St. Thomas Aquinas,
Catena Aurea (Golden Chain),
Gospel of Matthew, Chapter
(John Henry Parker, v. I, J.G.F. and J. Rivington:London, 1842)
20. Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons,
worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.
21. And he said to her, What is your will? She said to him, Grant that these
my two sons may sit, the one on your right hand, and the other on the left,
in your kingdom.
22. But Jesus answered and said, you know not what you ask. Are you able to
drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism
that I am baptized with? They say to him, We are able.
23. And he said to them, you shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized
With the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and
on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it
is prepared of my Father.
JEROME; The Lord having concluded by saying, And shall rise again the third
day; the woman thought that after His resurrection He should forthwith
reign, and with womanish eagerness grasps at what is present, forgetful of
PSEUDO-CHRYS; This mother of the sons of Zebedee is Salome, as her name is
given by another Evangelist, herself truly peaceful, and the mother of sons
of peace. From this place we learn the eminent merit of this woman; not only
had her sons left their father, but she had left her husband, and had
followed Christ; for He could live without her, but she could not be saved
without Christ. Except any will say that between the time of the Apostle's
calling, and the suffering of Christ, Zebedee was dead, and that thus her
sex helpless, her age advanced, she was following Christ's steps; for faith
never grows old, and religion feels never weary. Her maternal affection made
her bold to ask, whence it is said, She worshipped Him, and desired a
certain thing of Him; i.e. she did Him reverence, requesting that what she
should ask, should be granted her. It follows, He said to her, What would
you? He asks not because He knows not, but that by its very statement, the
unreasonableness of her petition might be shown; She said to him, Grant that
these my two sons may sit.
AUG; What Matthew has here represented as being said by the mother, Mark
relates that the two sons of Zebedee spoke themselves, when she had
presented their wish before the Lord; so that from Mark's brief notice it
should rather seem, that they, and not she, had said that which was said.
CHRYS; They saw the disciples honored before others, and had heard that you
shall sit upon twelve thrones, whereupon they sought to have the primacy of
that seat. And that others were in greater honor with Christ they knew, and
they feared that Peter was preferred before them; wherefore (as is mentioned
by another Evangelist) because they were now near to Jerusalem, they thought
that the kingdom of God was at the door, that is, was something to be
perceived by sense. Whence it is clear that they sought nothing spiritual,
and had no conception of a kingdom above.
ORIGEN; For if in an earthly kingdom they are thought to be in honor who sit
with the king, no wonder if a woman with womanish simplicity or want of
experience conceived that she might ask such things, and that the brethren
themselves being not perfect, and having no more lofty thoughts concerning
Christ's kingdom, conceived such things concerning those who shall sit with
PSEUDO-CHRYS; Or otherwise. We affirm not that this woman's request was a
lawful one; but this we affirm, that it was not earthly things, but heavenly
things that she asked for her sons. For she felt not as ordinary mothers,
whose affection is to the bodies of their children, while they neglect their
minds; they desire that they should prosper in this world, not caring what
they shall suffer in the next, thereby showing themselves to be mothers of
their bodies only, but not of their souls. And I imagine that these
brethren, having heard the Lord prophesying of His passion and resurrection,
began to say among themselves, seeing they believed; Behold, the King of
heaven is going down to the realms of Tartarus, that He may destroy the king
of death. But when the victory shall be completed, what remains but that the
glory of the kingdom shall follow?
ORIGEN; For when sin is destroyed, which reigned in men's mortal bodies,
with the entire dynasty of malignant powers, Christ shall receive exaltation
of His kingdom among men; that is, His sitting on the throne of His glory.
That God disposes all things both on His right hand and on His left, this is
that there shall be then no more evil in His presence. They that are the
more excellent among such as draw near to Christ, are they on His right
hand; they that are inferior, are they on His left hand. Or by Christ's
right hand look if you may understand the invisible creation; by His left
hand the visible and bodily. For of those who are brought nigh to Christ,
some obtain a place on His right hand, as the intelligent, some on His left
hand, as the sentient creation.
PSEUDO-CHRYS; He that gave Himself to man, how shall He not give them the
fellowship of His kingdom? The supineness of the petitioner is in fault,
where the graciousness of the giver is undoubted. But if we ourselves ask
our master, perchance we wound the hearts of the rest of our brethren, who
though they can no longer be overcome by the flesh, seeing they are now
spiritual, may yet be wounded as carnal. Let us therefore put forward our
mother, that she may make her petition for us in her own person. For though
she be to be blamed therein, yet she will readily obtain forgiveness, her
sex pleading for her. For the Lord Himself, who has filled the souls of
mothers with affection to their offspring, will more readily listen to their
desires. Then the Lord, who knows secrets, makes answer not to the words of
the mother's petition, but to the design of the sons who suggested it. Their
wish was commendable, but their request inconsiderate; therefore, though it
was not right that it should be granted to them, yet the simplicity of their
petition did not deserve a harsh rebuke, forasmuch as it proceeded of love
of the Lord. Wherefore it is their ignorance that the Lord finds fault with;
Jesus answered and said to them, you know not what you ask.
JEROME; And no wonder, if she is convicted of inexperience, seeing it is
said of Peter, Not knowing what he said.
PSEUDO-CHRYS; For often the Lord suffers His disciples either to do or to
think somewhat amiss, that from their error He may take occasion to set
forth a rule of piety; knowing that their fault harms not when the Master is
present, while His doctrine edifies them not for the present only, but for
CHRYS; This He says to show either that they sought nothing spiritual, or
that had they known for what they asked, they would not have asked that
which was so far beyond their faculties.
HILARY; They know not what they ask, because there was no doubt of the
future glory of the Apostles; His former discourse had assured them that
they should judge the world.
PSEUDO-CHRYS; Or, you know not what you ask: as much as to say, I have
called you to My right hand away from My left, and now you willfully desire
to be on My left. Hence perhaps they did this through the mother. For the
devil betook him to his well-known tool the woman, that as he made prey of
Adam by his wife, so he should sever these by their mother. But now that the
salvation of all had proceeded from a woman, destruction could no longer
enter in among the saints by a woman. Or He says, you know not what you ask,
seeing we ought not only to consider the glory to which we may attain, but
how we may escape the ruin of sin. For so in secular war, he who is ever
thinking of the plunder, hardly wins the fight; they should have asked, Give
us the aid of your grace, that we may overcome all evil.
RABAN; They knew not what they asked, for they were asking of the Lord a
seat in glory, which they had not yet merited. The honorable eminence liked
them well, but they had first to practice the laborious path thereto; Can
you drink of the cup that I shall drink of?
JEROME; By the cup in the divine Scriptures we understand suffering as in
the Psalm, I will take the cup of salvation; and straightway He proceeds to
show what is the cup, Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his
PSEUDO-CHRYS; The Lord knew that they were able to follow His passion, but
He puts the question to them that we may all hear, that no man can reign
with Christ, unless he is conformed to Christ in His passion; for that which
is precious is only to be purchased at a costly price. The Lord's passion we
may call not only the persecution of the Gentiles, but all the hardships we
go through in struggling against our sins.
CHRYS; He says therefore, Can you drink it? as much as to say, You ask me of
honors and crowns, but I speak to you of labor and travail, for this is no
time for rewards. He draws their attention by the manner of His question,
for He says not, Are you able to shed your blood? but, Are you able to drink
of the cup? then He adds, which I shall drink of?
REMIG; That by such partaking they may burn with the more zeal towards Him.
But they, already sharing the readiness and constancy of martyrdom, promise
that they would drink of it; whence it follows, They say to him, We are
PSEUDO-CHRYS; Or, they say this not so much out of reliance on their own
fortitude, as out of ignorance, for to the inexperienced the trial of
suffering and death appears slight.
CHRYS; Or they offer this in the eagerness of their desire, expecting that
for their thus speaking they should have what they desired. But He foretell
great blessings for them, to wit, that they should be made worthy of
martyrdom. He said to them, you shall indeed drink of my cup.
ORIGEN; Christ does not say, you are able to drink of My cup, but looking to
their future perfection He said, you shall indeed drink of my cup.
JEROME; It is made a question how the sons of Zebedee, James, and John, did
drink the cup of martyrdom, seeing Scripture relates that: James only was
beheaded by Herod, while John ended his life by a peaceful death. But when
we read in ecclesiastical history that John himself was thrown into a
cauldron of boiling oil with intent to martyr him, and that he was banished
to the isle of Patmos, we shall see that he lacked not the will for
martyrdom, and that John had drunk the cup of confession, the which also the
Three Children in the fiery furnace did drink of, although the persecutor
did not shed their blood.
HILARY; The Lord therefore commends their faith, in that He says that they
are able to suffer martyrdom together with Him; but, To sit on my right hand
and on my left is not mine to give, but for whom it is prepared of my
Father. Though indeed, as far as we can judge, that honor is so set apart
for others, as that the Apostles shall not be strangers to it, who shall sit
on the throne of the Twelve Patriarchs to judge Israel; also, as may be
collected out of the Gospels themselves, Moses and Elias shall sit with them
in the kingdom of heaven, seeing that it was in their company that He
appeared on the mount in His apparel of splendor.
JEROME; But to me this seems not so. Rather the names of them that shall sit
in the kingdom of heaven are not named, lest that, if some few were named,
the rest should think themselves shut out; for the kingdom of heaven is not
of him that gives it, but of him that receives it. Not that there is respect
of persons with God, but whosoever shall show himself such as to be worthy
of the kingdom of heaven, she'll receive it, for it is prepared not for
condition, but for conduct. Therefore if you shall be found to be such as to
be fit for that kingdom of heaven which My Father has made ready for the
conquerors, you she'll receive the same. He said not, you shall not sit
there, that He might not discourage the two brethren; while He said not, you
shall sit there, that He might not stir the others to envy.
CHRYS; Or otherwise. That seat seems to be unapproachable to all, not only
men, but Angels also; for so Paul assigns it peculiarly to the
Only-Begotten, saying, To which of the Angels said he at any time, Sit you
on my right hand? The Lord therefore makes answer, not as though in verity
there were any that should sit there, but as condescending to the
apprehensions of the petitioners. They asked but this one grant, to be
before others near Him; but the Lord answers, you shall die for My sake, yet
is not that sufficient to make you obtain the first rank. For if there shall
come another with martyrdom, and having virtue greater than yours, I will
not, because I love you, put him out, and give you precedence. But that they
should not suppose that he lacked power, He said not absolutely, It is not
Mine to give, but, It is not mine to give to you, but to those for whom it
is prepared; that is, to those who are made illustrious by their deeds.
REMIG; Or otherwise; It is not mine to give to you, that is, to proud men
such as you are, but to the lowly in heart, for whom it is prepared of my
AUG; Or otherwise; The Lord makes answer to His disciples in His character
of servant; though whatever is prepared by the Father is also prepared by
the Son, for He and the Father are one.
24. And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against
the two brethren.
25. But Jesus called them to him, and said, you know that the princes of the
Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise
authority upon them.
26. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you,
let him be your minister;
27. And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
28. Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered to, but to minister,
and to give his life a ransom for many.
CHRYS; So long as the judgment of Christ upon this request was in suspense,
the other disciples were not indignant; but when they heard Him rebuke them,
they were sorrowful; whence it is said, And when the ten heard it, they had
indignation against the two brethren.
JEROME; They do not lay it upon the forwardness of the mother who spoke the
request, but upon her sons, who, not knowing their measure, burned with so
CHRYS; For when the Lord rebuked them, then they perceived that this request
was from the disciples. For though they were grieved in their hearts when
they saw them so especially honored in the transfiguration, they yet dared
not so express themselves, out of respect to their teacher.
PSEUDO-CHRYS; But as the two had asked carnally, so now the ten are grieved
carnally. For as to seek to be above all is blame-worthy, so to have another
above us is mortifying to our vanity.
JEROME; But the meek and lowly Master neither charges the two with ambition,
nor rebukes the ten for their spleen and jealousy; but, Jesus called them to
CHRYS; By thus calling them to Him, and speaking to them face to face, he
soothes them in their discomposure; for the two had been speaking with the
Lord apart by themselves. But not now as before does He it by bringing
forward a child, but He proves it to them by reasoning from contraries; you
know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them.
ORIGEN; That is, not content merely to rule over their subjects, they are
severe and oppressive. But among you who are Mine these things shall not be
so; for as all carnal things are done by compulsion, but spiritual things by
free-will, so those rulers who are spiritual ought to rest their power in
the love of their subjects, not in their fears.
CHRYS; He shows here that it is of the Gentiles to desire preeminence; and
by this comparison of the Gentiles He calms their troubled souls.
PSEUDO-CHRYS; Indeed, to desire a good work is good, for it is within our
will, and ours is the reward; but to desire a primacy of honor is vanity.
For when we attain this we are judged of God, because we know not whether in
our precedence of honor we deserve the reward of righteousness. For not even
an Apostle will have praise with God, because he is an Apostle, but if he
has well fulfilled the duties of his Apostleship; nor was an Apostle placed
in honor as an Apostle, for any previous merit of his; but was judged meet
for that ministry, on account of the disposition of his mind. For high place
courts him who flies from it, and shuns him who courts it. A better life
then, and not a more worthy degree, should be our object.
The Lord therefore, willing to check the ambition of the two sons of
Zebedee, and the indignation of the others, points out this distinction
between the chief men of the world, and those of the Church, showing that
the primacy in Christ is neither to be sought by him who has it not, nor
envied by him who teas it. For men become masters in this world that they
may exercise domination over their inferiors, and reduce them to slavery,
and rob them, and employ them even to death for their own profit and glory.
But men become governors in the Church, that they may serve those who are
under them, and minister to them whatever they have received of Christ, that
they may postpone their own convenience, and mind that of others, and not
refuse even to die for the sake of those beneath them.
To seek therefore a command in the Church is neither righteous, nor
profitable. No prudent man will voluntarily subject himself to slavery, nor
to stand in such peril wherein he will have to render account for the whole
Church; unless it be one perchance who fears not God's judgment, who abuses
His ecclesiastical primacy to a secular end, so that He converts it into a
JEROME; Lastly, He sets before them His own example, that so should they
little weigh His words, His deeds might shame them, whence He adds, As also
the Son of Man comes not to be ministered to, but to minister.
ORIGEN; For though the Angels and Martha ministered to Him, yet did He not
come to be ministered to, but to minister; yes, His ministry extended so
far, that He fulfilled even in what follows, And to give his life a ransom
for many, they, that is, who believed on Him; and gave it, i.e. to death.
But since He was alone free among the dead, and mightier than the power of
death, He has set free from death all who were willing to follow Him. The
heads of the Church ought therefore to imitate Christ in being affable,
adapting Himself to women, laying His hands on children, and washing His
disciples' feet, that they also should do the same to their brethren. But we
are such, that we seem to go beyond the pride even of the great ones of this
world; as to the command of Christ, either not understanding it, or setting
it at nothing. Like princes we seek hosts to go before us, we make ourselves
awful and difficult of access, especially to the poor, neither approaching
them, nor suffering them to approach us.
CHRYS; How much may you humble yourself, you cannot descend so far as did
[With gratitude to the
Christian Classics Ethereal Library for this text.]