Ver 17. “Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.18. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.19. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Gloss. ord.: Having now exhorted His hearers to undergo all things for righteousness’ sake, and also not to hide what they should receive, but to learn more for others’ sake, that they may teach others, He now goes on to tell them what they should teach, as though He had been asked, ‘What is this which you would not have hid, and for which you would have all things endured? Are you about to speak any thing beyond what is written in the Law and the Prophets;’ hence it is He says, “Think not that I am come to subvert the Law or the Prophets.”Pseudo-Chrys.: And that for two reasons. First, that by these words He might admonish His disciples, that as He fulfilled the Law, so they should strive to fulfil it. Secondly, because the Jews would falsely accuse them as subverting the Law, therefore he answers the calumny beforehand, but in such a manner as that He should not be thought to come simply to preach the Law as the Prophets had done.
Remig.: He here asserts two things; He denies that He was come to subvert the Law, and affirms that He was come to fulfil it.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 8: In this last sentence again there is a double sense; to fulfil the Law, either by adding something which it had not, or by doing what it commands.
Chrys., Hom. 16: Christ then fulfilled the Prophets by accomplishing what was therein foretold concerning Himself – and the Law, first, by transgressing none of its precepts; secondly, by justifying by faith, which the Law could not do by the letter.
Aug., cont. Faust., 19, 7. et seq.: And lastly, because even for them who were under grace, it was hard in this mortal life to fulfil that of the Law, “Thou shalt not lust,” He being made a Priest by the sacrifice of His flesh, obtained for us this indulgence, even in this fulfilling the Law, that where through our infirmity we could not, we should be strengthened through His perfection, of whom as our head we all are members.
For so I think must be taken these words, “to fulfil” the Law, by adding to it, that is, such things as either contribute to the explanation of the old glosses, or to enable to keep them. For the Lord has shewed us that even a wicked motion of the thoughts to the wrong of a brother is to be accounted a kind of murder.
The Lord also teaches us, that it is better to keep near to the truth without swearing, than with a true oath to come near to blasphemy.
But how, ye Manichaeans, do you not receive the Law and the Prophets, seeing Christ here says, that He is come not to subvert but to fulfil them? To this the heretic Faustus replies [ed. note: Faustus was of Milevis in Africa and a Bishop and controversialist of the Manichees. He was a man of considerable abilities. Augustine was first his hearer, and in after years his opponent; and in his work against him he answers him seriatim. In this way the treatise of Faustus is preserved to us.], Whose testimony is there that Christ spoke this? That of Matthew.
How was it then that John does not give this saying, who was with Him in the mount, but only Matthew, who did not follow Jesus till after He had come down from the mount? To this Augustine replies, If none can speak truth concerning Christ, but who saw and heard Him, there is no one at this day who speaks truth concerning Him.
Why then could not Matthew hear from John’s mouth the truth as Christ had spoken, as well as we who are born so long after can speak the truth out of John’s book? In the same manner also it is, that not Matthew’s Gospel, but also these of Luke and Mark are received by us, and on no inferior authority. And, that the Lord Himself might have told Matthew the things He had done before He called him.
But speak out and say that you do not believe the Gospel, for they who believe nothing in the Gospel but what they wish to believe, believe themselves rather than the Gospel. To this Faustus rejoins, We will prove that this was not written by Matthew, but by some other hand, unknown, in his name. For below he says, “Jesus saw a man sitting at the toll-office, Matthew by name.” [Matt 9:9] Who writing of himself say, ‘saw a man,’ and not rather, ‘saw me?’ Augustine; Matthew does no more than John does, when he says, “Peter turning round saw that other disciple whom Jesus loved;” as it is well known that this is the common manner of Scripture writers, when writing their own actions.
Faustus again, But what say you to this, that the very assurance that He was not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets, was the direct way to rouse their suspicions that He was? For He had yet done nothing that could lead the Jews to think that this was His object. Augustine; This is a very weak objection, for we do not deny that to the Jews who had no understanding, Christ might have appeared as threatening the destruction of the Law and the Prophets.
Faustus; But what if the Law and the Prophets do not accept this fulfilment, according to that in Deuteronomy, “These commandments I give unto thee, thou shalt keep, thou shalt not add any thing to them, nor take away.” Augustine; Here Faustus does not understand what it is to fulfil the Law, when he supposes that it must be taken of adding words to it. The fulfilment of the Law is love, which the Lord hath given in sending His Holy Spirit. The Law is fulfilled either when the things there commanded are done, or when the things there prophesied come to pass.
Faustus; But in that we confess that Jesus was author of a New Testament, what else is it than to confess that He has done away with the Old? Augustine; In the Old Testament were figure of things to come, which, when the things themselves were brought in by Christ, ought to have been taken away, that in that very taking away the Law and the Prophets might be fulfilled wherein it was written that God gave a New Testament.
Faustus; Therefore if Christ did say this thing, He either said it with some other meaning, or He spoke falsely, (which God forbid,) or we must take the other alternative, He did not speak it at all. But that Jesus spoke falsely none will aver, therefore He either spoke it with another meaning, or He spake it not at all. For myself I am rescued from the necessity of this alternative by the Manichaean belief, which from the first taught me not to believe all those things which are read in Jesus’ name as having been spoken by Him; for that there be many tares which to corrupt the good seed some nightly sower has scattered up and down through nearly the whole of Scripture.
Augustine; Manichaeus taught an impious error, that you should receive only so much of the Gospel as does not conflict with your heresy, and not receive whatever does conflict with it. We have learned of the Apostle that religious caution, “Whoever preaches unto you another Gospel than that we have preached, let him be accursed.” [Gal 1:8] The Lord also has explained what the tares signify, not things false mixed with the true Scriptures, as you interpret, but men who are children of the wicked one.
Faustus; Should a Jew then enquire of you why you do not keep the precepts of the Law and the Prophets which Christ here declares He came not to destroy but to fulfil, you will be driven either to accept an empty superstition, or to repudiate this chapter as false, or to deny that you are Christ’s disciple.
Augustine; The Catholics are not in any difficulty on account of this chapter as though they did not observe the Law and the Prophets; for they do cherish love to God and their neighbour, “on which hang all the Law and the Prophets.” And whatever in the Law and the Prophets was foreshewn, whether in things done, in the celebration of sacramental rites, or in forms of speech, all these they know to be fulfilled in Christ and the Church. Wherefore we neither submit to a false superstition, nor reject the chapter, nor deny ourselves to be Christ’s disciples. He then who says, that unless Christ had destroyed the Law and the Prophets, the Mosaic rites would have continued along with the Christian ordinances, may further affirm, that unless Christ had destroyed the Law and the Prophets, He would yet be only promised as to be born, to suffer, to rise again. But inasmuch as He did not destroy, but rather fulfil them, His birth, passion, and resurrection, are now no more promised as things future, which were signified by the Sacraments of the Law; but He is preached as already born, crucified, and risen, which are signified by the Sacraments now celebrated by Christians.
It is clear then how great is the error of those who suppose, that when the signs or sacraments are changed, the things themselves are different, whereas the same things which the Prophetic ordinance had held forth as promises, the Evangelic ordinance points to as completed.
Faustus: Supposing these to be Christ’s genuine words, we should enquire what was His motive for speaking thus, whether to soften the blind hostility of the Jews, who when they saw their holy things trodden under foot by Him, would not have so much as given Him a hearing; or whether He really said them to instruct us, who of the Gentiles should believe, to submit to the yoke of the Law. If this last were not His design, then the first must have been; nor was there any deceit or fraud in such purpose.
For of laws there be three sorts. The first that of the Hebrews, called the “law of sin and death,” [Rom 8:2] by Paul; the second that of the Gentiles, which he calls the law of nature, saying, “By nature the Gentiles do the deeds of the law;” [Rom 2:14] the third, the law of truth, which he means, “The law of the Spirit of life.” Also there are Prophets some of the Jews, such as are well known; others of the Gentiles as Paul speaks, “A prophet of their own hath said;” [Titus 1:12] and others of the truth of whom Jesus speaks, “I send unto you wise men and prophets.” [Matt 23:34]
Now had Jesus in the following part of this Sermon brought forward any of the Hebrew observances to shew how he had fulfilled them, no one would have doubted that it was of the Jewish Law and Prophets that He was now speaking; but when He brings forward in this way only those more ancient precepts, “Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not commit adultery,” which were promulged of old to Enoch, Seth, and the other righteous men, who does not see that He is here speaking of the Law and Prophets of truth? Wherever He has occasion to speak of any thing merely Jewish, He plucks it up by the very roots, giving precepts directly the contrary; for example, in the case of that precept, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
Augustine; Which was the Law and which the Prophets, that Christ came “not to subvert but to fulfil,” is manifest, to wit, the Law given by Moses. And the distinction which Faustus draw between the precepts of the righteous men before Moses, and the Mosaic Law, affirming that Christ fulfilled that one but annulled the other, is not so. We affirm that the Law of Moses was both well suited to its temporary purpose, and was not now subverted, but fulfilled by Christ, as will be seen in each particular. This was not understood by those who continued in such obstinate error, that they compelled the Gentiles to Judaize – those heretics, I mean, who were called Nazarenes.
Pseudo-Chrys.: But since all things which should befall from the very beginning of the world to the end of it, were in type and figure foreshewn in the Law, that God may not be thought to be ignorant of any of those things that take place, He therefore here declares, that heaven and earth should not pass till all things thus foreshewn in the Law should have their actual accomplishment.
Remig.: “Amen” is a Hebrew word, and my be rendered in Latin, ‘vere,’ ‘fidenter,’ or ‘fiat;’ that is, ‘truly,’ ‘faithfully,’ or ‘so be it.’ The Lord uses it either because of the hardness of heart of those who were slow to believe, or to attract more particularly the attention of those that did believe.
Hilary: From the expression here used, “pass,” we may suppose that the constituting elements of heaven and earth shall not be annihilated. [ed. note: The text of Hil. has ‘maxima, ut arbitramur, elementa esse solvends.’]
Remig.: But shall abide in their essence, but “pass” through renewal.
Aug., Serm. in Mont. i, 8: By the words “one iota or one point shall not pass from the Law,” we must understand only a strong metaphor of completeness, drawn from the letters of writing, iota being the least of the letters, made with one stroke of the pen, and a point being a slight dot at the end of the same letter. The words there shew that the Law shall be completed to the very least matter.
Rabanus: He fitly mentions the Greek iota, and not the Hebrew job, because the iota stands in Greek for the number ten, and so there is an allusion to the Decalogue of which the Gospel is the point and perfection.
Pseudo-Chrys.: If even an honourable man blushes to be found in a falsehood, and a wise man lets not fall empty any word he has once spoken, how could it be that the words of heaven should fall to the ground empty? Hence He concludes, “Whoso shall break the least of these commandments, &c.” And, I suppose, the Lord goes on to reply Himself to the question, Which are the least commandments? Namely, these which I am now about to speak.
Chrys.: He speaks not this of the old laws, but of those which He was now going to enact, of which he says, “the least,” though they were all great. For as He so oft spoke humbly of Himself, so does He now speak humbly of His precepts.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Otherwise; the precepts of Moses are easy to obey; “Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery.” The very greatness of the crime is a check upon the desire of committing it; therefore the reward of observance is small, the sin of transgression great.
But Christ’s precepts, “Thou shalt not be angry, Thou shalt not lust,” are hard to obey, and therefore in their reward they are great, in their transgression, ‘least.’ It is thus He speaks of these precepts of Christ, such as “Thou shalt not be angry, Thou shalt not lust,’ as ‘the least;’ and they who commit these lesser sins, are the least in the kingdom of God; that is, he who has been angry and not sinned grievously is secure from the punishment of eternal damnation; yet he does not attain that glory which they attain who fulfil even these least.
Aug.: Or, the precepts of the Law are called ‘the least,’ as opposed to Christ’s precepts which are great. The least commandments are signified by the iota and the point. “He,” therefore, “who breaks them, and teaches men so,” that is, to do as he does, “shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” Hence we may perhaps conclude, that it is not true that there shall none be there except they be great.
Gloss. ord.: By ‘break,’ is meant, the not doing what one understands rightly, or the not understanding what one has corrupted, or the destroying the perfectness of Christ’s additions.
Chrys.: Or, when you hear the words, “least in the kingdom of heaven,” imagine nothing less than the punishment of hell. For He oft uses the word ‘kingdom,’ not only of the joys of heaven, but of the time of the resurrection, and of the terrible coming of Christ.
Greg., Hom. in Ev., 12, 1: Or, by the kingdom of heaven is to be understood the Church, in which that teacher who breaks a commandment is called least, because he whose life is despised, it remains that his preaching be also despised.
Hilary: Or, He calls the passion, and the cross, the least, which if one shall not confess openly, but be ashamed of them, he shall be least, that is, last, and as it were no man; but to him that confesses it He promises the great glory of a heavenly calling.
Jerome: This head is closely connected with the preceding. It is directed against the Pharisees, who, despising the commandments of God, set up traditions of their own, and means that their teaching the people would not avail themselves, if they destroyed the very least commandment in the Law.
We may take it in another sense. The learning of the master if joined with sin however small, loses him the highest place, nor does it avail any to teach righteousness, if he destroys it in his life. Perfect bliss is for him who fulfils in deed what he teaches in word.
Aug.: Otherwise; “he who breaks the least of these commandments,” that is, of Moses’ Law, “and teaches men so, shall be called the least; but he who shall do (these least), and so teach,” shall not indeed be esteemed great, yet not so little as he who breaks them. That he should be great, he ought to do and to teach the things which Christ now teaches.
Ver 20. “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.21. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:22. But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”
Hilary: Beautiful entrance He here makes to a teaching beyond the works of the Law, declaring to the Apostles that they should have no admission to the kingdom of heaven without a righteousness beyond that of Pharisees.
Chrys.: By righteousness is here meant universal virtue. But observe the superior power of grace, in that He requires of His disciples who were yet uninstructed to be better than those who were masters unto the Old Testament. Thus He does not call the Scribes and Pharisees unrighteous, but speaks of “their righteousness.” And see how ever herein He confirms the Old Testament that He compares it with the New, for the greater and the less are always of the same kind.
Pseudo-Chrys.: The righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees are the commandments of Moses; but the commandments of Christ are the fulfilment of that Law. This then is His meaning; Whosoever in addition to the commandments of the Law shall not fulfil My commandments, shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. For those indeed save from the punishment due to transgressors of the Law, but do not bring into the kingdom; but My commandments both deliver from punishment, and bring into the kingdom.
But seeing that to break the least commandments and not to keep them are one and the same, why does He say above of him that breaks the commandments, that “he shall be the least in the kingdom of heaven,” and here of him who keeps them not, that he “shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven?” See how to be the least in the kingdom is the same with not entering into the kingdom. For a man to be in the kingdom is not to reign with Christ, but only to be numbered among Christ’s people; what He says then of him that breaks the commandments is, that he shall indeed be reckoned among Christians, yet the least of them. but he who enters into the kingdom, becomes partaker of His kingdom with Christ. Therefore he who does not enter into the kingdom of heaven, shall not indeed have a part of Christ’s glory, yet shall he be in the kingdom of heaven, that is, in the number of those over whom Christ reigns as King of heaven.Aug., City of God, book 20, ch. 9: Otherwise, “unless your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees,” that is, exceed that of those who break what themselves teach, as it is elsewhere said of them, “They say, and do not;” [Matt 23:3] just as if He had said, Unless your righteousness exceed in this way that ye do what ye teach, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.
We must therefore understand something other than usual by the kingdom of heaven here, in which are to be both he who breaks what he teaches, and he who does it, but the one “least,” the other, “great;” this kingdom of heaven is the present Church. In another sense is the kingdom of heaven spoken of that place where none enters but he who does what he teaches, and this is the Church as it shall be hereafter.
Aug., cont. Faust., 19, 31: This expression, the kingdom of heaven, so often used by our Lord, I know not whether any one would find in the books of the Old Testament. It belongs properly to the New Testament revelation, kept for His mouth whom the Old Testament figured as a King that should come to reign over His servants. This end, to which its precepts were to be referred, was hidden in the Old Testament, though even that had its saints who looked forward to the revelation that should be made.
Gloss. non occ.: Or, we may explain by referring to the way in which the Scribes and Pharisees understood the Law, not to the actual contents of the Law.
Aug., cont. Faust., 19, 30: For almost all the precepts which the Lord gave, saying, “But I say unto you,” are found in those ancient books. But because they knew not of any murder, besides the destruction of the body, the Lord shews them that every evil thought to the hurt of a brother is to be held for a kind of murder.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Christ willing to shew that He is the same God who spoke of old in the Law, and who now gives commandments in grace, now puts first of all his commandments, [margin note: vid. Matt 19:18] that one which was the first in the Law, first, at least, of all those that forbade injury to our neighbour.
Aug., City of God, book 1, ch. 20: We do not, because we have heard that, “Thou shalt not kill,” deem it therefore unlawful to pluck a twig, according to the error of the Manichees, nor consider it to extend to irrational brutes; by the most righteous ordinance of the Creator their life and death is subservient to our needs.
There remains, therefore, only man of whom we can understand it, and that not any other man, nor you only; for he who kills himself does nothing else but kill a man. Yet have not they in any way done contrary to this commandment who have waged wars under God’s authority, or they who charged with the administration of civil power have by most just and reasonable orders inflicted death upon criminals. Also Abraham was not charged with cruelty, but even received the praise of piety, for that he was willing to obey God in slaying his son.
Those are to be excepted from this command whom God commands to be put to death, either by a general law given, or by particular admonition at any special time. For he is not the slayer who ministers to the command, like a hilt to one smiting with a sword, nor is Samson otherwise to be acquitted for destroying himself along with his enemies, than because he was so instructed privily of the Holy Spirit, who through him wrought the miracles.
Chrys.: This, “it was said by them of old time,” shews that it was long ago that they had received this precept. He says this that He might rouse His sluggish hearers to proceed to more sublime precepts, as a teacher might say to an indolent boy, Know you not how long time you have spent already in merely learning to spell? In that, “I say unto you,” mark the authority of the legislator, none of the old Prophets spoke thus; but rather, “Thus saith the Lord.” They as servants repeated the commands of their Lord; He as a Son declared the will of His Father, which was also His own. They preached to their fellow servants; He as master ordained a law for his slaves.
Aug., City of God, 4, 4: There are two different opinions among philosophers concerning the passions of the mind: the Stoics do not allow that any passion is incident to the wise man; the Peripatetics affirm that they are incident to the wise man but in a moderate degree and subject to reason; as, for example, when mercy is shewn in such a manner that justice is preserved. But in the Christian rule we do not enquire whether the mind is first affected with anger or with sorrow, but whence.
Pseudo-Chrys.: He who is angry without cause shall be judged; but he who is angry with cause shall not be judged. For if there were no anger, neither teaching would profit, nor judgments hold, nor crimes be controlled. So that he who on just cause is not angry, is in sin; for an unreasonable patience sows vices, breeds carelessness, and invites the good as well as the bad to do evil.
Jerome: Some copies add here the words, without cause; but by the true reading [ed. note: Vid. also in Eph. iv. 31. Augustine says the same speaking of Greek codd. Retract. i. 19. Cassian rejects it too, Institut. viii. 20. Erasmus, Bengel. follow. vid. Wetstein. in loc. who would keep the word on the ground of a “consensus,” of Greek and Latin Fathers and Versions. There is an agreement of existed MSS. also.] the precept is made unconditional, and anger altogether forbidden. For when we are told to pray for them that persecute us, all occasion of anger is taken away. The words “without cause” then must be erased, for “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”
Pseudo-Chrys.: Yet that anger which arises from just cause is indeed not anger, but a sentence of judgment. For anger properly means a feeling of passion; but he whose anger arises from just cause does not suffer any passion, and is rightly said to sentence, not to be angry with.
Aug., Retract., i, 19: This also we affirm should be taken into consideration, what is being angry with a brother; for he is not angry with a brother who is angry at his offence. He then it is who is angry without cause, who is angry with his brother, and not with the offence.
Aug., City of God, book 14, ch. 9: But to be angry with a brother to the end that he may be corrected, there is no man of sound mind who forbids. Such sort of motions as come of love of good and of holy charity, are not to be called vices when they follow right reason.
Pseudo-Chrys.: But I think that Christ does not speak of anger of the flesh, but anger of the heart; for the flesh cannot be so disciplined as not to feel the passion. When then a man is angry but refrains from doing what his anger prompts him, his flesh is angry, but his heart is free from anger.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 9: And there is this same distinction between the first case here put by the Saviour and the second: in the first case there is one thing, the passion; in the second two, anger and speech following thereupon, “He who saith to his brother, Raca, is in danger of the council.” Some seek the interpretation of this word in the Greek, and think that “Raca” means ragged, from the Greek, a rag. But more probably it is not a word of any meaning, but a mere sound expressing the passion of the mind, which grammarians call an interjection, such as the cry of pain, ‘hen.’
Chrys.: Or, Racha is a word signifying contempt, and worthlessness. For where we in speaking to servants or children say, Go thou, or, Tell thou him; in Syriac they would say Racha for ‘thou.’ For the Lord descends to the smallest trifles even of our behaviour, and bids us treat one another with mutual respect.
Jerome: Or, Racha is a Hebrew word signifying, ’empty,’ ‘vain;’ as we might say in the common phrase of reproach, ’empty-pate.’ Observe that He says brother; for who is our brother, but he who has the same Father as ourselves?
Pseudo-Chrys.: And it were an unworthy reproach to him who has in him the Holy Spirit to call him ’empty.’
Aug.: In the third case are three things; anger, the voice expressive of anger, and a word of reproach, “Thou fool.” Thus here are three different degrees of sin; in the first when one is angry, but keeps the passion in his heart without giving any sign of it. If again he suffers any sound expressive of the passion to escape him, it is more than had he silently suppressed the rising anger; and if he speaks a word which conveys a direct reproach, it is a yet greater sin.
Pseudo-Chrys.: But as none is empty who has the Holy Spirit, so none is a fool who has the knowledge of Christ; and if Racha signifies ’empty,’ it is one and the same thing, as far as the meaning of the word goes, to say Racha, or ‘thou fool.’
But there is a difference in the meaning of the speaker; for Racha was a word in common use among the Jews, not expressing wrath or hate, but rather in a light careless way expressing confident familiarity, not anger. But you will perhaps say, if Racha is not an expression of wrath, how is it then a sin? Because it is said for contention, not for edification; and if we ought not to speak even good words but for the sake of edification, how much more not such as are in themselves bad?
Aug.: Here we have three arraignments, the judgement, the council, and hell-fire, being different stages ascending from the lesser to the greater. For in the judgment there is yet opportunity for defence; to the council belongs the respite of the sentence, what time the judges confer among themselves what sentence ought to be inflicted; in the third, hell-fire, condemnation is certain, and the punishment fixed. Hence is seen what a difference is between the righteousness of the Pharisees and Christ; in the first, murder subjects a man to judgment; in the second, anger alone, which is the least of the three degrees of sin.
Rabanus: The Saviour here names the torments of hell, Gehenna, a name thought to be derived from a valley consecrated to idols near Jerusalem, and filled of old with dead bodies, and defiled by Josiah, as we read in the Book of Kings.
Chrys.: This is the first mention of hell, though the kingdom of Heaven had been mentioned some time before, which shews that the gifts of the one come of His love, the condemnation of the other of our sloth.
Many thinking this a punishment too severe for a mere word, say that this was said figuratively. But I fear that if we thus cheat ourselves with words here, we shall suffer punishment in deed there. Think not then this too heavy a punishment, when so many sufferings and sins have their beginning in a word; a little word has often begotten a murder, and overturned whole cities. And yet it is not to be thought a little word that denies a brother reason and understanding by which we are men, and differ from the brutes.
Pseudo-Chrys.: “In danger of the council;” that is, (according to the interpretation given by the Apostles in the Constitutions,) in danger of being one of that Council which condemned Christ. [ed. note, e: This remark is not found in the Apostolical Constitutions as we now have them. The text in question, however, is quoted in ii. 32 and 50. So again the comment on Matt. vi. 3. is not found in the Constitutions, though the text is quoted. vid. Coteler, in Constit. iii. 14. The passage quoted in Matt. xxvi. 18, is found in Constit. viii. 2. vid. also Usser. Dissert. ix. Pearson. Vind. Ign. p. 1. c. 4 fin.]
Hilary: Or, he who reproaches with emptiness one full of the Holy Spirit, will be arraigned in the assembly of the Saints, and by their sentence will be punished for an affront against that Holy Spirit Himself.
Aug.: Should any ask what greater punishment is reserved for murder, if evil-speaking is visited with hell-fire? This obliges us to understand, that there are degrees in hell.
Chrys.: Or, “the judgment,” and “the council” denote punishment in this word; “hell-fire” future punishment. He denounces punishment against anger, yet does not mention any special punishment, shewing therein that it is not possible that a man should be altogether free from the passion. The Council here means the Jewish senate, for He would not seem to be always superseding all their established institutions, and introducing foreign. [ed. note, f: In this quotation only the last sentence is found in Chrys.]
Aug.: In all these three sentences there are some words understood. In the first indeed, as many copies read “without cause,” there is nothing to be supplied. In the second, “He who saith to his brother, Racha,” we must supply the words, “without cause;” and again, in “He who says, Thou fool,” two things are understood, “to his brother,” and, “without cause.” All this forms the defence of the Apostle, when he calls the Galatians fools, though he considers them his brethren; for he did it not without cause.
Ver23. “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;24. Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 10: If it be not lawful to be angry with a brother, or to say to him Racha, or Thou fool, much less is it lawful to keep in the memory any thing which might convert anger into hate.
Jerome: It is not, If thou hast ought against thy brother; but “If thy brother has ought against thee,” that the necessity of reconciliation may be more imperative.
Aug.: And he has somewhat against us when we have wronged him; and we have somewhat against him when he has wronged us, in which case there were no need to go to be reconciled to him, seeing we had only to forgive him, as we desire the Lord to forgive us.
Pseudo-Chrys.: But if it is he that hath done you the wrong, and yet you be the first to seek reconciliation, you shall have a great reward.
Chrys.: If love alone is not enough to induce us to be reconciled to our neighbour, the desire that our work should not remain imperfect, and especially in the holy place, should induce us.
Greg., Hom. 1 in Ezech. viii. 9: Lo He is not willing to accept sacrifice at the hands of those who are at variance. Hence then consider how great an evil is strife, which throws away what should be the means of remission of sin.
Pseudo-Chrys.: See the mercy of God, that He thinks rather of man’s benefit than of His own honour; He loves concord in the faithful more than offering at His altar; for so long as there are dissensions among the faithful, their gift is not looked upon, their prayer is not heard. For no one can be a true friend at the same time to two who are enemies to each other. In like manner, we do not keep our fealty to God, if we do not love His friends and hate His enemies. But such as was the offence, such should also be the reconciliation. If you have offended in thought, be reconciled in thought; if in words, be reconciled in words; if in deeds, in deeds by reconciled. For so it is in every sin, in whatsoever kind it was committed, in that kind is the penance done.Hilary: He bids us when peace with our fellow-men is restored, then to return to peace with God, passing from the love of men to the love of God; “Then go and offer thy gift.”
Aug.: If this direction be taken literally, it might lead some to suppose that this ought indeed to be so done if our brother is present, for that no long time can be meant when we are bid to leave our offering there before the altar. For if he be absent, or possibly beyond sea, it is absurd to suppose that the offering must be left before the altar, to be offered after we have gone over land and sea to seek him.
Wherefore we must embrace an inward, spiritual sense of the whole, if we would understand it without involving any absurdity. The gift which we offer to God, whether learning, or speech, or whatever it be, cannot be accepted of God unless it be supported by faith. If then we have in aught harmed a brother, we must go and be reconciled with him, not with the bodily feet, but in thoughts of the heart, when in humble contrition you may cast yourself at your brother’s feet in sight of Him whose offering you are about to offer. For thus in the same manner as though He were present, you may with unfeigned heart seek His forgiveness; and returning thence, that is, bringing back again your thoughts to what you had first begun to do, may make your offering.
Ver 25. “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.26. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.”
Hilary: The Lord suffers us at no time to be wanting in peaceableness of temper, and therefore bids us be reconciled to our adversary quickly, while on the road to life, lest we be cast into the season of death before peace by joined between us.
Jerome: The word here in our Latin books is ‘consentiens,’ in Greek, which means, ‘kind,’ ‘benevolent.’
Aug., Serm. in Mont, i, 11: Let us see who this adversary is to whom we are bid to be benevolent. It may then be either the Devil, or man, or the flesh, or God, or His commandments. But I do not see how we can be bid be benevolent, or agreeing with the Devil; for where there is good will, there is friendship, and no one will say that friendship should be made with the Devil, or that it is well to agree with him, having once proclaimed war against him when we renounced him; nor ought we to consent with him, with whom had we never consented, we had never come into such circumstances.
Jerome: Some, from that verse of Peter, “Your adversary the Devil, &c.” [1 Pet 5:8] will have the Saviour’s command to be, that we should be merciful to the Devil, not causing him to endure punishment for our sakes. For as he puts in our way the incentives to vice, if we yield to his suggestions, he will be tormented for our sakes.
Some follow a more forced interpretation, that in baptism we have each of us made a compact with the Devil by renouncing him. If we observe this compact, then we are agreeing with our adversary, and shall not be cast into prison.
Aug.: I do not see again how it can be understood of man. For how can man be said to deliver us to the Judge, when we know only Christ as the Judge, before whose tribunal all must be sisted [?]. How then can he deliver to the Judge, who has himself to appear before Him? Moreover if any has sinned against any by killing him, he has no opportunity of agreeing with him in the way, that is in this life; and yet that hinders not but that he may be rescued from judgment by repentance. Much less do I see how we can be bid be agreeing with the flesh; for they are sinners rather who agree with it; but they who bring it into subjection, do not agree with it, but compel it to agree with them.
Jerome: And how can the body be cast into prison if it agree not with the spirit, seeing soul and body must go together, and that the flesh can do nothing but what the soul shall command?
Aug.: Perhaps then it is God with whom we are here enjoined to agree. He may be said to be our adversary, because we have departed from Him by sin, and “He resisteth the proud.” Whosoever then shall not have been reconciled in this life with God through the death of His Son, shall be by Him delivered to the Judge, that is, the Son, to whom He has committed all judgment. And man may be said to be “in the way with God,” because He is every where.
But if we like not to say that the wicked are with God, who is every where present, as we do not say that the blind are with that light which is every where around them, there only remains the law of God which we can understand by our adversary. For this law is an adversary to such as love to sin, and is given us for this life that it may be with us in the way. To this we ought to agree quickly, by reading, hearing, and bestowing on it the summit of authority, and that when we understand it, we hate it not because it opposes our sins, but rather love it because it corrects them; and when it is obscure, pray that we may understand it.
Jerome: But from the context the sense is manifest; the Lord is exhorting us to peace and concord with our neighbour; as it was said above, Go, be reconciled to thy brother.
Pseudo-Chrys.: The Lord is urgent with us to hasten to make friends with our enemies while we are yet in this life, knowing how dangerous for us that one of our enemies should die before peace is made with us. For if death bring us while yet at enmity to the Judge, he will deliver us to Christ, proving us guilty by his judgment. Our adversary also delivers us to the Judge, when he is the first to seek reconciliation; for he who first submits to his enemy, brings him in guilty before God.
Hilary: Or, the adversary delivers you to the Judge, when the abiding of your wrath towards him convicts you.
Aug.: by the Judge I understand Christ, for, “the Father hath committed all judgment to the Son;” [John 5:22] and by the officer, or minister, an Angel, for “Angels came and ministered unto Him;” and we believe that He will come with his Angels to judge.
Pseudo-Chrys.: “The officer,” that is, the ministering Angel of punishment, and he shall cast you into the prison of hell.
Aug.: By the prison I understand the punishment of the darkness. And that none should despise that punishment, He adds, “Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt not come out thence till thou hast paid the very last farthing.”
Jerome: A farthing is a coin containing two mites. What He says then is, ‘Thou shalt not go forth thence till thou hast paid for the smallest sin.’
Aug.: Or it is an expression to denote that there is nothing that shall go unpunished; as we say ‘To the dregs,’ when we are speaking of any thing so emptied that nothing is left in it.Or by “the last farthing” [margin note: quadrans] may be denoted earthly sins. For the fourth and last element of this world is earth.
“Paid,” that is in eternal punishment; and “until” used in the same sense as in that, “Sit thou on my right hand until I make thy enemies thy footstool;” [Ps 110:1] for He does not cease to reign when His enemies are put under His feet. So here, “until thou hast paid,” is as much as to say, thou shalt never come out thence, for that he is always paying the very last farthing while he is enduring the everlasting punishment of earthly sins.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, If you will make your peace yet in this world, you may receive pardon of even the heaviest offences; but if once damned and cast into the prison of hell, punishment will be exacted of you not for grievous sins only, but for each idle word, which may be denoted by “the very last farthing.”
Hilary: For because “charity covereth a multitude of sins,” we shall therefore pay the last farthing of punishment, unless by the expense of charity we redeem the fault of our sin.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, the prison is worldly misfortune which God often sends upon sinners.
Chrys.: Or, He here speaks of the judges of this world, of the way which leads to this judgment, and of human prisons; thus not only employing future but present inducements, as those things which are before the eyes affect us most, as St. Paul also declares, “If thou doest evil fear the power, for he beareth not the sword in vain.” [Rom 13:4]
Ver 27. “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery:’28. But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
Chrys., Hom. xvii: The Lord having explained how much is contained in the first commandment, namely, “Thou shalt not kill,” proceeds in regular order to the second.
Aug., Serm. ix, 3 and 10: “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” that is, Thou shalt go no where but to thy lawful wife. For if you exact this of your wife, you ought to do the same, for the husband ought to go before the wife in virtue. It is a shame for the husband to say that this is impossible. Why not the husband as well as the wife? And let not him that is unmarried suppose that he does not break this commandment by fornication; you know the price wherewith you have been bought, you know what you eat and what your drink [ed. note, g: Nic. inserts here, from the original, ‘immo quem manduces, quem bibas.’] therefore keep yourself from fornications. Forasmuch as all such acts of lust pollute and destroy God’s image, (which you are,) the Lord who knows what is good for you, gives you this precept that you may not pull down His temple which you have begun to be.
Aug., cont. Faust. 19, 23: He then goes on to correct the error of the Pharisees, declaring, “Whoso looketh upon a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery already with her in his heart.” For the commandment of the Law, “Thou shalt not lust after thy neighbour’s wife,” [Ex 20:17] the Jews understood of taking her away, not of committing adultery with her.
Jerome: Between and that is between actual passion and the first spontaneous movement of the mind, there is this difference: passion is at once a sin; the spontaneous movement of the mind, though it partakes of the evil of sin, is yet not held for an offence committed. [ed. note, h: In this passage S. Jerome, who seems to have introduced the word propassio, into theology, uses it somewhat in a sense of his own; viz. as involving something of the nature of sin; vid. also Comm. in Ezek. xviii, 1, 2. The word is more commonly applied to our Lord, as denoting the mode and extent in which His soul was affected by what in others became . In us passion precedes reason, in Him it followed, or was a . vid. S. Jerome in Matt. xxvi. 37. Leon. Ep. 35. Damasc. F. O. iii. 20 &c. &c.]
When then one looks upon a woman, and his mind is therewith smitten, there is propassion; if he yields to this he passes from propassion to passion, and then it is no longer the will but the opportunity to sin that is wanting. “Whosoever,” then, “looketh on a woman to lust after her,” that is, so looks on her as to lust, and cast about to obtain, he is rightly said to commit adultery with her in his heart.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 12: For there are three things which make up a sin; suggestion either through the memory, or the present sense; if the thought of the pleasure of indulgence follows, that is an unlawful thought, and to be restrained; if you consent then, the sin is complete. For prior to the first consent, the pleasure is either none or very slight, the consenting to which makes the sin. But if consent proceeds on into overt act, then desire seems to be satiated and quenched. And when suggestion is again repeated, the contemplated pleasure is greater, which previous to habit formed was but small, but now more difficult to overcome.
Greg., Mor., xxi, 2: But whoso casts his eyes about without caution will often be taken with the pleasure of sin, and ensnared by desires begins to wish for what he would not. Great is the strength of the flesh to draw us downwards, and the charm of beauty once admitted to the heart through the eye, is hardly banished by endeavour. We must therefore take heed at the first, we ought not to look upon what it is unlawful to desire. For that the heart may be kept pure in thought, the eyes, as being on the watch to hurry us to sin, should be averted from wanton looks.
Chrys.: If you permit yourself to gaze often on fair countenances you will assuredly be taken, even though you may be able to command your mind twice or thrice. For you are not exalted above nature and the strength of humanity. She too who dresses and adorns herself for the purpose of attracting men’s eyes to her, though her endeavor should fail, yet shall she be punished hereafter; seeing she mixed the poison and offered the cup, though none was found who would drink thereof. For what the Lord seems to speak only to the man, is of equal application to the woman; inasmuch as when He speaks to the head, the warning is meant for the whole body.
Ver 29. “And if they right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.30. And if they right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”
Gloss, non occ.: Because we ought not only to avoid actual sin, but even put away every occasion of sin, therefore having taught that adultery is to be avoided not in deed only, but in heart, He next teaches us to cut off the occasions of sin.
Pseudo-Chrys.: But if according to that of the Prophet, “there is no whole part in our body,” [Ps 38:3] it is needful that we cut off every limb that we have that the punishment may be equal to the depravity of the flesh.
Is it then possible to understand this of the bodily eye or hand? As the whole man when he is turned to God is dead to sin, so likewise the eye when it has ceased to look evil is cut off from sin. But this explanation will not suit the whole; for when He says, “thy right eye offends thee,” what does the left eye? Does it contradict the right eye, and it is preserved innocent?
Jerome: Therefore by the right eye and the right hand we must understand the love of brethren, husbands and wives, parents and kinsfolk; which if we find to hinder our view of the true light, we ought to sever from us.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 13: As the eye denotes contemplation, so the hand aptly denotes action. By the eye we must understand our most cherished friend, as they are wont to say who would express ardent affection, ‘I love him as my own eye.’ And a friend too who gives counsel, as the eye shews us our way. The “right eye,” perhaps, only means to express a higher degree of affection, for it is the one which men most fear to lose.
Or, by the right eye may be understood one who counsels us in heavenly matters, and by the left one who counsels in earthly matters. And this will be the sense; Whatever that is which you love as you would your own right eye, if it “offend you,” that is, if it be an hindrance to your true happiness, “cut it off and cast it from you.” For if the right eye was not to be spared, it was superfluous to speak of the left. The right hand also is to be taken of a beloved assistant in divine actions, the left hand in earthly actions.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Otherwise; Christ would have us careful not only of our own sin, but likewise that even they who pertain to us should keep themselves from evil. Have you any friend who looks to your matters as your own eye, or manages them as your own hand, if you know of any scandalous or base action that he has done, cast him from you, he is an offence; for we shall give account not only of our own sins, but also of such of those of our neighbours as it is in our power to hinder.
Hilary: Thus a more lofty step of innocence is appointed us, in that we are admonished to keep free, not only from sin ourselves, but from such as might touch us from without.
Jerome: Otherwise; As above He had placed lust in the looking on a woman, so now the thought and sense straying hither and thither He calls ‘the eye.’ By the right hand and the other parts of the body, He means the initial movements of desire and affection.
Pseudo-Chrys.: The eye of flesh is the mirror of the inward eye. The body also has its own sense, that is, the left eye, and its own appetite, that is, the left hand. But the parts of the soul are called right, for the soul was created both with free-will and under the law of righteousness, that it might both see and do rightly.
But the members of the body being not with free-will, but under the law of sin, are called the left. Yet He does not bid us cut off the sense or appetite of the flesh; we may retain the desires of the flesh, and yet not do thereafter, but we cannot cut off the having the desires. But when we wilfully purpose and think of evil, then our right desires and right will offend us, and therefore He bids us cut them off. And these we can cut off, because our will is free.
Or otherwise; Every thing, however good in itself that offends ourselves or others, we ought to cut off from us. For example, to visit a woman with religious purposes, this good intent towards her may be called a right eye, but if often visiting her I have fallen into the net of desire, or if any looking on are offended, then the right eye, that is, something in itself good, offends me. For the “right eye” is good intention, the “right hand” is good desire.
Gloss. ord.: Or, the “right eye” is the contemplative life which offends by being the cause of indolence or self-conceit, or in our weakness that we are not able to support it unmixed. The “right hand” is good works, or the active life, which offends us when we are ensnared by society and the business of life.
If then any one is unable to sustain the contemplative life, let him not slothfully rest from all action; or on the other hand while he is taken up with action, dry up the fountain of sweet contemplation.
Remig.: The reason why the right eye and the right hand are to be cast away is subjoined in that, “For it is better, &c.”
Pseudo-Chrys.: For as we are every one members one of another, it is better that we should be saved without some one of these members, than that we perish together with them. Or, it is better that we should be saved without one good purpose, or one good work, than that while we seek to perform all good works we perish together with all.
Ver 31. “It hath been said, ‘Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:’32. But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”
Gloss, non occ.: The Lord had taught us above that our neighbour’s wife was not to be coveted, He now proceeds to teach that our own wife is not to be put away.
Jerome: For touching Moses’ allowance of divorce, the Lord and Saviour more fully explains in conclusion, that it was because of the hardness of the hearts of the husbands, not so much sanctioning discord, as checking bloodshed.
Pseudo-Chrys.: For when Moses brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, they were indeed Hebrews in race, but Egyptians in manners. And it was caused by the Gentile manners that the husband hated the wife; and if he was not permitted to put her away, he was ready either to kill her or ill-treat her. Moses therefore suffered a bill of divorcement, not because it was a good practice in itself, but was the prevention of a worse evil.
Hilary: But the Lord who brought peace and goodwill on earth, would have it reign especially in the matrimonial bond.
Aug., cont. Faust., xix, 26: The Lord’s command here that a wife is not to be put away, is not contrary to the command in the Law, as Manichaeus affirmed. Had the Law allowed any who would to put away his wife, to allow none to put away were indeed the very opposite of that. But the difficulty which Moses is careful to put in the way, shews that he was no good friend to the practice at all. For he required a bill of divorcement, the delay and difficulty of drawing out which would often cool headlong rage and disagreement, especially as by the Hebrew custom, it was the Scribes alone who were permitted to use the Hebrew letters, in which they professed a singular skill.
To these then the law would send him whom it bid to give a writing of divorcement, when he would put away his wife, who mediating between him and his wife, might set them at one again, unless in minds too wayward to be moved by counsels of peace. Thus then He neither completed, by adding words to it, the law of them of old time, nor did He destroy the Law given by Moses by enacting things contrary to it, as Manichaeus affirmed; but rather repeated and approved all that the Hebrew Law contained, so that whatever He spoke in His own person more than it had, had in view either explanation, which in divers obscure places of the Law was greatly needed, or the more punctual observance of its enactments.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 14: By interposing this delay in the mode of putting away, the lawgiver shewed as clearly as it could be shewn to hard hearts, that he hated strife and disagreement. The Lord then so confirms this backwardness in the Law, as to except only one case, “the cause of fornication;” every other inconvenience which may have place, He bids us bear with patience in consideration of the plighted troth of wedlock.
Pseudo-Chrys.: If we ought to bear the burdens of strangers, in obedience to that of the Apostles, “Bear ye one another’s burdens,” [Gal_6:2] how much more that of our wives and husbands? The Christian husband ought not only to keep himself from any defilement, but to be careful not to give others occasion of defilement; for so is their sin imputed to him who gave the occasion. Whoso then by putting away his wife gives another man occasion of committing adultery, is condemned for that crime himself.
Aug.: Yea, more, He declares the man who marries her who is put away an adulterer.
Chrys.: Say not here, It is enough her husband has put her away; for even after she is put away she continues the wife of him that put her away.
Aug.: The Apostle has fixed the limit here, requiring her to abstain from a fresh marriage as long as her husband lives. After his death he allows her to marry. But if the woman may not marry while her former husband is alive, much less may she yield herself to unlawful indulgences. But this command of the Lord, forbidding to put away a wife, is not broken by him who lives with her not carnally but spiritually, in that more blessed wedlock of those that keep themselves chaste.
A question also here arises as to what is that fornication which the Lord allows as a cause of divorce; whether carnal sin, or, according to the Scripture use of the word, any unlawful passion, as idolatry, avarice, in short all transgression of the Law by forbidden desires. For if the Apostle permits the divorce of a wife if she be unbelieving, (though indeed it is better not to put her away,) and the Lord forbids any divorce but for the cause of fornication, unbelief even must be fornication. And if unbelief be fornication, and idolatry unbelief, and covetousness idolatry, it is not to be doubted that covetousness is fornication. And if covetousness be fornication, who may say of any kind of unlawful desire that it is not a kind of fornication?
Aug., Retract., i, 19, 6: Yet I would not have the reader think this disputation of ours sufficient in a matter so arduous; for not every sin is spiritual fornication, nor does God destroy every sinner, for He hears His saints daily crying to Him, “Forgive us our debts;” but every man who goes a whoring and forsakes Him, him He destroys.
Whether this be the fornication for which divorce is allowed is a most knotty question – for it is no question at all that it is allowed for the fornication by carnal sin.
Aug., lib. 83, Quaest. q. ult.: If any affirm that the only fornication for which the Lord allows divorce is that of carnal sin, he may see that the Lord has spoken of believing husbands and wives, forbidding either to leave the other except for fornication.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 16: Not only does He permit to put away a wife who commits fornication, but whoso puts away a wife by whom he is driven to commit fornication, puts her away for the cause of fornication, both for his own sake and hers.
Aug., de Fid. et Op. 16: He also rightly puts away his wife to whom she shall say, I will not be your wife unless you get me money by robbery; or should require any other crime to be done by him. If the husband here be truly penitent, he will cut off the limb that offends him.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 16: Nothing can be more unjust than to put away a wife for fornication, and yourself to be guilty of that sin, for then is that happened, “Wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself.” [Rom 2:1] When He says, “And he who marrieth her who is put away, committeth adultery,” a question arises, does the woman also in this case commit adultery? For the Apostle directs either that she remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. There is this difference in the separation, namely, which of them was the cause of it. If the wife put away the husband and marry another, she appears to have left her first husband with the desire of change, which is an adulterous thought. But if she have been put away by her husband, yet he who marries her commits adultery, how can she be quit of the same guilt? And further, if he who marries her commits adultery, she is the cause of his committing adultery, which is what the Lord is here forbidding.
Ver 33. “Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, ‘Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:’34. But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by Heaven; for it is God’s throne;35. Nor by the earth; for it is His footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.36. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.37. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”
Gloss. non occ.: The Lord has hitherto taught to abstain from injuring our neighbour, forbidding anger with murder, lust with adultery, and the putting away a wife with a bill of divorce. He now proceeds to teach to abstain from injury to God, forbidding not only perjury as an evil in itself, but even all oaths as the cause of evil, saying, “Ye have heard it said by them of old, Thou shalt not forswear thyself.”
It is written in Leviticus, “Thou shalt not forswear thyself in my name;” [Lev 19:12] and that they should not make gods of the creature, they are commanded to render to God their oaths, and not to swear by any creature, “Render to the Lord thy oaths;” that is, if you shall have occasion to swear, you shall swear by the Creator and not by the creature. As it is written in Deuteronomy, “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and shalt swear by his name.” [Deut 6:13]
Jerome: This was allowed under the Law, as to children; as they offered sacrifice to God, that they might not do it to idols, so they were permitted to swear by God; not that the thing was right, but that it were better done to God than to daemons.
Pseudo-Chrys.: For no man can swear often, but he must sometimes forswear himself; as he who has a custom of much speaking will sometimes speak foolishly.
Aug., cont. Faust., xix. 23: Inasmuch as the sin of perjury is a grievous sin, he must be further removed from it who uses no oath, than he who is ready to swear on every occasion, and the Lord would rather that we should not swear and keep close to the truth, than that swearing we should come near to perjury.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 17: This precept also confirms the righteousness of the Pharisees, not to forswear; inasmuch as he who swears not at all cannot forswear himself. But as to call God to witness is to swear, does not the Apostle break this commandment when he says several times to the Galatians, “The things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.” [Gal 1:20] So the Romans, “God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit.” [Rom 1:9]
Unless perhaps some one may say, it is no oath unless I use the form of swearing by some object; and that the Apostle did not swear in saying, “God is my witness.” It is ridiculous to make such a distinction; yet the Apostle has used even this form, “I die daily, by your boasting.” [1 Cor 15:31] That this does not mean, your boasting has caused my dying daily, but is an oath, is clear from the Greek, which is .
Aug., de Mendac. 15: But what we could not understand by mere words, from the conduct of the saints we may gather in what sense should be understood what might easily be drawn the contrary way, unless explained by example. The Apostle has used oaths in his Epistles, and by this shews us how that ought to be taken, “I say unto you, Swear not at all,” namely, lest by allowing ourselves to swear at all we come to readiness in swearing, from readiness we come to a habit of swearing, and from a habit of swearing we fall into perjury. And so the Apostle is not found to have used an oath but only in writing, the greater thought and caution which that requires not allowing of slip of the tongue.
Yet is the Lord’s command so universal, “Swear not at all,” that He would seem to have forbidden it even in writing. But since it would be an impiety to accuse Paul of having violated this precept, especially in his Epistles, we must understand the word “at all” as implying that, as far as lays in your power, you should not make a practice of swearing, not aim at it as a good thing in which you should take delight.
Aug., cont. Faust., xix, 23: Therefore in his writings, as writing allows of greater circumspection, the Apostle is found to have used an oath in several places, that none might suppose that there is any direct sin in swearing what is true; but only that our weak hearts are better preserved from perjury by abstaining from all swearing whatever.
Jerome: Lastly, consider that the Saviour does not here forbid to swear by God, but by the Heaven, the Earth, by Jerusalem, by a man’s head. For this evil practice of swearing by the elements the Jews had always, and are thereof often accused in the prophetic writings. For he who swears, shew either reverence or love for that by which he swears. Thus when the Jews swore by the Angels, by the city of Jerusalem, by the temple and the elements, they paid to the creature the honour and worship belonging to God; for it is commanded in the Law that we should not swear but by the Lord our God.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 17: Or; It is added, “By the Heaven, &c.” because the Jews did not consider themselves bound when they swore by such things. As if He had said, When you swear by the Heaven and the Earth, think not that you do not owe your oath to the Lord your God, for you are proved to have sworn by Him whose throne the heaven is, and the earth His footstool; which is not meant as though God had such limbs set upon the heaven and the earth, after the manner of a man who is sitting; but that seat signifies God’s judgment of us. And since in the whole extent of this universe it is the heaven that has the highest beauty, God is said to sit upon the heavens as shewing divine power to be more excellent than the most surpassing show of beauty; and He is said to stand upon the earth, as putting to lowest use a lesser beauty.
Spiritually by the heavens are denoted holy souls, by the earth the sinful, seeing “He that is spiritual judgeth all things.” [1 Cor 2:15] But to the sinner it is said, “Earth thou art, and unto earth thou shalt return.” [Gen 3:19] And he who would abide under a law, is put under a law, and therefore He adds, “it is the footstool of His feet. Neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King;” this is better said than ‘it is mine;’ though it is understood to mean the same. And because He is also truly Lord, whoso swears by Jerusalem, owes his oath to the Lord. “Neither by thy head.” What could any think more entirely his own property than his own head? But how is it ours when we have not power to make one hair black or white? Whoso then swears by his own head also owes his vows to the Lord; and by this the rest may be understood.
Chrys.: Note how He exalts the elements of the world, not from their own nature, but from the respect which they have to God, so that there is opened no occasion of idolatry.
Rabanus: Having forbidden swearing, He instructs us how we ought to speak, “Let your speech be yea, yea; nay, nay.” That is, to affirm any thing it is sufficient to say, ‘It is so;’ to deny, to say, ‘It is not so.’
Or, “yea, yea; nay, nay,” are therefore twice repeated, that what you affirm with the mouth you should prove in deed, and what you deny in word, you should not establish by your conduct.
Hilary: Otherwise; They who live in the simplicity of the faith have not need to swear, with them ever, what is is, what is not is not; by this their life and their conversation are ever preserved in truth.
Jerome: Therefore Evangelic verity does not admit an oath, since the whole discourse of the faithful is instead of an oath.
Aug.: And he who has learned that an oath is to be reckoned not among things good, but among things necessary, will restrain himself as much as he may, not to use an oath without necessity, unless he sees men loth to believe what it is for their good they should believe, without the confirmation of an oath.
This then is good and to be desired, that our conversation be only, “yea, yea; nay, nay; for what is more than this cometh of evil.” That is, if you are compelled to swear, you know that it is by the necessity of their weakness to whom you would persuade any thing; which weakness is surely an evil. What is more than this is thus evil; not that you do evil in this just use of an oath to persuade another to something beneficial for him; but it is an evil in him whose weakness thus obliges you to use an oath.
Chrys.: Or; “of evil,” that is, from their weakness to whom the Law permitted the use of an oath. Not that by this the old Law is signified to be from the Devil, but He leads us from the old imperfection to the new abundance.