2nd Sunday of Advent (Year A)

December 4, 2022

INTRODUCTIONLECTORSHOMILIESVIDEO ARCHIVECOMMENTARYCHURCH FATHERSECUMENICAL RESOURCESPAPAL HOMILIESHOMILY STARTERSFAITH SHARINGCHILDREN ACTIVITIESMUSIC

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Sunday Commentary from
the Church Fathers

2nd Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Isaiah 11:1-10

GREGORY OF ELVIRA

From His Roots

One who is born from God cannot be anything other than God.

Just as when a lion is born from a lion, the nature is not changed but is shown to have a common source, so also one who is born from God cannot be anything other than God. But he calls him a lion’s cub for the purpose of signifying the Son. Indeed, he adds “from a sprout, my son, you have gone up,” because he wants to show us that Christ came from the sprout of Judah, as it was also said through the prophet Isaiah: “there will come forth a rod [virga] out of the root of Jesse, and a flower will go up from his root.” This Jesse was the father of David, from whose root, that is, source, the Virgin Mary [maria virgo] was born. That Isaiah refers to a “rod” [virga] and to a “flower” from the rod suggests that the flower which is Christ would be born from a virgin [virgine]. ORIGEN’S TRACTATE ON THE BOOKS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE 6.35–36.

2nd Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Romans 15:4-9

AMBROSIASTER

Greater Love Has No Man Than This

Please God by following the example of the Lord

As if he had been sent for their salvation, the apostle charges the people with a good wish, praying that God may grant them a common understanding of his wisdom according to Christ Jesus, so that they may be wise in the teaching of Christ. For then they will be able to please God by following the example of the Lord, who said: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends” and his brethren, and with one voice and one confession magnify God the Father in Christ. COMMENTARY ON PAUL’S EPISTLES.

2nd Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Matthew 3:1-12

CHROMATIUS

Remove the Stones from the Road

Build roads of justice.”

Hence John prepared these ways of mercy and truth, faith and justice. Concerning them, Jeremiah also declared, “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it.” Because the heavenly kingdom is found along these ways, not without good reason John adds, “The kingdom of heaven is near.” So do you want the kingdom of heaven to also be near for you? Prepare these ways in your heart, in your senses and in your soul. Pave within you the way of chastity, the way of faith and the way of holiness. Build roads of justice. Remove every scandal of offense from your heart. For it is written: “Remove the stones from the road.” And then, indeed, through the thoughts of your heart and the very movements of your soul, Christ the King will enter along certain paths. TRACTATE ON MATTHEW 8.1.

SOURCE: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (29 Volumes), Edited by Thomas C. Oden, InterVarsity Press ©2014, Used with permission. [NOTE: Though it is by a Protestant publisher, it is the best commentary of its kind out there at present. Both Fr. Pacwa, S.J. and Jimmy Akin recommend it.

THOMAS AQUINAS

Catena Aurea

2nd Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Matthew 3:1-3

1. In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judæa,

2. And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

3. For this is he that was spoken of by the Prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.

COMMENTARY

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. The Sun as he approaches the horizon, and before he is yet visible, sends out his rays and makes the eastern sky to glow with light, that Aurora going before may herald the coming day. Thus the Lord at His birth in this earth, and before He shews Himself, enlightens John by the rays of His Spirit’s teaching, that he might go before and announce the Saviour that was to come. Therefore after having related the birth of Christ, before proceeding to His teaching and baptism, (wherein he received such testimony,) he first premises somewhat of the Baptist and forerunner of the Lord. In those days, &c.

REMIGIUS. In these words (ver. 1.) we have not only time, place, and person, respecting St. John, but also his office and employment. First the time, generally; In those days.

AUGUSTINE. (De Con. Evan. ii. 6.) Luke describes the time by the reigning sovereigns. (Luke 3:1.) But Matthew must be understood to speak of a wider space of time by the phrase ‘those days,’ than the fifteenth year of Tiberius. Having related Christ’s return from Egypt, which must be placed in early boyhood or even infancy, to make it agree with what Luke has told of His being in the temple at twelve years old, he adds directly, In those days, not intending thereby only the days of His childhood, but all the days from His birth to the preaching of John.

REMIGIUS. The man is mentioned in the words came John, that is, shewed himself, having abode so long in obscurity.

CHRYSOSTOM. (non occ.) But why must John thus go before Christ with a witness of deeds preaching Him? First; that we might hence learn Christ’s dignity, that He also, as the Father has, has prophets, in the words of Zacharias, And thou, Child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest. (Luke 1:76.) Secondly; That the Jews might have no cause for offence; as He declared, John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a gluttonous man. (Luke 7:33.) It needeth moreover that the things concerning Christ should be told by some other first, and not by Himself; or what would the Jews have said, who after the witness of John made complaint, Thou bearest witness of thyself, thy witness is not true. (John 8:13.)

REMIGIUS. (ap. Anselm.) His office; the Baptist; in this he prepared the way of the Lord, for had not men been used to be baptized, they would have shunned Christ’s baptism. His employment; Preaching;

RABANUS. For because Christ was to preach, as soon as it seemed the fit time, that is, about thirty years of age, he began by his preaching to make ready the way for the Lord.

REMIGIUS. The place; the desert of Judæa.

MAXIMUS. (Hom. in Joan. Bap. nat. 1.) Where neither a noisy mob would interrupt his preaching, and whither no unbelieving hearer would retire; but those only would hear, who sought to his preaching from motives of divine worship.

JEROME. (In. Is. 40:3.) Consider how the salvation of God, and the glory of the Lord, is preached not in Jerusalem, but in the solitude of the Church, in the wilderness to multitudes.

HILARY. Or, he came to Judæa, desert by the absence of God, not of population, that the place of preaching might witness the few to whom the preaching was sent.

GLOSS. (ap. Anselm.) The desert typically means a life removed from the temptations of the world, such as befits the penitent.

AUGUSTINE. (Serm.) Unless one repent him of his former life, he cannot begin a new life.

HILARY. He therefore preaches repentance when the Kingdom of Heaven approaches; by which we return from error, we escape from sin, and after shame for our faults, we make profession of forsaking them.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. In the very commencement he shews himself the messenger of a merciful Prince; he comes not with threats to the offender, but with offers of mercy. It is a custom with kings to proclaim a general pardon on the birth of a son, but first they send throughout their kingdom officers to exact severe fines. But God willing at the birth of His Son to give pardon of sins, first sends His officer proclaiming, Repent ye. O exaction which leaves none poor, but makes many rich! For even when we pay our just debt of righteousness we do God no service, but only gain our own salvation. Repentance cleanses the heart, enlightens the sense, and prepares the human soul for the reception of Christ, as he immediately adds, For the Kingdom of Hearen is at hand.

JEROME. John Baptist is the first to preach the Kingdom of Heaven, that the forerunner of the Lord may have this honourable privilege.

CHRYSOSTOM. And he preaches what the Jews had never heard, not even from the Prophets, Heaven, namely, and the Kingdom that is there, and of the kingdoms of the earth he says nothing. Thus by the novelty of those things of which he speaks, he gains their attention to Him whom he preaches.

REMIGIUS. The Kingdom of Heaven has a fourfold meaning. It is said, of Christ, as The Kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:21.) Of Holy Scripture, as, The Kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. (Mat. 21:43.) Of the Holy Church, as, The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto ten virgins. (Mat. 25.) Of the abode above, as, Many shall come from the East and the West, and shall sit down in the Kingdom of Heaven. (Mat. 8:11.) And all these significations may be here understood.

GLOSS. (ord.) The Kingdom of Heaven shall come nigh you; for if it approached not, none would be able to gain it; for weak and blind they had not the way, which was Christ.

AUGUSTINE. (De Cons. Ev. ii. 12.) The other Evangelists omit these words of John. What follows, This is He, &c. it is not clear whether the Evangelist speaks them in his own person, or whether they are part of John’s preaching, and the whole from Repent ye, to Esaias the prophet, is to be assigned to John. It is of no importance that he says, This is he, and not, I am he; for Matthew speaking of himself says, He found a man sitting at the toll-office; (Mat. 9:9.) not He found me. Though when asked what he said of himself, he answered, as is related by John the Evangelist, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.

GREGORY. (Hom. in Ev. i. 7. 2.) It is well known that the Only-begotten Son is called the Word of the Father; as in John, In the beginning was the Word. (John 1:1.) But it is by our own speech that we are known; the voice sounds that the words may be heard. Thus John the forerunner of the Lord’s coming is called, The voice, because by his ministry the voice of the Father is heard by men.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. The voice is a confused sound, discovering no secret of the heart, only signifying that he who utters it desires to say somewhat; it is the word that is the speech that openeth the mystery of the heart. Voice is common to men and other animals, word peculiar to man. John then is called the voice and not the word, because God did not discover His counsels through him, but only signified that He was about to do something among men; but afterwards by His Son he fully opened the mystery of his will.

RABANUS. He is rightly called, The voice of one crying, on account of the loud sound of his preaching. Three things cause a man to speak loud; when the person he speaks to is at a distance, or is deaf, or if the speaker be angry; and all these three were then found in the human race.

GLOSS. (ord.) John then is, as it were, the voice of the word crying. The word is heard by the voice, that is, Christ by John.

BEDE. (Gloss. ord. in cap. iv. 1.) In like manner has He cried from the beginning through the voice of all who have spoken aught by inspiration. And yet is John only called, The voice; because that Word which others shewed afar off, he declares as nigh.

GREGORY. (Hom. in Ev. i. 7. 2.) Crying in the desert, because he shews to deserted and forlorn Judæa the approaching consolation of her Redeemer.

REMIGIUS. Though as far as historical fact is concerned, he chose the desert, to be removed from the crowds of people. What the purport of his cry was is insinuated, when he adds, Make ready the way of the Lord.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. As a great King going on a progress is preceded by couriers to cleanse what is foul, repair what is broken down; so John preceded the Lord to cleanse the human heart from the filth of sin, by the besom of repentance, and to gather by an ordinance of spiritual precepts those things which had been scattered abroad.

GREGORY. (Hom. in Ev. i. 20. 3.) Every one who preacheth right faith and good works, prepares the Lord’s way to the hearts of the hearers, and makes His paths straight, in cleansing the thoughts by the word of good preaching.

GLOSS. (interlin.) Or, faith is the way by which the word reaches the heart; when the life is amended the paths are made straight

2nd Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Matthew 3:4

Ver. 4. And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.

COMMENTARY

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. Having said that he is the voice of one crying in the desert, the Evangelist well adds, John had his clothing of camel’s hair; thus shewing what his life was; for he indeed testified of Christ, but his life testified of himself. No one is fit to be another’s witness till he has first been his own.

HILARY. For the preaching of John no place more suitable, no clothing more useful, no food more fitted.

JEROME. His raiment of camel’s hair, not of wool—the one the mark of austerity in dress, the other of a delicate luxury.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. It becomes the servants of God to use a dress not for elegant appearance, or for cherishing of the body, but for a covering of the nakedness. Thus John wears a garment not soft and delicate, but hairy, heavy, rough, rather wounding the skin than cherishing it, that even the very clothing of his body told of the virtue of his mind. It was the custom of the Jews to wear girdles of wool; so he desiring something less indulgent wore one of skin.

JEROME. Food moreover suited to a dweller in the desert, no choice viands, but such as satisfied the necessities of the body.

RABANUS. Content with poor fare; to wit, small insects and honey gathered from the trunks of trees. In the sayings of Arnulphusa, Bishop of Gaul, we find that there was a very small kind of locust in the deserts of Judæa, with bodies about the thickness of a finger and short; they are easily taken among the grass, and when cooked in oil form a poor kind of food. He also relates, that in the same desert there is a kind of tree, with a large round leaf, of the colour of milk and taste of honey, so friable as to rub to powder in the hand, and this is what is intended by wild honey.

REMIGIUS. In this clothing and this poor food, he shews that he sorrows for the sins of the whole human race.

RABANUS. His dress and diet express the quality of his inward conversation. His garment was of an austere quality, because he rebuked the sinner’s life.

JEROME. His girdle of skin, which Elias also bare, is the mark of mortification.

RABANUS. He ate locusts and honey, because his preaching was sweet to the multitude, but was of short continuance; and honey has sweetness, locusts a swift flight but soon fall to the ground.

REMIGIUS. In John (which name is interpreted ‘the grace of God,’) is figured Christ who brought grace into the world; in his clothing, the Gentile Church.

HILARY. The preacher of Christ is clad in the skins of unclean beasts, to which the Gentiles are compared, and so by the Prophets’ dress is sanctified whatever in them was useless or unclean. The girdle is a thing of much efficacy to every good work, that we may be girt for every ministry of Christ. For his food are chosen locusts, which fly the face of man, and escape from every approach, signifying ourselves who were borne away from every word or speech of good by a spontaneous motion of the body, weak in will, barren in works, fretful in speech, foreign in abode, are now become the food of the Saints, chosen to fill the Prophets’ desire, furnishing our most sweet food not from the hives of the law, but from the trunks of wild trees.

Having said that he is the voice of one crying in the desert, the Evangelist well adds, John had his clothing of camel’s hair; thus shewing what his life was; for he indeed testified of Christ, but his life testified of himself. No one is fit to be another’s witness till he has first been his own.

HILARY. For the preaching of John no place more suitable, no clothing more useful, no food more fitted.

JEROME. His raiment of camel’s hair, not of wool—the one the mark of austerity in dress, the other of a delicate luxury.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. It becomes the servants of God to use a dress not for elegant appearance, or for cherishing of the body, but for a covering of the nakedness. Thus John wears a garment not soft and delicate, but hairy, heavy, rough, rather wounding the skin than cherishing it, that even the very clothing of his body told of the virtue of his mind. It was the custom of the Jews to wear girdles of wool; so he desiring something less indulgent wore one of skin.

JEROME. Food moreover suited to a dweller in the desert, no choice viands, but such as satisfied the necessities of the body.

RABANUS. Content with poor fare; to wit, small insects and honey gathered from the trunks of trees. In the sayings of Arnulphusa, Bishop of Gaul, we find that there was a very small kind of locust in the deserts of Judæa, with bodies about the thickness of a finger and short; they are easily taken among the grass, and when cooked in oil form a poor kind of food. He also relates, that in the same desert there is a kind of tree, with a large round leaf, of the colour of milk and taste of honey, so friable as to rub to powder in the hand, and this is what is intended by wild honey.

REMIGIUS. In this clothing and this poor food, he shews that he sorrows for the sins of the whole human race.

RABANUS. His dress and diet express the quality of his inward conversation. His garment was of an austere quality, because he rebuked the sinner’s life.

JEROME. His girdle of skin, which Elias also bare, is the mark of mortification.

RABANUS. He ate locusts and honey, because his preaching was sweet to the multitude, but was of short continuance; and honey has sweetness, locusts a swift flight but soon fall to the ground.

REMIGIUS. In John (which name is interpreted ‘the grace of God,’) is figured Christ who brought grace into the world; in his clothing, the Gentile Church.

HILARY. The preacher of Christ is clad in the skins of unclean beasts, to which the Gentiles are compared, and so by the Prophets’ dress is sanctified whatever in them was useless or unclean. The girdle is a thing of much efficacy to every good work, that we may be girt for every ministry of Christ. For his food are chosen locusts, which fly the face of man, and escape from every approach, signifying ourselves who were borne away from every word or speech of good by a spontaneous motion of the body, weak in will, barren in works, fretful in speech, foreign in abode, are now become the food of the Saints, chosen to fill the Prophets’ desire, furnishing our most sweet food not from the hives of the law, but from the trunks of wild trees.

2nd Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Matthew 3:5-6

5. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan,

6. And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

COMMENTARY

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. Having described the preaching of John, he goes on to say, There went out to him, for his severe life preached yet more loudly in the desert than the voice of his crying.

CHRYSOSTOM. For it was wonderful to see such fortitude in a human body; this it was that chiefly attracted the Jews, seeing in him the great Elias. It also contributed to fill them with wonder that the grace of Prophecy had long failed among them, and now seemed to have at length revived. Also the manner of his preaching being other than that of the old prophets had much effect; for now they heard not such things as they were wont to hear, such as wars, and conquests of the king of Babylon, or of Persia; but of Heaven and the Kingdom there, and the punishment of hell.

GLOSS. (interlin.) This baptism was only a forerunning of that to come, and did not forgive sinsd.

REMIGIUS. The baptism of John bare a figure of the catechumens. As children are only catechized that they may become meet for the sacrament of Baptism; so John baptized, that they who were thus baptized might afterwards by a holy life become worthy of coming to Christ’s baptism. He baptized in Jordan, that the door of the Kingdom of Heaven might be there opened, where an entrance had been given to the children of Israel into the earthly kingdom of promise.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. Compared with the holiness of John, who is there that can think himself righteous? As a white garment if placed near snow would seem foul by the contrast; so compared with John every man would seem impure; therefore they confessed their sins. Confession of sin is the testimony of a conscience fearing God. And perfect fear takes away all shame. But there is seen the shame of confession where there is no fear of the judgment to come. But as shame itself is a heavy punishment, God therefore bids us confess our sins that we may suffer this shame as punishment; for that itself is a part of the judgment.

RABANUS. Rightly are they who are to be baptized said to go out to the Prophet; for unless one depart from sin, and renounce the pomp of the Devil, and the temptations of the world, he cannot receive a healing baptism. Rightly also in Jordan, which means their descent, because they descended from the pride of life to the humility of an honest confession. Thus early was an example given to them that are to be baptized of confessing their sins and professing amendment.

2nd Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Matthew 3:7-10

7. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

8. Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:

9. And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

10. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

COMMENTARY

GREGORY. (De Cur. Past. iii. in prol.) The words of the teachers should be fitted to the quality of the hearers, that in each particular it should agree with itself and yet never depart from the fortress of general edification.

GLOSS. (non occ.) It was necessary that after the teaching which he used to the common people, the Evangelist should give an example of the doctrine he delivered to the more advanced; therefore he says, Seeing many of the Pharisees, &c.

ISIDORE. (Orig. viii. 4.) The Pharisees and Sadducees opposed to one another; Pharisee in the Hebrew signifies ‘divided;’ because choosing the justification of traditions and observances they were ‘divided’ or ‘separated’ from the people by this righteousness. Sadducee in the Hebrew means ‘just;’ for these laid claim to be what they were not, denied the resurrection of the body, and taught that the soul perished with the body; they only received the Pentateuch, and rejected the Prophets.

GLOSS. (non occ.) When John saw those who seemed to be of great consideration among the Jews come to his baptism, he said to them, O generation of vipers, &c.

REMIGIUS. The manner of Scripture is to give names from the imitation of deeds, according to that of Ezekiel, Thy father was an Amorite; (Ezek. 16:3.) so these from following vipers are called generation of vipers.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. As a skilful physician from the colour of the skin infers the sick man’s disease, so John understood the evil thoughts of the Pharisees who came to him. They thought perhaps, We go, and confess our sins; he imposes no burden on us, we will be baptized, and get indulgence for sin. Fools! if ye have eaten of impurity, must ye not needs take physic? So after confession and baptism, a man needs much diligence to heal the wound of sin; therefore he says, Generation of vipers. It is the nature of the viper as soon as it has bit a man to fly to the water, which, if it cannot find, it straightway dies; so this progeny of vipers, after having committed deadly sin, ran to baptism, that, like vipers, they might escape death by means of water. Moreover it is the nature of vipers to burst the insides of their mothers, and so to be born. The Jews then are therefore called progeny of vipers, because by continual persecution of the prophets they had corrupted their mother the Synagogue. Also vipers have a beautiful and speckled outside, but are filled with poison within. So these men’s countenances wore a holy appearance.

REMIGIUS. When then he asks, who will shew you to flee from the wrath to come,—‘except God’ must be understood.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. Or who hath shewed you? Was it Esaias? Surely no; had he taught you, you would not put your trust in water only, but also in good works; he thus speaks, Wash you, and be clean; put your wickedness away from your souls, learn to do well. (Is. 1:16.) Was it then David? who says, Thou shall wash me, and I shall he whiter than snow; (Ps. 51:7.) surely not, for he adds immediately, The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit. If then ye had been the disciples of David, ye would have come to baptism with mournings.

REMIGIUS. But if we read, shall shew, in the future, this is the meaning, ‘What teacher, what preacher, shall be able to give you such counsel, as that ye may escape the wrath of everlasting damnation?’

AUGUSTINE. (De Civ. Dei, ix. 5.) God is described in Scripture, from some likeness of effects, not from being subject to such weakness, as being angry, and yet is He never moved by any passion. The word ‘wrath’ is applied to the effects of his vengeance, not that God suffers any disturbing affection.

GLOSS. If then ye would escape this wrath, Bring forth fruits meet for repentance.

GREGORY. (Hom. in Ev. xx. 8.) Observe, he says not merely fruits of repentance, but fruits meet for repentance. For he who has never fallen into things unlawful, is of right allowed the use of all things lawful; but if any hath fallen into sin, he ought so far to put away from him even things lawful, as far as he is conscious of having used unlawful things. It is left then to such man’s conscience to seek so much the greater gains of good works by repentance, the greater loss he has brought on himself by sin. The Jews who gloried in their race, would not own themselves sinners because they were Abraham’s seed. Say not among yourselves we are Abraham’s seed.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. xi.) He does not forbid them to say they are his, but to trust in that, neglecting virtues of the soul.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. What avails noble birth to him whose life is disgraceful? Or, on the other hand, what hurt is a low origin to him who has the lustre of virtue? It is fitter that the parents of such a son should rejoice over him, than he over his parents. So do not you pride yourselves on having Abraham for your father, rather blush that you inherit his blood, but not his holiness. He who has no resemblance to his father is possibly the offspring of adultery. These words then only exclude boasting on account of birth.

RABANUS. Because as a preacher of truth he wished to stir them up, to bring forth fruit meet for repentance, he invites them to humility, without which no one can repent.

REMIGIUS. There is a tradition, that John preached at that place of the Jordan, where the twelve stones taken from the bed of the river had been set up by command of God. He might then be pointing to these, when he said, Of these stones.

JEROME. He intimates God’s great power, who, as he made all things out of nothing, can make men out of the hardest stone.

GLOSS. (ord.) It is faith’s first lesson to believe that God is able to do whatever He will.

CHRYSOSTOM. That men should be made out of stones, is like Isaac coming from Sarah’s womb; Look into the rock, says Isaiah, whence ye were hewn. Reminding them thus of this prophecy, he shews that it is possible that the like might even now happen.

RABANUS. Otherwise; the Gentiles may be meant who worshipped stones.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. Stone is hard to work, but when wrought to some shape, it loses it not; so the Gentiles were hardly brought to the faith, but once brought they abide in it for ever.

JEROME. These stones signify the Gentiles because of their hardness of heart. See Ezekiel, I will take away from you the heart of stone, and give you the heart of flesh. Stone is emblematic of hardness, flesh of softness.

RABANUS. Of stones there were sons raised up to Abraham; forasmuch as the Gentiles by believing in Christ, who is Abraham’s seed, became his sons to whose seed they were united.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. The axe is that most sharp fury of the consummation of all things, that is to hew down the whole world. But if it be already laid, how hath it not yet cut down? Because these trees have reason and free power to do good, or leave undone; so that when they see the axe laid to their root, they may fear and bring forth fruit. This denunciation of wrath then, which is meant by the laying of the axe to the root, though it have no effect on the bad, yet will sever the good from the bad.

JEROME. Or, the preaching of the Gospel is meant, as the Prophet Jeremiah also compares the Word of the Lord to an axe cleaving the rock. (Jer. 23:29.)

GREGORY. (Hom. in Ev. xx. 9.) Or, the axe signifies the Redeemer, who as an axe of haft and blade, so consisting of the Divine and human nature, is held by His human, but cuts by His Divine nature. And though this axe be laid at the root of the tree waiting in patience, it is yet seen what it will do; for each obstinate sinner who here neglects the fruit of good works, finds the fire of hell ready for him. Observe, the axe is laid to the root, not to the branches; for that when the children of wickedness are removed, the branches only of the unfruitful tree are cut away. But when the whole offspring with their parent is carried off, the unfruitful tree is cut down by the root, that there remain not whence the evil shoots should spring up again.

CHRYSOSTOM. By saying Every, he cuts off all privilege of nobility: as much as to say, Though thou be the son of Abraham, if thou abide fruitless thou shalt suffer the punishment.

RABANUS. There are four sorts of trees; the first totally withered, to which the Pagans may be likened; the second, green but unfruitful, as the hypocrites; the third, green and fruitful, but poisonous, such are heretics; the fourth, green and bringing forth good fruit, to which are like the good Catholics.

GREGORY. Therefore every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down, and cast into the fire, because he who here neglects to bring forth the fruit of good works finds a fire in hell prepared for him.

2nd Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Matthew 3:11-12

11. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, Whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

12. Whose fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

COMMENTARY

GLOSS. (non occ.) As in the preceding words John had explained more at length what he had shortly preached in the words, Repent ye, so now follows a more full enlargement of the words, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

GREGORY. (Hom. in Ev. vii. 3.) John baptizes not with the Spirit but with water, because he had no power to forgive sins; he washes the body with water, but not at the same time the soul with pardon of sin.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. x. 1.) For while as yet the sacrifice had not been offered, nor remission of sin sent, nor the Spirit had descended on the water, how could sin be forgiven? But since the Jews never perceived their own sin, and this was the cause of all their evils, John came to bring them to a sense of them by calling them to repentance.

GREGORY. (ubi sup.) Why then does he baptize who could not remit sin, but that he may preserve in all things the office of forerunner? As his birth had preceded Christ’s birth, so his baptism should precede the Lord’s baptism.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. Or, John was sent to baptize, that to such as came to his baptism he might announce the presence among them of the Lord in the flesh, as himself testifies in another place, That He might be manifested to Israel, therefore am I come to baptise with water. (John 1:31.)

AUGUSTINE. (in Joann. Tract. v. 5.) Or, he baptizes, because it behoved Christ to be baptized. But if indeed John was sent only to baptize Christ, why was not He alone baptized by John? Because had the Lord alone been baptized by John, there would not have lacked who should insist that John’s baptism was greater than Christ’s, inasmuch as Christ alone had the merit to be baptized by it.

RABANUS. Or, by this sign of baptism he separates the penitent from the impenitent, and directs them to the baptism of Christ.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. Because then he baptized on account of Christ, therefore to them who came to him for baptism he preached that Christ should come, signifying the eminence of His power in the words, He who cometh after me is mightier than I.

REMIGIUS. There are five points in which Christ comes after John, His birth, preaching, baptism, death, and descent into hell. A beautiful expression is that, mightier than I, because he is mere man, the other is God and man.

RABANUS. As though he had said, I indeed am mighty to invite to repentance, He to forgive sins; I to preach the kingdom of heaven, He to bestow it; I to baptize with water, He with the Spirit.

CHRYSOSTOM. When you hear for He is mightier than I, do not suppose this to be said by way of comparison, for I am not worthy to be numbered among his servants, that I might undertake the lowest office.

HILARY. Leaving to the Apostles the glory of bearing about the Gospel, to whose beautiful feet was due the carrying the tidings of God’s peace.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. Or, by the feet of Christ we may understand Christians, especially the Apostles, and other preachers, among whom was John Baptist; and the shoes are the infirmities with which he loads the preachers. These shoes all Christ’s preachers wear; and John also wore them; but declares himself unworthy, that he might shew the grace of Christ, and be greater than his deserts.

JEROME. In the other Gospels it is, whose shoe latchet I am not worthy to loose. Here his humility, there his ministry is intended; Christ is the Bridegroom, and John is not worthy to loose the Bridegroom’s shoe, that his house be not called according to the Law of Moses and the example of Ruth, The house of him that hath his shoe loosed. (Deut. 25:10.)

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. But since no one can give a benefit more worthy than he himself is, nor to make another what himself is not, he adds, He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire. John who is carnal cannot give spiritual baptism; he baptizes with water, which is matter; so that he baptizes matter with matter. Christ is Spirit, because He is God; the Holy Ghost is Spirit, the soul is spirit; so that Spirit with Spirit baptizes our spirit. The baptism of the Spirit profits as the Spirit enters and embraces the mind, and surrounds it as it were with an impregnable wall, not suffering fleshly lusts to prevail against it. It does not indeed prevail that the flesh should not lust, but holds the will that it should not consent with it. And as Christ is Judge, He baptizes in fire, i. e. temptation; mere man cannot baptize in fire. He alone is free to tempt, who is strong to reward. This baptism of tribulation burns up the flesh that it does not generate lust, for the flesh does not fear spiritual punishment, but only such as is carnal. The Lord therefore sends carnal tribulation on his servants, that the flesh fearing its own pains, may not lust after evil. See then how the Spirit drives away lust, and suffers it not to prevail, and the fire burns up its very roots.

JEROME. Either the Holy Ghost Himself is a fire, as we learn from the Acts, when there sat as it were fire on the tongues of the believers; and thus the word of the Lord was fulfilled who said, I am come to send fire on the earth, I will that it burn. (Luke 12:49.) Or, we are baptized now with the Spirit, hereafter with fire; as the Apostle speaks, Fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it ise. (1 Cor. 3:13.)

CHRYSOSTOM. He does not say, shall give you the Holy Ghost, but shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost, shewing in metaphor the abundance of the grace. fThis further shews, that even under the faith there is need of the will alone for justification, not of labours and toilings; and even as easy a thing as it is to be baptized, even so easy a thing it is to be changed and made better. By fire he signifies the strength of grace which cannot be overcome, and that it may be understood that He makes His own people at once like to the great and old prophets, most of the prophetic visions were by fire.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. It is plain then that the baptismg of Christ does not undo the baptism of John, but includes it in itself; he who is baptized in Christ’s name hath both baptisms, that of water and that of the Spirit. For Christ is Spirit, and hath taken to Him the body that He might give both bodily and spiritual baptism. John’s baptism does not include in it the baptism of Christ, because the less cannot include the greater. Thus the Apostle having found certain Ephesians baptized with John’s baptism, baptized them again in the name of Christ, because they had not been baptized in the Spirit: thus Christ baptized a second time those who had been baptized by John, as John himself declared he should, I baptize you with water; but He shall baptize you with the Spirit. And yet they were not baptized twice but once; for as the baptism of Christ was more than that of John, it was a new one given, not the same repeated.

HILARY. He marks the time of our salvation and judgment in the Lord; those who are baptized in the Holy Ghost it remains that they be consummated by the fire of judgment.

RABANUS. By the fan is signified the separation of a just trial; that it is in the Lord’s hand, means, ‘in His power,’ as it is written, The Father hath committed all judgment to the Son.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. The floor, is the Church, the barn, is the kingdom of heaven, the field, is the world. The Lord sends forth His Apostles and other teachers, as reapers to reap all nations of the earth, and gather them into the floor of the Church. Here we must be threshed and winnowed, for all men are delighted in carnal things as grain delights in the husk. But whoever is faithful and has the marrow of a good heart, as soon as he has a light tribulation, neglecting carnal things runs to the Lord; but if his faith be feeble, hardly with heavy sorrow; and he who is altogether void of faith, however he may be troubled, passes not over to God. The wheat when first thrashed lies in one heap with chaff and straw, and is after winnowed to separate it; so the faithful are mixed up in one Church with the unfaithful; but persecution comes as a wind, that, tossed by Christ’s fan, they whose hearts were separate before, may be also now separated in place. He shall not merely cleanse, but throughly cleanse; therefore the Church must needs be tried in many ways till this be accomplished. And first the Jews winnowed it, then the Gentiles, now the heretics, and after a time shall Antichrist throughly winnow it. For as when the blast is gentle, only the lighter chaff is carried off, but the heavier remains; so a slight wind of temptation carries off the worst characters only; but should a greater storm arise, even those who seem stedfast will depart. There is need then of heavier persecution that the Church should be cleansed.

REMIGIUS. This His floor, to wit, the Church, the Lord cleanses in this life, both when by the sentence of the Priests the bad are put out of the Church, and when they are cut off by death.

RABANUS. The cleansing of the floor will then be finally accomplished, when the Son of Man shall send His Angels, and shall gather all offences out of His kingdom.

GREGORY. (Mor. xxxiv. 5.) After the threshing is finished in this life, in which the grain now groans under the burden of the chaff, the fan of the last judgment shall so separate between them, that neither shall any chaff pass into the granary, nor shall the grain fall into the fire which consumes the chaff.

HILARY. The wheat, i. e. the full and perfect fruit of the believer, he declares, shall be laid up in heavenly barns; by the chaff he means the emptiness of the unfruitful.

RABANUS. There is this difference between the chaff and the tares, that the chaff is produced of the same seed as the wheat, but the tares from one of another kind. The chaff therefore are those who enjoy the sacraments of the faith, but are not solid; the tares are those who in profession as well as in works are separated from the lot of the good.

REMIGIUS. The unquenchable fire is the punishment of eternal damnation; either because it never totally destroys or consumes those it has once seized on, but torments them eternally; or to distinguish it from purgatorial fire which is kindled for a time and again extinguished.

AUGUSTINE. (de Cons. Ev. ii. 12.) If any asks which were the actual words spoken by John, whether those reported by Matthew, or by Luke, or by Mark, it may be shewn, that there is no difficulty here to him who rightly understands that the sense is essential to our knowledge of the truth, but the words indifferent. And it is clear we ought not to deem any testimony false, because the same fact is related by several persons who were present in different words and different ways. Whoever thinks that the Evangelists might have been so inspired by the Holy Ghost that they should have differed among themselves neither in the choice, nor the number, nor the order of their words, he does not see that by how much the authority of the Evangelists is preeminent, so much the more is to be by them established the veracity of other men in the same circumstances. But the discrepancy may seem to be in the thing, and not only in words, between, I am not worthy to bear His shoes, and, to loose His shoe-latchet. Which of these two expressions did John use? He who has reported the very words will seem to have spoken truth; he who has given other words, though he have not hid, or been forgetful, yet has he said one thing for another. But the Evangelists should be clear of every kind of falseness, not only that of lying, but also that of forgetfulness. If then this discrepancy be important, we may suppose John to have used both expressions, either at different times, or both at the same time. But if he only meant to express the Lord’s greatness and his own humility, whether he used one or the other the sense is preserved, though any one should in his own words repeat the same profession of humility using the figure of the shoes; their will and intention does not differ. This then is a useful rule and one to be remembered, that it is no lie, when one fairly represents his meaning whose speech one is recounting, though one uses other words; if only one shews our meaning to be the same with his. Thus understood it is a wholesome direction, that we are to enquire only after the meaning of the speaker.

SOURCE: eCatholic 2000 Commentary in public domain.

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