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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 116

Tractate 116 (John 19:1-16)

1. On the Jews crying out that they did not wish Jesus to be released unto them at the passover, but Barabbas the robber; not the Saviour, but the murderer; not the Giver of life, but the destroyerthen Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him. We must believe that Pilate acted thus for no other reason than that the Jews, glutted with the injuries done to Him, might consider themselves satisfied, and desist from madly pursuing Him even unto death. With a similar intention was it that, as governor, he also permitted his cohort to do what follows, or even perhaps ordered them, although the evangelist is silent on the subject. For he tells us what the soldiers did thereafter, but not that Pilate ordered it. And the soldiers, he says, platted a crown of thorns, and put it on His head, and they clothed Him with a purple robe. And they came to Him and said, Hail, King of the Jews! And they smote Him with their hands. Thus were fulfilled the very things which Christ had foretold of Himself; thus were the martyrs moulded for the endurance of all that their persecutors should be pleased to inflict; thus, by concealing for a time the terror of His power, He commended to us the prior imitation of His patience; thus the kingdom which was not of this world overcame that proud world, not by the ferocity of fighting, but by the humility of suffering; and thus the grain of grain that was yet to be multiplied was sown amid the horrors of shame, that it might come to fruition amid the wonders of glory.

2. Pilate went forth again, and says unto them, Behold, I bring him forth, that you may know that I find no fault in him. Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And he says unto them, Behold the man! Hence it is apparent that these things were done by the soldiers not without Pilate's knowledge, whether it was that he ordered them or only permitted them, namely, for the reason we have stated above, that His enemies might all the more willingly drink in the sight of such derisive treatment, and cease to thirst further for His blood. Jesus goes forth to them wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, not resplendent in kingly power, but laden with reproach; and the words are addressed to them, Behold the man! If you hate your king, spare him now when you see him sunk so low; he has been scourged, crowned with thorns, clothed with the garments of derision, jeered at with the bitterest insults, struck with the open hand; his ignominy is at the boiling point, let your ill-will sink to zero. But there is no such cooling on the part of the latter, but rather a further increase of heat and vehemence.

3. When the chief priests, therefore, and attendants saw Him, they cried out, saying, Crucify, crucify him. Pilate says unto them Take ye him and crucify him; for I find no fault in him. The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by the law he ought to die because he made himself the Son of God. Behold another and still greater ground of hatred. The former, indeed, seemed but a small matter, as that shown towards the usurpation, by an unlawful act of daring, of the royal power; and yet of neither did Jesus falsely claim possession, but each of them is truly His as both the only-begotten Son of God, and by Him appointed King upon His holy hill of Zion; and both might He now have shown to be His, were it not that in proportion to the greatness of His power, He preferred to manifest the corresponding greatness of His patience.

4. When Pilate, therefore, heard that saying, he was the more afraid; and entered again into the judgment hall, and says unto Jesus, Whence are you? But Jesus gave him no answer. It is found, in comparing the narratives of all the evangelists, that this silence on the part of our Lord Jesus Christ took place more than once, both before the chief priests and before Herod, to whom, as Luke intimates, Pilate had sent Him for a hearing, and before Pilate himself; so that it was not in vain that the prophecy regarding Him had preceded, As the lamb before its shearer was dumb, so He opened not His mouth, Isaiah 53:7 especially on those occasions when He answered not His questioners. For although He frequently replied to questions addressed to Him, yet because of those in regard to which He declined making any reply, the metaphor of the lamb is supplied, in order that in His silence He might be accounted not as guilty, but innocent. When, therefore, He was passing through the process of judgment, wherever He opened not His mouth it was in the character of a lamb that He did so; that is, not as one with an evil conscience who was convicted of his sins, but as one who in His meekness was sacrificed for the sins of others.

5. Then says Pilate unto Him, Do you not speak unto me? Do you not know that I have power to crucify you, and have power to release you? Jesus answered: You would have no power against me, except it were given you from above: therefore he that delivered me unto you has the greater sin. Here, you see, He replied; and yet wherever He replied not, it is not as one who is criminal or cunning, but as a lamb; that is, in simplicity and innocence He opened not His mouth. Accordingly, where He made no answer, He was silent as a sheep; where He answered, He taught as the Shepherd. Let us therefore set ourselves to learn what He said, what He taught also by the apostle, that there is no power but of God; Romans 13:1 and that he is a greater sinner who maliciously delivers up to the power the innocent to be slain, than the power itself, if it slay him through fear of another power that is greater still. Of such a sort, indeed, was the power which God had given to Pilate, that he should also be under the power of Cæsar. Wherefore you would have, He says, no power against me, that is, even the little measure you really have, except this very measure, whatever its amount, were given you from above. But knowing as I do its amount, for it is not so great as to render you altogether independent, therefore he that delivered me unto you has the greater sin. He, indeed, delivered me to your power at the bidding of envy, while you are to exercise your power upon me through the impulse of fear. And yet not even through the impulse of fear ought one man to slay another, especially the innocent; nevertheless to do so by an officious zeal is a much greater evil than under the constraint of fear. And therefore the truth-speaking Teacher says not, He that delivered me to you, he only has sin, as if the other had none; but He says, has the greater sin, letting him understand that he himself was not exempt from blame. For that of the latter is not reduced to nothing because the other is greater.

6. Hence Pilate sought to release Him. What is to be understood by the word here used, hence, as if he had not been seeking to do so before? Read what precedes, and you will find that he had already for some time been seeking to release Jesus. By the original word, therefore, we are to understand, on this account, that is, for this reason, that he might not contract sin by slaying an innocent man who had been delivered into his hands, even though his sin would be less than that of the Jews, who delivered Him to him to be put to death. From thence, therefore, that is, for this reason, that he might not commit such a sin, he sought not now for the first time, but from the beginning, to release Him.

7. But the Jews cried out, saying, If you let this man go, you are not Cæsar's friend: whosoever makes himself a king, speaks against Cæsar. They thought to inspire Pilate with greater fear by terrifying him about Cæsar, in order that he might put Christ to death, than formerly when they said, We have the law, and by the law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. It was not their law, indeed, that impelled him through fear to the deed of murder, but rather it was his fear of the Son of God that held him back from the crime. But now he could not set Cæsar, who was the author of his own power, at nought, in the same way as the law of another nation.

8. As yet, however, the evangelist proceeds to say: But when Pilate heard these sayings, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down before the tribunal, in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour. The question, at what hour the Lord was crucified, because of the testimony supplied by another evangelist, who says, And it was the third hour, and they crucified Him, Mark 15:25 we shall consider as we can, if the Lord please, when we have come to the passage itself where His crucifixion is recorded. When Pilate, therefore, had sat down before the tribunal, he says unto the Jews, Behold your king! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate said unto them, Shall I crucify your king? As yet he tries to overcome the terror with which they had inspired him about Cæsar, by seeking to break them from their purpose on the ground of the ignominy it brought on themselves, with the words, Shall I crucify your king? when he failed to soften them on the ground of the ignominy done to Christ; but by and by he is overcome by fear.

9. For the chief priests answered, We have no king but Cæsar. Then delivered he Him therefore unto them to be crucified. For he would have every appearance of acting against Cæsar if, on their declaration that they had no king but Cæsar, he were wishing to impose on them another king by releasing without punishment one whom for these very attempts they had delivered unto him to be put to death. Therefore he delivered Him unto them to be crucified. But was it, then, anything different that he had previously desired when he said, Take ye him, and crucify him; or even earlier still, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law? And why did they show so great reluctance, when they said, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death, and were in every way urgent to have Him slain not by themselves, but by the governor, and therefore refused to receive Him for the purpose of putting Him to death, if now for the same purpose they actually do receive Him? Or if such be not the case, why was it said, Then delivered he Him therefore unto them to be crucified? Or is it of any importance? Plainly it is. For it was not said, Then delivered he Him therefore unto them that they might crucify Him, but that He might be crucified, that is, that He might be crucified by the judicial sentence and power of the governor. But it is for this reason that the evangelist has said that He was delivered to them, that he might show that they were implicated in the crime from which they tried to hold themselves aloof; for Pilate would have done no such thing, save to implement what he perceived to be their fixed desire. The words, however, that follow, And they took Jesus, and led Him away, may now refer to the soldiers, the attendants of the governor. For it is more clearly stated afterwards, When the soldiers therefore had crucified Him, although the evangelist properly does so even when he attributes the whole to the Jews, for they it was that received what they had with the utmost greediness demanded, and they it was that did all that they compelled to be done. But the events that follow must be made the subject of consideration in another discourse.

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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/1701116.htm>.

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