Commentaries for Sunday Mass Readings: From Pentecost to the End of the Year (Year A)

The Church’s yearly Sunday Lectionary cycle always begins on the First Sunday of Advent and always ends on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. This page will serve as the archive for the remaining Sunday’s of this cycle (A). In addition to commentaries on the Sunday readings, this post will also contain links to commentaries for the readings of special days such as All Saints Day and the Solemnity of St Peter and Paul.

June 4. PENTECOST:

June 11: Commentaries for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.
June 18. Commentaries for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.
June 25. Commentaries for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

June 29.  SOLEMNITY OF SAINTS PETER AND PAUL, APOSTLES:

July 2. Commentaries for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
July 9. Commentaries for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
July 16. Commentaries for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
July 23. Commentaries for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
July 30. Commentaries for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Aug. 6. Commentaries for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Aug. 13. Commentaries for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Aug. 20. Commentaries for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Aug. 27. Commentaries for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Sept. 3. Commentaries for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Sept. 10. Commentaries for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Sept 17. Commentaries for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Sept. 24. Commentaries for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Oct. 1. Commentaries for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Oct. 8. Commentaries for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Oct. 15. Commentaries for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Oct 22. Commentaries for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Oct. 29. Commentaries for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Nov. 5. Commentaries for the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time.

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Commentaries for the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

READINGS:

NABRE. Used in USA.

NJB. Used in most other English speaking countries.

COMMENTARIES ON THE FIRST READING: Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10.

My Summary Notes on the Book of Malachi.

COMMENTARIES ON THE RESPONSORIAL: Psalm 131:1, 2, 3.

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 131.

St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 131.

Pope Benedict XVI’s Commentary on Psalm 131.

COMMENTARIES ON TH SECOND READING: 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13.

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13. On 7-13.

Father Callan’s Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13. On 7-13.

My Notes on 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13. On 7-13.

COMMENTARIES ON THE GOSPEL READING: Matthew 23:1-12.

Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 23:1-12.

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 23:1-12.

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Matthew 23:1-12.

Father Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Matthew 23:1-12.

St John Chrysostom’s Homiletic Commentary on Matthew 23:1-12.

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St John Chrysostom’s Homiletic Commentary on Matthew 23:1-12

“Then spake Jesus to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying, The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you do, that do;1 but do not after their works.”

Then. When? When He had said these things, when He had stopped their mouths; when He had brought them that they should no more dare to tempt Him; when He had shown their state incurable.

And since He had made mention of “the Lord” and “my Lord,”2 He recurs again to the law. And yet the law said nothing of this kind, but, “The Lord thy God is one Lord.”3 But Scripture calls the whole Old Testament the law.

But these things He saith, showing by all things His full agreement with Him that begat Him. For if He were opposed, He would have said the opposite about the law; but now He commands so great reverence to be shown towards it, that, even when they that teach it are depraved, He charges them to hold to it.

But here He is discoursing about their life and morals, since this was chiefly the cause of their unbelief, their depraved life, and the love of glory. To amend therefore His hearers; that which in the first place most contributes to salvation, not to despise our teachers, neither to rise up against our priests, this doth He command with superabundant earnestness. But He does not only command it, but also Himself doth it. For though they were depraved, He doth not depose them from their dignity; to them rendering their condemnation heavier, and to His disciples leaving no cloke for disobedience.

I mean, that lest any one should say, that because my teacher is bad, therefore am I become more remiss, He takes away even this pretext. So much at any rate did He establish their authority, although they were wicked men, as even after so heavy an accusation to say, “All whatsoever they command you to do, do.” For they speak not their own words, but God’s, what He appointed for laws by Moses. And mark how much honor He showed towards Moses, again showing His agreement with the Old Testament; since indeed even by this doth He make them objects of reverence. “For they sit,” He saith, “on Moses’ seat.” For because He was not able to make them out worthy of credit by their life, He doth it from the grounds that were open to Him, from their seat, and their succession from him. But when thou hearest all, do not understand all the law, as, for instance, the ordinances about meats, those about sacrifices, and the like for how was He to say so of these things, which He had taken away beforehand? but He meant all things that correct the moral principle, and amend the disposition, and agree with the laws of the New Testament, and suffer them not any more to be under the yoke of the law.

Wherefore then doth He give these things divine authority, not from the law of grace, but from Moses? Because it was not yet time, before the crucifixion, for these things to be plainly declared.

But to me He seems, in addition to what has been said, to be providing for another object, in saying these things. For since He was on the point of accusing them, that He might not seem in the sight of the foolish to set His heart on this authority of theirs, or for enmity to be doing these things, first He removed this thought, and having set himself clear from suspicion, then begins His accusation. And for what intent doth He convict them, and run out into a long discourse against them? To set the multitude on their guard, so that they might not fall into the same sins. For neither is dissuading like pointing out those that have offended; much as recommending what is right, is not like bringing forward those that have done well. For this cause also He is beforehand in saying, “Do not after their works.” For, lest they should suppose, because of their listening to them, they ought also to imitate them, He uses this means of correction, and makes what seems to be their dignity a charge against them. For what can be more wretched than a teacher, when the preservation of his disciples is, not to give heed to his life? So that what seemeth to be their dignity is a most heavy charge against them, when they are shown to live such a life, as they that imitate are ruined.

For this cause He also falls upon His accusations against them, but not for this only, but that He might show, that both their former unbelief wherewith they had not believed, and the crucifixion after this, which they dared to perpetrate, were not a charge against Him who was crucified and disbelieved, but against their perverseness.

But see whence He begins, and whence He aggravates His blame of them. “For they say,” He saith, and do not.” For every one is worthy of blame in transgressing the law, but especially he that bears the authority of teaching, for doubly and triply doth he deserve to be condemned. For one cause, because he transgresses; for another, that as he ought to amend others, and then halteth, he is worthy of a double punishment, because of his dignity; and in the third place, that he even corrupts the more, as committing such transgression in a teacher’s place.

And together with these He mentions also another charge against them, that they are harsh to those accountable to them.

“For they bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they will not move them with their finger.”1 He mentions here a twofold wickedness, their requiring great and extreme strictness of life, without any indulgence, from those over whom they rule, and their allowing to themselves great security; the opposite to which the truly good ruler ought to hold; in what concerns himself, to be an unpardoning and severe judge, but in the matters of those whom he rules, to be gentle and ready to make allowances; the contrary to which was the conduct of these men.

2. For such are all they who practise self restraint in mere words, unpardoning and grievous to bear as having no experience of the difficulty in actions. And this itself too is no small fault, and in no ordinary way increases the former charge.

But do thou mark, I pray thee, how He aggravates this accusation also. For He did not say, “they cannot,” but, “they will not.” And He did not say, “to bear,” but, “to move with a finger,” that is, not even to come near them, nor to touch them.

But wherein are they earnest, and vigorous? In the things forbidden. For, “all their works they do,” He saith, “to be seen of men.”1 These things He saith, accusing them in respect of vainglory, which kind of thing was their ruin. For the things before were signs of harshness and remissness, but these of the mad desire of glory. This drew them off from God, this caused them to strive before other spectators, and ruined them. For whatever kind of spectators any one may have, since it hath become his study to please these, such also are the contests he exhibits And he that wrestles among the noble, such also are the conflicts he takes in hand, but he among the cold and supine, himself also becomes more remiss. For instance, hath any one a beholder that delights in ridicule? he himself too becomes a mover of ridicule, that he may delight the spectator: hath another one who is earnest minded, and practises self-government? he endeavors himself to be such as he is, since such is the disposition of him who praises him.

But see again that here too the charge is with aggravation. For neither is it that they do some things in this way, some in another way, but all things absolutely this way.

Then, having blamed them for vainglory, He shows that it is not even about great and necessary things they are vainglorious (for neither had they these, but were destitute of good works), but for things without warmth or worth, and such as were certain proofs of their baseness, the phylacteries, the borders of their garments. “For they make broad their phylacteries,” He saith, “and enlarge the borders of their garments.”2

And what are these phylacteries, and these borders? Since they were continually forgetting God’s benefits, He commanded His marvellous works to be inscribed on little tablets, and that these should be suspended from their hands (wherefore also He said, “They shall be immoveable in thine eyes”),3 which they called phylacteries; as many of our women now wear Gospels hung from their necks.

And in order that by another thing again they may be reminded, like as many often do, binding round their finger with a piece of linen or a thread, as being likely to forget, this God enjoined them as children to do, “to sew a ribbon of blue on their garments, upon the fringe that hung round their feet, that they might look at it, and remember the commandments;”4 and they were called “borders.”

In these things then they were diligent, making wide the strips of the tablets, and enlarging the borders of their garments; which was a sign of the most extreme vanity. For wherefore art thou vainglorious, and dost make these wide? what, is this thy good work? what cloth it profit thee at all, if thou gain not the good results from them. For God seeks not the enlarging of these and making them wide, but our remembering His benefits. But if for almsgiving and prayer, although they be attended with labor, and be good deeds on our parts, we must not seek vainglory, how dost thou, O Jew, pride thyself in these things, which most of all convict thy remissness.

But they not in these only, but in other little things, suffered from this disease.

For, “they love,” He saith, “the uppermost rooms5 at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi.”6 For these things, although one may think them small, yet are they a cause of great evils. These things have overthrown both cities and churches.

And it comes upon me now even to weep, when I hear of the first seats, and the greetings, and consider how many ills were hence engendered to the churches of God, which it is not necessary to publish to you now; nay rather as many as are aged men do not even need to learn these things from us.7

But mark thou, I pray thee, how vainglory prevailed; when they were commanded not to be vainglorious, even in the synagogues, where they had entered to discipline others.

For to have this feeling at feasts, to howsoever great a degree, doth not seem to be so dreadful a thing; although even there the teachers ought to be held in reverence, and not in the church only, but everywhere. And like as a man, wherever he may appear, is manifestly distinguished from the brutes; so also ought the teacher, both speaking and holding his peace, and dining, and doing whatever it may be, to be distinguished as well by his gait, as by his look, and by his garb, and by all things generally. But they were on every account objects of ridicule, and in every respect disgraced themselves, making it their study to follow what they ought to flee. For they love them, it is said; but if the loving them be a matter of blame, what a thing must the doing them be; and to hunt and strive after them, how great an evil.

3. The other things then He carried no further than to accuse them, as being small and trifling, and as though His disciples needed not at all to be corrected about these matters; but what was a cause of all the evils, even ambition, and the violent seizing of the teacher’s chair, this He brings forward, and corrects with diligence, touching this vehemently and earnestly charging them.

For what saith He? “But be not ye called Rabbi.” Then follows the cause also; “For one is your master, and all ye are brethren;”1 and one hath nothing more than another, in respect of his knowing nothing from himself. Wherefore Paul also saith, “For who is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers?”2 He said not masters. And again, “Call not, father,”3 not that they should not call, but they may know whom they ought to call Father, in the highest sense. For like as the master is not a master principally; so neither is the father. For He is cause of all, both of the masters, and of the fathers.

And again He adds, “Neither be ye called guides, for one is your guide, even Christ;”4 and He said not, I. For like as above He said, “What think ye of Christ?”5 and He said not, “of me,” so here too.

But I should be glad to ask here, what they would say, who are repeatedly applying the term one, one, to the Father alone, to the rejection of the Only-begotten. Is the Father guide? All would declare it, and none would gainsay it. And yet “one,” He saith, “is your guide, even Christ.” For like as Christ, being called the one guide, casts not out the Father from being guide; even so the Father, being called Master, doth not cast out the Son from being Master. For the expression, one, one, is spoken in contradistinction to men, and the rest of the creation.

Having warned them therefore against this grievous pest, and amended them, He instructs also how they may escape it; by humility. Wherefore He adds also, “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant. For whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased, and whosoever shall abase himself shall be exalted.”6

For nothing is equal to the practice of modesty, wherefore He is continually reminding them of this virtue, both when He brought the children into the midst, and now. And, when on the mount, beginning the beatitudes, He began from hence. And in this place, He plucks it up by the roots hereby, saying, “He that abaseth himself shall be exalted.”

Seest thou how He draws off the hearer right over to the contrary thing. For not only doth He forbid him to set his heart upon the first place, but requires him to follow after the last. For so shalt thou obtain thy desire, He saith. Wherefore he that pursues his desire for the first, must follow after the last place. “For he that abaseth himself shall be exalted.”

And where shall we find this humility? Will ye that we go again to the city of virtue, the tents of the holy men, the mountains. I mean, and the groves? For there too shall we see this height of humility.

For men, some illustrious from their rank in the world, some from their wealth, in every way put themselves down, by their vesture, by their dwelling, by those to whom they minister; and, as in written characters, they throughout all things inscribe humility.

And the things that are incentives of arrogance, as to dress well, and to build houses splendidly, and to have many servants, things which often drive men even against their will to arrogance; these are all taken away. For they themselves light their fire, they themselves cleave the logs, themselves cook, themselves minister to those that come there.

No one can be heard insulting there, nor seen insulted, nor commanded, nor giving commands; but all are devoted to those that are waited on, and every one washes the strangers’ feet, and there is much contention about this. And he doeth it, not inquiring who it is, neither if he be a slave, nor if he be free; but in the case of every one fulfills this service. No man there is great nor mean. What then? Is there confusion? Far from it, but the highest order. For if any one be mean, he that is great seeth not this, but hath accounted himself again to be inferior even to him, and so becomes great.

There is one table for all, both for them that are served, and for them that serve; the same food, the same clothes, the same dwellings, the same manner of life. He is great there, who eagerly seizes the mean task. There is not mine and thine, but this expression is exterminated, that is a cause of countless wars.

4. And why dost thou marvel, if there be one manner of life and table and dress for all, since indeed there is even one soul to all, not in substance only (for this is with all men also), but in love? how then should it ever be lifted up itself against itself? There is no wealth and poverty there, honor and dishonor; how then should haughtiness and arrogance find an entrance? For they are indeed little and great in respect of their virtue; but, as I have said, no one seeth this. He that is little, feels not pain, as despised; for neither is there any one to despise him; and should any one spurn him, this above all are they taught, to be despised, to be spurned, to be set at nought, in word and in deed. And with the poor and maimed do they associate, and their tables are full of these guests; so that for this are they worthy of the heavens. And one tends the wounds of the mutilated, another leads the blind by the hand, a third bears him that is lamed of his leg.

There is no multitude of flatterers or parasites there; or rather they know not even what flattery is; whence then could they be lifted up at any time? For there is great equality amongst them, wherefore also there is much facility for virtue.

For by these are they of an inferior sort better instructed, than if they were compelled to give up the first place to them.

For like as the impetuous man derives instruction from him that is smitten, and submits to it; so the ambitious from him that claims not glory, but despises it. This they do there abundantly, and as the strife is great with us to obtain the first place, so great is it with them not to obtain it, but utterly to refuse it; and great is their earnest desire who shall have the advantage in honoring, not in being honored.

And besides, even their very employments persuade them to practise moderation, and not to be high-swollen. For who, I pray thee, digging in the earth, and watering, and planting, or making baskets, or weaving sackcloth, or practising any other handy works, will ever be proud? Who dwelling in poverty and wrestling with hunger, will ever be sick of this disease? There is not one. Therefore humility is easy to them. And like as here, it is a hard thing to be lowly minded, for the multitude of them who applaud and admire us, so there it is exceedingly easy.

And that man gives heed only to the wilderness, and sees birds flying, and trees waving, and a breeze blowing, and streams rushing through glens. Whence then should he be lifted up who dwells in solitude so great?

Not however that therefore we have from this an excuse, in that we are proud when living in the midst of men. For surely Abraham, when amidst Canaanites, said, “I am but dust and ashes;”1 and David, when in the midst of camps,2 “I am a worm, and no man;”3 and the apostle, in the midst of the world, “I am not meet to be called an apostle.”4 What comfort shall we have then; what plea, when even, having such great examples, we do not practise moderation? For even as they are worthy of countless crowns, having been the first that went the way of virtue, even so are we deserving of countless punishments, who not even after those that are departed, and are set before us in books, no nor even after these that are living, and held in admiration through their deeds, are drawn on to the like emulation.

For what couldest thou say, for not being amended? Art thou ignorant of letters, and hast not looked into the Scriptures that thou mightest learn the virtues of them of old? To say the truth, this is itself blameworthy, when the church is constantly standing open, not to enter in, and partake of those sacred streams.

However, although thou know not the departed by the Scriptures, these living men thou oughtest to see. But is there no one to lead thee? Come to me, and I will show thee the places of refuge of these holy men; come and learn thou of them something useful. Shining lamps are these in every part of the earth; as walls are they set about the cities. For this cause have they occupied the deserts, that they may instruct thee to despise the tumults in the midst of the world.

For they, as being strong, are able even in the midst of the raging of the waters to enjoy a calm; but thou, who art leaky on every side, hast need of tranquility, and to take breath a little, after the successive waves. Go then there continually, that, having purged away the abiding stain by their prayers and admonitions, thou mayest both pass in the best manner the present life, and attain unto the good things to come, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom and with whom, be unto the Father, together with the Holy Ghost, glory, might, honor, now and ever, and world without end. Amen.

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Father Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Matthew 23:1-12

Mat 23:1  Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to his disciples,

Then Jesus spoke, &c. Then, that is to say, when, by His most wise answers and reasonings, He had confounded the errors of the Scribes and Pharisees, and had proved that He was the Messiah,—then, I say, He put to rebuke their persistent effrontery by this powerful and pathetic speech, by which He uncovered their feigned appearance of sanctity, and showed their lurking dishonesty, so that the people might avoid it.

Mat 23:2  Saying: The scribes and the Pharisees have sitten on the chair of Moses.

Saying, &c. By seat we here understand the honour, dignity, and authority of teaching and commanding, which Moses had with the Jews, and to which the Scribes had succeeded. We gather from S. Luk_4:16, that the Scribes not only sat, but sometimes stood when they taught. In like manner, the chair of S. Peter is used to signify the power and authority of teaching and ruling all the faithful throughout the world, in which the Roman Pontiffs succeed S. Peter. For otherwise no Pontiff ever sits now in that actual wooden chair in which S. Peter sat, but it is religiously preserved in his basilica, and is shown to the people every year on the Feast of S. Peter’s Chair, to be venerated. Hence S. Jerome said to Damasus, “I am united in communion to your blessedness, that is, to the chair of Peter.” For although as a private man the Pontiff may err, yet when he defines anything ex cathedra, that is, by his Pontifical authority concerning the faith, he cannot err, because he is assisted by the Holy Ghost.

Observe, many of the Scribes and Pharisees were priests or Levites, whose duty it was to teach the people (Mal 2:7). But Christ did not wish to name the Priests, because He would not derogate from the sacerdotal honour.

Mat 23:3  All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not. For they say, and do not.

All things therefore whatsoever, &c. He means, of course, all things not contrary to Moses and the Law. For the doctrine of the Scribes, when they taught men to say corban to their parents, was contrary to the Law, as Christ showed (15:4). In like manner, it was contrary to the Law of Moses to teach, as the Scribes did, that Jesus was not the Messiah, or the Christ. For Jesus showed those very signs and miracles which Moses and the Prophets had foretold Messiah would perform. In such things, therefore, the people must not follow the doctrine of the Scribes, nor be obedient to them; but in other things, in which their teaching was generally conformable to the Law of Moses, it was their duty to obey them. Christ therefore here teaches that all the other dogmas of the Scribes, which were not repugnant to the law, even though they were vain and foolish, and therefore not binding (for that a law should be obligatory, it must command something honest and useful, as Civilians and Theologians teach in their treatises upon laws, also D. Thomas, 1. 2 quæst. 95, art. 3), such as were the frequent washings of the hands and other parts of the body, might yet serve for the merit of blind and simple obedience, and for reverence of the sacerdotal order. So Jansen, Franc. Lucas, and others. But Maldonatus restricts the word all to such commands alone as are contained in the Law of Moses. Certainly these were what Christ chiefly referred to.

For they say. i.e., command, and do not. They teach and order well, but they live ill. They both break the law, and scandalise their subjects by their evil example, and thus incite them likewise to break the law. For as one hath said, “The whole world comports itself according to the king’s example,” we may add, of the Teacher’s likewise. For men give wore credit to deeds than they do to words. Christians ought to bear in mind these words of Christ when they see certain Bishops, Pastors, and Magistrates not living in accordance with the law of Christ.

Mat 23:4  For they bind heavy and insupportable burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders: but with a finger of their own they will not move them.

For they bind . . . on men’s shoulders; Arab. upon their necks; Gr. δεσμεύουσι, i.e., they bind and, as it were, gather them together in heaps. This signifies both the multitude and the heavy weight of the precepts with which they burden the people.

Insupportable; Vulg. Gr. δυβάστακτα, as English version, difficult to be borne, rather than impossible. Such were the numerous precepts, beyond what the Law required, concerning oblations, tithes, first-fruits, &c. Consider only the vigorous observance of the Sabbath, which they enjoined, so that they would not allow Christ to heal the sick on that day, nor suffer His disciples to satisfy their hunger by plucking ears of corn.

But with a finger of their own they will not move them. Vulg. Syr. and English Version, touch them. As S. Chrysostom says, “He shows that theirs was a double wickedness, both because they wish the multitude to live in the strictest possible manner, without the least indulgence, and because, indulging themselves inordinately, they assume great licence. Which things are the very opposite of what is required in a good prince. For such a one permits himself no indulgence, but is mild towards his subjects, and ready to bestow pardon.”

Mat 23:5  And all their works they do for to be seen of men. For they make their phylacteries broad and enlarge their fringes.

And all their works they do for to be seen by men. Gr. θεαθη̃ναι, i.e., be a spectacle. He notes their vain ostentation of sanctity in praying in the public streets, &c Christ here touches upon the root of the incredulity of the Scribes, that they would not believe in Him, because they sought after vainglory and the applause of men. “For it is impossible,” says S. Chrysostom, “that he who covets the earthly glory of men should believe in Christ preaching heavenly things.”

And enlarge their fringes. Vulg. They prolong the fringes of their cloaks; Syr. They, the Jews, interpreted too literally the words of Deut 6:8, “Thou shalt bind them, i.e., the precepts of God, for a sign upon thine hands, and they shall be moved (Vulg.) before thine eyes.” They bore certain pieces of parchment about their arms and foreheads. Whence they were called armlets and frontiers. They did this that they might strike against their eyes and foreheads, and admonish them to meditate upon and keep the Divine Law. The words inscribed upon the pieces of parchment were, “Hear, 0 Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength.” They were called phylacteries, from φυλάττω, to guard, to keep, because they put them in constant remembrance of observing the law.

For a similar reason, in Num 15:38 and Deut 22:12, the Lord commanded the Jews to wear fringes, threads depending from the lowest skirt of their garments, and that they should be of a light blue or dark blue colour, as men who professed and lived the heavenly life by keeping the law. S. Jerome adds that the more devout Jews were wont to insert very sharp thorns in these fringes, that being pricked by them as they walked, they might be always reminded of the Divine Law. All these things the Pharisees wore larger and broader than other people, that they might appear to all to be stricter observers of the law, although they made but little of it in their minds. “Not understanding,” says S. Jerome, “that these things should be carried in the heart, not in the body, for bookcases and chests have books, but have not therefore the knowledge of God.” Moreover, S. Chrysostom, by philacteries, understands amulets worn to preserve health, for such the Scribes esteemed the pieces of parchment described above. In the same way, some Christians wear the Gospel of S. John about their necks as a kind of charm to preserve health.

Mat 23:6  And they love the first places at feasts and the first chairs in the synagogues,
Mat 23:7  And salutations in the market place, and to be called by men, Rabbi.

And salutations in the market place; Vulg. in the forum. S. Chrysostom says, “They love the first salutations, not only as regards time, that we should salute them first, but also as regards the voice, that we should cry out, ‘Hail, Rabbi;’ and as regards the body, that we should bow the head to them; and as regards place, that we should salute them in public.” Wisely saith R. Matthies in Pirke Avoth, “Always be the first to salute every one. Be the tall of lions, and not the head of foxes; that is, be the lowest among good and honourable men, not the chief among deceitful, proud, and impious ones.”

Rabbi, from רב, i.e., much or great, because a great man, such as a Rabbi, or Doctor of the Law, was equivalent to many persons, as excelling others in learning and authority. Well saith R. Benzoma in Pirke Avoth, “Who is a wise man? He who willingly learns of all, according to the words, ‘I had more understanding than the aged, because I sought Thy commandments.’ Who is the mighty man? He who rules over anger, and his own spirit, according to the saying, ‘Better is the patient man than the strong, and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city’ (Prov 16:32). Who is the rich? He that is contented with his own, as it is said (Ps 128:2), ‘Thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands; 0 well is thee, and happy shalt thou be.’ Who is honoured? He that honoureth others, as it is written, ‘Him that honoureth Me I will honour, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed. ‘”

Mat 23:8  But be not you called Rabbi. For one is your master: and all you are brethren.

But be not you called Rabbi, &c. He forbids the ambition of the Scribes and Pharisees, who desired to be honoured and called Rabbi above Christ, yea, even to the exclusion of Christ. But it is lawful to desire a doctor’s degree, as a testimony of learning, that by it we may obtain authority, and preach, and have influence with the people, and by this means gain the greater fruit. Wherefore the Council of Trent (sess. 24 c. 12) orders that all dignities, and at least the half of canonries in cathedral and collegiate churches, should be conferred only upon masters and doctors, or at least licentiates in theology or canon law. Christ does not say, do not be, but do not be called, Rabbi.

Christ does not forbid the doctor’s degree, but the proud ambition of the name, that by it a man should please himself and despise others, as though he had his knowledge and learning from himself, and not from Christ, which was what the Scribes did. Therefore He adds the reason, for one is your Master. He means, there is one chief Rabbi over all, of whom all others are the disciples, and all are brethren, equal one to another. Therefore let none of them proudly lift himself above the rest, and wish to be called Rabbi, as though he were of himself a doctor and master of others, for this is a wrong done to Christ, who alone has all wisdom in Himself, and is the only supreme Doctor of all, who indeed makes them doctors. And in this lower sense Paul himself, as S. Jerome says, with modesty calls himself the doctor of the Gentiles.

Mat 23:9  And call none your father upon earth; for one is your father, who is in heaven.

And call none your father upon earth, &c. He means in the sense of the prime author of life and the preserver of all things, as though ye entirely depended upon any but God. This was what the Gentiles and Atheists did, and others who trusted in men rather than in God. That this is the meaning, is plain from the reason which He subjoins, for one is your Father, &c. “Of whom the whole family in Heaven and earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God therefore is the only real Father of all, forasmuch as He only gives soul and life, creates, and preserves. In comparison of Him, says S. Jerome, earthly fathers are only so in a figurative sense, and ought not therefore insolently to command their children, but ought to submit themselves together with their children to God, the chief Father of all.

Mat 23:10  Neither be ye called masters: for one is your master, Christ.

Neither be ye called, i.e., be not ambitious of being called masters; Vulg. magistri; Gr. καθηγηταί, or governors, moderators; Syr. rulers; for One is the Ruler and Orderer, Gr. καθηγηής, of your life, that is, Christ. He Himself, in the first place, by Himself teaches us, and leads us by the way of virtue to heavenly glory. All others teach as they have been first taught by Him. Secondly, all others only teach in words that sound in the outward ears, like a tinkling cymbal; but Christ makes known their meaning inwardly to the mind. For, as S. Chrysostom says, “it is not man who gives man understanding by teaching, but exercises by means of admonition what has been ordained by God.” Thirdly, all others only show what the law commands and what God requires; but Christ gives grace to the will, that we, when we hear the things which ought to be done, may indeed constantly fulfil the same.

Mat 23:11  He that is the greatest among you shall be your servant.
Mat 23:12  And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled: and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

He that is the greatest among you, &c. “He teaches,” says S. Chrysostom, “that the disease of vainglory must be got rid of by humility.” And Origen says, “If any one ministers the divine words, knowing that it is Christ who produces fruit by His means, he by no means holds himself forth as a master, but a minister.” Whence it follows, He that is the greatest, &c., because even Christ Himself, who is the true Master, hath professed Himself to be a minister, in that He saith, I am among you as he that ministereth; and well does He add after the whole saying, He that exalteth himself shall be abased; but he that humblest himself shall be exalted. These words are true as applied both to God and men, says Remigius. For both God and men exalt the humble and depress the proud. “Glory follows them that flee from it, and flees from those who pursue it. God will bring down insolent pride from its lofty height, and will raise up humility to glory,” says S. Hilary.

Blessed Peter Damian gives a memorable example (Epist. 15). There was, he says, a certain bold and warlike clergyman, who became great by means of his pride and his arms. And he had in consequence a quarrel about certain estates with another powerful man, which he determined to decide by the fortune of war, and the troops of both were drawn up in battle array. The clergyman before the battle went into a church and heard Mass. It chanced that the words of the Gospel were read, All that exalteth himself shall be abased. When he heard them he said insolently, or rather blasphemously, “These words are falsified in me, for if I had humbled myself I should never have become as great as I am.” By and by, in the heat of battle, his horse being very thirsty, ran, contrary to his wish, to some water that was near. He struck his horse with his shield, in order to cause it to return into the battle, when, behold, an enemy’s sword transfixed that blaspheming mouth of his like a thunderbolt, and slew him, humbling his pride and casting him down to the ground, showing that the words of Christ are indeed true.

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Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Matthew 23:1-12

Ver 1. Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,2. Saying, “The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:3. All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.4. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”

Pseudo-Chrys.: When the Lord had overthrown the Priests by His answer, and shewn their condition to be irremediable, forasmuch as clergy, when they do wickedly, cannot be amended, but laymen who have gone wrong are easily set right, He turns His discourse to His Apostles and the people. For that is an unprofitable word which silences one, without conveying improvement to another.

Origen: The disciples of Christ are better than the common herd; and you may find in the Church such as with more ardent affection come to the word of God; these are Christ’s disciples, the rest are only His people. And sometimes He speaks to His disciples alone, sometimes to the multitudes and His disciples together, as here.

“The Scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat,” as professing his Law, and boasting that they can interpret it. Those that do not depart from the letter of the Law are the Scribes; those who make high professions, and separate themselves from the vulgar as better than they, are called Pharisees, which signifies ‘separate’.

Those who understand and expound Moses according to his spiritual meaning, these sit indeed on Moses’ seat, but are neither Scribes nor Pharisees, but better than either, Christ’s beloved disciples. Since His coming these have sat upon the seat of the Church, which is the seat of Christ.Pseudo-Chrys.: But regard must be had to this, after what sort each man fills his seat; for not the seat makes the Priest, but the Priest the seat; the place does not consecrate the man, but the man the place. A wicked Priest derives guilt and not honour from his Priesthood.

Chrys., Hom. lxxii: But that none should say, For this cause am I slack to practise, because my instructor is evil, He removes every such plea, saying, “All therefore whatsoever they say unto you, that observe and do,” for they speak not their own, but God’s, which things He taught through Moses in the Law. And look with how great honour He speaks of Moses, shewing again what harmony there is with the Old Testament.

Origen: But if the Scribes and Pharisees who sit in Moses’ seat are the teachers of the Jews, teaching the commandments of the Law according to the letter, how is this that the Lord bids us do after all things which they say; but the Apostles in the Acts [marg. note: Acts 15:19] forbid the believers to do according to the letter of the Law. These indeed taught after the letter, not understanding the Law spiritually. Whatsoever they say to us out of the Law, with understanding of its sense, that we do and keep, not doing after their works, for they do not what the law enjoins, nor perceive the veil that is upon the letter of the Law.

Or by “all” we are not to understand every thing in the Law, many things for example relating to the sacrifices, and the like, but such as concern our conduct.

But why did He command this not of the Law of grace, but of the doctrine of Moses? Because truly it was not the time to publish the commandments of the New Law before the season of His passion. I think also that He had herein something further in view. He was about to bring many things against the Scribes and Pharisees in His discourse following, wherefore that vain men might not think that He coveted their place of authority, or spoke thus out of enmity to them, he first puts away from Himself this suspicion, and then begins to reprove them, that the people might not fall into their faults; and that, because they ought to hear them, they should not think that therefore they ought to imitate them in their works, He adds, “But do ye not after their works.” What can be more pitiable than such a teacher, whose life to imitate is ruin, to refuse to follow is salvation for his disciples?

Pseudo-Chrys.: But as gold is picked out of the dross, and the dross is left, so hearers may take doctrine and leave practice, for good doctrine oft comes from an evil man. But as Priests judge it better to teach the bad for the sake of the good, rather than to neglect the good for the sake of the bad; so also let those who are set under them pay respect to the bad Priests for the sake of the good, that the good may not be despised because of the bad; for it is better to give the bad what is not their due, rather than to defraud the good of what is justly theirs.

Chrys.: Look with what He begins His reproof of them, “For they say, and do not.” Every one who transgresses the Law is deserving of blame, but especially he who has the post of instruction. And this for a threefold cause; first, because he is a transgressor; secondly, because when he ought to set others right, be himself halts; thirdly, because, being in the rank of a teacher, his influence is more corrupting.

Again, He brings a further charge against them, that they oppress those that are put under them; “They bind heavy burdens;” in this He shews a double evil in them; that they exacted without any allowance the utmost rigour of life from those that were put under them, while they allowed themselves large licence herein. But a good ruler should do the contrary of this, to be to himself a severe judge, to others a merciful one. Observe in what forcible words He utters His reproof; He says not they cannot, but “they will not;” and not, lift them, but “touch them with one of their fingers.”

Pseudo-Chrys.: And to the Scribes and Pharisees of whom He is now speaking, heavy burdens not to be borne are the commandments of the Law; as St. Peter speaks in the Acts, “Why seek ye to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear? [Acts 15:10] For commending the burdens of the Law by fabulous proofs, they bound as it were the shoulders of the heart of their hearers with bands, that thus tied as though with proof of reason to them, they might not fling [p. 770] them off; but themselves did not in the least measure fulfil them, that is, not only did not wholly, but did not so much as attempt to.

Gloss., interlin.: Or, “bind burdens,” that is, gather traditions from all sides, not to aid, but to burden the conscience.Jerome: But all these things, the shoulders, the finger, the burdens, and the bands with which they bind the burdens, have a spiritual meaning. Herein also the Lord speaks generally against all masters who enjoin high things, but do not even little things.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Such also are they who lay a heavy burden upon those who come to penitence, so that while men would avoid present punishment, they overlook that which is to come. For if you lay upon a boy’s shoulders a burden more than be can bear, be must needs either cast it off, or be broken down by it; so the man on whom you lay too grievous a burden of penance must either wholly refuse it, or if be submit himself to it will find himself unable to bear it, and so be offended, and sin worse.

Also, if we should be wrong in imposing too light a penance, is it not better to have to answer for mercy than for severity ? Where the master of the household is liberal, the steward should not be oppressive. If God be kind, should His Priest be harsh? Do you seek thereby the character of sanctity? Be strict in ordering your own life, in that of others lenient; let men hear of you as enjoining little, and performing much. The Priest who gives licence to himself, and exacts the utmost from others, is like a corrupt tax-gatherer in the state, who to ease himself taxes others heavily.

Ver 5. “But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,6. And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,7. And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.8. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.9. And call no man your father upon the earth for one is your Father, which is in heaven.10. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.11. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.12. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

Chrys.: The Lord bad charged the Scribes and Pharisees with harshness and neglect; He now brings forward their vain-glory, which made them depart from God.Pseudo-Chrys.: Every substance breeds in itself that which destroys it, as wood the worm, and garments the moth so the Devil strives to corrupt the ministry of the Priests, who are ordained for the edification of holiness, endeavouring that this good, while it is done to be seen of men, should be turned into evil. Take away this fault from the clergy, and you will have no further labour in their reform, for of this it comes that a clergyman who has sinned can hardly perform penance.

Also the Lord here points out the cause why they could not believe in Christ, because nearly all they did was in order to be seen of men; for he whose desire is for earthly glory from men, cannot believe on Christ who preaches things heavenly.

I have read one who interprets this place thus. “In Moses’ seat,” that is, in the rank and degree instituted by Moses, the Scribes and Pharisees are seated unworthily, forasmuch as they preached to others the Law which foretold Christ’s coming, but themselves did not receive Him when come. For this cause He exhorts the people to hear the Law which they preached, that is, to believe in Christ who was preached by the Law, but not to follow the Scribes and Pharisees in their disbelief of Him. And He shews the reason why they preached the coming of Christ out of the Law, yet did not believe on Him; namely, because they did not preach that Christ should come through any desire of His coming, but that they might be seen by men to be doctors of the Law.

Origen: And their works likewise they do to be seen of men, using outward circumcision, taking away actual leaven out of their houses, and doing such like things. But Christ’s disciples fulfil the Law in things secret, being Jews inwardly, as the Apostle speaks. [marg. note: Rom_2:29]

Chrys.: Note the intensive force of the words of His reproofs. He says not merely that they do their works to be seen of men, but added, “all their works.” And not only in great things but in some things trivial they were vainglorious, “They make broad their phylacteries and enlarge the borders of their garments.”

Jerome: For the Lord, when He had given the commandments of the Law through Moses, added at the end, “And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be ever before thine eyes;” [Deu_6:8] the meaning of which is, Let my precepts be in thine hand so as to be fulfilled in thy works; let them be before thine eyes so as that thou shalt meditate upon them day and night.

This the Pharisees misinterpreting, wrote on parchments the Decalogue of Moses, that is, the Ten Commandments, and folding them up, tied them on their forehead, so making them a crown for their head, that they should be always before their eyes. Moses had in another place given command that they should make fringes of blue in the borders of their garments, [marg. note: Num_15:39] to distinguish the people of Israel; that as in their bodies circumcision, so in their garments the fringe, might discriminate the Jewish nation.

But these superstitious teachers, catching at popular favour, and making gain of silly women, made broad hems, and fastened them with sharp pins, that as they walked or sat they might be pricked, and by such monitors be recalled to the duties of God’s ministry. This embroidery then of the Decalogue they called phylacteries, that is, conservatories, because those who wore them, wore them for their own protection and security. So little did the Pharisees understand that they were to be worn on the heart and not on the body; for in equal degree may cases and chests be said to have books, which assuredly have not the knowledge of God.

Pseudo-Chrys.: But after their example do many invent Hebrew names of Angels, and write them, and bind them on themselves, and they seem dreadful to such as are without understanding. Others again wear round their neck a portion of the Gospel written out. But is not the Gospel read every day in the Church, and heard by all? Those therefore who receive no profit from the Gospel sounded in their ears, how shall the having them hung about their neck save them? Further, wherein is the virtue of the Gospel? in the shape of its letters, or in the understanding its meaning? If in the characters, you do well to hang them round your neck; if in their meaning, they are of more profit when laid up in the heart, than hung round the neck.

But others explain this place thus, That they made broad their teachings concerning special observances, as phylacteries, or preservatives of salvation, preaching them continually to the people. And the broad fringes of their garments they explain of the same undue stress upon such commandments.

Jerome: Seeing they thus make broad their phylacteries, and make them broad fringes, desiring to have glory of men, they are convicted also in other things; “For they love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues.”

Raban.: It should be noted, that He does not forbid those to whom this belongs by right of rank to be saluted in the forum, or to sit or recline in the highest room; but those who unduly desire these things, whether they obtain them or not, these He enjoins the believers to shun as wicked.

Pseudo-Chrys.: For He rebukes not those who recline in the highest place, but those who love such places, blaming the will not the deed. For to no purpose does he humble himself in place who exalts himself in heart. For some vain men bearing that it was a commendable thing to seat himself in the lowest place, chooses so to do; and thus not only does not put away the vanity of his heart, but adds this additional vain ostentation of his humility, as one who would be thought righteous and humble. For many proud men take the lowest place in their bodies, but in haughtiness of heart think themselves to be seated among the highest; and there are many humble men who, placed among the highest, are inwardly in their own esteem among the lowest.

Chrys.: Observe where vain glory governed them, to wit, in the synagogues, whither they entered to guide others. It had been tolerable to have felt thus at feasts, notwithstanding that a doctor ought to be had in honour in all places alike, and not in the Churches only. But if it be blameworthy to love such things, how wrong is it to seek to attain them?

Pseudo-Chrys.: They love the first salutations, first, that is, not in time only, before others; but in tone, that we should say with a loud voice, Hail, Rabbi; and in body that we should bow low our bead; and in place, that the salutation should be in public.

Raban.: And herein they are not without fault, that the same men should be concerned in the litigations of the forum, who in the synagogue in Moses’ seat, seek to be called Rabbi by men.Pseudo-Chrys.: That is, they wish to be called, not to be such; they desire the name, and neglect the duties.

Origen: And in the Church of Christ are found some who take to themselves the uppermost places, that is, become deacons; next they aspire to the chief seats of those that are called presbyters; and some intrigue to be styled among men Bishop, that is, to be called Rabbi. But Christ’s disciple loves the uppermost place indeed, but at the spiritual banquet, where he may feed on the choicer morsels of spiritual food, for, with the Apostles who sit upon twelve thrones, he loves the chief seats, and hastes by his good works to render himself worthy of such seats; and he also loves salutations made in the heavenly marketplace, that is, in the heavenly congregations of the primitive.

But the righteous man would be called Rabbi, neither by man, nor by any other, because there is One Master of all men.

Chrys.: Or otherwise; Of the foregoing things with which He had charged the Pharisees, He now passes over many as of no weight, and such as His disciples needed not to be instructed in; but that which was the cause of all evils, namely, ambition of the master’s seat, that He insists upon to instruct His disciples.

Pseudo-Chrys.: “Be not ye called Rabbi,” that ye take not to yourselves what belongs to God. And call not others Rabbi, that ye pay not to men a divine honour. For One is the Master of all, who instructs all men by nature. For if man were taught by man, all men would learn that have teachers; but seeing it is not man that teaches, but God, many are taught, but few learn. Man cannot by teaching impart an understanding to man, but that understanding which is given by God man calls forth by schooling.Hilary: And that the disciples may ever remember that they are the children of one parent, and that by their new birth they have passed the limits of their earthly origin.

Jerome, Hieron. cont., Helvid. 15: All men may be called brethren in affection, which is of two kinds, general and particular. Particular, by which all Christians are brethren; general, by which all men being born of one Father are bound together by like tie of kindred.

Pseudo-Chrys.: “And call no man your Father upon earth;” because in this world though man begets man, yet there is one Father who created all men. For we have not beginning of life from our parents, but we have our life transmitted through them.

[ed. note: The Catholic doctrine is, that “the man” is born from his parents, by propagation, but that the soul is immediately created by God, the human agency being but a certain disposition of matter – such that according to God’s good pleasure, by a law which He has appointed, the gift of a soul is accorded to it. And thus, though a man’s soul cannot be called the son of his parents, yet that compound nature of which the soul forms part, is such.

That the soul is immediately from God by creation is the Catholic doctrine. St. Leo speaks of the Catholic faith consistently and truly, preaching that the souls of men, before they were breathed into their bodies, were not, nor are incorporated by any other but by God the Framer, Who is Creator of them as well as the bodies. Ep. 15, ad Turrib. 10. And so St. Hilary, “Every soul is the work of God, but the generation of the flesh is come from the flesh.” De Trin. x.20. Vide also Greg. Nyss. deAnim. p.934. Ambros, de Noe. 4. Hieron. in Eccles. xii. 7.]

Origen: But who calls no man father upon earth? He who in every action done as before God, says, “Our Father, which art in Heaven.”

Gloss., non. occ: Because it was clear who was the Father of all, by this which was said, “Which art in Heaven,” He would teach them who was the Master of all, and therefore repeats the same command concerning a master, “Neither be ye called masters; for one is your Master, even Christ.”

Chrys.: Not that when Christ is here said to be our Master, the Father is excluded, as neither when God is said to be our Father, is Christ excluded, Who is the Father of men.

Jerome: It is a difficulty that the Apostle against this command calls himself the teacher of the Gentiles; and that in monasteries in their common conversation, they call one another, Father. It is to be cleared thus. It is one thing to be father or master by nature, another by sufferance. Thus when we call any man our father, we do it to shew respect to his age, not as regarding him as the author of our being. We also call men ‘Master,’ from resemblance to a real master; and, not to use tedious repetition, as the One God and One Son, who are by nature, do not preclude us from calling others gods and sons by adoption, so the One Father and One Master, do not preclude us from speaking of other fathers and masters by an abuse of the terms.

Chrys.: Not only does the Lord forbid us to seek supremacy, but would lead His hearer to the very opposite; “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant.”

Origen: Or otherwise; And if one minister the divine word, knowing that it is Christ that makes it to be fruitful, such a one professes himself a minister and not a master; whence it follows, “He that is greatest among you, let him be your servant.” As Christ Himself, who was in truth our Master, professed Himself a minister, saying, “I am in the midst of you as one that ministers.” [Luk_22:27] And well does He conclude this prohibition of all vain-glory with the words, “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”

Remig.: Which means that every one who thinks highly of his own deserts, shall be humbled before God; and every one who humbles himself concerning his good deeds, shall be exalted with God.

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Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 23:1-12

1 THEN Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to his disciples,

“Then,” after He had reduced to silence His adversaries, and had employed all possible remedies in vain, to effect the conversion of the Scribes and Pharisees; after He had adduced the most cogent reasons to prove the truth of His doctrine, and had sealed the Divinity of His Heavenly mission by incontestable miracles; after He had privately reprehended them for their wickedness; seeing them still incorrigible, and become more hardened and obdurate, “then,” in order to guard the multitude and His disciples against being seduced by their wicked example, He publicly upbraids them for their vices.

2 Saying: The scribes and the Pharisees have sitten on the chair of Moses.

Before doing so, however, He distinguishes between their public teaching, when interpreting the law of Moses, or their public authority, and their private errors, and personal vices; and guards against the charge of being the enemy of the law of Moses, and a subverter of constituted authority. In the former character, He wishes the people to respect and follow them, since they were the legitimate representatives of the authority Divinely constituted by Moses; and, as the New Law, which was to succeed the Old, and the Gospel ministry, which was to be substituted for that of Aaron and his sons, were not yet established, the people were still bound to obey the existing spiritual authority.

“Have sitten upon the chair of Moses.” By this “chair of Moses,” is meant, the authority Divinely instituted, and exercised by Moses, of teaching the people and expounding to them the law of God, and of ruling them in all things appertaining to the Divine worship; just as by the chair of Peter, cathedra Petri, is meant, the authority Divinely granted him to teach and rule the entire Church. To sit in the chair of Peter is to succeed to the fulness of his authority, that is, to “the full power of feeding, ruling, and governing the universal Church.” Hence, to “sit in the chair of Moses,” means, to exercise, by legitimate succession, the teaching and authority of Moses, in expounding the doctrine of God. The words are allusive to the posture which teachers were generally in the habit of assuming in authoritatively delivering instruction to their hearers; the custom, however, among the Jews in delivering instructions, or expounding the SS. Scripture, in their synagogues, was to do so in a standing posture (Luke 4:16; Acts 13:16). So also Ezra read the law in a standing posture (Ezra 8:4). The Greek for “sit” (εκαθισαν), means, have sitten, and do still sit (Beelen).

3 All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not. For they say, and do not.

“All things, therefore, whatsoever they shall say to you, do,” &c. The word, “therefore,” shows the source of the obligation here imposed by our Divine Redeemer. It is in virtue of their public ministerial character, as successors to the authority of Moses.

“All things whatsoever.” Some interpreters give these words a wide extension, so as to embrace not only the commandments and precepts contained in the law of Moses, and expounded by them from it; but also, all the ordinances and precepts, even of an indifferent nature, imposed by the Scribes and Pharisees, not opposed to the law of Moses, as those would be regarding the honour due to parents (15:4), and those regarding perjury (v. 16); also, their teaching, regarding our Redeemer, which was manifestly opposed to Moses. These, and all such, are clearly excepted from the words, “all things whatsoever,” Thus, when the Apostle commands children to obey their parents, “in all things,” he manifestly, from the very nature of things, excepts obedience when they command evil. The universal form of the words, “all things whatsoever,” with the limitation already assigned, is in favour of this interpretation. (Jansenius, &c.) Others, with Maldonatus, restrict the words to the precepts contained in the law of Moses, and taught from it, or to the doctrine of Moses; and this would seem to be implied in the words, “sit in the chair of Moses,” as if he said, all things, then, that they command, while expounding the law of Moses, or, rather, all things which the law of Moses prescribes, the Pharisees being its expounders, do and observe. In this interpretation, there is not even the appearance of contradiction between the commands of our Redeemer here, and the caution He gives (c. 16), “cavete a fermento Pharisærum,” as in this latter place, He means to guard them against the errors which the Pharisees taught, opposed to the law of Moses. In such circumstances, they did “not sit on the chair of Moses.”

Whether the Jewish Church was gifted with infallibility, or not, is a point not quite agreed upon. At all events, it seems to have never, as such, whatever might have been the perverse teachings of individuals, erred in faith, until the time it rejected and condemned Christ. Then, however, it had ceased; it was of merely temporary duration, and any promises made to it could only regard the time of its existence. But, in reference to the Christian Church, the gift of infallibility has been secured to it until the end of time, until the consummation of ages. (See Luke 22:32).

“But, according to their works do ye not.” Our Redeemer here carefully distinguishes their private doctrines, personal conduct, and, likely, also their private teaching, from their utterances in their public ministerial capacity. It was the more necessary to caution the people against being imitators of their wicked conduct, as men are apt to attend to, and imitate the practice, rather than the doctrine, of their teachers.

“For they say, and do not.” This is the first subject of reproach, on the part of our Lord, against the Scribes and Pharisees. Their conduct is not in accordance with their teaching. The man who delivers precepts, binding on all, and himself violates them, commits a threefold sin—1st. By transgressing the law, which he is bound to observe. 2ndly. By not correcting others, as he should. 3rdly. By rendering his teaching odious, thus injuring his hearers.

4 For they bind heavy and insupportable burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders: but with a finger of their own they will not move them.

“For, they bind,” i.e., collect into bundles, “heavy … burdens”—the second subject of reproach. These words are allusive to the practice, resorted to sometimes, of tying and binding up heavy loads, to be carried by beasts of burden. “Insupportable.” The Greek, δυσβάστακτα, means, hard to be carried. This has reference to the multiplied ceremonial precepts, which constituted a heavy burden, “which neither they, nor their fathers, have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10). To this, add the traditions of the ancients, and their own. St. Chrysostom, however, remarks, that, in this, our Redeemer does not refer to the Jewish Ceremonial Law, which Christ had not, as yet, abrogated; but, to the traditions of the Scribes and Pharisees, and the laws they imposed, contrary to Scripture. It may be, He refers, both to the heavy load of the Ceremonial Law, to which they superadded a great multiplicity of human traditions. To this, add their rigid interpretation of the letter of the Divine Law, the stern severity with which they enforced it. All this rendered their precepts “insupportable.” The rigour with which they enforced the observance of the Sabbath may serve as an example of the latter. The words, “lay them on men’s shoulders,” conveys an idea of the haughty, authoritative tone, assumed by these men.

“But with a finger of their own,” &c. A proverbial form of expression, common to both Greek and Latin writers, conveying, that one has no inclination or disposition whatever to take part in any labour one imposes on others. The word, “finger,” is opposed to “shoulder,” and the whole phrase conveys, that these men did not use the least exertion to render, by their own example, the observance of these ordinances light for those upon whom they imposed them.

Whether He refers here to the peculiar traditions of the Scribes and Pharisees, or to the multitude of the precepts of the Old Law, which they rendered still more intolerable by the excessive rigour with which they enforced their strict observance—and this latter seems more likely, as the Pharisees were most observant of their own traditions, while they neglected the law—St. Chrysostom observes, that our Redeemer prefers a twofold charge against the Pharisees: 1st. That of being too exacting, as regards others. 2ndly. Of being too indulgent in regard to themselves.

5 And all their works they do for to be seen of men. For they make their phylacteries broad and enlarge their fringes.

In the foregoing, our Redeemer cautions His followers against imitating the Pharisees, &c., in their violations of God’s law; here, He cautions them against imitating them, in the good they seem to do; since, even in this, their motives are corrupt. They perform all their external good works, such as prayer, fasting, alms-deeds, &c., from a vicious motive, for the purpose of gaining human applause, rather than of promoting the glory of God. In this, they are not to be imitated.

“For, they make their phylacteries broad.” These “phylacteries,” literally, preservatives, to remind them to keep the law; were strips or scrolls of parchment, on which were written the Ten Commandments, or some sentences from the law. These the Jews bound round their foreheads, their left wrist, or arm, while at prayer (Josephus Antiq. iv. 8–13), to remind them of their duty. St. Jerome assures us, that, up to his own time, the Jews wore them in India, and among the Persians and Babylonians. This custom took its rise from a too literal, instead of a spiritual, interpretation of the text (Deut. 6:8), “Thou shalt bind them as a sign on thy hand, and they shall be, and shall move as a sign between thy eyes.” What was commanded here, was, that the Jews should be always mindful of God’s Commandments, that they should make them the rule of their conduct, and meditate on them day and night. But the Jews took the words literally, and acted accordingly. It is not the use of them our Redeemer here condemns; but, the ostentatious display of them by the Pharisees, in order to appear more religious than others.

“And enlarge their fringes.” We read Numbers 15:38; Deut. 22:12), that Moses commanded the Jews “to make to themselves fringes,” or, to make strings in the them, at the four corners of their cloaks. These fringes, or tassels, which hung from the four corners of their cloaks, which were square in front and behind, had each a distinguishing thread of deep blue—the colour of the heavens—to remind them, of their obligation to observe God’s Commandments, and also to keep before their minds, that they were segregated from all other nations. St. Jerome informs us, that, in his time, some Jews inserted sharp-pointed thorns, whose puncture, when they either walked or sat down, would remind them of their duty. What our Redeemer here censures is, the ostentatious display of the Pharisees, who enlarged these tassels, in order to appear more religious than others. They affected all this external show of piety in their garments, while they denied its spirit, and despised its ordinances, in the regulation of their own lives.

6 And they love the first places at feasts and the first chairs in the synagogues,

“They love,” that is, inordinately and eagerly ambition. “The first places at feasts.” Among the Jews, the first place was at the top of the table; among the Greeks and Romans, the middle of the triclinium. Our Redeemer does not so much censure them for actually obtaining these places—since those placed in exalted station should get a preference; and God, whose representatives they are, is honoured in them—as for their ambitious and vainglorious anxiety in regard to such distinctions; and it was with a view of receiving those marks of honour and distinction, they affected the exterior sanctity of manners referred to in the preceding words.

“And the first chairs in the synagogues.” The most honourable seats in these places of public meeting, assigned to the seniors and the learned, with their backs to the desk of the reader, and their faces to the people. They would thus be in a position to exhibit the most profound humility and simplicity.

7 And salutations in the market place, and to be called by men, Rabbi.

“And salutations,” profound marks of reverence and respect due to them, as pre-eminently holy, and observant of the law, in places of public resort. This reverence, so much coveted by the Scribes, &c., was, probably, rendered by the people with uncovered head, and bended knee.

“And to be called by men, Rabbi.” The word, “Rabbi,” signifies, “my master.” It is repeated in the ordinary Greek, “Rabbi, Rabbi” (but not repeated so in the Vatican MS.) This was an epithet applied by Judas to our Lord (Matt. 26:49), and also to John the Baptist, by his disciples (John 3:26). It is not the title itself that our Redeemer censures, but the vainglorious assumption and pride of the Pharisees, who were delighted with the frequent repetition of the term.

8 But be not you called Rabbi. For one is your master: and all you are brethren.

“Be you,” My followers and disciples, whom I wish to be altogether free from the vices and passions of these Scribes and Pharisees—“you”—whose morals I wish to be, in every respect, the opposite of theirs.

“Be not called Rabbi,” &c., that is, neither vaingloriously affect nor desire such titles of pre-eminence and distinction, nor take foolish complacency in them, should they be bestowed on you, nor on this account prefer yourselves to others. It is quite clear, that our Redeemer does not here condemn the use and bestowal of these titles; since, St. Paul calls himself the doctor of the Gentiles, and the father of the Galatians, in the faith; and we are all obliged to show honour and respect to our fathers and superiors, on earth. In order to see what our Redeemer here censures, we must look to the scope or end of His observations, and this clearly is, to inculcate humility and simplicity of life, on the part of His followers, so opposed to the pride and vain, ostentatious assumption of these titles by the Scribes, &c., thus despising all others.

“For one is your Master.” His disciples should acknowledge that there is but “One,” who is strictly entitled to the appellation of “Master;” that, although others may be “masters,” in an inferior degree, they are still but the ministers and instruments employed by that “one Master,” who alone can, by excellence be termed such. He alone, of Himself, possesses all knowledge; He alone can impart fruit to the teaching of others; He alone can speak to the heart, and interiorly communicate light and knowledge; compared with Him, none others can strictly be termed “masters.” From Him, they borrow all their knowledge. All they have, “is received” from Him, and all the glory of their labour should be referred to Him alone. Hence, those who affect to glory in this, or similar titles, assume what is not theirs, and derogate from what is due to Him. In this sense, our Redeemer tells us not to wish to be called “Rabbi,” as compared with God; as implying superiority in a prohibited sense, over others; “and, all you are brethren,” all, whether in an humble or exalted station, learned or unlearned, all, are one in Christ, all children of the same Heavenly Father, members of the same Christian family. No one should, therefore, assume superiority over others, in the sense that anyone has anything from himself, since all our gifts are received. This, however, does not interfere with due subordination, or with the relations which should exist between the governed and governing parties (1 Cor. 4:15), or with the gradation established by God, in His mystic body, so absolutely necessary for its well-being and existence (1 Cor. 12:14–27).

The words, then, mean: Do not vaingloriously aspire to the title of doctor or teacher, as if you had, of yourselves, any claim to this title; as if you were entitled to derive honour therefrom, as is done by the Pharisees. For, there is only One who can strictly be termed such, viz., Christ; or, as if you could, therefore, despise others, who may not be thus privileged; for, they are become your equals in Christianity. “You are all brethren.”

9 And call none your father upon earth; for one is your father, who is in heaven.

“And call none your father upon earth,” in the sense, of referring all we possess to them, as the principal cause, viz., our existence, our possessions; or, all we hope for, by way of inheritance. In this sense, we have but “one Father, who is in heaven.” To Him alone are we are indebted for everything—our life, our persons, all our faculties and senses, our corporal and spiritual privileges, our claims to eternal happiness. It is the vainglorious affectation of this and the other titles, on the part of the Scribes, for the purpose of pride and ostentation, that our Redeemer here condemns, as opposed to the glory and honour of God, the great source of all good, “of whom is named all paternity, in heaven and earth” (Eph. 3:15). He, by no means, however, censures or prohibits Christians from bearing and bestowing, in a dependent and subordinate sense, these titles, which superiority of office, station, or talent, may confer, and which may contribute to the subordination due by others. “As there is, by nature, but one God, and one Son, yet others are called sons of God, by adoption; so, there is but one Father and Master; yet, others, in a less strict sense, are styled fathers and masters” (St. Jerome).

10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your master, Christ.

Most likely, our Redeemer here repeats what He inculcated (v. 8), to show His detestation of pride, and to eradicate it the more effectually from the minds of His Apostles, whom He had appointed to be teachers and doctors of the entire earth; or, it may be, that a different idea is conveyed here, tending, however, to the same end. “Rabbi”—derived from Rab, signifying, the multitude—may refer to the multiplied variety of learning one possesses for teaching others. “Master” (καθηγητης), may refer to the same, under a different relation, as “leader, guide, director;” and Christ is to be called so pre-eminently, as being alone, “the way, the truth, and the life.”

11 He that is the greatest among you shall be your servant.

This shows the scope of the preceding. Our Redeemer supposes that there is to be pre-eminence and superiority enjoyed in His Church, and authority exercised by some over others. This order and subordination is required in every well-regulated body, for its very continuance in existence. But, supposing this, our Redeemer points out the true and proper way of exercising this superiority. (See 20:27, &c.)

12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled: and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

“Whosoever,” no matter who, “shall exalt himself,” through pride, and shall attribute to himself what he has not, or, shall glory in what he may have, as if it were not received, and shall thus usurp the glory of God’s gifts, and despise others, such a man shall be humbled, debased, and degraded, for all eternity. Man has a natural aversion to whatever debases him, and since he sinned, he only merits humiliation and debasement. But, God, who is goodness itself, and knows man’s weakness, obliges him to humble himself, only with a promise of solid and enduring elevation; and, in prohibiting him to exalt himself, it is with a threat of eternal humiliation. In thus addressing His disciples, our Lord traces an image of the folly of the Pharisees, who exalted themselves above others; since, the measure of their humiliation, at a future day, shall be that of their self-elevation at present. For this reason, He hurls against them the following woes and maledictions, to inspire others with a horror of their criminal conduct, and thus deter them from imitating their vicious example.

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Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 23:1-12

1. Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes.] 3. Formal rejection of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus first points out the contrast between their principles and practice, vv. 1–12; secondly, he directly impeaches the Pharisees, vv. 13–39.

a. Contrast between principles and practice. The first portion of this section is directed to the multitudes, vv. 1–7, the second to the disciples, vv. 8–12.

α. Address to the multitudes. Both the multitudes and the disciples had been present at the discomfiture of the Pharisees, so that they were well prepared to hear the following doctrine. “On the chair of Moses” agrees with the Rabbinic manner of expressing succession in the office of teaching [cf. Vitringa, De synag. vet. Franequeræ, 1696, p. 165]; it was applied to the Sanhedrin in a special manner [cf. Lightfoot, ad h. l.; Wünsche, p. 271], and since the Pharisees and scribes exercised the greatest authority in the Sanhedrin [Josephus Ant. XVIII. i. 4; Schürer, The Jewish people in the Time of Jesus Christ, div. ii. vol. i. p. 179, Edinburgh, 1885], they may be said to “have sitten on the chair of Moses.” By this concession Jesus shows that he is no adversary of the law [Theophylact Sylveira], that he is not opposed to the highest Jewish authority [Calm.], that he does not act through ambition or hatred [Chrysostom, Cyril, Euyhymius], and at the same time he thus renders his words against his opponent more effective [cf. Schanz, Knabenbauer]. “All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you” should not be restricted by divers conditions such as “if they command what Moses taught” [Bruno Alb. Maldonado,Arnoldi], or “if they teach well” [Paschasius], or “if they do not command anything contrary to the law of Moses” [Dionysius the Carthusian, Janesenius, Lapide, Sylverisa, Calmet], or finally, “if they act according to the duties of their office” [Lam. Fillion]; for such a restriction would constitute the people the supreme judge of their moral obligations [cf. Augustine De doct. christ. iv. 27, 59; c. Faust. xvi. 29; ep. cv. 5, 16; cf. Schanz, Knabenbauer]. “Observe and do” can hardly be referred to the observance in the heart and the execution in deed [cf. Alb. Thomas Aquinas], or the observance of the negative and the positive precepts [cf. Cajetan], but seems to urge the need of constant and faithful compliance with all obligations. But the practice of the Pharisees is far removed from their principles: “according to their works do ye not.”

3. The last statement is further proved by our Lord: first, “they say and do not. For they bind heavy and insupportable burdens,” by multiplying the regulations of the Mosaic law about needless details [cf. Acts 15:10; Edersheim i. pp. 100 f.]; “and lay them on men’s shoulders; but with a finger of their own they will not move them,” refusing not only to lighten the burden for their fellow men by assistance or example [cf. Maldonado, Edersheim i. p. 101; ii. p. 408]. but also to act according to their own teaching [Chrysostom, Euthymius, Knabenbauer]. Secondly, besides this harshness to others and indulgence to self, the Pharisees are ambitious and strive after vainglory: “All their works they do for to be seen of men: for they make their phylacteries broad”; phylacteries [derived from a Greek verb meaning “to guard,” because they were considered as helps “to guard the law,” or as “guards against evil,” something like amulets; cf. Lightfoot, ad h. l.; Wünsche, p. 274; Schürer, The Jewish People, div. ii. vol. ii. pp. 113 ff. Edinburgh, 1885] or Tephillin [prayer-straps] were dice-shaped, hollow parchment cases, containing the passages Ex. 13:1–10, 13:11–16; Deut. 6:4–9; 11:13–21 written on parchment rolls. Their use was founded on the passages Ex. 13:9, 16; Deut. 6:8; 11:18, which the Jews interpreted literally, though Jerome, Paschasius, Theophylact believe that God intended them figuratively, only obliging the Jews to keep the law always before their eyes and to observe it in practice. Every male Israelite had to put on the phylacteries, at least during the morning prayers, excepting on Sabbaths and holy days; one was fastened to the upper part of the left arm, and another to the forehead just below the hair [cf. Schürer, l. c.]. The Pharisees appear to have enlarged the cases to an abnormal size, and to have worn them especially in public [cf. Josephus Ant. IV. viii. 13]. “And enlarge their fringes” or tassels of hyacinth-blue or white wool, which every Israelite by reason of the prescription in Num. 15:37 ff., Deut. 22:12, had to wear at the four corners of his upper garment. They were to be used “that ye may look upon them and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them” [cf. Schürer, l. c. p. 111 f.; Buxtorf, Lex. chald. col. 654]. “The first places at feasts” were those to the right hand and to the left of the host, and among the Persians and Romans the middle seats [cf. Lk. 14:8 ff.; Josephus Ant. XV. ii. 4; Marquardt, v. 1, p. 312]; “the first chairs in the synagogues” were at the extreme end of the synagogue, towards which all the worshippers turned. “Rabbi” was at first a respectful address, but developed into the title of the more eminent scribes; according to Maimonides [cf. Wetstein], Simon the son of Hillel was the first that was called Rabbi; according to the Aruch [cf. Lightfoot], this honor belongs to the older Gamaliel. At the time of Christ the title was almost new, since the older doctors are commonly known by their mere names [cf. Jn. 1:38; Schürer, The Jewish People, div. ii. vol. i. p. 315, Edinburgh, 1885].

β. Address to the disciples. “But be not you called Rabbi” is addressed especially to the apostles, in order to warn them that they must not covet this title through vainglory or ambition [Chrysostom, Euthymius, Paschasius, Cajetan, Jansenius]. Jesus adds two reasons why the foregoing title should not be coveted: first, “one is your master,” so that Christians ought to feel ashamed of being addressed by the same title as Jesus Christ; secondly, “all you are brethren,” so that again any title implying preference ought to cause pain rather than pleasure [cf. 1 Cor. 4:7]. “And call none your father upon earth,” as the Jewish students used to call their masters [cf. 2 Kings 2:12; Buxtorf, s. v. אָבָּא; Lightfoot], whom they often praised and admired excessively; the reason is similar to that of the preceding prohibition: “for one is your father, who is in heaven,” since from him alone you have your natural and supernatural life, and since he alone has the full right to the honor due to a father [cf. Mal. 1:6]. That Jesus forbade not the material use of the titles “Rabbi” and “father” is plain, first, from the fact that God himself applies the name “father” to men in the fourth commandment; secondly, from the Scriptural usage of calling disciples “sons” [cf. Prov. 1:8, 10, 15; 2:1; 3:1; 4:1; etc.], so that their masters are implicitly called “fathers”; thirdly, from the circumstance that St. Paul calls himself “doctor of the Gentiles” [1 Tim. 2:7], speaks of his children in Christ [1 Cor. 4:17; 1 Tim. 1:18; 2 Tim. 2:1; Phil. 1], and that St. Peter calls Mark his son [1 Pet. 5:14]. “Neither be ye called masters,” or more correctly “leaders” of a school or party [cf. Buxtorf, s. v. מוֹרֶה], a tendency that seems to have manifested itself in the early church of Corinth when the new converts began to claim Paul, or Cephas, or Apollo as their leader [cf. 1 Cor. 1:12, 13]; the reason for this prohibition is again drawn from the fact of Christ’s universal leadership [Acts 3:15; 5:31; Heb. 12:2; 2:10]. Jesus then again points out that one’s greatness in the Church will consist in being the servant of one’s brethren [cf. Mt. 18:4; 20:25], a principle that is repeatedly and in various forms expressed by the apostle of the Gentiles [cf. 1 Cor. 3:5; 12:7; Rom. 12:6 f.; Eph. 4:11, 12]. Finally, our Lord expresses in almost proverbial language the principle that self-exaltation leads to humiliation, and self-abasement to real greatness. The life of Jesus Christ illustrates this truth [Phil. 2:8, 9; cf. Heb. 2:9], and both the Old Testament [Job 22:29; Prov. 29:23; Ez. 17:24] and the New inculcate it [Lk. 1:52, 53; 14:11; 18:14; 1 Pet. 5:5, 6; James 4:10].

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My Notes on 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-13

2:7b But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother cherishes her own children.

A contrast with the preceding verses (5-7a) is introduced with the word but. Mothers don’t demand payment from the children they nurse

2:8 Even so, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you, not the Good News of God only, but also our own souls, because you had become very dear to us.

The preaching of the Gospel isn’t just a job, it’s an act of love; a family affair, a giving of ones self completely, like a nursing mother. Thus:

2:9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and travail; for working night and day, that we might not burden any of you, we preached to you the Good News of God.

Concerning work and labor see the introductory comments inset above. Labor and travail are maternal images continuing the theme of 2:7. Also continued here is the theme of 2:6-7. With rare exception (Phil 4:15-16), St Paul never accepted financial help for his ministry; rather, he supported himself as a tent maker (see acts 18:1-3 and 20:33-34).

2:10 You are witnesses with God, how holy, righteously, and blamelessly we behaved ourselves toward you who believe.

Again St Paul calls on the two-fold witness of God and the Thessalonians.

2:11-12 As you know, we exhorted, comforted, and implored every one of you, as a father does his own children, cb(to the end that you should walk worthily of God, who calls you into his own Kingdom and glory.

The opening as you know builds upon the previous verse. To the end shows what it is that motivates Paul’s emphasis on his conduct. As mentioned earlier, St Paul’s primary concern is not defending his actions against false accusations; rather, he wants his converts to imitate him, that they should walk worthily of God, who call them into his own Kingdom and glory. The call of the Thessalonians took place through the preaching of the Gospel, and its mention here reminds us of St Paul’s reference to how they were chosen in 1:4, when the Gospel came to them. The father/children image is an obvious compliment to the nursing mother/Paul in labor and travail theme in verse 7 and 9.

2:13. And for this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that, when you received from us the word of God from hearing us, you accepted it no as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also works in you that believe.

And for this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that, when you received the word of God from hearing us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also works in you that believe.

We also thank God without ceasing draws a parallel to 1:2 which reads: “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers”.

That, when you received the word of God from hearing us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also works in you that believe. parallels 1:5, which reads: “How our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power, and in the Holy spirit, and in much assurance; even as you know what manner of men we showed ourselves towards you for your sake.” The two references to “the word of God” In 2:13 also parallels 1:8-“For from you has sounded forth the word of the Lord…

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Father Callan’s Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2:3-13

This post opens with Father Callan’s Summary on 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 followed by his notes on verse 3-13.

THE APOSTLE’S MINISTRY AT THESSALONICA IS DEFENDED

A Summary of 1 Thess 2:1-12~After recalling the abundant spiritual fruit of the Apostles’ preaching at Thessalonica, which was due to the grace of God, St. Paul now turns to a defence of his own and of his companions’ motives and conduct while there. His Jewish opponents, who had driven the missionaries from Thessalonica, had doubtless circulated calumnies and stories about them; and so the Apostle in these verses replies to their charges. He tells how he and his helpers labored there in spite of persecution, how free they were from self- interest, and how tenderly they cared for their converts.

3. For our exhortation was not of error, nor of uncleanness, nor in deceit;
4. But as we were approved by God that the gospel should be committed to us: even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God, who proveth our hearts. 
5. For neither have we used, at any time, the speech of flattery as you know; nor taken an occasion of covetousness, God is witness:
6. Nor sought we glory of men, neither in you, nor of others,
7. Whereas we might have been burdensome to you, as the apostles of Christ; but we became little ones in the midst of you, as a nurse cherishing her children:
8. So desirous of you, we would gladly impart unto you not only the gospel of God, but also our own souls, because you were become most dear unto us.

In these verses the Apostles’ preaching at Thessalonica is further explained. Their appeal arose not from “error” or delusion; nor was it prompted by “uncleanness,” i.e., unworthy and sordid motives and purposes, as was often the case with the worship of the heathen (e.g., the worship of Aphrodite at Corinth, where St. Paul was now writing); nor was “deceit” or fraud used to carry and enforce their message. The Apostles discharged their ministry as men “approved by God” and entrusted by Him with the preaching of the Gospel, who sought above all things to please God, the Judge of their hearts. They did not try to gain the favor of men by “flattery,” nor make their ministry the occasion of material gain or of the praise of men, though they had a right to support for their labors and to respect and honor as “apostles of Christ.” Instead of asserting their authority and making demands on the Thessalonians, the Apostles conducted themselves as children among them, and were desirous of communicating to their converts, not only the Gospel, but even their own lives, if that had been necessary. In verse 7 “little ones” (νηπιοι) is according to the best Greek reading, instead of ηπιοι, which means “gentle.” The sense is the same in either case.

1 Th 2:9. For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil: working night and day, lest we should be chargeable to any of you, we preached among you the gospel of God.
1 Th 2:10. You are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and without blame we have been to you that have believed:

Again St. Paul Invokes the testimony of the Thessalonlans themselves to prove the sincerity of purpose with which the Apostles preached the Gospel to them, how, namely, in addition to the fatigue of the ministry, they worked with their own hands for their temporal support, so as not to be a burden to their converts, and how blameless at the same time their conduct was.

1 Th 2:11. As you know in what manner, entreating and comforting you (as a father doth his children),
1 Th 2:12. We testified to every one of you, that you would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.

In verse 7 above St. Paul compared his tender care of the Thessalonians to that of a nurse mother, lovingly watching over her children; and now he likens the solicitude he had for them to the vigilance of a father, exhorting, encouraging, and adjuring each and all of them to live lives worthy of the God who has called them to membership in His Church here on earth and to a participation of His unveiled glory hereafter in heaven. Such conduct on the part of the Apostles while they were at Thessalonica should convince his readers of the sincerity and purity of their aims in preaching to them.

1 Th 2:13 Therefore, we also give thanks to God without ceasing: because, when you received from us the word of the hearing of God you received it not as the word of men, but (as it is indeed) the word of God, which worketh in you that have believed.

Therefore we also, etc. The Thessalonians were witnesses of the zealous labors of the Apostles, and now the Apostles thank God for the generous response to their preaching on the part of the converts at Thessalonica. They received the Gospel through the Apostles, but they recognized it as the “word of God” Himself, and this word or divine message produced the fruits of faith in their lives.

The word of the hearing of God, i.e., the Gospel message.

In the Vulgate qui operatur should be quod operatur, to agree with the Greek, where the relative refers to “word” and not to “God.”

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Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2:7-13

This post opens with Fr. MacEvilly’s brief analysis of 1 Thess chapter 2, followed by his notes on verses 7-13. Text in purple indicates his paraphrasing of the verses he is commenting on.

ANALYSIS OF 1 THESSALONIANS CHAPTER 2
In this chapter, the Apostle adduces a variety of motives for consoling the Thessalonians, and confirming them in the faith—viz., the success of his preaching in the midst of persecutions—the nature of the doctrine preached (1 Th 2:1–3)—the purity and disinterestedness of motive which actuated him (1 Th 2:4–9)—and the sanctity of his life and conduct among them (1 Th 2:10, 11). He praises them for the zeal with which they received the word of God, and the constancy with which they persevere therein (1 Th 2:13). Finally, he expresses his great affection for them.

1Th 2:7  Whereas we might have been burdensome to you, as the apostles of Christ: but we became little ones in the midst of you, as if a nurse should cherish her children:

(And that we had no motives of avarice or ambition, is clear from the fact), that while we might, like the other Apostles of Christ, be a burthen to you for our support, or by exercising authority over you, we became like children amongst you, mild, unassuming, unconscious of our rights, like a mother nursing her own children, accommodating ourselves, to your temper and habits.

“Burdensome to you,” refers to his right to receive maintenance from them; or, according to others, to the right of exercising authority over them. This latter interpretation is followed by the Greeks; the former is, however, the more probable. “Little ones,” in the present Greek version is νήπιοι, mild, gentle—but the meaning is still the same. “As if a nurse should cherish her children”—in the Greek, τὰ ἐαυτῆς her own children. The Apostle opposes humility to the pride of false teachers. He employs a twofold metaphor, to express the feelings displayed by him in preaching the gospel to the Thessalonians. Some Expositors, in order to avoid a confusion of metaphor, connect the latter part of this with the following verse.

1Th 2:8  So desirous of you, we would gladly impart unto you not only the gospel of God but also our own souls: because you were become most dear unto us.

Thus having feelings of the liveliest affection towards you (as the mother has towards her offspring), we eagerly longed to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our very souls, if necessary, from no other motive except that of the purest love and affection for you.

“So desirous of you;” i.e., as desirous of you, as the nurse is of her children. He opposes charity to cupidity. What a lively picture is given here of the true Pastor of souls—at one time, clothing himself, through a spirit of accommodation to the weakness of his people, with the simplicity, humility, and meekness of children, apparently claiming no authority; at another, displaying the lively affection of a tender mother, dispensing the milk of holy doctrine in such a way, as to be prepared to give his life, and that from no motive of lucre, but purely from love and charity, co-operating with Christ in the salvation of those souls for whom our blessed Lord gave up his life;

1Th 2:9  For you remember, brethren, our labour and toil: working night and day, lest we should be chargeable to any of you, we preached among you the gospel of God.

(And how far we accommodated ourselves, like a nurse, to your weakness, you yourselves know). For you remember how we laboured and toiled, working day and night to gain sustenance, while at the same time we preached the gospel of God to you; and this labour and toil we underwent to gain a livelihood, lest we should in any way be a burthen to you.

The Apostle toiled at manual labour, for the purpose of procuring the necessaries of life, at the very time he was announcing the gospel to them. Just as St Paul and his companions remembered the work of faith and labor of love of the Thessalonians (1 Th 1:3), so too the Thessalonians remember the labor and toil of the missionaries. This is probably not just a reference to the fact that they worked to support themselves financially, but to the the burden this place on them as they attempted not to burden the Thessalonians (2 Th 3:8-9). For other references to St Paul’s manual labor see Acts 18:1-3, 20:33-35; 1 Cor 4:11-12, 9:3-18. It’s possible that St Paul emphasizes his self-employment because some in Thessalonica were becoming lazy or insinuating themselves into other people’s affairs (1 Th 3:11-12; 2 Th 3:6-12).

1Th 2:10  You are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and without blame we have been to you that have believed:

I call both you and God to bear testimony to the sanctity towards God, the justice towards our neighbour, the irreprehensibility towards all, that marked our conduct amongst you.

“Holily,” may also mean, in doctrine and life; “justly,” without injury of exaction; “without blame,” causing no scandal to the weak.

1Th 2:11  As you know in what manner, entreating and comforting you (as a father doth his children),

You also know how we entreated each of you (with the feelings of a father towards his children) to persevere firmly in the faith.

1Th 2:12  We testified to every one of you that you would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.

How we consoled you in your difficulties, and earnestly besought you to lead lives worthy of the God who called you to his kingdom and his glory.

The Vulgate reading of these two verses is rather obscure. “As you know,” i.e., you also know, how we entreated each of you (as a father entreats his children), and comforted each of you, &c. The word “you” is redundant after “comforting,” in the construction adopted in the Paraphrase; a construction which, however, accords best with the Greek. “Who hath called you unto his kingdom;” i.e., his Church, where they received the Holy Ghost as a pledge of glory to come, the hopes of which should encourage them under afflictions and persecution. In the Greek version, “testified” is read in a participial form, testifying.

1Th 2:13  Therefore, we also give thanks to God without ceasing: because, that when you had received of us the word of the hearing of God, you received it not as the word of men, but (as it is indeed) the word of God, who worketh in you that have believed.

Therefore (owing to our success amongst you), we give God thanks without ceasing, that when you received from us the word of God which we preached to you, you received it not as the doctrine of men, but (what it really is) as the doctrine revealed by God, who, by the power of his grace, wrought in you the conviction of faith.

“Therefore,” all this being premised regarding his advent and success amongst them, and the purity of motive with which he preached, the Apostle now returns thanks to God for his success, and shows that his advent was not “in vain;” as he asserted (verse 1). “When you had received of us the word of the hearing of God,” i.e., the word of God which you heard from our preaching it to you. “You received it not as the word of men;” because, under the circumstances of persecution with which it was attended, they would certainly have rejected it, had they regarded it as emanating from man; but they received it as “the word of God,” who, by his grace, worked in them and made them receive his word with a firm faith. “Who worketh,” may, in the Greek construction, ὅς καὶ ενεργειται, be also rendered which works, or is worked in you, &c. There is, however, but little difference of signification between it and our Vulgate.

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Pope Benedict XVI’s Commentary/Meditation on Psalm 131

“My heart is not proud’
Evening Prayer – Tuesday of Week Three

1. We have listened to only a few words, about 30 in the original Hebrew, of Psalm 131[130]. Yet they are intense words that convey a topic dear to all religious literature: spiritual childhood. Our thoughts turn spontaneously to St Thérèse of Lisieux, to her “Little Way”, her “remaining little” in order to be held in Jesus’ arms (cf.Story of a Soul, Manuscript “C”, p. 208).

Indeed, the clear-cut image of a mother and child in the middle of the Psalm is a sign of God’s tender and maternal love, as the Prophet Hosea formerly expressed it: “When Israel was a child I loved him…. I drew [him] with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered [him] like one who raises an infant to his cheeks… I stooped to feed my child” (Hos 11: 1, 4).

2. The Psalm begins by describing an attitude quite the opposite of infancy, which, well aware of its own frailty, trusts in the help of others. In the foreground of this Psalm, instead, are pride of heart, haughty eyes and “great things” that are “too sublime for me” (cf. Ps 131[130]: 1). This is an illustration of the proud person who is described by Hebrew words that suggest “pride” and “haughtiness”, the arrogant attitude of those who look down on others, considering them inferior.

The great temptation of the proud, who want to be like God, the arbiter of good and evil (cf. Gn 3: 5), is decisively rejected by the person of prayer who chooses humble and spontaneous trust in the One Lord.

3. Thus, we move on to the unforgettable image of the mother and child. The original Hebrew text does not speak of a newborn child but of a child that has been “weaned” (Ps 131[130]: 2). Now, it is known that in the ancient Near East a special celebration marked the official weaning of a child, usually at about the age of 3 (cf. Gn 21: 8; I Sam 1: 20-23; II Mc 7: 27).

The child to which the Psalmist refers is now bound to the mother by a most personal and intimate bond, hence, not merely by physical contact and the need for food. It is a more conscious tie, although nonetheless immediate and spontaneous. This is the ideal Parable of the true “childhood” of the spirit that does not abandon itself to God blindly and automatically, but serenely and responsibly.

4. At this point, the praying person’s profession of trust is extended to the entire community: “O Israel, hope in the Lord both now and for ever” (Ps 131[130]: 3). In the entire people which receives security, life and peace from God, hope now blossoms and extends from the present to the future, “now and for ever”.

It is easy to continue the prayer by making other voices in the Psalms ring out, inspired by this same trust in God: “To you I was committed at birth, from my mother’s womb you are my God” (Ps 22[21]: 11). “Though my father and mother forsake me, yet will the Lord receive me” (Ps 27[26]: 10). “For you are my hope, O Lord; my trust, O God, from my youth. On you I depend from birth; from my mother’s womb you are my strength” (Ps 71[70]: 5-6).

5. Humble trust, as we have seen, is opposed by pride. John Cassian, a fourth-fifth century Christian writer, warned the faithful of the danger of this vice that “destroys all the virtues overall and does not only attack the tepid and the weak, but principally those who have forced their way to the top”.

He continues: “This is the reason why Blessed David preserved his heart with such great circumspection, to the point that he dared proclaim before the One whom none of the secrets of his conscience escaped: “Lord, may my heart not grow proud, nor my gaze be raised with haughtiness; let me not seek great things that are beyond my strength’…. Yet, knowing well how difficult such custody is even for those who are perfect, he does not presume to rely solely on his own abilities, but implores the Lord with prayers to help him succeed in avoiding the darts of the enemy and in not being injured by them: “Let not the foot of the proud overtake me’ (Ps 36[35]: 12)” (Le Istituzioni Cenobitiche, XII, 6, Abbey of Praglia, Bresseo di Teolo, Padua, 1989, p. 289).

Likewise, an anonymous elderly Desert Father has handed down to us this saying that echoes Psalm 131[130]: “I have never overstepped my rank to walk higher, nor have I ever been troubled in the case of humiliation, for I concentrated my every thought on this: praying the Lord to strip me of the old man” (I Padri del Deserto. Detti, Rome, 1980, p. 287).

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