Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Tetrarch. This word, derived from the Greek, signifies one that rules over the fourth part of a kingdom: as Herod then ruled over Galilee, which was but the fourth part of the kingdom of his father. (Challoner) — St. John had been now imprisoned in the castle of Machærus about a year, at the instigation of Herodias. It is very probable that before this he would have fallen a sacrifice to her vindictive temper, had it not been for the great personal respect in which (on account of the singular holiness of his life) he was held, not only by the people, but by Herod himself. — Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews, gives the following account: This Herod, who was also called Antipas, was the son of Herod the great, by his sixth wife, Cleopatra, of Jerusalem. A general opinion obtained among the Jews, that Herod’s discomfiture by the Parthians, was the effect of divine vengeance upon himself and his army, for the blood of John, surnamed the Baptist. He was a man of immaculate character, whose object was to exhort the Jews to the practice of virtue and piety, point out the necessity of repentance, and hold forth by baptism the import of regeneration to a new life, which he made to consist, not in abstaining from a particular sin, but in an habitual purity of both mind and body. Such was the influence of this great and good man, as appeared from the multitude of his disciples, and the veneration of his life and doctrines, that Herod was apprehensive of a revolt. He therefore sent him bound to prison, where by the malice of Herodias, his brother’s wife, he was afterwards put to death, which inhuman act was shortly followed by the marked vengeance of heaven on its execrable author, as the Jews were firmly convinced. (Book xviii, chap. vii.) — For Herod going to Rome, at the instigation of Herodias, expecting to be made king, was severely reproved by the emperor Caius, (Caligula) who transferred his tetrarchy to Agrippa, in consequence of which, Herod retired with his wife to Spain, and died in exile. (Wars of the Jews. Book ii, chap. viii.) In the 18th book, and 9th chapter, Josephus says, the place of his exile was Lyons, in Gaul; that his goods were also confiscated, and that both himself and Herodias died in great misery.
Ver. 2. Risen from the dead. St. Jerome thinks these words are spoken by Herod ironically; but they are generally supposed to be his real sentiments, the dictates of a guilty conscience. For he respected John, as appears from ver. 9, and was afraid he was returned to avenge his unjust murder. (Jansenius) — Mighty works shew forth themselves in him, or work in him. (Witham)
Ver. 3. Because of Herodias, his brother’s wife. In the common Greek copies we read, his brother Philip’s wife, as it is in the Latin in St. Mark, vi. 17. (Witham) — He is a different person from Philip the tetrarch, mentioned in St. Luke. iii. 1. (Bible de Vence)
Ver. 5. He feared the people. The fear of God corrects us, the fear of man restrains us, but removeth not the desire of evil. Hence it renders such as have been restrained by it for a time, more eager afterwards to indulge their evil propensities. (Glossa.)
Ver. 7. He promised. Wicked promises and wicked oaths are not binding. That promise is wicked, in which the thing promised is wicked, and that oath is not binding, by which impiety is promoted. (St. Isidore)
Ver. 9. Yet because of his oath, which could not bind him, being unjust. (Witham) — See the preposterous religion of this wicked prince. He feels no remorse for his impious conduct to his brother and his own wife; murder, adultery, and incest do not appal him; and yet he is terrified with the thought of violating a vain and wicked oath on no occasion and in no circumstances obligatory. Herod did wrong in taking such a rash oath, but he did worse in fulfilling it. (Jansenius) — David swore to kill Nabal. He swore rashly; but with greater piety, he refused to keep his oath. Perhaps it is because Catholics inculcate this principle, that they have been accused by their adversaries of teaching that faith is not to be kept, and also the doctrine of expediency. (Haydock)
Ver. 11. His head was brought. How wonderful are the ways of the Almighty towards his servants! He permits them in this life to be afflicted, and to be given up to the will of the impious, because he knows this is good for them, and beneficial to their eternal salvation. We behold here St. John, the precursor of the Messias, who is declared by our Saviour to be the most distinguished personage ever born of woman, cast into prison, and, after a year’s confinement, slain at the request of an impious vile adulteress. How can any one be heard to complain of the small trials to which he may be exposed for the faith of Christ, when he beholds so eminent a servant of God suffering so much in the same cause. (Denis the Carthusian)
Ver. 13. Which, when Jesus had heard. Our Saviour did not retire till he was informed of the death of the Baptist, by message; and this he did, not because he was ignorant of it before, but that he might shew to the world, not only by his appearance, but also by his manner of acting, the reality of the mystery of his incarnation. (St. Chrysostom, hom. 1.) — He did not retire through fear, as some may think. Hence the evangelist does not say, he fled, but he retired, to shew us that he did not fear his enemies. (St. Jerome) — The desert was called of Bethsaida, not because it was on the same side of the town, but opposite it. Wherefore those who wished to join Jesus, not able to pass the lake, went round by the northern extremity, which they passed either by means of a bridge or in boats, and made such haste as to arrive at the desert before Jesus Christ, as St. Mark relates; (vi. 33.) whilst others, not equally expeditious, followed after, according to Sts. Matthew, Luke, and John; so that there is no contradiction in the evangelists. (Bible de Vence)
Ver. 15. And when it was evening. To understand this, and other places, we may take notice that the Hebrews counted two evenings: the first began when the sun was declining, about three in the afternoon; and such was the evening here mentioned. The second evening was after sunset, or the night-time, as it is taken here in this chap. ver. 23 (Witham) — That … they may buy. Jesus Christ does not always anticipate the intentions of his supplicants: on this occasion, he waited for the multitude to ask of him to feed them; but they, though their great respect for him, did not dare to request the favour. (St. Chrysostom)
Ver. 16. But Jesus said. It may perhaps be asked here, if then our Lord, as St. John relates, looking upon the multitude, inquired of Philip how so great a multitude could be fed in the desert, how can this be true, which St. Matthew relates, that the disciples first desired Jesus to send away the multitude? But we are to understand, that after these words our Lord looked upon the multitude, and said to Philip what St. John mentions, which St. Matthew and the other evangelists omit. (St. Augustine, de concord. evang.) — They have no need to go: give you them to eat. This he says for our instruction, that when the poor ask us alms, we send them not to other persons and other places, if we are able to relieve them ourselves. (Estius) — This happened when the Passover was near at hand, (being the third since the commencement of our Saviour’s ministry.) St. John does not usually relate what is mentioned by the other evangelists, especially what happened in Galilee. If he does it on this occasion, it is in order to introduce the subject of the heavenly bread, vi. 37.[31.?] He seems also to have had in view to describe the different Passovers during Christ’s preaching. As he, therefore, staid in Galilee during the third Passover, he relates pretty fully his transactions during that time.
Ver. 19. Commanded the multitude to sit down. Lit. to lie down, as it was then the custom of the Jews, and of other nations, at meat. See Mark vi, and John vi. &c. — He blessed. St. Luke (ix. 16.) says, he blessed them. St. John (vi. 11,) says when he had given thanks: some take this blessing and giving thanks, for the same; but blessing them, must be referred to the loaves, and giving thanks, must be to God. The loaves miraculously increased partly in the hands of Christ, when he broke them, partly in the hands of the disciples, when they distributed them about. (Witham) — He blessed and brake. From this let Christians learn to give thanks at their meals, begging of God that his gifts may be sanctified for their use. From this miracle it appears, that it is no impossibility for bodies, even in their natural state, to be in many places at the same time; since, supposing these loaves to have been sufficient for 50 persons, as there were a hundred such companies, the loaves must have been in a hundred different places at one and the same time. It cannot be said, as some pretend, that other loaves were invisibly put into the apostles’ hands, since it is said that they filled 12 baskets of fragments of the five barley loaves; and again, he divided the two fishes among them all. If God could cause bodies, in their natural state, to be in many places at one and the same time, how much more easy would it be to do the same with spiritual bodies, with the properties of which we are entirely unacquainted; so that from this it appears, that the objection that Christ’s body cannot be in many different places in the holy Eucharist, is nugatory. But, who are we, to ask such a question of the Almighty, who know not what is possible, and what is not possible for him to do! (Bp. Hay, Sincere Christian.)
Ver. 20. And they did all eat, and were filled. This miraculous multiplication of the loaves was effected on a Thursday evening — an excellent figure of the blessed Eucharist. On the next morning, Friday, he cured the sick at Genesareth, and arrived at Capharnaum for the first vespers of the sabbath; where, in the Synagogue, he made his promise of the holy Eucharist, which he instituted on a Thursday evening, the eve of his death. See Evangile medite. Tom. iii, p. 425.
Ver. 22. And forthwith Jesus, &c. In this we have the genuine picture of a Christian life. After eating of the miraculous bread, we must like the disciples, prepare ourselves for labour. As bread was given Elias, to enable him to walk 40 days to the mountain of God, Horeb, so the blessed Eucharist, the true heavenly bread, is given us that we may be able to support the hardships to which we are exposed. (Paulus de Palacio.) — We here also see the ardent love of the disciples for their Lord, since they were unwilling to be separated from him even for a moment. Theophylactus also adds that they were unwilling for him to go, ignorant how he could return to them.
Ver. 23. Alone to pray. By our Saviour’s conduct on this occasion, we are taught to leave occasionally the society of men, and to retire into solitude, as a more proper place to commune with heaven in earnest and fervent prayer. The company of mortals is often a great distraction to the fervent Christian. (Denis the Carthusian)
Ver. 25. And in the fourth watch of the night. The Jews, under the Romans, divided the night, or the time from sunset to sunrise, into four watches, each of them lasting for three hours. And the hours were longer or shorter, according as the nights were at different seasons of the year. At the equinox, the first watch was from six in the evening till nine; the second, from nine till twelve; the third, from twelve till three in the morning; and the fourth, from three till six, or till sunrise. (Witham) — They had been tossed by the tempest almost the whole night. (St. Jerome)
Ver. 28. And Peter … said. Everywhere Peter appears full of faith and love. He now with his usual ardour believes he can do at the command of his Master, what by nature he is unable to perform. He desires to be with his Lord, and cannot bear delay; and, in reward of his eagerness, Christ works a miracle in his favour. (Jansenius) — Lord, if it be thou. Peter, by saying if, did not doubt in faith, as Calvin pretends; nor was he guilty of any arrogance, as others conjecture; for our Lord granted his request. Peter knew that his request would be pleasing to Christ, who had shewn himself so very considerate for his apostles. Peter had also worked miracles himself in the name of Christ, and observing that he wished to pass by, Peter hastened to be with him, to embrace him, and serve him. (Tirinus)
Ver. 29. Let those who argue that the body of our Saviour was not a real but an aerial body, or phantom, because he walked upon the waters, explain to us how St. Peter, whom they will not deny to be a true man, walked on the waters. (St. Jerome)
Ver. 30. He was afraid. As long as Peter had his eye and faith fixed on Christ, the liquid element yielded not to his steps; but the moment he turns his thoughts on himself, his own weakness, and the violence of the winds and waves, he begins to lose confidence, and on that account to sink. Again his faith saves him; he calls upon the Lord, who stretcheth forth his arm, and takes hold of him. (Jansenius) — By his confidence in God, we learn what we can do by the divine assistance; and by his fear, what we are of ourselves: also, that no one receives from God the strength he stands in need of, but he who feels that of himself he can do nothing. (St. Augustine, serm. 76.)
Ver. 31. And immediately Jesus. Five miracles are here wrought: 1. Christ walks upon the water; 2. enables Peter to do the same; 3. when Peter begins to sink, preserves him; 4. suddenly stills the tempest; 5. the ship is immediately in port, which may be mystically explained thus: a Christian is with Jesus Christ, to tread under foot the whole world, with the whirlpools of earthly distractions, whilst God calms all tempestuous passions, temptations, and persecutions, and leads him with faithful and continued support to the harbour of eternal rest and life. (Tirinus)
Ver. 32. And when they were come up into the boat. St. Mark (vi. 51.) tells us, Christ went up with St. Peter into the boat. Nor is this denied by St. John (vi. 21.) when he says, They were willing therefore to take him into the boat: and presently the boat was at the land. They not only would, but did also take him into the boat, which was presently at the shore. (Witham)
Ver. 33. It may be doubted, whether the mystery of the blessed Trinity had been at this time explicitly revealed to the Jews. Most probably not. By “thou art the Son of God,” they only mean to bear testimony of his sanctity, and shewed themselves willing to acknowledge him for their Messias, as formerly prophets and holy men were styled, sons of God. Or we may suppose that the Almighty enlightened their understanding by an interior ray of his light, to know a truth which was obscure to others, and therefore they come and adore him. (Jansenius)
Ver. 36. Hence the veneration Catholics pay to holy relics is vindicated. Not only Christ’s words, but his very garments had a virtue and power communicated to them. (Bristow)
 Ver. 2. Operantur in eo, energousin en anto; which shews that operantur is taken actively, not passively, as in some places.
 Ver. 15. Vespere facto, opsias genomenes. See Matthew xxvi. 20.
 Ver. 19. Benedixit. St. Luke, (ix. 16.) benedixit illis, eulogese autous, which is not the same as eucharistein.
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Herod puts John to death. Christ feeds five thousand in the desert. He walks upon the sea, and heals all the diseased with the touch of his garment.
1 At *the time Herod, the tetrarch, heard of the fame of Jesus:
2 And he said to his servants: This is John the Baptist: he is risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works shew forth themselves in him.
3 *For Herod had apprehended John, and bound him, and put him in prison, because of Herodias, his brother’s wife.
4 For John said to him: It is not lawful for thee to have her.
5 And wishing to put him to death, he feared the people: *because they esteemed him as a prophet.
6 But on Herod’s birth-day, the daughter of Herodias danced before them: and pleased Herod.
7 Whereupon he promised, with an oath, to give her whatsoever she would ask of him.
8 But she being instructed before by her mother, said: Give me here in a dish the head of John the Baptist.
9 And the king was struck sad: yet because of his oath, and for them that sat with him at table, he commanded it to be given.
10 And he sent and beheaded John in the prison.
11 And his head was brought in a dish: and it was given to the damsel, and she brought it to her mother.
12 And his disciples came and took the body, and buried it, and came and told Jesus.
13 *Which, when Jesus had heard, he retired from thence in a boat into a desert place apart: and the multitudes having heard of it, followed him on foot out of the cities.
14 And he coming forth saw a great multitude, and had compassion on them, and healed their sick.
15 And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying: This is a desert place, and the hour is now past: send away the multitudes, that going into the towns, they may buy themselves victuals.
16 But Jesus said to them: They have no need to go: give you them to eat.
17 They answered him: *We have here but five loaves and two fishes.
18 He said to them: Bring them hither to me.
19 And when he had commanded the multitudes to sit down upon the grass, he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitudes.
20 And they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up what remained, twelve baskets full of fragments.
21 And the number of them that had eaten, was five thousand men, besides women and children.
22 *And forthwith Jesus obliged his disciples to get up into the boat, and to go before him over the water, while he sent the multitude away.
23 And having dismissed the multitude, *he went into a mountain alone to pray. And when the evening was come he was there alone.
24 But the boat in the midst of the sea was tossed with the waves: for the wind was contrary.
25 And in the fourth watch of the night, he came to them walking upon the sea.
26 And they seeing him walking on the sea, were troubled, saying: It is an apparition. And they cried out for fear.
27 And immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying: Be of good heart: It is I, be not afraid.
28 And Peter making answer, said: Lord, if it be thou, bid me come to thee upon the waters.
29 And he said: Come. And Peter, going down out of the boat, walked upon the water to come to Jesus.
30 But seeing the wind strong he was afraid: and when he began to sink, he cried out, saying: Lord, save me.
31 And immediately Jesus stretching forth his hand, took hold of him, and said to him: O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?
32 And when they were come up into the boat, the wind ceased.
33 Then they that were in the boat came and worshipped him saying: Thou art truly the Son of God.
34 *And having passed over, they came into the country of Genesar.
35 And when the men of that place had knowledge of him, they sent out into all that country, and brought to him all that were diseased.
36 And they besought him that they might touch but the hem of his garment. And as many as touched, were made whole.
1: about the year A.D. 32.; Mark vi. 14. 30.; Luke ix. 7.
3: Mark vi. 17.; Luke iii. 19.
5: Matthew xxi. 26.
13: Mark vi. 31.; Luke ix. 10.; John vi. 3.
17: John vi. 9.
22: Mark vi. 45.
23: John vi. 15.; Mark vi. 46.
34: Mark vi. 53.