Augustin on John 9
10 (Jn 2,12-21.
1. In the psalm you have heard the groaning of the poor, whose members endure tribulations over the whole earth, even unto the end of the world. Make it your chief business, my brethren, to be among and of these members: for all tribulation is to pass away. “Woe to them that rejoice!”1 “Blessed,” says the Truth, “are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” God has become man: what shall man be, for whom God is become man? Let this hope comfort us in every tribulation and temptation of this life. For the enemy does not cease to persecute; and when he does not openly rage, he plots in secret. How does he plot? “And for wrath, they worked deceitfully.”2 Thence is he called a lion and a dragon. But what is said to Christ? “Thou shall tread on the lion and the dragon.” Lion, for open rage; dragon, for hidden treachery. The dragon cast Adam out of Paradise; as a lion, the same persecuted the Church, as Peter says: “For your adversary, the devil, goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”3 Let it not seem to you as if the devil had lost his ferocity. When he blandly flatters, then is he the more vigilantly to be guarded against. But amid all these treacherous devices and temptations of his, what shall we do but that which we have heard in the psalm: “And I, when they were troublesome to me, clothed me in sackcloth, and humbled my soul in fasting.”4 There is one that heareth prayer, hesitate not to pray; but He that heareth abideth within. You need not direct your eyes towards some mountain; you need not raise your face to the stars, or to the sun, or to the moon; nor must you suppose that you are heard when you pray beside the sea: rather detest such prayers. Only cleanse the chamber of thy heart; wheresoever thou art, wherever thou prayest, He that hears is within, within in the secret place, which the psalmist calls his bosom, when he says, “And my prayer shall be turned in my own bosom.”5 He that heareth thee is not beyond thee; thou hast not to travel far, nor to lift thyself up, so as to reach Him as it were with thy hands. Rather, if thou lift thyself up, thou shall fall; if thou humble thyself, He will draw near thee. Our Lord God is here, the Word of God, the Word made flesh, the Son of the Father, the Son of God, the Son of man; the lofty One to make us, the humble to make us anew, walking among men, bearing the human, concealing the divine.
2. “He went down,” as the evangelist says, “to Capernaum, He, and His mother, and His brethren, and His disciples; and they continued there not many days.” Behold He has a mother, and brethren, and disciples: whence He has a mother, thence brethren. For our Scripture is wont to call them brethren, not only that are sprung from the same man and woman, or from the same mother, or from the same father, though by different mothers; or, in truth, that are of the same degree as cousins by the father’s or mother’s side: not these alone is our Scripture wont to call brethren. The Scripture must be understood as it speaks. It has its own language; one who does not know this language is perplexed and says, Whence had the Lord brethren? For surely Mary did not give birth a second time? Far from it! With her begins the dignity of virgins. She could be a mother, but a woman known of man she could not be. She is spoken of as mulier [which usually signifies a wife], but only in reference to her sex, not as implying loss of virgin purity: and this follows from the language of Scripture itself. For Eve, too, immediately she was formed from the side of her husband, and as yet not known of her husband, is, as you know, called mulier: “And he made her a woman [mulier].” Then, whence the brethren? The kinsmen of Mary, of whatever degree, are the brethren of the Lord. How do we prove this? From Scripture itself. Lot is called “Abraham’s brother;”6 he was his brother’s son. Read, and thou wilt find that Abraham was Lot’s uncle on the father’s side, and yet they are called brethren. Why, but because they were kinsmen? Laban the Syrian was Jacob’s uncle by the mother’s side, for he was the brother of Rebecca, Isaac’s wife and Jacob’s mother.7 Read the Scripture, and thou wilt find that uncle and sister’s son are called brothers.8 When thou hast known this rule, thou wilt find that all the blood relations of Mary are the brethren of Christ).
3. But rather were those disciples brethren; for even those kinsmen would not be brethren were they not disciples: and to no advantage brethren, if they did not recognize their brother as their master. For in a certain place, when He was informed that His mother and His brethren were standing without, at the time He was speaking to His disciples, He said: “Who is my mother? or who are my brethren? And stretching out His hand over His disciples, He said, These are my brethren;” and, “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father, the same is my mother, and brother, and sister.”9 Therefore also Mary, because she did the will of the Father. What the Lord magnified in her was, that she did the will of the Father, not that flesh gave birth to flesh. Give good heed, beloved. Moreover, when the Lord was regarded with admiration by the multitude, while doing signs and wonders, and showing forth what lay concealed under the flesh, certain admiring souls said: “Happy is the womb that bare Thee: and He said, Yea, rather, happy are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.”10 That is to say, even my mother, whom ye have called happy, is happy in that she keeps the word of God: not because in her the Word was made flesh and dwelt in us; but because she keeps that same word of God by which she was made, and which in her was made flesh. Let not men rejoice in temporal offspring, but let them exult if in spirit they are joined to God. We have spoken these things on account of that which the evangelist says, that He dwelt in Capernaum a few days, with His mother, and His brethren, and His disciples.
4. What follows upon this? “And the Jews’ passover was at hand; and He went up to Jerusalem.” The narrator relates another matter, as it came to his recollection. “And He found in the temple those that sold oxen, and sheep, and doves, and the changers of money sitting: and when He had made, as it were, a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the temple; the oxen likewise, and the sheep; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; and said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; and make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise.” What have we heard, brethren? See, that temple was still a figure, and yet the Lord cast out of it all that sought their own, all who had come to market. And what did they sell there? Things which people needed in the sacrifices of that time. For you know, beloved, that sacrifices were given to that people, in consideration of the carnal mind and stony heart yet in them, to keep them from falling away to idols: and they offered there for sacrifices oxen, sheep, and doves: you know this, for you have read it. It was not a great sin, then, if they sold in the temple that which was bought for the purpose of offering in the temple: and yet He cast them out thence. If, while they were selling what was lawful and not against justice (for it is not unlawful to sell what it is honorable to buy), He nevertheless drove those men out, and suffered not the house of prayer to be made a house of merchandise; how, if He found drunkards there, what would the Lord do? If the house of God ought not to be made a house of trading, ought it to be made a house of drinking? But when we say this, they gnash upon us with their teeth; but the psalm which you have heard comforts us: “They gnashed upon me with their teeth.” Yet we know how we may be cured, although the strokes of the lash are multiplied on Christ, for His word is made to bear the scourge: “The scourges,” saith He, “were gathered together against me, and they knew not.” He was scourged by the scourges of the Jews; He is now scourged by the blasphemies of false Christians: they multiply scourges for their Lord, and know it not. Let us, so far as He aids us, do as the psalmist did: “But as for me, when they were troublesome to me, I put on sackcloth, and humbled my soul with fasting.”11
5. Yet we say, brethren (for He did not spare those men: He who was to be scourged by them first scourged them), that He gave us a certain sign, in that He made a scourge of small cords, and with it lashed the unruly, who were making merchandise of God’s temple. For indeed every man twists for himself a rope by his sins: “Woe to them who draw sins as a long rope?”12 Who makes a long rope? He who adds sin to sin. How are sins added to sins? When the sins which have been committed are covered over by other sins. One has committed a theft: that he may not be found out to have committed it, he seeks the astrologer. It were enough to have committed theft: why wilt thou add sin to sin? Behold two sins committed. When thou art forbidden to go to the astrologer, thou revilest the bishop: behold three sins. When thou hearest it said of thee, Cast him forth from the Church; thou sayest, I will betake me to the party of Donatus: behold thou addest a fourth sin. The rope is growing; be thou afraid of the rope. It is good for thee to be corrected here, when thou art scourged with it; that it may not be said of thee at the last, “Bind ye his hands and feet, and cast him forth into outer darkness.”13 For, “With the cords of his own sins is every one bound.”14 The former of these is the saying of the Lord, the latter that of another Scripture; but yet both are the sayings of the Lord. With their own sins are men bound and cast into outer darkness.
6. However, to seek the mystery of the deed in the figure, who are they that sell oxen? Who are they that sell sheep and doves? They are they who seek their own in the Church, not the things which are Christ’s. They account all a matter of sale, while they will not be redeemed: they have no wish to be bought, and yet they wish to sell. Yes; good indeed is it for them that they may be redeemed by the blood of Christ, that they may come to the peace of Christ. Now, what does it profit to acquire in this world any temporal and transitory thing whatsoever, be it money, or pleasure of the palate, or honor that consists in the praise of men? Are they not all wind and smoke? Do they not all pass by and flee away? Are they not all as a river rushing headlong into the sea? And woe to him who shall fall into it, for he shall be swept into the sea. Therefore ought we to curb all our affections from such desires. My brethren, they that seek such things are they that sell. For that Simon too, wished to buy the Holy Ghost, just because he meant to sell the Holy Ghost; and he thought the apostles to be just such traders as they whom the Lord cast out of the temple with a scourge. For such an one he was himself, and desired to buy what he might sell he was of those who sell doves. Now it was in a dove that the Holy Ghost appeared.15 Who, then, are they, brethren, that sell doves, but they who say, “We give the Holy Ghost “? But why do they say this, and at what price do they sell? At the price of honor to themselves. They receive as the price, temporal seats of honor, that they may be seen to be sellers of doves. Let them beware of the scourge of small cords. The dove is not for sale: it is given freely; for grace, or favor, it is called. Therefore, my brethren, just as you see them that sell, common chapmen, each cries up what he sells: how many stalls they have set up! Primianus has a stall at Carthage, Maximianus has another, Rogatus has another in Mauritania, they have another in Numidia, this party and that, which it is not in our power now to name. Accordingly,one goes round to buy the dove, and everyone at his own stall cries up what he sells.
Let the heart of such an one turn away from f every seller; let him come where he receives freely. Aye, brethren, and they do not blush, that, by these bitter and malicious dissensions of theirs, they have made of themselves so many parties, while they assume to be what they are not, while they are lifted up, thinking themselves to be something when they are nothing.16 But what is fulfilled in them, since that they will not be corrected, but that which you have heard in the psalm: “They were rent asunder, and felt no remorse”?
7. Well, who sell oxen? They who have dispensed to us the Holy Scriptures are understood to mean the oxen. The apostles were oxen, the prophets were oxen. Whence the apostle says: “Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith He it for our sakes? Yea, for our sakes He saith it: that he who ploweth should plow in hope; and he that thresheth, in hope of partaking.”17 Those oxen, then, have left to us the narration of the Scriptures. For it was not of their own that they dispensed, because they sought the glory of the Lord. Now, what have ye heard in that psalm? “And let them say continually, The Lord be magnified, they that wish the peace of His servant.”18 God’s servant, God’s people, God’s Church. Let them who wish the peace of that Church magnify the Lord, not the servant: “and let them say continually, The Lord be magnified.” Who, let say? “Them who wish the peace of His servant.” The voice of that people, of that servant, is clearly that voice which you have heard in lamentations in the psalm, and were moved at hearing, because you are of that people. What was sung by one, re-echoed from the hearts of all. Happy they who recognized themselves in those voices as in a mirror. Who, then, are they that wish the peace of His servant, the peace of His people, the peace of the one whom He calls His “only one,” and whom He wishes to be delivered from the lion: “Deliver mine only one from the power of the dog?”19 They who say always, “The Lord be magnified.” Those oxen, then, magnified the Lord, not themselves. See this ox magnifying his Lord, because “the ox knoweth his owner;”20 observe that ox in fear lest men desert the ox’s owner and rely on the ox: how he dreads them that are willing to put their confidence in him: “Was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? “21 Of what I gave, I was not the giver: freely ye have received; the dove came down from heaven. “I have planted,” saith he, “Apollo, watered; but God gave the increase: neither he that planteth is anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”22 “And let them say always, The Lord be magnified, they that wish the peace of His servant.”
8. These men, however, deceive the people by the very Scriptures, that they may receive honors and praises at their hand, and that men may not turn to the truth. But in that they deceive, by the very Scriptures, the people of whom they seek honors, they do in fact sell oxen: they sell sheep too; that is, the common people themselves. And to whom do they sell them, but to the devil? For if the Church be Christ’s sole and only one, who is it that carries off whatever is cut away from it, but that lion that roars and goes about, “seeking whom he may devour?”23 Woe to them that are cut off from the Church! As for her, she will remain entire. “For the Lord knoweth then that are His.”24 These, however, so far as they can, sell oxen and sheep, they sell doves too: let them guard against the scourge of their own sins. But when they suffer some such things for these their iniquities, let them acknowledge that the Lord has made a scourge of small cords, and is admonishing them to change themselves and be no longer traffickers: for if they will not change, they shall at the end hear it said, “Bind ye these men’s hands and feet, and cast them forth into outer darkness.”
9. “Then the disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up:” because by this zeal of God’s house, the Lord cast these men out of the temple. Brethren, let every Christian among the members of Christ be eaten up with zeal of God’s house. Who is eaten up with zeal of God’s house? He who exerts himself to have all that he may happen to see wrong; there corrected, desires it to be mended, does not rest idle: who if he cannot mend it, endures it, laments it. The grain is not shaken out on the threshing-floor that it may enter the barn when the chaff shall have been separated. If thou art a grain, be not shaken out from the floor before the putting into the granary; lest thou be picked up by the birds before thou be gathered into the granary. For the birds of heaven, the powers of the air, are waiting to snatch up something off the threshing-floor, and they can snatch up only what has been shaken out of it. Therefore, let the zeal of God’s house eat thee up: let the zeal of God’s house eat up every Christian, zeal of that house of God of which he is a member. For thy own house is not more important than that wherein thou hast everlasting rest. Thou goest into thine own house for temporal rest, thou enterest God’s house for everlasting rest. If, then, thou busiest thyself to see that nothing wrong be done in thine own house, is it fit that thou suffer, so far as thou canst help, if thou shouldst chance to see aught wrong in the house of God, where salvation is set before thee, and rest without end? For example, seest thou a brother rushing to the theatre? Stop him, warn him, make him sorry, if the zeal of God’s house doth eat thee up. Seest thou others running and desiring to get drunk, and that, too, in holy places, which is not decent to be done in any place? Stop those whom thou canst, restrain whom thou canst, frighten whom thou canst, allure gently whom thou canst: do not, however, rest silent. Is it a friend? Let him be admonished gently. Is it a wife? Let her be bridled with the utmost rigor. Is it a maid-servant? Let her be curbed even with blows. Do whatever thou canst for the part thou bearest; and so thou fulfillest, “The zeal of Thy house hath eaten me up.” But if thou wilt be cold, languid, having regard only to thyself, and as if thyself were enough to thee, and saying in thy heart, What have I to do with looking after other men’s sins? Enough for me is the care of my own soul: this let me keep undefiled for God;-come, does there not recur to thy mind the case of that servant who hid his talent and would not lay it out? Was he accused because he lost it, and not because he kept it without profit?25 So hear ye then, my brethren, that ye may not rest idle. I am about to give you counsel: may He who is within give it; for though it be through me, it is He that gives it. You know what to do, each one of you, in his own house, with his friend, his tenant, his client, with greater, with less: as God grants an entrance, as He opens a door for His word, do not cease to win for Christ; because you were won by Christ.
10. “The Jews said unto Him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?” And the Lord answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and dost thou say, In three days I will rear it up?” Flesh they were, fleshly things they minded; but He was speaking spiritually. But who could understand of what temple He spoke? But yet we have not far to seek; He has discovered it to us through the evangelist, he has told us of what temple He said it. “But He spake,” saith the evangelist, “of the temple of His body.” And it is manifest that, being slain, the Lord did rise again after three days. This is known to us all now: and if from the Jews it is concealed, it is because they stand without; yet to us it is open, because we know in whom we believe. The destroying and rearing again of that temple, we are about to celebrate in its yearly solemnity: for which we exhort you to prepare yourselves, such of you as are catechumens that you may receive grace; even now is the time, even now let that be purposed which may then come to the birth. Now, that thing we know.
11. But perhaps this is demanded of us, whether the fact that the temple was forty and six years in building may not have in it some mystery. There are, indeed, many things that may be said of this matter; but what may briefly be said, and easily understood, that we say meanwhile. Brethren, we have said yesterday, if I mistake not, that Adam was one man, and is yet the whole human race. For thus we said, if you remember. He was broken, as it were, in pieces; and, being scattered, is now being gathered together, and, as it were, conjoined into one by a spiritual fellowship and concord. And “the poor that groan,” as one man, is that same Adam, but in Christ he is being renewed: because an Adam is come without sin, to destroy the sin of Adam in His own flesh, and that Adam might renew to himself the image of God. Of Adam then is Christ’s flesh: of Adam the temple which the Jews destroyed, and the Lord raised up in three days. For He raised His own flesh: see, that He was thus God equal with the Father. My brethren, the apostle says, “Who raised Him from the dead.” Of whom says he this? Of the Father. “He became,” saith he, “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross; wherefore also God raised Him from the dead, and gave Him a name which is above every name.”26 He who was raised and exalted is the Lord. Who raised Him? The Father, to whom He said in the psalms, “Raise me up and I will requite them.”27 Hence, the Father raised Him up. Did He not raise Himself? And doeth the Father anything without the Word? What doeth the Father without His only One? For, hear that He also was God. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Did He say, Destroy the temple, which in three days the Father will raise up? But as when the Father raiseth, the Son also raiseth; so when the Son raiseth, the Father also raiseth: because the Son has said, “I and the Father are one.”28
12. Now, what does the number Forty-six mean? Meanwhile, how Adam extends over the whole globe, you have already heard explained yesterday, by the four Greek letters of four Greek words. For if thou write the four words, one under the other, that is, the names of the four quarters of the world, of east, west, north, and south, which is the whole globe,-whence the Lord says that He will gather His elect from the four winds when He shall come to judgment;29 -if, I say, you take these four Greek words,-anauolh, which is east; duQi", which is west; arkto", which is north; meshmbria, which is south; Anatole, Dysis, Arctos, Mesembria,-the first letters of the words make Adam. How, then, do we find there, too, the number forty-six? Because Christ’s flesh was of Adam. The Greeks compute numbers by letters. What we make the letter A, they in their tongue put Alpha, a, and Alpha, a, is called one. And where in numbers they write Beta, b, which is their b, it is called in numbers two. Where they write Gamma, g, it is called in their numbers three. Where they write Delta, d, it is called in their numbers four; and so by means of all the letters they have numbers. The letter we call M, and they call My, m, signifies forty; for they say My, m, tessarakonta. Now look at the number which these letters make, and you will find in it that the temple was built in forty-six years. For the word Adam has Alpha, a, which is one: it has Delta, d, which is four; there are five for thee: it has Alpha, a, again, which is one; there are six for thee: it has also My, m, which is forty; there hast thou forty-six. These things, my brethren, were said by our elders before us, and that number forty-six was found by them in letters. And because our Lord Jesus Christ took of Adam a body, not of Adam derived sin; took of him a corporeal temple, not iniquity which must be driven from the temple: and that the Jews crucified that very flesh which He derived from Adam (for Mary was of Adam, and the Lord’s flesh was of Mary); and that, further, He was in three days to raise that same flesh which they were about to slay on the cross: they destroyed the temple which was forty-six years in building, and that temple He raised up in three days.
13. We bless the Lord our God, who gathered us together to spiritual joy. Let us be ever in humility of heart, and let our joy be with Him. Let us not be elated with any prosperity of this world, but know that our happiness is not until these things shall havepassed way. Now, my brethren, let our joy be in hope: let none rejoice as in a present thing, lest he stick fast in the way. Let joy be wholly of hope to come, desire be wholly of eternal life. Let all sighings breathe after Christ. Let that fairest one alone, who loved the foul to make them fair, be all our desire; after Him alone let us run, for Him alone pant and sigh; “and let them say always, The Lord be magnified, that wish the peace of His servant.”
1 (Lc 6,25,
2 (Ps 35,20,
3 (1P 5,8,
4 (Ps 35,13,
5 (Ps 35,13,
6 (Gn 13,8 Gn 14,14,
7 (Gn 28,5,
8 (Gn 29,12-15).
9 (Mt 12,46-50.
10 (Lc 11,27,
11 (Ps 35,13,
12 (Is 5,18 LXX).
13 (Mt 22,3,
14 (Pr 5,22,
15 (Mt 3,16,
16 (Ga 6,3,
17 (1Co 9,9-10.
18 (Ps 35,27,
19 (Ps 22,20).
20 (Is 1,3).
21 (1Co 1,13,
22 (1Co 3,6-7.
23 (1P 5,8).
24 (2Tm 2,19,
25 (Mt 25,25-30).
26 (Ph 2,8,
27 (Ps 41,11,
28 (Jn 10,30,
29 (Mc 13,27,
11 (Jn 2,23-3,5.
1). Opportunely has the Lord procured for us that this passage should occur in its order to day: for I suppose you have observed, beloved, that we have undertaken to consider and explain the Gospel according to Jn in due course. Opportunely then it occurs, that to-day you should hear from the Gospel, that, “Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he shall not see the kingdom of God.” For it is time that we exhort you, who are still catechumens, who have believed in Christ in such wise, that you are still bearing your sins. And none shall see the kingdom of heaven while burdened with sins; for none shall reign with Christ, but he to whom they have been forgiven: but forgiven they cannot be, but to him who is born again of water and of the Holy Spirit. But let us observe all the words what they imply, that here the sluggish may find with what earnestness they must haste to put off their burden. For were they bearing some heavy load, either of stone, or of wood, or even of some gain; if they were carrying corn, or wine, or money, they would run to put off their loads: they are carrying a burden of sins, and yet are sluggish to run. You must run to put off this burden; it weighs you down, it drowns you.
2. Behold, you have heard that when our Lord Jesus Christ “was in Jerusalem at the Passover, on the feast day, many believed in His name, seeing the signs which He did.” “Many believed in His name;” and what follows? “But Jesus did not trust Himself to them.” Now what does this mean, “They believed,” or trusted, “in His name;” and yet “Jesus did not trust Himself to them;”? Was it, perhaps, that they had not believed on Him, but were feigning to have believed, and that therefore Jesus did not trust Himself to them? But the evangelist would not have said, “Many believed in His name,” if he were not giving a true testimony to them. A great thing, then, it is, and a wonderful thing: men believe on Christ, and Christ trusts not Himself to men. Especially is it wonderful, since, being the Son of God, He of course suffered willingly. If He were not willing, He would never have suffered, since, had He not willed it, He had not been born; and if He had willed this only, merely to be born and not to die, He might have done evenwhatever He willed, because He is the almighty Son of the almighty Father Let us prove it by facts. For when they wished to hold Him, He departed from them. The Gospel says, “And when they would have cast Him headlong from the top of the mountain, He departed from them unhurt.”1 And when they came to lay hold of Him, after He was sold by Judas the traitor, who imagined that he had it in his power to deliver up his Master and Lord, there also the Lord showed that He suffered of His own will, not of necessity. For when the Jews desired to lay hold of Him, He said to them, “Whom seek ye? But they said, Jesus of Nazareth. And said He, I am He. On hearing this saying, they went backward, and fell to the ground.”2 In this, that in answering them He threw them to the ground, He showed His power; that in His being taken by them He might show His will. It was of compassion, then, that He suffered. For “He was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification.”3 Hear His own words: “I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again: no man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself, that I may take it again.”4 Since, therefore, He had such power, since He declared it by words, showed it by deeds, what then does it mean that Jesus did not trust Himself to them, as if they would do Him some harm against His will, or would do something to Him against His will, especially seeing that they had already believed in His name? Moreover, of the same persons the evangelist says, “They believed in His name,” of whom he says, “But Jesus did not trust Himself to them.” Why? “Because He knew all men, and needed not that any should bear witness of man: for Himself knew what was in man.” The artificer knew what was in His own work better than the work knew what was in itself. The Creator of man knew what was in man, which the created man himself knew not. Do we not prove this of Peter, that he knew not what was in himself, when he said, “With Thee, even to death”? Hear that the Lord knew what was in man: “Thou with me even to death? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.”5 The man, then, knew not what was in himself; but the Creator of the man knew what was in the man. Nevertheless, many believed in His name, and yet Jesus did not trust Himself to them. What can we say, brethren? Perhaps the circumstances that follow will indicate to us what the mystery of these words is. That men had believed in Him is manifest, is true; none doubts it, the Gospel says it, the truth-speaking evangelist testifies to it. Again, that Jesus trusted not Himself to them is also manifest, and no Christian doubts it; for the Gospel says this also, and the same truth-speaking evangelist testifies to it. Why, then, is it that they believed in His name, and yet Jesus did not trust Himself to them? Let us see what follows.
3. “And there was a man of the Pharisees, Nicodemus by name, a ruler of the Jews: the same came to Him by night, and said unto Him, Rabbi (you already know that Master is called Rabbi), we know that Thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these signs which Thou doest, except God be with him.” This Nicodemus, then, was of those who had believed in His name, as they saw the signs and prodigies which He did. For this is what he said above: “Now, when He was in Jerusalem at the passover on the feast-day, many believed in His name.” Why did they believe? He goes on to say, “Seeing His signs which He did.” And what says he of Nicodemus? “There was a ruler of the Jews, Nicodemus by name the same came to Him by night, and says to Him, Rabbi, we know that Thou art a teacher come from God.” Therefore this man also had believed in His name. And why had he believed? He goes on, “For no man can do these signs which Thou doest, except God be with him.” If, therefore, Nicodemus was of those who had believed in His name, let us now consider, in the case of this Nicodemus, why Jesus did not trust Himself to them. “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Therefore to them who have been born again cloth Jesus trust Himself. Behold, those men had believed on Him, and yet Jesus trusted not Himself to them. Such are all catechumens: already they believe in the name of Christ, but Jesus does not trust Himself to them. Give good heed, my beloved, and understand. If we say to a catechumen, Dost thou believe on Christ, he answers, I believe, and signs himself; already he bears the cross of Christ on his forehead, and is not ashamed of the cross of his Lord. Behold, he has believed in His name. Let us ask him, Dost thou eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink the blood of the Son of man? He knows not what we say, because Jesus has not trusted Himself to him.
4. Therefore, since Nicodemus was of that number, he came to the Lord, but came by night; and this perhaps pertains to the matter. Came to the Lord, and came by night; came to the Light, and came in the darkness. But what do they that are born again of water and of the Spirit hear from the apostle? “Ye were once darkness, buff now light in the Lord; walk as children of light;”6 and again, “But we who are of the day, let us besober.”7 Therefore they who are born again were of the night, and are of the day; were darkness, and are light. Now Jesus trusts Himself to them, and they come to Jesus, not by night, like Nicodemus; not in darkness do they seek the day. For such now also profess: Jesus has come near to them, has made salvation in them; for He said, “Except a man eat my flesh, and drink my blood, he shall not have life in him.”8 And as the catechumens have the sign of the cross on their forehead, they are already of the great house; but from servants let them become sons. For they are something who already belong to the great house. But when did the people Israel eat the manna? After they had passed the Red Sea. And as to what the Red Sea signifies, hear the apostle: “Moreover, brethren, I would not have you ignorant, that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea.” To what purpose passed they through the sea? As if thou wert asking of him, he goes on to say, “And all were baptized by Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”9 Now, if the figure of the sea had such efficacy, how great will be the efficacy of the true form of baptism! If what was done in a figure brought the people, after they had crossed over, to the manna, what will Christ impart, in the verity of His baptism, to His own people: brought over through Himself? By His baptism He brings over them that believe; all their sins, the enemies as it were that pursue them, being slain, as all the Egyptians perished in that sea. Whither does He bring over, my brethren? Whither does Jesus bring over by baptism, of which Moses then showed the figure, when he brought them through the sea? Whither? To the manna. What is the manna? “I am,” saith He, “the living bread, which came down from heaven.”10 The faithful receive the manna, having now been brought through the Red Sea? Why Red Sea? Besides sea, why also “red”? That “Red Sea” signified the baptism of Christ. How is the baptism of Christ red, but as consecrated by Christ’s blood? Whither, then, does He lead those that believe and are baptized? To the manna. Behold, “manna,” I say: what the Jews, that people Israel, received, is well known, well known what God had rained on them from heaven; and yet catechumens know not what Christians receive. Let them blush, then, for their ignorance; let them pass through the Red Sea, let them eat the manna, that as they have believed in the name of Jesus, so likewise Jesus may trust Himself to them.
5. Therefore mark, my brethren, what answer this man who came to Jesus by night makes. Although he came to Jesus, yet because he came by night, he still speaks from the darkness of his own flesh. He understands not what he hears from the Lord, understands not what he hears from the Light, “which lighteth every man that cometh into this world.”11 Already hath the Lord said to him, “Except a man be born again, he shall not see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto Him, How can a man be born again when he is old?” The Spirit speaks to him, and he thinks of the flesh. He thinks of his own flesh, because as yet he thinks not of Christ’s flesh. For when the Lord Jesus had said, “Except a man eat my flesh, and drink my blood, he shall not have life in him,” some who followed Him were offended, and said among themselves, “This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” For they fancied that, in saying this, Jesus meant that they would be able to cook Him, after being cut up like a lamb, and eat Him: horrified at His words, they went back, and no more followed Him. Thus speaks the evangelist: “And the Lord Himself remained with the twelve; and they said to Him, Lo, those have left Thee. And He said, Will ye also go away?”-wishing to show them that He was necessary to them, not they necessary to Christ. Let no man fancy that he frightens Christ, when he tells Him that he is a Christian; as if Christ will be more blessed if thou be a Christian. It is a good thing for thee to be a Christian; but if thou be not, it will not be ill for Christ. Hear the voice of the psalm, “I said to the Lord, Thou art my God, since Thou hast no need of my goods.”12 For that reason, “Thou art my God, since of my goods Thou hast no need.” If thou be without God, thou wilt be less; if thou be with God, God will not be greater. Not from thee will He be greater, but thou without Him wilt be less. Grow, therefore, in Him; do not withdraw thyself, that He may, as it were, diminish. Thou wilt be renewed if thou come to Him, wilt suffer loss if thou depart from Him. He remains entire when thou comest to Him, remains entire even when thou fallest away. When, therefore, He had said to His disciples, “Will ye also go away?” Peter, that Rock, answered with the voice of all, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” Pleasantly savored the Lord’s flesh in his mouth. The Lord, however, expounded to them, and said, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth.” After He had said, “Except a man eat my flesh, and drink my blood, he shall not have life in him,” lest they should understand it carnally, He said, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth, but the flesh profiteth nothing: the words which I have spoken unto you are spirit and life.”13
6. This Nicodemus, who had come to Jesus by night, did not savor of this spirit and this life. Saith Jesus to him, “Except a man be born again, he shall not see the kingdom of God.” And he, savoring of his own flesh, while as yet he savored not of the flesh of Christ in his mouth, saith, “How can a man be born a second time, when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” This man knew but one birth, that from Adam and Eve; that which is from God and the Church he knew not yet: he knew only those parents that bring forth to death, knew not yet the parents that bring forth to life; he knew but the parents that bring forth successors, knew not yet the ever-living parents that bring forth those that shall abide.
Whilst there are two births, then, he understood only one. One is of the earth, the other of heaven; one of the flesh, the other of the Spirit; one of mortality, the other of eternity; one of male and female, the other of God and the Church. But these two are each single; there can be no repeating the one or the other. Rightly did Nicodemus understand the birth of the flesh; so understand thou also the birth of the Spirit, as Nicodemus understood the birth of the flesh. What did Nicodemus understand? “Can a man enter a second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” Thus, whosoever shall tell thee to be spiritually born a second time, answer in the words of Nicodemus, “Can a man enter a second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” I am already born of Adam, Adam cannot beget me a second time. I am already born of Christ, Christ cannot beget me again. As there is no repeating from the womb, so neither from baptism.
7. He that is born of the Catholic Church, is born, as it were, of Sarah, of the free woman; he that is born of heresy is, as it were, born of the bond woman, but of Abraham’s seed. Consider, beloved, how great a mystery. God testifies, saying, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Were there not other patriarchs? Before these, was there not holy Noah, who alone of the whole human race, with all his house, was worthy to be delivered from the flood,-he in whom, and in his sons, the Church was prefigured? Borne by wood, they escaped the flood. Then afterwards great men whom we know, whom Holy Scriptures commends, Moses faithful in all his house.14 And yet those three are named, just as if they alone deserved well of him: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob: this is my name for ever.”15 Sublime mystery! It is the Lord that is able to open both our mouth and your hearts, that we may speak as He has deigned to reveal, and that you may receive even as it is expedient for you.
8. The patriarchs, then, are these three, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You know that the sons of Jacob were twelve, and thence the people Israel; for Jacob himself is Israel, and the people Israel in twelve tribes pertaining to the twelve sons of Israel. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob three fathers, and one people. The fathers three, as it were in the beginning of the people; three fathers in whom the people was figured: and the former people itself the present people. For in the Jewish people was figured the Christian people. There a figure, here the truth; there a shadow, here the body: as the apostle says, “Now these things happened to them in a figure.” It is the apostle’s voice: “They were written,” saith he, “for our sakes, upon whom the end of the ages is come.”16 Let your mind now recur to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In the case of these three, we find that free women bear children, and that bond women bear children: we find there offspring of free women, we find there also offspring of bond women. The bond woman signifies nothing good: “Cast out the bond woman,” saith he, “and her son; for the son of the bond woman shall not be heir with the son of the free.” The apostle recounts this; and he says that in those two sons of Abraham was a figure of the two Testaments, the Old and the New. To the Old Testament belong the lovers of temporal things, the lovers of the world: to the New Testament belong the lovers of eternal life. Hence, that Jerusalem on earth was the shadow of the heavenly Jerusalem, the mother of us all, which is in heaven; and these are the apostle’s words.17 And of that city from which we are absent on our sojourn, you know much, you have now heard much. But we find a wonderful thing in these births, in these fruits of the womb, in these generations of free and bond women: namely, four sorts of men; in which four sorts is completed the figure of the future Christian people, so that what was said in the case of those three patriarchs is not surprising, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” For in the case of all Christians, observe, brethren, either good men are born of evil men, or evil men of good; or good men of good, or evil men of evil: more than these four sorts you cannot find. These things I will again repeat: Give heed, keep them, excite your hearts, be not dull; take in, lest ye be taken, how of all Christians there are four sorts. Either of the good are born good, or of the evil, are born evil; or of the good are born evil, or of the evil good. I think it is plain. Of the good, good; if they who baptize are good, and also they who are baptized rightly believe, and are rightly numbered among the members of Christ. Of the evil, evil; if they who baptize are evil, and they who are baptized approach God with a double heart, and do not observe the morals which they hear urged in the Church, so as not to be chaff, but grain, there. How many such there are, you know, beloved. Of the evil, good; sometimes an adulterer baptizes, and be that is baptized is justified. Of the good, evil; sometimes they who baptize are holy, they who are baptized do not desire to keep the way of God.
9. I suppose, brethren, that this is known in the Church, and that what we are saying is manifest by daily examples; but let us consider these things in the case of our fathers before us, how they also had these four kinds. Of the good, good; Ananias baptized Paul. How of the evil, evil? The apostle declares that there were certain preachers of the gospel, who, he says, did not use to preach the gospel with a pure motive, whom, however, he tolerates in the Christian society, saying, “What then, notwithstanding every way, whether by occasion or in truth, Christ is preached, and in this I rejoice.”18 Was he therefore malevolent, and did he rejoice in another’s evil? No, but rejoiced because through evil men the truth was preached, and by the mouths of evil men Christ was preached. If these men baptized any persons like themselves, evil men baptized evil men: if they baptized such as the Lord admonishes, when He says, “Whatsoever they bid you, do; but do not ye after their works,”19 they were evil men that were baptizing good. Good men baptized evil men, as Simon the sorcerer was baptized by Philip, a holy man.20 Therefore these four sorts, my brethren, are known. See, I repeat them again, hold them, count them, think upon them; guard against what is evil; keep what is good. Good men are born of good, when holy men are baptized by holy; evil men are born of evil, when both they that baptize and they that are baptized live unrighteously and ungodly; good men are born of evil, when they are evil that baptize, and they good that are baptized; evil men are born of good, when they are good that baptize, and they evil that are baptized.
10. How do we find this in these three names, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? We hold the bond women among the evil, and the free women among the good. Free women bear the good; Sarah bare Isaac: bond women bear the evil; Hagar bare Ishmael. We have in the case of Abraham alone the two sorts, both when the good are of the good, and also when the evil are of the evil. But where have we evil of good figured? Rebecca, Isaac’s wife, was a free woman: read, She bare twins; one was good, the other evil. Thou hast the Scripture openly declaring by the voice of God, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”21 Rebecca bare those two, Jacob and Esau: one of them is chosen, the other is reprobated; one succeeds to the inheritance, the other is disinherited. God does not make His people of Esau, but makes it of Jacob. The seed is one, those conceived are dissimilar: the womb is one, those born of it are diverse. Was not the free woman that bare Jacob, the same free woman that bare Esau? They strove in the mother’s womb; and when they strove there, it was said to Rebecca,” Two peoples are in thy womb.” Two men, two peoples; a good people, and a bad people: but yet they strive one womb. How many evil men there are in the Church! And one womb carries them until they are separated in the end: and the good cry out against the evil, and the evil in turn cry out against the good, and both strive together in the bowels of one mother. Will they be always together? There is a going forth to the light in the end; the birth which is here figured in a mystery is declared; and it will then appear that “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”
11. Accordingly we have now found, brethren, of the good, good-of the free woman, Isaac; and of the evil, evil-of the bond woman, Ishmael; and of the good, evil-of Rebecca, Esau: where shall we find of the evil, good? There remains Jacob, that the completion of these four sorts may be concluded in the three patriarchs. Jacob had for wives free women, he had also bond women: the free bear children, as do also the bond, and thus come the twelve sons of Israel. If you count them all, of whom they were born, they were not all of the free women, nor all of the bond women; but yet they were all of one seed. What, then, my brethren? Did not they who were born of the bond women possess the land of promise together with their brethren? We have there found good sons of Jacob born of bond women, and good sons of Jacob born of free women. Their birth of the wombs of bond women was nothing against them, when they knew their seed in the father, and consequently they held the kingdom with their brethren. Therefore, as in the case of Jacob’s sons, that they were born of bond women did not hinder their holding the kingdom, and receiving the land of promise on an equality with their brothers; their birth of bond women did not hinder them, but the father’s seed prevailed: so, whoever are baptized by evil men, appear as if born of bond women; nevertheless, because they are of the seed of the Word of God, which is figured in Jacob, let them not be cast down, they shall possess the inheritance with their brethren. Therefore, let him who is born of the good seed be without fear; only let him not imitate the bond woman, if he is born of a bond woman. Do not thou imitate the evil, proud, bond woman. For how came the sons of Jacob, that were born of bond women, to possess the land of promise with their brethren, whilst Ishmael, born of a bond woman, was cast out from the inheritance? How, but because he was proud, they were humble? He proudly reared his neck, and wished to seduce his brother while he was playing with him.
12. A great mystery is there. They were playing together, Ishmael and Isaac: Sarah sees them playing, and says to Abraham, “Cast out the bond woman and her son; for the son of the bond woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” And when Abraham was sorrowful, the Lord confirmed to him the saying of his wife. Now here is evidently a mystery, that the event was somehow pregnant with something future. She sees them playing, and says, “Cast out the bond woman and her son.” What is this, brethren? For what evil had Ishmael done to the boy Isaac, in playing with him? That playing was a mocking; that playing signified deception. Now attend, beloved, to this great mystery. The apostle calls it persecution; that playing, that play, he calls persecution: for he says, “But as then he that was born after the flesh, persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, so also now;” that is, they that are born after the flesh persecute them that are born after the Spirit. Who are born after the flesh? Lovers of the world, lovers of this life. Who are born after the Spirit? Lovers of the kingdom of heaven, lovers of Christ, men that long for eternal life, that worship God freely. They play, and the apostle calls it persecution. For after he said these words, “And as then be that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, so also now;” the apostle went on, and showed of what persecution, he was speaking: “But what says the Scripture? Cast out the bond woman and her son: for the son of the bond woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.”22 We search where the Scripture says this, to see whether any persecution on Ishmael’s part against Isaac preceded this; and we find that this was said by Sarah when she saw the boys playing together. The playing which Scripture says that Sarah saw, the apostle calls persecution. Hence, they who seduce you by playing, persecute you the more. “Come,” say they, “Come, be baptized here, here is true baptism for thee.” Do not play, there is one true baptism; that other is play: thou wilt be seduced, and that will be a grievous persecution to thee. It were better for thee to make Ishmael a present of the kingdom; but Ishmael will not have it, for he means to play. Keep thou thy father’s inheritance, and hear this: “Cast out the bond woman and her son; for the son of the bond woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.”
13. These men, too, dare to say that they are wont to suffer persecution from catholic kings, or from catholic princes. What persecution do they bear? Affliction of body: yet if at times they have suffered, and how they suffered, let themselves know, and settle it with their consciences; still they suffered only affliction of body: the persecution which they cause is more grievous. Beware when Ishmael wishes to play with Isaac, when he fawns on thee, when he offers another baptism: answer him, I have baptism already. For if this baptism is true, he who would give thee another would be mocking thee. Beware of the persecution of the soul. For though the party of Donatus has at tithes suffered somewhat at the hands of catholic princes, it was a bodily suffering, not the suffering of spiritual deception. Hear and see in the very facts of Old Testament history all the signs and indications of things to come. Sarah is found to have afflicted her maid Hagar: Sarah is free. After her maid began to be proud, Sarah complained to Abraham, and said, “Cast out the bond woman;” she has lifted her neck against me. His wife complains of Abraham, as if it were his doing. But Abraham, who was not bound to the maid by lust, but by the duty of begetting children, inasmuch as Sarah had given her to him to have offspring by her, says to her: “Behold, she is thy handmaid; do unto her as thou wilt.” And Sarah grievously afflicted her, and she fled from her face. See, the free woman afflicted the bond woman, and the apostle does not call that a persecution; the slave plays with his master, and he calls it persecution: this afflicting is not called persecution; that playing is. How does it appear to you, brethren? Do you not understand what is signified? Thus, then, when God wills to stir up powers against heretics, against schismatics, against those that scatter the Church, that blow on Christ as if they abhorred Him, that blaspheme baptism, let them not wonder; because God stirs them up, that Hagar may be beaten by Sarah. Let Hagar know herself, and yield her neck: for when, after being humiliated, she departed from her mistress, an angel met her, and said to her, “What is the matter with thee, Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid?” When she complained of her mistress, what did she hear from the angel? “Return to thy mistress.”23 It is for this that she is afflicted, that she may return; and would that she may return, for her offspring, just like the sons of Jacob, will obtain the inheritance with their brethren.
14. But they wonder that Christian powers are roused against detestable scatterers of the Church. Should they not be moved, then? How otherwise should they give an account of their rule to God? Observe, beloved, what I say, that it concerns Christian kings of this world to wish their mother the Church, of which they have been spiritually born, to have peace in their times. We read Daniel’s visions and prophetical histories. The three children praised the Lord in the fire: King Nebuchadnezzar wondered at the children praising God, and at the fire around them doing them no harm: and whilst he wondered, what did King Nebuchadnezzar say, he who was neither a Jew nor circumcised, who had set up his own image and compelled all men to adore it; but, impressed by the praises of the three children when he saw the majesty of God present in the fire what said he? “And I will publish a decree to all tribes and tongues in the whole earth.” What sort of decree? “Whosoever shall speak blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut off, and their houses shall be made a ruin.”24 See how an alien king acts with raging indignation that the God of Israel might not be blasphemed, because He was able to deliver the three children from the fire: and yet they would not have Christian kings to act with severity when Christ is contemptuously rejected, by whom not three children, but the whole world, with these very kings, is delivered from the fire of hell! For those three children, my brethren, were delivered from temporal fire. Is He not the same God who was the God of the Maccabees and the God of the three children? The latter He delivered from the fire; the former did in body perish in the torments of fire, but in mind they remained steadfast in the ordinances of the law. The latter were openly delivered, the former were crowned in secret.25 It is a greater thing to be delivered from the flame of hell than from the furnace of a human power. If, then, Nebuchadnezzar praised and extolled and gave glory to God because He delivered three children from the fire, and gave such glory as to send forth a decree throughout his kingdom, “Whosoever shall speak blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut off, and their houses shall be brought to ruin,” how should not these kings be moved, who observe, not three children delivered from the flame, but their very selves delivered from hell, when they see Christ, by whom they have been delivered, contemptuously spurned in Christians, when they hear it said to a Christian, “Say that thou art not a Christian”? Men are willing to do such deeds, but they do not wish to suffer, at all events, such punishments.
15. For see what they do and what they suffer. They slay souls, they suffer in body: they cause everlasting deaths, and yet they complain that they themselves suffer temporal deaths. And yet what deaths do they suffer? They allege to us some martyrs of theirs in persecution. See, Marculus was hurled headlong from a rock; see, Donatus of Bagaia was thrown into a well. When have the Roman authorities decreed such punishments as casting men down rocks? But what do those of our party reply? What was done I know not; what however do ours tell?That they hung themselves headlong and cast the infamy of it upon the authorities. Let us call to mind the custom of the Roman authorities, and see to whom we are to give credit. Our men declare that those men cast themselves down headlong. If they are not the very disciples of those men, who now cast themselves down precipices, while no man persecutes them, let us not credit the allegation of our men: what wonder if those men did what these are wont to do? The Roman authorities never did employ such punishments: for had they not the power to put them to death openly? But those men, while they wished to be honored when dead, found not a death to make them more famous. In short, whatever the fact was, I do not know. And even if thou hast suffered corporal affliction, O party of Donatus, at the hand of the Catholic Church, as an Hagar thou hast suffered it at the hand of Sarah; “return to thymistress.” A point which it was indeed necessary to discuss has detained us somewhat too long to be at all able to expound the whole text of the Gospel Lesson. Let this suffice you in the meantime, beloved brethren, lest, by speaking of other matters, what has been spoken might be shut out from your hearts. Hold fast these things, declare such things; and while yourselves are inflamed, go your way thither, and set on fire them that are cold.
1 (Lc 4,30,
2 (Jn 18,4-6.
3 (Rm 4,25).
4 (Jn 10,18,
5 (Mt 26,33-34 Lc 22,33-34.
6 (Ep 5,8,
7 (1Th 5,8,
8 (Jn 6,54).
9 (1Co 10,1,
10 (Jn 6,51,
11 (Jn 1,9,
12 (Ps 16,2,
13 (Jn 6,54-59).
14 (Nb 12,7,
15 (Ex 3,6 Ex 3,15
16 (1Co 10,11,
17 (Gn 21,10 Ga 4,22-30).
18 (Ph 1,18,
19 (Mt 23,3,
20 (Ac 8,13,
21 (Ml 1,3 Rm 9,13).
22 (Gn 21,9-12 Ga 4,30).
23 (Gn 16,9 Gn 16,
24 (Da 3
25 (2M 7
Augustin on John 9