Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Matthew 21:1-11

l. And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples,2. Saying unto them, “Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me.3. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them.”4. And this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying,5. “Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.”6. And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them,7. And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.8. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strewed them in the way.9. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.”

Remig.: The Evangelist related above that the Lord departed from Galilee, and began to go up to Jerusalem. Being now occupied with telling what He did by the way, he proceeds in his purpose, saying, “And when they drew nigh to Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage.” Bethphage was a small village of the priests, situated on the declivity of Mount Olivet, one mile distant from Jerusalem. For the priests who ministered in the temple their apportioned time, when their office of ministration was discharged, withdrew to this village to abide; as also did they who were to take their place. Because it was commanded by their Law that none should travel on the Sabbath more than a mile.

Origen: Whence Bethphage is interpreted, The house of the Shoulder; for the shoulder was the priest’s portion in the Law. It follows, “Then Jesus sent two of his disciples.”

Pseudo-Chrys.: He said not to His disciples, Say, Thy Lord, or Your Lord, hath need of them; that they may understand, that He is Lord alone, not of the beasts only, but of all men; for even sinners are by the law of nature His, though by their own will they are the Devil’s.

Chrys.: And think not this a little thing which was now done, for who was it that wrought with the owners of the beasts that they refused not, but yielded them? By this also He instructs His disciples that He could have restrained the Jews, but would not; and further teaches them that they should grant whatever is asked of them; for if they who knew not Christ, now granted this, much more it becomes His disciples to give unto all. For that which is said, “But will straightway let them go,”

Pseudo-Chrys.: it is to be understood, that after He had entered into Jerusalem, the beast was returned by Christ to its owner.

Gloss., ap. Anselm: Or, The owner of the beasts will straightway send them to be engaged for Christ’s service. Hereto is added the testimony of the Prophet, that it may be shewn that the Lord fulfilled all things which were written of Him, but that the Scribes and Pharisees, blinded by envy, would not understand the things that they read; “All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Prophet;” to wit, Zacharias. [Zec_9:9]

Pseudo-Chrys.: For the Prophet knowing the malice of the Jews, that they would speak against Christ when He went up to the Temple, gave them this sign beforehand, whereby they might know their King, “Say ye to the daughter of Sion.”

Raban.: In history, Daughter of Sion is the name given to the city of Jerusalem, which stands on mount Sion. But mystically, it is the Church of the faithful pertaining to the Jerusalem which is above.

Pseudo-Chrys.: “Behold,” is a word used in pointing out any thing; look, that is, not with the bodily eye, but with the spiritual understanding, at the works of His power. Also aforetimes He oft said, “Behold,” that He might shew that He of whom He spake before He was born was even then thy King. When then ye shall see Him, say not, “We have no King but Caesar. He cometh to thee,” [Joh_19:15] if thou wilt apprehend Him, that He may save thee; if thou wilt not apprehend Him, He cometh against thee; “Meek,” so that He is not to be feared for His power, but loved for His meekness; wherefore He sitteth not on a golden car, refulgent in costly purple, nor is mounted on a mettled steed, rejoicing in strife and battle, but upon a she-ass, that loves peace and quiet.

Aug., de Cons. Ev., ii, 66: In this quotation from the Prophet, there is some variety in the different Gospels. Matthew quotes it as if the Prophet had expressly mentioned the she-ass; but it is not so quoted by John [marg. note: Joh_12:15], nor in the Church-copies of the translation in common use. This seems to me to be accounted for by the account, that Matthew wrote his Gospel in the Hebrew language. And it is clear that the translation called the LXX, has some things different from what are found in the Hebrew, by those who know that tongue, and who have rendered the same books out of the Hebrew. If the reason of this discrepancy be asked, I consider nothing more likely than that the LXX interpreted with the selfsame spirit with which the original was written, which is confirmed by that wonderful agreement among them of which we are told.

By thus varying the expression, while they did not depart from the meaning of that God whose words they were, they convey to us the very same thing as we gather from this agreement, with slight variety, among the Evangelists. This shews us that it is no lie, when one relates any thing with such diversities in detail, as that he does not depart from his intention with whom he ought to agree. To know this is useful in morals in avoiding lies; and for faith itself, that we should not suppose that the truth is secured in sacred sounds, as though God imparted to us not the matter only, but the words in which the matter is conveyed. Rather the matter is in such sort conveyed in words, that we ought not to want words at all, if it were possible that the matter could be known by us without words, as God and His Angels know it.

It follows, “But the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them, and brought the ass, and the colt.” The other Evangelists say nothing of the ass. And if Matthew had not mentioned the colt, as they do not mention the ass, the reader ought not to have been surprised. How much less then should it move him, when one has so mentioned the ass which the others have omitted, as not to forget the colt which they have mentioned. For there is no discrepancy where both circumstances may have occurred, though one only related one, and another; how much less then where one mentions both, though another mentions only one?

It follows, “And they put on them their clothes, and set him thereon.”

Jerome: But it seems that the Lord could not in so short a distance have sate upon both animals; seeing then that the history has either an impossibility or a meanness, we are sent to higher things, that is, to the figurative sense.

Remig.: Notwithstanding, it was possible that the Lord might have sate upon both animals.

Chrys.: To me it seems that He was mounted upon the ass, not only because of the mystery, but to give us a lesson of wisdom, teaching us therein that it needs not to be mounted on horses, but that it is sufficient to employ an ass, and be content with that which is necessary. But enquire of the Jews, what King has entered Jerusalem mounted upon an ass? They can name none other, but this one only.

Jerome: The multitudes that came out of Jericho, and followed the Saviour, cast down their garments, and strewed the way with branches of trees; and therefore it follows, “But the multitudes spread their garments in the way;” that is, beneath the feet of the ass, that it should not stumble against a stone, nor tread upon a thorn, nor fall into a ditch. “Others cut down branches from the trees, and strewed them in the way;” from the fruit-trees, that is, with which mount Olivet was clothed.

And when all that could be done was done, they added also  the tribute of the tongue, as it follows, “And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosannna to the Son of David.”

I shall shortly examine what is the meaning of this word, Hosanna. In the hundred and seventeenth Psalm, which is clearly written of the Saviour’s coming, we read this among other things; “Save me now, O Lord, send now prosperity. Blessed art thou that art to come in the name of the Lord.” [Psa_118:25] For that which the LXX give  “Save now, O Lord;” we read in the Hebrew, ‘Anna, adonai osianna,’ which Symmachus renders more plainly, “I pray thee, O Lord, save, I pray thee.” Let none think that it is a word made up of two words, one Greek and one Hebrew, for it is pure Hebrew.

Remig.: And it is confounded of one perfect and one imperfect word. For ‘Hosi’ signifies ‘save,” ‘anna’ is an interjection used in entreating.

Jerome: For it signifies that the coming of Christ is the salvation of the world, whence it follows, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Which same thing the Saviour in the Gospel confirms, “I am come in my John Father’s name.” [Joh_5:43]

Remig.: Because, namely, in all His good actions, He sought not His own but His Father’s glory.

Gloss., ap. Anselm: And the meaning is, “Blessed,” that is, Glorious, “is He that cometh,” that is, is incarnate; “in the name of the Lord;” that is, of the Father, by glorifying Him. Again they repeat, “Hosanna,” that is, “Save, I pray thee,” and define whither they would be saved, in the highest, that is in the heavenly, not in the earthly places.

Jerome: Or by that which is added, “Hosanna,” that is, Salvation, “in the highest,” it is clearly shewn that the coming of Christ is not the salvation of man only, but of the whole world, joining earthly things to things heavenly.

Origen: Or when they say, “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord,” it is the dispensation of Christ’s humanity that they set forth; but His restoration to the holy places when they say, “Hosanna in the highest.”

Pseudo-Chrys.: “Hosanna,” some interpret ‘glory,’ some ‘redemption,” and glory is His due, and redemption belongs to Him who has redeemed all men.

Hilary: The words of their song of praise, express His power of redemption; in calling Him the Son of David, they acknowledge His hereditary title to the kingdom,.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Never before had the Lord employed the services of beasts, nor surrounded Himself with the ornaments of green boughs, till now when He is going up to Jerusalem to suffer. He moved them that beheld to do that which they had before desired to do; so it was opportunity that was now given them, not their purpose that was changed.

Jerome: Mystically; The Lord draws near to Jerusalem departing from Jericho, and taking great multitudes with Him, because great and laden with great wares, that is, the salvation of believers that has been entrusted to Him, He seeks to enter the city of peace, the place of the beholding of God. And He comes to Bethphage, that is, to The house of the jawbones; He bare also the type of confession; and halted on Mount Olivet, where is the light of knowledge, and the repose from toils and pains. By the village over against the Apostles is denoted this world; for that was against the Apostles, and was not willing to receive the light of their teaching.

Remig.: The Lord therefore sent His disciples from mount Olivet to the village, when He guided the preachers forth from the primitive Church into the world. He sent two, because there were two orders of preachers, as the Apostle shews, saying, “He that wrought in Peter to the Apostleship of circumcision, the same was mighty in me towards the Gentiles;” [Gal_2:8] or, because the precepts of charity are two; or, because there are two testaments; or, because there is letter and spirit.

Jerome: Or, because there is theory and practice, that is, knowledge and works. By the ass which had been under the yoke, and was broken, the synagogue is understood. By the ass’s colt wild and unbroken, the Gentile people; for the Jewish nation is towards God the mother of the Gentiles.

Raban.: Whence Matthew, who wrote his Gospel to the Jews, is the only one who mentions that the ass was brought to the Lord, to shew that this same Hebrew nation, if it repent, need not despair of salvation.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Men are likened to animals, from some resemblance they bear in their not recognising the Son of God. And this animal is unclean, and beyond all other brutes incapable of reasoning, a stupid, helpless, ignoble drudge. Such were men before the coming of Christ, unclean with divers passions; unreasoning, that is, lacking the reason of the Word; stupid, in their disregard of God; weak in soul; ignoble, because forgetting their heavenly birth they became slaves of their passions, and of the demons; drudges, because they toiled under the load of error laid upon them by the daemons, or the Pharisees.

The ass was tied, that is, bound in the chain of diabolic error, so that it had not liberty to go whither it would; for before we do any sin we have free will to follow, or not, the will of the Devil; but if once by sinning we have bound ourselves to do his works, we are no longer able to escape by our own strength, but, like a vessel that has lost its rudder is tossed at the mercy of the storm, so man, when by sin he has forfeited the aid of Divine grace, no longer acts as he wills, but as the Devil wills. And if God, by the mighty arm of His mercy, do not loose him, he will abide till death in the chain of his sins. Therefore He saith to His disciples, “Loose them,” that is, by your teaching and miracles, for all the Jews and Gentiles were loosed by the Apostles; “and bring them to me,” that is, convert them to My glory.

Origen: Whence also, when He ascended into heaven, He gave command to His disciples that they should loose sinners, for which also He gave them the Holy Spirit. But being loosed, and making progress, and being nourished by the Divinity of the Word, they are held worthy to be sent back to the place whence they were taken, but no more to their former labours, but to preach to them the Son of God, and this is what He signifies when He says, “And straightway He will send them.”

Hilary: Or by the ass and the colt is shewn the twofold calling from among the Gentiles. For the Samaritans did serve after a certain fashion of obedience, and they are signified by the ass; but the other Gentiles wild and unbroken are signified by the colt. Therefore two are sent to loose them that are bound by the chains of error; Samaria believed through Philip, and Cornelius as the first-fruits of the Gentiles was brought by Peter to Christ.

Remig.: But as it was then said to the Apostles, “If any man say ought to you, say ye, The Lord hath need of them;” so now it is commanded to the preachers, that though any opposition he made to them, they should not slack to preach.

Jerome: The Apostles’ clothes which are laid upon the beasts may be understood either as the teaching of virtues, or discernment of Scriptures, or verities of ecclesiastical dogmas, with which, unless the soul be furnished and instructed, it deserves not to have the Lord take His seat there.

Remig.: The Lord sitting upon the ass goes towards Jerusalem, because presiding over the Holy Church, or the faithful soul, He both guides it in this life, and after this life leads it to the view of the heavenly country. But the Apostles and other teachers set their garments upon the ass, when they gave to the Gentiles the glory which they had received from Christ. The multitudes spread their garments in the way, when they of the circumcision who believed, despised the glory which they had by the Law. They cut down branches from the trees, because out of the Prophets they had heard of the green “Branch” as an emblem of Christ. [marg. note: Isa_11:1, Jer_23:5]

Or, the multitudes who spread their garments in the way, are the martyrs who gave to martyrdom for Christ their bodies, which are the clothing of their minds. Or, they are signified, who subdue their bodies by abstinence. They who cut down the branches of the trees, are they who seek out the sayings and examples of the holy fathers for their own or their children’s salvation.

Jerome: When He says, “The multitudes that went before and that followed,” He shews that both people, those who before the Gospel, and those who after the Gospel, believed on the Lord, praise Jesus with the harmonious voice of confession.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Those prophesying spoke of Christ who was to come; these speak in praise of the coming of Christ already fulfilled.

Ver 10. And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this?11. And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.

Jerome: When Jesus entered with the multitudes, the whole city of Jerusalem was moved, wondering at the crowds, and not knowing the power.

Pseudo-Chrys.: With good reason were they moved at sight of a thing so to be wondered at. Man was praised as God, but it was the God that was praised in the man. But, I suppose, that neither they who praised knew what they praised, but the Spirit that suddenly inspired there poured forth the words of truth.

Origen: Moreover, when Jesus entered the true Jerusalem, they cried out, wondering at His heavenly virtues, and said, “Who is this King of glory?” [Psa_24:8]

Jerome: While others were in doubt or enquiring, the worthless multitude confessed Him; “But the people said, This is Jesus the Prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” They begin with the lesser that they may come to the greater. They hail Him as that Prophet whom Moses had said should come like to himself, [marg. note: Deu_15:18] which is rightly written in Greek with the testimony of the article, “From Nazareth of Galilee,”  for there He had been brought up, that the flower of the field might be nourished with the flower of all excellencies.

Raban.: But it is to be noted, that this entry of His into Jerusalem was five days before the passover. For John relates, that six days before the Passover He came to Bethany, [Joh_12:1] and on the morrow sitting on the ass entered Jerusalem. In this observe the correspondence between the Old and New Testaments, not only in things but in seasons. For on the tenth day of the first month, the lamb that was to be sacrificed for the passover was to be taken into the house, [marg. note: Exo_12:3] because on the same day of the same month, that is, five days before the passover, the Lord was to enter the city in which He was to suffer.

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2 Responses to Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Matthew 21:1-11

  1. Pingback: Commentaries on the Processional Gospel for Palm Sunday, Year A (Matthew 21:1-11) | stjoeofoblog

  2. Pingback: Commentaries for Palm Sunday, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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