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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 4

Haydock's Catholic Bible CommentaryHaydock's Catholic Commentary

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Verse 1

Jesus Christ was led by the Holy Ghost, immediately after his baptism, into the desert,[1] to prepare, by fasting and prayer, for his public ministry, and to merit for us by his victory over the enemy of our salvation, force to conquer him also ourselves. By this conduct, he teaches all that were to be in future times called to his ministry, how they are to retire into solitude, in order to converse with God in prayer, and draw down the blessing of heaven upon themselves and their undertaking. What treasures of grace might we expect, if, as often as we receive any of the sacraments, we were to retire within ourselves, and shut out, for a time, the world and its cares. Then should we come prepared to withstand temptation, and should experience the divine assistance in every difficulty through life. The life of man is a warfare on earth. It was not given us, says St. Hilary, to spend it in indolence, but to wage a continual war against our spiritual enemies. In the greatest sanctity there are often the greatest and most incessant trials; for Satan wishes nothing so much as the fall of the saints. (Haydock) --- By these trials, we learn the strength we have received from above, we are preserved from self-complacency and pride in the gifts of heaven; we confirm the renunciation we made in baptism of the devil, and all his works and pomps; we become stronger, and better prepared for future attacks, and are feelingly convinced of the dignity to which we have been raised, and of which the enemy of souls endeavours all he can to deprive us. St. John Chrysostom hom. xiii. Both St. John the Baptist and our divine Master, by retiring into the wilderness for contemplation, prayer, fasting and suffering, have given a sanction and an example to those holy men called hermits, who have taken shelter in their sanctified retreats against the dangers of the world. (Bristow)



St. Mark (chap. i, ver. 13) tells us, Christ was with wild beasts, eratque cum bestiis, Greek: meta ton therion.

Verse 2

Jesus wished to manifest a certain corporeal weakness, arising from his continued fast, that the devil might venture to tempt him; and after a fast of 40 days and 40 nights he was hungry. (Haydock) --- Christ was well acquainted with the thoughts of the wicked fiend, and his great desire of tempting or trying him. The devil had learnt that he was come into the world from the songs of the angels at his birth, and from the mouth of the shepherds and of St. John the Baptist. To fast 40 days without being hungry, was certainly far above the strength of man, but to be hungry at any time is inconsistent with God; for which reason our blessed Saviour, that he might not manifestly declare his divinity, was afterwards hungry. (St. Hilary) --- On this example, as well as that of Moses and Elias, who also fasted 40 days, the fast of Lent was instituted by the apostles, and is of necessity to be observed according to the general consent of the ancient Fathers. St. Jerome (ep. liv. ad Marcel.) says, we fast 40 days, or make one Lent in a year, according to the tradition of the apostles. St. Augustine (serm. lxix.) says, by the due observance of Lent, the wicked are separated from the good, infidels from Christians, heretics from Catholics. Our Saviour fasted 40 days, not because he stood in need of it, as we do, to subject the unruly members of the body, which lust against the spirit, but to set an example for our imitation. (Haydock) --- Another reason might be, to prevent the captious remarks of the Jews, who might object that he had not yet done what the founder of their law, Moses, and after him Elias, had done. (Palacius in Mat.)

Verse 3

"And the tempter coming," Greek: O peirazon, who looked upon this hunger as a favourable moment to tempt him, and to discover if he were truly the Son of God, as was declared at his baptism, desired Jesus to change by a miracle the stones into bread, to appease his hunger and to recover his strength. (Haydock) --- By this we are taught, that amidst our greatest austerities and fasts, we are never free from temptation. But if your fasts, says St. Gregory, do not free you entirely from temptations, they will at least give you strength not to be overcome by them. (St. Thomas Aquinas.) The tempter is supposed to have appeared in a human form, and the whole temptation to have been merely external, like that which took place with our first parents in Paradise. It would have been beneath the perfection of Christ, to have allowed the devil the power of suggesting wicked thoughts to his mind. (Jansenius. p. 107) Had Jesus Christ converted the stones into bread, the devil, according to St. Jerome, would have thence inferred that he was God. But it was Christ’s intention to overcome the proud fiend rather by humility than power. (St. Thomas Aquinas) Thus, if the first Adam fell from God by pride, the second Adam has effectually taught us how to overcome the devil by humility. (Haydock)

Verse 4

Man liveth not by bread only. The words were spoken of the manna. (Deuteronomy viii. 3.) The sense in this place is, that man’s life may be supported by any thing, or in any manner, as it pleaseth God. (Witham) --- St. Gregory upon this passage says: if our divine Redeemer, when tempted by the devil, answered in so mild a manner, when he could have buried the wicked tempter in the bottom of hell, out not man, when he suffers any thing from his fellow man, rather to improve it to his advantage, than to resent it to his own ruin. Man consists of soul and body; his body is supported by bread, his soul by the word of God; hence the saying, "Lex est cibus animæ." (Mat. Polus.)

Verse 5

In the text of St. Luke this temptation is the third: but most commentators follow the order of St. Matthew. In Palestine, all buildings had a flat roof, with a balustrade or a parapet. It was probably upon the parapet that the devil conveyed Jesus. The three temptations comprise the three principal sources of sin: 1. sensuality; 2. pride; and 3. concupiscence. 1st epistle John ii. 16. We may hope to conquer the first by fasting and confidence in divine Providence; the second by humility; the third by despising all sublunary things, as unworthy of a Christian’s solicitude. (Haydock) --- the devil took him, &c.[2] If we ask in what manner this was done, St. Gregory answers, that Christ might permit himself to be taken up, and transported, and nailed to a cross by wicked men, who are members of the devil. Others think the devil only conducted him from place to place. The text of St. Luke favours this exposition, when it is said, the devil led him to Jerusalem, to a high mountain, &c. (Witham)



Assumpsit, Greek: paralambanei. statuit eum, Greek: istesin. St. Gregory, hom. 16. in Evang. t. 1. page. 1492. Ed. Ben. Quid mirum si se ab illo permisit in montem duci, qui se pertulit etiam a membris illius crucifigi?


Verse 6

Heretics, says St. Augustine, quote Scriptures, as the devil does here, in a wrong and forced sense; the Church cites them, like Jesus Christ, in their true sense, and to confute their falsehood. (Cont. lit. Petil. lib. ii. chap. 51.) It is on this account, that the Catholic Church wishes persons who come to the study of the most mysterious and difficult book ever published, should bring with them some preparation of mind and heart; convinced that the abuse of the strongest and best food may be converted into deadly poison. The promoters of Bible societies have published in Ireland a tract to encourage the universal perusal of the Scriptures, as the sole rule of faith. In this they give not only a mutilated and corrupt version of the letter of his late Holiness Pius VI. to the now archbishop of Florence, (to be seen at the head of this edition of the Bible) but certain letters from German Jansenists, who are described as being good Catholics. (Haydock)

Verse 8

Shewed him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; and as St. Luke says, in a moment of time. We cannot comprehend how this could be done from any mountain, or seen with human eyes. Therefore many think it was by some kind of representation; or that the devil shewing a part, by words set forth the rest. (Witham) --- He shewed him the different climates in which each country was situated. (St. John Chrysostom)

Verse 9

All these will I give thee. The father of lies here promised what was not his to give. For though he be called the prince of this world, (John xii. 31,) meaning of the wicked, who wilfully make themselves his slaves; yet so restrained is the devil’s power, that he could not go into the swine till Christ permitted it. (Matthew viii. 31.) (Witham) --- What arrogance! what pride! The devil promises earthly kingdoms, whilst Jesus promises a heavenly kingdom to his followers. (St. Remigius) Behold the pride of this heart; as he formerly wished to make himself God, so now he wishes to assume to himself divine honours. (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Verse 10

Jesus Christ does not here cite the words, but the substance of the text. (Deuteronomy v. 7. and 9; vi. 13; x. 20.) --- It is remarkable that our Lord bore with the pride and insolence of the devil, till he assumed to himself the honour due to God alone. (St. John Chrysostom)

Verse 11

Then the devil having exhausted all his artifices, left hem for a time, as St. Luke remarks; whence we are to learn, that after we have resisted with success, we are not to think ourselves secure, but avail ourselves of the truce to return thank to God for the victory, and to prepare for fresh combats, especially by fortifying ourselves with the bread of angels in the holy communion. by example he has taught us how to fight and to conquer. The struggle may be painful; but angels, as well as God, witness our struggle, ready to crown our victory. (Haydock)

Verse 12

Jesus then left the wilderness, and passed a few day on the banks of the Jordan, affording his holy precursor an opportunity of bearing repeated testimony of him and of his divine mission, as we read in the first chap. of St. John, and then retired into Upper Galilee to avoid the fury of the Jews. There were two Galilees, that of the Jews and that of the Gentiles; this latter was given by the king of Tyre to king Solomon. (St. Jerome) This conduct of Jesus Christ, shews that on some occasions it is not only lawful, but advisable, to flee from persecution. (St. John Chrysostom) --- Jesus Christ enters more publicly on his mission, and about to occupy the place of his precursor, the baptist, he chooses Galilee for the first theatre of his ministry, the place assigned by the ancient prophets. The Pharisees had prevailed upon Herod to arrest the baptist, nor could their hatred be less to Jesus Christ, who drew a still greater concourse of disciples after him.

Verse 13

Nazareth was situated in Lower Galilee; and Capharnaum, a maritime town, in Higher Galilee. According to the historian, Josephus, it did not belong to Herod, the tetrarch, who sent the baptist to confinement, but to Philip, the tetrarch, his brother. (Calmet) --- He leaves Nazareth for good and all, and retires to Capharnaum, a very flourishing and much frequented emporium, both for the Jews and Gentiles. Here he makes his chief residence, a place well calculated for his preaching, being on the limits of both Galilee, although he made frequent excursions through Galilee to disseminate his doctrines. (Syn. crit.)

Verse 15

St. Matthew has omitted in this place part of the prophecy, (Isaias ix.) because it was not to his purpose. He has likewise given us the mystical, though still true, interpretation of the prophecy, which was written in the first instance to foretell the deliverance of Jerusalem from Senacherib, in the time of Ezechias. (1 Kings, xix.) (Jansenius)

Verse 16

And a light is risen, &c. This light, foretold by the prophet Isaias, (chap. ix, ver. 1,) was our Saviour Jesus Christ, the light of the world, who now enlightened them by his instructions, and by his grace. (Witham) --- Thus when the morning star has gone by and disappeared, the sun rises and diffuses its light to mortals, who rejoice that the darkness of night is removed from the earth. (Jansenius)

Verse 17

Jesus began not to preach till St. John had announced his coming to the world, that the dignity of his sacred person might thus be manifested, and the incredulous Jews be without excuse. If after the preaching of St. John, and his express testimony of the divinity of our Redeemer, they could still say: thou givest testimony of thyself; thy testimony is not true: what would they not have said, if, without any precursor, he had, all on a sudden, appeared amongst them. He did not begin to preach till St. John was cast into prison, that the people might not be divided. On this account also St. John wrought no miracle, that the people might be struck with the miracles of our Saviour, and yield their assent to him. (St. John Chrysostom, hom. 14.) --- It may here be remarked, how different were the motives of the prophets from those which the baptist and Christ made use of to exhort to repentance. The former menaced evil, and held out a promise of good, but the good or evil was temporal. St. John begins his exhortations with the threat of eternal punishment --- but Christ sweetens the hardships of penance by reminding us of the reward. "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Jansenius)

Verse 18

Jesus wished not only to prove that the establishment of his religion was heavenly, but also to humble the pride of man; and therefore he did not choose orators and philosophers, but fishermen, says St. Jerome. Cyprian, the eloquent orator, was called to the priesthood; but before him was Peter, the fisherman. (St. John Chrysostom) --- Jesus saw two brothers, &c. If we compare what is related by the evangelists, as to the time that St. Peter and St. Andrew became Christ’s disciples, we shall find Andrew, who had been a disciple of St. John Baptist, to have brought to Christ his brother Simon. (John i, ver. 40.) But at that time they staid not with him, so as to become his disciples, and to remain with him as they afterwards did, by quitting their boat, their nets, their fishing, and all they had in the world, which is here related; and by St. Mark, (chap. i,) and by St. Luke, chap. v. (Witham)

Verse 19

Jesus Christ here makes an allusion to the prior occupation of his apostles. David, in his Psalms, makes similar allusions to his former occupation of shepherd: "He took him from the flocks of sheep, he brought him from following the ewes big with young, to feed Jacob, his servant, and Israel, his inheritance." (Psalm lxxvii. ver. 70.) (Menochius)

Verse 21

It was objected by the ancient enemies of Christianity, Porphyrius, Julian the apostate, and others, that Christ chose for his apostles simple and ignorant men, easy to be imposed upon, and not such as would have been on their guard against deception; thus converting that into an argument against the doctrine of Jesus Christ, which of all other circumstances most solidly and forcibly establishes its divinity and authority. (Salmeron. trac. 25.) --- If Christ had persuaded the ignorant apostles only, there might be some room for such an argument. But if these 12 ignorant men triumphed over the learning, the eloquence, the sophisms of the philosophers themselves, over the strong arm of power in the hands of tyrants, and finally over the devils and passions of men, which were the last to give up the combat against a doctrine that established itself on their ruin, then we may conclude, with St. Paul, that it was wisdom in God to choose the weak things of this world to confound the strong --- the foolish and the things that are not, to confound those which are. (Haydock)

Verse 23

The synagogues were religious assemblies with the Jews, wherein they met on the sabbath and festival days, to pray, to read and hear expounded the word of God, and to exercise the other practices of their law. (Calmet)

Verse 24

Many came to Christ to beg to be cured of their corporal infirmities; nor do we read o fa single one here, who came to be delivered from spiritual sickness. Our blessed Savior nevertheless, bearing with their imperfection, condescends to heal them, that he might thence take occasion of exciting their faith, and preparing them for their spiritual cure. (Jansenius) --- It is much to be regretted, that the conduct of Christians at the present day, is not more reasonable than that of the Jews here mentioned. If the Almighty, says the eloquent Masillon, had not the power or will of dispensing goods and evils, how small would be the number of those who would ever retire to the temple to present their petition to Him. (Haydock) --- Our Saviour asks not, if they believed, as he did on other occasions; they had given him sufficient proof, by bringing their sick from distant parts. (St. John Chrysostom, hom. xiv.)

Bibliographical Information
Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Matthew 4". "Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hcc/matthew-4.html. 1859.
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