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Catena Aurea by St. Thomas Aquinas
1. And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;
2. Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:
3. And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.
4. And he would not for a while: but afterwards he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;
5. Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
6. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.
7. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?
8. I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?
THEOPHYLACT. Our Lord having spoken of the trials and dangers which were coming, adds immediately afterward their remedy, namely, constant and earnest prayer.
CHRYSOSTOM. He who hath redeemed thee, hath shewn thee what He would have thee do. He would have thee be instant in prayer, He would have thee ponder in thy heart the blessings thou art praying for, He would have thee ask and receive what His goodness is longing to impart. He never refuses His blessings to them that pray, but rather stirs men up by His mercy not to faint in praying. Gladly accept the Lord’s encouragement: be willing to do what He commands, not to do what He forbids. Lastly, consider what a blessed privilege is granted thee, to talk with God in thy prayers, and make known to Him all thy wants, while He though not in words, yet by His mercy, answers thee, for He despiseth not petitions, He tires not but when thou art silent.
BEDE. We should say that he is always praying, and faints not, who never fails to pray at the canonical hours. Or all things which the righteous man does and says towards God, are to be counted as praying.
AUGUSTINE. (lib. ii. qu. 45.) Our Lord utters His parables, either for the sake of the comparison, as in the instance of the creditor, who when forgiving his two debtors all that they owed him was most loved by him who owed him most; or on account of the contrast, from which he draws his conclusion; as, for example, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith. So also here when he brings forward the case of the unjust judge.
THEOPHYLACT. We may observe, that irreverence towards man is a token of a greater degree of wickedness. For as many as fear not God, yet are restrained by their shame before men, are so far the less sinful; but when a man becomes reckless also of other men, the burden of his sins is greatly increased.
It follows, And there was a widow in that city.
AUGUSTINE. The widow may be said to resemble the Church, which appears desolate until the Lord shall come, who now secretly watches over her. But in the following words, And she came unto him, saying, Avenge me, &c. we are told the reason why the elect of God pray that they may be avenged; which we find also said of the martyrs in the Revelations of St. John, (Rev. 6:10.) though at the same time we are very plainly reminded to pray for our enemies and persecutors. This avenging of the righteous then we must understand to be, that the wicked may perish. And they perish in two ways, either by conversion to righteousness, or by punishment having lost the opportunity of conversion. Although, if all men were converted to God, there would still remain the devil to be condemned at the end of the world. And since the righteous are longing for this end to come, they are not unreasonably said to desire vengeance.
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. Or else; Whenever men inflict injury upon us, we must then think it a noble thing to be forgetful of the evil; but when they offend against the glory of God by taking up arms against the ministers of God’s ordinance, we then approach God imploring His help, and loudly rebuking them who impugn His glory.
AUGUSTINE. (ut sup.) If then with the most unjust judge, the perseverance of the suppliant at length prevailed even to the fulfilment of her desire, how much more confident ought they to feel who cease not to pray to God, the Fountain of justice and mercy? And so it follows. And the Lord said, Hear what, &c.
THEOPHYLACT. As if He said, If perseverance could melt a judge defiled with every sin, how much more shall our prayers incline to mercy God the Father of all mercies! But some have given a more subtle meaning to the parable, saying, that the widow is a soul that has put off the old man, (that is, the devil,) who is her adversary, because she approaches God, the righteous Judge, who neither fears (because He is God alone) nor regards man, for with God there is no respect of persons. Upon the widow then, or soul ever supplicating Him against the devil, God shews mercy, and is softened by her importunity. After having taught us that we must in the last days resort to prayer because of the dangers that are coming, our Lord adds, Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?
AUGUSTINE. (Serm. 115.) Our Lord speaks this of perfect faith, which is seldom found on earth. See how full the Church of God is; were there no faith, who would enter it? Were there perfect faith, who would not move mountains?
BEDE. When the Almighty Creator shall appear in the form of the Son of man, so scarce will the elect be, that not so much the cries of the faithful as the torpor of the others will hasten the world’s fall. Our Lord speaks then as it were doubtfully, not that He really is in doubt, but to reprove us; just as we sometimes, in a matter of certainty, might use the words of doubt, as, for instance, in chiding a servant, “Remember, am I not thy master?”
AUGUSTINE. (ut sup.) Our Lord adds this to shew, that when faith fails, prayer dies. In order to pray then, we must have faith, and that our faith fail not, we must pray. Faith pours forth prayer, and the pouring forth of the heart in prayer gives stedfastness to faith.
9. And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
10. Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a Publican.
11. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Publican.
12. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
13. And the Publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
14. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
AUGUSTINE. (Serm. 115.) Since faith is not a gift of the proud but of the humble, our Lord proceeds to add a parable concerning humility and against pride.
THEOPHYLACT. Pride also beyond all other passions disturbs the mind of man. And hence the very frequent warnings against it. It is moreover a contempt of God; for when a man ascribes the good he doth to himself and not to God, what else is this but to deny God? For the sake then of those that so trust in themselves, that they will not ascribe the whole to God, and therefore despise others, He puts forth a parable, to shew that righteousness, although it may bring man up to God, yet if he is clothed with pride, casts him down to hell.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Asterius.) To be diligent in prayer was the lesson taught by our Lord in the parable of the widow and the judge, He now instructs us how we should direct our prayers to Him, in order that our prayers may not be fruitless. The Pharisee was condemned because he prayed heedlessly. As it follows, The Pharisee stood and prayed with himself.
THEOPHYLACT. It is said “standing,” to denote his haughty temper. For his very posture betokens his extreme pride.
BASIL. (in Esai. c. 2.) “He prayed with himself,” that is, not with God, his sin of pride sent him back into himself. It follows, God, I thank thee.
AUGUSTINE. (Serm. 115.) His fault was not that he gave God thanks, but that he asked for nothing further. Because thou art full and aboundest, thou hast no need to say, Forgive us our debts. What then must be his guilt who impiously fights against grace, when he is condemned who proudly gives thanks? Let those hear who say, “God has made me man, I made myself righteous. O worse and more hateful than the Pharisee, who proudly called himself righteous, yet gave thanks to God that he was so.
THEOPHYLACT. Observe the order of the Pharisee’s prayer. He first speaks of that which he had not, and then of that which he had. As it follows, That I am not as other men are.
AUGUSTINE. (ut sup.) He might at least have said, “as many men;” for what does he mean by “other men,” but all besides himself? “I am righteous, he says, the rest are sinners.”
GREGORY. (23. Mor. c. 6.) There are different shapes in which the pride of self-confident men presents itself; when they imagine that either the good in them is of themselves; or when believing it is given them from above, that they have received it for their own merits; or at any rate when they boast that they have that which they have not. Or lastly, when despising others they aim at appearing singular in the possession of that which they have. And in this respect the Pharisee awards to himself especially the merit of good works.
AUGUSTINE. (ut sup.) See how he derives from the Publican near him a fresh occasion for pride. It follows, Or even as this Publican; as if he says, “I stand alone, he is one of the others.”
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. 2. de Pœn.) To despise the whole race of man was not enough for him; he must yet attack the Publican. He would have sinned, yet far less if he had spared the Publican, but now in one word he both assails the absent, and inflicts a wound on him who was present. (Hom. 3. in Matt.). To give thanks is not to heap reproaches on others. When thou returnest thanks to God, let Him be all in all to thee. Turn not thy thoughts to men, nor condemn thy neighbour.
BASIL. (ubi sup.) The difference between the proud man and the scorner is in the outward form alone. The one is engaged in reviling others, the other in presumptuously extolling himself.
CHRYSOSTOM. He who rails at others does much harm both to himself and others. First, those who hear him are rendered worse, for if sinners they are made glad in finding one as guilty as themselves, if righteous, they are exalted, being led by the sins of others to think more highly of themselves. Secondly, the body of the Church suffers; for those who hear him are not all content to blame the guilty only, but to fasten the reproach also on the Christian religion. Thirdly, the glory of God is evil spoken of; for as our well-doing makes the name of God to be glorified, so our sins cause it to be blasphemed. Fourthly, the object of reproach is confounded and becomes more reckless and immoveable. Fifthly, the ruler is himself made liable to punishment for uttering things which are not seemly.
THEOPHYLACT. It becomes us not only to shun evil, but also to do good; and so after having said, I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, he adds something by way of contrast, I fast twice in a week. They called the week the Sabbath, (Sabbatho) from the last day of rest. The Pharisees fasted upon the second and fifth day. He therefore set fasting against the passion of adultery, for lust is born of luxury; but to the extortioners and usurists he opposed the payment of tithes; as it follows, I give tithes of all I possess; as if he says, So far am I from indulging in extortion or injuring, that I even give up what is my own.
GREGORY. (19. Mor. c. 21.) So it was pride that laid bare to his wily enemies the citadel of his heart, which prayer and fasting had in vain kept closed. Of no use are all the other fortifications, as long as there is one place which the enemy has left defenceless.
AUGUSTINE. If you look into his words, you will find that he asked nothing of God. He goes up indeed to pray, but instead of asking God, praises himself, and even insults him that asked. The Publican, on the other hand, driven by his stricken conscience afar off, is by his piety brought near.
THEOPHYLACT. Although reported to have stood, the Publican yet differed from the Pharisee, both in his manner and his words, as well as in his having a contrite heart. For he feared to lift up his eyes to heaven, thinking unworthy of the heavenly vision those which had loved to gaze upon and wander after earthly things. He also smote his breast, striking it as it were because of the evil thoughts, and moreover rousing it as if asleep. And thus he sought only that God would be reconciled to him, as it follows, saying, God, be merciful.
CHRYSOSTOM. He heard the words, that I am not as the Publican. He was not angry, but pricked to the heart. The one uncovered the wound, the other seeks for its remedy. Let no one then ever put forth so cold an excuse as, I dare not, I am ashamed, I cannot open my mouth. The devils have that kind of fear. The devil would fain close against thee every door of access to God.
AUGUSTINE. (Serm. 115.) Why then marvel ye, whether God pardons, since He himself acknowledges it. The Publican stood afar off, yet drew near to God. And the Lord was nigh unto him, and heard him, For the Lord is on high, yet hath he regard to the lowly. He lifted not so much as his eyes to heaven; that he might be looked upon, he looked not himself. Conscience weighed him down, hope raised him up, he smote his own breast, he exacted judgment upon himself. Therefore did the Lord spare the penitent. Thou hast heard the accusation of the proud, thou hast heard the humble confession of the accused. Hear now the sentence of the Judge; Verily I say unto you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.
CHRYSOSTOM. (de Inc. Dei Nat. Hom. 5.) This parable represents to us two chariots on the race course, each with two charioteers in it. In one of the chariots it places righteousness with pride, in the other sin and humility. You see the chariot of sin outstrip that of righteousness, not by its own strength but by the excellence of humility combined with it, but the other is defeated not by righteousness, but by the weight and swelling of pride. For as humility by its own elasticity rises above the weight of pride, and leaping up reaches to God, so pride by its great weight easily depresses righteousness. Although therefore thou art earnest and constant in well doing, yet thinkest thou mayest boast thyself, thou art altogether devoid of the fruits of prayer. But thou that bearest a thousand loads of guilt on thy conscience, and only thinkest this thing of thyself that thou art the lowest of all men, shalt gain much confidence before God. And He then goes on to assign the reason of His sentence. For every one who exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (in Ps. 142). The word humility has various meanings. There is the humility of virtue, as, A humble and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Ps. 51:17.) There is also a humility arising from sorrows, as, He has humbled my life upon the earth. (Ps. 142:3.) There is a humility derived from sin, and the pride and insatiability of riches. For can any thing be more low and debased than those who grovel in riches and power, and count them great things?
BASIL. (in Esai 2. 12.) In like manner it is possible to be honourably elated when your thoughts indeed are not lowly, but your mind by greatness of soul is lifted up towards virtue. This loftiness of mind is seen in a cheerfulness amidst sorrow; or a kind of noble dauntlessness in trouble; a contempt of earthly things, and a conversation in heaven. And this loftiness of mind seems to differ from that elevation which is engendered of pride, just as the stoutness of a well-regulated body differs from the swelling of the flesh which proceeds from dropsy.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. de Prof. Ev.) This inflation of pride can cast down even from heaven the man that taketh not warning, but humility can raise a man up from the lowest depth of guilt. The one saved the Publican before the Pharisee, and brought the thief into Paradise before the Apostles; the other entered even into the spiritual powers. But if humility though added to sin has made such rapid advances, as to pass by pride united to righteousness, how much swifter will be its course when you add to it righteousness? It will stand by the judgment-seat of God in the midst of the angels with great boldness. Moreover if pride joined to righteousness had power to depress it, unto what a hell will it thrust men when added to sin? This I say not that we should neglect righteousness, but that we should avoid pride.
THEOPHYLACT. But should any one perchance marvel that the Pharisee for uttering a few words in his own praise is condemned, while Job, though he poured forth many, is crowned, I answer, that the Pharisee spoke these at the same time that he groundlessly accused others; but Job was compelled by an urgent necessity to enumerate his own virtues for the glory of God, that men might not fall away from the path of virtue.
BEDE. Typically, the Pharisee is the Jewish people, who boast of their ornaments because of the righteousness of the law; but the Publican is the Gentiles, who being at a distance from God confess their sins. Of whom the one for His pride returned humbled, the other for his contrition was thought worthy to draw near and be exalted.
15. And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them.
16. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
17. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.
THEOPHYLACT. After what He had said, our Lord teaches us a lesson of humility by His own example; He does not turn away the little children who are brought to Him, but graciously receives them.
AUGUSTINE. (Serm. 115.) To whom are they brought to be touched, but to the Saviour? And as being the Saviour they are presented to Him to be saved, who came to save that which was lost. But with regard to these innocents, when were they lost? The Apostle says, By one man sin entered into the world. (Rom. 5:12.) Let then the little children come as the sick to a physician, the lost to their Redeemer.
AMBROSE. It may be thought strange by some that the disciples wished to prevent the little children from coming to our Lord, as it is said, when they saw it, they rebuked them. But we must understand in this either a mystery, or the effect of their love to Him. For they did it not from envy or harsh feeling towards the children, but they manifested a holy zeal in their Lord’s service, that he might not be pressed by the crowds. Our own interest must be given up where an injury is threatened to God. But we may understand the mystery to be, that they desired the Jewish people to be first saved, of whom they were according to the flesh.
They knew indeed the mystery, that to both nations the call was to be made, (for they entreated for the Canaanitish woman,) but perhaps they were still ignorant of the order. It follows, But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children, &c. One age is not preferred to another, else it were hurtful to grow up. But why does He say that children are fitter for the kingdom of heaven? It is because they are ignorant of guile, are incapable of theft, dare not return a blow, are unconscious of lust, have no desire for wealth, honours, or ambition. But to be ignorant of these things is not virtue, we must also despise them. For virtue consists not in our inability to sin, but in our unwillingness. Childhood then is not meant here, but that goodness which rivals the simplicity of childhood.
BEDE. Hence our Lord pointedly says, of such, not “of these,” to shew that to character, not to age, is the kingdom given, and to such as have a childlike innocence and simplicity is the promise of the reward.
AMBROSE. Lastly, our Saviour expressed this when He said, Verily I say unto you, Whosoever will not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, &c. What child were Christ’s Apostles to imitate but Him of whom Esaias speaks, Unto us a Child is given? (Isai. 9:6.) Who when He was reviled, reviled not again. (1 Pet. 2.) So that there is in childhood a certain venerable antiquity, and in old age a childlike innocence.
BASIL. (in Reg. Brev. ad int. 217.) We shall receive the kingdom of God as a child if we are disposed towards our Lord’s teaching as a child under instruction, never contradicting nor disputing with his masters, but trustfully and teachably imbibing learning.
THEOPHYLACT. The wise men of the Gentiles therefore who seek for wisdom in a mystery, which is the kingdom of God, and will not receive this without the evidence of logical proof, are rightly shut out from this kingdom.
18. And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
19. And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.
20. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.
21. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up.
22. Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.
23. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.
BEDE. A certain ruler having heard our Lord say, that only those who would be like little children should enter the kingdom of heaven, entreats Him to explain to him not by parable but openly by what works he may merit to obtain eternal life.
AMBROSE. That ruler tempting Him said, Good Master, he ought to have said, Good God. For although goodness exists in divinity and divinity in goodness, yet by adding Good Master, he uses good only in part, not in the whole. For God is good altogether, man partially.
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. Now he thought to detect Christ in blaming the law of Moses, while He introduced His own commands. He went then to the Master, and calling Him good, says that he wishes to be taught by Him, for he sought to tempt Him. But He who takes the wise in their craftiness answers him fitly as follows, Why callest thou me good? there is none good, save God alone.
AMBROSE. He does not deny that He is good, but points to God. None is good then except he be full of goodness. But should it strike any one that it is said, none is good, let this also strike him, save God, and if the Son is not excepted from God, surely neither is Christ excepted from good. For how is He not good who is born from good? A good tree brings forth good fruits. (Matt. 7:17.) How is He not good, seeing that the substance of His goodness which He took unto Him from the Father has not degenerated in the Son which did not degenerate in the Spirit. Thy good spirit, he says, shall lead me into a land of uprightness. (Ps. 148:10.) But if the Spirit is good who received from the Son, verily He also is good who gave It. Because then it was a lawyer who tempted Him, as is plainly shewn in another book, He therefore well said, None is good, save God, that He might remind him that it was written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God, (Deut. 6:16.) but he the rather gives thanks to the Lord that He is good. (Ps. 118.)
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. 63. in Matt.) Or else; I shall not hesitate to call this ruler covetous, for with this Christ reproaches him, but I say not that he was a tempter.
TITUS BOSTRENSIS. When he says then, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? it is the same as if he says, Thou art good; vouchsafe me then an answer to my question. I am learned in the Old Testament, but I see in Thee something far more excellent. For Thou makest no earthly promises, but preachest the kingdom of heaven. Tell me then, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? The Saviour then considering his meaning, because faith is the way to good works, passes over the question he asked, and leads him to the knowledge of faith; as if a man was to ask a physician, “What shall I eat?” and he was to shew him what ought to go before his food. And then He sends him to His Father, saying, Why callest thou me good? not that He was not good, for He was the good branch from the good tree, or the good Son of the good Father.
AUGUSTINE. (Quæst. Ev. lib. ii. qu. 63.) It may seem that the account given in Matthew is different, where it is said, “Why askest thou me of good?” which might apply better to the question which he asked, What good shall I do? (Matt. 10.) In this place he both calls Him good, and asks the question about good. It will be best then to understand both to have been said, Why callest thou me good? and, Why askest thou me of good? though the latter may rather be implied in the former.
TITUS BOSTRENSIS. After instructing him in the knowledge of the faith, He adds, Thou knowest the commandments. As though He said, Know God first, and then will it be time to seek what thou askest.
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. But the ruler expected to hear Christ say, Forsake the commandments of Moses, and listen to Mine. Whereas He sends him to the former; as it follows, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not commit adultery.
THEOPHYLACT. The law first forbids those things to which we are most prone, as adultery for instance, the incitement to which is within us, and of our nature; and murder, because rage is a great and savage monster. But theft and bearing false witness are sins which men seldom fall into. And besides, the former also are the more grievous sins, therefore He places theft and bearing false witness in the second place, as both less common, and of less weight than the other.
BASIL. (in Esai. cap. 1. 23.) Now we must not understand by thieves, only such as cut strips off hides, or commit robberies in the baths. But all such also as, when appointed leaders of legions, or installed governors of states or nations, are guilty of secret embezzlement, or violent and open exactions.
TITUS BOSTRENSIS. But you may observe that these commandments consist in not doing certain things; that if thou hast not committed adultery, thou art chaste; if thou stealest not, honestly disposed; if thou bearest not false witness, truth-telling. Virtue then we see is rendered easy through the goodness of the Lawgiver. For He speaks of avoiding of evil, not practising of good. And any cessation from action is easier than any actual work.
THEOPHYLACT. Because sin against parents, although a great crime, very rarely happens, He places it last of all, Honour thy father and mother.
AMBROSE. Honour is concerned not only with paying respect, but also with giving bountifully. For it is honouring to reward deserts. Feed thy father, feed thy mother, and when thou hast fed them thou hast not requited all the pangs and agony thy mother underwent for thee. To the one thou owest all thou hast, to the other all thou art. What a condemnation, should the Church feed those whom thou art able to feed! But it may be said, What I was going to bestow upon my parents, I prefer to give to the Church. God seeks not a gift which will starve thy parents, but the Scripture says as well that parents are to be fed, as that they are to be left for God’s sake, should they check the love of a devout mind.
It follows, And he said, All these things have I kept from my youth up.
JEROME. (in Matt. 19:19.) The young man speaks false, for if he had fulfilled that which was afterwards placed among the commandments, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, how was it that when he heard, Go and sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, he went away sorrowful?
BEDE. Or we must not think him to have lied, but to have avowed that he had lived honestly, that is, at least in outward things, else Mark could never have said, And Jesus seeing him, loved him. (Mark. 10:21.)
TITUS BOSTRENSIS. Our Lord next declares, that though a man has kept the old covenant, he is not perfect, since he lacks to follow Christ. Thou yet lackest one thing, Sell all that thou hast, &c. As if He says, Thou askest how to possess eternal life; scatter thy goods among the poor, and thou shalt obtain it. A little thing is that thou spendest, thou receivest great things.
ATHANASIUS. (ex Apol. de sua fuga.) For when we despise the world, we must not imagine we have resigned any thing great, for the whole earth in comparison of the heaven is but a span long; therefore even should they who renounce it be lords of the whole earth, yet still it would be nothing worth in comparison of the kingdom of heaven.
BEDE. Whoever then wishes to be perfect must sell all that he hath, not a part only, as Ananias and Sapphira did, but the whole.
THEOPHYLACT. Hence when he says, All that thou hast, He inculcates the most complete poverty. For if there is any thing left over or remaining to thee, thou art its slave.
BASIL. (in Reg. Brev. int. 92.) He does not tell us to sell our goods, because they are by nature evil, for then they would not be God’s creatures; He therefore does not bid us cast them away as if they were bad, but distribute them; nor is any one condemned for possessing them, but for abusing them. And thus it is, that to lay out our goods according to God’s command both blots out sins, and bestows the kingdom.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. 22. in 1 ad Cor.) God might indeed feed the poor without our taking compassion upon them, but He wishes the givers to be bound by the ties of love to the receivers.
BASIL. (in Reg. fus. disp. 3. ad int. 9.) When our Lord says, Give to the poor, it becomes a man no longer to be careless, but diligently to dispose of all things, first of all by himself if in any measure he is able, if not, by those who are known to be faithful, and prudent in their management; for cursed is he who doeth the work of the Lord negligently. (Jerem. 49, 10.)
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. 32. in 1. ad Cor.) But it is asked, how does Christ acknowledge the giving all things to the poor to be perfection, whereas St. Paul declares this very thing without charity to be imperfect. Their harmony is shewn in the words which succeed, And come, follow me, which betokens it to be from love. For herein shall all men know that ye are my, disciples, if ye have love one toward another. (John 13:35.)
THEOPHYLACT. Together with poverty must exist all the other virtues, therefore He says, Come, follow me, that is, In all other things be My disciples, be always following Me.
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. The ruler was not able to contain the new word, but being like an old bottle, burst with sorrow.
BASIL. (Hom. de eleemos.) The merchant when he goes to the market, is not loth to, part with all that he has, in order to obtain what he requires, but thou art grieved at giving mere dust and ashes that thou mayest gain everlasting bliss.
24. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
25. For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
26. And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved?
27. And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.
28. Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee.
29. And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake,
30. Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.
THEOPHYLACT. Our Lord, seeing that the rich man was sorrowful when it was told him to surrender his riches, marvelled, saying, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! He says not, It is impossible for them to enter, but it is difficult. For they might through their riches reap an heavenly reward, but it is a hard thing, seeing that riches are more tenacious than birdlime, and hardly is the soul ever plucked away, that is once seized by them. But he next speaks of it as impossible. It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye. The word in the Greek answers equally to the animal called the camel, and to a cable, or ship rope. However we may understand it, impossibility is implied. What must we say then? First of all that the thing is positively true, for we must remember that the rich man differs from the steward, or dispenser of riches. The rich man is he who reserves his riches to himself, the steward or dispenser one who holds them entrusted to his care for the benefit of others.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. 24. in 1 ad Cor.) Abraham indeed possessed wealth for the poor. And all they who righteously possess it, spend it as receiving it from God, according to the divine command, while those who have acquired wealth in an ungodly way, are ungodly in their use of it; whether in squandering it on harlots or parasites, or hiding it in the ground, but sparing nothing for the poor. (Hom. 18. in Joan.). He does not then forbid men to be rich, but to be the slaves of their riches. He would have us use them as necessary, not keep guard over them. It is of a servant to guard, of a master to dispense. Had he wished to preserve them, He would never have given them to men, but left them to remain in the earth.
THEOPHYLACT. Again, observe that He says, a rich man can not possibly be saved, but one who possesses riches hardly; as if he said, The rich man who has been taken captive by his riches, and is a slave to them, shall not be saved; but he who possesses or is the master of them shall with difficulty be saved, because of human infirmity. For the devil is ever trying to make our foot slip as long as we possess riches, and it is a hard matter to escape his wiles. Poverty therefore is a blessing, and as it were free from temptation.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. 80. in Matt.) There is no profit in riches while the soul suffers poverty, no hurt in poverty, while the soul abounds in wealth. But if the sign of a man waxing rich is to be in need of nothing, and of becoming poor to be in want, it is plain that the poorer a man is, the richer he grows. For it is far easier for one in poverty to despise wealth, than for the rich. Nor again is avarice wont to be satisfied by having more, for thereby are men only the more inflamed, just as a fire spreads, the more it has to feed upon. Those which seem to be the evils of poverty, it has in common with riches, but the evils of riches are peculiar to them.
AUGUSTINE. (de Quæst Evang. lib. ii. c. 42.) The name of “rich” he here gives to one who covets temporal things, and boasts himself in them. To such rich men are opposed the poor in spirit, of whom is the kingdom of heaven. Now mystically it is easier for Christ to suffer for the lovers of this world, than for the lovers of this world to be converted to Christ. For by the name of a camel He would represent Himself: for He voluntarily humbled Himself to bear the burdens of our infirmity. By the needle He signifies sharp piercings, and thereby the pangs received in His Passion, but by the form of the needle He describes the straitening of the Passion.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. 63. in Matt.) These weighty words so far exceeded the capacity of the disciples, that when they heard them, they asked, Who then can be saved? not that they feared for themselves, but for the whole world.
AUGUSTINE. (ut sup.) Seeing that there is an incomparably greater number of poor which might be saved by forsaking their riches, they understood that all who love riches, even though they cannot obtain them, were to be counted among the number of the rich. It follows, And he said to them, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God, which must not be taken as if a rich man with covetousness and pride might enter into the kingdom of God, but that it is possible with God for a man to be converted from covetousness and pride, to charity and humility.
THEOPHYLACT. With men therefore whose thoughts creep earthward, salvation is impossible, but with God it is possible. For when man shall have God for his counsellor, and shall have received the righteousness of God and His teaching concerning poverty, as well as have invoked His aid, this shall be possible to him.
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. The rich man who has despised many things will naturally expect a reward, but he who possessing little resigns what he has, may fairly ask what there is in store for him; as it follows, Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all. Matthew adds, What shall we have therefore? (Matt. 19:27.)
BEDE. As if he says, We have done what Thou commandedst us, what reward then wilt Thou give us? And because it is not enough to have left all things, he adds that which made it perfect, saying, And have followed thee.
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. It was necessary to say this, because those who forsake a few things, as far as regards their motives and obedience, are weighed in the same balance with the rich, who have forsaken all, inasmuch as they act from the like affections, in voluntarily making a surrender of all that they possess. And therefore it follows, Verily I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house, &c. who shall not receive manifold more, &c. He inspires all who hear Him with the most joyful hopes, confirming His promises to them with an oath, beginning His declaration with Verily. For when the divine teaching invites the world to the faith of Christ, some perhaps regarding their unbelieving parents are unwilling to distress them by coming to the faith, and have the like respect of others of their relations; while some again forsake their father and mother, and hold lightly the love of their whole kindred in comparison of the love of Christ.
BEDE. The sense then is this; He who in seeking the kingdom of God has despised all earthly affections, has trampled under foot all riches, pleasures, and smiles of the world, shall receive far greater in the present time. Upon the ground of this declaration, some of the Jews build up the fable of a millennium after the resurrection of the just, when all things which we have given up for God’s sake shall be restored with manifold interest, and eternal life be granted. Nor do they from their ignorance seem to be aware, that even if in other things there might be a fit promise of restoration, yet in the matter of wives, who might be according to some Evangelists an hundred fold, it would be manifestly shocking, especially since our Lord declares that in the resurrection there will be no marrying. And according to Mark, those things which have been given up, He declares shall be received at this time with persecutions, which these Jews assert will be absent for a thousand years.
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. This then we say, that he who gives up all worldly and carnal things will gain for himself far greater, inasmuch as the Apostles, after leaving a few things, obtained the manifold gifts of grace, and were accounted great every where. We then shall be like to them. If a man has left his home, he shall receive an abiding place above. If his father, he shall have a Father in heaven. If he has forsaken his kindred, Christ shall take him for a brother. If he has given up a wife, he shall find divine wisdom, from which he shall beget spiritual offspring. If a mother, he shall find the heavenly Jerusalem, who is our mother. From brethren and sisters also united together with him by the spiritual bond of his will, he shall receive in this life far more kindly affections.
31. Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished.
32. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on:
33. And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again.
34. And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.
GREGORY. (Hom. 2. in Ev.) The Saviour foreseeing that the hearts of His disciples would be troubled at His Passion, tells them long beforehand both the suffering of His Passion and the glory of His Resurrection.
BEDE. And knowing that there would arise certain heretics, saying, that Christ taught things contrary to the Law and the Prophets, He shews already that the voices of the Prophets had proclaimed the accomplishment of His Passion, and the glory which should follow.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. 65. in Matt.) He speaks with His disciples apart, concerning His Passion. For it was not fitting to publish this word to the multitudes, lest they should be troubled, but to His disciples He foretold it, that being habituated by expectation, they might be the more able to bear it.
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. And to convince them that He foreknew His Passion, and of His own accord came to it, that they might not say, “How has He fallen into the hands of the enemy, who promised us salvation?” He relates in order the successive events of the Passion; He shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and scourged, and spitted on.
CHRYSOSTOM. (ubi sup.) Esaias prophesied of this when he said, I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. (Isa. 50:5.) The Prophet also foretold the crucifixion, saying, He hath poured out his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors; (Isa. 53:12.) as it is said here, And after they have scourged him, they shall put him to death. But David foretold Christ’s resurrection, For thou shalt not leave my soul in hell, (Ps. 16:10.) and so it is here added, And on the third day he shall rise again.
ISIDORE OF PELEUSIUM. (l. ii. Ep. 212.) I marvel at the folly of those who ask how Christ rose again before the three days. If indeed He rose later than he had foretold, it were a mark of weakness, but if sooner, a token of the highest power. For when we see a man who has promised his creditor that he will pay him his debt after three days, fulfilling his promise on that very day, we are so far from looking upon him as deceitful, that we admire his veracity. I must add, however, that He said not that He should rise again after three days, but on the third day. You have then the preparation, the Sabbath until sun set, and the fact that He rose after the Sabbath was over.
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. The disciples did not as yet know exactly what the Prophets had foretold, but after He rose again, He opened their understanding that they should understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:25.)
BEDE. For because they desired His life above all things, they could not hear of His death, and as they knew him to be not only a spotless man, but also very God, they thought He could in no wise die. And whenever in the parables, which they frequently heard Him utter, He said any thing concerning His Passion, they believed it to be spoken allegorically, and referred to something else. Hence it follows, And this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken. But the Jews, who conspired against His life, knew that He spoke concerning His Passion, when he said, The Son of man must be lifted up; therefore said they, We have heard in our law that Christ abideth for ever, and how sayest thou the Son of man must be lifted up?
35. And it came to pass, that as he was come nigh unto Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the way side begging:
36. And hearing the multitude pass by, he asked what it meant.
37. And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.
38. And he cried, saying, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.
39. And they which went before rebuked him, that he should hold his peace: but he cried so much the more, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.
40. And Jesus stood, and commanded him to be brought unto him: and when he was come near, he asked him,
41. Saying, What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight.
42. And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee.
43. And immediately he received his sight, and followed him, glorifying God: and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God.
GREGORY. (Hom. 2. in Ev.) Because the disciples being yet carnal were unable to receive the words of mystery, they are brought to a miracle. Before their eyes a blind man receives his sight, that by a divine work their faith might be strengthened.
THEOPHYLACT. And to shew that our Lord did not even walk without doing good, He performed a miracle on the way, giving His disciples this example, that we should be profitable in all things, and that nothing in us should be in vain.
AUGUSTINE. We might understand the expression of being nigh to Jericho, as if they had already gone out of it, but were still near. It might, though less common in this sense, be so taken here, since Matthew relates, that as they were going out of Jericho, two men received their sight who sat by the way side. There need be no question about the number, if we suppose that one of the Evangelists remembering only one was silent about the other. Mark also mentions only one, and he too says that he received his sight as they were going out of Jericho; he has given also the name of the man and of his father, to let us understand that this one was well known, but the other not so, so that it might come to pass that the one who was known would be naturally the only one mentioned. But seeing that what follows in St. Luke’s Gospel most plainly proves the truth of his account, that while they were yet coming to Jericho, the miracle took place, we cannot but suppose that there were two such miracles, the first upon one blind man when our Lord was coming to that city, the second on two, when He was departing out of it; Luke relating the one, Matthew the other.
PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. de cæco et Zacchæo) There was a great multitude gathered round Christ, and the blind man indeed knew Him not, but felt a drawing towards Him, and grasped with his heart what his sight embraced not. As it follows, And when he heard the multitude passing by, he asked what it was. And those that saw spoke indeed according to their own opinion. And they told him that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by. But the blind man cried out. He is told one thing, he proclaims another; for it follows, And he cried out, saying, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me. Who taught thee this, O man? Hast thou that art deprived of sight read books? Whence then knowest thou the Light of the world? Verily the Lord giveth sight to the blind. (Ps. 146:8.)
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. Having been brought up a Jew, he was not ignorant that of the seed of David should God be born according to the flesh, and therefore he addresses Him as God, saying, Have mercy upon me. Would that those might imitate him who divide Christ into two. For he speaks of Christ as God, yet calls Him Son of David. But they marvel at the justice of his confession, and some even wished to prevent him from confessing his faith. But by checks of this kind his ardour was not damped. For faith is able to resist all, and to triumph over all. It is a good thing to lay aside shame in behalf of divine worship. For if for money’s sake some are bold, is it not fitting when the soul is at stake, to put on a righteous boldness? As it follows, But he cried out the more, Son of David, & c. The voice of one invoking in faith stops Christ, for He looks back upon them who call upon Him in faith. And accordingly He calls the blind man to Him, and bids him draw nigh, that he in truth who had first laid hold on Him in faith, might approach Him also in the body. The Lord asks this blind man as he drew near, What will thou that I shall do? He asks the question purposely, not as ignorant, but that those who stood by might know that he sought not money, but divine power from God. And thus it follows, But he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight.
PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. (Chrys. ut sup.) Or because the Jews perverting the truth might say, as in the case of him who was born blind, This is not he, but one like unto to him, (John 9:8.) He wished the blind first to make manifest the infirmity of his nature, that then he might fully acknowledge the greatness of the grace bestowed upon him. And as soon as the blind man explained the nature of his request, with words of the highest authority He commanded him to see. As it follows, And Jesus said to him, Receive thy sight. This served only still more to increase the guilt of unbelief in the Jews. For what prophet ever spoke in this way? Observe moreover what the physician claims from him whom he has restored to health. Thy faith hath saved thee. For faith then mercies are sold. Where faith is willing to accept, there grace abounds. And as from the same fountain some in small vessels draw little water, while others in large draw much, the fountain knowing no difference in measure; and as according to the windows which are opened, the sun sheds more or less of its brightness within; so according to the measure of a man’s motives does he draw down supplies of grace. The voice of Christ is changed into the light of the afflicted. For He was the Word of true light. And thus it follows, And immediately he said. But the blind man as before his restoration he shewed an earnest faith, so afterwards did he give plain tokens of his gratitude; And he followed him, glorifying God.
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. From which it is clear, that he was released from a double blindness, both bodily and intellectual. For he would not have glorified Him as God, had he not truly seen Him as He is. But he also gave occasion to others to glorify God; as it follows, And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God.
BEDE. Not only for the gift of light obtained, but for the merit of the faith which obtained it.
PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. (Chrys. ubi sup.) We may here well inquire, why Christ forbids the healed demoniac who wished to follow Him, but permits the blind man who had received his sight. There seems to be a good reason for both the one case and the other. He sends away the former as a kind of herald, to proclaim aloud by the evidence of his own state his benefactor, for it was indeed a notable miracle to see a raving madman brought to a sound mind. But the blind man He allows to follow Him, since He was going up to Jerusalem about to accomplish the high mystery of the Cross, that men having a recent report of a miracle might not suppose that He suffered so much from helplessness as from compassion.
AMBROSE. In the blind man we have a type of the Gentile people, who have received by the Sacrament of our Lord the brightness of the light which they had lost. And it matters not whether the cure is conveyed in the case of one or two blind men, inasmuch as deriving their origin from Ham and Japhet, the sons of Noah, in the two blind men they put forward two authors of their race.
GREGORY. (Hom. 2. in Ev.) Or, blindness is a symbol of the human race, which in our first parent knowing not the brightness of heavenly light, now suffers the darkness of his condemnation. Jericho is interpreted ‘the moon,’ whose monthly wanings represent the feebleness of our mortality. While then our Creator is drawing nigh to Jericho, the blind is restored to sight, because when God took upon Him the weakness of our flesh, the human race received back the light which it had lost. He then who is ignorant of this brightness of the everlasting light, is blind. But if he does no more than believe in the Redeemer who said, I am the way, the truth, and the life; (John 13:6.) he sits by the way side. If he both believes and prays that he may receive the everlasting light, he sits by the way side and begs. Those that went before Jesus, as He was coming, represent the multitude of carnal desires, and the busy crowd of vices which before that Jesus comes to our heart, scatter our thoughts, and disturb us even in our prayers. But the blind man cried out the more; for the more violently we are assailed by our restless thoughts, the more fervently ought we to give ourselves to prayer. As long as we still suffer our manifold fancies to trouble us in our prayers, we feel in some measure Jesus passing by. But when we are very stedfast in prayer, God is fixed in our heart, and the lost light is restored. Or to pass by is of man, to stand is of God. The Lord then passing by heard the blind man crying, standing still restored him to sight, for by His humanity in compassion to our blindness He has pity upon our cries, by the power of His divinity He pours upon us the light of His grace.
Now for this reason He asks what the blind man wished, that He might stir up his heart to prayer, for He wishes that to be sought in prayer, which He knows beforehand both that we seek and He grants.
AMBROSE. Or, He asked the blind man to the end that we might believe, that without confession no man can be saved.
GREGORY. (ubi sup.) The blind man seeks from the Lord not gold, but light. Let us then seek not for false riches, but for that light which together with the Angels alone we may see, the way whereunto is faith. Well then was it said to the blind, Receive thy sight; thy faith hath saved thee. He who sees, also follows, because the good which he understands he practises.
AUGUSTINE. (de Quæst. Ev. l. ii. qu. 48.) If we interpret Jericho to mean the moon, and therefore death, our Lord when approaching His death commanded the light of the Gospel to be preached to the Jews only, who are signified by that one blind man whom Luke speaks of, but rising again from the dead and ascending to heaven, to both Jews and Gentiles; and these two nations seem to be denoted by the two blind men whom Matthew mentions.
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