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Ver l. At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"2. And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,3. And said, "Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.4. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.5. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.6. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."
Jerome: The disciples seeing one piece of money paid both for Peter and the Lord, conceived from this equality of ransom that Peter was preferred before all the rest of the Apostles.
Chrys.: Thus they suffered a human passion, which the Evangelist denotes by saying, "At the same time came the disciples to Jesus, saying, "Who pray thee, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Ashamed to shew the feeling which was working within, they do not say openly, Why have you honoured Peter above us? but they ask in general, Who is the greatest! When in the transfiguration they saw three distinguished, namely, Peter, James, and John, they had no such feeling, but now that one is singled out for especial honour, then they are grieved. But do yon remember, first, that it was nothing in this world that they sought; and, secondly, that they afterwards laid aside this feeling? Even their failings are above us, whose enquiry is not, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? but, Who is greatest in the kingdom of the world?
Origen: Herein we ought to be imitators of the disciples, that when any question of doubt arises among us, and we find not how to settle it, we should with one consent go to Jesus, Who is able to enlighten the hearts of men to the explication of every perplexity. We shall also consult some of the doctors, who are thought most eminent in the Churches. But in that they asked this question, the disciples knew that there was not an equality among the saints in the kingdom of heaven; what they yet sought to learn was, how they were so, and lived as greater and less. Or, from what the Lord had said above, they knew who was the best and who was great; but out of many great, who was the greatest, this was not clear to them.
Jerome: Jesus seeing their thoughts would heal their ambitious strivings, by arousing an emulation in lowliness; whence it follows, "And Jesus calling a little child, set him in the midst of them."
Chrys.: He chose, I suppose, quite an infant, devoid of any of the passions.
Jerome: One whose tender age should express to them the innocence which they should have. But truly He set Himself in the midst of them, a little one who had come "not to be ministered unto, but to minister," [Matthew 20:28] that He might be a pattern of holiness.
Others interpret [margin note: see Origen in loc.] the little one of the Holy Spirit whom He set in the hearts of His disciples, to change their pride into humility. "And he said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
He does not enjoin on the Apostles the age, but the innocence of infants, which they have by virtue of their years, but to which these might attain by striving; that they should be children in malice, not in understanding. As though He had said, As this child, whom I set before you as a pattern, is not obstinate in anger, when injured does not bear it in mind, has no emotion at the sight of a fair woman, does not think one thing while he speaks another; so ye, unless ye have the like innocence and purity of mind, shall not be able to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Hilary: He calls infants all who believe through the hearing of faith; for such follow their father, love their mother, know not to will that which is evil, do not bear hate, or speak lies, trust what is told them, and believe what they hear to be true. But the letter is thus interpreted.
Gloss. interlin.: "Except ye be converted" from this ambition and jealousy in which you are at present, and become all of you as innocent and humble in disposition as you are weak in your years, "ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven;" and since there is none other road to enter in, "whoso shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven;" for by how much a man is humble now, by so much shall he be exalted in the kingdom of heaven.
Remig.: In the understanding of grace, or in ecclesiastical dignity, or at least in everlasting blessedness.
Jerome: Or otherwise; "Whoso shall humble himself as this little child," that is, whoso shall humble himself after My example, "he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven."
It follows, "And whoso receiveth one such little one in my name, receiveth me."
Chrys.: Not only if ye become such yourselves, but also if for My sake you shall pay honour to other such, ye receive reward; and as the return for the honour you pay them, I entail upon you the kingdom. He puts indeed what is far greater, "Receiveth me."
Jerome: For whoever is such that he imitates Christ’s humility and innocence, Christ is received by him; and by way of caution, that the Apostles should not think, when such are come to them, that it is to themselves that the honour is paid, He adds, that they are to be received not for their own desert, but in honour of their Master.
Chrys.: And to make this word the rather received, He subjoins a penalty in what follows, "Whoso offendeth one of these little ones, &c." as though He had said, As those who for My sake honour one of these, have their reward, so they who dishonour shall undergo the extreme punishment. And marvel not that He calls an evil word an offence, for many of feeble spirit are offended by only being despised.
Jerome: Observe that he who is offended is a little one, for the greater hearts do not take offences. And though it may be a general declaration against all who scandalize any, yet from the connection of the discourse it may be said specially to the Apostles; for in asking who should be greatest in the kingdom of heaven, they seemed to be contending for preeminence among themselves; and if they had persisted in this fault, they might have scandalized those whom they called to the faith, seeing the Apostles contending among themselves for the preference.
Origen: But how can he who has been converted, and become as a little child, be yet liable to be scandalized? This may be thus explained. Every one who believes on the Son of God, and walks after evangelic acts, is converted and walks as a little child; but he who is not converted that he may become as a child, it is impossible that he should enter into the kingdom of heaven.
But in every congregation of believers, there are some only newly converted that they may become as little children, but not yet made such; these are the little ones in Christ, and these are they that receive offence.
Jerome: When it is said, "It is better for him that a mill-stone be hanged about his neck," He speaks according to the custom of the province; for among the Jews this was the punishment of the greater criminals, to drown them by a stone tied to them. It is better for him, because it is far better to receive a brief punishment for a fault, than to be reserved for eternal torments.
Chrys.: To correspond with the foregoing, He should have said here, Receiveth not Me, which were bitterer than any punishment; but because they were dull, and the before-named punishment did not move them, by a familiar instance He shews that punishment awaited them; for He therefore says, "it were better for him," because another more grievous punishment awaits him.
Hilary: Mystically; The work of the mill is a toil of blindness, for the beasts having their eyes closed are driven round in a circle, and under the type of an ass we often find the Gentiles figured, who are held in the ignorance of blind labour; while the Jews have the path of knowledge set before them in the Law, who if they offend Christ’s Apostles it were better for them, that having their necks made fast to a mill-stone, they should be drowned in the sea, that is, kept under labour and in the depths of ignorance, as the Gentiles; for it were better for them that they should have never known Christ, than not to have received the Lord of the Prophets.
Greg., Mor., vi, 37: Otherwise; What is denoted by the sea, but the world, and what by the mill-stone, but earthly action? which, when it binds the neck in the yoke of vain desires, sends it to a dull round of toil. There are some who leave earthly action, and bend themselves to aims of contemplation beyond the reach of intellect, laying aside humility, and so not only throw themselves into error, but also cast many weak ones out of the bosom of truth.
Whoso then offends one of the least of mine, it were better for him that a mill-stone be tied about his neck, and he be cast into the sea, that is, it were better for a perverted heart to be entirely occupied with worldly business, than to be at leisure for contemplative studies to the hurt of many.
Aug., Quaest. Ev., i, 24: "Whoso offendeth one of these little ones," that is so humble as He would have his disciples to be, by not obeying, or by opposing, (as the Apostle says of Alexander, [margin note: 2 Timothy 4:15]) "it were better for him that a mill-stone should be hanged about his neck, and he be drowned in the depths of the sea," that is, it were better for him that desire of the things of the world, to which the blind and foolish are tied down, should sink him by its load to destruction.
Ver 7. "Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh.8. Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.9. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire."
Gloss., non occ.: The Lord had said, that it is better for him who gives offence, that a mill-stone be hanged about his neck, which He now subjoins the reason, "Woe unto the world from offences!" i. e. because of offences.
Origen: This we may understand not of the material elements of the world; but here the men who are in the world, are called the world. [ed. note: i. e. Mundus, whereas the word commonly used in this sense is, "saeculum."]
But Christ’s disciples are not of this world, whence there cannot be woe to them from offences; for though there be many offences, they do not touch him who is not of this world. But if he be yet of this world in loving the world, and the things in it, as many offences will seize him as those by which he was encompassed in the world. It follows, "For it must needs be that offences come."
Chrys., Hom., lix: This does not subvert the liberty of the will, or impose a necessity of any act, but foreshews what must come to pass. Offences are hindrances in the right way. But Christ’s prophecy does not bring in the offences, for it is not done because He foretold it, but He foretold it because it was certainly to come to pass.
But some one will say, If all men are recovered, and if there be none to bring the offences, will not His speech be convicted of falsehood? By no means; for seeing that men were incurable, He therefore said, "It must needs be that offences come;" that is, they surely will come; which He never would have said, if all men might be amended.Gloss. interlin.: Or they must needs come because they are necessary, that is, useful, that by this mean "they that are approved may be made manifest." [1 Corinthians 11:19]
Chrys.: For offences rouse men, and make them more attentive; and he who falls by them speedily rises again, and is more careful.
Hilary: Or; The lowliness of His passion is the scandal of the world, which refused to receive the Lord of eternal glory under the disgrace of the Cross. And what more dangerous for the world than to have rejected Christ? And He says that offences must needs come, forasmuch as in the sacrament of restoring to us eternal life, all lowliness of suffering was to be fulfilled in Him.
Origen: Or; The scandals that are to come are the Angels of Satan. But do not look that these offences should shew themselves in a substantial or natural shape, for in some the freedom of the will has been the origin of offence, not liking to undergo toil for virtue’s sake. But there cannot be real good, without the opposition of evil. It must needs be then that offences come, as it must needs be that we encounter the evil assaults of spiritual powers; whose hatred is the more stirred up, as Christ’s word invading men drives out the evil influences from them. And they seek instruments by whom the offences may the rather work; and to such instruments is more woe; for him who gives, it shall be worse than for him who takes, the offence, as it follows, "But woe unto that man by whom the offence cometh."
Jerome: As much as to say, Woe to that man through whose fault it comes to pass, that offences must needs be in the world. And under this general declaration, Judas is particularly condemned, who had made ready his soul for the act of betrayal.
Hilary: Or; By the man is denoted the Jewish people, as the introducers of all this offence that is about Christ’s passion; for they brought upon the world all the danger of denying Christ in His passion, of whom the Law and the Prophets had preached that He should suffer.
Chrys.: But that you may learn that there is no absolute necessity for offences, hear what follows, "If thy hand or thy foot offend thee, &c." This is not said of the limbs of the body, but of friends whom we esteem as limbs necessary to us; for nothing is so hurtful as evil communications.
Raban.: Scandal (offence) is a Greek word, which we may call a stumbling-block, or a fall, or hitting of the foot. He then scandalizes his brother, who by word or deed amiss gives him occasion of falling.
Jerome: So all affection, our whole kindred, are severed from us; lest under cover of duty any believer should be exposed to offence. If, He says, he be united to thee as close as is thy hand, or foot, or eye, and is useful to thee, anxious and quick to discern, and yet causes thee offence, and is by the unmeetness of his behaviour drawling thee into hell; it is better for thee that thou lack his kindred, and his profitableness to thee, than that whilst thou seekest to gain thy kindred or friends, thou shouldest have cause of failings. For every believer knows what is doing him harm, what troubles and tempts him, for it is better to lead a solitary life, than to lose eternal life, in order to have the things necessary for this present life.
Origen: Or, The priests may with good reason be called the eyes of the Church, since they are considered her watchmen; but the deacons and the rest her hands, for by them spiritual deeds are wrought; the people are the feet of the body, the Church; and all these it behoves not to spare, if they become an offence to the Church. Or, by the offending hand is understood an act of the mind; a motion of the mind is the offending foot, and a vision of the mind is the sinning eye, which we ought to cut off if they give offence, for thus the acts of the limbs are often put in Scripture for the limbs themselves.
Ver 10. "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.11. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.12. How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?13. And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.14. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish."
Jerome: The Lord had said, under the type of hand, foot, and eye, that all kin and connection which could afford scandal must be cut off. The harshness of this declaration He accordingly tempers with the following precept, saying, "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones;" i. e. As far as you may avoid despising them, but next to your own salvation seek also to heal them. But if ye see that they hold to their sins, it is better that ye be saved, than that ye perish in much company.
Chrys.: Or otherwise; As to shun the evil, so to honour the good, has great recompense. Above then He had bid them to cut off the friendships of those that gave offence, here He teaches them to shew honour and service to the saints.
Gloss., ap. Anselm: Or otherwise; Because so great evils come of brethren being scandalized, "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones."
Origen: The little ones are those that are but lately born in Christ, or those who abide without advance, as though lately born. But Christ judged it needless to give command concerning not despising the more perfect believers, but concerning the little ones, as He had said above, "If any man shall offend one of these little ones." A man may perhaps say that a little one here means a perfect Christian, according to that He says elsewhere, "Whoso is least among you, he shall be great." [Luke 9:48]
Chrys.: Or because the perfect are esteemed of many as little ones, as poor, namely, and despicable.
Origen: But this exposition does not seem to agree with that which was said, "If any one scandalizes one of these little ones;" for the perfect man is not scandalized, nor does he perish. But he who thinks this the true exposition, says, that the mind of a righteous man is variable, and is sometimes offended, but not easily.
Gloss., ap. Anselm: Therefore are they not to be despised for that they are so dear to God, that Angels are deputed to be their guardians; "For I say unto you, that in heaven their Angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven."
Origen: Some will have it that an Angel is given as an attendant minister from the time when in the laver of regeneration the infant is born in Christ; for, say they, it is incredible that a holy Angel watches over those who are unbelieving and in error, but in his time of unbelief and sin man is under the Angels of Satan.
Others will have it, that those who are foreknown of God, have straightway from their very birth a guardian Angel.
Jerome: High dignity of souls, that each from its birth has an Angel set in charge over it!
Chrys.: Here He is speaking not of any Angels, but of the higher sort; for when He says, "Behold the face of my Father," He shews that their presence before God is free and open, and their honour great.
Greg., Hom. in Ev., 34, 12: But Dionysius says, that it is from the ranks of the lesser Angels that these are sent to perform this ministry, either visibly or invisibly, for that those higher ranks have not the employment of an outward ministry.
Greg., Mor., ii, 3: And therefore the Angels always behold the face of the Father, and yet they come to us; for by a spiritual presence they come forth to us, and yet by internal contemplation keep themselves there whence they come forth; for they come not so forth from the divine vision, as to hinder the joys of inward contemplation.
Hilary: The Angels offer daily to God the prayers of those that are to be saved by Christ; it is therefore perilous to despise him whose desires and requests are conveyed to the eternal and invisible God, by the service and ministry of Angels.
Aug., City of God, book xxii, ch. 29: They are called our Angels who are indeed the Angels of God; they are Gods because they have not forsaken Him; they are ours because they have begun to have us for their fellow citizens. As they now behold God, so shall we also behold Him face to face, of which vision John speaks, "We shall see Him as he is." [1 John 3:2]
For by the face of God is to be understood the manifestation of Himself, not a member or feature of the body, such as we call by that name.
Chrys.: He gives yet another reason weightier than the foregoing, why the little ones are not to be despised, "For the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost."
Remig.: As much as to say, Despise not little ones, for I also for men condescended to become man. By "that which was lost," understand the human race; for all the elements have kept their place, but man was lost, because he has broken his ordained place.
Chrys.: And to this reasoning He adds a parable, in which He sets forth the Father as seeking the salvation of men, and saying, "What think you, If a man have a hundred sheep."
Greg., Hom. in Ev., xxxiv, 3: This refers to the Creator of man Himself; for a hundred is a perfect number, and He had a hundred sheep when He created the substance of Angels and men.
Hilary: But by the one sheep is to be understood one man, and under this one man is comprehended the whole human race. He that seeks man is Christ, and the ninety and nine are the host of the heavenly glory which He left.
Greg.: The Evangelist says they were left "on the mountains," to signify that the sheep, which were not lost, abode on high.
Bede, ap. Anselm: The Lord found the sheep when He restored man, and over that sheep that is found there is more joy in heaven than over the ninety and nine, because there is a greater matter for thanksgiving to God in the restoration of man than in the creation of the Angels. Wonderfully are the Angels made, but more wonderfully man restored.
Raban.: Note, that nine wants only one to make it ten, and ninety and nine the same to be a hundred. Thus members which want one only to be perfect, may be larger or smaller, but yet the unit remaining invariable, when it is added makes the rest perfect. And that the number of sheep might be made up perfect in heaven, lost man was sought on earth.
Jerome: Others think that by the ninety and nine sheep are understood the number of the righteous, and by the one sheep the sinners according to that said in another place, "I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." [Matthew 9:13]
Greg.: We must consider whence it is that the Lord declares that He has joy rather over the converted sinners, than over the righteous that stand. Because these last are often slothful and slack to practise the greater good works, as being very secure within themselves, for that they have committed none of the heavier sins. While on the other hand those who have their wicked deeds to remember, do often through the compunction of sorrow glow with the more heat in their love of God, and when they think how they have strayed from Him, they replace their former losses by gains following.
So the general in a battle loves best that soldier who turns in his flight and courageously presses the enemy, than him who never turned his back, yet never did any valorous deed. Yet there be some righteous over whom is joy so great, that no penitent can be preferred before them, those, who though not conscious to themselves of sins, yet reject things lawful, and humble themselves in all things. How great is the joy when the righteous mourns, and humbles himself, if there be joy when the unrighteous condemns himself wherein he has done amiss?
Bede: [ed. note: These two passages, to which the name of Bede is prefixed in all the editions, have been sought for in Bede without success. They occur in Anselm’s ’Enarrationes,’ and the latter may perhaps be originally derived from Aug., Quaest. Ev., ii, 32.]
Or; By the ninety-nine sheep, which He left on the mountains, are signified the proud to whom a unit is still wanting for perfection. When then He has found the sinner, He rejoices over him, that is, He makes his own to rejoice over him, rather than over the false righteous.
Jerome: What follows, "Even so it is not the will, &c." is to be referred to what was said above, "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones;: and so He shews that this parable was set forth to enforce that same saying. Also in saying, "It is not the will of my Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish," He shews that so oft as one of these little ones does perish, it is not by the Father’s will that it perishes.
Ver 15. "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.16. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.17. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church: but if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a Publican."
Chrys., Hom., lx: Having above given a severe sentence against those who were the cause of offence, making them to fear on all sides; so now that they to whom the offence is offered should not fall into the opposite fault of supineness and indifference, seeking to spare themselves in all things, and so be puffed up; the Lord here checks such a tendency, commanding that they be reproved, saying, "If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go, tell him his fault between thee and him alone."
Aug., Serm., 82, 1: Our Lord admonishes us not to overlook one another’s faults, yet not so as seeking for matter of blame, but watching what you may amend. For our rebuke should be in love, not eager to wound, but anxious to amend. If you pass it by, you are become worse than he. He by doing you a wrong hath done himself a great hurt; you slight your brother’s wound, and are more to blame for your silence than he for his ill words to you.
Aug., City of God, book i, ch. 9: For often we wrongly shun to teach and admonish, or to rebuke and check the wicked, either because the task is irksome, or because we would escape their enmity, lest they should harm or obstruct us in temporal things, whether in gaining objects we desire, or in holding what our frailty fears to love. But if any one spares reproof of evil doers, because he seeks fitter occasion, or fears to make them worse, or that they may be an impediment to the good and pious living of other weak ones, or may grieve them, or turn them from the faith; herein there is seen no considerations of covetousness, but the prudence of charity. And much weightier reason have they who are set over the churches, to the end they should not spare to rebuke sin; though not even he is free from this blame, who, though not in authority, wots of many things in them to whom he is bound by the ties of this life, which should be touched by admonition or correction, but neglects to do so; shunning their displeasure on account of things which he does not unduly use in this life, but wherewith he is unduly delighted.
Chrys.: It is to be noted, that onewhile the Lord brings the offender to him whom he has offended; as when He says, "If thou remember that thy brother has ought against thee, go, be reconciled to thy brother:" [Matthew 5:23] otherwhiles He bids him that has suffered the wrong to forgive his neighbour; as where he says, "Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors." [Matthew 6:12]
Here He has devised yet another method, for He brings him who has been grieved to him that grieved him, and therefore says, "If thy brother sin against thee;" for because he that did the wrong would not readily come to make amends, because of his shame, He draws to him, him that has suffered the wrong; and not only draws him there, but with the very purpose of correcting what was done amiss; whence He says, "Go and tell him his fault."
Raban.: He does not command us to forgive indiscriminately, but him only that will hearken and be obedient, and do penitence; that neither should forgiveness be unattainable, nor sufferance be too far relaxed.
Chrys.: And He says not, Accuse him, nor, Chide with him, nor, Demand redress,-- but, "Tell him of his fault;" that is, remind him of his sin, tell him what things you have suffered from him. For he is held down by anger or by shame, stupefied as one in a deep slumber. Wherefore it behoves you who are in your right senses to go to him who is in a disease.
Jerome: If then your brother have sinned against you, or hurt you in any matter, you have power, indeed must needs forgive him, for we are charged to forgive our debtors their debts. But if a man sin against God, it is no longer in our decision. But we do all the contrary of this; where God is wronged we are merciful, where the affront is to ourselves we prosecute the quarrel.
Chrys.: We are to tell his fault to the man himself who did it, and not to another, because the party takes it with the more patience from him, and above all when they are together alone. For when he who had a right to demand reparation, shews rather a carefulness to heal the sore, this has great power to propitiate.
Aug., Serm., 82, 8: When any one therefore offends against us, let us be very careful, not for ourselves, for it is glorious to forget an injury; forget therefore your own wrong, but not the wound your brother has sustained; and tell him of his fault between him and you alone, seeking his amendment and sparing his shame. For it may be that out of shame he will seek to defend his fault, and thus you will only harden, while you sought to do him good.
Jerome: Thy brother is to be reproved in private, lest if once he has lost a sense of shame, he should continue in sin.
Aug.: But the Apostle says, "Them that sin rebuke before all, that others may fear to do the like." [1 Timothy 5:20] Sometimes therefore your brother is to be spoken to between thee and him alone, sometimes to be rebuked before all. What you must do first, attend and learn; "If thy brother," says He, "sin against thee, tell him of his fault between thee and him alone." Why? Because he has sinned against you? What is it that he has sinned against you? You know that he has sinned, and therefore since his sin was in private, let your rebuke be in private too. For if you alone know of his trespass, and proceed to rebuke him before all, you do not correct but betray him. Your brother has sinned against you; if you alone know thereof, then he has sinned against you only; but if he did you a wrong in the presence of many, then he has sinned against those also who were witnesses of his fault.
Those faults then are to be rebuked before all, that are committed before all; those which are done in private, are to be rebuked in private. Discern times, and the Scriptures are consistent.
But why do you correct your neighbour? Because his trespass has hurt yourself? Far be it from thee. If you do it from self-love, you do nought; if you do it from love of him, you do most rightly. Lastly, in what you shall say to him, keep in view for whose sake it is that you ought to do it, for your own or for his, for it follows, "If he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother;" do it therefore for his sake, that you may gain him.
And do you confess that by your sin against man you were lost; for if you were not lost, how has he gained you? Let none then make light of it when he sins against his brother.
Chrys.: In this it is made plain that enmities are a loss to both sides; for he said not, he has gained himself, but, you have gained him; which shews that both of you had suffered loss by your disagreement.
Jerome: For in saving another, salvation is gained for ourselves also.
Chrys.: What you should do if he does not yield is added, "If he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two." For the more shameless and stubborn he shews himself, the more studious should we be of applying the medicine, and not turn to wrath and hate. As the physician, if he see that the disease does not abate, he does not slack, but redoubles his efforts to heal.
And observe how this reproof is not for revenge, but for correction, seeing his command is not to take two with him at first, but when he would not amend; and even then he does not send a multitude to him, but one or two, alleging the law, "That in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand." [Deuteronomy 19:15] This is that you may have witnesses that you have done all your part.
Jerome: Or it is to be understood in this way; If he will not hear thee, take with thee one brother only; if he yet will not hear, take a third, either from your zeal for his amendment, that shame or admonition may move him; or for the purpose of meeting before witnesses.
Gloss., ap. Anselm: Or, that if he affirm that it is no trespass, that they may prove to him that it is a trespass.
Jerome: If yet he will not hear them, then it must be told to many, that he may be held in abhorrence; so that he who could not be saved by his own sense of shame, may be saved by public disgrace; whence it follows, "If he will not hear them, tell it to the Church."
Chrys.: That is, to those that are over the Church.
Gloss., ap. Anselm: Or, tell it to the whole Chinch, that his infamy may be the greater. After all these things follows excommunication, which ought to be inflicted by the mouth of the Church, that is, by the Priest, and when he excommunicates, the whole Church works with him; as it follows, "And if he will not hear the Church, let him be unto thee as an heathen, and a publican."
Aug., Serm., 82, 7: That is, regard him no longer in the number of thy brethren. Though even thus we are not to neglect his salvation; for the heathens themselves, that is, the gentiles and pagans, we do not indeed regard in the number of our brethren, yet we ever seek their salvation.
Chrys.: Yet the Lord enjoins nothing of this sort to be observed towards those who are without the Church, such as He does in reproving a brother. Of those that are without He says, "If any smite thee on the one cheek, offer to him the other also." [Matthew 5:39] as Paul speaks, "What have I to do to judge them that are without?" [1 Corinthians 5:12] But brethren he bids us reprove, and turn away from.
Jerome: That He says, "As a heathen and a publican," shews that he is to be more abhorred, who under the name of a believer does the deeds of an unbeliever, than those that are openly gentiles. Those He calls publicans, who pursue worldly gain, and levy contributions by trading, cheating, and villainous frauds, and perjuries.
Origen: Let us look well whether this precept extends to all sin; for what if any one sin any or those sins which are unto death, such as unnatural crimes, adultery, homicide, or effeminacy, it cannot be meant that such as these are to be admonished privately, and if he hear you, forthwith to say that you have gained him. And not rather first put him out of the Church, or only when remaining obstinate after monition before witnesses, and by the Church? One man, looking at the infinite mercy of Christ, will say, that since the words of Christ make no distinction of sins, it is to go against Christ’s mercy to limit His words only to little sins. Another, on the other hand, considering the words carefully, will aver, that they are not spoken of every sin; for that he that is guilty of those great sins is not a brother, but is called a brother, with whom, according to the Apostle, we ought not so much as to eat. But as they who expound this as referring to every sin give encouragement to the careless to sin; so, on the other hand, he, who teaches that one having sinned in little sins and such as are not deadly, is, when he has spurned the admonition of the witnesses and the Church, to be held as a heathen and a publican, seems to introduce too great severity.
For whether he finally perishes, we are not able to decide. First, because he who has been thrice told of his fault and not hearkened, may hearken the fourth time; secondly, because sometimes a man does not receive according to his deeds, but beyond his trespass, which is good for him in this world; lastly, because He said not alone, "Let him be as a heathen," but "Let him be to thee." Whosoever then when reproved three times in a light trespass, does not amend, him we ought to hold for a heathen and a publican, avoiding him, that he may be brought to confusion. But whether he is esteemed of God also as a heathen and a publican, is not ours to decide, but is in the judgment of God.
Ver 18. "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.19. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.20. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
Jerome: Because He had said, "If he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as a heathen, and a publican," whereupon the brother so contemned might answer, or think within himself, If you despise me, I also will despise you; if you condemn me, you shall be condemned by my sentence. He therefore confers powers upon the Apostles, that they may be assured that when any are condemned after this manner, the sentence of man is ratified by the sentence of God. "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose upon the earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Origen: He said not in the heavens (in caelis), as when He spoke to Peter, but in heaven (in coelo), for they are not yet attained to the like perfection with Peter.
Hilary: To hold out a great and terrible fear, by which all men should be reached in this present life, He pronounces that the judgment of the Apostles should be ratified, so that whosoever they bound on earth, i.e. left entangled in the noose of sin, and whosoever they loosed, i.e. accorded the pardon of God’s mercy to their salvation, that these should be bound and loosed in heaven."
Chrys.: And be it noted, that He said not to the Primate of the Church, Bind such a man; but, If ye shall bind him, the bonds shall be indissoluble; leaving the other to his discretion.
And see how He has set the incorrigible person under the yoke of a twofold necessity; to wit, the punishment that is here, namely, the casting forth out of the Church, when He said, "Let him be to thee as a heathen;" and the future punishment, saying, that he shall be bound in heaven; thus by the weight of his penalties lessening his brother’s wrath against him.
Augustine: Otherwise; When you begin to hold your brother as a publican you bind him on earth, but take heed that you bind him with just cause; for an unjust cause breaks rightful bonds. But when you have corrected him, and agreed with him, you have loosed him upon earth, and when you have loosed him upon earth, he shall be loosed also in heaven. You confer a great boon not on yourself, but on him, as he had done the hurt not to you but to himself.
Gloss., ap. Anselm: But He holds out a ratification not only of sentences of excommunication, but of every petition which is offered by men holding together in the unity of the Church; for He adds, "Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree upon earth," whether in admitting a penitent, or casting out a froward person, "touching any thing which they shall ask," any thing, that is, that is not against the unity of the Church, "it shall be done for them by my Father which is in heaven." By saying, "which is in heaven," He points Him out as above all, and therefore able to fulfil all that shall be asked of Him. Or, He is in the heavens, that is, with saints, proof enough that whatever worthy thing they shall ask shall be done unto them, because they have with them Him of whom they ask. For this cause is the sentence of those that agree together ratified, because God dwells in them, "For where two or more are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
Chrys.: Or, because He had said, It shall be done unto them by My Father; therefore, to shew that He is the Giver together with His Father, He adds this, "where two or three, &c."
Origen: And He said not, "I will be," but "I am in the midst of them;" because straightway, as soon as they have agreed together, Christ is found among them.
Hilary: For He who is peace and charity, will set His place and habitation in good and peaceable dispositions.
Jerome: Or otherwise; All His foregoing discourse had invited us to union; now to make us embrace peace more anxiously, He holds out a reward, promising to be in the midst of two or three.
Chrys.: Yet He said not barely, "Where they are gathered together," but added, "in my name," as much as to say, If any man look upon Me as the chief motive of his love to his neighbour, I will be with him, though his virtue be shewn towards other men.
How is it then that those who thus agree together do not obtain what they ask for? First, because they ask things not expedient, and because they do not bring on their parts that which they ought to contribute; wherefore He says, "If two of you," that is, who shew an evangelic conversation. Thirdly, because they pray seeking vengeance against those who have grieved them. And fourthly, because they seek mercy for sinners who have not repented.
Origen: And this also is the reason why our prayers are not granted, because we do not agree together in all things upon earth, neither in doctrine, nor in conversation. For as in music, unless the voices are in time there is no pleasure to the hearer, so in the Church, unless they are united God is not pleased therein, nor does He hear their words.
Jerome, vid. Origen in loc.: We may also understand this spiritually; where our spirit, soul, and body are in agreement, and have not within them conflicting wills, they shall obtain from My Father every thing they shall ask; for none can doubt that that demand is good, where the body wills the same thing as the spirit.
Origen: Or, In whatever the two testaments are in agreement, for this every prayer is found acceptable to God.
Ver 21. Then came Peter to him, and said, "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?"22. Jesus saith unto him, "I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven."
Jerome: The Lord had said above, "See that ye despise not one of these little ones," and had added, "If thy brother sin against thee, &c." making also a promise, "If two of you, &c." by which the Apostle Peter was led to ask, "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?" And to his question he adds an opinion, "Until seven times?"
Chrys., Hom., lxi: Peter thought that he had made a large allowance; but what answers Christ the Lover of men? it follows, "Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times, but, Until seventy times seven."
Aug., Serm., 83, 3: I am bold to say, that if he shall sin seventy-eight times, thou shouldest forgive him; yea, and if a hundred; and how oft soever he sin against thee, forgive him. For if Christ found a thousand sins, yet forgave them all, do not you withdraw your forgiveness. For the Apostle says, "Forgive one another, if any man hath a quarrel against any, even as God in Christ forgave you." [Colossians 3:13]
Chrys.: When He says, "Until seventy times seven," He does not limit a definite number within which forgiveness must be kept; but He signifies thereby something endless and ever enduring.
Aug.: Yet not without reason did the Lord say, "Seventy times seven;" for the Law is set forth in ten precepts; and the Law is signified by the number ten, sin by eleven, because it is passing the denary line. Seven is used to be put for a whole, because time goes round in seven days. Take eleven seven times, and you have seventy. He would therefore have all trespasses forgiven, for this is what He signifies by the number seventy-seven.
Origen: Or, because the number six seems to denote toil and labour, and the number seven repose, He says that forgiveness should be given to all brethren who live in this world, and sin in the things of this world. But if any commit transgressions beyond these things, he shall then have no further forgiveness.
Jerome: Or understand it of four hundred and ninety times, that He bids us forgive our brother so oft.
Raban.: It is one thing to give pardon to a brother when he seeks it, that he may live with us in social charity, as Joseph to his brethren; and another to a hostile foe, that we may wish him good, and if we can do him good, as David mourning for Saul.
Ver 23. "Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.24. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.25. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.26. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.27. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.28. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.29. And his fellow servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.30. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.31. So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.32. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:33. Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee?34. And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.35. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses."
Chrys. That none should think that the Lord had enjoined something great and burdensome in saying that we must forgive till seventy times seven, He adds a parable.
Jerome: For it is customary with the Syrians, especially they of Palestine, to add a parable to what they speak; that what their hearers might not retain simply, and in itself, the instance and similitude may be the means of retaining.
Origen, (vid. 1 Corinthians 1:30): The Son of God, as He is wisdom, righteousness, and truth, so is He a kingdom; not indeed any of those which are beneath, but all those which are above, reigning over those in whose senses reigns justice and the other virtues; these are made of heaven because they bear the image of the heavenly. This kingdom of heaven then, i.e. the Son of God, when He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, was then like to a king, in uniting man to himself.
Remig.: Or, by the kingdom of heaven is reasonably understood the holy Church, in which the Lord works what He speaks of in this parable. By the man is sometimes represented the Father, as in that, "The Kingdom of heaven is like to a king, who made a marriage for his son;" and sometimes the Son; but here we may take it for both, the Father and the Son, who are one God. God is called a King, inasmuch as He created and governs all things.
Origen: The servants, in these parables, are only they who are employed in dispensing the word, and to whom this business is committed.
Remig.: Or, by the servants of this King are signified all mankind whom He has created for His own praise, and to whom He gave the law of nature; He takes account with them, when He would look into each man’s manners, life, and deeds, that He may render to each according to that He has done; as it follows, "And when He had begun to reckon, one was brought unto Him which owed Him ten thousand talents."
Origen: The King takes account of our whole life then, when "we must all be presented before the judgment-seat of Christ." [2 Corinthians 5:10] We mean not this so as that any shouldst think that the business itself must needs require a long time. For God, when He will scrutinize the minds of all, will by some undescribable power cause every thing that every man has done to pass speedily before the mind of each.
He says, "And when he began to take account," because the beginning of the judgment is that it begin from the house of God. [margin note: 1 Peter 4:17] At His beginning to take account there is brought unto Him one who owes Him many talents; one, that is, who had wrought great evils; one on whom much had been enjoined, and had yet brought no gain; who perhaps had destroyed as many men as he owed talents; one who was therefore become a debtor of many talents, because he had followed the woman sitting upon a talent of lead, whose name is Iniquity. [Zechariah 5:7]
Jerome: I know that some interpret the man who owed the ten thousand talents to be the devil, and by his wife and children who were to be sold when he persevered in his wickedness, understand foolishness, and hurtful thoughts. For as wisdom is called the wife of the righteous man, so the wife of the unrighteous and the sinner is called foolishness. But how the Lord remits to the devil ten thousand talents, and how he would not remit ten denarii to us his fellow servants, of this there is no ecclesiastical interpretation, nor is it to be admitted by thoughtful men.
Aug., Serm., 83, 6: Therefore let us say, that because the Law is set forth in ten precepts, the ten thousand talents which he owed denote all sins which can be done under the Law.
Remig.: Man who sinned of his own will and choice, has no power to rise again by his own endeavour, and has not wherewith to pay, because he finds nothing in himself by which he may loose himself frown his sins; whence it follows, "And when he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made." The fool’s wife is folly, and the pleasure or lust of the flesh.
Aug., Quaest. Ev., i, 25: This signifies that the transgressor of the decalogue deserves punishment for his lusts and evil deeds; and that is his price; for the price for which they sell is the punishment of him that is damned.
Chrys.: This command issued not of cruelty, but of unspeakable tenderness. For he seeks by these terrors to bring him to plead that he be not sold, which fell out, as he shews when he adds, "The servant therefore fell down and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all."
Remig.: That he says, "falling down," shews how the sinner humbled himself, and offered amends. "Have patience with me," expresses the sinner’s prayer, begging respite, and space to correct his error. Abundant is the bounty of God, and His clemency to sinners converted, seeing He is ever ready to forgive sins by baptism or penitence, as it follows, "But the lord of that servant had mercy upon him, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt."
Chrys.: See the exuberance of heavenly love! The servant asked only a brief respite, but he gives him more than he had asked, a full remittance and cancelling of the whole debt. He was minded to have forgiven him from the very first, but he would not have it to be of his own mere motion, but also of the other’s suit, that he might not depart without a gift. But he did not remit the debt till he had taken account, because he would have him know how great debts he set him free of, that by this he should at the least be made more merciful to his fellow servants.
And indeed as far as what has gone he was worthy to be accepted; for he made confession, and promised that he would pay the debt, and fell down and begged, and confessed the greatness of his debt. But his after deeds were unworthy of the former, for it follows, "But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants which owed him a hundred denarii."
Aug., Serm., 83, 6: That He says he "owed him a hundred denarii" is taken from the same number, ten, the number of the Law. For a hundred times a hundred are ten thousand, and ten times ten are a hundred; and those ten thousand talents and these hundred denarii are still keeping to the number of the Law; in both of them you find sins. Both are debtors, both are suitors for remission; so every man is himself a debtor to God, and has his brother his debtor.
Chrys.: But there is as great difference between sins committed against men, and sins committed against God, as between ten thousand talents and a hundred denarii; yea rather there is still greater difference. This appears from the difference of the persons, and from the fewness of the offenders. For when we are seen of man we withhold and are loath to sin, but we cease not daily though God see us, but act and speak all things fearlessly. Not by this only are our sins against God shewn to be more heinous, but also by reason of the benefits which we have received from Him; He gave us being, and has done all things in our behalf, has breathed into us a rational soul, has sent His Son, has opened heaven to us, and made us His sons. If then we should every day die for Him, could we make Him any worthy return? By no means; it should rather redound again to our advantage. But, on the contrary, we offend against His laws.
Remig.: So by him who owed ten thousand talents are represented those that commit the greater crimes; by the debtor of a hundred denarii those who commit the lesser.
Jerome: That this may be made plainer, let us speak it in instances. If any one of you shall have committed an adultery, a homicide, or a sacrilege, these greater sins of ten thousand talents shall be remitted when you beg for it, if you also shall remit lesser offences to those that trespass against you.
Aug.: But this unworthy, unjust servant would not render that which had been rendered to him, for it follows, "And he laid hands on him, and held him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest."
Remig.: That is, he pressed him hardly, that he might exact vengeance from him.
Origen: He therefore, as I suppose, took him by the throat, because he had come forth from the king; for he would not have so handled his fellow servant, if he had not gone forth from the king.
Chrys.: By saying, "as he went out," He shews that it was not after long time, but immediately; while the favour he had received still sounded in his ears, he abused to wickedness the liberty his lord had accorded him. What the other did is added; "And his fellow servant fell down, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all."
Origen: Observe the exactness of Scripture; the servant who owed many talents fell down, and worshipped the king; he who owed the hundred denarii falling down, did not worship, but besought his fellow servant, saying, "Have patience." But the ungrateful servant did not even respect the very words which had saved himself, for it follows, "but he would not."
Aug., Quaest. Ev., i, 21: That is, he nourished such thoughts towards him that he sought his punishment. "But he went his way."
Remig.: That is, his wrath was the rather inflamed, to exact vengeance of him; "And he cast him into prison, until he should pay the debt;" that is, he seized his brother, and exacted vengeance of him.
Chrys.: Observe the Lord’s tenderness, and the servant’s cruelty; the one for ten thousand talents, the other for ten denarii; the one a suitor to his fellow, the other to his lord; the one obtained entire remission, the other sought only respite, but he got it not. They who owed nought grieved with him; "his fellow servants, seeing what was done, were very sorry."
Aug., Quaest. Ev., i, 25: By the fellow servants is understood the Church, which binds one and looses another.
Remig.: Or perhaps they represent the Angels, or the preachers of the holy Church, or any of the faithful, who when they see a brother whose sins are forgiven refusing to forgive his fellow servant, they are sorrowful over his perdition. "And they came, and told their lord what was done." They came not in body, but in spirit. To tell their Lord, is to shew the woe and sorrow of the heart in their carriage.
It follows, "Then his lord called him." He called him by the sentence of death, and bade him pass out of this world, and said. unto him, "Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou prayedst me."
Chrys.: When he owed him ten thousand talents, he did not call him wicked, nor did he at all chide him, but had mercy on him; but now when he had been ungenerous to his fellow servant, then he says to him, "Thou wicked servant;" and this is what is said, "Oughtest thou not to have had mercy upon thy fellow servant."
Remig.: And it is to be known, that we read no answer made by that servant to his lord; by which it is shewn us, that in the day of judgment, and altogether after this life, all excusing of ourselves shall be cut off.
Chrys.: Because kindness had not mended him, it remains that he be corrected by punishment; whence it follows, "And the lord of that servant was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay the whole debt.: He said not merely, "Delivered him," but "was angry," this he had not said before; when his Lord commanded that he should be sold; for that was not in wrath, but in love, for his correction; now this is a sentence of penalty and punishment.
Remig.: For God is said then to be wroth, when he takes vengeance on sinners. Torturers are intended for the daemons, who are always ready to take up lost souls, and torture them in the pangs of eternal punishment. Will any who is once sunk into everlasting condemnation ever come to find season of repentance, and a way to escape?
Never; that "until" is put for infinity; and the meaning is, He shall be ever paying, and shall never quit the debt, but shall be ever under punishment.
Chrys.: By this is shewn that his punishment shall be increasing and eternal, and that he shall never pay. And however irrevocable are the graces and callings of God, yet wickedness has that force, that it seems to break even this law.
Aug., Serm., 83, 7: For God says, "Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven;" [Luke 6:37] I have first forgiven, forgive you then after Me; for if you forgive not, I will call you back, and will require again all that I had remitted to you. For Christ neither deceives nor is deceived; and He adds here, "Thus will my heavenly Father do unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses." It is better that you should cry out with your mouth, and forgive in your heart, than that you should speak smoothly, and be unrelenting in your heart. For the Lord adds, "From your hearts," to the end that though, out of affection you put him to discipline, yet gentleness should not depart out of your heart.
What is more beneficial than the knife of the surgeon? He is rough with the sore that the man may be healed; should he be tender with the sore, the man were lost.
Jerome: Also this, "from your hearts," is added to take away all feigned reconciliations. Therefore the Lord’s command to Peter under this similitude of the king and his servant who owed him ten thousand talents, and was forgiven by his lord upon his entreaty, is, that he also should forgive his fellow servants their lesser trespasses.
Origen: He seeks to instruct us, that we should be ready to shew clemency to those who have done us harm, especially if they offer amends, and plead to have forgiveness.
Raban.: Allegorically; The servant here who owed the ten thousand talents, is the Jewish people bound to the Ten Commandments in the Law. These the Lord oft forgave their trespasses, when being in difficulties they besought His mercy; but when they were set free, they exacted the utmost with great severity from all their debtors; and of the gentile people which they hated, they required circumcision and the ceremonies of the Law; yea, the Prophets and Apostles they barbarously put to death. For all this the Lord gave them over into the hands of the Romans as to evil spirits, who should punish them with eternal tortures.
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Aquinas, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 18". "Golden Chain Commentary on the Gospel". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent