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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 74

Tractate 74 (John 14:15-17)

1. We have heard, brethren, while the Gospel was read, the Lord saying: If you love me, keep my commandments: and I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter [Paraclete], that He may abide with you for ever; [even] the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it sees Him not, neither knows Him: but you shall know Him; for He shall dwell with you, and shall be in you. There are many points which might form the subject of inquiry in these few words of the Lord; but it were too much for us either to search into all that is here for the searching, or to find out all that we here search for. Nevertheless, as far as the Lord is pleased to grant us the power, and in proportion to our capacity and yours, attend to what we ought to say and you to hear, and receive, beloved, what we on our part are able to give, and apply to Him for that wherein we fail. It is the Spirit, the Comforter, that Christ has promised to His apostles; but let us notice the way in which He gave the promise. If you love me, He says, keep my commandments: and I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever: [even] the Spirit of truth. We have here, at all events, the Holy Spirit in the Trinity, whom the catholic faith acknowledges to be consubstantial and co-eternal with Father and Son: He it is of whom the apostle says, The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given unto us. Romans 5:5 How, then, does the Lord say, If you love me, keep my commandments: and I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter; when He says so of the Holy Spirit, without [having] whom we can neither love God nor keep His commandments? How can we love so as to receive Him, without whom we cannot love at all? Or how shall we keep the commandments so as to receive Him, without whom we have no power to keep them? Or can it be that the love wherewith we love Christ has a prior place within us, so that, by thus loving Christ and keeping His commandments, we become worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit, in order that the love, not of Christ, which had already preceded, but of God the Father, may be shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given unto us? Such a thought is altogether wrong. For he who believes that he loves the Son, and loves not the Father, certainly loves not the Son, but some figment of his own imagination. And besides, this is the apostolic declaration, No one says, Lord Jesus, but in the Holy Spirit: 1 Corinthians 12:3 and who is it that calls Him Lord Jesus but he that loves Him, if he so call Him in the way the apostle intended to be understood? For many call Him so with their lips, but deny Him in their hearts and works; just as He says of such, For they profess that they know God, but in works they deny Him. Titus 1:16 If it is by works He is denied, it is doubtless also by works that His name is truly invoked. No one, therefore, says, Lord Jesus, in mind, in word, in deed, with the heart, the lips, the labor of the hands—no one says, Lord Jesus, but in the Holy Spirit; and no one calls Him so but he that loves. And accordingly the apostles were already calling Him Lord Jesus: and if they called Him so, in no way that implied a feigned utterance, with the mouth confessing, in heart and works denying Him; if they called Him so in all truthfulness of soul, there can be no doubt they loved. And how, then, did they love, but in the Holy Spirit? And yet they are commanded to love Him and keep His commandments, previous and in order to their receiving the Holy Spirit: and yet, without having that Spirit, they certainly could not love Him and keep His commandments.

2. We are therefore to understand that he who loves has already the Holy Spirit, and by what he has becomes worthy of a fuller possession, that by having the more he may love the more. Already, therefore, had the disciples that Holy Spirit whom the Lord promised, for without Him they could not call Him Lord; but they had Him not as yet in the way promised by the Lord. Accordingly they both had, and had Him not, inasmuch as they had Him not as yet to the same extent as He was afterwards to be possessed. They had Him, therefore, in a more limited sense: He was yet to be given them in an ampler measure. They had Him in a hidden way, they were yet to receive Him in a way that was manifest; for this present possession had also a bearing on that fuller gift of the Holy Spirit, that they might come to a conscious knowledge of what they had. It is in speaking of this gift that the apostle says: Now we have received, not the spirit of this world, but the spirit which is of God, that we may know the things that are freely given to us of God. 1 Corinthians 2:12 For that same manifest bestowal of the Holy Spirit the Lord made, not once, but on two separate occasions. For close on the back of His resurrection from the dead He breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. And because He then gave [the Spirit], did He on that account fail in afterwards sending Him according to His promise? Or was it not the very same Spirit who was both then breathed upon them by Himself, and afterwards sent by Him from heaven? Acts 2:4 And so, why that same giving on His part which took place publicly, also took place twice, is another question: for it may be that this twofold bestowal of His in a public way took place because of the two Commandments of love, that is, to our neighbor and to God, in order that love might be impressively intimated as pertaining to the Holy Spirit. And if any other reason is to be sought for, we cannot at present allow our discourse to be improperly prolonged by such an inquiry: provided, however, it be admitted that, without the Holy Spirit, we can neither love Christ nor keep His commandments; while the less experience we have of His presence, the less also can we do so; and the fuller our experience, so much the greater our ability. Accordingly, the promise is no vain one, either to him who has not [the Holy Spirit], or to him who has. For it is made to him who has not, in order that he may have; and to him who has, that he may have more abundantly. For were it not that He was possessed by some in smaller measure than by others, St. Elisha would not have said to St. Elijah, Let the spirit that is in you be in a twofold measure in me. 2 Kings 2:9

3. But when John the Baptist said, For God gives not the Spirit by measure, he was speaking exclusively of the Son of God, who received not the Spirit by measure; for in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead. Colossians 2:9 And no more is it independently of the grace of the Holy Spirit that the Mediator between God and men is the man Christ Jesus: 1 Timothy 2:5 for with His own lips He tells us that the prophetical utterance had been fulfilled in Himself: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because He has anointed me, and has sent me to preach the gospel to the poor. Luke 4:18-21 For His being the Only-begotten, the equal of the Father, is not of grace, but of nature; but the assumption of human nature into the personal unity of the Only-begotten is not of nature, but of grace, as the Gospel acknowledges itself when it says, And the child grew, and waxed strong, being filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was in Him. Luke 2:40 But to others He is given by measure—a measure ever enlarging until each has received his full complement up to the limits of his own perfection. As we are also reminded by the apostle, Not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, but to think soberly; according as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith. Romans 12:3 Nor is it the Spirit Himself that is divided, but the gifts bestowed by the Spirit: for there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:4

4. But when He says, I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete, He intimates that He Himself is also a paraclete. For paraclete is in Latin called advocatus (advocate); and it is said of Christ, We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 1 John 2:1 But He said that the world could not receive the Holy Spirit, in much the same sense as it is also said, The minding of the flesh is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God; neither indeed can be; just as if we were to say, Unrighteousness cannot be righteous. For in speaking in this passage of the world, He refers to those who love the world; and such a love is not of the Father. 1 John 2:16 And thus the love of this world, which gives us enough to do to weaken and destroy its power within us, is in direct opposition to the love of God, which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us. The world, therefore, cannot receive Him, cause it sees Him not, neither knows Him. For worldly love possesses not those invisible eyes, whereby, save in an invisible way, the Holy Spirit cannot be seen.

5. But you, He adds, shall know Him; for He shall dwell with you, and be in you. He will be in them, that He may dwell with them; He will not dwell with them to the end that He may be in them: for the being anywhere is prior to the dwelling there. But to prevent us from imagining that His words, He shall dwell with you, were spoken in the same sense as that in which a guest usually dwells with a man in a visible way, He explained what He shall dwell with you meant, when He added the words, He shall be in you. He is seen, therefore, in an invisible way: nor can we have any knowledge of Him unless He be in us. For it is in a similar way that we come to see our conscience within us: for we see the face of another, but we cannot see our own; but it is our own conscience we see, not another's. And yet conscience is never anywhere but within us: but the Holy Spirit can be also apart from us, since He is given that He may also be in us. But we cannot see and know Him in the only way in which He may be seen and known, unless He be in us.

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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/1701074.htm>.

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