14 And after he had spent all, there came a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want.
Ambrose: Now there came to pass in that country a famine not of food but of good works and virtues, which is the more wretched fast. For he who departs from the word of God is hungry, because man does not live on bread alone, but on every word of God. [Deut 8:3; Matt 4:4] And he who departs from his treasures is in want. Therefore began he to be in want and to suffer hunger, because nothing satisfies a prodigal mind.
Augustine: The famine is the want of the word of truth. . . . Fitly did he begin to be in want who abandoned the treasures of the wisdom and the knowledge of God, and the unfathomableness of the heavenly riches.
15 And he went and cleaved to one of the citizens of that country. And he sent him into his farm to feed swine.
Bede: To be sent to the farm is to be enthralled by the desire of worldly substance.
Ambrose: He who is attached, is in a snare.
Augustine: One of the citizens of that country was a certain prince of the air belonging to the army of the devil, whose fields signify the manner of his power. . . . The swine are the unclean spirits which are under him.
Bede: To feed swine is to work those things in which the unclean spirits delight.
Chrysostom: He who is destitute of spiritual riches, as wisdom and understanding, is said to feed swine, that is, to nourish in his soul sordid and unclean thoughts, and he devours the material food of evil conversation, sweet indeed to him who lacks good works, because every work of carnal pleasure seems sweet to the depraved, while it inwardly unnerves and destroys the powers of the soul. Food of this kind, as being swines’ food and hurtfully sweet, that is, the allurements of fleshly delights, the Scripture describes by the name of husks.
16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks the swine did eat; and no man gave unto him.
Bede: The husk is a sort of bean, empty within, soft outside, by which the body is not refreshed, but filled, so that it rather loads than nourishes.
Ambrose: The sensual care for nothing else but to fill their bellies.
Augustine: The husks then with which the swine were fed are the teaching of the world, which cries loudly of vanity; according to which in various prose and verse men repeat the praises of the idols, and fables belonging to the gods of the Gentiles, wherewith the devils are delighted. Hence when he would fain have filled himself, he wished to find therein something stable and upright which might relate to a happy life, and he could not.
Scripture from the Douay-Rheims Bible. Commentary from St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea, Vol. III (London: Rivington, 1843).