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NPNF1-06. St. Augustine: Sermon on the Mount; Harmony of the Gospels; Homilies on the Gospels
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Chapter XLV.—Of the Order and the Method in Which All the Four Evangelists Come to the Narration of the Miracle of the Five Loaves.

93. After stating how the report of John’s death was brought to Christ, Matthew continues his account, and introduces it in the following connection: “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. And He went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and He healed their sick.”10501050     Matt. xiv. 13, 14. He mentions, therefore, that this took place immediately after John had suffered. Consequently it was after this that those things took place which have been previously recorded—namely, the circumstances which alarmed Herod, and induced him to say, “John have I beheaded.”10511051     Luke ix. 9. For it must surely be understood that these incidents occurred subsequently which report carried to the ears of Herod, so that he became anxious, and was in perplexity as to who that person possibly could be of whom he heard things so remarkable, when he had himself put John to death. Mark, again, after relating how John suffered, mentions that the disciples who had been sent forth returned to Jesus, and told Him all that they had done and taught; and that the Lord (a fact which he alone records) directed them to rest for a little while in a desert place, and that He went on board a vessel with them, and departed; and that the crowds of people, when they perceived that movement, went before them to that place; and that the Lord had compassion on them, and taught them many things; and that, when the hour was now advancing, it came to pass that all who were present were made to eat of the five loaves and the two fishes.10521052     Mark vi. 30–44. This miracle has been recorded by all the four evangelists. For in like manner, Luke, who has given an account of the death of John at a much earlier stage in his narrative,10531053     Luke iii. 20. in connection with the occasion of which we have spoken, in the present context tells us first of Herod’s perplexity as to who the Lord could be, and immediately thereafter appends statements to the same effect with those in Mark,—namely, that the apostles returned to Him, and reported to Him all that they had done; and that then He took them with Him and departed into a desert place, and that the multitudes followed Him thither, and that He spake to them concerning the kingdom of God, and restored those who stood in need of healing. Then, too, he mentions that, when the day was declining, the miracle of the five loaves was wrought.10541054     Luke ix. 10–17.

94. But John, again, who differs greatly from those three in this respect, that he deals more with the discourses which the Lord delivered than with the works which He so marvellously wrought, after recording how He left Judæa and departed the second time into Galilee, which departure is understood to have taken place at the time to which the other evangelists also refer when they tell us that on John’s imprisonment He went into Galilee,—after recording this, I say, John inserts in the immediate context of his narrative the considerable discourse which He spake as He was passing through Samaria, on the occasion of His meeting with the Samaritan woman whom He found at the well; and then he states that two days after this He departed thence and went into Galilee, and that thereupon He came to Cana of Galilee, where He had turned the water into wine, and that there He healed the son of a certain nobleman.10551055     John iv. 3, 5, 43–54. But as to other things which the rest have told us He did and said in Galilee, John is silent. At the same time, however, he mentions something which the others have left unnoticed,—namely, the fact that He went up to Jerusalem on the day of the feast, and there wrought the miracle on the man who had the infirmity of thirty-eight years standing, and who found no one by whose help he might be carried down to the pool in which people afflicted with various diseases were healed.10561056     [Augustin here passes over one of the most difficult questions in connection with the Gospel history. The length of our Lord’s ministry turns upon the feast referred to in John v. If it was passover, then John refers to four passovers; and our Lord’s ministry extended over three years and a few weeks. If some other feast is meant, the ministry covered but two years and a few weeks.—R.] In connection with this, John also relates how He spake many things on that occasion. He tells us, further, that after these events He departed across the sea of Galilee, which is also the sea of Tiberias, and that a great multitude followed Him; that thereupon He went away to a mountain, and there sat with His disciples,—the passover, a feast of the Jews, being then nigh; that then, on lifting up His eyes and seeing a very great company, He fed them with the five loaves and the two fishes;10571057     John v.-vi. 13. which notice is given us also by the other evangelists. And this makes it certain that he has passed by those incidents which form the course along which these others have come to introduce the notice of this miracle into their narratives. Nevertheless, while different methods of narration, as it appears, are prosecuted, and while the first three evangelists have thus left unnoticed certain matters which the fourth has recorded, we see how those three, on the one hand, who have been keeping nearly the same course, have found a direct meeting-point with each other at this miracle of the five loaves; and how this fourth writer, on the other hand, who is conversant above all with the profound teachings of the Lord’s discourses, in relating some other matters on which the rest are silent, has sped round in a certain method upon their track, and, while about to soar off from their pathway after a brief space again into the region of loftier subjects, has found a meeting-point with them in the view of presenting this narrative of the miracle of the five loaves, which is common to them all.


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