The Gospel according to Mark
1:1–5 The Beginning of the Gospel
Overview. The beginning of the gospel is intrinsically connected with the prophetic promises of Hebrew Scripture (Origen). The two Testaments do not announce first one God and then another but the one true God who works through a developing history of revelation (Irenaeus, Cyril of Jerusalem). Marcion’s view that the two covenants are separable is directly countered by Mark’s beginning point (Augustine), in which the prophetic voices of Isaiah and Malachi blend (Origen, Jerome). No prophet is greater than John (Cyril of Jerusalem), the solitary messenger from the desert prophesied by Malachi (Tertullian, Eusebius), who was called to prepare the way for Christ (Tertullian), whose voice blended judgment and mercy, repentance and faith (Maximus of Turin). John’s baptism prepared the way for the baptism that would be more fully expressed in the future remission of sins that came with the death of the one he baptized (Tertullian, Jerome). The power of John’s baptism was in accord with the justice of a just man, yet still of a mere man, although one who had received grace from the coming Lord (Augustine). The Lord incarnate did not shrink from identifying himself with sinners who need regeneration (Cyprian).
1:1a The Beginning
Preparing the Heart
Preparing the Heart. Origen: The way of the Lord must be prepared within the heart; for great and spacious is the heart of man, as if it were a whole world. But see its greatness, not in bodily quantity, but in the power of the mind which enables it to encompass so great a knowledge of the truth. Prepare, therefore, in your hearts the way of the Lord, by a worthy manner of life. Keep straight the path of your life, so that the words of the Lord may enter in without hindrance. Homilies on Luke 21.5.7.
The Beginning Point
The Beginning Point. Augustine: Note that Mark mentions nothing of the nativity or infancy or youth of the Lord. He has made his Gospel begin directly with the preaching of John. Harmony of the Gospels 2.6.18.
1:1b The Gospel
Old and New Testaments Bridged
Old and New Testaments Bridged. Origen: The gospel is primarily concerned with Christ Jesus, who is the head of the whole body of those who are being saved. Mark conveys this point when he says, “The beginning of the gospel concerning Christ Jesus.” … In its unfolding the gospel has a beginning, a continuing middle and an end. The beginning can be viewed either as the entire Old Testament, with John the Baptist being its summarizing type, or (because he stands at the juncture of the new with the old) the final stages of the old covenant. This runs counter to those who would assign the two covenants to two different Gods. Commentary on John 1.14.
The Relation of Gospel and Law
The Relation of Gospel and Law. Origen: Those who deepen in the knowledge of Christianity do not treat the things written in the law with disrespect.… In saying: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in the prophet Isaiah,” Mark shows that the beginning of the gospel is intrinsically connected with the Old Testament. Against Celsus 2.4.
The Inaugurator of the New Testament
The Inaugurator of the New Testament. Cyril of Jerusalem: With baptism the old covenant ends and the new begins. This is seen in the fact that the inaugurator of the New Testament is John the Baptist. “Among those born of women there is none greater than John.” He is the crown of all the prophetic tradition: “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.” Of the gospel dispensation he was the firstfruits, for we read “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” and after some words “John did baptize in the wilderness.” The Catechetical Lectures 3.6.
1:2 My Messenger
The Voice of One Crying
The Voice of One Crying. Irenaeus: How plainly does the beginning of the gospel focus upon the expectations of the holy prophets. At once it points out that the One whom they confessed as God and Lord, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who had also made promise to him, would send his messenger before his face. This was John, crying in the wilderness, in “the spirit and power of Elijah,” “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” For the prophets did not announce first one God and then another, but one and the same God under complementary aspects, and with many various names. Against Heresies 3.10.5.
Why John Was Viewed as an Angelic Messenger
Why John Was Viewed as an Angelic Messenger. Tertullian: Now he called him an “angel” on account of the great consequence of the mighty deeds which he was to accomplish, comparable to those mighty deeds of Joshua the son of Nun about whom you have read. John served in the office of a prophet to announce God’s will, as the forerunner of the Anointed One. The Spirit, speaking in the voice of the Father, called John an “angel” in accord with the promise declared by Malachi: “Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me.” It is not a novelty that the Holy Spirit would call those he has appointed ministers of his power “angels.” An Answer to the Jews 9.
His Sudden Appearance
His Sudden Appearance. Eusebius: He emerged from the desert clothed in a strange garment, refusing all ordinary social intercourse. He did not even share their common food. For it is written that from childhood John was in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel. Indeed, his clothing was made of camel’s hair! His food locusts and wild honey! … It is understandable that they should have been alarmed when they saw a man with the hair of a Nazarite of God, and a divine face, suddenly appearing from the lonely wilderness dressed in bizarre clothing, who after preaching to them, he disappeared again into the wilderness, without eating or drinking or mingling with the people? Must they not have suspected that he was a little more than human? For how could a human being go without food? And so they understood him to be a divine messenger, the very angel foretold by the prophet. Proof of the Gospel 9.5.
The Authority of John’s Baptism
The Authority of John’s Baptism. Augustine: The efficacy of John’s baptism is attested by the holy way he lived as a person. His baptism was in accord with the justice of a just man, yet still a mere man, but one who had received extraordinary grace from the Lord, a grace so great that he was deemed worthy to precede the final Judge of history, and to point him out with his finger, and to fulfill the words of that prophecy: “The voice of one crying out in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord.” Tractate on the Gospel of John 5.6.2.
1:3a The Voice of One Crying
The Voice and the Cry in John’s Preaching
The Voice and the Cry in John’s Preaching. Maximus of Turin: Voice and crying go together: the voice preaches faith; the cry calls for repentance; the voice, comfort; the cry, danger; the voice sings mercy; the cry announces judgment. Sermon 6.
1:3b Prepare the Way of the Lord
The Sources of Mark’s Prophetic Reference
The Sources of Mark’s Prophetic Reference. Origen: Mark took two prophecies spoken in different places by two prophets and conflated them into one, so as to declare: “As it is written in Isaiah the Prophet …” “The voice of one crying in the wilderness,” which is indeed recorded immediately after the narrative about Hezekiah’s recovery from his sickness. This is then conflated with “Behold I send my messenger to prepare the way before me,” from Malachi. Both John and Mark compress in various ways the quotation from Isaiah, Mark by reading “His paths” for “the paths of our God” and by omitting “before me.” Commentary on John 6.24.
The Blending of Prophetic Voices
The Blending of Prophetic Voices. Jerome: The quotation is made up from two prophets, Malachi and Isaiah. From the first part: “Behold I send my messenger to prepare the way before me,” occurs at the close of Malachi. But the second part: “The voice of one crying,” etc., we read in Isaiah. On what ground then has Mark in the very beginning of his book set the words: “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, Behold I send my messenger,” when, as we have said, it is [in part] not written in Isaiah at all, but in Malachi, the last of the twelve prophets? Let ignorant presumption solve this nice question if it can. I will ask pardon for being in the wrong.… The apostle has not rendered his original word for word, but using a paraphrase, he has given the sense in different terms. Letter 57 To Pammachius 9.
1:4 The Baptism of Repentance for the Forgiveness of Sins
The Baptism of Repentance
The Baptism of Repentance. Tertullian: John called for the baptism of repentance to prepare the way for the Lord. He himself led in that way by means of the sign and seal of repentance for all whom God was calling through grace to inherit the promise surely made to Abraham.… He called us to purge our minds of whatever impurity error had imparted, whatever contamination ignorance had engendered, which repentance would sweep and scour away, and cast out. So prepare the home of your heart by making it clean for the Holy Spirit. On Repentance 2.
Making Ready for Another
Making Ready for Another. Tertullian: Those who sought the baptism of repentance were dealt with as if candidates preparing for the baptismal remission and sanctification that were soon to follow in the ministry of Christ. When John preached baptism for “the remission of sins,” the declaration was made with reference to a future remission. If so, John’s call to repentance is to lead the way, and actual remission is to follow. This is what is meant by “preparing the way.” But one who prepares does not himself perfect, but rather makes ready for another to perfect. On Baptism 10.
The Baptizer and the Baptized
The Baptizer and the Baptized. Cyprian: The Lord was baptized by his servant. The holy One who was destined to grant remission of sins did not himself disdain to submit his body to be cleansed with the water of regeneration. The Good of Patience 6.
Preparing for Pardon
Preparing for Pardon. Chrysostom: Since the Victim had not been offered, nor had the Holy Spirit yet descended, of what kind was this remission of sins?… Fittingly therefore, when he had said that he came “preaching the baptism of repentance,” he adds, “for the remission of sins”; as if to say: he persuaded them to repent of their sins, so that later they might more easily receive pardon through believing in Christ. For unless brought to it by repentance, they would not seek for pardon. His baptism therefore served no other end than as a preparation for belief in Christ. The Gospel of St. Matthew, Homily 10.2.
1:5 They Were Baptized in the River Jordan
The Future Remission of Sins
The Future Remission of Sins. Jerome: The baptism of John did not so much consist in the forgiveness of sins as in being a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, that is, for a future remission, which was to follow through the sanctification of Christ. The Dialogue Against the Luciferians 7.
Types of Baptism
Types of Baptism. Gregory Nazianzen: Let us here treat briefly of the different kinds of baptism. Moses baptized, but in water, in the cloud and in the sea; but this he did figuratively. John also baptized, not indeed in the rite of the Jews, not solely in water, but also for the remission of sins; yet not in an entirely spiritual manner, for he had not added: “in the spirit.” Jesus baptized, but in the Spirit; and this is perfection. There is also a fourth baptism, which is wrought by martyrdom and blood, in which Christ himself was also baptized, which is far more venerable than the others, in as much as it is not soiled by repeated contagion. There is yet a fifth, but more laborious, by tears; with which David each night bedewed his bed, washing his couch with tears. Oration 39, On the Holy Lights.
1:6–8 The Proclamation of John the Baptist
Overview. The repentance called for by John was like a snake shedding its old skin by pushing through a narrow place; so do those preparing for baptism ready themselves by repentance (Cyril of Jerusalem). John, clothed in contrition and simplicity of life, savored the sweet and spiritual food of the desert to prepare for the lowly ministry of the Lord (Clement of Alexandria). The prophets before John were given grace to foretell the coming of Christ, but to John it was given both to foretell him in his absence and to behold him in his presence (Augustine). John’s baptism offered repentance, while Christ’s baptism offered grace (Basil, Ambrose). A powerful model of ascetic discipline stems from John’s mission, according to the type of Elijah (Jerome). By relinquishing his ancestral right to the priesthood, John became the herald and precursor of God’s own priestly self-giving (Bede). In John the law is beheld clothed in the penitent hair of the desert camel; the coming grace would be clothed in the tunic of the lamb (Jerome). The text, however, does not offer a comparison of the ministries of John and Jesus, for John himself says that they are not comparable (Chrysostom). Although the mystery of baptism eludes our human language, we cannot therefore cease to attempt to speak of it (Basil).
1:6a Clothed with Camel’s Hair
Spiritual Food in the Desert
Spiritual Food in the Desert. Clement of Alexandria: The blessed John disdained hair obtained from flocks of sheep as smelling of luxury. Instead he chose camel’s hair, making his life’s pattern one of simplicity and frugality. For he also “ate locusts and wild honey,” sweet and spiritual food, preparing for the humble and self-controlled ways of the Lord. How could John have possibly worn a purple robe? He was one who avoided all false pretenses of the city and lived a calm existence in the desert apart from all frivolous pursuits, from anything ignoble or mean. Christ the Educator 2.11.
The Effect of John’s Preaching on Christian Discipline
The Effect of John’s Preaching on Christian Discipline. Jerome: John the Baptist had a religious mother and his father was a priest. Yet neither his mother’s affection nor his father’s affluence could induce him to live in his parents’ house at the risk of the world’s temptations. So he lived in the desert. Seeking Christ with his eyes, he refused to look at anything else. His rough garb, his girdle made of skins, his diet of locusts and wild honey were all alike designed to encourage virtue and continence. Later the spiritual descendants of the prophets, who were the monks of the Old Testament, would build for themselves huts by the waters of Jordan and forsaking the crowded cities live in these on pottage and wild herbs. As long as you are at home, make your cell your paradise, gather there the varied fruits of Scripture, let them be your favorite companions, and take its precepts to your heart. Letter 125, to rusticus 7.
Precursor of a Higher Priesthood
Precursor of a Higher Priesthood. Bede: He esteemed the high priestly garment woven of gold cloth of less value than a garment made of camel’s hair, girded with a leather belt. Why? Was it not that he who, by reason of a more perfect justice, had received for himself authority to preach, that he might show, even by the neglect of his ancestral right to the high priesthood, how certainly he was the herald and precursor of a more excellent high priesthood? Homilies on the Gospels 2.19.
1:6b A Leather Girdle around His Waist
For Heavy Labor
For Heavy Labor. Chrysostom: You may ask, why did he wear a leather girdle?… Elijah also was so clothed, and likewise many others among holy men, either because they were engaged in heavy labor, or were upon a journey, or in any other necessity that involved labor, and because they despised ornament, and followed an austere way of life.… Let us, putting away all excess, and drinking the healthy cup of moderation, live in a manner that is becoming and temperate. Let us give ourselves in earnest to prayer. And if we do not receive that for which we pray, let us persevere that we may receive it. And if we do receive it, then let us persevere all the more for what we have received. For it is not his will to withhold the gift we ask for, but in his wisdom, to encourage our perseverance by delaying it. The Gospel of St. Matthew, Homily 10.
Elijah and John
Elijah and John. Jerome: John, too, wears a leather girdle about his loins; and there was nothing soft or effeminate in Elijah, but every bit of him was hard and virile. He, too, certainly was a shaggy man. Homily 91, On the Exodus.
1:6c He Ate Locusts and Wild Honey
Freedom from Need
Freedom from Need. Chrysostom: It was necessary that the precursor of the One who was to undo the age-long burdens of men, such as toil, malediction, pain and sweat, should in his own person give some token of the gifts to come, so as to stand above these tribulations. And so it was that he neither tilled the earth, nor plowed the furrow, nor did he eat bread of his own sweat, for his table was easily prepared, and his clothing more easily than his table, and his dwelling more easily than his clothing. For he had need neither of roof, nor bed, nor table, nor any such thing. But even while still within this flesh of ours he lived an almost angelic life. His clothing was put together from the hair of camels, so that even from his garments he might teach us that we free ourselves of human needs, and need not be bound to this earth, but that we may return to the pristine dignity in which Adam first lived, before he had need of garments or of clothing. The Gospel of St. Matthew, Homily 10.
Shedding Skin through a Narrow Passage
Shedding Skin Through a Narrow Passage. Cyril of Jerusalem: He fed on locusts to make his soul grow wings. Sated with honey, the words he spoke were sweeter than honey and of more profit. Clothed in a garment of camel’s hair, he exemplified in his own person the holy life.… For every snake puts off its signs of age by pushing through some narrow place, and gets rid of its old apparel by squeezing it off. From then on it is young again in body. So “enter in at the straight and narrow gate,” squeeze yourself through by fasting, break yourself away from perishing, “put off the old nature with its deeds.” The Catechetical Lectures 3.6.
1:7a Mightier than I
None Greater than John
None Greater Than John. Cyril of Jerusalem: Even though Elijah the Tishbite was taken up to heaven, he was not greater than John. Enoch too was translated but was not greater than John. Moses was the greatest of lawgivers and all the prophets were admirable, but none greater than John. It is not I who would dare to compare prophet with prophet, but their Master and ours who himself declared “Among those born of women there is none greater than John.” Not “born of virgins,” observe! but “born of women.” The Catechetical Lectures 3.6.
The Baptism of John and Christian Baptism
The Baptism of John and Christian Baptism. Ambrose: Neither repentance avails without grace, nor grace without repentance; for repentance must first condemn sin, that grace may blot it out. So then John, who was a type of the law, came baptizing for repentance, while Christ came to offer grace. Epistle 84.
The Prologue to Baptism
The Prologue to Baptism. Jerome: As he himself bodily preceded Christ as his forerunner, so also his baptism was the prologue to the Lord’s baptism. The Dialogue Against the Luciferians 7.
The Hair of the Camel and the Tunic of the Lamb
The Hair of the Camel and the Tunic of the Lamb. Jerome: “One mightier than I is coming after me, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” The meaning of the words: “He must increase, I must decrease,” is that the gospel must increase, but I, the law, must decrease. John, that is, the law in John, was clothed, therefore, in the hair of a camel, for he could not wear a tunic of the lamb of whom it is said: “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world;” and again: “He is led like a lamb to the slaughter.” In the law, we cannot wear a tunic from that Lamb. Homily 75.
More than a Prophet
More Than a Prophet. Augustine: John therefore was a foreteller of Christ, nearer to him in time than all who went before him. And because all the righteous ones and prophets of former times desired to see the fulfillment of what, through the revelation of the Spirit, they foresaw should come to pass—so also the Lord himself says that “many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which you see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which you hear, and have not heard them.” Therefore it was said of John that he was more than a prophet, and that among all that were born of women there was none greater than he, because to the righteous who went before him it was only granted to foretell the coming of Christ, but to John it was given both to foretell him in his absence and to behold him in his presence, so that it should be found that to him was made manifest what the others had desired. Answer to the Letters of Petilian, the Donatist 2.37.
1:7b The Thong of Whose Sandals I Am Not Worthy to Stoop down and Untie
Their Incomparability. Chrysostom: John was setting forth the anticipatory and ancillary value of his own baptism, showing that it had no other purpose than to lead to repentance. He did not say he baptized with water of forgiveness, but of repentance. He pointed toward Christ’s baptism, full of inexpressible gifts. John seems to be saying: “On being told that he comes after me, you must not think lightly of him because he comes later. When you understand the power of Christ’s gift, you will see that I said nothing lofty or noble when I said ‘I am unworthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’ When you hear, ‘He is mightier than I,’ do not imagine that I said this by way of comparison. For I am not worthy to be ranked so much as among Christ’s servants, no, not even the lowest of his servants, nor to receive the least honored portion of his ministry.” Therefore John did not simply say, “his sandals,” he said “the thong of his sandals,” the part counted the least of all. The Gospel of St. Matthew, Homily 11.5.
1:8a Baptized with Water
Whether Jesus Baptized
Whether Jesus Baptized. Origen: The Messiah therefore does not baptize in water, but his disciples do. He reserves for himself the baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire. Commentary on John 6.23.
Baptism under Mosaic Law Compared with John’s Baptism
Baptism Under Mosaic Law Compared with John’s Baptism. Basil: The baptism which was handed down through Moses recognized, first, a distinction among sins, for the grace of pardon was not accorded all transgressions. It also required various sacrifices, laid down precise rules for purification, and segregated for a time those who were in a state of impurity and defilement. It appointed the observance of days and seasons, and only then baptism was received as the seal of purification. The baptism of John was far more excellent: It recognized no distinction of sins, nor did it require a variety of sacrifices, nor did it appoint strict rules for purification or any observance of days or seasons. Indeed, with no delay at all, anyone who had confessed his sins, however numerous or grave, had access at once to the grace of God and his Christ. Concerning Baptism 31.2.
1:8b With the Holy Spirit
Stammering before the Mystery of Baptism
Stammering Before the Mystery of Baptism. Basil: The baptism of the Lord, however, surpasses all human powers of comprehension. It contains a glory beyond all that humanity hopes or prays for, a preeminence of grace and power which exceeds the others more than the sun outshines the stars. More than this, if the words of the righteous are recalled to mind, they prove even more conclusively its incomparable superiority. Yet, we must not therefore refrain from speaking of it, but, using the very utterances of our Lord Jesus Christ as our guides, we grope along the way, as with a mirror, or through the maze of an enigma. We must speak, not so as to diminish the greatness of the subject, by an exposition made in weakness of body and with the aid of a form of reasoning that is set at naught. We must speak to magnify the greatness and the long-suffering benevolence of the good God in tolerating our stammering attempts to speak about the prodigies of his love and grace in Christ Jesus. Concerning Baptism 31.2.
The Distinction between Water and Spirit
The Distinction Between Water and Spirit. Jerome: He is drawing a comparison, therefore, between the law and the gospel. Farther, he says: “I have baptized you with water,” that is, the law; “but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit,” that is the gospel. Homily 76.
The Perfection of Baptism
The Perfection of Baptism. Jerome: No baptism can be called perfect except that which depends on the cross and resurrection of Christ. The Dialogue Against the Luciferians 7.
1:9–11 The Baptism of Jesus
Overview. The dove, wholly benign, injuring nothing, symbolizes innocence (Chrysostom), simplicity (Bede) and grace (Augustine). Those who study the habits of the dove learn peace (Bede). After the flood, by which the iniquity of the old world was cleansed away (after, so to speak, the baptism of the world), the dove proclaimed to the earth the tempering of the wrath of heaven (Tertullian). The dove points to Jesus as the new Noah, the pilot of the nature that is everywhere in shipwreck (Gregory Thaumaturgus). In the opening of heaven a reconciliation is taking place between Creator and creation through the Redeemer by the testimony of the Holy Spirit (Hippolytus). In the baptism of Jesus, the Father bore witness, the Son received witness and the Holy Spirit gave confirmation—thus in the Jordan the triune mystery began to be disclosed (Origen), the Son appearing as a man and the Spirit as a dove (Augustine). Jesus did not become Son only at his baptism, for he is eternally the Son of the Father (Origen) in an abiding sonship that our temporal minds can approach only with wonder and awe (Ambrose). Though the eternal Son had no external need of baptism, he freely submitted to John’s baptism (Gregory Nazianzen, Ambrose, Augustine).
1:9 Baptized by John in the Jordan
The Hallowing of Water
The Hallowing of Water. Gregory Nazianzen: As man he was baptized, but he absolved sins as God. He needed no purifying rites himself—his purpose was to hallow water. Oration 29, On the Son.
1:10a The Heavens Opened
The Divine-Human Reconciliation
The Divine-Human Reconciliation. Hippolytus: Do you see, beloved, how many and how great blessings we would have lost if the Lord had yielded to the exhortation of John and declined baptism? For the heavens had been shut before this. The region above was inaccessible. We might descend to the lower parts, but not ascend to the upper. So it happened not only that the Lord was being baptized—he also was making new the old creation. He was bringing the alienated under the scepter of adoption. For straightway “the heavens were opened to him.” A reconciliation took place between the visible and the invisible. The celestial orders were filled with joy, the diseases of earth were healed, secret things made known, those at enmity restored to amity. For you have heard the word of the Evangelist, saying, “The heavens were opened to him,” on account of three wonders. At the baptism of Christ the Bridegroom, it was fitting that the heavenly chamber should open its glorious gates. So when the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove, and the Father’s voice spread everywhere, it was fitting that “the gates of heaven should be lifted up.” The Discourse on the Holy Theophany 6.
The New Noah
The New Noah. Gregory Thaumaturgus: And stretching forth slowly his right hand, which seemed both to tremble and to rejoice, John baptized the Lord. Then his detractors who were present, with those in the vicinity and those from a distance, connived together, and spoke among themselves asking: “Was John then superior to Jesus? Was it without cause that we thought John greater, and does not his very baptism attest this? Is not he who baptizes presented as the greater, and he who is baptized as the less important?” But just as they, in their ignorance of the mystery of the divine economy, babbled about with each other, the holy One who alone is Lord spoke. He who by nature is the Father of the only begotten (who alone was begotten in unblemished fashion) instantly rectified their blunted imaginations. He opened the gates of the heavens and sent down the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, lighting upon the head of Jesus, pointing him out right there as the new Noah, even the maker of Noah, and the good pilot of the nature which is in shipwreck. And he himself calls with clear voice out of heaven, and says: “This is my beloved Son,”—Jesus, not John: the One baptized, and not the one baptizing; the One who was begotten of me before all time, and not the one who was begotten of Zechariah; the One who was born of Mary after the flesh, and not the one who was brought forth by Elizabeth beyond all expectation; the One who was the fruit of the virginity which he yet preserved intact, not the one who was the shoot from a sterility removed; the One who had his encounter with you, and not the one brought up in the wilderness. This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: my Son, of the same substance with myself, and not of a different; of the same essence with me according to what is unseen, and of the same essence with you according to what is seen, yet without sin. The Fourth Homily, On the Holy Theophany, or Of Christ’s Baptism.
1:10b The Spirit Descending upon Him
The Descent of the Spirit
The Descent of the Spirit. Ambrose: John, who baptized, stood by, and behold, the Holy Spirit descended as a dove. Not a dove descended, but “as a dove.” … Descended for what reason? Not that the Lord Jesus himself might seem to be in need of the mystery of sanctification, but that he himself might sanctify, that the Spirit also might sanctify. The Sacraments 1.6
John’s Baptism and Christ’s
John’s Baptism and Christ’s. Augustine: Those who receive the baptism of Christ need not seek the baptism of John. Those who received the baptism of John did indeed seek the baptism of Christ.… No baptism was necessary for Christ, but he freely received the baptism of a servant (John) to draw us toward his baptism. Tractate on John 5.5.3, 4.
1:10c Like a Dove
The Image of Innocence
The Image of Innocence. Origen: A dove—a tame, innocent and simple bird. Hence we are taught to copy the innocence of doves. Homilies on Luke, Homily 27.
The Absence of Gall
The Absence of Gall. Tertullian: The Holy Spirit came in the form of a dove in order that the nature of the Holy Spirit might be made plain by means of a creature of utter simplicity and innocence. For the dove’s body has no gall in it. So after the deluge, by which the iniquity of the old world was purged away, after, so to speak, the baptism of the world, the dove as herald proclaimed to the earth the tempering of the wrath of heaven—sent forth from the ark and returning with an olive branch, which is a sign of peace among the nations. On Baptism 8.
The Gentle Deliverance
The Gentle Deliverance. Chrysostom: But why in the form of a dove? The dove is a gentle and pure creature. Since then the Spirit, too, is “a Spirit of gentleness,” he appears in the form of a dove, reminding us of Noah, to whom, when once a common disaster had overtaken the whole world and humanity was in danger of perishing, the dove appeared as a sign of deliverance from the tempest, and bearing an olive branch, published the good tidings of a serene presence over the whole world. All these things were given as a type of things to come.… In this case the dove also appeared, not bearing an olive branch, but pointing to our Deliverer from all evils, bringing hope filled with grace. For this dove does not simply lead one family out of an ark, but the whole world toward heaven at her appearing. And instead of a branch of peace from an olive tree, she conveys the possibility of adoption for all the world’s offspring in common. The Gospel of St. Matthew, Homily 12.3.
The Visible Word
The Visible Word. Augustine: Why did the Son of God appear as a man and the Holy Spirit as a dove? Because the Son of God came to show humanity a pattern for living, whereas the Holy Spirit made his appearance to bestow the gift which enables excellent living. Moreover, both appearances surely came in a visible manner for the sake of carnal eyes. For we must pass by degrees through the visible sacraments from those things which are seen with the physical eyes to those things which are understood spiritually by the mind. For human words make a sound and then pass away. But when the divine Word is expressed, that which is signified by the words does not pass away. Questions, Question 43.
The Gift. Augustine: The dove is not for sale; it is given gratis. Hence it is called grace. Tractate on John 10.6.3.
A Stranger to Malice
A Stranger to Malice. Bede: The image of a dove is placed before us by God so that we may learn the simplicity favored by him. So let us meditate on the nature of the dove, that from each one of its features of innocence we may learn the principles of a more becoming life. The dove is a stranger to malice. So may all bitterness, anger and indignation be taken away from us, together with all malice. The dove injures nothing with its mouth or talons, nor does it nourish itself or its young on tiny mice or grubs, as do almost all smaller birds. Let us see that our teeth are not weapons and arrows. 1.12.
1:11a A Voice from Heaven
The Triune Witness
The Triune Witness. Origen: In the Jordan the Trinity was manifested to humanity. The Father bore witness, the Son received witness, and the Holy Spirit gave confirmation. Fragments on Matthew 58.
The Triune Presence
The Triune Presence. Augustine: The Trinity appears very clearly: the Father in the voice, the Son in the man, the Spirit in the dove. Tractate on John 6.5.1.
Three in One
Three in One. Augustine: In the Scripture many details are mentioned distinguishably of each of the triune Persons individually, such as cannot be said of them jointly, even though they are inseparably together, as when they are made manifest by corporeal sounds. So in certain passages of Scripture and through certain created beings they are shown separately and successively, as the Father in the voice which is heard: “Thou art my Son,” and the Son in the human nature which he took from the Virgin, and the Holy Spirit in the physical appearance of a dove. These are mentioned distinguishably, it is true, but they do not prove that the Three are separated. To explicate this, we take as an example the unity of our memory, our understanding, our will. Although we list these distinguishably, individually and in their various functions, there is nothing we do or say which proceeds from one of them without the other two. However, we are not to think that these three faculties are compared to the Trinity so as to resemble it at every point, for a comparison is never given such importance in an argument that it exactly fits the thing to which it is compared. Besides, when can any likeness in a created being be applied to the Creator? Letter 169, To Euodius.
1:11b My Beloved Son
The Father’s Voice
The Father’s Voice. Hippolytus: For this reason did the Father send down the Holy Spirit from heaven upon the One who was baptized.… For what reason? That the faithfulness of the Father’s voice might be made known.… Listen to the Father’s voice: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” This is he who is named the son of Joseph, who according to the divine essence is my only begotten. “This is my beloved Son,” yes, none other than the One who himself becomes hungry, yet feeds countless numbers. He is my Son who himself becomes weary, yet gives rest to the weary. He has no place to lay his head, yet bears up all things in his hand. He suffers, yet heals sufferings. He is beaten, yet confers liberty upon the world. He is pierced in his side, yet repairs the side of Adam. The Discourse on the Holy Theophany 7.
One without Beginning
One Without Beginning. Origen: This is spoken to him by God, with whom all time is today. For there is no evening with God, as I see it, and there is no morning—nothing but time that stretches out, along with his unbeginning and unseen life. The day is today with him in which the Son was begotten. Thus the beginning of his birth is not to be found, as neither is the day of it. Commentary on John 1.32.
The Eternal Relation
The Eternal Relation. Ambrose: These words are not to be understood, when we speak of God, as when we speak of bodies. The generation of the Son is incomprehensible, the Father begets without changing his nature. Yet this begottenness is of himself. In ages inconceivably remote the true God has begotten one who is truly God. Exposition of the Christian Faith 1.10.67.
1:11c With Thee I Am Well Pleased
The Waters Sanctified
The Waters Sanctified. Ephrem the Syrian: Today the Source of all the graces of baptism comes himself to be baptized in the river Jordan, there to make himself known to the world. Seeing him approach, John stretches out his hand to hold him back, protesting: Lord, by your own baptism you sanctify all others; yours is the true baptism, the source of perfect holiness. How can you wish to submit to mine? But the Lord replies, I wish it to be so. Come and baptize me. Do as I wish, for surely you cannot refuse me. Why do you hesitate, why are you so afraid? Do you not realize that the baptism I ask for is mine by every right? By my baptism the waters will be sanctified, receiving from me fire and the Holy Spirit.… See the hosts of heaven hushed and still, as the all-holy Bridegroom goes down into the Jordan. No sooner is he baptized than he comes up from the waters, his splendor shining forth over the earth. The gates of heaven are opened, and the Father’s voice is heard: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” All who are present stand in awe as they watch the Spirit descend to bear witness to him. O come all you peoples, worship him! Praise to you, Lord, for your glorious epiphany which brings joy to us all! The whole world has become radiant with the light of your manifestation. Hymns on Nativity (Epiphany) 14.
Varied Terms Convey the Same Meaning
Varied Terms Convey the Same Meaning. Augustine: Whichever of the Evangelists may have preserved for us the words as they were literally uttered by the heavenly voice, the others have varied the terms only with the object of setting forth the same sense more familiarly, so that what is thus given by all of them might be understood as if the expression were: In You I have set my good pleasure; that is to say, by You I am doing what is my pleasure. Harmony of the Gospels 2.14.31.
1:12–13 The Temptation of Jesus
Overview. The setting of Jesus’ temptation, like that of Eve’s, is the wilderness, with its loneliness and vulnerability (Chrysostom). Baptism is accompanied by prayer and fasting and is followed by earnest perseverance (Bede). The dynamics of temptation proceed first by suggestion, then by taking delight in the suggestion, then by consent (Gregory the Great).
1:12 The Spirit Drove Him out into the Wilderness
The Wilderness Setting
The Wilderness Setting. Chrysostom: You see how the Spirit led him, not into a city or public arena, but into a wilderness. In this desolate place, the Spirit extended the devil an occasion to test him, not only by hunger, but also by loneliness, for it is there most especially that the devil assails us, when he sees us left alone and by ourselves. In this same way did he also confront Eve in the beginning, having caught her alone and apart from her husband. The Gospel of St. Matthew, Homily 13.1.
1:13 Tempted by Satan
Suggestion, Delight, Consent
Suggestion, Delight, Consent. Gregory the Great: Temptation is brought to fulfillment by three stages: suggestion, delight, consent. And we in temptation generally fall through delight, and then through consent; for being begotten of the sin of the flesh we bear within us that through which we suffer conflict. But God, incarnate in the womb of a virgin, came into the world without sin, and so suffers no conflict within himself. He could therefore be tempted by suggestion, but the delight of sin could never touch his mind. So all these temptations of the devil were from without, not from within Him. On the Gospel of the Sunday Sermon 16.
The Succession of Temptations
The Succession of Temptations. Bede: Soon after he had been baptized, he performed a fast of forty days by himself, and he taught and informed us by his example that, after we have received forgiveness of sins in baptism, we should devote ourselves to vigils, fasts, prayers and other spiritually fruitful things, lest when we are sluggish and less vigilant the unclean spirit expelled from our heart by baptism may return, and finding us fruitless in spiritual riches, weigh us down again with a sevenfold pestilence, and our last state would then be worse than the first. Let us be wary that we do not relight the fires of old obsessions which would wreck us on our new voyage. Whatever sort of flaming sword it is that guards the doorway of paradise has been already effectively extinguished for each of the faithful in the font of baptism. For the unfaithful, however, the gate remains always formidable, and also for those falsely called faithful though they have not been chosen, since they have no fear of entangling themselves in sins after baptism. It is as though the same fire put out in baptism has been rekindled after it had been once extinguished. Homilies on the Gospels 1.12.
1:14–20 The Call of the First Disciples
Overview. The Lord thought it better to use the most rustic and common persons as ministers of his own design, so as to underscore that this is a work of divine grace (Origen, Eusebius). It is preposterous from the world’s point of view that those without education could be used to instruct the nations (Eusebius). There must have been something divinely compelling in the Savior’s guileless countenance that persons, merely upon seeing him, could trust (Jerome). The disciples could no longer be concerned with anything pertaining to this earthly life insofar as it might run counter to the calling of the Lord (Basil). All worldly resources are to be left behind in response to the coming reign of God (Tertullian). The joy of faith makes up for whatever bitterness may accompany repentance (Jerome).
1:15 Repent and Believe
The Mingling of Joy and Sorrow
The Mingling of Joy and Sorrow. Jerome: The sweetness of the apple makes up for the bitterness of the root. The hope of gain makes pleasant the perils of the sea. The expectation of health mitigates the nauseousness of medicine. One who desires the kernel breaks the nut. So one who desires the joy of a holy conscience swallows down the bitterness of penance. Commentary on the Gospels.
1:16 They Were Fishermen
Common Men on an Uncommon Mission
Common Men on an Uncommon Mission. Eusebius: Reflect on the nature and grandeur of the one Almighty God who could associate himself with the poor of the lowly fisherman’s class. To use them to carry out God’s mission baffles all rationality. For having conceived the intention, which no one ever before had done, of spreading his own commands and teachings to all nations, and of revealing himself as the teacher of the religion of the one Almighty God to all humanity, he thought good to use the most unsophisticated and common people as ministers of his own design. Maybe God just wanted to work in the most unlikely way. For how could inarticulate folk be made able to teach, even if they were appointed teachers to only one person, much less to a multitude? How should those who were themselves without education instruct the nations?… When he had thus called them as his followers, he breathed into them his divine power, and filled them with strength and courage. As God himself he spoke God’s true word to them in his own way, enabling them to do great wonders, and made them pursuers of rational and thinking souls, by empowering them to come after him, saying: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” With this empowerment God sent them forth to be workers and teachers of holiness to all the nations, declaring them heralds of his own teaching. Proof of the Gospel 3.7.
1:17 Follow Me, and I Will Make You Fishers of Men
On Choosing the Unlettered
On Choosing the Unlettered. Origen: Now we can see how in a short time this religion has grown up, making progress through the persecution and death of its adherents and through their endurance of confiscation of property and every kind of bodily torture. And this is particularly remarkable since the teachers themselves were neither very skillful nor very numerous. For in spite of all, this word is being “preached in all the world,” so that Greeks and barbarians, wise and foolish now are adopting the Christian religion. Hence there can be no doubt that it is not by human strength or resources that the word of Christ comes to prevail with all authority and convincing power in the minds and hearts of all humanity. On First Principles 4.1.2.
The Resistance of the Unlettered
The Resistance of the Unlettered. Eusebius: “But how can we do it?” the disciples might reasonably have answered. “How can we preach to Romans? How can we argue with Egyptians? We are brought up to use the Syrian tongue only. What language shall we speak to Greeks? How shall we persuade Persians, Armenians, Chaldeans, Scythians, Indians and other scattered nations to give up their ancestral gods and worship the Creator of all? What abilities in speaking have we to depend upon in attempting such work as this? And what hope of success can we have if we dare to proclaim laws directly opposed to the laws about their own gods that have been established for ages among all nations? By what power shall we ever survive our daring attempt?” The Proof of the Gospel 3.7.
1:18 Immediately They Left Their Nets
What Is to Be Left Behind
What Is to Be Left Behind. Tertullian: Do you hesitate about your business and professions for the sake of your children and parents? It has been demonstrated to us in Scripture that any too dear relations, crafts and trades are to be quite left behind for the Lord’s sake. For James and John, called by the Lord, immediately leave quite behind both father and ship. Matthew is roused from the toll-booth. Even burying a father was too tardy a business for faith! None of those whom the Lord chose to him said, “I have no means to live.” On Idolatry 12.
Making a Place for Him
Making a Place for Him. Augustine: And from that day they adhered to him so resolutely that they did not depart.… Let us, also, ourselves build a house in our heart and make a place where he may come and teach us. Tractate on John 7.9.2, 3.
1:20 They Left Their Father in the Boat