|Joshua destroys the Lord's enemies|
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Matthew 5:38-48
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies.
Christ our God demonstrates his divine authority in the Sermon on the Mount by giving a New Law which fulfills what had come before. This Law is given with that same authority with which the Old Law had been given to Moses – it is the authority of God who reveals. The Lord speaks with this authority saying, You have heard that it was said … But I say to you …. No mere man could ever speak with such boldness!
And yet we may wonder if Christ does not, in some way, contradict himself – for in giving the New Law he seems to abolish what came before; but he had recently said, Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets (Matthew 5:17). If our Savior came not to destroy but to fulfill the Old Covenant, we may find some difficulty in the command to love one’s enemies. If, in the Old Law, hatred of enemies was commanded (thou shalt hate thy enemy), it would seem that Christ abolishes the Law when he tells us, Love your enemies.
We must ask, whoever said thou shalt hate thy enemy? Was this commanded anywhere in the Law of Moses?
Did God command the Jews to hate their enemies?
Some will point to Deuteronomy 25, 19, Thou shalt blot out his name from under heaven – when God commanded Joshua and the Hebrews utterly to destroy the impious Canaanites, and to seize their land. However, we note that though the Law commanded their annihilation, it did not command that this killing be done out of hatred. Indeed, whatever violence and war was commanded by God in the ancient times, it was surely to be carried out in a true spirit of love – principally love for God, but even love for neighbor as well: Just as a judge might order a guilty person to be put to death, not because he hated him, but he may even condemn one whom he loved. [obviously, there is much to be considered in regard to the holy wars and genocides of the Old Testament; but it is enough here to assert that God has nowhere commanded the hatred of enemies, even if he had commanded their destruction]
Rather, even in the Old Testament, we are told to love our enemies (for this love will be our vindication and their destruction) – If thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat: if he thirst, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap hot coals upon his head, and the Lord will reward thee (Proverbs 25:21-22). Constantly, the Law and the Prophets remind us that vindication is the Lord’s, we are not to seek it out for ourselves.
Who did say, Thou shalt hate thy enemy?
Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide follows the Glossa Ordinaria (the greatest Scripture commentary of the pre-scholastic period) – “I maintain, therefore, that this saying was not in the Law, but was said by the Scribes who interpreted the Law. For they, because they found in Lev. xix. 18, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour,’ or ‘thy friend,’ as the Vulgate translates, inferred from thence that they should hate their enemies. Wherefore Christ here corrects this interpretation of theirs, and explains the Law, that by neighbour or friend every man is meant, even a foreigner, a Gentile, and an enemy. For all men are neighbours, through their first forefather, Adam, and brethren one of another. We are also brethren through our second Father, Christ, through whom we have been born again, and, as it were, created anew in the likeness of God, and called to the common inheritance of God, our Father in heaven. So S. Jerome, Augustine, Theophylact, and others.”
Hence, Christ here abolishes the false teachings of the Scribes who had misinterpreted the Law and corrupted the original meaning of the Scriptures.
Do Christians hate their enemies?
On the other hand, St. Augustine offers a most interesting rebuttal to those who would follow the example of Marcion and speak as though the Old Law were evil and filled with ignorance, but that the New Law is all good and completely abolishes what had come before. (the following is taken from the Catena Aurea of St. Thomas Aquinas)
“Aug., cont. Faust., xix, 24: I ask the Manichaeans why they would have this peculiar to the Mosaic Law, that was said by them of old time, thou shalt hate thy enemy? Has not Paul said of certain men that they were hateful to God? We must enquire then how we may understand that, after the example of God, to whom the Apostle here affirms some men to be hateful, our enemies are to be hated; and again after the same pattern of Him Who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, our enemies are to be loved.
Here then is the rule by which we may at once hate our enemy for the evil’s sake that is in him, that is, his iniquity, and love him for the good’s sake that is in him, that is, his rational part. This then, thus uttered by them of old, being heard, but not understood, hurried men on to the hatred of men, when they should have hated nothing but vice.
Such the Lord corrects as He proceeds, saying, I say unto you, Love your enemies. He who had just declared that He came not to subvert the Law, but to fulfill it, by bidding us love our enemies, brought us to the understanding of how we may at once hate the same man for his sins whom we love for his human nature.”
Hence, even in the Christian dispensation there is a certain sense in which we are to “hate” the enemies of God and the Church – we love them for their humanity, but he hate them for their vice. Nevertheless, the true victory is won by the conversion of our enemies, rather than their destruction.