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Home > Fathers of the Church > The Harmony of the Gospels (Augustine) > Book III, Chapter 20

The Harmony of the Gospels, Book III

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Chapter 20. Of the Question as to the Consistency of the Several Notices Given by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, on the Subject of the Astonishment Felt by the Centurion and Those Who Were with Him.

57. Matthew proceeds thus: And the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after the resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. There is no reason to fear that these facts, which have been related only by Matthew, may appear to be inconsistent with the narratives presented by any one of the rest. The same evangelist then continues as follows: Now when the centurion, and they that were with him watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God. Mark offers this version: And when the centurion which stood over against Him saw that He so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this was the Son of God. Luke's report runs thus: Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man. Here Matthew says that it was when they saw the earthquake that the centurion and those who were with him were thus astonished, whereas Luke represents the man's amazement to have been drawn forth by the fact that Jesus uttered such a cry, and then gave up the ghost; thus making it clear how He had it in His own power to determine the time for His dying. But this involves no discrepancy. For as the said Matthew not only tells us how the centurion saw the earthquake, but also appends the words, and those things that were done, he has indicated that there was room enough for Luke to represent the Lord's death as itself the thing which called forth the centurion's wonder. For that event is also one of the things which were done in so marvellous a manner then. At the same time, even although Matthew had not added any such statement, it would still have been perfectly legitimate to suppose, that as many astonishing things took place at that time, and as the centurion and those who were with him may well have looked upon them all with amazement, the historians were at liberty to select for narration any particular incident which they were severally disposed to instance as the subject of the man's wonder. And it would not be fair to impeach them with inconsistency, simply because one of them may have specified one occurrence as the immediate cause of the centurion's amazement, while another introduces a different incident. For all these events together had really been matters for the man's astonishment. Again, the mere fact that one evangelist tells us that the centurion said, Truly this was the Son of God, while another informs us that the words were, Truly this man was the Son of God, will create no difficulty to any one who has retained some recollection of the numerous statements and discussions bearing upon similar cases, which have already been given above. For these different versions of the words both convey precisely the same sense and although one writer introduces the word man while another does not, that implies no kind of contradiction. A greater appearance of discrepancy may be supposed to be created by the circumstance, that the words which Luke reports the centurion to have uttered are not This was the Son of God, but This was a righteous man. But we ought to suppose either that both things were actually said by the centurion, and that two of the evangelists have recorded the one expression, and the third the other; or else perhaps that it was Luke's intention to bring out the exact idea which the centurion had in view when he said that Jesus was the Son of God. For it may be the case that the centurion did not really understand Him to be the Only-begotten, equal with the Father; but that he called Him the Son of God simply because he believed Him to be a righteous man, as many righteous men have been named sons of God. Moreover, when Luke says, Now when the centurion saw what was done, he has really used terms which cover all the marvellous things which occurred on that occasion, commemorating a single deed of wonder, so to speak, of which all those miraculous incidents were, as we may say, members and parts. But, once more, as regards the circumstance that Matthew has also referred to those who were with the centurion, while the others have left these parties unnoticed, to whom will this not explain itself on the well-understood principle that there is no contradiction necessarily involved in the mere fact that one writer records what another passes by without mention? And, finally, as to Matthew's having told us that they feared greatly, while Luke has said nothing about the man being afraid, but has informed us that he glorified God, who can fail to understand that he glorified [God] just by the fear which he exhibited?

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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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