ANALYSIS OF MATTHEW CHAPTER 26
In this chapter, the Evangelist narrates our Redeemer’s prediction of His death, just now at hand. The meeting of the Jewish Sanhedrim for the purpose of devising measures to insure His death (Mt 26;1–5). The anointing of His feet at Bethania with precious ointment by Magdalen, which made the avaricious Judas murmur, and furnished him with a pretext for betraying his Lord (Mt 26:6–9). Our Lord’s defence of the woman, whose act, He declares to be praiseworthy, considering the religious end she had in view; He predicts, that her act would be regarded in this light at a future day, throughout the entire world (Mt 26:10–13). The treasonable bargain entered into by Judas to betray Him for thirty pieces of silver (Mt 26:14–16). The commission given to Peter and John to go into Jerusalem and prepare the Pasch, with which they strictly complied (Mt 26:17–19). His prediction that one of His Apostles present would betray Him; and mild means having failed to reclaim the traitor, whom He refrains from mentioning by name, He employs the threats, unhappily, in vain, of eternal woe to effect this Mt 26:(17–25). The institution of the adorable Eucharist, both as a Sacrament and Sacrifice at the Last Supper. Our Redeemer’s valedictory address, pointing to the joys in store for His faithful servants in the kingdom of His Father (Mt 26:26–30). We have next an account of our Lord’s prediction of the cowardly desertion of Him by His Apostles. Peter’s confident declaration, that he would die first, in which the other Apostles joined him. Our Lord’s prediction of Peter’s denial of Him before cockcrow Mt 26:31–35). Our Lord’s agony in the garden, and His fervent, protracted prayer (Mt 26:36–46). We have, next, the treason of Judas; the apprehension of our Lord; His rebuke to His followers, who meant to defend Him. His rebuke to His enemies, who came to treat Him as a midnight robber (Mt 26:47–56). The examination of our Lord before the assembled Sanhedrin; the false testimony suborned for the purpose. The dignified silence of our Lord, with reference to the false testimony adduced against Him. His solemn declaration of His Divinity, when officially questioned in the name of the living God, by the High Priest. The blasphemous conduct of the High Priest. His iniquitous judgment, in which the other members of the court joined (Mt 26:57–66). The contumelious treatment of our Lord by the servants and underlings in the Hall of Caiphas, during the night, after the assembly broke up (Mt 26:67–68). The triple denial of our Lord by Peter, his sorrow and repentance (Mt 26:69–75).
Mt 26:1. “And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended all these words.” “All these words,” most probably, refer to the preceding discourse (chapters 24-25), relative to the Day of Judgment, the destruction of Jerusalem, the necessity of vigilance, and good works, as illustrated in the several foregoing parables. St. Thomas (in hunc locum) observes, that “all these words,” comprise the entire of our Redeemer’s teaching, as contained in the Gospel, so that the Evangelist wishes, according to Him, to convey, that, after our Redeemer had acquitted Himself of the office of teacher, He now prepares for His office of Saviour, and wishes to apprise His disciples, beforehand, of it, in order to secure them against being scandalized at His Passion, by showing them, He foresaw it all beforehand, and endured it, because He willed it. Having heretofore predicted the manner, and the place, of His death, He here predicts the exact time of it.
Mt 26:2. “You know,” as a matter of course, well known to the entire people; or, it might mean, that He Himself had previously informed them of it; “that”—according to the strict disposition of the law itself, which He meant to follow—“the Pasch shall be after two days.” (In the Greek, it is in the present tense, γινεται, “the Pasch is,” to denote the certainty of the future event, and the fixed time for celebrating it). This passage furnishes a subject of great doubt and disputation, as to the time when these words were spoken. It is almost universally agreed upon, that they were spoken on the evening of the twelfth moon of the month, Nisan, corresponding with our March. For, as the Pasch was to be eaten on the evening of the 14th of that month, according to the Jewish law (Exod. 12:6–18), and the festival which commenced on that evening, was to be celebrated also during the following day, the 15th (for all the Jewish festivals were celebrated from evening till evening), then, as “two days” intervened between the time our Redeemer spoke these words, and the evening of the 14th, it follows, clearly, that that evening was the 12th of the month.
But on what day of the week did He say those things, is another question. That it was on Tuesday evening, is clearly inferred, from the fact, that our Redeemer’s Passion took place on Friday. For, St. Luke (Lk 23:54–56); St. John (Jn 19:31), inform us, that the day following His Passion was the Sabbath. Moreover, such has been, at all times, the teaching of the Christian Church. Then, as our Redeemer, as is clear from the Gospel history, celebrated the Paschal feast on the preceding evening, of the 14th Nisan, at the time the Paschal festival of the following day (the 15th Nisan) commenced, on which day He was crucified, it follows, that the words were spoken on Tuesday evening, between which and the evening of Thursday, two days intervened. The same is inferred, from the day of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which happened on Sunday, as the Catholic Church has always taught. Now, as the Paschal solemnity was to be on Friday, commencing, as all Jewish festivals did, on the preceding evening, it follows, as the words were spoken, two days” before, that it must have occurred on Tuesday.
St. John says, our Redeemer came to Bethania “six days before the Pasch.” The Pasch commenced on Thursday evening, the 14th Nisan. On that evening, the Pasch lamb was immolated and consumed. Hence, our Lord, most probably, came to Bethania on the previous Friday, where great multitudes came to see Him, after having raised Lazarus from the dead (John 12:9), and rested there, on account of the Sabbath, on which day the people could not cut down branches, or make the intended public demonstration. On the evening of Saturday, after the feast of the Pasch was over He was entertained at supper, at “the house of Simon the leper,” on which occasion, His feet were anointed (John 12:3, &c.; Matt. 26:6). “The next day,” that is, the day after the supper, which, indisputably, was Sunday (John 12:12), He entered Jerusalem in triumph.
The series of events, in which our Lord was engaged, from Friday, the day of His arrival in Bethania, till Thursday evening, on which commenced the Paschal festival of the following day, whereon He died, was as follows:—On Friday, 8th Nisan, He came to Bethania, and rested there, on account of the Sabbath. 9th Nisan, which terminated on Saturday evening, He supped at “the house of Simon the leper,” late on that evening, after the close of the Sabbath. The day after this supper—Palm Sunday—10th Nisan, He entered Jerusalem in triumph (John 12:12), and retired to Bethania, for the night. On Monday morning, 11th Nisan, He cursed the barren fig-tree, on His way back to Jerusalem, where He cast the profane traffickers out of the temple, and returned for the night to Bethania. On Tuesday morning, 12th Nisan, on His way back to Jerusalem, the disciples express their surprise at seeing the barren fig-tree utterly withered, which, probably, escaped them the evening before, on account of the darkness. After delivering lengthened discourses in the temple, on that day, our Lord, leaving the temple, predicts the ruin of the city; and, sitting on Mount Olivet, He answers the questions of the Apostles, regarding the threatened destruction of Jerusalem, and the final end of all things. The two days before the Pasch, commence on this evening of Tuesday. After spending the night on Mount Olivet (Luke 21:37, 38), as was His wont, He goes to Jerusalem the next day, Wednesday, 13th Nisan. The Council is held there, for the purpose of destroying Him. Judas covenants with the Chief Priests, to betray Him for a fixed price. Our Lord repairs that evening, as usual, to Bethania, and spends the night there. It is not likely, that He came to Jerusalem early the following day, 14th Nisan, as, in the afternoon, He sent in two of His disciples to prepare the Pasch, whom He Himself soon followed, with the other Apostles, in order to celebrate it at the evening hour, appointed by the Jewish law, for eating the Paschal lamb (Ex. 12:6). At sunset of this 14th day of the month Nisan, commenced the first day of Azymes. The festival of the following day always commenced, according to the Jewish computation of festivals, on the preceding evening. On that night, our Lord celebrates the Pasch; institutes the Blessed Eucharist; goes to Gethsemani; is apprehended, and brought before the assembled Sanhedrin. The following morning, the 15th Nisan—the Paschal solemnity—He is brought again before the Sanhedrin, who send Him to Pilate, by whom He is condemned to the death of the cross, crucified at mid-day, and buried before sunset. If we bear in mind the Jewish calculation of their festivals, viz., from the sunset of the day preceding the festival, till the sunset of the festival day itself, we can easily reconcile the apparent discrepancy between Matthew (Mt 5:17), Mark (Mk 14:22), Luke (Lk 22:7), who all concur in saying, that our Lord celebrated the Pasch on the first day of Azyms, and St. John (Jn 13:1), who says, it was celebrated the day before. Both accounts are true. It was the evening before, according to the civil computation of time, which St. John, who wrote sixty years after this, when the Jewish law and Jewish usages had passed away, most likely adopted. But, according to the sacred, or festival computation, which alone the throe other Evangelists attended to, the evening before formed a part of the following festival day. The Pasch was celebrated “between the two evenings” of Thursday and Friday (Mt 26:20). Hence, as our Lord, who was observant of “all justice,” could not be supposed to have anticipated the usual and prescribed time for celebrating the Pasch, the error of the Greeks, who maintained He did not celebrate it in unleavened bread, is clearly refuted.
A question, much debated, is raised here, viz., whether our Lord celebrated the Pasch on the same day with the Jews. That He celebrated it at the time, and in the manner, marked out in the law of Moses (Ex 12:6), seems quite clear, from the words of the Evangelists, Matthew (Mt 26:2–17, 18); Luke (Lk 22:7–13), where our Lord speaks of “the Pasch,” manifestly in the ordinary acceptation of the term, embracing the prescribed time, and all the ceremonies connected with it. But, whether the Jews also celebrated it, on this occasion, on the day appointed by law, the evening of the 14th Nisan, is disputed. Some distinguished commentators hold, that they postponed it one day; that, instead of celebrating it on the evening of Thursday, they put it off till the evening of Friday, and that Saturday, the 16th Nisan, was, in this year, the day on which they kept the Paschal solemnity. These writers say, that the Jews were warranted, by a tradition handed down from their lathers, since the Babylonish captivity, in transferring the celebration of the Pasch, whenever it fell on Friday, to the following day, Saturday, in order to avoid the great inconveniences resulting from the celebration of two festivals, in immediate succession. Rupertus, Paulus Brugensis, Petavius, &c., quote the tradition referred to. But, they have failed to prove its existence, and it is stated by others, that the custom referred to was of a date subsequent to the death of our Divine Redeemer. It seems, however, to be the far more probable opinion, that the Jews celebrated the Pasch on the day marked out by law, the same with that on which it was kept by our Divine Redeemer. This is expressly stated by St. Mark (Mk 14:12). For, he tells us, our Redeemer sent His disciples to prepare the Pasch, “on the first day of the unleavened bread, when they sacrificed the Pasch.” A further proof that our Lord and the Jews celebrated the Pasch on the same day, is derived from the account given by the four Evangelists of the liberation of Barabbas, shortly before our Lord was condemned to death by Pilate. The Governor was wont to release, at the request of the people, a prisoner, whomsoever they demanded. This always happened on the festival day (Matt. 27:15). St. Mark says, the people demanded this, as a matter of course, on the festival; and St. John expressly states (Jn 18:39), that the feast day on which the custom of having a prisoner released, was “the Pasch.” They, therefore, celebrated the Pasch on the day of our Lord’s crucifixion; and hence, they must have partaken of the Paschal supper on the preceding evening, as did our Blessed Lord.
The objections against this opinion are—1st. St. John, who must clearly refer to the Last Supper (see Patrizzi, Lib. iii. Diss. 1.), says, it took place “before the festival day of the Pasch” (Jn 13:1). This has been already answered. St. John, who wrote sixty years after this, followed, not the Jewish computation of festival days, from sunset till sunset; but, the Greek or Roman computation of days, from midnight to midnight. The same Apostle gives proof that in his Gospel he sometimes follows the Roman computation of time (Jn 12:12; 20:19). 2ndly. It is supposed in the account given by St. John (Jn 18:28), of the accusation preferred by the Jews against our Lord, on the day of His death, before the tribunal of Pilate, that they had not then eaten the Pasch, and that, therefore, they had put it off till the evening of that day, whereas our Redeemer had eaten it the evening before. “They went not into the Hall, that they might not he defiled, but that they might eat the Pasch.” Answer. This supposes what is not exactly correct, viz., that the word, Pasch, exclusively refers to the Paschal lamb, eaten on the first day of Azymes. Moses himself (Deut. 16:2, 3), applies the term to victims of sheep and oxen, “sacrificabis Phase Domino Deo tuo ores et loves.” From the pages of the Talmud, it appears, that the word, Pasch, in the usual language of the Jews, applied, besides the Paschal lamb, to the other victims, which were eaten on the 15th of Nisan, the first day of Azymes, and the night following (Patrizzi, ibidem). That it did not apply to the Paschal lamb, in the passage quoted from St. John, is clear from this, that the slight uncleanness the Jews would contract by entering Pilate’s Hall (they seemed to have no scruple whatever regarding the grievous crime of co-operating in the death of a just man), could be easily removed by an evening purification. Hence, there must be reference to some other victims, of which they were to partake before the time of evening lustrations (Patrizzi). 3rdly. We find several acts performed on the day of our Lord’s crucifixion, in connexion with our Lord’s death, which could not be performed on a festival day, such as His arrest, His trial, His crucifixion. Again, we find Joseph of Arimathea and the holy women, after our Lord’s body was taken down from the cross, buying fine linen, and making other preparations for His burial, which would not be allowed on a festival day. Answer. There is no proof that the acts performed preparatory to our Lord’s death, were against the letter of the law, at least, as regards a festival day. The heads of the Jewish Church themselves, who were very anxious to carry out the provisions of the law, at least externally, did not scorn to think these acts were prohibited. All they were concerned about was, not the violation of the law, but, lest His arrest should cause “a tumult among the people” (Matt. 26:5). The same answer applies to the acts performed by Joseph of Arimathea, and the holy women. The Sabbatical rest was more strictly enforced than that on festivals. In reference to the latter, servile work, necessary for the preparation of food, was allowed. (Ex. 12:14–20; 23:14, &c.; Lev. 23:6; Num. 28:16, &c.) But, no such exception extended to the ordinary Sabbath rest. However, even on the Sabbath, the bodies of those who suffered the penalty of death should be buried (Deut. 21:23), and this injunction or concession must include everything necessary for this purpose, such as the act of buying spices, referred to in the Gospel. 4thly. St. John calls the Sabbath immediately following our Lord’s crucifixion, “a great Sabbath day,” “erat enim magnus dies ille Sabbati” (Jn 19:31), which supposes the solemnity of the Pasch to be added to the ordinary Sabbath. Answer. The very fact of its falling within the octave of the Pasch, would warrant the Evangelist in calling is a great Sabbath (see Jn 12:1). 5thly, St. John (Jn 19:14), says, the day of our Lord’s crucifixion was “the parasceve of the Pasch,” which looking to the strict meaning of the word, “parasceve,” preparation, means, “it was the preparation of the Pasch.” Hence, the Pasch was observed on the following day. Answer, The word “parasceve,” if we look to etymology, signified preparation; if we look to usage, commonly signified, the sixth day of the week; this St. Mark expressly says of it (Mk 15:42), “because it was the Parasceve, that is, the day before the Sabbath.” The same meaning of the word is insinuated by St. John (Jn 19:31), “that the bodies might not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day.” Hence, the phrase means, it was “the Parascere,” or sixth day of the week, within which week was celebrated the Pasch, just as we term the Friday after Easter, Feria 6ta Paschatis, that is to say, Friday within Easter week; and in the three passages of St. John’s Gospel, where the word, parasceve (παρασκυη), is employed, viz. (Jn 19:14, 31, 42), the article is omitted in the two first, to show, it was meant to express, not preparation, but to express the day of the week; whereas, in Jn 19:42, the article shows it means, preparation; not, however, the preparation of the Pasch; but, of the succeeding Sabbath, the common acceptation of the term. It is needless to dwell on any other objections against the opinion we advocate. The arguments in proof of it are far stronger than the objections against it.
“After two days shall be the Pasch.” The word, “Pasch,” signifies, a passing over, and contains an allusion commemorative of the occasion, when the destroying angel in Egypt smote the Egyptians, and passed over the houses of the Hebrews, the jambs of whose doors were sprinkled with the blood of the lamb, slain on the occasion (Ex 12:1)—hence, the term, Passover. It is frequently employed to denote—1st. The Paschal lamb, slain according to law (Ex 12:6), on the evening of the 14th of the month, Nisan, the first month with the Jews, corresponding with our March (Ex 12:21; Deut. 16:2; Luke 22:7; Matt. 26:17; Mark 14:12; 1 Cor. 5:7). 2ndly. The solemnity itself, as here, and Mark 14:1; Luke 22:1. 3rdly. Other victims, which were offered up with the Paschal lamb, but after a different rite, as peace offerings (Deut. 16:2; 2 Chron 35:7–9, 13).
“And the Son of man shall be delivered,” &c. “The Son of man.” It is quite usual with our Lord to speak of Himself in the third person, and call Himself “the Son of man;” as if to convey to us, that, although the Son of God from eternity, He has still humbled Himself for us, by taking upon Himself the true nature of man, in which alone He could have become a Redeemer for us; and that He has taken upon Himself, for our sakes, all the infirmities and ills of weak human nature, sin excepted.
“Shall be delivered,” most likely, refers to the treason of Judas, as He refers to a particular time—“after two days,” &c.—in the foregoing. St. Thomas and Origen observe, that our Redeemer was delivered by His Father, and by Himself, in order to redeem mankind; by the devil, in order to incite men to sin, and prevent the work of man’s redemption; by Judas, through avarice; by the Jews, through envy; and by Pilate, through fear of losing the friendship of Cæsar.
“To be crucified.” If the preceding words refer to Judas, then, in these words is expressed merely the consequence of His betrayal. If to the Jews, they express the the end or motive; for, they cried out, “Crucifige, crucifige eum.” Our Redeemer conveys, in these words, that the immolation of the true Paschal Lamb is to take place in such a way that the antitype shall fully correspond with its type, by being sacrificed on the same day, freely and voluntarily selected by Himself for that object.
Mt 26:3. “Then,” may refer to the time our Redeemer uttered these words regarding His Passion, or about the time, viz., early on the following (Wednesday) morning, to show the infallible efficacy of the Divine decree, ordaining that our Lord should suffer at the time of the Pasch. The very fact of our Redeemer uttering the prophecy at this time shows, He could not have learned the circumstance from the hostile meeting of the Sanhedrin, which took place afterwards, and whose deliberations were opposed to His being put to death on the day He had fixed upon. “Then,” may refer to the Pasch, which was to occur “after two days,” and for which, as a joyous and solemn festival, the chief men among the Jews should be preparing, rather than be engaged in plotting against the life of an innocent man. It was in consequence of this Jewish Council, held on Wednesday, to compass our Redeemer’s death, that Wednesday was a fast day in the early Christian Church (St. Augustine, Epist. 36; Theophylact and Victor Antiochenus, in Marcum xvi. 1, 2).
“The Chief Priests.” By these are generally understood, the heads or chiefs of the twenty-four sacerdotal families (1 Chron. 15:6, 7; 2 Chron. 24:6), according to the arrangements of David, which continued to our Redeemer’s time; or, those who had been High Priests already. For, from the time of Herod, this dignity was not perpetual, as formerly, but annual; and formed the subject of the most iniquitous traffic, and of the basest venality (see Mt 2:4).
“And ancients of the people.” By these were meant, those whom St. Luke (Lk 22:4) calls “magistrates,” who ruled in civil matters—a signification in which the Greek word, στρατηγοι, is often employed in SS. Scripture. (Acts 4; Acts 16:20, &c.) These were generally Pharisees (Josephus, Lib. 18 Antiq.) The Greek text has here, “and the Scribes.” So also have Mark and Luke, as if to convey to us, that in this assemblage, the different orders in the State—Chief Priests, Doctors of the Law, and Judges, were represented. The words mean: that the Sanhedrim, composed of the different orders, which, presided over by the High Priest, was the supreme tribunal among the Jews, appointed to judge doctrinal questions, and sit in judgment on false prophets, had been assembled on this occasion.
“Into the Court of the High Priest,” that is, the Court or Hall of the High Priest’s house, where such assemblies usually took place. It may be used by synedoche for the house itself, denoting a mansion or palace. While there were several chiefs of Priestly families, there was but one High Priest. His name was “Caiphas,” whom Josephus represents as infamous for his avarice and bad qualities, by which he worked his way to the office of High Priest (Lib. 18, Antiq. c. 3, 6). It is most likely, that this assembly was convoked by him, who, from his office, far from stimulating men to the perpetration of injustice, should be the first to warn them against it.
Mt 26:4. “They consulted together,” not what preparation they should make for the coming solemn festival; but, “that by subtilty,” that is, how they could privately, without the knowledge of the people, who, they feared, would rescue Him; or, without any anticipation on the part of Jesus Himself, who might escape from them, and elude their grasp, as He did on former occasions. “They might apprehend Jesus, and,” after having seized Him, “put Him to death.” They had already determined on His death; nay, the Pontiff of that year had declared this to be a just measure of necessary precaution and public safety. But, the question now deliberated among them was, how this could be safely and effectually brought about. “They feared the people,” as we are informed by St. Luke (22:2), if they were to attempt anything publicly against Him. Hence, their deliberation, regarding the mode of apprehending and putting Him to death; and their resolve that it should not occur on the festival day.
Mt 26:5. “Not on the festival day,” that is, either on the first day of the Pasch, or the following days; but, that His arrest should be either anticipated, as is held by some or, postponed, as the words are interpreted by others, till after the seven days of the Paschal solemnity had expired. “Lest there should be a tumult among the people,” who assembled from every part of Judea, on the occasion of the Paschal solemnity. Among this assembled multitude, there were many of our Redeemer’s own countrymen from Galilee—many who received benefits at His hands, cures of their bodily distempers, many, whose hunger He miraculously appeased in the desert—many, who regarded Him as a holy man and a prophet. The enemies of our Divine Redeemer, therefore, calculated, that if any violence were resorted to against Him on this public occasion, when it was usual to release and pardon malefactors, the multitude, who, as we learn from Josephus (Lib. Antiq. 20), were prone to tumults, which caused the Roman Governor to station a body of soldiers near the temple, would resent it, and rescue Him out of their hands, and, perhaps, maltreat themselves. Hence, they resolve that the apprehension and death of our Redeemer should either precede the Paschal solemnity, or be postponed till alter it. But, the designs of God are not to be frustrated by human machinations. The true Paschal Lamb was to have suffered on the Paschal solemnity, according to the decrees of God. Hence, it came to pass, that the High Priests, &c., changing their minds, availed themselves of the unexpected opportunity presented to them, by the treason of Judas, for His apprehension; and, forgetful of the sacredness of the Paschal solemnity, imbrue their hands in His blood; while the multitude, whom they dreaded, seconding their efforts, called for His crucifixion, and invoked His innocent blood on their own heads, and those of their children; so, that the designs of God, and the consequent predictions of our Redeemer, regarding the day, the hour, the place, and manner of His death were fulfilled to the letter.
Mt 26:6. “And when Jesus was in Bethania,” &c. The anointing of our Saviour, described here, occurred some days before the above words were spoken. It occurred, as we are informed by St. John (Jn 12:1), “six days before the Patch,” and before His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But, as SS. Matthew and Mark had omitted referring to it in its proper place and order, they introduce it here after the description of our Lord’s public entry, because the anointing of our Redeemer, and the profusion and expense incurred, served as the occasion of suggesting to the avaricious Judas, the idea of betraying Him for money. Our Lord frequently stopped at Bethania, the native village of Martha and Mary, at the foot of Mount Olivet. On the present occasion, He was entertained by “Simon,” called “the leper,” either from having been himself infected with leprosy, of which he was now cured; or, it may have been a cognomen of his family.
Mt 26:7. “There came to Him a woman, having an alabaster box,” &c. This box was made of alabaster, or rather, of some fragile substance like it. St. Mark (Mk 14:3) says, she poured out the ointment, “breaking the alabaster box,” which might be understood, of breaking the narrow neck of the fragile flask, in which such perfumes were usually kept. It was “precious,” of great value, both in regard to the quality, and, also, the quantity, which, St. John tells us, was “a pound.” A pound weight of this ointment was worth “three hundred pence,” or denarii, which amounted to a large sum. St. Mark (Mk 14:3) and St. John (Jn 12:3) tell us, it was the ointment “of spikenard.” The valuable extract or perfume of the roots of this aromatic Eastern plant, was highly prized by the ancients, and much used at feasts and baths. Both St. John and St. Mark call it, νάρδου πιστικῆς. The meaning of the latter term is much controverted. Some understand pistici, to mean, genuine, unadulteratea, the sense attached to the word in our English version (John 12:3), “right spikenard.” Others, more probably, deriving it from a different root, give the meaning of, potable, liquid, to distinguish it from the spikenard ointment, which is of a more solid description.
But, who the “woman” was, is a subject of much controversy. It seems, the more probable opinion, that, although the anointing described by St. Luke (Lk 7:37, &c.), is different from that described here by St. Matthew, and by Mark (14), John (12);—for, the former occurred two years before our Redeemer’s death; the latter, only a few days before it—still, the female referred to on both occasions is Mary Magdalen, the sister of Lazarus and Martha (John 11) For, in speaking of Mary, the sister of Lazarus, St. John (Jn 11:2) describes her as the person “who anointed the Lord with ointment,” &c., which could hardly be assigned, as a peculiar designation of Mary Magdalen, had any other woman done the same; and, although she is described by St. Luke (Lk 7:37) as a “sinner,” and would seem to be represented by the other Evangelists as a saint; still, as they refer to different periods, it only shows she gave up her previous sinful life, and returned to God by penance. The difference in the mode of anointing—she having been represented on one occasion as anointing His feet; on another, His head—proves nothing; as, on the occasion when she is described as anointing His feet, it is to be presumed, she also did what was usual on such occasions, viz., anointed His head. This our Redeemer insinuates, when addressing Simon (Luke 7:46), He says, “My head with oil thou didst not anoint, but she with ointment hath anointed”—not only My head, but, also—“My feet.” That Matthew, Mark, and John refer to the same anointing, although there may be some apparent trivial discrepancy as regards the days, is clear, from the perfect concurrence of almost all the circumstances—the place (Bethania); the kind of oil; the murmuring of Judas—our Redeemer’s approbation of the act. For, how could the same charge be so soon repeated by the traitor, within four days after the severe rebuke of our Saviour on the same subject? St. John particularizes the female, viz., Mary, the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead; because, his object was, as he follows the order of time, to describe more particularly this occurrence; whereas, Matthew and Mark merely call her “a woman,” because they merely incidentally refer to this unction as introductory to the treason of Judas, of which it was the occasion. St. John does not say, that this supper took place in the house of Lazarus; he only says (Jn 12:2), “they made Him a supper there,” viz., Bethania, in what house, he does not say. He rather insinuates, that it was not at the house of Lazarus; for, he says, “Lazarus was one of them that sat at table,” which would be hardly a matter to be recorded, if the supper was given at his own house; nor would it be deserving of special record, that Martha and Mary served, if it was at their own house. The other Evangelists say expressly, it was “at the house of Simon the leper.”
Mt 26:8-9. “The disciples seeing it” (St. Mark 14:4) has, “some” of them, which is perfectly reconcilable with St. Matthew; St. John 12:4, says, “one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot”), which may be easily explained, by a figure quite common in SS. Scripture, which employs the plural for the singular; thus, it is said, the thieves on the cross blasphemed Him, while only one did so. Or, it may be more probable, as St. Augustine explains it (Lib. 2 de Consensu. Evangel.), that Judas, having first expressed his indignation, the other Apostles, who knew our Redeemer’s austere manner of life, and His unbounded charity to the poor, then joined in expressing feelings of indignation, but from different motives—Judas from avarice (John 12:6); they, from charity. This mode of explaining the passage, derives probability from the words which St. John subjoins: “Now he said this, not because he cared for the poor; but, because he was a thief,” &c. Our Redeemer’s rebuke is addressed, not to one, but to all. St. Mark and St. John say, it was worth “more than three hundred pence,” which shows the ungrudging liberality of the woman towards Him. The value of a penny, or denarius, among the ancients, was considerable. We are informed by Tacitus (Annal. i. 17), it was more than the daily pay of a Roman soldier.
Mt 26:10. “Jesus knowing it.” In virtue of His Divine knowledge, He knew their private murmurings, addressed directly to the woman; but indirectly, levelled at Himself, for having permitted such waste, although these murmurings did not reach His ear. “Said to them.” He does not harshly rebuke their indiscreet murmuring; nor does He expose the avarice of Judas, nor his affected concern for the poor; but, mildly, wishing to teach them to bear with those who err not from malice, He undertakes the defence of the woman. “Why do you trouble this woman?” by your rash and unfounded accusations. “For, she hath wrought a good work upon Me,” a work dictated by humanity, gratitude, the firmest faith, the most ardent love towards the Son of God. “Upon Me,” towards Me, whom it must be far more praiseworthy and meritorious to serve than the poor. He next answers their objections or grounds of murmuring.
Mt 26:11. For, as regards the poor, for whom you seem so much concerned, the world shall always abound with them, so that you shall never want an opportunity of relieving them; but, as I am to be put to death in a few days, and although I shall be always with My Church, and My immensity ever fills the heavens and the earth; still, I shall not be amongst you in a visible, corporal appearance, and in mortal flesh, so as to be an object of bodily relief. Those, therefore, that are disposed to show Me kindness, during the short period of my visible stay here below, should not be interfered with.
Mt 26:12. “For she in pouring this ointment,” &c. This, He adds, to convey to them the near approach of His death; and He assigns this, also, as an excuse for her anointing Him. He might have excused her, or praised her act, on several grounds—on the ground of the excellence of His Divine Person—as this act of honour was exhibited to His own Divine Person, which it was more meritorious to serve and honour than the poor, however numerous or indigent—also, on the ground of her strong devoted affection and the praiseworthy motives of gratitude, humility, piety, &c., from which this act had proceeded. Passing over these, He confined Himself to this, viz., that by anticipation, she had shown that devotion and respect to Him, still alive, but, however, on the point of death, which it would be regarded as praiseworthy in her to have shown Him when dead. The Jews usually embalmed and anointed the bodies of their dead (John 19:40), to show their affection, to preserve them from corruption, and in testimony of their faith in the future resurrection. Our Redeemer, then, wishes to convey, it was not from motives of pleasure or luxury, to which He was so averse during life, that either He was influenced in permitting the anointing, or she in performing it. But, that it was simply meant to be an anticipated act of funereal respect, which she would not be permitted to show when He was dead. He knew well, she could not anoint Him alter His death; because, owing to circumstances, she could not approach Him, and Joseph and Nicodemus would have anticipated her. His resurrection, also, was to have occurred so soon, that she would hardly have time. Hence, He permitted her to do beforehand, not as a matter of luxury, but as a duty of piety, what she would, but could not, have done after His death. This is conveyed (Mark 14:8), when He says, she, as it were, by anticipation, anointed His body for burial. This is also conveyed by St. John, when He says, “Let her alone, that she may keep it against the day of My burial,” that is, allow her to use the ointment for the purpose for which she has kept it, viz., against the day of My burial, which, knowing to be nigh at hand, she has anticipated. Our Redeemer here tacitly contrasts her anxiety, to preserve His body, with that of the murmuring Judas, who contemplated and projected in his mind, to destroy Him. It is disputed, whether Mary Magdalen had really intended in her mind, from a full knowledge and belief in our Saviour’s approaching death, and the difficulty of anointing Him, to do so by anticipation; or, whether she merely acted from feelings of love and gratitude, without any reference to His death, the Holy Ghost impelling her to do so, unconsciously on her part, but intended by Him to have reference to our Lord’s death, after which she could not anoint Him. Just as Caiphas uttered a prophecy, unconsciously; so, she acted a prophetic part, without being conscious of it.
By some, it is held that she fully intended this anointing in anticipation of His death, and the honour, then, due to Him, which she knew she could not show; and that our Redeemer had communicated to her the knowledge of His approaching death—to her, whose faith was, doubtless, as strong as that of her sister, Martha, who proclaimed Him to be the Christ, the Son of the living God (John 11:27). And this derives confirmation from the words of the Angel to the holy women, among whom was Magdalen (Luke 24:6, 7).
Others say, it is most likely, that Magdalen merely acted from feelings of love and gratitude; but, that the Holy Ghost intended it to be an act of anointing His body beforehand, and from this intention of the Holy Ghost, our Redeemer derives an argument to excuse or commend her act.
Mt 26:13. Our Redeemer opposes to the censure of Judas, the praise and commendation of the entire world. He insinuates, that “this Gospel,” the message of salvation through Christ, and the history of His life and Passion on earth, shall be preached throughout the entire world, embracing Gentile as well as Jew. What she did, shall be also spoken of, or proclaimed, “for a memory of her,” that is, in commemoration of her having done this thing, viz., out of love and affection for Me, meant also by the Holy Ghost to be a prophetic anticipation of My approaching death. Hence, the praiseworthy excellence of this act, which caused the avaricious Judas to murmur.
Mt 26:14. “Then,” may have no reference whatever to time, and may simply mean, that on account of this tacit reproach, addressed to him by our Redeemer, while defending the act of the woman, and seeing all hopes of securing the price of the precious ointment baffled, Judas, out of a spirit of revenge, and blinded by avarice, resolved to betray Him. Or, if “then” refers to time, it has reference to what is recorded (Mt 26:3), the intermediate account of the anointing of our Saviour’s feet, being merely parenthetically introduced.
“One of the twelve,” shows the magnitude of his guilt and ingratitude, since it was not even one of the seventy-two disciples; but, one of His constant companions, a member of His own family, whom He destined to be one of the future pillars of His Church. This circumstance, however, rendered him a fit instrument for betraying our Lord, as being well acquainted with His domestic habits, His going out and coming in.
“Who was called Judas Iscariot.” He mentions his name, “Judas,” to save the character of the other Apostles. “Iscariot,” to distinguish him from Jude, the author of the Catholic Epistle (John 14:22).
“Went,” spontaneously, of his own accord; “the devil having entered into him” (Luke 22:3), instigating him, and acting on his blind passions and perverted will, urged him on to this mad act. St. John more clearly expresses it (Jn 13:2), “the devil put it into the heart of Judas … to betray Him.”
“To the Chief Priests,” to which St. Luke adds, “and to the magistrates” (Lk 22:4). This refers to the meeting mentioned (Mt 26:3). Very likely, he went into Jerusalem, on Wednesday morning, under pretext of some business, and hearing of the assembly of the High Priests, &c. (Mt 26:3), he conjectured what the cause of their meeting was, for, he knew that “the Pharisees and High Priests gave a command, that if any one knew where our Lord was, he should tell, in order that they might apprehend Him” (John 11:56).
Mt 26:15. “And he said to them,” &c. It is most likely, that Judas, before making the base offer of betraying his Master, made some charge against Him, in order to palliate his own treachery, and to make it appear that he was himself trustworthy, such as allowing Himself the luxury of having His head and feet anointed, to which he may have added other charges, not recorded by the Evangelists.
“What will you give me?” &c. These words are interpreted by some (among the rest, St. Jerome), to convey, that Judas regarded our Redeemer of such little value, as to leave it to themselves to give what they pleased; that he would receive any price for Him. Others understand the words to mean, that Judas wished to know, if they meant to give a suitable, a sufficiently large price for Him; and, that he would betray Him, if they meant to compensate him as was fit for them to do. “The wretch,” says St. Jerome, “wished to indemnify himself for the loss of the price of the ointment, by the price of his Master.” He is so blinded by avarice, that he merely bargains for the money, regardless of how they would afterwards treat his Master. So blinded, that he forgets every feeling of humanity, gratitude, friendship; nay, the omniscience and omnipotence of Jesus, of which he had already witnessed so many proofs. “They appointed him,” which some understand to mean, measured out to him, actually gave him. Others, more probably; they promised to give, they covenanted with him for, “thirty pieces of silver.” There is a diversity of opinion as to the precise value of this sum. It is, however, generally maintained, that whenever there is mention of αργυριον (argenteus, Vulgate) in the New Testament, it means, the Jewish silver sicle, which was equivalent to the Greek stater, and was equal to two didrachmas, or four Attic drachmas. Hence (Exodus 21:32), for “thirty sicles of silver,” according to the Hebrew reading, the Septuagint have, “thirty didrachmas of silver,” the price of a slave among the Jews (Exodus 21:32). The value of a “silver piece,” or sicle, was something about 2s. 6d. of our money. Hence, the price set on our Redeemer was something under £3, 15s, of our money, the price of n common slave. This sum, though small, was still, considering the increased value of money in these early days, sufficient to purchase the potter’s field (Mt 27:7). It is probable, this field was in a most wretched condition, the best part of the soil having been taken away from it. Moreover, its extent is not stated in SS. Scripture, nor is it said, that this sum was exclusively appropriated to the purchase.
Mt 26:16. “From thenceforth”—this happened on Wednesday morning—“he sought an opportunity,” both as to time and place, “to betray Him” into the hands of His enemies. Instigated by the spirit of avarice, he watched our Redeemer, when, on the following (Thursday) night, he proceeded to the garden of Gethsemani, and there found the desired opportunity of privately betraying Him, and thus securing the price of innocent blood. Base ingratitude of Judas; yet, how often may not we have sold the Son of God, not once, but hundreds of times, and handed Him over to the devil, not for even thirty crowns, but for a base, brutal passion. Hence, when contemplating the perfidy of Judas, and viewing with horror all its circumstances, we may justly apply to ourselves the words of Nathan to David, “Thou art the man” (2 Sam 12:7). For, we are assured by the Holy Ghost, that as often as we commit mortal sin, which does not so much as gain us thirty pieces of silver, “we crucify again the Son of God, and make a mockery of Him.” (Heb. 6) How frequently should we not exclaim from the bottom of our hearts, and in a truly penitential spirit, “Miserere mei Deus,” &c. “Tibi soli peccavi … peccatum meum contra me est semper.”
Mt 26:17. “And on the first day of Azymes,” that is, of unleavened bread, which commenced with the Paschal solemnity, viz., on the evening of the 14th Nisan. On that evening, they should eat the Paschal lamb with unleavened bread (Ex. 12:8). On that evening commenced the feast of unleavened bread, called also the Feast of the Pasch, which continued seven days. The 14th Nisan is called the first day of Azymes, because the Feast of Azymes, or the Pasch, which was celebrated on the 15th Nisan, commenced, according to the Jewish computation of festivals, from sunset to sunset, on the previous evening of the 14th. Hence, the first day of the Feast of Azymes, or Pasch, may be said to be the 14th or 15th Nisan; for, it commenced at sunset of the 14th, and ended at the sunset of the 15th. The feast continued for seven days.
But, as our Lord sent His two disciples into Jerusalem, to prepare the Pasch at an earlier date than that on which the festival of the following day commenced, a question may arise, how could it be said that, at the hour they were sent in, it was the first day of Azymes? The answer commonly given is, that the Jews, as may be seen from their records, were wont to clear their houses of all leaven, early on the 14th, in preparation for the festival; the 14th was, therefore, popularly termed the first day of Azymes, as all leaven was entirely removed from their houses, from an early part of the day.
“The disciples came to Jesus, saying: Where,” &c. There is some difference between the narration of St. Luke and that of St. Matthew. The most probable way of reconciling both is, that our Redeemer first, put His disciples in mind, as St. Luke relates (Lk 22:8), of preparing for the coming Pasch; and that they, then, asked Him, as is given by the three Evangelists. “Where wilt Thou, that we prepare for Thee to eat the Pasch?”
“The disciples came to Jesus,” after having been sent for. St. Mark (Mk 14:13) says, “two of His disciples;” and these, St. Luke (Lk 22:8) says, were “Peter and John.”
“Where,” that is, in what house; for, Jerusalem alone was appointed by law (Deut. 16:5-7), to be the place to which all the Jews should resort for celebrating the Paschal solemnity.
“Wilt Thou we prepare for Thee the Pasch?” According to some writers, not the Priests alone, but those also who were deputed by the heads of a family, as Peter and John were deputed here (Luke 22:8) by our Lord, were allowed to sacrifice the Paschal lamb at home, to roast it and prepare it for consumption. For this, these writers quote the authority of Philo. Others, more probably, maintain, with Patrizzi (de Evangeliis) that the Priests alone could receive the blood of the victims, and, with it, sprinkle the rim of the altar.
Mt 26:18. “Go ye into the city”—hence, He was by this time at Bethania—“to a certain man.” He points out the man without naming him, on account of the presence of Judas, lest he might prematurely, or in any unseemly way, interrupt the solemnity of the Last Supper. Both St. Mark (14) and St. Luke (22) give a more particular account of the man in question, or rather, of the circumstances, that distinguished him from any other. On entering the city, they were to meet a man carrying a pitcher of water; they should follow him into the house he was to enter, and there addressing the master of the house, who was clearly different from the man carrying the water, they were to address him in these words: “The Master saith, My time is at hand,” My time for leaving this world, and, after redeeming mankind, and leaving them the most affecting proof of My love, to return to My Father.
“I will keep the Pasch,” &c. This He adds, to let him know the number, thirteen, for whom he was to provide suitable accommodation. It is generally supposed, that this man was one of our Saviour’s followers. The word “Master,” a common designation of our Lord among His followers, would seem to confirm this opinion. There is a tradition, that this was the house of John Mark, the companion of St. Paul and Barnabas, in preaching the Gospel. There, the Apostles lay concealed after our Redeemer’s death. There, He appeared to them on the evening of His resurrection. There, they received the Holy Ghost on Pentecost Sunday. Thither, St. Peter repaired after his liberation by the Angel. Some are of opinion, that our Redeemer had previously arranged with him, to celebrate the Pasch in his house. Others seem to think, that there was no such previous arrangement, but that, as our Lord had exerted His power, and shown His dominion in the case of the owner of the ass and the colt, who at once gave them up; so, here also, without any previous concert, and, in order to confirm the faith of His Apostles, He wishes to show His power and authority in influencing the mind of the householder to comply with His wishes.
It seems, that this man made becoming preparation for them, for, “he had a large dining-room furnished.” The Greek—ανωγεων—would imply, in the upper part of the house. This was prepared, either in consequence of a previous understanding with our Redeemer; or, having it prepared already, for some other party, he placed it at once at the service of our Lord.
Mt 26:19. The disciples, viz., Peter and John—his most confidential and intimate friends among the Apostles—went “and prepared the Pasch,” that is, got ready everything necessary for eating the Paschal lamb. They had the lamb itself, a male of one year, without blemish, duly sacrificed and prepared, through the intervention of the Priests, who received the blood of the lamb between the two evenings, sprinkled the altar with it, and placed the victim on the altar, and then returned it to the families who offered it. That this was the rite of sacrifice, we are informed by Josephus (De Bello, Lib. 6, c. 1), who tells us, that, in reply to the question of Cestius, regarding the number of Jews who assembled at Jerusalem, the Priests, in order to determine this exactly, as ten persons should partake of each lamb, told precisely the number of lambs sacrificed, which they could not do, unless the lambs were prepared, and the sacerdotal services performed at the stated hour. The Apostles also got ready unleavened bread, and wild lettuces. After the sacrificing of the Paschal lamb, the Jews could not have leaven in their houses for seven days. The use of unleavened bread continued from the evening of the 14th Nisan till the evening of the 21st of the same month (Ex. 12:18).
Mt 26:20. “Now when it was evening,” after sunset. The lamb was immolated between the third hour of the day and sunset, but not eaten till after sunset. The Hebrew in Exodus (Ex 12:6) Ben-arbaiim, which St. Jerome translates, “ad vesperam,” “in the evening,” or rather, “towards evening,” signifies, between the two evenings, that is, between the ninth hour, or three o’clock of our day, when the sun begins to decline, and sunset. This time was set apart for sacrificing the Paschal lamb, which corresponds with the hour at which the true Paschal Lamb was sacrificed (Matt. 27:46). After sunset, “when it was evening;” or, as St. Luke has it (Lk 22:14), “when the hour was come, He sat down to eat it with His twelve disciples.” They constituted His family, who were to eat the Paschal lamb with Him. It is insinuated, that all were present, not excepting the traitor, Judas. We are informed by Philo (Lib. de Sacrif. Cain and Abel), that the Jewish Pasch was partaken of by men in a standing posture. The law, however, does not command this, although it implies it (Ex. 12:11). The words of St. Matthew, “He sat down,” merely convey, that He partook of food, without determining the posture, in which He did so, whether standing or reclining.
Possibly, our Redeemer might have partaken of the Paschal lamb in a standing posture. Others maintain, that He had partaken of the Jewish supper, and other viands, served up on that occasion, in a reclining posture. This is held by St. Chrysostom, Theophylact, and others (John 13:4).
In describing banquets in our day, we commonly say, a man sat down to dinner, accommodating ourselves to the ordinary forms of expression, although, in that particular instance, He might have been standing, while partaking of it. Calmet (in hunc locum) says, the Jews of his day, eat the Pasch in a sitting posture; perhaps, because they regarded a standing posture commanded in Exodus (Ex 12:1) as appertaining only to the first occasion of the institution of the Pasch by Moses. St. Hilary is the only one among the Fathers, who denies that Judas was present. That he was, is clear from Matthew 26:21; Mark 14:18; Luke 22:21; John 13:11, 26, 30.
Mt 26:21. St. Luke (Lk 22:21), says, these words were used by our Redeemer, not before, as here, but after, the institution of the adorable Eucharist. And this seems more likely, as our Redeemer would hardly have disturbed the minds of His Apostles before preparing for this solemn supper, by the announcement recorded here. Hence, St. Matthew records the matter here by anticipation. Others, however (St. Augustine, &c.), say, that our Redeemer twice alluded to His betrayal, before the Last Supper, and after it. He alluded to it in a very general way before the Last Supper, not naming the traitor. Then the Apostles, having asked who it was, He, still in a very indefinite way, describes him to be the party who dipped his hand in the dish with Him (Mt 26:23). This, however, is intended more to show the close intimacy existing, and the consequent aggravated guilt of the traitor, than to determine the person. After that, He institutes the Eucharist, and then declares, the traitor was with Him at the table (Luke 22:21; John 13:21). Then, St. Peter beckoned to St. John, who was reclining on our Redeemer’s breast, to ask who it was; and it was told him in reply, that it was the person to whom He would give bread dipped (John 13:26); after which, Judas left to consummate his wickedness.
“Amen I say to you.” He premises a solemn asseveration, as the matter seemed so incredible. “One of you,” My chosen friends, whom I have thus honoured and exalted, “will betray Me.” He often before predicted, that He would be delivered to the Gentiles, &c.; but, it is only now He predicts by whom this was to be done. And this He does, to show them, that He was fully conscious of all that was to happen, and that He was freely to undergo death. He did not expressly name Judas, in order, by this consideration for his feelings, to incline him to repent for the wicked deed he meditated—to teach us, how to act towards occult sinners—and, also, lest the Apostles might lay violent hands on him, in vindicating the honour of their Master.
Mt 26:22. They were very much terrified, from a consciousness of their own weakness, however, and a dread of the secret judgments of God, although not conscious to themselves of any wicked design against their Divine Master, whose assurance, they could not call in question.
Mt 26:23. The same is given (Mark 14:20). Our Redeemer still refrains from naming him; and He mentions the circumstance of great intimacy and familiarity, to aggravate the guilt and ingratitude of the party. The mention of “his hand” is very significant, as if to say, the hand that is in the dish with Me, the same it is, that shall betray Me. It may be, that in the word, “dish,” we have the container for the thing contained, so that the words would mean: the man who uses the same food and table with Me, he it is that is to betray Me. This is conformable to the words of the Psalmist 41:10, “qui edebat panes meos,” &c. (Mark 14:18; Luke 22:21.) Hence, in this answer, our Redeemer does not say, who is, or who is not to betray Him. He only repeats His former assertion, adding a circumstance implying great familiarity, calculated to aggravate and heighten the guilt of the traitor.
Mt 26:24. Meekness having failed, He now has recourse to threats of punishment, in order to incline him to repentance. “The Son of man goeth,” that is, leaving the world, He “goeth” to death, of His own free will, and returns to His Father, in accordance with the predictions of the Prophets and the determined decree of Heaven (Luke 22:22). But, although immense advantage shall accrue to the human race from My death, and great glory to My Father, still, “woe,” eternal torture shall be the fate of the wretch “by whom the Son of man shall be betrayed.” He is not, on that account, to be reputed guiltless. Although the human race may profit by it; still, it were better for him, that he were never born, than be tortured for all eternity.
Mt 26:25. The traitor, fearing discovery from his silence, also asked, with the others, and in terms of greater respect, “Is it I, Rabbi?” while the others addressed Him, as “Lord.” The holy Fathers here express their amazement at the cool effrontery of Judas. It does not seem likely, that he asked our Redeemer separately from the others, after He said (Mt 26:23), “he that dippeth his hand,” &c., as the account given here by St. Matthew would seem to indicate; for, otherwise, the Apostles could have clearly seen he was the party alluded to, but, that he asked the question with the others (Mt 26:22). Others, however, are of opinion that Judas asked this question, after our Redeemer intimated to St. John, who it was, by giving him the morsel of bread.
“He saith: Thou hast said it”—a mild form of saying: Yes, thou art the man. This is also the signification the words bear when addressed to Caiphas (verse 64), whilst St. Mark says, “I am He” (Mk 14:62). It is most likely, that our Lord said this, in so low a tone of voice, as to escape the notice of the other Apostles, who were thrown into confusion by the announcement (Mt 26:21). For, we find, that even after our Lord had given a definite sign to St. John, and told Judas, “quod facis, fac citius” (John 13:27); still, they did not understand what was meant (Mt 26:28-29).
Mt 26:26. Our loving Saviour, now on the point of leaving this world and returning to His father, institutes the adorable Eucharist, in which “He, as it were, pours forth the riches of His Divine love towards men, making a memorial of His wonders.” (Concil. Trid. SS. xiii. c. ii.) Speaking of the adorable Eucharist, St. Augustine says: “Although God be omnipotent, He can do no more; although infinitely wise, He can contrive nothing greater; although infinitely rich, He can bestow nothing greater.” Every circumstance connected with this adorable institution is calculated to awaken our love and heighten our gratitude towards our loving Saviour in this Divine mystery. When did He institute it? The night before His cruel Passion; while men were bent on putting Him to an ignominious death, He was bent on leaving them an antidote of immortality. For how long? “Till He come” to judgment, that is to say, till the end of the world. On whom? “His delight is to be with the children of men.” And oh! “What is man, that He should be (thus) mindful of him, or the Son of man that He should (thus) visit him?” Ungrateful man, at all times unmindful of Him, nay, often insulting Him and outraging Him in this Divine institution.
What is the gift bestowed? Himself, on whom the Angels love to look, the joy of the elect for eternity, when they shall behold Him face to face, who now conceals Himself under the sacramental veils, lest we should be oppressed with the Majesty of Glory—Himself, who fills heaven and earth, than whom heaven or earth can contain nothing greater.
At what sacrifice does He give Himself? Let the history of the neglect, the profanation, the impiety, shown the adorable Eucharist from its first institution, to the end of time, answer. Should not, therefore, the consideration of these and other circumstances, stimulate us to love with our whole hearts our Blessed Lord in the adorable Sacrament, to make reparation to His loving heart for all He endured for our sakes, and to proclaim and extol for ever, the boundless dimensions, that is to say, the height, length, breadth, and depth, of that excessive love which made Him annihilate Himself even more than He has done in the mystery of His Incarnation, for our sakes.
“Whilst they were at supper.” The Greek, εσθιόντων αὐτῶν means, whilst they were eating (as in Mt 26:21). But, as the repast, of which they were partaking at that late hour of the evening, was supper, the Vulgate interpreter conveyed the sense, “cœnantibus illis.” From St. Paul, who relates the circumstances, as he was taught by our Lord (1 Cor. 11), and from St. Luke also, we learn, that it was after supper—“after He had supped”—that is to say, after both the Jewish Paschal supper and the common supper which succeeded it, He distributed the Blessed Eucharist, in the form or under the species of wine; and as it is by no means likely, that He allowed any interruption in the institution of the Holy Eucharist under both species, as a Sacrament and a Sacrifice; but rather by continuous, uninterrupted acts, instituted it at once; it is, therefore, inferred, that it was after supper, this institution, under both species, occurred. But, as the bread and wine employed in the Paschal supper, and common Jewish supper which succeeded it were not removed, and as the Eucharist was instituted while they were sitting at table; hence, St. Matthew says, “whilst they were at supper,” or, at the close of the twofold supper referred to, and before the food was removed from the table, the bread and wine which remained being necessary for the new mystery of love which our Lord was about to institute. As the Paschal lamb, eaten according to the prescribed rite, in a standing posture, with wild lettuces, having staves in their hands, &c. (Ex 12:8–11), would not satisfy the number of persons, ten at least, who should assemble to partake of it; hence, a common Jewish supper usually succeeded the Paschal, and it was after this common supper, of which our Lord and His Apostles partook, He instituted the adorable Eucharist.
“Jesus took bread.” “Jesus,” the eternal, consubstantial Son of the Omnipotent God, with whom no word is impossible, “took bread,” the unleavened bread, which alone could be in the houses of the Jews, on that and the following days. He made bread and wine, the matter of the Eucharist, to convey to us its effects; for, as bread is the ordinary food of man, and most easily procured; so, is this Divine food intended to nourish our souls; “for, His flesh is meat indeed,” &c. (John 6:56); also, to point out the union of heart and charity which should subsist among His followers, signified by the different grains united in the bread, and the different grapes pressed into the wine (1 Cor. 10:17). He appointed both species, to signify more clearly His Passion, in which His flesh was tortured, and His blood had profusely flowed for us. He also, by sacrificing in bread and wine, showed Himself a Priest, according to the order of Melchisedech, as had been declared, regarding Him, by the Psalmist (Psa. 110), and He had chosen this matter to prevent our conceiving horror at the idea of our partaking of His flesh and blood. Finally, He had chosen unleavened bread, as a symbol of the purity and simplicity which should distinguish His people; leaven signifying hypocrisy and deceit (1 Cor. 5:8; Luke 12:1). It may be also intended to denote the purity of dispositions we should carry with us, in approaching the adorable Eucharist.
“And blessed,” viz., the bread, by invoking over it the Divine power and beneficence, so that it would be rendered fit to be converted into His body. This is clear from the Greek, where it runs thus: “Taking bread and blessing, He broke,” &c. The several actions recited here have reference to the bread. Why not, then, the act of benediction, which is nothing more than invoking the power and beneficence of God upon it, so as to be fitted for the change about to be wrought on it? Our Redeemer did so in regard to the loaves He multiplied, “benedixit cis” (Luke 9:16). St. Paul refers the benediction to the subject matter, “the chalice of benediction, which we bless,” &c. (1 Cor. 10) He also tells us, that every creature is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer. (1 Tim. 4) The Church, in her Liturgy, refers the word, “benedixit,” to the bread. In pronouncing this word, the Priest is enjoined to make the sign of the cross, over the bread and the chalice.
St. Luke and St. Paul (1 Cor. 11), has for “blessed,” “gave thanks.” The Greek for both words is sometimes employed to signify the same thing (1 Cor. 14:16). The more probable mode, however, of reconciling both accounts is this: Our Redeemer, first lifting up His eyes to heaven, which He most probably did on this as on the solemn occasion of other miracles, gave thanks to His Father, as St. Paul and St. Luke relate; and then, blessed the bread, as is fully and circumstantially recorded by the Church in the Canon of the Mass. As there can be no doubt that our Redeemer had given thanks, and pronounced a blessing before the Jewish supper, the circumstance of His doing so now again shows, He is entering on a new supper, and instituting a rite of great importance. “He gave His Father thanks” for the great gift He was about to bestow on mankind; and also, because the New Pasch and the consummation of the Old Law were at hand.
It is disputed whether this act of benediction is the same as the consecration. But, the most probable opinion is, that this benediction preceded the consecration. The Council of Trent says, “post benedictionem panis et vini, suum ipsius corpus illis præbere testatus est.” (SS. xiii. c. 1.) The consecration was effected by the efficacious words, “Hoc est corpus meum,” “Hic est Calix,” &c., which took place after the benediction in question.
He then, “broke,” by dividing the one bread into as many parts as there were disciples present; and this, before consecration, as is evident from the narrative of the Evangelists. Some commentators, among the rest, Maldonatus, infer from the fact of all the Evangelists describing this circumstance, as also from the disciples at Emmaus recognizing our Redeemer “in the breaking of bread” (Luke 24:35), that He must have employed some peculiar method of doing so. However, this does not necessarily follow. The very reception of the Eucharist might have opened the eyes of the disciples at Emmaus (Luke 24:35). The Church does not follow any such method. The Eucharist, from this circumstance, is termed, “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42). From this ceremony, the faithful could understand what was meant, without provoking the blasphemies of unbelievers.
“And He gave to His disciples,” the twelve Apostles, not excepting Judas, as almost all the ancient Fathers affirm, his crime being occult, and our Redeemer did not wish to furnish him with any grounds for imbittered or exasperated feelings. Others, however, are of the contrary opinion. They hold that Judas left before our Redeemer instituted the adorable Eucharist. St. Jerome (Ep. 150 ad Hedibiam), tells us our Saviour Himself first received a portion, “ipse conviva et convivium, ipse comedens et qui comeditur.” This He did, in order to complete the sacrifice, and also to remove any feelings of horror which the Apostles might conceive, on being invited to partake of His body. It is most likely, He gave His body into the hands of His Apostles, as He did in regard to the chalice, “take and divide it amongst you” (Luke 22:17), which was the mode of originally administering the body of our Lord. (Tertullian, de Spectaculis; St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechesi; St. Augustine, Sermo 244, &c.) Afterwards, this discipline was changed, for greater reverence’ sake, just as the discipline of administering the Eucharist to those only who were fasting, was observed, for reverence’ sake, from the very Apostolic times, although our Redeemer gave it to His Apostles after supper.
“Take ye and eat,” shows the use of the gift He was about bestowing on them. It was, that, by partaking of it, they would become one body, and one spirit with Him, altogether identified with Him, “non tu me mutabis in te, sed tu mutaberis in me” (St. Augustine).
“This is My body.” The causal particle, “for, this is My,” &c., which is used in the words of consecration, in the Mass, is understood here, as it is expressed, in reference to His blood (Mt 26:28). “For, this is My blood,” &c. His reason for telling them to eat of it is, because, it is His body, regarding which, He told them already (John 6:54), “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man … you shall not have life in you,” and, “he that eateth My flesh … hath everlasting life” (Jn 6:55).
REAL PRESENCE PROVED
The Council of Trent (SS. xiii. c. 1), has declared, that these words, “This is My body,” &c., used by our Redeemer at the Last Supper, demonstrate the Real Presence of our Lord in the adorable Eucharist. Taken in their literal signification, they clearly prove the Catholic doctrine regarding the real, true, and substantial presence of our Lord in this Divine Institution. Truly, if we suppose that our Lord meant to give His body and blood, as defined by Catholic doctrine, He could not have employed any clearer terms, to convey His meaning, than He has used in the words of institution, as recorded by the three Evangelists, and by St. Paul to the Corinthians. For, taken in the literal sense, they are nothing else than the very expression of Catholic doctrine. This, the Sacramentarians themselves admit; and hence, they resort to all sorts of artful ingenuity to wrest the words to a forced and figurative signification.
They are constrained, by the very usages of language, to admit the proof of Catholic doctrine, contained in the words taken literally. In the ordinary concerns of life, all propositions of this nature, “this is bread,” “this is a man,” and the like, are understood, of the reality and substance of the object referred to, as clearly as if the words, “really, substantially,” were added. Nay, more, a person would expose himself to ridicule, who, in pointing to a man, or a loaf of bread, would say, “this is really and substantially a man,” &c., because, there is no difference between any object and the reality and substance of that object. By announcing it, one announces its reality and substance. Hence, the words of our Lord, taken literally, declare the reality and substance of His body and blood in the Blessed Eucharist. Now, such being the case, we have a right, without further reasoning, to regard our doctrine as satisfactorily proved. For, we have a right to assume, that our Redeemer meant to be understood, according to the literal meaning of His words, until the contrary is satisfactorily proved. The very announcement of the words, by our Redeemer, “This is My body,” establishes the Catholic doctrine. For, we cannot recur to a clearer medium of demonstration, than the fact, that a God of infinite power and veracity has said so. In adopting this line of argument, we are only applying the canon of interpretation of SS. Scripture, handed down in the Church, from the days of St. Augustine, founded, indeed, on common sense, viz., that, in the interpretation of Scripture—the same applies to every other law—we are to understand the words in their plain, obvious signification, unless there be some satisfactory reason to the contrary. Acting on this principle, adopted by Protestants themselves, we have a strict right to insist on interpreting the words of our Lord literally, until they, on whom the onus of proof, or, rather, of disproof devolves, show the contrary. In a word, the bare enunciation of the words of our Lord, proves the Catholic doctrine; and, until our religious opponents show that His words are to be understood in a sense different from what they naturally convey, we are to look on our doctrine as proved.
Suppose, there were question of the interpretation of an important law case. One party quotes the very words of the law, as expressing his view. Would he not be justified in regarding his opinion proved, by a reference to the very terms of the law, which were identical with his opinion, until the opposite party adduced some satisfactory reason for departing from the natural and received meaning of the words of the law, the more so, if it were well known that a prudent legislator attached vast importance to the point, and was, therefore, extremely careful in wording it? Now, our Redeemer, at the Last Supper, was instituting a sacred rite, the most august Sacrament of the New Law. He was bequeathing His last testament to His Church, with a strict precept to have its provisions continued to the end of time. Are we not, therefore, warranted in regarding His words as spoken literally, and our doctrine, consequently, established, by the bare announcement of the terms, until the contrary is satisfactorily proved?
But, going beyond mere defensive grounds, to which we might confine ourselves, as possessors and inheritors of the dogma of the Real Presence, for 1500 years, until our religious opponents satisfactorily prove that the words of our Divine Redeemer are not to be understood literally; it can be clearly shown, by a positive proof, which shall serve, at the same time, as a principle of solution to all the reasoning of our religious opponents, that the words of our Redeemer must be understood literally, and cannot be understood figuratively, at least in the sense given them by Protestants, to imply, that the sign is put for the thing signified. The words must be understood literally, and cannot bear the interpretation put upon them our religious opponents, provided the Apostles, at the time our Lord took bread, blessed it, and giving it to them, said, “This is My body,” were not prepared to regard bread—to which He only vaguely and indistinctly referred by saying, “this”—as the sign of His body of which He spoke, but, rather, as really converted into the body by the words of consecration, when the sentence, “This is My body,” was fully enunciated. The truth of this proposition is clear from the ordinary rules of human language, according to which one is guilty of a falsehood, by saying of the sign, that it is the thing signified, when he is well aware that his hearers regard it, not in quality of sign, but absolutely, without any reference whatever to signification. This can be further illustrated, by the language employed, when there is question of portraits, maps, &c. Why are they called, without any departure from truth, by the names of the men, or the country they represent? Is it not because mankind are prepared to regard them as signs of things? But, if we could imagine a case, in which those whom we addressed regarded them as the reality referred to, we could not, without being guilty of a falsehood, use the same language, in reference to them, v.g., we could not say of the portrait of St. Paul, that it was St. Paul, if we knew that our hearers, from ignorance, or from any cause whatever, were prepared to regard it as St. Paul in reality, and not as his representation, or figure. And, if this be true in cases where Nature herself has established a connexion, as in the example adduced, it is still more so, in reference to those signs that are strictly arbitrary and conventional. Our Redeemer was well aware of the feelings of His Apostles, at the Last Supper, and of the extent of their knowledge. Hence, if they were not prepared to regard bread, in His hands, as the sign of His body, He could not, with a knowledge of their ideas and feelings, say, as He did say, that it was His body. Now, the Apostles were not so prepared. They could not be prepared to see the connexion of sign and thing signified, where no such connexion or relation ever existed. No such connexion existed between bread and the body of Christ. There was, certainly, no natural connexion. Nature never made bread the sign of any body, much less of a determinate body, as was the body of Christ. Nor was it such by the conventional agreement of mankind. Bread was never classed by mankind among the things which existed only in quality of signs. Nor was this connexion instituted by our Redeemer Himself. In order to be warranted, at the time He enunciated the proposition, “This is My body,” in saying so, He should have instituted this connexion beforehand, and apprised His Apostles of the same, unless it really was His body. We have no evidence in SS. Scripture, that He did so. Had He done so, the Scriptures would not have passed over such a circumstance, which was indispensable, as a key to arrive at a just knowledge of one of the most important passages of Divine revelation. Hence, as bread was neither a natural nor a conventional sign of the body of Christ, the Apostles could not regard it as such; and our Redeemer could not, therefore, call it His body, unless it were such in substance and reality.
Furthermore, the Apostles were not only unprepared to regard bread, in the hands of Christ, as the sign of His body; but they were positively prepared for the very contrary. For, on the authority of the Son of God Himself, they believed Him “as having the words of eternal life” (John 6:69), when, twelve months before this date, He promised them that, one day, He would give them His real flesh, as food: “The bread I will give, is My flesh, for the life of the world” (John 6:52). They were, therefore, every day in expectation of the fulfilment of this promise. When, therefore, our Redeemer, on the eve of His Passion, after partaking of the Paschal supper—the last He was to take with them, till they partook of it, after a new rite, in the kingdom of His Father—took bread into His venerable and creative hands, and told them to eat, because it was His body, which was to be delivered for them, must they not, at once, have regarded it as that flesh which He promised them, and which, while others went away incredulous, they believed to be His true flesh? (John 6:67–71.) Hence, the Apostles, far from being prepared to regard bread, in the hands of Christ, as the sign of His body, were, on the contrary, prepared to regard it as His real body, to be rendered such by His omnipotent word. Our Redeemer could not, therefore (unless we impute to Him what would be blasphemous), with His knowledge of the Apostles’ ideas and feelings, say of the bread, “This is My body,” unless it were really rendered such, by His Almighty power, in the words of consecration. The words must, therefore, be taken literally, and so taken, prove the Catholic doctrine.
The principle now explained will fully answer all the objections of Protestants against the proof adduced. In truth, all their objections leave the chief point of the proof untouched. Their whole process of reasoning is founded on the fact, that, in many parts of SS. Scripture, we find it said of the sign, that it is the thing signified. Therefore, our Redeemer could have said of the bread, although a mere sign of His body, “This is My body.” Now, the conclusion is quite unfounded and illogical, unless to the first proposition be added: In many parts of SS. Scripture, it is said of the sign, that it is the thing signified—in circumstances where neither the hearers nor the readers were prepared to regard it as a sign—(as has been shown, in reference to the Apostles, at the Last Supper); and, then, the proposition is utterly false; because, not a single instance is alleged by our adversaries, in which the readers or hearers were not aware, either from the nature of the subject, or the context, or the expressed declaration of the sacred writer or speaker, that there was question of figurative language; whereas, it is quite otherwise, as has been shown, as regards the words of institution.
Their objection may be fully set at rest for ever, by the following disjunctive, or, rather, dilemma: The Apostles, on the occasion of the Last Supper, were either well versed in the SS. Scriptures of the Old Testament (the New was yet unwritten), having the examples adduced by our religious opponents before their eyes, and able to reason from them; or, they were not. If we suppose them not versed in SS. Scripture (and this is their real character before the descent of the Holy Ghost—poor, ignorant, illiterate fishermen, who paid implicit belief to everything uttered by our Divine Redeemer); then, the passages alleged in objection were utterly unknown to them, and could, therefore, afford them no key for understanding the words of our Lord figuratively. If we suppose them well versed in Scriptural texts, and able to reason from them; then the objected passages would only serve to have them understand the words of our Lord literally; because, in the supposition made, they were fully cognizant that, in the passages alluded to, the language was known to the readers, or hearers, to be figurative. They also saw, that no such intimation was given themselves by our Lord, at the Last Supper, not to speak of His promise, which they believed that He would give them, one day, His real flesh. The conclusion, therefore, they should arrive at, if they had a particle of reflection, was, that His words must be understood literally. In all examples adduced by our religious opponents, the figure, or metaphor, is quite apparent; as may be seen from several instances, “I am a vine,” “I am the door,” “Christ is a lion,” &c. But, in the words, “This is My body,” no figurative meaning could be allowed. For if so, they would present an example of what is called, “an inverted metaphor,” which according to the laws of human language, is never allowable. Although, one might say, without impropriety, Christ is a lion; Christ is a door; Christ is a vine; no one could invert the words with any degree of propriety, and say, a vine is Christ, much less say, this vine is Christ; this lion is Christ. And, in order to be like the words, “This is My body,” they should be so inverted. It should be borne in mind, in reference to the sacred words, “This is My body,” that the word, “this,” like every other demonstrative pronoun, refers, in a general, indistinct way, to the object present. (“This is my brother,” this is a good man, &c.; the pronoun, in a general way, points out what is more distinctly expressed by the attribute.) In the first instance, it denotes bread, but this being a practical proposition, it is only when the entire proposition is expressed, that it is verified. So that the words really mean: “this (which now is bread) is (in the next instance, in virtue of the change effected) My body.” The change of the water into wine at Cana, could be quoted as an illustration. Our Redeemer, taking the water, could say, “This is wine,” rendered such by the change effected. And although, in the first instance, “this,” designated water; still, when the proposition was concluded, owing to the change effected, it designated wine. In like manner, God could have said, taking the rib out of which He made the woman, “this (rib) is a woman,” having been converted into a woman by His omnipotent word.
It is also to be observed, that there is no figure in any of the words of institution. Surely, none in “this,” nor in the verb “is,” which, being a most simple verb, into which all other verbs are resolvable, never has a figurative meaning in any language; since it merely denotes existence and a connexion between the subject and attribute of a proposition. Nor in the words, “My body,” since the words are added, “which is given for you” (Luke 22:19); “which shall be delivered for you” (1 Cor. 11:24); this was His real body. It is to be observed, as regards the form recorded by St. Paul, that the words, “which shall be delivered for you,” are used in the present tense in most Greek copies, κλωμενον, “which is broken,” having reference, in a certain sense, to His death on the cross. Hence, on account of the certainty and proximity of His death, the present may be regarded as having a future signification; and it is so rendered, “shall be delivered for you” (1 Cor. 11:24). However, although this is to a certain extent true, if it be borne in mind, that the body given and delivered at the Last Supper, was identical with that delivered on the cross; still, the present signification is most likely to be the one primarily intended by our Lord. For, He speaks of His body, broken for them, which could not refer to the cross, on which it was predicted His body was not to be broken. It is said to be broken in the Eucharist, under the Sacramental veils, or, ratione specierum. This shall appear more clear when the words having reference to His sacred blood are examined. For, speaking of the chalice, He says, “This chalice is the New Testament in My blood (the chalice I say), which shall be shed for you,” τουτο το ποτηριον … το υπερ υμων εκχυνομενον which manifestly refer to the present pouring out of His blood, “which is poured out,” &c. Our Redeemer employs the present tense, “My body which is given,” not to you, for the purpose of manducation, which was expressed in the words “take, cat,” but, “for you,” to convey, that He was then not only instituting a Sacrament, but also instituting and offering up the Sacrifice of His body and blood, under the appearance of bread and wine, thus discharging the duty devolving on Him, as “Priest according to the order of Melchisedech.”
PROOF OF TRANSUBSTANTIATION
From the doctrine of the Real Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Eucharist, follows, as a necessary consectary, the doctrine of Transubstantiation. For, if it be once proved that our Saviour said of the bread which He took in His hands, that it was really and substantially His body, it follows, that He must have made it such, by changing it, in virtue of His omnipotent power. For, no one thing in nature can become really and substantially another thing of a different kind, unless it be changed into it. If, taking water into His hands at Cana, our Redeemer said, this is wine, the assertion would be false, unless He changed the water into wine. In like manner, were Moses to say of the rod in his hand, on flinging it on the ground, this is a serpent, it would not be true, unless it were changed into a serpent. Hence, when our Redeemer said, of what He held in His hands, viz., bread and wine, that they were really and substantially His body and blood, they should be changed into His body and blood, in order that His assertion would be true. “This wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the blood of Christ, by the consecration of the bread and wine, is properly called by the Holy Catholic Church, Transubstantiation.” (Conc. Trid. SS. xiii. cap. iv. can. ii.) She employs similar phraseology, distinctly expressive of her doctrines, in reference to the mysteries of the Godhead, such as Trinity, Incarnation, &c.; and Protestants employ these terms, although not found in SS. Scripture. But, like the term, Transubstantiation, they express, in the clearest form, the doctrines found in SS. Scripture.
It is deserving of remark, that the three Evangelists and St. Paul give the same precise words, when treating of the consecration of the bread, “This is My body,” to which St. Luke adds, “which is given for you;” St. Paul, “which shall be delivered (or, as the Greek has it, which is broken) for you.” Both St. Luke and St. Paul add, “Do this in commemoration of Me.” The Greek for “commemoration” (αναμνησιν), means, remembrance, as it is used in the Canon of the Mass, “in mei memoriam facietis,” in remembrance of His death and Passion.
“Do this.” “This,” refers to the entire action of our Redeemer, taking bread, giving thanks, blessing, and transubstantiating it into His body and blood. By commanding them to do so, He gave them the power to obey His mandate. Hence, the Council of Trent (SS. xxii. c. 1, de Mis. Sac.), tells us, that—“At the Last Supper, on the night on which He was betrayed, our Lord … declaring Himself to be constituted a Priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech, offered His body and blood, under the appearances of bread and wine, to God the Father; and under the symbols of the same things, delivered it to His Apostles, whom He constituted Priests of the New Testament, to partake of it, and commanded them and their successors in the Priesthood to offer it, by these words, ‘Do this in commemoration of Me.’ ” It is also defined (Can. 2), that by the words, “do this,” &c., He constituted His Apostles Priests, and enjoined on them and other Priests to offer up His body and blood.
There were some things, however, done by our Redeemer on that occasion, which were not necessarily to be done by the Apostles and their successors afterwards, such as giving the Eucharist after supper, or giving it under both kinds, or giving it at all on some occasions. There were other things which should necessarily be always done. But what things should be done as necessary for the Sacrifice, and what things might be omitted, cannot be better ascertained than from the doctrine and practice of the Catholic Church, which, ever guided by the Spirit of God, teaches us, that for the validity of the Sacrifice, the words of our Lord should be employed of necessity, as the form of consecration of the bread and wine; that both species should necessarily be consecrated for the Sacrifice; that both should be consumed by the celebrant, to carry out our Lord’s ordinance. In other points, her discipline has varied, as she has not regarded them of Divine precept, in which it would be beyond her power to dispense.
Mt 26:27. “And taking the chalice, He gave thanks.” St. Luke (Lk 22:20), and St. Paul (1 Cor. 11), say, “In like manner the chalice also, after He had supped.” “In like manner,” that is, He acted in reference to the chalice, as He did with regard to the bread, He took it into His hands, He blessed, gave thanks, and gave it to them to be divided among them. “After He had supped,” conveys to us, that this sacred banquet did not appertain to the Paschal and common Jewish suppers, of which He and His disciples had partaken already.
That it was only after the Paschal supper, and the Jewish common supper, which immediately succeeded the Paschal supper—for, the Paschal lamb could not satiate the cravings of the number, ten at least, who should join in partaking of it—the bread, too, was transubstantiated, is certain; for, our Redeemer would not have divided this mystery, so that a part would be instituted before the Paschal supper, and the other part after it. By one continuous action, both parts, that is, the entire Sacrament, was instituted (see Mt 26:26).
“Drink ye all of this.” By “all,” are meant, me twelve Apostles, who were present. The term, “all,” applies to the same, of whom St. Mark, who by anticipation describes this circumstance, before the consecration took place (Mk 14:23) says, “and they all drank of it.” Our Redeemer does not say, in reference to His body, “eat ye all of this;” because, having broken the bread, He divided it into is many parts as there were persons present to partake of it; and hence no fear of mistake. But, to avoid mistake, since He could not separate the contents of the chalice, as He did the bread, and lest those who received it first, might consume the entire, He conveys to them, that it should be so used as that all would partake of a portion of it. This is more clearly expressed in reference to the Paschal cup, by St. Luke (Lk 22:17), “Take, and divide it among you.”
From the words of this verse, the enemies of the Church endeavour to derive an argument against the practice of the Catholic Church, relative to administering the Eucharist under one kind, in the form of bread only to the laity. This practice universally existed in the Church at the time of the Council of Constance; and this discipline was there enacted (SS. xiii.) as a law. The giving the Holy Eucharist under both or either species is a matter of discipline which may vary according to the will of the Church. If it were a Divine precept to administer the Holy Eucharist under both species; then, no individual or body of men could, without sacrilege, administer one portion without the other. For, the power of the Church, in any arrangement regarding the dispensation of the Sacraments must be always exercised, salva illorum substantia (Cone. Trid. SS. xxi. c. 2). Hence, the Church of Christ, while administering the Eucharist in the early ages, not unfrequently under both kinds, allowed it to be given, in certain cases, under one kind only. She never regarded it as a Divine mandate to give it under both kinds. She allowed Communion under one kind—1st. To infants, under the form of wine only, without the consecrated Host (Cyprian, de lapsis 2). 2ndly. In domestic Communions, the faithful, on account of the persecution, were permitted to carry consecrated Hosts, but not consecrated wine, to their own houses for private Communion (Tertul., Lib. ii., ad uxorem, c. 5; Cyprian, do lapsis). 3rd. In the manner of administering the Sacrament to the sick (Eusebius de His. Lib. 6, c. 44). Hence, the early Church regarded, as a point of discipline only, which she has full power to change, at any time for just reasons the giving of Communion under both kinds, or, one kind only.
The doctrine of the Church, as well as her practice on this point (Council of Constance, SS. xiii.; Trent, SS. xxi., c. i.–ii., Can. i.–ii. de Com.) is grounded:—
1st. On the words of our Redeemer, who, while He says, “unless you eat … and drink His blood,” &c., also declares, “if any man eat of this bread he shall live for ever;” “the bread which I will give is My flesh, for the life of the world;” also “he that eateth this bread, shall live for ever.”
2ndly. On the principle of faith, that under each species, the entire body and blood, together with the soul and Divinity of Christ, are contained. For, since Christ arose from the dead to die no more, wherever His (living) body is, there must His blood and His soul also be, by a natural concomitance; and so also must His Divinity, which, since the Hypostatic union, was never separated from either His body or soul. Whoever, therefore, receives one species, receives Christ whole, God and man, without any separation or mutilation whatsoever; he receives body and blood together, which can never be separated; and we contend, from the texts already adduced, and the interpretation by the Church of the other texts, which would seem to require the separate reception of each, that this is all that is required by the Divine precept.
“Now in order to reconcile the three texts already adduced, where there is question only of partaking of the heavenly ‘bread,’ with those in which the cup and drinking are mentioned, we must of necessity say, that by eating and drinking is meant, the action of receiving the body and blood of Christ, and not precisely the manner of receiving; and, hence, the precept regarded not the manner of receiving, but only the thing received. This interpretation is in perfect accordance with the scope of our Redeemer’s discourse (John 6), which was to convince His hearers, that unless their souls were nourished with the real flesh and blood of the Son of man, they would forfeit everlasting life; and that by partaking of His body and blood, they would have life everlasting. So that, provided the real body and blood of Christ be received, whether it be by the action of eating or of drinking only, or by both together, the worthy communicants, by receiving Christ whole, the fountain of grace and eternal life, fully satisfy the end of Christ’s institution, and perform all that is obligatory in the precept of Communion.” (Manning’s reply to Leslie, Case Stated, sec. xxxix.)
The external form of drinking is neither excluded by the texts, which mention eating alone, nor commanded by the texts, which mention them both. Our Redeemer, by attributing, at one time, the whole efficacy and virtue of the Sacrament to eating alone; and, at other times, to eating and drinking conjointly, shows, that it is not the external form or manner of receiving under one or both kinds, but the thing received, that bestows grace and eternal life on the worthy receiver; and His attributing the whole virtue and efficacy of the Sacrament to eating alone, proves clearly, that when He mentions eating and drinking, this does not convey a precept, obliging all to receive the Sacrament under both kinds, but only to receive His body and blood, which, owing to the natural concomitance between Christ’s body and blood, that must now, since His Resurrection, always exist united, is done by a communion under one, as well as under both kinds. And truly, as regards the meaning of the words of Christ, and the proper method of faithfully dispensing His Sacraments, that Church, which He commanded all to hear, with which He promised to be to the end of time—the pillar and ground of truth—which was taught all truth by the ever-abiding Spirit of God, which He appointed to feed and govern His flock, and dispense His mysteries, ought to be a better judge, and a more authorized interpreter, than a few factious individuals, without mission or authority, or any pretensions to Divine superintendence of any kind.
The disjunctive form employed by the Apostle (1 Cor. 11:27), in which he says, “that by eating or drinking unworthily, one is guilty of the body and of the blood of our Lord,” confirms the doctrine of the Church, and supposes, that one part could be received worthily without the other. For, the unworthiness, of which the Apostle speaks, does not consist in disjoining what, our adversaries maintain, should be taken by all conjointly, according to the institution of our Lord; but in the previous unworthy dispositions of the receivers, arising from sins against morals, committed before they approached Holy Communion (1 Cor. 11:21-22).
But, does not this charge against the Catholic Church, of mutilating the Sacrament of Christ’s body, come well from those who utterly deny, that He is really present at all, either as to flesh or blood, soul or body? For the more perfect representation of our Lord’s Passion, in which His blood flowed from His body, the Priests are bound, in offering Sacrifice, to consecrate and receive under both kinds, viz., of bread, which represents His flesh; and of wine, which aptly represents His blood. Should it be said, that when addressed by Christ, at the Last Supper, the Apostles represented the entire Church, it may be also said in reply, that they still continue to represent her, and that they carry out the commands of Christ, in this respect, as often as they offer Sacrifice and consecrate and receive under both kinds. It is His Priests our Redeemer directly addresses at the Last Supper, and commands to offer Sacrifice and distribute the Eucharist, in memory of His Passion. The only precept which indirectly, or by correlative obligation, binds the faithful, is to receive the Eucharist from the hands of their pastors, and by receiving it, to commemorate the death of Christ, which embraces also all the other mysteries of His life, &c.
Hence, in the Canon of the Mass the Church says, “unde et memores … necnon et ab inferis resurrectionis, et gloriosæ Ascensionis,” &c. But His death is specially commemorated, as in it, His charity towards mankind is specially manifested. The Church might, to-morrow, if she pleased, enjoin the administration of the Eucharist under the form of wine alone, or under both species; and she would actually do so, if graver reasons than those which influence her present discipline, on this head, were to present themselves.
Mt 26:28. “This is My blood,” &c. These words prove the Real Presence, taken literally, as they must be taken; for, it was by His real blood, “the New Testament” was sanctioned, ratified, and confirmed. “Of the New Testament.” The Greek article prefixed (τὸ τῆς καινῆς διαθήκης), that of the New Testament, would imply, that there was a reference to a Testament long before foretold by the Prophets, promised and preached by Christ Himself. The words of our Lord are evidently allusive to those employed by Moses, in sanctioning the old Testament: “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you” (Ex 24:8; Heb. 9:18, &c.), as if He said: Formerly, Moses solemnized the old covenant of God with your fathers, by sprinkling them with the blood of animals; but, I establish the new alliance with you, not by shedding upon your clothes the blood of animals; but, by refreshing your bodies and souls with My own blood. The comparison is clearly expressed between the blood, used by Moses (Ex 24:6), and the chalice of the Lord; between the interior and exterior effusion; between the blood of animals and the blood of Jesus Christ; and, consequently, between the sacrifice of Moses and that of Christ. It was with real blood, Moses sanctioned his Testament, and it would be absurd to say, it was with unreal blood a more perfect covenant was established and sanctioned by Christ.
“Testament.” He terms the covenant, which He had established with men, of granting, on His part, grace, remission of sin here, and the inheritance of life eternal hereafter, on the condition of their observing His Law and Commandments—and to observe these He promises His assistance—a “Testament;” because, it conveyed an inheritance bequeathed by a dying testator. This is the special meaning attached by St. Paul (Heb. 9:16), to the word, διαθηκη.
“New,” in opposition to the old, entered into with the Jewish people (Exod. 19–24; Jer. 31:31). Moreover, it conveys blessings of a newer and still more exalted spiritual character, than those guaranteed by the old.
“Which shall be shed.” The Greek (εκχυνομενον), has a present signification, and, doubtless, has reference to the present pouring out of His blood. This means, the same as offering it in sacrifice to God the Father; and this is very significantly conveyed by the Evangelists and St. Paul, when they use a word of the present tense, in reference to this effusion of Christ’s blood, as St. Luke and St. Paul do in reference to His sacred body: “which is delivered;” “which is broken.” They meant to convey, that there is reference, primarily, to the Sacrament and Sacrifice He was then instituting; although, no doubt, it had reference to the blood shed on the cross, with which that poured forth and offered up, at the Last Sapper, was identical, and from which it borrowed all its efficacy; and, also, to the further continuance of the rite to the end of time. On this account, most likely it was, that the Vulgate interpreter rendered the Greek word, εκχυνομενον, in the future tense, “effundetur.” According to St. Luke (Lk 22:20), the effusion which took place must regard the Last Supper, “the chalice … which (chalice) shall be shed for you (το ποτηριον … το υπερ υμων ετχυνομενον), the chalice poured out for you.”
“For many.” Some say, that by “many,” are meant the entire human race; for, they are many. Others say, our Redeemer only refers to the most of those present; for, Judas could not derive any profit ultimately from the innocent blood which he betrayed. In St. Luke and St. Paul, in reference to His body, it is, “given for you” and the same is the reading in St. Luke, in reference to the blood, “shed for you.” It may be, that our Redeemer employed both forms, as is adopted by the Church ii the words of consecration, “qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem,” &c. Others, however, say, that our Redeemer used only one form or the other; but, that the Church, without deciding which were the precise words, whether pro vobis, or, pro multis, both being identical in sense, adopted both in the canon, neither being regarded, according to the more probable opinion, as an essential part of the words of consecration.
“For the remission of sins.” This remission is the source and fountain of all the other blessings promised and conveyed in the New Testament. It precedes their attainment. In this, His blood differs from that of the Old Testament, which availed only for “the cleansing of the flesh” (Heb. 9:13).
The fruit or effects of this blood poured forth on the cross, is obtained when it is poured out in the Sacrifice of the Eucharist, and also, when it is applied to our souls, through the Sacraments, the channels divinely instituted for communicating to us the abundant graces purchased for us on the cross. The very fact of our Redeemer saying, that this blood was poured out in the Eucharist, “for the remission of sins,” shows it to be a Sacrifice, this being the direct end and effect of a Propitiatory Sacrifice; for, as a Sacrament, it supposes, in order to be worthily received, that the receiver has proved himself, and approached with a conscience free from sin. And, also, as a Sacrament, its primary end and effect is, not “the remission of sins,” but the preservation and increase of spiritual life. Our Redeemer could have also added, “for the remission of sins,” when speaking of His body, since it was delivered for the remission of sins; but, it is only when speaking of His blood He says so, because, it is to the effusion of blood, the effects of sacrifice are attributed in the Old Law. Moreover, blood is a more expressive symbol of His death, by which He atoned for our sins, than was His flesh.
The form of consecration of the chalice recorded by St. Luke (Lk 22:20), and by St. Paul (1 Cor. 11:25), who both agree, is quite different from that given by St. Matthew here, and by St. Mark (Mk 14:24). St. Luke has it, “This is the chalice, the New Testament in My blood;” St. Paul, “This chalice is the New Testament in My blood.” From the Greek of St. Luke, in which is omitted the substantive verb, is—τοῦτο τὁ ποτήριον ἡ καινἠ διαθήκη έν τῶ αἴματί μου—it cannot be determined for certain, whether it should be rendered, “This is the chalice, the New Testament in My blood,” or, “This chalice is the New Testament in My blood,” as in St. Paul. He alludes to the New Testament only when speaking of His blood, not when referring to His body; because, it was with blood that covenants were ratified among all nations. The word, chalice, is not expressed in the form employed either by St. Matthew here, or by St. Mark (Mk 14:24); and, as it is not probable that our Redeemer used both forms, it is most likely, that St. Matthew, who was present, records the identical words used by our Redeemer on the occasion. The words of St. Luke and St. Paul, although substantially the same with St. Matthew, ought to be explained by the clearer form recorded by St. Matthew, who more clearly expresses what our Redeemer chiefly intended, viz., to give them His body and blood. The allusion to the New Testament, recorded by all, was merely explanatory and incidental, and introduced subordinately to His leading assertion, that He was giving them His blood. But, were we to adopt the form of St. Luke, it will come to the same as St. Matthew’s, viz., This is the chalice, whereby is ratified and confirmed the New Testament, and that through My blood, which it contains.
Maldonatus holds, that the words, “in My blood” (in sanguine meo), are, by a Hebrew idiom, put for, “of My blood” (sanguinis mei), and that they should be connected with chalice, thus: “This is the chalice of My blood, which (chalice) is the New Testament.” In this construction, there is no figure whatever in the form of St. Luke. The chalice, containing the blood, is the authentic instrument whereby the New Testament was sanctioned and ratified. By a usage, common to all language, the word, “Testament,” not only means the thing bequeathed in one’s will, but the written, authentic instrument, as also, the copy of that will. In this latter sense, the word, Testament, is used by St. Luke and St. Paul. By St. Matthew, in the former sense, viz., the very thing bequeathed; since it was in virtue, or, through the merits of the blood of Christ, the blessings bequeathed, of grace here and of glory hereafter, were secured. On the cross, Christ published, as it were, by letters patent to all men, His dying covenant or testament with the human race. At the Last Supper, and all future repetitions of it, were contained authentic copies of the same, availing in such a way, that the right secured to all men by that original deed on the cross, would be applied to certain individuals; to the party for whom it is offered, as well as to the worthy receiver, who shall ultimately secure the actual possession and fruition of the promised blessings, secured on the cross, unless it be their own fault.
Should it be objected, that a copy should not precede the original, it may be said in reply, that our Redeemer, owing to the certain proximity of His Passion, upon which He was just entering, regarded it as past and accomplished. So that it was operative in its effects in regard to the Last Supper, as, indeed, it had been from the beginning of time. Hence, He was said to be, “agnus occisus ab origine mundi” (Rev 13:8).
Mt 26:29. “This fruit of the vine”—a more elegant phrase for wine, which is in another part of SS. Scripture called, “the blood of the grape” (Gen. 49:11)—some commentators, adhering to the order described by St. Matthew, who places these words, as spoken after the consecration, understand by them, the sacred blood of our Redeemer contained in the chalice, which is called wine, on account of the pre-existing matter from which it was changed; we find His sacred body called “bread” (John 6:52, &c.; 1 Cor. 11:27), for the same reason. Nothing is more common in SS. Scripture than to call things by the name of the substance out of which they were formed. Thus, the serpent is called, the rod of Moses; Adam, called, dust. The words will, then, mean: we shall not again drink together of this wine used at supper, under the appearance of which you drank My blood, until we drink it again in a far more excellent manner, “in the kingdom of My Father.” According, however, to the more common, as well as the more general opinion of commentators, the words refer to the wine used at the Paschal or the common Jewish supper, both of which preceded the institution of the Blessed Eucharist. According to these, St. Matthew, for brevity’ sake, describes as occurring at the Eucharistic institution, what took place at the suppers which preceded it. Hence, he does not strictly follow the order of events observed by our Divine Redeemer, which is so fully and so accurately described by St. Luke. Both Matthew and Mark place after the consecration of the chalice, what occurred before it, as recorded by St. Luke (Lk 22:15–18), who informs us, that our Redeemer expressed Himself in the same terms in regard to the Jewish Paschal lamb. Hence, most likely, the words of this verse were employed by our Redeemer in reference to the chalice whereof the Jewish householder, after partaking of the Paschal lamb, first tasted, and then sent it round to be tasted by all present, as we have from the traditions of the Jews. The words constitute, as it were, the valedictory address of our Redeemer to His Apostles, at parting. They, at the same time, convey the consoling assurance of the supreme felicity in reserve for them in the kingdom of heaven, which He represents under the figure of a banquet, in which enjoyment of the most exquisite kind, metaphorically represented by wine, is in store for God’s faithful servants. Of course, our Lord does not say, that, in any sense, whether literally or metaphorically, they were to drink of His blood in the kingdom of heaven.
“Until that day,” refers to some distant time, when the just shall be inebriated with the plenty of God’s house, and shall drink of the torrents of His delights.
The wine is called “new,” of a different and more excellent kind, according to a Hebrew idiom, calling whatever was most excellent, “new.” “Cantate Domine Canticum novum.”
“Kingdom of My Father,” the kingdom of God’s glory in heaven. St. Luke refers to the same: “And I appoint to you, as My Father appointed to Me, a kingdom … at My table in My kingdom” (Lk 22:29-30). Although these words were uttered by our Redeemer before He gave His body and blood, nor does St. Matthew say anything to the contrary; still, they are fitly recorded by St. Matthew after the Last Supper, as they contain our Redeemer’s valedictory and consoling address to His Apostles.
But did not our Redeemer eat and drink with His Apostles, after His resurrection? Yes; He did so, however, not for the sustenance of mortal life, but only (Acts 10:41), in a passing way, and to prove the truth of His resurrection. Hence, it might be regarded as not happening, just as He regards His conversation with them after His resurrection as not happening at all: “These are the words I spoke to you, while I was yet with you” (Luke 24:44). Moreover, might not the words regarding His “kingdom” be understood of His glorious state, after His resurrection?
But, how could our Redeemer have used the word, wine, in a different sense in the same sentence—real wine, “this fruit of the vine;” and wine, in a metaphorical sense, “new in the kingdom,” &c.? The words, “this fruit of the vine,” refer to wine in general, whether in a literal or metaphorical sense. So does the word “it.” “Drink it new.” From circumstances it must be determined, when it is used literally; when metaphorically. In the former case, it is used literally; in the latter, metaphorically. Thus, He says in the same breath, “suffer the dead to bury their dead;” also, “every one who shall drink of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever shall drink of the water which I shall give him,” &c. (John 4:13.) In both these quotations, the same words, “dead,” and “water,” have different meanings, in the same sentence, viz., literal and metaphorical.
Some commentators, with Mauduit (Disser. 23), maintain, that the words of St. Luke (Lk 22:18), are different from those of St. Matthew in this verse, and uttered at different times. In St. Luke it is, “of the fruit of the vine;” here, “of this fruit of the vine.” Mauduit contends, that our Redeemer employed the words recorded by St. Luke before the institution of the Eucharist; those of St. Matthew, when giving the Apostles His adorable body and blood.
Mt 26:30. “And a hymn being said.” The Greek word, ὑμνήσαντες, would show, that they sung the hymn. Some commentators think, that our Redeemer composed a hymn for the occasion. However, as we have no record of this, others are of opinion, that they all joined in singing the Eucharistic song, contained in the Jewish ritual for thanksgiving after the Paschal supper. It commenced with Psalm 113, “Laudate, pueri,” &c., and embraced the five following Psalms, as far as, “Confitemini Domino,” &c., inclusive.
“They went out to Mount Olivet,” distant from the city about one mile, or, “a Sabbath-day’s journey” (Acts 1:12). Hitherto our Redeemer, during the last days of His life, after having spent the day-time in preaching in the temple, was wont, each evening, to return to Bethania to supper; and thence, He went to Mount Olivet, where He spent the night, no doubt in prayer, according to His usual custom. On this occasion, He did not go to Bethania, having supped at Jerusalem, whence He proceeded directly to Mount Olivet, at the foot of which was the Garden of Gethsemani, to be apprehended by Judas, and handed over to the Jews.
St. John records a lengthened discourse delivered by our Redeemer, immediately after giving communion to His Apostles. From the words at the end of c. 15 of St. John, “Arise, let us go hence,” some commentators infer, that our Redeemer, after having delivered the discourse contained in John (chapters 13, 14), had joined His Apostles in singing a hymn of thanksgiving, as recorded by the three other Evangelists, and, then, on His way to Mount Olivet, delivered the remainder of the discourse contained in chapters 15, 16, 17 of St. John. When He told them, to “arise,” suiting the action to the word, He went forth—they in obedience accompanying Him—to meet His enemies, and prove the sincerity of His love for His Heavenly Father (John 14:31). Others, however, maintain, that, the whole discourse of our Redeemer recorded (John 13–17.), was delivered by our Redeemer before leaving the supper hall. It would be inconvenient to deliver it, on His way to so large a number as His eleven Apostles, who, probably, could hardly hear Him conveniently. Besides, St. John does not say, He left immediately on saying the words, “arise,” &c. He insinuates, on the contrary (Jn 18:1), “When Jesus had said these things, He went forth,” &c., that it was after delivering the entire discourse, He left. The words (Jn 14:31), “arise,” &c., would only convey, at most, that they all arose, and that while standing, anxiously wishing Him to prolong His parting words, He delivered the portion of His discourse contained in chapters 15, 16, 17, in a standing posture, before finally departing from the supper hall for the scene of His Passion. St. Luke (Lk 22:21–39) records other matters spoken by Him on that occasion, which are omitted by St. John.
Mt 26:31. “Then,” on His way to the Garden of Gethsemani (Jn 26:36).
“All you,” My Apostles, who have hitherto faithfully adhered to Me.
“Shall be scandalized in Me this night.” The word, “scandal,” which literally means, a stumbling-block that causes us a fall, transferred to the spiritual order, means, whatever is the occasion of our falling into sin, or proves a rock of spiritual offence (Mt 11:6). Our Redeemer means here, that He shall prove a stumbling-block to His Apostles; that they shall take occasion, from what they shall see happening Him, that night, to fall into sin. This He predicts, to prove His divine insight into future contingent things; and God permitted this, for several reasons, among the rest, to afford matter for greater sufferings and sorrow for our Redeemer, seeing that His very chosen friends would desert Him; also to convince the Apostles of their weakness, and to teach them to commiserate the fallen. Commentators are not agreed, as to what the sin referred to here, was. It is the more common opinion, that their sin consisted, not precisely in their deserting their Master, and leaving Him as they did, in the hands of His enemies; since, they might have known, He willingly presented Himself for death; but, in the principle of this desertion, arising from weakness and vacillation in their faith, owing to which they imagined He was forcibly overpowered by His enemies, and that, He could not fulfil the promise He made, as Son of God, to rise again. It is to this our Redeemer refers (John 16:31-32). Some commentators extend this not alone to the Apostles, but to the whole of His followers. This, as St. Augustine remarks, was clearly the case with Cleophas (Luke 24); “but, we hoped that He would redeem Israel,” as if they had not this hope any longer. The words of this verse are placed by Concordances of the Gospel, immediately after the words addressed by our Redeemer to St. Peter (Luke 22:31). After reminding St. Peter, of the trial He should undergo, He next addressed the entire body, and predicted their fall. As regards St. Peter himself, some say, he actually lost faith in Christ; he was not yet constituted head of the Church. Others maintain, he did not sin against faith, which he always retained in his heart; for, our Lord prayed, that “his faith would not fail” (Luke 22:32), but, against the external profession, or, confession of faith, and thus lost charity.
“For, it is written” (Zech. 13:7), “I will strike the shepherd,” &c. In the original Hebrew and in the Septuagint, it is, “strike the shepherd,” as if addressed by God to the “sword.” But the Evangelist gives the sense. The words of Zacharias, in the imperative form, convey, that God Himself will strike the shepherd, or suffer him to be struck by the Jews. “He delivered Him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). The words of the Prophet are applied by our Lord to Himself; and, although they regarded the Priests of the Old Law, in the first place; still, the context shows, they applied, in a special way, to Christ, the Shepherd of shepherds, “and Bishop of our souls” (1 Peter 2:25).
“And the sheep of the flock,” &c. The Apostles and the followers of Christ, whom He gathered together again after His resurrection. The word, “flock,” is not in the passage from the Prophet; it is added by the Evangelist, for clearness’ sake.
Mt 26:32. He arms them against despair or excessive diffidence, by this consoling prediction, that before they would have returned to their native district of Galilee, He would be there before them, to collect them together again and care them. Some expositors think the pastoral metaphor is here kept up, and that it is allusive to the custom with shepherds in the East, of not following, but of going before and leading their sheep.
Commentators here direct attention to the wonderful mildness of our Redeemer, who, although about to die for His Apostles, and while predicting their desertion of Him; still, far from showing imbittered feelings or upbraiding them, on the contrary, promises to console and protect them.
Mt 26:33. St. Peter, whose vehement, burning zeal for his Divine Master, made him always take a more prominent part than the rest in all things tending to defend His interests, from an impulse of love and fervour, not measuring his own strength, and not considering his natural infirmity, exclaims at once, “though all men shall be scandalized,” he never would be scandalized or desert Him. In this, he committed a threefold sin. 1st. By contradicting his Divine Redeemer, and not acquiescing in His words. 2ndly. By preferring himself to others. 3rdly. By presuming too much on his natural strength, and arrogating to himself what should proceed only from the Divine mercy.
Mt 26:34. But as this proceeded from love, our Redeemer treats him mildly; and merely tells him, that as he presumed more than others, he would be scandalized still more than they. The others would fly; he would even abjure his Divine Master.
“This very night,” on which you seem so confident, “before the cock crow”—thus defining precisely the time of the night it would occur, viz., before the time of night, or early morning, specially termed cock-crowing—“thou shalt deny Me,” not merely by flying, or deserting Me, like the other Apostles; but, thou shalt abjure and deny Me, and swear thou knowest nothing of Me, and this, not once, but “thrice.” All these words of our Redeemer are very emphatic.
St. Mark has, “before the cock crow twice” (Mk 14:30), whereas the other three Evangelists simply speak of “cock crow.” Both assertions are easily reconciled. The cock crows twice in the night, at midnight, and at daybreak in the morning, and the latter is principally regarded as the hour of cock-crowing. It is to this latter, the other Evangelists refer; and St. Mark mentions it more circumstantially, because he, probably learned from St. Peter, whose disciple he was, that our Lord distinctly mentioned these words. All the Evangelists (Matt. 26:72–74; Luke 22:60; Mark 14:72; John 18:27) concur in narrating the fulfilment of this prophecy, and Peter’s repentance.
Mt 26:35. Far from being inspired with sentiments of diffidence in himself, and distrust in his present strength and future resolves, after the declaration of our Divine Redeemer, Peter, on the contrary, “spoke the more vehemently” (Mark 14:31), saying, “though I should die with Thee,” &c. So did all the rest, lest they should seem to be inferior to Peter in courage and fidelity to their Divine Master. In the hour of trial, they all proved equally weak and cowardly. They, as well as Peter, sinned by presumption, and by not perfectly acquiescing in the words of their Divine Master. Not that they disbelieved Him; but, they regarded His words rather as a menace than as a prediction; and in speaking thus, they considered their own present resolve and love for their Master, which they wished thus openly to profess and declare, rather than His words, which they regarded more as expressing distrust in themselves, than as conveying a prophecy. This prediction did not, in the least, interfere with their liberty or freedom of action; our Redeemer predicted it as He foresaw it; and He foresaw it in the way it happened, viz., freely and voluntarily. The announcement of this knowledge or foresight did not, in any way, interfere with the freedom of their act at any particular time or moment. Just as the announcement, that an act is now freely and voluntarily taking place would not interfere with the freedom of the agent concerned. All things are present with God. He foresees things, because they are to happen, and how they are to happen, viz., freely, if there be question of contingent free acts.
Mt 26:36. “A country place, called Gethsemam,” which word signifies, oil presses, as the garden probably contained presses for manufacturing oil from the olives of the neighbouring Mount Olivet. St. John says, it had attached to it, “a garden beyond the Torrent Cedron,” which was to the east of Jerusalem, and flowed by this place and Jerusalem. Our Redeemer and His disciples were in the habit of resorting to this place (John 18:2); and hence, it was well known to the traitor. He now enters it, to show, that He voluntarily underwent death, as He wished to go to the place where the traitor might easily apprehend Him. His passing over the brook Cedron, may have been meant to recall the sufferings of David, flying before his unnatural son, Absalom—a fit type of our Lord, who suffered at the hands of ungrateful children—moreover, it recalls the words of the Psalmist, “de torrente in via bibet.” He drank there deeply of the cup of tribulation. The garden—the first theatre of our Saviour’s bitter Passion—was calculated to remind us forcibly—and it may have been so intended—of another Garden, where sin commenced, which He is now about to atone for.
“Sit you here, till I go yonder and pray.” He went apart from His disciples, to teach us to retire, as far as possible, from all occasions of distraction in prayer, and “pray to our Father in secret.” He, moreover, did not wish them all to be witnesses of His sufferings, lost it might be an occasion of scandal, and weaken their faith. Whether He told the eleven, “Pray, lest ye enter into temptation,” as is insinuated by St. Luke (Lk 22:40), or merely said so to the three whom He selected as witnesses of His Passion (Lk 22:41), is uncertain. Most likely, He addressed the words to the eleven, before leaving them, and a second time to those whom He had chosen to accompany Him (v. 41).
Mt 26:37. He selected as witnesses of His Passion, as most likely to be less scandalized by it, those whom He had chosen as witnesses of His glory on Thabor.
“Began to grow sorrowful,” shows He had not been sorrowful in presence of the other Apostles, and that now this sorrow commences, which was consequently voluntary, and freely endured, when and where, and to whatever extent He desired.
“To be sorrowful and sad.” The word, “sad,” implies a kind of stupor, and insensibility; a weariness of life, caused by the grief and fear with which He was overwhelmed. For “sorrowful,” St. Mark has, εκθαμβεῖσθαι, seized wih terror. Most likely, both Evangelists convey the different sensations then felt in an excessive degree by our Divine Redeemer, viz., fear, sadness, and sorrow, together with a stupor and insensibility, accompanied with a loathing weariness of life. All these feelings, at the same time, agitated Him. They constituted what St. Luke (Lk 22:43) expresses in one word, His “agony.” “And being in an agony, He prayed the longer.”
Mt 26:38. “Then He saith to them,” viz., the three Apostles, whom He wished to be witnesses of His agony in the garden.
“My soul is sorrowful.” The Greek word, “περὶλυπος,” means, sorely grieved, excessively afflicted. Not My body, but “My soul,” is, as it were, rent in two by the excess and multitude of the sorrows that overwhelm Me, “intraverunt aquæ usque ad animam meam.” (Ps 69)
“Even unto death,” intensifies the above. As if He said: I experience such sorrow, as would be capable of producing death; such sorrow, as those endure, who are on the point of dissolution, struggling, in the last agonies of death. Hence, St. Luke tells us, He was “in an agony” (Lk 22:43).
Our Redeemer, as the victim of atonement for sin, was resolved to endure all its punishment. Hence, He voluntarily endured all those feelings of excessive sadness, fear, and weariness in His soul, to experience what our sins merited, viz., “What a dreadful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). Hence, it is also, that as His body was to be tortured by men; so is his soul, the more noble part of His humanity, to be delivered over, in the Garden, to the more dire execution of His Heavenly Father, and of His own outraged Divinity.
He endures all this punishment in His soul; to atone for our sinful pleasures of interior sense. He fears death, to atone for our reckless insensibility to eternal death. He is sad and sorrowful; because we rejoiced in the thoughts and recollections of our past iniquity. His Passion commences with interior sorrow; because, our sins commence with acts of the will drawn to sensible pleasures. These sorrows had also the effect of proving to after ages, the reality of His tortures, and the excess of His love for man.
These feelings of sorrow, fear, &c., in our Redeemer were voluntary, and the natural consequence of the human nature which He assumed. For, He became like to us in all things, sin excepted. As He was subject to hunger, cold, nay, death itself, so was He also subject to sadness, &c. It is not easy to determine whether He was of necessity subject to them, or whether, by dispensation, He assumed them for a time. Any necessity arising from His human nature could be impeded in its effects by His Divinity. Hence, His human nature, did not endure these things necessarily; but only so far as His Divine nature permitted them. It may, therefore, be said, that He assumed these by dispensation for a time. But, in Him, unlike us, these passions did not anticipate or affect the rational part of His soul, nor impel Him to evil, any more than they did in Adam, as long as He retained the original justice in which He was created.
It is most likely, that it was the certain approach of death and the concomitant tortures present before His mind, that affected His human nature and His human will, inasmuch as human nature naturally recoils from suffering. However, in Him this was over subject to the will of God. “Not My will,” which, in His human nature, would avoid death and suffering; “but Thine”—the superior will of God—“be done.”
The sorrow was, likely, produced by the clear knowledge of the multiplied sins of men, from the first disobedience of Adam to the last sin that was to be ever committed. He became the bail and surety with God for the payment of the heavy debt, which these entailed. “On Him God laid the iniquities of us all.” He, then, was cast into excessive sorrow, at the sight of this dark mass of iniquity—this unbearable weight, of sin.
His sadness, most likely, arose from the prevision of the inefficacy of His tortures for millions of His creatures, who would ungratefully forget God’s benefits, outrage His goodness, and precipitate themselves into hell.
Oh! how instructive to us is not the agony of this Godlike model of true penitents. How forcibly does He remind us of the excessive enormity of mortal sin and the sorrow which it merits. Jesus, though innocent, is so affected at the sight of our sins, as to shed drops of blood; and we, who are guilty, cannot be induced to look back on the follies and ignorances of our youth with a feeling of penitential regret, or bestow on them a thought of sorrow. Jesus wails in spirit at the sight of our deplorable condition, standing over the pit of hell; and we, with the most reckless insensibility, pass along, although, perhaps, for a series of years, during which we unconcernedly reposed at night on our pillows, had death suddenly surprised us, as it did thousands of others, before the morning sun arose, we would be found opening our eyes in hell. A God is sorrowful, even unto death, for the sins of His guilty creature. And the guilty creature, with the example of a weeping God, feels neither compunction nor sorrow. Let us beware, lest one day, we may in vain call upon the mountains to fall upon us, and upon the hills to cover us, and lest, trampling on the blood of propitiation, we were only invoking on our own heads, the dreadful terrors of judgment.
“Stay you here, and watch with Me;” in order that, besides being witnesses of His grief, they would learn, in all tribulation, to have recourse to prayer; and by watching and sympathizing, they would in some measure console Him. He also told thorn to “pray” (Luke 22:40). He permitted Himself, however, to be deprived of the consolation arising from the sympathy of His friends. They are fast asleep, while His soul is sorrowing even unto death. “He looked for one that would grieve together with Him; one that would comfort Him, and He finds none” (Psa. 69:21).
Mt 26:39. “A little farther,” from the chosen three. St. Luke says, “a stone’s cast” (Lk 22:41). Whether the distance spoken of by St. Luke be the same as that referred to here by St. Matthew, or rather, the distance in regard to the eight other Apostles, as the reading in St. Luke would seem to imply, is uncertain. Possibly, however, as St. Luke makes no reference to the selection of Peter, James, and John, it may have reference to them, as here. Our Lord withdrew from them a short distance—which however, was such, that they could witness His sorrow—in order to enjoy, without interruption, the communication with Heaven, and to conceal from them, in some measure, the severity of His conflict, and pour forth the excess of His sorrows more fully in presence of His Heavenly Father.
“He fell upon His face, praying.” Most likely, He first prayed in a kneeling posture; and, then, redoubling His prayer, prostrated Himself, His face touching the ground. By this prostration, He testified His deep affliction, His great humiliation, His reverence for His Father. He bore witness to the immense magnitude of the guilt of sin, which thus prostrated Him, as a penitent, before the outraged justice of Heaven. Being destitute of human consolation, in His unspeakable anguish, He turns towards Heaven, and says:
“My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice,” &c. St. Mark (Mk 14:36) says, He commenced with proclaiming the omnipotence of God, “all things are possible to Thee;” and to mark His earnestness, He repeats the words, “Abba, Father.” By the words, “if it be possible,” He does not mean, absolute possibility, within the range of God’s omnipotence; but only, if it be God’s will.
There is a great diversity of opinion about the meaning of, “this chalice.” The most probable opinion understands it, of His approaching torments and death, from which the humanity of Christ naturally recoiled. The word, “chalice,” is frequently used in Scripture, to denote the lot marked out by God for each one, whether good or evil (Psa. 16), “Dominus pars … et calicis mei;” “Calix meus inebrians,” &c. (Psa. 23) It is more commonly used in an evil sense, denoting death and misery—“ignis, sulphur … pars calicis corum” (Psa. 11); “Calix … plenus misto” (Psa. 75), &c. This figurative signification of the word was not confined to the Jews; it was quite common among the Gentiles. It, probably, had reference originally to the custom, quite prevalent amongst the ancients, on the part of the host, to assign to each guest a particular cup, as well as a dish; and, from the quantity ana quality of the liquor it contained, it marked the degree of respect the host had for each guest. Hence, the word, “cup,” came to signify the portion assigned to each man in life, good or evil. It is more frequently, however, used to designate the latter, in which sense, it may, probably, be allusive to the custom among the ancients, of giving to men condemned to death, as in the case of Socrates, a cup of poison to end their life. Most likely, our Redeemer here refers to His bitter Passion and death.
Our Redeemer well knew, that while, absolutely speaking, it was possible that the chalice might pass away, and He might escape death; still, consistently with the decrees of God, it was not possible. Hence, while the conditional form, “if it be,” &c., expresses the natural desire of His human nature, or the desire of His natural appetite, and of His will, viewed under that respect, to escape death, He, at once, absolutely expresses the perfect conformity of His human, rational will to God’s will, for the accomplishment of which He prays unconditionally; “nevertheless, not as I will.” &c. This, St. Luke expresses more clearly (Lk 22:42), “not My will, but Thine be done.” He was heard for His reverence, when, with strong cry and tears, He then prayed. For, His human nature, by a conditional wish, prayed, that if it were possible, the chalice would pass; but, by an absolute wish, “not My will, but Thine,” it prayed that God’s will would be done, in which “He was heard” (Heb. 5:7).
From this passage is proved against the Monothelites, that there are two wills in Christ, as declared by the Sixth Synod, viz., the Divine and the Human. By this latter one, He merited our redemption; and this latter will, although one, is virtually twofold, viz., the natural human will, by which He recoiled from death, and the rational and free, whereby, subjecting Himself to the Divine will, He wished for death, “not my will, but Thine,” &c. The former is conditional and inefficacious; the latter, absolute and efficacious; and both are materially and formally subject to God’s will. And, although the natural will would seem to be materially opposed to the Divine, it was not so, in reality it was perfectly conformable to it; for, it was ruled by the rational, and, through it, subjected to the Divine will. And both the will of God and the rational will of Christ wished, that the natural will would, for the reasons already assigned, show this horror of death. Hence, it was, in reality, subject and conformable, in all things, to the supreme will of God (A. Lapide).
Mt 26:40. In the midst of His anguish, He is not unmindful of His disciples, in order to leave an example to all, who are charged with the care of others, of how they should look after their flock. While they are overwhelmed with sorrow for the sins of their flock, and fervently praying for them, they should not, at the same time, neglect to look after them.
He “findeth asleep.” St. Luke says (Lk 22:45), “He found them sleeping for sorrow.” He shows, at the same time, His meekness and paternal consideration, although He finds them asleep, contrary to His injunctions; and, addressing Peter in particular, who always signalized himself, in his profession of love and zeal, for the interests of his Divine Master, He says, “What?” as if to say, is this the result of your boastful promises of dying for Me, so courageously uttered but a few moments ago? This exclamation is more clearly expressed by St. Mark (Mk 14:37), “Simon, sleepest thou?”
“Could you not watch one hour with Me?” In St. Mark (Mk 14:37) it is in the singular, as if addressed to Peter, “couldst thou not watch?” &c. Most likely, our Redeemer used the singular form, as in St. Mark; but, while addressing Peter, and reminding him of his promise of fidelity, which was uttered by all the others (Mk 14:35), He addressed the other Apostles also. Hence, St. Mark gives the sense of what our Redeemer intended.
“One hour,” a short time, while He was praying in extreme straits, and struggling in the agonies of death. Others, however, take the word in its literal meaning; and of this they understand the words of St. Luke (Lk 22:43), “He prayed the longer.”
Mt 26:41. He exhorts them to vigilance a second time (Mt 26:38), and also to prayer, not on His own account, but for their sakes. Vigilance is a necessary accompaniment of efficacious prayer; vigilance will cause us to be on our guard against the wiles of our enemy. Prayer will procure from God the necessary strength to overcome him.
“That ye enter not into temptation.” By this it is by no means meant, that they would not have to encounter temptations (for, in this life, no one can hope to be exempt from them; and, they are sent by God as an occasion of merit), but, that they would not yield or succumb to temptation, and be overcome by it, so as to fall into sin. Our Redeemer, most likely, warns them of the trial of their faith and fidelity to Him, which was just at hand. In this, they yielded to temptation, for want of prayer and vigilance, notwithstanding His repeated warnings. However, they soon repented, and were restored to grace, as was predicted of St. Peter (Luke 22:32).
“The spirit, indeed, is willing,” that is, the rational will of the Apostles was willing to obey the commands of God, and the call of duty to their Divine Master. Their promptitude in crying out, “although we should die,” &c. (Mt 26:35), showed that.
“But, the flesh is weak.” The sensitive and carnal appetite, ever inclined to embrace whatever gratifies corrupt nature, “is weak” and indolent in carrying out the desires of the will, bent on obeying the commands of God, opposed to the gratification of corrupt nature. Hence, they should pray for help from God, to strengthen their weak nature, and enable it to obey the dictates of their rational will, which desires the fulfilment of the law of God.
Mt 26:42. In addressing His Father a second time, He insinuates, that, while it would be agreeable to nature to escape the bitter death awaiting Him, it would, still, be more agreeable to Him to accomplish the Divine will. Hence, His second prayer is identical with the first, which is clearly intimated by St. Mark (Mk 14:35), “and going away again, He prayed, saying the same words.” In this repetition, our Redeemer leaves us an example of perseverance in prayer; and au example, also, of resignation and acquiescence in God’s arrangements, under all crosses and contradictions.
Mt 26:43. “Their eyes were heavy.” It was far gone in the night. St. Luke ascribes this heavy somnolency to the sorrow and sadness they were in. On this occasion, our Redeemer went away in silence.
Mt 26:44. “And He prayed a third time, saying the self same words.” It is likely, it was on the occasion of His praying a “third time” that what St. Luke records (Lk 22:43) took place, viz., “an Angel from heaven (visibly) appeared, strengthening Him.” Some commentators are of opinion, that this occurred on each of the three occasions, in order to show us, that although Christ’s prayer, for the passing away of the chalice, was not granted, still, it was not without fruit; it merited for Him to be strengthened by the Angel. However, it is most probable, that it was only on the occasion of His praying a third time, when He protracted His prayer somewhat longer, that this occurred, to teach us the good effect of perseverance in prayer.
While destitute of all human and Divine consolation, the human nature of our Lord was “strengthened by an Angel from heaven,” corporally; so, that while His human nature was dissolving in the bloody sweat, and tending to the last extremity, His sufferings were not allowed to terminate His life; spiritually, owing to the proposing to the intellect of the Man-God, of the motives which increased the resolution of His will to suffer, such as the decree of God to save the world by the death and torments of His Son; the glory that would redound to Him, and the salvation that would come to men from these tortures; the fulfilment of the several prophecies on this subject, &c. But, the proposing of these motives still left the inferior man absorbed in grief and sorrow. Hence, it is observed, that it was not consolation; but, strength, the Angel came to bring him.
St. Luke (ibidem) tells us, that He was “in an agony,” by which is meant, the anguish of mind He suffered, arising from the struggle between His inferior and superior faculties. This word, “agony,” expresses what SS. Matthew and Mark term, “to be sorrowful and sad,” &c. “He prayed the longer.” St. Luke thus briefly expresses what the other Evangelists describe more minutely, as praying three different times. Most likely, on the third occasion, when He permitted the struggle to be fiercest, His prayer was more fervent and prolonged.
St. Luke (ibidem) describes His sweat, the result of this “agony” and struggle, which “became as drops of blood trickling down to the ground.” It was then that the “Angel appeared, strengthening Him.” This is commonly understood of real blood. So great was the united effect of this fear, sadness, and sorrow, which constituted our Redeemer’s “agony,” that it naturally forced the blood to the heart; whilst the vehemence of His love, and the determined resolution of His will to suffer the death of the cross, drew, by an astonishing effect of His great soul, the blood from thence, with such force that, bursting through the veins, it flowed so profusely through every pore that, after saturating His garments, it ran in streams along the ground, on which He lay prostrate.
Mt 26:45. “Then He cometh to His disciples.” After having been strengthened by the Angel, and laying aside the sorrow, sadness, fear, and all the traces of the bloody sweat and agony which He voluntarily assumed; and having now resumed His former courage and firm resolve to suffer the death of the cross, “He cometh to His disciples, and saith to them: Sleep ye now, and take your rest.”
Some expositors of SS. Scripture, with St. Augustine (de Comm. Evan. Lib. 3, c. 4), say, the words are permissive, on the part of our Redeemer, condescending to the weakness of the Apostles, and now considerately permitting what He before had forbidden, when He wished them to watch during His agony. In favour of this view, they quote the words of St. Mark (Mk 14:41), “it is enough,” as if, in the words of St. Matthew, He granted them an interval for sleep: “Sleep … and take your rest,” and after that roused them from sleep, saying, in the words of St. Mark, “it is enough.” Others, with St. Chrysostom, maintain, that the words are spoken ironically, as if He said: Having already slept, when you should have watched, you may as well sleep now during the remainder of the time that is left you, before a sense of personal danger, just at hand, shall compel you to be on the alert, which My words failed to effect. The following words: “Behold, the hour is at hand,” are strongly confirmatory of this view, as if He said: Sleep now, if you can; but, you cannot—the precise moment fixed and determined by God, “and” (that is, in which) “the Son of man shall be betrayed, is at hand”—the traitor and his employers are at the very door. These interpreters say, the words of St. Mark, “it is enough,” are strongly confirmatory of the irony, as if He said: You have indulged long enough in sleep; the danger at hand prevents you from doing so any longer.
“Shall he betrayed”—(the Greek, παραδιδοται, is betrayed)—into the hands of sinners,” Judas and the Jewish High Priests, representing the entire Jewish nation—or, the Gentiles; for Judas got a cohort of Roman soldiers to accompany him. The Greek for, “it is enough” (ἀπέχει), causes some embarrassment to critics. Some understand by the word, “he receives,” that is, the devil receives power over Me. Others, “they have an end,” corresponding with the words of St. Luke (Lk 22:37), “for, the things concerning Me have an end.” The rendering of the Vulgate is, “sufficit” (corresponding with the words of St. Luke 22:38), “it is enough.”
Mt 26:46. “Arise.” The Apostles were in a sitting or reclining posture, whilst asleep. “Go hence,” not fly, but courageously go forth to meet their enemies. “Behold, he is at hand,” &c. Strengthened by the Angel, our Redeemer resumes His wonted courage and contempt of personal danger. As in His agony, He exhibited the infirmity of assumed human nature, so now, He exhibits the majesty of His Divinity, by predicting the near approach of the traitor, which His Providence arranged, and by displaying Godlike courage and promptitude in going forth to meet death and confront His enemies.
Mt 26:47. “As He yet spoke.” Mark and Luke note the same circumstance, to show the truth of His prediction regarding the near approach of the traitor. “Behold,” a matter of wonder, a crime unheard of, that “Judas, one of the twelve”—one of His chosen friends—raised to the highest dignity—destined to be one of the pillars of the future edifice of His Church—on whom He had bestowed so many marks of favour and friendship, should be the party to betray Him.
“And with him a great multitude.” This multitude was composed of “a band of men, and servants from the chief priests and the Pharisees” (John 18:3). Among them was a “Tribune” (John 18:12), and “chief priests, and magistrates of the temple and ancients” (Luke 22:52). St. Luke says. “Judas went before them” (Lk 22:47). He knew the place well (John 18:2), as our Lord was in the habit of resorting to it. Hence, probably, after searching the hall where our Redeemer had celebrated the Last Supper, he repaired thither, at once.
They came “with swords and clubs,” and also, “with torches and lanterns” (John 18:3). Can any thing so clearly demonstrate the folly of the enemies of our Redeemer, or the blindness with which the demon of avarice inflicted on Judas, as their imagining that these weapons would prove of any avail against Him, who, by a single act of His power, prostrated them on the ground? (John 18:6).
Mt 26:48. Not only does the traitor have recourse to violent measures to secure the apprehension of his Divine Master; but, he has also recourse to the basest treachery and dissimulation. He gave those who accompanied him, most of them Roman soldiers and Pagans, to whom our Redeemer was personally unknown, a sign whereby to distinguish Him from the others, “Whomsoever I shall kiss, that is He,” for whose betrayal I have stipulated; “hold Him fast.” This he adds, lest our Redeemer should slip from their hands, as often happened before, when His life was menaced; and the traitor would miss the promised thirty pieces of silver (Mt 26:15; Mark 14:11). He had not yet received the money; it was only promised.
Mark adds (Mk 14:44), that the traitor also said, “lead Him away carefully,” lest our Redeemer might, by any means escape them; or, lest any tumult being created by His apprehension, the people might rescue Him out of their hands; and thus, he might fail to secure the promised blood money.
Most likely, our Redeemer, in accordance with the usage of the time, saluted His Apostles with a kiss when He met them, or when they returned after any absence; and Judas employed this sign of friendship and salute of peace, as a covert means of concealing from the Apostles, who surrounded our Redeemer, his treacherous designs.
Mt 26:49. Going before the crowd, he came up to our Redeemer, saying: “Hail, Rabbi”—words expressive of respect—“Rabbi,” that is, Master; “and he kissed Him.” Both by his feigned language of respect and his conduct, he wished to conceal his wicked design.
But our Redeemer showed, that violent as well as treacherous measures were equally unavailing against Him. He showed the one, by prostrating His enemies (John 18:6); and He showed how clearly He saw through the treachery of Judas, by the following question.
Mt 26:50. Friend, whereto art thou come?” He calls him “friend”—although, now, His deadliest enemy—on account of their former friendship; and because, he now exhibits the sign of friendship as usual. He also thus addresses him, in order to show His compassionate feelings for him, and His grief for his fall; thus, if possible, to reclaim him.
“Whereto art thou come?” which is more clearly expressed by St. Luke (Lk 22:48), “Judas, dost thou betray the Son of man with a kiss?” “Whereto art thou come?” If your design be hostile, why salute Me with the sign of friendship? If friendly, what means this armed band that accompanies thee? After having thus kissed Him, Judas retired back among those who came with him, “and stood with them” (John 18:6). Oh! how pathetically had the Royal Psalmist (Psa. 55:13), described the anguish caused our Redeemer by the treason of His chosen disciple, “si inimicus meus maledixisset mihi, sustinuissem utique,” &c. We are told by Moses (Gen. 6:7), that the sins of God’s enemies—the giant sinners of old—so affected Him, that He cried out, “It repenteth Me that I made them.” And still, the Psalmist assures us, that the outrage offered God, which made Him sorry for creating man, was tolerable, compared with the anguish caused Him by the treason of His apostate disciple, “tu, vero, homo unanimis, dux meus et notus meus; qui simul mecum dulces capiebas eibos” (Psa. 55:14). Doubtless, we must regard it as one of the circumstances most painful to the Sacred Heart of our loving Redeemer, in the betrayal of Judas, that neither the affectionate appeal of his Divine Master—“Friend, why comest thou hither?” nor the fears of judgment, had any effect in overcoming his obstinate impenitence, until, in despair, “he hanged himself with a halter” (Mt 27:5), and his bowels bursting asunder, his soul descended to its destined place in hell (Acts 1:25).
“Then they came up, and laid hands on Jesus,” &c. Here may be inserted what is recorded by St. John (18:4–9), viz., after Judas had kissed his Divine Master, he retreated towards the armed band that accompanied them. Our Redeemer, then, came forward to meet them, and inquired, whom were they in search of; and then, He at once, declares Himself to be the party they sought, in reply to their answer, that it was “Jesus of Nazareth.” From this form of words, many infer that they did not know our Redeemer, and that they might have been struck with a kind of blindness similar to that inflicted on the sinful men of Sodom (Gen. 19:11). On saying, “I am He,” they were at once, by an act of the Divine power, which showed them what little harm they could do Him, save in as far as He would permit it, thrown backwards on the ground.
After restoring to them their former strength, and again asking, “Whom seek ye?” and answering them, “I am He,” He cautions them not to molest His Apostles, showing greater solicitude for them than for Himself (John 18:8). After this, the soldiers and servants “took Jesus and bound Him” (John 18:12). The words mean, they were about laying hands on Him and binding Him. For, what is recorded in the following verse regarding Peter’s attempt to defend Him, took place before He was actually apprehended by the Tribune and the whole band (John 18:10–12).
Mt 26:51. We are told by St. Luke (Lk 22:49), that His disciples, seeing what was to happen, asked our Lord, whether they would use the swords in His defence which they had with them (Lk 22:38). Remembering that He told them to purchase swords (Lk 22:36,) they probably imagined the time was now come to use them in defending Him, and in showing their fidelity; and most likely, “one of them,” whom St. John (Jn 18:10) tells us, was “Simon Peter,” without waiting for our Redeemer’s reply, out of a sudden impulse of fervent zeal, at once, cut off the right ear of the servant of the High Priest, who, probably, was the most forward and ferocious of the band in attacking our Redeemer. This “servant’s name was Malchus” (John, ibidem). He is supposed to be one of those who smote our Redeemer upon the face, even after the miraculous cure performed in his favour. Then, our Redeemer, answering their question (Luke 22:51), said, “suffer ye thus far,” which is differently interpreted: Permit My enemies to exert their power over Me “thus far,” so as to apprehend Me; or, “thus far,” unto this hour, which is their hour, and the power of darkness; or, permit My defence to proceed “thus far,” that is, so far as the cutting of the ear off Malchus is concerned; but, proceed no farther. He, then, at once touching the ear of Malchus, which, from the word, “touched,” would seem not to have altogether fallen off, but to be merely hanging from him, perfectly restored it. From the foregoing, we can see the number of miracles our Redeemer performed on this occasion—1st. The blindness and stupor inflicted on those sent to apprehend Him. 2nd. The prostrating of them on the ground. 3rd. His protecting His followers from any harm 4th. The restoring of the ear of Malchus.
Mt 26:52. “Then Jesus said to him: Put up thy sword in its place” (St. John 18:11), “the scabbard.” He censures the conduct of Peter on threefold grounds—1st. On the general ground of the Divine prohibition to use the sword and shed blood without a justifying cause (Gen. 9:6). To this improper use of the sword, appropriate and severe penalty is justly due. “All that take the sword, shall perish by the sword.” This only expresses the punishment due to such; or, if it refer to what actually occurs, it merely expresses what, commonly speaking, happens, as we know from sad experience. There may be exceptional cases, where those who imbrue their hands in the blood of their fellow-men, escape punishment; but these are exceptional cases. The general law, prohibiting the unjust effusion of human blood, to which the punishment here referred to is annexed, is promulgated (Gen. 9:6), “Whosoever shall shed man’s blood, his blood shall be shed.” There is, of course, question both in these and in the words of our Redeemer in this verse, of the shedding of blood by private authority, and without some justifying cause. Hence, St. Peter, although seemingly justified, as acting in self-defence, still transgressed; because, he acted without waiting for the permission, and against the wishes of his Divine Master. Again, because his act bore the character of vindictiveness rather than of defence, which, humanly speaking, would be useless against such a multitude.
2ndly. He censures his mode of acting on the ground, that it was quite useless and uncalled for. Had He wished to be defended, He might “have asked His Father,” and the whole hosts of the heavenly armies, one of whom, in one night, slew 185,000 Assyrians (4 Kings, 19:35), would be ready to defend Him.
Mt 26:53. “Twelve legions of Angels,” denote an immense number of the heavenly armies. The word, “legion,” is allusive to the Roman military system of computation. God is called, “the Lord of Sabaoth,” or, of hosts. “Thousands of thousands ministered to Him, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before Him” (Dan. 7:10).
Mt 26:54. He censures Peter’s conduct, 3rdly, on the ground that it was opposed to the decrees of His Heavenly Father, already foretold in the Scriptures, regarding the different circumstances of His death and Passion. Under this, may be included the reason assigned in St. John (Jn 18:11), having reference to the special ordination of His Heavenly Father: “The chalice which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?”
Mt 26:55. After having censured the act of Peter, our Redeemer now severely reproaches His enemies, and conveys to them, that all the power they are about exerting against Him, was owing to His having voluntarily and freely submitted to it Himself.
You are come out with swords and clubs to apprehend me, and you avail yourselves of the darkness of night, coming furnished with lanterns and torches to apprehend Me, as if I were a nightly robber. I have not acted any such part. The robber always seeks the darkness to conceal himself, whereas, “I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple.” Our Redeemer makes no mention of the miracles He wrought in their favour. He merely refers to the doctrines of salvation He dealt out to them. He did so in the day, in the very temple, where they had jurisdiction; where, if they wished, they could apprehend Him; however, they did nothing of the sort.
Mt 26:56. But their having refrained from apprehending Him in the temple, and their seizing on Him in the darkness of the night, headed by His own traitorous Apostle, and the other circumstances of His arrest (“all this was done”), were permitted by God, in order that the several prophecies regarding them in SS. Scripture might be accomplished. These words, which St. Matthew records here historically, were spoken by our Redeemer Himself, as we learn from St. Mark (Mk 14:49). They have partly the same meaning as those recorded by St. Luke (Lk 22:53), “but this is your hour, and the power of darkness;” as if it were meant to convey, that if they abstained from laying violent hands upon Him heretofore, it was because He did not permit them; but that now, in accordance with the pre-arranged decrees of God, recorded and predicted in the ancient Scriptures, He submitted, and permitted them and the demons by whom they were instigated, to vent all their rage and malice against Him. After having thus addressed them, He permitted them to apprehend Him, although His apprehension is, by anticipation, recorded in Mt 26:50. The circumstance of His having touched the ear of Malchus, afterwards, shows He was not then apprehended or bound.
The painful anguish, which the mode of His apprehension must have caused our Redeemer, may be estimated from various circumstances—1st. He, who was Infinite Sanctity, was apprehended as a robber. 2ndly. He was apprehended by the most wicked characters, who bound, mocked, blasphemed Him, dragged Him to and fro, treating Him worse than a beast of burden. 3rdly. He was deserted by all His friends. 4thly. He was bound by heavy chains, whereby He wished to loose the chains of our sins. Whence Jeremias (Lam. 4:20) says, “The breath of our mouth, Christ the Lord, is taken in our sins.”
“Then the disciples, all leaving Him, fled.” Here is fulfilled His prophecy, regarding them (verse 31). The entire eleven leaving Him, both in mind and body, giving up all trust and hope in Him, fled, and left Him alone in the hands of His enemies. Some say, they did not sin in this flight; or, at best, that they only sinned venially, since, they adhered to Him interiorly, and in their hearts. They fled, seeing they could be of no service to Him. But, however, having fled without consulting Him, whom they should have confidence in, after seing Him prostrate His enemies, and having done this from the impulse of sudden fear and timidity; they therefore sinned lightly. These maintain, that the Apostles lost neither faith nor charity by so doing. Peter, however, and John returned (John 18:15-16). The former followed Him, but only at a distance (verse 58).
St. Mark relates (Mk 14:51), that a young man followed Him, and was obliged to fly from the fury of His enemies. Most likely, he records this to show, what treatment was in store for the Apostles, had they not consulted for their safety by flight, and also to give us an idea of the fury of His enemies, and the general trepidation caused by them. Who this “young man” was, cannot be determined for certain. That he was not one of the Apostles, seems very likely from his age, his dress, in which, probably, none of the Apostles appeared at the Last Supper, and besides, it is said, “they all fled.” That he was a follower of our Redeemer, seems most likely, from the words of St. Mark, “he followed Him,” that is, Christ, and not the crowd. Moreover, he was about being apprehended, and maltreated, as one of His followers. Most likely, he was a servant of the villa, or country house, at Gethsemani. He must have conceived a very high idea of the sanctity of our Redeemer, whom he saw come there often to pray; and hearing the noise and concourse, he, probably, leaped out of bed, and went out, half dressed, to see what was the matter, and to ascertain what these midnight assailants meant to do with our Lord.
Mt 26:57. Having been permitted by our Redeemer to apprehend Him, after He had restored the ear of Malchus, and had reproached them, as in preceding verse, “they led Him to Caiphas the High Priest” (St. Luke 22:54, “to the High Priest’s house”), where the entire Sanhedrin were assembled, for the purpose of sitting in judgment on Jesus. It was the province of the Sanhedrin to judge questions of doctrine, and condemn false teachers, such as our Redeemer was alleged to be.
“The Synedrium, or great Council of the Jews, called by the Talmudists, Sanhedrin, consisted of seventy-two judges. Its president was always the High Priest … The assessors were—1st. The Chief Priests, that is, those who enjoyed the dignity of High Priest, as well as the heads of the twenty-four classes, into which the Priests were distributed. This class is referred to (Mt 26:3, 59). 2nd. The Elders, that is, the chiefs of the tribes, and heads of families. 3rd. The Scribes, or Doctors of the Law. However, not all the Scribes, nor all the Elders were members of the Sanhedrin; but, only those who obtained this dignity by election, or by the nomination of the Prince, or chief Governor of the State” (see Dixon’s General Introduction, &c., vol. ii., p. 51). Those several members of the Supreme Council “were assembled” together at the house of Caiphas, the High Priest, for the purpose of sitting in judgment on Jesus.
St. John states (Jn 18:13), that they led Him to Annas, first. This they did, in order to gratify the High Priest, whose father-in-law Annas was. The High Priest greatly regarded Him, on account of their close connexion; and respected, on account of his age. Most likely, he was guided by his advice in the apprehension of our Redeemer. It may be that the house of Annas was on the way to that of Caiphas. Some even suppose that it was there Judas received the price of his treason, and that it was Annas stipulated with him to betray our Redeemer, for the promised sum. St. Cyril says so expressly. The traitor received the price of blood that very night, as appears from his coming back the following morning and throwing it to them (Mt 27:5). And it seems most probable, it was not at the house of Caiphas he received it; for, had he been there, he would have betrayed Peter.
Mt 58. It is disputed whether the first denial of Peter occurred at the house of Annas or of Caiphas. For, St. John (Jn 18:24), after describing the first denial of Peter, says, “And Annas sent Him bound to Caiphas the High Priest,” whence, some infer, that the events recorded (John 18:13–24), all took place at the house of Annas. But, the aorist form for sent (απεστειλεν), has a pluperfect sense, had sent (Beelen); and taking into account the narrative of the three other Evangelists, it is all but certain, that all Peter’s denials occurred at the house of Caiphas.
St. John says this, at least virtually. For, he says (Jn 18:16), that Simon Peter was admitted into the hall of the High Priest. It was the High Priest’s maid first questioned him (Jn 18:17). It was the High Priest first questioned our Lord concerning His doctrines and disciples (Jn 18:19); and it is expressly stated before (Jn 18:13), that Caiphas “was the High Priest of that year.” It is quite certain there could be only one actual High Priest among the Jews, whose duties, in case of any impediment which might prevent his officiating, were deputed, for a definite time, to another. Hence, Josephus tells us (Antiq. Lib. 27, c. 8), that, on that account, the duty of offering sacrifice was deputed, on a certain occasion, to Joseph, the son of Ellenus, on the part of Matthias, the High Priest, who could not himself officiate. The words of St. Luke (Lk 3:2), “under the High Priests, Annas and Caiphas,” contain no proof to the contrary. The words may mean, that Annas was High Priest the year before, as Josephus informs us: and as John the Baptist, of whose preaching there is an account given by St. Luke, continued to preach penance for two years, he is, therefore, said to have preached “under Annas and Caiphas, the High Priests.” Or, it may be, that having been the most venerable among those who held the office of High Priest, and enjoying the greatest authority among his countrymen, Annas was mentioned with the actual Pontiff, who, very likely, was much guided by his counsel, as being always respected as High Priest, even after the actual discharge of the High Priest’s functions were transferred to another. Hence, the words of St. John (Jn 18:24), are but an express repetition of what he had virtually conveyed already; and he wishes to guard against any mistake, as to who the High Priest was, of whom there is question in the following verses, from Jn 18:13-24. St. Cyril places verse 24 before verse 15 in that 18th chapter of St. John. The other Evangelists make no mention of Annas, because nothing worth recording occurred at his house.
“But Peter followed Him afar off.” Recovering from his first panic, Peter, from a feeling of love, followed Him, while the other Apostles were scattered abroad, like sheep without a shepherd. His love was not unmixed with fear. For, he followed “from afar,” lest he might be apprehended, as one of His disciples. Love impels him forward; fear keeps him at a distance.
“Even to the court of the High Priest.” How he obtained admittance there is recorded by St. John (Jn 18:15-16). He was introduced by one of our Redeemer’s disciples, who was known to the High Priest. Who this disciple was is disputed. Some say, it was John the Evangelist; others, some one of our Redeemer’s secret followers, who privately heard Him and believed in Him. “The court” was within the house, where the servants were awaiting their masters, who were sitting in council, in the innermost part of the house.
“He sat with the servants.” St. John (Jn 18:18), tells us, they were warming themselves by a fire in the hall, because the weather was cold.
“That he might see the end,” that is, the issue of our Redeemer’s trial and examination by the Sanhedrin, whether He would be condemned or absolved, and shape his conduct accordingly. From the result of such communication, we can see the danger of frequenting the occasions of sin, against truth or morals. Had St. Peter not associated with the servants of the members of the Sanhedrin, he might have escaped the humiliating crime, which he afterwards committed, of denying his Divine Master. So, if we love the danger, we shall surely perish. There are certain circumstances and moments of passion, in which the strength of Samson, or the sanctity of the Baptist, would not save us in the presence of occasions. David, the man according to God’s heart, Solomon, endowed with wisdom from Heaven, Peter, the rock of God’s Church, fell, and fell shamefully; because they did not avoid the occasions. All moments are not seasons of grace; and, if under ordinary temptation, grace is necessary to secure the victory, is not more than ordinary grace necessary to triumph in the circumstances now contemplated? And are we to expect that God will come to our rescue, by granting extraordinary graces, when we are voluntarily throwing ourselves into the very jaws of destruction? It would be tempting God to expect such miracles of His supernatural Providence, who created us without our help, but will not save us without our own co-operation. “Qui creavit te sine te, non salvabit te sine te” (St. Augustine).
Mt 26:59. The High Priest had interrogated our Lord concerning His doctrine (John 18:19), and failed to elicit anything from Him on this head whereon to found a plausible charge. Hence, the enemies of our Lord, anxious to preserve a show of justice, and desirous of some ostensible grounds for charging Him before Pilate, with some crime that would warrant a sentence of death, have now recourse to another artifice. In the absence of truthful witnesses, whom they despaired of finding, owing to our Redeemer’s prudence and sanctity, known to the entire people, they “sought false witnesses;” they wished that these would appear as credible witnesses, in order to compass His death. They should have had some well grounded evidence of His guilt before arresting Him at all. Hence, their utter disregard for the very commonest forms of justice, in their mode of proceeding.
Mt 26:60. And, although many false witnesses presented themselves, they were of no use for the purpose of a conviction. “And they found not,” their evidence, besides other defects, being of a contradictory nature, as we learn from St. Mark (Mk 14:55–59). How clearly was this declared beforehand, by the Psalmist, “scrutati sunt iniquitates; defecerunt scrutantes,” &c. (Ps. 64); and also, “insurrexerunt in me testes iniqui et mentita est iniquitas sibi.” (Psa. 26)
“And last of all there came two false witnesses.” Two witnesses, at least, were required by the Jewish law for evidence of any importance, “in ore duorum vel trium testium stet omne verbum” (Deut. 19:15). Their evidence is specially mentioned, either because, it had reference to the mystery of the death of Christ, which was now being compassed, or, on account of its open and ridiculous falsity, so that we may infer from their evidence what sort of witnesses the others were.
Mt 26:61. “I am able to destroy the temple of God, and in three days” &c. Their evidence was false—1st. Because they attributed to our Lord words He had not used. He did not say, “I am able to destroy,” &c., He only said, “destroy this temple,” that is, if you should destroy this temple, &c. Again, in Mark (Mk 14:58), are inserted the words, “made with hands,” which words He did not use. Nor did He say, “I will rebuild;” but, “I will raise it up” (John 2:19). 2ndly. It was false, inasmuch as they gave the words of our Redeemer a false construction. They interpreted of the temple of Jerusalem, what He meant to be understood of His own body (John 2:21), the temple in which “all the fulness of the Godhead dwelleth corporally” (Col. 2:9). He gave them, when asking for a sign of His power, the greatest proof of Divine omnipotence, viz., His resurrection from the grave, after having been there for three days. But, He did this in an enigmatical manner, as He was addressing cavillers, who were only bent on catching Him in His words; and He did not wish to speak more plainly, lest it might interfere with His death, which, by the decree of God, the Jews were permitted to inflict on Him. St. Mark (Mk 14:59), says, “these witnesses did not agree,” which, very probably, means, looking to the Greek, καὶ ἶσαι ἅι μυρτυρἱαι ουκ ἦσαν, their evidence was not equal to securing a conviction. All that could be said, at most, of His words was, that they contained a harmless boast, doing injury to no one.
Mt 26:62. “The High Pried rising up,” as if to convey, that a subject of the vastest importance was under consideration. He rose up also, according to the opinion of St. Jerome, from rage at seeing the insufficiency of the evidence, and also at seeing that our Redeemer, by His silence, as if He regarded such evidence as undeserving of a reply, gave no pretext for strengthening, from the distortion of His words in self defence, the evidence already adduced, which was utterly insufficient to secure a conviction. He utterly forgot the calm composure of the judge, in thus rising up to question our Divine Redeemer. Judges usually occupy a sitting posture. It is held by some that here the High Priest acted in the capacity of a Priest of the synagogue, where men spoke in a standing posture (Luke 4:16).
“Answerest Thou nothing?” &c. In proposing this question, this wicked judge affected to believe that the absurd evidence given was important, and deserving of a reply. Hence, in a state of irritation at the course things were taking, he wishes to elicit some answer from our Redeemer, on which to ground some charge. If there be any miscreant on this earth greater than another, it is the corrupt, partisan judge, who, forgetful of God—the just Judge of all who shall judge him justly in turn—dead to every feeling of moral sense, blinded by sectarian bigotry, or a hatred of all religion, shows, by his very manner in passing an unjust sentence—at times, furiously impetuous; at times, deliberately slow—the bent of his wicked and perverse mind. Caiphas, in the present instance, furnishes a fair specimen of such. Would to God, that our day also had not to witness similar samples of judicial impartiality. Thank God, they are the exceptions.
Mt 26:63. “But, Jesus held His peace,” because He knew the charges preferred against Him involved nothing deserving of death, and the evidence in support of them to be unmeaning; and He did not wish to evade death, now that His hour had arrived. How cearly had the Psalmist long before described our Redeemer’s mode of acting on the occasion (Ps. 38:13-14), “They that sought evils to me spoke vain things … but, I, as a deaf man, heard not; and as a dumb man, not opening his mouth.” Also (Psa 39), “I set a guard to my mouth, when the sinner stood against me.” Our Redeemer teaches us by His silence, that we too ought silently to endure the calumnies of men, nor deign an answer to such as charge us with palpably false crimes, since our defence would only provoke them the more.
“I adjure thee by the living God.” Maddened at seeing that our Redeemer’s continued silence had baffled all their efforts to insnare Him in His words, and to found some accusation, even on the distorted interpretation of His language, the High Priest now comes to the chief point of accusation against Him, and in virtue of his pontifical authority, as representative of the power of God, he rashly employs, by an excess of shocking impiety, what is most sacred in religion, the holy name of “the living God,” to force our Redeemer to speak and say if He was not the Son of God.
He “adjures” Him, that is, he solemnly and publicly commands Him, in the presence of God, the witness as well as the judge of what was to be said, to say, if He were not “the Christ” &c. The word “adjure,” has manifold meanings in SS. Scripture—1st. To make one swear. Thus, Abraham adjures his servant (Gen. 24:2); Jacob adjures Joseph (Gen. 50:5). 2ndly. To devote one to Divine vengeance and malediction (1 Sam 14:27-28). 3rdly. To bind one under some religious obligation, such as the fear of outraging religion, or of incurring the Divine vengeance, to do something commanded (1 Kings 22:16; Son 2:7; 3:8; 5:8; Acts 19:13). Here, it is taken in this latter sense. The High Priest publicly and solemnly commands our Redeemer, in virtue of the obedience due to him, as Pontiff, and of the reverence and respect due to the name of God, to answer him. His object was not to discover the truth; but, to find matter for condemnation against Him, in any event. If He were still to maintain silence, it would be construed into disrespect to the High Priest, and irreverence towards God. If He answered, and did so affirmatirely, He would be charged with disaffection to the Romans in affecting sovereign authority; and with blasphemous sacrilege in usurping the Divine dignity. If in the negative. He would be charged with falsely usurping these titles on former occasions, and lately allowing the people to greet Him with loud hosannas, and welcome Him as the Son and rightful heir of David.
“If Thou be the Christ,” &c. By “the Christ,” the High Priest understood, the long expected Messiah, the promised deliverer and King of Israel. By “the Son of God,” he meant the natural, co-eternal, not merely the adopted, Son of God. The High Priest understood our Redeemer to have called Himself such, from His public teaching: “I and the Father are one,” whence the Jews charged Him with making “Himself equal to God” (John 10:30–33), and from the confession of His followers (Matt. 16; John 11:27). The question of the High Priest was twofold: one regarding “the Christ,” which would involve the charge of disaffection to the Romans; the other regarding His Divinity, which would involve the guilt of blasphemy, and so He would be accused under both heads.
Mt 26:64. Our Redeemer, although He knew the High Priest had acted from malice, and not to secure the ends of justice, and also knew that His public profession of the truth, would be made the occasion of His condemnation; still, to show us, that when interrogated by public authority respecting our faith, we must not fail to confess it; and also to show that the name of God is to be honoured; and still more, to give us an example of obedience to authority, even when it is abused, so long as it only prescribes what is good, and proposes nothing wrong—at once answers, “thou hast said it,” a mild way of asserting a thing without giving offence. Hence, in St. Mark it is, “I am” (Mk 13:6).
“Nevertheless I say to you, hereafter you shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of the power of God,” &c. Our Redeemer after asserting, in obedience to the command of the High Priest, and out of reverence for the name of God, and for the sake of publicly professing the truth, which He came on earth to proclaim to the world, that He was the Son of God, now intrepidly advances a most convincing proof in support of the same. “Hereafter,” that is, when the hour of the power of darkness shall have passed, after His resurrection and ascension, “they shall see,” that is, know and experience from the effects and wonderful proofs of His power. For, the reprobate Jews shall not be blessed with the sight of the glory of God. They can only judge from the effects of His power, that He sits at the right hand of God.
“The Son of man,” whom they now despise us a weak man. “Sitting on the right hand of the power of God,” at the powerful right hand of God, equal to God in power and majesty. Then especially shall they conclude that He “sits at the right hand,” &c., that He is Himself God, the Son of God, when they shall see His glorious majesty “coming in the clouds of heaven,” surrounded with the entire host of the heavenly armies. Even His executioners shall see this (Rev 1:7). There is here a direct antithesis between “the Son of man,” in his present, lowly condition of accused, standing before an earthly judge; and “the power of God,” the majesty of Sovereign Judge, which He shall display at His second coming.
Who can fail here to admire the intrepid magnanimity of our Blessed Lord, when, in the midst of His enemies, He menaces them, who are now sitting in judgment on Him, and bent on condemning Him unjustly to death, with the terrors of the dreadful judgment He shall one day pronounce on the impious, in the Valley of Josaphat.
The adversative particle, “nevertheless,” has nothing here expressed to correspond with it. The corresponding member is implied. It is expressed by St. Luke (Lk 22:67), “If I shall tell you, you will not believe me; but you shall see,” &c. By some it is maintained, that the corresponding Greek word (πλῆν), is not adversative at all here, that it only signifies, nay more, or some such.
Mt 26:65. The High Priest, desirous of such confession from the lips of our Divine Redeemer, as the grounds of a sentence of condemnation against Him, rising from his seat, “rent his garments,” to testify the intensity of his grief. The Jewish garments were so made that the upper part was loose, and whenever they rent their garments, they tore them asunder as far as the girdle, but no farther, for modesty’s sake. It was quite usual with the ancients to express the strong emotions, particularly of grief or indignation, by thus rending their garments. The Jews, particularly, were in the habit of doing so when any terrible evil occurred—Jacob (Gen. 37:30–34); Josue (Num 14:6), &c. This they did, particularly on the occasion of the greatest of evils, viz., blasphemy; Ezechias (2 Kings 19:1); Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:13). Here, the High Priest rends his garments, not precisely out of grief for the outrage offered to God, which he hypocritically feigned to deplore, but for the purpose of inciting those present against Jesus. His conduct seemed to point out still more strongly the occurrence of some unheard of calamity, since it was forbidden to the High Priest to rend his garments (Lev. 21:10). Hence, the fact of his doing so here in violation of the law, shows that some uncommon calamity must have occurred. By some (Benedict XIV., Calmet, &c.), it is maintained that the prohibition in Leviticus had reference only to private grief, and when the Pontiff was clad in his sacerdotal garments, and in the temple; but that, on occasions of public sorrow, the High Priest might rend his garments (1 Macc. 11:71).
“He hath blasphemed.” Without waiting for a calm discussion, regarding the nature of our Redeemer’s offence, this corrupt judge, forgetting his office, as judge, at once charges Him with the guilt of blasphemy, for asserting that He was the Son of God, and the long expected Messiah, thus claiming the honour due to God and to Christ, and He calls on the other judges to act the part of accusers.
“What further need have we of witnesses?” This shows the impiety of Caiphas, who acts not as judge, but as accuser. “Behold now you have heard the blasphemy,” as if to say, the case is too evident to admit of any discussion whatever. These words betray the inward joy Caiphas felt at having secured a pretext for condemning our Redeemer.
Mt 26:66. “What think you?” The question regards not His guilt, which the High Priest asserted to be beyond discussion, but, the punishment; to what punishment do you sentence Him for this manifest crime of blasphemy?
“They answering,” with one voice, said, “He is guilty of death,” that is, deserving of death, which was the punishment awarded by the law to blasphemers (Lev. 24:16). The special kind of death marked out in the law was stoning; but, as they were determined on subjecting Him to the most cruel and ignominious death of the cross, they refrain from saying, “He deserves, that all the multitude would stone Him” (Lev. 24:16).
Mt 26:67. “Then.” According to the more probable opinion, after our Redeemer was condemned at night, the Council broke up, as it was to be assembled again the following morning (Mt 27:1). In the meantime, and during the night, what is here recorded, occurred. St. Matthew records all things fully, and in their proper order. There are, however, commentators who hold that what is recorded here, from Mt 26:59, to this, regarding the interrogation by the High Priest, the cruel treatment of our Blessed Lord, in the hall of Caiphas, occurred only after the Council was assembled on the following morning (Mt 27:1); that St. Matthew, therefore, records this by anticipation and out of order; and that all from Mt 26:59 to this should be placed in order after Mt 27:1. But there was a twofold Council held, at each of which our Redeemer was interrogated—one at night, after our Lord’s apprehension, when He was interrogated, in the first instance, by the High Priest; and another in the morning (Luke 22:66), at which all the Chief Priests and ancients of the people attended. To this, most likely, the High Priest summoned all, even those who might be absent from the meeting of the previous evening. After the first meeting, when our Lord was interrogated, as recorded here, the events here mentioned about our Lord’s contumelious treatment, occurred during the night. After the second (Luke 22:66, &c.), at which He was also questioned, condemned as a blasphemer and rebel, He was delivered up to Pilate to be condemned to the death of the cross.
“They spit in His face,” a great mark of disrespect, and the grossest of insults. (Num. 12; Deut. 25) St. Luke says (Lk 22:63), it was “the men that held Him,” that did so. St. Mark insinuates, that some of the Council did so; for, he pointedly says, “some began to spit on Him … and the servants struck Him,” thereby implying, that others, besides servants, offered Him other indignities.
“And buffeted Him,” that means, that they struck Him with clenched hands, or, with fists, in every part of His body.
“And others struck His face with the palms of their hands.” The former indignity caused Him severe pain. This slapping of Him in the face, besides being, probably, very painful, from the violence with which it was inflicted, contained also the greatest indignity and insult that could be offered a man.
Mt 26:68. “Saying: Prophesy unto us, O Christ, who is he that struck thee.” In order fully to understand this, it should be borne in mind, as we have it recorded in St. Mark (Mk 15:19). Luke (Lk 22:64), that they blindfolded Him, and, treating Him as a laughing stock, and, as a fool, they began to question Him, to prophesy, who was it that struck Him, at different times. These words contain a sneering taunt at His pretensions to be a Prophet. The word, “prophesy,” signifies, not merely to predict future events but also to disclose secret and hidden things, in which latter sense the word is employed here. They also added other blasphemous taunts, deriding and insulting Him. “And many other things, blaspheming, they said against Him” (Luke 22:65). Oh! who can conceive all that our innocent Redeemer suffered during that dismal night, when He was abandoned, or rather, for our sakes, abandoned Himself, to the vile crew of miscreants, in the hall of Caiphas, who employed all the devices which their rage and refined malice could invent, to abuse, vilify, and torment Him. Who is it, that was thus treated? Wherefore, and by whom? How graphically was His condition described beforehand, by the Prophet Isaias (Isa 50:6), “I have given My body to the strikers, and My cheeks to them that plucked Me.”
Mt 26:69. “But Peter sat without in the court.” After describing consecutively, the examination and condemnation of our Saviour, and the cruel mockery He was subjected to in the hall of Caiphas, the Evangelist now returns to the history of the denial of Peter to whom He referred (v. 58), and, without interruption, describes the triple denial, although occurring at three distinct periods, and at different intervals.
“Peter sat.” St. John assures us, “he stood” (Jn 18:18), but, both accounts are true; he sat and stood alternately, “without in the court,” that is, in the hall within the house, which, although within the house, was “without,” relative to those who were in an inner chamber, sitting in judgment on Jesus Christ. How St. Peter was introduced, is described (John 18:15-16): “A servant maid.” She was “portress” (Jn 18:17), and observed all who went in and came out, and from the confused, frightened appearance of Peter, which was so strongly reflected from the fire at which the servants sat and stood, warming themselves, she conjectured that he was one of our Redeemer’s followers, and said, first to the bystanders, “This man was also with Him” (Luke 22:56). She, next, petulantly addressing Peter himself, asked him, as St. John has it, “Art not thou also one of this man’s disciples?” (Jn 18:17); or, as we have it here recorded by St. Matthew, “thou also wast with Jesus the Galilean.” He is called, “the Galilean,” being from Nazareth, the place of His education, which was in Galilee; it was also a term of reproach, Galilee being a most contemptible province (John 7:52). Hence, they speak of Him as “the Galilean,” out of contempt, for His pretending to be a prophet, since no prophet comes from Galilee (John 7:52), and, by it, they imply also, that He was a seditious favourer and follower of Judas the Galilean.
Mt 26:70. “I know not what thou sayest.” The words used by the other Evangelists convey the same meaning—(Luke), “I know Him not;” (John), “I am not.” Peter might have employed these several forms of expression. Here, St. Peter grievously sinned against the confession of faith, being terrified by the empty taunts of a silly maid. St. Mark, who alone records the prediction of our Redeemer, regarding the second crowing of the cock, also alone informs us, that, after Peter’s first denial, when he went out of the hall, “the cock crew” (Mk 14:68), in order to show that the prediction of our Lord, regarding the second crowing of the cock, was verified; and he refers to Peter’s having gone out, “before the Court,” to convey to us, that Peter could have thus more easily heard the crowing of the cock there, than amidst the tumult and noise in the hall.
Mt 26:71. “And as he went out of the gate,” or, the door, which led from the hall to the porch, to which egress St. Mark refers (Mk 14:68). From the Greek, εις τον πυλωνα, it appears, that there is question of the door leading from the hall to the porch. “Another maid saw him,” &c.
Mt 26:72. “And he again denied with an oath, I do not know the man.” This denial did not take place immediately, in reply to the observation of the maid servant; but, as we learn from St. John (Jn 18:25), this denial occurred at the fire, after Peter had returned, and after one of the bystanders (Luke 22:58), or more than one of them (John 18:25), taking up the observation made by the maid, joined her in charging him with being one of the disciples. He, on this second occasion, in order to free himself from suspicion, denied, on oath, that he knew the man. As the second fall of a man is ordinarily greater than the first, so, Peter’s second denial was more heinous than the first, since to it he added perjury. The extenuation of Peter’s guilt, put forward by some holy Fathers, St. Hilary, &c., viz., that he only said, he knew not the man, but knew Him as God, cannot be admitted. For, as St. Jerome well remarks, this would be defending Peter at the expense of his Divine Master, who would, if this defence, were admitted, be guilty of a lie, when He said, “thrice shalt thou deny Me.”
Mt 26:73. “And after a little while,” that is, “about the space of an hour after” (Luke 22:59)—there was an interval of an hour between the first and second crowing of the cock—“they that stood by came, and said to Peter: Surely … for even thy speech doth discover thee.” He spoke with the accent of a Galilean.
Mt 26:74. Peter, seeing himself pressed on every side, and terrified at the allusion to the outrage committed in the garden, which was calculated to bring upon him vengeance, and provoke retaliation, at once begins to curse and swear, i.e., to invoke upon his head all sorts of malediction, if he knew the man. It is deserving of remark, that, as Peter’s confident declarations of fidelity to his Divine Master increased in strength and intensity (Mt 26:33-34), so do his denials increase in intensity. He first simply denies. 2ndly. He denies, on oath. 3rdly. He does so, with oaths and imprecations of all sorts. In the first denial, he said. “I am not” (John 18:17); “I know Him not” (Luke 22:57); “I know not what thou sayest” here, and Mark 14:68. In the second denial, he employed an oath. In the third, he added repeated execrations.
“And immediately.” Luke says, “while he was yet speaking” (Lk 22:60) “the cock crew,” thus verifying the prediction of our Redeemer, that before the cook would crow twice, he would have thrice denied Him.
Mt 26:75. “And Peter remembered the word of Jesus which He said,” &c. St. Luke (Lk 22:61), says, “The Lord, turning, looked on Peter, and Peter remembered the word,” &c. Our Lord looked on him interiorly, with the eye of mercy, reminding him of the magnitude of his crime, and of His own prediction, and inspiring him with true sorrow and compunction. It may be, that He looked on him corporally; since it was likely, after the assembly broke up at night, in the interior of the house, that Jesus was left in the hall, to be abused and mocked by the servants; or, we may also suppose that, if He were left inside, the door being open, our Lord looked at Peter in such a way as to remind him of his fall, and urge him to repentance. “And going forth, he wept bitterly.” He did not wish, nor did he doom it congruous, to weep in presence of the enemies of our Redeemer, because this would betray him, or, rather, because he could weep more freely in solitude, which is best suited for penance. Moreover, their presence was the cause of his denial of his Divine Master. Hence, at once he tied the occasion of his former sin. “He wept bitterly,” at the thought of his sins, particularly his pride, his foolish boasting and presumption, when his Divine Master forewarned him of his fall, and still more, at the recollection of his shameful denial of his Divine Master. The ancient historians of the life of St. Peter, assure us, that his penance and bitter tears were not of a passing kind; that every day, during his entire life, he bitterly wept and deplored his fall.