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Home > Fathers of the Church > The Harmony of the Gospels (Augustine) > Book II, Chapter 70

The Harmony of the Gospels, Book II

Chapter 70. Of the Two Sons Who Were Commanded by Their Father to Go into His Vineyard, and of the Vineyard Which Was Let Out to Other Husbandmen; Of the Question Concerning the Consistency of Matthew's Version of These Passages with Those Given by the Other Two Evangelists, with Whom He Retains the Same Order; As Also, in Particular, Concerning the Harmony of His Version of the Parable, Which is Recorded by All the Three, Regarding the Vineyard that Was Let Out; And in Reference Specially to the Reply Made by the Persons to Whom that Parable Was Spoken, in Relating Which Matthew Seems to Differ Somewhat from the Others.

133. Matthew goes on thus: But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work today in my vineyard. But he answered and said, I will not; but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir; and went not; and so on, down to the words, And whosoever shall fall upon this stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. Mark and Luke do not mention the parable of the two sons to whom the order was given to go and labour in the vineyard. But what is narrated by Matthew subsequently to that—namely, the parable of the vineyard which was let out to the husbandmen, who persecuted the servants that were sent to them, and afterwards put to death the beloved son, and thrust him out of the vineyard—is not left unrecorded also by those two. And in detailing it they likewise both retain the same order, that is to say, they bring it in after that declaration of their inability to tell which was made by the Jews when interrogated regarding the baptism of John, and after the reply which He returned to them in these words: Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.

134. Now no question implying any contradiction between these accounts rises here, unless it be raised by the circumstance that Matthew, after telling us how the Lord addressed to the Jews this interrogation, When the lord, therefore, of the vineyard comes, what will he do unto those husbandmen? adds, that they answered and said, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. For Mark does not record these last words as if they constituted the reply returned by the men; but he introduces them as if they were really spoken by the Lord immediately after the question which was put by Him, so that in a certain way He answered Himself. For [in this Gospel] He speaks thus: What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others. But it is quite easy for us to suppose, either that the men's words are subjoined herewithout the insertion of the explanatory clause they said, or they replied, that being left to be understood; or else that the said response is ascribed to the Lord Himself rather than to these men, because when they answered with such truth, He also, who is Himself the Truth, really gave the same reply in reference to the persons in question.

135. More serious difficulty, however, may be created by the fact that Luke not only does not speak of them as the parties who made that answer (for he, as well as Mark, attributes these words to the Lord), but even represents them to have given a contrary reply, and to have said, God forbid. For his narrative proceeds in these terms: What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them? He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid. And He beheld them, and said, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same has become the head of the corner? How then is it that, according to Matthew's version, the men to whom He spoke these words said, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out this vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons; whereas, according to Luke, they gave a reply inconsistent with any terms like these, when they said, God forbid? And, in truth, what the Lord proceeds immediately to say regarding the stone which was rejected by the builders, and yet was made the head of the corner, is introduced in a manner implying that by this testimony those were confuted who were gainsaying the real meaning of the parable. For Matthew, no less than Luke, records that passage as if it were intended to meet the gainsayers, when he says, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same has become the head of the corner? For what is implied by this question, Did ye never read, but that the answer which they had given was opposed to the real intention [of the parable]? This is also indicated by Mark, who gives these same words in the following manner: And have ye not read this scripture, The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner? This sentence, therefore, appears to occupy in Luke, rather than the others, the place which is properly assignable to it as originally uttered. For it is brought in by him directly after the contradiction expressed by those men when they said, God forbid. And the form in which it is cast by him—namely, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same has become the head of the corner?— is equivalent in sense to the other modes of statement. For the real meaning of the sentence is indicated equally well, whichever of the three phrases is used, Did ye never read? or, And have ye not read? or, What is this, then, that is written?

136. It remains, therefore, for us to understand that among the people who were listening on that occasion, there were some who replied in the terms related by Matthew, when he writes thus: They say unto Him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen; and that there were also some who answered in the way indicated by Luke, that is to say, with the words, God forbid. Accordingly, those persons who had replied to the Lord to the former effect, were replied to by these other individuals in the crowd with the explanation, God forbid. But the answer which was really given by the first of these two parties, to whom the second said in return, God forbid, has been ascribed both by Mark and by Luke to the Lord Himself, on the ground that, as I have already intimated, the Truth Himself spoke by these men, whether as by persons who knew not that they were wicked, in the same way that He spoke also by Caiaphas, who when he was high priest prophesied without realizing what he said, or as by persons who did understand, and who had come by this time both to knowledge and to belief. For there was also present on this occasion that multitude of people at whose hand the prophecy had already received a fulfilment, when they met Him in a mighty concourse on His approach, and hailed Him with the acclaim, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.

137. Neither should we stumble at the circumstance that the same Matthew has stated that the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the Lord, and asked Him by what authority He did these things, and who gave Him this authority, on the occasion when He too, in turn, interrogated them concerning the baptism of John, inquiring whence it was, whether from heaven or of men; to whom also, on their replying that they did not know, He said, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do those things. For he has followed up this with the words introduced in the immediate context, But what think ye? A certain man had two sons, and so forth. Thus this discourse is brought into a connection which is continued, uninterrupted by the interposition either of any thing or of any person, down to what is related regarding the vineyard which was let out to the husbandmen. It may, indeed, be supposed that He spoke all these words to the chief priests and the elders of the people, by whom He had been interrogated with regard to His authority. But then, if these persons had indeed questioned Him with a view to tempt Him, and with a hostile intention, they could not be taken for men who had believed, and who cited the remarkable testimony in favour of the Lord which was taken from a prophet; and surely it is only if they had the character of those who believed, and not of those who were ignorant, that they could have given a reply like this: He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard to other husbandmen. This peculiarity [of Matthew's account], however, should not by any means so perplex us as to lead us to imagine that there were none who believed among the multitudes who listened at this time to the Lord's parables. For it is only for the sake of brevity that the same Matthew has passed over in silence what Luke does not fail to mention—namely, the fact that the said parable was not spoken only to the parties who had interrogated Him on the subject of His authority, but to the people. For the latter evangelist puts it thus: Then began He to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and so on. Accordingly, we may well understand that among the people then assembled there might also have been persons who could listen to Him as those did who before this had said, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord; and that either these, or some of them, were the individuals who replied in the words, He will miserably destroy these wicked men, and will let out his vineyard to other husbandmen. The answer actually returned by these men, moreover, has been attributed to the Lord Himself by Mark and Luke, not only because their words were really His words, inasmuch as He is the Truth that ofttimes speaks even by the wicked and the ignorant, moving the mind of man by a certain hidden instinct, not in the merit of man's holiness, but by the right of His own proper power; but also because the men may have been of a character admitting of their being reckoned, not without reason, as already members in the true body of Christ, so that what was said by them might quite warrantably be ascribed to Him whose members they were. For by this time He had baptized more than John, and had multitudes of disciples, as the same evangelists repeatedly testify; and from among these followers He also drew those five hundred brethren, to whom the Apostle Paul tells us that He showed Himself after His resurrection. And this explanation of the matter is supported by the fact that the phrase which occurs in the version by this same Matthew,— namely, They say unto Him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men,— is not put in a form necessitating us to take the pronoun illi in the plural number, as if it was intended to mark out the words expressly as the reply made by the persons who had craftily questioned Him on the subject of His authority; but the clause, They say unto Him, is so expressed that the term illi should be taken for the singular pronoun, and not the plural, and should be held to signify unto Him, that is to say, unto the Lord Himself, as is made clear in the Greek codices, without a single atom of ambiguity.

138. There is a certain discourse of the Lord which is given by the evangelist John, and which may help us more readily to understand the statement I thus make. It is to this effect: Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, If you continue in my word, then you shall be my disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. And they answered Him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how do you say, You shall be free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever commits sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abides not in the house for ever; but the Son abides for ever. If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, you shall be free indeed. I know that you are Abraham's seed; but you seek to kill me, because my word has no place in you. Now surely it is not to be supposed that He spoke these words, You seek to kill me to those persons who had already believed on Him, and to whom He had said, If you abide in my word, then shall you be my disciples indeed. But inasmuch as He had spoken in these latter terms to the men who had already believed on Him, and as, moreover, there was present on that occasion a multitude of people, among whom there were many who were hostile to Him, even although the evangelist does not tell us explicitly who those parties were who made the reply referred to, the very nature of the answer which they gave, and the tenor of the words which thereupon were rightly directed to them by Him, make it sufficiently clear what specific persons were then addressed, and what words were spoken to them in particular. Precisely, therefore, as in the multitude thus alluded to by John there were some who had already believed on Jesus, and also some who sought to kill Him, in that other concourse which we are discussing at present there were some who had craftily questioned the Lord on the subject of the authority by which He did these things; and there were also others who had hailed Him, not in deceit, but in faith, with the acclaim, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord. And thus, too, there were persons present who could say, He will destroy those men, and will give his vineyard to others. This saying, furthermore, may be rightly understood to have been the voice of the Lord Himself, either in virtue of that Truth which in His own Person He is Himself, or on the ground of the unity which subsists between the members of His body and the head. There were also certain individuals present who, when these other parties gave that kind of answer, said to them, God forbid, because they understood the parable to be directed against themselves.

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Source. Translated by S.D.F. Salmond. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1602270.htm>.

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