New Advent
 Home   Encyclopedia   Summa   Fathers   Bible   Library 
 A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 
Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 55

Tractate 55 (John 13:1-5)

1. The Lord's Supper, as set forth in John, must, with His assistance, be unfolded in a becoming number of Lectures, and explained with all the ability He is pleased to grant us. Now, before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them unto the end. Pascha (passover) is not, as some think, a Greek noun, but a Hebrew: and yet there occurs in this noun a very suitable kind of accordance in the two languages. For inasmuch as the Greek word paschein means to suffer, therefore pascha has been supposed to mean suffering, as if the noun derived its name from His passion: but in its own language, that is, in Hebrew, pascha means passover; because the pascha was then celebrated for the first time by God's people, when, in their flight from Egypt, they passed over the Red Sea. And now that prophetic emblem is fulfilled in truth, when Christ is led as a sheep to the slaughter, Isaiah 53:7 that by His blood sprinkled on our doorposts, that is, by the sign of His cross marked on our foreheads, we may be delivered from the perdition awaiting this world, as Israel from the bondage and destruction of the Egyptians; Exodus 12:23 and a most salutary transit we make when we pass over from the devil to Christ, and from this unstable world to His well-established kingdom. And therefore surely do we pass over to the ever-abiding God, that we may not pass away with this passing world. The apostle, in extolling God for such grace bestowed upon us, says: Who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love. Colossians 1:13 This name, then, of pascha, which, as I have said, is in Latin called transitus (pass over), is interpreted, as it were, for us by the blessed evangelist, when he says, Before the feast of pascha, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should pass out of this world to the Father. Here you see we have both pascha and pass-over. Whence, and whither does He pass? Namely, out of this world to the Father. The hope was thus given to the members in their Head, that they doubtless would yet follow Him who was passing before. And what, then, of unbelievers, who stand altogether apart from this Head and His members? Do not they also pass away, seeing that they abide not here always? They also do plainly pass away: but it is one thing to pass from the world, and another to pass away with it; one thing to pass to the Father, another to pass to the enemy. For the Egyptians also passed over [the sea]; but they did not pass through the sea to the kingdom, but in the sea to destruction.

2. When Jesus knew, then, that His hour had come that He should pass out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them unto the end. In order, doubtless, that they also, through that love of His, might pass from this world where they now were, to their Head who had passed hence before them. For what mean these words, to the end, but just to Christ? For Christ is the end of the law, says the apostle, for righteousness to every one that believes. Romans 10:4 The end that consummates, not that consumes; the end whereto we attain, not wherein we perish. Exactly thus are we to understand the passage, Christ our passover is sacrificed. 1 Corinthians 5:7 He is our end; into Him do we pass. For I see that these gospel words may also be taken in a kind of human sense, that Christ loved His own even unto death, so that this may be the meaning of He loved them unto the end. This meaning is human, not divine: for it was not merely up to this point that we were loved by Him, who loves us always and endlessly. God forbid that He, whose death could not end, should have ended His love at death. Even after death that proud and ungodly rich man loved his five brethren; Luke 16:27-28 and is Christ to be thought of as loving us only till death? God forbid, beloved. He would have come in vain with a love for us that lasted till death, if that love had ended there. But perhaps the words, He loved them unto the end, may have to be understood in this way, That He so loved them as to die for them. For this He testified when He said, Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. We have certainly no objection that He loved them unto the end should be so understood, that is, it was His very love that carried Him on to death.

3. And the supper, he says, having taken place, and the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him, [Jesus] knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He has come from God, and is going to God; He rises from supper, and lays aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself. After that He pours water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded. We are not to understand by the supper having taken place, as if it were already finished and over; for it was still going on when the Lord rose and washed His disciples' feet. For He afterwards sat down again, and gave the morsel [sop] to His betrayer, implying certainly that the supper was not yet over, or, in other words, that there was still bread on the table. Therefore, by supper having taken place, is meant that it was now ready, and laid out on the table for the use of the guests.

4. But when he says, The devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him; if one inquires, what was put into Judas' heart, it was doubtless this, to betray Him. Such a putting [into the heart] is a spiritual suggestion: and enters not by the ear, but through the thoughts; and thereby not in a way that is corporal, but spiritual. For what we call spiritual is not always to be understood in a commendatory way. The apostle knew of certain spiritual things [powers], of wickedness in heavenly places, against which he testifies that we have to maintain a struggle; Ephesians 6:12 and there would not be spiritual wickednesses, were there not also wicked spirits. For it is from a spiritual being that spiritual things get their name. But how such things are done, as that devilish suggestions should be introduced, and so mingle with human thoughts that a man accounts them his own, how can he know? Nor can we doubt that good suggestions are likewise made by a good spirit in the same unobservable and spiritual way; but it is matter of concern to which of these the human mind yields assent, either as deservedly left without, or graciously aided by, the divine assistance. The determination, therefore, had now been come to in Judas' heart by the instigation of the devil, that the disciple should betray the Master, whom he had not learned to know as his God. In such a state had he now come to their social meal, a spy on the Shepherd, a plotter against the Redeemer, a seller of the Saviour; as such was he now come, was he now seen and endured, and thought himself undiscovered: for he was deceived about Him whom he wished to deceive. But He, who had already scanned the inward state of that very heart, was knowingly making use of one who knew it not.

5. [Jesus] knowing that the Father has given all things into His hands. And therefore also the traitor himself: for if He had him not in His hands, He certainly could not use him as He wished. Accordingly, the traitor had been already betrayed to Him whom he sought to betray; and he carried out his evil purpose in betraying Him in such a way, that good he knew not of was the issue in regard to Him who was betrayed. For the Lord knew what He was doing for His friends, and patiently made use of His enemies: and thus had the Father given all things into His hands, both the evil for present use, and the good for the final issue. Knowing also that He has come from God, and is going to God: neither quitting God when He came from Him, nor us when He returned.

6. Knowing, then, these things, He rises from supper, and lays aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself. After that He pours water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded. We ought, dearly beloved, carefully to mark the meaning of the evangelist; because that, when about to speak of the pre-eminent humility of the Lord, it was his desire first to commend His majesty. It is in reference to this that he says, Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He has come from God, and is going to God. It is He, therefore, into whose hands the Father had given all things, who now washes, not the disciples' hands, but their feet: and it was just while knowing that He had come from God, and was proceeding to God, that He discharged the office of a servant, not of God the Lord, but of man. And this also is referred to by the prefatory notice he has been pleased to make of His betrayer, who was now come as such, and was not unknown to Him; that the greatness of His humility should be still further enhanced by the fact that He did not esteem it beneath His dignity to wash also the feet of one whose hands He already foresaw to be steeped in wickedness.

7. But why should we wonder that He rose from supper, and laid aside His garments, who, being in the form of God, made Himself of no reputation? And why should we wonder, if He girded Himself with a towel, who took upon Him the form of a servant, and was found in the likeness of a man? Philippians 2:6-7 Why wonder, if He poured water into a basin wherewith to wash His disciples' feet, who poured His blood upon the earth to wash away the filth of their sins? Why wonder, if with the towel wherewith He was girded He wiped the feet He had washed, who with the very flesh that clothed Him laid a firm pathway for the footsteps of His evangelists? In order, indeed, to gird Himself with the towel, He laid aside the garments He wore; but when He emptied Himself [of His divine glory] in order to assume the form of a servant, He laid not down what He had, but assumed that which He had not before. When about to be crucified, He was indeed stripped of His garments, and when dead was wrapped in linen clothes: and all that suffering of His is our purification. When, therefore, about to suffer the last extremities [of humiliation,] He here illustrated beforehand its friendly compliances; not only to those for whom He was about to endure death, but to him also who had resolved on betraying Him to death. Because so great is the beneficence of human humility, that even the Divine Majesty was pleased to commend it by His own example; for proud man would have perished eternally, had he not been found by the lowly God. For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost. Luke 19:10 And as he was lost by imitating the pride of the deceiver, let him now, when found, imitate the Redeemer's humility.

About this page

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/1701055.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.

Copyright © 2009 by Kevin Knight. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

CONTACT US