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Catena Aurea by St. Thomas Aguinas

21:1–11

1. After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself.

2. There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.

3. Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.

4. But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.

5. Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No.

6. And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.

7. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.

8. And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes.

9. As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.

10. Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.

11. Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxii) The preceding words of the Evangelist seem to indicate the end of the book; but He goes on farther to give an account of our Lord’s appearance by the sea of Tiberias: After these things Jesus shewed Himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxxvii) He says, Afterwards, because He did not go continually with His disciples as before; and, manifested Himself, because His body being incorruptible, it was a condescension to allow Himself to be seen. He mentions the place, to shew that our Lord had taken away a good deal of their fear, and that they no longer kept within doors, though they had gone to Galilee to avoid the persecution of the Jews.

BEDE. The Evangelist, after his wont, first states the thing itself, and then says how it took place: And on this wise shewed He Himself.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxxvii) As our Lord was not with them regularly, and the Spirit was not given them, and they had received no commission, and had nothing to do, they followed the trade of fishermen: And on this wise shewed He Himself. There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee; he who was called by Philip, and the sons of Zebedee, i. e. James and John, and two other of His disciples. Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing.

GREGORY. (Hom.) It may be asked, why Peter, who was a fisherman before his conversion, returned to fishing, when it is said, No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for kingdom of God. (Luke 9:62.).

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxii) If the disciples had done this after the death of Jesus, and before His resurrection, we should have imagined that they did it in despair. But now after that He has risen from the grave, after seeing the marks of His wounds, after receiving, by means of His breathing, the Holy Ghost, all at once they become what they were before, fishers, not of men, but of fishes. We must remember then that they were not forbidden by their Apostleship from earning their livelihood by a lawful craft, provided they had no other means of living. For if the blessed Paul used not that power which he had with the rest of the preachers of the Gospel, as they did, but went a warfare upon his own resources, lest the Gentiles, who were aliens from the name of Christ, might be offended at a doctrine apparently venal; if, educated in another way, he learnt a craft he never knew before, that, while the teacher worked with his own hands, the hearer might not be burdened; much more might Peter, who had been a fisherman, work at what he knew, if he had nothing else to live upon at the time. But how had he not, some one will ask, when our Lord promises, Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you? (Matt. 6:33) Our Lord, we answer, fulfilled this promise, by bringing them the fishes to catch: for who else brought them? He did not bring upon them that poverty which obliged them to go fishing, except in order to exhibit a miracle1.

GREGORY. (Hom. lxxxiv.) The craft which was exercised without sin before conversion, was no sin after it. Wherefore after his conversion Peter returned to fishing; but Matthew sat not down again for the receipt of custom (ad telonii negotium resedit). For there are some businesses which cannot or can hardly be carried on without sin; and these cannot be returned to after conversion.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxxvii) The other disciples followed Peter: They say unto him, We also go with thee; for from this time they were all bound together; and they wished too to see the fishing: They went forth and entered into a ship immediately. And that night they caught nothing. They fished in the night, from fear.

GREGORY. (Hom.) The fishing was made to be very unlucky, in order to raise their astonishment at the miracle after: And that night they caught nothing.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxxvii) In the midst of their labour and distress, Jesus presented Himself to them: But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. He did not make Himself known to them immediately, but entered into conversation; and first He speaks after human fashion: Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? as if He wished to beg some of them. They answered, No. He then gives them a sign to know Him by: And He said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. The recognition of Him brings out Peter and John in their different tempers of mind; the one fervid, the other sublime; the one ready, the other penetrating. John is the first to recognise our Lord: Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord; Peter is the first to come to Him: Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto Him, for he was naked.

BEDE. The Evangelist alludes to himself here the same way he always does. He recognised our Lord either by the miracle, or by the sound of His voice, or the association of former occasions on which He found them fishing. Peter was naked in comparison with the usual dress he wore, in the sense in which we say to a person whom we meet thinly clad, You are quite bare. Peter was hare for convenience sake, as fishermen are in fishing.

THEOPHYLACT. Peter’s girding himself is a sign of modesty. He girt himself with a linen coat, such as Thamian and Tyrian fishermen throw over them, when they have nothing else on, or even over their other clothes.

BEDE. He went to Jesus with the ardour with which he did every thing: And did cast himself into the sea. And the other disciples came in a little ship. We must not understand here that Peter walked on the top of the water, but either swam, or walked through the water, being very near the land: For they were not far from land, but as it were about two hundred cubits.

GLOSS. A parenthesis; for it follows, dragging the net with fishes. The order is, The other disciples came in a little ship, dragging the net with fishes.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxxvii) Another miracle follows: As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. He no longer works upon already existing materials, but in a still more wonderful way; shewing that it was only in condescension1 that He wrought His miracles upon existing matter before His crucifixion.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxii) We must not understand that the bread was laid on the coals, but read it as if it stood, They saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on the coals; and they saw bread.

THEOPHYLACT. To shew that it was no vision, He bade them take of the fish they had caught. Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught. Another miracle follows; viz. that the net was not broken by the number of fish: Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxii) Mystically, in the draught of fishes He signified the mystery1 of the Church, such as it will be at the final resurrection of the dead. And to make this clearer, it is put near the end of the book. The number seven, which is the number of the disciples who were fishing, signifies the end of time; for time is counted by periods of seven days.

THEOPHYLACT. In the night time before the presence of the sun, Christ, the Prophets took nothing; for though they endeavoured to correct the people, yet these often fell into idolatry.

GREGORY. (Hom. xxiv.) It may be asked, why after His resurrection He stood on the shore to receive the disciples, whereas before He walked on the sea? The sea signifies the world, which is tossed about with various causes of tumults, and the waves of this corruptible life; the shore by its solidity figures the rest eternal. The disciples then, inasmuch as they were still upon the waves of this mortal life, were labouring on the sea; but the Redeemer having by His resurrection thrown off the corruption of the flesh, stood upon the shore.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxii) The shore is the end of the sea, and therefore signifies the end of the world. The Church is here typified as she will be at the end of the world, just as other draughts of fishes typified her as she is now. Jesus before did not stand on the shore, but went into a ship which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. In a former draught the nets are not thrown to the right, or to the left, so that the good or the bad should be typified alone, but indifferently: Let down your nets for a draught, (Luke 5:4) meaning that the good and bad were mixed together. But here it is, Cast the net on the right side of the ship; to signify those who should stand on the right hand, the good. The one our Lord did at the beginning of His ministry, the other after His resurrection, shewing therein that the former draught of fishes signified the mixture of bad and good, which composes the Church at present; the latter the good alone, which it will contain in eternity, when the world is ended, and the resurrection of the dead completed. But they who belong to the resurrection of life, i. e. to the right hand, and are caught within the net of the Christian name, shall only appear on the shore, i. e. at the end of the world, after the resurrection: wherefore they were not able to draw the net into the ship, and unload the fishes, as they were before. The Church keeps these of the right hand, after death, in the sleep of peace, as it were in the deep, till the net come to shore. That the first draught was taken in two little ships, the last two hundred cubits from land, a hundred and a hundred, typifies, I think, the two classes of elect, circumcised and uncircumcised.

BEDE. By the two hundred cubits is signified the twofold grace of love; the love of God and the love of our neighbour; for by them we approach to Christ. The fish broiled is Christ Who suffered. He deigned to be hid in the waters of human nature, and to be taken in the net of our night; and having become a fish by the taking of humanity, became bread to refresh us by His divinity.

GREGORY. To Peter was the holy Church committed; to him is it specially said, Feed My sheep. That then which is afterwards declared by word, is now signified by act. He it is who draws the fishes to the firm shore, because he it was who pointed out the stability of the eternal country to the faithful. This he did by word of mouth, by epistles; this he does daily by signs and miracles. After saying that the net was full of great fishes, the number follows: Full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxii) In the draught before, the number of the fishes is not mentioned, as if in fulfilment of the prophecy in the Psalm, If I should declare them, and speak of them, they should be more than I am able to express; (Ps. 41:7) but here there is a certain number mentioned, which we must explain. The number which signifies the law is ten, from the ten Commandments. But when to the law is joined grace, to the letter spirit, the number seven is brought in, that being the number which represents the Holy Spirit, to Whom sanctification properly belongs. For sanctification was first heard of in the law, with respect to the seventh day; and Isaiah praises the Holy Spirit for His sevenfold work and office. The seven of the Spirit added to the ten of the law make seventeen; and the numbers from one up to seventeen when added together, make a hundred and fifty-three.

GREGORY. (Hom. xxiv.) Seven and ten multiplied by three make fifty-one. The fiftieth year was a year of rest to the whole people from all their work. In unity is true rest; for where division is, true rest cannot be.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxii) It is not then signified that only a hundred and fifty-three saints are to rise again to eternal life, but this number represents all who partake of the grace of the Holy Spirit: which number too contains three fifties, and three over, with reference to the mystery of the Trinity. And the number fifty is made up of seven sevens, and one in addition, signifying that those sevens are one. That they were great fishes too, is not without meaning. For when our Lord says, I came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil, by giving, that is, the Holy Spirit through Whom the law can be fulfilled, He says almost immediately after, Whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. In the first draught the net was broken, to signify schisms; but here to shew that in that perfect peace of the blessed there would be no schisms, the Evangelist continues: And for all they were so great1, yet was not the net broken; as if alluding to the case before, in which it was broken, and making a favourable comparison.

21:12–14

12. Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord.

13. Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.

14. This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxiii) The fishing being over, our Lord invites them to dine: Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxxvi) John does not say that He ate with them, but Luke does. He ate however not to satisfy the wants of nature, but to shew the reality of His resurrection.

AUGUSTINE. (xiii. de Civ. Dei, c. xxii) The bodies of the just, when they rise again, shall need neither the word of life that they die not of disease, or old age, nor any bodily nourishment to prevent hunger and thirst. For they shall be endowed with a sure and inviolable gift of immortality, that they shall not eat of necessity, but only be able to eat if they will. Not the power, but the need of eating and drinking shall be taken away from them; in like manner as our Saviour after His resurrection took meat and drink with His disciples, with spiritual but still real flesh, not for the sake of nourishment, but in exercise of a power.

And none of His disciples durst ask Him, who art Thou? knowing that it was the Lord.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxii) No one dared to doubt that it was He, much less deny it; so evident was it. Had any one doubted, he would have asked.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxxvii) He means that they had not confidence to talk to Him, as before, but sat looking at Him in silence and awe, absorbed in regarding His altered and now supernatural form, and unwilling to ask any question. Knowing that it was the Lord, they were in fear, and only ate what, in exercise of His great power, He had created. He again does not look up to heaven, or do any thing after a human sort, thus shewing that His former acts of that kind were done only in condescension: Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxiii. 2) Mystically, the fried fish is Christ Who suffered. And He is the bread that came down from heaven. To Him the Church is united to His body for participation of eternal bliss. Wherefore He says, Bring of the fishes which ye have now caught; to signify that all of us who have this hope, and are in that septenary number of disciples, which represents the universal Church here, partake of this great sacrament, and are admitted to this bliss.

GREGORY. (Hom. xxiv.) By holding this last feast with seven disciples, he declares that they only who are full of the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit, shall be with Him in the eternal feast. Time also is reckoned by periods of seven days, and perfection is often designated by the number seven. They therefore feast upon the presence of the Truth in that last banquet, who now strive for perfection.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxxvii) Inasmuch, however, as He did not converse with them regularly, or in the same way as before, the Evangelist adds, This is now the third time that Jesus shewed Himself to His disciples, after that He was risen from the dead.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxiii. 3) Which has reference not to manifestations, but to days; i. e. the first day after He had risen, eight days after that, when Thomas saw and believed, and this day at the draught of fishes; and thenceforward as often as He saw them, up to the time of His ascension.

AUGUSTINE. (de Con. Evang. iii. 25.) We find in the four Evangelists ten occasions mentioned, on which our Lord was seen after His resurrection: one at the sepulchre by the women; a second by the women returning from the sepulchre; a third by Peter; a fourth by the two going to1 Emmaus; a fifth in Jerusalem, when Thomas was not present; a sixth when Thomas saw Him; a seventh at the sea of Tiberias; an eighth by all the eleven on a mountain of Galilee, mentioned by Matthew; a ninth when for the last time He sat at meat with the disciples; a tenth when He was seen no longer upon earth, but high up on a cloud.

21:15–17

15. So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

16. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

17. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

THEOPHYLACT. The dinner being ended, He commits to Peter the superintendence over the sheep of the world, not to the others: So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these?

AUGUSTINE. Our Lord asked this, knowing it: He knew that Peter not only loved Him, but loved Him more than all the rest.

ALCUIN. He is called Simon, son of John, John being his natural father. But mystically, Simon is obedience, John grace, a name well befitting him who was so obedient to God’s grace, that he loved our Lord more ardently than any of the others. Such virtue arising from divine gift, not mere human will.

AUGUSTINE. While our Lord was being condemned to death, he feared, and denied Him. But by His resurrection Christ implanted love in his heart, and drove away fear. Peter denied, because he feared to die: but when our Lord was risen from the dead, and by His death destroyed death, what should he fear? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee. On this confession of his love, our Lord commends His sheep to him: He saith unto him, Feed My lambs: as if there were no way of Peter’s shewing his love for Him, but by being a faithful shepherd, under the chief Shepherd.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxxviii. 1) That which most of all attracts the Divine love is care and love for our neighbour. Our Lord passing by the rest, addresses this command to Peter: he being the chief of the Apostles, the mouth of the disciples, and head of the college. Our Lord remembers no more his sin in denying Him, or brings that as a charge against him, but commits to him at once the superintendence over his brethren. If thou lovest Me, have rule over thy brethren, shew forth that love which thou hast evidenced throughout, and that life which thou saidst thou wouldest lay down for Me, lay down for the sheep.

He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxii) Well doth He say to Peter, Lovest thou Me (ἀγαπᾶς diligis), and Peter answer, Amo Te (φελῶ amo), and our Lord replies again, Feed My lambs. Whereby, it appears that amor and dilectio are the same thing: especially as our Lord the third time He speaks does not say, Diligis Me, but Amas Me. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? A third time our Lord asks Peter whether he loves Him. Three confessions are made to answer to the three denials; that the tongue might shew as much love as it had fear, and life gained draw out the voice as much as death threatened.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxxviii) A third time He asks the same question, and gives the same command; to shew of what importance He esteems the superintendence of His own sheep, and how He regards it as the greatest proof of love to Him.

THEOPHYLACT. Thence is taken the custom of threefold confession in baptism.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxxviii) The question asked for the third time disturbed him: Peter was grieved because He said unto him the third time, Lovest thou Me? He was afraid perhaps of receiving a reproof again for professing to love more than he did. So he appeals to Christ Himself: And he said unto Him, Lord, Thou knowest all things, i. e. the secrets of the heart, present and to come.

AUGUSTINE. (de Verb. Dom. serm. 50) He was grieved because he was asked so often by Him Who knew what He asked, and gave the answer. He replies therefore from his inmost heart; Thou knowest that I love Thee.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxiv) He says no more, He only replies what he knew himself; he knew he loved Him; whether any else loved Him he could not tell, as he could not see into another’s heart: (non occ.). Jesus saith unto him, Feed My sheep; as if to say, Be it the office of love to feed the Lord’s flock, as it was the resolution of fear to deny the Shepherd.

THEOPHYLACT. There is a difference perhaps between lambs and sheep. The lambs are those just initiated, the sheep are the perfected.

ALCUIN. To feed the sheep is to support the believers in Christ from falling from the faith, to provide earthly sustenance for those under us, to preach and exemplify withal our preaching by our lives, to resist adversaries, to correct wanderers.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxiii) They who feed Christ’s sheep, as if they were their own, not Christ’s, shew plainly that they love themselves, not Christ; that they are moved by lust of glory, power, gain, not by the love of obeying, ministering, pleasing God. Let us love therefore, not ourselves, but Him, and in feeding His sheep, seek not our own, but the things which are His. For whoso loveth himself, not God, loveth not himself: man that cannot live of himself, must die by loving himself; and he cannot love himself, who loves himself to his own destruction. Whereas when He by Whom we live is loved, we love ourselves the more, because we do not love ourselves; because we do not love ourselves in order that we may love Him by Whom we live.

AUGUSTINE. (Serm. Pass.) But unfaithful servants arose, who divided Christ’s flock, and handed down the division to their successors: and you hear them say, Those sheep are mine, what seekest thou with my sheep, I will not let thee come to my sheep. If we call our sheep ours, as they call them theirs, Christ hath lost His sheep.

21:18–19

18. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.

19. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxxvii) Our Lord having made Peter declare his love, informs him of his future martyrdom; an intimation to us how we should love: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest. He reminds him of his former life, because, whereas in worldly matters a young man has powers, an old man none; in spiritual things, on the contrary, virtue is brighter, manliness stronger, in old age; age is no hindrance to grace. Peter had all along desired to share Christ’s dangers; so Christ tells him, Be of good cheer; I will fulfil thy desire in such a way, that what thou hast not suffered when young, thou shalt suffer when old: But when thou art old. Whence it appears, that he was then neither a young nor an old man, but in the prime of life.

ORIGEN. (super. Matt.) It is not easy to find any ready to pass at once from this life; and so he says to Peter, When thou art old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hand.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxiii. 5) That is, shalt be crucified. And to come to this end, Another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. First He said what would come to pass, secondly, how it would come to pass. For it was not when crucified, but when about to be crucified, that he was led whither he would not. He wished to be released from the body, and be with Christ; but, if it were possible, he wished to attain to eternal life without the pains of death: to which he went against his will, but conquered by the force of his will, and triumphing over the human feeling, so natural a one, that even old age could not deprive Peter of it. But whatever be the pain of death, it ought to be conquered by the strength of love for Him, Who being our life, voluntarily also underwent death for us. For if there is no pain in death, or very little, the glory of martyrdom would not be great.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxxviii) He says, Whither thou wouldest not, with reference to the natural reluctance of the soul to be separated from the body; an instinct implanted by God to prevent men putting an end to themselves. Then raising the subject, the Evangelist says, This spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God: not, should die: he expresses himself so, to intimate that to suffer for Christ was the glory of the sufferer. (non occ.). But unless the mind is persuaded that He is very God, the sight of Him can in no way enable us to endure death. Wherefore the death of the saints is certainty of divine glory.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxiii) He who denied and loved, died in perfect love for Him, for Whom he had promised to die with wrong haste. It was necessary that Christ should first die for Peter’s salvation, and then Peter die for Christ’s Gospel.

21:19–23

19. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

20. Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?

21. Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?

22. Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.

23. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxiv) Our Lord having foretold to Peter by what death he should glorify God, bids him follow Him. And when He had spoken this, He saith unto him, Follow Me. Why does He say, Follow Me, to Peter, and not to the others who were present, who as disciples were following their Master? Or if we understand it of his martyrdom, was Peter the only one who died for the Christian truth? Was not James put to death by Herod? Some one will say that James was not crucified, and that this was fitly addressed to Peter, because he not only died, but suffered the death of the cross, as Christ did.

THEOPHYLACT. Peter hearing that he was to suffer death for Christ, asks whether John was to die: Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on His breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth Thee? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxiv) He calls himself the disciple whom Jesus loved, because Jesus had a greater and more familiar love for him, than for the rest; so that He made him lie on His breast at supper. In this way John the more commends the divine excellency of that Gospel which he preached. Some think, and they no contemptible commentators upon Scripture, that the reason why John was loved more than the rest, was, because he had lived in perfect chastity from his youth up. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?

THEOPHYLACT. i. e. Shall he not die?

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxiv) Jesus saith unto him, What is that to thee? and He then repeats, Follow thou Me, as if John would not follow Him, because he wished to remain till He came; Then went this saying abroad among the disciples, that that disciple should not die. Was it not a natural inference of the disciple’s? But John himself does away with such a notion: Yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? But if any so will, let him contradict, and say that what John says is true, viz. that our Lord did not say that that disciple should not die, but that nevertheless this was signified by using such words as John records.

THEOPHYLACT. Or let him say, Christ did not deny that John was to die, for whatever is born dies; but said, I will that he tarry till I come, i. e. to live to the end of the world, and then he shall suffer martyrdom for Me. And therefore they confess that he still lives, but will be killed by Antichrist, and will preach Christ’s name with Elias. But if his sepulchre be objected, then they say that he entered in alive, and went out of it afterwards.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxiv.) Or perhaps he will allow that John still lies in his sepulchre at Ephesus, but asleep, not dead; and will give us a proof, that the soil over his grave is moist and watery, owing to his respiration. But why should our Lord grant it as a great privilege to the disciple whom He loved, that he should sleep this long time in the body, when he released Peter front the burden of the flesh by a glorious martyrdom, and gave him what Paul had longed for, when he said, I have a desire to depart and be with Christ? If there really takes place at John’s grave that which report says, it is either done to commend his precious death, since that had not martyrdom to commend it, or for some other cause not known to us. Yet the question remains, Why did our Lord say of one who was about to die, I will that he tarry till I come? It may be asked too why our Lord loved John the most, when Peter loved our Lord the most? I might easily reply, that the one who loved Christ the more, was the better man, and the one whom Christ loved the more, the more blessed; only this would not be a defence of our Lord’s justice. This important question then I will endeavour to answer. The Church acknowledges two modes of life, as divinely revealed, that by faith, and that by sight. The one is represented by the Apostle Peter, in respect of the primacy of his Apostleship; the other by John: wherefore to the one it is said, Follow Me, i. e. imitate Me in enduring temporal sufferings; of the other it is said, I will that he tarry till I come: as if to say, Do thou follow Me, by the endurance of temporal sufferings, let him remain till I come to give everlasting bliss; or to open out the meaning more, Let action be perfected by following the example of My Passion, but let contemplation wait inchoate till at My coming it be completed: wait, not simply remain, continue, but wait for its completion at Christ’s coming. Now in this life of action it is true, the more we love Christ, the more we are freed from sin; but He does not love us as we are, He frees us from sin, that we may not always remain as we are, but He loves us heretofore rather, because hereafter we shall not have that which displeases Him, and which He frees us from. So then let Peter love Him, that we may be freed from this mortality; let John be loved by Him, that we may be preserved in that immortality. John loved less than Peter, because, as he represented that life in which we are much more loved, our Lord said, I will that he remain (i. e. wait) till I come; seeing that that greater love we have not yet, but wait till we have it at His coming. And this intermediate state is represented by Peter who loves, but is loved less, for Christ loves us in our misery less than in our blessedness: and we again love the contemplation of truth such as it will be then, less in our present state, because as yet we neither know nor have it. But let none separate those illustrious Apostles; that which Peter represented, and that which John represented, both were sometime to be.

GLOSS. I will that he tarry, i. e. I will not that he suffer martyrdom, but wait for the quiet dissolution of the flesh, when I shall come and receive him into eternal blessedness.

THEOPHYLACT. When our Lord says to Peter, Follow Me, He confers upon him the superintendence over all the faithful, and at the same time bids him imitate Him in every thing, word and work. He shews too His affection for Peter; for those who are most dear to us, we bid follow us.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxxviii. 2) But if it be asked, How then did James assume the see of Jerusalem? I answer, that our Lord enthroned Peter, not as Bishop of this see, but as Doctor of the whole world: Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following, which also leaned on his breast at supper. It is not without meaning that that circumstance of leaning on His breast is mentioned, but to shew what confidence Peter had after his denial. For he who at the supper dared not ask himself, but gave his question to John to put, has the superintendence over his brethren committed to him, and whereas before he gave a question which concerned himself to another to put, he now asks questions himself of his Master concerning others. Our Lord then having foretold such great things of him, and committed the world to him, and prophesied his martyrdom, and made known his greater love, Peter wishing to have John admitted to a share of this calling, says, And what shall this man do? as if to say, Will he not go the same way with us? For Peter had great love for John, as appears from the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, which give many proofs of their close friendship. So Peter does John the same turn, that John had done him; thinking that he wanted to ask about himself, but was afraid, he puts the question for him. However, inasmuch as they were now going to have the care of the world committed to them, and could not remain together without injury to their charge, our Lord says, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? as if to say, Attend to the work committed to thee, and do it: if I will that he abide here, what is that to thee?

THEOPHYLACT. Some have understood, Till I come, to mean, Till I come to punish the Jews who have crucified Me, and strike them with the Roman rod. For they say that this Apostle lived up to the time of Vespasian, who took Jerusalem, and dwelt near when it was taken. Or, Till I come, i. e. till I give him the commission to preach, for to you I commit now the pontificate of the world: and in this follow Me, but let him remain till I come and call him, as I do thee now.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxxviii) The Evangelist then corrects the opinion taken up by the disciples.

21:24–25

24. This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.

25. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxxviii. 2) John appeals to his own knowledge of these events, having been witness of them: This is the disciple which testifieth of these things. When we assert any undoubted fact in common life, we do not withhold our testimony: much less would he, who wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:32) And thus the other Apostles, And we are witnesses of these things, and wrote these things. John is only one who appeals to his own testimony; and he does so, because he was the last who wrote. And for this reason he often mentions Christ’s love for him, i. e. to shew the motive which led him to write, and to give weight to his history. And we know that his testimony is true. He was present at every event, even at the crucifixion, when our Lord committed His mother to him; circumstances which both shew Christ’s love, and his own importance as a witness. But if any believe not, let him consider what follows: And there are also many other things which Jesus did. If, when there were so many things to relate, I have not said so much as the other, and have selected often reproaches and contumelies in preference to other things, it is evident that I have not written partially. One who wants to shew another off to advantage does the very contrary, omits the dishonourable parts.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxiv. 8) The which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written; meaning not the world had not space for them, but that the capacity of readers was not large enough to hold them: though sometimes words themselves may exceed the truth, and yet the thing they express be true; a mode of speech which is used not to explain an obscure and doubtful, but to magnify or estimate a plain, thing: nor does it involve any departure from the path of truth; inasmuch as the excess of the word over the truth is evidently only a figure of speech, and not a deception. This way of speaking the Greeks call hyperbole, and it is found in other parts of Scripture.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxxviii) This is said to shew the power of Him Who did the miracles; i. e. that it was as easy for Him to do them, as it is for us to speak of them, seeing He is God over all, blessed for ever.








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