Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Matt 4:12-22

Ver 12. Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, He departed into Galilee;13. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim:14. That is might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaeas the prophet, saying,15. “The land of Zabulon, and the land of Naphthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles;16. The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.

Rabanus: Matthew having related the forty days’ fast, the temptation of Christ, and the ministry of Angels, proceeds, “Jesus having heard that John was cast into prison.”

Pseudo-Chrys.: By God without doubt, for none can effect any thing against a holy man, unless God deliver him up. “He withdrew into Galilee,” that is, out of Judaea; both that He might reserve His passion to the fit time, and that He might set us an example of flying from danger.

Chrys.: It is not blameworthy not to throw one’s self into peril, but when one has fallen into it, not to endure manfully. He departed from Judaea both to soften Jewish animosity, and to fulfil a prophecy, seeking moreover to fish for those masters of the world who dwelt in Galilee.

Note also how when He would depart to the Gentiles, He received good cause from the Jews; His forerunner was thrown into prison, which compelled Jesus to pass into Galilee of the Gentiles.

Gloss. ap. Anselm: He came as Luke writes to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and there entering into the synagogue, He read and spoke many things, for which they sought to throw Him down from the rock, and thence He went to Capernaum; for which Matthew has only, “And leaving the town of Nazareth, He came and dwelt at Capernaum.”

Gloss. ord.: Nazareth is a village in Galilee near Mount Tabor; Capernaum a town in Galilee of the Gentiles near the Lake of Gennesaret; and  this is the meaning of the word, “on the sea coast.”

He adds further “in the borders of Zabulon and Naphtali,” where was the first captivity of the Jews by the Assyrians. Thus where the Law was first forgotten, there the Gospel was first preached; and from a place as it were between the two it was spread both to Jews and Gentiles.

Remig.: He left one, viz. Nazareth, that He might enlighten more by His preaching and miracles. Thus leaving an example to all preachers that they should preach at a time and in places where they may do good, to as many as possible. In the prophecy, the words are these – “At that first time the land of Zabulon and the land of Naphtali was lightened, and at the last time was increased the way of the sea beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.” [Isa_9:1]

Jerome, Hieron. in Esai. c. 9. 1: They are said at the first time to be lightened from the burden of sin, because in the country of these two tribes, the Saviour first preached the Gospel; “at the last time” their faith “was increased,” most of the Jews remaining in error.

By the sea here is meant the Lake of Gennesaret, a lake formed by the waters of the Jordan, on its shores are the towns of Capernaum, Tiberias, Bethsaida, and Corozaim, in which district principally Christ preached.

Or, according to the interpretation of those Hebrews who believe in Christ, the two tribes Zabulon and Naphtali were taken captive by the Assyrians, and Galilee was left desert; and the prophet therefore says that it was lightened, because it had before suffered the sins of the people; but afterwards the remaining tribes who dwelt beyond Jordan and in Samaria were led into captivity; and Scripture here means that the region which had been the first to suffer captivity, now was the first to see the light of Christ’s preaching.

The Nazarenes again interpret that this was the first part of the country that, on the coming of Christ, was freed from the errors of the Pharisees, and after by the Gospel of the Apostle Paul, the preaching was increased or multiplied throughout all the countries of the Gentiles.

Gloss. ap. Anselm: But Matthew here so quotes the passage as to make them all nominative cases referring to one verb. The land of Zabulon, and the land of Naphtali, which is the way of the sea, and which is beyond Jordan, viz. the people of Galilee of the Gentiles, the people which walked in darkness. Gloss. ord.: Note that there are two Galilees; one of the Jews, the other of the Gentiles. This division of Galilee had existed from Solomon’s time, who gave twenty cities in Galilee to Hyram, King of Tyre; this part was afterwards called Galilee of the Gentiles; the remained, of the Jews.

Jerome, Hieron.: Or we must read, “beyond Jordan, of Galilee of the Gentiles;” so, I mean, that the people who either sat, or walked in darkness, have seen light, and that not a faint light, as the light of the Prophets, but a great light, as of Him who in the Gospel speaks thus, “I am the light of the world.”

Between death and the shadow of death I suppose this difference; death is said of such as have gone down to the grave with the works of death; the shadow of such as live in sin, and have not yet departed from this world; these may, if they will, yet turn to repentance.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Otherwise, the Gentiles who worshipped idols, and daemons, were they who sat in the region of the shadow of death; the Jews, who did the works of the Law, were in darkness, because the righteousness of God was not yet manifested to them.

Chrys.: But that you may learn that he speaks not of natural day and night, he calls the light, “a great light,” which is in other places called “the true light;” and he adds, “the shadow of death,” to explain what he means by darkness. The words “arose,” and “shined,” shew, that they found it not of their own seeking, but God Himself appeared to them, they did not first run to the light; for men were in the greatest miseries before Christ’s coming; they did not walk but safe in darkness; which was a sign that they hoped for deliverance; for as not knowing what way they should go, shut in by darkness they sat down, having now no power to stand. By darkness he means here, error and ungodliness.

Rabanus, ap. Anselm: In allegory, John and the rest of the Prophets were the voice going before the Word. When prophecy ceased and was fettered, then came the Word, fulfilling what the Prophet had spoken of it, “He departed into Galilee,” i.e. from figure to verity.

Or, into the Church, which is a passing from vice to virtue. Nazareth is interpreted ‘a flower,’ Capernaum, ‘the beautiful village;’ He left therefore the flower of figure, (in which was mystically intended the fruit of the Gospel,) and came into the Church, which was beautiful with Christ’s virtues.It is “by the sea-coast,” because placed near the waves of this world, it is daily beaten by the storms of persecution.

It is situated between Zabulon and Naphtali, i.e. common to Jews and Gentiles. Zabulon is interpreted, ‘the abode of strength;’ because the Apostles, who were chosen from Judaea, were strong. Nephtali, ‘extension,’ because the Church of the Gentiles was extended through the world.

Aug., de Cons. Evan., ii, 17: John relates in his Gospel the calling of Peter, Andrew, and Nathanael, and the miracle of Cana, before Jesus’ departure into Galilee; all these things the other Evangelists have omitted, carrying on the thread of their narrative with Jesus’ return into Galilee. We must understand then that some days intervened, during which the things took place concerning the calling of the disciples which John relates.

Remig.: But this should be considered with more care, viz. that John says that the Lord went into Galilee, before John the Baptist was thrown into prison. According to John’s Gospel after the water turned into wine, and his going down to Capernaum, and after his going up to Jerusalem, he returned to Judaea and baptized, and John was not yet cast into prison. But here it is after John’s imprisonment that He retires into Galilee, and with this Mark agrees. But we need not suppose any contradiction here. John speaks of the Lord’s first coming into Galilee, which was before the imprisonment of John. He speaks in another place of His second coming into Galilee [Joh_4:3], and the other Evangelists mention only this second coming into Galilee which was after John’s imprisonment.

Euseb., H. E. iii. 24: It is related that John preached the Gospel almost up to the close of his life without setting forth any thing in writing, and at length came to write for this reason.

The three first written Gospels having come to his knowledge, he confirmed the truth of their history by his own testimony; but there was yet some things wanting, especially an account of what the Lord had done at the first beginning of His preaching. And it is true that the other three Gospels seem to contain only those things which were done in that year in which John the Baptist was put into prison, or executed. For Matthew, after the  temptation, proceeds immediately, “Hearing that John was delivered up;” and Mark in like manner. Luke again, even before relating one of Christ’s actions, tells that “Herod had shut up John in prison.” The Apostle John then was requested to put into writing what the preceding Evangelists had left out before the imprisonment of John; hence he says in his Gospel, “this beginning of miracles did Jesus.”

Ver 17. From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, “Repent: for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

Pseudo-Chrys.: Christ’s Gospel should be preached by him who can control his appetites, who contemns the goods of this life, and desires not empty honours. “From this time began Jesus to preach,” that is, after having been tempted, He had overcome hunger in the desert, despised covetousness on the mountain, rejected ambitious desires in the temple.

Or from the time that John was delivered up; for had He begun to preach while John was yet preaching, He would have made John be lightly accounted of, and John’s preaching would have been though superfluous by the side of Christ’s teaching; as when the sun rises at the same time with the morning star, the star’s brightness is hid.

Chrys.: For another cause also He did not preach till John was in prison, that the multitude might not be split into two parties; or as John did no miracle, all men would have been drawn to Christ by His miracles.

Rabanus: In this He further teaches that none should despise the words of a person inferior to Him; as also the Apostle, “If any thing be revealed to him that sits, let the first hold his peace.” [1Co_14:30]

Pseudo-Chrys.: He did wisely in making now the beginning of His preaching, that He should not trample upon John’s teaching, but that He might the rather confirm it and demonstrate him to have been a true witness.

Jerome: Shewing also thereby that He was Son of that same God whose prophet John was; and therefore He says, “Repent ye.”

Pseudo-Chrys.: He does not straightway preach righteousness which all knew, but repentance, which all needed. Who then dared to say, ‘I desire to be good, but am not able?”

For repentance corrects the will; and if ye will not repent through fear of evil, at least ye may for the pleasure of good things; hence He says, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand;” that is, the blessings of the heavenly kingdom. As if He has said, Prepare yourselves by repentance, for the time of eternal reward is at hand.

Remig.: And note, He does not say the kingdom of the Canaanite, or the Jebusite, is at hand; the “the kingdom of heaven.” The law promised worldly goods, but the Lord heavenly kingdoms.

Chrys.: Also observe how that in this His first address He says nothing of Himself openly; and that very suitably to the case, for they had yet no right opinion concerning Him. In this commencement moreover He speaks nothing severe, nothing burdensome, as John had concerning the axe laid to the root of the condemned tree, and the lie; but he puts first things merciful, preaching the glad tidings of the kingdom of heaven.

Jerome: Mystically interpreted, Christ begins to preach as soon as John was delivered to prison, because when the Law ceased, the Gospel commenced.

Ver 18. And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.19. And He saith unto them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”20. And they straightway left their nets, and followed Him.21. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them.22. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed Him.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Before He spoke or did any thing, Christ called Apostles, that neither word nor deed of His should be hid from their knowledge, so that they may afterwards say with confidence, “What we have seen and heard, that we cannot but speak.” [Act_4:20]

Rabanus: The sea of Galilee, the lake of Gennesaret, the sea of Tiberias, and the salt lake, are one and the same.

Gloss. ord.: He rightly goes on fishing places, when about to fish for fishermen.

Remig.: “Saw,” that is, not so much with the bodily eye, as spiritually viewing their hearts.

Chrys.: He calls them while actually working at their employment, to shew that to follow Him ought to be preferred to all occupations. They were just then “casting a net into the sea,” which agreed with their future office.

Aug., Serm. 197, 2: He chose not kings, senators, philosophers, or orators, but he chose common, poor, and untaught fishermen.

Aug., Tract. in Joann. 8, 7: Had one learned been chosen, he might have attributed the choice to the merit of his learning. But our Lord Jesus Christ, willing to bow the necks of the proud, sought not to gain fishermen by orators, but gained an Emperor by a fisherman. Great was Cyprian the pleader, but Peter the fisherman was before him.Pseudo-Chrys.: The operations of their secular craft were a prophecy of their future dignity. As he who casts his net into the water knows not what fishes he shall take, so the teacher casts the net of the divine word upon the people, not knowing who among them will come to God. Those whom God shall stir abide in his doctrine.

Remig.: Of these fishermen the Lord speaks by Jeremiah. “I will send my fishers among you, and they shall catch you.” [Jer_16:16]

Gloss. interlin.: “Follow me,” not so much with your feet as in your hearts and your life.

Pseudo-Chrys.: “Fishers of men,” that is, teachers, that with the net of God’s word you may catch men out of this world of storm and danger, in which men do not walk but are rather borne along, the Devil by pleasure drawing them into sin where men devour one another as the stronger fishes do the weaker, withdrawn from hence they may live upon the land, being made members of Christ’s body.

Greg., Hom. in Evan., v. 1: Peter and Andrew had seen Christ work no miracle, had heard from him no word of the promise of the eternal reward, yet at this single bidding of the Lord they forgot all that they had seemed to possess, and “straightway left their nets, and followed Him.” In which deed we ought rather to consider their wills than the amount of their property. He leaves much who keeps nothing for himself, he parts with much, who with his possessions renounces his lusts.

Those who followed Christ gave up enough to be coveted by those who did not follow. Our outward goods, however small, are enough for the Lord; He does not weight the sacrifice by how much is offered, but out of how much it is offered. The kingdom of God is not to be valued at a certain price, but whatever a man has, much or little, is equally available.

Pseudo-Chrys.: These disciples did not follow Christ from desire of the honour of a doctor, but because they coveted the labour itself; they knew how precious is the soul of man, how pleasant to God is his salvation, and how great its reward.

Chrys.: To so great a promise they trusted, and believed that they should catch others by those same words by which themselves had been caught.

Pseudo-Chrys.: These were their desires, for which they “left all and followed;” teaching us thereby that none can possess earthly things and perfectly attain to heavenly things.

Gloss. ap. Anselm: These last disciples were an example to such as leave their property for the love of Christ; now follows an example of others who postponed earthly affection to God. Observe how He calls them two and two, and He afterwards sent them two and two to preach.

Greg., Hom. in Ex., 17, 1: Hereby we are also silently admonished, that he who wants affection towards others, ought not to take on him the office of preaching. The precepts of charity are two, and between less than two there can be no love.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Rightly did He thus build the foundations of the brotherhood of the Church on love, that from such roots a copious sap of love might flow to the branches; and that too on natural or human love, that nature as well as grace might bind their love more firmly. They were moreover “brothers;” and so did God in the Old Testament lay the foundations of His building on Moses and Aaron, brothers.

But as the grace of the New Testament is more abundant than that of the Old, therefore the first people were built upon one pair of brethren, but the new people upon two.

They were “washing their nets,” a proof of the extremest indigence; they repaired the old because they had not whence they should buy new. And what shews their great filial piety, in this their great poverty they deserted not their father, but carried him with them in their vessel, not that he might aid in their labour, but have the enjoyment of his sons’ presence.

Chrys.: It is no small sign of goodness, to bear poverty easily, to live by honest labour, to be bound together by virtue of affection, to keep their poor father with them, and to toil in his service.

Pseudo-Chrys.: We may not dare to consider the former disciples as more quick to preach, because they were “casting their nets;” and these latter as less active, because they were yet making ready only; for it is Christ alone that may know their differences.

But, perhaps we may say that the first were “casting their nets,” because Peter preached the Gospel, but committed it not to paper – the others were making ready their nets, because John composed a Gospel.

He “called them” together, for by their abode they were fellow-townsmen, in affection attached, in profession agreed, and united by brotherly tenderness. He called them then at once, that united by so many common blessings they might not be separated by a separate call.

Chrys.: He made no promise to them when He called them, as He had to the former, for the obedience of the first had made the way plain for them. Besides, they had heard many things concerning Him, as being friends and townsmen of the others.

Pseudo-Chrys.: There are three things which we must leave who would come to Christ; carnal actions, which are signified in the fishing nets; worldly substance, in the ship; parents, which are signified in their father. They left their own vessel, that they might become governors of the vessel of the Church; they left their nets, as having no longer to draw out fishes on to the earthly shore, but men to the heavenly; they left their father, that they might become the spiritual fathers of all.

Hilary: By this that they left their occupation and their father’s house we are taught, that when we would follow Christ we should not be holden of the cares of secular life, or of the society of the paternal mansion.

Remig.: Mystically, by the sea is figured this world, because of its bitterness and its tossing waves. Galilee is interpreted, ‘rolling,’ or ‘a wheel,’ and shews the changeableness of the world. Jesus “walked by the sea” when He came to us by incarnation, for He took on Him of the Virgin not the flesh of sin, but the likeness of the flesh of sin.

By the two brothers, two people are signified born of one God their Father; He “saw” them when He looked on them in His mercy. In Peter, (which is interpreted ‘owning,’) who is called Simon, (i.e. obedient,) is signified the Jewish nation, who acknowledged God in the Law, and obeyed His commandments; Andrew, which is interpreted ‘manly’ or ‘graceful,’ signifies the Gentiles, who after they had come to the knowledge of God, manfully abode in the faith. He called us His people when He sent the preachers into the world, saying, “Follow me;” that is, leave the deceiver, follow your Creator. Of both people there were made fishers of men, that is, preachers. Leaving their ships, that is, carnal desires, and their nets, that is, love of the world, they followed Christ. By James is understood the Jewish nation, which through their knowledge of God overthrew the Devil; by John the Gentile world, which was saved of grace alone. Zebedee whom they leave, (the name is interpreted flying or falling,) signifies the world which passes away, and the Devil who fell from Heaven. By Peter and Andrew casting their net into the sea, are meant those who in their early youth are called by the Lord, while from the vessel of their body they cast the nets of carnal concupiscence into the sea of this world. By James and John mending their nets are signified those who after sin before adversity come to Christ recovering what they had lost.

Rabanus: The two vessels signify the two Churches; the one was called out of the circumcision, the other out of the uncircumcision. Any one who believes becomes Simon, i.e. obedient to God; Peter by acknowledging his sin, Andrew by enduring labours manfully, James by overcoming vices,

Gloss. ap. Anselm: and John that he may ascribe the whole to God’s grace. The calling of four only is mentioned, as those preachers by whom God will call the four quarters of the world.

Hilary: Or, the number that was to be of the Evangelists is figured.Remig.: Also, the four principal virtues are here designed; Prudence, in Peter, from his confession of God; Justice, we may refer to Andrew for his manful deeds; Fortitude, to James, for his overthrow of the Devil; Temperance, to John, for the working in him of divine grace.

Aug., de Cons. Evan., ii, 17: It might move enquiry, why John relates that near Jordan, not in Galilee, Andrew followed the Lord with another whose name he does not mention; and again, that Peter received that name from the Lord. Whereas the other three Evangelists write that they were called from their fishing, sufficiently agreeing with one another, especially Matthew and Mark; Luke not naming Andrew, who is however understood to have been in the same vessel with him.

There is a further seeming discrepancy, that in Luke it is to Peter only that it is said, “Henceforth thou shalt catch men;” Matthew and Mark write that is was said to both. As to the different account in John, it should be carefully considered, and it will be found that it is a different time, place, and calling that is there spoken of. For Peter and Andrew had not so seen Jesus at the Jordan that they adhered inseparably ever after, but so as only to have known who He was, and wondering at Him to have gone their way. Perhaps he is returning back to something he had omitted, for he proceeds without marking any difference of time, “As he walked by the sea of Galilee.”

It may be further asked, how Matthew and Mark relate that He called them separately two and two, when Luke relates that James and John being partners of Peter were called as it were to aid him, and bringing their barks to land followed Christ. We may then understand that the narrative of Luke relates to a prior time, after which they returned to their fishing as usual. For it had not been said to Peter that he should no more catch fish, as he did do so again after the resurrection, but that he “should catch men.” Again, at a time after this happened that call of which Matthew and Mark speak; for they draw their ships to land to follow Him, not as careful to return again, but only anxious to follow Him when He bids them.

23  And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom: and healing all manner of sickness and every infirmity, among the people.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Kings, when about to go to war with their enemies, first gather an army, and so go out to battle; thus the Lord when about to war against the Devil, first collected Apostles, and then began to preach the Gospel.

Remig.: An example of life for doctors; that they should not be inactive, they are instructed in these words, “And Jesus went about.”

Pseudo-Chrys.: Because they being weak could not come to their physician, He as a zealous Physician went about to visit those who had any grievous sickness. The Lord went round the several regions, and after His example the pastors of each region ought to go round to study the several dispositions of their people, that for the remedy of each disease some medicine may be found in the Church.

Remig.: That they should not be acceptors of persons the preachers are instructed in what follows, “the whole of Galilee.” That they should not go about empty, by the word, “teaching.” That they should seek to benefit not few but many, in what follows, “in their synagogues.”

Chrys.: By which too He shewed the Jews that He came not as an enemy of God, or a seducer of souls, but as consenting with his Father.

Remig.: That they should not preach error nor fable, but sound doctrine, is inculcated in the words, “preaching the Gospel of the kingdom.” ‘Teaching’ and ‘preaching’ differ; teaching refers to things present, preaching to things to come; He taught present commandments and preached future promises.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, He taught natural righteousness, those things which natural reason teaches, as chastity, humility, and the like, which all men of themselves see to be goods. Such things are necessary to be taught not so much for the sake of making them known as for stirring the heart.

For beneath the prevalence of carnal delights the knowledge of natural righteousness sleeps forgotten. When then a teacher begins to denounce carnal sins, his teaching does not bring up a new knowledge, but recalls to memory one that had been forgotten. But He preached the Gospel, in telling of good things which the ancients had manifestly not heard of, as the happiness of heaven, the resurrection of the dead, and the like.

Or, He taught by interpreting the prophecies concerning Himself; He preached by declaring the benefits that were to come from Himself.

Remig.: That the teacher should study to commend his teaching by his own virtuous conduct is conveyed in those words, “healing every sort of disease and malady among the people;” maladies of the body, diseases of the soul.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, by disease we may understand any passion of the mind, as avarice, lust, and such like, by malady unbelief, that is, weakness of faith.

Or, the diseases are the more grievous pains of the body, the maladies the slighter. As He cured the bodily pains by virtue of His divine power, so He cured the spiritual by the word of His mercy.

He first teaches, and then performs the cures, for two reasons. First, that what is needed most may come first; for it is the word of holy instruction, and not miracles, that edify the soul. Secondly, because teaching is commended by miracles, not the converse.

Chrys.: We must consider that when some great change is being wrought, as the introduction of a new polity, God is wont to work miracles, giving pledges of His power to those who are to receive His laws.

Thus when He would make man, He first created a world, and then at length gave man in paradise a law. When He would dispense a law to the holy Noah, he shewed truly great wonders; and again when He was about to ordain the Law for the Jews, He first shewed great prodigies, and then at  length gave them the commandments. So now when about to introduce a sublime discipline of life, He first provided a sanction to His instructions by mighty signs, because the eternal kingdom He preached was not seen, by the things which did appear, He made sure that which as yet did not appear.

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