Father Juan de Maldonado’s Commentary on Matthew 14:13-21

Mat 14:13  Which when Jesus had heard, he retired from thence by a boat, into a desert place apart, and the multitudes having heard of it, followed him on foot out of the cities.

Authorities are not agreed what it was that Jesus heard, from which He went thither. S. Augustin (De Consens., ii. 45), Euthymius, and Theophylact refer it to the death of John. But S. Chrysostom {Horn. 1.), which Euthymius adopts, takes it to apply to the words of Herod in  Luke ix. 9: “This is John the Baptist,” when he sought to see Christ. The opinion of S. Augustin appears more probable, for in this passage the relative “which” cannot possibly apply to anything but the death of John, of which his disciples had informed Christ (verse 12). For John had now been a long time in prison, but had not been put
to death

He retired from thence. Why? This is certain at least, as SS. Jerome and Chrysostom observe, that it was not from fear, but from plan and design, but with what design we do not know. S. Jerome and Bede think that He did it that the tyrant might not add murder to murder; as if he would kill Christ also, if he could lay hands on Him. Christ would not supply Herod with the means of sinning, and therefore went away, doing what He had commanded His disciples to do (10:23). But S. Chrysostom and Euthymius offer another reason, lest if (as He was able to do) He supcrnaturally escaped the hands of Herod, He should show Himself to be God, which He would not have to be knownas yet. Theophylact suggests another still, that by flying He might show Himself not to be a phantasm, as the Marcionists and Manichaians supposed, but very man, who might be seized and put to death. The true reason may have been that which S. John gives in a similar case (8:6): “My time is not yet come “.

S. Mark gives still another reason (6:31),—”Come apart into a desert place, and rest a little. For there were many coming and going, and they had not so much as time to eat,”—that the disciples had returned wearied from their mission, and needed rest, which they could not have in this place, where they had no time, on account of the multitude, even to eat.

By a boat. Why not on foot? Lest, says S. Chrysostom, the multitudes whom He wished to escape should follow Him. Others say, because the lake was to be passed to the further side. This seems in no degree probable, because S. Luke (9:10) says in plain terms that He went aside into a desert place which belonged to Bethsaida. Bethsaida was on this side of the lake, not the other; that is, in Galilee, the tetrarchy of Herod, where Christ was then living. For Peter also, who was of the city of Bethsaida (John 1:44), was a Galilean (Matt. 26:71, 73). Christ, therefore, did not cross the lake, but only some gulf, or, rather, sailed round some promontory of it, that He might seek some remote place. Beside the above passage of S. Luke, a certain proof of this suggestion is found in the words of S. Matthew, that the multitudes followed Him on foot. Christ only passed over a part of the lake, or round some promontory, and the people followed on foot, and got there before Him (5. Mark vi. 33). They got there first, because, although a journey by the sea would ordinarily be quicker, Christ had to go round the promontory, whilst, as S. Matthew says, the multitude took the direct course.

Mat 14:14  And he coming forth saw a great multitude, and had compassion on them, and healed their sick.

Verse 14. And He, coming forth, saw a great multitude. Coming forth out of the ship, because, as S. Mark says, the multitude had got there before Him. S. Jerome, Euthymius, and many Moderns say that He went out from the desert, because S. Luke (9:11) says, “He received them,”as if He went out to meet them; and S. John (6:3): “Jesus, therefore, went up into a mountain, and there He sat with His disciples”; His going out to them does not seem probable, as S. Mark (6:33) plainly says that the multitude “were there before Him”. For the words of S. Luke (9:11), “He received them,” do not mean that He went to meet them. This S. Mark has explained on verse 34 and following.

Mat 14:15  And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying: This is a desert place, and the hour is now passed: send away the multitudes, that going into the towns, they may buy themselves victuals.

Leontius refers the word “his” to John’s disciples, who had recently come to Christ from John, as if it were they who asked Christ to send the multitudes away. “It is clear from this,” he says, “that the disciples of John now, after his martyrdom, joined themselves to Christ.” But S. Luke (9:12) shows plainly that the speakers were the twelve Apostles. S. John (6:5) seems to give another relation of the matter, for he says that ” Christ said to Philip: Whence shall wc buy bread that these may eat?”

It is easy to suppose that the disciples first suggested to Christ to send the multitudes away, as S. Matthew says; and then that Christ, as S. John relates, asked Philip, “to try him,” “whence shall wc buy bread, that these may eat?” as S. Chrysostom, Leontius, and Theophylact explain it.

But there are two questions in the words of S. John: (1) Why Christ asked the question, and (2) why He asked Phlip rather than any of the others.

To the first S. John himself seems to give the answer. He did not ask to learn, “for He Himself knew what he would do,” but “to try him”. But it is asked: Why He should wish to try him? Amphilochius thinks that though in no way ignorant Himself, Christ asked in the manner of one who was so, to accommodate Himself to the opinions and infirmities of His hearers. S. Augustin, Bede, and Rupertus, not that He Himself might learn the faith of His disciple, of which He could not be ignorant, but thatHe might show him his own unbelief. S. Cyril thinks that He did it the more to show the greatness of the miracle He was about to perform. For from his question followed Philip’s answer: that two hundred pennyworth of bread was not sufficient that everyone may take a little; and Andrew’s, of the five loaves and two fishes ; for, as many more loaves as Philip and Andrew declared to be required, so much the greater would the miracle appear afterwards. S. Chrysostom,
Theophylact, Ammonius, Theodore Heracleotes, and Theodore of Mopsuestia say that Christ wished, by asking and answering alternately, to arouse the faith of the disciples, and make them more attentive to observe the greatness of the coming miracle. For if, without such a discussion with the disciples. He had suddenly worked the miracle, it would have been less noted; as both the number of persons, the hunger, and the paucity of the loaves would have been observed less than it was by the discussion.

2. To the latter question S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Leontius answer that Christ asked Philip rather than any of the others because he most of all wanted faith; for it was he who said: ” Show us the Father, and it is enough for us ” (John 14:8). S. John adds that “Andrew the brother of Peter said: There is a boy here that hath five barley loaves and two fishes; but what are these among so many?” This, in the opinion of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Leontius, and Ammonius, was said that Andrew might not seem to wish to reserve anything for himself; but S. Chrysostom, S. Cyril, Theodore Heracleotes, Leontius, and Theophylact say that Andrew showed somewhat more faith than Philip; for he spoke this, it appears, with some hope of a future miracle, knowing that Eliseus had multiplied bread; but that he had not perfect faith when he said: “But what arc these?”  as if he believed that Christ could indeed multiply the loaves, but could only make more of more, and fewer of fewer.

It may appear more likely that Andrew, when he said this, had no thought of a miracle.

Christ teaches us by this example, as Leontius and Theodore of Mopsuestia say, never to despair in difficulties, but always to trust in Him who is able to increase our bread, if we have any, and, if we have none, to create it out of nothing. But S. Chrysostom and Theophylact refute the Manichaians from this passage, who senselessly assert that bread is created by some evil deity. For Christ could not have multiplied the loaves had they been created by any other than His Leather or Himself Euthymius has observed that Christ prolonged this discourse to a late hour of the day, that the need of the miraclewhich He was about to perform might be known.

Mat 14:16  But Jesus said to them, They have no need to go: give you them to eat.

Verse 16. Give you thou to eat. S. John (6:7) says that Philip replied: “Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, little everyone
may take a little “.

From this some heretics conclude that Christ and the Apostles, having two hundred pence, had almost twenty gold crowns. Who does not see that Philip said two hundred pennyworth, because he neither had them, nor could possibly obtain them? He argues that he could not feed such a multitude for whom even two hundred pence would not suffice, when he perhaps did not possess a single penny. For if they had had them Christ might have commanded that they should be expended in purchasing bread, and then the miracle would not have been needed. How much better Theodore Heracleotes proves from this passage the voluntary poverty of Christ and His disciples, who had not enough even to purchase the food required for their subsistence. His words are as follows: “His followers display indifference to wealth and voluntary poverty, not having sufficient to purchase even necessary provisions “.

Leontius observes that Christ did not say, “I will give them food,” but “Give you them to eat,” lest He should speak proudly of Himself and appear to boast of the miracle.

Mat 14:17  They answered him: We have not here, but five loaves, and two fishes.

Verse 1 7. We have nothing here but five loaves. S. John (6:8, 9) says: ” One of His disciples, Andrew, the brother of Peter, saith to Him, There is a boy here that hath five barley loaves and two fishes; but what are these among so many?” The commentators doubt whether the loaves were the property of the Apostles, carried for them by the boy, or whether he brought them for sale. S. Chrysostom (Hom 50), Leontius, S. Cyril, and Theophylact think that they were the Apostles’. Euthymius and, it seems, S. Cyril, whose
opinions seem more trustworthy, that they were for sale. For the words of the Apostles do not imply that they were their own, but that the whole number of people, more or less, had only five loaves and two fishes.

Mat 14:18  Who said to them: Bring them hither to me.

Verse 1 8. He said to then  Bring them hither to Me. Christ said this, say S. Chrysostom and Leontius, to show that it was He who fed the whole world; that He did not depend on any hour or season, but that at any time and from any material He could make as many loaves as He pleased. The Evancrelist does not say that the Apostles obeyed Him, but it is understood from what follows. Hence S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymlus, S. Cyril, and Leontius say that a great lesson is here taught us to give freely to guests, and also to the poor, of the things that are necessary for us, for in this manner it will happen that our bread shall increase.

Mat 14:19  And when he had commanded the multitude to sit down upon the grass, he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitudes.

Verse 19. And when He had commanded the multitude  to sit down. (S. Mark 6:39.) For there was plenty of grass, because, as Leontius and Theophylact have observed, it was early spring, when the Passover was near, as S. John says (6:4; vid, Luke 9:14). Christ probably did this for many reasons, 1. That the number of people might be seen, and the greatness of the miracle appear more clearly. 2. That the Apostles might give of the loaves and fishes without confusion. 3. That no one might be passed over, but that all might receive their portion, each in his order.

Looking up to heaven. To show that He had received from His Father with His
Divinity the power of working miracles (S. Hilary, S. Chrysostom, Euthymius, and Theophylact). To teach us to do the same thing ; as the same authorities and Leontius and Ammonius say. To show us to whom we should look for help in all difficulties (S. Jerome and Bede). To show that He is not opposed to God (Ammonius and Leontius). That even to His Passion, as man praying to God, He might conceal that He was the Prince of this world. This reason is given by Ammonius alone. Leontius gives another reason. That He might not appear to make Himself greater than His Father, of whom the Jews said in the
wilderness {Ps 77:19): “Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?”

It has been shown, however, by S. Chrysostom, Leontius, and Euthymius that Christ did not look up to heaven every time He worked a miracle, but sometimes, as here, and at the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:41), and,in His prayer to His Father (17:1); lest, if He always did so, He might appear to work them not by His own authority, but by some other; if He never did so, He might seem not to acknowledge His Father’s authority.

He blessed. The followers of Calvin explain this to mean He gave thanks; because, like S. Matthew, S. Mark (6:41) and S. Luke (9:16) say εὐλογέω = eulogeō, S. John (6:11) εὐχαριστέω = eucharisteō, but S. Matthew (15:36) and S. Mark (8:6), relating the other miracle of the seven loaves, say εὐχαριστέω = eucharisteō. Again, S. Matthew (26:26), S. Mark (14:22), speaking of the Sacrament of Christ’s Body, say εὐλογέω = eulogeō. S. Luke (22:19), S. Paul (1 Cor 11:24), εὐχαριστέω = eucharisteō. From all these passages it is clear that εὐλογέω and εὐχαριστέω   were the same. But they must prove that εὐλογέω, benedicere, is used for εὐχαριστέω, gratias agere, and not rather the contrary, εὐχαριστέω for εὐλογέω, which they have neither tried to prove, nor could have proved if they had. We can easily prove on the contrary that εὐχαριστέω is put for εὐλογέω.

1. Because the giving of thanks here is nothing, the benediction everything; for Christ wished to multiply the loaves; He had not multiplied them yet. He did not, therefore, give thanks to the Father because He had multiplied it, but He blessed the bread that He might multiply it.

2. If He had given thanks, He would have given them to the Father, not to the bread; and He is said to have blessed the bread (Luke 9:16); εὐλογέω, therefore, is not taken for εὐχαριστέω, but, on the contrary, εὐχαριστέω for ὐλογέω.

They say that ὐλογέω αὐτός (eulogeo autos) means, “He gave thanks for” (super illos): a conclusion which they can by no means prove, but which can be refuted by the simple laws of grammar. For if the Evangelist had meant this, he would not have said, αὐτός, but ἐν or ἐπι ́αὐτός  (in or super);but S. Luke says, ευχαριστησας αὐτός, and S. Paul (1 Cor 10:16), “for we blesseth cup itself”. So, again, 1 Tim 4:4, 5; so that something is added to the food by its being blessed.

The blessing, then, is directed both to God, as the Author from whom it is sought, and to the bread, as matter subjected to the blessing, which would not be the case if the benediction were taken for the giving of thanks. Besides, why do we read that Christ did not bless bread except when He wished to change it into something better or to multiply it, when He took it daily, unless He impressed some virtue upon it, that through that blessing it might increase and multiply, as when He blessed our first parents He said (Gen 1:28), “Increase and multiply, and  fill the earth”?

When Christ, therefore, looked up to heaven and blessed the loaves, He prayed the Father to pour out His blessing on them, that by it they might be multiplied; and when it is said, by S. John, εὐχαριστέω, the meaning is not that He gave thanks, but that He called down the grace of the Father upon the loaves. The proof is that the ancient Greek writers used the word transitively.

And He gave to His disciples. That the miracle might be done by them, in a manner, as His ministers, to show, as S. Jerome and Bede say, either that the people of Christ are to be fed per the Apostles; or that they might be sure witnesses of the miracle which they had, as it were, touched with their own

hands, as Leontius and Euthymius say; or that, according to Theophylact, they might fix more deeply in their memories that which they had handled themselves with their own hands. Christ seems to have wished to transfer in some way the glory of the miracles from Himself to the Apostles.

S. Hilary doubts whether the loaves were multiplied in the hands of Christ, or of the Apostles, or in the hands and mouths of those who received them. It seems certain that it was not in the hands or mouths of the recipients, as the modern heretics say, who maintain that the Eucharist is not the body of Christ except in the mouths of the communicants. If so, the men, when satisfied, might have ascribed the miracle to themselves.

S. Jerome thinks that they were multiplied in the hands of Christ; S. Chrysostom, Leontius, and Euthymius, in those of the Apostles.

Either opinion is probable; but the more probable one of the two, perhaps, is that the multiplication took place first in the hands of Christ, who was the original Author of the miracle. Then we may believe that the loaves were multiplied in the breaking, and filled the twelve baskets which the twelve Apostles carried each to his own rank, as in the case of the widow of Sarepta (3 Kings 17:14, 15, 16), and the other woman of the wives of the prophets (4 Kings 4:5, 6), when in drawing off the oil it multiplied. Thus, either in the hands of the Apostles or in the baskets, it increased, so that so much as they drew from the baskets to give the people so much was divinely multiplied: as in the oil cruise of the widow, as much as she drew out so much flowed back again, so that the cruise, as Scripture says, was not diminished; that is, as much as they received from Christ, so much they collected.

Mat 14:20  And they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up what remained, twelve full baskets of fragments.

Verse 20. And they did all eat. There are three points to be noted here: (1) All eat; (2) they were filled. Leontius, S. Chrysostom, and Theophylact think that the Evangelist said this to show that the truth of the miracle was proved by those who ate, when, having previously been hungry, not in thought only but actually, they were filled. (3) Twelve baskets remained. S. Jerome, S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Euthymius think that this was because there were twelve Apostles, that even Judas, as S. Chrysostom says, might bear his basket. The reason probably was that alleged in the former verse: that because the Apostles first received from Christ twelve full baskets, they ought, as good stewards of the blessings of God, to give back as much as they received. S. Chrysostom thinks that Christ willed the baskets to be filled with fragments and not whole loaves, for the same reason. For if they had been whole loaves, the miracle might have appeared an imaginary one; but when there were only fragments remaining, it was clear that the multitude had really eaten of the loaves.

S. Chrysostom asks why nothing remained of the fishes when we read that after the Resurrection Christ so multiplied the fishes that many remained over and above (John 21:11). He merely answers that Christ wished to show that He now multiplied the fish from subject matter; and that this was not done from any want of power, since He afterwards created so many without any subject matter at all, that numbers of them remained after the Apostles were satisfied. This would have been correct, if He had done the former before the latter. It may be said more simply: 1. It does not appear whether or not anything remained of the fishes. It may be that, although the Evangelist does not mention it, much of them did remain, but that Christ did not order their fragments to be collected: the fragments of the loaves being enough to prove the truth of the miracle.

2. If nothing remained of the fishes, it may have been, perhaps, because it was enough to prove the miracle that either the loaves or the fishes should be left over. Christ willed the loaves rather than the fish to remain, because bread is the most common of all food, and from that it most clearly appeared what Christ could do in that way. This has a moral force. God pleases to give us bread—that is, the chief necessary of life—in abundance, but not so fish—that is, superfluities.

Mat 14:21  And the number of them that did eat, was five thousand men, besides women and children.

Five thousand men. The Greek has ὡσεί, “about,” as also in Mark 6:44, John 6:10. Our version does not read it so here or in S. Mark, but it does in S.  John. As to the amount, it is of no consequence. For the Sacred Writers give an exact number, though they were more or less. There are two circumstances here related by the Evangelist to show the greatness of the miracle: (1) That there were five thousand men; and (2) that he did not enumerate the women and children. Of these there would not be so great a number, because they had come a long journey; but we may still think that there was a considerable number, because women are mostly more curious than men. Leontius, S. Cyril, and Ammonius, cited in the Greek Catena on S. John, observe that the Evangelists record only men, not women, to preserve the Jewish custom, which only numbered men, as Moses did. Morally, the meaning might be that nothing is accounted of by God but what is manly and perfect.

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One Response to Father Juan de Maldonado’s Commentary on Matthew 14:13-21

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

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