St Mark 16:12-20

The closing verses of St Mark's Gospel from verse 14 are the Gospel for the feast of the Ascension:

12 Post hæc autem duobus ex his ambulantibus ostensus est in alia effigie, euntibus in villam: 13 et illi euntes nuntiaverunt ceteris: nec illis crediderunt.14 Novissime recumbentibus illis undecim apparuit: et exprobravit incredulitatem eorum et duritiam cordis: quia iis, qui viderant eum resurrexisse, non crediderunt. 15 Et dixit eis: Euntes in mundum universum prædicate Evangelium omni creaturæ. 16 Qui crediderit, et baptizatus fuerit, salvus erit: qui vero non crediderit, condemnabitur. 17 Signa autem eos qui crediderint, hæc sequentur: in nomine meo dæmonia ejicient: linguis loquentur novis: 18 serpentes tollent: et si mortiferum quid biberint, non eis nocebit: super ægros manus imponent, et bene habebunt. 19 Et Dominus quidem Jesus postquam locutus est eis, assumptus est in cælum, et sedet a dextris Dei. 20 Illi autem profecti prædicaverunt ubique, Domino cooperante, et sermonem confirmante, sequentibus signis.

 [12] And after that he appeared in another shape to two of them walking, as they were going into the country. [13] And they going told it to the rest: neither did they believe them. [14] At length he appeared to the eleven as they were at table: and he upbraided them with their incredulity and hardness of heart, because they did not believe them who had seen him after he was risen again. [15] And he said to them: Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. [16] He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned. [17] And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name they shall cast out devils: they shall speak with new tongues. [18] They shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover. [19] And the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God. [20] But they going forth preached everywhere: the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed.

Commentary (de Lapide)

Ver. 12. He appeared in another shape: Arabic, garment, i.e., of a traveller, as they were going into the country: Arabic, to the village; Gr. into the field, i.e., to a country-house at Emmaus. For, as S. Austin says (Consens. Evang.), “under the name of country not only villages, but towns and boroughs outside the capital, which was the mother city of all, were wont to be called.” These disciples, therefore, were going from Jerusalem into the country, that is, into the neighbouring small town of Emmaus. This place was made a famous city by the Romans, and called Nicopolis, as a monument of their victory in the capture of Jerusalem. This appearance of Christ is the same as that related by S. Luke (xxiv. 13), as is plain from the circumstances, which are the same in both cases. So commentators generally. Euthymius alone thinks they were different, because Mark adds that the Apostles did not believe them when they told them that Christ was risen, whilst Luke intimates the contrary, that they did believe. But the answer is easy, that some believed, but others did not believe.

Ver. 13. Neither did they believe them. This happened by the permission and providence of God. “For this their incredulity was not so much their weakness as it was to become our strength,” says S. Gregory. “For the resurrection itself was made manifest to them by many proofs, when they doubted of it. And when we read and acknowledge these things, what else is it but to be confirmed by their doubting?”

Ver. 14. At length He appeared to the eleven as they were at table. The Vulgate has novissime, last of all: Gr. ύστεζον. This was the last appearance of Christ on the day of the resurrection, for S. Mark only relates those appearances which took place on that day. You may say, But if so, He did not appear to the Eleven, but to the Apostles, for S. Thomas was absent. Wherefore Maldonatus thinks that this appearance was that which took place on the Sunday after the resurrection, when Thomas was present. But I say that they are here called the Eleven, although Thomas was absent, because the college of the Apostles after the treachery of Judas was reduced to eleven. That is why they are here called the Eleven, although Thomas was absent. Thus the Decemvirs were called by that name when gathered together, although one or two might be absent.

They did not believe. S. Jerome (lib. 2, cant. Pelag.) writes that in some Greek codices there is found added after these words as follows: “And they had content, saying, Substance is that world of iniquity which by means of evil spirits suffers not the true power of God to be apprehended: therefore now reveal Thy righteousness.” But the Church has expunged all this, for it savours of the heresy of Manes and Montanus.

Ver. 15. And He said unto them, Go ye into the whole world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He said this not on Easter day, when He appeared to the Eleven as they sat at meat, but afterwards, when He showed Himself to them and others on a mountain of Galilee, as it is in S. Matt. xxviii. 16, &c. Or it may be that He committed this chief and peculiar office of preaching the Gospel to the Apostles more than once.

Go ye into the whole world, that is to say, not into Judæa only, as ye have done hitherto, but up and down in all directions throughout the world. For it does not seem probable that a few Apostles should have traversed and converted the whole world, especially because in America, lately discovered, no traces of the faith of Christ have been found.

Every creature, i.e., to all nations, as it is in Matt. xxviii. 19.

Ver. 16. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned. This saying of Christ is abused to support their heresies, 1st, by the Lutherans, to prove that faith alone without good works is sufficient to salvation. But I reply that the meaning of Christ, as Euthymius, Theophylact, and others have observed, is, he that believeth, &c., i.e., “he that, believing in Christ and receiving His baptism, has been washed from his sins, imbued with the grace of God, and sanctified, he shall be saved,” understand, “if he die in that state, retaining the grace of God even unto death.” But it is impossible for the baptized to continue in this state of grace if they do not those good works which the law of Christ commands. Also, in the name of faith, or faith and babtism, as the prime requisites, and which, at the beginning of the Church were chiefly to be inculcated upon the Gentiles, all other things consequent upon them must be understood, such as hope, charity, and good works, as I have shown at length in the introduction to S. Paul’s Epistles.

2nd The Anabaptists infer from this saying of Christ that little children must not be baptized, because they cannot believe. But I answer, Christ is here speaking of adults. For only adults are able to believe, and all the preceding words apply to adults only. That little children ought to be baptized is plain from the perpetual tradition and practice of the Church, and from the words in S. John iii. 5, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, unless any one be born of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

S. Augustine adds, and reiterates in various passages, that these words of Christ do refer to infants also in a measure, for as they sinned by the will of Adam, not their own, so likewise they believe by the faith of the Church, in their parents, or those who present them for baptism, not by their own.
3rd The Calvinists gather from these words of Christ that baptism is not necessary for salvation, but that faith only is sufficient, because of it alone, they say, Christ subjoins, But he that believeth not shall be condemned. I reply that under the word believe, i.e., faith, baptism must be understood, which is the sacrament of faith, as well as all the other things which spring from and follow faith, as I have just said. For Mark, studying brevity, left it to the reader to gather from what he had said immediately previous, that these must be understood, or shall not be baptized. For otherwise the antithesis would be imperfect. To complete it we must read as follows, He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not, or is not baptized, shall be condemned, For that baptism is necessary for salvation is plain from the words of Christ in S. John iii. 5, already cited.

Ver. 28. They shall take up serpents. From the places which they infested, and as Euthymius says, “They, shall destroy them, or even take them up in their hands without harm,” as S. Paul did the viper. Therefore the Arabic translates, They shall take up serpents in their hands.
And if they shall drink any deadly thing. They shall drink poison unharmed, as the Apostles and many Saints have done.

They shall lay their hands upon the sick, &c. Observe that these signs were necessary in the Primitive Church for proving and strengthening the faith of Christ. Wherefore at that time almost all believers wrought miracles, at least of certain kinds; as, for example, the expulsion of devils from energumens. This is plain from Justin’s Dialogue against Trypho, Tertullian (Apolog.), Lactantius, and others. Many also at that time received in baptism the gift of tongues. See Acts x. 47, &c.

Mystically: S. Bernard (Serm. de Ascens.) says, “The first work of faith which worketh by love is compunction of heart, by which, without doubt, devils are cast out when sins are rooted out of the heart. After that they who believe in Christ speak with new tongues when old things depart but of their mouth, and for the time to come they speak not with the old tongue of our first parents, who declined unto words of wickedness in making excuses for their sins. But when by compunction of the heart, and confession of the mouth, the former sins have been blotted out, in order that men may not backslide, and their latter end be worse than the beginning, it is needful that they take away serpents, that is, extinguish poisonous suggestions, &c. If they shall drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them. This is, when they feel the stings of concupiscence, they shall not consent. They shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover. This is, they shall cover their evil affections by good works, and by this medicine they shall be healed.”

Ver. 19 He was taken up into heaven. By His divinity communicating to His body the qualities of lightness and fleetness.

“O kingdom of eternal blessedness, where youth never groweth old, where beauty never waneth, nor love groweth cold, where health knows no sickness, where joy never decreaseth, where life hath no end” (S. Augustine, in Solil. c. 39).

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