Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel...: Tractate XVIII
Chapter V. 19
1. John the evangelist, among his fellows and companions the other evangelists, received this special and peculiar gift from the Lord (on whose breast he reclined at the feast, hereby to signify that he was drinking deeper secrets from His inmost heart), to utter those things concerning the Son of God which may perhaps rouse the attentive minds of the little ones, but cannot fill them, as yet not capable of receiving them; while to minds, of somewhat larger growth, and coming to a certain age of inner manhood, he gives in these words something whereby they may both be exercised and fed. You have heard it when it was read, and you remember how this discourse arose. For yesterday it was read, that “therefore the Jews sought to kill Jesus, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.” This that displeased the Jews, pleased the Father. This, without doubt, pleases them too that honor the Son as they honor the Father; for if it does not please them, they will not be pleasing. For God will not be greater because it pleases thee, but thou wilt be less if it displeases thee. Now against this calumny of theirs, coming either of ignorance or of malice, the Lord speaks not at all what they can understand, but that whereby they may be agitated and troubled, and, on being troubled, it may be, seek the Physician. And He uttered what should be written, that it might afterwards be read even by us. Now we have seen what happened in the hearts of the Jews when they heard these words; what happens in ourselves when we hear them, let us more fully consider. For heresies, and certain tenets of perversity, ensnaring souls and hurling them into the deep, have not sprung up except when good Scriptures are not rightly understood, and when that in them which is not rightly understood is rashly and boldly asserted. And so, dearly beloved, ought we very cautiously to hear those things for the understanding of which we are but little ones, and that, too, with pious heart and with trembling, as it is written, holding this rule of soundness, that we rejoice as in food in that which we have been able to understand, according to the faith with which we are imbued; and what we have not yet been able to understand, that we lay aside doubting, and defer the understanding of it for a time; that is, even if we do not yet know what it is, that still we doubt not in the least that it is good and true. And as for me, brethren, you must consider who I am that undertake to speak to you, and what I have undertaken: for I have taken upon me to treat of things divine, being a man; of spiritual things, being carnal; of things eternal, being a mortal. Also from me, dearly beloved, far be vain presumption, if my conversation would be sound in the house of God, “which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” 377 In proportion to my measure I take what I put before you: where it is opened, I see with you; where it is shut, I knock with you.
2. Now the Jews were moved and indignant: justly, indeed, because a man dared to make himself equal with God; but unjustly in this, because in the man they understood not the God. They saw the flesh, the God they knew not; they observed the habitation, of the inhabitant they were ignorant. That flesh was a temple, within it dwelt God. It was not the flesh that Jesus made equal to the Father, it was not the form of a servant that He compared to the Lord; not that which He became for us, but that which He was when He made us. For who Christ is (I speak to Catholics) you know, because you have rightly believed; not Word only, nor flesh only, but the Word was made flesh to dwell among us. I recite again concerning the Word what you know: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God:” here is equality with the Father. But “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” Than this flesh the Father is greater. Thus the Father is both equal and greater; equal to the Word, greater than the flesh; equal to Him by whom He made us, greater than He who was made for us. By this sound catholic rule, which you ought particularly to know, which you who know it hold fast, from which your faith ought not in any case to slip, which is to be wrested from your heart by no arguments of men, let us measure the things we do understand; and the things which, it may be, we do not understand, let us defer, to be hereafter measured by this rule, when we p. 118 shall be competent to do this. We know Him, then, as equal to the Father, the Son of God, because we know Him in the beginning as God the Word. Why, then, sought the Jews to slay Him? “Because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God:” seeing the flesh, not seeing the Word. Let Him therefore speak against them, the Word through the flesh; let Him, the dweller within, speak for through His dwelling-place, that whoso can, shall know who He is that dwells within.
3. What saith He then to them? “Then answered Jesus, and said unto them,” being indignant because He made Himself equal with God, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son cannot do anything of Himself, but what He seeth the Father doing.” What the Jews answered to these words is not written: and perhaps they said nothing. Certain, however, who wish to be esteemed Christians, are not silent, but from these words somehow conceive certain opinions in contradiction to us, which are not to be despised, both for their and for our sakes. The Arian heretics, namely, while they assert that the Son, who took upon Himself flesh, is less than the Father, not by the flesh, but before taking flesh, and not of the same substance as the Father, take a handle of misrepresentation from these words, and reply to us: “You see that the Lord Jesus, observing the Jews to be moved with indignation at his making himself equal to God the Father, subjoined such words as these, to show that he was not equal with God. For the Jews,” say they, “were provoked against Christ, because he made him self equal with God; and Christ, wishing to cure them of this impression, and to show them that the Son is not equal to the Father, that is, to God, saith this, as if he said, Why are ye angry? Why are ye indignant? I am not equal to God, since the Son cannot do anything of himself, except what he seeth the Father doing. Now,” say they, “he who cannot do anything of himself, but what he seeth the Father doing, is surely less, not equal.”
4. In this distorted and depraved rule of his own heart, let the heretic hear us, not as yet chiding, but still as it were inquiring, and let him explain to us what he thinks. For, I suppose, whoever thou art (for we may regard him as here present in person), thou dost hold with us, that “in the beginning was the Word.” I do hold it, saith he. And that “the Word was with God”? This too, saith he, I hold. Proceed then, and hold the stronger saying that follows, that “the Word was God.” Even this, says he, I hold: but yet, this, God the greater; that, God the less. Now this somehow smells of the pagan: I thought I was speaking with a Christian. If there is God the greater, and God the less, then we worship two Gods, not one God. Why, saith he; dost not thou, too, affirm two Gods, equal the one to the other? This I do not assert: for I understand this equality as implying therein also undivided love; and if undivided love, then perfect unity. For if the love that God put in men doth make of many hearts of men one heart, and doth make many souls of men into one soul, as it is written of them that believed and mutually loved one another, in the Acts of the Apostles, “They had one soul and one heart toward God:” 378 if, therefore, my soul and thy soul become one soul, when we think the same thing and love one another, how much more must God the Father and God the Son be one God in the fountain of love!
5. But to these words, by which thy heart is disturbed, bend thy thought, and reflect with me on that which we were seeking out concerning the Word. We already hold that “the Word was God:” I join to this another thing, that, having said, “This was in the beginning with God,” the evangelist immediately subjoined, “All things were made by Him.” Now will I urge thee by questioning, now will I move thee against thyself, and sue thee against thyself: only keep this in memory concerning the Word, that “the Word was God, and all things were made by Him.” Hear now the words by which thou wast moved to assert that the Son is less, forsooth, because He said, “The Son cannot of Himself do anything, but what He seeth the Father doing.” Just so, saith he. Explain to me this a little: This is, I presume, how thou thinkest: that the Father doeth certain things, and the Son observes how the Father doeth, that He may also Himself be able to do those things which He seeth the Father doing. Thou hast set up two artisans, as it were: the Father and the Son just like master and learner, like as artisan fathers are wont to teach their sons their craft. Behold, I come down to thy carnal sense: for the moment I think as thou doest: let us see if this our conception finds an issue in harmony with the things which we have just now alike spoken and alike hold regarding the Word, that “the Word was God,” and that “all things were made by Him.” Suppose, then, the Father, as an artisan, doing certain works, and the Son as a learner, who p. 119 “cannot of Himself do anything, but what He seeth the Father doing:” He keenly watches, in a manner, the Fathers hands, that, as He seeth Him fashioning aught, so He may Himself in like manner fashion something similar by His own works. But the Father here doeth all those things that He doeth, and wishes the Son to give heed to Him, and to do the like also Himself; by whom doeth the Father? Come! now is the time for thee to stand to thy former opinion, which thou didst recite with me, and didst hold with me; that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and all things were made by Him.” But thou, after holding with me, that all things were made by the Word, dost again, with thy carnal wit and childish fancy, imagine with thyself God making something, and the Word giving heed; so that when God has made, the Word also may make the like. Now, what does God make without the Word? For if He doeth aught, then were not all things made by the Word; thou hast given up the position which thou didst hold. But if all things were made by the Word, correct what thou didst understand amiss. The Father made, and made only by the Word: in what way does the Word give heed to see the Father making without the Word, what the Word may do in like manner? Whatever the Father hath made, He made it by the Word; else is it false that “all things were made by Him.” But it is true that “all things were made by Him.” Perhaps this did not seem enough for thee? Well, “and without Him was nothing made.”
6. Withdraw, then, from this wisdom of the flesh, and let us inquire in what manner it is said, “The Son cannot of Himself do anything, but what He seeth the Father doing.” Let us inquire, if we are worthy to apprehend. For I confess it is a great thing, and altogether difficult; to see the Father doing through the Son: not the Father and the Son doing each His particular works, but the Father doing every work whatsoever by the Son; so that not any works are done by the Father without the Son, or by the Son without the Father, because “all things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made.” These truths being most firmly established in the foundation of faith, what now is the nature of this “seeing”? Thou seekest, as I suppose, to know the Son doing: seek first to know the Son seeing. For what, in fact, saith He? “The Son cannot of Himself do anything, but what He seeth the Father doing.” Note what He said, “but what He seeth the Father doing.” The seeing comes first, the doing follows: He seeth in order to do. As for thee, why seekest thou at present to know how He doeth, whilst thou understandest not as yet how He seeth? Why runnest thou to that which comes later, leaving that which comes first? He declares Himself as seeing and doing, not doing and seeing; because “He cannot of Himself do anything, but what He seeth the Father doing.” Wilt thou that I explain to thee how He doeth? Do thou explain to me how He seeth. If thou canst not explain this, neither can I that. If thou art not yet competent to understand this, neither am I to understand that. Wherefore let each of us seek, each knock, that each may merit to receive. Why dost thou, as if thou wert learned, unjustly blame me who am unlearned? I in respect of the doing, thou in respect of the seeing, being both unlearned, let us inquire of the Master, not childishly wrangle in His school. We have already, however, learned together that “all things were made by Him.” Therefore it is manifest that it is not a different kind of works that the Father doeth, that, seeing them, the Son may do other works like them; but the very same doeth the Father by the Son, because all things were made by the Word. Now, as to how God doeth, who knows? How made He, I will not say the world, but thine own eye, in thy carnal attachment to which thou comparest visible things with invisible? For thou conceivest of God such things as thou art wont to see with these eyes. But if God might be seen with these eyes, He would not have said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Accordingly, thou hast an eye of the body to see an artificer, but thou hast not yet the eye of the heart to see God: hence, what thou art wont to see in an artificer, thou wouldest transfer to God. Leave earthly things on the earth; set thy heart on high.
7. What then, beloved, are we going to explain that which we have asked, how the Word seeth, how the Father is seen by the Word, what the seeing of the Word is? I am not so bold, so rash, as to promise to explain this, for myself or for you: however I estimate your measure, still I know my own. Therefore, if you please, not to delay it longer, let us run over the passage, and see how carnal hearts are troubled by the words of the Lord; to this end troubled, that they may not continue in that which they hold. Let this be wrested from them, as some toy is wrested from children, with which they amuse themselves to their hurt, that, as persons of larger growth, they may have more profitable things p. 120 planted in them, and may be able to make progress, instead of crawling on the earth. Arise, seek, sigh, pant with desire, and knock at what is shut. But if we do not yet desire, not yet earnestly seek, not yet sigh, we shall only be throwing pearls to all indiscriminately, or finding pearls ourselves, regardless of what kind. Wherefore, beloved, I would move a longing desire in your heart. Good character leads to right understanding: the kind of life leads to another kind of life. One kind of life is earthly, another is heavenly: there is a life of beasts, another of men, and another of angels. The life of beasts is excited with earthly pleasures, seeks earthly pleasures alone, and grovels after them with immoderate desire: the life of angels is alone heavenly; the life of men is midway between that of angels and of beasts. If man lives after the flesh, he is on a level with the beasts; if he lives after the Spirit, he joins in the fellowship of angels. When thou livest after the Spirit, examine even in the angelic life whether thou be small or well-grown. For if thou art still a little one, the angels say to thee, “Grow: we feed on bread; thou art nourished with milk, with the milk of faith that thou mayest come to the meat of sight.” But if there be still a longing for filthy pleasures, if the thoughts be still of deceit, if lies are not avoided, if perjuries be heaped on lies, shall a heart so foul dare to say, “Explain to me how the Word sees;” even if I be able to do so, even if I myself now see? And further, though not perhaps of this character myself, and I am nevertheless far from this vision, how must that man be weighed down with earthly desires, who is not yet rapt with this desire from above! There is a wide difference between loathing and desiring; and again, between desiring and enjoying. If thou livest as do the beasts, thou loathest: the angels have full enjoyment. If, on the other hand, thou livest not as the beast, thou hast no longer loathing: something thou desirest, and dost not receive: thou hast, by the very desire, begun the life of the angels. May it grow in thee, and be perfected in thee; and mayest thou receive this, not of me, but of Him who made both me and thee!
8. Yet the Lord also has not left us to chance, since, in that He said, “The Son cannot of Himself do anything, but what He seeth the Father doing,” He meant us to understand that the Father doeth, not some works which the Son may see, and the Son doeth other works after He has seen the Father doing; but that both the Father and Son do the very same works. For He goes on to say, “For what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son in like manner.” Not after the Father hath done works, doeth the Son other works in like manner; but, “whatever He doeth, these also the Son doeth in like manner.” If these the Son doeth which the Father doeth, then it is by the Son that the Father doeth: if by the Son the Father doeth what He doeth, then the Father doeth not some, the Son others; but the works of the Father and of the Son are the same works. And how doeth the Son also the same? Both “the same,” and “in like manner.” In case you should think them the same, but in a different manner, the “same,” saith He, and “in like manner.” And how could they be the same and not in like manner? Take an example, which I presume is not too big for you: when we write letters they are first formed by our heart, then by our hand. Certainly: why otherwise have you all agreed, but because you perceived it to be so? It is as I have said, it is manifest to us all. The letters are made first by our heart, then by our body; the hand serves, the heart commands; both the heart and the hand make the same letters. Dost think the heart doeth some letters, the hand some others? The same indeed doeth the hand, but not in like manner: our heart forms them intelligibly, but our hand visibly. See how the same things are made, but not in like manner. Hence it was not enough for the Lord to say, “What things soever the Father doeth, these also the Son doeth;” He must add, “and in like manner.” For what if thou shouldst understand this just as thou understandest whatever thy heart doeth, this also thy hand doeth, but in a different manner? Here, however, he added, “These also the Son doeth in like manner.” If He both doeth these, and in like manner doeth, then awake; let the Jew be crushed, let the Christian believe, let the heretic be convinced: The Son is equal to the Father.
9. “For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth Him all things that Himself doeth.” Here is that “showeth.” “Showeth,” as it were, to whom? Of course, as to one that sees. We return to that which we cannot explain, how the Word seeth. Behold, man was made by the Word; but man has eyes, ears, hands, divers members in the body: he is able by the eyes to see, by the ears to hear, by the hands to work; the members are diverse, their offices diverse. One member cannot do the office of another; yet, by reason of the unity of the body, the eye sees both for itself and for the ear, and the ear hears for itself and for the eye. Are we to p. 121 suppose that something like this holds good in the Word, seeing all things are by Him; and Scripture has said in the psalm, “Understand, ye brutish among the people; and ye fools, at length be wise. He that planted the ear, shall He not hear? And He that formed the eye, shall He not see?” 379 Hence, if the Word is He that formed the eye, for all things are by the Word; if the Word is He that planted the ear, for all things are by the Word: we cannot say the Word doth not hear, the Word doth not see; lest the psalm reprove us, and say, “Fools, at length be wise.” Therefore, if the Word heareth and seeth, if the Son heareth and seeth, are we yet to search for eyes and ears in Him in separate places? Does He by one part hear, by another see; and cannot His ear do what His eye doth; and cannot His eye do what His ear can? Or is He not all sight, all hearing? Perhaps yes; nay, not perhaps, but truly yes; whilst, however, that seeing of His, and that hearing of His, is in a way far other than it is with us. Both to see and to hear exist together in the Word: seeing and hearing are not diverse things in Him; but hearing is sight, and sight is hearing.
10. And we, who see in one way, and hear in another way, how know we this? We return perhaps to ourselves, if we are not the trangressors to whom it is said, “Return, O trangressors, to your heart.” 380 Return to your heart: why go from yourselves, and perish from yourselves? Why go the ways of solitude? You go astray by wandering: return ye. Whither? To the Lord. Tis quickly done: first return to thine own heart; thou hast wandered abroad an exile from thyself; thou knowest not thyself, and yet thou art asking by whom thou wast made! Return, return to thy heart, lift thyself away from the body: thy body is thy place of abode; thy heart perceives even by thy body. But thy body is not what thy heart is; leave even thy body, return to thy heart. In thy body thou didst find eyes in one place, ears in another place: dost thou find this in thy heart? Or hast thou not ears in thy heart? Else of what did the Lord say, “Whoso hath ears to hear, let him hear?” 381 Or hast thou not eyes in thy heart? Else of what saith the apostle, “The eyes of your heart being enlightened?” 382 Return to thy heart; see there what, it may be, thou canst perceive of God, for in it is the image of God. In the inner man dwelleth Christ, in the inner man art thou renewed after the image of God, in His own image recognize its Author. See how all the senses of the body bring intelligence to the heart within of what they have perceived abroad; see how many ministers the one commander within has and what it can do by itself even without these ministers. The eyes report to the heart things black and white; the ears report to the same heart pleasant and harsh sounds; to the same heart the nostrils announce sweet odors and stenches; to the same heart the taste announces things bitter and sweet; to the same heart the touch announces things smooth and rough; and the heart declares to itself things just and unjust. Thy heart sees and hears and judges all other things perceived by the senses; and, what the senses do not aspire to, discerns things just and unjust, things evil and good. Show me the eyes, ears, nostrils, of thy heart. Diverse are the things that are referred to thy heart, yet are there not diverse members there. In thy flesh, thou hearest in one place, seest in another; in thy heart, where thou seest, there thou hearest. If this be the image, how much more mightily He whose the image is! Therefore the Son both heareth and seeth; the Son is both the hearing itself and the seeing: to hear is to Him the same thing as “to be;” and to see is to Him the same thing as “to be.” To see is not the same thing to thee as to be; for if thou lose thy sight, thou canst be; and if thou lose thy hearing, thou canst be.
11. Do we think we have knocked? Is there raised up within us something whereby we may even slightly conjecture whence light may come to us? It is my opinion, brethren, that when we speak of these things, and meditate upon them, we are exercising ourselves. And when we are exercising ourselves, and are as it were bent back again by our own weight to our customary thoughts, we are like weak-eyed persons, when they are brought forth to see the light, if perchance they had no sight at all before, and begin in some sort to recover their sight by the assiduous care of physicians. And when the physician would test the progress of recovery, he tries to show them something which they sought to see, but could not while they were blind: and while the eyesight is now somewhat recovered, they are brought forth to the light; and as they see it, are beaten back in a manner by the very glare; and they answer the physician, as he points out the object, This moment I did see, but now I cannot. What then does the physician? He brings them back to their usual ways, and applies the eye-salve to nourish the longing for seeing that which was seen only for a moment, so that by the very longing he may cure more completely; and if any stinging salves are applied for the recovery of sound p. 122 ness, let the patient bear it bravely, and, inflamed with love of the light, say to himself, When will it be that with strong eyes I shall see what with sore and weak eyes I could not? He urges the physician, and begs him to heal him. Therefore, brethren, if, it may be, something like this has taken place in your hearts, if somehow you have raised your heart to see the Word, and, beaten back by its light, you have fallen back to your wonted ways; pray the Physician to apply sharp salves, the precepts of righteousness. There is that which thou mayest see, but not that whereby thou canst see. Thou didst not believe me before that there is that which thou mayest see: thou art now, as by the guidance of reason, brought to it: thou hast drawn near, strained thine eyes to see it, throbbed, and shrunk back. Thou knowest for certain that there is what thou mayest see, but that thou art not yet meet to see it. Therefore be healed. What are the eye-salves? Do not lie, do not swear falsely, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not defraud. But thou art used to these, and it is with some pain thou art drawn away from old habits: this is what bites, but yet heals. For I tell thee freely, by fear of myself and of thee, if thou give up the healing, and scorn to become meet to enjoy this light, by weakness of thine eyes, thou wilt love darkness; and by loving darkness, wilt remain in darkness; and by remaining in darkness, wilt be cast even into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. If the love of light has effected nothing in thee, let the fear of pain effect something.
12. I think I have spoken long enough, and yet I have not concluded the Gospel lesson: if I go on to declare what remains, I shall burden you, and I fear lest even what has been drawn may be lost; therefore let this be enough for you now, beloved. We are debtors, not now, but always as long as we live; because we live for you. However, do you, by good living, comfort this life of ours, so weak, toilsome, and full of peril in this world; do not afflict and wear us out by your evil manners. For if, when offended with your evil life, we flee from you and separate ourselves from you, and no longer come to you, will ye not complain, and say, And if we were sick, ye might care for us; and if we were weak, ye might have visited us? Behold, we do care for you; behold, we do visit you; but let it not be with us as you have heard from the apostle, “I fear lest I have bestowed labor upon you in vain.” 383
1 Tim. iii. 1.118:378
Acts iv. 32.121:379
Ps. 94:8, 9.121:380
Isa. xlvi. 8.121:381
Luke viii. 8.121:382
Eph. i. 18.122:383
Gal. iv. 11.
Next: Tractate XIX
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