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HAYDOCK CATHOLIC BIBLE COMMENTARY ON THE NEW TESTAMENT
Ver. 1. What is said here, does not follow immediately what was said in the preceding chapter. See Luke vi.
Ver. 2. Opening his mouth. It is a Hebraism, to signify he began to speak. Wi. — This is a common expression in Scripture, to signify something important is about to be spoken. Thus it is used in various other places, as "Job opening his mouth cursed his day, and said," &c. Daniel, c. x. et alibi. Jan. — And why is it added, says S. Chry. "and opening his mouth," without doubt that we might know, that not only when he spoke, but even when silent, he gave instruction: sometimes, therefore, he opened his mouth; at other times he spoke by his very actions. Hom. xv.
Ver. 3. The poor in spirit; which, according to the common exposition, signifies the humble of mind and heart. Yet some understand it of such as are truly in poverty and want, and who bear their indigent condition with patience and resignation. Wi. — That is, the humble; and they whose spirit is not set upon riches. Ch. — It is not without reason that the beatitudes are disposed of in this order. Each preceding one prepares the way for what immediately follows, furnishing us in particular with spiritual arms of such graces as are necessary for obtaining the virtue of the subsequent beatitude. Thus the poor in spirit, i.e. the truly humble, will mourn for their transgressions, and whoever is filled with sorrow and confusion for his own sins, cannot but be just, and behave to others with meekness and clemency; when possessed of these virtues, he then becomes pure and clean of heart. Peace of conscience reigns in this assemblage of virtues, and cannot be expelled the soul by any tribulations, persecutions, or injustices of men. Chry. hom. xv. What is this poverty of spirit, but humility and contrition? This virtue of humility is placed in the first place, because it is the parent of every other virtue, as pride is the mother of every vice. Pride deprived our first parents of their original innocence, and nothing but humility can restore us to our former purity. We may pray and fast, we may be possessed of mercy, chastity, or any virtues, if humility do not accompany them, they will be like the virtue of the Pharisee, without foundation, without fruit. Hom. xv.
Ver. 4. The land of the living, or the kingdom of heaven. The evangelist prefers calling it the land of the living in this place, to shew that the meek, the humble, and the oppressed, who are spoiled of the possession of this earth by the powerful and the proud, shall obtain the inheritance of a better land. M. — "They shall possess the land," is the reward annexed by our Saviour to meekness, that he might not differ in any point from the old law, so well known to the persons he was addressing. David, in psalm xxxvi, had made the same promise to the meek. If temporal blessings are promised to some of the virtues in the beatitudes, it is that temporal blessings might always accompany the more solid rewards of grace. But spiritual rewards are always the principal, always ranked in the first place, all who practice these virtues are pronounced blessed. Hom. xv.
Ver. 5. Not those that mourn for worldly motives, but such as mourn for their sins, are blessed. The sorrow that is according to God, says S. Paul, worketh penance steadfast unto salvation, but the sorrow of the world worketh death. 2 Cor. vii. 10. The same is promised in S. John; (xvi. 20,) you shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice; and you shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. M.
Ver. 6. Hunger and thirst; i.e. spiritually, with an earnest desire of being just and holy. But others again understand such as endure with patience the hardships of hunger and thirst. Wi. — Rupertus understands those to whom justice is denied, such as poor widows and orphans. Maldonatus those who from poverty really suffer hunger and thirst, because justice is not done them. M. — They shall be filled with every kind of good in their heavenly country. I shall be filled when thy glory shall appear. Psalm xvi.
Ver. 7. Not only the giving of alms, but the practice of all works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual, are recommended here, and the reward will be given on that day when God will repay every one according to his works, and will do by us, as we have done by our brethren. A.
Ver. 8. The clean of heart are either those who give themselves to the practice of every virtue, and are conscious to themselves of no evil, or those who are adorned with the virtue of chastity. For nothing is so necessary as this purity in such as desire to see God. Keep peace with all and chastity, says S. Paul, for without this none can see God. Many are merciful to the poor and just in their dealings, but abstain not from luxury and lust. Therefore our Saviour, wishing to shew that mercy was not sufficient, adds, that if we would see God, we must also be possessed of the virtue of purity. S. Chry. hom. xv. By this, we shall have our heart exempt from all disordinate love of creatures, and shall be exclusively attached to God. A. — The clean of heart, i.e. they who are clean from sin: who are pure in body and mind, says S. Chrysostom. It seems to be a particular admonition to the Jews, who were mostly solicitous about an outward and legal cleanness. Wi.
Ver. 9. To be peaceful ourselves and with others, and to bring such as are at variance together, will entitle us to be children of God. Thus we shall be raised to a participation in the honour of the only begotten Son of God, who descended from heaven to bring peace to man, and to reconcile him with his offended Creator. Chry. hom. xv.
Ver. 10. Heretics and malefactors suffer occasionally, but they are not on this account blessed, because they suffer not for justice. For, says S. Aug. they cannot suffer for justice, who have divided the Church; and where sound faith or charity is wanting, there cannot be justice. Cont. epis. Parm. l. i. c. 9. ep. 50. ps. 4. conc. 2. B. — By justice here we understand virtue, piety, and the defence of our neighbour. To all who suffer on this account, he promises a seat in his heavenly kingdom. We must not think that suffering persecution only, will suffice to entitle us to the greatest promises. The persecutions we suffer must be inflicted on us on his account, and the evils spoken of us must be false and contradicted by our lives. If these are not the causes of our sufferings, so far from being happy, we shall be truly miserable, because then our irregular lives would be the occasion of the persecutions we suffer. Chry. hom. xv.
Ver. 12. Reward, in Latin merces, in Greek misqoV, signifies wages done for hire, and due for work, and presupposes merit. B. — If you participate in the sufferings of the prophets, you will equally participate in their glory, their reward. A.
Ver. 13. The former instructions Jesus Christ gave to the multitude. Now he addresses his apostles, styling them the salt of the earth, meant to preserve men from the corruption of sin, and to make them relish the truths of salvation. He tells them not to suffer their faith or their charity to slacken, in which all their power consists, lest they come to be rejected by God, and despised by man. C. — I send you, says Jesus Christ, not to two, ten, or twenty cities, not to one single nation, as the prophets were sent, but to the whole world, a world oppressed with numberless iniquities. It is not the property of salt to restore what is already corrupted, but to preserve from corruption. Therefore the virtue of the merits of Christ delivers us from the corruption of sin; but the care and labour of the apostles preserves us from again returning to it. Chry. hom. xv. — It appears from Luke xiv. 34, that this comparison is taken from agriculture. We observe these properties of salt in the different manures that fertilize the soil, but suffer the salts to evaporate, and all their virtue is lost. A.
Ver. 15. This light of the world, city on a mountain, and candle upon a candlestick, signify the Catholic Church, so built upon Christ, the mountain, that it must be visible, and cannot be hidden or unknown. S. Aug. cont. Fulg. Therefore the Church being a candle not under a bushel, but shining to all in the house, i.e. in the world, what shall I say more, saith S. Aug. than that all are blind, who shut their eyes against the candle which is set on the candlestick? Tract ii. in ep. Jo.
Ver. 17. Not to destroy the law, &c. It is true, by Christ's coming, a multitude of ceremonies and sacrifices, and circumcision, were to cease; but the moral precepts were to continue, and to be complied with, even with greater perfection. Wi. — To fulfil. By accomplishing all the figures and prophecies, and perfecting all that was imperfect. Ch. — Our Saviour speaks in this manner, to prepare the minds of the Jews for his new instructions. For although they were not very solicitous about fulfilling the law, still they were extremely jealous of any change being made in the letter of the law; more particularly, if the proposed change exacted a more perfect morality. Our Lord fulfilled the law three several ways: 1. By his obedience to the prescribed rites; therefore he says, it behoveth us to fulfil all justice: and who shall accuse me of sin? 2. He observes the law, not only by his own observance of it, but likewise by enabling us to fulfil it. It was the wish of the law to make man just, but found itself too weak; Christ therefore came justifying man, and accomplished the will of the law. 3. He fulfilled the law, by reducing all the precepts of the old law to a more strict and powerful morality. Chry. hom. xvi.
Ver. 18. Amen. That is, assuredly, of a truth. This Hebrew word Amen, is here retained by the example and authority of all the four evangelists, who have retained it. It is used by our Lord as a strong asseveration, and affirmation of the truth. Ch. — Not one jot (or not one jota), nor one tittle, i.e. not the least letter, nor stroke of a letter; that is, not the least moral precept. Besides every type and figure of the former law, now by my coming shall be fulfilled. Wi. — Amhn, is retained in the Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, and Armenian languages, as well as in all vulgar idioms. It is a term of asseveration, and equivalent to an oath; and in many places, to make the asseveration still stronger, it is repeated. S. Luke very accurately translates it into nai. S. Paul and S. John unite them nai and amhn. A.
Ver. 19. He shall be called; i.e. (by a frequent Hebrew idiom) he shall be the least in the kingdom of heaven; that is, according to S. Aug. he shall not be there at all; for none but the great in sanctity and virtue shall find admittance into heaven. Wi. — Do not then imitate the Scribes and Pharisees, who content themselves with instructing other in the precepts of the law, without practising them themselves, or if they observe the letter, neglect the spirit of the law, performing what it ordains, not to please God, but to satisfy their vanity. C.
Ver. 20. Of the Scribes and of the Pharisees. The Scribes were the doctors of the law of Moses; the Pharisees were a precise set of men, making profession of a more exact observance of the law: and upon that account greatly esteemed among the people. Ch. — See how necessary it is, not only to believe, but to keep all the commandments, even the very least. B. — Our Saviour makes this solemn declaration at the opening of his mission, to shew to what a height of perfection he calls us. Aquin. — "Your justice." It is our justice when given us by God. Aug. in Ps. xxx. l. de. spir. & lit. c. ix. So that Christians are truly just, and have in themselves inherent justice, by observing God's commandments, without which justice of works, no man can be saved. Aug. de fide & oper. c. xvi. Whereby we see salvation, justice and justification, do not come by faith only, or imputation of Christ's justice. B.
Ver. 21. Shall be liable to the judgment. That is, shall deserve to be punished by that lesser tribunal among the Jews, called the judgment, which took cognizance of such crimes. Ch. — Among the Jews at the time of Christ, there were three sorts of tribunals: the first composed of three judges to try smaller causes, as theft; there was one in each town: the second of twenty-three judges, who judged criminal causes, and had the power of condemning to death. This was called the Little Sanhedrim, and of this it is supposed Jesus Christ speaks: the third, or Great Sanhedrim of seventy-two judges, who decided on the most momentous affairs, relating to religion, the king, the high priest, and the state in general. It is this last that is designated under the name of council in the next verse. A.
Ver. 22. Whosoever is angry with his brother. In almost all Greek copies and MSS. we now read angry without a cause: yet S. Jerom, who corrected the Latin of the New Testament from the best copies in his time, tells us that these words, without a cause, were only found in some Greek copies, and not in the true ones. It seems at first to have been placed in the margin for an interpretation only, and by some transcribers afterwards taken into the text. This as well as many other places may convince us, that the Latin Vulgate is many times to be preferred to our present Greek copies. — Raca. S. Augustin thinks this was no significant word, but only a kind of interjection expressing a motion of anger. Others take it for a Syro-Chaldaic word, signifying a light, foolish man, though not so injurious as to call another a fool. — Shall be guilty of the council: that is, shall deserve to be punished by the highest court of judicature, called the council, or sanhedrim, consisting of seventy-two persons, where the highest causes were tried and judged, and which was at Jerusalem. — Thou fool; this was a most provoking injury, when uttered with contempt, spite, or malice. — Shall be in danger of hell fire. Lit. according to the Greek, shall deserve to be cast into the Gehennom of fire. Gehennom was the valley of Hinnom, near to Jerusalem, where the worshippers of the idol Moloch used to burn their children, sacrificed to that idol. In that place was a perpetual fire, on which account it is made use of by our Saviour (as it hath been ever since), to express the fire and punishments of hell. Wi. — Here is a plain difference between sin and sin; some mortal, that lead to hell; some venial, and less punished. B.
Ver. 23. He commands us to leave unfinished any work we may have begun, though in its own nature most acceptable to God, in order to go and be reconciled to our brother; because God will have mercy and not sacrifice. Thus he in a manner seems to prefer the love of our neighbour to the love of himself. M.
Ver. 24. Leave thy offering. This is not to be understood, as if a man were always bound to go to the person offended; but it is to signify, that a man is bound in his heart and mind to be reconciled, to forgive every one, and seek peace with all men. Wi. — Beware of coming to the holy table, or to any sacrament, without charity. Be first reconciled to your brother, and much more to the Catholic Church, which is the whole brotherhood of Christian men. Heb. xiii. 1. B.
Ver. 25. & 26. Agree whilst you are in the way, or wayfaring men, i.e. in this life, lest you be cast into prison, i.e. according to SS. Cyprian, Ambrose, and Origen, into purgatory; according to S. Augustin, into hell, in which, as the debt is to be paid to inflexible justice, it can never be acquitted, and of course no release can be hoped for from that prison. A.
Ver. 27. Jesus Christ here perfects the old law, which makes no mention of the acts of the mind and will. M.
Ver. 29. Whatever is an immediate occasion of sin, however near or dear it may be, must be abandoned (M.), though it prove as dear to us, or as necessary as a hand, or an eye, and without delay or demur. A.
Ver. 32. Excepting the cause of fornication. A divorce or separation as to bed and board, may be permitted for some weighty causes in Christian marriages; but even then, he that marrieth her that is dismissed, commits adultery. As to this, there is no exception. The bond of marriage is perpetual; and what God hath joined, no power on earth can separate. See again Matt. xix. 9. Wi. — The knot of marriage is so sacred a tie, that the separation of the parties cannot loosen it, it being not lawful for either of the parties to marry again upon a divorce. Aug. de bon. conjug. c. vii. B.
Ver. 34. Swear not at all. We must not imagine that here are forbidden all oaths, where there is a just and necessary cause of calling God to witness. An oath on such an occasion is an act of justice and religion. Here are forbidden unnecessary oaths in common discourse, by which the sacred name of God, which never ought to be pronounced without reverence and respect, is so frequently and scandalously profaned. Wi. — 'Tis not forbidden to swear in truth, justice and judgment; to the honour of God, or our own or neighbours' just defence; but only to swear rashly, or profanely, in common discourse, and without necessity. Ch.
Ver. 35. The Anabaptists and other sectarists, following the letter, and not the spirit of the Scripture, and walking in the footsteps of their predecessors, the Waldenses, and the Pelagians, will allow of no oath to be lawful, not even before a judge. B.
Ver. 38. Hence your doctors have concluded that revenge, equal to the injury, was permitted.
Ver. 39. Not to resist evil; i.e. not to resist or revenge thyself of him that hath done evil to thee. — Turn him the other cheek. Let him have also thy cloak. These are to be understood as admonitions to Christians, to forgive every one, and to bear patiently all manner of private injuries. But we must not from hence conclude it unlawful for any one to have recourse to the laws, when a man is injured, and cannot have justice by any other means. Wi. — What is here commanded, is a Christian patience under injuries and affronts, and to be willing even to suffer still more, rather than to indulge the desire of revenge; but what is further added does not strictly oblige according to the letter, for neither did Christ, nor S. Paul, turn the other cheek. S. John xviii. and Acts xxiii. Ch. — Hence also the Anabaptists infer, that it is not lawful to go to law even for our just rights; and Luther, that Christians ought not to resist the Turks. B.
Ver. 41. Go with him other two. I know many interpreters would have it to signify no more than two in all. But the literal sense of the Latin, and also of the best Greek MSS. (as Dr. Wells takes notice in his amendments to the Prot. translation) express two more, i.e. not only as far again, but twice as far. And thus it is expounded by S. Aug. Serm. Domini in monte. t. iii. p. 193. Ed Ben. Wi. — Continue to be his guide sooner than lose patience, or be wanting in charity. A.
Ver. 43. And hate thy enemy. The words of the law (Levit. xix. 18.) are only these: thou shalt love thy friend as thyself; but by a false gloss and inference, these words, and hate thy enemy, were added by the Jewish doctors. Wi.
Ver. 44. I come to establish the purity of the law, which they have corrupted. A.
Ver. 46. The publicans. These were the gatherers of the public taxes: a set of men, odious and infamous among the Jews, for their extortions and injustice. Ch.
Ver. 48. Jesus Christ here sums up his instructions by ordering us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect; i.e. to imitate, as far as our exertions, assisted by divine grace, can reach, the divine perfection. Wi. — See here the great superiority of the new over the old law. But let no one hence take occasion to despise the old. Let him examine attentively, says S. Chrysostom, the different periods of time, and the persons to whom it was given; and he will admire the wisdom of the divine Legislator, and clearly perceive that it is one and the same Lord, and that each law was to the great advantage of mankind, and wisely adapted to the times of their promulgation. For, if among the first principles of rectitude, these sublime and eminent truths had been found, perhaps neither these, nor the less perfect rules of mortality would have been observed; whereas, by disposing of both in their proper time, the divine wisdom has employed both for the correction of the world. Hom. xviii. Seeing then that we are thus blessed as to be called, and to be the children of so excellent a Father, we should endeavour, like Him, to excel in goodness, meekness, and charity; but above all in humility, which will secure to us the merit of good works, through the infinite merits of our divine Redeemer, Master, and model, Christ Jesus the Lord. A.