|CATHOLIC SAINTS INDEX
An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.
In this chapter we have an account of a miracle wrought by our Lord in the multiplication of five barley loaves and two fishes, so as to satisfy the wants of about five thousand persons. The admiration expressed by the crowd, who were witnesses of this miracle (1–15).
The miracle wrought on the sea, when immediately after having entered the boat in which the disciples laboured hard against the storm, our Lord had the boat suddenly brought to shore (17–22).
The anxious search of the multitude for Him, whom they at last succeeded in finding (24, 25).
Our Lord’s discourse, in which after having referred indistinctly and rather obscurely, to the Eucharistic bread He meant to give them (v. 27), He fully explains the most effectual means of securing this bread, viz., faith in Himself, upon which, after several interruptions, He fully dilates as far as v. 51.
At v. 51, He commences to deliver distinctly, His consoling doctrine regarding His real presence, and the necessity of partaking of His body and blood in the Holy Eucharist. This He inculcates by a threat of exclusion from eternal life, in case of disobedience, and repeated promises of eternal life, to those who obey. At the same time, He refers to the superior excellence of this promised gift (54–60).
After repeatedly corroborating the ideas which the Jews had conceived from His own words, regarding the real manducation of His body, which proves they were right; He next, in reply to their rebellious murmurings, corrects their erroneous carnal ideas regarding the mode of receiving Him.
He points out the source of their murmurings, viz., want of faith in His Divine mission, which they had not humility to pray for, to His Heavenly Father, the source of all blessings (65, 66).
The Evangelist next describes our Lord’s stern resolve, to allow His disciples and apostles leave Him, sooner than withdraw or modify or correct a word of what He delivered, regarding His real presence in the Eucharist (67, 68). He next records the confession of Peter, on behalf of the twelve, in our Lord’s Divinity—our Lord’s reference to the treason of Judas (71, 72).
1. “After these things,” etc. The occurrences referred to in the preceding chapter, took place about the Pasch or Pentecost of the second year of our Lord’s public ministry. The events the Evangelist is now about recording in this chapter, occurred about the Pasch of the following year. So, that, nearly an interval of a year elapsed between the occurrences recorded in this and the preceding chapter. St. John here passes over the election of the twelve Apostles, the Sermon on the Mount, etc., recorded fully by St. Matthew.
Although the miraculous multiplication of bread was recorded by the other Evangelists; still, St. John repeats it here with some additional circumstances as an appropriate introduction to the discourse, He was about to deliver regarding the heavenly food—His own adorable body—which He promised to give them, and gave them, by a permanent rite, at the Last Supper. The other Evangelists (Matthew 14:13; Mark 6:32; Luke 9:10, etc., record what is narrated here by St. John up to v. 14). It is not known precisely when our Lord left Judea, where the events recorded in the preceding chapter took place.
“The Sea of Galilee.” According to Hebrew usage, any large expanse of water is designated a “sea.” Hence, the large lake in question is called, “the Sea of Galilee,” as it was in the province of that name, and “of Tiberias,” situated on its borders. The town was so called, after Tiberius Cæsar, by Herod the Tetrarch, who built it in honour of that Emperor (Josephus, Lib. 18, Antiq. c. 3).
“Went over.” (See Matthew 14:13, Commentary on.) Some Commentators maintain, He did not cross the lake from one side to the other, from east to west; but, only crossed several creeks on the same side, the people thus following Him on foot, being even before Him at the several points of destination, owing to the difficulties in sailing. It may be also, that He Himself wished to cross these creeks slowly, so that the people could meet Him.
2. “And a great multitude followed Him,” etc. He went by boat; they, on foot. (See Mark 6:32; Mathew 14:13.)
3, 4. “The Pasch, the Festival day of the Jews,” their greatest and chief festival. The Pasch is mentioned on account of those, who were not well versed in Jewish history or in Jewish religious rites
5–16. (See Matthew 14:15–22.)
17. “They went over the sea to Capharnaum,” that is, they directed their course to Capharnaum. They intended going there and making for it. In St. Mark (6:45) it is said, they were ordered by Him, while dismissing the crowds, to make for Bethsaida, which is near Capharnaum. Possibly, the tempest drove them past Bethsaida; and they, then, made for Capharnaum.
18–22. See Matthew 14:24–33 (Commentary on.)
22. “The next day,” viz., the day after our Lord miraculously multiplied the bread, with which He fed 5,000. “The multitude that stood on the other side of the sea,” the side opposite Capharnaum, where our Redeemer and His disciples had been, after crossing the lake, on which He calmed the storm. “Saw that there was no other ship there but one, and that Jesus had not entered into the ship” (the one ship referred to) “with His disciples, but that His disciples were gone away alone.” The Greek for “saw” (ἰδὼν) is, “having seen.” Hence, the sentence is imperfect or suspensive, and the following or some such words must be added to perfect the sense, “sought Jesus,” unless we connect it with v. 24, where it would be repeated thus: “when therefore (I say) they saw,” etc.
23. “Other ships came” the following day—“from Tiberias”—the rumour of the miracle having spread, people came in crowds to hear and see our Lord—“nigh unto the place where they had eaten the bread,” etc.
24. Seeing, then, that our Lord, whom they sought, was not there, as they fancied He would have been, since they saw His disciples cross the lake towards Capharnaum without Him, the previous evening, in the only boat that was there, they had no idea of His walking on the waters, and meeting on the way the boat, which carried the disciples—disappointed in their search for Him on their side of the lake, where they expected to find Him, “they took shipping,” entering the boats that had come from Tiberias. In these they crossed the lake, and “came to Capharnaum, seeking for Jesus,” expecting to find Him at His usual place of abode.
25. Having succeeded in their search, and finding Him at last, surprised at how He could have crossed the lake, and come there, they ask Him, “Rabbi,” etc.
“Rabbi, when camest Thou hither?” The question was rather rude and frivolous. The term, however, “Rabbi” shows it was blended with some feeling of respect. Our Lord does not reply, as He did not choose, out of feelings of modesty, to say how He came, viz., by walking on the waters. Indeed, the question how was implied in asking “when.” Declining to answer their frivolous questions, our Lord speaks to them in terms of reprehension, as He well knew their minds. He also wished to repress their excessive demonstration of feeling displayed the preceding day, in wishing to make Him king. He also shows, He cared not much for their praise, and was not affected by their bland address, when calling Him “Rabbi.” He answers, however, in a way that interested them most, by instructing them to seek for the food of the soul, rather than that of the body, which they were expecting to be perpetuated among them; and on account of which they thus sought and crowded round Him.
26. “Amen, amen,” shows the solemn importance of what He was about uttering. “Not because you have seen miracles,” which should have the effect of producing feelings of faith, penance, and the other evangelical virtues, that would conduct you to life everlasting, about which you seem so indifferent; you seek Me, not to procure the food of the soul, but of the body. You seek Me for your own sakes, not for Mine—St. Augustine—“but because you did eat of the loaves,” etc. You were actuated by carnal motives, by a desire to have the multiplication of bread continued amongst you, whereby to relieve your corporal necessities.
Our Lord, while mildly rebuking them and showing them He had the Divine faculty of scanning their inward motives, and of knowing the thoughts of their hearts, takes occasion, from allusion to corporal bread, to speak of that spiritual food of their souls, conferring everlasting life, which the Son of Man had in store for them.
27. “Labour not for the food which perisheth,” etc. Our Lord takes occasion, from the discourse regarding corporal bread, and the desire which the people had for it, to speak of a more exalted description of food—His own adorable Body—just as He raised the mind of the Samaritan woman, to desire and ask for the spiritual waters of faith and grace, by speaking of the material water, of which He asked her to give Him to drink.
When our Lord tells us to labour not for perishable food, He, by no means, prohibits our working for corporal nourishment since, all are bound by the Law of God, to toil and labour for their bodily sustenance (2 Thess. 3:10). He uses the word, in an exclusive sense, “labour not for,” etc., alone, and He wishes to convey, that we should labour chiefly for the food of which He means to speak. “the meat which perisheth,” viz., corporal food, that perishes with the body which it is meant to support.
“But for that which endureth”—in itself imperishable—“unto life everlasting,” which, unlike corporal food, that only upholds the life of the body, supports, “unto everlasting life,” which it confers and to which it leads us.
“Which the Son of Man will give you.” He speaks of it, as a future gift, not as yet bestowed on the world; it is also peculiarly the gift of our Lord, as Son of Man. This would seem to indicate what that gift is.
“For Him hath God the Father sealed.” First, when in eternally begetting Him, He communicated to His Eternal Son, His own Divine nature, and impressed upon Him the substantial, living, eternal image of His substance. “The figure of His substance” (Heb. 1:3), thus communicating His omnipotence and the power of giving the promised gift or heavenly food, showing Him to be the Eternal Son of God as well as the Son of Man. Secondly, in His Incarnation, when the Son of God united human nature, under His own Divine person. Thus, the Son of Man, at the same time, became the Son of God. Thirdly, He testified by words, “Thou art my beloved Son,” etc., and by miracles, that our Lord was the Son of God.
It is disputed to what “meat” or food there is reference made here. There is almost a universal consensus among Catholic Commentators, that towards the close of this chapter, commencing with v. 48, our Lord refers to the Blessed Eucharist, which He promises here to give, and did graciously give and institute, a year after this, at the Last Supper. Only a few Catholic Commentators deny this. There is, however, a great diversity of opinion, whether the Blessed Sacrament is referred to, in this verse. Although it is quite certain and undeniable, that, in the latter part of the chapter, our Lord promises to give His body and blood in the adorable Eucharist, and did so at the Last Supper; still, we are not bound to believe, as a matter of faith, that He refers to the Blessed Eucharist in this chapter, at all. But it is a point of faith, which no one is free to question or reject, that there is reference to the Blessed Eucharist and the real Presence in the words of Institution, “This is My Body,” etc. (Council of Trent, SS. xiii., de Euch. c. i.)
A great number of distinguished interpreters say, that while our Lord is preparing the people, in the preceding part of the chapter, and in this portion of it, as far as v. 48, for the sublime doctrine which He means to deliver there regarding His real Presence, He does not refer to it here. Others maintain, that the “meat” or food referred to in this v. 27, is His body and blood in the adorable Eucharist. This latter seems by far the most probable opinion. For 1. Our Lord here clearly distinguishes between the “meat,” or food, and the works which were to be performed, as the means for securing this food. Now, the chief of these works is faith in Him (v. 29). Hence, the food being the end or object, cannot be confounded with the works, which are the means for obtaining it; and hence, the opinion of a large section of distinguished Commentators and Theologians, who say that the food refers to faith, doctrine, etc., is hardly tenable. 2. Our Lord says, He “will give” it, at a future time; but He had already bestowed faith, doctrine, etc. 3. He distinguishes between the bread which He Himself will give them in the future, and that which the Father gives (v. 32), at present. The Father gives us His Incarnate Son; He, as Son of Man, will give His body and blood. To Him it peculiarly belongs to bestow this gift, If our Lord turns aside from continuing this subject, regarding His body and blood, to treat, in a subsequent part of the chapter, of faith, as a necessary disposition for securing and worthily receiving this heavenly bread, it was, owing to their untimely questions and interruptions, to resume the subject afterwards.
28. “The works of God.” Works pleasing to God, and required by Him for obtaining this heavenly food. This question was suggested by the preceding words of our Lord, v. 27, “Operamini cibum,” “labour, work for the meat” or food. They then ask what works, does God, who “sealed His Son,” the bestower of this gift, require of us, in order to secure this food?
29. Our Lord marks out one special work, which they must do by the aid of God, who by His all powerful grace, Himself produces this work in them, they at the same time co-operating with His grace and concurring in the work, viz., “to believe in Him whom He hath sent.” He specially selects faith, as, in the first place, indispensable, because, on it must be founded all the works necessary for securing this food. Though speaking to them of Himself, as if He said, “that you believe in Me;” still our Lord, out of modesty, employs the third person, “Him … sent,” instead of Me, referring all to His Father.
From His saying, that faith is the chief work, or means, necessary for securing this food, it would seem to follow, that the food itself is not faith, that faith is distinguished from the food, as means from the end, this food being no other than His own adorable body and blood, which is given as the reward of faith; and therefore, distinct from it.
30. In consequence of His requiring faith in Himself as the Son of God, they, therefore, said to Him, what sign doest Thou show to convince us of this? Signs were hitherto wrought, such as the multiplication of bread, which has just taken place, but no sign of a nature to convince us of this.
“What dost Thou work?” as if to say, the works hitherto performed, the signs hitherto given are insufficient, to supply due motives of credibility for begetting in us such faith as you require.
31. This miracle just wrought, is not to be compared with the sign given us by Moses, who fed our fathers with manna for forty years in the desert, “as it is written, He gave them bread,” etc. As if they said, Moses, to whom they evidently allude, as appears from our Lord’s answer, gave an incomparably greater sign, by feeding our fathers in the desert, not once, but for forty years, not with earthly bread, but “with bread from heaven,” and still, he did not ask our fathers or us to believe in him. If the men referred to here be the same spoken of (v. 14), they must have changed their minds. Likely, they are different parties altogether.
32. In reply to their assertion, that Moses gave them bread from heaven, our Lord, prefixing His declaration with “Amen, amen,” declares in the most emphatic way, that “Moses did not give them bread from heaven,” in the strict sense of the word. It was called “bread from heaven,” because, generated in the air, it came down from the clouds. Hence, said in a general, but inaccurate, way, to be “from heaven,” just as we term the birds of the air that fly aloft towards heaven and descend on the earth, volucres cœli, and it is said of the Lord “intonuit de cælo Dominus” (Psa. 17:14). “But My Father,” with whom He is identified, for He Himself gives this gift, which as Son of Man, He promised (v. 27). His Father He contrasts with Moses, “gives you the true bread from heaven,” where He dwells, as in His own habitation, “true bread,” really come down from heaven, of which the bread given by Moses, rained down from the clouds, was a mere type and figure. This bread is the reality, no other than Himself, who came down from heaven, to nourish us, with His own adorable Body and Blood.
33. “For the bread of God,” really divine and heavenly in its origin, “is that which cometh down from heaven,” cometh of itself, by its own power. (The manna was sent or rained down), and is really divine in its effects. For, “it gives life (eternal) to the world,” including the entire human race, rescued at a great price from hell and the power of the devil, unlike the manna, which was confined to the Jewish people, to one particular nation.
34. No longer concerned about signs, or proofs of His Divinity, they are enticed by a desire to receive from Him “this bread” not once, but “always,” perpetually, which He extolled so much, beyond the manna of Moses. Their faith—if they had any, which is implied in the word, “Lord,” and in their conceiving that He would give the bread which the Father gives—was still very imperfect. For, like the Samaritan woman, who made a similar request (4:15), they do not regard it as spiritual bread, but only corporal, more excellent than the manna, which they would wish to have always at hand, to remove bodily hunger.
35. “I am the bread of life,” etc. In reply to their anxious desire to receive this life-giving bread, our Lord says, that He Himself, inasmuch as He means to give His own Body and Blood in the Eucharist, which He was surely to institute, is that life-giving bread, which came down from heaven, and which the Father gives (vv. 32, 33).
“He that cometh to Me.” Clearly, He means by faith, as in next clause, “he that believeth,” etc.—“shall not hunger,” etc. From v. 27, it seems quite clear that our Lord in speaking of Himself, is speaking, though not quite so explicitly, as He does hereafter, of His real sacramental presence, of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. In v. 29 He speaks of faith as a means, for procuring this food. He says the same, in this verse. He speaks of faith, as the chief means of deriving profit from partaking of this heavenly life-giving bread. Our Lord does not explicitly up to this, state, how He is to communicate Himself to us as food. He merely refers to His own Sacred Person, as the bread of life. But, He states this more explicitly hereafter. In verses 52–54 He says: it is received by eating His flesh and drinking His blood.
36. “But I have said unto you,” etc. You seek for some greater miracles, than those I have already performed, thereby implying, that, if wrought, you would believe in Me. But, I have already told you (v. 26), and, perhaps, elsewhere, and I now repeat it, that “you have seen Me,” in other words, you have known Me, or should have known Me. For, you have sufficient reasons to know who I am; and, still, “You do not believe in Me,” and, hence, it is to this obstinate refusal to believe in Me, notwithstanding the abundant motives of credibility furnished to you, in My many miracles, and other testimonies regarding Me, you may attribute your being deprived of this heavenly food.
37. Every description of men, without distinction of rank, sex, or degree, be they Jew, Gentile, Greek, or Barbarian, “whom the Father,” who had already given Me the nations for inheritance, “giveth Me,” and predestinated, according to the purpose and counsel of His will (Ephes. 1:11), for eternal life, “will come to Me,” by faith and by co-operation with grace, as My Father’s decree, who wishes all men to be saved, cannot be voided or frustrated. If they come not, it will be owing to their own stubborn incredulity and perverse will.
“And him that cometh to me,” aided by Divine grace, and embraces My faith, “I will not cast out,” nor cast his lot among the reprobate, who are to be cast out from the society of the saints in My Church, or from a share in My spiritual and eternal blessings, but I shall place him securely within the saving enclosure of My fold, in order, in the end, to attain eternal life.
Our Lord implies in this verse, that the rejection of some is traceable to a higher cause, viz., their abandonment of God, whose graces they spurn and neglect.
38. In thus aggregating to My Church, and not rejecting those whom My Father gives Me, I am only carrying out My object in assuming human nature, coming down from the throne of My Father in heaven, which was, not to do My own human will, as far as it might conflict with My Father’s heavenly will—with which, however, it was ever in accord—but, to carry out the adorable will of Him who sent Me.
39. “Now, this is the will,” etc. The adorable will of His Father is, that of all whom He has given the Son, and whom He predestined for faith and grace here, and for glory hereafter, from every age, sex, condition, country, whether Jew or Gentile, He would lose none. Hence, instead of “casting him out,” He would receive such into the enclosure of His Church and fold here, and bestow on them eternal happiness, both as to soul and body, by “raising them up again in the last day.”
40. He more fully explains who they are that His Father gives Him, viz., they who, having a knowledge of the Son, and having known Him and seen His miracles, furnished with sufficient motives of credibility, perseveringly believe in Him, with a faith enlivened by good works. Faith and obedience to God’s precepts are essential conditions for securing God’s promises of life eternal. It is in their thus believing and obeying, the Father hands them over to His Son, to guard them safely, and by raising them up at the last day, to bestow on them a glorious immortality.
Our Lord makes no allusion to the resuscitation of the wicked; because, He is here speaking of the eternal rewards of the just, and the resurrection of the wicked will be rather a curse than a blessing.
41, 42, 43. “The Jews, therefore,” the Doctors of the Synagogue, “murmured against Him,” for claiming a Divine origin, by saying, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” They looked upon His coming down from heaven as utterly incompatible with His earthly parentage and origin, so well known to them, Capharnaum being in the neighbourhood of Nazareth, where He was educated. It was His saying, that He “came down from heaven,” that chiefly elicited their murmurs.
44. “No one can come to Me … draws Him.” In these words, our Lord mildly conveys to the murmurers, the cause of their obstinate unbelief and resistance to His teaching. For, as faith is the gift of God, no one can come to Christ but by faith, “unless His (Heavenly) Father,” by the sweet and powerful influence of His grace, which interferes not with man’s free will, “draw him”—draws him by pleasure, not by compulsion, draws him by sweet moral persuasion, draws him by his preventing and co-operating graces, while freely co-operating with the powerful and attractive inspirations of heaven.
No doubt, there may be violence implied on the part of the subject himself, who, attracted by God’s grace, offers violence to his passions, inveterate habits, and, by great exertions, practises virtues, the opposite of the vices of which he was so long the slave. Hence, it is said, “the Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence,” etc. (Matthew 11:12).
This grace they do not humbly pray for. Hence, it is their own fault, if this heavenly light and spiritual attraction are withheld from them. Our Lord insinuates in these words, that their murmuring and incredulity were the result of their not receiving or asking for grace from His Father. Also, that faith cannot be in man’s own power, that it must come from God. He also wishes, to terrify them by insinuating that they were destitute of God’s grace and heavenly aid.
“And I shall raise him up,” etc. In this, He shows that their murmuring, caused by His saying, He came down from heaven, was quite unmeaning. For, He hath the power of raising up, on the last day, all those to whom the Father gives the gift of faith in Him. Surely, such power argues heavenly descent.
In these words, He also wishes to point out the fruit, as the result of this drawing on the part of His Father, and of the faith received therefrom, viz, that He will bestow on such as believe in Him and shall obey Him, life everlasting, provided they persevere in grace and obedience to God’s commandments to the hour of death.
45. “It is written in the Prophets.” He confirms by a prophetic quotation so much prized by the Jews, that no one can have faith unless the Father draw him—“in the Prophets,” may mean, the writings of the several Prophets; or, in that portion of the sacred volume termed “The Prophets.” All the children of God and of the Church shall be taught of God in the New Law, taught by the interior inspirations of Divine grace, to understand fully and obey the teachings of SS. Scripture, and of those who are appointed to instruct mankind.
That this furnishes no argument against the external ministry of teaching in the Church. (See Hebrews 8:11, Commentary on.)
“Every one who has heard,” etc. Accommodating the prophetic quotation to His purpose, our Lord says, that “every one who hath heard of the Father,” whose intellects are enlightened and wills influenced by His grace.
“And hath learned,” under this illumination of intellect and impulse of will, to obey.
“He cometh to Me,” by faith. The words, “learn and hear,” denote the same thing, in substance. To “hear of God,” is to apprehend the mysteries of faith through revelation and the influence of enlightening grace. “To learn,” is, under the influence of Divine grace, to give assent to the truths proposed. Both denote, coming to Christ through faith, and they indicate how men “are taught of God.”
46. “Not that any one hath seen the Father.” It is not to be inferred from the words, “all taught of God,” that God can be seen visibly instructing men, and bringing to faith and salvation such as place no obstacle to the operation of grace. His teaching is interior, invisible. His Eternal Son alone, eternally begotten of Him, identical with Him in His Divine nature and substance, “He (alone) hath seen the Father.” Of course, He speaks of Himself, the eternally begotten Son of God, who is in the bosom of His Father (John 1:18), the splendour of His glory (Heb. 1:3). “He hath seen the Father,” knows His nature, His attributes, designs, and, as equal with the Father, possesses a knowledge superior to what any mere “man” possesses.
47. He now resumes the subject of the necessity of faith in Him as a means of obtaining the bread of life, from which he was diverted, in repressing their murmuring, and reproaching them for their incredulity.
“Amen, amen.” The repetition of the words shows the solemnity of the utterance He is about making.
“Hath life everlasting.” Has it, to be given on the last day; or, has it in certain hope, and faith, accompanied by good works, with perseverance, which are a sure pledge of it.
48–51. In regard to the preceding portion of this chapter, it is admitted on all hands, as beyond all dispute, that from its commencement to v. 27, there is only question of material bread, which our Lord miraculously multiplied. At verse 27, it is asserted, by many, as most probable, though not admitted by all Commentators, that our Lord commences to treat, in a general and rather obscure way, alternately of His Body and Blood to be given in the Eucharist, and of faith, as the means and the most necessary disposition for securing and partaking of it worthily. It is almost universally maintained by Catholic Commentators, with some very few exceptions, that, at verse 48, He commences to treat explicitly of His Body and Blood, and explains in the clearest terms, in what manner this promised heavenly nourishment of His own adorable Body and Blood is to be received, viz.: that it is to be partaken by way of eating and drinking.
Some few Catholic Commentators, among them, Jansenius Gandavensis, hold, that our Lord is not treating of the Eucharist at all, in this chapter. Maldonatus, while referring to these interpreters in terms of praise, regards their opinion, on this point, as temerarious, and all but erroneous.
“Your fathers did eat … and are dead … that if any man eat of it, he may not die.” A grave objection suggests itself here, which militates no less against the interpretation, which understands the whole chapter to refer to faith, than against our interpretation, which refers it to the Eucharist. It is this: if there be question of the death of the body. Why, all, who have faith, or who partake of our Lord’s body, yield to the universal decree, “it is appointed for men once to die” (Heb. 9:27), as well, as did the Jews of old, who partook of the manna. Hence, so far as the death of the body is concerned, there seems to be no difference. If there be question of the death of the soul, many of those who have faith, or who partake of the Blessed Eucharist, fall off from grace (1 Cor. 11:30), die in their sins, and are lost. Would it not be hard to say, that those who partook of the manna in the desert, were eternally lost? What of Moses, Aaron, Josue, etc.?
The only Commentator I find treating of this objection is Maldonatus. The substance of his reply is this: the comparison instituted by our Lord is between the manna and the promised food, and their relative excellence shown from their effects. The superior excellence claimed for the bread, which our Lord promises over the manna, judging from effects, consists in this. The manna, which was only given for a time, while the Jews were sojourning in the desert (“did eat manna in the desert,”) and ceased when they reached the Land of Promise (Josue 5:12), had no intrinsic efficacy in itself, to rescue from corporal death those who partook of it “Your fathers … and are dead,” without the hope of being ever recalled to a glorious, immortal life. So far as the intrinsic virtue of the manna is concerned, it had no power, of itself, to save men from death or recall them to a glorious immortality after their short sleep in the grave; whereas, this food which I will give, accomplishes what is to be infinitely more prized; it possesses the intrinsic efficacy of itself, not only to bestow everlasting glorious life on the soul, and rescue it from eternal death; but, also to bestow a glorious immortality on the body. In other words, this bread can, of its own intrinsic excellence and efficacy, bestow what is greater, viz., eternal life on the soul, it will bestow what is less also, by restoring the life of the body. For, although we all return to the dust from which we were formed, this is but a passing state of sleep (1 Thess. 4:12), as our bodies are to be resuscitated, by the power of the life-giving body of Christ, “et ego resuscitabo eum in novissimo die.” Hence, unlike the manna, which could not of itself, either ward off death or confer immortal life “and are dead;” this bread of itself virtually preserves from temporal death, by restoring us to life, and confers a glorious immortality on the soul. This is Maldonatus’s answer to the objection just made. The body of Christ is, of itself, of its own efficacy, the seed of a glorious immortality for our bodies, so necessary in the present order of Divine Providence to complete the full happiness of the soul. If men, after receiving the body of Christ, desert the Church or die in mortal sin, this is owing to their own perversity, which destroys the effect which the worthy participation of our Lord’s body would produce in bestowing eternal happiness on the soul, and as its necessary complement, a glorious immortality on the body; thus rendering happy the entire man, soul and body.
If those who partook of the manna in the desert are destined for a glorious immortality, as, no doubt, some of them are, this was not owing to the manna, which of itself, unlike the bread our Lord promised, had no such efficacy; but owing rather to their faith and good works, in view of the retrospective merits of Christ. The manna was given only to support bodily life, and had no power to resuscitate after death those who had partaken of it.
51. “I am the living bread,” living in Myself—unlike the manna, which was an inanimate substance—and life-giving to others.
“Which came down from heaven,” really from God’s heaven, where He reigns in glory. The manna was only distilled from the clouds.
52. “If any man eat of this bread,” with the proper dispositions, and persevere in grace, “he shall live for ever,” enjoy eternal happiness, both as to soul and body, as already explained. This bread has the efficacy of raising the body, in a glorious state, from the tomb, to enjoy eternal happiness in union with the soul, so necessary to complete the happiness of the entire man.
“And the bread that I will give”—to be eaten—“is My flesh,” to which is added in the Greek (“which I shall give”—to be immolated on the cross) “for the life of the world.” Here, our Lord explicitly states in what form, or how, this life-giving bread, which He eulogizes so much, whose wonderful effects He extols so much in the foregoing, is to be received. What it is, viz., His own real flesh—the same which He was to “give”—which He was to sacrifice on the cross—“for the life of the world,” for the redemption of mankind, for whom He meant to pay a full ransom, by the blood of the cross. Similar are the words of Institution, “Hoc est Corpus meum, quod pro vobis datur.” The words in the future, “which I will give,” cannot refer to faith, which He had given them already. The just of the Old Law had it. Faith belongs to all times. It was from the beginning. (Heb. 11.)
53. “How can this man,” etc. This fresh outburst on the part of the Jews, after our Lord had already satisfied them (30–47), and repressed their murmurings on the subject of faith, or of believing in Him, renders it clear that they here understood Him to speak literally of the real manducation of His flesh. Hence, their rebellious murmurings and incredulity.
“How,” is the favourite exclamation with all heretics, who measure the power of God by their own capacity to understand. The words are also as expressive of scorn as of rebellious incredulity. “How can THIS MAN,” so mean, so lowly, of no earthly consideration? etc.
54. Fartrom correcting their impression, which resulted from their having understood His words in their plain and literal signification, our Lord rather confirms it, by repeating the same in still stronger terms, with a solemn, repeated asseveration, almost equivalent to an oath, menacing them also with eternal death, in case of refusal to obey an ordinance founded on the literal meaning of His words, to which they so strongly object as impossible, in their minds, utterly absurd. If their impression were erroneous, founded on the plain and literal meaning of His words, could our Lord, knowing their minds, confirm their error? They were, therefore, right substantially in understanding His words, in the literal sense, however mistaken they might be as to the mode in which His words, regarding real manducation, could be carried out. Our Lord does not directly answer their question, “how?” But, He insists on the fact or mandate.
The objections raised here against the practice of the Church in giving Communion to the laity under one kind only, are sufficiently refuted in Treatises of Theology, where, at the same time, the Catholic discipline is sufficiently vindicated.
The Council of Trent on this subject (SS. xxi., c. 1), says, “From the words, however differently understood, it can by no means be fairly inferred, that Communion under both kinds, is commanded by our Lord. For, He who said, ‘EXCEPT YOU EAT … AND drink,’ etc., also said, ‘IF ANY MAN EAT OF THIS BREAD, HE SHALL LIVE FOR EVER’ (v. 52); also, ‘THE BREAD THAT I WILL GIVE YOU, IS MY FLESH,’ etc. (v. 52). ‘HE THAT EATETH THIS BREAD, SHALL LIVE FOR EVER’ ” (v. 59). (See also St. Paul 1 Cor. 11:27, Commentary on.)
The conjunction “and,” may be understood disjunctively as it often is, according to Scriptural usage. (Exod. 21:23; 22:10; Acts 3:6, etc.)
The Greek for “except” is (ἐὰν μὴ), if you do not. The meaning then would be, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and if you do not drink His blood, that is, if you do neither one nor the other.
The usage of the Church, at one period, giving Communion under both kinds; at another, allowing it, for wise reasons, only under one, is the best proof, that, while we are obliged by Divine precept to receive “really, truly and substantially,” the Body and Blood of our Lord, the mode of receiving it is not obligatory; since, under one species or the other, we receive our Lord’s body, which is contained in either species, His flesh and blood being necessarily inseparable, in a living body, such as our Lord’s is, after His Resurrection. We have the body of our Lord under the species of bread, and His blood under the species of wine, vi verborum; but, we have the body under the species of wine also, and the blood under the species of bread, and the soul under both, vi concomitantiæ (Council of Trent SS. xiii., c. 3). What is of obligation is, that we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, which is done by receiving either species, the Body and Blood being contained in each. Our Lord, four different times, promises eternal life to eating alone, in this chapter.
On Priests alone, is it obligatory to receive, under both species, when sacrificing, in order perfectly to represent our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross, of which the Mass is a continuation. On the cross, His flesh and blood were separated in death. If the particle, “and,” is to be understood as a conjunction, then, it would be used in that sense, in order to show us, that we should keep in mind His sacred Passion, of which the Eucharist is a permanent memorial.
55. What our Lord had, in the preceding verse, commanded, under a threat of forfeiture of eternal life, in case of refusal to obey, He now solemnly repeats, with a promise of eternal life in case of compliance, “eateth My flesh,” etc., of course, with worthy dispositions, “hath everlasting life,” has a right to it, unless he forfeits it through his own fault.
56. “Indeed,” in reality. It is true food and true drink, since no other food or drink can give everlasting life to the soul or to the body. This the promised food effects.
“I shall raise him up,” etc. The innate virtue and efficacy of our Lord’s body worthily received, will communicate a glorious immortality to the soul. The body, after a short time in the grave, will be raised up, so that it might be virtually said not to have died at all. Hence, St. Paul calls it a sleep, “de dormientibus,” etc. (1 Thess. 4:12) The Apostle speaks so, in view of the coming general Resurrection, as appear from that passage.
57. He shows again, how the man “who eats His flesh,” etc., hath everlasting life; because, he is united with Christ, Himself life eternal and the source of it in others, as the food is with the man who receives it, so that after the dwelling of our Lord’s humanity in us is dissolved, his Divinity remains, and we are, in some measure, made partakers of the Divine nature. St. Cyril illustrates this, by the example of liquefied wax mixed with wax similarly liquefied, which becomes one mixed mass or body. Hence, when the soul is thus united with Christ, it receives supernatural life.
58. “Living Father”—the fountain and source of all life—“sent Me” to assume human nature, and in My Incarnation, communicated life, which, on account of this union in My Incarnation, I, in turn, impart to others, “and I live by the Father.” The Greek for “by” (δια) would, perhaps, be better rendered, not, propter Patrem, “by the Father,” but, per, “through the Father,” in consequence of the essential life, communicated in My eternal generation.
“The same shall live by (or through) Me.” As the Father, with whom I was identified in My eternal generation—He thus being one with Me—communicated essentially life to Me: so the man, who receiving me as food, thus, becoming identified with Me, in a certain sense—on account of the union established by receiving Me as food—though not so closely united as I with the Father, receives through Me, immortal life, which will be fully conferred on the last day.
The words, “as the living Father hath sent Me,” would seem to be prefixed to the comparison He means to institute in a limited sense—for, no union can equal that of the Father and his Eternal Son—for the purpose of showing, how it is our Lord was in a position to bestow life on creatures, who received His flesh as food. This resuded from His mission to earth by His Eternal Father.
59. This would seem to be a summary and concluding repetition of His doctrine, in the preceding parts of this chapter (vv. 32–41–49, 50–52–55). In these verses, the contents of this verse have been already fully explained.
60. This is mentioned by the Evangelist to show, that no one could question the fact, that this discourse was delivered by our Lord. These words were not spoken in an obscure corner. The place was public, in some respects, sacred, “the Synagogue,” devoted to prayer and the exposition of the Word of God; resorted to by all classes, Scribes. Priests and people. The city of “Capharnaum” was, on account of its position, a mart of traffic, and a place of public resort. Our Lord also delivered these words in an official capacity, “teaching” the doctrines of eternal life.
61. “Many (even) of His disciples,”—no doubt; a still greater number of His enemies—“hearing it,” the doctrines recorded in the preceding part of the chapter and summed up in v. 59. There is reference to the seventy-two disciples, and not to all of them. “Many.” Norare the twelve Apostles included, as appears from v 68 “This saying,” viz., relating to His having come down from heaven, but principally and chiefly to the necessity of eating His flesh, “is hard,” incredible, difficult to be conceived and digested in the mind, like hard indigestible food, received into the stomach.
“And who can bear it?” The precept imposed is, as they fancy simply intolerable, utterly revolting. While they were right in their literal apprehension of our Lord’s words, respecting the real manducation of His flesh, which our Lord Himself confirms; they erred, as to the mode. There was nothing unnatural, nothing revolting in the real manducation of His body, which He imparted under the species or appearance of bread and wine.
62. Likely, the murmuring, unbelieving portion of His disciples durst not express themselves openly. They did so privately. Our Lord, knowing the thoughts of their hearts and the secret expressions of their unbelief and their murmurings, “said, doth this scandalize you?” After all My miracles amongst you in such numbers and variety, to prove My Divine mission from the Father, and My undoubted veracity, are My words just spoken, a stumbling block to you? and are you disposed to desert Me?
63. “If then you shall see the Son of Man,” etc. The words, What shall you say, are understood, in order to complete the sentence. These words are understood by some, as a reply to their murmuring about His having come down from heaven, as if He said: your difficulties on this head will vanish, when at My Ascension you shall see Me, or, if unworthy of witnessing it yourselves, you shall hear from My disciples, who shall soon see Me, in virtue of My own power and majesty, in My assumed human nature, as Son of Man, mount up to heaven, “where I was before,” in my Divine nature; whence I descended, without leaving it, in assuming human nature for your redemption. Then, you will be able to know, that having been in heaven, I came down from heaven; that I am not only veracious in My words and promises, but, a true Prophet, God. the Eternal Son of God, to whom all things are possible; that there is nothing impossible for Me in what I said, and that I can, therefore, give My own flesh to eat, and raise the dead to life, as I promised.
Others, with Maldonatus, interpret the words to mean, if you are scandalized at My saying, that I will give you My flesh, etc., now while I am with you on earth, and regard this as impossible and utterly incredible, how much greater cause of scandal, how much greater difficulty will you have, in believing this, when the flesh which I promised to give you is mounted up to heaven? It was not unusual with our Lord to rebuke such unreasoning unbelievers by proposing to their belief truths involving greater difficulty, which they should, however, believe. (John 1:50; 3:12).
64. “It is the spirit that vivifies,” etc. These words mean, it is My Divine Spirit, or My Divinity, which is inseparably united with My flesh, that gives it a life-giving property, which it imparts to those who partake of Me. But My flesh of itself, the human element, regarded apart from this Spirit, and not united with it, “profiteth nothing.”
“The words I have spoken to you,” on the subject of My Body and Blood, are to be understood in a spiritual sense—opposed to the gross, carnal meaning attached to them by the Jews, who understood them of partaking of His body, as ordinary flesh, but not as opposed to the literal reality. The spiritual sense of words is one thing; the metaphorical or figurative, another. Our Lord could never have meant His words on the subject of the manducation of His body, etc., to be understood figuratively, as excluding the reality. He only wished them to be understood in a spiritual sense, by no means excluding reality, and quite different from the carnal conceptions of the Capharnaites, who fancied that our Lord’s flesh was to be eaten, like flesh purchased in the shambles.
“The words I have spoken to you,” etc. The words which have caused you so much scandal regarding My flesh, etc., are not to be understood in a gross, carnal sense, such as you entertain; but, spiritually, as referring to My Divine Spirit, animating My body, which you really and substantially receive. Understood in a spiritual sense, as referring to My real flesh and blood animated by My Divinity, My words will be to you a source of spiritual life.
Others understand, the word, “spirit,” of the spiritual understanding of His words, by man’s intellect, aided and enlightened by grace, and practised in the principles of faith.
“Flesh,” the material, carnal understanding of them without the aid of grace or faith, such as caused scandal in the minds of the Jews. Understood in the former sense, the words are the source of life; in the latter sense, they are of no avail whatever.
Similar is the idea conveyed by St. Paul, when he speaks of the sensual, compared with the spiritual man (1 Cor. 2), relative to the understanding of what appertains to the Spirit of God (see Commentary on). The words which I have spoken, are to be understood in the spiritual sense referred to; and thus understood, they are the source of life.
Which ever of the above interpretations we adopt, we can clearly see, the utter absurdity of those outside the Church, when they interpret the words figuratively, as excluding the real presence of His flesh, and the real manducation of the same; since their interpretation of these words in a figurative sense, as if our Lord meant by them to correct the ideas of the Capharnaites, and exclude His real manducation, is utterly gratuitous and unfounded. Our Lord commanded men to eat His flesh, under pain of eternal death. He could not therefore, say of that flesh, “it profits nothing.” The words of our Lord in this verse, could not be regarded as corrective of the impressions of the Capharnaites; since He had already repeated the words which gave offence, with a solemn asseveration equivalent to an oath, and repeats the same several times. It would be late at this period, after having before impressed them so strongly, to come out with a correction, especially as He had been after positively corroborating their ideas. Moreover, neither apostles nor disciples understood these words, as corrective of the preceding.
65. Our Lord here points out the cause of their rebellious murmurings. It arose from their incredulity; their want of faith in His Divine mission, notwithstanding the many and splendid miracles He had wrought. “Some of them,” for want of humility of heart, “did not believe.” Hence, their murmurings, and incapacity, to understand Him fully, as to the mode of receiving His flesh. (“For, Jesus knew from the beginning,” etc.) These words, to the end of the verse, are to be read parenthetically, “from the beginning,” in virtue of His Divine Omniscience, He knew from the very time He selected them, who among them would be alienated and incredulous, and who among them was to turn traitor: and still He selected and called them, so that He did so with a full knowledge of what was to happen. The Evangelist explains here beforehand the contents of (vv. 71 and 72). “Beginning,” would be true of eternity and of the time of His Incarnation. Judas was among the incredulous murmurers; and it is here insinuated, that in consequence of our Lord’s discourse in this chapter, he became alienated; and this led finally to his act of shocking treason.
66 “Therefore did I say to you,” at least substantially (in verse 44). Some of them do not believe, owing to their not having been blessed with the gift of faith, which must come from grace and not from man’s free will only. It must come from “My Father.” who would give it to all who would place no obstacle. Hence, they may ascribe their want of faith to their own stubborn resistance to grace, and to their pride, which will not stoop to ask this grace fervently and humbly from God.
67. “After this,” after having heard our Lord repeatedly corroborating their impressions regarding the real manducation of His flesh, “many of His disciples,” whose faith, no doubt, was infirm, and who were disappointed in their hopes of receiving bread from the hands of our Lord, miraculously multiplied for their bodily sustenance, and were manifestly disgusted with His promising them His own flesh instead, “went back,” left His society, “and walked no more with Him,” ceased to be any longer His disciples.
The Evangelist does not refer to the twelve (verse 70), who remained with Him, not excepting Judas, who had an eye to His betrayal; nor to the seventy-two disciples, who were not yet selected. They were chosen, after our Lord left for Galilee.
From this and the following verse it is clear, these men understood our Lord’s words literally of His real flesh and blood; otherwise, they could have no difficulty or cause for offence; since being already His disciples, they must have believed in Him. Would our Lord have allowed them to depart with the certain risk of losing their souls, which He came down from heaven to save, without explaining Himself and correcting their false conceptions, if they were mistaken in their interpretation of His words? Would He not have corrected their false ideas and explained His words? They must, therefore, have been right; and our Lord must have spoken of the real manducation of His flesh.
The plain and necessary inference from this and next verse is, that our Lord’s words were properly understood, in a literal sense; and that this could not, therefore, be corrected. No doubt, our Lord would have done this, if He could, rather than allow His disciples and apostles to desert Him.
68. This shows how correctly our Lord was understood, as to the literal meaning of His words, since rather than offer a word of explanation or correction, He was prepared to allow even His chosen twelve to depart, for whom He shows here singular regard and affection. Seeing the others depart, He said: “Will you also go away?” As it is free for the others to depart or stay, and they could remain and be attracted by the grace of My Father, if they were humbly to pray for it, and not obstruct its operation by their stubborn and rebellious wills: so, it is free for you also, to go or stay.
69. “Simon Peter,” from his innate fervour, which he displayed on other occasions also, speaking in the name of his companions, whose opinions, he felt he was giving expression to, answered:
“To whom shall we go?” Where else can we go? From what other teacher are we to seek for guidance and truth?
“Thou hast the words of eternal life,” for such as believe and obey your doctrine; you alone can confer eternal life. From you alone, not from Jewish Doctors or heathen philosophers, can we hope for true doctrine which leads to eternal life. Others may regard it as harsh, repulsive; not so with us. We regard it as sweet and attractive; since it alone leads to everlasting happiness.
You alone can, by your words, which are infallibly true, point out to us the way to eternal life, and surely confer it.
70. “And we have believed”—and believe still—“and have known”—and still know—from undoubted sources of evidence, from the testimony of the Baptist, from your own miracles, from your heavenly doctrines, sanctity of life, etc.—Hence, ours is not a blind, unreasoning faith—“that Thou art the Christ,” the long expected Messiah, “the Son of God,” the natural, eternally begotten, co-equal Son of God, whose words, be they ever so incomprehensible, we believe to be most true, whose promises are sure to be fulfilled. Hence, we embrace with all our hearts, Thy doctrine regarding Thy real flesh, which Thou wilt give us to eat, unto life eternal, and a pledge and principle of a glorious immortality.
71. “Have I not chosen you twelve,” specially selected you, out of all My followers, to be the future pillars of My Church. “And one of you is a devil?” Our Lord here refers to the treason of Judas—1st. in order to correct the assertion of Peter, that the twelve, without exception, believed in Him. 2ndly, He also refers to it, in order to save them from being scandalized when it would happen, by showing them He knew it beforehand, and by preparing them for it. 3rdly, to put them on their guard against presumption and over confidence in themselves; and thus, to inspire them with humility and diffidence in themselves, and stimulate them to secure, by fear and trembling, the great gift of final perseverance.
“A devil,” Far from contenting Himself with disbelieving My words; even at this moment, he is harbouring thoughts of betraying Me, and of co-operating with the devil, in handing Me over to death. For meaning of word, “devil,” see Matt. 4:1; Mark 1:23 (Commentary on).
72. He alluded to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon (see Matthew 10:3).
“Whereas he was one of the twelve,” shows the magnitude of his guilt and black ingratitude.
It is but right we should acknowledge our indebtedness for a portion of the following proof to Cardinal Wiseman’s admirable Lecture “ON THE REAL PRESENCE OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF OUR LORD IN THE BLESSED EUCHARIST.”
The proof may be thus briefly stated—In order to establish the doctrine of the Catholic Church regarding the real Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Eucharist, from His words in this chapter, commencing with verse 51, it is merely necessary, to show that His words are to be taken in their plain, obvious, literal signification. Understood thus, they prove, that our Redeemer promised to give, under the form of food, His real flesh—the flesh which He gave for the life of the world. They prove, that men are bound by a Divine precept, to partake from time to time of the same flesh, in the form of food, under pain of eternal death.
This Divine precept shows it must continue, as a permanent rite in the Church. Our religious adversaries themselves admit, that taken literally, our Redeemer’s words prove the Catholic doctrine. Hence, regardless of the common consent of the Holy Fathers, of the universal voice of antiquity, and the Decrees of Councils, they leave no means untried, to wrest them to a figurative and forced signification.
Taken literally, then, our Redeemer’s words prove our doctrine. Must they be understood literally? Can they admit of any other interpretation? That they can be understood only in a literal sense, will appear clear; if it be borne in mind, in the first place, that they were understood in this sense only, by those whom our Redeemer addressed; and, secondly, that these could not be mistaken in understanding them literally, without involving our Redeemer in a breach of duty, and rendering Him guilty of positively confirming error.
First, the Capharnaites, whom our Redeemer addressed, understood His words in the literal sense of real manducation of His flesh. For, when He required of them in the preceding part of His address, to believe in Him, as having come down from heaven (vv. 40, 41); after murmuring and exclaiming, how can He, the Son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know, say, He came down from heaven? On His assigning satisfactory reasons or motives for this belief, they acquiesce, and all further murmuring ceases. But, no sooner does He make use of the expression, “the bread that I will give is my flesh” (v. 52), than they openly and rebelliously cry out, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” which proves, that they understood Him to speak of a different subject altogether.
Not only do the Capharnaites murmur and understand Him to speak literally; but, even His own disciples exclaim, “it is a hard saying,” etc. Now, if these were questions merely of faith in Him, what difficulty could faith in Him present to those who, by the very fact of being His disciples, were already supposed to believe in Him? They, therefore, understood Him to speak literally.
But why dwell on a point which our religious opponents themselves admit, when, in the language of scorn and derision, they taunt Catholics, on account of taking our Lord’s words literally, with being gross, carnal Capharnaites.
Those, therefore, whom our Lord addressed at Capharnaum understood Him to speak literally. The next question is, were they right or were they wrong: if they were right, so must we. That the Capharnaites were right in taking the words of our Lord literally, is proved by a reference to our Lord’s invariable practice wher delivering His sacred doctrine. It was a rule which He invariably observed, that whenever His hearers understood His words literally, when He meant to have them understood figuratively, He, in every instance, corrected the error by telling His hearers, that His words should be understood figuratively. On the other hand, whenever His hearers understood His words literally, and were right in doing so, but took offence at His doctrine founded on the literal signification of His words, our Redeemer repeated the obnoxious form of words, regardless of the offence of His hearers. It will suffice to adduce a few examples, out of the many the Gospel furnishes of our Lord’s rule of action, in both instances. First, when His words were understood literally, whereas He had intended them to be understood figuratively. We have the case of Nicodemus (John 3) who understood our Lord’s words regarding a second birth, literally, our Lord corrects him at once, and shows He is to be understood figuratively; of a spiritual birth of water and the Holy Ghost. Again, in this same Gospel (4:32), His disciples erroneously understood Him to speak literally of corporal food, He explains His words as referring to spiritual food, viz., doing the work of His Father. Again (11:11), speaking of Lazarus, who was already dead, He says, “Lazarus our friend sleepeth.” They understood Him literally. He at once explains, “Lazarus is dead.” Again (Matthew 16:6), He takes care to correct their erroneous ideas regarding the leaven of the Pharisees, and says. He meant their false doctrine. Numerous other examples could be adduced in illustration of the same. Were we to search the four Gospels, no single instance could be adduced to the contrary; we would find, that in every single instance, our Lord took care to correct His hearers whenever they misunderstood Him, by taking His words in a literal sense, when He meant to be understood figuratively.
Let us now examine our Saviour’s practice, whenever His hearers correctly understood His words in a literal sense; then, no matter what murmurs took place, what objections were raised, what offence was given, He always repeats His words, in a literal sense, and insists on being believed. Of this we have an example in the 9th chapter of St. Matthew, where our Lord insists on having words, regarding His power to remit sins, understood literally, and works a miracle to prove it. Again, in the 8th chapter of 1st John, He repeats His words, which in their literal sense caused the Jews great offence, as to His having seen Abraham, “before Abraham was, I am.” They understood Him correctly; He, then, insists on the literal truth of His words, saying, “before Abraham was, I am” (8:58). Again, in this chapter, He speaks of having come down from heaven. The Jews understood Him correctly in the literal sense; and although they murmured and were offended, He still repeats the obnoxious phrase; and, three times successively, declares that He really came down from heaven. The few examples cited will suffice, out of many. It can be said, without fear of contradiction, that if we read the whole history of our Redeemer’s life, from the first chapter of St. Matthew. to the last of St. John, we will find, that whenever our Lord treated a doctrinal subject, and meant His words figuratively, while His hearers erroneously understood them literally, He sets them right by explaining His words. On the other hand. whenever His words were correctly understood, no matter what objections were raised or offences given, He invariably repeats the obnoxious expressions. Therefore, as our Redeemer, in the passage under consideration, six different times, regardless of the offence of His hearers, repeated the obnoxious words, that “they should eat His flesh and drink His blood,” we have a right to assume, that He was understood correctly, and His words, therefore, to be taken literally; unless it be proved (and that was never attempted) that in this solitary instance, He departed from His invariable practice.
In the next place, even were we to suppose, that our Redeemer departed from His usual practice in such cases; still, it is clear, His hearers were right in taking His words literally; because, if they were in error, our Redeemer would be bound to correct and set them right. For, every man who assumes the function of teacher, is bound, in virtue of his office, to remove and correct any false conceptions, arising from the plain and obvious signification of His words, and the obligation becomes greater in proportion to the importance of the subject and the disastrous consequences likely to result from any error regarding it.
Now, our Lord filled the office of teacher on this occasion, “teaching in the Synagogue of Capharnaum (v. 60). The doctrine was exceedingly important, embracing one of the leading truths of Christianity, regarding which, an error would involve no less disastrous consequences than eternal death. The error of the Capharnaites, had it existed, would flow from the plain and obvious signification of His own words. Hence, as public teacher, He would be strictly bound to correct it. Since, therefore, instead of doing so, He positively confirmed their impressions regarding the real manducation of His flesh, it is clear, that these impressions were substantially correct. This is suggestive of a still stronger argument, viz., that our Redeemer not only omitted correcting, but positively confirmed, the impressions of the Capharnaites. Now, it would be nothing short of blasphemy to assert, that our Redeemer could, for an instant, confirm error. Hence, the impressions of the Capharnaites were quite correct. It should be borne in mind, that the confirmation of the impressions of the Capharnaites by our Lord was not confined to mere simple assertion. He employs the most solemn asseveration, equivalent to an oath. They say, “how can this man give us His flesh to eat?” He replies, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, except you eat,” etc., words which are supposed by many to be the terms of oath employed by the Almighty in confirming repeatedly His promise to the human race. Now, if there be such a thing as perjury, He surely, would be guilty of it, who would confirm by oath, in a figurative sense, words which He knew to be understood literally, by His hearers. Hence, as our Redeemer confirms by oath, or by, at least, what is equivalent to it, the words repeatedly addressed to the Capharnaites, He must do so, according to their acceptation of them, which we have shown to be in the literal sense. They were, therefore, right in understanding his words literally.
This reasoning is further confirmed by our Redeemer’s treatment of His own disciples, many of whom, from that day forward, owing to the offence, they conceived at the literal meaning of His works, desert His society altogether, “went back and walked no more with Him” (v. 67). Now, I ask, if they were in error, could it, for a moment, be supposed that our Redeemer would permit them, at the risk of their eternal salvation, to desert Him altogether, whom He had specially enrolled in His service, to whom He was in the habit of expounding these truths, which lay beyond the reach of the multitude generally, while He might by a single word remove the error, by simply telling them, they mistook His meaning, that He proposed nothing new, that He was developing these points of faith, which they had already believed! And yet, far from doing so, our Redeemer suffers them to depart, without offering a single word in explanation; nay, He positively confirms their impression, by recurring to the great miracle of His Ascension, after which He says, they would have even greater difficulty in believing His doctrine (v. 63). If, then, He treated merely of faith, His Ascension, far from rendering it more difficult, would, on the contrary, render it more easy; it is, only taken literally, His words would be more difficult of accomplishment after His Ascension, than before it; and, therefore, by recurring to it, our Redeemer would confirm the impression of His disciples, regarding the literal acceptation of His words, which, consequently, could not be erroneous.
His conduct towards His Apostles, is a further confirmation of the arguments already adduced. For, not only does He suffer His disciples to depart without offering a single word in explanation; but, addressing His twelve Apostles, He asks them will they also go away? (v. 68) Can it be supposed, that He would permit His twelve Apostles, the twelve pillars, upon which was about to be reared the spiritual edifice of His Church, to depart without offering a single word in explanation, if they were in error; particularly when that error would flow from the plain and obvious meaning of His words, delivered by Himself in capacity of teacher? Yet, He plainly insinuates, that, He would rather suffer even them to depart, than correct their impression. The line of action adopted by our Redeemer can, therefore, be accounted for on no other supposition, than that they were right in taking His words literally, which impression He did not correct, because, He could not correct it, unless, He wished to correct right, and say it was wrong.
To elucidate the course of reasoning now put forward, I will avail myself of a familiar illustration; Suppose, a Protestant missionary, placed in circumstances precisely similar to those, in which our Redeemer addressed the multitude at Capharnaum. Suppose him in some distant wilds, delivering a series of catechetical lectures on the truth of Christianity, to a body of men, who had not yet embraced that religion. Suppose him to have succeeded in forming a few converts, who, relinquishing their secular employments, accompany him everywhere on his missionary excursions among the people. Among other points of instruction, he, for a particular occasion, selects the article of faith in the death of Christ (for, observe, that is the point of faith, upon which, in the minds of our religious opponents, our Redeemer treats in the 6th chap. of St. John); and by way of preparation for this great and important truth, he descants fully, upon the necessity of faith in his divinity, in consequence of His having performed greater wonders than did Moses, or any other of the sacred personages, who were the leading characters in every preceding dispensation. And having fully satisfied them as to the Divinity of the Redeemer, and having repressed the murmurings which they, at first, indulged in, and having exhibited this faith in His Divinity under the figure of bread and food—terms, with which they are supposed to be acquainted—he at once proposes to them the article of faith in His death, in terms the most extraordinary ever uttered by man, calling that faith, “eating His flesh, and drinking His blood.” They are shocked; they murmur; they exclaim, “how can He give us His flesh to eat?” etc. They take the words of this Protestant Missionary literally; he knows this full well, whereas he wishes, they should be understood figuratively, he is fully aware of the errors his hearers labour under; he knows full well, it was caused, by his own words, never employed before in the sense, in which he wishes to have them now understood. I ask, then, what line of conduct, would reason, would religion, would a common regard for truth dictate to that man? Would not the plainest dictates of common sense call upon him to set His hearers right, at once, by telling them they misunderstood him? That he never meant, by any chance, to inculcate the necessity of eating the flesh of the Redeemer; that, such would be, in his mind, an error of the grossest description; that he merely intended to treat of faith in the death of the Redeemer. But, suppose that, instead of doing this, with a perfect knowledge of their error, he re-asserts, with a solemn asseveration, the obnoxious phrase, in the very words in which their errors were expressed, and in a manner, the best calculated to confirm and impress them with the idea of real manducation of the flesh of Christ, he repeats it six different times, with out offering a single word in explanation to remove the error caused by his own words; he suffers them, the early fruit of his labours, with many of his converts, to give up his instructions, and desert him altogether. If we appeal to the commonest dictates of reason, would not such a person be regarded as perverting the religious commission, with which he may have the good faith, to imagine himself invested? Would he not be accountable for the salvation of those who thus desert him, supposing it possible for them to be saved by his ministry? Would he not be sacrificing all the dictates of reason and religion; and be chargeable with the most malicious falsehood, nothing short of formal perjury? Such would be the character our Divine Redeemer would necessarily assume in the interpretation of our religious opponents. There is but one way of accounting for His line of action, in reference to the multitude and His Apostles. It is, by supposing, according to the Catholic interpretation, that they were right. In this supposition, he could not correct them, unless he wished to correct right, and tell them it was wrong. The words of our Redeemer are, therefore, to be taken literally. Taken literally, they prove our doctrine.
There is one difficulty against the arguments now put forward, which I shall briefly explain, not so much on account of the importance of the objection itself, as because, appearing to flow from the words of our Redeemer, it has obtained a considerable degree of popularity. It is founded on the words, “It is the Spirit that vivifies, the flesh profiteth nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (v. 64). Here our religious opponents allege, all our reasoning is overturned, these words are corrective of the impression of the Capharnaites. He says, “It is the Spirit, that vivifies,” that is, the spiritual or figurative interpretation of the words, as opposed to the literal. “The flesh,” that is, the literal interpretation, “profiteth nothing.” In answer to this objection, it is to be said, in the first place, granting for a moment the meaning our adversaries give to the words, just quoted, to be the true one; still, it leaves the most conclusive part of the arguments wholly untouched. The only part, of our argument, it would answer, even allowing it to remain in full force, would be, that founded on the omission on the part of our Redeemer to correct the Capharnaites, which He would be bound to do, if they were in error. But, it by no means touches the strongest point of argument, urged from the very beginning, viz., that if the Capharnaites were in error, our Redeemer would not only have omitted correcting them, when He should, but He would have positively confirmed their error. And do not our religious opponents, by the very objection, suppose the Capharnaites to be in error up to the time our Redeemer had spoken these words; since, by supposing these words corrective, they also suppose the previous impression erroneous? And it has been proved, that, if erroneous, our Redeemer would have positively confirmed that error. In the next place, are these words in reality intended to be corrective of the impression of the Capharnaites? I deny it altogether. The assertion is absolutely unfounded. 1st. I ask if these words were intended as a correction of the false impression of His hearers, would our Redeemer be justified in putting it off so long? Would He not be bound to do so at the very first murmuring of the Capharnaites? In other words, would He be justified, in the first instance, in confirming an erroneous impression in the strongest possible manner, in the most clear and impressive language, and then, in the end, come forward and say it was all wrong?
2ndly. If, these words were sincerely intended by our Redeemer as a correction, would they not be put forward in terms clear enough to remove the erroneous impression caused by His former expressions? Nay, would not our Redeemer be bound to do so much? For, a man, who uses clear language in impressing a pernicious error, is bound, in justice, to use equally clear language in removing it. Would not His words, consequently, have the effect of retaining those, whom the former erroneous impression had estranged from Him? Now, the very reverse is the fact. The men thus estranged, no longer “walk with Him,” they, therefore, never understood the words of our Redeemer, as corrective of their former impression; and hence, our Redeemer did not intend them as such.
Let us now analyse the words themselves, and see whether they can bear the interpretation put upon them by our adversaries. They say, the word “flesh,” refers to the literal interpretation of His words; “spirit,” to the spiritual meaning of them. Now, this can, by no means, be the meaning of the words. It is quite gratuitous. And would it be too much to expect, after the long course of reasoning we have gone through, to prove our interpretation to be correct, that they would give something beyond mere assertion, for their view of the text? If, there were a dispute about the meaning of a certain passage in law, and the advocate of one opinion proved his interpretation of the passage, by a dozen or so of satisfactory arguments, would not his opponent be bound to adduce something stronger than mere assertion in support of his? Now, we have adduced our arguments, to prove our interpretation of the 6th chapter of St. John to be correct; and until our adversaries adduce stronger arguments in favour of their interpretation, we have a strict right to insist on their being wrong. I said, until they bring stronger arguments, etc. The reason is evident, because, the onus of proof rests upon them. Suppose a man to have acquired possession of an estate, held by his fathers for 1,500 years by a title hitherto unquestioned, and that after the lapse of that long period, his right were called in question by a rebellious domestic, who for the purpose of gratifying personal enmity, wishes to deprive him of his sacred inheritance, would not the whole onus of proof devolve upon the claimant? Would he not be bound to prove his claims, even to evidence? Now, when our adversaries sprang into existence, we were the legitimate inheritors of the sacred deposit of faith transmitted to the Church, by her Divine founder. We possessed the dogma of the Eucharist, as proved from the very passage. The onus, therefore, of proof devolves upon our adversaries; of whom we have a right in justice to demand, that, they should prove, even by arguments stronger than we have adduced, in favour of our interpretation, that the words, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood,” mean, unless you believe in the death of Christ; and that, in the passage, “it is the Spirit that vivifies, the flesh profiteth nothing,” the word “spirit,” means, spiritual interpretation, and “flesh,” literal meaning, even by arguments stronger, etc. But what is the real state of the case? Why, not a single argument have they yet adduced to show this to be the meaning of the words, not a parallel text of Sacred Scripture, for this simple reason that they could not. For, though in many passages of Scripture, the word “letter,” as opposed to “spirit,” means the literal meaning of words, I challenge them to adduce a single text in which the word “flesh” has that meaning. I may be asked then, what meaning do I give it? Why, I give it the same definite and fixed meaning it has in every passage of Sacred Scripture in which the two words stand opposed to each other; and in every such passage, the word “flesh,” means the carnal intellect, and natural reason of man unenlightened by Divine grace, and unpractised in the principles of faith; and “spirit,” means the same intellect of man practised in the principles of faith, and supernaturally enlightened by Divine grace. Such is the sense in which these words are applied by St. Paul, in every part of his Epistles, and particularly in his Epistle to the Romans, when he tells us, “the prudence of flesh is death, the prudence of the spirit is life. The very same idea, as expressed by them, is conveyed by the Apostle to the Corinthians (c. 2), when he speaks of the spiritual and the sensual man, the one enlightened by grace, and practised and exercised in the things of faith; the other, unenlightened by gace, and unpractised in the principles of faith. You might as well speak to a peasant of the revolution of the heavenly bodies, and the other truths of Philosophy, as speak to such a man about the doctrines of faith; they are folly to him, and he cannot understand them. This is the only objection which is attempted to be urged, with any degree of plausibility, against the arguments I have adduced. Our Redeemer promised to give us His body, really and substantially, under the appearance of food, and His promise is a sufficient guarantee for its accomplishment. This promise He redeemed at the Last Supper, when He instituted the Blessed Eucharist, on the eve of his Sacred Passion.
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