Golden Chain 10247
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THEOPHYL. Our Lord here points to something still greater and more terrible, for the unfaithful steward shall not only be deprived of the grace he had, so that it should profit him nothing in escaping punishment, but the greatness of his dignity shall the rather become a cause of his condemnation. Hence it is said, And that servant who knew his lord's will and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.
CHRYS. For all things are not judged alike in all, but greater knowledge is an occasion of greater punishment. Therefore shall the Priest, committing the same sin with the people, suffer a far heavier penalty.
CYRIL; For the man of understanding who has given up his will to baser things will shamelessly implore pardon, because he has committed an inexcusable sin, departing as it were maliciously from the will of God, but the rude or unlearned man will more reasonably ask for pardon of the avenger. Hence it is added, But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes
THEOPHYL. Here some object, saying, He is deservedly punished who, knowing the will of His Lord, pursues it not; but why is the ignorant punished? Because when he might have known, he would not, but being himself slothful, was the cause of his own ignorance.
BASIL; But you will say, If the one indeed received many stripes, and the other few, how do some say He assigns no end to punishments? But we must know, that what is here said assigns neither measure nor end of punishments, but their differences. For a man may deserve unquenchable fire, to either a slight or more intense degree of heat, and the worm that dies not with greater or more violent gnawings.
THEOPHYL. But he goes on to show why teachers and learned men deserve a severer punishment, as it is said, For to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required. Teachers indeed are given the grace to perform miracles, but entrusted the grace of speech and learning. But not in that which is given, He says, is any thing more to be sought, but in that which is entrusted or deposited; for the grace of the word needs increase. But from a teacher more is required, for he should not lie idle, but improve the talent of the word.
BEDE; Or else, much is often given also to certain individuals, upon whom is bestowed the knowledge of God's will, and the means of performing what they know; much also is given to him to whom, together with his own salvation, is committed the care also of feeding our Lord's flock. Upon those then who are gifted with more abundant grace a heavier penalty falls; but the mildest punishment of all will be theirs, who, beyond the guilt they originally contracted, have added none besides; and in all who have added, theirs will be the more tolerable who have committed fewest iniquities.
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AMBROSE; To stewards, that is, to Priests, the preceding words seem to have been addressed, that they may thereby know that hereafter a heavier punishment awaits them, if, intent upon the world's pleasures, they have neglected the charge of their Lord's household, and the people entrusted to their care. But as it profits little to be recalled from error by the fear of punishment, and far greater is the privilege of charity and love, our Lord therefore kindles in men the desire of acquiring the divine nature, saying, I came to send fire on earth, not indeed that He is the Consumer of good men, but the Author of good will, who purifies the golden vessels of the Lord's house, but burns up the straw and stubble.
CYRIL; Now it is the way of holy Scripture to use sometimes the term fire, of holy and divine words. For as they who know how to purify gold and silver, destroy the dross by fire, so the Savior by the teaching of the Gospel in the power of the Spirit cleanses the minds of those who believe in Him. This then is that wholesome and useful fire by which the inhabitants of earth, in a manner cold and dead through sin, revive to a life of piety.
CHRYS. For by the earth He now means not that which we tread under our feet, but that which was fashioned by His hands, namely, man, upon whom the Lord pours out fire for the consuming of sins, and the renewing of souls.
TIT. BOST. And we must here believe that Christ came down from heaven. For if He had come from earth to earth, He would not say, I came to send fire upon the earth.
CYRIL; But our Lord was hastening the kindling of the fire, and hence it follows, And what will I, save that it be kindled? For already some of the Jews believed, of whom the first were the holy Apostles, but the fire once lighted in Judea was about to take possession of the whole world, yet not till after the dispensation of His Passion had been accomplished. Hence it follows, But I have a baptism to be baptized with. For before the holy cross and His resurrection from the dead, in Judea only was the news told of His preaching and miracles; but after that the Jews in their rage had slain the Prince of life, then commanded He His Apostles, saying, Go and teach all nations.
GREG. Or else, fire is sent upon the earth, when by the fiery breath of the Holy Spirit, the earthly mind has all its carnal desires burnt up, but inflamed with spiritual love, bewails the evil it has done; and so the earth is burnt, when the conscience accusing itself, the heart of the sinner is consumed in the sorrow of repentance.
BEDE; But He adds, I have a baptism to be baptized with, that is, I have first to be sprinkled with the drops of My own Blood, and then to inflame the hearts of believers by the fire of the Spirit.
AMBROSE; But so greet was our Lord's condescension, that He tells us He has a desire of inspiring us with devotion, of accomplishing perfection in us, and of hastening His passion for us; as it follows, And how am I straightened till it be accomplished
BEDE; Some manuscripts have, "And how am I anguished," that is, grieved. For though He had in Himself nothing to grieve Him, yet was as He afflicted by our woes, and at the time of death He betrayed the anguish which He underwent not from the fear of His death, but from the delay of our redemption. For he who is troubled until he reaches perfection, is secure of perfection, for the condition of bodily affections not the dread of death offends him. For he who has put on the body must suffer all things which are of the body, hunger, thirst, vexation, sorrow; but the Divine nature knows no change from such feelings. At the same time He also shows, that in the conflict of suffering consists the death of the body, peace of mind has no struggle with grief.
BEDE; But the manner in which after the baptism of His passion and the coming of the spiritual fire the earth will be burnt, He declares as follows, Suppose you that I am to give peace, &c.
CYRIL; What say you, O Lord? Did you not come to give peace, Who art made peace for us? making peace by your cross with things in earth and things in heaven; Who said, My peace I give to you. But it is plain that peace is indeed a good, but sometimes hurtful, and separating us from the love of God, that is, when by it we unite with those who keep away from God. And for this reason we e teach the faithful to avoid earthly bonds. Hence it follows, For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, &c.
AMBROSE; Though the connection would seem to be of six persons, father and son, mother and daughter, mother in law and daughter in law, yet are they five, for the mother and the mother in law may be taken as the same, since she who is the mother of the son, is the mother in law of his wife.
CHRYS. Now hereby He declared a future event, for it so happened in the same house that there have been believers whose fathers wished to bring them to unbelief; but the power of Christ's doctrines has so prevailed, that fathers were left by sons, mothers by daughters, and children by parents. For the faithful in Christ were content not only to despise their own, but at the same time also to suffer all things as long as they were not without the worship of their faith. But if He were mere man, how would it have occurred to Him to conceive it possible that He should be more loved by fathers than their children were, by children than their fathers, by husbands than their wives, and they too not in one house or a hundred, but throughout the world? And not only did he predict this, but accomplish it in deed.
AMBROSE; Now in a mystical sense the one house is one man, but by two we often mean the soul and the body. But if two things meet together, each one has its part; there is one which obeys, another which rules. But there are three conditions of the soul, one concerned with reason, another with desire, the third with anger. Two then are divided against three, and three against two. For by the coming of Christ, man who was material became rational. We were carnal and earthly, God sent His Spirit into our hearts, and we became spiritual children. We may also say, that in the house there are five others, that is, smell, touch, taste, sight, and hearing. If then with respect to those things which we hear or see, separating the sense of sight and hearing, we shut out the worthless pleasures of the body which we take in by our taste, touch, and smell, we divide two against three, because the mind is not carried away by the allurements of vice. Or if we understand the five bodily senses, already are the vices and sins of the body divided among themselves. The flesh and the soul may also seem separated from the smell, touch, and taste of pleasure, for while the stronger sex of reason is impelled, as it were, to manly affections, the flesh strives to keep the reason more effeminate. Out of these then there spring up the motions of different desires, but when the soul returns to itself it renounces the degenerate offspring. The flesh also bewails that it is fastened down by its desires (which it has borne to itself,) as by the thorns of the world. But pleasure is a kind of daughter in law of the body and soul, and is wedded to the motions of foul desire. As long then as there remained in one house the vices conspiring together with one consent, there seemed to be no division; but when Christ sent fire upon the earth which should burn out the offenses of the heart, or the sword which should pierce the very secrets of the heart, then the flesh and the soul renewed by the mysteries of regeneration cast off the bond of connection with their offspring. So that parents are divided against their children, while the intemperate man gets rid of his intemperate desires, and the soul has no more fellowship with crime. Children also are divided against parents when men having become regenerate renounce their old vices, and younger pleasure flies from the rule of piety, as from the discipline of a strict house.
BEDE; Or in another way. By three are signified those who have faith in the Trinity, by two the unbelievers who depart from the unity of the faith. But the father is the devil, whose children we were by following him, but when that heavenly fire came down, it separated us from one another, and showed us another Father who is in heaven The mother is the Synagogue, the daughter is the Primitive Church, who had to bear the persecution of that same synagogue, from whom she derived her birth, and whom she did herself in the truth of the faith contradict. The mother in law is the Synagogue, the daughter in law the Gentile Church, for Christ the husband of the Church is the son of the Synagogue, according to the flesh. The Synagogue then was divided both against its daughter in law, and its daughter, persecuting believers of each people. But they also were divided against their mother in law and mother, because they wished to abolish the circumcision of the flesh.
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THEOPHYL. When He spoke about preaching, and called it a sword, His hearers may have been troubled, not knowing what He meant. And therefore our Lord adds, that as men determine the state of the weather by certain signs, so ought they to know His coming. And this is what he means by saying, When you see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway you say, There comes a shower.
And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, There will be heat, &c. As if He says, Your words and works show me to be opposed to you. You may therefore suppose that I came not to give peace, but the storm and whirlwind. For I am a cloud, and I come out of the west, that is, from human nature; which has been long since clothed with the thick darkness of sin. I came also to send fire, that is, to stir up heat. For I am the strong south wind, opposed to the northern coldness.
BEDE; Or, they who from the change of the elements can easily when they like predetermine the state of the weather, might if they wished also understand the time of our Lord's coming from the words of the Prophets.
CYRIL; For the prophets have in many ways foretold the mystery of Christ; it became them therefore, if they were wise, to stretch their prospect beyond to the future, nor will ignorance of the time to come avail them after the present life. For there will be wind and rain, and a future punishment by fire; and this is signified when it is said, A shower comes. It became them also not to be ignorant of the time of salvation, that is, the coming of the Savior, through whom perfect piety entered into the world. And this is meant when it is said, You say that there will be heat. Whence it follows in censure of them, You hypocrites, you can discern the face of the sky and the earth, but how is it that you do not discern this time.
BASIL; Now we must observe, that conjectures concerning the stars are necessary to the life of man, as long as we do not push our searches into their signs beyond due limits. For it is possible to discover some things with respect to coming rain, still more concerning heat and the force of the winds, whether partial or universal, stormy or gentle. But the great advantage that is rendered to life by these conjectures is known to every one. For it is of importance to the sailor to prognosticate the dangers of storms, to the traveler the changes of the weather, to the husbandmen the abundant supply of his fruits.
BEDE; But lest any of the people should allege their ignorance of the prophetical books as a reason why they could not discern the courses of the times, He carefully adds, And why even of yourselves judge you not what is right, showing them that although unlearned they might still by their natural ability discern Him, who did works such as none other man did, to be above man, and to be God, and that therefore after the injustice of this world, the just judgment of the creation would come.
ORIGEN; But had it not been implanted in our nature to judge what is right, our Lord would never have said this.
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THEOPHYL. Our Lord having described a rightful difference, next teaches us a rightful reconciliation, saying, When you go with your adversary to the magistrate, as you are in the way, give diligence that you may be delivered from him, &c. As if He says, When your adversary is bringing you to judgment, give diligence, that is, try every method, to be released from him. Or give diligence, that is, although you have nothing, borrow in order that you may be released from him, lest he summon you before the judge as it follows, Lest he hale you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and the officer cast you into prison.
CYRIL; Where you will suffer want until you pay the last farthing; and this is what He adds, I say to you, you shall not depart hence.
CHRYS. It seems to me that He is speaking of the present judges, and of the way to the present judgment, and of the prison of this world. For by these things which are visible and at hand, ignorant men are wont to gain improvement. For often He gives a lesson, not only from future good and evil but from present, for the sake of His ruder hearers.
AMBROSE; Or our adversary is the devil, who lays his baits for sin, that he may have those his partners in punishment who were his accomplices in crime; our adversary is also every vicious practice. Lastly, our adversary is an evil conscience, which affects us both in this world, and will accuse and betray us in the next. Let us then give heed, while we are in this life's course, that we may be delivered from every bad act as from an evil enemy. Nay, while we are going with our adversary to the magistrate, as we are in the way, we should condemn our fault. But who is the magistrate, but He in whose hands is all power? But the Magistrate delivers the guilty to the Judge, that is, to Him, to whom He gives the power over the quick and dead, namely, Jesus Christ, through Whom the secrets are made manifest, and the punishment of wicked works awarded. He delivers to the officer, and the officer casts into prison, for He says, Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into outer darkness. And he shows that His officers are the angels, of whom he says, The angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire; but it is added, I tell you, you shall not depart thence till you have paid the very last mite. For as they who pay money on interest do not get rid of the debt of interest before that the amount of the whole principal is paid even up to the least sum in every kind of payment, so by the compensation of love and the other acts, or by each particular kind of satisfaction the punishment of sin is canceled.
ORIGEN; Or else, He here introduces four characters, the adversary, the magistrate the officer, and the judge. But with Matthew the character of the magistrate is left out, and instead of the officer a servant is introduced. They differ also in that the one has written a farthing, the other a mite, but each has called it the last. Now we say that all men have present with them two angels, a bad one who encourages them to wicked deeds, a good one who persuades all that is best. Now the former, our adversary whenever we sin rejoices, knowing that he has an occasion for exaltations and boasting with the prince of the world, who sent him. But in the Greek, "the adversary" is written with the article, to signify that he is one out of many, seeing that each individual is under the ruler of his nation. Give diligence then that you may be delivered from your adversary, or from the ruler to whom the adversary drags you, by having wisdom, justice, fortitude, and temperance. But if you have given diligence, let it be in Him who says, I am the life, otherwise the adversary will hale you to the judge. Now he says, hale, to point out that they are forced unwillingly to condemnation. But I know no other judge but our Lord Jesus Christ who delivers to the officer. Each of us have our own officers; the officers exercise rule over us, if we owe any thing. If I paid every man every thing, I come to the of officers and answer with a fearless heart, "I owe them nothing." But if I am a debtor, the officer will cast me into prison, nor will he suffer me to go out from thence until I have paid every debt. For the officer has no power to let me off even a farthing. He who forgave one debtor five hundred pence and another fifty, was the Lord, but the exactor is not the master, but one appointed by the master to demand the debts. But the last mite he calls slight and small, for our sins are either heavy or slight. Happy then is he who sin not, and next in happiness he who has sinned slightly. Even among slight sins there is diversity, otherwise he would not say until he has paid the last mite. For if he owes a little, he shall not come out till he pays the last mite. But he who has been guilty of a great debt, will have endless ages for his payment.
BEDE; Or else, our adversary in the way is the word of God, which opposes our carnal desires in this life; from which he is delivered who is subject to its precepts. Else he will be delivered to the judge, for of contempt of God's word the sinner will be accounted guilty in the judgment of the judge. The judge will deliver him to the officer, that is, the evil spirit for punishment. He will then be cast into prison, that is, to hell, where because he will ever have to pay the penalty by suffering, but never by paying it obtain pardon, he will never come out from thence, but with that most terrible serpent the devil, will expiate everlasting punishment.
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GLOSS. As He had been speaking of the punishments of sinners, the story is fitly told Him of the punishment of certain particular sinners, from which He takes occasion to denounce vengeance also against other sinners: as it is said, There were present at that season some that told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
CYRIL; For these were followers of the opinions of Judas of Galilee, of whom Luke makes mention in the Acts of the Apostles, who said, that we ought to call no man master. Great numbers of them refusing to acknowledge Caesar as their master, were therefore punished by Pilate. They said also that men ought not to offer God any sacrifices that were not ordained in the law of Moses, and so forbade to offer the sacrifices appointed by the people for the safety of the Emperor and the Roman people. Pilate then, being enraged against the Galileans, ordered them to be slain in the midst of the very victims which they thought they might offer according to the custom of their law; so that the blood of the offerers was mingled with that of the victims offered. Now it being generally believed that these Galileans were most justly punished, as sowing offences among the people, the rulers, eager to excite against Him the hatred of the people, relate these things to the Savior, wishing to discover what He thought about them. But He, admitting them to be sinners, does not however judge them to have suffered such things, as though they were worse than those who suffered not. Whence it follows, And he answered an said to them, Suppose you that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, &c.
CHRYS. For God punishes some sinners by cutting off their iniquities, and appointing to them hereafter a lighter punishment, or perhaps even entirely releasing them, and correcting those who are living in wickedness by their punishment. Again, he does not punish others, that if they take heed to themselves by repentance they may escape both the present penalty and future punishment, but if they continue in their sins, suffer still greater torment.
TIT. BOST. And he here plainly shows, that whatever judgments are passed for the punishment of the guilty, happen not only by the authority of the judges, but the will of God. Whether therefore the judge punishes upon the strict grounds of conscience, or has some other object in his condemnation, we must ascribe the work to the Divine appointment.
CYRIL; To save therefore the multitudes, from the intestine seditions, which were excited for the sake of religion, He adds, but unless you repent, and unless you cease to conspire against your rulers, for which you have no divine guidance, You shall all likewise perish, and your blood shall be united to that of your sacrifices.
CHRYS. And herein he shows that He permitted them to suffer such things, that the heirs of the kingdom yet living might be dismayed by the dangers of others. "What then," you will say, "is this man punished, that I might become better?" Nay, but he is punished for his own crimes, and hence arises an opportunity of salvation to those who see it.
BEDE; But because they repented not in the fortieth year of our Lord's Passion, the Romans coming, (whom Pilate represented, as belonging to their nation,) and beginning from Galilee, (whence our Lord's preaching had begun,) utterly destroyed that wicked nation, and defiled with human blood not only the courts of the temples, where they were wont to offer sacrifices, but also the inner parts of the doors, (where there was no entrance to the Galileans.)
CHRYS. Again, there had been eighteen others crushed to death by the falling of a tower, of whom He adds the same things, as it follows, Or those eighteen upon whom the tower of Siloam fell and slew them, think you that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay, For he does not punish all in this life, giving them a time meet for repentance. Nor however does he reserve all for future punishment, lest men should deny His providence.
TIT. BOST. Now one tower is compared to the whole city, that the destruction of a part may alarm the whole. Hence it is added, But, except you repent, you shall all likewise perish; as if He said, The whole city shall shortly be smitten if the inhabitants continue in impenitence.
AMBROSE; In those whose blood Pilate mingled with the sacrifices, there seems to be a certain mystical type, which concerns all who by the compulsion of the Devil offer not a pure sacrifice, whose prayer is for a sin, as it was written of Judas, who when he was amongst the sacrifices devised the betrayal of our Lord's blood.
BEDE; For Pilate, who is interpreted, "The mouth of the hammerer," signifies the devil ever ready to strike. The blood expresses sin, the sacrifices good actions. Pilate then mingles the blood of the Galileans with their sacrifices when the devil stains the alms and other good works of the faithful either by carnal indulgence, or by courting the praise of men, or any other defilement. Those men of Jerusalem also who were crushed by the falling of the tower, signify that the Jews who refuse to repent will perish within their own walls. Nor without meaning is the number eighteen given, (which number among the Greeks is made up of I and H, that is, of the same letters with which the name of Jesus begins.) And it signifies that the Jews were chiefly to perish, because they would not receive the name of the Savior. That tower represents Him who is the tower of strength. And this is rightly in Siloam, which is interpreted, "sent;" for it signifies Him who, sent by the Father, came into the world, and who shall grind to powder all on whom He falls.
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TIT. BOST. The Jews were boasting, that while the eighteen had perished, they all remained unhurt. He therefore sets before them the parable of the fig tree, for it follows, He spoke also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard.
AMBROSE; There was a vineyard of the Lord of hosts, which He gave for a spoil to the Gentiles. And the comparison of the fig tree to the synagogue is well chosen, because as that tree abounds with wide and spreading foliage, and deceives the hopes of its possessor with the vain expectation of promised fruit, so also in the synagogue, while its teachers are unfruitful in good works, yet magnify themselves with words as with abundant leaves, the empty shadow of the law stretches far and wide. This tree also is the only one which puts forth fruit in place of flowers. And the fruit falls, that other fruit may succeed; yet some few of the former remain, and do not fall. For the first people of the synagogue fell off as a useless fruit, in order that out of the fruitfulness of the old religion might arise the new people of the Church; yet they who were the first out of Israel whom a branch of a stronger nature bore, under the shadow of the law and the cross, in the bosom of both, stained with a double juice after the example of a ripening fig, surpassed all others in the grace of most excellent fruits; to whom it is said, You shall sit upon twelve thrones. Some however think the fig tree to be a figure not of the synagogue, but of wickedness and treachery; y et these differ in nothing from what has gone before, except that they choose the genus instead of the species.
BEDE; The Lord Himself who established the synagogue by Moses, came born in the flesh, and frequently teaching in the synagogue, sought for the fruits of faith, but in the hearts of the Pharisees found none; therefore it follows, And came seeking fruit on it, and found none.
AMBROSE; But our Lord sought, not because He was ignorant that the fig tree had no fruit, but that He might show in a figure that the synagogue ought by this time to have fruit. Lastly, from what follows, He teaches that He Himself came not before the time who came after three years. For so it is said, Then said he to the dresser of the vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none. He came to Abraham, He came to Moses, He came to Mary, that is, He came in the seal of the covenant, He came in the law, He came in the body. We recognise His coming by His gifts; at one time purification, at another sanctification, at another justification. Circumcision purified, the law sanctified, grace justified. The Jewish people then could not be purified because they had not the circumcision of the heart, but of the body; nor be sanctified, because ignorant of the meaning of the law, they followed carnal things rather than spiritual; nor justified, because not working repentance for the their offences, they knew nothing of grace. Rightly then was there no fruit found in the synagogue, and consequently it is ordered to be cut down; for it follows, Cut it down, why cumbers it the ground? But the merciful dresser, perhaps meaning him on whom the Church is founded, foreseeing that another would be sent to the Gentiles, but he himself to them who were of the circumcision, piously intercedes that it may not be cut off; trusting to his calling, that the Jewish people also might be saved through the Church.
Hence it follows, And he answering said to him, Lord, let it alone this year also. He soon perceived hardness of bears and pride to be the causes of the barrenness of the Jews. He knew therefore how to discipline, who knew how to censure faults. Therefore adds He, till I shall dig about it. He promises that the hardness of their hearts shall be dug about by the Apostles' spades, lest a heap of earth cover up and obscure the root of wisdom. And He adds, and dung it, that is, by the grace of humility, by which even the fig is thought to become fruitful toward the Gospel of Christ. Hence He adds, And if it bear fruit, well, that is, it shall be well, but if not, then after that you shall cut it down.
BEDE; Which indeed came to pass under the Romans, by whom the Jewish nation was cut off, and thrust out from the land of promise.
AUG. Or, in another sense, the fig tree is the race of mankind. For the first man after he had sinned concealed with fig leaves his nakedness, that is, the members from which we derive our birth.
THEOPHYL. But each one of us also is a fig tree planted in the vineyard of God, that is, in the Church, or in the world.
GREG. But our Lord came three times to the fig tree, because He sought after man's nature before the law, under the law, and under grace, by waiting, admonishing, visiting; but yet He complains that for three years he found no fruit, for there are some wicked men whose hearts are neither corrected by the law of nature breathed into them, nor instructed by precepts, nor converted by the miracles of His incarnation.
THEOPHYL. Our nature yields no fruit though three times sought for; once indeed when we transgressed the commandment in paradise; the second time, when they made the molten calf under the law; thirdly, when they rejected the Savior. But that three years' time must be understood to mean also the three ages of life, boyhood, manhood, and old age.
GREG. But with great fear and trembling should we hear the word which follows, Cut it down, why cumbers it the ground. For every one according to his measure, in whatsoever station of life he is, except he show forth the fruits of good works, like an unfruitful tree, cumbers the ground; for wherever he is himself placed, he there denies to another the opportunity of working.
PSEUDO-BASIL; For it is the part of God's mercy not silently to inflict punishment, but to send forth threatenings to recall the sinner to repentance, as He did to the men of Nineveh, and now to the dresser of the vineyard, saying, Cut it down, exciting him indeed to the care of it, and stirring up the barren soil to bring forth the proper fruits.
GREG. NAZ. Let us not then strike suddenly, but overcome by gentleness, lest we cut down the fig tree still able to bear fruit, which the care perhaps of a skillful dresser will restore. Hence it is also here added, And he answering said to him, Lord, let alone, &c.
GREG. By the dresser of the vineyard is represented the order of Bishops, who, by ruling over the Church, take care of our Lord's vineyard.
THEOPHYL. Or the master of the household is God the Father, the dresser is Christ, who will not have the fig tree cut down as barren, as if saying to the Father, Although through the Law and the Prophets they gave no fruit of repentance, I will water them with My sufferings and teaching, and perhaps they will yield us fruits of obedience.
AUG. Or, the husbandmen who intercedes is every holy man who ho within the Church prays for them that are without the Church, saying, O Lord, O Lord, let it alone this year, that is, for that time vouchsafed under grace, until I dig about it. To dig about it, is to teach humility and patience, for the ground which has been dug is lowly. The dung signifies the soiled garments, but they bring forth fruit. The soiled garment of the dresser, is the grief and mourning of sinners; for they who do penance and do it truly are in soiled garments.
GREG. Or, the sins of the flesh are called the dung. From this then the tree revives to bear fruit again, for from the remembrance of sin the soul quickens itself to good works. But there are very many who hear reproof, and yet despise the return to repentance; wherefore it is added, And if it bear fruit, well.
AUG. That is, it will be well, but if not, then after that you shall cut it down; namely, when you shall come to judge the quick and the dead. In the mean time it is now spared.
GREG. But he who will not by correction grow rich to fruitfulness, falls to that place from whence he is no more able to rise again by repentance.
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