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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol IX:
Epistle to Gregory and Origen's Commentary on the Gospel of John.: Chapter XII

Early Church Fathers  Index     

12.  Heracleon’s View of the Voice, and of John the Baptist.

The words, however, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness,” etc., may be taken as equivalent to “I am He of whom the ‘voice in the wilderness’ is written.”  Then John would be the person crying, and his voice would be that crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.”  Heracleon, discussing John and the prophets, says, somewhat slanderously, that “the Word is the Saviour; the voice, that in the wilderness which John interpreted; the sound is the whole prophetic order.”  To this we may reply by reminding him of the text, 4881 “If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle,” and that which says that though a man have knowledge of mysteries, or have prophecy but wants love, he is a sounding or a tinkling cymbal. 4882   If the prophetic voice be nothing but sound, how does our Lord come to refer us to it as where He says, 4883 “Search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life, and these are they which bear witness,” and 4884 “If ye believed Moses, ye would believe Me,” and 4885 “Well did Isaiah prophesy concerning you, saying, This people honours me with their lips”?  I do not know if any one can reasonably admit that the Saviour thus spoke in praise of an uncertain sound, or that there is any preparation to be had from the Scriptures to which we are referred as from the voice of a trumpet, for our war against opposing powers, should their sound give an uncertain voice.  If the prophets had not love, and if that is why they were sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal, then how does the Lord send us to their sound, as these writers will have it, as if we could get help from that?  He asserts, indeed, that a voice, when well fitted to speech, becomes speech, as if one should say that a woman is turned into a man; and the assertion is not supported by argument.  And, as if he were in a position to put forth a dogma on the subject and to get on in this way, he declares that sound can be changed in a similar way p. 361 into voice, and the voice, which is changed into speech, he says, is in the position of a disciple, while sound passing into voice is in that of a slave.  If he had taken any kind of trouble to establish these points we should have had to devote some attention to refuting them; but as it is, the bare denial is sufficient refutation.  There was a point some way back which we deferred taking up, that, namely, of the motive of John’s speeches.  We may now take it up.  The Saviour, according to Heracleon, calls him both a prophet and Elijah, but he himself denies that he is either of these.  When the Saviour, Heracleon says, calls him a prophet and Elijah, He is speaking not of John himself, but of his surroundings; but when He calls him greater than the prophets and than those who are born of women, then He is describing the character of John himself.  When John, on the other hand, is asked about himself, his answers relate to himself, not to his surroundings.  This we have examined as carefully as possible, comparing each of the terms in question with the statements of Heracleon, lest he should not have expressed himself quite accurately.  For how it comes that the statements that he is Elijah and that he is a prophet apply to those about him, but the statement that he is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, to himself, no attempt whatever is made to show.  Heracleon only gives an illustration, namely, this:  His surroundings were, so to speak, his clothes, and other than himself, and when he was asked about his clothes, if he were his clothes, he could not answer “Yes.”  Now that his being Elijah, who was to come, was his clothes, is scarcely consistent, so far as I can see, with Heracleon’s views; it might consist, perhaps, with the exposition we ourselves gave of the words, “In the spirit and power of Elijah;” it might, in a sense, be said that this spirit of Elijah is equivalent to the soul of John.  He then goes on to try to determine why those who were sent by the Jews to question John were priests and levites, and he answers by no means badly, that it was incumbent on such persons, being devoted to the service of God, to busy themselves and to make enquiries about such matters.  When he goes on, however, to say that it was “because John was of the levitical tribe,” this is less well considered.  We raised the question ourselves above, and saw that if the Jews who were sent knew John’s birth, it was not open to them to ask if he was Elijah.  Then, again, in dealing with the question, “Art thou the prophet?” Heracleon does not regard the addition of the article as having any special force, and says, “They asked him if he were a prophet, wishing to know this more general fact.”  Again, not Heracleon alone, but, so far as I am informed, all those who diverge from our views, as if they had not been able to deal with a trifling ambiguity and to draw the proper distinction, suppose John to be greater than Elijah and than all the prophets.  The words are, “Of those born of women there is none greater than John;” but this admits of two meanings, that John is greater than they all, or again, that some of them are equal to him.  For though many of the prophets were equal to him, still it might be true in respect of the grace bestowed on him, that none of them was greater than he.  He regards it as confirming the view that John was greater, that “he is predicted by Isaiah;” for no other of all those who uttered prophecies was held worthy by God of this distinction.  This, however, is a venturesome statement and implies some disrespect of what is called the Old Testament, and total disregard of the fact that Elijah himself was the subject of prophecy.  For Elijah is prophesied by Malachi, who says, 4886 “Behold, I send unto you Elijah, the Tishbite, who shall restore the heart of the father to the son.”  Josiah, too, as we read in third Kings, 4887 was predicted by name by the prophet who came out of Judah; for he said, Jeroboam also being present at the altar, “Thus saith the Lord, Behold a son is born to David, his name is Josiah.”  There are some also who say that Samson was predicted by Jacob, when he said, 4888 “Dan shall judge his own people, he is as one tribe in Israel,” for Samson who judged Israel was of the tribe of Dan.  So much by way of evidence of the rashness of the statement that John alone was the subject of prophecy, made by Heracleon in his attempted explanation of the words, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”



1 Cor. xiv. 8.


1 Cor. xiii. 1.


John v. 39.


John v. 46.


Matt. 15:7, Isa. 29:13.


Mal. 4:5, 6.


1 Kings xiii. 2.


Gen. xlix. 16.

Next: Chapter XIII

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