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Catena Aurea Commentary on Mark 9:30-41

From the Catena Aurea, Patristic Commentary by St Thomas Aquinas.

Mark Chapter 9

30. And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and He would not that any man should know it.

31. For He taught He disciples, and said unto them, "The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill Him; and after that He is killed, He shall rise the third day."

32. But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask Him.

33. And He came to Capernaum: and being in the house He asked them, "What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?"

34. But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.

35. And He sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, "If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all."
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36. And He took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when He had taken him in His arms, He said unto them,

37. "Whosoever shall receive one of such children in My name, receiveth Me: and whosoever shall receive Me, receiveth not Me, but Him that sent Me."


Theophylact: It is after miracles that the Lord inserts a discourse concerning His Passion, lest it should be thought that He suffered because He could not help it.

Wherefore it is said, "And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and He would not that any man should know it. For He taught His disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill Him."

Bede, in Marc., 1, 39: He always mingles together sorrowful and joyful things, that sorrow should not by its suddenness frighten the Apostles, but be borne by them with prepared minds.

Theophylact: After, however, saying what was sorrowful, He adds what ought to rejoice them; wherefore it goes on: "And after that He is killed, He shall rise the third day;" in order that we may learn that joys come on after struggles.

There follows: "But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask Him."

Bede: This ignorance of the disciples proceeds not so much from slowness of intellect, as from love for the Saviour, for they were as yet carnal, and ignorant of the mystery of the cross, they could not therefore believe that He whom they had recognized as the true God, was about to die; being accustomed then to hear Him often talk in figures, and shrinking from the events of His death, they would have it that something was conveyed figuratively in those things, which He spoke openly concerning His betrayal and passion.

It goes on: "And they came to Capernaum."

Pseudo-Jerome: Capernaum means the city of consolation, and agrees with the former sentence, which He had spoken: "And after that He is killed, He shall arise the third day."

There follows: "And being in the house He asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace."

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: Matthew however says that the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in 181 the kingdom of heaven?" [Matt 18:1]

The reason is, that He did not begin the narrative from its commencement, but omitted our Saviourís knowledge of the thoughts and words of His disciples; unless we understand Him to mean, that even what they thought and said, when away from Christ, was said unto Him, since it was as well known to Him as if it had been said to Him.

It goes on: "For by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest."

But Luke says [ed. note: Luke 9:46, Vulgate] that "the thought entered into the disciples which of them should be the greatest;" for the Lord laid open their thought and intention from their private discourse according to the Gospel narrative.

Pseudo-Jerome: It was fit also that they should dispute concerning the chief place by the way; the dispute is like the place where it is held; for lofty station is only entered upon to be quitted: as long as a man keeps it, it is slippery, and it is uncertain at what stage, that is, on what day, it will end.

Bede: The reason why the dispute concerning the chief place arose amongst the disciples seems to have been, that Peter, James and John, were led apart from the rest into the mountain, and that something secret was there entrusted to them, also that the keys of the kingdom of heaven were promised to Peter, according to Matthew.

Seeing however the thoughts of the disciples, the Lord takes care to heal the desire of glory by humility; for He first, by simply commanding humility, admonishes them that a high station was not to be aimed at.

Wherefore it goes on: "And He sat down, and called the twelve and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all."

Jerome: Where it is to be observed, that the disciples disputed by the way concerning the chief place, but Christ Himself sat down to teach humility; for princes toil while the humble repose.

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: The disciples indeed wished to receive honour at the hands of the Lord; they also had a desire to be made great by Christ, for the great a man is, the more worthy of honour he becomes, for which reason He did not throw an obstacle in the way of that desire, but brought in humility.

Theophylact: For His wish is not that we should usurp for ourselves chief places, but that we should attain to lofty heights by lowliness.

He next admonishes them by the example of a childís innocence.

Wherefore there follows, "And He took 182 a child, and set him in the midst of them."

Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc. see Chrys., Hom. in Matt., 58: By the very sight, persuading them to humility and simplicity; for this little one was pure from envy and vain glory, and from a desire of superiority. But He does not only say, If ye become such, ye shall receive a great reward, but also, if ye will honour others, who are such for My sake.

Wherefore there follows: "And when He had taken him in His arms, He said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in My name, receiveth Me."

Bede: By which, He either simply shews that those who would become greater must receive the poor of Christ in honour of Him, or He would persuade them to be in malice children, to keep simplicity without arrogance, charity without envy, devotedness without anger. Again, by taking the child into His arms, He implies that the lowly are worthy of his embrace and love.

He adds also, "In My name," that they might, with the fixed purpose of reason, follow for His nameís sake that mould of virtue to which the child keeps, with nature for his guide. And because He taught that He Himself was received in children, lest it should be thought that there was nothing in Him but what was seen, He added, "And whosoever shall receive Me, receiveth not Me, but Him that sent Me.;" thus wishing that we should believe Him to be of the same nature and of equal greatness with His Father.

Theophylact: See, how great is humility, for it wins for itself the indwelling of the Father, and of the Son, and also of the Holy Ghost.


38. And John answered Him, saying, "Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us."

39. But Jesus said, "Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in My name, that can lightly speak evil of Me.

40. For He that is not against us is on our part.

41. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in My name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.
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42. And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea."


Bede: John, loving the Lord with eminent devotion, thought that He who performed an office to which He had no right was to be excluded from the benefit of it.

Wherefore it is said, "And John answered Him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us."

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: For many believers received gifts, and yet were not with Christ, such was this man who cast out devils; for there were many of them deficient in some way; some were pure in life, but were not so perfect in faith; others again, contrariwise.

Theophylact: Or again, some unbelievers, seeing that the name of Jesus was full of virtue, themselves used it, and performed signs, though they were unworthy of Divine grace; for the Lord wished to extend His name even by the unworthy.

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: It was not from jealousy or envy, however, that John wished to forbid him who cast out devils, but because he wished that all who called on the name of the Lord should follow Christ and be one body with His disciples. But the Lord, however unworthy they who perform the miracles may be, incites others by their means to believe on Him, and induces themselves by this unspeakable grace to become better.

Wherefore there follows: "But Jesus said, Forbid him not."

Bede: By which He shews that no one is to be driven away from that partial goodness which he possesses already, but rather to be stirred up to that which he has not as yet obtained.

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: In conformity to this, He shews that he is not to be forbidden, adding immediately after, "For there is no man which shall do a miracle in My name, that can lightly speak evil of Me." He says "lightly" to meet the case of those who fell into heresy, such as were Simon and Menander, and Cerinthus [ed. note: Irenaeus, cont. Haer. 2, 31, seems to imply that the early heretics actually worked wonders, but that these differed from Christian miracles in that they were done by magic through the aid of the devil, and were not works of mercy; he contrasts with these the ecclesiastical miracles of his day.]; not that they did miracles in the name of Christ, but by their deceptions had the appearance of doing them.

But these others, though they do 184 not follow us, cannot however set themselves to say any thing against us, because they honour My name by working miracles.

Theophylact: For how can he speak evil of Me, who draws glory from My name, and works miracles by the invocation of this very name.

There follows, "For he that is not against you is on your part."

Augustine, de Con. Evan., 4, 5: We must take care that this saying of the Lord appear not to be contrary to that where He says, "He who is not with Me is against Me." [Luke 11:23] Or will any one say that the difference lies in that here He says to His disciples, "For he that is not against you is on your part," but in the other He speaks of Himself, "He who is not with Me is against Me?" As if indeed it were possible [ed. note: St. Augustine has here quasi vero, instead of quasi non, which hardly makes sense; the latter reading has also been found in an old edition of the Catena Aurea, A.D. 1417.] that he who is joined to Christís disciples, who are as His members, should not be with Him.

How if it were so, could it be true that "he that receiveth you receiveth Me?" [Matt. 10:40] Or how is he not against Him who is against His disciples? Where then will be that saying, "He who despiseth you, despiseth Me? [Luke 10:16] But surely what is implied is that a man is not with Him in as far as he is against Him, and is not against Him in as far as he is with Him.

For instance, he who worked miracles in the name of Christ, and yet did not join himself to the body of His disciples, in as far as he worked the miracles in His name, was with them, and was not against them; again, in that he did not join their society, he was not with them, and was against them.

Be because they forbade his doing that in which he was with them, the Lord said unto them, "Forbid him not:" for they ought to have forbidden his being without their society, and thus to have persuaded him of the unity of the Church, but they should not have forbidden that in which he was with them, that is, his commendation of the name of their Lord and Master by the expulsion of devils.

Thus the Church Catholic does not disapprove in heretics the sacraments, which are common, but she blames their division, or some opinion of theirs adverse to peace and to truth; for in this they are against us.

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: Or else, this is said of those who believe on Him, but nevertheless do not follow Him from the looseness of their lives. Again, it is said of devils, who try to separate all from God, and to disperse His 185 congregation.

There follows, "For whosoever shall give you a cup of cold water to drink in My name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward."

Theophylact: Not only will I not forbid him who works miracles in My name, but also whosoever shall give you the smallest thing for My nameís sake, and shall receive you, not on account of human and worldly favour, but from love to Me, shall not lose his reward.

Augustine, de Con. Evan., 4, 6: By which He shews, that he of whom John had spoken was not so far separated from the fellowship of the disciples, as to reject it, as a heretic, but as men are wont to hang back from receiving the Sacraments of Christ, and yet favour the Christian name, so as even to succour Christians, and do them service only because they are Christians. Of these He says they shall not lose their reward; not that they ought already to think themselves secure on account of this good will which they have towards Christians, without being washed with His baptism, and incorporated in His unity, but that they are already so guided by the mercy of God, as also to attain to these, and thus to go away from this life in security.

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: And that no man may allege poverty, He mentions that of which none can be destitute, that is, a cup of cold water, for which also he will obtain a reward; for it is not the value of the gift, but the dignity of those who receive it, and the feelings of the giver, which makes a work worthy of reward.

His words shew that His disciples are to be received, not only on account of the reward, which he who receives them obtains, but also, because he thus saves himself from punishment.

There follows: "And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in Me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea:" as though He would say [ed. note: see Chrys., Hom. in Matt. 58], All who honour you for My sake have their reward, so also those who dishonour you, that is, offend you, shall receive the worst of vengeance.

Further, from things which are palpable to us, He describes an intolerable torment, making mention of a millstone, and of being drowned; and He says not, let a millstone be hanged about his neck, but, it is better for him to suffer this, shewing by this that some more heavy evil awaits him. But He means by "little ones that believe on Me," not only those 186 who follow Him, but those who call upon His name, those also who offer a cup of cold water, though they do not any greater works. Now He will have none of these offended or plucked away; for this is what is meant by forbidding them to call upon His name.

Bede: And fitly the man who if offended is called a little one, for he who is great, whatever he may suffer, departs not from the faith; but he who is little and weak in mind looks out for occasions of stumbling. For this reason we must most of all look to those who are little ones in the faith, lest by our fault they should be offended, and go back from the faith, and fall away from salvation.

Greg., in Faeceh., 1, Hom. 7: We must observe, however, that in our good works we must sometimes avoid the offence of our neighbour, sometimes look down upon it as of no moment. For in as far as we can do it without sin, we ought to avoid the offence of our neighbour; but if a stumblingblock is laid before men in what concerns the truth, it is better to allow the offence to arise, than that the truth should be abandoned.

Greg, de eura, past. p.i.v.2: Mystically by a millstone is expressed the tedious round and toil of a secular life, and by the depths of the sea, the worst damnation is pointed out. He who therefore, after having been brought to a profession of sanctity, destroys others, either by word or example, it had been indeed better for him that his worldly deeds should render him liable to death, under a secular garb, than that his holy office should hole him out as an example for others in his faults, because doubtless if he had fallen alone, his pain in hell would have been of a more endurable kind.

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