The Bread of Life

Christ declared, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). St. John Chrysostom comments in a homily: “He is speaking of His Divinity. The flesh is bread, by virtue of the Word; this bread is heavenly bread, on account of the Spirit which dwelleth in it.” Theophylact writes: “He does not say, I am the bread of nourishment, but of life, for, whereas all things brought death, Christ quickened us by Himself.” Chrysostom notes: “He calls Himself the bread of life, because He constitutes one life, both present, and to come.”

St. Augustine explains that, in this context, to “never hunger” and to “never thirst” have the same meaning: “both signifying that eternal society, where there is no want.” Theophylact adds that such a person “shall never be wearied of hearing the word of God, and shall never thirst as to the understanding.”

Christ declared: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever” (v. 51a). Theophylact comments on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist: “The bread which is taken by us in the mysteries, is not only the sign of Christ’s flesh, but is itself the very flesh of Christ; for He does not say, ‘The bread which I will give, is the sign of My flesh,’ but, ‘is My flesh.’ . . . But why see we not the flesh? Because, if the flesh were seen, it would revolt us to such a degree, that we should be unable to partake of it. And therefore in condescension to our infirmity, the mystical food is given to us under an appearance suitable to our minds.”

Christ added, “And the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (v. 51b). Theophylact writes: “He gave His flesh for the life of the world, in that, by dying, He destroyed death. By the life of the world too, I understand the resurrection; our Lord’s death having brought about the resurrection of the whole human race. . . . Though all have not attained to this life, yet our Lord gave Himself for the world, and, as far as lies in Him, the whole world is sanctified.” St. Augustine teaches: “The faithful know and receive the Body of Christ, if they labour to be the body of Christ. And they become the body of Christ, if they study to live by the Spirit of Christ: for that which lives by the Spirit of Christ, is the body of Christ. This bread the Apostle sets forth, where he says, ‘We being many are one body’ (1 Cor 12:12).”

Quotations from St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels Collected Out of the Works of the Fathers, Vol. IV, Part I (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1845).

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The Humility of the Fishers of Men

In the story of the woman at the well, St. John notes that “His disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat” (John 4:8). St. John Chrysostom remarks: “Herein is shown the humility of Christ; He is left alone. It was in His power, had He pleased, not to send away all, or, on their going away, to leave others in their place to wait on Him. But He did not choose to have it so: for in this way He accustomed His disciples to trample upon pride of every kind. However someone will say, Is humility in fishermen and tent-makers so great a matter? But these very men were all on a sudden raised to the most lofty situation upon earth, that of friends and followers of the Lord of the whole earth. And men of humble origin, when they arrive at dignity, are on this very account more liable than others to be lifted up with pride; the honour being so new to them. Our Lord, therefore, to keep His disciples humble, taught them in all things to subdue themselves.” (Catena Aurea, IV-I)

Theophylact writes: “He chose not from the teachers of the law, but out of the multitude, and by calling, fishermen; babes, that is, as devoid of malice.” (Catena Aurea, III-I, on Luke 10:21)

St. Ambrose, commenting on the calling of the apostles remarks: “Not the wise men, not the rich, not the noble, but He chose to send out fishermen and publicans, that they might not seem to turn men to their grace by riches or by the influence of power and rank, and that the force of truth, not the graces of oratory, might prevail.” (Catena Aurea, III-I, on Luke 6:13-16)

St. Augustine says of Christ: “He chose the foolish, to confound the world. . . . He sought not to gain the fisherman through the orator, but by the fisherman the emperor. The great Cyprian was an orator; but Peter was a fisherman before him; and through him not only the orator, but the emperor, believed.” (Catena Aurea, IV-I, on John 1:34-51)

Likewise, St. Bede the Venerable writes: “Fishers and unlettered men are sent to preach, that the faith of believers might be thought to lie in the power of God, not in eloquence or in learning.” (Catena Aurea, II, on Mark 1:16)

Quotations from St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels Collected Out of the Works of the Fathers, 4 vols. (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1841-45).

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A Deep Well and an Endless Wellspring

St. John recounts the meeting of Jesus and a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well on the outskirts of the ancient city of Shechem:

“There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink” (John 4:7). St. Augustine comments: “The woman here is the type of the Church, not yet justified, but just about to be. And it is a part of the resemblance, that she comes from a foreign people.” Elsewhere, he writes: “Jesus also thirsted after that woman’s faith. He thirsteth for their faith, for whom He shed His blood.”

Jesus said to her, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water” (v. 10). Concerning this water, St. Augustine notes: “Living water is that which comes out of a spring, in distinction to what is collected in ponds and cisterns from the rain.” And, as regards the woman, he writes: “Her poverty obliged her to labour more than her strength could well bear; would that she could hear, ‘Come unto Me, all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you’ (Matt 11:28). Jesus had said this very thing, that is, that she need not labour any longer; but she did not understand Him.”

Referring to the water in Jacob’s well, Jesus said, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again” (v. 13). St. Augustine explains: “The water in the well is the pleasure of the world, that abode of darkness. Men draw it with the waterpot of their lusts; pleasure is not relished, except it be preceded by lust. And when a man has enjoyed this pleasure, that is, drunk of the water, he thirsts again.”

Then Christ said, “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (v. 14). St. John Chrysostom understands it thus: “As a man who had a spring within him, would never feel thirst, so will not he who has this water which I shall give him.” Theophylact explains why such a one would never thirst: “For the water which I give him is ever multiplying. The saints receive through grace the seed and principle of good; but they themselves make it grow by their own cultivation.” But note St. Augustine’s caveat: “If spring water too becomes stagnant, that is, collects into some spot, where it is quite separated from its fountain head, it ceases to be living water.”

Quotations from St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels Collected Out of the Works of the Fathers, Vol. IV, Part I (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1845).

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He Must Increase

Continuing the analogy of Christ as the Bridegroom, the Church as His bride, and St. John the Baptist as the friend of the Bridegroom, the Baptist said of Jesus Christ, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

St. John Chrysostom hears the forerunner of Christ saying, “I am a servant, and perform the commission of the Father which sent me; my witness is not from favour or partiality; I say that which was given me to say.”

St. Bede the Venerable remarks: “He rejoiceth at hearing the Bridegroom’s voice, who knows that he should not rejoice in his own wisdom, but in the wisdom which God giveth him. Whoever in his good works seeketh not his own glory, or praise, or earthly gain, but hath his affections set on heavenly things; this man is the friend of the Bridegroom.”

Theophylact explains that the Baptist is saying, “I rejoice now, that all men follow Him. For had the bride, that is, the people, not come forth to meet the Bridegroom, then I, as the friend of the Bridegroom, should have grieved.”

St. Augustine hears the Baptist saying, “‘This my joy is fulfilled,’ that is, my joy at hearing the Bridegroom’s voice. I have my gift; I claim no more, lest I lose that which I have received. He who would rejoice in himself, hath sorrow; but he who would rejoice in the Lord, shall ever rejoice, because God is everlasting.”

St. John Chrysostom points out: “He next dismisses the motions of envy, not only as regards the present, but also the future, saying, ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’: as if he said, My office hath ceased, and is ended; but His advanceth.”

Theophylact remarks: “As, on the sun rising, the light of the other heavenly bodies seems to be extinguished, though in reality it is only obscured by the greater light: thus the forerunner is said to decrease; as if he were a star hidden by the sun. Christ increases in proportion as he gradually discloses Himself by miracles; not in the sense of increase, or advancement in virtue, but only as regards the manifestation of His divinity.”

St. Augustine notes: “Before our Lord came, men gloried in themselves.” But now, he urges: “Let God’s glory then increase in us, and our own decrease, that ours also may increase in God.”

Quotations from St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels Collected Out of the Works of the Fathers, Vol. IV, Part I (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1845).

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The Bridegroom’s Friend

We have in the Gospel of St. John a robust and meaningful analogy in which Christ is the Bridegroom, the Church is His bride, and St. John the Baptist is the friend of the Bridegroom. The Baptist declared to his followers: “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled” (John 3:29).

St. Bede the Venerable explains: “John replies, He [Jesus] is the Bridegroom; I am the friend of the Bridegroom, sent to prepare the Bride for His approach. . . . By the Bride he means the Church, gathered from amongst all nations; a Virgin in purity of heart, in perfection of love, in the bond of peace, in chastity of mind and body; in the unity of the Catholic faith; for in vain is she a virgin in body, who continueth not a virgin in mind.”

Theophylact further develops the analogy: “Christ is the spouse of every soul; the wedlock, wherein they are joined, is baptism; the place of that wedlock is the Church; the pledge of it, remission of sins, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost; the consummation, eternal life; which those who are worthy shall receive. Christ alone is the Bridegroom: all other teachers are but the friends of the Bridegroom, as was the forerunner.”

St. Augustine notes: “The friend of the Bridegroom ought to stand and hear, that is, to abide in the grace which he hath received, and to hear the voice in which he rejoiceth. I rejoice not, he saith, because of my own voice, but because of the Bridegroom’s voice. I rejoice, I in hearing, He in speaking; I am the ear, He the Word.”

St. John Chrysostom said in a homily: “The expression, ‘which standeth,’ is not without meaning, but indicates that his part is now over, and that for the future he must stand and listen. . . . And since the things he had hoped for had come to pass, he adds, ‘This my joy therefore is fulfilled’; that is, The work which I had to do is finished, and nothing more is left, that I can do.”

Quotations from St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels Collected Out of the Works of the Fathers, Vol. IV, Part I (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1845).

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Freedom in Society

Archbishop Ullathorne in his book Endowments of Man enumerates three freedoms which individual human persons possess: “A man is corporally free in proportion to the space over which he can freely move. . . . He is mentally free in proportion to the breadth and elevation of the sphere of truth in which he can think. He is morally free in proportion to the grandeur and elevation of that justice to which his will can conform its actions.”

Moral freedom has both an interior and an exterior component. He states in his Groundwork of the Christian Virtues: “Our external conduct is the weather-glass that indicates the interior temper and condition of the soul.”

On our conduct in society, he writes: “Whatever be a man’s conduct in political or social life, all men judge of that conduct by certain moral principles of right and wrong. If that man is not a Christian, they judge his words and actions by the natural moral law, by the law of natural human conscience; but if he be a Christian, then his conduct towards his fellow-man and towards his country is also judged by the Christian law. Thus it is a maxim of the common law of England that Christianity is part and parcel of it. And as both the natural and the Christian law are lights of the conscience, and laws which a man carries in his breast, both resting on the authority of God, and making us accountable to His Divine Majesty, so both these laws are of a religious character, and the Church at all times authoritatively expounds and enforces them. Thus, the Ten Commandments belong both to the natural and the revealed law. (Pastoral Letter of March 23, 1865)

Finally, he offers this sobering thought: “If we read history by the light which the prophets of Scripture throw upon it, we shall find that nations and countries have been generally punished in the very point on which they most prided themselves, and on which they relied for security and permanence.” (Advent Pastoral Letter of 1879)

Quotations from Michael F. Glancey, Characteristics From the Writings of Archbishop Ullathorne (London: Burns & Oates, 1889).

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Banishing God

Many fear that the God under Whom many nations were founded is being pushed out of society for fear of offending some members of society. This was addressed by William Bernard Ullathorne, a Benedictine monk and Roman Catholic priest who ministered in Australia from 1833 until 1840 and then returned to his native England, where he was ordained a bishop in 1847 and served as bishop of Birmingham from 1850 until 1888. Here are excerpts from his Advent Pastoral Letter of 1875:

“Everywhere we hear and the publications of the day circulate the same as interesting news that the necessity for a dogmatic belief, the profession of a fixed creed, the certainty of any doctrines whatever that have a right to command the submission of the human understanding, is slipping away more and more out of the minds of men. The cold sophistry of certain men, esteemed by not a few to be the thinkers of the age, has even gone so far as to proclaim that God cannot be known by man, and that all that is left for man to do is to reverence in some negative way what he can neither approach nor understand. In short, God is to be sent into exile from the world He has made, and the creature is no longer to be allowed to know his Creator. Such is the last notion brought forward with respect to religion in England, and dreadful is it to reflect that it has found a following. But once throw aside the divine authority of the Church and put man’s private opinion in its place, and what is there that man will not put in the place of God’s revealed truth? What truth implanted in our nature will not be driven off by the pride of self-opinion?”

“If a Catholic bishop speaks of the absolute necessity of faith, and of submission to the divine authority implanted by Christ in the Church, there is an outcry ever ready of priestly tyranny and usurpation.”

“Yet, can Almighty God be indifferent to what men say of Him on this earth? . . . You know that to reject God’s truth is to reject the God of truth.”

Quotations from Michael F. Glancey, Characteristics From the Writings of Archbishop Ullathorne (London: Burns & Oates, 1889).

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