Thursday, May 18, 2023

Augustine, Harmony of the Evangelists.2.5: Harmonizing the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke


Image: James Tissot, Les rois mages chez Hérode (The Magi in the House of Herod), c. 1886-1894, Brooklyn Museum.

In this episode we are looking at Book 2, chapter 5 where Augustine harmonizes the infancy narrative in Matthew 1—2 and that in Luke 1—2.

2.5: A statement of the manner in which Luke’s procedure is proved to be in harmony with Matthew’s in those matters concerning the conception and the infancy of the boyhood of Christ, which are omitted by the one and recorded by the other.

Augustine argues that there is “no contradiction” between the two evangelist in their respective infancy narratives. Luke sets forth in detail what Matthew omitted. Both bear witness “that Mary conceived by the Holy Ghost.” There is “no want of concord between them.”

Matthew and Luke both affirm that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

Each is also unique. Only Matthew has the visit of the magi. Only Luke has the manger, the angel announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, the multitude of the heavenly host praising God, etc.

Augustine notes that a deserving inquiry can be raised as to the precise timing of the events in both Matthew and Luke, and how they can be harmonized with one another. He then provides a narrative in which he weaves Matthew chapters 1-2 and Luke 1-2 into one unified account, in this order:

Matthew 1:18: Introduction

Luke 1:5-36: The conception of John and Jesus

Matthew 1:18-25: Announcement to Joseph

Luke 1:57—2:21: Luke’s birth account (shepherds, angels)

Matthew 2:1-12: Matthew’s account of birth (wise men)

Luke 2:22-39: The visit to Jerusalem

Matthew 2:13-23: Flight to Egypt and return to Nazareth

Luke 2:40-52: Family Passover visit to Jerusalem when Jesus is twelve


Augustine provides his own merging of the two infancy narratives, perhaps in the same way earlier writers like Tatian had attempted to blend the Gospels into one account in his Diatessaron. Augustine is likely drawing on Old Latin translations and his narrative provides several interesting textual variants. For example, the angelic announcement in Luke 2:14 reads “and on earth peace to men of good will [Hominibus bonae voluntatis],” diverging from the traditional text, which would be rendered, “and on earth peace, good will toward men.” So, this chapter is interesting not just for insights into harmonization but also textual issues via the Old Latin version(s) cited.


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