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HAYDOCK CATHOLIC BIBLE COMMENTARY ON THE NEW TESTAMENT
Ver. 1. Galilee. S. John does not usually relate what is mentioned by the other evangelists, especially what happened in Galilee. If he does it on this occasion, it is purposely to introduce the subject of the heavenly bread, which begins v. 37. He seems, moreover, to have had in view the description of the different passovers during Christ's public ministry. As he, therefore, remained in Galilee during the third passover, he relates pretty fully what passed during that time. We may also remark, that as the other three evangelists give, in the same terms, the institution of the blessed sacrament, S. John omits the institution, but gives in detail the repeated promises of Jesus Christ, relative to this great mystery.
Ver. 4. From the circumstance of the passover, the number that followed Jesus was greatly increased. V.
Ver. 5. Our Lord first said, (Matt. xiv. 16.) Give them to eat; but afterwards, accommodating himself to the weakness of his disciples, he says: Whence shall we buy bread? So there is no contradiction.
Ver. 10. The text in S. Matthew adds: without counting the women and the children, who might possibly amount to an equal number.
Ver. 11. In the Greek, there is this addition: He distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were sitting. The Syriac, and some Greek copies agree with the Vulgate.
Ver. 12. To make the miracle still more conspicuous to the multitude, Jesus Christ shewed, that not only their present wants were supplied, but that there remained as much, or more, after they had all been filled, than there had been at first presented to Him.
Ver. 14. The Prophet indeed. That is, the Messias. Wi.
Ver. 15. S. John here corrects what relates to Jesus, and then what relates to the disciples. For if we attend to the order of time, the apostles got into the boat before Jesus went to the mountain. But, in matters of this nature, it is usual for the historians to follow their own choice. Pol. Synop. critic.
Ver. 19. Five and twenty or thirty furlongs. About three or four miles.
Ver. 21. In S. Matt. xiv. 26. and S. Mark vi. 51. we find that Jesus entered into the boat. S. John does not deny it; but he remarks a circumstance not notice by the others: The vessel was presently at the land. V.
Ver. 26. Christ did not return an express answer to their words, but he replied to their thoughts. For they seem to have put this question to him, that by flattering him, they might induce him to work another miracle, similar to the former; but Christ answers them not to seek for their temporal prosperity, but for their eternal welfare. The Church is daily filled, says S. Austin, with those who come to petition for temporal advantages, that they may escape this calamity, obtain that advantage in their temporal concerns: but there is scarce one to be found who seeks for Christ, and pays him his adoration, through the pure love he bears him. Maldon.
Ver. 27. For him hath God the Father sealed. The sense seems to be, that Christ having wrought so many miracles in his Father's name, the Father himself hath thereby given testimony in his favour, and witnessed, as it were, under his seal, that Jesus is his true Son, whom he sent into the world. Wi.
Ver. 30. What sign then dost thou shew? And foreseeing that he might, with great propriety, allege the recent miracle, they contrast it with what Moses performed in the desert. It is true, they say, you once fed 5,000 persons with five loaves; but our fathers, to the number of 600,000 did eat, not for once, but during forty years, manna in the desert; a species of food infinitely superior to barley bread. V. See Numbers i. 46.
Ver. 31. Christ having declared that he was greater than Moses, (since Moses could not promise them bread which should never perish) the Jews wished for some sign by which they might believe in him; therefore they say: Our fathers did eat manna in the desert, but you have only given us bread; where then is the food that perishes not? Christ therefore answers them, that the food which Moses gave them, was not the true manna from heaven, but that it was only a figure of himself, who came down from heaven to give life to the world. S. Aug. — S. Chrysostom observes, that the Jews here acknowledge Christ to be God, since they entreat Christ not merely to ask his Father to give it them; but, do thou thyself give it us.
Ver. 32. Moses gave you not bread from heaven; i.e. the manna was not given to your forefathers by Moses, but by God's goodness. 2dly. Neither came it from heaven, but from the clouds, or from the region of the air only. 3dly. It did not make them that eat it live for ever; but they that spiritually eat me, the living bread; that is, believe in me, and keep my commandments, shall live for ever. — V. 37, 44, and 66. No one can come to me, unless the Father draw him. These verses are commonly expounded of God's elect; who are not only called, but saved, by a particular mercy and providence of God. God is said to draw them to himself by special and effectual graces, yet without any force or necessity, without prejudice to the liberty of their free-will. A man, says S. Aug. is said to be drawn by his pleasures, and by what he loves. Wi.
Ver. 33. A life of immortality and eternal happiness to all who worthily receive it.
Ver. 34. S. Aug. with all the Fathers, believed that the Jews did not understand this in its proper sense; but only understood a material bread, of superior excellence to the manna, which would preserve their health and life for ever (S. Aug.); or at least, a far more delicious bread, which they were to enjoy during the whole course of their lives.
Ver. 36. You demand this bread; behold it is before you, and yet you eat it not. I am the bread; to believe in me is to eat me. You see me, but you believe not in me. S. Austin. — It is to this place that those words of S. Austin are to be referred: "Why do you prepare your teeth and belly? believe in me, and you have eaten me." Words which do not destroy the real presence, of which he is not speaking in this verse. Maldon. 35. — Jesus Christ leads them gradually to this great mystery, which he knows will prove a stumbling block to many. The chapter begins with the miraculous multiplication of the loaves; then Christ walking on the sea; next he blames the Jews for following him not through faith in his miracles, but for the loaves and fishes, and tells them to labour for that nourishment which perishes not, by believing in Him, whom the Father had sent; and then promises, that what their fathers had received in figure only, the manna, the faithful shall receive in reality; his own body and blood.
Ver. 38. Christ does not say this as if he did not whatever he wished; but he recommends to us his humility. He who comes to me shall not be cast forth, but shall be incorporated with me, because he shall not do his own will, but that of my Father. And therefore he shall not be cast forth; because when he was proud, he did his own will, and was rejected. None but the humble can come to me. S. Hilary and S. Austin. — An humble and sincere faith is essentially necessary to believe the great mysteries of the Catholic faith, by means of which we come to God and believe in God. A.
Ver. 41. I am the living bread, which came down from heaven. These Jews did not believe that Christ was the true and eternal Son of God, who came down from heaven, and was made flesh, was made man. He speaks of this faith in him, when he calls himself the living bread, the mystical bread of life, that came to give life everlasting to all true and faithful believers. In this sense S. Augustin said, (trac. xxv. p. 489) why dost thou prepare thy teeth and belly? only believe, and thou hast eaten; but afterwards he passeth to his sacramental and real presence in the holy sacrament. Wi.
Ver. 44. Draw him. Not by compulsion, nor by laying the free-will under any necessity, but by the strong and sweet motions of his heavenly grace. Ch. — We are drawn to the Father by some secret pleasure, delight, or love, which brings us to the Father. "Believe and you come to the Father," says S. Austin, "Love, and you are drawn. The Jews could not believe, because they would not." God, by his power, could have overcome their hardness of heart; but he was not bound to do it; neither had they any right to expect this favour, after the many miracles which they had seen. Calmet.
Ver. 45. Every one, therefore, that hath heard of the Father, and hath learned of him who I am, cometh to me by faith and obedience. As to others, when the Scripture says they are taught of God, this is to be understood of an interior spiritual instruction, which takes place in the soul, and does not fall under the senses; but not less real on that account, because it is the heart, which hears the voice of this invisible teacher.
Ver. 47. Thus Jesus Christ concludes the first part of his discourse: "Amen, amen, he that believeth in me, hath everlasting life;" which shews that faith is a necessary predisposition to the heavenly bread.
Ver. 48. Because the multitude still insisted in begging for their corporal nourishment and remembering the food that was given to their fathers, Christ, to shew that all were figures of the present spiritual food, answered, that he was the bread of life. Theophylact. — Here Jesus Christ proceeds to the second part of his discourse, in which he fully explains what that bread of life is, which he is about to bestow upon mankind in the mystery of the holy Eucharist. He declares then, in the first place, that he is the bread of eternal life, and mentions its several properties; and secondly, he applies to his own person, and to his own flesh, the idea of this bread, such as he has defined it.
Ver. 51. Christ now no longer calls the belief in him, or the preaching of the gospel, the bread that he will give them; but he declares that it is his own flesh, and that flesh which shall be given for the life of the world. Calmet. — This bread Christ then gave, when he gave the mystery of his body and blood to his disciples. Ven. Bede.
Ver. 52. The bread which I will give, is my flesh for the life of the world. In most Greek copies we read, is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world. Christ here promised what he afterwards instituted, and gave at his last supper. He promiseth to give his body and blood to be eaten; the same body (though the manner be different) which he would give on the cross for the redemption of the world. The Jews of Capharnaum were presently scandalized. How (said they) can this man give us his flesh to eat? But notwithstanding their murmuring, and the offence which his words had given, even to many of his disciples, he was so far from revoking, or expounding what he had said of any figurative or metaphorical sense, that he confirmed the same truth in the clearest and strongest terms. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat, &c. And again, (v. 56.) For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. I cannot omit taking notice of what S. Chrysostom and S. Cyril, in their commentaries on this place, have left us on these words, How can this man do this? These words which call in question the almighty and incomprehensible power of God, which hinder them, says S. Chrysostom, from believing all other mysteries and miracles: they might as well have said: How could he with five loaves feed five thousand men? This question, How can he do this? Is a question of infidels and unbelievers. S. Cyril says that How, or, How can he do this? cannot, without folly, be applied to God. 2dly, he calls it a question of blasphemy. 3dly, a Jewish word, for which these Capharnaites deserved the severest punishments. 4thly, He confutes them by the saying of the prophet Isaias, (lv. 9.) that God's thoughts and ways are as much above those of men, as the heavens are above the earth. But if these Capharnaites, who knew not who Jesus was, were justly blamed for their incredulous, foolish, blasphemous, Jewish saying, how can he give us his flesh to eat? much more blameable are those Christians, who, against the words of the Scripture, against the unanimous consent and authority of all Christian Churches in all parts of the world, refuse to believe his real presence, and have nothing to say, but with the obstinate Capharnaites, how can this be done? Their answers are the same, or no better, when they tell us that the real presence contradicts their senses, their reason, that they know it to be false. We may also observe, with divers interpreters, that if Christians are not to believe that Jesus Christ is one and the same God with the eternal Father, and that he is truly and really present in the holy sacrament of the Eucharist, it will be hard to deny but that Christ himself led men into these errors, which is blasphemy. For it is evident, and past all dispute, that the Jews murmured, complained, and understood that Christ several times made himself God, and equal to the Father of all. 2ndly, When in this chapter, he told them he would give them his flesh to eat, &c. they were shocked to the highest degree: they cried out, this could not be, that these words and this speech was hard and harsh, and on this very account many that had been his disciples till that time, withdrew themselves from him, and left him and his doctrine. Was it not then at least high time to set his complaining hearers right, to prevent the blasphemous and idolatrous opinions of the following ages, nay even of all Christian Churches, by telling his disciples at least, that he was only a nominal God, in a metaphorical and improper sense; that he spoke only of his body being present in a figurative and metaphorical sense in the holy Eucharist? If we are deceived, who was it that deceived us but Christ himself, who so often repeated the same points of our belief? His apostles must be esteemed no less guilty in affirming the very same, both as to Christ's divinity, and his real presence in the holy sacrament, as hereafter will appear. Wi. — Compare the words here spoken with those he delivered at his last supper, and you will see that what he promises here was then fulfilled: "this is my body given for you." Hence, the holy Fathers have always explained this chapter of S. John, as spoken of the blessed sacrament. See the concluding reflexions.
Ver. 53. Because the Jews said it was impossible to give them his flesh to eat, Christ answers them by telling them, that so far from being impossible, it is very necessary that they should eat it. "Unless you eat," &c. S. Chrys. — It is not the flesh of merely a man, but it is the flesh of a God, able to make man divine, inebriating him, as it were, with the divinity. Theophy. See Maldonatus.
Ver. 54. Unless you eat . . . and drink, &c. To receive both the body and blood of Christ, is a divine precept, insinuated in this text; which the faithful fulfil, though they receive but in one kind; because in one kind they receive both the body and blood, which cannot be separated from each other. Hence life eternal is here promised to the worthy receiving, though but in one kind: (ver. 52.) If any man eat of this bread he shall life for ever: and the bread which I will give, is my flesh for the life of the world: (ver. 58.) He that eateth me, the same also shall live by me: (ver. 59.) He that eateth this bread shall live for ever. Ch.
Ver. 55. Jesus Christ, to confirm the notion his disciples had formed of a real eating of his body, and to remove all metaphorical interpretation of his words, immediately adds, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. . . . For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed;" which could not be so, if, as sectarists pretend, what he gives us in the blessed sacrament is nothing but a bit of bread; and if a figure, certainly not so striking as the manna.
Ver. 58. As the living Father hath sent me, his only, his true Son, to become man; and I live by the Father, proceeding always from him; so he that eateth me, first by faith only, by believing in me; and secondly, he that eateth my body and blood, truly made meat and drink, though after a spiritual manner, (not in that visible, bloody manner as the Capharnaites fancied to themselves) shall live by me, and live for ever, happy in the kingdom of my glory. Wi.
Ver. 61. If Christ had wished to say nothing else than that his disciples should be filled with his doctrine, that being his flesh and blood, it would not have been a hard saying; neither would it have shocked the Jews. He had already said as much in the former part of his discourse: but he goes on in still stronger terms, notwithstanding their complaints; and, as they were ignorant how he would fulfil his promise, they left him, (Calmet) and followed the example of the other unbelieving Jews, as all future sectarists have, saying: how can this be done?
Ver. 62. If you cannot believe that I can give you my flesh to eat, now that I am living amongst you, how will you believe, that, after my ascension, I can give you to eat my glorified and immortal flesh, seated on the right hand of the majesty of God? V.
Ver. 63. If then you shall see, &c. Christ, by mentioning his ascension, by this instance of his power and divinity, would confirm the truth of what he had before asserted; at the same time, correct their gross apprehension of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, in a vulgar and carnal manner, by letting them know he should take his whole body living with him to heaven; and consequently not suffer it to be, as they supposed, divided, mangled, and consumed upon earth. Ch. — The sense of these words, according to the common exposition, is this: you murmur at my words, as hard and harsh, and you refuse now to believe them: when I shall ascend into heaven, from whence I came into the world, and when my ascension, and the doctrine that I have taught you, shall be confirmed by a multitude of miracles, then shall you and many others believe. Wi.
Ver. 64. The flesh profiteth nothing. Dead flesh, separated from the spirit, in the gross manner they supposed they were to eat his flesh, would profit nothing. Neither doth man's flesh, that is to say, man's natural and carnal apprehension, (which refuses to be subject to the spirit, and words of Christ) profit any thing. But it would be the height of blasphemy, to say the living flesh of Christ (which we receive in the blessed sacrament, with his spirit, that is, with his soul and divinity) profiteth nothing. For if Christ's flesh had profited us nothing, he would never have taken flesh for us, nor died in the flesh for us. — Are spirit and life. By proposing to you a heavenly sacrament, in which you shall receive, in a wonderful manner, spirit, grace and life in its very fountain. Ch. — It is the spirit that quickeneth, or giveth life. These words sufficiently correct the gross and carnal imagination of these Capharnaites, that he meant to give them his body and blood to eat in a visible and bloody manner, as flesh, says S. Aug. is sold in the market, and in the shambles; but they do not imply a figurative or metaphorical presence only. The manner of Christ's presence is spiritual and under the outward appearances of bread and wine; but yet he is there truly and really present, by a change of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of his body and blood, which truly and really become our spiritual food, and are truly and really received in the holy sacrament. — The flesh of itself profiteth nothing, not even the flesh of our Saviour Christ, were it not united to the divine person of Christ. But we must take care how we understand these words spoken by our Saviour: for it is certain, says S. Aug. that the word made flesh, is the cause of all our happiness. Wi. — When I promise you life if you eat my flesh, I do not wish you to understand this of that gross and carnal manner, of cutting my members in pieces: such ideas are far from my mind: the flesh profiteth nothing. In the Scriptures, the word flesh is often put for the carnal manner of understanding any thing. If you wish to enter into the spirit of my words, raise your hearts to a more elevated and spiritual way of understanding them. Calmet. — The reader may consult Des Mahis, p. 165, a convert from Protestantism, and who has proved the Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist in the most satisfactory manner, from the written word. Where he shows that Jesus Christ, speaking of his own body, never says the flesh, but my flesh: the former mode of expression is used to signify, as we have observed above, a carnal manner of understanding any thing.
Ver. 68. Jesus said to the twelve: Will you also go away? He shews them, says S. Chrys. that he stood not in need of them, and so leaves them to their free choice. Wi. — Jesus Christ remarking in the previous verse that the apostate disciples had left him, to walk no more with him, turning to the twelve, asks them, Will you also go away? The twelve had heard all that passed; they had seen the Jews strive amongst themselves, and the disciples murmur and leave their Master; they understood what he said in the same literal sense; it could, indeed, bear no other meaning; but when Jesus put the above question to them, leaving them to their free choice, whether to follow him, or to withdraw themselves, Simon Peter answered him: "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life;" and therefore art able to make good thy words, however hard and difficult they may appear to others. — We may here admire not only the excellency of their faith, but the plain, yet noble motive of their faith: they believe, because he is Christ, the Son of God, (or, as it is in the Greek, the Son of the living God) who is absolutely incapable of deceiving his creatures, and whose power is perfectly equal to perform the promises he here makes them.
Ver. 69. Simon Peter, the chief or head of them, said in the name of the rest: Lord, to whom shall we go? It is only from thee that we hope for salvation. Thou hast the words of eternal life: we have believed, and known, and remain in this belief, that thou art the Christ, the Son of God. Wi.
Concluding reflexions on this chapter.
If we take into consideration all the circumstances of this chapter, it will be difficult to conceive how any person can bring their mind to think that there is no connexion between this chapter and the institution of the blessed sacrament. It must proceed, as Dr. Clever, the Protestant Bishop of Bangor, affirms, "from the fear of giving advantage to the doctrine of transubstantiation." He moreover adds: "whilst the institution is considered as a memorial only, nothing can well be further from being plain." See his Sermon on the Lord's Supper. The holy Fathers have unanimously understood these repeated promises of Christ with a reference to the institution. S. Cyprian, of the third age quoting the promises of Christ, the bread which I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world, deduces this conclusion: "Hence it is manifest, that they have this life, who touch his body, and receive the Eucharist." Qui corpus ejus attingunt. De Orat. Dom. p. 147. S. Hilary, of the fourth age, quoting Christ's words, says: "there is no place left to doubt of the truth of Christ's flesh and blood, de veritate carnis et sanguinis non relictus est ambigendi locus; for now, by the profession of the Lord himself, and according to our belief, it is truly flesh and truly blood." De Trin. l. viii. p. 954-6. S. Basil, of the fourth century also, citing v. 53 and 54 of this chapter, says: "about the things that God has spoken there should be no hesitation, nor doubt, but a firm persuasion that all is true and possible, though nature be against it: Kan h fusiV machtai. Herein lies the struggle of faith." Reg. viii. Moral. t. 2 p. 240. Again the same saint says: "it is very profitable every day, to partake of the body and blood of Christ, fagein to swma kai piein to aima tou kuriou hmwn, for he that eateth my flesh. &c. John vi. 55. — "We communicate four times in the week; on Sunday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, and on the other days, if there be a commemoration of any saint." Ep. xcii. t. 3, p. 186. — S. Ambrose, of the same age, says: "the manna in the desert was given in figure. You have known things more excellent. For light is preferable to the shadow; truth to the figure; the body of Christ to the manna of heaven. But you may say: I see somewhat else: how do you assert that I shall receive the body of Christ?" He gives this answer: "How much more powerful is the virtue of the divine blessing, than that of nature; because by the former, nature itself is changed? . . . If the blessing of men (he here instances Moses changing a rod into a serpent, and many other miraculous changes) was powerful enough to change nature, what must we not say of the divine consecration, when the very words of the Lord operate? For that sacrament which you receive, is accomplished by the word of Christ. If the word of Elias could call down fire from heaven, shall not the word of Christ be able to change the outward elements? . . . The word of Christ could draw out of nothing what was not, shall it not be able to change the things that are into that which they were not? . . . Was the order of nature followed when Jesus was born of a Virgin? Certainly not. Then why is that order to be looked for here? It was the true flesh of Christ, which was crucified, which was buried; and this is truly the sacrament of his flesh . . . Our Lord himself proclaims, This is my body." — If Jesus Christ, during his public ministry, performed so many visible and palpable miracles as we read of in the gospels, was it not to induce us to believe without doubting the truths that escape our senses, and surpass our reason? If we believe the water was changed into wine at the marriage feast of Cana; if we believe that the bread in the hands of Christ and his apostles was not diminished, by being broken and divided among five thousand, why cannot we believe the miracle of the Eucharist on the authority of Christ's word, "the bread that I will give you, is my flesh? This is my body," &c. Not one of all the ancient Fathers has ever denied the real presence; not one of them all has ever said, that the body of Jesus Christ is received in figure only.