COMMENTARY

upon

THE GOSPEL OF  S. MARK.

_______o_______

INTRODUCTION.


M

ARK,” says S. Jerome in his Catalogue of Ecclesiastical Writers, “was a disciple and interpreter of S. Peter. At the request of the brethren at Rome, he wrote a short Gospel, based upon what he had heard S. Peter relate. This, when Peter had heard, he approved of, and sanctioned its being read in the Church.” Shortly afterwards, S. Jerome proceeds to say, “Mark took his Gospel, which he had compiled, and went to Egypt. He first preached Christ at Alexandria, and founded a Church there, which possessed such great purity of doctrine and life that it influenced all followers of Christ by its example. In short, Philo, the most eloquent of the Jews, beholding the primitive Church of Alexandria, as yet Judaizing, wrote a book upon its peculiarities, as it were in praise of his own people. And similarly as S. Luke records that at Jerusalem those who believed had all things common, so has Philo preserved the memory of what he saw at Alexandria under S. Mark as the teacher of the Christians. He died in the eighth year of Nero, and was buried at Alexandria. Anianus succeeded him.”

Clement of Alexandria (Strom. l vi.) and Papias of Hierapolis attest the same things; so does Eusebius (H. E. ii. 15), who adds that S. Peter confirmed S. Markís Gospel, and delivered it to be read for all time in the Churches. S. Athanasius (Synops. sub fin.) and S. Epiphanius (Hæres. 51) say the same. Wherefore Tertullian (l. iv. cont. Marcion) attributes the Gospel of S. Mark to S. Peter, because, as S. Jerome says, “it was compiled from what S. Peter related, Mark being the writer.” The same S. Jerome, or whoever is the author of the preface to his Commentary on S. Mark, says, “After Matthew soweth Mark, He, I say, who roareth as a lion, who flieth as an eagle, who learneth as a man, who sacrificeth as a priest, who watereth as a river, who flourisheth as a field, who fermenteth as wine. For Christ who is spoken of is man by being born, is a calf by dying, a lion by rising again, an eagle by ascending into heaven.”

For this cause the cherubim of Ezek. i. and the Apocalypse, which have four faces, signify the four Evangelists. For the face of a man denotes Matthew, who relates the works of Christís humanity; the face of an eagle, John, who speaks of the divinity of Christ; the face of an ox denotes Luke, who begins with the priesthood of Zacharias; and the face of a lion designates Mark, because he begins his Gospel from the loud roaring of John the Baptist, as it were of a lion. For these four have drawn the chariot of the glory of God, the chariot of the Gospel, through the whole world, and have subdued all nations to Him, that He may triumph.

The name Mark happily agrees with this symbolism, whether we derive it from the Hebrew or from Latin. For Mark in Hebrew, says Pagninus (in inteterpret. Heb. nomin.), means the same as smoothed, polished, cleansed from rust. It is derived from מרק, marak, to clean, to Polish. As Jeremiah (xlvi. 4) says, “Stand in the helmets, polish the lances;” where for polish the Heb. has מרקו, mircu, polish ye. Thus S. Mark polished the lance of his Gospel and preaching, that it, like a lion, might subdue the Egyptians and other nations to Christ. But S. Isidore (1. vii. Origen, c. 9) says, “Mark means high in commandment” (but I know not from what root), that is to say, on account of the Gospel of the Most High, which he preached. Again, the Heb. of Mark may be, as it were, מר כום, mar cos, or the Lord of the Chalice, that is to say, of suffering and martyrdom.

But in Latin, Carolus Signonius (de Nom. Roman.) says, “He is called Marcus who is born in the month of March.” But Isidore says Mark means a strong hammer, Marcellus is a moderate-sized hammer, and Maculus a litle one. Thus S. Mark was a mighty and strong hammer, breaking in pieces the rock, i.e., bruising with compunction the strong hearts of the Gentiles, and moving them to repentance and a Christian life. Mark, then, and Marcellus are the same as, Martellus, a hammer. So Charles, the grandfather of Charlemagne, was called Charles Martel, because of his warlike prowess, by which he crushed a host of 300,000 Saracens. Or Marcus may be taken to be the same as Martius, a sort of heavenly Mars. The Marcian gens at Rome, an ancient patrician family, was so called from Ancus Marcius, the fourth king of Rome. King Ancus was called the sacrificial, because he restored worship which had fallen into decay, or had been improperly performed.

How religious and brave S. Mark was appears from the institution of the Essæi,* who were the first religious, and the prototypes of all religious, of whose wondrous sanctity more anon.

Lastly, the Romans used to give the prænomen Marcus to first-born sons. Marcus Tullius Cicero was so called because he was a first-born son. Thus Mark was a first-born son, and singularly beloved of S. Peter. Thus he speaks of him as Marcus, my son (1 Pet. v.). For he as a son had drunk of S. Peterís spirit, and was an express image of the wisdom and holiness of S. Peter.

You will ask, Of what country, who, and what was S. Mark? I answer. 1. That he was of the Hebrew nation, and of the tribe of Levi. Bede adds that he was a priest, of the family of Aaron.

2. Theophilus, Victor of Antioch, and Euthymius think that this Mark was the same as John Mark, who was nephew of Barnabas, and who journeyed with him and S. Paul to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, the same S. Mark as he to whom S. Paul refers in his Epistle to Philemon, and Col. iv., and 2 Tim. iv. But I say that this Mark was a different person from John Mark, for at the same time that John Mark was with Paul and Barnabas in Greece, this Mark was with S. Peter at Rome, and was sent by him to preach first at Aquileia, and afterwards at Alexandria.

3. Origen (lib. de Recta Fide), S. Epiphanius (Hæres. 51), and Dorotheus (in Synops.) think that Mark was one of Christís seventy-two disciples. But the contrary, namely, that he was converted and baptized by S. Peter after Christís death, is more probable. For he calls him his (spiritual) son (1 Pet. v. 13), “The Church which is at Babylon saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.” So S. Jerome, Eusebius (H. E. vii. 14), &c., who say that S. Mark was a disciple and companion of S. Peter.

4. S. Austin (l. 1, de Cons. Evang. c. 2) calls Mark the abbreviator of Matthew, not because he made a compendium of his Gospel, as some say, but because he often relates more briefly, as he had received them from S. Peter, the things which Matthew records at greater length. I said “often,” for occasionally Mark relates events in the life of Christ more fully than Matthew does, as is plain from the account of Peterís denial. Some things also he unfolds with greater clearness than Matthew. Mark is fuller in narrative than Matthew, but has less of Christís doctrine. Markís, therefore, is an independent Gospel. Whence the Arabic prefixes the following title to his Gospel:óIn the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, One God, the Gospel of the Father, Patriarch, Apostle, S. Mar (i.e., Lord) Mark the Evangelist.

5. Mark wrote this Gospel A.D. 45, in the third year of the reign of Claudius, as Eusebius says (in Chron.), shortly before he went to Alexandria, where he governed for nineteen years the Church which he there founded. His disciples were so excellent that they were called Essæi, that is, holy and pious. For they, as the first religious, lived in such purity and holiness as to become the admiration of the whole world, and afforded a mirror of perfection to all other Churches. Hence S. Jerome and Cassian call S. Mark the chief and founder of the Cúnobites. See what I have said concerning the Essæi in Acts v. 2.

Moreover, S. Mark founded the first Christian school at Alexandria, from which so many holy doctors, bishops, and martyrs proceeded. This school of Alexandria wonderfully flourished under the Emperor Commodus, A.D. 180, when Pantænus presided over it. Pantænus was succeeded by Clement, Clement by Origen.

Finally, S. Mark added to the laurels of an Apostle, Doctor, and Evangelist the crown of martyrdom. In the Roman Martyrology for the 25th of April we read concerning him thus, “At Alexandria, the natal day of B. Mark the Evangelist, he, for the faith of Christ, being stretched and bound with cords, was dragged over the rocks, and grievously tormented. Afterwards, being shut up in prison, he was first comforted by an angelic vision, and at last by the appearance of the Lord Himself, by whom he was called to the heavenly kingdom in the eighth year of Nero.” The body of S. Mark was translated by merchants from Alexandria to Venice, A.D. 827. There it is cherished with the utmost veneration, insomuch that the Senate have adopted as their insignia a lion, the emblem of S. Mark; and when they issue any command, they call it the mandate of S. Mark.

You will ask, secondly, in what language Mark wrote his Gospel,óin Latin or Greek? Many think he wrote it in Latin. And the reason seems plain. For Mark wrote at Rome for the Romans; therefore, say they, he must have written in the Latin tongue. For the Romans did not understand Greek (as Baronius abundantly proves) in A.D. 45. For although S. Chrysostom on Mark asserts that he wrote his Gospel at Alexandria, yet S. Jerome, Eusebius, Clement, and other Fathers declare, passim, that he wrote it at Rome. And the author of that Commentary upon S. Mark was not S. Chrysostom, as I will prove hereafter. So the Syriac version, which at the end of S. Markís Gospel adds expressly, “Here endeth the holy Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, which he spake and preached at Rome, in the Roman language.” S. Gregory Nazianzen, in the poem in which he gives a catalogue of Holy Scripture, thus assigns the Evangelists to languages and nations,ó

“The wonders of Christ for the Hebrews S. Matthew did write;
  S. Mark for Westerns; for Greeks S. Luke in learning bright;
  For all S. John, who soared aloft with heavenly sight.”

On the other hand, S. Jerome affirms expressly, in the preface to the Gospel, that Mark wrote in Greek. “I am speaking,” he says, “of the New Testament, which, without doubt, was written in Greek, with the exception of the Apostle Matthew, who first in Judæa published the Gospel of Christ in Hebrew.” And he adds that he for this reason, at the command of Pope Damasus, corrected the ancient Latin Vulgate version of the New Testament, and therefore of S. Markís Gospel, in accordance with the Greek original. S. Augustine teaches us the same thing: “Matthew is said to have written in Hebrew, all the rest in Greek.” The same was the common opinion of ancient and modern writers.

Reason favours the same view. For S. Mark wrote his Gospel when he was about to pass to Alexandria, that he might preach it there. But the inhabitants of Alexandria spoke at that time the Greek language. For Alexandria was founded, and its name given, by Alexander the Great. SS. Athanasius and Cyril, Theophilus, Clement of Alexandria, and the rest wrote in Greek. Again, Mark was more skilled in Greek than he was in Latin. Wherefore, also, the Greek text of his Gospel is more polished and elegant than the Latin. For the Jews, who were neighbours of Greek-speaking countries, and subjects of Alexander the Great and his successors, learned thoroughly the Greek language, but not so the Latin, as being far distant from Latin-speaking countries. Moreover, the Greek language was then very widely diffused, as Cicero says. For this reason the Romans, especially the patricians and the wealthier sort of people, were skilled in Greek. Indeed, they sent their sons to Athens that they might be thoroughly grounded in Grecian wisdom and eloquence. And Mark wrote this Gospel not for the Roman plebeians, but for patricians and nobles, for such persons as S. Clement, S. Pudens. Listen to Clement of Alexandria (tom. 6, in Biblioth. Patr. in Edit. Parisiensi.), “Mark, the follower of Peter, when Peter was preaching the Gospel publicly at Rome, in the presence of certain knights of Cæsarís household, and was advancing many testimonies about Christ, being requested by them, wrote from the things which were spoken by Peter a Gospel, which is called that according to Mark.” In like manner S. Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans in Greek, as I have shown in my preface to that Epistle.

Lastly, S. Mark was present with S. Peter at Antioch, where the disciples of Christ were first called Christians. And at Antioch Greek was spoken. Hence Greek was more familiar to Mark than Latin, and it is possible that Greek was his mother tongue. For although the Apostles and primitive believers received the gift of tongues from the Holy Spirit, yet they received it for sufficiency, not for elegance, and so they spoke each their own vernacular better and more elegantly.

You will reconcile both opinions if you say that Mark wrote his Gospel both in Greek and Latin, as Genebrard thinks, and our Barradi (tom. 1, l. c. 19) and Possevin. Hear Peter Natalis (in Cat. Sanct. l. 4, c. 86), “Peter sent Mark to Aquileia as its first bishop. There he wrote again his Gospel in Greek, which he had previously written in Latin at Rome, which Gospel, together with the ivory chair in which he sat to write it, is still shown in the church of Aquileia.”

Further, some imagine that the Latin original of Mark has perished through the injuries of time, as the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew has perished. But it is difficult to believe so. For how would the Roman Church, so faithful to her trust, and so careful a guardian of the sacred writings, and especially in those early ages from Mark to Constantine, when it was so ardent and constant in zeal for religion, have suffered so great a treasure committed to her to he lost? Surely she who kept so faithfully what pertained to others did not lose her own. What, did so many copies of the Gospel of S. Mark, which noble Romans and other Italians, converted to Christ by SS. Peter and Paul, would emulously cause to be transcribed, perish to a single copy, so that not even one has survived? Wherefore we shall say, with greater probability, that Mark, for the reasons already assigned, wrote originally in Greek, but immediately afterwards, either by himself or by some other translator, rendered the Greek into Latin, and delivered both to the Romans, in a similar way to S. Paul, who wrote his Epistle to the Romans in Greek, but sent the same to them translated into Latin by Tertius, his scribe and interpreter. The reasons areó1st Because SS. Jerome and Austin affirm that Mark wrote in Greek, not in Latin. 2nd Because, as Bellarmine has rightly perceived (de Script. Eccles. in Marc.), it is evident, from a collation of the Greek and Latin texts, that the Old Latin and the Vulgate editions, both of Matthew and Mark, have been translated from the Greek. This is proved by Franc. Lucas by many examples. To these you may add that the Latin translator of Mark Grecized, as when he says (ii. 2) et convenerunt multi, ita ut non caperet neque ad januam, words which are obscurely translated into Latin from the Greek, which reads clearly and elegantly, ώστε μηκέτι χωζείν μηδὲ τὰ πζὸς τὴν θύραν, ie., so that not even the places about the door could contain the crowd. Again, in iv. 10, the Vulgate has, et cum esset singularis, whilst the Greek is plain, καταμόνας, i.e., alone. Also vii. 17, 18, 20, Quæ de homine exeunt, illa communicant hominem, the Gr. κοινοί, i.e., make a man common or unclean, is clear. For the Hebrews call common unclean things, that is, things which all, even the impure, use promiscuously and in common. So, again, in chap. i. 47, διαφημίζειν, is translated verbally, diffamare, to make known abroad. Again, προσάββατον is rendered ante sabbatum, i.e., the day before the Sabbath.

The original of the Gospel of S. Mark is religiously preserved at Venice, but the letters are so corroded and worn away by age that they cannot be deciphered. When I was inquiring about the matter at Rome, several reliable persons, who had carefully investigated the subject, wrote to me to this effect, that the following is the tradition among the Venetians. They say that this Gospel was written by S. Mark at Aquileia, and left by him there, and that it was brought from thence to Venice. For when Attila took Aquileia after a three yearsí siege, and destroyed it, many of the inhabitants fled to the marshes bordering on the Adriatic, and there, in a marvellous manner, laid the foundations of Venice, A.D. 452. Moreover, a trustworthy man, a canon of S. Markís at Venice, who has the custody of this relic, and is therefore an eye-witness, wrote to me in answer to my inquiries, within the last few days, that this autograph of S. Mark is written in Greek, and was brought from Aquileia to Venice A.D. 1472.

Pagnini has written a dissertation on this question, dedicated to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, in which he maintains that S. Mark in the first instance wrote his Gospel in Latin at Rome, and afterwards in Greek at Aquileia, but that the Latin has been lost, since the present Latin of S. Mark is a translation from the Greek. He cites many passages which go to prove the great prevalence of Greek at Rome in those times. He also cites Damasus as saying, (lib. de Vit. Pont.) in the Life of S. Peter, that the Evangelists wrote in Latin (mentioning Mark), in Greek, and Hebrew. But it is well known that this work is not by Damasus, but by Anastasius, the librarian. What Pagnini adds, that S. Peter preached to the Romans in Greek, and that S. Mark, as his interpreter, rendered his words into Latin, cannot be considered worthy of credit. Besides, the duty of an interpreter was different from this, as I have shown on 1 Cor. xii. 10.

The Syrians, as Fabricius tells us in the preface to his Syriac New Testament, assert that Mark wrote in Latin. They also say that the same Mark translated not only his own Gospel into his Galilean or Syriac mother tongue, but all the other books of the New Testament.

But it is difficult to believe this. For there is no mention of such a translation by Clement of Alexandria, or Origen, Eusebius, Athanasius, Epiphanius, Cyril, Theodoret, S. Jerome, or other Fathers, who either were Syrians, or who lived in Syria and Egypt, and treated carefully the subject of the various editions and translations of the Holy Scriptures. Therefore this Syriac translation of the New Testament seems to have been made later than S. Markís time.

Lastly, S. Markís Gospel has always been reckoned amongst the canonical Scriptures, with the exception of the last chapter, doubts about which were formerly entertained by some, as S. Jerome testifies (Ep. 150, ad Hedib. q. 3), because it contained certain things which savoured of Manichæism, which S. Jerome recites (lib. 2, cont. Pelag.). The words were these, “And they were satisfied, saying, Substance is that world of iniquity and unbelief, which suffereth not through wicked spirits the true power of God to be apprehended: therefore now call back thy righteousness.” But these words have been since removed.

Observe Markís whole strength is given to narration, and does not care for the order in which things were done. Hence he places events which were done afterwards before some which were prior to them in order of time, and vice versa. Hear S. Jerome (Introd. to S. Matt.), “Second, Mark, the interpreter of the Apostle Peter, who indeed had not himself seen the Lord, the Saviour, but had heard his masterís preaching, related according to the truth of the things which were done, rather than the order in which they were done.”

There is extant a second volume of S. Chrysostomís Commentary upon S. Mark, which, although not devoid of genius, learning, and piety, nevertheless seems to be wanting in the style, spirit, and subtlety of S. Chrysostom. Hence Bellarmine says that it is undoubtedly not the work of that Saint, but of a certain simple monk, who expounded the Gospel to his brethren.

Victor of Antioch, an ancient author, wrote especially upon S. Mark, whom one Theodore Peltanus has translated out of Greek into Latin.

The author of the Commentary or Scholiast upon S. Mark in the works of S. Jerome is not S. Jerome himself, for he shows himself to be unskilled both in Greek and Hebrew.

Here only a few things occur to be noted, because most have been spoken of in S. Matthew. There the reader will find them annotated. Here, therefore, I shall be brief.

*The Christian Essenes of Alexandria.(Trans.)   back to place