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

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on John 6:1-15

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 30, 2011

Ver 1. After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias.2. And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased.3. And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples.4. And the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh.5. When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come to him, he said to Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?6. And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do.7. Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little.8. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, says to him,9. There is a lad here, which has five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?10. And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.11. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.12. When they were filled, he said to his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.13. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above to them that had eaten.14. Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that Prophet that should come into the world.

CHRYS. As missiles rebound with great force from a hard body, and fly off in all directions, whereas a softer material retains and stops them; so violent men are only excited to greater rage by violence on the side of their opponents, whereas gentleness softens them. Christ quieted the irritation of the Jews by retiring from Jerusalem. He went into Galilee, but not to Cana again, but beyond the sea: After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias.ALCUIN. This sea has different names, from the different places with which it is connected; the sea of Galilee, from the province; the sea of Tiberias, from the city of that name. It is called a sea, though it is not salt water, that name being applied to all large pieces of water, in Hebrew. This sea our Lord often passes over, in going to preach to the people bordering on it.

THEOPHYL. He goes from place to place to try the dispositions of people, and excite a desire to hear Him: And a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His miracles which He did on them that were diseased.

ALCUIN. viz. His giving sight to the blind, and other like miracles. And it should be understood, that all, whom He healed in body, He renewed likewise in soul.

CHRYS. Though favored with such teaching, they were influenced less by it, than by the miracles; a sign of their low state of belief: for Paul says of tongues, that they are for a sign, not to them that believe, I but to them that believe not. They were wiser of whom it is said, that they were astonished at His doctrine. The Evangelist does not say what miracles He wrought, the great object of his book being to give our Lord’s discourses. It follows: And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there sat with His disciples. He went up into the mountain, on account of the miracle which was going to be done. That the disciples alone ascended with Him, implies that the people w ho stayed behind were in fault for not following. He went up to the mountain too, as a lesson to us to retire from the tumult and confusion of the world, and leave wisdom in solitude. And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. Observe, in a whole year, the Evangelist has told us of no miracles of Christ, except His healing the impotent man, and the nobleman’s son. His object was to give not a regular history, but only a few of the principal acts of our Lord. But why did not our Lord go up to the feast? He was taking occasion, from the wickedness of the Jews, gradually to abolish the Law.

THEOPHYL. The persecutions of the Jews gave Him reason for retiring, and thus setting aside the Law. The truth being now revealed, types were at an end, and He was under no obligation to keep the Jewish feasts. Observe the expression, a feast of the Jews, not a feast of Christ.

BEDE. If we compare the accounts of the different Evangelists, we shall find very clearly, that there was an interval of a year between the beheading of John, and our Lord’s Passion. For, since Matthew says that our Lord, on hearing of the death of John, withdrew into a desert place, where He fed the multitude; and John says that the Passover was nigh, when He fed the multitude; it is evident that John was beheaded shortly before the Passover. And at the same feast, the next year Christ suffered. It follows, When Jesus then lifted up His eyes, and saw a great company come to Him, He said to Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? When Jesus lifted up His eyes, this is to show us, that Jesus was not generally with His eyes lifted up, looking about Him, but sitting calm and attentive, surrounded by His disciples.

CHRYS. Nor did He only sit with His disciples, but conversed with them familiarly, and gained possession of their minds. Then He looked, and saw a crowd advancing. But why did He ask Philip that question? Because He knew that His disciples, and he especially, needed further teaching. For this Philip it was who said afterwards, Show us the Father, and it suffices us. And if the miracle had been performed at once, without any introduction, the greatness of it would not have been seen. The disciples were made to confess their own inability, that they might see the miracle more clearly; And this He said to prove him.

AUG. One kind of temptation leads to sin, with which God never tempts any one; and there is another kind by which faith is tried. In this sense it is said that Christ proved His disciple. This is not meant to imply that He did not know what Philip would say; but is an accommodation to men’s way of speaking. For as the expression, Who searches the hearts of men, does not mean the searching of ignorance, but of absolute knowledge; so here, when it is said that our Lord proved Philip, we must understand that He knew him perfectly, but that He tried him, in order to confirm his faith. The Evangelist himself guards against the mistake which this imperfect mode of speaking might occasion, by adding, For He Himself knew what He would do.

ALCUIN. He asks him this question, not for His own information, but in order to show His yet unformed disciple his dullness of mind, which he could not perceive of himself.

THEOPHYL. Or to show others it. He was not ignorant of His disciple’s heart Himself.

AUG. But if our Lord, according to John’s account, on seeing the multitude, asked Philip, tempting him, whence they could buy food for them, it is difficult at first to see how it can be true, according to the other account, that the disciples first told our Lord, to send away the multitude; and that our Lord replied, They need not depart; give you them to eat. We must understand then it was after saying this, that our Lord saw the multitude, and said to Philip what John had related, which has been omitted by the rest.

CHRYS. Or they are two different occasions altogether.

THEOPHYL. Thus tried by our Lord, Philip was found to be possessed which human notions, as appears from what follows, Philip answered Him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little.

ALCUIN. Wherein he shows his dullness: for, had he perfect ideas of his Creator, he would not be thus doubting His power.AUG. The reply, which is attributed to Philip by John, Mark puts in the mouth of all the disciples, either meaning us to understand that Philip spoke for the rest, or else putting the plural number for the singular, which is often done.

THEOPHYL. Andrew is in the same perplexity that Philip is; only he has rather higher notions of our Lord: There its a lad here which has five barley loaves and two small fishes.

CHRYS. Probably He had some reason in his mind for this speech. He would know of Elijah’s miracle, by which a hundred men were fed with twenty loaves. This was a great step; but here he stopped. He did not rise any higher. For his next words are, But what are these among so many? He thought that less could produce less in a miracle, and more more; a great mistake; inasmuch as it was as easy for Christ to feed the multitude from a few fishes as from many. He did not really want any material to work from, but only made use of created things for this purpose in order to show that no part of the creation was severed from His wisdom.

THEOPHYL. This passage confounds the Manicheans, who say that bread and all such things were created by an evil Deity. The Son of the good God, Jesus Christ, multiplied the loaves. Therefore they could not have been naturally evil; a good God would never have multiplied what was evil.

AUG. Andrew’s suggestion about the five loaves and two fishes, is given as coming from the disciples in general, in the other Evangelists, and the plural number is used.

CHRYS. And let those of us, who are given to pleasure, observe the plain and abstemious eating of those great and wonderful men. He made the men sit down before the loaves appeared, to teach us that with Him, things teat are not are as things that are, as Paul says, Who calls those things that be not, as though they were. The passage proceeds then: And Jesus said, Make the men sit down.

ALCUIN. Sit down, i.e. lie down, as the ancient custom was, which they could do, as there was much grass in the place.

THEOPHYL. i.e. green grass. It was the time of the Passover, which was kept the first month of the spring. So the men sat down in number about five thousand. The Evangelist only counts the men following the direction in the law. Moses numbered the people from twenty years old and upwards, making no mention of the women; to signify that the manly and juvenile character is especially honorable in God’s eyes. And Jesus took the loaves; and when He had given thanks, He distributed to them that were sat down: and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.

CHRYS. But why when He is going to heal the impotent, to raise the dead, to calm the sea, does He not pray, but here does give thanks? To teach us to give thanks to God, whenever we sit down to eat. And He prays more in lesser matters, in order to show that He does not pray from any motive of need. For had prayer been really necessary to supply His wants, His praying would have been in proportion to the importance of each particular work. But acting, as He does, on His own authority, it is evident, He only prays out of condescension to us. And, as a great multitude was collected, it was an opportunity of impressing on them, that His coming was in accordance with God’s will. Accordingly, when a miracle was private, He did not pray; when numbers were present, He did.

HILARY. Five loaves are then set before the multitude, and broken. The broken portions pass through into the hands of those who break, that from which they are broken all the time not at all diminishing. And yet there they are, the bits taken from it, in the hands of the persons breaking. There is no catching by eye or touch the miraculous operation: that is, which was not, that is seen, which is not understood. It only remains for us to believe that God can do all things.

AUG. He multiplied in His hands the five loaves, just as He produces harvest out of a few grains. There was a power in the hands of Christ; and those five loaves were, as it were, seeds, not indeed committed to the earth, but multiplied by Him who made the earth.

CHRYS. Observe the difference between the servant and the lord. The Prophets received grace, as it were, by measure, and according to that measure performed their miracles: whereas Christ, working this by His own absolute power, produces a kind of super abundant result. When they were filled, He said to His disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments. This was not done for needless ostentation, but to prevent men from thinking the whole a delusion; which was the reason why He made use of an existing material to work from. But why did He give the fragments to His disciples to carry away, and not to the multitude? Because the disciples were to be the teachers of the world, and therefore it was most important that the truth should be impressed upon them. Wherefore I admire not only the multitude of the loaves which were made, but the definite quantity of the fragments; neither more nor less than twelve baskets full, and corresponding to the number of the twelve Apostles.

THEOPHYL. We learn too from this miracle, not to be pusillanimous in the greatest straits of poverty.

BEDE. When the multitude saw the miracle our Lord had done, they marveled; as they did not know yet that He was God. Then those men, the Evangelist adds, i.e. carnal men, whose understanding was carnal, when they had perceived the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that Prophet that should come into the world.

ALCUIN. Their faith being as yet weak, they only call our Lord a Prophet not knowing that He was God. But the miracle had produced considerable effect upon them, as it made them call our Lord that Prophet, singling Him out from the rest. They call Him a Prophet, because some of the Prophets had worked miracles; and properly, inasmuch as our Lord calls Himself a Prophet; It cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.

AUG. Christ is a Prophet and the Lord of Prophets; as He is an Angel, and the Lord of Angels. In that He came to announce something, He was an Angel; in that He foretold the future, He was a Prophet; in that He was the Word made flesh, He was Lord both of Angels and Prophets; for none can be a Prophet without the word of God.

CHRYS. Their expression, that should come into the world, shows that they expected the arrival of some great Prophet. And this is why they say, This is of a truth that Prophet: the article being put in the Greek, to show that He was distinct from other Prophets.

AUG. But let us reflect a little here. Forasmuch as the Divine Substance is not visible to the eye, and the miracles of the divine government of the world, and ordering of the whole creation, are overlooked in consequence of their constancy; God has reserved to Himself acts, beside the established course and order of nature, to do at suitable times; in order that those who overlooked the daily course of nature, might be roused to wonder by the sight of what was different from, though not at all greater, than what they were used to. The government of the world is a greater miracle, than the satisfying the hunger of five thousand with five loaves; and yet no one wonders at this: the former excited wonder; not from any real superiority in it, but because it was uncommon. But it would be wrong to gather no more than this from Christ’s miracles: for, the Lord who is on the mount, and the Word of God which is on high, the same is no humble person to be lightly passed over, but we must look up to Him reverently.

ALCUIN. Mystically, the sea signifies this tumultuous world. In the fullness of time, when Christ had entered the sea of our mortality by His birth, trodden it by His death, passed over it by His resurrection, then followed Him crowds of believers, both from the Jews and Gentiles.

BEDE. Our Lord went up to the mountain, when He ascended to heaven, which is signified by the mountain.

ALCUIN. His leaving the multitude below, and ascending the heights with His disciples, signifies, that lesser precepts are to be given to beginners, higher to the more matured. His refreshing the people shortly before the Passover signifies our refreshment by the bread of the divine word; and the body and blood, i.e. our spiritual passover, by which we pass over from vice to virtue. And the Lord’s eyes are spiritual gifts, which he mercifully bestows on His Elect. He turns His eyes upon them, i.e. has compassionate respect to them.

AUG. The five barley loaves signify the old law; either because the law was given to men not as yet spiritual, but carnal, i.e. under the dominion of the five senses, (the multitude itself consisted of five thousand:) or because the Law itself was given by Moses in five books. And the loaves being of barley is also an allusion to the Law, which concealed the soul’s vital nourishment, under carnal ceremonies. For in barley the corn itself is buried under the most tenacious husk. Or, it alludes to the people who were not yet freed from the husk of carnal appetite, which cling to their heart.

BEDE. Barley is the food of cattle and slaves: and the old law was given to slaves and cattle, i.e. to carnal men.

AUG. The two fishes again, that gave the pleasant taste to the bread, seem to signify the two authorities by which the people were governed, the Royal, viz. and the Priestly; both of which prefigure our Lord, who sustained both characters.

BEDE. Or, by the two fishes are meant the saying or writings of the Prophets, and the Psalmist. And whereas the number five refers to the five senses, a thousand stands for perfection. But those who strive to obtain the perfect government of their five senses, are called men, in consequence of their superior powers: they have no womanly weaknesses; but by a sober and chaste life, earn the sweet refreshment of heavenly wisdom.

AUG. The boy who had these is perhaps the Jewish people, who, as it were, carried the loaves and fishes after a servile fashion, and did not eat them. That which they carried, while shut up, was only a burden to them; when opened became their food

BEDE. And well is it said, But what are these among so many? The Law was of little avail, till He took it into His hand, i.e. fulfilled it, and gave it a spiritual meaning. The Law made nothing perfect.

AUG. By the act of breaking He multiplied the five loaves. The five books of Moses, when expounded by breaking, i.e. unfolding them, made many books.

AUG. Our Lord by breaking, as it were, what was hard in the Law, and opening what was shut, that time when He opened the Scriptures to the disciples after the resurrection, brought the Law out in its full meaning.

AUG. Our Lord’s question proved the ignorance of His disciples, i.e. the people’s ignorance of the Law. They lay on the grass, i.e. were carnally minded, rested in carnal things, for all flesh is grass. Men are filled with the loaves, when what they hear with the ear, they fulfill in practice.

AUG. And what are the fragments, but the parts which the people could not eat? An intimation, that those deeper truths, which the multitude cannot take in, should be entrusted to those who are capable of receiving them, and afterwards teaching them to others; as were the Apostles. For which reason twelve baskets were filled with them.ALCUIN. Baskets are used for servile work. The baskets here are the Apostles and their followers, who, though despised in this present life, are within filled with the riches of spiritual sacraments. The Apostles too are represented as baskets, because, that through them, the doctrine of the Trinity was to be preached in the four parts of the world. His not making new loaves, but multiplying what there were, means that He did not reject the Old Testament, but only developed and explained it.

Ver 15. When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone

BEDE. The multitude concluding, from so great a miracle, that He was merciful and powerful, wished to make Him a king. For men like having a merciful king to rule over them, and a powerful one to protect them. Our Lord knowing this, retired to the mountain: When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take Him by force to make Him a king, He departed again into a mountain Himself alone. From this we gather, that our Lord went down from the mountain before, where He was sitting with His disciples, when He saw the multitude coming, and had fed them on the plain below. For how could He go up to the mountain again, unless He had come down from it.

AUG. This is not at all inconsistent with what we read, that He went up into a mountain apart to pray: the object of escape being quite compatible with that of prayer. Indeed our Lord teaches us here, that whenever escape is necessary, there is great necessity for prayer.

AUG. Yet He who feared to be made a king, was a king; not made king by men, (for He ever reigns with the Father, in that He is the Son of God,) but making men kings: which kingdom of His the Prophets had foretold. Christ by being made man, made the believers in Him Christians, i.e. members of His kingdom, incorporated and purchased by His Word. And this kingdom will be made manifest, after the judgment; when the brightness of His saints shall be revealed. The disciples however, and the multitude who believed in Him thought that He had come to reign now; and so would have taken Him by force, to make Him a king, wishing to anticipate His time, which He kept secret.

CHRYS. See what the belly can do. They care no more for the violation of the Sabbath; all their zeal for God is fled, now that their bellies are filled: Christ has become a Prophet, and they wish to enthrone Him as king. But Christ makes His escape; to teach us to despise the dignities of the world. He dismisses His disciples, and goes up into the mountain. – These, when their Master had left them went down in the evening to the sea; as we read; And when even was now come, His disciples went down to the sea. They waited till evening, thinking He would come to them; and then, as He did not come, delayed no longer searching for Him, but in the ardor of love, entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. They went to Capernaum thinking they should find Him there.

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3 Responses to “Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on John 6:1-15”

  1. […] UPDATE: Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on John 6:1-15. […]

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  3. […] Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Today’s Gospel (John 6:1-15). […]

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