Thoughts from the Early Church

Commentary by Augustine

He distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted.
(Jn: 6:11)

The miracles wrought by our Lord Jesus Christ are truly divine works, which lead the human mind through visible things to a perception of the Godhead.

God is not the kind of being that can be seen with the eyes, and small account is taken of the miracles by which he rules the entire universe and governs all creation because they recur so regularly. Scarcely anyone bothers to consider God’s marvelous, his amazing artistry in every tiny seed.

And so certain works are excluded from the ordinary course of nature, works which God in his mercy has reserved for himself, so as to perform them at appropriate times. People who hold cheap what they see every day are dumbfounded at the sight of extraordinary works even though they are no more wonderful than the others.

Governing the entire universe is a greater miracle than feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread, yet no one marvels at it. People marvel at the feeding of the five thousand not because this miracle is greater, but because it is out of the ordinary.
Who is even now providing nourishment for the whole world if not the God who creates a field of wheat from a few seeds? Christ did what God does.

Just as God multiplies a few seeds into a whole field of wheat, so Christ multiplied the five loaves in his hands. For there was power in the hands of Christ.

Those five loaves were like seeds, not because they were cast on the earth but because they were multiplied by the one who made the earth.

This miracle was presented to our senses in order to stimulate our minds; it was put before our eyes in order to engage our understanding, and so make us marvel at the God we do not see because of his works which we do see.

For then, when we have been raised to the level of faith and purified by faith, we shall long to behold, though not with our eyes, the invisible God whom we recognize through what is visible.

This miracle was performed for the multitude to see; it was recorded for us to hear.

Faith does for us what sight did for them. We behold with the mind what our eyes cannot see; and we are preferred to them because of us it was said: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” 

“When the people saw the sign Jesus had performed they said: Surely this must be a prophet.”

He was in fact the Lord of the prophets, the fulfiller of the prophets, the sanctifier of the prophets; yet he was still a prophet, for Moses had been told: “I will raise up for them a prophet like yourself.”

The Lord is a prophet, and the Lord is the Word of God, and without the Word of God no prophet can prophesy. The Word of God is with the prophets, and the Word of God is a prophet.

People of former times were deemed worthy to have prophets inspired and filled by the Word of God; we have been deemed worthy to have as our prophet the Word of God himself.

Homilies on the Gospel of John 24, 1.6.7: CCL 36, 244.247-48

Augustine (354-430) was born at Thagaste in Africa and received a Christian education, although he was not baptized until 387. In 391 he was ordained priest and in 395 he became coadjutor bishop to Valerius of Hippo, whom he succeeded in 396. Augustine’s theology was formulated in the course of his struggle with three heresies: Manichaeism, Donatism, and Pelagianism. His writings are voluminous and his influence on subsequent theology immense. He molded the thought of the Middle Ages down to the thirteenth century. Yet he was above all a pastor and a great spiritual writer.

 

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson