St. Thomas Aquinas
Catena Aurea (Golden Chain)
The Gospel Parallel: Matthew 14:13-21
(John Henry Parker, v. I, J.G.F. and J. Rivington:London, 1842)
13. When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by
ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof,
they followed him on foot out of the cities.
14. And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved
with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.
Gloss., ap. Anselm: The Saviour having heard the death of His baptist,
retired into the desert; as it follows, "which when Jesus had heard, he
departed thence by ship into a desert place."
Aug., De Cons. Ev., ii, 45: This the Evangelist relates to have been
done immediately after the passion of John, therefore after this were those
things done that were spoken of above, and moved Herod to say, "This is
John." For we must suppose those things to have been after his death which
report carried to Herod, and which moved him to doubt who he could be concerning
[p. 530] whom he heard such things; for himself had put John to death.
Jerome: He did not retire into the desert through fear of death, as
some suppose, but in mercy to His enemies, that they might not add murder
to murder; putting off His death till the day of His passion; on which
day the lamb is to be slain as the sacrament, and the posts of them that
believe to be sprinkled with the blood.
Or, He retired to leave us an example to shun that rashness which leads
men to surrender themselves voluntarily, because not all persevere with
like constancy under torture with the which they offered themselves to
it. For this reason He says in another place, "When they shall persecute
you in one city, flee ye to another." Whence the Evangelist says not 'fled,'
but elegantly, "departed thence," (or, 'withdrew,') shewing that He shunned
rather than feared persecution.
Or for another reason He might have withdrawn into a desert place on
hearing of John's death, namely, to prove the faith of the believers.
Chrys.: Or; He did this because He desired to prolong the economy of
His humanity, the time not being yet come for openly manifesting His deity;
wherefore also He charged His disciples that they should tell no man that
He was the Christ. But after His resurrection He would have this made manifest.
Therefore although He knew of Himself what was done, yet before it was
told Him He withdrew not, that He might shew the verity of His incarnation
in all things; for He would that this should be assured not by sight only,
but by His actions. And when He withdrew, He did not go into the city,
but into the desert by ship that none might follow Him. Yet do not the
multitudes leave Him even for this, but still follow after Him, not deterred
by what had been done concerning John.
Whence it follows, "And when the multitudes had heard thereof, they
followed him on foot out of the cities."
Jerome: They followed on foot, not riding, or in carriages, but with
the toil of their own legs, to shew the ardour of their mind.
Chrys.: And they immediately reap the reward of this; for it follows,
"And he went out and saw a great multitude, and he had compassion upon
them, and healed their sick." For though great was the affection of those
who had left their cities, and sought Him carefully, yet the [p. 531] things
that were done by Him surpassed the reward of any zeal.
Therefore he assigns compassion as the cause of this healing. And it
is great compassion to heal all, and not to require faith.
Hilary: Mystically; The Word of God, on the close of the Law, entered
the ship, that is, the Church; and departed into the desert, that is, leaving
to walk with Israel, He passes into breasts void of Divine knowledge. The
multitude learning this, follows the Lord out of the city into the desert,
going, that is, from the Synagogue to the Church. The Lord sees them, and
has compassion upon them, and heals all sickness and infirmity, that is,
He cleanses their obstructed minds, and unbelieving hearts for the understanding
of the new preaching.
Jerome: It is to be observed moreover, that when the Lord came into
the desert, great crowds followed Him; for before He went into the wilderness
of the Gentiles, He was worshipped by only one people. They leave their
cities, that is, their former conversation, and various dogmas. That Jesus
went out, shews that the multitudes had the will to go, but not the strength
to attain, therefore the Saviour departs out of His place and goes to meet
15. And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, "This
is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that
they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals."
16. But Jesus said unto them, "They need not depart; give ye them
17. And they say unto him, "We have here but five loaves, and two
18. He said, "Bring them hither to me."
19. And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and
took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he
blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples
to the multitude.
20. And they did all eat, and were filled: and [p. 532] they took
up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.
21. And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside
women and children.
Chrys.: It is a proof of the faith of these multitudes that they endured
hunger in waiting for the Lord even till evening; to which purpose it follows,
"And when it was evening, his disciples came unto him, saying, This is
a desert place, and the time is now past."
The Lord purposing to feed them waits to be asked, as always not stepping
forward first to do miracles, but when called upon. None out of the crowd
approached Him, both because they stood in great awe of Him, and because
in their zeal of love they did not feel their hunger. But even the disciples
do not come and say, Give them to eat; for the disciples were as yet in
an imperfect condition; but they say, "This is a desert place." So that
what was proverbial among the Jews to express a miracle, as it is said,
"Can he spread a table in the wilderness?" [Ps 78:19] this also He shews
among his other works.
For this cause also He leads them out into the desert, that the miracle
might be clear of all suspicion, and that none might suppose that any thing
was supplied towards the feast from any neighbouring town. But though the
place be desert, yet is He there who feeds the world; and though the hour
is, as they say, past, yet He who now commanded was not subjected to hours.
And though the Lord had gone before His disciples in healing many sick,
yet they were so imperfect that they could not judge what He would do concerning
food for them, wherefore they add, "Send the multitude away, that they
may go into the towns, and buy themselves food." Observe the wisdom of
the Master; He says not straightway to them, 'I will give them to eat;'
for they would not easily have received this, but, "Jesus said to them,
They need not depart, Give ye them to eat."
Jerome: Wherein He calls the Apostles to breaking of bread, that the
greatness of the miracle might be more evident by their testimony that
they had none.
Aug., De Cons. Ev., ii, 46: It may perplex some how, if the Lord, according
to the relation [p. 533] of John, asked Philip whence bread was to be found
for them, that can be true which Matthew here relates, that the disciples
first prayed the Lord to send the multitudes away, that they might buy
food from the nearest towns. Suppose then that after these words the Lord
looked upon the multitude and said what John relates, but Matthew and the
others have omitted. And by such cases as this none ought to be perplexed,
when one of the Evangelists relates what the rest have omitted.
Chrys.: Yet not even by these words were the disciples set right, but
speak yet to Him as to man; "They answered unto Him, We have here but five
loaves and two fishes." From this we learn the philosophy of the disciples,
how far they despised food; they were twelve in number, yet they had but
five loaves and two fishes; for things of the body were contemned by them,
they were altogether possessed by spiritual things. But because the disciples
were yet attracted to earth, the Lord begins to introduce the things that
were of Himself; "He saith unto them, Bring them hither to me."
Wherefore does He not create out of nothing the bread to feed the multitude
with? That He might put to silence the mouth of Marcion and Manichaeus,
who take away from God His creatures, [margin note: i.e. deny that God
created the visible world] and by His deeds might teach that all things
that are seen are His works and creation, and that it is He that has given
us the fruits of the earth, who said in the beginning, "Let the earth bring
forth the green herb;" [Gen 1:11] for this is no less a deed than that.
For of five loaves to make so many loaves, and ashes in like manner, is
no less a thing than to bring fruits from the earth, reptiles and other
living things from the waters; which shewed Him to be Lord both of land
By the example of the disciples also we ought to be taught, that though
we should have but little, we ought to give that to such as have need.
For they when bid to bring their five loaves say not, Whence shall we satisfy
our own hunger? but immediately obey; "And He commanded the multitude to
sit down on the grass, and took they five loaves and the two fishes, and
looking up to heaven blessed them, and brake."
Why did He look to heaven and bless? For it should be believed concerning
Him that He is from the Father, and that He is equal with [p. 534] the
Father. His equality He shews when He does all things with power. That
He is from the Father He shews by referring to Him whatsoever He does,
and calling upon Him on all occasions.
To prove these two things therefore, He works His miracles at times
with power, at other times with prayer. It should be considered also that
in lesser things He looks to heaven, but in greater He does all with power.
When He forgave sins, raised the dead, stilled the sea, opened the secrets
of the heart, opened the eyes of him that was born blind, which were works
only of God, He is not seen to pray; but when He multiplies the loaves,
a work less than any of these, He looks up to heaven, that you may learn
that even in little things He has no power but from His Father.
And at the same time He teaches us not to touch our food, until we have
returned thanks to Him who gives it us. For this reason also He looks up
to heaven, because His disciples had examples of many other miracles, but
none of this.
Jerome: While the Lord breaks there is a sowing of food; for had the
loaves been whole and not broken into fragments, and thus divided into
a manifold harvest, they could not have fed so great a multitude. The multitude
receives the food from the Lord through the Apostles; as it follows, "And
he gave the loaves to hie disciples, and the disciples to the multitude."
Chrys.: In doing which He not only honoured them, but would that upon
this miracle they should not be unbelieving, nor forget it when it was
past, seeing their own hands had borne witness to it. Therefore also He
suffers the multitudes first to feel the sense of hunger, and His disciples
to come to Him, and to ask Him, and He took the loaves at their hands,
that they might have many testimonies of that which was done, and many
things to remind them of the miracle.
From this that He gave them, nothing more than bread and fish, and that
He set this equally before all, He taught them moderation, frugality, and
that charity by which they should have all things in common. This He also
taught them in the place, in making them sit down upon the grass; for He
sought not to feed the body only, but to instruct the mind.
But the bread and fish multiplied in the disciples' hands; whence it
follows, "And they did all eat, and were [p. 535] filled."
But the miracle ended not here; for He caused to abound not only whole
loaves, but fragments also; to shew that the first loaves were not so much
as what was left, and that they who were not present might learn what had
been done, and that none might think that what had been done was a phantasy;
"And they took up fragments that were left, twelve baskets full."
Jerome: Each of the Apostles fills his basket of the fragments left
by his Saviour, that these fragments might witness that they were true
loaves that were multiplied.
Chrys.: For this reason also He caused twelve baskets to remain over
and above, that Judas might bear his basket. He took up the fragments,
and gave them to the disciples and not to the multitudes, who were yet
more imperfectly trained than the disciples.
Jerome: To the number of loaves, five, the number of the men that ate
is apportioned, five thousand; "And the number of them that had eaten was
about five thousand men, besides women and children."
Chrys.: This was to the very great credit of the people, that the women
and the men stood up when these remnants still remained.
Hilary: The five loaves are not multiplied into more, but fragments
succeed to fragments; the substance growing whether upon the tables, or
in the hands that took them up, I know not.
Raban.: When John is to describe this miracle, he first tells us that
the passover is at hand; Matthew and Mark place it immediately after the
execution of John. Hence we may gather, that he was beheaded when the paschal
festival was near at hand, and that at the passover of the following year,
the mystery of the Lord's passion was accomplished.
Jerome: But all these things are full of mysteries; the Lord does these
things not in the morning, nor at noon, but in the evening, when the Sun
of righteousness was set.
Remig.: By the evening the Lord's death is denoted; and after He, the
true Sun, was set on the altar of the cross, He filled the hungry. Or by
evening is denoted the last age of this world, in which the Son of God
came and refreshed the multitudes of those that believed on Him.
Raban.: When the disciples ask the Lord to send away the multitudes
that they might buy food in the towns, it signifies the pride of the Jews
towards the multitudes of the Gentiles, whom they judged rather fit [p.
536] to seek for themselves food in the assemblies of the Pharisees than
to use the pasture of the Divine books
Hilary: But the Lord answered, "They have no need to go," shewing that
those whom He heals have no need of the food of mercenary doctrine, and
have no necessity to return to Judaea to buy food; and He commands the
Apostles that they give them food. Did He not know then that there was
nothing to give them?
But there was a complete series of types to be set forth; for as yet
it was not given the Apostles to make and minister the heavenly bread,
the flood of eternal life; and their answer thus belongs to the chain of
spiritual interpretation; they were as yet confined to the five loaves,
that is, the five books of the Law, and the two fishes, that is, the preaching
of the Prophets and of John.
Raban.: Or, by the two fishes we may understand the Prophets, and the
Psalms, for the whole of the Old Testament was comprehended in these three,
the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms.
Hilary: These therefore the Apostles first set forth, because they were
yet in these things; and from these things the preaching of the Gospel
grows to its more abundant strength and virtue. Then the people is commanded
to sit down upon the grass, as no longer lying upon the ground, but resting
upon the Law, each one reposing upon the fruit of his own works as upon
the grass of the earth.
Jerome: Or, they are bid to lie down on the grass, and that, according
to another Evangelist, by fifties and by hundreds, that after they have
trampled upon their flesh, and have subjugated the pleasures of the world
as dried grass under them, then by the presence [ed. note: Vallarsi reads
paenitentiam, Jerome has borrowed the interpretation from Origen who refers
to the year of jubilee; and the Glossa ordinaria on this verse is, "The
rest of the Jubilee is here contained under the mystery of the number fifty;
for fifty twice taken makes a hundred; because we must first rest from
evil actions, that the soul may afterwards more fully repose in meditation."]
of the number fifty, they ascend to the eminent perfection of a hundred.
He looks up to heaven to teach us that our eyes are to be directed thither.
The Law with the Prophets is broken, and in the midst of them are brought
forward mysteries, that whereas they partook not of it whole, when broken
into pieces it may be food for the multitude of the [p. 537] Gentiles.
Hilary: Then the loaves are given to the Apostles, because through them
the gifts of divine grace were to be rendered. And the number of them that
did eat is found to be the same as that of those who should believe; for
we find in the book of Acts that out of the vast number of the people of
Israel, five thousand men believed.
Jerome: There partook five thousand who had reached maturity; for women
and children, the weaker sex, and the tender age, were unworthy of number;
thus in the book of Numbers, slaves, women, children, and an undistinguished
crowd, are passed over unnumbered.
Raban.: The multitude being hungry, He creates no new viands, but having
taken what the disciples had, He gave thanks. In like manner when He came
in the flesh, He preached no other things than what had been foretold,
but shewed that the writings of the Law and the Prophets were big with
That which the multitude leave is taken up by the disciples, because
the more secret mysteries which cannot be comprehended by the uninstructed,
are not to be treated with neglect, but are to be diligently sought out
by the twelve Apostles (who are represented by the twelve baskets) and
their successors. For by baskets servile offices are performed, and God
has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the strong. The five
thousand for the five senses of the body are they who in a secular condition
know how to use rightly things without.