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Ver 1a. In the beginning was the Word,
CHRYS. While all the other Evangelists begin with the Incarnation, John, passing over the Conception, Nativity, education, and growth, speaks immediately of the Eternal Generation, saying, In the beginning was the Word.
AUG. The Greek word "logos" signifies both Word and Reason. But in this passage it is better to interpret it Word; as referring not only to the Father, but to the creation of things by the operative power of the Word; whereas Reason, though it produce nothing, is still rightly called Reason.
AUG. Words by their daily use, sound, and passage out of us, have become common things. But there is a word which remains inward, in the very man himself; distinct from the sound which proceeds out of the mouth. There is a word, which is truly and spiritually that, which you understand by the sound, not being the actual sound. Now whoever can conceive the notion of word, as existing not only before its sound, but even before the idea of its sound is formed, may see enigmatically, and as it were in a glass, some similitude of that Word of Which it is said, In the beginning was the Word. For when we give expression to something which we know, the word used is necessarily derived from the knowledge thus retained in the memory, and must be of the same quality with that knowledge. For a word is a thought formed from a thing which we know; which word is spoken in the heart, being neither Greek nor Latin, nor of any language, though, when we want to communicate it to others, some sign is assumed by which to express it. . . Wherefore the word which sounds externally, is a sign of the word which lies hid within, to which the name of word more truly appertains. For that which is uttered by the mouth of our flesh, is the voice of the word; and is in fact called word, with reference to that from which it is taken, when it is developed externally.
BASIL; This Word is not a human word. For how was there a human word in the beginning, when man received his being last of all? There was not then any word of man in the beginning, nor yet of Angels; for every creature is within the limits of time, having its beginning of existence from the Creator. But what says the Gospel? It calls the Only-Begotten Himself the Word.
CHRYS. But why omitting the Father, does he proceed at once to speak of the Son? Because the Father was known to all; though not as the Father, yet as God; whereas the Only-Begotten was not known. As was meet then, he endeavors first of all to inculcate the knowledge of the Son on those who knew Him not; though neither in discoursing on Him, is he altogether silent on the Father. And inasmuch as he was about to teach that the Word was the Only-Begotten Son of God, that no one might think this a possible generation, he makes mention of the Word in the first place, in order to destroy the dangerous suspicion, and show that the Son was from God impassibly. And a second reason is, that He was to declare to us the things of the Father. But he does not speak of the Word simply, but with the addition of the article, in order to distinguish It from other words. For Scripture calls God’s laws and commandments words; but this Word is a certain Substance, or Person, an Essence, coming forth impassibly from the Father Himself.
BASIL; Wherefore then Word? Because born impassibly, the Image of Him that begat, manifesting all the Father in Himself; abstracting from Him nothing, but existing perfect in Himself.
AUG. As our knowledge differs from God’s, so does our word, which arises from our knowledge, differ from that Word of God, which is born of the Father’s essence; we might say, from the Father’s knowledge, the Father’s wisdom, or, more correctly, the Father Who is Knowledge, the Father Who is Wisdom. The Word of God then, the Only-Begotten Son of the Father, is in all things like and equal to the Father; being altogether what the Father is, yet not the Father; because the one is the Son, the other the Father. And thereby He knows all things which the Father knows; yet His knowledge is from the Father, even as is His being: for knowing and being are the same with Him; and so as the Father’s being is not from the Son, so neither is His knowing. Wherefore the Father begat the Word equal to Himself in all things as uttering forth Himself. For had there been more or less in His Word than in Himself, He would not have uttered Himself fully and perfectly. With respect however to our own inner word, which we find, in whatever sense, to be like the Word, let us not object to see how very unlike it is also. A word is a formation of our mind going to take place, but not yet made, and something in our mind which we toss to and fro in a slippery circuitous way, as one thing and another is discovered, or occurs to our thoughts. When this, which we toss to and fro, has reached the subject of our knowledge, and been formed therefrom, when it has assumed the most exact likeness to it, and the conception has quite answered to the thing; then we have a true word. Who may not see how great the difference is here from that Word of God, which exists in the Form of God in such wise, that It could not have been first going to be formed, and afterwards formed, nor can ever have been unformed, being a Form absolute, and absolutely equal to Him from Whom It is. Wherefore; in speaking of the Word of God here nothing is said about thought in God; lest we should think there was any thing revolving in God, which might first receive form in order to be a Word, and afterwards lose it, and be canted round and round again in an unformed state.
AUG. Now the Word of God is a Form, not a formation, but the Form of all forms, a Form unchangeable, removed form accident, from failure, from time, from space, surpassing all things, and existing in all things as a kind of foundation underneath, and summit above them. BASIL; Yet has our outward word some similarity to the Divine Word. For our word declares the whole conception of the mind; since what we conceive in the mind we bring out in word. Indeed our heart is as it were the source, and the uttered word the stream which flows therefrom.
CHRYS. Observe the spiritual wisdom of the Evangelist. He knew that men honored most what was as most ancient, and that honoring what is before every thing else, they conceived of it as God. On this account he mentions first the beginning, saving, In the beginning was the Word.
ORIGEN; There are many significations of this word beginning. For there is a beginning of a journey, and beginning of a length, according to Proverbs, The beginning of the right path is to do justice. There is a beginning too of a creation, according to Job, He is the beginning of the ways of God. Nor would it be incorrect to say, that God is the Beginning of all things. The preexistent material again, where supposed to be original, out of which any thing is produced, is considered as the beginning. There is a beginning also in respect of form: as where Christ is the beginning of those who are made according to the image of God. And there is a beginning of doctrine, according to Hebrews; When for the time you ought to be teachers, you have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God. For there are two kinds of beginning of doctrine: one in itself, the other relative to us; as if we should say that Christ, in that He is the Wisdom and Word of God, was in Himself the beginning of wisdom, but to us, in that He was the Word incarnate. There being so many significations then of the word, we may take it as the Beginning through Whom, i.e. the Maker; for Christ is Creator as The Beginning, in that He is Wisdom; so that the Word is in the beginning, i.e. in Wisdom; the Savior being all these excellences at once. As life then is in the Word, so the Word is in the Beginning, that is to say, in Wisdom. Consider then if it be possible according to this signification to understand the Beginning, as meaning that all things are made according to Wisdom, and the patterns contained therein; or, inasmuch as the Beginning of the Son is the Father, the Beginning of all creatures and existences, to understand by the text, In the beginning was the Word, that the Son, the Word, was in the Beginning, that is, in the Father.
AUG. Or, In the beginning, as if it were said, before all things.
BASIL; The Holy Ghost foresaw that men would arise, who should envy the glory of the Only-Begotten, subverting their hearers by sophistry; as if because He were begotten, He was not; and before He was begotten, he was not. That none might presume then to babble such things, the Holy Ghost says, In the beginning was the Word.
HILARY; Years, centuries, ages, are passed over, place what beginning you will in your imagining, you grasp it not in time, for He, from Whom it is derived, still was.
CHRYS. As then when our ship is near shore, cities and port pass in survey before us, which on the open sea vanish, and leave nothing whereon to fix; the eye; so the Evangelist here, taking us with him in his flight above the created world, leaves the eye to gaze in vacancy on an illimitable expanse. For the words, was in the beginning, are significative of eternal and infinite essence.
AUG. They say, however, if He is the Son, He was born. We allow it. They rejoin: if the Son was born to the Father, the Father was, before the Son was born to Him. This the Faith rejects. Then they say, explain to us how the Son could; be born from the Father, and yet be coeval with Him from whom He is born: for sons are born after their fathers, to succeed them on their death. They adduce analogies from nature; and we must endeavor likewise to do the same for our doctrine. But how can we find in nature a coeternal, when we cannot find an eternal? However, if a thing generating and a thing generated can be found any where coeval, it will be a help to forming a notion of coeternals. Now Wisdom herself is called in the Scriptures, the brightness of Everlasting Light, the image of the Father. Hence then let us take our comparison, an from coevals form a notion of coeternals. Now no one doubts that brightness proceeds from fire: fire then we may consider the father of the brightness. Presently, when I light a candle, at the same instant with the fire, brightness arises. Give me the fire without the brightness, and I will with you believe that the Father was without the Son. An image is produced by a mirror. The image exists as soon as the beholder appears; yet the beholder existed before he came to the mirror. Let us suppose then a twig, or a blade of grass which has grown up by the water side. Is it not born with its image? If there had always been the twig, there would always have been the image proceeding from the twig. And whatever is from another thing, is born. So then that which generates may be coexistent from eternity with that which is generated from it. But some one will say perhaps, Well, I understand now the eternal Father, the coeternal Son: yet the Son is like the emitted brightness, which is less brilliant than the fire, or tile reflected image, which is less real than the twig. Not so: there is complete equality between Father and Son. I do not believe, he says; for you have found nothing whereto to liken it. However, perhaps we can find something in nature by which we may understand that the Son is both coeternal with the Father, and in no respect inferior also: though we cannot find any one material of comparison that will be sufficient singly, and must therefore join together two, one of which has been employed by our adversaries, the other by ourselves. For they have drawn their comparison from things which are preceded in time by the things which they spring from, man, for example, from man. Nevertheless, man is of the same substance with man. We have then in that nativity an equality of nature; an equality of time is wanting. But in the comparison which we have drawn from the brightness of fire, and the reflection of a twig, an equality of nature you cost not find, of time you lost. In the Godhead then there is found as a whole, what here exists in single and separate parts; and that which is in the creation, existing in a manner suitable able to the Creator.
EX GESTIS CONCILII EPHESINI; Wherefore in one place divine Scripture calls Him the Son, in another the Word, in another the Brightness of the Father; names severally meant to guard against blasphemy. For, forasmuch as your son is of the same nature with yourself, the Scripture wishing to show that the Substance of the Father and the Son is one, sets forth the Son of the Father, born of the Father, the Only-Begotten. Next, since the terms birth and son, convey the idea of passibleness, therefore it calls the Son the Word, declaring by that name the impassability of His Nativity. But inasmuch as a father with us is necessarily older shall his son, lest thou should think that this applied to the Divine nature as well, it calls the Only-Begotten the Brightness of the Father; for brightness, though arising from the sun, is not posterior to it. Understand then that Brightness, as revealing the co-eternity of the Son with the Father; Word as proving the impassability of His birth, and Son as conveying His consubstantiality.
CHRYS. But they say that In the beginning does not absolutely express in eternity: for that the same is said of the heaven and the earth: In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth. But are not made and was, altogether different For in like manner as the word is, when spoken of man, signifies the present only, but when applied to God, that which always and eternally is; so too was, predicated of our nature, signifies the past, but predicated of God, eternity.
ORIGEN; The verb to be, has a double signification, sometimes expressing the motions which take place in time, as other verbs do; sometimes the substance of that one thing of which it is predicated, without reference to time. Hence it is also called a substantive verb.
HILARY; Consider then the world, understand what is written of it. In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth. Whatever therefore is created is made in the beginning, and you would contain in time, what, as being to be made, is contained in the beginning. But, lo, for me, an illiterate unlearned fisherman is independent of time, unconfined by ages, advances beyond all beginnings. For the Word was, what it is, and is not bounded by any time, nor commenced therein, seeing It was not made in the beginning, but was. ALCUIN. To refute those who inferred from Christ’s Birth in time, that He had not been from everlasting, the Evangelist begins with the eternity of the Word, saying, In the beginning was the Word.
Ver 1b. And the Word was with God.
CHRYS. Because it is an especial attribute of God, to be eternal and without a beginning, he laid this down first: then, lest any one on hearing in the beginning was the Word, should suppose the Word Unbegotten, he instantly guarded against this; saying, And the Word was with God.
HILARY; From the beginning He is With God: and though independent of time, is not independent of an Author.
BASIL; Again he repeats this, was, because of men blasphemously saying, that there was a time when He was not. Where then was the Word? Illimitable things are not contained in space. Where was He then? With God. For neither is the Father bounded by place, nor the Son by aught circumscribing.
ORIGEN; It is worth while noting, that, whereas the Word is said to come [be made] to some, as to Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, with God it is not made, as though it were not with Him before. But, the Word having been always with Him, it is said, and the Word was with God: for from the beginning it was not separate from the Father.
CHRYS. He has not said, was in God, but was with God: exhibiting to us that eternity which He had in accordance with His Person.
THEOPHYL. Sabellius is overthrown by this text. For he asserts that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one Person, Who sometimes appeared as the Father, sometimes as the Son, sometimes as the Holy Ghost. But he is manifestly confounded by this text, and the Word was with God; for here the Evangelist declares that the Son is one Person, God the Father another.
Ver 1c. And the Word was God.
HILARY; You will say, that a word is the sound of the voice, the enunciation of a thing, the expression of a thought: this Word was in the beginning with God, because the utterance of thought is eternal, when He who thinks is eternal. But how was that in the beginning, which exists no time either before, or after, I doubt even whether in time at all? For speech is neither in existence before one speaks, nor after; in the very act of speaking it vanishes; for by the time a speech is ended, that from which it began does not exist. But even if the first sentence, in the beginning was the Word, was through your inattention lost upon you, why dispute you about the next; and the Word was with God? Did you hear it said, "In God," so that you should understand this Word to be only the expression of hidden thoughts? Or did John say with by mistake, and was not aware of the distinction between being in, and being with, when he said, that what was in the beginning, was not in God, but with God? Hear then the nature and name of the Word; and the Word was God. No more then of the sound of the voice, of the expression of the thought. The Word here is a Substance, not a sound; a Nature, not an expression; God, not a nonentity.
HILARY; But the title is absolute, and free from the offense of an extraneous subject. To Moses it is said, I have given you for a god to Pharaoh: but is not the reason for the name added, when it is said, to Pharaoh? Moses is given for a god to Pharaoh, when he is feared, when he is entreated, when he punishes, when he heals. And it is one thing to be given for a God, another thing to be God. I remember too another application of the name in the Psalms, I have said, you are gods. But there too it is implied that the title was but bestowed; and the introduction of, I said, makes it rather the phrase of the Speaker, than the name of the thing. But when I hear the Word was God, I not only hear the Word said to be, but perceive It proved to be, God.
BASIL; Thus cutting off the cavils of blasphemers, and those who ask what the Word is, he replies, and the Word was God.
THEOPHYL. Or combine it thus: From the Word being with God, it follows plainly that there are two Persons. But these two are of one Nature; and therefore it proceeds, In the Word was God: to show that Father and Son are of One Nature, being of One Godhead.
ORIGEN; We must add too, that the Word illuminates the Prophets with Divine wisdom, in that He comes to them; but that with God He ever is, because He is God. For which reason he placed and the Word was with God, before and the Word was God.
CHRYS. Not asserting, as Plato does, one to be intelligence, the other soul; for the Divine Nature is very different from this. . . But you say, the Father is called God with the addition of the article, the Son without it. What say you then, when the Apostle writes, The great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; and again, Who is over all, God; and Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father; without the article? Besides, too, it were superfluous here, to affix what had been affixed just before. So that it does not follow, though the article is not affixed to the Son, that He is therefore an inferior God.
Ver 2. The same was in the beginning with God.HILARY; Whereas he had said, the Word was God, the fearfulness, and strangeness of the speech disturbed me; the prophets having declared that God was One. But, to quiet my apprehensions, the fisherman reveals the scheme of this so great mystery, and refers all to one, without dishonor, without obliterating [the Person], without reference to time , saying, The Same was in the beginning with God; with One Unbegotten God, from whom He its, the One Only-begotten God. THEOPHYL. Again, to stop any diabolical suspicion, that the Word, because He was God, might have rebelled against His Father, as certain Gentiles fable, or, being separate, have become the antagonist of the Father Himself, he says, The Same was in the beginning with God; that is to say, this Word of God never existed separate from God. CHRYS. Or, lest hearing that In the beginning was the Word, you should regard It as eternal, but yet understand the Father’s Life to have some degree of priority, he has introduced the words, The Same was in the beginning with God. For God was never solitary, apart from Him, but always God with God. Or forasmuch as he said, the Word was God, that no one might think the Divinity of the Son inferior, he immediately subjoins the marks of proper Divinity, in that he both again mentions Eternity, The Same was in the beginning with God; and adds His attribute of Creator, All things were made by Him. ORIGEN; Or thus, the Evangelist having begun with those propositions, reunites them into one, saying, The Same was in the beginning with God. For in the first of the three we learnt in what the Word was, that it was in the beginning; in the second, with whom, with God; in the third who the Word was, God. Having, then, by the term, The Same, set before us in a manner God the Word of Whom he had spoken, he collects all into the fourth proposition, viz. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; into, the Same was in the beginning with God. It may be asked, however, why it is not said, In the beginning was the Word of God, and the Word of God was with God, and the Word of God was God? Now whoever will admit that truth is one, must needs admit also that the demonstration of truth, that is wisdom, is one. But if truth is one, and wisdom is one, the Word which enuntiates truth and develops wisdom in those who ho are capable of receiving it, must be One also. And therefore it would have been out of place here to have said, the Word of God, as if there were other words besides that of God, a word of angels, word of men, and so on. We do not say this, to deny that It is the Word of God, but to show the use of omitting the word God. John himself too in the Apocalypse says, And his Name is called the Word of God. ALCUIN; Wherefore does he use the substantive verb, was? That you might understand that the Word, Which is coeternal with God the Father, was before all time.
Ver 3a. All things were made by him.
ALCUIN; After speaking of the nature of the Son, he proceeds to His operations, saying, All things were made by him, i.e. every thing whether substance, or property.
HILARY; Or thus: [It is said], the Word indeed was in the beginning, but it may be that He was not before the beginning. But what says he; All things were made by him. He is infinite by Whom every thing, which is, was made: and since all things were made by Him, time is likewise.
CHRYS. Moses indeed, in the beginning of the Old Testament, speaks to us in much detail of the natural world, saying, In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth; and then relates how that the light, and the firmament, and the stars, and the various kinds of animals were created. But the Evangelist sums up the whole of this in a word, as familiar to his hearers; and hastens to loftier matter, making the whole of his book to bear not on the works, but on the Maker.
AUG. Since all things were made by him, it is evident that light was as also, when God said, Let there be light. And in like manner the rest. But if so, that which God said, viz. Let there be light, is eternal. For the Word of God, God with God, is coeternal with the Father, though the world created by Him be temporal. For whereas our when and sometimes are words of time, in the Word of God, on the contrary, when a thing ought to be made, is eternal; and the thing is then made, when in that Word it is that it ought to be made, which Word has in It neither when, or at sometime, since It is all eternal.
AUG. How then can the Word of God be made, when God by the Word made all things? For if the Word Itself were made, by what other Word was It made? If you say it was the Word of the Word by Which That was made, that Word I call the Only-Begotten Son of God. But if thou cost not call It the Word of the Word, then grant that that Word was not made, by which all things were made.
AUG. And if It is not made, It is not a creature; but if It is not a creature, It is of the same Substance with the Father. For every substance which is not God is a creature; and what is not a creature is God.
THEOPHYL. The Arians are wont to say, that all things are spoken of as made by the Son, in the sense in which we say a door is made by a saw, viz. as an instrument; not that He was Himself the Maker. And so they talk of the Son as a thing made, as if He were made for this purpose, that all things might be made by Him. Now we to the inventors of this lie reply simply: If, as you say, the Father had created the Son, in order to make use of Him as an instrument, it would appear that the Son were less honorable than the things made, just as things made by a saw are more noble than the saw itself; the saw having been made for their sake. In like way do they speak of the Father creating the Son for the sake of the things made, as it; had He thought good to create the universe, neither would He have produced the Son. What can be more insane than such language? They argue, however, why was it not said that the Word made all things, instead of the preposition by being used. For this reason, that you might not understand an Unbegotten and Unoriginate Son, a rival God.
CHRYS. If the preposition by perplex you, and you would learn from Scripture that the Word Itself made all thin as, hear David, You, Lord, in the beginning has laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. That he spoke this of the Only-Begotten, you learn from the Apostle, who in the Epistle to the Hebrews applies these words to the Son.
CHRYS. But if you say that the prophet spoke this of the Father, and that Paul applied it to the Son, it comes to the same thing. For he would not have mentioned that as applicable to the Son, unless he fully considered that the Father and the Son were of equal dignity. If again you dream that in the preposition by any subjection is implied, why does Paul use of the Father? as, God is faithful, by Whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son; and again, Paul an Apostle by the will of God.
ORIGEN; Here too Valentines errs, saying, that the Word supplied to the Creator the cause of the creation of the world. If this interpretation is true, its should have been written that all things had their existence from the Word through the Creator, not contrariwise, through the Word from the Creator.
Ver John 1:3b. And without him was not any thing made.
CHRYS. That you may not suppose, when he says, All things were made by Him, that he meant only the things Moses had;, spoken of, he seasonably brings in, And without Him was not any thing made, nothing, that is, cognizable either by the senses, or the understanding. Or thus; Lest you should suspect the sentence, All things were made by Him, to refer to the miracles which the other Evangelists had related, he adds, and without Him was not any thing made.
HILARY; Or thus; That all things were made by him, is pronouncing too much, it may be said. There is an Unbegotten Who is made of none, and there is the Son Himself begotten from Him Who is Unbegotten. The Evangelist however again implies the Author, when he speaks of Him as Associated; saying, without Him was not any thing made. This, that nothing was made without Him, I understand to mean the Son’s not being alone, for ’by whom’ is one thing, ’not without whom another.
ORIGEN: Or thus, that you might not think that the things made by the Word had a separate existence, and were not contained in the Word, he says, and without Him was not any thing made: that is, not any thing was made externally of Him; for He encircles all things, as the Preserver of all things.
AUG. Or, by saying, without Him was not any thing made, he tells us not to suspect Him in any sense to be a thing made. For how can He be a thing made, when God, it is said, made nothing without Him?
ORIGEN; If all things were made by the Word, and in the number of all things is wickedness, and the whole influx of sin, these too were made by the Word; which is false. Now ’nothing’ and ’a thing which is not,’ mean the same. And the Apostle seems to call wicked things, things which are not, God calls those things which be not, as though they were. All wickedness then is called nothing, forasmuch as it is made without the Word. Those who say however ever that the devil is not a creature of God, err. In so far as he is the devil, he is not a creature of God; but he, whose character it is to be the devil, is a creature of God. It is as if we should say a murderer is not a creature of God, when, so far as he is a man, he is a creature of God.
AUG. For sin was not made by Him; for it is manifest that sin is nothing, and that men become nothing when they sin. Nor was an idol made by the Word. It has indeed a sort of form of man, and man himself was made by the Word; but the form of man in an idol was not made by the Word: for it is written, we know that an idol is nothing. These then were not made by the Word; but whatever things were made naturally, the whole universe, were; every creature from an angel to a worm.ORIGEN; Valentinus excludes from the things made by the Word, all that were made in the ages which he believes to have existed before the Word. This is plainly false; inasmuch as the things which he accounts divine are thus excluded from the "all things," and what he deems wholly corrupt are properly ’all things!’
AUG. The folly of those men is not to be listened to, who think nothing is to be understood here as something because it is placed at the end of the sentence: as if it made so any difference whether it was said, without Him nothing was made, or, without Him was made nothing.
ORIGEN; If ’the word’ be taken for that which is in each man, inasmuch as it was implanted in each by the Word, which was in the beginning then also, we commit nothing without this ’word’ [reason] taking this word ’nothing’ in a popular sense. For the Apostle says that sin was dead without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived; for sin is not imputed when there is no law. But neither was there sin, when there was no Word, for our Lord says, If I had not come and spoken to them, they had not had sin. For every excuse is without drawn from the sinner, if, with the Word present, and enjoining what is to be done, he refuses to obey Him. Nor is the Word to be blamed on this account; any more than a master, whose discipline leaves no excuse open to a delinquent pupil on the ground of ignorance. All things then were made by the Word, not only the natural world, but also whatever is done by those acting without reason.
Ver 4a. In him was life.
BEDE; The Evangelist having said that every creature was made by the Word, lest perchance any one might think that His will was changeable, as though He willed on a sudden to make a creature, which from eternity he had not made; he took care to show that, though a creature was made in time, in the Wisdom of the Creator it had been from eternity arranged what and when He should create.
AUG. ’The passage can be read thus: What was made in Him was life. Therefore the whole universe is life: for what was there not made in Him? He is the Wisdom of God, as is said, In Wisdom have You made them all. All things therefore are made in Him, even as they are by Him. But, if whatever was made in Him is life, the earth is life, a stone is life. We must not interpret it so unsoundly, lest the sect of the Manicheans creep in upon us, and say, that a stone has life, and that a wall has life; for they do insanely assert so, and when reprehended or refuted, appeal as though to Scripture, and ask, why was it said, That which was made in Him. was life?
Read the passage then thus: make the stop after What was made, and then proceed, In Him was life. The earth was made; but, the earth itself which was, as made is not life. In the Wisdom of God however there is spiritually a certain Reason after which the earth is made. This is Life. A chest in workmanship is not life, a chest in art is, inasmuch as the mind of the workman lives wherein that original pattern exists. And in this sense the Wisdom of God, by Which all things are made, contains in art ’all things which are made, according to that art.’ And therefore whatever is made, is not in itself life, but is life in Him.
ORIGEN; It may also be divided thus: That which was made in him; and then, was life; the sense being, that all things that were made by Him and in Him, are life in Him, and are one in Him. They were, that is, in Him; they exist as the cause, before they exist in themselves as effects. If you ask how and in what manner all things which were made by the Word subsist in Him vitally, immutably, causally, take some examples from the created world.
See how that all things within the arch of the world of sense have their causes simultaneously and harmoniously subsisting in that sun which is the greatest luminary of the world: how multitudinous crops of herbs and fruits are contained in single seeds: how the most complex variety of rules, in the art of the artificer, and the mind of the director, are a living unit, how an infinite number of lines coexist in one point. Contemplate these several instances, and you will be able as it were on the wings of physical science, to penetrate with your intellectual eye the secrets of the Word, and as far as is allowed to a human understanding, to see how all things which were made by the Word, live in Him, and were made in Him.
HILARY; Or it can be understood thus. In that he had said, without Him was not anything thing made, one might have been perplexed, and have asked, Was then any thing made by another, which yet was not made without Him? If so, then though nothing is made without, all things are not made by Him: it being one thing to make, another to be with the maker.
On this account the Evangelist declares what it was which was not made without Him, viz. what was made in Him. This then it was which was not made without Him, viz. what was made in Him. And that which was made in Him, was also made by Him. For all things were created in Him and by Him. Now things were made in Him, because He was born God the Creator. And for this reason also things that were made in Him, were not made without Him, viz. that God, in that He was born, was life, and He who was life, was not made life after being born. Nothing then which was made in Him, was made without Him, because He was life, in Whom they were made; because God Who was born of God was God, not after, but in that He was born.
CHRYS Or to give another explanation. We will not put the stop at without Him was not any thing made, as the heretics do. For they wishing to prove the Holy Ghost a creature, read, That which was made in Him, was life. But this cannot be so understood. For first, this was not the place for making mention of the Holy Ghost. But let us suppose it was; let us take the passage for the present according to their reading, we shall see that it leads to a difficulty. For when it is said, That which was made in Him, was life; they say the life spoken of is the Holy Ghost. But this life is also light; for the Evangelist proceeds, The life was the light of men.
Wherefore according to them, he calls the Holy Ghost the light of all men. But the Word mentioned above, is what he here calls consecutively, God, and Life, and Light. Now the Word was made flesh. If follows that the Holy Ghost is incarnate, not the Son. Dismissing then this reading, we adopt a more suitable one, with the following meaning: All things were made by Him, and without Him was not any thing made which was made: there we make a stop, and begin a fresh sentence: In Him was life. Without Him was not any thing made which was as made; i.e. which could be made. You see how by this short addition, he removes any difficulty which might follow. For by introducing without Him was not any thing made, and adding, which was made, he includes all things invisible, and excepts the Holy: Spirit: for the Spirit cannot be made.
To the mention of creation, succeeds that of providence. In Him was life. As a fountain which produces vast depths of water, and yet is nothing diminished at the fountain head; so works the Only-Begotten. How great soever His creations be, He Himself is none the less for them. By the word life here is meant not only creation, but that providence by which the things created are preserved. But when you are told that in Him was life, do not suppose Him confounded; for, as the Father has life in Himself, so has He given to the Son to have life in Himself. As then you would not call the Father compounded, so neither should you the Son.
ORIGEN; Or thus: Our Savior is said to be some things not for Himself, but for others; others again, both for Himself and others. When it is said then, That which was as made in Him was life; we must inquire whether the life is for Himself and others, or for others only; and if for others, for whom? Now the Life and the Light are both the same Person: He is the light of men: He is therefore their life. The Savior is called Life here, not to Himself, but to others; whose Light He also is. This life is inseparable from the Word, from the time it is added on to it.
For Reason or the Word must exist before in the soul, cleansing it from sin, till it is pure enough to receive the life, which is thus engrafted or inborn in every one who renders himself fit to receive the Word of God. Hence observe, that though the Word itself in the beginning was not made, the Beginning never having been without the Word; yet the life of men was not always in the Word. This life of men was made, in that It was the light of men; and this light of men could not be before man was; the light of men being understood relatively to men. And therefore he says, That which was made in the Word was life; not That which was in the Word was life. Some copies read, not amiss, "That which was made, in Him is life." If we understand the life in the Word, to be He who says below, ’I am the life,’ we shall confess that none who believe not. in Christ live, and that all who live not in God, are dead.
Ver 4b. And the life was the light of men.
THEOPHYL. He had said, In him was life, that you might not suppose that the Word was without life. Now he shows that that life is spiritual, and the light of all reasonable creatures. And the life was the light of men: i.e. not sensible, but intellectual light, illuminating the very soul.
AUG. Life of itself gives illumination to men, but to cattle not: for they have not rational souls, by which to discern wisdom: whereas man, being made in the image of God, has a rational soul, by which he can discern wisdom. Hence that life, by which all things are made, is light, not however of all animals whatsoever, but of men.
THEOPHYL. He said not, the Light of the Jews only, but of all men: for all of us, in so far as we have received intellect and reason, from that Word which created us, are said to be illuminated by Him. For the reason which is given to us, and which constitutes us the reasonable beings we are, is a light directing us what to do, and what not to do.
ORIGEN; We must not omit to notice, that he puts the life before the light of men. For it would be a contradiction to suppose a being without life to be illuminated; as if life were an addition to illumination. But to proceed: if the life was the light of men, meaning men only, Christ is the light and the life of men only; an heretical supposition. It does not follow then, when a thing is predicated of any, that it is predicated of those only; for of God it is written, that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and yet He is not the God of those fathers only. In the same way, the light of men is not excluded from being the light of others as well. Some moreover contend from , Genesis, Let us make man after our image, that man means whatever is made after the image and similitude of God. If so, the light of men is the light of any rational creature whatever.
Ver 5. And the light shines in darkness.
AUG. Whereas that life is the light of men, but foolish hearts cannot receive that light, being so encumbered with sins that they cannot see it; for this cause lest any should think there is no light near them, because they cannot see it, he continues: And the light shines in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. For suppose a blind man standing in the sun, the sun is present to him, but he is absent from the sun. In like manner every fool is blind, and wisdom is present to him; but, though present, absent from his sight, forasmuch as sight is gone: the truth being, not that she is absent from him, but that he is absent from her.
ORIGEN; This kind of darkness however is not in men by nature, according to the text in the Ephesians, You were some time darkness, but now are you light in the Lord.
ORIGEN; Or thus, The light shines in the darkness of faithful souls, beginning from faith, and drawing onwards to hope; but the deceit and ignorance of undisciplined souls did not comprehended the light of the Word of God shining in the flesh. That however is an ethical meaning. The metaphysical signification of the words is as follows. Human nature, even though it sinned not, could not shine by its own strength simply; for it is not naturally light, but only a recipient of it; it is capable of containing wisdom, but is not wisdom itself. As the air, of itself, shines not, but is called by the name of darkness, even so is our nature, considered in itself; a dark substance, which however admits of and is made partaker of the light of wisdom. And as when the air receives the sun’s rays, it is not said to shine of itself, but the sun’s radiance to be apparent in it; so the reasonable part of our nature, while possessing the presence of the Word of God, does not of itself understand God, and intellectual things, but by means of the divine light implanted in it. Thus, The light shines in darkness: for the Word of God, the life and the light of men, ceases not to shine in our nature; though regarded in itself, that nature is without form and darkness. And forasmuch as pure light cannot be comprehended by any creature, hence the text: The darkness comprehended it not.
CHRYS. Or thus: throughout the whole foregoing passage he, had been speaking of creation; then he mentions the spiritual; benefits which the Word brought w with it: and the life was the light of men. He said not, the light of Jews, but of all men without exception; for not the Jews only, but the Gentiles also have come to this knowledge. The Angels he omits, for he is speaking of human nature, to whom the Word came bringing glad tidings.
ORIGEN; But they ask, why is not the Word Itself called the light of men, instead of the life which is in the Word? We reply, that the life here spoken of is not that which rational and irrational animals have in common, but that which is annexed to the Word which is within us through participation of the primeval Word. For we must distinguish the external and false life, from the desirable and true. We are first made partakers of life: and this life with some is light potentially only, not in act; with those, viz. who are not eager to search out the things which appertain to knowledge: with others it is actual light, those who, as the Apostle said, covet earnestly the best gifts, that is to say, the word of wisdom. (If the life and the light of men are the same, whoso is in darkness is proved not to live, and none who lives abides in darkness.)
CHRYS. Life having come to us, the empire of death is dissolved; a light having shone upon us, there is darkness no longer: but there remains ever a life which death, a light which darkness cannot overcome. Whence he continues, And the light shines in darkness: by darkness meaning death and error, for sensible light does not shine in darkness, but darkness must be removed first; whereas the preaching of Christ shone forth amidst the reign of error, and caused it to disappear, and Christ by dying changed death into life, so overcoming it, that, those who were already in its grasp, were brought back again. Forasmuch then as neither death nor error has overcome his light, which is every where conspicuous shilling forth by its own strength; therefore he adds, And the darkness comprehended it not.
ORIGEN; As the light of men is a word expressing two spiritual things, so is darkness also. To one who possesses the light, we attribute both the doing the deeds of the light, and also true understanding, inasmuch as he is illuminated by the light of knowledge: and, on the other hand, the term darkness we apply both to unlawful acts, and also to that knowledge, which seems such, but is not. Now as the Father is light, and in Him is no darkness at all, so is the Savior also. Yet, inasmuch as he underwent the similitude of our sinful flesh, it is not incorrectly said of Him, that in Him there was some darkness; for He took our darkness upon Himself, in order that He might dissipate it. This Light therefore, which was made the life of man, shines in the darkness of our hearts, when the prince of this darkness wars with the human race. This Light the darkness persecuted, as is clear from what our Savior and His children suffer; the darkness fighting against the children of light. But, forasmuch as God takes up the cause, they do not prevail; nor do they apprehend the light, for they are either of too slow a nature to overtake the light’s quick course, or, waiting for it to come up to them, they are put to flight at its approach. We should bear in mind, however, that darkness is not always used in a bad sense, but sometimes in a good, as in Psalm xvii. He made darkness His secret place: the things of God being unknown and incomprehensible. This darkness then I will call praiseworthy, since it tends toward light, and lays hold on it: for, though it were darkness before, while it was not known, yet it is turned to light and knowledge in him who has learned.
AUG. A certain Platonist once said, that the beginning of this Gospel ought to be copied in letters of gold, and placed in the most conspicuous place in every church.
BEDE; The other Evangelists describe Christ as born in time; John witnesses that He was in the beginning, saying, In the beginning was the Word. The others describe His sudden appearance among men; he witnesses that He was ever with God, saying, And the Word was with God. The others prove Him very man; he very God, saying, And the Word was God. The others exhibit Him as man conversing with men for a season; he pronounces Him God abiding with God in the beginning, saying, The Same was in the beginning with God. The others relate the great deeds which He did amongst men; he that God the Father made every creature through Him, saying, All things were made by Him, and without Him was not any shiny made.
Ver 6. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.7. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.8. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
AUG. What is said above, refers to the Divinity of Christ. He came to us in the form of man, but man in such sense, as that the Godhead was concealed within Him. And therefore there was sent before a great man, to declare by his witness that He was more than man. And who was this? He was a man.
THEOPHYL. Not an Angel, as many have held. The Evangelist here refutes such a notion.
AUG. And how could he declare the truth concerning God, unless he were sent from God.
CHRYS. After this esteem nothing that he says as human; for he speaks not his own, but his that sent him. And therefore the Prophet calls him a messenger, I send My messenger, for it is the excellence of a messenger, to say nothing of his own. But the expression, was sent, does not mean his entrance into life, but to his office. As Esaias was sent on his commission, not from any place out of the world, but from where he saw the Lord sitting upon His high and lofty throne; in like manner John was sent from the desert to baptize; for he says, He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said to me, Upon Whom you shall see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptizes with the Holy Ghost.
AUG. What was he called? whose name was John?
ALCUIN. That is, the grace of God, or one in whom is grace, who by his testimony first made known to the world the grace of the New Testament, that is, Christ. Or John may be taken to mean, to whom it is given: because that through the grace of God, to him it was given, not only to herald, but also to baptize the King of kings.
AUG. Wherefore came he? The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light.
ORIGEN; Some try to undo the testimonies of the Prophets to Christ, by saying that the Son of God had no need of such witnesses; the wholesome words which He uttered and His miraculous acts being sufficient to produce belief; just as Moses deserved belief for his speech and goodness, and wanted no previous witnesses. To this we may reply, that, where there are a number of reasons to make people believe, persons are often impressed by one kind of proof; and not by another, and God, Who for the sake of all men became man, can give them many reasons for belief in Him. And with respect to the doctrine of the Incarnation, certain it is that some have been forced by the Prophetical writings into an admiration of Christ by the fact of so many prophets having, before His advent, fixed the place of His nativity; and by other proofs of the same kind. It is to be remembered too, that, though the display of miraculous powers might stimulate the faith of those who lived in the same age with Christ, they might, in the lapse of time, fail to do so; as some of them might even get to be regarded as fabulous. Prophecy and miracles together are more convincing than simply past miracles by themselves. We must recollect too that men receive honor themselves from the witness which they bear to God. He deprives the Prophetical choir of immeasurable honor, whoever denies that it was their office to bear witness to Christ. John when he comes to bear witness to the light, follows in the train of those who went before him.
CHRYS. Not because the light wanted the testimony, but for the reason which John himself self gives, viz. that all might believe on Him. For as He put on flesh to save all men from death; so He sent before Him a human preacher, that the sound of a voice like their own, might the readier draw men to Him.BEDE; He says not, that all men should believe in him; for, cursed be the man that trusts in man; but, that all men through him might believe; i.e. by his testimony believe in the Light.
THEOPHYL. Though some however might not believe, he is not accountable for them. When a man shuts himself up in a dark room, so as to receive no light from the sun’s rays, he is the cause of the deprivation, not the sun. In like manner John was sent, that all men might believe; but if no such result followed, he is not the cause of the failure.
CHRYS. Forasmuch however as with us, the one who witnesses, is commonly a more important, a more trustworthy person, than the one to whom he bears witness, to do away with any such notion in the present case the Evangelist proceeds; He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. If this were not his intention, in repeating the words, to bear witness of that Light, the addition would be superfluous, and rather a verbal repetition, than the explanation of a truth.
THEOPHYL. But it will be said, that we do not allow John or any of the saints to be or ever to have been light. The difference is this: If we call any of the saints light, we put light without the article. So if asked whether John is light, without the article, you may allow without hesitation that he is: if with the article, you alloy it not. For he is not very, original, light, but is only called so, on account of his partaking of the light, which comes from the true Light.
Ver 9. That was the true Light which lights every man that comes into the world.
AUG. What Light it is to which John bears witness, he shows himself, saying, That was the true Light.
CHRYS. Or thus; Having said above that John had come, and was sent, to bear witness of the Light, lest any from the recent coming of the witness, should infer the same of Him who is witnessed to, the Evangelist takes us back to that existence which is beyond all beginning, saying, That was the true Light.
AUG. Wherefore is there added, true? Because man enlightened is called light, but the true Light is that which lightens. For our eyes are called lights, and yet, without a lamp at night, or the sun by day, these lights are open to no purpose. Wherefore he adds: which lightens every man: but if every man, then John himself. He Himself then enlightened the person, by whom He wished Himself to be pointed out. And just as we may often, from the reflection of the sun’s rays on some object, know the sun to be risen, though we cannot fool; at the sun itself; as even feeble eyes can look at an illuminated wall, or some object of that kind: even so, those to whom Christ came, being too weak to behold Him, He threw His rays upon John; John confessed the illumination, and so the illuminator Himself was discovered. It is said, that comes into the world. Had man not departed from Him, he had not had to be enlightened; but therefore is he to be here enlightened, because he departed thence, when the might have been enlightened.
THEOPHYL. Let the Manichean blush, who pronounces us the creatures of a dark and malignant creator: for we should never be enlightened, v ere we not the children of the true Light.
CHRYS. Where are those too, who deny Him to be very God? We see here that He is called very Light. But if He lightens every man that comes into the world, how is it that so many have gone on without light? For all have not known the worship of Christ. The answer is: He only enlightens every man, so far as pertains to Him. If men shut their eyes, and will not receive the rays of this light, their darkness arises not from the fault of the light, but from their own wickedness, inasmuch as they voluntarily deprive themselves of the gift of grace. For grace is poured out upon all; and they, who will not enjoy the gift, may impute it to their own blindness.
AUG. Or the words, lightens every man, may be understood to mean, not that there is no one who is not enlightened, but that no one is enlightened except by Him.
BEDE; Including both natural and divine wisdom; for as no one can exist of himself, so no one can be wise of himself.
ORIGEN; Or thus: We must not understand the words, lightens every man that comes into the world, of the growth from hidden seeds to organized bodies, but of the entrance into the invisible world, by the spiritual regeneration and grace, which is given in Baptism. Those then the true Light lightens, who come into the world of goodness, not those who rush into the world of sin.
THEOPHYL. Or thus: The intellect which is given in us for our direction, and which is called natural reason, is said here to be a light given us by God. But some by the ill use of their reason have darkened themselves.
Ver 10. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
AUG. The Light which lightens every man that comes into the world, came here in the flesh; because while He was here in His Divinity alone, the foolish, blind, and unrighteous could not discern Him; those of whom it is said above, The darkness comprehended it not. Hence the text; He was in the world.
ORIGEN; For as, when a person leaves off speaking, his voice ceases to be, and vanishes; so if the Heavenly Father should cease to speak His Word, the effect of that Word, i.e. the universe which is created in the Word, shall cease to exist.
AUG. You must not suppose however, that He was in the world in tile same sense in w which the earth, cattle, men, are in the world; but in the sense in which an artificer controls his own work; whence the text, And the world was made by Him. Nor again did He make it after the manner of all artificer; for whereas an artificer is external to what he fabricates, God pervades the world, carrying on the work of creation in every part, and never absent from any part: by the presence of His Majesty He both makes and controls what is made. Thus He was in the world, as He by Whom the world w as made.
CHRYS. And again, because He was in the world, but not coeval with the world, for this cause he introduced the words, and the world was made by Him: thus taking you back again to the eternal existence of the Only-Begotten. For when we are told that the whole of creation was made by Him, we must be very dull not to acknowledge that the Maker existed before the work.
THEOPHYL. Here he overthrows at once the insane notion of the Manichaean, who says that the world is the work of a malignant creature, and the opinion of the Arian, that the Son of God is a creature.
AUG. But what means this, The world was made by Him? The earth, sky, and sea, and all that are therein, are called the world. But in another sense, the lovers of the world are called the world, of whom he says, And the world knew Him not. For did the sky, or Angels, not know their Creator, Whom the very devils confess, Whom the whole universe has borne witness to? Who then did not know Him? Those who, from their love of the world, are called the world; for such live in heart in the world, while those who do not love it, have their body in the world, but their heart in heaven; as said the Apostle, our conversation is in heaven. By their love of the world, such men merit being called by the name of the place where they live. And just as in speaking of a bad house, or good house, we do not mean praise or blame to the walls, but to the inhabitants; so when we talk of the world, we mean those who live there in the love of it.
CHRYS. But they who were the friends of God, knew Him even before His presence in the body; whence Christ said below, Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day. When the Gentiles then interrupt us with the question, Why has He come in these last times to work our salvation, having neglected us so long? we reply, that He was in the world before, superintending what He had made, and was known to all who were worthy of Him; and that, if the world knew Him not, those of whom the world was not worthy knew Him. The reason follows, why the world knew Him not. The Evangelist calls those men the world, who are tied to the world, and savor of worldly things; for there is nothing that disturbs the mind so much, as this melting with the love of present things.
Ver 11. He came to his own, and his own received him not.12. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:13. Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the wild of man, but of God.
CHRYS. When He said that the world knew Him not, he c referred to the times of the old dispensation, but what follows H has reference to the time of his preaching; He came to his own.
AUG. Because all things were made by Him.
THEOPHYL. By his own, understand either the world, or Judea, which He had chosen for His inheritance.
CHRYS. He came then to His own, not for His own good, but for the good of others. But whence did He Who fills all things, and is every where present, come? He came out of condescension to us, though in reality He had been in the world all along. But the world not seeing Him, because it knew Him not, He deigned to put on flesh. And this manifestation and condescension is called His advent. But the merciful God so contrives His dispensations, that we may shine forth in proportion to our goodness, and therefore He will not compel, but invites men, by persuasion and kindness, to come of their own accord: and so, when He came, some received Him, and others received Him not. He desires not an unwilling and forced service; for no one who comes unwillingly devotes himself wholly to Him. Whence what follows, And his own received him not. He here calls the Jews His own, as being his peculiar people; as indeed are all men in some sense, being made by Him. And as above, to the shame of our common nature, he said, that the world which was made by Him, knew not its Maker: so here again, indignant at the ingratitude of the Jews, he brings a heavier charge, viz. that His own received Him not.
AUG But if none at all received, none will be saved. For no one will be saved, but he who received Christ at His coming; and therefore he adds, As many as received Him.
CHRYS. Whether they be bond or free, Greek or Barbarian, wise or unwise, women or men, the young or the aged, all are made meet for the honor, which the Evangelist now proceeds to mention. To them gave He power to become the sons of God.
AUG. O amazing goodness! He was born the Only Son, yet would not remain so; but grudged not to admit joint heirs to His inheritance. Nor was this narrowed by many partaking of it.
CHRYS. He said not that He made them the sons of God, but gave them power to become the sons of God: showing that there is need of much care, to preserve the image, which is formed by our adoption in Baptism, untarnished: and showing at the same time also that no one can take this power from us, except we rob ourselves of it. Now, if the delegates of worldly governments have often nearly as much power as those governments themselves, much more is this the case with us, who derive our dignity from God. But at the same time the Evangelist wishes to show that this grace comes to us of our own will and endeavor: that, in short, the operation of grace being supposed, it is in the power of our free will to make us the sons of God.
THEOPHYL. Or the meaning is, that the most perfect sonship will only be attained at the resurrection, as said the Apostle, Wailing for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. He therefore gave us the power to become the sons of God, i.e. the power of obtaining this grace at some future time.
CHRYS. And because in the matter of these ineffable benefits, the giving of grace belongs to God, but the extending of faith to man, He subjoins, even to those who believe on his name. Why then declare you not, John, the punishment of those who received Him not? Is it because there is no greater punishment than that, when the power of becoming the sons of God is offered to men, they should not become such, but voluntarily deprive themselves of the dignity? But besides this, inextinguishable fire awaits all such, as will appear clearly farther on.
AUG. To be made then the sons of God, and brothers of Christ, they must of course be born; for if they are not born, how can they be sons? Now the sons of men are born of flesh and blood, and the will of man, and the embrace of wedlock; but how these are born, the next words declare: Not of bloods; that is, the male’s and the female’s. Bloods is not correct Latin, but as it is plural in the Greek, the translator preferred to put it so, though it be not strictly grammatical, at the same time explaining the word in order not to offend the weakness of one’s hearers.
BEDE; It should be understood that in holy Scripture, blood in the plural number, has the signification of sin: thus in the Psalms, Deliver me from blood-guiltiness.
AUG. In that which follows, Nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, the flesh is put for the female; because, when she was made out of the rib, Adam said, This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh. The flesh therefore is put for the wife, as the spirit sometimes is for the husband; because that the one ought to govern, the other to obey. For what is there worse than a house, where the woman has rule over the man? But these that we speak of are born neither of the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God.
BEDE; The carnal birth of men derives its origin from the embrace of wedlock, but the spiritual is dispensed by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
CHRYS. The Evangelist makes this declaration, that being taught the vileness and inferiority of our former birth, which is through blood, and the will of the flesh, and understanding the loftiness and nobleness of the second, which is through grace, we might hence receive great knowledge, worthy of being bestowed by him who begat us, and after this show forth much zeal.
Ver 14a. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us
AUG. Having said, Born of God; to prevent surprise and trepidation at so great, so apparently incredible a grace, that men should be born of God; to assure us, he says, And the Word was as made flesh. Why marvel you then that men are born of God? Know that God Himself was born of man.
CHRYS. Or thus, After saying that they were born of God, who received Him, he sets forth the cause of this honor, viz. the Word being made flesh, God’s own Son was made the son of man, that he might make the sons of men the sons of God. Now when you hear that the Word was made flesh, be not disturbed, for He did not change His substance into flesh, which it were indeed impious to suppose; but remaining what He was, took upon Him the form of a servant. But as there are some who say, that the whole of the incarnation was only in appearance, to refute such a blasphemy, he used the expression, was made, meaning to represent not a conversion of substance, but an assumption of real flesh. But if they say, God is omnipotent; why then could He not be changed into flesh? we reply, that a change from an unchangeable nature is a contradiction.
AUG. As our word becomes the bodily voice, by its assumption of that voice, as a means of developing itself externally, so the Word of God was made flesh, by assuming flesh, as a means of manifesting Itself to the world. And as our word is made voice, yet is not turned into voice; so the Word of God was made flesh, but never turned into flesh. It is by assuming another nature, not by consuming themselves in it, that our word is made voice, and the Word, flesh.
EX GESTIS CONC. EPH. The discourse which we utter, which we use in conversation with each other, is incorporeal, imperceptible, impalpable; but clothed in letters and characters, it becomes material, perceptible, tangible. So too the Word of God, which was naturally invisible, becomes visible, and that comes before us in tangible form, which was by nature incorporeal.
ALCUIN. When we think how the incorporeal soul is joined to the body, so as that of two is made one man, we too shall the more easily receive the notion of the incorporeal Divine substance being joined to the soul in the body, in unity of person; so as that the Word is not turned into flesh, nor the flesh into the Word; just as the soul is not turned into body, nor the body into soul
THEOPHYL. Apollinarius of Laodicea raised a heresy upon this text; saying, that Christ had flesh only, not a rational soul; in the place of which His divinity directed and controlled His body.
AUG. If men are disturbed however by its being said that the Word was made flesh, without mention of a soul; let them know that the flesh is put for the whole man, the part for the whole, by a figure of speech; as in the Psalms, Unto you shall all flesh come; and again in Romans, By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified. In the same sense it is said here that the Word was made flesh; meaning that the Word was made man.
THEOPHYL. The Evangelist intends by making mention of the flesh, to show the unspeakable condescension of God, and lead us to admire His compassion, in assuming for our salvation, what was so opposite and incongenial to His nature, as the flesh: for the soul has some propinquity to God. If the Word, however, was made flesh, and assumed not at the same time a human soul, our souls, it would follow, would not be yet restored: for what He did not assume, He could not sanctify. What a mockery then, when the soul first sinned, to assume and sanctify the flesh only, leaving the weakest part untouched! This text overthrows Nestorius, who asserted that it was not the very Word, even God, Who the Self-same was made man, being conceived of the sacred blood of the Virgin: but that the Virgin brought forth a man endowed with every kind of virtue, and that the Word of God was united to him: thus making out two sons, one born of the Virgin, i.e. man, the other born of God, that is, the Son of God, united to that man by grace, and relation, and love. In opposition to him the Evangelist declares, that the very Word was made Man, not that the Word fixing upon a righteous man united Himself to him.
CYRIL; The Word uniting to Himself a body of flesh animated with a rational soul, substantially, was ineffably and incomprehensibly made Man, and called the Son of man, and that not according to the will only, or good-pleasure, nor again by the assumption of the Person alone. The natures are different indeed which are brought into true union, but He Who is of both, Christ the Son, is One; the difference of the natures, on the other hand, not being destroyed in consequence of this coalition.
THEOPHYL; From the text, The Word was made flesh, we learn this farther, that the Word Itself is man, and being the Son of God was made the Son of a woman, who is rightly called the Mother of God, as having given birth to God in the flesh.
HILARY; Some, however, who think God the Only-Begotten, God the Word, Who was in the beginning with God, not to be God substantially, but a Word sent forth, the Son being to God the Father, what a word is to one who utters it, these men, in order to disprove that the Word, being substantially God, and abiding in the form of God, was born the Man Christ, argue subtilely, that, whereas that Man (they say) derived His life rather from human origin than from the mystery of a spiritual conception, God the Word did not make Himself Man of the womb of the Virgin; but that the Word of God was in Jesus, as the spirit of prophecy in the Prophets. And they are accustomed to charge us with holding, that Christ was born a Man, not of our body and soul; whereas we preach the Word made flesh, and after our likeness born Man, so that He Who is truly Son of God, was truly born Son of man; and that, as by His own act He took upon Him a body of the Virgin, so of Himself He took a soul also, which in no case is derived from man by mere parental origin. And seeing He, The Self-same, is the Son of man, how absurd were it, besides the Son of God, Who is the Word, to make Him another person besides, a sort of prophet, inspired by the Word of God; whereas our Lord Jesus Christ is both the Son of God, and the Son of man.
CHRYS. Lest from it being said, however, that the Word was made flesh, you should infer improperly a change of His incorruptible nature, he subjoins, And dwelt among us. For that which inhabits is not the same, but different from the habitation: different, I say, in nature; though as to union and conjunction, God the Word and the flesh are one, without confusion or extinction of substance.
ALCUIN; Or, dwelt among us, means, lived amongst men.
Ver 14b. And we saw his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
CHRYS. Having said that we are made the sons of God and in no other way than because the Word was made flesh; he mentions another gift, And we saw His glory. Which glory we should not have seen, had He not, by His alliance with humanity, become visible to us. For if they could not endure to look on the glorified face of Moses, but there was need of a veil, how could soiled and earthly creatures, like ourselves, have borne the sight of undisguised Divinity, which is not vouchsafed even to the higher powers themselves.
AUG. Or thus; in that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, His birth became a kind of ointment to anoint the eyes of our heart, that we might through His humanity discern His majesty; and therefore it follows, And we saw His glory. No one could see His glory, who was not healed by the humility of the flesh. For there had flown upon man’s eye as it were dust from the earth: the eye had been diseased, and earth was sent to heal it again; the flesh had blinded you, the flesh restores you. The soul by consenting to carnal affections had become carnal; hence the eye of the mind had been blinded: then the physician made for thee ointment. He came in such wise, as that by the flesh He destroyed the corruption of the flesh. And thus the Word was made flesh, that you might be able to say, We saw His glory.
CHRYS. He subjoins, As of the Only-Begotten of the Father: for many prophets, as Moses, Elijah, and others, workers of miracles, had been glorified, and Angels also who appeared to men, shining with the brightness belonging to their nature; Cherubim and Seraphim too, who were seen in glorious array by the prophets. But the Evangelist withdrawing our minds from these, and raising them above all nature, and every preeminence of fellow servants, leads us up to the summit Himself; as if he said, Not of prophet, or of any other man, or of Angel, or Archangel, or any of the higher powers, is the glory which we beheld; but as that of the very Lord, very King, very and true Only-Begotten Son.
GREG. In Scripture language as, and as it were, are sometimes put not for likeness but reality; whence the expression, As of the Only-Begotten of the Father.
CHRYS. As if he said: We saw His glory, such as it was becoming and proper for the Only-Begotten and true Son to have. We have a form of speech, like it, derived from our seeing kings always splendidly robed. When the dignity of a man’s carriage is beyond description, we say, In short, he went as a king. So too John says, We saw His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father. For Angels, when they appeared, did every thing as servants who had a Lord, but He as the Lord appearing in humble form. Yet did all creatures recognize their Lord, the star calling the Magi, the Angels the shepherds, the child leaping in the womb acknowledged Him: yes the Father bore witness to Him from heaven, and the Paraclete descending upon Him: and the very universe itself shouted louder than any trumpet, that the King of heaven had come. For devils fled, diseases were healed, the graves gave up the dead, and souls were brought out of wickedness, to the utmost height of virtue. What shall one say of the wisdom of precepts, of the virtue of heavenly laws, of the excellent institution of the angelical life?
ORIGEN; Full of grace and truth. Of this the meaning is twofold. For it may be understood of the Humanity, and the Divinity of the Incarnate Word, so that the fullness of grace has reference to the Humanity, according to which Christ is the Head of the Church, and the first-born of every creature: for the greatest and original example of grace, by which man, with no preceding merits, is made God, is manifested primarily in Him. The fullness of the grace of Christ may also be understood of the Holy Spirit, whose sevenfold operation filled Christ’s Humanity. The fullness of truth applies to the Divinity but if you had rather understand the fullness of grace and truth of the New Testament, you may with propriety pronounce the fullness of the grace of the New Testament to be given by Christ, and the truth of the legal types to have been fulfilled in Him.
THEOPHYL. Or, full of grace, inasmuch as His word w as gracious, as said David, Full of grace are your lips; and truth, because what Moses and the Prophets spoke or did in figure, Christ did in reality.
Ver 15. John bore witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spoke, He that comes after me is preferred before me, for he was before me.
ALCUIN; He had said before that there was a man sent to bear witness; now he gives definitely the forerunner’s own testimony, which plainly declared the excellence of His Human Nature and the Eternity of His Godhead. John bore witness of Him.
CHRYS. Or he introduces this, as if to say, Do not suppose that we bear witness to this out of gratitude, because we were with Him a long time, and partook of His table; for John who had never seen Him before, nor tarried with Him, bore witness to Him. The Evangelist repeats John’s testimony many times here and there, because he was held in such admiration by the Jews. Other Evangelists refer to the old prophets, and say, This was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet. But he introduces a loftier, and later witness, not intending to make the servant vouch for the master, but only condescending to the weakness of his hearers. For as Christ would not have been so readily received, had He not taken upon Him the form of a servant; so if he had not excited the attention of servants by the voice of a fellow-servant beforehand, there would not have been many Jews embracing the word of Christ. It follows, And cried; that is, preached with openness, with freedom, without reservation. He did not however begin with asserting that this one was the natural only-begotten Son of God, but cried, saying, This was He of whom I spoke, He that comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me. For as birds do not teach their young all at once to fly, but first draw them outside the nest, and afterwards try them with a quicker motion; so John did not immediately lead the Jews to high things, but began with lesser flights, saying, that Christ was better than he; which in the mean time was no little advance. And observe how prudently he introduces his testimony; he not only points to Christ when He appears, but preaches Him beforehand; as, This is He of whom I spoke. This would prepare men’s minds for Christ’s coming: so that when He did come, the humility of His garb would be no impediment to His being received. For Christ adopted so humble and common an appearance, that if men had seen Him without first healing John’s testimony to His greatness, none of the things spoken of Him would have had any effect. THEOPHYL. He said, Who comes after me, that is, as to the time of His birth. John was six months before Christ, according to His humanity.
CHRYS. Or this does not refer to the birth from Mary; for Christ was born, when this was said by John; but to His coming for the work of preaching. He then said, is made before me; that is, is more illustrious, more honorable; as if he said, Do not suppose me greater than He, because I came first to preach.
THEOPHYL. The Arians infer from this Word, that the Son of God is not begotten of the Father, but made like any other creature.
AUG. It does not mean - He was made before I was made, but He is preferred to me.
CHRYS. If the words, made before me, referred to His coming into being, it was superfluous to add, For He was before me. For who would be so foolish as not to know, that if He was made before him, He was before him. It would have been more correct to say, He was before me, because He was made before me. The expression then, He was made before me, must be taken in the sense of honor: only that which was to take place, he speaks of as having taken place already, after the style of the old Prophets, who commonly talk of the future as the past.
Ver 16. And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.17. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
ORIGEN; This is to be considered a continuation of the Baptist’s testimony to Christ, a point which has escaped the attention of many, who think that from this to, He has declared Him, St. John the Apostle is speaking. But the idea that on a sudden, and, as it would seem, unseasonably, the discourse of the Baptist should be interrupted by a speech of the disciple’s, is inadmissible. And any one, able to follow the passage, will discern a very obvious connection here.
For having said, He is preferred before me, for He was before me, he proceeds, From this I know that He is before me, because I and the Prophets who preceded me have received of His fullness, and grace for grace, (the second grace for the first.) For they too by the Spirit penetrated beyond the figure to the contemplation of the truth. And hence receiving, as we have done, of his fullness, we judge that the law was given by Moses, but that grace and truth were made, by Jesus Christ - made, not given: the Father gave the law by Moses, but made grace and truth by Jesus.
But if it is Jesus who says below, I am the Truth, how is truth made by Jesus? We must understand however that the very substantial Truth, from which First Truth and Its Image many truths are engraver on those who treat of the truth, was not made through Jesus Christ, or through any one; but only the truth which is in individuals, such as in Paul, e.g. or the other Apostles, was made through Jesus Christ.
CHRYS. Or thus; John the Evangelist here adds this testimony to that of John the Baptist, saying, And of his fullness have we all received. These are not the words of the forerunner, but of the disciple; as if he meant to say, We also the twelve, and the whole body of the faithful, both present and to come, have received of His fullness.
AUG. But whet have you received? Grace for grace. So that we are to understand that we have received a certain something from His fullness, and over and above this, grace for grace; that we have first received of His fullness, first grace; and again, we have received grace for grace. What grace did we first receive; Faith: which is called grace, because it is given freely. This is the first grace then which the sinner receives, the remission of his sins. Again, we have grace for grace; i.e. instead of that grace in which we live by faith, we are to receive another, viz. life eternal: for life eternal is as it were the wages of faith. And thus as faith itself is a good grace, so life eternal is grace for grace. There was not grace in the Old Testament; for the law threatened, but assisted not, commanded, but healed not, showed our weakness, but relieved it not.
It prepared the way however for a Physician who was about to come, with the gifts of grace and truth: whence the sentence which follows: For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth were made by Jesus Christ. The death of your Lord has destroyed death, both temporal and eternal; that is the grace which was promised, but not contained, in the law.
CHRYS. Or we have received grace for grace; that is, the new in the place of the old. For as there is a justice and a justice besides, an adoption and another adoption, a circumcision and another circumcision; so is there a grace and another grace; only the one being a type, the other a reality. He brings in the words to show that the Jews as well as ourselves are saved by grace: it being of mercy and grace that they received the law. Next, after he has said, Grace for grace, he adds something to show the magnitude of the gift; For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth were made by Jesus Christ. John when comparing himself with Christ above had said, He is preferred before me: but the Evangelist draws a comparison between Christ, and one much more in admiration with the Jews than John, viz. Moses.
And observe his wisdom. He does not draw the comparison. between the persons, but the things, contrasting grace and truth to the law: the latter of which he says was given, a word only applying to an administrator; the former made, as we should speak of a king, who does every thing by his power: though in this King it would be with grace also, because that with power He remitted all sins. Now His grace is shown in His gift of Baptism, and our adoption by the Holy Spirit, and many other things; but to have a better insight into what the truth is, we should study the figures of the old law: for what was to be accomplished in the New Testament, is prefigured in the Old, Christ at His Coming filling up the figure. Thus was the figure given by Moses, but the truth made by Christ.
AUG. Or, we may refer grace to knowledge, truth to wisdom. Amongst the events of time the highest grace is the uniting of man to God in One Person; in the eternal world the highest truth pertains to God the Word.
18. No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him.
ORIGEN; Heracleon asserts, that this is a declaration of the disciple, not of the Baptist: an unreasonable supposition; for if the words, Of His fullness have we all received, are the Baptist’s, does not the connection run naturally, that he receiving of the grace of Christ, the second in the place of the first grace, and confessing that the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ; understood here that no man had seen God at any time, and that the Only Begotten, who was in the bosom of the Father, had committed this declaration of Himself to John, and all who with him had received of His fullness? For John was not the first who declared Him; for He Himself who was before Abraham, tells us, that Abraham rejoiced to see His glory.
CHRYS. Or thus; the Evangelist after showing the great superiority of Christ’s gifts, compared with those dispensed by Moses, wishes in the next place to supply an adequate reason for the difference. The one being a servant was made a minister of a lesser dispensation: but the other Who was Lord, and Son of the King, brought us far higher things, being ever coexistent with the Father, and beholding Him. Then follows, No man has seen God at any time, &c.
AUG. What is that then which Jacob said, I have seen God face to face; and that which is written of Moses, he talked with God face to face; and that which the prophet Isaiah said of himself, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne?
GREG. It is plainly given us to understand here, that while we are in this mortal state, we see God only through the medium of certain images, not, in the reality of His own nature. A soul influenced by the grace of the Spirit may see God through certain figures, but cannot penetrate into his absolute essence. And hence it is that Jacob, who testifies that he saw God, saw nothing but an Angel: and that Moses, who talked with God face to face, says, Show me Your way, that I may know You: meaning that he ardently desired to see in the brightness of His own infinite Nature, Him Whom he had only as yet seen reflected in images.
CHRYS. If the old fathers had seen That very Nature, they would not have contemplated It so variously, for It is in Itself simple and without shape; It sits not, It walks not; these are the qualities of bodies. Whence he said through the Prophet, I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes, by the ministry of the Prophets: i.e. I have condescended to them, I appeared that which I was not. For inasmuch as the Son of God was about to manifest Himself to us in actual flesh, men were at first raised to the sight of God, in such ways as allowed of their seeing Him.
AUG. Now it is said, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God; and again, When He shall appear, we shall be like to Him, for we shall see Him as He is. What is the meaning then of the words here: No man has seen God at any time? The reply is easy: those passages speak of God, as to be seen, not as already seen. They shall see God, it is said, not, they have seen Him: nor is it, we have seen Him, but, we shall see Him as He is. For, No man has seen God at any time, neither in this life, nor yet in the Angelic, as He is; in the same way in which sensible things are perceived by the bodily vision.
GREG. If however any, while inhabiting this corruptible flesh, can advance to such an immeasurable height of virtue, as to be able to discern by the contemplative vision, the eternal brightness of God, their case affects not what we say. For whoever sees wisdom, that is, God, is dead wholly to this life, being no longer occupied by the love of it.
AUG. For unless any in some sense die to this life, either by leaving the body altogether, or by being so withdrawn and alienated from carnal perceptions, that he may well not know, as the Apostle says, whether he be in the body or out of the body, he cannot be carried away, and borne aloft to that vision.
GREG. Some hold that in the place of bliss, God is visible in His brightness, but not in His nature. This is to indulge in over much subtlety. For in that simple and unchangeable essence, no division can be made between the nature and the brightness.
AUG. If we say, that the text, No one has seen God, at any time, applies only to men; so that, as the Apostle more plainly interprets it, Whom no man has seen nor can see, no one is to be understood here to mean, no one of men: the question may be solved in a way not to contradict what our Lord says, Their Angels do always behold the face of My Father; so that we must believe that Angels see, what no one, i.e. of men, has ever seen.
GREG. Some however there are who conceive that not even the Angels see God.CHRYS. That very existence which is God, neither Prophets, nor even Angels, nor yet Archangels, have seen. For inquire of the Angels; they say nothing concerning His Substance; but sing, Glory to God in the highest, and Peace on earth to men of good will. Nay, ask even Cherubim and Seraphim; you will hear only in reply the mystic melody of devotion, and that heaven and earth are full of His glory.
AUG. Which indeed is true so far, that no bodily or even mental vision of man has ever embraced the fullness of God; for it is one thing to see, another to embrace the whole of what you see. A thing is seen, if only the sight of it be caught; but we only see a thing fully, when we have no part of it unseen, when we see round its extreme limits.
CHRYS. In this complete sense only the Son and the Holy Ghost see the Father. For how can created nature see that which is uncreated? So then no man knows the Father as the Son knows Him: and hence what follows, The Only-Begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared, Him. That we might not be led by the identity of the name, to confound Him with the sons made so by grace, the article is annexed in the first place; and then, to put an end to all doubt, the name Only-Begotten is introduced.
HILARY; The Truth of His Nature did not seem sufficiently explained by the name of Son, unless, in addition, its peculiar force as proper to Him were expressed, so signifying its distinctness from all beside. For in that, besides Son, he calls Him also the Only-Begotten, he cut off altogether all suspicion of adoption, the Nature of the Only-Begotten guaranteeing the truth of the name.
CHRYS. He adds, Which is in the bosom of the Father. To dwell in the bosom is much more than simply to see. For he who sees simply, has not the knowledge thoroughly of that which he sees; but he who dwells in the bosom, knows every thing. When you hear then that no one knows the Father save the Son, do not by any means suppose that he only knows the Father more than any other, and does not know Him fully. For the Evangelist sets forth His residing in the bosom of the Father on this very account: viz. to show us the intimate converse of the Only-Begotten, and His co-eternity with the Father.
AUG. In the bosom of the Father, i.e. in the secret Presence of the Father: for God has not the fold on the bosom, as we have; nor must be imagined to sit, as we do; nor is He bound with a girdle, so as to have a fold: but from the fact of our bosom being placed innermost, the secret Presence of the Father is called the bosom of the Father. He then who, in the secret Presence of the Father, knew the Father, the same has declared what He saw.
CHRYS. But what has He declared? That God is one. But this the rest of the Prophets and Moses proclaim: what else have we learnt from the Son Who was in the bosom of the Father? In the first place, that those very truths, which the others declared, were declared through the operation of the Only Begotten: in the next place, we have received a far greater doctrine from the Only Begotten; viz. that God is a Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth; and that God is the Father of the Only Begotten.
BEDE; Farther, if the word declared have reference to the past, it must be considered that He, being made man, declared the doctrine of the Trinity in unity, and how, and by what acts we should prepare ourselves for the contemplation of it. If it have reference to the future, then it means that He will declare Him, when He shall introduce His elect to the vision of His brightness.
AUG. Yet have there been men, who, deceived by the vanity of their hearts, maintained that the Father is invisible, the Son visible. Now if they call the Son visible, with respect to His connection with the flesh, we object not; it is the Catholic doctrine. But it is madness in them to say He was so before His incarnation; i.e. if it be true that Christ is the Wisdom of God, and the Power of God. The Wisdom of God cannot be seen by the eye. If the human word cannot be seen by the eye, how can the Word of God?
CHRYS. The text then, No man has seen God at any time, applies not to the Father only, but also to the Son: for He, as Paul said, is the Image of the invisible God; but He who is the Image of the Invisible , must Himself also be invisible.
Ver 19. And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who are you?20. And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.21. And they asked him, What then? Are you Elias? And he said, I am not. Are you that prophet? And he answered, No.22. Then said they to him, Who are you? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What say you of yourself?23. He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.
ORIGEN; This is the second testimony of John the Baptist to Christ, the first began with, This is He of Whom I spoke; and ended with, He has declared Him.
THEOPHYL. Or, after the introduction above of John’s testimony to Christ, is preferred before me, the Evangelist now adds when the above testimony was given, And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem.
ORIGEN; The Jews of Jerusalem, as being of kin to the Baptist, who was of the priestly stock, send Priests and Levites to ask him who he is; that is, men considered to hold a superior rank to the rest of their order, by God’s election, and coming from that favored above all cities, Jerusalem. Such is the reverential way in which they interrogate John. We read of no such proceeding towards Christ: but what the Jews did to John, John in turn does to Christ, when he asks Him, through His disciples, Are you He that should come, or look we for another?
CHRYS. Such confidence had they in John, that they were ready to believe him on his own words: witness how it is said, To ask him, Who are you?
AUG. They would not have sent, unless they had been impressed by his lofty exercise of authority, in daring to baptize.
ORIGEN; John, as it appears, saw from the question, that the Priests and Levites had doubts whether it might not be the Christ, who was baptizing; which doubts however they were afraid to profess openly, for fear of incurring the charge of credulity. He wisely determines therefore first to correct their mistake, and then to proclaim the truth.
Accordingly, he first of all shows that he is not the Christ: And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. We may add here, that at this time the people had already begun to be impressed with the idea that Christ’s advent was at hand, in consequence of the interpretations which the lawyers had collected out of the sacred writings to that effect. Thus Theudas had been enabled to collect together a considerable body, on the strength of his pretending to be the Christ; and after him Judas, in the days of the taxation, had done the same. Such being the strong expectation of Christ’s advent then prevalent, the Jews send to John, intending by the question, Who are you? to extract from him whether he were the Christ.
GREG. He denied directly being what he was not, but he did not deny what he was: thus, by his speaking truth, becoming a true member of Him Whose name he had not dishonestly usurped.
CHRYS. Or take this explanation: The Jews were influenced by a kind of human sympathy for John, whom they were reluctant to see made subordinate to Christ, on account of the many marks of greatness about him; his illustrious descent in the first place, he being the son of a chief priest; in the next, his hard training, and his contempt of the world. Whereas in Christ the contrary were apparent; a humble birth, for which they reproach Him; Is not this the carpenter’s son? an ordinary way of living; a dress such as every one else wore.
As John then was constantly sending to Christ, they send to him, with the view of having him for their master, and thinking to induce him, by blandishments, to confess himself Christ. They do not therefore send inferior persons to him, ministers and Herodians, as they did to Christ, but Priests and Levites; and not of these an indiscriminate party, but those of Jerusalem, i.e. the more honorable ones; but they send them with this question, to ask, Who are you? not from a wish to be informed, but in order to induce him to do what I have said. John replies then to their intention, not to their interrogation: And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.
And observe the wisdom of the Evangelist: he repeats the same thing three times, to show John’s virtue, and the malice and madness of the Jews. For it is the character of a devoted servant, not only to forbear taking to himself his lord’s glory, but even, when numbers offer it to him, to reject it. The multitude indeed believed from ignorance that John was the Christ, but in these it was malice; and in this spirit they put the question to him, thinking, by their blandishments to bring him over to their wishes.
For unless this had been their design, when he replied, I am not the Christ, they would have said, We did not suspect this; we did not come to ask this. When caught, however, and discovered in their purpose, they proceed to another question: And they asked him, What then? Are you Elias?
AUG. For they knew that Elias was to preach Christ; the name of Christ not being unknown to any among the Jews; but they did not think that our Lord was the Christ: and yet did not altogether imagine that there was no Christ about to come. In this way, while looking forward to the future, they mistook at the present. And he said, I am not.
GREG. These words gave rise to a very different question. In another place, our Lord, when asked by His disciples concerning the coming of Elias, replied, If you will receive it, this is Elias. But John says, I am not Elias. How is he then a preacher of the truth, if he agrees not with what that very Truth declares?
ORIGEN; Some one will say that John was ignorant that he was Elias; as those say, who maintain, from this passage the doctrine of a second incorporation, as though the soul took up a new body, after leaving its old one. For the Jews, it is said, asking John by the Levites and priests, whether he is Elias, suppose the doctrine of a second body to be already certain; as though it rested upon tradition, and were part of their secret system. To which question, however, John replies, I am not Elias: not being acquainted with his own prior existence. But how is it reasonable to imagine, if John were a prophet enlightened by the Spirit, and had revealed so much concerning the Father, and the Only-Begotten, that he could be so in the dark as to himself, as not to know that his own soul had once belonged to Elias?
GREG. But if we examine the truth accurately, that which sounds inconsistent, will be found not really so. The Angel told Zacharias concerning John, He shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias. As Elias then will preach the second advent of our Lord, so John preached His first; as the former will come as the precursor of the Judge, so the latter was made the precursor of the Redeemer. John was Elias in spirit, not in person: and what our Lord affirms of the spirit, John denies of the Person: there being a kind of propriety in this; viz. that our Lord to His disciples should speak spiritually of John, and that John, in answering the carnal multitude, should speak of his body, not of his spirit.
ORIGEN; He answers then the Levites and Priests, I am not, conjecturing what their question meant: for the purport of their examination was to discover, not whether the spirit in both was the same, but whether John was that very Elias, who was taken up, now appearing again, as the Jews expected, without another birth. But he whom we mentioned above as holding this doctrine of a reincorporation, will say that it is not consistent that the Priests and Levites should be ignorant of the birth of the son of so dignified a priest as Zacharias, who was born too in his father’s old age, and contrary to all human probabilities: especially when Luke declares, that fear came on all that dwelt round about them.
But perhaps, since Elias was expected to appear before the coming of Christ near the end, they may seem to put the question figuratively, Are you he who announces the coming of Christ at the end of the world? to which he answers, I am not. But there is in fact nothing strange in supposing that John’s birth might not have been known to all. For as in the case of our Savior many knew Him to be born of Mary, and yet some wrongly imagined that He was John the Baptist, or Elias, or one of the Prophets; so in the case of John, some were not unacquainted with the fact of his being son of Zacharias, and yet some may have been in doubt whether he were not the Elias who was expected.
Again, inasmuch as many prophets had arisen in Israel, but one was especially looked forward to, of whom Moses had prophesied The Lord your God will raise up unto you a Prophet from the midst of you, of your brethren, like to me; to Him shall you hearken: they ask him in the third place, not simply whether he is a prophet, but with the article prefixed, Are you that Prophet? For every one of the prophets in succession had signified to the people of Israel that he was not the one whom Moses had prophesied of; who, like Moses, was to stand in the midst between God and man, and deliver a testament, sent from God to His disciples. They did not however apply this name to Christ, but thought that He was to be a different person; whereas John knew that Christ was that Prophet, and therefore to this question, he answered, No.
AUG. Or because John was more than a prophet: for that the prophets announced Him afar off, but John pointed Him out actually present.Then said they to him, Who are you? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What say you of yourself?
CHRYS. You see them here pressing him still more strongly with their questions, while he on the other hand quietly puts down their suspicions, where they are untrue, and establishes the truth in their place: saying, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.
AUG. So spoke Esaias: the prophecy was fulfilled in John the Baptist.
GREG. You know that the only-begotten Son is called the Word of the Father. Now we know, in the case of our own utterance, the voice first sounds, and then the word is heard. Thus John declares himself to be the voice, i.e. because he precedes the Word, and, through his ministry, the Word of the Father is heard by man.
ORIGEN; Heracleon, in his discussion on John and the Prophets, infers that because the Savior was the Word, and John the voice, therefore the whole of the prophetic order was only sound. To which we reply, that, if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle? If the voice of prophecy is nothing but sound, why does the Savior send us to it, saying, Search the Scriptures? But John calls himself the voice, not that cries, but of one that cries in the wilderness; viz. of Him Who stood and cried, If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink. He cries, in order that those at a distance may hear him, and understand from the loudness of the sound, the vastness of the thing spoken of.
THEOPHYL. Or because he declared the truth plainly, while all who were under the law spoke obscurely.
GREG. John cries in the wilderness, because it is to forsaken and destitute Judea that he bears the consolatory tidings of a Redeemer.
ORIGEN; There is need of the voice crying in the wilderness, that the soul, forsaken by God, may be recalled to making straight the way of the Lord, following no more the crooked paths of the serpent. This has reference both to the contemplative life, as enlightened by truth, without mixture of falsehood, and to the practical, as following up the correct perception by the suitable action. Wherefore he adds, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.
GREG. The way of the Lord is made straight to the heart, when the word of truth is heard with humility; the way of the Lord is made straight to the heart, when the life is formed upon the precept.
Ver 24. And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.25. And they asked him, and said to him, Why baptize you then, if you be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?26. John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there stands one among you, whom you know not;27. He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.28. These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
ORIGEN; The questions of the priests and Levites being answered, another mission comes from the Pharisees: And they that were sent were of the Pharisees. So far as it is allowable to form a conjecture from the discourse itself here, I should say that it was the third occasion of John’s giving his witness. Observe the mildness of the former question, so befitting the priestly and levitical character, Who are you? There is nothing arrogant or disrespectful, but only what becomes true ministers of God.
The Pharisees however, being a sectarian body, as their name implies, address the Baptist in an importunate and contumelious way. And they said, Why baptize you then, if you be not that Christ, neither Elias, neither that Prophet? not caring about information, but only wishing to prevent him baptizing. Yet the very next thing they did, was to come to John’s baptism. The solution of this is, that they came not in faith, but hypocritically, because they feared the people.
CHRYS. Or, those very same priests and Levies were of the Pharisees, and, because they could not undermine him by blandishments, began accusing, after they had compelled him to say what he was not. And they asked him, saying, Why baptize you then, if you are not the Christ, neither Elias, neither that Prophet? As if it were an act of audacity in him to baptize, when he was neither the Christ, nor His precursor, nor His proclaimer, i.e. that Prophet.
GREG. A saint, even when perversely questioned, is never diverted from the pursuit of goodness. Thus John to the words of envy opposes the words of life: John answered them, saying, I indeed baptize with water.
ORIGEN; For how would the question, Why then baptize you, be replied to in any other way, than by setting forth the carnal nature of his own baptism?
GREG. John baptizes not with the Spirit, but with water; not being able to remit sins, he washes the bodies of the baptized with water, but not their souls with pardon. Why then cloth he baptize, when he cloth not remit sins by’ baptism? To maintain his character of forerunner. As his birth preceded our Lord’s, so cloth his baptism precede our Lord’s baptism. And he who was the forerunner of Christ in His preaching, is forerunner also in His baptism, which was the imitation of that Sacrament. And withal he announces the mystery of our redemption, saying that He, the Redeemer, is standing in the midst of men, and they know it not: There stands one among you, whom you know not: for our Lord, when He appeared in the flesh, was visible in body, but in majesty invisible.
CHRYS. One among you. It was fitting that Christ should mix with the people, and be one of the many, showing every where His humility. Whom you know not; i.e. not, in the most absolute and certain sense; not, who He is, and whence He is.
AUG. In His low estate He was not seen; and therefore the candle was; lighted.
THEOPHYL. Or it was, that our Lord was in the midst of the Pharisees; and they not knowing Him. For they thought that they knew the Scriptures, and therefore, inasmuch as our Lord was pointed out there, He was in the midst of them, i.e. in their hearts. But they knew Him not, inasmuch as they understood not the Scriptures. Or take another interpretation. He was in the midst of them, as mediator between God and man, wishing to bring them, the Pharisees, to God. But they knew Him not.
ORIGEN; Or thus; Having said, I indeed baptize with water,. in answer to the question, Why baptize you then? - to the next, If you be not Christ? he replies by declaring the preexistent substance of Christ; that it was of such virtue, that though His Godhead was invisible, He was present to every one, and pervaded the whole world; as is conveyed in the words; There stands one among you.
For He it is, Who has diffused Himself through the whole system of nature, insomuch that every thing which is created, is created by Him; All things were made by Him. Whence it is evident that even those who inquired of John, Why baptize you then? had Him among them. Or, the words, There stands one among you, are to be understood of mankind generally. For, from our character as rational beings, it follows that the word g exists in the center of us, because the heart, which is the spring of motion within us, is situated in the center of the body. Those then who carry the word within them, but are ignorant of its nature, and the source and beginning and the way in which it resides in them; these, hearing the word within them, know it not.
But John recognized Him, and reproached the Pharisees, saying, Whom you know now not. For, though expecting Christ’s coming, the Pharisees had formed no lofty conception of Him, but supposed that He would only be a holy man: wherefore he briefly refutes their ignorance, and the false ideas that they had of His excellence. He said, stand; for as the Father stands, i.e. exists without variation or change, so stands the Word ever in the work of salvation, though It assume flesh, though It be in the midst of men, though It stand invisible.
Lest any one however should think that the invisible One Who comes to all men, and to the universal world, is different from Him Who was made man, and appeared on the earth, he adds, He that comes after me, i.e. Who will appear after me. The after however here has not the same meaning that it has, when Christ calls us after Him; for there we are told to follow after Him, that by treading in His steps, we may attain to the Father; but here the word is used to intimate what should follow upon John’s teaching; for he came that all may believe, having by his ministry been fitted gradually by lesser things, for the reception of the perfect Word. Therefore he said, He it is Who comes after me.
CHRYS. As if he said, Do not think that every thing is contained in my baptism; for if my baptism were perfect, another would not come after me with another baptism. This baptism of mine is but an introduction to the other, and will soon pass away, like a shadow, or an image. There is One coming after me to establish the truth: and therefore this is not a perfect baptism; for, if it were, there would be no room for a second: and therefore he adds, Who is made before me: i.e. is more honorable, more lofty.
GREG. Made before me, i.e. preferred before me. He comes after me, that is, He is born after me; He is made before me, that is, He is preferred to me.
CHRYS. But lest you should think this to be the result of comparison, he immediately shows it to be a superiority beyond all comparison; Whose shoe latchet I am not worthy to unloose: as if He said, He is so much before me, that I am unworthy to be numbered among the lowest of His attendants: the unloosing of the sandal being the very lowest kind of service.
AUG. To have pronounced himself worthy even of unloosing His shoe’s latchet, he would have been thinking too much of himself.
GREG. Or thus: It was a law of the old dispensation, that, if a man refused to take the woman, who of right came to him, to wife, he who by right of relationship came next to be the husband, should unloose his shoe. Now in what character did Christ appear in the world, but as Spouse of the Holy Church? John then very properly pronounced himself unworthy to unloose this shoe’s latchet: as if he said, I cannot uncover the feet of the Redeemer, for I claim not the title of spouse, which I have no right to. Or the passage may be explained in another way. We know that shoes are made out of dead animals. Our Lord then, when He came in the flesh, put on, as it were, shoes; because in His Divinity He took the flesh of our corruption, wherein we had of ourselves perished. And the latchet of the shoe, is the seal upon the mystery. John is not able to unloose the shoe’s latchet; i.e. even he cannot penetrate into the mystery of the Incarnation. So he seems to say: What wonder that He is preferred before me, Whom, being born after me, I contemplate, yet the mystery of Whose birth I comprehend not.
ORIG. The place has been understood not amiss thus by a certain person; I am not of such importance, as that for my sake He should descend from this high abode, and take flesh upon Him, as it were a shoe.
CHRYS. John having preached the thing concerning Christ publicly and With becoming liberty, the Evangelist mentions the place of His preaching: These things were done in Bethany beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. For it was in no house or corner that John preached Christ, but beyond Jordan, in the midst of a multitude, and in the presence of all whom He had baptized. Some copies read more correctly Bethabara: for Bethany was not beyond Jordan, or in the desert, but near Jerusalem.
GLOSS; Or we must suppose two Bethanies; one over Jordan, the other on this side, not far from Jerusalem, the Bethany where Lazarus was raised from the dead.
CHRYS. He mentions this too for another reason, viz. that as He was relating events which had only recently happened, He might, by a reference to the place, appeal to the testimony of those who were present and saw them.
ALCUIN. The meaning of Bethany is, house of obedience; by which it is intimated to us, that all must approach to baptism, through the obedience of faith.
ORIG. Bethabara means house of preparation; which agrees with the baptism of Him, who was making ready a people prepared for the Lord. Jordan, again, means, "their crescent." Now what is this river but our Savior, through Whom coming into this earth all must be cleansed, in that He came down not for His own sake, but for theirs. This river it is which separates the lots given by Moses, from those given by Jesus; its streams make glad the city of God. As the serpent lies hid in the Egyptian river, so does God in this; for the Father is in the Son. Wherefore whosoever go thither to wash themselves, lay aside the reproach of Egypt, are made meet to receive the inheritance, are cleansed form leprosy, are made capable of a double portion of grace, and ready to receive the Holy Spirit; nor does the spiritual dove light upon any other river. John again baptizes beyond Jordan, as the precursor of Him Who came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Ver 29. The next day John sees Jesus coming to him, and said, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.30. This is he of whom I said, After me comes a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.31. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.
ORIGEN; After this testimony, Jesus is seen coming to John, not only persevering in his confession, but also advanced in goodness: as is intimated by the second day. Wherefore it is said, The next day John sees Jesus coming to him. Long before this, the Mother of Jesus, as soon as she had conceived Him, went to see the mother of John then pregnant; and as soon as the sound of Mary’s salutation reached the ears of Elisabeth, John leaped in the womb: but now the Baptist himself after his testimony sees Jesus coming. Men are first prepared by hearing from others, and then see with their own eyes. The example of Mary going to see Elisabeth her interior, and the Son of God going to see the Baptist, should teach us modesty and fervent charity to our inferiors. What place the Savior came from when He came to the Baptist we are not told here; but we find it in Matthew, Then comes Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John to be baptized of him.
CHRYS. Or; Matthew relates directly Christ’s coming to His baptism, John His coming a second time subsequent to His baptism, as appears from what follows: I saw the Spirit descending, &c. The Evangelists have divided the periods of the history between them; Matthew passing over the part before John’s imprisonment, and hastening to that event; John chiefly dwelling on what took place before the imprisonment. Thus he says, The next day John sees Jesus coming to him. But why did He come to him the next day after His baptism? Having been baptized with the multitude, He wished to prevent any from thinking that He came to John for the same reason that others did, viz. to confess His sins, and be washed in the river to repentance.
He comes therefore to give John an opportunity of correcting this mistake; which John accordingly did correct; viz. by those words, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world. For He Who was so pure, as to be able to absolve other men’s sins, evidently could not have come thither for the sake of confessing His own; but only to give John an opportunity of speaking of Him. He came too the next day, that those who had heard the former testimonies of John, might hear them again more plainly; and other besides. For he said, Behold the Lamb of God, signifying that He was the one of old sought after, and reminding them of the prophecy of Isaiah, and of the shadows of the Mosaic law, in order that through the figure he might the easier lead them to the substance.
AUG. If the Lamb of God is innocent, and John is the lamb, must he not be innocent? But all men come of that stock of which David sings sorrowing, Behold, I was conceived in wickedness. He then alone was the Lamb, who was not thus conceived; for He was not conceived in wickedness, nor in sin did His mother bear Him in her womb, Whom a virgin conceived, a virgin brought forth, because that in faith she conceived, and in faith received.
ORIGEN; But whereas five kinds of animals are offered in the temple, three beasts of the field, a calf, a sheep, and a goat; and two fowls of the air, a turtle dove and a pigeon; and of the sheep kind three are introduced, the ram, the ewe, the lamb; of these three he mentions only the lamb; the lamb, as we know, being offered in the daily sacrifice, one in the morning, and one in the evening. But what other daily offering can there be, that can be meant to be offered by a reasonable nature, except the perfect Word, typically called the Lamb?
This sacrifice, which is offered up as soon as the soul begins to be enlightened, shall be accounted as a morning sacrifice, referring to the frequent exercise of the mind in divine things; for the soul cannot continually apply to the highest objects because of its union with an earthly and gross body. By this Word too, Which is Christ the Lamb, we shall be able to reason on many things, and shall in a manner attain to Him in the evening, while engaged with things of the body. But He Who offered the lamb for a sacrifice, was God hid in human form, the great Priest, He who said below, No man takes it (My life) from Me, but I lay it down of Myself: whence this name, the Lamb of God: for He carrying our sorrows, and taking away the sins of the whole world, has undergone death, as it were baptism. For God suffers no fault to pass uncorrected; but punishes it by the sharpest discipline.
THEOPHYL. He is called the Lamb of God, because God the Father accepted His death for our salvation, or, in other words, because He delivered Him up to death for our sakes. For just as we say, This is the offering of such a man, meaning the offering made by him; in the same sense Christ is called the Lamb of God Who gave His Son to die for our salvation. And whereas that typical lamb did not take away any man’s sin, this one has taken away the sin of the whole world, rescuing it from the danger it was in from the wrath of God.
Behold Him Who takes away the sin of the world: he said not, who will take, but, Who takes away the sin of the world; as if He were always doing this. For He did not then only take it away when He suffered, but from that time to the present, He takes it away; not by being always crucified, for He made one sacrifice for sins, but by ever washing it by means of that sacrifice.
GREG. But then only will sin be entirely taken away from the human race, when our corruption has been turned to a glorious incorruption. We cannot be free from sin, so long as we are held in the death of the body.
THEOPHYL. Why does he say the sin of the world, not sins? Because he wished to express sin universally: just as we say commonly, that man was cast out of paradise; meaning the whole human race.
GLOSS; Or by the sin of the world is meant original sin, which is common to the whole world: which original sin, as well as the sins of every one individually, Christ by His grace remits.
AUG. For He Who took not sin from our nature, He it is Who takes away our sin. Some say, We take away the sins of men, because we are holy; for if he, who baptizes, is not holy, how can he take away the other’s sin, seeing he himself is full of sin? Against these reasoners let us point to the text; Behold Him Who takes away the sin of the world; in order to do away with such presumption in man towards man.
ORIGEN; As there was a connection between the other sacrifices of the law, and the daily sacrifice of the lamb, in the same way the sacrifice of this Lamb has its reflection in the pouring out of the blood of the Martyrs, by whose patience, confession, and zeal for goodness, the machinations of the ungodly are frustrated.
THEOPHYL. John having said above to those who came from the Pharisees, that there stood one among them whom they knew not, he here points Him out to the persons thus ignorant: This is He of whom I said, After me comes a man which is preferred before me. Our Lord is called a man, in reference to His mature age, being thirty years old when He was baptized: or in a spiritual sense, as the Spouse of the Church; in which sense St. Paul speaks, I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
AUG. He comes after me, because he was born after me: He is made before me, because He is preferred to me.
GREG. He explains the reason of this superiority, in what follows: For He was before me; as if his meaning was; And this is the reason of His being superior to me, though born after me, viz. that He is not circumscribed by the time of His nativity. He Who was born of His mother in time, was begotten of His Father out of time.
THEOPHYL. Attend, O Arius. He said not, He was created before me, but He was before me. Let the false sect of Paul of Samosata attend. They will see that He did not derive His original existence from Mary; for if He derived the beginning of His being from the Virgin, how could He have been before His precursor? it being evident that the precursor preceded Christ by six months, according to the human birth.
CHRYS. That He might not seem however to give His testimony from any motive of friendship or kindred, in consequence of his being related to our Lord according to the flesh, he says, I knew Him not. John could not of course know Him, having lived in the desert. And the miraculous events of Christ’s childhood, the journey of the Magi, and such like, were now a long time past; John having been quite an infant, when they happened. And throughout the whole of the interval, He had been absolutely unknown: insomuch that John proceeds, But that He should, be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. (And hence it is clear that the miracles said to have been performed by Christ in His childhood, are false and fictitious.
For if Jesus had performed miracles at this early age, he would not have been unknown to John, nor would the multitude have wanted a teacher to point Him out.) Christ Himself then did not want baptism; nor was that washing for any other reason, than to give a sign beforehand of faith in Christ. For John said not, in order to change men, and deliver from sin, but, that he should be made manifest in Israel, have I come baptizing. But would it not have been lawful for him to preach, and bring crowds together, without baptizing? Yes: but this was the easier way, for he would not have collected such numbers, had he preached without baptizing.
AUG. Now when our Lord became known, it was unnecessary to prepare a way for Him; for to those who knew Him, He became His own way. And therefore John’s baptism did not last long, but only so long as to show our Lord’s humility. Our Lord received baptism from a servant, in order to give us such a lesson of humility as might prepare us for receiving the grace of baptism, And that the servant’s baptism might not be set before the Lord’s, others were baptized with it; who after receiving it, had to receive our Lord’s baptism: whereas those who first received our Lord’s baptism, did not receive the servant’s after.
Ver 32. And John bore record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.33. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptize with the Holy Ghost.34. And I saw, and bore record that this is the Son of God.
CHRYS. John having made a declaration, so astonishing to all his hearers, viz. that He, whom he pointed out, did of Himself take away the sins of the world, confirms it by a reference to the Father and the Holy Spirit. For John might be asked, how did you know Him? Wherefore he replies beforehand, by the descent of the Holy Spirit: And John bore record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
AUG. This was not however the first occasion of Christ’s receiving the unction of the Holy Spirit: viz. Its descent upon Him at His baptism; herein He condescended to prefigure His body, the Church, wherein those who are baptized receive preeminently the Holy Spirit. For it would be absurd to suppose that at thirty years old, (which was His age, when He was baptized by John,) He received for the first time the Holy Spirit: and that, when He came to that baptism, as He was without sin, so was He without the Holy Spirit. For if even of His servant and forerunner John it is written, He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from His mother’s womb; if He, though sprung from His father’s seed, yet received the Holy Ghost, when as yet He was only formed in the womb; what ought we to think and believe of Christ, whose very flesh had not a carnal but spiritual conception?
AUG. We do not attribute to Christ only the possession of a real body, and say that the Holy Spirit assumed a false appearance to men’s eyes: for the Holy Spirit could no more, in consistency with His nature, deceive men, than could the Son of God. The Almighty God, Who made every creature out of nothing, could as easily form a real body of a dove, without the instrumentality of other doves, as He made a real body in the womb of the Virgin, without the seed of the male.
AUG. The Holy Ghost was made to appear visibly in two ways: as a dove, upon our Lord at His baptism; and as a flame upon His disciples, when they were met together: the former shape denoting simplicity, the latter fervency. The dove intimates that souls sanctified by the Spirit should have no guile; the fire, that in that simplicity there should not be coldness. Nor let it disturb you, that the tongues are cloven; fear no division; unity is assured to us in the dove. It was meet then that the Holy Spirit should be thus manifested descending upon our Lord; in order that every one who had the Spirit might know, that he ought to be simple as a dove, and be in sincere peace with the brethren. The kisses of doves represent this peace. Ravens kiss, but they tear also; but the nature of the dove is most alien to tearing. Ravens feed on the dead, but the dove eats nothing but the fruits of the earth. If doves moan in their love, marvel not that He Who appeared in the likeness of a dove, the Holy Spirit, makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. The Holy Spirit however groans not in Himself, but in us: He makes us to groan. And he who groans, as knowing that, so long as He is under the burden of this mortality, he is absent from the Lord, groans well: it is the Spirit that has taught him to groan. But many groan because of earthly calamities; because of losses which disquiet them, or bodily sickness which weigh heavily on them: they groan not, as does the dove. What then could more fitly represent the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of unity, than the dove? as He said Himself to His reconciled Church, My dove is one. What could better express humility, than the simplicity and moaning of a dove? Wherefore on this occasion it was that there appeared the very most Holy Trinity, the Father in the voice which said, You are My beloved Son; the Holy Spirit in the likeness of the dove. In that Trinity the Apostles were sent to baptize, i.e. in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
GREG. He said, Abode upon Him: for the Holy Spirit visits all the faithful; but on the Mediator alone does He abide for ever in a peculiar manner; never leaving the Son’s Humanity, even as He proceeds Himself from the Son’s Divinity. But when the disciples are told of the same Spirit, He shall dwell with you, how is the abiding of the Spirit a peculiar sign of Christ? This will appear if we distinguish between the different gifts of the Spirit. As regards those gifts which are necessary for attaining to life, the Holy Spirit ever abides in all the elect; such are gentleness, humility, faith, hope, charity: but with respect to those, which have for their object, not our own salvation, but that of others, he does not always abide, but sometimes withdraws, and ceases to exhibit them; that men may be more humble in the possession of His gifts. But Christ had all the gifts of the Spirit, uninterruptedly always.
CHRYS. Should any however think that Christ really wanted the Holy Spirit, in the way that we do, he corrects this notion also, by informing us that the descent of the Holy Ghost took place only for the purpose of manifesting Christ: And I knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said to me, Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptizes with the Holy Ghost.
AUG. But who sent John? If we say the Father, we say true; if we say the Son, we say true. But it would be truer to say, the Father and the Son. How then knew he not Him, by Whom he was sent? For if he knew not Him, by Whom he wished to be baptized, it was rash in him to say, I have need to be baptized by You. So then he knew Him; and why said he, I knew Him not?
CHRYS. When he said, I knew Him not, he is speaking of time past, not of the time of his baptism, when he forbade Him, saying, I have need to be baptized of You.
AUG. Let us turn to the other Evangelists, who relate the matter more clearly, and we shall find most satisfactorily, that the dove descended when our Lord ascended from the water. If then the dove descended after baptism, but John said before the baptism, I have need to be baptized of You, he knew Him before His baptism also. How then said he, I knew him not, but He which sent me to baptize? Was this the first revelation made to John of Christ’s person, or was it not rather a fuller disclosure of what had been already revealed? John knew the Lord to be the Son of God, knew that He would baptize with the Holy Ghost: for before Christ came to the river, many having come together to hear John, he said unto them, He that comes after me is mightier than I: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire. What then? He did not know that our Lord (lest Paul or Peter might say, my baptism, as we find Paul did say, my Gospel,) would have and retain to Himself the power of baptism, the ministering of it however passing to good and bad indiscriminately. What hindrance is the badness of the minister, when the Lord is good? So then we baptize again after John’s baptism; after a homicide’s we baptize not: because John gave his own baptism, the homicide gives Christ’s; which is so holy a sacrament, that not even a homicide’s ministration can pollute it. Our Lord could, had He so willed, have given power to any servant of His to give baptism as it were in His own stead; and to the baptism, thus transferred to the servant, have imparted the same power, that it would have had, when given by Himself. But this He did not choose to do; that the hope of the baptized might be directed to Him, Who had baptized them; He wished not the servant to place hope in the servant. And again, had He given this power to servants, there would have been as many baptisms as servants; as there had been the baptism of John, so should we have had the baptism of Paul and of Peter. It is by this power then, which Christ retains in His own possession exclusively, that the unity of the Church is established; of which it is said, My dove is one. A man may have a baptism besides the dove; but that any besides the dove should profit, is impossible.
CHRYS. The Father having sent forth a voice proclaiming the Son, the Holy Spirit came besides, bringing the voice upon the head of Christ, in order that no one present might think that what was said of Christ, was said of John. But it will be asked: How was it that the Jews believed not, if they saw the Spirit? Such sights however require the mental vision, rather than the bodily. If those who saw Christ working miracles were so drunken with malice, that they denied what their own eyes had seen, how could the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove overcome their incredulity?
Some say however that the sight was not visible to all, but only to John, and the more devotional part. But even if the descent of the Spirit, as a dove, was visible to the outward eye, it does not follow that because all saw it, all understood it. Zacharias himself, Daniel, Ezechiel, and Moses saw many things, appealing to their senses, which no one else saw: and therefore John adds, And I saw and bore record that this is the Son of God. He had called Him the Lamb before, and said that He would baptize with the Spirit; but he had no where called Him the Son before.
AUG. It was necessary that the Only Son of God should baptize, not an adopted son. Adopted sons are ministers of the Only Son: but though they have the ministration, the Only one alone has the power.
Ver 35. Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples;36. And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he said, Behold the Lamb of God!
CHRYS. Many not having attended to John’s words at first, he rouses them a second time: Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples.
BEDE; John stood, because he had ascended that citadel of all excellences, from which no temptations could cast him down: his disciples stood with him, as stout-hearted followers of their master.
CHRYS. But wherefore went he not all about, preaching in every place of Judea; instead of standing near the river, waiting for His coming, that he might point Him out? Because he wished this to be done by the works of Christ Himself. And observe how much greater an effort was produced; He struck a small spark, and suddenly it rose into a flame. Again, if John had gone about and preached, it would have seemed like human partiality, and great suspicion would have been excited.
Now the Prophets and Apostles all preached Christ absent; the former before His appearance in the flesh, the latter after His assumption. But He was to be pointed out by the eye, not by the voice only; and therefore it follows: And looking upon Jesus as He walked, he said, Behold the Lamb of God!
THEOPHYL. Looking he said, as if signifying by his looks his love and admiration for Christ.
AUG. John was the friend of the Bridegroom; he sought not his own glory, but bore witness to the truth. And therefore he wished not his disciples to remain with him, to the hindrance of their duty to follow the Lord; but rather showed them whom they should follow, saying, Behold the Lamb of God.
CHRYS. He makes not a long discourse, having only one object before him, to bring them and join them to Christ; knowing that they would not any further need his witness. John does not however speak to his disciples alone, but publicly in the presence of all. And so, undertaking to follow Christ, through this instruction common to all, they remained thenceforth firm, following Christ for their own advantage, not as an act of favor to their master. John does not exhort: he simply gazes in admiration on Christ, pointing out the gift He came to bestow, the cleansing from sin: and the mode in which this would be accomplished: both of which the word Lamb testifies to. Lamb has the article affixed to it, as a sign of preeminence.
AUG. For He alone and singly is the Lamb without spot, without sin; not because His spots are wiped off; but because He never had a spot. He alone is the Lamb of God, for by His blood alone can men be redeemed. This is the Lamb whom the wolves fear; even the slain Lamb, by whom the lion was slain.
BEDE. The Lamb therefore he calls Him; for that He was about to give us freely His fleece, that we might make of it a wedding garment; i.e. would leave us an example of life, by which we should be warmed into love.
ALCUIN. John stands in a mystical sense, the Law having ceased, and Jesus comes, bringing the grace of the Gospel, to which that same Law bears testimony. Jesus walks, to collect disciples.
BEDE. The walking of Jesus has a reference to the economy of the Incarnation, by means of which He has condescended to come to us, and give us a pattern of life.
Ver 37. And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.38. Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, What seek you? They said unto Him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwell you?39. He said to them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour.40. One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.
ALCUIN. John having borne witness that Jesus was the Lamb of God, the disciples who had been hitherto with him, in obedience to his command, followed Jesus: And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.
CHRYS. Observe; when he said, He that comes after me is made before me, and, Whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose, he gained over none; but when he made mention of the economy, and gave his discourse a humbler turn, saying, Behold the Lamb of God, then his disciples followed Christ. For many persons are less influenced by the thoughts of God’s greatness and majesty, than when they hear of His being man’s Helper and Friend; or any thing pertaining to the salvation of men. Observe too, when John says, Behold the Lamb of God, Christ says nothing.
The Bridegroom stands by in silence; others introduce Him, and deliver the Bride into His hands; He receives her, and so treats her that she no longer remembers those who gave her in marriage. Thus Christ came to unite to Himself the Church; He said nothing Himself; but John, the friend of the Bridegroom, came forth, and put the Bride’s right hand in His; i.e. by his preaching delivered into His hands men’s souls, whom receiving He so disposed of, that they returned no more to John. And observe farther; As at a marriage the maiden goes not to meet the bridegroom, (even though it be a king’s son who weds a humble handmaid,) but he hastens to her; so is it here. For human nature ascended not into heaven, but the Son of God came down to human nature, and took her to His Father’s house.
Again; There were disciples of John who not only did not follow Christ, but were even enviously disposed toward Him; but the better part heard, and followed; not from contempt of their former master, but by his persuasion; because he promised them that Christ would baptize with the Holy Ghost. And see with what modesty their zeal was accompanied. They did not straightway go and interrogate Jesus on great and necessary doctrines, nor in public, but sought private converse with Him; for we are told that Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, What seek you? Hence we learn, that when we once begin to form good resolutions, God gives us opportunities enough of improvement. Christ asks the question, not because He needed to be told, but in order to encourage familiarity and confidence, and show that He thought them worthy of His instructions.
THEOPHYL. Observe then, that it was upon those who followed Him, that our Lord turned His face and looked upon them. Unless you by your good works follow Him, you shall never be permitted to see His face, or enter into His dwelling.
ALCUIN. The disciples followed behind His back, in order to see Him, and did not see His face. So He turns round, and, as it were, lowers His majesty, that they might be enabled to behold His face.
ORIGEN. Perhaps it is not without a reason, that after six testimonies John ceases to bear witness, and Jesus asks seventhly, What seek you?
CHRYS. And besides following Him, their questions showed their love for Christ; They said to Him, Rabbi, (which is, being interpreted, Master,) where dwell You? They call Him, Master, before they have learnt any thing from Him; thus encouraging themselves in their resolution to become disciples, and to show the reason why they followed.
ORIGEN. An avowal, befitting persons who came from hearing John’s testimony. They put themselves under Christ’s teaching, and express their desire to see the dwelling of the Son of God.
ALCUIN. They do not wish to be under His teaching for a time only, but inquire where He abides; wishing an immediate initiation in the secrets of His word, and afterwards meaning often to visit Him, and obtain fuller instruction. And, in a mystical sense too, they wish to know in whom Christ dwells, that profiting by their example they may themselves become fit to be His dwelling. Or, their seeing Jesus walking, and straightway inquiring where He resides, is an intimation to us, that we should, remembering His Incarnation, earnestly entreat Him to show us our eternal habitation. The request being so good a one, Christ promises a free and full disclosure. He said to them, Come and see: that is to say, My dwelling is not to be understood by words, but by works; come, therefore, by believing and working, and then see by understanding.
ORIGEN. Or perhaps come, is an invitation to action; see, to contemplation.
CHRYS. Christ does not describe His house and situation, but brings them after Him, showing that he had already accepted them as His own. He says not, It is not the time now, tomorrow you shall hear if you wish to learn; but addresses them familiarly, as friends who had lived with him a long time. But how is it that He said in another place, The Son of man has no where to lay His head? when here He says, Come and see where I live? His not having where to lay His head, could only have meant that He had no dwelling of His own, not that He did not live in a house at all: for the next words are, They came and saw where He dwelt, and abode with Him that day. Why they stayed the Evangelist does not say: it being obviously for the sake of His teaching.
AUG. What a blessed day and night was that! Let us too build up in our hearts within, and make Him an house, whither He may come and teach us.
THEOPHYL. And it was about the tenth hour. The Evangelist mentions the time of day purposely, as a hint both to teachers and learners, not to let time interfere with their work.
CHRYS. It showed a strong desire to hear Him, since even at sunset they did not turn from Him. To sensual persons the time after meals is unsuitable for any grave employment, their bodies being overloaded with food. But John, whose disciples these were, was not such a one. His evening was a more abstemious one than our mornings.
AUG. The number here signifies the law, which was composed of ten commandments. The time had come when the law was to be fulfilled by love, the Jews, who acted from fear, having been unable to fulfill it, and therefore was it at the tenth hour that our Lord heard Himself called, Rabbi; none but the giver of the law is the teacher of the law.
CHRYS. One of the two which heard John speak and followed Him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. Why is the other name left out? Some say, because this Evangelist himself was that other. Others, that it was a disciple of no eminence, and that there was no use in telling his name any more than those of the seventy-two, which are omitted.
ALCUIN. Or it would seem that the two disciples who followed Jesus were Andrew and Philip.
Ver 41. He first finds his own brother Simon, and said to him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.42. And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, You are Simon the son of Jonas: you shall be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.
CHRYS. Andrew kept not our Lord’s words to himself; but ran in haste to his brother, to report the good tidings: He first finds his own brother Simon, and said to him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.
BEDE. This is truly to find the Lord; viz. to have fervent love for Him, together with a care for our brother’s salvation.
CHRYS. The Evangelist does not mention what Christ said to those who followed Him; but we may infer it from what follows. Andrew declares in few words what he had learnt, discloses the power of that Master Who had persuaded them, and his own previous longings after Him. For this exclamation, We have found, expresses a longing for His coming, turned to exultation, now that He was really come.
AUG. Messias in Hebrew, Christus in Greek, Unctus in Latin. Chrism is unction, and He had a special unction, which from Him extended to all Christians, as appears in the Psalm, God, even Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your fellows. All holy persons are partakers with Him; but He is specially the Holy of Holies, specially anointed.
CHRYS. And therefore he said not Messias, but the Messias. Mark the obedience of Peter from the very first; he went immediately without delay, as appears from the next words: And he brought him to Jesus. Nor let us blame him as too yielding, because he did not ask many questions, before he received the word. It is reasonable to suppose that his brother had told him all, and sufficiently fully; but the Evangelists often make omissions for the sake of brevity. But, besides this, it is not absolutely said that he did believe, but only, He took him to Jesus; i.e. to learn from the mouth of Jesus Himself, what Andrew had reported. Our Lord begins now Himself to reveal the things of His Divinity, and to exhibit them gradually by prophecy. For prophecies are no less persuasive than miracles; inasmuch as they are preeminently God’s work, and are beyond the power of devils to imitate, while miracles may be fantasy or appearance: the foretelling future events with certainty is an attribute of the incorruptible nature alone: And when Jesus beheld him, He said, You are Simon the son of Jonas; you shall be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.
BEDE. He beheld him not with His natural eye only, but by the insight of His Godhead discerned from eternity the simplicity and greatness of his soul, for which he was to be elevated above the whole Church. In the word Peter, we must not look for any additional meaning, as though it were of Hebrew or Syriac derivation; for the Greek and Latin word Peter, has the same meaning as Cephas; being in both languages derived from petra. He is called Peter on account of the firmness of his faith, in cleaving to that Rock, of which the Apostle speaks, And that Rock was Christ; which secures those who trust in it from the snares of the enemy, and dispenses streams of spiritual gifts.
AUG. There was nothing very great in our Lord saying whose son he was, for our Lord knew the names of all His saints, having predestinated them before the foundation of the world. But it was a great thing for our Lord to change his name from Simon to Peter. Peter is from petra, rock, which rock is the Church: so that the name of Peter represents the Church. And who is safe, unless he build upon a rock? Our Lord here rouses our attention: for had he been called Peter before, we should not have seen the mystery of the Rock, and should have thought that he was called so by chance, and not providentially. God therefore made him to be called by another name before, that the change of that name might give vividness to the mystery.
CHRYS. He changed the name too to show that He was the same who done so before in the Old Testament; who had called Abram Abraham, Sarai Sarah, Jacob Israel. Many He had named from their birth, as Isaac and Samson; others again after being named by their parents, as were Peter, and the sons of Zebedee. Those whose virtue was to be eminent from the first, have names given them from the first; those who were to be exalted afterwards, are named afterwards.
AUG. The account A here of the two disciples on the Jordan, who follow Christ (before he had gone into Galilee) in obedience to John’s testimony; viz. of Andrew bringing his brother Simon to Jesus, who gave him, on this occasion, the name of Peter; disagrees considerably with the account of the other Evangelists, viz. that our Lord found these two, Simon and Andrew, fishing in Galilee, and then bid them follow Him: unless we understand that they did not regularly join our Lord when they saw Him on the Jordan; but only discovered who He was, and full of wonder, then returned to their occupations. Nor must we think that Peter first received his name on the occasion mentioned in Matthew, when our Lord says, You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build My Church; but rather when our Lord says, You shall be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.
ALCUIN; Or perhaps He does not actually give him the name now, but only fixes beforehand what He afterwards gave him when He said, You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build My Church. And while about to change his name, Christ wishes to show that even that which his parents had given him, was not without a meaning. For Simon signifies obedience, Joanna grace, Jona a dove: as if the meaning was; You are an obedient son of grace, or of the dove, i.e. the Holy Spirit; for you have received of the Holy Spirit the humility, to desire, at Andrew’s call, to see Me. The elder disdained not to follow the younger; for where there is meritorious faith, there is no order of seniority.
Ver 43. The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and finds Philip, and said to him, Follow me.44. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter45. Philip finds Nathaniel, and said to him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph46. And Nathaniel said to him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip said to him, Come and see.
CHRYS. After gaining these disciples, Christ proceeded to convert others, viz. Philip and Nathanael: The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee.
ALCUIN. Leaving, that is, Judea, where John was baptizing, out of respect to the Baptist, and not to appear to lower his office, so long as it continued. He was going too to call a disciple, and wished to go forth into Galilee, i.e. to a place of "transition" or "revelation," that is to say, that as He Himself increased in wisdom or stature, and in favor with God and man, and as He suffered and rose again, and entered into His glory: so He would teach His followers to go forth, and increase in virtue, and pass through suffering to joy. He finds Philip, and said to him, Follow Me. Everyone follows Jesus who imitates His humility and suffering, in order to be partaker of His resurrection and ascension.
CHRYS. Observe, He did not call them, before some had of their own accord joined Him: for had He invited them, before any had joined Him, perhaps they would have started back: but now having determined to follow of their own free choice, they remain firm ever after. He calls Philip, however, because he would be known to him, from living in Galilee. But what made Philip follow Christ? Andrew heard from John the Baptist, and Peter from Andrew; he had heard from no one, and yet on Christ saying, Follow Me, was persuaded instantly. It is not improbable that Philip may have heard John: and yet it may have been the mere voice of Christ which produced this effect.
THEOPHYL. For the voice of Christ sounded not like a common voice to some, that is, the faithful, but kindled in their inmost soul the love of Him. Philip having been continually meditating on Christ, and reading the books of Moses, so confidently expected Him, that the instant he saw, he believed. Perhaps too he had heard of Him from Andrew and Peter, coming from the same district; an explanation which the Evangelist seems to hint at, when he adds, Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
CHRYS. The power of Christ appears by His gathering fruit out of a barren country. For form that Galilee, out of which there arises no prophet, He takes His most distinguished disciples.
ALCUIN. Bethsaida means house of hunters. The Evangelist introduces the name of this place by way of allusion to the characters of Philip, Peter, and Andrew, and their future office, i.e. catching and saving souls.
CHRYS. Philip is not persuaded himself, but begins preaching to others: Philip finds Nathanael, and said to him, We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law, and the Prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph. See how zealous he is, and how constantly he is meditating on the books of Moses, and looking for Christ’s coming. That Christ was coming he had known before; but he did not know that this was the Christ, of whom Moses and the Prophets did write: He says this to give credibility to his preaching, and to show his zeal for the Law and the Prophets, and how that he had examined them attentively. Be not disturbed at his calling our Lord the Son of Joseph; this was what He was supposed to be.
AUG. The person to whom our Lord’s mother had been betrothed. The Christians know from the Gospel, that He was conceived and born of an undefiled mother. He adds the place too, of Nazareth.
THEOPHYL. He was bred up there: the place of His birth could not have been known generally, but all knew that He was bred up in Nazareth. And Nathanael said to him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth.
AUG. However you may understand these words, Philip’s answer wild suit. You may read it either as affirmatory, Something good can come out of Nazareth; to which the other says, Come and see: or you may read it as a question, implying doubt on Nathanael’s part, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Come and see. Since either way of reading agrees equally with what follows, we must inquire the meaning of the passage. Nathanael was well read in the Law, and therefore the word Nazareth (Philip having said that he had found Jesus of Nazareth) immediately raises his hopes, and he exclaims, Something good can come out of Nazareth. He had searched the Scriptures, and knew, what the Scribes and Pharisees could not, that the Savior was to be expected thence.
ALCUIN. He who alone is absolutely holy, harmless, undefiled; of whom the prophet said, There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch (Nazaraus) shall grow out of his roots. Or the words may be taken as expressing doubt, and asking the question.
CHRYS. Nathanael knew from the Scriptures, that Christ was to come from Bethlehem, according to the prophecy of Micah, And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, - out of you shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. On hearing of Nazareth, then, he doubted, and was not able to reconcile Philip’s tidings with prophecy. For the Prophets call Him a Nazarene, only in reference to His education and mode of life. Observe, however, the discretion and gentleness with which he communicates his doubts. He does not say, You deceive me, Philip; but simply asks the question, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip too in turn is equally discrete. He is not confounded by the question, but dwells upon it, and lingers in the hope of bringing him to Christ: Philip said to him, Come and see. He takes him to Christ, knowing that when he had once tasted of His words and doctrine, he will make no more resistance.
Ver 47. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!48. Nathanael said to him, Whence know you me? Jesus answered and said to him, Before that Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.49. Nathanael answered and said to him, Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.50. Jesus answered and said to him, Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, believe you? you shall see greater things than these.51. And he said to him, Verily, verily, I say to you, Hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.
CHRYS. Nathanael, in difficulty as to Christ coming out of Nazareth, showed the care with which he had read the Scriptures: his not rejecting the tidings when brought him, showed his strong desire for Christ’s coming. He thought that Philip might be mistaken as to the place. It follows, Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! There was no fault to be found with him, though he had spoken like one who did not believe, because he was more deeply read in the Prophets than Philip. He calls him guileless, because he had said nothing to gain favor, or gratify malice.
AUG. What means this, In whom is no guile? Had he no sin? Was no physician necessary for him? Far from it. No one was ever born, of a temper not to need the Physician. It is guile, when we say one thing, and think another. How then was there no guile in him? Because, if he was as a sinner, he confessed his sin; whereas if a man, being a sinner, pretends to be righteous, there is guile in his mouth. Our Lord then commended the confession of sin in Nathanael; He did not pronounce him not a sinner.
THEOPHYL. Nathanael however, notwithstanding this praise, does not acquiesce immediately, but waits for further evidence, and asks, Whence know You me?
CHRYS. He asks as man, Jesus answers as God: Jesus answered and said to him, Before that Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you: not having, beheld him as man, but as God discerning him from above. I saw you, He says, that is, the character of the life, when you were under the fig tree: where the two, Philip and Nathanael, had been talking together alone, nobody, seeing them; and on this account it is said, that on seeing him a long way off, He said, Behold an Israelite indeed; whence it appears that this speech was before Philip came near, so that no suspicion could attach to Christ’s testimony. Christ would not say, I am not of Nazareth, as Philip told you, but of Bethlehem; in order to avoid an argument: and because it would not have been sufficient proof, had He mentioned it, of His being the Christ. He preferred rather proving this by His having been present at their conversation.
AUG. Has this fig tree any meaning? We read of one fig tree which was cursed, because it had only leaves, and no fruit. Again, at the creation, Adam and Eve, after sinning, made themselves aprons of fig leaves. Fig leaves then signify sins; and Nathanael, when he was under the fig tree, was under the shadow of death: so that our Lord seems to say, O Israel, whoever of you is without guile, O people of the Jewish faith, before that I called you by My Apostles, when you were as yet under the shadow of death, and saw Me not, I saw you.
GREG. When you were under the fig tree, I saw you; i.e. when you were yet under the shade of the law, I chose you.
AUG. Nathanael remembered that he had been under the fig tree, where Christ was not present corporeally, but only by His spiritual knowledge. Hence, knowing that he had been alone, he recognized our Lord’s Divinity.
CHRYS. That our Lord then had this knowledge, had penetrated into his mind, had not blamed but praised his hesitation, proved to Nathanael that He was the true Christ: Nathanael answered and said to Him, Rabbi, You are the Son of God, You are the King of Israel: as if he said, You are He who was expected, you are He who was sought for. Sure proof being obtained, he proceeds to make confession; herein showing his devotion, as his former hesitation had shown his diligence.
ID. Many when they read this passage, are perplexed at finding that, whereas Peter was pronounced blessed for having, after our Lord’s miracles and teaching, confessed Him to be the Son of God, Nathanael, who makes the same confession before, has no such benediction. The reason is this. Peter and Nathanael both used the same words, l but not in the same meaning. Peter confessed our Lord to he the Son of God, in the sense of very God; the latter in the sense of mere man; for after saying, You are the Son of God, he adds, You are the King of Israel; whereas the Son of God was not the King of Israel only, but of the whole world. This is manifest from what follows. For in the case of Peter Christ added nothing, but, as if his faith were perfect, said, that he would build the Church upon his confession; whereas Nathanael, as if his confession were very deficient, is led up to higher things: Jesus answered and said to him, Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, believe you? You shall see greater things than these. As if He said, What I have just said has appeared a great matter to you, and you have confessed Me to be King of Israel; what will you say when you see greater things than these? What that greater thing is He proceeds to show: And He said to him, Verily, verily, I say to you, Hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. See how He raises him from earth for a while, and forces him to think that Christ is not a mere man: for how could He be a mere man, whom angels ministered to? It was, as, as it were, saying, that He was Lord of the Angels; for He must be the King’s own Son, on whom the servants of the King descended and ascended; descended at His crucifixion, ascended at His resurrection and ascension. Angels too before this came and ministered to Him, and angels brought the glad tidings of His birth. Our Lord made the present a proof of the future. After the powers He had already shown, Nathanael would readily believe that much more would follow.
AUG. Let us recollect the Old Testament account. Jacob saw in a dream a ladder reaching from earth to heaven; the Lord resting upon it, and the angels ascending and descending upon it. Lastly, Jacob himself understanding what the vision meant, set up a stone, and poured oil upon it. When he anointed the stone, did he make an idol? No: he only set up a symbol, not an object of worship You see here the anointing; see the Anointed also. He is the stone which the builders refused. If Jacob, who was named Israel, saw the ladder, and Nathanael was an Israelite indeed, there was a fitness in our Lord telling him Jacob’s dream; as if he said, Whose name you are called by, his dream has appeared to you: for you shall see the heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. If they descend upon Him, and ascend to Him, then He is both up above and here below at the same time; above in Himself, below in His members.
AUG. Good preachers, however, who preach Christ, are as angels of God; i.e. they ascend and descend upon the Son of man; as Paul, who ascended to the third heaven, and descended so far even as to give milk to babes. He said, We shall see greater things than these: because it is a greater thing that our Lord has justified us, whom He has called, than that He saw us lying under the shadow of death. For had we remained where He saw us, what profit would it have been? It is asked why Nathanael, to whom our Lord bears such testimony, is not found among the twelve Apostles. We may believe, however, that it was because he was so learned, and versed in the law, that our Lord had not put him among the disciples. He chose the foolish, to confound the world. Intending to break the neck of the proud, He sought not to gain the fisherman through the orator, but by the fisherman the emperor. The great Cyprian was an orator; but Peter was a fisherman before him; and through him not only the orator, but the emperor, believed.
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Aquinas, Thomas. "Commentary on John 1". "Golden Chain Commentary on the Gospel". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent