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Mark 1:1-8

Patristic Commentary

Ver. 1: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

 

Jerome, in Prolog: Mark the Evangelist, who served the priesthood in Israel, according to the flesh a Levite, having been converted to the Lord, wrote his Gospel in Italy, shewing in it how even his family benefited Christ. For commencing his Gospel with the voice of the prophetic cry, he shews the order of the election of Levi, declaring that John the son of Zachariah was sent forth by the voice of an angel, and saying, "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

Pseudo-Jerome: The Greek word 'Evangelium' means good tidings, in Latin it is explained, 'bona annunciatio,' or, the good news; these terms properly belong to the kingdom of God and to the remission of sins; for the Gospel is that by which comes the redemption of the faithful and the beatitude of the saints.

But the four Gospels are one, and one Gospel in four. In Hebrew, His name is Jesus, in Greek, Soter, in Latin, Salvator; but men say Christus in Greek, Messias in Hebrew, Unctus in Latin, that is, King and Priest.

Bede, in Marc., i, 1: The beginning of this Gospel should be compared with that of Matthew, in which it is said, "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham." But here He is called "the Son of God."

Now from both we must understand one Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, and of man. And fitly the first Evangelist names Him "Son of man," the second, "Son of [p. 6] God," that from less things our sense may by degrees mount up to greater, and by faith and the sacraments of the human nature assumed, rise to the acknowledgment of His divine eternity.

Fitly also did He, who was about to describe His human generation, begin with a son of man, namely, David or Abraham. Fitly again, he who was beginning his book with the first preaching of the Gospel, chose rather to call Jesus Christ, "the Son of God;" for it belonged to the human nature to take upon Him the reality of our flesh, of the race of the patriarchs, and it was the work of Divine power to preach the Gospel to the world.

Hilary, de Trin., iii, 11: He has testified, that Christ was the Son of God, not in name only, but by His own proper nature. We are the sons of God, but He is not a son as we are; for He is the very and proper Son, by origin, not by adoption; in truth, not in name; by birth, not by creation.

 

2. As it is written in the Prophets, "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee." [Mal 3:1]

3. "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." [Isa 40:3]

 

Bede: Being about to write his Gospel, Mark rightly puts first the testimonies of the Prophets, that he might notify to all, that what he should write was to be received without scruple of doubt, in that he shewed that these things were beforehand foretold by the Prophets. At once, by one and the same beginning of his Gospel, he prepared the Jews, who had received the Law and the Prophets, for receiving the grace of the Gospel, and those sacraments, which their own prophecies had foretold; and he also calls upon the Gentiles, who came to the Lord by publishing of the Gospel, to receive and venerate the authority of the Law and the Prophets; whence he says, "As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, Behold, &c."

Jerome: Hierom. ad Pammach, Epist 57: But this is not written in Isaiah, but in Malachi, the last of the twelve prophets.

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: But it may be said that it is a mistake of the writer. Otherwise it may be said that he has compressed [p. 7] into one, two prophecies delivered in different places by two prophets; for in the prophet Isaiah it is written after the story of Hezekiah, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness;" but in Malachi, "Behold, I send mine angel."

The Evangelist therefore, taking parts of two prophecies, has put them down as spoken by Isaiah, and refers them here to one passage, without mentioning, however, by whom it is said, "Behold, I send mine angel."

Pseudo-Aug., Quaest. nov. et vet. Test. lvii: For knowing that all things are to be referred to their author, he has brought these sayings back to Isaiah, who was the first to intimate the sense.

Lastly, after the words of Malachi, he immediately subjoins, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness," in order to connect the words of each prophet, belonging as they do to one meaning, under the person of the elder prophet.

Bede: Or otherwise, we must understand, that although these words are not found in Isaiah, still the sense of them is found in many other places, and most clearly in this which he has subjoined, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness." For that which Malachi has called, the angel to be sent before the face of the Lord, to prepare His way, is the same thing as Isaiah has said is to be heard, "the voice of one crying in the wilderness, saying, Prepare ye the way of the Lord."

But in each sentence alike, the way of the Lord to be prepared is proclaimed. It may be, too, that Isaiah occurred to the mind of Mark, in writing his Gospel, instead of Malachi, as often happens; which he would, however, without doubt correct, at least when reminded by other persons, who might read his work whilst he was yet in the flesh; unless he though that, since his memory was then ruled by the Holy Spirit, it was not without a purpose that the name of one prophet had occurred to him instead of another. For thus whatsoever things the Holy Spirit spoke by the prophets are implied each to have belonged to all, and all to each.

Jerome: By Malachi, therefore, the voice of the Holy Spirit resounds to the Father concerning the Son, who is the countenance of the Father by which He has been known.

Bede: But John is called an angel not by community of nature, according to the heresy of Origen [ed. note: Origen taught that all rational beings, angels, devils, and men, were of one nature, differing only in rank and condition, according to their deserts (in Joan, tom. ii, 17) and capable of change: that men had once been angels: that angels took human nature to serve man, and that St. John Baptist was an angel, quoting this text. (in Joan, ii, 25.) v Huet, Orig. II, qu. 5, No. 14, 24, 25], but by the dignity [p. 8] of his office; for angel in Greek is in Latin, nuntius (note: messenger), by which name that man is rightly called, who was sent by God, that he might bear witness of the light, and announce to the world the Lord, coming in the flesh; since it is evident that all who are priests may be their office of preaching the Gospel be called angels, as the prophet Malachi says, "The lips of the priest keep knowledge, and they seek the law at his mouth, because he is the Angel of the Lord of hosts." [Mal 2:7]

Theophylact: The Forerunner of Christ, therefore, is call an angel, on account of his angelic life and lofty reverence. Again, where he says, "Before thy face," it is as if he said, Thy messenger is near thee: whence is shewn the intimate connection of the Forerunner with Christ; for those walk next to kings who are their greatest friends.

There follows, "Who will prepare thy way before thee."

For by baptism he prepared the minds of the Jews to receive Christ.

Pseudo-Jerome: Or, "the way of the Lord," by which He comes into men, in penitence, by which God comes down to us, and we mount up to Him. And for this reason the beginning of John's preaching was, "Repent ye."

Bede: But as John might be called an angel, because he went before the face of the Lord by his preaching, so he might also be rightly called a voice, because, by his sound, he preceded the Word of the Lord.

Wherefore there follows, "The voice of one crying, &c."

For it is an acknowledged thing that the Only-Begotten Son is called the Word of the Father, and even we, from having uttered words ourselves, know that the voice sounds first, in order that the word may afterwards by heard.

Pseudo-Jerome: But it is called "the voice of one crying," for we are wont to use a cry to deaf persons, and to those afar off, or when we are indignant, all which things we know applied to the Jews; for "salvation is far from the wicked," and they "stopped their ears like deaf adders," and deserved to hear "indignation, and wrath, and tribulation" from Christ.

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: But the prophecy, by saying, "In the wilderness," plainly shews that the divine teaching was not in Jerusalem, but in the wilderness, which was fulfilled to [p. 9] the letter by John the Baptist in the wilderness of Jordan, preaching the healthful appearing of the Word of God.

The word of prophecy also shews, that besides the wilderness, which was pointed out by Moses, where he made paths, there was another wilderness, in which it proclaimed that the salvation of Christ was present.

Pseudo-Jerome: Or else the voice and the cry is in the desert, because they were deserted by the Spirit of God, as a house empty, and swept out; deserted also by prophet, priest, and king.

Bede: What he cried is revealed, in that which is subjoined, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." For whosoever preaches a right faith and good works, what else does he but prepare the way for the Lord's coming to the hearts of His hearers, that the power of grace might penetrate these hearts, and the light of truth shine in them? And the paths he makes straight, when he forms pure thoughts in the soul by the word of preaching.

Pseudo-Jerome: Or else, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord," that is, act out repentance and preach it; "make his paths straight," that walking in the royal road, we may love our neighbours as ourselves, and ourselves as our neighbours. For he who loves himself, and loves not his neighbour, turns aside to the right; for many act well, and do not correct their neighbour well, as Eli.

He, on the other hand, who, hating himself, loves his neighbour, turns aside to the left; for many, for instance, rebuke well, but act not well themselves, as did the Scribes and Pharisees.

"Paths" are mentioned after the "way" because moral commands are laid open after penitence.

Theophylact: Or, the "way" is the New Testament, and the "paths" are the Old, because it is a trodden path. For it was necessary to be prepared for the way, that is, for the New Testament; but it was right that the paths of the Old Testament should be straightened.

 

4. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

5. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.

6. And John was clothed with camel's hair, and [p. 10] with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey;

7. And preached, saying, "There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.

8. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost."

 

Pseudo-Jerome: According to the above-mentioned prophecy of Isaiah, the way of the Lord is prepared by John, through faith, baptism, and penitence; the paths are made straight by the rough marks of the hair-cloth garment, the girdle of skin, the feeding on locusts and wild honey, and the most lowly voice; whence it is said, "John was in the wilderness."

For John and Jesus seek what is lost in the wilderness; where the devil conquered, there he is conquered; where man fell, there he rises up.

But the name, John, means the grace of God, and the narrative begins with grace. For it goes on to say, "baptizing." For by baptism grace is given, seeing that by baptism sins are freely remitted.

But what is brought to perfection by the bridegroom is introduced by the friend of the bridegroom. Thus catechumens, (which word means persons instructed,) begin by the ministry of the priest, receive the chrism from the bishop [ed. note: "Chrismantur." Chrism in the Roman Church, was applied twice; at Baptism, and more solemnly to the forehead by the Bishop at Confirmation. In the Eastern Church, it was only given once, at Confirmation, and by the Bishop only. In the French Church, it was given once, usually at Baptism, by the Priest, but if for any reason omitted, by the Bishop at Confirmation, see Bingham, Antiq. b., xii, e. 2, 2].

And to shew this, it is subjoined, "And preaching the baptism of repentance, &c."

Bede: It is evident that John not only preached, but also gave to some the baptism of repentance; but he could not give baptism for the remission of sins [ed. note: vol 1, p. 97, note A]. For the remission of sins is only given to us by the baptism of Christ. It is therefore only said, "Preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;" for he "preached" a baptism which could remit sins, since he could not give it.

Wherefore as he was the forerunner of the Incarnate Word of the Father, by the word of his preaching, so by his baptism, which could not remit sins, he preceded that baptism, [p. 11] of penitence, by which sins are remitted.

Theophylact: The baptism of John had not remission of sins, but only brought men to penitence. He preached therefore the baptism of repentance, that is, he preached that to which the baptism of penitence led, namely, remission of sins, that they who in penitence received Christ, might receive Him to the remission of their sins.

Pseudo-Jerome: Now by John as by the bridegroom's friend, the bride is brought to Christ, as by a servant Rebecca was brought to Isaac [Gen 24:61]; wherefore there follows, "And there went out to him all, &c. For "confession and beauty are in his presence," [Ps 96:6] that is, the presence of the bridegroom. And the bride leaping down from her camel signifies the Church, who humbles herself on seeing her husband Isaac, that is, Christ. But the interpretation of Jordan, where sins are washed away, in 'an alien descent.' For we heretofore aliens to God by pride, are by the sign of Baptism made lowly, and thus exalted on high [ed. note: see St. Cyril of Jerus., Cat. xx, 4-7].

Bede: An example of confessing their sins and of promising to lead a new life, is held out to those who desire to be baptized, by those words which follow, "confessing their sins."

Chrys." Because indeed John preached repentance, he wore the marks of repentance in his garment and in his food.

Wherefore there follow, "And John was clothed in camel's hair."

Bede: It says, clothed in a garment of hair, not in woollen clothes; the former is the mark of an austere garb, the latter of effeminate luxury. But the girdle of skins, with which he was girt, like Elias, is a mark of mortification. And this meat, "locusts and wild honey," is suited to a dweller in the wilderness, so that his object in eating was not the deliciousness of meats, but the satisfying of the necessity of human flesh.

Pseudo-Jerome: The dress of John, his food, and employment, signifies the austere life of preachers, and that future nations are to be joined to the grace of God, which is John, both in their minds and in externals. For by camel's hair, is meant the rich among the nations; and by the girdle of skin, the poor, dead to the world; and by the wandering locusts, the wise men of this world; who, leaving the dry stalks to the Jews, draw off with their legs the mystic grain, and in the warmth of their [p. 12] faith leap up towards heaven; and the faithful, being inspired by the wild honey, are full-fed from the untilled wood.

Theophylact: Or else; The garment of "camel's hair" was significative of grief, for John pointed out, that he who repented should mourn. For sackcloth signifies grief; but the girdle of skins shews the dead state of the Jewish people. The food also of John not only denotes abstinence, but also shews forth the intellectual food, which the people then were eating, without understanding any thing lofty, but continually raising themselves on high, and again sinking to the earth.

For such is the nature of locusts, leaping on high and again falling. In the same way the people ate honey, which had come from bees, that is, from the prophets; it was not however domestic, but wild, for the Jews had the Scriptures, which are as honey, but did not rightly understand them.

Gregory, Moral., xxxi, 25: Or, by the kind itself of his food he pointed out the Lord, of whom he was the forerunner; for in that our Lord took to Himself the sweetness of the barren Gentiles, he ate wild honey. In that He in His own person partly converted the Jews, He received locusts for His food, which suddenly leaping up, at once fall to the ground. For the Jews leaped up when they promised to fulfil the precepts of the Lord; but they fell to the ground when, by their evil works, they affirmed that they had not heard them. They made therefore a leap upwards in words, and fell down by their actions.

Bede: The dress and food of John may also express of what kind was his inward walk. For he used a dress more austere than was usual, because he did not encourage the life of sinners by flattery, but chid them by the vigour of his rough rebuke; he had a girdle of skin round his loins, for he was one, "who crucified his flesh with the affections and lusts." [Gal 5:24] He used to eat locusts and wild honey, because his preaching had some sweetness for the multitude, whilst the people debated whether he was the Christ himself or not; but this soon came to an end, when his hearers understood that he was not the Christ, but the forerunner and prophet of Christ. For in honey there is sweetness, in locusts swiftness of flight.

Whence there follows, "And he preached, saying, there cometh one mightier [p. 13] than I after me."

Gloss.: He said this to do away with the opinion of the crowd, who thought that he was the Christ; but he announces that Christ is "mightier than he," he was to remit sins, which he himself could not do.

Pseudo-Jerome: Who again is mightier than the grace, by which sins are washed away, which John signifies? He who seven times and seventy times seven remits sins [Matt 18:22]. Grace indeed comes first, but remits sins once only by baptism, but mercy reaches to the wretched from Adam up to Christ through seventy-seven generations, and up to one hundred and forty-four thousand.

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: But lest he should be thought to say this by way of comparing himself to Christ, he subjoins, "Of whom I am not worthy, &c."

It is not however the same thing to loose the shoe-latchet, which Mark here says, and to carry his shoes, which Matthew says. And indeed the Evangelists following the order of the narrative, and not able to err in any thing, say that John spoke each of these sayings in a different sense. But commentators on this passage have expounded each in a different way.

For he means by the latchet, the tie of the shoe. He says this therefore to extol the excellence of the power of Christ, and the greatness of His divinity; as if he said, Not even in the station of his servant am I worthy to be reckoned.

For it is a great thing to contemplate, as it were stooping down, those things which belong to the body of Christ, and to see from below the image of things above, and to untie each of those mysteries, about the Incarnation of Christ, which cannot be unravelled.

Pseudo-Jerome: The shoe is in the extremity of the body; for in the end the Incarnate Saviour is coming for justice, whence it is said by the prophet, "Over Edom will I cast out my shoe." [Ps 60:9]

Gregory: Shoes also are made from the skins of dead animals. The Lord, therefore, coming incarnate, appeared as it were with shoes on His feet, for He assumed in His divinity the dead skins of our corruption. Or else; it was a custom among the ancients, that if a man refused to take as his wife the woman whom he ought to take, he who offered himself as her husband by right of kindred took off that man's shoe.

Rightly then does he proclaim himself unworthy to loose his shoe-latchet, as if he said openly, I cannot [p. 14] make bare the feet of the Redeemer, for I usurp not the name of the Bridegroom, a thing which is above my deserts.

Theophylact: Some persons also understand it thus; all who came to John, and were baptized, through penitence were loosed from the bands of their sins by believing in Christ. John then in this way loosed the shoe-latchet of all the others, that is, the bands of sin. But Christ's shoe-latchet he was not able to unloose, because he found no sin in Him.

Bede: Thus then John proclaims the Lord not yet as God, or the Son of God, but only as a man mightier than himself. For his ignorant hearers were not yet capable of receiving the hidden things of so great a Sacrament, that the eternal Son of God, having taken upon Him the nature of man, had been lately born into the world of a virgin; but gradually by the acknowledgment of His glorified lowliness, they were to be introduced to the belief of His Divine Eternity. To these words, however, he subjoins, as if covertly declaring that he was the true God, "I baptize you with water, but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost." For who can doubt that none other but God can give the grace of the Holy Ghost.

Jerome: For what is the difference between water and the Holy Ghost, who was borne over the face of the waters? Water is the ministry of man; but the Spirit is ministered by God.

Bede: Now we are baptized by the Lord in the Holy Ghost, not only when in the day of our baptism, we are washed in the fount of life, to the remission of our sins, but also daily by the grace of the same Spirit we are inflamed, to do those things which please God.



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