1 Christ appearing again to His disciples, was known of them by the great draught of fishes. 12 He dineth with them: 15 earnestly commandeth Peter to feed His lambs and sheep: 18 foretelleth him of His death: 22 rebuketh his curiosity regarding John. 25 The conclusion.
FTER these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise showed he himself.
Douay Rheims Version
Christ manifests himself to his disciples by the sea side and gives Peter the charge of his sheep.
FTER this, Jesus shewed himself to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias. And he shewed himself after this manner.
2. There were together: Simon Peter and Thomas, who is called Didymus, and Nathanael, who was of Cana of Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee and two others of his disciples.
3. Simon Peter saith to them: I go a fishing. They say to him: We also come with thee. And they went forth and entered into the ship: and that night they caught nothing.
Ver. 1.—After these things, &c. From this it appears that Peter and the other Apostles had gone from Judea into Galilee, as Christ had bidden them (S. Matt. xxiii. 10). For this appearance of Christ took place in Galilee, when He, being about to go into heaven, in order that He might provide for the government of the faithful, appointed Peter to be the Head of the Church, and His Vicar upon earth. This is why S. John subjoins these things, and so concludes his Gospel.
Ver. 2.—He manifested Himself thus, &c. Christ wished a larger number, and the more honourable of His disciples, to be gathered together, in order that His manifestation might be so much the more glorious, and that before them as princes He might declare Peter to be His Vicar on earth, that so the Apostles and the rest of the faithful might acknowledge him to be such.
Ver. 3.—Simon Peter saith unto them, &c. Different writers give different reasons for this fishing. S. Chrysostom says, “Because the Lord was not always with them, neither had any (ministry) been committed to them, they employed themselves in fishing.” S. Gregory (Hom. 24.) says, “An employment which was without sin before their conversion was blameless after their conversion. Therefore Peter returned to his fishing, but Matthew did not return to his receipt of custom. For there are many employments which it is impossible, or scarcely possible, to follow without sin. To such a man must not return after he is converted.” Let us add, that this fishing took place before Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Ghost, by whom they were bidden to preach the Gospel. Wherefore, because the Apostles had nothing to occupy them at this time in the way of preaching, and they were at once poor and fishermen, they properly went back to their fishing, in order to supply themselves with sustenance. But after the advent of the Holy Spirit we do not read that they employed themselves in fishing, for they were wholly occupied in preaching the Gospel, and in guiding the faithful in the way of all perfection. Whilst the faithful, being studious of evangelical poverty, brought all their property to the feet of the Apostles, that they might distribute it amongst themselves and the rest of the believers. At any time, however, of necessity or want, they might lawfully have returned to their fishing, just as Paul returned to his tent-making, that he might not be burdensome to others for his livelihood. For this indeed is a matter of greater perfection, and therefore an evangelical counsel, that one should preach the Gospel free of charge (to the hearers), and provide for his own sustenance by the labour of his hands. Lastly, the disciples went a-fishing to avoid idleness, and as a relaxation. Cassian relates the following story concerning a certain hunter who went to visit S. John, whom he found employed in gently stroking a partridge. Being surprised at this sight, S. John asked him, “What is that in your hand? “A bow,” he replied. “Why do you not keep it always bent?” He answered, “It would be inexpedient to do so, lest by the continual curvature the strength of the bow should be destroyed, and it should come to pass that when I am shooting a strong arrow at some quarry, the stiffness of the bow being lost through its constant tension, it should not be able to discharge a powerful shaft.” “In like manner,” replied the Blessed John, “let not this brief relaxation of my mind offend you, 0 my young friend; for unless I afforded some moderate relief to its excessive tension it would lose its vigour, and would not be able to obey when need should call upon it to make some strenuous effort.”
Night: For night is the most suitable time for fishing. For during the day the fish hide themselves in the depths of the sea.
Mystically, Theophylact says, by night, that is, before the presence of Christ the Sun, the prophets caught nothing, because although they attempted to correct but a single nation, it was continually falling into idolatry.
They took nothing: because they were fishing without Jesus, that they might learn that all their success in fishing for souls depended wholly upon Christ, and therefore that they ought to seek for success from Him, according to the words of the Psalmist, “Except the Lord build the house, their labour is but lost that build it.”
Ver. 4.—When the morning was come, &c. To show that this capture of fish was the result of His grace, not of their own industry. For (naturally) in the morning fish flee away from the light and the noise into the depths of the sea.
They knew not. Because He appeared to them in another form, as He did to the Magdalene (cap. xx. 14). In sooth Christ desired to be recognised rather by the miraculous draught of the fish than by His (human) form; for this was more befitting incarnate God.
Mystically: S. Gregory says, “The sea signifies this present world, which, in the tumults of affairs and the corruptible waves of life, dashes against itself. But the solidity of the shore signifies the perpetuity of the everlasting rest. The disciples therefore as yet were engaged in the waves of this mortal life. But the Lord was now standing on the shore, towards which Peter, to whom the Church was specially committed, draws the fishes, showing to the faithful the stability of eternal peace. This he did by his preaching and his epistles. This he does still by daily signs and miracles.
Ver. 5.—Jesus therefore, &c. As though He said, 0 fishermen, have ye any fish to sell Me? For Christ here appeared to His disciples in an unknown form, like a grave merchantman, wishing to purchase fish. So S. Chrysostom. Wherefore He addresses them as boys (pueros), as though they were labourers. Or “little boys” (παίδια), addressing them as His children out of love.
Any meat: Greek πζοσφάγιον, Vulgate pulmentarium, meaning any food which is eaten with bread, as we use seasoning. Also by this word pulmentarium, Christ meant fish. For, as Plutarch says, although there are many sorts of seasoning, fish is especially so called, because by the nutriment which it affords, and the facility with which it can be cooked, it surpasses other kinds. Also because most of the ancients, indeed all men before the Deluge, as I have shown upon Gen. ix., fed not upon flesh, but upon fish.
Ver. 6.—He saith unto them, &c. For indeed Jesus by His hidden power had collected this multitude of fishes on the right side of the boat, and so the Apostles who had been fishing all night at the left side had taken nothing. From thence we learn, moraliter, that we often toil and labour in vain because we fish at the left side without Jesus, instead of at the right with Jesus.
Hearken now to S. Augustine (Tract. 122): “In the capture of the fish is set forth a sacrament of the Church, to wit, what shall be at the last resurrection: to set forth which it is signified that it is as it were the end of a book, which should be, as it were, the proëmium of a narrative which is to follow. And the seven disciples by their number signify the end of time. For all time is included in seven days. The shore signifies the end of the world, for it is the boundary of the sea. And as the Church, such as it shall be at the end of the world, is here meant, so by another fishing is signified the Church such as it is now. Therefore on that occasion Jesus did not stand upon the shore, but went up into the ship. Then the nets were not cast at the right side, in order not to denote the good only; nor yet at the left not to denote the bad only: but indifferently on both sides, to signify that the good were mingled with the bad. But now the net is cast on the right side, to signify the good only, who are reserved for the resurrection of life. And they will appear on the shore, that is, in the end of the world when they arise. For the Church possesses them at the end of this life in the sleep of peace, lying hid as it were in the deep, until the net shall come to the shore. And what was signified in the first fishing by the two ships in this place is figured by the 153, namely the elect of the two dispensations, the circumcision and the uncircumcision.”
They cast therefore, &c. Behold the reward and fruit of ready obedience, and that obedience to one unknown, and as it seemed, a stranger. But Christ had inwardly inclined their hearts to do this. This multitude of fishes mystically represents the multitude of the faithful which Peter and the Apostles afterwards caught by the net of evangelical preaching, and converted to Christ. So SS. Augustine, Gregory, Chrysostom, &c.
Ver. 7.—Therefore that disciple, &c. You will ask, how was it that John was the first to recognise Christ? Cyril attributes it to the keenness of his intellect. So does S. Chrysostom. Peter, he says, was the more fervent, but John had more sagacity, and therefore was the first to recognise Christ. But I reply that, whilst Peter was occupied in drawing up the net full of great fishes, John more carefully looked at Jesus, and Jesus first presented His appearance to S. John, because He most chiefly loved him, and because he was most pure. Wherefore S. Jerome rightly says (Epist. ad Pammach.), “First is John’s virginity to recognise the virgin form of Christ. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’”
Mystically: the more familiar and intimate any one is with God by prayer, the more does he perceive, penetrate, contemplate, and admire God, and the attributes of God. In fine, as John because of his virginity was dear to Christ, so also he himself wonderfully loves those who are chaste and virgins. Hear what the Abbot Adelred writes in his life of King Edward the Confessor. “S. Edward never denied the petition of any one who asked in the name of S. John, for him after the Prince of the Apostles he chiefly loved. Once it happened that in the absence of the chamberlain a certain foreigner importunately asked the king for alms in the name of S. John. So the king gave him a precious ring, because he had nothing else at hand. After this it happened that two Englishmen went to Jerusalem to worship the tomb of the Saviour. One day it came to pass that they missed the high road, and were wandering out of the way when the sun went down, and all was dark. Not knowing what to do, or whither to turn, a certain venerable old man appeared to them, and led them to the city. There they were hospitably entertained; a table was spread, and their weary limbs were refreshed with sleep. When the morning was come, as they went out of the city, the old man said to them, ‘My brethren, doubt not that you will return to your own country in the greatest prosperity, for God will make your way prosperous. And for love of your king I will keep my eyes upon you in all the way by which ye go. I am John, the Apostle of Christ, who entertain the utmost love for your king because of the merit of his chastity. Take back to him this ring which he once gave me in the habit of a pilgrim. Tell him that the day of his departure draws nigh. Within six months I will visit him, that with me he may follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.’ When he had said thus he disappeared.” For this reason those who love virginity and purity are wont to ask S. John to be their patron, and to invoke his aid, especially when they are troubled with assaults of the flesh: and they experience his help. To give a single example out of many: S. Colette, a virgin of wonderful austerity and sanctity, the reformer of the Order of S. Clare, that she might keep her virginity spotless, chose S. John as her patron. And not in vain: for S. John appeared to her, and by a golden ring betrothed her as a virgin spouse to himself.
When Simon Peter heard, &c., he girt, &c. Greek τὸν ε̉πενδύτην διεξώσατο, he put on his tunic over his clothes. Whence it is plain that he was not before wholly naked, but only, after the fashion of work-men, stripped of his outer garment.
And cast himself into the sea: either swimming, as Chrysostom and others think, or by wading through the sea, as Bede and Maldonatus say. For the shore was near. Peter being the more fervent, came to Christ more promptly than the others. It is improbable that Peter upon this occasion walked upon the waters. For this would have been rash, since Christ did not now bid him do it.
Two hundred cubits: Mystically, Bede says, by the 200 cubits is expressed the twofold power of charity. For by love of God and our neighbour we draw nigh to Christ.
Ver. 10.—As soon as they were come to land, &c. Here was another miracle of Christ, that He for His disciples suddenly coming to Him cooked fish, and prepared a dinner. Cyril thinks that this fish had been speedily drawn from the depths of the sea. But Chrysostom thinks that it had been created out of nothing. With greater probability, Leontius and others say that Christ produced the fish, the coals, the fire, and the bread out of the atmosphere, or some other substance, as He did the loaves when He multiplied them. Christ did this to show (1.) that the great draught of fishes was His own work, and that it was He who had collected all those fishes at the right side of the ship. (2.) That He had no need of them for Himself, but had done it for the sake of His Apostles. Mystically, saith Bede, out of S. Augustine. The broiled fish is Christ in His Passion. He Himself (deigned to lie hid in the waters of our human nature. He willed to be taken with the hook of a death like ours. And He who was made a fish in His Humanity, became the Bread that feeds us by His Divinity.
Ver. 11.—Jesus saith . . . bring of the fish, &c. This He did that they all might perceive the multitude of the fish and the greatness of the miracle.
Mystically, S. Augustine (Tract. 123) says, “The broiled fish is Christ in His Passion. He is the Bread which came down from heaven. With Him the Church is incorporated for the attainment of everlasting bliss, according as it is said, Bring of the fish which ye have taken, that all we who have this hope through that seven-fold number of disciples, by which the whole company of the faithful is figured, might know that we have a share in so great a sacrament, and are partakers of the same blessedness.”
Simon Peter went up, i.e., into the ship, &c. Peter is mentioned as the leader of the rest. For he could not have drawn the net laden with so many great fishes (to land) by himself. Though indeed S. Gregory and Rupertus think that he did do this alone, though not by his own strength, but by Divine assistance. And thereby Peter’s Primacy is intimated. For he is the first to call his companions to fish. He first came to Christ. He was the first also to draw up the net, that it might be signified that all fishes, that is to say, all the faithful, ought to be drawn and ruled by Peter. John therefore was the more beloved, but Peter the more honoured by Christ, and by Him set over the rest. So subjects (spiritual) are now and again more holy than their rulers, but rulers are more exalted, and more eminent in authority than their subjects.
Fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: Why were there exactly one hundred and fifty-three? S. Jerome gives (in Ezek. xlvii. 9) the literal reason; because there are just that number of different kinds of fish. This is what he says, “Those who have written about animated nature say that there are an hundred and fifty-three kinds of fish. One of each of these kinds was caught by the Apostle, and more remained uncaught. For noble and ignoble, rich and poor, all sorts and conditions of men, are drawn out of the sea of this world to salvation.” You must, however, understand the matter thus, that only the chief genera of fishes are included in this number, for, speaking strictly, there are many more kinds. Therefore by this number, or symbol, Christ signified that all nations were to be gathered up into the net of the Church, whose head and prince is Peter, and his successors, the Roman Pontiffs.
Symbolically, Cyril says the number one hundred signifies the fulness of the Gentiles which was about to enter into the net of Peter and the Church: the fifty signifies the smaller number of the Jews, who would be saved: the three represents the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, by the faith and worship of Whom both Jews and Gentiles are gathered together and saved. But S. Augustine (Tract. 122) says, “This number is made up of three times fifty plus three, because of the mystery of the Trinity. The fiftieth was the year of jubilee in which all the people rested from all their labours. The year of jubilee represented the state of Gospel grace.
More particularly and plainly Rupertus and Maldonatus explain thus. By those three numbers is signified the three-fold race of men who are saved. The hundred denotes those who are married, ‘for these are the most numerous. The fifty denotes the widows and the continent, for these are fewer in number. The three denotes virgins, the fewest of all.
And although there were so many, &c. Chrysostom says that in this miracle three miracles were included, by which Christ proved His resurrection and omnipotence. The first was in the taking of the fish. The second, in the production of His own fish, the bread, and the burning coals. The third, in the integrity of the net, which signifies the unity and integrity of the Church, which cannot be broken, or rent by any schism. For they who make a schism separate themselves ipso facto from the Church, and consequently leave the Church to its own unity and integrity.
Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. It is probable that some of the fish which the Apostles caught were placed by Christ’s command upon the red-hot coals, when He said, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.
Observe also that it is probable that Christ upon this occasion dined with His disciples, a thing which He had been accustomed to do, in order to confirm the truth of His resurrection.
Anagogically, S. Cyril says, In like manner after the labours of this life, by which we fish souls for God, Christ will prepare a heavenly dinner, in which we shall eternally feast with Him in Divine delights, according as it is written, That ye may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom (Luke xxii. 30).
And none of them that sat at meat: Gr. μαθητων, i.e., of His disciples. Whence Jansen thinks we ought to read discumbentium, those who sat at meat: but the Roman copies read discum., which seems more suitable to the context.
Durst ask Him, &c. Because, as Chrysostom observes (Hom. 86), Christ was not, as yet, presenting Himself to them in His own proper appearance and form, but in one more august, from which they were hesitating whether it were really Jesus Himself, and were wishing to ask Him, Who art Thou? Yet from His features, from what He did and said, they recognised that it was Jesus Himself, so that at length they could no longer doubt. Wherefore, partly from reverence for Christ, and partly from the confidence of their recognition, they dared not to ask Him.
Less happily, S. Augustine interprets the expression to ask by to doubt. For these differ as effect and cause.
Ver. 13.—And Jesus came and took bread, &c. That is, when the disciples by the command of Jesus had sat down at the table, He also came, and sat down with them.
Ver. 14.—This is now the third time, &c. That is to say, reckoning those appearances which took place when several of the Apostles were present, for of such only S. John here makes mention. For of such this was the third. Otherwise, if we enumerate all the other appearances of which the other Evangelists make mention, this was the seventh in order, as I have shown on Matt. xxviii. 10, where I have enumerated them all in order.
Ver. 15.—When therefore they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter—“Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these?” When Christ was about to go away into heaven, He here appoints Peter His vicar upon earth, and creates him Chief Pontiff, that the one church might be ruled by one shepherd. Christ had promised the same thing to Peter—Matt. xvi. 18—but in this place He confers the gift, and constitutes him prince and ruler of the whole Church, lest any one, on account of Peter’s threefold denial, should say that Christ had changed His decree concerning him. So Cyril. Mystically, Alcuin here says the Hebrew Simon means—obedient. John is grace. Peter is thus spoken of as obeying the grace of God; because, indeed, he embraces Him with a burning love—the effect, not of human merit, but of a Divine gift.
Lovest thou Me more than these? First, because this office of feeding and ruling all the faithful which I design to confer upon thee demands the very greatest love of Christ and of the faithful. “Love,” says S. Augustine, “is asked, and labour is commanded, because where love is there is no labour.”
Secondly, that Christ may show how greatly He loved His sheep, forasmuch as He was unwilling to entrust them to any but to one who loved Himself, and consequently His sheep, with a supreme love. Thus S. Chrysostom, Hom. 87, “That which especially gains for us the divine favour is the care of our neighbour. Now the Lord, passing over the others, speaks to Peter concerning such things, for he was the chief of the Apostles, and the mouth of the disciples, and the head of the college. Whence also He commits to him precedence over his brethren, as much as to say, The life which thou saidst thou wouldst lay down for Me, this give for My sheep.
Thirdly, because Peter, a little before, had thrice denied Christ, and this triple denial had been forgiven him on his repentance by Christ; hence He rightly demands greater love from him on whom He had bestowed greater indulgence. “For to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little:” Luke vii. 47. So Cyril.
Moreover, Jesus asks, though He knew that Peter loved Him more than they all, says S. Augustine, for although John loved Jesus more tenderly, yet Peter loved Him with a stronger and more ardent love, as is plain from all his deeds and words about Jesus. Thus parents love their little children with a tender love, but those who are youths, or grown up, with a stronger and more solid love; whence also they give greater gifts to them than to the little ones. Listen to S. Augustine (Serm. on the Passion): “When the Lord died, Peter feared and denied; the risen Lord rekindled his love, drove away his fear. He denied fearing to die—when the Lord had risen again why should he fear? Since in Him he found death had died.”
He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee. “Hence it is plain,” says S. Augustine, “‘amo’ and ‘diligo’ here signify the same thing, although in Latin amo means more than diligo. Peter does not dare to say, I love Thee more than the others do, but I love Thee; both because he did not know the hearts of the others—secondly, because his fall had made him more modest and cautious. For he had put himself before the others when he said, I Lord, although all should be offended in Thee, yet will I never be offended,’ and yet a little afterwards he fell more shamefully than the others, and denied Christ, which they did not. He saith unto him, ‘Feed My lambs.’ Feed, like as a shepherd feeds sheep by leading them to pasture, and by feeding them, rules and guides them that they may not stray from the flock, nor approach noxious pastures, nor be seized by the wolf. Hence to feed in Scripture signifies to rule, and kings are called shepherds, because, if they would rightly rule their subjects, they ought to do what shepherds do when they feed their sheep. Whence—Psalm xxiii. 1—where the Vulgate has ‘the Lord rules me,’ the Hebrew is ‘Adonai roi,’ i.e., the Lord is my shepherd, or feedeth me. Wherefore it goes on, ‘He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.’ Thus David, from a keeper of sheep, was made by God a king of men—to feed, i.e., to rule, Jacob His servant, and Israel His inheritance. (Ps. lxxviii. 71.) Thus Cyrus is called a shepherd, i.e. a prince and king appointed by God—Is xliv. 28—that saith of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd.’ And Ps. ii. 9, ‘Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron.’ Hebrew Tirem, i.e. thou shalt feed them. And generally speaking, the Hebrew raa, the Greek ποίμαινω, and the Latin pasco, signify ‘to rule,’ as may be seen from Mic. v. 2; Act. xx. 28; Rev. ii. 7, and xii. 5, xix. 15. Thus Homer calls the Grecian king Agamemnon ποίμενα λαω̃ν—a shepherd of the people.”
My lambs. Christ, as the first Shepherd of the sheep, calls here His faithful people at one time sheep, at another, more tenderly, lambs. And that—Firstly, because of the newness of their life, for being regenerate by Baptism they are made as it were young lambs of God. Secondly, because of their lamblike innocence, which by baptism they have obtained, and also on account of their following Christ, who was called by John the Baptist, “the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world.” Therefore the word sheep signifies that Christ is the Shepherd of Christians; the word—lambs—signifies that Christ is their Father, yea indeed their Mother, forasmuch as they are those whom He hath by baptism begotten unto God, and adopted as His own children. Jansen says lambs and sheep, are the same. Whence the Æthiopic version, instead of lambs, has sheep, repeating sheep thrice. Theophylact adds that they are called lambs in order that the very name might indicate those recently converted, and who were tenderer in the faith, of whom there was about to be a great multitude, when the Apostles began to preach. And because these would require greater care, and must be brought up and nourished with greater labour, therefore the Lord saith twice (according to the Vulgate), “feed My lambs,” that by this repetition He might show that He wished Peter to bestow the very greatest care upon them: but those who were stronger in the faith He calls sheep. Again, by lambs He understands simple, faithful souls; by sheep—teachers, pastors, bishops, and apostles, who are, as it were, mothers of the faithful. Thus Bellarmine.
From this place then it is plain that S. Peter and his successor, the Roman Pontiff, is the head and prince of the Church, and that all the faithful, even bishops, patriarchs, and apostles, are subject to him, and ought by him to be fed and ruled. We gather this, first because Christ here interrogates Peter only, and this thrice, as the chief and mouth of the Apostles. So SS. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius. Moreover Christ here tacitly signifies that Peter loved Him more than the other Apostles, and therefore that he was worthy to succeed Him in the love and care of the flock—that is, of the Church and the faithful. For that power which is not founded upon love comes to naught.
Secondly—this is plain from the word feed, i.e., rule, as I have shown, and from the terms lambs and sheep, for by these words Christ signifies all the members of the Church as it were subject to Himself, the chief Shepherd, for He excepts no one. They therefore who are the sheep of Christ, are likewise the sheep of Peter, for Christ here commits them to him, to be fed and ruled. They therefore who are not Peter’s sheep—namely, heretics—neither are they the sheep of Christ. So all the other Apostles, forasmuch as they were Christ’s sheep, so likewise are they also Peter’s sheep. From whence it was Peter’s right to direct them, to compose their differences, and to govern them in all things. For Christ instituted the most excellent government in His Church, that is the monarchic, both that there might be one Church, and that occasions of schism might be cut off, as S. Cyprian teaches in his book on the unity of the Church. “The primacy,” he says, “is given to Peter, to show that there is one Church of Christ and one chief See;” and S. Jerome says, “Among twelve, one is chosen, that unity might be preserved.” Hear also S. Leontius (Ser. 3, de Assum.): “From the whole world, one Peter is chosen, who is set over the Church, called out of all nations, and over all the Apostles, and all the Fathers of the Church, that although there be in the people of God many priests and many pastors, still Peter may rightly rule all whom Christ also rules in the chief place. A great and wonderful association in His own power, beloved brethren, the Divine condescension gave to this man, and if He wished that anything should be common with him to the other princes of the church, He only gave through him that which He denied not to the rest.”
Hear likewise S. Bernard (L. 3, de Consid. toPope Eugen: towards the end): “They,” i.e., bishops, “have each their own flocks assigned to them, to thee all have been entrusted,—one shepherd for one flock; nor art thou only the one shepherd of all the sheep, but of all the shepherds. Do you ask how I prove this?—from the word of the Lord: for to whom were absolutely and without distinction all the sheep—I say not merely of Bishops, but of Apostles, committed? ‘If thou lovest Me, 0 Peter, feed My sheep;’ which?—the people of this or that city or region or kingdom? ‘My sheep,’ He saith: to what man is it not plain that He did not indicate some only, but assigned all? Nothing is excepted where no distinction is made;” and (III. Cap. Solit. De Major. et Obed.) he says, “Now to us the sheep of Christ were committed through Blessed Peter, as the Lord saith, ‘Feed my sheep,’ making no distinction between these sheep and others, that He might show that that sheep-fold which did not recognise Peter and his successors as pastors and masters, did not belong to Him.” See what has been said on S. Matt. xvi.; see also Bellarmine, who teaches that Christ, by this precept which He gave to Peter, saying, “Feed My sheep,” at the same time founded the Popedom as the Ecclesiastical Head, and gave it to S. Peter and his successors the Bishops of Rome. In chap. xiv. de Pont., he proves that these words were spoken by Christ to Peter only. In chap. xv. he proves that the word—feed—signifies government and power of ruling. In chap. xvi. that sheep signify all the faithful, even the Apostles, and the whole Church: all which things Calvin, Luther, and the heretics deny.
From this passage theologians generally, and especially Suarez on Indulgences, show that the power of granting Indulgences was given by Christ to Peter and the Pontiffs who succeed him. For under that word—feed—is included every act of jurisdiction which may pertain to shutting or opening the kingdom of heaven, that so the gift may be equal to the promise; but the remission of penalties by means of Indulgences is one of the acts by which the kingdom of heaven is opened; it therefore is also comprehended under the general charge of feeding the sheep of Christ.
Ver. 16.—He saith to him the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee. Hear S. Chrysostom: “Again he dreads the former things, lest perchance, thinking himself to love, he should be corrected if he did not love, like as before he was corrected for thinking himself strong, and therefore he takes refuge in Christ Himself.”
He saith unto him the second time, Feed My lambs. Thus the Arabic has it. But the Greek and Syriac instead of lambs have sheep, but it is very probable that the Vulgate, together with the Arabic, read the Greek πζοβατία inserting iota, i.e., little sheep, or lambs: because the shepherd’s chief care must be for them; and therefore Christ repeats and doubles His injunction concerning them.
As S. Augustine says, “Let it be love’s office to feed the Lord’s flock, like as it was the mark of fear to deny the Shepherd.” Hence S. Gregory (1 Part. Pastor. c. v.) says, “He who is strong in virtue and refuses to feed the flock of God is proved not to love his Pastor.”
Ver. 17.—He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me? Peter was grieved because He said unto him the third time lovest thou Me, and he said unto Him, Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, Feed My sheep (Syriac, My lambs). Why does Christ thrice ask Peter if he loved Him, and thrice repeat, Feed My sheep? I answer, the first reason is, that Peter, by a triple and constant profession, of his singular love, might expiate and change his three-fold denial of Christ. So Cyril, Leontius, Theophylact, Bede, and S. Augustine, which last thus writes (Tract. 123): “For a threefold denial a threefold confession is rendered, that the tongue might not seem to serve love less than fear, and that impending death might not seem to elicit more speech than Present Life. Let it be the office of love to feed the Lord’s flock, if it was the mark of fear to deny the Shepherd. If any feed Christ’s sheep with this disposition, that they wish them to be their own sheep rather than His, they are proved to love not Christ but themselves, either from the desire of boasting, or ruling, or acquiring, not from the love of obeying, and helping, and pleasing God. Against such, therefore, the Word of Christ, many times enjoined, gives warning, and of them the Apostle complains that they seek their own, not the things which be of Jesus Christ. For to say, ‘If thou lovest Me, feed My sheep,’ what else is it but to say, If thou lovest Me, do not study to feed thyself, but My sheep; feed them as Mine, not as thine: seek My glory in them, not thine: My dominion, not thine own?” From hence let bishops learn to examine suspended priests and others a second and third time, concerning their amendment, that they may be safe in restoring them to their office.
The second cause is that Christ might show what a value He set upon His sheep, and how in the day of judgment He will examine bishops and pastors as to their care for, but especially as to their love for, the sheep. Wherefore S. Bernard (Ser. 18 in Cant.) inveighs against those who, though having little love, are ambitious of being set over others, and so lose themselves and others; or if they save those under them, lose themselves. “Thou, brother,” he says, “whose salvation is not yet strong, who as yet hast not love, or that so weak and like a reed as to yield to every blast, believe every spirit, be carried about with every wind of doctrine, thou, I say, who hast such an opinion of thine own self in what pertains to thine own self, by what madness, I ask, art thou ambitious to have the care of others, or even acquiesce in having it?”
Thirdly—that He may show that pastors ought to feed their sheep, as it were, in a threefold manner—viz., by the word of truth, by example of life, and by temporal assistance (see S. Greg.). And S. Bernard (Ser. 2 on the Resurr.) says, that feed was repeated by Christ thrice, in order that a pastor may feed his sheep by mind, by tongue, and by hand. “Feed,” he says, “by mind, feed by mouth, feed by works. Feed by mental prayer, by verbal exhortation, by showing example.” The same (Ep. 210) says, “Feed by word, feed by example, feed by the fruit of holy prayers.” Hence that wonderful love and zeal for souls in S. Peter, as well as in S. John, who in his Gospel, and his Epistles, everywhere breathes love and Divine fire. A memorable instance of this was that young man who had been converted by S. John and committed to a certain bishop by whom he had been neglected, and so had become a chief of robbers, whom S. John, when an old man, brought back to repentance and a holy life. Eusebius (L. 3, Hist. c. 23) gives a full account of this matter from Clemens Alexandrinus. Also S. Chrysostom (Ep. 5, to Theodorus, a lapsed person).
Peter was grieved—because from the thrice-repeated question it seemed to him as if his love for Christ were suspected, or verily he was afraid that he had no part in the Passion; and like as he then denied, so now also he did not love Christ. So S. Chrysostom, &c. Whence the Lord consoles him in his grief, and says that Peter, from the love and example of Christ, should, like a true shepherd, be crucified for the sheep.
Feed My sheep, as Mine, not as thine; seek My glory in them, not thine; My profit, not thine. Hear S. Augustine: “Let us not therefore love ourselves but Him, and in feeding His sheep let us seek the things of Christ, not our own: he who loves himself, not God, does not really love himself; for he who is not able to live by himself, dies by loving himself: when He is loved from whom is life, by not loving himself a man the more loves himself, forasmuch as he loveth not himself in order that he may love Him by whom he liveth.” Such a shepherd was S. Paul, the colleague of S. Peter, who said, “for I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen, according to the flesh” (Rom. ix. 3). Where S. Chrysostom says, “Broader than any sea, more vehement than any flame was this love, and no speech can worthily express it.” In the first place, this I myself is emphatic. What does this I myself mean? Says S. Chrysostom, ‘It is I who have been made a teacher of all, I who have collected offices and merits infinite, I who expect infinite crowns.” And then some remarks intervening, he thus explains S. Paul’s wish of anathema: “Willingly would I lose the kingdom of heaven, and be cut off from the hidden glory, considering that it would afford me the highest, consolation if only I might no more hear Him reviled, with love of Whom I so greatly burn.”
Ver. 18.—Verily, verily, I say unto thee, when thou wast young, &c., whither thou wouldst not, i.e., by thy natural will of sense, or feeling. For by the rational will Peter desired this above all things. S. Chrysostom says, Christ predicts his martyrdom, showing him in what way and how much he ought to love Christ and His sheep, even unto His cross.
When thou wast young: by this is shown, says S. Chrysostom, that Peter was neither a young, nor an old, but a perfect man. For such a one it behoved the Pontiff and prince of the Apostles to be, that his age might win him authority, and yet be apt and strong for apostolic labours.
The meaning is, When thou wast young, and hadst bodily strength, thou wast free, and didst rise from thy couch, and clothedst thyself, and walkedst at thine own pleasure whither thou wouldest; but when thou shalt be old, at the time when men seek rest and ease, thou shalt by no means rest, but shalt have harder labours. For they shall bind thee, and bring thee to the cross, where thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, i.e., shalt be crucified.
Less correctly, therefore, Lyra explains shall gird thee to mean, ‘Another shall bind thee with cords, not nail thee, to the cross. For the words, shall gird, refer not to the cross, but, as the Arabic and Syriac translate, to the loins of Peter, and to his hands and feet. Another, i.e. a lictor or a hangman, shall bind thy loins and thine arms, and carry thee as a criminal to the cross. Besides, S. Peter was not fastened to the cross with cords but with nails, as S. Chrysostom says expressly (Hom. in Princ. Apost.), “Rejoice, 0 Peter, who hast enjoyed the wood of the cross, and who wouldst not be crucified upright after the example of thy Master, but with thy head downwards, as it were ready for thy journey from earth to heaven. 0 blessed nails, which passed through those most holy limbs.”
Admirably says S. Augustine, “That denier and lover, puffed up by presumption, cast down by denial, purified by tears, approved by confession, crowned by enduring, found such an end, that he died for perfect love of Christ’s name, with Whom in his perverse precipitance he had promised to die. Made strong by His resurrection, he does what in his weakness he had rashly promised. And now he fears not the destruction of this life, because the Lord having arisen, had shown him the pattern of another life.”
Ver. 19.—This He spake, signifying, &c. Peter therefore by his death upon the cross glorified God, and so his death was not shameful, as Nero and the Romans thought, but was for the honour and glory both of God and Peter. The first reason was because Peter was crucified for the truth of the Faith. And this was glorious.
2. He glorified God, because for God and His Son Jesus Christ, whom he preached, he suffered crucifixion. But what is more glorious than to die for God?
3. Because in the death of the cross he was like Christ, so that as he was like Him in his life and pontificate, he might also be like Him in his cross and death. As S. Chrysostom observes, Christ does not say, thou shalt die, but thou shalt glorify, because to suffer for Christ is honour and glory. Hence the martyrdom of the cross is more honourable than other kinds of martyrdom, for which reason it was desired by many who were crucified. S. Maximus (Serm. 1, de Natal. Apost.) says, “Such was Peter, who when as a disciple of Christ he was brought to the cross, asked that he might be crucified upside down. He feared not the suffering, but he shrunk from equality with the Lord’s cross, manifesting unto all men the power of his marvellous humility, and preserving amidst his torments the discipline of the mystery (of the cross).”
4. Because Peter, dying upon the cross for Christ, has from Him obtained great glory, as well in heaven as upon earth where he glorified God, who was, as it were, the origin and author of his glory. Hence the faithful throughout the world, even kings and princes, flock to Rome, that they may visit and venerate the place of Peter’s crucifixion and burial, and his basilica in the Vatican, which is the wonder of the world. As S. Augustine says (Serm. 28, de Sanct.), “Now at the memory of the Fisherman the emperor bends his knees; there sparkle the gems of his diadem, where shine the benefits of the Fisherman.” And S. Chrysostom says, “Even kings and governors, leaving all things, run to the sepulchres of the Fisherman and the Tent-maker. And at Constantinople our princes deem it a great favour if their bodies may be buried, not near the Apostles, but outside the porches (of their churches). And kings become the doorkeepers of fishermen.
Morally, learn from hence to glory with SS. Peter and Paul in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to congratulate thyself when Christ makes thee a partaker of it, and sends thee some little portion of His cross, whether by sickness, or persecution, or reproach, or by any other affliction. For by no other thing is God more glorified than by martyrdom and the cross, if they be borne patiently and joyfully. The cross therefore is the honour and glory of Christ and Christians, not their shame and disgrace.
And when He had thus said, &c. Observe, with Cyril, Chrysostom, Maldonatus, and others, that Christ here by His action signified to Peter the same thing which He had spoken in word. He therefore rising, and going from the place to the dinner, invites Peter to follow Him, going before him on foot, and to signify that he was to follow Him as his lawfully appointed Vicar, in those things which He had already said to him, namely, in the pastoral care of His sheep, and the punishment of the cross. Therefore He saith to him, Follow Me, (1.) As in going, so also by succeeding Me in the government of the Church. Be thou therefore My successor as the Pastor and Ruler of My whole Church.
2. Follow Me, that as I have gone before thee to the cross, so do thou follow Me to the same. And let not the cross seem to thee too hard to undergo for Me, for I first endured it for thee. For thee and for the rest of the faithful I went before to it, and smoothed the way. For it behoves thee to follow Me, as well in thy life and pastoral office, as in death and the cross, that thou shouldest lay down thy life for the sheep, and be a guide to the rest of the faithful to the cross and martyrdom. Whence the Gloss says, ”if the Shepherd has been sacrificed as a sheep, let not those who from sheep have become shepherds fear to be sacrificed.“ Hence when Peter was shut up in the Mamertine prison at Rome, the Christians were persuading him, and by their entreaties almost compelling him, to flee. To please them he did so. But outside the gate, which is now called the gate of S. Sebastian, Christ met him. Peter asked Him, Lord, whither goest Thou? The Lord answered him, I am going to Rome to be crucified a second time. Peter understood that Christ willed to be crucified, not in His own person, but in the person of Peter, His Vicar. Therefore he immediately returned to prison, and shortly afterwards underwent the death of the cross. The place where Christ thus met and conversed with Peter is still to be seen just outside Rome. It is adorned with a chapel, and is religiously visited, and is commonly known as Domine, quo vadis?
3. Follow Me, in the pastoral care, that thou mayest feed the faithful both by word and example, and especially by super-abounding charity.
Listen to Theophylact: in that He saith, Follow Me, He made him the Prelate of all the faithful. Lastly, He manifested His affection towards him. For we wish those who are more strictly bound to us to follow us.
Admirably saith S. Irenæus, “To follow the Saviour is to partake of salvation: to follow, the light is to partake of light , now they who are in the light do not themselves illuminate the light, but are enlightened by it.”
Vers. 20, 21.—Peter, turning, saw that disciple, &c. Peter, in obedience to Christ, was beginning to follow Him,—presently John also, and the rest of his companions followed. Peter then, being anxious about John and his companions, turned and looked back. Seeing them following, he omitted mention of the rest, and asked Christ what was to become of John, whether, namely, John was to follow Christ in the same way as himself, and to die upon a cross. Peter asked this, both because he loved John above the rest, and also because he knew that Christ loved him above the rest, and that he had reclined upon His breast at supper. He wondered that Christ should pass over this very dearly beloved John; and so he calls him to His remembrance. As though he said, “What will be the fate of Thy well-beloved John? Surely, as Thou didst prefer him to me at the supper, Thou mightest now rightly prefer him in the pastoral office, and subject me to him as a pastor. But since it has seemed good to Thee to do otherwise, at least I would desire to know what is to he the history of his life and death.” Finally, the question was asked, because Peter here pays back, as it were, to John, the question which John at his instigation had asked at the last supper, when he asked Jesus who should betray Him? Peter asked Jesus concerning John, thinking that John desired to know what was to be his future lot, and yet did not dare to ask Christ. Listen to S. Chrysostom. “Because the Lord had foretold him great things, and had committed, the whole world to him, and prophesied his martyrdom, and testified larger love, desiring also to receive John as his partner, he said, But this man, what (of him)? For Peter dearly loved John, and thinking that he wished to ask a question concerning himself, but did not dare, he undertook to ask for him.”
From hence let prelates learn not to follow their own affections, not indulge their love, but to follow reason in all things, and to appoint such pastors only as they deem most meet for the pastoral office. Even so here Christ did not appoint John, although he was His most dearly beloved kinsman, to be His Vicar, and successor, and the Pontiff of the Church, but Peter.
Ver. 22.—Jesus saith unto him, So I will him to tarry till I come, what to thee? There is a threefold reading here. The first, the Greek, and from it the Syriac, Arabic and Ethiopic versions, If I will him to tarry. The second is, S. Jerome’s (lib. 2, cent. Jovin) and others, If so. The third is the Latin, and especially the Roman, codices, So I will him to tarry. This is the reading of S. Augustine, Bede, Rupert, the Gloss, S. Thomas, Lyra, and others. George Trapezuntius endeavours, although a Greek, to defend this reading by many arguments. Cardinal Bessarion refutes him, and defends the first reading. It is in favour of the first reading that the Latin si is easily changed into sic. But the Greek ε̉ὰν, could not easily be transformed into οϋτως. Again, the first reading gives a plain sense: thus, “If I will that John should remain in life, and not be crucified as I will thee to be, what is it to thee? Follow Me, and leave John to My care.” For Christ wishes only to repress Peter’s curiosity, that, intent upon himself alone, he should leave the care of John to Christ. So S. Cyril, &c.
The arguments in favour of the third reading are, 1. That the Roman edition, corrected by order of the Pope, as well as many MSS. and Latin interpreters, have it. 2. That according to it Christ gives more satisfaction to Peter’s question. 3. That from it the disciples would more readily take up the opinion about John, that he was not to die. 4. Because Trapezuntius, who was an excellent Greek scholar, shows that the Greek particle ε̉ὰν and the Latin si have this force, that joined with the indicative mood they way be taken affirmatively, but with the subjunctive mood, hypothetically. For it is one thing to say, if I love thee, I do not injure thee: but another to say, if I loved thee, I will not injure thee. In the first proposition love is affirmed: in the second not, but the matter is put doubtfully. Since therefore the Evangelist here uses the indicative mood, the proposition is affirmative. Moreover, says Trapezuntius, the Fathers in this place translated sic, so, instead of si, if, lest persons but slenderly acquainted with the Greek and Latin tongues should misunderstand the meaning of si, because of its double force. The Latin si, if, therefore, both here and in some other places, is affirmative, not doubtful. Thus Virgil (Æn. vi.) says, If the fates call (vocant) thee, that is, when the fates call thee. And in the same book, If Orpheus could (potuit) call back the manes of his wife, he affirms that he could.
Observe from the words, So I will him to tarry till I come, many have thought that John is not dead, but will come with Elias and Enoch to contend with Antichrist. Indeed the angel seems to assert this in the Apocalypse, saying to John, “Thou must prophesy again before the Gentiles.” (Rev. x. ii.) So thought Hippolytus (Tract. de Consummat. Sæculi), Dorotheus, and Metaphrastes (Life of S. John), Damascene (Orat. de Trans.). The latter supports his opinion by Luke ix. 27: “There be some standing here which shall not taste of death until they see the kingdom of God.” So, too, S. Ambrose understands the passage (lib. vii. in Luc.) Theophylact, Salmeron, and Barradi are all inclined to take the same view.
Others, again, whom S. Augustine refutes, think that S. John is alive within the tomb, because the earth above his sepulchre is said to quiver; and think that this is occasioned by S. John’s breathing.
But I say it is far more like the truth, and to myself a matter of certainty, that S. John died a natural death.
This is the general tradition of the Fathers, as Irenæus, Tertullian, Eusebius, SS. Jerome, Augustine and Chrysostom, S. Ambrose, Bede and others. From whom Baronius gathers that S. John died A.D. 101, in the ninth year of Pope Clement, the second year of Trajan’s reign, sixty-eight from Christ’s crucifixion, and of his age the ninety-third. I say he died at Ephesus, and was buried near that city, and was succeeded in the bishopric of Ephesus by Onesimus, the disciple of S. Paul. The tradition of the Church which celebrates the Feast of S. John as departed this life, and as now reigning with Christ in heaven, confirms this. For this is the lot of none except after death.
Gregory of Tours (Hist. Franc. lib. i. c. 26) describes the way in which S. John died. “John the Evangelist, an old man and full of days, laid himself down in his tomb.” And in his first book on the glory of the Martyrs he says, “John went down alive into the tomb, and commanded it to be covered with earth. Now from his sepulchre there is an abundant supply of manna like fine meal, from which the blessed relics are carried all over the world, and afford healing to the sick.” Peter Damian says in his second Sermon on S. John, “Who is there whom the marvellous strangeness of this happy migration does not move? Who does not wonder at the glory of this most happy consummation? For he who lived marvellously died also marvellously. And forasmuch as he did not lead the common life of men, he passed not hence by a common death. For as histories relate, he ordered a square chamber to be constructed in the church, and by and by descended into it. Then stretching forth his hands, he remained a long while in prayer, and so passed to eternity. In a short space so great a light shone upon him from heaven, that no one could bear to look at it. After that the chamber was found to contain only manna, which, as is said, it continues to produce abundantly until this very day. For so it seemed good that the disciple who was so dear to the Author of life should depart out of this world, and that he should be a stranger to the pangs of death who had been a stranger to the corruption of the flesh.”
Nicephorus adds that the body of S. John, like that of the Blessed Virgin, was not found in his sepulchre, but that it rose again, and was raised by Christ to heaven. S. Ambrose makes mention of this opinion (Ser. 20. in PS. cxviii.) S. Thomas also, and B. Peter Damian held this as a pious opinion. Nevertheless it has no sure foundation either in Scripture, or in the tradition of the Ancients. Indeed it is opposed to the fact that in the Council of Ephesus the relics of the martyrs, and especially of S. John, were ordered to be collected. And Pope Celestine, in his epistle to the Council of Ephesus, says, “Before all things ye ought especially to consider, and again and again call to mind (these things), you, to whom John the Apostle preached, whose relics present with you ye honour.”
If then the relics of S. John were at Ephesus, he cannot yet have risen again, unless any one should maintain that they were the relics, not of his body, but of his clothes, his books, &c., or possibly of his hair and beard. Be this as it may, it is not possible at the present time to find any other relics of the body of S. John.
You will ask, how is it that S. John is called by the Fathers and the Church a martyr, if he died a natural death? I reply, with S. Jerome, that S. John was a martyr because he was thrown into a caldron of boiling oil at Rome before the Latin Gate by the Emperor Domitian on account of his preaching Christ, as Tertullian testifies (de Præscrip. c. 36). The most ancient testimony of the Roman Church confirms this. In memory thereof a church has been erected on the site, and the Church has appointed a yearly commemoration of the same on the 6th of May. For although S. John did not then die, but came out of the caldron unhurt, yet because he willingly offered himself to such a cruel death for the sake of Christ, and because that boiling oil would naturally and necessarily have produced death, unless he had been miraculously preserved unhurt, therefore S. John was truly a martyr, and is rightly called a martyr.
Moreover, this present passage, as well as S. Luke ix. 27, and Revelation x. 11, as I there show, do not favour a contrary opinion. For the meaning is, (1.) “I wish thee, 0 Peter, to follow Me by the cross, but John I will to remain so (sic), i.e., without the cross, or a violent death, until I come, that having died by a natural death I should take him to Myself in heaven.” So S. Augustine, Bede, &c.
(2.) It may mean, “I will John to abide in life until I come to the public destruction of Jerusalem. Until I come, by means of Titus and the Romans, to avenge the death of Myself as Messiah by the destruction of the whole Jewish nation. For S. Peter and the rest of the Apostles were put to death before the destruction of Jerusalem. S. John alone of the Apostles survived it. So those two brethren, James and John, were the beginning and the end of the Apostolic martyrdoms. So Theophylact and others. Some add with Theophylact that S. John remained in Judea until its destruction, and that it was that which was meant by Christ.
Christ willed S. John to survive for so long a time for four reasons. The first was that John might be a foundation and pillar of the Church against the already nascent heretics, and that he might testify to all that the words and deeds of Christ which were written by the other Evangelists, as well as by himself in this Gospel, are most true, yea, that he saw them with his eyes, and heard them with his ears. 2d. That this his longevity might stand in the place of martyrdom, for John greatly desired to die, that he might enjoy Christ, saying as he did at the end of the Apocalypse, Come, Lord Jesus. 3d. That when the destruction of Judea was at hand he might warn the Christians to depart out of it. 4th. That he might testify to all that the destruction of the Jews was caused by their having put Christ to death, and that it had been foretold by Christ, and that he might by this strengthen believers in the faith of Christ and convert the unbelieving Jews.
Lastly, whether you read if, or so, the meaning will be the same if si be understood. Wherefore some read si sic (if so), as if Christ said, “Granted that I wish John to remain, what is it to thee?”
Moreover, S. Cæsarius, the brother of S. Gregory Nazianzen, (Dial. 5), gives this fresh interpretation, “I wish John to remain here by the sea of Galilee,” but this seems too literal and frigid.
Anagogically, the contemplative and beatific and triumphant life in heaven is here represented in St. John, and the active and militant life on earth in S. Peter. Listen to S. Augustine (Tract. 124) “Why did the Lord love John the most when Peter loved the Lord the most? By so much I understand he is better who most loves Christ, but he is happier whom Christ most loves. I think then that two modes of life are here signified, one which is in faith by the Apostle Peter, on account of the primacy of his apostleship; and therefore it is said to him, Follow Me, by imitation, viz., in bearing temporal ills. But the other life, which is in hope, by S. John, concerning whom it is said, So I will him to tarry till I come, when, that is, I am about to give him everlasting blessings. Let perfect action follow Me, being made strong by the example of my Passion: but let contemplation remain in an inchoate condition, i.e., let it look for perfection when I come.”
Both are more briefly stated in the Gloss: “That one should love most is for mercy to be made manifest, and justice hidden. Here two modes of life are commended to the Church. For the government of the storm-tossed Church the keys are given, for binding and loosing sins. For the sake of that quiet rest upon the bosom of Jesus a man lies down where he may drink of truth. And because John is a virgin, he is a type of that life to come, where they neither marry nor are given in marriage.”
Tropologically, virginity, and the incorruption of virgins, integrity, and immortality, as they seem always to remain in the same state living and flourishing, are here represented, since S. John continued a very long time. For chaste souls imitate the holiness and purity of God. Hence they are made like unto God, and are beloved by Him. For this cause the Blessed Peter Damian calls S. John an organ of the Divine mysteries, a ray of heaven, a celestial eagle.
Wherefore that saying went abroad, &c, namely, that S. John would not die, but would remain alive until Christ should come at the day of judgment, and then carry him alive with Him to heaven. And no marvel, for, as I have said a little above, many of the Fathers thought the same.
Ver. 23.—Yet Jesus said not, &c. This is the correction. John corrects the mistaken opinion of the disciples concerning himself, that he should not die. Whence it may be gathered that the meaning of Christ’s words was different, and that John really died, as I have shown upon verse 22.
Ver. 24.—This is that disciple, &c., viz. John, who for the sake of modesty speaks of himself in the third person. As though he said, “This is not the testimony of myself alone, but I, and all who have been conversant with Christ, all who have been their hearers and disciples, know that this disciple testifies and writes the truth. For at that time there were but few survivors of those who had conversed with Christ, but many survived who had beard the same things from them. For John wrote this Gospel against Cerinthus, Meander, Ebion, and other rising heretics, who denied that Christ was God, and therefore detracted from His preaching and Gospel, as though it were false and feigned.
There are also many other things, &c. After the words the world itself, the Syriac version adds, as I think. First, S. Augustine, Bede, S. Thomas, and others explain the words, the world itself could not contain the books, not of local space, but of the capacity of readers. As it were, “The whole world could not receive, i.e. could not understand, could not penetrate the mysteries of the doctrine and life of Christ, because they are too profound and Divine.” But in this sense who is able to contain, in the sense of thoroughly penetrating, one single sentence of Christ concerning the mysteries of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Eucharist, &c.?
S. Jerome and others interpret capere by to receive by faith, to believe this. As it were, “If so many, and such unheard-of, and stupendous miracles of Christ were related, worldly men could not bear them, but would think either that the eyes of men were deluded by magic arts, or else that all were dreams and fables, and that so many and such great things could not be done by any one.” Therefore the Evangelists say but little concerning the greatest miracles. But to this is opposed that the unbelieving would believe not one single miracle of Christ, whilst the faithful would have believed them all. Observe, moreover, the Evangelist says books, not miracles.
3. And giving the true meaning, the words are an hyperbole. As though it were said, If every one of the words and deeds of Christ were written down, so many and so great things would have to be written, that the world would be filled with books—so many books would require to be written, that they would be, so to say, innumerable. Thus it is commonly said, In such a library there are books innumerable, that is very many. Such is the expression in chap. xii. 19, “The whole world is gone after Him,” meaning, very many follow Jesus. So Cyril, Chrysostom, Bede, Theophylact, Jansen, Toletus, and others. From hence it is plain that the Evangelists have omitted very many of the words and deeds of Christ, and recorded comparatively few, that from them we might acknowledge Christ to be both God and man, and might, as the proverb goes, estimate the power of a lion by his claw.
You may say, This hyperbole seems extravagant, for the whole world could contain innumerable myriads of books. I reply, it is not too bold an hyperbole, yea, it is too feeble if we take into account the greatness, the excellence, and the majesty of the things to be written. For observe that there were in Christ two natures, the Divine and the human—therefore His actions had a twofold, yea a threefold, character. First, in that they were Divine, He knew all things, and comprehended all things, He loved the Father with an infinite love, He breathed the Holy Spirit, and so on. Which things, were they to be written about in accordance with their worthiness, infinite books must be written, which the world could not contain. For however many might be written by men, they could not adequately set forth, much less exhaust, one single Divine, and therefore altogether infinite, action of Christ. So Christ by one word and conception of His mind, knows all things, comprehends them, saith and speaks them. Moreover, one such word of His is so fruitful and sublime that all angels and men could not adequately and fully express it in an infinite number of words and books. Indeed, one of the Seraphim knows more, says and does more, in a single act than the infirm angels and men in many acts. Much more is this so with Christ, who far surpasses all the Seraphim. This second sort of Christ’s actions were human acts, such as to speak, to eat, to walk. If these be regarded merely as human acts, they might be written in a few books. But if they be regarded as they were done by Christ, and directed by the interior spirit of prudence, charity, and the other virtues, they could not be worthily described by any human pen, because no one could by writing adequately express the spirit and virtues of Christ. For Christ did all His works with all their accompaniments so perfectly, so angelically, that no authors could perfectly set them forth before the eyes of men. For each several action of Christ contained in itself so many virtues, excellences, and perfections, that it could not be equalled by any number of our actions.
The third kind of the actions of Christ were mixed, i.e., partly human, and partly Divine. These therefore are called by S. Dionysius theandric, i.e., Divinely-human actions. Such are to preach the Gospel, to raise the dead, to institute the Eucharist and the other Sacraments, things which Christ did as man, but in which He was directed by the Deity, hypostatically united to Himself. Far less then can these actions, regarded as to their worthiness, be adequately unfolded and set forth by all the writers who are, have been, or ever will be. For they are actions directly emanating from God, and therefore containing in themselves a Divine power and excellency, which far surpass the genius and ability of all authors to write them, according to the words in Job (xi. 7), “Canst thou comprehend the footsteps of God, and find out the Almighty to perfection? He is higher than heaven, what wilt thou do? Deeper than hell, whence wilt thou know? The measure is longer than the earth, broader than the sea.”
Lastly, the truth of this hyperbole is made plain by the event and experience. For we see every year so many discourses, lectures, sermons, concerning the life and deeds of Christ, so many books written, so many commentaries, that to enumerate them would be impossible. And so, if the world were to endure for ever, the same thing would go on from year to year. If all were to be gathered in one (at last), the world could not contain them. Wherefore S. Leontius (Serm. de. Nativ. 9) saith, “The greatness of the Divine working exceeds the capacity of human speech. Never therefore will subjects of thanksgiving fail, because the abundance of them that praise will never cease.”
Tropologically: From hence learn of Christ to fulfil thy years with virtues. Be continually occupied in the doing of many great and heroic works of virtue. Go from virtue to virtue until thou shalt see the God of gods in Sion. As Zeuxis the illustrious painter said, “I paint for eternity,” so say thou, “I live for eternity.” Say to thyself, I am painting the picture of a holy life. I am painting a portrait which I may show to God and the angels in heaven, to be for ever before their eyes, that the blessed ones may admire it, and praise it through all eternity. Imitate Christ therefore, and follow His life and faith. That faith is the true and ancient faith which Christ delivered to Peter, Peter to his successors the Supreme Pontiffs and the Roman Church, to be as it were a deposit to be kept inviolable. Flee therefore from every novelty in the faith, which the innovators fashion of themselves, and thrust upon thee. For a new faith is faithless, deceitful, and a lie. It is not faith, but perfidy.
S. Paul, writing to the Romans, bestows upon them this commendation (i. 8.), “Your faith is announced in all the world.” S. Irenæus, who was the disciple of S. Polycarp, and through him of S. John, calls the Roman Church (Lib. 3, caps. 3, 4) the rich repository of ecclesiastical traditions, because, as he says, “The Apostles most fully deposited in her all things which appertain to the Truth, that whosoever will may take from her the water (potum) of life.” S. Cyprian (Ep. 45) calls her the mother (matricem) of the churches. For to this Church, that is, those who are faithful everywhere, saith Irenæus, “it is necessary that every Church should agree, on account of its more powerful principality, in which Church that tradition which is from the Apostles has been preserved by those who are in every place.” Tertullian (lib. de præscrip. heret. c. 36) says, “Thou hast Rome, from whence we too have authority. 0 happy Church, into which the Apostles with their blood poured all their doctrine, where Peter was made like unto the Passion of the Lord, where Paul was crowned after the manner of John the Baptist, where the apostle John was immersed in boiling oil and felt no hurt.” Again, S. Jerome saith (Pref. in l. 2, Com. in Ep. ad Galat.), “Do you wish to know, 0 Paula and Eustochium, how the Apostle delineated every province by its own characteristics? Even until this very day the vestiges remain both of their virtues and their faults. The faith of the Roman Christians is commended. Where indeed are the churches still frequented with so much zeal as at Rome? Where is there such flocking to the tombs of the martyrs? Where do the Amens so resound like peals of heavenly thunder, whilst the deserted idol temples shake to their foundations? All this is not because the Romans have any different faith from that of all the churches of Christ, but because their devotion and their childlike faith is greater.”
Learn therefore the Gospel and the faith of Christ from the Roman Church: and show it forth in your life and conduct. And daily make much progress therein, so shalt thou follow Christ, and be with Him in heavenly glory. The work which here thou workest in a moment shall abide for ever, and give thee gladness. The work which here thou workest not, thou shalt lose everlastingly, so that never more shalt thou be able to compass it. This will God Himself require of thee in the last and fateful day of the universe, when with all His angels the judge shall sit upon His throne, to take account of the quick and the dead, and to try thee as to thy Christian life and profession, that if thou hast followed the right path He may award thee heaven, but if not, consign thee to hell. It is here thou castest the die for eternity. Take heed that thou castest aright. For the throw once cast may never be recalled.
Believe, Study, Live, Paint, for Eternity.
0 how long, 0 how deep, 0 how infinite, 0 how blessed, or else how miserable, is that Mistress of everlasting ages, that endless, that ever-enduring eternity. “0 frail man! how little is all thou doest for the hope of eternity.”—Eusebius Emissenus.