Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels 103


5. For the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the one true King and the one true Priest, the former to rule us, and the latter to make expiation for us, has shown us how His own figure bore these two parts together, which were only separately commended [to notice] among the Fathers.9 This becomes apparent if (for example) we look to that inscription which was affixed to His cross”King of the Jews:” in connection also with which, and by a secret instinct, Pilate replied, “What I have written, I have written.”10 For it had been said aforetime in the Psalms, “Destroy not the writing of the title.”11 The same becomes evident, so far as the part of priest is concerned, if we have regard to what He has taught us concerning offering and receiving. For thus it is that He sent us beforehand a prophecy12 respecting Himself, which runs thus, “Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedek.”13 And in many other testimonies of the divine Scriptures, Christ appears both as King and as Priest. Hence, also, even David himself, whose son He is, not without good reason, more frequently declared to be than he is said to be Abraham’s son, and whom Matthew and Lc have both alike held by,—the one viewing him as the person from whom, through Solomon, His lineage can be traced down, and the other taking him for the person to whom, through Nathan, His genealogy can be carried up,—did represent the part of a priest, although he was patently a king, when he ate the shew-bread. For it was not lawful for any one to eat that, save the priests only.14 To this it must be added that Lc is the only one who mentions how Mary was discovered by the angel, and how she was related to Elisabeth,15 who was the wife of Zacharias the priest. And of this Zacharias the same evangelist has recorded the fact, that the woman whom he had for wife was one of the daughters of Aaron, which is to say she belonged to the tribe of the priests.16

6. Whereas, then, Matthew had in view the kingly character, and Luke the priestly, they have at the same time both set forth pre-eminently the humanity of Christ: for it was according to His humanity that Christ was made both King and Priest. To Him, too, God gave the throne of His father David, in order that of His kingdom there should be none end.17 And this was done with the purpose that there might be a mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,18 to make intercession for us. Luke, on the other hand, had no one connected with him to act as his summarist in the way that Mc was attached to Matthew. And it may be that this is not without a certain solemn significance.19 For it is the right of kings not to miss the obedient following of attendants; and hence the evangelist, who had taken it in hand to give an account of the kingly character of Christ, had a person attached to him as his associate who was in some fashion to follow in his steps. But inasmuch as it was the priest’s want to enter all alone into the holy of holies, in accordance with that principle, Luke, whose object contemplated the priestly office of Christ, did not have any one to come after him as a confederate, who was meant in some way to serve as an epitomizer of his narrative.20


7. These three evangelists, however, were for the most part engaged with those things which Christ did through the vehicle of the flesh of man, and after the temporal fashion.21 But John, on the other hand, had in view that true divinity of the Lord in which He is the Father’s equal, and directed his efforts above all to the setting forth of the divine nature in his Gospel in such a way as he believed to be adequate to men’s needs and notions.22 Therefore he is borne to loftier heights, in which he leaves the other three far behind him; so that, while in them you see men who have their conversation in a certain manner with the man Christ on earth, in him you perceive one who has passed beyond the cloud in which the whole earth is wrapped, and who has reached the liquid heaven from which, with clearest and steadiest mental eye, he is able to look upon God the Word, who was in the beginning with God, and by whom all things were made.23 And there, too, he can recognise Him who was made flesh in order that He might dwell amongst us;24 [that Word of whom we say,] that He assumed the flesh, not that He was changed into the flesh. For had not this assumption of the flesh been effected in such a manner as at the same time to conserve the unchangeable Divinity, Such a word as this could never have been spoken,—namely, “I and the Father are one.”25 For surely the Father and the flesh are not one. And the same Jn is also the only one who has recorded that witness which the Lord gave concerning Himself, when He said: “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father also;” and, “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me;”26 “that they may be one, even as we are one;”27 and, “Whatsoever the Father doeth, these same things doeth the Son likewise.”28 And whatever other statements there may be to the same effect, calculated to betoken, to those who are possessed of right understanding, that divinity of Christ in which He is the Father’s equal, of all these we might almost say that we are indebted for their introduction into the Gospel narrative to Jn alone. For he is like one who has drunk in the secret of His divinity more richly and somehow more familiarly than others, as if he drew it from the very bosom of his Lord on which it was his wont to recline when He sat at meat.29


8. Moreover, there are two several virtues (or talents) which have been proposed to the mind of man. Of these, the one is the active, and the other the contemplative: the one being that whereby the way is taken, and the other that whereby the goal is reached;30 the one that by which men labour in order that the heart may be purified to see God, and the other that by which men are disengaged31 and God is seen. Thus the former of these two virtues is occupied with the precepts for the right exercise of the temporal life, whereas the latter deals with the doctrine of that life which is everlasting. In this way, also, the one operates, the other rests; for the former finds its sphere in the purging of sins, the latter moves in the light32 of the purged. And thus, again, in this mortal life the one is engaged with the work of a good conversation; while the other subsists rather on faith, and is seen only in the person of the very few, and through the glass darkly, and only in part in a kind of vision of the unchangeable truth.33 Now these two virtues are understood to be presented emblematically in the instance of the two wives of Jacob. Of these I have discoursed already up to the measure of my ability, and as fully as seemed to be appropriate to my task, (in what I have written) in opposition to Faustus the Manichaean.34 For Lia, indeed, by interpretation means “labouring,”35 whereas Rachel signifies “the first principle seen.”36 And by this it is given us to understand, if one will only attend carefully to the matter, that those three evangelists who, with pre-eminent fulness, have handled the account of the Lord’s temporal doings and those of His sayings which were meant to bear chiefly upon the moulding of the manners of the present life, were conversant with that active virtue; and that John, on the other hand, who narrates fewer by far of the Lord’s doings, but records with greater carefulness and with larger wealth of detail the words which He spoke, and most especially those discourses which were intended to introduce us to the knowledge of the unity of the Trinity and the blessedness of the life eternal, formed his plan and framed his statement with a view to commend the contemplative virtue to our regard.

1 (
Mt 1,1,
2 (Mt 8,20 Mt 9,6.
3 (Is 53,8).
4 (Lc 3,23). [Revised Version, “And Jesus Himself, when He began to teach, was about,” etc. The Latin, erat incipiens, conveys the same sense.—R.]
5 (Lc 2,40-41.
6 Et erat pater ejus, etc., instead of Joseph, etc). [The correct text in Lc 2,33 is undoubtedly that given by Augustin. Compare critical editions of the Greek text. So Revised Version, “And His father and His mother,” etc.—R.]
7 (Lc 2,33,
8 [Compare Revised Version, where the parenthesis is correctly given.—R.]
9 (Rm 1,3,
10 (Lc 1,5,
11 (Lc 1,36,
12 (Mt 1,1-16.
13 (Lc 3,23-38.
14 In the Retractations (ii. 16), Augustin alludes to this passage with the view of correcting his statement regarding the adoption. He tells us that, in speaking of the two several fathers whom Joseph may have had, he should not have said that there “was one by whom Joseph was begotten, and another by whom he may have been adopted,” but should rather have put it thus: “one by whom he was begotten, and another unto whom he was adopted ” (alteri instead of ab altero adoptatus). And the reason indicated for the correction is the probability that the father who begat Joseph was the mother’s second husband, who, according to the Levirate law, had married her on the death of his brother without issue). [That Lc gives the lineage of Mary, who was the daughter of Heli, has been held by many scholars. Weiss, in his edition of Meyer’s Commentary, claims that this is the only grammatical view: see Robinson’s Greek Harmony, rev. ed. pp. 207, 208. Augustin passes over this solution apparently because he was more concerned to press the priestly lineage of Mary.—R.]
15 (Ex 2,10).
16 (Gn 48,5-6.
17 Reading ordinem; others have originem, descent.
18 Reciperemus. Most of the older Mss. give recipiamus, may receive.
19 (Ga 4,4-5.
20 (Jn 1,12-13.
21 (Jn 1,14,
22 Initium, beginning.
23 (Jc 1,18,
24 Principatum).
25 (He 12,6,
26 (Ac 14,22,
27 (Ps 2,9,
28 (Ps 2,6,
29 (1P 4,17, 18.
30 Sacramenta.
31 (Ex 34,28 1R 19,8,


9. For these reasons, it also appears to me, that of the various parties who have interpreted the living creatures in the Apocalypse as significant of the four evangelists, those who have taken the lion to point to Matthew, the man to Mark, the calf to Luke, and the eagle to John, have made a more reasonable application of the figures than those who have assigned the man to Matthew, the eagle to Mark, and the lion to John.37 For, in forming their particular idea of the matter, these latter have chosen to keep in view simply the beginnings of the books, and not the full design of the several evangelists in its completeness, which was the matter that should, above all, have been thoroughly examined. For surely it is with much greater propriety that the one who has brought under our notice most largely the kingly character of Christ, should be taken to be represented by the lion. Thus is it also that we find the lion mentioned in conjunction with the royal tribe itself, in that passage of the Apocalypse where it is said, “The lion of the tribe of Judah hath prevailed.”38 For in Matthew’s narrative the magi are recorded to have come from the east to inquire after the King, and to worship Him whose birth was notified to them by the star. Thus, too, Herod, who himself also was a king, is [said there to be] afraid of the royal child, and to put so many little children to death in order to make sure that the one might be slain.39 Again, that Lc is intended under the figure of the calf, in reference to the pre-eminent sacrifice made by the priest, has been doubted by neither of the two [sets of interpreters]. For in that Gospel the narrator’s account commences with Zacharias the priest. In it mention is also made of the relationship between Mary and Elisabeth.40 In it, too, it is recorded that the ceremonies proper to the earliest priestly service were attended to in the case of the infant Christ;41 and a careful examination brings a variety of other matters under our notice in this Gospel, by which it is made apparent that Luke’s object was to deal with the part of the priest. In this way it follows further, that Mark, who has set himself neither to give an account of the kingly lineage, nor to expound anything distinctive of the priesthood, whether on the subject of the relationship or on that of the consecration, and who at the same time comes before us as one who handles the things which the man Christ did, appears to be indicated simply under the figure of the man among those four living creatures. But again, those three living creatures, whether lion, man, or calf, have their course upon this earth; and in like manner, those three evangelists occupy themselves chiefly with the things which Christ did in the flesh, and with the precepts which He delivered to men, who also bear the burden of the flesh, for their instruction in the rightful exercise of this mortal life. Whereas John, on the other hand, soars like an eagle above the clouds of human infirmity, and gazes upon the light of the unchangeable truth with those keenest and steadiest eyes of the heart.42


10. Those sacred chariots of the Lord,43 however, in which He is borne throughout the earth and brings the peoples under His easy yoke and His light burden, are assailed with calumnious charges by certain persons who, in impious vanity or in ignorant temerity, think to rob of their credit as veracious historians those teachers by whose instrumentality the Christian religion has been disseminated all the world over, and through whose efforts it has yielded fruits so plentiful that unbelievers now scarcely dare so much as to mutter their slanders in private among themselves, kept in check by the faith of the Gentiles and by the devotion of all the peoples. Nevertheless, inasmuch as they still strive by their calumnious disputations to keep some from making themselves acquainted with the faith, and thus prevent them from becoming believers, while they also endeavour to the utmost of their power to excite agitations among others who have already attained to belief, and thereby give them trouble; and further, as there are some brethren who, without detriment to their own faith, have a desire to ascertain what answer can be given to such questions, either for the advantage of their own knowledge or for the purpose of refuting the vain utterances of their enemies, with the inspiration and help of the Lord our God (and would that it might prove profitable for the salvation of such men), we have undertaken in this work to demonstrate the errors or the rashness of those who deem themselves able to prefer charges, the subtilty of which is at least sufficiently observable, against those four different books of the gospel which have been written by these four several evangelists. And in order to carry out this design to a successful conclusion, we must prove that the writers in question do not stand in any antagonism to each other. For those adversaries are in the habit of adducing this as the palmary44 allegation in all their vain objections, namely, that the evangelists are not in harmony with each other.

11. But we must first discuss a matter which is apt to present a difficulty to the minds of some. I refer to the question why the Lord has written nothing Himself, and why He has thus left us to the necessity of accepting the testimony of other persons who have prepared records of His history. For this is what those parties—the a pagans more than any45 —allege when they lack boldness enough to impeach or blaspheme the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and when they allow Him—only as a man, however—to have been possessed of the most distinguished wisdom. In making that admission, they at the same time assert that the disciples claimed more for their Master than He really was; so much more indeed that they even called Him the Son of God, and the Word of God, by whom all things were made, and affirmed that He and God are one. And in the same way they dispose of all other kindred passages in the epistles of the apostles, in the light of which we have been taught that He is to be worshipped as one God with the Father. For they are of opinion that He is certainly to be honoured as the wisest of men; but they deny that He is to be worshipped as God.

12. Wherefore, when they put the question why He has not written in His own person, it would seem as if they were prepared to believe regarding Him whatever He might have written concerning Himself, but not what others may have given the world to know with respect to His life, according to the measure of their own judgment. Well, I ask them in turn why, in the case of certain of the noblest of their own philosophers, they have accepted the statements which their disciples left in the records they have composed, while these sages themselves have given us no written accounts of their own lives? For Pythagoras, than whom Greece in those days46 did not possess any more illustrious personage in the sphere of that contemplative virtue, is believed to have written absolutely nothing, whether on the subject of his own personal history or on any other theme whatsoever. And as to Socrates, to whom, on the other hand, they have adjudged a position of supremacy above all others in that active virtue by which the moral life is trained, so that they do not hesitate also to aver that he was even pronounced to be the wisest of men by the testimony of their deity Apollo,—it is indeed true that he handled the fables of Aesop in some few short verses, and thus made use of words and numbers of his own in the task of rendering the themes of another. But this was all. And so far was he from having the desire to write anything himself, that he declared that he had done even so much only because he was constrained by the imperial will of his demon, as Plato, the noblest of all his disciples, tells us. That was a work, also, in which he sought to set forth in fair form not so much his own thoughts, as rather the ideas of another. What reasonable ground, therefore, have they for believing, with regard to those sages, all that their disciples have committed to record in respect of their history, while at the same time they refuse to credit in the case of Christ what His disciples have written on the subject of His life? And all the more may we thus argue, when we see how they admit that all other men have been excelled by Him in the matter of wisdom, although they decline to acknowledge Him to be God. Is it, indeed, the case that those persons whom they do not hesitate to allow to have been by far His inferiors, have had the faculty of making disciples who can be trusted in all that concerns the narrative of their careers, and that He failed in that capacity? But if that is a most absurd statement to venture upon, then in all that belongs to the history of that Person to whom they grant the honour of wisdom, they ought to believe not merely what suits their own notions, but what they read in the narratives of those who learned from this sage Himself those various facts which they have left on record on the subject of His life.


13. Besides this, they ought to tell us by what means they have succeeded in acquiring their knowledge of this fact that He was the wisest of men, or how it has had the opportunity of reaching their ears. If they have been made acquainted with it simply by current report, then is it the case that common report forms a more trustworthy informant47 on the subject of His history than those disciples of His who, as they have gone and preached of Him, have disseminated the same report like a penetrating savour throughout the whole world?48 In fine, they ought to prefer the one kind of report to the other, and believe that account of His life which is the superior of the two. For this report,49 indeed, which is spread abroad with a wonderful clearness from that Church catholic50 at whose extension through the whole world those persons are so astonished, prevails in an incomparable fashion over the unsubstantial run, ours with which men like them occupy themselves. This report, furthermore, which carries with it such weight and such currency,51 that in dread of it they can only mutter their anxious and feeble snatches of paltry objections within their own breasts, as if they were more afraid now of being heard than wishful to receive credit, proclaims Christ to be the only-begotten Son of God, and Himself God,52 by whom all things were made. If, therefore, they choose report as their witness, why does not their choice fix on this special report, which is so pre-eminently lustrous in its remarkable definiteness? And if they desire the evidence of writings, why do they not take those evangelical writings which excel all others in their commanding authority? On our side, indeed, we accept those statements about their deities which are offered at once in their most ancient writings and by most current report. But if these deities are to be considered proper objects for reverence, why then do they make them the subject of laughter in the theatres? And if, on the other hand, they are proper objects for laughter, the occasion for such laughter must be all the greater when they are made the objects of worship in the theatres. It remains for us to look upon those persons as themselves minded to be witnesses concerning Christ, who, by speaking what they know not, divest themselves of the merit of knowing what they speak about. Or if, again, they assert that they are possessed of any books which they can maintain to have been written by Him, they ought to produce them for our inspection. For assuredly those books (if there are such) must be most profitable and most wholesome, seeing they are the productions of one whom they acknowledge to have been the wisest of men. If, however, they are afraid to produce them, it must be because they are of evil tendency; but if they are evil, then the wisest of men cannot have written them. They acknowledge Christ, however, to be the wisest of men, and consequently Christ cannot have written any such thing.


14. But, indeed, these persons rise to such a pitch of folly as to allege that the books which they consider to have been written by Him contain the arts by which they think He wrought those miracles, the fame of which has become prevalent in all quarters. And this fancy of theirs betrays what they really love, and what their aims really are. For thus, indeed, they show us how they entertain this opinion that Christ was the wisest of men only for the reason that He possessed the knowledge of I know not what illicit arts, which are justly condemned, not merely by Christian discipline, but even by the administration of earthly government itself. And, in good sooth, if there are people who affirm that they have read books of this nature composed by Christ, then why do they not perform with their own hand some such works as those which so greatly excite their wonder when wrought by Him, by taking advantage of the information which they have derived from these books?


15. Nay more, as by divine judgment, some of those who either believe, or wish to have it believed, that Christ wrote matter of that description, have even wandered so far into error as to allege that these same books bore on their front, in the form of epistolary superscription, a designation addressed to Peter and Paul. And it is quite possible that either the enemies of the name of Christ, or certain parties who thought that they might impart to this kind of execrable arts the weight of authority drawn from so glorious a name, may have written things of that nature under the name of Christ and the apostles. But in such most deceitful audacity they have been so utterly blinded as simply to have made themselves fitting objects for laughter, even with young people who as yet know Christian literature only in boyish fashion, and rank merely in the grade of readers.

16. For when they made up their minds to represent Christ to have written in such strain as that to His disciples, they bethought themselves of those of His followers who might best be taken for the persons to whom Christ might most readily be believed to have written, as the individuals who had kept by Him on the most familiar terms of friendship. And so Peter and Paul occurred to them, I believe, just because in many places they chanced to see these two apostles represented in pictures as both in company with Him.53 For Rome, in a specially honourable and solemn manner,54 commends the merits of Peter and of Paul, for this reason among others, namely, that they suffered [martyrdom] on the same day. Thus to fall most completely into error was the due desert of men who sought for Christ and His apostles not in the holy writings, but on painted walls. Neither is it to be wondered at, that these fiction-limners were misled by the painters.55 For throughout the whole period during which Christ lived in our mortal flesh in fellowship with His disciples, Paul had never become His disciple. Only after His passion, after His resurrection, after His ascension, after the mission of the Holy Spirit from heaven, after many Jews had been converted and had shown marvellous faith, after the stoning of Stephen the deacon and martyr, and when Paul still bore the name Saul, and was grievously persecuting those who had become believers in Christ, did Christ call that man [by a voice] from heaven, and made him His disciple and apostle.56 How, then, is it possible that Christ could have written those books which they wish to have it believed that He did write before His death, and which were addressed to Peter and Paul, as those among His disciples who had been most intimate with Him, seeing that up to that date Paul had not yet become a disciple of His at all?


17. Moreover, let those who madly fancy that it was by the use of magical arts that He was able to do the great things which He did, and that it was by the practice of such rites that He made His name a sacred thing to the peoples who were to be converted to Him, give their attention to this question,—namely, whether by the exercise of magical arts, and before He was born on this earth, He could also have filled with the Holy Spirit those mighty prophets who aforetime declared those very things concerning Him as things destined to come to pass, which we can now read in their accomplishment in the gospel, and which we can see in their present realization in the world. For surely, even if it was by magical arts that He secured worship for Himself, and that, too, after His death, it is not the case that He was a magician before He was born. Nay, for the office of prophesying on the subject of His coming, one nation had been most specially deputed; and the entire administration of that commonwealth was ordained to be a prophecy of this King who was to come, and who was to found a heavenly state57 drawnout of all nations.


18. Furthermore, that Hebrew nation, which, as I have said, was commissioned to prophesy of Christ, had no other God but one God, the true God, who made heaven and earth, and all that therein is. Under His displeasure they were ofttimes given into the power of their enemies. And now, indeed, on account of their most heinous sin in putting Christ to death, they have been thoroughly rooted out of Jerusalem itself, which was the capital of their kingdom, and have been made subject to the Roman empire. Now the Romans were in the habit of propitiating58 the deities of those nations whom they conquered by worshipping these themselves, and they were accustomed to undertake the charge of their sacred rites. But they declined to act on that principle with regard to the God of the Hebrew nation, either when they made their attack or when they reduced the people. I believe that they perceived that, if they admitted the worship of this Deity, whose commandment was that He only should be worshipped, and that images should be destroyed, they would have to put away from them all those objects to which formerly they had undertaken to do religious service, and by the worship of which they believed their empire had grown. But in this the falseness of their demons mightily deceived them. For surely they ought to have apprehended the fact that it is only by the hidden will of the true God, in whose hand resides the supreme power in all things, that the kingdom was given them and has been made to increase, and that their position was not due to the favour of those deities who, if they could have wielded any influence whatever in that matter, would rather have protected their own people from being over-mastered by the Romans, or would have brought the Romans themselves into complete subjection to them.

19. Certainly they cannot possibly affirm that the kind of piety and manners exemplified by them became objects of love and choice on the part of the gods of the nations which they conquered. They will never make such an assertion, if they only recall their own early beginnings, the asylum for abandoned criminals and the fratricide of Romulus. For when Remus and Romulus established their asylum, with the intention that whoever took refuge there, be the crime what it might be with which he stood charged, should enjoy impunity in his deed, they did not promulgate any precepts of penitence for bringing the minds of such wretched men back to a right condition. By this bribe of impunity did they not rather arm the gathered band of fearful fugitives against the states to which they properly belonged, and the laws of which they dreaded? Or when Romulus slew his brother, who had perpetrated no evil against him, is it the case that his mind was bent on the vindication of justice, and not on the acquisition of absolute power? And is it true that the deities did take their delight in manners like these, as if they were themselves enemies to their own states, in so far as they favoured those who were the enemies of these communities? Nay rather, neither did they by deserting them harm the one class, nor did they by passing over to their side in any sense help the other. For they have it not in their power to give kingship or to remove it. But that is done by the one true God, according to His hidden counsel. And it is not His mind to make those necessarily blessed to whom He may have given an earthly kingdom, or to make those necessarily unhappy whom He has deprived of that position. But He makes men blessed or wretched for other reasons and by other means, and either by permission or by actual gift distributes temporal and earthly kingdoms to whomsoever He pleases, and for whatsoever period He chooses, according to the fore-ordained order of the ages.

Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels 103