1 Christ foretelleth the destruction of the temple: 3 what and how great calamities shall be before it: 29 the signs of His coming to judgment. 36 And because that day and hour is unknown, 42 we ought to watch like good servants, expecting every moment our master’s coming.
ND Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.
Douay Rheims Version
Christ foretells the destruction of the temple, with the signs that shall come before it and before the last judgment. We must always watch.
ND Jesus being come out of the temple, went away. And his disciples came to shew him the buildings of the temple.
36. But of that day and hour no one knoweth: no, not the angels of heaven, but the Father alone.
37. And as in the days of Noe, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
48. But if that evil servant shall say in his heart: My lord is long a coming:
49. And shall begin to strike his fellow servants and shall eat and drink with drunkards:
And Jesus went out, &c., according to His custom at eventide, to the Mount of Olives, to pass the night, and partake of food at Bethany, in the house of Martha and Mary, after He had been teaching all day without food in the Temple.
And His disciples, &c. The occasion was because Christ, at the end of the preceding chapter, had predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, and consequently of the Temple. The disciples therefore, being amazed at this desolation of so great a city, show Him the wonderful fabric of the Temple, its beauty and magnificence, which seemed worthy of lasting for ever, in order that they might move Christ to pity, and to revoke the sentence of destruction. For this Temple was the wonder of the world, as Josephus says (de Bello Jud. vi. 6), “Its exterior had everything for the mind and the eye to admire. The roof was entirely covered with very heavy gold plates. At sunrise it was seen from afar with such a fiery splendour as to dazzle the eyes of beholders, as though they were gazing at the sun itself.” See S. Hilary, “After Christ had threatened the destruction of Jerusalem, they show Him the magnificence of its construction, as if He could be moved by the desire of it.” So, too, Origen, S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Jansen, and others. But none of this magnificence moved Christ to recall His sentence. In like manner God overthrew all the magnificence of Babylon, Nineveh, Antioch, and Rome, as well on account of the wickedness of their inhabitants, as that He might show that all such splendour is transitory, and of little worth, that so He might draw the minds of men to regard and desire the magnificence of Heaven, which is far greater, as well as eternal.
Truly and piously saith S. Augustine, “He will not be a great man who thinks it much that wood and stone should fall and mortals die.” Such were the thoughts with which S. Austin was wont to comfort himself, when Hippo, the city of which he was bishop, was besieged by the Vandals, and which was taken by them and burnt after his death.
But Jesus said, &c. One stone shall not be left upon another. This is a hyperbole, meaning, there shall be utter and total destruction. The Romans did not spend so much time upon the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple as not to leave a stone upon a stone; but yet it was burnt by them, and destroyed in so effectual a manner, that it was razed to the ground, and a plough caused to pass over its site, as S. Jerome testifies on Zech. viii., and Josephus. And this is what Christ here indicates.
Listen to Josephus (l. 7, Bell. c. 18), “Titus bid them utterly destroy the city and the Temple. But there was left standing the three towers, Hippicus, Phaselus, and Mariamne, and that part of the wall of the city which defended it on the west. This was done for the sake of the garrison which he left. And the towers were allowed to stand, in order to be a witness to posterity how strongly fortified was the city which the valour of the Romans had captured. But the remainder of the fortifications they so completely levelled with the ground, that persons who approached would scarcely have believed that the city had ever been inhabited.”
And as He sat, &c. Disciples: Mark speaks of four, viz., Peter, James, John, and Andrew, who were on more intimate terms with Christ, and admitted to His secrets. Privately, apart not only from the multitude, but from the rest of the Apostles. The Syriac has, between themselves and Him. For it was a matter full of danger to prophesy, indeed even to speak about the destruction of the Temple, on account of the Scribes and the Magistrates. It was on account of this that the Jews stoned S. Stephen. This is plain from Acts vi. 14.
Tell us: the Disciples here ask two things; the first, that Christ would tell them when Jerusalem was to be destroyed; the second, when the destruction of the world and the Day of Judgment would be, when He should come to judge all men. The Disciples thought that Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed at the glorious Advent and reign of Christ at the end of the world, as if He were about to destroy them in punishment and vengeance for His death. For they supposed that these three things, namely, the destruction of the city, the end of the world, and the Day of Judgment would all take place at the same time. And as they knew from the words of Christ that the destruction of the city was nigh at hand, they thought that the end of the world and the Day of Judgment was also at hand. They seemed to come to this conclusion from the words of Christ (Matt. xxii. 7, 8, and xxiii. 5), where He seems to join all those events together, and speak of them unitedly.
Let no man seduce you (Vulgate), i.e., from faith in Me and My Gospel.
For many shall come, &c. Such were, 1. that Theudas, of whom in Acts v. 36. 2. That Egyptian impostor, of whom Josephus (l 2, .Bell. cap. 12) and Acts xxi. 38. 3. Simon Magus, of whom Acts viii. 10, who, as S. Jerome asserts, was wont to say, “I am the word of God: I am beautiful: I am the Paraclete: I am Almighty: I am all in all.” For this Simon, as Irenæus testifies (lib. 1, c. 20), used to say that he had appeared in Judea as the Son, in Samaria as the Father, and had come down among the Gentiles as the Holy Ghost. Thus this proud Titan, as it were another Lucifer, was wont to say that he was not only Messiah, or Christ, but the whole Blessed Trinity. He it was who, by his magic spectres, so deluded Nero and the Romans, that a statue was erected to him at Rome, between two bridges, with this inscription, To Simon, a great god. 4. Such were Menander, Saturninus, the Gnostics, and the rest who sprang from the family of Simon. Lastly, such will be Antichrist, who will proclaim himself to the Jews to be Christ, according to the words of the Lord in John v. 43, “If another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive,” which every one understands of Antichrist, as S. Augustine says (Serm. 45, de Verb. Dom.).
When ye shall hear of wars, &c. Rumours: Gr. α̉κοάς, reports; Arab. news, which are often more miserable than the battles themselves, and more thoroughly torment the mind with the fear of evils to come, even though they do not come. Here is another sign given by Christ, prior to the destruction of the city and the world, viz., tumults, wars, seditions, &c. Josephus shows that such took place before the destruction of Jerusalem (lib. 2, de Bello, cap. xi). As S. Chrysostom says, “He declares there shall be a twofold war, one by the seducers, the other by the enemies.”
Take heed, &c That through fear of the enemy ye do not depart from My faith, or by despairing of fruit give up preaching the Gospel; but with generous minds struggling against fear and all opposition, go forward and proclaim faith in Me and My Gospel. He adds the reason why the Apostles must not be troubled, saying,
For all those things must be. The Greek has all, which the Vulgate omits. But the end is not yet, the end of Jerusalem and the Temple, much less of the world, also of the battles and evils prior to the destruction of both. For the end of any one battle or trouble will be but the beginning of some greater one, as Josephus says happened at the siege of Jerusalem. Be not troubled, or lose confidence, but have greater courage, that ye may be prepared for the greater evils which shall follow, so as to sustain and overcome them. Do not hope for peace on earth, but by bearing troubles here, pass on to the eternal and happy rest of Heaven.
For nations shall rise, &c. For, as S. Jerome and Bede observe, and S. Augustine (Epist. 80, ad Hesych.), Christ answers His Apostles, who were asking in a confused manner about the destruction of the city and the world, mingling the two events together, after the same way that they asked. This He does as far as the 15th verse. And He did it with this object, that the Apostles and the faithful might always be in suspense, and so carefully prepare and fortify themselves for both events. From the 15th verse He treats expressly of the destruction of Jerusalem, and the signs which should precede it, up to the 29th verse. After that, up to the end of the chapter, He speaks of the signs which shall precede the end of the world. Now that He is speaking both of the destruction of the city and the world in this verse, and as far as the 15th, is manifest from the signs themselves, which were to precede both. Therefore S. Hilary and S. Gregory (Hom. 1, in Evang.), and Irenæus (l. 5, c. 25), understand them of the destruction of the world. For it shall be preceded by the most dreadful tumults, battles, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, false Christs. Again S. Chrysostom, Euthymius, Theophylact, rightly understand them of the destruction of Jerusalem. This is plain from S. Luke xxi. 8, 12, “But before all these things they shall lay their hands upon you, and persecute you, bringing you into the synagogues.” Which happened to the Apostles before the destruction of Jerusalem, as we learn from the Acts of the Apostles. Before that event, 1. “nation rose up against nation.” After the Jews had captured and slaughtered the Roman garrison of Jerusalem, almost immediately the inhabitants of Ascalon, Ptolemais, Damascus, Alexandria, the Syrians, Romans, and all the neighbouring nations rose up against them. And this state of things continued until the most miserable destruction of Jerusalem. See Josephus, Bell. Jud. passim.
2. That Judæa was afflicted with famine before the destruction of the capital, is plain from Acts xi. 28.
3. Although Josephus says nothing about pestilences or earth quakes, yet it is certain from this prophecy of Christ that they must have happened. And both are usual concomitants of war and famine.
S. Luke adds, “fearful sights and great signs shall there be from Heaven.” That these shall precede the destruction of the world is plain from Apoc. chaps. viii, and ix. It is equally certain that they preceded the destruction of Jerusalem. For, 1. a dreadful comet, in the shape of a sword, hung over Jerusalem a whole year before its destruction. 2. At the Passover, when the people were gathered together, three hours after midnight, a light as bright as noon-day shone for half an hour in the Temple. 3. A bullock that was about to be offered in sacrifice brought forth a lamb. 4. The eastern gate of the Temple, made of brass, and so heavy that it could be with difficulty closed by twenty men, opened of its own accord at the hour of midnight. 5. There was seen in the air the appearances of armies, chariots, and battles. 6. There was heard at Pentecost the voices of angels, saying in the Temple, “Let us depart hence.” 7. An ignorant man of the lower orders, Jesus the son of Ananus, began suddenly to cry aloud, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the Temple, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, a voice against the whole people.” And this he continued to cry night and day without ceasing, perambulating all the streets of the city. This he did for seven years, crying with a dreadful voice, like one astonied, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem,” until at last, when the city was besieged by Titus, as he was crying upon the wall with a louder voice than usual, “Woe to Jerusalem, to the Temple, to the people, and to myself,” he was struck by a stone hurled from one of the military engines of the besiegers, and killed. For all these things, see Josephus, Bell. 7. 12, and Eusebius, H. E. iii. 8.
Ver. 8. All these . . . of sorrows; Gr. ω̉δίνων, parturition pangs, as S. Jerome renders in his comment. That is to say, the greatest possible pains, such as women suffer in childbirth, and from which many die. For like as it is in people about to die, disease and pain increase gradually until the time of death; so did wars, famine, pestilence increase until the final destruction of Jerusalem, as we know from Josephus. Thus also shall it be before the end of the world. Says S. Ambrose, “Because we are in the last times, diseases of the world shall go before.” (in Luc. xxi. 9).
Ver. 9. Then shall . . . to be afflicted . . . and shall hate you, &c. The Syriac puts hate first, because hate begets oppression. “They shall torment and afflict you with various torments. You will seem to be given up and dedicated to tribulation. All nations in all places shall persecute you as revilers of their gods, and as preachers of a new God, Christ crucified.” This was fulfilled under Nero, who raised the first persecution, and slew the princes of the Apostles, S. Peter by the cross, S. Paul by the sword, and burnt alive in the circus many Christians, smearing them with grease and pitch, and setting them on fire, so that they acted the part of lamps to give light during the night. (Tac. Ann. l. 15.) Antichrist will do yet more horrible things before the end of the world.
Then . . . offended, i.e., suffer stumbling-blocks, and fall. The Syriac is, shall impinge upon scandals. That is, from fear of persecution and torments shall apostatize from the faith of Christ. That many did this we know from Eusebius and others.
And shall deliver one another up (Vulg.); Syr. and English, shall betray one another. Apostates and other heathen, to curry favour with the emperors and princes, shall betray their Christian friends and relations. This is now the case in England, Scotland, and Japan. Such are false brethren, of whom S. Paul complains, 2 Cor. xi. 26. “You see,” says S. Chrysostom, “there shall be a triple war, one by enemies, a second by seducers, a third by false brethren.”
And many false prophets—false teachers, heresiarchs, such as Simon Magus, Menander, Arius, Luther, and Antichrist the head of them all. Shall seduce many (Vulg.), not by the strength of the seducers, but by the negligence of the seduced. Thus S. Paul foretold, Acts xx. 29, 30, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”
Ver. 12. And because iniquity shall abound; Gr. πληθυνθη̃ναι, i.e., be multiplied; Syr. on account of the multitude of iniquity, that is to say, infidelity, heresy, persecution, tyranny, and every kind of impurity, the love of many shall grow cold; Syr. shall languish; Arab. shall be diminished. It means, that they who aforetime were warm with love to Christ and Christians, when they see so many persecutions and afflictions of Christians, will cease to be warm. Yea, they will grow cold. Their love will be turned into hatred and disgust. Christ foretells all these things that He may strengthen believers against all hardships and trials, and make them firm as an adamantine rock.
But he that shall endure, viz., in the faith and love of Christ, unto the end: both of tribulation, and persecution, and of life, and who is of invincible patience, so as to yield to no terrors, or blandishments, or torments, shall be saved. The one only remedy and triumph over all these evils is a generous constancy and perseverance in faith and charity. For he who endures all these things is he who conquers and overcomes, as appears by the Apostles, S. Laurence, S. Vincent, S. Sebastian, and the rest of the martyrs. Therefore this saying should be adopted by a believer, “Yield not to calamities, but advance boldly against them.”
Ver. 14. And this Gospel, &c. This was fulfilled before the destruction of Jerusalem, for a witness unto all nations. For thereby God testified unto all nations His love towards the Jews, and their perfidy to Christ. And the calling of the Gentiles for that reason into their place, and this election of the Gentiles in place of the Jews, was just, as S. Chrysostom proves from Rom. i. 8, “Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world;” and “Their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the world.” And from Col. i. 6, “Which (Gospel) is come unto you, and beareth fruit in you, as it doth in all the world.”
But this must be understood hyperbolically, meaning, that before the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, the Gospel was promulgated in the greatest number and chief countries and provinces of the world, not in every small and remote spot. Wherefore S. Jerome, Bede, and other Fathers teach that this will clearly and fully take place before the end of the world. “The end” must here be taken absolutely; and before the end of the world the Gospel will be preached throughout the whole world, so that Churches will be founded among all nations, and dioceses and bishops created. This it is allowed did not take place before the destruction of Jerusalem. And all this shall he done for a witness, or testimony to all nations. God will thereby make known unto all nations His loving Providence, in that He hath shut out no nation, however barbarous and impious, from faith in Christ, from grace and salvation, but hath loved all, and cared for all, and hath called them at suitable times, and therefore hath omitted nothing which is needful for the salvation of all nations. And likewise, in the day of judgment, He will condemn all nations, who have refused to believe in Him, and obey Him.
From this prophecy of Christ, S. Jerome, Suarez, and others teach that this will be a sure sign of the near approach of the end of the world, namely, the preaching of the Gospel throughout the whole world in such a manner, that the Church shall be founded everywhere, and shall have everywhere Christian members, clergy, temples, Priests. And although Maldonatus and Franc. Lucas deny this as to its full extent, as being in this place certainly declared by Christ, yet it is absolutely true, thus far, that the Church shall be founded in all nations, and will for some time before the end be established amongst them. But for how long a time is uncertain, and known only to God. Moreover, because we see that about 150 years ago, a new world, America, was discovered by the Spaniards, and that Christopher Columbus and Vespucci sailed to and opened out the West Indies, which constitute half the globe, and that the Gospel has been propagated in almost every portion of this new world, we may gather from hence that we are sensibly coming near to the end of the world. For of the rest of the globe, no part remains which has not, at some time or other, received the faith of Christ, except perhaps China. And even there Nicolas Trigaltius shows by certain proofs (Lib. de Fide in China propagata) there were formerly Christians and Christian Churches. The same thing is proved by the inscription upon a stone which has lately been discovered in China, which plainly testifies that the Gospel was preached there by Apostolic men.
Ver. 15. When therefore . . . the abomination of desolation, i.e., the abominable desolation; Syr. the unclean portent of destruction. What this was I have explained at length on Dan. ix. 27. Some understand by it an idol placed in the Temple; others, Antichrist himself, who will desire to be worshipped in the Temple as God; others, more correctly, the Roman armies which besieged Jerusalem, and which, shortly afterwards, when it had been captured, fearfully wasted it, and made it desolate. The profanation of the Temple by the murders and other crimes which were perpetrated in it by the seditious and wicked Jews, who called themselves Zealots of the law and of liberty, may also be intended.
Thus far Christ has given His Apostles signs in common, which were to precede both the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world. He now goes on to give special signs which were to precede the siege of Jerusalem by Titus. Wherefore Christ warns Jews and Christians alike, when they beheld these signs, to flee immediately to the mountains—not of Judæa, for they were occupied by Roman soldiers (Jos. Bell. l. 3. c. 12, and l. 4. c. 2), but those beyond Judæa, that they might thus escape the approaching overthrow of the city. In this way the Christians, mindful of this prediction of Christ, and warned by a Divine oracle (Eus. H. E. l 3. c. 15), fled across the Jordan, to a city named Pella (S. Epiphan. Hæres. 29 and 30), and even carried their property thither, as well as the episcopal Chair of S. James. Eusebius says that this Chair was preserved down to his own time (H. E. 7. 15). If this Chair had remained at Jerusalem, it must have been burnt with everything else. In these events we may see the singular providence of God over Christians, and His anger against the Jews. For, when the Roman army came, the Jews and Galilæans fled in crowds to Jerusalem, as to a place of refuge, thinking that there they would be safe. But God gathered them together there that they might be killed by the Romans.
Let him which is on the house-top—for the Jewish roofs were flat, so that they could walk and sleep upon them—not come down, but flee suddenly, so that he may save his life, and lose everything else. For so great and so sudden shall be this destruction of Judæa and Jerusalem by the Romans, that it were better for a man to flee away naked, than, by wishing to save his goods, to expose himself to danger. The sentence is hyperbolical, signifying how swiftly men ought to fly from the fearful impending calamity. Thus, “Let him that is on the house-top not come down gradually by means of ladders, but let him descend by one leap, or let himself down, very swiftly by a rope, that he may escape the coming destruction.” For, hyperbole apart, the Jews had some little time given them to escape. In the first place, Cestius Gallus, who was sent by Nero, besieged Jerusalem, but he was routed by the Jews, and put to flight. Six months afterwards, Vespasian was sent by the same emperor, Nero. He subdued Galilee, and stormed all the other Jewish cities except Jerusalem. In this work he spent three years. When he was preparing for the siege of Jerusalem, tidings came to him of the death of Nero. Then Vespasian was proclaimed emperor by the army, and returned to Rome, to take charge of the State, committing the conclusion of the war to his son Titus, who, after half a year, besieged Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, and took it in six months, and burnt and destroyed it. This half-year, in which the Romans carried on the war less vigorously, was spent by the Jews in internecine strife. For, first, the Zealots seized the Temple, filling it with the murdered corpses of their fellow-citizens. To the Zealots succeeded Simon of Gerasa, the head of a new sedition. Being sent by the people into Jerusalem to restrain the Zealots, he turned his band in slaughter and rapine against the citizens. There was then sufficient space after the approach of the Roman armies for the Jews to save their goods and flee; but Christ advises immediate flight, as well to signify how dreadful the calamity would be, as well as because, when the Roman armies were once in Judæa, and spreading themselves over the land, there would be no safe place to flee unto. For the fugitives constantly fell into the hands of the Roman soldiers, by whom they were despoiled and slaughtered, as Josephus relates at length in the history of the Jewish wars.
This most dreadful destruction of Jerusalem was an express type and prelude of the end of the world, just as were Noah’s deluge, the burning of Sodom, and the drowning of Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea.
Mystically: Pope Adrian I., in his Epistle to Charles, King of France, says, “He upon the house-top is he who, leaving carnal things, lives spiritually, as it were, in a free atmosphere. This man’s furniture lies idle in the house, because with his mind rising above the body, by the force of his understanding being, as it were, placed upon the house-top, he enjoys through the perspicuity of his wisdom an unbroken view, as it were, of heaven.”
He that is in the field . . . clothes; Gr. ι̉μάτιον; i.e., cloak or outer garment. For men who labour in the fields are wont to leave their upper garments at home, so as to be able to work more expeditiously. In like manner, when the destruction of Jerusalem is impending, flee away swiftly, and half naked, if you are so at the time, that you may escape the great and terrible slaughter. The expression is hyperbolical, and similar to the one in the previous verse. Both signify that they were to leave everything, even their clothes, and flee away as swiftly as possible, for so the greatness of the calamity is intimated. The prophets make use of a similar expression under similar circumstances. Thus Jeremiah, in the slaughter of the Egyptians by the Chaldeans (xlvi. 5), “Wherefore have I seen them dismayed and turned away back? And their mighty ones are beaten down, and are fled apace, and look not back: for fear was round about, saith the Lord.”1
Ver. 19. But woe to them that are with child, &c. Because the burden of their children would hinder their flight, so that they would be taken and slain by the savage Roman soldiers, together with their little ones. So S. Chrysostom and others. Theophylact adds that there is a further allusion to the severity of the famine, by reason of which some women were constrained to devour their infants in the siege of Jerusalem. As Josephus testifies (Bell. 7. 8), Christ declares the fearfulness of the vengeance and destruction of Jerusalem, that even women with child and infants would not be spared, as is customary in the siege and capture of other cities.
But pray ye, &c. In winter: because flight is difficult, on account of the cold, snow, rain, and tempests. For this reason flight is then impossible to the sick and aged. Or, if attempted, it ends in death. On the Sabbath: because then it was not lawful for the Jews to walk more than about 700 paces, as I have shown in Acts i. 12.
You will say that the Sabbath, as well as other ordinances of the Law, had been already abrogated by Christ when Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus; and even if they had not been abrogated, it would have been allowed by the law of nature that persons should go many miles to save their lives.
I answer. Christ is speaking of Jews, and Christians who still Judaized, who were wont to observe the Sabbath with such over-scrupulosity, that they preferred to die rather than flee or defend themselves against the attacks of their enemies upon the Sabbath (see 1 Macc. ii. 34, &c.). And the Jews and Judaizing Christians would observe the Law although it had been abrogated by Christ before the capture of Jerusalem. I may add that when the legal observances were abrogated by Christ at Pentecost, they were thenceforward dead, and were no longer binding; but they did not immediately become deadly, but it was permitted the Jews who were converted to Christ still to keep them for several years, out of reverence for Moses and the Law, until, being better instructed in evangelical liberty, they passed into perfect union with the Gentiles in the Church of Christ, as I have said in Gal. ii. So S. Chrysostom. Theophylact, Euthymius.
Christ here alludes to the capture of Jerusalem, which was to take place upon the Sabbath, as Dio Cassius asserts in his account of Nero. Indeed, one Gaspar Sanchez (in Zach. 14, num. 27) takes the words literally, as though Christ foretold that the Jews would take to flight upon the Sabbath, because Jerusalem was to be taken on that day. But Christ is here giving signs which were to precede the destruction of Jerusalem, so that men might flee away and escape, as I have already said. But in the actual siege and destruction, Titus had so completely encompassed the city by a wall, that it was impossible to flee out of it, as Josephus testifies.
Then shall be great tribulation, &c. Some, with S. Augustine (Epist. 80, ad Hesych.), confine the words, such as was not, nor ever shall be, to the Jews (for Christ thus far has been speaking of them), meaning, that neither in the Egyptian, nor the Assyrian, nor the Babylonian, nor the Syrian distress under Antiochus Epiphanes, had they suffered such slaughter as they should suffer under Titus and the Romans; yea, that they never would suffer anything so terrible, because Titus would bring upon them the extremity of destruction and desolation which were to continue until the end of the world.
With greater latitude others think that this destruction of the Jews by Titus is to be considered as more terrible than the destruction and punishment which befell any other nation whatsoever. For the Jews were not from the beginning of the world, but took their rise from Abraham and Jacob. In this way the meaning would be, that neither the burning of Sodom, nor the drowning of Pharaoh, nor the destruction of the Canaanites by Joshua, nor the overthrow of Nineveh or Babylon, or of any other nation, however dreadful and terrible, which ever has been or shall be, was so dreadful as this destruction of Judæa, which was to take place under Titus. I have spoken of separate and individual nations, because the destruction of the whole world by the general Deluge in the time of Noah, and the general conflagration at the last day, with the common destruction of all, surpasses in horror the destruction of the single nation of the Jews. In like manner, the persecution of Antichrist will be more horrible, forasmuch as it will be a general persecution of all Christians who in all nations believe in Christ.
Christ therefore compares the destruction of the one nation of the Jews with that of any other nation whatsoever, but not with the destruction of all nations, or of the whole world. That these things were so, is plain from the seven books which Josephus compiled (de Bell. Jud.). Thus he says expressly (6. 11), “To speak briefly, I am of opinion that no other city ever suffered such calamities, nor in any other nation of which there is memory among men was the wickedness of the seditious more ferocious.”
S. Chrysostom assigns as the reason of this most dreadful destruction of the Jews, the awful nature of their crime, by which they crucified their own Messiah, Christ, the Son of God. Wherefore, from this destruction and unceasing desolation of the Jewish nation, you may prove to the Jews that Christ has come already, and that it is He whom they have slain. For God has never punished any other crime, either among the Jews or any other nation, so fearfully as He has punished this, their Christicide and Deicide. Whence rightly, Auctor lmperfecti, “Until Christ, although the Jews were sinners, yet they were accounted as sons, and as sons they were punished. But after the Lord was crucified they ceased to be sons, and were treated as enemies, and as such were rooted out, without any hope of salvation. For inasmuch as they had committed a crime, the like whereof had never been committed, nor yet would be committed again, so there came upon them such a sentence as never has been passed, nor ever will be passed upon any others.” This is what S. Luke says, Then shall be the days of vengeance, i.e., for the death of Christ. There shall be great affliction and wrath upon this people. Josephus adds (Bell. 7. 16) that Titus recognized this vengeance of God, and attributed the capture of Jerusalem, not to his own power, but to Him. For entering into the captured city, when he saw the height and solidity of the bulwarks and towers, he exclaimed, “ It is evident that God has helped us to fight. It was God Himself who cast down the Jews from those mountains. For what power of man, or what machines, would have been able to do so?” The same Josephus (Bell. 6. 14) adds, that when Titus went round and saw the ditches full of the corpses of the dead, he groaned aloud, and lifting up his hands to Heaven, called God to witness that it was not his work.
Luke adds, xxi. 24, 1st. They shall fall by the edge of the sword, i.e., they shall be slain by the swords of the Romans. Josephus asserts that, besides innumerable others slain in all parts of Judæa, there fell in the siege of Jerusalem alone 1,100,000 souls, who died by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.
2d. And they shall be carried captive among all nations. The same writer says that 97,000 Jews were taken captive at that time. And he adds that the multitude of the Jews who flocked together at that time to the Passover out of all the world, amounted to 2,700,000 Souls. Wherefore he adds, that the whole nation was as it were shut up in a prison by fate; and the city was besieged when it was crammed full of people. Therefore the number of those who fell including those whom the Romans killed or took captive, exceeded the number who fell by any other divinely sent judgment, or destruction wrought by man. For, opening the sewers, and uncovering the sepulchres, they slew those whom they found there. In addition to these, there were found in those places 2000 who had fallen by their own hands, or by wounds received from one another.
3d. And Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled, i.e., until the end of the world and of all nations. For when the number of the Gentiles, according to God’s decree, has been completed, all the people and the number of the Gentiles shall be finished together with the world. So Euthymius; or as Bede, until the plenitude of the Gentiles shall enter into the Church of Christ. For when this shall be accomplished, then “all Israel shall be saved,” as the Apostle says (Rom. xi.), which shall be in the end of the world. For Christ has regard to the desolation of Jerusalem. This was foretold by Daniel (ix.), where it is said, “The desolation shall continue unto the consummation and the end,” meaning that Jerusalem, after being razed to the ground and laid desolate by Titus, shall be no longer the capital city of the Jews, but shall belong to the Gentiles, and after that to the Christians, and after that to the Saracens and the Turks, as it is at present. And this state of things shall continue until the end of the world, when Antichrist, the king and Messias of the Jews, shall fix the seat of his empire at Jerusalem, as is plain from Apoc. xi. 8. And then shall Enoch and Elias resist Antichrist, and convert many of the Jews to Christ. After Antichrist is slain, all the Jews shall be brought to Christ by the disciples of Enoch and Elias, and shall publicly worship Christ in Jerusalem, as may be easily gathered from Apoc. xx. 8.
Eusebius adds (H. E. 4. 6), that Adrian, who succeeded Trajan as emperor of Rome, made a severe edict that all Jews whatsoever should depart out of Judæa, so that it should not be lawful for any of them to see Judæa. He adds, “This was done, so that after the ruin of the Jewish nation, the inhabitants of the city being changed, the name of Jerusalem itself was changed to Elia, from the cognomen of the Emperor Ælius Adrianus.” Behold, this is what Christ foretold—Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles.
From these words of Christ S. Cyril of Jerusalem rightly confuted the Jews, who, at the instigation of Julian the Apostate, set about rebuilding the Temple. He predicted that all their labour would be in vain, because Christ had declared out of Daniel that the desolation of Jerusalem and of the Temple would continue unto the end of the world. And he was a true seer. For fire coming down from Heaven consumed all the tools of the workmen. And a great earthquake tore up the foundation-stones and dispersed them, and destroyed the adjacent buildings. On the following night, impressions of the sign of the cross, shining like rays of the sun, appeared impressed upon the garments of the Jews, which by no efforts were they able to efface. (So Socrates, H. E. 3. 20.)
Ver. 22. Except those days . . . shortened; Gr. ε̉κολβώθησαν, a period or stop put to them; i.e., by the Lord, as Mark adds.
The elect are twofold: those who are elected to grace, who are all the faithful and the righteous; and those who are elected to glory, who are all those who shall he saved. Both classes may be here understood, but especially the second. For these are they who are perfectly elected. And whosoever are elected to final grace, so that they persevere in it to the end of life, are those who are also elected to glory. The sense is—unless God from eternity had decreed, and had fulfilled the same in time, that the days of the wasting of Judæa should be shorter—shorter, I mean, than the sins of the Jews and the anger of the Romans demanded, all Jews would have perished. For if the time of the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of Judæa had lasted longer, no flesh, i.e., no Jews, would have survived. For the rage of the Romans against the Jews was very great, as against a rebellious and obstinate nation; and unless the gentleness of Titus had somewhat restrained them, the Romans would have slain all the Jews. God therefore shortened this time of slaughter for the elect’s sake; that is, partly for the sake of those Christians who had not been able or willing to flee away from Jerusalem, partly on account of the Jews who, in the great slaughter of the siege, had been converted to Christ, as well as for the sake of those who were afterwards to be sprung from them and converted to Christ. What is meant is this, “If this tribulation of the Jews had lasted longer, none of them would have continued alive, and would not, by consequence have persevered in faith and grace in this life, and so no one of them would have survived to be elect and saved. In order, therefore, that some may survive, who by the predestination of God shall be saved, those, namely, whom God foresees and foreordains, shall remain in this tribulation, and be converted to Christ, and so be saved, for this cause, I say, God will abbreviate and cut short these days of tribulations.”
That such was the case appears from Josephus (Bell. 7. 15). He testifies that more than forty thousand Jews were saved by Titus in the destruction of Jerusalem. Where observe that God, for the sake of His elect and believing ones, saved alive many Jews who did not believe, but were obstinate and reprobate. “Therefore,” says S. Chrysostom, “let not the Jews say that these things happened to them because of the preaching and worship of Christ. He shows not only that Christians were not the cause of these evils, but that if there had been no Christians, all Jews would have perished. For if the war, by Divine permission, had been prolonged, no remnant of the Jews would have escaped. But in order that the believing Jews might not be destroyed with the unbelieving, God put a more speedy end to the war than He would have done.”
Tropologically: Learn from hence how great is God’s love and care for His elect. For them He spared many Jews. For the elect’s sake God created, and still preserves the whole world, and all the things that are therein. Yea, for their sake He caused Christ, His own Son, to become man, and willed that He should suffer death upon the cross. Wherefore S. Paul saith (1 Cor. iii. 22), “All things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come.
Ver. 23. Then if any man, &c. Some think that Christ here passes from the signs of the destruction of Jerusalem to those before the end of the world. But it is better to refer them to the destruction of Jerusalem, of which He has been speaking thus far. This is the force of the word then.
Lo, here is Christ. The Jews knew that the advent of the Messiah was now nigh at hand, because the sceptre had been transferred from Judah to aliens, Herod and the Romans, according to Jacob’s prophecy (Gen. xlix. 10). Wherefore, many at that time flattered Vespasian by saying that he was the Messiah, as we learn from Suetonius. Others gave Herod the same flattering title. Moreover, there were at that time in Jerusalem, as Josephus and S. Jerome testify, three factions, which had each its own leader, who boasted himself to be the Messiah, who would defend the Jews against the Romans. These chiefs were Eleazar the son of Simon, John the son of Levi, Simon the son of Goria, who all contended for supremacy amongst themselves. Such also was the impostor who, under Adrian, pretended to be Messiah, and wished to be called Barchochabas, the son of a Star, as though in him was fulfilled the prophecy of Balaam, “A star shall rise out of Jacob.” Of this man Eusebius says (H. E. 4. 6): “Barchochabas, a wicked and cruel man, was the leader of a Jewish army. And referring to the signification of his name, he persuaded them, as if they had been vile slaves, that he was a great star for their salvation, and that he bore the succour of light to sick mortals and those who were doomed to long darkness.”
Such in our own age were David George; also John of Leyden, who seized a monastery in a city of Westphalia, where he made himself Christ, a king, and created twelve apostles, whom he sent into all the neighbouring cities, that they should bring all men to him as Christ. But being besieged by the Catholics and captured, he was hung alive in a wickerwork cage from the top of a tower, and being eaten by flies and wasps, he died A.D. 1536. There shall be many more such in the time of Antichrist. Tropologically: such are heresiarchs, who proclaim another Christ, in that they affirm other doctrines, which are not the doctrines of Christ, but of Antichrist. For although the word then properly denotes the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, yet it may be taken indefinitely, so as to denote any period whatsoever, from the fall of Jerusalem to the end of the world, as S. Chrysostom observes (Hom. 77). Moreover, the heretics foolishly say that by the words, if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, Catholics are denoted, because they say of the Eucharist, “Lo, here is Christ.” For Christ is here speaking of visible heretics and false prophets, who shall call themselves Christs, and draw away disciples after them. He is not speaking of the Eucharist, where Christ is invisible.
Ver. 24. For there shall arise false Christs, &c. wrought by art magic, by the power of the devil, whom many heresiarchs have had as a familiar spirit, as I have shown in 1 Tim. iv. 1. Such was their great prince Simon Magus, who deluded Nero and the Romans, so that they erected a statue to him at Rome; but at length he himself, flying through the air by the aid of the devil, was dashed down to the earth by the prayers of S. Peter, and falling upon a stone, broke his knees, “so that he who had attempted to fly was not able to walk; and he who had taken wings, lost his legs,” as S. Maximus says (Hom. 5, de SS. Petro et Paulo).
So as to deceive—even the elect. Understand this of final falling away, in such a sense that the elect should finally fall from grace, and be lost. For there is no surer sign of reprobation than that any one should apostatize from the faith. Falsely, therefore, does Calvin infer from this passage that the elect cannot sin. They do sin, but they repent and rise again.
If it were possible. So great shall be the tribulation and the temptation of the false Christs and heretics, their power, deceit, guile, and speciousness, that, if such a thing were possible, even the elect would be seduced by them, and come over to their errors and heresies, and so fall from the faith and be damned. But this can never happen, because of God’s more powerful protection, and His infallible predestination, as S. Augustine says (de Civ. xx. 19), and according to Christ’s own words, “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall not perish eternally: and no one shall pluck them out of My Father’s hand,” S. John x. 28 (Vulg). For it is not possible that the elect should fall away so as to become reprobate. I do not speak of any physical or absolute necessity, but of that moral foreknowledge and predestination of God, by which He so works, and so disposes it, and combines it with the issue of future events, that there is necessity in a composite sense, as Theologians say. For although the elect are free, and free to sin, to go astray, and be lost, nevertheless, inasmuch as it has been laid down that God has predestinated and foreseen that they cannot sin, go astray, and be damned, it is impossible that they should sin, go astray, and be damned. For the predestination of God is most sure, and cannot fail. These two things, therefore, cannot co-exist, that a man should be predestinated, and yet be damned; that God should foreknow that such a man will die in His grace, and be saved, and also foreknow that he will die in sin, and be damned. In a similar manner S. John speaks of the Jews (xii. 39), “Wherefore they could not believe, because Isaiah saith again, He hath blinded their eyes:” not as though Isaiah’s prophecy were the cause why the Jews did not believe in Christ, but because his prediction of the incredulity of the Jews was incompatible with their believing in Christ. And S. Paul says (1 Tim. ii. 19), “The foundation of God (concerning the elect) standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His.”
Moreover, those Theologians who say that the elect unto glory are persons who have been elected independently of all provision of their works, ascribe the force of this election, this necessity of their being saved, to the Divine decree; but the others, in order not to take away man’s free will, must take the matter in a composite sense. They must combine the constancy and perseverance of the elect with God’s decree to bestow this perseverance upon them, in such manner as not to interfere with their free will, and with His carrying this out in time, that is to say, by giving them in time grace of congruity and grace efficacious, whereby they may effectually, but of their own free will, resist heretics, and persevere in the faith and grace of God. Nor is it more wonderful that those cannot fall whom God wills not to fall (for who hath resisted His will?), than that they cannot fall whom God has foreseen will not fall. For God’s prescience and His will are both infallible.
Some by the elect in this place understand those who are especially beloved and chosen of God, and who, on that account, are wont to suffer dreadful things from the devil and heretics and wicked men; but they bravely and constantly resist and overcome them. It is meant, that so great shall be the temptation, that even most holy men, religious and apostolic, who are especially dear to God, would fall away from the faith, if such a thing could be, and the more powerful grace and sure election of God did not prevent it.
Ver.26. If, therefore, they shall say, &c. Christ here denotes Simon of Gerasa, who collected a multitude of robbers and soldiers in the deserts and mountains, on the pretext that, being Messiah, he would defend the Jews against the Romans. He was admitted into Jerusalem to be a check upon the Zealots, but he acted as tyrannically towards the citizens as the Zealots themselves. (Josh. Bell. 5. 7.)
In the secret chambers; that is, the innermost and secret places of the Temple, where God is accustomed to manifest His presence and aid the Jews, that He may now protect them by means of His Messias from the Romans. Christ here signifies Eleazar and John, the leaders of the Zealots, who occupied the inner court of the Temple, on the pretext of defending the city against the Romans, but in reality that they might rule over it and despoil it. So Josephus (de Bell. 6. 1 and 4, and 7. 11). He relates that when the Temple was on fire, many Jews fled to the porch without the Temple, because a certain false prophet had said that those who fled to the Temple on that day would be safe under God’s protection. But those all perished—either by the flames or the sword of the Romans.
Luke adds, The days shall come when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and shall not see it. That is, “The time shall come when ye shall desire my Presence which ye have now, both for your consolation in so great tribulation, and for the manifestation and confutation of the errors and heresies which shall arise.”
Ver. 27. For as the lightning, &c. Ye must not give credit to wanderers, who shall say, Messiah, the Saviour of the Jews from the Romans, is hidden in desert places, or in secret chambers in the Temple; for when He shall come the second time to judgment to bless the saints and condemn the wicked, He will appear publicly to the whole world. The judge of all will appear like the lightning, radiant with great glory and majesty, so as to dazzle the eyes of all, and turn them upon Himself, in such a manner that no one will be able to doubt that He is the Christ the Saviour of the world. He means, “My advent, My return to judgment, will be like the lightning, because—1st it will be sudden; 2d it will be unexpected; 3d it will be manifest to all; 4th it will he glorious; 5th mighty, so that no one can resist it; 6th it will not be on the earth, but in the air, like the lightning, which makes itself plain to view; not in a corner, but to the world in a moment of time.” For Christ is here replying to the mind and thoughts of the Apostles. For they thought that Christ would inaugurate His glorious Kingdom upon earth immediately after the destruction of Jerusalem. So S. Chrysostom, “For as the lightning needs no preacher nor messenger, but appears in a moment to all, so shall that advent be seen everywhere alway to shine immediately.” Also Auctor Imperfecti, “As lightning traverses all things in the twinkling of an eye, so likewise shall the Son of God not seem to be coming, but to have come. For if the sun, which has been created for our service, possesses such splendour, that in whatsoever part of the heavens it may be, it appeareth everywhere present; how much more shall Christ, the Spiritual Sun, when He cometh, be seen by all the world, or rather, the world be seen by Him?”
This author adds, that Christ here makes mention of lightning, because lightning shall go before Him when He comes to judgment, according to the words of the Psalm, xcvii. 4, 5, “His lightnings enlightened the world: the earth saw, and trembled. The hills melted like wax at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the LORD of the whole earth.”
Wheresoever the carcase is, &c. There is an allusion to Job xxxix. 33, And wheresoever the carcase (Heb. the slain) shall be, he will be there. After the metaphor of lightning, he subjoins the parable of the eagle; both because, as the eagle is not struck by lightning, so the elect will not be affected by the thunderbolt of the sentence and the curse with which Christ shall condemn the wicked to hell in the Day of Judgment, as also in order that the Apostles might not suppose that the glorious Advent of Christ should, like lightning, pass away, and should ask, “What reward will accrue to us therefrom?” Christ gives the assurance that He will indeed appear like the lightning, unto all, but that He will abide with His elect, and will feed them with His glory, as an eagle feeds upon a body as its prey and food.
Carcase. The Vulg. seems to have read σω̃μα, as some copies still have it. But a better reading is πτω̃μα, which properly signifies ruin, fall, and from hence comes to mean a carcase. Πτω̃μα comes from πίπτω, as cadaver from cadendo. But by πτω̃μα, Salmeron understands prey, hunting, either for the body of a bird, a hare, or some such thing as eagles hunt. This is called πτω̃μα, because the bodies of those creatures which eagles capture fall upon the earth. For the eagle is too noble to eat carrion, or the dead body of anything save of what it has itself captured and killed.
Aristotle, however (lib. 9, Hislor. Anim. c. 32), enumerate Six kinds of eagles, and amongst them the γυπάετον, or vulture-eagle, that is to say, a species which seeks out dead bodies. Hence the LXX. in Job xxxix. 27 translate by γύψ. This is the bird of which Christ here speaks, according to Aldrovandus and others. Both meanings and readings suit this passage, as I will presently show.
The words constitute an enigmatical parable, signifying that Christ cannot be hid. As though He had said, “As eagles discern the bodies upon which they prey, even from on high, and fly towards them, and as a vulture smells a carcase even when it is very far off, so in like manner shall My glorious return to judge the world not be hidden or secret, but manifest to all. Wherefore the faithful and righteous at that time, like eagles of most piercing sight, and like vultures of most acute scent, shall, by divine power, scent Me out, that is, they shall perceive Me beforehand. They shall discern Me with their eyes, and fly to Me, that they may most happily feed upon Me and upon My glory, and be refreshed and blessed for ever.” And in truth there shall be no need then to search where is Christ. For His Advent shall be glorious, and visible to all the world. This is what Paul says, “We shall be snatched up into the clouds, to meet Christ in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (1 Thess. iv. 17).
Christ compares Himself to a carcase, that He may signify His death, by which He merited glory for us. He compares Himself also to a body made alive again, that He may signify His glorious Resurrection, by which He will feed and bless His elect. Wherefore S. Hilary gathers from this passage that the universal judgment of Christ will take place on that spot where He hung a corpse upon the cross, and where He was buried,—that is to say, near Jerusalem, in the valley of Jehoshaphat, as Joel teaches (iii. 2). Hear S. Hilary, “He called the saints eagles, from the flight of the spiritual body, whose gathering together by the angels He showed would be in the place of His Passion. And rightly may His glorious Advent there be expected, where for us He procured an eternity of glory by the sufferings of the body of His humility.” And S. Jerome says, “Eagles are they who take wings to fly to the .Passion of Christ.” It is agreeable to reason that Christ should there judge all men, where He was unjustly judged for all; and that His glory should be there seen, where His lowliness and humility were witnessed; that He should descend from Heaven in the place where He ascended into Heaven, and that so the whole work of our salvation should be completed and finished in that same spot where it was begun.
Moreover, the saints are rightly compared to eagles, because the eagle is the king of birds, as the lion is the king of beasts. So likewise are the Saints kings, not of earth, but of Heaven. Hear Origen, “He said not, where the carcase is, thither shall the vultures or the crows be gathered together, but the eagles, to signify that those who have believed in the Passion of the Lord are all great and regal.”
Here also Auctor Imperfecti, who for eagles understands vultures, “Concerning vultures, the Scripture saith in the Book of Job, Wheresoever the carcase is, there will be found the vulture’s young ones. For this is the natural property of vultures. As some say, they can scent a corpse even across the sea. But because vultures are foul birds, Christ adopted the name of eagles to the habits of vultures, that thus might be shown the gathering together of the Saints to the Advent of Christ, that in the royal eagles the regal dignity might be shown. For in this manner are the Saints like unto eagles, because as eaglets are proved by the sun, in such manner, that if without blenching they can look straight up at the sun, they are considered legitimate offspring, but if they cannot do this, they are regarded as spurious; so, also, the sons of God are proved by the justice of Christ. If they are able fully to accept the words of His justice, they are understood to be legitimate; but if not, they are understood to be the offspring of the devil.”
2. Because, as S. Ambrose says (in S. Luke xviii.), eagles renew themselves. So also the Saints are renewed here by grace, and hereafter by glory, according to those words of the Psalm, “They shall renew their strength like eagles.”
3. Because there is something divine about the eagle. As Aristotle says (lib. 9, Hist. Anim. c. 32), “Eagles fly on high, that they may see to the farthest possible extent. Wherefore men say that the eagle is the only bird which is divine.” Hence by eagles S. Chrysostom understands the multitude of Angels, Martyrs, Saints, who all, as it were divine spirits, shall he gathered together to Christ their God in the Day of Judgment, that they may ascend up with Him in glory to Heaven.
4. The saints are eagles, because they fly above the earth, and mount up to Heaven, that they may behold heavenly things, and look down upon earthly things as far beneath them. Whence they say with S. Paul, “Our conversation is in Heaven.”
5. As eagles possess sharp and strong sight, so as to be able with unblenching eye to gaze at the sun; thus do the Saints assiduously, with the keen eyes of their minds, contemplate Christ, who is the Sun of justice.
Allegorically: the Body of Christ is the Church, in which are eagles, that is, spiritual persons of heavenly life and doctrine. So, on the contrary, heretics are like black crows and chattering daws; or like moles, wholly conversant with earth and earthly things. Hear S. Ambrose (in Luc. c. xvii. last ver.), “Do not the eagles seem to thee to be about the Body, when the Son of Man shall come in that Day with clouds of them that understand? When every eye shall see Him, and they also that pierced Him? This, is the Body of which it has been said, ‘My Flesh is meat indeed, and My Blood is drink indeed.’ Round about this Body are the true eagles, who fly with spiritual wings. There likewise fly the eagles who believe that Jesus is come in the flesh. ‘For every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God.’ For where there is faith, there is the sacrament, there is the abode of sanctity. This is the Body of the Church, in which by the grace of baptism we are renewed in spirit, and the decay of age is renewed by the return of youth.”
Anagogically: the Blessed, in the Day of Judgment, after the Resurrection, shall be gathered together to the Body, i.e., to Christ risen and glorified, that they may fly with Him to life in Heaven. By eagles is denoted the swiftness of the Blessed, according to the words in Isa. xl., “They shall fly like eagles.” Wherefore S. Gregory expounds thus (S. Thom. in Catena), “Wheresoever the Body,” &c. As though Christ had said, “Because I, incarnate, preside in the heavenly seat, I sustain with flesh the life of My elect, I lift them up to Heaven.” And S. Ambrose (in Ps. xlix. sub finem), for body, reading ruin, or fall, which is the meaning of the Greek πτω̃μα, says, “Where the ruin is, there are the eagles; i.e., where He fell, there He rose again.“ Again, the eagle is the symbol of the blessed eternity of the Saints. For the eagle is very long-lived, and when it grows old it renews its youth. Hence the proverb, “The old age of an eagle.”
Symbolically: the eagle, because it has sharp sight, is a symbol of truth. Whence S. Ambrose, “Where the body,” &c., i.e., “Where the Body of Christ is, there is truth.” Again, the eagle is a type of the angels, because of their swiftness. Therefore S. Ambrose (lib. 1, de Sacram. c. 2) understands the words of the Eucharist. For at the Eucharist, where the Body of Christ is, the eagles, i.e., the angels, assist. So also do the Saints and Priests. The same also saith (lib. 4, c. 2), “The form of the Body is the altar, the Body of Christ is on the altar. Ye are eagles, renewed by being washed from sin.”
Ver. 29. But immediately after the tribulation, &c. Christ passes from the destruction of Jerusalem to the destruction of the world, and the signs which shall precede it.
Tribulation. Understand the persecutions and temptations which shall arise from false Christs and false Prophets, of which the 23d verse speaks; or rather the tribulation which came upon the Jews at the siege of Jerusalem by Titus. For this only did He call tribulation a little above in ver. 21. Where observe, with S. Chrysostom, Jerome, and others, that Christ, in order to keep His disciples and those who succeeded them in constant expectation of His Advent and the Day of Judgment, and to urge them to be always prepared for it, seems to favour the mistake of the Apostles, and to speak as though the end of the world would follow immediately upon the destruction of the city, but in a different way from that in which the Apostles understood it. For although 1560 years have elapsed since the destruction of Jerusalem, and many more will yet elapse before the end of the world, nevertheless all this period, long as it seems to us, whose span of life is so short, yet compared with the eternity of God, who is the true Measurer of times, is but very small, yea, only as it were a moment. Thus answers S. Peter (2 Pet. iii. 8), “One day is with God as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. This is why the Prophets and Apostles call the period of Christ and of the Gospel Dispensation, the last time and the last hour, as appears from 1 John ii. 18; 1 Cor. x. 11; Jas. v. 8; Heb. x. 37. For the same reason Haggai (ii. 4) says that there shall be but a little while to the coming of Christ, and yet there were 517 years still to elapse before He came. There is also this to be considered, that the tribulation of the world shall immediately follow the tribulation of the city, in the sense that no very remarkable and exceptional tribulation of the Jews shall intervene between those two events, so that the one shall very closely succeed the other, not as regards time, but in type, similitude, and fearfulness. For a similar reason Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the rest of the Prophets, when they describe the destruction of Babylon, Tyre, Egypt, and of Judæa by the Chaldeans, pass on at once to the antitype, the destruction of the world, as though it were about to take place immediately. And they set forth how dreadful shall be the former events by the signs and horrors which shall take place at the latter event. This appears by Isa. xiii. 19; Jer. xv. 9; Amos viii. 9; Joel ii. 10.
From what has been said, it would seem that Alcazar (in Apoc. vi. 12), from the expression “thus” in this verse of S. Matthew, gathers incorrectly that all the things which are here spoken of refer literally, not to the end of the world, but to the destruction of Jerusalem. By the darkening of the sun and moon, and the falling of the stars, this writer understands literally the blindness of the Jews, their calamities, and the slaughter which was made of them by Titus. By the shaking of the powers of the heavens, he understands the flight of the Christians from the city, by whose holiness it was sustained. But every one can see that these meanings are mystical and symbolical.
The sun shall be darkened. Observe that this sign and those which follow are not after the General Resurrection, as SS. Jerome and Chrysostom suppose, but previous to it, as is plain from S. Luke xxi. 26, and Joel ii. 31. As to the meaning, S. Augustine (Epist. 80, ad Hesych.) says, “The sun, i.e., the Church, shall be darkened, because in those tremendous temptations and tribulations which shall be in the end of the world, many who had seemed as bright and as firm as the sun and the stars shall fall from the faith.” This is the allegorical sense, and is just and apposite.
You will ask, what will be the cause of this great obscuration of the sun before the Judgment Day? SS. Hilary, Jerome, Chrysostom answer, that it will be because the excessive brightness of Christ’s glorious body will make the sun grow pale. But I have already observed that these signs will take place before the General Resurrection, and therefore before Christ’s coming to judgment. So that I reply, the sun will be darkened because God will take away from it, not its light indeed, but its power of illuminating, by which it shall come to pass that in the sun there will be light, but upon the earth nothing but darkness. Thus was it at the Passion of Christ. Again, God will hide the sun by means of thick clouds and smoke. Perchance also there will be extraordinary and miraculous eclipses, as may be gathered from Lactantius vii. 16.
Of this darkening of the sun at the end of the world, the calamities and prodigies which took place at the destruction of Babylon, Tyre, Egypt, Idumæa, &c., were types. When, therefore, the Prophets speak of them, they speak by catachresis of the horribleness of the destruction, by saying that the sun and moon and stars shall be darkened. For such dreadful calamities bring on men giddiness and blindness. Thus those overthrows were types and foreshadowings of the destruction of the world, when the heavenly luminaries will be literally darkened.
And the moon, &c. For when the sun is darkened, the moon must necessarily be so likewise, since she derives her light from him.
Symbolically: Auctor Imperfecti says, “When the master of the household dies, his whole household is troubled; his family make lamentations and rend their garments. So, in like manner, when the human race, for whom all things were made, is about to come to an end, all creation languishes, the powers of the heavens mourn, and laying aside their brightness, are clothed with robes of darkness.”
And the stars, &c. 1. Because at the end of the world the stars also shall be darkened, so that they shall appear to men to have fallen from the heavens. For Holy Scripture often speaks of things not as they are in themselves, but as they appear unto men.
2. Stars, i.e., comets and such like bodies, which are formed in the atmosphere, shall then fall upon the earth. This may be gathered from Joel ii. 30.
S. Chrysostom and Euthymius add, that at the end of the world stars, properly so called, shall fall from the heavens to the earth. But this must be understood of very small stars, and such as are invisible to us. For as to the visible stars, they are larger than our whole earth, and cannot therefore fall upon it.
And the powers of the heavens, &c. Origen, S. Chrysostom, &c., understand by these powers the sevenfold choirs or orders of the angels, which are called powers (Lat. virtutes) because they excel in strength (virtute). And the meaning would be, that the angels, mighty as they are, when they behold the sun and moon become dark, and the stars fall from heaven, and many other dreadful prodigies multiplied at the end of the world, will stand, as it were, astonished and stupefied at such great changes and terrible sights.
Here may be mentioned the opinion of Suarez (3 p. qu. 59, art. 6, disp. 56, sect. 3), “The powers of the heavens,” saith he, “are the angels, who, by their surpassing strength, cause the heavens to revolve; because they, as the ministers of the Divine justice and vengeance against the wicked, shall change the accustomed order of motion of the heavens. Thus there shall be utter confusion in this lower world.”
But more simply, by the powers of the heavens, you may understand the stars themselves and their influences. The meaning is, that at the end of the world the very great and very strong stars of heaven shall change their motions, appearances, influences, and in consequence everything upon earth shall be in perturbation, so that the world shall be shaken by unwonted movements, the sea shall overflow, and the atmosphere shall be troubled with comets, thunderbolts, meteors, whirlwinds, so that all things will seem to be utterly in confusion.
Lastly, and most plainly, by the powers, &c., you may understand their poles and hinges. These are δυνάμεις, Heb. gibburoth, the strength and props, as it were, of the heavens. It means, that at the end of the world the whole heavens shall be shaken, all plucked from their poles and hinges, so that they will seem to fall down, so as to strike terror into the wicked, and to set forth the wrath of an angry Christ. I have treated of this matter more at length in Apoc. vi. 14. There is an allusion to Job xxvi. 11, “The pillars of heaven shall tremble, and shall fear by reason, of His rebuke;” and to Isa. xxxix. 4, “And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their hosts shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig-tree.” For as Bede says (in Luc. xxi. 25), “As when trees are shaken to their fall, they are wont to show premonitions of the coming crash; so likewise when the end of the world draweth nigh, shall the elements nod and tremble as though they were in fear;” and the heavens burning with fire, and as it were perishing, shall rise again with the Saints, and shall be renewed in a glorious state of felicity.
Ver. 30. And then shall appear the sign, &c. You will ask, what is the sign of the Son of Man, that is to say, of Christ Incarnate? I answer, it is the Cross. For this is the sign, because it is the standard (vexillum) of Christ, and the cause of the victory of believers. And as it was beforetime the scandal of unbelievers and the impious, so will it be in the Day of Judgment their condemnation and their torment. So the Fathers, almost passim. Yea, the Church herself gives this meaning her sanction, when she sings in the office for Holy Cross Day, “This sign of the Cross shall be in heaven when the Lord shall come to judgment.” There are three reasons why the Cross shall then appear. 1st To signify that Christ by the Cross has merited this judicial power and glory. 2d To show that Christ was crucified for the salvation of all men, and that therefore they are ungrateful and without excuse who have neglected so great grace and love. 3d To show that all worshippers of Christ crucified shall be then exalted with Him to Heaven, and all who hate and despise Him cast down to hell.
From this saying of Christ it is extremely probable that the actual cross on which He was crucified shall appear in heaven at the Day of Judgment, for the consolation of the Saints, who have been saved by it, and who therefore have striven to conform themselves in their lives, by patience and self-denial, to Christ crucified; and for the condemnation of the wicked, who have despised the Cross of Christ, and who have ungratefully preferred pleasures to self-mortification. This is the opinion of S. Chrysostom (Hom. de Cruce et Latrone). The Sibyl predicts the same thing (lib. 6)—
“Whereon God hung, 0 blessed Tree!
Not earth alone, but heaven hath thee,
When lightning-crown’d God’s face we see.”
S. Anselm is of a different opinion, viz., that at the Day of Judgment it will not be the actual Cross of Christ which will appear in the air, but a symbol, or image of it, formed by the angels. The expression sign is in favour of this.
Moreover, SS. Chrysostom and Augustine and S. Cyril teach that this standard of the Cross will be borne by the angels before the face of Christ, coming to judgment, as a trophy of victory, and a royal banner of supreme power and dignity.
Our Salmeron also says, “The doctors of the Church believe that, together with the Cross will appear the pillar, the scourge, the crown of thorns, the nails, the sponge, the spear, and the rest of the instruments of the Passion.” So, too, S. Thomas (Opusc. ii. cap. 244). This is probable, but not certain, because nowhere expressly declared.
Lastly, at that time the sign of the cross shall appear on the foreheads of all the elect, according to what is said in Apoc. vii. 3, “Let us sign the servants of our God on their foreheads” (Vulg.); and Ezek. ix. 4, in an allegorical sense, “Sign Tau, i.e., the sign of the Cross, upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry” (Hebr. and Vulg.). Hear S. Augustine (Serm. de temp. 130), “Hast thou considered how great is the virtue of this sign of the Cross? The sun shall be darkened, the moon shall not give her light; but the Cross shall shine and shall obscure the heavenly luminaries. When the stars shall fall, it alone shall send forth radiance, that thou mayst learn how the Cross is more luminous than the moon and more glorious than the sun. For like as when a king enters into a city, his soldiers go before him, bearing upon their shoulders the royal arms and standards, and all the pomp of military array, to proclaim the monarch’s entry; so when the Lord descends from Heaven, the angel hosts shall go before Him, bearing upon their lofty shoulders that sign which is the ensign of triumph, to announce to the inhabitants of earth the approach of the King of Heaven.”
And then shall all the tribes, &c. That is, many of every tribe, viz., all the reprobate and the damned, because they have neglected their salvation, to procure which Christ was crucified. But the elect will rejoice and sing, because they will see that they have been saved and blessed by the Cross. S. Augustine gives the cause of this weeping, “All the tribes of the earth shall mourn, because they shall see their accuser, that is, the Cross itself; and at the sight of this reprover they shall acknowledge their sin. Too late, and in vain shall they confess their impious blindness. And dost thou marvel that when Christ cometh He will bring His Cross, since He will show His wounds also?” S. Chrysostom also, “Then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, because they shall perceive that they gained nothing by His death, and that they crucified Him who ought to be adored.” And S. Jerome, “Rightly doth He say, The tribes of the earth; for they shall mourn who have no citizenship in Heaven, but whose names are written in the earth.” Again, hear S. Chrysostom on this passage (Hom. 77), “He brings with Him the Cross, that their sin may be condemned without accusation, as though a man who had been struck with a stone should produce the stone itself, or the blood-stained clothes as a witness of the deed.” Moreover, they shall mourn, because (as Auctor Imperfecti., Hom. 77, says) Christ will then reprove the wicked thus, “For your sakes I became man, was bound and crucified. Where is the fruit of all My sufferings? Behold the price of My blood, which I paid for the redemption of your souls! Where is your service, which you owe Me as the price of My blood? I valued you above My own glory, when, being God, I appeared in fashion of a man; and yet ye accounted Me of less worth than any of your possessions. For ye loved every vile thing upon earth more than My justice and faith.” And shortly afterwards he adds, “Deservedly shall they mourn, because then neither shall money profit the rich to do alms withal; nor righteous parents be able to intercede for their children; nor the angels themselves to say a word, as is their wont, for men, because the nature of judgment accords not with mercy, as neither the time of mercy with judgment. As saith the Prophet, ‘I will sing of mercy and judgment;’ of mercy in the first Advent, of judgment in the second.”
Hear S. Bernard mourning, yea, trembling with horror (Serm. 16 in Cant.), “I am afraid of hell; I fear the face of the Judge, before whom the heavenly hosts themselves tremble. I tremble at His almighty wrath, at the crash of a falling world, at the conflagration of the elements, at the horrible tempest, at the voice of the archangel, and the dreadful words. I tremble at the teeth of the infernal beast, at the belly of hell, at the lions roaring for their prey. I dread the gnawing of the worm, the fiery torrent, the smoke and vapour, the brimstone, and the spirit of tempests. I dread the outer darkness.” Then he adds, “Who will give water to my head, and a fountain of tears to my eyes, that by my tears I may prevent the weeping and gnashing of teeth, the hard chains for hand and foot, the weight of the fetters that press and bind and burn without consuming? Woe is me, my mother! Wherefore hast thou brought me forth, a child of sorrow? a child of bitterness, of indignation, of weeping without end? Why did the knees prevent me, and the breasts that I sucked, that I should he born for burning and for fuel of fire?”
And they shall see the Son, &c. 1st That the clouds may temper the exceeding brightness of the Body of Christ, which otherwise would blind the eyes of the reprobate. 2d Because a cloud is the symbol of the hidden Deity. 3d Because the cloud is the seat, as well as the vehicle and covert, of Christ’s glory. Hence, constantly in the Old Testament, God appeared to Moses and the Prophets in a cloud. (See Ezek. i. 4, and Ex. xix. 9-18.) There is an allusion to Daniel (vii. 13), “And lo, one like unto the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven.”
With power, &c. (Vulg.), with great virtue or strength and majesty. For as Christ at His first Advent came in great infirmity of the flesh, in poverty and contempt, so He hath thereby deserved to come in His second Advent with great strength, glory, and majesty. His Power and strength shall appear in that at His command all the dead shall arise in a moment; in that all men, angels, and devils shall behold and worship Him as their God, their Lord, and their judge; in that He shall pass sentence upon all according to their deserts, and shall execute His sentence, so that none shall dare to gainsay or resist. His majesty shall appear in the infinite splendour of His body, in the multitude and brightness of all the angels surrounding Him, and in His garments of radiant clouds.
Ver. 31. And He shall send His angels, &c. There is an inversion of order in this passage; for Christ shall previously send His angels with a trumpet, or rather with many trumpets, throughout all the world, to wake the dead and summon them to judgment. For when this trumpet sounds very many angels shall gather together the ashes of every one of the dead, and from them form the semblance of human bodies, which God shall organize and animate. And after life has been restored to those bodies, He shall, if they be those of the holy and elect, glorify and bless them. Wherefore also the Blessed themselves shall, by the gift of swiftness, with which they shall be endowed, immediately transfer themselves in the company of the angels from all parts of the world to the Valley of Jehoshaphat to judgment. But the reprobate, because they shall lack the gift of swiftness, shall be dragged thither by the devils, or rather by the angels.
From the four winds, i.e., from the four quarters of the world, from whence the four chief winds blow. Whence he adds by way of explanation, from one end of heaven to the other.
The Greek is α̉π άκρων έως άκρων, i.e., from extremity to extremity, from one terminus of heaven and earth to their other terminus, from the east to the west. For άκζα signifies any extreme limit, whether above or below, whether to the right or to the left. Mark has (xiii. 27), from the height of earth to the height of heaven (Vulg.), by which is meant the same thing as in S. Matthew, from one extreme of earth to the other extremity of heaven and earth. For the earth at its extremities seems to be joined to the sky. This is at the horizon. There is no reason why extremity of heaven (Vulg.) in this place should not be taken literally, meaning that the angels shall gather together the elect wherever they may be, whether in heaven or earth. For the bodies of the Patriarchs, who rose again with Christ, are in Heaven. Wherefore they shall descend from Heaven to the valley of Jehoshaphat at the time of the Last Judgment.
But the former sense seems to be the best.
Learn a parable. Take a similitude from the fig-tree. Learn from the analogy of the fig-tree what I have spoken concerning the signs of the destruction of the world, when it is nigh at hand. Christ makes mention of the fig rather than of other trees, because the fig-tree only puts forth its leaves and fruit under the influence of heat, because its sap is exceedingly sweet, and therefore concocted; and for that there is need of the heat of summer. Hence Aristotle (lib. 9, Histor. Animal) says that the fig is the food of bees, which only fly and make honey in summer. They make honey from the fig, for it is indeed a purse of honey. Again, he says that cattle grow fat upon figs. Again, the fig does not flower, but produces fruit immediately from the leaves, and brings it to maturity. Whence Pliny says (15. 18), “Wonderful is the haste of this fruit, one in all things hastening to maturity by the art of nature.” Again, “the fig is the sweetest of all fruits, devoid of all acidity, and therefore most tasty and wholesome. Moreover, the fig-tree is extremely fruitful, so much so that there are fig-trees in Hyrcania, each yielding a yearly produce of 70 bushels,” as Pliny affirms in the same book. He adds that Romulus and Remus were suckled by the she-wolf under a fig-tree, and therefore that the fig was worshipped at Rome in the forum.
Symbolically, therefore, Christ would intimate that His Saints and elect ought to bring forth most sweet and abundant fruits of good works, that so they may deserve to taste in the summer of the Resurrection the abundant sweetness of celestial glory.
Lastly, a fig was the cause of the destruction of Carthage. For when Cato, as Pliny tells us, was exclaiming in the Senate that Carthage must be destroyed, he brought one day into the Senate house a very ripe fig which had been grown in Africa. Showing it to the Senators, “I ask you,” said be, “to guess how long ago it is since this fig was plucked from the tree.” All allowed that it must have been but recently gathered. “Yes,” he said, “I would have you know that it is but three days since it was plucked at Carthage; so near is the enemy to your walls.” Immediately afterwards the third Punic War, in which Carthage was destroyed, was begun.
In like manner those signs which Christ compares to a fig-tree shall be the cause of the destruction of the world.
When her branch, &c. For the reason already mentioned, inasmuch as the sap of the fig-tree is most sweet, it lies dormant during the winter in the root, but being drawn out by the heat of summer, it rises into the branches, and comes out in leaves and fruit. It is like the mulberry tree (morus), which does not germinate until the cold is all gone. The mulberry is called for that reason μω̃ζος, or “a fool,” because it is anything but foolish, but the wisest of trees.
Ver. 33. So likewise ye, &c. Near: it is as though Christ, the judge, and His glorious Kingdom, and your redemption, as Luke has it, that is, the resurrection and everlasting glory, were entering the earth, as it were by a door. For redemption signifies deliverance from all evils and miseries. This will be the summer. And after the winter, there shall come this most joyful summer to all the elect, as this parable intimates. As when the fig comes into leaf summer is nigh, which causes to be brought forth most sweet figs and other fruits; so when ye shall behold the elect to flourish with such great patience in the winter of such great tribulations as shall befall them at the end of the world, know ye that the reward of your patience is nigh at hand, the summer of a joyful resurrection, which shall heap upon you the fruit of every good gift, when Christ the judge shall bless and glorify you.
Verily I say, &c. This generation, that is to say, 1. of all men, or this age, which shall last until the end of the world. So S. Jerome. As though Christ had said, “Before the end of the world all these things shall come to pass.”
2. Origen, Hilary, and Chrysostom take generation in a more restricted sense, to mean the generation of believers of Christians, that were now sprung from Christ, to whom Christ was speaking in the person of His Apostles, according to the words in Ps. xxiv. 6, “This is the generation of them that seek the Lord.” As though the Lord had said, “The Christian religion which I have instituted shall not come to an end until Christians, who faithfully serve Me, are rewarded by and crowned in the Day of Judgment.”
Ver. 35. Heaven and earth, &c., shall pass away, i.e., shall be changed, shall cease to be, shall perish, as regards their present state and condition, that they may pass into one which is better, and be glorified with the Saints.
Some are of opinion that at the end of the world the heavens will be changed as regards their form and substance. Of this question I have treated at length on 2 Peter iii. 13 and Isa. xxxiv. 4.
Lastly, this sentence may be understood comparatively, thus, “The heavens shall pass away and perish, sooner than My words shall come to naught.”
But of that day (namely, of My glorious coming to judgment) and hour, &c. As if He had said, “Do not, 0 My apostles, ask Me when I shall come again as Judge, or what shall be the day of the general Judgment, for no one except God knoweth this: and He willeth not any other being to know it.” “He held them back,” says Chrysostom, “from wishing to learn that which the angels are ignorant of.” As to the time when the world shall come to an end, there are various opinions.
1. Many suppose that the world will come to an end after it has existed for six thousand years, as it was created in six days, according to the saying or prophecy of Elias, “six thousand” (years?) “the world.” (Sex millia mundus, Lat.) This opinion is probably true, as I have shown at length on Apoc. xx. 4.
2. Some think that there will be just as many years after Christ to the end of the world as there were from the Creation to Christ. They gather this idea from Hab. iii. 2, “0 Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years Thou shalt make it known.” But this passage has a different meaning, as I have there shown.
The third opinion was one which supposed the world would last as many jubilees after Christ as there were years in His earthly life. This calculation would place the end in A.D. 1700.
4. Druitlimarns, who flourished about A.D. 800, and who wrote upon S. Matthew, says, “Our ancestors have left in writing that the world was created, the Lord was conceived and crucified, on the 25th of March, and in like manner the world will be destroyed upon the same day; but in what year they say not.” But these things have no foundation.
5. A fifth calculation was put forth by a contemporary of à Lapide, whose name he does not give, whom he calls a jester rather than a reckoner, which fixed on 1666 as the end of the world.
“If,” says à Lapide, “you object to this ‘joculator’ the words of Christ, ‘of that day knoweth no man,’ he answers, that only applied to the time when He was speaking, and that the day might be known afterwards by revelation or in some other way.”
But all this à Lapide characterises as frivolous and old wives’ fables.
My Father only: because from eternity He had determined in His own mind, and appointed this day, which He keeps secret. Now by the word only, the Son is not excluded, neither the Holy Ghost, for They know the day and the hour of the Judgment equally with the Father, since They have all the same essence, majesty, will, mind, power, understanding, and knowledge. For it is a theological principle, that if the word “only” be added to any of the essential attributes of the Godhead, such as wisdom, and be ascribed to one of the Divine Persons, it does not exclude the other two Persons, but only creatures, which are of a different nature and essence. But in Personal Attributes, the expression “only” does exclude two of the, Divine Persons, as when it is said, “The Father only begets;” “The Son only is begotten.”
You will say, Mark adds (xiii. 32), neither the Son, for so it is in the Greek, Latin, Syriac, Arabic, Persian, Egyptian, Ethiopic. Various answers are given. The best is that which is common among the Fathers. It is that the Son, both as God and as man, by infused knowledge, knows the Day of Judgment and of the end of the world, for it pertains for Him to know this, inasmuch as He has been appointed the Judge of the world. But Christ denies that He knoweth this as man, and as He is God’s messenger to us, because He did not know it so that He could reveal it to us, or because He had not been commissioned by the Father to reveal it to us. As an ambassador who was questioned concerning the secrets of his prince would reply that he did not know them, although he did know them, because he did not know them as an ambassador. For an ambassador declares only those things which he has a commission to declare.
Christ’s meaning then is, “God only knows what year and day and hour the end of the world and the Judgment shall be. And although God has caused Me, Christ, as I am man, to know the same, as I am that one man who is united to the WORD; yet as I am the Father’s ambassador to men, He hath not willed Me to make known that day, but to keep it secret, and to stir them up continually to prepare themselves for it.” There is a like mode of expression in S. John xv. 15.
There are some who explain thus: that Christ, qua man, knoweth not the Day of Judgment; but that He knoweth it as He is the God-man. That is to say, Christ as man knoweth it not by virtue of His humanity, but of His divinity. So S. Athanasius (Serm. 4, contra Arian.), Nazianzen (Orat. 4, de .Theolog.), Cyril (lib. 9, Thesaur. c. 4), Ambrose (lib. 5, de Fide, c. 8).
Maldonatus gives another explanation. He says that Christ, even as He is God, knoweth not the Day of Judgment in, as it were, an ex officio sense, because it is the office of the Father, alone to predestinate, decree, and determine the Day of Judgment; and, by consequence, that He knows it, and reveals it when He wills. For providence, in which predestination is included, is a special attribute of the Father. But this explanation is somewhat too subtle and abstruse.
But as the days of Noah, &c. Like the Deluge, which suddenly and unexpectedly drowned all men, shall My Advent come upon all. This is made plain by the subsequent verse.
As in the days that were before the flood, &c.
Ver. 39. And knew not, &c. You may say, “From the darkness of the sun and moon, and the falling of the stars, and the other dreadful signs, men will know that the end of the world is near.” As Luke saith, Men’s hearts withering with fear, and with looking for those things which are coming on the earth. “Therefore the end of the world cannot be unexpected by them.” I reply, that after the darkening of the sun and moon, and the other signs, God will give a certain space of quietness and peace; and then men will forget the signs, and will give themselves up to pleasures, to gluttony and lust, even as they did before. Then will God put an end to them and to the world, crushing them with a sudden destruction. In like manner, dying persons will seem to revive for a little while, but soon grow worse and expire. So, too, a candle when it is burnt out will flicker up with a last effort before its flame, like a breath, departs and is extinguished. Again, so great shall be the hardness and the wickedness of the multitude of the ungodly at that time, that even though they do behold the sun and moon darkened, yet will they apply themselves to the gluttony and the luxury to which they have been accustomed, and will not think of the end of the world so nigh at the doors. Thus was it with Belshazzar, when he was feasting with his lords, on the night when he was besieged and slain by Cyrus, until he beheld the fateful hand which foretold his destruction by the words, Meni, Tekel, Phares. Wherefore S. Augustine teaches that at the end of the world, the righteous will be sorrowful on account of these signs, but the wicked will indulge their bent, and rejoice.
Then two shall be in the field, &c. In the Day of Judgment Christ will separate companion from companion, neighbour from neighbour; as, for example, husbandman from husbandman. Him who has lived justly and piously He will take up with Himself to glory. But his companion, who has lived wickedly, He will leave in his sins, and condemn to everlasting punishment. For as S. Ambrose says (in Luke xvii. 35), “He who is taken is carried away to meet Christ in the air; but he who is left is condemned. Christ says this, that no one may trust to good society merely because he lives among the righteous. He would also show how exact and searching will be that judgment, which will separate father from son, wife from husband, brother from brother.”
Two women, &c. He instances the same thing in persons grinding at a mill. For formerly mills were in use which were not turned by wind or water, but by hand. These were worked by male and female slaves to grind flour (see Ex. xi. 5). In mola (Vulg), ε̉ν τω̃ μύλωνι, in the place of grinding, where was the bakehouse.
Ver. 42. Watch therefore, &c. That is, “think continually that death is certain, but the day of death uncertain. I say the same of the Day of Judgment, both that particular judgment which comes to every one at death, as well as the general Judgment, which shall take place at the end of the world. Wherefore prepare yourselves for both by giving heed to virtue and good works.” For as S. Jerome saith (in Joel, c. ii.), “That which shall happen to all in the Day of Judgment is fulfilled in each at the day of death.” And S. Augustine (Epist. 80) says, “In whatsoever state a man’s last day shall find him, in the same state shall the world’s last day come upon him; because as the man dies, so shall he be judged. Therefore ought every Christian to watch, lest the coming of the Lord find him unprepared. But that day shall find unprepared the man whom the last day of his life now shall seize unprepared.”
Moreover, the reason why God wills that this day should be unknown to us is, that the uncertainty may be a never-failing stimulus to us in the practice of every virtue. “For,” as S. Chrysostom says, “if men knew surely when they were to die, at that time only would they seek to repent.”
The devil, therefore, in order that he may take away this stimulus of uncertainty, gets rid of it by degrees, and in part. He persuades every one that they have at least one year to live. When that has come to an end, he tells them they have another, and so on interminably. He causes men to believe themselves so strong and well, that they can surely live this one year. Year by year he does this, and puts such a thought into their minds as, “You are in very good health; you will not die this year.” Thus it comes to pass that being, as it were, certain of life, they neglect repentance from year to year, deferring it to the year in which they are to die. Wherefore, when that year comes to each in which it is God’s decree that they shall die, they, in like manner, persuade themselves that they will not die in it. Thus it comes to pass that they are always unprepared when certain death and the last day overtake them. Wherefore this idea, instigated by the devil, must be crushed. Every one should say to himself at the beginning of each year, of each day, “It may be that thou shalt die this year or this day. Therefore so live as if thou wert to die to-day.” This was the advice which S. Anthony was wont to give to his disciples, as S. Athanasius testifies, “When we awake out of sleep, let us be in doubt whether we shall see the evening. When we lay us down to rest, let us not be confident that we shall come to the light of another day. Thus we shall not offend, nor be carried away by vain desires. Neither shall we be angry, nor covet to lay up earthly treasures. But rather by the fear of departure, from day to day we shall trample upon all transitory things.” Barlaam also taught the same to his Josaphat, “Think that this day thou hast begun the religious life. Think that this day also thou wilt finish it.” S. Jerome says, “So live as though thou shouldst die today; so study as though thou wert to live always.” The same Father (Ep. 16, ad Principiam) says that Marcella was wont to praise that saying of Plato, “that philosophy was a meditation upon death;” and the precept of the Satirist, “Live mindful of death: time flies.” She therefore so lived as though she always believed herself at the point of death. When she put on her clothes, she remembered the grave, offering herself to God as a reasonable, living, acceptable sacrifice.
Ver. 43. But know this, &c. Here we must supply what is to be understood, somewhat as follows. But forasmuch as a man knows not this hour, and is not willing or able to watch at every hour, therefore the thief, as his manner is, comes at the hour in which he thinks the householder is not watching, but sleeping, and so robs his house while he is asleep. It is clear that this is the meaning from the Greek, which has in the past tense, If the master of the house had known in what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken through. You must supply, “But because he did not know the hour, he did not watch, and did suffer his house to be broken into and robbed.”
By the thief, S. Hilary understands the devil. “The thief,” he says, “shows that the devil is very watchful to take from us our goods, and to plot against the houses of our souls, that he may dig through them whilst we are careless, and given up to the sleep of our own devices; and he would pierce through them with the darts of enticements. It behoves us, therefore, to be prepared, because ignorance of the day sharpens the intense solicitude of expectation ever suspended.” But it is better to apply the words to Christ. For so He Himself explains, applying this parable of the thief to Himself in the following verse.
Be ye also ready, &c. the Son of man shall come, to judgment, both the particular judgment of your own soul, and the general Judgment of all men at the end of the world. Christ therefore compares Himself to a thief, not as regards the act of stealing, but as regards silence and secrecy, in that the thief chooses the hour in which he thinks the householder will be absent or asleep, that so he may come upon him unawares, and rob his house. In like manner Christ summons those who are careless, and not waiting for Him, to death and judgment. Whence the Apocalypse warns every one saying, “Behold, I come as a thief” (xvi. 15). And S. Paul (1 Thess. v. 4) says, “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all children of the light, and of the day.” Truly hath the wise man said, “The life of mortals is a vigil.”
The truth of this sentence of Christ is seen in daily experience. For we see very many men seized by death at a time when they think themselves to be in good health, and are forming grand projects in their minds. They think death is far distant, and promise themselves many years of life. And yet both experience and the warning of Christ should teach them to do the very opposite. When they appear to themselves to enjoy the most perfect health, they should think that death is lying hid at the very threshold of their doors, and should believe that they are then about to die when thoughts and hopes of long life are suggested to them, either by the devil or their own concupiscence. So would the day of death never come upon them unawares, nor overtake them as a thief.
Thus did the wise and holy men of whom we read in the Lives of the Fathers (lib. 5, libello 3, de Compunc. n. 2). Abbot Ammon gives this precept of salvation to a certain person, “Entertain such thoughts as evil-doers who are in prison have. For these men ask, ‘Where is the judge, and when will he come?’ And they weep in expectation of their punishments. After this manner ought a monk to do. He should ever be chiding his soul, and saying, ‘Woe is me, who have to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, to render unto Him an account of all my deeds.’ For if thou wilt always meditate thus, thou wilt be safe.” And Abbot Evagrius said, “That is divine, to picture the dreadful and terrible judgment. Consider the confusion which is laid up for sinners, which they shall endure in the presence of Christ and God, before angels, and archangels, and powers, and all men. Think of the everlasting fire, the undying worm, the blackness of hell; and in addition to all these things, the gnashing of teeth the fears and torments. Consider likewise the good things which are laid up for the righteous—confidence before God the Father and Christ His Son, and before the angels. Consider the heavenly Kingdom and its gifts of joy and rest.” And, Abbot Elias saith, “I am afraid of three things—the first, the going forth of my soul from the body; the second, when I shall meet God; the third, when sentence shall be pronounced against me.” Abp. Theophilus, of holy memory, said, when he was about to die, “Blessed art thou, 0 Abbot Arsenius, because thou always hadst this hour before thine eyes.” In the same work we read that a certain old man saw one laughing, and said to him, “We have to give an account of our whole life before the Lord of heaven and earth, and dost thou laugh?”
Ver. 45. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, &c Who then? Gr. τίς άζα; Vulg. Who thinkest thou? At first sight there might seem to be a hiatus here, or a question without an answer. But it is not so. The sentence should be disposed as follows. “Who, thinkest thou, is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the Lord hath set over His family, to give them of His household food in due season?” He assuredly is faithful and prudent who performs that for which he is appointed, who does give every member of the family their food in due time. He distributes, that is, to the servants and domestics, their proper portion of victuals, as the price of their labours. For in ancient times, when money was scarce, the wages of servants were paid in rations of food.
This saying of Christ has special reference to Bishops and Pastors. For on them it is incumbent to feed the Church, which is their family, indeed Christ’s family, that they should distribute the food of holy doctrine according to the capacity of every one to receive it. Wherefore it behoves them to be vigilant in this matter, prudent, and faithful. Thus, S. Hilary saith, “Although He exhorts every one of us in common to betake ourselves to unwearied watchfulness, yet He gives a special charge of solicitude to the princes of the people, that is, to the Bishops, in expectation of His Advent. For He signifies that he is a faithful servant, and a prudent overseer of His family, who is careful about the profit of the people committed to his charge; who hears the word and obeys it; who in opportunity of doctrine and truth strengthens the weak, establishes the fallen, converts the depraved, and dispenses the word of life as the eternal food for nourishing the family.”
This question, Who thinkest thou? intimates that such servants, such Bishops and Pastors as are wholly faithful to Christ in the care of His flock, are few. Whence the saying of S. Jerome, “Priests many, Priests few.” Also that of S. Boniface, Apostle of Germany, and Martyr, “Formerly Priests of gold celebrated in chalices of wood; now Priests of wood celebrate in chalices of gold.”
Blessed is that servant . . . so doing: that is, assiduously and continually until death, and the day of particular judgment, and so, by consequence, of the general Judgment, namely, that he should distribute to all the faithful of his Church such food as is suitable for each, the word and Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, to nourish their souls in faith and piety. Blessed therefore is the Bishop who doth this, because, not only on account of his own holiness shall he receive of Christ the crown of righteousness, but shall obtain as many crowns as there are faithful people whom he has nourished and profited, according to the words of Daniel, “They that instruct many to justice shall shine as the stars for perpetual eternities.” (Vulg.)
Ver. 47. Amen, i.e., Verily I say, &c. He alludes to the servant who, because of his merit in faithfully and prudently ruling his master’s household, deserves to be exalted by him and set over all his goods, so as to enjoy them as an associate and companion, and almost like an equal of his master. Such was Joseph, who was set by Pharaoh to preside over Egypt, and was virtually king of Egypt (Gen. xli. 10). In like manner will God bless prudent and faithful Bishops, who have ruled all their flocks, and have guided them to everlasting salvation. He will bestow upon them greater glory than He will upon private believers. He will cause them to preside, not only over them, but He will make them kings and lords of the whole universe. Thus Remigius says, “He will make the good hearers to sit down, as Luke saith: the good preachers He will set over all His goods. For as the difference of merits is great, so also is the difference in rewards.” This is what is spoken of in Apoc. iv. 10, “The four and twenty Elders,” i.e., Bishops and Prelates, “cast their crowns before Him that sitteth on the Throne and worshipped Him that liveth for ever, saying unto the Lamb,” that is, to Christ, “Thou hast made us unto God a Kingdom and Priests, and we shall reign for ever and ever.” What I have said of Bishops applies to every father of a family, for he is, as it were, a bishop of his own house; and as S. Augustine saith, every faithful soul is a bishop of himself.
In the Life of S. Amandus, who flourished about A.D. 870, and who converted Sclavonians and many other tribes to Christ, it is related, that at the very hour when he departed this life, he appeared to S. Aldegonde in glory, encompassed with a white-robed throng. And when she knew not what it meant, she heard an angel saying, “Amandus, the man of God, has passed in glory to celestial joys. The white-robed throng are they who by means of his earnest preaching have been enrolled as citizens of Heaven, and from henceforth he shall appear as a prince over them for ever.” Among the more illustrious of his disciples were S. Landvald, S. Bavo, S. Amantius, S. Gertrude, S. Maurontus, and many others.
Over all His goods; Gr. over all the things which belong to Himself. The good things of God are twofold, viz., 1st Things external and created, as Heaven and earth, and all creatures contained in them. So 0rigen. 2d Things internal and uncreated—such are His infinite majesty, goodness, wisdom, power, and glory. For God is, as it were, an infinite ocean of all good things; and over them all He will appoint His faithful servant His bishop and pastor. He will make him to rule, as it were, not only over all creatures, but also over all the immense and infinite goodness which God contains in Himself, that he may enjoy them with God, and be blessed and glorified for ever. For if Jacob, wrestling with the angel of God, and overcoming Him, willing to be overcome, was called Israel, i.e., “ruling God”2
Gen. xxxii. 28), much rather shall blessed Bishops, by their own virtue, as it were, overcoming God, be called and become Israels, that is, “rulers of God,” that “they may have these eternal rewards, both because of their own life, as well as for their care of their flocks,“ as Rabanus says. For in that they have rightly presided over the flock of God, they have therefore deserved that they should, in a certain sense, through God’s wonderful condescension, be appointed over the good things of God, and even over Himself. For God makes Himself over to them, as their peculiar possession, as it is said in the 16th Psalm, “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance, and of my cup.”
But if that evil servant, i.e., such a servant as has been set by his master over his household, shall say, &c It means, “If a Bishop shall think, ‘The day of death and judgment is far away: wherefore I will abuse my life and my office for the purposes of luxury and ambition.’” Therefore He adds—
Ver. 49. And shall begin to smite his fellow-servants, &c. To smite, i.e., unjustly. For, as saith Auctor Imperf., “He who smites for just cause, even if he smite, does not seem to smite. For as righteous anger is not anger, but diligence; so just smiting is not smiting, but correction. Thus a father and a master smite their sons and pupils for the sake of correcting them.”
Christ here intimates that there are two capital vices of Prelates, from which all their other faults take their rise. They are imperious and tyrannical audacity, and a seeking after pleasures, gluttony, and luxury. This is why S. Peter admonishes Pastors and Bishops (1 Pet. v. 2) thus, “Feed the flock of God, which is among you, providing for them not by constraint, but spontaneously, according to God; neither for filthy lucre’s sake, but voluntarily; neither as lording it over the clergy, but as affording examples of their actions to the flock from the heart. And when the Prince of the Shepherds shall appear, ye shall receive the unwithering crown of glory.”
The Lord . . . shall come . . . when he looketh not; Vulg. non sperat, hopeth not, expecteth not. Thus Virgil, in the First Æneid, “Hope,” that is, fear, “that the gods take note of right and wrong.”
And shall cut him asunder; Gr. διχοτομήσει, cut in twain, i.e., soul and body in death, and after death, by sending the soul to hell and the demons, and the body to the tomb and the worms, “He shall divide,” says S. Jerome, “not by cutting him in two with a sword, but by severing him from the company of the Saints.” It means that not only shall Christ remove such a Bishop from his office, but shall separate him from the company of the Blessed, and deliver him to the devil to be tormented for ever.
With the hypocrites, i.e., slothful servants, who, like hypocrites, serve only the eyes of their masters. As soon as they are out of their master’s sight, they indulge in sleep and drunkenness, and so shall be sent to the prison-house of hell, which is the proper place for the slothful. Thus in Proverbs, passim, a hypocrite signifies a wicked man, who serves God slothfully, but his own lusts fervently. There is an allusion to Job viii. 13, “The hope of the hypocrite shall perish.”
Christ has shown that it is the duty of every believer to watch, that by good works he may prepare himself for the certain coming of the Lord to judgment, forasmuch as the time is uncertain, lest that day should come upon him unawares. This He showed: 1st By the example of the Deluge, which drowned the world at unawares (ver. 37). 2d By the parable of the house-holder, who watches that he may repel the thief, who comes by night, at a time unexpected (ver. 43). 3rd By the parable of the servants, one faithful, the other unfaithful; the one of whom receives from his master an ample reward, the other severe chastisement (ver. 45). 4th In the following chapter (ver. 1), by the parable of the virgins. 5th By the parable of the talents, which the master distributes to his servants, and gloriously recompenses those who had traded diligently, but beats those who were idle and slothful.
1 This quotation has only a general reference to flight.—(Trans.) (Back to the place)
2 Dominans Deo is the Latin of à Lapide. It might perhaps be translated “lord of God.” (Back to the place)