Notes & Commentary:
Then Jesus, &c. Jesus thus spoke to the multitude a few days previous to his passion. It is here observable that
our Saviour, after he had tried all possible remedies, after he had taught and confirmed his doctrines by innumerable miracles,
after he had secretly by his parables reprehended them for their wickedness, but without effect, now publicly upbraids their
vices. But before his reprehension of the Pharisees, he instructs the people, lest they should despise the authority of the
Ver. 2. The
Scribes. They, who professed the greatest zeal for the law of Moses, and gloried in being the interpreters of it, sat
upon the chair of Moses, succeeded to his authority of governing the people of God, of instructing them in his law, and of
disclosing to them his will. Such, therefore, as did not depart from the letter of the law, were called Scribes. But such
as professed something higher, and separated themselves from the crowd, as better than the ordinary class of men, were called
Pharisees, which signifies, separated. (Origen) --- God preserveth the truth of the Christian religion in the apostolic
See of Rome, which in the new law answers to the chair of Moses, notwithstanding the disedifying conduct of some few of its
bishops. Yes, though a traitor, as vile as Judas himself, were a bishop thereof, it would not be prejudicial to the integrity
of the faith of God's Church, or to the ready obedience and perfect submission of sincere good Christians, for whom our Lord
has made this provision, when he says: do that which they say, but do not as they do. (St. Augustine, Ep. clxv.)
Ver. 3. All
therefore whatsoever they shall say. St. Augustine, in his defence of the Apostolic See, thus argues, contra lit. Petil.
"Why dost thou call the apostolic chair the chair of pestilence? If, for the men that sit therein, I ask: did our Lord
Jesus Christ, on account of the Pharisees, reflect upon the chair, wherein they sat? Did he not commend that chair of Moses,
and, preserving the honour of the chair, reprove them? For he sayeth: they have sat on the chair of Moses. All therefore
whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do. These points if you did well consider, you would not, for the men whom
you defame, blaspheme the Apostolic See, wherewith you do not hold communion." (lib. ii. chap. 51) And again, chap. 61 Ibid.
"Neither on account of the Pharisees, to whom you maliciously compare us, did our Lord command the chair of Moses to be forsaken;
(in which chair he verily figured his own) for he warned the people to do what they say, and not what they do, and that the
holiness of the chair be in no case forsaken, nor the unity of the flock divided, on account of the wicked lives of the
pastors." --- Christ does not tell them to observe every thing, without exception, that the Pharisees should say to them;
for, (as it was observed in a previous chapter) many superstitions and false ordinances had obtained amongst them, corrupting
the Scriptures by their traditions; but only such as were not contrary to the law of Moses. We are taught to obey bad
no less than good ministers, in those things that are not expressly contrary to the law of God. Hence appears how unfounded
and unreasonable is the excuse so often adduced by persons in justification of their misdeeds, viz. that they saw their pastors
do the same. Such must attend to the rule here given by Jesus Christ. What they say, do: but according to their works, do
ye not. (Denis the Carthusian) --- The words, all whatsoever, shew that nothing must be excepted, but what the supreme
law orders to be excepted. (Estius)
Ver. 4. Heavy
and insupportable burdens. Some understand in general the ceremonies of the law of Moses; but Christ seems rather here
to mean the vain customs, traditions, and additions, introduced by the Jewish doctors, and by their Scribes and Pharisees.
(Witham) --- They thus greatly increase the burden of others, by multiplying their obligations; whilst they will not offer
themselves the least violence in observing them, or alleviating the burden, by taking any share upon their own shoulders.
Ver. 5. Phylacteries.
These were pieces or scrolls of parchment, on which were written the ten commandments, or some sentences of the law, which
the Jews were accustomed to fasten to their foreheads, or their arms, to put them in mind of their duty. Thus they interpreted
those words. (Deuteronomy vi. 8.) Thou shalt tie them as a sign on thy hand: and they shall be, and move before thy eyes.
Perhaps all the Jews, and even our Saviour himself, wore them; and that he only blames the hypocrisy and vanity of the Scribes
and Pharisees, who affected to have them larger than others; and they did the like as to the fringes which the Jews wore on
their garments. (Witham) --- That is, parchments, on which they wrote the ten commandments, and carried on their foreheads
before their eyes: which the Pharisees affected to wear broader than other men: so to seem more zealous for the law. (Challoner)
--- The word Phylacterion, which is found both in the Greek and Latin Vulgate, properly signifies a preservation. It
was a piece of parchment which the Jews carried round their heads from one ear to the other, and round their arms like bracelets,
and upon which were written certain words of the law. Since the origin of the sect of Pharisees, they began to attach to these
bands of parchment chimerical virtues, such as preservatives of maladies, and preservations from the insults of devils; hence
the name phylacterion. (Bible de Vence)
Ver. 7. Rabbi.
A title like that of master or doctor. Judas gave it to our Saviour. (Matthew xxvi. 49.) And the disciples of
St. John the Baptist call him so. (John iii. 26.) --- Christ blames their pride, and vanity in affecting such titles, rather
than the titles themselves. (Witham) --- Didaskalos, properly a preceptor, as John iii. 10. Art thou
a master in Israel, and knowest not these things? (Bible de Vence)
Ver. 8. One
is your master, or teacher, who is the Christ, and under him one vicar, the successor of St. Peter, with whom all Catholic
teachers are one, because they all teach one and the same doctrine in every part of the Christian world; whereas in the multiplicity
of modern sects, which are every day dividing and subdividing into fresh sects, no two leaders can be found teaching in all
points exactly the same tenets; as each is not only allowed, but expected to follow his own private spirit, and to build his
creed upon his own interpretation of Scripture. (Haydock)
Ver. 9-10. Call
none your father ... Neither be ye called masters, &c. The meaning is, that our Father in heaven is incomparably more
to be regarded, than any father upon earth: and no master is to be followed, who would lead us away from Christ. But this
does not hinder but that we are by the law of God to have a due respect both for our parents and spiritual fathers, (1 Corinthians
iv. 15,) and for our masters and teachers. (Challoner) --- This name was a title of dignity: the presidents of the assembly
of twenty-three judges where so called; the second judge of the sanhedrim, &c. (Bible de Vence) --- Nothing is here forbidden
but the contentious divisions, and self-assumed authority, of such as make themselves leaders and favourers of schisms and
sects; as Donatus, Arius, Luther, Calvin, and innumerable others of very modern date. But by no means the title of father,
attributed by the faith, piety, and confidence of good people, to their directors; for, St. Paul tells the Corinthians, that
he is their only spiritual Father: If you have 10,000 instructors in Christ, yet not many Fathers. (1 Corinthians iv.
Ver. 13. You
shut the kingdom of heaven. This is here taken for eternal happiness, which can be obtained only by faith in Christ, since
he calls himself the gate. (St. John chap. x) --- Now the Pharisees, by refusing to believe in him, and conspiring against
him, deterred those, who would otherwise have believed in Christ, from professing his name and following his doctrines, and
thus shut the gate of heaven against them. (Nicholas of Lyra.) --- In all these reprehensions, it is to be noted, for
the honour of the priesthood, Jesus Christ never reprehendeth priests by that name. (St. Cyprian, ep. lxv.)
Ver. 14. You
devour the houses of widows. Here our blessed Saviour severely reprehends the hypocrisy and other vices of the Scribes
and Pharisees, a little before his death, to make them enter into themselves, and to hinder them from seducing others. (Witham)
---The Pharisees, by every means in their power, endeavoured to persuade the widows of the poor to make vows or offerings
for the temple, by which they themselves became rich, and thus they devoured the houses of widows. (Nicholas of Lyra.)
--- Whoever is a perpetrator of evil, deserves heavy chastisements; but the man who commits wickedness under the cloak of
religion, is deserving of still more severe punishment. (Origen) --- The same is said of fasting, alms, prayers. (Matthew
vi.) --- As above our Lord had inculcated eight beatitudes, so here he denounces eight woes or threats of impending judgment,
to the Scribes and Pharisees, for their vile hypocrisy. (Jansenius)
Ver. 15. Because
whilst a Gentile he sinned without a perfect knowledge of the evil, and was not then a two-fold child of hell; but after his
conversion, seeing the vices of his masters, and perceiving that they acted in direct opposition to the doctrines they taught,
he returns to the vomit, and renders himself a prevaricator, by adoring the idols he formerly left, and sells his soul doubly
to the devil. (St. Chrysostom) --- They that teach that it is sufficient to have faith only, do make such Christians as blindly
follow them, as these Jews did their proselytes, children of hell far more than before. (St. Augustine, lib. de fide et oper.
Ver. 16. Wo
to you blind guides. Avarice seems to have been the chief motive of the Pharisees in teaching this doctrine, since they
taught that those who swore by the temple were guilty of no sin, nor under any obligation at all; whereas they who swore by
the gold of the temple, were bound to pay a certain sum of money to the priests, by which they themselves were enriched. (Nicholas
of Lyra.) --- Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing, &c. To understand this obscure place, we may
take notice, that a good part of what was offered on the altar, and given to the treasury of the temple, fell to the share
of the Jewish priests; and therefore it was not their interest to have such promises or oaths dispensed with. This made them
teach the people, that if any one had made a promissory oath or vow to give their money or goods to the temple, or
to the altar itself, as it is said ver. 18, such oaths or promises were not obligatory, or might easily be dispensed
with. But if any one had sworn or vowed to give any thing to the treasury of the temple, or join it to the offerings
to be made on the altar, then such oaths and promises which turned to their profit were by all means to be kept. St. Jerome
expounds it of oaths in common discourse; as if they taught the people, that when any one swore by the temple, or the
altar, it was not so considerable as to swear by the gold in the temple, or by the offerings there made:
for in the latter cases, they were to make satisfaction according to the judgment of the Jewish priests. And to correct their
covetous proceedings, Christ tells them that the temple and the altar were greater than the gold and the offerings. (Witham)
Ver. 19. Sanctifieth.
The altar is sanctified by our Lord's body thereon. Theophylactus, the close follower of St. Chrysostom, writeth thus upon
this text: "In the old law, Christ will not allow the gift to be greater than the altar; but with us the altar is sanctified
by the gift: for the bread, by the divine grace is converted into our Lord's body, and therefore the altar is sanctified by
Ver. 21. By
him that dwelleth in it. Here we see that swearing by creatures, as by the gospel and by the saints, is all referred to
the honour of God, whose gospel it is, whose saints they are. (Bristow)
Ver. 23. You
... who pay tithe, &c. The tithes of these small things are not found in the law. Nor yet doth Christ blame them so
much for this, as for neglecting more weighty matters; and tells them by a proverb, that they strain out a gnat, and swallow
a camel. (Witham) --- The Pharisees pretended the greatest exactitude even in the smallest commands of the law, when the
observance of them could impress the people with a favourable idea of their sanctity; whereas they omitted the more essential
precepts of the law, when it did not procure them the praise of men. (Nicholas of Lyra.) --- St. Jerome interprets this passage
of receiving tithes; the Vulgate has decimare. (St. Jerome) --- The Pharisees are blamed by our Lord for their avarice,
in scrupulously exacting tithes of the most trifling things, whilst they lived in a constant neglect of their duty, both to
God and their neighbour. (Idem. [St. Jerome])
Ver. 25. Woe
to you. Jesus Christ here condemns, in forcible language, the principal vices of the Pharisees, viz. their hypocrisy,
false devotion, boundless ambition, insatiable avarice, false zeal, and ignorance in deciding upon cases of conscience. St.
Luke represents our Saviour as saying this to the Pharisees at dinner; (Chap. xi.) so that Christ must either have repeated
these things at different times; or, St. Matthew according to custom, must have added them to other words of our Saviour,
which, though spoken on another occasion, had some connection with the same subject. In vain do you, Pharisees, boast of your
external sanctity. Do not imagine, that fornication, adultery, and other actions, are the only sins to be attended to; and
that pride, avarice, anger, and other spiritual sins, are of no moment. He who made the body, made also the soul; and it is
of equal consequence that both be kept clean and free from sin. (Nicholas of Lyra.) --- By the similitude of the cup, and
of whited sepulchres, as also that of building the sepulchres of the prophets, he shews that they did all their actions purposely
to be seen by men, and that this was their only motive in all they did. (Idem. [Nicholas of Lyra.]) --- Like Ezekiel's bitter
roll, we have here a dreadful list of woes, like as many thunderbolts, levelled against hypocrisy, avarice, ambition, and
all bitter zeal. We should be careful not to suffer such rank weeds to grow up in our soil, to the ruin of all good.
Ver. 26. Thou
blind Pharisee. The vices of the Scribes and Pharisees are not unfrequently to be found in Christians. The genuine characters
of the pharisaical and hypocritical spirit, are: 1. to be punctiliously exact in trifles; 2. to be fond of distinction and
esteem; 3. to be content with external piety; 4. to entertain a high opinion of ourselves, and to be impatient of reproof;
5. to be harsh to others, and ready to impose on them what we do not observe ourselves. Sins abundantly sufficient to rob
us of every good, and to leave our house quite desolate! not less so than the temple and city of Jerusalem!
Ver. 27. Whitened
sepulchres. The Jews, lest they should be defiled with touching the sepulchres, whitened them on the outside, in order
to distinguish them. But this exterior whiteness, covering interior corruption, was a genuine picture of the pharisaical character.
But these men, says St. Gregory, can have no excuse before the severe judge at the last day; for, whilst they shew to the
view of mankind so beautiful an appearance of virtue, by their very hypocrisy they demonstrate that they are not ignorant
how to live well. (Moral. xxvi.) --- Tell me, you hypocrite, what pleasure there is in wickedness? why do you not wish to
be what you wish to appear? What it is beautiful to appear, is beyond a doubt more beautiful to be. Be therefore what you
appear, or appear what you really are. (St. John Chrysostom)
Ver. 28. Jesus
Christ so often and so boldly condemns the Pharisees, because he reads their hearts and intentions; but we, who can only judge
of overt actions, who cannot dive into the secrets of the heart, must never presume to call men's exterior good actions hypocrisy;
but judge of men according as we see and know. (Bristow)
Ver. 29. Build
the sepulchres, &c. This is not blamed, as if it were in itself evil to build or adorn the monuments of the prophets;
but the hypocrisy of the Pharisees is here taxed; who, whilst they pretended to honour the memory of the prophets, were persecuting
even unto death the Lord of the prophets. (Challoner) --- Jesus Christ foresaw that they would shortly accomplish the wickedness
of their fathers in shedding his blood, as their fathers did the blood of the prophets. (St. Hilary) --- And although they
seemed to honour the prophets, and to abhor the murder of the just, it was merely that in their persecution of Jesus Christ
he might appear to the people neither a prophet, nor just. (Menochius)
Ver. 32. Jesus
Christ does not here persuade the Jews to continue on in their wicked ways, as if praising and sanctioning their conduct;
but only predicts his own death, which they were about to compass, and which crime would greatly exceed that of their fathers:
as he was the greatest, and even the Lord of all the other prophets, whom their fathers had put to death. (Denis the Carthusian)
Ver. 35. From
the blood of Abel, &c. Not that the Jews, to whom Christ spoke, should be punished for crimes which they themselves
did not commit nor be more severely punished than they themselves deserved; but he speaks of the Jewish people which, by putting
to death their Messias, should shortly fill up the number of their sins; so that God would destroy their whole nation, as
if the blood of Abel, and of the prophets unjustly murdered came upon them at once. See Maldonatus. --- Of Zacharias, the
son of Barachias. Some think this was Zachary, numbered among the lesser prophets, whose father's name was Barachias;
but we do not read of his being murdered in this manner. The more common opinion is, that here is meant Zachary, who, preaching
to the people, (2 Paralipomenon xxiv. 20,) was stoned to death in the very place where Christ was now speaking. But there
he is called the son of Joiada, and not of Barachias. Some conjecture his father might have had both names;
and St. Jerome tells us, that in an ancient copy of St. Matthew, called the Gospel of the Nazarenes, he found this
Zacharias, of whom our Saviour speaks, called the son of Joiada. (Witham) --- St. Jerome gives another reason why he might
have been called the son of Barachias, and not the son of Joiada, and this is to commend the sanctity of the father; for Barachias
is interpreted the blessed of the Lord. Others suppose that he was the 11th of the 12 prophets; but it is not mentioned that
he was slain between the temple and the altar. Some surmise that it was the father of the Baptist, collecting from the apocryphal
writings that he was killed for preaching the arrival of the Redeemer: but that he was the son of Joiada, otherwise called
Barachias, is the common opinion. (St. Jerome) --- That upon you may come, &c. Not that they should suffer more
than their own sins richly deserved; but that the justice of God should now fall upon them with such a final vengeance once
for all, as might comprise all the different kinds of judgments and punishments, that had at any time before been inflicted
for the shedding of just blood. (Challoner)
Ver. 36. Amen,
I say to you. More severe punishments were inflicted on these Jews, on account of their more grievous and heinous transgressions;
for nothing had been able to recall them from their wickedness. They had the example of their ancestors before their eyes,
continually irritating the wrath of God; yet all they had suffered for their crimes, could not incite them to leave their
sinful ways; but they proceeded further than their ancestors in impiety, and ought therefore to receive a more severe condemnation.
Thus though Lamech had not killed a brother, but had neglected to be more prudent after the exemplary punishment of Cain,
he still cried out: Seven-fold punishment is taken of Cain, but of Lamech seventy times seven. (Genesis iv.) (St. Chrysostom,
Ver. 37. And
thou wouldst not. Three truths may be gathered from these words of our Saviour: 1. They, who perish, perish by their own
fault, because they refuse to listen to the voice of God calling them to salvation; 2. that man's will is free, and that it
is an error in man to lay all his wickedness to the charge of God, or of blind chance; for God justly attributes the reprobation
of man to his own perverse will, which often opposes that of God, and brings destruction on itself; 3. how necessary it is
for man to subject his will to that of the Almighty, and ever to say with our Saviour: Nevertheless, not my will, but thine
be done. (Salmeron)
Ver. 38. Behold,
your house. Their house shall be deprived of the protection of the God of heaven. He it was that had hitherto preserved
them, and he also would inflict upon them those very severe judgments they so much dreaded. (St. Chrysostom, hom. lxxv.)
Ver. 39. Till
you say, blessed is he that cometh. Hereafter you shall own me for your Messias, and the world's Redeemer, at least at
the day of judgment. (Witham) --- The time here foretold, when they should say: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of
the Lord, is the day of general judgment. When our Saviour says, henceforth, we must understand it of all that
time, which intervened between the time of his speaking and his passion. (St. Chrysostom, hom. lxxv.) --- It may also be understood
of the Jews, who are to be converted to the faith of Jesus Christ towards the end of the world. (Menochius)
 Ver. 5. Phylacteria. phulakteria. Conservatoria,
or preservatoria. See St. Jerome on this place, p. 188, and St. Chrysostom, hom. lxxii. in Matt.
 Ver. 35. In Evangelio quo utuntur Nazareni, pro filio Barachię, filium
Joiadę reperimus Scriptum.
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Christ admonishes the people to follow the good doctrine,
not the bad example of the Scribes and Pharisees: he warns his disciples not to imitate their ambition: and denounces divers
woes against them for their hypocrisy and blindness.
1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitude and to his disciples,
2 Saying: *The Scribes and the Pharisees have sitten on the chair of
3 All therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but
according to their works do ye not: for they say and do not.
4 *For they bind heavy and insupportable burdens: and lay them on men's
shoulders: but with a finger of their own they will not move them.
5 And all their works they do to be seen by men: *For they make their
phylacteries broad and enlarge their fringes.
6 *And they love the first places at feasts, and the first chairs in
7 And salutations in the market-place, and to be called by men, Rabbi.
8 *But be not you called Rabbi. For one is your master, and all you are
9 *And call none your father upon earth: for one is your Father, who
is in heaven.
10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your master, Christ.
11 He that is the greatest among you shall be your servant.
12 *And whosoever shall exalt himself, shall be humbled: and he that
shall humble himself, shall be exalted.
13 But wo to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: because you shut
the kingdom of heaven against men: for you go not in yourselves: and those that are going in, you suffer not to enter.
14 Wo to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: *because you devour the
houses of widows, making long prayers: therefore you shall receive the greater judgment.
15 Wo to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: because you go round
about the sea and land to make one proselyte: and when he is made, you make him the child of hell two-fold more than yourselves.
16 Wo to you blind guides, who say: Whosoever shall swear by the temple,
it is nothing: but he that shall swear by the gold of the temple, is a debtor.
17 Ye foolish and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple
that sanctifieth the gold?
18 And whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing: but whosoever
shall swear by the gift that is upon it, he is a debtor.
19 Ye blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth
20 Whosoever therefore sweareth by the altar, sweareth by it, and by
all things that are upon it:
21 And whosoever shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him
that dwelleth in it:
22 And he that sweareth by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and
by him that sitteth thereon.
23 *Wo to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; who tithe mint, and
anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier things of the law; **judgment, and mercy, and faith. These things you ought
to have done, and not to leave those others undone.
24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel.
25 Wo to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: because you make clean
the outside of the cup, and of the dish, but within you are full of extortion and uncleanness.
26 Thou blind Pharisee, first make clean the inside of the cup, and of
the dish, that the outside may become clean.
27 Wo to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: because you are like
to whitened sepulchres, which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within are full of dead men's bones, and of all filthiness.
28 So you also outwardly, indeed, appear to men just: but within, you
are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
29 Wo to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, who build the sepulchres
of the prophets, and adorn the monuments of the just,
30 And say: If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have
been partakers with them, in the blood of the prophets.
31 Wherefore you are witnesses against yourselves, that you are the sons
of them who killed the prophets.
32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
33 *Ye serpents, generation of vipers, how will you escape the judgment
34 Therefore, behold, I send to you prophets and wise men, and Scribes:
and some of them you will put to death, and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city
35 That upon you may come all the just blood, that hath been shed upon
the earth, *from the blood of Abel the just, even unto the blood of **Zacharias, the son of Barachias, whom you killed between
the temple and the altar.
36 Amen, I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.
37 *Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest
them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen gathereth her chickens under
her wings, and thou wouldst not?
38 Behold, your house shall be left to you desolate.
39 For I say to you, you shall not see me henceforth till you say: Blessed
is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
2: about the year A.D. 33.; 2 Esdras viii. 4.
4: Luke xi. 46.; Acts xv. 10.
5: Numbers xv. 38.; Deuteronomy vi. 8. and xxii. 12.
6: Mark xii. 39.; Luke xi. 43. and xx. 40.
8: James iii. 1.
9: Malachias i. 6.
12: Luke xiv. 11. and xviii. 14.
14: Mark xii. 40.; Luke xx. 47.
23: Luke xi. 42. --- ** Micheas vi. 8.; Zacharias vii. 9.
33: Matthew iii. 7.
35: Genesis iv. 8.; Hebrews xi. 4. --- ** 2 Paralipomenon xxiv. 22.
37: Luke xiii. 34.