Click here to join the effort!
And it came to pass , &c. This is the same history as that related by S. Mark ( Mar 10:1 ), by S. Luke ( Luk 9:51 ), and, as it would seem, by S. John (vii. 1). So Jansen, Francis Lucas, and others. Maldonatus, however, denies this with respect to S. John: but his arguments will be refuted by the exposition of the context. It is plain from John that these events took place about the Feast of Tabernacles, which was celebrated in September. Christ went up to that feast, that He might gradually prepare Himself for death. He was crucified in the following March. Luke adds, that Christ journeyed through Samaria. Hence it follows, that Christ leaving the direct route from Samaria to Jerusalem proceeded to the Jordan; and having crossed it, passed through Peræa and entered the borders of Judea from the east, and arrived at Jerusalem about the middle of the Feast of Tabernacles, as John has ( Joh 7:14 ). This explains the expression, beyond Jordan , in the text. Beyond , or across Jordan, must be connected with the verb came, not with the words coasts of Judea , as is plain from Mark. For Christ, about the borders of Judea, crossed over the Jordan, that He might be farther away from the observation of the Pharisees, when He was teaching and healing the multitudes.
Great multitudes followed Him , &c. Not so much from Galilee where He wished His journey to escape observation, as Mark and John say as from the other districts through which He passed. He healed them there. There i.e ., on the confines of Judea; and then sent them back to their homes. For He did not wish to enter Jerusalem with so great a crowd of people, that He might not give the Pharisees an opportunity of accusing Him of sedition, and stirring up the people.
The Pharisees also , &c. They had no doubt (from Deu 24:1 ) that this was allowable for any grave cause. So Origen, SS. Jerome and Bede. Came , not when Jesus proceeded from the confines of Judea to Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Tabernacles (see Joh 7:1 ), but after the feast was over, and He was returning to the borders of Judea and had again crossed the Jordan. This is plain from John 10:40 ; for Matthew passes over in silence both the going to Jerusalem and the return from thence. John's words are as follow. And He went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John was first baptizing. This was Œnon, near to Salim ( Joh 3:23 ). This question, concerning the putting away a wife, seems to have been very hotly debated in the time of Christ, just as it is now. Therefore the Pharisees proposed it to Him, that they might tempt Him, and find an occasion for carping at Him. For if Christ should say, It is not lawful to put away a wife, He would incur the hatred of many rich and carnal men who made a practice of divorce. But if, on the other hand, He should assert that divorce is lawful, then they were ready to insinuate that His doctrine was imperfect and carnal His doctrine, I say, Who professed to be the teacher of spiritual perfection, the Doctor sent from Heaven. The Abyssinians at the present day, like the Jews, frequently put away their wives, and marry others. Indeed, they sometimes take them only for a month, or a year.
He answered , &c. Some think from this passage that Adam was created a hermaphrodite, and had in himself both sexes. But away with such puerilities. The meaning is as follows: Since Holy Scripture did not say in the case of other animals ( Gen 1:27 ), that God made them male and female, but only as regards man, by this it is signified that it is only the marriage of the human race, and that of one male with one female, which was instituted by God. This union or marriage between Adam and Eve was so ordained that he could not put her away and marry another. So SS. Chrysostom, Jerome, Theophylact, Euthymius. Again, from the fact that of one Adam two persons were made, namely Adam and Eve, and because Eve was formed from Adam, it is shown that monogamy is right, viz., that a wife ought not to be separated from her husband, forasmuch as she is a part and a member of him. For as Plato says ( Dial. de amore ), "As it were of two imperfect parts one perfect man is formed." As therefore a member, such as the head, cannot be separated from a man, as to its origin and formation, so ought the marriage of one man and one woman to be perpetual and indissoluble, so that it can only be dissolved by death, even as the head can only be separated from the body by death. Wherefore Our Lord adds by way of explanation, For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife. Plato, and from him S. Basil ( lib. de Virginit .), adds that this is the cause why a man seeks a wife, as it were a part cut off from himself; and as a magnet attracts iron, so does a woman a man.
And said, viz., God, by the mouth of Adam, as a prophet, instituting marriage with Adam and Eve. For this cause : Because the woman being formed out of the man becomes flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. Shall be joined, Greek, προσκολληθήσεται , i.e ., shall be agglutinated , shall adhere closely and undividedly to his wife, by the most close and intimate bond of matrimony, and that leaving the society and often the home of his father and mother, he may dwell with his wife.
And there shall be two in one flesh. (Vulg.) Greek, εὶς σάρκα μίαν , i.e ., into one flesh. This is commonly expounded of corporeal union. But it is better to take it more simply and purely as a Hebraism, signifying one human being, one civil person. For, by synecdoche flesh denotes the whole man. As therefore such a part of the body as the heart ought not to be separated from the body, so ought not a man to be separated from his wife. From hence it follows, moraliter , that a man and his wife ought so to love one another as the heart and the soul love the body to which they belong, and the body loves them. (See Eph. v. 28.) Again, from hence it follows that there is a common power over either body, that a man should have the same power over his wife's body that he has over his own, and, vice versa , as the Apostle teaches (1 Cor. vii. 4). I have said more on this subject in Genesis 2:24 .
No more twain . . . joined , Greek συνέζευξε , i.e ., has yoked together, as in one yoke, whence married people are called σύζυγες , because as two horses are coupled together by one yoke in a chariot, that they may draw it, so are two spouses coupled together by the one yoke of matrimony, that they may sustain it, and by it procreate, and bring up offspring. There is a twofold reason by which Christ proves that a man ought not to put away his wife. 1. A man's putting away his wife is contrary to nature, just as it is contrary to nature that one flesh and one man should be divided into two. 2. This divorce is contrary to the ordinance of God. If therefore it be done, it is done impiously, because what God hath joined together is torn asunder. Who dares to annul what God has sanctioned? Who dares to divide what God has united? Who dares to mutilate the work of God the Creator, to tear asunder one man? Falsely therefore saith Erasmus on 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 "What is rightly joined together is what God hath united. God separateth what is rightly separated." As though marriages improperly and inconsiderately entered into without God's instigation might be set aside. For Christ speaks of nature, and the natural and primary institution of marriage, according to which marriage being once contracted in any way whatsoever, and by whomsoever as instigator, it is indissoluble. For nature requires this, that offspring may continuously be propagated by matrimony, and be advantageously brought up by both parents. This bringing up is, in the human race, a work of difficulty, and of long continuance, lasting up to the twentieth year of a child's age, and sometimes longer. It is otherwise with beasts, which in a few months, or weeks come to adolescence, so that they do not longer require a father or mother's care. Wherefore their marriage is then dissolved. There is then an à priori reason why the indissolubility of marriage belongs to the jus nature , and why fornication, pollution, divorce, and polygamy are contrary to that law. It is because God, who is the Lord of nature and of marriage, and of our bodies, so ordained at the very beginning of the world, and gave the right and use of our bodies only in the union of wedlock. And if we use them in any other way, we abuse our bodies contrary to the will of God, who is the Supreme Lord; and contrary to the law which He has ordained. That this is so appears from this, that in the Mosaic law God allowed a dispensation by which a new law was introduced which gave permission for polygamy, and a bill of divorce. Thus Hosea, by God's command married a wife who had been a fornicatrix. Moreover the end and the cause why God ordained this absolute indissolubility of marriage, is, 1. That there may be closer union and greater mutual love between those who are married. 2. For the sake of the better bringing up of children. The 3rd reason is an allegorical one: because marriage is a type and figure of the indissoluble Union of the Divine W ORD with our flesh, and through it with the Church. As the Apostle teaches us ( Eph 5:32 ), "This is a great sacrament. I speak concerning Christ and the Church." ( Vulg .). Verse 7. They say , &c. The Pharisees object to Christ, Why hath Moses commanded ? In order to make their objection the stronger, they use the word command , whereas Moses, as Christ observes in the following verse, only permitted the bill of divorce. It was only that sort of command which is conditional, not absolute. Moses had commanded that if the Jews would put away their wives, they could only do so by giving a writing of divorcement. I have fully entered into every thing connected with this bill of divorce on Deuteronomy 4:1 . We must here supply from S. Mark 10:3-4 , that when the Pharisees asked Christ whether it were lawful to put away a wife, He first answered and said unto them, "what did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away." Thus Christ as Matthew here has it in the fourth verse unfolds the original institution of marriage by God, and its indissolubility. Then the Pharisees rejoined, Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorce, and to put her away ? Jesus answered, Moses permitted this because of the hardness of your hearts. But it was not so from the beginning. Thus by prefixing the words in Mark, and affixing those in Matthew, we show the agreement of the two Evangelists. Verse 8. Moses suffered. He alters commanded into suffered , or permitted. Moses suffered you to put away your wives, when you hated them, lest if you could not divorce them, you should kill them. For so great was the hardness and carnality of your hearts that ye would rather put them to death than be without the pleasure of a new and desired marriage.
From the beginning. When man's nature had become corrupted by sin, man changed and corrupted this institution of God, and gave occasion for divorce and polygamy. Verse 9. But I say , &c. Christ used those words upon two occasions. 1. Publicly in this place to the Jews and the Pharisees. When He here promulgated His new law, by which He revoked the power of giving a bill of divorce, and brought back marriage to its primeval institution and indissolubility. 2. Shortly afterwards He repeated the words in private to his disciples. (Mark 10:10-12 .)
I say , i.e ., I enact, and as the Lawgiver of the New Law, I ordain, and bring back marriage to its original rectitude and steadfastness. And I declare that whosoever shall put away his wife and shall marry another shall be accounted, and shall be in fact an adulterer.
Except for fornication. That is, except on account of adultery. For what in those who are free is fornication, in the married is adultery. And this dissolves marriage quoad thorum , though not quoad vinculum. For the adulterer does not keep the faith which he gave to his spouse. Whence he may be put away by his spouse, according to the saying, "With him who has broken troth, let troth be broken."
From this exception, the Greeks, according to the testimony of Guido the Carmelite ( Tract. de Hæresibus ), and modern heretics gather and conclude that if whoso putteth away his wife except for fornication, and marry another, committelh adultery ; then, on the contrary, whosoever shall put away his wife on account of fornication, and shall marry another, does not commit adultery. Whence they are of opinion that marriage is dissolved by adultery, not only quoad thorum , but quoad vinculum , that under such circumstances a man may contract another marriage. Thus Luther, Calvin, Erasmus, and speaking generally, the Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists, and among Catholics, Catharinus, and Cajetan. And so in practice the Greeks and heretics act. But this is an error condemned by the perpetual tradition of the Church, and by S. Paul (Romans 7:1 , and 1Co 7:10-11 ), and expressly by the Council of Trent ( Sess. 24 . Con. 6, 7). To the argument deduced à contrario , Paul of Burgos, on this passage, ( additione 2. ad Lyran .) replies by admitting the consequence, but adds that Christ was speaking only of the Old Law, in which on account of fornication a bill of divorce was allowed to be given. But there is this difficulty in such a reply, that Christ both here and in the fifth of Matthew expressly opposes His own words, that is the evangelical Law, to Moses and the Old Law; in fact He repeals that bill of divorce which Moses had allowed. Verses 8 and 9. "He saith unto them, Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." Observe how plainly Christ opposes His own word to the sanction which Moses had given to the bill of divorce, and how He condemns whosoever makes use of it, as guilty of adultery.
I say therefore that it is better with S. Augustine ( lib. 1. de adult. conjug. c. 9.) to take the word except negatively, so that the expression, save for the cause of fornication , means the same thing as apart from the cause of fornication. This is supported by the Greek and Syriac which have, not an adulteress. As though Christ only intended to affirm that a chaste and faithful wife might not be put away, but intended to say nothing about an adulterous wife, in order to escape the hatred of the Pharisees and the people, who were at that time used to divorce.
2. The word except, can be taken in its proper, exceptive sense, but it should be referred not to the words which immediately follow, and marry another , but only to those which preceded, whosoever shall put away his wife , so as to make an exception in the case of fornication. Then the words would be taken as follows, Whosoever shall put away his wife, which is not lawful, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery. The Ethiopic favours this view, translating as follows, Whosoever, on account of any other cause than on account of fornication, shall put away his wife, and marry another, is an adulterer. Similarly the Persian, Every man who puts away his wife, and not on account of adultery, and marries another, is an adulterer.
3. Most clearly and aptly from Theophylact and Augustine ( lib. cont. Adamant, c. 3), you may refer this exception to both what precedes and what follows. Thus, Whoso shall put away his wife, unless for fornication, and marries another, commits adultery. He commits adultery, I say, both by putting away his wife, as well as by marrying another. That is, he is twice an adulterer. Christ gives an answer to both the questions put to Him, for the Pharisees had asked two. And both answers are true. For even though a man should only divorce a chaste wife, without marrying another, he commits adultery, both because he breaks the law of marriage, by violating one of its conditions by putting away an innocent wife, as well as by causing her to commit adultery, as Christ explains in Matthew 5:32 . For verbs of the Hebrew conjugation Kal , often in Hiphil , signify the double action as above. This is well known to Hebrew scholars. Whence from the contrary you can only infer as follows, Whoso shall put away his wife unless for fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery. Therefore he who puts away his wife on account of fornication, and marries another, does not indeed commit adultery by divorcing the adulteress, but by marrying another. It is the same form of expression as if you should say, "He who breaks his fast without a dispensation, and gets drunk, commits sin. Therefore he who does not fast, having a dispensation, does not sin by eating, but sins by getting drunk."
I say, 2. Christ here concedes divorce to a man on account of the fornication of his wife, quoad thorum , but not the dissolution of marriage, so that he may marry another. This appears, 1. because Mark and Luke lay down a general proposition, and omit this exception. This is what Luke says, Luke 16:18 : "Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery." For he does her a great wrong, breaking the troth which he had given her.
You will say, why then does Matthew add this exception? I answer, because the Pharisees had virtually proposed two questions to Christ. The first was, whether it was lawful for any cause to divorce a wife? The second, whether when a wife was put away by a bill of divorce, the marriage was dissolved, and another might be entered upon? For they put away their wives that they may marry again. Christ then replies to both questions; and as it seems by means of two propositions. 1. Whoso shall put away his wife except for fornication, commits adultery. 2. Whoso shall marry another, commits adultery. For together with the bill of divorce he abolishes polygamy, which had hitherto been allowed. The pronoun whosoever must be repeated. Matthew, here as elsewhere studying conciseness, throws two sentences of Christ, each with its whosoever , into one. Hence that saying is true, "I labour to be brief, I become obscure." The same thing is proved, 2. by what precedes, when Christ by the original institution of marriage, which fornication does not annul, proves that matrimony is altogether indissoluble. 3. Because in what follows, this exception is not to be understood, as if it were said, And he who shall marry her that is put away, except for fornication, commits adultery. For so she that is put away on account of fornication would be in a better position, with respect to another contract of marriage, than an innocent woman who has been divorced. 4. Because S. Paul so teaches ( 1Co 7:10-11 ), and the Fathers passim. SS. Jerome, Chrysostom, Bede, in this passage, S. Augustine in his two Books on Adultery, Innocent I. ( Epist. ad Exuper .) Concil. Milev. ( Can. 17). Forojuliense ( Canon 10), Nannetense ( Can. 10), Florentin. ( in instruct. Armeniens .) Trident. ( Sess. 14, Can. 6). Origen, in this passage ( Tract. 7), animadverts severely upon certain bishops of his time, for conceding with Tertullian ( lib . 4, cont. Marc .) and Ambrosiaster ( in Cor. vii.), second nuptials to wives on account of the adultery of their husbands, saying that it is lawful for.the innocent spouse to put away an adulterous partner, and to marry another. The same license is given by the Council of Illiberis. (31 quæst. 1 cap. Si qua mulier .) Also in Concil. Aurelian 1, cap . 10. But the decrees of those Councils are either apocryphal, or else are cited imperfectly by Gratian.
Ver. 10. His disciples say , &c. Case , i.e., matter, business. So the Syriac translates, If the case of those who are married be thus , if the indissolubility of marriage be so great, if a man be so strictly bound to his wife, that he cannot put her away for anything except fornication, but must live with her, though she be odious, quarrelsome, deformed, nasty, and so on, and must have close connection with her until death, it is better not to marry a wife , as the Syriac has it. For the Greek γαμη̃σαι applies both to men and women. It may be that the Vulgate in translating by nubere , alludes to the servitude and subjection, by which a man is bound to a woman, and not seldom, if he wishes to have quietness, must give in to her, and bear patiently her complaints, quarrels, and reproaches. S. Chrysostom gives the reason. "It is easier to fight against concupiscence and ourselves than against a bad woman." Whence Cato said, "A wife is a necessary evil." Hence too the illustrious Sir Thomas More, who suffered martyrdom under Henry VIII. of England, being asked why he had married a little wife, replied sportively, "Of evils I chose the least." So Stapleton in his life. Ver. 11 . To whom it is given : Arabic, those who are given , viz., to God and continence. So in Religious Orders those who are converted are called given , i.e ., to religion.
Do not receive : Origen and Nazianzen ( Orat. 31.) translate Χωρου̃σι are not capable. And by capacity they mean a natural inclination to celibacy, which all have not. But it is better to translate with the Vulgate do not receive , or contain. As it were, narrow vessels do not receive into them, do not embrace so arduous a counsel as that of celibacy, but only those to whom is given by God this great gift of continency. Where observe, although all the faithful may not have the gift of continency, so that they have continence in act , as all the just have not the gift of perseverance, by which they actually persevere in justice, yet all the just have the gift of perseverance in such sense, that they may, if they will, persevere in God's grace. Thus in like manner all the faithful have the gift of continence in the first instance. And by it they may contain if they will; viz., if they assiduously beg of God the grace of continence, and if they co-operate with that grace by guarding their eyes, by fleeing from sloth, and so on. Thus SS. Chrysostom, Origen, Theophylact, Euthymius, Jerome in this place, S. Augustine ( in Psalms 138:0; Psalms 138:0 ), S. Ambrose ( lib. 3, de Viduis ), Tertullian ( lib. de Monog .), and others. Christ in this place, as well as S. Paul (1 Corinthians 7:7; 1 Corinthians 7:71 Corinthians 7:7 ), gives the counsel of continence to every believer. For nothing is counselled except what is in man's power and good pleasure with God's grace, which truly He offers and provides for all who ask it. It is otherwise with the gifts of prophecy, tongues, healing, miracles. For the grace of these God does not offer to every one, but only to a few of His elect for the common good of the faithful. Listen to S. Jerome, "It is given to those who have wished, who have laboured that they may receive." So, too, Euthymius says, "It is given to those who ask, but not for mere asking, but to those who ask fervently and perseveringly. What is meant is that virginity is a gift of God, given to those who ask for it as they ought to ask." So also Auctor Imperfecti , "When He says, to whom it is given, it is not meant that it is given to some and not to others, but He shows that unless we receive the help of grace, we have no power at all of ourselves. But grace is not refused to those who desire, for the Lord says, Ask and ye shall have." And S. Chrysostom, "If it is a work of election, wherefore is it that He immediately said, All do not receive it , &c.? It is that you may learn thoroughly the peculiar nature of this warfare, that it is not like a kind of necessity bestowed as it were at random. It is given to those who freely choose it. He spoke as He did in order that He might show the necessity of grace from above which grace is provided for all who seek it, if we would come forth victors in this warfare." S. Chrysostom adds that we ought not to be slothful in our resolution of continence, because some may fall from continence. Since soldiers falling in battle do not discourage their comrades, but rather stir them up to fight more valiantly. Lastly, the same S. Chrysostom suggests a consideration, by means of which celibacy is shown to be not only possible but easy to every one. "Consider with thyself," he says, "that if thou wert a eunuch, either by nature, or by the wrong-doing of man, thou wouldst be deprived of these pleasures, and wouldst obtain no reward by being deprived of them. Give thanks therefore to God, because thou wilt obtain great rewards and bright crowns, if thou livest thus as they do without any rewards at all. Yea, indeed thou mayest do it much more easily, safely and pleasantly than they can, both because thou art strengthened by the hope of recompense, and because thou rejoicest in the consciousness of thy virtue, and art not tossed by such vast billows of desire. For the cutting off a member is not like the bridle of reason. yea verily, it is reason alone which restrains such waves as these we are speaking of. For I should not say that this sting of desire proceeds from the brain, or from the loins but from a lascivious mind, and from neglecting to watch over the thoughts." Ver. 12. There are eunuchs , &c. Who when they might be husbands, become eunuchs for Christ's sake, says S. Jerome. Christ here speaks of three sorts of eunuchs. 1. Those who are such by nature. 2. Those who have been made eunuchs artificially, that they may guard queens and noble matrons. 3. Those who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of Heaven's sake. Christ here alludes to Isaiah Leviticus 3:4 , Leviticus 3:5 , where the prophet foretells that there should be such eunuchs in Christ's church, and promises them a name better than of sons and daughters, yea an everlasting name.
Made themselves eunuchs : This expression has two meanings. 1. That it is in our power with God's grace to make ourselves eunuchs, i.e ., chaste and celibate, and to keep so by a perpetual vow. This is the force of the verb, have made themselves , signifying a moral inability to beget children. If it were not so, He would have said, There are who make themselves eunuchs, or who endeavour to do so. But he says, have made themselves , i.e., have taken from themselves the power of generating, that is to say by a vow of continence. So S. Epiphan. ( Hæres. 53), S. Fulgentius ( lib. de fide ad Pet .).
Origen took these words literally. He mutilated himself out of his love of chastity. But he was wrong in doing so, both because such self-mutilation is unlawful, as well as because lust is not thereby quenched but inflamed. Hear S. Chrysostom: "When He says, Have made themselves eunuchs , He does not speak of the cutting off of members, but of the suppression of evil thoughts. For he who mutilates himself renders himself liable to a curse. Neither is concupiscence thereby assuaged, but is made more troublesome." For eunuchs sin in thought, through the desire of lust, grieving that they cannot fulfil it. See what I have said on Ecc 20:2 , and Ecc 39:21 .
For the kingdom of Heaven's sake , that by continence they may merit it. So Origen, Hilary, Chrysostom, Euthymius, and S. Augustine ( de Virgin. cap. 23). Falsely, therefore, do the heretics expound for the kingdom of Heaven's sake to mean for the sake of preaching. As though it meant, There are some who abstain from marriage that they may be more free to preach the Gospel, or that they may be free from the anxieties which matrimony brings with it. For continence is not only to be praised and desired for such reasons as those, but for its own sake; because it is a great virtue, and because the victory over himself, by which a man overcomes lust, raises his mind to meditate upon and follow after heavenly things. Wherefore chastity makes men angels.
He that is able , &c. Arabic, He that is able to carry it, let him carry it. Note here the evangelical counsel of celibacy, proposed, yea counselled, by Christ to all men, though not commanded. For these words, he that is able , &c., are those of one exhorting and animating to celibacy, say SS. Jerome and Chrysostom. Moreover, it is signified that as Christ gives this counsel, it is in our power to fulfil it, if we will invoke the grace of God, and co-operate with grace. Nor does the expression he that is able do away with the force of this; for all that this means is, that continence is a difficult thing. And he who is willing to put constraint upon himself, generously to withstand lust, to mount up to the lofty pinnacle of continence; let such an one embrace the same, let him receive it. All the faithful, then, have the power of continence, not proximate, but remote. So the Fathers already cited on verse 11. Hear S. Chrysostom, speaking in the name of all: "All, therefore, cannot receive it, because all do not wish. The palm is set before them: he who desires glory does not think of the labour. No one would conquer if all were afraid of danger." Hear, too, S. Jerome ( lib. 1, cont. Jovinian ). "The master of the games proposes the reward. He invites to the course. He holds in His hand the prize of virginity. He points to the most pure fountain, and chants, Whoso thirsteth, let him come unto Me and drink. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." From these things it appears how foolish and carnal is Calvin's exposition, which is as follows: "You, 0 ye Apostles, think that it is a good thing to live without a wife; but I forbid any one to attempt so to do unless he is certain that he can live without a wife." For Christ does not forbid celibacy, but exhorts to it. Neither can any one be certain that he has the gift, except either he have a revelation from God which is given to very few or else by experience has had proof of his own continence. And how can a man be certain about his continence before he has made the trial? Still worse is what Luther taught that it is as impossible for a man to be without a wife as to be without food or drink. No doubt it is impossible for the heretics, but not for the orthodox, who are strengthened by faith and the grace of Christ.
Their were brought (Vulg., were offered ) to Him. Rebuked because they thought Christ was occupied with more important matters, such as instructing men; and that He must not be called off to attend to little children, as not having the use of reason; and that it was unworthy so great a prophet to busy Himself about children. For little children Luke has (xviii. 15) βρέφη , infants. But infancy lasts until the seventh year.
Moraliter : let princes here learn from Christ, Who is the King of kings and Lord of lords, to make themselves accessible to the poor, to women and children, and graciously to hear and grant their supplications and requests. This was done by several of the Roman emperors, even of those who were heathens. Such was Titus, who, as Suetonius testifies, was wont to say, "No one ought to go away sorrowful after talking with a prince." And on the day when he had not done a kindness to any one, he groaned and said, "Alas! I have lost a day." Next there was Trajan, of whom Pliny says in his Panegyric , "Thou dost not suffer citizens to embrace thy feet, nor return a kiss with thine hand. All who approach thee come close to thy side; and it is their own sense of modesty, not thy haughtiness, which puts an end to the conference." And, a little afterwards: "There is no difficulty in obtaining an audience, there is no delay in giving an answer: forthwith they are heard, forthwith they receive a reply." Then there was Alexander Severus, of whom Lampridius says: "So great was his moderation, that no one was ever removed from his side; he made himself so bland and affable to all men, that he used to visit not only his friends of the first and second ranks, but the sick of even a lower degree." Lastly, of the Christian emperors, Pacatus says to Theodosius in his Panegyric, "When the people are waiting for you, you make it plain not only that you are willing to be seen, but easy of approach. You receive from him who is nearest to you the petitions of all your people."
That He would put His hands; that by this imposition of hands He might bless them, and so implore Divine grace for them, that they might grow up to be wise and holy men. That this was an ancient practice of the Hebrews is gathered from Gen. xlviii. 14, where Jacob extending his arms in such away as to form the figure of a cross blessed the two young sons of Joseph. See also Ecclus. iii. 11: "The blessing of a father strengthens the house of sons; but the curse of a mother roots out their foundations." From Christ has been derived the custom among Christians, that lay people, and especially children, should ask a blessing from their elders and from priests. This is the case in Belgium, where boys will run up to the priests and religious men, and ask them to sign them with the sign of the cross. They are taught to do this both by the catechists and by their parents. Remigius says this was a custom among the Jews before the time of Christ. The great Sir Thomas More, the glory of England and a martyr, when he was Lord High Chancellor, publicly asked his aged father to give him his blessing, as Stapleton testifies. Moreover, the Church uses this ceremony of imposition of hands in Baptism, Orders, Penance, and whenever heretics are received into the Church. It is to pray for and obtain the gift of the Holy Ghost.
But Jesus said , &c. Victor of Antioch mentions five natural endowments why Christ has so great a love for the little ones. "The mind of a child is pure, and free from all vicious passions. It does not remember injuries, nor meditate upon revenge. In like manner, although a child may be severely chastised by its mother, yet will it run to her before any one else, and is attached to her more than to any other woman. And if you should show it a queen with a diadem upon her head, in no wise would it prefer her to its mother clothed in rags. It would rather see its mother clothed in rags than a queen in her royal apparel. Then a child requires nothing more than nature demands. Thus as soon as it is satisfied, it leaves it mother's breasts. Moreover it is never grieved at the loss of those things, of which we make so great account, such as money and jewels. Lastly, it is not carried away by corporeal beauty, as other human beings are. Wherefore the Lord said, Of such is the kingdom of Heaven. Assuredly by them does He admonish us, that we should do such things by the firm choice of our own will, which little children do by natural endowment." ( On Mark 10:13; Mark 10:13 .) Thus Christ chose out and blessed when they were children, S. Edmund, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, S. Nicholas, S. Catharine of Siena, and other eminent saints. When Gelasius was a boy he found his little brother, S. Ophilus, praying in his chamber, and a company of angels talking with him. He saw them with his own eyes, and heard a voice saying, Suffer the little children to come unto Me, for of such is the kingdom of Heaven. As he became older he grew in holiness, and like a fruitful olive tree in the house of the Lord, he brought forth abundant fruit, and thus in his early youth, he passed to Christ. S. Babylas, Patriarch of Antioch, and an illustrious martyr under the Emperor Numerianus, being by him condemned to death, desired that three boys, whom he had brought up in faith and piety might be beheaded before him, lest they should be led astray. He offered them to Christ as innocent victims, and said, "Behold I and the children, whom the Lord hath given me for a sign." Thus it is in his Life in Surius.
Learn from hence with what care children ought to be brought up, and instructed, that they may remain pure, for "the newly made jar long preserves the savour of what it first contains."
S. Basil proves the advantages of early religious training from these words of Christ. He asks ( in Reg. Disputat. interrog . 292), "Is it fitting that a master of boys living in the world should be a Brother? He answers in the affirmative. Let the Lord's command be kept, Suffer the little children to come unto Me." For young children go forth amongst the adult members of society, and what they have learnt in youth, they retain in old age. Children are the nursery of the Church and of the commonwealth
Of such, &c. Syriac, Of those who are like them. Whence Luke adds, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter therein. Christ's meaning here is as though He said, "It is not beneath My dignity to bless young children, because through My blessing they are made fit for the Kingdom of Heaven, whilst you, 0 ye adult Jews, who have often heard Me teaching are unfitted for it on account of your pride, and your other vices by which you have become callous. Wherefore in order that ye may become fit, ye must become like unto these little ones." Hear S. Ambrose ( lib . 8, in cap. 18 Luc .): "This age is weak in physical strength, and immature in mind and judgment. It is not therefore childhood which is meant, so much as the goodness which emulates childhood's simplicity." And a little afterwards, speaking symbolically, "Who is the child which is to be imitated by the Apostles of Christ? It is He of whom Isaiah speaks, Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given. For it is that Child who saith to thee, Take up thy Cross, and follow Me. And that thou mayest recognise who He is when He was reviled, He reviled not again, when He was smitten, He smote not back. Here is perfect virtue. Therefore there is in childhood a kind of venerable character of old age, and in old age an innocent childhood." From hence it is plain that the Anabaptists are wrong in keeping children away from Baptism, and so from Christ and the kingdom of heaven, on the ground that infants have not the use of reason, and therefore cannot believe. For although they may not have the act of faith, they may have the habit of faith. Because a habit ( habitus ) of faith, and grace and charity is infused into them by Baptism. They believe moreover in act by the faith of the Church, i.e ., of their parents, and the faithful of the Church, who often exercise acts of faith on behalf of themselves and all who belong to them.
And when He had laid , &c. The hands of Christ conferred life and salvation. The reason is because the hand is the organ of organs. Wherefore the Godhead of Christ exercised His Divine power and grace towards those whom He touched through His hands, giving them health both of body and soul, or increasing the grace given them in their circumcision, and in other ways, sanctifying them, and offering them to God, and as it were consecrating them. Whence we need not doubt that these young children who were blessed by Christ grew up to be wise and holy men, who afterwards became rulers of Churches, and propagated the faith of Christ. So Francis Lucas.
And behold one , &c. S. Jerome thinks that this one was the lawyer of whom Luke speaks ( Luk 10:25 ), and so that he came with the intention of tempting Christ. S. Chrysostom's opinion is preferable, that it was a different person, and that he came with a sincere intention of asking how he could become like a little child, according to Christ's precept, and so become a partaker of everlasting life. Wherefore he is the same person who is spoken of in Luke 18:18 . This becomes plain by a comparison of the two passages, especially ver. 22, Luk 18:22 and Matthew 19:21-22 , where it is said that when he had heard Christ's doctrine concerning perfection, If thou wilt be perfect go and sell what thou hast, and give to the poor , he went away sorrowful because he was rich. But this is evidence that he had asked these things of Christ from a sincere desire of salvation.
Good Master : This is a common Hebrew form of salutation by which persons sought the good will of a doctor or prophet. As though they said, "Rabbi, I know that thou art good, both as a man, and as a doctor and a prophet, who teachest us those things which are indeed good, and which lead to happiness. Tell me therefore what special good thing shall I do, that I may obtain the chief good in Heaven?" He plays upon the word good. Ver. 17. He said unto Him , &c. The Vulgate translator read in the Greek, τί με ε̉ρωτα̃ περὶ α̉γαθου̃ ; This was S. Augustine's reading, and that which S. Jerome followed in his commentary. Why askest thou me concerning good ? The present reading is that given in the text. Origen gives both readings. He subjoins the reason, saying
One is good, God : viz., in His nature and essence. Humbly does Christ refer this praise of His goodness to God, that He may teach us to do the same. For this man had not perfect faith concerning Christ, nor did he believe Him to be God. To this faith Christ desired to raise him by chiding him as it were. As though He had said, "If thou callest Me good, believe that I am God: for no one is good of himself save God." So S. Jerome, Theophylact, Euthymius.
Moreover good means the same as perfect, and the perfection of a thing is its goodness. That God is perfect, S. Denis proves in many ways ( de.Divin. Nomin. c. 10.) In God there is infinite perfection both of nature and wisdom, of power, holiness and virtue. There is therefore in Him the highest goodness, natural, moral and supernatural. Wherefore He is the Fountain of all good, in whom all the excellencies of all creatures are gathered together, and infinitely more than there are in the creatures. Wherefore in God there is in an eminent degree the beauty of gold, the splendour of jewels, the savour of delicacies, the harmony of music, the pleasantness of gardens, and whatsoever there is lovely, pleasant and delicious in the creatures. Hence it is from God that honey derives its sweetness, the sun its radiance, the stars their light, the heavens their glory, angels their wisdom, men their virtue, animals their sensations, plants their life, and all other things whatsoever they have of good: yea it is to the bounty of God that they as mendicants owe their very existence, as a drop out of the ocean. In God therefore is all good, and that in a perfect and infinite degree. In God is the allurement of all love, the consummation of all desire, the satisfying of all appetite. Why then, 0 wretched man, dost thou wander about among these poor created goods, and with all art not satisfied? Seek good in Him in whom is all good. Love and desire God. He alone can fully satisfy thy appetite and thy thirst: in this life through grace, but how much more in the life to come through glory: yea by Himself. For in heaven God manifests Himself that He may be beheld by the blessed as the chief good, that they may taste Him and enjoy Him.
If thou will enter , &c. Calvin foolishly, if not impiously, imagines that Christ is here addressing the young man ironically, because he trusted in the works of the Law; inasmuch as there is no road to Heaven through the keeping of the commandments, since it is impossible for men; but by faith. There are here as many errors and heresies, yea blasphemies, as there are words. It is diametrically opposed to what Christ declares, and is subversive of it. Hence it is plain that Calvin was not led by the Spirit of Christ but of Antichrist. See among Catholics, Maldonatus, who writes with the express object of refuting Calvin and the Protestants. Let us go on to speak of what will be of more use to the orthodox. Christ here teaches that not faith alone justifies and saves, but that good works are also required, by which in fulfilling the law, we may obtain the prize of eternal life, which has been promised by God to those who fulfil the law. Calvin urges At least Christ by the commandments of God here excludes the precepts and traditions of the Church, of Pontiffs and Prelates. I reply they are included in the fifth commandment, "Honour thy father and thy mother." For Prelates are spiritual fathers.
Verse 18. He said unto Him , &c. As thyself; Syriac, as thy soul. I have expounded these commandments in Deuteronomy 5:6 . Christ in this place only propounded the precepts of the second table having reference to our neighbour, because in them are included the precepts of the first table concerning God. For the love of God produces love of our neighbour. For we love him for the sake of God. Wherefore the love of our neighbour flows from love of God. Again it is more difficult to love our neighbour than to love God. For who is there who does not love God, especially among religious people, such as this youth was?
The young man saith , &c. From my youth; Syriac and Arabic, from my childhood meaning, from a child I have been brought up in God's law, and been prevented by His grace. I have carefully kept all God's commandments. What lack I yet? i.e., of goodness: that I may become perfected therein, and have eternal life ? Not in any fashion, as all have it who keep the commandments, but surely and securely, and in large measure; in the chief and perfect degree of happiness and glory. For Thou, 0 Christ, as the Master of Heavenly virtue seemest to deliver a higher doctrine concerning it than our Scribes. Tell me therefore what it is? For I covet salvation and perfection. S. Jerome thinks that this young man told a falsehood, for if he had loved his neighbour as himself, he would have sold all his goods, and given to the poor. But this argument is not absolutely convincing. For to love one's neighbour as oneself is of precept: but to give all one's goods to the poor is of counsel. And Christ, as Mark says, beholding him, loved him, and gave him this advice concerning bestowing all his goods upon the poor, that he might go on to perfection.
Jesus saith unto him , &c. This is not an evangelical precept, but a counsel. Whence He saith, if thou wilt. This is to say, I do not command, but I advise. Mark adds ( Mar 10:21 ), Then Jesus beholding him, loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor. S. Anthony, hearing these words of Christ read at Mass, left all things, and so followed Christ, says S. Athanasius in his life. S. Prosper of Regium, who was afterwards a bishop, did the same, in the time of S. Leo, as is recorded in his Life in Surius. June. 25.
Deservedly therefore S. Bernard says ( in Declaman. sub initium .), "These are the words which in all the world have persuaded men to a contempt of the world, and to voluntary poverty. They are the words which fill the cloisters with monks, the deserts with anchorites. These, I say, are the words which spoil Egypt, and strip it of the best of its goods. This is the living and effectual word, converting souls, by the happy emulations of sanctity, and the faithful promise of truth. For Simon Peter saith unto Jesus Lo we have left all things." Wherefore S. Jerome, by this saying of Christ, as by the sound of a trumpet constantly stirs up his own people, as well as all of us to a zeal for poverty. Whence ( Epist. 150, ad Hedib .), he says, "Dost thou wish to be perfect, and to stand in the first rank of dignity? Then do what the Apostles did. Sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and follow the Saviour; and follow the bare and only cross with virtue for thine only cloke." Still more clearly does the same S. Jerome speak ( Epist. 24, ad Julian .), "And this I exhort, if thou wilt be perfect, if thou desirest the summit of Apostolic dignity, if to raise up the cross and follow Christ, if to take hold of the plough, and not to look back, if placed on the top of the house, thou despisest thine old garments, and wouldest escape the Egyptian woman, thy mistress, leaving the world's pallium. Whence also Elias, when he was hastening to the kingdom of Heaven is not able to go with his mantle, but leaves his unclean garments to the world ( mundo immunda vestimenta dimittit .). But this, thou sayest is a question of Apostolic dignity, and of the man who wishes to be perfect. But why art thou unwilling to be perfect too? Why shouldest not thou who art first in the world, be first also in the family of Christ?" After a little he adds, "But if thou shalt give thyself to the Lord, and being perfect in Apostolic virtue, shalt begin to follow the Saviour, thou shalt then understand where thou art, and how in Christ's army thou boldest the last place."
Observe: Christian perfection chiefly and primarily consists in charity; nevertheless it is placed by Christ in evangelical counsels, as it were means and instruments suitable for acquiring charity. (See S. Thomas , ii. 2 q. 184, art. 3.) This perfection all the religious aim at who renounce all their possessions, that naked they may follow a naked Christ. Yet do not all immediately at the beginning obtain this perfection, but they tend towards it by degrees; and by making continual progress, they at length arrive at it. Hence, wisely does Climacus ( Gradus 26) make three grades of such persons-namely, beginners, those who are making progress, and the perfect. To beginners he delivers this alphabet, not of twenty-four letters, but of virtues. "The best elementary alphabet of all," he says, "is obedience, fasting, a hair shirt, ashes, tears, confession, silence, humility, vigils, fortitude, cold, fatigue, affliction, contempt, contrition, forgetfulness of injuries, brotherly love, gentleness, a simple and incurious faith, the neglect of the world, the affections kept free from all things, simplicity united with innocence, voluntary vileness." To such as are making progress he assigns these greater precepts of virtues. "The lot and the method of those who are progressing is victory over vain glory and anger, a good hope of salvation, quietness of mind, discretion, a firm and constant remembrance of the Last Judgment, mercy, hospitality, modest reproof, speech free from all vicious affections." Lastly, to the perfect he delivers these maxims of complete sanctity: "A heart free from all captivity, perfect love, a fount of humility, the mind's departure from the vanities of the world, and going to Christ, a treasure of light and Divine prayer secure from robbers, abundance of divine illumination, desire of death, hatred of life, and flight from the body." And then he adds that "a perfect man is so holy, and so pleasing to God, that he may be the ambassador, or the patron and advocate of the world, who is able (in a certain sense) to compel God; the colleague of angels, and is with them initiated into mysteries; a most profound depth of knowledge, a habitation of celestial mysteries, a keeper of the Divine arcana, the health of men, a god over devils, a master of vices, an emperor of the body."
Go, sell , &c. You will ask, Why is poverty the appropriate way and instrument of evangelical perfection? Bonaventura answers ( in Apol. Pauperum ), because cupidity is the root of all evils. Cupidity, therefore, is the foundation of the city of Babylon. For of it are born ambition, gluttony, and the rest of the vices. This cupidity Christ cuts down by poverty, and takes away riches, honours, delights, which are the food and fuel of all vices. For delicacies make the mind effeminate, and to become women rather than men. A manly strength abhors delicacies. 2. Poverty begets humility, which is the foundation of sanctity. Whence S. Francis, says Bonaventura, being asked by his disciples what virtue would most commend us to Christ the Lord, and make us pleasing to Him, replied (according to his wont): Poverty; for it is the way of salvation, the fount of humility, the root of perfection, and from it there spring many fruits, although they be hidden and known to but few. 3. One who is poor in spirit, since he has no other cares, gives himself wholly up to gathering virtues, as a bee to gathering honey. Thus S. Anthony, being free from the desire of riches, had an insatiable desire of virtues; and so from one man he learned patience, from another abstinence, from another constancy, prayer, and so on. Hence the first poor religious were called Ascetics, that is, exercisers; because they were wholly occupied in taming anger, gluttony and other passions, and in the practice of arduous and heroic virtues. Whence some of them were accustomed to take food only once in two days, others only once in three. Others scarcely slept at all, like those who lived in the monastery of the Acemetæ i.e ., of those who keep vigil without sleeping. 4. Because perfection consists in the love of God and our neighbour; and to this poverty directs us. For it puts an end to meum and tuum , from whence all the strifes and wars arise among neighbours, says S. Chrysostom. The same removes the mind away from all care and love of earthly things, and fixes it wholly upon God. For what the Apostle says concerning a married man ( 1Co 7:33 ), applies also to a rich man: "He that is married cares for the things of the world, how he may please his wife," and is divided. For the rich man is divided. He divides his cares and his thoughts between God and Mammon. Poverty, therefore, makes a man superior to the world and the flesh, like an angel conversing with angels, breathing after Heaven. And such a one fulfils the words of the Apostle, "Seek those things which are above, not the things that are upon the earth," that he may place his whole mind and love upon God, and may be made with Him, as it were, one spirit. Perfection, therefore, consisteth in this that the mind be altogether abstracted from transitory things, and fixed on what is good and eternal; that is, on God, for which poverty affords an opportunity.
You will say, for this it is sufficient to leave all things in affection, which was what Abraham did, not in act. I answer with S. Jerome against Vigilantius. That is one grade of poverty, and a lower one. For the highest is to relinquish all things in reality, both because such a one gives all, that is to say both intention and its effect, as also because it is not possible wholly to relinquish a thing in intention, without carrying the intention into effect. For like a person lying in a bed, or sitting in a chair, if any one should secretly bind him to the chair he does not know that he is bound, until he gets up: so those who possess riches have their affection hidden, by which they are bound to them, and do not perceive it until they lose them or leave them. Thus S. Gregory records ( Epist. ante lib. Moral .) how he was deceived by the world. "There was opened to me even then that I should seek for the eternal love, but persistent habit had prevailed so that I should not change my outward life."
Go, sell what thou hast. From hence the Pelagians taught that no rich man can be saved, unless he sell his property, and give to the poor, and become poor himself. S. Augustine writes against this view ( Epist. 89 . ad Hilar .), teaching that this is a counsel not a precept. Whence Pelagius was compelled to retract this error of his, as S. Augustine testifies ( Epist. ad Paulin .).
There are three tracts which have been recently printed, bearing the name of Pope S. Sixtus. The first is concerning riches, in which the writer would prove from this passage that a believer cannot be saved unless he relinquish them, and become poor. The second is concerning works of faith, in which he teaches that they are necessary to salvation, but that they are works of free will, not of the grace of God. The third concerning chastity, that it is a work of free will, not the gift of God. From all this it is plain that the author of this work is not S. Sixtus, but some Pelagian, as the Louvain doctors and others have rightly perceived.
Sell that thou last, and give to the poor: Mark and Luke add, all things whatsoever thou hast. By these words is refuted the error of Vigilantius and Calvin, who teach that it is better and more perfect to keep one's riches, and use them in moderation, and give to the poor according as opportunity serves, than to relinquish them all at once. S. Jerome confutes this error, (l ib. cont. Vigilant .). For as S. Ambrose says, "It is better to give the tree with its fruit than to give the fruit only." Again, the ascetic, who gives part of his wealth to the poor, and keeps part for himself, is neither fish nor flesh: he neither renounces the world, nor is he a secular. He is a sort of amphibious animal. Whence S. Basil said to one who took up the religious life, but reserved certain things for himself, "Thou hast spoilt a senator, and not made a monk." Such a person does not wholly trust in God, but partly in God, and partly in the riches which he keeps for himself. Whence he is not really and entirely poor in spirit, nor does he free himself from the care, distraction and temptation, which are wont to accompany riches. Wherefore S. Anthony commanded a certain person who wished to renounce the world after this sort, that he might reserve something for himself against a time of necessity, to place upon his naked body some pieces of flesh which he had bought. When he had done this, the dogs and birds, which came to snatch at the flesh, lacerated his body all over. Then S. Anthony said, "Thus shall they who do not renounce all things be torn by the devils." (See Rufinus, in The Lives of the Fathers, lib. 3, n. 68.) Wherefore S. Hilarion, as S. Jerome testifies in his Life, rejected money offered him to distribute among the poor by Orion, out of whom he had cast a legion of devils, and said, "To many the name of poverty is an occasion of covetousness: but mercy has no art. No one spends better than he who reserves nothing for himself." For as S. Leo wisely says about a like matter ( Serm. 12, de Quadrages .), "Through lawful use we pass on to immoderate excess, when from care of the health there creeps in the delectation of pleasure; and the desire of what is sufficient for nature does not satisfy." S. Gregory gives the reason à priori ( Hom. 20, in Ezech .), "When any one vows something that is his to God, and something does not vow, that is called sacrifice. But when a man vows all that he has, all that he lives, all that he knows, to Almighty God, then it is a holocaust. For there are some who as yet are retained in mind in this world, and who afford help to the poor from their possessions, and hasten to succour the oppressed. These in the good which they do, offer sacrifices, because of their actions they offer something to God, and keep something for themselves. And there are some who reserve nothing, for themselves, but immolate senses, life, tongue, and the substance which they have received to Almighty God. What do these do but offer a holocaust, yea rather are made a holocaust?"
To the poor: Christ does not say, Give to your relations, or rich friends, as Remigius observes. For this is an act of natural love, by which you do not cast away your riches, but deliver them to those who belong to you, to be kept. Wherefore in this way you do not leave the world, but rather immerse yourself further in it. You must make an exception, when your relations according to their position are in need of your riches; for then, they are reckoned poor in their own station. But give to the poor , from whom you expect nothing in return, but from God only. Therefore this is a pure act of charity and poverty, and renunciation of wealth. Origen adds, he who gives his goods to the poor is assisted by their prayers.
And thou shall have treasure , &c. By the word treasure , says Chrysostom, "the abundance and the permanence of the recompense are shown." And S. Hilary says, "By the casting away of earthly riches heavenly wealth is purchased." Beautifully does S. Augustine observe ( Serm , 28, de Verb. Apost .), "Great is the happiness of Christians, to whom it is given, to make poverty the price of the kingdom of Heaven. Let not thy poverty displease thee. Nothing richer can be found than it is. Would you know how wealthy it is? It purchases Heaven. By what treasures could be conferred what we see granted to poverty? That a rich man should come to the kingdom of Heaven with his possessions may not be: but he may get there by despising them." Sell clay therefore, and buy Heaven: give a penny and procure a treasure.
And come follow Me: journeying in poverty, and preaching the kingdom of God. "For many," says S. Jerome, "even when they leave their riches do not follow the Lord. Neither does this suffice for perfection, unless after despising riches, they follow the Saviour; that is, leave evil and do good. For the world is more easily set at nought than the will. Therefore do the words follow, Come and follow Me. Again, Follow Me
And come follow Me: journeying in poverty, and preaching the kingdom of God. "For many," says S. Jerome, "even when they leave their riches do not follow the Lord. Neither does this suffice for perfection, unless after despising riches, they follow the Saviour; that is, leave evil and do good. For the world is more easily set at nought than the will. Therefore do the words follow, Come and follow Me. Again, Follow Me implies the union of an active with a contemplative life. There is a threefold sort of holy life. The first and lowest is the active life. The second is the contemplative. The third and most perfect is the union of action with contemplation, that what we derive from God by contemplation, we should afterwards teach to others. This was the life which Christ and His Apostles led. S. Ambrose gives the reason in his explanation of the title of the 39th Psalm. "Christ," he says, "is the end of all things, which with a pious mind, we ask for. For whether you seek for wisdom, or study virtue, or truth, or the way of justice, or the resurrection, in all things you must follow Christ, who is the Power and the Wisdom of God: who is Truth, the Way, Justice, Resurrection. After whom therefore do you strive, but the perfection of all things, and the sum of virtues? And therefore He saith to thee, Come, follow Me , i.e., that thou mayest deserve to arrive at the consummation of virtues. Therefore he who follows Christ ought to imitate Him as closely as he can; to meditate upon His precepts, and the Divine examples of His deeds."
Observe that in this chapter Christ gives three chief evangelical counsels, viz., of celibacy and continence, ver. 12: of poverty, when He says, Sell that thou hast, ver. 21: of obedience, when He says, Follow Me, i.e., obey Me and My command. imitate My obedience even unto death. Ver. 22. When the young man heard , &c. Wisely says S. Augustine (Epist. 43 . ad Paulin .), "I know not how it is that when superfluous earthly things are loved, the more acquired the more they bind. Wherefore did that young man depart in sorrow, except because he had great riches? For it is one thing to be unwilling to incorporate with yourself what you have not; it is another thing to tear away what has been incorporated. The former may be repudiated as something not belonging to you: divesting yourself of the latter is like cutting off your limbs." In the Gospel according to the Hebrews which Origen cites, there is here a considerable addition. It is as follows. "Another of the rich men said unto Him, Master, what good thing shall I do that I may live? He saith unto him, Man, keep the Law and the Prophets. He answered Him, I have done this. He said unto him, Go and sell all that thou possessest, and divide amongst the poor, and come, follow Me. But the rich man began to scratch his head, and it pleased him not. And the Lord said unto him, How sayest thou, I have kept the Law and the Prophets? For it is written in the Law, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, and lo, many of thy brethren, the sons of Abraham, are clothed in filthy garments, and perish of hunger, and thy house is full of many good things, and there goeth not out of it anything whatsoever unto them. And He turned and said unto His disciple Simon, who was sitting by Him, Simon, son of Jonah, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of Heaven." Verse 24. And again I say unto you , &c. The Arabic is, the entering of a camel into a needle's eye is more easy. And again , the Gr. πάγιν δὲ , i.e., but again. Christ, in giving this addition, as it were corrects what he has just said: "I have said that it is a difficult thing for a rich man to be saved, now I add something more, that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven." By rich man , Remigius understands one who trusts in riches, who places all his hope in them, which is what many rich men do. More simply you may take it to mean any rich person.
You will ask, What is the meaning of camel in this passage, and how could it pass through a needle's eye? Some, with Theophylact, understand in Greek a sailor's cable, which is κάμηλος , a camel. Some, with the Gloss, understand a gate of Jerusalem; which, because it was very low, was called the camel, because it was necessary for him who entered through it to stoop down and bend like a camel.
But I say that the tall and hump-backed animal, which is commonly called a camel, is here meant. So the Syriac, Arabic, Origen, SS. Hilary, Jerome, Chrysostom, and others, passim. Whence note that it was a proverb among the Jews, when they wished to signify that a thing was impossible, to say, "A camel will more easily pass through a needle's eye, than such a thing will be." Whence the Talmudists use such a proverb even now, as Caninius testifies ( in nom. Hebr. N. Test. ). Similar proverbs, signifying that a thing is impossible, are the following: "More easily will a tortoise outstrip a hare." "A wolf might take a sheep to wife first." "A locust will bring forth an ox sooner." "A tortoise will vanquish an eagle." "The earth will take to itself wings." "Rivers will run up-hill." "More easily might you hide an elephant under your arm." "You will fly without wings first." "A beetle will more readily make honey." "The sky will fall first." "The sea will more easily produce vines." "Words will be wanting to a woman sooner." "More easily may you feed on wind."
Moreover, there is an hyperbole here. That is called impossible which is exceedingly difficult. Whence, that a rich man should be saved, which Christ here says is impossible, in the verse preceding He said was difficult. As S. Jerome observes, "Not impossibility is declared, but infrequency is shown." So too Jansen, Maldonatus, and others. Thus, in the twelfth verse, He said, He that is able to receive it, let Him receive it. It means, some cannot receive, i.e ., with difficulty receive the counsel of celibacy. And Jeremiah says ( Jer 13:23 ): "If the Ethiopian can change his skin, or the leopard his spots, so too may ye do good when ye have learnt evil." ( Vulg .) And yet this might be done, though it would be difficult. So it is as impossible that is to say, difficult for a rich man to be saved, as it would be for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. And yet, speaking absolutely, such a thing could take place: if, for example, the camel were cut up into the minutest particles, each one of which was passed separately, though slowly and laboriously, through the needle's eye. Or if some needle were made great and thick, that it should be like a tower or a pyramid; for then its eye would be of sufficient size for a camel to pass through it whole. Lastly, Emanuel Sa, by the eye of a needle, understands what a needle has, or what a needle does, for it is possible to make with it by degrees an immense aperture.
Again, you may take impossible here in a strict sense. For that a rich man should be saved is impossible with men: but it is possible with God, as Christ says in verse 26. That is to say, it is impossible by natural strength, but by the power of the grace given by God it is possible. Just as that a camel should pass through the eye of a needle is possible by the power of God. That this is possible with God is plain from a similar case; namely from the quantity of the body of Christ, which in the Eucharist is wholly contained in a very small Host, yea in every particle of it. For if God is able to place the whole body of Christ in a particle of a consecrated Host, He is able also to make a camel pass through the eye of a needle.
Appositely and elegantly says Francis Lucas, a rich man puffed up and swelling with his riches, on whose back great burdens of wealth are pressing is compared to a camel , and the strait gate, by which we must enter into life to the eye of a needle , that you may understand that those who abound in riches, and are swelling with pride and disdain in too great a degree to allow themselves to be reduced within those narrow bounds in which God confines His own people are meant. I have given many analogies between a camel and a rich man in Ecclus. 13:11.
By this similitude of a camel and a needle Christ signifies that his riches are not so much an advantage to a rich man, as an impediment to virtue, and the kingdom of heaven. Wisely therefore did He counsel the young man that he should give his wealth to the poor, and as a poor man follow Christ who was poor.
Mystically. Isaiah prophesied that camels , i.e ., rich men, laying aside by the grace of Christ the hump of their pride, would enter into the Church through the eye of a needle , i.e ., through the straits of humility and the evangelical law ( Isa 60:6 ). "The company of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Epha." Hear S. Jerome, "Such was thy mother Paula of saintly memory, and thy brother, Pammachias, who through the eye of a needle, that is by the strait and narrow way which leadeth unto life, passed, and with their burdens leaving the broad way, which leads to Tartarus, carried whatever they had as the Lord's gifts, according to the saying, "the ransom of a man are his riches," for the things which are impossible with men are possible with God."
Allegorically , S. Augustine ( lib . 2, quæst. cap. 47), and S. Gregory ( lib. 35, Moral 17), by camel understood Christ and by the needle , His Passion. Thus, it is more easy that Christ should suffer for the lovers of the world, than for lovers of the world to be converted unto Christ. Hear S. Gregory, "A camel passed through the eye of a needle when our Redeemer entered through the straitness of His Passion, even unto the enduring of death. This Passion was like a needle, because it pricked His body with pain. But more easily could a camel pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man enter into the kingdom of heaven, because unless He had first shown unto us by His Passion the pattern of humility, by no means would our proud rigidity have bowed down."
Symbolically and Anagogically, Auctor Imperf . ( apud. S. Chrysostom Hom . 33) says, "The souls of the Gentiles are likened unto crooked camels, in which was the hump of idolatry, because the knowledge of God is the lifting up of the soul. But the needle is the Son of God, of which the first part is subtle according to the Divinity: but the rest is thicker according to the Incarnation. But the whole is straight, and hath no bending, through the wound of whose Passion the Gentiles entered into life. With this needle the garment of immortality hath been sewed. It is the very needle which has sewed the flesh to the spirit. This needle hath united the people of the Jews to the Gentiles. This needle hath brought about friendship between angels and men. It is easier then for the Gentiles to pass through the eye of the needle than for the rich Jews to enter into the kingdom of Heaven." Ver. 25. When the disciples heard , &c. Because there were few, and at that time scarcely any, who did not wish to be rich. For all were gasping after lucre, even as many gasp after it now. For as S. Augustine says upon this passage, "All who desire riches are counted among the rich."
But Jesus beheld. Greek, ε̉πιβλέψας. Jesus looking upon his disciples, regarding them with a benign countenance, calmed the timidity and anxiety of their minds. So Chrysostom. With men: it is impossible to a rich man by human strength to obtain salvation, for he is entangled in his riches. And this salvation is a supernatural blessing, which we cannot obtain without similar supernatural powers of grace. But to God all things are possible, because God is the Author and the Fountain both of nature and grace and glory, and He so provides that by grace we should easily and gravely overcome all the difficulties and hindrances of nature: and, which pertains to the subject now in hand, He brings it about that rich men are not corrupted by their riches, but use them well, yea, that not a few, forsaking them, are ambitious of, and follow the evangelical poverty of Christ. Thus did all the first Christians, who had all things common. (Acts 4:32 .)
Then answered Peter. Arabic, What then is nigh, that it may be to us? What? namely, of reward in Heaven, and glory in life eternal? Peter following Christ's counsel of poverty, which the young man had despised, becoming more zealous, animates the Apostles, because they were almost alone in following the counsel of poverty given by Christ. And that he might still further encourage them, he asks what, and how great reward of glory awaits himself and the other Apostles, who followed Christ in His poverty in preaching the good news of the kingdom of Heaven? Thus Peter would confirm his companions in their holy purpose.
We have left all. Our ships and our nets, by which we gained our livelihood. And although these were poor and small things, yet, as S. Gregory says ( Hom. 5, in Evang .), "he has forsaken much, who has left the desire of having. By those who followed Christ as many things were left as could be desired by those who followed him not." For the poor in spirit, although he may be reckoned among the needy, yet in a sense is he rich, because all the things which he might have, hope for, or obtain, all his life long in the world, yea, the whole world, he forsakes for the love of Christ, that he may give up his whole heart to God. This is an heroic act of poverty, and therefore of charity and religion in which a man offers himself as a whole burnt offering to God: yea he himself becomes a living and perpetual burnt offering.
Hear S. Augustine. ( In Psalms 104:0; Psalms 104:0 , Conc. 3.) "Peter left not only what he had, but what he wished to have. For what poor person is there who is not puffed up by worldly hopes? Who does not daily desire to increase his possessions? That cupidity was cut off. Peter left the whole world, and Peter received the whole world. 'Having nothing, and yet possessing all things.'"
Jesus said unto them , &c. In the regeneration, i.e., in baptism. For this is spiritual regeneration, in which, dying unto sin, we are born into spiritual and heavenly life. Thus S. Hilary explains, "Ye who have followed Me through the regeneration of baptism, shall sit with Me as judges of the twelve tribes of Israel." But all other commentators, passim , understand by regeneration , the general resurrection in the Day of Judgment. For this shall be the renovation of the body, and of the whole man as well as of the universe, and, as it were, their second birth to glory. Hence it is rightly called here and elsewhere Regeneration. Whence the Syriac renders, in the new world: the Arabic, in the generation to come. For then there shall be a new heaven and a new earth. (Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 65:17 . Revelation 21:1; Revelation 21:1 . 2 Peter 3:13; 2 Peter 3:132 Peter 3:13 .)
When the Son of Man shall sit , &c. In the seat of His majesty (Vulg.); of His glory (Arabic). S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Euthymius understand by session, judicial power. For judges sit in order that they may adjudicate calmly and tranquilly, without perturbation or haste. This is true; but over and above this, sitting in this place signifies properly that Christ will sit in judgment, and with Him the Apostles and those like them, and that on thrones of cloud, splendid and majestic, but each according to his merit and dignity. Whence Sacred Scripture ordinarily attributes a seat and sitting to Christ in judgment. For sitting under such circumstances is common to all nations, and is the natural posture of judges. So Maldonatus. But Jansen and some others deny this, who say that the proper posture of the glorified body such as Christ has, is standing rather than sitting. But both postures are appropriate to the glorified body viz., standing for fighting, and sitting for judgment.
Ye shall sit , &c. Richard Victor ( Trad. de potest. judiciar .) and others think that these things were promised by Christ to the Apostles alone, because they were His first followers. As though He had said, "Each of you twelve shall have his throne in the judgment;" even Judas, says Chrysostom, if he persevere in his vocation. But others, with more probability, think that these promises were made also to the followers of the Apostles, such as religious, who leaving all things to preach the Gospel, come nearest to Christ and His Apostles. A definite number, then, is placed here for an indefinite one, viz., twelve for all. For Christ speaks to His twelve Apostles, but in such a manner as to address their followers. For they who have equal labour with Apostles, will deserve equal honour with them. Christ therefore promises these judicial seats to those who leave all things, and follow Him in preaching the Gospel. This is what religious do, especially such as devote themselves to win souls. Whence S. Bernard says ( Serm. de Ingratitud .): We have all made profession of the Apostolic life. Hence Nazianzen ( 0rat. in Julian. 1) shows that it is the privilege of monks to sit on thrones. S. Augustine ( in Psalms 87:0; Psalms 87:0 ) proves this. "For if there were to be twelves thrones only, Paul, the thirteenth Apostle, would have no throne; and he would not be able to judge who said, nevertheless, that he should judge not men only, but even angels. Not only, then, those twelve, and the Apostle Paul, but as many as shall judge pertain to the twelve thrones, on account of the general signification." And S. Bernard says ( Serm. de S. Benedict .): "Altogether just is the retribution that they who here for Christ's sake have forsaken the glory of human majesty, should there be glorified by Christ and sit with Him in an especial manner as judges. But let no one think that only the twelve Apostles (for instead of Judas, who transgressed, Matthias was chosen) shall at that time be judges, for as neither are there twelve tribes only of Israel to be judged, for otherwise the tribe of Levi, which was the thirteenth, would be unjudged; and Paul who was the thirteenth Apostle would, perchance, be deprived of judging; whereas he says himself: 'Know ye not that we shall judge angels?' We must understand, therefore, that all who, after the example of the Apostles, have left all things and followed Christ, shall come as judges with Him, even as all men shall be judged: for because by the number twelve, in Scripture, totality is often understood; by the twelve thrones of the Apostles the entire number of all who judge, and by the twelve tribes of Israel the entire number of those who are to be judged is shown." S. Thomas demonstrates the same thing at length ( Trad. cont. retrahent. a Relig. caps . 6 & 7), where he teaches that this session is promised to evangelical poverty. And he proves from hence how sublime and pleasing to God this poverty is, forasmuch as it excels other virtues, and merits this lofty judicial power. S. Gregory gives the reason ( Moral. 26, 20), when, interpreting that passage in Job. xxxvi . He hath given judgment for the poor he says: "The more they were despised in this world through their great humility, so much the more, when they receive their thrones, do they grow in the height of power."
Wherefore deservedly does S. Bernard, admiring this their excellency, exclaim (Serm. 8, in Ps. Qui habitat ), "0 grace of friendship, 0 summit of honour, 0 privilege of confidence, 0 prerogative of perfect security! For what is so much to be feared? What is so full of anxiety and vehement solicitude as the thought of standing to be judged at that awful tribunal, and to wait for the sentence as yet doubtful, from so strict a judge?" And after a little, he says, "Happy indeed the position, which in that supreme clashing of the elements, in that tremendous examination of deserts, in that so great scrutiny of judging, can make them not secure only but glorious." Moreover this glorious judicial session before the whole world, yea of the whole world, is promised by Christ to all those, who leaving all things, follow by means of perfect imitation, Christ who was poor, as poor, and spread His Gospel, and His kingdom.
The expression therefore, ye shall sit, implies, 1. The security of those who are poor for the Gospel's sake. 2. The privilege of judging. 3. Dignity and eminence above others. 4. The nearest place to Christ and most perfect union with Him. 5. A principality of grace, happiness and glory, that inasmuch as they are princes of the kingdom of heaven, they should have the right of judging, and of admitting into it those who are worthy, and excluding the unworthy.
Tropologically, Auctor Imperfecti , by this session and judicial power understands that there is promised to those who leave all things and follow Christ a dominion of hearts, so that they may rule over the hearts and minds of men, and place in them the throne and kingdom of Christ where they may sit, and rule like kings, and make all things therein obedient to the law of Christ. Wherefore Apostles and Apostolic men, leaving all things, as monks and religious have done, being inflamed with the love of God, have converted the world, as Jerome Platus shows ( lib . 2, de bono stat. Relig. c. 30). For says Auctor Imperfecti , "all who receive Christ into themselves by believing in and perfectly following Him, are the thrones of His majesty." And, "whosoever shall receive the word of Peter becomes the throne of Peter, and Peter sits in him."
Judging the twelve tribes , not only by comparison with the wicked, as SS. Jerome and Chrysostom, Euthymius, and Auctor Imperfecti explain, as the Queen of the South and the Ninevites are said to be about to condemn the Jews in the day of judgment, that is to say, by their example, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah, whereas the Jews would not repent at the preaching of Christ. Nor yet even merely by approbation of the sentence of Christ in which manner all the saints shall judge: but much more honourably and gloriously, as it were nobles and princes of the heavenly kingdom, sitting upon their own thrones as assessors with Christ, as cardinals with the pope. They shall in truth judge, and pass the same sentence as Christ by which they shall assign the just to heaven, the unjust to hell, rebuking and reproving those who despised their doctrine and the example of their holy life, and praising those who cherished and honoured both.
Twelve tribes of Israel: understand not the twelve tribes of Israel only, as some expound, but likewise all nations.
Where observe, twelve tribes are spoken of, although the tribe of Joseph, being divided into two Ephraim and Manasseh whom Jacob adopted as his own sons, and made them equal in the rights of succession and inheritance with them (and according to this computation the tribe of Levi would not be the twelfth but the thirteenth); yet if we look at the origin of the tribes from the Patriarchs, the sons of Jacob, there were but twelve.
Observe 2. These twelve tribes were formerly the elect and faithful people of God, yea, the Church of God, even in the time of Christ. Yea this was the kingdom of Israel promised to Messiah. Whence the nations who believed in Christ were, as it were, grafted into this Church and people of the Jews, and as it were endowed with its rights of citizenship, so that they were no longer Gentiles but Jews that is, confessing and believing , and Israelites, i.e ., having power with God , as the Apostle teaches ( Rom 2:29 ). Hence too S. John (Revelation 21:13 .), says that he saw the names of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed on the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem. All Christians, therefore, of all nations are divided and distributed among the twelve tribes of Israel, in such manner that some are reckoned to belong to the tribe of Judah, others to the tribe of Joseph, others to the tribe of Levi, and so on, according to the diversity of their virtues and professions. To Judah pertain magistrates, kings and princes. To Joseph pertain virgins, the chaste and celibates. For such a one was Joseph before his elevation. To Levi, pertain priests and deacons, and religious.
Note 3. Unbelieving nations do not properly pertain to the twelve tribes of Israel, who are the faithful. Wherefore by this omission of the unbelievers it is tacitly intimated that they will not be judged in the Day of Judgment; "for he that believeth not is judged already" ( Joh 2:18 ). This must be understood of the judgment of a doubtful issue, for in this way only will believers be judged. For of them there can be doubt whether they will be saved or damned, which doubt will be resolved by an examination of the works of each. For in another view, the unbelieving also will appear and be judged in the Day of Judgment, and be awarded greater or less punishment in hell, according to their demerits. This is allowed by all, and is plain from Joel 3:2 , and Matthew 25:32 .
Verse 29 And every one that hath forsaken houses , &c. Observe that in the several clauses of this sentence the disjunctive conjunction, or , is put because Christ is not speaking now of those who have left everything to follow Him, but of those who have only left some things for His sake and the Gospel's. So Origen, S. Jerome, Maldonatus. S. Chrysostom is of a different opinion, and thinks that the same thing is here promised by Christ to all the faithful which a little previously He had promised to the twelve Apostles. As though He had said, All the faithful who have acted in the same way as the twelve Apostles, by forsaking all things and following Me, shall receive the same honour with them, and shall obtain one of the twelve thrones among the Apostles, and on it shall judge the twelve tribes of Israel. But the previous explanation is the best, as being required by the disjunctive conjunction, or .
Who hath left house : either because he has been despoiled of his house, and been driven into exile by a tyrant; or because he has voluntarily given up his house on account of the scandals and temptations which he hath found in it; or because he hath left his house and fled to a monastery, or church, in order to give himself up entirely to the service of God. I say the same thing concerning brethren, sisters, father, mother, wife, children; for when they are unbelieving and wicked, they make it their business to draw a believer away from faith and righteousness. Wherefore, if a wife draw away her husband from faith and piety, Christ advises the husband to be divorced from her; for it is better to desert a wife than to desert Christ. But voluntarily they leave the same who from zeal for the more perfect life, flee to the cloisters. This is the meaning of for My name's sake ; i.e ., for the sake of Me and My love and reverence, that they may better and more fully serve Me.
Shall receive (Gr. έκατονταπλασίονα ) a hundredfold viz., of each that instead of one house which he has left for the sake of Christ he should receive a hundred, for one brother a hundred brethren, and so on. The Syriac is, one in to a hundred, i.e ., augmented a hundred per cent. Thus also the Egyptian, Arabic, Ethiopic and Persian, which generally agree among themselves, especially the Ethiopic with the Persian, and the Egyptian with the Arabic. A hundredfold here means many times more , as Luke has it. A definite number is put for an indefinite, in order that the vast magnitude of the compensation may be signified.
You will ask, what sort of a recompense is this which is promised to those who have left their possessions for Christ? 1. The Chiliasts or Millenarians by a hundredfold understand a thousand years, with which these saints after the General ( communis ) Resurrection shall be delighted in this world, and shall enjoy all sorts of pleasures. But this is an error which I have confuted in Revelation 20:0 . And what Mark says is repugnant to this ( Mar 10:30 ), Receive a hundred times as much now in this present time. Hear S. Jerome, "By reason of this sentence, some introduce a thousand years after the Resurrection, and say, then there shall be restored to us a hundred times as many of all the things which we have forsaken; and also eternal life. They do not perceive if in other things the recompense were becoming, it would be something shameful in the matter of wives, that he who had forsaken one wife for the Lord's sake, should receive a hundred wives in the time to come."
2. S. Gregory ( Hom. 18 in Ezech .) says, "He shall receive a hundredfold, because God shall take care that such a one shall rejoice far more in his poverty, or his renunciation of his goods for the love of Christ, than rich men rejoice in all their riches and advantages." And this, these who give up their possessions for Christ's sake do in very deed experience.
3. S. Jerome, Bede, and others, take a hundredfold to apply not to temporal, but to spiritual goods, such as peace, joy, Divine consolations, and all other gifts and graces, with which God comforts them, and which He heaps upon them. These things surpass all earthly goods and joys, far more than a hundred exceeds unity. But because Mark particularly explains a hundred times as many, by adding, houses, brethren, sisters, mothers, children, and lands. Hence,
4. And more correctly, Origen, Theophylact, Euthymius, and Cassian explain the hundredfold thus, that the man who forsakes his possessions and friends for Christ's sake, shall find that Christ will take care that he has a hundred, i.e ., very many others, who will give him the love and help of brothers, wives and mothers, with far more exceeding sweetness and charity; so that it shall not seem that he has lost his own possessions, but has only laid them down, and in Christ's providence has multiplied them with great usury. For spiritual affections are sweeter than natural ones. Wherefore he who has left one home for Christ will find a hundred and more homes of pious people open and ready to receive him with love and gladness. Priests and those who flee from their homes on account of the persecution in Japan, England and Scotland know this by experience. They find the houses of all the faithful open to receive them to hospitality, and are frequently migrating from house to house. So too a religious, who has left one house of his father for Christ finds a hundred, not houses, but colleges and monasteries, very great and fair to receive him with maternal tenderness. So also he who has left one field for Christ will find a hundred fields of the worshippers of Christ by which he may be nourished, and that without labour, or toil, whereas he would have had to cultivate his own. In like manner for one brother forsaken, there will be very many Christians who will cherish him with fraternal love, and cleave to him more sweetly with spiritual attachment. For one sister, very many maidens will chastely love him, and attend to his wants like a brother. Instead of one father, very many elders will cherish him as a son. For one mother, very many matrons will supply his necessities with maternal care. For one wife, a hundred wives of others, united to him in chaste spiritual bonds will be ready by means of themselves and others to care for him in sickness, and attend to his wants just as lovingly as though they were his own wives. Lastly, instead of a single son or a daughter, innumerable children will revere him as a father, and hang upon his sound doctrine and counsels, from whom his mind will derive greater pleasure than he could from his own children. This is what S. Augustine says from Solomon ( epist. 89, quæst . 4): "The whole world is the riches of the faithful." Cassian teaches the same thing ( Collat. ult. cap. vii.). The Apostles had experience of this hundredfold, and so had the early Christians, in the fervour of the Primitive Church, concerning whom Paul says, "having nothing, and yet possessing all things." Also Luke, Acts iv. 32. "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common." And by and by, "Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or Houses, sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold. And laid them down at the Apostles' feet: and distribution was made to every man according as he had need." This is experienced even now by good religious. And even if at any time it falls out otherwise, and they are in want of anything for the body, then God supplies the corporeal deficiency, and compensates for it by abundance of spiritual gifts and joys.
There was a famous example of this in the philosopher Peregrinus, who pretended to be a Christian, and as such in a time of persecu- cution offered himself to be put in prison, that he might enjoy the assistance and the money of Christians who succoured him. Nor was he mistaken in his opinion. For the Christians vied with one another in helping him, and the impostor went back to his own country laden with gold, as Lucian relates, in Peregrino.
Lastly, S. Ambrose ( in Ps. cxix. lit. Cheth .), by a hundredfold , understands God Himself, and consequently the whole world, which is God's property. For to such as leave all things for God's sake, God is father, mother, wife, brother, sister, and all things. "Because," says S. Ambrose, "he who has left all things begins to possess God, and He is, as it were, the perfect reward of virtues, which is reckoned not by the enumeration of a hundredfold , but by the estimation of perfect virtue." He adduces the example of the tribe of Levi, which because, by the Lord's command, it had no portion of the land among the other tribes the Lord Himself promised, and constantly confirmed it, that He would be its portion and inheritance. Whence he concludes with this golden sentence. "He who has God for his portion is the possessor of all nature. Instead of lands, he is sufficient to himself, having good fruit, which cannot perish. Instead of houses, it is enough for him that there is the habitation of God, and the temple of God, than which nothing can he more precious. For what is more precious than God? That is the portion which no earthly inheritance can equal. What is more magnificent than the celestial host? What more blessed than Divine possession?" And Cassian says: "Instead of that joy which any one had in the possession of a single field or house, he shall enjoy a hundredfold more the delight of riches, who passing into the adoption of the sons of God, shall possess as his own all things which belong to the Eternal Father, and in effect and virtue (following the example of His True Son) shall proclaim, 'All things that the Father hath are Mine;' and now no more with any penal care of distraction or anxiety, but secure and joyful he cometh, as it were, everywhere to his own, hearing daily what the Apostle preaches 'All things are yours, whether things present, or things to come.'" This, therefore, is the congruous and condign reward of poverty that having nothing, nothing should be wanting to it, but that it should possess all things. S. Francis experienced this, and exhorted his brethren to it. "Dearest sons," he said, "great and unspeakable are the kindnesses of our God toward us, who thus turns the hearts of the faithful towards us His humble and worthless servants. From what we have received we daily hope for what we are to receive. Cast, therefore, your care upon the Lord, and He will nourish you on this mountain ( Alvernia ), Who sustained Elias in the wilderness, Antony and Paul in the desert. Know this of a surety, that there is no more secure refuge for the relief of our necessities than to have nothing. For if we be truly and evangelically poor, the world will have compassion upon us, and feed us abundantly. But if we are false to poverty, the world will forsake us; and if we ward off indigence by unlawful means, we shall endure worse penury." (So Wadding, in Annal. Minorum, A.C. 1212, Numbers 14:0; Numbers 14:0 .) Mark adds, that this hundredfold will be given with persecutions ( Mar 10:30 ). How this is I have there explained.
Tropologically. Cassian, in the place already cited, asserts that the joy of the converted in virtue is a hundred times as great as it was before in cupidity and vice; and he says, "If instead of the perturbation of anger and fury, you weigh the perpetual calmness of the mind; for the torment of anxiety and distraction, the quiet of security; for the fruitless and penal sadness of this world, the fruit of sorrow unto salvation; for the vanity of worldly joy, the richness of spiritual delight; you will perceive that the recompense of such an exchange is a hundredfold ."
Anagogically , S. Anthony, as S. Athanasius testifies in his Life , understands by hundredfold the kingdom of Heaven, in which there are a hundred times more good things than there are on earth. "He who hath left," he said, "the dominion of the whole world shall receive a hundredfold better rewards in the kingdom above." Instead of transitory things, those which are steadfast shall be given him; for worthless, things excellent, great things instead of small; heavenly for earthly; divine for human; things eternal for those of a moment.
And shall inherit , &c. Syriac, shall possess in inheritance . Arabic, shall become the heir of etrnal life. This is the most ample inheritance, in which the blessed are heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ. Therefore they shall possess not only earth and Heaven, and all things which in them are, but even God Himself; and every honour, all riches, all glory, all sweetness, all delights, all joys, and in short, all good things in God; and that, not as having the mere usufruct, but as heirs and masters, with perpetual inheritance, to endure for ever, so long as God shall be God. All this is involved and signified in the expression, eternal life. Moreover all who keep the commandments of God shall inherit this eternal life , as Christ hath said, ver. 17 ( Mat 19:17 ). They however shall possess it in a more full and glorious degree, who have united counsels to precepts. Whence in this place Christ promises and assigns it to such only. By this manner of speaking He tacitly intimates that it is a difficult thing to attain eternal life by the observance of precepts only, without keeping the counsels. For the one is hard without the other. It is difficult to keep all the commands of God, unless the counsels, especially that of poverty, be observed. For, as Christ says (ver. 23), it is difficult, and as it were impossible, for a rich man to be saved.
Verse 30. But many that are first , &c. Observe how appositely Christ subjoins these words to what He had previously said. For He Himself has through almost the whole of this chapter, opposed Himself and His grace and the counsels of the Gospels, to the Pharisees and the Old Law. Whence He here, by consequence, opposes its reward to His reward, as will be plain in the next chapter. But He has especial reference to what He had spoken immediately before concerning the twelve judicial thrones ; concerning the hundredfold ; concerning the life eternal. And He appears to answer a tacit objection of the Apostles. For they might have said within themselves, "How shall this be, that we who are vile, poor, ignorant, ignoble, should sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel, when there are in them very many men eminent in dignity, wealth, learning, fame, authority, such as the Scribes and Pharisees, and that young ruler, who was also a keeper of the Law?" Christ meets this objection, and declares that they indeed are eminent, and the first in this world, but that in Heaven and the life eternal they will be the last. That is, they would find no place there, they will be rejected and excluded from it. He used a like mode of expression (v. 19), "Whoso shall break one of these least commandments, shall be called the least, i.e ., not at all in the kingdom of Heaven." And the last are called here the most remote from the kingdom of Heaven, as is plain from Luke 13:30 . This was because they despised Christ as being a poor man. But the Apostles, and others like them, who left all to follow Christ, who seemed in this world the poorest and the least of men, were to be the first in the life eternal , forasmuch as they were most dear to Christ, the King of Heaven, and most like Him in life and character, especially in poverty and zeal in preaching. So S. Jerome, Bede, S. Thomas, and others; also Victor Antioch ( in cap. x. Marci .). Now He saith many not all , because there are some first here, who shall be first also in Heaven, such as holy kings, princes, doctors, bishops, pontiffs, who although they abound in wealth, yet are poor in spirit. And in turn there are some who are last here who shall be also last in Heaven, such as paupers and beggars, who give themselves up to theft and rapine in order to supply their wants, and that they may become rich and opulent.
On the whole, by this saying Christ signifies that the rich, and those who pant after earthly good, shall be shut out of Heaven; but the poor who covet heavenly things shall be the first there . He refers to what He said to the rich young man (ver. 21, Mat 19:21 ): If thou will be perfect, go and sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shall have treasure in Heaven. Also to Peter's words: Lo, we have left all and followed thee; what shall we have therefore ? Thus Christ in Heaven is the first , Who on earth was the last , according to the words in Isaiah liii.: "We saw Him, and there was no comeliness; we desired Him, Who was despised and the last of men." ( Vulg .) See what is there said. Next to Christ is the Blessed Virgin, who, after Christ, was the last among men. The Apostles follow, of whom Paul spake ( 1Co 4:9 , 1Co 4:13 ): "For I think that God hath set forth us the Apostles last, as it were appointed to death; for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. . . . Being defamed, we intreat; we are made as the filth of the earth, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day." Thus concerning S. Martin the Church sings: "Martin is received with joy into Abraham's bosom. Martin, the poor and lowly, enters Heaven rich. He is honoured with celestial hymns." There was seen in Heaven by a certain holy man a lofty and glorious throne, and as he was wondering for whom it was designed, he heard the words, "This seat is kept for the lowly Francis."
Lastly, many Fathers and scholastic Doctors whom I will cite on the first verse of the following chapter take the words first and last as applying strictly and literally to eternal life. In this manner: Rich men who here below have led an honest but comfortable life, keeping only the precepts of God, in Heaven shall be the last; but the poor men, who to the precepts have added evangelical counsels, and in poverty have followed Christ in preaching the Gospel, shall be the first in Heaven. I have said more about this in the following chapter. The meaning will be more ample with a more complete application to all that is said in the parable which follows, if you take last in both ways viz., as signifying those who are to be excluded from Heaven, as well as those who are last in Heaven. For the Apostles, who as first shall judge the twelve tribes of Israel, as it were the last, shall award to many of them, as being just, the kingdom of Heaven, and to many as being unjust, hell. Moreover this sentence, many that are first shall be last, and the last first , Christ explains by the subsequent parable of the labourers. This sentence is, as it were, the pro-parable , i.e ., the title and argument of that parable, to which is annexed the post-parable , as it were the scope and application of the parable ( Mat 20:16 ). Thus the last shall be first, and the first last; for many are called, but few chosen . Whence it is plain that the post-parable exactly corresponds to the pro-parable , indeed that it is one and the same thing with it. The first therefore are called the chosen , or the elect : but the called only, not the elect , are called the last.
*If by communis à Lapide means, as I suppose he does, the General Resurrection, he is certainly mistaken in attributing this opinion to the Chiliasts, or Millenarians. - TWM (Return to )
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Lapide, Cornelius. "Commentary on Matthew 19". The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26