1 The Scribes and Pharisees’ good doctrine, but evil examples of life. 34 The destruction of Jerusalem foretoId.
HEN spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
Douay Rheims Version
Christ admonishes the people to follow the good doctrine, not the bad example of the scribes and Pharisees. He warns his disciples not to imitate their ambition and denounces divers woes against them for their hypocrisy and blindness.
HEN Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to his disciples,
Then Jesus spake, &c. Then, that is to say, when, by His most wise answers and reasonings, He had confounded the errors of the Scribes and Pharisees, and had proved that He was the Messiah,—then, I say, He put to rebuke their persistent effrontery by this powerful and pathetic speech, by which He uncovered their feigned appearance of sanctity, and showed their lurking dishonesty, so that the people might avoid it.
Saying, &c. By seat we here understand the honour, dignity, and authority of teaching and commanding, which Moses had with the Jews, and to which the Scribes had succeeded. We gather from S. Luke iv. 16, that the Scribes not only sat, but sometimes stood when they taught. In like manner, the chair of S. Peter is used to signify the power and authority of teaching and ruling all the faithful throughout the world, in which the Roman Pontiffs succeed S. Peter. For otherwise no Pontiff ever sits now in that actual wooden chair in which S. Peter sat, but it is religiously preserved in his basilica, and is shown to the people every year on the Feast of S. Peter’s Chair, to be venerated. Hence S. Jerome said to Damasus, “I am united in communion to your blessedness, that is, to the chair of Peter.” For although as a private man the Pontiff may err, yet when he defines anything ex cathedra, that is, by his Pontifical authority concerning the faith, he cannot err, because he is assisted by the Holy Ghost.
Observe, many of the Scribes and Pharisees were priests or Levites, whose duty it was to teach the people (Mal. ii. 7). But Christ did not wish to name the Priests, because He would not derogate from the sacerdotal honour.
All things therefore whatsoever, &c. He means, of course, all things not contrary to Moses and the Law. For the doctrine of the Scribes, when they taught men to say corban to their parents, was contrary to the Law, as Christ showed (xv. 4). In like manner, it was contrary to the Law of Moses to teach, as the Scribes did, that Jesus was not the Messiah, or the Christ. For Jesus showed those very signs and miracles which Moses and the Prophets had foretold Messiah would perform. In such things, therefore, the people must not follow the doctrine of the Scribes, nor be obedient to them; but in other things, in which their teaching was generally conformable to the Law of Moses, it was their duty to obey them. Christ therefore here teaches that all the other dogmas of the Scribes, which were not repugnant to the law, even though they were vain and foolish, and therefore not binding (for that a law should be obligatory, it must command something honest and useful, as Civilians and Theologians teach in their treatises upon laws, also D. Thomas, 1. 2 quæst. 95, art. 3), such as were the frequent washings of the hands and other parts of the body, might yet serve for the merit of blind and simple obedience, and for reverence of the sacerdotal order. So Jansen, Franc. Lucas, and others. But Maldonatus restricts the word all to such commands alone as are contained in the Law of Moses. Certainly these were what Christ chiefly referred to.
For they say, i.e., command, and do not. They teach and order well, but they live ill. They both break the law, and scandalise their subjects by their evil example, and thus incite them likewise to break the law. For as one hath said, “The whole world comports itself according to the king’s example,” we may add, of the Teacher’s likewise. For men give wore credit to deeds than they do to words. Christians ought to bear in mind these words of Christ when they see certain Bishops, Pastors, and Magistrates not living in accordance with the law of Christ.
For they bind . . . upon men’s shoulders; Arab. upon their necks; Gr. δεσμεύουσι, i.e., they bind and, as it were, gather them together in heaps. This signifies both the multitude and the heavy weight of the precepts with which they burden the people.
Unbearable; Vulg. Gr. δυβάστακτα, as English version, difficult to be borne, rather than impossible. Such were the numerous precepts, beyond what the Law required, concerning oblations, tithes, first-fruits, &c. Consider only the vigorous observance of the Sabbath, which they enjoined, so that they would not allow Christ to heal the sick on that day, nor suffer His disciples to satisfy their hunger by plucking ears of corn.
Move them; Vulg. Syr. and English Version, touch them. As S. Chrysostom says, “He shows that theirs was a double wickedness, both because they wish the multitude to live in the strictest possible manner, without the least indulgence, and because, indulging themselves inordinately, they assume great licence. Which things are the very opposite of what is required in a good prince. For such a one permits himself no indulgence, but is mild towards his subjects, and ready to bestow pardon.”
All things that they may be seen; Gr. θεαθη̃ναι, i.e., be a spectac1e. He notes their vain ostentation of sanctity in praying in the public streets, &c Christ here touches upon the root of the incredulity of the Scribes, that they would not believe in Him, because they sought after vainglory and the applause of men. “For it is impossible,” says S. Chrysostom, “that he who covets the earthly glory of men should believe in Christ preaching heavenly things.”
They make large their fringes; Vulg. They prolong the fringes of their cloaks; Syr. They, the Jews, interpreted too literally the words of Deut. vi. 8, “Thou shalt bind them, i.e., the precepts of God, for a sign upon thine hands, and they shall be moved (Vulg.) before thine eyes.” They bore certain pieces of parchment about their arms and foreheads. Whence they were called armlets and frontiers. They did this that they might strike against their eyes and foreheads, and admonish them to meditate upon and keep the Divine Law. The words inscribed upon the pieces of parchment were, “Hear, 0 Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength.” They were called phylacteries, from φυλάττω, to guard, to keep, because they put them in constant remembrance of observing the law.
For a similar reason, in Num. xv. 38 and Deut. xxii 12, the Lord commanded the Jews to wear fringes, threads depending from the lowest skirt of their garments, and that they should be of a light blue or dark blue colour, as men who professed and lived the heavenly life by keeping the law. S. Jerome adds that the more devout Jews were wont to insert very sharp thorns in these fringes, that being pricked by them as they walked, they might be always reminded of the Divine Law. All these things the Pharisees wore larger and broader than other people, that they might appear to all to be stricter observers of the law, although they made but little of it in their minds. “Not understanding,” says S. Jerome, “that these things should be carried in the heart, not in the body, for bookcases and chests have books, but have not therefore the knowledge of God.” Moreover, S. Chrysostom, by philacteries, understands amulets worn to preserve health, for such the Scribes esteemed the pieces of parchment described above. In the same way, some Christians wear the Gospel of S. John about their necks as a kind of charm to preserve health.
And salutations in the market-places; Vulg. in the forum. S. Chrysostom says, “They love the first salutations, not only as regards time, that we should salute them first, but also as regards the voice, that we should cry out, ‘Hail, Rabbi;’ and as regards the body, that we should bow the head to them; and as regards place, that we should salute them in public.” Wisely saith R. Matthies in Pirke Avoth, “Always be the first to salute every one. Be the tall of lions, and not the head of foxes; that is, be the lowest among good and honourable men, not the chief among deceitful, proud, and impious ones.”
Rabbi, from רב, i.e., much or great, because a great man, such as a Rabbi, or Doctor of the Law, was equivalent to many persons, as excelling others in learning and authority. Well saith R. Benzoma in Pirke Avoth, “Who is a wise man? He who willingly learns of all, according to the words, ‘I had more understanding than the aged, because I sought Thy commandments.’ Who is the mighty man? He who rules over anger, and his own spirit, according to the saying, ‘Better is the patient man than the strong, and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city’ (Prov. xvi. 32). Who is the rich? He that is contented with his own, as it is said (Ps. cxxviii.), ‘Thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands; 0 well is thee, and happy shalt thou be.’ Who is honoured? He that honoureth others, as it is written, ‘Him that honoureth Me I will honour, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed. ’”
But be not ye called Rabbi, &c. He forbids the ambition of the Scribes and Pharisees, who desired to be honoured and called Rabbi above Christ, yea, even to the exclusion of Christ. But it is lawful to desire a doctor’s degree, as a testimony of learning, that by it we may obtain authority, and preach, and have influence with the people, and by this means gain the greater fruit. Wherefore the Council of Trent (sess. 24 c. 12) orders that all dignities, and at least the half of canonries in cathedral and collegiate churches, should be conferred only upon masters and doctors, or at least licentiates in theology or canon law. Christ does not say, do not be, but do not be called, Rabbi.
Christ does not forbid the doctor’s degree, but the proud ambition of the name, that by it a man should please himself and despise others, as though he had his knowledge and learning from himself, and not from Christ, which was what the Scribes did. Therefore He adds the reason, for one is your Master, even Christ. He means, there is one chief Rabbi over all, of whom all others are the disciples, and all are brethren, equal one to another. Therefore let none of them proudly lift himself above the rest, and wish to be called Rabbi, as though he were of himself a doctor and master of others, for this is a wrong done to Christ, who alone has all wisdom in Himself, and is the only supreme Doctor of all, who indeed makes them doctors. And in this lower sense Paul himself, as S. Jerome says, with modesty calls himself the doctor of the Gentiles.
Call no one your father upon earth, &c. He means in the sense of the prime author of life and the preserver of all things, as though ye entirely depended upon any but God. This was what the Gentiles and Atheists did, and others who trusted in men rather than in God. That this is the meaning, is plain from the reason which He subjoins, for one is your Father, &c. “Of whom the whole family in Heaven and earth is named” (Eph. iii. 15). God therefore is the only real Father of all, forasmuch as He only gives soul and life, creates, and preserves. In comparison of Him, says S. Jerome, earthly fathers are only so in a figurative sense, and ought not therefore insolently to command their children, but ought to submit themselves together with their children to God, the chief Father of all.
Neither be ye called, i.e., be not ambitious of being called masters; Vulg. magistri; Gr. καθηγηταί, or governors, moderators; Syr. rulers; for One is the Ruler and Orderer, Gr. καθηγηής, of jour life, that is, Christ. He Himself, in the first place, by Himself teaches us, and leads us by the way of virtue to heavenly glory. All others teach as they have been first taught by Him. Secondly, all others only teach in words that sound in the outward ears, like a tinkling cymbal; but Christ makes known their meaning inwardly to the mind. For, as S. Chrysostom says, “it is not man who gives man understanding by teaching, but exercises by means of admonition what has been ordained by God.” Thirdly, all others only show what the law commands and what God requires; but Christ gives grace to the will, that we, when we hear the things which ought to be done, may indeed constantly fulfil the same.
He that is the greater of you, &c. “He teaches,” says S. Chrysostom, “that the disease of vainglory must be got rid of by humility.” And Origen says, “If any one ministers the divine words, knowing that it is Christ who produces fruit by His means, he by no means holds himself forth as a master, but a minister.” Whence it follows, He that is the greatest, &c., because even Christ Himself, who is the true Master, hath professed Himself to be a minister, in that He saith, I am among you as he that ministereth; and well does He add after the whole saying, He that exalteth himself shall be abased; but he that humblest himself shall be exalted. These words are true as applied both to God and men, says Remigius. For both God and men exalt the humble and depress the proud. “Glory follows them that flee from it, and flees from those who pursue it. God will bring down insolent pride from its lofty height, and will raise up humility to glory,” says S. Hilary.
Blessed Peter Damian gives a memorable example (Epist. 15). There was, he says, a certain bold and warlike clergyman, who became great by means of his pride and his arms. And he had in consequence a quarrel about certain estates with another powerful man, which he determined to decide by the fortune of war, and the troops of both were drawn up in battle array. The clergyman before the battle went into a church and heard Mass. It chanced that the words of the Gospel were read, All that exalteth himself shall be abased. When he heard them he said insolently, or rather blasphemously, “These words are falsified in me, for if I had humbled myself I should never have become as great as I am.” By and by, in the heat of battle, his horse being very thirsty, ran, contrary to his wish, to some water that was near. He struck his horse with his shield, in order to cause it to return into the battle, when, behold, an enemy’s sword transfixed that blaspheming mouth of his like a thunderbolt, and slew him, humbling his pride and casting him down to the ground, showing that the words of Christ are indeed true.
Ver. 13. Woe unto you, Scribes, &c. Observe that, as Christ enumerated eight beatitudes, repeating the word blessed eight times in S. Matt. v., so does He here bestow eight maledictions upon the impious Scribes, eight several times repeating the word woe. Christ the new Lawgiver imitates Moses, the ancient lawgiver, who promises many blessings to those who keep the law, and threatens with as many curses those who break it. Thus Origen.
Moreover, the word woe is partly prophetic of the grave punishment which should fall upon the wickedness of the Scribes, and is partly condoling and pitying in its signification. Whence Basil says, “This word woe, which is prefixed to intolerable pain, applies to those who were soon afterwards to be destroyed by dreadful punishments.” The word woe therefore presupposes a deadly fault, for it threatens the punishment of hell, as Christ explains in ver. 33.
For ye shut, &c “I indeed open to all the kingdom of Heaven; for I preach, repent ye, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. For this kingdom has been shut for four thousand years, through Adam’s sin. I, expiating that sin by My death, will now open it, that whoso believeth in Me and followeth My life, may enter into the open kingdom. Wherefore many of the Jews, being aroused by My preaching, are striving to enter in. But you, 0 ye Scribes, turn them away, and shut Heaven against them by your vain and perverse traditions, which ye instil into their minds.” For, as S. Chrysostom says, “The kingdom of Heaven is Holy Scripture; the door is the understanding of Scripture, or Christ; the bearers of the keys are the Scribes and Priests; the key is the word of knowledge; the opening of the door is interpretation. Ye also cause men to offend by your wickedness and evil example; and because ye calumniate and persecute Me, and draw them away from believing in Me, which is the road to Heaven. For I am the door, because by Me alone there is entrance into Heaven.”
Tropologically, they shut up the kingdom of Heaven who excommunicate any one without cause.
For ye enter not in yourselves, &c. This is a grievous sin. For if, says S. Chrysostom, it is the part of a doctor to recall the erring, he who draws those who are going on safely into error is altogether a son of perdition, yea, he is a pestilence itself. Wherefore such a doctor deserves, and brings upon himself as many hells as the number of souls whom he corrupts and destroys, because he is not a teacher and promoter of salvation, but a betrayer.
Ver. 14. Woe unto you, &c. Because ye devour, that is, exhaust, the substance of widows, in extracting money from them by selling them under a feigned appearance of sanctity your long public prayers. This is why He adds in explanation, making long prayers. Gr. προφάσει μακζα̃ πζοσεχόμενοι, praying at length as a pretext.
Wherefore ye shall receive greater damnation. The Syriac translates, ye are about to receive the extremest judgment; both because ye rob from widows, and because, as Chrysostom says, ye paint avarice the colour of religion, that iniquity may be loved, being esteemed as piety. Ye also imbue widows with your own errors and wickedness. Wherefore ye ought to receive the punishment of your own sin and the guilt of their ignorance, as S. Hilary says.
Woe unto you . . . hypocrites, &c. Instead of hypocrites, the Syriac has here and in the verses which follow, acceptors of persons. Proselyte means the same in Greek as advena, or stranger, in Latin. A proselyte was one who was converted from heathenism to Judaism, and became attached to the Jewish Church and religion. In Hebrew proselytes are called gerim. Christians call such persons neophytes. The Scribes strove to turn many Gentiles to Judaism, for the sake of ambition as well as avarice, that they might augment their oblations. Sea and land, that is, the whole world.
Ye make him the son, that is, guilty, worthy of hell, twofold more than yourselves; Gr. διπλότεζον υ̉μω̃ν. For, as Euthymius says, it is the same as in nature, that scholars easily surpass their teachers in vice. “Because,” as Chrysostom says, “being provoked by the evil example of their teachers, they become worse than them, especially when they are stirred up by the words and examples of their teachers.” Again, many proselytes, when they see your evil doings, return to heathenism. For he who relapses commits a greater and, as it were, a double sin.
Ver. 16. Woe unto you, &c. . . . but if he shall swear by the gold of the temple, &c., the gold, that is, which he has vowed to pay. Instead of he is a debtor, the Arabic translates he has sinned, that is, he does not pay what he has sworn.
Observe (from the words in Matt. v. 34), that the Scribes thought from what God had commanded, that they should swear by Him alone,—an oath by any creature was not an oath, nor obligatory; but being blinded by avarice, they excepted such things as, being offered to God, filled their own coffers, as if these alone were to be accounted most sacred. Wherefore they are rightly called by Christ blind guides. Moreover, the Scribes were wont to say that the oblations were more holy than the Temple itself, “that they might make men more ready for offerings than for prayers,” says the Gloss. He calls the gold which was cast into the treasury of the Temple for maintaining its ministers the gold of the Temple. Truly says the Gloss, “He that swears by a creature, swears by the Deity which presides over the creature.”
Ye fools and blind, &c. This reasoning of Christ is clear, and convicts the Scribes of folly. Holiness is properly interior virtue, and the grace which sanctifies the soul. But the Temple is here called holy by metonymy, because it is set apart for holy things, such as the offering in it of prayers and sacrifices to God. This, therefore, was only an external holiness which the temple communicated to the other things offered in it to God. Wherefore the Temple was more holy than anything offered in the Temple, and therefore an oath made by the Temple was more binding than an oath made by the gold offered in the Temple.
And whose shall swear by the altar, &c. The same reasoning applies to the altar which Christ has already applied to the Temple.
The altar which sanctifieth, Syr. consecrates, the gift. A gift offered to God is not properly sanctified, so that it should be in itself righteous or holy, but it is said to be sanctified extrinsically, because it is offered to God, and thus sanctified.
Mystically: S. Augustine says (1 Quæst. Evang. 34), “The Temple and the Altar is Christ. The gold and the gifts are the praises and sacrifices which are offered in Him and by Him.” Origen says, the altar is the heart; the gifts are prayer and fasting, which the heart makes holy.
Whoso shall swear by the temple, &c. That is, he swears by God, who has His throne in the Temple, that He may be worshipped there. For the sacred majesty and holiness of God are supposed by men to abide in the Temple. Whence, S. Nilus says, “Come to the church as to Heaven.”
And he that sweareth by heaven, &c. For by the common usage and belief of men, he who swears by God, who only is infallible, and the uncreated Truth itself, calls Him to attest what he says or promises. Wherefore, he who swears by Heaven, swears by God, the King and Lord of Heaven, and calls Him to witness.
Ver. 23. Woe unto you, &c. Tithes were sanctioned by God in the law. Whence R. Achiva says in Pirke Avoth, “Tithes are the bulwark of riches,” because they defend and preserve them. “Tradition is the bulwark of the law. A vow is the bulwark of abstinence; silence, of wisdom.”
Mint, a herb of sweet smell, which is often put into broth. Anise, says Pliny, is of efficacy against flatulency and pains in the stomach.
And ye have left, &c. . . . judgment, i.e., justice and equity, passing unjust sentences, so as to favour your own friends and those who offer you gifts. Mercy, because ye rigidly and cruelly exact tithes of widows and the poor. And faith, i.e., fidelity in words and compacts. Or faith in God, and Christ who has been sent by Him. Therefore, ye are unbelievers, in that ye lack faith, hope, and charity, which are the things that God above all requires, according to the words in Micah vi. 8, “I will show thee, 0 man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
These care the things which ye ought to have done, and not to omit the others, such as the tithing of mint, which was either commanded or permitted by the law.
Ye blind guides which strain out, &c.; Gr. διϋλίζοντες, i.e., straining, purifying, draining wine, milk, or oil from gnats or other impurities or dregs, by means of a strainer of linen, or other such material. As Apuleius says of the Gymnosophists, “They know not how either to cultivate land or to strain gold.” Swallow a camel. For camel, Cajetan puts wrongly asilum, a gadfly, an insect which makes a horrid noise. All the codices, Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Arabic have camel, which is properly opposed to gnat, as something very large to something very small. The sentence is proverbial, and means, “Ye have exact care of trifling things, such as tithing of herbs, lest any one should defraud you in the smallest possible degree ; but you at the same time commit, without any scruple, all manner of injustice, rapine, and other wickednesses, as big, as it were, as camels, which ye may be said to swallow down.” As it is said in job xv. 16, “Who drinketh iniquity like water.” “Christ derides the zeal of the Scribes,” says Origen, “in being so scrupulous about very trifling things, and so free and bold in the commission of great crimes; in being superstitious about ceremonial washings, but devoid of true relation and charity.” They have those who are like them among Christians even now, who scrupulously recite the rosary, and fast in honour of the Blessed Virgin, and withal are guilty at the same time of luxury, rapine, theft, &c.
Proverbs with a similar meaning are: “To draw water from a fountain to fill the sea.” “To strip one who is bare, to heap garments upon those who are clothed.” “He takes a candle to add to the sunlight.” “To hunt a dog with a lion, a hare with an ox.”
Mystically: S. Gregory understands by the gnat, Barabbas; by the camel, Christ. This is what he says (lib. 1, Moral c. 6), “The gnat wounds in humming but the camel of its own accord bends to receive its burden. The Jews, therefore, strained out the gnat, because they asked that the seditious robber might be set free. But they swallowed the camel, because by their cries they strove to destroy Him, who of His own will had come down to bear the burdens of our mortality.”
Ver. 25. Woe unto you, &c. This is another parable, in which Christ calls man a cup and a plate. The body and external goods He calls the outside of the cup and the platter. The soul and the conscience He calls that which is within. The meaning is, “You, 0 ye Pharisees, studiously wash and cleanse your hands, your bodies, the cups and plates and glasses out of which ye eat and drink, but ye fill your conscience with the uncleanness of rapine and every sort of wickedness. Whereas ye ought to take chief care that your conscience should be purified, for it is that alone which makes us clean in the sight of God, as it is also that from which flows all impurity of acts and deeds. It is the conscience which is the source of the goodness or wickedness of actions. Wherefore, if the conscience be clean, all other things will be clean also.”
Briefly and simply we may explain thus. “Ye are zealous to cleanse the external cups and plates, out of which ye eat and drink; ye neglect to cleanse by repentance the interior cups and dishes of the conscience, which are filthy with sin.”
Full of uncleanness, Vulg. The translator had in his Greek text, α̉ καθαρσίας, where we now read α̉δικίας, or α̉κζασίας, i.e., intemperance. It means, “Ye think ye are defiled, if ye drink out of a dirty cup; but ye do not think ye are defiled by intemperance, when ye are drunken. But it is intemperance which defiles the soul, not a dirty cup.”
Thou blind Pharisee, &c. “O thou who art a teacher of others, and art blind thyself, cleanse first thine own mind and inward conscience, then shall all outward things become clean unto thee.”
Vers. 27, 28. Woe unto you . . . full of iniquity; Gr. α̉νομία, i.e., perversion of the law. “Ye simulate an outward zeal for the law, whilst inwardly ye despise and pervert it.” Appositely says Auctor Imperfecti, “Tell me, 0 hypocrite, if it is good to be good, why do you not wish to be what you wish to appear? It is more base to be what it is base to appear: and what it is beautiful to appear, it is beautiful to be.”
“Moreover, there are many in our days like the Pharisees,” says S. Chrysostom, “who take the greatest care of cleanliness and outward adorning, but whose souls have no ornaments; yet who fill their souls with worms and gore and an inexpressible stench; who fill them, I say, with wicked and absurd lusts.”
Ver. 29. Woe unto you . . . because ye build; Vulg. who build, the combs, &c. For although this was in itself a holy and religious thing, yet in the Scribes it was vicious and wicked. S. Chrysostom gives three reasons—1st. He says Christ does not blame the work, but the intention. They did it for pomp. But as regards pomp, what does it profit them to be praised when they are not, and to be tormented when they are in hell? 2d. Because, without reason, he honours the just, who despises justice; and the Saints cannot be the friends of those to whom God is an enemy. 3d. Because the martyrs take no pleasure in being honoured with money which has caused the poor to weep. For the Scribes exacted money from the poor, that they might build with it magnificent monuments to the Prophets, or rather for their own glory. And 4th, and principally, Christ here blames the Scribes for building monuments to the Prophets, because at the very time they did it, they were thinking how they might kill other and greater prophets, such as Christ Himself and His disciples. And this was why they seemed to imitate the murders and the sacrileges of their fathers, and to give an implied consent to them. As though He had said, “Ye bury the prophets who were slain by your fathers; and ye have a like desire to kill and bury Me. Rightly, therefore, do ye bury the Prophets whom your fathers slew; just as the sons of robbers bury those whom their fathers have murdered, that they may conceal the crime.” So Origen, S. Jerome, and others.
By adding the word hypocrites, He intimates that they built the tombs of the Prophets, not from true, but merely pretended piety, that they might hide their own wickedness; and that they might appear religious defenders of the law, and that it was out of zeal for righteousness that they persecuted Christ unto the death, as though He were a breaker and an enemy of the law. And herein was a twofold wickedness. First, the compassing the death of Christ; secondly, hypocrisy, because of the pretence that they did it in order to vindicate the law. Somewhat similarly, when the Emperor Caracalla had slain his brother Geta upon his mother’s bosom, being persuaded by his servants to enrol his brother among the gods, with the object of veiling the crime, cried, “Let him be a god if you please, so long as he is not alive.” Thus the Scribes did not wish Christ and the Prophets to live, lest they should reprove their evil deeds. They preferred to kill them, and to cover the crime by building them magnificent sepulchres. Wherefore, Auctor Imperfecti says, “The Jews always held departed Saints in honour, and despised and persecuted living ones.” There are persons who act in a like manner among Christians even now.
Ver. 30. And say, &c. They deceive themselves, and utter falsehoods. For if they killed Christ, the Prince of the Prophets, because He reproved their wickedness, surely they would have killed the Prophets, who were wont to do the same.
Wherefore ye testify against yourselves, &c. That is, you testify that you are the sons of those who murdered the Prophets, and consequently that you have the same disposition and the same propensity to kill those who rebuke your vices, which they had. For children are like their parents. For a father is wont to transmit his inclinations, talents, and views to his children. Hence children “favour their parents.” Also there is the example and training of parents, by means of which they influence their children to do the same things that they do themselves.
Ver. 32. Fill ye up then; Arab. ye fill up, &c. That is, by killing Me and the Apostles, as your fathers killed the Prophets. These words of Christ are not a command, but a prediction. It is as though He said, “I do not command, but I permit and foretell that you, 0 ye Scribes, by killing Me, will fill up the measure of your fathers, who slew the Prophets; and when this measure has been filled up, God will, at one and the same time, avenge both your own and your fathers’ crimes, by the extreme destruction which He will bring upon Jerusalem by Titus and Vespasian.”
From this and the 35th and 36th verses Theologians teach that God has decreed to kingdoms and states and individuals a certain measure of sins, before He fully and perfectly punishes them. But by and by, when they have been completed, then He punishes all at the same time most fully. Thus Christ looked for the killing of Himself and His Apostles before Jerusalem was overthrown. So, also, God said to Abraham (Gen. xv. 16), “The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” Auctor Imperfecti says, God does not immediately punish a nation or a city when they sin, but waits for many generations, and sometimes threatens, and sometimes chastises in part, that the longer He waits the more just may be His judgment. But when God does determine to destroy that city or nation, He seems to avenge upon them the sins of all the preceding generations; as though that generation alone suffered what all the previous ones deserved. Thus God commanded Saul to blot out the posterity of Amalek on account of the wickedness of their parents, and their perpetual hostility to Israel (1 Sam. xv. 16). The reason is, because children and descendants are counted as one with their parents; hence the merits or demerits of the parents are imputed to the children, when, indeed, children imitate the wickedness and manners of their parents. Then, indeed, when the measure of sins predetermined by God is filled up, they suffer for their own and their fathers’ sins.
Observe, however, that children are not punished more grievously than their own sins deserve, but because they imitate their parents’ sins, and fill up the measure of iniquity. Hence it comes to pass that the anger of God burns against them when it would not have so fiercely burned unless they had filled up that measure. And in this sense and for this reason children are said to have visited upon them the sins of their parents, because God, in punishing, looks to the offences of both, according to Deut. v. 9, “A jealous God, rendering the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me.”
Ver. 33. Ye serpents, &c. . . . the damnation of hell, wherewith I will condemn you in the day of judgment as Christicides and Deicides. He calls the Scribes serpents and vipers, because of their serpentine disposition, and wish to slay Himself and His Apostles.
Ver. 34. Therefore, behold, I send, &c. Observe the word therefore, that it expresses from the preceding verse an effect, as it were, from a cause. It means, “because ye, as serpents and vipers, will kill Me, your Messiah, for which wickedness ye will be cut off and condemned to hell. I have had pity upon you, and will send to you My disciples after My death, that they may avert from you this destruction, that they may arouse you to repentance and faith in Me. But I foresee that ye will slay them also, as I have predicted in the 32d verse.”
I send. Luke xi. 49 says, The wisdom of God hath said, that is, indeed, Christ Himself.
Prophets, and wise men, and Scribes. Luke has Prophets and Apostles. S. Jerome says “This marks the various gifts of Christ’s disciples. Prophets, who foretell things to come; wise men, who know when they ought to speak the word; Scribes, those learned in the law.”
Some of them ye shall kill, as S. Stephen by stoning, James the greater by the sword; and crucify, as S. Simeon, Bishop of Jerusalem, successor of S. James (see Euseb. H. E. ii. 32); and some of them ye shall scourge, as Peter and the Apostles (Acts iv. and v.), and persecute from city to city, like Paul and Barnabas (Acts xiii. and xiv.).
Tropologically: Origen says (hom. 23, in Num.), “And I, this day, if I will not hear the words of a Prophet, if I despise his warnings, stone that Prophet, and as far as in me lies, kill him.”
Ver. 35. That upon you may come, &c., righteous blood. That is, of the righteous men who have exhorted others to live justly and holily, both by word and example. Whence S. Luke has, the blood of the Prophets; for a Prophet in Scripture frequently denotes a just and holy man. S. Austin gives the reason for what Christ says in this verse, “Because the imitation of wicked men causes people to obtain not only their own deserts, but the deserts of those whom they imitate.” Moreover S. Chrysostom says, “Even as the rewards which all the preceding generations deserved were bestowed upon those who received Christ, so what their wicked ancestors merited came upon the latest Jews.”
Which was shed, &c. Because, although Cain, who slew his brother Abel, was not a Jew by race, yet by his wickedness in killing righteous Abel he afforded an example to the Jews, who were most prone to follow it, in killing the holy Prophets. Thus Cain the fratricide was not the natural, but the symbolical father of the Jews who slew their brethren, Christ and the Prophets. By a like analogy the devil is called the father of all the proud and the wicked.
The Jews, even though they knew the Divine vengeance which pursued Cain’s fratricide, not only imitated it, but far transcended it by slaying Christ, the Son of God, and His Apostles. We may add, that although Cain was not a direct forefather of the Jews, he was one of their collateral ancestors. He was the brother of Seth, from whom Abraham and the Jews were sprung. But the posterity of Seth married the daughters of Cain, as Abulensis saith (Quæst. 260) (see Gen. vi. 2). This is probable, but not certain. All that Scripture says is, that from them the giants were sprung, who were the cause of the Deluge, in which they perished. But it does not say that other children were not sprung from them.
There were persons who praised this fratricide of Cain, and for that reason were called Cainites, as S. Augustine says (lib. de hæres. c. 18), “The Cainites are so called because they honour Cain, saying that he was a man of the greatest virtue.” They also think that the traitor Judas was something divine, and account his wickedness a benefit. They assert that he knew beforehand how great a benefit the Passion of Christ would be to the human race, and for that reason betrayed Him to the Jews to be put to death. They are also said to honour the Sodomites, and those who made a schism amongst the ancient people, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.
Zacharias the son of Barachias. You will ask who was this Zacharias? There are three opinions. The first that of S. Chrysostom (Hom. de Joan. Bapt.), Vatablus, Arias Montanus, &c. They think that he was the Zachariah, the last but one of the twelve minor Prophets. For he was the son of Barachiah, but we nowhere read that he was slain between the Temple and the altar.
The second and more probable opinion is, that he was the Zachariah who was the son of Jehoiada, who, with base ingratitude, was slain in an awfully sacrilegious manner by King Joash in the most holy place,—that is to say, in the court of the Priests, which was between the Temple, or the holy place, and the altar of burnt-offering; for this altar was in the court of the Priests (2 Chron. xxiv. 21). So Abul. (Quæst. 2I5), S. Jerome, Bede, Tertullian (Scorpiace, c. 3), “Zachariah is slain between the Temple and the altar, marking the stones with indelible spots of blood.” For although there were other Prophets slain by the Jews after Zachariah, he is the last whose murder is related in Scripture. Add to this that Scripture makes mention only of the blood of Abel and this Zacharias as crying for vengeance. Of Abel’s it is said (Gen. iv. 10), “What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground.” And of Zacharias (2 Chron. xxiv. 22), “Who, when he was dying, said, ‘The Lord look upon it, and require it.’” Chrysostom says, “He makes mention of Abel to show that they would kill Christ and His Apostles out of envy, as from envy Cain slew Abel; of Zacharias, because the holy man was slain in the holy place.”
You will say, this Zacharias was the son of Jehoiada, not of Barachias. S. Jerome answers that Jehoiada was also called Barachiah, perhaps because Barachiah in Hebrew signifies “the blessed of the Lord.” And it is plain that Jehoiada, who was a very holy man, was such. S. Jerome adds, “In the Gospel which the Nazarenes make use of, we find, instead of the son of Barachias, the son of Jehoiada.”
The third opinion is, that this Zacharias was the father of John the Baptist, concerning whom there is a tradition that he was slain by the Jews because he proclaimed the advent of Christ, saying in his Canticle, “And thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest, for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways;” and because he had hidden his son John from Herod, the murderer of the innocents, who sought to kill him on account of the miracles which happened at his birth. For this Zacharias was the last of the Prophets. For John, his son, was rather an index to a present Christ than a Prophet of a future one. Again, that this Zacharias was the son of Barachias is attested by S. Hippolytus, the martyr, who is cited by Nicephorus (H. E. ii. 3). S. Jerome rejects this as apocryphal; but the same thing is asserted by S. Cyril, against the Anthropomorphites, Peter of Alexandria (in regula Eccles. can. 3), S. Epiphanius (lib. de vit. et obit. Prophet.), Baronius (in apparat. Ann.), S. Thomas (in Catena). Origen, Theophylact, Euthymius, and S. Basil (Hom. de humana Christi generat.) add that this Zacharias was slain by the Jews because, after the birth of Christ, he placed the Blessed Virgin as a virgin among the virgins in the Temple. But this is difficult to be believed, for reasons given by Baronius and Abulensis.
Ver. 36. Verily I say, &c. The vengeance for these crimes of My death and the death of My Apostles and others shall come upon the Jews under Titus.
Ver. 37. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, &c. He repeats Jerusalem twice, to express the depth of His grief and compassion. It is as though He said, “0 Jerusalem, city of God, chosen by Him and beloved above all other cities, which He has adorned with so many graces and benefits,—the law, the Temple, priesthood, doctrine, enriched with a kingdom, Prophets, miracles,—thou hast always been ungrateful for all these things. Thou hast slain the Prophets, and soon thou wilt kill Me and My Apostles. Wherefore thou hast become a wicked and lost city, destined by God to be destroyed and burnt by the Romans.” By city, the inhabitants, especially the Priests and magistrates, who chiefly were guilty of the blood of the Prophets, are meant.
That killest the prophets. S. Luke says that Christ added, it cannot be that a Prophet perish out of Jerusalem: it was the appropriate work of Jerusalem to kill the Prophets.
How often have I wished, formerly by the Prophets, and now by Myself and the Apostles, to gather into My bosom, to bring back to the one God and the one faith, thy sons,—that is, thy citizens, who are scattered unto various errors, and are hurling themselves into the perils of Gehenna. For nothing disperses like sin, and nothing so gathers us to God as virtue, says Theophylact.
As a hen gathereth her chickens, wandering in different directions, under her wings, to cherish and warm them, and defend them from the hawk.
Christ compares Himself, and His love and solicitude to save the Jews, to a hen cherishing her chickens under her wings. First, because hens love their young ones above all other birds, and manifest the greatest care and protection over them, says S. Chrysostom. Thus a hen calls and clucks, so that even if she cannot see her chickens, they may recognise their mother by her call. Whilst sparrows, swallows, storks, are only recognised by the parent birds whilst they are in their nests. Christ has loved us with supremest love, “being made Himself,” says S. Hilary, “as it were, an earthly and domestic bird, being anxiously solicitous for us all through His life, teaching, sighing, and groaning, in order that He might save us.”
2. Neither sparrows, nor thrushes, nor ducks, nor any other birds become so weak when they have young as the hen does, whose voice “becomes hoarse,” says S. Augustine (in Ps. 59): “the whole body becomes neglected, the wings droop, the feathers become loose, and all this is the effect of maternal love. Thus Christ gathered all nations, like a hen her chickens, Who became weak for our sakes, receiving flesh from us, that is, from Human nature, was crucified, despised, slapped with the hand, beaten, hung on the cross, wounded with a lance. Therefore this is of maternal infirmity, not loss of majesty, that inasmuch as He shared with us in our infirmity, He might release us from our sins.”
3. The same Augustine says on the words in the 91st Psalm, “Thou shalt be safe under his feathers,” “If a hen protects her young ones under wings, how much rather shalt thou be safe under the wings of God, against the devil and his angels, who fly round about like hawks, that they may carry off the young chickens.”
4. The word in the Greek for hen is ό̉ζνις, which is a generic name for any bird, but the Vulg. does well to translate it by gallina, a hen. For, as S. Augustine says, it is wonderful what love almost all birds, but especially the hen, show in cherishing and protecting their young.
5. A hen with a branch of rue under her wings, says Pierias, is the hieroglyphic of security. Afranius, in the particulars which Constantine ordered to be collected about agriculture, says that hens will be safe from the cat if a little bunch of wild rue be tied under one of their wings. Democritus says further, that the same herb will protect them from foxes, and from every other hostile animal. Such security, only in a far higher degree, does Christ afford to His people.
6. A hen is the symbol of fruitfulness. It often lays an egg a day, and sometimes two in a day. And one egg occasionally produces two chickens. What is more fruitful than Christ?
Again, a cock and a hen are the symbol of watchfulness and guardianship. What is more watchful than Christ?
Tropologically: a hen is the Church and her Priests. For, as Auctor Imperfecti says, “As a hen that hath young ones does not cease to call them, but with assiduous clucking checks their straying away; so also ought Priests not to cease by their teaching and zeal to correct the negligence of an erring people. And as a hen that hath chickens not only warns her own young ones, but even loves as her own the young of any bird excluded from those to whom they belong; so likewise does the Church not only study to call her own Christians, but Gentiles and Jews also, if they be brought to her; she quickens them all with the warmth of her faith. She regenerates them in baptism, she nourishes them by preaching, and she loves them with maternal charity.”
7. There exists the figure of a hen with the motto, “Where Christ has been received, there is nothing sad.” Also,
8. The eggs of hens are said to be useful in various complaints, such as pains in the eyes and gout. So likewise is Christ the best Physician of all the infirmities of souls.
9. When a hen is in any peril which threatens herself alone, as from a kite, or a cat or dog, she flees. But if she fears danger for her young ones, she gathers them under her wings, and strives to protect them by every means in her power. She will often fight for them with her wings, her beak, and her whole body. So Christ fought for us against the devil and sin unto death, even the death of the cross.
And ye would not: because ye will pursue Me with hatred even unto death, and will not suffer your citizens to be converted unto Me and your God. This, as I have already observed, is especially addressed to the Scribes and rulers.
Ver. 38. Behold your house, &c. That is, the Temple, says S. Jerome and Theophylact; but more correctly, the city of Jerusalem and the whole region of Judea, which, as the punishment of such black ingratitude, was to be laid waste by the Romans, under Titus. There is an allusion to Jer. xii. 7, “I have left my house, I have forsaken my inheritance.” For when Jerusalem was forsaken by God, it became the synagogue of Satan, and so the prey of the Roman eagles under Titus and Vespasian, who partly slew the Jews, partly led them away captive, and partly scattered them over the whole world.
For I say unto you, &c. “I will withdraw Myself from you into Heaven; and ye shall see Me no more upon earth, until the Day of judgment, when I will condemn your unbelief.” Some take this verse to refer to Christ’s solemn entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, when the Jews cried aloud to Him, Hosanna, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. But this is clearly an erroneous opinion, for this triumphal entry was already past, as is plain from chap. xxi. 1, &c. These words were spoken by Christ after Palm Sunday, three days before His crucifixion. So the Fathers and Commentators, passim.
I say then that Christ is here speaking, concerning the end of the world and the Day of Judgment. This is the opinion of S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, S. Augustine (de consens. Evang. lib. 2, cap. 75). As though He had said, “You, 0 ye Scribes, who constantly contradict and calumniate Me, saying that I am not the Messiah, but that I cast out devils by Beelzebub, shall not see Me from by and by, that is, after the few days before My death, in which I shall be conversant among you, until the Judgment Day, when ye shall be compelled, even against your will, to acknowledge Me as Messiah, the Son of God, and your Judge as well as the Judge of all men; and to cry Hosanna, if not with your outward lips, at least in your hearts and minds, though against your will. Then shall ye see that I was, and am Blessed, I who came in the Name of the Lord, inasmuch as I was sent by God the Father to redeem and save all mankind, then, I say, when ye ought to have worshipped and adored Me.”
Secondly, it is possible that this passage may be understood of the Jews, who about the end of the world shall be converted to Christ by the preaching of Elias, and who, when He shall presently come to judgment, will acknowledge Him to be Messiah, the Blessed of the Lord. As though He said, “You, 0 ye Jews, do not wish to acknowledge Me as Messiah, and persecute Me as a false Christ, even unto death; but your posterity in the end of the world will acknowledge and worship Me. On them, therefore, I will bestow My grace and glory, but you I will condemn to everlasting punishment. And this will be to my praise and honour and glory, but to your shame and everlasting contempt.” Thus does Christ prick the hard and unbelieving hearts of the Jews. This was prophesied by Osee iii. 4, &c., to which Christ here makes allusion.