Father de Maldonado’s Commentary on Matthew 4:1-11

Mat 4:1  Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil.

Then Jesus was led. The Greek ανηχθη subductus, abreptus; S. Mark 1:12 has εκβαλλει, expellit, eum Spiritus. He was probably not carried through the air, as Habacuc (Daniel 14:35) and S. Philip Acts 8:19), or the Evangelist would not have been silent on it; but He was led on foot, not by compulsion, but of His own free will. S. Matthew uses the word subductus, and S. Mark expulsus, not as if by force, but to show the power and influence of the Holy Ghost, as S. Paul (Rom 8:14) and as SS. Hilary, Jerome, and The Author say. It is not meant that He had never before been led by the Holy Ghost, but that the power of the latter was then shown most especially.

Into a place fit for temptation and a personal conflict (Eccles. iv.). They who pass a life in solitude are not, therefore, to be blamed. This kind of life S. John the Baptist first, and after him many most holy men from his example, SS. Chrysostom, Basil, Gregory Nazienzen, Theodoret, all men of experience, have described in many volumes as being in a manner divine. He is not alone who follows God as his leader, whose aid is so much the greater in solitude than in the city, as it is hindered less by men. By the desert we should understand that of Judasa, as (Mt 3:1) the same as that in which S. John the Baptist passed his life, both as it was near Jordan and because it is called absolutely ” the desert “. He was led, therefore, by the Spirit into the innermost solitude where, as S. Mark 1:13 tells us. He lived with the beasts.

By the Spirit. In verses 5, 8, and in S. Luke 4:5, 9, He is said to have been led by the devil, who is also called a spirit (as Mt 8:16; 10:1; 12:43); but in this passage the Holy Ghost is to be understood, because the Evangelist spoke of Him (Mt 3:16), and because He is called the Spirit absolutely, and with the article, which is never used unless the Holy Spirit is intended, as Didymus and S. Jerome have observed.

To be tempted. To tempt is to incite to sin (Acts 5:3; 1 Cor 7:5; 1 Thess 3:5; S. James 1:13; Rev 3:10). In this sense the devil is said to tempt. Hence his name, Satan; in Hebrew “the adversar “; in Greek diabolos, calumniator, plotter, ensnarer, who goeth about seeking whom he may devour. Men also, as agents of the devil, are accustomed in this way to tempt one another: God never; for “God is not a tempter to evils” (S. James 1:13); although the heretical followers of Calvin say that even in this manner even God, and that at first, tempts; thus giving the office of the devil to God. For to try, is to seek and inquire with the object of gaining knowledge, as both God, the devil, and men do. But God does so in one manner, the devil and men in another. The latter, to learn that of which they are ignorant; the former that what He knows already, He may seem to know, by searching and exploring; or, not that He Himself, but that they whom He tempts, may know themselves, as S. Augustin explains. So Genesis 22:1; Exodus 16:4; Deut 8:2; 13:3; Wisdom 3:5; Hebrews 4:15; 11:17, 37; Rev 2:2. For to tempt is to provoke to anger, as when we are said to tempt God because we wish to try His power (verse 17; Exodus 15:2, 7; Numbers 14:22; Psalm 78:18, 41; 95:9). Christ could not be tempted except in a second or third sense, yet it might be believed that He went into the wilderness to offer Himself to the devil to be tempted in every way possible, and that He might be solicited to commit sin, so as to be able to say, “The prince of this world in Me hath not anything” (S. John 4:30). This is plain from the fact of the devil’s having tempted Him to throw Himself down headlong, and to worship him, either of which acts would have been most deadly sin. Satan wished to test Him by these means whether He were the Son of God, as He said; for he knew that if He could be tempted to sin. He could not be the Son of God.

By the devil. A proper name, or rather surname (cognomen), of Lucifer the chief of the devils, derived from his great power of calumniating and ensnaring (as Rev 12:9; 20:2, 20). For Christ, the prince of men, wished to provoke the devil, the prince of the devils, to a single conflict, that He might both spare His own soldiers, and that the leader of the enemy might be vanquished at the first attack, and his whole army put to flight. This one reason is given by the Evangelists for Christ’s having gone into the wilderness: ” Because the enemy did not venture to attack Him, he met Him and provoked Him, as it were; knowing that He would not contend with him unless provoked (S. Hilary, Can. 3; S. Ambrose, iv. on S. Luke ii.; The Author, Hom v. ).

We may believe that there were other reasons for Christ’s having retired into the wilderness, though not mentioned by the Evangelists. Moses, the ancient law-giver, spent forty days alone in the mountain before he received the tablets of stone. John, before he went out to preach, passed his life in the same desert. From his having come out from the wilderness, and not from among men, he was thought to have come out from God, and was received with the greater honour.

Christ, therefore, pleased to bring out the Gospel from the wilderness. He desired to show that He it was of whom Moses was the figure; whose forerunner was John, whose steps He followed through a desert. He desired to teach us by His example, that when we meditate upon our way of life or any grave matter, we should forsake the multitude and retire into the desert, and bring our thoughts before God, a course prevented by a concourse, but assisted by solitude. For even the comic writer could say, “You come from meditation in some solitary place”.—Terence, Andria, act ii., sc. iv., line 3.

Many reasons have been given for Christ’s willing to be tempted.

1. It became a young soldier to perfect himself in that school, that his more serious contests should be made stronger by lighter skirmishes.

2. That having Himself been tempted in every way, as S. Paul says. He might help us in our temptations more effectually, and that we might have a High Priest (Heb 2:18; 4:15).

3. To teach us by His own example, when we come to the service of God, to prepare our minds for temptation Ecclus 2:1); and as SS. Hilary and Chrysostom have shown.

4. That when we have overcome our enemies. He might make us stronger (as S. John 16:33). For, as S. Ambrose says: “If He had not striven He had not conquered for me ” (In Luc. ii., lib. iv.).

5. That we also might conquer in His victory. So S. Augustin on Psalm 60: “Know thyself to have been tempted in Him, and see thyself to be victorious in Him. Christ was the Rock. That rock, therefore, on which we are built, was first struck by winds, by flames, by rain. When Christ was tempted by the devil, see in what firmness He wished to strengthen us “; and on Psalm 90, part 2: “Christ was tempted that Christians might not be overcome by the tempter.”

Mat 4:2  And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry.

And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights.

That is, forty entire days, for so the Hebrews speak. The EvangeHst therefore added forty nights to the days, to show that He did not fast after the manner of the Jews. By day they taste neither food nor drink, but they eat at night. Christ tasted nothing. Moses had done the same before (Ex 18-34), and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8).

The Ancients observed that this was a mystical number (S. Basil, Hom. on the Forty Martyrs; S. Ambrose, Serm. xxxiv. on Lent, and iv. on S. Luke ; S. Jerome, On Jonah; S. Aug., On Genesis ; ad. litt., chap. 169, De Consens. ii. 4). It is clear that this had not been invented by them, but had been taught by God in many passages of Holy Scripture. For not only did Christ, Moses, and Elias fast a full forty days (which alone would have sufficed to show us that there was some mystery in that number), but we see many other things done in this number which could not possibly have been done by chance. Forty days and nights when the earth was purified by the deluge (Gen 7:12). The dead were preserved forty days in spices before their burial (Gen 50:3). The men sent by Moses explored the Promised Land for forty days (Num 13:26). Goliath, the type of our adversary the devil, stood reviling the people of Israel forty days. The children of Israel wandered forty years in the wilderness (Ex  35). Ezekiel was commanded to lie on his right side forty days, that he might bear the iniquities of the house of Judah (Ezek 4:6).  Egypt was commanded to be deserted and repentant forty years (Ezek 39:11, 12). Christ remained on earth forty days after His resurrection before ascending into heaven. It cannot have been by chance that this number so often recurs. The number forty, then, as S. .Augustin says, signifies the whole course of our lives—the time destined to penance and the expiation of sins. Fasting is a part of penance. The followers of Calvin “devoutly wish either that Christ had not fasted forty days, or that the Evangelists had not related it, or that the Church had not turned the example of Christ and the use of penance to our good.” “It is a vain superstition,” they say, “that, because Christ once fasted this number of days, we should fast as many days every year. It is presumption to imitate Christ. We do Him an intolerable injury which might be returned to us. The Gospel, whose sign was the fasting of Christ, should be rescinded.” If what Christ did once is not to be repeated by us every year, let them not celebrate the Lord’s resurrection every week; for Christ rose only once. If it be
arrogance to imitate Christ, S. Paul was guilty of that sin; for he calls himself a follower of Christ; and especially in His most peculiar office; if he might die for the Church (Col 1:24). We imitate, because we follow, though we do not attain. We follow as near as we can—men to God. It is enough that we keep the same path. We do Christ no injury, because we make Him not a companion, but a leader.

But Christ did not command. Be it so. He did not command, but He certainly did acts; and He did them in mystery. He fasted in mystery forty days, not more nor less, that by this number, as S. Jerome says. He might consecrate to us our forty days’ fast. And not S. Jerome alone, but all the most ancient learned and holy Doctors of the Church, hold that either Christ Himself or the Apostles, imitating His example, taught the forty days’ fast (S. Ambrose, Serms. on Lent, xxiii., xxv., xxvii., xxxvi., xxxviii.; S. Leo, Serms, vi., ix.; S. Jerome, who terms it the heritage of Christ).

After He was hungry. This shows that for forty days before He had not hungered. It is not said whether Moses and Elias hungered before, or after, or not at all. It is, therefore, to be believed that they did not. This is said as peculiar to Christ. For the power of God which preserved also satisfied. Why, then, did Christ hunger? That to a timid enemy, who feared to attack a quasi God, He might show Himself to be a man, and thereby encourage him to attack; and because that enemy feared to approach an armed man. He laid aside, in a manner, the armour of His divinity, and, like a man naked and unarmed, and differently to the custom of combatants, He entered the arena hungry, and challenged His opponent; not like others, by boasting of His strength, but by the display of His weakness (S. Iren., iii. 32; S. Chrys, Hom. xiii. on S. Matthew; The Author; S. Jerome, in loc.; S. Amb., iv. 2 on S. Luke).

Mat 4:3  And the tempter coming said to him: If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.

And coming to Him. How, or with what form, the devil appeared, the Evangelists do not state. He had the power either of appearing invisibly, as he does when he tempts us daily, or of assuming some visible shape. All authors think that he came in a human, corporeal form; which is very probable, because he spoke much with Christ: because he wanted Christ to worship him: and because, if he had appeared in any other shape, the Evangelists would have told us. For when he tempted Eve in the form of a serpent, because that was a rare shape, Scripture has related it.

The Tempter.  ο πειραζων. The name of the office of all the devils, but here an attribute of the chief of them. For he who had lately been called the devil is now termed the tempter—as if it had been said: The wrestler comes, the combatant is at hand—as in 1 Thess 3:5: “Lest, perhaps, he that tempteth should have tempted you”.  It is a use of the Hebrew word שׂטן,  Satan, and of the Greek διαβολος (diabolos (as in Ma 4:10; 16:16, 23; S. Luke 22:3, 31; Acts 5:3; 1Cor 7:5; Rev 12:9; 20:2, where the prince of the devils is called by his proper name Satan). I am not aware why, in the Old Testament, our version always calls him Satan, and in the New, by the addition of two letters, Satanas, unless, perhaps, the Old Testament renders the word from the original Hebrew, which is שׂטן the New from the Greek, in which the translator preferred σαταναν after the LXX., rather than Σαταν. Diabolus is the proper name of this great potentate, as appears from the following passages of Scripture: Ps 109:6; Ephes 6:11; 1 Peter 5:8; Rev 12:9; 20:2.

If Thou be the Son of God. Satan had perhaps heard the voice from heaven, or he knew the fact from the teaching of John, or from common report. It is to be believed that the devil said this, not as one who doubts, or denies, or derides, like his agents when they said, “If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross ” (Mt 26:42); but as believing, and declaring, and wishing to counsel Christ well. As if we should say, “As Thou art assuredly the Son of God, suffer not hunger, but, as Thou art able, and food is not to be procured otherwise, command that these stones be made bread”. It was more in keeping with the craft of that serpent so to tempt, as appearing not to tempt, but to advise Christ well and for His advantage.

Command (dic). Speak (dic) has more force than command (jube), and therefore both the Hebrews and the Evangelists speak thus. For it is more that God should say, “Let there be light, and there was light” [Gen 1:3), than if it had been said, “God commanded”. There is more meaning in the words, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were founded” (Psalm 33:6), than if God had said, “I have commanded”. For it means that God merely opened His lips, and all things were made. In like manner, “speak ” means more in this place than “command”; for Satan speaks here as of that Word by which he knew that the world was made. Who, by the same Word by which He had made the heavens and the earth, could also make stones become bread.

That these stones. Stones, rather than earth, air, or trees, both because stones were lying at Christ’s feet, and because it was more difficult, and because a stone has no resemblance to bread, being most opposite to it. Hence the words of Christ (Mt 7:9). It seems to me that it would be just as difficult to turn earth, air, etc. into bread; but I’m not authority. Also, I seem to recall reading somewhere that the small loaves characteristic of the region do in fact resemble a common type of stone found throughout the holy land; but my memory on this is vague. Of course, when Maldonado says stones and bread are “most opposite” he is referring to substance, not physical appearance.

Be made bread. Theophylact and others think that the devil, from curiosity, said panes, not panem. But the reason seems merely to be that stones is in the plural, especially as S. Luke uses the singular, panem. We cannot decide, therefore, which word Satan used, because one Evangelist gives the words and the other the meaning; and which gives the one and which the other we cannot say.

Mat 4:4  Who answered and said: It is written, Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.

It is written. Because the devil seemed to allude to Genesis 1 and Psalm 33:6; Scripture confutes him, as it does in the other temptations also.

Not by bread alone. Christ speaks of ordinary bread, but after the manner of the Hebrew all provision is intended.

Live. ζησεται—shall live; that is, is able to live—the potential mood, as grammarians say. In Hebrew וחי as, ” Man shall not see Me and live” (Exod 33:20); that is, no one who sees Me will be able to live.

But on every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God. The Hebrew is

כי  על  כל  מוצא  פי  יהוה  (Deut 8:3); in every thing that cometh from the mouth of God, ad verbum. But the LXX. and Latin version give the meaning rather than the words, and add the word verbi. This, as has been observed, they do in many other places. The Evangelists also do the same, whether in imitation of the LXX. or with their own design.

The meaning is: God has no need of ordinary food to sustain His servants; for He is able, by a single word, to create a new kind of food; the same was said of the manna (Deut 8:3). Christ does not answer that He is or is not the Son of God, because, though Satan most especially desired to know this, he did not ask about it, but feigned to believe it. He appeared merely to give advice, “Command that these stones be made bread”. Christ therefore replied to what he had said: not to what he kept silence about—the best method of deluding those who ask deceitfully.

Mat 4:5  Then the devil took him up into the holy city, and set him upon the pinnacle of the temple,

Then. That is, secondly. It does not mean that this was done immediately after the first temptation. It is probable that some time elapsed; for when we call this the second temptation, there is no certain proof that it was such, for S. Luke 4:9 puts this temptation, not second, but last of all, and puts that second which S. Matthew puts last; for the Evangelists, like the other authors of Scripture, do not keep to the order of time. It is probable that S. Luke commemorated the temptations in the order in which they occurred to him, S. Matthew in that in which they happened. It seemed very probable that the devil departed in terror at the words, “Get thee behind Me, Satan,” and overcome. These words were uttered by Christ only on the mountain, when the devil had said, ” All these things will I give thee”; for the Evangelist at once relates it, and the demand of Satan required that reply.

Took. How the devil took Christ the Evangelists do not tell us and there may be different opinions on the subject. This is certain—that he did not take Him against His will; nor could he compel Christ, whom he could not have even approached, unless Christ were willing that he should do so, and had even put Himself forward to meet him. It is uncertain whether the devil carried Christ visibly or invisibly, and, if visibly, whether through the air or on His feet. S. Cyprian, in his Sermon on the Temptation and Fasting of Our Lord, whom others have followed, thinks that it was invisibly, like the journeys of the Prophets when Ezekiel was carried from Chaldaea to Jerusalem to measure the city (Ezek 40:1), and other like cases. These are great authorities, but they seem to be in error, because it would seem wholly out of place to suppose that the devil sent visions into the mind of Christ as God did into those of the Prophets.

The Prophets also declare that what happened to them happened not in reality but in visions (Ezek 42), although they do not say that the events could be understood because they were Prophets.

But the Evangelists not only do not declare that Christ underwent His temptations in a vision, but they even indicate that they happened in reality. For how could Christ have thrown Himself down in a vision? or how could the angels have borne Him up, if He had thrown Himself down, not in fact, but in an illusion? (falsa opinione), or how could such a “false opinion” of His having thrown Himself down have entered men’s minds?

Some think that Christ was taken up and carried through the air, which the word παραλαμβανει (paralambanei) would seem to warrant, as say S. Jerome, The Author, S. Gregory, and Strabus. Others, as Euthymius (On S. Luke iv.), think that He was led upon His feet. This seems the more probable because it appears very little likely that Christ would have permitted such contact of Himself by Satan as to carry Him from place to place. Besides, if the devil, by permission of Christ, had done this, he would have declared too plainly who he was, which, when he tempts men, he is not apt to do. He transfigures himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). S. Luke does not say that the devil took, paralaben, but ἀνάγω (anago), led Christ. Nor does the former always signify such a method of conveyance as carrying. It sometimes has the force of leading (as S. Matt 1:20, 24; 2:14, 20).

Into the holy city. Into Jerusalem, so called because God dwelt in it, because of the Ark and the Temple, which were there. So it was commonly called, and the Prophets had foretold that it should have this name (Isaiah 53:1; 60:14; Zech 8:3).

Upon the pinnacle of the Temple. Upon a wing or pinnacle of the Temple. Some say that this was a sloping and pointed turret on which was a metal weather-cock that turned with the wind, and which, from its resemblance to a wing, was called πτερυγιον; such as we now see on our churches and palaces. But we find nothing of the kind on the Temple of Jerusalem. They are more correct who think that the pinnacle was a paribolus, fixed to the top of the house, that no one walking there might fall over. Such God commanded to be built (Deut 22:8. The Latins, I believe, call it podium. It was so called because it was built out from the house, and seemed to hang in the air like a wing. It is easy to see why the devil brought Christ hither; he wished to persuade Him to cast Himself down, and therefore brought Him to the most conspicuous spot. Jerusalem was built on a hill, and the Temple was on the most elevated place of the whole city on Mount Moriah, and the pinnacle was the highest point of the Temple.

Mat 4:6  And said to him: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, for it is written: That he hath given his angels charge over thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone.

If thou be the Son of God. The devil ardently desired to know whether Christ were the Son of God or not. It is credible, however, that he spoke as affirming Him to be so, as has been said on verse 3.

In their hands shall they bear Thee up. Some have thought that Satan omitted of purpose that part of the testimony, “He shall keep thee in all Thy ways” (Psalm 91:11); because they would seem to be opposed to his nature. These understand by the word “ways” all such acts as are not undertaken in wicked rashness, such as that of casting ourselves down headlong, but with piety and prudence. This, if not true, is ingenious and like what might be expected from the subtlety of the devil. It is certain that he corrupted the meaning, at least, if not the words of the passage. Nor did the Holy Spirit intend to suggest that whatever a righteous man should attempt, whether right or wrong, should prosper; but that in whatever he did as a righteous man, even though the whole world were opposed to him, he should find assistance so present from God, that he might appear to be borne up by the hands of angels. The words “in their hands” rather than on their shoulders, refers to the custom of carrying in our hands whatever we consider our most valuable property, lest we lose it or have it stolen from us. What is said in Psalm 91, the devil, arguing a minore ad majus, applied to Christ, who was not merely a man righteous in degree but also the Son of God.

Mat 4:7  Jesus said to him: It is written again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

Into a high mountain. What mountain it was the Evangelists do not tell us, and therefore we can neither know nor inquire without the fault of curiosity. This we know, that Jerusalem was surrounded by mountains (Psalm 87:1; 125:2); although we have no knowledge, it is very probable that the devil took Christ up into some mountain in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem.

Mat 4:8  Again the devil took him up into a very high mountain, and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them,

All the kingdoms of the world. How Satan could show Christ all the kingdoms of the world from one mountain has long been a question much agitated. Some, as before, think that it was only done in a vision. The Author and Euthymius think, with more reason, that it was done, not that Christ should see them, but so that he could point out with his finger the coast or boundary (plaga) of each kingdom. And it was necessary that he should show each single kingdom thoroughly, for Scripture often speaks as putting the whole for the greater part.

And the glory of them. A Hebraism; it means whatever each kingdom most excelled in, and which it is probable that the devil rather described by word than by pointing the hand.

Mat 4:9  And said to him: All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me.

All these things will I give Thee. The devil added the words in S. Luke 4:6. Because he could not elicit from Christ whether He were the Son of God, he pretended to be such himself The Son only could say, “All power is given to Me in heaven and in earth”. The devil is called the prince of this world (S. John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), not because he is the prince of it, but of the wickedness which is the peculiar property of it. He is, therefore, able neither to give kingdoms nor to take them away; for this is the prerogative of God alone (Proverbs 8:15; Daniel 2:21). It is out of his power to give or to take away, not kingdoms only, but any other good thing without the permission of God. Of this Job is a proof (Job 1:11, 12). He cannot even give those very vices of which he is the lord, unless we ourselves permit him to do so (Proverbs 5:22).

Mat 4:10  Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan: for it is written: The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve.

Begone, Satan. Many Greek and Latin copies read. Behind me—post me retro me, οπισω μου  (S. Matt 16:23; S. Mark 8:23). Christ here calls Satan by his own name, whom the Evangelist (verse 3) had called “The Tempter”—to show that He knew that he was not the Son of God whom he was pretending to be, but the devil whom he pretended not to be. The words of Christ are the words of one commanding at once and rebuking.

The Lord thy God shalt thou adore. Christ did not give the words, but the meaning; for the Hebrew (of Deut 6:13) does not read “thou shalt worship,” but “thou shalt fear”. But with the Hebrews to fear God is to adore and worship Him; and the fear of God implies all adoration and worship; as good and devout men are everywhere said to fear God (Job 1:1, 8, 9; 2:3; Ps 22:24, 25, et al. pass). This is mostly said of those who are the people of God. “Only” is not found in the original, but was added by the LXX. and the Latin, to express the meaning. When God commands us to worship Him and serve Him, He forbids us to worship other gods and serve them. It is as if He had said, “The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and Him only shalt thou serve”.

These are the only temptations which the three Evangelists have related. But it is not to be supposed that He was tried only by these when He went into the desert that He might be tempted, and S. Mark speaks (Mk 1:13) as if He were tempted during the whole forty days. The Author and S. Augustin (De Consens., ii. 4), Bede and Remigius, hold this opinion.

Mat 4:11  Then the devil left him; and behold angels came and ministered to him.

Maldonado offers no comment on this verse.

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One Response to Father de Maldonado’s Commentary on Matthew 4:1-11

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the First Sunday of Lent, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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