1 Christ preacheth to his disciples to avoid hypocrisy, and fearfulness in publishing his doctrine: 13 warneth the people to beware of covetousness, by the parable of the rich man who set up greater barns: 22 we must not be over careful of earthly things, 31 but seek the kingdom of God, 33 give alms, 36 be ready at a knock to open to our Lord whensoever he cometh: 41 Christ’s ministers are to see to their charge, 49 and look for persecution: 54 the people must take this time of grace, 58 because it is a fearful thing to die without reconciliation
N the meantime, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
Douay Rheims Version
Christ warns us against hypocrisy, the fear of the world and covetousness. He admonishes all to watch.
ND when great multitudes stood about him, so that they trod one upon another, he began to say to his disciples: Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
Ver. 1.—In the mean time when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people. The Greek has “the myriads of the multitude.” A myriad contains exactly ten thousand, and is consequently taken for an innumerable multitude, as here.
Ver. 2.—Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees. Beware, says Bede, that you do not imitate the hypocrites, for the time will certainly come when both your virtue and their hypocrisy will be revealed to all. I have explained the remainder on Matt. x. 26.
Ver. 13.—And one of the multitude said unto Him. My brother is injuring me, for he wishes to seize the whole of our father’s property, and he will give me no share of it. Command him therefore to do me justice, for Thou by Thy authority canst do this with a word, which I cannot effect by many suits and much litigation. For it is Thy office to defend the right and assist the oppressed, for Thou art the Lord of justice.
Ver. 14.—But He said unto him, Man, who made Me a judge or a divider over you? The word “man” is a Hebraism for an unknown person, as in chap. xxii. 58, Peter said, “Man, I am not,” and v. 60, “Man, I know not what thou sayest.” The meaning is, This is a matter of the courts which dispose of secular questions: it has no part in Me, who teach and dispense a heavenly heritage. Christ does not here deny that He has judicial power, for He was the King of kings and the Lord of lords; but He wished to use His power over a covetous man to cure him of his greed, and to teach him to prefer heavenly to earthly things, and to give way willingly to them, according to His own words, vi. 29, “From him that taketh away thy cloke withhold not thy coat also.” “He rightly sets aside earthly things,” says S. Ambrose, “who came down to us for heavenly ones. Hence this brother is rebuked not undeservedly, for he would fain have occupied the dispenser of heavenly things with those of earth.” At the same time He taught that ecclesiastics and spiritual persons ought not to meddle with secular things, but to employ themselves in divine ones, as S. Paul says, 2 Tim ii. 4, “No soldier on service entangleth himself in the affairs of this life.” So S. Ambrose, Euthymius, Bede, and de Lyra from S. Augustine (serm. 196)—that is, unless the faithful have any suit; secular Bishops in former ages used to settle these, as S. Augustine says that he has done. Lib. de Opere Monachor, c. 29.
And He said to them, “as well to His disciples,” the Syriac says, “as to the multitude,” especially to him who had spoken about his brother dividing the property, Take heed. In this contention of brothers how much ill was caused by avarice. Whilst one from avarice refused to divide the inheritance, the other, with too much cupidity and out of all season, urged the division. Strife and dissention arose among them. Not only should we guard against the lust of seizing what is another’s, but also from too great cupidity to get possession of what is our own, for they who are too eager for earthly riches, neglect heavenly ones. S. Augustine, in his 28th Sermo. De diversis: “Not only is he avaricious who seizes what is another’s, but he also who covetously keeps his own.” The Arabic has, “See and beware of all evil—for avarice is the cause of all evil,” as in 1 Tim. vi. 10, “The love of money is the root of all evil.”
For a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. That is, it is not because a man abounds in riches that his life is abundant, so as to be longer and happier on that account, for it is shortened and made unhappy from the anxiety and luxury which attend upon great wealth. The Syriac version has, “Life is not in the abundance of riches;” the Arabic, “Man has not abundance in his much wealth”—that is, abundance does not prolong our lives, but rather shortens them. Theophylact says, “The measure of life is not contained in its abundance. For he who has great possessions does not live longer for them, nor does length of life attend upon the multitude of his riches;” and Euthymius, “Not because a man abounds in riches, does his life abound from such abundance. The measure of his life does not depend upon this.” The meaning is, Thou, 0 man, who greedily seekest a heritage from thy brother, seekest it that thou mayest live long and comfortably. But thou errest; for the rich, from their cares and the gluttony they indulge in, often pass short and miserable lives. If thou wouldest live long and profitably, despise money, be poor in spirit, entrust thy hopes and wealth to God alone, for He is the only giver of length of life and happiness. To show this Christ adds the following parable. S. Augustine, On Abel and Cain, i. 5, at the end: “If thou seek treasures, choose the unseen and hidden, those which are to be found in the highest heavens, not sought in the veins of the earth. Be poor in spirit and thou shalt be rich by every reckoning; for the life of man consists not in the abundance of his wealth, but in virtue and faith. These riches make us rich indeed, if we be rich in God.”
Ver. 16.—And He spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully. The ground in the Greek (χώζα) means a large extent of land, a number of fields.
And he reasoned with himself saying, What shall I do? &c. Behold the care, behold the poverty of this rich man—he who is overflowing with wealth and receptacles has need of some place in which to store his goods. He is in doubt and perplexity, says Euthymius, as if he were really poor, though he is in truth wealthy. And S. Basil, in his homily on these words of Christ: “The earth did not return fruits but lamentations; for this unhappy man is afflicted quite as much as they who are oppressed by want, and he cries out saying, ‘What shall I do?’ Does not he who is in straits from his poverty utter the same words? and he who has to beg?” From all the good things that flowed in upon him he derived no gratification. They rather annoyed his mind and troubled him.
Ver. 17.—My fruits. “Did he not,” says S. Basil, “collect his crops and incur the reputation of avarice when he called them his own?” For how many dangers are there before the harvest is gathered in. The hail often beats it down, and the heat snatches it out of the very grasp, and rains suddenly rush down from the mountains and sweep it away.
Ver. 18.—And he said, This will I do, I will pull down my barns, &c. All the harvests collected in past years. He took counsel of his cupidity, not of his charity, which would have said to him, “Spend them on the poor.” “Dost thou want barns? Thou hast them in the bellies of the poor,” says S. Basil; and S. Ambrose (Lib. de Naboth, cap. vii.), “Thou hast storehouses; the bosoms of the poor, the houses of widows and orphans, the mouths of infants. Let these be thy barns, and they will last thee for ever.” S. Basil again, in the homily above: “He is a despoiler who, when he receives what he ought to dispense, considers it as his own. The bread thou hast is the bread of the famishing, thy robe is the robe of the naked, thy silver that is buried in the ground is the silver of the indigent: wherefore dost thou wrong so many poor whom thou mightest support?” He adds, “And, when thou hast filled thy barns, what wilt thou do with the harvest of the following year? Wilt thou pull them down again and build new ones for ever? Thou wilt always be consuming thy substance and thy wealth in pulling down the old and building new, that the fruits which sprang from the earth may return to it again. Thou wilt not bestow them upon the poor, because thou enviest others the use of them, and thus, when earth restored them again to thee, thou deprivest all men of their benefit, nay even thyself; for as corn, falling into the ground, brings gain to the sower, so thy bread, if thou gavest it to the hungry, would bring thee much profit hereafter.”
And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years. This rich man again errs and commits sin. First, in promising himself very many years, when he was to die that night. He who promised himself a long life did not see the following day,” says S. Gregory (22 Moral chap. 6). And S. Cyril, in the Catena, “Thou hast fruits in thy barns, 0 rich man, but whence hast thou many years?” Secondly, in giving himself up to gluttony and luxury, saying, “Eat, drink, and be merry like an Epicurean.” For after death is no enjoyment.
Take thine ease. To the plague of avarice is joined that of sloth, says the Gloss. “If you had the soul of a sow,” says S. Basil, “what else could you propose for yourself?—you are so brutish, so ignorant of the soul’s good, that you indulge it in carnal gratification.” Being wholly of the flesh, you make yourself a slave to its lusts. An appellation worthy of you, was bestowed upon you, “Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee.”
S. Ambrose (Lib. ii. de Interpell. in Job c. 5) says wisely, “A great incitement to fall away is an influx of prosperity. It makes us supine, puffs us up, causes forgetfulness of its author.”
Ver. 20.—But God said unto him. God said this, not in word but in deed, sending him a fever or some other mortal disease, and causing his conscience by this means to speak thus to him. “God said this to the rich man,” says Euthymius, “through his conscience, which, as he felt death coming upon him, said this to him.”
Thou fool. Because in thy plan, in which thou appearedst to thyself wise, thou now perceivest that thou wast a fool.
This night. “His soul, which would take no heed of light, and which was tending on to Gehenna, was taken in the night.” Gregory, Moral., lib. xv. xi. II.
Shall be required. (Repetunt, απαιτου̃σιν, Greek). They require: that is, God and His angels, who are His instruments, not by misfortune but by the just judgment of God, as if against His will.
Thy soul. “That thou mayest give account of all thy fruits and of the riches and other property which God has given to thee.” So Toletus. They seek it again, because thy soul does not die with the body, but is immortal; thy soul, too, is not thy own, but God’s, who breathed it into thee and entrusted it to thee as a sacred gift. Rightly, therefore, does He now seek it of thee again by a sudden death. Hear S. Jerome on the death that is imminent on all (Ep. iii. to Heliodorus): “Xerxes, that most mighty king, who overthrew mountains, who controlled seas, when he had viewed from a lofty place an infinite multitude of men and an immense army, is said to have wept, because after a hundred years none of those whom he then saw would be surviving. Oh, if we could ascend such a tower from which we could see the whole earth under our feet! I would show you the ruins of the world—nations in strife with nations—kings with kings—and, not the army of Xerxes alone, but the inhabitants of the entire globe, who are now alive, in a short space of time, passed away.”
And the things which thou hast prepared, whose shall they be? “They shall not only not belong to thee,” says Euthymius, “they shall not be thine; but thou dost not know whose they will be—whether thy heir’s or a stranger’s, a friend’s or an enemy’s;—and this increases thy grief.” S. James says, “They shall eat your flesh as fire” (v. 3); and S. Ambrose, “The things that we cannot carry with us are not our own. Virtue alone is the companion of the dead. Mercy alone follows us—and mercy alone gains abodes for the departed.” S. Augustine: “The purse contains that which Christ receives not” (Hom. 48, inter. 50). Well says the wise man, “What fortune has lent let her take, what nature has changed let her seek again, what virtue has gained she will retain.” See what I have collected from the Fathers on vanity and the perniciousness of riches on Isaiah v. 9.
Ver. 21.—So is he that layeth up treasure for himself. Such an end and such a death did the rich covetous man meet who had not laid up treasure toward God. It will be asked, Who is rich towards God? I answer—He who has by alms and other good works many merits and safeguards hidden up as treasures before God, and who day by day hides more, as the apostle teaches at length, 1 Tim. vi. 17 and following. See what is said thereon.
Secondly, “He is rich in God who studies to please God alone, who fixes all his hope and love on God, who rests wholly on Him, that he may be blessed by Him and made eternally happy.” “He is rich,” says the Gloss, “whose expectation is the Lord, and whose substance is with God.” “The rich in God,” says S. Augustine, “is poor in gold” (Serm. xxviii. de verb. Apostoli)—that is, poor in spirit, as St. Peter was when he said to the lame man, “Silver and gold have I none; but what I have, that I give thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk,” Acts iii. On Ps. xl. he says, “When Christ was rich He became poor, that by His poverty He might make you rich. He enriches the truly poor, He brings the falsely rich to poverty. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,’” Matt. v. 3. “Let us endeavour,” says Theophylact, “to be made rich in God, that is, to have trust in Him, that He may have our wealth and the granary of it, and not call our goods our own but God’s, and if they are God’s, let us not deprive Him of His own. This is to be rich in God, to believe that if I give Him all things and empty myself, nothing that is needful for my good shall ever fail me. God is my storehouse, which I will open and take from it all of which I have need.”
Thirdly, He who is rich, that is liberal, in God, is charitable to the poor. For what is done to them God holds to be done to Himself and rewards it. “Let him,” says Bede, “who wishes to be rich in God, not lay up treasure to himself, but distribute his possessions among the poor.” The meaning is good, but it is not complete: for Christ is not speaking here exclusively of almsgiving, but of the true riches, which He declares to be not the fruits of the ground and the wealth of mines, but virtues and good works, for these procure us long life and blessing, as well in this world as in the world to come.
Fourthly, S. Augustine, in his 44th Discourse on the Temptation, teaches that “he is rich to God who is full of love and therefore of God.” “God is love and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him,” 1 John iv. 16. “If you have love you have God. What has the rich man if he have not love? If a poor man have love, what has he not? You think him rich perhaps whose chest is full of gold; and is he not so whose conscience is full of God? He is truly rich in whom God deigns to dwell.” S. Augustine.
Lastly, The rich man toward God is one who abounds in every virtue. So S. Ambrose explains at length (lib. iv. epis. 27), to Simplicianus, whose words I have cited on 1 Peter iii. 4, “That which is not corruptible, the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”
In allegory. The rich toward God are the blessed who enjoy God and all His works. S. Augustine (Serm. 74 de Temp.) teaches that the blessed alone are happy, both because they possess God, and want nothing. “He,” he says, “is truly rich who wants nothing, but the blessed alone want nothing—the blessed alone are truly happy.” He says in the preface of Psalm xli., “Christ was rich to the Father, and poor to us—rich in heaven, poor on earth—rich as God, poor as man.”
S. Ambrose in his Epistle to Demetrias, wisely says, “By what price can the repose of this world be more fitly purchased than by the restoration to the world itself of all riches, all dignities, and all desires; and the purchase of Christian liberty by a holy and happy community by which the sons of God, from having been poor will be made rich, from patient will become brave, from humility be exalted?”
Ver. 29.—Neither be ye of doubtful mind. (The Greek and the Vulgate say, “Be ye not lifted up on high.”) Cornelius comments on this reading, this passage is explained in many different ways. S. Clement of Alexandria (Pæd. lib. ii. 10) says, “Be not led away from the truth to wish for a higher wisdom than faith teaches.”
Secondly, S. Augustine (Lib. ii. Quæst. 29, Evang. Quæst.): “Be not puffed up with pride because you have much food and clothing. For to be proud of having abundance of provision, is like a wounded man boasting that he has many plasters at hand, when it would have been well for him not to have needed any.”
Euthymius: “Be not dragged down from lofty and heavenly concerns to earthly ones, so as to study and pursue not the former but the latter.” Theophylact: “Be not unstable, always imagining what is above you, as they do who are not content with the present but are always looking on to something greater.”
Fifthly and best: Be not anxious about the heavenly bodies over your head—the constellations of the stars and their courses—the shifting of the clouds—the breath of the winds, so as to judge from them of the future abundance or deficiency of your crops; as in Jer. x. 2, “Be not dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the heathen are dismayed at them;” and Eccles. xi. 4, “He that observeth the wind shall not sow, and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.” So Toletus, Vatablus, &c. Vatablus says, “Be not uneasy, as one who turns his face askance to the heavens from anxiety.” Be not wavering in your minds as a pendulum in the air, looking to human assistance in different directions, and not anchoring on the providence of God.” The Arabic version says, “Be ye not anxious.” For all things point in this direction, that Christ will remove from us too great anxiety as to our support and clothing, and will impress on us a sure confidence in God by which to look with certainty to His Fatherly providence for all these things. The Greek word μετέωζος conveys the idea of one whose mind is in doubt and suspense and is unfixed, who will judge by the result, and is, as Gaza calls it, “wavering” (pensilis). Others render it, “Do not look out from afar off,” or as we commonly say, Do not make a long discursus, as though you would have no room for a Divine Providence, or as if you doubted of it. And F. Lucas: Be not over-anxious, as looking out with anxiety for what may happen in the far distant future, and taking thought long before for your future bodily needs, and looking forward in the distant times to come with solicitude about your food and clothing, as S. Matthew clearly explains it, ‘Be not therefore anxious for the morrow,’” vi. 34. All these words tend to the same point, forbidding us to show too great anxiety for the future, and directing us to resign it into the hands of Providence; to trust in it and securely rest upon it. Following this precept of Christ, S. Thomas wished and ordered all his brotherhood to live for the day and reserve nothing for the morrow, but to give what was over and above their day’s need to the poor; as being confident that God would provide for the morrow, as He did to Elijah and Paul the first hermit, sending them food daily by a raven; and as the children of Israel, who were certainly three millions, were fed daily in the desert with manna sufficient for their support, which was rained down upon them from heaven for forty years, while their clothes remained undamaged and perfect and even grew with the growing children.
Ver.32.—Fear not, little flock. Fear not lest your food and raiment fail you, and lest, if you lay aside all anxiety and sell your goods and give to the poor, these things should not be added to you; if you seek firstly the kingdom of God. “Little flock,”—little, because, firstly, the faithful were so few and these poor either in position and property, or in election and feeling, or in spirit; for they despised the riches of the world that they might strive after those of heaven, and therefore, they were little in the eyes of the world, they were of no account, and were despised. But now that the faith of Christ has so spread throughout the whole world, that kings and princes are subdued to it, it is no longer a little flock but a most ample and powerful church. Secondly, the flock of faithful men is little if compared with the angels who are without number, says Euthymius, according to the words, Dan. vii. 10, “Thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.”
Thirdly, The flock is little if compared with the immense multitude of unbelievers and wicked. Bede adds, “It is called a little flock either on account of its humility or in comparison with the greater number of the reprobate. Then all the faithful, from the example of Christ, will willingly reduce themselves to Christian humility and poverty, especially the apostles and disciples of Christ. Hence Christ says, ‘Sell that thou hast.’” It appears that “flock” (pusillus) is here put in the nominative instead of the vocative as is done in other passages. This nominative is more forcible and significant than the vocative would be. Wherefore, although we might explain it by adding something, e.g., Fear not, you who are a little flock, that the nominative might remain, yet the nominative is more tersely and strongly put for the vocative by adding nothing. Fear not then, 0 ye faithful, for although you are a little flock, God estimates you highly, and has a great and peculiar care of you, and Christ the Lord is your shepherd, who will feed you abundantly, according to the words, “I am the good Shepherd” (S. John x. II), and the others (Ps. xxiii. 1, 2), “The Lord is my shepherd, therefore can I lack nothing!—“He shall feed me in a green pasture, and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort.” S. Peter Chrysologus (serm. xxii.). “A small flock to the world is a large one to God;” and (xxiii.) “Humility has gained what pride lost, and the little flock has subdued entire and various savagenesses (nations) by its meekness; for the little flock conquered and destroyed as many kinds of beasts as it subdued nations to the yoke of Christ. It did this not by bearing but by suffering, not by fighting but by dying for Christ.”
It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. To you who are not slow, not idle, not presuming on the mere mercy of God, but who hear My words and truly obey them; who therefore bear your cross after Me, mortify your passions, and are continually zealous in good works. “To give,” not absolutely, but upon conditions—namely, that you persevere in My faith and love and in obedience even to death—for to Judas, who afterwards apostatised from Christ, the kingdom was not given. Christ gives the reason why the disciples, though a little flock and poor, should not fear lest needful things should be withheld from them, for He says, “Since God so loved you as to destine you for heavenly riches and the kingdom of God, He will assuredly not refuse you these worthless earthly riches, as far as they are necessary for your journey towards the kingdom of heaven, and that you may adorn it by your life and conversation.” So S. Cyril, in the Catena, “He who has given you gifts of such great price, how will He be not merciful to you but suffer you to perish of hunger?”
Ver. 33.—Sell what ye have, and give alms. This is a counsel, not a precept, as Pelagius would have it, who said that all Christians ought to be poor, from the precept of Christ. This is shewn by the words of Christ (Matt. xix. 21), “If thou wouldst be perfect, go sell that thou hast and give to the poor.” That you may study evangelical perfection, sell what you possess and give the price to the poor, that you may follow Me who am poor in spirit in a like poverty, and with me despise earthly riches, that so you may obtain heavenly ones. Do this with the end that you may show yourselves not anxious for food and raiment, but that you depend solely on God, and look to Him for all those needs of life which He Himself has promised to all who seek His kingdom. For this reason the first Christians, following the counsel of Christ, sold all that they had and laid the price at the feet of the apostles, that they might distribute them among the poor believers (Acts ii 3, 4). So Bede: “Fear not that you will lack the needful things of life, but rather sell what you possess for alms. This is done worthily when he who lives by the labour of his hands, despises all things, and gives alms.”
Provide yourselves bags which wax not old. Wax not old, and from which, therefore, the coin of spiritual alms cannot drop out and be lost, as the money of the world often falls from the old and worn-out purses of the rich. The purses that wax not old are the bosoms of the poor, and more especially the mind and memory of God, in which He keeps as in a purse your alms and good works, that He may return you the most ample rewards for them in the day of judgment. This He Himself explains, adding, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief draweth near, neither moth destroyeth. From this Chrysologus rightly concludes, “What have they to do with the earth who possess heaven—what with human affairs who have gained divine ones—unless, perhaps, they find pleasure in lamentations, choose labours, delight in dangers, love the most cruel deaths, and find the evil things that are brought upon them more pleasing than the good ones?”
Ver. 34.—For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. This is a conclusion from the former, showing why our Lord said, “Sell that ye have,” namely, that you may show that your heart is not in your money but in heaven. If, therefore, you place your treasure gained by alms-giving in heaven, you will show that your heart is fixed in heaven, not on earth—in God, not in gold. For a man’s treasure is that which he loves—holds dear—values at a great price, on which he rests his hopes. See Matt. vi. 20.
Verses 35, 36.—Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord when he will return from the wedding. The Syriac says, “Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning.” So the Arabic, Egyptian, Æthiopic and Persian. Christ had said that it pleased the Father to give them the kingdom. Sell therefore what you possess, and give alms, that you may, by this means, purchase this kingdom. He now urges them diligently to prepare for it as being at hand, and girding their loins, and casting aside every care, to enter upon and take possession of it. That is, Be you prepared and furnished with all graces, and good works, and merits, especially almsgiving and contempt of riches, that when Christ our Lord from heaven, and His heavenly marriage and joys, returns to you in death to judge your souls, you may meet Him and be found worthy by Him of heaven, and be brought thither by Him. He alludes to the Eastern custom as among the Hebrews and Syrians, of wearing long robes, which they used to tuck up when travelling or at work, that they might not be in their way. (1 Kings xviii. 46; Tobit v. 5.)
Mystically. We gird our loins when we restrain the luxury of the flesh by abstinence (continentiam), says S, Gregory (Hom. xiii.), and S. Augustine (Serm. xxxix. de Verb. Dom.), S. Basil on Isa. xv., Bede, and others. Chrysologus (serm. xxiv.) says, “He commands us to gird our loins by the belt of purity, and to bind our whole body in the zone of virtue, that we may go forth quickly and expeditiously to meet our Lord at His coming.”
We may either unite the two verses 35 and 36 into one, with Maldonatus, making them contain one and the same parable, or we may disjoin them like Jansenius so as to make them contain two—one, the lamps burning; the other, the servants expecting their lord from the wedding.
Hence this sentence is differently explained by different persons, for those who gird themselves are divers—workmen, ministers, travellers, messengers, soldiers, porters, eremites, and their girdles are divers. Workmen are girt with the girdle of labour—ministers, of their ministry—travellers and messengers, of the road—soldiers, of warfare, whose is the girdle of hardness—porters, of constancy and patience—eremites, of abstinence, mortification, and penance.
Firstly, Of labourers girding their loins to their work, Theophylact speaks thus: “Be your loins girded;” that is, be ye ready in all ways for the work of your Lord, “and your lamps burning in your hands;“—that is, labour not in the dark and without judgment, but take the light of the word, which will show you what is and what is not to be done—for this world is night.” So Euthymius and Titus, meaning, “Be you ready to every good work.”
Secondly, Of those who minister to Christ and those who are poor through almsgiving (to which the words immediately preceding apply) some explain it as follows—Gird up your loins, that you may be swift and nimble to minister to Christ and His poor. On this subject there is related a notable vision in the life of John the almsgiver, who was always very ready to give to any one who asked aims of him (chap. xxix.), when a certain noble was slower than usual in giving a loan, he was taught by a vision of a hundred-fold remuneration to be quicker.
Thirdly, Of travellers girding up their loins for a journey. Some explain it thus: Gird up your loins, that you may be expeditious on your journey to heaven, from which the Word has gone before, for a grand way to it remains for you. S. Peter, Epist. 1, chap. I, 13-15, alludes to the exodus (hence called Pasch) of the Israelites. from Egypt into the promised land, which was a figure of the saints passing from earth into heaven. For God thus commanded and directed the Hebrews in the eating of the paschal lamb which was to be sacrificed for their happy journey. “Thus shall ye eat it, with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet and your staff in your hand” (as if girded to begin a journey), “and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord’s passover.” The same has to be done by Christians in mystery. See what I have said thereon.
Fourthly, Messengers and legates gird their loins that they may be the swifter in performing their office. The angels who are the messengers of God, are therefore painted with their loins girded to show that they are swift and nimble to perform the commandments of God; according to the words, “Who maketh His angels winds, and His ministers a flame of fire.” Heb. i. 7. Christ therefore says, “0 ye apostles and disciples, gird ye your loins, that you may be my messengers throughout the whole world—proclaiming the faith of the Gospel to Greeks, Romans, Italians, Gauls, Spaniards, Indians, Brazilians, Japanese, Chinese, &c. Behold I send you: Go ye therefore, eagerly, swiftly, and ardently like angels,” as Isaiah, “Go ye swift messengers to a nation scattered and peeled ” xviii. 2, and lii. 7, which S. Paul cites to the Romans, x. 15, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace.”
Fifthly, Soldiers and athletes gird their loins that they may fight with more strength and courage. So do you also, 0 Christians, gird your loins with the girdle of strength and fortitude, that as ministers of Christ you may fight boldly against the devil, the flesh, and the world, and conquer and triumph, as S. Paul to the Ephesians, “Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth and having put on the breastplate of righteousness.” On which I have commented at length. David also: “Thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle,” Ps. xviii 39 and Job, “Gird up now thy loins like a man” xxxviii. 3; and Ex. xii. II, “Your loins girded,” for they went armed as to take possession of the promised land. Hence Origen (Hom. ix. in lib. Judic.) thinks that allusion is here made to the army of Gideon who went up girded against the Midianites (Judg. vii.).
Sixthly, The porters, that they may be strong to carry heavy burthens, gird their loins. So, 0 ye faithful, do ye gird your loins with the girdle of patience that you may bear all adverse accidents with nobleness. So Cyril, in the Catena, “Be ye prompt to bear misfortunes.”
Seventhly, The continent, that they may overcome the flesh and resist with success all the wicked incitements of lust, gird themselves with the girdle of continence, that is of self-abnegation and mortification, by which they reject all the wicked desires that are continually arising from concupiscence—and refuse them, and mortify them, and cut them off. So Simeon the Stylite. He tortured himself to such a degree by a knotted cord that the head (præfectus) of his monastery undid it, and dismissed him from the monastery, lest the weaker brethren should endeavour to follow his example, and from their failure become a disgrace. We have this from his disciple S. Antony, and from Theodoret, in their lives of him.
And your lamps burning. Christ, commanded us to be ready, with loins girt, for good works, and for our passage to heaven. He now fitly requires our lamps to be burning, for these are needed by night whether for work or for taking a journey. For this, our life is a mystical night, and is full of ignorance, errors, and the darkness of concupiscence; so that we have need of light and lighted lamps, that we travel on in that night and perform our work. He alludes especially to the marriage feast, which was celebrated at night with torches. That is, as in the night-time the servants await their lord on his return from his marriage with lighted torches, and go before him, so do ye watch and await me as I return to you from heaven by death, and go before me with spiritual torches, for you know not the day and hour of your death and the coming of Christ to judgment. If you know this you will be prepared and expect Him every hour, for so the virgins with their lamps lighted await the bridegroom. Matt. xxv. This parable of Luke is mostly the same as that of Matthew.
If it be asked what the lighted lamps signify, Theophylact answers, “Firstly, they signify that we ought to have the light of reason and discretion to distinguish what we ought to do and how we ought to do it; and secondly, we should have faith, burning with love and fervour of spirit, for this will show us what to do and what to avoid, will urge us to lofty acts of virtue and incite us to teach others the way of faith and salvation, and inspire them with the love of God, and not suffer any to live in the darkness of ignorance and sin.” So S. Augustine (serm. xxxix.) on the words of the Lord; and so S. Jerome, or whoever is the author, on Jeremiah i., who says, “that to hold a lamp in the hand is the same as to preach the Gospel.”
Mystically. “These things” says Cœlestine, “have their own mysteries. For in the girding of the loins is shown purity: in the staff, pastoral rule; in the lighted lamps, the brightness of good works” (Epist. ii ad Episc. Gall.) S. Gregory also, in his 13th homily, understands by the shining lamps, good examples. We hold lighted lamps in our hands, he says, when by our good works we show examples of light to our neighbours. Two things are commanded us, to have our loins girded and our lamps lighted, as are innocence and purity of body, and the light of truth in our actions, for purity is of little value without a good life, or a good act without chastity.
S. Augustine again (Lib. ii. Quæst. Evan.): “Girt loins means abstinence from secular affairs, lighted lamps, the doing of the same thing with a true object and right intention.” “The lighted lamps,” says S. Maximus, “are prayer, contemplation, and spiritual love.” Lastly, Origen (Hom. 9 on Judges) thinks that allusion is here made to the torches of the army of Gideon, and that as their sudden discovery terrified the Midianites, so the apostles and martyrs, when their bodies had been shattered and broken by martyrdom, began to shine forth by their miracles, by which the persecutors were put to flight, and thus their doctrine and holiness shone throughout the world. As is clearly explained by Bede in his questions on the book of Judges, and Gregory at length, 30 Moral. chap. xxxii, and following; see Judges vii.
In your hands. These words are not found in the Greek, Syriac, and Arabic; nor in the Greek Fathers, Origen, Clement, Cyril, Chrysostom, S. Basil, Titus; nor in the Latins, S. Ambrose, Cyprian, Hilary, and Augustine (Serm. xxxix.) But S. Gregory has them in his 13th Homily, Irenæus (lib. iv. cap. 72), and S. Jerome, on Eph. xvi. and Jer. i., as also the codices of the Holy Scriptures, corrected at Rome. “In your hands,” therefore, means in your possession, that they may shed light on your works. Again, it means, that with their lamps in their hands they should go as His servants to meet Christ their Lord. From these words of Christ has arisen the custom of placing in the hands of the faithful, when in their last agony, lighted and blessed candles of wax, to show that they are going to meet Christ with faith and burning love and to excite them to it. So Amalarius, Rabanus and others who have written on Ecclesiastical Offices.
S. Cyril adds, in his fourth book on Worshipping in Spirit and in Truth, “Having your feet shod;” but no other has it, and therefore S. Cyril seems to have inadvertently copied it from S. Paul, Eph. vi. 15.
Ver. 36.—And be ye yourselves like unto men looking for their lord. This is the third precept of Christ, or rather the third part of the same precept. The first was to have their loins girt, the second to have their lights shining, the third to look for their lord. The first two are referred to this. The meaning is, Be you so prepared and ready as servants who expect their lord by night, that is, watchful, with loins girt and lamps burning. Hence Maldonatus thinks that this parable is one and identical, but consisting of three parts. Jansenius thinks that it is diverse; but it comes to the same thing, for, as I have said, this is another and the third part of the parable to which the other two tend and are directed. “They await their lord” says Toletus, “as those who, thinking themselves strangers, burn with the desire for Christ, and frequently, nay, continually think of Him—have their minds fixed on Him; for His love and hope bear adversity and all kinds of calamities with patience; fear to offend Him as having Him at length come to them, before their eyes; despise without difficulty whatever does not make for His coming; delight in whatever they know to be pleasing to Him; hold temporal things of small account because of their hope of eternal ones.”
Symbolically, The above words, “Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning, and be ye yourselves like unto men looking for their lord,” teach us (1.) That here we are as strangers journeying on to the heavenly kingdom. (2.) That we ought to outshine all others in virtue. (3.) That we should fix our hopes on the heavens, according to the words of 1 S. Peter ii. 11, 12, and 1 i. 13.
Again, S. Augustine (serm. 39 de Verbis Domini), asserts that these are the three subjects on which S. Paul exhorted Felix (Acts xxiv.) “Paul,” he says, “taught continence, justice, and eternal life, for in these is contained the sum of the evangelical life.” Secondly, in them are shown the three duties of the apostolic life: Firstly; the loins girded show that the Apostles were sent by Christ to preach the gospel through the whole world, and also to contend against all evil spirits, tyrannical rulers, unbelievers, and vices, according to the words of S. Luke, “I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy.” Secondly, The burning lamps shew those who ought to illuminate the world by their doctrine and preaching, according to the words, “Ye are the light of the world,” Matt. v. 14. Thirdly, “Be like unto men looking for their lord.” This signifies those who ought to despise and tread under foot this present world and all things belonging to it, and to lead a heavenly and divine life, that their minds and hearts may be fixed on heaven, as in Phil. iii. 20, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” S. Paul adds the result, the fruit, and the reward: “From whence also we wait for a Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of His glory.” That is, We despise earthly things, we seek for heavenly ones, because we look with a certain hope for Christ, who shall beautify and make us glorious for ever. So Toletus.
These three things the early Christians always kept rooted in their minds, who as strangers upon earth and citizens of heaven willingly poured out their wealth, their honours, their pleasures, their very present life itself for Christ, because they surely looked for the coming of the Lord Christ after this short life, and for a happy and eternal one to be given to them by Him, which indeed is true wisdom and prudence. We may see this in the Pontiffs, Virgins, Roman Martyrs for three hundred years, from S. Peter to Silvester, all of whom rejoiced in ceaseless persecutions, rejoiced to be spoiled of their goods, to be imprisoned, scourged, slain, burnt, that they might enjoy (possess) Christ in heaven. Eminent amongst others was S. Cecilia, who, when flourishing in youth, beauty, wealth, nobility, of her own will most gladly gave up all things for Christ and even her life itself, in the midst of wondering, pitying, and lamenting friends, and went joyfully and exultingly to the place of martyrdom, saying, “This is not to lose my youth but to change it; this is to give clay and receive in return gold; to give a vile and miserable hovel and receive a palace most spacious, lofty, and magnificent, built of precious stones and gold; to give a perishable thing and receive one that knows no end and is subject to no death:” and soon after, “Our Lord Jesus Christ does not give pound for pound, but what He gives as a simple sum He returns a hundredfold, and adds besides eternal life.” Thus is it in her Acts.
The life of a Christian then should be nothing but one looking for the coming of Christ, that He may deliver him from this life, which is so vile and miserable and subject to so many fears and perils, and bring him to His own kingdom in the heavens and to eternal life. And hence the prophets and Paul teach everywhere that the faithful ought to live in such holiness and contempt of the things of this world, as to look eagerly and with avidity to the coming of Christ. So the patriarch Jacob when dying and longing for the coming of Christ, “I have waited for Thy salvation, 0 Lord,” Gen. xlix. 18; and Job. “All the days of my appointed time I will wait till my change come,” xiv. 14; and the Psalms, “I have waited patiently for the Lord,” xl. 1, and “Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart, wait, I say, on the Lord,” xxvil. i4 (Bib. version). Isa. viii. 17, “I will wait upon the Lord;” and xxv. 9, “We have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the Lord, we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.” Jeremiah, Lam. iii. 24, “The Lord is my portion, therefore will I wait for Him;” Micah vii. 7, “I will look unto the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation.” So Joseph of Arimathæa, despising all fear of the Jews, buried Christ because he was looking, for the kingdom of God,” Luke xxiii. 51. S. Paul to the Romans, “The earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God,” viii. 19; and 23, “Ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our redemption, to wit, the redemption of our body;” Gal. v. 5, “We wait for the hope of righteousness;” Phil iii. 20, “We wait for a Saviour;” Titus ii. 12, 13, “We should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world, looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God;” 2 S. Peter iii. 11, “Seeing that these things are thus all to be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be, in all holy living and godliness, looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God? ” and ver. 13, 14, “But according to His promise we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for these things, give diligence that ye may be found in peace without spot and blameless in His sight.” Climacus (de gradu) says, “He is righteous who fears not death; he is holy and perfect who daily expects it.” So S. Francis expected the Lord when he recited, as he was dying, the words of the Psalm, “The righteous shall compass me about, for Thou shalt deal righteously with me” (Ps. cxlii 7), and so died. And S. Bernard rejoiced—
Desidero te millies,
A thousand fold I long for Thee,
Memorable and dreadful is the description of S. Bridget in her Fourth Book of Revelations, chap. vii.: “In Purgatory there is a third and higher place where is no other punishment than the desire of coming to God and of His beatific vision. They are there tormented who, in this life, had not a perfect desire of coming to the presence of God and of enjoying the vision of Him.” Bede mentions a like place in Purgatory (Hist. v. 13), and S. Gregory (Dialogues iv. 36), and Dionysius the Carthusian in his (Dialogue de Judicio partic. artic. xxxi.), and Bellarmine (De Purg. ii. 6). For there is a sort of unworthy idea and undervaluing of the great vision and glory of God because it is not desired by the faithful and the saints with ardour. This is a sign that they did not sufficiently consider His riches and joys and weigh and ponder them as is to be expected.
Live then, 0 Christian, to thy Christ, not to the world; live to the Spirit, not to the flesh—live not to time but to eternity.
When He shall return from the marriage feast. This appears to be an addition to the parable, and not to be applied of necessity to what is signified by it. It may be applied thus. Christ in His Incarnation celebrated His espousals with the Church and all the faithful. When He went up into heaven He there consummated His marriage with the same Church, because by the glory of the beatific vision He is intimately and indivisibly united to all the Blessed through all eternity. When, then, He returns from the heavens to judgment, He appears to return from His heavenly marriage that He may introduce His new bride to it. His marriage then is the highest union and the highest joy that Christ has with the beatified in heaven. So S. Gregory, Bede, Theophylact, Euthymius, Toletus, and others.
That when He cometh and knocketh the they may straightway open unto Him. Christ here shows us that we ought to make our virtues ready in this life, that adorned by them in our death, we may go out with joy and rejoicing to meet Him, for there will be no time then for working, scarcely even for repentance; for the senses will be dulled and the mind oppressed by disease and scarcely able to think of its sins and its salvation. They, then, act with the utmost recklessness who, in this life, indulge in pleasures and say that they will repent on their deathbeds—for their repentance will then be forced and too late, and therefore will seldom be true, sincere, and earnest. “The Lord cometh,” says S. Gregory (Hom, xiii.) “when He hastens to judgment; but He knocks (at the door) when by the ills of disease He designs death to be near, and we open to Him at once if we receive Him with love. Whoever dreads his departure from the body is unwilling to open to the judge, and fears to see Him as his judge whom he knows that he has despised. But he who is secure as to his hope and works, immediately opens, for he receives the judge with joy, and when his death is at hand he grows glad in the glory of his reward.”
Ver. 37.—Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching. That is, with their loins girt and their lamps in their hands and expecting Him as He goes before, for He will give them their due reward, eternal blessedness, that they may enjoy the vision of God and all glory and joy for ever and ever. Hence the following explanation.
Verily, I say unto you, that He shall gird Himself, and make them sit down to meat, and shall come and serve them. Christ renders like for like—to those of His who are girt in heaven, He will gird Himself in heaven—He will serve His own servants. Those who have laboured in His service He will make to rest, and be at ease, and sup, and to those who minister to Him, He Himself, the King of kings and Lord of lords, will minister with wonderful condescension.
Shall come. The attendants and sponsi used to go round the tables to see if any one needed anything, that he might be supplied. The above words, it is plain, are to be taken as parables not in the letter. For in heaven there are no girdles, nor persons girded, nor tables, nor sittings at meat, nor any who come or minister: Christ only intends to say, Firstly, that he who is pre-eminent before all other good masters, and immeasurably greater, will show honour to His faithful servants in heaven, so as to make them, from slaves, become as lords with whom He may share His marriage feast, that is, the happiness and glory of heaven. Secondly, That He will do it with an endless number of dishes, that is, pleasure and delights both of soul and body. Thirdly, He will see that no one wants anything: not necessaries merely, but even luxuries, and whatever he wants and wishes for. Everything wished for, nay, that can possibly be wished for, shall be supplied in superabundance according to the words “I shall be satisfied when I wake up with Thy likeness,” Ps. xvii. 15; and “They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of Thy house,” Ps. xxxvi 8. Fourthly, That He will give to each according to his merits this delicacy and that, for the words “He shall come” signify that there shall be a supper varied and most abundant according to the merits of each; and (those) “shall serve” (show) that it shall be most honourable, and the words “shall make them sit down,” says Toletus, “shows that it shall be eternal.”
He shall gird Himself. “God is girded,” says Theophylact, “not as giving us the outpouring of all good things, for He moderates them. For who is able to contain all that God is?” This is seen from the seraphim who cover their eyes because of the brightness of the Divine light.
And make them sit down to meat. S. Dionysius the Areopagite, Epistle 9 to Titus, says, “The sitting at meat we consider to be rest from many labours, a life of safety and a divine kind of existence in the light and country of the living, full of all kinds of holy pleasure, with an abundant supply of all kinds of good things by which we are supplied, with Jesus rejoicing over them and placing them at His table and ministering to them and giving them eternal life, fully bestowing upon them and pouring into them all things good.”
Symbolically, S. Gregory (Hom. 13) says, “He will gird Himself, that is, He will prepare for the recompense and make them sit down—or, be refreshed by everlasting rest. For to sit down is to rest in the kingdom. The Lord again says, “They shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” The Lord will come and minister, for He satiates us with the brightness of His light. “Come” is said of Him when He returns to His kingdom for the Judgment; for the Lord has certainly returned to us since the judgment, because from the form of His Humanity He has raised us to the contemplation of His Divinity, and He comes to lead us to the contemplation of His brightness, when Him whom we see in the judgment in His Humanity, we shall behold, after the judgment, in His Divinity.
Ver. 33.—And if He shall come in the second watch, and if in the third, and find them so, blessed are those servants. The first watch begins in the evening at the beginning of night, and lasts three hours. The second then begins and lasts till midnight. Then follows the third, which also lasts for three hours; then the fourth, which lasts till the dawn and the rising of the sun. Christ shows by these watches when we ought to watch and be prepared for the coming of the Lord; for the time of our death is uncertain, nor have we one day or even hour of our life of which we can be sure. The first watch is our childhood, the second our youth, the third our grown manhood, the fourth, our old age. So Titus and S. Gregory. “Christ does not,” says F. Lucas, “mention so much the fourth and first watches, because He does not often come from the marriage so early or so late. The marriages are generally concluded about the middle of the night when the bride is conducted to the marriage chamber. Meanwhile, it teaches us that we ought always to watch even in advanced age and decrepitude, and that it is not enough to watch only for a time, or in youth, or in manhood, but we must persevere as long as this life lasts, because the hour of our death is uncertain, and also the coming of our Lord, even though He be long waited for.” So S. Basil in his homily of not regarding secular affairs: “We ought to be prepared daily to depart from this life and to await the unchanged nod of God, that each, when the Lord comes and knocks, may immediately open to Him. Christ, besides, speaks only of the second and third watch, because sleep in them is deeper and more heavy, to show that He would come when men least expected Him; when they were sunk in profound thoughts and cares, and, as it were, were asleep; so that wise servants should then most especially watch and be prepared, that when they seem to themselves most healthful and prosperous they may look for a sudden and treacherous death.”
Toletus gives another reason. “Christ,” he says, “does not make mention of the fourth watch because there are very few, who, having put off good works till old age, are then found to be doing them; and He might have made them tardy if He had spoken of the matter.” From this S. Gregory concludes (Hom. 13), exhorting all men to holy lives, and saying, “Our Lord would not reveal the last hour to us, that it might always be looked for, and whilst we are not able to foresee it, that we should without cessation be prepared for it.” Because then the hours fly apace, be careful, 0 most dear brethren, to be occupied with the traffic of good works. Hear what wise Solomon said: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might, for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest.” Because then we know not the time of our death, and cannot work after it, we ought to seize the time allowed us before its arrival. Thus, by our being always in fear of it will death itself be vanquished.
Ver. 41.—And Peter said, Lord, speakest Thou this parable unto us or even unto all? To all men, especially the faithful, as well to those who are now living as to those who shall live hereafter. Peter doubted of this, because Christ was accustomed to give some doctrines to the Apostles alone, others to all the faithful, and He had here said some things which seemed fitted only to the Apostles and men of perfect lives, as verses 32-37. The rest about watching and waiting for the coming of the Lord seemed to apply to all the faithful.
Ver. 42.—And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward whom his lord shall set over his household to give them their portion of food in due season? Christ replied to Peter that He spoke indeed to all the faithful, but especially to him and the Apostles. For upon them were incumbent greater watching and care, that they might save not only themselves but others of the faithful as well. And Peter was the steward whom Christ set over His household, that is, His Church, as also the other Apostles, according to the words of S. Paul, “Let a man so account of us as of ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”
That he may give them their measure of wheat in due season. (The Vulgate has mensuram tritici, on which Cornelius comments). Our, Lord alludes to the custom of the ancients, with whom slavery was common and severe. For servants had in abundance many things that Christians have now need of. They put one of the slaves over the mancipii, to distribute, every month, a measure (hence called demensus) of provisions and corn, wheat perhaps, or barley, if they were of inferior degree, as I have shown on Hosea iii. 2.
Secondly, wheat (tritici) may refer to time. For it is the duty of a good steward, like Joseph, when it is the season of wheat harvest, to dispense it frugally by measure to each head of a family, that it may not be sold or expended on the poor, and so there be an insufficiency for the household. I have explained the rest on S. Matt. xxiv. 45.
Observe the words “steward” and “portion.” For a just steward does not give the same measure to all, but to each his own and according to his age, rank, and desert. It is the proper task of a steward to distribute what is appropriate to each. One kind and proportion of food is proper for an infant, and another for a youth, a third, for a full grown man, a fourth, for the aged—one for a man, another for a woman—one for a daughter, another for a servant—one for sons, another for slaves.
From this Christ moraliter, teaches, Bishops, Pastors, Confessors, Preachers, that they ought not to set forth the same food of doctrine to all the faithful, nor (in general) speak of virtues to all only in a general way, but in particular they should instil into them such as are fit and proper to their age and position. S. Paul, by his own example, taught the praxis of this parable and sentence when he gave one kind of monition and precept to sons, another to fathers, another to servants, Eph. vi. 1 and following, and when he wrote to Timothy, 1 Tim. v. 1-4; so to Titus, ii. 2, and following.
S. Gregory Thaumaturgus, Bishop of New Cæsarea, followed Christ and S. Paul, as Gregory of Nyssa writes in his life: “A mourner would bear from him what would comfort him; youth were corrected and taught moderation—medicine in fitting conversation was offered to the aged, servants were taught to be well affected to their masters, masters to be kind and gentle to those under their rule; the poor were taught to hold grace the only true riches, the possession of which was in the power of every one; he who boasted himself of his wealth was aptly reminded that he was the steward and not the lord of what he had. Profitable words were given to women, suitable ones to children, and befitting ones to fathers.” And S. Cyprian, as Pontius the deacon wrote in his life, used to urge maidens to a becoming rule of modesty and a manner of dress which was adapted to sanctity. He taught the lapsed penitence, heretics truth, schismatics unity, the sons of God peace and the law of evangelical prayer. He comforted Christians under the loss of their relatives with the hope of the future. He checked the bitterness of envy by the sweetness of befitting remedies. He incited martyrs by exhortation from the divine discourses. Confessors who were signed with the mark on their foreheads he animated by the incentive of the heavenly host. The same, especially, and before all others, did Pope Gregory, who kept the names of all the poor of Rome and the neighbourhood in a book, and supplied them with whatever they required. He maintained three thousand nuns in town and very many more who lived beyond the city. Hence we may truly say of him, “All the Church shall declare his alms,” Ecclus. xxxiii. How great a regard he had for souls, and what precepts he gave fitted for the salvation of each, is seen from his homilies and letters, in which he admonishes the Emperor Maurice not to withdraw soldiers from the Religious life; John the Patriarch of Constantinople not to arrogate to himself the haughty title of Universal Bishop; Venantius the Chancellor of Italy, to resume the monastic habit which he had thrown aside; John the Bishop of Ravenna to lay down the Pallium which he had unlawfully assumed. Add to this the rules he gave and the laws he laid down for Augustine, the Apostle of England, for bringing the English to the faith of Christ; the Irish bishops that he taught not to re-baptize those who had been baptized by heretics in the name of the Trinity, and many other things. Search the iv. vol. of his letters and you will wonder that one man, taken up with so much business, and the subject of so many bodily infirmities, could enter upon so many and such important particulars, and lay down for each person directions to fit them for virtue. For prudence consists not in controlling general acts, but in directing each particular one wisely; for the performance of virtues is singular, and requires a singular direction and teaching.
Ver. 46.—And shall cut him asunder. That is, shall separate him from Himself, and His household, the Church triumphant; from the society of the Blessed and from the Beatitude promised to the faithful servants. See St. Jerome on Matt. xxiv.: “Shall cut him asunder, that is, shall separate him from the Communion of Saints.” St. Hilary: “Shall separate him from the good promises;” Origen: “Shall cut him off from the gift of the Holy Spirit and from the society and guardianship of the Angels, for Christ will deprive him of all grace, all virtue, all help, and all hope of salvation.”
And appoint his position with the unfaithful. That is, shall punish him with the other servants who were unfaithful to him, although they pretended to be the contrary. Hence Matt. xxiv. 51 has “with the hypocrites.” These unfaithful are perhaps the unbelieving—they who would not believe in Christ, and of whom it is said, “He that believeth not hath been judged already.” S. John iii. 18.
Ver. 47.—And that servant which knew his lord’s will and made not ready. Did not prepare for the coming of his lord by distributing to his fellow-servants their portions of food in season, but by ill-treating them, and by debauchery, squandered the goods of his master, “he shall be beaten with many stripes.”
Ver. 48.—But he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes shall be beaten with few stripes. That is, with fewer than he who knew his lord’s will, according to the measure as well of his ignorance as of his act and fault. There are four degrees of ignorance, the first invincible, which is without blame; the second vincible, but hardly so, which has some fault and is subject to punishment; the third crass, which has more blame; the fourth wilful, which has the most blame and the heaviest punishment. Of this the xxxvi. Psalm speaks, verse 4, “He deviseth mischief upon his bed; he setteth himself in a way that is not good, he abhorreth not evil.” “This man,” says Euthymius, “despised everything; that one was slothful. But contempt is worse than sloth.” For the slothful man knew not when he might have known, and, as Titus says, he neglected to learn and despised, and derided contemptuously. Hence it is plain against Jovinian and modern heretics that there are degrees even of mortal sin, and some are worse than others, and will therefore meet with more heavy punishment in hell, but one of a milder the other of a more severe punishment.
And to whomsoever much is given—a greater knowledge that is, and recognition of his master’s will—of him shall much be required, by Christ the judge, and in the particular as well as general judgment. For, as S. Gregory (Hom. 9) says, “When gifts are increased the responsibility is increased also,” and to whom they commit much (that is, the care and superintendence of souls), of him will they ask the more. “Many things,” says Bede, “are entrusted to him, to whom is committed, with his own salvation, the salvation also of the flock of God. From such will Christ, His assessors the Apostles, and the other judges, require the more, not only their own safety and salvation as far as lies in them, but those also of the faithful committed to them. “In the pastor,” says S. Bernard, “is required the care of souls, not the cure (cura requiritur, non curatio). The latter may be impossible from the virulence or pertinacity either of the disease or of the patient.” “These things,” says Titus “clearly show the judgment of the surgeons and pastors, whilst that of the rest is not less grave and perilous. Let them not therefore show pride because of their degree and office, but discharge their duties and feed their flocks with the greater humility, zeal, and diligence.” “Each one, therefore,” says S. Gregory, “ought to be the more humble and prompt to serve God, from the office given to him, as he knows himself to be under the greater obligation of giving account.”
Again, S. Bernard (Lib. iv. de Consid.), lays down forcibly, and point by point, to Pope Eugenius III. what, and how much, God requires from Pontiffs, Bishops, and Prelates. “Consider thyself,” he says, “as the form of justice, the mirror of holiness—the exemplar of piety—the assertor of the truth, the defender of the faith, the doctor of the Gentiles, the leader of Christians, the friend of the bridegroom, the ordainer of the clergy, the pastor of the people, the governor of the unwise, the refuge of the oppressed, the advocate of the poor, the hope of the wretched, the tutor of the young, the judge of widows, the eyes of the blind, the tongue of the dumb, the staff of the aged, the avenger of crimes, the dread of the wicked, the glory of the good, the rod of the powerful, the hammer of tyrants, the father of kings, the judge of the laws, the dispenser of canonries, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the priest of the Most High, the Vicar of Christ. Who would not be struck with fear, and tremble, when he heard this, all of which is required of your see?” Thus S. Paul to the Heb. xiii. 17, on which, says S. Chrysostom, “I wonder if any guardian of souls can be saved.” Cardinal Bellarmine said the same of Pontiffs. Hence wise and holy men have avoided prelacies, and have only accepted them by compulsion. S. Cyprian, in his Epist. 2, lib. iv., wrote thus of Cornelius the Pontiff. “He did not demand the popedom for himself, nor seize it by force, as others puffed up by their arrogance and pride have done, but quietly and modestly, and like others who have been divinely called to this office, he endured force lest he should be compelled to accept it.” In like manner, as far as they could, SS. Gregory, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Basil, Nazianzen, Nicholas, Athanasius, shunned the office of Bishops; and in our own times Pius V., when chosen Pontiff, turned pale and almost fell into a faint. When asked the reason he frankly answered, “When I was a Religious of the Order of Benedict, I had very good hope of my salvation; when I was afterwards made a Bishop I began to have a dread about it: now that I am chosen Pontiff I almost despair of it, for how am I to give account to God for so many thousands of souls as are in this whole city, when I can scarcely answer for my own soul?” So it is in his life. Finally, the Council of Trent declares the burthen of a Bishop’s office to be one formidable to the shoulders of angels.
Ver. 49.—I came to came to cast fire on the earth; and what will I, if it is already kindled? The Arabic has, “What will I but that it be kindled?” So the Egyptian, Ethiopic, and Persian. It is uncertain whether Christ said this at the same time as the preceding. For S. Luke joins the words of Christ together, although spoken at different times. It may be connected with the preceding and following thus: Christ after much teaching of the Apostles and faithful, may, at last, have stated the primary duty that He was sent into the world by the Father to fulfil, namely, that He should send fire from heaven on the Apostles, that they, when inflamed by it, might kindle it in the rest of the other faithful; for by this the Apostles would fully and efficaciously perform the work that had been given them by Christ of evangelising the whole world and converting it to Him, and the faithful would exactly carry on the instructions of the Apostles.
Symbolically, S. Ambrose, on Ps. cxix. (Serm. viii.) says: “God is a light to lighten and a fire to burn up the chaff of men’s vices.” “He is light,” he says, “to shine like a lantern for one who is walking in darkness, so that whoever seeks it in its brightness cannot err. He is fire to consume the straw and chaff of our works, as gold, the more it is refined, is better proved.” So Clement of Alexandria in his exhortations to the Gentiles: “The Saviour has many voices and methods of man’s salvation. In threatening He admonishes; by prohibitions He converts; with tears He pities; (in songs) He speaks through the cloud; (in songs) by fire He strikes terror. The flame is a mark at once of grace and of fear. If you be obedient it is a light—if disobedient, a consuming fire.”
It may be asked—What is this fire? Firstly, Tertullian (Against Marcion, IV. xxix.), Maldonatus, and F. Lucas answer that it is hatred dissensions, tribulations, and persecutions by unbelievers of the faith and of the Apostles, and the faithful of Christ. These, indirectly, and occasionally, Christ and the Apostles raised by preaching the Gospel and the new religion of the crucified Saviour. “Christ,” says Tertullian, “will better interpret the quality of this fire, ver. 51, ‘Think you that I am come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, Nay, but rather division, for there shall be from henceforth,’ &c. Christ means then the fire of destruction when He refuses peace: such as the conflict was, such will the burning be by which Christ will overthrow idolatry and all (manners of) wickedness, and will reduce them to ashes. Hence He would stir up all the nations that were addicted to their own idols against Himself and the Apostles, to extinguish by every means this new instrument of destruction of their ancient superstition. To this applies all that Christ subjoins in explanation of this fire, verses 50-53.”
Secondly, and more fitly, S. Cyril in the Catena, and Jansenius think this fire to be the preaching of the Gospel, for Christ directly wished for this, that by its means He might warm the hearts of men by divine fire, as Ps. cxix. 140, “Thy Word is very pure” (Vulgate, ignitum).
Thirdly, and best, S. Ambrose and Origen on this passage, S. Athanasius on the Common Essence of Father and Son, S. Cyril (Book iv. on Leviticus), S. Jerome (Book ii Apol. against Ruffinus), S. Augustine (Serm. 108 de Tempore), S. Gregory (Hom. 30 in Evang.), by “fire” understand the Holy Ghost and His gifts, especially charity, devotion, fervour, zeal, which; say Euthymius and Theophylact, “He kindles in the souls of the faithful.” This fire also kindles the lamps of the faithful, according to the words, “Love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave, the coals thereof are coals of fire which hath a most vehement flame.” Cant. viii. 6. See what has been said thereon. The Church so explains it when on the Saturday after the Pentecost she prays thus in the Mass, “We beseech Thee, 0 Lord, may the Holy Spirit inflame us without fire which our Lord Jesus Christ sent upon earth and earnestly desired might be enkindled.”
“By this fire,” says S. Ambrose, “was Cleophas incited when he said, “Did not our heart burn within us, while He spake to us in the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?” Luke xxiv. 32. Thus this fire of 1ove and ardour embraces that of tribulation which has the first place. For this fire, the Apostles, inflamed with the love of Christ, overcame; and so provoked it, for it pressed upon them, as Christ foretold in the following, xii. 49. So said also S. Paul, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . . I am persuaded that neither death nor life,” Rom. viii. 35-38. By the same fire was Ignatius urged in his Epistle to the Romans: “I wish,” he said, “that I may enjoy the beasts that await me, which I pray may be swift for my destruction and my punishment, and may be allured to devour me. I am the wheat of Christ, to be ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may be found the bread of the world.” This desire Christ fulfilled when He sent the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and faithful, in the form of tongues of fire at Pentecost, Acts ii. Upon which S. Chrysostom says (Hom. iv.). “This fire has burnt up the sins of the world like fire;” and again, as we may suppose: “As a man on fire (igneus homo) if he falls into the midst of stubble will not be hurt, but will rather exert his strength, so it happens here,” that the Apostles as men on fire with the Spirit (homines ignei) should not be hurt by their persecutors, but rather convert them to the faith of Christ and inflame them. See the gifts of fire which I have counted up—enumerated and applied to the Love of God, Levit. ix. 23, and Acts xxiii. and ii. 3, and Dionysius on the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy xv., where he shows by many analogies that fire is the most apt symbol and hieroglyphic of God and the angels, and most fitly represents their similitude in imitating Him, according to the words of Deuteronomy iv. 24: “Thy God is a consuming fire;” and Heb. i. 7, “Who maketh His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire.” With this fire burned Elijah, of whom it is written, “and Elias the prophet stood up as a fire, and his word burnt like a torch,” Eccles. xlviii. 1, and therefore he was carried up into heaven in a chariot of fire; and Elisha cried out, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof.” Consumed by this fire the martyrs despised their lives, nay, rather courted the flames, either because they did not feel them, like the three children in the furnace at Babylon, or that they overcame them by their heroic virtue, as did S. Laurence, of whom it is sung, Ps. xvii. 3, “Thou hast visited me in the night (Vulg.) with fire.” Hard indeed and bitter was this test of fire, but the love of God conquered the pain; the torments of the Lamb overcame the torment of the fire; the memory of Christ, I mean, who suffered for us still more bitterly. “The fire of love could not be mastered by thy flames, 0 tyrant,” said S. Leo in his sermon on S. Laurence. “The fire that burnt outwardly was more sluggish than that which burnt within. Thou ragedst, as a persecutor against the Martyr thou ragedst, and increased his palm whilst thou augmented his punishment;” and S. Augustine on Laurence: “The blessed Laurence was consumed by this fire, but he felt not the heat of the flames, and whilst he burnt with the love of Christ, he regarded not the punishment of the persecutor.” So S. Ignatius, writing to the Romans, “Let fire,” he says, “the breaking of my limbs by wild beasts, the dismembering of my body, the breaking to pieces of my whole frame, and all the torments of the devil come upon me, so only that I may have enjoyment of Christ.” Of the same kind were also the Christians in the time of Tertullian, who (in 50 chap. Apol.) writes thus to the Gentiles: “Although you now call us Sarmentitii because we are burnt at the stake by a heap of faggots (sarmentorum), and Senarii because we are broken on the wheel, yet this is the garment of our victory, this our robe of glory, in this chariot we triumph.” Are not these terrestrial seraphim more brave and ardent than the celestial? The latter abound with the fire of love only, the former with that of pain and martyrdom also, for they are living holocausts of God. In our own age, in the same fire, were and are consumed the Japanese, who were burnt to death in a slow fire for many hours, and remained in them unsubdued and unconquered like adamant, to death. Many of them were of our society, standard-bearers as it were of (the) faith; among them was R. P. Camillus Constantius of Italy, who remained for three hours in the fire immovable, nay, even joyful and exulting; (continually) crying out to God with a loud voice, or animating his companions to constancy, or stirring up the people, a thing we have not hitherto read of in the lives of the Martyrs, until the flames seized on his inner organs, and deprived him at once of voice and life, that so he might die a glorious victim of a holocaust to God.
Hail, heroes of illustrious souls, champions of the faith, a spectacle to God, to angels, and to men. Burning with divine fire you resigned, for the faith of Christ, your bodies to the flames, and your souls to God; and from amidst those flames, rejoicing with the voice of swans, you covered yourselves with merits, amazed the tyrants, filled and adorned Japan with Christians, your society with heroic virtues, the world with fame, the Church with glory, the heavens with the laurels of fresh champions. For ever live your glory, your unconquered fortitude, your fire and ardour of heart, by which you will have illuminated and inflamed Japan, as long as the course of ages shall endure.
Thus thinking, S. Eulatia, burning with the desire of martyrdom, proceeded, without the knowledge of her parents, to her conflict, and, as Prudentius tells us in his hymn 3, when she was being consumed by the flames, she sang a hymn “On the Crowns:”—
Ergo tortor, adure,
Come, thou tormentor, come and burn,
And thus, in the thirteenth year of her age, surrounded by flames,
Virgo, citum cupiens obitum,
For speedy death the Virgin wish’d,
The martyr, in the form of a dove, flew up to heaven.
And what will I if it be already kindled? The Arabic has, “What will I but its kindling?” S. Jerome to Nepotian, “How I long for it to be kindled!” Origen (Hom. v. on Ezekiel), “I would it were kindled;” Philaster on the Heresies (cap. ult.), “How I wish that it were kindled;” that is, as the Syriac reads, “If now at length it were kindled.” SS. Hilary on Ps. cxx., Theophylact, Euthymius, and Cyril in the Catena, “I wish nothing but that this fire were at length kindled; if it were, there is nothing else I desire, this is my one only prayer.” Both readings amount to the same thing—“I came to cast fire upon the earth, and what will I if it is already kindled?”—that everywhere throughout the world He might kindle the earthly, lukewarm, frigid, nay, rocky, ice-cold, and rigid hearts of men, by His words and example, with the fierce heat of fervour, and turn them into the fire of love. So did our own S. Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus. But to accomplish this there is need of much warmth and zeal. He, therefore, who would inspire others with this fire, must first kindle it strongly in himself.
Ardeat orator qui vult accendere plebem
Wouldst thou enkindle others’ hearts?
Ver. 50.—But I have a baptism to be baptized with. The Arabic says, “I have a baptism, and I shall be baptized with it:” That is, By the decree of God and of My own will and determination I owe (debeo) to be baptized.
And how am I straitened till it be accomplished! “This fire of love and zeal of the Holy Spirit, cannot break forth unless the flint of My body be first struck upon the cross, or rather, until I am baptized in the font of My own blood.” This is like some fountains into which if we plunged a torch, by the wonderful power of nature, and an antiperistasis, it is lighted. Such, according to Pliny, is the fountain of Dodona (bk. ii. chap. 103). Our brethren of Coimbra, in Meteora (tract. ix. chap. 7), say that there is another in Epirus, and a third in India, the waters of which burn; another, again, which formerly took its name from Jupiter Ammon. This just before the dawn is tepid, at midday it becomes cold, it is warm in the evening, and it boils at midnight. Similar springs are found near Naples, in France, and other places. Our Lord, then, compares His passion to these. This is like a boiling fountain which has aroused, and still arouses, the fire of love in the minds of the faithful. For equally by the merit of the cross and passion of Christ and by His example does this fire burst forth. He calls His death and passion a baptism, because He was clearly sunk and overwhelmed in it, as says the Psalm, “I sink in deep mire where there is no standing, I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me,” lxix. 2.
And how am I straitened until it be accomplished? That is, “I am afflicted and tormented by the longing to die for the salvation of men and by My death to kindle this flame.” Euthymius: “I am anxious because of its slowness;” and Theophylact: “How am I straitened,” that is, how anxious and oppressed am I until it be performed, “for I thirst for death for the good of all men.” So S. Ambrose, Bede, and others. The Arabic has, “I am narrowed for its performance.” S. Irenæus 1. 18 reads, “I earnestly hasten to it.” For the hearts of the anxious are wont to be contracted and as it were compressed by such, whilst those of the joyful are expanded and dilated. De Lyra, therefore, renders it amiss, “I am narrowed,” he says, “that is, I am filled with dread, according to the words, ‘My soul is sorrowful even unto death.’” This, indeed, was a feeling natural to the soul of Christ, but He quelled and overcame it when He said, “Not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”
Morally. Observe how great was the zeal of Christ, how great His love, how deep His thirst for our salvation. For it was this that raised in Him so great a thirst for His Passion, death, and crucifixion, cruel as they were, so that His heart, between their infliction and the waiting for them, was compressed, as between the two stones of a mill, and brought into the greatest straits; or placed, as it were, in a vice and compressed with anguish, lest what He loved should be refused or delayed. Christ then was urged and, as it were, burnt up by the utmost longing to offer Himself up to God as a holocaust on the altar of the cross, that, as far as in Him lay, He might sanctify, save, and bless all men.
This zeal, His thirst, He impressed upon the Apostles and apostolic men, who thirsted for crosses, labours, pains, torments, and martyrdoms, for the glory of God: that they might propagate the gospel of Christ throughout the whole world and save as many as they could. This is the holiness of the Gospel, this is the perfection of virtue, this is the crown of the Apostleship. S. Andrew’s salutations of the cross, and his earnest longing for it, are known. “Hail, precious cross, long desired, and at last ready for my longing soul! Secure and rejoicing I come to thee; do thou with joy accept me, and through Thyself do Thou receive me who by dying for me hast redeemed me.” S. Laurence said to the Emperor Valerian, when he showed to him with threats, flames, wheels, scorpions, wild beasts: “For this table I hunger, I thirst. There is no famished man who desires food, there is no one perishing of thirst who craves for water, as greedily as I court and covet all these torments, that I may repay to Christ my Saviour, pain for pain, death for death.” S. Vicentius to Dacian: “No one living has conferred on me greater gifts than thou, who torturest and crucifiest me, for with as many tortures as thou afflictest me with—with so many crowns of martyrdom dost thou adorn me.” And to the executioners, “How slow are ye, how slothful!”
S. Agatha to Quintianus, “Why are you so slow? What do you wait for?—scourge, lacerate, burn, cut down, mangle, slay my body, for the more you crucify me, the more good you confer upon me, and the more favour and grace shall I receive from my spouse Jesus Christ.” Such were the vows and such the words of SS. Agnes, Lucia, Dorothea, Cœcilia, and other Martyrs.
Ver. 51.—Think ye that I am come to give peace in the earth? I tell you nay, but rather division. See what I have said Matt. x. 34.
Ver. 52.—For there shall be from henceforth five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. Five, that is—Father, son, mother, daughter, daughter-in-law, for mother-in-law is the same as mother. So S. Ambrose. And this is plain from what follows. In the same house three unbelievers shall rise against two believers, or two unbelieving against three faithful, or father and son, who do not believe in Christ, shall rise against mother, daughter, and daughter-in-law who, do believe in Him, or the contrary.
Ver. 54.—And He said to the multitudes also, When ye see a cloud rising in the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it cometh to pass. When you see a cloud from the west you say, It will rain. In the same manner Elijah, in the time of the three years’ drought, when he heard from his servant that a cloud had arisen in the west, at once foretold that rain would follow, and it did so. 1. Kings xviii. 44. The cause of this is natural; for Judæa has the Mediterranean on the west, from which by the force of the sun many vapours are exhaled, which, when condensed into clouds by the heat of the sun, produce rain, especially when the sun is also in the west; for it is then too weak to disperse these vapours and prevent them from condensing into clouds and dissolving in rain. But the countries that have the sea equally on the west, the south and the north have, equally, from these quarters, clouds as forerunners of winds, as the English, who have the sea on all sides of them. See Matt. xvi. 3. It is necessary to human life, says S. Basil in the Catena, to watch the heavenly bodies, so that their warnings be not examined into beyond measure. It is of consequence to look out for, and guard against storms, and for the traveller to regard the changes of temperature, for the husbandman to consider the position of the sun and moon for his sowing that he may have an abundant harvest; for God has appointed these things for signs and for seasons.