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An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.

In this chapter, we have an account of the conspiracy of the Jews against our Lord—the treason of Judas—the preparation for the Pasch (1–13). The last Supper, and the institution of the Blessed Eucharist (14–23). Our Lord’s discourse on the occasion, among other things. His prediction of Peter’s fall and the promise to him of Primacy over the entire Church, and infallibility in guiding and governing her (24–38). His agony in the garden (39–46). His betrayal by Judas (47–53). The denial of our Lord by Peter (54–62). The mocking of Him by the servants (63–65). His intrepid declaration of His Divinity before the Council (66–71).

1–23. (See Matthew 26:1–29.) The Apostle having said that there was a question raised as to who was to be the traiter (v. 24), now states that there was a contention also as to which of them seemed greater to our Lord (Jans.), some of them at this time apparently enjoying greater privileges than others (see Matthew 18:1). Very likely, as the prediction of His death and resurrection was the occasion of a like contention on the former occasion, so also was it on this.

24. “And there was also a strife,” &c. Some Expositors—among them Maldonatus—conceiving that it was utterly improbable that the Apostles, after having received the Blessed Eucharist, and witnessed our Lord’s humility in washing His disciples’ feet, &c., would, under such solemn circumstances, indulge so inopportunely in an unseemly strife for pre-eminence, in the very presence of their Divine Master,—are of opinion that there is question here of the same contention that took place on their journey to Jerusalem (Matthew 20:20), and that it is inserted here, out of the order of events, by St. Luke. The lesson of humility given here is the same as that given in the passage of Matthew referred to. Against this opinion it is held, that St. Luke had already (9:46, &c.), referred to the former contention.

Others, with Venerable Bede, hold, that the contention here mentioned, had for object, to yield the more honourable places to one another—each trying to occupy the lower place, so that it is rather a contention of humility than of pride—“non est incredibile, quia honore se invicem præveniendo certaverint.” The following words of our Lord do not well accord with this view.

By others, it is maintained, that on hearing our Lord say He was to leave them (v. 22), they began, in suppressed accents, to inquire, who was to exercise His authority and superiority after He had gone—“which of them should seem to be greater”—which many understand for “greatest,” some contending for this party, others, for that. Very likely they did not fully understand our Lord’s words, addressed to Peter. (Matthew 16) Hence, our Lord addressed to them the admonition contained in verses 25–28, which is in sense very like that delivered on the occasion of the similar contention which formerly took place, if the present be not the same.

Some maintain, that this strife and the subsequent words occurred before the institution of the Eucharist, and in connexion with the washing of the disciples’ feet (John 13:4–12). The exhortation which He gives them there (John 13:14–16) to practise humility, of which He Himself gave an example, is, in substance, very like the exhortation delivered here.

25. (See Matthew 20:25, &c.) “Are called beneficent,” rejoice in high-sounding titles, chiefly in titles commending their goodness and beneficence to their people. Whether they deserve these titles or not, they haughtily claim them, and aspire to be addressed by them. Some say the word, “beneficent,” is the same as princes. The Hebrews termed their princes, Nebedim, beneficent; thus the words will mean, they are desirous to be called princes, that is, “beneficent.”

26, 27. (See Matthew 20:25–28.) “I am in the midst of you, as he that serveth,” may be allusive to the washing of the feet, or to the general course of life and humility pursued by our Lord in the company of His followers. The words of these two verses are substantially, though somewhat varied, the same as in Matthew 20:25–28.

28. “And you are they,” &c. Our Lord represses their desire of primacy, not only by inculcating a lesson of humility, which, after His own example, they should practise, as in the preceding verses, but also by pointing out to them, as here, that instead of a miserable priority in this world, each shall attain a very high degree of honour and enjoyment in His kingdom in the world to come. After having rebuked them, He now blandly consoles them, and praises them for their persevering adhesion to Him, when others deserted Him, in the midst of trials and sufferings. “Temptations,” means “trials,” contradictions, and persecutions, which He endured at the hands of the Jews.

29. “And,” therefore, in reward for your past constancy, “I dispose to you a kingdom,” which can be reached only through the road of suffering. This is the condition on which I can enter into glory; this is the condition laid down for Me by the will of My Heavenly Father. “As my Father hath disposed to me.” My Father has transferred all things to Me, has given all power into My hands, and by the same power with which He has disposed a kingdom for Me, and on the same conditions, “as,” so do I dispose it for you.

30. The kingdom prepared for you consists in two things—first, ineffable enjoyment, typified by what men most relish in this world, magnificent repasts, “that you may eat,” &c; secondly, honour and power, “that you may sit,” &c. (See Matthew 19:28.) That passage is very like this. “Amen, I say to you, you who followed Me,” &c., are similar to the words, here, “who have continued with Me in My temptations;” there, “shall receive an hundred fold;” here, “that you may cat,” &c.; there, “you also shall sit,” &c.; here, “and may sit upon thrones,” &c.

31. “And the Lord said,” &c. After having consoled His Apostles with the promise of ineffable delights in store for them, He now, in order to turn their thoughts from contentions regarding pre-eminence, foretells the trials and temptations which they will have to encounter, and, at the same time, by addressing Peter, and saying, that He prayed for him, in particular, in order that he would confirm his brethren, he insinuates who it is that is to hold the Primacy amongst them.

The words of this verse, peculiar to St. Luke, are supposed to be addressed to Peter, immediately after his declaration (John 13:36, 37), that he would lay down his life for his Divine Master.

“Simon, Simon,” repeated for emphasis’ sake, and to arrest attention, “behold, Satan,” the adversary of the human race, the enemy of God and man, “hath desired to have you.” “Desired” (εξητησατο), means to “demand,” and has special reference to demanding a criminal to be delivered up. As formerly, in the case of Job, to which this seems to be allusive, he asked permission to tempt Job, so now does he ask God, without whose permission he cannot tempt man—hence, the words, “lead us not into temptation”—to be allowed to employ all his cunning and strength to tempt the Apostles (“you” in the plural). “That he may sift you (winnow you), as wheat,” shows the violence of the temptation, with which those who had hitherto remained with our Lord, and adhered to Him in His trials, were to be tossed and agitated. Under this temptation they succumbed for a time, but only afterwards to be endued with greater strength from on high, after the humiliation of a temporary defeat. It is clear, from our Lord’s words, that the chief assault was to be made on their faith. They were, no doubt, of themselves too weak to resist Satan successfully; but our Lord provided a permanent remedy, a permanent support, against these enduring assaults on their faith, enduring, because, once repulsed, Satan would not give over. That permanent support was in the indefectible faith, for which He prayed His Father on behalf of Peter. It was through Peter, their faith was to be supported and strengthened in the day of need and trial.

32. “But I have prayed for thee.” This prayer being absolute, from the very form of expression—no condition is even insinuated—must be infallibly efficacious. It had for object, not that Peter would be free from temptation, but that his “faith fail not,” or be utterly destroyed. The word, “confirmed,” shows the strength of temptation, which would cause him for a time to waver. “Thee,” is in the singular number—περι σου—as there is special personal reference to Peter, for whose unyielding, indefectible faith the Son of God absolutely addresses His Father, who always heard Him. “And I know that Thou hearest Me always” (John 11:42). Although, Peter afterwards sinned against the external profession of his faith, many hold, he retained it in his heart. At all events, his faith did not utterly “fail,” strictly speaking; for, he recovered it, at once, if lost.

“And thou being once converted.” Having been, after thy temporary fall and infidelity, in regard to the external profession of faith, converted to God by sincere penance, and then permanently rendered firm and immoveable thyself, by My heavenly grace and assistance. According to this interpretation of “converted,” our Lord gently insinuates Peter’s future fall and repentance. Others say, the word, “converted,” is a Hebraism, signifying, in turn, as if our Lord said: I have prayed for the indefectibility of thy faith, and do thou, in turn, confirm thy brethren, as I confirm thee. Others hold, that “converted” is to be immediately connected with the words, “brethren,” thus: And thou at some time, when it becomes necessary, being turned towards thy brethren, strengthen them in the faith.

“Confirm”—(στηρισον—as I now command thee, and in commanding, authorize thee)—in that faith in which thou shalt be firmly founded and established.

“Thy brethren,” the other Apostles—who were all his brethren, all to be assaulted by Satan, and confirmed by Peter—and their successors to the end of time, who needed to be strengthened against the assaults of hell, no less than the Apostles themselves, together with the entire Church built upon him, which, being destined to survive to the end of time, may require to be confirmed and strengthened in the faith by thee, in the persons of thy successors, at every period of its existence. “In confirming the Apostles, Peter really confirmed those whom the Apostles confirmed” (Murray).

From the command and commission given here to Peter, and to him only, by the Son of God, is proved his Primacy of jurisdiction and authority over the entire Church. For, in thus vesting Peter with authority, our Lord must have imparted to him, whatever was necessary for its full and effective exercise against the wiles and persecutions of wicked men, whom Satan employs at all times, to “sift” and agitate the members of God’s Church. The full and effective discharge of this arduous commission requires not merely that faith be imparted, through the ordinary channel of preaching and instruction; but, also, full legislative and executive authority to repress effectively every attempt at leading men astray, to condemn contrary errors, and all doctrines tending to obscure it, to curb all attempts at undermining it, and punish by the arms of the Spirit, all men of whatever order, rank, station, or degree, who may be made instrumental in tarnishing its purity. Nothing short of this power could suffice for the effective discharge of the lofty commission given to Peter; nothing short of it, was, therefore, given by Him, to whom belongs “all power in heaven and on earth.” What is this but the Primacy of jurisdiction and authority?

This passage is commonly quoted, and very properly so, as containing a proof of the dogma of the Pope’s Infallibility. It order to avoid misconception, it may not be amiss to explain precisely what this dogma of Infallibility means. This will best be done by explaining—first, what it is not; and, secondly, what it is. It does not imply, by any means, that in his private capacity, as a writer or preacher, even on doctrinal points, the Pope may not utter unsound or erroneous doctrine. The Pope has never done so; but so far as the belief in the defined doctrine of the Infallibility is concerned, he may. Secondly, it is not to be confounded with impeccability. No promise of exemption from sin was ever made to St. Peter, or his successors; nor did it ever enter into the head of any Catholic, to claim such exemption for them. Thirdly, it is not to be confounded with the power of deposing temporal rulers, or of absolving their subjects from due allegiance. Whatever may be said of the rights of the Pontiff to such power, or of its actual exercise, we can freely admit, that the Sovereign Pontiff may even exceed bounds and commit sin, and act unjustly in its exercise, without trenching, in the slightest, on the defined doctrine of the Infallibility. It may be right to observe on this subject, that if the Pope exercised such power, he exercised it, independently of any other claim, in virtue of the international laws of Christendom in force at the time, and the voluntary concession of Christian Princes themselves; and when these Princes infringed the contracts entered into, they, according to the existing laws, rendered themselves liable to the stipulated penalties of such infringement.

Having seen what the dogma of Infallibility is not, lot us now see what it is. It is clearly expressed in the Dogmatic Constitution of the Vatican Council thus: “We, therefore, faithfully adhering to Tradition, which dates from the commencement of Christianity … teach and define as a dogma divinely revealed, that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra—that is to say, when discharging the functions of Pastor and Doctor of all the faithful, by virtue of his Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine of faith and morals, to be held by the universal Church—he enjoys, by the Divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, the same infallibility with which our Redeemer intended His Church should be endowed, when defining any thing concerning faith and morals; and, that, consequently, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves, and not from the Church. If any one should presume—which, may God forbid—to contradict this our definition, let him be Anathema.” From the above, we clearly see, what every Catholic is bound to believe on this point, under pain of heresy. It is simply this—that, whenever the Sovereign Pontiff, as head of the Church—as Supreme Pastor and Teacher—“defines,” or, clearly declares, that any point of doctrine is to be held by the universal Church, as contained in the deposit of revelation left by God to His Church, or, is opposed to the same; in other words, whenever he teaches the universal Church the faith of Christ, he cannot go astray, in virtue of the promises of Christ, and the gratuitous gift of God attached to his sacred person and office.

The above doctrine is clearly revealed in this passage. This follows—first, from the office divinely assigned to Peter only—“for thee,” “thy faith,” &c.—of protecting and strengthening the faith of all his brethren, and of the entire Church, which is to be confirmed in the faith through them. This office he has to exercise against the assaults of most powerful and wily enemies—all the powers of hell, represented by “Satan.” This he could not effectively discharge—if, on the one hand, we consider his furious, malignant enemies; on the other, the nature of the several points of faith, in many cases surpassing the human understanding, which he must defend and explain—unless he was gifted with Infallibility; nor, could he otherwise supply the inquisitive and learned portion of mankind with sufficient motives of credibility, so as to bow down their proud intellects in obedience to faith. How could he confirm others in the true faith, if he himself could err? Hence, his Infallibility.

Secondly, from the absolute and efficacious prayer of the Son of God, that the faith of Peter, while confirming his brethren and the entire Church in the doctrine of Christ, both regarding faith and morals—proper notions of both being essential for salvation—would never fail. Now, what is this but securing for him the gift of Infallibility, whenever addressing the Church, he defines doctrines of faith or morals, as declared in the dogma above explained? And as this privilege, of confirming the faith of the entire Church, was granted to Peter not merely on his own behalf, but for the good of others, and in his capacity of Chief Pastor, having charge of the entire flock, “lambs and sheep,” it is clear this same privilege—the means divinely instituted for preserving the faith, equally necessary at every period of the Church, as the powers of hell never relax their efforts to ruin souls, to destroy their faith and morals—was meant for his successors in the Roman See to the end of ages, to whom all the privileges of Peter, as Pastor, have been fully transmitted. The gift of Infallibility was granted to the other Apostles, as such; and, hence, being merely a personal privilege, was not transmitted to their successors, the Bishops. But to Peter it was granted, not alone as Apostle, in which case, it would cease with his own life; but as Chief Pastor, to “confirm his brethren”—a pastoral function—in which latter respect, it was to descend to his successors in the Primacy of authority and jurisdiction over the entire Church.

33, 34. (See Matthew 26:34.)

35, 36. Our Lord, turning to the rest of the Apostles, now predicts the impending storm—a state of things immediately awaiting them, different from what they hitherto experienced—and He thus wishes to fortify them against it. Heretofore, when sent on the mission, bereft of the necessaries of life, without any viatic, or provision for their journey, God’s secret providence so arranged it, that all their wants were supplied, and they enjoyed the blessings of peace.

“But now,” they will find it quite otherwise—a different condition of things will arise. Now, like men in time of war, they must provide themselves with the necessary means of support and defence to sustain and protect life, which shall be in imminent peril, from extreme penury and the sword of their persecutors. The words of this verse, about purchasing a sword, and taking a purse with them, which was not formerly allowed by Him (Luke 9); but, now allowed, on account of the change in circumstances—because, formerly, men helped them; now, they persecute them—are not to be understood in their strict, literal sense, as conveying a precept to buy a sword, &c.

“Buy a sword,” is a proverbial expression, conveying, that a thing was to be done, at any cost. The words are only meant by our Lord to convey, in allegorical language, the great privations and dangers to which the Apostles would be subjected after He—in whose society and paternal care lay their support, and exemption from all harm—was visibly taken away; and for the purpose of inspiring them with confidence in God, in the midst of their trials. Far from meaning that they should buy a sword, He does not allow Peter to use the one he had; and, in His previous teaching, He told them when struck on one cheek, even to turn the other to the striker. The meaning seems to be, that such will be their perilous condition hereafter, that if they had to depend on human aid alone, a sword would be necessary to rescue them. As for Himself, He was soon to be put to death; He needed no provision. He also wished to convey, that He voluntarily underwent the sufferings He predicted beforehand. Similar is the meaning of several passages of the Prophets (Jer. 9:17, 18; Ezech. 4:2), in which they prefigure dangerous times, by representing what men do in order to guard against impending evils.

Our Lord spoke rather obscurely, so as to leave the Apostles under the erroneous idea that He really wanted to have swords for His defence. This He did, with the view of showing His followers and the Jews, as has just been remarked, that He voluntarily underwent His Passion, while His disciples were inflamed with a desire of defending Him, and also with a view of eradicating all desires of revenge out of their hearts, by severely rebuking Peter, and curing the man whose ear he cut off.

37. He assigns a reason why His Apostles should be prepared for adversity and persecution. A disciple cannot be above his master; they must share His fate and the odium and opprobrium in store for Him. Now, among the other prophecies regarding Him, the prophecy of Isaias (53:12) is yet to be fulfilled, and soon to be accomplished. “And with the wicked,” &c. He was to be tortured, crucified, as a malefactor, and to be suspended on an ignominious gibbet, between two notorious thieves, as if He were the greatest malefactor of the three, and thus put to a shameful death.

“For the things,” &c. i.e., all the prophecies that concerned Him, are sure to be fulfilled, and are now on the point of their full accomplishment, and, therefore, this one regarding My sufferings and ignominious death, must be fulfilled among the rest. Hence, when expiring, He exclaimed, “Consummatum est.”

38. The Apostles, misunderstanding our Lord’s words in this passage, as in Matthew (16:6, 7), or, rather, their allegorical meaning, and His purpose in using them, take His words literally to refer to material swords. Hence, seeing He was not understood, He, as it were, abruptly, as is quite commonly done by men when they find their hearers incapable of understanding them, and dont wish to rectify the mistake, terminates the subject by saying, “It is enough,” which is the same as, that will do, let us drop the subject at present.

The scornful sneers of Ellicot, insultingly uttered in his Commentary on this passage, while alluding to some out-of-the-way mystical interpretation, given of this passage by some obscure Catholic—an interpretation seldom or never referred to by Catholic writers—are undeserving of notice. He might very well have reserved taunting sneers for the ridiculous jargon caused by the outlandish opinions of some of his own co-religionists.

How it happened that the Apostles had two swords, is differently accounted for. The most probable way of accounting for it is, that as the road between Galilee and Jerusalem was notoriously infested with robbers, travellers, as a matter of precaution, carried swords with them. Others say, the words only convey that there were two swords in the house when the conversation took place. “Behold, here are two swords” (Grotius). Others, understand them of large knives, used in the immolation of the Paschal lamb (St. Chrysostom).

39–65. (See Matthew 26:36–75.)

66–71. (See Matthew 27:1–7.)

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