On the words of the Gospel, John x. 14, “I am the good shepherd,” etc. Against the Donatists.
1. We have heard the Lord Jesus setting forth to us the office of a good shepherd. And herein He hath doubtless given us to know, as we may understand it, that there are good shepherds. And yet that the multitude of shepherds might not be understood in a wrong sense; He saith, “I am the good Shepherd.” 4124 And wherein He is the good Shepherd, He showeth in the words following; “The good Shepherd,” saith He, “layeth down His life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, seeth the wolf coming, and fleeth; because he careth not for the sheep, for he is an hireling.” 4125 Christ then is the good Shepherd. What was Peter? was he not a good shepherd? Did not he too lay down his life for the sheep? What was Paul? what the rest of the Apostles? what the blessed Bishops, Martyrs, who followed close upon their times? What again our holy Cyprian? Were they not all good shepherds, not hirelings, of whom it is said, “Verily I say unto you, they have received their reward”? 4126 All these then were good shepherds, not simply for that they shed their blood, but that they shed it for the sheep. For not in pride, but in charity they shed it.
2. For even among the heretics, they who for their iniquities and errors have suffered any trouble, vaunt themselves in the name of martyrdom, that with this fair covering disguised 4127 they may plunder the more easily, for wolves they are. Now if ye would know in what rank they are to be held, hear that good shepherd, the Apostle Paul, that not all who even give up their bodies in suffering to the flames, are to be accounted to have shed their blood for the sheep, but rather against the sheep. “If,” saith he, “I speak with the tongues of men, and angels, but have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. If I should know all mysteries, and have all prophecy, and all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not charity, I am nothing.” 4128 Now a great thing truly is this faith that removes mountains. They are indeed all great things; but if I have them without charity, saith he, not they, but I am nothing. But up to this point he hath not touched them, who glory in sufferings under the false name of martyrdom. Hear how he toucheth, yea rather pierceth them through and through. “If I should distribute,” saith he, “all my goods to the poor, and deliver my body to be burned.” Now here they are. But mark what follows; “but have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” Lo, they have come to suffering, come even to the shedding of blood, yea come to the burning of the body; and yet it profiteth them nothing, because charity is lacking. Add charity, they all profit; take charity away, all the rest profit nothing.
3. What a good is this charity, Brethren! What more precious? what yieldeth greater light? or strength? or profit? or security? Many are the gifts of God, which even the wicked have, who shall say, “Lord, we have prophesied in Thy Name, in Thy Name have cast out devils, in Thy Name done many mighty works.” 4129 And He will not answer, “Ye have not done them.” For in the Presence of so great a Judge, they will not dare to lie or boast of things they have not done. But for that they had not charity, He answereth them all, “I know you not.” Now how can he have so much as the smallest charity, who when even 4130 convicted, loves not unity? It was then as impressing on good shepherds this unity, that our Lord was unwilling to mention many shepherds. For it is not, as I have said already, that Peter was not a good shepherd, and Paul, the rest of the Apostles, and the holy Bishops who were after them, and blessed Cyprian. All these were good shepherds; and notwithstanding to good shepherds, He commended not good shepherds, but a good Shepherd. “I,” saith He, “am the good Shepherd.”
4. Let us question the Lord with such little understanding as we have, and in most humble discourse hold converse with so great a Master. What sayest Thou, O Lord, Thou good Shepherd? For Thou art the good Shepherd, who art also the good Lamb; at once Pastor and Pasturage, at once Lamb and Lion. What sayest Thou? Let us give ear and aid us, that we may understand. “I,” saith He, “am the good Shepherd.” What is Peter? is he either not a shepherd, or a bad one? Let us see, if he be not a shepherd. “Lovest thou Me?” 4131 Thou saidst to Him Lord, “Lovest thou Me?” And he answered, “I do love Thee.” And Thou to him, “Feed My sheep.” Thou, Thou, Lord, p. 524 by Thine Own questioning, by the strong assurance of Thine Own words, madest of the lover a shepherd. He is a shepherd then to whom Thou didst commit Thy sheep to be fed. Thou didst Thyself entrust them, he is a shepherd. Let us now see whether he be not a good one. This we find by the very question, and his answer. Thou didst ask, whether he loved Thee; he answered, “I do love Thee.” Thou sawest his heart, that he answered truth. Is he not then good, who loveth so great a Good? Whence that answer drawn from his inmost heart? Wherefore was this Peter, who had Thine eyes in his heart for witnesses, sad because Thou askedst him not once only, but a second and a third time, that by a threefold confession of love, he might efface the threefold sin of denial; wherefore, I say, being sad that he was asked repeatedly by Him who knew what He was asking, and had given what He heard; wherefore being sad, did he return such an answer, “Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thyself knowest that I love Thee”? What! in making such a confession, such a profession rather, would he lie? In truth then, he made answer of his love to Thee, and from his inmost heart he gave utterance to a lovers words. Now Thou hast said, “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things.” 4132 So then he is both a shepherd, and a good shepherd; nothing it is true to the power and goodness of the Shepherd of shepherds; but nevertheless even he is both a shepherd, and a good one; and all other such are good shepherds.
5. What means it then, that to good shepherds Thou dost set forth One Only Shepherd, but that in One Shepherd Thou teachest unity? and the Lord Himself explains this more clearly by my ministry, putting you, beloved, in remembrance by this Gospel, and saying, “Hear ye what I have set forth; I have said, I am the good Shepherd; because all the rest, all the good shepherds, are My members.” One Head, One Body, One Christ. So then both the Shepherd of shepherds, and the shepherds of the Shepherd, and the sheep with their shepherds under The Shepherd. What is all this, but what the Apostle says? “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ.” 4133 Therefore if Christ be even so, with good reason doth Christ in Himself containing all good shepherds, set forth One, saying, “I am the good Shepherd. I am, I Alone am, all the rest with Me are one in unity. Whoso feedeth without Me, feedeth against Me. He that gathereth not with Me, scattereth.” 4134 Hear then this unity more forcibly set forth; “Other sheep,” saith He, “I have which are not of this fold.” 4135 For He was speaking to the first fold of the stock of the fleshly Israel. But there were others of the stock of the faith of this Israel, and they were yet without, were among the Gentiles, predestinated, not yet gathered in. These He knew who had predestinated them; He knew, who had come to redeem them with the shedding of His Own Blood. He saw them who did not yet see Him; He knew them who yet believed not on Him. “Other sheep,” saith He, “I have which are not of this fold;” because they are not of the stock of the flesh of Israel. But nevertheless they shall not be outside of this fold, “for them also I must bring, that there may be One Fold, and One Shepherd.”
6. With good reason then to This Shepherd of shepherds, doth His Beloved, His Spouse, His Fair One, but by Him made fair, before by sin deformed, beautiful afterward through pardon and grace, speak in her love and ardour after Him, and say to Him, “Where feedest Thou?” 4136 And observe how, by what transport this spiritual love is here animated. And far better are they by this transport delighted, who have tasted ought of the sweetness of this love. They hear this properly, who love Christ. For in them, and of them, doth the Church sing this in the Song of Songs; who love Christ, as it seemed without beauty, yet the Only Beautiful One. “For we saw Him,” it is said, “and He had neither beauty nor comeliness.” 4137 Such He appeared on the Cross, such when crowned with thorns did He exhibit Himself, disfigured, and without comeliness, as if He had lost His power, as if not the Son of God. Such seemed He to the blind. For it is in the person of the Jews that Isaiah said this, “We saw Him, and He had no beauty nor comeliness.” When it was said, “If He be the Son of God, let Him come down from the Cross. He saved others, Himself He cannot save.” 4138 And smiting Him on the head with a reed, they said, “Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, who smote Thee?” 4139 Because “He had neither beauty nor comeliness.” As such did ye Jews see Him. For “blindness hath happened in part to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles enter in,” 4140 until the other sheep come. Because then blindness hath happened, therefore did ye see the Comely One without comeliness. “For had ye known Him, ye would never have crucified the Lord of Glory.” 4141 But ye did it, because ye knew Him not. And yet He who as though without beauty bare with you, all Beauteous as He was, prayed for you; “Father,” saith He, “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 4142 For if He were without comeliness, how is it that p. 525 she loveth Him, who saith, “Tell me, O Thou whom my soul loveth”? 4143 How is it that she loveth Him? how is it that she burneth for Him? how is it that she feareth so much to stray from Him? How is it that she hath so great delight in Him, that her only punishment is to be without Him? What would there be for which He should be loved, if He were not beautiful? But how could she love Him so, if He appeared to her as He did to those blind men persecuting Him, and knowing not what they do? As what then did she love Him? As “comely in form above the sons of men. Comely in form above the sons of men, grace is poured abroad in Thy Lips.” 4144 So then from these Thy Lips, “Tell me, O Thou whom my soul loveth. Tell me,” says she, “O Thou whom,” not my flesh, but, “my soul loveth. Tell me where Thou feedest, where Thou liest down in the midday; lest haply I light, as one veiled, upon the flocks of Thy companions.” 4145
7. It seems obscure, obscure it is; for it is a mystery of the sacred marriage bed. For she says, “The King hath brought me into His chamber.” 4146 Of such a chamber is this a mystery. But ye who are not as profane kept off from this chamber, hear ye what ye are, and say with her, if with her ye love (and ye do love with her, if ye are in her); say all, and yet let one say, for unity saith; “Tell me, O Thou whom my soul loveth. For they had one soul to Godward, and one heart. 4147 Tell me where Thou feedest, where Thou liest down in the midday?” What does the midday 4148 signify? “Great heat, and great brightness.” So then, “make known to me who are Thy wise ones,” fervent in spirit, and brilliant in doctrine. “Make known to me Thy Right Hand, and men learned in heart, in wisdom.” 4149 To them may I cleave in Thy Body, to them be united, with them enjoy Thee. Tell me then, “tell me, where Thou feedest, where Thou liest down in the midday;” lest I fall upon them who say other things of Thee, entertain other sentiments of Thee; believe other things of Thee, preach other things of Thee; and have their own flocks, and are Thy companions; for that they live of Thy table, and handle the sacraments of Thy table. For companions are so called, because they eat together, 4150 messmates as it were. Such are reproved in the Psalm; “For if Mine enemy had spoken great things against Me, I would surely have hidden Myself from him; and if he that hated Me had spoken great things against Me, I would surely have hidden Myself from him; but thou a man of one mind with Me, My guide, and My familiar, who didst take sweet meats together with Me, in the house of God we walked with consent.” 4151 Why then now against the house of the Lord with dissent, but that “they have gone out from us, but they were not of us?” 4152 Therefore, “O Thou whom my soul loveth,” that I may not fall upon such, Thy companions, but companions such as Samsons were, who kept not faith with their friend, but wished to corrupt his wife. 4153 Therefore, that I may not fall upon such as these, “that I may not light upon them,” that is, fall upon them, “as one that is veiled,” as one that is concealed, that is, and obscure, not as established upon the mountain. “Tell me” then, “O thou whom my soul loveth, where Thou feedest, where Thou liest down in the midday;” who are the wise and faithful in whom Thou dost specially rest, lest by chance as in blindness I fall upon the flocks, not Thy flocks, but the flocks of Thy companions. For thou didst not say to Peter, “Feed thy sheep,” but, “Feed My sheep.” 4154
8. Let then the “good Shepherd,” and, “the Comely in form above the sons of men,” make answer to this beloved one; make answer to her whom He hath made beautiful from among the children of men. Hear ye what He answereth, and understand, beware of that wherewith He alarmeth, love that which He adviseth. What then doth He answer? How free from soft caresses, yea, to her caresses He returneth severity! He is sharp that He may bind her closely, that He may keep her. “If thou know not thyself,” saith He, “O thou fair one among women:” 4155 for however fair others may be by the gifts of thy Spouse, they are heresies, fair in outward ornament, not within: 4156 fair are they without, and outwardly they shine, they disguise themselves by the name of righteousness; “but all the beauty of the Kings daughter is within.” 4157 “If” then “thou know not thyself;” that thou art one, that thou art throughout all nations, that thou art chaste, that thou oughtest not to corrupt thyself with the disordered converse of evil companions. “If thou know not thyself,” that in uprightness, “he hath espoused thee to Me, to present you a chaste Virgin to Christ;” 4158 and that in uprightness thou shouldest present thine own self to Me, lest by evil converse, “as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds too should be corrupted from my purity.” 4159 “If,” I say, “thou know not thyself” to be such, “go thy way; go thy way.” For to others I shall say, “Enter thou into the joy of p. 526 thy Lord.” 4160 To thee I shall not say, “Enter in;” but, “Go thy way;” that thou mayest be among those, who “went out from us.” “Go thy way.” That is, “if thou know not thyself,” then, “go thy way.” But if thou know thyself, enter in. But, “if thou know not thyself, go thy way by the footsteps of the flocks, and feed thy kids in the tents of the shepherds. Go thy way by the footsteps,” not “of the Flock,” but, “of the flocks, and feed,” not as Peter, “My sheep,” but, “thy kids; in the tents,” not “of the Shepherd,” but, “of the shepherds;” not of unity, but of dissension; not established there, where there is One flock and One Shepherd. The beloved one was confirmed, edified, made stronger, prepared to die for her Spouse and to live with her Spouse.
9. These words which I have quoted out of the Holy Song of Songs, of a kind of bridal song of the Bridegroom and the Bride (for it is a spiritual wedding, wherein we must live in great purity, for Christ hath granted to the Church in spirit that which His Mother had in body, to be at once a Mother and a Virgin); these words, I say, the Donatists accommodate to their own perverted sense in a very different meaning. And how I will not conceal from you, and what ye may answer them, I will, by the Lords help, as well as I shall be able, briefly recommend. When then we begin to press them with the light of the Churchs unity spread over the whole world, and demand of them to show us any testimony out of the Scriptures, where God hath foretold that the Church should be in Africa, as if all the rest of the nations were lost; they are in the habit of taking this testimony in their mouths, and saying; “Africa is under the midday sun; the Church then” they say, “asking the Lord where He feedeth, where He lieth down; He answereth, Under the midday sun;” as if the voice of her who put the question, were, “Tell me, O Thou whom my soul loveth, where Thou feedest, where Thou liest down;” and the Voice of Him who answereth, were, “Under the midday sun;” that is, in Africa. If then it be the Church which asketh, and the Lord maketh answer where he feedeth, in Africa, because the Church was in Africa; then she who asketh was not in Africa. “Tell me,” she saith, “O Thou whom my soul loveth, where Thou feedest, where Thou liest down;” and He maketh answer to some Church out of Africa, “Under the midday sun,” in Africa I lie down, in Africa I feed, as if it were, “I do not feed in thee.” I repeat, if she who asketh is the Church, which no one disputes, which not even themselves gainsay; and they hear something about Africa; then she who asketh is out of Africa; and because it is the Church, the Church is out of Africa.
10. But see, I admit that Africa is under the midday sun; although Egypt is rather under the meridian, under the midday sun than Africa. Now after what fashion This Shepherd is there in Egypt, they who know, will acknowledge; and for them that know not, let them enquire how large a flock lie gathereth there, how great a multitude He hath of holy men and women who utterly despise the world. That flock hath so increased, that it hath expelled superstitions even thence. To pass over how it hath in its increase banished thence the whole superstition of idols, which had been firmly fixed there; I admit what you say, O evil companions; I admit it altogether, I agree that Africa is in the South, and that Africa is signified in that which is said, “Where feedest Thou, where dost Thou lie down under the midday sun?” But do ye too equally observe how that up to this point these are the words of the Bride, and not yet of the Bridegroom. Hitherto it is the Bride that saith, “Tell me, O Thou whom my soul loveth, where Thou feedest, where Thou dost lie down in the midday, lest by chance I light, as one veiled.” O thou deaf, and blind one, if in the “midday” thou seest Africa, why in her that is “veiled” dost thou not see the Bride? “Tell me,” she said, “O Thou whom my soul loveth.” Without doubt she addresses her Spouse, when she says, “whom” [in the masculine 4161 ] “my soul loveth.” Just as if it were said, “Tell me, O thou whom [in the feminine 4162 ] “my soul loveth;” we should understand that the Bridegroom spake these words to His Bride; so when you hear, “Tell me, O thou whom” (in the masculine) “my soul loveth, where Thou feedest, where Thou liest down;” add to this, to her words belongs also what follows, “In the midday.” I am asking, “where Thou feedest in the midday, lest by chance I light as one veiled upon the flocks of Thy companions.” I consent entirely, I admit what you understand of Africa; it is signified by “the midday.” But then as you understand it, the Church of Christ beyond the sea is addressing her Spouse, in fear of falling into the African error, “O Thou whom my soul, loveth, tell me,” teach me. For I hear that “in the midday,” that is in Africa, there are two parties, yea rather many schisms. 4163 “Tell me,” then, “where Thou feedest,” what sheep belong to Thee, what fold Thou biddest me love there, whereunto ought I to unite myself. “Lest by chance I light as one veiled.” For they mock me as if I were concealed, they mock me as destroyed, as though I existed nowhere else. “Lest,” then, “as one veiled,” as if concealed, p. 527 “I light upon the flocks,” that is, upon the congregarious of the heretics, “thy companions; the Donatists, the Maximinianists, the Rogatists and all the other pests who gather without, and who therefore scatter; “Tell me,” I pray Thee, if I must seek my Shepherd there, that I fall not into the gulf of re-baptizing. I exhort you, I beseech you by the sanctity of such nuptials, love this Church, be ye in this holy Church, be ye this Church; love the good Shepherd, the Spouse so fair, who deceiveth no one, who desireth no one to perish. Pray too for the scattered sheep; that they too may come, that they too may acknowledge Him, that they too may love Him; that there may be One Flock and One Shepherd. Let us turn to the Lord, etc.
1 Cor. xiii. 1, etc.523:4129 523:4130 523:4131 524:4132 524:4133 524:4134 524:4135 524:4136 524:4137
Isa. liii. 2, Sept.524:4138 524:4139 524:4140 524:4141 524:4142 525:4143 525:4144 525:4145
Song of Sol. 1.7, Sept.525:4146 525:4147 525:4148 525:4149
Ps. 90.12, Sept. (xc. English version).525:4150 525:4151
Ps. 55.12-14, etc., Sept. (lv. 12–14, English version).525:4152 525:4153 525:4154 525:4155
Song of Sol. 8. Sept.525:4156 525:4157 525:4158 525:4159 526:4160 526:4161 526:4162 526:4163
©st-takla.org : Saint Takla Haymanout Website: General Portal for the Coptic Orthodox Church Faith, Egypt / Contact us at:
Bible | Daily Readings | Agbeya | Books | Lyrics | Gallery | Media | Links | Contact us