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The Great Commentary Of Cornelius À Lapide Volumes 1 To 8

3 Of the importunate widow. 9 Of the Pharisee and the publican. 15 Children brought to Christ. 18 A ruler that would follow Christ, but is hindered by his riches. 28 The reward of them that leave all for his sake. 31 He foresheweth his death, 35 and restoreth a blind man to his sight.

Ver. 1.—And He spake a parable unto them to the end that, Christ had said, at the end of the last chapter, that the Apostles and the faithful should suffer persecutions, in which they should wish for His presence that they might seek and receive help from Him. He now names a remedy for all their sufferings, prayer, for He both hears them and grants what they ask, for He teaches, directs, strengthens.

Always to pray. Hence the heretics called Euchitæ wished, but without reason, to be always praying and to do no manual work. But it is written, “If any man will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). “Always” here seems to mean sedulously, perseveringly, diligently, assiduously as in other things, and at befitting times, especially when temptation, persecution, and affliction are hard at hand. It is impossible for us to pray always and at all times. We must have a time for eating, drinking, labouring, &c. The word “always” means, therefore, not continuance but perseverance in prayer: that is, that we should set apart fit times for prayer, and not cease to pray until we have obtained what we need and what we ask for. Our Lord adds, “and not to faint” or in the Greek “be weary.” The reason is that we daily meet so many difficulties and troubles that our whole lives appear to be one temptation and warfare. And as we are infirm and unable to overcome them we ought to ask help and strength from God through prayer. Thus our whole Christian life seems as it were one prayer. Again, “always,” that is frequently, at the hours appointed by the Church, that we may do nothing without prayer—nothing that we do not ascribe to the glory of God. Bede says, mystically, “He prays always who works for God always;” and the Gloss, “He prays always who lives virtuously always.” S. Chrysostom: “The Lord would have you to obtain by prayer that which He wishes to give you. The palace and the ears of princes are open to few. The ears of God are open to all who will.” He refers to Ecclus. 35:20. So the apostle, Ephes. 6:18; 1 Thess. 5:17. See what I have said on those three passages, Climachus: Gradu xxviii.: “Prayer, if we regard its nature or quality, is the familiar conversation and union of man with God, but if we consider its force and efficacy it is the conservation of the world, our reconciliation with God, the mother, at once, and daughter of tears, the propitiation of sins, the bridge of escape from temptation, the bulwark against the attacks of afflictions, the destruction of war, the office of angels, the food of all spirits—future joy, continual action, the fountain of virtues, the reconciler and authoress of divine graces.” Not content, he speaks more highly, exaltedly, nobly still: “It is spiritual progress, the food of the soul, the illumination of the mind, the axe of despair, the demonstration of hope, the distinction of sorrow, the wealth of monks, the treasure of solitaries, the decreasing of anger, the mirror of religious growth, the index of our stature, the declaration of our condition, the signification of things future, the proof of the glory to come.” So the Church sings of S. Cæcilia: She always bore the evangel of Christ in her bosom, and neither by day nor by night did she cease from divine conversation and prayer, and when the organs sounded Cæcilia sang to the Lord, “Cleanse thou my heart, that I may not be confounded.” Valerian her husband found her on her bed praying, with an angel. By this increasing prayer she merited to be given to the angel for the preservation of her virginity, the conversion of her espoused husband Valerian, of Tiburtius and 400 others, and lastly a glorious martyrdom with them all.

Ver. 2.—Saying there was in a city a judge which feared not God. This judge was wicked, unjust, cruel, and godless, one who feared neither the vengeance of God, nor the ill-report of men, who cared nothing for his conscience or his character. For the wicked who have no fear of God are often deterred by the shame of men, from confessing those acts for which they are openly despised and considered godless and infamous. But this judge was moved by no fear of God or man, and therefore he had arrived, says Theophylact, at the summit of all wickedness.

Ver. 3.—And there was a widow in that city. Avenge me, that is, vindicate my right against my oppressor, and free my innocence; righteousness, substance, and character, which are brought to trial by my enemy who is powerful, and against whom I cannot stand. She did not ask for vengeance but only for justice, that she might be delivered from the violence of her adversary and get back her own.

Ver. 4.—And he would not for a while. Partly from his own wickedness and partly because he hoped for a great bribe from the opponent.

But afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man, i.e., Although I am unjust and without scruple or shame, yet because this widow is troublesome to me, I will avenge her of her adversary, and give her back her right, lest continually (in novissimo) coming she weary me out (sugillet me). The Syriac has “omni tempore;” the Arabic “semper.” Sugillo is properly to bruise the face and make it livid by blows. The Greek is ὑποπιάζω. The metaphorical meaning is, firstly, to deafen the head and ears with noise, and many so understand it. The Syriac has, “Lest she continually trouble me.” The Arabic, “Lest she be always coming to trouble me.” S. Augustine (Ep. 121 to Proba): “She moved the unjust judge by her persistence to listen to her. Not that he was influenced by justice or mercy, but he was overcome by weariness.” So Bede, Euthymius, Lucas and others from the Greek. “As therefore this widow by the assiduity and importunity of her supplications conquered the judge, so do we overcome God. What fear cannot effect prayer can. Threats and the fear of punishment have not moved men to justice; but when the widow came as a suppliant, from a savage she made the judge humane. What then may we not conjecture of a beneficent God, if the widow by her prayers changed a judge who had been cruel before, into a humane one?’ S. Chrysostom adds that Christ here wishes to show that the chief strength of prayer consists in turning unjust and cruel judges to piety and mercy. Sugillare, applied from the body to the mind, means to brand with a mark, to affect with disgrace, to accuse. Although this senseless judge regarded neither God nor man, he feared for himself and his office, lest he should be deposed from his judgeship, and deprived of honour and profit; he therefore gave the widow her due.

Allegorically, S. Augustine (Lib. ii. Quæst. Evangel. qu. 45), says, “The widow is the Church, which seems desolate until her bridegroom Christ, who now bears her griefs in secret, return from heaven to judgment.”

In trope, “The widow,” says Theophylact, “is the soul which has put away her former husband. He was hostile to her because she came to God. God is a judge Who fears no one, and regards not the persons of men. The widow represents every soul that is desolate and afflicted, and who prays to the judge, that is God, to be delivered from her adversary. But because it is incongruous to compare God to the unjust and wicked judge, as Euthymius rightly says, from S. Chrysostom, we should rather say that it is Christ who is here spoken of; and not in comparison but as concluding from the less to the greater. That is: If the unjust judge were overcome by the importunity of the widow to change injustice into justice, and give her her rights, how much rather should God do this, who is most just, nay who is justice itself, punishing all injustice?” So S. Augustine above—S. Chrysostom and Theophylact—as will be clearly shown on verse 7.

Vers. 6, 7.—And the Lord said, Hear what the, &c. “God,” says Theophylact, “is the leader, the judge and the vindicator of all righteousness.” So David on Psalm 34:17, “The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth.” The Arabic has, “Hear what the unjust judge said; and shall not God more rightly avenge His own elect, who cry to Him day and night?” So Ecclus. 35:21, 22; Rev. 6:9, 10, where the souls of the slain for Christ cry to God demanding vengeance. They hear from Him that they must rest yet a little while until the number of their fellow servants is completed. See what I have commented on the place.

Morally. Behold how great is the dignity, the need, and the power of prayer. The need, that by it we may be delivered from all the temptations and tribulations by which we are every where, and always, surrounded. The dignity, because by means of prayer we converse with God, as do the angels. The power, because by it we overcome all adversities and hardships. “To pray always,” says S. Chrysostom (Book ii. of Prayer) “is the work of angels, who, wholly intent upon God, teach us while we pray to forget our human nature, and to have no regard to things present, but to conceive of ourselves as standing in the midst of angels, and performing the same sacrifice with them.” He adds, “Satan does not venture to come too near to a soul fortified by prayer, for he fears the strength and fortitude which prayer confers. Prayer supports the soul more than food supports the body.” And (Book i.), “As the sun gives light to the body, so does prayer to the soul. If it be a loss to a blind man not to see the sun, how much greater a loss is it to a Christian not to pray assiduously, nor to introduce the light of Christ into his soul by prayer! By it we attain to this end, that we cease to be mortal and of time. By nature we are mortal, but by prayer and our life with God, we pass to the life immortal. For it is inevitable that he who holds communion with God, should come out superior to death and to all that is subject to corruption.”

Ver. 8.—When the Son of man cometh. He comes to the universal judgment, when He will deliver His elect, whom He ordered to be always ready and eager; and to await that day patiently, preparing themselves for it by prayer and good works. For that day will be sudden and unexpected like lightning, as He Himself has said (chap. 17:24). Christ gives the reason why we should always pray, and persevere in prayer; because from His long absence, faith will fail even in many who believe, so that they will either lose all faith or believe very feebly, scarcely thinking that He will return at all. Secondly, Christ here gives the reason why many are not heard in prayer. Their faith begins to fail and they do not continue steadfast in prayer, nor await the coming of the Lord with patience as they ought.

Thirdly, Theophylact says, “He rightly connected His words on prayer with those on faith, for the base and foundation of all prayer is faith. He declared at the same time that few would pray, for faith would be found in few.”

Christ says this to add a fresh incentive to unceasing prayer, for by degrees faith is failing more and more, and offences and persecutions are therefore increasing.

Shall He find faith—perfect faith, that is; faith formed by certain confidence (fiducia) and love. “This,” says S. Augustine (tract xxxvi.), “is scarcely found on earth, for the Church of the faithful is full of imperfect faith, and is, as it were, half dead.” Christ Himself explains it so, S. Matt. 24:12. This will happen more especially; at the end of the world before the coming of Christ to judgment, when men shall eat and drink themselves over to pleasure and think not of the judgment, as Christ said, chap. 17:27; and S. Peter, 2 Pet. 3:3. That is, Christians will deny that He is coming to judgment, even when that coming is near at hand (2 Peter 3:4). As if they had said, “Nature has made the world: the same Nature continues its course in the same tenor, and always will continue it. There is no God to destroy it: no Deity to judge us and our works, and to punish them.”

Ver. 9.—And He spake also this parable unto certain that trusted in themselves. Which, however, might truly happen, nay often has happened, so that it may be historical. The introduction to the parable shows its scope and the design of its introduction, namely, to rebuke the supremacy of the Pharisees, and their boasting and contempt of other men.

In the former parable Christ taught one condition of prayer—perseverance. In this He teaches another—humility, for the humble prayer is heard by God, the proud one is rejected, as Ecclus. 35:21. See what has been said thereon. The Fathers thus connect these words with the preceding verse, that is with faith. S. Augustine (Serm. xxxvi.), on the words of the Lord that faith is not of the proud but of the humble, says, “Christ subjoins a parable on humility as opposed to pride:” Theophylact, “Because pride more than other feelings vexes the minds of men, He very frequently speaks of it:” The Gloss, “That no one, from what has been said, may flatter himself on his knowledge, or his confession of faith,” Christ shows that our works, and not our professions, will be judged by God, and amongst these He chiefly notes humility.

Ver. 10.—Two men went up. The one a Pharisee, with the pharisaical pride, puffed up and haughty. The other a publican, that is a sinner, and deprecating pardon. Publicans were held infamous by the Jews, nay, were termed Parisim—that is, public robbers, for, as Suidas says, from Jamblichus, “The life of a publican was one of open violence, on account of their exactions and unjust tribute, their unpunished robberies, their unprincipled conduct in business, and their unblushing usury.

Ver. 11.—The Pharisee stood and prayed thus within himself. The Jews prayed partly kneeling and partly standing, when their prayer was longer than usual—sacrifice or psalmody. For in the temple there was no place to sit, except for the High Priest and king alone, as I have showed on Ezek. 46:2. The word “standing” is added here to show the pride of the Pharisee; he raised his head to heaven as if to dispute with God, or to claim and exact the measure of his merits. “For a humble man,” as Theophylact says, “is humble of aspect, but this Pharisee is seen to be proud both by his habit and bearing.” The Arabic reads, “The Pharisee stood praying.” The Pharisee, therefore, stood proudly: 1. As being secure and confident in his own merits, and as calling God to judgment. 2. He stood first, or among the first, near the altar. 3. He stood with his neck and face erect and fixed on heaven, as if heaven were his debtor. The publican, however, stood 1. Trembling and fearful, confessing his sins. 2. Afar off, at a distance from the altar, the last, or among the last. 3. With his face cast down towards the ground, not venturing to look up to heaven, showing his fear and penitence by the place in which he stood and by his appearance. Hence Bede says, allegorically, “The Pharisee is the people of the Jews, exalting their merits by the righteousness of the law. The publican is the Gentile confessing his sin apud se.” The apud se of the Pharisee is referred in the Syriac to “standing,” standing apud se—relying on himself, trusting to himself, insisting on his own merits and dwelling on them. The Syriac reads “serveto.” Our version more rightly connects the apud se with “orabat.” He prayed with himself in his soul and mind, for the pride in his heart so puffed him up, that he would not pray or speak but with himself—he did not deign to do so before others. He prayed like the Pharisees outwardly, in a grave inflated pompous tone. Hence S. Basil on Isaiah 2. says, “He prayed apud se not apud Deum—for he acted like himself when he fell into the sin of pride.”

He prayed—In his own way, for he did not pray to God, but he praised himself. S. Augustine (serm. xxxvi.) on the words of the Lord according to S. Luke: “What did he ask of God? Seek from his own words. We find nothing. He went up to pray; he would not ask of God, but preferred to please himself, and heap insults on the devout publican as well.”

I thank Thee. “He is not blamed,” said S. Augustine (serm. xxxvi.), “because he gave thanks, but because he wished for nothing to be given to him. Whoever says ‘I justify myself,’ is worse than the Pharisee who proudly called himself righteous, but who also gave thanks to God.”

He gave God thanks,” says S. Bernard (de Grad. Humil.), “not because he was good, but because he was alone: and not so much for the good which he had himself, as for the evil which he saw in others. He had not cast out the beam from his own eye, and he recounts the motes in his brothers’ eyes. For he says ‘unjust’—‘extortioners.’ ”

I am not as other men. He should at least have said “as many others,” for what does “other” mean, but all men except himself? “I,” he said, “am righteous, the rest are sinners;” that is, I alone am righteous, all the rest are wicked. The proud man, to exalt himself the more, especially despises and depreciates others.

S. Gregory (lib. xxiii. Moral. c. 7) describes four species of pride in this Pharisee. The first is, when men think that they have good, e.g., virtue a se. The second, when they ascribe this to their own merits. The third, when they think that they have that which they have not. The fourth, when they wish to be singular, and therefore despise and speak evil of others. The three last of these are clearly shown in the proud and false righteousness of this Pharisee. The first appeared in him because he ascribed his righteousness, not to God but to his own works, and said of God, with the Pagan, “Let God give me strength, let Him give me wealth, I will order my mind myself.” “If, in fine,” says Theophylact, “he had believed that it was the gift of God that he had graces not his own (aliena), he would not have held other men in contempt, remembering that even he himself was naked as far as regards his own virtue.”

Even as this publican.—“See,” says an Interlineator on S. Augustine, “how the vicinity of this publican was the occasion of greater pride to the Pharisee.” The Syriac has, “Nor as this publican,” supply, “am I a public sinner.” Of his pride, he judges rashly and falsely that the publican was wicked, when in truth he was a penitent and justified. The Pharisee sinned therefore, 1. In judging rashly; 2. In despising the publican; 3. In reviling and insulting him, for he casts up to the publican his sins. S. Chrysostom in the Catena: “All human nature did not satisfy his contempt, but he attacked this publican. Whoever reproaches others, commits many offences. 1. He makes the other worse, for if he is a sinner he who is rebuked rejoices to find a partner in his wickedness; if righteous, he thinks highly of himself. 2. He harms the Church; for his hearers revile it. 3. He causes God to be blasphemed. 4. He makes the other more shameless, and engenders hate towards his rebuker. 5. He renders himself obnoxious to punishment.

S. Bernard (de Gradib. Humil.): “The Pharisee, while rejoicing in himself, insults other men beyond measure. David does otherwise. He says, ‘All men are liars.’ He excepted no one, lest he should deceive him; for he knew that all have sinned, and have need of the glory of God. The Pharisee deceived himself alone, when he excepted himself from the common reproach, lest he should be excepted from mercy. The Pharisee makes light of mercy while he dissembles his misery. The Prophet says, as well of himself as of all others, ‘All men are liars.’ The Pharisee admits it of all men but himself. ‘I am not,’ he said, ‘as other men.’ ”

I fast thrice in the week. In Sabbato. This is by synecdoche, the chief day of the week being put for the whole week, which is called sabbatum. Hence the Arabic, “I fast two days in every week.” Theophylact says that “the Pharisees fasted on the second and fifth days;” but he gives no authority for it.

I give tithes of all that I possess. Not only of the first-fruits which the law compels, but, for my desire for a higher and a willing service, I give tithes of all things whatever, as flesh eggs, fish, to which I am not bound. This Pharisee had branded other men as if they were adulterers and unjust, while he himself alone was pure and just. He would prove himself pure by his fasts, which are the mother of purity, and to be just by his giving tithes of everything. “As regards impurity,” says Theophylact, “he makes boast of his fasting, for from luxury comes wantonness. Against usury and injustice he brings forward his giving tithes of every thing that he possessed. ‘So far am I,’ he said, ‘from usury and unfair dealing, that I put aside what is my own.’ ” So S. Ephrem, in Catena.

Morally. S. Gregory here observes (Homily vii. on Ezekiel): “The Pharisee, who published his fasts and gave tithes, thanked God, as if his guardianship were on the watch throughout the circuit of his whole city; but because he had not noticed one opening, that of pride in himself, there the enemy took possession of him. While therefore he was silent on what he ought to have declared, he unhappily spoke of that on which he should have held his peace; and through his pride, his merits, if he had any, were diminished, for while he held humility in contempt, he augumented his sins.”

Ver. 13.—And the publican, standing afar off. The publican did not resent the insult offered by the Pharisee, nay, he admitted it, confessed it, and sought pardon for it with patience. He was therefore justified before the Pharisee. S. Chrysostom, in his Homily on David and Saul, says, “The publican accepted the disgrace and washed it out. He acknowledged his sins, and laid them down. This accusation was to be his remission, and his enemy was changed involuntarily into his benefactor. How many labours ought that publican to have undergone, fasting, sleeping on the ground, watching, bestowing his goods on the poor, sitting long in sackcloth and ashes, that so he might lay aside his sins? But when he did none of these things, by a mere word he was rid of all his sin; and the insults and reproaches of the Pharisee, which seemed to overwhelm him with contumely, bought him a crown of righteousness, and that without toil, without labour, and without long delay.”

Standing afar off. Afar from the altar and the holy place, for he thought himself unworthy of these from his sins. He was not so very far off though, but the Pharisee was able to point to him, and he to hear the Pharisee.

He would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven. He dared not, from modesty, humility, and reverence. He would not so much as lift his eyes, as if thinking himself unworthy to look to that heaven which was the abode of the glorious God, who was offended at sins. Wherefore with eyes cast down to the ground, he humbled himself. So S. Cyril in the Catena.

S. Theophylact gives the cause of his thinking himself unworthy of the heavenly vision; and S. Augustine: “That he might be looked upon by God, he looked not upon himself. He dared not look up. Conscience weighed him down. Hope lifted him up. Again he showed by his posture that he had sinned against the Heavenly Host, that is against the Angels whose inspirations he had resisted; against the Saints, whose prayers he had made of no avail; against God Himself, whose commandments he had broken.”

But he smote on his breast. His breast, in which was his heart, that is his will, which is its own cause and origin of all sins. “He struck and beat it,” says Euthymius, “as if to exact punishment from it: and to show that because of it he was worthy himself of stripes.” The beating of the breast is a sign of penitence and a contrite heart. Hence this was formerly the act of one who confessed and was penitent, and it is so still. To beat the offending breast is both an ancient and modern custom of Christians. S. Augustine in his 8th Sermon “On the Words of the Lord according to S. Matt.,” says, “At this ‘Confiteor’ you beat your breasts. What is this but to confess what is lying hid in them, and by a visible blow to chastise an invisible sin? Why do you do this, but that you hear ‘Confiteor tibi Pater.’ Therefore our accusation of ourselves in our confession is the praising of God. For we confess ourselves to be sinners, but God to be without sin, holy and good. We therefore ask pardon of Him. The Pharisee, from his proud and unreal prayer, was the more defiled with sin. The publican was more righteous than the Pharisee, not directly and simply, but indirectly and negatively; for indeed he was righteous, but the Pharisee was unrighteous, and he returned to his house even more so than he came out.” “For,” says Euthymius, “he who so condemned himself was justified by God;” and S. Paulinus (Eph. lviii.), “What righteousness built up, that pride pulled down. The publican, from a contrite heart, was accepted as an accuser of himself, and obtained pardon from his confession of sins, from the degree of his humility; that holy Pharisee (holy as the Jews are holy) bearing away the pack-load of his sins from his boast of holiness.” S. Bernard (serm iii. de Annune): “The Pharisee returned empty because he pretended to be full. The publican, who emptied himself, and took pains to show that he was an empty vessel, carried away the greater grace.”

Humility,” says S. Chrysostom, “brought the thief into Paradise before the Apostles. But if humility has such power when close upon the offence, what can it not do when united to righteousness? And if pride, united to righteousness, can depress, what will it do when united to sin?” “Better are sins with humility than innocence with pride,” says Optatus. (Cont. Donat. B. ii.)

Ver. 15.—And they brought unto Him also infants, that He should touch them. And by touching might bless them. Christ confirms the doctrine of humility by His own example. “Infants,” says the Gloss, “are brought to the Master of Humility, that innocence and the age of simplicity might be shown to belong to grace.”

Ver. 16.—Suffer the little children to come unto Me. The Arabic: “For the kingdom of God is theirs who are like them”—not in infancy but in innocence, simplicity, humility. So Bede. “He does not say theirs, but such as they, meaning their manner of life, not their age.” And S. Ambrose: “It is not childhood, but the goodness of that simplicity which emulates child-like innocence, that is meant; for it is not a virtue not to be able to sin, but not to will to do so.” I have explained the rest on Matt. 19:13 and following.

Ver. 35.—And it came to pass as He, &c. Of this blind man restored to sight I have treated. Matt. 20:30.








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