Expositio super Isaiam ad litteram
Literal Commentary on the Prophet Isaiah
Prologue of St. Thomas
Scribe visum et explana eum super tabulas ut percurrat qui legerit eum, quia adhuc visus procul et apparebit in finem.
Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables: that he who reads it may run through it. For as yet the vision is far off, but it shall appear at the end.
1. Ex verbis istis tria possunt accipi circa librum Isaiae prophetae quem prae manibus habemus, scilicet auctor, modus et materia.
1. From these words, we can understand three things about the book of the prophet Isaiah, which we have at hand: the author, the manner, and the subject matter.
Circa primum tria ponuntur, scilicet auctor, auctoris minister et ministri officium sive donum.
Regarding the first, three things are set out, namely: the author, the author’s minister, and the minister’s office or gift.
Auctor ostenditur in dicentis imperio, unde praemittitur respondit mihi Dominus et dixit: scribe visum etc. Auctor enim Scripturae sacrae Spiritus Sanctus est, infra XLVIII 16 nunc misit me Dominus etc., II Petri I 21 non enim voluntate humana etc.; Spiritus enim loquitur mysteria, sicut dicitur I Cor. XIV 2.
The author is shown in the authority of the speaker; hence it says, and the Lord answered me, and said, write the vision. For the author of Holy Scripture is the Holy Spirit, as it says below: now the Lord God has sent me, and his Spirit (Isa 48:16); for prophecy never came by the will of man, but the holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:21); for it is the Spirit who speaks mysteries (1 Cor 14:2).
Minister ostenditur in scribentis actu; dicit enim scribe: fuit autem lingua prophetae organum Spiritus Sancti, sicut in Ps. dicitur lingua mea calamus scribae velociter scribentis, et I Cor. III 4–5 quid igitur est Apollo? Quid vero Paulus? Ministri ejus cui credidistis.
The minister is shown in the act of writing, for he says, write. The tongue of the prophet was an organ of the Holy Spirit, as is said in Psalm 44:2[45:1]: my tongue is the pen of a scribe who writes swiftly; and: what then is Apollo and what is Paul? The ministers of him whom you have believed (1 Cor 3:4).
Officium vero ministri ostenditur in visionis privilegio, dicit enim visum; qui enim hodie dicitur propheta olim vocabatur videns, sicut I Regum IX 9 dicitur, et Num. XII 6 si quis fuerit inter vos propheta Domini in visione apparebo ei vel per somnium loquar ad illum. Sic igitur patet auctor.
The office of the minister is shown in the privilege of the vision, for it says, the vision, as it says in 1 Samuel 9:9: for he who is now called a prophet, in time past was called a seer; and in Numbers 12:6: if there be among you a prophet of the Lord, I will appear to him in a vision, or I will speak to him in a dream. Thus, therefore, the author is clear.
2. Sed modus ostenditur in hoc quod sequitur et explana. Modus enim istius prophetiae planus est et apertus; unde, ut dicitur in Prologo, non videtur vaticinari de futuris sed magis de praeteritis historiam texere.
2. The manner is shown in what follows, and make it plain. For this prophet’s manner of writing is plain and open. Hence, as is said in the Prologue [of Jerome], he seems to be not prophesying about the future, but rather composing an account of past events.
Et circa hoc tria ponuntur: visionis explanatio, explanationis ratio et utilitas consequens.
In regard to the manner of writing, three things are set out: namely, the explanation of the vision, the reason for the explanation, and the benefit that follows.
Primum ostenditur in hoc quod dicit explana eum. Explanatur autem ab eo visus sive visio tribus modis:
The first is shown where it is said, make it plain. He makes plain what he has seen, or the vision, in three ways:
primo per similitudinis adaptationem,
first, through the use of similitudes;
secundo per sententiae expressionem,
second, through the expression of thought;
tertio per verborum venustatem;
third, through the beauty of his words.
et in his tribus iste propheta alios excellit prophetas.
And in these three ways this prophet surpasses the other prophets.
Ponit enim pulchras et curiales similitudines, quae quidem sunt necessariae nobis propter connaturalitatem sensus ad rationem: est enim naturale rationi nostrae accipere a sensibilibus, unde perspicacius capit ea quorum similia ad sensum videt; unde Dionysius in Epistola ad Titum secunda demonstrat hoc, scilicet quod necessariae sunt sensibiles figurae in Scripturis quicumque plana cum audierint in se ipsis componunt figuram quamdam ad intellectum theologiae ipsos manuducentem, et Osee XII 10 in manibus prophetarum assimilatus sum.
For he sets out beautiful and courtly similitudes, which indeed are necessary for us, because of the connaturality of sense to reason: for it is natural for our reason to receive from sensible objects; hence, it more clearly grasps things whose likenesses it sees by the senses. Hence Dionysius in his second Letter to Titus shows this, namely, that sensible figures are necessary in the Scriptures: all those who hear plain things, weave in themselves a certain figure, which conducts them to an understanding of theology, and: I have used similitudes by the hands of the prophets (Hos 12:10).
Excellit etiam in expressione sententiae, ut videatur non prophetiam sed evangelium texere, ut dicitur in Prologo Galeato; unde dictum est sibi, infra XL 9 exalta vocem tuam, noli timere, dic civitatibus Judae etc.
Isaiah also excels in the expression of thought, so that he seems to compose not a prophecy, but a Gospel, as is said in the Helmeted Prologue. Thus it is said to him below: lift up your voice, fear not. Say to the cities of Judah (Isa 40:9).
Excellit etiam in verborum venustate sicut vir nobilis et urbanae eloquentiae, ut dicitur in Prologo 2, Prov. XV 2 lingua sapientium ornat scientiam.
He also excels in beauty of words as a man of noble and urbane eloquence, as Jerome says in the Prologue; the tongue of the wise adorns knowledge (Prov 15:2).
3. Sed hujus explanationis tangitur consequenter ratio cum dicit super tabulas. Sunt enim tabulae legis, sunt tabulae lapidei cordis et sunt tabulae mollis et carnei cordis, II Cor. III 2–3 epistola nostra vos estis, scripta non in tabulis lapideis sed in tabulis cordis carnalibus.
3. After this the reason for this explanation is touched on, when it says, upon tables. For there are the tables of the law, there are tables of a stony heart, and there are tables of a soft and fleshly heart: you are our epistle . . . written not in tables of stone but in the fleshly tables of the heart (2 Cor 3:2–3).
Primae tabulae legis scriptae fuerunt digito Dei, sicut dicitur Exo. XXXI, et ideo scriptura profunda et obscura et plena multis mysteriis, unde oportuit superscribi illis tabulis digito hominis planam prophetiam ad explanandum, infra VIII 1 sume tibi librum grandem et scribe in eo stylo hominis.
The first tables of the law were written by the finger of God, as is said in Exodus 31:18, and therefore Scripture is profound and obscure and filled with many mysteries. Thus it was necessary for plain prophecy to be written upon these tables by the finger of man to explain them, as it says below: take a large book, and write in it with a man’s pen (Isa 8:1).
Sed secundis tabulis, scilicet cordibus lapideis, superscribi oportuit plane ad confutandum, Matth. XV 7–8 bene prophetavit de vobis Isaias dicens: populus hic labiis me honorat, cor autem eorum longe est a me.
But it was necessary to write plainly on the second tables, the stony hearts, in order to confound them: well has Isaiah prophesied of you, saying: this people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me (Matt 15:7–8).
Sed tertiis tabulis, scilicet cordibus carnalibus, oportuit plane superscribi ad instruendum, Esdrae VIII signate in libro Dei distincte et aperte ad intelligendum, et sequitur et intellexerunt cum legeretur.
But it was necessary to write on the third tables, the fleshly hearts, in order to instruct them: mark in the book of God distinctly and plainly to be understood, and it continues: and they understood when it was read (Neh 8:8).
4. Utilitas autem explanationis ostenditur in hoc quod sequitur ut percurrat. Percurrere enim est expedite in finem currendo devenire.
4. The benefit of the explanation, however, is shown in that which follows: that he may run through it. For to run through is to come to the end quickly by running.
Est autem finis triplex, scilicet finis legis, finis praecepti et finis vitae:
The end, however, is threefold: the end of the law, the end of the commandment, and the end of life.
finis legis Christus est ad justitiam omni credenti, sicut dicitur ad Ro. X 4;
The end of the law is Christ, unto justice for everyone who believes (Rom 10:4);
finis praecepti caritas est, I ad Tim. I 5;
the end of the commandment is charity (1 Tim 1:5);
finis vitae mors est, Matth. XXI qui perseveraverit usque in finem hic salvus erit.
the end of life is death: he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved (Matt 24:13).
Dicit ergo ut percurrat qui legerit, ac si dicat: ut qui legerit sine impedimento dubitationis percurrat credendo in Christum, credens amet et in amore perseveret.
Therefore it says, that he who reads it may run through it, as if to say: that he who reads it without the impediment of doubt may run through, believing in Christ, and believing may love, and in love may persevere.
5. Materia tangitur in hoc quod sequitur quia adhuc visus procul; et est principaliter materia hujus libri apparitio Filii Dei, unde in Ecclesia tempore adventus legitur. Est autem triplex apparitio Filii Dei.
5. The subject matter is touched upon in what follows: for as yet the vision is far off; and the subject matter of this book is principally the appearance of the Son of God: hence in the Church it is read during the season of Advent. Now there are three appearances of the Son of God.
Prima qua apparuit in carne homo factus, ad Titum III 4 apparuit benignitas et humanitas salvatoris nostri Dei;
The first is that in which, made man, he appeared in the flesh: the goodness and humanity of God our Savior appeared (Titus 3:4).
secunda qua apparuit per fidem a mundo creditus, ad Titum II 11–12 apparuit gratia salvatoris nostri Dei erudiens nos;
The second is that in which he appeared by faith, believed by the world: the grace of God our Savior has appeared (Titus 2:11–12).
tertia qua apparebit per speciem in glorificatione, I canon. Io. III 2 scimus quoniam cum apparuerit similes ei erimus.
The third is that in which he will appear by sight in glorification: we know that when he shall appear we shall be like to him (1 John 3:2).
Et istae apparitiones sunt materia istius libri; unde in Prologo dicitur quod omnis cura ejus est de adventu Christi et vocatione gentium.
And these appearances are the subject matter of this book. Thus in the Prologue it is said that all his concern is for the coming of Christ and the calling of the gentiles.
6. Sed certe iste qui postea sic visus est, adhuc suis temporibus procul erat.
6. But certainly the one who afterwards was thus seen was still far off in Isaiah’s own time.
Siquidem procul quia excelsum in maiestatis aequalitate, Iob XXXVI 25–26 unusquisque intuetur procul: ecce Deus magnus vincens scientiam nostram;
Indeed he was far off because he was exalted in equality of majesty: every one beholds from afar: behold, God is great, exceeding our knowledge (Job 36:25–26).