St. Thomas Aquinas,
Catena Aurea (Golden Chain),
Gospel of Luke, Chapter
(John Henry Parker, v. I, J.G.F. and J. Rivington:London, 1842)
57. Now Elisabeth's full time
came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son.
58. And her neighbors and her cousins heard how the Lord had shown great
mercy upon her and they rejoiced with her.
AMBROSE; If you carefully observe, you will find that the word signifying
fullness is no where used except at the birth of the righteous. Hence it is
said, Now Elisabeth's full time came. For the life of the righteous has
fullness, but the days of the wicked are empty.
CHRYS. And for that reason the Lord kept back the delivery of Elisabeth,
that her joy might be increased, and her fame the greater. Hence it follows,
And her neighbors and cousins heard, &c. For they who had known her
barrenness were made the witnesses of the Divine grace, and no one seeing
the child departed in silence, but gave praise to God, Who had vouchsafed
him beyond their expectation.
AMBROSE; For the bringing forth of saints causes the rejoicing of many; it
is a common blessing; for justice is a public virtue, and therefore at the
birth of a just man a sign of hi future life is sent beforehand and, the
grace of the virtue which is to follow is represented, being foreshadowed by
the rejoicing of the neighbors.
59. And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise
the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father.
60. And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John.
61. And they said to her, There is none of the kindred that is called by
62. And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called.
63. And he asked for a writing table, and wrote saying, His name is John.
And they marveled all.
64. And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he
spoke, and praised God.
CHRYS. The rite of circumcision was first delivered to Abraham as a sign of
distinction, that the race of the Patriarch might be preserved in unmixed
purity, and so might be able to obtain the promises. But now that the
promise of the covenant is fulfilled, the sign attached to it is removed. So
then through Christ circumcision ceased, and baptism came in its place; but
first it was right that John should be circumcised; as it is said, And it
came to pass, that on the eighth day, &c. For the Lord had said, Let the
child of eight days be circumcised among you. But this measurement of time I
conceive was ordered by Divine mercy for two reasons. First, because in its
most tender years the child the more easily bears the cutting of the flesh.
Secondly, that from the very operation itself we might be reminded that it
was done for a sign; for the young child scarcely distinguishes any of the
things that are around him. But after the circumcision, the name was
conferred, as it follows, And they called him. But this was done because we
must first receive the seal of the Lord, then the name of man. Or, because
no man except he first cast aside his fleshly lusts, which circumcision
signifies, is worthy to have his name written in the book of life.
AMBROSE; The holy Evangelist has especially remarked, that many thought the
child should be called after his father Zacharias, in order that we might
understand, not that any name of his kinsfolk was displeasing to his mother,
but that the same word had been communicated to her by the Holy Spirit,
which had been foretold by the Angel to Zacharias. And in truth, being dumb,
Zacharias was unable to mention his son's name to his wife, but Elisabeth
obtained by prophecy what she had not learnt from her husband. Hence it
follows, And she answered, &c. Marvel not that the woman pronounced the name
which she had never heard, seeing the Holy Spirit who imparted it to the
Angel revealed it to her; nor could she be ignorant of the forerunner of the
Lord, who had prophesied of Christ.
And it well follows, And they said to her, &c. that you might consider that
the name belongs not to the family, but to the Prophet. Zacharias also is
questioned, and signs made to him, as it follows,
And they made signs to the father, &c. But since unbelief had so bereft him
of utterance and hearing, that he could not use his voice, he spoke by his
hand-writing, as it follows,
And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John; that
is, we give no name to him who has received his name from God.
ORIGEN; Zacharias is by interpretation "remembering God," but John signifies
"pointing to." Now "memory" relates to something absent, "pointing to," to
something present. But John was not about to set forth the memory of God as
absent, but with his finger to point him out as present, saying, Behold the
Lamb of God.
CHRYS. But the name John is also interpreted the grace of God. Because then
by the favor of Divine grace not by nature, Elisabeth conceived this son,
they engraved the memory of the benefit on the name of the child.
THEOPHYL. And because with the mother the dumb father also agreed as to the
name of the child, it follows, And they all marveled. For there was no one
of this name among their kinsfolk that any one could say that they had both
previously determined upon it.
GREG. NAZ. The birth of John then broke the silence of Zacharias, as it
follows, And his mouth was opened. For it were unreasonable when the voice
of the Word had come forth, that his father should remain speechless.
AMBROSE; Rightly also, from that moment was his tongue loosed for that which
unbelief had bound, faith set free. Let us then also believe, in order that
our tongue, which has been bound by the chains of unbelief, may be loosed by
the voice of reason. Let us write mysteries by the Spirit if we wish to
speak. Let us write the forerunner of Christ, not on tables of stone, but on
the fleshly tablets of the heart. For he who names John, prophesies Christ.
For he who names John prophesies Christ. For it follows, And he spoke,
THEOPHYL; Now in an allegory, the celebration of John's birth was the
beginning of the grace of the New Covenant. His neighbors and kinsfolk had
rather give him the name of his father than that of John. For the Jews, who
by the observance of the Law were united to him as it were by ties of
kindred, chose rather to follow the righteousness which is the Law, than
receive the grace of faith. But the name of John, (i.e. the grace of God,)
his mother in word, his father in writing, suffice to announce, for both the
Law itself as well as the Psalms and the Prophecies, in the plainest
language foretell the grace of Christ; and that ancient priesthood, by the
foreshadowing of its ceremonies and sacrifices, bears testimony to the same.
And well does Zacharias speak on the eighth day of the birth of his child,
for by the resurrection of the Lord, which took place on the eighth day,
i.e. the day after the sabbath, the hidden secrets of the legal priesthood
65. And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these
sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judea.
66. And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What
manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him.
THEOPHYL. AS at the silence of Zacharias the people marveled, so likewise
when he spoke. Hence it is said, And fear came upon all; that from these two
circumstances all might believe there was something great in the child that
was born. But all these things were ordained, to the end that he who was to
bear witness of Christ might also be esteemed trustworthy. Hence it follows,
And all they that heard them laid them up in their heart, saying What manner
of child, &c.
THEOPHYL; For fore-running signs prepare the way for the forerunner of the
truth, and the future prophet is recommended by auspices sent before him;
hence it follows, For the hand of the Lord was with him.
GREEK EX. For God worked miracles in John which he did not himself, but the
right hand of God in him.
GLOSS. But mystically, at the time of our Lord's resurrection, by the
preaching of the grace of Christ, a wholesome dread shook the hearts not
only of the Jews, (who were neighbors, either from the place of their
dwelling, or from the knowledge of the law,) but of the foreign nations
also. The name of Christ surmounts not only the hilly country of Judea, but
all the heights of worldly dominion and wisdom.
67. And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and
68. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he has visited and redeemed his
AMBROSE; God in His mercy and readiness to pardon our sins, not only
restores to us what He has taken away, but grants us favors even beyond our
expectations. Let no one then distrust Him, let no one from consciousness of
past sins despair of the Divine blessing. God knows how to change His
sentence, if you have known how to correct your sin, seeing he that was long
silent prophesies; as it is said, And Zacharias was filled with the Holy
CHRYS. That is, "with the working of the Holy Spirit;" for he had obtained
the grace of the Holy Spirit, not in any manner, but fully; and the gift of
prophecy shone forth in trim; as it follows, And he prophesied.
ORIGEN; Now Zacharias being filled with the Holy Spirit utters two
prophecies, the first relating to Christ, the second to John. And this is
plainly proved by those words in which he speaks of the Savior as present
and already going about in the world, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of
Israel, for he has visited, &c.
CHRYS. Zacharias, when he is blessing God, says, that He has visited His
people, meaning thereby either the Israelites in the flesh, for He came to
the lost sheep of the house of Israel; or the spiritual Israel, that is, the
faithful, who were worthy of this visitation, making the providence of God
of good effect towards them.
THEOPHYL; But the Lord visited His people who were pining away as it were
from long sickness, and by the blood of His only begotten Son, redeemed them
who were sold under sin. Which thing Zacharias, knowing that it would soon
be accomplished, relates in the prophetic manner as if it were already
passed. But he says, His people, not that when He came He found them His
own, , but that by visiting He made them so.
69. And has raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his
THEOPHYL. God seemed to be asleep, disregarding the sins of the multitude,
but in these last times coming in the flesh, He has risen up and trodden
down the evil spirits who hated us. Hence it is said, And he has raised up
an horn of salvation to us in the house of his servant David.
ORIGEN; Because Christ was born of the seed of David, according to the
flesh, it is said, A horn of salvation to us in the house of his servant
David; as it has also elsewhere been said, A vineyard has been planted in a
horn, i.e. in Jesus Christ.
CHRYS. Now by a horn he means power, glory, and honor, deriving it
metaphorically from the brute creatures, to whom God has given horns for
defense and glory.
THEOPHYL; The kingdom of our Savior Christ is called also the horn of
salvation, because all our bones are clothed with flesh, but the horn alone
stretches beyond the flesh; so the kingdom of Christ is called the horn of
salvation, as reaching beyond the world and the delights of the flesh.
According to which figure David and Solomon were consecrated by the horn of
oil to the glory of the kingdom.
70. As he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets which have been since
the world began.
THEOPHYL. That Christ was born of the house of David, Micah relates, saying,
And you, Bethlehem, are not the least in the city of Juda, for out of you
shall come a governor who shall rule my people Israel. But all the prophets
spoke of the Incarnation, and therefore it is said, As he spoke by the month
of his holy prophets.
GREEK EX. Whereby he means that God spoke through them, and that their
speech was not of man.
THEOPHYL; But he says, Which have been since the world began. Because all
the Scriptures of the Old Testament were a constant prophecy of Christ. For
both our father Adam himself, and the other fathers, by their deeds bore
testimony to His dispensation.
71. That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all
that hate us.
THEOPHYL; Having first briefly said, He has raised up a horn of salvation to
us, he goes on to explain his words, adding, of salvation from our enemies.
As if he said, He has raised up to us a horn, i.e. He has raised up to us
salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us.
ORIGEN; Let us not suppose that this refers to our bodily enemies, but our
ghostly. For the Lord Jesus came mighty in battle to destroy all our
enemies, that He might deliver us from their snares and temptation.
72. To perform the mercy promised to our forefathers, and to remember his
73. The oath which he swore to our father Abraham,
74. That he would grant to us.
THEOPHYL; Having announced that the Lord, according to the declaration of
the Prophet, would be born of the house of David, he now says, that the same
Lord to fulfill the covenant He made with Abraham will deliver us, because
chiefly to these patriarchs of Abraham's seed was promised the gathering of
the Gentiles, or the incarnation of Christ. But David is put first, because
to Abraham was promised the holy assembly of the Church; whereas to David it
was told that from him Christ was to he born. And therefore after what was
said of David, he adds concerning Abraham the words, To perform the mercy
promised to our fathers, &c.
ORIGEN; I think that at the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, both
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were partakers of His mercy. For it is not to be
believed, that they who had before seen His day, and were glad, should
afterwards derive no advantage from His coming, since it is written, Having
made peace through the blood of his Cross, whether in earth or in heaven.
THEOPHYL. The grace of Christ extends even to those who are dead, because
through Him we shall rise again, not only we, but they also who have been
dead before us. He performed His mercy also to our forefathers in fulfilling
all their hopes and desires. Hence it follows, And to remember his holy
covenant, that covenant, namely, wherein he said, Blessing, I will bless
you, and multiplying, I will multiply you. For Abraham was multiplied in all
nations, who became his children by adoption, through following the example
of his faith. But the fathers also, seeing their children enjoy these
blessings, rejoice together with them, just as if they received the mercy in
Hence it follows, The oath which he swore to our father Abraham, that he
would grant to us.
BASIL; But let no one, hearing that the Lord had sworn to Abraham, be
tempted to swear. For as when the wrath of God is spoken of, it does not
signify passion but punishment; so neither does God swear as man, but His
word is in very truth expressed to us in place of an oath, confirming by an
unchangeable sentence what He promised.
74. That we, being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, might serve
him without fear.
CHRYS. Having said that a horn of salvation had risen up to us from the
house of David, he shows that through it we are partakers of His glory, and
escape the assaults of the enemy As he says, That being delivered out of the
hands of our enemies, we might serve him without fear. The two things above
mentioned will not easily be found united. For many escape danger, but fail
of a glorious life, as criminals discharged from prison by the king's mercy.
On the other hand, some reap glory, but are compelled for its sake to
encounter dangers, as soldiers in war embracing a life of honor are
oftentimes in the greatest peril. But the horn brings both safety and glory.
Safety indeed as it rescues us from the hands of our enemies, not slightly
but in a wonderful manner, insomuch that we have no more fear, which are his
very words; that being delivered from the hand of our enemies, we might
serve him without fear.
ORIGEN; Or in another way; Frequently are men delivered from the hands of
the enemy, but not without fear. For when fear and peril have gone before,
and a man is then plucked from the enemies' hand, he is delivered indeed,
but not without fear. Therefore said he, that the coming of Christ caused us
to be snatched from the enemies' hands without fear. For we suffered not
from their evil designs, but He suddenly parting us from them, has led us
out to our own allotted resting place.
75. In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.
CHRYS. Zacharias glorifies the Lord, because He has made us to serve Him
with full confidence, not in the flesh as Judah did with the blood of
victims, but in the spirit with good works. And this is what he means by in
holiness and righteousness. For holiness is, a proper observance of our duty
towards God, righteousness of our duty towards man; as, for example, when a
man devoutly performs the Divine commands, and lives honorably among his
fellow men. But he does not say "before men," as of hypocrites desirous to
please men, but "before God," as of those whose praise is not of men, but of
God; and this not once or for a time; but all the days of their life, as it
is said, all our days.
THEOPHYL; For whosoever either departs from God's service before he dies, or
by any uncleanness stains either the strictness or purity of his faith, or
strives to be holy and righteous before men, and not before God, does not
yet serve the Lord in perfect freedom from the hand of his spiritual
enemies, but after the example of the old Samaritans endeavors to serve
equally the Gods of the Gentiles, and his Lord.
76. And you, child, shall be called the Prophet of the Highest: for you
shall go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways.
AMBROSE; In prophesying of the Lord he rightly addresses the prophet,
showing that prophecy also is a gift of the Lord, in order that he might
not, while enumerating public benefits, seen to be so ungrateful as to be
silent of his own. Hence it is laid, And you, child, shall be called the
Prophet of the Highest.
ORIGEN; The reason I suppose that Zacharias hastened to speak to his son,
was because he knew that John was shortly about to be a sojourner in the
wilderness, and that he himself should see him no more.
AMBROSE; Now perhaps some may think it an absurd extravagance of the mind to
address a child of eight days old. But if we keep our eyes fixed upon higher
things, we surely can understand that the son might hear the voice of his
father, who before he was born heard the salutation of Mary. The Prophet
knew that there were certain organs of healing in a Prophet which were
unclosed by the Spirit of God, not by the growth of the body. He possessed
the faculty of understanding who was moved by the feeling of exultation.
THEOPHYL; Unless indeed Zacharias be supposed to have wished as soon as he
was able to speak, to proclaim for their instruction who were present, the
future gifts of his son, which he had long before learnt from the Angel. Let
the Arians however hear that our Lord Christ, whom John went before
prophesying of Him, Zacharias calls "the Most High," as it is said in the
Psalms, A man was as born in her, and the most highest has established her.
CHRYS. But as kings have their companions in arms, who stand nearest to
them, so John, who was the friend of the Bridegroom, went before Him nigh to
His coming. And this is what follows, For you shall go before the face of
the Lord to prepare his ways. For some prophets have preached the mystery of
Christ at a distance, but he preached it nearer the time, that he might both
see Christ, and declare Him to others.
GREG. But all they who by preaching cleanse the hearts of their hearers from
the filth of their sins, prepare a way for the coming of wisdom into the
77. To give knowledge of salvation to his people by the remission of
THEOPHYL. For the manner in which the forerunner prepared the way of the
Lord he explains, adding, To give knowledge of salvation. The Lord Jesus is
salvation, but the knowledge of salvation, i.e. of Christ, was given in
John, who bore witness of Christ.
THEOPHYL; For as if desiring to explain the name of Jesus, i.e. the Savior,
he frequently makes mention of salvation, but lest men should think it was a
temporal salvation which was promised, he adds, for the forgiveness of sins.
THEOPHYL. For in no other way was He known to be God, but as having forgiven
the sins of His people. For or it is of God alone to forgive sins.
THEOPHYL; But the Jews prefer not to receive Christ, but to wait for
Antichrist; for they desire to be delivered not from the dominion of sin
within, but from the yoke of man's bondage without.
78. Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the day-spring from on
high has visited us.
THEOPHYL. Because God has
forgiven our sins not for our works sake, but through His mercy, it is
therefore fitly added, Through the tender mercy of our God.
CHRYS. Which mercy we find not indeed by our own seeking, but God from on
high has appeared to us, as it follows; Whereby (i.e. by His tender mercy)
the day-spring from on high (that is, Christ) has visited us, taking upon
Him our flesh.
GREEK EX. Abiding on high yet present upon the earth, suffering neither
division nor limitation, which thing neither can our understanding embrace,
nor any power of words express.
79. To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of
death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
THEOPHYL; Christ is rightly
called the Day-spring, because He has disclosed to us the rising of the true
light, as it follows; To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the
shadow of death.
CHRYS. By darkness he means not material darkness, but error or and distance
from the faith, or ungodliness. BASIL; For in thick darkness were the
Gentile people sitting, who were sunk deep in idolatry, until the rising
light dispersed the darkness, and spread abroad the brightness of truth.
GREG. But the shadow of death is taken to mean the forgetfulness of the
mind. For as death causes that which it kills to be no longer in life, so
whatever oblivion touches ceases to be in the memory. Hence the Jewish
people who were forgetful of God are said to sit in the shadow of death. The
shadow of death is taken also for the death of the flesh, because as that is
the true death, by which the soul is separated from God, so that is the
shadow of death by which the flesh is separated from the soul. Hence in the
words of the martyrs it is said, the shadow of death has come over us. By
the shadow of death also is represented the following of the devil, who is
called Death, in the Revelations, because as a shadow is formed according to
the quality of the body, so the actions of the wicked are expressed
according to the manner of their following him.
CHRYS. He rightly says sitting, for we were not walking in darkness, but
sitting down as having no hope of deliverance.
THEOPHYL. But not only does the Lord at His rising give light to those who
sit in darkness, but he says something further as it follows, to direct our
feet in the way of peace. The way of peace is the way of righteousness, to
which He has directed our feet, i.e. the affections of our souls.
GREG. For we guide our steps in the way of peace, when we walk in that line
of conduct wherein we depart not from the grace of our Maker.
AMBROSE; Mark also, in how few words Elisabeth prophesies, in how many
Zacharias, and yet each spoke filled with the Holy Spirit; but this
discipline is preserved, that women may study rather to learn what are the
Divine commands than to teach them.
80. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the
deserts till the day of his showing to Israel.
THEOPHYL; The future preacher of repentance, that he might the more boldly
reclaim his hearers from the allurements of the world, passes the first part
of his life in the deserts. Hence it is said, And the child grew.
THEOPHYL. i.e. in bodily stature, and waxed strong in spirit, for together
with his body at the same time his spiritual gift increased, and the
workings of the Spirit were more and more manifested in him.
ORIGEN; Or he increased in spirit, remaining not in the same measure in
which he had begun, but the Spirit was ever growing in him. His will ever
tending to better things, was making its own advances, and his mind ever
contemplating something more divine, while his memory was exercising itself,
that it might lay up more and more things in its treasury, and more firmly
retain them. But he adds, And he waxed strong. For human nature is weak, as
we learn, the flesh is weak. It must therefore be made strong by the Spirit,
for the Spirit is ready. Many wax strong in the flesh, but the wrestler of
God must be strengthened by the Spirit that he may crush the wisdom of the
flesh. He retires therefore to escape the noise of cities, and the thronging
of the people. For it follows, And he was in the deserts. Where the air is
purer, the sky more clear, and God a closer friend, that as the time had not
yet arrived for his baptism and preaching, he might have leisure for
praying, and might hold converse with the angels, calling upon God and
fearing Him, saying, Behold, here am I.
THEOPHYL. Or, he was in the deserts that he might be brought up beyond the
reach of the malice of the multitude, and not be afraid of man. For if he
had been in the world, perchance he had been corrupted by the friendship and
conversation of the world. And secondly, that he who was to preach Christ
might also be esteemed trust-worthy. But he was hid in the desert until it
pleased God to show him forth to the people of Israel, as it follows, till
the day of his showing forth to Israel.
AMBROSE; And rightly is the time noted during which the prophet was in the
womb, in order that the presence of Mary might not be passed over, while
they are silent about the time of his childhood, because being strengthened
in the womb by the presence of the Mother of the Lord, he knew not the
struggles of childhood.