And the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose. This was immediately on Christ"s death (as S. Matthew implies), to signify that it was wrought by the power of His Passion, and consequently that by the same power death was overcome, and life restored to mankind. So Bede, Theophylact, and S. Jerome, who says, "The graves were opened in token of the future resurrection." Song of Solomon , too, S. Ambrose (cap. x. on Luke). And S. Hilary says, "Illumining the darkness of death, and lighting up the gloom of the pit, He robbed death of its spoils, in order to [mark? word missing] the resurrection of the dead who are now asleep." But yet they came not forth from their graves till after Christ"s resurrection (see ver53). For S. Paul terms Christ "the first-born from the dead" ( Colossians 1:18), and "the first-fruits of them that rise again" ( 1 Corinthians 15:20). For Christ by His death procured resurrection both for Himself and for us. It was therefore but right that, when He had overcome death, He should be the first to rise as its conqueror, and others after Him. (So Origen, S. Jerome, and Bede.)
They rose, then, that Christ might confirm the truth of His resurrection, by those His companions who announced it; and, again, that in and through them Christ might manifest the power of His Passion; that just as the souls of the Patriarchs were freed by it from the pit, Song of Solomon , mystically, would men"s souls, which were dead in sin, be now quickened by His grace, and themselves rise gloriously at last to a blessed and eternal life.
Did, then, these saints die again after their resurrection, or continue in life and glory? Some think they did die, and are to rise again at the last day, and this from S. Paul"s words, "That they without us should not be made perfect." (See S. Augustine, Epist. xcix. ad Evodium.) Others suppose, and more correctly, that they died no more, but were raised up to life immortal. Because it was but fitting that Christ should manifest at once in their resurrection the power of His own. It was also meet that happy souls like these should be united only to glorious and immortal bodies. But their happiness would have been but brief, and their misery greater, if they had died again so speedily. It would have been better, indeed, if they had not risen at all. It was also but fitting that they should adorn Christ"s triumphant ascension, as captives redeemed by Him, and the spoils He had won from death; and, lastly, that He should have them with Him in Heaven, and that His human nature, enjoying their presence and society, might never be solitary and void of human consolation. So Origen, S. Jerome, S. Clemens Alex. (Strom. lib. vi.), and others. The words "without us" do not refer to the day of judgment, but to the resurrection of Christ and Christians. (See notes on Hebrews 11:40.)
But it is not clear who these saints were. Probably those, in the first place, who were specially connected with Christ, either by kindred, or promise, or type and figure, or by faith and hope, or else by chastity and holiness; as Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Melchisedek, David, who wished to be buried in the promised land, and thus be partakers of Christ"s resurrection. Job , also, and Jonah , as types of the resurrection; Moses, Joshua , Samuel, Isaiah , and the other Prophets. Daniel , also, and his three companions (though their bodies are at Rome). Eve, also (some suppose), as well as Adam, though Lorinus considers that the Blessed Virgin was the first woman raised from the grave, as Christ Himself was the first-fruits among men. Those, also, who died but recently; as Zacharias, Simeon, S. John the Baptist (though his head is shown at Rome and Amiens, his finger at Florence). Raymundus also (lib. de Bono Latrone, cap. xiii.) mentions the penitent thief, though S. Augustine (contr. Felician cap. xv.) says, but only by the way, that he was reserved for the future resurrection. There were also many more (especially those mentioned in Hebrews 11.) outside Juda, for "many bodies of the saints arose." For it was indeed quite in harmony with the profuse magnificence of Christ that a crowded procession of the saints who then arose should dignify His resurrection and ascension.
Tropologically: This, says S. Jerome, "is a type of believers, who once, like the graves of the dead, have forsaken their sins, and whose hard hearts have been softened to acknowledge their Creator, and who have risen through penitence to a life of grace."
Went into the Holy City. Jerusalem, so called because of the temple worship, of the many saints who had been there, and of the institution of the Church therein by Christ the King of Saints.
And appeared unto many. To the Apostles, and disciples, and also to the Jews, to persuade them to believe in the resurrection. "That by their resurrection," says Euthymius, "others might be the more assured, by considering that He who had raised them had much more surely raised Himself."
Now when the centurion, &c. Baronius and others suppose that this was Longinus, to whose keeping Pilate had consigned Christ. He was converted by the miracles he had seen, and became a witness and preacher of the resurrection. He is said to have retired to Cappadocia, and there to have been martyred by the Jews (see Surius, March15). Lucius Dexter, a writer of small authority, considers it was C. Oppius, a Spaniard, afterwards the third Bishop of Milan (see Cornelius, Prom. in Acta ad fin.).
Saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God. God enlightened him to acknowledge from what he had seen that Jesus was more than Prayer of Manasseh , and God indeed. He had heard that He had been condemned for calling Himself the King of the Jews. But when he saw that God had borne witness to Him by these many miracles, he acknowledged that He had spoken truly. It was thus God"s will that the Centurion should bear unquestionable witness to Christ (S. Hilary). S. Augustine thinks that he confessed Him to be the Son of God not in a natural, but only in a spiritual sense, as a righteous and holy man ( Luke 23:47). But others, more correctly, that he confessed Him to be the Son of God by nature. So S. Jerome, "Consider that the Centurion in the very scandal of the Passion confessed Him to be truly the Son of God, and that Arius proclaims Him a creature;" and adds, "But now the last are first; the Gentile people confess, the Jews in their blindness deny, that their last error may be worse than their first." And Theophylact, "The order of things is reversed, while the Jews kill, the disciples fly, and a Gentile confesses. Now do the Lord"s words (John xii32) receive their fulfilment, for lifted up on the Cross He drew to Himself the robber and the Centurion." Bede too, "The faith of the Church is very fitly designated by the Centurion, for when the Synagogue is mute, it affirms Him to be the Son of God." Lastly, S. Bernard (Serm. ii. de Epiph.), "How keen-sighted is faith! It recognises the Son of God when at the breast, when hanging on the Cross. If the thief recognised Him on the Cross, so did the Magi in the stable. The thief proclaims Him King, but the Centurion the Son of God, and man too at the same time."
Not only the Centurion and the soldiers, but, as S. Luke ( Luke 23:48) adds, "All the people . . . smote their breasts," in token of sorrow, "and returned." They begin now to put forth the blossoms of repentance, that they may bear fruit at the preaching of S. Peter and the Apostles (Acts ii.).
Here comes in S. John xix31 , on which see notes in loc.