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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 XLVI.—Of the Question as to How the Four Evangelists Harmonize with Each Other on This Same Subject of the Miracle of the Five Loaves.

95. Matthew then proceeds and carries on his narrative in due consecution to the said incident connected with the five loaves in the following manner: “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. But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat;” and so forth, down to where we read, “And the number of those who ate was five thousand men, besides women and children.”10581058     Matt. xiv. 15–21. This miracle, therefore, which all the four evangelists record,10591059     Mark vi. 34–44; Luke ix. 12–17. and in which they are supposed to betray certain discrepancies with each other, must be examined and subjected to discussion, in order that we may also learn from this instance some rules which will be applicable to all other similar cases in the form of principles regulating modes of statement in which, however diverse they may be, the same sense is nevertheless retained, and the same veracity in the expression of matters of fact is preserved. And, indeed, this investigation ought to begin not with Matthew, although that would be in accordance with the order in which the evangelists stand, but rather with John, by whom the narrative in question is told with such particularity as to record even the names of the disciples with whom the Lord conversed on this subject. For he gives the history in the following terms: “When Jesus than lifted up His eyes, and saw a very great company come unto Him, He saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this He said to prove him; for He Himself knew what He would do. Philip answered Him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto Him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two fishes; but what are they among so many? Jesus said therefore, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves; and when He had given thanks, He distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. And when they were filled, He said unto His disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that they be not lost. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.” 10601060     John vi. 5–13.

96. The inquiry which we have here to handle does not concern itself with a statement given by this evangelist, in which he specifies the kind of loaves; for he has not omitted to mention, what has been omitted by the others, that they were barley loaves. Neither does the question deal with what he has left unnoticed,—namely, the fact that, in addition to the five thousand men, there were also women and children, as Matthew tells us. And it ought now by all means to be a settled matter, and one kept regularly in view in all such investigations, that no one should find any difficulty in the mere circumstance that something which is unrecorded by one writer is related by another. But the question here is as to how the several matters narrated by these writers may be [shown to be] all true, so that the one of them, in giving his own peculiar version, does not put out of court the account offered by the other. For if the Lord, according to the narrative of John, on seeing the multitudes before Him, asked Philip, with the view of proving him, whence bread might be got to be given to them, a difficulty may be raised as to the truth of the statement which is made by the others,—namely, that the disciples first said to the Lord that He should send the multitudes away, in order that they might go and purchase food for themselves in the neighbouring localities, and that He made this reply to them, according to Matthew: “They need not depart; give ye them to eat.”10611061     Matt. xiv. 16. With this last Mark and Luke also agree, only that they leave out the words, “They need not depart.” We are to suppose, therefore, that after these words the Lord looked at the multitude, and spoke to Philip in the terms which John records, but which those others have omitted. Then the reply which, according to John, was made by Philip, is mentioned by Mark as having been given by the disciples,—the intention being, that we should understand Philip to have returned this answer as the mouthpiece of the rest; although they may also have put the plural number in place of the singular, according to very frequent usage. The words here actually ascribed to Philip—namely, “Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little”10621062     John vi. 7. —have their counterpart in this version by Mark, “Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat?”10631063     Mark vi. 37. The expression, again, which the same Mark relates to have been used by the Lord, namely, “How many loaves have ye?” has been passed by without notice by the rest. On the other hand, the statement occurring in John, to the effect that Andrew made the suggestion about the five loaves and the two fishes, appears in the others, who use here the plural number instead of the singular, as a notice referring the suggestion to the disciples generally. And, indeed, Luke has coupled Philip’s reply together with Andrew’s answer in one sentence. For when he says, “We have no more but five loaves and two fishes,” he reports Andrew’s response; but when he adds, “except we should go and buy meat for all this people,” he seems to carry us back to Philip’s reply, only that he has left unnoticed the “two hundred pennyworth.” At the same time, that [sentence about the going and buying meat] may also be understood to be implied in Andrew’s own words. For after saying, “There is a lad here which hath five barley loaves and two fishes,” he likewise subjoined, “But what are they among so many?” And this last clause really means the same as the expression in question, namely, “except we should go and buy meat for all this people.”

97. From all this variety of statement which is found in connection with a genuine harmony in regard to the matters of fact and the ideas conveyed, it becomes sufficiently clear that we have the wholesome lesson inculcated upon us, that what we have to look to in studying a person’s words is nothing else than the intention of the speakers; in setting forth which intention all truthful narrators ought to take the utmost pains when they record anything, whether it may relate to man, or to angels, or to God. For the subjects’ mind and intention admit of being expressed in words which should leave no appearance of any discrepancies as regards the matter of fact.

98. In this connection, it is true, we ought not to omit to direct the reader’s attention to certain other matters which may turn out to be of a kindred nature with those already considered. One of these is found in the circumstance that Luke has stated that they were ordered to sit down by fifties, whereas Mark’s version is that it was by hundreds and by fifties. This difference, however, creates no real difficulty. The truth is, that the one has reported simply a part, and the other has given the whole. For the evangelist who has introduced the notice of the hundreds as well as the fifties has just mentioned something which the other has left unmentioned. But there is no contradiction between them on that account. If, indeed, the one had noticed only the fifties, and the other only the hundreds, they might certainly have seemed to be in some antagonism with each other, and it might not have been easy to make it plain that both instructions were actually uttered, although only the one has been specified by the former writer, and the other by the latter. And yet, even in such a case, who will not acknowledge that when the matter was subjected to more careful consideration, the solution should have been discovered? This I have instanced now for this reason, that matters of that kind do often present themselves, which, while they really contain no discrepancies, appear to do so to persons who pay insufficient attention to them, and pronounce upon them inconsiderately.


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