Golden Chain 3523
3523 (Mt 5,23-24)
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 10: If it be not lawful to be angry with a brother, (p. 180) or to say to him Racha, or Thou fool, much less is it lawful to keep in the memory any thing which might convert anger into hate.
Jerome: It is not, If thou hast ought against thy brother; but "If thy brother has ought against thee," that the necessity of reconciliation may be more imperative.
Aug.: And he has somewhat against us when we have wronged him; and we have somewhat against him when he has wronged us, in which case there were no need to go to be reconciled to him, seeing we had only to forgive him, as we desire the Lord to forgive us.
Pseudo-Chrys.: But if it is he that hath done you the wrong, and yet you be the first to seek reconciliation, you shall have a great reward.
Chrys.: If love alone is not enough to induce us to be reconciled to our neighbour, the desire that our work should not remain imperfect, and especially in the holy place, should induce us.
Greg., Hom. 1 in Ezech. viii. 9: Lo He is not willing to accept sacrifice at the hands of those who are at variance. Hence then consider how great an evil is strife, which throws away what should be the means of remission of sin.
Pseudo-Chrys.: See the mercy of God, that He thinks rather of man's benefit than of His own honour; He loves concord in the faithful more than offering at His altar; for so long as there are dissensions among the faithful, their gift is not looked upon, their prayer is not heard. For no one can be a true friend at the same time to two who are enemies to each other. In like manner, we do not keep our fealty to God, if we do not love His friends and hate His enemies. But such as was the offence, such should also be the reconciliation. If you have offended in thought, be reconciled in thought; if in words, be reconciled in words; if in deeds, in deeds by reconciled. For so it is in every sin, in whatsoever kind it was committed, in that kind is the penance done.
Hilary: He bids us when peace with our fellow-men is restored, then to return to peace with God, passing from the love of men to the love of God; "Then go and offer thy gift."
Aug.: If this direction be taken literally, it might lead some to suppose that this ought indeed to be so done if our brother is present, for that no long time can be meant when we are bid to leave our offering there before the altar. For if he be (p. 181) absent, or possibly beyond sea, it is absurd to suppose that the offering must be left before the altar, to be offered after we have gone over land and sea to seek him.
Wherefore we must embrace an inward, spiritual sense of the whole, if we would understand it without involving any absurdity. The gift which we offer to God, whether learning, or speech, or whatever it be, cannot be accepted of God unless it be supported by faith. If then we have in aught harmed a brother, we must go and be reconciled with him, not with the bodily feet, but in thoughts of the heart, when in humble contrition you may cast yourself at your brother's feet in sight of Him whose offering you are about to offer. For thus in the same manner as though He were present, you may with unfeigned heart seek His forgiveness; and returning thence, that is, bringing back again your thoughts to what you had first begun to do, may make your offering.
3525 (Mt 5,25-26)
Hilary: The Lord suffers us at no time to be wanting in peaceableness of temper, and therefore bids us be reconciled to our adversary quickly, while on the road to life, lest we be cast into the season of death before peace by joined between us.
Jerome: The word here in our Latin books is 'consentiens,' in Greek,, which means, 'kind,' 'benevolent.'
Aug., Serm. in Mont, i, 11: Let us see who this adversary is to whom we are bid to be benevolent. It may then be either the Devil, or man, or the flesh, or God, or His commandments. But I do not see how we can be bid be benevolent, or agreeing with the Devil; for where there is good will, there is friendship, and no one will say that friendship should be made with the Devil, or that it is well to agree with him, having (p. 182) once proclaimed war against him when we renounced him; nor ought we to consent with him, with whom had we never consented, we had never come into such circumstances.
Jerome: Some, from that verse of Peter, "Your adversary the Devil, &c." (1P 5,8) will have the Saviour's command to be, that we should be merciful to the Devil, not causing him to endure punishment for our sakes. For as he puts in our way the incentives to vice, if we yield to his suggestions, he will be tormented for our sakes.
Some follow a more forced interpretation, that in baptism we have each of us made a compact with the Devil by renouncing him. If we observe this compact, then we are agreeing with our adversary, and shall not be cast into prison.
Aug.: I do not see again how it can be understood of man. For how can man be said to deliver us to the Judge, when we know only Christ as the Judge, before whose tribunal all must be sisted [?]. How then can he deliver to the Judge, who has himself to appear before Him? Moreover if any has sinned against any by killing him, he has no opportunity of agreeing with him in the way, that is in this life; and yet that hinders not but that he may be rescued from judgment by repentance. Much less do I see how we can be bid be agreeing with the flesh; for they are sinners rather who agree with it; but they who bring it into subjection, do not agree with it, but compel it to agree with them.
Jerome: And how can the body be cast into prison if it agree not with the spirit, seeing soul and body must go together, and that the flesh can do nothing but what the soul shall command?
Aug.: Perhaps then it is God with whom we are here enjoined to agree. He may be said to be our adversary, because we have departed from Him by sin, and "He resisteth the proud." Whosoever then shall not have been reconciled in this life with God through the death of His Son, shall be by Him delivered to the Judge, that is, the Son, to whom He has committed all judgment. And man may be said to be "in the way with God," because He is every where.
But if we like not to say that the wicked are with God, who is every where present, as we do not say that the blind are with that light which is every where around them, there only remains the law of God which we can understand by our adversary. For this law is an adversary (p. 183) to such as love to sin, and is given us for this life that it may be with us in the way. To this we ought to agree quickly, by reading, hearing, and bestowing on it the summit of authority, and that when we understand it, we hate it not because it opposes our sins, but rather love it because it corrects them; and when it is obscure, pray that we may understand it.
Jerome: But from the context the sense is manifest; the Lord is exhorting us to peace and concord with our neighbour; as it was said above, Go, be reconciled to thy brother.
Pseudo-Chrys.: The Lord is urgent with us to hasten to make friends with our enemies while we are yet in this life, knowing how dangerous for us that one of our enemies should die before peace is made with us. For if death bring us while yet at enmity to the Judge, he will deliver us to Christ, proving us guilty by his judgment. Our adversary also delivers us to the Judge, when he is the first to seek reconciliation; for he who first submits to his enemy, brings him in guilty before God.
Hilary: Or, the adversary delivers you to the Judge, when the abiding of your wrath towards him convicts you.
Aug.: by the Judge I understand Christ, for, "the Father hath committed all judgment to the Son;" (Jn 5,22) and by the officer, or minister, an Angel, for "Angels came and ministered unto Him;" and we believe that He will come with his Angels to judge.
Pseudo-Chrys.: "The officer," that is, the ministering Angel of punishment, and he shall cast you into the prison of hell.
Aug.: By the prison I understand the punishment of the darkness. And that none should despise that punishment, He adds, "Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt not come out thence till thou hast paid the very last farthing."
Jerome: A farthing is a coin containing two mites. What He says then is, 'Thou shalt not go forth thence till thou hast paid for the smallest sin.'
Aug.: Or it is an expression to denote that there is nothing that shall go unpunished; as we say 'To the dregs,' when we are speaking of any thing so emptied that nothing is left in it.
Or by "the last farthing" (margin note: quadrans) may be denoted earthly sins. For the fourth and last element of this world is earth.
"Paid," that is in eternal punishment; and "until" used in the same sense as in that, "Sit thou on my right hand until I make thy enemies thy footstool;" (Ps 110,1) for He does not cease to reign (p. 184) when His enemies are put under His feet. So here, "until thou hast paid," is as much as to say, thou shalt never come out thence, for that he is always paying the very last farthing while he is enduring the everlasting punishment of earthly sins.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, If you will make your peace yet in this world, you may receive pardon of even the heaviest offences; but if once damned and cast into the prison of hell, punishment will be exacted of you not for grievous sins only, but for each idle word, which may be denoted by "the very last farthing."
Hilary: For because "charity covereth a multitude of sins," we shall therefore pay the last farthing of punishment, unless by the expense of charity we redeem the fault of our sin.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, the prison is worldly misfortune which God often sends upon sinners.
Chrys.: Or, He here speaks of the judges of this world, of the way which leads to this judgment, and of human prisons; thus not only employing future but present inducements, as those things which are before the eyes affect us most, as St. Paul also declares, "If thou doest evil fear the power, for he beareth not the sword in vain." (Rm 13,4)
3527 (Mt 5,27-28)
Chrys., Hom. xvii: The Lord having explained how much is contained in the first commandment, namely, "Thou shalt not kill," proceeds in regular order to the second.
Aug., Serm. ix, 3 and 10: "Thou shalt not commit adultery," that is, Thou shalt go no where but to thy lawful wife. For if you exact this of your wife, you ought to do the same, for the husband ought to go before the wife in virtue. It is a shame for the husband to say that this is impossible. Why not the husband as well as the wife? And let not him that is unmarried suppose that he does not break this commandment by fornication; you know the price wherewith you have been bought, you know what (p. 185) you eat and what your drink (ed. note, g: Nic. inserts here, from the original, 'immo quem manduces, quem bibas.') therefore keep yourself from fornications. Forasmuch as all such acts of lust pollute and destroy God's image, (which you are,) the Lord who knows what is good for you, gives you this precept that you may not pull down His temple which you have begun to be.
Aug., cont. Faust. 19, 23: He then goes on to correct the error of the Pharisees, declaring, "Whoso looketh upon a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery already with her in his heart." For the commandment of the Law, "Thou shalt not lust after thy neighbour's wife," (Ex 20,17) the Jews understood of taking her away, not of committing adultery with her.
Jerome: Between ? and ?, that is between actual passion and the first spontaneous movement of the mind, there is this difference: passion is at once a sin; the spontaneous movement of the mind, though it partakes of the evil of sin, is yet not held for an offence committed. (ed. note, h: In this passage S. Jerome, who seems to have introduced the word propassio,, into theology, uses it somewhat in a sense of his own; viz. as involving something of the nature of sin; vid. also Comm. in Ezek. xviii, 1, 2. The word is more commonly applied to our Lord, as denoting the mode and extent in which His soul was affected by what in others became . In us passion precedes reason, in Him it followed, or was a ?. vid. S. Jerome in Matt. xxvi. 37. Leon. Ep 35 Damasc. F. O. iii. 20&c. &c.]
When then one looks upon a woman, and his mind is therewith smitten, there is propassion; if he yields to this he passes from propassion to passion, and then it is no longer the will but the opportunity to sin that is wanting. "Whosoever," then, "looketh on a woman to lust after her," that is, so looks on her as to lust, and cast about to obtain, he is rightly said to commit adultery with her in his heart.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 12: For there are three things which make up a sin; suggestion either through the memory, or the present sense; if the thought of the pleasure of indulgence follows, that is an unlawful thought, and to be restrained; if you consent then, the sin is complete. For prior to the first consent, the pleasure is either none or very slight, the consenting to which makes the sin. But if consent proceeds on into overt act, then desire seems to be satiated and quenched. And when suggestion is again repeated, the contemplated pleasure is greater, which previous to habit formed was but small, but now more difficult to overcome.
Greg., Mor., xxi, 2: But whoso casts his eyes about without caution (p. 186) will often be taken with the pleasure of sin, and ensnared by desires begins to wish for what he would not. Great is the strength of the flesh to draw us downwards, and the charm of beauty once admitted to the heart through the eye, is hardly banished by endeavour. We must therefore take heed at the first, we ought not to look upon what it is unlawful to desire. For that the heart may be kept pure in thought, the eyes, as being on the watch to hurry us to sin, should be averted from wanton looks.
Chrys.: If you permit yourself to gaze often on fair countenances you will assuredly be taken, even though you may be able to command your mind twice or thrice. For you are not exalted above nature and the strength of humanity. She too who dresses and adorns herself for the purpose of attracting men's eyes to her, though her endeavor should fail, yet shall she be punished hereafter; seeing she mixed the poison and offered the cup, though none was found who would drink thereof. For what the Lord seems to speak only to the man, is of equal application to the woman; inasmuch as when He speaks to the head, the warning is meant for the whole body.
3529 (Mt 5,29-30)
Gloss, non occ.: Because we ought not only to avoid actual sin, but even put away every occasion of sin, therefore having taught that adultery is to be avoided not in deed only, but in heart, He next teaches us to cut off the occasions of sin.
Pseudo-Chrys.: But if according to that of the Prophet, "there is no whole part in our body," (Ps 38,3) it is needful that we cut off every limb that we have that the punishment (p. 187) may be equal to the depravity of the flesh.
Is it then possible to understand this of the bodily eye or hand? As the whole man when he is turned to God is dead to sin, so likewise the eye when it has ceased to look evil is cut off from sin. But this explanation will not suit the whole; for when He says, "thy right eye offends thee," what does the left eye? Does it contradict the right eye, and it is preserved innocent?
Jerome: Therefore by the right eye and the right hand we must understand the love of brethren, husbands and wives, parents and kinsfolk; which if we find to hinder our view of the true light, we ought to sever from us.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 13: As the eye denotes contemplation, so the hand aptly denotes action. By the eye we must understand our most cherished friend, as they are wont to say who would express ardent affection, 'I love him as my own eye.' And a friend too who gives counsel, as the eye shews us our way. The "right eye," perhaps, only means to express a higher degree of affection, for it is the one which men most fear to lose.
Or, by the right eye may be understood one who counsels us in heavenly matters, and by the left one who counsels in earthly matters. And this will be the sense; Whatever that is which you love as you would your own right eye, if it "offend you," that is, if it be an hindrance to your true happiness, "cut it off and cast it from you." For if the right eye was not to be spared, it was superfluous to speak of the left. The right hand also is to be taken of a beloved assistant in divine actions, the left hand in earthly actions.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Otherwise; Christ would have us careful not only of our own sin, but likewise that even they who pertain to us should keep themselves from evil. Have you any friend who looks to your matters as your own eye, or manages them as your own hand, if you know of any scandalous or base action that he has done, cast him from you, he is an offence; for we shall give account not only of our own sins, but also of such of those of our neighbours as it is in our power to hinder.
Hilary: Thus a more lofty step of innocence is appointed us, in that we are admonished to keep free, not only from sin ourselves, but from such as might touch us (p. 188) from without.
Jerome: Otherwise; As above He had placed lust in the looking on a woman, so now the thought and sense straying hither and thither He calls 'the eye.' By the right hand and the other parts of the body, He means the initial movements of desire and affection.
Pseudo-Chrys.: The eye of flesh is the mirror of the inward eye. The body also has its own sense, that is, the left eye, and its own appetite, that is, the left hand. But the parts of the soul are called right, for the soul was created both with free-will and under the law of righteousness, that it might both see and do rightly.
But the members of the body being not with free-will, but under the law of sin, are called the left. Yet He does not bid us cut off the sense or appetite of the flesh; we may retain the desires of the flesh, and yet not do thereafter, but we cannot cut off the having the desires. But when we wilfully purpose and think of evil, then our right desires and right will offend us, and therefore He bids us cut them off. And these we can cut off, because our will is free.
Or otherwise; Every thing, however good in itself that offends ourselves or others, we ought to cut off from us. For example, to visit a woman with religious purposes, this good intent towards her may be called a right eye, but if often visiting her I have fallen into the net of desire, or if any looking on are offended, then the right eye, that is, something in itself good, offends me. For the "right eye" is good intention, the "right hand" is good desire.
Gloss. ord.: Or, the "right eye" is the contemplative life which offends by being the cause of indolence or self-conceit, or in our weakness that we are not able to support it unmixed. The "right hand" is good works, or the active life, which offends us when we are ensnared by society and the business of life.
If then any one is unable to sustain the contemplative life, let him not slothfully rest from all action; or on the other hand while he is taken up with action, dry up the fountain of sweet contemplation.
Remig.: The reason why the right eye and the right hand are to be cast away is subjoined in that, "For it is better, c
and if he was not permitted to put her away, he was ready either to kill her or ill-treat her. Moses therefore suffered a bill of divorcement, not because it was a good practice in itself, but was the prevention of a worse evil.
Hilary: But the Lord who brought peace and goodwill on earth, would have it reign especially in the matrimonial bond.
Aug., cont. Faust., xix, 26: The Lord's command here that a wife is not to be put away, is not contrary to the command in the Law, as Manichaeus affirmed. Had the Law allowed any who would to put away his wife, to allow none to put away were indeed the very opposite of that. But the difficulty which Moses is careful to put in the way, shews that he was no good friend to the practice at all. For he required a bill of divorcement, the delay and difficulty of drawing out which would often cool headlong rage and disagreement, especially as by the Hebrew custom, it was the Scribes alone who were permitted to use the Hebrew letters, in (p. 190) which they professed a singular skill.
To these then the law would send him whom it bid to give a writing of divorcement, when he would put away his wife, who mediating between him and his wife, might set them at one again, unless in minds too wayward to be moved by counsels of peace. Thus then He neither completed, by adding words to it, the law of them of old time, nor did He destroy the Law given by Moses by enacting things contrary to it, as Manichaeus affirmed; but rather repeated and approved all that the Hebrew Law contained, so that whatever He spoke in His own person more than it had, had in view either explanation, which in divers obscure places of the Law was greatly needed, or the more punctual observance of its enactments.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 14: By interposing this delay in the mode of putting away, the lawgiver shewed as clearly as it could be shewn to hard hearts, that he hated strife and disagreement. The Lord then so confirms this backwardness in the Law, as to except only one case, "the cause of fornication;" every other inconvenience which may have place, He bids us bear with patience in consideration of the plighted troth of wedlock.
Pseudo-Chrys.: If we ought to bear the burdens of strangers, in obedience to that of the Apostles, "Bear ye one another's burdens," (Ga 6,2) how much more that of our wives and husbands? The Christian husband ought not only to keep himself from any defilement, but to be careful not to give others occasion of defilement; for so is their sin imputed to him who gave the occasion. Whoso then by putting away his wife gives another man occasion of committing adultery, is condemned for that crime himself.
Aug.: Yea, more, He declares the man who marries her who is put away an adulterer.
Chrys.: Say not here, It is enough her husband has put her away; for even after she is put away she continues the wife of him that put her away.
Aug.: The Apostle has fixed the limit here, requiring her to abstain from a fresh marriage as long as her husband lives. After his death he allows her to marry. But if the woman may not marry while her former husband is alive, much less may she yield herself to unlawful indulgences. But this command of the Lord, forbidding to put away a wife, is not broken by him who lives with her not carnally (p. 191) but spiritually, in that more blessed wedlock of those that keep themselves chaste.
A question also here arises as to what is that fornication which the Lord allows as a cause of divorce; whether carnal sin, or, according to the Scripture use of the word, any unlawful passion, as idolatry, avarice, in short all transgression of the Law by forbidden desires. For if the Apostle permits the divorce of a wife if she be unbelieving, (though indeed it is better not to put her away,) and the Lord forbids any divorce but for the cause of fornication, unbelief even must be fornication. And if unbelief be fornication, and idolatry unbelief, and covetousness idolatry, it is not to be doubted that covetousness is fornication. And if covetousness be fornication, who may say of any kind of unlawful desire that it is not a kind of fornication?
Aug., Retract., i, 19, 6: Yet I would not have the reader think this disputation of ours sufficient in a matter so arduous; for not every sin is spiritual fornication, nor does God destroy every sinner, for He hears His saints daily crying to Him, "Forgive us our debts;" but every man who goes a whoring and forsakes Him, him He destroys.
Whether this be the fornication for which divorce is allowed is a most knotty question - for it is no question at all that it is allowed for the fornication by carnal sin.
Aug., lib. 83, Quaest. q. ult.: If any affirm that the only fornication for which the Lord allows divorce is that of carnal sin, he may see that the Lord has spoken of believing husbands and wives, forbidding either to leave the other except for fornication.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 16: Not only does He permit to put away a wife who commits fornication, but whoso puts away a wife by whom he is driven to commit fornication, puts her away for the cause of fornication, both for his own sake and hers.
Aug., de Fid. et Op. 16: He also rightly puts away his wife to whom she shall say, I will not be your wife unless you get me money by robbery; or should require any other crime to be done by him. If the husband here be truly penitent, he will cut off the limb that offends him.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 16: Nothing can be more unjust than to put away a wife for fornication, and yourself to be guilty of that sin, for then is that happened, "Wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself." (Rm 2,1) When He says, "And he who marrieth her who is put away, committeth adultery," a question arises, does the woman also in this case (p. 192) commit adultery? For the Apostle directs either that she remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. There is this difference in the separation, namely, which of them was the cause of it. If the wife put away the husband and marry another, she appears to have left her first husband with the desire of change, which is an adulterous thought. But if she have been put away by her husband, yet he who marries her commits adultery, how can she be quit of the same guilt? And further, if he who marries her commits adultery, she is the cause of his committing adultery, which is what the Lord is here forbidding.33-37
33. "Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, 'Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:' 34. But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by Heaven; for it is God's throne; 35. Nor by the earth; for it is His footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. 36. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. 37. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil."
Gloss. non occ.: The Lord has hitherto taught to abstain from injuring our neighbour, forbidding anger with murder, lust with adultery, and the putting away a wife with a bill of divorce. He now proceeds to teach to abstain from injury to God, forbidding not only perjury as an evil in itself, but even all oaths as the cause of evil, saying, "Ye have heard it said by them of old, Thou shalt not forswear thyself."
It is written in Leviticus, "Thou shalt not forswear thyself in my name;" (Lv 19,12) and that they should not make gods of the creature, they are commanded to render to God their oaths, and not to swear by any creature, "Render to the Lord thy oaths;" that is, if you shall have occasion to swear, you shall swear by (p. 193) the Creator and not by the creature. As it is written in Deuteronomy, "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and shalt swear by his name." (Dt 6,13)
Jerome: This was allowed under the Law, as to children; as they offered sacrifice to God, that they might not do it to idols, so they were permitted to swear by God; not that the thing was right, but that it were better done to God than to daemons.
Pseudo-Chrys.: For no man can swear often, but he must sometimes forswear himself; as he who has a custom of much speaking will sometimes speak foolishly.
Aug., cont. Faust., xix. 23: Inasmuch as the sin of perjury is a grievous sin, he must be further removed from it who uses no oath, than he who is ready to swear on every occasion, and the Lord would rather that we should not swear and keep close to the truth, than that swearing we should come near to perjury.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 17: This precept also confirms the righteousness of the Pharisees, not to forswear; inasmuch as he who swears not at all cannot forswear himself. But as to call God to witness is to swear, does not the Apostle break this commandment when he says several times to the Galatians, "The things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not." (Ga 1,20) So the Romans, "God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit." (Rm 1,9)
Unless perhaps some one may say, it is no oath unless I use the form of swearing by some object; and that the Apostle did not swear in saying, "God is my witness." It is ridiculous to make such a distinction; yet the Apostle has used even this form, "I die daily, by your boasting." (1Co 15,31) That this does not mean, your boasting has caused my dying daily, but is an oath, is clear from the Greek, which is .
Aug., de Mendac. 15: But what we could not understand by mere words, from the conduct of the saints we may gather in what sense should be understood what might easily be drawn the contrary way, unless explained by example. The Apostle has used oaths in his Epistles, and by this shews us how that ought to be taken, "I say unto you, Swear not at all," namely, lest by allowing ourselves to swear at all we come to readiness in swearing, from readiness we come to a habit of swearing, and from a habit of swearing we fall into perjury. And so the Apostle is not found to have used an oath but only in writing, the greater thought and caution which that requires not allowing of slip of the tongue.
Yet is the (p. 194) Lord's command so universal, "Swear not at all," that He would seem to have forbidden it even in writing. But since it would be an impiety to accuse Paul of having violated this precept, especially in his Epistles, we must understand the word "at all" as implying that, as far as lays in your power, you should not make a practice of swearing, not aim at it as a good thing in which you should take delight.
Aug., cont. Faust., xix, 23: Therefore in his writings, as writing allows of greater circumspection, the Apostle is found to have used an oath in several places, that none might suppose that there is any direct sin in swearing what is true; but only that our weak hearts are better preserved from perjury by abstaining from all swearing whatever.
Jerome: Lastly, consider that the Saviour does not here forbid to swear by God, but by the Heaven, the Earth, by Jerusalem, by a man's head. For this evil practice of swearing by the elements the Jews had always, and are thereof often accused in the prophetic writings. For he who swears, shew either reverence or love for that by which he swears. Thus when the Jews swore by the Angels, by the city of Jerusalem, by the temple and the elements, they paid to the creature the honour and worship belonging to God; for it is commanded in the Law that we should not swear but by the Lord our God.
Aug., Serm. in Mont., i, 17: Or; It is added, "By the Heaven, &c." because the Jews did not consider themselves bound when they swore by such things. As if He had said, When you swear by the Heaven and the Earth, think not that you do not owe your oath to the Lord your God, for you are proved to have sworn by Him whose throne the heaven is, and the earth His footstool; which is not meant as though God had such limbs set upon the heaven and the earth, after the manner of a man who is sitting; but that seat signifies God's judgment of us. And since in the whole extent of this universe it is the heaven that has the highest beauty, God is said to sit upon the heavens as shewing divine power to be more excellent than the most surpassing show of beauty; and He is said to stand upon the earth, as putting to lowest use a lesser beauty.
Spiritually by the heavens are denoted holy souls, by the earth the sinful, seeing "He that is spiritual judgeth all things." (1Co 2,15) But to the sinner it is said, "Earth thou (p. 195) art, and unto earth thou shalt return." (Gn 3,19) And he who would abide under a law, is put under a law, and therefore He adds, "it is the footstool of His feet. Neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King;" this is better said than 'it is mine;' though it is understood to mean the same. And because He is also truly Lord, whoso swears by Jerusalem, owes his oath to the Lord. "Neither by thy head." What could any think more entirely his own property than his own head? But how is it ours when we have not power to make one hair black or white? Whoso then swears by his own head also owes his vows to the Lord; and by this the rest may be understood.
Chrys.: Note how He exalts the elements of the world, not from their own nature, but from the respect which they have to God, so that there is opened no occasion of idolatry.
Rabanus: Having forbidden swearing, He instructs us how we ought to speak, "Let your speech be yea, yea; nay, nay." That is, to affirm any thing it is sufficient to say, 'It is so;' to deny, to say, 'It is not so.'
Or, "yea, yea; nay, nay," are therefore twice repeated, that what you affirm with the mouth you should prove in deed, and what you deny in word, you should not establish by your conduct.
Hilary: Otherwise; They who live in the simplicity of the faith have not need to swear, with them ever, what is is, what is not is not; by this their life and their conversation are ever preserved in truth.
Jerome: Therefore Evangelic verity does not admit an oath, since the whole discourse of the faithful is instead of an oath.
Aug.: And he who has learned that an oath is to be reckoned not among things good, but among things necessary, will restrain himself as much as he may, not to use an oath without necessity, unless he sees men loth to believe what it is for their good they should believe, without the confirmation of an oath.
This then is good and to be desired, that our conversation be only, "yea, yea; nay, nay; for what is more than this cometh of evil." That is, if you are compelled to swear, you know that it is by the necessity of their weakness to whom you would persuade any thing; which weakness is surely an evil. What is more than this is thus evil; not that you do evil in this just use of an oath to (p. 196) persuade another to something beneficial for him; but it is an evil in him whose weakness thus obliges you to use an oath.
Chrys.: Or; "of evil," that is, from their weakness to whom the Law permitted the use of an oath. Not that by this the old Law is signified to be from the Devil, but He leads us from the old imperfection to the new abundance.
Golden Chain 3523