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An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.

In this chapter, our Lord reproaches the Pharisees and Sadducees, who asked Him for some sign from heaven, with their wilful negligence and spiritual blindness in not judging of His Divine mission, from the signs already given them, although quick-witted in judging, from natural causes, of the several phenomena in nature. Hence, as they were influenced by malice and curiosity, our Redeemer refuses giving any other sign, save that of His Resurrection, already referred to (1–5). He cautions His disciples against the perverse doctrines of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and He reproves them for being be slow of understanding, with reference to His teaching on this subject (6–12). Proceeding from Bethsaida to the quarters of Cæsarea Philippi, he there promises St. Peter primacy of jurisdiction over the entire Church, in reward for his prompt and unwavering confession of faith in His Divinity (13–19). After this expression of faith in His Divinity, made with the concurrence of all the Apostles, our Lord foretells His bitter Passion, and sharply rebukes Peter, whose zeal, overleaping the bounds of prudent reserve, stimulated him to dissuade our Lord from undergoing His bitter Passion (21–23). Our Lord points out to all Christians the necessity of taking up the cross after Him, and practising self-denial, if they wish to be saved. He then points out the sovereign importance of salvation, and its irreparability, once forfeited; and this is to be decided by a just Judge, who shall come one day in majesty, of which some of those listening, &c., would in their lifetime witness a splendid specimen (24–28).

1. After arriving at Magedan, “there came to Him the Pharisees and Sadducees tempting.” These two sects were at deadly enmity among themselves. But, like Pilate and Herod, laying aside for a time their differences, they unite against Jesus Christ. Indeed, a melancholy experience, derived from the history of the Church from her very foundation to the present day, has shown this to be true of all heretical sects, who, although at enmity among themselves, are always sure to join in an unholy alliance whenever there is question of the interests of God’s Church, or the persecution of her children. “Tempting,” not for the purpose of believing; but, from the wicked motive of testing His power, lessening His influence, and blackening His reputation among the people. Hence, St. Mark (8:11), says, “they began to question with Him.”

A sign from Heaven,” to prove His Divine mission, and show that He was the promised Messiah, and derived His authority from Heaven, such as was given by Josue, in making the sun stand still; by Samuel, in scattering thunder; by Isaias, in bringing back the shadow; Elias, in bringing fire from heaven; Moses, in the manna that rained from above. They insinuate that all His miracles hitherto were of an humble, earthly character, and might be the effect of the occult powers of nature. Such, for instance, was the very miracle of the multiplication of bread, which He was after performing. But let Him exhibit some celestial prodigy, like the manna of Moses (John 6:31), who gave bread from heaven to their fathers, if He wished to bring conviction home to the class of men who were placed beyond the prejudices of the vulgar. No doubt, they would find plenty of excuses for evading the force of such a miracle also; if our Redeemer were to gratify them with performing it.

2. Our Redeemer here reproaches the Pharisees, who were well versed in ascertaining the state of the weather, from certain signs, and sharp in judging of natural effects, with not learning from the signs given them in Scripture, that He fulfilled all that had been foretold regarding Him.

From experience, they learned that certain appearances in the sky at morning and evening, prognosticated certain kinds of weather, stormy or calm. It does not belong to us here to discuss or examine the natural or philosophical causes of such phenomena. Our Redeemer here merely refers to the judgments they were in the habit of forming, from certain appearances in the sky, regarding the state of the weather, by which judgment they regulated their actions, staying at home, or going abroad, as the case might be.

3. “And can you not know the signs of the times?” Some commentators read these words affirmatively, without an interrogation, and interpret them thus: “You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you can not know the signs of the times,” which point to My arrival, in the same way as certain natural signs indicate the state of the weather. It is from the prophecies I fulfil, and the miracles I perform, this is to be clearly inferred; for, “the kingdom of God does not come with observation” (Luke 17:20). The signs of My second coming shall be celestial, “signs in the sun and in the moon,” &c. But the signs of My first coming, regarding which you come to “tempt” Me, are the working of miracles, the fulfilment of the prophecies regarding Me—giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, &c. (Isa. 35:5). Others, more probably, read the words and interpret them interrogatively, thus: You can judge of the future state of the weather from certain prognostics; and should you not judge, with still greater certainty, “of the times,” for the arrival of the Messiah having been accomplished, from “the signs,” which prove this beyond all doubt? These signs are—besides the passing of the Sceptre from Juda—the accomplishment of the seventy weeks of Daniel, His birth in Bethlehem, predicted by Micheas, &c.—the miraculous wonders He wrought in fulfilment of the oracles of the Prophets. (Matt. 11:5, &c.) This latter reading and interpretation better accords with the words of St. Luke (12:56), “Ye hypocrites, ye know … but how is it ye do not discern this time?” If they are thus slow in judging of the “signs” of His coming, it is to their wilful negligence and blindness, and their perverse disposition to elude the force of such signs by false interpretations, this is owing. St. Jerome tells us (in hunc locum), that verses 2 and 3 are wanting in most copies, so that the passage ran thus: “But He said to them,” (v. 2), “a wicked and adulterous,” &c. (v. 4). They are still wanting in the Codex Vaticanus.

4. “A wicked and adulterous generation,” &c. This has reference to the Sadducees, who denied the Resurrection. The words are explained (12:39). These men had already abundant evidence of our Saviour’s Divine mission, and sought further evidence from curiosity and malice, rather than from pure motives. Hence, our Redeemer did not gratify them; but, “deeply sighing in spirit” (Mark 8:12), on account of their perversity, He declares that no such sign as that asked for shall be given to this wicked generation. (See 235.)

5. “Were come,” that is, were crossing “over the water.” For, from St. Mark (8:14), it appears, that what is recorded in the following verses, occurred while they were “in the ship,” although others, with Maldonatus, deny this, relying on the account of the passage in St. Luke (12:1), where it is said, the words of our Lord, in reference “to the leaven of the Pharisees,” was spoken in presence of a large multitude.

They had forgotten to take bread.” It was usual with them when going on board, or when passing from a place where provisions might be had, to a place where they might have no opportunity of procuring them, to provide themselves with a proper viaticum for the occasion. Now, however, so engrossed were they with the heavenly doctrine of our Divine Redeemer, that they forgot to provide for their corporal wants. The Evangelist records this, as he wished to narrate the perplexity, which this omission to provide bread caused them, on hearing the words of our Lord about “the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

6. Having in sorrow left the Pharisees and Sadducees as incurable, our Redeemer takes occasion, from their blind perversity, to instruct His disciples. “Take heed and beware.” The repetition of words conveying the same idea, makes the phrase more emphatic, as if He said: be exceedingly cautious and on your guard, against “the leaven of the Pharisees,” &c. The word, “leaven,” as is afterwards explained (v. 12), signifies doctrine. It is taken in a bad sense here, to denote false doctrine. It is sometimes, however, taken in a good sense (13:33). It here very appropriately expresses the quality of false doctrine, which pervades and infects, so as to communicate its own nature to any body of doctrine with which it may be mixed. The least admixture of error renders any system of doctrine worthy of reprobation, no matter how much truth it may otherwise contain. By “leaven,” here is not meant all the doctrine of the Pharisees—for, when they sat in the chair of Moses, and taught his doctrine, they were to be heard, though, strictly speaking, the law of Moses, officially propounded by them, could hardly be called, their doctrine (23:2)—but, the false doctrines and useless commandments of men opposed to the commandments of God, which they ingrafted on the Divine law (15:3); also glosses and interpretations of the law, which made its observance altogether exterior. These might be truly termed their peculiar teachings and doctrines (23:23–29)—teachings which only had the effect of making men become proud, envious hypocrites. “Attendite a fermento Pharisærum, quod est hypocrisis.” (Luke 12).

And of the Sadducees.” Their errors were of the most revolting kind. They denied the Resurrection (22:23); the existence of spirits (Acts 23:8); also the immortality of the soul (Josephus Antiq. Lib. 18, c. 2; de Bel. Jud. Lib. ii. c. 7). St. Mark (8:15) adds, “and the leaven of Herod,” which in some versions, is, “and of the Herodians.” The Evangelist, it seems, refers to the sect of the Herodians, which existed in the days of our Redeemer. Who they were, What their tenets, Why called Herodians, cannot be easily ascertained (see Dixon, “Introduction to SS. Scriptures,” vol. ii. p. 128).

7. They anxiously thought within themselves—St. Mark (8:16) tells us, they communicated these thoughts to one another—that He meant this as a reproach, on account of their forgetfulness to bring bread, as usual, for the relief of their wants in desert places, far away from towns and the habitations of men. It also filled them with uneasiness about their future wants, and caused them to fear, He might go to some place where they would have no other bread than that of the Pharisees, against which, taking His words in their literal sense, they supposed our Lord to have cautioned them. They committed a twofold fault—first, they were too anxious about bread; and, secondly, they misunderstood our Redeemer’s words.

8. In virtue of His omniscience, He divined their inmost thoughts. “Of little faith.” Their anxiety proceeded from want of faith in His power, and confidence in His gracious providence, and fatherly care of them.

9, 10. From St. Mark (8:17), as well as from the words of this verse, “Do you not yet understand?” it would seem our Redeemer reproached His Apostles with want of knowledge and penetration. He next rebukes them for want of faith and confidence in Him; and He reminds them of the miracles He wrought, of which they seemed to lose all recollection.

11. Our Redeemer, in explaining His words regarding the leaven of the Pharisees, &c., confines Himself merely to saying, His words were not to be literally understood “of leaven,” which is used in bread; and He leaves themselves to conjecture what His meaning was.

12. They understood Him to speak of the “doctrine,” of these several sects. False doctrine is appropriately represented by “leaven.” For, as a little leaven ferments the entire mass, and imparts to it, its own properties; so, false doctrine, ever so apparently trivial, would infect and destroy any system of doctrine, and would produce in the minds of men effects very similar to those which leaven produces in the leavened mass, viz., sourness and fermentation; in other words, anger, ambition, pride and hypocrisy.

How far our Redeemer’s words here are consistent with His teaching, regarding the public ministerial authority of the Pharisees, as succeeding to the authority of Moses may be seen at 23:2. What St. Luke (12:1) records, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy,” is perfectly consistent with what is said here, because the doctrine of the Pharisees might be termed “hypocrisy,” its tendency being, to inculcate the performance of mere external actions and the observance of ceremonies, for the purpose of gaining human applause, while destitute of real internal sanctity which it affected, although it did not exist, and what is this but “hypocrisy?”

13. Leaving Bethsaida, “Jesus came into the quarters (St. Mark 8:27, says, ‘into the towns”) “of Cæsarea Philippi.” It was enriched and embellished by Philip, the son of Herod, in honour of Cæsar Augustus. Hence, its name. Before that, it was called Paneasand continued to be so called by Pagan writers—from the adjoining spring, Panium, the fountain head, or spring of the Jordan. It was situated at the foot of Mount Libanus, at the northern extremity of Judea. There was another Cæsarea in Palestine, built by Herod the Great, in honour of Augustus. This latter was situated on the Mediterranean, not far from Joppe.

And He asked His disciples, saying,” &c. From St. Mark and Luke we can clearly infer, that our Redeemer, when on His way to Cæsarea, turned aside to some place where He prayed for some time alone; and after prayer, probably, in the place where He prayed, and while resting, before He reached the end of His journey, which is the meaning of, “in the way” (Mark 8:27), He proposed the following question to His disciples, “Whom do men say that the Son of man is?” There were various readings of these words, but the above, which is the common reading, is the best sustained. In St. Luke (9:18), it is, “Whom do the people say that I am?” This question He thought proper to put, in order to afford His Apostles an opportunity of confessing His Divinity, that thus He would confirm their faith, and they would not be scandalized by the allusion He intended making on this occasion to His ignominious death and passion, which might prove a stumbling block to those who were not sufficiently grounded in the faith of His Divinity.

14. “But they said: Some (say thou art) John the Baptist.” Probably, this refers to those who were of the same opinion with Herod the Tetrarch (14:2), and might have imbibed the error of the Pharisees, who held, as we are informed by Josephus, that a just man could easily return to life. Whether they held the Pythagorean error of transmigration of souls in general, is disputed. They thought that when prophets returned from the dead, they were endowed with extraordinary power for working miraculous wonders. Hence, Herod says, “it is John returned from the dead, and, therefore, these wonders show forth in Him.”

Other some, Elias;” because, Elias was, according to the general opinion of the Jewish nation, to precede the Messias, the period of whose coming they believed to be at hand. This they inferred from the prophecy of Malachias (4:5). But these parties could never imagine, that one presenting the lowly appearance that our Redeemer did, could, notwithstanding His stupendous miracles, be the Messiah.

And others, Jeremias;” whose freedom and boldness in denouncing the crimes of the Jews, of his own day, was so like the line of conduct pursued by our Redeemer in this respect.

Or one of the Prophets,” the distinguished prophetical characters of old, such as Moses, Josue, Samuel. It is not likely that any among the multitude, even of those who addressed Him, as the Son of David, believed Him to be anything more than a mere man, anything more than human; and hence, the opinion of such is not quoted, their ideas of Him were mixed up with so many erroneous notions regarding Him. Moreover, such as thought Him to be the Son of God, could not be classed with the people, but with the disciples of our Lord.

15. “But whom do you?” &c. There is here a clear antithesis. “You,” who have been brought up in My school, who have enjoyed so many opportunities, favoured with so many blessings, witnessed so many of My miracles, whom I, therefore, cannot place on a level with the mere crowd, the vulgar herd, that follow Me.

That I am.” He before asked about “the Son of man” (v. 13), in reference to “men,” those who see nothing more than human in Him; but here it is, “that I am,” as if to say, what think you, who know Me as I am, God and man.

16. “Simon Peter,” the former name, he bore from his birth; “Simon Bar-Jona,” the latter, the name promised him (John 1:32–42), and given since his call to the Apostleship (Mark 3:14; Matt. 10:1; Luke 6:14), expressive of his dignity, as rock and foundation of God’s Church.

Answering, said.” Peter, whose faith was more ardent than that of all the rest, following the impulses of his natural and supernatural fervour, at once anticipates all the rest; and, fearing lest any one should utter anything beneath the dignity of his beloved Master, he “said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God.”

The Greek expresses it more emphatically still, by placing the article before all the words (ὁ Χριστός, ὁ ὑιος τοῦ Θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος), “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In this, Peter professes his faith in the Divinity and Humanity of our Lord. The word, “Christ,” contains the faith of both. He is “the Christ” promised of old in the Law and the Prophets, hitherto anxiously expected by all the saints, anointed Prophet, Priest, and King.

The Son,” not by adoption, like John the Baptist, Jeremias, &c., who are sons by adoption, with whom Peter here compares, or, rather, contrasts Him; but by nature, that only well-beloved Son, in whom He is always well pleased. “Of the living God,” of the true God, one of whose primary attributes is, necessary self existence, “qui solus habet immortalitatem.” (1 Tim. 6)

Living,” in opposition to false gods, who, as such, that is to say, as vested with Divinity, have no existence whatever, “omnes Dei Gentium dæmonia.” It also distinguishes, our Redeemer from the adopted sons of God. After recounting the several opinions of the people regarding Him, Peter says: We confess Thee to be the Christ; Thou callest Thyself. “the Son of man;” we proclaim Thee as the eternal Son of God.

17. “Blessed.” They are said to be “blessed” in SS. Scripture, who receive from God some singular privilege and grace, conducing to eternal life. Hence, Peter is said to be “blessed,” because, singularly favoured by God.

Simon Bar-Jona,” the son of Jona. (Bar, in Chaldaie, means, son.) “Jona,” is, probably, a contraction for “Johanna”—the Hebrew for Johannes, or John. For, Simon is said to be the “son of John” (John 21:15).

Because flesh and blood,” that is, man. No human tradition or instruction, no information on the part of any human being, no lights derived from any human source whatsoever, could ever have communicated this to you, “but My Father who is in heaven.” It is the result of a supernatural revelation, imparted to you by My Heavenly Father.

How it is Peter is singularly “blessed,” on this occasion, is not easily seen, since he had already, on a former occasion (John 6:70), proclaimed our Lord’s Divinity. Nathanael (John 1) did the same; why not he be equally “blessed?” And here, Peter would seem to have acted merely as the mouthpiece or spokesman of the twelve. For, they were all asked, “who do you say?” &c.; he answers for them. Why, then, should he be singularly “blessed” on this occasion? The reply commonly given is, that on the occasion mentioned (John 6:70), Peter had not the same exalted faith in our Saviour’s Divinity, that He gives expression to here, or that he there expressed unasked, more than was true regarding all the Apostles, since our Redeemer corrects him (v. 71). But here, on this solemn occasion, being called upon by our blessed Lord to declare, what their faith in opposition to the false notions of the crowd regarding Him was, he freely and loudly proclaims Him “the Son of the living God.” As for Nathanael and others, the common opinion regarding them is, that in proclaiming Him to be the Son of God, they did so according to the notions of the Jews regarding the Messiah, viz., that He was the adopted Son of God, but in a measure still far exceeding that of the other saints. Hence, they had not the faith of Peter, who proclaimed Him the Natural, Eternal, Consubstantial Son of God.

As regards the assertion, that Peter answered on behalf of the others, would it not appear from what follows, viz., the special prerogatives bestowed on him, the words addressed to himself personally, that he answered for himself principally? Otherwise, why should not our Redeemer say, “YOU are all blessed, for flesh and blood … to you.” Why not say, “To YOU ALL I give the keys?” &c. When all were asked why did not all answer, as they did severally, when interrogated regarding the opinions of the crowd? Hence, Peter replied on his own behalf. On his own behalf, he was the first to express, with greater ardour, what, no doubt, the others, too, might have said, had not Peter anticipated them; and this is what the holy Fathers mean, who say, that Peter was the mouthpiece of the other Apostles. Moreover, strictly speaking, no one could express the opinions of others, particularly on a point of such vital importance, unless be had the gift of searching their hearts, or, at least, without previous consultation, which did not occur here. Hence, Peter spoke for himself, and, thus merited the eulogium, “Blessed art thou.” “Revealed to thee;” and, probably, his faith on the subject was, in consequence of this revelation, more perfect at the time, than that of the others. What follows refers to Peter individually, so peculiar to him, designating his pre-eminence in the government of the Church, addressed to him in so marked a manner, that it is no more applicable to the other Apostles than the name, Peter itself.

18. “And I say to thee, thou art Peter.” You, a mere man, confess and openly proclaim, under the influence of my Heavenly Father’s revelation, that I am the Natural, Eternal, Consubstantial Son of God; I, on the other hand, who am the Eternal Son of God, and can, therefore, fulfil all My promises; say to you, that although a mere man, “thou art Peter,” or rock—a name long since conferred on thee for mystical reasons. And in reward for your glorious confession, I promise you that, imparting to you a share, in a subordinate degree, in My incomparable privileges, “upon this (Peter, or) rock,” that is, upon thee, “I shall build My Church,” this spiritual edifice, which is to successfully resist every hostile assault, and subsist to the end of time. I being its great architect, on thee shall it rest, as the great centre of unity, its unfailing foundation. It is clear that, “upon this rock,” refers to Peter, according to all the laws of grammatical construction; and this becomes still more evident, if we bear in mind, that in the Syro-Chaldaic language, in which our Redeemer spoke, the words run thus, “thou art Cephas, and upon this Cephas I will build My Church,” which, literally rendered, should run thus: “thou art Peter (that is, a rock), and upon this Peter (or rock) I shall build My Church.” But the Greek interpreter, with some detriment to the clearness of the phrase, rendered Cephas—which means, “rock”—πετρος, in the masculine, in the first instance, as applying to the person of Peter; and πετρα, in the feminine, in the second instance, as more expressive of a quality, or of the exalted dignity conferred on him by our Redeemer.

It is utterly unmeaning to refer, as is done by some, the word, “rock,” to either our Redeemer Himself, or to the faith of Peter, save in the concrete, which is the same as Peter himself, gifted with such great faith, and raised to high dignity on account of it; or, to the faithful, themselves constituting the Church, or superstructure, which could not be built on itself; or, to the other Apostles, since Peter is addressed individually—“thou art,” &c.; “I will give to thee,” &c.; “whatever thou shalt bind,” &c.

I shall build.” There is question, of course, of a spiritual building. “My Church.” His Church is the universal Church; to Him belongs not merely any one portion, but the whole Church, “which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28); “which He sanctified by the laver of water … and rendered glorious, not having spot or wrinkle” (Eph. 5:26, 27).

And the gates of hell shall not prevail,” &c. By “gates,” is meant, strength, or might. Of this, “gates,” were symbolical. The word has this meaning in several passages of SS. Scripture.

Of hell” (αδου, of Hades; Hebrew, Scheol). By this word, some understand the sepulchre, or death, which is the gate or entrance to hell. Others, more probably, the hell of the damned, the domains of him who hath the power of death, Satan. (See Murray, de Ecclesia. vol. 1; Fascic 11, Disp. vi.) This latter is the more genera) interpretation of the word. But, whichever of these two meanings be the true one, matters but little, as the words, whether they refer to death or hell—and death is represented as very powerful in SS. Scripture—symbolize a hostile kingdom, the great enemy, of all enemies the most powerful, the chief antagonist, ever warring implacably, but in vain, against the kingdom of Christ. So powerful, that it takes all the firmness of this kingdom, armed with the power of God, and founded on the immovable foundation which He has established, to resist it. In the Scriptures, the world, the flesh, and the devil, are exhibited as the great enemies which the Church of Christ has ever to combat.

Shall not prevail against it.” The word, “prevail,” may be taken passively or actively. Passively; it means, to withstand, to successfully hold out and resist. The words would mean, in this interpretation, that all the powers of hell, all the strength of persecuting tyrants, all the blandishments of pleasures, all the errors of heretics, or whatever other means of defence Satan may employ, shall not be able to withstand the strength and assaults of the Church, or kingdom founded by Christ.

Taken actively, it will mean, to overcome. The word, “rock,” would favour this latter interpretation, which exhibits the Church as an impregnable fortress, made for resistance and defence, rather than for aggression.

Against it.” The common interpretation of the holy Fathers and commentators, refers “it,” to the nearest noun, which is, “Church.” Although one must feel naturally reluctant to depart from the common interpretation, still, it seems to me far more probable, on intrinsic grounds, that the word, “it,” which, of itself, and by grammatical construction, may refer to Church or rock, directly and immediately refers to the latter. The context seems to require that it be referred to the primary subject of the discourse, which is also the subject of the promised remuneration spoken of. Now, this subject is “rock;” whereas, “Church,” is but a secondary, and as it were, incidental subject in the discourse (see Bouix, de Papa Tom ii., p. 173). Moreover, in the entire passage, “and” is a connecting link in the gradation of the several privileges, or, rather, in the several images and metaphors expressive of one and the same privilege of supreme authority conferred on Peter, in reward for his glorious confession of faith. 1. “Thou art Peter,” or rock, a name already conferred on you. 2. “AND upon this (Peter or) rock I will build My Church.” 3. “AND the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” 4. “AND I will give thee the keys,” &c. 5. “AND whatsoever thou shall bind … AND whatsoever thou shalt loose.” Then, in what precedes and follows, the words “prevail against it,” “and,” indicates an additional reward, or rather a new idea or image, symbolical of the same reward and exalted privilege bestowed on Peter, to whom the discourse is directed. Why not, then, refer to him in this, so as to express, that not only is he to be the rock support, but the invincible, ever enduring, conquering and unconquerable support of God’s indefectible Church? It seems to me, that the repetition of “and,” before the several prerogatives conferred on Peter, not on his own behoof, but for the enduring good of the Church, or, rather, before the several images expressive or symbolical of the one and same prerogative of supreme, enduring authority over the entire Church, greatly favours this latter interpretation. To this it may be added, that at all times the attacks of hell against God’s Church were principally levelled at her (as they are at the present day) through her head; and our Lord, by directly referring to the rock of the Church which, co ipso, includes the Church itself, as invincible, would wish to point out the source from which the Church derives her impregnable strength and invincibility, viz., her firm and inseparable union with her head. The meaning, however, of the passage will come to the same, whether “it” refers to the “rock,” or to the “Church.” “The rock is so strong, that the gates if hell cannot prevail against it; therefore, neither can they prevail against the Church built on the rock. The Church is so strong, that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it; therefore, neither can they prevail against the ‘rock,’ on which it is built” (Murray “An. Miscel.,” vol. iii. p. 297).

Peter, therefore, being Divinely appointed, as the impregnable rock on which the Church is built, possesses supreme spiritual authority, with full power to uphold, defend, govern, and consolidate the Church, as long as she exists—that is to say, to the end of time—against all her enemies. He must, therefore, be armed with all the necessary means, that is, with all legislative and executive power, in the spiritual order, to effectually accomplish this. As supreme monarch, acting as Vicar of Christ, he must be vested with all necessary power to uphold integrity of faith and purity of morals, a power extending, in Ecclesiastical matters, to all persons, limited only by the nature of things, and the immutable law of God. If this be not primacy of jurisdiction, it is hard to say what such primacy is. It need hardly be observed, that the interpretation of the words, “prevail against it,” adopted above, sets forth, in a clearer light, the proof, derived from this text, of the infallibility of the successor of St. Peter in the Apostolic See, when addressing the universal Church, and defining subjects of faith and morals; that is to say, when speaking ex Cathedra. The defined Faith of the Church regarding the Infallibility of the Sovereign Pontiff, speaking ex Cathedra, could be proved satisfactorily from other undoubted and independent sources, even though this text never existed.

19. The same supreme power or jurisdiction is granted to him clearly under another symbol and image. “And I will give to thee the keys,” &c. “Keys” were regarded among all nations, ancient and modern, whenever they symbolized anything, as the symbols of power. To kings and conquerors the keys of cities were given, as a symbol of their power and authority. The tradition of the keys of any place, whether city or fortress, was equivalent to handing over the full power and authority over that place. In the SS. Scriptures we have several instances of this. (Isa. 22:19, &c.; Apoc. 3:7; 9:1, &c.; 21 &c.) Hence, the metaphor of the keys here clearly conveys, that our Lord, on whose shoulders His Father had placed “the key of the house of David” (Isa. 22:22), had transferred to Peter the singular pre-eminence and power He Himself received, and communicated to him, as His vicar and vicegerent, the fulness of His power, over “the kingdom of heaven,” that is to say, the Church, or kingdom of the Messias, a signification the words frequently bear in the Gospels, and the signification they clearly bear here. To Peter, then, it is here promised by our Divine Redeemer, that he will be constituted supreme monarch, in His own place, over His “kingdom,” with universal spiritual power and jurisdiction, for extending, upholding, and consolidating that kingdom. This pre-eminence was actually given to him, after our Lord’s resurrection, “feed My lambs,” &c., in words addressed to him alone, in presence of the other Apostles (John 21:15–17).

And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth,” &c. This, according to some commentators, is a clearer explanation of the metaphor of “the keys,” showing the principal effect of their exercise. Others, with greater probability, regard this as a distinct metaphor, conveying, under a different image, the same idea of supreme authority and jurisdiction. The effect attributed in SS. Scripture to “the keys,” is, not to “loose and bind,” but to “open and shut.” Again, the universal term (ὅ) “whatsoever,” extends to more objects than can fall within the exercise of the power of “the keys.” The word, “whatsoever,” embraces, in its widest extent, all things over which the power of binding or loosing can be exercised, in the spiritual order, all places throughout the entire earth, all persons who by baptism, are made subject to the Church, all matters in the spiritual order, not excepted by the nature of things, or, by the Law of God, or the Divine Constitution of the Church. In a word, it involves universal legislative, and executive authority to rule, govern and uphold the entire Church, including pastors and people.

Although each of the preceding metaphors, viz., of the rock, of the keys, or binding and loosing, conveys, of itself, with undoubted clearness, that supreme spiritual jurisdiction and authority was conferred on Peter; still, our Redeemer would impress us with its vast importance, by conveying the same general idea, under different and expressive metaphors.

20. “Then He commanded His disciples,” &c. Mark (8:30), and Luke (9:21), both tell us, He strictly charged them, not to tell any one of this. There are several reasons, or motives, assigned for this precept of our Redeemer. Some say, He was actuated by humility, as He was on several other occasions, when He performed miracles (9:30). Others say, He was influenced by motives of prudence, to avoid irritating His enemies, who might be excited to such a pitch, as to anticipate the hour He Himself had marked out for His death. The most probable reason seems to be, that, although He had already abundantly proved His Divinity by miracles, and His own positive assertions (John 5, &c.), still, the time for openly divulging and proclaiming this was reserved for the period after His resurrection, and the descent of the Holy Ghost, when the Apostles, no longer liable to be scandalized by His Passion, would be able to preach and defend it, and the people sufficiently strengthened in faith to receive it. It may be, too, that He feared, if once the people embraced the faith in His Divinity, the shock resulting from His death would be too great for them at this early stage of their faith, and, if it ended in apostasy, it would render their return more difficult. This is borne out by His reference to His death and Passion, in the following verse. Hence, we find that the great argument in proof of His Divinity everywhere in SS. Scripture, is derived from His resurrection. The injunction given here is by no means opposed to the commission heretofore given to the Apostles to preach in Judea, as they were only to “preach penance” (Mark 6:12), and the near approach “of the kingdom of heaven;” but they were by no means commissioned at the time to preach His Divinity. And although He says (10:33), He would deny him before His Father in heaven, who would “deny Him before men,” this, however, has reference to the time after His resurrection, when His Divinity would be openly proclaimed.

No doubt, our Lord had Himself, during life, declared His own Divinity (John 5, &c.) This, however, He did more or less obscurely; and He knew when and how He Himself might do so, without interfering with the decrees of His providence, while issuing a prohibition to others on the subject.

21. “From that time,” that is, from the time of the glorious confession of His Divinity, made by Peter, in the presence, and with the concurrence, of the other Apostles, “Jesus began to show to (St. Mark 8:31, has, ‘to teach’) His disciples … must go to Jerusalem,” as preordained by His Father, and predicted by the Prophets, “and suffer many things from (St. Mark adds, ‘and be rejected by’) the ancients,” &c.

The ancients,” refer to the members of the Great Sanhedrim, called (Luke 22:66). πρεσβυτεριον, who enjoyed supreme authority in the Jewish Republic—“and Scribes,” under whom are also included the Pharisees—“and be put to death,” &c. Our Redeemer did not treat “openly” (Mark 8:32), in presence of His Apostles, of His Passion, before they made a public confession of His Divinity, lest they might be scandalized thereby, so as to desert Him altogether. But, after this public confession of their faith in His Divinity, no such consequences were to be apprehended. And He now forewarns them, that he freely submitted to death, for man’s redemption; thus to prepare them for it, when it should happen (John 16:1). He, probably, also had in view, by referring to His Passion, to prepare them—as may be inferred from verse 24—for the sufferings in store for them, after the example of His own unjust sufferings

22. The vehement ardour of Peter’s affection for his Divine Master overleaping the bounds of prudent reserve on this occasion, could not endure, that He whom he was after proclaiming to be the Son of the Living God, should submit to such ignominious treatment from the Jews. Hence, “taking Him” aside, he began to remonstrate with Him, in the warmth of his ardent affection.

Far be it from Thee.” This expresses the precise and ordinary meaning of the idiomatic phrase (Ἵλεως σοι), “propitius tibi,” to which, St. Jerome adds, “sis,” “spart Thyself, O Lord.” Others add, “sit Deus; propitius tibi sit Deus”—May God avert such an evil, and cause matters to take a more favourable turn. The phrase is sometimes used in the Old Testament, by the Septuagint; and it has the meaning given it here by the Vulgate, “absit a te,” &c.—May God forbid.

23. Our Lord, turning round to Peter, who was either behind Him, or by His side, when He uttered the foregoing words (St. Mark adds, 8:33, “and seeing His disciples,” in whose presence Peter spoke), “said to Peter” (St. Mark, “threatened Peter”), redargued him, in the presence of all—“Go behind Me, Satan; thou art a scandal to Me.” St. Hilary, understanding “Satan,” of the devil, who is the chief Satan, that is to say, adversary of the human race, says, the first words, “Go behind Me,” were alone addressed to Peter, and the following words, “Satan, thou art a scandal,” &c., were addressed to the devil, who tempts us, and suggests wicked actions. But these latter words, too, are commonly referred to Peter, who had been a Satan, which means, adversary, on this occasion, however, innocently, and unintentionally, opposing the will of God. “Go behind Me,” begone from Me, thou adversary, “thou art a scandal to Me,” so far as thou art concerned, endeavouring to induce Me to commit sin, by resisting the will of God, and to forego the great work of Redemption, by avoiding suffering and death. Others understand, “Go behind Me,” thus: rather follow My counsels and instructions, than anticipate them, by gratuitously tendering advice. But the foregoing is more probable, as our Redeemer manifestly rebukes Peter. It is remarked by some expositors, that the word, “Satan,” frequently signifies (as in 2 Kings 19:22), evil counsellor; and so, perhaps, it may signify the same here, as if He said: under the appearance of attachment, thou givest Me the worst counsel. This sudden change in our Redeemer, now calling Peter, “Satan,” after the eulogium bestowed on him, should cause no surprise, as the primacy was not given, but promised to Peter at this time “I will build; I will give,” &c.

Because thou savourest not,” &c. In these words is assigned the reason why Peter is become a scandal, or occasion of sin, however unconsciously, by placing an obstacle to the glory of God, because he was actuated by human feelings, which shrink from death and ignominy, rather than by feelings inspired by God, which would dictate to us to undergo any amount of evil, sooner than commit sin, or resist the will of God, however opposed to our own corrupt passions.

From this may be seen the obligation we are under, of trampling under foot all human feelings and natural affections, when duty to God, or a call of a higher order, demands such a sacrifice. St. Jerome observes, with reference to Peter’s primacy, as apparently affected by this rebuke, that the primacy was not yet actually conferred. Moreover, ecclesiastical preferment does not destroy the passions.

24. “Then Jesus said,” &c. St. Mark (8:34) says, “And calling the multitude together with His disciples, He said,” &c. St. Luke (9:23) “and He said to all.” Most likely, that, in the presence of the entire multitude, whose salvation was involved in the following words, He addressed Himself principally to His disciples. “If any man will come after Me,” “si quis vult post me venire,” which it is perfectly free for anyone to do. “Come after Me,” to become a true follower, and share in the blessings of the Christian state. “Let him deny himself,” which some interpret to mean, to put aside the old man, and put on the new. But from the following, it is clear the words regard self-abnegation, mortification, trampling under foot all carnal affections, all regard for the goods, pleasures and enjoyments of this life. The meaning of denying oneself can be easily understood from the meaning ordinarily attached to denying some one else, which evidently means, to undervalue him, to despise him, to value his life as nothing. Hence, “to deny oneself,” means, to hold oneself in little or no estimation, to be prepared to sacrifice life (v. 25), to resist the suggestions of self-love, to follow the Divine will in all things, no matter how opposed to our own inclinations. Hence, as self-love wishes for honours, pleasures, a long and easy life; so, self-denial involves the resisting of our natural inclinations in such matters. “To deny oneself” is, to deny that he knows himself, and is prepared to bear, and undertake sufferings, as if they were befalling some one else, whom he knows not, and with whom he has no sympathy in his sufferings; and even, in our good works, that we should seek the good-will and pleasure of God, rather than our own advantage

And take up his cross.” St. Luke adds (9:23) “daily,” to show that each one must be prepared to bear his cross perseveringly, at all times, unto the end. The words, “take up,” convey, that we should, with cheerful alacrity, bear whatever crosses it may please God to send us, whether they come directly and immediately from His bountiful hands, or from men; in a word, in whatever shape, or form, He may be pleased to send them.

And follow Me.” These words are allusive to the cross, which our Redeemer was afterwards to carry on His shoulders for our sake. They hardly add anything to the sense of the preceding. They merely fill up the sentence thus, “If any man will come after Me, which is the same as, “If any man will follow Me;” and it is by denying himself, cheerfully taking up his cross, that one follows Christ.

25. Having pointed out in the preceding, the duty of self-denial, our Redeemer now refers to the motives, which should stimulate to the performance, with cheerful hearts, of this painful duty, from which corrupt nature so strongly recoils. The principal motive is founded on the necessity of our doing so, in order to secure our eternal salvation, and the great rewards attached to self-denial. “Save his life,” his bodily life; “shall lose,” his spiritual and everlasting life, whenever the occasion arises demanding the sacrifice of life, and every temporal advantage in the cause of God, and in defence of His law. Such occasions do sometimes arise: and, then, after the example of many of the saints, as well of the Old Testament as of the New, we must be prepared to sacrifice everything for God and eternal life. The reward attached to the sacrifice of one’s temporal life for God, is to gain eternal life (see 10:38, 39). “He that shall lose his life.” the carrying of one’s cross, inculcated in the preceding verse, sometimes involves the sacrifice of life. The connecting link between this and the preceding verse, may be supplied thus (v. 24), “If any man, &c.” (and, indeed, it is right that each one should take up his cross and follow Me). “For he that shall save,” &c. (v. 25.) The particle, “for,” is a proof of the implied proposition just referred to.

26. “For what doth it profit,” &c. The idea is borrowed from the condition of a man whose life is forfeited, either in judgment, or from being captured in war. Such a man can derive no pleasure, once he loses his life, from the acquisition of all earthly advantages. These are then of no avail to him; and all the wealth and power of this world cannot bring back human life once lost. But, while alluding to the opinions prevailing among men, regarding the value of human life, above every other earthly possession, and its irreparability once forfeited, our Redeemer chietly considers the eternal loss of the soul, which being once condemned, once lost, every other gain is of no avail; every acquisition for which this irreparable misfortune is incurred is but loss. “Or what exchange.” &c., refers to a soul once condemned, once lost; no redeeming, no purchasing it back Before condemnation, it is redeemed by the blood of Christ, and by good works, “peccata tua eleemosynis redime,” &c. (Daniel 4:24.) But, after it is condemned, no redeeming it, “frater non redimit, non redimet homo,” &c. (Psa. 48) The connexion of this with the preceding may be seen, by supplying the following proposition, which is, as it were, a conclusion from the foregoing (wherefore, in order to save our soul for ever, it is better to sacrifice our life for Christ’s sake). And then, in this verse is shown the reasonableness of such sacrifice, considering the inestimable and eternal importance of the interests involved in the loss, or gain, of one’s soul; and the utter worthlessness of everything else in comparison. Did our Redeemer ever utter anything so full of awful import for us all, or so pregnant with matter for such serious and continual reflection, as is conveyed in this adorable, but neglected maxim, “What doth it profit?” &c. In order to see more clearly the import of this sacred truth, the consideration of which sent thousands from the world into cloisters, peopled the desert with saints, stimulated the heroism of martyrs to embrace torments and death, made kings and queens descend from their thrones, and embrace the rigours of a penitential life, let us consider, separately, its two parts—first, one gains the entire world; secondly, after that, he loses his soul. Let us suppose a man to enjoy, for the longest term of human existence—which, be it ever so prolonged, compared with eternity, is but a more point—all the honours, riches, pleasures, of which human nature is capable, and this, without the slightest alloy of bitterness, or discomfort, of any kind, he gains the whole world. Secondly, lot us suppose that, he loses his soul; he is damned now for eternity, and buried in hell. Of what avail are all his past enjoyments, unless it be, from the remembrance of them, to torture him still more? His enjoyment is now past and gone; it lasted but for a moment, while he had “gained the entire world.” Now, he is plunged for ever in a furnace of fire and brimstone, enkindled by the wrath of an angry God, where “the smoke of his torments shall ascend for ever and over; where his worm shall never die, and his fire shall never be extinguished; where his fall shall be without honour, and he shall be a reproach among the dead.” Of what avail were his purple, and fine linen, and hearty cheer to Dives, when he begged of Lazarus for a drop of cold water to cool his tongue tormented in the flames? Should we not constantly pray to God, for the grace ever to keep in mind the nothingness of all passing empty enjoyments, and the never-ending tortures, to which such enjoyments may consign us? We should constantly, and above all, in the hour of temptation, think on the import of these two words, EVER, NEVER. EVER to continue; NEVER to end.

27. “The Son of man,”—meaning Himself, “shall come in the glory of His Father,” which is the same as the glory of Himself, the Son. Hence, St. Luke (9:26) has, “when He shall come in His majesty, and that of His Father, and of the holy Angels.”

With His Angels,” that is, the Angels of the Son of man, who are, no doubt, the Angels of His Father, also, as “the glory of the Father,” is common to Him with the Son.

And then He shall render to every one,” &c., rewards or punishments, justly and impartially, as he may deserve, “according to his works.” The words of this verse are added, to show, that the loss or salvation of one’s soul, is to be decided by a Judge, who will not be corrupted or intimidated into saving or releasing any one, whose works will not deserve it. His sentence is supreme, eternal, irreversible. Here, too, is conveyed an argument of the necessity of good works. “Shall render to every one according to his works,” according as his works deserved, whether they were good or evil.

28. Having said in the foregoing, that, the Son of man was to come in majesty, accompanied by the holy Angels, a thing calculated to inspire His Apostles with great courage and intrepidity in preaching the humility of the cross, He now corroborates His assertion, by telling them that, although His coming in majesty might be supposed to be very distant, and, consequently, less apt to produce a due impression, even in this life, some among them would be favoured with a view of His glorious majesty. What this refers to is disputed. Some commentators understand it of our Lord’s glorious Ascension, when the Apostles saw Him ascend to heaven in glory. Hence, He says, “some of those present:” because, the crowd who were present, did not witness His ascension. Others understand it, of His glory in His Church, when after His resurrection, ascension, and the sending down of the Holy Ghost, His Gospel was to be wonderfully propagated and confirmed by miracles. Others, with St. Leo the Great (Sermo. de Transfig.)—and this is the more common opinion—understand it of the Transfiguration, which some of those present, Peter, James, and John had witnessed. This was a splendid figure, a remarkable type and manifestation of Christ’s glorious coming to Judgment. This interpretation derives great probability, from the fact of those Evangelists recording the history of our Lord’s Transfiguration, immediately in connexion with the words of this verse; thus pointing to it, as their fulfilment.








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