THE GREAT COMMENTARY OF CORNELIUS A LAPIDE
THOMAS W MOSSMAN, B.A.,
RECTOR OF TORRINGTON, LINCOLNSHIRE,
Assisted by Various Scholars
S. MATTHEW'S GOSPEL.CHAPS. I. TO IX.
24, KING WILLIAM STREET, STRAND, LONDON.
CONCERNING THE EXCELLENCE AND MAJESTY OF THE FOUR GOSPELS.
I PROCEED from the Old Testament to the New, from Solomon to Christ, as
from a rivulet to a fountain: from Proverbs to Gospels, as from a river to the Ocean
of Wisdom. Speaking of the Gospels I would place a crown upon the Scriptures of
the New Testament.
The dignity, usefulness, and majesty of Scripture are so great that it
surpasses the books of all philosophers and theologians, both Hebrew, Greek, and
Latin, as much as Divine surpasses human wisdom. For Scripture is the Word of
God. It is the very utterance of God, by means of which God enunciates His wisdom
to us, and points out to us the way to virtue, health, and eternal happiness. S.
Augustine asserts that "Sacred Scripture is an Encyclopaedia of all the sciences.
Here is Natural Philosophy, because all the causes of all creatures are in God, the
Creator. Here is Moral Philosophy, because a good and honest life is derived from
no other source than the love of God and our neighbour as they ought to be loved.
Here is Logic, because Truth and the Light of the rational soul are God. Here is
Political Science, for a really flourishing State can neither be founded nor preserved
except upon the foundation, and by the bond of faith, and firm concord, when the
common good of all is loved: that is to say, when God is loved above all things, and
when men love one another in Him, and for His sake." After an interval he adds,
"By the Scriptures depraved minds are corrected, little minds are nourished, great
minds are delighted. The only minds which are hostile to this doctrine are those
which either by going astray know not its healthfulness, or being sick dislike its
Sacred Scripture is the art of arts, the science of sciences: it is the Pandora of
Wisdom. In our own time, S. Theresa, a woman endowed with the spirit of
prophecy, and renowned throughout all Spain for the glory of her miracles, and the
sanctity of her life, was taught by God that all the troubles of the Church, all the
evils in the world, flow from this source, that men do not, by clear and sound
knowledge, and serious consideration, penetrate into the verities of Sacred
Scripture. See Franciscus Ribera, her Life.
S. Basil () says, "Holy Scripture is the universal depository of
medicine for the cure of souls. From it every one may select the remedy which is
salutary and appropriate for his own disease."
Thus it was that in the age of the martyrs, the Church drew from Holy
Scripture courage and fortitude; in the times of the doctors aptitude both to learn
and teach, the illumination of wisdom, floods of eloquence; in the ages of heresy,
confirmation of faith, whereby errors were plucked up: in prosperity she learns from
Holy Scripture humility and modesty, in adversity greatness of soul. Lastly, if at
any time in all the gliding years the Church be deformed by the wrinkles of old age,
by spots, or blemishes, it is from the Scriptures she derives correction of morals,
and a return to her primitive state of virtue and dignity.
Now, of all the Divine writings, the Gospel is the most excellent, says S.
Augustine (. c. I). "For that which the Law and the Prophets
foretold was to be is shown in the Gospel to be accomplished. Prophecy is the Gospel
veiled as the Gospel is prophecy unveiled." Hear S. Ambrose: "It is the Gospel by
which the martyr ascends to heaven. The Gospel is the sea in which the Apostles
fish: wherein the net is cast to which the kingdom of heaven is like. The Gospel is
the sea in which the mysteries of Christ are figured. The Gospel is the sea in which
the Hebrews were saved, the Egyptians drowned. The Gospel is the sea, wherein is
the plentitude of Divine grace, wherein is the Spouse of Christ, which has been
founded upon the seas, as the prophet hath said, 'He hath founded it upon the
Christ cries aloud, "I am the Light of the World," for by means of the Light of
the Gospel which I spread abroad, I illuminate the whole world. The Gospel,
therefore, is the Light of the world, and its Sun. This is why, when it is read,
candles are lighted. This was an ancient custom even in the time of Jerome, as he
shows in his work against Vigilantius: "In all the Eastern churches when the
Gospel is read, lights are kindled, even when the sun is shining, not for the purpose
of banishing darkness, but as a mark of joy. Whence also the virgins in the parable
always had their lamps burning, that under the figure of corporeal light there
might be set forth the light of which we read in the Psalter, 'Thy word, O Lord, is a
light unto my feet, and a lantern unto my paths.'"
This is why there has ever been, not only by the Saints but by all Christians,
wonderful reverence paid to the Gospel, wonderful love, wonderful veneration.
Constantine the Great sent a book of the Gospels, adorned with gold and precious
stones, to S. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. The Emperor Theodosius wrote the Gospels
with his own hand, and was wont to read them a good part of the night. The
OEcumenical Councils of Nicaea, Chalcedon, and Ephesus, caused a volume
containing the Gospels to be placed in the midst of their house of assembly, that to
it, as to the Person of Christ, they might turn, as though Christ Himself were
saying to them, "Judge righteous judgment." (S. Cyril, in Apolog.) Even the heretics,
who have expunged some books of Holy Scripture from the Canon, mutilated and
depraved others, have not dared to meddle with the Gospels. Even heathens have
respected the Gospels. How high an opinion the Platonists had of them S. Austin
relates. , 10. 29. And in his Confessions he says, that in a certain
Platonic book he had found the first words of S. John's Gospel, "In the beginning
was the Word," but not the sentence, "The Word was made flesh." In fine, the devils
tremble at beholding the Book of the Gospels; and S. Chrysostom says, they dare
not enter the place in which it is kept. ( 31 )
Christ has wrought many miracles by means of the Gospels. Hear a few out
of many. Gregory of Tours relates that when a certain city was in a state of
conflagration S. Gall entered the church, and prayed for a long time before the
altar. He then rose and took the Book of the Gospels, and placed himself in front of
the fire. which was immediately extinguished. Zonaras also, in his Life of Basil the
Macedonian, relates that the Russians were converted by seeing a book of the
Gospels preserved uninjured in the flames.
The Holy Gospels claim the surpassing dignity which they hold, as well on
account of their subject as because of their Author. Their subject is God Himself, as
God and Man. That is to say, the Gospels relate the deeds and the words of Christ
the Lord, by means of which He has redeemed us, and taught both what we should
believe, and what we should do, that we may arrive at eternal life. Therefore Christ
in the Gospels deals with the divine precepts and counsels, with the perfection of
Christian life. He speaks of the Sacraments, of faith, hope, and charity, of the
Trinity, and indeed of the whole matter with which theology is conversant. You
might, with S. Jerome, give this definition of the Gospels: "A Breviary and
Compendium of all Theology."
The Author, and as we might call Him, the Choragus in the Evangelical
Drama, who is the chief, almost the sole actor and speaker, is Christ the Lord.
"God," says the Apostle to the Hebrews, "who at sundry times, and in divers
manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last
days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by
whom also He made the worlds." Therefore not Moses, nor prophets, nor kings, but
the Only-Begotten One, who from the mind of the Father hath drawn the secrets of
the Divine Wisdom, and the very uncreated Wisdom itself, hath made the same
known unto us in the Gospels. The very omniscient Word, I say, here speaks to us
with His own mouth, and declares the mysteries kept secret from eternity, though
shadowed forth by so many figures in the Law and the Prophets.
This is another way by which the Gospels vindicate for themselves the
dignity which is due to them. They have been so formed by the Holy Ghost that
those who are simple and unlearned should not be without profit in reading them,
whilst great and lofty intellects may discover many things both difficult and
obscure in which they may find exercise for their highest powers. "The Divine
Word," says S. Gregory ( 4), "exercises by its mysteries those who
are prudent and comforts the simple, for the most part, by what appears on its
surface. It has openly wherewith to nourish the little ones: it preserves in secret
things whereby it may fill with admiration the minds of the lofty. It is, if I may so
say, a river which is both shallow and deep: in which a lamb may wade, and an
elephant may swim." For indeed the doctrine of Christ is easy and accessible both to
the lowly and the learned: it is only difficult and inaccessible to those who are
proud, or slothful, or have confidence in themselves. "I give thanks unto Thee, O
Father," saith Christ, "because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and
prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father, because it hath
seemed good in Thy sight."
These and many other such like things you will clearly perceive, if you
compare the Law with the Gospel. Under the Law I include the Prophets, and all
the other books of the Old Testament: under the Gospel, the rest of the New
Testament. The Gospels are, as it were, their base and centre. As the sun shines
resplendent in the midst of the planets, and as they borrow their light from him,
and circle around him, and move, as I may say, in a kind of choric dance, so is the
Gospel refulgent like the sun amongst the writings of the Apostles, and imparts to
them its own light and splendour. For what else are Peter, Paul, James, John, and
Jude than preachers and interpreters of the Gospel? "Paul," says S. Jerome
( 61, ), "is the Gospel trumpet, the roaring of our lion, the
flood of Christian eloquence." Thus the Acts of the Apostles set forth Gospel
practice; the Epistles of S. Paul and the other Apostles, Gospel doctrine; the
Apocalypse, prophecy. For what Christ foretold concerning Elias, Antichrist, the
Judgment, and the end of the world, and the signs which shall go before it, John, in
the Apocalypse, relates and unfolds more at length. Christ in the Gospel is, as it
were, the Supreme Lawgiver, Apostle, Evangelist, and Doctor. He likewise is the
Divine Seer and Prophet.
Christ Himself is the true Author of the Gospel. For this very cause He
clothed His Godhead with our flesh, that by means of it, He might dictate the
Gospel with His own mouth. "For," as S. John says, "The Law was given by Moses,
but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." What then is the Gospel? It is the Book
of Christ, the Philosophy of Christ, the Theology of Christ; it is the most joyful
message of Christ concerning redemption, and the everlasting salvation of the
human race, brought by Himself from heaven, and conferred upon believers in Him.
For Christ spake far more sublime and divine things by His own mouth than He
spake by Moses and the Prophets.
To read, then, or to hear the Gospel, is to read or to hear the very words of
the Son of God. And thus the Gospel must be listened to with the self-same
reverence as if we were listening to Christ Himself. And this is what we read S.
Anthony, S. Basil, S. Francis, and other saints did. "Let us hearken to the Gospel,"
saith S. Austin, "as to the Lord: the Lord is above, but here, too, is the Lord, the
Truth." This is why, when the Gospel is read in church. all stand up, as venerating
Christ. This custom has Apostolic sanction. Hear S. Clement (in book 2 of the
c. 61), "When the Gospel is read, let all the presbyters,
deacons, and laity stand up, and keep perfect silence." Isidore of Pelusium shows
that the same custom should also be observed by bishops: "When the True Pastor
himself approaches, by opening the adorable Gospels, then at last the bishop rises,
by this signifying that the Lord Himself is the Prince of the pastoral office, and that
God his Master is present." (Lib. I 136.) Sozomen condemns the
Alexandrine custom, by which, contrary to the general usage of the Church, the
bishop does not rise when the Gospels are read. (Lib. 9, c. 39.) Moreover, the Eighth
General Council (Act. 10. Can.) decrees that equal honour shall be paid to the
Gospels as to the Cross of Christ: "We decree that the sacred image of our Lord
Jesus Christ, the Saviour of all, shall be reverenced with the same honour as the
book of the Holy Gospels. For like as by the words which are contained in the Book
all attain to salvation, so by depicting in colours, both wise men as well as the
unlearned receive profit from that which is before their eyes. For that which is in
syllables are the words of Scripture, and they are preached and commended to us
A second reason for the superiority of the Gospel over the Law is found in the
surpassing excellence of its doctrine. The doctrine of the Gospel greatly excels that
which is found in the Law. The Law declares that one God is to be believed in and
worshipped. The Gospel preaches of God, One in Essence, but Three in Person, who
is to be loved and worshipped. "Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the
name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." I allow that in the Law
and the Prophets there was a foreshadowing of the mystery of the Trinity. And it
was from thence that Trismegistus drew his oracular saying, "Monad begat Monad,
and reflected back his warmth upon Himself." But he neither understood nor
penetrated the truth of the mystery. This, too, the Platonists followed after, but
they did not attain unto it. They corrupted the truth by an error similar to
Arianism, for whilst they proclaimed one chief God, they held that there were lesser
and inferior gods. The prophets darkly and obscurely foretell the birth, life, cross,
passion, and ascension of Christ, the mission of the Holy Ghost, the calling and
conversion of all nations; but the Gospel firmly and clearly announces these things.
The foreknowledge, providence, predestination, omnipotence, infinite love of God,
and all His other attributes, are openly and distinctly set forth, not by the Law, but
by the Gospel.
"No man," saith S. John, "hath seen God at any time: the only begotten Son
who is in the Bosom of the Father, he hath declared Him." Therefore, when Christ
was made man, He descended from the bosom of His Father into the bosom of His
Mother, that He might declare unto us the secrets of the Father, which were known
to Himself alone. This, in truth, is "the great mystery of godliness," which, as the
Apostle says, "was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels,
preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." This
verily is not in the Law, but in the Gospel.
S. Anthony, as Anastasius testifies in his Life, called the Gospel "a Letter of
God sent down from heaven," teaching how we ought to journey towards heaven,
how we ought to please God, and live a good and perfect life. Excellently saith S.
Bernard ( 1, ), "The Gospel is the mirror of truth; it
flatters no one, it misleads no one; in it every one will find himself just what he is,
so that he need not fear where there is no cause for fear, nor yet rejoice when he
hath done evil." S. Gregory uses the same metaphor (lib. 2 c. 1), "Sacred
Scripture is placed before the eyes of the mind, as it were a mirror, that in it we
may behold our inward face; in it we can behold our deformity and our beauty;
there we discern how we have profited, there how far we have been from profiting."
With this S. Ambrose agrees, saying ( 20 119), "The Gospel not
only teaches the faith, it is the school of morals, the mirror of conversation."
Let us admire the sentiment of S. Bernard, who does not hesitate to say
( 1 ) that he who hears, reads, meditates upon the word of God
with profit, hath a sign and a pledge of his predestination; and, that you may not be
astonished, he adds the reason: "He that is of God," saith the Truth, "heareth the
words of God. Ye, therefore, hear them because ye are of God." Thus S. Cecilia, the
glory of Rome, the princess of virgins, the standard-bearer of the martyrs, always
carried the Gospel of Christ in her bosom, which neither flame, nor sword, nor
torments were able to wrest from her; but by it she not only won for herself the
laurels of virginity and martyrdom, but instructed and prepared her betrothed,
Valerian, and her brother, Tiburtius, and many more, for the same laurels; so that
deservedly does the Church sing of her, "Thine handmaid, Lord, Cecilia, like unto
an industrious bee, doth Thee service."
Lastly, the Law made no Apostles, but the Gospel hath made very many. For
"the word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword,
reaching even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, of the joints and marrow,
and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." For the Gospel has this
force, that it causes him who believes in it to engage in propagating it, and so
makes him a herald and preacher of it.
S. Chrysanthus, who empurpled Rome by a copious stream of his own and his
relations' blood, being converted to Christ from heathenism by reading the Gospel,
afterwards converted his wife, Daria; and after that he drew men, and Daria
women, without number, to faith and chastity.
S. Boniface, the Apostle of Germany, when he was propagating the faith of
Christ in Germany, about the year A.D. 750, always carried about with him the
sacred volume of the Gospels. Even in his martyrdom he did not let it go, but when
the Frisons brandished their swords above his head he opposed this book as a sort
of spiritual shield; and by a remarkable miracle, although the book was cut right in
twain by a sharp sword, not a single letter was destroyed. S. Dominic, that
illustrious torch of the Church, the Father of the Friars Preachers, had the Gospel
of S. Matthew for his constant companion. He knew almost the whole of it by heart,
and was wont to say, "Without Holy Scripture a preacher cannot exist." Rightly
does S. Gregory, upon those words of Job, "Silver has the beginnings of its own
veins," say, "Silver is the brightness of eloquence, or wisdom. The veins of Holy
Scripture are as if any one should say plainly, it is necessary that he who prepares
himself for the words of true preaching should derive their sources from the sacred
pages, that whatsoever he speaks he should recall to the foundation of Divine
authority, and make firm the edifice of his discourse upon that." When Ven. Bede
was dying, almost with his last breath he would finish his translation of S. John's
Gospel, and said to his scribe, "Take your pen, and write quickly." Then when the
last words were written, like a dying swan, he sang, "Glory be to the Father and to
the Son, and to the Holy Ghost," and most calmly breathed out his spirit to enjoy
the reward of his faith and labours in the Beatific Vision of God, A.D. 731. The
Emperor Charles, truly the Great, both in body and in the glory of sacred literature,
as well as for his actions, a little before his death, after the coronation of his son
Louis, gave himself up entirely to prayer, almsdeeds, and learning. He himself
carefully revised the Four Gospels in conformity with their Greek and Syriac
originals. Thus he spent his time until his last conflict. His Book of the Gospels is
religiously preserved at Aix-la-Chapelle, as I myself have seen. The heretics have
been imitators of these things. It is well known of one, Philip Melancthon, that he
never went anywhere, never sat down, nor supped, nor dined, without having the
Gospels by his side. But, leaving the sectaries, let us return to the Apostles. S.
Barnabas was with S. Paul, the first Apostle of the Gentiles. When he was going
forth to convert them he wrote out the Gospel of S. Matthew, and carried it about
with him wherever he went. At length, dying a martyr for the Gospel in Cyprus, he
desired to be buried with it, as a pledge of the heavenly resurrection promised to
him. This very Gospel of S. Matthew was found upon his breast in the time of the
Emperor Zeno. See his Life. The Apostle Bartholomew, as Eusebius tells us (H. E. v.
10), took with him to the Indies the Gospel of S. Matthew in Hebrew, written with
his own hand. There he left it, and more than a hundred years afterwards
Pantaenus found it, and brought it to Alexandria. What turned Saul into Paul? The
Gospel. "These were the men," says S. Leo ( 1 on ), "by
whom the Gospel shone upon thee, O Rome. They delivered to thee, as a charge to
keep, that Gospel which Christ had committed unto them: they sealed it with their
blood, that thou shouldst keep it pure, and deliver it, and expound it to all the other
Churches as a mistress of truth. This is what Paul proclaims aloud to thee in his
Epistle: 'That I may be the minister of Christ to the Gentiles, sanctifying (Gr., that
is, consecrating) the Gospel of God, that the oblation of the Gentiles may be
accepted and sanctified by the Holy Ghost.'" The Gospel, and the preaching and
interpretation of the Gospel, is the sacrifice; the Romans and the Gentiles who
believe the Gospel are the victims. These the Apostle offered to God as a most
acceptable oblation, when he evangelized them. The blood of Paul was the libation
by which this sacrifice was bedewed.
The same S. Paul says in his , "To me, the least of
all the saints, is given this grace, to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable
riches of Christ: and to enlighten all men, that they may see what is the
dispensation of the mystery which hath been hidden from eternity in God who
created all things: that the manifold wisdom of God may be made known to the
principalities and powers in heavenly places through the church."
Paul, therefore, was the doctor of angels. S. Chrysostom commenting on the
passage says, he taught the principalities and powers the Gospel of Christ. They,
therefore, are followers of Paul, and co-workers with him who handle and expound
the Gospel, and preach it to countrymen and foreigners, to believers and infidels.
These are they whom Isaiah deservedly praises, "How beautiful upon the
mountains are the feet of them that preach the Gospel of peace, who bring glad
tidings of good things."
It remains that we should apply the doctrines of the Gospel to our own lives
and those of others. For the Gospel is a mirror in which every one may behold his
own face. "The Life of Christ," says S. Bernard, "is the rule by which I ought to
frame my life." Christ is Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last. "The First," says
S. Austin, "in eternity, the Last by humility."
Let us learn then from the Evangel to live evangelically, that is, angelically.
For Christ as an Angel descended from heaven that He might teach men angelic life
and doctrine, yea, that of men He might make angels, and in a certain sense, gods.
Christ shall come to his temple, and purify the priesthood. They that continue in
their evil ways shall be punished: but true penitents shall receive a blessing.
"Behold, I," saith He by the Prophet Malachi, "send My Angel, and He shall prepare
the way before My face: presently the Lord, whom you seek, and the angel of the
testament, whom you desire, shall come to his temple. Behold he cometh, saith the
Lord of hosts."
Wherefore from Him, who is the Eternal Wisdom of the Father, we must
diligently ask light and the grace of His Spirit, that He who sat in the midst of the
Doctors when He was about to make a commencement of the Gospel, would even
now open it both to teachers and taught, that they may understand it, and fulfil
their understanding of it by Christian works.
Let us say therefore again and again with S. Augustine, if not with equal, yet
with similar fervour (lib. 4 c. 1), "In this sort of men, who have sorrow
in their pilgrimage, because they long for the country, and for God the Founder of
it, in this family of Thy Christ, O my God, among Thy poor I groan; give me of thy
Bread to answer men, who neither hunger nor thirst after justice, but are full and
abound. For their own fancy, not Thy Truth hath satisfied them, for they repel Thy
Truth and kick against it, that they may fall in their own vanity. Clearly do I
perceive how many figments the heart of man brings forth. And what is my heart
but the heart of a man? But for this I pray to thee God of my heart that in these
writings I may put forth none of those figments for solid truth, but that there may
come into them whatever shall be able to come through me from the place whence
the dawning of His truth breaks upon me, although I have been cast out of the sight
of His eyes, and am striving to return from afar by the path which the Divine
Person of His Only-Begotten One hath laid down for mankind."
After a little he adds, "The essence of God is such, that It hath nothing
mutable, neither in eternity, nor in truth, nor in will, because there there is eternal
truth, and eternal love: and true charity is there, and true eternity; there is loving
eternity, and loving truth.
Open unto us, O Lord Jesus, the of truth, and of Thine own true
love, Thou that hast the key of David, who openest and no man shutteth, and
shuttest and no man openeth, that we may know it clearly, and when we know it,
may love and cherish it, and loving it, may indeed fulfil it, for Thou art our Love,
Thou our Desire, our Life, and Blessedness . Amen.
OF THE NUMBER, ORDER,
AGREEMENT AND DISCREPANCIES
VERY many in the olden time wrote Gospels, and fathered them upon Apostles,
giving them the names of Apostles, that they might in this manner gain a sanction
for their heresies. "Thus," says S. Jerome, "these were the authoritative books of
divers heresies, published by divers authors, such as the Gospel according to the
Egyptians, the Gospel of Thomas, of Matthias, of Bartholomew, of The Twelve
Apostles, of Basilides, of Apelles, and others which it would be tedious to
enumerate. This only is it needful to say, that certain men rose up, who without the
Spirit and grace of God attempted rather to weave a tale than to compile historical
truth. To these men may justly be applied the words of the Prophet, 'Woe unto them
which prophesy out of their own heart, and walk after their own spirit, who say,
The Lord saith, and the Lord hath not sent them.' Of such the Saviour also speaks
in the Gospel of S. John, 'All that ever came before Me were thieves and robbers.'"
And after an interval he adds, "From all these things combined, it may be clearly
seen that four Gospels only ought to be received, and that all the follies of the
Apocryphal Gospels have been the utterances of dead heretics, rather than of
There are then only Four Canonical Gospels, and the Church proves them to
be so by the teaching and tradition of the Apostles. For S. Peter gave his sanction to
the Gospel of S. Mark, S. Paul to that of S. Luke, the Apostles unitedly to that of S.
Matthew, for when they were about to go away to their several provinces they
carried it with them. All the Bishops of Asia, and the rest of the faithful are
witnesses to the Gospel of S. John. Origen and S. Jerome, cite the authorities for
these statements. As for the Gospel according to the Hebrews, attributed to S.
Matthew, although it seems to have been the same with his Gospel, it has been
depraved by additions from various sources, so that it is of doubtful and uncertain
authority. S. Jerome, however, translated it out of Hebrew into Latin. This is what
he says in his catalogue of illustrious men, speaking of James, the Lord's brother:
"The Gospel which is called according to the Hebrews, I have lately translated into
Greek and Latin. Origen frequently quotes it. It makes the following mention of
James after the Lord's Resurrection. 'When the Lord had given a linen cloth to the
priest's servant, He went and appeared unto James. For James had sworn that he
would not eat bread from the hour in which he had drank of the Lord's chalice,
until he beheld Him risen from the dead.' And again, 'Bring forth,' saith the Lord,
'bread and a table,' adding immediately, 'He took bread, and blessed it, and brake,
and gave it unto James the Just, and saith unto him, My Brother, eat thy bread, for
the Son of Man hath arisen from among them that slept.'"
In the same work, Jerome, speaking of S. Ignatius says, "Ignatius wrote an
Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, in which he quotes a passage from the Gospel which has
been recently translated by me, upon the Person of Christ, saying, 'I indeed, even
after His Resurrection, have seen Him in the flesh, and I believe that He is. And
when He came unto Peter, and unto them which were with Peter, He saith unto
them, Behold Me, and touch Me, for I am not an incorporeal spirit. And
immediately they touched Him, and believed.'" Origen moreover (tom. 2 )
cites from the same Gospel, "Christ hath said, Presently My Mother, the Holy
Ghost, received Me, and carried Me by one of My hairs to Mount Tabor." This
sentence, unless it be construed favourably, seems to contain the Gnostic heresy of
the Valentinians, who asserted that the Holy Ghost was the Mother of Christ.
Origen, however, defends it thus, that the Holy Ghost is not called the
Mother of Christ by generation, but by imitation, forasmuch as He imitated His
Father, and conformed Himself to His will. This is but a poor defence however.
Bede also quotes this Gospel, and asserts that it was allowed by the ancients. But
however this may be, it is certain that it is not canonical, and has not the authority
of Holy Scripture.
This Gospel according to the Hebrews was also called the Gospel of the
Nazarenes, because the Nazarenes made use of it. Hear S. Jerome ( 12
13), where he is speaking of Christ healing the withered hand: "In the
Gospel used by the Nazarenes and the Ebionites, which I have recently translated
out of Hebrew into Greek, and which is considered by many an authentic work of
Matthew, the man who had the withered hand is said to have been a mason. These
are the words in which he cried for help. There was a certain mason who gained his
living by the use of his hands, who cried out unto Him and said, 'I pray Thee, Jesus,
that Thou wouldest restore me to soundness, that I may not disgracefully beg my
The Nazarenes were Jews who were converted to Christ, who, because they
kept the law of Moses together with the Gospel, were cast out of the Church. The
Hebrew Gospel of S. Matthew, which they kept at first genuine and untampered
with, they seem to have subsequently corrupted by certain additions, in the same
way that the Ebionites and Carpocratians did.
You may ask why there are precisely four Evangelists and four Gospels,
neither more nor less. 1. S. Augustine (lib. I c. 2) answers,
because there are four quarters of the world in which the Gospel must be preached.
2. "These four are, as it were, the four pillars of the Church, on which as on a
square stone, the sacred structure of the faith is built." So says S. Gregory (lib. I,
3. Because the number four is solid and square. Therefore it denotes the
solidity and perfection of the Gospels. Whence Philo ()
says, "The number four first shows the nature of a solid: for a point is reckoned in
unity, a line by duality; when breadth is added, superficies pertains to the number
three; for surface to become a solid body it lacks one thing; when this is added,
namely height, we have the number four." Aristotle calls a perfect man foursquare.
4. Others assign as the reason, that there are just so many letters in the
Hebrew name of God, which is called the Tetragrammaton, representing the four
primary attributes of God, which are unfolded in the Gospels. Others say, because
there were four rivers in Paradise. But these are all mystical and symbolical
5. The literal and real reason is because, as there are four Cherubim in the
court of Heaven, as it were the princes and wise ones of God, so in the Church on
earth there are four Evangelists, as it were, princes and cherubim of Christ. This is
plain from the first chapter of Ezekiel, where he represents these four Cherubim
with four faces, as denoting the four attributes of God. Add that two of the
Evangelists, in the beginning of their Gospels, speak of the two natures of Christ
Matthew of His human, John of His divine nature. The other two speak of the two-
fold dignity of ChristMark of His royal, Luke of His sacerdotal dignity. So Ruperti
on the first chapter of Ezekiel. "For Christ was a man by being born, a calf by dying,
a lion by rising again, an eagle by ascending," says S. Jerome. That cherubic chariot
then is the Gospel chariot, drawn, as it were, by four horses, that is to say, the four
Evangelists, making the circuit of the world. This application of Ezekiel's vision of
the four Cherubim to signify the four Evangelists is given by S. Jerome,
Athanasius, Austin, Irenaeus, Gregory, Ambrose, Bede, and the rest of the Fathers
by a unanimous consensus.
Listen to S. Jerome ( 103, ), "Matthew, Mark, Luke,
and John are the Lord's chariot, the true cherubim, which means , whose bodies were all full of eyes, who gave forth sparks, ran to and
fro like lightnings, had straight feet, and who were borne aloft; who had their backs
covered with wings, and who flew in all directions. They each take hold of one
another, they are mutually intertwined, they revolve as a wheel within a wheel,
and they proceed whithersoever the breathing of the Holy Spirit leadeth them."
Now, the cherubim of Ezekiel had four faces and four forms, namely, of a
lion, a man, a calf, and an eagle. S. John, in the Apocalypse (chap. iv.), calls them
four living creatures. "The first living creature," he says, "was like a lion, the second
living creature like a calf, and the third living creature, having the face, as it were,
of a man, and the fourth living creature was like an eagle flying."
The lion denotes S. Mark, whose face, , the beginning of his Gospel, is
the cry and the roar of John the Baptist in the wilderness, "Repent ye, for the
kingdom of heaven is at hand:" the calf denotes S. Luke, who commences his Gospel
with the ancient priesthood, whose victim was a calf. The man denotes S. Matthew,
who begins with the human genealogy of Christ. The eagle denotes S. John, who,
soaring aloft from earth to heaven, balances himself like an eagle, and thunders
forth, as it were, that Divine exordium, "In the beginning was the Word, and the
Word was with God, and the Word was God." Deservedly does S. Denis the
Areopagite, in his Epistle to the same John, call him the sun of the Gospel, and his
Gospel itself the memory and the renewal of that Theology, which he drew from the
Lord, as he lay upon His breast, and left to be beheld in his Gospel by those who
came after, like a ray of the sun.
Listen to S. Jerome in his Preface to S. Matthew: "First of all is Matthew the
publican, surnamed Levi, who published a Gospel in Judaea in the Hebrew
language, chiefly for the sake of those from among the Jews who had believed in
Jesus, but who still observed the shadow of the Old Law, after the truth of the
Gospel had come in its place. The second is Mark, the interpreter of the Apostle
Peter, and first Bishop of the Church of Alexandria, who had not indeed himself
seen the Lord, the Saviour; but related the things which he had heard his master
preach, rather according to the truth of what was done, than the order. The third is
Luke the Physician, a Syrian by nation, an Antiochene, whose praise is in the
Gospel. He was a disciple of the Apostle Paul; and composed his work in the parts of
Achaia and Boeotia. He aimed somewhat loftily; and as he himself confesses in his
Preface, narrated what he had heard rather than what he had seen. The last is
John, the Apostle and Evangelist, who loved Jesus very greatly, and who, lying
upon the Lord's bosom, drank of the very purest streams of doctrine, and who alone
was privileged to hear from the Cross, 'Behold thy Mother.'"
These four so appropriately wrote the words and deeds of Christ, that they
seem to make a kind of musical harmony of four chords; for what each one writes is
different in style from the others, but agrees with them in meaning and in facts.
What one is silent about, another supplies: what one gives concisely, another
relates more at large: what one obscurely hints at, another gives at length. As S.
Augustine says, "Although each seems to have preserved his own order in writing,
yet they are not found to have written as though any one were ignorant of what had
been said by him who preceded; but as each was inspired, he added the not
superfluous co-operation of his own labour."
Lastly, the discrepancies of the Evangelists are the greatest possible
testimony to their truthfulness. As S. Chrysostom says in his Preface to S.
Matthew, "If altogether and in every respect they exactly corresponded, and with
the utmost precision with respect to times and places were in perfect verbal
agreement, there is not one of our enemies but would believe, that they were
engaged in a common design to deceive, and that they had framed the Gospels by
human understanding, for they would not judge that this supposed harmony arose
from simple sincerity, but was the result of contrivance." And again, he says, "If any
one whatsoever had related everything, the others would have been superfluous: or
if again, on the other hand, each had written nothing which was found in the
others, there could have been no proof of their agreement. Wherefore they have
written many things in common, and yet each hath related something specially and
peculiarly his own. And thus they have escaped the charge of writing for writing's
sake, merely to add to the number of the Gospels, as well as the opposite danger of
bringing discredit upon everything, by each giving entirely different events."
ON THE VERSIONS
THE Syriac version of the Gospels was made, as it would seem, from the Greek,
and is extant in the royal Bibles. The Arabic version was printed at Rome with a
translation, at the Medici printing press, A.D. 1591. I frequently cite both these
I have also found in the Vatican Library at Rome the Coptic, or Egyptian
version of the Gospels, the Ethiopian, and the Persian, all very ancient. For the
Gospel was brought into Egypt soon after Christ by S. Mark, into Ethiopia by S.
Matthew, into Persia by S. Simon and S. Jude. And so the faith of the Gospel
flourished in those regions. In them there were swarms of holy monks and brave
martyrs. A Persian version was transmitted by Jerome Xavier, the Jesuit, a cousin
of S. Francis Xavier, from the city of Arga, in the territory of the King of Mogor, as a
precious gift, and a remarkable monument of antiquity, to the Collegium
Romanum, where I have collated it. This Codex was transcribed from the original in
the Mahometan year 730 of the Hegira, which corresponds to A.D. 1381. The
original itself was very much more ancient, for which reason the version contains a
great number of Persian words differing from modern Persian. Of all these versions
I propose to make use, though in moderation, and . For they have not
the authority of the Greek and Latin Gospels; but they confirm, and to some extent
illustrate them. Moreover there are at Rome Ethiopians, or Abyssinians, whose
youthful priests are in the habit of coming to the Collegium Romanum. In Rome too
there are those who are skilled in other tongues, for the world is in that city. The
various Gospels have been interpreted to me by men of the several nations and
languages in which they are written, especially by the Reverend Father Athanasius
Kincher of our Society, a man well acquainted with the Oriental languages, as may
be seen by the Lexicon which he has lately published.
It is said that S. Matthew preached in hither Ethiopia, now called Sennaar,
where there are black Ethiopians. He is said to have died in the city of Luah, where
there are still standing churches dedicated to him. The rest of Ethiopia, or
Abyssinia, attributes its reception of the Gospels and the rest of Holy Scripture,
together with the faith of Christ to a certain Ethiopian monk, named Abba Salama,
or the father of peace. He was brought up amongst the Eastern Arabs, from whom
he derived his knowledge of Christianity and the Holy Scriptures, which he
afterwards communicated to the whole of Ethiopia, for which reason he is called its
apostle. The Ethiopic version agrees with the Arabic, from which it was derived.
Very many, both in ancient and modern times, have written commentaries on
the Gospels. Not to multiply citations, let us quote what S. Jerome says in his
preface to S. Matthew: "I confess that I have read many years ago twenty-five
volumes of Origen upon S. Matthew, and as many volumes of Homilies. I have read
also the commentaries of Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, of Hippolytus the Martyr,
and of Theodore of Heraclea, of Apollinarius of Laodicea, and Didymus of
Alexandria. Of Latin commentators, I have read the works of Hilary, Victorinus,
and Fortunatus, from whom, even though little be taken, something worthy
remembrance might be written down."
Of recent commentators the number is all but infinite. Their superabundance
makes it difficult for the reader to know which to choose, so that he might say with
Niobe of old, "Abundance has made me poor."
For myself, I have written the following commentaries, partly at Louvain,
A.D. 1600, partly when I was teaching and lecturing publicly on the Gospels at
Rome. I am now an old man, and have passed nearly all my life in learning in the
school of the Holy Scriptures. In a science so vast, so sublime and difficult, no one
ought to be a teacher and doctor until he has spent a long time in studying as a
disciple of the doctors.
ON THE TITLE
SAINT MATTHEW'S GOSPEL.
THIS Gospel in the Latin, Greek, and Syriac versions, has for its title, "The
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Matthew." That is, this is the book which
contains the most excellent and joyful message of the advent of Christ, the Messiah
promised to the patriarchs, of His Incarnation, Birth, Life, Preaching, Passion,
Resurrection, and Ascension, of the grace of His salvation, and the glory flowing
from it and given to the whole world, of which things S. Matthew was the writer,
the Holy Ghost the dictator.
The Syriac version prefixes the following title: "In power of the Lord, and of
our God, Jescua Christ, we begin to write the book of the most sacred Evangel, the
first Gospel, the preaching of Matthew." At the end of the book is written, "Of the
holy Gospel, the preaching of Matthew, which he preached in the Hebrew tongue, in
the land of Palestine, the end." The Arabic has, "The Gospel of Jesus Christ, as Mar
() Matthew, one of His twelve disciples, wrote it."
: The Gospel both is, and is called holy, because all the things which it
contains are pre-eminently holy; viz., holy is the Birth of Christ, holy is His
doctrine, holy are His works. There is also an allusion to Daniel ix. 24, where it is
said that seventy weeks of years must be fulfilled until Christ, that the Holy of
Holies may be anointed, because it is shown in this Gospel that the prophecy of
Daniel was fulfilled in Christ which was for to come. For Christ is the Holy of
Holies, and therefore as of old to the patriarch Jacob, so now to all Christians, His
servants, He will give knowledge of holy things; for His object is our sanctification,
that "That being delivered from the hand of our enemies, we may serve him without
fear: in holiness and justice before him, all our days." (Luke i. 75.)
, in Greek , good news, from GG, . So
S. Chrysostom. See Budaeus, , where he adds that Evangel, by
metonyme, signifies a donation, or an offering given for good news. Thus Cicero
writes to Atticus, "O, thy sweet letters, for which I confess I owe " that
is, a reward for good tidings. In Hebrew, Gospel is called , from ,
"flesh," because is the most joyful tidings of the Word "being made flesh."
. The words, , denote that primarily
and chiefly its author is the Holy Spirit, and in the second place S. Matthew. For
Matthew was as it were the organ, instrument, and pen of the Holy Spirit, writing
the things which the Holy Ghost dictated to him, according to those words in the
forty-fourth Psalm, "My tongue is the pen of a ready writer."
2. denotes that the Gospel is one and the same, but was
written in a fourfold manner by four Evangelists. Therefore the words indicate that
the Gospel of S. Matthew is not another Gospel than that of SS. Mark, Luke, and
John, but only that there was a different writer, and a different manner of writing
3. It signifies that the Holy Ghost accommodated Himself to the nature and
disposition of S. Matthew. The Holy Ghost illuminated, stirred him up, and directed
him, so as to write the things which he had partly witnessed himself, partly had
heard from the other Apostles, and partly God had revealed to him, in such a way
as should be in accordance with the method, order, style, diction, and genius of S.
Matthew. For there was no need of a fresh revelation from God for such things as
Matthew already knew, by seeing or hearing them, but only of assistance and
direction of the Holy Spirit, lest through forgetfulness, or any other human
infirmity, he should err from the truth, even in the very slightest point, or write
anything else, or in any different manner from what the Holy Spirit willed.
Some are of opinion that this title was prefixed to his Gospel by S. Matthew
himself, as were also the titles of S. Mark, S. Luke, and S. John by those
Evangelists. For thus the Prophets prefixed their names to their prophecies, as the
Vision of Isaiah, the Vision of Obadiah.
But it is far more probable that the titles of each of the Gospels were
attached to them, not by the Evangelists themselves, but by the Church. The
similarity of the titles is an indication that such was the case. The title of the Syriac
Gospel, which I have already cited, makes it still more probable that it was so. And
from hence you may gather an irrefragable argument for the authority of tradition,
that Holy Scripture does not suffice for building up the true faith and morals of the
Church, but that there is need likewise of Apostolic traditions. This is one of the
false negations of the heretics. For tell me if you can, from whence you know that
this is the Gospel of S. Matthew, and Canonical Scripture, and that the Gospels of
Thomas, of Barnabas, and the Twelve Apostles, which were formerly in circulation,
are not Canonical Scripture, except by the tradition and consent of the Church? For
many books have false titles, and are inscribed with the names of other authors, as
is plain by the works of SS. Augustine, Jerome, Cyprian, and other Fathers. In the
same way some Gospels which were compiled by heretics, were inscribed with the
names of SS. Bartholomew, Thomas, and Barnabas. By like art and deceit, they
might have ascribed a false Gospel to S. Matthew, as in effect the Gnostics did,
when they changed and corrupted S. Matthew's Gospel by their additions. In order,
therefore, that we may be sure that this Gospel is rightly ascribed to S. Matthew,
and still more, that the whole of it was really dictated by the Holy Ghost, there
must needs be the declaration and definition of the Church, which severs it from
Apocryphal writings, and pronounces it Canonical. Hence S. Austin, in his book
against the Epistle of Manes, which they call Fundamental, wisely says, "I would
not believe the Gospel, unless the authority of the Catholic Church moved me to do
so." Not because the authority of the Church is worthier, or of more weight than
that of Holy Scripture for Scripture is the word and the oracle of God Himself
but because it is the office of the Church to separate genuine Scripture from what is
false and spurious, and to give its true sense and meaning. "When, therefore, we
say," says a weighty author, "that the Evangelists and other sacred writers have
authority from the Catholic Church, according to the sense in which we say it, no
one has a right to be offended, as if we set the Church before God. For the sense in
which we say that the Church confers authority upon the Scriptures is this, that
she declares them to be given by God, and pronounces that they have been dictated
by Him. Do they prefer the servant to his master, who say, as is commonly done,
that the king's letters have the chancellor's authority, because he has attached the
great seal to them? But the Church has the Seal of God, even the Spirit Himself,
who was promised, and has been given to her, that He may abide with her for ever.
The Spirit recognizes His own handwriting. He it was who first dictated these four
Gospels. And now He makes known to us, by the Church, that He did indite them.
. Matthew, who was called by Christ from the receipt of custom to
the apostolate, was the first who wrote a Gospel. Blessed Peter Damian, in his
sermon on S. Matthew, gives him this eulogium:"Amongst the greatest saints who
have gained their titles of victory in celestial glory by their triumph over the world,
Matthew seems to me especially glorious and famous, and to obtain a certain
primacy of dignity amongst them. To speak plainly, there is no one after Christ to
whom, as it appears to me, the holy universal Church is more indebted. For this is
the very cause of the life of the world, that the Gospel has shone upon us. Like a
captain, he carried a standard for his followers, and by his example stirred them up
Cajetan and the Anabaptists are of opinion that S. Matthew wrote in Greek,
because Hebrew wordssuch as are
translated into Greek. But these may have been added by the Greek translator. SS.
Jerome and Augustine, Eusebius, and the rest of the ancients, unanimously affirm
that Matthew wrote in Hebrew, and that he did so because he was asked by the
Jews, when he was going away amongst the Gentiles, to leave them in writing what
he had orally preached to them. This is asserted by S. Chrysostom, in his first
Homily. The adds, "The cause of S. Matthew's writing was this:
at a time of severe persecution in Palestine, when all were in danger of being
dispersed, in order that if the disciples were deprived of teachers of the faith, they
might not be deprived of teaching, they asked Matthew to write them a history of
all the words and deeds of Christ, that wheresoever they might be, they might have
with them a statement of all that they believed. S. Jerome declares that he had
seen S. Matthew's Gospel, written in Hebrew, in the Library of Pamphilus the
Martyr, at Caesarea, and from it had transcribed his own copy. This Hebrew text is
now, however, lost. For what Sebastian Munster, an unfrocked renegade, has
offered to us, as though he had received it from the Jews, is suspected to have been
written, or else falsified, by heretics or Jewish traitors, and has besides an offensive
odour of spuriousness.
S. Matthew wrote a Gospel in Hebrew, at the bidding of the Apostles, says S.
Epiphanius ( 51), in the same year that they took counsel about
separating, that they might go to the Gentiles. This was in the year 37 after the
birth of Christ, the fourth from the Passion. So that the opinion of Baronius is not
so probable that Matthew wrote in A.D. 41. Still less probable is what S. Irenaeus
says (lib. 3, c. I), that he wrote whilst SS. Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome.
For S. Peter did not come to Rome before the second year of the Emperor Claudius,
and S. Paul not before the third year of Nero. Whence it would follow that S.
Matthew did not write until the eighteenth or twentieth year after Christ's
ascension, which is evidently untrue.
Certainly S. Matthew's Hebrew Gospel was immediately translated into
Greek. This was done either by S. Matthew himself, S. John, or S. James, or by
some such person. S. Athanasius, in his , says,
"Matthew's Gospel was written by Matthew in the Hebrew dialect, published at
Jerusalem, and a translation made by James, the Lord's brother." But Theophylact,
in his Preface says, "John, it is reported, translated this Gospel out of Hebrew into
Greek." Some again are of opinion that Barnabas was the translator of this Gospel
from Hebrew into Greek. Among others this is asserted by Sixtus Senensis. But
Anastasius Sinaita says that Luke and Paul were the translators. The Syriac
version of S. Matthew was certainly translated not from the Hebrew, but the Greek.
S. Jerome also, when by the command of Pope Damasus, he corrected the Latin
translation of the four Gospels, made S. Matthew conform to the Greek rather than
the Hebrew, as he tells us in his preface to the Gospels. I may observe in passing
that when S. Jerome, at the bidding of Damasus, translated the Old Testament out
of Hebrew into Latin, he did not translate afresh the New Testament, but brought
the existing translation into accordance with the Greek original.
So that the translator of the New Testament was not S. Jerome, but some one
much earlier, though far from being a good Latinist, as is plain to every reader.
S. Jerome says, that when S. Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew, he
appears to have followed the Hebrew original in his citations from the Old
Testament. But the Greek translator has preferred to cite them from the
Septuagint, as better known to the Gentiles.
Whether S. Matthew wrote in pure Hebrew, such as that of Moses and the
Prophets, or in the corrupt Hebrew current after the Babylonish captivity, usually
called Syriac, is not plain. It is certain that the Jews in the time of Christ did not
speak pure Hebrew. Syriac was their vernacular. It is very evident that the rest of
the New Testament was translated from Greek into Syriac, and the same person
apparently translated all the books. The Hebrew words quoted in the Greek text
differ from the Syriac words used in the Syriac version now extant.
In S. Matthew xxvii. 8, instead of the Hebrew , or field of blood,
the present Syriac has , an evident Grecism, partly formed from
GG, a field. Instead of the Hebrew , the Syriac has . For , my God, my God, it has , omitting the For , it has
; for , &c. The Syrians thought that the translator of
the New Testament from Greek into their language was S. Mark the Evangelist.
But it is difficult to believe this, for both the Cyrils, Clement of Alexandria, SS.
Athanasius and Damascene, Theodoret, S. Ephrem, who lived either in Syria, or
else in Egypt, make no mention of it. I may add that the Version has several things
which are little pleasing to learned men. This translator appears to have lived
subsequently to the Fathers just named. He has this good point about him,
however, that he was a Catholic opposed to heretics. For in the headings of his
chapters he often makes mention of fasts, vigils, feasts, invocation of saints, &c.
As regards divisions, the Gospel of S. Matthew has been variously divided,
and parted into sections. By the ancient Latin Church, according to S. Hilary, it
was divided into 33 Canons: by others, it was divided into 67 Canons. By the later
Latins it is divided into 28 chapters. By the Greeks, according to Euthymius, it was
divided into 68 chapters; according to Suidas into 68 titles, and 355 chapters.
Lastly, S. Matthew is pre-eminent amongst the Evangelists in the following
1. He was the first who published a Gospel, wherefore Tertullian calls him,
"that most faithful exponent of the Gospel." (, c. 22.)
2. Because he dwells upon Christ's regal dignity more than the others.
3. Because S. Matthew was the Apostle of Ethiopia, and the victim of
virginity. He was slain by King Hirtacus, because he was not willing that
Iphigenia, the daughter of the King of Ethiopia, who had consecrated her virginity
to God, should be given him to wife.
4. Because S. Matthew, who was perfectly conversant with business affairs,
for he was over the tribute, was converted to Christ, not by seeing His miracles, not
by hearing His preaching, says S. Chrysostom, but by a single word, "Follow Me,"
obeying this with the utmost promptitude, he was straightway changed into
another man, even into an Apostle, so that he left all things, and followed Christ. I
may add, that after this he never left Christ, but was a beholder and a witness of
His miracles, an imitator of His life, a companion of His journeys and labours a
partaker of His cares and griefs, and thus was conversant with Him during the
whole period of His earthly ministry.
Matthew means in Hebrew, , as Origen and Isidore sayor a gift, as
Pagninus thinksfrom , a . Anastasius of Antioch gives a different
interpretation, Matthew, he says, means the "command of the Most High." S.
Gregory makes the following remarks about him: "Iron is taken out of the earth.
Was not Matthew found in the earth, when he was immersed in worldly business,
and served the customs' board. But when he was taken out of the earth, he
possessed the strength of iron. For by his tongue, and by the dispensation of the
Gospel committed to him, the Lord, as by a most sharp sword, transfixed the hearts
of unbelievers." Clement of Alexandria says of this Evangelist, that he was not wont
to eat flesh, but to live on seeds, berries, and herbs.
I pass over what Abdias (lib. 3 .) says, that Matthew on account
of the Gospel which he was preaching to the Myrmidons, had his eyes put out by
those idolaters, but was restored to sight by the Apostle S. Andrew, at the bidding
of an angel, who appeared to him, with many other things, for this Abdias is an
apocryphal writer. You may consult Surius, Baronius, John le Haye, and
several other writers for further particulars about S. Matthew.
The last thing I will mention is, that S. Matthew made himself known to S.
Brigitt, when she was praying at his tomb in the city of Malphi, and said to her,
"When I was writing my Gospel, so intense was the heat of the Divine flame which
abode with me, that even if I had wished to keep silence, I could not, because of that
SAINT MATTHEW'S GOSPEL
1 18 19
1 The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham:
2 Abraham begot Isaac. And Isaac begot Jacob. And Jacob begot Judas and his
3 And Judas begot Phares and Zara of Thamar. And Phares begot Esron. And Esron
4 And Aram begot Aminadab. And Aminadab begot Naasson. And Naasson begot
5 And Salmon begot Booz of Rahab. And Booz begot Obed of Ruth. And Obed begot
6 And Jesse begot David the king. And David the king begot Solomon, of her that had
been the wife of Urias.
7 And Solomon begot Roboam. And Roboam begot Abia. And Abia begot Asa.
8 And Asa begot Josaphat. And Josaphat begot Joram. And Joram begot Ozias.
9 And Ozias begot Joatham. And Joatham begot Achaz. And Achaz begot Ezechias.
10 And Ezechias begot Manasses. And Manasses begot Amon. And Amon begot Josias.
11 And Josias begot Jechonias and his brethren in the transmigration of Babylon.
12 And after the transmigration of Babylon, Jechonias begot Salathiel. And Salathiel
13 And Zorobabel begot Abiud. And Abiud begot Eliacim. And Eliacim begot Azor.
14 And Azor begot Sadoc. And Sadoc begot Achim. And Achim begot Eliud.
15 And Eliud begot Eleazar. And Eleazar begot Mathan. And Mathan begot Jacob.
16 And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David, are fourteen generations. And from
David to the transmigration of Babylon, are fourteen generations: and from the transmigration of
Babylon to Christ are fourteen generations.
18 Now the generation of Christ was in this wise. When as his mother Mary was
espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost.
19 Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose
her, was minded to put her away privately.
20 But while he thought on these things, behold the Angel of the Lord appeared to him
in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is
conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost.
21 And she shall bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus. For he shall
save his people from their sins.
22 Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet,
23 Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his
name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
24 And Joseph rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him,
and took unto him his wife.
25 And he knew her not till she brought forth her first born son: and he called his name
.Thus it is verbally in the Greek, Latin,
Syrian, Arabic, Egyptian, Persian texts. But the Ethiopian has . Matthew here seems to imitate Moses. Listen to what blessed Peter
Damian says in his Sermon on S. Matthew: "As Moses is not improperly placed
before the prophets and all who have written anything in the Old Testament, so
Matthew rightly takes precedence of all who are found to have written in the New
Testament. For as Moses compiled () an account of the origin of the world, so
has Matthew described the rising newness of the Church, as it were of a spiritual
world. Hence it has been provided that, the Holy Spirit guiding the pen, both Moses
and S. Matthew placed the same commencement to their respective works, saying,
'The Book of the Generation.'" So far Damian. Now Moses, in Gen. v. 1, thus begins
the account of the genealogy and race of Adam, the first formed man: for Adam was a type of Christ. For as Adam was the father of
the mortal life of all men, so is Christ the Father of the immortal life of the faithful,
as S. Paul teaches, Rom. v. 14, &c., and 1 Cor. xv. 47 The Hebrew is HH
, the book, or catalogue, and enumeration of the generations
of Adam. For, in the 5th of Genesis, many, indeed all the generations are given by
which the human race was propagated from Adam to Noah and the Flood, whence it
is probable that S. Matthew, who alludes to Moses, wrote likewise in Hebrew, in
this passage, , the book of the generations, in the plural. The
LXX, however, in Gen. v., have translated GG, , in the
singular, because the generation of Adam was one, by which he, as it were the
patriarch of the whole human race, begat Seth, which generation was afterwards
continued by Seth and his posterity, and was propagated as far as Noah. The Greek
interpreter of S. Matthew, and the Latin Vulgate, which was translated from the
Greek, here followed the LXX, because properly there is related the generation of
Christ alone, whose origin indeed is derived from Abraham, through many
generations of forefathers, and is brought down to Christ. As, therefore, Adam was
the beginning or origin of the old world, so is Christ of the new and better world,
whence he is called by Isaiah (ix. 6), "The Father of the coming age." (Vulgate).
Hence also Virgil, following the Cumaean Sibyl, sings thus concerning Him,
"Now the last age of Cumaean Verses is come,
Afresh the great cycle of ages begins;
Returneth the Virgin, Saturnian Kingdoms return:
The heavenly Offspring descends from on high:
"Dear increase of God, true Offspring of Jove,
Begin, Boy, by smiles thy Mother to know."
It is plain that these things were spoken by the Sibyl concerning Christ; but
Virgil, either through ignorance or flattery, has transferred them to Pollio, the son
of Asinius Pollio, the Roman Consul.
Note, 1st, here is the same as catalogue, or enumeration, or
description, whence the Syriac translation, Ml.), , a description, or
writing. For this is the exact meaning of the Hebrew, sepher, to which the Greek
GG and Latin liber correspond. In a like sense, the paper in which was recorded the
putting away of a wife by her husband was called a . So the
is the catalogue in which the names and acts of the
righteous are recorded. is the catalogue of the elect, who are
written in the mind of God as in a book. Cicero called a catalogue of names, a
Note, 2nd, the word . First, and most evidently, it is the same as
the race, or genealogy of Christ. Second, the generation of Christ is the conception
and birth of Christ. See ver. 18. Gr. GG . Third, as Maldonatus observes, "the generation of Christ is the life of
Christ." For Matthew, in the Gospel, relates the history of the whole course of the
life of Christ. Fourth, the Hebrew properly signifies generations, many
of which intervened between Adam and Christ. The steps in Jacob's ladder, above
which God stood, represented these generationsthose steps, I mean, by which the
angels ascended from earth to heaven. For as this ladder joined, as it were, earth to
heaven, and Jacob to God, so this series of generations united all the patriarchs to
Christ, who was made Flesh, and so united all men to Himself and to God.
, descendant of David: for the Hebrews call all male lineal
descendants, sons. The Evangelist places David first, then Abraham: 1st, because
David was the nearer to Christ, and through him Christ reaches to Abraham; 2nd,
because thus, in a more compendious manner, without repetition, Christ's
genealogy is stated. He wished to impress this fact, that Christ was descended from
Abraham through David. So S. Jerome. 3rd, and chiefly, because the promise of God
made to David concerning Christ, as about to be born of his posterity, was the later,
more special, and more glorious promise, as S. Chrysostom, Theophilus, Euthym.,
teach. Hence the Jews constantly call their Messiah the Son of David. Hence on
Palm Sunday, when Christ entered into Jerusalem, they hailed Him as Messiah:
, O Lord, save our Messiah, speaking of Him as
David's son and heir. Lastly, by the title, , the nobility of the race
from whence Messiah sprung is hinted at, as also His kingdom, viz., that He too
should be a king, as being the Son of David, a king, according to that divine voice of
the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin, "He shall be great and shall be called
the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David
his father: and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom
there shall be no end." (S. Luke i. 31.) For this reason the prophets everywhere
speak of Christ as David's son and heir, thus Is. ix. 7, lv. 3; Jer. xxv. 5; Ez. xxxiv.
23, xxxvii. 25, &c.
The first promise which was made to David concerning Christ, that He
should spring from him, and reign for ever, is found 2 Sam. vii. 12; the same was
confirmed, Ps. lxxxviii. and cxxxi.; and repeated to Solomon, David's Son, 1 Kings
ix. 5. When, therefore, S. Matthew says, , he means
that all these promises were now fulfilled in Christ. Thus S. Chrysostom 2;
Theophilus, Euthym.; Ireneus, lib. 8, c. 8; S. Ambrose, lib. 3 , c. 3; and
. The word Son here may be referred either to David or to
Christ. For David, as well as Christ, was a son, a descendant, of Abraham. It
signifies, therefore, that Christ, through David His father, was also the Son of
Abraham, who was the father of them that believe, and of the ancient Church. The
first express promise concerning Christ was made to him. (Gen. xxii. 18.) Now, from
the birth of Abraham to the birth of Christ there were 2,000 years; from the death
of David to Christ, 1,013 years. So great was the antiquity of the oracles and
promises of God concerning Christ; so constant and sure was God's faithfulness in
fulfilling them. And this is why S. Matthew so carefully derives the genealogy of
Christ from Abraham, even through forty-two generations, in order that he might
show the Jews that Jesus Christ was the true Messiah promised to Abraham, and
that He was the Son of Abraham and the rest of the patriarchs; and that He might
therefore, as such, be received, cherished, and worshipped by the Jews.
. These two, with those who came after them,
were the first patriarchs, the founders of the synagogue and people of God, and of
the Kingdom of Christ. They, as types, foreshadowed Him. (See comment on
Genesis, where I have unfolded their genealogies.) I will not here repeat what has
been said. God constantly calls Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and
even makes a boast, so to say, of this title. Wherefore He chose the posterity of
Abraham, descending through Isaac and Jacob, for His own family and Church, and
gave them the sign and pledge of circumcision. Wherefore God changed Abraham's
name from Abram,, a high father, to Abraham, that is to say, HH, , or the father of a great multitudeviz., of the believing people that should
be born of him according to the flesh; in like manner as of Christ, both Jews and
Gentiles, who believe in Him, are born according to the Spirit. Now Isaac
laughterabout to be offered up by his father on Mount Moriah, clearly
represented Christ, who was crucified on the same mount, and brought salvation
and joy to the whole world.
Ver. 3.. (See what I have
said on Tamar, Gen. xxxviii. 29.)
Observe that in the genealogy of Christ, with the exception of His Blessed
Mother, only four females are made mention of, three of them harlotsThamar,
Rahab, and Bethsabeeand the fourth a Gentile, Ruth the Moabitess. Rahab, too,
was a Gentile, being an inhabitant of Jericho. If the reason of all this be asked, SS.
Jerome, Chrysostom, Ambrose answer, that it was so because Christ would signify
that "He who came for the abolishing and putting away of sins wished to be born of
sinners." This reason is true, but allegorical. The literal and simple reason is, that
these women were united to their husbands, not in the ordinary way, but after a
new and extraordinary manner; and so they became types of the Church of Christ,
which, when the Jews were rejected, was gathered out of the Gentiles by a new
vocation, and after a new manner. Tamar, because Shelah was denied her in
marriage, or rather because her union with him was deferred, using deceit,
prostituted herself to Judah. Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, was united to David,
first by adultery, then in marriage. Rahab married Salmon because she hospitably
received and protected the Hebrew spies who were sent by Joshua to Jericho, and so
she became of the same faith and religion. Ruth married Boaz when she had passed
with her mother-in-law, Naomi, from Moab into Judaea.
The tropological sense is to show us the vanity of pride of birth, and that true
nobility consists, not in ancestry, but in our own good disposition and virtues. Thus
S. Chrysostom. Wherefore let no one be ashamed of his birth, nor even of vile and
wicked ancestors; but let us say with Cicero, "I have outshone my forefathers in
virtue." There can be no doubt that there are in the ancestry of the most exalted
persons, forasmuch as they are sprung from Adam, many ignoble, worthless,
wicked, and infamous persons. Plato, according to Seneca ( 44), is of opinion
that all kings are descended from servants, and that all servants are sprung from
kings; that there is no king who has been entirely free from the plough, and no
ploughman who has not been mixed up with kings.
Lastly, Solomon, amongst the other vanities and uncertainties of the world,
reckons this: "Because out of prison and chains sometimes a man cometh forth to a
kingdom: and another born king is consumed with poverty." (Eccles. iv. 14.)
. He was prince of the tribe of Judah when the Israelites came
out of Egypt, who, when the rest stood still, fearing to go into the Red Sea, although
God had made dry ground through the midst of it, courageously entered into it, and
brought his own tribe safely through, and then the other princes and tribes
followed. This is a Hebrew tradition. To this alludes the verse, Cant. vi. 12, "My
soul troubled me for the chariots of Aminadab." His son Naasson succeeded him in
the headship of the tribe.
, or, according to a different punctuation of the Hebrew, . The
name itself prefigured Jesus Christ, who was to be born of him. For Jesse and Jesus
are the same word if we consider the root of both, which is to be found in the
Hebrew HH , to save.
. After Uriah's death, David married
his wife, and of her he begat Solomon, for Solomon was not born of adultery, but in
wedlock. In this passage it is intimated that God did not recall the promises which
He had made to David on account of his adultery with Bathsheba, but, on their
repentance, He confirmed His promises. Whence from Bathsheba and her son
Solomon Christ was descended. In truth, Bathsheba herself became a saintly
penitent, and brought up Solomon her son in a holy manner. Yea, she became
illustrious for the spirit of prophecy, as I have shown in Prov. xxxi. 1, on the words,
"The words of king Lamuel. The vision wherewith his mother instructed him."
not directly, but with three generations
intervening; for Joram was really the father of Ahaziah, Ahaziah of Joash, Joash of
Amaziah, Amaziah of Azariah or Uzziah, for he had both names. (See 1 Chron. iii.
It is asked why S. Matthew here omits these three links in the genealogy. S.
Jerome answers, because the Evangelist wished to form three exact series of
fourteen generations each, on which see ver. 17. And because Jehoram had allied
himself to the most wicked Jezebel and to Ahab, in taking Ahab's sister, the
impious Athaliah, to wife; for God had sworn that, on account of Ahab's impiety and
idolatry, He would blot out all his posterity. (1 Kings xxi. 21, &c.) Posterity in
Scripture is reckoned to the fourth generation. Here, then, it is blotted out,
forasmuch as it is omitted and obliterated by S. Matthew. Thus S. Hilary, S.
Thomas, Jansen, &c. Gaspar Sanchez gives another reason. He conjectures that
Matthew actually wrote as follows: "Joram begat Ochoziah, Ochoziah begat Joash,
Joash begat Amaziah, Amaziah begat Oziah;" but that the copyist, misled by the
similarity between Ochoziah and Oziah, as the names are written in Greek, by a
slip of his eye passed over from Ahaziah to Uzziah. Thus Gaspar. But this would be
an enormous blunder, and though one copyist might fall into such an error, it was
scarcely possible that all could. All extant MSS. and Versions are alike here
Greek, Syriac, Latin, Arabic, &c. ". Besides, if
these three generations were inserted, they would make seventeen generations,
whereas S. Matthew says expressly there were fourteen generations.
. Josias begat four sons. The
first was Johanan; the second, Jehoiakim, who is also Eliakim; the third, Jehoahaz,
also called Shallum; the fourth, Zedekiah, who is also Mattaniah. Jehoahaz,
although the third son, succeeded his father Josias immediately upon his death; but
Pharaoh, King of Egypt, removed him, and placed his brother Jehoiakim upon the
throne. After he had reigned eleven years, Nebuchadnezzar slew him, and gave the
crown to his son Jehoiachin. Him he shortly afterwards dethroned, and made his
uncle Zedekiah king. When Zedekiah rebelled, he took him captive, and put out his
eyes; and in him that branch of David's royal line came to an end.
Greek GG that is, about the time of the
transmigration to Babylon, or the Babylonish captivity, in which the Jews were
carried away by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon.
The transmigration of the Jews to Babylon took place at three different
times. The first was in the eleventh year of King Jehoiakim, when Daniel and
Ezekiel were carried away. The second was three months afterwards, when
Mordecai, Esther's uncle, was carried away, together with Jehoiachin, the son of
Jehoiakim. The third, and most complete, captivity was eleven years afterwards,
under King Zedekiah, when almost all the people who were left were taken away.
Ver. 12.. There is a great difficulty here, which
Porphyry, the enemy of Christ and of Christians, was in the habit of bringing
forward as insuperable. For this Jeconias, the father of Salathiel, was not the
Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, who is spoken of in the preceding verse, but the son of
that Jehoiakim, and the grandson of Josiah, and consequently there are only
thirteen generations, instead of fourteen, as S. Matthew enumerates.
S. Jerome replies that this Jeconias is a different person from Jeconias, the
son of Josiah. The former was Jehoiakim, or , and by a
corruption. The latter is properly Jehoiachin. Josiah begat Jehoiakim, and
Jehoiakim begat Jehoiachin. One generation must, therefore, be supplied in this
place. "" as some Greek and Latin MSS. do read.
That what has been said is correct, is clear from 1 Chron. iii. 15, 16, and 2 Kings
xxiii. and xxiv.
The generation in question was omitted, either by S. Matthew himself, in
order to avoid the repetition of the two similar names, as S. Augustine thinks, or,
more probably, through the fault and ignorance of transcribers, who, mistaking
Jechonias for Jeconias, thought that one of the two was redundant, and so omitted
it. This was the opinion of S. Epiphanius.
Ver. 16.. You may ask,
why is the generation of Christ here derived from the genealogy of Joseph? Christ
was the Son, not of Joseph, but of the Virgin Mary, especially if S. Mary were able,
as it might appear, to marry a man of another tribe, as her cousin Elizabeth, who
was of the tribe of Judah, like Mary herself, married Zachariah, a priest, and
therefore of the tribe of Levi.
The answer is, that Jewish women might, indeed, marry into another tribe:
but if they themselves, in the failure of heirs male, became heiresses of their
fathers, they were in that case obliged to marry husbands of their own tribe and
family, that their inheritance might not pass by marriage into another tribe. (See
the last chapter of Numbers, ver. 7.)
Joakim, the father of the Blessed Virgin, had no male children, a fact which
S. Matthew here omits, as something perfectly well known in the age in which he
writes. Hence it became the duty of S. Mary to marry a husband of her own tribe
and family, that is to say, Joseph. Thus the genealogy of Joseph became the
genealogy of the Blessed Virgin, and consequently of Christ, the Lord. Thus, too, it
is, that the Fathers teach universally that Joseph and Mary were of the same tribe
It may be yet further asked, why S. Matthew unfolded the genealogy of
Joseph rather than of Mary, since Christ was born of her alone, being a Virgin? I
answer:First, because among the Jews, and other nations, genealogy is
customarily reckoned through fathers and husbands, not through mothers and
wives. Second, because Joseph was the true and lawful father of Christ, after the
manner which I shall explain presently. And Christ was the heir of David's throne
and sceptre, not through Mary, but through Joseph, according to God's promise to
David, 2 Sam. vii. 12; Ps. lxxxviii. and cxxxi. The sceptre, therefore, of Judah
devolved upon Jesus Christ, not only by the promise and gift of God, but by the
right of hereditary succession. For if, by common right, sons succeed to their
fathers' inheritance, when they are only accounted their sons by common repute,
how much more was Christ Joseph's, His father's, heir, since He was the Son of his
wife, by the power and the gift of the Holy Ghost? Wherefore as Joseph had a
parent's right over Christ, indeed, all rights which parents have over sons, so on the
other hand, Christ had, with reference to Joseph, all the rights which sons have in
respect to their parents. He had therefore a right to the kingdom of Israel after
Joseph's death. Hence the question of the Magi (ii. 2), "Where is he that is born
King of the Jews?" This was what S. Matthew wished to demonstrate, who, as S.
Augustine says, insists, most of all the Evangelists, upon the kingship of Christ.
And this explains why he gives the genealogy of Joseph, rather than of Mary. For
she could not be the heiress of the kingdom, so long as heirs male, like Joseph and
others, survived. Whence also it must be said, as a consequence, that the father and
other ancestors of Joseph were first-born, or at least eldest surviving sons of their
fathers, so that the right of reigning devolved upon them.
This is what is meant in the first chapter of S. Luke by the words, "And the
Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father." So likewise in Gen.
xlix. 10, "The sceptre shall not be taken away from Judah, nor a ruler from his
thigh, till he come that is to be sent:" that is, Christ, who was to restore to Judah
the sceptre, iniquitously taken away by Herod; yea, who was to raise their kingdom
to a far higher grandeur, by making it spiritual instead of corporeal, heavenly
instead of earthly, and, instead of temporal, eternal.
Observe the expression, . The Arabic has
. From this we may gather that S. Joseph had all the rights of
a real husband with regard to the Virgin, and consequently is rightly and truly
called the father of Christ. This is pointed out by S. Augustine.
1. Christ may be said to be the fruit of the marriage of Joseph and Mary,
because He was born wedlock, though not wedlock. He may therefore be
ascribed either to His father or His mother.
2. Forasmuch as a man and his wife are made one by marriage, as it were but
one person in the eye of the law, therefore they have everything in common, and so
all their legitimate children: for I except children born of adultery. They have the
adulterer as their father, and belong to him.
Christ, then, who was the Son of the Virgin Mother of God, was also the Son
of Joseph, who was her husband, and therefore the partner of all her honours and
Joseph was more truly the father of Christ than one who adopts a son is the
father of that son. He is only a father by adoption, but Joseph was father of Christ
by marriage. Hence it follows that Joseph had a father's authority over Christ, and
therefore the utmost solicitude and affection for him. And Christ in return
cherished, loved, and honoured Joseph as a father, and was obedient to him, as is
plain from Luke ii. 51. "This subjection," as Gerson says, "marks at once the
unspeakable humility of Christ, and the incomparable dignity of Joseph and Mary."
3. Because Christ properly belonged to the family of Joseph: for He belonged
to His mother's family as His mother herself belonged to Joseph's. There was
therefore upon earth one most noble, yea, divine and heavenly family, of which the
father and ruler was Joseph; the mother, the Blessed Virgin; the son, Christ. In it
were the three most exalted and excellent persons of the whole world; first, Christ,
both God and man; secondly, the Virgin Mother of God, most closely united to
Christ; and thirdly, Joseph, the father of Christ by marriage.
The common herd of men, yea, many of this world's wise ones, think of
Joseph only as a poor and despised carpenter. But the more despised and unknown
he was upon earth, so much the greater is his glory in heaven. Wherefore Gregory
XV. hath lately decreed that his Festival shall be celebrated as a by the
whole Church on the 19th of March. And this is a well deserved honour; for
consider, from what I am about to subjoin, how great were his prerogatives, his
office, and dignity above all other men.
1. Joseph was the husband of the Blessed Virgin, and the father of Christ, as
I have already shown. He was therefore the head and superior both of the Virgin,
and of Christ as He was man. Hence,
2. There was singular love and reverence, on the part both of the Blessed
Virgin and of Christ, towards Joseph. Whence John Gerson, Chancellor of Paris
(), exclaims, "O, altogether wonderful is thy exaltation, O
Joseph, incomparable thy dignity, that the Mother of God, the Queen of Heaven,
the lady of the world, should not disdain to call thee lord!" S. Gregory Nazianzen
( 11), denotes and celebrates the excellence of the husband of his sister,
Gorgonia, by this one title, that he was Gorgonia's husband. "Do you wish," he says,
that I should describe the man? He was her husband, and I know of nothing more
that I need say." You may say the same of S. Joseph. Do you desire to know who
and how great he was? He was the husband of the Mother of God.
3. The ministry and office of Joseph was most noble, in that it pertains to the
order of the hypostatic union of the Word with our flesh. For Joseph exercised all
his labours and actions in immediate proximity to the Person of Christ. He
nourished, cherished, and guarded Christ, and taught Him his art as a carpenter,
according to the common opinion of the Doctors. Hear Franc. Suarez (3 29, . 8, 1):"There are some offices which pertain directly to
the order of grace making grateful, and in this the Apostles hold the highest rank,
and therefore need greater assistance of grace than all others. There are, again,
other offices which pertain to the order of the hypostatic union, which is
a higher order, as is plain from the motherhood of God in the Blessed Virgin. And in
this order S. Joseph exercised his ministry.
4. Joseph, by his familiar and constant companionship with Christ and the
Blessed Virgin, was made a sharer in their divine secrets, and daily beheld and
imitated their lofty virtues.
5. Joseph was a person of the utmost sanctity, and endowed by God with
singular gifts, both of nature and grace, so that in that age there was no man more
holy, or more worthy the betrothal of the Mother of God. Whence Suarez thinks it
probable that Joseph was superior to the Apostles and John the Baptist in grace
and glory, because his office was more excellent than theirs; for it is more to be the
father and governor of Christ than His preacher and forerunner. He adds that
when Joseph espoused the Blessed Virgin, he was of mature age, and died before
the Crucifixion. This is why in the Passion of Christ no mention is made of Joseph.
Lastly, he rose with Christ in common with the rest of the patriarchs, of whom
mention is made in Matt. xxvii. 52"Many bodies of the saints which slept arose."
These are the things in which Joseph was pre-eminent.
. The form of expression is here changed The
Evangelist does not say, , as he had said of Abraham and the
rest. Neither does he say, , but . By
this expression he signifies1. That Jesus was born of Mary, not by natural means,
but by supernaturalthat is to say, by the operation of the Holy Ghost. 2. That
Jesus was not sprung from His father Joseph, but born of His mother alone, she
being a virgin, and therefore that Joseph had no other connection with the
geneaology of Christ than by right of his wife, the Virgin Mary.
Well does S. Bernard say (. 1 )"Very beautiful
was the mingling of humility and virginity; nor is that soul in only a slight degree
pleasing unto God, in which humility commends virginity, and virginity adorns
humility; but of what veneration must she be worthy whose fruitfulness exalteth
humility, and childbirth consecrates virginity?" And again"Such a nativity
became God, that He should not be born save of a Virgin: such a birth became a
Virgin, that she should bring forth only God." It was fitting that, as Christ had a
Father in heaven, He should have no father upon earth, but only a mother; for He
who was without a mother in heaven (Gr. GG) was without a father on earth (Gr.
GG). For it behoved that the Conception and the Birth of Christ should be removed
as far as possible from original sinthat as it was not right that He should contract
it, so neither should it be possible. And in this He was superior to His mother; for
she, although conceived without sin by the singular preservation of God,
nevertheless was bound, through that natural conception of herself whereby she
was born of Joachim and Anna by natural generation from Adam, to have
contracted it, unless it had been prevented by the grace of God. Lastly, it behoved
that the Birth of Christ should be most divinely pure, that it might powerfully
commend virginity and chastity to us. Whence S. Gregory Nazianzen ( 38,
) says, "Christ was born of a virgin: O ye women, do ye then
cherish virginity, that ye may be able to be mothers of Christ." And Cyril of
Jerusalem says, "Christ was born that He might make virgins; much more,
therefore, ought a virgin to keep chaste her body."
2. The expressionsignifies that the Virgin was
the real mother of Jesus, of that Man who, being hypostatically united with
God, was both God and man. Therefore was she truly the mother of God. For
although she was not the mother of Deity, yet did she give birth to God, because she
was mother of that Man. For that Man was God, therefore the Blessed Virgin was
mother of God.
The reason, , is identity of Person, because there is but one Person,
and that a Divine Person, in Christ. Hence the attributes of either nature can be
predicated of Him; and there becomes a joint participation of the peculiarities of
each; so that this Man may be called God, and in return, God may be called Man,
the Son of the Virgin, and it can be said that God suffered and was crucified, &c.
For one Person is presupposed in these expressions, who gathereth up into Himself
all the actions and passions of both natures. Wherefore the Person of the Son of
God, who is God, is rightly spoken of as born of the Virgin Mary, but according to
His human, not His divine nature.
The surpassing dignity, therefore, of the Blessed Virgin is here indicated: for
such is the motherhood of God, that from her He received His own, that is to say,
His human substances, such as flesh, bones, blood; and received it in such sort that
He cherished, loved, and reverenced her as His mother, and was obedient to her as
a mother, and spoke of her as "mother." Whence S. Bernard exclaims in admiration,
"A twofold wonder, a twofold miracle; God obeys a womanhumility without a
parallel; and a woman is the head of Goddignity beyond compare!"
The Virgin Mother of God possessed the same right and authority over Christ
which other mothers have over their own sons. Yea, she had more than other
mothers have, because she was more the mother of Christ than other women are
mothers of their sons, for a reason which I shall adduce presently.
S. Thomas (I 25, 6) teaches that God could not perform
a greater work than the Incarnation of the Word, and the maternity of the Blessed
Virgin, because she is the very Mother of GodGod than whom nothing greater can
be imagined. Hence Bede saith, "O most blessed Virgin, in thee alone that rich, yea,
more than rich, King emptied Himself." For to be Mother of God is the highest
affinity, consanguinity, and union with God. By that motherhood the Blessed Virgin
Mary is in as close relationship with God as a mother is with her son.
From this dignity of Mother of God, there follow all the gifts and privileges
which have been granted to the Blessed Virgin by God above all men and angels.
For as the Humanity of Christ, being united to the Word, receiveth from the Word
such gifts and privileges as are becoming to such a unionI mean such as may
exalt that Humanity, and render It, as it were, worthy of union with the Word; so,
in like manner, God showered upon Mary all the gifts and graces which befitted
such a Mother of Christ and Spouse of God. Whence you may draw this
conclusionMary is the Mother of God, therefore she is far more excellent than all
the angels, even the Cherubim and Seraphim. She is the Mother of God, therefore
she is Queen and Lady of heaven and earth. She is the Mother of God, therefore
whatsoever privilege has been granted to any of the Saints, that she obtains in a
more excellent degree.
3. , signifies that He was born of His Mother only,
so that she alone contributed to Christ all that flesh and substance which other
fathers and mothers are wont to contribute conjointly to their children. For sons
derive a portion of their substance from their fathers, a portion from their mothers.
Wherefore the Blessed Virgin contributed more to Christ than other mothers are
wont to contribute to their sons, because she alone was, in a manner, both father
and mother of Christ.
Hence it follows1. That the Blessed Virgin hath more right in Christ than
other mothers have in their sons. 2. That Mary had far greater love for Christ, and
Christ for her, than other mothers have for their sons, and other sons for their
mothers, both because she alone bare () Him, as well as because she bare
Him not after the natural, but after the supernatural and divine order. So, too, the
love which, in other sons, is divided between father and mother, in Christ was
united, and applied wholly to His Mother. And thus she felt, as it were, with a
duplicated grief the pains of Christ upon the Cross, and experienced a duplicated
joy at His Resurrection.
4. The expression, , signifies that the Holy Ghost was
the most potent and efficient cause of the Nativity of Christ, who, within the
Blessed Virgin, of her most pure blood, formed the Body of Christ, organized It, and
gave It life, and hypostatically united It to the Word in the first moment of Its
conception. Still the Blessed Virgin was a secondary cause, and a true Mother of
Christ for the purpose of generation, not merely as passively furnishing the
material, but as actively concurring therein by way of forming, disposing, and
organizing that material. See Francis Suarez, 3 . 3, 2 , 4 . 33,
4, where he teaches that Christ's generation of the Virgin was supernatural,
as far as its manner and swiftness were concerned, because, in one moment, it was
perfected by the Holy Ghost as the efficient cause. And so the action whereby Mary
became a mother was natural; the mode was supernatural.
. The Word was made Flesh. God became Man. The Son of
God was made the Son of the Virgin. This, as S. Thomas teaches at length, was the
highest and greatest of all the works of God. At this work the Angels and all the
Saints have ever been and are amazed in wonder. For in It God manifested His
highest power by uniting man to God, clay ( mud, slime.) to the Word,
earth to heaven. He manifested also the highest wisdom, that He, who in His
Godhead might not suffer to redeem us, put on, in the Virgin's womb, flesh,
whereby He might be able to suffer, and to make satisfaction to the Father for our
sins. He manifested also the highest justice, because by reason of the dignity of His
Person, He makes satisfaction upon equal terms, as it were, to the wrath and
justice of God, by suffering death upon the Cross. And He manifested the utmost
goodness, because He emptied Himself, that He might replenish us with His gifts.
He was made the Son of man that He might make us sons of God, as S. Augustine
says. He was born on earth, that man might be born in heaven, as S. Gregory says.
that is, who is the Messiah, or the Christ, the
Redeemer of the world, promised to the Fathers. And henceforth He can and ought
to be called Messiah, or Christ in His own right, and therefore now He is verily so
called by all the faithful.
How this genealogy of S. Matthew is reconcilable with that of S. Luke, I will
unfold in my commentary on the third chapter of S. Luke.
(the Syriac has exile) . From Abraham, therefore, unto Christ are forty-two generations. S.
Luke (chap. iii.) enumerates seventy-seven generations, but he places no stress
upon the number as S. Matthew does. Though S. Augustine, c. 2, , c. 4., is of opinion that entire remission and abolition of all sins, which is
effected through Christ, is denoted by the seventy-seven generations. Whence
Christ commanded that forgiveness should be extended to an erring brother seventy
times seven. (Matt. xviii. 22.)
By generations, you must understand all the persons, both those begetting
and those begotten. These are the fourteen. For the Greek is not GG , , properly called, but GG , , and . For the generations, exactly numbered, are
only thirteen in the first Tesseradecade, as you will see if you count the recurrence
of the word "begat;" which word is repeated thirteen times; because in it alone
Abraham is reckoned the first, and David the last generation. But in the second
Tesseradecade, David, the first in it, is not reckoned; nor yet in the third, Jeconias
the first name; because those persons have been already named and enumerated as
the last in the second and third Tesseradecades. Therefore, in the third
Tesseradecade, one generation must be added, namely, Jehoiakim begat
Jehoiachinin order that it may consist of fourteen generations; that is to say, of
fourteen persons begetting and begotten, as I have already said. All the generations
then are precisely forty-one; but the persons begetting and begotten are forty-two,
because the generation of the firstnamely, Abrahamis not reckoned here, but is
presupposed as being known from the Book of Genesis.
You may ask, with what object S. Matthew so accurately enumerates these
three Tesseradecades of generations? The answer is, because he wishes to pass in
review the threefold condition of the Jewish peoplethe first, the
democratic state under the several Patriarchs and Judges, such as Othniel, Gideon,
Samson, Eli, Samuel, &c., who presided over Israel from Abraham to David; the
second, the monarchical, under kings, as David and his descendants, until the
captivity; the third, the aristocratic, under dukes and pontiffs, as Judas, Jonathan,
Simon, and the rest of the Maccabees, from the Babylonish captivity unto Christ.
Matthew signifies that this threefold condition and government of the people was
thrice changed, and must be a fourth time changed by Christ, and ended in Christ,
who brought in an eternal kingdom. Thus the Fathers and commentators .
Whence Nazianzen, in his poem on the genealogy of Christ says:
"Thus he deduced a royal race, and kingly sceptre."
Maldonatus adds a medical analogy. In fevers, and other diseases, physicians
call the fourteenth the critical day, and the most perilous. Agreeably, therefore, to
the nature of man, after each period of fourteen generations, God seems to have
wished to change the condition of His people, that one form of government, as it
were, growing sick and failing, a better one might be born and succeed it, until,
through Christ, the best of all should be substituted, which should heal and correct
the defects and weakness of the three preceding, and establish the kingdom of the
Church, flourishing, sound, and eternal.
Lastly, Matthew enumerates forty-two generations by three Tesseradecades,
so as to make it a probable conjecture in the mind of his reader, that it was fitting
that Christ should come after this exact number of generations. For as there were
fourteen generations before the kingdom of the Jews was established, fourteen
during its continuance, after which, during fourteen generations, it evidently
declined, so, by a probable conjecture, it might be supposed, that after these last
fourteen generations, the kingdom fading away, it was to be restored to a better
state by Messiah. For as there were fourteen generations before, and fourteen in the
kingdom, so there were as many after the kingdom of Israel until Christ. Again,
before the kingdom the promise of Christ was made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob;
in the kingdom to David and Solomon; after the kingdom the same promise was
repeated to Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, &c., that there might be a feeling that all
the promises made concerning Christ, both before, during, and after the kingdom
were ended and fulfilled in Christ.
Abraham begins, David ends the first Tesseradecade; Solomon begins,
Jehoiakim or Jehoiachin ends the second; Jehoiakim or Jehoiachin begins, Christ
ends the third. And He is the end of the law, and the deliverer of the captive people
and the captive world. So Francisc. Lucas. For the Jews knew from the decline and
failure of their commonwealth, and especially when the sceptre was taken away
from Judah by Herod, according to the prophecy of Jacob, Genesis xlix. 10, that the
Advent of Messiah might certainly be expected. Whence their kingdom being
broken up, and this sceptre transferred, S. Matthew here teaches that Messiah was
now come, and was none other than Jesus Christ. And thus he would persuade the
Jews to believe in Him. , Origen ( 27 .) and S.
Jerome ( 42 .), remark, that those forty-two
generations correspond to the forty-two stations of the Israelites in the wilderness,
by which they arrived at the land of Canaan promised to Abraham. Similarly,
through the forty-two generations we arrive at the Messiah, or the Christ, promised
to the same Abraham, and through Christ, at the land of the living, promised to the
saints in heaven.
Again, the number fourteen, because it contains twice seven, by which the
sevenfold grace of the Holy Ghost is signified, denotes the gift of the same Holy
Spirit in two-fold abundance to man, as it was in Christ, who, indeed, by a like
symbol, having suffered on the fourteenth day of the month Nisan, when the moon
was full, redeemed us by His death, and merited abundance of graces for us.
Wherefore the Psalmist sings concerning Him, Ps. lxxi.: "In his days shall the
righteous flourish, yea and abundance of peace, so long as the moon endureth."
Listen to S. Ambrose, : "In the number
fourteen we have received man's perfection; whence the Lord's Passover received
the form of its celebration, on the fourteenth day of the moon. Wherefore he who
celebrates the Passover ought to be perfect, ought to love the Lord Jesus, who,
loving His own people with a perfect love, offered Himself to His Passion. A notable
mystery is in the number, since the Father delivered up his only Son for us all,
when the moon was shining with a full orb of light. For like this is the Church,
which piously celebrates the Passover of our Lord Jesus Christ. It abideth for ever,
like the moon at the full. Whosoever shall well celebrate here the Lord's Passover,
shall be in light, everlastingly."
, the number forty-two is composed of six into seven, For six
times seven makes forty-two. The six denotes the labours of this life, whereby we
come to the seven, or the sabbath of rest and eternal felicity. For in the six first
days of the world God made all things in heaven and earth; but in the seventh day,
or the sabbath, He rested from all His work.
, by this forty-fold number of generations is signified the life
of the body, as compounded of the four elements. For this life standeth in keeping
the ten commandments of God, which are perfected by the four Gospels. For ten
into four makes forty. So Salmeron, so even S. Augustine, and from him Peter
Bongus, : "The three divisions," he says,
"in the generation of Christ, hint at the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which is laid
down concordantly by the Law and the Gospel. For three signifies faith in the
Trinity, four the evangelical doctrine, ten the institution of the Law." The same
author adds shortly afterwards: "That the number fourteen should be thrice
repeated signifies true religion. For four and ten indicate the New and Old
Testament. For the way to Christ is preached through the Ten Commandments of
the Law, and the four Gospels; so, however, that we should consecrate whatever is
ascribed to the Trinity, that is, to God, because no commandment is fulfilled unless
this number is preserved in the worship of God. By the type of this number,
moreover, Ezekiel (chap. xl.) beheld in the fourteenth year after the smiting of the
city, a new city, even the Church, which Christ, born and dying, founded in the
fourteenth generation after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldees, as
Cassiodorus remarks (in Ps. xiv., ). Lastly, in the forty second year
after Christ's Passion, Jerusalem was utterly destroyed by Titus and Vespasian to
avenge His deathas S. Jerome observes on the words of the Psalm: "In the next
generation let his name be clean put out."
Ver. 18. The Birth of Christ
happened in this manner. For , the Greek has not GG, ,
properly so called, but GG , . When any
one arises he is conceived, is begotten, is born.
. Syriac, ""that is, the Spirit who is holy, and the Author and Fountain of all
God willed the Blessed Virgin to be betrothed to Joseph1. Because Joseph
appears to have been the nearest heir of David's kingdom, that it might devolve
from him upon Christ, as from a father to a son, by due order and right of
succession, as I have said, ver. 16. 2. Because Joseph was a most holy man, like
unto the patriarch Joseph, of whose chastity and virtue he partook, as well as of his
name. He was called Josephfor he was enriched with great gifts
and graces from God. Thus S. Bernard, 2 .
You may ask whether it be here meant that the Blessed Virgin was espoused
to Joseph only by betrothal, or by an actual marriage contract and celebration of
nuptials; and so, whether Christ was incarnate, and conceived of a virgin who was
betrothed only, or of one who was actually married? For to a virgin thus betrothed
Gabriel was sent to announce the Incarnation of Christ. (Luke i. 38.) And the
Virgin, consenting to his message, and saying, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord,
be it done to me according to thy word," immediately, in that very instant, conceived
Christ. Many are of opinion that the Blessed Virgin was only espoused by betrothal,
or o, by which only a promise of marriage takes place. So S.
Hilary, ; S. Basil, . on the Human Generation of Christ; Origen,
. I, . But others think, with better reason,
that the Virgin was espoused not merely by betrothal, but by marriage, by an actual nuptial contract. This is proved:1. Because Joseph is
called in the verse following, and in ver. 16, the husband of Mary. This must mean
that he had married her. 2. Joseph wished to put her away, as being with child, as
it is said in the verse following. He had therefore taken her to him to wife; for no
one puts away what he has not. 3. Because "betrothed" (Luke ii. 5) is interpreted to
mean married. Yea, Joseph called her his wife. She was therefore already married,
and introduced into the house of her husband, Joseph, as his wife, that, by this
means, Joseph might be the attesting witness of her virginity, and the guardian
and nourisher both of herself and her Child Jesus. Consider, also, that the Blessed
Virgin, as soon as she had received Gabriel's message, being now full of the Word,
visited Elizabeth, and abode with her three months. From whence it does not seem
that she there celebrated her marriage with Joseph, nor yet after her return to
Nazareth, for there exists no trace of such an event. So that she must have
celebrated this marriage before Gabriel's message, and the Incarnation of the Word.
Neither would it have been becoming that an unmarried virgin should undertake so
great a journey into a mountainous country, without a husband, or companion, or
without her guardian sending a maid, or some female relation with her. 4. Because
it was plainly befitting that Christ should be born of a woman who was actually
married, in order that he might not be despised by the Jews as illegitimate, but
might be received as a legitimate son. And this is why Joseph is called Christ's
father. Finally, offspring is the proper fruit of wedlock. Thus Jerome, Haymo,
Chrysostom, Theophylact, Ambrose, Jansenius, Suarez, and others, .
It may be objected1. That the angel says to Joseph, "Fear not to take Mary
thy wife." Therefore, he had not taken her to wife, but only espoused her by
betrothal. I replyto take, here means the same thing as to keep, and retain: for
the angel calls her his wife. They were therefore married. The Hebrew verbs often
signify not only inchoate, but continuous action. The meaning, therefore, is
"Dismiss not, O Joseph, thy wife Mary, but keep and retain her." For nothing is put
away save what has been received and possessed.
2. The Virgin is here called betrothed, before they came together, therefore
before marriage. In reply, I deny the consequence. To come together does not here
signify to contract marriage, nor yet to cohabit, but to make use of marriage already
3. Why is she here spoken of, not as married, but as espoused? I reply, she is
called espoused or betrothed, because her husband had not known her; and
therefore she was as a bride, not yet married to her husband, but only promised. So
S. Chrysostom. Hence Peter Chrysologus (. 175) says, Joseph was a
husband in name only, by consent of his spouse; that is, he was accounted her
husband by the bond, not the consummation of marriage.
That there was, however, a real marriage between Joseph and the Blessed
Virgin is certain from the words of the Gospel, and the common agreement of
theologians; and the axiom of lawyers, that"Consent, not consummation,
validates marriage." Whence S. Augustine (lib. 1, c. 11) says"The
good of marriage was fulfilled in those parents of Christ. There was offspring,
fidelity, a sacrament" (for these are the three goods of marriage). we recognize the
offspring, the Lord Jesus Himself; the fidelity, for there was no adultery; the
sacrament, for there was no divorce." He teaches the same more at large against
Julian the Pelagian (lib. 5), who denied the marriage of Joseph and Mary. In chap.
9, he maintains that the is not repugnant to a vow of chastity. By
marriage, I possess a right over my wife, but because of my vow, I cannot use that
right lawfully. If I do use it, I sin against my vow, not my marriage. That is, I do
what is, technically, an irreligious, not an unjust act. For there is not adultery, as it
would be, if the wife were joined in marriage. Joseph, therefore, had by matrimony,
a power over the Blessed Virgin, but by his purpose, and as it would seem by his
vow of chastity, he would not use this power. To have a right or power to do a thing,
and to use that power, are wholly different things. The first is necessary for valid
matrimony, but not the second.
This right of cohabitation, and dominion over a wife, in the case of
married virgins, has several true and real, not fictitious consequences. The first is,
that a virgin bride cannot marry another husband. The second is, that although the
vow be broken by cohabitation, it is not fornication. The third, that offspring
divinely granted and born (as Christ in the present instance was conceived of the
Holy Ghost) is accounted legitimate as being born in wedlock.
From all this, it may be gathered that the marriage of the Blessed Virgin
Mary with Joseph was not only real matrimony, but lawful, yea, holy,
because the essence of wedlock consists in the mutual delivery of power over each
other's body, even though this power be never exercised. And a vow of virginity
takes away this power and right from no one, but only renders its exercise
unlawful. It is after a similar manner that the power is separated from the use of a
thing, in the case of certain religious, who remain owners of their paternal
inheritance, but who, on account of their vow of poverty, are not able to make use of
it. It was lawful marriage, because, although the Blessed Virgin had made a vow of
virginity, yet she lawfully, and without peril of a breach of her vow, engaged in
marriage, because she knew by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, that Joseph
would never use his power and marital rights to the detriment of her vow. So S.
Augustine, , c. 4, and theologians, . It is, moreover,
probable that the Blessed Virgin Mary had revealed this, her vow, to Joseph before
marriage, and that he had consented to it. Some add, that he had promised to be
the guardian of her vow. It was holy marriage, because by means of it Joseph
protected the good repute and the virginity of Blessed Mary; and became the
guardian, nourisher, and educator of the Child Jesus. What were more holy than
See S. Thomas, 3 part 29. 2. 1. , where he assigns many reasons
why Christ was born of an espoused virgin. And he adds that there might be a fifth
reason why the Mother of the Lord was espoused and a virgin, in order that in her
person both virginity and matrimony might be honoured against the heretics, who
attack either one or the other. The holy martyr Ignatius, cited by S. Jerome, gives
yet another reasonin order that her child-bearing might be concealed from the
devil, so that he thought that Christ was not born of a virgin, but of a wife.
Observe here, , in the Blessed Virgin and Joseph the utmost
height of angelic purity and virginity. And thus, the Blessed Virgin has
communicated this gift of conjugal chastity to several eminent persons, specially
devoted to her, as to S. Pulcheria, and Martian, to SS. Julian and Basilissa, to
whom, in the first night after their vow of chastity, Christ appeared, accompanied
by a vast throng of men in white robes, on the one hand, and the Blessed Virgin,
girt about with a virgin throng, on the other hand. They who were with Christ
chanted forth"Thou hast conquered Julian, thou hast conquered." And they who
were with the Blessed Virgin replied"Blessed art thou, Basilissa, who hast
despised earthly marriage, and prepared thyself for eternal glory." Wherefore
Julian was the spiritual ancestor of innumerable believers in Christ and martyrs,
and Basilissa, by word and example, was the mother of innumerable virgins of
Also S. Henry I., or as some say, II., Emperor of Germany led such a life with
his wife Cunegundes, of whom, when he was dying, he said to her parents"Lo! a
virgin I received her from you, a virgin I restore her to you." Such, too, were S.
Caecilia, with her spouse Valerian, to whom the Blessed Virgin sent by the hands of
angels crowns of roses and lilies.
, in this marriage and family union of Joseph with Mary there
was an image of the Sacred Trinity. For Joseph represented the Eternal Father, the
Blessed Virgin the Holy Ghost, both because she was most holy, and because she
had conceived by the Holy Spirit. Christ represented Himself, even the Son of God.
Whence, 1. As there is in the Sacred Trinity an essence of Deity in Three Persons,
so here was there one marriage and one perfect family, consisting of three persons,
namely, Joseph, Mary, and Christ. 2. As in the Holy Trinity the Father spiritually
begets the Son, and breathes the Holy Ghost, so here the Blessed Virgin
spirituallynot carnally, but by the power of the Holy Ghostconceived and
brought forth Christ. 3. In the Holy Trinity, the Father begets the Son, as light
emits light: whence we sing in the Creed, "Light of Light, very God of very God;" so
the Blessed Virgin, as the Star of the Sea, brought forth Christ, who is "the
Brightness of Eternal Light," and the "Mirror without a spot." (Wisd. vii. 25.)
Whence, like as a star, without any diminution of itself, sends forth its rays, so did
the Blessed Virgin, without any derogation to herself, bring forth Christ the Light
of the world. "Neither do the star's rays diminish its lustre, nor did the Son of the
Virgin take away her maiden purity and integrity," says S. Bernard. ( 2
) Whence also those words of Simeon concerning Christ, "A Light
to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel."
This family was then, as it were, a heaven upon eartha family, not so much
of three human persons as of three embodied angelsyea, symbolically, as it were,
of three Divine Persons. Therefore it is not doubtful that it was thronged with
angels, ministering to the Virgin, as Queen of Heaven, and to Christ, as their Lord
and their God. Yea, they were amazed, and had the utmost desire to behold the
Word Incarnate. Therefore, that house, as it were heaven, was concealing an
admirable mystery. Black without, but fair within, "as the tents of Cedar, as the
curtains of Solomon" (Cant. i. 5), says Rupert. Whence John Gerson () exclaims in wonder"O, how delectable to the Trinity, Father, Son,
and Holy Ghost, was that house's Trinity, Christ, Mary, Joseph. Nothing dearer,
nothing better, nothing on earth more excellent. Heaven envied earth such
inhabitantsinhabitants more befitting heaven than earth."
, Let husbands and wives imitate the Blessed Virgin and
Joseph in purity, in sanctity, in patience, and charity, bearing one another's
burdens. There was in this family of Joseph, Mary, and Christ, the utmost concord
amongst all, the utmost love, the utmost reverence, humility, piety, help, and
mutual compliance. From it, not only all bickering was absent, but even the very
lightest suspicion of any evil thing. Hence such a family deserved to have Christ,
the Holy of Holies, for its offspring. In our day, there are often in families depraved,
disobedient, proud, quarrelsome, impure children, because their parents are such.
Like father, like child. What he sees and hears his father and mother do, that he
also imitates and imbibes. Children ever ape their parents.
. Understand this not as though they afterwards
came together for the marital debt, as the impure Helvidius maintained, who
denied that the Blessed Virgin was always a virgin, and asserted that she
afterwards became by Joseph the mother of those who, in the Gospel, are called the
Lord's brethren. S. Jerome confutes him at length, and shows that nothing is meant
here except the miraculous conception of Christ by a pure virgin. Thus we say in
common speech, "Such a one had grey hairs before he was an old man," meaning
that it was remarkable that he was early grey-headed, even though he never
became an old man, but died before he came to old age. Similarly also we say, "His
boy was wise before he came to man's estate," meaning that he was of precocious
intellect, even though he died before he was of mature age; as those who are
precocious do thus often die. Moreover, the brethren of the Lord are called His
kinsmen. For, as S. Jerome says (), brethren are so called in four
ways: by nature, race, relationship, affection. People are brethren by nature, who
are born of the same parents, by race, who belong to the same nation, as S. Paul
calls the Jews his brethren (Rom. ix. I), by kinship, as cousins are called brethren in
Scripture, by affection, as when Christians love one another with mutual fraternal
love. For this is the love of the brotherhood, which S. Paul so often commands.
. Observe that Joseph
understood by her appearance, that his wife, the Blessed Virgin, had conceived. But
whether he knew that she was with child by the Holy Ghost, or not, is doubtful. S.
Basil, Origen, Theophylact, and others, hold the affirmative. But the contrary is
more probable, because Joseph wished to put her away, but is forbidden by the
angel, who removes his scruple, adding, "That which is conceived in her is of the
Holy Ghost." Therefore, before the revelation of the angel, he did not know this,
because had he known it, he would not have wished to put her away.
It is said, therefore, that the Blessed Virgin was found with child of the Holy
Ghost, because she had verily conceived by Him. The expression, , must be referred to the words , not to . So the rest
of the Fathers and Interpreters, . Origen adds that, "She was found by the
angels, for they knew that she had conceived by the Holy Ghost."
. Not as though Christ were framed of the substance of
the Holy Spirit, as is the case with other offspring, nor of the Holy Ghost as a
father; because Christ, man, was not like to the Holy Ghost, who in His
nature is God; but of the Holy Ghost as an agent and artificer. Thus S. Ambrose,
i. 35. , not, therefore, as of the Father, but, as it were,
supplying the concourse of the father. For the Holy Ghost supplied the place of a
father to Christ, through His power and operation. So S. Ambrose c. 2, , c. 5, and S. Augustine, , c. 39. For the substance of our
Lord's body was supplied by the Blessed Virgin, as His only human parent. Strictly
speaking, denotes the efficient cause, the material causeas we say in
the Creed: "Conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary."
You may askwhy does not Matthew say also, "With child by the Eternal
Father, and by the Son. as well as by the Holy Ghost?" It is replied that he might
have said this with equal truth. For it is an axiom among Theologians, that the
operations of the Holy Trinity, that is, with reference to the universe of
created thingsare common to all the Three Divine Persons. But he preferred to
say, "By the Holy Ghost," because, as power is appropriated to the Father, and
wisdom to the Son, so love, goodness, and grace, which especially shine forth in this
work of the Incarnation, are attributed to the Holy Ghost. For the Holy Ghost
proceeds from the Father and the Son by spiration, being, as it were, the term of the
ideal love of the Father and the Son.
Moreover S. Thomas (3 32, . 1 ) teaches that the
words "by the Holy Ghost signify three things: 1. That of the pure love of God and
the Holy Spirit, without any human merits, the Incarnation of the Lord was
accomplished. 2. Of the same Grace of God and the Holy Spirit, without previous
merits, He was conceived. Whence S. Augustine, c. c. 15,
proposes Christ, as it were, the ideal of election and the elect. "Whatsoever man is a
Christian, he becomes such from the beginning of his faith by that self-same grace
by which, at the first, Christ was made man: by the same Spirit a Christian is born
again, by whom Christ was born; remission of sins is effected in us by the self-same
Spirit by whom it was brought about that Christ should have no sin." 3. Christ was
holy, by virtue of his conception. For, like as a man, who, by ordinary generation, is
propagated from Adam, a sinner, is by virtue of his conception born a sinner, so
Christ, who was conceived, and, as it were, propagated by the Holy Ghost, was
conceived holy by virtue of his conception. For that which the Holy Ghost worketh
can be nothing else save warmth and fire. 4. By the Holy Ghost, signifies that He,
in the formation of the Humanity of Christ, transposed all His sanctity into It (so
far as a creature's capacity would allow of such a thing, and so far as a creature can
become like the Creator), and, as it were, transformed It into Himself: so that, next
to Himself, He made It to be a pattern and prototype of holiness, that from It and
according to It He might, as it were, express and depict all other holiness, both of
all angels, and all men. Therefore the humanity of Christ was the most perfect,
special, and most holy work of the Holy Ghost, in which He Himself constituted a
fount of all sanctity, which, by its own purity, might wash away the filth of all sins,
and, so far as it is concerned, sanctify all sinners.
Moreover, S. Thomas ( 32, 2) teaches that the preposition
"by," in the expression , signifies that Christ is consubstantial
with the Holy Ghost, as touching his Godhead, not as touching his manhood, which
He wrought in Christ. This, however, S. Augustine denies.
1. S. Chrysostom (), S. Augustine ( 52, .),
Justin M. (.), are of opinion, that Joseph suspected evil of the
Blessed Virgin, as though she had conceived by another man. They think that this
is hinted at in the expression, . But we say, far be any
such suspicions concerning a virgin so holy, or a man so just. How, indeed, could
Joseph have suspected adultery in such a wife, or uncleanness in her parents'
2. Others think that Joseph wished to put away the Blessed Virgin out of
extreme reverence, because he thought himself unworthy to have to wife one who
was with child by the Holy Ghost. Whence they are also of opinion that S. Joseph
accompanied the Blessed Virgin when she visited Elizabeth, and heard her saluted
as Mother of God, and therefore thought himself unworthy of her. This is the
opinion of Origen, S. Basil, Theophylact, S. Bernard ( 2 ).
S. Brigit asserts that the same was revealed to her (lib. 7, c. 25). Whence
Salmeron (lib. 3, c. 30) supports the same opinion by thirteen reasons.
But, 3, plainly and surely, Joseph, seeing the Blessed Virgin with child, was
astonished at the novelty of the thing, and his mind was agitated by contending
and fluctuating emotions, and he reasoned somewhat in this way: "I know that this
Virgin is most holy, wherefore I do not believe that she has been false to her troth,
plighted to me. Still, she is with child, and I know not by me. But by whom I know
not. Can it be by a former husband? Or can she have suffered violence on her
journey, when she went to visit Elizabeth? Can she have suffered illusion from
some spirit during sleep? Or, what would be more consonant with her sanctity, is
she with child by an angel, or by the Deity Himself? Well, however the case may be,
I am unwilling to retain her, if an angel, or God Himself, desires to have her.
Wherefore I will resign her, and put her away from me."
God permitted this to take place in order that the conception of the Blessed
Virgin by the Holy Ghost might be attested unto all, both by Joseph and by the
Angel. Thus God permitted S. Thomas to doubt concerning Christ's Resurrection,
that he, touching Christ's very wounds, might bear an irrefragable testimony to the
Joseph, who was a righteous man, teaches husbands and believers not to
suspect evil concerning just and holy persons upon slight grounds, but to wait for
proofs. They should not be too ready to guilt, but should put the most
favourable construction they can upon everything.
You may ask, why did not Joseph interrogate the Blessed Virgin, wherefore,
and by whom she was with child? I reply, that it is merely the first thought which
arose in Joseph's mind, which is referred to, and which, out of modesty, he kept to
himself. And he was shortly afterwards anticipated by the Angel, who answered in
behalf of the Virgin, and exonerated him by saying that she had conceived by the
The Blessed Virgin was unwilling, of her own accord, to make known this
divine secret to Joseph, in order that she might not seem to boast of her own gifts,
so wonderful and so divine; but she confided all to God, and God's providential care,
most certainly trusting that God would defend her good repute and her innocence,
and either in His own time open out the whole matter, as she had seen that He had
lately done in the case of her cousin Elizabeth, or else would order all things to His
own greater glory, and therefore to the greater honour and reverence of this, her
conception. From whence, see here and admire the greatness of soul, and the lofty
resignation and confidence of the Blessed Virgin in God, whereby she put away
from her all this peril and fear of dark suspicion and infamy. And herein she has
given a singular example of equanimity and confidence to wives who have jealous
husbands, that they, too, should put their trust in God, that God will make clear
their innocence and chastity, will protect them, and make them a praise, as he did
in this case of the Blessed Virgin. Thus S. Jerome says: "This is the testimony to
Mary's purity, that Joseph, knowing her chastity, and wondering at what had
happened, hides in silence the mystery of which he was ignorant." And S. Ambrose
(in Luc. i.) says: "The Lord preferred that some should rather doubt concerning His
own generation, than concerning His Mother's purity."
It appears from all this that Joseph did not accompany the Blessed Virgin
when she, very shortly after her Conception of Christ, visited S. Elizabeth. For if he
had been in her company, and had seen and heard the great and wonderful things
which befell her, they would have removed all his scruples, and he would not have
thought of putting her away. And especially when S. Elizabeth said to the Blessed
Virgin: "Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? He
would have known from thence, that not only had she conceived of God, but that
she had conceived God Himself, and that she was carrying Him in her womb.
Observe that Joseph is here called, that is, a man of probity
forasmuch as he was one who wished, out of charity, to consult for the good fame,
yea, even for the dignity of his spouse, when he thinks of putting away privily one
whom he thought himself unworthy of. S. Jerome and Theophylact think that
husbands were commanded by the old law to traduce and accuse before the judges
their wives, if they were guilty of adultery. But they adduce no place in which such
a precept is given. For the passage in Num. v. 2 only permits such a thing to be
done, but does not order it.
. Not, to send her away to her own house, as
Abul. thinks. For the Greek is, GG that is, to , to , or, as S.
Augustine ( 59, ) says, rendering literally, "." It was the custom in Crete to lead adulteresses through the midst of
the streets, as they did captives at Rome, that they might be gazed at and derided.
Whence that ancient punishment by law against bawds: "Let bawds and adulterers
be caned through the public streets of the city, that they may be reviled and
derided." And the line of Propertius: "Not even if the infamous one should traverse
the whole city."
. By the way of secret divorce, giving
her privily a bill of divorcement, as Abul. says on the passage, 39; or
rather, and in a more honourable way for her, by leaving her on the plea of travel,
as going away into a far country. So Maldonatus. Whence the Syriac translates:
"" and the Arabic, "
. He had evidently not resolved upon
them. For this was his first thought, and, as it were, the first motive of his mind.
: that is at one and the same time, , and
, for this is the proper meaning of GG that is, . see
Abul., . 52, and S. Thomas, 3 33 & 34, where he teaches
that the Body of Christ was in the very instant of its Conception, as regarded all its
members, 1, perfectly formed and organized by the Holy Ghost; 2, animated with a
reasonable soul; 3, assumed by the Word. 4. That the soul of Christ was filled with
all wisdom, and the grace of that Headship which flows from thence into all the
members, to all the faithful. 5. That the same soul saw God through the
Beatific Vision. 6. That the same had the use of reason, even apart from the Beatific
Vision, by means of infused knowledge, and that, in this way, It knew that It was
hypostatically united to the Word, and therefore gave God highest thanks because
of this vision and exaltation: and that God revealed to the soul of Christ His own
will, concerning His death upon the Cross, that He might thereby redeem and save
mankind; and that the soul of Christ forthwith accepted this, and offered himself to
God as a whole burnt-offering, a victim for sin for the salvation of the world, with
the utmost humility, obedience, reverence, love, exultation, and joyfulness of mind,
saying"Behold I come. In the head of the book it is written of me that I should do
thy will: O my God, I have desired it, and thy law in the midst of my heart." (Ps.
xxxix. 8, and Heb. x. 7.)
. If Jesus, as follows from this, is Emmanuel, that is,
God with us; if He is the offspring and the Son of Blessed Mary, as is here said,
then she is not only Mother of Christ but Mother of God, as defined by the Council
of Ephesus against Nestorius. For Mother and Son are relative terms. Moreover,
Valentinus is condemned by this passage, who taught that Christ brought down a
celestial body from heaven, and passed through the Blessed Virgin as through a
conduit-pipe. But she who bears a son is really the mother of the son; and
furnishes, and indeed provides his body and all his limbs.
, that is, Saviour. This was Christ's proper name, here foretold by the
Angel, but given Him at circumcision, a name which signifies and represents His
office and dignityyea, compendiously His whole life.
Syriac is: , which is explained,