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 1:43-51

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 1, 2012

Ver 43. The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and finds Philip, and said to him, Follow me.44. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter45. Philip finds Nathaniel, and said to him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph46. And Nathaniel said to him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip said to him, Come and see.

CHRYS. After gaining these disciples, Christ proceeded to convert others, viz. Philip and Nathanael: The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee.

ALCUIN. Leaving, that is, Judea, where John was baptizing, out of respect to the Baptist, and not to appear to lower his office, so long as it continued. He was going too to call a disciple, and wished to go forth into Galilee, i.e. to a place of “transition” or “revelation,” that is to say, that as He Himself increased in wisdom or stature, and in favor with God and man, and as He suffered and rose again, and entered into His glory: so He would teach His followers to go forth, and increase in virtue, and pass through suffering to joy. He finds Philip, and said to him, Follow Me. Everyone follows Jesus who imitates His humility and suffering, in order to be partaker of His resurrection and ascension.

CHRYS. Observe, He did not call them, before some had of their own accord joined Him: for had He invited them, before any had joined Him, perhaps they would have started back: but now having determined to follow of their own free choice, they remain firm ever after. He calls Philip, however, because he would be known to him, from living in Galilee. But what made Philip follow Christ? Andrew heard from John the Baptist, and Peter from Andrew; he had heard from no one, and yet on Christ saying, Follow Me, was persuaded instantly. It is not improbable that Philip may have heard John: and yet it may have been the mere voice of Christ which produced this effect.

THEOPHYL. For the voice of Christ sounded not like a common voice to some, that is, the faithful, but kindled in their inmost soul the love of Him. Philip having been continually meditating on Christ, and reading the books of Moses, so confidently expected Him, that the instant he saw, he believed. Perhaps too he had heard of Him from Andrew and Peter, coming from the same district; an explanation which the Evangelist seems to hint at, when he adds, Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.

CHRYS. The power of Christ appears by His gathering fruit out of a barren country. For form that Galilee, out of which there arises no prophet, He takes His most distinguished disciples.

ALCUIN. Bethsaida means house of hunters. The Evangelist introduces the name of this place by way of allusion to the characters of Philip, Peter, and Andrew, and their future office, i.e. catching and saving souls.

CHRYS. Philip is not persuaded himself, but begins preaching to others: Philip finds Nathanael, and said to him, We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law, and the Prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph. See how zealous he is, and how constantly he is meditating on the books of Moses, and looking for Christ’s coming. That Christ was coming he had known before; but he did not know that this was the Christ, of whom Moses and the Prophets did write: He says this to give credibility to his preaching, and to show his zeal for the Law and the Prophets, and how that he had examined them attentively. Be not disturbed at his calling our Lord the Son of Joseph; this was what He was supposed to be.

AUG. The person to whom our Lord’s mother had been betrothed. The Christians know from the Gospel, that He was conceived and born of an undefiled mother. He adds the place too, of Nazareth.

THEOPHYL. He was bred up there: the place of His birth could not have been known generally, but all knew that He was bred up in Nazareth.   And Nathanael said to him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth.

AUG. However you may understand these words, Philip’s answer wild suit. You may read it either as affirmatory, Something good can come out of Nazareth; to which the other says, Come and see: or you may read it as a question, implying doubt on Nathanael’s part, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Come and see. Since either way of reading agrees equally with what follows, we must inquire the meaning of the passage. Nathanael was well read in the Law, and therefore the word Nazareth (Philip having said that he had found Jesus of Nazareth) immediately raises his hopes, and he exclaims, Something good can come out of Nazareth. He had searched the Scriptures, and knew, what the Scribes and Pharisees could not, that the Savior was to be expected thence.

ALCUIN. He who alone is absolutely holy, harmless, undefiled; of whom the prophet said, There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch (Nazaraus) shall grow out of his roots. Or the words may be taken as expressing doubt, and asking the question.

CHRYS. Nathanael knew from the Scriptures, that Christ was to come from Bethlehem, according to the prophecy of Micah, And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, – out of you shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. On hearing of Nazareth, then, he doubted, and was not able to reconcile Philip’s tidings with prophecy. For the Prophets call Him a Nazarene, only in reference to His education and mode of life. Observe, however, the discretion and gentleness with which he communicates his doubts. He does not say, You deceive me, Philip; but simply asks the question, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip too in turn is equally discrete. He is not confounded by the question, but dwells upon it, and lingers in the hope of bringing him to Christ: Philip said to him, Come and see. He takes him to Christ, knowing that when he had once tasted of His words and doctrine, he will make no more resistance.

Ver  47. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!48. Nathanael said to him, Whence know you me? Jesus answered and said to him, Before that Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.49. Nathanael answered and said to him, Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.50. Jesus answered and said to him, Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, believe you? you shall see greater things than these.51. And he said to him, Verily, verily, I say to you, Hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

CHRYS. Nathanael, in difficulty as to Christ coming out of Nazareth, showed the care with which he had read the Scriptures: his not rejecting the tidings when brought him, showed his strong desire for Christ’s coming. He thought that Philip might be mistaken as to the place. It follows, Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! There was no fault to be found with him, though he had spoken like one who did not believe, because he was more deeply read in the Prophets than Philip. He calls him guileless, because he had said nothing to gain favor, or gratify malice.

AUG. What means this, In whom is no guile? Had he no sin? Was no physician necessary for him? Far from it. No one was ever born, of a temper not to need the Physician. It is guile, when we say one thing, and think another. How then was there no guile in him? Because, if he was as a sinner, he confessed his sin; whereas if a man, being a sinner, pretends to be righteous, there is guile in his mouth. Our Lord then commended the confession of sin in Nathanael; He did not pronounce him not a sinner.

THEOPHYL. Nathanael however, notwithstanding this praise, does not acquiesce immediately, but waits for further evidence, and asks, Whence know You me?

CHRYS. He asks as man, Jesus answers as God: Jesus answered and said to him, Before that Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you: not having, beheld him as man, but as God discerning him from above. I saw you, He says, that is, the character of the life, when you were under the fig tree: where the two, Philip and Nathanael, had been talking together alone, nobody, seeing them; and on this account it is said, that on seeing him a long way off, He said, Behold an Israelite indeed; whence it appears that this speech was before Philip came near, so that no suspicion could attach to Christ’s testimony. Christ would not say, I am not of Nazareth, as Philip told you, but of Bethlehem; in order to avoid an argument: and because it would not have been sufficient proof, had He mentioned it, of His being the Christ. He preferred rather proving this by His having been present at their conversation.

AUG. Has this fig tree any meaning? We read of one fig tree which was cursed, because it had only leaves, and no fruit. Again, at the creation, Adam and Eve, after sinning, made themselves aprons of fig leaves. Fig leaves then signify sins; and Nathanael, when he was under the fig tree, was under the shadow of death: so that our Lord seems to say, O Israel, whoever of you is without guile, O people of the Jewish faith, before that I called you by My Apostles, when you were as yet under the shadow of death, and saw Me not, I saw you.

GREG. When you were under the fig tree, I saw you; i.e. when you were yet under the shade of the law, I chose you.

AUG. Nathanael remembered that he had been under the fig tree, where Christ was not present corporeally, but only by His spiritual knowledge. Hence, knowing that he had been alone, he recognized our Lord’s Divinity.

CHRYS. That our Lord then had this knowledge, had penetrated into his mind, had not blamed but praised his hesitation, proved to Nathanael that He was the true Christ: Nathanael answered and said to Him, Rabbi, You are the Son of God, You are the King of Israel: as if he said, You are He who was expected, you are He who was sought for. Sure proof being obtained, he proceeds to make confession; herein showing his devotion, as his former hesitation had shown his diligence.

ID. Many when they read this passage, are perplexed at finding that, whereas Peter was pronounced blessed for having, after our Lord’s miracles and teaching, confessed Him to be the Son of God, Nathanael, who makes the same confession before, has no such benediction. The reason is this. Peter and Nathanael both used the same words, l but not in the same meaning. Peter confessed our Lord to he the Son of God, in the sense of very God; the latter in the sense of mere man; for after saying, You are the Son of God, he adds, You are the King of Israel; whereas the Son of God was not the King of Israel only, but of the whole world. This is manifest from what follows. For in the case of Peter Christ added nothing, but, as if his faith were perfect, said, that he would build the Church upon his confession; whereas Nathanael, as if his confession were very deficient, is led up to higher things: Jesus answered and said to him, Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, believe you? You shall see greater things than these. As if He said, What I have just said has appeared a great matter to you, and you have confessed Me to be King of Israel; what will you say when you see greater things than these? What that greater thing is He proceeds to show: And He said to him, Verily, verily, I say to you, Hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. See how He raises him from earth for a while, and forces him to think that Christ is not a mere man: for how could He be a mere man, whom angels ministered to? It was, as, as it were, saying, that He was Lord of the Angels; for He must be the King’s own Son, on whom the servants of the King descended and ascended; descended at His crucifixion, ascended at His resurrection and ascension. Angels too before this came and ministered to Him, and angels brought the glad tidings of His birth. Our Lord made the present a proof of the future. After the powers He had already shown, Nathanael would readily believe that much more would follow.

AUG. Let us recollect the Old Testament account. Jacob saw in a dream a ladder reaching from earth to heaven; the Lord resting upon it, and the angels ascending and descending upon it. Lastly, Jacob himself understanding what the vision meant, set up a stone, and poured oil upon it. When he anointed the stone, did he make an idol? No: he only set up a symbol, not an object of worship You see here the anointing; see the Anointed also. He is the stone which the builders refused. If Jacob, who was named Israel, saw the ladder, and Nathanael was an Israelite indeed, there was a fitness in our Lord telling him Jacob’s dream; as if he said, Whose name you are called by, his dream has appeared to you: for you shall see the heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. If they descend upon Him, and ascend to Him, then He is both up above and here below at the same time; above in Himself, below in His members.

AUG. Good preachers, however, who preach Christ, are as angels of God; i.e. they ascend and descend upon the Son of man; as Paul, who ascended to the third heaven, and descended so far even as to give milk to babes. He said, We shall see greater things than these: because it is a greater thing that our Lord has justified us, whom He has called, than that He saw us lying under the shadow of death. For had we remained where He saw us, what profit would it have been? It is asked why Nathanael, to whom our Lord bears such testimony, is not found among the twelve Apostles. We may believe, however, that it was because he was so learned, and versed in the law, that our Lord had not put him among the disciples. He chose the foolish, to confound the world. Intending to break the neck of the proud, He sought not to gain the fisherman through the orator, but by the fisherman the emperor. The great Cyprian was an orator; but Peter was a fisherman before him; and through him not only the orator, but the emperor, believed.



One Response to “Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on John 1:43-51”

  1. […] Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Today’s Gospel (John 1:43-51). […]

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