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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 79

Tractate 79 (John 14:29-31)

1. Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, had said unto His disciples, If you loved me, you would surely rejoice, because I go unto the Father; for the Father is greater than I. And that He so spoke in His servant-form, and not in that of God, wherein He is equal with the Father, is well known to faith as it resides in the minds of the pious, not as it is feigned by the scornful and senseless. And then He added, And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it has come to pass, you might believe. What can He mean by this, when the fact rather is, that a man ought, before it comes to pass, to believe that which demands his belief? For it forms the very encomium of faith when that which is believed is not seen. For what greatness is there in believing what is seen, as in those words of the same Lord, when, in reproving a disciple, He said, Because you have seen, you have believed; blessed are they that see not, and yet believe. And I hardly know whether any one can be said to believe what he sees; for this same faith is thus defined in the epistle addressed to the Hebrews: Now faith is the substance of those that hope, the assurance of things not seen. Accordingly, if faith is in things that are believed, and that, too, in things which are not seen, what mean these words of the Lord, And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it has come to pass, you might believe? Ought He not rather to have said, And now I have told you before it come to pass, that you may believe what, when it has come to pass, you shall see? For even he who was told, Because you have seen, you have believed, did not believe only what he saw; but he saw one thing, and believed another: for he saw Him as man, and believed Him to be God. He perceived and touched the living flesh, which he had seen in the act of dying, and he believed in the Deity infolded in that flesh. And so he believed with the mind what he did not see, by the help of that which was apparent to his bodily senses. But though we may be said to believe what we see, just as every one says that he believes his own eyes, yet that is not to be mistaken for the faith which is built up by God in our souls; but from things that are seen, we are brought to believe in those which are invisible. Wherefore, beloved, in the passage before us, when our Lord says, And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it has come to pass, you might believe; by the words, when it has come to pass, He certainly means, that they would yet see Him after His death, alive, and ascending to His Father; at the sight of which they should then be compelled to believe that He was indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God, seeing He could do such a thing, even after predicting it, and also could predict it before He did it: and this they should then believe, not with a new, but with an augmented faith; or at least [with a faith] that had been impaired by His death, and was now repaired by His resurrection. For it was not that they had not previously also believed Him to be the Son of God, but when His own predictions were actually fulfilled in Him, that faith, which was still weak at the time of His here speaking to them, and at the time of His death almost ceased to exist, sprang up again into new life and increased vigor.

2. But what says He next? Hereafter I will not talk much with you; for the prince of this world comes; and who is that, but the devil? And has nothing in me; that is to say, no sin at all. For by such words He points to the devil, as the prince, not of His creatures, but of sinners, whom He here designates by the name of this world. And as often as the name of the world is used in a bad sense, He is pointing only to the lovers of such a world; of whom it is elsewhere recorded, Whosoever will be a friend of this world, becomes the enemy of God. James 4:4 Far be it from us, then, so to understand the devil as prince of the world, as if he wielded the government of the whole world, that is, of heaven and earth, and all that is in them; of which sort of world it was said, when we were lecturing on Christ the Word, And the world was made by Him. The whole world therefore, from the highest heavens to the lowest earth, is subject to the Creator, not to the deserter; to the Redeemer, not to the destroyer; to the Deliverer, not to the enslaver; to the Teacher, not to the deceiver. And in what sense the devil is to be understood as the prince of the world, is still more clearly unfolded by the Apostle Paul, who, after saying, We wrestle not against flesh and blood, that is, against men, went on to say, but against principalities and powers, and the world rulers of this darkness. For in the very next word he has explained what he meant by world, when he added, of this darkness; so that no one, by the name of the world, should understand the whole creation, of which in no sense are fallen angels the rulers. Of this darkness, he says, that is, of the lovers of this world: of whom, nevertheless, there were some elected, not from any deserving of their own, but by the grace of God, to whom he says, You were sometimes darkness; but now are you light in the Lord. Ephesians 5:8 For all have been under the rulers of this darkness, that is, [under the rulers] of wicked men, or darkness, as it were, in subjection to darkness: but thanks be to God, who has delivered us, says the same apostle, from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love. Colossians 1:12-13 And in Him the prince of this world, that is, of this darkness, had nothing; for neither did He come with sin as God, nor had His flesh any hereditary taint of sin in its procreation by the Virgin. And, as if it were said to Him, Why, then, dost Thou die, if You have no sin to merit the punishment of death? He immediately added, But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do: arise, let us go hence. For He was sitting at table with those who were similarly occupied. But let us go, He said, and whither, but to the place where He, who had nothing in Him deserving of death, was to be delivered up to death? But He had the Father's commandment to die, as the very One of whom it had been foretold, Then I paid for that which I took not away; and so appointed to pay death to the full, while owing it nothing, and to redeem us from the death that was our due. For Adam had seized on sin as a prey, when, deceived, he presumptuously stretched forth his hand to the tree, and attempted to invade the incommunicable name of that Godhead which was disallowed him, and with which the Son of God was endowed by nature, and not by robbery.

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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/1701079.htm>.

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