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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 102

Tractate 102 (John 16:23-28)

1. We have now to consider these words of the Lord, Verily, verily, I say unto you, If you shall ask anything of the Father in my name, He will give it you. It has already been said in the earlier portions of this discourse of our Lord's, on account of those who ask some things of the Father in Christ's name and receive them not, that there is nothing asked of the Father in the Saviour's name that is asked in contrariety to the method of salvation. For it is not the sound of the letters and syllables, but what the sound itself imports, and what is rightly and truly to be understood by that sound, that He is to be regarded as declaring, when He says, in my name. Hence, he who has such ideas of Christ as ought not to be entertained of the only Son of God, asks not in His name, even though he may not abstain from the mention of Christ in so many letters and syllables; since it is only in His name he asks, of whom he is thinking when he asks. But he who has such ideas of Him as ought to be entertained, asks in His name, and receives what he asks, if he asks nothing that is contrary to his own everlasting salvation. And he receives it when he ought to receive it. For some things are not refused, but are delayed till they can be given at a suitable time. In this way, surely, we are to understand His words, He will give you, so that thereby we may know that those benefits are signified which are properly applicable to those who ask. For all the saints are heard effectively in their own behalf, but are not so heard in behalf of all besides, whether friends or enemies, or any others: for it is not said in a general kind of way, He will give; but, He will give you.

2. Hitherto, He says, you have not asked anything in my name. Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full. This that He calls a full joy is certainly no carnal joy, but a spiritual one; and when it shall be so great as to be no longer capable of any additions to it, it will then doubtless be full. Whatever, then, is asked as belonging to the attainment of this joy, is to be asked in the name of Christ, if we understand the grace of God, and if we are truly in quest of a blessed life. But if anything different from this is asked, there is nothing asked: not that the thing itself is nothing at all, but that in comparison with what is so great, anything else that is coveted is virtually nothing. For, of course, the man is not actually nothing, of whom the apostle says, He who thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing. Galatians 6:3 But surely in comparison with the spiritual man, who knows that by the grace of God he is what he is, he who makes vain assumptions is nothing. In this way, then, may the words also be rightly understood, Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you shall ask anything of the Father in my name, He will give [it] you; that by the words, if anything, should not be understood anything whatever, but anything that is not really nothing in connection with the life of blessedness. And what follows, Hitherto you have not asked anything in my name, may be understood in two ways: either, that you have not asked in my name, because a name that you have not known as it is yet to be known; or, you have not asked anything, since in comparison with that which you ought to have asked, what you have asked is to be accounted as nothing. In order, then, that, they may ask in His name, not that which is nothing, but a full joy (since anything different from this that they ask is virtually nothing), He addresses to them the exhortation, Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full; that is, ask this in my name, that your joy may be full, and you shall receive. For His saints, who persevere in asking such a good thing as this, will in no way be defrauded by the mercy of God.

3. These things, said He, have I spoken to you in proverbs: but the hour comes, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall show you plainly of my Father. I might be disposed to say that this hour, whereof He speaks, must be understood as that future period when we shall see openly, as the blessed Paul says, face to face; that what He says, These things have I spoken to you in proverbs, is one with what has been said by the same apostle, Now we see through a glass, in a riddle: 1 Corinthians 13:12 and I will show you, because the Father shall be seen through the instrumentality of the Son, is akin to what He says elsewhere, Neither knows any man the Father, save the Son, and [he] to whom the Son shall be pleased to reveal Him. Matthew 11:27 But such a sense seems to be interfered with by that which follows: At that day you shall ask in my name. For in that future world, when we have reached the kingdom where we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2 what shall we then have to ask, when our desire shall be satisfied with good things? As it is also said in another psalm: I shall be satisfied when Your glory shall be revealed. For petition has to do with some kind of want, which can have no place there where such abundance shall reign.

4. It remains, therefore, for us, so far as my capacity to apprehend it goes, to understand Jesus as having promised that He would cause His disciples, from being carnal and natural, to become spiritual, although not yet such as we shall be, when a spiritual body shall also be ours; but such as was he who said, We speak wisdom among them that are perfect; 1 Corinthians 2:6 and, I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal; 1 Corinthians 3:1 and, We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Spirit teaches; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man perceives not the things of the Spirit of God. And thus the natural man, perceiving not the things of the Spirit of God, hears in such a way whatever is told him of the nature of God, that he can conceive of nothing else but some bodily form, however spacious or immense, however lustrous and magnificent, yet still a body: and therefore he holds as proverbs all that is said of the incorporeal and immutable substance of wisdom; not that he accounts them as proverbs, but that his thoughts follow the same direction as those who habitually listen to proverbs without understanding them. But when the spiritual man begins to discern all things, and he himself is discerned by no man, he perceives, even though in this life it still be through a glass and in part, not by any bodily sense, and not by any imaginative conception which catches at or devises the likenesses of all sorts of bodies, but by the clearest understanding of the mind, that God is not material, but spiritual: in such a way does the Son show us openly of the Father, that He, who thus shows, is also Himself seen to be of the same substance. And then it is that those who ask, ask in His name; for in the sound of that name they understand nothing else than what the reality is that is called by that name, and harbor not, in vanity or infirmity of mind, the fiction of the Father being in one place, and the Son in another, standing before the Father and making request in our behalf, with the material substances of both occupying each its own place, and the Word pleading verbally for us with Him whose Word He is, while a definite space interposes between the mouth of the speaker and the ears of the hearer; and other such absurdities which those who are natural, and at the same time carnal, fabricate for themselves in their hearts. For any such thing, suggested by the experience of bodily habits, as occurs to spiritual men when thinking of God, they deny and reject, and drive away, like troublesome insects, from the eyes of their mind; and resign themselves to the purity of that light by whose testimony and judgment they prove these bodily images that thrust themselves on their inward vision to be altogether false. These are able to a certain extent to think of our Lord Jesus Christ, in respect of His manhood, as addressing the Father on our behalf; but in respect to His Godhead, as hearing [and answering] us along with the Father. And this I am of opinion that He indicated, when He said, And I say not that I will pray the Father for you. But the intuitive perception of this, how it is that the Son asks not the Father, but that Father and Son alike listen to those who ask, is a height that can be reached only by the spiritual eye of the mind.

5. For the Father Himself, He says, loves you, because you have loved me. Is it the case, then, that He loves, because we love; or rather, that we love, because He loves? Let this same evangelist give us the answer out of his own epistle: We love Him, he says, because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19 This, then, was the efficient cause of our loving, that we were loved. And certainly to love God is the gift of God. He it was that gave the grace to love Him, who loved while still unloved. Even when displeasing Him we were loved, that there might be that in us whereby we should become pleasing in His sight. For we could not love the Son unless we loved the Father also. The Father loves us, because we love the Son; seeing it is of the Father and Son we have received [the power] to love both the Father and the Son: for love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Spirit of both, Romans 5:5 by which Spirit we love both the Father and the Son, and whom we love along with the Father and the Son. God, therefore, it was that wrought this religious love of ours whereby we worship God; and He saw that it is good, and on that account He Himself loved that which He had made. But He would not have wrought in us something He could love, were it not that He loved ourselves before He wrought it.

6. And you have believed, He adds, that I came out from God. I came forth from the Father, and have come into the world: again I leave the world, and go to the Father. Clearly we have believed. For surely it ought not to be accounted a thing incredible because of this, that in coming to the world He came forth in such a sense from the Father that He did not leave the Father behind; and that, on leaving the world, He goes to the Father in such a sense that He does not actually forsake the world. For He came forth from the Father because He is of the Father; and He came into the world, in showing to the world His bodily form, which He had received of the Virgin. He left the world by a bodily withdrawal, He proceeded to the Father by His ascension as man, but He forsook not the world in the ruling activity of His presence.

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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/1701102.htm>.

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