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

A CONSIDERABLE period has now elapsed since I first ventured on laying before the public a Commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul, and those commonly called Catholic. I resolved at the time to continue these Scriptural subjects with a similar Commentary on the Four Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles. Circumstances, however, soon changed; and from the retirement of college life, so well suited for such studies, I found myself unexpectedly charged with varied and multiplied duties of the gravest nature, which it would be criminal to overlook or neglect. I was, in consequence, reluctantly forced to give over, for a time, the almost constant and uninterrupted application which the publication of a Scriptural Commentary would almost exclusively demand. I was determined, however, not to lose sight of my original design of publishing a Commentary on the Gospels; any spare time I had on hands from episcopal or missionary duties, I devoted to this study particularly. The reading over voluminous Commentaries involved no small amount of labour, to me by no means distasteful, as well as the sacrifice of other important studies. The following Commentary on St. Matthew and St. Mark is partly the result. The notes which I made on St. Luke, St. John, and the Acts, are not yet arranged for publication. I trust to be able, in a short time, to publish them in a supplemental volume. It is right to inform, at least some of my readers, that the Commentary on St. Matthew almost fully embraces the two other synoptical Gospels, as they are called, of Mark and Luke. The reader of the Commentary on St. Matthew will be able to perceive that most of the Gospel of St. Luke is included in the Commentary on Matthew and Mark. From St. Matthew’s Gospel, St. Luke differs but very little, save as regards the two first chapters in the Gospel of the latter (having reference chiefly to the facts and circumstances connected with the birth and infancy of the Baptist, the birth and infancy of our Blessed Lord), and some few parables not contained in the Gospel of St. Matthew. A large portion of St. John, particularly in what regards our Lord’s Passion, has been commented on, by anticipation, in St. Matthew.

The great favour with which the Commentary on the Epistles has been received, as it has already reached a third edition, after having been a considerable time out of print, for want of time to superintend its re-publication, emboldens me to hope, that the Commentary on the Gospels will be received with at least equal favour by the public. It is hoped it may serve to promote the objects for which the Commentary on the Epistles was designed, viz., to furnish the intelligent laity and reading portion of the Catholic community with a thoroughly Catholic exposition, in their own language, of one of the most important portions of the SS. Scriptures—to supply the ecclesiastical student with a compendious treatise from which to draw materials, at a future day, for instructing others, which is by no means the least important of the exalted duties of the sacred ministry—and lastly, to serve as a practical reply to the clumsy calumnies so often refuted, of those who charge the Catholic Church with interdicting, for her own purposes, the reading of the SS. Scriptures, even when such reading is hedged round with the proper safeguards. We cannot meet this stupid charge with a clearer refutation than by adducing the authoritative words of the successor of St. Peter on this subject.—“Illi enim sunt fontes uberrimi qui cuique patere debent ad hauriendam et morum et doctrinæ sanctitatem, depulsis erroribus qui his corruptis temporibus late disseminantur.” “For they (viz., the SS. Scriptures), are the most abundant sources, that ought to be left open to every one, to draw from them purity of morals and doctrine, to eradicate the errors which are widely disseminated in these corrupt times.” (See letter of Pius VI. to Martini, prefixed to Martini’s Bible.)

But does not this charge, with which our ears are every day assailed, come with good grace from men who, themselves enjoying singular advantages, have never produced anything in elucidation of the SS. Scriptures, unless it be an occasional indecent article or empty placard, abusive of every attempt on the part of Catholics to supply an acknowledged want? It is not for me to say why the sons of the Irish Establishment are so barren of Scriptural knowledge. But while the fact cannot be gainsaid, that a word of abuse of those who differ from us in religion is never uttered, or permitted to be uttered, from Catholic altar or pulpit in this country, those men who accuse the Catholic Church of withholding the Bible from the people, in many instances, “fulfil the law,” by the unmeaning abuse of Catholic doctrine and practices, blaspheming what they understand not, and charitably substitute the grossest misrepresentation, which costs them but little study, for that ecclesiastical and Scriptural knowledge which some of them are too ignorant of, and many too indolent, to acquire. On this subject I may be permitted to quote the words of an exceedingly learned and voluminous commentator on SS. Scripture—“I believe no Church in the world has done less for the critical study of the Bible than the Irish Establishment. After a diligent search through all the biographical indexes within my reach (see E. G. Horne’s Introduc., last edition, wherein the index is very complete), I cannot find the name of one Irishman, trained and serving in the Anglo-Irish Church, who has published a comment on even one chapter of the Bible. I do not speak of such men as Bramhall, Bedell, Jeremy Taylor, Jebb,* Mant, Whately, and Trench, educated abroad, and imported here because their services were needed, and Irishmen could not be found to take their places. I speak of the sons of the Irish Establishment, of those brought up under her care, and I say that few, perhaps not even one, of them can be named among biblical interpreters. It is evident that the curse of barrenness has blighted the whole life of the Irish Establishment, from its first planting down to the present hour, when the just sentence is at length heard, ‘Cut it down, therefore, why cumbereth it the ground.’ ” (Very Rev. D. MacCarthy, D.D., Vice-President and Professor of SS. Scripture, College, Maynooth, 1868.)

In addition to the foregoing reasons, the character of the age on which we have fallen considerably influenced me in publishing a Commentary on the Gospels at the present time. Was it ever more necessary at any period in the history of Christianity than it is at the present day, to place before the world, in as clear a light as possible, an exposition, in accordance with the unerring teachings of the Catholic Church, of the fundamental principles of faith and morals, with which the Son of God came down to enlighten a world which He found sitting in darkness, and in the shadow of death? Does the condition, into which many parts of the world are at this moment relapsing promise to be an improvement on that state of Paganism, in which He found it when He came to proclaim glory to God and peace to men? Has not His spouse and representative, the Catholic Church, with whom He deposited the fulness of truth, and to whom He bequeathed the plenitude of His authority, as fierce a struggle before her, enemies as embittered to encounter, as she had when she was forced to seek shelter for a time in the bowels of the earth, and the Flavian Amphitheatre re-echoed to the savage yells of “Christianos ad leones.” Are the principles of atheism, materialism, total negation of all future sanction, dimly shadowed forth even in the very fables of Paganism, less deadly or noxious in their consequences, both as regards here and hereafter, than the principles of polytheism she succeeded in utterly extirpating? As regards public authority, was the all-absorbing power of the Pagan rulers more crushing than the iron despotism men would now fain establish, in the most powerful kingdoms, under the specious name of liberty? Liberty—that name, like religion itself, so often injuriously invoked, which can never be found dissociated from the holy influences of God’s Spirit, for, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there (and there only) is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17).

Do we not every day see efforts persistently made, and unjustly enforced, even at the certain risk of anarchy, to render to Cæsar not only what belongs to Cæsar, but also to concentrate in him all rights, human and Divine; to constitute him the sole guardian, depositary, and dispenser of what belongs to God; and this, in defiance of all the principles of true liberty, despite solemn treaties, and in violation of all guaranteed rights of conscience? Does not this all-absorbing power of the State, resting solely on brute force, by an unholy league which embraces both hemispheres, unjustly invade and trample under foot the sacred rights of parents, and force them to bring up their children, who were destined to fill up one day those seats vacated by the fallen angels, in schools where the sacred name of God is utterly banished, and their tender minds indoctrinated in the soul-destroying principles of materialism?

What is this but a persistent attempt at the revival of Paganism, making might, or the law of the strongest, the sole standard of right, and the substitution of brute force for the abiding blessings of moral influences? What is it but a rapid approach to that sad state of spiritual decay, of which our Redeemer Himself forewarns us, “Think you, when the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8).

As the Son of God came down from heaven not only to be our Redeemer, but our teacher; not only to ransom us with the effusion of His precious blood, but to enlighten us with these saving truths, the knowledge of which, joined to firm and unhesitating faith, He has made an indispensable condition of salvation, it must be over a subject of the deepest spiritual interest to place these truths in as clear a light ns possible. Whether the following Commentary may serve to advance this and the other ends referred to, must be left to others to decide.

The Text is from the edition published by Duffy (A.D. 1857) with the sanction and approval of the Archbishops and Bishops of Ireland, and lately published by Gill and Son, with the sanction and approval of his Eminence, the Cardinal Archbishop of Dublin.

The plan is in every respect similar to that adopted in the Exposition of the Epistles (see Preface to), with the exception of the paraphrase. In the Epistles, which might be regarded as so many closely-reasoned doctrinal dissertations on Christian faith and morals, dealing but little with matters of fact, a paraphrase would be well suited to connect the several sentences, and supply the link, sometimes apparently wanting, in the reasoning of the inspired writers. Whereas, in the Gospels, which are, in general, but a narrative of the actions of our Blessed Lord, as well as of His discourses, recorded in a discursive and disconnected form, a paraphrase would seem to be out of place. It is hoped, however, that the reader will find its absence compensated for by a more ample exposition of the meaning of the several words and phrases in the Commentary, and by the tracing of the consecutive course of reasoning in the discourses of our Divine Redeemer, and the connexion of the narrative of the Evangelists, whenever practicable.

It is right to inform the readers of the commentators I have followed, and the authorities whose opinions are found reflected in the following work. These are—Jansenius Gandavensis, Maldonatus, Calmet, A. Lapide, Mauduit, Natalis Alexander, Patrizzi (Dissertations, &c.), Barradius, Lucas Burgensis, Jansenius Iprensis, Sylveria, Martini, Kenrick, &c.; and in Mark, in addition to the foregoing, Patrizzi’s Commentary on Mark. On doctrinal points—St. Thomas, Bellarmine, Perrone, Primate Dixon, Professor Murray. Among the Fathers—St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and St. Chrysostom, &c. These several authorities I refrain from quoting on each particular point, save occasionally, as by doing so I would be only breaking up the continuity of the work, and rendering it less attractive to the general reader. But I have taken care to advance no opinion or interpretation, the substance of which is not found in one or more of the learned authorities referred to in the preceding catalogue.

I am far from imagining this work to be, in every respect, what it ought to be. For its many defects and shortcomings I must trust to the kind indulgence of the reader.

I have only to say, in conclusion, that it has been my anxious desire to give faithful expression on every point to the teaching and doctrines of the Holy Roman Catholic Church—the infallible depositary of God’s revealed truth. She alone is the Apostolic See—the heir of the plenitude of ecclesiastical power, and of the indefectible faith of Peter, whom faith tells us to be the infallible teacher of the universal Church—lambs and sheep, pastors and people—Divinely appointed to teach and confirm his brethren.


GALWAY, April 6, 1876.

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