3 Who are blessed. 14 The Apostles are a Light to the World. 21 The Law expounded.
ND seeing the multitudes he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
Douay Rheims Version
Christ's sermon upon the mount. The eight beatitudes.
ND seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain, and when he was set down, his disciples came unto him.
12. Be glad and rejoice for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you.
13. You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing anymore but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men.
14. You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid.
15. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house.
16. So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
17. Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
18. For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled.
19. He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But he that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20. For I tell you, that unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
21. You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill. And whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment.
22. But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
46. For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? do not even the publicans this?
47. And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? do not also the heathens this?
Went up into a mountain. Let us inquire what mountain this was? “Some simple brethren,” says S. Jerome, “think that Christ taught the Beatitudes, and the things which follow, on the mount of Olives. But that was not so.” For from what precedes and follows in the Gospel the place must have been in Galilee; in our opinion Tabor, or a similarly lofty mountain. Geographies of the Holy Land, such as Brochard’s Itinerary, say that this mountain is called “Mons Christi,” because Christ was wont to pray and preach upon it. It lies westward of Capernaum, three miles distant; it is not far from the Sea of Galilee, and is close to the city of Bethsaida. Its height is so great that from it may be seen the land of Zebulon and Naphthali, Trachonitis, Ituræa, Shenir, Hermon, and Libanus. It is carpeted with grass and flowers. Here Christ spent whole nights in prayer. Here He called to Him His disciples, and chose twelve of their number whom He ordained and called apostles. Here He taught that compendium of the new law which is called the Sermon on the Mount. Adrichomius says the stone on which Christ sat to preach may still be seen.
Observe, Matthew wished to commence with the preaching of Christ, and to deliver the sum of it at the beginning of his Gospel, which he did by giving an account of this discourse, although it was actually preached some considerable time after. For many events preceded it, which he relates subsequently. The sequence of the history was as follows:—After Christ had restored the hand of a certain man which was withered, on the Sabbath day (Matt. xii. 15), He fled from the anger of the Scribes, and betook Himself to the Sea of Galilee. Here a vast multitude of people flocked to Him, and after He had healed many who were sick, He went up into a mountain, where He remained the whole night in prayer. In the morning He appointed the twelve Apostles (Luke vi. 12). When He had done this He came down from the top of the mountain to a lower level, and there He delivered the sermon which follows, partly to His disciples and partly to the whole multitude. That the people were present at it is plain from chap. vii. 28. Moreover, that this is the same sermon of which S. Luke gives an account in his sixth chapter is clear, because the general thread of each is the same, and because they have the same commencement and the same conclusion. For although Matthew has eight Beatitudes and Luke only four, yet in the eight of the former are comprised the four of the latter; and in S. Luke’s four S. Matthew’s eight are contained.
Moreover, Matthew puts off the vocation of the Apostles, which preceded the sermon, to the tenth chapter; for not as yet has he related his own calling by Christ, which he gives in chap. ix. But it is certain that Matthew as well as the other Apostles was present at the sermon. This sermon was delivered about the middle of May, and the choosing of the Apostles had taken place on the morning of the same day, in Christ’s thirty-second year, and the second year of His ministry.
And opening his mouth. To open the mouth is the Hebrew idiom for to speak. But there is an emphasis in the expression in this place. It means that Christ opened out sublime things—things great and wonderful, and Divine mysteries—concerning which He had hitherto kept silence. So S. Hilary. S. Bernard says, “He opened now His mouth, who afore had opened the mouths of the prophets. Truly was His mouth opened, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
Blessed are the poor in spirit. Christ commences His discourse with a Beatitude which all seek and covet, though but few find; as David also begins his Book of Psalms, “Blessed is the man,” &c.
Blessed, I say, are the poor in spirit, in hope, not as yet of right; blessed are they in the blessedness of the way, not of the country; blessed in the beginning of peace, of virtue, not in the consummation of the crown of glory. Beatitude, says Nyssen, is the special endowment of God; when therefore Christ makes blessed the poor in spirit, He makes them partakers of divinity.
Our Lord alludes here to the words of Moses (Deut. xxxiii. 29), “Blessed art thou, 0 Israel, what people is like unto thee, who art saved by the Lord?” For the poor in spirit are Israel, the elect people who place their hope, their riches, their salvation and happiness in the Lord. For because they despise the riches of earth, and are lords over them, therefore are they Israel, lords with God and in heaven. Moreover, Isidore (lib. 10, Orig. Litera B.) says, “Blessed means increased. He is said to be blessed who has what he desires, and does not suffer what he would not. He then is truly blessed who has all good things for which he wishes, and who does not wish for anything which is evil.” So also Varro (lib. 4, de ling. Lat.), “He is said to be blessed who possesses many good things, as dives, ‘rich,’ comes from divus, ‘a god,’ as one who, like God, wants for nothing.” And what are the real goods Christ here shows—poverty of spirit, meekness, holy grief, &c.; for they who have these things are blessed, and therefore they always rejoice. Whence Aristotle derives the Greek wordμακάριος, happy, or blessed, from χαίρειν, to rejoice, because he who is blessed is always rejoicing.
These eight Beatitudes are, as it were, the eight paradoxes of the world. For the world and philosophers place blessedness in wealth, not in poverty, in loftiness, not in humility, &c. Whence S. Ambrose says, “According to the Divine judgment blessedness begins where man deems misery to begin.” Says S. Bernard, “The Truth speaks, which can neither deceive nor be deceived. It is the Truth which says, blessed are the poor in spirit. Are ye so senseless, 0 ye sons of Adam, as so greatly to seek for riches and desire riches, when the Beatitude of the poor has been commended and preached to the world by the mouth of God? Let the heathen, who live without God, seek for riches; let the Jews, who believe in earthly promises, seek them; but with what face can a Christian seek them, after Christ has preached, Blessed are the poor?” Gregory Nazianzen too says, “The riches of monks are in their poverty, their possessions in pilgrimage, their glory in contempt, their strength in weakness, their fruitfulness in celibacy; who have nothing in the world, and who live above the world; who, in the flesh, live out of the flesh; who have the Lord for their portion; who, on account of the kingdom, labour in poverty, and, on account of poverty, are kings.” When Simeon Stylites was a keeper of sheep, he heard these Beatitudes of Christ read in church, and straightway he left his sheep and entered a monastery. By-and-by he ascended a pillar, and stood upon it, day and night, eating little, and becoming a wonder to the world, that he might attain to these Beatitudes. The same Simeon was wont to preach twice a day to the crowds who flocked to his pillar, saying only these words—“Despise earthly things; love and desire only heavenly things, which alone will make you blessed.” So Theodoret, an eye and ear-witness, testifies in his Life of S. Simeon.
Blessed are the poor. Not all poor; not those who are poor by a pitiable necessity against their will; not they who are poor from vain glory, or from a desire to be at liberty for the pursuit of philosophy, like Diogenes, or that Crates of Thebes, who, as S. Jerome says, threw a vast weight of gold into the sea, saying, “Begone, wicked pleasures, I sink you, that I may not be made to sink by you.” But it is the poor in spirit who are blessed, who have a will inspired by the Holy Ghost, tending to spiritual goods. It is poverty voluntarily undertaken for the sake of God and the kingdom of heaven.
Note, there are three sorts of poor. 1. Those who are so actually, as beggars. 2. In spirit, but not actually, as Abraham, who was rich in fact, poor in spirit. 3. Both in fact and in spirit, as the religious, who vow poverty from love and affection for it, and who divest themselves of all their worldly goods. “Do you wish to know,” says Nyssen (lib. de Beatitud.), “who is poor in spirit? It is he who exchanges corporeal opulence for the riches of the soul, who is poor for the sake of the spirit, who has thrown off earthly riches like a heavy load, and who would be borne aloft through the air to be with God. If, then, it behoves us to advance to the things above, we must needs be poor and needy in the things which drag us down, that we may become conversant with things supernal.”
The word spirit signifies three things:—1. It is opposed to the flesh, and signifies that the subject of this poverty is not the body, but the spirit—that is to say, the will. In this sense spirit is often used in Scripture. As S. Paul (Rom. i. 9), “God is my witness, whom I serve in the spirit.” And Christ says (S. John iv.), “God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth”—meaning, that God must be worshipped, not with outward ceremonies, but with the inward spirit, and with devotion of the mind, according to the saying of Cato—
“If God be Mind, as poets tell,
Then with the mind we worship well.”
So also S. Bernard says, “The poor in spirit—i.e., with the will of the spirit, with spiritual intention and spiritual desire, for the alone sake of pleasing God, and the salvation of souls. And Christ uses this expression, in spirit, because of those who are poor by a miserable necessity, not by a laudable will.”
2. It is what S. Augustine says, “A rich man, who is able to despise in himself whatsoever there is in him by which pride can be puffed up, is God’s poor man.” And S. Jerome says, “The poor in spirit are they who are voluntarily poor because of the Holy Spirit.”
3. In spirit signifies the end of this poverty—namely, that the contempt of wealth be referred to the spirit, that, being freed from earthly things, we may the better reach forward to heavenly things.
The root and foundation of blessedness and evangelical perfection are voluntary poverty and humility, just as the root of all sin is pride and covetousness.
Admirably says S. Cyprian (Tract. de Nativ. Christi), “The poor are elected, the proud neglected. Neither haughtiness nor any such thing obtains a place of discipleship near to Christ. Christ, the poor man, despises rich disciples. A poor mother, a poor son, a poor hospice, give plain evidence to those who are exercised in the school of Christ’s Church.”
Lastly, S. Bernard (Serm. 1 de Omn. Sanc.): “Consider how prudently Wisdom hath ordained, appointing the first remedy against the first sin, as though she said plainly, ‘Wilt thou obtain heaven which the proud angel lost, he who trusted in his strength and in the multitude of his riches? embrace the lowliness of poverty, and it shall be thine.’”
Anagogically. Francis of Sales, lately Bishop of Geneva, a man equally wise, pious, and holy, says (lib. 12 Theot., c. 2), “The poor, or beggars in spirit are those who beg—i.e., who have an insatiable hunger and thirst for the Spirit—that is, for increase of love and zeal for God, that He may ever grow and burn in them with constant increase.”
Hence I have heard the passage expounded thus: Blessed are the poor in spirit—i.e., blessed are they who are towards God as beggars to the rich, namely those who with as great humility of spirit confess their poverty, and with as much earnestness beg for grace from God, as beggars ask an alms from the rich. Whence S. Chrysostom says, beggars teach us how to pray and ask help of God. By showing their wounds and afflicted limbs they excite compassion.
With sound sense does our Lewis (de ponte, part 3, Medit. 2), give these three degrees of poverty of spirit, that is, of humility. The first is to put off and purify the mind from every blast and breath of vanity, and from all vain and inflated presumption, despising all the pomps of the world. The second, that I should divest myself of all desire to call things my own, by entirely unclothing myself of my own opinions, my own will and other desires. The third and last act of poverty is so to empty myself, make myself so poor that I have nothing at all of my own, but only what God freely gives me. For I have not even so much as to be, my own, but it is of God, without whom I am not. Of myself, therefore, I have nothing else than the nothingness of nature—i.e., not to be, and the negation of grace—i.e., sin.
1. You will inquire whether this poverty of spirit be a precept, or an evangelical counsel? And, 2. How many degrees and kinds of it there are? I answer, it has various degrees, some of counsel, some of precept. The first and highest is to forsake all riches, all transitory things for the sake of the love and imitation of Christ, with inward purpose as well as outward deed, like the Apostles and religious. This degree is of counsel, not of precept. The second is to bear patiently the confiscation of goods for the sake of Christ and the orthodox faith, which is a kind of martyrdom; for he who takes away the means necessary for the support of life, takes away life itself. This is what many rich and nobly born Catholics are suffering this day in England, who would prefer death to the spoiling of their goods. For it is a hard thing indeed to deprive not only yourself but your children and all your posterity of their hereditary possessions, and the rank and position of their ancestors, and reduce all to poverty and obscurity. But all the more honour to them who do it for Christ’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Such, too, were the Hebrew Christians whom the Apostle praises, “Ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing that ye have a better and an enduring substance.” (Heb. x. 34.)
This degree is of precept, for we are bound for the sake of Christ and the Faith, not only to lose our goods, but to shed our blood.
The third grade of poverty is to bear patiently the spoiling of our goods, or any injustice done to us by those who are powerful, and tyrants, as when any one loses a just suit on behalf of an estate, or other things, because of the power or tyranny of his opponents.
The fourth is when wealth is given to any one by God, not to care for it, to give it up in intention, to be prepared to forsake it if that should be for the greater glory of God. In this grade was Abraham, rich in respect of actual possessions, but poor in spirit.
5. To prefer to be contented with a little in a station where you have greater opportunities of serving God, than one where you can have more wealth but less godliness.
6. To have wealth, but to spend it upon the poor, and pious objects, even to depriving yourself of necessaries.
7. To prefer to be poor rather than acquire riches by means of injustice, irreligion, or any other wickedness. Such was Tobit, who, when he was dying, left this testimony to his son: “Fear not, my son; we are poor it is true, but we shall have great riches if we fear God.” Of these grades of poverty, the second and seventh are of precept; the first, the fourth, and the fifth of counsel; the third and the sixth of counsel, or of precept, according to circumstances.
You will ask, secondly, why Christ assigns to poverty of spirit the first place among the evangelical Beatitudes? I answer, the first reason is à priori, because this poverty overturns and destroys covetousness, which is the root and well-spring of all evil. (1 Tim. vi. 10.) Wherefore this poverty restores man, as it were, to the state of innocence, in which nothing was his own, but all things were common to all. For the whole world was Adam’s and his children’s, that from it they might acknowledge, love, and praise God, there being no assertion of property, which is the root of cupidity, quarrels and law-suits. “With the poor, therefore,” says S. Gregory, “what the superfluity of very slight pravity defiles, the furnace of poverty purifies.”
The second reason is, because this poverty releases men from a thousand distractions and anxious cares which riches, and the desire of riches, bring with them. Wherefore, “poverty is a tranquil harbour,” says S. Chrysostom; “it is the training ground, the gymnasium of wisdom.” Here comes in that reason of S. Gregory’s (Hom. 32 in Evang.) that “naked with the naked (demons) we must wrestle; for if one who is clothed wrestle with one who is naked, he will soon be cast down to the ground, because he has that by which he may be laid hold of. For what are all earthly things but bodily habiliments, as it were? Let him, therefore, who is about to contend with the devil cast off his garments lest he be worsted. Let him possess nothing in this world by desire; let him require no delectations of fleeting things, lest, where his desires keep him, there he be held until he fall.”
Third. Because this poverty causes a man to withdraw himself from all created things, and makes him rest entirely with all his hopes in God his Creator. In the full and perfect love of God, the summit of virtue and the true blessedness of this life consist.
Wherefore, S. Bonaventura writes, in his Life of S. Francis, that when he was often asked by his brethren which was the virtue which especially commends us to Christ our Lord, and makes us pleasing to Him, he was wont to reply with more than his usual energy, “Poverty, for it is the way of salvation, the incentive to humility, the root of perfection; and from it there spring many fruits, though they be hidden and known to but few.”
These are the causes why Christ taught us this poverty of spirit both by word and example. Thus did the Blessed Virgin, the Apostles, the Essenes, yea all the first Christians, of whom it was said (Acts iv. 32), “Neither said any of them that ought which he possessed was his own, but they had all things common.” Indeed, they vowed this; wherefore Ananias and Sapphira, who broke this vow, were punished by the Apostle Peter with sudden death.
There followed in holy poverty apostolic men and prelates, SS. Anthony, Augustine, Basil, Chrysostom, Jerome, and S. Alexius, who, by an example uncommon in the world, relinquished ample riches, a bride, and poor and a stranger followed Christ, a poor man, to Syria—as it were, a pilgrim upon earth and a citizen of heaven; and at last lived and died unrecognized in his father’s house, being made a laughing-stock to the world, or rather sporting with the world, and making it a laughing-stock. In a later age S. Benedict, S. Bernard, but above all S. Francis, embraced poverty, and taught their disciples to embrace it. S. Francis made it the foundation of his Order. In all his discourses he spoke of it now as his mother, now as his wife, his lady; often, too, he called it his queen, because it had shone with such glorious refulgence in Christ the King of kings, and in His Mother. Hear what he solemnly enjoins upon his friars in his Rule, c. 6: “Let the brothers appropriate nothing to themselves, neither house, nor place, nor anything; but as pilgrims and strangers in this world, serving the Lord in poverty and humility, let them ask boldly for alms. Neither need they be ashamed, for the Lord made Himself poor for us in this world. This is that sublimity of the deepest poverty which constitutes you, my dearest brethren, heirs and kings of the kingdom of heaven. Let this be your portion, which leads you to the land of the living. And, my dearly beloved brethren, cleaving wholly to this, wish, for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to have nothing else for ever under heaven.”
The same S. Francis, exulting in destitution, prayed for it with such fervour that fire seemed to shine from his face. “For this,” said he, “is the virtue flowing into us from heaven, which so orders and informs us that we gladly trample upon all earthly things, and which removes every obstacle so that the mind of man may be most freely and speedily united to the Lord God. It is poverty which makes a man’s soul, while it is yet upon earth, hold converse with the angels in heaven. It is this which has fellowship with Christ on His Gross, which is buried with Him in His tomb, which with Him rises again and ascends into heaven. It is this which grants to the souls which love it the power, even in this life, of flying above the heavens, and bestows pinions of humility and charity. Let us go forward, then, to ask the holy Apostles that they will obtain this grace for us from the Lord Jesus Christ, that He, the chief cultivator of poverty, would deign to bestow it upon us.”
And as S. Francis lived, so he died, for, divesting himself of his outer garments, he lay upon the earth, saying, “I have done with what is mine, what is yours; may Christ instruct you.” Then a brother, who stood by, foreseeing by a divine instinct his death and zeal for poverty, offered him his cord with femorals, and said, “These I lend thee, as a beggar, and do thou receive them by the mandate of holy obedience.” With joy did the holy man take them, and, lifting up his hands to heaven, gave thanks to Christ, because, having put off every burden, he was going free to Him, and because, as in life, so in death, he was conformed to Christ crucified, who hung naked upon the Cross.
For theirs, &c.—It is just and congruous that those who for the love of Christ despise the riches of the earthly kingdom should be recompensed with the wealth of the heavenly kingdom, yea indeed, of an earthly kingdom, which by despising they possess and rule, according to the saying of S. Paul, “Having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” Wherefore Climacus (Gradu 17) does not hesitate to affirm that a poor monk is the lord of the world, and through faith possesses all nations as his servants. And he adds that a poor servant of God loves nothing wrongly, for all things which he has, or can have, he reckons as though they were not, and if it chance that they depart, he counts them as dung. Hear S. Bernard (Serm. 21 in Cant.): “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Let not men suppose that they possess only heavenly things, because they hear them only named in the promise. They possess earthly things likewise, and indeed as though having nothing and yet possessing all things, the less they desire the more are they masters.
Lastly, to a believer there is a whole world of riches. A whole world, indeed, because both prosperous and adverse things are equally his servants, and work together for his good. And so, a covetous man hungers after earthly things like a beggar, the believer despises them as a master. The one by possessing loses, the other by despising keeps. S. Chrysostom gives the reason (Hom. 57, ad pop.): “God is the poor man’s steward.” And S. Francis lays it down in his Rule thus: —“This evangelical poverty is the foundation of our Order. On this the whole superstruction of our Order primarily rests, that by its abiding firm, the Order may be firm; and if it be overturned the Order will be entirely overthrown. In so far therefore as the friars shall decline from poverty, the world shall decline from them. If they embrace my Lady Poverty, the world will feed them, because they are sent for the salvation of the world. There is a bargain between the world and the friars. They owe the world a good example: the world owes them necessary provision. And when becoming false to their trust, they fail to set a good example, the world, as a just censure, will draw back its hand.” And indeed it is as good as a great and perpetual miracle to see so many religious men and women of the Order of S. Francis—for in the whole world they number quite a million—who have made profession of poverty, who live honestly and suitably on the alms of the faithful. Truly in this does the Providence of God over His own poor shine gloriously. Here is fulfilled that saying of the Psalmist which S. Francis gave to his brothers as their viaticum in daily life—“Cast thy care upon the Lord, and He will nourish thou.” And “They that be rich, want and are hungry, but they that seek the Lord shall not be lacking in any good.”
Observe, Christ does not say the kingdom of heaven shall be given them, or shall be theirs, but theirs is the kingdom of heaven, in this present time. That is to say, “By my promise and God’s decree the kingdom of heaven pertains to them, they have a complete right to it, and so they are sure of entering into it, as sure as though they held it in their hands, and were already reigning in it as kings.” For so firm is the hope of the promises of God, that by it the faithful as it were hold in their hands the thing promised, according to Heb. xi. 1, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for,” faith, that is, which makes the celestial goods, for which he hopes, subsist in the mind of a believer. For in this way he realizes them to himself, as it were, substantially shows them to himself
The kingdom of heaven. The celestial blessedness is so called, where the blessed reign with God in all felicity and glory, through all eternity. The word kingdom here signifies, 1. The abundance of all good things in heaven. 2. The high dignity wherewith the blessed are honoured by the Holy Trinity and all angels. 3. Their regal dignity. For the blessed are kings, who reign not over one Spain, or one Asia, or even over all the earth, but over the whole universe; that is, over all the elements of the sky, over the plants and animals. This empire they have won by their poverty of spirit, wherewith they put under them all earthly goods and desires, where, wearing their golden crowns, they sing joyfully for ever to Christ. “Thou hast made us to our God a kingdom and priests, and we shall reign upon the earth.” (Rev. v. 10, Vulg.) The kingdom of heaven then is the kingdom of God, for the blessed possess the same kingdom which God himself possesses, and in it most happily and most gloriously reign with him eternally.
Blessed are the meek. This is the second Beatitude in the Latin Vulgate followed by SS. Jerome and Augustine, and the rest of the Latin Fathers. But in the Greek Codices, in the Syriac and Arabic versions, followed by S. Chrysostom and the other Greek Fathers it is the third Beatitude, the second with them being, Blessed are they that mourn.
Congruously to the poor in spirit the meek are joined because the poor and lowly are wont to be meek, as vice versâ the rich are proud and often impatient and quarrelsome. Poverty and meekness are neighbours, and related virtues. Whence the Hebrew words עני ani, “poor,” ענ anan, “meek,” are kindred words. Chromatius adds, “A man cannot be meek unless he be first poor in spirit.” He gives the reason, “There cannot be a calm sea unless the winds are stilled. A fire is not put out unless you withdraw the materials by which it burns. So too the mind will not be meek and quiet unless the things which excite and inflame it be put away.” The meek are they who are gentle, humble, modest, simple in faith, patient under all injury, who set themselves to follow the precepts of the gospel and the example of the saints. Christ here alludes to Ps. xxxvii. 11, “The meek-spirited shall possess the earth, and shall be refreshed with the multitude of peace.” Meekness, therefore, 1. Makes us pleasing to God and men. 2. Like Christ, who says, “Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.” 3. Apt for wisdom and gaining celestial goods. For these the meek heart is fitted to receive, according to what the Psalm says, “Them that are meek shall he guide in judgment, and such as are gentle them shall he learn his way.”
The grades of meekness and the Beatitude consequent upon it are these: 1. To converse with all with a meek heart and lips. 2. To break the anger of others by a meek reply. 3. To bear with gentleness all injuries and wrongs. 4. To rejoice in such things. 5. By our meekness and kindness to overcome the malevolence of our enemies and those who are angry with us, and win them to be our friends.
For they shall possess, &c. Gr.κληρονομήσουσι, i.e., shall possess by inheritance. S. Augustine and the Arabic have shall inherit. The Syriac, shall possess the earth by the right of inheritance. Appositely does Christ promise the earth to the meek, because the meek are often despoiled by the quarrelsome of the goods of the earth. This injury therefore Christ makes up to them by this Beatitude. But what earth does He mean?
1. S. Chrysostom, Euthymius, Theophylact, and S. Augustine, say that the present earth is here promised to the meek, in this way. The world calls blessed those who are strong and who avenge themselves; but I say, Blessed are the meek, and they who bear with patience the good things of this world being torn from them, because although such persons are often oppressed by the world, yet they do often also, by the gift of God, possess their own, firmly and quietly. Or if not, yet the whole world is the meek man’s country. There is an allusion to Moses who was the meekest of men, and who by his meekness obtained for the Hebrews from God the possession of the promised land. This sense is true, but neither full nor adequate. It often fails. We often see the meek deprived of their possessions by the quarrelsome. We may add that Moses promised earthly goods to the Jews, but Christ promised heavenly things to Christians.
Better and fuller with S. Jerome (in loc.), Nyssen. (lib. De Beat., Orat. 2), S. Basil (on Psalm xiv.), Cyril (in cap. 58. Isaiah), by earth in this place, understand heaven, which is the land of the living, as this our earth is the land of the dying, as it is said in Psalm xxvii. “I believed verily to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” And Psalm cxlii., “Thou art my hope and my portion in the land of the living.”
For in heaven, indeed, is a land not dense, opaque, and earthy, but pure and lustrous. There is the Paradise of roses and lilies, of gems and all delights which refresh the senses of the blessed, for were it not so, the bodies and senses of the blessed, which in this life suffered such dire and awful martyrdoms, would go without their own deserts of pleasure, and only their minds and souls be blessed, which is absurd. Whence S. John beheld, (in Rev. xxi. and xxii.) a heavenly city which was foursquare, whose foundations were laid with jasper and every precious stone. Hence also the Pythagoreans, as Clement of Alexandria tells us (lib. 5 Stromat.), speak of heaven asα̉ντίχθονα, i.e., the land over against, or opposed to our earth. I say nothing of those philosophers who think that the moon and the stars are inhabited, that there are in the moon populous cities and vast regions inhabited by men called Lunares, from Luna, as Macrobius says, lib. 1 in Somn. Scipionis. See also what Plato says, in Convivio.
By every one of the Beatitudes the kingdom of heaven is promised, but under various names and titles.
And yet again, by earth in this place we may understand the new earth, which is spoken of (Isa. lxv. 17; Rev. xxi. 1, 2; and 2 Pet. iii. 13) as that globe of the world which is to be subjected to Christ after the general judgment, as His inheritance, and therefore to the meek as His fellow heirs. For after the judgment, the whole universe—that is, both the heavens and the earth-will be renewed and glorified, and made the possession of Christ and His saints.
A certain holy man, says Salmeron, once said, pleasantly, “Heaven is given to the humble, and earth to the meek; what remains to the proud and the cruel except the misery of hell?”
Anagogically, Hilary says, “To the meek is promised the inheritance of the earth—i.e., of that body which the Lord assumed as his habitation, because through the meekness of our minds Christ dwelleth in us, and we also, when we are glorified, shall be clothed with the glory of His body.” And S. Leo (Serm. in Fest. Omn. Sanct.) says, “The land promised to the meek, and to be given in possession to the gentle, is the flesh of the saints, which, as the desert of their humility, shall be changed at the blessed Resurrection, and endowed with the grace of immortality. For the meek shall possess that land in perfect peace, and nothing shall ever be diminished of their rights, when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality.”
Finally, the way of attaining to meekness is (1), often to meditate upon its dignity and profit, and upon the unworthiness and unprofitableness of anger. Whence Clement of Alexandria says, that Athenodorus gave this advice to the Emperor Augustus, that if he were angry he should never do or say anything until he had said over to himself the twenty-four letters of the alphabet. “If,” said he, “thou art of a lofty mind, a prince is superior to all injuries.” Augustus despised the tales of detractors, “For,” said be, “in a free State the tongue should be free.”
A better way is, to consider the example of those who are meek, and to follow them, but especially the example of Christ crucified, of whom Isaiah foretold (chap. liii.), “He shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb before its shearers, he shall make himself dumb.”
Blessed are they that mourn. Arabic, the sad, who mourn, not in flesh but in spirit. For the words, in spirit, are to be understood and repeated in all these Beatitudes. Blessed are they that mourn, not for the loss of wealth, or parents, or friends, but of spiritual things. Grief here is taken as belonging to the saints. It is opposed to those who laugh and overflow with joy on account of mundane prosperity, those whom the world applauds as blessed. To them Christ threatens woe. “Woe to you which laugh now, for ye shall mourn and weep.” There is an allusion to Isaiah lxv. 14, “Behold, my servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry; behold, my servants shall drink, but ye shall be thirsty; behold, my servants shall rejoice, but ye shall be ashamed,” &c.
This grief too has its own degrees, like the rest of the Beatitudes. They are here called blessed mourners, who bear with patience the troubles and sorrows sent, or permitted to come upon them by God. So Nyssen, de Beatitud. But more blessed are they who mourn and weep on account of their own or others’ sins. And most blessed are they who through grief at the perpetual struggle which they carry on with the flesh and concupiscence, and through desire of the celestial country, and especially through love of God and Christ, lament their exile in this earthly land. Thus Paul mourned, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” In this grief S. Ephraim excelled, who mourns in all his writings, and inspires his readers with holy grief and compunction. S. Macarius, as his Life records, was wont to say to his brethren, “Let us weep, brothers, let our eyes run down with tears before we go where our tears shall burn our flesh.” And they all wept. For tears wash us in this world but burn us after death.
For they shall be comforted. Often in this life, but always in the life to come. As Isaiah says (xxxv. 10), “Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Truly does compunction itself wonderfully solace and refresh the mind of him who is pricked with compunction. And if there be unadulterated joy in the world, it is in the contrite mind. Taste, and thou shalt see, for as the heart knoweth his own bitterness, so there is a joy with which a stranger intermeddleth not. So S. Jerome describing the departure of S. Paula, exclaims, “0 blessed exchange! She wept to laugh always: she beheld pools of contrition that she might find the Lord her fountain: she was clothed in sackcloth that now she might wear white robes, and say, ‘Thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness.’ She ate ashes as it were bread, and mingled her drink with weeping, saying, ‘My tears have been my meat day and night,’ that now she might feed for ever on angels’ bread, and sing, ‘O taste and see how sweet the Lord is.’”
Blessed are they that hunger, &c. The meaning both here and in S. Luke, who omits a after righteousness, is the same. Blessed are they who hunger after food and drink, in a spiritual sense, i.e., not from any bodily necessity, but with a spiritual end and intention. They hunger and thirst after righteousness, because they wish by such hunger to increase righteousness in themselves and their neighbours. Maldonatus explains righteousness or justice (justitiam) to mean, on account of justice. Hence S. Luke (vi. 5) opposes these hungry ones to such that are full, sc. with wine and delicacies. Woe to you that are full, for ye shall hunger. The world calls blessed those that are full, but I, says Christ, call those who are hungry and thirsty with maceration of the flesh, so long as it is on account of their eagerness to obtain and augment righteousness, happy. So S. Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, Hilary, Nyssen, Euthymius, Theophilus, and others. Thus hunger, or famine, is to be understood not in a corporeal, but a spiritual sense (Amos viii. 11): “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will send a famine upon the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the word of the Lord.” Also Ecclus. xxiv. 29: “They that eat me (wisdom) shall yet be hungry, and they that drink me shall yet be thirsty.” To these words Christ here alludes.
The 1st degree of this Beatitude is to bear patiently hunger or thirst arising from public or private scarcity of food. The 2nd, to hunger and thirst in voluntary fasting, that by your fasting, you may make satisfaction for your sins, and gain the grace of God for yourselves and your neighbours. The 3rd is, for the faith of Christ to endure prisons, and in them hunger and thirst, even unto death, as befell some of the martyrs. The 4th, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, and the increase of all virtue. Whence S. Leo says, “To love God is nothing else than to love righteousness.”
Righteousness. 1. Righteousness or justice may here be taken for that special virtue which gives to every one their right. As if it were said, “Blessed are they who hunger for justice, who eagerly desire that justice which once fled from the world, according to that verse of Ovid,
“Last, the lands, all wet with slaughter,
Left Astræa, Heaven’s own daughter,”
that she may return again to earth, and rule over the whole world, and defend the right. Such are they who, oppressed by tyrants, or unjust men, desire that their rights may be restored. Such are they who see widows and orphans oppressed, and have an ardent longing to see them rescued from injustice, and their oppressors punished. For as Aristotle (Ethics) says, “Neither the evening star, nor the sun shines as brightly as justice.” And as Cicero says (lib. 2 de Offic.), “So great is the force of justice, that not even those who feed on evil-doing and wickedness can live in them without some particle of justice.”
2. And more fully, take righteousness here to mean a generic term for virtue, yea, the circle of all virtues, because, for it we ought not only to wish, but vehemently to hunger after and covet it, that we may fill our soul with virtues.
Hear what S. Bernard says (Epist. 253 ad Garinum), explaining the insatiable desire of profiting in the righteous. “The just man never deems that he has apprehended, never says it is enough, but is always hungering and thirsting after righteousness; so that if he lived always, he would be always striving, as far as in him lies, to be more just, always endeavouring with all his might to go on from good to better, not merely for a year or some set time, like a hireling, but for ever he would surrender himself to the Divine service. Therefore unwearied zeal in making progress, and constant striving after perfection, is counted perfection.” And then he concludes with a reference to Jacob’s ladder.
“Jacob beheld a ladder, and on the ladder angels, but none of them resting or standing still; but all were either ascending or else descending; whereby is given plainly to understand that in the state of this mortal life there can no middle course be found between going forward and going back. For just as our body is perpetually either increasing or decreasing, so also must the soul be either making progress or else going backward.”
Well says S. Augustine, “The whole life of a good Christian is holy desire.”
For they shall, &c. “God will give here a constant increase of His grace to those who hunger after it.” “And in heaven,” says S. Bernard, “eternal hunger shall be recompensed with eternal refection.”
Blessed are the merciful. Mercy is joined to justice because every work of virtue is either of debt, which is justice, or else of free gift, which is mercy, and because mercy tempers and sweetens justice. Worldlings count those blessed who give little and receive much: but Christ pronounces a paradox, which yet is most true, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts xx. 35), where I have gone fully into the reasons of this Beatitude, especially this one, “for they shall obtain mercy.”
The same celestial Beatitude which Christ promised to the poor in spirit, under the name of the kingdom of heaven, He here promises to the merciful by the name of mercy, because, as the Apostle says (Rom. vi. 23), “life eternal is of grace,” both because God promises it freely to those who do well and give alms, as because grace is the beginning of good works and merit. For grace prevents and stirs us up to good works, and gives them a divine worthiness and power of meriting. “Life eternal,” says S. Augustine (de Corrept. et Gratiâ, c. 13), “is grace for grace—that is, grace for the merits which grace has conferred,” according to that in Ps. ciii., “Who crowneth thee with mercy and compassions” (Vulg.). Whence the Syriac renders, Blessed are the merciful, for mercies shall be upon them. As though He said, To the merciful shall be recompensed, not one but many mercies. God, therefore, bestows upon the merciful life and everlasting glory, which is the highest grace, and is here signified by the name of mercy; for, as S. Augustine says (Epist. 105), “When God crowns our merits, He does nothing else than crown His own gifts.”
The degrees of mercy are: 1. To sympathize with the wretched. 2. To alleviate corporeal misery by alms. 3. To bring succour to the ignorance of the mind, or to those who are burdened with sin. 4. To seek out the wretched, that we may help them. 5. To deprive yourself of advantages in order to succour them. 6. To spend all you are and all you have, even life itself, for them, as Christ, S. Paul, and S. Paulinus did.
Symbolically. Merey—i.e., the vision and possession of God, and God Himself, is promised. For the nature of God is nothing else than mercy, according to the words of the fifty-ninth Psalm, “My God my mercy.” (Vulg.) Give therefore to the poor, and you receive God. For alms is not so much mercy as a vast interest and usury with God. Whence the saying: “If you wish to be a usurer lend to God.” As it is in Proverbs, “He that giveth unto the poor lendeth unto the Lord, and what he layeth out it shall be paid him again.” As S. Chrysologus says (Serm. 42), “God eateth the bread in heaven which the poor man hath received on earth. Give, then, your bread, give your drink, if you would have God for your debtor instead of your judge.” Powerfully writes S. Augustine (on Ps. xxxvii.), “Consider what the usurer does: he wishes to give little and gain much. Do thou the same. Give small things, receive great. Behold how wonderfully your interest grows. Give temporal things, receive eternal. Give earth, receive heaven.” Lastly, S. Chrysostom (Hom. 32 in Epist. ad Heb.) says, “Almsgiving is a virgin who hath golden wings, and is seen of all. She hath a beautiful girdle. Her face is gentle and comely. Her carriage is graceful, and she always stands before the throne of the King. When we are judged, straightway she comes to our aid, and delivers us from punishment, overshadowing us with her wings. God Himself loves her better than innumerable sacrifices.”
Blessed are the pure in heart. 1. A pure heart means a chaste mind, free from all lust and carnal concupiscence. As though He said, Blessed, not those who have a clear intellect, as philosophers, nor yet those who have clean and fashionable clothes, which many cannot have, but who have a pure and chaste mind which all can have. So. S. Chrysostom.
2. And more fully: Blessed are those who have a pure conscience—those, namely, who have cleansed it from every stain of sin, from evil thoughts and desires, from passions and perturbations, from all evil intention, and especially from all duplicity and hypocrisy. Thus if a fountain be pure and unmuddy, so will the waters which flow from it be pure and unmuddy likewise; and if the heart be pure, the actions which spring from it will be pure and clean. So S. Jerome.
3. And most fully: They are in the highest grade of purity of heart, who have cleansed their hearts from all creature love, that their hearts may be like that of an angel—a pure mirror—and shrine of the Deity.
Cassian (lib. 6 de Instit. Renunc., c. 10) gives it as a mark of perfect purity of heart when any one has no impure dreams, but all his visions are pure and holy. Moreover, Cassian and Sulpitius, (lib. 4 Vit. Pat., c. 31) describe the ladder by which we may mount by degrees to this purity. “The beginning of our salvation is the fear of the Lord. Of the fear of the Lord is born wholesome compunction. From compunction proceedeth contempt of possessions, and divesting ourselves of them. From this divesting proceeds humility. Of humility is generated mortification of the will. By mortification of the will all vices are rooted out. When vices are expelled, virtues fructify and increase. By the growth of virtues purity of heart is gained. By purity of heart the perfection of apostolic charity is possessed.”
Wherefore S. Anthony, according to S. Athanasius, teaches that purity of heart is the way to prophecy. “If any one would be in a position,” he says, “to know future events, let him have a clean heart, for I believe that the soul which serves God, if it shall persevere in that wholeness in which it has been born again, is able to know more than the demons. Such was the soul of Eliseus, who was wont to perform miracles unknown to others.”
For they shall see God—i.e., face to face, and shall be blessed with the vision of God. “Cleanness of heart, and purity of conscience,” says Chromatius, “will suffer no cloud to obscure the vision of God.” Hear S. Leo (Serm. in Fest. Omn. Sanct.): “Let all the mists of earthly vanities pass away, and let the interior eyes be cleansed from all squalor of iniquity, that the purified sight may feed only upon the vision of God.” Hence it is plain, as S. Augustine says, that God is seen by the blessed, not with the eyes, but with the heart—i.e., with the mind.
Lastly, this vision of God may be understood to mean the pure and affectionate knowledge which He often imparts in greater degree in this life to the pure in heart than to others. Let, then, every one say, with Herminius, “I had rather die than be defiled in heart.”
Blessed are the peacemakers. As though Christ said, The world calls blessed those who bravely wage war, and subdue their enemies, but I pronounce those to be blessed who reconcile those who quarrel and fight, and recall them to peace and union among themselves and with God. This, indeed, is a work arduous and difficult, but one most pleasing to God. So S. Chrysostom, &c. (See S. Gregory, 3 p. Pastor. Admonit. 24.)
The degrees of this Beatitude are—1. To have or procure inward peace of soul with God. 2. To cultivate peace with neighbours and friends. 3. To recall those who disagree to the concord of charity. The 4th grade is to make others like ourselves, by instilling into them a zeal for peace, that they too may study to make peace between those who disagree.
There might be a religious order or congregation instituted to promote this object, with great profit to the Church, in the same way that congregations have been instituted for the promotion of the other works of mercy—such as nursing the sick, showing hospitality to strangers, burying the dead, &c. Similarly, there might be founded a congregation of peacemakers, whose office it would be to quell all lawsuits in a city, and to bring back all who quarrelled to concord and charity. For this is an exemplary work of charity, in which one Father (Gaspar Barzaus, of Goa) so excelled, that the lawyers said they should die of hunger, in consequence of his putting an end to all the litigations by which they gained a living. (See his Life, written by Father Trigantius.) In fact, in some cities, such congregations of peacemakers have been founded, by which much harm arising from discords, strifes, hatreds, has been warded from the commonwealth.
For they shall be called, &c., i.e., they shall be sons of God. For God very greatly loveth peace, and for its sake He sent His Son into the world. For He Himself is in His essence peace and union: for God Himself unites and joins in closest union the Three Divine Persons in one and the same undivided Essence and Godhead. Hence God is called the God of peace (Philip. iv.); as, on the contrary, the devil is a god of contention, and they who sow it are sons of the devil.
2. Peacemakers are called the sons of God, because they share in the name and office of Christ the Son of God, whose office it is to reconcile men to God and one another, and to bring to the world that peace which the world cannot give. Whence His name is the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah ix. 6.)
3. Most properly and most fully, the peacemakers shall be called and shall be sons of God and heirs of God in celestial glory, which they shall inherit as the reward of their efforts to make peace. For in heaven all the Saints are, through the beatific glory, sons and heirs of God. “These are the peacemakers,” says S. Leo (Serm. in Fest. Omn Sanc); “these who are of one mind, who shall be called by an everlasting title sons of God, and co-heirs with Christ, for this shall be the reward which love of God and our neighbour shall win, that it shall feel no adversity, fear no scandal, but, all the contest of temptation being finished, it shall rest in the most tranquil peace of God.”
Blessed are the which are persecuted, &c. This is the eighth and chief Beatitude, subsisting in suffering and patience, whereas the others were placed in action. Whence S. Ambrose says, “He leads thee to the end. He brings you up to martyrdom, and there He fixes the palm of the Beatitudes.” For it is more difficult to suffer hard things than to do difficult things, according to the saying, “To act bravely is the part of a Roman, to suffer bravely is the part of a Christian.”
Acutely and subtilly does Nyssen (on the Beatitudes) trace out the etymology of persecution, which is a word used of those who run and follow, and strive to surpass those who are before them in a race. And so Nyssen meditates thus, that a holy man and tribulation, or persecution, as it were, are running together, but that when he does not give in to persecution, he, as the victor, runs in front, but persecution follows behind his back, and for that reason is called persecution; because, saith he, their enemies follow the righteous, but do not overtake them, for they are overcome by the patience and constancy of the righteous.
For righteousness’ sake. Because they are just, because they are Christians, because they follow after justice, because they keep the law of God, or the statutes of their Order, or defend the property and rights of the Church, and stand up for the rights of orphans, or because they are zealous for the reformation of the clergy or their monastery. For righteousness here has a wide signification, and embraces every kind of virtue, says S. Chrysostom.
Although, indeed, some philosophers seem to have suffered and been killed for the sake of righteousness, as Socrates was put to death because he said, “Many gods ought not to be worshipped but one God only;” yet where there is not true faith nor charity, there neither is true and perfect righteousness, says S Augustine.
1. Blessed, then, are they who suffer for righteousness’ sake, because persecution separates us from the world, and unites us to God. 2. Because we suffer it for the sake of God. 3. Because by this we become like Christ, who all His life long, unto the death of the Cross, was persecuted by the Jews. “Let us therefore go forth without the camp, bearing his reproach.” (Heb. xiii.) The Church has always increased in time of persecution, decreased in prosperity. So too with all the religious orders.
For this cause God sends, i.e., permits, persecution to come upon the faithful, clergy or religious, to cut down the vices which, like tares, spring up in a time of peace, and revive the primitive vigour of virtue. In this way, under the two Philips, Christian Emperors of Rome, the virtue of the faithful languished in peace, and Christians gave themselves up to gluttony, avarice, and pride. Then God sent the Emperors Decius and Valerian, who sharpened the virtue of believers by persecution. This was revealed to S. Cyprian, as he himself declares (lib. 4, Epist. 4), “Ye may know that this reproof was given by a vision, that we were sleeping in our prayers. This persecution is the trial and examination of our sins.” And (Serm. de Laps.), “A long peace had corrupted the discipline delivered unto us: heavenly correction has raised up prostrate and all but slumbering faith: there was no devoted religion among the clergy, no inward faith in their ministrations, no mercy in works, no discipline in morals,” &c. Eusebius gives the same reason for the persecution under Diocletian. (Hist. lib. 8, c. 1.)
Wherefore B. Francis Borgia, the third General of the Jesuits, was wont to say, there are three things which preserve the Society of Jesus: 1. The study of prayer. 2. The union of the members among themselves. 3. Persecution. And he gives the reasons. Prayer binds us closely to God; concord unites the brethren with one another; persecution separates us from the world, and compels us to act with prudence, that our persecutors may have no handle against us.
For theirs, &c. He begins the Beatitudes with the kingdom of heaven, and He ends them there. He assigns it to the first and last Beatitudes, that we may understand that it is implied in the intervening six. S. Ambrose, indeed, thinks that the heavenly kingdom is a promise to the poor in spirit quoad the soul, which presently migrates from death to heaven; but to those who suffer persecution, quoad the body, which shall be endowed with eternal glory in heaven after the Resurrection. Beautifully and accurately does S. Augustine (Ps. 94) make God speak thus, “I have something for sale.” “What, 0 Lord?” “The kingdom of heaven.” “How is it to be purchased?” “The kingdom by poverty, joy by sorrow, rest by labour, glory by vileness, life by death.”
Note, 1. That these eight Beatitudes are all connected among themselves. Nor, indeed, is any one blessed who has the first, unless he has the other seven likewise. That I may say all in a word, it is, Blessed are they who despise the good things of this world through poverty of spirit, and its honours through meekness, and its pleasures through mourning, who moreover follow hard after justice and mercy, and come to purity of heart; those also who labour to make others have peace with God and among themselves, and finally who, because of these and other works of righteousness, suffer persecution, for this is the apex of Christian perfection and blessedness.
Again, the first Beatitude disposes to and becomes a step to the second, the second to the third, and so on, as S. Ambrose, Leo, and others teach. For poverty of spirit or humility disposes to meekness, for the humble are meek; meekness disposes to mourning, for the meek soon perceive their own and others’ afflictions. Grief or compunction disposes to hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Thirsting after righteousness disposes to mercy, for he who desires to increase in righteousness and holiness does works of mercy. Mercy disposes to purity of heart, because almsdeeds quench sin as water does fire, and increase the charity which loves God alone with a pure heart. Purity of heart disposes us both to be at peace with ourselves, and to promote peace among others, since strifes and wars arise from a heart which is impure and full of covetousness. Lastly, those who promote peace and the other virtues spoken of, fall under the hatred of many who are depraved and covetous, and are persecuted by them, which persecution they nobly endure, and so perfect the crown of these eight Beatitudes, and crown themselves with it.
Observe, lastly, how S. Augustine (lib. 1 de Serm. Dom. in Mont.) beautifully compares the seven Beatitudes to the seven gifts of the Spirit. The fear of God is consonant to the humble, piety to the meek, wisdom to mourners, strength to the hungry and thirsty, counsel to the merciful, understanding to the pure in heart, wisdom to the peacemaker.
Blessed are ye when men shall revile (Gr.ο̉νειδίσωσι) you, &c. Because, i.e., ye follow My faith, My morals, My life. Falsely (Syr. in a lie), because, forsooth, they falsely accuse you as disturbers of the public, innovators, superstitious for making a God of a crucified man and worshipping Him. This, therefore, is the summit of beatitude, to suffer patiently and generously—yea, joyfully—all wrongs and injuries for the sake of Christ, for piety and virtue’s sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, &c. Rejoice in calumnies, in false accusations, in persecutions, for, 1. By them ye are blessed. 2. Because there awaits you an ample reward in heaven. 3. Because ye are like the prophets, such as Isaiah, who, on account of his prophecies, was sawn asunder by Manasseh with a saw; Jeremiah, who was stoned by the Jews to death; and the rest of the prophets, who were almost all put to death in one way or another. He animates His own disciples by the example of the prophets, because by sharing their lot in suffering persecution they were about to become sharers in their society and glory. By this Christ tacitly intimates that they succeeded to the place of the prophets, yea, were superior to them, because they were called to loftier things, to preach, not the Law, but the Gospel, not only to the Jews, but to the whole world. Wherefore He subjoins, Ye are the salt of the earth, &c.
Observe here, as against modern heretics, the word reward (Gr. μισθὸς, hire, wages, Lat. merces) from whence we collect the merit of good works. For the merit is merit of reward, and the reward is the reward of merit.
Listen to S. Cyprian (lib. 4, Epist. 6): “The Lord hath willed us to rejoice and exult in persecution, because when the persecutions are accomplished, then are given the crowns of faith, then the soldiers of God are approved, then the heavens are opened to the martyrs.”
Thus did S. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, exult, when sent to Rome. Bravely and with alacrity he entered the amphitheatre, and looking round upon the vast multitude of at least a hundred thousand people, he saluted them in a friendly manner, and said, “Do not think, 0 ye Romans, that I am here condemned to the wild beasts on account of any evil deed, for I have committed none, but because I desire to be united to Christ, for whom I insatiably thirst.” And when he heard the lions roaring he said, “I am the corn of Christ, let me be ground by the teeth of the beasts, that I may be found pure bread.” Read his Epistle to the Romans, in which he begs, and as it were conjures, them, not to hinder his martyrdom nor take away his crown from him. “I wish to enjoy the beasts which are prepared for me. If they will not come to me I will use force. Now I begin to be a disciple of Christ.”
This is the thought which S. James proposes to be as it were the theme of his Epistle: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;” where I have said a good deal upon this subject.
Ye are the salt, &c. That is, you, 0 ye Apostles, who are sitting here next to Me, to whom I have spoken primarily the eight Beatitudes—ye are, by My election and appointment (for I have chosen and appointed you unto this) the salt of the earth, i.e., ye ought to be, and by My grace ye shall be. Christ passes from the Beatitudes to salt, because He delivers His moral teaching after the manner of the ancients, by short, separate maxims, and because the connection here may be easily traced. You, 0 Apostles, whom I choose to be, after My example, humble, meek, &c., shall, in so being, be the salt of the world.
You ask why does Christ call His Apostles the salt of the earth rather than the gold, or silver, or precious stones? I answer, because salt is a thing universally necessary and useful. Salt is as it were the balsam of nature, which preserves and seasons almost all things with which it is mixed, and keeps them from corruption. Thus the Apostles were the salt, i.e., the balsam of the earth.
2. Salt denotes the office, power, and dignity of the Apostles. For salt is the symbol of wisdom. For as salt seasons food and makes it savoury, so does wisdom season the mind and make it wise. Thus in Latin a foolish man is called a man without salt (insulsus) or unsalted, according to the verse of Catullus—
“Not one grain of salt in so big a body.”
The Apostles therefore were salt because they corrected the unsavoury morals of the world, and made them wise and savoury.
3. Salt, says Pliny (lib. 31, c. 10), contains two elements, of an igneous and watery nature—igneous because it is sharp, like fire, and if it be cast into fire it makes it flare up; and if salt be cast into water it is dissolved in it. The same Pliny adds (c. 9) that there is nothing more beneficial to the body than salt. The Apostles therefore were the salt of the earth, because by their igneous force they kindled it with the love of God, and by their aqueous flow of words and their wisdom they watered its dryness as with a spiritual dew, and made it fruitful, that it should bring forth the fruit of good works and all virtues.
4. Salt flavours insipid food, and by its pungency renders it pleasant and wholesome. Thus the Apostles have emended the insipid and foolish opinions, mistakes, and customs of men by their forcible language, and made them pleasing to God and the angels.
5. As salt penetrates flesh, and preserves it from corruption by drying up the humours by which flesh is corrupted, so have the Apostles taken away from the minds of men the corruption of fleshly concupiscences, and preserved them for the immortality of everlasting incorruption. So Cicero (lib. 2 de Nat. Deorum) says, “What hath a sow besides its flesh? Chrysippus says that a soul hath been given it for salt, lest it should corrupt.” Thus to men who, like sows, were wallowing in flesh and blood, God bath given the Apostles, as it were salt and a soul, which might spiritually animate them, lest they should putrefy.
6. Salt excites thirst. So the Apostles have excited a thirst for heavenly things. Hear S. Hilary. “The Apostles are the preachers of heavenly things and, as it were, sowers of eternity: they bring immortality to all upon whom their speech is sprinkled.” Or Euthymius: “Ye have been chosen by Me to cure all the putridity of the world: ye are the salt of the earth.”
7. Salt, by its pungency, bites and pricks, dries and burns. Listen to Pliny (lib. 31, c. 7): “The nature of salt is igneous, and yet an enemy to fire. Putting it to flight, it dries substances and binds them together. But salt has such power over dead and putrescent substances that by its means they will endure for ages.” Thus, too, the Apostles, by their sharp and fiery speech, and by their life, have bitten, pricked, dried up, and shaken off the vices of men. Hear S. Gregory (Hom. 17): “If we are salt we ought to season the minds of the faithful. As is among brute beasts a rock of salt, so ought to be a priest among the people, that whosoever is joined to a priest, he may be seasoned, as if from a rock of salt, with the seasoning of eternal life.” Let priests read that entire homily of S. Gregory’s, and they will find it a golden mirror for their life, that they may be the salt of the earth. Wisely saith S. Chrysostom, “Do you wish to know if the people of any place are righteous? Look what sort of a pastor they have. If you find him pious, just, sound, believe the people will be the same, for they are seasoned with the salt of his wisdom.”
But if the salt have lost his savour, &c. If an apostle, if a bishop, if a priest—who ought, like salt, to season the morals of others—shall, through gluttony, uncleanness, fear, or flattery, lose the vigour of his spiritual salt, who shall restore it to him? No one. This may be seen in the case of some of the priests and pastors of the past age, who either led scandalous lives, or else were ignorant and negligent in instructing the people wandering in, or verging upon, heresy. Whence the ecclesiastical order came into sad contempt, whence the heresies of Luther, Calvin, and the rest sprung up, who, says Maldonatus, are like unto unsavoury bugs: when they are alive they bite, when dead they give out an offensive smell.
Trodden under foot, &c. “For it is not he who suffers persecution,” says S. Augustine, “who is trodden under foot of men, but he who is so foolish as to fear persecution. For only an inferior can be trodden down; but an inferior he cannot be whose heart is fixed in heaven, although his body may suffer many things upon earth.”
Although salt be of an igneous nature, yet it dissolves if it be mingled with water. A good religious priest too is dissolved and becomes effeminate, if he associate too much with women, even pious ones. Hear what the Elder, cited by John Moschus, says in his Spiritual Meadow, c. 217: “My little children, salt is of water; and if it approach water, forthwith it fails and is dissolved. A monk suffers the same from a woman; and if he approach a woman, he too is dissolved, and comes to such a pass that he is no more a monk.”
So too does a priest come to naught if he be too accommodating to people of the world. Let him remember that he ought to be salt, and preserve his vigour, gravity, and liberty in rebuking vices. Let him not be ashamed to profess openly that he is an ecclesiastic and a religious, that is, a worshipper of God, a spiritual person, a despiser of the world, a lover of heavenly things. “Let him enter with another man’s, let him go out with his own,” says our S. Ignatius. That is, in the beginning, let him accommodate himself to the disposition and speech of seculars, but afterwards let him dexterously bring them round to spiritual things, to change of character, to sanctity of life. Thus shall he be as the salt of the world.
Ye are the light of the world. Ye are; again this means, ye are by My election and commission what ye ought to be in actual truth. The light of the world, that ye may by the light of your doctrine and evangelical life illuminate the world obscured by the darkness of errors and sins. So S. Hilary.
S. Chrysostom (Hom. 10 in Epist. ad Timoth.) says, “For this purpose hath He chosen us, that we should be as lights, and act as leaven, that as angels we should be conversant with men on earth, that we should act as men with boys, as spiritual with those who are carnal.” The sun is in heaven, but from thence it disperses its rays upon the earth; so do thou be with thy mind in heaven, whilst thy body is on earth, that thou mayest by thy conversation, and the example of thy virtue, illuminate, warm, and kindle it; so shalt thou be a light and a sun to the world.
S. Chrysostom adds something to be pondered deeply: “Assuredly, there would be no heathen, if we Christians took care to be what we ought to be; if we obeyed God’s precepts, if we bore injuries without retaliation, if when cursed we blessed, if we rendered good for evil. For no man is so savage a wild beast, that he would not run forthwith to the worship of the true religion, if he saw all Christians acting as I have said. And that you may learn that it is so, consider how many one Paul drew to the knowledge of God. If we were all like him, how many worlds might we not be able to win?”
A city set on an hill, &c. Christ here compares His Apostles, 1. To salt. 2. To light. 3. To a city conspicuous on a mountain. The Church, that is to say, the prelates of the Church. are often compared in the Psalms to the same thing, as Ps. xlvi. and xlviii. and lxxxvii; also Is. lx., lxv., and Ezek. xl. As, therefore, a city upon a mountain cannot be bid, but strikes the eyes of all beholders, so do apostles, prelates, and priests come before the eyes of all men, that if they discharge their office rightly, and preach the gospel more by their lives than by their words, they will attract many to Christ, and have praise of all: but if they do otherwise, they will turn many away from the Saviour and be blamed by all.
Neither do men light a candle, &c. A candle is not wont to be bid under a bushel, i.e., under a vessel, as the Syriac, the Hebrew, and S. Luke have it, of measurement, but it is placed on high on a candlestick. So be ye, 0 ye Apostles! who are placed on a higher step of office and dignity, that ye may enlighten all by your preaching and sanctity.
Allegorically. SS. Hilary, Ambrose, and Bede say, that it is here meant that the light of the Gospel was not to be shut up within the narrow confines of Judæa, but to be placed upon the height of Rome, that it might illuminate all the subject nations.
1 Candle, Gr.λύχνον, i.e., lamp, torch, candle, anything which gives light; for torches and candles are properly placed upon stands, and in Italy, lamps upon lamp-stands. So also the Hebrew לפיר lappid, which we translate, lamp or lantern, signifies anything which gives a light of flame. Hence lamps and torches, as here and elsewhere in Scripture, signify holy, and especially Apostolic men, who illuminate others by the light of their doctrine and holiness, and who inflame them by the fire of their charity. Whence Christ says of John the Baptist, “He was a burning and shining lamp.” (Vulg.) So Enoch and Elias are called two olive-trees, and two candelabra. (Apoc. xi. 4.)
Let your light, &c. That they may see, &c. The particle that denotes that the Apostles of Christ and all their followers must be careful to shine both in word and example, not for themselves but for God, in order that they may draw men to God; and by considering this we may reconcile what is here said with Christ’s teaching in chap. vi. 1, 2, and 5. “Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, that ye may be seen of them.” The emphasis is upon these last words, that the Apostles should not do righteous works with any such end in view as being glorified and praised by men; but here Christ commends the doing of good works before men, so this only end be kept in view, that they may glorify God by them. Hear S. Gregory (3 p. Pastor. Admonit. 36): “Why then is it commanded that our work shall be so done as not to be seen, and yet that it shall be seen, but that what we do must be hidden, so that we ourselves be not praised, and yet must be made manifest that we may increase the glory of our Heavenly Father? For when the Lord forbids our doing our righteousness before men, He immediately adds, lest we should be seen of them; and when, on the other hand, he tells us that our good works should be seen of men, he forthwith subjoins, that they may glorify your Father which is in heaven. Whether, therefore, works should be seen, or not seen, He showed must be according to the end we have in view.”
Think not that I am come to destroy (Gr.καταλϋσαι, to dissolve, abolish) the law and the prophets. Christ’s special meaning in this place is that He came to fulfil the moral precepts of the Law by teaching and expounding them more perfectly, and by substituting the sanction of eternal for temporal rewards and punishments, and by adding to things of precept evangelical counsels of perfection, as will be plain from what follows. It is also meant that Christ supplied the imperfection of the Law of Moses by justifying us through faith and the sacraments of the New Law, which He instituted, which the Law of Moses could not do.
Verily I say, &c. Verily, Gr. Amen—i.e., “in truth;” whence Aquila translates the Hebrew amen byπεπιστομενως—i.e., faithfully, truly, certainly. As S. Jerome says (Epist. ad Sophron.), “Amen is the word not of one who swears, but of one who affirms something he is about to say, or confirms something which he has said. In the former case it is prefixed, in the latter it is affixed, as it were a seal.” This may be seen from Deut. xxvii. 26, &c., and 1 Cor. xiv. 16. Wherefore the LXX translate the word by γενοιτο, may it be done. In this place Amen has the meaning of affirming and gravely asserting.
Moreover, Christ Himself is called Amen, Apoc. iii. 14: “Thus saith the Amen, the Faithful Witness.”
Until heaven pass away. Not by nature and the perishing of nature, but by the mutation of its condition—that is, until heaven be changed from this state of corruption to a new and glorious state at the Resurrection. In other words, before the end of the world, when heaven and earth shall pass away, i.e., shall be renewed, it is necessary that all things which are written of Me in the Law be fulfilled. Or, rather, until heaven pass away means until it wholly perish. The sentence is a hypothetical one, and means, sooner may heaven be destroyed, sooner the earth be riven in twain, sooner the universe come to an end, than the minutest point of the Law not be fulfilled, either in this life or in the life to come. So long, therefore, as heaven and earth shall stand, so long the whole Law shall stand. Heaven and earth shall endure for ever, much more shall the whole Law endure eternally, according to these words of Christ, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Whence the Greek is in the past tense,έως άν παρέλθη, meaning, the whole frame of the universe shall perish sooner than the Law of God.
Hear S. Irenæus. “Now, of the nameΊησοϋς, Jesus, the letters iota and eta, i and e, make up the number 18. These, say the Valentinians, are the eighteen Æons; and this is why the Saviour said, one jot or one tittle, &c.”
A similar phrase is used in a similar sense (PS. lxxii. 7): “In his days justice shall arise, and abundance of peace until the moon be taken away;” also Ps. lxxxix. 37, meaning, “The sun and moon shall endure for ever, much more shall the throne of Christ remain eternally.”
One jot. Christ, speaking to Hebrews, said, one yod, as the Syriac has. For the Greek translator substituted the equivalent, iota. Yod in Hebrew, like iota in Greek and i in Latin, is the smallest letter in the alphabet. From the letter yod, although the least, Valentinus, as S. Irenæus testifies, constructed the greatest heresy—viz., that of his Æons, in truth portents of names, rather than names of real existences.
Or one tittle (Vulg. apex) of the law. He calls the apices of the law, not the Hebrew points and accents, which were not invented by the Rabbin until long after the time of Christ, but the tops or little extremities of the letters in which the Law was written.
Till all be fulfilled. All things, that is, which have been spoken concerning Me and My acts, My Church and Sacraments in the Law and the Prophets. Again, all things mean all which have been commanded, or promised, or threatened.
Whosoever therefore shall break, &c. Of these least commandments—viz., which the Law just spoken of commands, or in respect of which I am about to explain and perfect the Law. This is why He subjoins, I say unto you that unless your righteousness, &c. It does not mean, then, that all the commandments of the Law are very small; but that he should be condemned who should break one of even its smallest precepts, or, like the Pharisees, pervert them by a false interpretation, as by teaching, for example, that only outward adultery, not inward concupiscence, was forbidden by the Law. We must observe in this place that commandment is to be taken strictly for a weighty precept binding under the penalty of mortal sin, like the Ten Commandments. For he who shall break one such commandment, although the least in the Decalogue, shall surely be condemned. For it is entirely probable that certain trifling things in the Old Law, although they were commanded by God Himself, bind only under venial sin and temporal punishment. Such, I mean, as taking a bird together with her young ones in the nest, seething a kid in its mother’s milk, &c. Not such as these are here called least commandments, but those which are least amongst the great commandments, such as to look upon a woman to lust after her, which the Pharisees considered a very small thing, and scarcely a sin at all.
Shall be called the least. Shall be accounted the least; shall be looked upon as vile; shall be had in contempt by God and the holy angels, as the last of men, and altogether unworthy to be admitted into the kingdom of heaven, but to be damned and cast into hell. Wherefore S. Chrysostom and Theophylact interpret least to mean not at all, because in heaven there are none who are not great, as S. Augustine says, “all kings of heaven, sons of God.”
In the kingdom of heaven. Strictly so called, say S. Chrysostom and Theophylact. But S. Augustine and others interpret the kingdom of heaven here to mean the Church.
But whosoever shall do and teach, &c. Great, viz., a doctor, father, and prince of the disciples whom he has taught. And all the commandments of the Law are reckoned as having been done, when whatsoever has not been done is pardoned by God, says S. Augustine. For a fault is corrected and compensated for by penitence. As S. Bernard says (Tr. de dispensat. et præcept.), “A part of rule is regular correction.” When, therefore, the guilty one undergoes this, he fulfils the rule.
Moraliter. Learn from hence the right way and method of teaching, that a doctor should first do what he is about to teach. Christ, says S. Luke, began to do and to teach. He was first Himself poor, humble, meek, a mourner, and then He taught, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Let a doctor therefore examine his conscience before God before he teach, whether he be poor in spirit, meek, and soon; let him see whether he cleave to the world or to Christ, for that he may be Christ’s he ought to break his pledge of friendship with the world, and be able to say with S. Paul, “If I yet pleased men I should not be the servant of Christ.”
For I say unto you that except your righteousness shall exceed, &c., i.e., be more abundant, excellent, full, and perfect. Your righteousness, i.e., your observance of the Law. For it fulfils that which the Law declares to be just or righteous. It also makes us really just before God. As the Apostle says, “Not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” (Rom. ii. 13.)
Ye have heard that it was said, i.e., commanded. Ye have heard, i.e., from the Scribes, teaching and expounding the Law of Moses. Christ here begins to show in detail that He was not dissolving the Law, but fulfilling it, and that Christian righteousness ought to excel Judaic and Pharisaic righteousness. Christ therefore here proposes and prefers Himself and His own doctrine both to the Scribes and Pharisees, who by their δευτερώσεις, or traditions, perversely interpreted the Law, as is plain from verses 20 and 43, and to the Law of Moses itself. For Christ added to the Law precepts of explicit belief concerning God the Three in One, and concerning Christ’s Incarnation, Passion, and Redemption. He moreover supplied the defects and imperfections of the Old Law, for the Law of Moses was given to the comparatively uninstructed Jews, and this Law Christ perfected by His Evangelical Law.
Thou shalt not kill. Many thought that by this law murder only was forbidden, but Christ here teaches that by it even all angry words, blows, reproaches, are forbidden, for such things are, as it were, preludes leading by a direct road to homicide.
But I say unto you, &c. Christ here explains and fulfils the commandment, Thou shall not kill, and teaches that even inward anger is forbidden by it. I say unto you. I decree, assert, and sanction, I who am Legislator of all law, Evangelical, Mosaic, and natural.
Whosoever is angry. The Greek adds ει̉κη̃, rashly, without cause. But the Roman Codices, S. Jerome, and S. Augustine (lib. 1, Retract., c. 19) omit it. But those or similar words must be understood. For unlawful anger is what is here treated of; since anger for a just cause, as for example against sin and sinners, is both lawful and praiseworthy. Anger has been for this very purpose implanted in man’s nature, that it should make them brave against vice, and against those things which are really their enemies.
Observe, anger is the thirst for vengeance, and is itself a mortal sin if it deliberately contrive, or wish for, any serious evil of body, or goods, or reputation of one’s neighbour, or rejoice in such evils, even though he deserve them, for he who is angry rejoices in them not as fruits of justice but of revenge. But anger is a venial sin if it desire some trifling calamity to one’s neighbour, even though the anger be violent, and flame out both internally and externally. Lastly, anger is no sin at all if it be assumed from zeal for righteousness, for the extirpation of sin and sinners. Such was the anger of Mattathias when he slew the legate of Antiochus, who was forcing the Jews to sacrifice to idols. (1 Mac. ii. 25.) Such was the anger of Christ when He drove the buyers and sellers out of the Temple.
Hear S. Chrysostom on the words in Ps. iv., Be ye angry and sin not: “We may be angry lawfully, for Paul was angry with Elymas, and Peter with Sapphira. But I should not call this anger without qualification. I should call it philosophy, carefulness. The father is angry with his child, but it is because he cares for him. It is he who avenges himself who is rashly angry, but he who corrects the faults of others is of all men the meekest. For even God is angry, not to revenge Himself, but to correct us. Let us therefore imitate Him. Thus to act is divine, otherwise it is human anger.” Hear also S. Gregory (on Job v. 2, Anger slayeth the foolish man): “There is an anger which springs from zeal for righteousness. This is the anger which, because Eli had it not, he roused against himself the vengeance of the wrath of God. For the sword of the eternal Ruler flames against him who is lukewarm in correcting the vices of those who are placed under him.”
Shall be in danger of the judgment. Judgment here is to be taken in a somewhat different sense from that in which it occurs just above, Whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. For there the human tribunal by which men were condemned to death for murder is meant; but here is understood the Divine judgment, which judges and condemns venial anger to temporal punishment, such as purgatory, but deadly anger to eternal punishment, i.e., to hell.
How vile a thing anger is! See S. Basil and S. Chrysostom (Hom. on Anger); Cicero (4 Tuscul.), where, among other things, he says, “Is there anything more like to madness than anger—anger which Ennius well calls the beginning of madness? The colour, voice, glare of the eye, impotence of words and deeds, what have they to do with sanity? What is more shameful than Homer’s Achilles—than Agamemnon quarrelling? Anger brought Ajax to madness and death.”
But whoso shall say to his brother, &c. Raca. 1. S. Chrysostom thinks raca here signifies thou, as if any one should say contemptuously to his neighbour, Go thou about thy business, what wouldest thou?—to address any one as thou out of disrespect.
2. Theophylact says raca means one worthy of being spat upon, for רוק rok means spittle; but this would be a worse form of reproach than to call any one a fool, which Christ here places as the worst reproach.
3. Some think raca here is the Greek ρακος, ragged.
4. And more probably, S. Augustine, Rupert, Anselm, and others think raca is an interjection of despising and opposing, and that by it are denoted all the tokens of an evil-disposed mind, whether murmuring, shouting, or spitting, or wrinkling the brow, and so on.
5. And last, S. Jerome, Angelus Caninius, and others think that raca is a Hebrew word, derived from ריק ric, i.e., “empty,” though not in brain, as S. Jerome says, for that would be a fool; but empty in purse; so that raca would mean a man of straw, a pauper. So the Vulgate translates Judg. xi. 3.
Lastly, George Michaelis, the Maronite (in Proœmio Grammaticæ Syriacæ, c. de præstantia Syr. Linguæ) says raca is Syriac, and has three meanings—1. A tortoise, which animal is considered so deformed by the Syrians that they nauseate and abhor it; so too, the Italians, when they would speak of a man slow and deformed, say, pare tartaruga, like a tortoise. 2. Raca, from rac, “he has spit.” For the Syrians, when they would burn any one up with ignominy, call him raco, i.e., “spat upon;” or raca is the same as rauco, i.e., “spittle;” for a Syrian, to show that he made no account of a person, would say, “Thou art but as spittle to me.” 3. Raca with the Syrians means one despised, vile, abject, dirty; and this is the sense in which I think the word raca is here used by Christ. Thus far Georgius.
It is certain that raca is more than to be angry, less than to say, Thou fool! Again, raca is ambiguous. It may be venial, or it may be mortal; but to say, Thou fool, is certainly a mortal sin.
In danger of the council. Gr. συνεδριω, from which word the Jews called their highest tribunal the “Sanhedrim.” As though Christ had said, “He shall be obnoxious to the judgment of the highest court, the Sanhedrim.”
Observe, the Talmudic Doctors, and from them Franc. Lucas, Maldonatus, and others, say that the Hebrews had three courts: The first din mammona, which was a court for the trial of money causes; it was a court presided over by three judges. The second court was din mishpat, or the Court of Judgment, i.e., for capital offences. By this tribunal cases of murder were examined and decided. This court consisted of twenty-three judges. The third was the Sanhedrim, which consisted of seventy-two judges, by which grave causes and crimes were tried, such as heresy, false prophets, idolatry, apostacy, &c. Christ, omitting the first, alludes here to the two latter tribunals, and calls the second the judgment, the third συνεδριον, the Sanhedrim, the council. The meaning is, that the proportion between anger and a reproachful word, and between the punishment of both, was the same as between the judgment of Mishpat and the Sanhedrim, or the highest tribunal—that as the latter excelled the former, so the penalty of an opprobrious word exceeded the penalty of anger. For in this comparison, as is usual, it is not necessary to make everything apply. There is, then, a catachresis in the words judgment and council. For by judgment is signified the lesser fault of anger, and consequently the lesser condemnation and penalty; and by council the greater fault and the severer punishment.
The meaning then is, as a murderer under the Old Law was in danger of the judgment—namely, that his cause should be tried by the criminal judges, and he himself condemned to death; so in like manner anger, which is the first step to murder, is a criminal cause, and consequently pertains not to the lowest tribunal of Mammona, but of Judgment, not human but Divine; so that if it should be intense and voluntary, that is, with a deliberate intention of inflicting death or grave evil upon his neighbour, he should for this be condemned to death, not temporal but eternal.
But if anger should break forth into a rough word, such as raca, a man would sin grievously—grievously I say, because he would manifest anger by an outward sign, which would pertain to the tribunal of the Sanhedrim, to be heavily punished, according to the degree of the fault. But if he should say, Thou fool, it would not be a case for the Judgment, but would render him liable to the damnation of hell.
From this explanation it appears, in opposition to the Stoics and Jovinian, that there are degrees of faults and punishments, that some sins are worse than others, and so deserve a severer punishment from God. Whence there is sin which is venial, and there is sin which is mortal. Consequently, in opposition to Calvin, there is clearly a distinction between hell and purgatory.
But whosoever shall say, Thou fool, &c. Under this word fool, we are to understand all kinds of revilings, calumnies, reproaches, curses, which are mortal sins, if the be uttered grievously to dishonour our neighbour, or if the desire to do him injury and revile him, spring from the heart. For the gravity or triviality of a contumelious word must be weighed by the intention of the speaker. If you say it in joke, or not really to dishonour, but to correct, it is not formal, but material contumely, says D. Thom. (2. 2. q. 72, art. 2). Hence parents may severely correct and reprove and rebuke their children, and masters their servants, if it be done with moderation, and for just correction. Thus Christ calls Peter Satan (Matt. xvi. 23), and Paul calls the Galatians “foolish” (Gal. iii. 1). Again, the gravity of the contumely must be measured by the dignity of the person spoken to. For to say to a grave and honourable man, “Thou fool,” is a grave contumely; but to call a man a fool who really is one, is a comparatively light reproach.
Of hell fire. The Arabic has, the fire of hell. S. Jerome observes that Christ here first uses the word Gehenna for hell. It is nowhere in the Old Testament used in that sense. Gehenna is derived from ge, a valley, and Hinnom or Ennon, a Jew so called. Gehenna is the valley of Hinnom. It was a pleasant vale near Jerusalem, in which parents were accustomed to burn their children in sacrifice to Moloch; and they beat drums that their cries and wails might not be heard. Hence the same place was called Tophet, i.e., “a drum.” Wherefore, Christ here speaks of the Gehenna of fire, to show that nothing but fire, and that eternal fire, is meant. See Isaiah xxx.33, where Gehenna and its torments are graphically depicted. For Tophet is ordained of old, &c.
Ver. 23.—Therefore, if thou bring thy gift, &c. If thy brother have anything to complain of in thee, any wrong for which to expostulate with thee, as that thou hast called him raca, or fool. This is the force of therefore in this passage. It would appear that the Scribes taught that all sins, and especially violations of the Sixth Commandment, were expiated by sacrifices and offerings at the altar of God, even when no satisfaction was made for a wrong done to one’s neighbour. But Christ teaches the contrary, and sanctions the law of justice and charity, by which He bids that satisfaction must first be made to our neighbour who has been injured by us either in word or deed. Wherefore he subjoins,
Leave there thy gift, &c. This is a precept both of law and of natural religion, which has been by Christ in this place most strictly sanctioned, both because by the Incarnation of Himself He has, in the very closest manner, united us all to Himself and to one another. This greater union, which we have therefore through Christ, demands greater love and unity among Christian brethren: so He has said, “A new commandment give I unto you, that ye love one another.” Furthermore, the sacrifice of the Eucharist is more holy than the ancient sacrifices. It is the gathering together and the communion of the Body, of which we all partake; and therefore we are all mutually united to Christ and one another. Hence it is called communion, that is, the common union of all. Since therefore the Eucharist is a sacrifice, as well as a Sacrament and profession of mutual love and peace, it is necessary that all discord should be done away, and that those who have offended should reconcile themselves to those whom they have offended before this holy Synaxis, lest they be found liars. For in truth he is a liar who takes the Sacrament of union, that is, the Eucharist, and is not in union with, but bears a grudge or rancour against, his neighbour.
This is why it used to be the custom at Mass, that before Holy Communion, Christians were wont to give one another a holy kiss, as a symbol of reconciliation and union, in place of which what is called the Pax is now bestowed.
S. John the Almoner, Patriarch of Alexandria, to fulfil literally this precept or counsel of Christ, was once standing at the altar to say Mass, when he remembered that a certain cleric had conceived a hatred for him, and although he was the offended party, yet he asked his pardon first, and being thus reconciled, he went with him joyfully to the altar and finished the sacrifice, saying with confidence to God, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” as Leontius records in his Life. He adds that the same John repelled Damianus, a deacon, from Communion, and said to him, “Go first and be reconciled to thy brother.” Damianus promised so to do, when the Patriarch gave him the Sacred Mysteries.
Agree, Gr. ευ̉νοω̃ν, i.e., be of good will, Syriac, a friend: with thine adversary, Gr. τω̃ α̉τιδίκω σου, i.e., thine accuser, thy prosecutor, Syriac,Beel dinoch, “the master, or lord of thy lawsuit,” Arabic, with him who is at law with thee: the uttermost fathing, i.e., of thy debt.
You will ask, who is this adversary? 1. Tertullian (lib. de Animâ), answers, it is the devil. He is Satan, i.e., our adversary.
2. S. Athanasius, or whoever be the author of Quæst. S. Script. ad Antioch. (quæst. 26), thinks the adversary means the flesh: for it is an adversary to the soul. “For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh” (Gal. v. 17). But we must not agree either with the devil, or the flesh, which is what we are here told to do by Christ.
3. The same Athanasius says with better reason, elsewhere, that it is our conscience, for this is our adversary, and stings us when we do ill, until we agree with it, by following its dictates.
4. SS. Augustine, Anselm, and Bede are of opinion that God, or the law of God is meant, for these fight against our lusts. Wherefore clearly we ought to consent unto them, lest we incur the punishments with which they threaten us. But these are mystical, or symbolical interpretations.
Wherefore I say with SS. Jerome, Hilary, and Ambrose, that by our adversary is here meant any one who has been unjustly offended, or injured by us, and is therefore in a position to be able to accuse us before God. With such a one Christ in the preceding verse bade us be reconciled.
Note that there is here a Hebraism, and a parabolical form of expression, in which it is not necessary to adapt every word, but the general scope and meaning is what must be chiefly considered. And these, in this case, are rather hinted at than expressed. The sense then is this:—As a debtor, or one who is accused by a prosecutor before a judge, acts prudently if he agree with his adversary before judgment, and so escape the condemnation of the judge, prison, or infamy, so in like manner do thou act; and if thou hast injured thy brother in any way, as for instance by calling him raca, or a fool, thou hast made thyself a debtor, as it were, to restore him to honour: come in then, and be reconciled with him speedily, before thou be delivered as guilty to God the judge, who by a righteous vengeance shall deliver thee to prison, until thou shalt pay all thy debt. That prison is hell, or purgatory, according to the greater or less heinousness of thy sin. The word until, seems to bear a reference to purgatory, as though it signified terminable punishment, which is purgatory, whereas the punishment of hell has no end.
Farthing. Greek, κοδράντην. This is a word which has been borrowed from the Latin, like many others which are found in the Evangelists, such as prætorium, centurio, &c.
The quadrans, here translated farthing, was the fourth part of the Roman as, and is put for any very small coin. And the spiritual application is, that every debt, even the very least of the fault of anger, must be paid and atoned for after this life, in the place of justice. Wherefore in this life, where is the place for mercy, agreement and pardon, let us be reconciled to our adversary—i.e., whomsoever we have injured, either by word or deed. I have read in a history that a certain servant who had departed this life appeared to his master, who asked him of his state and condition. The servant answered, “I am in that place where every debt is exactly and rigidly reckoned, and where not so much as a straw is overlooked.” Doctor Jacobus also relates that a certain religious man, who had departed this life, appeared in vile raiment and with a sad countenance, and said to a companion, “No one believes, no one believes, no one believes how strictly God judges, and how severely He punishes.”
Ver. 27 and 28.—Ye have heard, &c. . . to lust after her—that is, with the design and object of indulging sinful passion with her—hath already committed adultery with her in his heart. Because by adultery he hath already corrupted her in his mind, and therefore before God, who beholds the heart, he is an adulterer, and as an adulterer he will be punished by Him.
Christ passes from anger to concupiscence, because these two passions have the greatest influence over men. And as He explained the commandment, Thou shall nor kill, to forbid anger, so He here explains Thou shall not commit adultery to forbid concupiscence. For many of the Scribes and Pharisees greatly erred in their exposition of this precept as well as of the former. For although they knew that it was commanded by the tenth precept of the Decalogue, Thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nevertheless they erred—1. Because they understood it of concupiscence, not altogether internal, but such as is wont to break out in touch, kisses, lascivious words, and such like, according to the maxim, “The law prohibits the hand, not the mind.” But this is true of civil and state law, which only punishes external wrongdoing, but not of the law of God, which weighs and chastises the inmost thoughts of the heart. Josephus, the Jewish historian, fell into this very mistake, when, in the twelfth book of his Antiquities, he cites Polybius as saying that Antiochus Epiphanes perished miserably because he had wished to spoil the temple of Diana. Josephus finds fault with Polybius, saying, “To have wished merely, and not to have effected the sacrilege, does not seem a thing worthy of punishment.” And R. David Kimchi, cited by Gerebrard (Ps. lxvi.), says, “Even if I should see iniquity in my heart, which I was even prepared to carry out in act, that it should be in the presence of God, and if I should utter it with my lips, yet will not God hear it—i.e., it will not be imputed to me for wickedness. For God does not reckon an evil thought as a work, unless it be against the faith of God and religion.” Thus, too, there are many in this day who say, “To think evil is not a sin, but to do evil.”
But this is a crass error, known and confuted by Aristotle and other heathens. For free will is the proper test and criterion of goodness and wickedness, of virtue and vice. For if free will seeks what is good and honest, it is itself good and laudable; but if evil, it is evil and blameworthy. Wherefore the external act, as, for instance, of adultery, is not, speaking precisely, a sin in itself (as in plain from the case of idiots being adulterers), unless it proceeded from free will. For from free will it derives all its formal sinfulness.
2. The Scribes erred in thinking that immodest looks, touch, kisses, &c., were not sins of adultery and fornication, but of concupiscence, and so were done against the Tenth Commandment, Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, but not against the Seventh. In opposition to this Christ here teaches the contrary, and so expounds the Seventh Commandment that all impurity is forbidden by it, because all such things are the road to adultery, and so a kind of beginning of adultery.
3. They were in error who thought that by this commandment only concupiscence in respect to another man’s wife, but not of any unmarried woman, was forbidden. This error Christ here corrects, and teaches that all impurity between the sexes is forbidden by this law.
Vers. 29 and 30.—But if thy right eye, &c. It is plain that there are here two parables, taken from the two most excellent and most useful of our bodily members—the right eye and the right hand. And Christ signifies that everything which entices us to sin must be cast away, however dear, precious, and necessary it may be to us. He makes mention of the eye first, because he had just before said, Whoso looketh upon a woman, &c. 1. Thus, S. Chrysostom (Hom. 17), by the right eye and hand, understands a woman beloved, such a one as he had just been speaking of, that she must be cast off, if by her look, voice, or gesture she provoke to lust. 2. S. Augustine (lib. de Serm. Dom. in Mont., lib. 1), understands any friend and minister, even one who is necessary. 3. S. Hilary, Theophylact (in loc.), Cyril, Pacian (Epist. 3), understand parents and relations, that intercourse with them must be cut off, if it leads us into sin. 4. S. Jerome understands affections and vices of the mind. 5. Auctor Imperfecti considers that by the right eye and hand the mind and will are meant, which must be called away from carnal pleasures.
But more simply and plainly you may take the right eye and hand to be actually meant, but in such a sense as to subserve the meaning of the parable, and to be parabolically explained. For there is here a continuous parable, in which Christ has regard to concupiscence of sight. Christ is dealing with such an implied objection as this which follows: “You may urge that if the eye and the sight are adulterous when they look upon a woman to lust after her, what then shall I do with the eyes which God has given me to see with?”
Again, it is a metaphor taken from surgery. As those who are sick and injured take care that a surgeon should amputate or remove the most noble and useful of our members, if their remaining imperil the safety of the whole body; so, also, I admonish you, 0 my faithful people, that ye endure any loss whatsoever, rather than commit a sin, especially a deadly sin; that, indeed, whatever is a stumbling-block to you and draws you to sin, although it be as dear and necessary to you as your right eye, you should altogether pluck it out and cast it from you, at whatever cost to you of pain and inconvenience: for example, that ye should put away the sight of an eye, even if modest in other respects, that is, the friendship and society of female relations, a wife, a son, a parent, if they bring upon you peril of sin, i.e., if by other means you are not able to escape sin, for it is better to enter into heaven having one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell. But because it is always possible to escape from sin in some other way than by cutting off a member, it is not lawful to cut it off and so mutilate oneself. Thus it was that Origen, who made himself a eunuch for the sake of chastity, was condemned by the Church. Finally, the concupiscences which have to be cut off and mortified by every one so tenaciously cleave to the eyes and the body, yea, to the soul itself, that they cannot be rooted out without great force and sense of pain, so that they who cut them off suffer as much as if they plucked out an eye or a tooth. They who have gone through it know what it is. Whence it is called mortification, because it produces the feeling and pain of death.
Thus according to the letter, SS. Aquilinus and Andomarus, as is related in their Lives in Surius, who had been blind, and recovered their sight by a miracle, asked of God that they might be again deprived of sight, that they might be free from the distractions and temptations to which sight gives rise. Furthermore it was by a special leading of God that the virgin mentioned in the Spiritual Meadow of Sophronius, plucked out her eyes and sent them to her lover, who persecuted her with his attentions, because he was ravished with the beauty of her eyes. When he received this gift the lover was smitten with compunction, and exchanged his secular for a monastic life.
S. Antonius asked Didymus, a blind man, whom S. Jerome calls his seer, that is, his teacher, if he grieved over his blindness. He was silent for a little while, and nodded; then he said, “A prudent man ought not to grieve because he is without eyes, which are possessed by flies and bees; but he ought to rejoice, because he has greater opportunities for opening the eyes of his mind, by which he may see God and divine things.”
Ver. 31.—It has been said, &c. See what I have written upon the giving a bill of divorce in Deut. xxiv. 1.
Ver. 32.—But I say unto you, &c. Christ here corrects and settles the law of divorce. 1. Because the law easily conceded divorce for various causes. But Christ permits it only on account of fornication, if a wife be an adulteress; and from an adulterer the innocent wife is at liberty to depart, according to that maxim, “If a man break his marriage vow that may be broken with him.” 2. The Law conceded both to the woman who was put away, and to the husband who repudiated her, the liberty of contracting a second marriage. But Christ denies it to both. 3. The Law conceded to the husband alone the power of giving a writing of divorcement. But Christ, with respect to this matrimonial right places the man and the woman upon a perfect equality, as S. Paul teaches, 1 Cor. vii. 4.
Except for the cause of fornication. By fornication here some understand any sin whatever, that is, in the form of a sort of spiritual fornication with any creature, leaving God, the Creator and Husband of the Soul. Thus S. Augustine, Origen, in loc. But this is taking it in too loose a sense.
By fornication others understand infidelity. For this is constantly called fornication by the prophets, that is to say, spiritual and mystical fornication.
But expositors, ancient and modern, passim, understand fornication here in its strict, literal sense, as denoting all illicit sexual intercourse.
You will say it is lawful to put away a wife if she endeavour to draw her husband into any sin, as is laid down in the chapter, Quæsivi de divortiis, and as Christ Himself sufficiently indicates, ver. 29. Also if the wife practise sorcery, or compass her husband’s death; so that it is lawful to put a wife away for other causes besides fornication.
I answer, what you say is true, but Christ here assigns fornication as the only cause of divorce, both because it is the only proper cause of divorce, speaking in a strict sense, from marriage, as being immediately destructive of it, whilst the others are general causes, and would absolve a Christian from any union whatever; also because the divorce of even a repentant adulteress is conceded in perpetuity, so that although the wife repent of her adultery the husband is not bound to receive her again to his house, whereas in the other cases he is bound to receive her back again to favour; lastly, because Christ here wishes entirely to exclude all such causes of divorce as the wife’s deformity, poverty, disagreeableness, &c., which were common among the Jews. And to them He is here addressing Himself.
And whoso shall marry her that is put away committeth adultery. Cajetan and others here repeat the words, excepting for the cause of fornication, as though it were lawful for the man putting away the adulterous wife, and for the adulteress herself, to enter again into matrimony. But what S. Paul says (1 Cor. vii. 11), is plainly repugnant to this idea. For he there bids the innocent wife remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her adulterous husband. See what I have there said; and this is the constant usage and interpretation of the Church, of which more on chap. xix. 9.
Ver. 33.—Again, ye have heard, &c. Thou shall perform, i.e., Thou shalt pay, shalt fulfil what thou hast sworn unto the Lord, or by the Lord that thou wilt do. So S. Chrysostom properly explains that by oaths are here meant vows confirmed by an oath, that we are bound to render them, that is, perform them unto God. Suarez explains differently. “If thou desirest to swear, swear by the true God, not by idols.”
Ver. 34.—But I say unto you, &c. Christ here explains and perfects the third precept of the Decalogue, which the Scribes and Pharisees had explained falsely. For, 1. they asserted that an oath became an oath, and was binding, if it were made by God, and called Him to witness, but not so if it were sworn by creatures. Christ here teaches the contrary. For in creatures the Creator is understood, for they were made by God, and all that they have and are is from God. For he who swears, calls God, who is the prime Verity, to witness his oath. He therefore who swears by a creature, either makes that creature a God, which is the sin of idolatry, or else it behoves to understand God the Creator in the oath.
2. The Scribes erred, who thought that by this precept perjury only was forbidden. On the contrary Christ here teaches that by it every oath is forbidden, all irreverence and abuse of the name of God.
But I say unto you, &c. From this passage, the Pelagians, as S. Augustine testifies (Epist. 89, q. 5.) taught that no oath was lawful for Christians. The Waldenses thought the same, as we see from the Council of Constance, and the Anabaptists of the present day hold the same opinion, who will not swear in a trial at the bidding of the judge.
But this is an error of faith, which the perpetual practice of the Church, as well as the example of God Himself, of S. Paul, and the Saints condemns, as is plain from Ps. cx. 4; Rom. i. 9; Philip. i. 8; 1 Cor. xv. 31, &c. Reason itself shows us the same thing; for an oath is an honour to God as the prime Verity, because he who swears appeals to Infallible Truth as his witness. Wherefore an oath is an act of religion, and the highest worship, so that it be done in truth and justice, as Jeremiah says, iv. 2.
You will ask, Why, then, does Christ say, Swear not at all? S. Bernard answers (Serm. 65 in Cant.) that this is not of precept, but only of counsel.
2. Others allow that this is a precept, but one which only forbids perjury.
3. Others think that the command, Swear not at all, applies only to swearing by creatures, not by God. To this opinion S. Jerome inclines.
But all these explanations are forced and incorrect, and are refuted by what follows; for Christ bids us swear not at all, (1) because, as S. Augustine says (de Verb. Apostoli), “False swearing is destructive, true swearing is perilous, swearing not at all is safe.” Not at all—i.e., “As far as lieth in thee, that thou shouldst not affect nor love swearing, nor take any pleasure in an oath, as though it were a good thing.” Again, to swear is, per se, a moral evil of irreverence with respect to God; just as it is a moral evil, per se, to kill any one; yet there are cases in which it is a duty. So it is with an oath. In Paradise it was not lawful to swear, nor will it be lawful in heaven. So great is the majesty of the Name of God that It must not be called to witness unless necessity compel. For to invoke It about small and worthless things is to make It small and vile, just as would be the action of one who should call the king as witness about a single guinea. Hence the saints were cautious about swearing. In the Life of S. Chrysostom it is recorded as a notable thing that he never swore. The same is testified of S. John the Almoner.
You will ask whether also for Christians it is lawful to swear? For (1) many of the Fathers seem to say that it is not. SS. Jerome, Chrysostom, Euthymius, say that swearing was permitted by God to the Jews, lest they should swear by idols, but is not permitted to Christians. (2) Theophylact and Euthymius are of opinion that an oath was a legal precept of the old law, like circumcision. Wherefore, as the latter has been done away by Christ, so has the former. (3) Others think that an oath was allowed by God to the Jews, as being uninstructed, imperfect, and hard of belief, but has been forbidden to Christians because more perfect things become them as being more perfect, and because they ought to beware of the slightest peril of perjury. That in the same way divorce was permitted to the Jews, lest they should kill the wives whom they hated; and yet Christ takes away this permission from Christians. Thus think S. Hilary (in loc., Can. 4), S. Ambrose (in Ps. 119, Serm. 1), S. Basil (in Ps. 13), Chromatius and Origen (in loc., Tract. 35), Epiphanius (Hæres. 19), S. Athanasius (Serm. de Passione et Cruce Domini), S. Chrysostom (Hom. ad pop.).
If you object that in Holy Scripture God took an oath, as in Gen. xxii. 16, SS. Athanasius, Basil, and Ambrose answer that such oaths of God were not strictly speaking oaths, but. asseverations only—or promises; or, as S. Ambrose says, God may swear because He is able to fulfil that which He swears, and He cannot repent of it. But a man ought not to swear because he has not any certain power of doing that to which he pledges his oath.
If, further, you object that surely S. Paul swore when he said (2 Cor. i. 23), “I call God to witness upon my soul” (Vulg.), S. Basil answers that this is not really an oath, but only a simple mode of speech, uttered with the appearance and form of an oath as a stronger affirmation.
But I say that not to the Jews only, but to Christians, is it lawful to swear. This is of faith, as is plain from the perpetual sense, use, and practice of the Church. “For of all strife among men”—even Christians—“an oath for confirmation is the end,” says the Apostle to the Hebrews (vi. i6). Moreover, in Scripture there is no affirmative precept for swearing, as there is for praying, sacrificing, loving and praising God, honouring parents, &c., because an oath is not, per se, desirable, but only for the sake of something else, and, as it were, per accidens, in such sort that it is a kind of medicine for unbelief. And there is a negative precept for swearing, namely that you shall not commit perjury or swear by false gods, but only by the true God. There is also a conditional precept that if you swear you shall only swear what is just, true, and necessary.
You may say, Christ here solemnly says to Christians, Swear not at all. I answer, this is true because, per se, it is unbecoming and improper to call the Great and Good God to witness about human disputes on account of men’s mutual distrusts, unless this impropriety may be excused by mutual necessity, as it is often excused by the want of witnesses and other judicial proofs.
To the Fathers who have been cited, I reply that they seem to have spoken in the same sense that Christ did, because they saw men often swearing falsely or unjustly, and, still more frequently, lightly, foolishly and rashly; hence on account of the peril of these things, they forbade an oath to Christians, that they should refrain from it as much as possible. But if any one is careful to avoid such dangers, then it is lawful for him to swear in a case of necessity. This is plain from S. Chrysostom, who, in his homilies to the people of Antioch, frequently and sharply rebuked their habit of rash swearing. And to those who wondered at his so doing, he thus replies. “I say and repeat, as I am accustomed, because ye say and repeat what ye are accustomed.” And he declares that he will not cease from this repetition until they leave off swearing. “For a hard knot a hard and constant wedge must be used.”
Neither by heaven, &c. It seems that the Jews were wont to swear by heaven and earth, and similar oaths. And because the Pharisees thought that these oaths, being made by creatures, were of small account, Christ here teaches the contrary—viz., that he who swears by heaven or earth, swears by God their Creator, who has placed the throne of His glory in heaven, and his footstool on earth.
Ver. 37.—But let your communication be, &c.—i.e., a simple affirmation, or negation. For what is more than these, Gr. περισσὸν. The Syriac has, what is added beyond these. In the Hebrew Gospel ascribed to S. Matthew, we have אין אין ain, ain, כן כן ken, ken—that is no, no, so, so. In this passage a simple affirmation or negation is opposed to an oath; so in S. James (v. 12) ; and it means that whatever is added to these in the way of swearing, is of evil. So S. Chrysostom and S. Jerome, or rather Paulinus, Epist. ad Celantium.
Of evil. Evil here may be taken either in the masculine or the neuter gender. If the masculine the devil is meant, who, as a ringleader of all iniquity, incites thee to swear without necessity, and so draws thee on by degrees to swear falsely, which is the sin of perjury. So Theophylact, Maldonatus, and others. If you take the neuter, it means cometh of vice, either your own or another’s—that is to say, the custom of swearing arises either from your own vice of levity or irreverence, or else from another man’s incredulity and distrust. Because a man does not believe my simple assertion, I confirm my words by an oath, which, however, is a fault become necessary since the fall of man. So S. Augustine.
Vers. 38 and 39.—You have heard, &c. This was the law of retaliation. But I say unto you, Resist not evil. That is, an evil or unjust thing, or an injury done to thee by a wicked man. That is, do not requite evil by evil, injury by injury. Or better, resist not evil, taking evil in the masculine—i.e., the evil man who injures you. The Greek τω̃ πονηρω̃, though both meanings amount to much the same thing.
Note—1. That the ancient lex talionis was just, but in practice it was often unjust, and sprang from a desire of revenge, by which one who had had an eye or tooth plucked out brought before the magistrate the person who had injured him, and demanded, by way of retaliation, that his eye or tooth should be plucked out. But Christ supplies the deficiency of this law and perfects it, by opposing to the lex talionis the law and counsel of patience, and to a disposition thirsting for revenge the law of meekness.
Note—2. That this law of Christ has not regard to magistrates, as Anabaptists say, that all war not only offensive, but even defensive, is forbidden to Christians by Christ, but has regard to private persons; for it is the office of the magistrate to scourge the guilty and to put murderers to death.
Note—3. This law of Christ does not take away from private individuals the lex talionis which is of the law of nations and of nature, both for the reparation of offended justice and for the correction of the guilty person who has offended; much less does it take away the right of defending ourselves when we are attacked by an enemy, but only forbids the desire of vengeance.
Note—4. That Christ here wishes to imprint upon us a disposition to meekness and patience, that however much thou mayest be injured, yet still that thou shouldst not depart so much as a hair’s breadth from inward peace and charity; and that if love of your neighbour and the glory of God, in any conjuncture of circumstances, should absolutely require that you resist not evil, but patiently accept it, that you should in such a case do as the first Christians did—suffer joyfully the spoiling of your goods, or even the deprivation of life itself. I say then, with regard to these three cases spoken of by Christ, If any one smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also; If any one will take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also; Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain, that they are, speaking generally, matters of counsel, not of direct precept; but if the salvation of our neighbour and the glory of God require them to be done, then they are of precept. For instance, if the Indians or the Japanese knew that Christ has commanded Christians to turn the other cheek to him who smote them upon one cheek, and unless they did so those heathens would be scandalized and turned away from embracing the faith of Christ, then I say that it would be the bounden duty of any Christian, but especially of a preacher, to turn the other cheek to him who smote him upon one. There is a literal example of this in the life of S. Francis Xavier, the Apostle of India and Japan. When the Japanese were laughing at him as a foreigner, and at his new doctrine concerning Christ crucified, it happened that a certain Japanese, hearing John Fernandez, a companion of Xavier, preaching in the street, out of petulance spat in his face. Fernandez, in no way disturbed, quietly wiped away the spittle, and proceeded with his discourse. The Japanese were so filled with admiration at his patience and struck with the wisdom of the new preachers, that they gave themselves to them as disciples, and in great numbers embraced the faith of Christ.
Lastly, it is a distinguishing characteristic of a martyr not to resist, not to defend himself, but to suffer himself to be slain for Christ. For, “a soldier fights, not a martyr.” A martyr is a sharer in the Passion of Christ, as the martyrs write to S. Cyprian, (lib. 5, Epist. 12.) For the passion of Christ is the pattern of all martyrdom.
Wherefore that Theban Legion of very many and very brave soldiers, being condemned to death by the Emperor Maximian, because they would not sacrifice to idols, when soldiers were sent amongst them to slay them, would not defend themselves, even though they might have sold their lives dear and made an immense slaughter of their enemies. But at the instigation and exhortation of S. Mauritius, they piled their arms and suffered themselves to be immolated like a flock of lambs, for the sake of Christ. It was Christ who taught this new philosophy, a paradox to the world, unknown to the philosophers, unheard of among men, but heavenly and divine, and confirmed the same by His own example, when He willingly gave Himself up to the Jews to be bound, scourged, and crucified. Whence He says Himself, “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair.” (Is. 1. 6.)
Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, &c. This is, as I have said, a matter sometimes of precept, sometimes of counsel. Compliance with it flows from a generous mind, prompt to suffer, and earnestly desirous of imitating the Life and Passion of Christ. Hence S. Ambrose by the right cheek mystically understands patience, which conquers all things. “For as,” saith he, “Samson by the jaw-bone of an ass slew a thousand Philistines, so Christ by His patience overthrew the demons and all His enemies.”
Thus that glorious Spiridion, Bishop of Trimituns, in Cyprus, being invited by the Emperor Constantine to visit him on account of the fame of his sanctity, when he was entering the imperial palace in a mean and foreign garb, was derided by one of the servants and slapped on the cheek. On receiving it he immediately turned the other cheek, on which the servant was so struck with his virtue, that he became ashamed, and falling down on the ground at his feet begged him to forgive him. (See Spiridion’s Life in Surius, Decemb. 12.)
Similarly, a monk who was slapped on one cheek by an energumen, offered her the other; and by this drove out the devil. Hear the account (Auctor. Doctrinæ Pat. Tract. de humilitate n. 5) : “When the monk entered into the house, there came the girl who was vexed by the devil, and gave the monk a slap in the face, but he, according to the Divine precept, offered her his other cheek to slap. The devil, being constrained, began to cry out, ‘0! The power of the precepts of Jesus Christ drives me hence.’ And immediately the girl was cleansed. When the monk came to some old men, he told them what had been done, and they glorified God, saying, ‘It is the habit of diabolical pride to fall before the lowliness of the commands of Jesus.’”
Cassian celebrates the patience of a certain religious man, who in order to try his virtue, received a very sharp slap on his cheek from his Abbot Paul in a large assemblage, and so severe was the blow that it was heard by a number of persons who were sitting a considerable distance off. Yet not only did not the monk murmur, but his face was not even suffused with a blush, as is usual.
Lastly, S. Eulogius, presbyter and martyr of Cordova, being sentenced to death by a Saracen prince because he had spoken evil of Mahomet, whilst he was being led to martyrdom, was struck by a Saracen on his cheek. He offered him the other, when he received another slap upon that. Soon afterwards he was beheaded, when a dove came and sat upon his body, a sign and a vindication of his dove-like meekness, innocence, and patience. This happened A.D. 859, On the 11th day of March.
And if any man will sue thee at the law, &c. The cloak is an outer garment, and often of considerable value; the coat in this passage is an inner garment, whence the saying, “Your coat is nearer than your cloak.” Wherefore the coat cannot be plucked away until the cloak has been taken off. So S. Luke rightly inverts the order of the two, and says, And him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take away thy coat also. But the meaning is the same in both. If any one shall take one garment away from thee, do not go to law with him to recover it, but rather let him take possession of another, if he will. S. Francis did this literally. On account of his profuse almsdeeds he was taken by his father before the Bishop of Assisi, that he might be made to give up his property. Not only did he yield up his other goods, but he resigned even his clothes to his father, saying, “Now shall I say more boldly, ‘Our Father, which art in heaven.’” S. Elizabeth, daughter of the King of Hungary, afforded in this matter a rare example of patience and poverty. After the death of her husband, the Landgrave of Hesse, she was expelled with the utmost indignity by his vassals and relations from her home, she was despoiled of all she had, and reduced to the most extreme poverty. With joy and alacrity she went to a Franciscan convent; and there she asked the brethren to sing Te Deum laudamus in thanksgiving to God. Afterwards she wandered from house to house, like a beggar, with her children, and at last entered a hut, where she was tormented with the smoke, heat, wind, and rain, yet always did she give God thanks. The insults, reproaches, and scoffs of her relations she joyfully endured, being glad that she was counted worthy to suffer such things for God. At length, her father, King Andrew, begged her to go back to Hungary to share in the royal splendour. She would not, but in great poverty, gaining her own living by spinning wool, she spent the rest of her life, performing the most menial offices for poor, ulcerated, and leprous people. And so, a little before her death, she heard the singing of the angels, and the sweet voice of Christ calling her to His heavenly kingdom—“Come, My chosen one, and enjoy the bed in heaven which I have destined for thee from all eternity.” (See her Life in Surius, Nov. ig.)
And whoso shall compel thee to go a mile, Gr. α̉γγιαριζει̃ν, Angiare is a Persian word. The Persian royal messengers and postmen were called angari. They had the right of seizing horses, men or ships, and enforcing their service, so that angiare has the same meaning as to impound, compel. Hence the words Angarice and Panangarice in law books. In Hebrew iggheret means a letter, that which is carried by angari or runners.
The meaning is—If any one shall force thee to go one mile with him, go to the second mile-post rather than contend; so will you keep peace, exercise patience, and conquer by your charity him who compels you, and make him your friend.
And let not believers think that this is too difficult for them to do. S. Basil (in his Homiy on reading heathen books) shows that philosophers taught and did as much. For instance, Pericles, who, upon a certain occasion, had suffered abuse from a person during a whole day, took him home in the evening with a light. Of Julius Cæsar, Cicero says that he forgot nothing except injuries. But those things were but shadows of Christian virtues, which existed in a far greater and more solid degree in S. Paul, S. Laurence, S. Vincent, who gave thanks to their tormentors for weaving for them their martyrs’ crowns. S. Cyprian ordered twenty pieces of gold to be given to the executioner who was to behead him. Brother Juniper, the companion of S. Francis, received taunts as Christ’s jewels. Once to him who reproached him, he cried, “Cast your jewels into my lap; would that I might be stoned with precious stones like these all the way to Rome!” In the Lives of the Fathers we read of a certain religious man, who the more any one vexed him, or laughed at him, the more he rejoiced, saying, “These are the men who afford us an opportunity of becoming perfect; but they who commend us disturb our minds, for it is written, ‘They who speak well of you are those who deceive you. ’”
Climacus (Gradu 4 de Obedientiâ) says that a certain religious, named Abbakirus, suffered divers trials and tribulations at the hands of his brethren for fifteen years. He was even driven from table by the servants. But he bore all patiently, and took none of the indignities offered to him seriously, but as proving him. And when he lay a-dying he said, “I give thanks to Jesus Christ the Lord, and to you, that ye have tried me unto salvation, for, lo! for these seventeen years I have remained untempted of the devil.” The same Climacus relates that an old man, named Macedonius, who by his own desire had been sent among the novices, said, “Never have I felt freedom from all strife and the sweetness of divine light within my soul as I do now.”
Give to him that asketh, &c. At first sight the precept might not seem to be in harmony with what has gone before concerning the lex talionis, but it is indeed in perfect harmony. The meaning is this—I, Christ, instead of the law of retaliation, appoint a law of love and kindness. Wherefore, whosoever asketh anything of thee, be he friend or be he enemy who has injured thee, or smitten thee on the cheek, or taken away thy cloak, give him what he asks; and if he should desire to borrow from thee, turn not thy face away from him, as people are wont to do, but treat him kindly as a neighbour, and lend him that he requires, as though he had never injured thee.
In fine, the sermon and sanction of Christ here does not decrease but increases, for although it may be easier per se to give to every one that asketh thee, than when thou art smitten upon one cheek to offer the other to the smiter, yet it is more difficult in the connection, which implies both the patience which suffers such things and such men, and the beneficence by which we give or lend to those who ask us. For it is more difficult to do a kindness to one who has injured us, than simply to bear an injury patiently. So S. Augustine, lib. de Serm. Dom., c. 40.
The liberality of S. John, Patriarch of Alexandria, is well known. Encouraged by these words of Christ, he gave large alms to all who asked him, whence he derived his name of the Almoner. And the more he gave the more he received, so that it seemed as though there were a strife between God and him who should be the more liberal. For John overcame God, but much more did God overcome John. John would not examine those who asked him, whether they were rich or poor, worthy or unworthy, few or many. “I am persuaded,” he said, “that if the whole world should come to Alexandria, needing alms, they would be very far from exhausting the treasury of God.” S. Francis, upon one occasion, shortly after his conversion, refused, contrary to his custom, to give an alms to a poor man. But he very soon afterwards repented of his refusal, and gave the man a large alms; and he made a vow that in future he would never refuse to give when he was asked. By this his liberality, he drew down upon him that abundant grace of God by which he attained to such eminent sanctity.
That is a rare thing which we read in the Chronicles of the Franciscans concerning Alexander Aleusis, who was called a fountain of life, and who was the teacher of S. Bonaventura. His affection for the Mother of God was so great that he would never deny anything to any one who. asked him in her name. A certain Franciscan got to know of this, and, seeing that he was by far the most celebrated Doctor of the University of Paris, came to him and said, “By S. Mary, I beg of you to become one of us.” He believed the man was sent by God, and immediately followed him, and became a Franciscan Brother.
Ver. 41.—Ye have heard, &c. It has been asked, where is it said, “Thou shalt hate thine enemy?” Maldonatus replies, in Deut. xxv. 19, “Thou shalt blot out his name from under heaven.” God had commanded Joshua and the Hebrews utterly to destroy the impious Canaanites, and to seize their land. But the Law bade only the Canaanites to be slain, not other nations, and even them, not out of hatred: just as a judge might order a guilty person to be put to death, not because he hated him, but even one whom he loved.
I Maintain, therefore, that this saying was not in the Law, but was said by the Scribes who interpreted the Law. For they, because they found in Lev. xix. 18, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour,” or “thy friend,” as the Vulgate translates, inferred from thence that they should hate their enemies. Wherefore Christ here corrects this interpretation of theirs, and explains the Law, that by neighbour or friend every man is meant, even a foreigner, a Gentile, and an enemy. For all men are neighbours, through their first forefather, Adam, and brethren one of another. We are also brethren through our second Father, Christ, through whom we have been born again, and, as it were, created anew in the likeness of God, and called to the common inheritance of God, our Father in heaven. So S. Jerome, Augustine, Theophylact, and others.
But I say unto you, &c. Christ here bids us love our enemies in heart, in word, and in deed. In heart, when He says, “Love your enemies;” in word, “Bless them that curse you;” in deed, by adding, “Do good to them that hate you.”
That ye may be the children of your Father, &c. Christ bids that in loving our enemies we should imitate God, who does good to his impious enemies, giving them rain and sunshine, corn and fruits. For the mind of God is so lofty, that He regards no injury nor blasphemy of any one, however impious, as done against Himself. He perceives no diminution of His honour and glory. He is so impassible and so holy that no anger or revenge can affect Him, and so good and element that He showers His gifts upon His enemies, preventing them with His grace, and alluring and drawing them to reconciliation. Yea, He gave up His only Son to be crucified, that He might reconcile them and save them. Let us imitate these things as far as we can.
For if ye love them, &c. The publicans were so called because they farmed and collected the public taxes. And they extorted from the poor with the utmost rigour more than they had a right to pay. For this reason they were accounted by the Jews iniquitous and infamous.
What reward have ye? None: for if ye love your friends only, not your enemies, ye only do as the publicans do, and God will give you no reward in heaven. For such love is of nature, not of grace and charity, which latter love extends itself even to enemies. And ye do receive a reward from your friends, namely, reciprocal love. But if ye love your enemies as well as your friends, ye will deserve and obtain great grace and glory from God, since both kinds of love are the fruit of charity. Charity therefore bids us love both friends and enemies, corrupt nature our friends only.
Publius Sulla was wont to boast that he surpassed his friends in benefits, his enemies in injuries. Other heathen did the same. There were indeed a few among them who did love even their enemies. Such was Phocion, who being condemed to death, and at point of execution, being asked what message he would send to his son, made answer, “I wish him to forget this injury which the Athenians have done to me.”
Lycurgus, King of the Lacedæmonians, being deprived of an eye by a certain young man, the youth was presented to him by the people that he should punish him in any way he pleased. Lycurgus took the youth, and gave him excellent instruction; and when he had quite reformed his character, he brought him into the theatre, and presented him to the people, saying, “Lo! him whom I received from you violent and injurious I restore to you profitable and acceptable.” See Plutarch in Life of Lycurgus. If the Gentiles, led by nature and reason, did such things as these, for the sake of temporal glory, what ought not Christians to do, led by faith and grace for the reward of a blissful eternity?
And if ye salute your brethren only, &c. Brethren, i.e., relations, kinsfolk, friends. Salute. Gr. α̉σπάσησθε, salute with a kiss and embrace, which was the customary method of salutation among the Greeks and Romans, and indeed amongst the first Christians, according to those words of S. Paul, “Salute one another with an holy kiss.” (2 Cor. xiii. 12.)
Be ye therefore perfect, &c. The emphasis here is upon the word ye. Because ye are separated from the heathen, and chosen of God that ye should be His faithful ones, His friends, His sons and heirs, therefore imitate the holiness and perfection of your Heavenly Father.
The word therefore refers partly to what immediately precedes concerning love of our enemies. “Do ye therefore, 0 faithful, who are the friends of God, and who ought therefore to be better than the heathen, do you love all men, enemies as well as friends, even as your Father wholly extends His love to all.” But the therefore also partly refers to all that has gone before. For this maxim is the end and completion of all the sayings of this chapter, as though Christ said, “Thus far I have unfolded the commandments of God, which are the sanction of the perfection of all virtue. Be ye therefore perfect in meekness, in purity of heart, in patience, in chastity, in charity, and in every virtue which the Law of God enjoins.”
You will ask whether this perfection be of counsel or of precept? I reply, partly of counsel, partly of precept. First, it is of precept that every believer in Christianity should endeavour to be perfect, in such wise that he should perfectly love his enemies as well as his friends, and keep perfectly all the other commandments of God. For Christ is here speaking to all the faithful, as is plain from what precedes. Hence we learn from this passage that all Christians are under obligation to be advancing towards perfection according to their state and condition. For this is required that they should be the children of their Heavenly Father, as Christ says. Whosoever therefore desires to be the child and heir of this Father ought to imitate Him in perfection because, as S. Cyprian says (Serm. de bono Patient.), “The children of such and so great a Parent ought not to be degenerate.”
Moreover, S. James (chap. i.), addressing not religious, but all believers, says: “That ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” For if soldiers in battle wish to be most brave, disciples in a school most learned, workmen, each in their own craft, most exact, servants in obeying their own masters most diligent, why should not Christians, who are called by Christ to holiness and perfection, wish to be most holy and most perfect?
Blessed Theresa was wont to say that God has an especial love for those who are perfect, and makes them, as it were, captains and generals of others, that they should convert, save, and perfect many. Wherefore she herself made a vow that in every work she would do that which should be more perfect, and for the greater glory of God. See S. Chrysostom (lib. 3. de Vitupererat. vitæ Monast.), where he teaches that the precepts of Christ bind seculars as well as religious, and that therefore both ought to aim at perfection, each in his own state and rank, according to that which God said to Israel, “Thou shalt be perfect and without spot before the Lord thy God.” (Deut. xviii. 13.)
2. This perfection is of counsel so far as it extends itself to the observance, not only of commands, but of evangelical counsels, such as voluntary poverty, chastity, and religious obedience; such, I mean, as when Christ said, “If thou wilt be perfect, sell that thou hast and give to the poor.” (Matt. xix. 21.)
Moreover, this perfection mainly consists in charity and love, especially of our enemies. For this is the perfection of life, since the perfection of the country consists in the vision and fruition of God. Christ here tacitly intimates that the way of attaining perfection and eminent sanctity is for any one to exercise himself in love of his enemies, both because this is the highest and most difficult act of charity, as because it is the greatest victory over ourselves. For he who does this generously vanquishes anger, revenge, and the other passions of the soul; and God, requites his charity with far more abundant gifts of grace. So that holy virgin mentioned by D. Tauler, when asked how she had attained to so great sanctity, replied, “I have ever loved with a special love any who have been troublesome to me; and to any one who has injured me, I have always endeavoured to show some special mark of kindness.”
As your Father which is in heaven, &c., For He with a perfect love loves all men. Upon all He sheds the beams of His beneficence, as it were a perennial sun of kindness, Who expects not to derive any advantage from any one, but out of pure love desires to communicate His benefits to others, that thus He may contend with the wickedness and ingratitude of man; for few indeed are they who love Him, their Benefactor, in return as they should do. The word as signifies likeness, not equality; for we cannot come up to the perfection of God, for that infinitely transcends all our perfection; but we ought to imitate it as far as we are able.
The perfection then which Christ here requires of a Christian is not merely human but Divine perfection, and similar to God’s perfection. For he is our Father not only by nature, but by grace, for by it “we are partakers of the Divine nature,” as S. Peter says. Therefore we are made to be really sons of God, and as it were gods upon earth. And so S. Peter proposes the words in Lev. xi. 44 as a kind of mirror for Christians saying, “Ye shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet. i. 16.) And S. Paul says, “Be ye imitators of God as dear children.” (Eph. v. 1.) Beautifully says S. Cyprian, “If it be a pleasure and glory to men to have children like themselves, how much more is there gladness with God our Father, when any one is so born spiritually, that the Divine nobility is manifest in his actions?”
1. The perfection of God consists in the most ample love of all men, bad as well as good. And it is to this Christ has special reference in this passage.
2. It consists in the highest forbearance, kindness, and tranquillity, and the impossibility of being affected by injury, wrath, or revenge, so that He is imperturbable and without passions. So in like manner must we, if we would be perfect, be meek and tranquil, and to that end must mortify anger and all other mental passions. Whence S. Ambrose says (lib. de Jacob et vita beata), “It is the part of a perfect man to sustain like a brave soldier the onset of the most terrible misfortunes, and like a wise pilot to manage his ship in a storm, and as he runs through the surging billows, to avoid shipwreck rather by facing the waves than by shrinking from them.”
Hence we shall find it a singularly efficacious means of attaining perfection for every one to search carefully into the state of his own soul, and find out his chief vice, from which, like branches from a root, all his other faults spring, and to strive against this with all his might until he root it out. For example, the radical and dominating vice in Peter is pride, in Paul gluttony, in James luxury, in John acerbity, in Philip anger, in Andrew sadness, in Matthew pusillanimity. Let every man know his own vice, and when it is known, let him fight against it with suitable weapons and mortify it.
3. God looks down from on high upon all earthly things as mean and poor, and gloriously presides over heaven and heavenly things. So in like manner, ought the man who is aiming at perfection to despise earthly honours and pleasures as worthless matters, pertaining to flies and gnats and fleas, and ought to look up to and covet the heavenly things, which are God’s.
4. The mind and will of God are most just, holy, and perfect. With this mind, then, ought we to be clothed, that we may be like God—yea, one with God. Hear what S. Bernard says about this: “The unity of a man’s spirit with God is his having his heart lifted up towards God, and entirely directed to Him; when he only wills what God wills; when there is not only affection, but perfect affection for God, so that he cannot will anything save and except what God wills. For to will what God wills is to be already like God. But not to be able to will except what God wills, this is to be what God is, to whom to will and to be are the same thing.
5. God is of a great and lofty mind, which transcends all things, and which ever abides and is established in His own blessed and tranquil eternity, and so converts and draws all things to Himself. Hear, again, S. Bernard (ad Fratres de Monte Dei): “Thou shalt, amid the adverse and prosperous changes and chances of the world, hold fast as it were an image of eternity; I mean an inviolable and unshaken constancy of mind, blessing God at all times, and vindicating for thyself, even in the uncertain events of this changeful world, and in its certain troubles, to some extent at least, a condition of abiding unchangeableness, so shalt thou begin to be changed and formed anew into the image and likeness of the eternal God, with whom is no changeableness, neither shadow of turning; for as He is, so also shalt thou be in this world, neither fearful in adversity nor dissolute in prosperity.”
Lastly, all perfection in this life is begun only, and is imperfect. For concupiscence, like a Jebusite, dwelleth in our members, and can be kept under, but not entirely extirpated; but in heaven, perfection shall be full and complete, where this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal shall put on a blessed immortality, where death and concupiscence shall be swallowed up of glory, and God shall be all in all. There shall be no covetousness, where love shall fill all things. Whence the Apostle says of himself (Philip. iii. 12):—“Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”