Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Matthew 14:22-36

Mat 14:22  And forthwith Jesus obliged his disciples to go up into the boat, and to go before him over the water, till he dismissed the people.

And forthwith Jesus obliged, &c. Christ did this—first, because He wished to go apart, that He might pray more quietly and instantly, alone; as is plain from the following verse. 2. That He might in this way more easily escape from the crowd, who He knew would wish to make Him a king because He had multiplied the loaves, as S. John teaches (Joh_6:15). 3. That He might give an occasion for the miracle which followed—His assuaging the tempest in the sea.

Mat 14:23  And having dismissed the multitude, he went into a mountain alone to pray. And when it was evening, he was there alone.

And having dismissed the multitude—i.e. with His blessing, and prayers for their welfare. Christ prays alone, to show believers that they should avoid a crowd and noise in prayer, and pray to God in secret and silence, with collected minds.

Mat 14:24  But the boat in the midst of the sea was tossed with the waves: for the wind was contrary.

But the boat…was tossed, &c. Gr. βασανιξόμενον, i.e., was vexed, tormented. The Syriac is, when it was now distant many stadia from all land, it was greatly agitated.

Mat 14:25  And in the fourth watch of the night, he came to them walking upon the sea.

And in the fourth watch, &c. Gr. Фυλακη̃, i.e., guard. The Romans changed guard every three hours of the night. These were their watches both in cities and armies. They changed thus frequently, lest a longer watch should give occasion to sleep, as well as to prevent guile and treachery. If the night were short, they divided it into three watches; if long, into four. The fourth watch, therefore, commenced about the tenth hour of the night, and lasted until the end of the twelfth. The time here spoken of—being immediately after the multiplication of the loaves—was about the Feast of the Passover, as we have already seen. Hence, you may gather that this tempest took place about the vernal equinox, when the day is equal to the night, each lasting about twelve hours. This tempest, then, lasted for nine hours; that is to say, during the three first vigils (or watches) of the night, until the fourth watch, when Christ came to His storm-tossed disciples. “That the Lord came to them in the fourth watch, shews they had been in peril all through the night,” says S. Chrysostom. And they, having rowed for nine hours, had not made more way than about twenty-five or thirty stadia (as S. John says), or about three Italian miles. Thus, during nine hours’ rowing, the Apostles had scarcely got half-way across the Sea of Galilee; for its breadth is about six miles, and its length sixteen (See Josephus, Bell. Jud. 3, 18.) He says it is forty stadia in breadth, and one hundred in length. Adrichomius, Jansen, and others think that the Apostles rowed across the entire breadth of the sea. But others think they sailed in an oblique direction, traversing a portion of its length. For the desert was situated between Bethsaida and Tiberias, as I have shown on the thirteenth verse of this chapter.

Christ permitted His disciples to be tossed for so many hours by a tempest. 1. that He might accustom them to endure hardness. 2. that they might more ardently pray for God’s help. 3. that the calming of so fearful a tempest which Christ was about to afford might be more pleasant to them.

Hear Lactantius, (lib. 4. de vera Sapient. c. 15.) “But when the disciples of Christ were now about the middle of the sea; then He entered the sea on foot, and followed after them, as though he were walking upon solid ground: not as the poets fable Orion walking in the sea, who bore the waters on His shoulders, a portion of His body being immersed.” Afterwards he quotes the Sibylline verses, in which it was foretold that Christ would calm the winds and raging sea, would cure diseases, and would raise the dead. Hear also S. Augustine (Serm. 14. de verb. Dom. secundum Matth.) “The fourth watch of the night is the last part of the night, when the night is well nigh finished. Thus Christ will come at the end of the world, when the night of iniquity is over, to judge the quick and the dead.”

Mat 14:26  And they seeing him walking upon the sea, were troubled, saying: It is an apparition. And they cried out for fear.

Walking upon the sea, by the divine virtue, which He had as God, and by the gift of agility, which as man, he assumed in time, says Joannes Major, on this passage.

And they seeing him—saying, It is an apparition. Syriac, a lying vision, i.e., a spectre: both because such things are wont to walk by night and in the dark, and to appear to and terrify men, as Delrio shows by many instances (in Magico), as well as because, on account of the darkness, they did not recognise that it was Jesus who was walking in this manner, especially as Mark adds, He would have passed by them, as though he did not care for them, and had nothing to do with them, whence it follows:

And they cried out: This confused clamour was elicited by fear, such as is wont to be with sailors when they fall into peril of ship-wreck, and despair of life. The disciples had a twofold cause of fear. To the fear of being buried by the waves was added the fear of the spirit, lest he should sink the ship.

Mat 14:27  And immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying: Be of good heart: it is I, fear ye not.

And immediately—be of good heart. Gr. θαρσεϊτε, i.e., resume your failing courage, be brave and confident. Arabic, be strong. I am, your Master, whom ye know, whose beneficence and omnipotence ye have experienced in so many miracles which I have wrought. Surely I would not make sport of you, like a phantom; but I intend to deliver you from the tempest, and from your fear. By this voice of Christ sounding outwardly in their ears, and inwardly in their minds, Christ took away their fear, and filled them with serenity, security, and joy.

Learn from this passage the difference between a good and an evil spirit, that the good spirit may terrify at first, but by and bye gives consolation and joy, as Christ did in this instance; but a bad spirit gives sensual joy in the beginning, but presently causes sorrow, anguish and despair.

Mat 14:28  And Peter making answer, said: Lord, if it be thou, bid me come to thee upon the waters.

Peter making answer, &c. Calvin accuses Peter of rashness and folly. For Peter was in doubt, he says, whether the appearance were Christ, or the spectre of a demon. For the demon might have pretended that he was Christ, and have bid Peter come to him, and so have drowned him in the sea, as Delrio relates many spectres have done. The Fathers give a twofold answer: 1. Peter knew by His voice, gesture, dress, and much more by an interior recognition, that this was not a demon, but very Christ; when therefore Peter says, if it be Thou, it is not the voice of doubt, but of one exulting with joy, and desiring to come quickly to Christ, that he might be near to Him whom he loved above all things. So S. Hilary and S. Chrysostom, “do you perceive with what ardour Peter was burning? Do you see how great his faith was even then? No one loved Jesus so much as he did. Not only did he manifest love, but faith also. He believed not only that Christ was walking upon the sea, but that He was able to give the same power to others. He dared to ask for this power, in order that he might more quickly be with Jesus.”

2. If you take the words, if it be thou, as certainly words of doubt, then it must be said that by the expression bid me come unto Thee upon the water, Peter asked that that command should not be given him merely, but that it should be given with power, in such manner, indeed, that together with the command He should infuse such boldness and confidence, that he should not doubt that he would walk safely upon the waves, since Christ bade him. Wherefore as soon as he felt the water beneath his feet, straightway he perceived that it did not yield to him, but that he could walk upon it. Thus Jansen: for God alone is able to glide into the mind, and to give it sure tokens of His presence, even though unknown to us, or unknown save to one who has experienced them, by which He makes the soul certain that it is He Himself who is speaking inwardly, and neither an angel, nor a demon. Such tokens the Prophets had when God revealed to them things to come. For otherwise they would have exposed both God and themselves to ridicule had they declared as God’s revelation, something about to happen, unless they had been certain that it was revealed to them by God, and not by the devil assuming the appearance of God. In this way, it happened to Peter. He asked of Christ both internal and external tokens of security, which should exclude all doubt from his soul, and Christ gave him those tokens, when he said, Come. By these tokens was Peter sure that it was the voice of Christ, and not of a phantom or a demon.

If it be Thou, &c. Very beautifully does S. Augustine put the following words into Peter’s mouth: “If it be Thou, I do not wonder, that Thou dost balance a solid body upon the liquid waves. Why should it be wonderful that the creature should serve its Creator? This I do not wonder at. Do something that I may wonder at. Let Peter walk. Make me to wonder. Bid me come to Thee upon the waves. For how should there not be for me a way on the sea, if Thou shalt give the command, since Thou for us wast made the Way.”

Mat 14:29  And he said: Come. And Peter going down out of the boat walked upon the water to come to Jesus.

Peter going down, &c. This was done in one of three ways. Either Christ, by His Divine power, kept up Peter, that he should not sink, as the angel kept up Habacuc by the hair of his head, and carried him to Babylon. Or else He did not allow Peter’s body to be sufficiently heavy to sink in the waves. Or else He made the waters to be firm and solid beneath Peter’s feet, like ice or crystal.

Mat 14:30  But seeing the wind strong, he was afraid: and when he began to sink, he cried out, saying: Lord, save me.

But seeing the wind, &c. The strength of the wind caused Peter to fear: fear caused doubt: doubt gave rise to danger. Him whom faith bore upon the waves, doubt caused to sink. The cause was Peter’s little faith, as Christ tells him. He was afraid lest Christ should allow him to be drowned by the boisterous wind and the tempestuous waves. He had not as yet received the might of faith and love which he afterwards received from the Holy Ghost at Pentecost.

Christ permitted this, that Peter might recognise his own weakness, and might humble himself, and ask Christ to increase his faith, that he might become the rock of the Faith, according to the words, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build My Church.”

So S. Jerome, Theophylact, and others. “Peter,” says S. Chrysostom (Hom. 51), “did what was greater, for he magnanimously went down from the ship into the sea. But from the violence of the winds and the waves he was afraid, and failed in that which was less. For it is natural to man sometimes to overcome in things that are more difficult, and succumb in those that are less.” Lastly S. Augustine says, “in Peter walking upon the waters are figured those who are strong in faith, but in Peter doubting, those who are weak in faith.”

Lord, save me. From hence it is clear that Peter did not doubt that He who appeared was Christ. For otherwise he would not have called upon Him in his great peril, but upon God, as shipwrecked sailors are wont to do. His only doubt was whether Christ would allow him to be buried in the waves. Well says S. Augustine (Serm. 14. de verb. Dom.) “That shaking, brethren, was as it were the death of faith. But when he cried out, faith rose again. He could not have walked unless he had believed, neither could he have begun to sink unless he had doubted. In Peter therefore we must regard the common condition of us all, that if in any temptation the wind is about to sink us in the waves, we should cry aloud to Christ.”

Mat 14:31  And immediately Jesus stretching forth his hand took hold of him, and said to him: O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?

And immediately—why didst thou doubt! Gr. είς τί ε̉δίστασας, i.e., why didst thou divide thy mind in two? For two things were here presented to Peter, that is to say, the strength of the wind making him afraid of being drowned, and the voice of Christ instilling confidence and security. But the strength of the wind was more obvious, and therefore more powerful than the voice of Christ. Thus its effect was in this instance to cause Peter’s faith to fail; but he rose again after his lapse.

Almost every temptation arises from distrust of God, because a man either trusts to himself, or to human aid, and does not immediately betake himself to God by prayer. Hence then let him who is tempted learn to turn away his mind from the thing which suggests the temptation, and turn it wholly to God, and fix it upon Him, and humbly implore his help. Very beautifully says S. Chrysostom, “Like as a young bird which, before it is able to fly, falls out of its nest upon the ground, whose mother quickly restores it to the nest so also at this time did Christ to Peter.” Therefore let him who is tempted, invoke Christ; so shall he resist the temptation, and overcome it. For if Peter had believed the word of Christ, he would not have doubted, nor have begun to sink.

Mat 14:32  And when they were come up into the boat, the wind ceased.

And when they were come up, &c. S. John says (John 6:21) “They wished to receive Him into the ship.” This means, say Jansen and others, that they recognised Christ by His voice, and being certain that it was not a phantom, they wished, i.e., they invited Christ to come into the ship; and Christ complied with their invitation. They thought that when Christ was present in the ship, they would sail very rapidly, as they were accustomed to do. And this actually happened, as soon as Christ was in the ship. For as St. John subjoins, and immediately the ship was at the land, whither they were going, namely, Bethsaida. This was a new miracle of Christ, that from the middle of the Sea of Galilee, a distance of three miles, they suddenly, and as it were in a moment, arrived at the shore. There were therefore here four miracles of Christ. The first: that He walked upon the waters. The second, that He raised up Peter, when he was afraid, and beginning to sink. The third, that He came into the ship, and stilled the tempest. The fourth, that He immediately brought the ship from the midst of the sea to the shore. Thus, speaking mystically, does Christ by His grace make us to trample upon the loftiness of the world, thus does he make temptations cease, and bring us to the port of eternal bliss.

Allegorically and tropologically: S. Augustine: Let us think of the ship as the Church and the faithful soul. The sea is this world. The wind and the waves are persecutions. When the wind arises, the ship is tossed: but because Christ is there, it cannot sink. But in these temptations let the yard-arm be raised, that, suspended to the mast it may make the figure of the cross. To this yard-arm—that is, to the Cross of Christ—let a sincere conversation and a pure confession, like spotless sails, be attached. Let our sails be washed by the waves; let our garments be stretched out, that they may be found without spot or wrinkle. Lastly: after this ship has been built in Jerusalem, and has been sent forth into the midst of this roaring sea, the billows of the tempestuous waves, and the blasts of the raging winds—whilst they carry her about hither and thither—have borne her to the shores of every nation, and she has taken in a cargo of all the foreign merchandise which she has found.”

Mat 14:33  And they that were in the boat came and adored him, saying: Indeed thou art the Son of God.

Mat 14:34  And having passed the water, they came into the country of Genesar.

They came into the land of Genesar (Vulg.): Mark has, of Gennesaret. S. Chrysostom and Lyra are of opinion this was the land of the Gergesenes, whose inhabitants wished Christ to depart from them, on account of their swine which He drowned in the lake. But that Gerasa, spoken of in Matthew viii., is a different place from Genesar, the place spoken of here. Gerasa, or Gergesa, was on the eastern side of the sea of Galilee; but Gennesaret was on the western side, in the direction of Capernaum and Bethsaida. For after Christ had fed the five thousand men in the desert of Bethsaida, and they wished to make Him a king, Christ, I say, fleeing from them commanded His disciples to pass over to the hither side of the bay, or the mountain of Bethsaida. This was the land of Gennesaret. In other words, they returned to Bethsaida and Capernaum. Hence Mark says (Mark 6:45.) “.And immediately he obliged his disciples to go up into the ship, that they might go before him over the water to Bethsaida” S. John (John 6:24), says that the disciples also came to Capernaum, which was a city on the same bank. Thus everything becomes harmonious.

The name Gennesaret signifies, flourishing valley. This city was formerly called Chinneroth, and from it the whole district derived its name, Cenerel, or Cenneroth. This by a trifling inflection became Genesar and Gennesaret. Hence the name of the adjacent Sea of Galilee, or lake of Genesaret. The Chaldee turns Ceneret into Genesar. Listen to Josephus (lib. 3, de bello. c. 18). “The country of Genesar extends as far as the lake of the same name. Admirable both for its natural condition and its beauty. In addition to the pleasantness of the climate, it is watered by a most fruitful spring, called by the inhabitants Capharnaum.” Adrichomius and S. Jerome fancied Ceneret or Genesaret were the same as the City of Tiberias. But they were mistaken. Besides Tiberias was a considerable distance from Capernaum and Bethsaida. Lastly, Ceneret was in the tribe of Naphtali, as appears from Joshua 19:35. Tiberias was in the tribe of Zabulon. And Ceneret was near Capernaum.

Mat 14:35  And when the men of that place had knowledge of him, they sent into all that country, and brought to him all that were diseased.
Mat 14:36  And they besought him that they might touch but the hem of his garment. And as many as touched, were made whole.  

And when the men of that place had knowledge of him, &c. Instead of hem of His garment, the Syriac has wing, the Arabic, extremity of his garment. The flesh of Christ was so efficacious and health-giving as to communicate its virtue to the garment by which it was covered. From hence S. Chrysostom reasons, that if those who only touched the hem or fringe of Christ’s garment were healed, how much more those who touch whole Christ, yea feed upon Him in the Eucharist. What medicine can be more healing than the flesh and Deity of Christ. S. Gregory Nazianzen relates that his sister Gorgonia was healed of a mortal disease by touching the Eucharist. (Orat. 11).

Lastly Christ took occasion from this multiplication of the loaves to utter His discourse upon the spiritual and Eucharistic Bread, which S. John gives at length in the sixth chapter of his Gospel.

In this chapter is finished the relation of the Acts of Christ from His second Passover to His third. That is of the second year of His preaching. This may be gathered from John 6:4, where it is said these things were done about the time of the Passover. This was the third Passover of Christ’s preaching. For the First Passover is spoken of in John 2:13: the second in 5:1.; and the third, as I have just said, in 6:4.

There remains therefore the third and last year of Christ’s preaching, that is to say, His acts from His third, until His fourth and last Passover, when He suffered upon the Cross.

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One Response to Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Matthew 14:22-36

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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