St. Thomas Aquinas,
Catena Aurea (Golden Chain),
Gospel of John 6:5-14(John Henry Parker, J.G.F. and J. Rivington: London, 1842)
(transcribed for the web by
and used with permission)
5. When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come to
him, he said to Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?
6. And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do.
7. Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient
for them, that every one of them may take a little.
8. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, says to him,
9. There is a lad here, which has five barley loaves, and two small fishes:
but what are they among so many?
10. And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the
place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.
11. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed
to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise
of the fishes as much as they would.
12. When they were filled, he said to his disciples, Gather up the fragments
that remain, that nothing be lost.
13. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with
the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above to
them that had eaten.
14. Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said,
This is of a truth that Prophet that should come into the world.
BEDE. ...It follows, When Jesus then lifted up His eyes, and saw a great
company come to Him, He said to Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that
these may eat? When Jesus lifted up His eyes, this is to show us, that Jesus
was not generally with His eyes lifted up, looking about Him, but sitting
calm and attentive, surrounded by His disciples.
CHRYS. Nor did He only sit with His disciples, but conversed with them
familiarly, and gained possession of their minds. Then He looked, and saw a
crowd advancing. But why did He ask Philip that question? Because He knew
that His disciples, and he especially, needed further teaching. For this
Philip it was who said afterwards, Show us the Father, and it suffices us.
And if the miracle had been performed at once, without any introduction, the
greatness of it would not have been seen. The disciples were made to confess
their own inability, that they might see the miracle more clearly; And this
He said to prove him.
AUG. One kind of temptation leads to sin, with which God never tempts any
one; and there is another kind by which faith is tried. In this sense it is
said that Christ proved His disciple. This is not meant to imply that He did
not know what Philip would say; but is an accommodation to men's way of
speaking. For as the expression, Who searches the hearts of men, does not
mean the searching of ignorance, but of absolute knowledge; so here, when it
is said that our Lord proved Philip, we must understand that He knew him
perfectly, but that He tried him, in order to confirm his faith. The
Evangelist himself guards against the mistake which this imperfect mode of
speaking might occasion, by adding, For He Himself knew what He would do.
ALCUIN. He asks him this question, not for His own information, but in order
to show His yet unformed disciple his dullness of mind, which he could not
perceive of himself.
THEOPHYL. Or to show others it. He was not ignorant of His disciple's heart
AUG. But if our Lord, according to John's account, on seeing the multitude,
asked Philip, tempting him, whence they could buy food for them, it is
difficult at first to see how it can be true, according to the other
account, that the disciples first told our Lord, to send away the multitude;
and that our Lord replied, They need not depart; give you them to eat. We
must understand then it was after saying this, that our Lord saw the
multitude, and said to Philip what John had related, which has been omitted
by the rest.
CHRYS. Or they are two different occasions altogether.
THEOPHYL. Thus tried by our Lord, Philip was found to be possessed which
human notions, as appears from what follows, Philip answered Him, Two
hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of
them may take a little.
ALCUIN. Wherein he shows his dullness: for, had he perfect ideas of his
Creator, he would not be thus doubting His power.
AUG. The reply, which is attributed to Philip by John, Mark puts in the
mouth of all the disciples, either meaning us to understand that Philip
spoke for the rest, or else putting the plural number for the singular,
which is often done.
THEOPHYL. Andrew is in the same perplexity that Philip is; only he has
rather higher notions of our Lord: There its a lad here which has five
barley loaves and two small fishes.
CHRYS. Probably He had some reason in his mind for this speech. He would
know of Elijah's miracle, by which a hundred men were fed with twenty
loaves. This was a great step; but here he stopped. He did not rise any
higher. For his next words are, But what are these among so many? He thought
that less could produce less in a miracle, and more more; a great mistake;
inasmuch as it was as easy for Christ to feed the multitude from a few
fishes as from many. He did not really want any material to work from, but
only made use of created things for this purpose in order to show that no
part of the creation was severed from His wisdom.
THEOPHYL. This passage confounds the Manicheans, who say that bread and all
such things were created by an evil Deity. The Son of the good God, Jesus
Christ, multiplied the loaves. Therefore they could not have been naturally
evil; a good God would never have multiplied what was evil.
AUG. Andrew's suggestion about the five loaves and two fishes, is given as
coming from the disciples in general, in the other Evangelists, and the
plural number is used.
CHRYS. And let those of us, who are given to pleasure, observe the plain and
abstemious eating of those great and wonderful men. He made the men sit down
before the loaves appeared, to teach us that with Him, things teat are not
are as things that are, as Paul says, Who calls those things that be not, as
though they were. The passage proceeds then: And Jesus said, Make the men
ALCUIN. Sit down, i.e. lie down, as the ancient custom w as, which they
could do, as there was much grass in the place.
THEOPHYL. i.e. green grass. It was the time of the Passover, which was kept
the first month of the spring. So the men sat down in number about five
thousand. The Evangelist only counts the men following the direction in the
law. Moses numbered the people from twenty years old and upwards, making no
mention of the women; to signify that the manly and juvenile character is
especially honorable in God's eyes. And Jesus took the loaves; and when He
had given thanks, He distributed to them that were sat down: and likewise of
the fishes as much as they would.
CHRYS. But why when He is going to heal the impotent, to raise the dead, to
calm the sea, does He not pray, but here does give thanks? To teach us to
give thanks to God, whenever we sit down to eat. And He prays more in lesser
matters, in order to show that He does not pray from any motive of need. For
had prayer been really necessary to supply His wants, His praying would have
been in proportion to the importance of each particular work. But acting, as
He does, on His own authority, it is evident, He only prays out of
condescension to us. And, as a great multitude was collected, it was an
opportunity of impressing on them, that His coming was in accordance with
God's will. Accordingly, when a miracle was private, He did not pray; when
numbers were present, He did.
HILARY. Five loaves are then set before the multitude, and broken. The
broken portions pass through into the hands of those who break, that from
which they are broken all the time not at all diminishing. And yet there
they are, the bits taken from it, in the hands of the persons breaking.
There is no catching by eye or touch the miraculous operation: that is,
which was not, that is seen, which is not understood. It only remains for us
to believe that God can do all things.
AUG. He multiplied in His hands the five loaves, just as He produces harvest
out of a few grains. There was a power in the hands of Christ; and those
five loaves were, as it were, seeds, not indeed committed to the earth, but
multiplied by Him who made the earth.
CHRYS. Observe the difference between the servant and the lord. The Prophets
received grace, as it were, by measure, and according to that measure
performed their miracles: whereas Christ, working this by His own absolute
power, produces a kind of super abundant result. When they were filled, He
said to His disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be
lost. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with
the fragments. This was not done for needless ostentation, but to prevent
men from thinking the whole a delusion; which was the reason why He made use
of an existing material to work from. But why did He give the fragments to
His disciples to carry away, and not to the multitude? Because the disciples
were to be the teachers of the world, and therefore it was most important
that the truth should be impressed upon them. Wherefore I admire not only
the multitude of the loaves which were made, but the definite quantity of
the fragments; neither more nor less than twelve baskets full, and
corresponding to the number of the twelve Apostles.
THEOPHYL. We learn too from this miracle, not to be pusillanimous in the
greatest straits of poverty.
BEDE. When the multitude saw the miracle our Lord had done, they marveled;
as they did not know yet that He was God. Then those men, the Evangelist
adds, i.e. carnal men, whose understanding was carnal, when they had
perceived the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that Prophet
that should come into the world.
ALCUIN. Their faith being as yet weak, they only call our Lord a Prophet not
knowing that He was God. But the miracle had produced considerable effect
upon them, as it made them call our Lord that Prophet, singling Him out from
the rest. They call Him a Prophet, because some of the Prophets had worked
miracles; and properly, inasmuch as our Lord calls Himself a Prophet; It
cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.
AUG. Christ is a Prophet and the Lord of Prophets; as He is an Angel, and
the Lord of Angels. In that He came to announce something, He was an Angel;
in that He foretold the future, He was a Prophet; in that He was the Word
made flesh, He was Lord both of Angels and Prophets; for none can be a
Prophet without the word of God.
CHRYS. Their expression, that should come into the world, shows that they
expected the arrival of some great Prophet. And this is why they say, This
is of a truth that Prophet: the article being put in the Greek, to show that
He was distinct from other Prophets.
AUG. But let us reflect a little here. Forasmuch as the Divine Substance is
not visible to the eye, and the miracles of the divine government of the
world, and ordering of the whole creation, are overlooked in consequence of
their constancy; God has reserved to Himself acts, beside the established
course and order of nature, to do at suitable times; in order that those who
overlooked the daily course of nature, might be roused to wonder by the
sight of what was different from, though not at all greater, than what they
were used to. The government of the world is a greater miracle, than the
satisfying the hunger of five thousand with five loaves; and yet no one
wonders at this: the former excited wonder; not from any real superiority in
it, but because it was uncommon. But it would be wrong to gather no more
than this from Christ's miracles: for, the Lord who is on the mount, and the
Word of God which is on high, the same is no humble person to be lightly
passed over, but we must look up to Him reverently.
ALCUIN. Mystically, the sea signifies this tumultuous world. In the fullness
of time, when Christ had entered the sea of our mortality by His birth,
trodden it by His death, passed over it by His resurrection, then followed
Him crowds of believers, both from the Jews and Gentiles.
BEDE. Our Lord went up to the mountain, when He ascended to heaven, which is
signified by the mountain.
ALCUIN. His leaving the multitude below, and ascending the heights with His
disciples, signifies, that lesser precepts are to be given to beginners,
higher to the more matured. His refreshing the people shortly before the
Passover signifies our refreshment by the bread of the divine word; and the
body and blood, i.e. our spiritual passover, by which we pass over from vice
to virtue. And the Lord's eyes are spiritual gifts, which he mercifully
bestows on His Elect. He turns His eyes upon them, i.e. has compassionate
respect to them.
AUG. The five barley loaves signify the old law; either because the law was
given to men not as yet spiritual, but carnal, i.e. under the dominion of
the five senses, (the multitude itself consisted of five thousand:) or
because the Law itself was given by Moses in five books. And the loaves
being of barley is also an allusion to the Law, which concealed the soul's
vital nourishment, under carnal ceremonies. For in barley the corn itself is
buried under the most tenacious husk. Or, it alludes to the people who were
not yet freed from the husk of carnal appetite, which cling to their heart.
BEDE. Barley is the food of cattle and slaves: and the old law was given to
slaves and cattle, i.e. to carnal men.
AUG. The two fishes again, that gave the pleasant taste to the bread, seem
to signify the two authorities by which the people were governed, the Royal,
viz. and the Priestly; both of which prefigure our Lord, who sustained both
BEDE. Or, by the two fishes are meant the saying or writings of the
Prophets, and the Psalmist. And whereas the number five refers to the five
senses, a thousand stands for perfection. But those who strive to obtain the
perfect government of their five senses, are called men, in consequence of
their superior powers: they have no womanly weaknesses; but by a sober and
chaste life, earn the sweet refreshment of heavenly wisdom.
AUG. The boy who had these is perhaps the Jewish people, who, as it were,
carried the loaves and fishes after a servile fashion, and did not eat them.
That which they carried, while shut up, was only a burden to them; when
opened became their food
BEDE. And well is it said, But what are these among so many? The Law was of
little avail, till He took it into His hand, i.e. fulfilled it, and gave it
a spiritual meaning. The Law made nothing perfect.
AUG. By the act of breaking He multiplied the five loaves. The five books of
Moses, when expounded by breaking, i.e. unfolding them, made many books.
AUG. Our Lord by breaking, as it were, what was hard in the Law, and opening
what was shut, that time when He opened the Scriptures to the disciples
after the resurrection, brought the Law out in its full meaning.
AUG. Our Lord's question proved the ignorance of His disciples, i.e. the
people's ignorance of the Law. They lay on the grass, i.e. were carnally
minded, rested in carnal things, for all flesh is grass. Men are filled with
the loaves, when what they hear with the ear, they fulfill in practice.
AUG. And what are the fragments, but the parts which the people could not
eat? An intimation, that those deeper truths, which the multitude cannot
take in, should be entrusted to those who are capable of receiving them, and
afterwards teaching them to others; as were the Apostles. For which reason
twelve baskets were filled with them.
ALCUIN. Baskets are used for servile work. The baskets here are the Apostles
and their followers, who, though despised in this present life, are within
filled with the riches of spiritual sacraments. The Apostles too are
represented as baskets, because, that through them, the doctrine of the
Trinity was to be preached in the four parts of the world. His not making
new loaves, but multiplying what there were, means that He did not reject
the Old Testament, but only developed and explained it.