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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 40

Tractate 40 (John 8:28-32)

1. Of the holy Gospel according to John, which you see in our hand, your Charity has already heard much, whereon by God's grace we have discoursed according to our ability, pressing on your notice that this evangelist, specially, has chosen to speak of the Lord's divinity, wherein He is equal with the Father and the only Son of God; and on that account he has been compared to the eagle, because no other bird is understood to take a loftier flight. Accordingly, to what follows in order, as the Lord enables us to treat of it, listen with all your attention.

2. We have spoken to you on the preceding passage, suggesting how the Father may be understood as True, and the Son as the Truth. But when the Lord Jesus said, He that sent me is true, the Jews understood not that He spoke to them of the Father. And He said to them, as you have just heard in the reading, When you have lifted up the Son of man, then shall you know that I am, and [that] I do nothing of myself; but as the Father has taught me, I speak these things. What means this? For it looks as if all He said was, that they would know who He was after His passion. Without doubt, therefore, He saw that some there, whom He Himself knew, whom with the rest of His saints He Himself in His foreknowledge had chosen before the foundation of the world, would believe after His passion. These are the very persons whom we are constantly commending, and with much entreaty setting forth for your imitation. For on the sending down of the Holy Spirit after the Lord's passion, and resurrection, and ascension, when miracles were being done in the name of Him whom, as if dead, the persecuting Jews had despised, they were pricked in their hearts; and they who in their rage slew Him were changed and believed; and they who in their rage shed His blood, now in the spirit of faith drank it; to wit, those three thousand, and those five thousand Jews whom now He saw there, when He said, When you have lifted up the Son of man, then shall you know that I am [He]. It was as if He had said, I let your recognition lie over till I have completed my passion: in your own order you shall know who I am. Not that all who heard Him were only then to believe, that is, after the Lord's passion; for a little after it is said, As He spoke these words, many believed on Him; and the Son of man was not yet lifted up. But the lifting up He is speaking of is that of His passion, not of His glorification; of the cross, not of heaven; for He was exalted there also when He hung on the tree. But that exaltation was His humiliation; for then He became obedient even to the death of the cross. Philippians 2:8 This required to be accomplished by the hands of those who should afterwards believe, and to whom He says, When you have lifted up the Son of man, then shall you know that I am [He]. And why so, but that no one might despair, however guilty his conscience, when he saw those forgiven their homicide who had slain the Christ?

3. The Lord then, recognizing such in that crowd, said, When you have lifted up the Son of man, then shall you know that I am [He]. You know already what I am signifies; and we must not be continually repeating, lest so great a subject beget distaste. Recall that, I am who am, and He who is has sent me, Exodus 3:14 and you will recognize the meaning of the words, Then shall you know that I am. But both the Father is, and the Holy Spirit is. To the same is belongs the whole Trinity. But because the Lord spoke as the Son, in order that, when He says, Then shall you know that I am, there might be no chance of entrance for the error of the Sabellians, that is, of the Patripassians,— an error which I have charged you not to hold, but to beware of—the error, I mean, of those who have said, The Father and Son are one and the same; two names, but one reality—to guard them against that error, when the Lord said, Then shall you know that I am, that He might not be understood as Himself the Father, He immediately added, And I do nothing of myself; but as my Father taught me, I speak these things. Already was the Sabellian beginning to rejoice over the discovery of a ground for his error; but immediately on showing himself as it were in the shade, he was confounded by the light of the following sentence. You thought that He was the Father, because He said, I am. Hear now that He is the Son: And I do nothing of myself. What means this, I do nothing of myself? Of myself I am not. For the Son is God, of the Father; but the Father is God, yet not of the Son. The Son is God of God, and the Father is God, but not of God. The Son is light of light; and the Father is light, but not of light. The Son is, but there is [One] of whom He is; and the Father is, but there is none of whom He is.

4. Let not then, my brethren, His further words, As my Father has taught me, I speak these things, be the occasion of any carnal thought stealing into your minds. For human weakness cannot think, but as it is accustomed to act and to hear. Do not then set before your eyes as it were two men, one the father, the other the son, and the father speaking to the son; as any one of you may do, when you say something to your son, admonishing and instructing him how to speak, to charge his memory with what you have told him, and, having done so, to express it in words, to enunciate distinctly, and convey to the ears of others what he has apprehended with his own. Think not thus, lest you be fabricating idols in your heart. The human shape, the outlines of human limbs, the form of human flesh, the outward senses, stature and motions of the body, the functions of the tongue, the distinctions of sounds—think not of such as existing in that Trinity, save as they pertain to the servant-form, which the only-begotten Son assumed, when the Word was made flesh to dwell among us. Thereof I forbid you not, human weakness, to think according to your knowledge: nay, rather I require you. If the faith that is in you be true, think of Christ as such; but as such of the Virgin Mary, not of God the Father. He was an infant, He grew as a man, He walked as a man, He hungered, He thirsted as a man, He slept as a man; at last He suffered as a man, hung on the tree, was slain and buried as a man. In the same form He rose again; in the same, before the eyes of His disciples, He ascended into heaven; in the same will He yet come to judgment. For angel lips have declared in the Gospel, He shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him go into heaven. Acts 1:11 When then you think of the servant-form in Christ, think of a human likeness, if you have faith; but when you think, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, away with all human fashioning from your heart. Banish from your thoughts everything bounded by corporeal limits, included in local measurement, or spread out in a mass, how great soever its size. Perish utterly such a figment from your heart. Think, if you can, on the beauty of wisdom, picture to yourself the beauty of righteousness. Has that a shape? A size? A color? It has none of these, and yet it is; for if it were not, it would neither be loved nor worthy of praise, nor be cherished in our heart and life as an object of honor and affection. But men here become wise; and whence would they so, had wisdom no existence? And further, O man, if you can not see your own wisdom with the eyes of the flesh, nor think of it by the same mental imagery as you can of bodily things, will you dare to thrust the shape of a human body on the wisdom of God?

5. What shall we say then, brethren? How spoke the Father to the Son, seeing that the Son says, As the Father taught me, I speak these things? Did He speak to Him? When the Father taught the Son, did He use words, as you do when you teach your son? How could He use words to the Word! What words, many in number, could be used to the one Word? Did the Word of the Father approach His ears to the Father's mouth? Such things are carnal: banish them from your hearts. For this I say, if only you have understood my words, I certainly have spoken and my words have sounded, and by their sound have reached your ears, and through your sense of hearing have carried their meaning to your mind, if so be you have understood. Suppose that some person of Latin speech has heard, but has only heard without understanding, what I have said. As regards the noise issuing from my mouth, he who has understood not has been a sharer therein just like yourselves. He has heard that sound; the same syllables have smote on his ears, but they have produced no effect on his mind. Why? Because he understood not. But if you have understood, whence comes your understanding? My words have sounded in the ear: have I kindled any light in the heart? Without doubt, if what I have said is true, and this truth you have not only heard, but also understood, two things have there been wrought (distinguish between them), hearing and intelligence. Hearing has been wrought by me, but by whom has understanding? I have spoken to the ear, that you might hear; who has spoken to your heart for understanding? Doubtless some one has also said something to your heart, that not only the noise of words might strike your ear, but something also of the truth might descend into your heart. Some one has spoken also to your heart, but you do not see him. If, brethren, you have understood, your heart also has been spoken to. Intelligence is the gift of God. And who, if you have understood, has spoken so in your heart, but He to whom the Psalm says, Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments? For example, the bishop has spoken. What has he said, some one asks. You repeat what he has spoken, and add, He has said the truth. Then another, who has not understood, says, What has he said, or what is it you are praising? Both have heard me; I have spoken to both; but to one of them God has spoken. If we may compare small things with great (for what are we to Him?), something, I know not what, of an incorporeal and spiritual kind God works in us, which is neither sound to strike the ear, nor color to be discerned by the eyes, nor smell to enter the nostrils, nor taste to be judged of by the mouth, nor anything hard or soft to be sensible to the touch; yet something there is which it is easy to feel—impossible to explain. If then God, as I was saying, speaks in our hearts without sound, how speaks He to His Son? Thus then, brethren, think thus as much as you can, if, as I have said, we may in some measure compare small things with great: think thus. In an incorporeal way the Father spoke to the Son, because in an incorporeal way the Father begot the Son. Nor did He so teach Him as if He had begotten Him untaught; but to have taught Him is the same as to have begotten Him full of knowledge; and this, The Father has taught me, is the same as, The Father has begotten me already knowing. For if, as few understand, the nature of the Truth is simple, to be is to the Son the same as to know. From Him therefore He has knowledge, from whom He has being. Not that from Him He had first being, and afterwards knowledge; but as in begetting He gave Him to be, so in begetting He gave Him to know; for, as was said, to the simple nature of the Truth, being is not one thing and knowing another, but one and the same.

6. Thus then He spoke to the Jews, and added, And He that sent me is with me. He had already said this also before, but of this important point He is constantly reminding themHe sent me, and He is with me. If then, O Lord, He is with You, not so much has the One been sent by the other, but you Both have come. And yet, while Both are together, One was sent, the Other was the sender; for incarnation is a sending, and the incarnation itself belongs only to the Son and not to the Father. The Father therefore sent the Son, but did not withdraw from the Son. For it was not that the Father was absent from the place to which He sent the Son. For where is not the Maker of all things? Where is He not, who said, I fill heaven and earth? Jeremiah 23:24 But perhaps the Father is everywhere, and the Son not so? Listen to the evangelist: He was in this world, and the world was made by Him. Therefore said He, He that sent me, by whose power as Father I am incarnate, is with me—has not left me. Why has He not left me? He has not left me, He says, alone; for I do always those things that please Him. That equality exists always; not from a certain beginning, and then onwards; but without beginning, without end. For Divine generation has no beginning in time, since time itself was created by the Only-begotten.

7. As He spoke these words, many believed on Him. Would that, while I speak also, many, who before this were otherwise disposed, understood and believed on Him! For perhaps there are some Arians in this large assembly. I dare not suspect that there are any Sabellians, who say that the Father Himself is one with the Son, seeing that heresy is too old, and has been gradually eviscerated. But that of the Arians seems still to have some movement about it, like that of a putrefying carcass, or certainly, at the most, like a man at the last gasp; and from this some still require deliverance, just as from that other many were delivered. This province, indeed, did not use to have such; but ever since the arrival of many foreigners, some of these have also found their way to our neighborhood. See then, while the Lord spoke these words, many Jews believed on Him. May I see also that, while I am speaking, Arians are believing, not on me, but with me!

8. Then said the Lord to those Jews who believed on Him, If you continue in my word. Continue, I say, for you are now initiated and have begun to be there. If you continue, that is, in the faith which is now begun in you who believe, to what will you attain? See the nature of the beginning, and whither it leads. You have loved the foundation, give heed to the summit, and out of this low condition seek that other elevation. For faith has humility, but knowledge and immortality and eternity possess not lowliness, but loftiness; that is, upraising, all-sufficiency, eternal stability, full freedom from hostile assault, from fear of failure. That which has its beginning in faith is great, but is despised. In a building also the foundation is usually of little account with the unskilled. A large trench is made, and stones are thrown in every way and everywhere. No embellishment, no beauty are apparent there; just as also in the root of a tree there is no appearance of beauty. And yet all that delights you in the tree has sprung from the root. You look at the root and feel no delight: you look at the tree and admire it. Foolish man! What you admire has grown out of that which gave you no delight. The faith of believers seems a thing of little value—you have no scales to weigh it. Hear then to what it attains, and see its greatness: as the Lord Himself says in another place, If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed. Matthew 17:20 What is there of less account than that, yet what is there pervaded with greater energy? What more minute, yet what more fervidly expansive? And so ye also, He says, if you continue in my word, wherein you have believed, to what will you be brought? you shall be my disciples indeed. And what does that benefit us? and you shall know the truth.

9. What, brethren, does He promise believers? And you shall know the truth. Why so? Had they not come to such knowledge when the Lord was speaking? If they had not, how did they believe? They believed, not because they knew, but that they might come to know. For we believe in order that we may know, we do not know in order that we may believe. For what we shall yet know, neither eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered the heart of man. For what is faith, but believing what you see not? Faith then is to believe what you see not; truth, to see what you have believed, as He Himself says in a certain place. The Lord then walked on earth, first of all, for the creation of faith. He was man, He was made in a low condition. He was seen by all, but not by all was He known. By many was He rejected, by the multitude was He slain, by few was He mourned; and yet even by those who mourned Him, His true being was still unrecognized. All this is the beginning as it were of faith's lineaments and future up-building. As the Lord, referring thereto, says in a certain place, He that loves me keeps my commandments; and he that loves me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. They certainly already saw the person to whom they were listening; and yet to them, if they loved Him, does He give it as a promise that they should see Him. So also here, You shall know the truth. How so? Is that not the truth which You have been speaking? The truth it is, but as yet it is only believed, not beheld. If you abide in that which is believed, you shall attain to that which is seen. Hence John himself, the holy evangelist, says in his epistle, Dearly beloved, we are the sons of God; but it is not yet apparent what we shall be. We are so already, and something we shall be. What more shall we be than we are? Listen: It is not yet apparent what we shall be: [but] we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him. How? For we shall see Him as He is. 1 John 3:2 A great promise, but the reward of faith. You seek the reward; then let the work precede. If you believe, ask for the reward of faith; but if you believe not, with what face can you seek the reward of faith? If then ye continue in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed, that you may behold the very truth as it is, not through sounding words, but in dazzling light, wherewith He shall satisfy us: as we read in the psalm, The light of Your countenance is impressed upon us. We are God's money: we have wandered away as coin from the treasury. The impression that was stamped upon us has been rubbed out by our wandering. He has come to refashion, for He it was that fashioned us at first; and He is Himself asking for His money, as Cæsar for his. Therefore He says, Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and unto God the things that are God's: Matthew 22:21 to Cæsar his money, to God yourselves. And then shall the truth be reproduced in us.

10. What shall I say to your Charity? Oh that our hearts were in some measure aspiring after that ineffable glory! Oh that we were passing our pilgrimage in sighs, and loving not the world, and continually pushing onwards with pious minds to Him who has called us! Longing is the very bosom of the heart. We shall attain, if with all our power we give way to our longing. Such in our behalf is the object of the divine Scriptures, of the assembling of the people, of the celebration of the sacra ments, of holy baptism, of singing God's praise, and of this our own exposition—that this longing may not only be implanted and germinate, but also expand to such a measure of capacity as to be fit to take in what eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has entered into the heart of man. But love with me. He who loves God is not much in love with money. And I have but touched on this infirmity, not venturing to say, He loves not money at all, but, He loves not money much; as if money were to be loved, but not in a great degree. Oh, were we loving God worthily, we should have no love at all for money! Money then will be your means of pilgrimage, not the stimulant of lust; something to use for necessity, not to joy over as a means of delight. Love God, if He has wrought in you somewhat of that which you hear and praisest. Use the world: let not the world hold you captive. You are passing on the journey you have begun; you have come, again to depart, not to abide. You are passing on your journey, and this life is but a wayside inn. Use money as the traveller at an inn uses table, cup, pitcher, and couch, with the purpose not of remaining, but of leaving them behind. If such you would be, you, who can stir up your hearts and hear me; if such you would be, you will attain to His promises. It is not too much for your strength, for mighty is the hand of Him who has called you. He has called you. Call upon Him, say to Him, You have called us, we call upon You; see, we have heard You calling us, hear us calling upon You: lead us whither You have promised; perfect what You have begun; forsake not Your own gifts; leave not Your own field; let Your tender shoots yet be gathered into Your barn. Temptations abound in the world, but greater is He who made the world. Temptations abound, but he fails not whose hope reposes in Him in whom there is no deficiency.

11. I have been exhorting you, brethren, to this in such words, because the freedom of which our Lord Jesus Christ speaks belongs not to this present time. Look at what He added: You shall be my disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. What means that— shall set you free? It shall make you freemen. In a word, the carnal, and fleshly-minded Jews— not those who had believed, but those in the crowd who believed not— thought that an injury was done them, because He said to them, The truth shall make you free. They were indignant at being designated as slaves. And slaves truly they were; and He explains to them what slavery it is, and what is that future freedom which is promised by Himself. But of this liberty and of that slavery it were too long to speak today.

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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/1701040.htm>.

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