Ver. 1. Ten virgins. By these are signified all mankind. By the bridegroom, Christ; by the bride, the Church; by oil, grace and charity. Wi.
--- The kingdom of heaven is not unfrequently compared to the Church militant; which, as it is composed of both just and wicked, reprobate and elect, is deservedly compared to five wise and five foolish virgins: the wise constantly aspiring after their blessed country; the foolish, with all their fasts and austerities, wishing to procure nothing more than the empty esteem of men. S. Gregory.
--- Went out to meet the bridegroom and the bride; in the Greek, it is simply, before the bridegroom. The custom among the Jews was, that the bridegroom should go to fetch his spouse, and conduct her with solemnity to his house. V.
--- This was the conclusive ceremony, and done in the night-time. The young women of the vicinity, in order to do her honour, went to meet her with lighted lamps. Modern travellers inform us, that this custom still obtains with the eastern nations, particularly the Persians. Hence the Latin phrase, ducere uxorem, to marry.
Ver. 4. But the wise took oil. Under this parable, we have the state of all Christians in their mortal pilgrimage justly delineated. The wise took oil in their lamps, the necessary qualifications of grace and charity, joined with divine faith, and an additional supply of oil in their vessels; i.e. they laid up in store for themselves a solid foundation of good works. S. Gregory teaches, that by the lamps, faith is meant; and by the light, good works. Hence he concludes that the bad, although they have lamps, i.e. faith, no less than the good, shall be excluded; because their lamps are out, i.e. their faith is dead, without charity and good works to enlighten them. hom. xii.
--- S. Augustine also declares, that these lighted lamps are good works, viz. works of mercy and good conversation, which shine forth before men. ep. 120. c. xxxiii.
--- And, that this oil is a right inward intention, directing all our works to the greater glory of God, and not to the praise of ourselves in the sight of men. Idem. ibid.
--- The foolish virgins had a little oil in their lamps at first, sufficient to shine before men, by some little external shew of piety, or certain works done through fear, profit, or human respects; but had made no provision of oil in their vessels, i.e. in their hearts and conscience, no provision of solid piety and charity, by means of which they might, like the prudent virgins, produce good works to salvation. Jans.
Ver. 5. And while the bridegroom (Jesus Christ) tarried, i.e. delayed his coming, and thus protracted the time of repentance, they all slumbered and slept; viz. they all died. Hence S. Paul, nolo vos ignorare de dormientibus. But the reason why Jesus Christ says they slumbered is, because they were to rise again: and by the expression, whilst the bridegroom tarried, Christ wishes to shew us that a very short time will elapse between his first and second coming. S. Jerom.
Ver. 6. There was a cry. So shall we all have to rise again at the sound of the last trumpet, to meet our judge, either like the wise virgins, who having their oil ready, and their lamps trimmed and burning, soon prepare themselves to give in their accounts to their Lord; or, like the foolish, who having made no provision of the oil of good works, are compelled to seek it at the time they are to be judged. S. Augustine.
--- It is said he will come at midnight; i.e. when least expected.
Ver. 8. For our lamps are gone out. Thus too many trusting to their faith alone, and leading a tepid indifference life, are negligent in preparing themselves by good works for the coming of the bridegroom. But when they perceived themselves called away from this life, to go and meet their judge, they then begin to find their lamps extinguished, and to think of procuring for themselves the oil of good works, by bequeathing their effects to the poor. Though we ought not to despair of the salvation of these, still there is great room to fear; for, a death-bed repentance is seldom sincere, more seldom, or never perfect, and always uncertain. Jansenius.
Ver. 9. Go ye rather to them that sell. The wise virgins do not there advise the foolish to go and buy, but upbraid them for the poor store of good works they have laid up. They had before only sought the praises of men in their good actions, and therefore are answered by the wise: "go now to those to whom you have given all your actions; go and see what their praises will avail, what peace of conscience they can give you: and, if they have praised you, and made you esteemed in the eyes of men, see if they can do the same before God." S. Aug.
Ver. 10. And the door was shut. After the final day of judgment, there will be no room for prayers and good works. S. Jerom.
--- For, after having received those within its walls, who have put on in some degree the nature of the angels, the gate to the city of bliss is closed for ever. S. Aug.
Ver. 13. Watch ye. S. Austin asks, how can we be always watching, it being necessary for each one to give himself sufficient time to sleep and rest from his many labours? He answers the question in these words: We may always keep watching to our hearts by faith, hope, charity, and all other good works. But when we awake, like the five wise virgins, we must arise and trim our lamps, by supplying them with the oil of good works. Then they will not go out, nor will the soothing oil of a good conscience be wanting to us. Then will the bridegroom come and introduce us to his house, where we shall never need sleep or rest; nor will our lamps ever be in danger of going out. Whilst we are in this life, we labour; and our lamps, blown about by the winds of innumerable temptations, are always in danger of being extinguished; but soon their flame shall become more brilliant, and the temptations we have suffered here shall not diminish, but increase its lustre. S. Aug. serm. xxiv.
Ver. 14. But that the apostles and all men might learn how they ought to watch, and to prepare for the last day, he subjoins another instructive parable of the ten talents. It has a great affinity with that mentioned in S. Luke, xix. 11. But this last was spoken at a different time, place, and occasion. It differs also in some points.
--- For even as a man, &c. This passage is to be understood of our divine Redeemer, who ascended to heaven encompassed by his human nature. The proper abode for the flesh is the earth; when, therefore, it is placed in the kingdom of God, it may be said to be gone into a far country. S. Gregory.
--- But when we speak of his divine nature, we cannot say that he is gone into a far country, but only when we speak of his humanity. Origen.
Ver. 15. In the parable of the talents, the master is God, talents, graces, &c. Wi.
--- From this, it appears, we can do no good of ourselves, but only by means of God's grace, though he requires our co-operation; since the servants could only make use of the talents given them to gain others. (A talent is £187 10s.) It is also worthy of remark, that both he who received five and he who received only two talents, received an equal reward of entering into the joy of our Lord; which shews, that only an account will be taken according to what we have received, and that however mean and despicable our abilities may be, we still have an equal facility with the most learned of entering heaven. Jans.
--- The servant to whom this treasure was delivered, is allegorically explained of the faithful adorers of God, in the Jewish law, who departing from it, became followers of Christ, and therefore deserving of a double recompense. . . . . The servant to whom the two talents were delivered, is understood of the Gentiles, who were justified in the faith and confession of the Father and the Son, and confessed our Lord Jesus Christ, God and man, composed of body and soul; and as the people of the Jews doubled the five talents they received, so the Gentiles, by the duplication of their two talents, merited a double recompense also. . . . But the servant who received only one talent, and hid it in the ground, represented such of the Jews as persisted in the observation of the old law, and thus kept their talent buried in the ground, for fear the Gentiles should be converted. S. Hilary.
Ver. 18. He that had received the one. The man who hid this one talent, represents all those who, having received any good quality, whether mental or corporal, employ it only on earthly things. S. Gregory.
--- Origen is also of the same sentiment: if you see any one, says he, who has received from God the gift of teaching and instructing others to salvation, yet will not exercise himself in this function, he buries his talent in the ground, like this unworthy servant, and must expect to receive the like reward.
Ver. 19. After a long time. This represents the time that is to intervene between our Saviour's ascension and his last coming. For, as he is the Master, who went into a far country, i.e. to heaven, after he had inculcated the relative duties of each man in his respective state of life; so shall he come at the last day, and reckon with all men, commending those who have employed their talents well, and punishing such as have made a bad use of them. S. Jerom.
Ver. 20. I have gained other five. Free-will, aided by the grace of God, doth evidently merit as we see here.
Ver. 24. I know that thou art a hard man. This is an insignificant part, that is, an ornament of the parable only; as also when it is said: I should have received mine with usury, v. 27. Wi.
--- This seems to have been an adage levelled at avaricious men, who are never pleased but with what increases their hoards. Under this symbol is also depicted the excuse of many, who accuse God of being the cause of their idleness, both here and in the judgment to come; as that God is too severe and unbending, whose service is extremely hard, and who adopts, rejects, and reprobates whom he pleases; who deals out heavier burdens than the weak nature of man is made to support; who denies the grace of obedience, and thus wishes to reap where he has not sown. Jans.
Ver. 26. Thou evil and slothful servant, for thus calumniating thy master; if I wish to reap where I have not sown, how ought you to fear my just indignation, if were I have sown I find nothing by your neglect to reap. Thus our Lord retorts the accusation upon the servant, as in Luke xix. 22. Out of thy own mouth I judge thee, thou wicked servant.
Ver. 29. To every one that hath, &c. That is, who hath, so as to have made good use of, or to have improved, what was committed to his trust and management. See the notes Matt. xiii, v. 12. Wi.
--- When those who are gifted with the grace of understanding for the benefit of others, refuse to make a proper use of the gift, that grace is of consequence withdrawn; whereas had they employed it with zeal and diligence, they would have received additional graces. S. Chrys. hom. lxxix.
--- This, moreover, shews that God never requires of men more than he has enabled them to perform.
Ver. 30. And the unprofitable servant. Thus not only the rapacious, the unjust, and evil doers, but also all those who neglect to do good, are punished with the greatest severity. Let Christians listen to these words, and while time will permit them, embrace the means of salvation. S. Chrys. hom. lxxix.
--- Let no one suffer his talent to lie uncultivated, and, as it were, hidden and buried in this unhappy earth of the world and the flesh, which engages all their thoughts and affections more than the honour and glory of God, or the eternal welfare of their own or their neighbour's souls.
--- The foregoing parables manifestly tend to excite in us great watchfulness, under the just apprehension of the strict account which hereafter we must give of our respective talents. Jesus, therefore, naturally concludes these parables with a description of that awful day which is to succeed the final reckoning, and which will unalterably fix our abode either in eternal happiness, or in eternal misery. In this description we are to remark, 1. the preparations for this awful scene; 2. the sentence pronounced by the judge; 3. the execution of this sentence.
Ver. 34. Shall the king say to them . . on his right hand. By setting forth to all the world the good works of his faithful servants, the Sovereign Judge silences the murmurs of the reprobate, who might otherwise object that they had it not in their power to do good. In the same manner, the conduct of the wise virgins was the condemnation of the foolish ones; the diligence of the faithful servant, of the sloth and drunkenness of the idle one; the zeal of the servants who multiplied the talents entrusted to them, of him that hid his talent in the ground; and the fervour of the observers of the commandments, of the negligence and remissness of those who are ever transgressing them. S. Chrys. hom. lxxx.
--- These works of mercy, says S. Austin, prevail towards life everlasting, and to the blotting out of former sins; in Ps. xlix.
Ver. 35. For I was hungry, &c. We may take notice, that the wicked at the day of judgment, are said to be condemned for having omitted to perform good works. Wi.
--- S. Austin, in his 33d sermon, brings a beautiful reason why the kingdom of heaven is bestowed solely upon the works of mercy, and eternal damnation for the neglect of them; viz. because, however just a man may be, still he has many failings to atone for, on account of which the kingdom of heaven might be justly denied him: but because he has shewn mercy to his neighbours, he deserves in like manner to have mercy shewn him. But the wicked, not having shewn mercy to their neighbours, nor redeemed their sins by alms-deeds, or the like, are thus delivered up to eternal damnation. Jans. concord.
--- Jesus Christ only mentions one species of good works, though others may be equally meritorious; for the means of salvation are not precisely the same for all the saints; some are saved by poverty, others by solitude, and each by that virtue which he shall have practised in the greatest degree of perfection.
Ver. 36. And you visited me. How easy are the things our Saviour requires at our hands! He will not say at the day of judgment: "I was in prison, and you delivered me; I was sick, and you healed me; but only this, you visited me, you came to me." S. Chrys. hom. lxxx.
--- This seems particularly addressed to Christians engaged in the cares of the world, whose salvation principally depends on the practice of works of mercy.
Ver. 40. As long as you did it to one of these, my least brethren. Can there be a more forcible motive to charity, than the assurance of revelation that the Son of God will accept all good of offices done to the afflicted, as done to himself. This condescension of the part of Jesus Christ, will fill the elect with sentiments of profound admiration and astonishment.
--- Then with fire in his eyes, and terror in his countenance, he shall say to the wicked: Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels. It was not originally created for rebellious man; for man was created subsequently to the fall and damnation of the rebel angels: and though he imitated their transgression, the sentence of everlasting burning was reversed by Jesus Christ. . . By his blood man has been redeemed from eternal punishment. If many, notwithstanding, are yet condemned to never-ending flames, they are punished under the quality of the slaves of the devil: for as they have wilfully followed his rebellious example, they must expect with him to participate in his torments. Consult. i. John iii. 8.
Ver. 41. Prepared for the devil. When Christ invited the just to his heavenly kingdom, he calls it a kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world; a kingdom of inexpressible happiness, which from all eternity he designed for those who he knew would faithfully serve him. But, when he pronounces the sentence of the reprobate, he speaks in a widely different manner. He calls it an everlasting fire, prepared not for them, but for the devils and wicked spirits, their accomplices. They have chosen to cast themselves into it; they must therefore look upon themselves as the authors of all their miseries and sufferings. S. Chrys. hom. lxxx.
--- The pain of loss is here expressed by depart from me, and the pain of sense by eternal fire. M. and Maldonatus.
Ver. 42. Gave me not. Jesus Christ chargeth them not here with a want of faith, but with a want of good works. They certainly believed, but they attended not to good works; as if a dead faith, i.e. a faith not working by charity, could bring them to heaven. S. Aug. de fide & oper. c. xv. & ad Dulcit. q. 2. ad 4.
--- Jesus Christ suffers his members to want, in mercy to them, and to afford others an opportunity of shewing their love for him, and of redeeming their sins by alms-deeds, as was said to the king of the Chaldeans, peccata tua eleemosynis redime. Dan. iv.
Ver. 46. Everlasting punishment. The rewards and torments of a future life are declared by Jesus Christ, who is truth itself, to be eternal. Let no one be found to argue hence against the goodness and mercy of God, for punishing sins committed in time with punishments that are eternal. For 1. according to human laws, we see forgery and other crimes punished by death, which is in some measure an eternal exclusion from society. 2. The will of the sinner is such, that he would sin eternally if he could; it is an eternal God, a God of infinite majesty, who is offended. He essentially hates sin; and as, in hell there is no redemption, the sin eternally continuing, the hatred God bears to sin must eternally continue, and with it eternal punishment. The doctrine of those who pretend, with Origen, to question the eternity of the duration of hell's torments; who can say with him, video infernum quasi senescentum, must encourage vice and embolden the sinner; for if the conviction of eternal torments is not capable to restrain his malice, the doctrine of temporal punishment would be a much less restraint. The present world would not be habitable, were there nothing for the wicked to apprehend after this life. There are many questions often proposed with regard to the situation and nature of hell-fire, &c. &c. &c. but in all these and similar objects of curiosity, it is best to adhere to the sage reflection of S. Austin: "When we dispute upon a point very obscure, without any clear and certain documents from the holy Scripture, the presumption of man should stop short, and lean not more to one than the other side." l. ii. de pecc. meritis et remiss. c. xxxvi. ep. 190. ad Optat. c. v. No. 16.
--- On a recapitulation of this long and most interesting discourse, we may observe, that in the first place, it treats of those wars and persecutions which are to happen in the latter ages of the world; that it next proceeds to describe the heresies and schisms among Christians; the general propagation of the gospel; the great apostacy at the time of the Antichrist; and lastly, the grand and closing scene of the day of judgment. Thus these grand and momentous events are intimately connected with each other, and all materially regard the Church of Christ.