with the innocent thou wilt be innocent:” because “Thou wilt save the humble people;” that is, because humility, the guardian of all virtues, is most pleasing to you, and to all humble souls you give your grace; but, “with the perverse thou wilt be perverted;” because you “will bring down the eyes of the proud;” that is, because pride, the queen of vices, is highly displeasing to thee, and, therefore, you always raise up the humble, and level all the proud. He makes special mention of the eyes here, because it is in them and the eyebrows that pride mostly shows itself.

29 For thou lightest my lamp, O Lord: O my God, enlighten my darkness.

Having spoken highly of his own justice and purity, he now points out their sources; and, therefore, praises God, especially as it was from him he had light, strength, and every other virtue. “For thou lightest my lamp, O Lord:” from thee I have the beginning of all good, which is light to distinguish true happiness from false, and true evils from false ones; for the first wound inflicted on human nature by original sin, was ignorance of the real good; and, therefore, the first cure begins by Divine light; “Thou lightest my lamp:” you alone light up the interior eye of my heart. “O my God, enlighten my darkness.” Father of lights, the true light, in whom there is no darkness, as you have hitherto lighted up the inward eyes of my heart, proceed now to enlighten my darkness by banishing it completely. For without the grace of God to enlighten us, all is pure darkness in our hearts, so far as supernatural mysteries are concerned.

30 For by thee I shall be delivered from temptation; and through my God I shall go over a wall.

The particle “for” is frequently redundant in the Psalms, so is the particle “and,” which requires to be noted, that a connection with something foregoing may not be looked for. The prophet having said that he had got from God that light, that is, the beginning of good works and true justice, now adds, that he got also courage and strength to do or to avoid those things such light prompted him to. “By thee I shall be delivered from temptation.” Relying on thy assistance to strengthen me, I will overcome all temptation, and conquer all evil; “Through my God I shall go over a wall.” Depending on the same divine assistance, and strengthened from the same source, I will accomplish everything, however difficult, were it even the surmounting of a lofty wall.

31 As for my God, his way is undefiled: the words of the Lord are fire-tried: he is the protector of all that trust in him.

The reason why he has received so much light and strength from God, and why he so confides in him, is because God is true, good, and the protector of all that confide in him; and because he is the only true God, true Lord, from whom such things can be expected. “His way is undefiled;” that God of mine, whose way is undefiled, who is most holy, and acts most justly. “The words of the Lord are fire tried.” As gold is tried and proved in the fire, so the promises of the Lord are most certain and proved.

32 For who is God but the Lord? or who is God but our God?

Another reason for confiding in him, for expecting light and strength from him, he alone being our true God. Whence we learn that our God alone is the true God, and as such that he is the true, firm, and solid rock in which we may safely confide and rest; and all who confide in any other thing must of necessity be deceived and confounded.

33 God, who hath girt me with strength; and made my way blameless.

He now comes to mention in particular the gifts he got from God, by means of which he got freed from his enemies, and got possession again of his kingdom. He places strength and innocence first, two virtues rarely united, for the strong are always too ready to injure the weak. David, however, was truly strong, yet truly innocent, so much so, that even though it was in his power, he would not slay his enemy Saul.

34 Who hath made my feet like the feet of harts: and who setteth me upon high places.
35 Who teacheth my hands to war: and thou hast made my arms like a brazen bow.

He gives the particulars of the expression, “Girt me with strength,” by telling us how God bestowed on him wonderful agility in his feet, dexterity in his hands, and strength in his arms. The feet of the stag were not more nimble in topping the highest mountains, as he expresses it, “In setting himself upon high places;” as he proved, when in his flight from Saul, he was obliged to shelter in the highest and most inaccessible tops of the mountains. He adds, that his hands were trained to battle; and that he had arms of brass, to signify his strength and skill in military matters, of which there can be no doubt, if we only read the First and Second Books of Kings. The stone from his sling, fixed in the very head of Goliath, bears testimony to his dexterity, as do the bears and the lions killed by the mere strength of his arms.

36 And thou hast given me the protection of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath held me up: And thy discipline hath corrected me unto the end: and thy discipline, the same shall teach me.

He declares now his innocence, of which he had already spoken, when he said, ver. 32, “Thou hast made my way blameless;” for, as God was pleased to give him the grace of living blameless, he, therefore, constantly protected him; “Thou hast given me the protection of thy salvation;” for the celerity of foot, the dexterity of hand, and strength of arm against the king and his whole army would have been of little value, had he not had “The protection of salvation” too, that is, the divine protection to save him, and “the right hand (of God) to hold him up,” and support him. “And thy discipline hath corrected me to the end, and thy discipline the same shall teach me.” This, too, goes to show the innocence or “the blameless way” of David. I not only had the benefit of your protection, but your discipline; that is, your knowledge, which is had from the study of your law, so directed me, that I could not go astray; and when there was fear I might stray, by studying and inspecting it diligently “I got corrected,” set right, and so persevered to the end. “And thy discipline the same shall teach me.” By such discipline we may also understand the correction of a father, in which spirit God sometimes chastised David by temporary calamities, when, through human frailty, he would fall into some defects.

37 Thou hast enlarged my steps under me; and my feet are not weakened.

He proceeds to relate his victories, attributing them all to God; you have made me advance at a rapid pace in enlarging my kingdom, and I am not yet tired.

38 I will pursue after my enemies, and overtake them: and I will not turn again till they are consumed.
39 I will break them, and they shall not be able to stand: they shall fall under my feet.

These expressions, spoken in the future time, do not belong to it, but to the past tense, as will appear from the following verse.

40 And thou hast girded me with strength unto battle; and hast subdued under me them that rose up against me.

Hence it appears the prophet in the two preceding verses spoke of the past. As I said, “I will pursue after my enemies and overtake them:” God helped me to do it, for “He girded me with strength” to fight, and “subdued under me;” that is, made those fall, “that rose up against me.” “Girding with strength” is a common expression in the Scripture; thus, in Psalm 65, “Being girded with power who troublest the depths of the sea;” and, in Psalm 93, “The Lord is clothed with strength, and hath girded himself;” and, Isaias 51, “Put on strength, O thou arm of the Lord;” and, finally, in Lk. 24, “But stay you in the city till you be endowed with power from on high.” He gives him to understand that, as strength and courage are of more value in a battle than the sword and helmet, the praise of the victory should be given more to the giver of the former than of the latter.

41 And thou hast made my enemies turn their back upon me, and hast destroyed them that hated me.

He returns to the same thing over and over, attributing the flight of his enemies to God’s interference entirely.

42 They cried, but there was none to save them, to the Lord: but he heard them not.

Another cause of the victory assigned, for God not only heard his prayers, but he refused to listen to those of his adversaries, though they put them up to him.

43 And I shall beat them as small as the dust before the wind; I shall bring them to nought, like the dirt in the streets.

He speaks now of the remnant of his enemies. I have conquered them; but if any handful remain, I will crush them into the smallest pieces, and scatter them as dust is carried before the wind; and sweep them from the earth, as the mud of the streets is hurried along by a vehement wind.

44 Thou wilt deliver me from the contradictions of the people; thou wilt make me head of the Gentiles.

That had been done already; for, before he wrote this Psalm, he had been delivered from the “contradictions” and rebellion “of the people;” and “was made head of the gentiles;” that is, became master of the kingdom. We are, therefore, to suppose him using the future tense for the past, a thing usual in the Hebrew, or he insinuates a continuation of past favors of that sort.

45 A people which I knew not, hath served me: at the hearing of the ear they have obeyed me.
46 The children that are strangers have lied to me, strange children have faded away, and have halted from their paths.

He had just reason for asking “to be delivered from the contradictions of his people,” having met with more fidelity and allegiance from some of the gentiles, than from the children of the people of Israel. A prophecy manifestly applying to Christ, rejected by the Jews, acknowledged by the gentiles. “The people which I knew not:” the Gabaonites, the Gethei, and others whom I knew not as brothers, “served me:” “at the hearing of the ear they have obeyed me,” at once, most promptly, the moment they heard the command. “The children that are strangers;” that is, the degenerate in their morals, “lied to me;” that is, deceived me, gave me sham obedience. “They have faded away;” fallen from me like dried leaves; that is, they have not behaved properly and fairly by me; alluding to the rebellion of Absalom, under the son of Bochrus, and others, “and have halted from their paths.” The children of adultery, who give sham service, “halt from their paths;” that is, turn from the straight path, in which they should have walked.

47 The Lord liveth, and blessed by my God, and let the God of my salvation be exalted.

A conclusion of praise. Now, it appears that the Lord does live, and as he lives, so may he always live; and “let the God of my salvation be exalted.”

48 O God, who avengest me, and subduest the people under me, my deliverer from my enraged enemies.

May that God who avenged the injuries offered me, and subdued the people who rebelled against me, and delivered me from the plots and attacks of my raging enemies, Saul and Absalom, be exalted.

49 And thou wilt lift me up above them that rise up against me: from the unjust man thou wilt deliver me.

A prayer for the continuation of the divine favors; namely, that he may be so “lifted up above them that rise up against him,” that they may struggle in vain when they cannot possibly reach so high, and thus, that he may be delivered “from the unjust man.”

50 Therefore will I give glory to thee, O Lord, among the nations, and I will sing a psalm to thy name.

Therefore, for this reason, “I will give glory;” that is, with praise will I acknowledge thy favors, not privately, but openly, before the whole body of the people, that all may learn to put their trust in the Lord.

51 Giving great deliverance to his king, and shewing mercy to David, his anointed: and to his seed for ever.

May God increase and multiply safety of body, soul, and all other things beside, to the king he hath chosen; and may he deal everlasting mercy to David who has been ordered by him to be anointed as king, and to all his successors forever. Which prayer was fulfilled in Christ Jesus our Lord, who reigneth, and will reign for all eternity. Amen.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 17

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 9, 2018

PSALM 17
A JUST MAN’S PRAYER IN TRIBULATION AGAINST THE MALICE OF HIS ENEMIES

1 The prayer of David.  HEAR, O Lord, my justice: attend to my supplication. Give ear unto my prayer, which proceedeth not from deceitful lips.

He first prays that his just cause may be heard, for with a just judge, the cause is more regarded than the person; he asks then that his prayer may be attended to; for God not only loves justice, but also the just; and, as St. James has it, “The prayer of the just availeth much.” He finally unites both justice and prayer, when he says, “Give ear unto my prayer which proceedeth not from deceitful lips;” that is, my prayer that does not proceed from deceitful lips, but is based on justice. The meaning then is, Lord, may justice move thee; may prayer, the prayer of the just, move thee.

2 Let my judgment come forth from thy countenance: let thy eyes behold the things that are equitable.

Another argument from the justice of God, as if he said: To you, O God, I appeal; by you, as being the most just of judges, I wished to be judged. “From thy countenance;” that is, from thy mouth let judgment proceed—my sentence be pronounced. “Let thy eyes behold the things that are equitable.” Close not thy eyes, and cloak not the calumnies of the wicked, but open them and see what justice demands.

3 Thou hast proved my heart, and visited it by night, thou hast tried me by fire: and iniquity hath not been found in me.

A reason assigned for wishing to be judged by God, for he alone searches the hearts, and thoroughly knows the innocence of his servants. “Thou hast proved my heart;” you have tried me where no one else can, interiorly; you have proved my sincerity, and he tells how “Thou hast visited it by night.” On two occasions one’s interior may be seen; when an opportunity offers for sinning in private, and in the time of tribulation: for there are many wicked persons, to all appearance with a fair exterior, when they have an opportunity of committing sin in private, without any fear of detection, then only show what they are made of. So in the time of prosperity, the bad cannot be distinguished from the good, but apply the fire of persecution, and the gold shines out, the stubble burns. The first is expressed by the words, “Visited it by night;” that is, in secret, when an opportunity for committing sin presented itself; the second comes under the words, “Thou hast tried me by fire;” that is, with grievous tribulations; and yet thou hast found no iniquity in me.

4 That my mouth may not speak the works of men: for the sake of the words of thy lips, I have kept hard ways.

He shows how it happened that “There was no iniquity found in him,” from the fact of his having kept to “The hard ways” of justice; not for any earthly hope or reason, but because such was agreeable to God’s commands. For those who observe God’s commandments from human motives do so exteriorly, when they are likely to be observed, and thus the latent iniquity is detected in them; but they who observe the commandments, in order to please God, keep them externally and internally, and thus no iniquity is detected in such persons. He therefore says: “I have kept hard ways;” that is, I have kept to the road of justice, however rough and rugged, nor has tribulation of any sort caused me to go out of it. “For the sake of the words of thy lips,” influenced thereto by your commandments, your threats, and your promises, “That my mouth may not speak the works of men:” that I may not be obliged to ask the help of man; that I may not put my hope in man; “Nor speak (meaning praise) the works of men.”

5 Perfect thou my goings in thy paths: that my footsteps be not moved.

Acknowledging that it was not by his own strength, but by the grace of God, that he remained in the narrow path of justice, he asks God to confirm the favor. “Perfect thou my goings in thy paths: that my footsteps be not moved:” strengthen and make sure my footsteps in this your path, for fear, if deprived of thy help, I may stray from it.

6 I have cried to thee, for thou, O God, hast heard me: O incline thy ear unto me, and hear my words.

Having explained the arguments derived from his own innocence, and from the justice of God, he again repeats the prayer in the beginning of the Psalm. Lord, to thee “I have cried, for thou hast heard me.” I have cried with confidence to thee, for on all occasions you have heard me, and now too, with your usual benignity, “Incline your ear to me, and hear my words.”

7 Shew forth thy wonderful mercies; thou who savest them that trust in thee.

A third argument derived from God’s mercy. I have proved my innocence; have appealed to your justice. I now invoke your mercy, for, however innocent I may consider myself of the crimes for which I am suffering, I may have many other sins for which I may be justly punished. “Show forth thy wonderful mercies” then. Astonish every one at the extent of them in delivering me, for to you it belongs to deliver all who put their trust in thee.

8 From them that resist thy right hand keep me, as the apple of thy eye. Protect me under the shadow of thy wings.

Protect me, as you would “The apple of your eye,” with the greatest care, from those “that resist thy right hand:” in injuring those whom you protect, or who refuse to walk where you lead. This does not contradict the passage in the book of Esther, “There is no one who can resist thy will.” For the will spoken of there, is the will of his good pleasure which is always carried out; but here is meant the will of his expression, which is not always carried out, for God permits the wicked to do many things opposed to his expressed will; that is, against his law, and afterwards punishes them according to their merits. “The apple of your eye,” a most delicate, though valuable article, requiring the greatest care, and, therefore, provided by nature with various coverings, as well as with brows and eye lashes; such are we, frail and delicate, and such is the care we stand in need of. “Protect me under the shadow of thy wings.” The same petition, under another figure. As the chickens are covered by the wings of the hen, are hidden, and lie securely under them, so that the birds of prey cannot hurt them; the just man prays to be so protected from his persecutors.

9 From the face of the wicked who have afflicted me. My enemies have surrounded my soul:

“The face of the wicked,” signifies the sight of the wicked; as the wings of the hen cover the chickens, and prevent their being seen by the birds of prey; or it may mean the bite or the anger of the wicked, for their teeth, as well as their anger, are displayed in the faces. “Who have afflicted me,” means that the just man, having been so often and so severely bitten by the wicked, appeals to God’s protection, for fear of being entirely destroyed under the repeated biting. Such similes are of frequent occurrence in the Holy Scripture. “I will rejoice under the cover of thy wings,” Psalm 62; “He will overshadow thee with his shoulders: and under his wings thou shalt trust,” Psalm 89; and the Lord himself, in Mt. 23, “How often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and thou would not.” “My enemies have surrounded my soul.” The last argument drawn from the malice of his enemies. They have surrounded, pressed in upon me on every side.

10 They have shut up their fat: their mouth hath spoken proudly.

That is, they have no mercy, though they see me reduced to the last extremities. “Shut up their fat” is synonymous with, “Closing his bowels;” that is, having no mercy, according to 1 Jn. 3, “He that hath the substance of this world, and shall see his brother in need, and shall shut up his bowels from him: how doth the charity of God abide in him?” As fat increases, the bowels generally close; and the prophet chose the former expression, that he may not only declare the fact, but the cause of the bowels being closed, namely, the increase of the fat, which means, the wealth of this world, which causes man to be proud, to despise his neighbor, and thus spiritually “Shut up his bowels.”

11 They have cast me forth, and now they have surrounded me: they have set their eyes bowing down to the earth.

In order to show the malice of his enemies, he goes on to show how they assail him, now in one way, presently in quite a different manner, yet always in a destructive manner. One time “They cast me forth;” Now “they surround me:” those who just banished me from sharing or enjoying anything with them now seek me, surround me that they may overwhelm me with injuries; and the reason is, because “they have set their eyes bowing down to the earth;” meaning they have firmly resolved not to look up to God, who is in heaven, nor to fear him; but to look down on the earth alone and seek for the things that belong to it.

12 They have taken me, as a lion prepared for the prey; and as a young lion dwelling in secret places.

They have not only surrounded me, but treated me with the greatest cruelty; with the same cruelty and avidity that a lion pounces on its prey, “and as a young lion dwelling in secret places;” the same idea repeated.

13 Arise, O Lord, disappoint him and supplant him; deliver my soul from the wicked one; thy sword

Having explained the malice of his enemies, he asks of God, who alone can do it, to come and free him. “Arise, O Lord;” do not defer your help any longer, “disappoint him;” that wicked man, who like a lion laid hold on me to devour me, disappoint his teeth, that he may not fasten them in me and kill me. And, in fact, it is God alone that can “disappoint” the action of any one or thing, however violent; as he disappointed the teeth of the lions from hurting; Daniel, and the fury of the fire from consuming the three thrown into the furnace; a source of consolation to the just, who know God’s power to be equal to protect them from either the teeth of the lion or the flames of the furnace. “Supplant him.” Deceive him; make him, by thy wonderful providence, suppose that when he is fastening his teeth in his own flesh, he is fastening them in the flesh of the just. “Deliver my soul from the wicked.” Do not allow me to be killed by the wicked, raging like a roaring lion; but save me, protect me. “Thy sword;” some connect it with the preceding; others make it the beginning of the next sentence. If we adopt the reading of the Vulgate, the meaning is, deliver my soul from the wicked; to do which you must take “thy sword” from your enemies; meaning their power of harm.

14 From the enemies of thy hand. O Lord, divide them from the few of the earth in their life: their belly is filled from thy hidden stores. They are full of children: and they have left to their little ones the rest of their substance.

A prophetic imprecation, in which is predicted separation of the wicked from the just, the former obtaining the goods of this world, the latter those of the world to come. “divide them from the few;” separate the crowd of the wicked from “your little flock,” “in their life,” not only in the world to come, which is sure to them, but even in the present, which may be properly called “their life,” which alone they love and seek, separating themselves from the just, who are dead to the world. The separation consists herein, that “their belly is filled from thy hidden stores;” that is, they fill their belly with the fruits and good things of the earth, supplied by God’s bounty, from his hidden treasures every succeeding year, and say it is their own portion. “They are full of children: and they have left to their little ones the rest of their substance.” They abound in children, to whom they leave the residue of what themselves cannot consume, for the children of this world look upon it as supreme happiness to abound in riches, and to be blessed with heirs to enjoy them.

15 But as for me, I will appear before thy sight in justice: I shall be satisfied when thy glory shall appear.

The difference herein consists, they covet an abundance of the good things of this world. “But I,” as well as the rest of the just, will “hunger after justice” here, to have satiety of glory and happiness hereafter; and, as I study to live in justice, in thy sight here, your glory will appear to me hereafter; and then will I be truly satisfied, having no more to seek or to desire.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 14

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 9, 2018

PSALM 14
THE GENERAL CORRUPTION OF MAN BEFORE OUR REDEMPTION BY CHRIST

1 Unto the end, a psalm for David. THE fool hath said in his heart: There is no God. They are corrupt, and are become abominable in their ways: there is none that doth good, no not one.

To such a pitch of folly has human nature, corrupted in our first parent, arrived, that one can be found, without daring to express it, yet to “say in his heart there is no God.” David does not convey here, that one particular person said so, but that men in general, through the corruption of their intellect, had come to such a pitch of blindness, as to become entirely regardless of their last end, and to think there was no God who regarded mankind, or to whom they would be accountable. “The fool,” that is, the man bereft of all sense, “said in his heart, There is no God;” that is, began to think God had no existence, and not only was the mind become corrupt and foolish, but also, so was the will; so that men, in general, leaned to sin, never to good; for the avoiding of sin, and the doing good, are very different things, when we speak of an act absolutely and perfectly good. For men without faith or grace, acting on the strength of corrupt nature alone, generally fall into sin; yet sometimes produce certain moral good works, which cannot be called sin; yet are not perfectly and absolutely good, when they do not bring man to the chief good. David, therefore, says, “They are corrupt and become abominable in their ways;” that is, in their desires or affections: hence themselves are corrupted and abominable. “There is none that doeth good; no not one.” Mankind is so corrupted in desire and in iniquity, but still not so generally that all their desires and actions should be considered corrupt and unjust. For surely when an infidel, moved by compassion, has mercy on the poor or cares their children, he doeth no evil. But nobody depending on the strength of corrupt nature alone, can perfectly and absolutely produce a good action. Hence, we see, that this passage, when properly understood, proves nothing for the heretics who abuse it, to prove that all the acts of a sinner, or of a nonregenerated, are sins.

2 The Lord hath looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there be any that understand and seek God.
3 They are all gone aside, they are become unprofitable together: there is none that doth good: no not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they acted deceitfully: the poison of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and unhappiness in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes.

Having said that human nature was corrupt in mind and in will, he shows now whence he had such knowledge: namely, from revelation. For God, who knows everything, saw it, and revealed it to his prophets. He describes God looking down from heaven, as if he were a mortal from his lofty look out, to see “If there be any that understood;” that is, not corrupted in his mind; “Or seeking God;” that is, not corrupted in his will, who could understand and love, and thus seek God, who is the supreme good. What God knew, that is, made us know, he explains in those words: “They are all gone aside;” that is, he saw they had all become useless to God, inasmuch as they neither serve, worship, nor render him any tribute of praise; and, finally, that he saw none to do a work perfectly and absolutely good. “Their throat is an open sepulchre.” The remainder of this verse is not in the Hebrew, nor in the Septuagint, nor in the Latin edition of Psalm 52, where the same passage occurs; but, whereas St. Paul, in Romans 3, quotes all these expressions consecutively, as if they belonged to one Psalm, we may consider they did originally belong to it, and were accidentally lost or omitted from it. These verses give us an idea of the malice of the wicked, who by word and deed do harm to their neighbor. “Their throat is an open sepulchre.” For, as the stench of the putrid corpse exhales from an opened tomb, so from their mouth issues filthy language, the exhalation of their corrupted heart. “With their tongues they acted deceitfully:” that is, by making use, not only of filthy but deceitful language. “The poison of asps is under their lips;” which words are not only filthy and deceitful, but, furthermore, poisonous, and deadly, and leading to sin. “Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood.” Those abandoned characters not only rail and fiercely contend in language; but are involved in evil action, and injure every one. For they whose mouths are full of maledictions and railing, are always ready to run swiftly to slaughter and bloodshed. “Destruction and unhappiness in their ways and the way of peace they have not known:” that is, all their thoughts turn upon destruction, devastation, and affliction, of the neighbor, because “The way of peace they have not known;” that is, what belongs to peace. “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” The root of all the aforesaid evils; because they clearly cast overboard all fear of God, saying in their hearts, “There is no God.”

4 Shall not all they know that work iniquity, who devour my people as they eat bread?

Here we can justly infer, that this universal corruption of human nature is to be understood of human nature in itself and depending on its own natural strength alone. For, through the grace of God, men become truly just and pious, and they are designated here as “My people” who are despised and persecuted by the wicked. “Shall all they know that work iniquity;” addressed to the wicked, by way of reproof, as if he said, will they be always insensible, will they ever open their eyes, will they ever begin to learn? “Who devour my people as they eat bread;” which means, that the wicked may, from such evils, be warned of their iniquity. For as bread, though eaten daily, is always relished; So the wicked take pleasure in daily harassing the poor, and never tire of it.

5 They have not called upon the Lord: there have they trembled for fear, where there was no fear.

A reason assigned for such wickedness, namely: “They have not called upon the Lord:” they put their trust not in God, but in things created; and, therefore, “There have they trembled for fear, where there was no fear;” and, therefore, not knowing in whom to hope, or whom to fear, they trembled at encountering adversity, or going back in their prosperity; things of small moment, and transitory, which should have been above their consideration: whereas, had they put their trust in God, “And sought the kingdom of God and his justice, all these things shall be added unto you.”

6 For the Lord is in the just generation: you have confounded the counsel of the poor man; but the Lord is his hope.

Another reason for the wicked being seized with fear, when there is no ground for fear, “For the Lord is in the just generation;” which means, as the wicked neither invoked nor trusted in God, he deserts them, and takes up with “The just generation:” and once deserted by God, the true light, truth itself they walk in darkness, and therefore fear when they have no cause for fear. He then appeals to the wicked themselves. “You have confounded the counsel of the poor man, but the Lord is his hope.” Are you so blind as not only to abandon God yourselves, but even to mock those who have not? For you “Have confounded;” that is, derided, made the poor man blush, for doing what you call a foolish thing, the putting his hope in God, whereas he entirely depends on him. For to the worldly it seems a foolish thing to put our trust in God whom we don’t see; and not to trust in the riches of this world and other things we do see.

7 Who shall give out of Sion the salvation of Israel? when the Lord shall have turned away the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.

This last verse is a prayer to God for the speedy coming of the Savior, to deliver mankind from that captivity of the devil, in which all the wicked and perverse, whose sins and enormities he had just described, were bound. “Who shall give out of Sion the salvation of Israel?” That is, would that salvation to Israel should quickly come from Sion; “For salvation is from the Jews;” as the Lord said to the Samaritan woman, John 4; and not only from the Jews, that is, from the tribe of Juda, but from the family of David, whose city was named Sion. Salvation, therefore, or the promised Savior, was promised and expected from Sion, the city of David; that is, from the stock of David, who was to save Israel; that is, his people. Christ is called “Savior of Israel his people;” because, though in reality he came to save the whole world, he did not actually save beyond a certain number, who are called the people of God and spiritual Israel. “When the Lord shall have turned away the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.” As much as to say, I beseech and pray for “salvation from Sion;” and, therefore, for the Savior “to free us from captivity;” because, when that shall be effected, then truly and perfectly, “Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad;” that is, the people of God, who are spiritually called Jacob and Israel, for both names belong to one person. And that such promises, and similar ones, belong not exclusively to the carnal Jews, but to God’s people, composed of Jews and gentiles, is clearly established by St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans.

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