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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 16

Tractate 16 (John 4:43-54)

1. The Gospel Lesson of today follows that of yesterday, and this is the subject of our discourse. In this passage the meaning, indeed, is not difficult of investigation, but worthy of preaching, worthy of admiration and praise. Accordingly, in reciting this passage of the Gospel, we must commend it to your attention, rather than laboriously expound it.

Now Jesus, after His stay of two days in Samaria, departed into Galilee, where He was brought up. And the evangelist, as he goes on, says, For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. It was not because He had no honor in Samaria that Jesus departed thence after two days; for Samaria was not His own country, but Galilee. Whilst, therefore, He left Samaria so quickly, and came to Galilee, where He had been brought up, how does He testify that a prophet has no honor in his own country? Rather does it seem that He might have testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country, had He disdained to go into Galilee, and had stayed in Samaria.

2. Now mark well, beloved, while the Lord suggests and bestows what I may speak, that here is intimated to us no slight mystery. You know the question before us; seek ye out the solution of it. But, to make the solution desirable, let us repeat the theme. The point that troubles us is, why the evangelist said, For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. Urged by this, we go back to the preceding words, to discover the evangelist's intention in saying this; and we find him relating, in the preceding words of the narrative, that after two days Jesus departed from Samaria into Galilee. Was it for this, then, you said, O evangelist, that Jesus testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country, just because He left Samaria after two days, and made haste to come to Galilee? On the contrary, I should have thought it more likely, that if Jesus had no honor in His own country, He should not have hastened to it, and left Samaria. But if I am not mistaken, or rather, because it is true, and I am not mistaken; for the evangelist saw what he was saying better than I can see it, saw the truth better than I do, he who drank it in from the Lord's bosom: for the evangelist is the same John who, among all the disciples, reclined on the Lord's breast, and whom the Lord, owing love to all, yet loved above the rest. Is it he, then, that should be mistaken, and I right in my opinion? Rather, if I am piously-minded, let me obediently hear what he said, that I may be worthy of thinking as he thought.

3. Hear then, dearly beloved, what I think in this matter, without prejudice to your own judgment, if you have formed a better. For we have all one Master, and we are fellow disciples in one school. This, then, is my opinion, and see whether my opinion is not true, or near the truth. In Samaria He spent two days, and the Samaritans believed on Him; many were the days He spent in Galilee, and yet the Galileans did not believe in Him. Look back to the passage, or recall in memory the lesson and the discourse of yesterday. He came into Samaria, where at first He had been preached by that woman with whom He had spoken great mysteries at Jacob's well. After they had seen and heard Him, the Samaritans believed on Him because of the woman's word, and believed more firmly because of His own word, even many more believed: thus it is written. After passing two days there (in which number of days is mystically indicated the number of the two precepts on which hang the whole law and the prophets, as you remember we intimated to you yesterday), He goes into Galilee, and comes to the city Cana of Galilee, where He made the water wine. And there, when He turned the water into wine, as John himself writes, His disciples believed on Him; but, of course, the house was full with a crowd of guests. So great a miracle was wrought, and yet only His disciples believed on Him. He has now returned to this city of Galilee. And, behold, a certain ruler, whose son was sick, came to Him, and began to beseech Him to go down to that city or house, and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. Did he who besought not believe? What do you expect to hear from me? Ask the Lord what He thought of him. Having been besought, this is what He answered: Unless you see signs and wonders, you believe not. He shows us a man lukewarm, or cold in faith, or of no faith at all; but eager to try by the healing of his son what manner of person Christ was, who He was, what He could do. The words of the suppliant, indeed, we have heard: we have not seen the heart of the doubter; but He who both heard the words and saw the heart has told us this. In short, the evangelist himself, by the testimony of his narrative, shows us that the man who desired the Lord to come to his house to heal his son, had not yet believed. For after he had been informed that his son was whole, and found that he had been made whole at that hour in which the Lord had said, Go your way, your son lives; then he says, And himself believed, and all his house. Now, if the reason why he believed, and all his house, was that he was told that his son was whole, and found the hour they told him agreed with the hour of Christ's foretelling it, it follows that when he was making the request he did not yet believe. The Samaritans had waited for no sign, they believed simply His word; but His own fellow citizens deserved to hear this said to them, Unless you see signs and wonders, you believe not; and even there, notwithstanding so great a miracle was wrought, there did not believe but himself and his house. At His discourse alone many of the Samaritans believed; at that miracle, in the place where it was wrought, only that house believed. What is it, then, brethren, that the Lord does show us here? Galilee of Judea was then the Lord's own country, because He was brought up in it. But now that the circumstance portends something—for it is not without cause that prodigies are so called, but because they portend or presage something: for the word prodigy is so termed as if it were porrodicium, quod porro dicat, what betokens something to come, and portends something future—now all those circumstances portended something, predicted something; let us just now assume the country of our Lord Jesus Christ after the flesh (for He had no country on earth, except after the flesh which He took on earth); let us, I say, assume the Lord's own country to mean the people of the Jews. Lo, in His own country He has no honor. Observe at this moment the multitudes of the Jews; observe that nation now scattered over the whole world, and plucked up by the roots; observe the broken branches, cut off, scattered, withered, which being broken off, the wild olive has deserved to be grafted in; look at the multitude of the Jews: what do they say to us even now? He whom you worship and adore was our brother. And we reply, A prophet has no honor in his own country. In short, those Jews saw the Lord as He walked on the earth and worked miracles; they saw Him giving sight to the blind, opening the ears of the deaf, loosing the tongues of the dumb, bracing up the limbs of the paralytics, walking on the sea, commanding the winds and waves, raising the dead: they saw Him working such great signs, and after all that scarcely a few believed. I am speaking to God's people; so many of us have believed, what signs have we seen? It is thus, therefore, that what occurred at that time betokened what is now going on. The Jews were, or rather are, like the Galileans; we, like those Samaritans. We have heard the gospel, have given it our consent, have believed on Christ through the gospel; we have seen no signs, none do we demand.

4. For, though one of the chosen and holy twelve, yet he was an Israelite, of the Lord's nation, that Thomas who desired to put his fingers into the places of the wounds. The Lord censured him just as He did this ruler. To the ruler He said, Unless you see signs and wonders, you believe not; and to Thomas He said, Because you have seen, you have believed. He had come to the Galileans after the Samaritans, who had believed His word, before whom He wrought no miracles, whom He without anxiety quickly left, strong in faith, because by the presence of His divinity He had not left them. Now, then, when the Lord said to Thomas, Come, reach hither your hand, and be not faithless, but believing; and he, having touched the places of the wounds, exclaimed, and said, My Lord, and my God; he is chided, and has it said to him, Because you have seen, you have believed. Why, but because a prophet has no honor in his own country? But since this Prophet has honor among strangers, what follows? Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. John 20:29 We are the persons here foretold; and that which the Lord by anticipation praised, He has deigned to fulfill even in us. They saw Him, who crucified Him, and touched Him with their hands, and thus a few believed; we have not seen nor handled Him, we have heard and believed. May it be our lot, that the blessedness which He has promised may be made good in us: both here, because we have been preferred to His own country; and in the world to come, because we have been grafted in instead of the branches that were broken off!

5. For He showed that He would break off these branches, and ingraft this wild olive, when moved by the faith of the centurion, who said to Him, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my child shall be healed: for I also am a man put under authority, having soldiers under me; and I say to one, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes; and to my servant, Do this, and he does it. Jesus turned to those who followed Him, and said, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith in Israel. Why not found so great faith in Israel? Because a prophet has no honor in his own country. Could not the Lord have said to that centurion, what He said to this ruler, Go, your child lives? See the distinction: this ruler desired the Lord to come down to his house; that centurion declared himself to be unworthy. To the one it was said, I will come and heal him; to the other, Go, your son lives. To the one He promised His presence; the other He healed by His word. The ruler sought His presence by force; the centurion declared himself unworthy of His presence. Here is a ceding to loftiness; there, a conceding to humility. As if He said to the ruler, Go, your son lives; do not weary me. Unless you see signs and wonders, you believe not; you desire my presence in your house, I am able to command by a word; do not wish to believe in virtue of signs: the centurion, an alien, believed me able to work by a word, and believed before I did it; you, except ye see signs and wonders, believe not. Therefore, if it be so, let them be broken off as proud branches, and let the humble wild olive be grafted; nevertheless let the root remain, while those are cut off and these received in their place. Where does the root remain? In the patriarchs. For the people Israel is Christ's own country, since it is of them that He came according to the flesh; but the root of this tree is Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the holy patriarchs. And where are they? In rest with God, in great honor; so that it was into Abraham's bosom that the poor man, on being promoted, was raised after his departure from the body, and in Abraham's bosom was he seen from afar off by the proud rich man. Wherefore the root remains, the root is praised; but the proud branches deserved to be cut off, and to wither away; and by their cutting off, the humble wild olive has found a place.

6. Hear now how the natural branches are cut off, how the wild olive is grafted in, by means of the centurion himself, whom I have thought proper to mention for the sake of comparison with this ruler. Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith in Israel; therefore I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and from the west. How widely the wild olive took possession of the earth! This world was a bitter forest; but because of the humility, because of this I am not worthy— many shall come from the east and from the west. And grant that they come, what shall become of them? For if they come, they are cut off from the forest; where are they to be ingrafted, that they may not wither? And shall sit down, says He, with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. At what banquet, in case you do not invite to ever living, but to much drinking? Where, shall sit down? In the kingdom of heaven. And how will it be with them who came of the stock of Abraham? What will become of the branches with which the tree was full? What but to be cut off, that these may be grafted in? Show us that they shall be cut off: But the children of the kingdom shall go into outer darkness. Matthew 8:5-12

7. Therefore let the Prophet have honor among us, because He had no honor in His own country. He had no honor in His country, wherein He was formed; let Him have honor in the country which He has formed. For in that country was He, the Maker of all, made as to the form of a servant. For that city in which He was made, that Zion, that nation of the Jews He Himself made when He was with the Father as the Word of God: for all things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made. Of that man we have today heard it said: One Mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:5 The Psalms also foretold, saying, My mother is Sion, shall a man say. A certain man, the Mediator man between God and men, says, My mother Sion. Why says, My mother is Sion? Because from it He took flesh, from it was the Virgin Mary, of whose womb He took upon Him the form of a servant; in which He deigned to appear most humble. My mother is Sion, says a man; and this man, who says, My mother is Sion, was made in her, became man in her. For He was God before her, and became man in her. He who was made man in her, Himself did found her; the Most High was made man in her most low. Because the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. He Himself, the Most High, founded her. Now, because He founded this country, here let Him have honor. The country in which He was born rejected Him; let that country receive Him which He regenerated.

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Source. Translated by John Gibb. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 7. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1701016.htm>.

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