Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. By the whole world, is understood the Roman empire. (Witham) — This decree was promulgated in the 752nd year of Rome, in the 3970th year of the world, and the 42nd year of the reign of Augustus, when there was universal peace, and the temple of Janus remained shut for 12 years. (Jansenius, concord. Evan.) — It was the custom among the Jews to be numbered according to their tribes and families. Hence arose the necessity of the journey of the Holy Family to Nazareth [to Bethlehem?]. This enrolment probably included the number, as well as the property of each family, that the taxes might be proportioned. (Jansenius, concord. Evan.)
Ver. 2. By Cyrinus, or Publius Sucp. Quirinus. (Witham) — This was the first census made by Quirinus, governor of Syria: nine years after the birth of Christ, this same Quirinus was charged to make a second, when Judea was reduced to a Roman province, by the deposition and exile of Archelaus.
Ver. 3. Into his own city, i.e. the city of every one’s family. Now Joseph and Mary, being both of the family of David, were obliged to go to Bethlehem, the city of David, where by Providence, according to the predictions of the prophets, the Messias was to be born. (Witham) — This decree took place by a special providence of the Almighty, that every one might be compelled to go to his own country; and that thereby the Saviour of Israel might more easily escape the snares of the treacherous Herod. (Ven. Bede) — This circumstance, moreover, was a public testimony, to be kept in the archives of the country, of the birth and descent of the Messias. Augustus only meant to enumerate his subjects, but among them was numbered his God.
Ver. 4. The evangelist here mentions the city of David, to remind us how exactly that was fulfilled, which God promised to David, that an everlasting king should be born of him: and the reason why the inspired writer was content to mention the relationship between Joseph and David, omitting that of the Blessed Virgin and the royal prophet, was, because in the law it was commanded that persons of the same family should intermarry; hence it is added in the subsequent verse, with Mary, his espoused wife. (St. Irenæus, hær. lib. iii. chap. 11.)
Ver. 7. In a manger within a stable, or place where beasts were sheltered. And it is the common opinion that an ox and an ass were there at that time. See Baronius, Tillemont, &c. (Witham) — O wonderful mystery! O astonishing condescension of a God-man! From his birth he takes upon himself poverty. Had such been his pleasure, Christ might, at his birth, have shaken the heavens by his power, and terrified all nature by his majesty. But these were not the attendants of his coming; for he came not to destroy, but to save; not to display riches, but to teach us a contempt of human grandeur. He therefore condescended not only to become man, but even the vilest of men. (Metaphrastes)
Ver. 11. Because the light of life is risen to us, dwelling in the region of the shadow of death. (Ven. Bede)
Ver. 12. On the eastern side of the town of Bethlehem, say St. Justin, St. Jerome, &c. there was a cave cut in the side of a rock, in which was a manger used by the people of those environs; so that these shepherds easily understood the angel, who told them they should find him laid in a manger. Sts. Jerome, Gregory of Nazianzus, Cyril, say that they found the child between an ox and an ass, according to the version of the Septuagint. Habacuc iii. 2.: You shall find him laid between two beasts. In the place where this crib was, St. Helen built a magnificent church in honour of the blessed Virgin Mary. Ven. Bede says that she built another in honour of the tree shepherds; whence St. Bernard concludes, that there were only three shepherds that came to adore the divine infant in the manger. (Tirinus) — It might be necessary to give them notice of this humble appearance of the Messias, to encourage them to go and pay him their homage. (Barradius)
Ver. 14. And on earth, peace to men of good will. I had translated, peace to men of his good will, looking upon the sense to be, that a peace and reconciliation were offered, and given to men from the good will and mercy of God. The ordinary Greek copies altogether favour this exposition. And Bellarmine (lib. ii, de Verb. D. chap. 11.) is so convinced of this sense, that he brings it for an instance of one of those places, in which the true sense of the Latin is to be found by the Greek text; which is many times true: but Bellarmine might not take notice, that several of the best Greek manuscripts are conformable to the Latin Vulgate, and have peace to men of good will; as it is also expounded by divers of the ancient Fathers, that peace is offered to men of good will, to those who by the grace of God are disposed to believe and obey the Gospel-doctrine. And upon this, having advised with others, I did not think fit to change the former Rheimish translation. (Witham) — The reason why the will is designated in preference to any other power of the soul, is, because the will moves the rest; consequently the goodness or badness of an action depends chiefly on the will. By this also the angels wished to shew, that the peace which Christ came to bring into the world, was the internal peace of our souls, of which the external peace that subsisted under Augustus, was a figure. (Nicholas of Lyra) — Peace is made on earth, since human nature, before an enemy of God, is now reconciled and united to him by his incarnation. (Theophylactus) — In this hymn of the angels there is a remarkable difference observable in some of the Greek and Latin copies. The latter have it according to this text, men of good will; the former, good will among men, or to men. Eudokia, signifies the gratuitous benevolence of God towards man. So that this sentence seems divided into three parts: glory to God, peace on earth, and good will to men. (Jansenius, conc. Evang.) — The birth of Christ giveth not peace of mind, or salvation, but to such as are of good will, because he worketh not our good against our wills, but with the concurrence of our will. (St. Augustine, quæst. ad Simplic. lib. 1. q. 2. t. 4.)
Ver. 15. The word which always was, let us see how it is made for us; that which we could not see, when it was the word, let us see because it is made flesh. (Ven. Bede) — See how particularly the Scripture weighs the meaning of every word. The shepherds hastened to see the word, for when the flesh of the Lord is seen, the word is seen, which is the Son. (St. Ambrose)
Ver. 17. They saw this with the eyes of their body, but with their internal eyes they discovered other wonders, viz. that he, who lay there in such great poverty, was their Messias, their great King, and the Son of God. (Barradius)
Ver. 19. Mary kept all these things, and compared what was accomplished in her, concerning the Lord, with what had been written of him by the prophets. (Ven. Bede) — She considered in her heart the arguments of faith. (St. Ambrose)
Ver. 21. Should be circumcised; which might be done not only in the temple, or in a synagogue, but in any house. (Witham) — Many reasons may be alleged why our Saviour submitted to the painful and humbling knife of circumcision: 1. to manifest to the whole world the reality of his human nature, and the difference between his divinity and humanity; 2. to shew he approved of circumcision, which he had instituted; 3. to prove that he was of the seed of Abraham; 4. to teach us humility and obedience, by observing a law to which he was not bound; 5. that by receiving the burthen of the law, he might free those that were under the law, (Galatians iii.); and lastly, that the Jews might have no excuse for rejecting him, because he was uncircumcised. (St. Epiphanius and Nicholas of Lyra)
Ver. 22. Of her purification. The blessed Virgin mother stood not in need of this ceremony, to which she submitted herself, as her Son did to that of circumcision. (Witham) — Whence St. Lawrence Justinian in his sermon on the purification, very well observes: grace raised the Virgin above the law; humility subjected her to it. Jesus Christ, in subjecting himself to the law of Moses, has left an example to princes and magistrates, to obey their own laws; for then they may expect them to be observed by others, when themselves shew respect to them. (Barradius.)
Ver. 23. Every male opening the womb. This translation is more conformable to the doctrine of the Fathers, that Christ was born without opening the womb; which Ven. Bede calls the doctrine of the Catholic Church. (Witham) — See Exodus xiii. 2. and Numbers viii. 16.
Ver. 24. This was the offering of the poorer classes.
Ver. 25. A man … named Simeon, whom some conjecture to have been one of the Jewish priests. — Waiting for the consolation of Israel, for the happy coming of the Messias. — And the Holy Ghost was in him, by the spirit of grace and of prophecy. (Witham) — The consolation here expected by Holy Simeon, was the coming of the Messias, and the consequent redemption of mankind from sin and the devil; not a redemption only, as some carnal Jews thought, from the power of temporal enemies. These supposed the Messias was to come in order to raise them in power above all nations, to whom before his coming they had been subject. (St. Gregory of Nyssa in Dionysius) — Many have pretended that Simeon was a priest; the best and oldest interpreters say he was a laic. (Bible de Vence)
Ver. 26. And he had received an answer, … that he should not see death; i.e. die. (Witham)
Ver. 27. And he came by the spirit, or moved by the holy Spirit. (Witham)
Ver. 30. Thy salvation; i.e. the Saviour, whom thou hast sent. (Witham)
Ver. 31. Before the face of all people; not of Israel only, but also as a light to be revealed to the Gentiles, the spiritual children of Abraham: to whom also the promises were made. (Witham)
Ver. 33. In the Greek, Joseph and the mother of Jesus. (Bible de Vence)
Ver. 34. Is set for the ruin. Christ came for the redemption and salvation of all men: but Simeon prophesies what would happen in consequence of the wilful blindness and obstinacy of many. (Witham) — Not that God sent his Son for the fall of any man; but that many, by their own perverseness, in wilfully refusing to receive and obey him, would take occasion of falling. (Challoner) — And for a sign which shall be contradicted, to signify that Christ, and his doctrine, should be as it were a mark, or butt, against whom the Jews should discharge the arrows and darts of their malice. (Witham) — Hence St. Paul, (2 Corinthians ii. 16.) We are to one the odour of death unto death, but to the other the odour of life unto life.
Ver. 35. And thy own soul a sword shall pierce. These words, which figuratively express the grief of the blessed Virgin mother, when present at the death of her Son, are to be taken by way of a parenthesis. — That out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed, and these are to be joined with what went before; to wit, that child shall be a sign of contradiction, set unto the fall and resurrection of many, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed and disclosed; when some shall believe, and others remain in their obstinacy. (Witham) — Ven. Bede, and many others, understand this of the sharp sorrow, which wounded the soul of the blessed Virgin Mary, at the time of Christ’s passion. (Barradius) — Carthusianus [Denis the Carthusian?] and Jansenius explain this passage as follows: Behold, this child is placed for a sign that shall be contradicted, which as a sword of most poignant grief will pierce thy soul, O Virgin! But Christ shall be contradicted, that the thoughts of the Jews may be revealed from many hearts, and it may appear who among them are good, and who are wicked and hypocrites. (Barradius)
Ver. 36. Anna, a prophetess. She was another witness that Jesus was the Messias, venerable for age, and more for her piety. — And had lived with her husband seven years from her virginity; i.e. had been seven years a wife: and from the death of her husband, had remained always a widow: now 84 years of age: who departed not from the temple, but was constantly there at the times of prayer, with fastings and prayers, serving God day and night. (Witham)
Ver. 40. The child grew, and waxed strong, full of wisdom, and (ver. 52) increased in wisdom and age. The Arians from this, pretend to prove that Christ was not truly God, who cannot advance or increase in wisdom. The true meaning is, that Jesus, as he advanced in age as man, gave greater marks of his divine wisdom, and discovered himself full of knowledge, wisdom, &c. (Witham)
Ver. 41. How can we account for what is related in this verse, that his parents went up every year to Jerusalem, during the childhood of Jesus, when, as we are taught in other parts, his parents did not dare to fix their abode in Jerusalem, for fear of Archelaus: but this, says St. Augustine, will not be very difficult to answer; for, it might be easier for them to ascend up to Jerusalem on these particular occasions, without being noticed in so numerous a crowd, and privately return; though it might not be prudent for them to fix their habitation there, lest they might be too much noticed: and, as no one has yet informed us how long Archelaus continued to reign, what St. Luke relates might have taken place after the death of that prince. (St. Augustine)
Ver. 44. It may be asked how the blessed Virgin and St. Joseph could possibly have come so far without missing him; but we must take notice, that when the people went up to the temple from remote parts of Judea, the men went in one company, and the women in a separate company, whilst the children went in either company indifferently: so that St. Joseph imagined that he was with Mary, his mother, whilst she imagined he was with St. Joseph. (Nicholas of Lyra)
Ver. 49. I must be about the things that are my Father’s? By these words he shewed, that not St. Joseph, but only God, was his father. (Witham)
Ver. 50. They understood not, &c. That is, knew not when, or by what means, Christ designed to make himself known to the world. (Witham)
Ver. 51. Was subject to them. Astonishing humility! which the Son of God was pleased to teach by his example, as also obedience to parents. (Witham) — The evangelist relates nothing of our Saviour from the age of twelve till the age of thirty, except that he was subject to St. Joseph and the blessed Virgin. The divine Spirit shewing by this, that nothing is so great and amiable in Christians, as ready obedience to the directions of their superiors. (Barradius) — All children are hereby taught what subjection and obedience is due from them to their parents.
Ver. 52. Not that he was wiser at any future period of his life, than he was at the moment of his conception, but this is said, because he chose to manifest increasing signs of wisdom as he increased in years. — In the same manner also he increased in grace, by displaying, as he advanced in age, the gifts of grace with which he was endowed; and by this excited men to the praise of God, from the consideration of favours God had bestowed upon him; and thus he conduced to the honour of God, and the salvation of men. (St. Gregory) — The sun, always equally brilliant in itself, is said to increase in splendour, till it has reached its meridian brilliancy.
 Ver. 14. Pax hominibus bonæ voluntatis. The Greek copies, eirene, en anthropois eudokia, hominibus bona voluntas; but the author of the Latin Vulgate must have read, anthropois eudokias, which reading is found in some ancient Greek manuscripts in the Alexandrian, that called of Cambridge, and others. The common reading of the Fathers is, bonæ voluntatis, and not bona voluntas; but then some expounded it thus: pas sit hominibus, qui habent bonam voluntatem, scilecet per Dei gratiam. Others thus: sit pax bonæ voluntatis divinæ hominibus; which sense and construction Lucas Brugensis prefers. And what confirms this exposition is, that eudokia, and eudokein, are commonly applied when the will of God is signified; yet sometimes also, eudokia signifies the good will of men; as Philippians i. 15; Romans x. 1. &c.
 Ver. 23. Omne masculinum adaperiens vulvam, pan arsen dianoigon metran, on which words Ven. Bede says: quod ait Lucas, adaperiens vulvam, consuetæ nativitatis more loquitur … sed juxta fidem Catholicam exiit clauso Virginis utero, &c.
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The birth of Christ: his presentation in the temple: Simeon’s prophecy. Christ, at twelve years of age, is found amongst the doctors.
1 And it came to pass, that in those days there went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled.
2 This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria.
3 And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of *David, which is called **Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David,
5 To be enrolled with Mary, his espoused wife, who was with child.
6 And it came to pass that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered.
7 And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him up in swaddling-clothes, and laid him in a manger: because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds, watching, and keeping the night-watches over their flock.
9 And behold an Angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them, and they feared with a great fear.
10 And the Angel said to them: Fear not: for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people:
11 For this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ, the Lord, in the city of David.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and laid in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying:
14 Glory to God in the highest: and on earth, peace to men of good will.
15 And it came to pass that after the Angels departed from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another: Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that is come to pass, which the Lord hath shewed to us.
16 And they came with haste: and they found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in a manger.
17 And seeing, they understood of the word that had been spoken to them concerning this child.
18 And all that heard wondered: and at those things that were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.
20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God, for all the things they had heard, and seen, as it was told unto them.
21 *And after eight days were accomplished, that the child should be circumcised: his name was called *Jesus, which was called by the Angel, before he was conceived in the womb.
22 And after the days of her purification, *according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord,
23 As it is written in the law of the Lord: *That every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.
24 And to offer a sacrifice, according as it is *written in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons.
25 And behold there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Ghost was in him.
26 And he had received an answer from the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
27 And he came by the spirit into the temple. And when his parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law;
28 He also took him into his arms, and blessed God, and said:
29 Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word, in peace:
30 Because my eyes have seen thy salvation,
31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people:
32 A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people, Israel.
33 And his father and mother were wondering at these things which were spoken concerning him.
34 And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary, his mother: *Behold, this child is set for the ruin, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted.
35 And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed.
36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was far advanced in years, and had lived with her husband seven years from her virginity.
37 And she was a widow until fourscore and four years: who departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving night and day.
38 Now she at the same hour coming in, gave praise to the Lord: and spoke of him to all that looked for the redemption of Israel.
39 And after they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.
40 And the child grew and waxed strong, full of wisdom, and the grace of God was in him.
41 And his parents went every year to Jerusalem, *at the solemn day of the Pasch.
42 And when he was twelve years *old, they went up to Jerusalem, according to the custom of the feast.
43 And after they had fulfilled the days, when they returned, the child, Jesus, remained in Jerusalem, and his parents knew it not.
44 And thinking that he was in the company, they came a day’s journey, and sought him among their kinsfolks and acquaintance.
45 And not finding him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking him.
46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions.
47 And all, that heard him, were astonished at his wisdom, and his answers.
48 And seeing him, they wondered. And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee, sorrowing.
49 And he said to them: How is it that you sought me? did you not know, that I must be about the things that are my Father’s?
50 And they understood not the word that he spoke unto them.
51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth: and was subject to them. And his mother kept all these words in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men.
4: 1 Kings xx. 6. — ** Micheas v. 2.; Matthew ii. 6.
21: Genesis xvii. 12.; Leviticus xii. 3. — ** Matthew i. 21.; Luke i. 31.
22. Leviticus xii. 6.
23: Exodus xiii. 2.; Numbers viii. 16.
24: Leviticus xii. 8.
34. Isaias viii. 14.; Romans ix. 33.; 1 Peter ii. 7.
41: Exodus xxiii. 15. and xxxiv. 18.; Deuteronomy xvi. 1.
42: about the year A.D. 12.; A.D. 8, according to the Vulgate.