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1. The words of our Lord Jesus Christ, especially those recorded by the Evangelist John, — who not without cause leaned on the Lord's bosom, that he might drink in the secrets of that higher wisdom, and by evangelizing give forth again what by loving he had drunk in — are so secret and profound of understanding, that they trouble all who are perverse of heart, and exercise all who are in heart upright. Wherefore, beloved, give heed to these few words that have been read. Let us see if in any wise we can, by His own gift and help who has willed His words to be recited to us, which at that time were heard and committed to writing that they might now be read, what He means in what you have now heard Him say:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son cannot of Himself do anything, but what He sees the Father doing: for whatever things the Father does, these same the Son also does in like manner.
2. Now you need to be reminded whence this discourse arose, by reason of what precedes this passage, where the Lord had cured a certain man among those who were lying in the five porches of that pool of Solomon, and to whom He had said,
Take up your bed, and go unto your house. But this He had done on the Sabbath; and hence the Jews, being troubled, were falsely accusing Him as a destroyer and transgressor of the law. He then said to them,
My Father works even until now, and I work. John 5:17 For they, taking the observance of the Sabbath in a carnal sense, fancied that God had, as it were, slept after the labor of framing the world even to this day; and that therefore He had sanctified that day, from which He began to rest as from labor. Now, to our fathers of old there was ordained a sacrament of the Sabbath, Exodus 20:8 which we Christians observe spiritually, in abstaining from every servile work, that is, from every sin (for the Lord says, Scripture called it rest, to admonish us that after good works we shall rest. For thus we have it written in Genesis,
And God made all things very good, and God rested on the seventh day, in order that you, O man, considering that God Himself is said to have rested after good works, should not expect rest for yourself, until after you have wrought good works; and even as God after He made man in His own image and likeness, and in him finished all His works very good, rested on the seventh day, so may you also not expect rest to yourself, unless you return to that likeness in which you were made, which likeness you have lost by sinning. For, in reality, God cannot be said to have toiled, who
said, and they were done. Who is there that, after such facility of work, desires to rest as if after labor? If He commanded and some one resisted Him, if He commanded and it was not done, and labored that it might be done, then justly He should be said to have rested after labor. But when in that same book of Genesis we read, God said, Let there be light, and there was light; God said, Let there be a firmament, and the firmament was made, and all the rest were made immediately at His word: to which also the psalm testifies, saying,
He spoke, and they were made; He commanded, and they were created, — how could He require rest after the world was made, as if to enjoy leisure after toil, He who in commanding never toiled? Consequently these sayings are mystical, and are laid down in this wise that we may be looking for rest after this life, provided we have done good works. Accordingly, the Lord, restraining the impudence and refuting the error of the Jews, and showing them that they did not think rightly of God, says to them, when they were offended at His working men's healing on the Sabbath,
My Father works until now, and I work: do not therefore suppose that my Father so rested on the Sabbath, that thenceforth He does not work; but even as He now works, so I also work. But as the Father without toil, so too the Son without toil. God
said, and they were done; Christ said to the impotent man,
Take up your bed, and go unto your house, and it was done.
3. But the catholic faith has it, that the works of the Father and of the Son are not separable. This is what I wish, if possible, to speak to you, beloved; but, according to those words of the Lord,
he that is able to receive it, let him receive it. Matthew 19:12 But he that is not able to receive it, let him not charge it on me, but on his own dullness; and let him turn to Him that opens the heart, that He may pour in what He freely gives. And, lastly, if any one may not have understood, because I have not declared it as I ought to have declared it, let him excuse the weakness of man, and supplicate the divine goodness. For we have within a Master, Christ. Whatever you are not able to receive through your ear and my mouth, turn ye in your heart to Him who both teaches me what to speak, and distributes to you in what measure He deigns. He who knows what to give, and to whom to give, will help him that seeks, and open to him that knocks. And if so be that He give not, let no one call himself forsaken. For it may be that He delays to give something, but He leaves none hungry. If, indeed, He give not at the hour, He is exercising the seeker, He is not scorning the suitor. Look ye, then, and give heed to what I wish to say, even if I should not be able to say it. The catholic faith, confirmed by the Spirit of God in His saints, has this against all heretical perverseness, that the works of the Father and of the Son are inseparable. What is this that I have said? As the Father and the Son are inseparable, so also the works of the Father and of the Son are inseparable. How are the Father and the Son inseparable, since Himself said,
I and the Father are one? John 10:30 Because the Father and the Son are not two Gods, but one God, the Word and He whose the Word is, One and the Only One, Father and Son bound together by charity, One God, and the Spirit of Charity also one, so that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is made the Trinity. Therefore, not only of the Father and Son, but also of the Holy Spirit; as there is equality and inseparability of persons, so also the works are inseparable. I will tell you yet more plainly what is meant by
the works are inseparable. The catholic faith does not say that God the Father made something, and the Son made some other thing; but what the Father made, that also the Son made, that also the Holy Spirit made. For all things were made by the Word; when
He spoke and they were done, it is by the Word they were done, by Christ they were done. For
in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God: all things were made by Him. If all things were made by Him, God said, Let there be light, and there was light; in the Word He made, by the Word He made.
4. Behold, then, we have now heard the Gospel, where He answered the Jews who were indignant
that He not only broke the Sabbath, but said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. John 5:18 For so it is written in the foregoing paragraph. When, therefore, the Son of God, the Truth, made answer to their erring indignation, says He,
Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son cannot of Himself do anything, but what He sees the Father doing; as if He said,
Why are you offended because I have said that God is my Father, and that I make myself equal with God? I am equal in that wise that He begot me; I am equal in that wise that He is not from me, but I from Him. For this is implied in these words:
The Son cannot do anything of Himself, but what He sees the Father doing. That is, whatever the Son has to do, the doing it He has of the Father. Why of the Father has He the doing it? Because of the Father He has it that He is Son. Why has He it of the Father to be Son? Because of the Father He has it that He is able, of the Father that He is. For, to the Son, both to be able and to be is the self-same thing. It is not so with man. Raise your hearts by all means from a comparison of human weakness, that lies far beneath; and should any of us perhaps reach to the secret, and, while awe-struck by the brilliance as it were of a great light, should discern somewhat, and not remain wholly ignorant; yet let him not imagine that he understands the whole, lest he should become proud, and lose what knowledge he has gotten. With man, to be and to be able are different things. For sometimes the man is, and yet cannot what he wills; sometimes, again, the man is in such wise, that he can what he wills; therefore his being and his being able are different things. For if man's esse and posse were the same thing, then he could when he would. But with God it is not so, that His substance to be is one thing, and His power to be able another thing; but whatever is His, and whatever He is, is consubstantial with Him, because He is God: it is not so that in one way He is, in another way is able; He has the esse and the posse together, because He has to will and to do together. Since, then, the power of the Son is of the Father, therefore also the substance of the Son is of the Father; and since the substance of the Son is of the Father, therefore the power of the Son is of the Father. In the Son, power and substance are not different: the power is the self-same that the substance is; the substance to be, the power to be able. Accordingly, because the Son is of the Father, He said,
The Son cannot of Himself do anything. Because He is not Son from Himself, therefore He is not able from Himself.
5. He appears to have made Himself as it were less, when He said,
The Son cannot of Himself do anything, but what He sees the Father doing. Hereupon heretical vanity lifts the neck; theirs, indeed, who say that the Son is less than the Father, of less authority, of less majesty, of less possibility, not understanding the mystery of Christ's words. But attend, beloved, and see how they are confounded in their carnal intellect by the words of Christ. And this is what I said a little before, that the word of God troubles all perverse hearts, just as it exercises pious hearts, especially that spoken by the Evangelist John. For they are deep words that are spoken by him, not random words, nor such as may be easily understood. So, a heretic, if he happen to hear these words, immediately rises and says to us,
Lo, the Son is less than the Father; hear the words of the Son, who says, 'The Son cannot do anything of Himself, but what He sees the Father doing.' Wait; as it is written,
Be meek to hear the word, that you may understand. Sirach 5:13 Well, suppose that because I assert the power and majesty of the Father and of the Son to be equal, I was disconcerted at hearing these words,
The Son cannot do anything of Himself, but what He sees the Father doing. Well, I, being disconcerted at these words, will ask you, who seemest to yourself to have instantly understood them, a question. We know in the Gospel that the Son walked upon the sea; Matthew 14:25 when saw He the Father walk upon the sea? Here now he is disconcerted. Lay aside, then, your understanding of the words, and let us examine them together. What do we then? We have heard the words of the Lord:
The Son cannot of Himself do anything, but what He sees the Father doing. The Son walked upon the sea, the Father never walked upon the sea. Yet certainly
the Son cannot of Himself do anything, but what He sees the Father doing.
6. Return then with me to what I was saying, in case it is so to be understood that we may both escape from the question. For I see how I, according to the catholic faith, may escape without tripping or stumbling; while you, on the other hand, shut in on every side, art seeking a way of escape. See by what way you have entered. Perhaps you have not understood this that I said, See by what way you have entered: hear Himself saying,
I am the door. John 10:7 Not without cause, then, are you seeking how you may get out; and this only you find, that you have not entered by the door, but fell in over the wall. Therefore raise yourself up from your fall how you can, and enter by the door, that you may go in without stumbling, and go out without straying. Come by Christ, not bringing forward of your own heart what you may say; but what He shows, that speak. Behold how the catholic faith gets clear of this question. The Son walked upon the sea, planted the feet of flesh on the waves: the flesh walked, and the divinity directed. But when the flesh was walking and the divinity directing, was the Father absent? If absent, how does the Son Himself say,
but the Father abiding in me, Himself does the works? John 14:10 If the Father, abiding in the Son, Himself does His works, then that walking upon the sea was made by the Father, and through the Son. Accordingly, that walking is an inseparable work of Father and Son. I see both acting in it. Neither the Father forsook the Son, nor the Son left the Father. Thus, whatever the Son does, He does not without the Father; because whatever the Father does, He does not without the Son.
7. We have got clear of this question. Mark ye that rightly we say the works of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit are inseparable. But as you understand it, lo, God made the light, and the Son saw the Father making light, according to your carnal understanding, who will have it that He is less, because He said,
The Son cannot of Himself do anything, but what He sees the Father doing. God the Father made light; what other light did the Son make? God the Father made the firmament, the heaven between waters and waters; and the Son saw Him, according to your dull and sluggish understanding. Well, since the Son saw the Father making the firmament, and also said,
The Son cannot of Himself do anything, but what He sees the Father doing, then show me the other firmament made by the Son. Have you lost the foundation? But they that are
built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone, are brought into a state of peace in Christ; Ephesians 2:14-20 nor do they strive and wander in heresy. Therefore we understand that the light was made by God the Father, but through the Son; that the firmament was made by God the Father, but through the Son. For
all things were made through Him, and without Him was nothing made. Cast out your understanding, which ought not to be called understanding, but evidently foolishness. God the Father made the world; what other world did the Son make? Show me the Son's world. Whose is this world in which we are? Tell us, by whom made? If you say, Gospel answers you thus,
And the world was made by (through) Him, and the world knew Him not. Acknowledge Him, then, by whom the world was made, and be not among those who knew not Him that made the world.
8. Wherefore the works of the Father and of the Son are inseparable. Moreover, this,
The Son cannot do anything of Himself, would mean the same thing as if He were to say,
The Son is not from Himself. For if He is a Son, He was begotten; if begotten, He is from Him of whom He is begotten. Nevertheless, the Father begot Him equal to Himself. Nor was anything wanting to Him that begot; He who begot a co-eternal required not time to beget: who produced the Word of Himself, required not a mother to beget by; the Father begetting did not precede the Son in age, so that He should beget a Son younger than Himself. But perhaps some one may say, that after many ages God begot a Son in His old age. Even as the Father is without age, so the Son is without growth; neither has the one grown old nor the other increased, but equal begot equal, eternal begot eternal. How, says some one, has eternal begot eternal? As a temporary flame generates a temporary light. The generating flame is coeval with the light which it generates: the generating flame does not precede in time the generated light; but from the moment the flame begins, from that moment the light begins. Show me flame without light, and I show you God the Father without Son. Accordingly,
the Son cannot do anything of Himself, but what He sees the Father doing, implies, that for the Son to see and to be begotten of the Father, is the same thing. His seeing and His substance are not different; nor are His power and substance different. All that He is, He is of the Father; all that He can is of the Father; because what He can and what He is is one thing, and all of the Father.
9. Moreover, He goes on in His own words, and troubles those that understand the matter amiss, in order to recall the erring to a right apprehension of it. After He had said,
The Son cannot of Himself do anything, but what He sees the Father doing; lest a carnal understanding of the matter should by chance creep in and turn the mind aside, and a man should imagine as it were two mechanics, one a master, the other a learner, attentively observing the master while making, say a chest, so that, as the master made the chest, the learner should make another chest according to the appearance which he looked upon while the master wrought; lest, I say, the carnal mind should frame to itself any such twofold notion in the case of the divine unity, going on, He says,
For whatever things the Father does, these same also the Son does in like manner. It is not, the Father does some, the Son others like them, but the same in like manner. For He says not, Whatever things the Father does, the Son also does others the like; but says He,
Whatever things the Father does, these same also the Son does in like manner. What things the Father does, these also the Son does: the Father made the world, the Son made the world, the Holy Ghost made the world. If three Gods, then three worlds; if one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, then one world was made by the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Ghost. Consequently the Son does those things which also the Father does, and does not in a different manner; He both does these, and does them in like manner.
10. After He had said,
these does, why did He add,
in like manner does? Lest another distorted understanding or error should spring up in the mind. You see, for instance, a man's work: in man there is mind and body; the mind rules the body, but there is a great difference between body and mind: the body is visible, the mind is invisible: there is a great difference between the power and virtue of the mind and that of any kind of body whatever, be it even a heavenly body. Still the mind rules its own body, and the body does; and what the mind appears to do, this the body does also. Thus the body appears to do this same thing that the mind does, but not
in like manner. How does this same, but not in like manner? The mind frames a word in itself; it commands the tongue, and the tongue produces the word which the mind framed: the mind made, and the tongue made; the lord of the body made, and the servant made; but that the servant might make, it received of its lord what to make, and made while the lord commanded. The same thing was made by both, but was it in like manner? How not in like manner? Says some one. See, the word that my mind formed, remains in me; that which my tongue made, passed through the smitten air, and is not. When you have said a word in your mind, and uttered it by your tongue, return to your mind, and see that the word which you have made is there still. Has it remained on your tongue, just as it has in your mind? What was uttered by the tongue, the tongue made by sounding, the mind made by thinking; but what the tongue uttered has passed away, what the mind thought remains. Therefore the body made that which the mind made, but not in like manner. For the mind, indeed, made that which the mind may hold, but the tongue made what sounds and strikes the ear through the air. Do you chase the syllables, and cause them to remain? Well, not in such manner the Father and the Son; but
these same does, and
in like manner does. If God made heaven that remains, this heaven that remains the Son made. If God the Father made man that is mortal, the same man that is mortal the Son made. Whatever things the Father made that endure, these things that endure made also the Son, because in like manner He made; and whatever things the Father made that are temporal, these same things that are temporal made also the Son, because He made not only the same, but also in like manner made. For the Father made by the Son, since by the Word the Father made all things.
11. Seek in the Father and Son a separation, you find none; no, not if you have mounted high; no, not even if you have reached something above your mind. For if you turn about among the things which your wandering mind makes for itself, you talk with your own imaginations, not with the Word of God; your own imaginations deceive you. Mount also beyond the body, and understand the mind; mount also beyond the mind, and understand God. Thou reachest not unto God, unless you have passed beyond the mind; how much less you reach unto God, if you have tarried in the flesh! They who think of the flesh, how far are they from understanding what God is!— since they would not be there even if they knew the mind. Man recedes far from God when his thoughts are of the flesh; and there is a great difference between flesh and mind, yet a greater between mind and God. If you are occupied with the mind, you are in the midway: if you direct your attention beneath, there is the body; if above, there is God. Lift yourself up from the body, pass beyond even yourself. For observe what said the psalm, and you are admonished how God must be thought of:
My tears, it says,
were made to me my bread day and night, when it was said to me daily, Where is your God? As the pagans may say,
Behold our gods, where is your God? They indeed show us what is seen; we worship what is not seen. And to whom can we show? To a man who has not sight with which to see? For anyhow, if they see their gods with their eyes, we too have other eyes with which to see our God: for
blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Matthew 5:8 Therefore, when he had said that he was troubled, when it was daily said to him,
Where is your God?
these things I remembered, says he,
because it is daily said to me, Where is your God? And as if wishing to lay hold of his God,
These things, says he,
I remembered, and poured out my soul above me. Therefore, that I might reach unto my God, of whom it was said to me,
Where is your God? I poured out my soul, not over my flesh, but
above me; I transcended myself, that I might reach unto Him: for He is above me who made me; none reaches to Him but he that passes beyond himself.
12. Consider the body: it is mortal, earthy, weak, corruptible; away with it. Yes, perhaps you say, but the body is temporal. Think then of other bodies, the heavenly; they are greater, better, more magnificent. Look at them, moreover, attentively. They roll from east to west, they stand not; they are seen with the eyes, not only by man, but even by the beast of the field. Pass beyond them too. And how, do you say, pass beyond the heavenly bodies, seeing that I walk on the earth? Not in the flesh do you pass beyond them, but in the mind. Away with them too: though they shine ever so much, they are bodies; though they glitter from heaven, they are bodies. Come, now that perhaps you think you have not whither to go, after considering all these. And whither am I to go, do you say, beyond the heavenly bodies; and what am I to pass beyond with the mind? Have you considered all these? I have, do you say. By what means have you considered them? Let the being that considers appear in person. The being that considers all these, that discriminates, distinguishes, and in a manner weighs them in the balance of wisdom, is really the mind. Doubtless, then, better is the mind with which you have contemplated all these things, than these things which you have contemplated. This mind, then, is a spirit, not a body. Pass beyond it too. And that you may see whither you are to pass beyond, compare that mind itself, in the first place, with the flesh. Heaven forbid that you should deign so to compare it! Compare it with the brightness of the sun, of the moon, and of the stars; the brightness of the mind is greater. Observe, first, the swiftness of the mind; see whether the scintillation of the thinking mind be not more impetuous than the brilliance of the shining sun. With the mind you see the sun rising. How slow is its motion compared with your mind! What the sun is about to do, you can think in a trice. It is about to come from the east to the west; tomorrow rises from another quarter. Where your thought has done this, the sun still lags behind, and you have traversed the whole journey. A great thing, therefore, is the mind. But how do I say is? Pass beyond it also. For the mind, notwithstanding it be better than every kind of body, is itself changeable. Now it knows, now knows not; now forgets, now remembers; now wills, now wills not; now errs, now is right. Pass therefore beyond all changeableness; not only beyond all that is seen, but also beyond all that changes. For you have passed beyond the flesh which is seen; beyond heaven, the sun, moon, and stars, which are seen. Pass, too, beyond all that changes. For when you had done with those things that are seen, and had come to your mind, there you found the changeableness of your mind. Is God at all changeable? Pass then, beyond even your mind. Pour out your soul
above you, that you may reach unto God, of whom it is said to you,
Where is your God?
13. Do not imagine that you are to do something beyond a man's ability. The Evangelist John himself did this. He soared beyond the flesh, beyond the earth which he trod, beyond the seas which he looked upon, beyond the air in which the fowls fly, beyond the sun, the moon, the stars, beyond all the spirits unseen, beyond his own mind, by the very reason of his rational soul. Soaring beyond all these, pouring out his soul above him, whither did he arrive? What did he see?
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. If, therefore, you see no separation in the light, why do you seek a separation in the work? See God, see His Word inhering to the Word speaking, that the speaker speaks not by syllables, but this his speaking is a shining out in the brightness of wisdom. What is said of the Wisdom itself?
It is the radiance of eternal light. Wisdom 7:26 Observe the radiance of the sun. The sun is in the heaven, and spreads out its brightness over all lands and over all seas, and it is simply a corporal light.
If, indeed, you can separate the brightness from the sun, then separate the Word from the Father. I am speaking of the sun. One small, slender flame of a lamp, which can be extinguished by one breath, spreads its light over all that lies near it: you see the light generated by the flame spread out; you see its emission, but not a separation. Understand, then, beloved brethren, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are inseparably united in themselves; that this Trinity is one God; that all the works of the one God are the works of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. All the rest which follows, and which refers to the discourse of our Lord Jesus Christ, now that a discourse is due to you tomorrow also, be present that you may hear.
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/1701020.htm>.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is feedback732 at newadvent.org. (To help fight spam, this address might change occasionally.) Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.