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Preface to the Gospel According to St. Matthew

ISAIAH. 40:9

Go up to the top of the mountain, thou that preachest glad tidings in Sion; lift up thy voice with might, thou that preachest in Jerusalem: cry aloud, fear not: say to the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Lo, the Lord God shall come with power, and His arm shall have dominion; Lo, His reward is with Him.

THE. Prophet Isaiah, a manifest preacher of the Gospel, briefly expressing the loftiness, the name, and the substance of the Gospel doctrine, addresses the evangelic teacher in the person of the Lord, saying, Go up to the top of the mountain, &c.

But to make our beginning with the title, The Gospel.

AUGUSTINE. (contra Faust. ii. 2.) The word ‘Evangelium,’ (Gospel,) is rendered in Latin ‘bonus nuntius,’ or ‘bona annuntiatio,’ (good news.) It may indeed be used on all occasions whenever any good is announced; but it has come to be appropriated to the announcement of the Saviour.

GLOSS. Those who have related the birth, deeds, words, and sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ, are properly styled Evangelists.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Homil. in Matt. i. 2.) For what is there that can equal these good tidings? God on earth, man in heaven; that long war ceased, reconciliation made between God and our nature, the devil overthrown, death abolished, paradise opened. These things, so far beyond our merits, are given us with all fulness; not for our own toil or labour, but because we are beloved of God.

AUGUSTINE. (de vera relig. c. 16.) Whereas God in many ways heals the souls of men, according to the times and the seasons which are ordained by His marvellous wisdom, yet has He in no way more beneficently provided for the human race, than when the Very Wisdom of God, the Only Son of one substance and coeternal with the Father, stooped to take upon Him perfect man, and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Hereby He made manifest how high a place among creatures had human nature, in that He appeared to men as Very Man.

PSEUDO-AUGUSTINE. (Serm. de Nativ. Serm. ix.) God was made man, that man might be made God.

GLOSS. This part of the glad tidings that should be preached, the Prophet foretells saying, Behold, your God, &c.

LEO. (Epist. ad Flavian. xxviii. 3.) Pope; For this emptying of himself, by which the Invisible made Himself Visible, and the Creator and Lord of all things chose to become one of us mortal creatures, was a stooping of His mercy, not a failing of His power.

GLOSS. Therefore that the Lord should not be supposed to be present in such a way as that there should be any thing lost of His power, the Prophet adds, The Lord shall come with power.

AUGUSTINE. (de doct. Christ. i. 12.) Come, not by passing through the regions of space, but by shewing Himself to men in the flesh.

LEO. (Serm. in Nativ. s. xix. 3.) By the unspeakable power of God, it was wrought, that while very Man was in the inviolable God, and very God in passible flesh, there was bestowed upon man, glory through shame, immortality through punishment, life through death.

AUGUSTINE. (de Peccatorum Meritis, ii. 30.) For blood that was without sin being shed, the bond of all men’s sins was done away, by which men were before held captive by the Devil.

GLOSS. Therefore because men, having been delivered from sin by virtue of Christ suffering, became the servants of God, it follows, And His arm shall have dominion.

LEO. (Ubi sup.) In Christ then was given us this wonderful deliverance, that on our passible nature the condition of death should not abide, which His impassible essence had admitted, and that by that which could not die, that which was dead might be brought to life.

GLOSS. And thus through Christ is opened to us the entrance of immortal glory, concerning which it follows, Lo, His reward is with Him; that, namely, of which Himself speaks, Your reward is abundant in heaven. (Matt. 5:12.)

AUGUSTINE. (contra Faust. iv. 2.) The promise of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven belongs to the New Testament; in the Old Testament are contained promises of temporal things.

GLOSS. So then evangelic teaching delivers to us four things concerning Christ; the Divinity that takes upon it, the Humanity that is taken upon it, His Death by which we are delivered from bondage, His Resurrection by which the entrance of a glorious life is opened to us. On this account it is represented in Ezekiel under the figure of the four animals.

GREGORY. (in Ezek. Hom. iv.) The Only-begotten Son of God was Himself verily made Man; Himself condescended to die as the sacrifice of our redemption as a Calf; He rose again through the power of His might, as a Lion; and as an Eagle He ascended aloft into heaven.

GLOSS. In which ascension He shewed manifestly His Divinity; Matthew then is denoted by the Man, because he dwells chiefly on the humanity of Christ; Mark by the Lion, because he treats of His Resurrection; Luke by the Calf, because he insists on His Priesthood; John by the Eagle, because he describes the sacraments of His Divinity.

AMBROSE. (Comm. in Luc. pref.) And it has happened well that we set out with delivering the opinion that the Gospel according to Matthew is of a moral kind, for morals are the peculiar province of man. The figure of a Lion is ascribed to Mark, because he begins with an assertion of His Divine power, saying, The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God. The figure of the Eagle is given to John, because he has described the miracles of the Divine Resurrection.

GREGORY. (Ubi sup.) These things the commencement of each of the Gospel books testifies. Because he opens with Christ’s human generation, Matthew is rightly designated by a Man; Mark by a Lion, because he begins with the crying in the desert; Luke by a Calf, because he begins with a sacrifice; because he takes his beginning from the divinity of the Word, John is worthily signified by an Eagle.

AUGUSTINE. (de Consensu Evang. i. 6.) Or, Matthew who has chiefly represented the regal character of Christ, is designated by a Lion; Luke by a Calf, because of the Priest’s victim; Mark, who chose neither to relate the royal nor the priestly lineagea, and yet is clearly busied about His human nature, is designated by the figure of a Man. These three animals, the Lion, the Man, the Calf, walk on the earth, whence these three Evangelists are mostly employed about those things which Christ wrought in the flesh. But John, as the Eagle, soars on high, and with most keen eyes of the heart beholds the light of unchangeable Truth. From which we may understand, that the other three Evangelists are occupied about the active, and John about the contemplative, life. The Greek Doctors by the Man understood Matthew, because he has deduced the Lord’s lineage according to the flesh; by the Lion, John, because as the lion, strikes terror into the other beasts by his roaring, so John struck terror into all heretics; by the Calf, they understood Luke, because the calf was the victim of the Priests, and he is much employed concerning the Temple and the Priesthood; and by the Eagle they understood Mark, because the eagle in the Divine Scripture is used to denote the Holy Spirit, who spake by the mouths of the Prophets; and Mark begins with a citation from the Prophets.

JEROME. (Prolog. in Evan. Matt. ad Euseb.) Concerning the number of the Evangelists, it should be known, that there were many who had written Gospels, as the Evangelist Luke witnesses, saying, Forasmuch as many have taken in hand, &c. (Luke 1:1.) and as books remaining to the present time declare which divers authors have set forth, therein laying the foundation of many heresies; such as the Gospel according to the Egyptians, according to Thomas, Matthias, and Bartholomewb; that of the twelve Apostles, and Basilides, and Apelles, and others whom it would be long to reckon up. But the Church, which is founded by the Lord’s word upon the rock, sending forth, like Paradise, its four streams, has four corners and four rings, by which as the ark of the covenant, and the guardian of the Law of the Lord, it is carried about on moveablec staves.

AUGUSTINE. (de cons. Evan. i. 2.) Or, Because there are four quarters of the world, through the whole of which Christ’s Church is extended. In learning and preaching they had a different order from that they had in writing. In learning and preaching they ranked first who followed the Lord present in the flesh, heard Him teaching, saw Him acting, and by His mouth were sent to preach the Gospel; but in penning the Gospel, an order which we must suppose to have been fixed by Heaven, the first place, and the last place were filled out of the number of those whom the Lord chose before His passion, the first by Matthew, the last by John; so that the other two, who were not of that number, but who yet followed Christ speaking in them, were embraced as sons, and placed in the middle between the other two, so as to be supported by them on both sides.

REMIGIUS. Matthew wrote in Judæa in the time of the Emperor Caius Caligula; Mark in Italy, at Rome, in the time of Nero or Claudius, according to Rabanus; Luke in the parts of Achaia and Bæotia, at the request of Theophilus; John at Ephesus, in Asia Minor, under Nerva.

BEDE. But though there were four Evangelists, yet what they wrote is not so much four Gospels, as one true harmony of four books. (non occ.) For as two verses having the same substance, but different words and different metre, yet contain one and the same matter, so the books of the Evangelists, though four in number, yet contain one Gospel, teaching one doctrine of the Catholic faith.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Ubi sup.) It had indeed been enough that one Evangelist should have written all; but whereas four speak all things as with one mouth, and that neither from the same place nor at the same time, nor having met and discoursed together, these things are the greatest test of truth. It is also a mark of truth, that in some small matters they seem to disagree. For had their agreement been complete throughout, adversaries might have supposed that it was by a human collusion that this was brought about. Indeed in essentials which pertain to direction of life, and preaching the faith, they do not differ in the least thing. And if in their accounts of miracles, one tells it in one way, another in another, let not this disturb you; but think that if one had told all, the other three would have been a needless superfluity; had they all written different things, there would have been no room for proof of their harmony. And if their account differs in times or modes, this does not hinder the truth of the facts themselves which they relate, as shall be shewn below.

AUGUSTINE. (Ubi sup.) Though each seems to have followed an order of narration of his own, yet we do not find any one of them writing as if in ignorance of his predecessor, or that he left out some things which he did not know, which another was to supply; but as each had inspiration, he gave accordingly the cooperation of his own not unnecessary labour.

GLOSS. (Ubi sup.) But the sublimity of the Gospel doctrine consists, first, in its preeminent authority.

AUGUSTINE. For among all the Divine instruments which are contained in Holy Writ, the Gospel has justly the most excellent place; its first preachers were the Apostles who had seen the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ present in the flesh; and some of them, that is, Matthew and John, published each a book of such things as seemed good to be published concerning Him. And that it should not be supposed, that, as far as relates to receiving and preaching the Gospel, it makes any difference whether it is announced by those who followed Him during His sojourn in the flesh, or by those who faithfully believed what they heard from others, it is provided by Divine Providence through the Holy Spiritd, that a commission, as well of writing as of preaching the Gospel, should be bestowed on some out of the number of those that followed the first Apostles.

GLOSS. And thus it is clear that the sublimity of the authority of the Gospel is derived from Christ; this is proved by the words of the Prophet cited above, Go up to the top of the mountain. For Christ is that Mountain of whom the same Isaiah speaks, And there shall be in the last days a mountain prepared, the house of the Lord in the top of the mountains; that is, upon all the saints who from Christ the Mountain are also called mountains; (Is. 2:2.) for of His fulness have we all received. And rightly is that, Go thou up upon a high mountain, addressed to Matthew, who, as had been foretold, in his own person saw the deeds of Christ, and heard His doctrine.

AUGUSTINE. (de cons. Evan. i. 7.) This should be considered which to many presents a great difficulty, why the Lord Himself wrote nothing, so that we are obliged to give our belief to others who wrote of Him.

GLOSS. But we ought not to say that He wrote nothing, seeing His members have written those things which they learned by the dictation of their Head. For whatever He would have us to read concerning His actions or His words, that He enjoined upon them to write as His own hands.

GLOSS. Secondly, the Evangelic doctrine has sublimity of strength; whence the Apostle says, The Gospel is the power of God to the salvation of all that believe. (Rom. 1:16.) The Prophet also shews this in the foregoing words, Lift up thy voice with might; which further marks out the manner of evangelic teaching, by that raising the voice which gives clearness to the doctrine.

AUGUSTINE. (ad Volus. Ep. 3.) For the mode in which Holy Scripture is put together, is one accessible to all, but thoroughly entered into by few. The things it shews openly, it doth as a familiar friend without guile speaking to the heart of the unlearned, as the learned. The things it veils in mysteries, it does not deck out in lofty speech, to which a slow and unlearned soul would not dare to approach, as a poor man would not to a rich; but in lowly phrase it invites all, whom it not only feeds with plain truth, but exercises in hidden knowledge; for it has matter of both. But that its plain things might not be despised, these very same things it again withholds; being withheld they become as new; and thus become new they are again pleasingly expressed. Thus all tempers have here what is meet for them; the bad are corrected, the weak are strengthened, the strong are gratified.

GLOSS. But because the voice when raised on high is heard further off, by the raising of the voice may be denoted the publication of the Gospel doctrine; because it is given to be preached not to one nation only, but to all nations. The Lord speaks, Preach the Gospel to every creature.

GREGORY. (Matt. 16:15. Homil. in Evan. 28.) By every creature may be meant the Gentiles.

GLOSS. The Evangelic doctrine has, thirdly, the loftiness of liberty.

AUGUSTINE. (con. Adver. Legis et Proph. i. 17.) Under the Old Testament because of the promise of temporal goods and the threatening of temporal evils, the temporal Jerusalem begets slaves; but under the New Testament, where faith requires love, by which the Law can be fulfilled not more through fear of punishment, than from love of righteousness, the eternal Jerusalem begets freemen.

GLOSS. This excellence of the Gospel doctrine the Prophet describes when he says, Cry aloud, fear not.

It remains to see to whom, and for what purpose, this Gospel was written.

JEROME. (Prolog. ad Euseb.) Matthew published his Gospel in Judæa, in the Hebrew tongue, for the sake of those of the Jews who believed in Jerusalem.

GLOSS. (Ordinaria.) For having first preached the Gospel in Judæa, being minded to pass to the Gentiles, he first put in writing a Gospel in Hebrew, and left it as a memorial to those brethren from whom he was departing. For as it was necessary that the Gospel should be preached for confirmation of the faith, so was it necessary that it should be written to oppose heretics.

PSEUDO-CHRYSOSTOM. (Comm. in Matt. Prolog.) Matthew has arranged his narrative in a regular series of events. First, the birth, secondly, the baptism, thirdly, the temptation, fourthly, the teachings, fifthly, the miracles, sixthly, the passion, seventhly, the resurrection, and lastly, the ascension of Christ; desiring by this not only to set forth the history of Christ, but to teach the order of evangelic life. It is nought that we are born of our parents, if we be not reborn again of God by water and the Spirit. After baptism we must resist the Devil. Then being as it were superior to all temptation, he is made fit to teach, and if he be a priest let him teach, and commend his teaching, as it were, by the miracles of a good life; if he be lay, let him teach faith by his works. In the end we must take our departure from the stage of this world, and there remains that the reward of resurrection and glory follow the victory over temptation.

GLOSS. From what has been said then, we understand the title Gospel, the substance of the Gospel doctrine, the emblems of the writers of the Gospel, their number, their time, language, discrepancy and arrangement; the sublimity of the Gospel doctrine; to whom this Gospel is addressed, and the method of its arrangement.

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