Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 4:1-11

1 THEN Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil.

“Then,” immediately after His baptism and the descent of the dove (c. 3:17). St. Mark says (1:12), “And immediately the Spirit drove Him,” &c.

“Jesus was led.” The Greek, ἀνηχθη means, led apart. St. Mark has (1:12), “the Spirit drove Him out.” The words “drive,” &c., denote the active energy of the Holy Ghost, and the alacrity with which our Redeemer freely yielded to His impulses, by whom He was guided from His infancy, and who now more and more manifests Himself in Him, making Him appear a new man.

“By the Spirit,” the holy Fathers (among them, Jerome, Chrysostom, Hilary, Gregory, &c.), commonly understood the Holy Ghost, the Spirit immediately spoken of, in the foregoing (3:16). This is the invariable meaning of “Spirit” in SS. Scriptures, when used absolutely and emphatically with the article. Here, we have τοῦ. πνεύματος. St. Luke says of Him, “plenus Spiritu sancto” (4:1). If “Spirit” referred to the devil, then, in the following words, the Evangelist should have written, not as he has done, “to be tempted by the devil,” which would be a mere repetition, but, “to be tempted BY HIM.”

“Into the desert.” The interior of the desert that lay close by, where John was baptizing. It was afterwards called “Quarantania,” from our Saviour’s fast of forty days there. It is said by writers on the Holy Land to be situated convenient to where the Jordan disembogues itself into the Dead Sea, a mountainous range north of the road between Jerusalem and Jericho St. Mark gives an idea of its desolateness (1:13), “He was with the beasts,” having no human habitation.

“To be tempted by the devil.” This is the chief reason of our Lord being impelled by the Holy Ghost to go into the desert, that as a consequence of it, the devil finding Him there would tempt Him, and entering into single combat, would receive a signal overthrow from our Lord, which, like all His public acts, was intended for our instruction, when placed in circumstances of temptation. There are several other reasons and motives besides, assignable for His having gone into the desert, encountering the devil, in solitude, while engaged in fasting and praying, intended for the instruction and guidance of the Church in general, and of each individual in particular, and also for the period of forty days’ fast which He had undergone before He was tempted. He, the Captain of our warfare, wished to show us the effectual means of overcoming our enemy, viz., fasting, solitude, prayer. He also wished to inspire us with courage for the combat, since He, our Head, had, unlike Eve, by these means manfully resisted the tempter’s suggestions and signally discomfited him.

“That He might be tempted,” &c. “That” signifies the consequence, or result, not the direct end. For there is question here not of temptation of trial merely, whereby the devil would find out if our Lord were the Son of God (although he had this also in view), but also of temptation of deceit, whereby the devil sought to induce Him to commit sin. It might be admitted, that our Lord meant to be tempted by the devil, whom He came to overthrow, knowing His own power and invincibility. This, however, would not warrant us, who are so weak and liable to sin, to expose ourselves unnecessarily to temptation. For, “he who loves the danger, shall perish in it.” Our Lord might have been privately tempted by the devil during His education at Nazareth. But whether tempted publicly (as here), or privately, all temptations must be external, from without, either from the devil or men, that is, the world. But, He could, by no means, be tempted inwardly, from His own flesh, any more than Adam could while in a state of innocence before he lost sanctifying grace. “All this diabolical temptation was from without; not, from within” (St. Greg. Hom. 16).

“The devil” (διαβολος), strictly means, a slanderer—the great enemy of the human race—“the accuser of his brethren” (Apoc. 12:10), whom he wishes to make hateful to God, by impelling them to sin. Probably, allusion is made to Lucifer; “the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41; Apoc. 12:9).

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

“And when He had fasted forty days,” &c. In imitation of Moses before giving the Old Law, and of Elias before repairing or reforming it, our Redeemer wishes before explaining the New Law, to retire for forty days, and after fasting and prayer, to come forth to preach. The number, FORTY, in SS. Scripture, from the earliest history of the world, marks several events of the utmost importance to man, from the forty days of the deluge to the forty days’ fast of our Divine Redeemer. To His fast of “forty days” is also added, “and forty nights,” to distinguish it, from the Jewish fasts which were confined to the day only. At night, they could use food. His fast did not exceed forty natural days, including days and nights, lest He might not be be regarded as human; since no other human being, not even Moses or Elias, exceeded that term in fasting. In this forty days’ fast, our Lord left us an example of how we ought to prepare to overcome the devil, who, in some instances, is overcome only by “prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:28). He also wished to leave the Church an example of that Lent, which she was to institute, of forty days of Lent, as we are told by the holy Fathers. (St. Jerome Ep. ad Marcellum; St. Augustine ad Januarium; St. Ambrose Serm. 39, de Quadriges., &c.) It cannot be doubted that this fast of Lent was always regarded to be of Apostolical origin. Our Lord, no doubt, devoted those forty days to prayer and constant communing with His Heavenly Father.

“He was afterwards hungry.” Although the soul of Jesus enjoyed, without intermission, the beatific vision, and was supremely happy; still, He allowed the inferior faculties to suffer. As He voluntarily submitted to the other feelings and sensations of human nature, so He now allowed Himself to feel the pangs of hunger, to prove His humanity, and give the devil an opportunity of tempting Him, as he formerly tempted Eve. During these forty days His Divinity sustained His humanity against the consequences of this long fast. Possibly, our Lord may have Himself communicated to the devil, His state of suffering from the pangs of hunger, by some external act, such as seeking for food, or in some other way. St. Chrysostom says, it was the Son of God Himself that made known His hunger to the devil, to entice Him to the combat, and thus receive a signal overthrow. St. Jerome, in almost the same words, says (in hunc locum), Permittitur esurire corpus, ut Diabolo tentandi occasio prœbeatur.

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

“The tempter coming said to Him.” The same who is called the “devil”—the chief of the infernal hosts, Lucifer—is here, as well as 1 Thess. 3, called “the tempter,” by excellence, being the principal and chief enemy of salvation, who solicits man to evil. The world and the flesh also tempt us; but the devil ever uses these to solicit us to evil. Temptation has different meanings in SS. Scripture. 1st. Temptation of trial, which has for object, to try and find out a thing, and prove us. In this sense, God often tempts man, not that He wants to know anything; but, He wishes to let us see what we are. In this way, He tempted Abraham, &c. There is also temptation of deceit, which has for object, to induce us to commit sin. In this sense, “God tempts no one.” (St. James 1) In this latter sense, the devil is called “the tempter” (see 6:13) “coming,” most likely, in the shape of a man. This is the common opinion. He wishes to be adored, and if he came in any other form, the Evangelists would probably have said so. The word “coming” implies, in a sensible, visible form. Hence, like that of our first parents, who, being in original justice, could not be interiorly tempted, this temptation was exterior.

“Said to Him.” Many think that the devil had blandly addressed our Redeemer and spoke of His being so long in that frightful desert; of the sufferings He was now enduring; of the testimony lately rendered to Him, that He was the Son of God, &c.; and, then, proceeded to tempt Him, and try if He was really such as is here recorded by St. Matthew. From St. Mark (1) and St. Luke (4:2), it would seem, that the devil had frequently tempted Him during the forty days’ fast. But now, seeing Him suffer from hunger, and show the effects of human weakness, he makes his grand assault, “If Thou be the Son of God, command,” &c. It is the opinion of some theologians, that Lucifer’s fall arose from his jealousy at the dignity of the human nature, which was to be assumed in time by the eternal Word. Hence, aspiring after it himself, he refused to obey Christ and God. Hearing, then, the testimony borne lately to Christ by John the Baptist, and also the testimony from heaven, he may have suspected He was the Son of God, whose time for assuming human nature, according to the prophecies, had now arrived. On the other hand, seeing Him, like others among the crowd, poor, of humble, plebeian rank, and now suffering the pangs of hunger, he doubts if He be the natural Son of God, consubstantial and co-eternal with the Father. Hence, he is anxious to find it out, in order to mar as far as possible, His beneficent designs of redemption.

“If Thou be the Son of God.” as was lately testified regarding you, “command,” by the same Omnipotent Power, which “spoke and all things were made.” No need to have recourse to God by prayer—“command,” immediately, without the intervention of any other power (he does not say, do it; but, “command it”), that these stones which lie scattered about, be converted into bread, so as to appease your hunger, which you have no other means of relieving in this frightful solitude. St. Ambrose, commenting on the cunning of the devil, says, “He so tempts, as to explore; he so explores, as to tempt. While our Redeemer deludes him, so as to conquer; He so conquers, as to delude him.” The tempter assails our Redeemer in what he conceives to be His weak point, under the circumstances, viz., gluttony; not that it would be gluttony for a hungry man to appease his hunger by means of bread lawfully procured; but, it would be gluttony in our Divine Redeemer to appease His hunger by means of bread procured through illicit means; and He surely would have employed illicit means, were He to exert His Divine power, in procuring bread at the suggestion of Satan. He would commit a sin against religion, by holding communication with the fiend; and so He would procure bread by illicit means. He would, moreover, be partly guilty of a sin of vain glory, by a vain ostentation of His power, and distrust in God’s paternal providence. Similar was the successful temptation of our first parents. It would have boon an undoubted proof of Divine power to change the stones instantly into bread, by His more word; “dic ut hi lapides panes fiant.” “Thou art caught in thy own words, O haughty tempter,” cries St. Jerome. “For, if He have power to change the stones, in vain wouldst thou tempt such power; and if He have not the power, vain would it be for you to suspect and flatter Him, as Son of God.” Some understand “if” to mean since, whereas, Thou art the Son of God. Then, the devil would have attempted to flatter Him, and so induce Him to commit sin. Probably, his pride so blinded Lucifer, that he thought he could succeed in this. It seems, most likely, that Lucifer knew our Redeemer to be God. This would seem probable from many parts of the Gospel. Whether he knew it at this time for certain, before this temptation, may be doubted. That the issue of the temptation may have removed his doubts seems probable. But from other parts of the Gospel, subsequent to this, it seems most likely he afterwards knew our Lord to be the Son of God. “Art Thou come hither before the time to torment us?” (8:29). Nor are the words of St. Paul (1 Cor. 2:8) opposed to this. St. Paul does not say, the devil did not know Him to be “the Lord of Glory.” He only says, he did not know the wisdom of the mystery of Christ’s death. For, had he known it, he would never have instigated the Jews to crucify Him, because he was thus bringing about what he wished to prevent, viz., the redemption of man, through the death of Christ. It is to be borne in mind, that our Saviour could not be internally tempted, nor even externally, except under the control of His own will.

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,” in the Holy Scriptures, which are, by excellence, called the writing; and with the learned Jews the usual form of referring to the inspired Scriptures was to say, “It was written.” Here, our Redeemer opposes to the human prudence, which suggested the temptation of the devil, the Word of God, “the sword of the Spirit,” which, at once, without having recourse to subtle reasonings, helps us to dispel the attacks of our spiritual enemies. Our Lord so answers, that He neither asserts nor denies His Divinity; and, although He might, by the exercise of His Divine power, have at once put to flight His tempter, He prefers to do so, for our instruction in circumstances of temptation, by the power of His human nature, by meekness, humility, and constancy; and this also renders the humiliation of the demon the greater, when vanquished by weak man, rather than by an effort of Divine omnipotence.

“Not in bread alone,” &c. And if this be true of man in general, how much more so of the Son of God. Our Redeemer deludes the demon, who addressed Him as “Son of God,” by merely placing Himself on a level with other men, and quoting, in justification of His own mode of acting, and of His reliance on God’s providence, what is meant for man in general. “Bread” is used in Scripture to signify all kinds of aliment, which nourishes and sustains human life. The Greek for, “doth live” (ζησεται, shall live), is a Hebrew form of potential, denoting what is confined to no definite time, but is permanently such—will be able to live. Hence, lives, in the present tense, better expresses the meaning intended.

“But in every word that proceedeth,” &c. “Word” is not in the original Hebrew (of Deut. 8:3). But the Septuagint interpreters and the Vulgate translators have added it, as explanatory. The Hebrew is, “by every thing that proceeds from the mouth of God,” “omni egrediente de ore Dei.” The meaning is, that man’s corporal life is sustained, not merely by these elements in common use, denoted by “bread;” but, by whatever means God’s holy will and providence may appoint. He may, if He chooses, support them without any food, for any period He pleases, as He did Moses, &c., or He may render stones, iron, or any other substance nutritious for man’s support; and hence, it was sheer folly in the demon to ask of Him to work a useless miracle, when God’s providence, on which He placed such unhesitating reliance, had other means at its disposal to appease His hunger and prolong His life. The words, “not in bread alone doth man live,” are taken from Deut. 8:3, where Moses, recounting the benefits conferred by God on the Jews, tells them that when they were straitened from want, God sent them manna from heaven for their support, to teach them, that it was not on bread alone (which failed them in the desert) man’s life depended; but that God may adopt any means He may think proper to support man (as in the case of the manna), “sed, in omni egrediente de ore Dei.” Every thing proceeding from His mouth, means every thing God may wish or please to do, or command, for any purpose. Here, our Lord opposes the word of truth, to the seductive words and suggestions of the father of lies.

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

“Took Him.” Most probably, carried Him in the air. It could be no more unbecoming in our Lord (as St. Gregory observes, Hom. 16), to submit to this, than it was to allow Himself voluntarily to be crucified by the members of the devil, viz., the Jews, and their instigators, “the world and the princes of this world.” (1 Cor. 2, &c.) Some (with Maldonatus), think the devil “led” Him (St. Luke 4:5). But the distance between the desert near Jericho and Jerusalem was too long a journey to be performed on foot in less than eight or nine hours. In that case, our Lord’s fast would exceed “forty days.” For, it was after He had fasted forty days, the devil came to tempt Him (v. 2), and He gave over fasting only after the threefold temptation, which must occupy, therefore, only a very small space of time. St. Thomas and St. Chrysostom observe, that although our Lord was taken bodily and visibly, still, He so baffled the devil, that without the latter knowing it, He was invisible in His passage, as He was on other occasions (Luke 4:30; John 8:59). The reasons given by Maldonatus against this opinion, viz., that by such an exercise of power, the devil would have discovered himself, when he should rather, on the occasion, have transformed himself “into an Angel of light,” proves nothing; as the carrying of a man through the air, would not exceed the powers of “an Angel of light,” any more than it did those of the angel of darkness.

“Then the devil took Him,” &c. Hence, most likely, the order of the temptations is given more accurately here than in St. Luke (4), who gives a different order; but, does not use “then,” “afterwards,” indicating order of time or occurrence. St. Luke, most probably, gives the substance, not the order of the temptations.

“Up into the Holy City,” Jerusalem (as is expressly said by St. Luke), called “holy,” on account of the holy temple, and its being the seat of true religion of God at the time.

“The pinnacle of the temple.” Some commentators say this referred to the part in front of the temple, over the Sanctum and Sanctum Sanctorum, which alone was covered—the rest of the temple had no covering or roof—and that this part culminated in a “pinnacle” which, however, had at its very summit a pretty large square or plain place, where workmen could stand for repairs and for cleaning the adjoining elevations. Others (among them Maldonatus), say that all the houses in Judea had flat roofs, where one could walk, sleep, &c., on which account it was prescribed (Deut. 22:8), there should be a bulwark of a certain height. Here, then, the word, “pinnacle,” refers to a lofty part of this protecting wall, more elevated, probably, than the adjoining parts. On this, the devil placed our Lord, so that He might precipitate Himself into the hall below, where the priests and pious worshippers there assembled could see Him, and have ocular demonstration of the Divine protection granted Him.

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,” &c. Seeing himself baffled in the preceding temptation to gluttony, by our Lord’s unshaken reliance on God’s providence, which he proves from Holy Scripture, the devil has now recourse to the same Holy Scripture to tempt Him to presumption, to vain and excessive confidence, of which the sacred text here quoted would seem to be suggestive. The temptation to gluttony failing, he now tries vain glory. This temptation of ambition and vain glory often succeeds with those who have mastered the grosser passions; and although the preceding temptation involves vain glory indirectly, it is primarily and directly suggested here. If He be the Son of God, the promised Messiah of the Jews, lot Him now show it by precipitating Himself; and thus secure the homage of the assembled priests and people. It is observed by commentators that the words, “cast Thyself down,” are worthy of the devil, who, having by pride, cast himself down from his heavenly eminence, now wishes to cast men down from grace and God’s friendship, to the very depths of sin. “For it is written” (Psa. 91:11, 12). The devil here misquotes Scripture—a thing not unusual with his children, the heretics, in their attacks on the Church, which is His body. The words of the Psalmist had reference to those just men, who are, from necessity, thrown into circumstances of danger, out of which God’s providence, in His own good time, is pledged, if expedient, for their salvation, to rescue them. But the words were never intended to apply to the case of those who voluntarily throw themselves into manifest and certain danger, whether moral or physical, out of which it would require a miracle from God to rescue them. Such would have been the condition in which our Lord would have placed Himself, had He yielded to the temptation of the devil, in this instance.

“He hath given His Angels charge over Thee.” St. Luke adds, “that they keep Thee.” Even according to St. Luke’s account, the devil does not quote the whole text of the Psalm, which has, “that they may keep Thee in all Thy ways.” Probably, he omitted these latter words designedly; because, they indicate that it was to men who, acting prudently in the discharge of their ordinary duties, are cast into circumstances of danger, and not to the rash and presumptuous, who voluntarily cast themselves into the precipice, the Divine promise of protection, referred to by the Psalmist, is made. And hence, these words would in no way serve his purpose and designs against our Divine Redeemer.

“His Angels,” probably has reference to the Angel guardian whom God has placed to watch over and guard each of His faithful servants.

“In their hands,” &c., expresses great care and solicitude.

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

“It is written again.” “Again” may mean, on the contrary, on the other hand, as if in opposition to what the misquoted text of the devil suggested; or, it may mean, also, in the sense just given. SS. Scripture best explains itself, and our Lord points out to His Church, when assailed with corrupted and perverted quotations of Scripture by heretics, the course to be pursued, viz., to oppose true Scripture, properly applied, to Scripture perverted and misapplied.

“Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” Without giving the devil any insight into His Divinity, our Lord baffling him, quotes SS. Scripture, as any just man might do. These words are taken from Deuteronomy (6:16). “Thou shall not,” &c. is written in the plural number in the Hebrew, “non tentabitis,” &c., “ye shall not tempt,” &c. However, the singular is included in the plural. Hence, the Septuagint and Vulgate versions have the singular. The words, “to tempt God,” have different significations in the SS. Scripture. Among the rest, it signifies to provoke to anger (Psa. 77:56; Acts 15:10). But, it more generally signifies, to make an unnecessary, useless trial of any of God’s attributes; to put, unnecessarily, to the test, His power, wisdom, mercy, &c.; to place oneself in such circumstances unnecessarily, either in the moral or physical order, as would require a miracle from God to rescue him from corporal or spiritual ruin. This forbidden trial of God’s attributes may arise from excessive vain confidence, as, in the natural order, in the case of a man who would, unnecessarily east himself down a precipice (as here) in the hope that God would work a miracle to deliver him; or, of a man who, neglecting study, would expect that God would extraordinarily endow him with knowledge, to be acquired only with care and labour; or, of a man who would neglect to sow, in the hope that crops would miraculously spring up. In the spiritual order, in the case of a man who would live in the immediate and certain external occasion, of sin, hoping to receive extraordinary grace from God.

It may also arise from diffidence, as in the case of those who, in their straits and necessities, would murmur against God’s will, and would expect an untimely manifestation of His providence, when such might neither contribute to His glory, nor to our ultimate good (Exod. 17; Psa. 77:17, 18). Such temptation of God is always a grievous sin, always prohibited. But, to hope that God would wonderfully exert His power and goodness in our favour, when we are involuntarily, through no fault of ours, placed in desperate circumstances, and to pray to Him to do so, if it be agreeable to His holy will, is no sin. Neither is it a sin to throw oneself into a lesser precipice to avoid a greater, as choosing the lesser of two necessary evils. Thus, some holy virgins, to avoid the greater evil of loss of chastity, precipitated themselves into the water. They regarded the loss of virginity a greater evil than the loss of life. Our Lord, by throwing Himself down, as suggested, would be doing what in other men would be a tempting of God; He would be making an unnecessary trial of His power and providence; and He did not choose to tell the tempter that He was God. He only answered according to the dictates of human prudence; and in reply to the text which the tempter applied to Him only as a just man, when He said, “Angelis suis mandavit de Te,” &c., He defeats him with his own weapons.

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,

“Again the devil took Him up.” By our Lord’s permission, the devil carried Him bodily through the air, from the pinnacle of the temple (as v. 5). The particles, “again,” “then” (v. 5), would show that St. Matthew gives the order of the temptations, which is neglected by St. Luke, who uses no such particles, denoting order or succession. The words, “Begone, Satan” (v. 10), also would indicate this to be the closing or last temptation.

“Into a very high mountain.” What this “mountain” was, the Gospel does not say; nor can we know for certain. Probably, it was some mountain not far from Jerusalem. Some say it was the mountain in the desert, Quarautania, where our Lord had fasted. It was afterwards called, Mons Diaboli.

“And showed Him all the kingdoms of the world,” &c. St. Luke adds (4:5), “in a moment of time.” There is a diversity of opinion as to how the tempter did this. It does not seem likely that our Lord permitted the demon to act on His imagination. Hence, it must be done externally. Neither does it seem likely that it was merely on a painted chart it was done, as this could be done, in the plain or desert, without the demon taking Him to “a high mountain,” which the Evangelists carefully record. Hence, it is paid, with great probability, by many expositors, that the tempter, “in a moment” (St. Luke), that is, in the shortest space of time, from the height of the mountain, pointed with his finger in the direction where most of the kingdoms of the world were situated. “There, lies Asia; there, Europe; there, Syria; there, Rome;” &c.

“All the kingdoms of the world,” most likely, refers to the greater part, or chief kingdoms among them.

“And the glory of them.” While with his finger he pointed to the situation of the thief kingdoms of the world, he, most likely, by word of mouth, described “their glory,” that is, their wealth, population, military powers, the attractive and seductive splendours of the palaces and retinue of their kings. As St. Luke pointedly states, that, he did this “in a moment of time;” hence, he probably refers to the exercise of some peculiar diabolical agency or power. It may be, that the devil painted in the surrounding air the several kingdoms, and exhibited a panoramic view of all their worldly splendour and resources.

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

“All these will I give Thee” &c. It is remarked by commentators, that the devil does not, in this third temptation, say, “If Thou he the Son of God,” because, in the two preceding temptations, he suggested, under the pretext of benevolence, what “the Son of God” might not feel it repugnant to do. Whereas, here, he proposes what “the Son of God” could not possibly do. In the first temptation, “the concupiscence of the flesh” had failed; so had “the pride of life,” in the second. The devil now tries “the concupiscence of the eyes,” that is, avarice, ambition, which prevail over many who are victorious over the two other principles which domineer in the world (1 John 2:16); he primarily and directly sought, in the two preceding temptations, to find out if He was “the Son of God,” and wished to obtain this knowledge, by inducing our Redeemer to do what was sinful; and hence, the Demon indirectly tempted Him to commit sin; in this, he primarily and directly wished Him to commit a most heinous crime, utterly opposed to the character of the Son of God, and thus indirectly wished to find out if He were “the Son of God.” He calculated, that, by making such a proposition to Him, if he were the Son of God, He would at once indignantly repel the temptation by a declaration of His Divine rights, so arrogantly invaded. As in the first temptation to gluttony, was included a temptation to vain glory; and in the second, with vain glory was united the tempting of God; so, in this third temptation to avarice and ambition is included that of idolatry.

“All these will I give Thee.” St. Luke (4:6), adds, “for to me they are delivered, and to whom I will, I give them.” The demon now once more arrogates these Divine rights which occasioned his original fall, when he aspired “to be like the Most High” (Isa. 14:14). As he could not elicit from our Lord whether He was the Son of God, now being rendered more insolent and haughty from our Saviour’s modesty and humility, he imagines Him to be a mere man, and feigns himself to be the Son of God, the view of whose glory in time to come was the source of envy and of his fall—that Son to whom “were given the nations for inheritance,” and the possession of “all power in heaven and on earth,” and as such, he claims supreme adoration.

The tempter lied in saying, “to me they are delivered,” &c. (Luke). For, to God alone, does it belong to bestow kingdoms on whom He wills—“Per me reges regnant,” &c. (Prov. 21); “Non est potestas nisi a Deo” (Rom. 13)—not to the demon, whose power is restricted in this world, as appears from the history of Job, and his asking permission to enter the herd of swine (c. 8:31). He is termed “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), and “the prince of this world;” because, of the power which, by Divine permission, he is allowed to exercise over the children of unbelief and sin, who are his slaves. But, he has no power to bestow kingdoms, as he falsely asserts here. He does not even mention the name of God. “They are given to me,” he don’t say, by God, this name being so hateful to him. It is remarked by Toletus, that this promise was mendacious, as he did not intend giving them; false, he could not; arrogant, they were not his; deceitful, he promises to give in future; “dabo,” for a present service which he could not repay. Similar are his delusions practised on youth, to indulge present pleasure with a prospect of penance in old age, which is uncertain and cannot be insured. Neither can he give or take away temporal goods save by Divine permission.

“If falling down,” in the attitude of adoration, “Thou wilt adore me,” as God, and pay me Divine honours, as the bestower of these kingdoms and honours. It is remarked by commentators that our Redeemer was tried with all kinds of temptations which influence men to abandon God. All are reduced to “the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life.” (1 John 2 &c.) Hence, St. Luke says of the close, “And when all the temptation was ended” (4:13). Our Redeemer by His example, teaches us that the first temptation—of the flesh and of hunger—is to be overcome by hope in God’s providence; the second—of pride and presumption—by the fear of God; the third—of avarice and ambition—by magnanimity and contempt of the world, its riches and honours. This triple temptation exhibited the three fountains of all vice—“the concupiscence of the flesh,” perfected in the flesh and its five senses; “of the eyes,” curiosity, perfected in the intellect; “pride of life,” in the will. Here we have an example what to do: “Resist the devil, and he will fly from you” (James 4:7).

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.

Our Lord had borne with patient meekness the contumely offered Himself in the preceding temptations, but now, on seeing His Father sacrilegiously and impiously assailed, He indignantly repels the offers and seductive promises of the tempter.

“Begone, Satan.” The evil one is, in this chapter, designated by a threefold epithet. “The tempter” (v. 1), whose whole wicked occupation is to tempt men. He is indefatigable; he never sleeps or rests in waging a fiendish war against them.

“The devil,” the accuser of his brethren. “Satan,” a Hebrew word, to mean adversary, hater, enemy. (1 Peter 5) He is the sworn enemy of the human race, whom, like a roaring lion, he is ever going about seeking to devour, and precipitate with himself into hell.

“It is written;” with the same weapons, “the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God,” which He had so successfully wielded in the preceding temptations, our Redeemer now finally put His enemy to flight.

“The Lord thy God thou shalt adore” (Deut. 6:13). For “adore,” the Hebrew has “fear.” But, with the Hebrews, “fear” denoted reverence, adoration, and every kind of worship due to God. From the context in Deuteronomy, it is clear that “fear” involved Divine worship. For, adoration is but the external sign of reverence and fear, and in SS. Scripture, under the fear of God, is contained all worship due to Him.

“And Him only shall thou serve.” “Only,” is not in the Hebrew, but it is implied. Hence, our Redeemer quoted the words according to their meaning, which the arrogant assumption of Satan suggested. From the prohibition contained in the verse (14), immediately following (Deut. 6:14), “You shall not go after strange gods,” it is clear “only” is implied in the words of the preceding verse (13), “and Him (only) shalt thou serve.”

The word, “serve” (λατρευσεις) although, according to etymology, applicable to all kinds of service and respect, as well that paid to men, princes, &c., as that paid to God, and employed in reference to creatures by the Septuagint and St. Paul—a servile work is called λατρεια (Lev. 23:7)—still, both the Septuagint and St. Paul commonly apply it to the service rendered to God; and we are informed by St. Augustine (Lib. x. de Civitate Dei, c. 1), that λατρεια is used by the holy Fathers to denote the service and worship due to God alone. Hence, the distinction commonly made by divines between the worship due to God alone, Latria, and that paid the saints, Dulia, and that paid the Queen of the saints, Hyperdulia.

In like manner the word, “adore,” (προσκυνησεις) although, of itself, only signifying veneration, accompanied with external prostration of the body, and hence applied in SS. Scripture to creatures (3 Kings 1:16. 23, 31), still, from usage, it is employed to denote interior veneration, accompanied with its exterior expression, due to God alone—the Supreme, the highest Majesty.

In the words, “Begone, Satan, thou shalt adore the Lord thy God,” our Lord still keeps the knowledge of His Divinity a secret from Satan. He does not say, thou shalt adore Me. But, like any other just man quoting Scripture, He says, “Adore God alone.” Neither does it seem that He banished him by His Divine power. Satan left Him freely, after being discomfited in the contest. Now, seeing, from his having been addressed as “Satan,” adversary, that he was discovered, he felt himself fully vanquished, and left more and more in perplexity and doubt as to the nature and Divinity of our Lord.

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

St. Luke says, he left Him (“for a time”), with the intention of returning at some befitting opportunity. He did return again at His Passion, “hæc est hora vestra et potestas tenebarum,” and by his instruments sought to destroy Him.

“And behold, Angels came;” not only one Angel, but many. This shows the superior dignity of Christ, “to whom the Angels ministered,” as servants to their Master; creatures to their Creator; messengers to Him, that commissioned them. They came visibly and supplied Him with food to appease His hunger. When we are engaged in the manly struggle with the devil, and gain the victory over him, aided by God’s grace, then, we cause to rejoice the Angels of God and the whole court, who will minister to our spiritual strength and aid us in our victory. But, as the devil only retires “for a time” from our Lord to return again, as he did, particularly at His Passion, which he instigated the world, i.e., wicked men, and “the princes of the world,” his own satellites, the devils, to inflict; so, we, too, must be always on the alert, and prepared to our last gasp for temptation, so as to be warranted with our Divine Redeemer in saying in the end, “The prince of this world has come, and in me he has found nothing” that he might call his own, deserving of reprehension. We must never cease praying each day fervently and perseveringly for the great and special gift of final perseverance, “magnum donum perseverantiæ usque in finem” (Council of Trent, §§ vi. Canon xvi.), so as finally to overcome the temptations of the devil. If we obtain this gift, our salvation is secure. If we fail to obtain it, our perdition is inevitable. This is a point of faith defined by the Council of Trent. (§§ vi. Can. xxii.) This great gift cannot be strictly merited. It can be obtained only by humble prayer, “suppliciter emereri potest” (St. Augustine). We should never cease to pray, “Lord, grant us the great gift of final perseverance.”

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

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

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