St. Thomas Aquinas
Catena Aurea (Golden Chain)
The Gospel: John 6:5-14
(John Henry Parker, v. I, J.G.F. and J. Rivington:London, 1842)
5. When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great
company come unto him, he saith unto 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,
saith unto him,
9. There is a lad here, which hath
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 unto his disciples,
Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be
13. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled
twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley
loaves, which remained over and above unto 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
follows, When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great
company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that
these may eat? When Jesus lifted up His eyes, this is to shew us,
that Jesus was not generally with His eyes lifted up, looking about Him, but
sitting calm and attentive, surrounded by His disciples.
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, Shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. [John 14, 8] 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. [Hom. xlii.1]
kind of temptation leads to sin, with which God never tempts anyone; and there
is another kind by which faith is tried. [James 1, 13. Deut. 13, 3.] 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 searcheth 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. [de Verb.
Dom. Serm. 17.]
He asks him this question, not for His own information, but in order to shew His
yet unformed disciple his dulness of mind, which he could not perceive of
Or to shew others it. He was not ignorant of His disciple's heart Himself.
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 ye them to eat. [Matt. 25, 16] 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. [de Con. Evang.
l. ii. c. xlvi.]
Or they are two different occasions altogether. [Hom. xlii. s. 1.]
Thus tried by our Lord, Philip was found to be possessed with
human notions, as appears from what follows, Philip answered Him, Two hundred
pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that everyone of them may take a
Wherein he shews his dulness: for, had he perfect ideas of his Creator, he would
not be thus doubting His power.
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. [de Con.
Evan. l. ii. c. xlvi.]
Andrew is in the same perplexity that Philip is; only he has
rather higher notions of our Lord: There is a lad here which hath five barley
loaves and two small fishes.
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 shew that no part of the creation was severed from
His wisdom. [Hom. xlii. 11.]
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.
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. [de Con. Evan. l. ii. c. xlvi.]
And let those of us, who are given to pleasure, observe the plain and abstemious
eating of those great and wonderful men [Alluding to the five loaves and two
fishes.]. He made the men sit down before the loaves appeared, to teach us that
with Him, things that are not are as things that are; as Paul says, Who
calleth those things that be not, as though they were. [Rom. 25, 17] [Hom.
The passage proceeds then: And Jesus said, Make the men sit
Sit down, i.e. lie down, as the ancient custom was, which they could do,
as there was much grass in the place.
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
honourable in God's eyes. And Jesus took the loaves; and
when He had given thanks, He distributed [Vulgate omits, to the
disciples, and the disciples.] to them that were sat down: and likewise
of the fishes as much, as they would.
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 shew 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. [Hom. xlii. 11]
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 [d]. 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. [Hilar. iii. de Trin. c. 18]
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. [Aug. Tr. xxiv. s. 1.]
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 superabundant result. When they were filled, He
said unto 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. [Hom. xlii. 3.]
We learn too from this miracle, not to be pusillanimous in the greatest straits
When the multitude saw the miracle our Lord had done, they marvelled; 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.
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. [Luke 13, 33.]
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. [Tr. xxiv. s. 7.]
Their expression, that should come into the world, shews 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 shew that
He was distinct from other Prophets.
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 [V. 15. departed into a mountain Himself alone.], 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. [Tr. xxiv. 2. 1, 2.]
Mystically, the sea signifies this tumultuous world. In the fulness 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 [V. 1. Jesus went over the sea of
Galilee.], then followed Him crowds of believers, both from the Jews and
Our Lord went up to the mountain, when He ascended to heaven, which is signified
by the mountain.
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 unto them.
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. [lib. lxxxiii. Quaest. q. 61. in princ.]
Barley is the food of cattle and slaves: and the old law was given to slaves
and cattle, i.e. to carnal men. [Hom. in Luc. c. vi.]
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 characters. [lib. lxxxiv, Quaest. qu. 61.]
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.
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. [Tr. xxiv. 5.]
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. [Heb. 7, 19]
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. [Tr. xxiv.
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. [lib. lxxxiii. Quaest.
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. [Isa. 40, 6.] Men are filled
with the loaves, when what they hear with the ear, they fulfil in practice. [Tr.
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. [Tr. xxiv. 6.]
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.