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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 35

Tractate 35 (John 8:13-14)

1. You who were present yesterday, bear in mind that we were a long while discoursing of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, where He says, I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life; and if we wished to go on discoursing of that light, we might still speak a long time; for it would be impossible for us to expound the matter in brief. Therefore, my brethren, let us follow Christ, the light of the world, that we may not be walking in darkness. We must fear the darkness—not the darkness of the eyes, but that of the moral character; and even if it be the darkness of the eyes, it is not of the outer, but of the inner eyes, of those by which we discern, not between white and black, but between right and wrong.

2. When our Lord Jesus Christ had spoken these things, the Jews answered, You bear record of yourself; your record is not true. Before our Lord Jesus Christ came, He lighted and sent many prophetic lamps before Him. Of these was also John Baptist, to whom the great Light itself, which is the Lord Christ, gave a testimony such as was given to no other man; for He said, Among them that are born of women, there has not risen a greater than John the Baptist. Matthew 11:11 Yet this man, than whom none was greater among those born of women, said of the Lord Jesus Christ, I indeed baptize you in water; but He that is coming is mightier than I, whose shoe I am not worthy to loose. John 1:26-27 See how the lamps submits itself to the Day. The Lord Himself bears witness that the same John was indeed a lamp: He was, says He, a burning and a shining lamp; and you were willing for a season to rejoice in his light. John 5:35 But when the Jews said to the Lord, Tell us by what authority you do these things, He, knowing that they regarded John the Baptist as a great one, and that the same whom they regarded as a great one had borne witness to them concerning the Lord, answered them, I also will ask you one thing; tell me, the baptism of John, whence is it? From heaven, or from men? Thrown into confusion, they considered among themselves that, if they said, From men, they might be stoned by the people, who believed John to be a prophet; if they said, From heaven, He might answer them, He whom you confess to have been a prophet from heaven bore testimony to me, and you have heard from him by what authority I do these things. They saw, then, that whichever of these two answers they made, they would fall into the snare, and they said, We do not know. And the Lord answered them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things. Matthew 21:23-27 I tell you not what I know, because you will not confess what you know. Most justly, certainly, were they repulsed, and they departed in confusion; and that was fulfilled which God the Father says by the prophet in the psalm, I have prepared a lamp for my Christ (the lamp was John); His enemies I will clothe with confusion.

3. The Lord Jesus Christ, then, had the witness of prophets sent before Him, of the heralds that preceded the judge: He had witness from John; but He was Himself the greater witness which He bore to Himself. But those men with their feeble eyes sought lamps, because they were not able to bear the day; for that same Apostle John, whose Gospel we have in our hands, says in the beginning of his Gospel, concerning John the Baptist: There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, that all men might believe through him. He was not the light, but was sent to bear witness of the light. That was the true light, that lights every man coming into the world. If every man, therefore also lights John. Whence also the same John says, We all have received out of His fullness. Wherefore discern ye these things, that your minds may profit in the faith of Christ, that you be not always babes seeking the breasts and shrinking from solid food. You ought to be nourished and to be weaned by our holy mother the Church of Christ, and to come to more solid food by the mind, not by the belly. This discern ye then, that the light which enlightens is one thing, another that which is enlightened. For also our eyes are called lights; and every man thus swears, touching his eyes, by these lights of his: So may my lights live. This is a customary oath. Let these lights, if lights they are, be opened, and shine for you in your closed chamber, when the light is not there; they certainly cannot. Therefore, as these which we have in our face, and call lights, when they are both healthy and open, need the help of light from without—which being removed or not brought in, though they are sound and are open, yet they do not see—so our mind, which is the eye of the soul, unless it be irradiated by the light of truth, and wondrously shone upon by Him who enlightens and is not enlightened, will not be able to come to wisdom nor to righteousness. For to live righteously is for us the way itself. But how can he on whom the light does not shine but stumble in the way? And hence, in such a way, we have need of seeing, in such a way it is a great thing to see. Now Tobias had the eyes in his face closed, and the son gave his hand to the father; and yet the father, by his instruction, pointed out the way to the son. Tobit 2:11

4. The Jews then answered, You bear witness of yourself; your witness is not true. Let us see what they hear; let us also hear, yet not as they did: they despising, we believing; they wishing to slay Christ, we desiring to live through Christ. Let this difference distinguish our ears and minds from theirs, and let us hear what the Lord answers to the Jews. Jesus answered and said to them, Though I bear witness of myself, my witness is true; because I know whence I came and whither I go. The light shows both other things and also itself. Thou lightest a lamp, for instance, to look for your coat, and the burning lamp affords you light to find your coat; do you light the lamp to see itself when it burns? A burning lamp is indeed capable at the same time of exposing to view other things which the darkness covered, and also of showing itself to your eyes. So also the Lord Christ distinguished between His faithful ones and His Jewish enemies, as between light and darkness: as between those whom He illuminated with the ray of faith, and those on whose closed eyes He shed His light. So, too, the sun shines on the face of the sighted and of the blind; both alike standing and facing the sun are shone upon in the flesh, but both are not enlightened in the eyesight. The one sees, the other sees not: the sun is present to both, but one is absent from the present sun. So likewise the Wisdom of God, the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, is everywhere present, because the truth is everywhere, wisdom is everywhere. One man in the east understands justice, another man in the west understands justice; is justice which the one understands a different thing from that which the other understands? In body they are far apart, and yet they have the eyes of their minds on one object. The justice which I, placed here, see, if justice it is, is the same which the just man, separated from me in the flesh by ever so many days' journey, also sees, and is united to me in the light of that justice. Therefore the light bears witness to itself; it opens the sound eyes and is its own witness, that it may be known as the light. But how about the unbelievers? Is it not present to them? It is present also to them, but they have not eyes of the heart with which to see it. Hear the sentence fetched from the Gospel itself concerning them: And the light shines in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. John 1:5 Hence the Lord says, and says truly, Though I bear witness of myself, my witness is true; because I know whence I came and whither I go. He meant us to understand the Father here: the Son gave glory to the Father. Himself the equal glorifies Him by whom He was sent. How ought man to glorify Him by whom he was created!

5. I know whence I came and whither I go. He who speaks to you in person has what He has not left, and yet He came; for by coming He departed not thence, nor has He forsaken us by returning there. Why marvel ye? It is God: this cannot be done by man; it cannot be done even by the sun. When it goes to the west it leaves the east, and until it returns to the east, when about to rise, it is not in the east; but our Lord Jesus Christ both comes and is there, both returns and is here. Hear the evangelist himself speaking in another place, and, if you can, understand it; if not, believe it: God, says he, no man has ever seen, but the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. He said not was in the bosom of the Father, as if by coming He had quitted the Father's bosom. Here He was speaking, and yet He declared that He was there; and when about to depart hence, what said He? Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Matthew 28:20

6. The witness of the light then is true, whether it be manifesting itself or other things; for without light you can not see light, and without light you can not see any other thing whatever that is not light. If light is capable of showing other things which are not lights, is it not capable of showing itself? Does not that discover itself, without which other things cannot be made manifest? A prophet spoke a truth; but whence had he it, unless he drew it from the fountain of truth? John spoke a truth; but whence he spoke it, ask himself: We all, says he, have received of His fullness. Therefore our Lord Jesus Christ is worthy to bear witness to Himself. But in any case, my brethren, let us who are in the night of this world hear also prophecy with earnest attention: for now our Lord willed to come in humility to our weakness and the deep night-darkness of our hearts: He came as a man to be despised and to be honored, He came to be denied and to be confessed; to be despised and to be denied by the Jews, to be honored and confessed by us: to be judged and to judge; to be judged unjustly, to judge righteously. Such then He came that He behooved to have a lamp to bear witness to Him. For what need was there that John should, as a lamp, bear witness to the day, if the day itself could be looked upon by our weakness? But we could not look upon it: He became weak for the weak; by infirmity He healed infirmity; by mortal flesh He took away the death of the flesh; of His own body He made a salve for our eyes. Since, therefore, the Lord has come, and since we are still in the night of the world, it behooves us to hear also prophecies.

7. For it is from prophecy that we convince gainsaying pagans. Who is Christ? Says the pagan. To whom we reply, He whom the prophets foretold. What prophets? Asks he. We quote Isaiah, Daniel, Jeremiah, and other holy prophets: we tell him that they came long before Christ, by what length of time they preceded His coming. We make this reply then: Prophets came before Him, and they foretold His coming. One of them answers: What prophets? We quote for him those which are daily read to us. And, said he, Who are these prophets? We answer: Those who also foretold the things which we see come to pass. And he urges: You have forged these for yourselves, you have seen them come to pass, and have written them in what books you pleased, as if their coming had been predicted. Here in opposition to pagan enemies the witness of other enemies offers itself. We produce books written by the Jews, and reply: Doubtless both you and they are enemies of our faith. Hence are they scattered among the nations, that we may convince one class of enemies by another. Let the book of Isaiah be produced by the Jews, and let us see if it is not there we read, He was led as a sheep to be slaughtered, and as a lamb before his shearer was dumb, so He opened not His mouth. In humility His judgment was taken away; by His bruises we are healed: all we as sheep went astray, and He was delivered up for our sins. Isaiah 53:5-8 Behold one lamp. Let another be produced, let the psalm be opened, and thence, too, let the foretold suffering of Christ be quoted: They pierced my hands and my feet, they counted all my bones: but they considered me and gazed upon me, they parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture they cast the lot. My praise is with You; in the great assembly will I confess to You. All the ends of the earth shall be reminded, and be converted to the Lord: all countries of the nations shall worship in His sight; for the kingdom is the Lord's, and He shall have dominion over the nations. Let one enemy blush, for it is another enemy that gives me the book. But lo, out of the book produced by the one enemy, I have vanquished the other: nor let that same who produced me the book be left; let him produce that by which himself also may be vanquished. I read another prophet, and I find the Lord speaking to the Jews: I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord, nor will I accept sacrifice at your hands: for from the rising of the sun even to his going down, a pure sacrifice is offered to my name. Malachi 1:10-11 Thou dost not come, O Jew, to a pure sacrifice; I prove you impure.

8. Behold, even lamps bear witness to the day, because of our weakness, for we cannot bear and look at the brightness of the day. In comparison, indeed, with unbelievers, we Christians are even now light; as the apostle says, For you were once darkness, but now light in the Lord: walk as children of light: Ephesians 5:8 and he says elsewhere, The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast away the works of darkness, and put on us the armor of light; let us walk honestly as in the day. Romans 13:12-13 Yet that even the day in which we now are is still night, in comparison with the light of that to which we are to come, listen to the Apostle Peter: he says that a voice came to the Lord Christ from the excellent glory, You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. This voice, said he, which came from heaven, we heard, when we were with Him in the holy mount. But because we were not there, and have not then heard this voice from heaven, the same Peter says to us, And we have a more sure word of prophecy. You have not heard the voice come from heaven, but you have a more sure word of prophecy. For the Lord Jesus Christ, foreseeing that there would be certain wicked men who would calumniate His miracles, by attributing them to magical arts, sent prophets before Him. For, supposing He was a magician, and by magical arts caused that He should be worshipped after His death, was He then a magician before He was born? Hear the prophets, O man dead, and breeding the worms of calumny, hear the prophets: I read, hear them who came before the Lord. We have, says the Apostle Peter, a more sure word of prophecy, to which you do well to give heed, as to a lamp in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts. 2 Peter 1:17-19

9. When, therefore, our Lord Jesus Christ shall come, and, as the Apostle Paul also says, will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the thoughts of the heart, that every man may have praise from God; 1 Corinthians 4:5 then, in presence of such a day, lamps will not be needed: no prophet shall then be read to us, no book of an apostle shall be opened; we shall not require the witness of John, we shall not need the Gospel itself. Accordingly all Scriptures shall be taken out of the way—which, in the night of this world, were as lamps kindled for us that we might not remain in darkness—when all these are taken away, that they may not shine as if we needed them, and the men of God, by whom these were ministered to us, shall themselves, together with us, behold that true and clear light. Well, what shall we see after these aids have been removed? Wherewith shall our mind be fed? Wherewith shall our gaze be delighted? Whence shall arise that joy which neither eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has gone up into the heart of man? What shall we see? I beseech you, love with me, by believing run with me: let us long for our home above, let us pant for our home above, let us feel that we are strangers here. What shall we see then? Let the Gospel now tell us: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. You shall come to the fountain from which a little dew has already besprinkled you: you shall see that very light, from which a ray was sent aslant and through many windings into your dark heart, in its purity, for the seeing and bearing of which you are being purified. John himself says, and this I cited yesterday: Beloved, we are the sons of God; and it has not yet appeared what we shall be: we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him even as He is. 1 John 3:2 I feel that your affections are being lifted up with me to the things that are above: but the body, which is corrupt, weighs down the soul; and, the earthly habitation depresses the mind while meditating many things. Wisdom 9:15 I am about to lay aside this book, and you too are going to depart, every man to his own house. It has been good for us to have been in the common light, good to have been glad therein, good to have rejoiced therein; but when we part from one another, let us not depart from Him.

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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/1701035.htm>.

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