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1. In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
2. And saying, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
3. For this is he that was spoken of by the Prophet Esaias, saying, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.”
Pseudo-Chrys.: The Sun as he approaches the horizon, and before he is yet visible, sends out his rays and makes the eastern sky to glow with light, that Aurora going before may herald the coming day. Thus the Lord at His birth in this earth, and before He shews Himself, enlightens John by the rays of His Spirit’s teaching, that he might go before and announce the Saviour that was to come. Therefore after having related the birth of Christ, before proceeding to His teaching and baptism, (wherein he received such testimony,) he first premises somewhat of the Baptist and forerunner of the Lord.
“In those days, &c.”
Remig.: In these words we have not only time, place, and person, respecting St. John, but also his office and employment. First the time, generally; “In those days.”
Aug., de Cons. Evan., ii, 6: Luke describes the time by the reigning sovereigns. [Luke 3:1] But Matthew must be understood to speak of a wider space of time by the phrase ‘those days,’ than the fifteenth year of Tiberius. Having related Christ’s return from Egypt, which must be placed in early boyhood or even infancy, to make it agree with what Luke has told of His being in the92 temple at twelve years old, he adds directly, “In those days,” not intending thereby only the days of His childhood, but all the days from His birth to the preaching of John.
Remig.: The man is mentioned in the words “came John,” that is, shewed himself, having abode so long in obscurity.
Chrys.: But why must John thus go before Christ with a witness of deeds preaching Him? First; that we might hence learn Christ’s dignity, that He also, as the Father has, has prophets, in the words of Zacharias, “And thou, Child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest.” [Luke 1:76]
Secondly; That the Jews might have no cause for offence; as He declared, “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a gluttonous man.” [Luke 7:33-34]
It needeth moreover that the things concerning Christ should be told by some other first, and not by Himself; or what would the Jews have said, who after the witness of John made complaint, “Thou bearest witness of thyself, thy witness is not true.” [John 8:!3]
Remig., ap. Anselm: His office; “the Baptist;” in this he prepared the way of the Lord, for had not men been used to be baptized, they would have shunned Christ’s baptism.
His employment; “Preaching.”
Rabanus: For because Christ was to preach, as soon as it seemed the fit time, that is, about thirty years of age, he began by his preaching to make ready the way for the Lord.
Remig.: The place; “the desert of Judaea.”
Maximus, Hom. in Joan. Bap. nat. 1: Where neither a noisy mob would interrupt his preaching, and whither no unbelieving hearer would retire; but those only would hear, who sought to his preaching from motives of divine worship.
Jerome, in Isa 40. 3: consider how the salvation of God, and the glory of the Lord, is preached not in Jerusalem, but in the solitude of the Church, in the wilderness to multitudes.
Hilary: Or, he came to Judaea, desert by the absence of God, not of population, that the place of preaching might witness the few to whom the preaching was sent.
Gloss. ap. Anselm: The desert typically means a life removed from the temptations of the world, such as befits the penitent.
Aug. Serm.: Unless one repent him of his former life, he cannot begin a new life.
Hilary: He therefore preaches repentance when the Kingdom of Heaven approaches; by which93 we return from error, we escape from sin, and after shame for our faults, we make profession of forsaking them.
Pseudo-Chrys.: In the very commencement he shews himself the messenger of a merciful Prince; he comes not with threats to the offender, but with offers of mercy. It is a custom with kings to proclaim a general pardon on the birth of a son, but first they send throughout their kingdom officers to exact severe fines. But God willing at the birth of His Son to give pardon of sins, first sends His officer proclaiming, “Repent ye.” O exaction which leaves none poor, but makes many rich! For even when we pay our just debt of righteousness we do God no service, but only gain our own salvation. Repentance cleanses the heart, enlightens the sense, and prepares the human soul for the reception of Christ, as he immediately adds, “For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
Jerome: John Baptist is the first to preach the Kingdom of Heaven, that the forerunner of the Lord may have this honourable privilege.
Chrys.: And he preaches what the Jews had never heard, not even from the Prophets, Heaven, namely, and the Kingdom that is there, and of the kingdoms of the earth he says nothing. Thus by the novelty of those things of which he speaks, he gains their attention to Him whom he preaches.
Remig.: “The Kingdom of Heaven” has a fourfold meaning. It is said, of Christ, as “The Kingdom of God is within you.” [Luke 17:21] Of Holy Scripture, as, “The Kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” [Matt 21:43] Of the Holy Church, as, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto ten virgins.” [Matt 25:1] Of the abode above, as, “Many shall come from the East and the West, and shall sit down in the Kingdom of Heaven.” [Matt 8:11] And all these significations may be here understood.
Gloss. ord.: “The Kingdom of Heaven” shall come nigh you; for if it approached not, none would be able to gain it; for weak and blind they had not the way, which was Christ.
Aug., de Cons. Evan., ii, 12: The other Evangelists omit these words of John. What follows, “This is He, &c.” it is not clear whether the Evangelist speaks them in his own person, or whether they are part of John’s preaching, and the whole from “Repent ye,” to “Esaias the prophet,” is to be assigned to John. It is of no importance 94 that he says, “This is he,” and not, “I am he;” for Matthew speaking of himself says, “He found a man sitting at the toll-office;” [Matt 9:9] not “He found me.” Though when asked what he said of himself, he answered, as is related by John the Evangelist, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”
Greg., Hom. in Ev., i. 7: It is well known that the Only-begotten Son is called the Word of the Father; as in John, “In the beginning was the Word.” [John 1:1] But it is by our own speech that we are known; the voice sounds that the words may be heard. Thus John the forerunner of the Lord’s coming is called, “The voice,” because by his ministry the voice of the Father is heard by men.
Pseudo-Chrys.: The voice is a confused sound, discovering no secret of the heart, only signifying that he who utters it desires to say somewhat; it is the word that is the speech that openeth the mystery of the heart. Voice is common to men and other animals, word peculiar to man. John then is called the voice and not the word, because God did not discover His counsels through him, but only signified that He was about to do something among men; but afterwards by His Son he fully opened the mystery of his will.
Rabanus: He is rightly called, “The voice of one crying,” on account of the loud sound of his preaching. Three things cause a man to speak loud; when the person he speaks to is at a distance, or is deaf, or if the speaker be angry; and all these three were then found in the human race.
Gloss: John then is, as it were, the voice of the word crying. The word is heard by the voice, that is, Christ by John.
Bede, Gloss. ord. in cap. iv. 1: In like manner has He cried from the beginning through the voice of all who have spoken aught by inspiration. And yet is John only called, “The voice;” because the Word which others shewed after off, he declares as nigh.
Greg., Hom. in Ev., i. 7. 2: “Crying in the desert,” because he shews to deserted and forlorn Judaea the approaching consolation of her Redeemer.
Remig.: Though as far as historical fact is concerned, he chose the desert, to be removed from the crowds of people. What the purport of his cry was is insinuated, when he adds, “Make ready the way of the Lord.”
Pseudo-Chrys.: As a great King going on a progress is preceded by couriers to cleanse what is foul, repair what is broken down; so John preceded the Lord to cleanse the human heart from the filth95 of sin, by the besom of repentance, and to gather by an ordinance of spiritual precepts those things which had been scattered abroad.
Greg., Hom. in Ev. i. 20. 3: Every one who preacheth right faith and good works, prepares the Lord’s way to the hearts of the hearers, and makes His paths straight, in cleansing the thoughts by the word of good preaching.
Gloss. interlin.: Or, faith is the way by which the word reaches the heart; when the life is amended the paths are made straight.
4. And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Having said that he is the voice of one crying in the desert, the Evangelist well adds, “John had his clothing of camel’s hair;” thus shewing what his life was; for he indeed testified of Christ, but his life testified of himself. No one is fit to be another’s witness till he has first been his own.
Hilary: For the preaching of John no place more suitable, no clothing more useful, no food more fitted.
Jerome: His raiment of camel’s hair, not of wool - the one the mark of austerity in dress, the other of a delicate luxury.
Pseudo-Chrys.: It becomes the servants of God to use a dress not for elegant appearance, or for cherishing of the body, but for a covering of the nakedness. Thus John wears a garment not soft and delicate, but hairy, heavy, rough, rather wounding the skin than cherishing it, that even the very clothing of his body told of the virtue of his mind. It was the custom of the Jews to wear girdles of wool; so he desiring something less indulgent wore one of skin.
Jerome: Food moreover suited to a dweller in the desert, no choice viands, but such as satisfied the necessities of the body.
Rabanus: Content with poor fare; to wit, small insects and honey gathered from the trunks of trees. In the sayings of Arnulphus [ed. note: Arnulphus, who visited Palestine 705; his travels to the Holy Land written from his mouth by Adamannus, Abbot of Lindisferne, are still extant.], Bishop of Gaul, we find that there was a very small kind of locust in the deserts of Judaea, with bodies about the thickness of a finger and short; they are easily taken among the grass, and when cooked in oil form a poor96 kind of food.
He also relates, that in the same desert there is a kind of tree, with a large round leaf, of the colour of milk and taste of honey, so friable as to rub to powder in the hand, and this is what is intended by wild honey.
Remig.: In this clothing and this poor food, he shews that he sorrows for the sins of the whole human race.
Rabanus: His dress and diet express the quality of his inward conversation. His garment was of an austere quality, because he rebuked the sinner’s life.
Jerome: His girdle of skin, which Elias also bare, is the mark of mortification.
Rabanus: He ate locusts and honey, because his preaching was sweet tot he multitude, but was of short continuance; and honey has sweetness, locusts a swift flight but soon fall to the ground.
Remig.: In John (which name is interpreted ‘the grace of God,’) is figured Christ who brought grace into the world; in his clothing, the Gentile Church.
Hilary: The preacher of Christ is clad in the skins of unclean beasts, to which the Gentiles are compared, and so by the Prophets’ dress is sanctified whatever in them was useless or unclean. The girdle is a thing of much efficacy to every good work, that we may be girt for every ministry of Christ. For his food are chosen locusts, which fly the face of man, and escape from every approach, signifying ourselves who were borne away from every word or speech of good by a spontaneous motion of the body, weak in will, barren in works, fretful in speech, foreign in abode, are now become the food of the Saints, chosen to fill the Prophets’ desire, furnishing our most sweet food not from the hives of the law, but from the trunks of wild trees.
5. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,
6. And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Having described the preaching of John, he goes on to say, “There went out to him,” for his severe life preached yet more loudly in the desert than the voice of his crying.
Chrys.: For it was wonderful to see such97 fortitude in a human body; this it was that chiefly attracted the Jews, seeing in him the great Elias. It also contributed to fill them with wonder that the grace of Prophecy had long failed among them, and now seemed to have at length revived.
Also the manner of his preaching being other than that of the old prophets had must effect; for now they heard not such things as they were wont to hear, such as wars, and conquests of the king of Babylon, or of Persia; but of Heaven and the Kingdom there, and the punishment of hell.
Gloss. interlin.: This baptism was only a forerunning of that to come, and did not forgive sins. [ed. note: Tertullian (de Bapt. 10. 11) S. Jerome (adv. Lucifer. 7) S. Gregory (Hom. in Evang. vii. 3) Theophylact in Marc. ch. i. S. Augustine (de Bapt. e Donat. v. 10) considered that S. John’s baptism gave a sort of suspensive or implicit remission, to be realized in the Atonement; and S. Cyril. Hieros. Cat. iii. 7-9. S. Greg. Nyss. in laud. Bas. t. 3. p. 482. vid. Dr. Pusey on Baptism, Ed. 2. pp. 242-271]
Remig.: The baptism of John bare a figure of the catechumens. As children are only catechized that they may become meet for the sacrament of Baptism; so John baptized, that they who were thus baptized might afterwards by a holy life become worthy of coming to Christ’s baptism. He baptized in Jordan, that the door of the Kingdom of Heaven might be there opened, where an entrance had been given to the children of Israel into the earthly kingdom of promise.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Compared with the holiness of John, who is there that can think himself righteous? As a white garment if placed near snow would seem foul by the contrast; so compared with John every man would seem impure; therefore they confessed their sins. Confession of sin is the testimony of a conscience fearing God. And perfect fear takes away all shame. But there is seen the shame of confession where there is no fear of the judgment to come. But as shame itself is a heavy punishment, God therefore bids us confess our sins that we may suffer this shame as punishment; for that itself is a part of the judgment.
Rabanus: Rightly are they who are to be baptized said to go out to the Prophet; for unless one depart from sin, and renounce the pomp of the Devil, and the temptations of the world, he cannot receive a healing baptism.
Rightly also in Jordan, which means their98 descent, because they descended from the pride of life to the humility of an honest confession. Thus early was an example given to them that are to be baptized of confessing their sins and professing amendment.
7. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8. Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
9. And think not to say within yourselves, ‘We have Abraham to our father:’ for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
10. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”
Greg., De Cur. Past., iii, prologue: The words of the teachers should be fitted to the quality of the hearers, that in each particular it should agree with itself and yet never depart from the fortress of general edification.
Gloss: It was necessary that after the teaching which he used to the common people, the Evangelist should give an example of the doctrine he delivered to the more advanced; therefore he says, “Seeing many of the Pharisees, &c.”
Isid. Hisp. Orig. 8. 4: The Pharisees and Sadducees opposed to one another; Pharisee in the Hebrew signifies, ‘divided;’ because choosing the justification of traditions and observances they were ‘divided’ or ‘separated’ from the people by this righteousness.
Sadducee in the Hebrew means ‘just;’ for these laid claim to be what they were not, denied the resurrection of the body, and taught that the soul perished with the body; they only received the Pentateuch, and rejected the Prophets.
Gloss: When John saw those who seemed to be of great consideration among the Jews come to his baptism, he said99 to them, “O generation of vipers, &c.”
Remig.: The manner of Scripture is to give names from the imitation of deeds, according to that of Ezekiel, “Thy father was an Amorite;” [Ezek 16:3] so these from following vipers are called “generation of vipers.”
Pseudo-Chrys.: As a skilful physician from the colour of the skin infers the sick man’s disease, so John understood the evil thoughts of the Pharisees who came to him. They thought perhaps, We go, and confess our sins; he imposes no burden on us, we will be baptized, and get indulgence for sin. Fools! if ye have eaten of impurity, must ye not needs take physic? So after confession and baptism, a man needs much diligence to heal the wound of sin; therefore he says, “Generation of vipers.”
It is the nature of the viper as soon as it has bit a man to fly to the water, which, if it cannot find it, straightway dies; so this “progeny of vipers,” after having committed deadly sin, ran to baptism, that, like vipers, they might escape death by means of water.
Moreover it is the nature of vipers to burst the insides of their mothers, and so to be born. The Jews then are therefore called “progeny of vipers,” because by continual persecution of the prophets they had corrupted their mother the Synagogue. Also vipers have a beautiful and speckled outside, but are filled with poison within. So these men’s countenances wore a holy appearance.
Remig.: When then he asks, “who will shew you to flee from the wrath to come,” - ‘except God’ must be understood.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Or “who hath shewed you?” Was it Esaias? Surely no; had he taught you, you would not put your trust in water only, but also in good works; he thus speaks, “Wash you, and be clean; put your wickedness away from your souls, learn to do well.” [Isa 1:16]
Was it then David? who says, “Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow;” [Ps 51:7] surely not, for he adds immediately, “The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit.” If then ye had been the disciple of David, ye would have come to baptism with mournings.
Remig.: But if we read, “shall shew,” in the future, this is the meaning, ‘What teacher, what preacher, shall be able to give you such counsel, as that ye may escape the wrath of everlasting damnation?’
Aug., City of God, book 9, ch. 5: God is described in Scripture, from some likeness of effects, not from being subject to such weakness, as being angry, and yet is He never moved by any passion.100 The word, ‘wrath,’ is applied to the effects of his vengeance, not that god suffers any disturbing affection.
Gloss: If they ye would escape this wrath, “Bring forth fruits meet for repentance.”
Greg., Hom. in Ev. 20. 8: Observe, he says not merely “fruits of repentance,” but “fruits meet for repentance.” For he who has never fallen into things unlawful, is of right allowed the use of all thing lawful; but if any hath fallen into sin, he ought so far to put away from him even things lawful, as far as he is conscious of having used unlawful things. It is left then to such man’s conscience to seek so much the greater gains of good works by repentance, the greater loss he has brought on himself by sin.
The Jews who gloried in their race, would not own themselves sinners because they were Abraham’s seed. “Say not among yourselves we are Abraham’s seed.”
Chrys., Hom. 11: He does not forbid them to “say” they are his, but to trust in that, neglecting virtues of the soul.
Pseudo-Chrys.: What avails noble birth to him whose life is disgraceful? Or, on the other hand, what hurt is a low origin to him who has the lustre of virtue? It is fitter that the parents of such a son should rejoice over him, than he over his parents. So do not you pride yourselves on having Abraham for your father, rather blush that you inherit his blood, but not his holiness. He who has no resemblance to his father is possibly the offspring of adultery. These words then only exclude boasting on account of birth.
Rabanus: Because as a preacher of truth he wished to stir them up, to “bring forth fruit meet for repentance,” he invites them to humility, without which no one can repent.
Remig.: There is a tradition, that John preached at that place of the Jordan, where the twelve stones taken from the bed of the river had been set up by command of God. He might then be pointing to these, when he said, “Of these stones.”
Jerome: He intimates God’s great power, who, as he made all things out of nothing, can make men out of the hardest stone.
Gloss. ord.: It is faith’s first lesson to believe that God is able to do whatever He will.
Chrys.: That men should be made out of stones, is like Isaac coming from Sarah’s womb; “Look into the rock,” says Isaiah, “whence ye were hewn.” Reminding them thus of this prophecy, he shews that it is possible that the like might even how happen.
Rabanus:101 Otherwise; the Gentiles may be meant who worshipped stones.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Stone is hard to work, but when wrought to some shape, it loses it not; so the Gentiles were hardly brought to the faith, but once brought they abide in it for ever.
Jerome: “These stones” signify the Gentiles because of their hardness of heart. See Ezekiel, “I will take away from you the heart of stone, and give you the heart of flesh.” Stone is emblematic of hardness, flesh of softness.
Rabanus: Of stones there were sons raised up to Abraham; forasmuch as the Gentiles by believing in Christ, who is Abraham’s seed, because his sons to whose seed they were united.
Pseudo-Chrys.: The axe is that most sharp fury of the consummation of all things, that is to hew down the whole world. But if it be already laid, how hath it not yet cut down? Because these trees have reason and free power to do good, or leave undone; so that when they see the axe laid to their root, they may fear and bring forth fruit.
This denunciation of wrath then, which is meant by the laying of the axe to the root, though it have no effect on the bad, yet will sever the good from the bad.
Jerome: Or, the preaching of the Gospel is meant, as the Prophet Jeremiah also compares the Word of the Lord to an axe cleaving the rock. [Jer 23:29]
Greg., Hom. in Ev., 20. 9: Or, the axe signifies the Redeemer, who as an axe of halt and blade, so consisting of the Divine and human nature, is held by His human, but cuts by His Divine nature. And though this axe be laid at the root of the tree waiting in patience, it is yet seen what it will do; for each obstinate sinner who here neglects the fruit of good works, finds the fire of hell ready for him. Observe, the axe is laid to the root, not to the branches; for that when the children of wickedness are removed, the branches only of the unfruitful tree are cut away. But when the whole offspring with their parent is carried off, the unfruitful tree is cut down by the root, that there remain not whence the evil shoots should spring up again.
Chrys.: By saying, “Every,” he cuts off all privilege of nobility: as much as to say, Though thou be the son of Abraham, if thou abide fruitless thou shalt suffer the punishment.
Rabanus: There are four sorts of tree; the first totally withered, to which the Pagans may be likened;102 the second, green but unfruitful, as the hypocrites; the third, green and fruitful, but poisonous, such are heretics; the fourth, green and bringing forth good fruit, to which are like the good Catholics.
Greg.: “Therefore every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down, and cast into the fire,” because he who here neglects to bring forth the fruit of good works finds a fire in hell prepared for him.
11. “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, Whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
12. Whose fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Gloss. non occ.: As in the preceding words John had explained more at length what he had shortly preached in the words, “Repent ye,” so now follows a more full enlargement of the words, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Greg., Hom. in Ev., 7. 3: John baptizes not with the Spirit but with water, because he had no power to forgive sins; he washes the body with water, but not at the same time the soul with pardon of sin.
Chrys., Hom. 10, 1: For while as yet the sacrifice had not been offered, nor remission of sin sent, nor the Spirit had descended on the water, how could sin be forgiven? But since the Jews never perceived their own sin, and this was the cause of all their evils, John came to bring them to a sense of them by calling them to repentance.
Greg.: Why then does he baptize who could not remit sin, but that he may preserve in all things the office of forerunner? As his birth had preceded Christ’s birth, so his baptism should precede the Lord’s baptism.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, John was sent to baptize, that to such as came to his baptism he might announce the presence among them of the Lord in the flesh, as himself testifies in another place, “That He might be manifested to Israel, therefore am I come to baptise with water.” [John 1:31]
Aug., in Joann. Tract. v. 5: Or, he baptizes, because it behoved Christ103 to be baptized. But if indeed John was sent only to baptize Christ, why was not He alone baptized by John? Because had the Lord alone been baptized by John, there would not have lacked who should insist that John’s baptism was greater than Christ’s, inasmuch as Christ alone had the merit to be baptized by it.
Rabanus: Or, by this sign of baptism he separates the penitent from the impenitent, and directs them to the baptism of Christ.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Because then he baptized on account of Christ, therefore to them who came to him for baptism he preached that Christ should come, signifying the eminence of His power in the words, “He who cometh after me is mightier than I.”
Remig.: There are five points in which Christ comes after John, His birth, preaching, baptism, death, and descent into hell. A beautiful expression is that, “mightier than I,” because he is mere man, the other is God and man.
Rabanus: As though he had said, I indeed am mighty to invite to repentance, He to forgive sins; I to preach the kingdom of heaven, He to bestow it; I to baptize with water, He with the Spirit.
Chrys.: When you hear “for He is mightier than I,” do not suppose this to be said by way of comparison, for I am not worthy to be numbered among his servants, that I might undertake the lowest office.
Hilary: Leaving to the Apostles the glory of bearing about the Gospel, to whose beautiful feet was due the carrying the tidings of God’s peace.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, by the feet of Christ we may understand Christians, especially the Apostles, and other preachers, among whom was John Baptist; and the shoes are the infirmities with which he loads the preachers. These shoes all Christ’s preachers wear; and John also wore them; but declares himself unworthy, that he might shew the grace of Christ, and be greater than his deserts.
Jerome: In the other Gospels it is, “whose shoe latchet I am not worthy to loose.” Here his humility, there his ministry is intended; Christ is the Bridegroom, and John is not worthy to loose the Bridegroom’s shoe, that his house be not called according to the Law of Moses and the example of Ruth, “The house of him that hath his shoe loosed.” [Deut 25:10]
Pseudo-Chrys.: But since no one can give a benefit more worthy than he himself is, nor to make another what himself is not, he adds, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”104
John who is carnal cannot give spiritual baptism; he baptizes with water, which is matter; so that he baptizes matter with matter. Christ is Spirit, because He is God; the Holy Ghost is Spirit, the soul is spirit; so that Spirit with Spirit baptizes our spirit. The baptism of the Spirit profits as the Spirit enters and embraces the mind, and surrounds it as it were with an impregnable wall, not suffering fleshly lusts to prevail against it. It does not indeed prevail that the flesh should not lust, but holds the will that it should not consent with it.
And as Christ is Judge, He baptizes in fire, i.e. temptation; mere man cannot baptize in fire. He alone is free to tempt, who is strong to reward. This baptism of tribulation burns up the flesh that it does not generate lust, for the flesh does not fear spiritual punishment, but only such as is carnal. The Lord therefore sends carnal tribulation on his servants, that the flesh fearing its own pains, may not lust after evil. See then how the Spirit drives away lust, and suffers it not to prevail, and the fire burns up its very roots.
Jerome: Either the Holy Ghost Himself is a fire, as we learn from the Acts, when there sat as it were fire on the tongues of the believers; and thus the word of the Lord was fulfilled who said, “I am come to send fire on the earth, I will that it burn.” [Luke 12:49]
Or, we are baptized now with the Spirit, hereafter with fire; as the Apostle speaks, “Fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is.” [1 Cor 3:13] [ed. note, e: The fire here spoken of is interpreted by S. Austin, (Enchir. 68) and Pope Gregory, (Dial. iv. 40) of the “troubles of this life;” by S. Ambrose, (in Ps. 118, 20. n. 15. apparently, Hil. in Ps. 118, 3. n. 12) of the “severity of the divine judgment;” by S. Chrysostom, and Theophylact, (in loc.) and Pseudo-Athanasius, (Quaest. in Ep. Paul. 98. t. 2. p. 328. Ed. Ben.) of “hell-fire;” by Ambrosiaster, (in loc.) S. Jerome, perhaps, (in Isa. 1. fin.) and also by S. Austin and Pope Gregory, of a “purgatorial fire.”]
Chrys.: He does not say, shall give you the Holy Ghost, but “shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost,” shewing in metaphor the abundance of the grace.
This further shews, that even under the faith there is need of the will alone for justification, not of labours and toilings; and even as easy a thing as it is to be baptized, even so easy a thing it is to be changed and made better. [ed. note, f: This sentence is not here found in the original.]
By fire he signifies the strength of grace which cannot be overcome, and that it may be understood that He makes His own people at once105 like to the great and old prophets, most of the prophetic visions were by fire.
Pseudo-Chrys.: It is plain then that the baptism [ed. note: Two sentences about rebaptizing, wanting in some copies of the original, are omitted by Aquinas. This comment on St. Matthew has apparently passed successively through the hands of opposite controversialists upon the Arian question. It may be observed that the Eunomians rebaptized, and that the second General Council rejects their baptism.] of Christ does not undo the baptism of John, but includes it in itself; he who is baptized in Christ’s name hath both baptisms, that of water and that of the Spirit. for Christ is Spirit, and hath taken to Him the body that He might give both bodily and spiritual baptism.
John’s baptism does not include in it the baptism of Christ, because the less cannot include the greater. Thus the Apostle having found certain Ephesians baptized with John’s baptism, baptized them again in the name of Christ, because they had not been baptized in the Spirit: thus Christ baptized a second time those who had been baptized by John, as John himself declared he should, “I baptize you with water; but He shall baptize you with the Spirit.”
And yet they were not baptized twice but once; for as the baptism of Christ was more than that of John, it was a new one given, not the same repeated.
Hilary: He marks the time of our salvation and judgment in the Lord; those who are baptized in the Holy Ghost it remains that they be consummated by the fire of judgment.
Rabanus: By the fan is signified the separation of a just trial; that it is in the Lord’s hand, means, ‘in His power,’ as it is written, “The Father hath committed all judgment to the Son.”
Pseudo-Chrys.: “The floor,” is the Church, “the barn,” is the kingdom of heaven, “the field,” is the world. The Lord sends forth His Apostles and other teachers, as reapers to reap all nations of the earth, and gather them into the floor of the Church. Here were must be threshed and winnowed, for all men are delighted in carnal things as grain delights in the husk. But whoever is faithful and has the marrow of a good heart, as soon as he has a light tribulation, neglecting carnal things runs to the Lord; but if his faith be feeble, hardly with heavy sorrow; and he who is altogether void of faith, however he may be troubled, passes not over to God.
The wheat when first thrashed lies in one heap with chaff and straw, and is after winnowed to separate it; so the106 faithful are mixed up in one Church with the unfaithful; but persecution comes as a wind, that, tossed by Christ’s fan, they whose hearts were separate before, may be also now separated in place. He shall not merely cleanse, but “thoroughly cleanse;” therefore the Church must needs be tried in many ways till this be accomplished.
And first the Jews winnowed it, then the Gentiles, now the heretics, and after a time shall Antichrist thoroughly winnow it. For as when the blast is gentle, only the lighter chaff is carried off, but the heavier remains; so a slight wind of temptation carries off the worst characters only; but should a greater storm arise, even those who seem steadfast will depart. There is need then of heavier persecution that the Church should be cleansed.
Remig.: This His floor, to wit, the Church, the Lord cleanses in this life, both when by the sentence of the Priests the bad are put out of the Church, and when they are cut off by death.
Rabanus: The cleansing of the floor will then be finally accomplished, when the Son of Man shall send His Angels, and shall gather all offences out of His kingdom.
Greg., Mor. 34. 5: After the threshing is finished in this life, in which the grain now groans under the burden of the chaff, the fan of the last judgment shall so separate between them, that neither shall any chaff pass into the granary, nor shall the grain fall into the fire which consumes the chaff.
Hilary: The wheat, i.e. the full and perfect fruit of the believer, he declares, shall be laid up in heavenly barns; by the chaff he means the emptiness of the unfruitful.
Rabanus: There is this difference between the chaff and the tares, in that the chaff is produced of the same seed as the wheat, but the tares from one of another kind. The chaff therefore are those who enjoy the sacraments of the faith, but are not solid; the tares are those who in profession as well as in works are separated from the lot of the good.
Remig.: The unquenchable fire is the punishment of eternal damnation; either because it never totally destroys or consumes those it has once seized on, but torments them eternally; or to distinguish it from purgatorial fire which is kindled for a time and again extinguished.
Aug., de Cons. Evan., ii. 12: If any asks which were the actual words spoken by John, whether those reported by Matthew, or by Luke, or by107 Mark, it may be shewn, that there is no difficulty here to him who rightly understands that the sense is essential to our knowledge of the truth, but the words indifferent. And it is clear we ought not to deem any testimony false, because the same fact is related by several persons who were present in different words and different ways.
Whoever thinks that the Evangelists might have been so inspired by the Holy Ghost that they should have differed among themselves neither in the choice, nor the number, nor the order of their words, he does not see that by how much the authority of the Evangelists is preeminent, so much the more is to be by them established the veracity of other men in the same circumstances. But the discrepancy may seem to be in the thing, and not only in words, between, “I am not worthy to bear His shoes,” and “to loose His shoe-latchet.” Which of these two expressions did John use? He who has reported the very words will seem to have spoken truth; he who has given other words, though he have not hid, or been forgetful, yet had he said one thing for another.
But the Evangelists should be clear of every kind of falseness, not only that of lying, but also that of forgetfulness. If then this discrepancy be important, we may suppose John to have used both expressions, either at different times, or both at the same time. But if he only meant to express the Lord’s greatness and his own humility, whether he used one or the other the sense is preserved, though any one should in his own words repeat the same profession of humility using the figure of the shoes; their will and intention does not differ.
This then is a useful rule and one to be remembered, that it is no lie, when one fairly represents his meaning whose speech one is recounting, though one uses other words; if only one shews our meaning to be the same with his. Thus understood it is a wholesome direction that we are to enquire only after the meaning of the speaker.
13. Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
14. But John forbad Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?”108
15. And Jesus answering said unto him, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he suffered Him.
Gloss., non occ.: Christ having been proclaimed to the world by the preaching of His forerunner, now after long obscurity will manifest Himself to men.
Remig.: In this verse is contained person, place, time, and office. Time, in the word, “Then.”
Rabanus: That is, when He was thirty years old, shewing that none should be ordained priest, or even to preach till He be of full age. Joseph at thirty years was made governor of Egypt; David began to reign, and Ezekiel his prophesying at the same age.
Chrys., Hom. 10, 1: Because after his baptism Christ was to put an end to the Law, He therefore came to be baptized at this age, that having so kept the Law, it might not be said that He cancelled it, because He could not observe it.
Pseudo-Chrys.: “Then,” that is when John preached, that He might confirm his preaching, and Himself receive his witness. But as when the morning-star has risen, the sun does not wait for that star to set, but rising as it goes forward, gradually obscures its brightness; so Christ waited not for John to finish his course, but appeared while he yet taught.
Remig.: The Persons are described in the words, “came Jesus to John;” that is, God to man, the Lord to His servant, the King to His soldier, the Light to the lamp. The Place, “from Galilee to Jordan.” Galilee means ‘transmigration.’ Whoso then will be baptized, must pass from vice to virtue, and humble himself in coming to baptism, for Jordan means, ‘descent.’
Ambrose, Ambrosiaster. Serm. x. 5: Scripture tells of many wonders wrought at various times in this river; as that, among others, in the Psalms, “Jordan was driven backwards;” [Ps 114:3] before the water was driven back, now sins are turned back in its current; as Elijah divided the waters of old, so Christ the Lord wrought in the same Jordan the separation of sin.
Remig.: The office to be performed; “that He might be baptized of him;” not baptism to the remission of sins, but to leave the water sanctified for those after to be baptized.
Aug., non occ., cf. Ambrosiaster, Serm. 12. 4: The Saviour willed to be baptized not that He might109 Himself be cleansed, but to cleanse the water for us. [ed. note: This is the doctrine of S. Austin, in Joan. iv. 14. Op. Imp. contr. Julian iv. 63. Ambros. in Luke ii, 83, &c. &c. vid. Pusey on Baptism, p. 279. ed. 2]
From the time that Himself was dipped in the water, from that time has He washed away all our sins in water. And let none wonder that water, itself corporeal substance, is said to be effectual to the purification of the soul; it is so effectual, reaching to and searching out the hidden recesses of the conscience. Subtle and penetrating in its own nature, made yet more so by Christ’s blessing, it touches the hidden springs of life, the secret places of the soul, by virtue of its all-pervading dew. The course of blessing is even yet more penetrating than the flow of waters. Thus the blessing which like a spiritual river flows on from the Saviour’s baptism, hath filled the basins of all pools, and the courses of all fountains.
Pseudo-Chrys.: He comes to baptism, that He who has taken upon Him human nature, may be found to have fulfilled the whole mystery of that nature; not that He is Himself a sinner, but He has taken on Him a nature that is sinful. And therefore though He needed not baptism Himself, yet the carnal nature in others needed it.
Ambrose, Ambrosiaster, Serm. 12. 1: Also like a wise master inculcating His doctrines as much by His own practice, as by word of mouth, He did that which He commanded all His disciples to do.
Aug., in Joann. Tract. v. 2: He deigned to be baptized of John that the servants might see with what readiness they ought to run to the baptism of the Lord, when He did not refuse to be baptized of His servant.
Jerome: Also that by being Himself baptized, He might sanction the baptism of John.
Chrys., Hom. 12: But since John’s baptism was to repentance, and therefore shewed the presence of sin, that none might suppose Christ’s coming to the Jordan to have been on this account, John cried to Him, “I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?”
As if he had said,
Pseudo-Chrys.: That Thou shouldest baptize me there is good cause, that I may be made righteous and worthy of heaven; but that I should baptize Thee, what cause is there? Every good gift comes down from heaven upon earth, not ascends from earth to heaven.
Hilary: John reject Him from baptism as God; He teaches him,110 that it ought to be performed on Him as man.
Jerome: Beautifully said is that “now,” to shew that as Christ was baptized with water by John, so John must be baptized by Christ with the Spirit.
Or, suffer now that I who have taken the form of a servant should fulfil all that low estate; otherwise know that in the day of judgment thou must be baptized with my baptism.
Or, the Lord says, ‘Suffer this now; I have also another baptism wherewithal I must be baptized; thou baptizest Me with water, that I may baptize thee for Me with thy own blood.’
Pseudo-Chrys.: In this he shews that Christ after this baptized John; which is expressly told in some apocryphal books. [ed. note: Apocryphis ap. Aquin. in secretioribus libris, in the present text of Pseudo-Chrysost. The same opinion is imputed to S. Gregory Naz. S. Austin, &c. but apparently without reason, vid. Tillemont Memoirs St. Joan. B. note 7. It was an objection familiar with the heretics whether the Apostles were baptized, vid. Tertull. in Bapt. 12]
Suffer now that I fulfil the righteousness of baptism in deed, and not only in word; first submitting to it, and then preaching it; for “so it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” Not that by being baptized He fulfils all righteousness, but “so,” in the same manner, that is, as He first fulfilled the righteousness of baptism by His deeds, and after preached it, so He might all other righteousness, according to that of the Acts, “All things that Jesus began both to do and to teach.” [Acts 1:1]
Or thus, “all righteousness,” according to the ordinance of human nature; as He had before fulfilled the righteousness of birth, growth, and the like.
Hilary: For by Him must all righteousness have been fulfilled, by whom alone the Law could be fulfilled.
Jerome: “Righteousness;” but he adds neither ‘of the Law;’ nor ‘of nature,’ that we may understand it of both.
Remig.: Or thus; “It becometh us to fulfil all righteousness,” that is, to give an example of perfect justification in baptism, without which the gate of the kingdom of heaven is not opened. Hence let the proud take an example of humility, and not scorn to be baptized by My humble members when they see Me baptized by John My servant. That is true humility which obedience accompanies; as it continues, “then he suffered Him,” that is, at last consented to baptize Him.
16. And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him.
Ambrose, Ambrosiaster, Serm. 12. 4: For, as we have said, when the Saviour was washed, then the water was cleansed for our baptism, that a laver might be ministered to the people who were to come. Moreover, it behoved that in Christ’s baptism should be signified those things which the faithful obtain by baptism.
Pseudo-Chrys.: This action of Christ’s has a figurative meaning pertaining to all who were after Him to be baptized; and therefore he says, “straightway He ascended,” and not simply “He ascended,” for all who are worthily baptized in Christ, straightway ascend from the water; that is, make progress in virtues, and are carried on towards a heavenly dignity. They who had gone down to the water carnal and sinful sons of Adam, straightway ascend from the water spiritual sons of God. But if some by their own faults make no progress after baptism, what is that to the baptism?
Rabanus: As by the immersion of His body He dedicated the laver of baptism, He has shewn that to us also, after baptism received, the entrance to heaven is open and the Holy Spirit is given, as it follows, “and the heavens were opened.”
Jerome: Not by an actual cleaving of the visible element, but to the spiritual eye, as Ezekiel also in the beginning of his book relates that he saw them.
Pseudo-Chrys.: For had the actual creation of the heavens been opened, he would not have said, “were opened to Him,” for a physical opening would have been open to all.
But some one will say, What, are the heavens then closed to the eye of the Son of God, who even when on earth is present in heaven? But it must be known, that as He was baptized according to the ordinance of humanity that He had taken on Him, so the heavens were opened to His sight as to His human nature, though as to His divine He was in heaven.
Remig.: But was this then the first time that the heavens were opened to Him according to His human nature? The faith of the Church both believes and holds that the heavens were no less open to him before than after.112 It is therefore said here, that the heavens were opened, because to all them who are born again the door of the kingdom of heaven is opened.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Perhaps there were before some unseen obstacles which hindered the souls of the dead from entering the skies. I suppose that since Adam’s sin no soul had mounted the skies, but the heavens were continually closed. When, lo! on Christ’s baptism they were again opened; after He had overcome by the Cross the great tyrant death, henceforward the heaven, never more to be closed, needed not gates, so that the Angels say not, ‘Open ye gates,’ for they were open, but “take away the gates.” [Ps 24:7]
Or the heavens are opened to the baptized, and they see those things which are in heaven, not by seeing them with the bodily eye, but by believing with the spiritual eye of faith.
Or thus; The heavens are the divine Scriptures, which all read but all do not understand, except they who have been so baptized as to receive the Holy Spirit. Thus the Scriptures of the Prophets were at the first sealed to the Apostles, but after they had received the Holy Spirit, all Scripture was opened to them.
However, in whatever way we interpret, the heavens were opened to Him, that is to all, on His account; as if the Emperor were to say to any one preferring a petition for another, This boon I grant not to him but to you; that is, to him, for your sake.
Gloss. non occ.: Or, so bright a glory shone round about Christ, that the blue concave seemed to be actually cloven.
Chrys.: But though you see it not, be not therefore unbelieving, for in the beginnings of spiritual matters sensible visions are always offered, for their sakes who can form no idea of things that have no body; which if they occur not in later times, yet faith may be established by those wonders once wrought.
Remig.: As to all those who by baptism are born again, the door of the kingdom of heaven is opened, so all in baptism receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Aug., App. Serm. 135. 1: Chris after He had been once born among men, is born a second time in the sacraments, that as we adore Him then born of a pure mother, so we may now receive Him immersed in pure water. His mother brought forth her Son, and is yet virgin; the wave washed Christ, and is holy. Lastly, that Holy Spirit which was present to Him in the113 womb, now shone round Him in the water, He who then made Mary pure, now sanctifies the waters.
Pseudo-Chrys.: The Holy Ghost took the likeness of a dove, as being more than other animals susceptible of love. All other forms of righteousness which the servants of God have in truth and verity, the servants of the Devil have in spurious imitation; the love of the Holy Spirit alone an unclean spirit cannot imitate. And the Holy Ghost has therefore reserved to Himself this special manifestation of love, because by no testimony is it so clearly seen where He dwells as by the grace of love.
Rabanus, ap. Anselm: Seven excellencies in the baptized are figured by the dove. The dove has her abode near the rivers, that when the hawk is seen, she may dive under water and escape; she chooses the better grains of corn; she feeds the young of other birds; she does not tear with her beak; she lacks a gall; she has her rest in the caverns of the rocks; for her song she has a plaint.
Thus the saints dwell beside the streams of Divine Scripture, that they may escape the assaults of the Devil; they choose wholesome doctrine, and not heretical for their food; they nourish by teaching and example, men who have been the children of the Devil, i.e. the imitators; they do not pervert good doctrine by tearing it to pieces as the heretics do; they are without hate irreconcileable; they build their nest in the wounds of Christ’s death, which is to them a firm rock, that is their refuge and hope; as others delight in song, so do they in groaning for their sin.
Chrys.: It is moreover an allusion to ancient history; for in the deluge this creature appeared bearing an olive branch, and tidings of rest to the world. All which things were a type of things to come. For now also a dove appears pointing out to us our liberator, and for an olive branch bringing the adoption of the human race.
Aug., de Trin., ii, 5: It is easy to understand how the Holy Ghost should be said to be sent, when as it were a dove in visible shape descended on the Lord; that is, there was created a certain appearance for the time in which the Holy Spirit might be visibly shewn. And this operation thus made visible and offered to mortal view, is called the mission of the Holy Spirit, not that His invisible substance was seen, but that the hearts of men might be roused by the external appearance to contemplate114 the unseen eternity.
Yet this creature in the shape of which the Spirit appeared, was not taken into unity of person, as was that human shape taken of the Virgin. For neither did the Spirit bless the dove, nor unite it with Himself for all eternity, in unity of person. Further, though that dove is called the Spirit, so far as to shew that in this dove was a manifestation of the Spirit, yet can we not say of the Holy Spirit that He is God and dove, as we say of the Son that He is God and man; and yet it is not as we say of the Son that He is “the Lamb of God,” as not only has John Baptist declared, but as John the Evangelist saw the vision of the Lamb slain in the Apocalypse. For this was a prophetic vision, not put before the bodily eyes in bodily shape, but seen in the Spirit in spiritual images.
But concerning this dove none ever doubted that is was seen with the bodily eye; not that we say the Spirit is a dove as we say Christ is a Rock; (for “that Rock was Christ.) [1 Cor 10:4] For that Rock already existed as a creature, and from the resemblance of its operation was called by the name of Christ, (whom it figured;) not so this dove, which was created at the moment for this single purpose.
It seems to me to be more like the flame which appeared to Moses in the bush, or that which the people followed in the wilderness, or to the thunderings and lightnings which were when the Law was given from the mount. For all these were visible objects intended to signify something, and then to pass away. For that such forms have been from time to time seen, the Holy Spirit is said to have been sent; but these bodily forms appeared for the time to shew what was required, and then ceased to be.
Jerome: It sat on the head of Jesus, that none might suppose the voice of the Father spoken to John, and not to the Lord.
17. And lo a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Aug., non occ.: Not as before by Moses and the Prophets, neither in type or figure did the Father teach that the Son should come, but openly shewed Him to be already come, “This is my Son.”
Hilary: Or, that from these things thus fulfilled upon Christ, we might learn that after the washing of water115 the Holy Spirit also descends on us from the heavenly gates, on us also is shed an unction of heavenly glory, and an adoption to be the sons of God, pronounced by the Father’s voice.
Jerome: The mystery of the Trinity is shewn in this baptism. the Lord is baptized; the Spirit descends in the shape of a dove; the voice of the Father is heard giving testimony to the Son.
Ambrose, Ambrosiaster, Serm. 10. 1: And no wonder that the mystery of the Trinity is not wanting to the Lord’s laver, when even our laver contains the sacrament of the Trinity. The Lord willed to shew in His own case what He was after to ordain for men.
Pseudo-Aug., Fulgent. de Fide ad Petrum. c. 9: Though Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one nature, yet do thou hold most firmly that They be Three Persons; that it is the Father alone who said, “this is my beloved Son;” the Son alone over whom that voice of the Father was heard; and the Holy Ghost alone who in the likeness of a dove descended on Christ at His baptism.
Aug., de Trin. 4. 21: Here are deeds of the whole Trinity. In their own substance indeed Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One without interval of either place or time; but in my mouth they are three separate words, and cannot be pronounced at the same time, and in written letters they fill each their several places. By this comparison may be understood how the Trinity in Itself indivisible may be manifested dividedly in the likeness of a visible creation. That the voice is that of the Father only is manifest from the words, “This is my Son.”
Hilary, de Trin. iii. 11: He witnesses that He is His Son not in name merely, but in very kindred. Sons of God are we many of us; but not as He is a Son, a proper and true Son, in verity, not in estimation, by birth, not adoption.
Aug., in Joann. tr. 14. 11: The Father loves the Son, but as a father should, not as a master may love a servant; and that as an own Son, not an adopted; therefore He adds, “in whom I am well-pleased.”
Remig.: Or if it be referred to the human nature of Christ, the sense is, I am pleased in Him, whom alone I have found without sin. Or according to another reading, “It hath pleased me” to appoint Him, by whom to perform those things I would perform, i.e. the redemption of the human race.
Aug., de Cons. Evan., ii, 14: These words Mark and Luke give in the same way; in the words of the voice that came from Heaven, their expression varies though the sense is the116 same. For both the words as Matthew gives them, “This is my beloved Son,” and as the other two, “Thou art my beloved Son,” express the same sense in the speaker; (and the heavenly voice, no doubt, uttered one of these,) but one shews an intention of addressing the testimony thus borne to the Son to those who stood by; the other of addressing it to Himself, as if speaking to Christ He had said, “This is my Son.” Not that Christ was taught what He knew before, but they who stood by heard it, for whose sake the voice came.
Again, when one says, “in whom I am well-pleased;” another, “in thee it hath pleased me,” if you ask which of these was actually pronounced by that voice; take which you will, only remembering that those who have not related the same words as were spoken have related the same sense. That God is well-pleased with His Son is signified in the first; that the Father is by the Son pleased with men is conveyed in the second form, “in thee it hath well-pleased me.”
Or you may understand this to have been the one meaning of all the Evangelists, In Thee have I put My good pleasure, i.e. to fulfil all My purpose.
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