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At Matthew 25:14 we read:

For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents.

References to the Old Testament ( Exodus 25:39, Exodus 38:27, 2 Samuel 12:30 , 1 King 16:24 etc..) suggest that Talent was used as a measurement of either gold or silver . Some researchers suggest that the phraseology "..to each according to his ability.." used by Jesus implies that Talent was the multiplying factor of the remuneration, per month, of the worker in question.

My question therefore, is: What do the Catholic Church's interpretations say on the exact connotation of the term Talent used by Jesus ?

  • My parish's priest said this past weekend when that reading was read (33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time) that the word English "talent" gets its meaning from this Bible reading. I'm not entirely sure where he gets his information from (he mentioned the O.E.D. ), but his M.O. is to look up the etymology of words in the Gospels and use that for his homilies. – Peter Turner Nov 20 '17 at 13:47
  • A quick google search confirms this theory. :) – Flimzy Nov 20 '17 at 14:44
  • I assume you are not asking for a conversion of weight and value of a talent in Jesus' day but what it represents to a Catholic Christians responsibilities in our day. Right? – Kris Nov 20 '17 at 17:09
  • I am not asking for the figurative meaning of the term, but for its literal usages. A holistic reading of my question including the reference to OT should, I hope, make it clear. – Kadalikatt Joseph Sibichan Nov 23 '17 at 4:28
  • So the many places where one can find the estimated weight of various talents and the valuation of a talent based on market value of the precious metal it is made of and the knowledge of how many days wages a talent of gold or silver represents in bible times and modern times is not what you are looking for? – Kris Nov 24 '17 at 0:13
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There is no "Catholic interpretation", per se. A talent was simply a unit of measure, and by extension, value.

Relevant to the verse you quoted:

The heavy common talent, used in New Testament times, was 58.9 kilograms (130 lb).[5]

So a talent (of Gold) would be worth roughly (at today's prices rate--20 Nov 2017) US $2,456,300.

Also from the footnotes of the NIV:

a talent was worth about 20 years of a day laborer’s wage.

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Two Church Fathers accorded the title of Doctor of the Church by the Roman Catholic Church interpreted this passage in antiquity: John Chrysostom (ca 349-407) and Gregory the Great (ca 540-604), also known as "Gregory the Dialogist" in the east. Both offer different interpretations of the significance of the talents (Greek τάλαντον - talanton).

John Chrysostom makes the point that the unit of measure itself is unimportant. What is important is the message of the parable: the servants were given some resource and were held accountable for its use. He dismisses the fact that Luke employs a different unit of measure (pound in the KJV; Greek μνᾶ "mna"):

These parables are like the former parable of the faithful servant, and of him that was ungrateful and devoured his Lord's goods. For there are four in all, in different ways admonishing us about the same things, I mean about diligence in almsgiving, and about helping our neighbor by all means which we are able to use, since it is not possible to be saved in another way. But there He speaks more generally of all assistance which should he rendered to one's neighbor; but as to the virgins, he speaks particularly of mercifulness in alms, and more strongly than in the former parable. For there He punishes him that beats, and is drunken, and scatters and wastes his lord's goods, but here even him that does not help, nor spends abundantly his goods upon the needy. For they had oil indeed, but not in abundance, wherefore also they are punished.

And if in Luke the parable of the talents is otherwise put, this is to be said, that the one is really different from the other. For in that, from the one capital different degrees of increase were made, for from one pound one brought five, another ten; wherefore neither did they obtain the same recompense; but here, it is the contrary, and the crown is accordingly equal. For he that received two gave two, and he that had received the five again in like manner; but there since from the same beginning one made the greater, one the less, increase; as might be expected, in the rewards also, they do not enjoy the same.1

Gregory, on the other hand, attaches some allegorical significance on the quantity of talents, but not really on the monetary unit itself:

The man setting out for foreign parts entrusted his goods to his servants, for he granted his spiritual gifts to those who believed in him. To one he entrusted five talents, to another two, to another one. There are five bodily senses, sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. The five talents represent the gift of the five senses, that is, knowledge of externals; the two talents signify theory and practice; the one talent signifies theory alone.

The person who received five talents gained another five. There are some who, even without knowing how to probe into inward and mystical matters, use the natural gifts they have received to teach correctly those they can reach to strive for their heavenly home. While guarding themselves from physical wantonness, from striving after earthly things and from taking pleasure in things they can see, they restrain others too from these things by their counsel.

And there are some endowed with two talents, so to speak, who comprehend both theory and practice. They understand the fine points of interior matters and accomplish astonishing things outwardly. When they preach to others by both theory and practice, their business venture, so to call it, yields a twofold gain. It is good that another five and another two are said to have been gained, since when preaching is provided for both sexes the talents received are so to speak doubled.2

As an aside, the Greek word talanton only occurs in Matthew's Gospel, with all but one of 15 occurrences in the parable. It also found in the Greek Septuagint, occurring in over 50 different verses in over a dozen books, ranging from Exodus to Maccabees. The English word "talent" comes directly from talenton, via the Latin talentum and then the Old English talente or talentan. It came to acquire a meaning of talent in the sense of skill in addition to that of a unit of money as a result of the Gospel parable. There seems to be no evidence of it's being used in the modern sense elsewhere in the Bible. The origin of the word in classical Greek, however, was as a balance of weights (scales). In the Iliad, the word was connected to the notion of fate3, which perhaps might be vaguely related to the idea of one's innate "talents".


1. Homily LXXVIII on Matthew
2. Forty Gospel Homilies (tr. from the Latin), Homily XVIII, pp.126-133.
3. Iliad XII.43

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