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CYRIL; The Lord joins one miracle upon another. In the former instance He came indeed when called for, but in this He came self-invited; as it is said, And it came to pass the day after that he went into a city called Nain.
THEOPHYL; Nain is a city of Galilee, within two miles of mount Tabor. But by the divine counsel there were large multitudes accompanying the Lord, that there might be many witnesses of so great a miracle. Hence it follows, And his disciples went with him, and much people.
GREG. NYSS. Now the proof of the resurrection we learn not so much from the words as from the works of our Savior, who, beginning His miracles with the less wonderful, reconciled our faith to far greater. First indeed in the grievous sickness of the centurion's servant, He verged upon the power of resurrection; afterwards with a higher power he led men to the belief in a resurrection, when He raised the widow's son, who was carried out to be buried; as it is said, Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother.
TITUS BOST. But some one will say of the centurion's servant, that he was not going to die. That such an one might restrain his rash tongue, the Evangelist explains that the young man whom Christ came upon was already dead, the only son of a widow. For it follows, And she was a widow, and much people of the city was with her.
GREG. NYSS. He has told us the sum of misery in a few words. The mother was a widow, and had no further hope of baring children, she had no one upon whom she might look in the place of him that was dead. To him alone she had given suck, he alone made her home cheerful. All that is sweet and precious to a mother, was he alone to her.
CYRIL; These were sufferings to excite compassion, and which might well affect to mourning and tears, as it follows, And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, saying, Weep not.
THEOPHYL; As if He said, Cease to weep for one as dead, whom you shall soon see rise again alive.
CHRYS. But when He bids us cease from weeping Who consoles the sorrowful, He tells us to receive consolation from those who are now dead, hoping for their resurrection. But life meeting death stops the bier, as it follows, And he came.
CYRIL; He performs the miracle not only in word, but also touches the bier, to the end that you might know that the sacred body of Christ is powerful to the saving of man. For it is the body of Life and the flesh of the Omnipotent Word, whose power it possesses. For as iron applied to fire does the work of fire, so the flesh, when it is united to the Word, which quickens all things, becomes itself also quickening, and the banisher of death.
TITUS BOST. But the Savior is not like to Elias mourning over the son of the widow of Sarepta, nor as Elisha who laid his own body upon the body of the dead, nor as Peter who prayed for Tabitha, but is none other than He who calls those things which be not, as though they were, who can speak to the dead as to the living, as it follows, And he said, Young man.
GREG. NYSS. When He said, Young man, He signified that he was in the flower of his age, just ripening into manhood, who but a little while before was the sight of his mothers eyes, just entering upon the time of marriage, the scion of her race, the branch of succession, the staff of her old age.
TITUS BOST. But straightway he arose to whom the command was made. For the Divine power is irresistible; there is no delay, no urgency of prayer, as it follows, And he that was dead sat up and began to speak, and he gave him to his mother. These are the signs of a true resurrection, for the lifeless body cannot speak, nor would the mother have carried back to her house her dead and lifeless son.
THEOPHYL; But well does the Evangelist testify that the Lord is first moved with compassion for the mother, and then raises her son, that in the one case He might set before us for our imitation an example of piety, in the other He might build up our belief in His wonderful power. Hence it follows, And there came a fear upon all, and they glorified God, &c.
CYRIL; This was a great thing in an insensible and ungrateful people. For in a short time afterward they would neither esteem Him as a prophet, nor allow that He did aught for the public good. But none of those that dwelt in Judea were ignorant of this miracle, as it follows, And this rumor of him went forth throughout all Judea.
MAXIM. But it is worthy of remark, that seven resurrections are related before our Lord's, of which the first was that of the son of the widow of Sarepta, the second of the Shunamite's son, the third which was caused by the remains of Elisha, the fourth which took place at Nain, as is here related, the fifth of the ruler of the Synagogue's daughter, the sixth of Lazarus, the seventh at Christ's passion, for many bodies of the saints arose. The eighth is that of Christ, who being free from death remained beyond for a sign that the general resurrection which is to come in the eighth age shall not be dissolved by death, but shall abide never to pass away.
THEOPHYL; But the dead man who was carried without the gate of the city in the sight of many' signifies a man rendered senseless by the deadening power of mortal sin, and no longer concealing his soul's death within the folds of his heart, but proclaiming it to the knowledge of the world, through the evidence of words or deeds as through the gate of the city. For the gate of the city, I suppose, is some one of the bodily senses. And he is well said to be the only son of his mother, for there is one mother composed of many individuals, the Church, but every soul that remembers that it is redeemed by the death of the Lord, knows the Church to be a widow.
AMBROSE; For this widow surrounded by a great multitude of people seems to be more than the woman who was thought worthy by her tears to obtain the resurrection of her only son, because the Church recalls the younger people from the funeral procession to life by the contemplation of her tears, who is forbid to weep for him to whom resurrection was promised.
THEOPHYL; Or the dogma of Novatus is crushed who ho endeavoring to do away with the purifying of the penitent, denies that the mother Church, weeping for tile spiritual extinction of her sons, ought to be consoled by tile hope of their restoration to life.
AMBROSE; This dead man was borne on the bier by the four material elements to the grave, but there was a hope of his rising again because he was borne on wood, which though before it did not benefit us, yet after Christ had touched it, began to profit to life, that it might be a sign that salvation was to be extended to the people by the wood of the cross. For we lie lifeless on the bier when either the fire of immoderate desire bursts forth, or the cold moisture breaks out, and through the sluggish state of our earthly body the vigor of our minds waxes dull.
THEOPHYL; Or the coffin on which the dead is carried is the ill at ease conscience of a desperate sinner. But they who carry him to be buried are either unclean desires, or the allurements of companions, who stood when our Lord touched the bier, because the conscience, when touched by dread of the judgment from on high, often checking its carnal lusts, and those who unjustly praise, returns to itself, and answers its Savior's call to life.
AMBROSE; If then your sin is so heavy that by your penitential tears you can not yourself wash it out, let the mother Church weep for you, the multitude standing by; soon shall you rise from the dead and begin to spear; the words of life; they all shall fear, (for by the example of one all are corrected;) they shall also praise God who has given us such great remedies for escaping death.
THEOPHYL; But God has visited His people not only by the one incarnation of His Word, but by ever sending It into our hearts.
THEOPHYL. By the widow also you may understand a soul that has lost her husband in the divine word. Her son is the understanding, which is carried out beyond the city of the living. Its coffin is the body, which some indeed have called the tomb. But the Lord touching him raises him up, causing him to become young, and rising from sin he begins to speak and teach others. For before he would not have been believed.
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CYRIL; Certain of His disciples relate to the holy Baptist the miracle which was as known to all the inhabitants of Judea and Galilee, as it follows, And they told John, &c.
THEOPHYL; Not, as it seems to me, in simpleness of heart, but provoked by envy. For in another place also they complain, Rabbi, he that was with you beyond Jordan, behold the same baptizes, and all men come to him.
CHRYS. But we are then most raised up to Him when we are fallen into straits. John therefore, being cast into prison, takes the opportunity, when his disciples were most in need of Jesus, to send them to Christ. For it follows, And John calling two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Are you he that should come, &c.
THEOPHYL; He says not, Are you He that have come, but, Are you he that should come. The sense is, Tell me who am to be slain by Herod, and about to descend into hell, whether I should announce You to the souls below as I have announced You to those above? or is this not befitting the Son of God, and you are going to send another for these sacraments?
CYRIL; But we must altogether disallow such an opinion. For no where do we find the Holy Scriptures stating that John the Baptist foretold to those souls in hell the coming of our Savior. It is also true to say, that the Baptist was not ignorant of the wonderful mystery of the incarnation of the Only-Begotten, and so also along with the other things had known this, that our Lord was about to preach the Gospel to those who were in hell, after He had tasted death for all living as well as dead. But since the word of holy Scripture indeed declared that Christ would come as the Lord and Chief, but the others were sent as servants before Him, therefore was the Lord and Savior of all called by the prophets, He who comes, or Who is to come; according to that, Blessed, is he who comes in the name of the Lord, and, A little while, and, he who is to come shall come, and, will not tarry. The blessed Baptist therefore, receiving as it were this name from Holy Scripture, sent certain of his disciples to seek whether it was indeed He who comes, or, Who is to come.
AMBROSE; But how could it come to pass, that Him of whom he said, Behold, him who takes away the sins of the world, he should still not believe to be the Son of God? For either it is presumption to attribute to Christ a divine action ignorantly, or it is unbelief to have doubted concerning the Son of God. But some suppose of John himself that he was indeed so great a prophet as to acknowledge Christ, but still as not a doubting, but pious, prophet disbelieved that He would die, whom he believed was about to come. Not therefore in his faith but in his piety, he doubted; as Peter also, when he said, Be it far from you, Lord; this shall not be to you.
CYRIL; Or he asks the question by economy. For as the forerunner he knew the mystery of Christ's passion, but that his disciples might be convinced how great was the excellence of the Savior, he sent the more understanding of them, instructing them to inquire and learn from the very words of the Savior, whether it was He who was expected; as it is added, But when the men were come to him, they said, John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, Are you He, &c.
But He knowing as God with what intention John had sent them, and the cause of their coming, was at the time performing many miracles, as it follows, And in the same hour he healed many of their infirmities, &c. He said not positively to them I am he, but rather leads them to the certainty of the fact, in order that receiving their faith in Him, with their reason agreeing thereto, they might return to him who sent them.
Hence He made not answer to the words, but to the intention of him who sent them; as it follows, And Jesus answering said, to them, Go your way, and tell John what things you have seen and, heard: as if He said, Go and tell John the things which you have heard indeed through the Prophets, but have seen accomplished by Me. For He was then performing those things which the Prophets prophesied He would do; that is of which it is added, For the blind see, the lame walk.
AMBROSE; An ample testimony surely that the Prophets acknowledged the Lord. For of the Lord Himself it was prophesied, that the Lord gives food to the hungry, raises up them that are bowed down, looses the prisoners, opens the eyes of the blind, and that he who does these things shall reign for ever. Such then are not the tokens of human, but divine power. But these are found seldom or not at all before the Gospel. Tobias alone received sight, and this was the cure of an Angel, not of a man. Elias raised the dead, but he prayed and wept, and then commended. Elisha caused the cleansing of a leper: yet then the cause was not so much in the authority of the command as in the figure of the mystery.
THEOPHYL. These are also the words of Elias, saying, The Lord himself shall come and save us. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart.
THEOPHYL; And what is not less than these, the poor have the Gospel preached to them, that is, the poor are enlightened by the Spirit, or hidden treasures, that there might be no difference between the rich and the poor. These things prove the faith of the Master, when all who can be saved by Him are equal.
AMBROSE; But still these are but slight examples of the testimony to the Lord. The full assurance of faith is the cross of the Lord, His death and burial. Hence He adds, And blessed is he who shall not be offended in me. For the cross may cause offense, even to the elect. but there is no greater testimony than this of a divine person. For there is nothing which seems to be more surpassing the nature of man than that one should offer Himself for the whole world.
CYRIL; Or else, He wished by this to show that whatever was passing in their hearts, could not be hid from His sight. For they were those who were offended at Him.
AMBROSE; But we have before said, that mystically John was the type of the Law, which was the forerunner of Christ. John then sends his disciples to Christ, that they might obtain the filling up of their knowledge, for Christ is the fulfilling of the Law. And perhaps those disciples are the two nations, of whom the one of the Jews believed, the other of the Gentiles believed because they heard. They wished then to see, because blessed are the eyes that see. But when they shall have come to the Gospel, and found that the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, then shall they say, "We have seen with out eyes," for we seem to ourselves to see Him whom we read of. Or perhaps through the instrumentality of a certain part of our Body we all seem to have traced out the course of our Lord's passion; for faith comes through the few to the many. The Law then announces that Christ will come, the writings of the Gospel prove that He has come.
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CYRIL; The Lord, knowing the secrets of men, foresaw that some would say, If until now John is ignorant of Jesus, how did he show Him to us, saying, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sins of the world? To quench therefore this feeling which had taken possession of them, He prevented the injury which might arise from the offense, as it follows, And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to speak to the people concerning John, what went you out for to see? A reed shaken in the wind? As if He said, you marveled at John the Baptist, and oftentimes came to see him, passing over long journeys in the desert; surely in vain, if you think him so fickle as to be like a reed bending down whichever way the wind moves it. For such he appears to be, who lightly avows his ignorance of the things which he knows.
TIT. BOST. But you went not out into the desert, (where there is no pleasantness,) leaving your cities, except as caring for this man.
GREEK EX. Now these things were spoken by our Lord after the departure of John's disciples, for He would not utter the praises of the Baptist while they were present, lest His words should be counted as those of a flatterer.
AMBROSE; Not unmeaningly then is the character of John praised there, who preferred the way of righteousness to the love of life, and swerved not through fear of death. For this world seems to be compared to a desert, into which, as yet barren and uncultivated, the Lord says we must not so enter as to regard men puffed up with a fleshly mind, and devoid of inward virtue, and vaunting themselves in the heights of frail worldly glory, as a kind of example and model for our imitation. And such being exposed to the storms of this world, and tossed to and from by a restless life, are rightly compared to a reed.
GREEK EX. We have also an infallible testimony to John's way of life in his manner of clothing, and his imprisonment, into which he never would have been cast had he known how to court princes; as it follows, but what went you out for to see? A man clothed with soft raiment? Behold they who are gorgeously appareled, and live delicately, are in kings' houses. By being clothed with soft raiment, he signifies men who live luxuriously.
CHRYS. But a soft garment relaxes the austerity of the soul; and if worn by a hard and rigorous body, soon, by such effeminacy, makes it frail and delicate. But when the body becomes softer, the soul must also share the injury; for generally its workings correspond wit the conditions of the body.
CYRIL; How then could a religious strictness, so great that it subdued to itself all fleshly lusts, sink down to such ignorance, except from a frivolity of mind, which is not fostered by austerities, but by worldly delights. If then you imitate John, as one who cared not for pleasure, award him also the strength of mind, which befits his continence. But if strictness no more tends to this than a life of luxury, why do you, not respecting those who live delicately, admire the inhabitant of the desert, and his wretched garment of camel's hair.
CHRYS. By each of these sayings He shows John to be neither naturally not easily shaken or diverted from any purpose.
AMBROSE; And although very many become effeminate by the use of softer garments, yet here other garments seem to be meant, namely, our mortal bodies, by which our souls are clothed. Again, luxurious acts and habits are soft garments, but those whose languid limbs are wasted away in luxuries are shut out of the kingdom of heaven, whom the rulers of this world and of darkness have taken captive. For these are the kings who exercise tyranny over those who are their fellows in their own works.
CYRIL; But perhaps it does not concern us to excuse John upon this ground, for you confess that he is worthy of imitation, hence He adds, But what went you out for to see? A prophet? Verily I say to you, more than a prophet. For the prophets foretold that Christ would come, but John not only foretold that He would come, but also declared Him to be present, saying, Behold the Lamb of God.
AMBROSE; Indeed, greater than a prophet (or more than a prophet) was he in whom the prophets terminate; for many desired to see Him whom he saw, whom he baptized.
CYRIL; Having then described his character by the place where he dwelt, by his clothing, and from the crowds who went to see him, He introduces the testimony of the prophet, saying, This is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send my angel.
TITUS BOST. He calls a man an angel, not because he was by nature an angel, for he was by nature a man, but because he exercised the office of an angel, in heralding the advent of Christ.
GREEK EX. But by the words which follow, Before your face, he signifies nearness of time, for John appeared to men close to the coming of Christ. Wherefore must he indeed be considered more than a prophet, for those also who in battle fight close to the sides of kings, are their most distinguished and greatest friends.
AMBROSE; But he prepared the way of the Lord not only in the order of birth according to the flesh, and as the messenger of faith, but also as the forerunner of His glorious passion. Hence it follows, Who shall prepare your way before you.
AMBROSE; But if Christ also is a prophet, how is this man greater than all. But it is said, among those born of woman, not of a virgin. For He was greater than those, whose equal he might be in way of birth, as it follows, For I say to you, of those that are born of woman, there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.
CHRYS. The voice of the Lord is indeed sufficient to bear testimony to John's preeminence among men. But any one will find the real facts of the case confirming the same, by considering his food, his manner of life, the loftiness of his mind. For he dwelt on earth as one who had come down from heaven, casting no care upon his body, his mind raised up to heaven, and united to God alone, taking no thought for worldly things; his conversation grave and gentle, for with the Jewish people he dealt honestly and zealously, with the king boldly, with his own disciples mildly. He did nothing idle or trifling, but all things becomingly.
ISID. PELEUS; John was also greatest among those that are born of women because he prophesied from the very womb of his mother, and though in darkness, was not ignorant of the light which had already come.
AMBROSE; Lastly, so impossible is it that there should be any comparison between John and the Son of God, that he is counted even below the angels; as it follows, But he that is least in the kingdom of God, is greater than he.
THEOPHYL; These words may be understood in two ways. For either he called that the kingdom of God, which we have not yet received, (in which are the Angels,) and the very least among them is greater than any righteous man, who bears about a body, which weighs down the soul. Or if by the kingdom of God be meant to be understood the Church of this time, the Lord referred to Himself, who in the time of His birth came after John, but was greater in divine authority, and the power of the Lord. Moreover, according to the first explanation, the distinction is as follows, But he who is least in the kingdom of God, and then it is added, is greater than he. According to the latter, But he who is least, and then added, is greater in the kingdom of God than he.
CHRYS. For He adds this, that the abundant praise of John might not give the Jews a pretext to prefer John to Christ. But do not suppose that he spoke comparatively of His being greater than John.
AMBROSE; For He is of another nature, which bears not comparison with human kind. For there can be no comparing of God with men.
CYRIL; But in a mystery, when showing the superiority of John among those that are born of women, he places in opposition something greater, namely, Himself who was born by the holy Spirit the Son of God. For the kingdom of the Lord is the Spirit of God. Although then as respects works and holiness, we may be inferior to those who attained to the mystery of the law, whom John represents, yet through Christ we have greater things, being made partakers of the Divine nature.
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CHRYS. Having declared the praises of John, he next exposes the great fault of the Pharisees and lawyers, who would not after the publicans receive the baptism of John. Hence it is said, And all the people that heard him, and the Publicans, justified God.
AMBROSE; God is justified by baptism, wherein men justify themselves confessing their sins. For he that sins and confesses his sin to God justifies God, submitting himself to Him who overcomes, and hoping for grace from Him; God therefore is justified by baptism, in which there is confession and pardon of sin. EUSEB. Because also they believed, they justified God, for He appeared just to them in all that He did. But the disobedient conduct of the Pharisees in not receiving John, accorded not with the words of the prophet, That you might be justified when you speak. Hence it follows, But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God, &c.
THEOPHYL; These words were ere spoken either in the person of the Evangelist, or, as some think, of the Savior; but when he says, against themselves he means that he who rejects the grace of God, does it against himself. Or, they are blamed as foolish and ungrateful for being unwilling to receive the counsel of God, sent to themselves The counsel then is of God, because He ordained salvation by the passion and death of Christ, which the Pharisees and lawyers despised.
AMBROSE; Let us not then despise (as the Pharisees did) the counsel of God, which is in the baptism of John, that is, the counsel which the Angel of great counsel searches out. No one despises the counsel of man Who then shall reject the counsel of God?
CYRIL; There was as a certain play among, the Jewish children of this kind. A company of boys were collected together, who mocking the sudden changes in the affairs of this life, some of them sang, some mourned, but the mourners did not rejoice with those that rejoiced, nor did those who rejoiced fall in with those that wept. They then rebuked each other in turn with the charge of want of sympathy. That such were the feelings of the Jewish people and their rulers, Christ implied in the following words, spoken in the person of Christ; Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation, and to what are they like?
They are like to children sitting in the market-place.
THEOPHYL; The Jewish generation is compared to children, because formerly they had prophets for their teachers, of whom it is said, Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings have you perfected praise.
AMBROSE; But the prophets sung, repeating in spiritual strains their oracles of the common salvation; they wept, soothing with mournful dirges the hard hearts of the Jews. The songs were not sung in the market-place, nor in the streets, but in Jerusalem. For that is the Lord's forum, in which the laws of His heavenly precepts are framed.
GREG. NYSS. But singing and lamentation are nothing else but in the breaking forth, the one indeed of joy, the other of sorrow. Now at the sound of a tune played upon a musical instrument, man by the concordant beating of his feet, and motion of his body, portrays his inward feelings. Hence he says, We have sung, and you have not danced; we have mourned to you and you have not wept.
AUG. Now these words have reference to John and Christ. For when he says, We have mourned, and you have not wept, it is in allusion to John, whose abstinence from meat and drink signified penitential sorrow; and hence he adds in explanation, For John came neither eating bread, nor drinking wine, and you say he has a devil.
CYRIL; They take upon themselves to slander a man worthy of all admiration. They say that he who mortifies the law of sin which is in his members has a devil.
AUG. But his words, We have piped to you, and you have not danced, refer to the Lord Himself, who by using meats and drinks as others did, represented the joy of His kingdom. Hence it follows, The Son of man came eating and drinking &c.
TIT. BOST. For Christ would not abstain from this food, lest He should give a handle to heretics, who say that the creatures of God are bad, and blame flesh and wine.
CYRIL; But where could they point out the Lord as gluttonness? For Christ is found every where repressing excess, and leading men to temperance. But He associated with publicans and sinners. Hence they said against Him, He is a friend of Publicans and sinners, though He could in no wise fall into sin, but on the contrary was to them the cause of salvation. For the sun is not polluted though sending its rays over all the earth, and frequently falling upon unclean bodies. Neither will the Sun of righteousness be hurt by associating with the bad. But let no one attempt to place his own condition on a level with Christ's greatness, but let each considering his own infirmity avoid having dealing with such men, for "evil communications corrupt good manners." It follows, And wisdom is justified of all her children.
AMBROSE; The Son of God is wisdom, by nature, not by growth, which is justified by baptism, when it is not rejected through obstinacy, but through righteousness is acknowledged the gift of God. Herein then is the justification of God, if he seems to transfer His gifts not to the unworthy and guilty, but to those who are through baptism holy and just.
CHRYS. But by the children of wisdom, He means the wise. For Scripture is accustomed to indicate the bad rather by their sin than their name, but to call the good the children of the virtue which characterizes them.
AMBROSE; He well says, of all, for justice is reserved for all, that the faithful may be taken up, the unbelievers cast out.
AUG. Or, when he says, wisdom is justified of all her children, he show that the children of wisdom understand that righteousness consists neither in abstaining from nor eating food, but in patiently enduring want. For not the use of such things, but the coveting after them, must be blamed; only let a man adapt himself to the kind of food of those with whom he lives.
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THEOPHYL; Having said just before, And the people that heard him justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John the same Evangelist builds up in deed what he had proposed in word, namely, wisdom justified by the righteous and the penitent, saying, And one of the Pharisees desired him, &c.
GREG. NYSS. This account is full of precious instruction. For there are very many who justify themselves, being puffed up with the dreamings of an idle fancy, who before the time of Judgment comes, separate themselves as lambs from the herds, not willing even to join in eating with the many, and hardly with those who go not to extremes, but keep the middle path in life. St. Luke, the physician of souls rather than of bodies, represents therefore our Lord and Savior most mercifully visiting others, as it follows, And he went into the Pharisees' house, and sat down to meat. Not that He should share any of his faults, but might impart somewhat of His own righteousness.
CYRIL; A woman of corrupt life, but testifying her faithful affection, comes to Christ, as having power to release her from every fault, and to grant her pardon for the crimes she had committed. For it follows, And behold a woman in the city which was a sinner brought an alabaster box of ointment.
THEOPHYL; Alabaster is a kind of white marble tinged with various colors, which is generally used for vessels holding ointment, because it is said to be the best sort for preserving the ointment sweet.
GREG. For this woman, beholding the spots of her shame, ran to wash them at the fountain of mercy, and blushed not at seeing the guests, for since she was courageously ashamed of herself within, she thought there was nothing which could shame her from without. Observe with what sorrow she is wrung who is not ashamed to weep even in the midst of a feast!
GREG. NYSS. But to mark her own unworthiness, she stands behind with downcast eyes, and with her hair thrown about embraces His feet, and washing them with her tears, betokened a mind distressed at her state, and imploring pardon. For it follows, And standing behind, she began to wash his feet with her tears.
GREG. For her eyes which once coveted after earthly things, she was now wearing out with penitential weeping. She once displayed her hair for the setting off of her face, she now wiped her tears with her hair. As it follows, And she wiped them with the hairs of her head. She once uttered proud things with her mouth, but kissing the feet of the Lord, she impressed her lips on the footsteps of her Redeemer. She once used ointment for the perfume of her body; what she had unworthily applied to herself, she now laudably offered to God. As it follows, And she anointed with ointment. As many enjoyments as she had in herself, so many offerings did she devise out of herself. She converts the number of her faults into the same number of virtues, that as much of her might wholly serve God in her penitence, as had despised God in her sin.
CHRYS. Thus the harlot became then more honorable than the virgins. For no sooner was she inflamed with penitence, than she burst forth in love for Christ. And these things indeed which have been spoken of were done outwardly, but those which her mind pondered within itself, were much more fervent. God alone beheld them.
GREG. But the Pharisee beholding these things despises them, and finds fault, not only with the woman who was a sinner, but with the Lord who received her, as it follows, Now when the Pharisee who had bidden him saw it, he spoke within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is which touches him. We see the Pharisee really proud in himself, and hypocritically righteous, blaming the sick woman for her sickness, the physician for his aid. The woman surely if she had come to the feet of the Pharisee would have departed with the heel lifted up against her. For he would have thought that he was polluted by another's sin, not having sufficient of his own real righteousness to fill him. So also some gifted with the priests' office, if perchance they have done any just thing outwardly or slightly, forthwith despise those who are put under them, and look with disdain on sinners who are of the people. But when we behold sinners, we must first bewail ourselves for their calamity, since we perhaps have had and are certainly liable to a similar fall. But it is necessary that we should carefully distinguish, for we are bound to make distinction in vices, but to have compassion on nature. For if we must punish the sinner, we must cherish a brother. But when by penance he has himself punished his own deed, our brother is no more a sinner, for he punished in himself what Divine justice condemned. The Physician was between two sick persons, but the one preserved her faculties in the fever, the other lost his mental perception. For she wept at what she had done; but the Pharisee, elated with a false sense of righteousness, overrated the vigor of his own health.
TIT. BOST. But the Lord not hearing his words, but perceiving his thoughts, showed Himself to be the Lord of Prophets, as it follows, And Jesus answering said to him, Simon, I have something to say to you.
GLOSS. And this indeed He spoke in answer to his thoughts; and the Pharisee was made more attentive by these words of our Lord, as it is said, And he said, Master, say on.
GREG. A parable concerning two debtors is opposed to him, of whom the one owed more, the other less; as it follows, There was a certain creditor which had two debtors, &c.
TIT. BOST. As if He said, Nor are you without debts. What then! If you are involved in fewer debts, boast not thyself, for you art still in need of pardon. Then He goes on to speak of pardon, And when they had nothing to pay, he freely forgave them both.
GLOSS. For no one can of himself escape the debt of sin, but only by obtaining pardon through the grace of God.
GREG. But both debtors being forgiven, the Pharisee is asked which most loved the forgiver of the debts. For it follows, Who then will love him most? To which he at once answers, I suppose, that be to whom he forgave most. And here we must remark, that while the Pharisee is convicted upon his own grounds, the madman carries the rope by which he will be bound; as it follows, But he said to him, you have rightly judged.
The good deeds of the sinful woman are enumerated to him, and the evils of the pretended righteous; as it follows, And he turned to the woman, and said to Simon, See you this woman? I entered into your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has washed my feet with her tears.
TIT. BOST. As if He said, To provide water is easy, to pour forth tears is not easy. You have not provided even what was at hand, she has poured forth what was not at hand; for washing my feet with her tears, she washed away her own stains.
She wiped them with her hair, that so she might draw to herself the sacred moisture, and by that by which she once enticed youth to sin, might now attract to herself holiness.
CHRYS. But as after the breaking of a violent storm there comes a calm,, so when tears have burst forth, there is peace, and gloomy thoughts vanish; and as by water and the Spirit, so by tears and confession we are again made clean. Hence it follows, Wherefore I say to you, Her sins which are many are forgiven, for she loves much. For those who have violently plunged into evil, will in time also eagerly follow after good, being conscious to what debts they have made themselves responsible.
GREG. The more then the heart of the sinner is burnt up by the great fire of charity, so much the more is the rust of sin consumed. TIT. BOST. But it more frequently happens that he who has sinned much is purified by confession, but he who has sinned little, refuses from pride to come to be healed thereby. Hence it follows, But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.
CHRYS. We have need then of a fervent spirit, for nothing hinders a man from becoming great. Let then no sinner despair, no virtuous man fall asleep; neither let the one be self-confident, for often the harlot shall go before him, nor the other distrustful, for he may even surpass the foremost. Hence it is also here added, But he said to her, Your sins are forgiven you.
GREG. Behold she who had come sick to the Physician was healed, but because of her safety others are still sick; for it follows, And they that sat at meat began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgives sins also. But the heavenly Physician regards not those sick, whom He sees to be made still worse by His remedy, but her whom He had healed He encourages by making mention of her own piety; as it follows, But he said to the woman, Your faith has made you whole; for in truth she doubted not that she would receive what she sought for.
THEOPHYL. But after having forgiven her sins, He stops not at the forgiveness of sins, but adds good works, as it follows, Go in peace, i.e. in righteousness, for righteousness is the reconciliation of man to God, as sin is the enmity between God and man; as if He said, Do all things which lead you to the peace of God.
AMBROSE; Now in this place many seem to be perplexed with the question, whether the Evangelists do not appear to have differed concerning the faith.
GREEK EX. For since the four Evangelists relate that Christ was anointed with ointment by a woman, I think that there were three women, differing according to the quality of each, their mode of action, and the difference of times. John, for example, relates that Mary, the sister of Lazarus, six days before the Passover, anointed the feet of Jesus in her own house; but Matthew, after that the Lord had said, You know that after two days will be the Passover, adds, that in Bethany, at the house of Simon the leper, a woman poured ointment upon the head of our Lord, but did not anoint His feet as Mary. Mark also says the same as Matthew; but Luke gives the account not near the time of the Passover, but in the middle of the Gospel. Chrysostom explains it that there were two different women, one indeed who is described in John, another who is mentioned by the three.
AMBROSE; Matthew has introduced this woman as pouring ointment upon the head of Christ, and was therefore unwilling to call her a sinner, for the sinner, according to Luke, poured ointment upon the feet of Christ. She cannot then be the same, lest the Evangelists should seem to be at variance with one another. The difficulty may be also solved by the difference of merit and of time, so that the former woman may have been yet a sinner, the latter now more perfect.
AUG. For I think we must understand that the same Mary did this twice, once indeed as Luke has related, when at first coming with humility and weeping, she was thought worthy to receive forgiveness of sins. Hence John, when he began to speak of the resurrection of Lazarus, before he came to Bethany, says, But it was Mary who anointed our Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. Mary therefore had already done this; but what she again did in Bethany is another occurrence, which belongs not to the relation of Luke, but is equally told by the other three.
GREG. Now in a mystical sense the Pharisee, presuming upon his pretended righteousness, is the Jewish people; the woman who was a sinner, but who came and wept at our Lord's feet, represents the conversion of the Gentiles.
AMBROSE; Or, the leper, is the prince of this world; the house of Simon the leper, is the earth. The Lord therefore descended from the higher parts to this earth; for this woman could not have been healed, who bears the figure of a soul or the Church, had not Christ come upon earth. But rightly does she receive the figure of a sinner, for Christ also took the form of a sinner. If then you make your soul approach in faith to God, it not with foul and shameful sins, but piously obeying the word of God, and in the confidence of unspotted purity, ascends to the very head of Christ. But the head of Christ is God. But let him who holds not the head of Christ, hold the feet, the sinner at the feet, the just at the head; nevertheless she also who sinned, has ointment.
GREG. What else is expressed by the ointment, but the sweet savor of a good report? If then we do good works by which we may sprinkle the Church with the sweet odor of a good report, what else do we but pour ointment upon the body of our Lord. But the woman stood by His feet, for we stood over against the feet of the Lord, when yet in our sins we resisted His ways. But if we are converted from our sins to true repentance, we now again stand by His feet, for we follow His footsteps whom we before opposed.
AMBROSE; Bring you also repentance after sin. Wherever you hear the name of Christ, speed thither; into whatever house you know that Jesus has entered, thither hasten; when you find wisdom, when you find justice sitting in any inner chamber, run to its feet, that is, seek even the lowest part of wisdom; confess your sins with tears. Perhaps Christ washed not His own feet, that we might wash them with our tears. Blessed tears, which can not only wash away our own sin, but also water the footsteps of the heavenly Word, that His goings may abound in us. Blessed tears, in which there is not only the redemption of sinners, but the refreshing of the righteous.
GREG. For we water the feet of our Lord with tears if we are moved with compassion to any even the lowest members of our Lord. We wipe our Lord's feet with our hair, when we show pity to His saints (with whom we suffer in love) by the sacrifice of those things with which we abound.
AMBROSE; Throw about your hair, scatter before Him all the graces of your body. The hair is not to be despised which can wash the feet of Christ.
GREG. The woman kisses the feet which she has wiped. This also we fully do when we ardently love those whom we maintain by our bounty. By the feet also may be understood tile mystery itself of the Incarnation. We then kiss the feet of the Redeemer when we love with our whole heart the mystery of the Incarnation. We anoint the feet with ointment, when we proclaim the power of His humanity with the good tidings of holy eloquence. But this also the Pharisee sees and grudges, for when the Jewish people perceives that the Gentiles preach God, it consumes away by its own malice. But the Pharisee is thus repulsed, that as it were through Him that false people might be made manifest, for in truth that unbelieving people never offered to the Lord even those things which were without them; but the Gentiles being converted, poured forth not only their substance but their blood. Hence He says to the Pharisee, You gave me no water for my feet, but she has washed my feet with her tears; for water is without us, the moisture of tears is within us. That unfaithful people also gave no kiss to the Lord, for it was unwilling to embrace Him from love whom it obeyed from fear, (for the kiss is the sign of love,) but the Gentiles being called cease not to kiss the feet of their Redeemer, for they ever breathe in His love.
AMBROSE; But she is of no slight merit of whom it is said, From the time that she entered has not ceased to kiss my feet, so that sue knew not to speak aught but wisdom, to love aught but Justice, to touch aught but chastity, to kiss aught but modesty.
GREG. But it is said to the Pharisee, My head with oil you did not anoint, for the very power even of Divinity on which the Jewish people professed to believe, he neglects to celebrate with due praise. But she has anointed my feet with ointment. For while the Gentile people believed the mystery of His incarnation, it proclaimed also His lowest powers with the highest praise.
AMBROSE; Blessed is he even who can anoint with oil the feet of Christ, but more blessed is he who anoints with ointment, for the essence of many flowers blended into one, scatters the sweets of various odors. And perhaps no other than the Church alone can bring that ointment which has innumerable flowers of different perfumes, and therefore no one can love so much as she who loves in many individuals. But in the Pharisee's house, that is, in the house of the Law and the Prophets, not the Pharisee, but the Church is justified. For the Pharisee believed not, the Church believed. The Law has no mystery by which secret faults are cleansed, and therefore that which is wanting in the Law is made up in the Gospel.
But the two debtors are the two nations who are responsible for payment to the usurer of the heavenly treasury. But we do not owe to this usurer material money, but the balance of our good deeds, the coin of our virtues, the merits of which are estimated by the weight of sorrow, the stamp of righteousness, the sound of confession. But that denarius is of no slight value on which the image of the king is found. Woe to me if I shall not have what I received. Or because there is hardly any one who can pay the whole debt to the usurer, woe to me if I shall not seek the debt to be forgiven me.
But what nation is it that owes most, if not we to whom most is lent? To them were entrusted the oracles of God, to us is entrusted the Virgin's offspring, Immanuel, i. e. God with us, the cross of our Lord, His death, His resurrection. It cannot then be doubted that he owes most who receives most. Among men he perhaps offends most who is most in debt. By the mercy of the Lord the case is reversed, so that he loves most who owes most, if so be that he obtains grace. And therefore since there is nothing which we can worthily return to the Lord, woe be to me also if I shall not have loved. Let us then offer our love for the debt, for he loves most to whom most is given.
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