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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Or for another reason He might have withdrawn into a desert place on hearing of John's death, namely, to prove the faith of the believers.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 them. 

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 to eat."  
17. And they say unto him, "We have here but five loaves, and two fishes."  
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 and sea. 

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 mysteries. 

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.