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Home > Fathers of the Church > The Harmony of the Gospels (Augustine) > Book II, Chapter 66

The Harmony of the Gospels, Book II

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Chapter 66. Of the Colt of the Ass Which is Mentioned by Matthew, and of the Consistency of His Account with that of the Other Evangelists, Who Speak Only of the Ass.

127. Matthew goes on with his narrative in the following terms: And when they drew near unto Jerusalem, and had come to Bethphage, unto the Mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway you shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her; and so on, down to the words, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest. Mark also records this occurrence, and inserts it in the same order. Luke, on the other hand, tarries a space by Jericho, recounting certain matters which these others have omitted — namely, the story of Zacchæus, the chief of the publicans, and some sayings which are couched in parabolic form. After instancing these things, however, this evangelist again joins company with the others in the narrative relating to the ass on which Jesus sat. And let not the circumstance stagger us, that Matthew speaks both of an ass and of the colt of an ass, while the others say nothing of the ass. For here again we must bear in mind the rule which we have already introduced in dealing with the statements about the seating of the people by fifties and by hundreds on the occasion on which the multitudes were fed with the five loaves. Now, after this principle has been brought into application, the reader should not feel any serious difficulty in the present case. Indeed, even had Matthew said nothing about the colt, just as his fellow-historians have taken no notice of the ass, the fact should not have created any such perplexity as to induce the idea of an insuperable contradiction between the two statements, when the one writer speaks only of the ass, and the others only of the colt of the ass. But how much less cause then for any disquietude ought there to be, when we see that the one writer has mentioned the ass to which the others have omitted to refer, in such a manner as at the same time not to leave unnoticed also the colt of which the rest have spoken! In fine, where it is possible to suppose both objects to have been included in the occurrence, there is no real antagonism, although the one writer may specify only the one thing, and another only the other. How much less need there be any contradiction, when the one writer particularizes the one object, and another instances both!

128. Again, although John tells us nothing as to the way in which the Lord dispatched His disciples to fetch these animals to Him, nevertheless he inserts a brief allusion to this colt, and cites also the word of the prophet which Matthew makes use of. In the case also of this testimony from the prophet, the terms in which it is reproduced by the evangelists, although they exhibit certain differences, do not fail to express a sense identical in intention. Some difficulty, however, may be felt in the fact that Matthew adduces this passage in a form which represents the prophet to have made mention of the ass; whereas this is not the case, either with the quotation as introduced by John, or with the version given in the ecclesiastical codices of the translation in common use. An explanation of this variation seems to me to be found in the fact that Matthew is understood to have written his Gospel in the Hebrew language. Moreover, it is manifest that the translation which bears the name of the Septuagint differs in some particulars from the text which is found in the Hebrew by those who know that tongue, and by the several scholars who have given us renderings of the same Hebrew books. And if an explanation is asked for this discrepancy, or for the circumstance that the weighty authority of the Septuagint translation diverges in many passages from the rendering of the truth which is discovered in the Hebrew codices, I am of opinion that no more probable account of the matter will suggest itself, than the supposition that the Seventy composed their version under the influence of the very Spirit by whose inspiration the things which they were engaged in translating had been originally spoken. This is an idea which receives confirmation also from the marvellous consent which is asserted to have characterized them. Consequently, when these translators, while not departing from the real mind of God from which these sayings proceeded, and to the expression of which the words ought to be subservient, gave a different form to some matters in their reproduction of the text, they had no intention of exemplifying anything else than the very thing which we now admiringly contemplate in that kind of harmonious diversity which marks the four evangelists, and in the light of which it is made clear that there is no failure from strict truth, although one historian may give an account of some theme in a manner different indeed from another, and yet not so different as to involve an actual departure from the sense intended by the person with whom he is bound to be in concord and agreement. To understand this is of advantage to character, with a view at once to guard against what is false, and to pronounce correctly upon it; and it is of no less consequence to faith itself, in the way of precluding the supposition that, as it were with consecrated sounds, truth has a kind of defense provided for it which might imply God's handing over to us not only the thing itself, but likewise the very words which are required for its enunciation; whereas the fact rather is, that the theme itself which is to be expressed is so decidedly deemed of superior importance to the words in which it has to be expressed, that we would be under no obligation to ask about them at all, if it were possible for us to know the truth without the terms, as God knows it, and as His angels also know it in Him.

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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. <>.

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