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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 117

Tractate 117 (John 19:17-22)

1. On Pilate's judgment and condemnation before the tribunal, they took the Lord Jesus Christ, about the sixth hour, and led Him away. And He, bearing His cross, went forth into the place that is called Calvary, but in Hebrew, Golgotha; where they crucified Him. What else, then, is the meaning of the evangelist Mark saying, And it was the third hour, and they crucified Him, Mark 15:25 but this, that the Lord was crucified at the third hour by the tongues of the Jews, at the sixth hour by the hands of the soldiers? That we may understand that the fifth hour was now completed, and there was some beginning made of the sixth, when Pilate took his seat before the tribunal, which is expressed by John as about the sixth hour; and when He was led forth, and nailed to the tree with the two robbers, and the events recorded were enacted beside His cross, the completion of the sixth hour was fully reached, being the hour from which, on to the ninth, the sun was obscured, and the darkness took place, we have it jointly attested on the authority of the three evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But as the Jews attempted to transfer the crime of slaying Christ from themselves to the Romans, that is to say, to Pilate and his soldiers, therefore Mark suppresses the hour at which Christ was crucified by the soldiers, and which then began to enter upon the sixth, and remembers rather to give an express place to the third hour, at which they are understood to have cried out before Pilate, Crucify, crucify him John 19:6, that it not only may be seen that the former crucified Jesus, namely, the soldiers who hung Him on the tree at the sixth hour, but the Jews also, who at the third hour cried out to have Him crucified.

2. There is also another solution of this question, that we should not here understand the sixth hour of the day, because John says not, And it was about the sixth hour of the day, or about the sixth hour, but says, And it was the parasceve of the passover, about the sixth hour John 19:14. And parasceve is in Latin præparatio (preparation); but the Jews are fonder of using the Greek words in observances of this sort, even those of them who speak Latin rather than Greek. It was therefore the preparation of the passover. But our passover, Christ, as the apostle says, has been sacrificed; 1 Corinthians 5:7 and if we reckon the preparation of this passover from the ninth hour of the night (for then the chief priests seem to have given their verdict for the sacrifice of the Lord, when they said, He is guilty of death, Matthew 26:66 and when the hearing of His case was still proceeding in the high priest's house: whence there is a kind of harmony in understanding that therewith began the preparation of the true passover, whose shadow was the passover of the Jews, that is, of the sacrificing of Christ, when the priests gave their sentence that He was to be sacrificed), certainly from that hour of the night, which is conjectured to have been then the ninth, on to the third hour of the day, when the evangelist Mark testifies that Christ was crucified, there are six hours, three of the night, and three of the day. Hence in the case of this parasceve of the passover, that is, the preparation of the sacrifice of Christ, which began with the ninth hour of the night, it was about the sixth hour; that is to say, the fifth hour was completed, and the sixth had already begun to run, when Pilate ascended the tribunal: for that same preparation, which had begun with the ninth hour of the night, still continued till the sacrifice of Christ, which was the event in course of preparation, was completed, which took place at the third hour, according to Mark, not of the preparation, but of the day; while it was also the sixth hour, not of the day, but of the preparation, by reckoning, of course, six hours from the ninth hour of the night to the third of the day. Of these two solutions of this difficult question let each choose the one that pleases him. But one will judge better what to choose who reads the very elaborate discussions on The Harmony of the Evangelists. And if other solutions of it can also be found, the stability of gospel truth will have a more cumulative defense against the calumnies of unbelieving and profane vanity. And now, after these brief discussions, let us return to the narrative of the evangelist John.

3. And they took Jesus, he says, and led Him away; and He, bearing His cross, went forth unto the place that is called Calvary, in the Hebrew, Golgotha; where they crucified Him. Jesus, therefore, went to the place where He was to be crucified, bearing His cross. A grand spectacle! But if it be impiety that is the onlooker, a grand laughing-stock; if piety, a grand mystery: if impiety be the onlooker, a grand demonstration of ignominy; if piety, a grand bulwark of faith: if it is impiety that looks on, it laughs at the King bearing, in place of His kingly rod, the tree of His punishment; if it is piety, it sees the King bearing the tree for His own crucifixion, which He was yet to affix even on the foreheads of kings, exposed to the contemptuous glances of the impious in connection with that wherein the hearts of saints were thereafter to glory. For to Paul, who was yet to say, But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, Galatians 6:14 He was commending that same cross of His by carrying it on His own shoulders, and bearing the candelabrum of that light that was yet to burn, and not to be placed under a bushel. Matthew 5:15 Bearing, therefore, His cross, He went forth into the place that is called Calvary, in the Hebrew, Golgotha; where they crucified Him, and two others with Him on either side one, and Jesus in the midst. These two, as we have learned in the narrative of the other evangelists, were thieves with whom He was crucified, and between whom He was fixed, whereof the prophecy sent before had declared, And He was numbered among the transgressors. Isaiah 53:12

4. And Pilate wrote a title also, and put it on the cross, and the writing was, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was near to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, The King of the Jews. For these three languages were conspicuous in that place beyond all others: the Hebrew on account of the Jews, who gloried in the law of God; the Greek, because of the wise men among the Gentiles; and the Latin, on account of the Romans, who at that very time were exercising sovereign power over many and almost all countries.

5. Then said the chief priests of the Jews unto Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. Pilate answered, What I have written I have written. Oh the ineffable power of the working of God, even in the hearts of the ignorant! Was there not some hidden voice that sounded through Pilate's inner man with a kind, if one may so say, of loud-toned silence, the words that had been prophesied so long before in the very letter of the Psalms, Corrupt not the inscription of the title? Here, then, you see, he corrupted it not; what he has written he has written. But the high priests, who wished it to be corrupted, what did they say? Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. What is it, madmen, that you say? Why do you oppose the doing of that which you are utterly unable to alter? Will it by any such means become the less true that Jesus said, I am King of the Jews? If that cannot be tampered with which Pilate has written, can that be tampered with which the truth has uttered? But is Christ king only of the Jews, or of the Gentiles also? Yes, of the Gentiles also. For when He said in prophecy, I am set king by Him upon His holy hill of Zion, declaring the decree of the Lord, that no one might say, because of the hill of Zion, that He was set king over the Jews alone, He immediately added, The Lord said unto me, You are my Son; this day have I begotten You. Ask of me, and I will give You the Gentiles for Your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Your possession. Whence He Himself, speaking now with His own lips among the Jews, said, Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one flock and one Shepherd. Why then would we have some great mystery to be understood in this superscription, wherein it was written, King of the Jews, if Christ is king also of the Gentiles? For this reason, because it was the wild olive tree that was made partaker of the fatness of the olive tree, and not the olive tree that was made partaker of the bitterness of the wild olive tree. Romans 11:17 For inasmuch as the title, King of the Jews, was truthfully written regarding Christ, who are they that are to be understood as the Jews but the seed of Abraham, the children of the promise, who are also the children of God? For they, says the apostle, who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. Romans 9:7-8 And the Gentiles were those to whom he said, But if you be Christ's, then are you Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:29 Christ therefore is king of the Jews, but of those who are Jews by the circumcision of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God; Romans 2:29 who belong to the Jerusalem that is free, our eternal mother in heaven, the spiritual Sarah, who casts out the bond maid and her children from the house of liberty. Galatians 4:22-31 And therefore what Pilate wrote he wrote, because what the Lord said He said.

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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/1701117.htm>.

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