St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea (Golden Chain)
Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 17
l. And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,
Remig.: In this Transfiguration undergone on the mount, the Lord fulfilled within six days the promise made to His disciples, that they should have a sight of His glory; as it is said, "And after six days he took Peter, and James, and John his brother."
Jerome: It is made a question how it could be after six days that He took them, when Luke says eight. The answer is easy, that here one reckoned only the intervening days, there the first and the last are also added.
Chrys.: He does not take them up immediately upon the promise being made, but six days after, for this reason, that the other disciples might not be touched with any human passion, as a feeling of jealousy; or else that during these days' space, those disciples who were to be taken up might become kindled with a more eager desire.
Raban., e Bed.: Justly was it after six days that He shewed His glory, because after six ages is to be the resurrection [ed. note: See the Oxford Translation of S. Cyprian, Tr. xiii, n.a.]
Origen: Or because [p. 600] in six days this whole visible world was made; so he who is above all the things of this world, may ascend into the high mountain, and there see the glory of the Word of God.
Chrys.: He took these three because He set them before others. But observe how Matthew does not conceal who were preferred to himself; the like does John also when he records the preeminent praise given to Peter. For the company of Apostles was free from jealousy and vain glory.
Hilary: In the three thus taken up with Him, the election of people out of the three stocks of Sem, Cam, and Japhet is figured.
Raban., e Bed.: Or; He took only three disciples with Him, because many are called but few chosen. Or because they who now hold in incorrupt mind the faith of the Holy Trinity, shall then joy in the everlasting beholding of it.
Remig.: When the Lord was about to shew His disciples the glory of His brightness, He led them into the mountain, as it follows, "And he took them up into a high mountain apart." Herein teaching, that it is necessary for all who seek to contemplate God, that they should not grovel in weak pleasures, but by love of things above should be ever raising themselves towards heavenly things; and to shew His disciples that they should not look for the glory of the divine brightness in the gulph of the present world, but in the kingdom of the heavenly blessedness. He leads them apart, because the saints are separated from the wicked by their whole soul and devotion of their faith, and shall be utterly separated in the future; or because many are called, but few chosen.
It follows, "And he was transfigured before them."
Jerome: Such as He is to be in the time of the Judgment, such was He now seen of the Apostles. Let none suppose that He lost His former form and lineaments, or laid aside His bodily reality, taking upon Him a spiritual or ethereal Body, How His transfiguration was accomplished, the Evangelist shews, saying, "And his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment became white as snow." For that His face is said to shine, and His raiment described to become white, does not take away substance, but confer glory. In truth, the Lord was transformed into that glory in which He shall hereafter come in His Kingdom. The transformation enhanced the brightness, but did not destroy [p. 601] the countenance, although the body were spiritual; whence also His raiment was changed and became white to such a degree, as in the expression of another Evangelist, no fuller on earth can whiten them. But all this is the property of matter, and is the subject of the touch, not of spirit and ethereal, an illusion upon the sight only beheld in phantasm.
Remig.: If then the face of the Lord shone as the sun, and the saints shall shine as the sun, are then the brightness of the Lord and the brightness of His servants to be equal? By no means. But forasmuch as nothing is known more bright than the sun, therefore to give some illustration of the future resurrection, it is expressed to us that the brightness of the Lord's countenance, and the brightness of the righteous, shall be as the sun.
Origen: Mystically; When any one has passed the six days according as we have said, he beholds Jesus transfigured before the eyes of his heart. For the Word of God has various forms, appearing to each man according as He knows that it will be expedient for him; and He shews Himself to none in a manner beyond his capacity; whence he says not simply, "He was transfigured," but, "before them."
For Jesus, in the Gospels, is merely understood by those who do not mount by means of exalting works and words upon the high mountain of wisdom; but to them that do mount up thus, He is no longer known according to the flesh, but is understood to be God the Word. Before these then Jesus is transfigured, and not before those who live sunk in worldly conversation. But these, before whom He is transfigured, have been made sons of God, and He is shewn to them as the Son of righteousness. His raiment is made white as the light, that is, the words and sayings of the Gospels with which Jesus is clothed according to those things which were spoken of Him by the Apostles.
Gloss., e Bed. in Luc.: Or; raiment of Christ shadows out the saints, of whom Esaias says, "With all these shalt thou clothe thee as with a garment;" [Isa 49:18] and they are likened to snow because they shall be white with virtues, and all the heat of vices shall be put far away from them.
It follows, "And there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with them."
Chrys.: There are inane reasons why these should appear. The first is this; because the multitudes said He was Elias, or Jeremias, or one of the Prophets, He here [p. 602] brings with Him the chief of the Prophets, that hence at least may be seen the difference between the servants and their Lord.
Another reason is this; because the Jews were ever charging Jesus with being a transgressor of the Law and blasphemer, and usurping to Himself the glory of the Father, that He might prove Himself guiltless of both charges, He brings forward those who were eminent in both particulars; Moses, who gave the Law, and Elias, who was jealous for the glory of God.
Another reason is, that they might learn that He has the power of life and death; by producing Moses, who was dead, and Elias, who had not yet experienced death. A further reason also the Evangelist discovers, that He might shew the glory of His cross, and thus soothe Peter, and the other disciples, who were fearing His death; for they talked, as another Evangelist declares, "of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem."
Wherefore He brings forward those who had exposed themselves to death for God's pleasure, and for the people that believed; for both had willingly stood before tyrants, Moses before Pharaoh, Elias before Ahab. Lastly, also, He brings them forward, that the disciples should emulate their privileges, and be meek as Moses, and zealous as Elias.
Hilary: Also that Moses and Elias only out of the whole number of the saints stood with Christ, means, that Christ, in His kingdom, is between the Law and the Prophets; for He shall judge Israel in the presence of the same by whom He was preached to them.
Origen: However, if any man discerns a spiritual sense in the Law agreeing with the teaching of Jesus, and in the Prophets finds "the hidden wisdom of Christ," [1 Cor 2:7] he beholds Moses and Elias in the same glory with Jesus.
Jerome: It is to be remembered also, that when the Scribes and Pharisees asked signs from heaven, He would not give any; but now, to increase the Apostles' faith, He gives a sign; Elias descends from heaven, whiter he was gone up, and Moses arises from hell; as Ahaz is bidden [Isa 7:10] by Esaias to ask him a sign in the heaven above, or in the depth beneath.
Chrys.: Hereupon follows what the warm Peter spake, "Peter answered and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here." Because he had heard that He must go up to Jerusalem, he yet fears for Christ; but after his [p. 603] rebuke he dares not again say, "Be propitious to thyself, Lord," but suggests the same covertly under other guise. For seeing in this place great quietness and solitude, he thought that this would be a fit place to take up their abode in, saying, "Lord, it is good for us to be here." And he sought to remain here ever, therefore he proposes the tabernacles, "If thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles." For he concluded if he should do this, Christ would not go up to Jerusalem, and if He should not go up to Jerusalem, He should not die, for he knew that there the Scribes laid wait for Him.
Remig.: Otherwise; At this view of the majesty of the Lord, and His two servants, Peter was so delighted, that, forgetting every thing else in the world, he would abide here for ever. But if Peter was then so fired with admiration, what ravishment will it not be to behold the King in His proper beauty, and to mingle in the choir of the Angels, and of all the saints? In that Peter says, "Lord, if thou wilt," he shews the submission of a dutiful and obedient servant.
Jerome: Yet art thou wrong, Peter, and as another Evangelist says [margin note: Luke 9:33], knowest not what thou sayest. Think not of three tabernacles, when there is but one tabernacle of the Gospel in which both Law and Prophets are to be repeated. But if thou wilt have three tabernacles, set not the servants equal with their Lord, but make three tabernacles, yea make one for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that They whose divinity is one, may have but one tabernacle, in thy bosom.
Remig.: He was wrong moreover, in desiring that the kingdom of the elect should be set up on earth, when the Lord had promised to give it in heaven. He was wrong also in forgetting that himself and his fellows were mortal, and in desiring to come to eternal felicity without taste of death.
Raban.: Also in supposing that tabernacles were to be built for conversation in heaven, in which houses are not needed, as it is written in the Apocalypse, "I saw not any temple therein." [Rev 21:22]
5. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." [p. 604]
Jerome: While they thought only of an earthly tabernacle of boughs or tents, they are overshadowed by the covering of a bright cloud; "While he yet spake there came a bright cloud and overshadowed them.
Chrys.: When the Lord threatens, He shews a dark cloud, as on Sinai [margin note: Ex 19:9,16]; but here where He sought not to terrify but to teach, there appeared a bright cloud.
Origen: The bright cloud overshadowing the Saints is the Power of the Father, or perhaps the Holy Spirit; or I may also venture to call the Saviour that bright cloud which overshadows the Gospel, the Law, and the Prophets, as they understand who can behold His light in all these three.
Jerome: Forasmuch as Peter had asked unwisely, he deserves not any answer; but the Father makes answer for the Son, that the Lord's word might be fulfilled, "He that sent me, he beareth witness of me." [John 5:37]
Chrys.: Neither Moses, nor Elias speak, but the Father greater than all sends a voice out of the cloud, that the disciples might believe that this voice was from God. For God has ordinarily shewn Himself in a cloud, as it is written, "Clouds and darkness are round about Him;" [Ps 97:2] and this is what is said, "Behold, a voice out of the cloud."
Jerome: The voice of the Father is heard speaking from heaven, giving testimony to the Son, and teaching Peter the truth, taking away his error, and through Peter the other disciples also; whence he proceeds, "This is my beloved Son." For Him make the tabernacle, Him obey; this is the Son, they are but servants; and they also ought as you to make ready a tabernacle for the Lord in the inmost parts of their heart, [p. 605]
Chrys.: Fear not then, Peter; for if God is mighty, it is manifest that the Son is also mighty; wherefore if He is loved, fear not thou; for none forsakes Him whom He loves; nor dost thou love Him equally with the Father. Neither does He love Him merely because He begot Him, but because He is of one will with Himself; as it follows, "In whom I am well pleased;" which is to say, in whom I rest content, whom I accept, for all things of the Father He performs with care, and His will is one with the Father; so if He will to be crucified, do not then speak against it.
Hilary: This is the Son, this the Beloved, this the Accepted; and He it is who is to be heard, as the voice out of the cloud signifies, saying, "Hear ye Him." For He is a fit teacher of doing the things He has done, who has given the weight of His own example to the loss of the world, the joy of the cross, the death of the body, and after that the "glory" of the heavenly kingdom.
Remig.: He says therefore, "Hear Him," as much as to say, Let the shadow of the Law be past, and the types of the Prophets, and follow ye the one shining light of the Gospel. Or He says, "Hear ye Him," to shew that it was He whom Moses had foretold, "The Lord your God shall raise up a Prophet unto you of your brethren like unto me, Him shall ye hear." [Deut 18:18]
Thus the Lord had witnesses on all sides; from heaven the voice of the Father, Elias out of Paradise, Moses out of Hades, the Apostles from among men, that at the name of Jesus every thing should bow the knee, of things in heaven, things on earth, and things beneath.
Origen: The voice out of the cloud speaks either to Moses or Elias, who desired to see the Son of God, and to hear Him; or it is for the teaching of the Apostles.
Gloss., ap. Anselm: It is to be observed, that the mystery of the second regeneration, that, to wit, which shall be in the resurrection, when the flesh shall be raised again, agrees well with the mystery of the first which is in baptism, when the soul is raised again. For in the baptism of Christ is shewn the working of the whole Trinity; there was the Son incarnate, the Holy Ghost appearing in the figure of a dove, and the Father made known by the voice. In like manner in the transfiguration, which is the sacrament of the second regeneration, the whole Trinity appeared; the Father in the [p. 606] voice, the Son in the man, and the Holy Spirit in the cloud.
It is made a question how the Holy Spirit was shewn there in the dove, here in the cloud. Because it is His manner to mark His gifts by specific outward forms. And the gift of baptism is innocence, which is denoted by the bird of purity. But as in the resurrection, He is to give splendour and refreshment, therefore in the cloud are denoted both the refreshment and the brightness of the rising bodies.
It follows, "And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces, and feared greatly."
Jerome: Their cause of terror is threefold. Because they knew that they had done amiss; or because the bright cloud had covered them; or because they had heard the voice of God the Father speaking; for human frailty cannot endure to look upon so great glory, and falls to the earth trembling through both soul and body. And by how much higher any one has aimed, by so much lower will be his fall, if he shall be ignorant of his own measure.
Remig.: Whereas the holy Apostles fell upon their faces, that was a proof of their sanctity, for the saints are always described to fall upon their faces, but the wicked to fall backwards. [ed. note: ' Abraham, Gen. 17, 3; Moses and Aaron, Numb. 16. 4, 22; Tobias and Sarah, Tob. 12, 16; and our Lord Matt. 26, 39. On the other hand, of the wicked, see Gen 49, 7; Isa 28, 13; John 18, 6 (Nicol.)]
Chrys.: But when before in Christ's baptism, such a voice came from heaven, yet none of the multitude then present suffered any thing of this kind, how is it that the disciples on the mount fell prostrate? Because in sooth their solicitude was much, the height and loneliness of the spot great, and the transfiguration itself attended with terrors, the clear light and the spreading cloud; all these things together wrought to terrify them.
Jerome: And whereas they were laid down, and could not raise themselves again, He approaches them, touches them gently, that by His touch their fear might be banished, and their unnerved limbs gain strength; "And Jesus drew near, and touched them." But He further added His word to His hand, "And said unto them, Arise, fear not." He first banishes their fear, that He may after impart teaching.
It follows, "And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only;" which was done with good reason; for had Moses and Elias continued [p. 607] with the Lord, it might have seemed uncertain to which in particular the witness of the Father was borne. Also they see Jesus standing after the cloud has been removed, and Moses and Elias disappeared, because after the shadow of the Law and Prophets has departed, both are found in the Gospel.
It follows; "And as they came down from the mount, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell no man this vision, until the Son of Man shall rise from the dead." He will not be preached among the people, lest the marvel of the thing should seem incredible, and lest the cross following after so great glory should cause offence.
Remig.: Or, because if His majesty should be published among the people, they should hinder the dispensation of His passion, by resistance to the chief Priests; and thus the redemption of the human race should suffer impediment.
Hilary: He enjoins silence respecting what they had seen, for this reason, that when they should be filled with the Holy Spirit, they should then become witnesses of these spiritual deeds.
13. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.
Jerome: It was a tradition of the Pharisees following the Prophet Malachi, that Elias should come before the coming of the Saviour, and bring back the heart of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, and restore all things to their ancient state. The disciples then consider that this transformation which they had seen in the mount was His coming in glory, and therefore it is said, "And his disciples asked him, saying, How then say the Scribes that [p. 608] Elias must first come? As though they had said, If you have already come in glory, how is it that your forerunner appears not yet? And this they say chiefly because they see that Elias is departed again
Chrys., Hom., lvii: The disciples knew not of the coming of Elias out of the Scriptures; but the Scribes made it known to them; and this report was current among the ignorant multitude, as was that concerning Christ. Yet the Scribes did not explain the coming of Christ and of Elias, as they ought to have done. For the Scriptures speak of two comings of Christ; that which has taken place, and that which is yet to be. But the Scribes, blinding the people, spake to them only of His second coming, and said, If this be the Christ, then should Elias have come before Him. Christ thus resolves the difficulty, He answered and said, "Elias truly shall come, and restore all things; but I say unto you, that Elias has already come."
Think not that here is a contradiction in His speech, if He first say that Elias shall come, and then that he is come. For when He says that Elias shall come and restore all things, He speaks of Elias himself in his own proper person, who indeed shall restore all things, in that he shall correct the unbelief of the Jews, who shall then be to be found; and that is the turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, that is, the hearts of the Jews to the Apostles
Aug., Quaest Ev., i, 21: Or; "He shall restore all things," that is those whom the persecution of Antichrist shall have overthrown; as He Himself should restore by His death those whore He ought.
Chrys.: But if there shall so much good arise out of the presence of Elias, why did He not send him at that time? We shall say, Because they then held Christ to be Elias, and yet believed not on Him. But they shall hereafter believe Elias, because when he shall come after so great expectation announcing Jesus, they will more readily receive what shall be taught by Him. But when He says that Elias is come already, He calls John the Baptist Elias from the resemblance of their ministry; for as Elias shall be the forerunner of His second coming, so was John the forerunner of His first. And He calls John Elias, to shew that His first coming was agreeable to the Old Testament, and to prophecy.
Jerome: He then who at the Saviour's second coming should come in the truth of [p. 609] His body, come now in John in power and spirit.
It followers, "And they knew him not, but did unto him whatsoever they would," that is, despised and beheaded him.
Hilary: As he announced the Lord's coming, so he was also to foreshew His passion by the example of his own suffering and wrong; whence it follows, "So also shall the Son of Man suffer of them."
Chrys.: He takes the opportunity from the passion of John to refer to His own passion, thus giving them much comfort.
Jerome: It is enquired how, seeing that Herod and Herodias were they that killed John, it can be said that Jesus also was crucified by them, when we read that He was put to death by the Scribes and Pharisees! It must be answered briefly, that the party of the Pharisees consented to the death of John, and that in the Lord's crucifixion Herod united his approval, when having mocked and set Him at nought, he sent Him back to Pilate, that he should crucify Him.
Raban.: From the mention of His own passion which the Lord had often foretold to them, and from that of His forerunner, which they beheld already accomplished, the disciples perceived that John was set forth to them under the name of Elias; whence it follows; "Then understood the disciples that he spake to them of John the Baptist."
Origen: That He says of John, "Elias is already come," is not to be understood of the soul of Elias, that we fall not into the doctrine of metempsychosis, which is foreign to the truth of Church doctrine, but, as the Angel had foretold, he came "in the spirit and spirit of Elias."
15. "Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.
17. Then Jesus answered and said, "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with [p. 610] you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me."
Origen: Peter, anxious for such desirable life, and preferring his own benefit to that of many, had said, "It is good for us to be here." But since charity seeks not her own, Jesus did not this which seemed good to Peter, but descended to the multitude, as it were from the high mount of His divinity, that He might be of use to such as could not ascend because of the weakness of their souls; whence it is said, "And when he was come to the multitude;" for if He had not gone to the multitude with His elect disciples, there would not have come near to Him the man of whom it is added, "There came to him a man kneeling down, and saying, Lord, have mercy on my son."
Consider here, that sometimes those that are themselves the sufferers believe and entreat for their own healing, sometimes others for them, as he who kneels before Him praying for his son, and sometimes the Saviour heals of Himself unasked by any.
First, let us see what this means that follows, "For he is lunatic, and sore vexed." Let the physicians talk as they list; for they think it no unclean spirit, but some bodily disorder, and say, that the humours in the head are governed in their motions by sympathy with the phases of the moon, whose light is of the nature of humours. But we who believe the Gospel say that it is an unclean spirit that works such disorders in men. The spirit observes the moon's changes, that it may cheat men into the belief that the moon is the cause of their sufferings, and so prove God's creation to be evil; as other daemons lay wait for men following the times and courses of the stars, that they may speak wickedness in high places, calling some stars malignant, others benign; whereas no star was made by God that it should produce evil.
In this that is added, "For ofttimes he falls into the fire, and oft into the water,"
Chrys.: is to be noted, that were not man fortified here by Providence, he would long since have perished; for the daemon who cast him into the fire, and into the water, [p. 611] would have killed him outright, had God not restrained him.
Jerome: In saying, "And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not heal him," he covertly accuses the Apostles, whereas that a cure is impossible is sometimes the effect not of want of power in those that undertake it, but of want of faith in those that are to be healed.
Chrys.: See herein also his folly, in that before the multitude he appeals to Jesus against His disciples. But He clears them from shame, imputing their failure to the patient himself; for many things shew that he was weak in faith. But He addresses His reproof not to the man singly, that He may not trouble him, but to the Jews in general. For many of those present, it is likely, had improper thoughts concerning the disciples, and therefore it follows, "Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, how long shall I suffer you?"
His "How long shall I be with you?" shews that death was desired by Him, and that He longed for His withdrawal.
Remig.: It may be known also, that not now for the first time, but of a long time, the Lord had borne the Jews' stubbornness, whence He says, "How long shall I suffer you?" because I have now a long while endured your iniquities, and ye are unworthy of My presence.
Origen: Or; Because the disciples could not heal him as being weak in faith, He said to them, "O faithless generation," adding "perverse," to shew that their perverseness had introduced evil beyond their nature. But I suppose, that because of the perverseness of the whole human race, as it were oppressed with their evil nature, He said, "How long shall I be with you?"
Jerome: Not that we must think that He was overcome by weariness of them, and that The meek and gentle broke out into words of wrath, but as a physician who might see the sick man acting against his injunctions, would say, How long shall I frequent your chamber? How long throw away the exercise of my skill, while I prescribe one thing, and you do another? That it is the sin, and not the man with whom He is angry, and that in the person of this one man He convicts the Jews of unbelief, is clear from what He adds, "Bring him to me."
Chrys.: When He had vindicated His disciples, He leads the boy's father to a cheering hope of believing that he shall be delivered out of this evil; and that the father might [p. 612] be led to believe the miracle that was coming, seeing the daemon was disturbed even when the child was only called;
Jerome: He rebuked him, that is, not the sufferer, but the daemon.
Remig.: In which deed He left an example to preachers to attack sins, but to assist men.
Jerome: Or, His reproof was to the child, because for his sins he had been seized on by the daemon.
Raban.: The lunatic is figuratively one who is hurried into fresh vices every hour, one while is cast into the fire, with which the hearts of the adulterers burn [margin note: Hos 7:4,6]; or again into the waters of pleasures or lusts, which yet have not strength to quench love.
Aug., Quaest Ev., i, 22: Or the fire pertains to anger, which aims upwards, water to the lusts of the flesh.
Origen: Of the changefulness of the sinner it is said, "The fool changes as the moon." [Eccl 27:12] We may see sometimes that an impulse towards good works comes over such, when, lo! again as by a sudden seizure of a spirit they are laid hold of by their passions, and fall from that good state in which they were supposed to stand. Perhaps his father stands for the Angel to whom was allotted the care of this lunatic, praying the Physician of souls, that He would set free his son, who could not be delivered from his suffering by the simple word of Christ's disciples, because as a deaf person he cannot receive their instruction, and therefore he needs Christ's word, that henceforth he may not act without reason.
20. And Jesus said unto them, "Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
21. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting."
Chrys.: The disciples had received from the Lord the power over unclean spirits, and when they could not heal the daemoniac thus brought to them, they seem to have had misgivings [p. 613] lest they had forfeited the grace once given to them; hence their question. And they ask it apart, not out of shame, but because of the unspeakable matter of which they were to ask.
"Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief."
Hilary: The Apostles had believed, yet their faith was imperfect; while the Lord tarried in the mount, and they abode below with the multitude, their faith had become stagnant.
Chrys.: Whence it is plain that the disciples' faith was grown weak, yet not all, for those pillars were there, Peter, and James, and John.
Jerome: This is what the Lord says in another place, "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name believing, ye shall receive." [Matt 21:22, John 16:23] Therefore when we receive not, it is not the weakness of Him that gives, but the fault of them that ask.
Chrys.: But it is to be known, that, as ofttimes the faith of him that draweth near to receive supplies the miraculous virtue, so ofttimes the power of those that work the miracle is sufficient even without the faith of those who sought to receive. Cornelius and his household, by their faith, attracted to them the grace of the Holy Spirit [Acts 10:4]; but the dead man who was cast into the sepulchre was revived solely by virtue of the holy body. [2 Ki 13:21]
It happened that the disciples were then weak in faith; for indeed they were but in an imperfect condition before the cross; wherefore He here tells them, that faith is the mean of miracles, "Verily I say unto you, if ye shall have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, ye shall say to this mountain, Remove hence, and it shall remove."
Jerome: Some think that the faith that is compared to a grain of mustard-seed is a little faith, whereas the Apostle says, "If I shall have such faith that I could remove mountains." [1 Cor 13:2] The faith therefore which is compared to a grain of mustard-seed is a great faith.
Origen: Or, all faith is likened to a grain of mustard-seed, because faith is looked on with contempt by men, and shews as something poor and mean; but when a seed of this kind lights upon a good heart as its soil, it becomes a great tree. The weakness of this lunatic's faith is yet so great, and Christ is so strong to heal [p. 614] him amidst all his evils, that He likens it to a mountain which cannot be cast out but by the whole faith of him who desires to heal afflictions of this sort.
Chrys.: So He not only promises the removal of mountains, but goes beyond, saying, "And nothing shall be impossible to you."
Raban.: For faith gives our minds such a capacity for the heavenly gifts, that whatsoever we will we may easily obtain from a faithful Master.
Chrys.: If you shall ask, Where did the Apostles remove mountains! I answer, that they did greater things, bringing many dead to life. It is told also of some saints, who came after the Apostles, that they have in urgent necessity removed mountains. [ed. note: St. Augustine says, that he had never read or heard of a mountain being transported into the sea by faith. Sp. et lit. n. 62. St. Chrysostom appears to refer to the occurrence recorded in the history of Gregory of Neo-Caesarea, called Thaumaturgus, A.D. 260, whose miracles are reported to us by his namesake of Nyssa. Nyssen, however, speaks only of his moving a stone, (vol. ii. p. 982.) Pope Gregory, Dial. i. 7. calls it a rock, or even a mountain. He mentions it while relating the like miracle in the history of St. Benedict. In volcanic countries, changes in mountains and rivers occur even from natural causes, much more might prayer cause them. But St. Augustine's remark shews that there is very little evidence for the fact.]
But if mountains were not removed in the Apostles' time, this was not because they could not, but because they would not, there being no pressing occasion. And the Lord said not that they should do this thing, but that they should have power to do it.
Yet it is likely that they did do this, but that it is not written, for indeed not all the miracles that they wrought are written.
Jerome: Or; the mountain is not said of that which we see with the eyes of the body, but signified that spirit which was removed by the Lord out of the lunatic, who is said by the Prophet to be the corrupter of the whole earth
Gloss. interlin.: So that the sense then is, "Ye shall say to this mountain," that is to the proud devil, "Remove hence," that is from the possessed body into the sea, that is into the depths of hell, "and it shall remove, and nothing shall be impossible to you," that is, no sickness shall be incurable."
Aug.: Otherwise; That the disciples in working their miracles should not be lifted up with pride, they are warned rather by the humbleness of their faith, as by a grain of mustard-seed, to take care that they remove all pride of earth, which is signified by the mountain in this place.
Raban.: But while He teaches the Apostles how the daemon ought to be cast out, He instructs all in [p. 615] regulation of life; that we may all know that all the heavier afflictions, whether of unclean spirits, or temptations of men, may be removed by fasts and prayers; and that the wrath also of the Lord may be appeased by this remedy alone; whence he adds, "Howbeit this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting."
Chrys.: And this He says not of lunatics in particular, but of the whole class of daemons. For fast endues with great wisdom, makes a man as an Angel from heaven, and beats down the unseen powers of evil. But there is need of prayer as even still more important. And who prays as he ought, and fasts, had need of little more, and so is not covetous, but ready to almsgiving. For he who fasts, is light and active, and prays wakefully, and quenches his evil lusts, makes God propitious, and humbles his proud stomach. And he who prays with his fasting, has two wings, lighter than the winds themselves. For he is not heavy and wandering in his prayers, (as is the case with many,) but his zeal is as the warmth of fire, and his constancy as the firmness of the earth. Such an one is most able to contend with daemons, for there is nothing more powerful than a man who prays properly.
But if your health be too weak for strict fast, yet is it not for prayer, and if you cannot fast, you can abstain from indulgences. And this is not a little, and not very different from fast.
Origen: If then we shall ever be required to be employed in the healing of those who are suffering any thing of this sort, we shall not adjure them, nor ask them questions, nor even speak, as though the unclean spirit could hear us, but by our fasting and our prayers drive away the evil spirits.
Gloss. ord.: Or; This class of daemons, that is the variety of carnal pleasures, is not overcome unless the spirit be strengthened by prayer, and the flesh enfeebled by fast.
Remig.: Or, fasting is here understood generally as abstinence not from food only, but from all carnal allurements, and sinful passions. In like manner prayer is to be understood in general as consisting in pious and good acts, concerning which the Apostle speaks, "Pray without ceasing." [1 Thess. 5:17]
22. And while they abode in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, "The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men. [p. 616]
Remig.: The Lord often foretold to His disciples the mysteries of His passion, in order that when they come to pass, they might be the lighter to them from having been known beforehand.
Origen: This seems to be so like a warning He had given above, that a man might easily say that the Lord now repeated what He had said before; yet is it not so; He had not before said that He must be betrayed, but we hear now not only that He must be betrayed, but that He must be "betrayed into the hands of men." The Son of Man indeed was "delivered up" by God the Father according to the Apostle, [Rom 8:32] but different powers gave him up into the hands of men.
Jerome: Thus does He ever mix the joyful and the grievous; if it grieves them that He is to be put to death, they ought to be gladdened when they hear, "And shall rise again, the third day."
Chrys.: For this is no long time that He speaks of continuing in death, when He says that He shall rise again on the third day.
Origen: By this announcement of the Lord the disciples were made very sorrowful, not attending to that He said, "And shall rise again the third day," nor considering what He must be to whom the space of three days was enough to destroy death.
Jerome: That they were thus made exceeding sorrowful, came not of their lack of faith; but out of their love of their Master they could not endure to hear of any hurt or indignity for Him.
24. And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, "Doth not your master pay tribute?"
25. He saith, "Yes." And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, "What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?"
26. Peter saith unto him, "Of strangers." Jesus saith unto him, "Then are the children free. [p. 617]
27. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee."
Gloss., non occ.: The disciples were exceeding sorrowful when they heard of the Lord's passion, and therefore that none might ascribe His suffering to compulsion, and not to a voluntary submission, he adds an incident which instances Christ's power, and His submission; "And when they were come to Capernaum, there came to Peter those who received the didrachma, and said unto him, Doth not your Master pay the didrachma?"
Hilary: The Lord is called
upon to pay the didrachma, (that is, two denarii,)
for this the Law had enjoined upon all
Chrys.: For when God slew the firstborn of
Because then Christ was a firstborn son, and Peter seemed to be the first among the disciples, they came to him. And as it seems to me this was not demanded in every district, they come to Christ in Capernaum, because that was considered His native place.
Jerome: Or otherwise; From the time of Augustus Caesar Judaea was made tributary, and all the inhabitants were registered, as Joseph with Mary his kinswoman gave in His name at Bethlehem. Again, because the Lord was brought up at Nazareth, which is a town of Galilee subject to Capernaum, it is there that the tribute is asked of Him; but for that His miracles were so great, those who collected it did not dare to ask Himself, but make up to the disciple.
Chrys.: And him they address not with boldness, but courteously; for they do not arraign, but ask a question, "Doth not your Master pay the didrachma?"
Jerome: Or, They enquire with malicious purpose whether He pays tribute, or resists Caesar's will.
Chrys.: What then does Peter say? [p. 618] "He saith, Yea." To these then he said that He did pay, but to Christ he said not so, blushing perhaps to speak of such matters.
Gloss., ap. Anselm: Otherwise; Peter answered, Yea; meaning, yea, He does not pay. And Peter sought to acquaint the Lord that the Herodians had demanded tribute, but the Lord prevented him; as it follows, "And when he had entered into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, Of whom do the kings of the earth receive custom or tribute," (i. e. head- money,) "of their children, or of strangers?"
Jerome: Before any hint from Peter, the Lord puts the question to him, that His disciples might not be offended at the demand of tribute, when they see that He knows even those things that are done in His absence.
It follows, "But he said, From strangers; Jesus said unto him, Then are the children free."
Origen: This speech has a twofold meaning. First,
that the children of the kings of the earth are free with the kings of the
earth; but strangers, foreigners in the land, are not free, because of those
that oppress them, as the Egyptians did the children of
The second sense is; forasmuch as there be some who are strangers to the sons of the kings of the earth, and are yet sons of God, therefore it is they that abide in the words of Jesus; these are free, for they have known the truth, and the truth has set them free from the service of sin: but the sons of the kings of the earth are not free; for "whoso doth sin, he is the servant of sin." [John 8:34]
Jerome: But our Lord was the son of the king, both according to the flesh, and according to the Spirit; whether as sprung of the seed of David, or as the Word of the Almighty Father; therefore as the king's son He owed no tribute.
Aug., Quaest. Ev., i, 23: For, saith He, in every kingdom the children are free, that is, not under tax. Much more therefore should they be free in any earthly kingdom, who are children of that very kingdom under which are all the kingdoms of the earth.
Chrys.: But this instance were brought to no purpose if He were not a son. But some one may say, He is son indeed, but not an own son. But then He were a stranger; and so this instance would not apply; for He speaks only of own sons, distinct from whom He calls them strangers who are actually born of parents. Mark how here also Christ certifies that relationship which was revealed to Peter from God, "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God."
Jerome: Howsoever free then He was, yet seeing He [p. 619] had taken to Him lowliness of the flesh, He ought to fulfil all righteousness; whence it follows, "But that they should not be offended, go to the sea."
Origen: We may hence gather as a consequence of this, that when any come with justice demanding our earthly goods, it is the kings of the earth that send them, to claim of us what is their own; and by His own example the Lord forbids any offence to be given even to these, whether that they should sin no more, or that they should be saved. For the Son of God, who did no servile work, yet as having the form of a slave, which He took on Him for man's sake, gave custom and tribute.
Jerome: I am at a loss what first to admire in this passage; whether the foreknowledge, or the mighty power of the Saviour. His foreknowledge, in that He knew that a fish had a stater in its mouth, and that that fish should be the first taken; His mighty power, if the stater were created in the fish's mouth at His word, and if by His command that which was to happen was ordered. Christ then, for His eminent love, endured the cross, and paid tribute; how wretched we who are called by the name of Christ, though we do nothing worthy of so great dignity, yet in respect of His majesty, pay no tribute, but are exempt from tax as the King's sons. But even in its literal import it edifies the hearer to learn, that so great was the Lord's poverty, that He had not whence to pay the tribute for Himself and His Apostle. Should any object that Judas bore money in a bag, we shall answer, Jesus held it a fraud to divert that which was the poor's to His own use, and left us an example therein.
Chrys.: Or He does not direct it to be paid out of that they had at hand, that He might shew that He was Lord also of the sea and the fish.
Gloss., non occ.: Or because Jesus had not any image of Caesar, (for the prince of this world had nothing in Him,) therefore He furnished an image of Caesar, not out of their own stock, but out of the sea. But He takes not the stater into His own possession, that there should never be found an image of Caesar upon the Image of the invisible God.
Chrys.: Observe also the wisdom of Christ; He neither refuses the tribute, nor merely commands that it be paid; but first proves that He is of right exempt, and then bids to give the money; the money was paid to avoid offence to the collectors; the vindication of His exemption was to avoid the offence to the [p. 620] disciples.
Indeed in another place He disregards the offence of the Pharisees, in disputing of meats; teaching us herein to know the seasons in which we must attend to, and those in which we must slight the thoughts of those who are like to be scandalized.
Greg., in Ezech. 7. 4: For we must cast about how, as far as we may without sin, to avoid giving scandal to our neighbours. But if offence is taken from truth, it is better that offence should come, though truth be forsaken.
Chrys.: As you wonder at Christ's power, so admire Peter's faith, who was obedient in no easy matter. In reward of his faith he was joined with his Lord in the payment. An abundant honour! "Thou shalt find a stater, that take and give unto them for thee and for me."
Gloss., ap. Anselm: For by custom every several man paid a didrachma for himself; now a stater is equal to two didrachmas.
Origen: Mystically; In the field of comfort, (for so is Capernaum expounded,) He comforts each one of His disciples, and pronounces him to be a son and free, and gives him the power of taking the first fish, that after His ascension Peter may have comfort over that which he has caught.
Hilary: When Peter is instructed to take the first fish, it is shewn therein that he shall catch more than one. The blessed first martyr Stephen was the first that came up, having in his mouth a stater, which contained the didrachma of the new preaching, divided as two denarii, for he preached as he beheld in his passion the glory of God, and Christ the Lord.
Jerome: Or; That fish which was first taken is the first Adam, who is set free by the second Adam; and that which is found in his mouth, that is, in his confession, is given for Peter and for the Lord.
Origen: And when you see any miser rebuked by some Peter who takes the speech of his money out of his mouth, you may say that he is risen out of the sea of covetousness to the hook of reason, and is caught and saved by some Peter, who has taught him the truth, that he should change his stater for the image of God, that is for the oracles of God.
Jerome: And beautifully is this very stater given for the tribute; but it is divided; for Peter as for a sinner a ransom is to be paid, but the Lord had not sin. Yet herein is shewn the likeness of their flesh, when the Lord and His servants are redeemed with the same price.