Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 14
2. And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.
Gloss., non occ.: The Evangelist had above shewn the Pharisees speaking falsely against Christ's miracles, and just now His fellow-citizens wondering, yet despising Him; he now relates what opinion Herod had formed concerning Christ on hearing of His miracles, and says, "At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the fame of Jesus."
Chrys.: It is not without reason that the Evangelist here specifies the time, but that you may understand the pride and carelessness of the tyrant; inasmuch as he had not at the first made himself acquainted with the things concerning Christ, but now only after long time. Thus they, who in authority are fenced about with much pomp, learn these things slowly, because they do not much regard them.
Aug., De Cons. Ev., ii, 43: Matthew says, "At that time," not, On that day, or, In that same hour; for Mark relates the same circumstances, but not in the same order. He places [p. 523] this after the mission of the disciples to preach, though not implying that it necessarily follows there; any more than Luke, who follows the same order as Mark.
Chrys.: Observe how great a thing is virtue; Herod fears John even after he is dead, and philosophizes concerning the resurrection; as it followers; "And he saith to his servants, This is John the baptist, he is risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works are wrought in him."
Raban.: From this place we may learn how great the jealousy of the Jews was; that John could have risen from the dead, Herod, an alien-born, here declares, without any witness that he had risen: concerning Christ, whom the Prophets had foretold, the Jews preferred to believe, that He had not risen, but had been carried away by stealth. This intimates that the Gentile heart is more disposed to belief than that of the Jews.
Jerome: One of the Ecclesiastical interpreters asks what caused Herod to think that John was risen from the dead; as though we had to account for the errors of an alien, or as though the heresy of metempsychosis was at all supported by this place -- a heresy which teaches that souls pass through various bodies after a long period of years -- for the Lord was thirty years old when John was beheaded.
Raban.: All men have well thought concerning the power of the resurrection, that the saints shall have greater power after they have risen from the dead, than they had while they were yet weighed down with the infirmity of the flesh; wherefore Herod says, "Therefore mighty works are wrought in him."
Aug.: Luke's words are, "John have I beheaded: who is he of whom I hear such things? [Luke 9:9] As Luke has thus represented Herod as in doubt, we must understand rather that he was afterwards convinced of that which was commonly said -- or we must take what he here says to his servants as expressing a doubt -- for they admit of either of these acceptations.
Remig.: Perhaps some one may ask how it can be here said, "At that time Herod heard," seeing that we have long before read that Herod was dead, and that on that the Lord returned out of Egypt. This question is answered, if we remember that there were two Herods. On the death of the first Herod, his son Archelaus succeeded him, and after ten years was [p. 524] sent into exile to Vienne in Gaul. Then Caesar Augustus gave command that the kingdom should be divided into tetrarchies, and gave three parts to the sons of Herod. This Herod then who beheaded John is the son of that greater Herod under whom the Lord was born; and this is confirmed by the Evangelist adding "the tetrarch."
Gloss. ord.: Having mentioned this supposition of John's resurrection, because he had never yet spoken of his death, he now returns, and narrates how it came to pass.
Chrys.: And this relation is not set before us as a principal matter, because the Evangelist's only object was to tell us concerning Christ, and nothing beyond, unless so far as it furthered this object. He says then, "For Herod had seized John, and bound him."
Aug., De Cons. Ev., ii, 44: Luke does not give this in the same order, but where he is speaking of the Lord's baptism, so that he took beforehand an event which happened long afterwards. For after that saying of John's concerning the Lord, that His fan is in His hand, he straightway adds this, which, as we may gather from John's Gospel, did not follow immediately. For he relates that after Jesus was baptized, He went into Galilee, and thence returned into Judaea, and baptized there near to the Jordan before John was cast into prison.
But neither Matthew nor Mark have placed John's imprisonment in that order in which it appears from their own writings that it took place; for they also say that when John was delivered up, the Lord went into Galilee, and after many things there done, then by occasion of the fame of Christ reaching Herod they relate what took place in the imprisonment and beheading of John.
The cause for which he had been cast into prison he shews when he says, "On account of Herodias his brother's wife. For John had said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her."
Jerome: The old history tells us that Philip the son of Herod the greater, the brother of this Herod, had taken to wife Herodias daughter of Aretas, king of the Arabs; and that he, the father-in-law, having afterwards cause of quarrel with his son-in-law, took away his daughter, and to grieve her husband gave her in marriage to his enemy Herod.
John the Baptist therefore, who came in the spirit and power of Elias, with the same authority that he had exerted over [p. 525] Ahab and Jezebel, rebuked Herod and Herodias, because that they had entered into unlawful wedlock; it being unlawful while the own brother yet lives to take his wife.
He preferred to endanger himself with the King, than to be forgetful of the commandments of God in commending himself to him.
Chrys.: Yet he speaks not to the woman but to the husband, as he was the chief person.
Gloss. ord.: And perhaps he observed the Jewish Law, according to which John forbade him this adultery.
"And desiring to kill him, he feared the people."
Jerome: He feared a disturbance
among the people for John's sake, for he knew that multitudes had been baptized
by him in
Gloss. ord.: The fear of God amends us, the fear of man torments us, but alters not our will; it rather renders us more impatient to sin as it has held us back for a time from our indulgence.
Gloss., non occ.: The Evangelist having related John's imprisonment, proceeds to his putting to death, saying, "But on Herod's birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced in the [p. 526] midst.
Jerome: We find no others keeping their birthday besides Herod and Pharaoh, that they who were alike in their wickedness might be alike in their festivities.
Remig.: It should be known that it is customary not for rich only but for poor mothers also, to educate their daughters so chastely, that they are scarce so much as seen by strangers. But this unchaste woman had so brought up her daughter after the same manner, that she had taught her not chastity but dancing. Nor is Herod to be less blamed who forgot that his was a royal palace, but this woman made it a theatre; "And it pleased Herod, so that he swore with an oath that he would give her whatsoever she should ask of him."
Jerome: I do not excuse Herod that he committed this murder against his will by reason of his oath, for perhaps he took the oath for the very purpose of bringing about the murder. But if he says that he did it for his oath's sake, had she asked the death of her mother, or her father, would he have granted it or not? What then he would have refused in his own person, he ought to have rejected in that of the Prophet.
Isidore, Lib. Syn., ii, 10: In evil promises then break faith. That promise is impious which must be kept by crime; that oath is not to be observed by which we have unwittingly pledged ourselves to evil.
It follows, "And she being before instructed of her mother said, Give me here John Baptist's head in a charger."
Jerome: For Herodias, fearing that Herod might some time recover his senses, and be reconciled to his brother, and dissolve their unlawful union by a divorce, instructs her daughter to ask at once at the banquet the head of John, a reward of blood worthy of the deed of the dancing.
Chrys.: Here is a twofold accusation against the damsel, that she danced, and that she chose to ask an execution as her reward. Observe how Herod is at once cruel and yielding; he obliges himself by an oath, and leaves her free to choose her request. Yet when he knew what evil was resulting from her request, he was grieved, "And the king was sorry," for virtue gains praise and admiration even among the bad.
Jerome: Otherwise; It is the manner of Scripture to speak of events as they were commonly viewed at the time by all. So Joseph is called by Mary herself the father of Jesus; so here [p. 527] Herod is said to be "sorry," because the guests believed that he was so.
This dissembler of his own inclinations, this contriver of a murder displayed sorrow in his face, when he had joy in his mind. "For his oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given."
He excuses his crime by his oath, that his wickedness might be done under a pretence of piety. That he adds, "and them that sat at meat with him," he would have them all sharers in his crime, that a bloody dish might be brought in, in a luxurious feast.
Chrys.: If he was afraid to have so many witnesses of his perjury, how much more ought he to have feared so many witnesses of a murder?
Remig.: Here is a less sin done for the sake of another greater; he would not extinguish his lustful desires, and therefore he betakes him to luxurious living; he would not put any restraint on his luxury, and thus he passes to the guilt of murder; for, "He sent and beheaded John in prison, and his head was brought in a charger."
Jerome, Hieron. Liv. xxxix, 43: We read in Roman history, that Flaminius, a Roman general, sitting at supper with his mistress, on her saying that she had never seen a man beheaded, gave permission that a man under sentence for a capital crime should be brought in and beheaded during the entertainment. For this he was expelled the senate by the censors, because he had mingled feasting with blood, and had employed death, though of a criminal, for the amusement of another, causing murder and enjoyment to be joined together.
How much more wicked Herod, and Herodias, and the damsel who danced; she asked as her bloody reward the head of a Prophet, that she might have in her power the tongue that reproved the unlawful nuptials.
Greg., Mor., iii, 7: But not without most deep wonder do I consider, that he who in his mother's womb was filled with the spirit of prophecy, than whom there arose not a greater among them that are born of women, is cast into prison by wicked men, and is beheaded because of the dancing of a girl, and that a man of such severe life dies for the sport of shameful men.
Are we to think that there was any thing in his life which this so shameful death should wipe away? God thus oppresses His people in the least things, because He sees how He may reward them in the highest things. And [p. 528] hence may be gathered what they will suffer whom He casts away, if He thus tortures those He loves.
It follows, "And his disciples came, and took up his body, and buried it."
Jerome: By which we may understand both the disciples of John himself, and of the Saviour.
Raban., Antiq. xviii, 5: Josephus relates, that John was sent bound to the castle of Mecheron, and there beheaded; but ecclesiastical history relates that he was buried in Sebastia, a town of Palestine, which was formerly called Samaria.
Chrys., Hom., xlix: Observe how John's disciples are henceforth more attached to Jesus; they it is who told Him what was done concerning John; "And they came and told Jesus." For leaving all they take refuge with Him, and so by degrees after their calamity, and the answer given by Christ, they are set right.
Hilary: Mystically, John represents the Law; for the Law preached Christ, and John came of the Law, preaching Christ out of the Law. Herod is the Prince of the people, and the Prince of the people bears the name and the cause of the whole body put under him. John then warned Herod that he should not take to him his brother's wife. For there are and there were two people, of the circumcision, and of the Gentiles; and these are brethren, children of the same parent of the human race, but the Law warned Israel that, he should not take to him the works of the Gentiles and unbelief which was united to them as by the bond of conjugal love.
On the birthday, that is amidst the enjoyments of the things of the body, the daughter of Herodias danced; for pleasure, as it were springing from unbelief, was carried in its alluring course throughout the whole of Israel, and the nation bound itself thereto as by an oath, for sin and worldly pleasures the Israelites sold the gifts of eternal life.
She (Pleasure), at the suggestion of her mother Unbelief, begged that there should be given her the head of John, that is, the glory of the Law; but the people knowing the good that was in the Law, yielded these terms to pleasure, not without sorrow for its own danger, conscious that it ought not to have given up so great glory of its teachers. [p. 529]
But forced by its sins, as by the force of an oath, as well
as overcome by the fear, and corrupted by the example of the neighbouring
princes, it sorrowfully yields to the blandishments of pleasure. So among
the other gratifications of a debauched people the head of John is brought
in a dish, that is by the loss of the Law, the pleasures
of the body, and worldly luxury is increased. It is carried by the damsel
to her mother; thus depraved
Raban.: Otherwise; Even at this day we see that in the head of the Prophet John the Jews have lost Christ, who is the head of the Prophets.
Jerome: And the Prophet has lost among them both tongue and voice.
Remig.: Otherwise; The beheading of John marks the increase of that fame which Christ has among the people, as the exaltation of the Lord upon the cross marks the progress of the faith; whence John had said, "He must increase, but I must decrease." [John 3:30]
Gloss., ap. Anselm: The Saviour having heard the death of His baptist, retired into the desert; as it follows, "which when Jesus had heard, he departed thence by ship into a desert place."
Aug., De Cons. Ev., ii, 45: This the Evangelist relates to have been done immediately after the passion of John, therefore after this were those things done that were spoken of above, and moved Herod to say, "This is John." For we must suppose those things to have been after his death which report carried to Herod, and which moved him to doubt who he could be concerning [p. 530] whom he heard such things; for himself had put John to death.
Jerome: He did not retire into the desert through fear of death, as some suppose, but in mercy to His enemies, that they might not add murder to murder; putting off His death till the day of His passion; on which day the lamb is to be slain as the sacrament, and the posts of them that believe to be sprinkled with the blood.
Or, He retired to leave us an example to shun that rashness which leads men to surrender themselves voluntarily, because not all persevere with like constancy under torture with the which they offered themselves to it. For this reason He says in another place, "When they shall persecute you in one city, flee ye to another." Whence the Evangelist says not 'fled,' but elegantly, "departed thence," (or, 'withdrew,') shewing that He shunned rather than feared persecution.
Or for another reason He might have withdrawn into a desert place on hearing of John's death, namely, to prove the faith of the believers.
Chrys.: Or; He did this because He desired to prolong the economy of His humanity, the time not being yet come for openly manifesting His deity; wherefore also He charged His disciples that they should tell no man that He was the Christ. But after His resurrection He would have this made manifest.
Therefore although He knew of Himself what was done, yet before it was told Him He withdrew not, that He might shew the verity of His incarnation in all things; for He would that this should be assured not by sight only, but by His actions. And when He withdrew, He did not go into the city, but into the desert by ship that none might follow Him. Yet do not the multitudes leave Him even for this, but still follow after Him, not deterred by what had been done concerning John.
Whence it follows, "And when the multitudes had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities."
Jerome: They followed on foot, not riding, or in carriages, but with the toil of their own legs, to shew the ardour of their mind.
Chrys.: And they immediately reap the reward of this; for it follows, "And he went out and saw a great multitude, and he had compassion upon them, and healed their sick." For though great was the affection of those who had left their cities, and sought Him carefully, yet the [p. 531] things that were done by Him surpassed the reward of any zeal.
Therefore he assigns compassion as the cause of this healing. And it is great compassion to heal all, and not to require faith.
Hilary: Mystically; The Word
of God, on the close of the Law, entered the ship, that is, the Church; and
departed into the desert, that is, leaving to walk with
Jerome: It is to be observed moreover, that when the Lord came into the desert, great crowds followed Him; for before He went into the wilderness of the Gentiles, He was worshipped by only one people. They leave their cities, that is, their former conversation, and various dogmas. That Jesus went out, shews that the multitudes had the will to go, but not the strength to attain, therefore the Saviour departs out of His place and goes to meet them.
15. And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, "This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals."
19. And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.
Chrys.: It is a proof of the faith of these multitudes that they endured hunger in waiting for the Lord even till evening; to which purpose it follows, "And when it was evening, his disciples came unto him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past."
The Lord purposing to feed them waits to be asked, as always not stepping forward first to do miracles, but when called upon. None out of the crowd approached Him, both because they stood in great awe of Him, and because in their zeal of love they did not feel their hunger. But even the disciples do not come and say, Give them to eat; for the disciples were as yet in an imperfect condition; but they say, "This is a desert place." So that what was proverbial among the Jews to express a miracle, as it is said, "Can he spread a table in the wilderness?" [Ps 78:19] this also He shews among his other works.
For this cause also He leads them out into the desert, that the miracle might be clear of all suspicion, and that none might suppose that any thing was supplied towards the feast from any neighbouring town. But though the place be desert, yet is He there who feeds the world; and though the hour is, as they say, past, yet He who now commanded was not subjected to hours. And though the Lord had gone before His disciples in healing many sick, yet they were so imperfect that they could not judge what He would do concerning food for them, wherefore they add, "Send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns, and buy themselves food." Observe the wisdom of the Master; He says not straightway to them, 'I will give them to eat;' for they would not easily have received this, but, "Jesus said to them, They need not depart, Give ye them to eat."
Jerome: Wherein He calls the Apostles to breaking of bread, that the greatness of the miracle might be more evident by their testimony that they had none.
Aug., De Cons. Ev., ii, 46: It may perplex some how, if the Lord, according to the relation [p. 533] of John, asked Philip whence bread was to be found for them, that can be true which Matthew here relates, that the disciples first prayed the Lord to send the multitudes away, that they might buy food from the nearest towns. Suppose then that after these words the Lord looked upon the multitude and said what John relates, but Matthew and the others have omitted. And by such cases as this none ought to be perplexed, when one of the Evangelists relates what the rest have omitted.
Chrys.: Yet not even by these words were the disciples set right, but speak yet to Him as to man; "They answered unto Him, We have here but five loaves and two fishes." From this we learn the philosophy of the disciples, how far they despised food; they were twelve in number, yet they had but five loaves and two fishes; for things of the body were contemned by them, they were altogether possessed by spiritual things. But because the disciples were yet attracted to earth, the Lord begins to introduce the things that were of Himself; "He saith unto them, Bring them hither to me."
Wherefore does He not create out of nothing the bread to feed the multitude with? That He might put to silence the mouth of Marcion and Manichaeus, who take away from God His creatures, [margin note: i.e. deny that God created the visible world] and by His deeds might teach that all things that are seen are His works and creation, and that it is He that has given us the fruits of the earth, who said in the beginning, "Let the earth bring forth the green herb;" [Gen 1:11] for this is no less a deed than that. For of five loaves to make so many loaves, and ashes in like manner, is no less a thing than to bring fruits from the earth, reptiles and other living things from the waters; which shewed Him to be Lord both of land and sea.
By the example of the disciples also we ought to be taught, that though we should have but little, we ought to give that to such as have need. For they when bid to bring their five loaves say not, Whence shall we satisfy our own hunger? but immediately obey; "And He commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took they five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven blessed them, and brake."
Why did He look to heaven and bless? For it should be believed concerning Him that He is from the Father, and that He is equal with [p. 534] the Father. His equality He shews when He does all things with power. That He is from the Father He shews by referring to Him whatsoever He does, and calling upon Him on all occasions.
To prove these two things therefore, He works His miracles at times with power, at other times with prayer. It should be considered also that in lesser things He looks to heaven, but in greater He does all with power. When He forgave sins, raised the dead, stilled the sea, opened the secrets of the heart, opened the eyes of him that was born blind, which were works only of God, He is not seen to pray; but when He multiplies the loaves, a work less than any of these, He looks up to heaven, that you may learn that even in little things He has no power but from His Father.
And at the same time He teaches us not to touch our food, until we have returned thanks to Him who gives it us. For this reason also He looks up to heaven, because His disciples had examples of many other miracles, but none of this.
Jerome: While the Lord breaks there is a sowing of food; for had the loaves been whole and not broken into fragments, and thus divided into a manifold harvest, they could not have fed so great a multitude. The multitude receives the food from the Lord through the Apostles; as it follows, "And he gave the loaves to hie disciples, and the disciples to the multitude."
Chrys.: In doing which He not only honoured them, but would that upon this miracle they should not be unbelieving, nor forget it when it was past, seeing their own hands had borne witness to it. Therefore also He suffers the multitudes first to feel the sense of hunger, and His disciples to come to Him, and to ask Him, and He took the loaves at their hands, that they might have many testimonies of that which was done, and many things to remind them of the miracle.
From this that He gave them, nothing more than bread and fish, and that He set this equally before all, He taught them moderation, frugality, and that charity by which they should have all things in common. This He also taught them in the place, in making them sit down upon the grass; for He sought not to feed the body only, but to instruct the mind.
But the bread and fish multiplied in the disciples' hands; whence it follows, "And they did all eat, and were [p. 535] filled."
But the miracle ended not here; for He caused to abound not only whole loaves, but fragments also; to shew that the first loaves were not so much as what was left, and that they who were not present might learn what had been done, and that none might think that what had been done was a phantasy; "And they took up fragments that were left, twelve baskets full."
Jerome: Each of the Apostles fills his basket of the fragments left by his Saviour, that these fragments might witness that they were true loaves that were multiplied.
Chrys.: For this reason also He caused twelve baskets to remain over and above, that Judas might bear his basket. He took up the fragments, and gave them to the disciples and not to the multitudes, who were yet more imperfectly trained than the disciples.
Jerome: To the number of loaves, five, the number of the men that ate is apportioned, five thousand; "And the number of them that had eaten was about five thousand men, besides women and children."
Chrys.: This was to the very great credit of the people, that the women and the men stood up when these remnants still remained.
Hilary: The five loaves are not multiplied into more, but fragments succeed to fragments; the substance growing whether upon the tables, or in the hands that took them up, I know not.
Raban.: When John is to describe this miracle, he first tells us that the passover is at hand; Matthew and Mark place it immediately after the execution of John. Hence we may gather, that he was beheaded when the paschal festival was near at hand, and that at the passover of the following year, the mystery of the Lord's passion was accomplished.
Jerome: But all these things are full of mysteries; the Lord does these things not in the morning, nor at noon, but in the evening, when the Sun of righteousness was set.
Remig.: By the evening the Lord's death is denoted; and after He, the true Sun, was set on the altar of the cross, He filled the hungry. Or by evening is denoted the last age of this world, in which the Son of God came and refreshed the multitudes of those that believed on Him.
Raban.: When the disciples ask the Lord to send away the multitudes that they might buy food in the towns, it signifies the pride of the Jews towards the multitudes of the Gentiles, whom they judged rather fit [p. 536] to seek for themselves food in the assemblies of the Pharisees than to use the pasture of the Divine books
Hilary: But the Lord answered, "They have no need to go," shewing that those whom He heals have no need of the food of mercenary doctrine, and have no necessity to return to Judaea to buy food; and He commands the Apostles that they give them food. Did He not know then that there was nothing to give them?
But there was a complete series of types to be set forth; for as yet it was not given the Apostles to make and minister the heavenly bread, the flood of eternal life; and their answer thus belongs to the chain of spiritual interpretation; they were as yet confined to the five loaves, that is, the five books of the Law, and the two fishes, that is, the preaching of the Prophets and of John.
Raban.: Or, by the two fishes we may understand the Prophets, and the Psalms, for the whole of the Old Testament was comprehended in these three, the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms.
Hilary: These therefore the Apostles first set forth, because they were yet in these things; and from these things the preaching of the Gospel grows to its more abundant strength and virtue. Then the people is commanded to sit down upon the grass, as no longer lying upon the ground, but resting upon the Law, each one reposing upon the fruit of his own works as upon the grass of the earth.
Jerome: Or, they are bid to lie down on the grass, and that, according to another Evangelist, by fifties and by hundreds, that after they have trampled upon their flesh, and have subjugated the pleasures of the world as dried grass under them, then by the presence [ed. note: Vallarsi reads paenitentiam, Jerome has borrowed the interpretation from Origen who refers to the year of jubilee; and the Glossa ordinaria on this verse is, "The rest of the Jubilee is here contained under the mystery of the number fifty; for fifty twice taken makes a hundred; because we must first rest from evil actions, that the soul may afterwards more fully repose in meditation."] of the number fifty, they ascend to the eminent perfection of a hundred.
He looks up to heaven to teach us that our eyes are to be directed thither. The Law with the Prophets is broken, and in the midst of them are brought forward mysteries, that whereas they partook not of it whole, when broken into pieces it may be food for the multitude of the [p. 537] Gentiles.
Hilary: Then the loaves are
given to the Apostles, because through them the gifts of divine grace were
to be rendered. And the number of them that did eat is found to be the same
as that of those who should believe; for we find in the book of Acts that
out of the vast number of the people of
Jerome: There partook five thousand who had reached maturity; for women and children, the weaker sex, and the tender age, were unworthy of number; thus in the book of Numbers, slaves, women, children, and an undistinguished crowd, are passed over unnumbered.
Raban.: The multitude being hungry, He creates no new viands, but having taken what the disciples had, He gave thanks. In like manner when He came in the flesh, He preached no other things than what had been foretold, but shewed that the writings of the Law and the Prophets were big with mysteries.
That which the multitude leave is taken up by the disciples, because the more secret mysteries which cannot be comprehended by the uninstructed, are not to be treated with neglect, but are to be diligently sought out by the twelve Apostles (who are represented by the twelve baskets) and their successors. For by baskets servile offices are performed, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the strong. The five thousand for the five senses of the body are they who in a secular condition know how to use rightly things without.
Chrys.: Desiring to occasion a diligent examination of the things that had been done, He commanded those who had beheld the foregoing sign to be separated from Him; for even if He had continued present it would have been said that He had wrought the miracle fantastically, and not in verity; but it would never be urged against Him that He had done it in His absence; and therefore it is said, "And straightway Jesus compelled his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him to the other side, while he sent the multitudes away."
Jerome: These words shew that they left the Lord unwillingly, not desiring through their love for their teacher to be separated from Him even for a moment
Chrys.: It should be observed, that when the Lord works a great miracle, He sends the multitudes away, teaching us thereby never to pursue the praise of the multitude, nor to attract them to us. Further, He teaches us that we should [p. 539] not be ever mixed with crowds, nor yet always shunning them; but that both may be done with profit; whence if, follows, "And when he had sent the multitude array, he went up into a mountain apart to pray;" shewing us that solitude is good, when we have need to pray to God.
For this also He goes into the desert, and there spends the night in prayer, to teach us that for prayer we should seek stillness both in time and place.
Jerome: That He withdraws to pray alone, you should refer not to Him who fed five thousand on five loaves, but to Him who on hearing of the death of John withdrew into the desert; not that we would separate the Lord's person into two parts, but that His actions are divided between the God and the man.
Aug., De Cons. Ev., ii, 47: This may seem contrary to that Matthew says, that having sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain that He might pray alone; and John again says, that it was on a mountain that He fed this same multitude. But since John himself says further, that after that miracle He retired to a mountain that He might not be held by the multitude, who sought to make Him a king, it is clear that He had come down from the mountain when He fed them. Nor do Matthew's words, "He went up into a mountain alone to pray," disagree with this, though John says, "When he knew that they would come to make him a king, he withdrew into a mountain himself alone." [John 6:15]
For the cause of His praying is not contrary to the cause of His retiring, for herein the Lord teaches us that we have great cause for prayer when we have cause for Right. Nor, again, is it contrary to this that Matthew says first, that He bade His disciples go into the boat, and then that He sent the multitudes away, and went into a mountain alone to pray; while John relates that He first withdrew to the mountain, and then, "when it was late, his disciples went down to the sea, and when they had entered into a boat, &c." for who does not see that John is relating as afterwards done by His disciples what Jesus had commanded before He retired into the mountain?
Jerome: Rightly had the Apostles departed from the Lord as unwilling, and slow to leave Him, lest they should suffer shipwreck whilst He was not with them. For it follows, "Now when it was evening he was there along;" that is, in the mountain; "but the boat was in the middle of the [p. 540] sea tossed with the waves; for the wind was contrary."
Chrys.: Again, the disciples suffer shipwreck, as they had done before; but then they had Him in the boat, but now they are alone. Thus gradually He leads them to higher things, and instructs them to endure all manfully.
Jerome: While the Lord tarries in the top of the mountain, straightway a wind arises contrary to them, and stirs up the sea, and the disciples are in imminent peril of shipwreck, which continues till Jesus comes.
Chrys.: But He suffers them to be tossed the whole night, exciting their hearts by fear, and inspiring them with greater desire and more lasting recollection of Him; for this reason He did not stand by them immediately, but as it follows, "in the fourth watch of the night, he came to them walking upon the sea."
Jerome: The military guards and watches are divided into portions of three hours each. When then he says that the Lord came to them in the fourth watch, this shews that they had been in danger the whole night.
Chrys.: Teaching them not to seek a speedy riddance of coming evil, but to bear manfully such things as befal them. But when they thought that they were delivered, then was their fear increased, whence it follows, "And seeing him walking upon the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a vision, and through fear they cried out." For this the Lord ever does; when He is to rescue from any evil, He brings in things terrible and difficult. For since it is impossible that our temptation should continue a long time, when the warfare of the righteous is to be finished, then He increases their conflicts, desiring to make greater gain of them; which He did also in Abraham, making his conflict his trial of the loss of his son.
Jerome: A confused noise and uncertain sound is the mark of great fear. But if, according to Marcion and Manichaeus, our Lord was not born of a virgin, but was seen in a phantasm, how is it that the Apostles now fear that they have seen a phantasm (or vision)?
Chrys.: Christ then did not reveal Himself to His disciples until they cried out; for the more intense their fear, the more did they rejoice in His presence; whence it follows, "And immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, Be of good cheer, it is I, be not afraid." This speech took away their fear, and prepared their confidence.
Jerome: Whereas He [p. 541]
says, "It is I," without saying who, either they might be able to
understand Him speaking through the darkness of night; or they might know
that it was He who had spoken to Moses, "Say unto the children of
On every occasion Peter is found to be the one of the most ardent faith. And with the same zeal as ever, so now, while the others are silent, he believes that by the will of his Master he will be able to do that which by nature he cannot do; whence it follows, "Peter answered and said unto him, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee upon the water." As much as to say, Do thou command, and straightway it will become solid; and that body which is in itself heavy will become light.
Aug., Serm., 76, 5: This I am not able by myself, but in Thee I am able. Peter confessed what he was in himself, and what he should receive from Him by whose will he believed he should be enabled to do that which no human infirmity was equal to.
Chrys.: See how great his warmth, how great his faith. He said not, Pray and entreat for me; but "Bid me;" he believes not only that Christ can Himself walk on the sea, but that He can lead others also thereon; also he wishes to come to Him speedily, and this, so great a thing, he asks not from ostentation, but from love. For he said not, Bid me walk upon the waters, but, "Bid me come unto thee."
And it seems that having shewn in the first miracle that He has power over the sea, He now leads them to a more powerful sign; "He saith unto him, Come. And Peter, going forth of the boat, walked on the sea, that he might go to Jesus."
Jerome: Let those who think that the Lords body was not real, because He walked upon the yielding waters as a light ethereal substance, answer here how Peter walked, whom they by no means deny to be man.
Raban.: Lastly, Theodorus wrote that the Lord had not bodily weight in respect of His flesh, but without weight walked on the sea. But the catholic faith preaches the contrary; for Dionysius says that He walked on the wave, without the feet being immersed, having bodily weight, and the burden of matter.
Chrys.: Peter overcame that which was greater, the waves, namely, of the sea, but is troubled by the lesser, the blowing wind, for it follows, "But seeing the wind boisterous, he was afraid." Such is human nature, in great trials ofttimes [p. 542] holding itself aright, and in lesser falling into fault. This fear of Peter shewed the difference between Master and disciple, and thereby appeased the other disciples. For if they had indignation when the two brothers prayed to sit on the right and left hand, much more had they now. For they were not yet made spiritual; afterwards when they had been made spiritual, they every where yield the first place to Peter, and appoint him to lead in harangues to the people.
Jerome: Moreover he is left to temptation for a short season, that his faith may be increased, and that he may understand that he is saved not by his ability to ask, but by the power of the Lord. For faith burned at his heart, but human frailty drew him into the deep.
Aug., Serm., 76, 8: Peter then presumed on the Lord, he tottered as man, but returned to the Lord, as it follows, "And when he began to sink, he cried out, saying, Lord, save me." Does the Lord then desert him in his peril of failure whom he had hearkened to when he first called on Him? "Immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him."
Chrys.: He bade not the winds to cease, but stretched forth His hand and caught him, because his faith was required. For when our own means fail, then those which are of God stand. Then to shew that not the strength of the tempest, but the smallness of his faith worked the danger, "He saith unto him, 0 thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?" which shews that not even the wind would have been able to hurt him, if his faith had been firm.
But as the mother bears on her wings and brings back to the nest her chick which has left the nest before its time and has fallen, so did Christ. "And when they were come into the boat, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the boat came and worshipped him, saying, Truly thou art the Son of God."
Raban.: This may be understood either of the sailors, or of the Apostles.
Chrys.: Observe how He leads all gradually to that which is above them; He had before rebuked the sea, now He shews forth His power yet more by walking upon the sea, by bidding another to do the same, and by saving him in his peril; therefore they said unto Him, "Truly thou art the Son of God," which they had not said above.
Jerome: If then upon this single miracle of stilling the sea, a thing which often happens by accident after even great tempests, the [p. 543] sailors and pilots confessed them to be truly the Son of God, how does Arrius preach in the Church itself that He is a creature?
Psuedo-Aug., App. Serm., 72, 1: Mystically; The mountain is loftiness. But what is higher than the heavens in the world? And Who it was that ascended into heaven, that our faith knows. Why did He ascend alone into heaven? Because no man has ascended into heaven, but He that came down from heaven. For even when He shall come in the end, and shall have exalted us into heaven, He will yet ascend alone, inasmuch as the head with its body is One Christ, and now the head only is ascended. He went up to pray, because He is ascended to make intercession to His Father for us.
Hilary: Or, that He is alone in the evening, signifies His sorrow at the time of His passion, when the rest were scattered from Him in fear.
Jerome: Also He ascends into the mountain alone because the multitude cannot follow Him aloft, until He has instructed it by the shore of the sea.
Aug.: But while Christ prays on high, the boat is tossed with great waves in the deep; and forasmuch as the waves rise, that boat can be tossed; but because Christ prays, it cannot be sunk. Think of that boat as the Church, and the stormy sea as this world.
Hilary: That He commands His disciples to enter the ship and to go across the sea, while He sends the multitudes away, and after that He goes up into the mountain to pray; He therein bids us to be within the Church, and to be in peril until such time as returning in His splendour He shall give salvation to all the people that shall be remaining of Israel, and shall forgive their sins; and having dismissed them into His Father's kingdom, returning thanks to His Father, He shall sit down in His glory and majesty.
Meanwhile the disciples are tossed by the wind and the waves; struggling against all the storms of this world, raised by the opposition of the unclean spirit.
Aug.: For when any of a wicked will and of great power, proclaims a persecution of the Church, then it is that a mighty wave rises against the boat of Christ.
Raban.: Whence it is well said here, that the ship was in the middle of the sea, and He alone on the land, because the Church is sometimes oppressed with such persecution that her Lord may seem to have forsaken her for [p. 544] a season.
Aug.: The Lord came to visit His disciples who are tossed on the sea in the fourth watch of the night -- that is, at its close; for each watch consisting of three hours, the night has thus four watches.
Hilary: The first watch was therefore of the Law, the second of the Prophets, the third His coming in the flesh, the fourth His return in glory.
Aug.: Therefore in the fourth watch of the night, that is when the night is nearly ended, He shall come, in the end of the world, when the night of iniquity is past, to judge the quick and the dead.
But His coming was with a wonder. The waves swelled, but they were trodden upon. Thus howsoever the powers of this world shall swell themselves, our Head shall crush their head.
Hilary: But Christ coming in the end shall find His Church wearied, and tossed by the spirit of Anti-Christ, and by the troubles of the world. And because by their long experience of Anti-Christ they will be troubled at every novelty of trial, they shall have fear even at the approach of the Lord, suspecting deceitful appearances.
But the good Lord banishes their fear, saying, "It is I;" and by proof of His presence takes away their dread of impending shipwreck.
Aug., Quaest. Ev., i, 15: Or; That the disciples here say, It is a phantasm, figures those who yielding to the Devil shall doubt of the coming of Christ. That Peter cries to the Lord for help that he should not be drowned, signifies that He shall purge His Church with certain trials even after the last persecution; as Paul also notes, saying, "He shall be saved, yet so as by fire." [1 Cor 3:15]
Hilary: Or; That Peter alone out of all the number of those that were in the vessel has courage to answer, and to pray that the Lord would bid him come to Him upon the waters, figures the frowardness of his will in the Lord's passion, when following after the Lord's steps he endeavoured to attain to despise death. But his fearfulness shews his weakness in his after trial, when through fear of death, he was driven to the necessity of denial. His crying out here is the groaning of his repentance there.
Raban.: The Lord looked back upon him, and brought him to repentance; He stretched forth His hand, and forgave him, and thus the disciple found salvation, which "is not of him that willeth or of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy." [Rom 9:16]
Hilary: That when Peter was seized [p. 545] with fear, the Lord gave him not power of coming to Him, but held him by the hand and sustained him, this is the signification thereof; that He who alone was to suffer for all alone forgave the sins of a11; and no partner is admitted into that which was bestowed upon mankind by one.
Aug., Serm. 76: For in one Apostle, namely Peter, first and chief in the order of Apostles in whom was figured the Church, both kinds were to be signified; that is, the strong, in his walking upon the waters; the weak, in that he doubted; for to each of us our lusts are as a tempest. Dost thou love God? Thou walkest on the sea; the fear of this world is under thy feet. Dost thou love the world? It swallows thee up. But when thy heart is tossed with desire, then that thou mayest overcome thy lust, call upon the divine person of Christ.
Remig.: And the Lord will be with thee to help thee, when lulling to rest the perils of thy trials, He restores the confidence of His protection, and this towards the break of day; for when human frailty beset with difficulties considers the weakness of its own powers, it looks upon itself as in darkness; when it raises its view to the protection of heaven, it straightway beholds the rise of the morning star, which gives its light through the whole of the morning watch.
Raban.: Nor should we wonder that the wind ceased when the Lord had entered into the boat; for in whatsoever heart the Lord is present by grace, there all wars cease.
Hilary: Also by this entrance of Christ into the boat, and the calm of the wind and sea thereupon, is pointed out the eternal peace of the Church, and that rest which shall be after His return in glory. And forasmuch as He shall then appear manifestly, rightly do they all cry out now in wonder, "Truly thou art the Son of God." For there shall then be a free and public confession of all men that the Son of God is come no longer in lowliness of body, but that He has given peace to the Church in heavenly glory.
Aug., Quaest. Ev., i, 15: For it is here conveyed to us that His glory will then be made manifest, seeing that now they who walk by faith see it in a figure.
34. And when they were gone over, they came into the land of Gennesaret.
Remig.: The Evangelist had related above that the Lord had commanded His disciples to enter the boat, and to go before Him across the strait; he now proceeds with the same intention to relate whither they arrived by their passage, "And when they were gone over, they came into the land of Gennezareth."
Raban.: The land of Gennezar, by the lake of Gennezareth, takes its name from a natural power which it is said to have of spontaneously modulating its waters so as to excite a breeze; the Greek words importing, 'creating for itself the breeze.'
Chrys.: But the Evangelist shews that it was now long time since Christ had come into these parts; for it follows, "And where the men of that place knew him, they sent into all that region."
Jerome: They knew Him by fame, not by sight; although indeed by reason of the greatness of the signs which He did among the people, He was known by face to great numbers. And note how great the faith of the men of the land of Gennezareth, that they were not content with the healing of the men of that country only, but sent to all the towns round about.
Chrys.: Nor do they now as before drag Him to their houses, and seek the touch of His hand, but they draw Him by their greater faith, for they brought unto him all them that were sick, and besought him that they might touch but the hem of his garment. For the woman who suffered under the issue of blood had taught them all this wisdom, namely, that by touching the hem only of Christ's garment they might be saved.
Therefore it follows, "And as many as touched, were made whole."
Jerome: If we knew what the word Gennezareth would convey in our tongue, we might understand how under the type of the Apostles and the boat, Jesus guides to shore the Church when He has delivered it from the wreck of persecution, and makes it to rest in a most tranquil harbour.
Raban.: Genezar [p. 547] is interpreted, 'rise,' 'beginning.' For then will complete rest be given to us, when Christ shall have restored to us our inheritance of Paradise, and the joy of our first robe.
Hilary: Otherwise; When the times of the Law were ended, and five thousand out of Israel were entered within the Church, it was then that the people of believers met Him, then those that were saved out of the Law by faith set before the Lord the rest of their sick and weak; and they that were thus brought sought to touch the hem of His garment, because through their faith they would be healed. And as the virtue of the hem proceeded from the whole garment, so the virtue of the grace of the Holy Spirit went forth from our Lord Jesus Christ, and imparted to the Apostles, who proceeded as it were from the same body, administers salvation to such as desire to touch.
Jerome: Or, by the hem of the garment understand His least commandment, which whosoever transgresses, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; or, again, His assumption of the body, by which we come to the Word of God.
Chrys.: But we have not a hem or a garment only of Christ, but have even His body, that we may eat thereof. If then they who touched the hem of His garment derived so much virtue therefrom, much more they that shall receive Himself whole.