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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 99

Tractate 99 (John 16:13)

1. What is this that the Lord said of the Holy Spirit, when promising that He would come and teach His disciples all truth, or guide them into all truth: For He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak? For this is similar to what He said of Himself, I can of my own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge. But when expounding that, we said that it might be taken as referring to His human nature; so that He seemed as the Son to announce beforehand that His own obedience, whereby He became obedient even unto the death of the cross, Philippians 2:8 would have its place also in the judgment, when He shall judge the quick and the dead; for He shall do so for the very reason that He is the Son of man. Wherefore He said, The Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment unto the Son; for in the judgment He will appear, not in the form of God, wherein He is equal to the Father, and cannot be seen by the wicked, but in the form of man, in which He was made even a little lower than the angels; although then He will come in glory, and not in His original humility, yet in a way that will be conspicuous both to the good and to the bad. Hence He says further: And He has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of man. In these words of His own it is made clear that it is not that form that will be presented in the judgment, wherein He was when He thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but that which He assumed when He made Himself of no reputation. For He emptied Himself in assuming the form of a servant; Philippians 2:6-7 in which, also, for the purpose of executing judgment, He seems to have commended His obedience, when He said, I can of my own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge. For Adam, by whose disobedience, as that of one man, many were made sinners, did not judge as he heard; for he prevaricated what he heard, and of his own self did the evil that he did; for he did not the will of God, but his own: while this latter, by whose obedience, as that also of one man, many are made righteous, Romans 5:19 was not only obedient even unto the death of the cross, in respect of which He was judged as alive from the dead; but promised also that He would be showing obedience in the very judgment itself, wherein He is yet to act as judge of the quick and the dead, when He said, I can of my own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge. But when it is said of the Holy Spirit, For He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak, shall we dare to harbor the notion that it was so said in reference to any human nature of His, or the assumption of any creature-form? For it was the Son alone in the Trinity who assumed the form of a servant, a form which in His case was fitted into the unity of His person, or, in other words, that the one person, Jesus Christ, should be the Son of God and the Son of man; and so that we should be kept from preaching a quaternity instead of the Trinity, which God forbid that we should do. And it is on account of this one personality as consisting of two substances, the divine and the human, that He sometimes speaks in accordance with that wherein He is God, as when He says, I and my Father are one; and sometimes in accordance with His manhood, as in the words, For the Father is greater than I; in accordance with which also we have understood those words of His that are at present under discussion, I can of my own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge. But in reference to the person of the Holy Spirit, a considerable difficulty arises how we are to understand the words, For He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak; since in it there exists not one substance of Godhead and another of humanity, or of any other creature whatsoever.

2. For the fact that the Holy Spirit appeared in bodily form, as a dove, Matthew 3:16 was a sight begun and ended at the time: just as also, when He descended upon the disciples, there were seen upon them cloven tongues as of fire, which also sat upon every one of them. Acts 2:3 Any one, therefore, who says that the dove was connected with the Holy Spirit in the unity of His person, as that it and Godhead (for the Holy Spirit is God) should go to constitute the one person of the Holy Spirit, is compelled also to affirm the same thing of that fire; and so may understand that he ought to assert neither. For those things in regard to the substance of God, which needed at any time to be represented in some outward way, and so exhibited themselves to men's bodily senses, and then passed away, were formed for the moment by divine power from the subservient creation, and not from the dominant nature itself; which, ever abiding the same, excites into action whatever it pleases; and, itself unchangeable, changes all things else at its pleasure. In the same way also did that voice from the cloud actually strike upon the bodily ears, and on that bodily sense which is called the hearing; Luke 9:35 and yet in no way are we to believe that the Word of God, which is the only-begotten Son, is defined, because He is called the Word, by syllables and sounds: for when a sermon is in course of delivery, all the sounds cannot be pronounced simultaneously; but the various individual sounds come, as it were, in their own order to the birth, and succeed those which are dying away, so that all that we have to say is completed only by the last syllable. Very different from this, surely, is the way in which the Father speaks to the Son, that is to say, God to God, His Word. But this, so far as it can be understood by man, is a matter for the understanding of those who are fitted for the reception of solid food, and not of milk. Since, therefore, the Holy Spirit became not man by any assumption of humanity, and became not an angel by any assumption of angelic nature, and as little entered into the creature-state by the assumption of any creature-form whatever, how, in regard to Him, are we to understand those words of our Lord, For He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak? A difficult question; yea, too difficult. May the Spirit Himself be present, that, at least up to the measure of our power of thinking on such a subject, we may be able to express our thoughts, and that these, according to the little measure of my ability, may find entrance into your understanding.

3. You ought, then, to be informed in the first place, and, those of you who can, to understand, and the others, who cannot as yet understand, to believe, that in that substantial essence, which is God, the senses are not, as if through some material structure of a body, distributed in their appropriate places; as, in the mortal flesh of all animals there is in one place sight, in another hearing, in another taste, in another smelling, and over the whole the sense of touch. Far be it from us to believe so in the case of that incorporeal and immutable nature. In it, therefore, hearing and seeing are one and the same thing. In this way smelling also is said to exist in God; as the apostle says, As Christ also has loved us, and has given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor. Ephesians 5:2 And taste may be included, in accordance with which God hates the bitter in temper, and spews out of His mouth those who are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot: Revelation 3:16 and Christ our God says, My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me. There is also that divine sense of touch, in accordance with which the spouse says of the bridegroom: His left hand is under my head, and his right hand shall embrace me. Song of Songs 2:6 But these are not in God's case in different parts of the body. For when He is said to know, all are included: both seeing, and hearing, and smelling, and tasting, and touching; without any alteration of His substance, and without the existence of any material element which is greater in one place and smaller in another: and when there are any such thoughts of God in those even who are old in years, they are the thoughts only of a childish mind.

4. Nor need you wonder that the ineffable knowledge of God, whereby He is cognizant of all things, is, because of the various modes of human speech designated by the names of all those bodily senses; since even our own mind, in other words, the inner man—to which, while itself exercising its knowing faculty in one uniform way, the different subjects of its knowledge are communicated by those five messengers, as it were, of the body, when it understands, chooses, and loves the unchangeable truth—is said both to see the light, whereof it is said, That was the true light; and to hear the word, whereof it is said, In the beginning was the Word; and to be susceptible of smell, of which it is said, We will run after the smell of your ointments; and to drink of the fountain, whereof it is said, With You is the fountain of life; and to enjoy the sense of touch, when it is said, But it is good for me to cleave unto God; in all of which it is not different things, but the one intelligence, that is expressed by the names of so many senses. When, therefore, it is said of the Holy Spirit, For He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak, so much the more is a simple nature, which is simple [uncompounded] in the truest sense, to be either understood or believed, which in its extent and sublimity far surpasses the nature of our minds. For there is mutability in our mind, which comes by learning to the perception of what it was previously ignorant of, and loses by unlearning what it formerly knew; and is deceived by what has a similarity to truth, so as to approve of the false in place of the true, and is hindered by its own obscurity as by a kind of darkness from arriving at the truth. And so that substance is not in the truest sense simple, to which being is not identical with knowing; for it can exist without the possession of knowledge. But it cannot be so with that divine substance, for it is what it has. And on this account it has not knowledge in any such way as that the knowledge whereby it knows should be to it one thing, and the essence whereby it exists another; but both are one. Nor ought that to be called both, which is simply one. As the Father has life in Himself, and He Himself is not something different from the life that is in Him; so has He given to the Son to have life in Himself, that is, has begotten the Son, that He also should Himself be the life. Accordingly we ought to accept what is said of the Holy Spirit, For he shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak, in such a way as to understand thereby that He is not of Himself. Because it is the Father only who is not of another. For the Son is born of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father; but the Father is neither born of, nor proceeds from, another. And yet surely there should not on that account occur to human thought any idea of disparity in the supreme Trinity; for both the Son is equal to Him of whom He is born, and the Holy Spirit to Him from whom He proceeds. But what difference there is in such a case between proceeding and being born, would be too lengthy to make the subject of inquiry and dissertation, and would make our definition liable to the charge of rashness, even after we had discussed it; for such a thing is of the utmost difficulty, both for the mind to comprehend in any adequate way, and even were it so that the mind has attained to any such comprehension, for the tongue to explain, however able the one that presides as a teacher, or he that is present as a hearer. Accordingly, He shall not speak of Himself; because He is not of Himself. But whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: He shall hear of Him from whom He proceeds. To Him hearing is knowing; but knowing is being, as has been discussed above. Because, then, He is not of Himself, but of Him from whom He proceeds, and of whom He has essence, of Him He has knowledge; from Him, therefore, He has hearing, which is nothing else than knowledge.

5. And be not disturbed by the fact that the verb is put in the future tense. For it is not said, whatsoever He has heard, or, whatsoever He hears; but, whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak. For such hearing is everlasting, because the knowing is everlasting. But in the case of what is eternal, without beginning and without end, in whatever tense the verb is put, whether in the past, or present, or future, there is no falsehood thereby implied. For although to that immutable and ineffable nature, there is no proper application of Was and Will be, but only Is: for that nature alone is in truth, because incapable of change; and to it therefore was it exclusively suited to say, I Am That I Am, and You shall say unto the children of Israel, He Who Is has sent me unto you: Exodus 3:14 yet on account of the changeableness of the times amid which our mortal and changeable life is spent, there is nothing false in our saying, both it was, and will be, and is. It was in past, it is in present, it will be in future ages. It was, because it never was wanting; it will be, because it will never be wanting; it is, because it always is. For it has not, like one who no longer survives, died with the past; nor, like one who abides not, is it gliding away with the present; nor, as one who had no previous existence, will it rise up with the future. Accordingly, as our human manner of speaking varies with the revolutions of time, He, who through all times was not, is not, and will not by any possibility be found wanting, may correctly bespoken of in any tense whatever of a verb. The Holy Spirit, therefore, is always hearing, because He always knows: ergo, He both knew, and knows, and will know; and in the same way He both heard, and hears, and will hear; for, as we have already said, to Him hearing is one with knowing, and knowing with Him is one with being. From Him, therefore, He heard, and hears, and will hear, of whom He is; and of Him He is, from whom He proceeds.

6. Some one may here inquire whether the Holy Spirit proceeds also from the Son. For the Son is Son of the Father alone, and the Father is Father of the Son alone; but the Holy Spirit is not the Spirit of one of them, but of both. You have the Lord Himself saying, For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaks in you; Matthew 10:20 and you have the apostle, God has sent forth the spirit of His Son into your hearts. Galatians 4:6 Are there, then, two, the one of the Father, the other of the Son? Certainly not. For there is one body, he said, when referring to the Church; and presently added, and one Spirit. And mark how he there makes up the Trinity. As you are called, he says, in one hope of your calling. One Lord, where he certainly meant Christ to be understood; but it remained that he should also name the Father: and accordingly there follows, One faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Ephesians 4:4-6 And since, then, just as there is one Father, and one Lord, namely, the Son, so also there is one Spirit; He is doubtless of both: especially as Christ Jesus Himself says, The Spirit of your Father that dwells in you; and the apostle declares, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts. You have the same apostle saying in another place, But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, where he certainly intended the Spirit of the Father to be understood; of whom, however, he says in another place, But if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. And many other testimonies there are, which plainly show that He, who in the Trinity is styled the Holy Spirit, is the Spirit both of the Father and of the Son.

7. And for no other reason, I suppose, is He called in a peculiar way the Spirit; since though asked concerning each person in His turn, we cannot but admit that the Father and the Son are each of them a Spirit; for God is a Spirit, that is, God is not carnal, but spiritual. By the name, therefore, which they each also hold in common, it was requisite that He should be distinctly called, who is not the one nor the other of them, but in whom what is common to both becomes apparent. Why, then, should we not believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from the Son, seeing that He is likewise the Spirit of the Son? For did He not so proceed, He could not, when showing Himself to His disciples after the resurrection, have breathed upon them, and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. For what else was signified by such a breathing upon them, but that from Him also the Holy Spirit proceeds? And of the same character also are His words regarding the woman that suffered from the bloody flux: Some one has touched me; for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me. Luke 8:46 For that the Holy Spirit is also designated by the name of virtue, is both clear from the passage where the angel, in reply to Mary's question, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? said, The Holy Ghost shall come upon you, and the power [virtue] of the highest shall overshadow you; Luke 1:34-35 and our Lord Himself when giving His disciples the promise of the Spirit, said, But tarry ye in the city, until ye be endued with power [virtue] from on high; Luke 24:49 and on another occasion, You shall receive the power [virtue] of the Holy Ghost coming upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto me. It is of this virtue that we are to believe, that the evangelist says, Virtue went out of Him, and healed them all. Luke 6:19

8. If, then, the Holy Spirit proceeds both from the Father and from the Son, why said the Son, He proceeds from the Father? Why, do you think, but just because it is to Him He is wont to attribute even that which is His own, of whom He Himself also is? Hence we have Him saying, My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me. If, therefore, in such a passage we are to understand that as His doctrine, which nevertheless He declared not to be His own, but the Father's, how much more in that other passage are we to understand the Holy Spirit as proceeding from Himself, where His words, He proceeds from the Father, were uttered so as not to imply, He proceeds not from me? But from Him, of whom the Son has it that He is God (for He is God of God), He certainly has it that from Him also the Holy Spirit proceeds: and in this way the Holy Spirit has it of the Father Himself, that He should also proceed from the Son, even as He proceeds from the Father.

9. In connection with this, we come also to some understanding of the further point, that is, so far as it can be understood by such beings as ourselves, why the Holy Spirit is not said to be born, but to proceed: since, if He also were called by the name of Son, He could not avoid being called the Son of both, which is utterly absurd. For no one is a son of two, unless of a father and mother. But it would be utterly abhorrent to entertain the suspicion of any such intervention between God the Father and God the Son. For not even a son of human parents proceeds at the same time from father and from mother: but at the time that he proceeds from the father into the mother, it is not then that he proceeds from the mother; and when he comes forth from the mother into the light of day, it is not then that he proceeds from the father. But the Holy Spirit proceeds not from the Father into the Son, and then proceeds from the Son to the work of the creature's sanctification; but He proceeds at the same time from both: although this the Father has given unto the Son, that He should proceed from Him also, even as He proceeds from Himself. And as little can we say that the Holy Spirit is not the life, seeing that the Father is the life, and the Son is the life. And in the same way as the Father, who has life in Himself, has given to the Son also to have life in Himself; so has He also given that life should proceed from Him, even as it also proceeds from Himself. But we come now to the words of our Lord that follow, when He says: And He will show you things to come. He shall glorify me; for He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father has are mine: therefore, said I, that He shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you. But as the present discourse has already been protracted to some length, they must be left over for another.

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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/1701099.htm>.

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