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1. John preacheth: his office: Life, and baptism. 7 He reprehendeth the Pharisees, 3 and baptizeth Christ in Jordan.
N those days cometh John the Baptist preaching in the desert of Judæa.
3 For this is he that was spoken of by Isaias the prophet, saying: A voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.
4 And the same John had his garment of camelís hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins: and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
7 And seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them: Ye brood of vipers, who hath shewed you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of repentance.
Douay Rheims Version
The preaching of John: Christ is baptized.
ND in those days cometh John the Baptist preaching in the desert of Judea.
In those days, &c. This was in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, as S. Luke says, when John and Christ were about thirty years of age. Matthew passes at once from the childhood of Christ to His age of manhood, when He commenced His actual work of preaching and redemption, for which He had been sent by the Father into the world.
He sent John before Him to announce to the Jews that He was the Messiah, lest, if Christ should appear in Judæa abruptly, without one to point out who He was, or a witness worthy of credit, He should be despised of all.
Christ lived in obscurity, and exercised a workmanís craft with his father Joseph for nineteen years, to give to the world a memorable example of humility. He began to preach in his thirtieth year, that He might conform Himself to the customs and laws of the Jews. Amongst them it was not lawful for any one to execute the office of a doctor or a priest before his thirtieth year. Such is the Hebrew tradition, and the same thing may be gathered from 1 Chron. xxiii. 3. Hence John began to preach in this same thirtieth year, but a little before Christ.
That Christ should be hid so long in the obscure depths of His humility S. Bernard admires when he exclaims (Serm. I de Epiph.), “O humility, virtue of Christ, how dost thou confound the pride of our vanity! Little enough do I know, or rather seem to myself to know, and yet I cannot know—impertinently and imprudently carrying and manifesting myself—ready to speak, swift to teach, slow to hear. And did Christ, when He kept silence for so long a time and hid Himself, did He fear vain glory? What could He fear from vain glory who is the True Glory of the Father? He did fear, indeed, but not for Himself. He feared for us that which He knew was to be feared by us. He took cautious heed for us, and so instructed us. He kept silence with His mouth, but taught by His deeds. And what He afterwards taught in words He at this time cried aloud by His example, ĎLearn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.í”
In the desert. Not in a cultivated and inhabited place. For Isaiah (xl. 3), prophesying concerning this desert of John, speaks of it as a wilderness. And this is plain from the circumstances. We behold Johnís rough clothing of sackcloth of camelís hair, his woodland food, the locusts and wild honey. The motive cause of this life was that, as a follower of Moses and Elias, and the precursor of Christ, in the desert, removed from the pollutions of men, he might converse with God and the angels, and might from them derive the power of strength and of the Spirit, and might acquire for himself the name and fame of sanctity, that all might give credit to him when he pointed out Christ, and, being pricked at his preaching, might repent. Whence the Fathers constantly call John the prince of monks and anchorites, as S. Jerome (Epist. 22 ad Eustoch.), S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Cassian (Collat. 18. 6). Hence John, living in the desert an angelic life with the angels, was regarded as an angel by Malachi (chap. iii.) and by Christ Himself (Matt. xi. 10): “For this is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send my angel before my face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.” (Vulg.)
Symbolically, S. John preaching in the desert signified that the Gospel would be preached chiefly, not in Jerusalem and Judæa, but in the wilderness—i.e., the deserted multitudes of the Gentiles. So S. Jerome.
Tropologically, S. John, by his example, taught that the apostolic men and preachers who were about to be, would first retire from the tumult of men to have leisure in secret for prayer and meditation, that they might thereby drink, as it were, from heaven a mighty power of the Spirit, which they should afterwards pour forth upon their hearers. (See what I have said on Hosea ii. 1 “I will lead her into the wilderness, and will speak to her heart.”—Vulg.) To this may be referred what S. Augustine says (Epist. 76): “He will not be a good clergyman who has not been a good monk.” Wherefore SS. Augustine, Martin, Chrysostom, Nazianzen, Basil, and many more were taken out of their monasteries into the ranks of the clergy, and, even against their will, promoted to the episcopate.
The desert of Judæa was near the Jordan, close to Ænon and Salim (John iii. 23), and was very famous, both from the abundance of water for baptizing, as well as for being the abode and the scene of the miracles of the prophets and religious men who, in the Books of the Kings, are called the sons of the prophets, that is, of Elijah and Elisha, and such as they.
Lastly, Nicephorus (lib. 1, c. 14) asserts that when John was a year and a half old he was taken by his mother into the desert. Cedrinus adds, that he was concealed in a certain cave, and that his mother died there, and that an angel then took care of the child. This cave was afterwards frequented by the hermits, as appears from John Moschus (Spiritual Meadow, c. I), who says that the cave was situated near the Jordan, and that by chance an abbot, John, who was sick, turned into it, where he was healed by John the Baptist, to whom he promised that he would dwell in the cave. When the Baptist appeared to the abbot, he said to him, “I am John the Baptist, and I bid thee that thou depart not from hence, for this narrow cave is greater than Mount Sinai, for into it our Lord Jesus Christ often entered when He visited me. Promise me therefore to dwell here, and I will restore thee to health.” “When the old man heard this, he willingly promised to dwell in the cave; and forthwith he was healed; and he abode there unto his lifeís end. Moreover, he made that cave a church, and gathered brethren together there. And the name of the place was called Sapsas.”
Saying, repent ye, &c. John went into the desert, and there did penance, and led an austere life that he might be a fitting preacher of repentance. S. Gregory Nazianzen strove to imitate John when he says, “The office, or rather the service of John, I strive to undertake, and though I am not the Forerunner, yet I come from the desert.” For Gregory went apart with S. Basil into the wilderness of Pontus, and there led a hard life, and then, being filled with the Spirit, he came forth like another Baptist to preach repentance. This was the theme, this the sum of the Baptistís preaching, Repent; because well-nigh all were grievous sinners, living in vices and lusts, therefore repentance was necessary, that they might receive the grace and righteousness of Christ.
Moreover, repentance is not only amendment of manners, and the beginning of a new life, as the heretics say, but it is a detestation, chastisement, and destruction of the old sinful life, for the new life cannot effectually be begun, unless the old life be cast away. Whence the Interlinear Gloss thus expounds: “Let every man punish the evils of his former life, because salvation shall come nigh, and the opportunity of returning thither from whence we have fallen.” S. Augustine (lib. de Púniten.) says, “He cannot begin the new life who does not repent of the old.” “To repent is to weep over sins past, and not to commit what has been wept over. He who truly repents, chastises in himself his past errors, and lifts up his mind to heavenly things. And this virtue is born of holy fear, and is called púnitentia, penance, from the Latin puniendo, punishing.”—Gloss.
Whence Ausonius sings of penitence:
“A goddess I, who punishment exact of things amiss,
Metanúa I, from penitence I wiss.”
S. Gregory (Hom. 34, in Evangel.) says, “Penitence is the bewailing past sins, and the abstaining from doing that which you have bewailed.” The Hebrew הנחם hinnachem has the same meaning; viz., to repent and grieve over the past. Whence God, when He saw the men whom He had created rushing into wickedness, repented Him that He had made man upon the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart; and He said, “I will destroy man, whom I have created, from the face of the earth.” Wherefore the Hebrew Gospel, attributed to S. Matthew by Munster, has, less fully, instead of hinnachem and nechumim, i.e. “to repent”, and “repentance,” teschuba, i.e., “conversion,” or schuba, that is, “be converted to the Lord;” for repentance is not merely turning to God, but turning away from sin; also grief, compunction, and satisfaction, as the Apostle teaches (2 Cor. vii. 10) and Joel (ii. 12), “Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting and weeping and in mourning.” Whence it is plain that repentance must include three duties—sorrow, a new life, and chastisement of sins—in order to please God.
For the kingdom of heaven, &c. In which God reigns in the faithful, by grace in this life, and in the life to come by glory; and makes them kings and partakers of His eternal kingdom. “John first preached the kingdom of heaven,” says the Gloss, “which the Jews had never heard of,” says S. Chrysostom. And S. Jerome says, “John the Baptist first preaches the kingdom of heaven, that the precursor of the Lord might be honoured with this privilege.” Observe, the Jews expected that their kingdom, under King Messiah, would be rich and splendid in their land, such as it was under Solomon. S. John, therefore, and after him Christ and the Apostles, begin their preaching from the kingdom of Messiah, but a kingdom heavenly, not earthly; as though to say, “Now is the time of heaven being opened, which Christ shall shortly open unto you by His death. Repent ye, therefore, for your sins past, correct your lives, be changed for the better, that ye may be meet to be taken by Him into His kingdom. Behold, now is the accepted time foretold by Isaiah, now is the day of salvation, the day when heaven, which has been shut for 4,000 years, is opened, and they who will may enter into it, if indeed they will walk in the path which Christ has pointed out, the path of faith, hope, and charity, and a heavenly life, and enter into the spiritual kingdom of the Church militant, which shall have its joyful consummation in the Church triumphant.” Thus Theophylact and Jansen. Franc. Lucas says, “The kingdom of heaven is the dominion of Christ, both over the holy angels and the company of those men whose rightly ordered life on earth is obedient to God ruling from heaven.”
For this is he, &c. I have commented at length upon this in Isaiah xl. 6, and will not here repeat.
S. John was the voice of God, 1. Announcing that Christ was about to come. 2. Pointing out that He was now born, and inviting men to repent and prepare for the grace of Christ. “By the expression, crying, the strength of his preaching is denoted,” says Raban. Aptly says Bede, “God, indeed, cried by means of others, but He Himself is the only Voice, because He shows the present Word.” “Prepare therefore the way of the Lord,” is the same as, “Repent ye;” as though “Arouse ye, O Jews, and ye! O inhabitants of the world, as many as ye be; Christ is about to come, and to be installed as Messiah, your King. Make smooth your ways, as is wont to be done for monarchs; take away all things which can offend or dishonour Him, that Christ may be freely and with longing received by all; that, indeed, each may prepare their hearts and minds, by thorough repentance, for the faith and grace of Christ and every kind of holiness.”
The same John, &c. Not the flowing robe, commonly called camelots, as Chrytraeus, and those luxurious innovators, who magnificently adorn themselves in the pulpits like the suitors of Penelope. For Christ commends John for the roughness of his clothing. (Matt. xi. 8.) John fled from the halls of Herod, and retired into the desert, and preferred a hovel to a palace. His garment was cheap, rugged, hairy, and made of sackcloth. “Yea,” say S. Chrysostom and others, “the clothing of his body spoke of the virtue of his soul.” Eusebius of Emissa (Hom. I de Joan. Bapt.) says that Johnís raiment was made of camel-hair sackcloth, since Syria abounds in camels. By this means he tamed his flesh in his youth, like as S. Paul says, “I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.” (1 Cor. ix., Vulg.) For sackcloth, by its hairs and pointed bristles, pricking the flesh all over as with little needles. mortifies it greatly, and restrains its lusts. as they know who have made trial of it. Hence S. Ægidius, one of the first companions of S. Francis, being asked why S. John, who had not sinned, led so austere a life, and did penance, replied, “As flesh is seasoned with salt, that it may not corrupt, so was the body of the Baptist seasoned with penance.” “Penance,” as S. Cyprian says (Serm. de ratione Circumcisionis), “is that penetrating salt which dries up the rankling putrescences of the flesh.” Hence, SS. Hilarion, Anthony, Paul, Pachomius, and the rest of the Anchorites, according to the testimony of S. Jerome and others, were clothed in hair shirts, or sackcloth, such as the Capuchins wear now, and such as was worn by Elijah, Elisha, and the other prophets, as I have shown in my Preface to the Minor Prophets. In truth, God made for Adam not fine linen or woollen tunics, but coats of skin, and rough ones, that by them, as by a hair shirt, he might tame his flesh and do penance for his sin, as I have shown in Genesis. That is a wise saying of Augustus Caesar in Suetonius, “Soft and splendid clothing is the banner of pride and a seed plot of luxury.” S. Ephrem concludes his life of S. Abraham the hermit thus, “In all the fifty years of his abstinence he never changed the hair shirt which was his clothing.” S. Clare wore for twenty-eight years, even in sickness, a hair shirt made of hogsí bristles. When S. Josaphat exchanged a kingdom for the desert, he wore a hair shirt next his skin, under his clothes. (See Damas., in Histor. c. 37.) Theodoret says that the emperor, wishing to see S. Abraham the hermit, called him to him, and when he came received him with a salutation, and regarded his rough sackcloth as of more excellence than his own purple. When S. William, Duke of Aquitaine, was converted by S. Bernard, he tamed his flesh with an iron coat of mail, and armed it against temptation. S. Dominic did the same, and was, for that reason, surnamed Loricatus (coated with mail). S. Martin, as Sulpitius testifies, was of opinion that it becomes a Christian to die on ashes; wherefore, he himself, making his bed on ashes, and clothed in sackcloth, so died. SS. Anselm, Charles Borromúo, and many others did the same.
And a leathern girdle, &c. The prophets—indeed, all the Jews and Syrians—wore long robes; to prevent these flowing down to the ground and impeding their walking, they made use of girdles. Thus they were more ready for a journey, and more strong for work. But John had a girdle of skin about his loins, that it might press his sackcloth more closely to his body, and so the more mortify his flesh and subdue it to the Spirit. For in the loins is the origin of lust. S. John was in this a follower of Elias, whose eulogium is that “he was a hairy man, and girt about the loins with a girdle of skin.” It is a common saying, “A girded garment, a girded mind; an ungirded garment, an ungirded mind.” As it is said in Ecclus. xix. 27, “A manís clothing, and excessive laughter and gait, shew what he is.” (See S. Chrysostom in loc.) And Cassian (lib. i. de Habitu Monach.) thus begins, “so must a monk needs walk as a soldier of Christ, always ready for battle, with his loins always girded.”
His meat, &c. For locusts the Greek has α̉κρίδες, which Beza erroneously understands to mean wild pears, for they are not called α̉κρίδες, but α̉χράδες. ̉Αχρας is a wild pear-tree, a species of thorn. (See Columella, lib. 10.)
A second opinion of certain heretics mentioned by S. Epiphanius, Hæres. 30, is also wrong. By α̉κρίδες they understood ε̉γκρίδες, or sweetmeats made of oil and honey.
Thirdly, certain innovators take α̉κρίδες to mean sea-crabs; but these are not called α̉κρίδες but α̉χαρίδες, or καρίδες in Athanæus. But where, I ask, could John procure crabs in the desert? Besides, crabs, as crawling on the ground, were forbidden to the Jews.
Fourthly, some by α̉κρίδες translate herbs, or the tops of trees and leaves. The Ethiopian has, His food was arant anvota, the tops of herbs with wild honey, or dipped in honey.
But I say α̉κρίδες are locusts; so the Vulgate, Syriac, and Arabic. The Egyptian translates grasshoppers, but it means locusts, which chirp like grasshoppers. And both are so called because they feed upon τὰ α̉κρὰ, i.e. the tops of ears of corn and plants. So Theocritus, and the Lexicons, passim. Whence Origen, Hilary, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Augustine, understand by the word a kind of leaping insect, which is frequently eaten by the Ethiopians, Libyans, Parthians and other Orientals. (See Pliny, lib. 11, C. 29, and lib. 6, c. 30.) Hence S. Jerome (lib. 2 contra Jovin.) says, “Because clouds of locusts are found throughout the vast solitudes of the burning deserts, they are used as food; and this was what John the Baptist ate.” So, too, the locust, because it leaps, was counted a clean animal, and was allowed by God to be eaten by the Israelites. (Levit. xi.)
Moreover, the ancients were wont to eat locusts, either sodden or roasted; and when dried in the sun, or salted and smoked, they would keep for a year.
Nothing is here said of Johnís drink, for it is certain that he drank water only. Indeed there was nothing else to be had in the desert. So the angel said of him, “He shall drink neither wine nor strong drink.”
Wild honey. What sort of honey was this? First, Rabanus is of opinion that it was the white and tender leaves of trees, which, when rubbed in the hands, give out a kind of honeyed flavour.
2. Others think that this honey was a moisture collected from the leaves of trees.
3. Suidas thinks it was the gum collected from trees and shrubs, which is called manna.
4. And rightly, S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Isidore of Pelusium, believe that it was wild honey, made by wild bees, which they store in hollow trees, and which has a somewhat bitter and disagreeable flavour. The Ethiopic version has here, sedenæ, which means a particular kind of honey, sweeter and more wholesome than the common honey. It is made by a kind of bee, less than the common bee, about the size of a fly.
Then went out to him. Then, when the fame of his holy and austere and eremitical life was everywhere spread abroad. Of so great power with all men is sanctity, and the reputation of sanctity.
Now Jordan, in Hebrew, is as though, ירר מן דן, iored min dan, that is, descending from Dan. Dan in Hebrew signifies judgment. Whence the passage denotes, mystically, that they who fear the judgment of God run to holy preachers, such as was John, that they may learn from them the way of salvation, and thus, in the Day of Judgment, may have their portion in heaven assigned by Christ the Judge.
And were baptized, &c. Unaptly Calvin interprets were baptized to mean were taught the baptism of repentance. For to baptize does not mean to teach, but to wash the body with water, as is plain from verse 13. The baptism of John was different from the baptism of Christ, as I show against the heretics on Acts xix. 2. The baptism of John was only a sign and protestation of repentance, and a preparation for the baptism of Christ, that they might be justified by it. Hence they were confessing their sins. For repentance, or sorrow for sin, causes a man to confess his sins, and seek for a remedy for them and for pardon. Thus the Jews in certain cases were obliged to confess their sins to a priest, as I have shown on Levit. v. 5, and vi. 6, 7, and Numb. v. 7. But this confession was not a Sacrament, nor did it procure remission of sins, as in the confession instituted by Christ. For in that, as in a Sacrament, the priest, by the power conferred upon him by Christ in ordination, absolves the penitent from his sins. But that confession of the Jews was only a sign of penitence and compunction, or inward contrition, which, if it were perfect, that is to say, proceeding from the love of God above all things, would put away sins and justify. “For charity covereth a multitude of sins.”(1 Pet. iv. 8).
But when he saw many, &c. As early as the time of Jonathan, the brother of Judas Maccabæus, there were three sects among the Jews, the Pharisees, the Essenes, and the Sadducees. Josephus (Ant. lib. 13, c. 9) thus writes concerning them: “In the time of Jonathan there were three sects, who disagreed among themselves about human affairs. They were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. Of these the Pharisees attributed some things, but not all, to fate; and some things they say are in our own power, so as to be or not to be. The Essenes affirm that all things are in the power of fate; and that nothing can happen to man except by the decree of fate. But the Sadducees altogether deny fate in human affairs. They say that nothing happens because it is fated to happen, and that everything is in our own power; and that we ourselves are the authors of our own happiness or misfortune, according as we follow good or evil counsel.” He treats more fully of these sects, de Bell. Jud. lib. 2, C. 7, where he says that the Pharisees professed a more accurate knowledge of the rites of the law: the Sadducees denied Providence, and rewards and punishment for the soul after death, which is the only bridle which will restrain from sin; and when it is withdrawn, men rush, like unbridled horses, into all manner of voluptuousness. Whence S. Luke says (Acts xxiii. 8), “The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees confess both.” For the Sadducees followed the fables of the Greek Sophists and Atheists, and laughed at the Elysian Fields of the Blessed, at Orcus, and Cerberus, and Hell. The Pharisees opposed the Sadducees, following the faith and hope of the ancient Fathers, Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets; and the people were on their side. But on the side of the Sadducees were the nobles, and it would appear, Herod, who lived like an atheist in all licentiousness and cruelty. When Christ came, both Pharisees and Sadducees conspired against Him, as the common enemy of the Jews. Against the Sadducees the Book of Wisdom was written, and the Second Book of the Maccabees, as I have shown. The Sadducees were so called as though they were just, because they arrogated to themselves the name of justice, from sadoc, “justice;” or rather from Sadoc, the name of their founder. The Pharisees were so called as expounders and explainers of the Law, or separated (for the root פרש parash signifies to separate, and also to expound) from the common people by their learning and sanctity. Their masters and chiefs were R. Hillel, and Shammai, who S. Jerome says, on the eighth chapter of Isaiah, lived a little before Christ. They were, however, always opposed to virtue and the truth: whence they are here most severely rebuked by S. John, because they were proud, and puffed up with a vain opinion of their wisdom and sanctity, as well as because they were hypocritical, and, as though ambitious of a feigned holiness, they sought for baptism with the rest, that they might be accounted holy by the people. Thus Origen (tom. 6 in Joan.). It may be added that they wished by this means to bind John to themselves, and stop his mouth from speaking of their faults. This is what politicians do at the present day. The Essenes alone, on account of the goodness of their faith and morals, favoured Christ and Christians. Indeed, being made Christians, they became the first monks under S. Mark, as I have shown, on Acts v. 2.
Ye brood of vipers. This is a Hebraism, meaning, ye are vipers sprung from vipers, the very evil children of very evil parents, noxious, crafty, and poisonous, who propagate your pernicious morals and errors which you have derived and inherited from your wicked ancestors, in your disciples, as your children, whose souls you kill and destroy. So SS. Jerome and Gregory. For the bite of the viper is so noxious and destructive that it causes death in seven hours, or, at furthest, on the third day. Christ explains Johnís words, saying (Matt. xxiii. 31), “Wherefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are the sons of them that killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, generation of vipers, how will ye flee from the judgment of hell?”
S. Ambrose, on Luke iii. 7, thinks that the prudence of the Pharisees is here alluded to, according to the words, “Be ye wise as serpents;” for the serpent, by prudence, provides for the future; yet does not its venom leave it. So likewise was it with them: by a certain provident devotion, they took care of the future, and desired the baptism of John; and yet they forsook not their badness and their sins.
Who hath warned you to flee, &c. To flee, that is, to escape. For warned, the Greek has ύπέδεξεν signifying—(I), suggested, advised; (2), shown, demonstrated—i.e., by reasoning and example. Hence ύπόδειξις means, a demonstration.
The wrath to come does not mean the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, so much as the wrath of Christ the Judge, which He will manifest to the wicked who are condemned in the Day of Judgment. It means the vengeance and sentence of condemnation which He shall then pronounce upon them, as Christ Himself explains. (Matt. xxiii. 33.) It means the wrath and angry countenance of Christ, which shall then so terrify the wicked, that “they say to the mountains and to the rocks: Fall upon us and hide us from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of their wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?” (Apoc. vi. 16.) S. John the Baptist was a true preacher of the kingdom of heaven, promising it to those who repent, but a preacher likewise of the wrath of God and of hell, with these threatening the impenitent, such as were the Pharisees and Sadducees. Let the true preacher do the same, as Isaiah did (ii. 19), and Hosea (x. 8), and Christ Himself (Luke xxiii. 30).
The meaning of the whole is clear and plain. Who hath shown, or pointed out (demonstravit, Vulg.) that ye shall escape the coming wrath? That is, the judgment of an angry Christ, and everlasting damnation. For so Christ Himself explains John, when He threatens the same Scribes and Pharisees with Gehenna, saying, “ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how shall ye escape the damnation of hell?” That is to say, “By no means shall ye be able to escape that condemnation; but of a very surety ye shall fall into it, because ye are a generation of vipers; i.e., ye have your malignity and hypocrisy so long a time in you, and so confirmed by practice, that ye cannot be torn away from them, because ye do not wish to be. As dissemblers do ye draw nigh to me, as though ye repented, when either ye do not believe in Godís providence, wrath, and vengeance, like the Sadducees; or, if ye do believe in them, ye believe as the Pharisees do; ye fear them not, but proudly think that ye are righteous.” So John gravely rebukes them. “Who hath promised you that ye shall escape hell? False is your persuasion, O ye Sadducees! There is a hell. Most vain, likewise, is your presumption and security, O ye Pharisees! in that ye are not afraid of hell, because ye proudly esteem yourselves righteous.” The emphasis is on the word ύπέδειξεν, “Ye live securely, and are asleep in your lusts, just as if there were no vengeance of God, and punishment of wickedness after this life, or at least as if they need not be apprehended by you. Whence is that security of yours, whence that ύπόδειξις, that demonstration, that proof, that suggestion? It comes from no sure and evident reason. It comes only from your own pride and foolish persuasion.“ Jansen and Franc. Lucas give another turn to the words. They think they are the expression of Johnís rebuke of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees, as though he said, “I do not believe that ye are approaching my baptism in sincerity: for who could have pointed out to you that by my baptism of repentance, the coming wrath of God might be escaped, when either, like the Sadducees, ye do not believe in that wrath, or else do not fear it, like the Pharisees? For to the unbelieving and the arrogant, nothing can be demonstrated or persuaded which goes contrary to their own opinion or their pride. Wherefore ye do not repent ex animo, but ye pretend that ye are fleeing from the anger of God.”
Maldonatus has another opinion. He thinks that these are the words of John admiring so great and so sudden conversion of the Sadducees and Pharisees. “Who hath demonstrated to you that ye should fear the judgment of God and hell fire, which aforetime ye either did not believe, or else did not fear? Whence comes so great a change in you?” “Not surely from yourselves, but from the mighty grace and operation of God,” says S. Chrysostom, “and from your evil conscience, which accuses you of your guilt, and compels you to fear the judgment of God.”
Tropologically, S. Bernard teaches that coming (Gr. μελλούσης) wrath must be escaped by present wrath, i.e., by penance, which a man imposes upon himself, or accepts when imposed upon him by God. “What, O miserable ones! hath pointed out to you to flee from the coming wrath? Why do ye so greatly flee from the present wrath, when by it ye may escape that which is to come? Why do ye fear the scourge? Why decline the rod? These are the things which in this your day belong unto your peace, if ye would but know it. You only change, you do not escape penance. For it cannot be that the wicked shall go unpunished. He who is not punished here of his own will, shall be punished elsewhere without end. A wretched exchange indeed, and a token of the extreme of madness, is that exchange by which ye would decline temporal affliction, and choose the eternal anguish prepared for the devil. The sinner who would avoid the rod of the correcting Father, will fall into the everlasting punishment of God the Judge.”
Bring forth therefore, &c. Gr. καρπὸν άξιον, worthy fruit, in the singular. Worthy fruit of penance. Observe that the genitive of penance is governed by the word fruit, as well as by the word worthy. The Baptist teaches the way and the means of escaping the wrath to come, that it is present repentance, but it must be worthy penance, that is to say, true, serious, and condign or suitable. “Because ye, O Sadducees, do not believe the providence of God, and the anger which shall overtake the wicked in hell; and because ye, O ye Pharisees, do not fear that anger because ye trust in your own works that ye are righteous, therefore shall ye both fall into that hell. And therefore, that ye may both escape it, do penance, and change your lives. Do ye, O ye Sadducees, exchange your faithless atheism for belief in Divine Providence: do ye, O ye Pharisees, exchange your pride for humility, your gluttony for abstinence, your lust for chastity, your covetousness for almsdeeds, your outward Pharisaic righteousness and the boast of it for Christian and inward holiness. Bring forth such fruits as truly become penance, as indicate serious repentance, such as proceed from the heart of a true penitent. They are tears, detestation and punishment of sin: they are the conversion of life and conduct.” (See S. Gregory, Hom. 20 in Evang.)
Let me add that worthy penance is that in which the measure of grief and pain corresponds to the measure of the pleasure and the sin, that according to the enormity of the sin should be the increase of punishment. A far heavier penance should be that of the adulterer than of the thief, of the parricide than of the manslayer. Whence, in the Penitential Canons, penances are justly decreed and measured out to every kind of sin. Justly, I say, having regard to the crimes and to man, not with respect to God. For one single mortal sin, inasmuch as it is an offense against God, and because thereby the sinner implicitly places his chief good and end in the creature, which he loves so as to prefer it to God, and so takes away from the honour of the Deity, such sin is therefore as it were Decide and Christicide, and so contains within it an infinity of wickedness. For it is an offence and an injury against God, who is immense and infinite. Wherefore by no punishment or penance of any creature whatsoever can just and adequate satisfaction be made to God. Yea, even if all men and all angels were, of their own accord, to endure all the torments of hell for all eternity, they could never offer worthy penance and satisfaction to God for a single mortal sin. Christ alone can do this, inasmuch as He is the Son of God, and very God. His penance, therefore, and satisfaction, as regards His Person, which is of infinite dignity, are likewise of infinite value, and are equal and adequate to the infinite offence committed against an infinite God. Such is the sinfulness of sin, which if men thoroughly perceived, surely they would sin no more.
Lastly, he brings forth worthy fruits of repentance, who, when he is converted, serves the truth with as much zeal as before he served the devil and vanity; and loves God as fervently as before he loved the world and the flesh. Hear Climacus, how he gives an exact description of penitence: “Penitence is an ever-abiding abandonment of fleshly consolation. Penitence is a willing endurance of all afflictive dispensations. Penitence is the continual framer of scourges for itself. Penitence is the strong source of tribulation for the belly, and the stern rebuker of the sinful soul.”
And think not to say, &c. As it were, boast not to say among yourselves, to think, and flatter yourselves as relying on the thought, that ye have Abraham for your father. For the Jews were accustomed to confide and boast in this, that they were sons of Abraham. This was their reply to Christ, “We be Abrahamís seed.” It was this vain-glorious boast of theirs which S. John here denounced. And the sense is this: “Abraham was a most holy patriarch and a friend of God, to whom God promised blessing and salvation, which was to be handed down to his children. Now we are sons of Abraham, and therefore heirs of these promises. Let us live therefore as we please, and refuse all worthy penance, yet shall we be saved by this, that we are the children of Abraham. God is faithful to His promises, that what He hath promised He will surely perform. Were it not so, Abraham would be defrauded of his sons, and of their salvation promised by God; and the race of Abraham would come to an end.” John answers as S. Paul does (Rom. ix.), that the sons of Abraham, the heirs of the blessing and salvation promised to him, are not reckoned by carnal generation, but by faith and virtue, which are spiritual things. Insomuch that not those are counted sons of Abraham who are born of Abraham, but those who imitate the faith and holiness of Abraham. Wherefore even if the Sadducees and Pharisees, and the rest of the Jews, were to fall from righteousness and salvation, God would bring others in their place, and give them to be as it were children unto Abraham and successors to his blessings. “So that, although ye should perish, O ye Jews, the blessings promised to the seed of Abraham will not perish, but will be transferred from you, who are unworthy, to those who are worthy, viz., the Gentiles.”
God is able, &c. John was preaching and baptizing in Bethabara, i.e., the house of the passage, where the children of Israel, under Joshua, passed over Jordan dryshod. Wherefore in memory of this great miracle Joshua set up in this place twelve stones, taken from the bed of Jordan. Remigius and S. Anselm think that S. John here spoke of and pointed out those very stones. So also does Pineda. These stones were types and figures of the Gentiles, buried beneath the waves of error and ignorance, but at length raised up by Christ and His Apostles from the lowest pit of idolatry into the Church by baptism, to the glory of being sons of God.
You will ask, how can this be true? For how can sons of stones become sons of Abraham now dead? And even if stones were raised up and endowed with life, how could they be born of Abraham? Many here betake themselves to allegory, but I say that the words are true in their plain meaning as they stand. 1. Because God is able of stones to form men, whom He, by His will and intention, could reckon to Abraham for sons, or whom Abraham might adopt, just as God was able to form Adam out of the ground, and from barren Sara to produce Isaac unto Abraham. S. John seems to allude to Isaiah li.: “Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged,” i.e., as he goes on to explain, “Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sara that bare you.” 2. Physically and precisely. As God turned Lotís wife into a pillar of salt, so is He able to turn stones into men, and children born of Abraham. Yea, God, by His infinite power, is able wholly to transmute any created substance whatsoever into any other substance, and that either as regards matter or as regards form. For it suffices for a real transformation that the accidents only should remain the same, as is the case in transubstantiation, where the whole substance of the Bread of the Eucharist is converted into the Body of Christ.
S. John compares the Sadducees and Pharisees to stones, both that he might signify their hardness and obstinacy in evil, as well as humble their pride. As though he said, “O ye swelling Pharisees, of yourselves ye are no better than stones; and that wherein ye are more excellent than stones ye have from God. It was God who made you children of Abraham, and if ye be proud He will blot you out from the family of Abraham, and will raise up others in your place, and those even of stones if it so please Him.”
Lastly, God is able to turn any stones whatsoever into men, and endow them with the faith and piety of Abraham, and so make them spiritual children of Abraham. For, as the Apostle says (Rom. ix. 7), “Not they that are the children of the flesh are the children of God, but they that are the children of the promise are counted for the seed”—i.e. are reckoned as the seed and sons of Abraham. Whence, mystically, God raised up out of stones children unto Abraham, when he made Gentiles—who were rough and unpolished, and who worshipped stocks and stones, and were on that account likened unto stones by David (Ps. cxiv. 8)—to become sons of Abraham by imitation of his faith, piety, and obedience. For he is the father of believers and of the just. So SS. Jerome, Hilary, Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory (Hom. 10), and all the ancient Fathers. Euthymius adds that there was a fulfilment at Christís Passion, when many who were hard of heart seeing the rocks rent and other miracles, repented and believed in Christ.
For now is the ax, &c. Here is another stimulus wherewith John pricks the Pharisees to do penance, and that speedily, threatening them, indeed, with the peril of being cut down, and burnt up in hell. So S. Chrysostom, Euthymius, and others. Of these Euthymius says, “The axe is compared to death, the tree to man.” That is why the Greek is ε̉κκόπτεται, is cut down, and βάλλεται, is cast into the fire—meaning it is upon the very point and verge of being cut down. “Your fate, therefore, O ye Pharisees, hangs as it were upon a razorís edge. The extreme of peril hangs over you; destruction, death, and hell are gaping for you. Therefore bring forth worthy fruits of penance, that ye may escape those things.” The meaning is, the axe—that is, the vengeance and judgment of God—is laid to the roots of the trees—that is, to the life of each individual—that if they be unfruitful, as up to this present time is your case, O ye Sadducees and Pharisees, it may speedily cut them down by death, and cast them into the eternal fire. But if, on the other hand, they be fruitful, and produce repentance and good works, it shall in a little while, not so much cut them down as transfer and transplant them to the celestial paradise, where they shall produce the perennial fruits of eternal felicity, glory and praise.
You may say, Surely this was true before the coming of Christ. Why, then, saith John, after His coming, “Now is the axe laid,” &c.? I answer, because all this is more clear and sure since the coming of Christ. For Christ for this very purpose came into the world, that as the Judge, King, and Lord of all men, He might translate those who believe in and obey Him to heaven, and punish the unbelieving and disobedient with present and eternal death. Therefore Christ, by Himself, by His Apostles, and by John, clearly preached and promised to the pious the kingdom of heaven, and threatened the wicked with hell, that they might know that in His hand is their salvation and their damnation, and that by turning to Him they might escape hell, and be put into the way for heaven; and that He was able immediately to do all this, and that He would shortly do it, since there was no longer any excuse of ignorance or infirmity for men, as there was to the uninstructed Jews before Christ, to whom present and temporal rewards and punishments, not future and eternal, were promised and threatened by Moses and the prophets.
Secondly, and more aptly, the axe is the judgment and vengeance of Christ, the King and the Judge, wherewith He will cut off not only noxious, but unfruitful trees—that is, the Jews-from the garden of the Church, and from the salvation and the blessing promised to Abraham and his children, and cast them into the eternal fire; and shall, in their stead, plant the Gentiles who believe in Him in the paradise of His Church, which is, as it were, the estate and heritage of Abraham, who is the father of all them that believe. John therefore threatens the Pharisees with the reprobation of the Jews, and intimates the calling of the Gentiles into their place, which was shortly afterwards accomplished by Christ; for He rejected the Pharisees and the Jews from the family of Abraham—that is, from the Church of the faithful, and consequently from the kingdom of God.
I indeed baptize you, &c. These words must not be connected with what precedes, nor were they spoken immediately afterwards by John. But they were spoken as suitable to an occasion of which S. Luke gives an account and explanation (iii. 15): “And as the people were of opinion, and all were thinking in their hearts of John, that perhaps he might be the Christ: John answered, saying unto all: I indeed baptize you with water: but there shall come one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to loose. He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire” From the sanctity of his life and the fervour of his preaching, and from his baptizing, the people suspected that John was the Messiah, or the Christ. For none of the other prophets, except John and Ezekiel, had made use of baptism. (See Ezek. xxxvi., where he foretold that baptism would be a sign of Christ: “I will pour upon you clean water, and you shall be cleansed from all your filthiness.”) John therefore puts an end to this suspicion, and declares that he is not the Christ, but the forerunner and indicator of Christ, and that his baptism was a prelude to the baptism of Christ, and a preparation for it.
So he says, “I indeed baptize you in,” or “with water,” that is, with water only. This is a Hebraism, for the Hebrews denote the instrument by the preposition or letter ב, or in, which is understood in Latin. So the Hebrew said: במים, bammayim “in,” or “with water, unto repentance,” that I may stir you up to repentance, and that I may prepare you by corporeal ablutions for the washing of the soul to be received in the baptism of Christ. The baptism of John therefore was a profession of penance. Whence those who were about to be baptized by him confessed their sins, not that there was thereby a condonation of their faults; for this they were to wait for from Christ, by means of His baptism and true contrition .
He that cometh after me. Gr. ό ε̉ρχόμενος, i.e., the coming One, He whose advent is at hand, who is nigh us, even at our doors.
Mightier than I. Gr. ίσχυρότερσς, i.e., stronger, more powerful, more excellent, and who in gifts far excels me. For He is mighty by His own divine and heavenly strength, wherewith He influences not only the body, as I do, but the soul by the Spirit of His grace, and purifies it from every spot of sin. Whence Isaiah (chap. ix.) among other titles of Christ gives him that of strong. “He shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God: the Mighty.” (Vulg.) “And verily was He Strong, who, by the wonderful power of His Divinity, overcame the devil, and took his prey out of his hand, and overthrew his kingdom and transferred it to Himself; who opened the doors of heaven, and swallowed up death in victory; who abolished sin, and brought in grace and glory.” (Toletus.)
Again, Christ was mightier than John in miracles, because by a single word He raised the dead, drove out demons, healed the sick, changed the elements, whilst John by penance tamed the flesh that he might subdue it under the Spirit. Thus was the strength of Christ the weakness of John.
Whose shoes, &c. Mark adds (i. 7) “falling down.” S. Luke has “Whose shoesí latchet I am not worthy to unloose.” Each is true, each denotes the menial office of servants, who kneel down, and put on or take off their masterís shoes, and carry his shoes, when he puts on his slippers. John therefore here confesses that he is the servant and slave of Christ, that Christ is his Lord, yea his God.
Mystically, shoe denotes Christís Humanity, which to serve, by carrying it on his shoulders, or bearing it in his hand, he acknowledges himself unworthy. For this humanity, by union with the WORD, was of boundless dignity and majesty. Whence S. Bernard: “The majesty of the WORD was shod with the shoe of our humanity.” For since shoes are worn upon the extremities of the body, and are made of dead animals, according to S. Gregory and S. Jerome they rightly signify the Incarnation of Christ. By shoes Theoplylact understands Christís coming down to the earth, and descent after death into the Limbus Patrum.
He shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost. Christ shall pour forth the Holy Spirit, with all His gifts, in such abundance upon you, that He shall wash you from all your sins, and fill you, and, as it were, overwhelm you, with grace and charity, and His other charismata. Christ did this visibly at Pentecost. When He was about to ascend into heaven, alluding to these words of John, He said to His Apostles, “John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” (Acts i. 5.) But invisibly He does it in the sacrament of baptism, and confirmation, which is, as it were, the perfection and consummation of baptism. The contrast, therefore, between John and Christ is this—John baptized with water only, but Christ with water and the Holy Ghost. John washed the body, Christ the soul. And as the soul excels the body, so does the baptism of Christ excel the baptism of John, which was only rudimentary. So the Council of Trent (Sess. 7 Can. 1), and the Fathers generally. Hence Doctors speak of a threefold baptism—1, of the river; 2, of breath; 3, of blood. The baptism of the river is when any one is baptized with water. Of wind, or spirit (flaminis sive spiritus, Lat.), when a catechumen in a prison, or a desert, where there is no water, is truly contrite for his sins, and wishes for baptism. For such a one is justified by contrition, which includes the desire of baptism. Of blood, when any one not baptized dies a martyr for the faith; for he is baptized in his own blood, and cleansed from all his sins.
With the Holy Ghost and with fire. So it is in all the Greek, Latin, Syriac, Arabic, Persian, Egyptian, and Ethiopic versions. It is as though the Baptist said, “My baptism is by water, Christís by fire; and as fire is more powerful than water, so is His baptism more efficacious than mine.” Certain heretics, called Hermiani and Seleuciani, were wont, for this reason, to baptize their converts with fire, as S. Augustine testifies (Hæres. 59).
You ask, what is this fire? 1. Origen (Hom. 24 in Luc.) understands it of a purgatorial fire, that Christ will cleanse His faithful, dying in venial sins, in the fire of purgatory, according to the words, “The fire shall try every manís work;” and, “He himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.” (1 Cor. iii.) So also Suarez out of SS. Jerome and Bede.
2. S. Hilary by fire here understands the judgment of Christ, that it will be sharp, clear, and dreadful, like fire.
3. S. Basil (on Isaiah, chap. iv.), Damascene (lib. 4 de Fide, c. 10), and Toletus, understand the fire of hell, by which Christ punishes the reprobate; whence the Baptist says, “He shall burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
4. Some by fire understand tribulations, by which, as by fire, Christ washes His faithful people from their sins.
5. And, correctly, by the Holy Ghost and fire is meant the Holy, Fiery, and Inflaming Spirit, who is fire—that is, like fire—and, as fire, burns, and kindles. It is a hendiadys. The Holy Ghost, as it were fire, purges the faithful from their sins, kindles and illuminates them, raises them towards heaven and strengthens them, unites them closely to Himself, and, like fire, transforms them into Himself. Hence, at Pentecost, the Holy Ghost glided down upon the Apostles in the appearance of tongues of fire. Hence S. Chrysostom: “By adding the mention of fire, he signified the efficacy of the Holy Ghost, the vehement and unconquerable strength of His grace.” Hence, in the primitive Church, the Holy Spirit was often wont to descend in the visible appearance of fire upon those who were baptized and confirmed, to denote the complete purgation of their sins, and the fiery love and the words of fire with which the Holy Ghost inflamed them. According to that in Deut. iv. 24, “God is a consuming fire;” and, in Jer. xxiii. 29, “Are not my words as a fire? saith the Lord.”
Whose fan, &c. The fan is that with which farmers winnow the corn which has been thrashed, in order that the wind may carry away the chaff, and leave only the good corn behind. Fan, in Greek, πτύον, that which, as it were, spits forth the chaff. It is derived from πτύω, to spit out. The fan denotes the judgment of Christ, by which, as the fan separates the wheat from the chaff, He separates the good from the bad. The floor here does not signify the place, but rather the corn collected in the floor, which is cleansed by the separation of the chaff. By metonymy, that which contains is put for the contents. The floor, then, denotes the Church, or the company of the faithful.
The Fanner is Christ the Judge; the fan is His judgment, by which he fans and examines the thoughts, words, and deeds of every one. The chaff are the wicked. The wheat are the just and the saints, whom He will gather into His barn, the kingdom of heaven, where with them, as with wheat, He will feed and delight the Holy Trinity, the Angels, and all the Church triumphant.
John rises from Christís first advent of grace to His second advent of judgment. And he signifies that this judgment is pressing on, and is nigh at hand, by saying, “His fan is in His hand.” So S. Ambrose on Luke iii. 17. For although many hundred years may yet elapse before the judgment day, yet all those years, if compared with eternity, are but as a very little while, or as nothing. Moreover Christ, the Lord and Judge, holds in His hand the spirit, soul, and life of all men, to take them away if He will, to judge, bless, or condemn them.
He will burn up &c. And if the chaff, how much more the tares? The wicked are here called chaff, because, like chaff, they are very light, worthless and useless, and good for nothing save for fuel of Gehenna. For unquenchable, the Greek has άσβεστω, unextinguished, eternal. Hence a stone which always burns is called asbestus. The figure of speech here used is miosis, for little is said, much is meant. The fire of hell is a άσβεστος inextinguishable, not only because it cannot be quenched, but because it does not consume the wicked whom it burns; nay, it excruciates them living and feeling with endless torments. The error of Origen is here condemned, who thought that the pains of hell would not be eternal, but after the completion of the great cycle of Plato would come to an end.
There is an allusion to Isaiah lxvi. 24, “Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched;” and xxxiii. 14, “Which of you can dwell with devouring fire? Which of you shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” Where see what I have said. S. Chrysostom gives examples. “Do you not discern that sun which ever burns and is never extinguished? Have you not read of the inanimate bush, which was burnt with fire, and not consumed?” And S. Austin (contra Donatist. Lib. post Collat. c. 9) says, “Now I have proved sufficiently, that there are animals, which are called Piraustæ because they can live in the fire, and be burnt without being consumed, in pain without death, by the marvellous power of the Creator. And if any deny that this is possible, they are ignorant of Him by whom whatsoever is wonderful in all nature is effected.”
Think of, then, and dread this fire of hell, which no water, no tears can extinguish: yea, though all rivers, all abysses, all seas, were collected together, they could not quench it: which all demons, all creatures, with all their powers, could not even diminish in the very least degree, “because the breath of the Lord as a stream of brimstone doth kindle it.”
Then cometh Jesus, &c. Then, when the Baptist was stirring up all to repentance, and baptizing as a preparation for receiving the grace of Christ, then, I say, Christ came, that Him whom he had commended when absent, he might point out being present, even as the day-star goes before and indicates the rising of the sun.
From Galilee, or as S. Mark says from Nazareth, where he had lived with His mother in a private station until He was thirty years of age. Then He came to John, that He might be by him declared to be the Messiah, that is, the Teacher and Redeemer of the world: and that He might, upon Johnís testimony, inaugurate His public office of teaching, and bringing in the Evangelical Law, for which He had been sent by the Father.
To be baptized. You will ask, what were the causes of Johnís preaching and baptism, and why did Christ wish to be baptized by him? There was a threefold reason, says S. Jerome. 1. That because He was born a man, he might fulfil all the righteousness and humility of the law. 2. That He might give a sanction to Johnís baptism. 3. That sanctifying the waters of Jordan by the descent of the Dove, He might show the coming of the Holy Ghost to the laver of the faithful.
4. A fourth reason was that by the Holy Spiritís coming down upon Christ in the form of a dove, and by the Father thundering from heaven, He might afford Himself an irrefragable testimony. So S. Jerome.
5. Christ, by receiving baptism from John, would allure all men to His own Baptism, and would show them its benefit, viz. the coming and gift of the Holy Ghost.
6. Christ took our sins upon Him. Therefore as guilty and a penitent He stood before John, that He might wash away and cleanse our sins in Himself. Whence Nazianzen says (Orat. in sancta luminaria), “John baptizes, and Jesus comes to him, sanctifying even him who baptizes, that especially He may bury the old Adam in the waters.” And again, “Jesus ascended up out of the water, drawing and lifting up with Himself a drowned world.”
7. That Christ, who had determined to found the new commonwealth of Christians, in which none should be admitted except by baptism, should Himself, their Chief, be baptized, that He might in all things except sin, be made like unto His brethren. That is a famous saying of Cato, “Submit to the law, which thou thyself hast enacted.”
8. As Abraham formerly, by Godís command, instituted the sign of circumcision, so Christ would give a new pledge to His Church by sanctioning baptism. Thus S. Thomas thinks (3 p., q. 66, art. 2) that when Christ was baptized, He instituted the Sacrament of Baptism, not in words, but in deed. For then there appeared all the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, in whose name we are baptized. The Father was manifested by His Voice, the Son appeared in Jordan, the Holy Ghost was seen in the form of a Dove.
But it is more correct to say that Christ when He was baptized only directed attention to His own Sacrament, and its matter, water; but that He instituted it shortly afterwards, when He began to preach publicly. For He does not seem to have instituted Baptism publicly at the time He said to Nicodemus coming to Him privately and by night, “Except any one be born of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” And this is the opinion of S. Chrysostom, S. Augustine (Serm. 36 & 37, de Tempore) S. Gregory Nazianzen (Orat. in S. Nativit.), and others, who at the same time assert that Christ by His Baptism sanctified all water, and by His corporeal contact with it endued it with regenerating power, not as though He infused into water any physical, but only a moral quality, because water was then, ipso facto, by the intention of Christ, designed for the sanctification of men by washing them in the Sacrament of Baptism.
Tropologically, Christ by His Baptism at this time wished to teach us that a holy and perfect life must begin with baptism, and that this should be the great object of all who teach others, such as doctors and preachers.
But John forbad him. John recognized Christ by a secret instinct and revelation of God, by which he knew Him as to his face, which he had seen and known thirty years before, when he leapt in his motherís womb for joy. You may ask, “Why then was there a sign given to the Baptist (John i. 33) by which he was to recognize Christ, viz., the descending and abiding of the Holy Ghost upon Him?” I reply, This sign was given to the Baptist, not that he should for the first time know Christ, but that it should more fully confirm him in that faith and knowledge, and that by the same, as by a sure testimony of God, he should point out and commend Christ to the people.
I have need to be baptized, &c. That is, to be spiritually washed from my sins, and perfected by the Spirit of Thy grace. Have need here does not signify an obligation of precept, as though the Baptist was obliged to receive the baptism of Christ. For this precept of baptism was given and promulged by S. Peter on the Day of Pentecost, and therefore after Johnís death. Some gather from this place that John was soon afterwards baptized by Christ Himself, as were also the Blessed Virgin Mary, SS. Peter, James, and John, and the rest of the Apostles. This is stated by S. Evodius, who succeeded S. Peter in the Chair of Antioch, in an Epistle of his, entitled τὸ φώς.
In favour of this idea are also Nazian. (Orat. 39 towards the end); “Christ knew,” he says, “that He would Himself shortly afterwards baptize the Baptist;” also S. Chrysostom, who says, “John baptized Christ with water, but Christ baptized John with the Spirit.” Whence the author of the Imperfect Comment. says, “It is plainly written in apocryphal writings, that John baptized Christ with water, but He baptized John with the Spirit.”
Abulensis thinks, on the other hand, that John was not baptized by Christ. And he proves it by the marvelling of Johnís disciples, who soon afterwards told John that Christ, whom he had baptized, was Himself baptizing, and that all men were coming unto Him. For this would have been needlessly told to John if he had been baptized by Christ, and he would have given this reply to his disciples. So that it is a doubtful point whether John was baptized by Christ or not.
And Jesus answering said, &c. It becometh us, i.e., Me to receive, thee to confer, baptism. Others understand us in this way: “It behoves us who are teachers to set an example in ourselves. Nothing, however apparently unimportant, must be omitted. I shall institute baptism. It is the part of him who commands, to do before others what he commands.” Whence S. Luke says of Christ (Acts i. 1), “Jesus began both to do and to teach.” “This is righteousness,” saith S. Ambrose, “that what you wish another to do, you should yourself first begin, and encourage others by your own example.” Whence S. Gregory, “Of true humility is ever sprung secure authority.”
Moreover, not only Christ receiving, but John conferring baptism fulfilled all righteousness, because, contending in humility with Christ, he suffered himself to be vanquished, by being as it were put upon an equality with Christ. And so he, as it were, being vanquished by Christ in humility, vanquished Christ by yielding to Him and obeying Him. As S. Dominic, wishing to give his right hand to S. Francis, whilst Francis opposed it and strove to take his left, said at length, “You overcome me in humility; I conquer you by obedience.”
It is very probable that in the act of baptism John pointed out Christ to the people, since the form of Johnís baptism would be something of this kind: “I baptize thee in the Name of Him who is to come;” or, “Believe in Messiah who is about to come.” This is inferred from chap. xix. 4. Thus it would seem that when Christ came, and was being baptized, John would say, “This is Messias of whom I said that He was about to come.”
S. Jerome observes—“Beautifully is it said, ĎSuffer it now,í that it might be shown that Christ was baptized with water, and that John was about to be baptized by Christ with the Spirit. And by-and-by Christ might say, ĎThou baptizest Me in water, that I may baptize thee in thine own blood shed for Me.í”
For so it becometh us to fulfil (Arabic, to perfect) all righteousness. Instead of righteousness the Syriac has all rectitude, i.e., whatever is just, right, holy, and pleasing unto God. And it is not right to decline or depart from such things, even though they seem lowly and abject; and even though they be not provided for by any precept, but are matters of counsel only. But again, all righteousness is whatsoever God the Father hath commanded. So Vatabl. For that is just which God sanctions and commands. And it would seem that as God the Father commanded Christ to die, so also He gave Him a precept to submit to Johnís baptism.
Hence, secondly, the Gloss says, humility is all righteousness—humility which subjects itself to all—superiors, equals, and inferiors. On the contrary, pride, by which a man prefers himself to all, not only inferiors and equals, but superiors, is all unrighteousness. For it takes away their just rights, and deprives them of the subjection which is their due. For as in every act of righteousness, i.e., of virtue, humility comes in, in that a man submits himself to reason and virtue, so pride mixes itself up with every act of sin, in that a man prefers himself, and his own will and desire, to the law and will of God. Humility therefore fulfils all righteousness, because it is the head of all right and justice which a man owes to God, his neighbour, and himself. He submits himself to God by religion, to his neighbour by charity. He subjects the body to the soul, the soul to the law of God. Wherefore the humble hath peace with all; the proud with all hath strife and war. At this present day how many lawsuits and contentions are there between clergy and prelates for places, titles, precedence! How both sides pertinaciously contend for what is due to each, to the great scandal of the laity, and with little gain of victory to either side. For what dost thou gain if thou overcomest in the lawsuit, save some small worthless point of honour, and in the meanwhile makest a far greater loss of reputation, peace, and conscience? Learn from Christ, O Christian, to believe in, yea, even to be ambitious of the lowest place, so shalt thou be exalted with Christ and deserve the highest. For Christ, subjecting Himself to John, was declared by John, yea, by all the Holy Trinity, to be greater than John, to be the Son of God. Say, therefore, with Christ, “Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” S. Ignatius, the founder of our Society, was a follower of Christ when he gave this golden axiom:
“With eíen the least, let no true Christian fight,
But still to yield be eíer his chief delight.”
For the grace, honour, and glory of a Christian is humility, that is to say, to yield, to suffer himself to be vanquished, to yield the place of honour to another. Wherefore the greater is he who is the humbler. For, as S. Gregory says, “Pride is the place of the wicked, humility the place of the good.” Christ here teaches us to follow an ordinary life, not to seek exemption from the common law and lot, and to be accounted as one of the common people, according to the words in Ecclus. iii. 20, “If thou wouldst be famous, be as one of the flock;” yea, descend to the lowest place, and prefer all men to thyself.
3. All righteousness, i.e., the highest justice. Thus God says to Moses (Exod. xxxiii. 19), “I will shew thee all,” i.e. the highest “good” (Vulg.) namely, Myself. For the lowest degree of righteousness is to submit oneself to a superior, the middle degree to submit to an equal, the highest to an inferior. even as Christ submitted Himself to John. Christ, I say, who is the Holy of Holies, bowed His head to John for baptism, as though seeking from him sanctification and purification, like the rest, who were sinners, who came to his baptism.
Excellently says S. Gregory (3 p. Pastor. Admonit. 18), “Let the humble hear that the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister; let those who are lifted up hear that pride is the beginning of all sin. Let the humble hear that our Redeemer humbled Himself, being made obedient even unto death; let the proud hear what is written of their head, ĎHe is a king over all the children of pride.í The pride of the devil was made the occasion of our ruin, the humility of God was found to be the assurance of our redemption. Let the humble therefore be told that when they abase themselves they rise to the likeness of God; but let it be said to the proud that when they lift up themselves they sink down to the likeness of the apostate angel. What then is more base than to be haughty? And what is more exalted than humility; which, while it puts itself in the lowest place, is united to its Maker in the very highest?”
S. Gregory says elsewhere: “This is the highest righteousness and sanctity, when we are in respect of our virtue the loftiest, in respect of our humility the lowliest.” S. Thomas Aquinas, being asked by what mark a really holy and perfect person might be known, answered, “By humility, by contempt of himself, contempt of honour and praise, by bearing ignominy and reproach.” “For if,” he said, “you see any one, when he is neglected and despised, and has others preferred before him, show a sense of pain or indignation, to be of a downcast countenance, to turn up his nose, wrinkle his forehead, you may be very sure he is not a saint, even though he should work miracles. For when he is neglected he shows his pride, anger, impatience, and so makes himself vile and contemptible.”
4. All righteousness, i.e., every increase of righteousness, that is to say, of virtue and sanctity. Christ indeed could not increase in interior grace, for with that He was always perfectly filled from the first moment of His Conception and union with the Word; but He showed daily ever greater and greater signs of virtue, and ever more and more humbled Himself. For Christ came down from heaven into the Virginís womb, from the womb to the manger, from the manger to Jordan, from Jordan to the Cross, as He would teach us in Ps. lxxxiii. 8: “They shall go from virtue to virtue: the God of gods shall be seen in Sion.” (Vulg.) So S. Augustine (Epist. 50, ad Dioscorum), “I would, my Dioscorus, that thou shouldst in all piety subject thyself to Christ and the Christian discipline, nor fortify for thyself any other way of reaching and obtaining the truth than that which has been fortified for us by Him who knoweth the infirmity of our footsteps, forasmuch as He is God. And so it is said of that most famous orator Demosthenes, that when he was asked what was the first rule to be observed in oratory, he replied, Pronunciation; and when he was asked what was the second, replied, Pronunciation; and being asked what was the third, still answered, Pronunciation. So if thou shouldst ask and ask again concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, I should answer that nothing else but humility would make you perfectly fulfil their obligations, although, perchance, I might be obliged to speak of other duties. To this most salutary humility, which, that our Lord Jesus Christ might teach us, He humbled Himself, to this, the greatest adversary is, if I may so say, a most uninstructed science.”
Lastly, he fulfils all righteousness who endures the unpleasant ways and manners and tempers of others, according to those words of St. Paul, “Bear ye one anotherís burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” He who loves those who hate him, blesses those who curse him, does good to those who injure him, honours those who despise him, vanquishes his enemies by the warmth of his love; who with Paul desires to be anathema for his enemies; and to be all things to all men that he may gain all for Christ, he is truly humble and is like Christ.
Then he suffered him. That is, when he heard this, John yielded and baptized Christ. “If God received baptism from man, no one need disdain to receive it from his fellow-servant,” says S. Jerome. And S. Ambrose says, “Let no one refuse the laver of grace, when Christ refused not the laver of penance.” Beautifully, too, says S. Bernard, “John acquiesced and obeyed; he baptized the Lamb of God, and washed Him in the waters; but we, not He, were washed, because, for washing us, the waters are known to be of cleansing power.”
S. Augustine (Serm. 154 de Temp.) says that the day on which Christ was baptized was a Sunday, though John Lucidus (lib. 7, c. 2) was of opinion that the day was Friday. What is certain from tradition is, that Christ was baptized on the 6th day of January, the same day of the month on which he had been adored by the Magi thirty years before. Whence the Church commemorates the event on that day. The Ethiopians on the 6th of January, in memory of Christís Baptism, not only sprinkle themselves with water, but immerse themselves in it. The faithful in Greece also were accustomed, about midnight before the 6th of January, to draw water from the nearest river or fountain, which, by the gift of God, remained sweet for many years, as S. Chrysostom expressly testifies (Hom. de Baptism. Christiano, tom. 5, Opp. Græc.). S. Epiphanius (Hæres. 51) adds, that on that day the Nile was turned into wine. “About the 11th day of the month Tybus (our 6th of January) Christís first miracle was wrought in Cana of Galilee, when water was made wine. Wherefore in various places, until this very time, the same thing takes place as a divine sign for a testimony to unbelievers. Various rivers and fountains which are turned into wine are the proof of this. Cibyris, a fount of a city of Caria, becomes wine at the very hour in which Christ said ĎDraw out now, and bear to the governor of the feast.í Gerasa in Arabia is another example. I myself have drunk of the fountain of Cibyris, and our brethren of the fount of Gerasa, which is in a temple of the Martyrs. Many testify the same concerning the Nile.”
Moreover, that the water of Jordan received by reason of Christís Baptism in it the gift of incorruption, Gretser testifies, “Let us add this,” he says, “that the waters of Jordan, after Christ had consecrated them by His Baptism in them, have been endowed with the gift of incorruption.” That illustrious prince, Nicolas Christopher Radzivil, in his Hodæporicum Hierosolymit., says, “The water of the Jordan is extremely turbid, but very wholesome, and when kept in vessels does not become putrid. This I have found to be the case with some which I have brought with me.”
Christ appears to have been baptized and washed by John, not only as to His head, but with respect to the rest of His body. I think so, because such was the manner of the Jews, who were accustomed to denude themselves of their clothes, and undergo their ceremonial baptisms and lustrations naked. Jesus therefore condescended to appear naked before John, and he underwent this indignity for our sakes, that Adamís and our nakedness and shame, induced by sin, He might clothe and cover by His grace. Whence also, as Bede testifies, a church was erected by the faithful on the spot where the clothes of Christ were deposited when He was baptized. Bede adds, that the same place was adorned with a noble monastery and church which was dedicated in honour of John the Baptist.
Gregory of Tours (lib. de Gloria Martyr., c. 17) writes about the same place: “There is a place by Jordan where the Lord was baptized. The water flows into a certain bay, in which, even now, lepers are cleansed. When they be come thither, they wash frequently until they are cleansed from their infirmity. As long as they remain there they are fed at the public expense. When they are cleansed they depart to their own homes. This spot is five miles from where the Jordan loses itself in the Dead Sea.”
The place is called in S. Johnís Gospel Ænon, near to Salim. It was not far from Zarthan and Jericho, where the children of Israel under Joshua passed over on dry ground, that it might be signified that the same Christ, who once led the Israelites over Jordan into the land of promise, will, by baptism, bring His faithful people to heaven. “And as under Joshua the waters were driven back, so under Christ, as our baptized Leader, are our sins turned back,” says S. Augustine. Again, Elias divided the waters of Jordan when he was about to be taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire, that it might be signified that those who pass through the waters of Christís baptism shall have an entrance into heaven opened to them by the fire of the Holy Ghost. Thus S. Thomas.
And Jesus, being baptized, &c. Luke adds, Jesus being baptized and praying. Whence it is plain that not by virtue of Johnís baptism, but by the merit of Christís humility and prayer, the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him.
Forthwith. This word is best referred, not to the words coming up out of the water, but to the heavens were opened.
Lo! the heavens were opened. Mark has, He saw the heavens opened. He—that is, Jesus—John too, and others who were present, doubtless saw them, since it was for their sakes this was done. Whence Matthew says, They were opened, i.e., unto him or for him. This is, they were seen to be opened in His honour, that God might make manifest that heaven is open unto all through Christ, says S. Chrysostom.
Also that the heavenly power of baptism might be pointed out, because by it carnal men become heavenly and spiritual, and by it are called and, as it were, taken by the hand to heaven. So S. Thomas.
You will inquire, in what way were the heavens opened unto Christ? It is replied, it was not the actual substance (soliditatem, Lat.) of the sky which was opened and rent in twain, for this is naturally impossible and supernaturally unneeded. Neither were the heavens opened by a merely imaginary vision, as they were opened to Ezekiel (i. I); but there was in the upper region of the air a hiatus visible to the senses, from which visible aperture both the Dove and the Voice of the Father appeared to come down upon Christ. Such hiatuses appear not unfrequently in the atmosphere, concerning which see Aristotle on meteors.
Hieron. Prado, the Jesuit, on the words the heavens were opened, says, “There was an appearance as though the sky were opened and divided by thunders and lightnings, and from the opening the Fatherís voice burst forth as thunder. For thunder is always accompanied by lightning; indeed, lightning is the cause of thunder, although the thunder is always heard after the lightning, because sound travels more slowly than light.”
And saw (Syriac, looked up at) the Spirit of God descending like a dove (Egyptian, in the form of a dove). You will ask first, was this a true and real dove, or was it only the appearance and likeness of a dove? SS. Jerome, Anselm, and Thomas, Salmeron, and others, think that it was a real dove; and this is probable. It is, however, equally, or rather, more probable that it was not a real dove, but only the shape of a dove, formed by an angel, agitated and moved so that it should descend upon Christ. The reason is that all the Evangelists seem to indicate this. S. Matthew says, as if a dove; Mark, as it were a dove; John, like a dove; Luke, in a bodily shape like a dove. There was therefore the appearance and similitude only, not the reality of a dove. Nor was there any need of a real dove, but of its likeness for a symbolical signification, that by such a symbol those gifts of Christ of which I shall speak presently might be designated. In such wise were the heavens opened, not in reality, but in appearance, as I have already said. This was the opinion of S. Augustine, S. Ambrose, S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Lyra, &c.
You will urge, Was it then a phantasm, a merely fancied dove? I reply, By no means. It was a real, solid body, having the form of a dove, as S. Augustine teaches, de Doctr. Christian. c. 22; not indeed assumed, hypostatically, by the Holy Spirit, as the Humanity of Christ was assumed by the WORD, as Tertullian appears to have thought, lib. de Carne Christi., c. 3. But it was only an index and a symbol of the Holy Ghost. It was thus taken because the dove is a most meek, simple, innocent, fruitful bird, very amiable, but very jealous. Such in like manner is the Holy Ghost, who endowed the soul of Christ at the very moment of His conception with these qualities of meekness and the rest. And what was now done was, by this sign of the dove, to signify that the Holy Ghost had done this, and to declare it to the people publicly.
You will inquire in the next place, why the Holy Ghost descended upon Christ in the form of a dove, upon Apostles in the shape of tongues of fire? S. Chrysostom answers, 1. Because Christ came in the flesh, and into the world, meek like a dove, for the remission of sins, and for the release of sinners. But in the Day of Judgment, He will come as a severe Judge, to punish the wicked. 2. And more literally, the Holy Spirit was given to the Apostles in the likeness of fire, because He endued them with fervour and ardour in preaching. (S. Augustine, Tract. 6 in Joan.)
Again, the dove represented excellently well the Holy Sevenfold Spirit, or His sevenfold gifts which He poured upon Christ as Isaiah predicted (xi. 2), “And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and godliness, and he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord.” All these gifts are appositely signified by the dove. For as S. Thomas expounds (3 p., q. 39, art. 6, ad. 4), the dove tarries by flowing streams, and when in the waters she beholds the reflection of a hawk she is able to escape it. Here is the gift of wisdom. 2. The dove selects the best grains of corn, and places them by themselves in a heap. Here is the gift of understanding. 3. The dove brings up the young of others. Behold the gift of counsel. 4. The dove does not tear with her beak. Behold the gift of knowledge. 5. The dove is without gall and bile. Lo! the gift of piety or godliness. 6. The dove maketh her nest in the rocks. See the gift of true strength. 7. The dove utters a mournful plaint instead of a song. Behold the gift of fear, wherewith Christ and His saints wail for sins, whether their own, or those of others.
Again, the dove is the symbol of the reconciliation and renewal of the world, which the Holy Spirit has wrought through Christ. Hence His symbol was a dove, bearing a green olive-branch to Noah, signifying that the Deluge and Godís anger were at an end.
Lastly, because the dove is an amicable and social bird, it denotes the union of the faithful in the Church, which the Holy Spirit effects through the baptism of Christ. So S. Thomas. In fine, the dove is very fair, it delights in sweet odours, and it dearly loves its young. So too Christ is most fair, He delights in the odour of virtues, and dearly loves His children.
As the Holy Spirit thus descended upon Christ, so has He often descended in the form of a dove upon illustrious Christians, more especially upon doctors, bishops, and pontiffs of the Church, and thus, as it were, consecrated them. S. Eieucadius, the disciple of S. Apollinaris, Apostle of Ravenna, when a dove had flown upon his head, was ordained Bishop of Ravenna. After a life illustrious for sanctity he migrated to heaven, A.D. 115. (Philip Ferrar in his Catalogue of the Saints of Italy.)
Thus a dove flew down upon the head of S. Aderitus, in the presence of the clergy, and designated him the successor of S. Apollinaris, and second Bishop of Ravenna.
S. Marcellinus in like manner, was designated bishop of the same city, A.D. 230.
S. Fabian, in consequence of a dove lighting upon his head, was elected Bishop of Rome.
When S. Gregory was writing his works, the Holy Spirit, in the likeness of a dove, was seen to instil into his ear what he wrote.
So S. Basil, who wished to be baptized in the same river Jordan as Christ was, in celebrating Mass, was surrounded by a celestial light, and gave orders for a dove to be made of pure gold, and a portion of the consecrated Host to be placed in it, and suspended it above the altar. So Amphilochius. He adds that S. Ephrem saw the Holy Ghost, in the likeness of a dove of fire, sitting upon S. Basil, wherefore he exclaimed, “Truly is Basil a column of fire; truly the Holy Ghost speaks by his mouth.”
Flavian the patriarch, by the command of an angel, consecrating S. John Chrysostom to be a priest, beheld a white dove fly down upon his head. Leo Augustus relates this in his life of S. Chrysostom. (See Baronius, A.D. 456, n. 7.)
This was the reason why the impostor Mahomet tamed a dove, and accustomed it to fly to him, by placing in his ear grains of corn, which the dove picked and ate, and by this means he persuaded the people that the Holy Spirit was his friend, and dictated the Koran to him, and revealed the most secret purposes of God. He also caused the dove to bring him a scroll, on which was written in letters of gold, “Whosoever shall tame a bull, let him be king.” But he had brought up a bull, which of course he easily tamed, and was thereupon saluted as king by the foolish people. So the authors of the Life of Mahomet.
And lighting upon him. Piously says S. Bernard (Serm. I de Epiphan.), “Not unsuitably came a dove, to point out the Son of God; for nothing so well corresponds to a lamb as a dove. As the lamb among beasts, so is the dove among birds. There is the utmost innocence in each, the utmost gentleness, the utmost guilelessness. What is so opposed to all malice as a lamb and a dove? They know not how to injure or do harm.”
And behold a voice, &c. From the opened heaven a dove glided down upon the head of Christ, and whilst it sat upon Him, there came the voice, “This is my beloved Son.” The voice explained the symbol of the dove, that it had reference to Christ, and to Him alone. This voice, “in the Person of the Father, was framed by the ministry of angels,” say Victor Antioch. (in c. I S. Marc.). Here was first revealed to the world the mystery of the Holy Trinity, which had been darkly indicated to the Jews. The Father manifested Himself by a voice, the Son was seen in the flesh, the Holy Ghost was visible in the form of a dove, that it might be signified that the faith of the Holy Trinity was about to be unfolded, and that the baptism of Christ was conferred in Their Name. For although all these things—viz., heaven opened, the forming of the voice, the descent of the dove—were, as regards operations, ad extra, as theologians say, common to the whole Trinity, yet each several Person was represented by the aforenamed symbols. (See S. Augustine, Serm. 38 de Temp.)
This is my Son. Greek ό υίὸς—i.e. the Son of God the Father, by nature, not by adoption, as the angels and holy men are sons of God. Therefore the Son of God is not a creature, but the Creator, consubstantial with God the Father, as was defined by the Nicene Council.
Mark and Luke have, in different words, but with the same meaning, “Thou art my Son.” And it is probable that these last were the exact words used, not merely because of the consensus of two Evangelists, but because, when Jesus was looking up into heaven, and praying to the Father, it is probable that the words would be immediately and directly addressed to Him. So Jansen, Maldonatus, and others.
My beloved Son. Gr. ό αγαπητός, i.e., only and chiefly beloved, through whom all others are beloved. For no one is beloved by God save those whom Christ loves. The Syriac has most beloved.
In whom I am well pleased. As it were, “Thou only, O Christ, art perfectly, in all things, and infinitely pleasing unto Me; and no one is pleasing unto Me save through Thee. For by Thee I am well pleased with all the human race, with whom I was offended because of Adamís sin.” The Heb. רצה signifies both to please and to be propitious, or reconciled.
“Because Thou art the Brightness of My glory and the express figure of My substance (Heb. i. 3.), Thou art immeasurably pleasing unto Me. In Thee nothing ever displeases, but all things please Me. Thou art He in whom I have always delight. And for Thy sake all Thy disciples and followers—that is to say, all holy Christians—are pleasing unto Me.” There is an allusion to Noah, who alone of his generation pleased God. (See Gen. vi. 9; viii. 20.)
As, therefore, Noah was well-pleasing unto God—especially when he offered the sacrifice unto Him, with which He was propitiated, and promised that He would no more destroy the world by the waters of a flood—so, much more, when Christ offered Himself to God as a peculiar and special victim, did He cause God to be propitious to the whole human race. “By this Voice was Christ constituted by God the Father the universal Doctor and Legislator of the World.”
The voice added, Hear ye him. “Hear Christ, believe in Him obey Him. He hath come forth from My bosom. He will show you My mysteries, things kept secret from the foundation of the world. He will open to you the way of peace, the way to heaven, the way to happiness. He will preach to you the glad tidings of the kingdom of heaven, even such divine things as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have they come into the heart of man.” Hence, when the Magdalen sat at the feet of Jesus, and diligently listened to Him, it was said to her, “Mary hath chosen that good part which shall not be taken from her.”
Very well saith S. Leo (Serm. de Transfigurat.): “This is My Son who is from Me, and with Me from everlasting. This is My Son, who is not separated from Me in Deity, divided in power, severed by eternity. This is My Son, My very own, not created of any other substance, but begotten of Myself. This is My Son, by whom all things were made. This is My Son, who sought not by robbery that equality which He hath with Me. He attained it by no presumption, but, abiding in the form of My glory, and in order that He might fulfil Our common purpose for the restoration of the human race, He bowed down the unchangeable Godhead, even to the form of a servant. In Him, therefore, I am in all things well pleased, and by His preaching I am manifested, and by His humility I am glorified. Hear ye Him, therefore, without delay, for He is the Truth and the Life. He is My strength and My wisdom. Hear Him of whom the lips of the prophets sung. Hear Him who hath redeemed the world by His Blood; who by His Cross hath prepared for you a ladder by which ye may ascend up to heaven.”
1 Christ fasteth, and is tempted. 11 The angels minister unto him. 13 He dwelleth in Capharnaum, 17 beginneth to preach, 18 calleth Peter, and Andrew, 21 James, and John, 23 and healeth all the diseased.
HEN Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil.
14 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaias the prophet, saying,
15 The land of Zabulon and land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles:
17 From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
18 And Jesus walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
25 And much people followed him from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judæa, and from beyond the Jordan.
Douay Rheims Version
Christ's fast of forty days: He is tempted. He begins to preach, to call disciples to him, and to work miracles.
HEN Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil.
By the devil. Syriac, by the accuser, Gr. διάβολος, accuser, calumniator. For Satan is he who accuses men before God perpetually, that he may gain them for himself and Gehenna.
Then, that is, immediately after His Baptism. Hence S. Mark says, “Straightway the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.” Whence it would appear that Christ on the same 6th day of January on which he was baptized was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness. And at the close of the same day He commenced His forty daysí fast, which He would finish on the 15th of February. Thus speedy in every good work are both Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Was led, Gr. α̉νήχθη, i.e. was withdrawn, and taken away out of the midst of the multitude of the people with whom He had hitherto dwelt, that He might have time for prayer and fasting. Mark has, the Spirit driveth him, where the word drive denotes the power, efficacy and alacrity of the Spirit which was in Christ, and which was to be in the Apostles and all other Christians, and which was to drive or impel them to heroic acts of virtue, according to the words (Rom. viii. 14) “For whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Vulg.) Christ then was led by the Spirit, not rapt through the air, but through the impulse of the Spirit, going with the utmost alacrity upon His feet, to the scene of His contest with the devil.
The desert was Christís wrestling ground of prayer and fasting and an angelic life, where He entered upon His duel with Lucifer and vanquished him.
The wilderness. This desert is called Quarantana. Adrichomius, in his description of the Holy Land, gives the following account of it out of Brochardus and others:ó
“The desert of Quarantana, between Jerusalem and Jericho, begins near Anathoth, and extends above Gilgal as far as the desert of Tekoa and Engaddi, by the Dead Sea. Here dwelt John the Baptist. In the same wilderness is a mountain called also Quarantana. It is near the Jordan, lofty and difficult of access. Here the Lord was first tempted of Satan. There is upon the top a ruined chapel, held in veneration on account of Christís fast and prayer.”
Tropologically, listen to S. Ambrose, lib. 3 de Virgin.: “Let us, too, follow Christ, far from luxury, far from lasciviousness, living as it were in the arid soil of His life of fasting. Not in the marketplace, not in the broad streets is Christ found. So let us not seek for Christ where He cannot be found. Christ is not in the courts of law, for Christ is peace; in the courts are lawsuits, Christ is justice; in the forum is iniquity, Christ is charity; in the forum is detraction, Christ is fidelity; in the forum is fraud and perfidy,” &c.
Of the Spirit. Not the devil, but the Holy Ghost. This is clear from the sixteenth verse of the third chapter. This Spirit of God, therefore, was the possessor and charioteer of Christ, driving Him into the desert. Whence the Syriac has, of the Spirit of holiness, i.e., the Holy Ghost, the fountain of all holiness. This is clear, too, from the presence of the Greek article, τοϋ Πνεύματος. And The Spirit is here put in opposition to the devil, who follows as the adversary of Christ and the Holy Ghost, that Christís Own Spirit might lead Him where the evil spirit might find Him to tempt Him, says S. Gregory.
That he might be tempted by the devil. The word that does not signify that the Holy Ghost directly intended that the devilís temptation should assail Christ, for that were an evil thing: but only that the temptation should be permitted for the sake of Christís profit and victory, which He surely foresaw, and so opposed Christ, as it were an athlete, to the devil.
1. In the first place, the Holy Spirit intended by this temptation to afford to Christians, baptized and converted to God, an ideal of religious life, whereby they should know they must fortify themselves against the temptations which are sure to attack them. So SS. Chrysostom and Hilary. Whence Tertullian (de Baptism., last chapter) teaches, that it is here signified, that no one without temptation shall attain the Kingdom of God.
2. The Holy Ghost would show that there is no temptation which may not be overcome by grace, by prayer and fasting, by repeating the words of Scripture, the precepts and promises of God.
3. Christ, who was often tempted by Satan, thus showed Himself to be like unto all other men, His brethren, as the Apostle teaches, Heb. iv. 15.
4. That He might show that those who are about to become doctors, preachers, prelates, apostles, must needs be first proved by temptations, and be strengthened by prayer and meditation in solitary retreats, and there drink in a large supply of the Spirit, which they may afterwards pour forth upon others. They who be wise, first go apart with Christ into the wilderness of prayer and meditation.
5. That challenging Lucifer to battle, He might vanquish him, and his whole army of demons with him. This duel between Christ and the devil is as when the sun struggles with the surrounding clouds, with this motto, “Splendour is from me.” “For the sun,” as S. Ambrose says, “is the eye of the world, the pleasantness of day, the beauty of the heaven, the measure of seasons, the strength and vigour of all the stars. As the sun dissipates the clouds, so does Christ all the temptations of the devil.” And again, “As the sun makes brilliant the darkest clouds, so does Christ, by the splendour of His grace, convert desolation into consolation, temptations into victories, war into triumph.”
6. That by His temptation as an example, He might overcome our temptations, and might teach us to fight with and overcome the same antagonist. For although the faithful, conscious of their own infirmity, ought to avoid temptations as far as they can, according to the words of Christ, “Lead us not into temptation,” yet when temptations do come, they must, relying upon Christ, valiantly resist them, remembering His words; “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Whence S. Augustine on Psalm xci. says, “Therefore was Christ tempted, that the Christian might not be overcome by the tempter.” For as S. Ambrose says, “When thou art tempted, recognize that a crown is being prepared for thee. Take away the contests of the martyrs, you take away their crowns. Take away their torments, you take away their beatitudes. Is not the temptation of Joseph the celebration of his virtue? Is not the wrong of his prison the crown of his chastity?”
S. Luke (iv. 1) says, being tempted by the devil forty days. From this some think that besides the three temptations mentioned by the Evangelist, Christ suffered many other temptations during these forty days. They also think that verse 14 points in the same direction, And all the temptation being ended. Thus Euthymius, Jansen and Cajetan, Origen (Hom. 29 in Luc.), Bede (lib. I in Marc.), Augustine (lib. 2 de Consens. Evang. c. 4).
S. Luke, by using the present participle GG, which the Vulgate renders by the imperfect, was being tempted, seems to refer principally to the three celebrated temptations of Christ as the summing up as it were and the chief of them all. As Suarez rightly points out.
Of the devil, namely Lucifer, the prince of all the demons. And it was just that Christ should now contend with him, as He had afore contended with him in heaven, when He cast Satan ambitiously seeking the hypostatic union, and envious that He was about to become man, down to Tartarus, as some suppose. Lucifer therefore, at this time, came forth from hell, and taking the form of a manóof a holy man, says Carthusianusótempted Christ, (1) that he might make trial whether He were Godís own Son in very deed, and (2) that he might entice Him to sin. As therefore Lucifer, through Eve, tempted Adam, and overcame him, so he tempted Christ, and was overcome by Him. We are here taught that when the devil foresees any one will be an illustrious doctor of the Church, he is accustomed to assail him with various temptations, that he may cast him down, and destroy the harvest of souls which he sees he may reap, that he may choke the fruit in the seed, as now he strove to strangle all Christians in Christ their Parent.
And when he had fasted. Christ, after the example of Moses and Elias, fasted forty whole days and nights, without taking any food or drink whatever. He fasted, not by natural but by supernatural strength; and not by strength received from without, as Moses and Elias, but by His own proper and intrinsic, that is to say, divine strength, as the Fathers teach, passim.
You ask for what reasons Christ fasted?
I answer, 1. That by prayer and fasting He might prepare Himself for His work of preaching, and teach us to do the same.
2. Objectively, that by the hunger consequent upon His fasting, He might afford the devil an opportunity of tempting Him; and by the same fasting might arm Himself, and teach us to arm ourselves against temptations. So S. Basil (Hom. I on Tempt.).
3. That by macerating His flesh, He might make satisfaction for Adamís eating the forbidden fruit, and for all the gluttony of his posterity.
4. That He might dispose Himself for holy contemplation, and show that fasting is as wings, whereby the soul is carried upward to celestial things. (S. Chrysostom, Hom. I in Gen.)
5. That He might teach us to despise corporal for the sake of spiritual delights; and that by the contemplation of divine things, and the joy which arises from that contemplation, the longing for carnal pleasures is quenched, and the thought of food and drink taken away. Whence the Abbot John, as Cassian testifies (Collat. 19. 4) was so fed with the pleasures of contemplation, that he could not remember whether he had eaten the day before or not.
6. And chiefly, that He might inaugurate the Lenten Fast, observed by Christians according to Apostolic tradition; that He might sanction, and, as it were, consecrate this fast by His example. So S. Ignatius (Epist. 7), and other Fathers, passim. The reason was, first, that we might give a tithe of all the days of the year to God. So S. Gregory (Hom. 16. in Evang.) “From this day until the gladness of Easter are six weeks, or forty-two days, from which, as six Sundays not to be given to fasting must be deducted, there remain only thirty-six days. Thus do we deny ourselves for six-and-thirty days, as giving the tenth of the 365 days of the year to God, that we, who have lived by the gift which we have received for ourselves, might, for the sake of our Maker, mortify ourselves by fasting in His own tithe of time. Whence, brethren most beloved, as ye are bidden by the law to offer the tithe of your substance, so also offer to God the tithe of your days.” S. Ambrose gives another reason, that as the Israelites passed by forty-two stations through the desert to the Promised Land, so we too arrive by forty days of fasting at the longed-for feast and joy of Easter. Whence Tertullian, Cyprian, S. Ambrose (Epist. 25), and others call a fast a station. See in Peter Bongus much more concerning the mysteries contained in the number forty. See also S. Jerome (ad Præsid.) on the Paschal Candle.
We may add that the Lenten Fast is appointed for the spring, not only for the sanctity of the soul, but for the sanity of the body, as D. Viringas, Professor of Medicine at Louvain, in his book called Fasting, the Physician of the Church, says. In spring the blood breaks out in various humours, which produce fevers and various disorders, unless they are kept under by fasting and fish.
Mystically, S. Augustine, on Ps. cx. sub init., teaches us that the number forty, in connection with fasting, signifies the whole period of this present life, assigned by God to repentance and expiation of sins, by which we arrive at the Easter of a joyful resurrection, and at Pentecost, or the fiftieth day of eternal reward and glory.
Moreover, some of the ancient Christians, imitating the example of Christ, were very rigid in the observance of this fast, as Baronius shows (A.C. 57, c. 153). Whence Lucian (in Philopatro) testifies that the early Christians were so accustomed to fasting that they would spend ten whole days without food. More fully writes S. Gregory Nazianzen: (ad Hellen.), concerning the monks who live in the deserts of Pontus, that there were many of them who abstained from food twenty whole days, and as many nights, imitating Christ in one half of His fast. And S. Augustine writes (Epist. 86 ad Casulanum), that there were some in his time who kept a whole weekís fast, and that he himself was acquainted with them. He adds, “It has been solemnly affirmed to us by brethren worthy of credit, that one kept a fast of forty whole days.”
Afterwards he hungered. The most probable meaning is that Christ felt some sensation of hunger during the forty days, though not such hunger us He did when they were finished, and which incited Him to seek for food.
With Christ equally as with Moses and Elias, prayer and converse with God were the nourishment both of soul and body throughout the forty days; for they who wholly give themselves up to those things are so fed with their sweetness that they do not experience the pangs of hunger.
You will ask whether Christ by natural strength could live for forty days without food and drink?
I replyó1. Both experience and physicians teach that such a thing is impossible to the power of nature. There is the à priori reason against it, that when aliment is withdrawn the vital heat languishes and dies, as the fire of a lamp is extinguished when oil fails.
You may say that Pliny (lib. 7, c. 2) tells us that the Indians at the sources of the Ganges live merely by inhaling the smell of fruits and flowers. Rondelivius also (lib. I de Piscibus, c. 13) relates that a certain person lived for forty years upon air alone. Robert Bacon relates that an English girl lived for twenty years in a similar manner. Simon Portius also says that a girl of Spires, about A.D. 1540, lived four years without food. A French priest lived for two years without food at Rome, in the time of Nicholas V. As to what Pliny says, it is fabulous. Odour refreshes the brain, but does not fill the stomach. The other instances were brought about either by divine power or by the devilís art, a wonderful example of which last, B. Prosper relates of an Indian girl. The young woman of Spires laboured under a disease of slow, viscous, and chilous phlegm, and so was kept alive. In a somewhat parallel manner Indians, by chewing the herb coca, and Scythians, by the herb hippice, can sustain hunger and thirst for twelve days. see Delrio (lib. 2, disquis. Magic. quæst. 21); and Coimb. (lib. I de Generat., c. 5, q. 7, art. 1 & 2).
2. Vehement and protracted attention of the mind to other things, such as mathematical, philosophical, or theological speculations, is able to keep a man without food for some time, but not for forty days. And so, contemplation alone would not have enabled Christ to live without food for forty days.
3. The fasts of Christ, Moses, Elias, Simeon Stylites, and such as they fasting for forty days, was supernatural, arising from a singular providence of God. God in their case suspended for forty days the action of natural heat, and sustained and nourished them internally, so that they lived and flourished during the time, just as even at this present time Enoch and Elias are living well and strong without food for so many thousands of years in the terrestrial Paradise, where they feed only upon the spiritual delights of prayer and contemplation.
Hungered. God, who had for forty days stayed this hunger by His intervention, afterwards withdrew that intervention, and gave up the body of Christ to the suffering of hungeró1. That He might declare Christ to be true man. As S. Chrysologus says: “To feel and to conquer hunger is a work of human labour, not to hunger at all is the result of Divine power.” (Serm. II.) Secondly, as S. Ambrose says, “That the Lordís hunger might be a pious fraud upon the devil,” that the devil being allured by the appearance of hunger, might tempt Christ as if He were a man, knowing not that He was God. In c. 4 S. Luc.: “The lowly God-man hungered, that the lofty Man-God might not be made known to the enemy,” says a certain holy person.
And when the tempter cameócame, i.e., in human form, and with an audible voice. For this temptation of Christ, like that of Adam and Eve, in their state of innocence, was effected by the external suggestion of the voice, not by internal cogitations and movements of the fancy, rising up against reason and the Spirit. For in Adam, and much more in Christ, was original righteousness, which kept in subjection to the reason all motions of the soul and imagination, so that in Him was no unlawful thought, no motion of concupiscence that could be stirred up by the devil, such as is stirred up in us since Adamís sin. For by it we have lost original righteousness, and are vexed by concupiscence. So Damasc. (lib. 3, de Fide, c. 20), and from him theologians, passim. Whence S. Gregory (Hom. 16): “By suggestion Christ could be tempted; but His mind the delectation of sin wounded not, and therefore all that temptation of the devil was without, not within.”
The tempter. Not because he is the only tempter, but because he is the first and chief among tempters. For they mistake who say that all temptation comes from Satan. Some temptations arise out of our own carnal will and frailness, and some from the world, i.e., from worldly and carnal men. So S. Chrysostom (Hom. 54 in Acta), “Many sin without the devil. He does not do everything: many things even come of our slothfulness alone.” The devil, however, often rouses concupiscence in us by representing to the imagination things to be lusted after, and thus inflaming the sensual appetite. In the same way he stirs up the world, i.e., worldly and carnal men, to tempt us by persecuting us, or by enticing us to their follies. So he is called the tempter, κατ έ̉ξοχήν. Note here the craft of the devil, how he tempts every one by that to which he has a propensity, or in which he is weak. As fowlers and hunters lay in snares for wild birds and beasts various sorts of food such as each prefer, so also the devil offers the pleasures of the table to such as are prone to gluttony, to those who are full he offers ease and sloth, to the proud he offers honours, to the contentious lawsuits and strifes, to the avaricious usury, fraud, iniquitous bargains, and so on. (S. Gregory, lib. 14, Moral. c. 7.)
If thou be, &c. The devil had heard the Fatherís Voice at the Baptism of ChristóThou art my beloved Son; yet forasmuch as he saw Him in some respects like a poor, weak, ordinary mortal, and being for that reason in doubt whether He were the very Son of God by nature, the WORD itself of the Father, or only a very eminent Son of God by adoption, he tempts Christ, and asks Him to turn stones into bread, that by His performance of the miracle, or inability to perform it, he might determine what kind of Son of God he was. For as by the Word of God all things had been created in the beginning, so by the same Word might stones be suddenly and instantly converted into bread. If therefore Christ had done this, the devil would have believed that He was the WORD of God.
Angels indeed are able to turn stones into bread, but not suddenly and directly, but by degrees and indirectly, by applying active energies to passive objects, with many previous actions, alterations, and conversions; but if Christ could not have done what He was asked, and had said that He could not, and that this was a Divine work, and peculiar to God, the devil would have urged, “Then thou art not the WORD of God, nor His Son by nature.” It is a probable opinion of many theologians that the sin and pride of Lucifer in heaven were, that when God revealed to him that the Son of God would assume manís nature, and bade him submit himself to Christ as man, he became envious of Christ, that a man forsooth should be preferred to himself, who was the most glorious angel, and that a man should be taken up into hypostatic union with the WORD. Of this honour he was himself ambitious, and so rebelled against Christ and God. When therefore he saw this man called the Son of God by John the Baptist and the Father, he wished to find out if He were really Godís Son, that he might pour out upon Him his pristine envy, fury, and indignation. So Suarez. This was Satanís cross, gnawing and tormenting his proud mind. But he conceals all this, veils it beneath the cloak of charity, that he wished to succour Christ in His hunger. Wherefore it is probable that the devil did not abruptly and without preface say to Christ, If thou be, &c., but first saluted Him kindly, and insinuated himself by some such bland words as these, “What, my lord, are you doing here alone? I saw you baptized of late in Jordan: I heard a voice come down to you from heaven, This is my Son. I should be glad to know whether you are truly the Son of God by nature, or only His adopted Son by grace. I observe also that you are utterly spent with hunger after your fast of forty days. If then you are the Son of God, relieve your hunger, convert these stones into loaves of bread. This for you were most easy.”
Wherefore what S. Chrysostom says in this place is not so probableóthat the devil endeavoured to tempt Christ to unbelief. Somewhat as though he had said thus:ó“It is true you heard a voice at your baptism, This is my Son, but do not imagine yourself to be the Son of God, or, if you are, turn these stones into bread.” For it would have been folly to try to persuade Christ to believe that He was not the Son of God, if He was indeed His Son, and knew that He was.
The devil wished also, by this temptation, to entice Christ to make a vain boast of his power, and to distrust the aid of God His Father. “Your Father has for forty days been unmindful of you; He has not given you food. Now then, take care of yourself.”
There was also a temptation to gluttony. For the temptation to gluttony, in this case, would have been, on account of hunger to yield to the devil, to acquiesce in his persuasions, and work a miracle. For this were directly contrary to religion, which forbids all commerce with Satan. Indirectly, it were contrary to temperance. Calvin, therefore, is wrong in denying that Christ was tempted to gluttony. Hear S. Gregory (Hom. 16 in Evang.), where He teaches that Christ was assailed by a threefold temptationóviz., gluttony, vain glory, and avariceóbecause Adam had been attacked and vanquished by the same temptations: “He tempted him to gluttony when he showed him the fruit of the forbidden tree, and persuaded him to eat. He tempted him to vain glory when he said, ĎYe shall be as gods.í He tempted him to covetousness when he added, Ďknowing good and evil.í For avarice is not only of money, but also of greatness. For that is rightly called avarice where loftiness above measure is ambitiously desired. Christ was assailed by the same temptations, but overcame them: by gluttony, when the devil said, ĎTurn these stones into bread;í by vain glory, ĎIf thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down;í by covetousness of magnificence, when he showed Him all the kingdoms of the world.”
But he answered, &c. The Greek and the Vulgate have, in every word. This is by enallage of the preposition, in every, for from every, as the Vulgate translates in Deut. viii. 3, the passage which Christ here quotes. The Hebrew is, “upon every thing which goeth forth from the mouth of the Lord shall man live”óthat is to say, on whatsoever thing the Lord shall command, or order for the sustentation of life, man shall live and be nourished, as He fed the Jews for forty years without bread, with manna from heaven (the discourse in Deut. viii. 3 is upon this manna), and fed Moses, Elias, and Christ for forty days by His word, and by His power, preserving nature. Thus, too, God nourished the Abbot John for three years with the Eucharist alone, which he was accustomed to receive every Lordís day, when an angel said to him, “Christ is thy true food.” Palladius (in Lausiaca, c. 61) attests this. So, too, God nourished S. Mary of Egypt, for nearly forty-seven years, in the desert, without earthly food, feeding her with tears and heavenly joys. So He fed the Magdalen with nothing save angelic music, seven times a day repeated.
Of this Petrarch singsó
“As pass the weary hours away,
Seven times is sung the angelsí lay,
Seven times in each revolving day.”
So the great S. Sabas, says the author of his life, kept abstinence through all times of fasting, tasting no food whatever, save that on Saturdays and Sundays he received the holy sacrament.
Mystically, every faithful Christian lives by every word of God:ó1. By receiving Christ, who is Godís Eternal Word, and who, being made man, nourishes us by His doctrine, His grace, and His example. And we, by receiving Himself, by receiving His Flesh, receive His Godhead in the Eucharist. 2. God gives the words of sacred Scripture, which feed by illuminating and inflaming the mind. 3. He feeds us by prayers and holy inspiration.
Tropologically, S. Gregory (Hom. 16 in Evang.) here admires the meekness of Christ. “Consider how great is the patience of God, and how great our impatience. If we be injured, or provoked by any wrong, we are moved with wrath, and either revenge ourselves as far as we can, or threaten when we are not able. Behold, the Lord endured the onset of the devil, and answered him nothing save words of meekness. He endures him whom He might have punished.”
Then the devil took him up into the holy city, i.e. Jerusalem. The word, then, signifies that the devil, having been conquered by Christ in the first temptation to gluttony, immediately subjected Him to a second, vain glory. You may inquire why S. Luke places this temptation third instead of second. The reason is that S. Luke in this place, as in many others, disregards the chronological order of the temptations, which Matthew accurately observes. Whence the latter says in the eighth verse, Again the devil took him. And this is a natural and congruous sequence of temptation, to pass from gluttony to vain glory. So SS. Chrysostom, Jerome, Hilary, and others. For when the devil sees any one despise the pleasures and allurements of the flesh, he raises up against him the spiritual temptation of vanity and presumption.
Taketh him. The first opinion we will here notice is that of S. Cyprian (Sermon on the Fast and Temptation of Christ). He thinks that the devilís taking Christ up was not real but only imaginary, like the visions seen by Ezekiel, and such as are the translations of sorcerers, who seem to themselves to be transported by the devil to a feastóa grand assembly, when in reality they are not transported, but the devil is playing tricks with their imagination, somewhat like the illusions of dreams. But we cannot suppose that the devil thus played false with the imagination of Christ, especially since the devil had no power over Christís inner man. The whole of this temptation was effected by means of an external voice, not through interior suggestion, as I have already said from S. Gregory.
2. Euthymius and Maldonatus think that Christ was led by the devil upon His feet up to the pinnacle of the Temple; and that Satan did this, lest by carrying Him through the air he should betray himself. So likewise Anselm and Origen, Hom. 31 in S. Luc. But from the desert of Quarantana to Jerusalem is a long journey, greater than could well have been accomplished in a day.
3. And most probably, Christ was taken upói.e., was carried through the air to the pinnacle of the Temple. So SS. Jerome, Gregory, Author Imperfecti, the Gloss, S. Thomas. Nor is it wonderful, says S. Gregory, that Christ should suffer the devil to deal with Him in this manner, since He suffered Himself to be crucified by the devilís membersóthe wicked Jews. Nor did the demon betray himself by this, because he might have transported Christ in the guise of an angel of light. Or, indeed, he cared little now about betraying who he was, since he already suspected and feared that he was thoroughly known. Whence in the third temptation he boldly threw off all disguise of an angel of light, and unveiled his Satanic arrogance.
The Author Imperfecti, and from him S. Thomas, here observe that although the devil thus took up Christ so that Christ might be seen of all, and be supposed to have commerce with Satan and be thought a magician, Christ so wrought unseen that He should be beheld of none, though the devil knew it not.
So Christ made the devil suffer an illusion, who had intended to play falsely with Him. For the demon thought that if Christ were the Son of God, He would not allow Himself to be taken up and carried through the air, and by this would know whether He were the Son of God or not; but Christ, by suffering this, frustrated the demonís plan, and left him still in doubt. Whence S. Chrysostom was of opinion that the devil supposed that he carried Christ through the air to the pinnacle of the Temple against His will, and because He was not able to resist him.
Upon The pinnacle. It is probable that this pinnacle was the ridge or extreme point of the roof of the porch of that part of the Temple which was called the Sanctuary, or the Holy of Holies, for this part of the Temple alone had a roof (the Court of Israel was open to the sky), and like a tower overtopped the whole edifice. It was 120 cubits high.? If Christ had fallen down from thence, He would have fallen into the court of the priests, between the porch just spoken of and the altar of burnt offering. The devil therefore suggested to Christ that He should cast Himself down from this pinnacle into the court of the priests, using some such arguments as these: “Cast thyself down, and show thyself to the priests and the other worshippers of God, and to all the people (for they, from the Court of Israel, were able to behold the sacrifices which were offered in the court of the priests), show thyself, I say, by miraculously gliding down unhurt, to be the Son of the True God, of Him whom in this court all are worshipping, and to whom they are offering sacrifices.” For by this temptation Satan wished Christ to make a vain show of Himself and His glory. So Franc. Lucas, Toletus, and others.
Jansen and Maldonatus understand the passage in another way. They observe that the houses and the Temple of the Jews did not have steep roofs, but flat like a table, so that men could walk, dine, and even sleep upon them, as is plain from Josh. ii. 6; Matt. x. 27, &c. They add that this flat roof was surrounded on every side by a low wall, or parapet, to prevent persons from falling down, according to the command of God, Deut. xxii. 8. And it is probable that in this parapet there were some parts higher than the rest, as for instance at the corners, just as we see in quadrilateral buildings at the present day. And they think that Satan placed Christ upon one of these angular turrets, which are called in Gr.πτερύγια, in Heb. כנפים, kenaphim, i.e. “wings,” because they towered aloft, and were like expanded wings floating in the air. So Angelomus, Eucherius, Lyra, &c.
By a similar temptation, as Cassian relates, Collat. 2, cap. 4, the devil overthrew Hero. For when he had lived upon bread and water only, he persuaded him that he was so holy, and so dear to God and the angels, that they would bear him up, if he were cast down from on high. Wherefore he threw himself down headlong into a well, and there miserably perished.
Moraliter. The devil, who fell down from heaven into Tartarus, strives to cast or drag others down with him. Wherefore when he persuades any one to sin, he causes him to cast himself down. As Christ saith to the perverse Jews, “You are from beneath, I am from above.” (S. John viii. 23 .) Again, Christ, studiously concealing from the devil that He was the Son of God, eluded all his arts and devices, and kept him in doubt and suspense, so that he should not know in what way he might tempt Him. Wherefore learn not to make known to every one the secrets of thy soul, lest thou be hindered of the devil. In battles, the crown of victory is his who can conceal his own plans, and discover those of the enemy. A Christian learns by frequent experience that heroic acts of virtue are easily accomplished, if the determination of them be kept secret in the mind, and they are suddenly brought out into the sphere of action, before the demon has been able to get scent of them and oppose them. This is the art of deluding the demon.
For it is written, &c. A citation of Ps. xci. 2. The angels in this place mean properly menís guardian angels, though any other messengers whom God sends in various ways to help and save men may be understood. Whence SS. Chrysostom, Jerome, Hilary on this passage, Origen (Hom. 24 in Luc.), Nazianzen (Orat. in S. Baptisma.), think that the devil here wrongly cites Holy Scripture; that the Psalmist in the passage in question speaks of mere men, not of Christ, who was the God-man. For He had not, like other men, a guardian angel; the Divinity Itself was the Guardian of His Humanity.
On the contrary, S. Ambrose (in cap. 4 Luc.), and Remigius (on Ps. xci.), think that the devil did not wrest this passage of the Psalms, but applied it rightly to Christ; for although He had not any stated guardian angel, He had all the angels at His call, all deputed to minister unto Him. The devil did, however, wrest the text so far as this, that he used it for an evil purpose, namely, to make Christ cast Himself down. For God hath promised this guardianship of the angels to the righteous who act prudently and piously, not rashly and presumptuously, after the manner of those who tempt God. Hear S. Bernard, on Psalm Qui habitat, Ser. 14. “What has he commanded? Surely what follows in the Psalm, ĎThat they may keep thee in all thy ways.í Does he say in precipices, in such a way as casting thyself headlong from the pinnacle of the Temple? That is not a way but a destruction, a downfall. Or if it be a way, it is thine own, not Godís.”
Moraliter, the same S. Bernard (on Ps. xci. Serm. 12): “He has commanded His angels concerning thee. Wonderful condescension! And, indeed, great affection of His love! For to whom, concerning whom, and what hath He commanded?” After some other remarks, “How great reverence ought these words to instil into you! What devotion! What trust! reverence for their presence, devotion for their kindness, confidence for their protection. Walk then warily, as one to whom the angels are nigh Whithersoever thou mayest go apart, in every corner have thine angel in reverence. Dare not to do in his presence that which thou wouldst not dare to do if I saw thee.” “As often as any very fierce temptation is seen to oppress thee, or vehement tribulation to threaten thee, invoke thy Guardian in those due times of trouble. Call upon him and say, ĎLord, save us, we perish.í He neither slumbereth nor sleepeth.”
In their hands shall they bear thee. So of S. Benedict it was said by S. Bernard, that at a certain time, when he appeared to have his eyes intently fixed upon a refulgent light, he saw the soul of S. Germanus, Bishop of Capua, borne by the angels in a globe of fire into heaven.
Jesus said to him: It is written again, &c. For he tempts God who asks for a miracle without necessity, such as this would have been, for Christ might have descended from the pinnacle by means of the stairs.
In necessity, however, say for the sake of avoiding a worse destruction, it would be lawful to cast oneself from a precipice if no other way of escape appeared. Thus many holy virgins, that they might escape from the hands of sinners who sought to defile them, have cast themselves headlong into rivers, preferring to die as martyrs rather than be violated as virgins. For greater is the wreck of virginity than of life. For as the honour of the one is greater than that of the other, so also is the disgrace. This is what S. Pelagia, a virgin of Antioch, fifteen years of age, did, together with her mother and sisters. “Who,” as S. Ambrose says (lib. 2, de Virgin.), “when the persecutors were following hard, and a river torrent shut them off from flight, but shut them up for the crown, cried out, ĎWhat are we afraid of? Behold the water! What doth hinder us to be baptized? Let the water receive us, the water which makes virgins, which opens heaven, covers hell, hides death, creates martyrs.í When they had repeated these words, they join their hands, as though they were leading a dance, and advanced into the middle of the stream. You might have seen the pious mother twining their hands together. ĎThese victims, O Christ,í she said, ĎI immolate to Thee, presidents of virginity, leaders of chastity, comrades of Thy Passion.í”
Moraliter. Learn here that the devil in the same way that he tempted Christ to cast Himself headlong, tempts Christians by raising the fancy, the blood, black bile, so that they may have sad, horrible, sanguinary, despairing, blasphemous thoughts, such as had never come into their minds before. Let them comfort themselves by the example of Christ, how God permitted His temptation for His greater virtue and merit. The advice which Scipio Nasica gave the Romans not to destroy Carthage when it was conquered, lest the Roman youth should become enervated by ease, for that Carthage, raising war, would be a perpetual spur to their courage, you might apply to the struggle which the saints endure through frequent temptations. Thus S. Paul, though almost an angel upon earth, said, “Lest the abundance of the revelations should puff me up there was given me a thorn in the fleshóthe messenger of Satan to buffet me.” The remedy is constancy of mind, fortitude, and firm confidence in God, by which you will manfully overcome temptations of every sort, however dreadful and abominable they may be. Yea, you will despise them, and proceed with a great heart in the course of virtue in which you have entered.
The devil formerly came to S. Anthony complaining that all men spake ill of him. “And very properly,” said the saint, “for it is your own fault, since you vex and distress all men.” The demon answered, “I do nothing; I have no power against him who is unwilling. Men vex themselves and one another. It is their own consent to my suggestions which makes them the authors of evil.” He who consents not to the devil when he tempts him, but resists him, overcomes him, and triumphs over him.
Again the devil, &c. In descriptions of the Holy Land, this mountain is said to be near the desert of Quarantana. “The devilís mountain is distant two miles from Quarantana. It is to the south of Bethel and Hai. Up it Christ was led by Satan, when he showed Him all the kingdoms of the word.” So Adrichomius.
You will ask, in what way did the devil show to Christ all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and that “in a moment,” as S. Luke adds? Observe, God alone is able to do this absolutely; for, in the first place, God is able so to strengthen the power of sight in men that they are able to see any object, however remote, and that even through rocks and walls, so that they see things as they are in themselves, without visible appearance. In this manner He strengthens the mind of the blessed with the light of glory, so that it beholds Godís essence without any appearance. So S. Anselm saw with his bodily eyes things which were done on the other side of a wall, as his “Life” records. In a similar manner God is able to make us here in Rome see with our bodily eyes things done in the bedchamber of the King of China. 2nd. God is able to multiply visible appearances in such wise that they are dispersed through places dark and dense, and even far distant and remote. 3. He is able, not only to draw forth the appearance from an object, but to prolong it to any place whatever. Thus, God showed the whole of the promised land to Moses from Mount Abarim; thus, He set the whole world before the eyes of S. Benedict in a round globe, as S. Gregory relates (lib. 2 Dial., c. 35). The devil can do none of these things.
How, then, did he present all kingdoms before the eyes of Christ? 1. Origen understands kingdoms mystically, as the reign of the devil, in which he rules in some men by anger, in others by pride, in others by gluttony, and so on. Listen to Origen: “The devil showed Him innumerable multitudes of men whom he held in his dominion, and said unto Him, ĎI know that Thou art come to fight against me, and take my subjects from under my sway. I ask You not to contend with me. You need not trouble Yourself to fight. One thing only do I ask, that Thou shouldst fall down and worship me, and then receive all my empire.í” But this is mystical, not literal.
2. Some think that the devil flew with Christ through all the kingdoms of the world, and in this manner showed them to Him; but the language used will not admit of this interpretation. It was from their position on the mountain that Satan showed Christ the kingdoms.
3. S. Cyprian (Tract. de Tentat. Christi) is of opinion that they were not shown to the senses, but to the imagination. But I have already shown (on verse 3) that this whole series of temptations was external, not internal, and that the devil had no power over the imagination of Christ.
4. Others suppose that the demon, by means of many mirrors reflecting from one to the other, gathered together the appearances of all the kingdoms of the world, and presented them to the eyes of Christ by art similar to that, by which Socrates is said to have seen a dragon in a far distant mountain devouring men, which no one else was able to see. Similarly we now behold very distant objects by means of a nautical telescope. But to have done this, the demon must have filled the whole atmosphere with mirrors, and even then they would not have sufficed for seeing all things.
5. And with more probability, Euthymius and others, with S. Thomas (3 p., q. 41, art. 4) say that the devil took Christ up on a lofty mountain, that he might show Him, at least in a confused way, the situation of each kingdom, as by saying thus: “There in that direction is Asia; there is Europe, here is Syria, there is Italy”óand all this in a moment, as Luke says, that is, in an extremely brief space of time. And because from this mountain the devil showed Christ not only all kingdoms, but the glory of them, we may add with Theophilus, Jansen, and others, that the demon, like a painter, represented in a compendious manner pictures of all kingdoms in the air by varied refractions of the rays of the sun, as is done in the case of the rainbow, and so, as it were, painted them as to cause whatsoever was glorious and splendid in all lands to be set before the eyes of Christ. Thus did the same demon make dense the air and so work upon it, that he pictured many spectres of lions, wild beasts, serpents, and monsters, and brought them before the eyes of S. Anthony that he might terrify him, as S. Athanasius asserts in his Life of S. Anthony. If the demon is able to picture such things to the fancy, why not in the air? Various colours are depicted in the rainbow. In the time of the Maccabees, squadrons of soldiers were seen fighting in the air, with other portents.
And said to him, &c. You ask, how did the devil dare to make such an impious proposal to Christ? I answer that he is so ambitious that even from the beginning he wished to be God, and envied Christ, as man, the Divinity which He had by means of the Hypostatic Union. Ambition, therefore, and envy blinded him so that he treated Christ as his rival. 2. Because when he saw Christ once and again declining to work a miracle, he made himself more and more certain that He was not the Son of God. 3. Because from Luke iv. 6 we learn that the devil added, “For to me they are delivered, and to whom I will I give them,” from whence it is plain that he pretended to be the Son of God and God, and consequently an object of worship, as S. Hilary says. The devil then, from Christís patiently suffering Himself to be transported from the pinnacle of the temple to the mountain, and growing bold by Christís modest silence, suspected that He was not the Son of God, but a mere man; and so he here demands the Divine honours which he had formerly coveted in heavenóthat they should be rendered to him by Christ as well as by all other men. For this ambition of being a god is, as it were, innate in him, and blinds him, says the Gloss. And therefore he introduced idols, that by them he might be worshipped. Satan, moreover, by this solicitation of worship, wished to make still further trial whether or not Christ were the Son of God.
In the two previous temptations he made trial directly whether Christ were the Son of God, but in this third temptation his direct object was to tempt to avarice, ambition, and idolatry, and indirectly to find out if He were the Son of God.
Observe the arrogance of the devil. He does not care for any mere adoration, but such only as is accompanied by falling down and prostration. Hear what S. Irenæus says upon this expression, fall down. “The devil himself confesses that to worship him and do his will is to fall from the glory of God.” He therefore sells us vain honours at the price of our own destruction. Irenæus adds, “Not even these things which he has promised will he give to him who has fallen.”
S. Luke adds that the devil gave a reason why he made this offer to Christ, but in so doing he told a double falsehood. He said “All these things have been delivered unto me,” i.e., by God, but he withholds mention of the Divine Name, both because it is hateful to him and because he himself wished to be accounted and worshipped as God. And God has not given into his power the kingdoms of the world. “For the earth is the Lordís and the fulness thereof.” Secondly, because it is false that the devil gives them to whom he will. He did not intend to give the kingdoms of the world to Christ, neither would he have given them, even though Christ had worshipped him. The devil therefore here betrays himself, as Toletus observes, because this his promise was false, arrogant, and deceitful. We have seen why it was false. It was deceitful because he exchanges the present for the future. “I will give,” he says, but he would have the adoration now. By a similar fraud the devil endeavours to persuade men to give their youth and time present to pleasures and himself, but to give the future and old age to repentance and God: though old age is uncertain, and ill adapted for penance, as S. Gregory warns us.
Lastly, observe how Christ, by His examples and answers, teaches us that the first temptation of the flesh and hunger is to be overcome by hoping in God and His providence; the second, of pride and presumption, is to be vanquished by the fear of God; the third, to avarice and ambition, must be driven away by greatness of soul and contempt of the world. B. Peter Damian suggests three efficacious incentives to bring this to pass. “The conqueror of the demons is made the companion of angels; the exile of the world is the heir of Paradise; the denier of himself is the follower of Christ.”
Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan. The Syriac adds, behind me. Jesus spake thus in righteous anger and indignation; and so the devil, despairing of victory, fled away in confusion. Whence let Christians learn bravely to repel the suggestions of the devil and to rebuke him, and he will flee from them.
It is written, &c. For thou shall worship, the Hebrew has תירא tira, “thou shalt fear.” For the Hebrews by the word Ďfearí signify reverence, adoration, the whole worship of God. As Statius says, “Fear first made gods to be in the world.” The word only is not in the Hebrew, but it is understood in the pronoun Him. Thou shall worship, I say, Him alone, Him, thy Creator. Thou shalt serve Him with latria. For the Greek is λατρεύσεις; since latria is rendered to God alone, dulia to the saints, according to S. Augustine (de Civ. Dei, lib. 10, c. 1), to the Blessed Virgin hyperdulia.
Moraliter. Christ here teaches us the answer we should give to the devil when he tempts us to avarice or any other sin. All temptation tends to this, that we should prefer the creature to the Creator, and make it, as it were, our idol, and worship it. Thus, the idol which the devil sets before the covetous man is Plutus, mammon, riches, kingdoms; the idol of the proud man is honour, ambition; of the glutton, his belly; of the wanton, Venus. With Christ we must answer Satan, “I worship God, not Plutus or Venus.” For as S. Cyprian says (Tract. de Spect.), “He casts himself down from the vantage ground of his nobility who is able to admire anything in comparison with God.” For what is the whole world, what are all its kingdomsóall creaturesócompared with God, but as a point compared with the universe? What is all time in respect of eternity, but as a moment? What are all pleasures, honours, riches, compared with the riches and honours of eternity, but vanities and shadows, yea, but dust and ashes? Despise them, therefore, for Godís sake, and cleave close to Him; and then, last, overcome all temptation. As the Psalmist says, “It is good for me to hold me fast by God.” And again, “My soul is firmly stayed upon God.” As S. Cyprian (de Orat. Domin.) says, “Since of God are all things, to him who hath God nothing will be wanting, if he be not wanting to God.”
In like manner, if the devil threaten you with the fear of infamy, poverty, disease, death, join thyself to God, worship Him with constant hope and prayer. S. Cyprian (in Exhort. Martyr.) shows that some fell away from martyrdom because they had respect to the fierceness of the torments, not to the strength and help of God, and that those stand fast and conquer who turn away their minds from the torments and fix them upon God, and say, “I can do all things through Him who strengtheneth me.” God is greater than the torments. So S. Agnes, fixing all her hopes and love upon Christ, vanquished all the torments of the tyrant. For God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the strong, and He wills to show to the whole world His strength in our weakness. For God cannot forsake those who hope in Him, call upon Him, and worship Him.
Wherefore, S. Cyprian (Tract. de Mortal.) says, “Adversity does not withdraw us from the power of faith, but confirms us.” Of this S. Anthony had experience, who, on the testimony of S. Athanasius, was wont to say that “the best remedy for overcoming all the temptations of the devil is spiritual joy and the love of Christ, from one sign of whose cross he flies away vanquished.”
Then the devil, &c. Rightly Anon. (in Catenâ) says, “The end of contests is found when the adversary yields to his victor of his own will, or is vanquished by a threefold fall according to the rules of pugilism.” For he who has thrice overcome his antagonist is plainly his superior.
Then the angels approached Christ in His human form which He had assumed, and congratulated him, and brought Him food, and rendered Him other offices of their service, as their Creator and their Lord.
Learn from hence that he who bravely conquers the devil is rewarded by the ministry, the strengthening, and the consolation of the angels. For the conqueror of Satan becomes, as it were, one of the angels.
Origen (Hom. 31 in Luc.) and Abulensis are of opinion that when the devil tempts a person to some particular sin, and has been by him thoroughly vanquished, he does not tempt him any more in the same way. Salmeron, the Jesuit, thinks the same. But it is more probable that the devil having been once thoroughly vanquished either by Christ or Christians, only departs from them for a season, as S. Luke says, and returns whenever another occasion offers to try them by a similar, or even by the same temptation. For so S. Anthony was often tempted in the same way; and S. Paul was frequently, and of long continuance, tempted by the same thorn in the flesh.
Let us hear S. Ambrose (lib. 4. in c. 4 Luc., ver. 13): “Rightly are these three temptations of Christ shown to be the fountains of all sins. Nor would Scripture have said that all the temptation was ended, unless there were in these three the material of all offences, the seeds of which must be avoided in their origin. The end of temptations is the end of desires, because the causes of temptations are the causes of desires. The causes of desires are the pleasing of the flesh, the show of glory, the greed of power.” And after a little, “You see, then, that the devil is not persevering in his zeal; that he is accustomed to yield to true courage. And though he does not leave off to envy, he ceases to attack, because he has often fled away when triumphed over.” After much more, S. Ambrose thus concludes: “Therefore, He who wishes to give a crown suggests temptations. Whenever thou art tempted, know that a crown is being prepared.”
Ver. 12.óWhen Jesus had heard, &c. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all omit the embassy of the Jews to John the Baptist, asking him if he were the Messiah. To this first year of Christís ministry pertain also the turning water into wine, the driving the buyers and sellers out of the temple, and the discourse with Nicodemus. These all took place before the imprisonment of the Baptist, and are related only by S. John. For before his imprisonment Christ had committed to John the work of preaching, but now He took that office upon Himself. Moreover, when Christ heard of Johnís imprisonment, He departed out of Judæa into Galilee, because He fled from Herod, that he might not imprison Him as he had done John. In Galilee, therefore, he began solemnly to preach, that He might fulfil Isaiahís prophecy, of which more presently.
You may sayóHerod reigned in Galilee, not in Judæa. Why then did Christ, to avoid Herod, flee into Galilee? I reply, because John, preaching in Judæa, near Jericho, and gathering together the multitudes, was accused to Herod, probably by the Scribes and Pharisees. For they had been sharply rebuked by John, and called “a brood of vipers.” In their anger they suggested to Herod, who they knew was hostile to John, that he should apprehend him, lest he should make a tumult, and incite the people to rebellion. Josephus (Ant., lib. 18, c. 7), says that Herod slew John through fear of a rising of the people who flocked to John. The same Scribes and Pharisees were, it is probable, hostile to Christ, who had been pointed out by John, and who was wont, equally with John, freely and publicly to rebuke their vices. And although John had baptized in Judæa, he had perhaps passed into the neighbouring Peræa, which was subject to Herod. When Christ therefore heard of Johnís apprehension, He fled from Judæa into Galilee, lest He should be delivered by the same Scribes and Pharisees, with the connivance of the Roman governor, to Herod. But Jesus was not afraid of Herod himself, because He had not offended him personally, as John had, by reproving his adultery. This Herod Antipas was the son of Herod of Ascalon, the murderer of the innocents.
This was the second departure of Christ from Judæa into Galilee. The first is related in John i. 43, and is the same which is referred to by S. Mark (i. 14), S. Luke (iv. 14), and S. John (iv. 3, 43.)
Ver. 13.óAnd leaving his own city, &c. Leaving i.e., passing it by. Jesus did not wish to enter Nazareth, although it was His own city, to begin His preaching there. S. John gives the reason (iv. 44), “A prophet hath no honour in his own country.” Therefore He went to Capharnaum, and set up there His Chair of preaching.
Observe, there were two Galilees, one, Lower Galilee in the tribes of Issachar and Zabulon, in which was Nazareth: and Upper Galilee in the tribes of Aser and Nephtali, in which was Capharnaum, and which was called Galilee of the Gentiles, because it bordered upon Phoenicia, and was largely peopled by Gentiles. A considerable portion of it was given by Solomon to Hiram, king of Tyre. (See I Kings ix. 11.)
Capharnaum, which is by the sea. Because it was near the Jordan, where it flows into the Sea of Galilee. From its situation it became a most celebrated emporium for merchandise, and the metropolis of Galilee. In wealth, luxury, and beauty it far surpassed all the other cities of Galilee, and thence derived its name. For Capharnaum is as though כפר caphar נעים naim, i.e., “the field of pleasantness or delight,” as S. Jerome says on Hebrew names.
In this city then, Christ began to preach the kingdom of God, and to rebuke the luxury and vices of its citizens, and to call them away from earthly goods, from wealth and pride, to the heavenly riches. This He did both by His preaching and His miracles. It was here that He healed the paralytic man, who was let down through the roof upon a bed. In Capharnaum He restored to sight two blind men, and healed the dumb man who was possessed of a devil. Here, whilst walking in the street, He cured the palsied servant of the centurion. Here He healed the woman with an issue of blood, who touched the fringe of His garment. Here He raised from death Jairusí daughter.
But when its inhabitants, swelling with pride and luxury, gave no heed either to His words or His miracles, and would not be moved to repentance, at last He pronounced upon them the sentence, “And thou, Capharnaum,” &c., chap. xi. 23.
That it might be fulfilled, &c. There is an apposition here. 1. There is the land of Zabulon and Naphtali, which is by the way of the sea. 2. There is the country across the Jordan. And the whole district was called Galilee of the Gentiles. This land, I say, was illuminated by Christ making known the light of the Gospel to them that dwelt therein. The word Gentiles here denotes that Christ was about to transfer the Kingdom of God from the Jews, because of their unbelief, to the Gentiles. So S. Chrysostom.
The people that sat in darkness, &c. I have expounded this prophecy at length in Isaiah ix. 1: which see.
From that time Jesus began, &c. This was the sum and the scope of the preaching of Christ, to invite men to repentance, to change their course of action, and lead them to a holy life. For this is true wisdom, this our end, our goal, our good, our happiness. Truly says the Gloss, “To the Gospel pertains the promise of blessedness, the remission of sins, adoption, resurrection, the heavenly inheritance, the society of angels. By the Gospel, kings are made and a kingdom given, not earthly and transitory, but heavenly and eternal.”
Wherefore Babylas, the play-actor, who had two concubines, hearing these words of the Gospel read, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, being touched by the finger of God, learned wisdom, and shut himself up in a cell, to do penance for the rest of his life. He left his riches to his concubines, but they too, pricked with compunction by his example, also shut themselves up in cells, and did continual penance. (See John Moschus, Spiritual Meadow, c. 32.) Verily the word of the Gospel is quick and powerful. (Heb. iv. 12.)
Appositely did Christ preach repentance in Galilee because Galilee is the same as transmigration, say S. Gregory and others, from the root נלה galah, “he migrated.” For in Galilee Christ taught men in mind, and affection, and love, to migrate from earth to heaven. Wherefore also He chose for apostles none but Galilæans, i.e., migrators, men who were but pilgrims upon earth and citizens of heaven.
This transmigration is accomplished by penitence. How strict, and of how long duration, was the penance upon bread and water in former times! This appears from the Roman Púnitential, and from the Penitential Canons of SS. Basil, Gregory Nyssen, and Bede, of Rabanus Maurus, and Burchardus, which are still extant. In Spain, the sick and those about to die did penance, clothed in the monastic habit, and received the tonsure, by which they made profession of a monastic life; and if they afterwards recovered they were bound not to return to the world, but to pass the rest of their life in a monastery. This appears from the Twelfth Council of Toledo, cap. 2. Wamba, king of Spain, a great example to posterity, did this about A.D. 674. (See Mariana, and Baronius, tom. 8, A. D . 680, in fine.) For this reason the Pontifical Penitentiaries at Rome carry a rod in their hands, because they are apostolic judges in the tribunal of conscience. For a straight rod is borne before a judge as an emblem of the rectitude of justice, according to that which is said of Christ, Ps. xlv. 7, “The sceptre of thy kingdom is the sceptre of uprightness.” (Vulg.); because also in grave and public offences, especially those to which excommunication was annexed, the Penitentiaries, reciting the Psalm Miserere, used to beat the guilty person with a rod; and thus they gave absolution, as is appointed even now in the ancient ritual of the Church, sanctioned by the canons, in solemn absolution from excommunication. Thus S. Anno, Archbishop of Cologne, sharply whipped the emperor Henry II. as a penance, A.D. 1056, as can be seen in his life in Surius. And the use of this discipline, as it is commonly called, by rods, inflicted, either by the penitent himself, or by the Penitentiary, was very common in the time of blessed Peter Damian, who flourished A.D. 1040, as is plain from many of his Epistles, also from the life of S. Dominic Loricatus, where he says that a hundred yearsí penance is performed by reciting the whole Psalter twenty times, accompanied by constant flagellation, for one Psalter so said is equal to five years of penance.
Thus Henry II., King of England, because he had given occasion for the murder of S. Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury, came as a penitent, with bare feet, to the tomb of S. Thomas, and prostrate on the earth, confessed his sin with tears at the feet of the bishops, and, baring his shoulders, received from them five flagellations, and from each of the monks, who were eighty in number, he received three strokes of the rod. This was about A.D. 1170. What does our delicateness say to this? What has become of the ancient penance?
Let us hear what S. Jerome says of S. Paula in her epitaph. “She did not sleep upon a bed, but upon sackcloth spread upon the bare ground, if, indeed, that could be called sleep which was interrupted by almost continual prayers, day and night, fulfilling the words of the Psalm, “Every night wash I my bed, and water my couch with my tears.” You might have thought she was possessed of a fountain of tears; so did she weep over her trifling faults, that you might have imagined her guilty of the most dreadful crimes. Often did we admonish her to have mercy upon her eyes, and preserve them for the reading of the Gospel. But she said, “It is meet that this face should be defiled, which so often, against the command of God, has been adorned with cosmetics and vermilion. It is meet that this body should be afflicted which indulged in so many luxuries. A long laughter shall be recompensed with constant weeping. Soft kerchiefs and precious silks shall give place to rough sackcloth. I who pleased my husband and the world now desire to please Christ.” See the same Epistle (30), graphically describing the rare penance of Fabiola.
And Jesus walking by the sea, &c. It is not the first vocation of Peter and Andrew which is here recorded. This is related by S. John (i. 36), among the events of the first year of Christís ministry. The second vocation of Peter and Andrew was after the Baptistís imprisonment, when they surrendered themselves at Christís call to become His disciples; when they constantly cleave to Him, and never return to their former occupations. This second calling of these Apostles is related both by Matthew and Luke; by the former, compendiously; whilst S. Luke, after his wont, narrates the particulars of the history more at length. So S. Chrysostom.
Walking, not by chance, not merely for recreation, but that He might call to Him Peter and Andrew, James and John. Let Christians, especially priests and religious, strive to imitate Christ, and do nothing aimlessly, but seek fruit in all things.
By the sea of Galilee. Capharnaum, where Christ had chosen a house for receiving His disciples was near this lake.
Simon, this is from the Hebrew שמע soama, “hearing,” “obeying.” See what I have said on Gen. xxix. 33.
Andrew is a Greek name, which the Jews after the time of Alexander the Great took from the Greeks, together with such names as Jason, Lysimachus, Menelaus. (See 1 Mac. iv, &c.) Andrew means strong, brave. And such indeed S. Andrew was upon his cross.
Casting a net. We must supply from S. Luke, chap. v., that Christ went up into Peterís ship, and taught the multitudes from thence, that after that He bade Peter cast a net into the sea, which immediately caught a vast number of fishes, so that the net brake, that by this miracle Peter was converted, together with Andrew, James, and John, that then Christ said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” as S. Matthew here records.
Fishers of men. For Christians are like fishes swimming in the waters of baptism.
“There are merchandise and nets and ropes:
Death the reward, virtue the prow, the keel is health above;
Faith the ropes, true godliness the mast,
The sail is hope, the oars are grace, the captain is true love.”
This is the ship of Christís Church in which we sail to heaven. I have noticed nineteen analogies between fishes and men, upon Habakkuk i. 14, which if you please you may consult.
Hence Christ is called by the early Christians ΙΧΘΥΣ, a Fish, because its initial letters make this acrostic, Ιησοϋς Χριστὸς Θεοϋ Υίός Σώτηρ, or Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Saviour; on which there is extant a verse of the Erythræan Sibyl in S. Augustine (Civ. Dei, 18. 23.) See Tertullian (de Bapt.), and Prosper (part. prædict. 2. 39).
S. Luke says, “From henceforth thou shalt catch men,” Gr. ζωγρϋν, i.e. take them alive, catch them for life. S. Ambrose translates, “make them live.” As though Christ had said, “Fishermen take fishes for death, that they may kill them, but thou, O Peter, shalt catch men unto life, that they may begin a new life, and live unto God in holiness.”
Well does S. Augustine say (Tract, 7 in Joan.), Christ, wishing to break the nets of the proud, sought not the fisherman by means of the orator, but from the fisherman he gained the emperor. Great is Cyprian the orator, but first was Peter the fisherman. In this was fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah (xvi. 16), “Behold, I will send many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish you.”
Leaving their nets. Under the term nets understand also ships, houses, occupation, servants, parents, relations, and all other things whatsoever, according to that saying of S. Peter to Christ, “Lo! we have left all things and followed thee.” When then we read that after Christís death the Apostles went a-fishing (John xxi. 3), we do not understand that they again betook themselves to their old vocation, but only did it to pass the time, and to divert their minds from the affliction which they were enduring at the loss of their Master.
Wisely does S. Bernard say to those who fear to follow Godís call to high and arduous things, “Why dost thou fear? Why dost thou hesitate? The Angel of great counsel calls thee. No one is wiser than He is; no one is stronger; no one is more faithful.”
Tropologically, the scholiast on S. Jerome says, “Let us leave the spidersí nets which are the vanities of the world in which we are held.
And going on from thence, &c. James, in Hebrew Jacob, a supplanter; for he supplanted the world, and all worldly things, that he might follow Christ.
Zebedee, i.e., liberal, munificent. For though he was an old man he willingly gave to Christ his two sons, who were the staff of his old age. זבד zabad, means to give, to bestow.
John, the grace of God, for Christ poured His grace upon John more abundantly than upon the rest of the Apostles. “By this apostolic chariot of four horses we are carried to heaven; on these four corner-stones the Church was first built.”
Ver. 22.óThey straightway, &c. Observe Luke (v. 11) rolls the vocation of these four Apostles into one; but S. Matthew relates the particulars of the calling: 1, of Andrew and Peter; 2, of James and John. The historical sequence is as followsóChrist having been carried in Peterís boat, and having landed on the shore, then called Peter and Andrew. Going on a little further, he saw James and John mending the nets which had been broken by the miraculous draught of fishes; then He called these two, saying, “Follow me.” They, being moved by the miracle, and the example of their partners, straightway left their father and all things, and followed Christ. So S. Augustine (de Consens. Evan. lib. 2, c. 17).
And Jesus went about, &c. SicknessóGreek, νόσος,óan habitual, organic, or incurable disease, says Euthymius. DiseaseóGreek, μαλακίονói.e., languor, infinity, failure of strength.
And his fame. Greek, α̉κοὴói.e., rumour, report. Torments (Gr. βασάνοις). This word means, properly, examination under torture, when an accused person was tormented on the little horse, to make him confess his crime and accomplices. Lunatics are sick persons, who suffer from the changes of the moon, either by sickness, or delirium, or madness, especially epilepsy. Tho. Valesius (Sac. Philos. c. 71) denies that the moon has any such effect.
And healed them. From none of these did Christ require faith, says S. Chrysostom, for He had not yet manifested His power; and those who came from far had as yet but small faith in Him. But afterwards He required faith on the part of the sick, as will appear in the sequel. “Clouds of miracles,” says S. Chrysostom, “does S. Matthew pass over in few words, a few of which he afterwards relates more at length.”
Mystically, lunatics are mutable and inconstant persons, who at one time serve God and religion, at another the devil and their lusts, according to the words in Ecclus. xxvii. 12ó“A holy man continueth in wisdom as the sun, but a fool is changed as the moon.”
Followed him. Hear S. Bernard (Serm. I de omnibus Sanc.): “From the cities and villages the people followed the preaching of the Lord. He saved their souls; He healed their bodies. They clave to Him, being delighted both by the sight of Him and by His words. His voice was sweet, His face was comely, as it is written, ĎThou art fairer than the children of men; full of grace are thy lips.í Such is He whom we follow, to whom we adhereówho is altogether desirable, upon whom not the people only, but the holy angels themselves desire to look.”
Decapolisói.e., the region of ten citiesófrom δέκα ten, and πόλις a city. The names of these ten cities, according to Burchard, were Tiberias, Saphet, Asor, Kedesh, Cæsarea Philippi, Capharnaum, Jotapata (which Josephus defended against the Romans), Bethsaida, Corozaim, and Beth-shan, or Scythopolis.
Beyond the Jordanói.e., in respect of Galilee, which was on this side Jordan. These regions were Gilead, Trachonitis, Abilene, Seir, Cúlosyria, and Batanæa, the ancient Bashan, formerly the dominions of King Og.