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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 120

Tractate 120 (John 19:31-20:9)

1. After that the Lord Jesus had accomplished all that He foreknew required accomplishment before His death, and had, when it pleased Himself, given up the ghost, what followed thereafter, as related by the evangelist, let us now consider. The Jews therefore, he says, because it was the preparation (parasceve), that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day (for that Sabbath day was an high day), besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Not that their legs might be taken away, but the persons themselves whose legs were broken for the purpose of effecting their death, and permitting them to be detached from the tree, lest their continuing to hang on the crosses should defile the great festal day by the horrible spectacle of their day-long torments.

2. Then came the soldiers, and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that He was dead already, they broke not His legs: but one of the soldiers with a spear laid open His side, and immediately came there out blood and water. A suggestive word was made use of by the evangelist, in not saying pierced, or wounded His side, or anything else, but opened; that thereby, in a sense, the gate of life might be thrown open, from whence have flowed forth the sacraments of the Church, without which there is no entrance to the life which is the true life. That blood was shed for the remission of sins; that water it is that makes up the health-giving cup, and supplies at once the laver of baptism and water for drinking. This was announced beforehand, when Noah was commanded to make a door in the side of the ark, Genesis 6:16 whereby the animals might enter which were not destined to perish in the flood, and by which the Church was prefigured. Because of this, the first woman was formed from the side of the man when asleep, Genesis 2:22 and was called Life, and the mother of all living. Genesis 3:20 Truly it pointed to a great good, prior to the great evil of the transgression (in the guise of one thus lying asleep). This second Adam bowed His head and fell asleep on the cross, that a spouse might be formed for Him from that which flowed from the sleeper's side. O death, whereby the dead are raised anew to life! What can be purer than such blood? What more health-giving than such a wound?

3. And he that saw it, he says, bare record, and his record is true; and he knows that he says true, that you also might believe. He said not, That ye also might know, but that you might believe; for he knows who has seen, that he who has not seen might believe his testimony. And believing belongs more to the nature of faith than seeing. For what else is meant by believing than giving to faith a suitable reception? For these things were done, he adds, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of Him you shall not break. And again, another scripture says, They shall look on Him whom they pierced. He has furnished two testimonies from the Scriptures for each of the things which he has recorded as having been done. For to the words, But when they came to Jesus, and saw that He was dead already, they broke not His legs, belongs the testimony, A bone of Him you shall not break: an injunction which was laid upon those who were commanded to celebrate the passover by the sacrifice of a sheep in the old law, which went before as a shadow of the passion of Christ. Whence our passover has been offered, even Christ, 1 Corinthians 5:7 of whom the prophet Isaiah also had predicted, He shall be led as a lamb to the slaughter. Isaiah 53:7 In like manner to the words which he subjoined, But one of the soldiers laid open His side with a spear, belongs the other testimony, They shall look on Him whom they pierced; where Christ is promised in the very flesh wherein He was afterwards to come to be crucified.

4. And after this, Joseph of Arimathea (being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews) besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night at first, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. We are not to explain the meaning by saying, first bringing a mixture of myrrh, but by attaching the word first to the preceding clause. For Nicodemus had at first come to Jesus by night, as recorded by this same John in the earlier portions of his Gospel. By the statement given us here, therefore, we are to understand that Nicodemus came to Jesus, not then only, but then for the first time; and that he was a regular comer afterwards, in order by hearing to become a disciple; which is certified, nowadays at least, to almost all nations in the revelation of the body of the most blessed Stephen. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. The evangelist, I think, was not without a purpose in so framing his words, as the manner of the Jews is to bury; for in this way, unless I am mistaken, he has admonished us that, in duties of this kind, which are observed to the dead, the customs of every nation ought to be preserved.

5. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. As in the womb of the Virgin Mary no one was conceived before Him, and no one after Him, so in this sepulchre there was no one buried before Him, and no one after Him. There laid they Jesus therefore, because of the Jews' preparation; for the sepulchre was near at hand. He would have us to understand that the burial was hurried, lest the evening should overtake them; when it was no longer permitted to do any such thing, because of the preparation, which the Jews among us are more in the habit of calling in Latin, cœna pura (the pure meal).

6. And on the first of the week came Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and saw the stone taken away from the sepulchre. The first of the week is what Christian practice now calls the Lord's day, because of the resurrection of the Lord. She ran, therefore, and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and says unto them, They have taken the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid Him. Some of the Greek codices have, They have taken my Lord, which may likely enough have been said by the stronger than ordinary affection of love and handmaid relationship; but we have not found it in the several codices to which we have had access.

7. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and that other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. The repetition here is worthy of notice and of commendation for the way in which a return is made to what had previously been omitted, and yet is added just as if it followed in due order. For after having already said, they came to the sepulchre, he goes back to tell us how they came, and says, so they ran both together, etc. Where he shows that, by outrunning his companion, there came first to the sepulchre that other disciple, by whom he means himself, while he relates all as if speaking of another.

8. And he stooping down, he says, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then comes Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and saw the linen clothes lying, and the napkin, which had been about His head, not lying with the linen clothes, but folded up in one place by itself. Do we suppose these things have no meaning? I can suppose no such thing. But we hasten on to other points, on which we are compelled to linger by the need there is for investigation, or some other kind of obscurity. For in such things as are self-manifest, the inquiry into the meaning even of individual details is, indeed, a subject of holy delight, but only for those who have leisure, which is not the case with us.

9. Then went in also that other disciple who had come first to the sepulchre. He came first, and entered last. This also of a certainty is not without a meaning, but I am without the leisure needful for its explanation. And he saw, and believed. Here some, by not giving due attention, suppose that John believed that Jesus had risen again; but there is no indication of this from the words that follow. For what does he mean by immediately adding, For as yet they knew not the scripture, that He must rise again from the dead? He could not then have believed that He had risen again, when he did not know that it behooved Him to rise again. What then did he see? What was it that he believed? What but this, that he saw the sepulchre empty, and believed what the woman had said, that He had been taken away from the tomb? For as yet they knew not the scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. Thus also when they heard of it from the Lord Himself, although it was uttered in the plainest terms, yet from their custom of hearing Him speaking by parables, they did not understand, and believed that something else was His meaning. But we shall put off what follows till 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/1701120.htm>.

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