Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

Ver 15. And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not;16. John answered, saying to them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I comes, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.

ORIGEN; It was meet that more deference should be paid to John than to other men, for he lived such as no other man. Wherefore indeed most rightly did they regard him with affection, only they kept not within due bounds; hence it is said, But while the people were expecting whether he were the Christ.

AMBROSE; Now what could be more absurd than that he who was fancied to be in another should not be believed in his own person? He whom they thought to have come by a woman, is not believed to have come by a virgin; while in fact the sign of the Divine coming was placed in tile childbearing of a virgin, not of a woman

ORIGEN; But love is dangerous when it is uncontrolled. For he who loves any one ought to consider the nature and causes of loving, and not to love more than the object deserves. For if he pass the due measure and bounds of love, both he who loves, and he who is loved, will be in sin.GREEK EX. And hence, John gloried not in the estimation in which all held him, nor in any way seemed to desire the deference of others, but embraced the lowest humility. Hence it follows, John answered.

THEOPHYL; But how could he answer them who in secret thought that he was Christ, except it was that they not only thought, but also (as another Evangelist declares) sending Priests and Levites to him asked him whether he was the Christ or not?

AMBROSE; Or: John saw into the secrets of the heart; but let us remember by whose grace, for it is of the gift of God to reveal things to man, not of the virtue of man, which is assisted by the Divine blessing, rather than capable of perceiving by any natural power of its own. But quickly answering them, he proved that he was not the Christ, for his works were by visible operations. For as man is compounded of two natures, i.e. soul and body, the visible mystery is made holy by the visible, the invisible by the invisible; for by water the body is washed, by the Spirit the soul is cleansed of its stains. It is permitted to us also in the very water to have the sanctifying influence of the Deity breathed upon us. And therefore there was one baptism of repentance, another of grace. The latter was by both water and Spirit, the former by one only; the work of man is to bring forth repentance for his sin, it is the gift of God to pour in the grace of His mystery. Devoid therefore of all envy of Christ’s greatness, he declared not by word but by work that he was not the Christ. Hence it follows, There comes after me one mightier than I. In those words, mightier than I, he makes no comparison, for there can be none between the Son of God and man, but because there are many mighty, no one is mightier but Christ. So far indeed was as he from making comparison, that he adds, Whose shoes latched I am not worthy to unloose.

AUG. Matthew says, Whose shoes I am not worthy to bear. If therefore it is worth while to understand any difference in these expressions, we can only suppose that John said one at one time, another at another, or both together, To bear his shoes, and to loose the latchet of his shoes, so that though one Evangelist may have related this, the others that, yet all have related the truth. But if John intended no more when he spoke of the shoes of our Lord but His excellence and his own humility, whether he said loosing the latchet of the shoes, or bearing them, they have still kept the same sense who by the mention of shoes have in their own words expressed the same signification of humility.AMBROSE; By the words, Whose shoes I am not worthy to bear, he shows that the grace of preaching the Gospel was conferred upon the Apostles, who were shod for the Gospel. He seems however to say it, because John frequently represented the Jewish people.

GREG. But John denounces himself as unworthy to loose the latchet of Christ’s shoes: as if he openly said, I am not able to disclose the footsteps of my Redeemer, who do not presume unworthily to take unto myself the name of bridegroom, for it was an ancient custom that when a man refused to take to wife her whom he ought, whoever should come to her betrothed by right of kin, was to loose his shoe. Or because shoes are made from the skins of dead animals, our Lord being made flesh appeared as it were with shoes, as taking upon Himself the carcass of our corruption. The latchet of the shoe is the connection of the mystery. John therefore can not loose the latchet of the shoe, because neither is he able to fathom the mystery of the Incarnation, though he acknowledged it by the Spirit of prophecy.

CHRYS. And having said that his own baptism was only with water, he next shows the excellence of that baptism which was brought by Christ, adding, He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and fire, signifying by the very metaphor which he uses the abundance of grace. For he says not, ” He shall give you the Holy Spirit,” but He shall baptize you. And again, by the addition of fire, he shows the power of grace. And as Christ calls the grace of the Spirit, water, meaning by water the purity resulting from it, and the abundant consolation which is brought to minds which are capable of receiving Him; so also John, by the word fire, expresses the fervor and uprightness of grace, as well as the consuming of sins.

THEOPHYL; The Holy Spirit also may be understood by the word fire, for He kindles with love and enlightens with wisdom the hearts which He fills. Hence also the Apostles received the baptism of the Spirit in the appearance of fire. There are some who explain it, that now we are baptized with the Spirit, hereafter we shall be with fire, that as in truth we are now born again to the remission of our sins by water and the Spirit, so then we shall be cleansed from certain lighter sins by the baptism of purifying fire.

ORIGEN; And as John was waiting by the river Jordan for those who came to his baptism, and some he drove away, saying, Generation of vipers, but those who confessed their sins he received, so shall the Lord Jesus stand in the fiery stream with the flaming sword, that whoever after the close of this life desires to pass over to Paradise and needs purification, He may baptize him with this laver, and pass him over to paradise, but whoso has not the seal of the former baptisms, him He shall not baptize with the laver of fire.

BASIL; But because he says, He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit, let no one admit that baptism to be valid in which the name of His Spirit only has been invoked, for we must ever keep undiminished that tradition which has’ been sealed to us in quickening grace. To add or take away ought thereof excludes from eternal life.

GREEK EX. By these words then, He shall baptize with the Holy Spirit, He signifies the abundance of His grace, the plenteousness of His mercy; but lest any should suppose that while to bestow abundantly is both in the power and will of the Creator

Ver 21. Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened,22. And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased.

AMBROSE; In a matter which has been related by others Luke has rightly given us only a summary, and has left more to be understood than expressed in the fact, that our Lord was baptized by John. As it is said, Now when all were baptized, it came to pass. Our Lord was baptized not that He might be cleansed by the waters but to cleanse them, that being purified by the flesh of Christ who knew no sin, they might possess the power of baptism.

GREG. NAZ. Christ comes also to baptism perhaps to sanctify baptism, but doubtless to bury the old Adam in water.

AMBROSE; But the cause of our Lord’s baptism He Himself declares when He says, Thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness. But what is righteousness, except that what you would have another do to you, you should first begin yourself, and so by your example encourage others? Let none then avoid the laver of grace, since Christ avoided not the laver of repentance.

CHRYS. Now there was a Jewish baptism which removed the pollutions of the flesh, not the guilt of the conscience; but our baptism parts us from sin, washes the soul, and gives us largely the outpouring of the Spirit. But John’s baptism was more excellent than the Jewish; for it did not bring men to the observance of bodily purifications, but taught them to turn from sin to virtue. But it was inferior to our baptism, in that it conveyed not the Holy Spirit, nor showed forth the remission which is by grace, for there was a certain end as it were of each baptism. But neither by the Jewish nor our own baptism was Christ baptized, for He needed not the pardon of sins, nor was that flesh destitute of the Holy Spirit which from the very beginning was conceived by the Holy Spirit; He was baptized by the baptism of John, that from the very nature of the baptism, you might know that He was not baptized because He needed the gift of the Spirit. But he says, fitting baptized and praying, that you might consider how fitting to one who has received baptism is constant prayer.

THEOPHYL; Because though all sins are forgiven in baptism, not as yet is the weakness of this fleshly substance made strong. For we rejoice at the overwhelming of the Egyptians having now crossed the Red sea, but in the wilderness of worldly living there meet us other foes, who, the grace of Christ directing us, may by our exertions be subdued until we come to our own country.

CHRYS. But he says, The heavens opened, as if till then they had been shut. But now the higher and the lower sheep-fold being brought into one, and there being one Shepherd of the sheep, the heavens opened, and man was incorporated a fellow citizen with the Angels.

THEOPHYL; For not then were the heavens opened to Him whose eyes scanned the innermost parts of the heaven, but therein is shown the virtue of baptism, that when a man comes forth from it the gates of the heavenly kingdom are opened to him, and while his flesh is bathed unharmed in the cold waters, which formerly dreaded their hurtful touch, the flaming sword is extinguished.

CHRYS. The Holy Spirit descended also upon Christ as upon the Founder of our race, that He might be in Christ first of all who received Him not for Himself, but rather for us. Hence it follows: And the Holy Spirit descended. Let not any one imagine that He received Him because He had Him not. For He as God sent Him from above, and as man received Him below. Therefore from Him the Spirit fled down to Him, i.e. from His deity to His humanity.

AUG. But it is most strange that He should receive the Spirit when he was thirty years old. But as without sin He came to baptism, so not without the Holy Spirit. For if it was written of John, He shall be filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb, what must we believe of the man Christ, the very conception of whose flesh was not carnal but spiritual. Therefore He condescended now to prefigure His body, i.e. the Church, in which the baptized especially receive the Holy Spirit.

CHRYS. That baptism savored partly of antiquity, partly of novelty. For that he should receive baptism from a Prophet showed antiquity, but the Spirit’s descent denoted something new.

AMBROSE; Now the Spirit rightly showed Himself in the form of a dove, for He is not seen in His divine substance. Let us consider the mystery why like a dove? Because the grace of baptism requires innocence, that we should be innocent as doves. The grace of baptism requires peace, which under the emblem of an olive branch the dove once brought to that ark which alone escaped the deluge.

CHRYS. Or to show the meekness of the Lord, the Spirit now appears in the form of a dove, but at Pentecost like fire, to signify punishment. For when He was about to pardon offenses, gentleness was necessary; but having obtained grace, there remains for us the time of trial and judgment.

CYPRIAN; Now the dove is a harmless and pleasant creature, with no bitterness of gall, no fierceness of bite, no violence of rending talons; they love the abodes of men, consort within one home, when they have young nurturing them together, when they fly abroad, hanging side by side upon the wing, leading their life in mutual intercourse, giving with their bills a sign of their peaceful harmony, and fulfilling a law of unanimity in every way.

CHRYS. Christ indeed had already manifested Himself at His birth by many oracles, but because men would not consult them, He who had in the mean time remained secret, again more clearly revealed Himself in a second birth. For formerly a star in the heavens, now the Father at the waves of Jordan declared Him, and as the Spirit descended upon Him, pouring forth that voice over the head of Him who was baptized, as it follows, And a voice came from heaven, You are my beloved Son.

AMBROSE; We have seen the Spirit, but in a bodily shape, and the Father whom we cannot see we may hear. He is invisible because He is the Father, the Son also is invisible in His divinity, but He wished to manifest Himself in the body. And because the Father did not take the body, He wished therefore to prove to us that He was present in the Son, by saying, You are my Son.

ATHAN. The holy Scriptures by the name of Son set forth two meanings; one similar to that spoken of in the Gospel, He gave to them power that they should become the sons of God; another according to which Isaac is the son of Abraham. Christ is not then simply called a Son of God, but the article is prefixed, that we should understand that He alone is really and by nature the Son; and hence He is said to be the Only begotten. For if according to the madness of Arius He is called Son, as they are called who obtain the name through grace, He will seem in no way to differ from us. It remains therefore that in another respect we must confess Christ to be the Son of God, even as Isaac is acknowledged to be the son of Abraham. For that which is naturally begotten of another, and takes not its origin from any thing besides nature, accounts a son. But it is said, Was then the birth of the Son with suffering as of a man? By no means. God since He cannot be divided is without suffering the Father of the Son. Hence He is called the Word of the Father, because neither is the word of man even produced with suffering and since God is by nature one, He is the Father of one only Son, and therefore it is added, Beloved. For when a man has only one son, he loves him very much, but if he becomes father of many, his affection is divided by being distributed.

ATHAN. But as the prophet had before announced the promise of God, saying, I will send Christ my son, that promise being now as it were accomplished at Jordan, He rightly adds, In you I am well pleased.

THEOPHYL; As if He said, In You have I appointed My good pleasure, i.e. to carry on by You what seems good to Me.

GREG. Or else, Every one who by repentance corrects any of his actions, by that very repentance shows that he has displeased himself, seeing he amends what he has done. And since the Omnipotent Father spoke of sinners after the manner of men, saying, It repents me that I have made man, He (so to speak) displeased Himself in the sinners whom He had created. But in Christ alone He pleased Himself, for in Him alone He found no fault that He should blame Himself, as it were, by repentance.

AUG. But the words of Matthew, This is my beloved Son, and those of Luke, You are my beloved, Son, convey the same meaning; for the heavenly voice spoke one of these. But Matthew wished to show that by the words, This is my beloved Son, it was meant rather to declare to the hearers, that He was the Son of God. For that was not revealed to Christ which He knew, but they heard it who were present, and for whom the voice came.

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One Response to Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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