For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; so that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
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Cornelius a Lapide
For there shall arise false Christs, &c. wrought by art magic, by the power of the devil, whom many heresiarchs have had as a familiar spirit, as I have shown in1Tim. iv1. Such was their great prince Simon Magus, who deluded Nero and the Romans , so that they erected a statue to him at Rome; but at length he himself, flying through the air by the aid of the devil, was dashed down to the earth by the prayers of S. Peter, and falling upon a stone, broke his knees, "so that he who had attempted to fly was not able to walk; and he who had taken wings, lost his legs," as S. Maximus says (Hom5 , de SS. Petro et Paulo).
So as to deceive—even the elect. Understand this of final falling away, in such a sense that the elect should finally fall from grace, and be lost. For there is no surer sign of reprobation than that any one should apostatize from the faith. Falsely, therefore, does Calvin infer from this passage that the elect cannot sin. They do sin, but they repent and rise again.
If it were possible. So great shall be the tribulation and the temptation of the false Christs and heretics, their power, deceit, guile, and speciousness, that, if such a thing were possible, even the elect would be seduced by them, and come over to their errors and heresies, and so fall from the faith and be damned. But this can never happen, because of God"s more powerful protection, and His infallible predestination, as S. Augustine says (de Civ. xx19), and according to Christ"s own words, "I give unto them eternal life, and they shall not perish eternally: and no one shall pluck them out of My Father"s hand," S. John 10:28 (Vulg). For it is not possible that the elect should fall away so as to become reprobate. I do not speak of any physical or absolute necessity, but of that moral foreknowledge and predestination of God, by which He so works, and so disposes it, and combines it with the issue of future events, that there is necessity in a composite sense, as Theologians say. For although the elect are free, and free to sin, to go astray, and be lost, nevertheless, inasmuch as it has been laid down that God has predestinated and foreseen that they cannot sin, go astray, and be damned, it is impossible that they should sin, go astray, and be damned. For the predestination of God is most sure, and cannot fail. These two things, therefore, cannot co-exist, that a man should be predestinated, and yet be damned; that God should foreknow that such a man will die in His grace, and be saved, and also foreknow that he will die in sin, and be damned. In a similar manner S. John speaks of the Jews ( John 12:39), "Wherefore they could not believe, because Isaiah saith again, He hath blinded their eyes:" not as though Isaiah"s prophecy were the cause why the Jews did not believe in Christ, but because his prediction of the incredulity of the Jews was incompatible with their believing in Christ. And S. Paul says ( 1 Timothy 2:19), "The foundation of God (concerning the elect) standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His."
Moreover, those Theologians who say that the elect unto glory are persons who have been elected independently of all provision of their works, ascribe the force of this election, this necessity of their being saved, to the Divine decree; but the others, in order not to take away man"s free will, must take the matter in a composite sense. They must combine the constancy and perseverance of the elect with God"s decree to bestow this perseverance upon them, in such manner as not to interfere with their free will, and with His carrying this out in time, that is to say, by giving them in time grace of congruity and grace efficacious, whereby they may effectually, but of their own free will, resist heretics, and persevere in the faith and grace of God. Nor is it more wonderful that those cannot fall whom God wills not to fall (for who hath resisted His will?), than that they cannot fall whom God has foreseen will not fall. For God"s prescience and His will are both infallible.
Some by the elect in this place understand those who are especially beloved and chosen of God, and who, on that account, are wont to suffer dreadful things from the devil and heretics and wicked men; but they bravely and constantly resist and overcome them. It is meant, that so great shall be the temptation, that even most holy men, religious and apostolic, who are especially dear to God, would fall away from the faith, if such a thing could be, and the more powerful grace and sure election of God did not prevent it.