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 Matthew 12:1-8

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 9, 2011

Ver 1. At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.2. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, “Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.”3. But he said unto them, “Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him;4. How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the Priests?5. Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the Priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?6. But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.7. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.8. For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.”

Gloss. ord.: Having related the preaching together with the miracles of one year before John’s enquiry, He passes to those of another year, namely after the death of John, when Jesus is already in all things spoken against; and hence it is said, “At that time Jesus passed through the corn fields on the sabbath day.”

Aug., De Cons. Ev., ii, 34: This which here follows is related both by Mark and Luke, without any question of discrepancy; indeed they do not say, “At that time,” so that Matthew has here perhaps preserved the order of time, they that of their recollection; unless we take the words in a wider sense, “At that time,” that is, the time in which these many and divers things were done, whence we may conceive that all these things happened after the death of John. For he is believed to have been beheaded a little after he sent his disciples to Christ. So that when he says “at that time,” he may mean only an indefinite time.

Chrys., Hom., xxxix: Why then did He lead them through the corn fields on the sabbath, seeing He knew all things, unless He desired to break the sabbath? This he desired indeed, but not absolutely; therefore He broke it not without cause, but furnished a sufficient reason; so that He both caused the Law to cease, and yet offended not against it.

Thus in order to soften the Jews, He here introduces a natural necessity; this is what is said, “And his disciples being an hungred, began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.” Although in things which are manifestly sinful, there can be no excuse; he who kills another cannot plead rage, nor he who commits adultery, lust, or any other cause; yet here saying that the disciples were hungry, He delivers them from all accusation.

Jerome: As we read in another Evangelist, they had no opportunity of taking food because of the thronging of the multitude, and therefore they hungred as men. That they rub the ears of corn in their hands, and with them satisfy themselves, is a proof of an austere life, and of men who needed not prepared meats, but sought only simple food.

Chrys.: Here admire the disciples, who are so limited in their desires, that they have no care of the things of the body, but despise the support of the flesh; they are assailed by hunger, and yet they go not away from Christ; for had not they been hard pressed by hunger, they would not have done thus.

What the Pharisees said to this is added, “The Pharisees seeing it said unto Him, Behold, thy disciples do what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.”

Aug., De Op. Monach., 23: The Jews rather charged the Lord’s disciples with the breach of the sabbath than with theft; because it was commanded the people of Israel in the Law, [margin note: Deu_23:25] that they should not lay hold of any as a thief in their fields, unless he sought to carry ought away with him; but if any touched only what he needed to eat, him they suffered to depart with impunity free.

Jerome: Observe, that the first Apostles of the Saviour broke the letter of the sabbath, contrary to the opinion of the Ebionites [ed. note: The Ebionites received only the Hebrew Gospel of St. Matthew mutilated. They rejected St. Paul of an apostate, vid. Iren. Haer. 1. 96. n. 2. Orig. in Cels. v. 65. Euseb. iii. 27] who receive the other Apostles, but reject Paul as a transgressor of the Law.

Then it proceeds to their excuse; “But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred?” To refute the false accusation of the Pharisees, He calls to mind the ancient history, that David flying from Saul came to Nobba, and being entertained by Achimelech the Priest, [margin note: 1 Sam 21] asked for food; he having no common bread, gave him the consecrated loaves, which it was not lawful for any to eat, but the Priests only and Levites; esteeming it a better action to deliver men from the danger of famine than to offer sacrifice to God; for the preservation of man is a sacrifice acceptable to God.

Thus then the Lord meets their objection, saying, If David be a holy man, and if you blame not the high-priest Achimelech, but consider their excuse for their transgression of the Law to be valid, and that was hunger; how do ye not approve in the Apostles the same plea which you approve in others! Though even here there is much difference. These rub ears of corn in their hands on the sabbath; those ate the Levitical bread, and over and above the solemn sabbath it was the season of new moon, during which when sought for at the banquet he fled from the royal palace.

Chrys.: To clear His disciples, He brings forward the instance of David, whose glory as a Prophet was great among the Jews. Yet they could not here answer that this was lawful for him, because he was a Prophet; for it was not Prophets, but Priests only who might eat. And the greater was he who did this, the greater is the defence of the disciples; yet though David was a Prophet, they that were with him were not.

Jerome: Observe that neither David nor his servants received the loaves of shew-bread, before they had made answer that they were pure from women.

Chrys.: But some one will say, How is this instance applicable to the question in hand? For David did not transgress the sabbath. Herein is shewn the wisdom of Christ, that He brings forward an instance stronger than the sabbath. For it is by no means the same thing to violate the sabbath, and to touch that sacred table, which is lawful for none. And again, He adds yet another answer, saying, “Or have ye not read in the Law, that on the sabbath days the Priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?”

Jerome: As though He had said, Ye bring complaints against my disciples, that on the sabbath they rub ears of corn in their hands, under stress of hunger, and ye yourselves profane the sabbath, slaying victims in the temple, killing bulls, burning holocausts on piles of wood; also, on the testimony of another Gospel, [margin note: Joh_7:23] ye circumcise infants on the sabbath; so that in keeping one law, ye break that concerning the sabbath.

But the laws of God are never contrary one to another; wisely therefore, wherein His disciples might be accused of having transgressed them, He shews that therein they followed the examples of Achimelech and David; and this their pretended charge of breaking the sabbath He retorts truly, and not having the plea of necessity, upon those who had brought the accusation.

Chrys.: But that you should not say to me, that to find an instance of another’s sin is not to excuse our own — indeed where the thing done and not the doer of it is accused, we excuse the thing done. But this is not enough, He said what is yet more, that they are blameless. But see how great things He brings in; first, the place, in the Temple; secondly, the time, on the sabbath; the setting aside the Law, in the word “profane,” not merely break; and that they are not only free from punishment but from blame; “and are blameless.”

And this second instance is not like the first which He gave respecting David; for that was done but once, by David who was not a Priest, and was a case of necessity; but this second is done every sabbath, and by the Priests, and according to the Law. So that not only by indulgence, as the first case would establish, but by the strict law the disciples are to be held blameless.

But are the disciples Priests? yea, they are yet greater than Priests, forasmuch as He was there who is the Lord of the Temple, who is the reality and not the type; and therefore it is added, “But I say unto you, one greater than the Temple is here.”

Jerome: The word “Hic” is not a pronoun, but an adverb of place here, for that place is greater than the Temple which contains the Lord of the Temple.

Aug., Quaest in Matt., q. 10: It should be observed, that one example is taken from royal persons, as David, the other from priestly, as those who profane the sabbath for the service of the Temple, so that much less can the charge concerning the rubbing the ears of corn attach to Him who is indeed King and Priest.

Chrys.: And because what He had said seemed hard to those that heard it, He again exhorts to mercy, introducing His discourse with emphasis, saying, “But had ye known what that meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice, ye would never have condemned the innocent.”

Jerome: What “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,” signifies, we have explained above. The words, “Ye would never have condemned the innocent,” are to be referred to the Apostles, and the meaning is, If ye allow the mercy of Achimelech, in that he refreshed David when in danger of famishing, why do ye condemn My disciples?

Chrys.: Observe again how in leading the discourse towards an apology for them, He shews His disciples to be above the need of any apology, and to be indeed blameless, as He had said above of the Priests. And He adds yet another plea which clears them of blame, “For the Son of Man is Lord also of the sabbath.”

Remig.: He calls Himself the Son of Man, and the meaning is, He whom ye suppose a mere man is God, the Lord of all creatures, and also of the sabbath, and He has therefore power to change the law after His pleasure, because He made it.

Aug., cont. Faust., xvi, 28: He did not forbid His disciples to pluck the ears of corn on the sabbath, that so He might convict both the Jews who then were, and the Manichaeans who were to come, who will not pluck up a herb lest they should be committing a murder.

Hilary: Figuratively; First consider that this discourse was held “at that time,” namely, when He had given thanks to the Father for giving salvation to the Gentiles. The field is the  world, the sabbath is rest, the corn the ripening of them that believe for the harvest; thus His passing through the corn field on the sabbath, is the coming of the Lord into the world in the rest of the Law; the hunger of the disciples is their desire for the salvation of men.

Raban.: They pluck the ears of corn when they withdraw men from devotion to the world; they rub them in their hands when they tear away their hearts from the lusts of the flesh; they eat the grain when they transfer such as are amended into the body of the Church.

Aug., Quaest. Ev., i, 2: But no man passes into the body of Christ, until he has been stripped of his fleshly raiment; according to that of the Apostle, “Put ye off the old man.” [Eph_4:22]

Raban.: This they do on the sabbath, that is in the hope of eternal rest, to which they invite others. Also they walk through the corn fields with the Lord, who have delight in meditating on the Scriptures; they are hungry while they desire to find the bread of life, that is the love of God, in them; they pluck the ears of corn and rub them in their hands, while they examine the testimonies to discover what lies hid under the letter, and this on the sabbath, that is, while they are free from disquieting thoughts.

Hilary: The Pharisees, who thought that the key of the kingdom of heaven was in their hands, accused the disciples of doing what was not lawful to do; whereon the Lord reminded them of deeds in which, under the guise of facts, a prophecy was concealed; and that He might shew the power of all things, He further added, that it contained the form of that work which was to be, “Had ye known what that meaneth, I will have mercy;” for the work of our salvation is not in the sacrifice of the Law, but in mercy; and the Law having ceased, we are saved by the mercy of God.

Which gift if they had understood they would not have condemned the innocent, that is His Apostles, whom in their jealousy they were to accuse of having transgressed the Law, where the old sacrifices having ceased, the new dispensation of mercy came through them to the aid of all.

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2 Responses to “Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Matthew 12:1-8”

  1. […] Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Today’s Gospel (Matt 12:1-8). […]

  2. […] Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Today’s Gospel (Matt 12:1-8). […]

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