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The Great Commentary Of Cornelius À Lapide Volumes 1 To 8

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 (i.e., lord) Matthew, one of His twelve disciples, wrote it.”

Holy: 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 9:24, 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 “we may serve Him in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life.” (Luke 1:75.)

Gospel, in Greek Evangel, good news, from εὐαγγέλλω, I bring good news. So S. Chrysostom. See Budæus, in Pandectas, 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 evangelia!” that is, a reward for good tidings. In Hebrew, Gospel is called besorah, from basar, “flesh,” because besorah is the most joyful tidings of the WORD “being made flesh.”

According to Matthew. The words, according to, 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-fifth Psalm, “My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.”

2. According to 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 the Gospel.

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. 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 to write.

Cajetan and the Anabaptists are of opinion that S. Matthew wrote in Greek, because Hebrew words—such as Emmanuel; Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?—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 Auctor Imperfecti 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 Cæsarea, 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 (Hæres. 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. Irenæus says (lib. 3, c. 1), 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 Synopsis of Holy Scripture, 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 27:8, instead of the Hebrew Haceldama, or field of blood, the present Syriac has agurescadama, an evident Grecism, partly formed from ἄγρος, a field. Instead of the Hebrew Cephas, the Syriac has Kypho. For Eli, Eli, my God, my God, it has Il, Il, omitting the my. For Golgota, it has Golgoulto; for Jacob, Jaacoub, &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 respects:—

1. He was the first who published a Gospel, wherefore Tertullian calls him, “that most faithful exponent of the Gospel.” (Lib. de Carne Christi, 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, given, as Origen and Isidore say—or a gift, as Pagninus thinks—from matthan, a gift. 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 Hist. Apost.) 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 de 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 burning heat.”

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