37. In the next place, He goes on to say: “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should go 121 into hell.” Here, certainly, there is need of great courage in order to cut off ones members. 122 For whatever it is that is meant by the “eye,” undoubtedly it is such a thing as is ardently loved. For those who wish to express their affection strongly are wont to speak thus: I love him as my own eyes, or even more than my own eyes. Then, when the word “right” is added, it is meant perhaps to intensify the strength of the affection. 123 For although these bodily eyes of ours are turned in a common direction for the purpose of seeing, and if both are turned they have equal power, yet men are more afraid of losing the right one. So that the sense in this case is: Whatever it is which thou so lovest that thou reckonest it as a right eye, if it offends thee, i.e. if it proves a hindrance to thee on the way to true happiness, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is profitable for thee, that one of these which thou so lovest that they cleave to thee as if they were members, should perish, rather than that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
38. But since He follows it up with a similar statement respecting the right hand, “If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should go 124 into hell,” He compels us to inquire more carefully what He has spoken of as an eye. And as regards this inquiry, nothing occurs to me as a more suitable explanation than a greatly beloved friend: for this, certainly, is something which we may rightly call a member which we ardently love; and this friend a counsellor, for it is an eye, as it were, pointing out the road; and that in divine things, for it is the right eye: so that the left is indeed a beloved counsellor, but in earthly matters, pertaining to p. 17 the necessities of the body; concerning which as a cause of stumbling it was superfluous to speak, inasmuch as not even the right was to be spared. Now, a counsellor in divine things is a cause of stumbling, if he endeavours to lead one into any dangerous heresy under the guise of religion and doctrine. Hence also let the right hand be taken in the sense of a beloved helper and assistant in divine works: for in like manner as contemplation is rightly understood as having its seat in the eye, so action in the right hand; so that the left hand may be understood in reference to works which are necessary for this life, and for the body.
So Meyer et al. What Robert South says (Sermon on John vii. 17) of the Sermon on the Mount as a whole, can certainly be applied here: “All the particulars of Matt. v.-vii. are wrapt up in the doctrine of self-denial, prescribing to the world the most inward purity of heart, and a constant conflict with all our sensual appetites and worldly interests,” etc. Augustins interpretation is correct as far as it goes, but it is too restricted. Christ does not here insist upon the renunciation of sinful lusts, but upon the evasion of occasions of sin. What is harmless and innocent of itself, when through any temperament or condition it becomes an occasion of sinning, is to be relinquished.16:124
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