1 Christ sendeth out at once seventy disciples to work miracles, and to preach. 17 Admonisheth them to be humble and wherein to rejoice. 21 Thanketh his Father for his grace. 23 Magnifieth the happy estate of his church. 25 Teacheth the lawyer how to attain eternal life, and to take every one for his neighbour that needeth his mercy. 41 Reprehendeth Martha, and commendeth Mary her sister.
FTER these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.
Douay Rheims Version
Christ sends forth and instructs his seventy-two disciples. The good Samaritan.
ND after these things, the Lord appointed also other seventy-two. And he sent them two and two before his face into every city and place whither he himself was to come.
Ver. 1.—After these things the Lord also. Seventy-two. Vulgate. Dorotheus and others profess to give their names, but Eusebius declares that he knew of no written list of these seventy disciples, although the names of some might be gathered from the Acts of the Apostles, e.g., Matthias and Barsabas, Acts i.; Stephen and the other Deacons, Acts vi.; Ananias and Barnabas, Acts iv.; Mnason, Acts xxi., and others. Here observe,
1. That as Moses at the beginning of his leadership chose elders or princes for the twelve tribes of Israel and afterwards, by reason of the increase of the people and of the cares of government, made a further choice of six from each tribe, i.e. of seventy-two, to act as rulers: so Christ ordained that each tribe, should have its Apostle, and six presbyters or elders, for such were these disciples, who were commanded to go throughout all Judæa, preaching that the kingdom of God and of Christ was nigh, and confirming their preaching by miracles, that so the work of the Apostles might be furthered and spread.
This number was mystically prefigured by the seventy-two translators of the Septuagint; by the “men of the elders of the people” whom Moses chose (Numbers xi. 16); by the number of the Sanhedrin, and by the wells and palm trees of Elim, Exod. xv. 27.
Again, the seventy-two disciples, saith Bede, answer to the seventy-two nations of the world, as if Christ had appointed to each nation its own disciple or teacher. For S. Augustine, S. Jerome, and others hold that after the confusion of tongues, mankind was divided into seventy-two nations and languages. See Gen. x. 32.
3. Hence, it is clear that there was distinction and difference in the degrees and duties of the priests. For these disciples were not equal in dignity to the Apostles; indeed Matthias, who was, according to Clement of Alexandria, one of their number, was chosen from them to the Apostolate, Acts i. Hence the Fathers teach that the Bishops are the successors of the Apostles, and the priests of the seventy disciples. Although, in the early days of the Church, saith Bede, both the one and the other were called Presbyters or Bishops, in the one case to signify the ripeness of their wisdom, in the other case their zeal in the pastoral office.
Symbolically. As in twenty-four hours the whole world moves round the sun and receives light, so is the world enlightened by Christ through the Gospel of the Trinity, which was preached at His command by the seventy-two -disciples. For three times twenty-four makes seventy-two. S. Augustine (Quæst. Evang.)
And sent them two and two before His face into every city and place, whither He Himself would come, i.e. into Judæa, as He had before sent the twelve Apostles into Galilee. Jesus wished to make Himself known to the Jews as the Messiah, and to offer them salvation through faith in Him. Therefore as He was Himself unable to go throughout their towns and cities, because the time of His departure was now nigh at hand, He chose the seventy to go before Him and heal the sick, that the minds of His countrymen might be prepared to acknowledge Him as the Christ, and to receive at His hands pardon and forgiveness. But He kept the twelve Apostles with Him to witness to His life, and that they might also assist Him in ministering to the necessities of those who waited on His teaching, and learn how in their turn they should labour for the conversion of the world.
Two by two. For these reasons:
1. That the one might aid and support the other, as Origen, Theophylact and S. Gregory say, and that if one were weary or from any cause unable to carry on the work, the other might take his place. “Two are better than one. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth.” Eccles. iv. 9, 10.
Wherefore Pachonius rules: If the Superior permit, let him take a trustworthy companion and then go forth to visit a brother or a neighbour. And again, Let no one be sent on any business unless another go with him. S. Augustine writes, When ye are journeying, walk together—when at your journey’s end, together rest. And so rule all the other founders of the religious orders.
2. That one may always have in the other a witness to his life, and an adviser and guide. Experience teaches us that they who are associated together two by two, rarely or never are tempted to sins of impurity, but that those who are alone lay themselves open to accusations of evil, even if they have not actually fallen away. Hence S. Thomas was wont to say, A monk away from his brethren is an active evil. S. Augustine rules (Reg. cap. xii.), When ye are in a church, or wheresoever there are women, let each protect the other’s modesty. For thus God, who dwelleth in you, will protect you from yourselves. Another writer, S. Jerome, enjoins: If in the exercise of the priestly office, thou art called upon to visit a widow or a virgin, enter not the house alone; and again, Abide not alone with any woman, unless in the presence of a witness. So also S. Basil. Possidonius also tells us that if S. Augustine was asked by any women to visit them, he never entered their house or conversed with them, even on private matters, unless in the presence of some of his clergy. And so S. Charles Borromeo in our times adopted the rule of S. Augustine, for he never conversed with any of his female relations except one of his upper servants was present. (Vita. Lib. vii. cap. vi). And Seneca even (Epist. 25), says, “Solitude tempts us to every evil;” and as a corrective adds, “Without doubt, it is profitable to place a guard over thyself, so as to have some one to look to, some one to be acquainted with the very thoughts;” and adds, from Epicurus, “Do everything as if there was some one beholding thy actions;” and again (Epist. ii.), “Most sins would be avoided, if a man had a witness beside him when he was about to sin.” The Emperor Justinian also (De Monachis), decrees that monks should go about in company, “to bear witness to each other’s integrity.” And Pope Lucian (Epist. i. ad Episc.) decrees, “We exhort you, for reputation’s sake, that according to the rule of our holy Church ye always take with you priests and deacons as witnesses of your life and conversation; for although ye may have a conscience void of offence, yet because of evilly disposed men, it behoveth you, as the Apostle saith, to have a good report amongst them that are without. 1 Tim. iii. 7. Hence we have ordained that, as a testimony to the Church, two priests or three deacons should always and in all places accompany their Bishop.”
Lastly, we have the authority of S. Thomas of Canterbury, a man of great sanctity and wisdom, who says, “I who have been for thirty years a Bishop know how true is the saying, ‘Woe to him that is alone.’ For I have frequently heard of fearful dangers, and fearful scandals having befallen those who either in public or private affect a solitary life, evils into which they would not have fallen had they not shunned the companionship of their fellow men.”
3. That their preaching might be more powerful to persuade. At the mouth of two or of three witnesses shall the matter be established, Deut. xix. 15. So we find Christ and His apostles constantly acting on this rule. For Christ sent two of His disciples, Peter and John, to loose the ass and to prepare the passover. After the resurrection Cleophas and a companion went to Emmaus. In like manner we find Peter and John often associated together: they run both to the sepulchre, they go up together to pray at the ninth hour, and both are sent to Samaria by the apostles.
So Paul and Barnabas were separated for the work of the Holy Spirit; Silas and Judas, surnamed Barsabas, sent to Antioch; and Paul and Silas to Syria; and according to the universal belief of the Church, Enoch and Elias will re-appear in the time of Antichrist as witnesses to the truth.
Figuratively. S. Gregory (hom. 17. in Evang.) says, The Lord sent His disciples two by two to preach, because the precepts of charity are two, the love of God and the love of our neighbour, and charity cannot exist without at least two, and thereby he silently suggests to us that he who has not love to another ought not to undertake the office of preaching.
So Origen. It seems from the word of God to be an ancient custom, that two should be associated in His service. For God led Israel out of Egypt by the hands of Moses and Aaron. Joshua and Caleb also united together to appease the people. Hence a brother aided by a brother is as a fortified city. So two by two the animals entered into the ark, unclean by natural generation, but cleansed by the sacrament of the Church, by the spiritual grace attendant on the preaching of the disciples. Gloss.
Into every city and place, whither He Himself would come. Mystically signifying, as S. Gregory says, that the Lord Himself attends on His preachers. For the words of the preacher persuade men of the truth, and make their hearts ready to be the abiding place of Christ. Hence Isaiah, chap. xl. 3, says, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight a highway for our God.” And the Psalmist, “Make a way for Him who ascendeth upon the west, the Lord is His name.” Ps. lxvii. 5, Douay version.
Ver. 2.—The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few. See S. Matt ix. 37.
Ver. 3.—Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. That by your innocent and holy lives, through the power of My grace working in you, you may change the wolf into the lamb, i.e., convert evil men from the error of their way. Fear not, therefore, for under My protection no harm can befall you. For, as S. Ambrose says, “the good Shepherd takes care that the wolves do His flock no harm.”
Ver. 4.—Carry neither purse (provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purse, S. Matt. x.) nor scrip. Neither purse for money, nor scrip for food; for the Shepherd will supply both if needful. He commands them to look to Him who sent them forth for the necessaries of life. Euthymius.
For the preacher ought to have such trust in God, that although unprovided with the expenses of their present life, he should be convinced that they will not fail him; lest whilst his mind is taken up with things temporal, he should be less mindful of things eternal. S. Gregory. See S. Matt. x. For Christ here gives to the seventy disciples the same commands which He before gave to His twelve apostles.
And salute no man by the way. Do not turn aside to salute your friends or to commune with your acquaintances, but, avoid all such delays, and devote yourselves entirely to the preaching of My gospel. SS. Augustine, Ambrose, Gregory and others
But on the other hand, Euthymius says, Christ means not that His disciples should uncourteously refuse a passing salutation. He only forbids those formal greetings,* which are hindrances to the ministry, and causes of offence. So writes S. Ambrose, who here alludes to the command of Elijah, “If thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him now again” (2 Kings iv. 29): a command given lest Gehazi might enter into converse with some one by the way, and thus be forgetful of the duty he was sent to perform.
Ver. 7.—For the labourer is worthy of his hire. By hire we must understand not money or its equivalent, but food and nourishment. For the preaching of the kingdom of heaven is above price. Hence S. Augustine says on Ps. ciii.: What do they receive? They bestow spiritual gifts, they receive carnal; they give gold, they receive that which is worthless. Therefore it is clear that the apostles should live by the gospel, and that their hearers were bound by every law, natural and divine, to support them. They were forbidden then to carry either purse or scrip, because God put it into the hearts of those that attended on their teaching to provide for all their wants. For S. Gregory says (Hom. 17), He who forbids us to carry scrip or purse, ordains that we should live of the gospel. Because it is fitting that we should receive earthly things from those to whom we offer heavenly rewards. And again, Christ shows why He bade His disciples carry neither scrip nor purse, not because these things are unneeded, but in order to teach that it was the duty of those to whom they were sent to supply them. S. Augustine, De Consent. Evang. lib. ii.
Ver. 16.—He that heareth you heareth Me; and he that despiseth you despiseth Me. For you are my apostles, and ambassadors. And he who despises an envoy despises the monarch who sent him. Therefore we ought to regard the commands of our religious superiors as if they issued from the mouth of Christ Himself. Hence Bernard (de Præcepto), Whatever God, or man speaking in the place of God, enjoins, that—unless contrary to the known will of the Almighty—must be looked upon as a divine command. And again, We must render to those whom God has put over us, in all things lawful, the same obedience as we would render to God. See further S. Matt. x. and xi.
Ver. 17.—And the seventy returned with joy (great joy, Syriac), saying, Lord, even the devils are subject to us through Thy name. They as much as say, We have not only healed the sick according to Thy word, ver. 9; but have even cast out devils through the power of Thy name. See, says Theophylact, their humility, for they say through Thy name, not by our own power or virtue. Yet a certain amount of vain glorying seems to have crept in unawares, because Christ had chosen them in preference to others to work such wonders; but their offence was a venial one, such as the Master would soon absolve.
Ver. 18.—And He said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Like lightning.
1. Unexpectedly: because as the lightning bursts forth unexpectedly from a tranquil sky, so were the devils suddenly cast down from heaven.
2. Violently, by the power of Michael and his angels, Rev. xii. 7.
3. Swiftly, in a moment of time.
4. Openly, in the presence of all the inhabitants of heaven.
Christ took example from the lightning to show how great and swift was the fall of Satan. Euthymius. Many think that Christ here speaks literally of the fall of Satan from heaven, i.e. from the power of which he possessed over the world before the coming of the Saviour.
Ye tell me no new thing, 0 my disciples, for when I sent you forth I saw the devil deprived of power, falling as it were from heaven, and about to be yet more discomfited by your ministry. Christ saith this as if to magnify the power which He had given to the disciples. See how mighty a foe is subject to you through My name. So Nazianzen, S. Basil, and well-nigh all the Fathers.
Hear Theophylact. Some understand by the word heaven the honour and glory which Satan possessed, for before the coming of Christ he was worshipped as a god.
Euthymius also: Before the incarnation Satan was had in honour, and exercised kingly power, but he fell, not from heaven, because he had already fallen from it, but from all his glory and power when Christ was made man. So also Vatablus: When I sent you forth to preach I saw, saith Christ, that the power of Satan would be broken. “For” says S. Cyril, “Satan then fell from the heights of power to the extreme of weakness.” He was venerated by men before the coming of Christ. He is now trodden under by the feet of the faithful
Hence it is written, “I give you power to tread upon serpents.”
But this allusion to the fall of Satan is mystical and symbolical rather than literal. Literally Christ speaks of Satan’s fall from heaven, i.e. of the time when he and his angels were cast into the abyss, because through pride he sought to make himself equal with God, or because, as others think, he endeavoured to hinder the purpose of God in the incarnation of Christ.
Because, therefore, he envied the Divinity of Christ, he was cast out of heaven. The Greek word πεσόντα is in the past tense, and should therefore be translated as in the Arabic, “fallen.” The whole passage, therefore, may be rendered thus, “Wonder not, 0 My disciples, that through My name ye have cast out devils; for I long since cast out of heaven Lucifer and his angels, because of their pride and discontent. But beware lest ye give way to pride, because the devils are subject unto you, and lest ye also for this cause incur a like punishment.” So S. Jerome, and all the Fathers.*
But very appropriately is Lucifer compared to lightning.
1. Because by the brilliancy of lightning is very aptly shown the pre-eminence and fiery nature of Lucifer.
2. And also his excessive power to do hurt. For as the lightning shatters the hardest rock, so Satan overpowers all opposition.
3. Because of the shortness of his reign. For as the flash is quickly gone, so the dominion of Satan lasts but for this life, which is but as a moment compared with eternity.
Hence, figuratively, lightning, is an emblem of this world’s glory. For as it flashes, and is quickly gone, “so passes away the glory of this world.”
Furthermore, as the brilliant lightning loses itself in the earth, so Lucifer, a bright angel, became through pride a foul fiend, and thus pride makes the best of men to become devils, whilst humility makes angels of the worst. See Isa. xiv. ii. “Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee.”
4. Because of his outward appearance, “for he transforms himself into an angel of light,” 2 Cor. xi. 14.
The full meaning of this verse is as follows:—I, saith Christ, as God saw the fall of Satan when he was cast out from heaven, and in like manner, I now, as the Son of man, see him cast out of the temples in which he was worshipped, because I teach, and in My name ye also teach, the nations to break up their idols and to worship God alone. Hence, as I cast him out of heaven, so now I deprive him of his power over men. “How art thou fallen, 0 Lucifer, son of the morning. How is the light which was in thee become darkness.” See Isa. xiv. 12.
Moraliter. S. Bernard, in his sermon, on 1 Cor. iii. 12, says, “There is no security in heaven or in paradise, much less in the world. In heaven the angels fell in the very presence of God; in the garden of Eden, Adam; in the world, Judas, a disciple of Christ. I have said this, that no man lull himself into false security because ‘a place is holy ground.’ For it is not the place which sanctifies the men, but the men who sanctify the place.”
Mystically. S. Jerome, Ps. cxxiv. 8, says, “Many earthly things became heavenly, and many heavenly things earthly.” The traitor Judas was offered heaven, but chose earth. The apostle Paul, when persecuting the Church, was the enemy of Christ; but converted, he became meet for the kingdom of heaven. Let him, whose conversation is in heaven, beware of false security; and let not him who yet loves the world, despair of salvation.
Ver. 19.—Behold, I give you power to tread on serpents and scorpions. Power ε̉ξουσίαν, i.e. authority. We may take the words literally, for to Adam was given dominion over every living thing. Christ then gives His disciples power over the wild animals as well as over devils. “They shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them.” S. Mark xvi. 17. And so S. Paul shook off the viper which had fastened on his hand, and felt no harm. Acts xxviii. 5. Jansenius, Maldonatus, and others.
And over all the power of the enemy, δύναμιν rendered in the Vulgate “virtutem,” whether wild animal, or poison, or Satan himself. For by all the power of the enemy we may understand every thing hostile to men.
But mystically, the passage has reference to the devils, who are described as serpents and scorpions, and called the power of the enemy, i.e. the army of Satan. S. Athanasius, Theophylact and others.
Hence Euthymius takes these serpents and scorpions as influencing the senses, or, as Bede says, “representing every kind of unclean spirit.” He adds, “There is this difference between serpents which wound with their fangs, and scorpions whose sting is in their tail, that the serpents signify men or spirits raging openly, scorpions signify them plotting in secret. Thus by the serpent which deceived Eve, we must understand the devil in the serpent’s form. See Gen. chap. iii
Ver. 20.—Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you. He does not forbid them altogether from rejoicing in that the spirits were subject unto them, for this was a lawful joy, but he exhorts them to rejoice rather at their election to eternal life.
1. Because power over the devils is a grace given to the Church, and sometimes bestowed upon the unworthy, as Judas. S. Matt. vii 22. But predestination brings men into favour with God, and ends in everlasting happiness.
2. Because, as Euthymius says, “The one joy is productive of pride and vainglory, but the other of good works, and a desire to please God.”
3. Again, because the casting out of devils and the working of miracles is due to the power of God, and is independent of human merit. But they whose names are written in heaven, at some time present or future are made meet for so great a reward. Bede.
4. Lastly, because to cast out devils affects others, but it is for our own profit that our names are written in heaven. Theophylact.
Are written in heaven, “in the book of life,” not by pen and ink, says Titus, but by the foreknowledge and election of God. Ye are citizens inscribed on the roll of an eternal city, not after the manner of men, but written down in the remembrances of God. Euthymius. Not, says Bede, because God can forget, but that His purpose may stand fast for ever.
Hence, as the foreknowledge and election of God are twofold, so is the book of life. The one perfect and complete, in which are the names of those who are predestinated to eternal life. The other imperfect and incomplete, because they whose names are written in it may fall away, and forfeit their promised reward. So the Apostle salutes Clement and his fellow-labourers, “whose names are written in the book of life ” (Phil iv.) meaning thereby that they, like the Ephesian converts, were called by God and predestinated by Christ to believe on Him, but that their final salvation was conditional on their perseverance and faith. Eph. i. And again, Eph. ii 19, “Ye are fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God:” by grace here and in the glory hereafter, if ye depart not from the grace which is given you. So the Church in the “Secreta” for Lent prays, that the names of all believers may be retained in the book of God’s predestination. These then can forfeit their election, and therefore their salvation is conditional on their perseverance in well doing. For this is the interpretation of Jansenius, Francis Lucas, and others, though Maldonatus doubts whether it be the right one, and Toletus refuses to accept it.
For it is clear from ver. 18 that Christ did not give the seventy disciples to understand that they were absolutely and unconditionally predestinated to glory, for He would have them mindful of condemnation. As Satan fell from heaven, so take heed lest ye also come short of the glory prepared for you in heaven. So all the apostles were called by Christ, and yet one of them was a reprobate.
“Have I not chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” S. John vi. 70. And also among the deacons, who were chosen from the seventy was Nicolas, a man of impure life and the author of the heresy of the Nicolaitanes. S. Jerome, Epist. 48.
Hence we must understand the promise of Christ (S. Matt. xix. 28), “Ye which have followed me, shall sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” to be conditional, i.e. to be fulfilled only if they continued to follow Him to their life’s end.
Ver. 21.—In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit (Spiritu Sancto, Vulgate), because the Holy Spirit had, according to His promise, granted the disciples, though weak and unlearned men, the power of working wonders, and had thus led others to believe in Christ and to glorify God.
And hast revealed them unto babes, i.e. that thou hast revealed to my humble and unlearned disciples the truth, so that they might acknowledge Thee, the one true God, and Me whom Thou hast sent, and might be predestinated to eternal life; and that many others also, whom they have healed of their diseases, and from whom they have cast out devils, might be brought to the knowledge of God, and believe to the salvation of their soul.
Ver. 22.—All things are delivered to Me of My Father. As all things were created by My Father, so all things are created anew by Me, and redeemed from the curse of sin. That thus I might raise up those who had fallen away, and might sanctify them, and might renew all the other creatures which had become corrupt through the sin of man.
“For,” says S. Athanasius (Serm. iv. contra Arianos), “after the fall of man, all things were made partakers of his transgression. And so death reigned over all from Adam even unto Christ. The earth was given over to the curse, hell was opened, paradise shut, heaven became an enemy, and mankind being corrupted and lost, the devil triumphed over us.”
“Then He gave Him a human nature, that the Word Himself might take upon Him our flesh, and might renew in all the nature He had taken.
“All things were delivered unto Him as the physician who could heal the serpent’s bite, as the life which could restore the dead, as the light which could illuminate the darkness, as the understanding which could renew the Powers of the mind.”
And in explanation, he adds, “After all things were delivered to Him, and he was made man, all things were renewed and made perfect again. The earth received a blessing instead of a curse, paradise was unlocked. Hell drew back from fear, the graves gave up their dead, and the gates were thrown open that He might enter from Eden.”
Christ does not speak here of the essence and attributes which were communicated to Him from the Father by His divine generation, as S. Chrysostom, Hilary, and S. Ambrose explain, but of the plenary power which was given to Him as man, to effect the salvation of men.
Ver. 25.—And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up. “What ought I to do to obtain eternal life?” This lawyer is not the same as the one mentioned by S. Matt. xxii. 35, as is clear from the circumstances there recorded.
And tempted Him. He asked the question, not for any good motive, but with the design of tempting Christ to give some answer concerning Himself or His doctrine, which might lay Him open to the charge of being a breaker or a despiser of the law. Toletus.
Ver. 29.—But he, willing to justify himself. To justify himself, i.e. to show himself to be more just than others. “Show me any one who comes nigh me in righteousness, who is as just and upright as I am. Such an one you will scarcely find.” So Titus, Euthymius, and Isidore of Pelusium, who think that the lawyer spoke with the pride and arrogance of a Pharisee.
“He thought,” says Isidore, “that the neighbour of a righteous man must be righteous, and the neighbour of an exalted man one of high degree. Show me some one so great as to be worthy to be compared with me.”
But the answer of Christ proved the contrary, as is clear from a consideration of the passage. For when this lawyer heard Christ commend the answer he had given, his purpose changed, and his aversion turned into love and reverence for the Lord. Hence he earnestly asked, Who is my neighbour? that by loving him he might fulfil the law.
Hence, “willing to justify himself,” means that he wished to show his love for that which was right, that he was anxious out of an awakened conscience to understand and learn the law of God, in order that he might fulfil its precepts. Toletus, Jansenius, and others.
And who is my neighbour? There was much questioning amongst the scribes concerning this, and much error. For because it is written, Lev. xix. 18, “Thou shalt love thy friend” (רע rea), they inferred the contrary, “thou shalt hate thy enemy,” i.e., the Gentile, every one not a Jew: an error which Christ corrected, S. Matt. v. 43.
Hence the scribes thought that the Jew alone, as a worshipper of the one true God, and, of the same religion and race, could be a friend, or a neighbour, and even of their countrymen only those who were faithful in their observance of the law, were to be loved or to be held in honour.
Well, therefore, might this lawyer ask, Who is my neighbour? I love all my countrymen who walk uprightly, and regard them as my neighbours, but are there others whom I ought to love? Christ answers that all men are our neighbours, because they partake of the same life, the same grace, the same salvation through Christ, the same sacraments, the same vocation and calling and are journeying with us to the same eternity of happiness.
Every man, therefore, is our “rea,” our friend and our fellow; or in the Greek πλησίος, near to us, from πελαζω or πλάω, I draw nigh, which is more forcibly rendered in Latin by “proximus,” because we are “proximi” next or nearest to each other in a direct sense by virtue of the life we live in common with them, and the blessings which we enjoy.
But by proximus Cicero and the Latins understood vicinissimus, i.e. neighbour in the strictest sense. Hence Isidore (lib. x. etymol.). We call him the nearest to us, who is next of kin; and Cicero (lib. II De legibus), “Whatever is best, that we must look upon as next or nigh unto God.” But now all men are our neighbours by creation, and by their redemption and calling in Christ.
Figuratively. The word “neighbour” is suggestive of the tenderest affection and love, such as that of brother for brother, or of a son for his father, for no one comes between them, inasmuch as there is no higher relationship; yet there are degrees of this love, for we must love our father more than our brother, and our brother more than any more distant relation, for amongst our nearest of kin one is nearer to us than another, and therefore more to be loved.
Ver. 30.—And Jesus answering said. Taking up or continuing His discourse. Euthymius. I.e. answering the lawyer and explaining fully and clearly to whom “neighbour” applied.
A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves. A Jew, S. Augustine says; and an inhabitant of the holy city. Bede.
The parable is founded on incidents of at that time frequent occurrence, and is therefore a true history. For, as S. Jerome observes, between Jerusalem and Jericho was a place infested with robbers, called in the Hebrew tongue Adommim, or rather Addammim, i.e. red or bloody, because of the blood which was shed there. So Adrichomius describes Adommim as a place infamous even in later times for robberies and murders, terrible to behold, and so dangerous that no one dared to pass through it without an escort.
There the Samaritan met with this man who, like many another traveller, had been grievously wounded by robbers. The place itself lay four leagues to the west of Jericho, and was situated on the confines of Judah and Benjamin. A fort had been built there, and garrisoned with soldiers, for the protection of travellers. Close by was a large cavern, and the country round was hilly, so that robbers could see from afar the approaching wayfarer, and lie in ambush to attack him. Hence in Joshua xv. 7 the place is called the going up to Adommim.
Which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed leaving him half dead. Stripped him of his raiment, money, and all that he had, and left him half dead by the wayside, where he would have died of his wounds had no one come to succour him. For it is the custom of robbers, in order to avoid detection, to murder their victims. The Syriac version makes the meaning clear. “They wounded him, and left him when there was scarce any life remaining in him.”
Ver. 31.—And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. By chance, humanly speaking, but really by the providence of God, for all things are foreordained by Him. Passed by on the other side, “α̉ντιπαζη̃λθεν.” The priest, terrified at his appearance, turned away from him, and went by on the other side. Christ here draws attention to the perversity of the priests of that day, who were zealous in carrying out all the outward observances of the law, but were utterly wanting in true religion and in showing mercy and pity. For this priest left his fellow-countryman and neighbour in his direst distress without even a word of consolation or comfort.
Ver. 32.—And likewise a Levite when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. The Levite amongst the Jews, like the deacons in the Church, assisted the priest in his ministrations. He was therefore of one mind with the priest, for as the priest so is the Levite, as the prelate so the deacon, as the master so the servant, as the teacher so the disciple. And so he also passed by on the other side.
Ver. 33.—But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him. A Samaritan one of an entirely different race and religion, and therefore, as a heretic and schismatic, more hateful to the Jews than any other of the Gentiles. Yet this despised Samaritan had pity on the poor traveller who had, been abandoned by both priest and Levite. Hence we learn that not only our friends but also our enemies are our neighbours, and Christ holds up this Samaritan as an example of brotherly kindness and love, because he had compassion on one who was hateful to himself and his people.
Ver. 34.—And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine. Went to him, got off the horse or the ass on which he was riding, and poured into the wounds the oil and wine which he carried with him as refreshment for the way.
The order is inverted. He first, in accordance with the practice of the physicians of that day, washed the wounds with wine; for wine (1.) removes the coagulated blood; (2.) arrests corruption; (3.) closes the wound and strengthens the nerves against the effects of the bruises.
Then he anointed the wounds with oil—(1) To sooth their smart; (2.) to allay the pain; and (3.) to help forward the cure.
Hence S. Gregory says (lib. xx. chap. 8, Moral), By wine we may understand the gnawings of conscience; by oil the healing influences of religion—and so mildness must be mingled with severity if we would heal the wounds of the soul, and rescue sinners from the power of sin. But S. Chrysostom considers the wine to be the blood of the Passion, the oil the unction wherewith we are anointed, i.e. the unction of the Holy Spirit. Interlinear Gloss.
And set him on his own beast. On his ass. Syriac.
Allegorically. S. Augustine explains the beast to mean the flesh of Christ, and to be set thereon, to believe in the incarnation. S. Ambrose says, He places us on His beast whilst He bears our sins; and Theophylact, He made us to be His members and partakers of His body.
And brought him to an inn. ει̉ς πανδοχεὶον, in stabulum. Vulgate. The resting-place built for the accommodation of all—the stabulum, where travellers stopped or stood to rest,
And took care of him. Providing everything which his case required.
Ver. 35.—And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence—i.e. not two pence in the ordinary signification of the words, but sufficient to supply the wants of the wounded man until his return. S. Augustine says, “The two pence are the two precepts of love, which the apostles received for the evangelising of the world, or the promise of this life, and of that which is to come.”
And gave them to the host, &c. Learn hence how great was the love of the Samaritan, for he provided everything that was needful for the poor traveller’s cure.
Allegorically. The traveller is Adam wounded, and all but dead in trespasses and sins. For Adam went from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell from grace into the power of Satan. For the thieves are the evil spirits who tempted Adam and Eve to sin, and corrupted the souls of all with the lust of concupiscence. The priest and Levite represent the ancient law, which was unable to remedy the consequences of Adam’s fall.
The Samaritan is Christ, by whom men are rescued from sin and promised salvation. The beast is his human nature, to which the divine is united, and on which it is carried and borne. The inn is the Church, which receives all believers. The wine is the blood of Christ, by which we are cleansed from sin. The oil represents his mercy and pity. The host, who is the head of the inn, i.e. of the Church, is S. Peter. So S. Ambrose, Origen, and the Fathers.
Hear also Origen more particularly: “A certain preacher thus interprets the parable. The man who went down from Jerusalem is Adam. Jerusalem is Paradise, Jericho the world. The thieves are the powers which are against us. The priest is the law, the Levite, the prophets. The Samaritan is Christ. The beast whereon he sat, the body of the Lord, i.e. His humanity. The inn the Church. By the two pieces of money we may understand the Father and the Son, and by the host, the head of the Church, him to whom its governance is committed. The return of the Samaritan is the second coming of the Lord;” and this interpretation seems reasonable and true
Again the Fathers and Theologians teach from this parable that Adam was stripped of those gifts and good things which were of grace, but wounded in those things which were of nature, not indeed in his nature pure and incorrupt, for nature is the same after sin as before, but in his nature established by grace, cleansed and renewed by justification imputed by God. For in a nature of this kind all the appetites and passions as well as the lust of concupiscence are subjected to the understanding, so that a man does not wish or desire anything but that which is right. For deprived through sin of original justification we experience in ourselves, unwittingly and contrary to our will, evil desires. This is the wound which nature has received.
Ver. 36.—Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? The true meaning of the passage is this, Which of these three seems to thee to have acted as neighbour to the wounded man? and in this sense it was understood by the lawyer who answered, “He that showed mercy upon him.” Christ asked the lawyer which of the three by his actions showed that he looked upon the wounded man as a neighbour. For neighbour is a correlative term, and a man can only be a neighbour to a neighbour, just as a man can only be compassionate to one who needs pity.
Hence Christ indicates the one by the other, and thus answers the lawyer’s inquiry. Christ inverted His answer, in order to give an example of the perfection of brotherly love, so that the lawyer and all men might learn to imitate the Samaritan. Hence Jesus said, “Go and do thou likewise,” v. 37.
So also in the parable of the two debtors, Christ asks, “Which of them will love him most?” See chap. vii. 42. S. Augustine, Bede, and all the Fathers.
Ver. 37.—And he said, He that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise. Hereby we understand, says S. Augustine, “that he is our neighbour to whomsoever we must show compassion, if he need it, and would have shown it if he had needed it.” Hence it follows that even he who must in turn show us this duty is our neighbour. For the name of neighbour relates to something else, nor can any one be a neighbour except to a neighbour.
Hence it is clear that to no one, not even to our enemy, is mercy to be denied. And S. Augustine very appositely adds, “What more remote than God from men? For God possesses two perfections, righteousness and immortality. But man two evils, sin and death. God was made man, and so like unto us, yet not like us, for He was without sin, and by bearing the punishment, but not the guilt of sin, He abolished both the guilt and the punishment.”
Isidore of Pelusium assigns the cause. Relationship is reckoned according to nature, not virtue; in essence, not by worth; by compassion, not by place; by the manner of treatment, not by neighbourhood. For we must account him as a neighbour who is most in need of our aid, and be willing at once to render him help.
Ver. 38.—Now it came to pass, as they went, that He entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received Him into her house. As they went preaching the Gospel, v. i. “A certain village:” probably Bethany, where Martha dwelt.
The servant, says S. Augustine, by reason of His condescension, not His condition, received her Lord, the sick the Saviour, the creature the Creator, one to be fed in spirit, Him who must be fed in the flesh.
The hospitality of Martha is praised, for she received Jesus, who was hated by the chief priests and scribes, and in receiving Him she received God, who blessed her and her house, and after death received her into glory.
Thus Abraham entertained angels unawares. See Heb. xiii. 2.
Hence Christ appeared to Martha as she lay dying, and as a reward for her hospitality invited her to His heavenly kingdom, and it is added on the authority of S. Antonine, that the Lord Himself was present at her burial. Thus He honours those who honour Him.
Ver 39.—And she had a sister called Mary, surnamed, Magdalene. They were sisters, says S. Augustine, not only by their parentage but in religion, for both were followers of Christ, and both served Him present in the flesh—blessed in such a guest.
Which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard His word. The word “also” shows that at the very time when Mary might have been assisting her sister in her household cares, she was sitting at Jesus feet showing her diligence and zeal in hearing, and the great reverence which she had for Christ.
As by sitting at Jesus’ feet she had made the better choice, says S. Augustine, so she received the greater benefit. For water collects in the low-lying valleys, but flows down the acclivities of the hills.
And heard His word. Christ here teaches His disciples how they ought to behave in the houses of those who receive them, for, says S. Chrysostom (S. Cyril in the Catena), “They should not remain idle, but rather fill the minds of those who receive them with heavenly doctrine.” That no time may be without fruit, but that they may everywhere sow the seeds of religion, and excite men to virtue and to the love of God. Thus did Peter Faber, the first companion of S. Ignatius Loyola, who spent his whole life in journeying amongst his fellowmen, and in his will left us this salutary advice, that when we enter a house we should recite the hours, or take part in religious discourses, to show the reality of our profession. For thus a stop is put to improper conversation, and religion is the gainer. Thus he more than once by his discourse moved those whom he was entertaining to repentance, and received from them confession of their sins. Thus also did S. Francis Xavier, who sailed throughout the East, and won converts as much by his life as by his preaching.
Ver. 40.—But Martha was cumbered with much serving, πεζιεσπα̃το πεζί πολλὴν διακονίαν, was drawn aside and distracted, i.e. was anxious that nothing should be wanting for the entertainment of such a guest. Hence the Arabic, Martha was diligently serving to the utmost of her power.
And came to Him, and said, Lord, dost Thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. Came to Him: Greek, ε̉πιστα̃σα, standing by Him.
Dost Thou not care? Does not it displease you? Arabic.
Martha spoke thus partly from her wish that all things should be properly prepared for Christ, partly from her knowledge of His consideration and kindness. Lord, my sister sees me overwhelmed with care because of my desire to honour Thee, and yet does nothing to assist me. Out of kindness to me, bid her, therefore, share my labour. She will obey Thy word, but will not, I know, listen to my request.
Ver. 41.—And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things. The repetition of her name, says S. Augustine, “is a sign of affection, or perhaps of a desire to arrest her attention more particularly to what He was about to say. For she was so entirely engrossed by her household cares, that His words might have been unheeded had she not been specially addressed by name.” S. Augustine adds, “Mary made no reply, because she preferred to commit her cause to her judge, and knew that Christ would, as He was wont, stand by her and support her. Hence Christ, who was appealed to as judge, became her Advocate.” Interlinear Gloss.
Thou art too anxious, Martha, and therefore thou are troubled. Thou desirest to prepare many things for me, whereas I need but few. Emmanuel Sa and all the others translate τυζβάζή, thou art confused, but the better rendering is, thou art troubled. For those who are anxious about many things experience much perturbation of mind—hence too much care and anxiety is the sign of excessive love or fear, and so they who love honour or riches, or any other thing too much, fear lest they may lose what they love, and become perturbed and anxious.
Ver. 42.—But one thing is needfull. The Greek has ε̉νὸς δέ ε̉στιν χζεία; and this “one thing” Christ places in opposition to the “many things” about which Martha was troubled.
What then is this one thing which is needful? Luther, Bullinger, Melancthon, and other like innovators answer, Faith, i.e. to hear the Gospel and to believe in it. For this is what the Magdalene did. Hence they think that faith only is necessary for salvation. Only believe, they say, that you are saved through the merits of Christ, and you will assuredly obtain your salvation. But such a faith is rash and delusive. For blasphemers and evildoers might possess it. Hence, in addition to faith, hope, charity, and good works are necessary for salvation, as is clear from S. Matt xix. 17, 1 Cor. xiii., and Holy Scripture generally, and from the example of the Magdalene herself, who not only heard, but was obedient to the word of the Lord. See S. Luke vii. 43.
The truer and more orthodox interpretation seems to be that of those who understand by “one thing” one kind of food. Thou art anxious, Martha, to place before me many dishes, but to no purpose, for I require but one. I want not a rich banquet, but only ordinary food, for I am temperate, and a lover of humble fare. I do not blame, but praise your desire to do Me honour, yet I warn you not to be over careful for the things of this life, nor to call your sister away from hearing My words. So Theophylact, S. Gregory, and others.
Hear also S. Basil. “There is need of few things, or rather of but one. Of few things as far as preparations are concerned, but of one object for the supply of our need;” and Titus, “We came not hither to fill ourselves with superfluous food, for nature is content with little.” Similarly Theophylact says, “One thing is needful: we must eat something, but we need not varieties of food,” i.e. according to the Arabic version, “That which is necessary for us we can easily obtain.”
2. But in a higher sense, the one thing needful is the love of God, and the desire of salvation. This was the good part which Mary had chosen; and therefore, explaining the one thing needful, Christ goes on to say, “Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her.”
The meaning is, therefore, this: Thou, Martha, art troubled about many things, but I exhort thee to devote thyself to one thing alone, to seek to please God, and Him only, in every action of thy life, and to do everything out of love towards Him. So, not attempting that which thou art unable to perform, thou wilt be enabled to serve God quietly and without fear, and to accomplish whatsoever He would have thee to do. Bede, Euthymius, and others.
Hence S. Augustine and S. Gregory say, “This one thing is the end and chief good of men, on which their minds should be ever fixed;” and Cassian says, “The one thing needful is a mind which, regardless of all else, is fixed on God alone, and rejoices in the contemplation of His perfections.” For although divine contemplation is not necessary for salvation it is necessary for the perfection of those who are united to God by a holy life. So the Psalmist says, Ps. xxvii 4, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” And S. Paul, Phil. iii. 13, 14, “One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” And again, Esther xiv. 18, “Thine handmaid hath never rejoiced since I was brought hither, unto this day, but in thee, 0 Lord, the God of Abraham.“—Douay. For Christ saith, S. John xvii. 3, “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”
Wherefore, when S. Ægidius, a very holy man, one of the first followers of S. Francis, was asked the way to holiness and perfection, he answered, “Una uni.” Let your whole mind be entirely given up to God, and one with Him. For unity is contrary to division, and God is one. Wherefore let him who seeks God return to unity with Him, for God must be sought by conformity of will, and by the union of the intellect and affections. S. Bernard (serm. 7 in Cant.)
Hence S. Augustine (lib. ii, 18 De Ordine.) proves by induction that all things tend to one, because, as he shows, “Unity or singleness is the first fruit of God, who is the first essential and uncreated unity, the origin and fount of all other unities;” and in a later chapter he dwells upon the beauty of unity.
In short, the one thing needful is God. All other things contingent and immaterial, created by the good pleasure of God out of nothing; and as, to quote the proverb, he who pursues two hares catches neither, so he who strives to please God and the world fails to attain either object.
Figuratively, this “one thing” is to be acquired by meditation and prayer, for thus men are brought into communion with God. Hence he who would lead a religious life should seek this one thing only, so as to be thereby drawn into union with the Almighty. S. Dionysius and Climacus. “A monk is one who always has his soul lifted up to God; one who prays at all times, at all places, and on all occasions;” and S. Chrysostom says, “Prayer is the heart and soul of a perfect and religious life;” and S. Bonaventura (De perfectione vitæ, chap. 5), declares that “If any one who has taken the vows of a religious life omits frequent prayer, his soul is dead within him, or in other words he is like a body without a soul, having the outward form and religion, but lacking its inward grace.” And again, “Without abundant prayer religion becomes languid and weak. Why, unhappy spirit, dost thou wander through many places, seeking rest and finding none? Set thy affections on Him, of whom are all things, and in Him thou wilt rest happy and content. For He will satisfy thee with good things, and give thee to drink out of His pleasures as out of a river.”
Hear also what Epictetus says to Arrian: “All first principles must, as if the world were turned upside down, return to one—all beauty, truth, and everything which is good, to one origin—everything divine to one God, all unity to the Triune.” For unity, the beginning of things, goodness, truth and God are the same, and therefore one. Hence we read, Cant. ii. 16, “My beloved to me, and I to Him,” for the Bride makes entire surrender of herself to her spouse; and so the saints desire to put off the flesh, that their souls may be united with God. So S. Paul was willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. v. 8); and Simeon, “Lord, now lettest Thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word;” and the Psalmist, “Woe is me, that I am constrained to dwell with Mesech.” Ps. cxx. 5.
S. Basil speaks of some who abhorred this life, as if it were a dark prison, and with difficulty restrained their desire (ὸζγαι̃ς) for release, because their hearts were filled with the love of God, and eager to gaze upon the divine perfections: they longed for the time when they might for ever contemplate the loving kindness of the Lord.
So this blessed rest is to the wise a time of working, and the mind which has once been absorbed in the contemplation of the divinity, sustains itself on God and is sustained by Him.
Wherefore David says, Ps. xlii. 2, “My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?”
Symbolically, unity is the beginning and end of all numbers, for every number commences and ends in it—whilst it is independent and indivisible.
So God is the beginning and ending of all things, the Alpha and Omega (Rev. xxi. 6), who shutteth and openeth all things, before whom and after whom there is nothing. Who was from all eternity, through whom and by whom all things exist. Hence Plato says, “All things spring from the divine unity, and retain the trace of their origin, by means of which they are recalled to this unity, and perfected in it;” and considers unity to be God, in whom all things exist as branches from the root.
Again, where sin is there is division; but where virtue, there oneness—where love, there unity. Therefore let him who seeks after virtue love one thing, and seek also for unity. For Christ, the teacher of unity, wills to join us together in one Church and unite us to Himself.
For unity imparts holiness to the mind, health to the body, peace and concord to countries and households, in short, all the virtue and strength of a nation arises out of its oneness with itself. But division is the cause of discord, schism, war, and countless ills. Hence Plato (De Repub. lib. v.) says, The worst evil which can befall a state is division, and its highest good subjection, if subjection makes it again one.
Hence S. Augustine says of the heavenly life, “There will be there no grudging because of unequal love, for one love will reign supreme in all;” and S. Gregory, “So great a love there unites all, that each rejoices that another rather than himself has received a blessing.” Life therefore reigns in love, i.e. in union; but death in hatred, i.e. in division.
Mary hath chosen that good part. The Syriac and Arabic add “to herself”—hath taken to herself. The Greek word α̉γαθὴν implies excellence, hence the Vulgate gives optimam. For Christ commends the one sister more than the other. “Thou, Martha, hast chosen well, but Mary better. Thou hast not chosen a bad part, but she a better.” S. Augustine. “Behold, Martha is not blamed, but Mary is praised.” Bede. And again, S. Augustine (serm. 27 De Verbis Domini), “Can we imagine that Martha was blamed for being intent on hospitable cares? How could she be rightly blamed for rejoicing over such a guest?” So also Ambrose and Cassian (Collat. i., chap. 8).
Theophylact explains, “By the action of the one, the body is nourished; by the action of the other the soul receives life.” And Euthymius, “It is good to be hospitable, but it is better to hear the word of God, for the one is of the body, the other of the spirit.”
S. Augustine gives another figurative interpretation: “Why was Mary’s the better part? Because she preferred the one thing to many. Many things were created, but there was but one Creator, and if the things created were very good, how excellent must He be who created them.”
There are three persons in the Godhead, and these three are one, so the nearer you approach to perfect unity, the higher you draw to God; and Christ Himself prays the Father that His disciples “may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us.” And again, “The glory which thou gavest Me have I given them; that they may be one, even as We are one.” See S. John xvii. 21 et seq.
Hence to choose the good part, is to give up all care of earthly things, and to devote oneself entirely to the service of God.
Hear Richard de S. Victor on Cant. viii: “Mary chose the better part, because she saw that the contemplation and the love of God included all things; but her sister was occupied about things which, though many, are limited to this world: hence by comparison Martha was troubled about few things. But the one thing necessary, and to be preferred before all, is to love God with the whole heart, and to show love and charity to all men.” And Suarez (De Oratione Mentali) says, “Mary made the better choice, because mental prayer brings about blessedness in this life, because it is the commencement of that beatific vision which will be the happiness of the saints in heaven.”
Hence the joy of Magdalene was real and lasting. So S. Bernard says, “It is impossible to enjoy here on earth a sweet and happy life, since the earth itself is subject to constant change; but there is a joy lasting in its happiness, which arises out of a pure conscience. For the mind which is purified from earthly affections and entirely fixed on the contemplation of heavenly things, fears no threatenings, knows no fear, conceives no false hopes, but, void of all offence, rests in perfect peace.” Hugo Victorinus accounts for this perfect peace thus: “A conscience is quiet and void of offence when it is kindly affectioned to all, and bears ill-will to none: when it regards a friend with kindness, an enemy with patience, and seeks to do good, if possible, to all men.”
Allusion is here made, says Maldonatus, to the manner in which the ancients divided an inheritance. It was customary for the eldest son to divide the property into as many parts as might be requisite, and for his brothers to have the first choice, so as to ensure an equal division. Seneca (lib. vi., Declamatio 3).
Thus Christ was the inheritance, which Martha as the elder sister divided into two parts, to hear Christ and to serve Him. Mary the younger chose the better part, i.e. to hear the words of Christ, for the Hebrew חלק, chelec, i.e. part, in Scripture signifies the lot of one’s inheritance. Thus, “The Lord is my portion,” Lam. iii. 4. See also Psalm xvi. 5.
But the active and the contemplative life combined tend to perfection, for the one controls and directs the other. So Christ taught the people by day, but was wont to spend whole nights in prayer, and following his example thus did also the Baptist and the Apostles.
Which shall not he taken away from her. Because to hear, like Mary, the word of God, and to meditate thereon, is spiritual food which will support she soul until it comes to appear in the eternal presence; but to minister, as Martha, is to choose that part which endures but for this present life. S. Augustine and others. Hence S. Gregory. “The part which Mary chose will never be taken away from her, because a contemplative life is unlike an active life, its joys gain strength from death.”
Hear also S. Augustine: “That which thou hast chosen, Martha, will be taken from thee, that something better may be given. For in place of labour thou shalt have rest. Thou hast not yet reached thy journey’s end, but thy sister is in the haven.” And a little before he says, “Martha was troubled how she might feed the Lord, Mary anxious to be fed by Him.” And again, “Carefulness for many things passes away, but the love of one thing lasts for ever.” And Laurentius Justinianus says, “An active life is an anxious one, but a life of contemplation possesses a lasting joy. The one obtains a kingdom, while the other perceives only. In the one the world is despised, in the other God will be manifest, for ‘My people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.’” Isaiah xxxii. 18.
Again S. Gregory writes, “The active life ends with this world for in the next who can give bread to the hungry where there is no hunger—or drink to the thirsty where there is no thirst. But the contemplative life begins here on earth, to be perfected in heaven; for the fire of divine love which is kindled here, burns brighter in the presence of God, who is its object.”
See also Cassian, who says amongst other things, “In the future world all will pass from the many distractions of life and from actual work, to be absorbed in the love of God and in the contemplation of the Deity.”
Observe, as against Calvin, that Martha is the type of the active life, and that Mary, sitting silently at Jesus’ feet, insensible to what was going on around because of her rapt attention to the words of Christ, a type of the contemplative. S. Bernard and others.
But what is contemplation? S. Augustine (or whoever else may be the author of the treatise De Spiritu et Animo) answers, “It is the joyful admiration of a manifest truth.” But S. Bernard defines contemplation as “the uplifting of the mind to God, whereby we gain a foretaste of the joys of happiness eternal.” Others again say, “It is the sure intuition of the soul or its undoubted apprehension of the truth.” But Gerson, following Hugo says, “It is to be dead to all carnal desires, and to taste how sweet the Lord is. As David rejoiced in the living God (Ps. lxxxiv. 9), and declared God to be his portion for ever.” Ps. lxxiii. 25.
S. Gregory also (hom. 14 in Ezek.) thus describes the duties of each kind of life:—“The active life consists in giving bread to the hungry, in teaching the ignorant, reclaiming those who are in error, caring for the sick, and in ministering to the necessities of all, specially to the necessities of those committed to our trust. But he who would lead a life of contemplation must ever keep in mind the love of God and of his neighbour, and refraining from acting on this love, look with the longing expectation of a heart wholly fixed on heaven for the glory which shall be revealed.”
Hence S. Thomas says, “The contemplative life, although mainly intellectual, originates in the affections, inasmuch as it springs out of the love of God, and the end of such a life is like the beginning, for delight at the sight of that which we love increases our love for it.”
The contemplative life therefore causes a man to rise superior to the world, its trials and temptations, and to count all things as valueless in comparison with God, and gives perfect peace, because, S. Bernard says, “God wrapt all things in a holy calm, and to gaze on Him is to be at rest.” But this life of contemplation is preceded by an active life of mortification and self-denial, for as the fruit follows after the flower, so from a monk does a man become a hermit. Therefore S. Basil and other ascetics say that the monastic life is a fitting preparation for that life of contemplation to which the hermits are devoted.
And so the Church has rightly appointed this portion of scripture to be read on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin because she rendered to Christ the service both of Martha and of Mary, and chose that good part, of which she will never be deprived.
* Taken literally the following is the better interpretation: “I foresaw that by your preaching the power of Satan should be quickly broken,” or what amounts to the same thing, “Whilst you were absent preaching and working miracles in obedience to My command, I saw the power of Satan growing weak, and Satan, as it were, cast down from heaven.” (Back up to the place.)