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Ver 1. And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain: and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him.2. And He opened His mouth, and taught them, saying,3. "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for their is the kingdom of heaven."
Pseudo-Chrys.: Every man in his own trade or profession rejoices when he sees an opportunity of exercising it; the carpenter if he sees a goodly tree desires to have it to cut down to employ his skill on, and the Priest when he sees a full Church, his heart rejoices, he is glad of the occasion to teach. So the Lord seeing a great congregation of people was stirred to teach them.
Aug., de Cons. Evan., ii, 19: Or He may be thought to have sought to shun the thickest crowd, and to have ascended the mountain that He might speak to His disciples alone.
Chrys., Hom. 4: By not choosing His seat in the city, and the market place, but on a mountain in a desert, He has taught us to do nothing with ostentation, and to depart from crowds, above all when we are to be employed in philosophy, or in speaking of serious things.
Remig.: This should be known, that the Lord had three places of retirement that we read of, the ship, the mountain, and the desert; to one of these He was wont to withdraw whenever He was pressed by the multitude.
Jerome: Some of the less learned brethren suppose the Lord to have spoken what follows from the Mount of Olives, which is by no means the case; what went before and what follows fixes the place in Galilee - Mount Tabor, [ed. note: Mount Tabor is asserted by the Fathers and by tradition coming down to the present day to be the scene of the Transfiguration. But S. Jerome seems to be the only author who speaks of it as the scene of the Sermon on the Mount. The mount of the Beatitudes according to modern travellers lies near to Capernaum, and ten miles north of Mount Tabor. See Grewell Diss. vol. ii. 294. Pococke’s Descrip. of the East, vol. ii. 67] we may suppose, or any other high mountain.
Chrys.: "He ascended a mountain," first, that He might fulfil the prophecy of Esaias, "Get thee up into a mountain;" [Isaiah 40:9] secondly, to shew that as well he who teaches, as he who hears the righteousness of God should stand on a high ground of spiritual virtues; for none can abide in the valley and speak from a mountain. If thou stand on the earth, speak of the earth; if thou speak of heaven, stand in heaven.
Or, He ascended into the mountain to shew that all who would learn the mysteries of the truth should go up into the Mount of the Church of which the Prophet speaks, "The hill of God is a hill of fatness." [Psalms 68:15]
Hilary: Or, He ascends the mountain, because it is placed in the loftiness of His Father’s Majesty that He gives the commands of heavenly life.
Aug., de Serm. Dom. in Mont. i. 1: Or, He ascends the mountain to shew that the precepts of righteousness given by God through the Prophets to the Jews, who were yet under the bondage of fear, were the lesser commandments; but that by His own Son were given the greater commandments to a people which He had determined to deliver by love.
Jerome: He spoke to them sitting and not standing, for they could not have understood Him had He appeared in His own Majesty.
Aug.: Or, to teach sitting is the prerogative of the Master. "His disciples came to him," that they who is spirit approached more nearly to keeping His commandments, should also approach Him nearest with their bodily presence.
Rabanus: Mystically, this sitting down of Christ is His incarnation; had He not taken flesh on Him, mankind could not have come unto Him.
Aug., de Cons. Evan., ii, 19: It cause a thought how it is that Matthew relates this sermon to have been delivered by the Lord sitting on the mountain; Luke, as He stood in the plain. This diversity in their accounts would lead us to think that the occasions were different. Why should not Christ repeat once more what He said before, or do once more what He had done before? Although another method of reconciling the two may occur to us; namely, that our Lord was first with His disciples alone on some more lofty peak of the mountain when He chose the twelve; that He then descended with them not from the mountain entirely, but from the top to some expanse of level ground in the side, capable of holding a great number of people; that He stood there while the crowd was gathering around Him, and after when He had sat down, then His disciples came near to Him, and so to them and in the presence of the rest of the multitude He spoke the same sermon which Matthew and Luke give, in a different manner, but with equal truth of facts.
Greg., Moral., iv, 1: When the Lord on the mountain is about to utter His sublime precepts, it is said, "Opening his mouth he taught them," He who had before opened the mouth of the Prophets.
Remig.: Wherever it is said that the Lord opened His mouth, we may know how great things are to follow.
Aug., de Serm. in Mount. i, 1: Or, the phrase is introductory of an address longer than ordinary.
Chrys.: Or, that we may understand that He sometimes teaches by opening His mouth in speech, sometimes by that voice which resounds from His works.
Aug.: Whoever will take the trouble to examine with a pious and sober spirit, will find in this sermon a perfect code of the Christian life as far as relates to the conduct of daily life. Accordingly the Lord concludes it with the words, "Every man who heareth these words of mine and doeth them, I will liken him to a wise man, &c."
Aug., City of God, book 19, ch. 1: The chief good is the only motive of philosophical enquiry; but whatever confers blessedness, that is the chief good; therefore He begins, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."
Aug., de Serm. in Mont., i, 1: Augmentation of ’spirit’ generally implies insolence and pride. For in common speech the proud are said to have a great spirit, and rightly - for wind is a spirit, and who does not know that we say of proud men that they are ’swollen,’ ’puffed up.’ Here therefore by "poor in spirit" are rightly understood ’lowly,’ ’fearing God,’ not having a puffed up spirit.
Chrys.: Or, He here calls all loftiness of soul and temper spirit; for as there are many humble against their will, constrained by their outward condition, they have no praise; the blessing is on those who humble themselves by their own choice. Thus He begins at once at the root, pulling up pride which is the root and source of all evil, setting up as its opposite humility as a firm foundation. If this be well laid, other virtues may be firmly built thereon; if that be sapped, whatever good you gather upon it perishes.
Pseudo-Chrys.: "Blessed are the poor in spirit," [ed. note, a: The Bened. ed. reads ’beati egeni’ - and has this marginal note, ’Hinc sequitur hune Graece non scripsisse’ - but S. Thos. reads ’beati ptochi;’ it may be remarked moreover that the author follows the order of verses 4 and 5 according to the Greek; all the Latin Fathers (with the single exception of Hilary on Ps. 118) following the order of the Vulgate.] or, according to the literal rendering of the Greek, ’they who beg,’ that the humble may learn that they should be ever begging at God’s almshouse. For there are many naturally humble and not of faith, who do not knock at God’s almshouse; but they alone are humble who are so of faith.
Chrys.: Or, the poor in spirit may be those who fear and tremble at God’s commandments, whom the Lord by the Prophet Isaiah commends. Though why more than simply humble? Of the humble there may be in this place but few, in that again an abundance.
Aug.: The proud seek an earthly kingdom, of the humble only is the kingdom of Heaven.
Pseudo-Chrys.: For as all other vices, but chiefly pride, casts down to hell; so all other virtues, but chiefly humility, conduct to Heaven; it is proper that he that humbles himself should be exalted.
Jerome: The "poor in spirit" are those who embrace a voluntary poverty for the sake of the Holy Spirit.
Ambrose, de Officiis, i, 16: In the eye of Heaven blessedness begins there where misery begins in human estimation.
Gloss. interlin.: The riches of Heaven are suitably promised to those who at this present are in poverty.
Ver 4. "Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted."
Ambrose: When you have done thus much, attained both poverty and meekness, remember that you are a sinner, mourn your sins, as He proceeds, "Blessed are they that mourn." And it is suitable that the third blessing should be of those that mourn for sin, for it is the Trinity that forgives sin.
Hilary: Those that mourn, that is, not loss of kindred, affronts, or losses, but who weep for past sins.
Pseudo-Chrys.: And they who weep for their own sins are blessed, but much more so who weep for others’ sins; so should all teachers do.
Jerome: For the mourning here meant is not for the dead by common course of nature, but for the dead in sins, and vices. Thus Samuel mourned for Saul, thus the Apostle Paul mourned for those who had not performed penance after uncleanness.
Pseudo-Chrys.: The "comfort" of mourners is the ceasing of their mourning; they then who mourn their own sins shall be consoled when they have received remittance thereof.
Chrys.: And though it were enough for such to receive pardon, yet He rests not His mercy only there, but makes them partakers of many comforts both here and hereafter. God’s mercies are always greater than our troubles.
Pseudo-Chrys.: But they also who mourn for others’ sin shall be comforted, inasmuch as they shall own God’s providence in that worldly generation, understanding that they who had perished were not of God, out of whose hand none can snatch. For these leaving to mourn, they shall be comforted in their own blessedness.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 2: Otherwise; mourning is sorrow for the loss of what is dear; but those that are turned to God lose the things that they held dear in this world; and as they have now no longer any joy in such things as before they had joy in, their sorrow may not be healed till there is formed within them a love of eternal things. They shall then be comforted by the Holy Spirit, who is therefore chiefly called, The Paraclete, that is, "Comforter;’ so that for the loss of their temporal joys, they shall gain eternal joys.
Gloss. ap. Anselm: Or, by mourning, two kinds of sorrow are intended; one for the miseries of this world, one for lack of heavenly things; so Caleb’s daughter asked both "the upper and the lower springs." This kind of mourning none have but the poor and the meek, who as not loving the world acknowledge themselves miserable, and therefore desire heaven.
Suitably, therefore, consolation is promised to them that mourn, that he who has sorrow at this present may have joy hereafter. But the reward of the mourner is greater than that of the poor or the meek, for "to rejoice" in the kingdom is more than to have it, or to possess it; for many things we possess in sorrow.
Chrys.: We may remark that this blessing is given not simply, but with great force and emphasis; it is not simply, ’who have grief,’ but "who mourn." And indeed this command is the sum of all philosophy. For if they who mourn for the death of children or kinsfolk, throughout all that season of their sorrow, are touched with no other desires, as of money, or honour, burn not with envy, feel not wrongs, nor are open to any other vicious passion, but are solely given up to their grief; much more ought they, who mourn their own sins in such manner as they ought to mourn for them, to shew this higher philosophy.
Ver 5. "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth."
[ed. note, b: Verses 4 and 5 are transposed in the Vulgate.]
Ambrose, in Luc. c. v. 20: When I have learned contentment in poverty, the next lesson is to govern my heart and temper. For what good is it to me to be without worldly things, unless I have besides a meek spirit? It suitably follows therefore, "Blessed are the meek."
Aug., Serm. in Mont. i, 2: The meek are they who resist not wrongs, and give way to evil; but overcome evil of good.
Ambrose: Soften therefore your temper that you be not angry, at least that you "be angry, and sin not." It is a noble thing to govern passion by reason; nor is it a less virtue to check anger, than to be entirely without anger, since one is esteemed the sign of a weak, the other of a strong, mind.
Aug.: Let the unyielding then wrangle and quarrel about earthly and temporal things, "the meek are blessed, for they shall inherit the earth," and not be rooted out of it; that earth of which it is said in the Psalms, "Thy lot is in the hand of the living," [Psalms 142:5] meaning the fixedness of a perpetual inheritance, in which the soul that hath good dispositions rests as in its own place, as the body does in an earthly possession, it is fed by its own food, as the body by the earth; such is the rest and the life of the saints.
Pseudo-Chrys.: This earth as some interpret, so long as it is in its present condition is the land of the dead, seeing it is "subject to vanity;" but when it is freed from corruption it becomes the land of the living, that the mortal may inherit an immortal country.
I have read another exposition of it, as if the heaven in which the saints are to dwell is meant by "the land of the living," because compared with the regions of death it is heaven, compared with the heaven above it is earth. Others again say, that this body as long as it is subject to death is the land of the dead, when it shall be made like unto Christ’s glorious body, it will be the land of the living.
Hilary: Or, the Lord promises the inheritance of the earth to the meek, meaning of that Body, which Himself took on Him as His tabernacle; and as by the gentleness of our minds Christ dwells in us, we also shall be clothed with the glory of His renewed body.
Chrys.: Otherwise; Christ here has mixed things sensible with things spiritual. Because it is commonly supposed that he who is meek loses all that he possesses, Christ here gives a contrary promise, that he who is not forward shall possess his own in security, but that he of a contrary disposition many times loses his soul and his paternal inheritance. But because the Prophet had said, "The meek shall inherit the earth," [Psalms 36:11] He used these well known words in conveying His meaning.
Gloss. ord.: The meek, who have possessed themselves, shall possess hereafter the inheritance of the Father; to possess is more than to have, for we have many things which we lose immediately.
Ver 6. "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled."
Ambrose: As soon as I have wept for my sins, I begin to hunger and thirst after righteousness. He who is afficted with any sort disease, hath ho hunger.
Jerome: It is not enough that we desire righteousness, unless we also suffer hunger for it, by which expression we may understand that we are never righteous enough, but always hunger after works of righteousness.
Pseudo-Chrys.: All good which men do not from love of the good itself is unpleasing before God. He hungers after righteousness who desires to walk according to the righteousness of God; he thirsts after righteousness who desires to get the knowledge thereof.
Chrys.: He may mean either general righteousness, or that particular virtue which is the opposite of covetousness. As He was going on to speak of mercy, He shews before hand of what kind our mercy should be, that it should not be of the gains of plunder or covetousness, hence He ascribes to righteousness that which is peculiar to avarice, namely, to hunger and thirst.
Hilary: The blessedness which He appropriates to those who hunger and thirst after righteousness shews that the deep longing of the saints for the doctrine of God shall receive perfect replenishment in heaven; then "they shall be filled."
Pseudo-Chrys.: Such is the bounty of a rewarding God, that His gifts are greater than the desires of the saints.
Aug.: Or He speaks of food with which they shall be filled at this present; to wit, that food of which the Lord spake, "My food is to do the will of my Father," that is, righteousness, and that water of which whoever drinks it shall be in him "a well of water springing up to life eternal."
Chrys.: Or, this is again a promise of a temporal reward; for as covetousness is thought to make many rich, He affirms on the contrary that righteousness rather makes rich, for He who loves righteousness possesses all things in safety.
Ver 7. "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."
Gloss.: Justice and mercy are so united, that the one ought to be mingled with the other; justice without mercy is cruelty; mercy without justice, profusion - hence He goes on to the one from the other.Remig.: The merciful is he who has a sad heart; he counts others’ misery his own, and is sad at their grief as at his own.
Jerome: Mercy here is not said only of alms, but is in every sin of a brother, if we bear one another’s burdens.
Aug.: He pronounces those blessed who succour the wretched, because they are rewarded in being themselves delivered from all misery; as it follows, "for they shall obtain mercy."
Hilary: So greatly is God pleased with our feelings of benevolence towards all men, that He will bestow His own mercy only on the merciful.
Chrys.: The reward here seems at first to be only an equal return; but indeed it is much more; for human mercy and divine mercy are not to be put on an equality.
Gloss. ap. Anselm: Justly is mercy dealt out to the merciful, that they should receive more than they had deserved; and as he who has more than enough receives more than he who has only enough, so the glory of mercy is greater than of the things hitherto mentioned.
Ver 8. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God."
Ambrose, in Luc., vi, 22: The merciful loses the benefit of his mercy, unless he shews it from a pure heart; for if he seeks to have whereof to boast, he loses the fruit of his deeds; the next that follows therefore is, "Blessed are the pure of heart."
Gloss. ap. Anselm: Purity of heart comes properly in the sixth place, because on the sixth day man was created in the image of God, which image was shrouded by sin, but is formed anew in pure hearts by grace. It follows rightly the beforementioned graces, because if they be not there, a clean heart is not created in a man.
Chrys.: By the pure are here meant those who possess a perfect goodness, conscious to themselves of no evil thoughts, or again those who live in such temperance as is mostly necessary to seeing God according to that of St. Paul, "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see God." For as there are many merciful, yet unchaste, to shew that mercy alone is not enough, he adds this concerning purity.
Jerome: The pure is known by purity of heart, for the temple of God cannot be impure.
Pseudo-Chrys.: He who in thought and deed fulfils all righteousness, "sees God" in his heart, for righteousness is an image of God, for God is righteousness. So far as any one has rescued himself from evil, and works things that are good, so far does he "see God," either hardly, or fully, or sometimes, or always, according to the capabilities of human nature. But in that world to come the pure in heart shall see God face to face, not in a glass, and in enigma as here.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 2: They are foolish who seek to see God with the bodily eye, seeing He is seen only by the heart, as it is elsewhere written, "In singleness of heart seek ye Him;" the single heart is the same as is here called the pure heart.
Aug., City of God, book 22, ch. 29: But if spiritual eyes in the spiritual body shall be able only to see so much as they we now have can see, undoubtedly God will not be able to be seen of them.
Aug., de Trin., i, 8: This seeing God is the reward of faith; to which end our hearts are made pure by faith, as it is written, "cleansing their hearts by faith;" [Acts 15:9] but the present verse proves this still more strongly.
Aug., de Genesi ad Literam. xii. 26: No one seeing God can be alive with the life men have on earth, or with these our bodily senses. Unless one die altogether out of this life, either by totally departing from the body, or so alienated from carnal lusts that he may truly say with the Apostle, "whether in the body or out of the body, I cannot tell," he is not translated that he should see this vision.
Gloss. non occ.: The reward of these is greater than the reward of the first; being not merely to dine in the King’s court, but further to see His face.
Ver 9. "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God."
Ambrose: When you have made your inward parts clean from every spot of sin, that dissentions and contentions may not proceed from your temper, begin peace within yourself, that so you may extend it to others.
Aug., City of God, book 19, ch. 13: Peace is the fixedness of order; by order, I mean an arrangement of things like and unlike giving to each its own place. And as there is no man who would not willingly have joy, so is there no man who would not have peace; since even those who go to war desire nothing more than by war to come to a glorious peace.
Jerome: The peacemakers [margin note: pacifici] are pronounced blessed, they namely who make peace first within their own hearts, then between brethren at variance. For what avails it to make peace between others, while in your own heart are wars of rebellious vices.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 2: The peacemakers within themselves are they who having stilled all disturbances of their spirits, having subjected them to reason, have overcome their carnal desires, and become the kingdom of God. There all things are so disposed, that that which is most chief and excellent in man, governs those parts which we have in common with the brutes, though they struggle against it; nay even that in man which is excellent is subjected to a yet greater, namely, the very Truth, the Son of God. For it would not be able to govern what is inferior to it, if it were not subject to what is above it. And this is the peace which is given on earth to men of good will.
Aug., Retract., i, 19: No man can attain in this life that there be not in his members a law resisting the law of his mind. But the peacemakers attain thus far by overcoming the lusts of the flesh, that in time they come to a most perfect peace.
Pseudo-Chrys.: The peacemakers with others are not only those who reconcile enemies, but those who unmindful of wrongs cultivate peace. That peace only is blessed which is lodged in the heart, and does not consist only in words. And they who love peace, they are the sons of peace.
Hilary: The blessedness of the peacemakers is the reward of adoption, "they shall be called the sons of God." For God is our common parent, and no other way can we pass into His family than by living in brotherly love together.
Chrys.: Or, if the peacemakers are they who do not contend one with another, but reconcile those that are at strife, they are rightly called the sons of God, seeing this was the chief employment of the Only-begotten Son, to reconcile things separated, to give peace to things at war.
Aug.: Or, because peace is then perfect when there is no where any opposition, the peacemakers are called the sons of God, because nothing resists God, and the children ought to bear the likeness of their Father.
Gloss. ap. Anselm: The peacemakers have thus the place of highest honour, inasmuch as he who is called the king’s son, is the highest in the king’s house. This beatitude is placed the seventh in order, because in the sabbath shall be given the repose of true peace, the six ages being passed away.
Ver 10. "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Chrys.: "Blessed are they who suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake," that is for virtue, for defending others, for piety, for all these things are spoken of under the title of righteousness. This follows the beatitude upon the peacemakers, that we may not be led to suppose that it is good to seek peace at all times.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 2: When peace is once firmly established within, whatever persecutions he who has been cast without raises, or carries on, he increases that glory which is in the sight of God.
Jerome: "For righteousness’ sake" He adds expressly, for many suffer persecution for their sins, and are not therefore righteous. Likewise consider how the eighth beatitude of the true circumcision is terminated by martyrdom. [margin note: vid. Philippians 3:2-3]
Pseudo-Chrys.: He said not, Blessed are they who suffer persecution of the Gentiles; that we may not suppose the blessing pronounced on those only who are persecuted for refusing to sacrifice to idols; yea, whoever suffers persecution of heretics because he will not forsake the truth is likewise blessed, seeing he suffers for righteousness.
Moreover, if any of the great ones, who seem to be Christians, being corrected by you on account of his sins, shall persecute you, you are blessed with John the Baptist. For if the Prophets are truly martyrs when they are killed by their own countrymen, without doubt he who suffers in the cause of God has the reward of martyrdom though he suffers from his own people.
Scripture therefore does not mention the persons of the persecutors, but only the cause of persecution, that you may learn to look, not by whom, but why you suffer.
Hilary: Thus, lastly, He includes those in the beatitude whose will is ready to suffer all things for Christ, who is our righteousness. For these then also is the kingdom preserved, for they are in the contempt of this world poor in spirit.
Aug.: Or, the eighth beatitude, as it were, returns to the commencement, because it shews the perfect complete character. In the first then and the eighth, the kingdom of heaven is named, for the seven go to make the perfect man, the eighth manifests and proves his perfectness, that all may be conducted to perfection by these steps.
Ambrose, in Luc., vi. 23: Otherwise; the first kingdom of heaven was promised to the Saints, in deliverance from the body; the second, that after the resurrection they should be with Christ. For after your resurrection you shall begin to possess the earth delivered from death, and in that possession shall find comfort.
Pleasure follows comfort, and Divine mercy pleasure. But on whom God has mercy, him He calls, and he whom He calls, beholds Him that called him. He who beholds God is adopted into the rights of divine birth, and then at length as the son of God is delighted with the riches of the heavenly kingdom. The first then begins, the last is perfected.
Chrys.: Wonder not if you do not hear ’the kingdom’ mentioned under each beatitude; for in saying "shall be comforted, shall find mercy," and the rest, in all these the kingdom of heaven is tacitly understood, so that you must not look for any of the things of sense. For indeed he would not be blessed who was to be crowned with those things which depart with this life.
Aug.: The number of these sentences should be carefully attended to; to these seven degrees of blessedness agree the operation of that seven-form Holy Spirit which Isaiah described. But as He began from the highest, so here He begins from the lowest; for there we are taught that the Son of God will descend to the lowest; here that man will ascend from the lowest to the likeness of God.
Here the first place is given to fear, which is suitable for the humble, of whom it is said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," that is, those who think not high things, but who fear.
The second is piety, which belongs to the meek; for he who seeks piously, reverences, does not find fault, does not resist; and this is to become meek.
The third is knowledge, which belongs to those that mourn, who have learned to what evils they are enslaved which they once pursued as goods.
The fourth, which is fortitude, rightly belongs to those who hunger and thirst, who seeking joy in true goods, labour to turn away from earthly lusts.
The fifth, counsel, is appropriate for the merciful, for there is one remedy to deliver from so great evils, viz. to give and to distribute to others.
The sixth is understanding, and belongs to the pure in heart, who with purged eye can see what eye seeth not.
The seventh is wisdom, and may be assigned to the peacemakers, in whom is no rebellious motion, but they obey the Spirit.
Thus the one reward, the kingdom of heaven, is put forth under various names. In the first, as was right, is placed the kingdom of heaven, which is the beginning of perfect wisdom; as if it should be said, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." To the meek, an inheritance, as to those who with piety seek the execution of a father’s will. To those that mourn, comfort, as to persons who know what they had lost, and in what they were immersed. To the hungry, plenty, as a refreshment to those who labour for salvation. To the merciful, mercy, that to those who have followed the best counsel, that may be shewed which they have shewed to others. To the pure in heart the faculty of seeing God, as to men bearing a pure eye to understand the things of eternity. To the peacemakers, the likeness of God. And all these things we believe may be attained in this life, as we believe they were fulfilled in the Apostles; for as to the things after this life they cannot be expressed in any words.
Ver11. "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake.12. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you."
Rabanus: The preceding blessings were general; He now begins to address His discourse to them that were present, foretelling them the persecutions which they should suffer for His name.
Aug.: It may be asked, what difference there is between ’they shall revile you,’ and ’shall speak all manner of evil of you;’ to revile, it may be said, being but to speak evil of. But a reproach thrown with insult in the face of one present is a different thing from a slander cast on the character of the absent. To persecute includes both open violence and secret snares.
Pseudo-Chrys.: But if it be true that he who offers a cup of water does not lose his reward, consequently he who has been wronged but by a single word of calumny, shall not be without a reward. But that the reviled may have a claim to this blessing, two things are necessary, it must be false, and it must be for God’s sake; otherwise he has not the reward of this blessing; therefore He adds, "falsely for my sake."
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 5: This I suppose was added because of those who wish to boast of persecutions and evil reports of their shame, and therefore claim to belong to Christ because many evil things are said of them; but either these are true, or when false yet they are not for Christ’s sake.
Greg., Hom. in Ezech. i. 9, 17: What hurt can you receive when men detract from you, though you have no defence but only your own conscience? But as we ought not to stir up wilfully the tongues of slanderers, lest they perish for their slander, yet when their own malice has instigated them, we should endure it with equanimity, that our merit may be added to.
"Rejoice," He says, "and exult, for your reward is abundant in heaven."
Gloss. ap. Anselm: Rejoice, that is, in mind, exult with the body, for your reward is not great only but "abundant in heaven."
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 5: Do not suppose that by heaven here is meant the upper regions of the sky of this visible world, for your reward is not to be placed in things that are seen, but by "in heaven" understand the spiritual firmament, where everlasting righteousness dwells. Those then whose joy is in things spiritual will even here have some foretaste of that reward; but it will be made perfect in every part when this mortal shall have put on immortality.
Jerome: This it is in the power of any one of us to attain, that when our good character is injured by calumny, we rejoice in the Lord. He only who seeks after empty glory cannot attain this. Let us then rejoice and exult, that our reward may be prepared for us in heaven.
Pseudo-Chrys.: For by how much any is pleased with the praise of men, by so much is he grieved with their evil speaking. But if you seek your glory in heaven, you will not fear any slanders on earth.
Gregory, Hom. in Ezech., i, 9, 17: Yet ought we sometimes to check our defamers, lest by spreading evil reports of us, they corrupt the innocent hearts of those who might hear good from us.
Gloss. non occ.: He invites them to patience not only by the prospect of reward, but by example, when He adds, "for so persecuted they the Prophets who were before you."
Remig.: For a man in sorrow receives great comfort from the recollection of the sufferings of others, who are set before him as an example of patience; as if He had said, Remember that ye are His Apostles, of whom also they were Prophets.
Chrys.: At the same time He signifies His equality in honour with His Father, as if He had said, As they suffered for my Father, so shall ye suffer for me. And in saying, "The Prophets who were before you," He teaches that they themselves are already become Prophets.
Aug.: "Persecuted" He says generally, comprehending both reproaches and defamation of character.
Ver 13. "Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men."
Chrys.: When He had delivered to His Apostles such sublime precepts, so much greater than the precepts of the Law, that they might not be dismayed and say, How shall we be able to fulfil these things? He sooths their fears by mingling praises with His instructions, saying, "Ye are the salt of the earth." This shews them how necessary were these precepts for them. Not for your own salvation merely, or for a single nation, but for the whole world is this doctrine committed to you. It is not for you then to flatter and deal smoothly with men, but, on the contrary, to be rough and biting as salt is. When for thus offending men by reproving them ye are reviled, rejoice; for this is the proper effect of salt to be harsh and grating to the depraved palate. Thus the evil-speaking of others will bring you no inconvenience, but will rather be a testimony of your firmness.
Hilary: There may be here seen a propriety in our Lord’s language which may be gathered by considering the Apostle’s office, and the nature of salt. This, used as it is by men for almost every purpose, preserves from decay those bodies which are sprinkled with it; and in this, as well as in every sense of its flavour as a condiment, the parallel is most exact.
The Apostles are preachers of heavenly things, and thus, as it were, salters with eternity; rightly called "the salt of the earth," as by the virtue of their teaching, they, as it were, salt and preserve bodies for eternity.
Remig.: Moreover, salt is changed into another kind of substance by three means, water, the heat of the sun, and the breath of the wind. Thus Apostolic men also were changed into spiritual regeneration by the water of baptism, the heat of love, and the breath of the Holy Spirit. That heavenly wisdom also, which the Apostles preached, dries up the humours of carnal works, removes the foulness and putrefaction of evil conversation, kills the work of lustful thoughts, and also that worm of which it is said "their worm dieth not." [Isaiah 66:24]
Remig.: The Apostles are "the salt of the earth," that is, of worldly men who are called the earth, because they love this earth.
Jerome: Or, because by the Apostles the whole human race is seasoned.
Pseudo-Chrys.: A doctor when he is adorned with all the preceding virtues, then is like good salt, and his whole people are salted by seeing and hearing him.
Remig.: It should be known, that in the Old Testament no sacrifice was offered to God unless it were first sprinkled with salt, for none can present an acceptable sacrifice to God without the flavour of heavenly wisdom.
Hilary: And because man is ever liable to change, He therefore warns the Apostles, who have been entitled "the salt of the earth," to continue steadfast in the might of the power committed to them, when He adds, "If the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?"
Jerome: That is, if the doctor have erred, by what other doctor shall he be corrected?
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 6: If you by whom the nations are to be salted shall lose the kingdom of heaven through fear of temporal persecution, who are they by whom your error shall be corrected? Another copy has, "If the salt have lost all sense," shewing that they must be esteemed to have lost their sense, who either pursuing abundance, or fearing lack of temporal goods, lose those which are eternal, and which men can neither give nor take away.
Hilary: But if the doctors having become senseless, and having lost all the savour they once enjoyed, are unable to restore soundness to things corrupt, they are become useless; and "are thenceforth fit only to be cast out and trodden by men."
Jerome: The illustration is taken from husbandry. Salt, though it be necessary for seasoning of meats and preserving flesh, has no further use. Indeed we read in Scripture of vanquished cities sown with salt by the victors, that nothing should thenceforth grow there.
Gloss. ap. Anselm: When then they who are the heads have fallen away, they are fit for no use but to be cast out from the office of teacher.Hilary: Or even cast out from the Church’s store rooms to be trodden under foot by those that walk.
Aug.: Not he that suffers persecution is trodden under foot of men, but he who through fear of persecution falls away. For we can tread only on what is below us; but he is no way below us, who however much he may suffer in the body, yet has his heart fixed in heaven.
Ver 14. "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid."
Gloss: As the doctors by their good conversation are the salt with which the people is salted; so by their word of doctrine they are the light by which the ignorant are enlightened.
Pseudo-Chrys.: But to live well must go before to teach well; hence after He had called the Apostles "the salt," He goes on to call them "the light of the world."
Or, for that salt preserves a thing in its present state that it should not change for the worse, but that light brings it into a better state by enlightening it; therefore the Apostles were first called salt with respect to the Jews and that Christian body which had the knowledge of God, and which they keep in that knowledge; and now light with respect to the Gentiles whom they bring to the light of that knowledge.
Aug.: By the world here we must not understand heaven and earth, but the men who are in the world; or those who love the world for whose enlightenment the Apostles were sent.
Hilary: It is the nature of a light to emit its rays whithersoever it is carried about, and when brought into a house to dispel the darkness of that house. Thus the world, placed beyond the pale of the knowledge of God, was held in the darkness of ignorance, till the light of knowledge was brought to it by the Apostles, and thenceforward the knowledge of God shone bright, and from their small bodies, whithersoever they went about, light is ministered to the darkness.
Remig.: For as the sun sends forth his beams, so the Lord, the Sun of righteousness, sent forth his Apostles to dispel the night of the human race.
Chrys.: Mark how great His promise to them, men who were scarce known in their own country that the fame of them should reach to the ends of the earth. The persecutions which He had foretold, were not able to dim their light, yea they made it but more conspicuous.
Jerome: He instructs them what should be the boldness of their preaching, that as Apostles they should not be hidden through fear, like lamps under a corn-measure, but should stand forth with all confidence, and what they have heard in the secret chambers, that declare upon the house tops.
Chrys.: Thus shewing them that they ought to be careful of their own walk and conversation, seeing they were set in the eyes of all, like a city on a hill, or a lamp on a stand.
Pseudo-Chrys.: This city is the Church of which it is said, "Glorious things are spoken of thee, thou city of God." [Psalms 87:3] Its citizens are all the faithful, of whom the Apostle speaks, "Ye are fellow-citizens of the saints." [Ephesians 2:19] It is built upon Christ the hill, of whom Daniel thus, "A stone hewed without hands" [Daniel 2:34] became a great mountain.
Aug.: Or, the mountain is the great righteousness, which is signified by the mountain from which the Lord is now teaching.
Pseudo-Chrys.: "A city set on a hill cannot be hidden" though it would; the mountain which bears makes it to be seen of all men; so the Apostles and Priests who are founded on Christ cannot be hidden even though they would, because Christ makes them manifest.
Hilary: Or, the city signifies the flesh which He had taken on Him; because that in Him by this assumption of human nature, there was as it were a collection of the human race, and we by partaking in His flesh become inhabitants of that city. He cannot therefore be hid, because being set in the height of God’s power, He is offered to be contemplated of all men in admiration of his works.
Pseudo-Chrys.: How Christ manifests His saints, suffering them not to be hid, He shews by another comparison, adding, "Neither do men light a lamp to put it under a corn-measure," but on a stand.
Chrys.: Or, in the illustration of the city, He signified His own power, by the lamp He exhorts the Apostles to preach with boldness; as though He said, ’I indeed have lighted the lamp, but that it continue to burn will be your care, not for your own sakes only, but both for others who shall receive its light and for God’s glory.’
Pseudo-Chrys.: The lamp is the Divine word, of which it is said, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet." [Psalms 119:105] They who light this lamp are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Aug.: With what meaning do we suppose the words, "to put it under a corn-measure," were said? To express concealment simply, or that the "corn-measure" has a special signification? The putting the lamp under the corn-measure means the preferring bodily ease and enjoyment to the duty of preaching the Gospel, and hiding the light of good teaching under temporal gratification. The corn-measure aptly denotes the things of the body, whether because our reward shall be measured out to us, [2 Corinthians 5:10] as each one shall receive the things done in the body; or because worldly goods which pertain to the body come and go within a certain measure of time, which is signified by the corn-measure, whereas things eternal and spiritual are contained within no such limit.
He places his lamp upon a stand, who subdues his body to the ministry of the word, setting the preaching of the truth highest, and subjecting the body beneath it. For the body itself serves to make doctrine shine more clear, while the voice and other motions of the body in good works serve to recommend it to them that learn.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, men of the world may be figured in the "corn-measure" as these are empty above, but full beneath, so worldly men are foolish in spiritual things, but wise in earthly things, and therefore like a corn-measure they keep the word of God hid, whenever for any worldly cause he had not dared to proclaim the word openly, and the truth of the faith. The stand for the lamp is the Church which bears the word of life, and all ecclesiastical persons. [margin note: Philippians 2:15]
Hilary: Or, the Lord likened the Synagogue to a corn-measure, which only receiving within itself such fruit as was raised; contained a certain measure of limited obedience.
Ambrose. non occ.: And therefore let none shut up his faith within the measure of the Law, but have recourse to the Church in which the grace of the sevenfold Spirit shines forth.
Bede, in Loc. quoad sens.: Or, Christ Himself has lighted this lamp, when He filled the earthen vessel of human nature with the fire of His Divinity, which He would not either hide from them that believe, nor put under a bushel that is shut up under the measure of the Law, or confine within the limits of any one oration. The lampstand is the Church, on which He set the lamp, when He affixed to our foreheads the faith of His incarnation.
Hilary: Or, the lamp, i.e. Christ Himself, is set on its stand when He was suspended on the Cross in His passion, to give light for ever to those that dwell in the Church; "to give light," He says, "to all that are in the house."
Aug.: For it is not absurd if any one will understand "the house" to be the Church.
Or, "the house" may be the world itself, according to what He said above, "Ye are the light of the world."
Hilary: He instructs the Apostles to shine with such a light, that in the admiration of their work God may be praised, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works."
Pseudo-Chrys.: That is, teaching with so pure a light, that men may not only hear your words, but see your works, that those whom as lamps ye have enlightened by the word, as salt ye may season by your example. For by those teachers who do as well as teach, God is magnified; for the discipline of the master is seen in the behavior of the family.
And therefore it follows, "and they shall glorify your Father which is in heaven."
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 7: Had He only said, "That they may see your good works," He would have seemed to have set up as an end to be sought the praised of men, which the hypocrites desire; but by adding, "and glorify your Father," he teaches that we should not seek as an end to please men with our good works, but referring all to the glory of God, therefore seek to please men, that in that God may be glorified.
Hilary: He means not that we should seek glory of men, but that though we conceal it, our work may shine forth in honour of God to those among whom we live.
Ver 17. "Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.18. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.19. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."
Gloss. ord.: Having now exhorted His hearers to undergo all things for righteousness’ sake, and also not to hide what they should receive, but to learn more for others’ sake, that they may teach others, He now goes on to tell them what they should teach, as though He had been asked, ’What is this which you would not have hid, and for which you would have all things endured? Are you about to speak any thing beyond what is written in the Law and the Prophets;’ hence it is He says, "Think not that I am come to subvert the Law or the Prophets."Pseudo-Chrys.: And that for two reasons. First, that by these words He might admonish His disciples, that as He fulfilled the Law, so they should strive to fulfil it. Secondly, because the Jews would falsely accuse them as subverting the Law, therefore he answers the calumny beforehand, but in such a manner as that He should not be thought to come simply to preach the Law as the Prophets had done.
Remig.: He here asserts two things; He denies that He was come to subvert the Law, and affirms that He was come to fulfil it.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 8: In this last sentence again there is a double sense; to fulfil the Law, either by adding something which it had not, or by doing what it commands.
Chrys., Hom. 16: Christ then fulfilled the Prophets by accomplishing what was therein foretold concerning Himself - and the Law, first, by transgressing none of its precepts; secondly, by justifying by faith, which the Law could not do by the letter.
Aug., cont. Faust., 19, 7. et seq.: And lastly, because even for them who were under grace, it was hard in this mortal life to fulfil that of the Law, "Thou shalt not lust," He being made a Priest by the sacrifice of His flesh, obtained for us this indulgence, even in this fulfilling the Law, that where through our infirmity we could not, we should be strengthened through His perfection, of whom as our head we all are members.
For so I think must be taken these words, "to fulfil" the Law, by adding to it, that is, such things as either contribute to the explanation of the old glosses, or to enable to keep them. For the Lord has shewed us that even a wicked motion of the thoughts to the wrong of a brother is to be accounted a kind of murder.
The Lord also teaches us, that it is better to keep near to the truth without swearing, than with a true oath to come near to blasphemy.
But how, ye Manichaeans, do you not receive the Law and the Prophets, seeing Christ here says, that He is come not to subvert but to fulfil them? To this the heretic Faustus replies [ed. note: Faustus was of Milevis in Africa and a Bishop and controversialist of the Manichees. He was a man of considerable abilities. Augustine was first his hearer, and in after years his opponent; and in his work against him he answers him seriatim. In this way the treatise of Faustus is preserved to us.], Whose testimony is there that Christ spoke this? That of Matthew.
How was it then that John does not give this saying, who was with Him in the mount, but only Matthew, who did not follow Jesus till after He had come down from the mount? To this Augustine replies, If none can speak truth concerning Christ, but who saw and heard Him, there is no one at this day who speaks truth concerning Him.
Why then could not Matthew hear from John’s mouth the truth as Christ had spoken, as well as we who are born so long after can speak the truth out of John’s book? In the same manner also it is, that not Matthew’s Gospel, but also these of Luke and Mark are received by us, and on no inferior authority. And, that the Lord Himself might have told Matthew the things He had done before He called him.
But speak out and say that you do not believe the Gospel, for they who believe nothing in the Gospel but what they wish to believe, believe themselves rather than the Gospel. To this Faustus rejoins, We will prove that this was not written by Matthew, but by some other hand, unknown, in his name. For below he says, "Jesus saw a man sitting at the toll-office, Matthew by name." [Matthew 9:9] Who writing of himself say, ’saw a man,’ and not rather, ’saw me?’ Augustine; Matthew does no more than John does, when he says, "Peter turning round saw that other disciple whom Jesus loved;" as it is well known that this is the common manner of Scripture writers, when writing their own actions.
Faustus again, But what say you to this, that the very assurance that He was not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets, was the direct way to rouse their suspicions that He was? For He had yet done nothing that could lead the Jews to think that this was His object. Augustine; This is a very weak objection, for we do not deny that to the Jews who had no understanding, Christ might have appeared as threatening the destruction of the Law and the Prophets.
Faustus; But what if the Law and the Prophets do not accept this fulfilment, according to that in Deuteronomy, "These commandments I give unto thee, thou shalt keep, thou shalt not add any thing to them, nor take away." Augustine; Here Faustus does not understand what it is to fulfil the Law, when he supposes that it must be taken of adding words to it. The fulfilment of the Law is love, which the Lord hath given in sending His Holy Spirit. The Law is fulfilled either when the things there commanded are done, or when the things there prophesied come to pass.
Faustus; But in that we confess that Jesus was author of a New Testament, what else is it than to confess that He has done away with the Old? Augustine; In the Old Testament were figure of things to come, which, when the things themselves were brought in by Christ, ought to have been taken away, that in that very taking away the Law and the Prophets might be fulfilled wherein it was written that God gave a New Testament.
Faustus; Therefore if Christ did say this thing, He either said it with some other meaning, or He spoke falsely, (which God forbid,) or we must take the other alternative, He did not speak it at all. But that Jesus spoke falsely none will aver, therefore He either spoke it with another meaning, or He spake it not at all. For myself I am rescued from the necessity of this alternative by the Manichaean belief, which from the first taught me not to believe all those things which are read in Jesus’ name as having been spoken by Him; for that there be many tares which to corrupt the good seed some nightly sower has scattered up and down through nearly the whole of Scripture.
Augustine; Manichaeus taught an impious error, that you should receive only so much of the Gospel as does not conflict with your heresy, and not receive whatever does conflict with it. We have learned of the Apostle that religious caution, "Whoever preaches unto you another Gospel than that we have preached, let him be accursed." [Galatians 1:8] The Lord also has explained what the tares signify, not things false mixed with the true Scriptures, as you interpret, but men who are children of the wicked one.
Faustus; Should a Jew then enquire of you why you do not keep the precepts of the Law and the Prophets which Christ here declares He came not to destroy but to fulfil, you will be driven either to accept an empty superstition, or to repudiate this chapter as false, or to deny that you are Christ’s disciple.
Augustine; The Catholics are not in any difficulty on account of this chapter as though they did not observe the Law and the Prophets; for they do cherish love to God and their neighbour, "on which hang all the Law and the Prophets." And whatever in the Law and the Prophets was foreshewn, whether in things done, in the celebration of sacramental rites, or in forms of speech, all these they know to be fulfilled in Christ and the Church. Wherefore we neither submit to a false superstition, nor reject the chapter, nor deny ourselves to be Christ’s disciples. He then who says, that unless Christ had destroyed the Law and the Prophets, the Mosaic rites would have continued along with the Christian ordinances, may further affirm, that unless Christ had destroyed the Law and the Prophets, He would yet be only promised as to be born, to suffer, to rise again. But inasmuch as He did not destroy, but rather fulfil them, His birth, passion, and resurrection, are now no more promised as things future, which were signified by the Sacraments of the Law; but He is preached as already born, crucified, and risen, which are signified by the Sacraments now celebrated by Christians.
It is clear then how great is the error of those who suppose, that when the signs or sacraments are changed, the things themselves are different, whereas the same things which the Prophetic ordinance had held forth as promises, the Evangelic ordinance points to as completed.
Faustus: Supposing these to be Christ’s genuine words, we should enquire what was His motive for speaking thus, whether to soften the blind hostility of the Jews, who when they saw their holy things trodden under foot by Him, would not have so much as given Him a hearing; or whether He really said them to instruct us, who of the Gentiles should believe, to submit to the yoke of the Law. If this last were not His design, then the first must have been; nor was there any deceit or fraud in such purpose.
For of laws there be three sorts. The first that of the Hebrews, called the "law of sin and death," [Romans 8:2] by Paul; the second that of the Gentiles, which he calls the law of nature, saying, "By nature the Gentiles do the deeds of the law;" [Romans 2:14] the third, the law of truth, which he means, "The law of the Spirit of life." Also there are Prophets some of the Jews, such as are well known; others of the Gentiles as Paul speaks, "A prophet of their own hath said;" [Titus 1:12] and others of the truth of whom Jesus speaks, "I send unto you wise men and prophets." [Matthew 23:34]
Now had Jesus in the following part of this Sermon brought forward any of the Hebrew observances to shew how he had fulfilled them, no one would have doubted that it was of the Jewish Law and Prophets that He was now speaking; but when He brings forward in this way only those more ancient precepts, "Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not commit adultery," which were promulged of old to Enoch, Seth, and the other righteous men, who does not see that He is here speaking of the Law and Prophets of truth? Wherever He has occasion to speak of any thing merely Jewish, He plucks it up by the very roots, giving precepts directly the contrary; for example, in the case of that precept, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."
Augustine; Which was the Law and which the Prophets, that Christ came "not to subvert but to fulfil," is manifest, to wit, the Law given by Moses. And the distinction which Faustus draw between the precepts of the righteous men before Moses, and the Mosaic Law, affirming that Christ fulfilled that one but annulled the other, is not so. We affirm that the Law of Moses was both well suited to its temporary purpose, and was not now subverted, but fulfilled by Christ, as will be seen in each particular. This was not understood by those who continued in such obstinate error, that they compelled the Gentiles to Judaize - those heretics, I mean, who were called Nazarenes.
Pseudo-Chrys.: But since all things which should befall from the very beginning of the world to the end of it, were in type and figure foreshewn in the Law, that God may not be thought to be ignorant of any of those things that take place, He therefore here declares, that heaven and earth should not pass till all things thus foreshewn in the Law should have their actual accomplishment.
Remig.: "Amen" is a Hebrew word, and my be rendered in Latin, ’vere,’ ’fidenter,’ or ’fiat;’ that is, ’truly,’ ’faithfully,’ or ’so be it.’ The Lord uses it either because of the hardness of heart of those who were slow to believe, or to attract more particularly the attention of those that did believe.
Hilary: From the expression here used, "pass," we may suppose that the constituting elements of heaven and earth shall not be annihilated. [ed. note: The text of Hil. has ’maxima, ut arbitramur, elementa esse solvends.’]
Remig.: But shall abide in their essence, but "pass" through renewal.
Aug., Serm. in Mont. i, 8: By the words "one iota or one point shall not pass from the Law," we must understand only a strong metaphor of completeness, drawn from the letters of writing, iota being the least of the letters, made with one stroke of the pen, and a point being a slight dot at the end of the same letter. The words there shew that the Law shall be completed to the very least matter.
Rabanus: He fitly mentions the Greek iota, and not the Hebrew job, because the iota stands in Greek for the number ten, and so there is an allusion to the Decalogue of which the Gospel is the point and perfection.
Pseudo-Chrys.: If even an honourable man blushes to be found in a falsehood, and a wise man lets not fall empty any word he has once spoken, how could it be that the words of heaven should fall to the ground empty? Hence He concludes, "Whoso shall break the least of these commandments, &c." And, I suppose, the Lord goes on to reply Himself to the question, Which are the least commandments? Namely, these which I am now about to speak.
Chrys.: He speaks not this of the old laws, but of those which He was now going to enact, of which he says, "the least," though they were all great. For as He so oft spoke humbly of Himself, so does He now speak humbly of His precepts.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Otherwise; the precepts of Moses are easy to obey; "Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery." The very greatness of the crime is a check upon the desire of committing it; therefore the reward of observance is small, the sin of transgression great.
But Christ’s precepts, "Thou shalt not be angry, Thou shalt not lust," are hard to obey, and therefore in their reward they are great, in their transgression, ’least.’ It is thus He speaks of these precepts of Christ, such as "Thou shalt not be angry, Thou shalt not lust,’ as ’the least;’ and they who commit these lesser sins, are the least in the kingdom of God; that is, he who has been angry and not sinned grievously is secure from the punishment of eternal damnation; yet he does not attain that glory which they attain who fulfil even these least.
Aug.: Or, the precepts of the Law are called ’the least,’ as opposed to Christ’s precepts which are great. The least commandments are signified by the iota and the point. "He," therefore, "who breaks them, and teaches men so," that is, to do as he does, "shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven." Hence we may perhaps conclude, that it is not true that there shall none be there except they be great.
Gloss. ord.: By ’break,’ is meant, the not doing what one understands rightly, or the not understanding what one has corrupted, or the destroying the perfectness of Christ’s additions.
Chrys.: Or, when you hear the words, "least in the kingdom of heaven," imagine nothing less than the punishment of hell. For He oft uses the word ’kingdom,’ not only of the joys of heaven, but of the time of the resurrection, and of the terrible coming of Christ.
Greg., Hom. in Ev., 12, 1: Or, by the kingdom of heaven is to be understood the Church, in which that teacher who breaks a commandment is called least, because he whose life is despised, it remains that his preaching be also despised.
Hilary: Or, He calls the passion, and the cross, the least, which if one shall not confess openly, but be ashamed of them, he shall be least, that is, last, and as it were no man; but to him that confesses it He promises the great glory of a heavenly calling.
Jerome: This head is closely connected with the preceding. It is directed against the Pharisees, who, despising the commandments of God, set up traditions of their own, and means that their teaching the people would not avail themselves, if they destroyed the very least commandment in the Law.
We may take it in another sense. The learning of the master if joined with sin however small, loses him the highest place, nor does it avail any to teach righteousness, if he destroys it in his life. Perfect bliss is for him who fulfils in deed what he teaches in word.
Aug.: Otherwise; "he who breaks the least of these commandments," that is, of Moses’ Law, "and teaches men so, shall be called the least; but he who shall do (these least), and so teach," shall not indeed be esteemed great, yet not so little as he who breaks them. That he should be great, he ought to do and to teach the things which Christ now teaches.
Ver 20. "For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.21. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:22. But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."
Hilary: Beautiful entrance He here makes to a teaching beyond the works of the Law, declaring to the Apostles that they should have no admission to the kingdom of heaven without a righteousness beyond that of Pharisees.
Chrys.: By righteousness is here meant universal virtue. But observe the superior power of grace, in that He requires of His disciples who were yet uninstructed to be better than those who were masters unto the Old Testament. Thus He does not call the Scribes and Pharisees unrighteous, but speaks of "their righteousness." And see how ever herein He confirms the Old Testament that He compares it with the New, for the greater and the less are always of the same kind.
Pseudo-Chrys.: The righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees are the commandments of Moses; but the commandments of Christ are the fulfilment of that Law. This then is His meaning; Whosoever in addition to the commandments of the Law shall not fulfil My commandments, shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. For those indeed save from the punishment due to transgressors of the Law, but do not bring into the kingdom; but My commandments both deliver from punishment, and bring into the kingdom.
But seeing that to break the least commandments and not to keep them are one and the same, why does He say above of him that breaks the commandments, that "he shall be the least in the kingdom of heaven," and here of him who keeps them not, that he "shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven?" See how to be the least in the kingdom is the same with not entering into the kingdom. For a man to be in the kingdom is not to reign with Christ, but only to be numbered among Christ’s people; what He says then of him that breaks the commandments is, that he shall indeed be reckoned among Christians, yet the least of them. but he who enters into the kingdom, becomes partaker of His kingdom with Christ. Therefore he who does not enter into the kingdom of heaven, shall not indeed have a part of Christ’s glory, yet shall he be in the kingdom of heaven, that is, in the number of those over whom Christ reigns as King of heaven.Aug., City of God, book 20, ch. 9: Otherwise, "unless your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees," that is, exceed that of those who break what themselves teach, as it is elsewhere said of them, "They say, and do not;" [Matthew 23:3] just as if He had said, Unless your righteousness exceed in this way that ye do what ye teach, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.
We must therefore understand something other than usual by the kingdom of heaven here, in which are to be both he who breaks what he teaches, and he who does it, but the one "least," the other, "great;" this kingdom of heaven is the present Church. In another sense is the kingdom of heaven spoken of that place where none enters but he who does what he teaches, and this is the Church as it shall be hereafter.
Aug., cont. Faust., 19, 31: This expression, the kingdom of heaven, so often used by our Lord, I know not whether any one would find in the books of the Old Testament. It belongs properly to the New Testament revelation, kept for His mouth whom the Old Testament figured as a King that should come to reign over His servants. This end, to which its precepts were to be referred, was hidden in the Old Testament, though even that had its saints who looked forward to the revelation that should be made.
Gloss. non occ.: Or, we may explain by referring to the way in which the Scribes and Pharisees understood the Law, not to the actual contents of the Law.
Aug., cont. Faust., 19, 30: For almost all the precepts which the Lord gave, saying, "But I say unto you," are found in those ancient books. But because they knew not of any murder, besides the destruction of the body, the Lord shews them that every evil thought to the hurt of a brother is to be held for a kind of murder.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Christ willing to shew that He is the same God who spoke of old in the Law, and who now gives commandments in grace, now puts first of all his commandments, [margin note: vid. Matthew 19:18] that one which was the first in the Law, first, at least, of all those that forbade injury to our neighbour.
Aug., City of God, book 1, ch. 20: We do not, because we have heard that, "Thou shalt not kill," deem it therefore unlawful to pluck a twig, according to the error of the Manichees, nor consider it to extend to irrational brutes; by the most righteous ordinance of the Creator their life and death is subservient to our needs.
There remains, therefore, only man of whom we can understand it, and that not any other man, nor you only; for he who kills himself does nothing else but kill a man. Yet have not they in any way done contrary to this commandment who have waged wars under God’s authority, or they who charged with the administration of civil power have by most just and reasonable orders inflicted death upon criminals. Also Abraham was not charged with cruelty, but even received the praise of piety, for that he was willing to obey God in slaying his son.
Those are to be excepted from this command whom God commands to be put to death, either by a general law given, or by particular admonition at any special time. For he is not the slayer who ministers to the command, like a hilt to one smiting with a sword, nor is Samson otherwise to be acquitted for destroying himself along with his enemies, than because he was so instructed privily of the Holy Spirit, who through him wrought the miracles.
Chrys.: This, "it was said by them of old time," shews that it was long ago that they had received this precept. He says this that He might rouse His sluggish hearers to proceed to more sublime precepts, as a teacher might say to an indolent boy, Know you not how long time you have spent already in merely learning to spell? In that, "I say unto you," mark the authority of the legislator, none of the old Prophets spoke thus; but rather, "Thus saith the Lord." They as servants repeated the commands of their Lord; He as a Son declared the will of His Father, which was also His own. They preached to their fellow servants; He as master ordained a law for his slaves.
Aug., City of God, 4, 4: There are two different opinions among philosophers concerning the passions of the mind: the Stoics do not allow that any passion is incident to the wise man; the Peripatetics affirm that they are incident to the wise man but in a moderate degree and subject to reason; as, for example, when mercy is shewn in such a manner that justice is preserved. But in the Christian rule we do not enquire whether the mind is first affected with anger or with sorrow, but whence.
Pseudo-Chrys.: He who is angry without cause shall be judged; but he who is angry with cause shall not be judged. For if there were no anger, neither teaching would profit, nor judgments hold, nor crimes be controlled. So that he who on just cause is not angry, is in sin; for an unreasonable patience sows vices, breeds carelessness, and invites the good as well as the bad to do evil.
Jerome: Some copies add here the words, without cause; but by the true reading [ed. note: Vid. also in Eph. iv. 31. Augustine says the same speaking of Greek codd. Retract. i. 19. Cassian rejects it too, Institut. viii. 20. Erasmus, Bengel. follow. vid. Wetstein. in loc. who would keep the word on the ground of a "consensus," of Greek and Latin Fathers and Versions. There is an agreement of existed MSS. also.] the precept is made unconditional, and anger altogether forbidden. For when we are told to pray for them that persecute us, all occasion of anger is taken away. The words "without cause" then must be erased, for "the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God."
Pseudo-Chrys.: Yet that anger which arises from just cause is indeed not anger, but a sentence of judgment. For anger properly means a feeling of passion; but he whose anger arises from just cause does not suffer any passion, and is rightly said to sentence, not to be angry with.
Aug., Retract., i, 19: This also we affirm should be taken into consideration, what is being angry with a brother; for he is not angry with a brother who is angry at his offence. He then it is who is angry without cause, who is angry with his brother, and not with the offence.
Aug., City of God, book 14, ch. 9: But to be angry with a brother to the end that he may be corrected, there is no man of sound mind who forbids. Such sort of motions as come of love of good and of holy charity, are not to be called vices when they follow right reason.
Pseudo-Chrys.: But I think that Christ does not speak of anger of the flesh, but anger of the heart; for the flesh cannot be so disciplined as not to feel the passion. When then a man is angry but refrains from doing what his anger prompts him, his flesh is angry, but his heart is free from anger.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 9: And there is this same distinction between the first case here put by the Saviour and the second: in the first case there is one thing, the passion; in the second two, anger and speech following thereupon, "He who saith to his brother, Raca, is in danger of the council." Some seek the interpretation of this word in the Greek, and think that "Raca" means ragged, from the Greek, a rag. But more probably it is not a word of any meaning, but a mere sound expressing the passion of the mind, which grammarians call an interjection, such as the cry of pain, ’hen.’
Chrys.: Or, Racha is a word signifying contempt, and worthlessness. For where we in speaking to servants or children say, Go thou, or, Tell thou him; in Syriac they would say Racha for ’thou.’ For the Lord descends to the smallest trifles even of our behaviour, and bids us treat one another with mutual respect.
Jerome: Or, Racha is a Hebrew word signifying, ’empty,’ ’vain;’ as we might say in the common phrase of reproach, ’empty-pate.’ Observe that He says brother; for who is our brother, but he who has the same Father as ourselves?
Pseudo-Chrys.: And it were an unworthy reproach to him who has in him the Holy Spirit to call him ’empty.’
Aug.: In the third case are three things; anger, the voice expressive of anger, and a word of reproach, "Thou fool." Thus here are three different degrees of sin; in the first when one is angry, but keeps the passion in his heart without giving any sign of it. If again he suffers any sound expressive of the passion to escape him, it is more than had he silently suppressed the rising anger; and if he speaks a word which conveys a direct reproach, it is a yet greater sin.
Pseudo-Chrys.: But as none is empty who has the Holy Spirit, so none is a fool who has the knowledge of Christ; and if Racha signifies ’empty,’ it is one and the same thing, as far as the meaning of the word goes, to say Racha, or ’thou fool.’
But there is a difference in the meaning of the speaker; for Racha was a word in common use among the Jews, not expressing wrath or hate, but rather in a light careless way expressing confident familiarity, not anger. But you will perhaps say, if Racha is not an expression of wrath, how is it then a sin? Because it is said for contention, not for edification; and if we ought not to speak even good words but for the sake of edification, how much more not such as are in themselves bad?
Aug.: Here we have three arraignments, the judgement, the council, and hell-fire, being different stages ascending from the lesser to the greater. For in the judgment there is yet opportunity for defence; to the council belongs the respite of the sentence, what time the judges confer among themselves what sentence ought to be inflicted; in the third, hell-fire, condemnation is certain, and the punishment fixed. Hence is seen what a difference is between the righteousness of the Pharisees and Christ; in the first, murder subjects a man to judgment; in the second, anger alone, which is the least of the three degrees of sin.
Rabanus: The Saviour here names the torments of hell, Gehenna, a name thought to be derived from a valley consecrated to idols near Jerusalem, and filled of old with dead bodies, and defiled by Josiah, as we read in the Book of Kings.
Chrys.: This is the first mention of hell, though the kingdom of Heaven had been mentioned some time before, which shews that the gifts of the one come of His love, the condemnation of the other of our sloth.
Many thinking this a punishment too severe for a mere word, say that this was said figuratively. But I fear that if we thus cheat ourselves with words here, we shall suffer punishment in deed there. Think not then this too heavy a punishment, when so many sufferings and sins have their beginning in a word; a little word has often begotten a murder, and overturned whole cities. And yet it is not to be thought a little word that denies a brother reason and understanding by which we are men, and differ from the brutes.
Pseudo-Chrys.: "In danger of the council;" that is, (according to the interpretation given by the Apostles in the Constitutions,) in danger of being one of that Council which condemned Christ. [ed. note, e: This remark is not found in the Apostolical Constitutions as we now have them. The text in question, however, is quoted in ii. 32 and 50. So again the comment on Matt. vi. 3. is not found in the Constitutions, though the text is quoted. vid. Coteler, in Constit. iii. 14. The passage quoted in Matt. xxvi. 18, is found in Constit. viii. 2. vid. also Usser. Dissert. ix. Pearson. Vind. Ign. p. 1. c. 4 fin.]
Hilary: Or, he who reproaches with emptiness one full of the Holy Spirit, will be arraigned in the assembly of the Saints, and by their sentence will be punished for an affront against that Holy Spirit Himself.
Aug.: Should any ask what greater punishment is reserved for murder, if evil-speaking is visited with hell-fire? This obliges us to understand, that there are degrees in hell.
Chrys.: Or, "the judgment," and "the council" denote punishment in this word; "hell-fire" future punishment. He denounces punishment against anger, yet does not mention any special punishment, shewing therein that it is not possible that a man should be altogether free from the passion. The Council here means the Jewish senate, for He would not seem to be always superseding all their established institutions, and introducing foreign. [ed. note, f: In this quotation only the last sentence is found in Chrys.]
Aug.: In all these three sentences there are some words understood. In the first indeed, as many copies read "without cause," there is nothing to be supplied. In the second, "He who saith to his brother, Racha," we must supply the words, "without cause;" and again, in "He who says, Thou fool," two things are understood, "to his brother," and, "without cause." All this forms the defence of the Apostle, when he calls the Galatians fools, though he considers them his brethren; for he did it not without cause.
Ver23. "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;24. Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 10: If it be not lawful to be angry with a brother, or to say to him Racha, or Thou fool, much less is it lawful to keep in the memory any thing which might convert anger into hate.
Jerome: It is not, If thou hast ought against thy brother; but "If thy brother has ought against thee," that the necessity of reconciliation may be more imperative.
Aug.: And he has somewhat against us when we have wronged him; and we have somewhat against him when he has wronged us, in which case there were no need to go to be reconciled to him, seeing we had only to forgive him, as we desire the Lord to forgive us.
Pseudo-Chrys.: But if it is he that hath done you the wrong, and yet you be the first to seek reconciliation, you shall have a great reward.
Chrys.: If love alone is not enough to induce us to be reconciled to our neighbour, the desire that our work should not remain imperfect, and especially in the holy place, should induce us.
Greg., Hom. 1 in Ezech. viii. 9: Lo He is not willing to accept sacrifice at the hands of those who are at variance. Hence then consider how great an evil is strife, which throws away what should be the means of remission of sin.
Pseudo-Chrys.: See the mercy of God, that He thinks rather of man’s benefit than of His own honour; He loves concord in the faithful more than offering at His altar; for so long as there are dissensions among the faithful, their gift is not looked upon, their prayer is not heard. For no one can be a true friend at the same time to two who are enemies to each other. In like manner, we do not keep our fealty to God, if we do not love His friends and hate His enemies. But such as was the offence, such should also be the reconciliation. If you have offended in thought, be reconciled in thought; if in words, be reconciled in words; if in deeds, in deeds by reconciled. For so it is in every sin, in whatsoever kind it was committed, in that kind is the penance done.Hilary: He bids us when peace with our fellow-men is restored, then to return to peace with God, passing from the love of men to the love of God; "Then go and offer thy gift."
Aug.: If this direction be taken literally, it might lead some to suppose that this ought indeed to be so done if our brother is present, for that no long time can be meant when we are bid to leave our offering there before the altar. For if he be absent, or possibly beyond sea, it is absurd to suppose that the offering must be left before the altar, to be offered after we have gone over land and sea to seek him.
Wherefore we must embrace an inward, spiritual sense of the whole, if we would understand it without involving any absurdity. The gift which we offer to God, whether learning, or speech, or whatever it be, cannot be accepted of God unless it be supported by faith. If then we have in aught harmed a brother, we must go and be reconciled with him, not with the bodily feet, but in thoughts of the heart, when in humble contrition you may cast yourself at your brother’s feet in sight of Him whose offering you are about to offer. For thus in the same manner as though He were present, you may with unfeigned heart seek His forgiveness; and returning thence, that is, bringing back again your thoughts to what you had first begun to do, may make your offering.
Ver 25. "Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.26. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing."
Hilary: The Lord suffers us at no time to be wanting in peaceableness of temper, and therefore bids us be reconciled to our adversary quickly, while on the road to life, lest we be cast into the season of death before peace by joined between us.
Jerome: The word here in our Latin books is ’consentiens,’ in Greek, which means, ’kind,’ ’benevolent.’
Aug., Serm. in Mont, i, 11: Let us see who this adversary is to whom we are bid to be benevolent. It may then be either the Devil, or man, or the flesh, or God, or His commandments. But I do not see how we can be bid be benevolent, or agreeing with the Devil; for where there is good will, there is friendship, and no one will say that friendship should be made with the Devil, or that it is well to agree with him, having once proclaimed war against him when we renounced him; nor ought we to consent with him, with whom had we never consented, we had never come into such circumstances.
Jerome: Some, from that verse of Peter, "Your adversary the Devil, &c." [1 Peter 5:8] will have the Saviour’s command to be, that we should be merciful to the Devil, not causing him to endure punishment for our sakes. For as he puts in our way the incentives to vice, if we yield to his suggestions, he will be tormented for our sakes.
Some follow a more forced interpretation, that in baptism we have each of us made a compact with the Devil by renouncing him. If we observe this compact, then we are agreeing with our adversary, and shall not be cast into prison.
Aug.: I do not see again how it can be understood of man. For how can man be said to deliver us to the Judge, when we know only Christ as the Judge, before whose tribunal all must be sisted [?]. How then can he deliver to the Judge, who has himself to appear before Him? Moreover if any has sinned against any by killing him, he has no opportunity of agreeing with him in the way, that is in this life; and yet that hinders not but that he may be rescued from judgment by repentance. Much less do I see how we can be bid be agreeing with the flesh; for they are sinners rather who agree with it; but they who bring it into subjection, do not agree with it, but compel it to agree with them.
Jerome: And how can the body be cast into prison if it agree not with the spirit, seeing soul and body must go together, and that the flesh can do nothing but what the soul shall command?
Aug.: Perhaps then it is God with whom we are here enjoined to agree. He may be said to be our adversary, because we have departed from Him by sin, and "He resisteth the proud." Whosoever then shall not have been reconciled in this life with God through the death of His Son, shall be by Him delivered to the Judge, that is, the Son, to whom He has committed all judgment. And man may be said to be "in the way with God," because He is every where.
But if we like not to say that the wicked are with God, who is every where present, as we do not say that the blind are with that light which is every where around them, there only remains the law of God which we can understand by our adversary. For this law is an adversary to such as love to sin, and is given us for this life that it may be with us in the way. To this we ought to agree quickly, by reading, hearing, and bestowing on it the summit of authority, and that when we understand it, we hate it not because it opposes our sins, but rather love it because it corrects them; and when it is obscure, pray that we may understand it.
Jerome: But from the context the sense is manifest; the Lord is exhorting us to peace and concord with our neighbour; as it was said above, Go, be reconciled to thy brother.
Pseudo-Chrys.: The Lord is urgent with us to hasten to make friends with our enemies while we are yet in this life, knowing how dangerous for us that one of our enemies should die before peace is made with us. For if death bring us while yet at enmity to the Judge, he will deliver us to Christ, proving us guilty by his judgment. Our adversary also delivers us to the Judge, when he is the first to seek reconciliation; for he who first submits to his enemy, brings him in guilty before God.
Hilary: Or, the adversary delivers you to the Judge, when the abiding of your wrath towards him convicts you.
Aug.: by the Judge I understand Christ, for, "the Father hath committed all judgment to the Son;" [John 5:22] and by the officer, or minister, an Angel, for "Angels came and ministered unto Him;" and we believe that He will come with his Angels to judge.
Pseudo-Chrys.: "The officer," that is, the ministering Angel of punishment, and he shall cast you into the prison of hell.
Aug.: By the prison I understand the punishment of the darkness. And that none should despise that punishment, He adds, "Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt not come out thence till thou hast paid the very last farthing."
Jerome: A farthing is a coin containing two mites. What He says then is, ’Thou shalt not go forth thence till thou hast paid for the smallest sin.’
Aug.: Or it is an expression to denote that there is nothing that shall go unpunished; as we say ’To the dregs,’ when we are speaking of any thing so emptied that nothing is left in it.Or by "the last farthing" [margin note: quadrans] may be denoted earthly sins. For the fourth and last element of this world is earth.
"Paid," that is in eternal punishment; and "until" used in the same sense as in that, "Sit thou on my right hand until I make thy enemies thy footstool;" [Psalms 110:1] for He does not cease to reign when His enemies are put under His feet. So here, "until thou hast paid," is as much as to say, thou shalt never come out thence, for that he is always paying the very last farthing while he is enduring the everlasting punishment of earthly sins.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, If you will make your peace yet in this world, you may receive pardon of even the heaviest offences; but if once damned and cast into the prison of hell, punishment will be exacted of you not for grievous sins only, but for each idle word, which may be denoted by "the very last farthing."
Hilary: For because "charity covereth a multitude of sins," we shall therefore pay the last farthing of punishment, unless by the expense of charity we redeem the fault of our sin.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, the prison is worldly misfortune which God often sends upon sinners.
Chrys.: Or, He here speaks of the judges of this world, of the way which leads to this judgment, and of human prisons; thus not only employing future but present inducements, as those things which are before the eyes affect us most, as St. Paul also declares, "If thou doest evil fear the power, for he beareth not the sword in vain." [Romans 13:4]
Ver 27. "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, ’Thou shalt not commit adultery:’28. But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."
Chrys., Hom. xvii: The Lord having explained how much is contained in the first commandment, namely, "Thou shalt not kill," proceeds in regular order to the second.
Aug., Serm. ix, 3 and 10: "Thou shalt not commit adultery," that is, Thou shalt go no where but to thy lawful wife. For if you exact this of your wife, you ought to do the same, for the husband ought to go before the wife in virtue. It is a shame for the husband to say that this is impossible. Why not the husband as well as the wife? And let not him that is unmarried suppose that he does not break this commandment by fornication; you know the price wherewith you have been bought, you know what you eat and what your drink [ed. note, g: Nic. inserts here, from the original, ’immo quem manduces, quem bibas.’] therefore keep yourself from fornications. Forasmuch as all such acts of lust pollute and destroy God’s image, (which you are,) the Lord who knows what is good for you, gives you this precept that you may not pull down His temple which you have begun to be.
Aug., cont. Faust. 19, 23: He then goes on to correct the error of the Pharisees, declaring, "Whoso looketh upon a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery already with her in his heart." For the commandment of the Law, "Thou shalt not lust after thy neighbour’s wife," [Exodus 20:17] the Jews understood of taking her away, not of committing adultery with her.
Jerome: Between and that is between actual passion and the first spontaneous movement of the mind, there is this difference: passion is at once a sin; the spontaneous movement of the mind, though it partakes of the evil of sin, is yet not held for an offence committed. [ed. note, h: In this passage S. Jerome, who seems to have introduced the word propassio, into theology, uses it somewhat in a sense of his own; viz. as involving something of the nature of sin; vid. also Comm. in Ezek. xviii, 1, 2. The word is more commonly applied to our Lord, as denoting the mode and extent in which His soul was affected by what in others became . In us passion precedes reason, in Him it followed, or was a . vid. S. Jerome in Matt. xxvi. 37. Leon. Ep. 35. Damasc. F. O. iii. 20 &c. &c.]
When then one looks upon a woman, and his mind is therewith smitten, there is propassion; if he yields to this he passes from propassion to passion, and then it is no longer the will but the opportunity to sin that is wanting. "Whosoever," then, "looketh on a woman to lust after her," that is, so looks on her as to lust, and cast about to obtain, he is rightly said to commit adultery with her in his heart.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 12: For there are three things which make up a sin; suggestion either through the memory, or the present sense; if the thought of the pleasure of indulgence follows, that is an unlawful thought, and to be restrained; if you consent then, the sin is complete. For prior to the first consent, the pleasure is either none or very slight, the consenting to which makes the sin. But if consent proceeds on into overt act, then desire seems to be satiated and quenched. And when suggestion is again repeated, the contemplated pleasure is greater, which previous to habit formed was but small, but now more difficult to overcome.
Greg., Mor., xxi, 2: But whoso casts his eyes about without caution will often be taken with the pleasure of sin, and ensnared by desires begins to wish for what he would not. Great is the strength of the flesh to draw us downwards, and the charm of beauty once admitted to the heart through the eye, is hardly banished by endeavour. We must therefore take heed at the first, we ought not to look upon what it is unlawful to desire. For that the heart may be kept pure in thought, the eyes, as being on the watch to hurry us to sin, should be averted from wanton looks.
Chrys.: If you permit yourself to gaze often on fair countenances you will assuredly be taken, even though you may be able to command your mind twice or thrice. For you are not exalted above nature and the strength of humanity. She too who dresses and adorns herself for the purpose of attracting men’s eyes to her, though her endeavor should fail, yet shall she be punished hereafter; seeing she mixed the poison and offered the cup, though none was found who would drink thereof. For what the Lord seems to speak only to the man, is of equal application to the woman; inasmuch as when He speaks to the head, the warning is meant for the whole body.
Ver 29. "And if they right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.30. And if they right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell."
Gloss, non occ.: Because we ought not only to avoid actual sin, but even put away every occasion of sin, therefore having taught that adultery is to be avoided not in deed only, but in heart, He next teaches us to cut off the occasions of sin.
Pseudo-Chrys.: But if according to that of the Prophet, "there is no whole part in our body," [Psalms 38:3] it is needful that we cut off every limb that we have that the punishment may be equal to the depravity of the flesh.
Is it then possible to understand this of the bodily eye or hand? As the whole man when he is turned to God is dead to sin, so likewise the eye when it has ceased to look evil is cut off from sin. But this explanation will not suit the whole; for when He says, "thy right eye offends thee," what does the left eye? Does it contradict the right eye, and it is preserved innocent?
Jerome: Therefore by the right eye and the right hand we must understand the love of brethren, husbands and wives, parents and kinsfolk; which if we find to hinder our view of the true light, we ought to sever from us.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 13: As the eye denotes contemplation, so the hand aptly denotes action. By the eye we must understand our most cherished friend, as they are wont to say who would express ardent affection, ’I love him as my own eye.’ And a friend too who gives counsel, as the eye shews us our way. The "right eye," perhaps, only means to express a higher degree of affection, for it is the one which men most fear to lose.
Or, by the right eye may be understood one who counsels us in heavenly matters, and by the left one who counsels in earthly matters. And this will be the sense; Whatever that is which you love as you would your own right eye, if it "offend you," that is, if it be an hindrance to your true happiness, "cut it off and cast it from you." For if the right eye was not to be spared, it was superfluous to speak of the left. The right hand also is to be taken of a beloved assistant in divine actions, the left hand in earthly actions.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Otherwise; Christ would have us careful not only of our own sin, but likewise that even they who pertain to us should keep themselves from evil. Have you any friend who looks to your matters as your own eye, or manages them as your own hand, if you know of any scandalous or base action that he has done, cast him from you, he is an offence; for we shall give account not only of our own sins, but also of such of those of our neighbours as it is in our power to hinder.
Hilary: Thus a more lofty step of innocence is appointed us, in that we are admonished to keep free, not only from sin ourselves, but from such as might touch us from without.
Jerome: Otherwise; As above He had placed lust in the looking on a woman, so now the thought and sense straying hither and thither He calls ’the eye.’ By the right hand and the other parts of the body, He means the initial movements of desire and affection.
Pseudo-Chrys.: The eye of flesh is the mirror of the inward eye. The body also has its own sense, that is, the left eye, and its own appetite, that is, the left hand. But the parts of the soul are called right, for the soul was created both with free-will and under the law of righteousness, that it might both see and do rightly.
But the members of the body being not with free-will, but under the law of sin, are called the left. Yet He does not bid us cut off the sense or appetite of the flesh; we may retain the desires of the flesh, and yet not do thereafter, but we cannot cut off the having the desires. But when we wilfully purpose and think of evil, then our right desires and right will offend us, and therefore He bids us cut them off. And these we can cut off, because our will is free.
Or otherwise; Every thing, however good in itself that offends ourselves or others, we ought to cut off from us. For example, to visit a woman with religious purposes, this good intent towards her may be called a right eye, but if often visiting her I have fallen into the net of desire, or if any looking on are offended, then the right eye, that is, something in itself good, offends me. For the "right eye" is good intention, the "right hand" is good desire.
Gloss. ord.: Or, the "right eye" is the contemplative life which offends by being the cause of indolence or self-conceit, or in our weakness that we are not able to support it unmixed. The "right hand" is good works, or the active life, which offends us when we are ensnared by society and the business of life.
If then any one is unable to sustain the contemplative life, let him not slothfully rest from all action; or on the other hand while he is taken up with action, dry up the fountain of sweet contemplation.
Remig.: The reason why the right eye and the right hand are to be cast away is subjoined in that, "For it is better, &c."
Pseudo-Chrys.: For as we are every one members one of another, it is better that we should be saved without some one of these members, than that we perish together with them. Or, it is better that we should be saved without one good purpose, or one good work, than that while we seek to perform all good works we perish together with all.
Ver 31. "It hath been said, ’Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:’32. But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery."
Gloss, non occ.: The Lord had taught us above that our neighbour’s wife was not to be coveted, He now proceeds to teach that our own wife is not to be put away.
Jerome: For touching Moses’ allowance of divorce, the Lord and Saviour more fully explains in conclusion, that it was because of the hardness of the hearts of the husbands, not so much sanctioning discord, as checking bloodshed.
Pseudo-Chrys.: For when Moses brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, they were indeed Hebrews in race, but Egyptians in manners. And it was caused by the Gentile manners that the husband hated the wife; and if he was not permitted to put her away, he was ready either to kill her or ill-treat her. Moses therefore suffered a bill of divorcement, not because it was a good practice in itself, but was the prevention of a worse evil.
Hilary: But the Lord who brought peace and goodwill on earth, would have it reign especially in the matrimonial bond.
Aug., cont. Faust., xix, 26: The Lord’s command here that a wife is not to be put away, is not contrary to the command in the Law, as Manichaeus affirmed. Had the Law allowed any who would to put away his wife, to allow none to put away were indeed the very opposite of that. But the difficulty which Moses is careful to put in the way, shews that he was no good friend to the practice at all. For he required a bill of divorcement, the delay and difficulty of drawing out which would often cool headlong rage and disagreement, especially as by the Hebrew custom, it was the Scribes alone who were permitted to use the Hebrew letters, in which they professed a singular skill.
To these then the law would send him whom it bid to give a writing of divorcement, when he would put away his wife, who mediating between him and his wife, might set them at one again, unless in minds too wayward to be moved by counsels of peace. Thus then He neither completed, by adding words to it, the law of them of old time, nor did He destroy the Law given by Moses by enacting things contrary to it, as Manichaeus affirmed; but rather repeated and approved all that the Hebrew Law contained, so that whatever He spoke in His own person more than it had, had in view either explanation, which in divers obscure places of the Law was greatly needed, or the more punctual observance of its enactments.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 14: By interposing this delay in the mode of putting away, the lawgiver shewed as clearly as it could be shewn to hard hearts, that he hated strife and disagreement. The Lord then so confirms this backwardness in the Law, as to except only one case, "the cause of fornication;" every other inconvenience which may have place, He bids us bear with patience in consideration of the plighted troth of wedlock.
Pseudo-Chrys.: If we ought to bear the burdens of strangers, in obedience to that of the Apostles, "Bear ye one another’s burdens," [Galatians 6:2] how much more that of our wives and husbands? The Christian husband ought not only to keep himself from any defilement, but to be careful not to give others occasion of defilement; for so is their sin imputed to him who gave the occasion. Whoso then by putting away his wife gives another man occasion of committing adultery, is condemned for that crime himself.
Aug.: Yea, more, He declares the man who marries her who is put away an adulterer.
Chrys.: Say not here, It is enough her husband has put her away; for even after she is put away she continues the wife of him that put her away.
Aug.: The Apostle has fixed the limit here, requiring her to abstain from a fresh marriage as long as her husband lives. After his death he allows her to marry. But if the woman may not marry while her former husband is alive, much less may she yield herself to unlawful indulgences. But this command of the Lord, forbidding to put away a wife, is not broken by him who lives with her not carnally but spiritually, in that more blessed wedlock of those that keep themselves chaste.
A question also here arises as to what is that fornication which the Lord allows as a cause of divorce; whether carnal sin, or, according to the Scripture use of the word, any unlawful passion, as idolatry, avarice, in short all transgression of the Law by forbidden desires. For if the Apostle permits the divorce of a wife if she be unbelieving, (though indeed it is better not to put her away,) and the Lord forbids any divorce but for the cause of fornication, unbelief even must be fornication. And if unbelief be fornication, and idolatry unbelief, and covetousness idolatry, it is not to be doubted that covetousness is fornication. And if covetousness be fornication, who may say of any kind of unlawful desire that it is not a kind of fornication?
Aug., Retract., i, 19, 6: Yet I would not have the reader think this disputation of ours sufficient in a matter so arduous; for not every sin is spiritual fornication, nor does God destroy every sinner, for He hears His saints daily crying to Him, "Forgive us our debts;" but every man who goes a whoring and forsakes Him, him He destroys.
Whether this be the fornication for which divorce is allowed is a most knotty question - for it is no question at all that it is allowed for the fornication by carnal sin.
Aug., lib. 83, Quaest. q. ult.: If any affirm that the only fornication for which the Lord allows divorce is that of carnal sin, he may see that the Lord has spoken of believing husbands and wives, forbidding either to leave the other except for fornication.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 16: Not only does He permit to put away a wife who commits fornication, but whoso puts away a wife by whom he is driven to commit fornication, puts her away for the cause of fornication, both for his own sake and hers.
Aug., de Fid. et Op. 16: He also rightly puts away his wife to whom she shall say, I will not be your wife unless you get me money by robbery; or should require any other crime to be done by him. If the husband here be truly penitent, he will cut off the limb that offends him.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 16: Nothing can be more unjust than to put away a wife for fornication, and yourself to be guilty of that sin, for then is that happened, "Wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself." [Romans 2:1] When He says, "And he who marrieth her who is put away, committeth adultery," a question arises, does the woman also in this case commit adultery? For the Apostle directs either that she remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. There is this difference in the separation, namely, which of them was the cause of it. If the wife put away the husband and marry another, she appears to have left her first husband with the desire of change, which is an adulterous thought. But if she have been put away by her husband, yet he who marries her commits adultery, how can she be quit of the same guilt? And further, if he who marries her commits adultery, she is the cause of his committing adultery, which is what the Lord is here forbidding.
Ver 33. "Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, ’Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:’34. But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by Heaven; for it is God’s throne;35. Nor by the earth; for it is His footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.36. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.37. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil."
Gloss. non occ.: The Lord has hitherto taught to abstain from injuring our neighbour, forbidding anger with murder, lust with adultery, and the putting away a wife with a bill of divorce. He now proceeds to teach to abstain from injury to God, forbidding not only perjury as an evil in itself, but even all oaths as the cause of evil, saying, "Ye have heard it said by them of old, Thou shalt not forswear thyself."
It is written in Leviticus, "Thou shalt not forswear thyself in my name;" [Leviticus 19:12] and that they should not make gods of the creature, they are commanded to render to God their oaths, and not to swear by any creature, "Render to the Lord thy oaths;" that is, if you shall have occasion to swear, you shall swear by the Creator and not by the creature. As it is written in Deuteronomy, "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and shalt swear by his name." [Deuteronomy 6:13]
Jerome: This was allowed under the Law, as to children; as they offered sacrifice to God, that they might not do it to idols, so they were permitted to swear by God; not that the thing was right, but that it were better done to God than to daemons.
Pseudo-Chrys.: For no man can swear often, but he must sometimes forswear himself; as he who has a custom of much speaking will sometimes speak foolishly.
Aug., cont. Faust., xix. 23: Inasmuch as the sin of perjury is a grievous sin, he must be further removed from it who uses no oath, than he who is ready to swear on every occasion, and the Lord would rather that we should not swear and keep close to the truth, than that swearing we should come near to perjury.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 17: This precept also confirms the righteousness of the Pharisees, not to forswear; inasmuch as he who swears not at all cannot forswear himself. But as to call God to witness is to swear, does not the Apostle break this commandment when he says several times to the Galatians, "The things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not." [Galatians 1:20] So the Romans, "God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit." [Romans 1:9]
Unless perhaps some one may say, it is no oath unless I use the form of swearing by some object; and that the Apostle did not swear in saying, "God is my witness." It is ridiculous to make such a distinction; yet the Apostle has used even this form, "I die daily, by your boasting." [1 Corinthians 15:31] That this does not mean, your boasting has caused my dying daily, but is an oath, is clear from the Greek, which is .
Aug., de Mendac. 15: But what we could not understand by mere words, from the conduct of the saints we may gather in what sense should be understood what might easily be drawn the contrary way, unless explained by example. The Apostle has used oaths in his Epistles, and by this shews us how that ought to be taken, "I say unto you, Swear not at all," namely, lest by allowing ourselves to swear at all we come to readiness in swearing, from readiness we come to a habit of swearing, and from a habit of swearing we fall into perjury. And so the Apostle is not found to have used an oath but only in writing, the greater thought and caution which that requires not allowing of slip of the tongue.
Yet is the Lord’s command so universal, "Swear not at all," that He would seem to have forbidden it even in writing. But since it would be an impiety to accuse Paul of having violated this precept, especially in his Epistles, we must understand the word "at all" as implying that, as far as lays in your power, you should not make a practice of swearing, not aim at it as a good thing in which you should take delight.
Aug., cont. Faust., xix, 23: Therefore in his writings, as writing allows of greater circumspection, the Apostle is found to have used an oath in several places, that none might suppose that there is any direct sin in swearing what is true; but only that our weak hearts are better preserved from perjury by abstaining from all swearing whatever.
Jerome: Lastly, consider that the Saviour does not here forbid to swear by God, but by the Heaven, the Earth, by Jerusalem, by a man’s head. For this evil practice of swearing by the elements the Jews had always, and are thereof often accused in the prophetic writings. For he who swears, shew either reverence or love for that by which he swears. Thus when the Jews swore by the Angels, by the city of Jerusalem, by the temple and the elements, they paid to the creature the honour and worship belonging to God; for it is commanded in the Law that we should not swear but by the Lord our God.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 17: Or; It is added, "By the Heaven, &c." because the Jews did not consider themselves bound when they swore by such things. As if He had said, When you swear by the Heaven and the Earth, think not that you do not owe your oath to the Lord your God, for you are proved to have sworn by Him whose throne the heaven is, and the earth His footstool; which is not meant as though God had such limbs set upon the heaven and the earth, after the manner of a man who is sitting; but that seat signifies God’s judgment of us. And since in the whole extent of this universe it is the heaven that has the highest beauty, God is said to sit upon the heavens as shewing divine power to be more excellent than the most surpassing show of beauty; and He is said to stand upon the earth, as putting to lowest use a lesser beauty.
Spiritually by the heavens are denoted holy souls, by the earth the sinful, seeing "He that is spiritual judgeth all things." [1 Corinthians 2:15] But to the sinner it is said, "Earth thou art, and unto earth thou shalt return." [Genesis 3:19] And he who would abide under a law, is put under a law, and therefore He adds, "it is the footstool of His feet. Neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King;" this is better said than ’it is mine;’ though it is understood to mean the same. And because He is also truly Lord, whoso swears by Jerusalem, owes his oath to the Lord. "Neither by thy head." What could any think more entirely his own property than his own head? But how is it ours when we have not power to make one hair black or white? Whoso then swears by his own head also owes his vows to the Lord; and by this the rest may be understood.
Chrys.: Note how He exalts the elements of the world, not from their own nature, but from the respect which they have to God, so that there is opened no occasion of idolatry.
Rabanus: Having forbidden swearing, He instructs us how we ought to speak, "Let your speech be yea, yea; nay, nay." That is, to affirm any thing it is sufficient to say, ’It is so;’ to deny, to say, ’It is not so.’
Or, "yea, yea; nay, nay," are therefore twice repeated, that what you affirm with the mouth you should prove in deed, and what you deny in word, you should not establish by your conduct.
Hilary: Otherwise; They who live in the simplicity of the faith have not need to swear, with them ever, what is is, what is not is not; by this their life and their conversation are ever preserved in truth.
Jerome: Therefore Evangelic verity does not admit an oath, since the whole discourse of the faithful is instead of an oath.
Aug.: And he who has learned that an oath is to be reckoned not among things good, but among things necessary, will restrain himself as much as he may, not to use an oath without necessity, unless he sees men loth to believe what it is for their good they should believe, without the confirmation of an oath.
This then is good and to be desired, that our conversation be only, "yea, yea; nay, nay; for what is more than this cometh of evil." That is, if you are compelled to swear, you know that it is by the necessity of their weakness to whom you would persuade any thing; which weakness is surely an evil. What is more than this is thus evil; not that you do evil in this just use of an oath to persuade another to something beneficial for him; but it is an evil in him whose weakness thus obliges you to use an oath.
Chrys.: Or; "of evil," that is, from their weakness to whom the Law permitted the use of an oath. Not that by this the old Law is signified to be from the Devil, but He leads us from the old imperfection to the new abundance.
Ver 38. "Ye have heard that it hath been said, ’An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:’39. But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.40. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.41. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.42. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away."
Gloss. non occ.: The Lord having taught that we are not to offer injury to our neighbour, or irreverence to the Lord, now proceeds to shew how the Christian should demean himself to those that injure him.
Aug., cont. Faust., xix, 25: This law, "Eye for eye, tooth for tooth," was enacted to repress the flames of mutual hate, and to be a check on their undisciplined spirits. For who when he would take revenge, was ever content to return just so much harm as he had received? Do we not see men who have suffered some trifling hurt, straightway plot murder, thirst for blood, and hardly find evil enough that they can do to their enemies for the satisfying their rage?
To this immeasured and cruel fury the Law puts bounds when it enacts a "lex talionis;" that is, that whatever wrong or hurt any man has done to another, he should suffer just the same in return. This is not to encourage but to check rage; for it does not rekindle what was extinguished, but hinders the flames already kindled from further spread. It enacts a just retaliation, properly due to him who has suffered the wrong.
But that mercy forgives any debt, does not make it unjust that payment had been sought. Since then he sins who seeks an unmeasured vengeance, but he does not sin who desires only a just one; he is therefore further from sin who seeks no retribution at all.
I might state it yet thus; It was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not take unequal retaliation; But I say unto you, Ye shall not retaliate; this is a completion of the Law, if in these words something is added to the Law which was wanting to it; yea, rather that which the Law sought to do, namely, to put an end to unequal revenge, is more safely secured when there is no revenge at all.
Pseudo-Chrys.: For without this command, the commands of the Law could not stand. For if according to the Law we begin all of us to render evil for evil, we shall all become evil, since they that do hurt abound. But if according to Christ we resist not evil, though they that are evil be not amended, yet they that are good remain good.
Jerome: Thus our Lord by doing away all retaliation, cuts off the beginnings of sin. So the Law corrects faults, the Gospel removes their occasions.
Gloss, non occ.: Or it may be said that the Lord said this, adding somewhat to the righteousness of the old Law.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 19: For the righteousness of the Pharisees is a less righteousness, not to transgress the measure of equal retribution; and this is the beginning of peace; but perfect peace is to refuse all such retribution. Between that first manner than, which was not according to the Law, to wit, that a greater evil should be returned for a less, and this which the Lord enjoins to make His disciples perfect, to wit, that no evil should be returned for evil, a middle place is held by this, that an equal evil should be returned, which was thus the passage from extremest discord to extremest peace.
Whoso then first does evil to another departs furthest from righteousness; and who does not first do any wrong, but when wronged repays with a heavier wrong, has departed somewhat from the extreme injustice; he who repays only what he has received, gives up yet something more, for it were but strict right that he who is the first aggressor should receive a greater hurt than he inflicted.
This righteousness thus partly begun, He perfects, who is come to fulfil the Law. The two steps that intervene He leaves to be understood; for there is who does not repay so much, but less; and there is yet above him, he who repays not at all; yet this seems too little to the Lord, if you be not also ready to suffer wrong.
Therefore He says not, "Render not evil for evil," but, "Resist not against evil," not only repay not what is offered to you, but do not resist that it should not be done to you. For thus accordingly He explains that saying, "If any man smite thee on thy right cheek, offer to him the left also." Which as being a high part of mercy, is known to those who serve such as they love much; from whom, being morose, or insane, they endure many things, and if it be for their health they offer themselves to endure more.
The Lord then, the Physician of souls, teaches His disciples to endure with patience the sicknesses of those for whose spiritual health they should provide. For all wickedness comes of a sickness of the mind; nothing is more innocent than he who is sound and of perfect health in virtue.
Aug., de Mendac., 15: The things which are done by the Saints in the New Testament profit for examples of understanding those Scriptures which are modelled into the form of precepts. Thus we read in Luke; "Whoso smiteth thee on the one cheek, turn to him the other also." [Luke 6:29] Now there is no example of patience more perfect than that of the Lord; yet He, when He was smitten, said not, ’Behold the other cheek,’ but, "If I have spoken amiss, accuse me wherein it is amiss; but if well, why smitest thou me? [John 18:23] hereby shewing us that turning of the other cheek should be in the heart.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 19: For the Lord was ready not only to be smitten on the other cheek for the salvation of men, but to be crucified with His whole body. It may be asked, What does the right cheek expressly signify? As the face is that whereby any man is known, to be smitten of the face is according to the Apostle to be contemned and despised. But as we cannot say ’right face,’ and ’left face,’ and yet we have a name twofold, one before God, and one before the world, it is distributed as it were into the right cheek, and left cheek, that whoever of Christ’s disciples is despised for that he is a Christian, may be ready to be yet more despised for any of this world’s honours that he may have.
All things wherein we suffer any wrong are divided into two kinds, of which one is what cannot be restored, the other what may be restored. In that kind which cannot be restored, we are wont to seek the solace of revenge. For what does it boot if when smitten you smite again, is the hurt done to your body thereby repaid to you? But the mind swollen with rage seeks such assuagements.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Or has your return blow at all restrained him from striking you again? It has rather roused him to another blow. For anger is not checked by meeting anger, but is only more irritated.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 20: Whence the Lord judges that others’ weakness should rather be borne with compassion, than that our own should be soothed by others’ pain. For that retribution which tends to correction is not here forbidden, for such is indeed a part of mercy; nor does such intention hinder that he, who seeks to correct another, is not at the same time ready himself to take more at his hands.
But it is required that he should inflict the punishment to whom the power is given by the course of things, and with such a mind as the father has to a child in correcting him whom it is impossible he should hate. And holy men have punished some sins with death, in order that a wholesome fear might be struck into the living, and so that not his death, but the likelihood of increase of his sin had he lived, was the hurt of the criminal.
Thus Elias punished many with death, and when the disciples would take example from him they were rebuked by the Lord, who did not censure this example of the Prophet, but their ignorant use of it, seeing them to desire the punishment not for correction’s sake, but from angry hate.
But after He had inculcated love of their neighbour, and had given them the Holy Spirit, there wanted not instances of such vengeance; as Ananias and his wife who fell down dead at the words of Peter, and the Apostle Paul delivered some to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. Yet do some, with a kind of blind opposition, rage against the temporal punishments of the Old Testament, not knowing with what mind they were inflicted.
Aug., Epist. 185, 5: But who that is of sober mind would say to kings, It is nothing of your concern who will live religiously, or who profanely? It cannot even be said to them, that it is not their concern who will live chastely, or who unchastely. It is indeed better that men should be led to serve God by right teaching than by penalties; yet has it benefitted many, as experience has approved to us, to be first coerced by pain and fear, that they might be taught after, or to be made to conform in deed to what they had learned in words. The better men indeed are led of love, but the more part of men are wrought by fear. Let them learn in the case of the Apostle Paul, how Christ first constrained, and after taught him.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 20: Therefore in this kind of injuries which are wont to rouse vengeance Christians will observe such a mean, that hate shall not be caused by the injuries they may receive, and yet wholesome correction be not foregone by Him who has right of either counsel or power.
Jerome: Mystically interpreted; When we are smitten on the right cheek, He said not, offer to him thy left, but "the other;" for the righteous has not a left. That is, if a heretic has smitten us in disputation, and would wound us in a right hand doctrine, let him be met with another testimony from Scripture.
Aug.: The other kind of injuries are those in which full restitution can be made, of which there are two kinds; one relates to money, the other to work; of the first of these it is He speaks when He continues, "Whoso will sue thee for thy coat, let him have thy cloak likewise." As by the cheek are denoted such injuries of the wicked as admit of no restitution but revenge, so by this similitude of the garments is denoted such injury as admits restitution. And this, as the former, is rightly taken of preparation of the heart, not of the show of the outward action.
And what is commanded respecting our garments, is to be observed in al things that by any right we call our own in worldly property. For if the command be expressed in these necessary articles of life, how much more does it hold in the case of superfluities and luxuries? And when He says, "He who will sue thee," He clearly intends to include every thing for which it is possible that we should be sued.
It may be made a question whether it is to be understood of slaves, for a Christian ought not to possess his slave on the same footing as his horse; though it might be that the horse was worth the more money. And if your slave have a milder master in you than he would have in him who seeks to take him from you, I do not know that he ought to be given up as lightly as your coat.
Pseudo-Chrys.: For it were an unworthy thing that a believer should stand in his cause before an unbelieving judge. Or if one who is a believer, though (as he must be) a worldly man, though he should have reverenced you for the worthiness of the faith, sues you because the cause is a necessary one, you will lose the worthiness of Christ for the business of the world. Further, every lawsuit irritates the heart and excites bad thoughts; for when you see dishonesty or bribery employed against you, you hasten to support your own cause by like means, though originally you might have intended nothing of the sort.
Aug., Enchir., 78: The Lord here forbids his disciples to have lawsuits with others for worldly property. Yet as the Apostle allows such kind of causes to be decided between brethren, and before arbiters who are brethren, but utterly disallows them without the Church, it is manifest what is conceded to infirmity as pardonable.
Greg., Mor., xxxi, 13: There are, who are so far to be endured, as they rob us of our worldly goods; but there are whom we ought to hinder, and that without breaking the law of charity, not only that we may not be robbed of what is ours, but lest they by robbing others destroy themselves. We ought to fear much more for the men who rob us, than to be eager to save the inanimate things they take from us. When peace with our neighbour is banished the heart on the matter of worldly possession, it is plain that our estate is more loved than our neighbour.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 19: The third kind of wrongs, which is in the matter of labour, consists of both such as admit restitution, and such as do not - or with or without revenge - for he who forcibly presses a man’s service, and makes him give him aid against his will, can either be punished for his crime, or return the labour. In this kind of wrongs then, the Lord teaches that the Christian mind is most patient, and prepared to endure yet more than is offered; "If a man constrain thee to go with him a mile, go with him yet other two." This likewise is meant not so much of actual service with your feet, as of readiness of mind.
Chrys., Hom. xviii: The word here used signifies to drag unjustly, without cause, and with insult.
Aug.: Let us suppose it therefore said, "Go with him other two," that the number three might be completed; by which number perfection is signified; that whoever does this might remember that he is fulfilling perfect righteousness. For which reason he conveys this precept under three examples, and in this third example, he adds a twofold measure to the one single measure, that the threefold number may be complete.
Or we may so consider as though in enforcing this duty, He had begun with what was easiest to bear, and had advanced gradually. For first He commanded that when the right cheek was smitten we should turn the other also; therein shewing ourselves ready to endure another wrong less than that you have already received. Secondly, to him that would take your coat, he bids you part with your cloak, (or "garment," as some copies read,) which is either just as great a loss, or perhaps a little greater. In the third He doubles the additional wrong which He would have us ready to endure. And seeing it is a small thing not to hurt unless you further shew kindness, He adds, "To him that asketh of thee, give."
Pseudo-Chrys.: Because wealth is not ours but God’s; God would have us stewards of His wealth, and not lords.
Jerome: If we understand this only of alms, it cannot stand with the estate of the most part of men who are poor; even the rich if they have been always giving, will not be able to continue always to give.
Aug.: Therefore, He says not, ’Give all things to him that asks;’ but, "Give to every one that asketh;" that you should only give what you can give honestly and rightly. For what if one ask for money to employ in oppressing the innocent man? What if he ask your consent to unclean sin? We must give then only what will hurt neither ourselves or others, as far as man can judge; and when you have refused an inadmissible request, that you may not send away empty him that asked, shew the righteousness of your refusal; and such correction of the unlawful petitioner will often be a better gift than the granting his suit.
Aug., Epist., 93, 2: For with more benefit is food taken from the hungry, if certainty of provision causes him to neglect righteousness, than that food should be supplied to him that he may consent to a deed of violence and wrong.
Jerome: But it may be understood of the wealth of doctrine: wealth which never fails but the more of it is given away, the more it abounds.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 20: That He commands, "And from him that would borrow of thee, turn not away," must be referred to the mind; for "God loveth a cheerful giver." [2 Corinthians 9:7] And every one that receives, indeed borrows, though it is not he that shall pay, but God, who restores to the merciful many fold.
Or, if you like to understand by borrowing, only taking with promise to repay, we must understand the Lord’s command as embracing both these kinds of affording aid; whether we give outright, or lend to receive again. And of this last kind of shewing mercy it is well said, "Turn not away," that is, do not be therefore backward to lend, as though, because man shall repay you, therefore God shall not; for what you do by God’s command cannot be without fruit.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Christ bids us lend but not on usury; for he who gives on such terms does not bestow his own, but takes of another; he looses from one chain to bind with many, and gives not for God’s righteousness sake, but for his own gain. For money taken on usury is like the bite of an asp; as the asp’s poison secretly consumes the limbs, so usury turns all our possessions into debt.
Aug., Epist., 138, 2: Some object that this command of Christ is altogether inconsistent with civil life in Commonwealths; Who, say they, would suffer, when he could hinder it, the pillage of his estate by an enemy; or would not repay the evil suffered by a plundered province of Rome on the plunderers according to the rights of war? But these precepts of patience are to be observed in readiness of the heart, and that mercy, not to return evil for evil, must be always fulfilled by the will.
Yet must we often use a merciful sharpness in dealing with the headstrong. And in this way, if the earthly commonwealth will keep the Christian commandments, even war will not be waged without good charities, to the establishing among the vanquished peaceful harmony of godliness and righteousness. For that victory is beneficial to him from whom it snatches license to sin; since nothing is more unfortunate for sinners, than the good fortune of their sins, which nourishes an impunity that brings punishment after it, and an evil will is strengthened, as it were some internal enemy.
Ver 43. "Ye have heard that it hath been said, ’Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.’44. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you;45. That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.46. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the Publicans the same?47. And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the Publicans so?48. Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
Gloss., non occ.: The Lord has taught above that we must not resist one who offers any injury, but must be ready even to suffer more; He now further requires us to shew to them that do us wrong both love and its effects. And as the things that have gone before pertain to the completion of the righteousness of the Law, in like manner this last precept is to be referred to the completion of the law of love, which, according to the Apostle, is the fulfilling of the Law.
Aug., de Doctr. Christ., i, 30: That by the command, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour," all mankind were intended, the Lord shewed in the parable of the man who was left half dead, which teaches us that our neighbour is every one who may happen at any time to stand in need of our offices of mercy; and this who does not see must be denied to none, when the Lord says, "Do good to them that hate you."
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 21: That there were degrees in the righteousness of the Pharisees which was under the old Law is seen herein, that many hated even those by whom they were loved. He therefore who loves his neighbour, has ascended one degree, though as yet he hate his enemy; which is expressed in that, "and shalt hate thy enemy;" which is not to be understood as a command to the justified, but a concession to the weak.
Aug., cont. Faust., xix, 24: I ask the Manichaeans why they would have this peculiar to the Mosaic Law, that was said by them of old time, "thou shalt hate thy enemy?" Has not Paul said of certain men that they were hateful to God? We must enquire then how we may understand that, after the example of God, to whom the Apostle here affirms some men to be hateful, our enemies are to be hated; and again after the same pattern of Him "Who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good," our enemies are to be loved.
Here then is the rule by which we may at once hate our enemy for the evil’s sake that is in him, that is, his iniquity, and love him for the good’s sake that is in him, that is, his rational part. This then, thus uttered by them of old, being heard, but not understood, hurried men on to the hatred of men, when they should have hated nothing but vice.
Such the Lord corrects as He proceeds, saying, "I say unto you, Love your enemies." He who had just declared that He came "not to subvert the Law, but to fulfil it," by bidding us love our enemies, brought us to the understanding of how we may at once hate the same man for his sins whom we love for his human nature.
Gloss. ord.: But it should be known, that in the whole body of the Law it is no where written, Thou shalt hate thy enemy. But it is to be referred to the tradition of the Scribes, who thought good to add this to the Law, because the Lord bade the children of Israel pursue their enemies, and destroy Amalek from under heaven.
Pseudo-Chrys.: As that, Thou shalt not lust, was not spoken to the flesh, but to the spirit, so in this the flesh indeed is not able to love its enemy, but the spirit is able; for the love and hate of the flesh is in the sense, but of the spirit is in the understanding. If then we feel hate to one who has wronged us, and yet will not to act upon that feeling, know that our flesh hates our enemy, but our soul loves him.
Greg., Mor., xxii, 11: Love to an enemy is then observed when we are not sorrowful at his success, or rejoice in his fall. We hate him whom we wish not to be bettered, and pursue with ill-wishes the prosperity of the man in whose fall we rejoice. Yet it may often happen that without any sacrifice of charity, the fall of an enemy may gladden us, and again his exaltation make us sorrowful without any suspicion of envy; when, namely, by his fall any deserving man is raised up, or by his success any undeservedly depressed.
But herein a strict measure of discernment must be observed, lest in following out our own hates, we hide it from ourselves under the specious pretence of others’ benefit. We should balance how much we owe to the fall of the sinner, how much to the justice of the Judge. For when the Almighty has struck any hardened sinner, we must at once magnify His justice as Judge, and feel with the other’s suffering who perishes.
Gloss. ord.: They who stand against the Church oppose her in three ways; with hate, with words, and with bodily tortures. The Church on the other hand loves them, as it is here, "Love your enemies;" does good to them, as it is, "Do good to them that hate you;" and prays for them, as it is, "Pray for them that persecute you and accuse you falsely."Jerome: Many measuring the commandments of God by their own weakness, not by the strength of the saints, hold these commands for impossible, and say that it is virtue enough not to hate our enemies; but to love them is a command beyond human nature to obey. But it must be understood that Christ enjoins not impossibilities but perfection. Such was the temper of David towards Saul and Absalom; the Martyr Stephen also prayed for his enemies while they stoned him, and Paul wished himself anathema for the sake of his persecutors. [Romans 9:3] Jesus both taught and did the same, saying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." [Luke 23:34]
Aug., Enchir., 73: These indeed are examples of the perfect sons of God; yet to this should every believer aim, and seek by prayer to God, and struggles with himself to raise his human spirit to this tempter. Yet this so great blessing is not given to all those multitudes which we believe are heard when they pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 21: Here arises a question, that this commandment of the Lord, by which He bids us pray for our enemies, seems opposed by many other parts of Scripture. In the Prophets are found many imprecations upon enemies; such as that in the 108th Psalm, "Let his children be orphans." [Psalms 109:9]
But it should be known, that the Prophets are wont to foretell things to come in the form of a prayer or wish. This has more weight as a difficulty that John say, "There is a sin unto death, I say not that he shall pray for it;" [1 John 5:16] plainly shewing, that there are some brethren for whom he does not bid us pray; for what went before was, "If any know his brother sin a sin, &c."
Yet the Lord bids us pray for our persecutors. This question can only be resolved, if we admit that there are some sins in brethren more grievous than the sin of persecution in our enemies. For thus Stephen prays for those that stoned him, because they had not yet believed on Christ; but the Apostle Paul does not pray for Alexander though he was a brother [2 Timothy 4:14], but had sinned by attacking the brotherhood through jealousy.
But for whom you pray not, you do not therein pray against him. What must we say then of those against whom we know that the saints have prayed, and that not that they should be corrected, (for that would be rather to have prayed for them), but for their eternal damnation; not as that prayer of the Prophet against the Lord’s betrayer, for that is a prophecy of the future, not an imprecation of punishment; but as when we read in the Apocalypse the Martyrs’ prayer that they may be avenged. [Revelation 6:10]
But we ought not to let this affect us. For who may dare to affirm that they prayed against those persons themselves, and not against the kingdom of sin? For that would be both a just and a merciful avenging of the Martyrs, to overthrow that kingdom of sin, under the continuance of which they endured all those evils. And it is overthrown by correction of some, and damnation of such as abide in sin. Does not Paul seem to you to have avenged Stephen on his own body, as he speaks, "I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection." [1 Corinthians 9:27]Pseudo-Aug., Hil. Quaest. V. and N. Test. q. 68: And the souls of them that are slain cry out to be avenged; as the blood of Abel cried out of the ground not with a voice, but in spirit [margin note: ratione]. As the work is said to laud the workman, when he delights himself in the view thereof; for the saints are not so impatient as to urge on what they know will come to pass at the appointed time.
Chrys.: Note through what steps we have now ascended hither, and how He has set us on the very pinnacle of virtue. The first step is, not to begin to do wrong to any; the second, that in avenging a wrong done to us we be content with retaliating equal; the third, to return nothing of what we have suffered; the fourth, to offer one’s self to the endurance of evil; the fifth, to be ready to suffer even more evil than the oppressor desires to inflict; the sixth, not to hate him of whom we suffer such things; the seventh, to love him; the eighth, to do him good; the ninth, to pray for him. And because the command is great, the reward proposed is also great, namely, to be made like unto God, "Ye shall be the sons of your Father which is in heaven."
Jerome: For whoso keeps the commandments of God is thereby made the son of God; he then of whom he here speaks is not by nature His son, but by his own will.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 23: After that rule we must here understand of which John speaks, "He gave them power to be made the sons of God." One is His Son by nature; we are made sons by the power which we have received; that is, so far as we fulfil those things that we are commanded. So He says not, Do these things because ye are sons; but, do these things that ye may become sons.
In calling us to this then, He calls us to His likeness, for He saith, "He maketh His sun to rise on the righteous and the unrighteous." By the sun we may understand not this visible, but that of which it is said, "To you that fear the name of the Lord, the Sun of righteousness shall arise;" [Malachi 4:2] and by the rain, the water of the doctrine of truth; for Christ was seen, and was preached to good as well as bad.
Hilary: Or, the sun and rain have reference to the baptism with water and Spirit.
Aug.: Or we may take it of this visible sun, and of the rain by which the fruits are nourished, as the wicked mourn in the book of Wisdom, "The Sun has not risen for us." [Wis 5:6] And of the rain it is said, "I will command the clouds that they rain not on it." [Isaiah 5:6] But whether it be this or that, it is of the great goodness of God, which is set forth for our imitation. He says not, ’the sun,’ but, "His sun," that is, the sun which Himself has made, that hence we may be admonished with how great liberality we ought to supply those things that we have not created, but have received as a boon from Him.
Aug., Epist., 93, 2: But as we laud Him for His gifts, let us also consider how He chastises those whom He loves. For not every one who spares is a friend, nor every one who chastises an enemy; it is better to love with severity, than to use lenity wherewith to deceive [margin note: see Proverbs 27:6].
Pseudo-Chrys.: He was careful to say, "On the righteous and the unrighteous;’ for God gives all good gifts not for men’s sake, but for the saints’ sake, as likewise chastisements for the sake of sinners. In bestowing His good gifts, He does not separate the sinners from the righteous, that they should not despair; so in His inflictions, not the righteous from sinners that they should be made proud; and that the more, since the wicked are not profited by the good things they receive, but turn them to their hurt by their evil lives; nor are the good hurt by the evil things, but rather profit to increase of righteousness.
Aug., City of God, book 1, ch. 8: For the good man is not puffed up by worldly goods, nor broken by worldly calamity. But the bad man is punished in temporal losses, because he is corrupted by temporal gains. Or for another reason He would have good and evil common to both sorts of men, that good things might not be sought with vehement desire, when they were enjoyed even by the wicked; nor the evil things shamefully avoided, when even the righteous are afflicted by them.
Gloss, non occ.: To love one that loves us is of nature, but to love our enemy of charity. "If ye love them who love you, what reward have ye?" to wit, in heaven. None truly, for of such it is said, "Ye have received your reward." But these things we ought to do, and not leave the other undone.
Rabanus: If then sinners be led by nature to shew kindness to those that love them, with how much greater shew of affection ought you not to embrace even those that do not love you?
For it follows, "Do not even the publicans so?" "The publicans" are those who collect the public imposts; or perhaps those who pursue the public business or the gain of this world.
Gloss. non occ.: But if you only pray for them that are your kinsfolk, what more has your benevolence than that of the unbelieving? Salutation is a kind of prayer.
Rabanus: Ethnici, that is, the Gentiles, for the Greek word is translated ’gens’ in Latin; those, that is, who abide such as they were born, to wit, under sin.
Remig.: Because the utmost perfection of love cannot go beyond the love of enemies, therefore as soon as the Lord has bid us love our enemies, He proceeds, "Be ye then perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." He indeed is perfect, as being omnipotent; man, as being aided by the Omnipotent. For the word ’as’ is used in Scripture, sometimes for identity, and equality, as in that, "As I was with Moses, so will I be with thee;" [Joshua 1:5] sometimes to express likeness only as here.
Pseudo-Chrys.: For as our sons after the flesh resemble their fathers in some part of their bodily shape, so do spiritual sons resemble their father God, in holiness.
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Aquinas, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 5". "Golden Chain Commentary on the Gospel". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent