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 Mark 1:7-11

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 7, 2012

Though the Gospel reading chosen for today is on verses 7-11 I have chosen to post on verses 4-11.

Mar 1:4  John was in the desert, baptizing and preaching the baptism of penance, unto remission of sins.
Mar 1:5  And there went out to him all the country of Judea and all they of Jerusalem and were baptized by him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.
Mar 1:6  And John was clothed camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins: and he ate locusts and wild honey.
Mar 1:7  And he preached, saying: There cometh after me one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.
Mar 1:8  I have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.

Pseudo-Jerome: According to the above-mentioned prophecy of Isaiah, the way of the Lord is prepared by John, through faith, baptism, and penitence; the paths are made straight by the rough marks of the hair-cloth garment, the girdle of skin, the feeding on locusts and wild honey, and the most lowly voice; whence it is said, “John was in the wilderness.”

For John and Jesus seek what is lost in the wilderness; where the devil conquered, there he is conquered; where man fell, there he rises up.  But the name, John, means the grace of God, and the narrative begins with grace. For it goes on to say, “baptizing.” For by baptism grace is given, seeing that by baptism sins are freely remitted.

But what is brought to perfection by the bridegroom is introduced by the friend of the bridegroom. Thus catechumens, (which word means persons instructed,) begin by the ministry of the priest, receive the chrism from the bishop [ed. note: “Chrismantur.” Chrism in the Roman Church, was applied twice; at Baptism, and more solemnly to the forehead by the Bishop at Confirmation. In the Eastern Church, it was only given once, at Confirmation, and by the Bishop only. In the French Church, it was given once, usually at Baptism, by the Priest, but if for any reason omitted, by the Bishop at Confirmation, see Bingham, Antiq. b., xii, e. 2, 2].  And to shew this, it is subjoined, “And preaching the baptism of repentance, &c.”

Bede: It is evident that John not only preached, but also gave to some the baptism of repentance; but he could not give baptism for the remission of sins. For the remission of sins is only given to us by the baptism of Christ. It is therefore only said, “Preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;” for he “preached” a baptism which could remit sins, since he could not give it.

Wherefore as he was the forerunner of the Incarnate Word of the Father, by the word of his preaching, so by his baptism, which could not remit sins, he preceded that baptism,  of penitence, by which sins are remitted.

Theophylact: The baptism of John had not remission of sins, but only brought men to penitence. He preached therefore the baptism of repentance, that is, he preached that to which the baptism of penitence led, namely, remission of sins, that they who in penitence received Christ, might receive Him to the remission of their sins.

Pseudo-Jerome: Now by John as by the bridegroom’s friend, the bride is brought to Christ, as by a servant Rebecca was brought to Isaac [Gen 24:61]; wherefore there follows, “And there went out to him all, &c. For “confession and beauty are in his presence,” [Ps 96:6] that is, the presence of the bridegroom. And the bride leaping down from her camel signifies the Church, who humbles herself on seeing her husband Isaac, that is, Christ. But the interpretation of Jordan, where sins are washed away, in ‘an alien descent.’ For we heretofore aliens to God by pride, are by the sign of Baptism made lowly, and thus exalted on high [ed. note: see St. Cyril of Jerus., Cat. xx, 4-7].

Bede: An example of confessing their sins and of promising to lead a new life, is held out to those who desire to be baptized, by those words which follow, “confessing their sins.”

Chrys.” Because indeed John preached repentance, he wore the marks of repentance in his garment and in his food. Wherefore there follow, “And John was clothed in camel’s hair.”

Bede: It says, clothed in a garment of hair, not in woollen clothes; the former is the mark of an austere garb, the latter of effeminate luxury. But the girdle of skins, with which he was girt, like Elias, is a mark of mortification. And this meat, “locusts and wild honey,” is suited to a dweller in the wilderness, so that his object in eating was not the deliciousness of meats, but the satisfying of the necessity of human flesh.

Pseudo-Jerome: The dress of John, his food, and employment, signifies the austere life of preachers, and that future nations are to be joined to the grace of God, which is John, both in their minds and in externals. For by camel’s hair, is meant the rich among the nations; and by the girdle of skin, the poor, dead to the world; and by the wandering locusts, the wise men of this world; who, leaving the dry stalks to the Jews, draw off with their legs the mystic grain, and in the warmth of their  faith leap up towards heaven; and the faithful, being inspired by the wild honey, are full-fed from the untilled wood.

Theophylact: Or else; The garment of “camel’s hair” was significative of grief, for John pointed out, that he who repented should mourn. For sackcloth signifies grief; but the girdle of skins shews the dead state of the Jewish people. The food also of John not only denotes abstinence, but also shews forth the intellectual food, which the people then were eating, without understanding any thing lofty, but continually raising themselves on high, and again sinking to the earth.

For such is the nature of locusts, leaping on high and again falling. In the same way the people ate honey, which had come from bees, that is, from the prophets; it was not however domestic, but wild, for the Jews had the Scriptures, which are as honey, but did not rightly understand them.

Gregory, Moral., xxxi, 25: Or, by the kind itself of his food he pointed out the Lord, of whom he was the forerunner; for in that our Lord took to Himself the sweetness of the barren Gentiles, he ate wild honey. In that He in His own person partly converted the Jews, He received locusts for His food, which suddenly leaping up, at once fall to the ground. For the Jews leaped up when they promised to fulfil the precepts of the Lord; but they fell to the ground when, by their evil works, they affirmed that they had not heard them. They made therefore a leap upwards in words, and fell down by their actions.

Bede: The dress and food of John may also express of what kind was his inward walk. For he used a dress more austere than was usual, because he did not encourage the life of sinners by flattery, but chid them by the vigour of his rough rebuke; he had a girdle of skin round his loins, for he was one, “who crucified his flesh with the affections and lusts.” [Gal 5:24] He used to eat locusts and wild honey, because his preaching had some sweetness for the multitude, whilst the people debated whether he was the Christ himself or not; but this soon came to an end, when his hearers understood that he was not the Christ, but the forerunner and prophet of Christ. For in honey there is sweetness, in locusts swiftness of flight.  Whence there follows, “And he preached, saying, there cometh one mightier than I after me.”

Gloss.: He said this to do away with the opinion of the crowd, who thought that he was the Christ; but he announces that Christ is “mightier than he,” he was to remit sins, which he himself could not do.

Pseudo-Jerome: Who again is mightier than the grace, by which sins are washed away, which John signifies? He who seven times and seventy times seven remits sins [Matt 18:22]. Grace indeed comes first, but remits sins once only by baptism, but mercy reaches to the wretched from Adam up to Christ through seventy-seven generations, and up to one hundred and forty-four thousand.

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: But lest he should be thought to say this by way of comparing himself to Christ, he subjoins, “Of whom I am not worthy, &c.”

It is not however the same thing to loose the shoe-latchet, which Mark here says, and to carry his shoes, which Matthew says. And indeed the Evangelists following the order of the narrative, and not able to err in any thing, say that John spoke each of these sayings in a different sense. But commentators on this passage have expounded each in a different way.

For he means by the latchet, the tie of the shoe. He says this therefore to extol the excellence of the power of Christ, and the greatness of His divinity; as if he said, Not even in the station of his servant am I worthy to be reckoned.

For it is a great thing to contemplate, as it were stooping down, those things which belong to the body of Christ, and to see from below the image of things above, and to untie each of those mysteries, about the Incarnation of Christ, which cannot be unravelled.

Pseudo-Jerome: The shoe is in the extremity of the body; for in the end the Incarnate Saviour is coming for justice, whence it is said by the prophet, “Over Edom will I cast out my shoe.” [Ps 60:9]

Gregory: Shoes also are made from the skins of dead animals. The Lord, therefore, coming incarnate, appeared as it were with shoes on His feet, for He assumed in His divinity the dead skins of our corruption. Or else; it was a custom among the ancients, that if a man refused to take as his wife the woman whom he ought to take, he who offered himself as her husband by right of kindred took off that man’s shoe.

Rightly then does he proclaim himself unworthy to loose his shoe-latchet, as if he said openly, I cannot make bare the feet of the Redeemer, for I usurp not the name of the Bridegroom, a thing which is above my deserts.

Theophylact: Some persons also understand it thus; all who came to John, and were baptized, through penitence were loosed from the bands of their sins by believing in Christ. John then in this way loosed the shoe-latchet of all the others, that is, the bands of sin. But Christ’s shoe-latchet he was not able to unloose, because he found no sin in Him.

Bede: Thus then John proclaims the Lord not yet as God, or the Son of God, but only as a man mightier than himself. For his ignorant hearers were not yet capable of receiving the hidden things of so great a Sacrament, that the eternal Son of God, having taken upon Him the nature of man, had been lately born into the world of a virgin; but gradually by the acknowledgment of His glorified lowliness, they were to be introduced to the belief of His Divine Eternity. To these words, however, he subjoins, as if covertly declaring that he was the true God, “I baptize you with water, but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.” For who can doubt that none other but God can give the grace of the Holy Ghost.

Jerome: For what is the difference between water and the Holy Ghost, who was borne over the face of the waters? Water is the ministry of man; but the Spirit is ministered by God.

Bede: Now we are baptized by the Lord in the Holy Ghost, not only when in the day of our baptism, we are washed in the fount of life, to the remission of our sins, but also daily by the grace of the same Spirit we are inflamed, to do those things which please God.

Mar 1:9  And it came to pass, in those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in Jordan.
Mar 1:10  And forthwith coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens open and the Spirit as a dove descending and remaining on him.
Mar 1:11  And there came a voice from heaven: Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.

Pseudo-Jerome: Mark the Evangelist, like a hart, longing after the fountains of water, leaps forward over places, smooth and steep; and, as a bee laden with honey, he sips the tops of the flowers.  Wherefore he hath shewn us in his narrative Jesus coming from Nazareth, saying, “And it came to pass in those days, &c.”

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: Forasmuch as He was ordaining a new baptism, He came to the baptism of John, which, in respect of His own baptism, was incomplete, but different from the Jewish baptism, as being between both. He did this that He might shew, by the nature of His baptism, that He was not baptized for the remission of sins, nor as wanting the reception of the Holy Ghost: for the baptism of John was destitute of both these.

But He was baptized that He might be made known to all, that they might believe on Him and “fulfil all righteousness,” which is “keeping of the commandments:” for it has been commanded to men that they should submit to the Prophet’s baptism.

Bede, in Marc., i, 4: He was baptized, that by being baptized Himself He might shew His approval of John’s baptism [ed. note: vol i, pl 109, note h], and that, by sanctifying the waters of Jordan through the descent of the dove, He might shew the coming of the Holy Ghost in the laver of believers.

Whence there follows, “And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit like a dove descending, and resting upon him.”

But the heavens are opened, not by the unclosing of the elements, but to the eyes of the spirit, to which Ezekiel in the beginning of his book relates that they were opened; or that His seeing the heavens opened after baptism was done for our sakes, to whom the door of the kingdom of heaven is opened by the laver of regeneration.

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: Or else, that from heaven sanctification might be given to men, and earthly things be joined to heavenly. But the Holy Spirit is said to have descended upon Him, not as if He then first came to Him, for He never had left Him; but that He might shew forth the Christ, Who was preached by John, and point Him out to all, as it were by the finger of faith.

Bede: This event also, in which the Holy Ghost was seen to come down upon baptism, was a sign of spiritual grace to be given to us in baptism.

Pseudo-Jerome: But this is the anointing of Christ according to  the flesh, namely, the Holy Ghost, of which anointing it is said, “God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” [Ps 45:7]

Bede: Well indeed in the shape of a dove did the Holy Ghost come down, for it is an animal of great simplicity, and far removed from the malice of gall, that in a figure He might shew us that He looks out for simple hearts, and deigns not to dwell in the minds of the wicked.

Pseudo-Jerome: Again, the Holy Ghost came down in the shape of a dove, because in the Canticles it is sung of the Church: “My bride, my love, my beloved, my dove.”

“Bride” in the Patriarchs, “love” in the Prophets, “near of kin” in Joseph and Mary, “beloved” in John the Baptist, “dove” in Christ and His Apostles: to whom it is said, “Be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” [Matt 10:16]

Bede: Now the Dove sat on the head of Jesus, lest any one should think that the voice of the Father was addressed to John and not to Christ. And well did he add, “abiding on Him;” for this is peculiar to Christ, that the Holy Ghost once filling Him should never leave Him.

For sometimes to His faithful disciples the grace of the Spirit is conferred for signs of virtue, and for the working of miracles, sometimes it is taken away; though for the working of piety and righteousness, for the preservation of love to God and to one’s neighbour, the grace of the Spirit is never absent.

But the voice of the Father shewed that He Himself, who came to John to be baptized with the other, was the very Son of God, willing to baptize with the Holy Spirit, whence there follows, “And there came a voice from heaven, Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased.” Not that this informed the Son Himself of a thing of which He was ignorant, but it shews to us what we ought to believe.

Augustine, de Con. Ev., ii, 14: Wherefore Matthew relates that the voice said, “This is my beloved Son;” for he wished to shew that the words, “This is My Son,” were in fact said, that thus the persons who heard it might know that He, and not another, was the Son of God.

But if you ask which of these two sounded forth in that voice, take which you will, only remember, that the Evangelists, though not relating the same form of speaking, relate the same meaning. And that God delighted Himself in His Son, we are reminded in these words, “In thee I am well pleased.”

Bede: The same voice has taught us, that we also, by the water of cleansing, and by the Spirit of sanctification, may be made the sons of God. The mystery of the Trinity also is shewn forth in the baptism; the Son is baptized, the Spirit comes down in the shape of a dove, the voice of the Father bearing witness to the Son is heard.Pseudo-Jerome: Morally also it may be interpreted; we also, drawn aside from the fleeting world by the smell and purity of flowers, run with the young maidens after the bridegroom, and are washed in the sacrament of baptism, from the two fountains of the love of God, and of our neighbour, by the grace of remission, and mounting up by hope gaze upon heavenly mysteries with the eyes of a clean heart.

Then we receive in a contrite and lowly spirit, with simplicity of heart, the Holy Spirit, who comes down to the meek, and abides in us, by the never-failing charity. And the voice of the Lord from heaven is directed to us the beloved of God; “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God;” [Matt 5:9] and then the Father, with the Son and the Holy Spirit, is well-pleased with us, when we are made one spirit with God.

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2 Responses to “Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Mark 1:7-11”

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