Golden Chain 4710
4710 (Mt 17,10-13)
Jerome: It was a tradition of the Pharisees following the Prophet Malachi, that Elias should come before the coming of the Saviour, and bring back the heart of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, and restore all things to their ancient state. The disciples then consider that this transformation which they had seen in the mount was His coming in glory, and therefore it is said, "And his disciples asked him, saying, How then say the Scribes that (p. 608) Elias must first come? As though they had said, If you have already come in glory, how is it that your forerunner appears not yet? And this they say chiefly because they see that Elias is departed again
Chrys., Hom., lvii: The disciples knew not of the coming of Elias out of the Scriptures; but the Scribes made it known to them; and this report was current among the ignorant multitude, as was that concerning Christ. Yet the Scribes did not explain the coming of Christ and of Elias, as they ought to have done. For the Scriptures speak of two comings of Christ; that which has taken place, and that which is yet to be. But the Scribes, blinding the people, spake to them only of His second coming, and said, If this be the Christ, then should Elias have come before Him. Christ thus resolves the difficulty, He answered and said, "Elias truly shall come, and restore all things; but I say unto you, that Elias has already come."
Think not that here is a contradiction in His speech, if He first say that Elias shall come, and then that he is come. For when He says that Elias shall come and restore all things, He speaks of Elias himself in his own proper person, who indeed shall restore all things, in that he shall correct the unbelief of the Jews, who shall then be to be found; and that is the turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, that is, the hearts of the Jews to the Apostles
Aug., Quaest Ev., i, 21: Or; "He shall restore all things," that is those whom the persecution of Antichrist shall have overthrown; as He Himself should restore by His death those whore He ought.
Chrys.: But if there shall so much good arise out of the presence of Elias, why did He not send him at that time? We shall say, Because they then held Christ to be Elias, and yet believed not on Him. But they shall hereafter believe Elias, because when he shall come after so great expectation announcing Jesus, they will more readily receive what shall be taught by Him. But when He says that Elias is come already, He calls John the Baptist Elias from the resemblance of their ministry; for as Elias shall be the forerunner of His second coming, so was John the forerunner of His first. And He calls John Elias, to shew that His first coming was agreeable to the Old Testament, and to prophecy.
Jerome: He then who at the Saviour's second coming should come in the truth of (p. 609) His body, come now in John in power and spirit.
It followers, "And they knew him not, but did unto him whatsoever they would," that is, despised and beheaded him.
Hilary: As he announced the Lord's coming, so he was also to foreshew His passion by the example of his own suffering and wrong; whence it follows, "So also shall the Son of Man suffer of them."
Chrys.: He takes the opportunity from the passion of John to refer to His own passion, thus giving them much comfort.
Jerome: It is enquired how, seeing that Herod and Herodias were they that killed John, it can be said that Jesus also was crucified by them, when we read that He was put to death by the Scribes and Pharisees! It must be answered briefly, that the party of the Pharisees consented to the death of John, and that in the Lord's crucifixion Herod united his approval, when having mocked and set Him at nought, he sent Him back to Pilate, that he should crucify Him.
Raban.: From the mention of His own passion which the Lord had often foretold to them, and from that of His forerunner, which they beheld already accomplished, the disciples perceived that John was set forth to them under the name of Elias; whence it follows; "Then understood the disciples that he spake to them of John the Baptist."
Origen: That He says of John, "Elias is already come," is not to be understood of the soul of Elias, that we fall not into the doctrine of metempsychosis, which is foreign to the truth of Church doctrine, but, as the Angel had foretold, he came "in the spirit and spirit of Elias."
4714 (Mt 17,14-18)
(p. 610) Origen: Peter, anxious for such desirable life, and preferring his own benefit to that of many, had said, "It is good for us to be here." But since charity seeks not her own, Jesus did not this which seemed good to Peter, but descended to the multitude, as it were from the high mount of His divinity, that He might be of use to such as could not ascend because of the weakness of their souls; whence it is said, "And when he was come to the multitude;" for if He had not gone to the multitude with His elect disciples, there would not have come near to Him the man of whom it is added, "There came to him a man kneeling down, and saying, Lord, have mercy on my son."
Consider here, that sometimes those that are themselves the sufferers believe and entreat for their own healing, sometimes others for them, as he who kneels before Him praying for his son, and sometimes the Saviour heals of Himself unasked by any.
First, let us see what this means that follows, "For he is lunatic, and sore vexed." Let the physicians talk as they list; for they think it no unclean spirit, but some bodily disorder, and say, that the humours in the head are governed in their motions by sympathy with the phases of the moon, whose light is of the nature of humours. But we who believe the Gospel say that it is an unclean spirit that works such disorders in men. The spirit observes the moon's changes, that it may cheat men into the belief that the moon is the cause of their sufferings, and so prove God's creation to be evil; as other daemons lay wait for men following the times and courses of the stars, that they may speak wickedness in high places, calling some stars malignant, others benign; whereas no star was made by God that it should produce evil.
In this that is added, "For ofttimes he falls into the fire, and oft into the water,"
Chrys.: is to be noted, that were not man fortified here by Providence, he would long since have perished; for the daemon who cast him into the fire, and into the water, (p. 611) would have killed him outright, had God not restrained him.
Jerome: In saying, "And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not heal him," he covertly accuses the Apostles, whereas that a cure is impossible is sometimes the effect not of want of power in those that undertake it, but of want of faith in those that are to be healed.
Chrys.: See herein also his folly, in that before the multitude he appeals to Jesus against His disciples. But He clears them from shame, imputing their failure to the patient himself; for many things shew that he was weak in faith. But He addresses His reproof not to the man singly, that He may not trouble him, but to the Jews in general. For many of those present, it is likely, had improper thoughts concerning the disciples, and therefore it follows, "Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, how long shall I suffer you?"
His "How long shall I be with you?" shews that death was desired by Him, and that He longed for His withdrawal.
Remig.: It may be known also, that not now for the first time, but of a long time, the Lord had borne the Jews' stubbornness, whence He says, "How long shall I suffer you?" because I have now a long while endured your iniquities, and ye are unworthy of My presence.
Origen: Or; Because the disciples could not heal him as being weak in faith, He said to them, "O faithless generation," adding "perverse," to shew that their perverseness had introduced evil beyond their nature. But I suppose, that because of the perverseness of the whole human race, as it were oppressed with their evil nature, He said, "How long shall I be with you?"
Jerome: Not that we must think that He was overcome by weariness of them, and that The meek and gentle broke out into words of wrath, but as a physician who might see the sick man acting against his injunctions, would say, How long shall I frequent your chamber? How long throw away the exercise of my skill, while I prescribe one thing, and you do another? That it is the sin, and not the man with whom He is angry, and that in the person of this one man He convicts the Jews of unbelief, is clear from what He adds, "Bring him to me."
Chrys.: When He had vindicated His disciples, He leads the boy's father to a cheering hope of believing that he shall be delivered out of this evil; and that the father might (p. 612) be led to believe the miracle that was coming, seeing the daemon was disturbed even when the child was only called;
Jerome: He rebuked him, that is, not the sufferer, but the daemon.
Remig.: In which deed He left an example to preachers to attack sins, but to assist men.
Jerome: Or, His reproof was to the child, because for his sins he had been seized on by the daemon.
Raban.: The lunatic is figuratively one who is hurried into fresh vices every hour, one while is cast into the fire, with which the hearts of the adulterers burn (margin note: Os 7,4); or again into the waters of pleasures or lusts, which yet have not strength to quench love.
Aug., Quaest Ev., i, 22: Or the fire pertains to anger, which aims upwards, water to the lusts of the flesh.
Origen: Of the changefulness of the sinner it is said, "The fool changes as the moon." (Eccl 27:12) We may see sometimes that an impulse towards good works comes over such, when, lo! again as by a sudden seizure of a spirit they are laid hold of by their passions, and fall from that good state in which they were supposed to stand. Perhaps his father stands for the Angel to whom was allotted the care of this lunatic, praying the Physician of souls, that He would set free his son, who could not be delivered from his suffering by the simple word of Christ's disciples, because as a deaf person he cannot receive their instruction, and therefore he needs Christ's word, that henceforth he may not act without reason.
4719 (Mt 17,19-21)
Chrys.: The disciples had received from the Lord the power over unclean spirits, and when they could not heal the daemoniac thus brought to them, they seem to have had misgivings (p. 613) lest they had forfeited the grace once given to them; hence their question. And they ask it apart, not out of shame, but because of the unspeakable matter of which they were to ask.
"Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief."
Hilary: The Apostles had believed, yet their faith was imperfect; while the Lord tarried in the mount, and they abode below with the multitude, their faith had become stagnant.
Chrys.: Whence it is plain that the disciples' faith was grown weak, yet not all, for those pillars were there, Peter, and James, and John.
Jerome: This is what the Lord says in another place, "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name believing, ye shall receive." (Mt 21,22, John 16:23) Therefore when we receive not, it is not the weakness of Him that gives, but the fault of them that ask.
Chrys.: But it is to be known, that, as ofttimes the faith of him that draweth near to receive supplies the miraculous virtue, so ofttimes the power of those that work the miracle is sufficient even without the faith of those who sought to receive. Cornelius and his household, by their faith, attracted to them the grace of the Holy Spirit (Ac 10,4); but the dead man who was cast into the sepulchre was revived solely by virtue of the holy body. (2 Ki 13:21)
It happened that the disciples were then weak in faith; for indeed they were but in an imperfect condition before the cross; wherefore He here tells them, that faith is the mean of miracles, "Verily I say unto you, if ye shall have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, ye shall say to this mountain, Remove hence, and it shall remove."
Jerome: Some think that the faith that is compared to a grain of mustard-seed is a little faith, whereas the Apostle says, "If I shall have such faith that I could remove mountains." (1Co 13,2) The faith therefore which is compared to a grain of mustard-seed is a great faith.
Greg., Mor., pref. c. 2: The mustard-seed, unless it be bruised, does not give out its qualities, so if persecution fall upon a holy man, straightway what had seemed weak and contemptible in him is roused into the heat and fervour of virtue.
Origen: Or, all faith is likened to a grain of mustard-seed, because faith is looked on with contempt by men, and shews as something poor and mean; but when a seed of this kind lights upon a good heart as its soil, it becomes a great tree. The weakness of this lunatic's faith is yet so great, and Christ is so strong to heal (p. 614) him amidst all his evils, that He likens it to a mountain which cannot be cast out but by the whole faith of him who desires to heal afflictions of this sort.
Chrys.: So He not only promises the removal of mountains, but goes beyond, saying, "And nothing shall be impossible to you."
Raban.: For faith gives our minds such a capacity for the heavenly gifts, that whatsoever we will we may easily obtain from a faithful Master.
Chrys.: If you shall ask, Where did the Apostles remove mountains! I answer, that they did greater things, bringing many dead to life. It is told also of some saints, who came after the Apostles, that they have in urgent necessity removed mountains. (ed. note: St. Augustine says, that he had never read or heard of a mountain being transported into the sea by faith. Sp. et lit. n. 62. St. Chrysostom appears to refer to the occurrence recorded in the history of Gregory of Neo-Caesarea, called Thaumaturgus, A.D. 260, whose miracles are reported to us by his namesake of Nyssa. Nyssen, however, speaks only of his moving a stone, (vol. ii. p. 982.) Pope Gregory, Dial. i. 7. calls it a rock, or even a mountain. He mentions it while relating the like miracle in the history of St. Benedict. In volcanic countries, changes in mountains and rivers occur even from natural causes, much more might prayer cause them. But St. Augustine's remark shews that there is very little evidence for the fact.)
But if mountains were not removed in the Apostles' time, this was not because they could not, but because they would not, there being no pressing occasion. And the Lord said not that they should do this thing, but that they should have power to do it.
Yet it is likely that they did do this, but that it is not written, for indeed not all the miracles that they wrought are written.
Jerome: Or; the mountain is not said of that which we see with the eyes of the body, but signified that spirit which was removed by the Lord out of the lunatic, who is said by the Prophet to be the corrupter of the whole earth
Gloss. interlin.: So that the sense then is, "Ye shall say to this mountain," that is to the proud devil, "Remove hence," that is from the possessed body into the sea, that is into the depths of hell, "and it shall remove, and nothing shall be impossible to you," that is, no sickness shall be incurable."
Aug.: Otherwise; That the disciples in working their miracles should not be lifted up with pride, they are warned rather by the humbleness of their faith, as by a grain of mustard-seed, to take care that they remove all pride of earth, which is signified by the mountain in this place.
Raban.: But while He teaches the Apostles how the daemon ought to be cast out, He instructs all in (p. 615) regulation of life; that we may all know that all the heavier afflictions, whether of unclean spirits, or temptations of men, may be removed by fasts and prayers; and that the wrath also of the Lord may be appeased by this remedy alone; whence he adds, "Howbeit this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting."
Chrys.: And this He says not of lunatics in particular, but of the whole class of daemons. For fast endues with great wisdom, makes a man as an Angel from heaven, and beats down the unseen powers of evil. But there is need of prayer as even still more important. And who prays as he ought, and fasts, had need of little more, and so is not covetous, but ready to almsgiving. For he who fasts, is light and active, and prays wakefully, and quenches his evil lusts, makes God propitious, and humbles his proud stomach. And he who prays with his fasting, has two wings, lighter than the winds themselves. For he is not heavy and wandering in his prayers, (as is the case with many,) but his zeal is as the warmth of fire, and his constancy as the firmness of the earth. Such an one is most able to contend with daemons, for there is nothing more powerful than a man who prays properly.
But if your health be too weak for strict fast, yet is it not for prayer, and if you cannot fast, you can abstain from indulgences. And this is not a little, and not very different from fast.
Origen: If then we shall ever be required to be employed in the healing of those who are suffering any thing of this sort, we shall not adjure them, nor ask them questions, nor even speak, as though the unclean spirit could hear us, but by our fasting and our prayers drive away the evil spirits.
Gloss. ord.: Or; This class of daemons, that is the variety of carnal pleasures, is not overcome unless the spirit be strengthened by prayer, and the flesh enfeebled by fast.
Remig.: Or, fasting is here understood generally as abstinence not from food only, but from all carnal allurements, and sinful passions. In like manner prayer is to be understood in general as consisting in pious and good acts, concerning which the Apostle speaks, "Pray without ceasing." (1Th 5,17)
4722 (Mt 17,22-23)
(p. 613) Remig.: The Lord often foretold to His disciples the mysteries of His passion, in order that when they come to pass, they might be the lighter to them from having been known beforehand.
Origen: This seems to be so like a warning He had given above, that a man might easily say that the Lord now repeated what He had said before; yet is it not so; He had not before said that He must be betrayed, but we hear now not only that He must be betrayed, but that He must be "betrayed into the hands of men." The Son of Man indeed was "delivered up" by God the Father according to the Apostle, (Rm 8,32) but different powers gave him up into the hands of men.
Jerome: Thus does He ever mix the joyful and the grievous; if it grieves them that He is to be put to death, they ought to be gladdened when they hear, "And shall rise again, the third day."
Chrys.: For this is no long time that He speaks of continuing in death, when He says that He shall rise again on the third day.
Origen: By this announcement of the Lord the disciples were made very sorrowful, not attending to that He said, "And shall rise again the third day," nor considering what He must be to whom the space of three days was enough to destroy death.
Jerome: That they were thus made exceeding sorrowful, came not of their lack of faith; but out of their love of their Master they could not endure to hear of any hurt or indignity for Him.
4724 (Mt 17,24-27)
Gloss., non occ.: The disciples were exceeding sorrowful when they heard of the Lord's passion, and therefore that none might ascribe His suffering to compulsion, and not to a voluntary submission, he adds an incident which instances Christ's power, and His submission; "And when they were come to Capernaum, there came to Peter those who received the didrachma, and said unto him, Doth not your Master pay the didrachma?"
Hilary: The Lord is called upon to pay the didrachma, (that is, two denarii,) for this the Law had enjoined upon all Israel for the redemption of their body and soul, and the use of those that served in the temple.
Chrys.: For when God slew the firstborn of Egypt, He then accepted the tribe of Levi for them. (margin note: Numb 3:44) But because the numbers of this tribe were less than the number of firstborn among the Jews, it was ordained that redemption money should be paid for the number that came short; and thence sprang the custom of paying this tax.
Because then Christ was a firstborn son, and Peter seemed to be the first among the disciples, they came to him. And as it seems to me this was not demanded in every district, they come to Christ in Capernaum, because that was considered His native place.
Jerome: Or otherwise; From the time of Augustus Caesar Judaea was made tributary, and all the inhabitants were registered, as Joseph with Mary his kinswoman gave in His name at Bethlehem. Again, because the Lord was brought up at Nazareth, which is a town of Galilee subject to Capernaum, it is there that the tribute is asked of Him; but for that His miracles were so great, those who collected it did not dare to ask Himself, but make up to the disciple.
Chrys.: And him they address not with boldness, but courteously; for they do not arraign, but ask a question, "Doth not your Master pay the didrachma?"
Jerome: Or, They enquire with malicious purpose whether He pays tribute, or resists Caesar's will.
Chrys.: What then does Peter say? (p. 618) "He saith, Yea." To these then he said that He did pay, but to Christ he said not so, blushing perhaps to speak of such matters.
Gloss., ap. Anselm: Otherwise; Peter answered, Yea; meaning, yea, He does not pay. And Peter sought to acquaint the Lord that the Herodians had demanded tribute, but the Lord prevented him; as it follows, "And when he had entered into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, Of whom do the kings of the earth receive custom or tribute," (i. e. head- money,) "of their children, or of strangers?"
Jerome: Before any hint from Peter, the Lord puts the question to him, that His disciples might not be offended at the demand of tribute, when they see that He knows even those things that are done in His absence.
It follows, "But he said, From strangers; Jesus said unto him, Then are the children free."
Origen: This speech has a twofold meaning. First, that the children of the kings of the earth are free with the kings of the earth; but strangers, foreigners in the land, are not free, because of those that oppress them, as the Egyptians did the children of Israel.
The second sense is; forasmuch as there be some who are strangers to the sons of the kings of the earth, and are yet sons of God, therefore it is they that abide in the words of Jesus; these are free, for they have known the truth, and the truth has set them free from the service of sin: but the sons of the kings of the earth are not free; for "whoso doth sin, he is the servant of sin." (Jn 8,34)
Jerome: But our Lord was the son of the king, both according to the flesh, and according to the Spirit; whether as sprung of the seed of David, or as the Word of the Almighty Father; therefore as the king's son He owed no tribute.
Aug., Quaest. Ev., i, 23: For, saith He, in every kingdom the children are free, that is, not under tax. Much more therefore should they be free in any earthly kingdom, who are children of that very kingdom under which are all the kingdoms of the earth.
Chrys.: But this instance were brought to no purpose if He were not a son. But some one may say, He is son indeed, but not an own son. But then He were a stranger; and so this instance would not apply; for He speaks only of own sons, distinct from whom He calls them strangers who are actually born of parents. Mark how here also Christ certifies that relationship which was revealed to Peter from God, "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God."
Jerome: Howsoever free then He was, yet seeing He (p. 619) had taken to Him lowliness of the flesh, He ought to fulfil all righteousness; whence it follows, "But that they should not be offended, go to the sea."
Origen: We may hence gather as a consequence of this, that when any come with justice demanding our earthly goods, it is the kings of the earth that send them, to claim of us what is their own; and by His own example the Lord forbids any offence to be given even to these, whether that they should sin no more, or that they should be saved. For the Son of God, who did no servile work, yet as having the form of a slave, which He took on Him for man's sake, gave custom and tribute.
Jerome: I am at a loss what first to admire in this passage; whether the foreknowledge, or the mighty power of the Saviour. His foreknowledge, in that He knew that a fish had a stater in its mouth, and that that fish should be the first taken; His mighty power, if the stater were created in the fish's mouth at His word, and if by His command that which was to happen was ordered. Christ then, for His eminent love, endured the cross, and paid tribute; how wretched we who are called by the name of Christ, though we do nothing worthy of so great dignity, yet in respect of His majesty, pay no tribute, but are exempt from tax as the King's sons. But even in its literal import it edifies the hearer to learn, that so great was the Lord's poverty, that He had not whence to pay the tribute for Himself and His Apostle. Should any object that Judas bore money in a bag, we shall answer, Jesus held it a fraud to divert that which was the poor's to His own use, and left us an example therein.
Chrys.: Or He does not direct it to be paid out of that they had at hand, that He might shew that He was Lord also of the sea and the fish.
Gloss., non occ.: Or because Jesus had not any image of Caesar, (for the prince of this world had nothing in Him,) therefore He furnished an image of Caesar, not out of their own stock, but out of the sea. But He takes not the stater into His own possession, that there should never be found an image of Caesar upon the Image of the invisible God.
Chrys.: Observe also the wisdom of Christ; He neither refuses the tribute, nor merely commands that it be paid; but first proves that He is of right exempt, and then bids to give the money; the money was paid to avoid offence to the collectors; the vindication of His exemption was to avoid the offence to the (p. 620) disciples.
Indeed in another place He disregards the offence of the Pharisees, in disputing of meats; teaching us herein to know the seasons in which we must attend to, and those in which we must slight the thoughts of those who are like to be scandalized.
Greg., in Ezech. 7. 4: For we must cast about how, as far as we may without sin, to avoid giving scandal to our neighbours. But if offence is taken from truth, it is better that offence should come, though truth be forsaken.
Chrys.: As you wonder at Christ's power, so admire Peter's faith, who was obedient in no easy matter. In reward of his faith he was joined with his Lord in the payment. An abundant honour! "Thou shalt find a stater, that take and give unto them for thee and for me."
Gloss., ap. Anselm: For by custom every several man paid a didrachma for himself; now a stater is equal to two didrachmas.
Origen: Mystically; In the field of comfort, (for so is Capernaum expounded,) He comforts each one of His disciples, and pronounces him to be a son and free, and gives him the power of taking the first fish, that after His ascension Peter may have comfort over that which he has caught.
Hilary: When Peter is instructed to take the first fish, it is shewn therein that he shall catch more than one. The blessed first martyr Stephen was the first that came up, having in his mouth a stater, which contained the didrachma of the new preaching, divided as two denarii, for he preached as he beheld in his passion the glory of God, and Christ the Lord.
Jerome: Or; That fish which was first taken is the first Adam, who is set free by the second Adam; and that which is found in his mouth, that is, in his confession, is given for Peter and for the Lord.
Origen: And when you see any miser rebuked by some Peter who takes the speech of his money out of his mouth, you may say that he is risen out of the sea of covetousness to the hook of reason, and is caught and saved by some Peter, who has taught him the truth, that he should change his stater for the image of God, that is for the oracles of God.
Jerome: And beautifully is this very stater given for the tribute; but it is divided; for Peter as for a sinner a ransom is to be paid, but the Lord had not sin. Yet herein is shewn the likeness of their flesh, when the Lord and His servants are redeemed with the same price.
4801 (Mt 18,1-6)
(p. 621) Jerome: The disciples seeing one piece of money paid both for Peter and the Lord, conceived from this equality of ransom that Peter was preferred before all the rest of the Apostles.
Chrys.: Thus they suffered a human passion, which the Evangelist denotes by saying, "At the same time came the disciples to Jesus, saying, "Who pray thee, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Ashamed to shew the feeling which was working within, they do not say openly, Why have you honoured Peter above us? but they ask in general, Who is the greatest! When in the transfiguration they saw three distinguished, namely, Peter, James, (p. 622) and John, they had no such feeling, but now that one is singled out for especial honour, then they are grieved. But do yon remember, first, that it was nothing in this world that they sought; and, secondly, that they afterwards laid aside this feeling? Even their failings are above us, whose enquiry is not, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? but, Who is greatest in the kingdom of the world?
Origen: Herein we ought to be imitators of the disciples, that when any question of doubt arises among us, and we find not how to settle it, we should with one consent go to Jesus, Who is able to enlighten the hearts of men to the explication of every perplexity. We shall also consult some of the doctors, who are thought most eminent in the Churches. But in that they asked this question, the disciples knew that there was not an equality among the saints in the kingdom of heaven; what they yet sought to learn was, how they were so, and lived as greater and less. Or, from what the Lord had said above, they knew who was the best and who was great; but out of many great, who was the greatest, this was not clear to them.
Jerome: Jesus seeing their thoughts would heal their ambitious strivings, by arousing an emulation in lowliness; whence it follows, "And Jesus calling a little child, set him in the midst of them."
Chrys.: He chose, I suppose, quite an infant, devoid of any of the passions.
Jerome: One whose tender age should express to them the innocence which they should have. But truly He set Himself in the midst of them, a little one who had come "not to be ministered unto, but to minister," (Mt 20,28) that He might be a pattern of holiness.
Others interpret (margin note: see Origen in loc.) the little one of the Holy Spirit whom He set in the hearts of His disciples, to change their pride into humility. "And he said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
He does not enjoin on the Apostles the age, but the innocence of infants, which they have by virtue of their years, but to which these might attain by striving; that they should be children in malice, not in understanding. As though He had said, As this child, whom I set before you as a pattern, is not obstinate in anger, when injured does not bear it in mind, has no emotion at the sight of a fair woman, does not think one thing while he speaks (p. 623) another; so ye, unless ye have the like innocence and purity of mind, shall not be able to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Hilary: He calls infants all who believe through the hearing of faith; for such follow their father, love their mother, know not to will that which is evil, do not bear hate, or speak lies, trust what is told them, and believe what they hear to be true. But the letter is thus interpreted.
Gloss. interlin.: "Except ye be converted" from this ambition and jealousy in which you are at present, and become all of you as innocent and humble in disposition as you are weak in your years, "ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven;" and since there is none other road to enter in, "whoso shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven;" for by how much a man is humble now, by so much shall he be exalted in the kingdom of heaven.
Remig.: In the understanding of grace, or in ecclesiastical dignity, or at least in everlasting blessedness.
Jerome: Or otherwise; "Whoso shall humble himself as this little child," that is, whoso shall humble himself after My example, "he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven."
It follows, "And whoso receiveth one such little one in my name, receiveth me."
Chrys.: Not only if ye become such yourselves, but also if for My sake you shall pay honour to other such, ye receive reward; and as the return for the honour you pay them, I entail upon you the kingdom. He puts indeed what is far greater, "Receiveth me."
Jerome: For whoever is such that he imitates Christ's humility and innocence, Christ is received by him; and by way of caution, that the Apostles should not think, when such are come to them, that it is to themselves that the honour is paid, He adds, that they are to be received not for their own desert, but in honour of their Master.
Chrys.: And to make this word the rather received, He subjoins a penalty in what follows, "Whoso offendeth one of these little ones, &c." as though He had said, As those who for My sake honour one of these, have their reward, so they who dishonour shall undergo the extreme punishment. And marvel not that He calls an evil word an offence, for many of feeble spirit are offended by only being despised.
Jerome: Observe that he who is offended is a little one, for the greater hearts do not take offences. [p. 624] And though it may be a general declaration against all who scandalize any, yet from the connection of the discourse it may be said specially to the Apostles; for in asking who should be greatest in the kingdom of heaven, they seemed to be contending for preeminence among themselves; and if they had persisted in this fault, they might have scandalized those whom they called to the faith, seeing the Apostles contending among themselves for the preference.
Origen: But how can he who has been converted, and become as a little child, be yet liable to be scandalized? This may be thus explained. Every one who believes on the Son of God, and walks after evangelic acts, is converted and walks as a little child; but he who is not converted that he may become as a child, it is impossible that he should enter into the kingdom of heaven.
But in every congregation of believers, there are some only newly converted that they may become as little children, but not yet made such; these are the little ones in Christ, and these are they that receive offence.
Jerome: When it is said, "It is better for him that a mill-stone be hanged about his neck," He speaks according to the custom of the province; for among the Jews this was the punishment of the greater criminals, to drown them by a stone tied to them. It is better for him, because it is far better to receive a brief punishment for a fault, than to be reserved for eternal torments.
Chrys.: To correspond with the foregoing, He should have said here, Receiveth not Me, which were bitterer than any punishment; but because they were dull, and the before-named punishment did not move them, by a familiar instance He shews that punishment awaited them; for He therefore says, "it were better for him," because another more grievous punishment awaits him.
Hilary: Mystically; The work of the mill is a toil of blindness, for the beasts having their eyes closed are driven round in a circle, and under the type of an ass we often find the Gentiles figured, who are held in the ignorance of blind labour; while the Jews have the path of knowledge set before them in the Law, who if they offend Christ's Apostles it were better for them, that having their necks made fast to a mill-stone, they should be drowned in the sea, that is, kept under labour and in the depths of ignorance, as the Gentiles; for it were better for them that they should (p. 625) have never known Christ, than not to have received the Lord of the Prophets.
Greg., Mor., vi, 37: Otherwise; What is denoted by the sea, but the world, and what by the mill-stone, but earthly action? which, when it binds the neck in the yoke of vain desires, sends it to a dull round of toil. There are some who leave earthly action, and bend themselves to aims of contemplation beyond the reach of intellect, laying aside humility, and so not only throw themselves into error, but also cast many weak ones out of the bosom of truth.
Whoso then offends one of the least of mine, it were better for him that a mill-stone be tied about his neck, and he be cast into the sea, that is, it were better for a perverted heart to be entirely occupied with worldly business, than to be at leisure for contemplative studies to the hurt of many.
Aug., Quaest. Ev., i, 24: "Whoso offendeth one of these little ones," that is so humble as He would have his disciples to be, by not obeying, or by opposing, (as the Apostle says of Alexander, (margin note: 2Tm 4,15)) "it were better for him that a mill-stone should be hanged about his neck, and he be drowned in the depths of the sea," that is, it were better for him that desire of the things of the world, to which the blind and foolish are tied down, should sink him by its load to destruction.
Golden Chain 4710