Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Matt 6:1-6, 16-18

Ver 1. “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in Heaven.”

Gloss., non occ.: Christ having now fulfilled the Law in respect of commandments, begins to fulfil it in respect of promises, that we may do God’s commandments for heavenly wages, not for the earthly which the Law held out. All earthly things are reduced to two main heads, viz. human glory, and abundance of earthly goods, both of which seem to be promised in the Law. Concerning the first is that spoken in Deuteronomy, “The Lord shall make thee higher than all the nations who dwell on the face of the earth.” [Deut 28:1] And in the same place it is added of earthly wealth, “The Lord shall make thee abound in all good things.” Therefore the Lord now forbids these two things, glory and wealth, to the attention of believers.

Chrys., Hom. xix: Yet be it known that the desire of fame is near a kin to virtue.

Pseudo-Chrys.: For when any thing truly glorious is done, there ostentation has its readiest occasion; so the Lord first shuts out all intention of seeking glory; as He knows that this is of all fleshly vices the most dangerous to man. The servants of the Devil are tormented by all kinds of vices; but it is the desire of empty glory that torments the servants of the Lord more than the servants of the Devil.

Aug., Prosper. Lib. Sentent. 318: How great strength the love of human glory has, none feels, but he who has proclaimed war against it. For though it is easy for any not to wish for praise when it is denied him, it is difficult not to be pleased with it when it is offered.

Chrys.: Observe how He has begun as it were describing some beast hard to be discerned, and ready to steal upon him who is not greatly on his guard against it; it enters in secretly, and carries off insensibly all those things that are within.Pseudo-Chrys.: And therefore he enjoins this to be more carefully avoided, “Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men.” It is our heart we must watch, for it is an invisible serpent that we have to guard against, which secretly enters in and seduces; but if the heart be pure into which the enemy has succeeded in entering in, the righteous man soon feels that he is prompted by a strange spirit; but if his heart were full of wickedness, he does not readily perceive the suggestion of the Devil, and therefore He first taught us, “Be not angry, Lust not,” for that he who is under the yoke of these evils cannot attend to his own heart.

But how can it be that we should not do our alms before men. Or if this may be, how can they be so done that we should not know of it. For if a poor man come before us in the presence of any one, how shall we be able to give him alms in secret? If we lead him aside, it must be seen that we shall give him. Observe then that He said not simply, “Do not before men,” but added, “to be seen of them.” He then who does righteousness not from this motive, even if he does it before the eyes of men, is not to be thought to be herein condemned; for he who does any thing for God’s sake, sees nothing in his heart but God, for whose sake he does it; as a workman has always before his eyes him who has entrusted him with the work to do.

Greg., Mor., viii, 48: If then we seek the fame of giving, we make even our public deeds to be hidden in His sight; for if herein we seek our own glory, then they are already cast out of His sight, even though there be many by whom they are yet unknown. It belongs only to the thoroughly perfect, to suffer their deeds to be seen, and to receive the praise of doing them in such sort that they are lifted up with no secret exultation; whereas they that are weak, because they cannot attain to this perfect contempt of their own fame, must needs hide those good deeds that they do.

Aug., Serm. in Mont., ii, 1: In saying only, “That ye be seen of men,” without any addition, He seems to have forbidden that we should make that the end of our actions. For the Apostle who declared, “If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ;” [Gal 1:10] says in another place, “I please all men in all things. [1 Cor 10:33] This he did not that he might please men, but God, to the love of whom he desires to turn the hearts of men by pleasing them. As we should not think that he spoke absurdly, who should say, In this my pains in seeking a ship, it is not the ship I seek, but my country.

Aug., Serm. 54. 2: He says this, “that ye be seen of men,” because there are some who so do their righteousness before men that themselves may not be seen, but that the works themselves may be seen, and their Father who is in heaven may be glorified; for they reckon not their own righteousness, but His, in the faith of whom they live.

Aug., Serm. in Mont.: That He adds, “Otherwise ye shall not have your reward before your Father who is in heaven,” signifies no more than that we ought to take heed that we seek not praise of men in reward of our words.

Pseudo-Chrys.: What shall you receive from God, who have given God nothing? What is done for God’s sake is given to God, and received by Him; but what is done because of men is cast to the winds. But that wisdom is it, to bestow our goods, to reap empty words, and to have despised the reward of God? Nay you deceive the very man for whose good word you look; for he thinks you do it for God’s sake, otherwise he would rather reproach then command you.

Yet must we think him only to have done his work because of men, who does it with his whole will and intention governed by the thought of them. But if an idle thought, seeking to be seen of men, mount up in any one’s heart, but is resisted by the understanding spirit, he is not thereupon to be condemned of man-pleasing; for that the thought came to him was the passion of the flesh, what he chose was the judgment of his soul.

Ver 2. “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.3. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:4. That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret Himself shall reward thee openly.

Aug., Serm. in Mont., ii, 2: Above the Lord had spoken of righteousness in general. He now pursues it through its different parts.

Pseudo-Chrys., Hom. xv: He opposes three chief virtues, alms, prayer, and fasting, to three evil things against which the Lord undertook the war of temptation. For He fought for us in the wilderness against gluttony; against covetousness on the mount; against false glory on the temple. It is alms that scatter abroad against covetousness which heaps up; fasting against gluttony which is its contrary; prayer against false glory, seeing that all other evil things come out of evil, this alone comes out of good; and therefore it is not overthrown but rather nourished of good, and has no remedy that may avail against it but prayer only.

Ambrosiaster, Comm. in Tim. 4, 8: The sum of all Christian discipline is comprehended in mercy and piety, for which reason He begins with almsgiving.Pseudo-Chrys.: The trumpet stands for every act or word that tends to a display of our works; for instance, to do alms if we know that some other person is looking on, or at the request of another, or to a person of such condition that he may make us return; and unless in such cases not to do them.

Yea, even if in some secret place they are done with intent to be thought praiseworthy, then is the trumpet sounded.

Aug.: Thus what He says, “Do not sound a trumpet before thee,” refers to what He had said above, “Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men.”

Jerome: He who sounds a trumpet before him when he does alms is a hypocrite. Whence he adds, “as the hypocrites do.”

Isid., Etym. x. ex Aug. Serm.: The name ‘hypocrite’ is derived from the appearance of those who in the shows are disguised in masks, variously coloured according to the character they represent, sometimes male, sometimes female, to impose on the spectators while they act in the games.

Aug.: As then the hypocrites, (a word meaning ‘one who feigns,’) as personating the characters of other men, act parts which are not naturally their own – for he who personates Agamemnon, is not really , but feigns to be so – so likewise in the Churches, whosoever in his whole conduct desires to seem what he is not, is a hypocrite; he feigns himself righteous and is not really so, seeing his only motive is praise of men.

Gloss., non occ.: In the words, “in the streets and villages,” he marks the public places which they selected; and in those, “that they may receive honour of men,” he marks their motive.

Greg., Mor., xxxi, 13: It should be known, that there are some who wear the dress of sanctity, and are not able to work out the merit of perfection, yet who must in no wise be numbered among the hypocrites, because it is one thing to sin from weakness, another from crafty affectation.

Aug., Serm. in Mont., ii, 2: And such sinners receive from God the Searcher of hearts none other reward than punishment of their deceitfulness; “Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.”

Jerome: A reward not of God, but of themselves, for they receive praise of men, for the sake of which it was that they practised their virtues.

Aug.: This refers to what He had said above, “Otherwise ye shall have no reward of your Father which is in heaven;” and He goes on to shew them that they should not do their alms as the hypocrites, but teaches them how they should do them.

Chrys.: “Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth,” is said as an extreme expression, as much as to say, If it were possible, that you should not know yourself, and that your very hands should be hid from your sight, that is what you should most strive after.

Pseudo-Chrys.: The Apostles in the book of the Constitutions, interpret thus; The right hand is the Christian people which is at Christ’s right hand; the left hand is all the people who are on His left hand. He means then, that when a Christian does alms, the unbeliever should not see it.

Aug.: But according to this interpretation, it will be no fault to have a respect to pleasing the faithful; and yet we are forbidden to propose as the end of any good work the pleasing of any kind of men. Yet if you would have men to imitate your actions which may be pleasing to them, they must be done before unbelievers as well as believers.

If again, according to another interpretation, we take the left hand to mean our enemy, and that our enemy should not know when we do our alms, why did the Lord Himself mercifully heal men when the Jews were standing round Him? And how too must we deal with our enemy himself according to that precept, “If thy enemy hunger, feed him.” [Pro_25:21]

A third interpretation is ridiculous; that the left hand signifies the wife, and that because women are wont to be more close in the matter of expense out of the family purse, therefore the charities of the husband should be secret from the wife, for the avoiding of domestic strife. But this command is addressed to women as well as to men, what then is the left hand, from which women are bid to conceal their alms? Is the husband also the left hand of the wife? And when it is commanded such that they enrich each other with good works, it is clear that they ought not to hide their good deeds; nor is a theft to be committed to do God service.

But if in any case something must needs be done covertly, from respect to the weakness of the other, though it is not unlawful, yet that we cannot suppose the wife to be intended by the left hand here is clear from the purport of the whole paragraph; no, not even such an one as he might well call left. But that which is blamed in hypocrites, namely, that they seek praise of men, this you are forbid to do; the left hand therefore seems to signify the delight in men’s praise; the right hand denotes the purpose of fulfilling the divine commands.

Whenever then a desire to gain honour from men mingles itself with the conscience of him that does alms, it is then the left hand knowing what the right hand, the right conscience, does. “Let not the left hand know,” therefore, “what the right hand doeth,” means, let not the desire of men’s praise mingle with your conscience.

But our Lord does yet more strongly forbid the left hand alone to work in us, than its mingling in the works of the right hand. The intent with which He said all this is shewn in that He adds, “that your alms may be in secret;” that is, in that your good conscience only, which human eye cannot see, nor words discover, though many things are said falsely of many. But your good conscience itself is enough for you towards deserving your reward, if you look for your reward from Him who alone can see your conscience. This is that He adds, “And you Father which seeth in secret shall reward you.” Many Latin copies have, “openly.” [ed. note: “openly” omit Clement. Hom. iii. 56. on verse 6. Origen on v. 6 (in Ezek. viii. 12) but retains in Joan. tom. 13. n. 45, Jerome in loc. &c. vid. Wetstein in loc. Augustine adds that the Greek manuscripts omit, but all the present Greek manuscripts retain. He omits it also in v. 18]

Pseudo-Chrys.: For it is impossible that God should leave in obscurity any good work of man; but He makes it manifest in this world, and glorifies it in the next world, because it is the glory of God; as likewise the Devil manifests evil, in which is shewn the strength of his great wickedness.

But God properly makes public every good deed only in that world the goods of which are not common to the righteous and the wicked; therefore to whomsoever God shall there shew favour, it will be manifest that it was as reward of his righteousness. But the reward of virtue is not manifested in this world, in which both bad and good are alike in their fortunes.

Aug.: But in the Greek copies, which are earlier, we have not the word, “openly.”

Chrys.: If therefore you desire spectators of your good deeds, behold you have not merely Angels and Archangels, but the God of the universe.

Ver 5. “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.6. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”

Pseudo-Chrys.: Solomon says, “Before prayer, prepare thy soul.” This he does who comes to prayer doing alms; for good works stir up the faith of the heart, and give the soul confidence in prayer to God. Alms then are a preparation for prayer, and therefore the Lord after speaking of alms proceeds accordingly to instruct us concerning prayer.

Aug., Serm. in Mont., ii, 3: He does not now bid us pray, but instructs us how we should pray; as above He did not command us to do alms, but shewed the manner of doing them.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Prayer is as it were a spiritual tribute which the soul offers of its own bowels. Wherefore the more glorious it is, the more watchfully ought we to guard that it is not made vile by being done to be seen of men.

Chrys.: He calls them hypocrites, because feigning that they are praying to God, they are looking round to men; and He adds, “they love to pray in the synagogues.”

Pseudo-Chrys.: But I suppose that it is not the place that the Lord here refers to, but the motive of him that prays; for it is praiseworthy to pray in the congregation of the faithful, as it is said, “in your Churches bless ye God.” [Ps 68:26]

Whoever then so prays as to be seen of men does not look to God but to man, and so far as his purpose is concerned he prays in the synagogue. But he, whose mind in prayer is wholly fixed on God, though he pray in the synagogue, yet seems to pray with himself in secret. “In the corners of the streets,” namely, that they may seem to be praying retiredly, and thus earn a twofold praise, both that they pray, and that they pray in retirement.

Gloss. ord.: Or, “the corners of the streets,” are the places where one way crosses another, and makes four cross-ways.

Pseudo-Chrys.: He forbids us to pray in an assembly with the intent of being seen of that assembly, as He adds, “that they may be seen of men.” He that prays therefore should do nothing singular that might attract notice; as crying out, striking his breast, or reaching forth his hands.

Aug.: Not that the mere being seen of men is an impiety, but the doing this, in order to be seen of men.

Chrys.: It is a good thing to be drawn away from the thought of empty glory, but especially in prayer. For our thoughts are apt to stray of themselves; if then we address ourselves to prayer with this disease upon us, how shall we understand those things that are said by us?

Aug.: The privity of other men is to be so far shunned by us, as it leads us to do any thing with this mind that we look for the fruit of their applause.

Pseudo-Chrys.: “Verily I say unto you, they have received their reward,” for every man where he sows there he reaps, therefore they who pray because of men, not because of God, receive praise of men, not of God.

Chrys.: He says, have received, because God was ready to give them that reward which comes from Himself, but they prefer rather that which comes from men. He then goes on to teach how we should pray.

Jerome: This if taken in its plain sense teaches the hearer to shun all desire of vain honour in praying.

Pseudo-Chrys.: That none should be there present save he only who is praying, for a witness impedes rather than forwards prayer.

Cyprian, Tr. vii. 2: The Lord has bid us in His instructions to pray secretly in remote and withdrawn places, as best suited to faith; that we may be assured that God who is present every where hears and sees all, and in the fulness of His Majesty penetrates even hidden places.

Pseudo-Chrys.: We may also understand by “the door of the chamber,” the mouth of the body; so that we should not pray to God with loudness of tone, but with silent heart, for three reasons. First, because God is not to be gained by vehement crying, but by a right conscience, seeing He is a hearer of the heart; secondly, because none but thyself and God should be privy to your secret prayers; thirdly, because if you pray aloud, you hinder any other from praying near you.

Cassian, Collat. ix, 35: Also we should observe close silence in our prayers, that our enemies, who are ever most watchful to ensnare us at that time, may not know the purport of our petition.

Aug.: Or, by our chambers are to be understood our hearts, of which it is spoken in the fourth Psalm; “What things ye utter in your hearts, and wherewith ye are pricked in your chambers.” [Psa_4:4] “The door” is the bodily senses; without are al worldly things, which, enter into our thoughts through the senses, and that crowd of vain imaginings which beset us in prayer.

Cyprian, Tr. vii, 20: What insensibility is it to be snatched wandering off by light and profane imaginings, when you are presenting your entreaty to the Lord, as if there were aught else you ought rather to consider than that your converse is with God! How can you claim of God to attend to you, when you do not attend to yourself? This is altogether to make no provision against the enemy; this is when praying to God, to offend God’s Majesty by the neglectfulness of your prayer.

Aug.: The door then must be shut, that is, we must resist the bodily sense, that we may address our Father in such spiritual prayer as is made in the inmost spirit, where we pray to Him truly in secret.

Remig.: Let it be enough for you that He alone know your petitions, who knows the secrets of all hearts; for He Who sees all things, the same shall listen to you.

Chrys.: He said not ‘shall freely give thee,’ but, “shall reward thee;” thus He constitutes Himself your debtor.

Ver 16. “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”

Pseudo-Chrys.: Forasmuch as that prayer which is offered in a humble spirit and contrite heart, shews a mind already strong and disciplined; whereas he who is sunk in self-indulgence cannot have a humble spirit and contrite heart; it is plain that without fasting prayer must be faint and feeble; therefore, when any would pray for any need in which they might be, they joined fasting with prayer, because it is an aid thereof. Accordingly the Lord, after His doctrine respecting prayer, adds doctrine concerning fasting, saying, “When ye fast, be not ye as the hypocrites, of sad countenance.” The Lord knew that vanity may spring from every good thing, and therefore bids us root out the bramble of vain-gloriousness which springs in the good soil, that it choke not the fruit of fasting. For though it cannot be that fasting should not be discovered in any one, yet is it better that fasting should shew you, than that you should shew your fasting.

But it is impossible that any in fasting should be gay, therefore He said not, Be not sad, but “Be not made sad;” for they who discover themselves by any false displays of their affliction, they are not sad, but make themselves; but he who is naturally sad in consequence of continued fasting, does not make himself sad, but is so.

Jerome: The word, “exterminare,” so often used in the ecclesiastical Scriptures though a blunder of the translators, has a quite different meaning from that in which it is commonly understood. It is properly said of exiles who are sent beyond the boundry of their country. Instead of this word, it would seem better to use the word, “demoliri,” ‘to destroy,’ in translating the Greek . The hypocrite destroys his face, in order that he may feign sorrow, and with a heart full of joy wears sorrow in his countenance.

Greg., Mor., viii, 44: For by the pale countenance, the trembling limbs, and the bursting sighs, and by all so great toil and trouble, nothing is in the mind but the esteem of men.

Leo, Serm. in Epiph., iv, 5: But that fasting is not pure, that comes not of reasons of continence, but of the arts of deceit.

Pseudo-Chrys.: If then he who fasts, and makes himself of sad countenance, is a hypocrite, how much more wicked is he who does not fast, yet assumes a fictitious paleness of face as a token of fasting.

Aug., Serm. in Mont., ii, 12: On this paragraph it is to be specially noted, that not only in outward splendor and pomp, but even in the dress of sorrow and mourning, is there room for display, and that the more dangerous, inasmuch as it deceives under the name of God’s services. For he who by inordinate pains taken with her person, or his apparel, or by the glitter of his other equipage, is distinguished, is easily proved by these very circumstances to be a follower of the pomps of this world, and no man is deceived by any semblance of a feigned sanctity in him. But when any one in the profession of Christianity draws men’s eyes upon him by unwonted beggary and slovenliness in dress, if this be voluntary and not compulsory, then by his other conduct may be seen whether he does this to be seen of men, or from contempt of the refinements of dress.

Remig.: The reward of the hypocrites’ fast is shewn, when it is added, “That they may seem to men to fast; verily I say unto you, They have their reward;” that is, that reward for which they looked.

Ver 17. “But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;18. That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.”

Gloss. ap. Anselm: The Lord having taught us what we ought not to do, now proceeds to teach us what we ought to do, saying, “When thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face.”

Aug.: A question is here wont to be raised; for none surely would literally enjoin, that, as we wash our faces from daily habit, so we should have our heads anointed when we fast; a thing which all allow to be most disgraceful.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Also if He bade us not to be of sad countenance that we might not seem to men to fast, yet if anointing of the head and washing of the face are always observed in fasting, they will become tokens of fasting.

Jerome: But He speaks in accordance with the manner of the province of Palestine, where it is the custom on festival days to anoint the head. What He enjoins then is, that when we are fasting we should wear the appearance of joy and gladness.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Therefore the simple interpretation of this is, that is added as an hyperbolical explanation of the command; as though He had said, Yea, so far should ye be from any display of your fasting, that if it might be (which yet it may not be) so done, ye should even do such things as are tokens of luxury and feasting.

Chrys., Hom. xx: In almsgiving indeed, He did not say simply, ‘Do not your alms before men,’ but added, ‘to be seen of them.’ But in fasting and prayer He added nothing of this sort; because alms cannot be so done as to be altogether hid, fasting and prayer can be so done. The contempt of men’s praise is no small fruit, for thereby we are freed from the heavy slavery of human opinions, and become properly workers of virtue, loving it for itself and not for others. For as we esteem it an affront if we are loved not for ourselves but for others’ sake, so ought we not to follow virtue on the account of these men, nor to obey God for men’s sake but for His own.

Therefore it follows here, “But to thy Father which seeth in secret.”

Gloss.: That is, to thy heavenly Father, who is unseen, or who dwells in the heart through faith. He fasts to God who afflicts himself for the love of God, and bestows on others what he denies himself.

Remig.: For it is enough for you that He who sees your conscience should be your rewarder.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Spiritually interpreted – the face may be understood to mean the mental conscience. And as in the eyes of man a fair face has grace, so in the eyes of God a pure conscience has favour. This face the hypocrites, fasting on man’s account, disfigure, seeking thereby to cheat both God and man; for the conscience of the sinner is always wounded. If then you have cast out all wickedness from your heart, you have washed your conscience, and fast well.

Leo, Serm. in Quadr., vi, 2: Fasting ought to be fulfilled not in abstinence of food only, but much more in cutting off vices. For when we submit ourselves to that discipline in order to withdraw that which is the nurse of carnal desires, there is no sort of good conscience more to be sought than that we should keep ourselves sober from unjust will, and abstinent from dishonourable action. This is an act of religion from which the sick are not excluded, seeing integrity of heart may be found in an infirm body.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Spiritually again, “thy head” denotes Christ. Give the thirsty drink and feed the hungry, and therein you have anointed your head, that is, Christ, who cries out in the Gospel, “In that ye have done this to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me.” [Mat_25:40]

Greg., Hom. in Ev., xvi, 6: For God approves that fasting, which before His eyes opens the hands of alms. This then that you deny yourself, bestow on another, that wherein your flesh is afflicted, that of your needy neighbour may be refreshed.

Aug.: Or; by the head we rightly understand the reason, because it is preeminent in the soul, and rules the other members of the man. Now anointing the head has some reference to rejoicing. Let him therefore joy within himself because of his fasting, who in fasting turns himself from doing the will of the world, that he may be subject to Christ.

Gloss. ord.: Behold how every thing in the New Testament is not to be taken literally. It were ridiculous to be smeared with oil when fasting; but it is behoveful for the mind to be anointed with the spirit of His love, in whose sufferings we ought to partake by afflicting ourselves.

Pseudo-Chrys.: And truly we ought to wash our face, but to anoint, and not to wash, our head. For as long as we are in the body, our conscience is foul with sin. But Christ who is our head has done no sin.

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One Response to Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Matt 6:1-6, 16-18

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