|CATHOLIC SAINTS INDEX
An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.
In this chapter we have a full account of a portion of our Redeemer’s admirable discourse, commonly called, the Sermon on the Mount, continued and concluded in the two succeeding chapters, in which He delivers a comprehensive abstract of Christian faith and morality, perfecting at the same time the Law of Moses, and correcting the false glosses and corrupt interpretations of the Scribes and Pharisees. The Evangelist first briefly describes the circumstances in which it was delivered (1–2). He next records our Redeemer’s words, in which are pointed out the means for arriving at the secure enjoyment of happiness, commonly termed, the eight beatitudes; the very opposite of what mankind had hitherto supposed and followed, as the means of happiness (3–12). He admonishes the Apostles and all prelates, of their strict duty to edify and enlighten others by the example of a holy life and the shining light of pure doctrine (13–16). Meeting a charge to which His doctrine of perfection might expose Him, He shows, that far from being the enemy of the Law and the Prophets, He thoroughly fulfils and perfects them; and He declares, that the observance of the law by His followers must far exceed that of those reputed to be most observant among the Jews, viz., the Scribes and Pharisees (17–20). He more fully propounds the precept of the Decalogue relating to homicide; and He shows that the moral guilt and eternal punishment attached to it are incurred by those who violate it not only by act, but by thought or word; and as a means of observing it, He points out the necessity of fraternal union and concord (21–26). He next explains the law on the subject of adultery, which He declares to be violated by deliberate and wilful thoughts; and He insists on the necessity of sacrificing every object, however near or dear to us, that may prove the occasion of sin (27–30). He explains the law of divorce (31–32). He next fully explains the law on the subject of perjury, and shows the extent to which it binds us (33–37). He next explains the law of retaliation, lex talionis, and shows the retaliation alone suited to a Christian—forgiveness, patience, beneficence (38–42). He fully explains the law relating to the love of our enemies, and He points out the motives for the perfect observance of this precept (43–48).
1. “And seeing the multitude, He went up into a mountain.” St. Jerome thinks it was Mount Thabor, or some other mountain in Galilee. The first question which suggests itself here is, whether the discourse recorded by St. Matthew be the same as that in the Gospel of St. Luke (6:20–49), the circumstances of which are narrated in the preceding part of the chapter, particularly from v. 12 to v. 20, as also in St. Mark (3:13–19?) On this subject, there is a great diversity of opinion—some answering in the affirmative; others, in the negative. The opinion of those who say, that Matthew and Luke give the same identical discourse, seems the more probable. First, the commencement, the body, the termination of each discourse, in both Evangelists, is nearly the same. Each commences with the Beatitudes, and terminates with the beautiful simile of the house built on the rock, and of the house built on the sand. The body, or intermediate part, of the discourse in each, contains the peculiar doctrine of Christ, both as to the works to be performed, and the motives from which they should proceed. After it, both Evangelists record the cure of the Centurion’s servant after He entered Capharnaum. Secondly; the difficulties against this opinion, on the ground of the difference of circumstances referred to by both Evangelists, are very trifling, and more apparent than real. This will appear clear if all the circumstances, as collected from the three Evangelists, be fully considered. They appear to be as follows:—Our Redeemer having cured the man with the withered hand (Luke 6; Mark 3; Matthew 12), on the Sabbath day, betook Himself, in order to avoid the fury of the Pharisees, to the Sea of Galilee, and after having performed several miraculous cures, He ascended the mountain in order to avoid the crowd, and there spent the whole night in prayer; and in the morning, “when it was day” (Luke 6:13), He selected the twelve Apostles. After that, He came down into a plain or level ground, on the side of the mountain, and delivered this discourse in presence of His disciples, more particularly addressing some points of it, to His disciples, and other portions of it, to the multitude. For, “the people, after Jesus had fully ended these words, were in admiration at His doctrine” (Matt. 7:28). They must, therefore, have heard it. Moreover, St. Luke, who says that at the commencement of the discourse, “He lifted up His eyes on His disciples” (6:20), tells us (7:1), “that He had finished all His words, in the hearing of the people.” What one Evangelist asserts the other does not deny; and in reconciling any apparent discrepancies between them, we should bear in mind the character which marks the Gospel of St. Matthew, and that which distinguishes the Gospel of St. Luke. St. Matthew is remarkable for passing over facts and circumstances, when they come not directly within his scope; but always careful in recording fully, and in detail, the words of our Redeemer. St. Luke, on the other hand, is very particular in recording facts and circumstances, but not so diffuse, as St. Matthew, in detailing words. Hence, St. Matthew omits the object of our Redeemer in ascending the mountain, the selection of the Apostles on the top of the mountain—for, he had not hitherto described his own call to be a disciple of our Lord; this he does (c. 10)—the descent into the plain, or level tract of ground on the side of the mountain, where the multitude awaited Him. All these facts are recorded by St. Luke, and only omitted, but not denied by St. Matthew. Whatever, then, St. Luke says of the “plain” (6:17), is not in opposition to what St. Matthew says of “the mountain,” as, in the supposition made, the open plain was a part of the mountain-side. When, then, St. Luke says our Lord selected His Apostles on the mountain (6:13), St. Matthew does not deny this. Neither does he deny the object of our Lord in ascending the mountain, viz., to pray. Neither does he deny, that He delivered the discourse, in a standing posture. He only says, “His disciples came to Him when He was set down,” but he says nothing of the posture of His body, when delivering the discourse. Nay, St. Matthew would insinuate that the discourse was delivered by Him on an occasion different from that referred to when “He sat down.” For, it was to avoid the multitudes He “went up into a mountain,” and, then, the disciples came to Him, apart from the crowd. Now, the crowds heard the discourse; for, they admired it. It must be, then, on another occasion and in another place it was delivered, which St. Luke says was an open plain, and in a standing posture; although, indeed, it may be held that neither Evangelist records anything conclusive, as regards the posture of His body, whether sitting or standing, when delivering the discourse. St. Luke says, “He stood in a plain place” (6:17); but, He may have sat down before He commenced the discourse. St. Matthew says, He sat, when His disciples came to Him. But, He may have stood up before commencing His discourse. St. Luke gives but four Beatitudes; but, they contain the eight Beatitudes of St. Matthew; and the first and last coincide in both.
It seems most probable that St. Matthew records but one discourse delivered by our Redeemer at one and the same time. Indeed, a close, critical analysis of the discourse, as recorded by St. Matthew, composed of the several parts which constitutes a perfect discourse—its exordium in the Beatitudes, the proposition of the subject, the refutation of the objections, in the intermediate part, and its perfect peroration—would lead any judicious mind to the conclusion that it records one single, perfect discourse, and not two or more discourses, so connected by the Evangelist, as to present only the appearance of one. From this it follows, that St. Luke, who omits all that is recorded in the sixth chapter of St. Matthew, gives only a part of the discourse, or rather the disjointed parts of that delivered by our Redeemer; and, indeed this, too, would appear from a close examination of the discourse recorded by St. Luke.
It seems most likely, if not altogether certain, that this discourse was delivered, not a portion of it before the Apostles alone, and a portion before the multitude, but all at once, and entirely in the hearing of the Apostles, disciples, and multitude. It is evident that the sermon, as recorded by St. Luke, is a portion of that recorded by St. Matthew. Now, by neither Evangelist are we told that a portion was delivered before the Apostles alone, and a portion before the multitude—a circumstance the Evangelists would hardly omit recording, were it a fact. In truth, they record the contrary; for, St. Matthew tells us (7:28), that, “the people were in admiration at His doctrine,” after finishing His words. They, therefore, must have heard all His words. St. Luke tells us, the crowd came “to hear Him” (6:18), that “He cured those who were troubled with unclean spirits;” and without the slightest intimation that He retired a second time from them, St. Luke tells us, all at once, that He addressed them, “lifting up His eyes on His disciples,” an omission, if such it were, that would hardly occur in St. Luke, who is most accurate in detailing the actions of our Divine Redeemer. St. Luke also says (7:1), “that He had finished all these words in the hearing of the people” which are identical with the words of St. Matthew (7:28), and uttered in the same circumstances, after the example of the house built on the rock, and before he entered Capharnaum. The fact of our Redeemer having His disciples near Him, and raising His eyes upon them, proves nothing whatever against this opinion; since, even supposing the entire multitude to be present, it is but natural that His beloved disciples were near Him, and surrounded His sacred person. If He addressed some portions of His discourse to them in particular, and some to the multitude, He did no more than is done every day by men who address diversified congregations, composed of priests, and laity, and persons in several conditions of life. Nothing more common than to hear portions of a discourse peculiarly addressed to one class of men, and peculiarly to another, for whom they may be specially suited, while each part, in a general way, may apply to all. Certain counsels of perfection were in a special manner addressed by our Redeemer, in this sermon, to His Apostles—certain admonitions which, in a general way, applied to the entire multitude. It seems, then, all but certain that this discourse was addressed all at once to the Apostles, disciples, and assembled multitudes, “who came to hear our Lord, and to be healed of their diseases” (Luke 6:18).
“And when He was set down.” St. Matthew does not here say, He sat down when delivering the discourse. Nor, indeed, does it follow necessarily from St. Luke, that He delivered it standing. St. Luke only says, “He stood in an open plain” (6:17); but, He might have sat down before commencing His discourse, so that from neither account can the posture of His body, while speaking, be determined for certain.
“His disciples came unto Him.” St. Luke (6:13; Mark 3:13), says, this coming was the result of His having “called” them to Him.
2. “And opening His mouth,” is understood by some to convey, that heretofore, up to the present time, He opened the mouths of the prophets, but now He opens His own mouth, to disclose treasures of wisdom hitherto concealed from mankind. St. Chrysostom understands the words to mean, that now He is about to employ a vehicle of instruction, viz., through words, different from that conveyed by the silent eloquence of His life and miracles. Others, whose opinion is very probable, interpret the words; now, He is about to treat diffusely of sublime and important truths, hitherto concealed in mystery. Opening one’s mouth is a Hebrew idiom, serving as an introduction to a solemn and important discourse. Thus it is said of Job, “aperiens os suum Job maledixit,” &c. (Job 3:1; Dan. 10:16). Our Redeemer had hitherto only touched, in a summary way, on subjects of faith and morals, saying, “pœnitentiam agite,” &c. Now, He treats diffusely on the chief subjects of Christian faith and morals.
3. “Blessed.” Our Lord proposes, as a stimulus to the practice of the Christian virtues, and perfection of life He is about inculcating, the attainment of what all mer-naturally aspire to, and necessarily seek, in all they do or suffer. This is happiness. It was to bestow eternal happiness, and rescue man from eternal tortures and misery, the destined punishment of sin, that Jesus Christ came upon earth. It was this, the whole course of His sacred life, death, and passion had for object. He declares, however, that true happiness is enjoyed in this life only in hope, which results from the adoption of the means for securing eternal happiness hereafter; or rather, that the means and practices necessary for securing true happiness, are the opposite of what men hitherto imagined, or what the philosophers taught. In truth, the eight Beatitudes announced by the Son of God are so many paradoxes, opposed to all that men hitherto conceived or imagined; as may clearly be seen on comparing each virtue leading to happiness, with the ideas and practices of mankind.
“Blessed” in hope, not in possession; “blessed,” in via, but, not yet, in patria; blessed, not in regard to the certainty of attaining the end, but in regard to future enjoyment, should there be no obstacle arising from want of perseverance.
“The poor in spirit.” This phrase is variously interpreted. The Greek word, πτωχοι, means those really poor, destitute of the goods of this world. It is opposed to the really rich in St. Luke (6:24). Our Lord pronounces, contrary to what mankind always thought, who regarded riches and worldly possessions as securing the summit of happiness, the state of poverty, to be a state of blessedness; but, lest it might be imagined that poverty, of itself, conferred happiness, He adds, “in spirit,” to show that it must be either poverty voluntarily assumed, or willingly borne for Christ’s sake, and in a spirit of holy conformity to God’s adorable will. The words, “in spirit,” include in the beatitude, those who are in heart, and will, and affection, detached from the wealth which they possess, as has happened many of the saints of the Old, as also of the New Law, who, though in elevated positions, were still detached from this world, “as having nothing, and possessing all things” (2 Cor. 6:10), “as if they were not possessing anything” (1 Cor. 7:30).
The words, “in spirit,” exclude one class and include another. They exclude those poor, who, being such, fail to conform to God’s holy will, and bear not their sufferings and privations with patience. Many poor may be robbers, liars, &c.; poverty must be accompanied with other prescribed virtues. This is always supposed, when there is question of an affirmative proposition. They include a class not actually poor, viz., the rich, whose hearts are weaned from the wealth of this world. These words show that not to all who are actually poor, nor to them only, does the beatitude extend; not to all poor, but only to such of them as are so, in spirit, nor is it confined to them. It embraces those who, though in possession of riches, possess them as if they possessed them not, by detachment of heart. Indeed, our Lord, by exalting poverty, lays the axe to the root of all evils, which is the love of riches, “radix omnium malorum cupiditas” (1 Tim. 6)
The words, “poor in spirit,” indirectly mean humility, inasmuch as the love and possession of wealth are apt to render men haughty and proud. The words, “in spirit,” are to be understood in each of the seven other beatitudes. For, it is to the heart and the interior disposition God chiefly looks, and, indeed, the chief scope of this Sermon on the Mount is to demonstrate the utter worthlessness of external, Pharisaical observances, unless proceeding from the heart, and from pure interior motives.
“For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Theirs is,” at the present moment, not in actual fruition; but in certain hope, and in virtue of God’s unfailing promise. Nay, even, they actually enjoy, by a kind of sensible foretaste and contented happiness, “the kingdom of heaven,” which, by its overflowing abundance of heavenly riches and exalted honours, shall amply compensate for the present poverty and depression of God’s elect. They shall reign with God, and entering into His rest, shall, in a certain sense, participate in His reign over all creation, “fecisti nos Deo Nostro regnum et regnabimus super terram” (Apoc. 5:10). Abundance of heavenly riches is a congruous reward for those who suffer the loss of all things here below. The same reward is attached to all the beatitudes; but, viewed under different respects, according to the different virtues which merit it, and the privations it is intended to compensate for. To the poor, it is granted under the name of a “kingdom;” to the meek, under the name of land, &c.
4. “Meek,” not those who, from natural temperament or stoical indifference, quietly bear the evils of life; but, those who, from a Christian spirit, patiently endure the evils of this life; if sent by God, without murmuring or repining; if inflicted by man, without retaliation or vengeance, “to no man rendering evil for evil, but overcoming evil by good” (Rom. 12:17–21). To these, who for God’s sake submit to be deprived, by the wicked, of their inheritance, lands, and possessions here, is appropriately assigned as a reward, the, inheritance of lands far more valuable, or, the rich inheritance of heaven, hereafter. “Shall possess (in the Greek, shall inherit) the land,” is commonly understood after St. Jerome, of the land of the living, viz. heaven, “credo videre bona Domini in terra viventium.” They shall possess the new heavens and the new earth. Indeed, in all these beatitudes, the rewards held out by our Redeemer are heavenly. They all refer to eternal happiness, viewed under different respects. Meekness is very appropriately placed after its kindred virtue of poverty of spirit. One is generally found associated with the other. The words of our Redeemer are very similar to those of David, “mansueti hœreditabunt terram et delectabuntur in multitudine pacis.” (Psa. 26) In the Greek version, this is placed third, in the order of beatitudes. “Blessed are they that mourn” (v. 5), is placed before it, second, in order.
5. “Mourn.” The words, “in spirit,” are understood to affect this as well as the several other beatitudes. Hence, by mourning, here is meant, enduring sorrow for our own sins and those of others. It also includes, in general, sorrowing for the adversities and misfortunes of this world, the want of success in life, all patiently endured for God’s sake, and in a spirit of resignation to His adorable will. It is opposed to those “who laugh”—“Woe to you who now laugh” (Luke 6:25); the oppressed are opposed to the oppressors; the vanquished, to their conquerors. In this beatitude, our Redeemer pronounces, contrary to what the world has always believed and practised, that mourning and sorrow, as a state, is preferable to joy and mirth. But, then, it must be mourning, in the sense already explained. It does not extend to those who mourn from disappointed ambition, or for punishment deservedly inflicted and impatiently endured, nor to that worldly sadness which “worketh death” (2 Cor. 7:10).
“They shall be comforted,” hereafter in heaven, when God shall wipe away every tear from their eye, and there shall be no more mourning, nor sorrow (Apoc. 21:4). Even in this life, they sometimes receive consolation in the peace and joy of conscience, which is but a foretaste of everlasting joy to come, which made St. Bernard exclaim, “If it be so sweet to weep for Thee, what to rejoice with Thee?” Heaven, where no sorrow can enter, shall be their consolation. Everlasting comfort and consolation hereafter is a congruous reward for their virtuous and Christian sorrow and discomfort, for God’s sake, in this life.
6. “Who hunger and thirst after justice.” In St. Luke, there is merely question of hungering—“that hunger now” (6:21). This can hardly be understood of a general desire of justice. For, our Redeemer speaks of special virtues, and the desire of justice referred to, is a general virtue. Moreover, He speaks of what the world dreads and recoils from. Now, the world esteems those who desire to be just and virtuous. And as it is opposed by St. Luke (6:25), to those “that are filled,” on whom is pronounced a woe, “shall hunger” cannot mean spiritual hunger; nor “filled,” filled with justice. Hence, it means real, bodily hunger, which mankind so much dread. Hunger and thirst, however, of themselves, will not secure happiness. Like all the other virtues to which happiness is annexed and promised, it must be “in spirit;” or, as St. Matthew expresses it, in the cause of justice. Hence, the words mean; blessed are they who are subjected to hunger and thirst, because justice is refused them, which refusal they bear patiently for God’s sake, and to injustice inflicted on them for justice sake; or, because they endure such suffering rather than violate justice, regarded as a general virtue, i.e., rather than act against conscience, or, who voluntarily endure hunger and thirst, for an increase in themselves of virtue and sanctity.
“Shall be filled,” another form of expressing the fulness of joy to be reaped for ever in heaven, “inebriabuntur ab ubertate domus tuæ, torrente voluptatis tuæ potabis eos” (Psa. 35:9).
7. This beatitude is apparently subjoined to the preceding, as Mercy and Justice should go hand-in-hand. They supplement each other. “Merciful,” who from tender, compassionate feeling, sympathize—and practically manifest this sympathy—in the miseries, whether corporal or spiritual, of others; who, therefore, are generous in forgiving injuries, as is referred to (Matt. 18:28), and by bearing their neighbours’ burdens, fulfil the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2), who are liberal in dispensing alms for the relief of bodily want. Hence, our Lord utters here what is a paradox with the world, who deem it better to receive than to give. This virtue of mercy also inculcates the practical relief of all the miseries, whether spiritual or corporal, of our neighbours. Those who have not the means nor the opportunity of relieving miseries, should have the disposition to do so. The Apostles had no means of relieving the poor; but, they had much injury to pardon.
“They shall obtain mercy,” eternal life, which shall free them from all evils and miseries. It is an appropriate reward for those who show mercy themselves, to have mercy shown them, and a judgment of mercy—that is, a favourable judgment, passed on them. Eternal life is a mercy from God. It is the fruit of God’s mercy and gratuitous gifts, who, “in crowning our merits but crowns His own gifts” (St. Aug. Epist. 105).
8. “Clean of heart,” is understood by some, of a general purity of conscience, free from duplicity and deceit; free from the defilement of grievous sin, and wicked, corrupt thoughts and desires of sin, including purity of intention and candid simplicity, so opposed to the spirit of the world, which “totus in maligno positus est” (1 John 5:19). This general purity of heart, so necessary to see God, of course embraces exemption from the sins and desires of the flesh, and the practice of the holy virtue of purity. As bodily humours blind the eyes, and prevent them from seeing the sun; so, duplicity of heart and conscience, defiled with wicked desires, is a great obstacle to the vision, i.e., the proper consideration of God in this life, and shall eternally exclude from the beatific vision in the life to come. In this life, God will not reveal Himself, nor make Himself known to such as do not look towards Him with simplicity of mind, purity of heart, without defilement, and with upright intention. Others understand the words, of cleanness of heart, in regard to carnal defilement, so that they understand the words, of the holy virtue of purity, both in thought and act. This virtue, which our Lord so much prized and inculcated on His followers; which He made the distinctive glory, in all its perfection, of His ministers and chosen spouses, was regarded as impossible in the world before His time, and utterly undervalued in practice. “The concupiscence of the flesh” was among the chief predominant maxims in the world. This purity of heart, whether understood of the virtue of chastity, or taken in a more general signification, was very appropriately subjoined to the preceding virtue of mercy, inasmuch as many externally exhibit great mercy and tenderness, who are the slaves of wicked thoughts and carnal indulgence. The word “heart,” more directly refers to the affections than to the intellectual faculties of man; and hence, our Redeemer regards beatitude quite differently from the philosophers, who regarded the learned and wise as approaching nearer to God; or from the Pharisees, who only looked to external ablutions, regardless of the interior purity which they were intended to signify.
“Shall see God,” who makes Himself, His perfections, His designs of mercy known to the simple and pure of heart in this life, and shows Himself to them, as He is, “face to face,” in the life to come. It is this last, that is held out as the reward, being another form of saying, they shall obtain the bliss of heaven. The seeing of God in this life, is a means towards the other as its end.
9. “Peace-makers,” those who devote themselves to the work of reconciling such as are at variance, whether with themselves, their neighbours, or with God. The world regards those as happy who bravely overcome and trample under foot their enemies, and display their prowess and strength in doing so. But, our Lord pronounces those, on the contrary, “blessed,” who, instead of making a great noise in the world, by the force of their prowess and strength in trampling on their enemies, and thus sow the seeds of further wars and dissensions, devote themselves to the quiet work of reconciling all who are at variance. The Apostles and Apostolic men are included, who, by preaching the Gospel of peace, reconcile man with God.
“Shall be called,” i.e., shall be in reality, and publicly known to be, “the children of God;” like unto God the Father, who is the God of peace and not of dissension; to God the Son, who came into the world as peace-maker, to reconcile God with man, and man with himself and his fellows; and as sons of God—and this is the reward directly promised—they shall be sharers in His kingdom, as His heirs and co-heirs of His Son, Christ. This is another form of words promising the happiness of heaven.
10. “Suffer persecution.” The preceding beatitudes consist in action; this and the following, which is included in this as a special part of it, consists in suffering, which is more perfect than action—“fortia agere, Romanum est; fortia pati, Christianum.” Indeed, the preceding beatitudes entail this, inasmuch as men, by the constant practice of the preceding virtues, bring on themselves persecution from the world—“opprimamus justum, contrarius est operibus nostris.” It will not secure this beatitude to suffer the just punishment of crime, although this may satisfy common justice and common equity; what is required here is, to suffer for doing, and for persevering in doing, some good and laudable act; or, for following a virtuous course of life, rather than escape punishment or persecution. “Let no one suffer as a homicide,” &c. (1 Peter 4), “but, if for justice’ sake, blessed” (3); and, “But if doing well you suffer patiently, this is praiseworthy before God” (1 Peter 2:20). Hence, those are referred to, who suffer for the faith; for the rights of the Church; for the practice of any Christian virtue. Pagans and infidels, if they suffer, cannot suffer for justice’ sake. It is not the suffering that begets merit or makes the martyr, but the cause. The death of the wicked is not the glory of faith, but the penalty of perfidy (St. Augustine).
“Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “The kingdom of heaven” is considered in this beatitude, as conferring great exaltation; since, it is congruous, that those who are trampled on and despised here below, should be exalted hereafter. In the first beatitude, it is regarded as conferring the abundance of heavenly treasures, on those who had no wealth, or were detached from the wealth of this world. It is to be observed that all these beatitudes are connected intimately with one another; and that happiness is not in store for the man who is possessed of one virtue, and devoid of another. Each of these general promises of beatitude implies the condition, provided, nothing else be wanting which is prescribed. Indeed, every affirmative proposition implies such a condition in the general assertion it may convey; and to each of these eight beatitudes, “the kingdom of heaven” is promised under a different name and title, suitable to each work, and to the exercise of each virtue.
11. He applies the preceding beatitude, which, in general, embraces all kinds of persecution for justice’ sake, to His Apostles, since a new kind of persecution was in store for them, for Christ’s sake; and He thus forewarns and forearms, and prepares them, for the sufferings that were to await them for preaching the Gospel.
“When men shall revile you,” and use contumelious, opprobrious language towards you, in your presence; it is the same as “reproach you” in Luke 6:22 (ονειδισωσι).
“And persecute you,” by action—it is more limited than “persecution,” in verse 10 or verse 12, “persecuted the prophets”—“and lay all manner of evil against you,” in your absence, charging you with all sorts of crimes, wicked motives, and intentions.
“Falsely,” unjustly calumniating you, and placing false charges to your account.
“For My sake.” They thus speak ill of you, and persecute you; because, you profess and preach My faith, My Divinity, My death and sufferings to redeem the world, My revelation, hitherto concealed from the world—a subject of scandal and folly to unbelievers—and My moral precepts and commandments, so opposed to the corrupt dictates of flesh and blood.
St. Luke has four members in this sentence: “shall hate you,” which refers to interior feelings; “shall separate you,” shall exclude them from all human intercourse, “shall reproach you,” the same as “revile you” in St. Matthew; “and east out your name as evil,” i.e., render their name detestable and abominable among future generations.
12. Our Redeemer not only promises eternal rewards to those who suffer thus on His account; but He also invites them, far from being cast down by adversity, to rejoice at the prospect of the measureless magnitude of the reward in store for them. He also proposes, as a motive for rejoicing, the example of the ancient prophets, whose successors they are in a still more exalted sense, who were persecuted in the several ways already foretold to the Apostles. Nothing new was about to happen them; they are only to be subjected to the treatment of the saints of old. Hence, He warns them not to be disturbed, but rather to rejoice, when these persecutions shall befall them; for, to the same treatment were the saints of old, whom the world venerates and admires, subjected. They should be prepared to suffer like indignities, and like persecutions, in the same cause.
13. “You are the salt of the earth.” “You are”—you ought to be. You are destined by Me to be, and are selected by Me to be such, which, by My grace, you shall be in reality, “the salt of the earth.” Salt is the symbol of wisdom, which is partly in the intellect, partly in the will or moral conduct. These words are addressed to the Apostles in particular, whom our Redeemer wishes to stimulate to patient suffering for His sake, and to zeal in executing His commands, by pointing out the exalted position which He assigns to them, as leaders and guides of His people. By several similitudes, He shows the character and position they hold. The Prophets were the salt of Judea only, the Apostles “of the (entire) earth,” hence the superiority of the latter. The twofold property of “salt,” viz., to impart flavour to insipid food, and preserve from corruption, symbolizes the character and office of the Apostles, in their relations with the world. What salt is to the food, seasoning and preserving it from corruption, they should be to the rest of mankind. By their preaching and holy example, they should render men, otherwise insipid before God, whom He would “vomit out of His mouth” (Apoc. 3), agreeable in His sight, and freeing them from the corruption of sin, preserve them for eternal incorruption. Our Redeemer here implies that the whole earth, of which the Apostles were the salt, was sunk in the corruption of sin. “If salt lose,” &c., there is nothing to restore to it its properties of flavouring and curing. If the teacher teaches what is false, or scandalize by his corrupt and immoral life, who can correct or restore him? The implied answer is, that although it be a thing, that may happen, it is a thing very difficult of accomplishment, and that rarely happens, as, indeed, a sad experience every day confirms.
“It is good for nothing but to be cast out.” It is unfit for any useful purpose, like the wood of the vine (Ezech. 15:2, 3, 4). St. Luke (14:35) more fully expresses it: “It is neither profitable for the land nor for the dunghill,” &c. Other things, even if they miss their destination, may be utilized—gold, food, &c.—not so salt, once it loses it properties of savouring and preserving. The cure of the perverse teacher is almost hopeless. Rarely, and with difficulty, is he converted. Degradation and misery here, by being contemptuously trodden under foot by the passers-by, and eternal degradation under the feet of demons, hereafter, is generally, it is to be feared, the portion in store for him.
“But, if the salt lose its savour.” Some say salt never loses its savour; hence, our Redeemer here supposes what is false. Resp. The assertion is only hypothetical. Our Redeemer does not say it does lose its savour. It is a supposition like “si angelus de cœlo evangelizaverit,” &c. (Gal. 1:8) Rock salt, it is said, loses it savour, but not sea salt. Shaw and other modern travellers say, they saw, in their travels in the East, salt that lost its savour. Many commentators here say there is allusion made by our Lord to bitumen taken from the Dead Sea, with which the victims in the temple were besmeared. This, after exposure to the air, lost its savoury qualities, and was then thrown on the floor of the temple, to prevent the priests from slipping in wet weather.
14. He once more illustrates the character and duties of the Apostles by the example of light. They were destined to enlighten the world by the soundness and purity of their teaching and example—a world, sunk in the darkness of sin and error. Both illustrations refer to the doctrine of faith and morals, with which they were to enlighten and reform the intellects and minds of mankind. Salt especially refers to morals or example; light, to teaching. “You are,” that is, you ought, and are destined, to be, and shall be, if you correspond, as is meet, with My grace. They are a light, but having only a brilliancy borrowed from without, and imparted by Him who is of Himself “the true (essential) light, which enlightens every man”—the true Son of Justice itself.
“A city,” &c. Here is a third example tending to the same thing, viz., to stimulate the Apostles to zeal in the discharge of the great Apostolic functions confided to them, of enlightening and saving the rest of mankind, by the preaching, in season and out of season, of the Gospel of truth, and by the constant, open and public example of saintly lives. There is an ellipsis here of the words, “You are a city set on a mountain.”
15. These words have the same object as the preceding, to stimulate the Apostles to shine as lights before the world, to enlighten the surrounding darkness, and impart to all the world the light of a holy, spotless life, and of pure teaching. As a city on a hill cannot be hid, so neither can the Apostles, from their exalted position, be concealed from the eyes of men; and, hence, their duty, to live so as to edify men. As no one lights a candle for the purpose of concealing its light, so neither did God constitute the Apostles as the lights of the world, in order to hide their light and detain the truth of God in injustice. Their duty is quite plain, viz., to diffuse this light far and near; to be deterred by no obstacles, in the free exercise of the exalted commission confided to them by God Himself, and to show forth the brilliancy of their virtues, and by their example to allure others to God.
16. Here, we have the explanation and application of the foregoing parables. In the preceding, He shows, that their light should shine before men. In this, He shows how it is to shine, how they are to discharge the duties of enlightening and saving the world, imposed upon them, and the end or motive they should have in view, viz., the glory of their Heavenly Father. In this verse is insinuated, that unless our works correspond with our teaching, we cannot bring men to God. The particle “that,” denotes the consequence, not the end or motive, at least the ultimate one. Our ultimate end or motive should be, not our own personal glory, nor the praises of men; but, God’s glory. Hence, this is not opposed to 6:1, “THAT you may be seen by them,” as in these latter words, is conveyed the ultimate end or final motive of catching the applause and securing the praise of men. “Sit OPUS in publico, ut intentio maneat in occulto” (St. Gregory). Those, then, violate the injunction of our Lord—1. Who indolently hide their light under a bushel, or traffic not with the talent confided to them. 2. Whose lives correspond not with their teaching. 3. Whose motives are corrupt, viz., vanity, desire of applause, and not God’s greater glory.
17. Our Redeemer now guards against the imputation, to which the promulgation of loftier precepts than those to be met with in the old Dispensation might expose Him, viz., that He meant utterly to abolish the Old Law—by showing that, far from that, He came to accomplish and fulfil it. Others (Maldonatus, &c.), connect this with the preceding verse, thus: He wishes to impress upon those who “were the light of the world” HOW “their light should shine before men,” both in their conduct and teaching, viz., by a more careful and perfect observance of the law, following His own example, and by not imagining, that, as members of His household, they were released from strict observance.
“To destroy,” by violating the precepts and abolishing the teachings of the law By “the law,” which sometimes comprises the entire Old Testament, are meant here the five books of Moses, and by “the Prophets,” the rest of the books of the Old Testament. The books containing the law are put for the law itself. Our Redeemer fulfils the moral law, the chief portion of the law, which, as comprising the natural law, was unchangeable, by a more clear exposition of its precepts, and by incorporating it with His own law; by observing it Himself, and teaching others to do so; by giving grace, whereby it might be fully observed; by superadding counsels of perfection so useful to ensure its full observance. He fulfilled the ceremonial law, by substituting the reality for the figure; by bringing about the realities, which in their mystical signification these ceremonial precepts typified; (by executing a promise one rather fulfils than destroys it). He also fulfilled the ceremonial law, by inculcating the spiritual obligations it signified. Even when abolishing the ceremonial precepts in their literal acceptation, He fulfilled them; since it was predicted of them that they were to be abolished after a time. He fulfilled the Prophets, since He fully verified and accomplished the ancient prophecies. He fulfilled the judicial law, by commuting temporal sanction into threats and promises of a spiritual and eternal character.
18. Far from coming to destroy and utterly abrogate the law; on the contrary, I solemnly assert, “Amen, I say to you,” that until the end of the world, when “heaven and earth,” that now are, shall pass away in their present corrupt form, and be changed into a “new heaven and a new earth” (Apoc. 21:1), the slightest point of what the law contains (and the same is true of the Prophets), shall not be left without its due fulfilment. The ceremonial law shall be fulfilled in the realities which it typified; the judicial, in the rewards of a higher and more exalted kind which it shall administer, the moral, in the unchangeableness of its preceptive binding moral force, at all times, under pain of sin, and in the sanction which its observance or violation, in the smallest degree, shall entail; although, indeed it is to the completion and exhibition of the promises of the law He here refers; He also refers to the addition of precepts completing and perfecting the law. “Amen,” if prefixed to a sentence, is assertive; if after it, it is confirmatory. Our Redeemer, in employing it, as He does frequently, conveys that peculiar significance should be attached to the subject which it precedes. In the Old Testament, it is never found at the beginning of a sentence; sometimes, however, it is found at the end of a sentence. In the New, it generally commences, but seldom ends a sentence. “Heaven and earth pass away,” i.e., till the end of the world, when the present heaven and earth shall change their form, and there shall be “a new heaven and a new earth.” Others interpret the words: Sooner shall heaven and earth pass away, and cease to be (a thing utterly impossible), than any part of the law be unaccomplished; just like the phrase, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle,” a thing utterly impossible.
“One jot,” (ιωτα ἓν), iota unum. The iota is supposed to have been placed here for the Hebrew jod, the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. “One” “tittle” (κεραία), the very point of the smallest letter, the smallest mark distinguishing one letter from another, v.g., G from C (St. Jerome); κεραία, “tittle,” is the little top or distinguishing mark of a letter, which indicates the most trivial precepts or ordinances of the law. “Till all is fulfilled” (see above).
19. As, therefore, I am come to perfect and fulfil the law, whosoever shall violate even what may be regarded as one of the least of these commandments, which I am about to propose, either from the law, or superadded for perfection’ sake by myself. He calls them “least,” not in themselves; but as they may be regarded by men, and by the Pharisees, who regarded the external act, v.g., of homicide as sinful; but not the deliberate intention of perpetrating it.
“And shall teach men so.” The particle, “so,” is interpreted by some to mean: As I am just now teaching; so that it refers to the man who teaches well, but through frailty, violates the commandments, not practising what he teaches. In this interpretation, “least” means, shall be lowered in his grade, and not obtain the place he would otherwise be entitled to. For, the violation of the least commandment, such as to be angry from a sudden impulse, would hardly utterly exclude from heaven. Others, more probably, understand the words to refer to the man that violates the least precept, and shall teach others they may lawfully “do so,” and violate the commandments after his example. Such a man “shall be called,” that is, in the judgment of God, shall be pronounced to be, and shall be in reality, “least,” that is, utterly excluded from heaven; or if, by “the kingdom of heaven,” we mean the Church, such a man shall be excluded from the society of the faithful, as a propounder of erroneous doctrine, and ultimately from heaven, unless he repent. “Least” is used in preference to excluded, as containing an allusion to the least commandment.
Our Redeemer is manifestly alluding to the Pharisees, who not only violated the law in certain points relative to interior acts of the will; but also taught men that interior acts and intentions, v.g., of adultery or murder were not sinful, and should not be heeded; that they might be indulged in with impunity, and without moral guilt.
In the preceding verse, our Redeemer shows how He came to fulfil that portion of the law which pertained to promises, types, and judicial sanction for its observance. In this verse, He shows how He fulfilled the moral law—the chief and most important branch of the law—by giving an example of observing it Himself, and teaching others the duty of observing it; and by declaring that any man who, like the Pharisees, violates the law (in even what men would consider its least precepts, as the Pharisees regarded deliberate sins of thought), would merit everlasting exclusion from the Church and the kingdom of God’s glory.
“But he that shall do and teach;” he does not add, “the least commandment,” because it is required to observe all the commandments, and teach properly in regard to them.
“Shall be called,” shall be in reality, and pronounced so in the judgment of God, “great,” deserving of the highest place and dignity in that house where “there are many mansions,” in which “star differs from star” in brilliancy and glory, and in which, those who instruct many unto justice shall shine as stars for all eternity. “Great, and least” are antithetical. So are, “shall break, and so teach,” and “shall do and teach.”
20. “For I tell you,” &c. Here is contained an illustration and particular application of the preceding verse. “Least in the kingdom of heaven,” means exclusion from it. “For, I tell you … shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
“Your justice.” The observance of the moral law is called “justice,” because it is by keeping the law, we are justified. “Factores legis justificabuntur” (Rom. 2); “Si vis ingredi vitam serva mandata” (Matt. 19:17). “Scribes” (see 2:4); “Pharisees” (see 3:7). Our Lord here introduces “the justice” or observance of the law by the Scribes, &c., because they were regarded as the most observant among the Jews, and still it was defective. Their observance of the law was confined to external acts; they regarded of no consequence interior acts of the will, and taught others the same. Hence, they shall be “least;” in other words, “shall never enter the kingdom of heaven.” What our Redeemer condemns, is not their observance of the law, apart from the motive and false teaching, as far as it went; but, He condemns it as defective, not going far enough. Hence, He says, “unless it abound more,” exceeds theirs, be fuller, more perfect, either as regards teaching or practical observance, it will not do.
This verse may be connected with the preceding, of which it is an application and clearer illustration; or, with verse 17, thus proving, He came not to destroy the law, since He requires a more perfect observance of it than was ever practised or exhibited by even the most observant among the Jews, who were the teachers and guides of the people, viz., “Scribes and Pharisees.” The more perfect observance required, as is inferred from the following, consists—1st. Not only in external observances merely, but in the regulation of the internal thoughts and feelings. “Whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her,” &c. 2ndly. In avoiding what the law merely tolerated from necessity, v.g., bill of divorce, usury, vengeance, &c. 3dly. In observing the law, not merely according to the letter, as explained by the Scribes, &c., of whose exposition we have an example in the words, “odio habebis inimicum,” but according to its spirit and the intention of the Divine legislator.
21. Our Redeemer now proceeds to fulfil the law (v. 17), so far as regards the moral or chief portion of the law is concerned. In the first place, He clears away the false glosses and interpretations put upon the precepts of the moral law by the Scribes and Pharisees, whose justice He condemns, inasmuch as they not only themselves violated certain important precepts of the law, which they regarded as of little value—those “least commandments” (v. 19); but also taught “men” (to do) “so,” i.e., do the same, by their false interpretations of the law. In the next place, it seems most likely that in the following discourse, wherein as legislator, He promulgates the New Law, He even, in a certain sense, corrects the Old Law itself, not by destroying it, as containing anything bad, or anything opposed to the New Law—for, in itself the law was “holy, spiritual” (Rom. 7:12–14), and every one of its precepts is “holy, just, and good”—(Rom. 7:12), but, as imperfect; for, “it brought nothing to perfection” (Heb. 7:11). He supplies its defects, and perfects it, by more clearly evolving the precepts of the natural law which it contained, by superadding evangelical counsels, and certain points of explicit faith. He opposes Himself and the law He promulgates to Moses and his law as the more perfect to the less perfect, as the covenant of a better hope, containing and fulfilling better and more exalted promises, imperfect testament, which was only intended as an introduction to His (Heb. 7:19). This shall be more clearly seen in the interpretation of each passage.
“You have heard,” when the books of Moses were read for you, as usually happens each Sabbath in your synagogues (Acts 13:14, 15), “that it was said to them of old,” i.e., it was enjoined by the law of Moses, on your fathers, to whom it was first promulgated in the desert of Mount Sinai. He omits the name of Moses, lest the mention of it might be any way invidious, as He is about perfecting His law and more fully developing it; and although the law given by Moses was the law of God, still we find Moses introduced as its promulgator. “Lex per Moysem data et.” (John 1)
“Thou shalt not kill,” by which is prohibited the taking away our neighbour’s life out of revenge or on our own personal, private authority; or, without some justifying cause, arising out of the just exercise of the commands of public authority, or necessary self-defence.
“And whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment,” i.e., liable to capital punishment, or death, as a homicide, such being the punishment awarded by the law to homicides when brought before the tribunal called, “the Judgment.” These latter words are not found in the law, but they are there in substance. The terms expressive of the punishment of such a crime in the law are, “dying, let him die” (Lev. 24:17); or, as our Lord is quoting the words, according as they “heard” them from the Scribes and Pharisees, who gave the substance of the penalty contained in the law, the word, “judgment,” may mean, liable to be brought before the tribunal appointed to investigate into the cause of murder, as to whether it was justifiable or not, which is but an epitome of the several enactments on the subject (Exod. 21; Deut. 19), and in case it was wilful, death was the consequence.
Cardinal Baronius (Tom. 1. Annal.) relates, from the Talmudists, that there were three tribunals among the Jews. The first, consisting of three judges, who took cognizance of trivial cases, such as cases of theft, rapine, &c.; the second, composed of twenty-three judges. This tribunal, called “the Judgment,” referred to here, took cognizance of causes of grievous moment, and was armed with the power of life and death. The third, called the Sanhedrim—a term of Greek origin—composed of seventy-two judges, had jurisdiction in matters of the greatest moment, involving the public interests of religion and the State. It is a matter of doubt whether this had anything in common with the Council of Seventy Elders appointed by Moses to assist him in the government of the people (Num. 11:16, 17, 24). This latter tribunal (Sanhedrim) existed at Jerusalem only, and exercised judgment there only. The other tribunals, of three and of twenty-three judges, were appointed in the several cities and tribes (Deut. 16:18). It is recorded (2 Par. 19), that a similar arrangement was made by king Josaphat.
22. “But I say to you.” Here our Redeemer fulfils the law by more fully explaining it, and correcting the false interpretations of the Scribes and Pharisees, who confined the prohibition of the precept to mere external acts, as is implied in the foregoing, and by the extension of the prohibition in this verse, in accordance with the natural law, to internal acts of consent, as entailing grievous moral guilt, and the heaviest punishment. “But I say to you.” “I,” the legislator of the New Law, the teacher sent down from heaven, the Prophet like unto Moses, raised up by God for you (Deut. 18:18). “I say to you,” that not only he who commits homicide, but, “whosoever is angry with his brother” (to which the Greek adds, εικη, without cause, but rejected by St. Jerome as spurious and as introduced by copyists). “Angry” conveys the state of strong, passionate resentment and excitement, desiring (as is implied by the subject matter) and tending to deprive our neighbour of life, or inflict on him grievous bodily harm—just displeasure and indignation at the conduct of others, if moderated by reason, is not prohibited here as sinful—“shall be in danger of judgment;” that is to say, shall sin mortally and incur eternal death, just as in verse 28, the internal desire of adultery, though punishable by no earthly tribunal, entails grievous moral guilt.
“Raca.” This supposes the internal feelings of grievous anger referred to in the preceding, to proceed to reproachful language. “Raca,” a vile, contemptible, brainless wretch. This involves a greater amount of guilt and a heavier mortal sin than the mere internal feelings of anger, similar to that of which the Council of Seventy-two took cognizance among the Jews, and shall entail a heavier punishment in hell.
“Fool,” a still more reproachful term, probably involving a charge of impiety and irreligion; since, among the Jews, impiety was regarded as folly of the greatest kind. The use of such a reproachful term involves a degree of guilt so great, that there is no analogous tribunal among the Jews to take cognizance of it, and it deserves a punishment more grievous than that inflicted by the Sanhedrim, such as the sword or stoning; it deserves, that one would burn in the unceasing fire of Gehenna, an emblem of hell.
“Hell fire.” No doubt, hell fire is the punishment reserved for the preceding sins also, according to the interpretation now given, which supposes them to be mortal; but, to express the heinousness of this latter sin, which involves the most grievous insult and contumely, aggravated by the manner and circumstances of its utterance, relative to cause and persons, and their relation to each other, our Redeemer, who speaks in accommodation to the notions of His hearers regarding the guilt of sin, as seen from the tribunals before which it is brought, wishes to convey, that there was no tribunal on earth to award punishment analogous to that entailed by the sin of grievous contumely and insult, expressed by the word, “fool.” Others understand the passage thus: they say, that in the two preceding kinds of sin there may be some grounds for doubting their heinousness; and hence, they should form the subject of investigation. But, as regards this latter one, there can be no doubt whatever. It is clearly mortal, and, without further investigation, deserving of eternal punishment. However, looking to the kinds of crime adjudicated on and punished by the tribunals, “Judgment” and “Council,” with which our Redeemer compares internal anger and the uttering of the contumelious word, “Raca,” the former interpretation seems the more probable. The sin in each case is supposed to be mortal, of course, if deliberately indulged, but differing in degree, and the intensity of the eternal punishment it entails. Similar are the degrees of mortal sin described by St. James (1:15), “when concupiscence hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; but sin, when it is completed, begetteth death.”
“Hell fire.” In Greek, the Gehenna of fire. This Gehenna, or Valley of Ennom, so called from the man who possessed it, called also “the Valley of the children of Ennom,” was a delightful valley near Jerusalem, at the foot of Mount Moria, irrigated by the waters of Siloe, as we are informed by St. Jerome, also Josue (15:8; 18:16). In this valley, the Israelites, imitating the impiety of the Chanaanites, erected an altar and burnt their children as victims to Moloch, the god or idol of the Ammonites, called by others, Saturn; and as they were wont to drown the cries of the children by the beating of drums or cymbals, the place was called on this account, Topheth (Jer. 7; 4 Kings 16:13; 21:20; Isa. 30:33), from Toph, a cymbal or drum.—Others derive Topheth from Toph, a cymbal, owing to the music practised there as being a place of joy and merriment.—In this valley, the Israelites sacrificed their children (Psa. 105:38). This valley the pious king Josias afterwards rendered abominable by casting into it the bones of the dead (4 Kings 23:10) The Lord, moreover, menaced the Jews (Jer. 7:32) that the valley would no longer be called Topheth, nor the Valley of the son of Ennom; but the valley of slaughter, that they should bury their dead in Topheth, and that the carcases of this people should be meat for the fowls of the air (19:12), and that He would make it the receptacle of all the abominations of Jerusalem. After their return from the Babylonish captivity, the Israelites so abominated this place, that, following the example of the pious king Josias (4 Kings 23:10), they cast the carcases of the dead and all the filth of the city into it; and as perpetual fire was needed to consume all this offal, it was termed the Gehenna of fire. Hence, on account of its abominable destination, and the impious rites performed in it at the sacrifices offered to Moloch, it was a fit emblem of the receptacle of the damned, and most likely it was really regarded as an emblem of hell, although it is used in SS. Scripture, for the first time by our Divine Redeemer, in this sense.
“Of fire,” to show the everlasting burning which continues there. It means, Gehenna, ever on fire, a fit emblem of hell.
Beelen holds, that hell fire is not directly referred to here; that the words only mean, that such a man is deserving of a punishment more grievous than that awarded by even “the Council,” which was stoning or the sword. He deserves to be cast into the Valley of Ennom, ever on fire, and to be burnt there. This is, no doubt, a fit emblem of hell fire, and was regarded by the Jews, as such.
23. “Therefore,” is expressive of a plain inference from the foregoing, as if He said: Such being the obligation of avoiding a grievous violation of fraternal charity, no less in thought or word, as explained by me, than in action; and such being the grievous punishment which every such violation shall entail, should you recollect, in the discharge of the most meritorious duty, such as the offering of sacrifice—an act most agreeable and pleasing to God—that you gave “your brother,” i.e., any fellow-creature, just cause of offence, by calling him “raca,” or “fool,” &c., you should at once interrupt that work, should it be practicable to do so, and become reconciled, by making due reparation to the offended party, or at least form the resolution of doing so when practicable, and as soon as circumstances shall permit; otherwise, your work shall be displeasing to God, who prefers fraternal concord and the necessary duty of charity to any gifts whatsoever. “Offer thy gift,” i.e., sacrifice, a work most pleasing to God. This has reference to Jewish sacrifices. But it refers still more so to the sacrifice of love and concord, so far as it concerns us, viz., the Blessed Eucharist—“unum corpus multi sumus,” &c. (1 Cor. 10:17)
The allusion to sacrifice may also arise from this, that, probably the Scribes taught, that all violations of the precept, “thou shalt not kill,” might be expiated by sacrifice. Our Redeemer here teaches the contrary; and shows how our justice must exceed theirs in preferring the duty of charity to sacrifice. The necessary duty of charity and just reparation must be first fulfilled, if we wish that God would be pleased with any act of religion, be it ever so exalted. If this be true of sacrifice, how much more so, when less exalted and less meritorious works are in question.
“Thy brother hath any thing,” &c. This supposes that he is the offended, we the offending party; he the party to whom reparation is due from us. Should we be the offended party, and “have any thing against him,” all required of us, as a matter of duty, is to pardon him from our hearts for the personal offence, as, in that case, he is the party to seek reconciliation and make due reparation. I say, as a matter of duty, for, high Christian perfection might suggest more; also there is question of personal offence; for, a man is not bound to forego injury in property; and he should, moreover, on public grounds, uphold, by the prosecution of evil-doers, the well-being of society.
24. “And go first to be reconciled,” &c. The mode of doing this must depend, in a great measure, on circumstances. We must go actually and seek the necessary reconciliation, unless circumstances and motives of prudence should point out an opposite line of conduct, as the most conducive to the permanence of charitable relations in future; and in this latter case, it is preceptive to go in spirit and in will. Indeed, like all affirmative precepts, this is to be a good deal modified by circumstances and considerations of prudence.
25. A continuation of the subject of reconciliation with our offended neighbour, and a new motive for doing so. In the preceding verses, is urged its necessity, in order that our other actions would be pleasing to God. In this verse, it is urged, in order to avoid the punishment which the neglect or voluntary omission to make due reparation would entail upon us.
“Thy adversary” (αντιδικος), an antagonist in a law suit; thy offended or injured fellow-creature. The words of this verse are, in their literal sense, allusive to the case of litigants on their way to a court of law, where the offending party wisely arranges matters, settles the case with his “adversary,” to avoid the penalty which the judge would award, perhaps the disgrace of imprisonment which might ensue. But, in their spiritual sense and application to the subject in hand, which is chiefly intended by our Redeemer under the guise of legal and forensic terms, all of which need not be applied to the chief subject of illustration, they are meant to convey, that we should be reconciled with our offended brother, “the adversary,” “who has something against us” (v. 23), while “in the way,” i.e., in this life, journeying to eternity and approaching nearer and nearer to the judgment seat of Jesus Christ, before which we must all “appear” (2 Cor. 5:10). “Lest perhaps, the adversary deliver thee to the judge,” by remitting the matter to God, who will take cognizance of it in His own time, or, lest his just cause and the injury unatoned for should plead with the judge against thee.
“The officer,” the devil and his angels. It is not, however, necessary to apply every word and part of a parable to the subject illustrated. The whole idea is, lest neglecting to discharge the duty of just reconciliation and reparation, you die in your sins, and be condemned by the just judgment of God, to everlasting and unchangeable punishment in the gloomy prison of hell, out of which there is no escape or ransom. It is not necessary, as regards the chief subject, to inquire into the application of the word, “officer,” or “last farthing,” &c. These terms are merely used to perfect the parable; and, probably, not intended to be applied to the chief subject.
26. In this is conveyed the rigour with which the sentence of the Eternal Judge shall be carried into execution in the life to come. If there be question of condemnation for mortal guilt, and of hell’s prison, whereas, full satisfaction—“the last farthing”—can never be made, the culprit shall not leave it for eternity. Some writers, from the particle, “until,” regard it as possible that reparation would be made in the case, and the accused party would leave his prison; and hence, they derive an argument in favour of the doctrine of Purgatory. But this does not necessarily follow from the text. It can be understood, and, most likely, ought, of never-ending punishment, as St. Augustine says, “donec pœnas œternas luent,” i.e., always paying eternal punishment. The meaning would be, “you must remain there, till you pay the last farthing, and if unable to pay it, then you shall never leave it.” If there were question of venial sin, then, the interpretation would be different. But it serves no purpose to be adducing weak or dubious arguments in proof of a doctrine clearly established from other undoubted sources. It only does mischief. And the enemies of the faith will be sure to enlarge upon the weak arguments, as if no better were forthcoming, leaving the undoubted arguments unheeded. (See comment. on 2 Peter 1:15).
27. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” After treating of the sins springing from the irascible appetite, so natural to man, our Lord now proceeds to treat of the sins appertaining to the concupiscible appetite, not less natural to man in his present fallen state. This precept—the sixth—immediately follows in order, the preceding in the Decalogue.
“Adultery,” under which is included fornication, and all other external acts of illicit intercourse.
28. “But I say to you, that whosoever shall look upon woman to lust after her.” “To,” may mean the consequence of looking on her; so that lusting after her is the result of looking, which implies that the act of coveting or lusting must be fully deliberate, and voluntarily indulged in. The mere look is not sinful. It is only the look, followed by deliberate desire and consent, that is so. Or, it more probably means, the end, the purpose for which he looked on her (προς), viz., for the purpose of indulging in desires of sinning with her, if the occasion or opportunity offered. In either interpretation, it is supposed, that in order to be a mortal sin, a thought or desire against chastity must be deliberately indulged and fully consented to. What is said of looking applies equally to the other senses, hearing, touch, &c., which are the inlets of sin and death. Sin is equally committed through them, if they are made the organs for admitting into the soul the deliberate desire of committing the external prohibited act. Although human laws, which cannot directly reach the soul, cannot punish or take cognizance of internal desires, the latter shall entail mortal guilt before God, the just Judge and searcher of hearts. But to be sinful, desires or thoughts should be wilful and deliberate, as is clear from the words of our Lord just explained. Wicked thoughts, if resisted and battled against, far from being sinful, only prove a source of greater merit. In this our Redeemer perfects the Old Law, and corrects the false interpretations of the Scribes and Pharisees. Although coveting another’s wife was prohibited by the Ninth Commandment of the Decalogue; still, some expositors say the Scribes understood the Ninth Commandment of that concupiscence, or these internal sins of adultery merely which were made known by some external act, and only in circumstances in which they would lead to the violation of the Sixth Commandment, which, according to them, was confined to the commission of the act of adultery, but did not extend to internal acts of consent, as such. Josephus, a Pharisee, speaking of Antiochus Epiphanes, says he committed no crime in merely wishing to rifle the temple of Diana, “quia voluntas tantum, ac non perfecisse sacrilegiuem non vidatur res supplicio digna.” (Lib. xii.; Antiq. c. xiii.) Moreover, it is likely they confined the prohibition of the Ninth Commandment to coveting their neighbour’s wife only, but not to the coveting of women in general. No doubt, the Ninth Commandment did prohibit internal acts of consent; but it did not declare so expressly or so precisely as our Lord did, that looking on a woman with impure eyes and coveting her entailed the guilt of adultery. Our Redeemer, then, more fully explains the Sixth Commandment; first, as forbidding, under pain of incurring the guilt of adultery, mere internal acts, without any external manifestation. Secondly, as referring not only to our neighbour’s wife, but to any woman whatsoever. “Shall look ON A WOMAN.”
From these words may be derived a very salutary lesson as to the custody of our senses, particularly when the holy virtue of chastity is in question, “pepigi fœdus cum oculis meis ut non cogitarem quidem de virgine” (Job 31); “ne respicias in mulieris speciem.” (Eccles. 25)
29, 30. From the allusion made by our Redeemer in the foregoing to the scandal or spiritual ruin sometimes occasioned by looking at a woman, He takes occasion to inculcate a general lesson regarding the necessity of avoiding scandal in general, and the occasions of sin, and of putting away any person or thing, be they ever so dear, useful, or necessary for us, that may prove a source of scandal, be the removal or avoidance of such object ever so painful, and should it cost us the greatest sacrifice in life. The words of these verses are to be understood metaphorically. The idea is borrowed from the treatment used by surgeons, who, on seeing danger to the body from any diseased limb or member, at once amputate it, be it ever so necessary, in order to save the rest of the body. This exaggerated metaphor never can bear a literal signification, as it is never necessary to amputate any member of our body to avoid sin; and hence, it is never allowed. But, in its exaggerated form, the metaphor conveys that if such amputation were necessary (which it never is or can be) it should be done, if the salvation of our soul required it. “The right eye” and “the right hand” give an idea of objects very dear, very near, useful, and necessary for us. The words, “pluck it out,” “cast it off”—a very painful operation, imply great torture and suffering in parting with it. It is better we would part with this object, however dear, however great the pain or privation such parting would entail; and sacrifice the gratification its presence gives us, than after enjoying it for a time, suffer, on its account, in the end, the eternal torments of hell. The allusion to the looking after a woman in preceding verse suggests the idea of “the eye,” in the first place, as one of the inlets of sin, and one of the most necessary members or organs of the body. “Scandalize thee.” The word, scandal, primarily and literally conveys the idea of a stumbling block of offence against which one jostles and is made to fall. Transferred to a spiritual signification, it means, whatever is the occasion of our spiritual ruin, that is, whatever is the occasion of our falling into mortal sin, which causes the spiritual death of the soul. There is hardly any point of Christian morality upon which we should observe such vigilant care as upon the subject of avoiding the proximate occasions of sin; nor is there any other point upon which those who are charged with the care of others, should so inexorably insist as upon this, particularly if there be question of the external and proximate occasion of sins against chastity. A melancholy experience unhappily attests that the only means of obtaining a victory on this point is flight. In this point particularly, owing to the corruption of human nature, the words of the Holy Ghost are verified, “qui amat periculum in illo peribit.” Every other means of avoiding sin, every other remedy, shall prove unavailing if this be neglected. As a general rule, it may be laid down, that so sure as a man voluntarily exposes himself to the proximate and external occasion of this sin in particular, so surely shall he fall. Hence, the rigour with which the most approved spiritual writers treat this case, although mild in regard to almost every other; so close is the connexion they trace between frequenting the occasion and the commission of sin (see St. Alphonsus Liguori in his Moral Theology and all his spiritual works “ON THE PROXIMATE OCCASIONS OF SIN”); also our Commentary (1 Cor. 6:18).
31. “Whosoever shall put away his wife,” &c. In this form of expression, it is clearly conveyed, that putting away or divorcing one’s wife, even for a just cause, was not commanded, but only permitted or tolerated in the Old Law (see 19:8). All that was commanded, as is here expressed, was, that in case a man divorced his wife, she should get from him a (written) “bill of divorce,” and it was only after the wife left her husband’s house, furnished with this written bill of divorce, the act of separation was valid. As regards the power of divorcing their wives granted to husbands in the Old Law, it is to be observed that the law of Moses permitted this divorce solely on account of some uncleanness, (Deut. 24:1, &c.) Many understand the words, not only of a sin against purity, but of any uncleanness, whether physical or moral. At a later period of Jewish History—after their return from captivity—a great dispute arose on this point; and in our Redeemer’s time, the Jewish doctors of the two famous schools of Hillel and Schamai, took different views of the question; the former contending for the sufficiency of any cause, however trifling; the latter restricting the privilege of divorce to the case of adultery (see Matt. 19:1–10), (Dixon, vol. ii. 296).
2ndly. The privilege of divorcing was not given to the wife, but to the husband only, although, towards the end of the Jewish kingdom, females of the higher class, claimed to themselves, after the example of Roman matrons, the right of divorce. The law of Moses permitted the aggrieved wife not to give a bill of divorce herself, but to seek it at the hands of the judge (Exod. 21:10).
3rdly. This permission of the law of Moses most probably dissolved the vinculum of the former marriage, so that it was dissolved in foro interno et Coram Deo (see c. 19, commentary on).
4thly. The husband could receive back his divorced wife, after giving her a bill of divorce, unless she was married to another; but not, once she was married to another (Deut. 26:1–4; Jer. 3:1), thus consulting, for public decency, lest husbands might seem to have given their wives for a time to another, which would savour of a community of wives. He was commanded to give a bill of divorce, in order to consult for the condition of his wife; and this also was hampered with conditions, all of which should concur in order to render valid the bill of divorce. The consequence was, that the bill of divorce was rendered very difficult; and time for deliberation was given to the husbands in case they rashly resolved in sending away their wives, even for a just cause (see Carrière de Mat. vol. ii., p. 170–179). Our Redeemer altogether abolishes this law of divorce, so far as the vinculum or marriage tie is concerned, which is never dissolved after consummation, if there be question of Christian marriages. (Concil. Trid. §§ xxiv. Can. vii.—See c. 19)
32. Our Redeemer here declares, that if a man put away his wife without a justifying cause—“excepting the cause of fornication”—he incurs the guilt of adultery, to which he unjustly exposes her. For, quantum in se est, he makes her commit adultery, and a man incurs the guilt of the sins, which by his injustice he occasions (Rom. 1:32). But if the husband have a just cause for sending away his wife, and for dismissing her, quoad thorum, then, should she commit adultery, she herself is guilty of the sin, by putting herself perversely in the occasion, and not he. Although there are several causes that justify a separation, quoad thorum et mensam in the New Law, in which the rights of the husband and wife, as regards the marriage contract, are made equal (1 Cor. 7:4; Mark 10:12), still, our Redeemer only instances that of “adultery;” because, it was the only cause peculiar to the marriage state, arising out of it exclusively, that justified a separation. The other causes usually alleged, as warranting a separation, would justify a departure from any contract whatsoever, v.g., the attempt of one party to bring the other into sin, and cause his spiritual ruin, and so with the rest. Moreover, “adultery” is the only permanent cause of separation, even after the party so guilty had done penance, and made all possible reparation. Even if this were done, the innocent party is not bound to take back the adulterous party. The other causes are not permanent, but temporary, ceasing, when the offending party becomes repentant.
That the vinculum, or tie of marriage, is not dissolved in case of adultery, as the Catholic Church teaches in regard to consummated Christian marriages (Conc. Trid. §§ xxiv. Can. xii.), is clear from the general form, without any exception, used here by our Divine Redeemer, that “whosoever shall marry her that is put away” (whether with cause or without it; no distinction is made), “committeth adultery.” The same is clear from St. Mark 10:11, 12; Luke 16:18. St. Paul (1 Cor. 7:11) gives the wife who left her husband, even with a just cause, no alternative but to remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. That St. Paul speaks of a departure from a just cause, is clear from his giving her the option referred to. Had she left without some justifying cause, the Apostle would have given her no such alternative. He would have commanded her to return at once and fulfil her plighted obligations (see c. 19:4–9).
33. Here, our Lord passes from the sixth to the second precept of the Decalogue. “Thou shalt not forswear thyself.” These words are found in substance, although not identically (in Exod. 20:7; Levit. 19:12; Deut. 5:11), where the original Hebrew word, scau, signifies, thou shalt not take the name of God in rain, or falsely. For, “in vain,” means also, “falsely.” Hence, our Redeemer here quotes only the substance of the law. These words have reference to assertory oaths.
“But, thou shalt perform thy oaths,” &c. These words are quoted substantially from Numbers 30:3. They refer to promissory oaths, and mean, that whatever we promise the Lord to do, whom we invoke by oath, we should fulfil it. By others (among them, Suarez), these latter words are understood to convey that in our oaths we should swear by the true God, and not in the name of idols, “et per nomen ejus jurabis.” (Deut.)
34. “Not to swear at all.” The Scribes and Pharisees understanding the words, “in vain,” to mean only falsely, which signification also, as has been observed, the Hebrew word, scau, bears, interpreted the prohibition contained in the Second Commandment, as simply meaning, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in a lie;” and hence, they inferred that it was not prohibited to invoke His holy name irreverently, on every occasion, no matter how trivial or unimportant the cause; 2ndly, as appears from the following verses, and 23:16, they interpreted the words, “the Lord thy God,” strictly, so that in this commandment was not conveyed the prohibition to swear by creatures, whether common, such as heaven and earth; or those consecrated to God, such as Jerusalem, the Temple, &c. They also taught that such oaths were not binding, save in cases favourable to their own avarice (20:16).
35. It was, then, in reference to these false notions of the Pharisees on the subject of oaths, that our Redeemer tells us “not to swear at all,” in the sense in which an oath was allowed by the Scribes and Pharisees, i.e., not to invoke the holy and adorable name of God rashly and without cause, nor, to swear by creatures either, without the like cause; since, in swearing by them, we swear by God, their Creator, whose attributes they reflect, whose creatures they are, and who is intimately connected with them. “Heaven is the throne of God, the earth His footstool.” These words contain an allusion to Isaias (66:3), and are understood figuratively in accommodation to human ideas. These words mean, that the majesty and immensity of God are resplendent in them.
“City of the great king,” are allusive to Psa. 47, “Mount Sion, founded on the sides of the north, the city of the great king.” From the city where God resides, and is specially worshipped, chosen preferably to all others, His Majesty is resplendently reflected.
36. “By thy head,” &c. The mention of heaven and earth, &c., as specially belonging to God, suggests to our Redeemer, to prevent swearing by our head, as if our head belonged to ourselves, so that we might dispose of it, as we thought proper. He meets this insinuation by saying that, although given for our use, it is not ours exclusively; we neither created it, nor can we change its condition. “Thou canst not make one hair white or black.” It belongs to God, as do all the other members of our body, of which the head was the principal. This form of oath, “by the head,” was common among the Greeks and Romans, from whom, in their intercourse with them, the Jews probably borrowed it.
37. “Let your speech be yea, yea,” &c. The meaning is, when you assert any thing, content yourselves with mere simple affirmation of its truth; when you deny anything to be true, confine yourself to mere denial, without having recourse to swearing, to corroborate what you assert or deny. These particles are doubled, to express the certain truth of what is asserted or denied.
“And that which is over and above these,” for the greater confirmation of what we say, viz., an oath, “is of evil.” By “evil,” some interpreters (Maldonatus, &c.) understand the evil one, or the devil. The Greek, τοῦ πονηροῦ, the evil, would render this opinion probable; and according to it, our Redeemer would institute an opposition between Himself, or rather between His precepts, “I say to you,” &c., and the suggestions of the devil. I command one thing, viz., to abstain from all oaths, in the sense already assigned. The devil suggests to you to employ oaths in the same sense, viz., unnecessarily and frivolously. The devil may be said to be not so much the suggester, as the occasional cause of all oaths, inasmuch as he was the first source of sin; and the necessity for having recourse to oaths in any circumstances, arises from sin. This latter sense, although, according to it, “from evil,” is referred to the devil, hardly much differs, in substance, from the interpretation, which understands “from evil,” not to refer directly to the devil, but to the wickedness and duplicity of man, his inconstancy and weakness, arising from the evil principle of sin, implanted in his nature, in its present fallen condition. Our Redeemer does not say, that what is beyond more assertion or negation is in itself evil; but only that its necessity and existence are derived from evil, as already explained.
Our Redeemer’s prohibition here of swearing would seem to be founded on three reasons—1st. The danger of perjury, to which the habit of swearing exposes us (St. Augustine, in hunc locum). In Eccles. (23:9), we have, “Let not thy mouth be accustomed to swearing,” &c. 2ndly. On account of the reverence due to God’s name. For, if it would be indecorous to be invoking the name of man on every trivial occasion, how much more so when there is question of the holy and adorable name of God? To this reference is made in the words, “Nor by heaven, for it is God’s throne,” &c. 3rdly. On account of the good faith and mutual confidence which should exist among Christians. This would render swearing unnecessary; and, to it reference is made in the words, “Let your speech be yea, yea,” &c.
Our Redeemer does not prohibit resorting to an oath, in certain circumstances, and when vested with certain conditions, viz., “judgment,” with a cause or necessity; “justice,” when its object is just and lawful; and “truth.” “Thou shalt swear: as the Lord liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in justice.” (Jer. 4:2). In such circumstances an oath is an act of homage, in recognition of God’s supreme veracity. It is, however, when vested with these conditions, that it is an act of homage; and only then is it lawful.
That it is sometimes lawful to swear, is a point of Catholic faith against the Anabaptists and Wickliffe. The Apostle tells us that an oath is the termination of controversy (Heb. 6:16). Moreover, we have the example of God swearing, “Juravit Dominus,” &c. (Heb. 6:13) The Apostle swears. So do Abraham, Moses, &c. (See Comment. St. James 5:12).
38. In this verse our Redeemer corrects the false traditions and interpretations of the Scribes and Pharisees, respecting the precept of the Mosaic law, on the subject of retaliation for injuries inflicted, the lex talionis. He also perfects the law itself by substituting a species of retaliation hitherto unattended to—the retaliation of patience and forgiveness. The law of retaliation (lex talionis) is laid down (Exod. 21:24; Deut. 24:20). It was a just enactment, sanctioned by the usage of all the ancient peoples and nations. It had the effect of serving as an efficacious check on evil doers, whom the dread of sustaining a like injury restrained within the bounds of duty. It also served to check the vengeance of the injured party, since it did not permit him to exercise the punishment of retaliation himself, to demand “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” by private authority. It only allowed recourse to the Judges, whom it directed, or rather instructed, as to the amount of reparation they were to exact in the case of malicious injury done the members or limbs of the human body. It also had only reference to equals, because, even to curse a prince, much less to injure his person, was punishable with death among the Jews. Nor did it hold between master and slave (Exod. 21:26). It also admitted of a fair latitude of interpretation, and the party aggrieved might, either before or after the sentence of the judge, accept of pecuniary compensation. The law of Moses strictly prohibited feelings or dispositions of a revengeful character (Lev. 19:18).
39. “But, I say to you,” &c. As the lex talionis did not authorize private revenge, any more than does the New Law; as, moreover, it only regarded the Judges, from whom the injured party might seek just reparation, a thing equally permitted in the New Law, for the occupant of power carries the sword to restrain evil-doers (Rom. 13)—nor are men prevented from having recourse to them for redress, should every other means fail,—it may fairly be asked, what then, does our Redeemer enact here, that did not exist already, “But I say to you?” &c. As regards the law itself, on this subject, it does not appear that our Redeemer adds anything. He only perfects and corrects it, viewed according to the false interpretation of the Scribes and Pharisees, who, it would seem, explained the law, as if it allowed individuals to retaliate, and to demand, of their own private authority, the reparation which the law allowed only after the sentence of the judge. This was evidently unlawful, as it would foster a spirit of vengeance, and would tend to great injustice. In this sense, our Redeemer tells us, “not to resist evil.” “Evil” may refer to the injury sustained, or the person unjustly inflicting it; if the former, the words mean, we should not retaliate for the injury; if the latter, we should not seek to take revenge on him. Our Redeemer goes farther, and proposes a Christian kind of retaliation, both as regards personal honour, property, or personal injury (39–41).
“Strike thee on the right cheek,” i.e., if a man strike you on one cheek, turn to him the other also, as St. Luke expresses it (6:29). The form employed by our Lord shows He is speaking of private injury and satisfaction, “strike thee,” &c., but not of satisfaction to be exacted, on public grounds, or from the public authorities. The words of this and the following verses are, in certain circumstances, preceptive; in others, only matters of counsel; and sometimes, even inexpedient. They are preceptive in this sense, that we should never, even on public grounds, seek due satisfaction from a spirit of private vengeance, and that we should actually submit to the evils referred to, rather than avenge them from a private spirit of anger; and, moreover, we should be prepared in our minds to bear these injuries whenever the glory of God and the salvation of our neighbour demand it. But these circumstances do not always concur, and the instructions conveyed, in affirmative propositions, like the present, are not, therefore, always preceptive. St. Augustine (hic. and Ep. 5, ad Marcellinum et Lib. de Mendacio, c. 15), understands the precept, conveyed here, of the preparation of the mind, rather than of observance in act. That they are not always to be observed and practised in act, is clear from the example of our Divine Redeemer Himself, who, though often patiently submitting to personal injuries and insulting treatment, of the description referred to here (Isa. 50:6), still, at times refused doing so; v.g., He did not give His other cheek on the occasion, when He was struck by the servant of the High Priest; He rather reproved His striker (John 18:22, 23); from the example of St. Paul, who, though often beaten with stripes (1 Cor. 4:11, 12), still, when sentenced to be struck before the High Priest, did not gently put up with it, “percutiat te Dominus, paries dealbate,” &c., was his reply to the iniquitous judge. He had, at the same time, a heart prepared to suffer for the truth and for God’s sake. Circumstances sometimes occur in which the patient endurance of evils and reproaches would only have the effect of exciting our aggressors the more. In this case, it would be imprudent to do so. Hence, we are told “to answer a fool according to his folly, lest he imagine himself to be wise” (Prov. 26:5). Sometimes, it would only serve to let loose and embolden a whole herd of malefactors, whose only aim would be to subvert the altar and the throne. In such a case, forbearance would be opposed to the good order of society, and would, therefore, be utterly inexpedient.
40. “And if a man will contend with thee,” &c., i.e., if any man wishes to drag you unjustly before a court of justice for the purpose of depriving you of one of your garments; or, if he wishes to dispute with you in court for your coat, which he has unjustly taken away from you (the words, “contend in judgment,” and “take away thy coat,” may bear either meaning), then, sooner than violate charity, or suffer the loss of a greater good, viz., patience and peace of soul, be prepared to make over to him your cloak also. In St. Luke (6:29), the order is different, “and him that taketh away from thee thy cloak, forbid not to take thy coat also.” This is the more natural construction; as the cloak, which is the outer garment, is taken off first. The sense is the same in both constructions, the meaning being, if he take away one garment, be prepared to give him the other. The words of St. Luke may mean, if he take away the cheaper garment, give him the more costly one. According to St. Matthew, if he take away the inner, give him the outer, or more necessary garment. How far this is preceptive, and, in what circumstances, it is only of counsel, and when even inexpedient, may be gathered from the foregoing.
41. “And whosoever will force thee” (ἀγγαρευσει). In the original term for “force” (angariauerit), which is a word of Persian origin (angar, in Persic, means a courier), is conveyed an allusion to the Persian custom of employing in the public service couriers, termed in the Persian language, angari, who, stationed at certain distances from one another, transmitted the public intelligence; they were in some respects, like our postmen. These public couriers, or king’s messengers, had authority to press men, or horses, or ships, into their service. The same custom was afterwards adopted among the Romans, in regard to their provincials, and is still in use among the Turks. This exotic Greek term (αγγαρος) is found in St. Matthew 27:32; also, Mark 15:21. The words mean; should you be forced on an errand for a certain distance, rather than resist and forfeit peace of mind, go voluntarily double the distance. How far this is obligatory, may be inferred from the foregoing. In the Greek, for “go other two,” it is, “go two,” as if to convey; instead of going one mile when pressed in the public service to that extent, go voluntarily double the required distance.
42. “Give to him,” &c. In the foregoing maxims, our Redeemer shows we should have the dispositions of not retaliating injuriously on those who injure and act violently towards us. In this verse, He points out our obligation to exercise acts of benevolence and liberality towards our afflicted and indigent brethren, be they friends or be they foes, the sole consideration to be attended to being, their wants and necessities. Hence, in place of the law of retaliation and vengeance, our Lord substitutes the law of charity and beneficence. Wherefore, “give to him that asketh of thee,” whoever he be, friend or foe, even if he be of those who may have “struck thee on thy right cheek” (v. 39); and should he wish to borrow of thee, even though he may have maltreated thee, do not, on this account, turn away thy face indignantly from him; but, lend to him, just as if he inflicted no injury whatever on thee. The words, “would borrow,” i.e., wishes to borrow, and from feelings of shame or modesty, may not actually prefer his request, convey that we are not to turn away in disgust from such persons, even though they may not actually apply to us; but rather attend to their wants.
St. Luke (6:30), to this, adds another precept, “and of him who taketh away thy goods, ask them not again,” which shows that our Redeemer is speaking of those who did us an injury. This and the preceding are preceptive whenever our neighbour is either in extreme necessity, or reduced to such grievous necessity, as would call upon us to relieve his wants. Outside this state of things, they are only a matter of counsel; and circumstances may arise where their observance would be inexpedient, and not in accordance with the dictates of prudence. In other words, the above instructions may be said to be preceptive in this sense, that we are bound to have the prompt dispositions of relieving our neighbour’s wants, as often as it is in accordance with right reason that we should do so, i.e., whenever the glory of God and our neighbour’s salvation require it. But if it should happen that their observance would be opposed to right reason and the good of society, which, in certain conceivable circumstances, might occur; then, in such circumstances, our Redeemer never meant that they should be observed.
St. Luke (6:31), adds, “and as you would that men should do to you, do you also to them in like manner,” which is also found (c. 7:12) of this Gospel. This shows that the above instructions are to be attended to only when our neighbour could reasonably expect similar treatment from us. Our conduct towards him and our wishes in regard to the treatment he would show us, are always to be in accordance with the dictates of prudence and right reason.
43. “Thou shalt love thy neighbour,” &c. The first part of this verse, regarding the love of our neighbour, is found in Leviticus (19:18). The Hebrew word for neighbour, Reagh, also signifies “friend;” and hence, it is rendered by St. Jerome, in the above passage, “thou shalt love thy friend: diliges amicum tuum.”
“And hate thy enemy.” These latter words are found in no part of the Old Testament, and hence, our Lord says, “you have heard,” i.e., from the false glosses and interpretations of the Scribes and Pharisees, who, finding it laid down in the law, “thou shalt love thy friend,” by a false interpretation and contrary induction inferred, “therefore, thou shalt hate thy enemy.” But, this is found nowhere in Scripture. For, although the Jews are ordered to put to death, and extirpate the Chanaanite nations, nowhere are they told to hate them, any more than an executioner, who carries out the sentence of death, or the soldier ordered to slay his enemies, is told to hate them. On the contrary, the Jews are commanded in several passages of the books of Moses, to show kindness, and to practise benevolence towards their enemies. The Hebrew word, Reagh, signified “friend”—those connected with us by blood or kindred, and also all those with whom we have any relations whatever, including the known relations of necessity under which he may labour. The Scribes and Pharisees took the word in its limited sense, confining it to the Jews, the seed of Abraham, and drew a false inference, as if all, not of the seed of Abraham, i.e., all the Gentiles, were to be hated. Our Divine Redeemer, taking the word in its full, universal, and extended sense, corrects the false and contracted interpretation given the word by the Pharisees, as well as their false induction, and explains the precept as obligatory, in its most extended sense, so as to include our enemies, who are joined to us not alone in the relation of common origin from the same original stock in the first Adam, and redemption through the second; but also in the relation of spiritual necessities, which the very fact of being our enemies, and their injuring us, implies.
44. “But I say to you.” “I,” who am your Master, and your Sovereign Lord. “I,” who cannot lead you astray, as I am the infallible truth, incapable of deceiving you or being myself deceived. Interpreters remark, as has been noticed in the preceding verse, that our Redeemer does not say, “IT HAS BEEN SAID to them of old,” or it has been enjoined on your fathers; but, “you HAVE HEARD that it was said,” as if He meant to correct not what was really said, but what they heard was said—that is to say, to correct the false glosses and interpretations of their teachers—the Scribes and Pharisees. “I say to you.” I command you “to love your enemies,” which expresses the interior and sincere feelings of the heart. Far from entertaining feelings of hatred, they should, on the contrary, have feelings of love and affection for their enemies, who—as appears from our Lord’s own teaching, and the illustration (Luke 10), where He gives the parable of the good Samaritan, the enemy of the Jew—are also our neighbours, whom we are bound to love, as we would reasonably hope to be loved ourselves, and this is not merely to be confined to the heart; it should be exhibited “in work and truth.” “Do good to them that hate you,” refers to charity towards our neighbour, exhibited in work; “and pray for them that persecute you,” refers to the tongue, or the expression of charity by the tongue or by words. Hardly is there any violation of charity so common, and withal so little scrupled, as that committed by words and by the wicked tongue. This “world of iniquity” (James 3:6). “If any man think himself religious, not bridling his tongue … this man’s religion is vain” (James 1:26). “Detract not one another,” &c. (James 4:11.—See commentary on).
In the Greek, the phrase, “bless them that curse you,” is added and inserted between “do good to them that hate you,” and “pray for them that persecute,” &c. The order of this latter member also is inverted in the Greek, which runs thus, “pray for them that calumniate and persecute you.”
The precept conveyed in this verse obliges us, per se, only to show our enemy the common marks of friendship and charity. To exclude him from the common offices of friendship would be a grave violation of this precept. To exhibit special marks of friendship to him if he be not in extreme or grievous want, saluting him by name, familiarly accosting him, &c., is only a matter of counsel. I said, per se, because there may be special grounds of obligation to show him peculiar marks of friendship in certain circumstances, v.g., if scandal arose from the omission, or the salvation of our enemy required it, &c. (See c. 18:23, &c.)
45. Our Redeemer commends the observance of the precept of loving our enemies, from which corrupt nature so strongly recoils, and which grace alone could enable us to fulfil, by a two-fold consideration of the most pressing nature. The first is, that by loving our enemies, we demonstrate that we are, by imitation, sons, or faithful imitators of our Heavenly Father, whose sons we are already become by grace and adoption, and give proof that we are deserving to be reckoned among His children, when, by our actions, we faithfully reflect His boundless beneficence. Without distinguishing between His friends or His enemies, between “the just and the unjust,” between “the good and the bad,” He diffuses His blessings alike on all, without distinction. He bestows the priceless blessings of rain and heat on all without distinction, which are the great sources of the temporal blessings which we enjoy.
46. The second consideration, to influence them to love their enemies, is that, if they act otherwise, they are entitled to no supernatural reward. They do no more than the “publican,” whom they despise, whose unjust course of life they detest and abhor; and whom they universally regard as placed outside the pale of salvation. If, then, the former motive should be regarded by them as too exalted, as exceeding their strength or aspirations, viz., that of becoming like to God; the latter could not by any means, as, they surely must aspire to a higher course of life, of virtuous actions, and to more exalted rewards, than “the publican” could pretend to or expect.
“The publicans” were the collectors of the taxes among the Jews—a class of heartless oppressors, everywhere throughout the Gospel regarded, by our Redeemer, as outside the pale of salvation.
“If you love those (only) that love you.” Our Redeemer speaks of exclusively loving those that love us. For, to love our friends from good motives, is praiseworthy, and deserving of reward. It has charity for its principle. Our Lord speaks of that exclusive love of our friends, as in next verse He speaks of “saluting our brethren only.” “What reward shall you have?” He, of course, speaks of supernatural rewards hereafter, as in returning the love of our friends, there is some earthly reward here, with a continuance of reciprocal love. Hence, He speaks of the reward in store in heaven hereafter, of which, by exclusively loving their friends—thus showing that their love is purely natural—they will show themselves no more deserving than the publicans do, who exercise natural love towards their friends. “Shall you have?” In the Greek, it is present, “have you,” which means, laid up for you in heaven, and thus the meaning of the present and future reading of the verb, as in the Vulgate, amount to the same.
47. “Salute,” the Greek word, ασπασησθε, denotes the mode of salutation among friends, practised among the ancients, both Jews, and Gentiles, by embraces. It was observed also among the early Christians, “Salutate invieem in osculo sancto” (2 Cor. 13:12). It denotes all other modes of expressing friendly feelings.
“Your brethren only,” i.e., those united to us by ties of blood or kindred. The Jews regarded the whole Jewish race, the whole seed of Abraham, as “brethren.”
“What do you do more?” “More,” may mean, more than those do whose actions have no supernatural merit; like the Pagans referred to, or, “more,” περισσον, may mean, excellent, deserving of commendation.
“Heathens,” as well as you, show peculiar marks of friendship and affection to their friends. Christians must surely aspire to higher merits and reward than Pagans are entitled to, who, although capable of supernatural acts under the influence of Divine grace, still are incapable of supernatural merit, since faith, although not absolutely, the first grace—for, Pagans receive many actual graces—still, it is the first grace in the order of justification. The love confined to friends exclusively, without extending to our enemies, is but Pagan love, which is, by no means, meritorious before God.
For “Pagans,” the common Greek reading has “Publicans.” But, the Vulgate is supported by the Vatican, and other MSS., and the Fathers generally.
48. “Be you, therefore, perfect,” &c. “You,” who are children of God by grace and adoption; and who must far exceed Pagans and Publicans in the practice of virtue. “Therefore,” on account of your Christian position and relations to God, as sons, “made partakers of the Divine nature” by grace and faith. “Perfect,” St. Luke has (c. 6), “merciful,” which embraces not only the exercise of mercy towards the unfortunate and miserable; but, also, beneficence and benevolence towards all, a signification which the word, mercy, often bears in SS. Scripture (Gen. 39:21, &c.), and is well suited to express the meaning of “perfect” here, which generally refers to the observance of God’s commandments, as explained in the preceding chapter, and, in a special way, to the exercise of beneficence to all mankind, our enemies included; and, in this twofold sense of the word, “perfect,” the particle, “therefore,” expresses a general conclusion, drawn from the foregoing chapter, and a particular conclusion, derived from what immediately precedes, regarding the love of our enemies.
“As your heavenly Father is perfect.” “As,” expresses only similitude, a resemblance, but not equality, by any means; as there can be no equality between the finite and the Infinite. God is Infinite in all perfections; man can only, in a limited degree, imitate and resemble Him in the practice of perfection. The “perfection” referred to here, while embracing the exercise of all virtues, refers, in a special degree, to the exercise of mercy, beneficence, and benevolence towards all mankind, as is expressed by St. Luke (6:36), “as your heavenly Father is merciful.” The word, “merciful,” is taken in its most extended sense, to embrace the exercise of beneficence to all the world. The Greek for “Be you,” is future, “you shall be;” but this is a gentle form, of conveying a precept, common to the Greek with other languages. These words are partly preceptive and of obligation; partly, of counsel. It is preceptive on all Christians to strive to acquire the perfection necessary for their state, so far as the precepts of God bearing on that state, and the duties of their state, are concerned. Hence, it is preceptive, so far as the observance of God’s commandments in general are concerned. It is preceptive also on us, as regards the love of our enemies, and the showing of benevolence to them, to show them the common marks of friendship, and if they be in extreme or grievous want, to come to their relief; and to show special marks of friendship and affection, whenever God’s glory or our neighbour’s salvation would be injured by our withholding them. Outside these cases, it is only of counsel, to show special marks of friendship to our enemies; or, taking the text in a more extended sense, to do more than observe God’s commandments.
Copyright ©1999-2023 Wildfire Fellowship, Inc all rights reserved