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HAYDOCK CATHOLIC BIBLE COMMENTARY ON THE NEW TESTAMENT
Ver. 1. King Herod the Great, surnamed Ascalonite, was a foreigner, but a proselyte to the Jewish religion. S. Jerom. — This city is called Bethlehem of Juda, to distinguish it from another Bethlehem, which was situated in the division of the tribe of Zabulon. A. — Wise men. Both the Latin and Greek text may signify wise philosophers and astronomers, which is the common exposition. The same word is also many times taken for a magician or soothsayer, as it is applied to Simon, (Acts viii. 9,) and to Elymas, Acts xiii, v. 6. and 8. Some ancient interpreters think these very men might have been magicians before their conversion. See a Lapide, &c. — From the east. Some say from Arabia, others from Chaldea, others from Persia. Divers interpreters speak of them as if they had been kings, princes, or lords of some small territories. See Baron. an. i. sect. 29. Tillemont, note 12. on Jesus Christ. The number of these wise men is uncertain. S. Leo, in his sermons on the Epiphany, speaks of them as if they had been three, perhaps on account of their three-fold offerings. What is mentioned in later writers as their names, is still of less authority, as Bollandus observed. There are also very different opinions as to the time that the star appeared to these wise men, whether before Christ's birth, or about the very time he was born, which seems more probable. The interpreters are again divided as to the year, and day of the year, when they arrived at Bethlehem, and adored the Saviour of the world. Some think not till two years after Christ's birth. See S. Epiphan. hær. xxx. num. 29. p. 134. And S. Jerom puts the massacre of the Holy Innocents about that time in his chronicle. But taking it for granted that the wise men came to Jerusalem and to Bethlehem the same year that Christ was born, it is not certain on what day of the year they adored him at Bethlehem. It is true the Latin Church, ever since the 4th or 5th age, has kept the feast of the Epiphany on the 6th day of January. But when it is said in that day's office, This day a star led the wise men to the manger, it may bear this sense only, this day we keep the remembrance of it; especially since we read in a sermon of S. Maximus (appointed to be read in the Roman Breviary on the 5th day within the octave of the Epiphany) these words: What happened on this day, he knows that wrought it; whatever it was, we cannot doubt it was done in favour of us. The wise men, by the 11th verse, found Jesus at Bethlehem, where his blessed mother was to remain forty days, till the time of her purification was expired. And it seems most probable that the wise men came to Bethlehem about that time, rather than within thirteen days after Christ's birth: for had they come so soon after Christ was born, and been directed to go, and make diligent inquiry at Bethlehem, which was not above five miles from Jerusalem, it can scarcely be imagined that so suspicious and jealous a prince as Herod was, would have waited almost a month for their return without searching for the new-born king. But it is likely, being again alarmed by what happened when Jesus was presented in the temple at his mother's purification, he thereupon gave those cruel and barbarous orders for the massacre of those innocent infants. Wi.
Ver. 2. We have seen his star. They knew it to be his star, either by some prophecy among them, or by divine revelation. This star was some lightsome body in the air, which at last seemed to point to them the very place where the world's Redeemer lay. We know not whether it guided them during the whole course of their journey from the East to Jerusalem. We read nothing more in the gospel, but that it appeared to them in the East, and that they saw it again, upon their leaving Jerusalem to go to Bethlehem. Wi. — The wise men, in the Syrian tongue maguscha, are supposed to have come from Stony Arabia, near the Euphrates. They might have preserved in this country the remembrance of the prophecy of Balaam, which had announced the coming of the Messias by the emblem of a star, (Num. xxiv. 17.) which was to arise from Jacob. The star which appeared then, was the symbol of the star which Balaam had predicted. A.
Ver. 3. Through fear of losing his kingdom, he being a foreigner, and had obtained the sovereignty by violence. But why was all Jerusalem to be alarmed at the news of a king so long and so ardently expected? 1. Because the people, well acquainted with the cruelty of Herod, feared a more galling slavery. 2. Through apprehension of riots, and of a revolution, which could not be effected without bloodshed, as the Romans had such strong hold. They had also been so worn down with perpetual wars, that the most miserable servitude, with peace, was to the Jews an object rather of envy than deprecation. A.
Ver. 6. And thou Bethlehem, &c. This was a clear prophecy concerning the Messias, foretold by Micheas; (c. v. 2,) yet the words which we read in the evangelist are not quite the same as we find in the prophet, either according to the Hebrew or to the Greek text of the Sept. The chief difference is, that in the prophet we read: And thou Bethlehem art little; but in the evangelist, thou art not the least. Some answer that the words of the prophet are to be expounded by way of an interrogation, art thou little? It is certain the following words, both in the prophet and in the gospel, out of thee shall come forth a leader or a captain, &c. shew that the meaning is, thou art not little. S. Jerom's observation seems to clear this point: he tells us, that the Jewish priests, who were consulted, gave Herod the sense, and not the very words of the prophet; and the evangelist, as an historian, relates to us the words of these priests to Herod, no the very words of the prophet. Wi. — The testimony of the chief priests proves that this text of Micheas was even then generally applied to the Messias, and that to Him alone it must be referred according to the letter. V.
Ver. 11. And going into the house. Several of the Fathers in their homilies, represent the wise men adoring Jesus in the stable, and in the manger. yet others, with S. Chrys. take notice, that before their arrival, Jesus might be removed into some little house in Bethlehem. — Prostrating themselves, or falling down, they adored him, not with a civil worship only, but enlightened by divine inspiration, they worshipped and adored him as their Saviour and their God. — Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Divers of the ancient Fathers take notice of the mystical signification of these offerings; that by gold was signified the tribute they paid to him, as to their king; by incense, that he was God; and by myrrh, (with which dead bodies used to be embalmed) that now he was also become a mortal man. See S. Amb. l. 2. in Luc. c. ii. S. Greg. &c. Wi. — The Church sings, "hodie stella Magos duxit ad præsepium," but it is not probable that the blessed Virgin should remain so long in the open stable, and the less so, because the multitude, who hindered Joseph from finding accommodations either among his relatives or in the public caravansaries, had returned to their own homes. E. — They adored Him. Therefore, in the eucharist also, Christ is to be adored. For it is of no consequence under what appearance he is pleased to give himself to us, whether that of a perfect man, a speechless child as here, or under the appearance of bread and wine, provided it is evident that he is there; for in whatever manner or place he appears, he is true God, and for that alone he is to be adored. Frivolous is the objection of certain sectarists, that Christ does not give himself to us in the blessed eucharist to be adored, but to be eaten. For Christ was not in Bethlehem, nor did he descend from heaven to be adored: He tells us in the xxth chap. of Matthew, v. 28, that the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister; yet he was adored on earth, even while he was in his mortal state, by the magi, by his disciples, by the blind man that was cured of his blindness, &c. &c. "Let us imitate the magi. Thou seest him not now in the crib, but on the altar; not a woman holding him, but the priest present, and the Holy Ghost poured out abundantly upon the sacrifice." S. Chrys. hom. xxiv. in 1 Cor. Hom. vii. de Sancto Philog.
Ver. 14. It is very probable that Joseph, with Jesus and his Mother, remained in some part of Egypt, where the Jews were settled, as at Alexandria. That many Jews dwelt in Egypt, particularly from the time of the prophet Jeremy, is evident from Josephus, and also from the first chapter of the second book of Machab. Mention is also made of them in Acts ii. and Act. iv. under the name of Alexandrines.
Ver. 15. Out of Egypt have I called my son. S. Jerom understands these words to be taken out of the prophet Osee, (C. xi. 2.) and granted they might be literally spoken of the people of Israel: yet as their captivity in Egypt was a figure of the slavery of sin, under which all mankind groaned, and as their delivery by Moses was a figure of man's redemption by our Saviour Christ, so these words in a mystical and spiritual sense apply to our Saviour, who in a more proper sense was the Son of God, than was the people of Israel. Wi. — The application of this passage of the prophet to Christ, whereas in the simple letter it might appear otherwise, teaches us how to interpret the Old Testament; and that the principal sense is of Christ and his Church. B.
Ver. 16. By this example, we learn how great credit we owe to the Church in canonizing saints, and celebrating their holydays: by whose only warrant, without any word of Scripture, these holy Innocents have been honoured as martyrs, and their holyday kept ever since the apostles' time, although they died not voluntarily, nor all, perhaps, circumcised, and some even children of pagans. Aug. ep. 28. Orig. hom. iii. in diversos. B.
Ver. 18. A voice was heard in Rama. S. Jerom takes Rama, not for the name of any city, but for a high place, as appears by his Latin translation. Jerem. xxxi. 15. But in all Greek copies here in S. Matthew, and in the Sept. in Jeremy, we find the word itself Rama, so that it must signify a particular city. Rachel, who was buried at Bethlehem, is represented weeping (as it were in the person of those desolate mothers) the murder, and loss of so many children: and Rama being a city not far from Bethlehem, in the tribe of Benjamin, built on a high place, it is said that the cries and lamentations of these children, and their mothers, reached even to Rama. Cornel. a Lapide on Jerem. xxxi. thinks that these words were not only applied by the evangelist in a figurative sense, but that the prophet in the literal sense foretold these lamentations. Wi.
Ver. 23. He shall be called a Nazarite, or a Nazarene. Jesus was called a Nazarite, from the place where he was bred up in Galilee; and the Christians by the Jews were sometimes called Nazarenes, from Jesus of Nazareth. The evangelist would shew that this name, which the Jews through contempt gave to Christ and his disciples, had an honourable signification: and that this title was given in the predictions of the prophets to the Messias. But where, or in what prophet? For we find not the words exactly in any of the prophets. To this S. Chrysostom answers, that S. Matthew took it from some prophetical writings that have been lost. S. Jerom gives two other answers: first, that the word Nazarene, from the Hebrew Nezer, signifies separated, and distinguished from others by virtue and sanctity: and so some that were particularly consecrated, and devoted to the service of God, were called Nazareans, as Joseph, (Deut. xxxiii. 16,) Sampson, Judges xvi. 17, &c. Thus a Nazarene signifies one that is holy: and all the prophets, says S. Jerom, foretold that Christ should be holy. Therefore also it was that S. Matthew did not cite any one prophet, but the prophets in general. The second answer is, that a Nazarean (if derived from the Hebrew Netser) signifies a flower, or bud; and so in the prophet Isaias, c. xi. ver. 1) it is foretold of the Messias, that a flower shall ascend from the root of David. Wi. — The reason why Jesus is called of Nazareth, and not of Bethlehem, is, because he was educated there, and was generally supposed to have been born there. Hence he was called the Galilean; and the people argued from that circumstance, that he was not the Messias, nor even a prophet, saying, Can the Christ come from Galilee? Search the Scriptures, and see that out of Galilee a prophet riseth not. John vii. 52. Again, in Nazareth the word was made flesh, though in Bethlehem he was produced to the world; and our Lord gives himself the same title, when he addressed Saul. I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. Act. xxii. He remained at Nazareth till he was about 30 years of age. A.