Cornelius A Lapide’s Commentary on John 12:1-11 for Monday of Holy Week

A few notes in red are my additions.

Joh 12:1  Jesus therefore, six days before the pasch, came to Bethania, where Lazarus had been dead, whom Jesus raised to life.

Jesus therefore, six days before the pasch (Passover),  &c. He came from Ephraim, as the Passover was drawing on when He was to die. And He came to Bethany to prepare Himself for it; nay more, to offer Himself for death, and furnish an opportunity for it through the covetousness of Judas. This explains why He first went to Bethany. For the chief priests had ordered that He should be seized. And He, knowing this by divine inspiration, came to Bethany, where He had many well-wishers, among whom He could remain in security, and might thence shortly afterwards enter Jerusalem in solemn pomp on Palm Sunday, as the Paschal Lamb who was to be offered for the sins of the world.

Bethany, which is close to Mount Olivet, signifies in Hebrew the house of obedience. From this place He wished to go to His Cross. For as the Gloss says, By being obedient even as far as to the death of the Cross, He taught His Church obedience, on the Mount of Oil, i.e., the Mount of Mercy, which cannot be hid, and by which He raises up those who are buried in grievous sins. A supper is there made by the faith and devotion of the righteous. Martha ministers, when each of the faithful offers to the Lord works of devotion, and Lazarus, i.e., those who have been raised up (from sin), with those who have remained stedfast in their righteousness, joyfully feast on the Lord’s presence.

Six days before the Pasch (Passover). It was on the Friday evening that He came from Ephraim. On the following Sabbath they made Him a feast, and on the next day (Palm Sunday) He in solemn manner entered Jerusalem. For the Passover that year fell on the Thursday of that week. He came to Bethany on the Friday, because it was not lawful to journey on the Sabbath.

Symbolically: The Gloss says, “God made all things in six days. On the sixth He made man; in the sixth age of the world He willed to redeem him. He suffered on the sixth day of the week, and died at the sixth hour.”

Whom Jesus raised to life. That by His presence He might revive the memory of this miracle, and arouse the people to attend Him on His solemn entry into Jerusalem, and shout Hosanna.

Joh 12:2  And they made him a supper there: and Martha served. But Lazarus was one of them that were at table with him.

And they made Him a supper, &c. To show that He had really risen; as S. Augustine says (in loc.). “He lived, He talked, He partook of the meal: the truth was set forth, the unbelief of the Jews was confounded.”

Joh 12:3  Mary therefore took a pound of ointment of right (i.e., true, pure, trustworthy, in Gr. πιστικης) spikenard, of great price, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.

Mary therefore (that she might not be wanting on her part, and in order specially to honour Christ, and to surpass all others in her services, as she surpassed them in love) took a pound of ointment of right (pure) spikenard, of great price. Ointment of nard was composed of several sweet scents (see Pliny H. N. xiii. 2), and was thick. But this was liquid, as S. Matt. (Mat_26:7) says that it was poured on His head. Liquids are very often weighed in vessels, or anyhow the nard itself from which the ointment was made. Or this pound was rather a measure of quantity, not of weight.

Mystically: S. Augustine says, “The ointment was righteousness (πιστικης = pistikos). Therefore it was of due weight” (libra). The Gloss says, “Mary before anointed His feet as a penitent; but now, when the righteousness of the perfect, and not the mere rudiments of penitence, are designated, she anoints His head and His feet. The pound of ointment is the perfection of righteousness. He anoints the head, who preaches high doctrines respecting Christ; He anoints the feet who respects the least commandments.”

But what is “pistic nard”? (1.) The Commentary on S. Matthew (in S. Jerome) says “mystic,” which is absurd. (2.) S. Augustine says it is so called from the place whence it was brought. But the place itself is uncertain. (3.) Maldonatus derives it α̉πὸ του̃ πίνειν, meaning that it was liquid, and so could be drunk, other ointments being thick and clotted. (4.) Others derive it from πιέξω, squeezed or pressed out. (5.) As if from πίστις, pure, unadulterated, as nard frequently was. (See Pliny H. N. xii. 13.) So Euthymius, Theophylact, on Mark 12, Baronius, Ribera, Jansenius, Toletus and others. (6.) Pistici is the same as spicati by a change of letters. This was the best kind of ointment. (Lapide goes on to treat of the matter at some length. Fr. Raymond Brown, in the Anchor Bible Commentary on John suggests it is from πίστις, as in example 5 above).

Morally: Here learn that the good works, with which we anoint Christ, ought to be quite free from fault, and of the very best kind. Compare the offerings of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:3-4. The sacrifice had to be full of the good marrow and fat (See Ps 66:15, Ps 20:3, Dan 3:40 (i.e., the Pryer of Azariah, Vulg.)Lev 3:16-17, Num 18:17, Num 18:29, and Lev 23:19).

And anointed the feet of Jesus. S. Matt. adds “and the head.” Alcuin explains mystically, “The Head is the loftiness of the Godhead, the feet the humility of the Incarnation. Or the Head is Christ, the feet the poor who are His members. We anoint them when we give them alms.”

And wiped His feet with her hair. A hysteron proteron (see definition). For first she wiped, and then anointed His feet. For had she anointed His feet first, and then wiped them with her hair, she would have anointed her own hair, (which she did not wish to do,) and which indeed she counted unworthy of such anointing, and not His feet. Moreover, this sweet-scented and precious ointment was not to be wiped off, but left on His feet, to give them ease.

Her hair. To soil those hairs, of which she used to be vain, with the dust of His feet, and also that she might with the deepest reverence and humility place her whole head beneath His feet. For S. Chrysostom says, she placed the noblest part of her body beneath His feet, and she approached Him not as man but as God.

And the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.  S. Augustine says, mystically, the whole world was filled with the good fame of her piety and virtue. As S. Paul says, “We are a sweet savour of Christ” (2 Cor 2:14)—to the good, of life unto life; to the wicked, of death unto death—as was here the case. Whence it follows:

Joh 12:4  Then one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, he that was about to betray him, said:

SS. Matt. and Mark add, “Why was this waste of the ointment made?” Bede replies, “It was no waste, but for the rite of burial; nor is it wonderful that she offered Me the sweet savour of Faith, when I am about to shed my blood for her.”

Joh 12:5  Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor?
Joh 12:6  Now he said this not because he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief and, having the purse, carried the things that were put therein.

Now he said this, &c. Nay worse, sacrilegious, “for he seized for his own use, that which was given for a sacred purpose,” says Theophylact. “He carried the money by his office, he carried it off by theft,” says S. Augustine. He wished the ointment to be sold, and the price of it given to him; and since he knew that Christ did not wish so large a sum to be kept in his purse, but rather to be distributed amongst the poor, he would have distributed some of it to the poor, and have purloined the rest for himself. See here how opportunity makes the thief, and how dangerous it is for holy men in “religion” to handle moneys, those especially which belong to the whole community. For if covetousness suggests it, a portion is easily diverted to the use of themselves or their families.

But why did Jesus entrust to him the bag, knowing him to be a thief? I answer, Because Judas was more qualified than the other Apostles to make purchases. And He allowed the theft, because an opportunity was furnished thereby for the betrayal and death which He courted. Again S. Augustine, “Because the Church would afterwards have its coffers, He admitted thieves, in order that His Church might tolerate powerful thieves, even when suffering from them, to teach us that the wicked must be tolerated, for fear of dividing the body of Christ. Do thou, the good, bear with the evil, that thou mayest attain to the reward of the good.” S. Chrysostom adds, “The Lord committed the bags to a thief, in order to cut off any excuse for betraying Him, and that it might not seem as if he betrayed Him from want of money.” But Theophylact says, “Some maintain that as the least of the Apostles he undertook the management of the money.”

Lastly, S. Bernard (de Consid. iv. 6) teaches us “that Christ wished in ‘this’ way to teach Prelates readily to entrust the management of temporal affairs to any one, but to reserve the ordering of spiritual matters to themselves: though many do exactly the contrary.” Again, Christ acted thus, to keep us from being surprised, if in the assemblies, monasteries, and congregations of holy men, there be occasionally found some vicious and scandalous persons; and accordingly S. Augustine (Epist. 137, nunc 75), when one of his monks had caused scandal, at which the people cried out against him, prudently replied, “However vigilant may be the discipline of my house, I am but a man, I am living among men: nor do I dare to claim for myself, that my house should be better than Noah’s ark, where among eight men one was found reprobate, or better than the house of Abraham, when it was said, Cast out the bond-woman and her son; or better than the house of Isaac, to whom it was said respecting the twin children, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated: or better than the house of Jacob, when his son defiled his father’s bed; or better than the house of David, whose son lay with his sister, and where another son rebelled against his holy and gentle father; or better than they who were associated with the Lord Christ Himself, where eleven righteous men tolerated Judas, that perfidious thief; or, lastly, better than heaven from which the angels fell.”

Doubtless God permits it in His wise providence, in order that by the wickedness of one or two the goodness and sanctity of others may shine out the more by way of contrast, as light amid darkness, gold amongst lead, the sun between the clouds, a wise man among fools, shines forth only the more resplendently. For contraries opposed to each other are the more marked. (See. Sirach 33:15, and notes in loc.)

And having the purse, &c. From this Jansen and others rightly gather that it is lawful for the Church to have coffers and wealth to use, and that it does not derogate from perfection to have a common purse, for reasonable and moderate expenses. For Jesus did nothing which implied imperfection, being the teacher of all perfection.

Please Note: the text in green which follows will certainly be of little interest to most people. You can scroll down beyond the green text and continue readings if you so choose.

In order to understand this thoroughly, observe that though Christ, by reason of His Hypostatic Union with the Word, had a pre-eminent and (as it were) Divine dominion over all creatures, yet professed poverty, that is, an abandonment of ownership, special ownership, in order to be the teacher and example of a more perfect life. See Matt 8:20, Matt 19:21,  Matt 19:27.

Observe, secondly, that Christ had absolute control of the offerings made to Him by the faithful, for the common good, and not for His special use. They belonged to the whole College of the Apostles. He held them not as though He were their sole owner. See John 4:8, John 6:5.

It follows therefore that it does not in any way detract from their perfection for Religious orders to have goods in common. (See John XXII, Extravag. Ad Conditorem.) In some cases this is the most perfect way, in others not. But Christ at one time seemed to have lost all claim even to a share of the common property. (See Luke 8:3).

S. Thomas (see Secund. Quæst. clxxxviii. Art. 7) proves à priori that the possession of goods in common does not hinder perfection. Poverty, he says, is only an instrument of perfection, as taking away anxiety in acquiring and preserving riches, the love of them, and our priding ourselves in them. But to have goods in common does not give rise to any of these evils; and so far from hindering charity, it even promotes it. “For it is manifest,” says S. Thomas, “that to store up things which are necessary to man, and purchased at a fitting time, causes the least possible anxiety.”

All founders of Religious Orders have sanctioned this. And hence resulted the Constitution of Justinian, that the goods of those who became monks should belong as a matter of course to their monasteries. For the whole meaning of poverty turns on not having anything belonging especially to one’s own self, though there may be some common fund, from which, according to the Apostolic Rule, distribution should be made to each, as need may require. (See Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:35, and the Notes thereon.) This is just what S. Jerome says to the “Religious” of his own day (Epist. xxii.) “No one has any right so say, I have not a tunic, or a coat, or a bed of plaited bulrushes. For the head of the Community so divides the common stock, that every one has what he asks for. And if any begins to fall ill, he is transferred to a larger cell, and is so carefully attended by the older monks, that he longs not for the delights of cities, or the tenderness of a mother.”

The fathers and schoolmen teach everywhere the same thing. (See Suarez par. iii. Quæst. xl. disp. xxviii. § 2, Bellarm. de Summo Pont. iv. 14, Soto de Just. iv. Quæst. i. art. 1.)

Nicolas IV. (ut supr.) says that to have common purses is to detract from perfection, for Christ in this matter adapted Himself to the weaker brethren, that He might be an example to all. Suarez replies, that Nicolas only asserted that in the matter of poverty that was the least rigid rule which allowed them to have common purses, but that it must not be concluded from this that the other rule was absolutely the most perfect. For though less perfect, as common poverty, it may be more perfect in charity, or some other virtue. For Nicolas is speaking of the Franciscans (of whom he was one), whose Order had for its scope and end the extremest poverty, in order to be conformed to S. Francis. But other orders have other pious and holy ends, for which it is more convenient to have goods in common. And therefore this is more fitting and perfect in their case. Carthusians observe silence and solitude. Others practise great austerity. But those who are employed in preaching and missions to unbelievers, need great strength to endure the great labours of their order, and make up for austerity of living by charity towards their neighbours. Both act in a manner suited to their order, and the end they propose to themselves. Different ends require different means. The Council of Trent allows all “Religious,” except the Franciscans, to own Real Property (bona immobilia).

Joh 12:7  Jesus therefore said: Let her alone, that she may keep it against the day of my burial.

Let her alone, that she may keep if against the day of my burial. In the Greek it is “for the day of my burial hath she kept this,” and also in the Syriac (see notes on Mat 26:12, &c.) Hear S. Augustine, “He saith not to him, It is on account of thy thefts that thou speakest thus. He knew he was a thief, but was unwilling to expose him. He chose rather to bear with him, and to set us an example of patience in tolerating evil men in the Church.”

Joh 12:8  For the poor you have always with you: but me you have not always.

From Lapide’s Commentary on Matthew 26:11~“The world is full of poor, to whom ye may always do good; but I, after six days, am about to die, and go away to Heaven, so that ye will not be able either to see Me or to touch Me. Suffer then this woman’s act of service towards Me. In six days ye would vainly desire to do the like.”

Joh 12:9  A great multitude therefore of the Jews knew that he was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.

A great multitude therefore of the Jews, &c. “Curiosity led them,” says S. Augustine, “not charity,” to see and hear Lazarus, and to ask him where he had been after death, what he had seen, what he had done? So Cyril, Theophylact, Leontius. It seems more likely that there would have been many different reasons among the crowd (see John 7:11-12). Underlying St Augustine’s statement is the common cultural attitude many Jews exhibited: Jews seek signs, and the Greeks, wisdom (1 Cor 1:22).

Joh 12:10  But the chief priests thought to kill Lazarus also:

But the chief priests thought (ε̉βουλεύσαντο consulted) to kill Lazarus also. See here their virulent envy and malice: envying Jesus His glory. They grudge also Lazarus his life, lest it should add to the glory of Jesus. For the feast of the Passover was at hand, at which all the Jews who flocked together would see Lazarus and wondering at the power of Jesus who had raised him from the dead, would consequently believe on Him. And in order to prevent this, they determine to put him out of the way. But S. Augustine (in loc.) rightly exclaims against them, “0 foolish thought, and blind cruelty! For could not the Lord, who had power to raise him from the dead, have power to raise him up also if he had been put to death? In putting him to death, could ye take away Christ’s power? If a dead man seems to you one thing, and one who is put to death another, behold the Lord did both, for He both raised Lazarus who was dead, and Himself also who had been put to death.”

Lastly, the raising of Lazarus was especially the work of God, and they therefore who were so eager to put him to death, were fighting against God, and challenging Him, as it were, to the contest.

Joh 12:11  Because many of the Jews, by reason of him, went away and believed in Jesus.

Because many of the Jews, by reason of him, went away and believed in Jesus–ύπη̃γον, withdrew themselves, deserted their party. This may mean either, “many of the Jews went their way,” or else “many went away from the unbelieving Jews, and followed Christ.”

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2 Responses to Cornelius A Lapide’s Commentary on John 12:1-11 for Monday of Holy Week

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for Holy Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday | stjoeofoblog

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