From: 2 Corinthians 3:4-11
Christian Ministry is Superior to that of the Old Covenant
 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.  Not that
we are sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us;our sufficiency
is from God,  who has qualified us to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a
written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.
 Now if the dispensation of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such
splendor that the Israelites could not look at Moses’ face because of its bright-
ness, fading as this was,  will not the dispensation of the Spirit be attended
with greater splendor?  For if there was splendor in the dispensation of con-
demnation, the dispensation of righteousness must far exceed it in splendor.
 Indeed, in this case, what once had splendor has come to have no splen-
dor at all, because of the splendor that surpasses it.  For if what faded
away came with splendor, what is permanent must have much more splendor.
4-11. In these verses St Paul deals with a subject which he discusses more ful-
ly in his epistles to the Romans and the Galatians—the superiority of the New
Covenant, through which Christ reconciles men to God their Father, over the Old
Covenant which God made with Moses. Here he just outlines the superiority of
the Apostles’ ministry over that of Moses. The latter was a dispensation of death
and condemnation (vv. 6,7,9) and it was temporary (vv. 7, 11); that of the Apos-
tles, on the other hand, is a dispensation of life and salvation (vv. 6-9) and it is
permanent (v. 11). So, if the ministry of Moses was splendid, that of the Apos-
tles will be all the more splendid.
When St Paul speaks of a ministry of “death” and “condemnation” (vv. 7, 9), this
does not mean that the Old Covenant was not something in itself holy and just,
but that the Law of Moses—part of that Covenant—although it pointed the way to
righteousness, was inadequate because it did not give people the resources to
conquer sin. It is in this sense that the Old Law can be said to have involved
death and condemnation: for it made the sinner more conscious of the gravity of
his sin, thereby increasing his guilt (cf. Romans, chapter 7-8 and corresponding
notes): “For,” St Thomas Aquinas explains, “it is more serious to sin against the
natural law when that law is written down, than against the natural law on its own”
(”Commentary on 2 Cor, ad loc.”).
5. The Magisterium of the Church quotes these words when teaching the need
for the Holy Spirit to enlighten and inspire man to enable him to accept the truths
of faith or choose some good connected with eternal salvation (cf. Second Coun-
cil of Orange, can. 7). Therefore, anyone is foolish who thinks he can claim as
his own the good deeds he does or the apostolic results he obtains: they are in
fact a gift from God. As St Alphonsus says, “the spiritual man dominated by
pride is the worst kind of a thief because he is stealing not earthly things but the
glory that belongs to God [...] For, as the Apostle tells us, we, on our own, can-
not do anything good or even have a good thought (cf. 2 Cor 3:5) [...]. Therefore,
whenever we do something good, let us say to the Lord, ‘We return to thee, 0
Lord, what we have received from thee’ (cf. 1 Chron 29:14)” (”Treasury of Prea-
ching Material”, II, 6).
6. Taking up again the simile he has used in v. 3, St Paul speaks about the “let-
ter” and the “Spirit” (cf. Rom 2:29; 7:6) to show the difference between the Law
of the Old Testament and that of the New. The Law of Moses is the “letter”
insofar as it simply publishes the precepts which man must keep, without pro-
viding the grace necessary for keeping them. The New Law, on the other hand,
is the “Spirit”, because it is the Holy Spirit himself who, through grace, spreads
charity in the hearts of the faithful (cf. Rom 5:5), and charity is the fullness of the
Law (cf. Rom 13:10). “What is predominant in the law of the New Testament,” St
Thomas Aquinas explains, “and whereon all its efficacy is based, is the grace of
the Holy Spirit, which is given through faith in Christ. Consequently the New Law
is chiefly the grace itself of the Holy Spirit, which is given to those who believe in
Christ” (”Summa Theologiae”, I-Il, q. 106, a. 1). Hence the law of the Gospel can
also be called the law of the Spirit (cf. Rom 8:2), the law of grace or the law of
After pointing out how the Law of Moses laid down the death penalty for certain
sins, St John Chrysostom comments: “The Law, if it lays hold of a murderer,
puts him to death; the Gospel, if it lays hold of a murderer, enlightens him and
gives him life [...]. How lofty is the dignity of the Spirit, seeing that his tables are
better than those former ones [the “tables” of the Law], for they do even greater
things than raising a dead man to life! For the death from which grace delivers us
is much more lamentable than physical death’ (”Hom, on 2 Cor. 6”).
7-10. In the Book of Exodus (34:29-35), we are told that the face of Moses, when
he came down from Mount Sinai, where he had been speaking to God, was ra-
diant with light. So bright was it—for it reflected the splendor of God — that the Is-
raelites were afraid to go near him.
St Paul here refers to that event to show the superiority of the New Covenant.
Source: “The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries”. Biblical text from the
Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of
the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.
Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and
by Scepter Publishers in the United States.
17. Think not that I have come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets: I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
18. For verily I say to you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
19. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
GLOSS. Having now exhorted His bearers to undergo all things for righteousness' sake, and also not to hide what they should receive, but to learn more for others' sake, that at they may teach others, He now goes on to tell them what they should teach, as though he had been asked, What is this which you would not have hid; and for which you would have all things endured? Are you about to speak any thing beyond what is written in the Law and the Prophets; hence it is he says, Think not that I am come to subvert the Law or the Prophets.
PSEUDO- CHRYS. And that for two reasons. First, that by these words he might admonish His disciples, that as he fulfilled the Law, so they should strive to fulfill it. Secondly, because the Jews would falsely accuse them as subverting the Law, therefore he answers the calumny beforehand, but in such a manner as that He should not be thought to come simply to preach the Law as the Prophets had done.
REMIG. He here asserts two things; He denies that he was come to subvert the Law, and affirms that he was come to fulfill it.
AUG. In this last sentence again there is a double sense; to fulfill the Law, either by adding something which it had not, or by doing what it commands.
CHRYS. Christ then fulfilled the Prophets by accomplishing what was therein foretold concerning Himself - and the Law, first, by transgressing none of its precepts; secondly, by justifying by faith, which the Law could not do by the letter.
AUG. And lastly, because even for them who were under grace, it was hard in this mortal life to fulfill that of the Law, You shall not lust, He being made a Priest by the sacrifice of His flesh, obtained for us this indulgence, even in this fulfilling the Law, that where through our infirmity we could not, we should be strengthened through His perfection, of whom as our head we all are members. For so I think must be taken these words, to fulfill the Law, by adding to it, that is, such things as either contribute to the explanation of the old es, or to enable to keep them. For the Lord has showed us that even a wicked motion of the thoughts to the wrong of a brother is to be accounted a kind of murder. The Lord also teaches us, that it is better to keep near to the truth without swearing, than with a true oath to come near to blasphemy. ID. But how, you Manichaeans, do you not receive the Law and the Prophets, seeing Christ here says, that He is come not to subvert but to fulfill them? To this the heretic Faustus replies, Whose testimony is there that Christ spoke this? That of Matthew. How was it then that John does not give this saying, who was with Him in the mount, but only Matthew, who did not follow Jesus till after He had come down from the mount? To this Augustine replies, If none can speak truth concerning Christ, but who saw and heard Him, there is no one at this day who speaks truth concerning Him. Why then could not Matthew hear from John's mouth the truth as Christ had spoken, as well as we who are born so long after can speak the truth out of John's book? In the same manner also it is, that not Matthew's Gospel, but also these of Luke and Mark are received by us, and on no inferior authority. Add, that the Lord Himself might have told Matthew the things He had done before He called him. But speak out and say that you do not believe the Gospel, for they who believe nothing in the Gospel but what they wish to believe, believe themselves rather than the Gospel. To this Faustus rejoins, We will prove that this was not written by Matthew, but by some other hand, unknown, in his name. For below he says, Jesus saw a man sitting at the toll-office, Matthew by name. Who writing of himself says, 'saw a man,' and not rather 'saw me?'
AUG; Matthew does no more than John does, when he says, Peter turning round saw that other disciple whom Jesus loved; and it is well known that his is the common manner of Scripture writers, when writing their own actions. Faustus again, But what say you to this, that the very assurance that He was not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets was the direct way to rouse their suspicions that He was? For He had yet done nothing that could lead the Jews to think that this was His object.
AUG; This is a very weak objection, for we do not deny that to the Jews who had no understanding, Christ might have appeared as threatening the destruction of the Law and the Prophets. Faustus; But what if the Law and the Prophets do not accept this fulfillment, according to that in Deuteronomy, These commandments that I give to you, you shall keep, you shall not add anything to them, nor take away.
AUG; Here Faustus does not understand what it is to fulfill the Law, When he supposes that it must be taken of adding words to it. The fulfillment of the Law is love, which the Lord has given in sending His Holy Spirit. The Law is fulfilled either when the things there commanded are done, or when the things there prophesied come to pass. Faustus; But in that we confess that Jesus was author of a New Testament, what else is it than to confess that He has done away with the Old?
AUG; in that Old Testament were figures of things to come, which when the things themselves were brought in by Christ, ought to have been taken away, that in that very taking away the Law and the Prophets might be fulfilled wherein it was written that God gave a New Testament. Faustus; Therefore if Christ did say this thing, he either said it with some other meaning, or he spoke falsely, (which God forbid,) or we must take that other alternative, he did not speak it at all. But that Jesus spoke falsely none will aver, therefore he either spoke it with another meaning, or he spoke it not at all. For myself I am rescued from the necessity of this alternative by the Manichaean belief, which from the first taught me not to believe all those things which are read in Jesus' name as having been spoken by Him; for that there be many tares which to corrupt the good seed some nightly sower has scattered up and down through nearly the whole of Scripture.
AUG; Manicheus taught an impious error, that you should receive only so much of the Gospel as does not conflict with your heresy, and not receive whatever does conflict with it. We have learned of the Apostle that religious caution, Whoever preaches to you another Gospel than that we have preached, let him be accursed. The Lord also has explained what the tares signify, not things false mixed with the true Scriptures, as you interpret, but men who are children of the wicked one. Faustus; Should a Jew then inquire of you why you do not keep the precepts of the Law and the prophets which Christ here declares he came not to destroy but to fulfill, you will be driven either to accept an empty superstition, or to repudiate this chapter as false, or to deny that you are Christ's disciple.
AUG; The Catholics are not in any difficulty on account of this chapter as though they did not observe the Law and the Prophets; for they do cherish love to God and their neighbor, on which hang all the Law and the Prophets. And whatever in the Law and the Prophets was foreshown, whether in things done, in the celebration of sacramental rites, or in forms of speech, all these they know to be fulfilled in Christ and the Church. Wherefore we neither submit to a false superstition, nor reject the chapter, nor deny ourselves to be Christ's disciples. He then who says, that unless Christ had destroyed the Law and the Prophets, the Mosaic rites would have continued along with the Christian ordinances, may further affirm, that unless Christ had destroyed the Law and the Prophets, he would yet be only professional as to be honor, to suffer, to rise again. But inasmuch as He did not destroy, but rather fulfill them, His birth, passion, and resurrection, are now no more promised as things future, which were signified by the Sacraments of the Law; but he is preached as already born, crucified, and risen, which are signified by the Sacraments now celebrated by Christians. It is clear then how great is the error of those who suppose, that when the signs or sacraments are changed, the things themselves are different, whereas the same things which the Prophetic ordinance had held forth as promises, the Evangelic ordinance points to as completed. Faustus; Supposing these to be Christ's genuine words, we should inquire what was His motive for speaking thus, whether to soften the blind hostility of the Jews, who when they saw their Holy things trodden under foot by Him, would not have so much as given Him a hearing; or whether he really said them to instruct us, who of the Gentiles should believe, to submit to the yoke of the Law. If this last were not His design, then the first must have been; nor was there any deceit or fraud in such purpose. For of laws there be three sorts. The first that of the Hebrews, called the law of sin and death, by Paul; the second that of the Gentiles, which he calls the law of nature, saying, By nature the Gentiles do the deeds of the law; the third, the law of truth, which he names, The law of the Spirit of life. Also there are Prophets some of the Jews, such as are, well-known; others of the Gentiles as Paul speaks, A prophet of their own had said; and others of the truth, of whom Jesus speaks, I send to you wise men and prophets. Now had Jesus in the following part of this sermon brought forward any of the Hebrew observances to show how he had fulfilled that, no one would have doubted that it was of the Jewish Law and Prophets that he was now speaking; but when he brings forward in this way only those more ancient precepts, You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, which were promulgated of old to Enoch, Seth, and the other righteous men, who does not see that he is here speaking of the Law and Prophets of truth? Wherever He has occasion to speak of anything merely Jewish, He plucks it up by the very roots, giving precepts directly the contrary; for example, in the case of that precept, An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
AUG; Which was the Law and which the Prophets, that Christ came not to subvert but to fulfill, is manifest, to wit, the Law given by Moses. And the distinction which Faustus draws between the precepts of the righteous men before Moses, and the Mosaic Law, arming that Christ fulfilled the one but annulled the other, is not so. We affirm that the Law of Moses was both well suited to its temporary purpose, and was now not subverted, but fulfilled by Christ, as will be seen in each particular. This was not understood by those who continued in such obstinate error, that they compelled the Gentiles to Judaize - those heretics, I mean, who were called Nazarenes.
PSEUDO- CHRYS. But since all things which should befall from the very beginning of the world to the end of it, were in type and figure foreshown in the Law, that God may not be thought to be ignorant of any of those things that take place, he therefore here declares, that heaven and earth should not pass till all things thins foreshown in the Law should have their actual accomplishment.
REMIG. Amen is a Hebrew word, and may be rendered in Latin, 'vere,' ' fidenter,' or 'fiat;' that is, 'truly,' 'faithfully,' or ' so be it.' The Lord uses it either because of the hardness of heart of those who were slow to believe, or to attract more particularly the attention of those that did believe.
HILARY; From the expression here used pass, we may suppose that the constituting elements of heaven and earth shall not be annihilated
REMIG. But shall abide in their essence, but pass through renewal.
AUG. By the words, one iota or one point shall not pass from the Law, we must understand only a strong metaphor of completeness, drawn from the letters of writing, iota being the least of the letters, made with one stroke of the pen, and a point being a slight dot at the end of the same letter. The words there show that the Law shall be completed to the very least matter.
RABAN. He fitly mentions the Greek iota, and not the Hebrew jot, because the iota stands in Greek for the number ten, and so there is an allusion to the Decalogue of which the Gospel is the point and perfection.
PSEUDO- CHRYS. If even an honorable man blushes to be found in a falsehood, and a wise man lets not fall empty any word he has once spoken, how could it be that the words of heaven should fall to the ground empty? Hence He concludes, Whoever breaks the least of these commandments, &c. And, I suppose, the Lord goes on to reply Himself to the question, Which are the least commandments? Namely, these which I am now about to speak.
CHRYS. He speaks not this of the old laws, but of those which He was now going to enact, of which he says, the least, though they were all great. For as he so oft spoke humbly of Himself, so does he now speak humbly of His precepts.
PSEUDO- CHRYS. Otherwise; the precepts of Moses are easy to obey; You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. The very greatness of the crime is a check upon the desire of committing it; therefore the reward of observance is small, the sin of transgression great. But Christ's precepts, You shall not be angry, You shall not lust, are hard to obey, and therefore in their reward they are great, in their transgression, 'least.' It is thus he speaks of these precepts of Christ, such as You shall not be angry, You shall not lust, as 'the least;' and they who commit these lesser sins, are the least in the kingdom of God; that is, he who has been angry and not sinned grievously is secure from the punishment of eternal damnation; yet he does not attain that glory which they attain who fulfill even these least.
AUG. Or, the precepts of the Law are called 'the least,' as opposed to Christ's precepts which are great. The least commandments are signified by the iota and the point. He, therefore, who breaks them, and teaches men so, that is, to do as he does, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven. Hence we may perhaps conclude, that it is not true that there shall none be there except they be great.
GLOSS. By 'break,' is meant, that not doing what one understands rightly, or the not understanding what one has corrupted, or the destroying the perfectness of Christ's additions.
CHRYS. Or, when yon hear the words, least in the kingdom of heaven, imagine nothing less than the punishment of hell. For He oft uses the word 'kingdom,' not only of the joys of heaven, but of the of the resurrection. and of the terrible coming of Christ.
GREG. Or, by the kingdom of heaven is to be understood the Church, in which that teacher who breaks a commandment is called least, because he whose life is despised, it remains that his preaching be also despised.
HILARY; Or, He calls the passion, and the cross, the least, which if one shall not confess openly, but be ashamed of them, he shall be least, that is, last, and as it were no man; but to him that confesses it He promises the great glory of a heavenly calling.
JEROME; This had is closely connected with the preceding. it is directed against the Pharisees, who, despising the commandments of God, set up traditions of their own, and means that their teaching the people would not avail themselves, if they destroyed the very least commandments in the Law. We may take it in another sense. The learning of the master if joined with sin however small, loses him the highest place, nor does it avail any to teach righteousness, if he destroys it in his life. Perfect bliss is for him who fulfills in deed what he teaches in word.
AUG. Otherwise; he who breaks the least of these commandments, that is, of Moses' Law, and teaches men so, shall be called the least; but he who shall do (these least), and so teach, shall not indeed be esteemed great, yet not so little as he who breaks them. That he should be great, he ought to do and to teach the things which Christ now teaches.
Catena Aurea Matthew 5