1. At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus.
2. And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.
3. For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias sake, his brother Philips wife.
4. For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her.
5. And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet.
GLOSS. (non occ.) THE. Evangelist had above shewn the Pharisees speaking falsely against Christs miracles, and just now His fellow-citizens wondering, yet despising Him; he now relates what opinion Herod had formed concerning Christ on hearing of His miracles, and says, At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the fame of Jesus.
CHRYSOSTOM. It is not without reason that the Evangelist here specifies the time, but that you may understand the pride and carelessness of the tyrant; inasmuch as he had not at the first made himself acquainted with the things concerning Christ, but now only after long time. Thus they, who in authority are fenced about with much pomp, learn these things slowly, because they do not much regard them.
AUGUSTINE. (De Cons. Ev. ii. 43.) Matthew says, At that time, not, On that day, or, In that same hour; for Mark relates the same circumstances, but not in the same order. He places this after the mission of the disciples to preach, though not implying that it necessarily follows there; any more than Luke, who follows the same order as Mark.
CHRYSOSTOM. Observe how great a thing is virtue; Herod fears John even after he is dead, and philosophizes concerning the resurrection; as it follows; And he saith to his servants, This is John the Baptist, he is risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works are wrought in him.
RABANUS. From this place we may learn how great the jealousy of the Jews was; that John could have risen from the dead, Herod, an alien-born, here declares, without any witness that he had risen: concerning Christ, whom the Prophets had foretold, the Jews preferred to believe, that He had not risen, but had been carried away by stealth. This intimates that the Gentile heart is more disposed to belief than that of the Jews.
JEROME. One of the Ecclesiastical interpreters asks what caused Herod to think that John was risen from the dead; as though we had to account for the errors of an alien, or as though the heresy of metempsychosis was at all supported by this placea heresy which teaches that souls pass through various bodies after a long period of yearsfor the Lord was thirty years old when John was beheaded.
RABANUS. All men have well thought concerning the power of the resurrection, that the saints shall have greater power after they have risen from the dead, than they had while they were yet weighed down with the infirmity of the flesh; wherefore Herod says, Therefore mighty works are wrought in him.
AUGUSTINE. (ubi sup.) Lukes words are, John have I beheaded: who is he of whom I hear such things? (Luke 9:9.) As Luke has thus represented Herod as in doubt, we must understand rather that he was afterwards convinced of that which was commonly saidor we must take what he here says to his servants as expressing a doubtfor they admit of either of these acceptations.
REMIGIUS. Perhaps some one may ask how it can be here said, At that time Herod heard, seeing that we have long before read that Herod was dead, and that on that the Lord returned out of Egypt. This question is answered, if we remember that there were two Herods. On the death of the first Herod, his son Archelaus succeeded him, and after ten years was sent into exile to Vienne in Gaul. Then Cæsar Augustus gave command that the kingdom should be divided into tetrarchies, and gave three parts to the sons of Herod. This Herod then who beheaded John is the son of that greater Herod under whom the Lord was born; and this is confirmed by the Evangelist adding the tetrarch.
GLOSS. (ord.) Having mentioned this supposition of Johns resurrection, because he had never yet spoken of his death, he now returns, and narrates how it came to pass.
CHRYSOSTOM. And this relation is not set before us as a principal matter, because the Evangelists only object was to tell us concerning Christ, and nothing beyond, unless so far as it furthered this object. He says then, For Herod had seized John, and bound him.
AUGUSTINE. (De Cons. Ev. ii. 44.) Luke does not give this in the same order, but where he is speaking of the Lords baptism, so that he took beforehand an event which happened long afterwards. For after that saying of Johns concerning the Lord, that His fan is in His hand, he straightway adds this, which, as we may gather from Johns Gospel, did not follow immediately. For he relates that after Jesus was baptized, He went into Galilee, and thence returned into Judæa, and baptized there near to the Jordan before John was cast into prison. But neither Matthew nor Mark have placed Johns imprisonment in that order in which it appears from their own writings that it took place; for they also say that when John was delivered up, the Lord went into Galilee, and after many things there done, then by occasion of the fame of Christ reaching Herod they relate what took place in the imprisonment and beheading of John. The cause for which he had been cast into prison he shews when he says, On account of Herodias his brothers wife. For John had said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her.
JEROME. The old history tells us, that Philip the son of Herod the greater, the brother of this Herod, had taken to wife Herodias daughter of Aretas, king of the Arabs; and that he, the father-in-law, having afterwards cause of quarrel with his son-in-law, took away his daughter, and to grieve her husband gave her in marriage to his enemy Herod. John the Baptist therefore, who came in the spirit and power of Elias, with the same authority that he had exerted over Ahab and Jezebel, rebuked Herod and Herodias, because that they had entered into unlawful wedlock; it being unlawful while the own brother yet lives to take his wife. He preferred to endanger himself with the King, than to be forgetful of the commandments of God in commending himself to him.
CHRYSOSTOM. Yet he speaks not to the woman but to the husband, as he was the chief person.
GLOSS. (ord.) And perhaps he observed the Jewish Law, according to which John forbade him this adultery. And desiring to kill him, he feared the people.
JEROME. He feared a disturbance among the people for Johns sake, for he knew that multitudes had been baptized by him in Jordan; but he was overcome by love of his wife, which had already made him neglect the commands of. God.
GLOSS. (ord.) The fear of God amends us, the fear of man torments us, but alters not our will; it rather renders us more impatient to sin as it has held us back for a time from our indulgence.
6. But when Herods birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod.
7. Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask.
8. And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptists head in a charger.
9. And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oaths sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her.
10. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.
11. And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother.
12. And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus.
GLOSS. (non occ.) The Evangelist having related Johns imprisonment, proceeds to his putting to death, saying, But on Herods birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced in the midst.
JEROME. We find no others keeping their birthday besides Herod and Pharaoh, that they who were alike in their wickedness might be alike in their festivities.
REMIGIUS. It should be known that it is customary not for rich only but for poor mothers also, to educate their daughters so chastely, that they are scarce so much as seen by strangers. But this unchaste woman had so brought up her daughter after the same manner, that she had taught her not chastity but dancing. Nor is Herod to be less blamed who forgot that his was a royal palace, but this woman made it a theatre; And it pleased Herod, so that he swore with an oath that he would give her whatsoever she should ask of him.
JEROME. I do not excuse Herod that he committed this murder against his will by reason of his oath, for perhaps he took the oath for the very purpose of bringing about the murder. But if he says that he did it for his oaths sake, had she asked the death of her mother, or her father, would he have granted it or not? What then he would have refused in his own person, he ought to have rejected in that of the Prophet.
ISIDORE. (Lib. Syn. ii. 10.) In evil promises then break faith. That promise is impious which must be kept by crime; that oath is not to be observed by which we have unwittingly pledged ourselves to evil. It follows, And she being before instructed of her mother said, Give me here John Baptists head in a charger.
JEROME. For Herodias, fearing that Herod might some time recover his senses, and be reconciled to his brother, and dissolve their unlawful union by a divorce, instructs her daughter to ask at once at the banquet the head of John, a reward of blood worthy of the deed of the dancing.
CHRYSOSTOM. Here is a twofold accusation against the damsel, that she danced, and that she chose to ask an execution as her reward. Observe how Herod is at once cruel and yielding; he obliges himself by an oath, and leaves her free to choose her request. Yet when he knew what evil was resulting from her request, he was grieved, And the king was sorry, for virtue gains praise and admiration even among the bad.
JEROME. Otherwise; It is the manner of Scripture to speak of events as they were commonly viewed at the time by all. So Joseph is called by Mary herself the father of Jesus; so here Herod is said to be sorry, because the guests believed that he was so. This dissembler of his own inclinations, this contriver of a murder displayed sorrow in his face, when he had joy in his mind. For his oaths sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given. He excuses his crime by his oath, that his wickedness might be done under a pretence of piety. That he adds, and them that sat at meat with him, he would have them all sharers in his crime, that a bloody dish might be brought in in a luxurious feast.
CHRYSOSTOM. If he was afraid to have so many witnesses of his perjury, how much more ought he to have feared so many witnesses of a murder?
REMIGIUS. Here is a less sin done for the sake of another greater; he would not extinguish his lustful desires, and therefore he betakes him to luxurious living; he would not put any restraint on his luxury, and thus he passes to the guilt of murder; for, He sent and beheaded John in prison, and his head was brought in a charger.
JEROME. (Liv. xxxix. 43.) We read in Roman history, that Flaminius, a Roman general, sitting at supper with his mistress, on her saying that she had never seen a man beheaded, gave permission that a man under sentence for a capital crime should be brought in and beheaded during the entertainment. For this he was expelled the senate by the censors, because he had mingled feasting with blood, and had employed death, though of a criminal, for the amusement of another, causing murder and enjoyment to be joined together. How much more wicked Herod, and Herodias, and the damsel who danced; she asked as her bloody reward the head of a Prophet, that she might have in her power the tongue that reproved the unlawful nuptials.
GREGORY. (Mor. iii. 7.) But not without most deep wonder do I consider, that he who in his mothers womb was filled with the spirit of prophecy, than whom there arose not a greater among them that are born of women, is cast into prison by wicked men, and is beheaded because of the dancing of a girl, and that a man of such severe life dies for the sport of shameful men. Are we to think that there was any thing in his life which this so shameful death should wipe away? God thus oppresses His people in the least things, because He sees how He may reward them in the highest things. And hence may be gathered what they will suffer whom He casts away, if He thus tortures those He loves.
GREGORY. (Mor. xxix. 7.) And John is not sought out to suffer concerning the confession of Christ, but for the truth of righteousness. But because Christ is truth, he goes to death for Christ in going for truth. It follows, And his disciples came, and took up his body, and buried it.
JEROME. By which we may understand both the disciples of John himself, and of the Saviour.
RABANUS. (Antiq. xviii. 5 Machærus.) Josephus relates, that John was sent bound to the castle of Mecheron, and there beheaded; but ecclesiastical history relates that he was buried in Sebastia, a town of Palestine, which was formerly called Samaria.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. xlix.) Observe how Johns disciples are henceforth more attached to Jesus; they it is who told Him what was done concerning John; And they came and told Jesus. For leaving all they take refuge with Him, and so by degrees after their calamity, and the answer given by Christ, they are set right.
HILARY. Mystically, John represents the Law; for the Law preached Christ, and John came of the Law, preaching Christ out of the Law. Herod is the Prince of the people, and the Prince of the people bears the name and the cause of the whole body put under him. John then warned Herod that he should not take to him his brothers wife. For there are and there were two people, of the circumcision, and of the Gentiles; and these are brethren, children of the same parent of the human race, but the Law warned Israel that he should not take to him the works of the Gentiles and unbelief which was united to them as by the bond of conjugal love. On the birthday, that is amidst the enjoyments of the things of the body, the daughter of Herodias danced; for pleasure, as it were springing from unbelief, was carried in its alluring course throughout the whole of Israel, and the nation bound itself thereto as by an oath, for for sin and worldly pleasures the Israelites sold the gifts of eternal life. She (Pleasure), at the suggestion of her mother Unbelief, begged that there should be given her the head of John, that is, the glory of the Law; but the people knowing the good that was in the Law, yielded these terms to pleasure, not without sorrow for its own danger, conscious that it ought not to have given up so great glory of its teachers. But forced by its sins, as by the force of an oath, as well as overcome by the fear, and corrupted by the example of the neighbouring princes, it sorrowfully yields to the blandishments of pleasure. So among the other gratifications of a debauched people the head of John is brought in in a dish, that is by the loss of the Law, the pleasures of the body, and worldly luxury is increased. It is carried by the damsel to her mother; thus depraved Israel offered up the glory of the Law to pleasure and unbelief. The times of the Law being expired, and buried with John, his disciples declare what is done to the Lord, coming, that is, to the Gospels from the Law.
RABANUS. Otherwise; Even at this day we see that in the head of the Prophet John the Jews have lost Christ, who is the head of the Prophets.
JEROME. And the Prophet has lost among them both tongue and voice.
REMIGIUS. Otherwise; The beheading of John marks the increase of that fame which Christ has among the people, as the exaltation of the Lord upon the cross marks the progress of the faith; whence John had said, He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30.)
Catena Aurea Matthew 14