The parable of the ten virgins, 14 and of 3the talents. 31 Also the description of the last judgment.
HEN shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
Douay Rheims Version
The parable of the ten virgins and of the talents. The description of the last judgment.
HEN shall the kingdom of heaven be like to ten virgins, who taking their lamps went out to meet the bridegroom and the bride.
13. Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.
14. For even as a man going into a far country called his servants and delivered to them his goods;
15. And to one he gave five talents, and to another two, and to another one, to every one according to his proper ability: and immediately he took his journey.
16. And he that had received the five talents went his way and traded with the same and gained other five.
38. Or when did we see thee a stranger and took thee in? Or naked and covered thee?
39. Or when did we see thee sick or in prison and came to thee?
Then . . . which went out to meet the bridegroom and the bride (Vulg.). And the bride is not found in the Greek, nor in S. Chrysostom. It is the reading of the Latin and the Syriac versions, and of Origen, Hilary, and S. Augustine (Epist. 120).
Then: when Christ shall return unexpectedly to judgment.
The Kingdom of heaven: that is, the Church militant, which shall then be about to triumph. The meaning is, At that time shall it be with members of the Church as if ten virgins were preparing themselves for a marriage feast. For although the damned, as being already in hell, are no longer members of the Church, yet because they were members of it in this life, they are brought to hear the sentence of the judge. There is no mention of unbelievers here, because, as S. John says, “He that believeth not is judged already.”
Observe, that formerly, as now, youths were assigned to the bridegroom, to do him honour, and virgins to the bride; and these last were often ten in number. Moreover, they were accustomed to celebrate weddings at night. Then the bridegroom came about evening to the house of the bride. There he was honourably and joyfully received in the house of the parents of the bride. From thence he conducted his bride to his own house, or, if it proved too small, to the larger mansion of the nuptial feast: and there he kept his wedding. Both the youths and the virgins, carrying torches, most frequently made of white thorn, and five in number, went out to meet the bride and bridegroom, to do them honour. So Plutarch testifies (in Problem.). The Jews do not seem, anciently, to have made use of wax-lights or torches, but of oil lamps. This is why there is constant mention in Scripture of lamps and lanterns, never of candles. Even in the candlestick in the Temple there were lamps with oil, not candles made of wax or fat.
As to the particular application of the parable, Christ is the Bridegroom, the Church the Bride, whose espousals take place in this life, but the eternal Marriage shall be in the future glory of the Resurrection. The virgins are all believers or all Christians. They are called virgins because they are sound in the faith.
S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, S. Augustine, and S. Gregory understood by virgins only those and all who are literally so. But this is too narrow and restricted an interpretation. Rightly, nevertheless, does the Church in the Divine Office apply the words to Virgins, because they bear a literal application to them above others. So Jansen, Maldonatus, and others. So B. Anatolia, betrothed to Aurelian, beheld an angel, who cried aloud to her, “0 virginity, which shall not be overcome of death! 0 virginity, who art not occupied in the works of darkness, but art ever in the light! Virginity is the royal purple, which whoso putteth on, is more glorious than others. Virginity is a precious jewel. Virginity is the immense treasure of the King. For it thieves are lying in wait. Do thou watch, and guard it carefully. Forasmuch as thou knowest thou hast more, so much the more keep it, lest thou lose it.” So Ado in Martyrolog., Dec. 21
Ten virgins are spoken of, because the number ten is the symbol of totality.
“They took their nuptial lamps, kindled,” says Origen; “but for so great a journey to go out to meet the Bridegroom, they took no oil to keep them alight.” “For when they complain,” says S. Jerome, “that their lamps were going out, they show that they were partly alight.”
Moreover, in Scripture, lappidim, lamps, mean torches, such as are used at weddings and for other purposes. These nuptial torches are wont to be carried at night before a bridegroom and bride, because they will stand against the wind, when lamps would be immediately extinguished. Those, however, spoken of in the parable where lambs, properly so called, because mention is made of oil. They belonged to virgins, as torches to men. Thus Virgil says in the 4th Eclogue,
“Cut, 0 Mopsas, new torches: it is your wedding day.”
And Pliny says, “The thorn, most auspicious for wedding torches, is an accompaniment of the same rites, because the shepherds, who carried off the Sabine maids, made use of them for that purpose” (lib. 16, c. 18).
Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent (Vulg.). Foolish, because they acted foolishly and imprudently; for when they went out to meet the Bridegroom with burning lamps, they neglected to take the necessary oil for keeping the lamps alight.
But the prudent, &c. In the first place, SS. Jerome and Hilary by the virgins understand all mankind; by the foolish, Jews and heretics; by the prudent, Christians.
2d On the contrary, S. Chrysostom and others already cited consider that virgins only are to be understood; of whom the prudent are they who, with virginity, have the oil of charity; the foolish, they who are without it.
3d Lyra says, “The prudent virgins are Contemplatives and Religious, who have the oil of charity and a right disposition. The foolish are those who lack the oil, and who hunt for the vain praise and glory of men.”
4th and last. The virgins are all believers. The prudent are those who have faith together with works of mercy, charity, and other virtues: the foolish, who have faith alone without good works. So Origen, Hilary, Auctor Imperfecti.
Thus their lamps are dying out, yea, as the Syriac hath it, they have been extinguished; according to the words of S. James, “Faith without works is dead.” The lamp, therefore, is the faithful mind, or faith itself. The oil is good works, without which faith is dead, and, as it were, extinct; but with them, alive and burning. The light, or flame of the lamps, is charity. For this is fed by zeal for good works, just as the flame of a lamp is fed with oil. The vessel is conscience, or the believing soul. And this is the reason why we place a lighted candle in the hands of dying persons, denoting, or at least praying, that they may have faith with works, that like brides with burning lamps, they may worthily meet Christ the Lord, as it were their Bridegroom.
But while the Bridegroom tarried, &c.; Gr. χζονίζοντος. Whilst Christ the Bridegroom delays to come, is the opportunity for repentance and good works, which He grants to every one in this life. Therefore does He delay the time of death and judgment. To slumber is to die. To sleep is to be dead. The meaning is, Whilst Christ defers the Day of Judgment, meanwhile the faithful begin to die one after another, and at length all are dead. Thus S. Hilary, “The delay of the Bridegroom is the time of repentance. The sleep of them that wait is the rest of believers. And in the time of repentance is the temporal death of all men.”
And at midnight, &c. The Arabic is, “It was midnight, and a voice cried out. This was the voice of the companions of the Bridegroom, who went before him, as he was bringing his bride from her house, and drawing nigh his own. This cry denotes the archangel’s trump, which awakes the dead, of which I have spoken in the previous chapter.
It was to this S. Laurence Justinian, the first patriarch of Venice, was alluding, when he said in dying, “Up till now, children, all has been jest: now it is earnest indeed. The Bridegroom is at hand; we must go to meet Him.” Then lifting up his eyes to Heaven, he said, “I come to Thee, 0 good Jesu. This day have I ever had before mine eyes. Thou, Lord, knowest.” Then, with joyful countenance, he rendered up his pure soul to God, going to meet Christ in Heaven.
From this which is here said, that this cry is made at midnight, SS. Chrysostom, Jerome, and Euthymius think it probable that the second Advent of Christ will take place at midnight, and come upon men sleeping and unawares. S. Jerome says that this was an Apostolic tradition, and that this was the reason why formerly at Easter the people were not allowed to depart out of Church before midnight; because, as in the olden time, Christ came into Egypt at midnight to destroy the first-born, and deliver the Hebrews; so it was believed that Christ would come at the same time to judge all men. But this is a doubtful matter. For others, with equal, or even greater probability, think that Christ will come in the morning. For He is the Father of light, and He will execute His judgment openly in the light before the whole world, so that there shall be no place of darkness in which to take refuge. What is meant therefore by midnight is, that Christ the Judge shall come when men are not thinking of it, when they are, as it were, sleeping.
Ver. 7. Then all those virgins, &c. At the sound of the Archangel’s trumpet, all Christians shall rise, and shall be anxious with what mind and conscience they shall go to the Judge. As Auctor Imperfecti says, “They shall examine their faith, they shall consider their works, they shall interrogate their conscience.” “For,” as S. Augustine says (Serm. 23, de Verbis Dom.), “they began to trim their lamps, means nothing else but to prepare to render an account of their works to God.” But S. Hilary says, “The taking up the lamps is the return of the soul to the body; the light is a bright conscience of good works, which is, as it were, contained in the vessel of the body.”
S. Montanus and his fellow-martyrs, disciples of S. Cyprian, received in a vision a warning from God of their martyrdom by means of lamps. “One of them, whose name was Reno, saw them, in his sleep, led out one by one. As they came forth, lamps were given to each. And no one came forth without a lamp going before him. And when we had come forth with our lamps, he awoke, and related to us the dream. Then were we glad, trusting that we should walk with Christ, who is a lantern to our feet, and the Word of God. Immediately afterwards we were dragged before the procurator.” (See their Acta in Surias, Feb. 4.)
Ver. 8. But the foolish, &c. This belongs to the emblema of the parable. For, with reference to what is signified by it, the reprobate in the Day of Judgment will not ask for the oil of good works from the elect; for they will know that they will neither give nor be able to give it to them. For then shall every one be judged by the works which he hath done in this life before death. This emblema, then, is introduced to express that the repentance of the reprobate will be too late, when, after death, they behold the dreadful judgment of God hanging over them. Too late will they grieve that they in this life neglected goodness. Too late will they wish that they had loved virtue. But it will be in vain. They will not be able to procure either the works or the help of the elect. For there will be neither time for working, nor the help and prayers of the Saints. Yea, in that terrible judgment, there will be no one who will appear to have any confidence in himself, or in good works.
Our lamps are gone out. In truth they were extinguished, because they had died in a state of mortal sin. Yet they say, are going our (extinguuntur), because in this life their souls seemed, through their common profession of the true faith, and through participation of the Sacraments, to be alive. But then, that is, in death and judgment, when all those things are vanishing away, they will see that they are extinct. S. Augustine says (Serm. 23, de Verb. Domini), “Before those virgins slept, it is not said that their lamps were being extinguished. Wherefore, then, were they alight? It was because they did not lack the praise of men. But in the presence of the Bridegroom, that is, Christ the Judge, they will be extinguished, because Christ will illuminate the hidden things of darkness, and then shall every one have praise of God (1 Cor. iv. 5), not of men.” For to the slothful and reprobate will be confusion.
The words are gone out signify that charity, which is the flame of the lamps, that is, of souls, is nourished by good works, as by oil. When, therefore, they are withdrawn, it is extinguished. This is because many virtuous works are commanded by God, such as are all those which are commanded in the Decalogue. If, therefore, any one does not fulfil what God has commanded, he loses the grace and love of God. For charity, without the exercise of good works, fades and languishes. And then, when any temptation attacks him, a man easily glides into mortal sin, by which charity is extinguished. Dost thou wish then to secure the grace of God, yea, to grow in the friendship and love of God? Be thou very earnest in all good works. For by these charity is constantly nourished and strengthened. It grows and increases.
Ver. 9. The wise answered, &c. The Arabic is, we have not enough. S. Augustine says of these words of the prudent virgins, “This is not the answer of persons giving advice, but of those who decide. For they were not wise of themselves, but the wisdom in them was that of which it is written (Prov. i. 24), ‘Because I called, and ye refused . . . I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh, when that whereof ye were afraid cometh upon you.’” And as S. Jerome says upon this passage, “In the Day of Judgment no one’s virtues will be able to give any assistance to other men’s faults.” And the Interlinear Gloss adds, “The wise say this not from covetousness, but from fear. For in that day the testimony of each shall scarcely suffice for himself, much less for himself and his neighbour also.” S. Gregory adds, “The sellers of oil are flatterers. For they who, when any favour has been received, offer with their vain praises the brightness of glory, sell, as it were, oil. This is the oil of which the Psalmist says, ‘Let not the oil of the sinner make fat my head’” (Vulg.).
But whilst they were going . . . with him to the marriage. Syr. to the house of the choir, because at weddings there were choirs of singers and dancers. This, too, is a figure of speech, signifying that in this life is the time for repentance and good works. And this time is ended by death. “For,” says S. Augustine, “after judgment there is no place open for prayers or merits.” And Origen says, “They who, when they ought to have learned what was profitable, neglected to do so, at the close of life, when they wish to learn, are seized by death.” He adds that they who sell are Teachers; buying is receiving: the price is perseverance. Moreover, because marriage joy is, among men, the chief of all, the celestial happiness of the elect is here likened to it. Wherefore S. Hilary says, “Marriage is the putting on of immortality, when the soul is united to the Word of God as her Bridegroom.”
Hear what S. Adelinus relates of S. Opportuna, the Abbess. “When S. Opportuna was very sick, there came to her SS. Cecilia and Lucy. ‘Hail, Cecilia and Lucy, my sisters,’ she cried; ‘what does the Virgin Mary, the Queen of all, bid her handmaid do?’ ‘She is awaiting,’ they answer, ‘your presence in Heaven, that you may be united to her Son. Therefore you must be decked with a crown of glory, and meet, with burning lamp, the Bridegroom and the Bride.’ When, therefore, she beheld the Virgin coming to her, and, as it were, embracing her, she gave up her spirit into her hands, to be beatified with everlasting glory.”
But, last of all, come the other virgins, &c. (Vulg.). “But what does it profit,” says S. Jerome, “to invoke with your voice Him whom you deny by your works?” It means, then, that the reprobate will, at that time, be struck with the utmost anxiety and terror, and turn themselves in every direction, now with prayers imploring mercy of the Judge, now deploring the negligence of their life past, now giving up hope of salvation. As Auctor Imperfecti says, “There will be no profit in the confession, forced by necessity, of him who never once voluntarily confessed.” Read the pathetic wailings of the reprobate, graphically depicted by the wise man (Wisdom v. 1, &c.).
Ver. 12. But He answered, &c. “I do not acknowledge you as mine. Because ye, in your day, would not acknowledge Me as your Lord and your God, neither will I, in this My day, acknowledge you as My faithful sons and servants. Ye have served the devil in pleasure, now serve him in hell.” Hear S. Chrysostom: “When He shall say, ‘I know you not,’ nothing is left but hell and intolerable torment. Yea, verily that word is more dreadful than hell.” For whom God knows not, Heaven knows not, the Angels and the Blessed know not; but the devil knows him, death knows him, hell knows him. Consider that Christ, in the Day of Judgment, will show so terrible a countenance to the reprobate that (Apoc. vi. 16, 17) they will say “to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the Throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”
Watch ye therefore, &c. These words give the scope or aim and application of the parable, namely, that its object is to stimulate all the faithful to watchfulness and zeal for good works, by means of which they may prepare themselves for the day of death and judgment, which is at once imminent and uncertain. As S. Gregory says, “Forasmuch as ye know not the day of judgment, prepare the light of good works. For He who has guaranteed pardon to the penitent has not promised to-morrow to the sinner” (Hom. 12, in Evang.).
Wisely says R. Achabia (in Pirke Avoth), “Consider three things that thou mayest not sin. First, from whence thou comest. Second, whither thou goest. Third, to whom thou shalt render an account of thy life. From whence comest thou? From fetid matter. Whither goest thou? To the place of ashes and worms. To whom shalt thou render an account? To the King of kings, the Holy and the Blessed.” Still more wisely says S. Augustine, “God has promised thee that in the day thou art converted, He will forget thy past sins; but He has never promised thee a to-morrow. God hath wisely made the day of death uncertain. Let every man, for his profit, think upon his last day. It is of the mercy of God that man knoweth not when he shall die. The last day lies hid, that all days may be watched.” Mark well this last sentence of S. Augustine.
Ver. 14. For as a man going into a far country, &c. (Vulg.). Supply from what precedes, So shall be the coming of the Son of Man to judgment. The word for denotes the scope of the parable. By it Christ would prove what He said in the verse before, Watch ye therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour.
The object of the parable is to show how exact an account Christ will require from the slothful in the Day of Judgment; and how great will be the reward which He will give to the diligent, who have carefully used His gifts to the glory of God. The parable is similar to that which Luke records (xix. 11), but with some differences. For they were spoken by Christ at different times, and with different objects. The parable in Luke was spoken before Palm Sunday; but this in S. Matthew after it, on the Tuesday before Good Friday. Hence S. Chrysostom, Euthymius, Jansen, and others think they are different parables, or rather, the same parable told in different ways. For instead of talents, Luke has minæ
Now the man here spoken of is Christ. For Christ went a long journey when He ascended into Heaven, being about to be absent a long time from earth and His Church. So Origen, Jerome, Bede. Others think that Christ’s going far off (peregre) means His transference of the preaching of the gospel from the Jews to the Gentiles by means of the Apostles, and His founding the kingdom of His Church amongst them. And this applies well to the relation of the parable by S. Luke, where it is introduced with reference to Zacchæus, a publican, and, as it were, a Gentile, to whose house Christ, leaving the Jews, brought salvation. But in such a case the whole parable of the servants and the talents would have to be restricted to the Jews. For the Master is here said to have distributed His talents before He went His long journey,-that is to say, to the Gentiles. Wherefore the former explanation is of wider scope, and so more true. By the servants all the faithful are to he understood, whether Jews or Gentiles. Talents are goods, either because the Master, like merchants and chapmen, had all His goods in money-in talents of gold and silver; or else because revenues and estates are called talents, which were valued, some at one talent, some at two, some at five talents. In like manner, in Latin, whatever is bought or valued for money is called money.
And to one he gave, &c. Instead of talents, Luke has mnas, or minas. Mna in Hebrew signifies numbered or defined, with reference to value, or weight of gold or silver. The root is mana, he numbered. It is the word used in Daniel v. 25, mene. The Hebrew mna was equal to about 2½ pounds. A Hebrew talent was equivalent to sixty Hebrew mnas.
By talents understand all the gifts of God, without which we can do nothing. These gifts are, I say—1st Of grace, both making grateful,1 such as faith, hope, charity, virginity, and all the other virtues, as well as those of grace given gratis—such as the power of working miracles, the Apostolate, the Priesthood, the gift of tongues, prophecy, &c. 2d Natural gifts, such as a keen intellect, a sound judgment, a sound constitution, prudence, industry, learning, eloquence. 3d External goods and gifts, as honours, riches, rank, &c. So S. Chrysostom. For all these things God distributes unequally, according to His good pleasure. And with this end in view, that each should use them for God’s glory, and the good of himself and others. For so He will increase them, both by Himself (for all habits grow by use and exercise) and also in merit and reward. For to that man there will be added crowns and coronets celestial, as of virginity, martyrdom. Moreover, there is no man who hath not received one, ay, several of these gifts of God, though one hath more, another less. For, as S. Gregory saith (Hom. 5, in Evang.), “There is no man who can say with truth, ‘I have not received a single talent. There is nothing of which I must give an account.’ For to every poor man even this shall be reckoned as a talent, that he hath received but a very little.” For to many it is a greater gift of God, and more conducive to their salvation, that they have poverty rather than wealth, sickness and not health, a humble station instead of an exalted one. Let us take as instances S. Paul, S. Timothy, S. Onesimus. S. Paul received, as it were, five talents or gifts from God,-as the gift of tongues, miracles, the apostolate, zeal for souls, power in preaching. Timothy received, as it were, two,-knowledge of the Scriptures, and the bishopric of Ephesus. But Onesimus one, that is to say, zeal to minister to Paul in prison at Rome. By means of this he merited many others, as the bishopric of Colosse, the conversion of many, and martyrdom.
You will ask, in what manner does God distribute these His gifts according to every one’s ability (Gr. δύναμιν), power, strength? I answer, this is partly an emblema pertaining only to the adornment of the parable. For so among men, prudent masters are wont to entrust their goods to servants in such a manner that they trust more to him who possesses greater prudence and industry, less to him who has less. For it is certain, in opposition to the Pelagians, that primary grace is not given according to natural powers and merits, yea, that there is no natural disposition to grace.
But, in part, this pertains to the meaning of the parable. For favours and stations given gratis, such as magistracies, the episcopate, priesthood, &c., God often confers in accordance with natural powers, and does not raise any one to such a condition unless he be either suited to it by nature, or unless He Himself makes him fit. Men do the same when they choose any one for a shepherd, a bishop, a prelate. Indeed, when God determines to bestow any permanent gift whatsoever upon any one, He first gives him the capacity, or natural or supernatural proportional disposition or merit, by means of which he becomes suitable for the bestowment of this gift, or may make himself fitted for it. Thus God gave to Moses a zeal on behalf of his nation, that He might thereby dispose him to deliver them out of Egypt. So also He gave S. Paul a zeal for the Mosaic law, that He might make use of him when he was purified for the propagation of the Law of Christ. So He instilled into SS. Mary Magdalene and Peter an immense contrition for sin, that He might, through it, dispose them to an immense sanctity. So it is with those whom God chooses and destines to virginity, the religious life, martyrdom, mission work in India. He first infuses into them a vehement desire, by which they fit and prepare themselves for what they have to do.
Lastly, S. Thomas (1 p. quæst. 62, art. 6) teaches that God has distributed to the angels His gifts of grace and glory, according to their natural gifts. Those who are more lofty by nature are also higher in grace and glory, And he adds, that God deals in like fashion with men. For he says, “This also happens among men, that in proportion to the fervour of their conversion to God, greater grace and glory are given them.” Often, indeed, God acts in a way the reverse of this, and gives greater gifts of grace to persons of weak intellect-to the ignorant and despised-than He does to the learned, the witty, and the honourable. Thus He did to S. Francis, S. Catherine of Sienna, S. Simeon Stylites, and many others. After a like fashion God distributes His gifts of grace, freely given, in accordance with His own hidden counsels. For many are set in high station who are by no means worthy of it; many are the Priests who are unfit for the Priesthood. And yet, in no persons whatsoever are nature and natural endowments a merit, or a disposition to grace.
Wherefore it does not follow from these words of Christ that “the gifts of God are conferred upon every man, according to the measure of his merit,” according to the charge which Calvin calumniously brings against the Catholics. For it is one thing to be by nature capable of receiving the gifts of God; it is another thing to merit those gifts. It is one thing to be able to possess charity; it is another thing to possess it. This is Prosper’s teaching (lib. 2, de Vocatione Gentium, c. 2).
And straightway took his journey. Luke adds, that Christ, before He went away, after dividing the pounds, or talents, amongst His servants, said, Make merchandise until I come. He meant, “Increase these My talents by labouring diligently all your life long, and bring Me what you have gained when I return to judgment.” By and by he adds, But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. The citizens of Christ are the Jews, who rejected Him, who would not acknowledge Him as their King and Messiah, who said, “We have no king but Cæsar,” as they cried before Pilate when they asked that Christ might be crucified. And again, after His resurrection, they persecuted the Apostles and Christians who preached and spread the kingdom of Christ. Wherefore concerning the righteous chastisement which came upon the Jews, Luke subjoins that Christ said, “But those mine enemies, who would not that I should reign, bring them hither, and slay them before me.” Christ did this when He slew the Jews by the hands of Titus. He will do it yet more in the Day of Judgment, when He will punish them with death eternal.
Ver. 16. Then he . . . five talents, &c. To gain talents is to increase the gifts of God by using and increasing them, especially by means of good works, and helping our neighbour to increase and multiply the grace of God in ourselves and others. This parable intimates that every one ought to co-operate with the grace of God with all his might. For example, he who has, as it were, five degrees of charity, ought to exercise charity in a corresponding degree of intensity. By this means he will gain from God five degrees more. Again, by exercising charity thus increased as ten degrees, in acts of corresponding intensity, he may gain other ten decrees, and possess, as it were, twenty degrees. And so on, marvellously doubling, and multiplying the gain of his talents, that is to say, the degrees of his charity. Let it be, therefore, that a man by his charity should gain few or none to Christ by preaching, yet will he have the same merit and reward of his charity and preaching as if he had converted multitudes. The conversion of others is not often in our power, but the merit of doing so is always in our power.
Moraliter: S. Gregory says (Hom. 9, in Evang.), “This passage of the Gospel admonishes us anxiously to beware lest we, who seem to have received somewhat more than others in this world, should, for that reason, be judged more severely by the Maker of the world. For in proportion as gifts are increased, so is the account to be rendered of the gifts.”
And likewise he that had received two, &c. This man also, by diligently and correspondingly using his talent, that is, co-operating with grace, doubled it.
Ver. 18. But he that had received one . . . hid his lord’s money; Arab. buried his lord’s silver. To bury a talent is, through negligence and sloth, not to use or exercise the grace bestowed upon one. Here observe, that this burying of his talent is ascribed to him who only received one talent. This is not because others, who have received more, do not often do the same, but in order that we may understand that if he, who had only misused his one talent, was thus severely punished by his master, far sharper will be the Lord’s censure and punishment of those who have misused more and greater talents. Wherefore Paul says, “We exhort you, that ye receive not the grace of God in vain” (2 Cor. vi. 11). And again, “His grace in me was not in vain, but I laboured more abundantly than they all” (1 Cor. xv. 10); and, “Woe is me, if I preach not the Gospel.”
Let those who do not use genius, learning, prudence, or other gifts of God, for their own or others’ benefits, on account of sloth, or fear of sinning, or for any similar reason, note this. For of them will Christ demand an exact account of these gifts in the Day of Judgment. Observe also, that those who have received few talents, often, through sloth, leave them idle, and, as it were, bury them; whilst those who have received more are stimulated by them, and either use them rightly and meritoriously, or else abuse them to vanity. And these last are punished not so much for letting their talents lie idle, as for misusing them! Thus we commonly see that those who have great powers of intellect, if they do not employ them for good purposes, do so for bad.
Ver. 19. After a long time, &c. This reckoning Christ makes with every one severally at death, and the particular judgment. He will make it publicly in the general Judgment.
Ver. 20. And he that had received five talents came near, &c. Hear how pathetically S. Gregory depicts this scene: “In that great examination the whole multitude of the elect and the reprobate will be led forth, and it will be shown what each hath done. Then Peter will take his stand, with Judæa converted at his side. There Paul, with, I might almost say, a converted world. There will be Andrew with Achaia, John with Asia, Thomas with India, which they will bring into the presence of the Judge. There will appear all the rams of the Lord’s flock, with the souls which were given them for their hire. When, therefore, so many shepherds with their flocks shall come before the eyes of the Eternal Pastor, what shall we, miserable ones, be able to say, if we return before the Lord empty, we who have the name of pastors, but have no sheep, which we have fed, to present?”
Ver. 21. His lord said unto him, Well done, &c. Luke has (xix. 19), Be thou over five cities. The parable is taken from the idea of a king, who is accustomed to reward his faithful servants by setting them over many cities. It signifies also that the Saints, who use diligently the grace that God gives them, will be sharers in the glory and joy of His kingdom, but in greater or less degrees according to the labour and merit of each.
Our Salmeron is of opinion that it is here intimated, and tacitly promised, that the Saints in Heaven shall be set by God to preside over the places in which they laboured while on earth, so that in those places they may heal diseases and work miracles, because they have deserved this by their labours. That thus S. James works miracles at Compostella and in Spain; S. Dionysius at Paris and in Gaul; S. Ambrose at Milan; S. Boniface in Germany.
Vers. 22, 23. He also that had received two talents, &c. The Arab. has, And these are the five2 talents which I have gained, as though the servant showed them, and offered them to his master. The same thing is said as in vers. 20 and 21, save that there were five talents, here there are two. For, as S. Jerome says, “The Lord does not regard so much the greatness of the gain, as the good-will and the desire. And it is possible that he who receives two talents, by trading diligently with them, may merit more than he who receives five, and uses them in a lukewarm manner.” Thus S. Nicolas Tolentinus passed his life in constant prayer and the practice of austerities. He used to fast on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays on bread and water, in honour of the Blessed Virgin, and used to punish himself by means of an iron chain. Six months before his death he heard daily at vespers angelic songs, which invited him to the marriage feast of the Lamb in Heaven. Just before his death he was filled with a marvellous joy. Being asked the reason, he said, “My Lord Jesus Christ, leaning upon His mother and our father Augustine, is saying to me, Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord.” Presently joining and lifting up his hands, and raising his eyes to the Cross, he said, “Into Thy hands, 0 Lord, I commend my spirit.” And thus with joyful countenance he resigned his soul to God, A.D. 1306, on the 10th of September.
Vers. 24, 25. Then he which had received the one talent, &c. There is an emblem here which only pertains to the embellishment of the parable. For this, says Frank Lucas, is the way in which lazy servants excuse their idleness, throwing it upon the severity of their masters. As if they said, “You are not willing to lose, but always want to gain. And if gain is not brought you, you take away the property of your poor servants for any reason, or none.”
It is to be observed that the reprobate in the Day of Judgment, when they behold the Saints thus rewarded by Christ and themselves sentenced to Gehenna, will, out of despair and madness, inveigh against Christ the Judge, and will shamelessly reproach Him for His too great severity, and will impiously and blasphemously throw the blame of their damnation upon Him. And thus they, in hell, being driven to madness by the severity and eternal duration of their torments, will continually blaspheme God, and Christ, and the Saints, as though they were the authors of their sufferings, directly or indirectly.
Vers. 26, 27. His lord answered and said unto him, &c. This likewise is an emblem, and only signifies how we ought by all means to increase the grace of God. Observe that they are called money-changers, who make gain by exchange, and by lending and borrowing. This gain is lawful in the way of exchange and merchandise. It is unlawful in the way of lending upon interest, and is the sin of usury. Wherefore the Lord in this place does not speak so much according to the abstract right of the matter, as parabolically, partly because of the common practice of nations (for usury was allowed in many nations, especially among the Jews, who think that God permitted them to exact it from the Gentiles, in Deut. xxiii. 19), partly as a deduction from the words of the slothful servant, who attributed to his master the avarice of extorting money, by fair means or foul, from himself or others. This passage may, however, be accommodated to what is signified by the parable in the following manner-that God requires of us interest, as it were, for His gifts and graces, but that He will render us far greater interest of glory in Heaven. Hence the saying, “If thou wilt lend, lend unto God.” Also it is said in Prov. (xix. 17), “He that hath mercy upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and what he layeth out it shall be paid him again.”
Ver. 28. Take from him the talent, &c. This, too, is only an emblem. The Lord throws back the charge of avarice, with which the slothful servant accused him. It is as if he said, “Thou seest, 0 thou slothful servant, that I do not covetously seek this gain for myself, but for my servants. When I take back the talent which I gave to thee, I do not put it away in a chest for myself. I bestow it upon him who used his five talents so well, that he gained five other talents with them. He therefore deserves this talent of yours, or rather mine, as a recompense of his labour and merit.”
But besides the emblematic character of these words, they are also partly applicable to the thing signified by the parable. For, in the Day of Judgment, God will actually take away His graces from the reprobate, who have misused them. He often does the same thing even in this life. Indeed, He always takes away from a man the grace which makes him pleasing in the eyes of God, when that man sins mortally, as when, for instance, he, through sloth, neglects to perform some commandment of Gad, which is binding under the penalty of mortal sin. But this which is added, Give it to him that hath ten talents, is an emblem. It tacitly intimates,—1st That the Saints, who diligently use the grace of God, are worthy of greater grace; and that as to the grace which the unworthy and the slothful possess, it is not seldom, even in this life, transferred from them to the former. Thus it is said in Apoc. iii. 11, “Hold fast that thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” 2d That the Saints in Heaven will rejoice, both on account of their own talents, as well as those of the reprobate. 3d Because God, in Heaven, will bestow all gifts, all endowments and graces, even those which the reprobate have possessed in this world, upon the Blessed. For Beatitude is a state which is perfect by reason of the aggregation of all good, as Boetius says. Understand that these gifts are here spoken of, not as to their number, but as to their kind.
Ver. 29. For unto every one that hath, &c. The Arab. is, Unto him that hath shall be given, and shall be added; and from him that hath not shall be taken away that which is with him.
To every one that hath. S. Chrysostom and S. Augustine explain this to mean, all who rightly use their talents. For he, in truth, possesses a talent who rightly uses it. For the idle person, who does not make use of it, does not appear really to have it.
But he who hath not, that is to say, the gain of the talents and the grace acquired by him; or, he who has not, in the sense that he does not use his talent, as I have said, even that which he seemeth to have, that is, the talent which he has suffered to lie idle, so that he has not so much had it, as seemed to have it, shall be taken away from him. After a like fashion saith the comic poet, “The covetous man lacks that which he hath as much as if he had it not.” He hides it in his chest, so that it is the chest which hath it, not himself. The covetous man does not so much possess his gold, as he is possessed and owned by his gold. He is its slave.
From this passage Theologians derive the maxim, that “God is never wanting to him who does his best.” Nor does He refuse to add even more and more grace to him who heartily co-operates with it, even to the final gift of perseverance and glory. How this is to be understood, see Suarez, Vasquez, Bellarmine, and others in their works on Grace.
Ver. 31. But when the Son of Man, &c. . . . upon the seat of His majesty, as Judge of all, sitting upon a glorious cloud. Here Christ graphically sets forth the manner and idea of the Last Judgment, that all may imprint it on their minds, and so by the constant remembrance of it, stir themselves up to purity of life and zeal for good works.
The majesty of Christ will appear. 1st By the previous sounding of the awful trumpet of the Archangel, which will be heard throughout all the world. 2d By the previous lightnings and thunderings, tempest and hail, according to the words in Ps. xcvii. 3. 3d Because Christ shall appear in His glorious body, brighter than the sun, as it is said in Isaiah, “Then shall the moon be ashamed and the sun be confounded, when the Lord of Hosts shall reign,” taken in the mystical sense. For there is another and literal interpretation of these words, as I have shown in commenting upon the passage. 4th Because He shall descend from Heaven accompanied by innumerable legions of angels. 5th Because there shall stand before Him in judgment all emperors, pontiffs, kings, prelates, princes, philosophers, orators, and all men and nations whatsoever. 6th. Because He shall judge them not as belonging to others, but as His own Servants. For all men and angels are the Servants of Christ not only as He is God, by the right of creation, but also as He is man, by virtue of the Hypostatic Union with the WORD, and by right of merit. For Christ merited this by His lowly obedience even to the death of the Cross, according to what the Apostle says (Phil. ii. 7, 8), “He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a Name which is above every name; that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in Heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Though men, indeed, are the servants of Christ by the peculiar right of redemption. For Christ hath redeemed them from death and hell, and bought them with the costly price of His own Blood.
And all the angels with Him. Therefore in the Day of Judgment not one angel shall remain in Heaven, but all shall descend at the same time with Christ. They shall accompany Him to do Him honour, as God, and Lord, and Saviour, that they may surround and minister to Him as He is Man. Moreover, it is probable that the angels shall then assume bodies of condensed air, and in them shall appear in glory. For otherwise this glory and power of Christ, as encompassed by the angels, would not be beheld by the wicked, on whose account chiefly it will then be manifested. Nor would that army of angels increase His outward majesty, which is what Christ is here describing. When, therefore, there shall be that innumerable multitude of angels, their many thousands of thousands will fill the higher regions of the air, far and wide, in every direction, yea, the very sky itself, affording the appearance of an infinite army.
It is also exceedingly probable that the devils also will assume bodies, and appear in them, but bodies that are foul, dreadful, and horrible.
And there shall be gathered together before Him all nations, i.e., all men sprung from Adam, from the first even unto the last, of every family and nation, however fierce and barbarous. Also little ones and infants, although the case and judgment of infants is not here properly treated of, but only that of adults, who by their good or bad works have deserved Heaven or hell Wherefore there will be there very many millions of men, so that the valley of Josaphat could not contain them all. Wherefore God shall at that time turn the Mount of Olives and the other mountains into a plain, that there may be space to hold so many myriads of men. For all the reprobate shall stand upon the earth. But the Saints, especially the more eminent ones, such as the Apostles, shall be raised up into the air, where they shall sit as assessors with Christ.
That little children will appear in the Day of Judgment is exceedingly probable, though Durandus denies this (2, disp. 33, quæst. 3). The reasons that make it probable are:—1st Because Christ is the Judge of all men whatsoever, therefore also of infants. 2d Because infants shall rise again as well as adults, and that “in a perfect man,” as the Apostle says (Eph. iv. 13), that is, adult age and stature. They will see therefore and know that all men are rising with them, to stand and be judged at the tribunal of Christ. 3d Because many infants have been made Saints and Martyrs by Baptism or martyrdom. Such were the infants who were slain by Herod. These therefore, as well as adults, shall hear from Christ the words, Come, ye blessed of My Father. 4th Because the infants who have died in original sin among all nations, for so many thousands of years, will be very many. Lessius thinks that their number will be a thousand millions (de Perfect. Divin. cap. 22, num. 143). And these cannot be hid; but rising again, they will appear upon earth. And these too, being separated one from another, shall receive their sentences from Christ. They shall neither be condemned, like the adult reprobate, to the fire of hell; neither shall they be adjudged to Heaven to see God, as the adult elect.
And He shall separate them. He compares the elect to sheep, because of their innocence, modesty, humility, obedience, and patience; the reprobate to goats, because this creature has a fetid smell. It is fierce, immodest, lascivious. It walks in precipitous places. And it is quarrelsome. Such are the wicked. Wherefore under the Old Law goats were wont to be offered as sin-offerings.
There was a type of their separation in the case of those who blessed on Mount Gerizim, and those who cursed on Mount Ebal (Deut. xxvii.).
And He shall set the sheep, &c. For the right hand is the symbol of felicity, glory, and victory. The left, of unhappiness and disgrace.
Then shall the King say to those on the right hand, &c. “Come from darkness to light, from slavery to the liberty of the children of God, from labour to perpetual rest, from death unto life, from the society of wicked men to the company of angels, from contest to triumph, from the billows of temptation to the light of glory, and the Heaven of eternal happiness.”
In a moving manner does S. Hippolytus, the Martyr, enlarge upon these words (Tract. de Consummat. Sæculi), speaking of the different Orders of the Saints. “Come, ye Prophets, who were banished for My Name’s sake. Come, ye Patriarchs, who were obedient unto Me before I came into the world, and who deserved My Kingdom. Come, ye Apostles, partakers of My sufferings, for the sake of the Gospel, when I lived amongst men. Come, ye Martyrs, who confessed Me before tyrants, and endured great torments and sufferings. Come, ye Priests, who offered pure sacrifices unto Me day and night, and immolated day by day My precious Body and Blood. Come, ye Saints, who practised self-denial in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth, who by continence and prayers did service to My Name. Come, ye Virgins, who chose Me for your Bridegroom, and loved not another besides Me, who by martyrdom, and the diligent practice of religion, were united to Me, your immortal and incorruptible Spouse. Come, ye who love the poor and strangers. Come, ye who kept My love, who am Love. Come, ye friends of peace, for I am peace.”
Christ judges and rewards the elect before He punishes the reprobate; for it is natural to Christ to reward; it is His strange work to punish.
The King. Christ the judge has on His thigh a name written, “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Apoc. xix 16).
Blessed of My Father. Those whom My Father, whose special attributes are omnipotence, empire, and predestination, “hath blessed with all spiritual benediction in heavenly things” (Eph. i. 3),—that is, “whom He loved and predestinated from eternity, justified in time, and now will glorify: to whom He gave grace and perseverance in good works until the end of their lives, and therefore He has now, through Me, given them for their merits the reward of celestial glory.” Come therefore, ye Blessed, thrice and again Blessed, whom God loved and predestinated before the world, cleansed and sanctified in the world, and now will magnify after the world, as S. Augustine says in his Soliloquy.
Observe: the judgment of Christ will not be performed in a moment of time, as will be the case with the general Resurrection (1 Cor. xv. 52), but will occupy some considerable period. For there will be an examination and opening of the conscience of each person, in which Christ will lay open to every man his own and others’ deeds by an inward illumination, and will pronounce His own sentence upon each, according to his deserts. And He will cause all to see that this sentence is just and right; and He will not give any opportunity for taking exception or for prevarication. “It will be,” says S. Augustine (de Civit. xx. 14), “an effect of the Divine power, that every one will have recalled to their memory their deeds, both good and bad. And by a glance of the mind they will be perceived with a marvellous swiftness, so that this knowledge will either accuse or excuse their consciousness.” All this will occupy time, though but a very short time. After this will Christ pronounce, as it seems, the general award of eternal felicity, with an audible voice, to all the Saints, when He says, “Come, ye blessed of My Father,” &c ; and then will pass sentence upon the reprobate, saying, “Depart, ye cursed.”
Possess ye (Vulg.); Gr. κληζονομήσατε, inherit (Eng. vers.). “For if ye are sons, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. viii.). “0 of what great glory, of what great blessedness, are those words! He does not say, Receive ye; but, Inherit ye, as though it were your own, your Father’s; as though it were your very own, belonging to you from the beginning.”
The Kingdom: the highest Heaven, with all its goods, such as the vision and fruition of God, the society of Saints and Angels.
From the constitution of the world; Arab. before the constitution of the world. That is to say, from eternity. It means that the whole universe was created by God for the sake of the Blessed, that they may be eternally blessed in Him. Moreover, this glory of the Saints had been prepared and predestinated-1. From eternity. For God from eternity determined to create the Saints and the world, that He might bless them in it, and cause them to share in all His goods. 2. From the creation of the world. For God created the empyrean and the world for this end, that it might be the seat and kingdom of the Blessed. As S. Chrysostom says (Hom. 1, in Epist. ad Titum), “Herein is manifested our dignity, that not just now merely, but from of old, from the very beginning, have we been loved.” And (Hom. 34, in Gen.), “Behold the excellence of the goodness of God; how great is the mercy which He hath extended to our race, that before the foundations of the world were laid, He deigned to prepare for us the fruition of the Kingdom of Heaven.”
0 how sweetly will this voice of Christ fall upon the ears of the elect! What thanks will they render Him! How will they exult! We cannot doubt but that with the utmost reverence they will prostrate themselves before Him, and gladly confess that it is by His Blood and merits they have been brought to such great felicity. This is plain from the Apocalypse (chaps. v. and vii.), where we may hear their doxologies and songs of victory, which in full chorus they sing to God and Christ.
Ver. 35. For I was an hungered, &c . . . a stranger, and ye collected Me (Vulg.), i e., into your houses or other hospices. Observe here that Christ puts one sort of good works, by which the Saints will merit the eternal glory decreed to them by Christ in the judgment, instead of every kind of good works. He only speaks of works of mercy, both because they are, as it were, natural and everywhere at hand, and have to do with every one. For there are very many everywhere who are wretched. As also because the common people make most account of these works, since they themselves are less capable of giving themselves to fasting, prayers, and other lofty things. Further, no one can excuse himself from the performance of them; and, as S. Augustine says, they are most profitable for obtaining the grace of God. Hear S. Basil (Conc. 4, de Eleemosyn.), “That bread, which thou holdest back, belongs to the hungry; the naked claims that garment which thou art keeping in thy chest. That shoe which is mouldering away at home is his who is shoeless. Thus thou art wronging just as many as thou dost not help with thy goods whilst thou mayest.” “Blessed,” says David, “is the man that is merciful and lendeth; he guideth his words with discretion” (Ps. cxii. 5); or, as S. Chrysostom reads, “he renders his accounts.” As much as to say, “He will render a most excellent account of his life; he will plead successfully his cause before the Supreme Judge.” “And indeed,” says the same S. Chrysostom, “it must needs be that the soul which is rich in mercy can never be overwhelmed with heavy troubles of the mind.” And again, “Uselessly will sins accuse him whom the poor man excuses. And he cannot be excused whom the poor man’s hunger accuses. He will witness a terrible day who shall enter into the judgment without the intercession of the poor. He who lends to a poor man makes the Judge Himself his debtor” (S. Peter Chrysolog. Serm. 40).
Moreover, we cannot doubt that many will be saved or condemned because of other virtues and sins of greater importance. For there are numbers who can scarcely practise works of mercy, as paupers, children, Religious, who do and practise greater things, as chastity, obedience, evangelical poverty, contemplation, conversion of others, on account of which they shall obtain greater rewards from Christ, according to His words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven,” &c.
Wherefore it does not appear that Christ will pronounce these words with an audible voice, as He will the sentence itself of salvation or condemnation; but He will reveal them to the heart of each by a sort of spiritual instinct. From this it is plain that the elect are chosen, and have Heaven awarded to them because of their good works. Therefore good works deserve Heaven and heavenly glory. Therefore this glory is given by Christ to the Saints for an inheritance, as it were, as unto sons, and at the same time as a reward, as to those who merit it and are worthy of it. For God does not give the Kingdom to sons whether they be worthy or unworthy, as is often the case among men.
There are six principal corporal works of mercy which Christ here speaks of, viz., to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to take in strangers, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick, to comfort and redeem captives, to which may be added a seventh, to bury the dead, which is commanded in Tobit. There are as many spiritual works of mercy, which Christ here would have us understand under the corporal works. They are as much superior to the corporal works as the soul is superior to the body. They are-to correct sinners, to teach the ignorant, to give good advice to the perplexed, to pray to God for the salvation of our neighbours, to comfort the sorrowful, to bear injuries patiently, and to forgive injuries. Concerning these, see Peter Canisius in 0pere Catechistico.
Naked, &c. This is what Christ said (ix. 13), “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” For mercy is a covering, and, as it were, redeems the faults and miseries of the merciful. Hear S. Augustine (Serm. 33, de Divers.), “It is written, as water extinguishes fire, so doth alms extinguish sin. Surely to those whom He is about to crown will He attribute alms alone; as though He said, ‘It were difficult that, if I should examine and weigh you, and most carefully scrutinise your deeds, I should not find something to condemn you; but go ye into My Kingdom, for I was hungry, and ye fed Me. Ye go into My Kingdom, not because ye have not sinned, but because ye have redeemed your sins by alms.’”
Vers. 37-39. Then shall the righteous say, expressing their wonder at Christ’s liberality towards them, not so much with their lips as in their hearts. When saw we. By this word when is expressed at once the profound humility and the exultation of the Saints in that they hear their few and poor works made so much of by Christ, as that He should count them as done to Himself, because they were done to the poor for love of Christ.
And the King shall answer, &c. ... one of the least of these. The word these strictly denotes the Apostles, and Religious and Apostolic men similar to them, who shall sit as assessors with Christ as judge. In this world they were accounted the least and most abject. And to themselves in their humility they seemed to be the very least of all. Inasmuch as they voluntarily embraced poverty of spirit, they gave themselves up altogether to the cross of Christ and to the preaching of the faith. But in the second place, all poor Christians who, having been born again in baptism, have been by grace made children of God, and therefore brethren of Christ, are denoted by the word these. Observe that infidels and the reprobate, though they may have been once brothers of Christ, are not here counted worthy of the name. Still He does not forbid giving them alms. Well says S. Cyprian in his Treatise on Almsgiving, “What more could Christ declare unto us? How could He do more to provoke to works of justice and mercy, than by pronouncing that whatever is done to the poor and needy is done to Himself? That he who is not moved by the consideration of his brother in the Church may be moved at least by considering Christ. And that he who does not think of his fellow-servant in labour and need, may at least think of his Master, who stands in the place of him whom he despises.”
This was the reason why S. Louis, king of France, was accustomed to distribute food with his own hands to two hundred poor persons on all vigils and festivals, and to wash their feet on Saturdays. He also daily entertained at his own table three poor old men, and afterwards ate what they left. When some persons objected that this was derogatory to the majesty of a king, he made answer, “I revere Christ in the poor, Christ who said, ‘What ye do unto the least of Mine, ye do unto Me.’” And he was wont to add, “The poor prepare Heaven for themselves by patience, but the rich by alms and reverence, whereby they love and venerate the poor as the members of Christ.” 0 wise and holy king! Would that kings and princes would follow in his steps!
From these words of Christ S. Francis was wont to encourage his Friars freely to solicit alms. He himself was wont to beg upon the great Festivals. He said that the words of the Psalmist, “Man did eat angels’ food,” were fulfilled in holy paupers. For that, he said, was angelic food which was asked for the love of God, which, at the suggestion of the angels, was bestowed for the love of God, and which holy poverty collected from door to door.
Ver. 41. Then shall He say to those on the left, &c. Note the antithesis: Christ says to the elect, “Come to Me and to My glory.” But to the reprobate, “Depart from Me, to the devil and hell, because in life ye clave to the devil, and not to Me.” The word depart denotes the pain of loss (pœna damni), which is the deprivation of the glory of Heaven for ever. But the word fire denotes the pain of sense; for the fire of hell burns continually, not only the bodies, but the souls of the wicked, and yet does not consume them. This punishment is very dreadful. For to be banished from God, from Christ, from Heaven, from the Saints, from everything that is good, is horrible torment. Wherefore S. Chrysostom (Paræn. 1, ad Theodor. lapsum) thinks that the deprivation of the vision of God is a greater torment to the damned than the fire of hell. Others entertain the opposite opinion. Isaiah says, “The wicked shall not behold the glory of the Lord” (xxvi. 10). Cursed, those whom God will curse as His enemies. Into the fire, therefore there is real fire in hell, and that far fiercer and of a different nature and quality from earthly fire. This is the teaching of S. Ambrose (in cap. 14, S. Luc.), S. Jerome (in Isa. chaps. lxv., lxvi.), Damascene (lib. 4, cap. ult.).
Moreover, this fire is fed by sulphur, which also God will preserve for ever, that it may continually burn the wicked. This is the fire with which Moses threatened the Jews in Deut. xxxii. 22, “A fire is kindled in My fury, and it shall burn unto the lowest hell.” Hear what S. Chrysostom says, “They shall be thrust into the river and the sea of fire, a sea which can never be crossed, in which the waves of fire rise mountains high. Fire, I say, but not earthly fire, but far more terrible than any here, whose flames fill the great abyss, so that on every hand the fire seems ready to overwhelm, like some immense wild beast. If we cannot describe in language the most bitter torments of that fire and those flames, what shall we say of them? especially when we consider that a man placed for one moment in earthly fire would die; but there they are burnt and suffer, and never will that which is burnt be consumed” (Hom. 44 in loc.)
Everlasting. Origen, therefore, is in error in thinking that the pains of hell shall cease, and that the wicked shall be delivered out of them on the completion of the Platonic year, that is, after several thousands of years. For the eternity of punishment in hell is here expressed. So Bede, Theophylact, and others passim. This will be the awful punishment, which will drive the damned to despair, fury, madness, to blaspheming God, their parents, comrades, and all creatures, because so long as Heaven shall last, so long will there be a hell. It shall last as long as God Himself and the universe shall endure. So long shall the reprobate endure, “and shall be tormented day and night for ages of ages” (Apoc. xx. 10). Think of this fire when lust, or ambition, or any other temptation entice thee, and say to thyself, “I will not purchase everlasting fire at the price of a little pleasure.”
S. Hippolytus the Martyr enlarges upon these words of Christ in a very moving manner in his Treatise on the End of the World. He introduces Christ as reproaching the wicked for their abuse of His benefits, “It was I who formed you, and ye clave to another. I created the earth, the sea, and all things for your sakes, and you misused them to My dishonour. Depart from Me, ye workers of iniquity, I know you not. Ye have become the workmen of another master, even the devil. With him possess darkness, and the fire which shall not be quenched, and the worm which sleepeth not, and the gnashing of teeth.” After an interval he adds, “I formed your ears that you should hear the Scriptures, and you applied them to songs of devils, to harps, and jokes. I created your eyes that ye might behold the light of My commandments, and follow them; but ye opened them for adultery, and immodesty, and all uncleanness. I ordained your mouth for the praise and glory of God, and to sing psalms and spiritual songs; but ye applied it for the utterance of revilings, perjuries, and blasphemies. I made your hands, that you should lift them up in prayers and supplications; ye have stretched them out in thefts and murders.” And thus he proceeds.
After He has pronounced this sentence, Christ will drive them from Him by means of the demons into hell. Yea, all the elements, together with the heavens, shall rise against them. For, as it is said in Wisdom (vi. 18), “He shall arm the creatures to take vengeance upon His enemies, and the whole world shall fight for Him against the foolish ones. The right aiming thunderbolts shall go forth. The water of the sea shall race against them, and the rivers shall flow together upon them. A spirit of strength shall stand against them, and like a whirlwind shall divide them.”
Prepared for the devil and his angels, that is, for their chief prince and his armies, Arab. From hence it is plain that the fire of hell was primarily, and per se, prepared by God for the demons, but as a consequence was prepared for men who imitate the disobedience of the devils. Moreover, this fire was prepared by God from everlasting, after the foreseen sin of Lucifer and the demons. For their God decreed to form it for their punishment. But it was actually made, in time, by God at the commencement of the universe, before the creation of man.
The Syr. instead of devil has accuser, which is the meaning of the Gr. διάβολος, for such is Lucifer, who accuses holy men, and even their just works, before God. Hence in the Acts of S. Montanus and his companions, martyrs, the accuser and criminator of the martyrs is called diabolus, because he acted his part before the tribunal of the heathen judges.
Vers. 42, 43. For I was an hungered, &c. The word for gives the reason why they are condemned to the fire prepared for the devil, because, that is, they imitated his mercilessness. “For,” as Theophylact says, “they who are without compassion are devils.” These men are condemned for the omission of the works of mercy, both because every one is bound to the performance of these works when he sees his neighbour in need, as well as because they neglected to expiate their other sins by almsdeeds, according to the saying of Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar, “Redeem thy sins by almsgiving, and thy iniquities by mercy to the poor” (Dan. iv. 24, Vulg.). Whence S. Augustine asserts that some men cannot be saved without almsgiving. Now, if he who is convicted of not having given alms shall suffer so great a punishment, says S. Gregory, what shall be the penalty of him who has committed murder or adultery, or who has blasphemed God and His saints?
Every word is emphatic, and reproaches the reprobate with peculiar ingratitude. I was an hungered, I, who am your God, your Lord, and your Redeemer, and ye gave not unto Me, that which I had given you, to eat, not partridges and capons, which ye ate yourselves, but simply bread. “Each circumstance,” says S. Chrysostom, “suffices for their condemnation; as the simple nature of the request and the power to grant it: for bread is asked; then there is the misery of the petitioner, poor and a beggar: the greatness of the reward to be obtained, for a kingdom is promised: the dread of the punishment, for hell is threatened: the dignity of the receiver, for God receives, through the hands of the poor: the right which there is to bestow, for it is the highest form of justice to render unto God His own. Yet from all these things they were held back by covetousness.”
Ver. 45. Then He shall answer them, saying, &c. Learn from hence how greatly to be esteemed are the mean and poor, especially Saints and Religious, whom Christ here calls His own property, as it were. Wherefore S. Francis sharply rebuked one of his Friars for finding fault with a certain beggar, and saying that, perchance, he was proud in his mind, and ordered him to ask his pardon on his knees. And he gave his reason. “My son,” he said, “thou hast not sinned against the beggar so much as against Christ. Forasmuch as Christ is offered to us in the person of the poor, as it were in a glass. As often therefore as the poor and infirm meet thee, think of and humbly venerate the poverty and infirmities which Christ deigned to endure for us.”
Ver. 46. And these shall go; Gr. shall go away, &c ... punishment, that is, of fire and burning. Whence S. Augustine reads (Tract. 21, in Joan.), into burning. It means, they shall be burnt in hell, but not burnt up, nor consumed, so as to he annihilated, which the lost will desire.
Everlasting, because they have most grievously offended the Eternal God. For mortal sin, because it is an injury against the Infinite God, has in it an infinite wickedness, therefore it deserves an infinite punishment. But, forasmuch as punishment infinite in intensity can neither be given nor yet endured by man, there shall be given to the reprobate a punishment of infinite duration which shall last for ever and ever. The author of the book on the Spirit and the Soul, in the works of S. Augustine, forcibly depicts the dreadfulness of this punishment. He says, there is to these miserable beings death without death, end without end, consumption without being consumed. For death also shall always live, and the end shall always be beginning. Death shall destroy, and not annihilate. Pain shall torment, and not put fear to flight. The flame shall burn, but shall not disperse the darkness. For there shall be darkness in the fire, fear in the darkness, and pain in the burning. Thus shall the reprobate be tormented without hope of pardon or mercy, which is the misery of miseries. For if, after as many thousands of years as they had hairs upon their heads, they might hope for an end of their punishment, they would sustain it with far greater ease; but because they neither have nor will have any hope, they will fall into despair, and will have no strength to support their torments. Hence S. Cyprian (Lib. de Laud. Martyr. cap. 5), “Paradise flourishes by the witness of God; hell embraces, the eternal fire consumes those who deny it. It is a dreadful place whose name is hell, with a great murmuring and groaning of those that wail, and with flames bursting out through the horrible night of thick darkness.”
From what has been said, we may consider and imagine how bitter and how sad must be the future everlasting separation between the lost and the saved,—when the one shall ascend up into Heaven to everlasting, happiness, and the others shall go down into hell to everlasting fire. Never again, to all eternity, shall they behold the Saints—not even their friends, their brothers, or their parents. For there is a great gulf fixed between the two, as Abraham said to the rich glutton. Thou, therefore, who art wise, ascend daily into Heaven, and descend into hell, that from thence thou mayest gain incentives to flee from vice and pursue virtue. Truly does S. Chrysostom say (Hom. 2 in Epist. 2 ad Thessal.), “No one who has hell before his eyes will ever fall into hell. No one who despises hell will escape it.” We may say with S. Diethelmus, in Ven. Bede’s History of the English, “I have seen worse and more dreadful things in hell.” By this means we shall bravely sustain and overcome all temptations, persecutions, infirmities, and tribulations through fear of the judgment and of hell.
Life eternal. By these words is meant the receiving of all health, all strength, all honour, all glory, all pleasure, all joy, and everything that is good. For these are the things which those enjoy who truly live; for to live in hunger, thirst, disease, ignominy, pain, is not so much to live as to die continually.
1 Gratum facientis. But for a criticism in the Tablet, I should have thought it unnecessary to observe that, in translating gratum by grateful, I use the word in the classical and theological sense. (Back to the place).
2 This would seem to be a mistake for two. (Back to the place).