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Catena Aurea by St. Thomas Aquinas
Ver. 1. Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,
2. Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word:
3. It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,
4. That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.
EUSEBIUS. (Eccl. Hist. iii. 4.) St. Luke at the commencement of his Gospel has told us the reason of his writing, which was, that many others had rashly taken upon themselves to give accounts of those things of which he had a more certain knowledge. And this is his meaning when he says, Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of things.
AMBROSE. (Expos. Ev. Luc. l. i. c. i.) For as many among the Jewish people prophesied by inspiration of the Spirit of God, but others were false prophets rather than prophets, so now also have many attempted to write Gospels which the good moneychanger refuses to pass. One gospel is mentioned which the twelve Apostles are said to have written; another Basilides presumed to write; and another is said to have been by Matthias.
BEDE. (in proœm. Lucæ.) The many who are mentioned, he reckons not so much by their number, as by the variety of their manifold heresies; men who were not endued with the gift of the Holy Spirit, but engaging in a vain work, have rather set forth in order a relation of events, than woven a true history.
AMBROSE. Now they who have attempted to set forth these things in order have laboured by themselves, and have not succeeded in what they attempted. For without the assistance of man come the gifts and the grace of God, which, when it is infused, is wont so to flow, that the genius of the writer is not exhausted, but ever abounding. He well says therefore, Of things which have been fully accomplished among us, or which abound among us. For that which abounds is lacking to none, and no one doubts about that which is fulfilled, since the accomplishment builds up our faith, and the end manifests it.
TITUS BOSTRENSIS. (in proœm. Lucæ.) He says, of things, because not by shadows, as the heretics say, did Jesus accomplish His advent in the flesh, but being as He was the Truth, so in very truth He performed His work.
ORIGEN. (Hom. i. in Luc.) The effect upon his own mind, St. Luke explains by the expression, of the things which have been fully accomplished among us, i. e. have had their full manifestation among us, (as the Greek word πεπληροφορημένων signifies, which the Latin cannot express in one word,) for he had been convinced of them by sure faith and reason, and wavered not in any thing.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Comm. in Act. Apost. Hom. i.) The Evangelist was so far from being content with his single testimony, that he refers the whole to the Apostles, seeking from them a confirmation of his words; and therefore he adds, as they handed them down to us, who were themselves from the beginning eyewitnesses.
EUSEBIUS. (sup.) Luke is a sure witness, because he obtained his knowledge of the truth either from St. Paul’s instructions, or the instructions and traditions of the other Apostles, who were themselves eyewitnesses from the beginning.
CHRYSOSTOM. (sup.) He says, were eyewitnesses, because this is our chief ground for believing in a thing, that we derive it from those who were actually eyewitnesses.
ORIGEN. It is plain that of one kind of knowledge, the end is in the knowledge itself, as in geometry; but of another kind, the end is counted to be in the work, as in medicine; and so it is in the word of God, and therefore having signified the knowledge by the words were themselves eyewitnesses, he points out the work by what follows, and were ministers of the word.
AMBROSE. This expression is used, not that we should suppose the ministry of the word to consist rather in seeing than hearing, but that, because by the word was meant not a word that can be spoken by the mouth, but one of real existence, we may understand that to have been not a common, but a Heavenly Word, to which the Apostles ministered.
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. (non occ.) In what he says of the Apostles having been eyewitnesses of the word, he agrees with John, who says, The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory. For the Word by means of the flesh was made visible.
AMBROSE. Now not only did they see the Lord in the body, but also in the Word. For they saw the Word, who with Moses and Elias saw the glory of the Word. Others did not see it, who could only see the body.
ORIGEN. It is written in Exodus, The people saw the voice of the Lord. (Exod. 20:18.) Now a voice is rather heard than seen. But it was so written, to shew us that men see the voice of the Lord with other eyes, which they only have who are worthy of them. Again in the Gospel, it is not the voice that is perceived, but the Word, which is more excellent than the voice.
THEOPHYLACT. (Præf. in Luc.) By these words it is plainly implied, that Luke was not a disciple from the beginning, but became one in course of time; others were disciples from the beginning, as Peter, and the sons of Zebedee.
BEDE. Nevertheless both Matthew and John were obliged in many things that they wrote to consult those who had had means of knowing the infancy, childhood, and genealogy of our Lord, and of seeing the things which he did.
ORIGEN. St. Luke hereby explains to us the source of his writing; seeing that what things he wrote, he gained not from report, but had himself traced them up from the beginning. Hence it follows, It seemed good to me also, having carefully investigated every thing from the very first, to write to thee in order, most excellent Theophilus.
AMBROSE. When he says, It seemed good to me, he does not deny that it seemed good to God: for it is God who predisposes the wills of men. Now no one has doubted that this book of the Gospel is more full of details than the others; by these words then he claims to himself, not any thing that is false, but the truth; and therefore he says, “It seemed good to me, having investigated every thing, to write.” Not to write every thing, but from a review of every thing; “for if all the things which Jesus did were written, I do not think the world itself could contain them.” (John 21:25.) But purposely has Luke passed by things that were written by others, in order that each book of the Gospel might be distinguished by certain mysteries and miracles peculiar to itself.
THEOPHYLACT. (in loc.) He writes to Theophilus, a man probably of some distinction, and a governor; for the form, Most excellent, was not used except to rulers and governors. As for example, Paul says to Festus, Most excellent Festus. (Acts 26:25.)
BEDE. (sup.) Theophilus means, “loving God,” or “being loved by God.” Whoever then loves God, or desires to be loved by Him, let him think this Gospel to have been written to him, and preserve it as a gift presented to him, a pledge entrusted to his care. The promise was not to explain the meaning of certain new and strange things to Theophilus, but to set forth the truth of those words in which he had been instructed; as it is added, That thou mightest know the truth of those words in which thou hast been instructed; that is, “that thou mightest be able to know in what order each thing was said or done by the Lord.”
CHRYSOSTOM. (sup.) Or it may be, “That thou mightest feel certain and satisfied as to the truth of those things which thou hast heard, now that thou beholdest the same in writing.”
THEOPHYLACT. For frequently, when a thing is asserted by any one, and not expressed in writing, we suspect it of falsehood; but when a man has written what he asserts, we are the more inclined to believe it, as if, unless he thought it to be true, he would not commit it to writing.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Photius, comment. in Luc.) The whole Preface of this Evangelist contains two things; first, the condition of those who wrote Gospels before him, (Matthew and Mark for example;) secondly, the reason why he also himself proposed to write one.
Having said, “attempted,” a word which may be applied both to those who presumptuously engage upon a subject, and those who reverently handle it, he determines the doubtful expression by two additions; first, by the words, Of things which have been fully accomplished among us; and secondly, As they handed them down to us, who were eyewitnesses from the beginning. The word handed down seems to shew, that the eye-witnesses themselves had a commission to transmit the truth. For as they handed it down, so it became others also receiving it in due order, in their turn to publish it. But from the not depositing in writing what had been delivered, several difficulties through lapse of time sprang up. Rightly then did those who had received the tradition from the first eye-witnesses of the Word, establish it in writing for the whole world; thereby repelling falsehood, destroying forgetfulness, and making up from tradition itself a perfect whole.
5. There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judæa, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
6. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
7. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.
CHRYSOSTOM. (noc occ.) St. Luke commences the history of his Gospel with Zacharias and the birth of John; relating one marvellous event before another, the less before the greater. For since a virgin was about to become a mother, it had been fore-ordained by grace that the old should previously conceive. He fixes the time, when he says, In the days of Herod, and in the following words adds his rank, king of Judæa. (in Matt. cap. 2.). There was another Herod, who killed John; he was tetrarch, whereas this one was king.
BEDE. (in Luc. Evang.) Now the time of Herod, i. e. of a foreign king, bears witness to our Lord’s coming, for it had been foretold, The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come. (Gen. 49:12.) For from the time that our fathers came out of Egypt, they were governed by judges of their own nation, until the Prophet Samuel; and then by kings, until the carrying away to Babylon. But after the return from Babylon, the chief power was in the hands of priests, until the time of Hyrcanus, who was both king and high priest. He was slain by Herod, after which the government of the kingdom was delivered over by the command of Augustus Cæsar to this same Herod, a foreigner, in whose thirty-first year, according to the prophecy we have mentioned, Shiloh came.
AMBROSE. Divine Scripture teaches us with respect to those whom we commemorate, that not only the characters of the men themselves, but of their parents also, ought to be praised, that they might be distinguished by an inheritance, as it were, handed down to them of unspotted purity. Now not only from his parents, but also from his ancestors, St. John derives his illustrious descent, a descent not exalted by secular power, but venerable from its sanctity. Complete then is that praise which comprehends birth, character, office, actions, and judgments.
The office was that of the Priesthood, as it is said, A certain Priest of the name of Zacharias.
BEDE. (in Homil. in vigil. S. Joh. Bap.) For John was allotted a Priestly tribe, that he might with the more authority herald forth a change of priesthood.
AMBROSE. His birth is implied in the mention made of his ancestors. Of the course of Abia, i. e. of high rank among the noblest families.
BEDE. There were Princes of the Sanctuary or High Priests, both of the sons of Eleazar and the sons of Thamar, whose courses according to their respective services when they entered into the House of God David divided into twenty-four lots, of which the family of Abia (from which Zacharias was descended) obtained the eighth lot. (1 Chron. 24.) But it was not without meaning that the first preacher of the new covenant was born with the rights of the eighth lot; because as the old Covenant is often expressed by the seventh number on account of the Sabbath, so frequently is the new Covenant by the eighth, because of the sacrament of our Lord’s or our resurrection.
THEOPHYLACT. Wishing to shew also that John was legally of Priestly descent, Luke adds, And his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth, for it was not permitted to the Jews to take a wife from any other tribe but their own. Elisabeth by interpretation signifies “rest,” Zacharias “the remembrance of the land.”
BEDE. John was born of just parents, that so he might the more boldly give precepts of justice to the people, which he had not learnt as novelties, but had received by right of inheritance from his ancestors. Hence it follows, And they were both just before God.
AMBROSE. Here their whole character is comprehended in their justice, but it is well said before God, for a man by affecting a popular good-will might seem just to me, but not be just before God, if that justice instead of springing from simpleness of heart, was a mere pretence carried on by flattery. Perfect then is the praise, “that a man is just before God;” for he only is perfect who is approved by Him who cannot be deceived. St. Luke comprehends the action in the commandment, the doing justice in the justification. Hence it follows, walking in all the commandments and justifications of the Lord. For when we obey the command of heaven we walk in the commandments of the Lord, when we observe justice we seem to possess the justification of the Lord. But to be “blameless” we must “provide things honest, not only before God, but also before men”; (Prov. 3:4.) there is no blame when both motive and action are alike good, but a too austere righteousness often provokes censure. A righteous act may also be done unrighteously, as when a man out of ostentation gives largely to the poor, which is not without just cause of blame. It follows, And they had no son, because Elisabeth was barren.
CHRYSOSTOM. (ex Hom. in Gen. 49.) Not only Elisabeth, but the wives of the Patriarchs also, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, were barren, which was counted a disgrace among the ancients. Not that their barrenness was the effect of sin, since all were just and virtuous, but ordained rather for your benefit, that when you saw a virgin giving birth to the Lord, you might not be faithless, or perplexing your mind with respect to the womb of the barren.
THEOPHYLACT. And that you might learn that the law of God seeketh not a bodily increase of sons but a spiritual, both were far advanced, not only in the body but in the Spirit, “making ascents in their heartb,” having their life as the day not as the night, and walking honestly as in the day. (Ps. 84:6, 1 Thess. 5:5.)
8. And it came to pass, that while he executed the Priest’s office before God in the order of his course,
9. According to the custom of the Priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.
10. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.
BEDE. The Lord appointed by the hand of Moses one High Priest, at whose death another was to succeed in due order. This was observed until the time of David, who by the command of the Lord increased the number of the Priests; and so at this time Zacharias is said to have been performing his Priest’s office in the order of his course, as it follows: But it came to pass, when Zacharias was performing the Priest’s office in the order of his course before God, according to the custom of the Priesthood, his lot was, &c.
AMBROSE. Zacharias seems here to be designated High Priest, because into the second tabernacle went the High Priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and the sins of the people. (Heb. 9:7.)
BEDE. It was not by a new lot that he was chosen when the incense was to be burnt, but by the old lot, whereby according to the order of his Priesthood he succeeded in the course of Abia. It follows, And all the multitude of the people, &c. Incense was ordered to be carried into the Holy of Holies by the High Priest, the whole people waiting without the temple. It was to be on the tenth day of the seventh month, and this day was to be called the day of expiation or propitiation, the mystery of which day the Apostle explaining to the Hebrews, points to Jesus as the true High Priest, who in His own blood has entered the secret places of heaven that he might reconcile the Father unto us, and intercede for the sins of those who still wait praying before the doors.
AMBROSE. This then is that High Priest who is still sought by lot, for as yet the true High Priest is unknown; for he who is chosen by lot is not obtained by man’s judgment. That High Priest therefore was sought for, and another typified, the true High Priest for ever, who not by the blood of victims, but by His own blood, was to reconcile God the Father to mankind. Then indeed there were changes in the Priesthood, now it is unchangeable.
11. And there appeared unto him an angel of the the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
12. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
13. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
14. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. 2. de Inc. Dei Nat.) When Zacharias entered into the temple to offer up prayers to God for all men, interceding between God and man, he saw an angel standing within, as it is said, And there appeared unto him an angel.
AMBROSE. It is well said that there appeared an angel to Zacharias, who suddenly beheld him; and this is the expression especially used by Divine Scripture with respect to angels or God, that what cannot be seen beforehand may be said to appear. For things which are the objects of our senses are not seen as He is seen, Who is seen only as He will, and Whose nature is not to be seen.
ORIGEN. And we speak thus not only of the present time, but also of the future. When we shall have passed from the world, God will not appear unto all men, nor will the angels, but unto him only who has a clean heart. The place will neither hinder nor serve any one.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. li. in Matt.) But the angel evidently came not in a dream, because the tidings he brought were too hard to be understood, and needed therefore a more visible and marvellous manifestation.
DAMASCENE. (de fide Orthodox. ii. 3.) Angels, however, are revealed not as they really are, but transformed (as men are able to behold them) into whatever the Lord commands.
THEOPHYLACT. It is said the altar of incense, because the other altar was set apart for burnt offerings.
AMBROSE. It was not without good reason that the angel appeared in the temple, for the coming of the true High Priest was now announced, and the Heavenly Sacrifice was preparing at which angels were to minister. For one cannot doubt that an angel stands by where Christ is sacrificed. But he appeared at the right hand of the altar of incense, because he brought down the token of Divine mercy. For the Lord is on my right hand, so that I should not be moved. (Ps. 16:8.)
CHRYSOSTOM. (de Inc. Dei Nat.) The justest of men can not without fear behold an angel; Zacharias therefore, not sustaining the sight of the angel’s presence, nor able to withstand his brightness, is troubled, as it is added, Zacharias was troubled. But as it happens, when a charioteer is frightened, and has let loose his reins, the horses run headlong, and the chariot is overturned; so is it with the soul, when it is taken by any surprise or alarm; as it is here added, and fear fell upon him.
ORIGEN. A new face suddenly presenting itself to the human eye, troubles and startles the mind. The angel knowing this to be the nature of man, first dispels the alarm, as it follows, But the angel said unto him, Fear not.
ATHANASIUS. (in vita Anton.) Whereby it is not difficult to discern between good and bad spirits, for if joy has succeeded to fear, we may know that relief has come from God, because the peace of the soul is a sign of the Divine Presence; but if the fear remains unshaken, it is an enemy who is seen.
ORIGEN. The angel not only soothes his fears, but gladdens him with good tidings, adding, For thy prayer is heard, and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear a son.
AUGUSTINE. (de Quæst. Evan. l. i. q. l.) Now here we must first consider that it is not likely that Zacharias, when offering sacrifice for the sins or for the salvation or redemption of the people, would neglect the public petitions, to pray (though himself an old man, and his wife also old) that he might receive children; and, next, above all that no one prays for what he despairs of ever obtaining. And even up to this time, sc much had he despaired of ever having children, that he would not believe, even when an angel promised it to him. The words, Thy prayer is heard, must be understood therefore to refer to the people; and as salvation, redemption, and the putting away of the sins of the people was to be through Christ, it is told Zacharias that a son shall be born to him, because that son was ordained to be the forerunner of Christ.
CHRYSOSTOM. (sup.) Or it means, that this was to be the proof of his prayer having been heard, namely, that a son should be born to him, crying, Behold the Lamb of God!
THEOPHYLACT. As if when Zacharias asks, How shall I know this? the angel answers, Because Elisabeth shall bring forth a son, thou shalt believe that the sins of thy people are forgiven.
AMBROSE. Or, as follows; Divine mercy is ever full and overflowing, not narrowed to a single gift, but pouring in an abundant store of blessings; as in this case, where first the fruit of his prayer is promised; and next, that his barren wife shall bear a child, whose name is announced as follows; And thou shalt call his name John.
BEDE. It is meant as a token of particular merit, when a man has a name given him or changed by God.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Joann. Hom. xviii.) Which must be the meaning here, for those who from their earliest years were destined to shine forth in virtue, received their names at the very first from a divine source; while those who were to rise up in later years, had a name given them afterwards.
BEDE. John is therefore interpreted, “one in whom is grace, or the grace of God;” by which name it is declared, first, that grace was given to his parents, to whom in their old age a son was to be born; next, to John himself, who was to become great before the Lord; lastly, also to the children of Israel, whom he was to convert to the Lord. Hence it follows, And he shall be a joy unto thee, and a cause of rejoicing.
ORIGEN. For when a just man is born into the world, the authors of his birth rejoice; but when one is born who is to be as it were an exile to labour and punishment, they are struck with terror and dismay.
AMBROSE. But a saint is not only the blessing of his parents, but also the salvation of many; as it follows, And many shall rejoice at his birth. Parents are reminded here to rejoice at the birth of saints, and to give thanks. For it is no slight gift of God to vouchsafe unto us children, to be the transmitters of our race, to be the heirs of succession.
15. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.
16. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
17. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
AMBROSE. Next to his becoming the rejoicing of many, the greatness of his virtue is prophesied; as it is said, For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord. The greatness signified is not of the body, but of the soul. Greatness in the sight of the Lord is greatness of soul, greatness of virtue.
THEOPHYLACT. For many are called great before men, but not before God, as the hypocrites. And so in like manner was John called great, as the parents of John were called just, before the Lord.
AMBROSE. He extended not the boundaries of an empire, nor brought back in triumph the spoils of war, (but, what is far greater,) preaching in the desert he overcame by his great virtue the delights of the world, and the lusts of the flesh. Hence it follows; And he shall drink no wine nor strong drink.
BEDE. Sicera is interpreted “drunkenness,” and by the word the Hebrews understand any drink that can intoxicate, (whether made from fruits, corn, or any other thing.) But it was part of the law of the Nazarites to give up wine and strong drink at the time of their consecration. (Numb. 6:5.) Hence John, and others like him, that they might always remain Nazarites, (i. e. holy,) are careful always to abstain from these things. For he ought not to be drunk with wine (in which is licentiousness) who desires to be filled with the new wine of the Holy Spirit; rightly then is he, from whom all drunkenness with wine is utterly put away, filled with the grace of the Spirit. But it follows, And he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit.
AMBROSE. On whomsoever the Holy Spirit is poured, in him there is fulness of great virtue; as in St. John, who before he was born, when yet in his mother’s womb, bore witness to the grace of the Spirit which he had received, when leaping in the womb of his parent he hailed the glad tidings of the coming of the Lord. There is one spirit of this life, another of grace. The former has its beginning at birth, its end at death; the latter is not tied down to times and seasons, is not quenched by death, is not shut out of the womb.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Metaphrastes sup.) But what John’s work is to be, and what he will do through the Holy Spirit, is shewn as follows; And many of the children of Israel shall he turn, &c.
ORIGEN. John indeed turned many, but it is the Lord’s work to turn all to God their Father.
BEDE. Now since John (who, bearing witness to Christ, baptized the people in His faith) is said to have turned the children of Israel to the Lord their God, it is plain that Christ is the God of Israel. Let the Arians then cease to deny that Christ our Lord is God. Let the Photiniansc blush to ascribe Christ’s beginning to the Virgin. Let the Manichæns no longer believe that there is one God of the people of Israel, another of the Christians.
AMBROSE. But we need no testimony that St. John turned the hearts of many, for to this point we have the express witness of both prophetic and and evangelical Scriptures. For the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make His paths straight; and his baptisms thronged by the people, declare the rapid progress of conversion. For the forerunner of Christ preached, not himself, but the Lord; and therefore it follows, And he shall go before Him. It was well said, that he shall go before Him, who both in birth and in death was His forerunner.
ORIGEN. In the spirit and power of Elijah.—He says not, in the mind of Elijah, but in the spirit and power. For the spirit which was in Elijah came upon John, and in like manner his power.
AMBROSE. For never is the spirit without power, nor power without the spirit. And therefore it is said, in the spirit and power; because holy Elijah had great power and grace. Power, so that he turned back the false hearts of the people to faith; power of abstinence, and patience, and the spirit of prophecy. Elijah was in the wilderness, in the wilderness also was John. The one sought not the favour of king Ahab; the other despised that of Herod. The one divided Jordan; the other brought men to the Saving waters; John, the forerunner of our Lord’s first coming; Elijah of His latter.
BEDE. But what was foretold of Elias by Malachi, is now spoken by the angel of John; as it follows, That he should turn the hearts of the parents to the children; (Mal. 4:5, 6.) pouring into the minds of the people, by his preaching, the spiritual knowledge of the ancient saints. And the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; i. e. not laying claim to righteousness from the works of the law, but seeking salvation by faith. (Rom. 10. sup.)
GREEK EXPOSITOR. Or else; The Jews were the parents of John and the Apostles; but, nevertheless, from pride and infidelity raged violently against the Gospel. Therefore, like dutiful children, John first, and the Apostles after him, declared to them the truth, winning them over to their own righteousness and wisdom. So also will Elias convert the remnant of Hebrews to the truth of the Apostles.
BEDE. But because he had said that Zacharias’ prayer for the people was heard, he adds, To make ready a people prepared1 for the Lord; by which he teaches in what manner the same people must be healed and prepared; namely, by repenting at the preaching of John and believing on Christ.
THEOPHYLACT. Or, John made ready a people not disbelieving but prepared, that is, previously fitted to receive Christ.
ORIGEN. This sacrament 2 of preparation is even now fulfilled in the world, for even now the spirit and power of John must come upon the soul, before it believes in Jesus Christ.
18. And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.
19. And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.
20. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
21. And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.
22. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them and remained speechless.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. ii. De Inc. Nat. Dei sup.) Considering his own age, and moreover the barrenness of his wife, Zacharias doubted; as it is said, And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? as if he said, “How shall this be?” And he adds the reason of his doubting; For I am an old man. An unseasonable time of life, an ill-suited nature; the planter infirm, the soil barren. But it is thought by some a thing unpardonable. in the priest, that he raises a course of objections; for whenever God declares any thing, it becomes us to receive it in faith, and moreover, disputes of this kind are the mark of a rebellious spirit. Hence it follows; And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, who stand before God.
BEDE. As if he says, “If it were man who promised these miracles, one might with impunity demand a sign, but when an angel promises, it is then not right to doubt. It follows; And I am sent to speak to thee.
CHRYSOSTOM. (sup.) That when you hear that I am sent from God, you should deem none of the things which are said unto thee to be of man, for I speak not of myself, but declare the message of Him who sends me. And this is the merit and excellence of a messenger to relate nothing of his own.
BEDE. Here we must remark, that the angel testifies, that he both stands before God, and is sent to bring good tidings to Zacharias.
GREGORY. (Hom. xxxiv. in Evang.) For when angels come to us, they so outwardly fulfil their ministry, as at the same time inwardly to be never absent from His sight; since, though the angelic spirit is circumscribed, the highest Spirit, which is God, is not circumscribed. The angels therefore even when sent are before Him, because on whatever mission they go, they pass within Him.
BEDE. But he gives him the sign which he asks for, that he who spoke in unbelief, might now by silence learn to believe; as it follows; and, behold, thou shall be dumb.
CHRYSOSTOM. (sup.) That the bonds might be transferred from the powers of generation to the vocal organs. From no regard to the priesthood was he spared, but for this reason was the more smitten, because in a matter of faith he ought to have set an example to others.
THEOPHYLACT. (cap. i.) Because the word in the Greek (κωφὸς) may also signify deaf, he well says, Because thou believest not, thou shalt be deaf, and shalt not be able to speak. For most reasonably he suffered these two things; as disobedient, he incurs the penalty of deafness; as an objector, of silence.
CHRYSOSTOM. (sup.) But the Angel says, And, behold; in other words, “At this instant.” But mark the mercy of God in what follows: Until the day in which these things shall be performed. As if he said, “When by the issues of events I shall have proved my words, and thou shalt perceive that thou art rightly punished, I will remove the punishment from thee.” And he points out the cause of the punishment, adding, Because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season; not considering His power Who sent me, and before Whom I stand. But if he who was incredulous about a mortal birth is punished, how shall he escape vengeance, who speaks falsely of the heavenly and unspeakable birth?
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Antipater Bostrensis.) Now while these things were going on within, the delay excited surprise among the multitudes who were waiting without, as it follows: And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried. And while various suspicions were going about, each man repeating them as it pleased him, Zacharias coming forth told by his silence what he secretly endured. Hence it follows, And when he came out, he could not speak.
THEOPHYLACT. But Zacharias beckoned to the people, who perhaps enquired the cause of his silence, which, as he was not able to speak, he signified to them by nodding. Hence it follows, And he beckoned to them, and remained speechless.
AMBROSE. But a nod is a certain action of the body, without speech endeavouring to declare the will, yet not expressing it.
23. And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.
24. And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,
25. Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.
BEDE. During the time of their course, the priests of the temple were so occupied by their office, that they kept themselves not only from the society of their wives, but even from the very threshold of their houses. Hence it is said, And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days were accomplished, &c. For as there was then required a priestly succession from the root of Aaron, of necessity then a time was appointed for keeping up the inheritance. But as now not a carnal succession, but spiritual perfection, is looked for, the priests are enjoined (in order that they might ever be able to serve the altar) the perpetual observance of chastity. It follows: But after those days, &c. that is, after the days of Zacharias’s ministration were completed. But these things were done in the month of September, the twenty-second day of the month, upon which the Jews were bound to observe the feast of the Tabernacles, just before the equinox, at which the night began to be longer than the day, because Christ must increase, but John must decrease. And those days of fasting were not without their meaning; for by the mouth of John, repentance and mortification were to be preached to men. It follows: And she hid herself. (see John 3:30.)
AMBROSE. What reason then for concealment, except shame? For there are certain allowed times in wedlock, when it is becoming to attend to the begetting of children; while the years thrive, while there is hope of child-bearing. But when in good time old age has come on, and the period of life is more fitted for governing children, than begetting them, it is a shame to bear about the signs of pregnancy, however lawful. It is a shame to be laden with the burden of another age, and for the womb to swell with the fruit of not one’s own time of life. It was a shame then to her on account of her age; and hence we may understand the reason why they did not at this time come together, for surely she who blushed not at their coming together in their old age, would not blush at her child-bearing; and yet she blushes at the parental burden, while she yet is unconscious of the religious mystery. But she who hid herself because she had conceived a son, began to glory that she carried in her womb a prophet.
ORIGEN. And therefore he says, Five months, that is, until Mary should conceive, and her babe leaping with joy should prophesy.
AMBROSE. And though she might blush at the time of her child-bearing, on the other hand she rejoiced that she was free from reproach, saying, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me.
CHRYSOSTOM. Truly He has loosed her barrenness, a supernatural gift He has bestowed upon her, and the unfruitful rock has produced the green blade. He has taken away her disgrace, in that He has made her to bring forth. Hence it follows: In the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.
AMBROSE. For it is a shame among women not to receive that reward of marriage, which is the only cause of their being married.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Homil. de Anna.) Her joy therefore is twofold. The Lord has taken away from her the mark of barrenness, and also given her an illustrious offspring. In the case of other births, the coming together of the parents only occurs; this birth was the effect of heavenly grace.
BEDE. Now mystically by Zacharias may be signified the Jewish Priesthood, by Elisabeth the law itself; which, well administered by the teaching of the Priests, ought to have borne spiritual children to God, but was not able, because the Law made no one perfect. (Heb. 7:19, 1 Tim. 1:8.) Both were just, because the law is good, and the Priesthood for that time holy; both were well stricken in years, because at Christ’s coming both the Law and Priesthood were just bending to old age. Zacharias enters the temple, because it is the priest’s office to enter into the sanctuary of heavenly mysteries. There was a multitude without the doors, because the multitude cannot penetrate mysteries. When he places frankincense on the altar, he discovers that John will be born; for while the teachers are kindled with the flame of divine reading, they find the grace of God flow to them through Jesus: and this is done by an angel, for the Law was ordained by angels. (Gal. 3:19.)
AMBROSE. But in one man the voice of the people was put to silence, because in one man the whole people was addressing God. For the word of God has come over to us, and in us is not silent. He is dumb who understands not the Law; for why should you think the man who knows not a sound, to be more dumb than him who knows not a mystery. The Jewish people are like to one beckoning, who cannot make his actions intelligible.
BEDE. And yet Elisabeth conceives John, because the more inward parts of the Law abound with sacraments of Christ. She conceals her conception five months, because Moses in five books set forth the mysteries of Christ; or because the dispensation of Christ is represented by the words or deeds of the saints, in the five ages of the world.
26. And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
27. To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
BEDE. Because either the Incarnation of Christ was to be in the sixth age of the world, or because it was to serve to the fulfilling of the law, rightly in the sixth month of John’s conception was an angel sent to Mary, to tell her that a Saviour should be born. Hence it is said, And in the sixth month, &c. We must understand the sixth month to be March, on the twenty-fifth day of which our Lord is reported to have been conceived, and to have suffered, as also to have been born on the twenty-fifth day of December. But if either the one day we believe to be the vernal equinox, or the other the winter solstice, it happens that with the increase of light He was conceived or born Who lighteneth every man that cometh into the world. But if any one shall prove, that before the time of our Lord’s nativity or conception, light began either to increase, or supersede the darkness, we then say, that it was because John, before the appearance of His coming, began to preach the kingdom of heaven.
BASIL. (in Esai. 6.) The heavenly spirits visit us, not as it seems fit to them, but as the occasion conduces to our advantage, for they are ever looking upon the glory and fulness of the Divine Wisdom; hence it follows, The angel Gabriel was sent.
GREGORY. (Hom. 34, in Evan.) To the virgin Mary was sent, not any one of the angels, but the archangel Gabriel; for upon this service it was meet that the highest angel should come, as being the bearer of the highest of all tidings. He is therefore marked by a particular name, to signify what was his effectual part in the work. For Gabriel is interpreted, “the strength of God.” By the strength of God then was He to be announced Who was coming as the God of strength, and mighty in battle, to put down the powers of the air.
GLOSS. (interlin.) But the place is also added whither he is sent, as it follows, To a city, Nazareth. For it was told that He would come a Nazarite, (i. e. the holy of the holy.)
BEDE. (in Homil. de fest Annunt.) It was a fit beginning for man’s restoration, that an angel should be sent down from God to consecrate a virgin by a divine birth, for the first cause of man’s perdition was the Devil sending a serpent to deceive a woman by the spirit of pride.
AUGUSTINE. (de san. Virg. cap. vi.) To a virgin, for Christ could be born from virginity alone, seeing He could not have an equal in His birth. It was necessary for our Head by this mighty miracle to be born according to the flesh of a virgin, that He might signify that his members were to be born in the spirit of a virgin Church.
PSEUDO-JEROME. (Hieron. vol. xi. 92. De Assumpt.) And rightly an angel is sent to the virgin, because the virgin state is ever akin to that of angels. Surely in the flesh to live beyond the flesh is not a life on earth but in heaven.
CHRYSOSTOM. (sup. Mat. Hom. 4.) The angel announces the birth to the virgin not after the conception, lest she should be thereby too much troubled, but before the conception he addresses her, not in a dream, but standing by her in visible shape. For as great indeed were the tidings she receives, she needed before the issue of the event an extraordinary visible manifestation.
AMBROSE. Scripture has rightly mentioned that she was espoused, as well as a virgin, a virgin, that she might appear free from all connexion with man; espoused, that she might not be branded with the disgrace of sullied virginity, whose swelling womb seemed to bear evident marks of her corruption. But the Lord had rather that men should cast a doubt upon His birth than upon His mother’s purity. He knew how tender is a virgin’s modesty, and how easily assailed the reputation of her chastity, nor did He think the credit of His birth was to be built up by His mother’s wrongs. It follows therefore, that the holy Mary’s virginity was of as untainted purity as it was also of unblemished reputation. Nor ought there, by an erroneous opinion, to be left the shadow of an excuse to living virgins, that the mother of our Lord even seemed to be evil spoken of. But what could be imputed to the Jews, or to Herod, if they should seem to have persecuted an adulterous offspring? And how could He Himself say, I came not to abolish the law, but to fulfil it, (Matt. 5:18.) if He should seem to have had his beginning from a violation of the law, for the issue of an unmarried person is condemned by the law? (Deut. 23:17.) Not to add that also greater credit is given to the words of Mary, and the cause of falsehood removed? For it might seem that unmarried becoming pregnant, she had wished to shade her guilt by a lie; but an espoused person has no reason for lying, since to women child-birth is the reward of wedlock, the grace of the marriage bed. Again, the virginity of Mary was meant to baffle the prince of the world, who, when he perceived her espoused to a man, could cast no suspicion on her offspring.
ORIGEN. For if she had had no husband, soon would the thought have stolen into the Devil’s mind, how she who had known no man could be pregnant. It was right that the conception should be Divine, something more exalted than human nature.
AMBROSE. But still more has it baffled the princes of the world, for the malice of devils soon detects even hidden things, while they who are occupied in worldly vanities, can not know the things of God. But moreover, a more powerful witness of her purity is adduced, her husband, who might both have been indignant at the injury, and revenged the dishonour, if he also had not acknowledged the mystery; of whom it is added, Whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.
BEDE. (in Homil. de Annunt. sup.) Which last applies not only to Joseph, but also to Mary, for the Law commanded that every one should take a wife out of his own tribe or family. It follows, And the virgin’s name was Mary.
BEDE. Maria, in Hebrew, is the star of the sea; but in Syriac it is interpreted Mistress, and well, because Mary was thought worthy to be the mother of the Lord of the whole world, and the light of endless ages.
28. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
29. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
AMBROSE. Mark the virgin by her manner of life. Alone in an inner chamber, unseen by the eyes of men, discovered only by an angel; as it is said, And the angel came in unto her. That she might not be dishonoured by any ignoble address, she is saluted by an angel.
GREGORY OF NYSSA. (Diem Nat. Orat. in Christi.) Far different then to the news formerly addressed to the woman, is the announcement now made to the Virgin. In the former, the cause of sin was punished by the pains of childbirth; in the latter, through gladness, sorrow is driven away. Hence the angel not unaptly proclaims joy to the Virgin, saying, Hail.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Geometer) But that she was judged worthy of the nuptials is attested by his saying, Full of grace. For it is signified as a kind of token or marriage gift of the bridegroom, that she was fruitful in graces. For of the things which he mentions, the one appertains to the bride, the other to the bridegroom.
PSEUDO-JEROME. (Jerome sup.) And it is well said, Full of grace, for to others, grace comes in part; into Mary at once the fulness of grace wholly infused itself. She truly is full of grace through whom has been poured forth upon every creature the abundant rain of the Holy Spirit. But already He was with the Virgin Who sent the angel to the Virgin. The Lord preceded His messenger, for He could not be confined by place Who dwells in all places. Whence it follows, The Lord is with thee.
PSEUDO-AUGUSTINE. (Aug. in Serm. de Annunt. iii. app. 195.) More than with me, for He Himself is in thy heart, He is (made) in thy womb, He fills thy soul, He fills thy womb.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Geometer) But this is the sum of the whole message. The Word of God, as the Bridegroom, effecting an incomprehensible union, Himself, as it were, the same both planting, and being planted, hath moulded the whole nature of man into Himself. But comes last the most perfect and comprehensive salutation; Blessed art thou among women. i. e. Alone, far before all other women; that women also should be blessed in thee, as men are in thy Son; but rather both in both. For as by one man and one woman came at once both sin and sorrow, so now also by one woman and one man hath both blessing and joy been restored, and poured forth upon all.
AMBROSE. But mark the Virgin by her bashfulness, for she was afraid, as it follows; And when she heard, she was troubled, It is the habit of virgins to tremble, and to be ever afraid at the presence of man, and to be shy when he addresses her. Learn, O virgin, to avoid light talking. Mary feared even the salutation of an angel.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (sup.) But as she might be accustomed to these visions, the Evangelist ascribes her agitation not to the vision, but to the things told her, saying, she was troubled at his words. Now observe both the modesty and wisdom of the Virgin; the soul, and at the same time the voice. When she heard the joyful words, she pondered them in her mind, and neither openly resisted through unbelief, nor forthwith lightly complied; avoiding equally the inconstancy of Eve, and the insensibility of Zacharias. Hence it is said, And she cast in her mind what manner of salutation this was, it is not said conception, for as yet she knew not the vastness of the mystery. But the salutation, was there aught of passion in it as from a man to a virgin? or was it not of God, seeing that he makes mention of God, saying, The Lord is with thee.
AMBROSE. She wondered also at the new form of blessing, unheard of before, reserved for Mary alone.
ORIGEN. For if Mary had known that similar words had been addressed to others, such a salutation would never have appeared to her so strange and alarming.
30. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
31. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
32. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
33. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
When the angel saw that she was troubled at this unusual salutation, calling her by her name as if she was well known to him, he tells her she must not fear, as it follows; And the angel said, Fear not, Mary.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Photius.) As if he said, I came not to deceive you, nay rather to bring down deliverance from deception; I came not to rob you of your inviolable virginity, but to open a dwelling-place for the Author and Guardian of thy purity; I am not a servant of the Devil, but the ambassador of Him that destroyeth the Devil. I am come to form a marriage treaty, not to devise plots. So far then was he from allowing her to be harassed by distracting thoughts, lest he should be counted a servant unfaithful to his trust.
CHRYSOSTOM. But he who earns favour in the sight of God has nothing to fear. Hence it follows, For thou hast found favour before God. But how shall any one find it, except through the means of his humility. For God giveth grace to the humble. (James 4:6, 1 Pet. 5:5.)
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (ubi sup.) For the Virgin found favour with God, in that decking her own soul in the bright robes of chastity, she prepared a dwelling-place pleasing to God. Not only did she retain her virginity inviolate, but her conscience also she kept from stain. As many had found favour before Mary, he goes on to state what was peculiar to her. Behold, thou shall conceive in thy womb.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Geometer.) By the word behold, he denotes rapidity and actual presence, implying that with the utterance of the word the conception is accomplished.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Sev. Antiochenus.) Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, that he might shew that our Lord from the very Virgin’s womb, and of our substance, took our flesh upon Him. For the Divine Word came to purify man’s nature and birth, and the first elements of our generation. And so without sin and human seed, passing through every stage as we do, He is conceived in the flesh, and carried in the womb for the space of nine months.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Geometer.) But since it happens also that to the spiritual mind is given in an especial manner to conceive the Divine Spirit, and bring forth the Spirit of salvation, as says the Prophet; therefore he added, And thou shalt bring forth a Son. (Is. 26:18.)
AMBROSE. But all are not as Mary, that when they conceive the word of the Holy Spirit, they bring forth; for some put forth the word prematurely, others have Christ in the womb, but not yet formed.
GREGORY OF NYSSA. (Orat. in Diem Nat.) While the expectation of child-birth strikes a woman with terror, the sweet mention of her offspring calms her, as it is added, And thou shall call his name Jesus. The coming of the Saviour is the banishing of all fear.
BEDE. Jesus is interpreted Saviour, or Healing.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Geom. sup.) And he says, Thou shalt call, not His father shall call, for He is without a father as regards His lower birth, as He is without a mother in respect of the higher.
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. (de fide ad Theod.) But this name was given anew to the Word in adaptation to His nativity in the flesh; as that prophecy saith, Thou shalt be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord hath named. (Is. 62:2.)
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (sup.) But as this name was common to Him with the successor of Moses, the angel therefore implying that He should not be after Joshua’s likeness, adds, He shall be great. (Josh. 1.)
AMBROSE. It was said also of John, that he shall be great, but of him indeed as of a great man, of Christ, as of the great God. For abundantly is poured forth the power of God; widely the greatness of the heavenly substance extended, neither confined by place, nor grasped by thought; neither determined by calculation, nor altered by age.
ORIGEN. See then the greatness of the Saviour, how it is diffused over the whole world. Go up to heaven, see there how it has filled the heavenly places; carry thy thoughts down to the deep, behold, there too He has descended. If thou seest this, then, in like manner, beholdest thou fulfilled in very deed, He shall be great.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Photius.) The assumption of our flesh does not diminish ought from the loftiness of the Deity, but rather exalts the lowness of man’s nature. Hence it follows, And he shall be called the Son of the Highest. Not, Thou shalt give Him the name, but He Himself shall be called. By whom, but His Father of like substance with Himself? For no one hath known the Son but the Father. (Matt. 11:27.) But He in Whom exists the infallible knowledge of His Son, is the true interpreter as to the name which should be given Him, when He says, This is my beloved Son; (Matt. 17:5.) for such indeed from everlasting He is, though His name was not revealed till now; therefore he says, He shall be called, not shall be made or begotten. For before the worlds He was of like substance with the Father. Him therefore thou shalt conceive; His mother thou shalt become; Him shall thy virgin shrine enclose, Whom the heavens were not able to contain.
CHRYSOSTOM. (non occ.) But since it seems shocking or unworthy to some men that God should inhabit a body, is the Sun, I would ask, the heat whereof is felt by each body that receives its rays, at all sullied as to its natural purity? Much more then does the Sun of Righteousness, in taking upon Himself a most pure body from the Virgin’s womb, escape not only defilement, but even shew forth His own mother in greater holiness.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Severus Antiochenus.) And to make the Virgin mindful of the prophets, he adds, And the Lord God shall give unto him the seat of David, that she might know clearly, that He Who is to be born of her is that very Christ, Whom the prophets promised should be born of the seed of David.
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. (contra Julian lib. viii.) Not however from Joseph proceeded the most pure descent of Christ. For from one and the same line of connexion had sprung both Joseph and the Virgin, and from this the only-begotten had taken the form of man.
BASIL. (Epist. 236. ad Amphil.) Our Lord sat not on the earthly throne of David, the Jewish kingdom having been transferred to Herod. The seat of David is that on which our Lord reestablished His spiritual kingdom which should never be destroyed. Hence it follows, And he shall reign over the house of Jacob.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. vii. in Matt.) Now He assigns to the present house of Jacob all those who were of the number of the Jews that believed on Him. For as Paul says, They are not all Israel which are of Israel, but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.
BEDE. Or by the house of Jacob he means the whole Church which either sprang from a good root, or though formerly a wild olive branch, has yet been for a reward of its faith grafted into the good olive tree. (Rom. 11:17.)
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Geometer.) But to reign for ever is of none save God alone; and hence though because of the incarnation Christ is said to receive the seat of David, yet as being Himself God He is acknowledged to be the eternal King. It follows, And, his kingdom shall have no end, not in that He is God, but in that He is man also. Now indeed He has the kingdom of many nations, but finally he shall reign over all, when all things shall be put under Him. (1 Cor. 15:25.)
BEDE. Let Nestorius then cease to say that the Virgin’s Son is only man, and to deny that He is taken up by the Word of God into the unity of the Person. For the Angel when he says that the very same has David for His father whom he declares is called the Son of the Highest, demonstrates the one Person of Christ in two natures. The Angel uses the future tense (vocabitur, regnabit) not because, as the Heretics say, Christ was not before Mary, but because in the same person, man with God shares the same name of Son.
34. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
35. And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
AMBROSE. It was Mary’s part neither to refuse belief in the Angel, nor too hastily take unto herself the divine message. How subdued her answer is, compared with the words of the Priest. Then said Mary to the Angel, How shall this be? She says, How shall this be? He answers, Whereby shall I know this? He refuses to believe that which he says he does not know, and seeks as it were still further authority for belief. She avows herself willing to do that which she doubts not will be done, but how, she is anxious to know. Mary had read, Behold, she shall conceive and bear a son. (Is. 7:14.) She believed therefore that it should be, but how it was to take place she had never read, for even to so great a prophet this had not been revealed. So great a mystery was not to be divulged by the mouth of man, but of an Angel.
GREGORY OF NYSSA. (Orat. in Diem Nat. Christi.) Hear the chaste words of the Virgin. The Angel tells her she shall bear a son, but she rests upon her virginity, deeming her inviolability a more precious thing than the Angel’s declaration. Hence she says, Seeing that I know not a man.
BASIL. (235. Ep. Amph.) Knowledge is spoken of in various ways. The wisdom of our Creator is called knowledge, and an acquaintance with His mighty works, the keeping also of His commandments, and the constant drawing near to Him; and besides these the marriage union is called knowledge, as it is here.
GREGORY OF NYSSA. (sup.) These words of Mary are a token of what she was pondering in the secrets of her heart; for if for the sake of the marriage union she had wished to be espoused to Joseph, why was she seized with astonishment when the conception was made known unto her? seeing in truth she might herself be expecting at the time to become a mother according to the law of nature. But because it was meet that her body being presented to God as an holy offering-should be kept inviolate, therefore she says, Seeing that I know not a man. As if she said, Notwithstanding that thou who speakest art an Angel, yet that I should know a man is plainly an impossible thing. How then can I be a mother, having no husband? For Joseph I have acknowledged as my betrothed.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Geometer.) But mark, how the Angel solves the Virgin’s doubts, and shews to her the unstained marriage and the unspeakable birth. And the Angel answered, and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. 49 in Gen.) As if he said, Look not for the order of nature in things which transcend and overpower nature. Dost thou say, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? Nay rather, shall it happen to thee for this very reason, that thou hast never known a husband. For if thou hadst, thou wouldest not have been thought worthy of the mystery, not that marriage is unholy, but virginity more excellent. It became the common Lord of all both to take part with us, and to differ with us in His nativity; for the being born from the womb, He shared in common with us, but in that He was born without cohabitation, He was exalted far above us.
GREGORY OF NYSSA. (Orat. in Diem Nat.) O blessed is that womb which because of the overflowing purity of the Virgin Mary has drawn to itself the gift of life! For in others scarcely indeed shall a pure soul obtain the presence of the Holy Spirit, but in her the flesh is made the receptacle of the Spirit.
GREGORY OF NYSSA. (Lib. de Vita Moysis.) For the tables of our nature which guilt had broken, the true Lawgiver has formed anew to Himself from our dust without cohabitation, creating a body capable of taking His divinity, which the finger of God hath carved, that is to say, the Spirit coming upon the Virgin.
GREGORY OF NYSSA. (in Diem Natal.) Moreover, the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee. Christ is the power of the most high King, who by the coming of the Holy Spirit is formed in the Virgin.
GREGORY. (18 Moral. c. 20. super Job 27:21.) By the term overshadowing, both natures of the Incarnate God are signified. For shadow is formed by light and matter. But the Lord by His Divine nature is light. Because then immaterial light was to be embodied in the Virgin’s womb, it is well said unto her, The power of the Highest shall overshadow thee, that is, the human body in thee shall receive an immaterial light of divinity. For this is said to Mary for the heavenly refreshing of her soul.
BEDE. Thou shalt conceive then not by the seed of man whom thou knowest not, but by the operation of the Holy Spirit, with which thou art filled. There shall be no flame of desire in thee when the Holy Spirit shall overshadow thee.
GREGORY OF NYSSA. (Orat. in Diem Nat.) Or he says, overshadow thee, because as a shadow takes its shape from the character of those bodies which go before it, so the signs of the Son’s Deity will appear from the power of the Father. (non occ. in Greg. Nyss.). For as in us a certain life-giving power is seen in the material substance, by which man is formed; so in the Virgin, has the power of the Highest in like manner, by the life-giving Spirit, taken from the Virgin’s body a fleshly substance inherent in the body to form a new man. Hence it follows, Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee.
ATHANASIUS. (Ep. ad Epictetum.) For we confess that which then was taken up from Mary to be of the nature of man and a most real body, the very same also according to nature with our own body. For Mary is our sister, seeing we have all descended from Adam.
BASIL. (Lib. de Spirit. Sanct. c. v.) Hence also, St. Paul says, God sent forth his Son, born not (through a woman) but of a woman. For the words through a woman might convey only a notion of birth as a passing through, but when it is said, of a woman, (Gal. 4:4.) there is openly declared a communion of nature between the son and the parent.
GREGORY. (18 Moral. c. 52. super Job 28:19.) To distinguish His holiness from ours, Jesus is stated in an especial manner to be born holy. For we although indeed made holy, are not born so, for we are constrained by the very condition of our corruptible nature to cry out with the Prophet, Behold, I was conceived in iniquity. (Ps. 51:5.) But He alone is in truth holy, who was not conceived by the cementing of a fleshly union, nor as the heretics rave, one person in His human nature, another in His divine; not conceived and brought forth a mere man, and afterwards by his merits, obtained that He should be God, but the Angel announcing and the Spirit coming, first the Word in the womb, afterwards within the womb the Word made flesh. Whence it follows, Shall be called the Son of God.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Victor Presbyter.) But observe, how the Angel has declared the whole Trinity to the Virgin, making mention of the Holy Spirit, the Power, and the Most High, for the Trinity is indivisible.c
36. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
37. For with God nothing shall be impossible.
38. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
CHRYSOSTOM. (49 in Gen.) Seeing that his previous words had overcome the mind of the virgin, the angel drops his discourse to a humbler subject, persuading her by reference to sensible things. Hence he says, And, behold, Elisabeth thy cousin, &c. Mark the discretion of Gabriel; he did not remind her of Sarah, or Rebecca, or Rachel, because they were examples of ancient times, but he brings forward a recent event, that he might the more forcibly strike her mind. For this reason also he noticed the age, saying, She also hath conceived a son in her old age; and the natural infirmity also. As it follows, And this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For not immediately at the beginning of Elisabeth’s conception did he make this announcement, but after the space of six months, that the swelling of her womb might confirm its truth.
GREGORY NAZIANZEN. (Carm. 18. de Geneal. Christi.) But some one will ask, How is Christ related to David, since Mary sprang from the blood of Aaron, the angel having declared Elisabeth to be her kinswoman? But this was brought about by the Divine counsel, to the end that the royal race might be united to the priestly stock; that Christ, Who is both King and Priest, might be descended from both according to the flesh. For it is written, that Aaron, the first High Priest according to the law, took from the tribe of Judah for his wife Elisabeth, the daughter of Aminadab. (Exod. 6:23.) And observe the most holy administration of the Spirit, in ordering that the wife of Zacharias should be called Elisabeth, so bringing us back to that Elisabeth whom Aaron married.
BEDE. So it was then, lest the virgin should despair of being able to bear a son, that she received the example of one both old and barren about to bring forth, in order that she might learn that all things are possible with God, even those which seem to be opposed to the order of nature. Whence it follows, For there shall be no word (verbum) impossible with God.
CHRYSOSTOM. For the Lord of nature can do all things as He will, Who executes and disposes all things, holding the reins of life and death.
AUGUSTINE. (contra Faust. l. xxvi. c. 5.) But whoever says, “If God is omnipotent, let Him cause those things which have been done to have not been done,” does not perceive that he says, “Let Him cause those things which are true, in that very respect in which they are true to be false.” For He may cause a thing not to be which was, as when He makes a man who began to be by birth, not to be by death. But who can say that He makes not to be that which no longer is in being? For whatever is past is no longer in being. But if aught can happen to a thing, that thing is still in being to which any thing happens, and if it is, how is it past? Therefore that is not in being which we have truly said has been, because the truth is, in our opinions, not in that thing which no longer is. But this opinion God can not make false; and we do not so call God omnipotent as supposing also that He could die. He plainly is alone truly called omnipotent, who truly is, and by whom alone that is, whatever in any wise exists, whether spirit or body.
AMBROSE. Behold now the humility, the devotion of the virgin. For it follows, But Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord. She calls herself His handmaid, who is chosen to be His mother, so far was she from being exalted by the sudden promise. At the same time also by calling herself handmaid, she claimed to herself in no other way the prerogative of such great grace than that she might do what was commanded her. For about to bring forth One meek and lowly, she was bound herself to shew forth lowliness. As it follows, Be it unto me according to thy word. You have her submission, you see her wish. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, signifies the readiness of duty. Be it unto me according to thy word, the conception of the wish.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Geometer.) Some men will highly extol one thing, some another, in these words of the virgin. One man, for example, her constancy, another her willingness of obedience; one man her not being tempted by the great and glorious promises of the great archangel; another, her self-command in not giving an instant assent, equally avoiding both the heedlessness of Eve and the disobedience of Zacharias. But to me the depth of her humility is an object no less worthy of admiration
GREGORY. (sup.) Through an ineffable sacrament of a holy conception and a birth inviolable, agreeable to the truth of each nature, the same virgin was both the handmaid and mother of the Lord.
BEDE. Having received the consent of the virgin, the angel soon returns heavenward, as it follows, And the angel departed from her.
EUSEBIUS. (vel Geometer.) Not only having obtained what he wished, but wondering at her virgin beauty, and the ripeness of her virtue.
39. And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;
40. And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.
41. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
42. And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
43. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
44. For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
45. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
AMBROSE. The Angel, when he announced the hidden mysteries to the Virgin, that he might build up her faith by an example, related to her the conception of a barren woman. When Mary heard it, it was not that she disbelieved the oracle, or was uncertain about the messenger, or doubtful of the example, but rejoicing in the fulfilment of her wish, and consicentious in the observance of her duty, she gladly went forth into the hill country. For what could Mary now, filled with God, (plena Deo) but ascend into the higher parts with haste!
ORIGEN. For Jesus who was in her womb hastened to sanctify John, still in the womb of his mother. Whence it follows, with haste.
AMBROSE. The grace of the Holy Spirit knows not of slow workings. Learn, ye virgins, not to loiter in the streets, nor mix in public talk.
THEOPHYLACT. She went into the mountains, because Zacharias dwelt there. As it follows, To a city of Juda, and entered into the house of Zacharias. Learn, O holy women, the attention which ye ought to shew for your kinswomen with child. For Mary, who before dwelt alone in the secret of her chamber, neither virgin modesty caused to shrink from the public gaze, nor the rugged mountains from pursuing her purpose, nor the tediousness of the journey from performing her duty. Learn also, O virgins, the lowliness of Mary. She came a kinswoman to her next of kin, the younger to the elder, nor did she merely come to her, but was the first to give her salutations; as it follows, And she saluted Elisabeth. For the more chaste a virgin is, the more humble she should be, and ready to give way to her elders. Let her then be the mistress of humility, in whom is the profession of chastity. Mary is also a cause of piety, in that the higher went to the lower, that the lower might be assisted, Mary to Elisabeth, Christ to John.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. iv. in Matt.) Or else the Virgin kept to herself all those things which have been said, not revealing them to any one, for she did not believe that any credit would be given to her wonderful story; nay, she rather thought she would suffer reproach if she told it, as if wishing to screen her own guilt.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Geometer.) But to Elisabeth alone she has recourse, as she was wont to do from their relationship, and other close bonds of union.
AMBROSE. But soon the blessed fruits of Mary’s coming and our Lord’s presence are made evident. For it follows, And it came to pass, that when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb. Mark the distinction and propriety of each word. Elisabeth first heard the word, but John first experienced the grace. She heard by the order of nature, he leaped by reason of the mystery. She perceived the coming of Mary, he the coming of the Lord.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Geometer.) For the Prophet sees and hears more acutely than his mother, and salutes the chief of Prophets; but as he could not do this in words, he leaps in the womb, which was the greatest token of his joy. Who ever heard of leaping at a time previous to birth? Grace introduced things to which nature was a stranger. Shut up in the womb, the soldier acknowledged his Lord and King soon to be born, the womb’s covering being no obstacle to the mystical sight.
ORIGEN. (vid. etiam Tit. Bos.) He was not filled with the Spirit, until she stood near him who bore Christ in her womb. Then indeed he was both filled with the Spirit, and leaping imparted the grace to his mother; as it follows, And Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. But we cannot doubt that she who was then filled with the Holy Spirit, was filled because of her son.
AMBROSE. She who had hid herself because she conceived a son, began to glory that she carried in her womb a prophet, and she who had before blushed, now gives her blessing; as it follows, And she spake out with a loud voice, Blessed art thou among women. With a loud voice she exclaimed when she perceived the Lord’s coming, for she believed it to be a holy birth. But she says, Blessed art thou among women. For none was ever partaker of such grace or could be, since of the one Divine seed, there is one only parent.
BEDE. Mary is blessed by Elisabeth with the same words as before by Gabriel, to shew that she was to be reverenced both by men and angels.
THEOPHYLACT. But because there have been other holy women who yet have borne sons stained with sin, she adds, And blessed is the fruit of thy womb. Or another interpretation is, having said, Blessed art thou among women, she then, as if some one enquired the cause, answers, And blessed is the fruit of thy womb: as it is said, Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord. The Lord God, and he hath shewed us light; (Ps. 118:26, 27.) for the Holy Scriptures often use and, instead of because.
TITUS BOSTRENSIS. Now she rightly calls the Lord the fruit of the virgin’s womb, because He proceeded not from man, but from Mary alone. For they who are sown by their fathers are the fruits of their fathers.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Geometer.) This fruit alone then is blessed, because it is produced without man, and without sin.
BEDE. This is the fruit which is promised to David, Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne. (Ps. 132:11.)
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Severus.) From this place we derive the refutation of Eutyches, in that Christ is stated to be the fruit of the womb. For all fruit is of the same nature with the tree that bears it. It remains then that the virgin was also of the same nature with the second Adam, who takes away the sins of the world. But let those also who invent curious fictions concerning the flesh of Christ, blush when they hear of the real child-bearing of the mother of God. For the fruit itself proceeds from the very substance of the tree. Where too are those who say that Christ passed through the virgin as water through an aqueduct? Let these consider the words of Elisabeth who was filled with the Spirit, that Christ was the fruit of the womb. It follows, And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
AMBROSE. She says it not ignorantly, for she knew it was by the grace and operation of the Holy Spirit that the mother of the prophet should be saluted by the mother of his Lord, to the advancement and growth of her own pledge; but being aware that this was of no human deserving, but a gift of Divine grace, she therefore says, Whence is this to me, that is, By what right of mine, by what that I have done, for what good deeds?
ORIGEN. (non occ. vide Theoph. et. Tit. Bost.) Now in saying this, she coincides with her son. For John also felt that he was unworthy of our Lord’s coming to him. But she gives the name of “the mother of our Lord” to one still a virgin, thus forestalling the event by the words of prophecy. Divine foreknowledge brought Mary to Elisabeth, that the testimony of John might reach the Lord. For from that time Christ ordained John to be a prophet. Hence it follows, For, to, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded, &c.
AUGUSTINE. (Epist. ad Dardanum 57.) But in order to say this, as the Evangelist has premised, she was filled with the Holy Spirit, by whose revelation undoubtedly she knew what that leaping of the child meant; lamely, that the mother of Him had come unto her, whose forerunner and herald that child was to be. Such then night be the meaning of so great an event; to be known indeed by grown up persons, but not understood by a little child; for she said not, “The babe leaped in faith in my womb,” but leaped for joy. Now we see not only children leaping for joy, but even the cattle; not surely from any faith or religious feeling, or any rational knowledge. But this joy was strange and unwonted, for it was in the womb; and at the coming of her who was to bring forth the Saviour of the world. This joy, therefore, and as it were reciprocal salutation to the mother of the Lord, was caused (as miracles are) by Divine influences in the child, not in any human way by him. For even supposing the exercise of reason and the will had been so far advanced in that child, as that he should be able in the bowels of his mother to know, believe, and assent; yet surely that must be placed among the miracles of Divine power, not referred to human examples.
THEOPHYLACT. The mother of our Lord had come to see Elisabeth, as also the miraculous conception, from which the Angel had told her should result the belief of a far greater conception, to happen to herself; and to this belief the words of Elisabeth refer, And blessed art thou who hast believed, for there shall be a performance of those things which were told thee from the Lord.
AMBROSE. You see that Mary doubted not but believed, and therefore the fruit of faith followed.
BEDE. Nor is it to be wondered at, that our Lord, about to redeem the world, commenced His mighty works with His mother, that she, through whom the salvation of all men was prepared, should herself be the first to reap the fruit of salvation from her pledge.
AMBROSE. But happy are ye also who have heard and believed, for whatever soul hath believed, both conceives and brings forth the word of God, and knows His works.
BEDE. But every soul which has conceived the word of God in the heart, straightway climbs the lofty summits of the virtues by the stairs of love, so as to be able to enter into the city of Juda, (into the citadel of prayer and praise, and abide as it were for three months in it,) to the perfection of faith, hope, and charity.
GREGORY. (super Ezech. lib. i. Hom. i. 8.) She was touched with the spirit of prophecy at once, both as to the past, present, and future. She knew that Mary had believed the promises of the Angel; she perceived when she gave her the name of mother, that Many was carrying in her womb the Redeemer of mankind; and when she foretold that all things would be accomplished, she saw also what was to follow in the future.
46. And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord.
AMBROSE. As evil came into the world by a woman, so also is good introduced by women; and so it seems not without meaning, that both Elisabeth prophesies before John, and Mary before the birth of the Lord. But it follows, that as Mary was the greater person, so she uttered the fuller prophecy.
BASIL. (in Psalm 33) For the Virgin, with lofty thoughts and deep penetration, contemplates the boundless mystery, the further she advances, magnifying God; And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Athanasius.) As if she said, Marvellous things hath the Lord declared that He will accomplish in my body, but neither shall my soul be unfruitful before God. It becomes me to offer Him the fruit also of my will, for inasmuch as I am obedient to a mighty miracle, am I bound to glorify Him who performs His mighty works in me.
ORIGEN. Now if the Lord could neither receive increase or decrease, what is this that Mary speaks of, My soul doth magnify (magnificat) the Lord? But if I consider that the Lord our Saviour is the image of the invisible God, and that the soul is created according to His image, so as to be an image of an image, then I shall see plainly, that as after the manner of those who are accustomed to paint images, each one of us forming his soul after the image of Christ, makes it great or little, base or noble, after the likeness of the original; so when I have made my soul great in thought, word, and deed, the image of God is made great, and the Lord Himself, whose image it is, is magnified in my soul.
47. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
BASIL. (ubi sup.) The first-fruit of the Spirit is peace and joy. Because then the holy Virgin had drunk in all the graces of the Spirit, she rightly adds, And my spirit hath leaped for joy. (exultavit.) She means the same thing, soul and spirit. But the frequent mention of leaping for joy in the Scriptures implies a certain bright and cheerful state of mind in those who are worthy. Hence the Virgin exults in the Lord with an unspeakable springing (and bounding) of the heart for joy, and in the breaking forth into utterance of a noble affection. It follows, in God my Saviour.
BEDE. Because the spirit of the Virgin rejoices in the eternal Godhead of the same Jesus. (i. e. the Saviour,) whose flesh is formed in the womb by a temporal conception.
AMBROSE. The soul of Mary therefore magnifies the Lord, and her spirit rejoiced in God, because with soul and spirit devoted to the Father and the Son, she worships with a pious affection the one God from whom are all things. But let every one have the spirit of Mary, so that he may rejoice in the Lord. If according to the flesh there is one mother of Christ, yet, according to faith, Christ is the fruit of all. For every soul receives the word of God if only he be unspotted and free from sin, and preserves it with unsullied purity.
THEOPHYLACT. But he magnifies God who worthily follows Christ, and now that he is called Christian, lessens not the glory of Christ by acting unworthily, but does great and heavenly things; and then the Spirit (that is, the anointing of the Spirit) shall rejoice, (i. e. make him to prosper,) and shall not be withdrawn, so to say, and put to death.
BASIL. (ubi sup.) But if at any time light shall have crept into his heart, and loving God and despising bodily things he shall have gained the perfect standing of the just, without any difficulty shall he obtain joy in the Lord.
ORIGEN. But the soul first magnifies the Lord, that it may afterwards rejoice in God; for unless we have first believed, we can not rejoice.
48. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Isidore.) She gives the reason why it becomes her to magnify God and to rejoice in Him, saying, For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden; as if she said, “He Himself foresaw, therefore I did not look for Him.” I was content with things lowly, but now am I chosen unto counsels unspeakable, and raised up from the earth unto the stars.
AUGUSTINE. (Pseudo-Aug. Serm. de Assumpt 208.) O true lowliness, which hath borne God to men, hath given life to mortals, made new heavens and a pure earth, opened the gates of Paradise, and set free the souls of men. The lowliness of Mary was made the heavenly ladder, by which God descended upon earth. For what does regarded mean but “approved?” For many seem in my sight to be lowly, but their lowliness is not regarded by the Lord. For if they were truly lowly, their spirit would rejoice not in the world, but in God.
ORIGEN. But why was she lowly and cast down, who carried in her womb the Son of God? Consider that lowliness, which in the Scriptures is particularly praised as one of the virtues, is called by the philosophers “modestia.” And we also may paraphrase it, that state of mind in which a man instead of being puffed up, casts himself down.
BEDE. But she, whose humility is regarded, is rightly called blessed by all; as it follows, For, behold, from henceforth all shall call me blessed.
ATHANASIUS. For if as the Prophet says, Blessed are they who have seed in Sion, and kinsfolk in Jerusalem, (Isa. 31:9. apud LXX.) how great should be the celebration of the divine and ever holy Virgin Mary, who was made according to the flesh, the Mother of the Word?
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Metaphrastes.) She does not call herself blessed from vain glory, for what room is there for pride in her who named herself the handmaid of the Lord? But, touched by the Holy Spirit, she foretold those things which were to come.
BEDE. For it was fitting, that as by the pride of our first parent death came into the world, so by the lowliness of Mary should be opened the entrance into life.
THEOPHYLACT. And therefore she says, all generations, not only Elisabeth, but also every nation that believed.
49. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
THEOPHYLACT. The Virgin shews that not for her own virtue is she to be pronounced blessed, but she assigns the cause, saying, For he that is mighty hath magnified me.
AUGUSTINE. (sup.) What great things hath He done unto thee? I believe that a creature thou gavest birth to the Creator, a servant thou broughtest forth the Lord, that through thee God redeemed the world, through thee He restored it to life.
TITUS BOSTRENSIS. But where are the great things, if they be not that I still a virgin conceive (by the will of God) overcoming nature? I have been accounted worthy, without being joined to a husband, to be made a mother, not a mother of any one, but of the only-begotten Saviour.
BEDE. But this has reference to the beginning of the hymn, where it is said, My soul doth magnify the Lord. For that soul can alone magnify the Lord with due praise, for whom he deigus to do mighty things.
TITUS BOSTRENSIS. But she says, that is mighty, that if men should disbelieve the work of her conception, namely, that while yet a virgin, she conceived, she might throw back the miracles upon the power of the Worker. Nor because the only-begotten Son has come to a woman is He thereby defiled, for holy is his name.
BASIL. (in Ps. 33.) But holy is the name of God called, not because in its letters it contains any significant power, but because in whatever way we look at God we distinguish his purity and holiness.
BEDE. For in the height of His marvellous power He is far beyond every creature, and is widely removed from all the works of His hands. This is better understood in the Greek tongue, in which the very word which means holy, (ἅγιον) signifies as it were to be “apart from the earth.”
50. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
BEDE. Turning from God’s special gifts to His general dealings, she describes the condition of the whole human race, And his mercy is from generation to generation on them that fear him. As if she said, Not only for me hath He that is mighty done great things, but in every nation he that feareth God is accepted by Him.
ORIGEN. For the mercy of God is not upon one generation, but extends to eternity from generation to generation.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Victor Pres.) According to the mercy which He hath upon generations of generations, I conceive, and He Himself is united to a living body, out of mercy alone undertaking our salvation. Nor is His mercy shewn indiscriminately, but upon those who are constrained by the fear of Him in every nation; as it is said, upon those who fear him, that is, upon those who being brought by repentance are turned to faith and renewal for the obstinate unbelievers have by their sin shut against themselves the gate of mercy.
THEOPHYLACT. Or by this she means that they who fear shall obtain mercy, both in that generation, (that is, the present world,) and the generation which is to come, (i. e. the life everlasting.) For now they receive a hundred-fold, but hereafter far more. (Matt. 19:29.)
51. He hath shewed strength with his arm, he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
BEDE. In describing the state of mankind, she shews what the proud deserve, and what the humble; saying, He hath shewed strength with his arm, &c. i. e. with the very Son of God. For as your arm is that whereby you work, so the arm of God is said to be His word by whom He made the world.
ORIGEN. But to those that fear Him, He hath done mighty things with His arm; though thou comest weak to God, if thou hast feared Him thou shalt obtain the promised strength.
THEOPHYLACT. For in His arm, that is, His incarnate Son, He hath shewed strength, seeing that nature was vanquished, a virgin bringing forth, and God becoming man.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Photius.) Or she says, Hath shewed, for will shew strength, not as long ago by the hand of Moses against the Egyptians, nor as by the Angel, (when he slew many thousand of the rebel Assyrians,) nor by any other instrument save His own power, He openly triumphed, overcoming spiritual (intelligibiles) enemies. Hence it follows, he hath scattered, &c. that is to say, every heart that was puffed up and not obedient to His coming He hath laid bare, and exposed the wickedness of their proud thoughts.
CYRIL OF JERUSALEM. But these words may be more appropriately taken to refer to the hostile ranks of the evil spirits. For they were raging on the earth, when our Lord’s coming put them to flight, and restored those whom they had bound, to His obedience.
THEOPHYLACT. This might also be understood of the Jews whom He scattered into all lands as they are now scattered.
52. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
BEDE. The words, He hath shewed strength with his arm, and those which went before, And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation, must be joined to this verse by a comma only. For truly through all generations of the world, by a merciful and just administration of Divine power, the proud do not cease to fall, and the humble to be exalted. As it is said, He hath put down the mighty from their seat, he hath exalted the humble and meek.
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. The mighty in knowledge were the evil spirits, the Devil, the wise ones of the Gentiles, the Scribes and Pharisees; yet these He hath put down, and raised up those who humbled themselves under the mighty hand of God (1 Pet. 5:6); giving them the power of treading upon serpents and scorpions and every power of the enemy. (Luke 10:19.) The Jews were also at one time puffed up with power, but unbelief slew them, and the mean and lowly of the Gentiles have through faith climbed up to the highest summit.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Macarius ex Serm. 1.) For our understanding is acknowledged to be the judgment-seat of God, but after the transgression, the powers of evil took their seat in the heart of the first man as on their own throne. For this reason then the Lord came and cast out the evil spirits from the seat of our will, and raised up those who were vanquished by devils, purging their consciences, and making their hearts his own dwelling place.
53. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
GLOSS. (non occ.) Because human prosperity seems to consist chiefly in the honours of the mighty and the abundance of their riches, after speaking of the casting down of the mighty, and the exalting of the humble, he goes on to tell of the impoverishing of the rich and the filling of the poor, He hath filled the hungry, &c.
BASIL. (ubi sup.) These words regulate our conduct even with respect to sensible things, teaching the uncertainty of all worldly possessions, which are as shortlived as the wave which is dashed about to and fro by the violence of the wind. But spiritually all mankind suffered hunger except the Jews; for they possessed the treasures of legal tradition and the teachings of the holy prophets. But because they did not rest humbly on the Incarnate Word, they were sent away empty, carrying nothing with them, neither faith nor knowledge, and were bereft of the hope of good things, being shut out both of the earthly Jerusalem, and the life to come. But those of the Gentiles, who were brought low by hunger and thirst, because they clung to the Lord, were filled with spiritual goods.
GLOSS. (ordin.) They also who desire eternal life with their whole soul, as it were hungering after it, shall be filled when Christ shall appear in glory; but they who rejoice in earthly things, shall at the end be sent away emptied of all happiness.
54. He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
55. As he spake to our fathers, Abraham, and to his seed for ever.
GLOSS. (non occ.) After a general mention of the Divine mercy and holiness, the Virgin changes the subject to the strange and marvellous dispensation of the new incarnation, saying, He hath holpen his servant Israel, &c. as a physician relieves the sick, becoming visible among men, that He might make Israel (i. e. him who sees God) His servant.
BEDE. That is, obedient and humble; for he who disdains to be made humble, cannot be saved.
BASIL. (non occ.) For by Israel she means not Israel after the flesh, whom their own title made noble, but the spiritual Israel, which retained the name of faith, straining their eyes to see God by faith.
THEOPHYLACT. (vide etiam Tit. Bost.) It might also be applied to Israel after the flesh, seeing that out of that body multitudes believed. But this He did remembering His mercy, for He hath fulfilled what He promised to Abraham, saying, For in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed. (Gen. 12:3.) This promise then the mother of God called to mind, saying, As he spake to our father Abraham; (Gen. 17:12.) for it was said to Abraham, I will place my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, for an eternal covenant, that I shall be thy God, and the God of thy seed after thee.
BEDE. But by seed he means not so much those who are begotten in the flesh, as those who have followed the steps of Abraham’s faith, to whom the Saviour’s coming was promised for evermore.
GLOSS. (ordin.) For this promise of heritage shall not be narrowed by any limits, but to the very end of time there shall never lack believers, the glory of whose happiness shall be everlasting.
56. And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
AMBROSE. Mary abode with Elisabeth until she had accomplished the time of her bringing forth; as it is said, And Mary abode, &c.
THEOPHYLACT. For in the sixth month of the conception of the forerunner, the Angel came to Mary, and she abode with Elisabeth three months, and so the nine months are completed.
AMBROSE. Now it was not only for the sake of friendship that she abode so long, but for the increase also of so great a prophet. For if at her first coming the child had so far advanced, that at the salutation of Mary he leaped in the womb, and his mother was filled with the Holy Spirit, how much must we suppose the presence of the Virgin Mary to have added during the experience of so long a time? Rightly then is she represented as having shewn kindness to Elisabeth, and preserved the mystical number.
BEDE. For the chaste soul which conceives a desire of the spiritual word must of necessity submit to the yoke of heavenly discipline, and sojourning for the days as it were of three months in the same place, cease not to persevere until it is illuminated by the light of faith, hope, and charity.
THEOPHYLACT. But when Elisabeth was going to bring forth, the Virgin departed, as it follows, And she returned; or, probably because of the multitude, who were about to assemble at the birth. But it became not a virgin to be present on such an occasion.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Metaphrastes.) For it is the custom for virgins to go away when the pregnant woman brings forth. But when she reached her own home, she went to no other place, but abode there until she knew the time of her delivery was at hand. And Joseph doubting, is instructed by an Angel.
57. Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son.
58. And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her.
AMBROSE. If you carefully observe, you will find that the word signifying fulness is no where used except at the birth of the righteous. Hence it is said, Now Elisabeth’s full time came. For the life of the righteous hath fulness, but the days of the wicked are empty.
CHRYSOSTOM. And for that reason the Lord kept back the delivery of Elisabeth, that her joy might be increased, and her fame the greater. Hence it follows, And her neighbours and cousins heard, &c. For they who had known her barrenness were made the witnesses of the Divine grace, and no one seeing the child departed in silence, but gave praise to God, Who had vouchsafed him beyond their expectation.
AMBROSE. For the bringing forth of saints causes the rejoicing of many; it is a common blessing; for justice is a public virtue, and therefore at the birth of a just man a sign of his future life is sent beforehand, and the grace of the virtue which is to follow is represented, being foreshadowed by the rejoicing of the neighbours.
59. And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father.
60. And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John.
61. And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name.
62. And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called.
63. And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all.
64. And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God.
CHRYSOSTOM. (in Gen. Hom. 39.) The rite of circumcision was first delivered to Abraham as a sign of distinction, that the race of the Patriarch might be preserved in unmixed purity, and so might be able to obtain the promises. But now that the promise of the covenant is fulfilled, the sign attached to it is removed. So then through Christ circumcision ceased, and baptism came in its place; but first it was right that John should be circumcised; as it is said, And it came to pass, that on the eighth day, &c. For the Lord had said, Let the child of eight days be circumcised among you. (Gen. 17:13.) But this measurement of time I conceive was ordered by Divine mercy for two reasons. First, because in its most tender years the child the more easily bears the cutting of the flesh. Secondly, that from the very operation itself we might be reminded that it was done for a sign; for the young child scarcely distinguishes any of the things that are around him. But after the circumcision, the name was conferred, as it follows, And they called him. But this was done because we must first receive the seal of the Lord, then the name of man. Or, because no man except he first cast aside his fleshly lusts, which circumcision signifies, is worthy to have his name written in the book of life.
AMBROSE. The holy Evangelist has especially remarked, that many thought the child should be called after his father Zacharias, in order that we might understand, not that any name of his kinsfolk was displeasing to his mother, but that the same word had been communicated to her by the Holy Spirit, which had been foretold by the Angel to Zacharias. And in truth, being dumb, Zacharias was unable to mention his son’s name to his wife, but Elisabeth obtained by prophecy what she had not learnt from her husband. Hence it follows, And she answered, &c. Marvel not that the woman pronounced the name which she had never heard, seeing the Holy Spirit who imparted it to the Angel revealed it to her; nor could she be ignorant of the forerunner of the Lord, who had prophesied of Christ. And it well follows, And they said unto her, &c. that you might consider that the name belongs not to the family, but to the Prophet. Zacharias also is questioned, and signs made to him, as it follows, And they made signs to the father, &c. But since unbelief had so bereft him of utterance and hearing, that he could not use his voice, he spoke by his hand-writing, as it follows, And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John; that is, we give no name to him who has received his name from God.
ORIGEN. (non occ.) Zacharias is by interpretation “remembering God,” but John signifies “pointing to.” Now “memory” relates to something absent, “pointing to,” to something present. But John was not about to set forth the memory of God as absent, but with his finger to point him out as present, saying, Behold the Lamb of God.
CHRYSOSTOM. But the name John is also interpreted the grace of God. Because then by the favour of Divine grace, not by nature, Elisabeth conceived this son, they engraved the memory of the benefit on the name of the child.
THEOPHYLACT. And because with the mother the dumb father also agreed as to the name of the child, it follows, And they all marvelled. For there was no one of this name among their kinsfolk that any one could say that they had both previously determined upon it.
GREGORY NAZIANZEN. (Orat. vi.) The birth of John then broke the silence of Zacharias, as it follows, And his mouth was opened. For it were unreasonable when the voice of the Word had come forth, that his father should remain speechless.
AMBROSE. Rightly also, from that moment was his tongue loosed, for that which unbelief had bound, faith set free. Let us then also believe, in order that our tongue, which has been bound by the chains of unbelief, may be loosed by the voice of reason. Let us write mysteries by the Spirit if we wish to speak. Let us write the forerunner of Christ, not on tables of stone, but on the fleshly tablets of the heart. For he who names John, prophesies Christ. For it follows, And he spake, giving thanks.
BEDE. Now in an allegory, the celebration of John’s birth was the beginning of the grace of the New Covenant. His neighbours and kinsfolk had rather give him the name of his father than that of John. For the Jews, who by the observance of the Law were united to him as it were by ties of kindred, chose rather to follow the righteousness which is of the Law, than receive the grace of faith. But the name of John, (i. e. the grace of God,) his mother in word, his father in writing, suffice to announce, for both the Law itself as well as the Psalms and the Prophecies, in the plainest language foretel the grace of Christ; and that ancient priesthood, by the foreshadowing of its ceremonies and sacrifices, bears testimony to the same. And well doth Zacharias speak on the eighth day of the birth of his child, for by the resurrection of the Lord, which took place on the eighth day, i. e. the day after the sabbath, (septimam sabbati.) the hidden secrets of the legal priesthood were revealed.
65. And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judæa.
66. And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him.
THEOPHYLACT. As at the silence of Zacharias the people marvelled, so likewise when he spoke. Hence it is said, And fear came upon all; that from these two circumstances all might believe there was something great in the child that was born. But all these things were ordained, to the end that he who was to bear witness of Christ might also be esteemed trustworthy. Hence it follows, And all they that heard them laid them up in their heart, saying, What manner of child, &c.
BEDE. For forerunning signs prepare the way for the forerunner of the truth, and the future prophet is recommended by auspices sent before him; hence it follows, For the hand of the Lord was with him.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Metaphrastes.) For God worked miracles in John which he did not himself, but the right hand of God in him.
GLOSS. (ordin.) But mystically, at the time of our Lord’s resurrection, by the preaching of the grace of Christ, a wholesome dread shook the hearts not only of the Jews, (who were neighbours, either from the place of their dwelling, or from the knowledge of the law,) but of the foreign nations also. The name of Christ surmounts not only the hilly country of Judæa, but all the heights of worldly dominion and wisdom.
67. And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying,
68. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people.
AMBROSE. God in His mercy and readiness to pardon our sins, not only restores to us what He has taken away, but grants us favours even beyond our expectations. Let no one then distrust Him, let no one from consciousness of past sins despair of the Divine blessing. God knoweth how to change His sentence, if thou hast known how to correct thy sin, seeing he that was long silent prophesies; as it is said, And Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit.
CHRYSOSTOM. That is, “with the working of the Holy Spirit;” for he had obtained the grace of the Holy Spirit, not in any manner, but fully; and the gift of prophecy shone forth in him; as it follows, And he prophesied.
ORIGEN. Now Zacharias being filled with the Holy Spirit utters two prophecies, the first relating to Christ, the second to John. And this is plainly proved by those words in which he speaks of the Saviour as present and already going about in the world, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he hath visited, &c.
CHRYSOSTOM. Zacharias, when he is blessing God, says, that He hath visited His people, meaning thereby either the Israelites in the flesh, for He came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; (Matt. 15:24.) or the spiritual Israel, that is, the faithful, who were worthy of this visitation, making the providence of God of good effect towards them.
BEDE. But the Lord visited His people who were pining away as it were from long sickness, and by the blood of His only begotten Son, redeemed them who were sold under sin. Which thing Zacharias, knowing that it would soon be accomplished, relates in the prophetic manner as if it were already passed. But he says, His people, not that when He came He found them His own, but that by visiting He made them so.
69. And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.
THEOPHYLACT. God seemed to be asleep, disregarding the sins of the multitude, but in these last times coming in the flesh, He hath risen up and trodden down the evil spirits who hated us. Hence it is said, And he hath raised up an horn of salvation to us in the house of his servant David.
ORIGEN. Because Christ was born of the seed of David, according to the flesh, it is said, A horn of salvation to us in the house of his servant David; as it has also elsewhere been said, A vineyard hath been planted in a horn, (Is. 5:1.) i. e. in Jesus Christ.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Serm. de Anna. IV.) Now by a horn he means power, glory, and honour, deriving it metaphorically from the brute creatures, to whom God has given horns for defence and glory.
BEDE. The kingdom of our Saviour Christ is called also the horn of salvation, because all our bones are clothed with flesh, but the horn alone stretches beyond the flesh; so the kingdom of Christ is called the horn of salvation, as reaching beyond the world and the delights of the flesh. According to which figure David and Solomon were consecrated by the horn of oil to the glory of the kingdom.
70. As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets which have been since the world began.
THEOPHYLACT. That Christ was born of the house of David, Micah relates, saying, And thou, Bethlehem, art not the least in the city of Juda, for out of thee shall come a governor who shall rule my people Israel. (Micah 5:2.) But all the prophets spoke of the Incarnation, and therefore it is said, As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Victor Presbyter.) Whereby he means that God spoke through them, and that their speech was not of man.
BEDE. But he says, Which have been since the world began. Because all the Scriptures of the Old Testament were a constant prophecy of Christ. For both our father Adam himself, and the other fathers, by their deeds bore testimony to His dispensation.
71. That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us.
BEDE. Having first briefly said, He hath raised up a horn of salvation to us, he goes on to explain his words, adding, of salvation from our enemies. As if he said, He hath raised up to us a horn, i. e. He hath raised up to us salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us.
ORIGEN. Let us not suppose that this refers to our bodily enemies, but our ghostly. For the Lord Jesus came mighty in battle (Ps. 24:8) to destroy all our enemies, that He might deliver us from their snares and temptation.
72. To perform the mercy promised to our forefathers, and to remember his holy covenant;
73. The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,
74. That he would grant unto us.
BEDE. Having announced that the Lord, according to the declaration of the Prophet, would be born of the house of David, he now says, that the same Lord to fulfil the covenant He made with Abraham will deliver us, because chiefly to these patriarchs of Abraham’s seed was promised the gathering of the Gentiles, or the incarnation of Christ. But David is put first, because to Abraham was promised the holy assembly of the Church; whereas to David it was told that from him Christ was to be born. And therefore after what was said of David, he adds concerning Abraham the words, To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, &c.
ORIGEN. I think that at the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, both Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were partakers of His mercy. For it is not to be believed, that they who had before seen His day, and were glad, should afterwards derive no advantage from His coming, since it is written, Having made peace through the blood of his Cross, whether in earth or in heaven. (Coloss. 1:20.)
THEOPHYLACT. The grace of Christ extends even to those who are dead, because through Him we shall rise again, not only we, but they also who have been dead before us. He performed His mercy also to our forefathers in fulfilling all their hopes and desires. Hence it follows, And to remember his holy covenant, that covenant, namely, wherein he said, Blessing, I will bless thee, and multiplying, I will multiply thee. (Gen. 22:17.) For Abraham was multiplied in all nations, who became his children by adoption, through following the example of his faith. But the fathers also, seeing their children enjoy these blessings, rejoice together with them, just as if they received the mercy in themselves. Hence it follows, The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, that he would grant unto us.
BASIL. (Hom. in Ps. 29. et in Ps. 14. App. op.) But let no one, hearing that the Lord had sworn to Abraham, be tempted to swear. For as when the wrath of God is spoken of, it does not signify passion but punishment; so neither dos God swear as man, but His word is in very truth expressed to us in place of an oath, confirming by an unchangeable sentence what He promised.
74. That we, being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear.
CHRYSOSTOM. Having said that a horn of salvation had risen up to us from the house of David, he shews that through it we are partakers of His glory, and escape the assaults of the enemy. As he says, That being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, we might serve him without fear. The two things above mentioned will not easily be found united. For many escape danger, but fail of a glorious life, as criminals discharged from prison by the king’s mercy. On the other hand, some reap glory, but are compelled for its sake to encounter dangers, as soldiers in war embracing a life of honour are oftentimes in the greatest peril. But the horn brings both safety and glory. Safety indeed as it rescues us from the hands of our enemies, not slightly but in a wonderful manner, insomuch that we have no more fear, which arc his very words; that being delivered from the hand of our enemies, we might serve him without fear.
ORIGEN. Or in another way; Frequently are men delivered from the hands of the enemy, but not without fear. For when fear and peril have gone before, and a man is then plucked from the enemies’ hand, he is delivered indeed, but not without fear. Therefore said he, that the coming of Christ caused us to be snatched from the enemies’ hands without fear. For we suffered not from their evil designs, but He suddenly parting us from them, hath led us out to our own allotted resting place.
75. In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.
CHRYSOSTOM. Zacharias glorifies the Lord, because He hath made us to serve Him with full confidence, not in the flesh as Judah did with the blood of victims, but in the spirit with good works. And this is what he means by in holiness and righteousness. For holiness is, a proper observance of our duty towards God, righteousness of our duty towards man; as, for example, when a man devoutly performs the Divine commands, and lives honourably among his fellow men. But he does not say “before men,” as of hypocrites desirous to please men, but “before God,” as of those whose praise is not of men, but of God; (Rom. 2:29.) and this not once or for a time; but all the days of their life, as it is said, all our days.
BEDE. For whosoever either departs from God’s service before he dies, or by any uncleanness stains either the strictness or purity of his faith, or strives to be holy and righteous before men, and not before God, does not yet serve the Lord in perfect freedom from the hand of his spiritual enemies, but after the example of the old Samaritans endeavours to serve equally the Gods of the Gentiles, and his Lord.
76. And thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways.
AMBROSE. In prophesying of the Lord he rightly addresses the prophet, shewing that prophecy also is a gift of the Lord, in order that he might not, while enumerating public benefits, seem to be so ungrateful as to be silent of his own. Hence it is said, And thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest.
ORIGEN. The reason I suppose that Zacharias hastened to speak to his son, was because he knew that John was shortly about to be a sojourner in the wilderness, and that he himself should see him no more.
AMBROSE. Now perhaps some may think it an absurd extravagance of the mind to address a child of eight days old. But if we keep our eyes fixed upon higher things, we surely can understand that the son might hear the voice of his father, who before he was born heard the salutation of Mary. The Prophet knew that there were certain organs of hearing in a Prophet which were unclosed by the Spirit of God, not by the growth of the body. He possessed the faculty of understanding who was moved by the feeling of exultation.
BEDE. Unless indeed Zacharias be supposed to have wished as soon as he was able to speak, to proclaim for their instruction who were present, the future gifts of his son, which he had long before learnt from the Angel. Let the Arians however hear that our Lord Christ, whom John went before prophesying of Him, Zacharias calls “the Most High,” as it is said in the Psalms, A man was born in her, and the most highest has established her. (Ps. 87:5.)
CHRYSOSTOM. But as kings have their companions in arms, who stand nearest to them, so John, who was the friend of the Bridegroom, went before Him nigh unto His coming. And this is what follows, For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways. For some prophets have preached the mystery of Christ at a distance, but he preached it nearer the time, that he might both see Christ, and declare Him to others.
GREGORY. (xix. Mor. sup. Job 28:23.) But all they who by preaching cleanse the hearts of their hearers from the filth of their sins, prepare a way for the coming of wisdom into the heart.
77. To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins.
THEOPHYLACT. For the manner in which the forerunner prepared the way of the Lord he explains, adding, To give knowledge of salvation. The Lord Jesus is salvation, but the knowledge of salvation, i. e. of Christ, was given in John, who bore witness of Christ.
BEDE. For as if desiring to explain the name of Jesus, i. e. the Saviour, he frequently makes mention of salvation, but lest men should think it was a temporal salvation which was promised, he adds, for the forgiveness of sins.
THEOPHYLACT. For in no other way was He known to be God, but as having forgiven the sins of His people. For it is of God alone to forgive sins.
BEDE. But the Jews prefer not to receive Christ, but to wait for Antichrist; for they desire to be delivered not from the dominion of sin within, but from the yoke of man’s bondage without.
78.Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us.
THEOPHYLACT. Because God hath forgiven our sins not for our works’ sake, but through His mercy, it is therefore fitly added, Through the tender mercy of our God.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. xiv. in Matt.) Which mercy we find not indeed by our own seeking, but God from on high hath appeared to us, as it follows; Whereby (i. e. by His tender mercy) the dayspring from on high (that is, Christ) hath visited us, taking upon Him our flesh.
GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Severus.) Abiding on high yet present upon the earth, suffering neither division nor limitation, which thing neither can our understanding embrace, nor any power of words express.
79.To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
BEDE. Christ is rightly called the Day-spring, because He hath disclosed to us the rising of the true light, as it follows; To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
CHRYSOSTOM. (ubi sup.) By darkness he means not material darkness, but error and distance from the faith, or ungodliness.
BASIL. (sup. Esai. c. ii) For in thick darkness were the Gentile people sitting, who were sunk deep in idolatry, until the rising light dispersed the darkness, and spread abroad the brightness of truth.
GREGORY. (iv. Moral. sup. Job 3:5.) But the shadow of death is taken to mean the forgetfulness of the mind. For as death causes that which it kills to be no longer in life, so whatever oblivion touches ceases to be in the memory. Hence the Jewish people who were forgetful of God are said to sit in the shadow of death. The shadow of death is taken also for the death of the flesh, because as that is the true death, by which the soul is separated from God, so that is the shadow of death by which the flesh is separated from the soul. Hence in the words of the martyrs it is said, the shadow of death has come over us. (Ps. 44:19.) By the shadow of death also is represented the following of the devil, who is called Death (Rev. 6:8.) in the Revelations, because as a shadow is formed according to the quality of the body, so the actions of the wicked are expressed according to the manner of their following him.
CHRYSOSTOM. (ut sup.) He rightly says sitting, for we were not walking in darkness, but sitting down as having no hope of deliverance.
THEOPHYLACT. But not only does the Lord at His rising give light to those who sit in darkness, but he says something further as it follows, to direct our feet in the way of peace. The way of peace is the way of righteousness, to which He has directed our feet, i. e. the affections of our souls.
GREGORY. (Hom. 33. in Evang.) For we guide our steps in the way of peace, when we walk in that line of conduct wherein we depart not from the grace of our Maker.
AMBROSE. Mark also, in how few words Elisabeth prophesies, in how many Zacharias, and yet each spoke filled with the Holy Spirit; but this discipline is preserved, that women may study rather to learn what are the Divine commands than to teach them.
80. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.
BEDE. The future preacher of repentance, that he might the more boldly reclaim his hearers from the allurements of the world, passes the first part of his life in the deserts. Hence it is said, And the child grew.
THEOPHYLACT. i. e. in bodily stature, and waxed strong in spirit, for together with his body at the same time his spiritual gift increased, and the workings of the Spirit were more and more manifested in him.
ORIGEN. Or he increased in spirit, remaining not in the same measure in which he had begun, but the Spirit was ever growing in him. His will ever tending to better things, was making its own advances, and his mind ever contemplating something more divine, while his memory was exercising itself, that it might lay up more and more things in its treasury, and more firmly retain them. But he adds, And he waxed strong. For human nature is weak, as we learn, the flesh is weak. (Matt. 26:41.) It must therefore be made strong by the Spirit, for the Spirit is ready. Many wax strong in the flesh, but the wrestler of God must be strengthened by the Spirit that he may crush the wisdom of the flesh. He retires therefore to escape the noise of cities, and the thronging of the people. For it follows, And he was in the deserts. Where the air is purer, the sky more clear, and God a closer friend, that as the time had not yet arrived for his baptism and preaching, he might have leisure for praying, and might hold converse with the angels, calling upon God and fearing Him, saying, Behold, here am I.
THEOPHYLACT. Or, he was in the deserts that he might be brought up beyond the reach of the malice of the multitude, and not be afraid of man. For if he had been in the world, perchance he had been corrupted by the friendship and conversation of the world. And secondly, that he who was to preach Christ might also be esteemed trust-worthy. But he was hid in the desert until it pleased God to shew him forth to the people of Israel, as it follows, till the day of his shewing forth to Israel.
AMBROSE. And rightly is the time noted during which the prophet was in the womb, in order that the presence of Mary might not be passed over, while they are silent about the time of his childhood, because being strengthened in the womb by the presence of the Mother of the Lord, he knew not the struggles of childhood.
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