Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Matthew 8:23-27
Posted by Dim Bulb on June 25, 2011
Mat 8:23 And when he entered into the boat, his disciples followed him:
And when he entered into the boat, &c. The Vulgate has navicula, “a little ship,” because they were small boats, which were used for crossing the lake, and for fishing. S. Mark adds (Mark 4:36), they received him as he was, i.e., as he was teaching the multitudes who were standing upon the shore.
Mat 8:24 And behold a great tempest arose in the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves, but he was asleep.
And behold a great tempest arose in the sea. S. Luke adds, the waves were filling the ship, and they were in danger (Lk 8:23). Bede and Strabus and the Gloss are of opinion that in this storm Christ’s ship alone was tossed, but not the other little ships which accompanied them, that Christ might show thereby that He was the Author of the storm arising, as well as of its being made to cease. But it is more correct to suppose that the other boats were also storm-tossed, for these boats were near, yea, close to Christ’s ship, that there might be shown the greater fury of the tempest, and the greater power of Christ in calming it. Moreover, God permitted this storm to arise from natural causes, such as vapours, and winds concurring with them, so that Christ raised and sent this storm.
He did this—1. That He might declare His power, and show that He is Lord of the sea as well as the land, says Origen. (Hom. 6 in Diver.) Hence the angel who appeared to S. John set his right foot upon the sea, as though commanding it. (Rev 10:2.) For this angel represented Christ, as Bede, Richard of S. Victor, and others say.
2. That He might exercise His disciples in bearing, as well the persecutions of men as the storms and tempests of wind and rain which they must often experience in going about the world to evangelize it. So Theophylact. Whence also S. Chrysostom gives this reason, “that He might exercise the athletes of the world in temptations and terrors.”
3. That His disciples and the other passengers in the ship might, through the miracle of the quelled tempest, believe in Him that He was very and omnipotent God.
Tropologically, this tempest in the sea, says S. Chrysostom, was a type of the future trials of the Church. For the ship in the waves represents the Church and the soul in temptations, by which they are quickened and profited. For a life without trial is like a dead sea, as Seneca says (Epist. 67). And thus a man who is without temptation is like one who is in a swoon, or dead. Temptation rouses him up to exert his faculties, that he may vanquish it.
Again, as a tempest drives ships before it, that they may the more speedily arrive at their wished-for haven, so does temptation stimulate a man to greater zeal for virtue, whereby he may he borne on towards heaven. As Chrysologus says (Ser. 20), “It is not serene weather which proves the skill of the pilot, it is tempestuous weather which does that. Any sort of a sailor can manage a ship in a gentle breeze, but for the confusion of a tempest the skill of the best captain is needed.”
The tempest therefore of the waves and winds is the temptation of pride, gluttony, lust, envy, and so on.
Let him then who is beaten by temptation do as sailors do in a storm. First they furl their sails, that the fury of the wind may not have so much power over the ship to hurry it to destruction. Thus let him who is tempted furl the sails of his pleasures, and give himself up to fasting and penance.
2. Sailors make for the open sea, that their ship may not strike against rocks. So let him who is tempted flee from the world and worldly things, and let him betake himself to God as a haven of refuge; and let him say with the Psalmist, “My soul refused comfort. I thought upon God and was refreshed.” (Ps. 77)
Sailors cast fittings and merchandise into the sea, that they may lighten the ship; so let the tempted unburden themselves by means of contrition and confession of the heavy weight of their sins, and lighten their minds. Hence doctors teach that they who are about to go on a voyage, especially a long and perilous one, ought to go to confession, that they may place themselves in a state of grace, as persons drawing nigh to the article of death, not once only, but in a manifold manner.
Lastly, a good captain, maintaining his courage, and having presence of mind, tries every way of escaping from the peril of the storm. Let the mind of him who is tempted do the same. A master of a ship, says S. Cyprian (Tract. de Mortal.) is proved by a storm, as a soldier is by a battle.
But he was asleep. This was voluntary, but at the same time natural sleep. 1. That the winds and storm might increase, so that Christ’s power and authority might be the more manifested by His quelling them.
2. “There is set forth,” says S. Ambrose, “the security of His power, that whilst all others were afraid He abode in calm serenity, so that when we are in any similar tribulation we might flee unto Him, and fix our hopes firmly upon Him, according to the saying in Proverbs xxviii. 1: “The righteous is bold as a lion.”
Moreover the pillow upon which, as S. Mark relates, Christ rested is mystically, 1. A good conscience. 2. Resignation to the will of God. 3. Confidence in God’s power and providence. For on this a believer rests, and as it were sleeps, in all adversities.
Origen (Hom. 6 in Diversis) says, Christ slept as to His body, but was awake as to His Deity. The sleep of Jonah when the rest who were in the ship were in peril was a type of this. See what I have there said. Moreover what kind of sleep this of Christ’s was, and wherein it differed from ours, see in Toletus, Annotat. 43, in 8. cap. Luc.
Tropologically, says the Gloss, Christ sleeps when we are negligent: but when faith revives He commands the winds and the waves.
Mat 8:25 And they came to him, and awaked him, saying: Lord, save us, we perish.
Mat 8:26 And Jesus saith to them: Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith? Then rising up, he commanded the winds, and the sea, and there came a great calm.
And Jesus saith to them: Why are you fearful, &c. He said this before He had stilled the tempest, according to S. Matthew’s order in this place, though S. Mark and S. Luke mention it afterwards. It was fitting that the extreme terror of the disciples should be calmed before the raging of the sea, and that their waning faith should be strengthened that it might be rewarded by the cessation of the storm. So Jansen and others.
O ye of little faith. For ye do not seem perfectly to believe that I am God; and ye do not trust to My providential care, nor believe that whilst I am asleep I know of your peril, and will deliver you from it. So S. Chrysostom.
1. Faith here may be taken in the strict use of the word. Or, 2. for confidence, which is produced and sharpened by faith. On the other hand, little faith is the cause of little confidence. S. Luke gives the striking question of our Lord to them, Where is your faith? Hear S. Bernard: “Though the world rages, though the enemy roars, though the flesh itself lusts against the spirit, yet will I put my trust in Thee.”
Then rising up he commanded the winds and the sea. For commanded, the Greek has ε̉πετίμησε which corresponds to the Hebrew נער (gaar). He chided, as the Arabic translates, as a master does his servant. Whence S. Mark says, according to the literal translation of the Greek, He threatened the wind, and said unto the sea, Be silent, be muzzled.
By these expressions is denoted the great violence by which the sea was tossed with the winds, such as no human power but only Divine, could make to cease. Here, therefore, Christ shows that He was God, since He, as their Master, commanded the winds and the sea.
Tropologically. Christ thought of, and invoked in the mind, commands the persecutors of the Church, and the temptations of the soul, as S. Augustine teaches: “Hast thou heard reviling? It is the wind. Art thou angry? It is the waves. For when the wind blows, the waves arise, the ship is in peril, thy heart is in danger, for thy heart is tossed by waves. When thou hearest reproach, thou desirest to vindicate thyself. Lo, thou art avenged, and yielding to another’s evil, thou hast shipwrecked thyself. And why is this? It is because Christ is asleep within thee. Thou hast forgotten Christ. Awake Him therefore; call Him to remembrance. Let Christ keep vigil within thee. And think thou upon Him. Why shouldst thou wish to be avenged? He hath cut thee off from vengeance by His cry upon the Gross, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’” And after some other remarks, S. Austin proceeds: “I will refrain from anger, and will return to the quiet of my heart. Christ commanded the sea, and there was a calm. What I have said with reference to anger, you may apply to all your other temptations. Temptation arises, it is the wind. Thou art troubled, it is the waves. Awake Christ and let Him speak with thee.”
Allegorically, Bede says: “The ship with its yard-arm is the tree of the Cross, by the help of which we who were sunk in the waves of the sea, proceed as Christ’s disciples to the privileges of the eternal country. For Christ says, ‘If any man will come after Me, let him take up the Gross and follow Me.’”
Anagogically, “Christ slept in the time of His Passion. The tempest arose which was stirred up by the blasts of the devil. The disciples awake the Lord, whose death they had witnessed, by desiring His Resurrection. He rises with a speedy Resurrection. He rebukes the wind—that is, the pride of the devil. He calms the tempest—that is, the insulting madness of the Jews. He chides His disciples, for He upbraided them for their incredulity after His Resurrection.”
And there came a great calm, for as S. Jerome says, “All creatures feel their Creator; and things which are senseless to us are sensible to Him.” Or, as Origen says, “It became Him who was so great to do great things.”
Mat 8:27 But the men wondered, saying: What manner of man is this, for the winds and the sea obey him?
What manner of man is this. The Greek is ποταπὸς, which is not simply a particle of interrogation, but is uttered with an emphasis of wonder and admiration. “Who is this? He does not seem to be like other men, but a Being of a different race.”