Wednesday, June 7th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Golden Chain Commentary on the Gospels Golden Chain Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Aquinas, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 2". "Golden Chain Commentary on the Gospel". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ gcc/ matthew-2.html.
Aquinas, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 2". "Golden Chain Commentary on the Gospel". https://www.studylight.org/
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1. Now when Jesus was born in Beth-lehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.2. Saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.
Aug.: After the miraculous Virgin-birth, a God-man having by Divine power proceeded from a virgin womb; in the obscure shelter of such a cradle, a narrow stall, wherein lay Infinite Majesty in a body more narrow, a God was suckled and suffered the wrapping of vile rags - amidst all this, on a sudden a new star shone in the sky upon the earth, and driving away the darkness of the world, changed night into day; that the day-star should not be hidden by the night.
Hence it is that the Evangelist says, "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem."
Remig.: In the beginning of this passage of the Gospel he puts three several things; the person, "When Jesus was born," the place, "in Bethlehem of Judaea," and the time, "in the days of Herod the king." These three circumstances verify his words.
Jerome: We think the Evangelist first wrote, as we read in the Hebrew, ’Judah,’ not ’Judaea.’ For in what other country is there a Bethlehem, that this needs to be distinguished as in ’Judaea?’ But ’Judah’ is written, because there is another Bethlehem in Galilee.
Gloss. ord.: There are two Bethlehems; [Joshua 19:15] one in the tribe of Zabulon, the other in the tribe of Judah, which was before called Ephrata.
Aug., de Cons. Evan., 2, 15: Concerning the place, Bethlehem, Matthew and Luke agree; but the cause and manner of their being there, Luke relates, Matthew omits. Luke again omits the account of the Magi, which Matthew gives. [p. 61]
Pseudo-Chrys.: Let us see to what serves this designation of time, "In the days of Herod the king." It shews the fulfilment of Daniel’s prophecy, wherein he spake that Christ should be born after seventy weeks of years. For from the time of the prophecy to the reign of Herod, the years of seventy weeks were accomplished.
Or again, as long as Judaea was ruled by Jewish princes, though sinners, so long prophets were sent for its amendment; but now, whereas God’s law was held under the power of an unrighteous king, and the righteousness of God enslaved by the Roman rule, Christ is born; the most desperate sickness required the better physician.
Rabanus: Otherwise, he mentions the foreign king to shew the fulfilment of the prophecy. "The Sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a Lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come." [Genesis 49:10]
Ambrose, in Luc., iii, 41: It is said, that some Idumaean robbers coming to Ascalon, brought with them among other prisoners Antipater. [ed. note: The same account of Herod’s parentage is given by Africanus, Euseb. Hist. i. 7. but Josephus says (Antiq. xiv. 1. n. 3. de Bell. Jud. i. 6. n. 2.) that Herod was an Idumaean, of noble birth, and that his father Antipas was governor of Idumaea under Alexander Jannaeus.] He was instructed in the law and customs of the Jews, and acquired the friendship of Hyrcanus, king of Judaea, who sent him as his deputy to Pompey. He succeeded so well in the object of his mission, that he laid claim to a share of the throne. He was put to death, but his son Herod was under Antony appointed king of Judaea, by a decree of the Senate; so it is clear that Herod sought the throne of Judaea without any connection or claim of birth.
Chyrs.: "Herod the king," mentioning his dignity, because there was another Herod who put John to death.
Pseudo-Chrys.: "When He was born . . . behold wise men," that is, immediately on His birth, shewing that a great God existed in a little one of man.
Rabanus: The Magi are men who enquire into the nature of things philosophically, but common speech uses Magi for wizards. In their own country, however, they are held in other repute, being the philosophers of the Chaldaeans, in whose lore kings and princes of that nation are taught, and by which themselves knew the birth of the Lord.
Aug., Serm. 202: What were these Magi but the first [p. 62] fruits of the Gentiles? Israelitish shepherds, gentile Magians, one from far, the other from near, hastened to the one Corner-stone.
Aug., Serm. 200: Jesus then was manifested neither to the learned nor the righteous; for ignorance belonged to the shepherds, impiety to the idolatrous Magi. Yet does that Corner-stone attract them both to Itself, seeing He came to choose the foolish things of this world to confound the wise, and not to call the righteous, but sinners; that nothing great should exalt himself, none weak should despair.
Gloss: These Magi were kings, and though their gifts were three, it is not to be thence inferred that themselves were only three in number, but in them was prefigured the coming to the faith of the nations sprung from the three sons of Noah.
Or, the princes were only three, but each brought a large company with him. They came not after a year’s end, for He would then have been found in Egypt, not in the manger, but on the thirteenth day. To shew whence they came it is said, "from the East."
Remig.: It should be known that opinions vary respecting the Magi. Some say they were Chaldaeans, who are known to have worshipped a star as God; thus their fictitious Deity shewed them the way to the true God. Others think that they were Persians; others again, that they came from the utmost ends of the earth. Another and more probable opinion is, that they were descendants of Balaam, who having his prophecy, "There shall rise a Star out of Jacob," [Numbers 24:17] as soon as they saw the star, would know that a King was born.
Jerome: They knew that such a star would rise by the prophecy of Balaam, whose successors they were. But whether they were Chaldaeans, or Persians, or came from the utmost ends of the earth, how in so short a space of time could they arrive at Jerusalem?
Remig.: Some used to answer, ’No marvel if that boy who was then born could draw them so speedily, though it were from the ends of the earth.’
Gloss: Or, they had dromedaries and Arabian horses, whose great swiftness brought them to Bethlehem in thirteen days.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, they had set out two years before the Saviour’s birth, and though they travelled all that time, neither meat nor drink failed in their scrips.
Remig.: Or, if they were the descendants of Balaam, their kings are not far distant from the land of promise, and [p. 63] might easily come to Jerusalem in that so short time.
But why does he write "From the East?" Because surely they came from a country eastward of Judaea. But there is also great beauty in this, They "came out of the East," seeing all who come to the Lord, come from Him and through Him; as it is said in Zechariah, "Behold the Man whose name is the East." [Zechariah 6:12]
Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, whence the day springs, thence came the first-fruits of the faith; for faith is the light of the soul. Therefore they came from the East, but to Jerusalem.
Remig.: Yet was not the Lord born there; thus they knew the time but not the place of His birth. Jerusalem being the royal city, they believed that such a child could not be born in any other.
Or it was to fulfil that Scripture, "The Law shall go out of Sion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." [Isaiah 2:3] And there Christ was first preached.
Or it was to condemn the backwardness of the Jews.
Pseudo-Aug., Append. Serm. 132: Many kings of Judaea had been born and died before, yet had Magi ever sought out any of them for adoration? No, for they had not been taught that any of these spoke from heaven. To no ordinary King of Judaea had these men, aliens from the land of Judaea, ever thought such honour due. But they had been taught that this Child was one, in worshipping whom they would certainly secure that salvation which is of God. Neither His age was such as attracts men’s flattery; His limbs not robed in purple, His brow not crowned with a diamond, no pompous train, no awful army, no glorious fame of battles, attracted these men to Him from the remotest countries, with such earnestness of supplication. There lay in a manger a Boy, newly born, of infantine size, of pitiable poverty. But in that small Infant lay hid something great, which these men, the first-fruits of the Gentiles, had learned not of earth but of heaven; as it follows, "We have seen His star in the east." They announce the vision and ask, they believe and enquire, as signifying those who walk by faith and desire sight.
Greg., M. in Evan., i. 10. n. 4: It should be known that the Priscillianists, heretics who believe every man to be born under the aspect of some planet. cite this text in support of their error; the new star which appeared at the Lord’s birth they consider to have been his fate.
Aug., contr. Faust, ii, 1: And, according to Faustus this [p. 64] introduction of the account of the star would lead us rather to call this part of the history, ’The Nativity,’ than ’The Gospel.’
Gregory: But far be it from the hearts of the faithful to call any thing, ’fate.’
Aug., City of God, book v, ch. 1: For by the word, ’fate,’ in common acceptation, is meant the disposition of the stars at the moment of a person’s birth or conception; to which some assign a power independent of the will of God. These must be kept at a distance from the ears of all who desire to be worshippers of Gods of any sort. But others think the stars have this virtue committed to them by the great God; wherein they greatly wrong the skies, in that they impute to their splendent host the decreeing of crimes, such as should any earthly people decree, their city should in the judgment of mankind deserve to be utterly destroyed.
Pseudo-Chrys.: If then any should become an adulterer or homicide through means of the planets, how great is the evil and wickedness of those stars, or rather of Him who made them? For as God knows things to come, and what evils are to spring from those stars; if He would not hinder it, He is not good; if He would but could not, He is weak.
Again, if it be of the star that we are either good or bad, we have neither merit nor demerit, as being involuntary agents; and why should I be punished for sin which I have done not wilfully, but by necessity? The very commands of God against sin, and exhortations to righteousness, overthrow such folly. For where a man has not power to do, or where he has not power to forbear, who would command him either to do or to forbear?
Gregory Nyss.: How vain moreover is prayer for those who live by fate; Divine Providence is banished from the world together with piety, and man is made the mere instrument of the sidereal motions. For these they say move to action, not only the bodily members, but the thoughts of the mind. In a word, they who teach this, take away all that is in us, and the very nature of a contingency; which is nothing less than to overturn all things. For where will there be free will? but that which is in us must be free.
Augustine, City of God, Book 5, ch. 6: It cannot be said to be utterly absurd to suppose that sidereal afflatus should influence the state of the body, when we see that it is by the approach and departure of the sun that the seasons of the year are [p. 65] varied, and that many things, as shells and the wonderful tides of the Ocean, increase or decrease as the moon waxes or wanes. But not so, to say that the dispositions of the mind are subject to sidereal impulse. Do they say that the stars rather foreshew than effect these results? how then do they explain, that in the life of twins, in their actions, their successes, professions, honours, and all other circumstances of life, there will often be so great diversity, that men of different countries are often more alike in their lives than twins, between whose birth there was only a moment’s, and between whose conception in the womb there was not a moment’s, interval.
And the small interval between their births is not enough to account for the great difference between their fates. Some give the name of fate not only to the constitution of the stars, but to all series of causes, at the same time subjecting all to the will and power of God.
This sort of subjection of human affairs and fate is a confusion of language which should be corrected, for fate is strictly the constitution of the stars. The will of God we do not call ’fate,’ unless indeed we will derive the word from ’speaking;’ as in the Psalms, "God hath spoken once, twice have I heard the same." [Psalms 62:11] There is then no need of much contention about what is merely a verbal controversy.
Aug., cont. Faust. ii, 5: But if we will not subject the nativity of any man to the influence of the stars, in order that we may vindicate the freedom of the will from any chain of necessity; how much less must we suppose sidereal influences to have ruled at His temporal birth, who is eternal Creator and Lord of the universe? The star which the Magi saw, at Christ’s birth according to the flesh, did not rule His fate, but ministered as a testimony to Him. Further, this was not of the number of those stars, which from the beginning of the creation observe their paths of motion according to the law of their Maker; but a star that first appeared at the birth, ministering to the Magi who sought Christ, by going before them till it brought them to the place where the infant God the Word was.
According to some astrologers such is the connexion of human fate with the stars, that on the birth of some men stars have been known to leave their courses, and go directly to the new-born. The fortune indeed of him [p. 66] that is born they suppose to be bound up with the course of the stars, not that the course of the stars is changed after the day of any man’s birth.
If then this star were of the number of those that fulfil their courses in the heavens, how could it determine what Christ should do, when it was commanded at His birth only to leave its own course? If, as is more probable, it was first created at His birth, Christ was not therefore born because it arose, but the reverse; so that if we must have fate connected with the stars, this star did not rule Christ’s fate, but Christ the stars.
Chrys.: The object of astrology is not to learn from the stars the fact of one’s birth; but from the hour of their nativity to forecast the fate of those that are born. But these men knew not the time of the nativity to have forecast the future from it, but the converse.
Gloss. interlin.: ’His star,’ i.e. the star He created for a witness of Himself.
Gloss. ord.: To the Shepherds, Angels, and the Magians, a star points out Christ; to both speaks the tongue of Heaven, since the tongue of the Prophets was mute. The Angels dwell in the heavens, the stars adorn it, to both therefore "the heavens declare the glory of God."
Greg., Hom. in Ev. Lib. i. Hom. 10: To the Jews who used their reason, a rational creature, i.e. an Angel, ought to preach. But the Gentiles who knew not to use their reason are brought to the knowledge of the Lord, not by words, but by signs; to the one prophecy, as to the faithful; to the other signs, as to the unbelievers. One and the same Christ is preached, when of perfect age, by Apostles; when an infant, and not yet able to speak, is announced by a star to the Gentiles; for so the order of reason required; speaking preachers proclaimed a speaking Lord, mute signs proclaimed a mute infant.
Leo, Serm. 33, 2: Christ Himself, the expectation of the nations, that innumerable posterity once promised to the most blessed patriarch Abraham, but to be born not after the flesh, but by the Spirit, therefore likened to the stars for multitude, that from the father of all nations, not an earthly but an heavenly progeny might be looked for.
Thus the heirs of that promised posterity, marked out in the stars, are roused to the faith by the rise of a new star, and where the heavens had been at first called in to witness, the aid of Heaven is continued. [p. 67]
Chrys.: This was manifestly not one of the common stars of Heaven. First, because none of the stars moves in this way, from east to south, and such is the situation of Palestine with respect to Persia. Secondly, from the time of its appearance, not in the night only, but during the day. Thirdly, from its being visible and then again invisible; when they entered Jerusalem it hid itself, and then appeared again when they left Herod. Further, it had no stated motion, but when the Magi were to go on, it went before them; when to stop, it stopped like the pillar of cloud in the desert. Fourthly, it signified the Virgin’s delivery, not by being fixed aloft, but by descending to earth, shewing herein like an invisible virtue formed into the visible appearance of a star.
Remig.: Some affirm this star to have been the Holy Spirit; He who descended on the baptized Lord as a dove, appearing to the Magi as a star. Others say it was an Angel, the same who appeared to the shepherds.
Gloss. ord: "In the east." It seems doubtful whether this refers to the place of the star, or of those that saw it; it might have risen in the east, and gone before them to Jerusalem.
Aug., Serm. 374: Will you ask, from whom had they learned that such an appearance as a star was to signify the birth of Christ? I answer from Angels, by the warning of some revelation. Do you ask, was it from good or ill Angels? Truly even wicked spirits, namely the daemons, confessed Christ to be the Son of God. But why should they not have heard it from good Angels, since in this their adoration of Christ their salvation was sought, not their wickedness condemned? The Angels might say to them, ’The Star which ye have seen is the Christ. Go ye, worship Him, where He is now born, and see how great is He that is born.’
Leo, Sermon 34, 3: Besides that star thus seen with the bodily eye, a yet brighter ray of truth pierced their hearts; they were enlightened by the illumination of the true faith.
Pseudo-Aug., Hil. Quaest. V. and N. Test. q. 63: They might think that a king of Judaea was born, since the birth of temporal princes is sometimes attended by a star. These Chaldean Magi inspected the stars, not with malevolence, but with the true desire of knowledge; following, it may be supposed, the tradition from Balaam; so that [p. 68] when they saw this new and singular star, they understood it to be that of which Balaam had prophesied, as marking the birth of a King of Judaea.
Leo: What they knew and believed might have been sufficient for themselves, that they needed not to seek to see with the bodily eye, what they saw so clearly with the spiritual. But their earnestness and perseverance to see the Babe was for our profit. It profited us that Thomas, after the Lord’s resurrection, touched and felt the marks of his wounds, and so for our profit the Magians’ eyes looked on the Lord in His cradle.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Were they then ignorant that Herod reigned in Jerusalem? Or that it is a capital treason to proclaim another King while one yet lives? But while they thought on the King to come, they feared not the king that was; while as yet they had not seen Christ, they were ready to die for Him. O blessed Magi! who before the face of a most cruel king, and before having beheld Christ, were made His confessors.
3. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4. And when he had gathered all the Chief Priests and Scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5. And they said unto him, "In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6. ’And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.’ "
Aug.: As the Magi seek a Redeemer, so Herod fears a successor.
Gloss. ord.: "The King," he is called, though in comparison with him whom they are seeking he is an alien and a foreigner.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Herod "was troubled" when he heard that a King was born of Jewish lineage, lest, himself being an Idumaean, the kingdom should return again to native princes, and himself be expelled, and his seed after [p. 69] him.
Great station is ever obnoxious to great fears; as the boughs of trees planted in high ground move when never so little wind blows, so high men are troubled with little rumours; while the lowly, like trees in the valley, remain at peace.
Aug., Serm. 200, 2: If His birth as an infant makes proud kings tremble, what will His tribunal as a Judge do? Let princes fear Him sitting at the right hand of His Father, whom this impious king feared while He hanged yet on His mother’s breast.
Leo: Thou art troubled, Herod, without cause. Thy nature cannot contain Christ, nor is the Lord of the world content with the narrow bounds of thy dominion. He, whom thou wouldest not should reign in Judaea, reigns every where.
Gloss. ord.: Perhaps he was troubled not on his own account, but for fear of the displeasure of the Romans. They would not allow the title of King or of God to any without their permission.
Greg., Hom. in Evan., 1, 10: At the birth of a King of Heaven, a king of earth is troubled; surely, earthly greatness is confounded, when heavenly greatness shews itself.
Leo, Serm. 36, 2: Herod represents the Devil; who as he then instigated him, so now he unweariedly imitates him. For he is grieved by the calling of the Gentiles, and by the daily ruin of his power.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Both have their own causes of jealousy, both fear a successor in their kingdom; Herod an earthly successor, the Devil a spiritual. Even Jerusalem is troubled, which should have rejoiced at that news, when a Jewish King was said to be risen up. But they were troubled, for the wicked cannot rejoice at the coming of the good. Or perhaps it was in fear that Herod should wreak his wrath against a Jewish King on his race.
Gloss. ord.: "Jerusalem was troubled with him," as willing to favour him whom it feared; the vulgar always pay undue honour to one who tyrannizes over it. Observe the diligence of his enquiry. If he should find him, he would do to him as he shewed afterwards his disposition; if he should not, he would at least be excused to the Romans.
Remig.: They are called Scribes, not from the employment of writing, but from the interpretation of the Scriptures, for they were doctors of the law. Observe, he does not enquire where Christ is born, but where He should be born; the subtle purpose of this was to see if they would shew pleasure at [p. 70] the birth of their King. He calls Him Christ, because he knew that the King of the Jews was anointed.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Why does Herod make this enquiry, seeing he believed not the Scriptures? Or if he did believe, how could he hope to be able to kill Him whom the Scriptures declared should be King? The Devil instigated Herod; who believed that Scripture lies not. Such is the faith of devils, who are not permitted to have perfect belief, even of that which they do believe. That they do believe, it is the force of truth constrains them; that they do not believe, it is that they are blinded by the enemy. If they had perfect faith, they would live as about to depart from this world soon, not as to possess it for ever.
Leo, Serm. 31, 2: The Magi, judging as men, sought in the royal city for Him, whom they had been told was born a King. But He who took the form of a servant, and came not to judge but to be judged, chose Bethlehem for His birth, Jerusalem for His death.
Theodotus, Serm. 1, ap. Conc. Eph.: Had He chosen the mighty city of Rome, it might have been thought that this change of the world had been wrought by the might of her citizens; had He been the son of the emperor, his power might have aided Him. But what was His choice? All that was mean, all that was in low esteem, that in this transformation of the world, divinity might at once be recognized. Therefore He chose a poor woman for His mother, a poor country for His native country; He has no money, and this stable is His cradle.
Gregory, Hom. in Evan., 8, 1: Rightly is He born in Bethlehem, which signifies the house of bread, who said, "I am the living bread, who came down from heaven."
Pseudo-Chrys.: When they should have kept secret the mystery of the King appointed of God, especially before a foreign king, straightway they became not preachers of the word of God, but revealers of His mystery. And they not only display the mystery, but cite the passage of the prophet, viz. Micah.
Gloss. ord.: He quotes this prophecy as they quote who give the sense and not the words.
Jerome, Epist. 57: The Jews are here blamed for ignorance; for whereas the prophecy says, "Thou Bethlehem Ephrata;" they said, ’Bethlehem in the land of Judah.’
Pseudo-Chrys.: By cutting short the prophecy, they became the cause of the murder of [p. 71] the Innocents. For the prophecy proceeds, "From thee shall go forth a King who shall feed My people Israel, and His day shall be from everlasting." Had they cited the whole prophecy, Herod would not have raged so madly, considering that it could not be an earthly King whose days were spoken of as "from everlasting."
Jerome, in Mich. v. 2: The following is the sense of the prophecy. Thou, Bethlehem, of the land of Judah, or Ephrata, (which is added to distinguish it from another Bethlehem in Galilee,) though thou art a small village among the thousand cities of Judah, yet out of thee shall be born Christ, who shall be the Ruler of Israel, who according to the flesh is of the seed of David, but was born of Me before the worlds; and therefore it is written, "His goings forth are of old. In the beginning was the Word."
Gloss: This latter half of the prophecy the Jews dropped; and other parts they altered, either through ignorance, (as was said above,) or for perspicuity, that Herod who was a foreigner might better understand the prophecy; thus for "Ephrata," they said, "land of Judah;" and for "little among the thousands of Judah," which expresses its smallness contrasted with the multitude of the people, they said, "not the least among the princes," willing to shew the high dignity that would come from the birth of the Prince. As if they had said, "Thou art great among cities from which princes have come."
Remig.: Or the sense is; though little among cities that have dominion, yet art thou not the least, for "out of thee shall come the Ruler, who shall rule My people Israel;" this Ruler is Christ, who rules and guides His faithful people.
Chrys.: Observe the exactness of the prophecy; it is not He shall be in Bethlehem, but shall come out of Bethlehem; shewing that He should be only born there. What reason is there for applying this to Zorobabel, as some do? For his goings forth were not from everlasting; nor did he go forth from Bethlehem, but was born in Babylonia. The expression, "art not the least," is a further proof, for none but Christ could make the town where He was born illustrious.
And after that birth, there came men from the utmost ends of the earth to see the stable and manger. He calls Him not ’the Son of God,’ but "the Ruler who shall govern My people Israel;" [p. 72] for thus He ought to condescend at the first, that they should not be scandalized, but should preach such things as more pertained to salvation, that they might be gained.
"Who shall rule My people Israel," is said mystically, for those of the Jews who believed; for if Christ ruled not all the Jews, theirs is the blame. Meanwhile he is silent respecting the Gentiles, that the Jews might not be scandalized. Mark this wonderful ordinance; Jews and Magi mutually instruct each other; the Jews learn of the Magi that a star had proclaimed Christ in the east, the Magi from the Jews that the Prophets had spoken of Him of old. Thus confirmed by a twofold testimony, they would look with more ardent faith for One whom the brightness of the star and the voice of the Prophets equally proclaimed.
Aug., Serm. 374. 2, 373. 4: The star that guided the Magi to the spot where was the Infant God with His Virgin Mother, might have conducted them straight to the town; but it vanished, and shewed not itself again to them till the Jews themselves had told them "the place where Christ should be born;" Bethlehem of Judaea.
Like in this to those who built the ark for Noah, providing others with a refuge, themselves perished in the flood; or like to the stones by the road that shew the miles, but themselves are not able to move.
The enquirers heard and departed; the teachers spake and remained still. Even now the Jews shew us something similar; for some Pagans, when clear passages of Scripture are shewn them, which prophesy of Christ, suspecting them to be forged by the Christians, have recourse to Jewish copies. Thus they leave the Jews to read unprofitably, and go on themselves to believe faithfully.
7. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, "Go and search diligently for the young Child; and when ye have found Him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship Him also." 9. Whey they had heard the king, they departed.
Pseudo-Chrys.: As soon as Herod had heard the answer, though doubly authenticated, both by the authority of the Priests, and the passage from the Prophets, he yet turned not to worship the King that was to be born, but sought how he might put Him to death by subtilty. He saw that the Magi were neither to be won by flattery, nor awed by threats, nor bribed by gifts, to consent to this murder; he sought therefore to deceive them; "he privily called the wise men;" that the Jews, whom he suspected, might not know of it. For he thought they would incline the rather to a King of their own nation.
Remig.: "Diligently enquired;" craftily, for he feared they would not return to him, and then he should know how he should do to put the young Child to death.
Pseudo-Aug., Serm. in App. 131, 3: The star had been seen, and with great wonder, nearly two years before. We are to understand that it was signified to them whose the star was, which was visible all that time till He, whom it signified, was born. Then as soon as Christ was made known to them they set out, and came and worshipped Him in thirteen days from the east. [ed. note: This is written upon the notion that the Magi presented themselves to Christ twelve days after His birth, according to the Latin date for celebrating the event. It seems really to have taken place after the Purification, on the return of St. Mary to Bethlehem. However, Aug. (Cons. Evan., ii. 11) places it before the Purification.]
Chrys.: Or, the star appeared to them long time before, because the journey would take up some time, and they were to stand before Him immediately on His birth, that seeing Him in swaddling clothes, He might seem the more wonderful.
Gloss: According to others, the star was first seen on the day of the nativity, and having accomplished its end, ceased to be. Thus Fulgentius [margin note: Serm. de Epiph.] says, "The Boy at His birth created a new star." Though they now knew both time and place, he still would not have them ignorant of the person of the Child, "Go," he says, "and enquire diligently of the young Child;" a commission they would have executed even if he had not commanded it.
Chrys.: "Concerning the young Child," he says, not ’of the King;’ he envies Him the regal title.
Pseudo-Chrys.: To induce them to do this, he put on the colour of devotion, beneath which he whetted the sword, hiding the malice of his heart under colour of [p. 74] humility. Such is the manner of the malicious, when they would hurt any one in secret, they feign meekness and affection.
Greg., Hom. in Ev. i. 10. 3: He feigns a wish of worshipping Him only that he may discover Him, and put him to death.
Remig.: The Magi obeyed the King so far as to seek the Lord, but not to return to Herod. Like in this to good hearers; the good they hear from wicked preachers, that they do; but do not imitate their evil lives.
9. And, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.
Pseudo-Chrys.: This passage shews, that when the star had brought the Magi nearly to Jerusalem, it was hidden from them, and so they were compelled to ask in Jerusalem, "where Christ should be born?" and thus to manifest Him to them; on two accounts, first, to put to confusion the Jews, inasmuch as the Gentiles instructed only by sight of a star sought Christ through strange lands, while the Jews who had read the Prophets from their youth did not receive Him, though born in their country.
Secondly, that the Priests, when asked where Christ should be born, might answer to their now condemnation, and while they instructed Herod, they were themselves ignorant of Him.
"The star went before them," to shew them the greatness of the King.
Aug.: To perform its due service to the Lord, it advanced slowly, leading them to the spot. It was ministering to Him, and not ruling His fate; its light shewed the suppliants and filled the inn, shed over the walls and roof that covered the birth; and thus it disappeared.
Pseudo-Chrys.: What wonder that a divine star should minister to the Sun of righteousness about to rise. It stood over the Child’s head, as it were, saying, ’This is He;’ proving by its place what it had no voice to utter.
Gloss. Anselm: It is evident that the star must have been in the air, and close above the house where the Child was, else it would not have pointed out the exact house.
Ambrose, in Luc. 2, 45: The star is the way, and the way is Christ; and according to the mystery of the incarnation, Christ is a [p. 75] star. He is a blazing and a morning-star. Thus where Herod is, the star is not seen; where Christ is, there it is again seen, and points out the way.
Remig.: Or, the star figures the grace of God, and Herod the Devil. He, who by sin puts himself in the Devil’s power, loses that grace; but if he return by repentance, he soon finds that grace again which leaves him not till it have brought him to the young Child’s house, i.e. the Church.
Gloss. ord.: Or, the star is the illumination of faith, which leads him to the nearest aid; while they turn aside to the Jews, the Magi lose it; so those who seek counsel of the bad, lose the true light.
10. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
Gloss: This service of the star is followed by the rejoicing of the Magi.
Remig.: And it was not enough to say, "They rejoiced," but "they rejoiced with exceeding great joy."
Pseudo-Chrys.: They rejoiced, because their hopes were not falsified but confirmed, and because the toil of so great travel had not been undertaken in vain.
Gloss. ord.: He rejoices indeed who rejoices on God’s account, who is the true joy. "With great joy," he says, for they had great cause.
Pseudo-Chrys.: By the mystery of this star they understood that the dignity of the King then born exceeded the measure of all worldly kings.
Remig.: He adds, "greatly," shewing that men rejoice more over what they have lost than over what they possess.
Leo, Serm. in Epiph., 4. 3: Though in stature a babe, needing the aid of others, unable to speak, and different in nothing from other infants, yet such faithful witnesses, shewing the unseen Divine Majesty which was in Him, ought to have proved most certainly that was the Eternal Essence of the Son of [p. 76] God that had taken upon Him the true human nature.
Pseudo-Chrys.: "Mary His mother," not crowned with a diadem or laying on a golden couch; but with barely one garment, not for ornament but for covering, and that such as the wife of a carpenter when abroad might have. Had they therefore come to seek an earthly king, they would have been more confounded than rejoiced, deeming their pains thrown away.
But now they looked for a heavenly King; so that though they saw nought of regal state, that star’s witness sufficed them, and their eyes rejoiced to behold a despised Boy, the Spirit shewing Him to their hearts in all His wonderful power, they fell down and worshipped, seeing the man, they acknowledged the God.
Rabanus: Joseph was absent by Divine command, that no wrong suspicions might occur to the Gentiles.
Gloss, Anselm: in these offerings we observe their national customs, gold, frankincense, and various spices abounding among the Arabians; yet they intended thereby to signify something in mystery.
Greg., Hom. in Evan., 1, 106: Gold, as to a King; frankincense, as sacrifice to God; myrrh, as embalming the body of the dead.
Aug.: Gold, as paid to a mighty King; frankincense, as offered to God; myrrh, as to one who is to die for the sins of all. Pseudo-Chrys.: And though it were not then understood what these several gifts mystically signified, that is no difficulty; the same grace that instigated them to the deed, ordained the whole.
Remig.: And it is to be known that each did not offer a different gift, but each one the three kings, each one thus proclaiming the King, the God, and the man.
Chrys.: Let Marcion and Paul of Samosata then blush, who will not see what the Magi saw, those progenitors of the Church adoring God in the flesh. That He was truly in the flesh, the swaddling clothes and the stall prove; yet that they worshipped Him not as mere man, but as God, the gifts prove which it was becoming to offer to a God. Let the Jews also be ashamed, seeing the Magi coming before them, and themselves not even earnest to tread in their path.
Greg.: Something further may yet be meant here. Wisdom is typified by gold; as Solomon saith in the Proverbs, "A treasure to be desired is in the mouth of the wise."
By frankincense, which is burnt before God, the power of prayer [p. 77] is intended, as in the Psalms, "Let my speech come before thee as incense." [Psalms 141:2] In myrrh is figured mortification of the flesh. To a king at his birth we offer gold, if we shine in his sight with the light of wisdom; we offer frankincense, if we have power before God by the sweet savour of our prayers; we offer myrrh, when we mortify by abstinence the lusts of the flesh.
Gloss, Anselm: The three men who offer, signify the nations who come from the three quarters of the earth. They open their treasures, i.e. manifest the faith of their hearts by confession. Rightly "in the house," teaching that we should not vaingloriously display the treasure of a good conscience. They bring "three" gifts, i.e. the faith in the Holy Trinity. Or opening the stores of Scripture, they offer its threefold sense, historical, moral and allegorical; or Logic, Physic, and Ethics, making them all serve the faith.
12. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
Aug.: The wicked Herod, now made cruel by fear, will needs do a deed of horror. But how could he ensnare him who had come to cut off all fraud? His fraud is escaped as it follows, "And being warned."
Jerome: They had offered gifts to the Lord, and receive a warning corresponding to it. This warning (in the Greek ’having received a response’) is given not by an Angel, but by the Lord Himself, to shew the high privilege granted to the merit of Joseph.
Gloss. ord.: This warning is given by the Lord Himself; it is none other that now teaches these Magi the way they should return, but He who said, "I am the way." [John 14:6] Not that the Infant actually speaks to them, that His divinity may not be revealed before the time, and His human nature may be thought real. But he says, "having received an answer," for as Moses prayed silently, so they with pious spirit had asked what the Divine will bade. "By another way," for they were not to be mixed up with the unbelieving Jews.
Chrys., Hom. 8: See the faith of the Magi; they were not offended, nor said within themselves, What need now of flight? or [p. 78] of secret return, if this Boy be really some great one? Such is true faith; it asks not the reason of any command, but obeys.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Had the Magi sought Christ as an earthly King, they would have remained with Him when they had found Him; but they only worship, and go their way. After their return, they continued in the worship of God more steadfast than before, and taught many by their preaching. And when afterwards Thomas reached their country, they joined themselves to him, and were baptized, and did according to his preaching. [ed. note: S. Thomas is said to have preached to the Parthians, Persians, or Indians. Euseb. Hist. iii. 1. Clem. Recogn. ix. 29. Greg. Naz. Or. 25. p. 438. The Margi are mentioned, Pseudo-Hippol. de Duod. Apost. (ed. Fabr. Append. p. 30) Combefis conjecturing Mardi.]
Greg., Hom. in Ev. i. 10. 7: We may learn much from this return of the Magi another way. Our country is Paradise, to which, after we have come to the knowledge of Christ we are forbidden to return the way we came. We have left this country by pride, disobedience, following things of sight, tasting, forbidden food; and we must return to it by repentance, obedience, by contemning things of sight, and overcoming carnal appetite.
Pseudo-Chrys.: It was impossible that they, who left Herod to go to Christ, should return to Herod. They who have by sin left Christ and passed to the devil, often return to Christ; for the innocent, who knows not what is evil, is easily deceived, but having once tasted the evil he has taken up, and remembering the good he has left, he returns in penitence to God. He who has forsaken the devil and come to Christ, hardly returns to the devil; for rejoicing in the good he has found, and remembering the evil he has escaped, with difficulty returns to that evil.
Ver 13. And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise, and take the young Child and His mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.14. When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night, and departed into Egypt:15. And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, "Out of Egypt have I called my Son."
Rabanus: Here Matthew omits the day of purification when the first-born must be presented in the Temple with the lamb, or a pair of turtle doves, or pigeons. Their fear of Herod did not make them bold to transgress the Law, that they should not present the Child in the temple. As soon then as the rumour concerning the Child begins to be spread abroad, the Angel is sent to bid Joseph carry Him into Egypt.
Remig.: by this that the Angel appears always to Joseph in sleep, is mystically signified that they who rest from mundane cares and secular pursuits, deserve angelic visitations.
Hilary: The first time when he would teach Joseph that she was lawfully espoused, the Angel called the Virgin his espoused "wife;" but after the birth she is only spoken of as the Mother of Jesus. As wedlock was rightfully imputed to her in her virginity, so virginity is esteemed venerable in her as the mother of Jesus.
Pseudo-Chrys.: He says not, ’the Mother and her young Child,’ but, "the young Child and His mother;" for the Child was not born for the mother, but the mother prepared for the Child. How is this that the Son of God flies from the face of man? or who shall deliver from the enemy’s hand, if He Himself fears His enemies?
First; He ought to observe, even in this, the law of that human nature which He took on Him; and human nature and infancy must flee before threatening power.
Next, that Christians when persecution makes it necessary should not be ashamed to fly. But why into Egypt? The Lord, "who keepeth not His anger for ever," remembered the woes He had brought upon Egypt, and therefore sent His Son thither, and gives it this sign of great reconciliation, that with this one remedy He might heal the ten plagues of Egypt, and the nation that had been the persecutor of this first-born people, might be the guardian of His first-born Son. As formerly they had cruelly tyrannized, now they might devoutly serve; nor go to the Red Sea to be drowned, but be called to the waters of baptism to receive life.
Aug.: Hear the sacrament of a great mystery. Moses before had shut up the light of day from the traitors the Egyptians; Christ by going down thither brought back light to them that sat in darkness. He fled that he might enlighten them, not that he might escape his foes.
Aug., Serm. 218, App.: The miserable tyrant supposed that by the Saviour’s coming he should be thrust from his royal throne. But it was not so; Christ came not to hurt others’ dignity, but to bestow His own on others.
Hilary: Egypt full of idols; for after this enquiry for Him among the Jews, Christ leaving Judaea goes to be cherished among nations given to the vainest superstitions.
Jerome: When he takes the Child and His mother to go into Egypt, it is in the night and darkness, when to return into Judaea, the Gospel speaks of no light, no darkness.
Pseudo-Chrys.: The straitness of every persecution may be called night - the relief from it in like manner, day.
Rabanus: For when the true light withdraws, they who hate the light are in darkness, when it returns they are again enlightened.
Chrys.: See how immediately on His birth the tyrant is furious against Him, and the mother with her Child is driven into foreign lands. So should you in the beginning of your spiritual career seem to have tribulation, you need not to be discouraged, but bear all things manfully, having this example.
Bede, Hom. in Nat. Innocent: The flight into Egypt signifies that the elect are often by the wickedness of the bad driven from their homes, or sentenced to banishment. Thus He, who, we shall see below, gave the command to His own, "When they shall persecute you in one city, flee ye to another," first practised what He enjoined, as a man flying before the face of man on earth. He whom but a little before a star had proclaimed to the Magi to be worshipped as from heaven.
Remig.: Isaiah had foretold this flight into Egypt. "Lo! the Lord shall ascend on a light cloud, and shall come into Egypt, and shall scatter the idols of Egypt." [Isaiah 19:1] It is the practice of this Evangelist to confirm all he says; and that because he is writing to the Jews, therefore he adds, "that it might be fulfilled, &c."
Jerome, Epist., 57. 7: This is not in the LXX; but in Osee according to the genuine Hebrew text we read; "Israel is my child, and I have loved him," and "from Egypt have I called my Son;" where the LXX render, "Israel is my child, and I have loved him, and called my sons out of Egypt."
Jerome, in Osee, 11, 2: The Evangelist cites this text because it refers to Christ typically. For it is to be observed, that in this Prophet and in others, the coming of Christ and the call of the Gentiles are foreshewn in such a manner, that the thread of history is never broken.
Chrys.: It is a law of prophecy, that in a thousand places many things are said of some and fulfilled of others. As it is said of Simeon and Levi, "I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel;" [Genesis 49:7] which was fulfilled not in themselves, but in their descendants. So here Christ is by nature the Son of God, and so the prophecy is fulfilled in Him.
Jerome: Let those who deny the authenticity of the Hebrew copies, shew us this passage in the LXX, and when they have failed to find it, we will shew it them in the Hebrew. We may also explain it in another way, by considering it as quoted from Numbers, "God brought him out of Egypt; his glory is as it were that of a unicorn." [Numbers 23:22]
Remig.: In Joseph is figured the order of preachers, in Mary Holy Scripture; by the Child the knowledge of the Saviour; by the cruelty of Herod the persecution which the Church suffered in Jerusalem; by Joseph’s flight into Egypt the passing of the preachers to the unbelieving Gentiles, (for Egypt signifies darkness;) by the time that he abode in Egypt the space of time between the ascension of the Lord and the coming of Anti-Christ; by Herod’s death the extinction of jealousy in the hearts of the Jews.
Ver 16. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.
Pseudo-Chrys.: When the infant Jesus had subdued the Magi, not by the might of His flesh, but the grace of His Spirit, Herod "was exceeding wrath," that they whom he, sitting on his throne, had no power to move, were obedient to an Infant lying in a manger. Then by their contempt of him the Magi gave further cause of wrath. For when kings’ wrath is stirred by fear for their crowns, it is a great and inextinguishable wrath.
But what did he? "He sent and slew all the children." As a wounded beast rends whatsoever meeteth it as if the cause of its smart, so he mocked by the Magi spent his fury on children. He said to himself in his fury, ’Surely the Magi have found the Child whom they said should be King;’ for a king in fear for his crown fears all things, suspects all. Then he sent and slew all those infants, that he might secure one among so many.
Aug.: And while he thus persecutes Christ, he furnished an army (or martyrs) clothed in white robes of the same age as the Lord.Aug., Serm. 220. App.: Behold how this unrighteous enemy never could have so much profited these infants by his love, as he did by his hate; for as much as iniquity abounded against them, so much did the grace of blessing abound on them.
Aug., Serm. 373, 3: O blessed infants! He only will doubt of your crown in this your passion for Christ, who doubts that the baptism of Christ has a benefit for infants. He who at His birth had Angels to proclaim Him, the heavens to testify, and Magi to worship Him, could surely have prevented that these should not have died for Him, had He not known that they died not in that death, but rather lived in higher bliss. Far be the thought, that Christ who came to set men free, did nothing to reward those who died in His behalf, when hanging on the cross He prayed for those who put Him to death.
Rabanus: He is not satisfied with the massacre at Bethlehem, but extends it to the adjacent villages; sparing no age from the child of one night old, to that of two years.
Aug., Serm. 132, App.: The Magi had seen this unknown star in the heavens, not a few days, but two years before, as they had informed Herod when he enquired. This caused him to fix "two years old and under;" as it follows, "according to the time he had enquired of the Magi."
Gloss. ord.: Or because he feared that the Child to whom even stars ministered, might transform His appearance to greater or under that of His own age, or might conceal all those of that age: hence it seems to be that he slew all from one day to two years old.
Aug., de Cons. Evan., 2, 11: Or, disturbed by pressure of still more imminent dangers, Herod’s thoughts are drawn to other thoughts than the slaughter of children, he might suppose that the Magi, unable to find Him whom they had supposed born, were ashamed to return to him. So the days of purification being accomplished, they might go up in safety to Jerusalem. And who does not see the one day they may have escaped the attention of a King occupied with so many cares, and that afterwards when the things done in the Temple came to be spread abroad, then Herod discovered that he had been deceived by the Magi, and then sent and slew the children.
Bede, Hom. in Nat. Innocent: In this death of the children the precious death of all Christ’s martyrs is figured; that they were infants signifies, that by the merit of humility alone can we come to the glory of martyrdom; that they were slain in Bethlehem and the coasts thereof, that the persecution shall be both in Jerusalem whence the Church originated, and throughout the world; in those of two years old are figured the perfect in doctrine and works; those under that age the neophytes; that they were slain while Christ escaped, signifies that the bodies of the martyrs may be destroyed by the wicked, but that Christ cannot be taken from them.
Ver 17. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying,18. In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
Chrys., Hom. ix: The Evangelist by this history of so bloody a massacre, having filled the reader with horror, now again sooths his feelings, shewing that these things were not done because God could not hinder, or knew not of them; but as the Prophet had foretold.
Jerome, In Hierem, 31, 15: This passage of Jeremiah has been quoted by Matthew neither according to the Hebrew nor the LXX version. This shews that the Evangelists and Apostles did not follow any one’s translation, but according to the Hebrew manner expressed in their own words what they had read in Hebrew.
By Ramah we need not suppose that the town of that name near Gibeah is meant; but take it as signifying ’high.’ A voice was heard ’aloft,’ that is, spread far and wide.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, it was heard on high, because uttered for the death of the innocent, according to that, "The voice of the poor entereth into the heavens." The ’weeping’ means the cries of the children; ’lamentation,’ refers to the mothers. In the infants themselves their death ends their cries, in the mothers it is continually renewed by the remembrance of their loss.
Jerome: Rachel’s son was Benjamin, in which tribe Bethlehem is not situated. How then does Rachel weep for the children of Judah as if they were her own? We answer briefly. She was buried near Bethlehem in Ephrata, and was regarded as the mother, because her body was there entertained. Or, as the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin were contiguous, and Herod’s command extended to the coasts of Bethlehem as well as to the town itself, we may suppose that many were slain in Benjamin.
Pseudo-Aug., Hil. Quaest. N. and N. Test. 9. 62: Or, The sons of Benjamin, who were akin to Rachel, were formerly cut off by the other tribes, and so extinct both then and ever after. Then therefore Rachel began to mourn her sons, when she saw those of her sister cut off in such a cause, that they should be heirs of eternal life; for he who has experienced any misfortune, is made more sensible of his losses by the good fortune of a neighbour.
Remig.: The sacred Evangelist adds, to shew the greatness of the mourning, that even the dead Rachel was roused to mourn her sons; and "would not be comforted because they were not."
Jerome: This may be understood in two ways; either she thought them dead for all eternity, so that no consolation could comfort her; or, she desired not to receive any comfort for those who she knew had gone into life eternal.
Hilary: It could not be that they "were not" who seemed now dead, but by glorious martyrdom they were advanced to eternal life; and consolation is for those who have suffered loss, not for those who have reaped a gain. Rachel affords a type of the Church long barren now at length fruitful. She is heard weeping for her children, not because she mourned them dead, but because they were slaughtered by those whom she would have retained as her first-born sons.
Rabanus: Or, The Church weeps the removal of the saints from this earth, but wishes not to be comforted as though they should return again to the struggles of life, for they are not to be recalled into life.
Gloss. ord.: She "will not be comforted" in this present life, for that they are not, but transfers all her hope and comfort to the life to come.
Rabanus: Rachel is well set for a type of the Church, as the word signifies ’a sheep’ or ’seeing;’ [margin note: see Ch. 1, note i, p. 19] her whole thought being to fix her eye in contemplation of God; and she is the hundredth sheep that the shepherd layeth on his shoulder.
Ver 19. But when Herod was dead, behold, an Angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,20. Saying, "Arise, and take the young Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for they are dead which sought the young Child’s life.
Euseb., Eccles. Hist., 1, 8: For the sacrilege which Herod had committed against the Saviour, and his wicked slaughter of the infants of the same age, the Divine vengeance hastened his end; and his body, as Josephus relates, was attacked by a strange disease; so that the prophets declared that they were not human ailments, but visitations of Divine vengeance. Filled with mad fury, he gives command to seize and imprison the heads and nobles out of all parts of Judaea; ordering that as soon as ever he should breathe his last, they should be all put to death, that so Judaea, though unwillingly, might mourn at his decease.
Just before he died he murdered his son, Antipater,(besides two boys put to death before, Alexander and Aristobulus.) Such was the end of Herod, noticed in those words of the Evangelist, "when Herod was dead," and such the punishment inflicted.
Jerome: Many here err from ignorance of history, supposing the Herod who mocked our Lord on the day of His passion, and the Herod whose death is here related, were the same. But the Herod who was then made friends with Pilate was son of this Herod and brother to Archelaus; for Archelaus was banished to Lyons in Gaul, and his father Herod made king in his room, as we read in Josephus.
Pseudo-Dionysius, Dion. De Cael. Hierarch. 4: See how Jesus Himself, though far above all celestial beings, and coming unchanged to our nature, shunned not that ordinance of humanity which He had taken on Him, but was obedient to the dispositions of His Father made known by Angels. For even by Angels is declared to Joseph the retreat of the Son into Egypt, so ordained of the Father, and His return again to Judaea.
Pseudo-Chrys.: See how Joseph was set for ministering to Mary; when she went into Egypt and returned, who would have fulfilled to her this so needful ministry, had she not been betrothed? For to outward view, Mary nourished and Joseph defended the Child; but in truth the Child supported His mother and protected Joseph.
"Return into the land of Israel;" for He went down into Egypt as a physician, not to abide there, but to succour it sick with error. But the reason of the return is given in the words, "They are dead, &c."
Jerome: From this we see that not Herod only, but also the Priests and Scribes had sought the Lord’s death at that time.
Remig.: But if they were many who sought his destruction, how came they all to have died in so short a time? As we have related above, all the great men among the Jews were slain at Herod’s death.
Pseudo-Chrys.: And that is said to have been done by the counsel of God for their conspiring with Herod against the Lord; as it is said, "Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him."
Remig.: Or the Evangelist uses a figure of speech, by which the plural is used for the singular. These words, "the Child’s life," overthrow those heretics [margin note: or "soul," i.e. the Apollinarians] who taught that Christ did not take a soul, but had His Divinity in place of a soul.
Bede, Hom. in Nat. Innocent: This slaughter of the infants for the Lord’s sake, the death of Herod soon after, and Joseph’s return with the Lord and his mother to the land of Israel, is a figure shewing that all the persecutions moved against the Church will be avenged by the death of the persecutor, peace restored to the Church, and the saints who had concealed themselves return to their own places. Or the return of Jesus to the land of Israel on the death of Herod shews, that, at the preaching of Enoch and Elijah [see note, c, below], the Jews, when the fire of modern jealousy shall be extinguished, shall receive the true faith.
[ed. note, c: That Enoch and especially Elias will come at the end of the world and by their preaching convert the Jews is affirmed by Tertullian, (de Anima 35. de Resur. c. 22) Origen, (in Joann, i. tom. 5. in Matt. tom. 13) Hilary, (in Matt. xx. 10. xxvi. 5) Chrysostom, (in Matt. xvii. 10) Augustine, (City of God 20, 29. Op. Imp. contra Julian. vi. 30) Pope Gregory, (in Job. lib. xiv. 23. in Joann. Hom. vii. 1) and Damascene, (de Fid. Orth. iv. 26 fin]
Ver 21. And he arose, and took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.22. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:23. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, "He shall be called a Nazarene.
Gloss: Joseph was not disobedient to the angelic warning, but "he arose, and took the young Child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel."
The Angel had not fixed the particular place, so that while Joseph hesitates, the Angel returns, and by the often visiting him confirms his obedience.
Josephus: Herod had nine wives, by seven of whom he had a numerous issue. By Josida, his first born Antipater - by Mariamine, Alexander and Aristobulus - by Mathuca, a Samaritan woman, Archelaus - by Cleopatra of Jerusalem, Herod, who was afterwards tetrarch, and Philip. The three first were put to death by Herod; and after his death, Archelaus seized the throne by occasion of his father’s will, and the question of the succession was carried before Augustus Caesar. After some delay, he made a distribution of the whole of Herod’s dominions in accordance with the Senate’s advice. To Archelaus he assigned one half, consisting of Idumaea and Judaea, with the title of tetrarch, and a promise of that of king if he shewed himself deserving of it. The rest he divided into two tetrarchates, giving Galilee to Herod the tetrarch, Ituraea and Trachonitis to Philip. Thus Archelaus was after his father’s death a duarch, which kind of sovereignty is here called a kingdom.
Aug., De Con. Evan. ii. 10: Here is may be asked, How then could his parents go up every year of Christ’s childhood to Jerusalem, as Luke relates, if fear of Archelaus now prevented them from approaching it? This difficulty is easily solved. At the festival they might escape notice in the crowd, and by returning soon, where in ordinary times they might be afraid to live. So they neither became irreligious by neglecting the festival, nor notorious by dwelling continually in Jerusalem.
Or it is open to us to understand Luke when he says, they "went up every year," as speaking of a time when they had nothing to fear from Archelaus, who, as Josephus relates, reigned only nine years.
There is yet a difficulty in what follows; "Being warned in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee." If Joseph was afraid to go into Judaea because one of Herod’s sons, Archelaus, reigned there, how could he go into Galilee, where another of his sons Herod was tetrarch, as Luke tells us? As if the times of which Luke is speaking were times in which there was any longer need to fear for the Child, when even in Judaea things were so changed, that Archelaus no longer ruled there, but Pilate was governor.
Gloss. ord.: But then we might ask, why was he not afraid to go into Galilee, seeing Archelaus ruled there also? He could be better concealed in Nazareth than in Jerusalem, which was the capital of the kingdom, and where Archelaus was constantly resident.
Chrys.: And when he had once left the country of His birth, all the occurrences passed out of mind; the rage of persecution had been spent in Bethlehem and its neighbourhood. By choosing Nazareth therefore, Joseph both avoided danger, and returned to his country.
Aug., de Con. Evan., ii, 9: This may perhaps occur to some, that Matthew says His parents went with the Child Jesus to Galilee because they feared Archelaus, when it should seem most probable that they chose Galilee because Nazareth was their own city, as Luke has not forgot to mention. We must understand, that when the Angel in the vision in Egypt said to Joseph, "Go into the land of Israel," Joseph understood the command to be that he should go straight into Judaea, that being properly "the land of Israel." But finding Archelaus ruling there, he would not court the danger, as "the land of Israel" might be interpreted to extend to Galilee, which was inhabited by children of Israel.
Or we may suppose His parents supposed that Christ should dwell no where but in Jerusalem, where was the temple of the Lord, and would have gone thither had not the fear of Archelaus hindered them. And they had not been commanded from God to dwell positively in Judaea, or Jerusalem, so as that they should have despised the fear of Archelaus, but only in the land of Israel generally, which they might understand of Galilee.
Hilary: But the figurative intepretation holds good any way. Joseph represents the Apostles, to whom Christ is entrusted to be borne about. These, as though Herod were dead, that is, his people being destroyed in the Lord’s passion, are commanded to preach the Gospel to the Jews; they are sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But finding the seed of their hereditary unbelief still abiding, they fear and withdraw; admonished by a vision, to wit, seeing the Holy Ghost poured upon the Gentiles, they carry Christ to them.
Rabanus: Or, we may apply it to the last times of the Jewish Church, when many Jews having turned to the preaching of Enoch and Elijah, the rest filled with the spirit of Antichrist shall fight against the faith. So that part of Judaea where Archelaus rules, signifies the followers of Antichrist; Nazareth of Galilee, whither Christ is conveyed, that part of the nation that shall embrace the faith. Galilee means, ’removal;’ Nazareth, ’the flower of virtues;’ for the Church the more zealously she removes from the earthly to the heavenly, the more she abounds in the flower and fruit of virtues.
Gloss: To this he adds the Prophet’s testimony, saying, "That is might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Prophets, &c."
Jerome: Had he meant to quote a particular text, he would not have written ’Prophets,’ but ’the Prophet.’ By thus using the plural he evidently does not take the words of any one passage in Scripture, but the sense of the whole. Nazarene is interpreted, ’Holy,’ and that the Lord would be Holy, all Scripture testifies.
Otherwise we may explain that it is found in Isaiah rendered to the strict letter of the Hebrew. [margin note: c. 11. 1] "There shall come a Rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Nazarene shall grow out of His roots."
Pseudo-Chrys.: They might have read this in some Prophets who are not in our canon, as Nathan or Esdras. That there was some prophecy to this purport is clear from what Philip says to Nathanael. "Him of whom Moses in the Law and the Prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth." [John 1:15] Hence the Christians were at first called Nazarenes, at Antioch their name was changed to that of ’Christians.’
Aug., de Con. Evan., ii, 5: The whole of this history, from the account of the Magi inclusively, Luke omits. Let it be here noticed once for all, that each of the Evangelists writes as if he were giving a full and complete history, which omits nothing; where he really passes over any thing, he continues his thread of history as if he had told all. Yet by a diligent comparison of their several narratives, we can be at no loss to know where to insert any particular that is mentioned by one and not by the other.