The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Archive for December, 2010

Father Callan on 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 30, 2010

Text in red, if any, represent my additions.


Before their conversion the faithful were blind, without understanding; and they were led away to dumb idols who could give them no instruction in religious matters. But now they have criterions by which to test these things, and they can tell whether those appearing to be endowed with extraordinary gifts have received real powers from God or not. And if one really possesses
any of these freely given graces, St. Paul would have the faithful understand that such gifts are to be used for the spiritual benefit of those in the Church who have not been favored with them.

1. Now concerning spiritual things, my brethren, I would not have you ignorant.

Now (δε). This adversative connective shows, in opposition to the last clause of the preceding chapter, that St. Paul considered the necessity of instruction on spiritual gifts too imperative to be left until he would visit the Corinthians and impart to them oral directions and enlightenment.

The Corinthians had written to St Paul in regard to several matters which he begins to deal with in 1 Cor 7:1. His final words in chapter 11 were: And the rest I will set in order, when I come. “The rest” apparently referring to certain things the Corinthians had written to him for advice about.  Father Callan assumes that the issue Paul is now taking up was also one of the items mentioned in the letter, however, this need not necessarily be the case. St Paul had been informed of certain problems at Corinth by word of mouth (1 Cor 1:11; also, probably 1 Cor 11:18).

Spiritual things (πνευματικων) , i.e., spiritual gifts, which are called by theologians, gratiae gratis datae (graces gratuitously given), as opposed to gratia sanctificans (sanctifying grace) or gratum faciens (grace that makes one pleasing, i.e., to God. These last two terms designate the same thing). The latter, like the gifts of the Holy Ghost, is for the spiritual benefit of those who possess it; while the former are bestowed on certain individuals, not for their own sanctification, but for the spiritual advantage of others in the Church (Rom 12:6). These transient spiritual gifts are bestowed quite independently of the merit or personal sanctity of those who receive them. This the Corinthians did not understand.

The Catholic Encyclopedia: The gift of miracles is one of those mentioned by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:9, 10, among the extraordinary graces of the Holy Ghost. These have to be distinguished from the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost enumerated by the Prophet Isaiah 11:2 ff. and from the fruits of the Spirit given by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians 5:22. The seven gifts and the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost are always infused with sanctifying grace into the souls of the just. They belong to ordinary sanctity and are within the reach of every Christian. The gifts mentioned in the Epistle to the Corinthians are not necessarily connected with sanctity of life. They are special and extraordinary powers vouchsafed by God only to a few, and primarily for the spiritual good of others rather than of the recipient. In Greek they are called charismata, which name has been adopted by Latin authors- they are also designated in theological technical language as gratiae gratis datae (graces gratuitously given) to distinguish them from gratiae gratum facientes, which means sanctifying grace or any actual grace granted for the salvation of the recipient.

2. You know that when you were heathens, you went to dumb idols, according as you were led.

You know, etc. The majority of the faithful of Corinth were of Gentile origin, as this verse proves, and St. Paul reminds them of their ignorant condition as pagans. They went to dumb idols, who were unable to instruct them in spiritual matters, as they were led by the devil (1 Cor 10:19 ff.; Eph 2:2), or by evil custom. See also 1 Thess 1:9; Acts 14:14-18.

3. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man, speaking by the Spirit of God, saith Anathema to Jesus. And no man can say the Lord Jesus, but by the Holy Ghost.

Wherefore. This most probably goes back to the ignorance mentioned in verse 1. Verse 2, then, is parenthetical.

I give you to understand, i.e., he lays down a general rule by which the Corinthians may judge whether a fact which seems extraordinary really comes from God. No one who curses Jesus is speaking under the influence of the Holy Ghost, while he who confesses that Christ is God does so, as a rule, because he is moved by God’s Holy Spirit.

That no man, speaking, etc., i.e., no one speaking with tongues, by the Spirit of God, i.e., under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, saith Anathema, etc., i.e., curses Jesus, or declares that Jesus is accursed of God. Anyone who denies or doubts the Divinity, humanity, mission, doctrine or the like, of Christ, cannot be moved by God’s Spirit; and consequently all extraordinary phenomena that may proceed from such a one must be ascribed to diabolical influences.

On the other hand, no one can say the Lord Jesus, i.e., can confess that Christ is the Lord of all things, and therefore God, but by the Holy Ghost, i.e., except he be influenced by divine inspiration (Matt 16:17). The faithful, then, are to be guided in their interpretation of extraordinary phenomena on the part of individuals by this general rule: If any extraordinary effect is directed against the faith of Christ, and tries to do away with Christ’s doctrine, it is to be considered as coming from diabolical
sources; but if, on the contrary, it promotes the faith and love of Christ, it is to he judged as proceeding from the Holy Ghost.

4. Now there are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit;
5. And there are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord;
6. And there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh all in all.

4-6. The pagans believed that various gifts were to be attributed to different gods; for example, wisdom to one, power to another, and so on. Lest the faithful should be guilty of a similar absurdity regarding the gifts bestowed on them St. Paul tells them, (a) that while there are diversities of graces, i.e., different gifts bestowed on different persons, they all proceed from the same Holy Spirit; (b) that while there are diversities of ministries, i.e., different ministers, such as Apostles, bishops, priests and the like, in the Church, they all depend on the same divine Lord and Mediator, Jesus Christ, who is head of the whole Church; (c) that while there are diversities of operations, i.e., various marvelous effects, such as cures, conversions and the like, produced by the different ecclesiastical ministers according to their varied gifts, all are due to the one God, the Father, who, as the first cause of all things, worketh all in all, i.e., moves all creatures to their actions, and cooperates with the operations of all (cf. St. Thomas, h. 1.).

In these three verses we have an explicit mention of the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. They are introduced to emphasize the argument, beginning with the Holy Ghost, and leading us step by step to the one source of all (Estius).

The interpretation just given of these verses, which, in the main, is that of St. Thomas and Fr. Cornely, seems to us most correct; but there are other authorities who explain them somewhat differently. The graces, they say, mean the gifts possessed by different individuals ; the ministries, or ministrations (διακονιων) are the services rendered by those who possessed those gifts; and the operations refer to the effects, or results of the services
of those who possessed the gifts. Cf. MacR., h. 1.

7. And the manifestation of the spirit is given to every man unto profit.

And the manifestation, etc., i.e., the manifestation which the Spirit produces, the spiritual gifts just spoken of. These gifts not only proceed from the same Spirit, but are ordained to the same end, namely, to the advantage and utility of the Church.

Concerning verses 8-10 in general: The enumeration of the gifts of the Spirit in these verses was not intended to be complete, since in verse 28, Rom 12:6-8, and Eph 4:11 different accounts occur. There is much disagreement among interpreters as to the nature and classification of these various gifts of the Spirit. There then follows references to the writings of Cornely, Le Camus, Prat and Fouard.

8. To one indeed, by the Spirit, is given the word of wisdom: and to another, the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit;

The word of wisdom means an understanding of the deeper mysteries and truths of faith, such as was possessed especially by the Apostles, together with the faculty of explaining them in a clear and convincing manner to others.

The word of knowledge is an understanding of the ordinary truths of religion, coupled with the ability to explain them by the use of rational arguments, illustrations and the like. Knowledge is the gift possessed in particular by Doctors of Theology. With the Corinthians these gifts were not the result of study, but of the extraordinary “manifestation of the spirit” (verse 7).

9. To another, faith in the same Spirit; to another, the grace of healing in one Spirit;

Faith does not mean the theological virtue which all must possess to be saved, but that special faith which can move mountains (Matt 21:21) and work other miracles. It was this faith that the Apostles asked for, saying: “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5).

The grace of healing, such as was possessed by St. Peter, whose shadow delivered the sick from their infirmities (Acts 5:15), and by St. Paul, whose handkerchiefs and aprons dispelled diseases and evil spirits from the bodies of the infirm (Acts 19:12).

10. To another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, the discerning of spirits: to another, diverse kinds of tongues; to another, interpretation of speeches.

The working of miracles (ενεργηματα δυναμεων) , i.e., the power of producing more extraordinary effects, such as raising the dead cf. Matt 7:22; 11:20 where δύναμις (= dunamis, force, power, whence our word dynamite) is also used in the sense of miracle.

Prophecy, i.e., the gift, not only of foretelling the future, but of so speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost as to instruct, edify and move the faithful by exhortation (1 Cor 14:3).

The discerning of spirits, i.e., the faculty of distinguishing the works of the Holy Ghost from those that come from Satan or from mere human agencies (1 Cor 14:29).

Diverse kinds of tongues, i.e., the gift not only to preach, but especially to pray and speak in strange languages.

Interpretation of speeches, i.e., the power of interpreting those who praised God in strange tongues. The Apostle speaks at length in 1 Cor 14 about these last gifts.

11. But all these things one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as he wilt.

All these gifts that have just been mentioned, so different from one another, are due, not to the merits or sanctity of those who possess them, but to the one Holy Spirit who freely distributes them to whom He wishes, according to the needs of the Church.

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Dec 30: Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Today’s Gospel (Luke 2:36-40)

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 30, 2010

Ver 36. And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity;37. And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.38 And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise to the Lord, and spoke of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

AMBROSE; Simeon had prophesied, a woman united in marriage had prophesied, a virgin had prophesied, it was meet also that a widow should prophesy, that there might lack no sex or condition of life, and therefore it is said, And there was one Anna a prophetess.

THEOPHYL. The Evangelist dwells some time on the account of Anna, mentioning both her father’s tribe, and adding, as it were, many witnesses who knew her father and her tribe.

GREG. NYSS. Or because at that time there were several others who were called by the same name, that there might be a plain way of distinguishing her, he mentions her father, and describes the quality of her parents.

AMBROSE; Now Anna, both from the duties of her widowhood and her manner of life, is found to be such that she is thought worthy to announce the Redeemer of the world. As it follows, She was of a great age, and had lived with her husband, &c.

ORIGEN; For the Holy Spirit dwelt not by chance in her. For the highest blessing, if any can possess it, is the grace of virginity, but if this cannot be, and it chance to a woman to lose her husband, let her remain a widow, which indeed not only after the death of her husband, but even while he is living, she ought to have in her mind, that supposing it should not happen, her will and determination might be crowned by the Lord, and her words should be, “This I vow, and promise, that if a certain condition of this life be mine, (which yet I wish not,) I will do nothing else but remain inviolate and a widow.” Most justly then was this holy woman thought worthy to receive the gift of prophecy, because by long chastity and long fastings she had ascended to this height of virtue, as It follows, Who departed not from the temple with fastings and prayers, &c.

ORIGEN; From which it is plain that she possessed a multitude of other virtues, and mark how she resembles Simeon in his goodness, for they were both in the temple together, anti both counted worthy of prophetic grace, as it follows, And she coming in at this very instant, gave thanks to the Lord.

THEOPHYL. That is, returned thanks for seeing in Israel the Savior of the world, and she confessed of Jesus that He was the Redeemer and the Savior. Hence it follows, And she spoke of him to all, &c.

ORIGEN; But because Anna’s words were nothing remarkable, and of no great note respecting Christ, the Gospel does not give the particulars of what she said, and perhaps for this reason one may suppose that Simeon anticipated her, since he indeed bore the character of the law, (for his name signifies obedience,) but she the character of grace, (which her name is by interpretation,) and Christ came between them. Therefore He let Simeon depart dying with the law, but Anna he sustains living beyond through grace.

THEOPHYL; According to the mystical meaning, Anna signifies the Church, who at present is indeed a widow by the death of her Husband ; the number also of the years of her widowhood marks the time of the Church, at which established in the body, she is separated from the Lord. For seven times twelve make eighty-four, seven indeed referring to the course of this world, which revolves in seven days; but twelve had reference to the perfection of Apostolic teaching, and therefore the Universal Church, or any faithful soul which strives to devote the whole period of its life to the following of Apostolic practice, is said to serve the Lord for eighty-four years. The term also of seven years, during which she lived with her husband, coincides. For through the prerogative of our Lord’s greatness, whereby abiding in the flesh, He taught, the simple number of seven years was taken to express the sign of perfection. Anna also favors the mysteries of the Church, being by interpretation its “grace,” and being both the daughter of Phanuel, who is called “the face of God,” and descended from the tribe of Aser, i.e. the blessed.

Ver  39. And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.40. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.41. Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover.

THEOPHYL; Luke has omitted in this place what he knew to have been sufficiently set forth by Matthew, that the Lord after this, for fear that He should be discovered and put to death by Herod, was carried by His parents into Egypt, and at Herod’s death, having at length returned to Galilee, came to dwell in His own city Nazareth. For the Evangelists individually are wont to omit certain things which they either know to have been, or in the Spirit foresee will be, related by others, so that in the connected chain of their narrative, they seem as it were to have omitted nothing, whereas by examining the writings of another Evangelist, the careful reader may discover the places where the omissions have been. Thus after omitting many things, Luke says, And when they had accomplished all things, &c.

THEOPHYL. Bethlehem was indeed their city, their paternal city, Nazareth the place of their abode.

AUG. Perhaps it may strike you as strange that Matthew should say that His parents went with the young Child into Galilee because they were unwilling to go to Judea for fear of Archelaus, when they seem to have gone into Galilee rather because their city w as Nazareth in Galilee, as Luke in this place explains it. But we must consider, that when the Angel said in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, Rise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel, it was at first understood by Joseph as a command to go into Judea, for so at first sight the land of Israel might have been taken to mean. But when afterwards he finds that Herod’s son Archelaus was king, he was unwilling to be exposed to that danger, seeing the land of Israel might also be understood to include Galilee also as a part of it, for there also the people of Israel dwelt.

GREEK EX. Or again, Luke is here describing the time before the descent to Egypt, for before her purification Joseph had not taken Mary there But before they went down into Egypt, they were not told by God to go to Nazareth but as living more freely in their own country, thither of their own accord they went; for since the going up to Bethlehem was for no other reason but the taxing, when that was accomplished they go down to Nazareth.

THEOPHYL. Now our Lord might have come forth from the womb in the stature of mature age, but this would seem like something imaginary; therefore His growth is gradual, as it follows, And the child grew, and waxed strong.

THEOPHYL; We must observe the distinction of words, that the Lord Jesus Christ in that He w as a child, that is, had put on the condition of human weakness, was daily growing and being strengthened.

ATHAN. But if as some say the flesh was changed into a Divine nature, how did it derive growth? for to attribute growth to an uncreated substance is impious.

CYRIL; Rightly with the A growth in age, St. Luke has united increase in wisdom, as he says, And he was strengthened, (i.e. in spirit.) For in proportion to the measure of bodily growth, the Divine nature developed its own wisdom.

THEOPHYL. For if while yet a little child, He had displayed His wisdom, He would have seemed a miracle, but together with the advance of age He gradually showed Himself, so as to fill the whole world. For not as receiving wisdom is He said to be strengthened in spirit. For that which is most perfect in the beginning, how can that become any more perfect. Hence it follows, Filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was in him.

THEOPHYL; Wisdom truly, for in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, but grace, because it was in great grace given to the man Christ Jesus, that from the time He began to be man He should be perfect man and perfect God. But much rather because He was the word of God, and God needed not to be strengthened, nor was in a state of growth. But while He was yet a little child He had the grace of God, that as in Him all things were wonderful, His childhood also might be wonderful, so as to be filled with the wisdom of God. It follows, And his parents went every year to Jerusalem, at the feast of the Passover.

CHRYS. At the feast of the Hebrews the law commanded men not, only to observe the time, but the place, and so the Lord’s parents wished to celebrate the feast of the Passover only at Jerusalem.

AUG. But it may be asked, how did His parents go up all the years of Christ’s childhood to Jerusalem, if they were prevented from going there by fear of Archelaus? This question might be easily answered, even had some one of the Evangelists mentioned how long Archelaus reigned. For it were possible that on the feast day amid so great a crowd they might secretly come, and soon return again, at the same time that they feared to remain there on other days, so as neither to be wanting in religious duties by neglecting the feast, nor leave themselves open to detection by a constant abode there. But now since all have been silent as to the length of Archelaus’ reign, it is plain that when Luke says, They were accustomed to go up every year to Jerusalem, we are to understand that to have been when Archelaus was no longer feared.

Posted in Bible, Catholic, Christ, Devotional Resources, fathers of the church, liturgy, Notes on Luke's Gospel, Notes on the Lectionary, Quotes, Scripture, St Thomas Aquinas | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Resources for Sunday Mass, Jan 2~Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 29, 2010



More resources may be added to this before Sunday.



Pope John Paul II on Psalm 72. Previously posted.

Bernardin de Piconio on Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6.

My Notes on Matt 2:1-12.

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Matt 2:1-12.

Cornelius a Lapide on Matt 2:1-12.

Franciscan Sisters Bible Study Podcast. Usually posted on Thursday.

Dr Scott Hahn Podcast. Brief, does good job of highlighting themes.

St Martha’s Podcast. Generally examines all the readings in some detail.

Word Sunday:

Catholic Mom. Children’s resource. Printable coloring pages, Mass worksheets, lesson plans, crossword puzzles and word searches based upon the Gospel text.

Lector Notes. Brief historical and theological background, can be printed out and used as a bulletin insert.

Thoughts From the Early Church. Excerpt from a commentary by St Basil.

Gospel Summary with Life Implications. St Vincent’s Archabbey.

Today’s Good News. A meditation on the Gospel.

A Lectio Divina Reading of the Gospel. Meditation, prayer, reflection in the Carmelite tradition.

Sunday Reflections. Fr. Eugene Lobo, S.J.

Bible Study. St Charles Borromeo Parish.

Two Homilies on the Gospel for the Epiphany. From an online book. Use the sites zoom feature (the magnifying glass) to increase text size for easier reading.

The Mystery of the Epiphany. Online Book. Seven discourses on the Epiphany. Use site’s zoom feature (the magnifying glass) to increase text size.

Posted in Audio/Video Lectures, Bible, Catechetical Resources, Catholic, Christ, Devotional Resources, Eucharist, fathers of the church, John Paul II Catechesis, liturgy, Meditations, Notes on Ephesians, Notes on the Gospel of Matthew, Notes on the Lectionary, NOTES ON THE PSALMS, PAPAL COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS, Quotes, Scripture, SERMONS, St Thomas Aquinas | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Dec 29: Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Today’s Gospel (Luke 2:22-35)

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 29, 2010

Ver 22. And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;23. (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;)24. And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.

CYRIL; Next after the circumcision they wait for the time of purification, as it is said, And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were come.

THEOPHYL; If you diligently examine the words of the law, you will find indeed that the mother of God as she is free from all connection with man, so is she exempt from any obligation of the law. For not every woman who brings forth, but she who has received seed and brought forth, is pronounced unclean, and by the ordinances of the law is taught that she must be cleansed, in order to distinguish probably from her who though a virgin has conceived and brought forth. But that we might be loosed from the bonds of the law, as did Christ, so also Mary submitted herself of her own will to the law.

TITUS BOST. Therefore the Evangelist has well observed, that the days of her purification were come according to the law, who since she had conceived of the Holy Spirit, was free from all uncleanness. It follows, They brought him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.

ATHAN. But when was the Lord hid from His Father’s eye, that He should not be seen by Him, or what place is excepted from His dominion, that by remaining there He should be separate from His Father unless brought to Jerusalem and introduced into the temple? But for us perhaps these things were written. For as not to confer grace on Himself was He made man and circumcised in the flesh, but to make us Gods through grace, and that we might be circumcised in the Spirit, so for our sakes is He presented to the Lord, that we also might learn to present ourselves to the Lord.

THEOPHYL; On the thirty-third day after His circumcision He is presented to the Lord, signifying in a mystery that no one but he who is circumcised from his sins is worthy to come into the Lord’s sight, that no one who ho has not severed himself from all human ties can perfectly enter into the joys of the heavenly city. It follows, As it is written in the law of the Lord.

ORIGEN; Where are they who deny that Christ proclaimed in the Gospel the law to be of God, or can it be supposed that the righteous God made His own Son under a hostile law which He Himself had not given? It is written in the law of Moses as follows, Every male which opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.

THEOPHYL; By the words, opening the womb, he signifies the first-born both of man and beast, and each one of which was, according to the commandment, to be called holy to the Lord, and therefore to become the property of the priest, that is, so far that he was to receive a price for every first-born of man, and oblige every unclean animal to be ransomed.

GREG. NYSS. Now this commandment of the law seems to have had its fulfillment in the incarnate God, in a very remarkable and peculiar manner. For He alone, ineffably conceived and incomprehensibly brought forth, opened the virgin’s womb, till then unopened by marriage, and after this birth miraculously retaining the seal of chastity.

AMBROSE; For no union with man disclosed the secrets of the virgin’s womb, but the Holy Spirit infused the immaculate seed into an inviolate womb. He then who sanctified another womb in order that a prophet should be born, He it is who has opened the womb of His own mother, that the Immaculate should come forth. By the words opening the womb, he speaks of birth after the usual manner, not that the sacred abode of the virgin’s womb, which our Lord in entering sanctified, should now be thought by His proceeding forth from it to be deprived of its virginity.

GREG. NYSS. But the offspring of this birth is alone seen to be spiritually male, as contracting no guilt from being born of a woman. Hence He is truly called holy, and therefore Gabriel, as if announcing that this commandment belonged to Him only, said, That Holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called, the Son of God. Now of other first-borns the wisdom of the Gospel has declared that they are called holy from their being offered to God. But the first-born of every creature, That holy thing which is born, &c. the Angel pronounces to be in the nature of its very being holy.

AMBROSE; For among those that are born of a woman, the Lord Jesus alone is in every thing holy, who in the newness of His immaculate birth experienced not the contagion of earthly defilement, but by His Heavenly Majesty dispelled it. For if we follow the letter, how can every male be holy, since it is undoubted that many have been most wicked? But He is holy whom in the figure of a future mystery the pious ordinances of the divine law prefigured, because He alone was to open the hidden womb of the holy virgin Church for the begetting of nations.

CYRIL; Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! He offers victims, Who in each victim is honored equally with the Father. The Truth preserves the figures of the law. He who as God is the Maker of the law, as man has kept the law. Hence it follows, And that they should give a victim as it was ordered in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons.

THEOPHYL; Now this was the victim of the poor. For the Lord commanded in the law that they who were should offer a lamb for a son or a daughter as well as a turtle dove or pigeon; but they who were not able to offer a lamb should give two turtle doves or two young pigeons. Therefore the Lord, though he was rich, deigned to become poor, that by his poverty He might make us partakers of His riches.

CYRIL; But let us see what these offerings mean. The turtle dove is the most vocal of birds, and the pigeon the gentlest. And such was the Savior made unto us; He was endowed with perfect meekness, and like the turtle dove entranced the world, filling His garden with His own melodies. There was killed then either a turtle dove or a pigeon, that by a figure He might be shown forth to us as about to suffer in the flesh for the life of the world.

THEOPHYL; Or the pigeon denotes simplicity, the turtle dove chastity, for the pigeon is a lover of simplicity, and the turtle dove of chastity, so that if by chance she has lost her mate, she heeds not to find another. Rightly then are the pigeon and turtle dove offered as victims to the Lord, because the simple and chaste conversation of the faithful is a sacrifice of righteousness well pleasing to Him.

ATHAN. He ordered two things to be offered, because as man consists of both body and soul, the Lord requires a double return from us, chastity and meekness, not only of the body, but also of the soul. Otherwise, man will be a dissembler and hypocrite, wearing the face of innocence to mask his hidden malice.

THEOPHYL; But while each bird, from its habit of wailing, represents the present sorrows of the saints, in this they differ, that the turtle is solitary, but the pigeon flies about in flocks, and hence the one points to the secret tears of confession, the other to the public assembling of the Church.

THEOPHYL; Or the pigeon which flies in flocks sets forth the busy intercourse of active life. The turtle, which delights in solitariness, tells of the lofty heights of the contemplative life. But because each victim is equally accepted by the Creator, St. Luke has purposely omitted whether the turtles or young pigeons were offered for the Lord, that he might not prefer one mode of life before another, but teach that both ought to be followed.

Ver 25. And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.26. And it was revealed to him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.27. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,28a. Then took he him up in his arms.

AMBROSE; Not only did Angels and Prophets, the shepherds and his parents, bear witness to the birth of the Lord, but the old men and the righteous. As it is said, And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and he was a just man, and one who feared God. For scarcely is righteousness preserved without fear, I mean not that fear which dreads the loss of worldly goods, (which perfect love casts out,) but that holy fear of the Lord which abides for ever, by which the righteous man, the more ardent his love to God, is so much the more careful not to offend Him.

AMBROSE; Well is he called righteous who sought not his own good, but the good of his nation, as it follows, Waiting for the consolation of Israel.

GREG. NYSS. It was not surely worldly happiness that the prudent Simeon was waiting for as the consolation of Israel, but a real happiness, that is, a passing over to the beauty of truth from the shadow of the law. For he had learnt from the sacred oracles that he would see the Lord’s Christ before he should depart out of this present life. Hence it follows, And the Holy Spirit was in him, (by which indeed he was justified,) and he received an answer from the Holy Spirit.

AMBROSE; He desired indeed to be loosed from the chains of bodily infirmity, but he wails to see the promise, for he knew, Happy are those eyes which shall see it.

GREG. Hereby also we learn with what desire the holy men of Israel desired to see the mystery of His incarnation.

THEOPHYL; To see death means to undergo it, and happy will he be to see the death of the flesh who has first been enabled to see with the eyes of his heart the Lord Christ, having his conversation in the heavenly Jerusalem, and frequently entering the doors of God’s temple, that is, following the examples of the saints in whom God dwells as in His temple. By the same grace of the Spirit whereby he foreknew Christ would come, he now acknowledges Him come, as it follows, And he came by the Spirit into the temple.

ORIGEN; If you will touch Jesus and grasp Him in your hands, strive with all your strength to have the Spirit for your guide, and come to the temple of God. For it follows, And when his parents brought in the child Jesus, (i.e. Mary His mother, and Joseph His reputed father,) to do for him after the custom of the law,  then took he him up in his arms.

GREG. NYSS. How blessed was that holy entrance to holy things through which he hastened on to the end of life, blessed those hands which handled the word of life, and the arms which were held out to receive Him!

THEOPHYL; Now the righteous man, according to the law, received the Child Jesus in his arms, that he might signify that the legal righteousness of works under the figure of the hands and arms was to be changed for the lowly indeed but saving grace of Gospel faith The old man received the infant Christ, to convey thereby that this world, now worn out as it were with old age, should return to the childlike innocence of the Christian life.

Ver 28. – and blessed God, and said,29. Lord, now let you your servant depart in peace, according to your word:30. For mine eyes have seen your salvation,31. Which you have prepared before the face of all people;32. A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.

ORIGEN; If we marvel to hear that a woman was healed by touching the hem of a garment, what must we think of Simeon, who received an Infant in his arms, and rejoiced seeing that the little one he carried was He who had come to let loose the captive! Knowing that no one could release him from the chains of the body with the hope of future life, but He whom he held in his arms. Therefore it is said, And he blessed God, saying, Lord, now let you your servant depart.

THEOPHYL. When he says Lord, he confesses that He is the very Lord of both life and death, and so acknowledges the Child whom he held in his arms to be God.

ORIGEN; As it he said, “As long as I held not Christ, I was in prison, and could not escape from my bonds.”

BASIL; If you examine the words of the righteous, you will find that they all sorrow over this world and its mournful delay. Alas me! says David, that my habitation is prolonged.

AMBROSE; Observe then that this just man, confined as it were in the prison house of his earthly frame, is longing to be loosed, that he may again be with Christ. But whoso would be cleansed, let him come into the temple; – into Jerusalem: let him wait for the Lord’s Christ, let him receive in his hands the word of God, and embrace it as it were with the arms of his faith. Then let him depart that he might not see death who has seen life.

GREEK EX. Simeon blessed God also, because the promises made to him had received their true fulfillment. For He was reckoned worthy to see with his eyes, and to carry in his arms the consolation of Israel. And therefore he says, According to your word, i.e. since I have obtained the completion of your promises. And now that I have seen with my eyes what was my desire to see, now let you your servant depart, neither dismayed at the taste of death, nor harassed with doubting thoughts: as he adds, in peace.

GREG. NYSS. For since Christ has destroyed the enemy, which is sin, and has reconciled us to the Father, the removal of saints has been in peace.

ORIGEN; But who departs from this world in peace, but he who is persuaded that was Christ reconciling the world to Himself; who has nothing hostile to God, having derived to himself all peace by good works in himself?

GREEK EX. But it had been twice promised to him that he should not see death before ho should see the Lord’s Christ, and therefore he adds, to show that this promise was fulfilled, For mine eyes have seen your salvation.

GREG. NYSS. Blessed are the eyes, both of your soul and your body. For the one visibly embrace God, but the others not considering those things which are seen, but enlightened by the brightness of the Spirit of the Lord, acknowledge the Word made flesh. For the salvation which you have perceived with your eyes is Jesus Himself, by which name salvation is declared.

CYRIL; But Christ was the mystery which has been revealed in the last times of the world, having been prepared before the foundation of the world. Hence it follows, which you have prepared before the face of all men.

ATHAN. That is to say, the salvation wrought by Christ for the whole world. How then was it said above that he was watching for the consolation of Israel, but because he truly perceived in the spirit that consolation would be to Israel at that time when salvation was prepared for all people.

GREEK EX. Mark the wisdom of the good and venerable old man, who before that he was thought worthy of the blessed vision, was waiting for the consolation of Israel, but when he obtained that which he was looking for, exclaims that he saw the salvation of all people. So enlightened was he by the unspeakable radiance of the Child, that the perceived at a glance things that were to happen a long time after.

THEOPHYL. By these words, Before the face, he signifies that our Lord’s incarnation would be visible to all men. And this salvation he says is to be the light of the Gentiles and the glory of Israel, as it follows, A light to lighten the Gentiles.

ATHAN. For the Gentiles before the coming of Christ were lying in the deepest darkness, being without the knowledge of God.

CYRIL; But Christ coming was made a light to them that sat in darkness, being sore oppressed by the power of the devil but they were called by God the Father to the knowledge of His Son, Who is the true light.

GREG. NYSS. Israel was enlightened though dimly by the law, so he says not that light came to them, but his words are, to be the glory of your people Israel. Calling to mind the ancient history that as of old Moses after speaking with God returned with his face glorious, so they also coming to the divine light of His human nature, casting away their old veil, might be transformed into the same image from glory to glory. For although some of them were disobedient, yet a remnant were saved and came through Christ to glory, of which the Apostles were first-fruits, whose brightness illumines the whole world. For Christ was in a peculiar manner the glory of Israel, because according to the flesh He came forth from Israel, although as God He was over all blessed for ever.

GREG. NYSS, He said therefore, of your people, signifying that not only was He adored by them, but moreover of them was He born according to the flesh.

THEOPHYL; And well is the enlightening of the Gentiles put before the glory of Israel, because when the fullness of the Gentiles shall have come in, then shall Israel be safe.

Ver  33. And Joseph and his mother marveled at those things which were spoken of him.34. And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;35. (Yea, a sword shall pierce through your own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

GREEK EX. The knowledge of supernatural things, as often as it is brought to the recollection, renews the miracle in the mind, and hence it is said, His father and mother marveled at those things which were said of him.

ORIGEN; Both by the angel and the multitude of the heavenly host, by the shepherds also, and Simeon.

THEOPHYL; Joseph is called the father of the Savior, not because he was (as the Photinians say) His real father, but because from regard to the reputation of Mary, all men considered him so.

AUG. He however might be called His father in that light in which, he is rightly regarded as the husband of Mary, that is, not from any carnal connection, but by reason of the very bond of wedlock, a far closer relationship than that of adoption. For that Joseph was not to be called Christ’s father was not, because he had not begotten Him by cohabitation, since in truth he might be a father to one whom he had not begotten from his wife, but had adopted from another.

ORIGEN; But they who look deeper into the matter may say, that since the genealogy is deduced from David to Joseph, therefore lest Joseph should seem to be mentioned for no purpose, as not being the father of the Savior, he was called His father, that the genealogy might maintain sup. its place.

GREEK EX. Having given praise to God, Simeon now turns to bless them that brought the Child, as it follows, And Simeon blessed them. He gave to each a blessing, but his presage of hidden things he imparts only to the mother, in order that in the common blessing He might not deprive Joseph of the likeness of a father, but in what he says to the mother apart from Joseph he might proclaim her to be the true mother.

AMBROSE; Behold what abundant grace is extended to all men by the birth of the Lord, and how prophecy is withheld from the unbelievers, not from the righteous. Simeon also prophesies that Christ Jesus has come for the fall and rising again of many.

ORIGEN; They who explain this simply, may say that He came for the fall of unbelievers, and the rising again of believers.

CHRYS. As the light though it may annoy weak eyes, is still light; in like manner the Savior endures, though many fall away, for His office is not to destroy; but their way is madness. Wherefore not only by the salvation of the good but by the scattering of the wicked, is His power shown. For the sun the brighter it shines, is the more trying to the weak sight.

GREG. NYSS. Mark the nice distinction here observed. Salvation is said to be prepared before the face of all people, but the falling and raising is of many; for the Divine purpose was the salvation and sanctification of every one whereas the falling and lifting up stands in the will of many believers and unbelievers. But that those who were lying in unbelief should be raised up again is not unreasonable

ORIGEN; The careful interpreter will say, that no one falls who was not before standing. Tell me then, who were they who stood, for whose fall Christ came?

GREG. NYSS. But by this he signifies a fall to the very lowest, as if the punishment before the mystery of the incarnation, fell far short of that after the giving and preaching of the Gospel dispensation And those spoken of are chiefly of Israel, who must of necessity forfeit their ancient privileges, and pay a heavier penalty than any other nation, because they were so unwilling to receive Him Who had long been prophesied among them, had been worshipped, and had come forth from them. In a most especial manner then he threatens them with not only a fall from spiritual freedom, but also the destruction of their city, and of those who dwelt among them. But a resurrection is promised to believers, partly indeed as subject to the law, and about to be delivered from its bondage, but partly as buried together with Christ, and rising with Him.

GREG. NYSS. Now from these words, you may perceive through the agreement of men’s minds on the word of prophecy, that one and the same God and lawgiver has spoken both in the Prophets and the New Testament. For the language of prophecy declared that there shall be a stone of falling, and a rock of offense, that they who believe on Him should not be confounded. The fall therefore is to them who are offended with the meanness of His coming in the flesh; the rising again to those who acknowledge the steadfastness of the Divine purpose.

ORIGEN; There is also a deeper meaning aimed against those who raise their voices against their Creator, saying, Behold the God of the Law and the Prophets of what sort He is! He says, I kill, and I make alive. If God then is a bloody judge and a cruel master, it is most plain that Jesus is His Son, since the same things here are written of Him, namely, that He comes for the fall and rising again of many.

AMBROSE; That is, to distinguish the merits of the just and the unjust, and according to the quality of our deeds, as a true and just Judge, to decree punishment or rewards.

ORIGEN; But we must take care lest by chance the Savior should not come to some equally for the fall and rising again; for when I stood in sin, it was first good for me to fall, and die to sin. Lastly, Prophets and Saints when they were designing some great thing, used to fall on their faces, that by their fall their sins should be the more fully blotted out. This it is that the Savior first grants to you. You were a sinner, let that which is sin fall in you, that you may thence rise again, and say, If we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him.

CHRYS. The resurrection is a new life and conversation. For when the sensual man becomes chaste, the covetous merciful, the cruel man gentle, a resurrection takes place. Sin being dead, righteousness rises again. It follows, And for a sign which shall be spoken against.

BASIL; The sign which is spoken against is called in Scripture, the cross. For Moses, it says, made a brazen serpent, and placed it for a sign.

GREG. NYSS. He has joined together honor and dishonor. For to us Christians this sign is a token of honor, but it is a sign of contradiction, inasmuch by some indeed it is received as absurd and monstrous, by others with the greatest veneration. Or perhaps Christ Himself is termed a sign, as having a supernatural existence, and as the author of signs.

BASIL; For a sign betokens something marvelous and mysterious, which is seen indeed by the simple minded.

ORIGEN; But all the things which history relates of Christ are spoken against, not that those who believe on Him speak against Him, (for we know that all the things which are written of Him are true,) but that every thing which has been written of Him is with the unbelievers a sign which is spoken against.

GREG. NYSS. Though these things are said of the Son, yet they have reference also to His mother, who takes each thing to herself, whether it be of danger or glory. He announces to her not only her prosperity, but her sorrows; for it follows, And a sword shall pierce through your own heart.

THEOPHYL; No history tells us that Mary departed this life by being slain with the sword, therefore since not the soul but the body is killed with iron, we are left to understand that sword which is mentioned, And a sword in their lips, that is, grief because of our Lord’s passion passed through her soul, who although she saw Christ the very Son of God die a voluntary death, and doubted not that He who was begotten of her flesh would overcome death, could not without grief see Him crucified.

AMBROSE; Or it shows the wisdom of Mary, that she was not ignorant of the heavenly Majesty For the word of God is living and strong, and sharper than the sharpest sword

AUG. Or by this is signified that Mary also, through whom was performed the mystery of the incarnation, looked with doubt and astonishment at the death of her Lord, seeing the Son of God so humbled as to come down even to death. And as a sword passing close by a man causes fear, though it does not strike him; so doubt also causes sorrow, yet does not kill; for it is not fastened to the mind, but passes through it as through a shadow.

GREG. NYSS. But it is not meant that she alone was concerned in that passion, for it is added, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. The word that marks the non event; it is not used causatively; for when all these events took place, there followed the discovery of many men’s intentions. For some confessed God on the cross, others even then ceased not from their blasphemies and revilings. Or this was said, meaning that at the time of the passion the thoughts of men’s hearts should be laid open, and be corrected by the resurrection. For doubts are quickly superseded by certainty. Or perhaps by revealing may be meant, the enlightening of the thoughts, as it is often used in Scripture.

THEOPHYL; But now even down to the close of the present time, the sword of the severest tribulation ceases not to go through the soul of the Church, when with bitter sorrow she experiences the evil speaking against the sign of faith, when hearing the word of God that many are raised with Christ, she finds still more falling from the faith, when at the revealing of the thoughts of many hearts, in which the good seed of the Gospel has been sown, she beholds the tares of vice overshooting it, spreading beyond it, or growing alone.

ORIGEN; But the evil thoughts of men were revealed, that He Who died for us might slay them; for while they were hidden, it was impossible to utterly destroy them. Hence also when we have sinned we ought to say, Mine iniquity have I not hid. For if we make known our sins not only to God, but to whoever can heal our wounds, our sins will be blotted out.

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Bernardin de Piconio on Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6 for the Solemnity of the Epiphany (Jan 2)

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 28, 2010

Note: this post includes commentary on 3:1-6.

1. For this thing’s sake I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles.

For this thing’s sake, because you are, and in order that you may remain, fellow-citizens of the Saints, and the household and temple of God (Eph 2:19-22).  I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ. The article is prefixed to prisoner in the Greek. The prisoner of whom you have so often heard,
for the captivity of the Apostle was a great political event, well known throughout the Roman empire. I Paul, who have been chosen by Jesus Christ to carry his name before nations and kings. Act 9:15. It was the indignation
and anger of the Jews at his assiduous and successful accomplishment of this mission, which occasioned his imprisomnent, as appears from the narrative in the Acts of the Apostles, 20-28, and accordingly he describes himself as the prisoner, literally the bound, of Jesus Christ, for you Gentiles. It will be observed that St. Paul is not at all ashamed of his imprisonment, or of its cause, but glories in both as a high honour and distinction. This imprisonment was either that of two years at Rome, described Acts 28:30, which is most probable; or that which took place two years later, and ended in the martyrdom of the Apostle, June 29, A.D. 67.

2. If indeed you have heard the dispensation of the grace of God, which was given me towards you.

You will recognize that I am a prisoner on your account, if, which is most probable, you have heard of the Apostolic mission which God has entrusted to me, towards the Gentiles.  St. Paul had resided and taught three years
at Ephesus, but the Saints never, unless absolutely compelled, speak of God’s graces shown to themselves, and it was possible that some of the Ephesians, who had been converted since the visit of the Apostle to their city, might not be sufficiently aware of his claims on their attention. He calls his apostolate the dispensation, or economy, of the grace of God. Economy means the
prudent management of domestic affairs, or sometimes of the administration of the government of a state. Here it is God’s prudent provision for the extension of the Gospel and the welfare of the Church. Every apostolate, prelacy, or charge of preaching is a grace of God, given gratuitously for the welfare and advantage of others. It should therefore not be sought for personal reasons, or from the favour of man, or for repose or pleasure; but only for labour.

3. That by revelation the mystery was made known to me, as I have briefly written above.

You have heard that the mystery was made known to me by divine revelation. The Vulgate here uses the word sacramentum, and in the next verse mysterium, for the Greek term, which is the word last named. What the
mystery is, he explains in the following verses. Here he states that God had directly revealed it to him, as is briefly recorded in the former chapters of this Epistle, especially in Eph 1:9.

4. So that you are able, when }ou read, to understand my wisdom in the mystery of Christ.

When you read what I have already said, and what I am about to say, you will at once perceive the source from which my information is drawn. The Greek has my intelligence, Theophylact, my knowledge. St. Paul does not always meticulously distinguish between prudence, wisdom, intelligence, and science.

5. Which in other generations was not known to the sons of men, as now it is revealed to his holy Apostles and Prophets in the Spirit.

The secret was absolutely unknown, in former generations, to the greater part of the nations of the earth. Neither was it known to any one of those nations, or even to their Prophets, with the same clearness and certainty with which it has now been revealed by the Holy Spirit to the holy Apostles and Prophets of the new law. The vocation of the Gentiles is, indeed, mentioned not obscurely by Isaias and other Prophets, but still there was silence as to many circumstances not then fully revealed, as, for instance, that the Gentiles were to be admitted without becoming; Jewish proselytes, without circumcision and obedience to the precepts of Moses. And to many nations the writings of these Prophets were wholly unknown. The truth was only revealed in its fulness to the Apostles and Prophets of the Christian Church. Of these Prophets there were many in the Apostolic age, as is evident from the writings of St. Paul, and particularly his first Epistle to the Corinthians.

6. That the nations are coheirs, and united in one body, and fellow participators of his promise, in Christ Jesus, through the Gospel.

The Gentiles, without becoming Jewish proselytes, are heirs with the Jews of God’s heavenly kingdom, members of the holy Catholic Church, which is the mystical body of Christ, and partakers of the promised benediction of all nations, which was announced of old to the patriarch Abraham. Or else, of the Holy Spirit, which God had promised to pour forth upon mankind. And this inheritance, with all its glorious privileges in the present, and anticipations in the future, they obtain by faith in the Gospel of Christ. Those who listen to the teaching of the Apostles, have, therefore, a deeper insight into the mysteries of God, than was communicated even to the Prophets of the Old Testament.

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Cornelius a Lapide on Matt 2:1-12 for the Solemnity of the Epiphany

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 28, 2010

Mat 2:1  When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of king Herod, behold, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem,
Mat 2:2  Saying: Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and are come to adore him.

2:1a.  When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda.  It is better to read here in the Greek in Bethlehem-Juda. Juda means the tribe of Judah, to which, after the schism of the ten tribes, who made a king of their own, Jeroboam, the tribe of Benjamin adhered. And these two formed the kingdom of Judah. S. Matthew adds the word Judah to distinguish the town from another Bethlehem, in the tribe of Zebulon, in Galilee. (See Joshua 19:15) So S. Jerome.

2:1b.  Herod. This was Herod I., the son of Antipater, surnamed the Great, and of Ascalon, and an Idumæan by race, whom the Roman Senate, on the recommendation of Antony, created the first king of Judæa, after its conquest. (See Josephus, lib. 14, Ant. c. 18.)

Matthew makes mention of Herod, to intimate that the sceptre was now transferred from Judah to an alien, for such was Herod, and therefore that Messiah or Christ was now come. For the patriarch Jacob had foretold that this should be the sign of His advent. (Gen 49:10.) So S. Chrysostom, and Theophylact. Herod, being aware of this prophecy, applied the oracle to himself in order to strengthen his kingdom. He wished to be accounted the Messiah; and therefore he built a most magnificent temple for the Jews, and dedicated it on the anniversary of the day when he commenced his reign. (See Josephus, lib. 15, Ant. c. 14, and lib. 20, c. 8.)

Herod Antipas, who beheaded John the Baptist, was the son of this Herod the Great. He also it was who clothed our Lord in His Passion with a white robe, and mocked Him. And the grandson of Herod the Great, by his son Aristobulus, was Herod Agrippa, who killed James the brother of John, and who was smitten by an angel and died. And the son of this Agrippa was Herod Agrippa the younger, before whom Paul the prisoner pleaded. (Acts 25:23, &C.)

Salianus, Scaliger, and others, think that Christ was born in the thirty-sixth, or last year but one, of Herod’s reign. For he reigned thirty-six years. (See on ver. 16.) But Baronius thinks that Christ was born in the twentieth year of Herod, Abul. in the thirtieth, Bede in the thirty-first, Eusebius in the thirty-second, Sulpitius Severus in the thirty-third, Torinellus in the thirty-fourth, and others give other dates, so that in a matter of such uncertainty nothing can be exactly determined.

2: c-2:2a.  Behold, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, Saying: Where is he that is born king of the Jews? The Greek term for wise men is Magi, a common word among the Persians, whence the Persian translation of S. Matthew has here Magusan, Magi, or wise men, or astrologers, or philosophers. The word seems to be derived from the Hebrew as Genebrard, on Ps. i., thinks, from the root haga to meditate, whence Magim, those who meditate. “For meditation is the key of wisdom,” as Ptolemy says in the procemium of Almagestus. Hence those who are given to meditation either are, or else become, wise. The Chaldees, following the Hebrews, were accustomed to call their philosophers Magi, according to S. Jerome in Dan. c. 2. Hence the Arabians, Syrians, Persians, Ethiopians, and other Orientals, whose languages are either derived from, or akin to Hebrew, call their wise men and astrologers, Magi, according to Pliny, lib. 25. C. 2, and Tertull., contra Judæos.

Came to Jerusalem. 1. Because they thought that the King of the Jews must be sought for in the royal city; so S. Leo says. 2. Because the chief priests, and scribes, and doctors of the law, were at Jerusalem, who, from the prophetic oracles, would be likely to know where and when Christ should be born, as in fact they did inform the wise men that He should be born at Bethlehem. For prudently the Magi, although they had the star, wished to consult also the living interpreters of God’s will. And thus it was that the star for a time withdrew itself, as though to compel the wise men to approach the Scribes. For it is God’s will that men should be taught by men, and by doctors appointed by Himself, the way of salvation.

From the east, Gr. α̉πό α̉νατολών, i.e., from eastern parts, as though these Magi came from several regions or provinces of the east.

You ask from what country the Magi came?

1. Clemens Alex., S. Chrysostom, Cyril Alex., and S. Leo, cited by Baronius, think that they came from Persia. But the distance would seem too great. For Persia is 300 leagues from Judæa, which the Magi would scarcely traverse in thirteen days. It is true that with dromedaries, which can travel forty leagues in a day, the journey might be accomplished post-haste in that time; but those kings, with their luxuries and their litters, were not travellers post-haste, and could not perform the distance in any such time. And the more common opinion of the Fathers and Doctors is that the Magi came to Bethlehem on the thirteenth day from the first appearance of the star and the birth of Christ, and there adored Him, and that this is the force of the word lo! Also because they found Christ still remaining with His parents, among strangers at Bethlehem, and they, a little after, returned with Christ to their own city, Nazareth. This is the opinion of S. Augustine, Serm. I, 2, 3, de Epiphan., and S. Leo, de eadem. Whence also the Church commemorates this mystery on the thirteenth day after Christmas.

2. Others with more probability think that the Magi were Chaldæans, both because the Chaldæans were addicted to astrology; and these Magi recognized Christ by the teaching of a star, and because they themselves were followers of Abraham, who was called by God out of Chaldæa into Judæa. So think S. Jerome, Chalcidius the Platonic, and Jansenius.

3. Abul. (in Numb. c. 24), and the Jesuit Sebast. Barradi, think that the Magi were Mesopotamians, because Balaam, who predicted this star was from thence.

4. Navarrus (Tractat. de Orat. c. 21) asserts that he received from Jerome Osorius, Bishop of Algarbii, and a celebrated writer, that it is found in the very ancient records of Calecut, that the king of Calecut was one of the Magi, or certainly a chief associate (socium) of the three wise men. It is credible that this may have afterwards been the case when the Magi preached with S. Thomas the Apostle, in that place. See Osorius, lib. I, on the actions of Emmanuel, king of Portugal, where he asserts from Indian traditions that the king of Cranganore, which is not very far from Calecut, was one of the Magi: for that the two other Magi, the Persian, and the Caramanian, as they were hastening to Christ with the star for their guide, associated with themselves this Indian king; and that hence he was called Chereperimale, or one of three. He adds that he was nearly black, and like an Ethiopian. Maffei has a similar account, lib. 2, Hist. Ind., where he calls this prince Pirimal, and asserts that he was king of Calanum, and that the star was his guide to Christ by the admonition of the Indian Sibyl.

5. And most probably, these Magi were eastern Arabians. Whence Tacitus (lib. 5, Histor.) says that Judæa was bounded by Arabia on the east.

This is proved, 1. Because it was the opinion of S. Justin, Tertullian, Cyprian, Epiphanius, and others, whom Baronius cites. 2. Because this answers best to the prophecy of Isaiah, who foretells (Isa 60:6) that the Sabeans, Midian, and Ephah, who are all Arabians, should come to Christ with presents. And it would appear that the Church has thus understood Isaiah’s prophecy, since she so frequently recites it in the office for the Epiphany. This is likewise plainly in accordance with the Psalmist: “The kings of Tharsis and of the islands shall offer presents, the kings of the Arabians and of Saba shall bring gifts.” (Ps 72:10.) 3. Because Arabia is nearer to Judæa than Chaldæa, India, Persia, &c. 4. Because the Queen of Sheba was a type of these kings. And she came with similar presents from Arabia to Solomon, a type of Christ. And although this queen be said to have come from Ethiopia, yet this Ethiopia was not Abyssinia, but a part of Arabia. For she came from eastern, not western Ethiopia, as S. Anselm says. Arabia includes the Red Sea and the adjacent regions, especially the neighbouring part of eastern Ethiopia. So the Madianites are called Ethiopians because of their black, or dark, colour. Whence Moses wife is called an Ethiopian woman. (Num 12:1) Also the Red Sea is called the Arabian, not the Ethiopian Gulf, because Arabia stretches itself even beyond it. Hence again it is probable that one or more of the Magi were black, both because this is the universal opinion, as painters thus depict the Adoration of the Wise Men, and because the Queen of Sheba is said to come from Ethiopia: “Before him the Ethiopians shall fall down.” (Psa 72:9, Vulg.) And the Magi are called “kings of Tharsis, i.e., of the Red Sea.” 5. It is plain, from the gifts which the Magi offered to Christ: Arabia abounds in gold, frankincense, and myrrh. This is why it is called Felix, the Happy. “Nowhere is frankincense,” says Pliny, “except in Arabia.” And Virgil, “The frankincense tree belongs to the Sabeans alone;” and (2 Geor.), “India sends ivory, the unwarlike Sabeans their frankincense.” In this Arabia there is also abundance of myrrh and spices, so that they use none other than such wood for kindling fires. (Pliny, lib. 12, C. 17.) In the same country there is so great a quantity of gold that their furniture is resplendent with it; and in Saba of Ethiopia even the prisoners’ chains are made of it. (See Mela, lib. 3, c. 10.) 6. Because the prophecy of Balaam, concerning the star of these wise men, was uttered in the land of Moab, which was a part of Arabia. See S. Jerome, in Locis Hebraicis. See also Pineda, lib. 5, de rebus Salomonis, who shows that the Queen of Sheba came to Solomon, and the three Magi to Christ, from Saba, in Arabia Felix, a district inhabited by the Homeritae, amongst whom the Christian religion afterwards marvellously flourished under Ely Gaan, who received it from the kings, his ancestors, who were probably these Magi.

The common opinion of the faithful is that these Magi were kings, that is, petty kings, or princes. And this belief, let Calvin laugh as he may, is fully handed down by SS. Cyprian, Basil, Chrysostom, Jerome, Hilary, by Tertullian, Isidore, Bede, Idacius, who are all cited by Maldonatus and Baronius. S. Matthew, however, does not call them kings, but Magi, because it was the part of these last to recognize Christ by the star. Hence also in Ps. lxxi., they are called “kings of Tharsis,” and “kings of the Arabians and of Saba.” Again, that they were three in number, from the three species of gifts which they offered—gold, frankincense, and myrrh,—is taught by Augustine, Serm. 29 & 33, de Tempore. The pious tradition of the faithful favours the same opinion. And the office of the Church for the Epiphany implies it.

The author of the imperfect work upon S. Matthew in S. Chrysostom asserts that after the resurrection of Christ, S. Thomas the Apostle came to the country of these Magi, and baptized them, and associated them with him in preaching the Gospel.

Venerable Bede, to whom we may well give credit, in his Collectanea, not far from the beginning, names and describes them as follows:—The first is said to have been called Melchior, an old man, grey-headed, with flowing beard and locks; he presented gold to the Lord the King. The second was Gaspar, young, beardless, and ruddy; he with frankincense, as an oblation worthy of God, honoured God. The third was Fuscus: he had a full beard, and by means of myrrh signified that the Son of Man should die.

Lastly, some say that these Magi, as they preached Christ, were slain by the idolaters, and gained the crown of martyrdom; and offered themselves, as it were, an holocaust of gold and frankincense and myrrh to Christ. Amongst these, L. Dexter, in his Chronicle, under A.D. 70, says: “In Arabia Felix, in the city of Sessania, took place the martyrdom of the three Royal Magi, Gaspar, Balthazar, Melchior.” From Sessania their sacred remains were translated to Constantinople, from thence to Milan, and from Milan to Cologne, where they still remain, and are greatly venerated, and where I myself have often honoured them.

Where is he that is born king of the Jews? Observe here the faith and greatness of soul of the Magi, who in a royal city seek another King rather than the reigning monarch; nor fear the wrath and power of Herod, because they trusted in God.

The King of the Jews, put antonomastically for Messiah, or Christ. Wherefore when Herod heard this question, he gathered the Scribes together, and asked them where Christ should be born? For the star was the index of Christ; whence it is subjoined, “For we have seen His star.” This is what is meant—”The King of the Jews, yea, of heaven, has been born; for a star of the heavens has made Him known to us. It has called us: it has invited all to visit Him, to honour and adore Him. For in this new star which has been put forth in heaven, heaven manifests her admiration of so great a King, even the Word incarnate.” When Christ is born, the heaven is astonished, the angels are amazed, and, wondering at the love of God for man, they sing with jubilation, “Glory to God in the highest,” that so they may arouse senseless man to wonder at and venerate so great condescension. So from a like cause, at the passion of Christ, the sun and the moon were darkened, the earth quaked, rocks were rent, graves were opened, to show that their God was dying, and to manifest their sympathy. This is what Haggai foretold (Hag 2:7)—”Yet a little while, and I will move the heaven and the earth: and the desire of all nations shall come.” At this also Habakkuk was amazed when he said (Hab 3:2), “I considered thy works, and was afraid. In the midst of the two living creatures thou shalt be known” (LXX)—that is to say, in the manger, by the shepherds and the Magi. Wherefore Francis Mayro, in a sermon on the Nativity, teaches that the incarnation of the Word was a greater and more stupendous work of God than the creation of the world. For man is more distant from God than he is from nothing. For man is finite, God is infinite, and, by the incarnation, God is united to man; but, in creation, man is united to nothing—that is, to a body created out of nothing.

Lastly, from this star, that impostor who, a little after Christ, under the Emperor Adrian, feigned himself to be Messiah, gave himself a name. He excited the Jews to rebel against the Romans, and became their leader, calling himself Barchochebas, i.e., the Son of the Star, saying “that he, for their salvation, had glided down from heaven, as a great star, to bring the help of light to diseased mortals, who were condemned to long darkness.” Thus Eusebius, Hist. 4. 6. But this star soon set, for he and all his followers were cut off by the Romans.

Appropriately did a star lead the three royal Magi to Christ, the King of kings, for a star has the appearance of a kingly crown, with its resplendent rays; and therefore a star is an emblem of a king and a kingdom. Whence God promises to Abraham (Gen 15:5), saying, “Look up to heaven, and number the stars, if thou canst. And he said to him: so shall thy seed be.” Here, amongst other things, He designated the kings of Israel and Judah, who should spring from Abraham, but especially Christ the King. Hence, unfolding the same thing, God says to Abraham explicitly, “Kings shall come out of thee.” (Gen 17:6.) Wherefore S. Fulgentius (Serm. on the Epiph. 5) says—”Who is that King of the Jews? At once poor and rich, lowly and exalted, who is carried as a babe, and worshipped as a God: a babe in a manger, incomprehensible in heaven, sordid in rags, priceless among the stars.”

Hence has been taken that ancient military order of the kings and princes of France, who bore the figure of a star on their vestments, with this motto—”The stars show the way to the kings.” This order was afterwards changed, by Louis XI. of France, into the Order of S. Michael. The Order of the Star was first instituted by Robert of France, about A.D. 1022 (in honour of the Blessed Virgin, to whom that monarch was greatly devoted), because she is the very Star of the sea, imploring that she, like a guiding-star, might be the leader of his kingdom, and especially of the nobles. Wherefore he elected thirty knights of the chief nobility of France to be of this Order, and gave to each a golden collar, with a star pendant on the breast. (See the “Annals of Paris,” by Jacob Broneius.)

2:2b For we have seen his star in the East, and are come to adore him.  —namely, the star of the King of the Jews, i.e., Christ, or the Messiah, newly born. From hence it would appear that this star extended its rays with greater length and brightness in the direction of Judæa, in the same manner that comets extend their tails towards such and such a country; so that the Magi might understand that they were to go in the direction of Judæa, where Messiah was to be born. This seems to be the force of the word for in this place. Wisely does S. Gregory say (Hom. 10)—”All the elements testified that their Creator was come. The heavens acknowledged Him to be God, and so they sent the star. The sea knew Him, for it suffered Him to walk upon it. The earth knew Him, for, when He died, it trembled. The sun knew Him, for he hid his rays. The rocks and stones knew Him, for they were rent asunder. Hell knew Him, for it gave up the dead that were in it. And yet Him, whom all the senseless elements felt to be the Lord, the hearts of the unbelieving Jews even yet acknowledge not by any means to be God, and, harder than the flint-stones, they will not be broken by repentance.”

You will ask how the Magi, when they saw the star, knew by it that Christ was born?

In the first place, the Priscillianists, as S. Gregory (Hom. 10) testifies, said that this star was the Fate of Christ; that as fate determines things future, so this star signified and determined Christ. But this opinion S. Gregory rightly refutes, saying, “It was not the Child who hasted to the star, but the star to the Child. So may it be said, that the star was not the fate of the Child, but the fate of the star was the Child who appeared.” S. Augustine also (lib. 5, de Civitat. Dei, c. 1, &c.) confutes the astrologers, who say that the stars assign their fates to every one.

At this point Lapide engages in a refutation of astrology which I’ve chosen not to reproduce due to the length of this post.

A second opinion is that of the Imperfect Author. This star, he says, was distinguished by the figure of a boy bearing a cross, because the light of faith manifested the Incarnation and Cross of Christ. But this is said without foundation. It is not related in any history, except that of the Sethiani, of whom presently.

I say, therefore, that the Magi knew Christ was born by the token of a star. 1. Because Balaam had prophesied of it (Num 24:17), “A Star shall rise out of Jacob.” But the Magi were the posterity, or successors of Balaam. The meaning therefore of “Where is he who is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star,” is, we seek Him whom we all have hitherto expected to be designated by a star; and now, since we have seen the star, we believe that He has been born. There is, moreover, this oracle of the Erythræan Sibyl extant (lib. 8, Sibyl. orac.): “The Magi worshipped the Star, recent and divine; and when they followed the commands of God, an infant was shown to them in a manger.”

That the Magi knew that this star was the harbinger of Christ from Balaam and the Sibyl, is the opinion of S. Basil, S. Jerome, Origen, S. Leo, Eusebius, Prosper, S. Cyprian, Procopius, and others, whom I have cited on Num 24:17. Whence Suetonius, in Vespas., and Cicero, lib. 2, de Divinat., and Orosius, lib. 6, c. 6, say that it was then a general belief that a King would come forth from Judæa who would have universal dominion. This the heathen falsely applied to Vespasian. Chalcidius, who was a heathen and Platonic philosopher, commenting upon the Timæus of Plato, thus writes: “There is another very sacred and venerable history,” meaning the Gospel of S. Matthew, “which tells of the rising of a certain star, not one denouncing disease and death, but declaring the descent of a God to be worshipped, for the sake of converse with man and mortal concerns. When certain wise Chaldæans, in a journey by night, had seen this star, and had well considered the circumstance, they are said to have searched for the God newly born, and, when they had found the august Child, they worshipped Him, and presented gifts suitable for so great a Deity.” The author of the Imperfect Homily, upon this passage of S. Matthew, adds that the successors of Balaam, after his prophecy concerning the star, deputed some persons, in each generation, to watch the heavens, who might observe the rising of this star, on the mountain which is called Victorialis; and at length, when these Magi were watching for its appearance, “it came,” he says, “upon that mountain Victorialis, descending, as it were, in the form of a little child, and upon him the likeness of a cross. And it spoke with them and taught them, and told them to go into Judæa. And as they went, the star went before them for the space of two years. And they wanted neither food nor drink. But the rest of all the things which were done by them is compendiously related in the Gospel.” These things, however, are of doubtful credit, and are taken from the apocryphal books of the Sethiani, as the writer acknowledges.

2. More probably, they knew by a divine instinct and revelation; for the Magi were endowed with a hidden celestial afflatus. “This they heard,” says S. Augustine (Serm. 2 de Epiph.), “telling them in the language of heaven, as it were, that Christ was born in Judaea. Thus they followed the star on to Bethlehem and the cradle of Christ.” For, as S. Leo says (Serm. 4 de Epiph.), “God, who manifested the sign of the star, gave understanding to those who beheld it: for He made it to be understood and inquired after, and, being sought after, He presented Himself to be found.”

The brightness and majesty of the star were so great that the Magi understood that something divine was portended, even that God, as the Holy Spirit suggested to them, had become incarnate.

In fine, the Divine countenance of the Child Christ shed forth such a ray of heavenly light as illuminated the eyes, but still more the minds, of the Magi, so that they perceived that that Infant was not a mere man, but true God; for, as S. Jerome says, on the ninth chapter of Matthew, “The splendour and the majesty of the hidden Divinity, which shone even in His human face, were able at the first glance to attract those who beheld Him.”

You will ask, secondly, of what kind, and how great was this star? Was it of the same nature as the rest of the stars, or was it peculiar and diverse from others? First, the writer concerning the marvels of Scripture (lib. 3. c. 40, as extant in tom. 3 of S. Augustine’s Works), thinks that this star was the Holy Ghost, who, like unto a dove, descended upon Christ, and, by means of a star, guided the Magi. 2. Origen, Theophylact, S. Chrysostom, and Maldonatus think that this star was an angel, because, indeed, an angel was the mover, and, as it were, the charioteer of the star. 3. Others think that it was a real and new star, similar to the one which appeared in the Constellation of Cassiopeia, A.D. 1572. 4. Others think that it was a comet. But I reply that it was a new and unknown star, entirely different from other stars, and superior to them in nine prerogatives, and, as one may say, portents. It was formed by the angels for this purpose, that it might lead the Magi to admire it, that they might feel assured that it presaged something new and divine.

1. This star surpassed all others as to its creation or production. For they were produced in the fourth day of the Creation, but this was produced upon the very night of Christ’s nativity. It was therefore a new star, and was never seen either before or after this time. So S. Augustine, lib. 2, contra Faustum, c. 5.

2. In its material: for in other stars this is celestial, but in this it was aerial. For the angels framed it of condensed air, and infused brightness into it.

3. In place: for other stars are in the firmament; this was in the atmosphere. It went before the Magi in their journey from Arabia to Judæa.

4. In motion: other stars move in circles; but this went straight forward. For it moved in a direct line from east to west.

5. In time: other stars only shine by night; for the sun’s light obscures them during the day. But this was as bright by day, during the shining of the sun, as it was by night.

6. In duration: for other stars always shine; this was temporary, for it continued only during the period of the wise men’s journey, and afterwards vanished.

7. In size: for the other stars are greater than the earth and the moon, but this was less than either. This, however, appeared greater because it was nearer the earth; just as the moon appears larger than the fixed stars, because it is nearer to us, although it is in reality far less.

8. In being inconstant: for this star sometimes hid itself, as at Jerusalem; at other times it was visible, and a guide of their journey. ‘When the Magi went forward, it went forward; when they rested, it rested. At length it stood over the house where the Child was. And then, as though its work were accomplished in Christ’s Epiphany, it vanished. The other stars have no such property.

9. In splendour: in which it surpassed all the other stars. Whence S. Ignatius, who lived a little after Christ, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, writes thus: “The star shone so as to surpass in brightness all that were before it. For its light was indescribable; and struck with amazement all who beheld it. For all the rest of the stars, together with the sun and moon, were a kind of chorus of audience for that star, for it surpassed them all in splendour.” Prudentius in his hymn for the Epiphany says, “That star which surpasses the sun’s orb in beauty and radiance.” S. Chrysostom says the same thing. Whence S. Leo (Serm. 1 de Epiph.) says, “A new star appeared in the eastern parts to the three Magi. It was brighter and more beautiful than all the other stars. It attracted to it the eye and the mind of those who beheld it, so that it was immediately perceived that this strange sight was not without a purpose.”

This star was a new meteor formed by the angels from the atmosphere, and filled with an immense light, and moved by an angel, like the pillar of fire and cloud, which guided the Hebrews through the desert to the promised land. So S. Chrysostom, Fulgentius, Basil, and others. Indeed, that pillar was a type of this star. Truly does S. Chrysostom say (Hom. 16 ex veriis in Matth. loc.) “Thou, O star, by thy advent calledst the Magi from the east, and sentest them back to preach the gospel in their own land.”

Furthermore, in the books passing under the name of Seth, the son of Adam, there are various things related of the Magi, and of the star in the figure of a child carrying a cross, &c., which seem to have been fabricated by the Sethianist heretics. (See Epiphanius, Hæres. 26 & 39.)

Also Gregory of Tours, says Haymo, relates, that this star fell into a well, where it may be even now seen, but only by virgins; and that once three men came to behold it, and that only one of them, who was a virgin, could see it. But such things, says S. Anselm, are fables and trifles.

Allegorically, Christ is “the bright and morning star.” (Rev 22:16.) Whence S. Ambrose saith, “Christ is the star: for a Star shall rise out of Jacob, and a man come forth of Israel.” (Vulg.) In fine, where Christ is, there is the star. For He is the bright and morning star: therefore doth He make Himself known by His own light.

Again, the star of the sea, that is, of this storm-tossed world, who shows us thereby the way, and goes before us to the harbour of safety, is the Blessed Virgin, whence her name Mary. The Hebrew Mariam means teacher, or mistress, or guide of the sea. “Behold the star, invoke Mary,” says S. Bernard. Hence, also, the Church invokes her, saying, “Hail, star of the sea, bounteous Mother of God.”

Tropologically, the star is, 1. The faith of a believer. 2. Prudence. 3. Precepts. 4. Evangelical counsels, especially obedience to a superior. 5. Holy inspirations infused into the mind by God, whereby He calls the soul to some action, in a more perfect state, as, for example, virginity, or martyrdom. God, let us say, calls thee to sanctity and heroic virtue, to a state of perfection; He shows thee a star to go before thee on the road to heaven. Gaze then upon it, follow it, lest this star of a divine vocation, being seen of thee, be despised, and in the day of judgment accuse and condemn thee before God. “There is nothing, therefore, too difficult for the humble,” says S. Leo (Serm. 5 de Epiph.), “nothing too rugged for the meek, and all things can be accomplished, when grace furnishes her assistance, and obedience lightens the command.”

Hear S. Gregory (Hom. 39 in Evang.): “Behold God calls us by Himself, by the angels, by fathers, by prophets, by apostles, by pastors. He calls us also by our own selves, by miracles, very often by chastisements. He calls us by worldly prosperity, and sometimes by adversity. Let no one despise the call, lest the time should ever come, when they will wish to answer and not be able.”

Anagogically, doctors and whoever instruct many to righteousness shall shine as the stars for ever and ever. (Dan_12:3; and Rev_2:28.) Wherefore S. Leo says, “Whosoever shall live a godly life in the Church, and shall seek those things which are above, not which are upon the earth, is like a heavenly luminary. And whilst he himself preserves the brightness of a holy conversation, he, like a star, shows to many the way of the Lord. In such a course ye all ought, well-beloved, to profit one another, that in the kingdom of God—at which we arrive by means of a right faith and good works—ye may shine as the children of the light.”

Lastly, the star invites and calls us to heaven, that, by means of a heavenly life, we may come to the most blessed company of the angels and all the heavenly citizens.

For we have seen his star in the East.  Some writers refer the words, in the east to we have seen. That is, “We, being in the east, saw the star in the west, shining over Judæa;” so that the Magi knew whither to wend their way. Similarly, the pole-star shows the way to sailors. Others, with more probability, refer in the east to the word star—i.e., “we, in the east, saw the star there with us in the east.” But both opinions are tenable. For, first, this star seems to have appeared over Judæa to signify that the King of the Jews was born there, and must there be sought. Hence, in Num 24:17, for “shall rise” the Hebrew has darach—i.e., “hath proceeded.” “A star proceedeth out of Jacob.”

You will ask, Did the star remain stationary in the east, or was it a constant attendant upon the Magi in their journey to Judæa? Jansen, Cajetan, and others think that it remained stationary. They attempt to prove this: 1. Because the Magi say, “we have seen His star in the east.” And when they departed from Jerusalem, S. Matthew says, “And lo, the star which they had seen in the east.” 2. Because Herod, and the Jews, and the rest did not, as it would seem, behold the star. For had they done so, some surely would have followed it, and have come with the Magi to Christ. 3. Because the Magi knew from Balaam’s prophecy that the star portended that the King of the Jews was now born. And as they knew the way to Judæa, they did not require the star to guide them.

On the other hand, SS. Chrysostom and Leo, Theophylact, S. Thomas, Lyra, Suarez, Maldonatus, and Chrysologus (Serm. 156) are of opinion that the star did accompany the Magi as far as Judæa. As Chrysologus says (loc. cit.), “When they walked, the star went on; when they sat down, it stayed; when they slept, it kept vigil over them.” This is the common opinion of believers; whence the Church sings in her hymn, “The Magi went on following the star which they had seen, which went before them.”

So, therefore, when the Magi say, We have seen has star in the east, they are speaking only of their beginning to see the star. We have seen, meaning “We first saw His star when we were in the east; and, being called by the sight of it, we are come, with that star for our guide, having followed it as it went before us until we came to Jerusalem.” And because the star disappeared at Jerusalem, they then went to Herod and the Scribes, and asked them where Christ was born.

Both opinions are probable and worthy of examination, and may perhaps be reconciled one with the other, by supposing that the star which shone in the east was of exceeding brightness, as S. Ignatius testifies, at its first appearance, when it attracted the eyes of the Magi, and to which they referred when they said “we have seen His star in the east;” but that afterwards, when it went with them in their journey, it was covered with a cloud, and shone less brightly, so that it was visible to scarcely any save the Magi; lest if other men had seen it in its utmost brilliancy, and had accompanied them in a great band to Jerusalem, they might have stirred up Herod and the Jews against Christ to destroy Him. For it was plainly fitting that the star which called forth the Magi should show them the way to Christ, who was afar off and hidden. In like manner, the pillar of fire and cloud which was the leader of the camp of the Hebrews shone before them like fire by night, but by day was covered with a cloud, as I have shown in my commentary on Ex 13 and Num 9.

But that some others besides the Magi saw the star is probable. For since the star was a large one, bright and visible to them, why not to others? For God willed Christ to be made known to all the world. Still, few or none followed the star with the Magi, both because they understood not the mystery, and because they were hindered by worldly cares. Hence we learn how necessary is powerful and efficacious grace for seeking Christ. Of this He speaks (S. John 6:44): “No man can come unto me, except my Father draw him.” Thus in the passion of Christ, the eclipse of the sun was seen at Athens by S. Dionysius, the Areopagite; and this was why he was converted by S. Paul when he learnt from him the cause of the eclipse, because, namely, it was at that very day and hour that Christ was crucified.

Suarez adds, that the star only shone by day in places near the Magi, but was at a loftier elevation by night, and was then less conspicuous. So says Nicephorus, H. E. 1. 13.

Lastly, the Magi were appropriately called by a star, because they were astronomers. Hence they knew that this star was not a common one, but a prodigy, and portended some divine event. Thus they understood that the Maker and Lord of the stars, to whom all the stars are obedient, was born.

Hence the Church celebrates with so great solemnity the Feast of the Epiphany, in which the Magi were called to adore Christ, because in them and by them was begun the calling and salvation of the Gentiles. Wherefore S. Leo (Serm. 2 de Epiph.) says—”Let us, brethren beloved, recognize in the Magi, who worshipped Christ, the first-fruits of our vocation and faith, and with exulting minds let us celebrate the beginnings of blessed hope. From this time forth we began to enter into our eternal inheritance.” And S. Augustine (Serm. 2 de Epiph.) says—”This day, on which we keep the anniversary of our festival, first shone upon the Magi. They were the first-fruits of the Gentiles, and we are the people of the Gentiles. To us hath the tongue of Apostles announced it; but to them, the star, as though the tongue of heaven. And the same Apostles, as though they were other heavens, have declared unto us the glory of God.”

Mat 2:3  And king Herod hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

Herod was troubled, because he feared that he would lose the kingdom of the Jews, now that Messiah, their true and legitimate Prince, was born. “What wonder,” says S. Augustine, “that impiety should be troubled at the birth of piety?” (Serm. 2 de Innocent.) Jerusalem was troubled, as well because there were many in it who favoured Herod, as because the Scribes and chief Priests, having leisure only for their own advantage, and being thus in a state of spiritual slumber, had no thought about the coming of Messiah; that now the sceptre was departed from Judah, as Jacob had foretold, Messiah should be born. Wisely does S. Gregory say (Hom. 10. in Evangel.), “When the King of heaven was born, the earthly king was troubled because, indeed, terrestrial exaltation is confounded when celestial greatness is disclosed.” “For,” as S. Fulgentius says (Serm. 1 de Epiph.), “This King came, not to fight against and conquer earthly kings, but, by dying, marvellously to subdue them. Not, therefore, was He born to be thy successor, O Herod; but that the world might faithfully believe in Him.” “Christ seizes not thy royalty,” says S. Leo, “nor would the Lord of the universe be contented with thy petty sceptre. He, whom thou wishest not to be king in Judæa, reigns everywhere, and thyself wouldst reign more prosperously if thou wouldst be subject to His sway.”

And Herod, as we may see in Josephus, cut off all the members of the royal house of Judah, lest there should be any rival to his sovereignty.

Mat 2:4  And assembling together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where Christ should be born.

He calls the learned doctors of the law, the Scribes, who occupied themselves in transcribing, reading, and expounding the sacred Scriptures. They are sometimes called lawyers; such a one was Ezra.

Mat 2:5  But they said to him: In Bethlehem of Juda. For so it is written by the prophet:
Mat 2:6  And thou Bethlehem the land of Juda art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come forth the captain that shall rule my people Israel.

I have explained this prophecy in my Commentary upon Micah 5., so that I shall not here repeat it. Only let us observe three discrepancies between S. Matthew and Micah. The first is that S. Matthew, in speaking of Bethlehem, omits the name Ephratah. The explanation is that Bethlehem had two names. It was called by its founders Bethlehem and Ephratah, because Ephratah was the father of Bethlehem. (See 1Chron 4:4); and Ephratah in Hebrew signifies fruitful, or fruit-bearing. Bethlehem has a similar meaning, being house of bread. The literal reason why Christ would be born at Bethlehem was that He might be accounted David’s Son, who was promised to him, who was himself born in Bethlehem. The moral reason was to teach us humility, to be content with a lowly parentage, a lowly country, a humble cottage. Whence S. Leo (Serm. I de Epiph.) says—”He who took the form of a servant chose Bethlehem for His birthplace, that in that obscure place He might hide His glory, but Jerusalem for His passion, that He might the more make known abroad the shame of the Cross.” He taught us, therefore, to cover our glory, to uncover our shame. He here taught us that heavenly glory, which is a paradox to the world, is, that “the way to glory is flight from glory.” Christ, who is a star—i.e., a light and guide to glory and blessedness—hid Himself, and His Godhead and His dignity of Messiah, by abiding in the manger of Bethlehem. And therefore God the Father displays Him to the whole world, and glorifies Him by means of a star shining out of heaven. If, therefore, thou seekest true glory, shun fame, court ignominy; for if thou desirest glory, thou shalt lose it; but if thou despisest it, then, even against thy will, thou shalt be had in honour. For this paradox is most true—”Glory follows him that shuns it, flees from him that pursues it, as a shadow the body.” “Humility goeth before glory.” (Prov 15:33.) God exalteth the lowly, and humbleth the proud. Whence “Christ emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross: for which cause God also hath exalted Him, and given Him a name, which is above all names.” (Philippians 2:7.)

2. The second discrepancy is, that for, thou art not the least, as S. Matthew has it, Micah has, thou art a little one (parvulus, Vulg.)—i.e., art the least, or very little. The explanation is that, in Micah, an adversative particle is implied from the context, as in Ps 117:141, Ps 117:157, meaning “Very little art thou, O Bethlehem, if I look at thy walls, thy citizens, thy buildings, thy fame; but yet very far art thou from being little, if I consider the princes that have come from thee, and that have been and shall be born in thee. For in thee was born King David, and of thee shall be born Christ, David’s antitype.” Some read the words in Micah interrogatively—Art thou very small? That is, Thou art by no means the least, but, by reason of Christ, thou shalt become very great and famous.

3. Instead of among the princes, Micah has, among the thousands. The explanation is, that the Hebrew aleph denotes both a thousand and a prince. But either translation in this place comes to the same thing; for, in the princes means among the princes—i.e., the cities, or even the inhabitants of Judah; this is, from the great number of princely men who have, or shall come forth from thee. In the thousands. This is the same as among the cities, which contain many thousands of people; and therefore they are princes, and have their own chiefs, or princes. For the people of Israel was divided by Moses into chiliads, or so many thousands of families, each of which had their own dukes and princes. (See Exodus 18:25, and Judges 6:15.)

Mat 2:7  Then Herod, privately calling the wise men learned diligently of them the time of the star which appeared to them;

This he did secretly, in order to avoid popular rumours, murmurs, and tumults. For the people were expecting their Messiah. It was also that he might more thoroughly and reliably find out all the particulars concerning the star. He learned from them when the star appeared, that thus he might know when Christ was born, and so, by killing all the infants who were born about that date, might slay Christ among them. For even already he had determined on the slaughter of the infants, in his own mind. Whence the Arabic version hath it, “He was informed by them concerning the time in which the star appeared to them.”

Mat 2:8  And sending them into Bethlehem, said: Go and diligently inquire after the child, and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I also may come and adore him.

This was the fox-like cunning of a fox. He would make the Magi obedient and faithful to himself, by pretending that he wished to worship Christ, when he was taking thought how to kill Him. So Caracalla, in order to reign alone, slew his brother Geta in his mother’s arms, because he was associated with him in the empire; and, to extenuate his crime by piety, he placed his brother among the gods, saying, “Let him be a god, so long as he is not alive.” In like manner, Herod saith to the Magi, that he would worship Christ as God, whilst he purposed in his mind to kill Him as a man and a king.

Mat 2:9  Who having heard the king, went their way; and behold the star which they had seen in the East, went before them, until it came and stood over where the child was.

From hence it would appear that the star which shone in the east with great effulgence, afterwards, when it accompanied the Magi, appeared less brilliant, and, at Jerusalem, was hidden altogether, so as to force the Magi to inquire of the Scribes where Christ should be born, that, by this means, it might be made known even to them that He was born. For Herod and his minions were unworthy of beholding this celestial star; for if they had, they would have used their knowledge to seek out and destroy Christ. But when the Magi departed from Jerusalem, the star again appeared, and shone with its former lustre, to indicate Christ, who is the Light—yea, the Sun of this world—and by its radiance to point out the very spot—that is to say, the stable in which he abode after his birth—so that they might not have to wander in vain, searching for Him from house to house.

Mat 2:10  And seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

And seeing the star—i.e., as brilliant as at first—they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. Exceeding great. This is the force of the Hebrew gedolah meod. And they rejoiced so greatly because, by the star being thus lustrous, they knew that they were come nigh to Messiah, and were going to Him in a direct course.

Mat 2:11  And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and falling down they adored him: and opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother. From this passage some are of opinion that, after their enrolment, the wealthier people, who had come to Bethlehem for the purpose, were departed; so that there were now many houses in Bethlehem at liberty for the purpose of hospitality and that Christ had been removed from the stable in which He was born, to some worthier abode of one of the citizens, and was there worshipped by the Magi. For it is said, they entered into the house. So S. Epiphanius, Hæres. 51, Maldonatus, and others.

But the more common opinion is, that the stable in which Christ was born is called the house. For the Hebrews call any place in which people live, a house, as Ps 103:17. The house—i.e., the nest, of the coot (Ital.) is their leader—namely, of birds and flying creatures. For since the census of the whole people proclaimed by Augustus was being taken during some weeks and months, and since during that period a succession of wealthy people kept arriving for enrolment, and afterwards departing, there was no room for Mary and Joseph, who were poor people, in the hostelry, until the thirteenth day after Christ’s birth. And God ordered this, both to try the constancy of the Magi, and to teach them and others that Christ’s kingdom consists in poverty, humility, and contempt of the world, not in earthly wealth, and pride, and pomps, and palaces. So S. Augustine (Serm. 1 & 2 de Epiph.), Justin, c. Tryph., Chrysostom, &c., and Suarez, which latter adds—”It is plain that Christ, and the Blessed Virgin, as a woman who had lately given birth to a child, remained in the stable until her Purification.”

Whence S. Jerome (Epist. 17 ad Marcellam) says, “Behold in this little hole of the earth, the Maker of the Heavens is born. Here He was wrapped in swathings, here adored by the Magi.” And Augustine (Serm. de Epiphan.) says: “He was lying in a manger, yet He led the Magi from the East. He was hidden in a stable, and was acknowledged in Heaven; that being recognized in Heaven, He might be manifested in a stable.” You may reconcile these two opinions with each other, if you suppose that in Bethlehem, being a small city, there was only one public hospice for strangers, to which was attached a stable for their horses and other beasts of burden. And so it is said that the Magi entered into the house, or inn, because they went into the stable of the inn. S. Luke’s words are in favour of this, when he says:—”There was no room for them in the inn.” This means the common hospice of the place. And they found the Babe lying in the manger, plainly, the only manger belonging to the stable of this hospice.

And falling down they adored him. The Arabic has—they fell down in adoration of him. Erasmus thinks that the Magi did not know Christ was God, and therefore did not worship Him with latria, but with civil respect, as the King of the Jews. But the fathers and interpreters teach the contrary—that the Magi, by Divine inspiration, were aware of Christ’s Divinity, and worshipped It with latria, and that for this reason, they offered Him frankincense, which is due to God alone. So S. Irenæus, lib. 3, c. 10; S. Leo, Serm. de Epiphan.; and others passim. Whence S. Fulgentius says wisely in his sermon on the Epiphany, “Consider what they offered, and you will know what they believed.” Hence this day is called by the Greeks, Epiphany and Theophany—i.e., the appearing of God—because on that day Christ was declared to the Magi to be God, and was worshipped by them as God.

And opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In these things Arabia abounds. (See Ezek 27:22, and Pliny, lib. 12, c. 14.) It was the ancient custom of the Arabians and other Orientals, not to approach their kings and rulers except with a gift, as it were a tribute due to them. (See Gen 43:11; 1 Sam 10:27.) Whence Seneca says (Epist. 17), “No one may salute the monarchs of Parthia without a present.” Moreover, it was God’s law (Ex 23.), “Thou shalt not appear empty before me.” Lastly, the Queen of Sheba gave precious gifts to Solomon, and received greater from him. Thus it was with the Magi and Christ, who is the true Solomon.

S. Bernard thinks that the Magi offered gold to the Blessed Virgin and Christ to succour their poverty, myrrh to strengthen Christ’s infant limbs, frankincense to prevent the unpleasant odours of the stable. This is a very literal and undignified sense. For the fathers teach, passim, in a far higher way, that illuminated by the Holy Ghost they offered gold to Christ as the most wise King; for wisdom is compared to gold (Prov 8:19); frankincense as to God, and according to His humanity, as the High Priest and Pontiff; Myrrh to Christ as man, about to die and be buried for the redemption of the human race, and the third day to rise again to immortality and eternal glory. For the bodies of the dead are buried with myrrh, that they may remain incorrupt. Myrrh has the property of drying up moisture, and preventing the generation of worms. So S. Leo says, “Frankincense they offer to God, myrrh to man, gold to the king, wisely venerating the Divine and Human Nature joined in one. What they believe in their hearts they show forth by their gifts.”

And S. Ambrose says—”Gold for a king, frankincense for God, myrrh for the dead.” And S. Gregory (Hom. 10), “By gold they proclaim a king, by frankincense God, by myrrh a mortal man.” “Very beautifully,” says S. Jerome, “does the Presbyter Juvencus in one sentence comprehend the mysteries of the gifts, ‘Gold, frankincense, myrrh, for a king, man, and God.'”

Grammarians derive frankincense from the Greek θυόω, I make an odour, or better, from θύω, I sacrifice, because the first sacrifices of primitive men were fumigations of incense. Hence, “honours of frankincense” meant divine honours. Bede, whose words I have already quoted, asserts that the first of the Magi, whose name was Melchior, gave gold, Gaspar the second, frankincense, Balthasar the third, myrrh.

But others, with more probability, think that each of them offered all these their gifts to Christ, and that each, by these their gifts, attested their own faith in Christ as being a King and God, and about to suffer for man.

Hence the Gloss says: “All this was done by divine inspiration to signify the regal power in Christ by gold, the divine majesty by frankincense, and human mortality by myrrh.”

Allegorically, these three gifts signify Christ, who offered Himself to God the Father upon the cross as it were gold, since out of golden love, even love to man, He immolated Himself; as the myrrh of the very bitter passion of His griefs and torments; and as the frankincense of the highest devotion, submission, veneration, and worship. Whence also on the same day of the week on which Christ offered Himself upon the cross the Magi offered their three gifts to Christ. For the tradition is that Christ was born on the Lord’s Day. And if from thence you reckon thirteen days you will come to the Friday of the following week. For the Magi worshipped Him on the thirteenth day after His birth.

Again, Christ offered three gifts to the Holy Trinity, namely, His flesh, soul, and divinity, just as Christians offer to the same Triune God acts of faith, hope, and charity.

Tropologically, in the first place, gold is charity, or love, and wisdom; frankincense is prayer and devotion; myrrh is mortification. Whence S. Gregory says (Hom. 10), “we offer gold, if we shine by the light of wisdom; frankincense, if we are redolent with fervent prayer; myrrh, if we mortify the vices of the flesh.” Hence in Sont 5:14, the bride says of Christ, the bridegroom: “His hands are turned and as of gold, full of hyacinths.” (Vulg.) “His hands,” that is, the works of Christ, and therefore perfect. They are as rings, they may be turned and adapted to every thing good. They are golden, because adorned with charity; full of hyacinths, because they breathe the love of heavenly things. Thus the golden works of charity make golden hands. As many works of charity as thou doest, so many golden rings dost thou put upon thy fingers, yea, verily, upon the fingers of Christ. “Good works,” says S. Bernard (de Convers. ad Cleric., c. 15), “are the seed of eternity and of eternal glory.” The very celebrated painter, Zeuxis, used to paint very slowly. Being asked the reason, he replied—”I paint for eternity.” Thus also do thou, O believer, work, live, paint, for eternity, that thy works may, through all eternity, shine in heaven before God, the angels, and the blessed. That frankincense denotes prayer, and myrrh mortification, is plain from Song iv. 6, “I will go to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense.” And i. 12, “A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me.” And iv. 14, “The smell of thy garments, as the smell of frankincense,” i.e., lifting up prayers and sighs to God. “For,” says S. Gregory, “in all his works he prays, whilst he performs all such good works as he is able to do, with the intention of arriving at heavenly things.” The same says on Song chap. iii., “The holy soul makes its heart, as it were, a thurible to its God.” Mark the saying of S. Gregory Nyssen., “The cause of sin is not to implore the help of God by prayer.”

Again, gold is voluntary poverty. For this poverty is most rich, and far more pleasing to God than all the gold in the world. Whence the apostle, “As having nothing and possessing all things.” (2Cor 6:10.)

Frankincense is obedience, whereby a man offers his own will and intellect, yea, his entire self, to God, as a holocaust of frankincense.

Myrrh is fasting, mortification of the flesh; and what springs from mortification, chastity. Wherefore many think that the three vows of religion are here mystically signified: namely by frankincense, the vow of obedience; by myrrh, the vow of chastity; by gold, the vow of poverty.

Moreover, by these three gifts three kinds of good works are denoted: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, to which all species of virtues may be referred. For almsgiving helps our neighbour; prayer worships and calls upon God; fasting steadies a man within himself. So then, by means of these three, we offer to God whatever good things we have—namely, by almsgiving, our works; by prayer, our souls; by fasting, our bodies.

Mat 2:12  And having received an answer in sleep that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their country.

And having received an answer from God (Vulg.: the Greek, χρήομοι, signifies oracles; and the word answer implies, that the Magi in a doubtful matter, in the first place asked light of God, and received an answer from Him), in sleep that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their country. Cyril, the monk, in his life of the Abbot S. Theodosius, relates that the Magi, when they fled from Herod, avoided high roads and public hospices, and rested in mountains and caves. “Because,” he adds, “they had determined not to enter Jerusalem, it was difficult for them to return home any other way, just as we see now is the case, those who come from Bethlehem pass through Jerusalem.”

The author of the Imperfect Commentary cries out in admiration of the faith and constancy of the Magi: “O faith! which contradicted not the admonition of the angel, nor said, ‘We have come so great a journey; as we came we feared not the crowds of so many cities; we were not terrified at the face of that dreadful king, but we stood before him and confidently proclaimed that King who had been born, and we offered unto Him, as God, worthy gifts; and now you bid us conceal ourselves like slaves and take to flight, as having come one way and departing another way.’ But they continued faithful. And as before they were not afraid to be known, so now they blushed not to depart in secret.”

Tropologically, Herod is the devil, the world, and the flesh, and the way to him is pleasure and greed. They, therefore, who pass from him to Christ, walk by the other way of the cross and mortification; and thus it behoves them to return to their own country—that is, the heavenly paradise.

Hear the author of the Imp. Com. (Hom. 2): “He who comes from the devil to God must never walk by the way by which he went to the devil. Thou wentest by the way of fornication; for the future, walk by the way of chastity. Thou wentest by the way of avarice; walk for the rest of thy life in the way of almsgiving. For if thou goest back by the way by which thou camest, thou shalt come again under the dominion of Herod, and shalt become a traitor to Christ.” And S. Gregory saith (Hom. 10), “Our country is paradise. And when we have known Jesus, we are forbidden to return to it by the way which we came. For we departed from our country by pride, by disobedience, by following things that are seen, by tasting the forbidden fruit. But we must return to it by weeping, by obedience, by despising things that are seen, and by bridling the carnal appetite. We return to our country by another way; because we left the joys of paradise by the way of pleasures, we return to them by the way of sorrows.

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Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Matt 2:1-12 for the Solemnity of the Epiphany

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 28, 2010

Mat 2:1-2  1. Now when Jesus was born in Beth-lehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king,  behold,  there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.2. Saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.

Aug.: After the miraculous Virgin-birth, a God-man having by Divine power proceeded from a virgin womb; in the obscure shelter of such a cradle, a narrow stall, wherein lay Infinite Majesty in a body more narrow, a God was suckled and suffered the wrapping of vile rags – amidst all this, on a sudden a new star shone in the sky upon the earth, and driving away the darkness of the world, changed night into day; that the day-star should not be hidden by the night.

Hence it is that the Evangelist says, “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem.”

Remig.: In the beginning of this passage of the Gospel he puts three several things; the person, “When Jesus was born,” the place, “in Bethlehem of Judaea,” and the time, “in the days of Herod the king.” These three circumstances verify his words.

Jerome: We think the Evangelist first wrote, as we read in the Hebrew, ‘Judah,’ not ‘Judaea.’ For in what other country is there a Bethlehem, that this needs to be distinguished as in ‘Judaea?’ But ‘Judah’ is written, because there is another Bethlehem in Galilee.

Gloss. ord.: There are two Bethlehems; [Jos_19:15] one in the tribe of Zabulon, the other in the tribe of Judah, which was before called Ephrata.

Aug., de Cons. Evan., 2, 15: Concerning the place, Bethlehem, Matthew and Luke agree; but the cause and manner of their being there, Luke relates, Matthew omits. Luke again omits the account of the Magi, which Matthew gives. [p. 61]

Pseudo-Chrys.: Let us see to what serves this designation of time, “In the days of Herod the king.” It shews the fulfilment of Daniel’s prophecy, wherein he spake that Christ should be born after seventy weeks of years. For from the time of the prophecy to the reign of Herod, the years of seventy weeks were accomplished.

Or again, as long as Judaea was ruled by Jewish princes, though sinners, so long prophets were sent for its amendment; but now, whereas God’s law was held under the power of an unrighteous king, and the righteousness of God enslaved by the Roman rule, Christ is born; the most desperate sickness required the better physician.

Rabanus: Otherwise, he mentions the foreign king to shew the fulfilment of the prophecy. “The Sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a Lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come.” [Gen_49:10]

Ambrose, in Luc., iii, 41: It is said, that some Idumaean robbers coming to Ascalon, brought with them among other prisoners Antipater. [ed. note: The same account of Herod’s parentage is given by Africanus, Euseb. Hist. i. 7. but Josephus says (Antiq. xiv. 1. n. 3. de Bell. Jud. i. 6. n. 2.) that Herod was an Idumaean, of noble birth, and that his father Antipas was governor of Idumaea under Alexander Jannaeus.] He was instructed in the law and customs of the Jews, and acquired the friendship of Hyrcanus, king of Judaea, who sent him as his deputy to Pompey. He succeeded so well in the object of his mission, that he laid claim to a share of the throne. He was put to death, but his son Herod was under Antony appointed king of Judaea, by a decree of the Senate; so it is clear that Herod sought the throne of Judaea without any connection or claim of birth.

Chyrs.: “Herod the king,” mentioning his dignity, because there was another Herod who put John to death.

Pseudo-Chrys.: “When He was born . . . behold wise men,” that is, immediately on His birth, shewing that a great God existed in a little one of man.

Rabanus: The Magi are men who enquire into the nature of things philosophically, but common speech uses Magi for wizards. In their own country, however, they are held in other repute, being the philosophers of the Chaldaeans, in whose lore kings and princes of that nation are taught, and by which themselves knew the birth of the Lord.

Aug., Serm. 202: What were these Magi but the first [p. 62] fruits of the Gentiles? Israelitish shepherds, gentile Magians, one from far, the other from near, hastened to the one Corner-stone.

Aug., Serm. 200: Jesus then was manifested neither to the learned nor the righteous; for ignorance belonged to the shepherds, impiety to the idolatrous Magi. Yet does that Corner-stone attract them both to Itself, seeing He came to choose the foolish things of this world to confound the wise, and not to call the righteous, but sinners; that nothing great should exalt himself, none weak should despair.

Gloss: These Magi were kings, and though their gifts were three, it is not to be thence inferred that themselves were only three in number, but in them was prefigured the coming to the faith of the nations sprung from the three sons of Noah.

Or, the princes were only three, but each brought a large company with him. They came not after a year’s end, for He would then have been found in Egypt, not in the manger, but on the thirteenth day. To shew whence they came it is said, “from the East.”

Remig.: It should be known that opinions vary respecting the Magi. Some say they were Chaldaeans, who are known to have worshipped a star as God; thus their fictitious Deity shewed them the way to the true God. Others think that they were Persians; others again, that they came from the utmost ends of the earth. Another and more probable opinion is, that they were descendants of Balaam, who having his prophecy, “There shall rise a Star out of Jacob,” [Num_24:17] as soon as they saw the star, would know that a King was born.

Jerome: They knew that such a star would rise by the prophecy of Balaam, whose successors they were. But whether they were Chaldaeans, or Persians, or came from the utmost ends of the earth, how in so short a space of time could they arrive at Jerusalem?

Remig.: Some used to answer, ‘No marvel if that boy who was then born could draw them so speedily, though it were from the ends of the earth.’

Gloss: Or, they had dromedaries and Arabian horses, whose great swiftness brought them to Bethlehem in thirteen days.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, they had set out two years before the Saviour’s birth, and though they travelled all that time, neither meat nor drink failed in their scrips.

Remig.: Or, if they were the descendants of Balaam, their kings are not far distant from the land of promise, and [p. 63] might easily come to Jerusalem in that so short time.

But why does he write “From the East?” Because surely they came from a country eastward of Judaea. But there is also great beauty in this, They “came out of the East,” seeing all who come to the Lord, come from Him and through Him; as it is said in Zechariah, “Behold the Man whose name is the East.” [Zec_6:12]

Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, whence the day springs, thence came the first-fruits of the faith; for faith is the light of the soul. Therefore they came from the East, but to Jerusalem.

Remig.: Yet was not the Lord born there; thus they knew the time but not the place of His birth. Jerusalem being the royal city, they believed that such a child could not be born in any other.

Or it was to fulfil that Scripture, “The Law shall go out of Sion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” [Isa_2:3] And there Christ was first preached.

Or it was to condemn the backwardness of the Jews.

Pseudo-Aug., Append. Serm. 132: Many kings of Judaea had been born and died before, yet had Magi ever sought out any of them for adoration? No, for they had not been taught that any of these spoke from heaven. To no ordinary King of Judaea had these men, aliens from the land of Judaea, ever thought such honour due. But they had been taught that this Child was one, in worshipping whom they would certainly secure that salvation which is of God. Neither His age was such as attracts men’s flattery; His limbs not robed in purple, His brow not crowned with a diamond, no pompous train, no awful army, no glorious fame of battles, attracted these men to Him from the remotest countries, with such earnestness of supplication. There lay in a manger a Boy, newly born, of infantine size, of pitiable poverty. But in that small Infant lay hid something great, which these men, the first-fruits of the Gentiles, had learned not of earth but of heaven; as it follows, “We have seen His star in the east.” They announce the vision and ask, they believe and enquire, as signifying those who walk by faith and desire sight.

Greg., M. in Evan., i. 10. n. 4: It should be known that the Priscillianists, heretics who believe every man to be born under the aspect of some planet. cite this text in support of their error; the new star which appeared at the Lord’s birth they consider to have been his fate.

Aug., contr. Faust, ii, 1: And, according to Faustus this [p. 64] introduction of the account of the star would lead us rather to call this part of the history, ‘The Nativity,’ than ‘The Gospel.’

Gregory: But far be it from the hearts of the faithful to call any thing, ‘fate.’  Aug., City of God, book v, ch. 1: For by the word, ‘fate,’ in common acceptation, is meant the disposition of the stars at the moment of a person’s birth or conception; to which some assign a power independent of the will of God. These must be kept at a distance from the ears of all who desire to be worshippers of Gods of any sort. But others think the stars have this virtue committed to them by the great God; wherein they greatly wrong the skies, in that they impute to their splendent host the decreeing of crimes, such as should any earthly people decree, their city should in the judgment of mankind deserve to be utterly destroyed.

Pseudo-Chrys.: If then any should become an adulterer or homicide through means of the planets, how great is the evil and wickedness of those stars, or rather of Him who made them? For as God knows things to come, and what evils are to spring from those stars; if He would not hinder it, He is not good; if He would but could not, He is weak.

Again, if it be of the star that we are either good or bad, we have neither merit nor demerit, as being involuntary agents; and why should I be punished for sin which I have done not wilfully, but by necessity? The very commands of God against sin, and exhortations to righteousness, overthrow such folly. For where a man has not power to do, or where he has not power to forbear, who would command him either to do or to forbear?

Gregory Nyss.: How vain moreover is prayer for those who live by fate; Divine Providence is banished from the world together with piety, and man is made the mere instrument of the sidereal motions. For these they say move to action, not only the bodily members, but the thoughts of the mind. In a word, they who teach this, take away all that is in us, and the very nature of a contingency; which is nothing less than to overturn all things. For where will there be free will? but that which is in us must be free.

Augustine, City of God, Book 5, ch. 6: It cannot be said to be utterly absurd to suppose that sidereal afflatus should influence the state of the body, when we see that it is by the approach and departure of the sun that the seasons of the year are [p. 65] varied, and that many things, as shells and the wonderful tides of the Ocean, increase or decrease as the moon waxes or wanes. But not so, to say that the dispositions of the mind are subject to sidereal impulse. Do they say that the stars rather foreshew than effect these results? how then do they explain, that in the life of twins, in their actions, their successes, professions, honours, and all other circumstances of life, there will often be so great diversity, that men of different countries are often more alike in their lives than twins, between whose birth there was only a moment’s, and between whose conception in the womb there was not a moment’s, interval.

And the small interval between their births is not enough to account for the great difference between their fates. Some give the name of fate not only to the constitution of the stars, but to all series of causes, at the same time subjecting all to the will and power of God.

This sort of subjection of human affairs and fate is a confusion of language which should be corrected, for fate is strictly the constitution of the stars. The will of God we do not call ‘fate,’ unless indeed we will derive the word from ‘speaking;’ as in the Psalms, “God hath spoken once, twice have I heard the same.” [Psa_62:11] There is then no need of much contention about what is merely a verbal controversy.

Aug., cont. Faust. ii, 5: But if we will not subject the nativity of any man to the influence of the stars, in order that we may vindicate the freedom of the will from any chain of necessity; how much less must we suppose sidereal influences to have ruled at His temporal birth, who is eternal Creator and Lord of the universe? The star which the Magi saw, at Christ’s birth according to the flesh, did not rule His fate, but ministered as a testimony to Him. Further, this was not of the number of those stars, which from the beginning of the creation observe their paths of motion according to the law of their Maker; but a star that first appeared at the birth, ministering to the Magi who sought Christ, by going before them till it brought them to the place where the infant God the Word was.

According to some astrologers such is the connexion of human fate with the stars, that on the birth of some men stars have been known to leave their courses, and go directly to the new-born. The fortune indeed of him [p. 66] that is born they suppose to be bound up with the course of the stars, not that the course of the stars is changed after the day of any man’s birth.

If then this star were of the number of those that fulfil their courses in the heavens, how could it determine what Christ should do, when it was commanded at His birth only to leave its own course? If, as is more probable, it was first created at His birth, Christ was not therefore born because it arose, but the reverse; so that if we must have fate connected with the stars, this star did not rule Christ’s fate, but Christ the stars.

Chrys.: The object of astrology is not to learn from the stars the fact of one’s birth; but from the hour of their nativity to forecast the fate of those that are born. But these men knew not the time of the nativity to have forecast the future from it, but the converse.

Gloss. interlin.: ‘His star,’ i.e. the star He created for a witness of Himself.

Gloss. ord.: To the Shepherds, Angels, and the Magians, a star points out Christ; to both speaks the tongue of Heaven, since the tongue of the Prophets was mute. The Angels dwell in the heavens, the stars adorn it, to both therefore “the heavens declare the glory of God.”

Greg., Hom. in Ev. Lib. i. Hom. 10: To the Jews who used their reason, a rational creature, i.e. an Angel, ought to preach. But the Gentiles who knew not to use their reason are brought to the knowledge of the Lord, not by words, but by signs; to the one prophecy, as to the faithful; to the other signs, as to the unbelievers. One and the same Christ is preached, when of perfect age, by Apostles; when an infant, and not yet able to speak, is announced by a star to the Gentiles; for so the order of reason required; speaking preachers proclaimed a speaking Lord, mute signs proclaimed a mute infant.

Leo, Serm. 33, 2: Christ Himself, the expectation of the nations, that innumerable posterity once promised to the most blessed patriarch Abraham, but to be born not after the flesh, but by the Spirit, therefore likened to the stars for multitude, that from the father of all nations, not an earthly but an heavenly progeny might be looked for.

Thus the heirs of that promised posterity, marked out in the stars, are roused to the faith by the rise of a new star, and where the heavens had been at first called in to witness, the aid of Heaven is continued. [p. 67]

Chrys.: This was manifestly not one of the common stars of Heaven. First, because none of the stars moves in this way, from east to south, and such is the situation of Palestine with respect to Persia. Secondly, from the time of its appearance, not in the night only, but during the day. Thirdly, from its being visible and then again invisible; when they entered Jerusalem it hid itself, and then appeared again when they left Herod. Further, it had no stated motion, but when the Magi were to go on, it went before them; when to stop, it stopped like the pillar of cloud in the desert. Fourthly, it signified the Virgin’s delivery, not by being fixed aloft, but by descending to earth, shewing herein like an invisible virtue formed into the visible appearance of a star.

Remig.: Some affirm this star to have been the Holy Spirit; He who descended on the baptized Lord as a dove, appearing to the Magi as a star. Others say it was an Angel, the same who appeared to the shepherds.

Gloss. ord: “In the east.” It seems doubtful whether this refers to the place of the star, or of those that saw it; it might have risen in the east, and gone before them to Jerusalem.

Aug., Serm. 374: Will you ask, from whom had they learned that such an appearance as a star was to signify the birth of Christ? I answer from Angels, by the warning of some revelation. Do you ask, was it from good or ill Angels? Truly even wicked spirits, namely the daemons, confessed Christ to be the Son of God. But why should they not have heard it from good Angels, since in this their adoration of Christ their salvation was sought, not their wickedness condemned? The Angels might say to them, ‘The Star which ye have seen is the Christ. Go ye, worship Him, where He is now born, and see how great is He that is born.’

Leo, Sermon 34, 3: Besides that star thus seen with the bodily eye, a yet brighter ray of truth pierced their hearts; they were enlightened by the illumination of the true faith.

Pseudo-Aug., Hil. Quaest. V. and N. Test. q. 63: They might think that a king of Judaea was born, since the birth of temporal princes is sometimes attended by a star. These Chaldean Magi inspected the stars, not with malevolence, but with the true desire of knowledge; following, it may be supposed, the tradition from Balaam; so that [p. 68] when they saw this new and singular star, they understood it to be that of which Balaam had prophesied, as marking the birth of a King of Judaea.

Leo: What they knew and believed might have been sufficient for themselves, that they needed not to seek to see with the bodily eye, what they saw so clearly with the spiritual. But their earnestness and perseverance to see the Babe was for our profit. It profited us that Thomas, after the Lord’s resurrection, touched and felt the marks of his wounds, and so for our profit the Magians’ eyes looked on the Lord in His cradle.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Were they then ignorant that Herod reigned in Jerusalem? Or that it is a capital treason to proclaim another King while one yet lives? But while they thought on the King to come, they feared not the king that was; while as yet they had not seen Christ, they were ready to die for Him. O blessed Magi! who before the face of a most cruel king, and before having beheld Christ, were made His confessors.

3. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4. And when he had gathered all the Chief Priests and Scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5. And they said unto him, “In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6. ‘And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.’ ”

Aug.: As the Magi seek a Redeemer, so Herod fears a successor.

Gloss. ord.: “The King,” he is called, though in comparison with him whom they are seeking he is an alien and a foreigner.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Herod “was troubled” when he heard that a King was born of Jewish lineage, lest, himself being an Idumaean, the kingdom should return again to native princes, and himself be expelled, and his seed after [p. 69] him.

Great station is ever obnoxious to great fears; as the boughs of trees planted in high ground move when never so little wind blows, so high men are troubled with little rumours; while the lowly, like trees in the valley, remain at peace.

Aug., Serm. 200, 2: If His birth as an infant makes proud kings tremble, what will His tribunal as a Judge do? Let princes fear Him sitting at the right hand of His Father, whom this impious king feared while He hanged yet on His mother’s breast.

Leo: Thou art troubled, Herod, without cause. Thy nature cannot contain Christ, nor is the Lord of the world content with the narrow bounds of thy dominion. He, whom thou wouldest not should reign in Judaea, reigns every where.

Gloss. ord.: Perhaps he was troubled not on his own account, but for fear of the displeasure of the Romans. They would not allow the title of King or of God to any without their permission.

Greg., Hom. in Evan., 1, 10: At the birth of a King of Heaven, a king of earth is troubled; surely, earthly greatness is confounded, when heavenly greatness shews itself.

Leo, Serm. 36, 2: Herod represents the Devil; who as he then instigated him, so now he unweariedly imitates him. For he is grieved by the calling of the Gentiles, and by the daily ruin of his power.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Both have their own causes of jealousy, both fear a successor in their kingdom; Herod an earthly successor, the Devil a spiritual. Even Jerusalem is troubled, which should have rejoiced at that news, when a Jewish King was said to be risen up. But they were troubled, for the wicked cannot rejoice at the coming of the good. Or perhaps it was in fear that Herod should wreak his wrath against a Jewish King on his race.

Gloss. ord.: “Jerusalem was troubled with him,” as willing to favour him whom it feared; the vulgar always pay undue honour to one who tyrannizes over it. Observe the diligence of his enquiry. If he should find him, he would do to him as he shewed afterwards his disposition; if he should not, he would at least be excused to the Romans.

Remig.: They are called Scribes, not from the employment of writing, but from the interpretation of the Scriptures, for they were doctors of the law. Observe, he does not enquire where Christ is born, but where He should be born; the subtle purpose of this was to see if they would shew pleasure at [p. 70] the birth of their King. He calls Him Christ, because he knew that the King of the Jews was anointed.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Why does Herod make this enquiry, seeing he believed not the Scriptures? Or if he did believe, how could he hope to be able to kill Him whom the Scriptures declared should be King? The Devil instigated Herod; who believed that Scripture lies not. Such is the faith of devils, who are not permitted to have perfect belief, even of that which they do believe. That they do believe, it is the force of truth constrains them; that they do not believe, it is that they are blinded by the enemy. If they had perfect faith, they would live as about to depart from this world soon, not as to possess it for ever.

Leo, Serm. 31, 2: The Magi, judging as men, sought in the royal city for Him, whom they had been told was born a King. But He who took the form of a servant, and came not to judge but to be judged, chose Bethlehem for His birth, Jerusalem for His death.

Theodotus, Serm. 1, ap. Conc. Eph.: Had He chosen the mighty city of Rome, it might have been thought that this change of the world had been wrought by the might of her citizens; had He been the son of the emperor, his power might have aided Him. But what was His choice? All that was mean, all that was in low esteem, that in this transformation of the world, divinity might at once be recognized. Therefore He chose a poor woman for His mother, a poor country for His native country; He has no money, and this stable is His cradle.

Gregory, Hom. in Evan., 8, 1: Rightly is He born in Bethlehem, which signifies the house of bread, who said, “I am the living bread, who came down from heaven.”

Pseudo-Chrys.: When they should have kept secret the mystery of the King appointed of God, especially before a foreign king, straightway they became not preachers of the word of God, but revealers of His mystery. And they not only display the mystery, but cite the passage of the prophet, viz. Micah.

Gloss. ord.: He quotes this prophecy as they quote who give the sense and not the words.

Jerome, Epist. 57: The Jews are here blamed for ignorance; for whereas the prophecy says, “Thou Bethlehem Ephrata;” they said, ‘Bethlehem in the land of Judah.’

Pseudo-Chrys.: By cutting short the prophecy, they became the cause of the murder of [p. 71] the Innocents. For the prophecy proceeds, “From thee shall go forth a King who shall feed My people Israel, and His day shall be from everlasting.” Had they cited the whole prophecy, Herod would not have raged so madly, considering that it could not be an earthly King whose days were spoken of as “from everlasting.”

Jerome, in Mich. v. 2: The following is the sense of the prophecy. Thou, Bethlehem, of the land of Judah, or Ephrata, (which is added to distinguish it from another Bethlehem in Galilee,) though thou art a small village among the thousand cities of Judah, yet out of thee shall be born Christ, who shall be the Ruler of Israel, who according to the flesh is of the seed of David, but was born of Me before the worlds; and therefore it is written, “His goings forth are of old. In the beginning was the Word.”

Gloss: This latter half of the prophecy the Jews dropped; and other parts they altered, either through ignorance, (as was said above,) or for perspicuity, that Herod who was a foreigner might better understand the prophecy; thus for “Ephrata,” they said, “land of Judah;” and for “little among the thousands of Judah,” which expresses its smallness contrasted with the multitude of the people, they said, “not the least among the princes,” willing to shew the high dignity that would come from the birth of the Prince. As if they had said, “Thou art great among cities from which princes have come.”

Remig.: Or the sense is; though little among cities that have dominion, yet art thou not the least, for “out of thee shall come the Ruler, who shall rule My people Israel;” this Ruler is Christ, who rules and guides His faithful people.

Chrys.: Observe the exactness of the prophecy; it is not He shall be in Bethlehem, but shall come out of Bethlehem; shewing that He should be only born there. What reason is there for applying this to Zorobabel, as some do? For his goings forth were not from everlasting; nor did he go forth from Bethlehem, but was born in Babylonia. The expression, “art not the least,” is a further proof, for none but Christ could make the town where He was born illustrious.

And after that birth, there came men from the utmost ends of the earth to see the stable and manger. He calls Him not ‘the Son of God,’ but “the Ruler who shall govern My people Israel;” [p. 72] for thus He ought to condescend at the first, that they should not be scandalized, but should preach such things as more pertained to salvation, that they might be gained.

“Who shall rule My people Israel,” is said mystically, for those of the Jews who believed; for if Christ ruled not all the Jews, theirs is the blame. Meanwhile he is silent respecting the Gentiles, that the Jews might not be scandalized. Mark this wonderful ordinance; Jews and Magi mutually instruct each other; the Jews learn of the Magi that a star had proclaimed Christ in the east, the Magi from the Jews that the Prophets had spoken of Him of old. Thus confirmed by a twofold testimony, they would look with more ardent faith for One whom the brightness of the star and the voice of the Prophets equally proclaimed.

Aug., Serm. 374. 2, 373. 4: The star that guided the Magi to the spot where was the Infant God with His Virgin Mother, might have conducted them straight to the town; but it vanished, and shewed not itself again to them till the Jews themselves had told them “the place where Christ should be born;” Bethlehem of Judaea.

Like in this to those who built the ark for Noah, providing others with a refuge, themselves perished in the flood; or like to the stones by the road that shew the miles, but themselves are not able to move.

The enquirers heard and departed; the teachers spake and remained still. Even now the Jews shew us something similar; for some Pagans, when clear passages of Scripture are shewn them, which prophesy of Christ, suspecting them to be forged by the Christians, have recourse to Jewish copies. Thus they leave the Jews to read unprofitably, and go on themselves to believe faithfully.

7. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go and search diligently for the young Child; and when ye have found Him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship Him also.” 9. Whey they had heard the king, they departed.

Pseudo-Chrys.: As soon as Herod had heard the answer, though doubly authenticated, both by the authority of the Priests, and the passage from the Prophets, he yet turned not to worship the King that was to be born, but sought how he might put Him to death by subtilty. He saw that the Magi were neither to be won by flattery, nor awed by threats, nor bribed by gifts, to consent to this murder; he sought therefore to deceive them; “he privily called the wise men;” that the Jews, whom he suspected, might not know of it. For he thought they would incline the rather to a King of their own nation.

Remig.: “Diligently enquired;” craftily, for he feared they would not return to him, and then he should know how he should do to put the young Child to death.

Pseudo-Aug., Serm. in App. 131, 3: The star had been seen, and with great wonder, nearly two years before. We are to understand that it was signified to them whose the star was, which was visible all that time till He, whom it signified, was born. Then as soon as Christ was made known to them they set out, and came and worshipped Him in thirteen days from the east. [ed. note: This is written upon the notion that the Magi presented themselves to Christ twelve days after His birth, according to the Latin date for celebrating the event. It seems really to have taken place after the Purification, on the return of St. Mary to Bethlehem. However, Aug. (Cons. Evan., ii. 11) places it before the Purification.]

Chrys.: Or, the star appeared to them long time before, because the journey would take up some time, and they were to stand before Him immediately on His birth, that seeing Him in swaddling clothes, He might seem the more wonderful.

Gloss: According to others, the star was first seen on the day of the nativity, and having accomplished its end, ceased to be. Thus Fulgentius [margin note: Serm. de Epiph.] says, “The Boy at His birth created a new star.” Though they now knew both time and place, he still would not have them ignorant of the person of the Child, “Go,” he says, “and enquire diligently of the young Child;” a commission they would have executed even if he had not commanded it.

Chrys.: “Concerning the young Child,” he says, not ‘of the King;’ he envies Him the regal title.

Pseudo-Chrys.: To induce them to do this, he put on the colour of devotion, beneath which he whetted the sword, hiding the malice of his heart under colour of [p. 74] humility. Such is the manner of the malicious, when they would hurt any one in secret, they feign meekness and affection.

Greg., Hom. in Ev. i. 10. 3: He feigns a wish of worshipping Him only that he may discover Him, and put him to death.

Remig.: The Magi obeyed the King so far as to seek the Lord, but not to return to Herod. Like in this to good hearers; the good they hear from wicked preachers, that they do; but do not imitate their evil lives.

10. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

Gloss: This service of the star is followed by the rejoicing of the Magi.

Remig.: And it was not enough to say, “They rejoiced,” but “they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”

Pseudo-Chrys.: They rejoiced, because their hopes were not falsified but confirmed, and because the toil of so great travel had not been undertaken in vain.

Gloss. ord.: He rejoices indeed who rejoices on God’s account, who is the true joy. “With great joy,” he says, for they had great cause.

Pseudo-Chrys.: By the mystery of this star they understood that the dignity of the King then born exceeded the measure of all worldly kings.

Remig.: He adds, “greatly,” shewing that men rejoice more over what they have lost than over what they possess.

Leo, Serm. in Epiph., 4. 3: Though in stature a babe, needing the aid of others, unable to speak, and different in nothing from other infants, yet such faithful witnesses, shewing the unseen Divine Majesty which was in Him, ought to have proved most certainly that was the Eternal Essence of the Son of [p. 76] God that had taken upon Him the true human nature.

Pseudo-Chrys.: “Mary His mother,” not crowned with a diadem or laying on a golden couch; but with barely one garment, not for ornament but for covering, and that such as the wife of a carpenter when abroad might have. Had they therefore come to seek an earthly king, they would have been more confounded than rejoiced, deeming their pains thrown away.

But now they looked for a heavenly King; so that though they saw nought of regal state, that star’s witness sufficed them, and their eyes rejoiced to behold a despised Boy, the Spirit shewing Him to their hearts in all His wonderful power, they fell down and worshipped, seeing the man, they acknowledged the God.

Rabanus: Joseph was absent by Divine command, that no wrong suspicions might occur to the Gentiles.

Gloss, Anselm: in these offerings we observe their national customs, gold, frankincense, and various spices abounding among the Arabians; yet they intended thereby to signify something in mystery.

Greg., Hom. in Evan., 1, 106: Gold, as to a King; frankincense, as sacrifice to God; myrrh, as embalming the body of the dead.

Aug.: Gold, as paid to a mighty King; frankincense, as offered to God; myrrh, as to one who is to die for the sins of all. Pseudo-Chrys.: And though it were not then understood what these several gifts mystically signified, that is no difficulty; the same grace that instigated them to the deed, ordained the whole.

Remig.: And it is to be known that each did not offer a different gift, but each one the three kings, each one thus proclaiming the King, the God, and the man.

Chrys.: Let Marcion and Paul of Samosata then blush, who will not see what the Magi saw, those progenitors of the Church adoring God in the flesh. That He was truly in the flesh, the swaddling clothes and the stall prove; yet that they worshipped Him not as mere man, but as God, the gifts prove which it was becoming to offer to a God. Let the Jews also be ashamed, seeing the Magi coming before them, and themselves not even earnest to tread in their path.

Greg.: Something further may yet be meant here. Wisdom is typified by gold; as Solomon saith in the Proverbs, “A treasure to be desired is in the mouth of the wise.”

By frankincense, which is burnt before God, the power of prayer [p. 77] is intended, as in the Psalms, “Let my speech come before thee as incense.” [Psa_141:2] In myrrh is figured mortification of the flesh. To a king at his birth we offer gold, if we shine in his sight with the light of wisdom; we offer frankincense, if we have power before God by the sweet savour of our prayers; we offer myrrh, when we mortify by abstinence the lusts of the flesh.

Gloss, Anselm: The three men who offer, signify the nations who come from the three quarters of the earth. They open their treasures, i.e. manifest the faith of their hearts by confession. Rightly “in the house,” teaching that we should not vaingloriously display the treasure of a good conscience. They bring “three” gifts, i.e. the faith in the Holy Trinity. Or opening the stores of Scripture, they offer its threefold sense, historical, moral and allegorical; or Logic, Physic, and Ethics, making them all serve the faith.

12. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

Aug.: The wicked Herod, now made cruel by fear, will needs do a deed of horror. But how could he ensnare him who had come to cut off all fraud? His fraud is escaped as it follows, “And being warned.”

Jerome: They had offered gifts to the Lord, and receive a warning corresponding to it. This warning (in the Greek ‘having received a response’) is given not by an Angel, but by the Lord Himself, to shew the high privilege granted to the merit of Joseph.

Gloss. ord.: This warning is given by the Lord Himself; it is none other that now teaches these Magi the way they should return, but He who said, “I am the way.” [Joh_14:6] Not that the Infant actually speaks to them, that His divinity may not be revealed before the time, and His human nature may be thought real. But he says, “having received an answer,” for as Moses prayed silently, so they with pious spirit had asked what the Divine will bade. “By another way,” for they were not to be mixed up with the unbelieving Jews.

Chrys., Hom. 8: See the faith of the Magi; they were not offended, nor said within themselves, What need now of flight? or [p. 78] of secret return, if this Boy be really some great one? Such is true faith; it asks not the reason of any command, but obeys.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Had the Magi sought Christ as an earthly King, they would have remained with Him when they had found Him; but they only worship, and go their way. After their return, they continued in the worship of God more steadfast than before, and taught many by their preaching. And when afterwards Thomas reached their country, they joined themselves to him, and were baptized, and did according to his preaching. [ed. note: S. Thomas is said to have preached to the Parthians, Persians, or Indians. Euseb. Hist. iii. 1. Clem. Recogn. ix. 29. Greg. Naz. Or. 25. p. 438. The Margi are mentioned, Pseudo-Hippol. de Duod. Apost. (ed. Fabr. Append. p. 30) Combefis conjecturing Mardi.]

Greg., Hom. in Ev. i. 10. 7: We may learn much from this return of the Magi another way. Our country is Paradise, to which, after we have come to the knowledge of Christ we are forbidden to return the way we came. We have left this country by pride, disobedience, following things of sight, tasting, forbidden food; and we must return to it by repentance, obedience, by contemning things of sight, and overcoming carnal appetite.

Pseudo-Chrys.: It was impossible that they, who left Herod to go to Christ, should return to Herod. They who have by sin left Christ and passed to the devil, often return to Christ; for the innocent, who knows not what is evil, is easily deceived, but having once tasted the evil he has taken up, and remembering the good he has left, he returns in penitence to God. He who has forsaken the devil and come to Christ, hardly returns to the devil; for rejoicing in the good he has found, and remembering the evil he has escaped, with difficulty returns to that evil.

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Dec 28: Pope Benedict XVI on Today’s Psalm 124 (123)

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 28, 2010


Wednesday, 22 June 2005

Psalm 124[123]
“If the Lord had not been on our side’
Evening Prayer – Monday of Week Three

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. We have before us Psalm 124[123], a song of thanksgiving intoned by the whole community in prayer, raising praise to God for the gift of liberation. The Psalmist opens by proclaiming the invitation: “This is Israel’s song” (v. 1), thus encouraging all the people to raise lively and sincere thanks to God the Saviour. If the Lord had not taken the victims’ side, with their limited strength they would have been powerless to free themselves; their adversaries, like monsters, would have torn and shattered them.

Although this Psalm has been thought to refer to some specific historical event, such as the end of the Babylonian exile, it is more likely that it was intended as a heartfelt hymn to thank the Lord for being saved from peril and a plea for liberation from all evil. In this regard it is a Psalm that is ever timely.

2. After the initial reference to certain “men” who rose up against the faithful and would have “swallowed them alive” (cf. vv. 2-3), the song has two passages. In the first, the raging waters, a biblical symbol of devastating chaos, evil and death, predominate: “Then would the waters have engulfed us, the torrent gone over us; over our head would have swept the raging waters” (vv. 4-5). The person of prayer now has the feeling that he lies on a beach, miraculously saved from the pounding fury of the waves.

Human life is surrounded by the snares of evil lying in wait that not only attack the person’s life but also aim at destroying all human values. We see how these dangers exist even now. However, the Lord rises – and we can be sure of this also today – to preserve the just and save him, as the Psalmist sings in Psalm 18[17]: “From on high he reached down and seized me; he drew me forth from the mighty waters. He snatched me from my powerful foe, from my enemies… the Lord was my support. He brought me forth into freedom, he saved me because he loved me” (vv. 17-20).

3. The second part of our thanksgiving hymn shifts from the marine image to a hunting scene, typical of many Psalms of supplication (cf. Ps 124[123]: 6-8). Here, in fact, the Psalm evokes a wild beast clenching its prey between its teeth or the snare of fowlers that captures a bird. But the blessing this Psalm expresses enables us to understand that the destiny of the faithful, that was a destiny of death, has been radically changed by a saving intervention: “Blessed be the Lord who did not give us a prey to their teeth! Our life, like a bird, has escaped from the snare of the fowler. Indeed the snare has been broken and we have escaped” (vv. 6-7).

Here, prayer becomes a sigh of relief that wells up from the depths of the soul: even when all human hopes are destroyed, the divine liberating power can appear. The Psalmist can thus conclude with a profession of faith, which has been part of the Christian liturgy for centuries, as an ideal premise for all our prayers: “Adiutorium nostrum in nomine Domini, qui fecit caelum et terram – Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (v. 8). In particular, the Almighty takes the side of the victims and the persecuted “who call out to him day and night” and he “will give them swift justice” (cf. Lk 18: 7-8).

4. St Augustine comments clearly on this Psalm. He first observes that it is fittingly sung by the “members of Christ who have reached blessedness”. In particular, “it has been sung by the holy martyrs who, upon leaving this world are with Christ in joy, ready to take up incorrupt again those same bodies that were previously corruptible. In life they suffered torments in the body, but in eternity these torments will be transformed into ornaments of justice”.

However, in a second instance the Bishop of Hippo tells us that we too, not only the blessed in Heaven, can sing this Psalm with hope. He declares: “We too are enlivened by unfailing hope and will sing in exaltation. Indeed, the singers of this Psalm are not strangers to us…. Therefore, let us all sing with one heart: both the saints who already possess the crown as well as ourselves, who with affection and hope unite ourselves to their crown. Together we desire the life that we do not have here below, but that we will never obtain if we have not first desired it”.

St Augustine then returns to his former perspective and explains: “The saints think back to the sufferings they encountered, and from that place of bliss and peace where they are now, look at the path they trod to arrive there; and since it would have been difficult to attain deliverance had the hand of the Liberator not intervened to rescue them, they joyfully exclaim: “If the Lord had not been on our side’. This is how their song begins. So great is their joy that they never even speak of that from which they have escaped” (Exposition on Psalm 123: 3: Nuova Biblioteca Agostiniana, XXVIII, Rome 1977, p. 65).

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Dec 28~Feast of the Holy Innocence: My Notes on Today’s Gospel (Matt 2:13-18)

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 28, 2010

Mat 2:13 And after they were departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him.

This is the third time an angel has appeared in a dream, once to the wise men (Mt 2:20), and now, twice to Joseph (Mt 1:20; 2:13). The first appearance was to preserve the child’s davidic ancestry; the appearance to the wise men, and this appearance to Joseph, were for the purpose of preserving the child’s life.

The infancy narrative in many ways foreshadows the passion/resurrection narrative, and such is the case here.  The persecution of the infant Messiah and the life saving dream of Joseph, and, especially that of the Pagan magi, foreshadow the dream of the Pagan wife of Pilate in Mt 27:19; her dream, however, will not save the persecuted, adult Messiah, from death; yet his death was the cause of many rising from the dead (Matt 27:51-53), foreshadowing the future resurrection.

Arise, take the child and his mother. “Take” is a translation of the Greek paralambano, it is used several times in reference to St Joseph’s protection of the infant and his mother (Mt 1:20, 24; 2:20. The basic meaning of the word is”to receive near, that is, associate with oneself (in any familiar or intimate act or relation).” In the passion narrative the word paradidonai is used for the “handing over” (arrest, betrayal) of Jesus (Mt 26:2, 15, 16, 21, 23, 24, 25, 45, 46, 48, 50; Matt 27:2, 3, 4, 18, 26).

The account of the persecution and flight of the Holy Family has, down through the centuries, provided comfort and hope for the followers of Jesus who would themselves suffer persecution precisely because they were his followers (Matt 5:10-12; 10:24-25; 24:16).  It also provides one of several parallels between the experience of Jesus and that of Moses (both escape death at the hands of a cruel ruler. For more Moses/Jesus parallels see here).

Mat 2:14 Who arose, and took the child and his mother by night, and retired into Egypt: and he was there until the death of Herod:

He arose, he took the child and his mother. Note the parallel with the previous verse: “Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee”. This is an example of what biblical scholars call a command and compliance motif. This serves to highlight the fidelity of Joseph, “the just man,” to God’s will.

Egypt. Commentators often note that Egypt is presented as a place of refuge in the Scripture, noting passages such as Gen 10:12; 1 Kings 11:40; Jer 26:21. However, in the first text Abraham is in fear of being killed in this land of refuge; in the second the Patriarchs, who are shepherds, are told the Egyptians loathe them; in the third text, the alleged place of refuge proves ineffectual. Perhaps the flight of the Holy Family shoud be seen in the context of the Gospel narrative alone. Jesus has just been worshipped by Gentiles rather than by the rulers and authorities of his own people; now he is presented as being safe in a Gentile land as opposed to His own homeland. I see here a foreshadowing of Jesus words in Matt 8:10-12, wherein he speaks of the Gentiles reclining at table in the Kingdom with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, while “the children of the Kingdom” are “cast out into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The rejection of the infant Jesus foreshadows the rejection of his preaching by his own countrymen: “The men of Ninive shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they did penance at the preaching of Jonas. And behold a greater than Jonas here. The queen of the south shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold a greater than Solomon here” (Mt 12:41-42).  The flight should probably be seen as a foreshadowing of the mission of the Church to all nations (Matt 28:19).

Mat 2:15 That it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Out of Egypt have I called my son.

This verse relates to the end of the last verse: “and he was there until the death of Herod”. It also points towards Matt 2:21. The quotation is from Hosea 11:1. In that context, the prophet is referring to the exodus from Egypt, and the statement introduces a presentation of Israel as unfaithful to God, inspite of the care he showed them (Hosea 11:2-4). This leads to the threat of exile to Egypt and Assyria because the people refuse to repent (Hosea 11:5-7). In spite of all of this, God’s love still burns for his people, He will call them once again out of Egypt (a symbol in Hosea for exile) and Assyria (Hosea 11:10-11). Jesus comes out of exile from Egypt and will be portrayed by Matthew as the perfect Israel, faithful to God (see Matt 3:15, 4:1-11). Notice too that in Hosea 11:9 God refers to Himself as “The Holy One present among you,” reminding us that Jesus is “Emmanuel,” “God with us” (Matt 1:23).

Mat 2:16 Then Herod perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceeding angry: and sending killed all the men-children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.

Herod, thinking that he has been “deluded” ( Greek: empaizo”mocked”, jeered at) by the gentile wise men is enraged. The word empaizo appears elsewhere in Matthew only in the passion prediction of Matt 20:19 (refeerring to gentiles) and in the passion narrative in Matt 27:29, 31 (Gentiles); Matt 27:41 (Jews). Herod’s feeling that he had been mocked led him to order the slaughter of the infants; the mocking of Jesus begins after the people state: His blood be upon us and our children” (Matt 27:25).

“Exceedingly angry” (Greek: thumoo) is used to describe the emotion of Herod. The word thumoo is used to describe the fiereceness of the possessed man in Matt 8:28. The exceeding anger of Herod contrast with the exceeding joy of the magi mentioned in Mt 2:10.

The dilligent enquiry of Herod recalls his secret examination of the wise men in Matt 2:7.

Mat 2:17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet, saying:
Mat 2:18 A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

See Jeremiah 31:15.

Ramah is closely associated with the Assyrian debacle. It was besieged by the Assyrians (Isaiah 10:29; Hosea 5:8) as the northern kingdom of Israel disintegrated.

More to the point in Matthew’s context, it was the place where people from the southern kingdom of Judah were assembled by the Babylonians for deportation (Jeremiah 40:1). This was the low point of the Kingdom of David (Matt 1:11, 17). Matthew sees the text as a prophecy of the slaughter of the holy innocents, but, as always, whenever Matthew appeals to Scripture, it is important to note the context of the prophecy.  These words of Jeremiah are a call to cease mourning because God will change the people’s fortunes if they show true repentance.  In light of the next section of the Gospel (Matt 3:1-12; see especially the condemnation of the religious leaders in vss 7-12)  Matthew’s use of the Jeremiah text is clearly implying that King Herod is the leader of a new Babylon who drives Jesus into exile and carries off Rachael’s children. In chapter 24, with numerous allusions to the prophets, Jesus will insinuate that the leaders of the people (both political and religious) have become like the traditional enemies of God’s people.  For Matthew the new leader of the People of God is Jesus and, through Him, leaders of the Church.

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Dec 27: Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on John 20:1-8 for the Feast of St John, Apostle and Evangelist

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 27, 2010

Today’s Gospel is John 20:1a, 2-8, the following post is on 20:1-9.

Ver 1. The first day of the week comes Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, to the sepulcher, and sees the stone taken away from the sepulcher.2. Then she runs, and comes to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and says to them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid him.3. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulcher.4. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulcher.5. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying: yet went he not in.6. Then comes Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulcher, and seeing the linen clothes lie,7. And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself:8. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulcher, and he saw, and believed.9. For as yet they knew not the Scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.

CHRYS. The Sabbath being now over, during which it was unlawful to be there, Mary Magdalene could rest no longer, but came very early in the morning, to seek consolation at the grave: The first day of the week comes Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, to the sepulcher.

AUG. Mary Magdalene, undoubtedly the most fervent in love, of all the women that ministered to our Lord; so that John deservedly mentions her only, and says nothing of the others who were with her, as we know from the other Evangelists.

AUG. Una sabbati is the day which Christians call the Lord’s day, after our Lord’s resurrection. Matthew calls it prima sabbati.

BEDE. Una sabbati, i.e. one day after the sabbath.

THEOPHYL. Or thus: The Jews called the days of the week sabbath, and the first day, one of the sabbaths, which day is a type of the life to come; for that life will be one day not cut short by any night, since God is the sun there, a sun which never sets. On this day then our Lord rose again, with an incorruptible body, even as we in the life to come shall put on incorruption.

AUG. What Mark says, Very early in the morning, at the rising of the sun, does not contradict John’s words, when it was yet dark. At the dawn of day, there are yet remains of darkness, which disappear as the light breaks in. We must not understand Mark’s words, Very early in the morning, at the rising of the sun, to mean that the sun was above the horizon, but rather what we ourselves ordinarily mean by the phrase, when we want any thing to be done very early, we say at the rising of the sun, i.e. some time before the sun is risen.

GREG. It is well said, When it was yet dark: Mary was seeking the Creator of all things in the tomb, and because she found Him not, thought He was stolen. Truly it was yet dark when she came to the sepulcher.   And sees the stone taken away from the sepulcher.

AUG. Now took place what Matthew only relates, the earthquake, and rolling away of the stone, and fight of the guards.

CHRYS. Our Lord rose while the stone and seal were still on the sepulcher. But as it was necessary that others should be certified of this, the sepulcher is opened after the resurrection, and so the fact confirmed. This it was which roused Mary. For when she saw the stone taken away, she entered not nor looked in, but ran to the disciples with all the speed of love. But as yet she knew nothing for certain about the resurrection, but thought that His body had been carried off.

GLOSS. And therefore she ran to tell the disciples, that they might seek Him with her, or grieve with her: Then she runs, and comes to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved.

AUG. This is the way in which he usually mentions himself. Jesus loved all, but him in an especial and familiar way. And says to them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid Him.

GREG. She puts the part for the whole; she had come only to seek for the body of our Lord, and now she laments that our Lord, the whole of Him, is taken away.

AUG. Some of the Greek copies have, taken away my Lord, which is more expressive of love, and of the feeling of an handmaiden. But only a few have this reading.

CHRYS. The Evangelist does not deprive the woman of this praise, nor leaves out from shame, that they had the news first from her. As soon as they hear it, they hasten to the sepulcher.

GREG. But Peter and John before the others, for they loved most; Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulcher.

THEOPHYL. But how came they to the sepulcher, while the soldiers were guarding it? an easy question to answer. After our Lord’s resurrection and the earthquake, and the appearance of the angel at the sepulcher, the guards withdrew, and told the Pharisees what had happened.

AUG. After saying, came to the sepulcher he goes back and tells us how they came: So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulcher; meaning himself, but he always speaks of himself, as if he were speaking of another person.

CHRYS. On coming he sees the linen clothes set aside: And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying. But he makes no further search: yet went he not in.

Peter on the other hand, being of a more fervid temper, pursued the search, and examined every thing: Then comes Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulcher, and sees the linen clothes lie,

and the napkin, that was about His head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Which circumstances were proof of His resurrection. For had they carried Him away, they would not have stripped Him; nor, if any had stolen Him, would they have taken the trouble to wrap up the napkin, and put it in a place by itself, apart from the linen clothes; but would have taken away the body as it was. John mentioned the myrrh first of all, for this reason, i.e. to show you that He could not have been stolen away. For myrrh would make the linen adhere to the body, and so caused trouble to the thieves, and they would never have been so senseless as to have taken this unnecessary pains about the matter.

After Peter however, John entered: Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulcher, and he saw, and believed.

AUG. i.e. That Jesus had risen again, some think: Ah, but what follows contradicts this notion. He saw the sepulcher empty, and believed what the woman had said: For as yet they knew not the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. If he did not yet know that He must rise again from the dead, he could not believe that He had risen. They had heard as much indeed from our Lord, and very openly, but they were so accustomed to hear parables from Him, that they tool; this for a parable, and thought He meant something else.

GREG. But this account of the Evangelist must not be thought to be without some mystical meaning. By John, the younger of the two, the synagogue; by Peter, the elder, the Gentile Church is represented: for as though the synagogue was before the Gentile Church as regards the worship of God, as regards time the Gentile world was before the synagogue. They ran together, because the Gentile world ran side by side with the synagogue from first to last, in respect of purity and community of life, though a purity and community of understanding they had not.

The synagogue came first to the sepulcher, but entered not: it knew the commandments of the law, and had heard the prophecies of our Lord’s incarnation and death, but would not believe in Him who died. Then comes Simon Peter, and entered into the sepulcher: the Gentile Church both knew Jesus Christ as dead man, and believed in Him as living God. The napkin about our Lord’s head is not found with the linen clothes, i.e. God, the Head of Christ, and the incomprehensible mysteries of the Godhead are removed from our poor knowledge; His power transcends the nature of the creature. And it is found not only apart, but also wrapped together; because of the linen wrapped together, neither beginning nor end is seen; and the height of the Divine nature had neither beginning nor end. And it is into one place: for where there is division, God is not; and they merit His grace, who do not occasion scandal by dividing themselves into sects.

But as a napkin is what is used in laboring to wipe the sweat of the brow, by the napkin here we may understand the labor of God: which napkin is found apart, because the suffering of our Redeemer is far removed from ours; inasmuch as He suffered innocently, that which we suffer justly; He submitted Himself to death voluntarily, we by necessity. But after Peter entered, John entered too; for at the end of the world even Judea shall be gathered in to the true faith.

THEOPHYL. Or thus: Peter is practical and prompt, John contemplative and intelligent, and learned in divine things. Now the contemplative man is generally beforehand in knowledge and intelligence, but the practical by his fervor and activity gets the advance of the other’s perception, and sees first into the divine mystery.

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