Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Luke 4:1-13

Ver 1. And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost, returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,2. Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered.3. And the devil said to him, If you be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread.4. And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.

THEOPHYL. Christ is tempted after His baptism, showing us that after we are baptized, temptations await us. Hence it is said, But Jesus being full of the Holy Spirit it, &c.

CYRIL. God said in times past, My Spirit shall not always abide in men, for that they are flesh. But now that we have been enriched with the gift of regeneration by water and the Spirit, we are become partakers of the Divine nature by participation of the Holy Spirit. But the first-born among many brethren first received the Spirit, who Himself also is the giver of the Spirit, that we through Him might also receive the grace of the Holy Spirit.

ORIGEN; When therefore you read that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit, and it is written in the Acts concerning the Apostles, that they were filled with the Holy Spirit, you must not suppose that the Apostles were equal to the Savior. For as if you should say, These vessels are full of wine or oil, you would not thereby affirm them to be equally full, so Jesus and Paul were full of the Holy Spirit, but Paul’s vessel was far less than that of Jesus, and yet each was filled according to its own measure. Having then received baptism, the Savior, being full of the Holy Spirit, which came upon Him from heaven in the form of a dove, was led by the Spirit, because, as many as are led by the Spirit, they are the sons of God, but He was above all, especially the Son of God.

THEOPHYL; That there might be no doubt by what Spirit He was led, while the other Evangelists say, into the wilderness, Luke has purposely added, And he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days. That no unclean spirit should be thought to have prevailed against Him, who being full of the Holy Spirit did whatever He wished.

GREEK EX. But if we order our lives according to our own will, how was He led about unwillingly? Those words then, He was led by the Spirit, have some meaning of this kind: He led of His own accord that kind of life, that He might present an opportunity to the tempter.

BASIL; For not by word provoking the enemy, but by His actions rousing him, He seeks the wilderness. For the devil delights in the wilderness, he is not wont to go into the cities, the harmony of the citizens troubles him.

AMBROSE; He was led therefore into the wilderness, to the intent that He might provoke the devil, for if the one had not contended, the other it seems had not conquered. In a mystery, it was to deliver that Adam from exile who was cast out of Paradise into the wilderness. By way of example, it was to show us that the devil envies us, whenever we strive after better things; and that then we must use caution, lest the weakness of our minds should lose us the grace of the mystery. Hence it follows: And he was tempted of the devil.

CYRIL; Behold, He is among the wrestlers, who as God awards the prizes. He is among the crowned, who crowns the heads of the saints.

GREG. Our enemy was however unable to shake the purpose of the Mediator between God and men. For He condescended to be tempted outwardly, yet so that His soul inwardly, resting in its divinity, remained unshaken.

ORIGEN; But Jesus is tempted by the devil forty days, and what the temptations were we know not. They were perhaps omitted, as being greater than could be committed to writing.

BASIL; Or, the Lord remained for forty days untempted, for the devil knew that He fasted, yet hungered not, and dared not therefore approach Him. Hence it follows: And he eat nothing in those days. He fasted indeed, to show that He who would gird Himself for struggles against temptation must be temperate and sober.

AMBROSE; There are three things which united together conduce to the salvation of man; The Sacrament, The Wilderness, Fasting. No one who has not rightly contended receives a crown, but no one is admitted to the contest of virtue, except first being washed from the stains of all his sins, he is consecrated with the gift of heavenly grace.

GREG. NAZ. He fasted in truth forty days, eating nothing. (For He was God.) But we regulate our fasting according to our strength, although the zeal of some persuades them to fast beyond what they are able.

BASIL; But we must not however so use the flesh, that through want of food our strength should waste away, nor that by excess of mortification our understandings wax dull and heavy. Our Lord therefore once performed this work, but during this whole succeeding time He governed His body with due order, and so in like manner did Moses and Elias.

CHRYS. But very wisely, He exceeded not their number of days, lest indeed He should be thought to have come in appearance only, and not to have really received the flesh, or lest the flesh should seem to be something beyond human nature.

AMBROSE; But mark the mystical number of days. For you remember that for forty days the waters of the deep were poured forth, and by sanctifying a fast of that number of days, He brings before us the returning mercies of a calmer sky. By a fast of so many days also, Moses earned for himself the understanding of the law. Our fathers being for so many days settled in the wilderness, obtained the food of Angels.

AUG. Now that number is a sacrament of our time and labor, in which under Christ’s discipline we contend against the devil, for it signifies our temporal life. For the periods of years run in courses of four, but forty contains four tens. Again, those ten are completed by the number one successively advancing on to four more. This plainly shows that the fast of forty days, i.e. the humiliation of the soul, the Law and the Prophets have consecrated by Moses and Elias, the Gospel by the fast of our Lord Himself.

BASIL; But because not to suffer hunger is above the nature of man, our Lord took upon Himself the feeling of hunger, and submitted Himself as it pleased Him to human nature, both to do and to suffer those things which were His own. Hence it follows: And those days being ended, he was as a hungered. Not forced to that necessity which overpowers nature, but as if provoking the devil to the conflict. For the devil, knowing that wherever hunger is there is weakness, sets about to tempt Him, and as the deviser or inventor of temptations, Christ permitting him tries to persuade Him to satisfy His appetite with the stones. As it follows; But the devil said to him, If you are the Son of God, command these stones that they be made bread.

AMBROSE; There are three especial weapons which we are taught the devil is wont to arm himself with, that he may wound the soul of man. One is of the appetite, another of boasting, the third ambition. He began with that wherewith he had already conquered, namely, Adam. Let us then beware of the appetite, let us beware of luxury, for it is a weapon of the devil. But what mean his words, If you are the Son of God, unless he had known that the Son would come, but supposed Him not to have come from the weakness of His body. He first endeavors to find Him out, then to tempt Him. He professes to trust Him as God, then tries to deceive Him as man.

ORIGEN; When a father is asked by his son for bread, he does not give him a stone for bread, but the devil like a crafty and deceitful foe gives stones for bread.

BASIL; He tried to persuades Christ to satisfy His appetite with stones, i.e. to shift his desire from the natural food to that which was beyond nature or unnatural.

ORIGEN; I suppose also that even now at this very time the devil shows a stone to men that he may tempt them to speak, saying to them, Command this stone to be made bread. If you see the heretics devouring their lying doctrines as if they were bread, know that their teaching is a stone which the devil shows them.

BASIL; But Christ while He vanquishes temptation, banishes not hunger from our nature, as though that were the cause of evils, (which is rather the preservative of life, but confining nature within its proper bounds, shows of what kind its nourishment is, as follows; And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone.

THEOPHYL. As if He said, Not by bread alone is human nature sustained, but the word of God is sufficient to support the whole nature of man. Such was the food of the Israelites when they gathered manna during the space of forty, years, and when they delighted in the taking of quails. By the Divine counsel Elias had the crows to entertain him; Elisha feel his companions on the herbs of the field.

CYRIL; Or, our earthly body is nourished by earthly food, but the reasonable soul is strengthened by the Divine Word, to the right ordering of the spirit.

GREG. NAZ. For the body nourishes not our immaterial nature.

GREG. NYSS. Virtue then is not sustained by bread, nor by flesh does the soul keep itself in health and vigor, but by other banquets than these is the heavenly life fostered, and increased. The nourishment of tile good man is chastity, his bread, wisdom, his herbs, justice, his drink, freedom from passion, his delight, to be rightly wise.

AMBROSE; You see then what kind of arms He uses to defend man against the assaults of spiritual wickedness, and the allurements of the appetite. He does not exert His power as God, (for how had that profited me,) but as man He summons to Himself a common aid, that while intent upon the food of divine reading He may neglect the hunger of the body, and gain the nourishment of the word. For he who seeks after the word cannot feel the want of earthly bread for divine things doubtless make up for the loss of human. At the same time by saying, Man lives not by bread alone, He shows that man was tempted, that is, our flesh which He assumed, not His own divinity.

Ver 5. And the devil, taking him up into a high mountain, showed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.6. And the devil said to him, All this power will I give you, and the glory of them: for that is delivered to me; and to whomsoever I will I give it.7. If you therefore will worship me, all shall be yours.8. And Jesus answered and said to him, Get you behind me, Satan: for it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.

THEOPHYL. The enemy had first assailed Christ by the temptation of the appetite, as also he did Adam. He next tempts Him with the desire of gain or covetousness, showing Him all the kingdoms of the world. Hence it follows, And the devil taking him up.

GREG. What marvel that He permitted Himself to be led by the devil into the mountains, who even in endured to be crucified in His own body?

THEOPHYL. But how did the devil show Him all the kingdoms of the world? Some say that he presented them to Him in imagination, but I hold that he brought them before Him in visible form and appearance.

TITUS BOS. Or, the devil described the world in language, and as he thought brought it vividly before our Lord’s mind as though it were a certain house.

AMBROSE;; Truly in a moment of time, the kingdoms of this world are described. For here it is not so much the rapid glance of sight which is signified as is declared the frailty of mortal power. For in a moment all this passes by, and oftentimes the glory of this world has vanished before it has arrived. It follows, And he said to him, I will give you all this power.

TITUS; He lied in two respects. For he neither had to give nor could he give that which he had not; he gains possession of nothing, but is an enemy reduced to fight.

AMBROSE; For it is elsewhere said, that all power is from God. Therefore from God’s hands comes the disposal of power, the lust of power is from the evil one; power is not itself evil, but he who evilly uses it. What then; is it good to exercise power, to desire honor? Good if it is bestowed upon us, not if it is seized. We must distinguish however in this good itself. There is one good use of the world, another of perfect virtue. It is good to seek God; it is a good thing that the desire of becoming acquainted with God should be hindered by no worldly business. But if he who seeks God, is from the weakness of the flesh, and the narrowness of his mind, often tempted, how much more is he exposed who seeks the world? We are taught then to despise ambition, because it is subject to the power of the devil. But honor abroad is followed by danger at home, and in order to rule others a man is first their servant, and prostrates himself in obedience that he may be rewarded with honors, and the higher he aspires the lower he bends with feigned humility; whence he adds, If you will fall down and worship me.

CYRIL; And do you, whose lot is the unquenchable fire, promise to the Lord of all that which is His own? Did you think to have Him for your worshiper, from dread of whom the whole creation trembles?ORIGEN; Or, to view the whole in another light. Two kings are earnestly contending for a kingdom; The king of sin who reigns over sinners, that is, the devil; The king of righteousness who rules the righteous, that is, Christ. The devil, knowing that Christ had come to take away his kingdom, shows Him all the kingdoms of the world; not the kingdoms of the Persians and of the Medes, but his own kingdom whereby he reigned in the world, whereby some are under the dominion of fornication, others of covetousness. And he shows Him them in a moment of time, that is, in the present course of time, which is but a moment in comparison of eternity. For the Savior needed not to be shown for any longer time the affairs of this world, but as soon as He turned His eyes to look, He beheld sins reigning, and men made slaves to vice. The devil therefore says to Him, Came You to contend with me for dominion? Worship me, and behold I give You the kingdom I hold. Now the Lord would indeed reign, but being Righteousness itself, would reign without sin; and would have all nations subject to Him, that they might obey the truth, but would not so reign over others as that He Himself should be subject to the devil. Hence it follows, And Jesus answering said to him, It is written, You shall worship the Lord your God.

THEOPHYL, The devil saying to our Savior, If you will fall down and worship me, receives answer that he himself ought rather to worship Christ as his Lord and God.

CYRIL; But how comes it that the Son (if as the heretics say a created being) is worshipped? What charge can be brought against those who served the creature and not the Creator, if the Son (according to them a created being) we are to worship as God?

ORIGEN; Or else, All these, he says, I would have subject to me, that they might worship the Lord God, and serve Him alone. But do you wish sin to begin from Me, which I came hither to destroy?

CYRIL; This command touched him to the quick; for before Christ’s coming he was every where worshipped. But the law of God casting him down from his usurped dominion, establishes the worship of Him alone who is really God.

THEOPHYL; But someone may ask how this injunction agrees with the word of the Apostle, which says, Beloved, serve one another. In the Greek, signifies a common service, (i.e. given either to God or man,) according to which we are bid to serve one another; but is the service due to the worship of the Deity, with which we are bid to serve God alone.

Ver  9. And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, If you be the Son of God, cast yourself down from hence:10. For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you:11. And in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone.12. And Jesus answering said to him, It is said, You shall not tempt the Lord thy God.13. And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.

AMBROSE; The next weapon he uses is that of boasting, which always causes the offender to fall down; for they who love to boast of the glory of their virtue descend from the stand and vantage ground of their good deeds. Hence it is said, And he led him to Jerusalem.

ORIGEN; He followed evidently as a wrestler, gladly setting out to meet the temptation, and saying, as it were, Lead me where you will, and you will find me the stronger in every thing.

AMBROSE; It is the fate of boasting, that while a man thinks he is climbing higher, he is by his pretension to lofty deeds brought low. Hence it follows, And he said, to him, you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.

ATHAN. The devil entered not into a contest with God, (for he durst not, and therefore said, you are the Son of God,) but he contended with man whom once he had power to deceive.

AMBROSE; That is truly the devil’s language, which seeks to cast down the soul of man from the high ground of its good deeds, while he shows at the same time both his weakness and malice, for he can injure no one that does not first cast himself down. For he who forsaking heavenly things pursues earthly, rushes as it were willfully down the self-sought precipice of a falling life. As soon then as the devil perceived his dart blunted, he who had subdued all men to his own power, began to think he had to deal with more than man. But Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, and often from the Holy Scriptures weaves his mesh for the faithful: hence it follows, It is written, He shall give, &c.

ORIGEN; Whence know you, Satan, that those things are written? Have you read the Prophets, or the oracles of God? You have read them indeed, but not that yourself might be the better for the reading, but that from the mere letter you might slay them who are friends to the letter. You know that if you were to speak from His other books, you would not deceive.

AMBROSE; Let not the heretic entrap you by bringing examples from the Scriptures. The devil makes use of the testimony of the Scriptures not to teach but to deceive.

ORIGEN; But mark how wily he is even in this testimony. For he would fain throw a slur upon the glory of the Savior, as though He needed the assistance of angels, and would stumble were He not supported by their hands. But this was said not of Christ, but of the saints generally; He needs not the aid of angels, Who is greater than angels. But let this teach you, Satan, that the angels would stumble did not God sustain them; and you stumble because you refuse to believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God. But why are you silent as to what follows, You shall walk upon the asp and the basilisk, except that you are the basilisk, you are the dragon and the lion?

AMBROSE; But the Lord, to prevent the thought that those things which had been prophesied of Him were fulfilled according to the devil’s will, and not by the authority of His own divine power, again so foils his cunning, that he who had alleged the testimony of Scripture, should by Scripture himself be overthrown. Hence it follows, And Jesus answering said, It is said, You shall not tempt the Lord thy God.

CHRYS For it is of the devil to cast one’s self into dangers, and try whether God will rescue us.

CYRIL; God gives not help to those who tempt Him, but to those who believe on Him. Christ therefore did not show ills miracles to them that tempted Him, but said to them, An evil generation seeks a sign, and no sign shall be given to them.

CHRYS. But mark how the Lord, instead of being troubled, condescends to dispute from the Scriptures with the wicked one, that you, as far as you are able, might become like Christ. The devil knew the arms of Christ, beneath which he sunk. Christ took him captive by meekness, He overcame him by humility. Do you also, when you see a man who has become a devil coming to meet you, subdue him in like manner. Teach your soul to conform its words to those of Christ. For as a Roman judge, who on the bench refuses to hear the reply of one who knows not how to speak as he does; so also Christ, except you speak after His manner, will neither hear you nor protect you.

GREG. NYSS. In lawful contests the battle is terminated either when the adversary surrenders of his own accord to the conqueror, or is defeated in three falls, according to the rules of the art of fighting. Hence it follows, And all the temptation being completed, &c.

AMBROSE; He would not have said that all the temptation was ended, had there not been in the three temptations which have been described the materials for every crime; for the causes of temptations are the causes of desire, namely, the delight of the flesh, the pomp of vain-glory, greediness of power.

ATHAN. The enemy came to Him as, man, but not finding in Him the marks of his ancient seed, he departed.

AMBROSE; You see then that the devil is not obstinate on the field, is wont to give way to true virtue; and if he ceases not to hate, he yet dreads to advance, for so he escapes a more frequent defeat. As soon then as he heard the name of God, he retired (it is said) for a season, for afterwards he comes not to tempt, but to fight openly.

THEOPHYL. Or, having tempted Him in the desert with pleasure, he retires from Him until the crucifixion, when he was about to tempt Him with sorrow.

MAXIMUS; Or the devil had prompted Christ in the desert to prefer the things of the world to the love of God. The Lord commanded him to leave Him, (which itself was a mark of Divine love.) It was afterwards then enough to make Christ appear the false advocate of love to His neighbors, and therefore while He was teaching the paths of life, the devil stirred up the Gentiles and Pharisees to lay traps for Him that He might be brought to hate them. But the Lord, from the feeling of love which He had towards them, exhorted, reproved, ceased not to bestow mercy upon them.

AUG. The whole of this narrative Matthew relates in a similar manner, but not in the same order. It is uncertain therefore which took place first, whether the kingdoms of the earth were first shown to Him, and He was afterwards taken up to the pinnacle of the temple; or whether this came first, and the other afterwards. It matters little however which, as long as it is clear that they all took place.

MAXIMUS; But the reason why one Evangelist places this event first, and another that, is because vain-glory and covetousness give birth in turn to one another.

ORIGEN; But John, who had commenced his Gospel from God, saying, In the beginning was the Word, did not describe the temptation of the Lord, because God can not be tempted, of whom he wrote. But because in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke the human generations are given, and in Mark it is man who is tempted, therefore Matthew, Luke, and Mark have described the temptation of the Lord.

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One Response to Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Luke 4:1-13

  1. Pingback: Commentaries and Resources for the First Sunday of Lent, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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