Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Augustine, Harmony of the Evangelists.1.3-5: Gospels and Christology

Notes and commentary:

1.3: Of the fact that Matthew, together with Mark, had especially in view the kingly character of Christ, whereas Luke was dealing with the priestly.

Augustine continues the idea stated in the previous chapter that Matthew (and Mark, who closely follows him) presents Jesus as the true King, while Luke presents him as the true Priest.

With respect to Christ as King, he notes the title affixed to the cross: “The King of the Jews.”

With respect to Christ as priest he calls attention to the prophecy of Psalm 110:4: “Thou art a priest after the order of Melchizedek.”

He closes with an interesting argument for Matthew’s focus on Jesus as King, noting that just as Kings have attendants, so Matthew had Mark as an attendant.

On the same principle, just as priests enter alone into the Holy of Holies, Luke’s presentation of Jesus stands alone, without an “epitomizer.”

1.4: Of the fact that John understood the exposition of Christ’s divinity.

Augustine suggests here that whereas the Synoptic Gospels stressed the humanity of Jesus, John focuses on his divinity. In John it is made clear that Jesus is the Father’s equal. Christ is thus born to “loftier heights” in John, which “leaves the other three far behind him.” John has more richly drunk in the divinity of Jesus, as though he drew it “from the very bosom of his Lord” on whom he reclined. Clearly Augustine sees the author of John as the beloved disciple.

1.5: Concerning the two virtues, of which John is conversant with the contemplative, the other evangelists with the active.

Augustine now draws a distinction between the first three Gospels and John, based on his understanding of two distinct virtues: the active and the contemplative. The Synoptic Gospels represent the active by focusing on the deeds of Jesus. John gives more care to the details of Jesus’ words and so represents the contemplative. This same pattern is seen in the wives of Jacob, with Leah representing the active and Rachel the contemplative.


Augustine draws a distinction among the Synoptic Gospels, with Matthew and Mark presenting Jesus as King and Luke presenting him as Priest. He also sees a Christological distinction to be made between the Synoptics and John with respect to Christ’s nature. The Synoptics focus on the true humanity of Jesus, while John stresses his true divinity. This also reflects the fact that the Synoptics demonstrate the active virtue, while John the contemplative.


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