Augustin on John 53
1. Whilst our Lord Jesus Christ was speaking among the Jews, and giving so many miraculous signs, some believed who were foreordained to eternal life, and whom He also called His sheep; but some did not believe, and could not believe, because that, by the mysterious yet not unrighteous judgment of God, they had been blinded and hardened, because forsaken of Him who resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.1 But of those who believed, there were some whose confession went so far, that they took branches of palm trees, and met Him as He approached, turning in their joy that very confession into a service of praise: while there were others, belonging to the chief rulers, who had not the boldness to confess their faith, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; and whom the evangelist has branded with the words, that “they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God “(ver. 43). Of those also who did not believe, there were some who would afterwards believe, and whom He foresaw, when He said,” When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye acknowledge that I am He:”2 but there were some who would remain in the same unbelief, and be imitated by the Jewish nation of the present day, which, being shortly afterwards crushed in war, according to the prophetic testimony which was written concerning Christ, has since been scattered almost through the whole world.
2. While matters were in this state, and His own passion was now at hand, “Jesus cried, and said,” as our lesson to-day commences, “He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on Him that sent me; and he that seeth me, seeth Him that sent me.” He had already said in a certain place, “My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me.”3 Where we understood that He called His doctrine just what He is Himself, the Word of the Father; and in saying, “My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me,” implied this, that He was not of Himself, but had His being from another.4 For He was God of God, the Son of the Father: but the Father is not God of God, but God, the Father of the Son. And now when He says, “He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on Him that sent me,” how else are we to understand it, but that He appeared as man to men, while He remained invisible as God? And that none might think that He was no more than what they saw of Him, He indicated His wish to be believed on, as equal in character and rank with the Father, when He said, “He that believeth on me, believeth not on me,” that is, merely on what he seeth of me, “but on Him that sent me,” that is, on the Father. But he that believeth on the Father, must believe that He is the Father; and he that believeth on Him as the Father, must believe that He has a Son; and in this way, he that believeth on the Father, must believe on the Son. But let no one believe about the only-begotten Son just what they believe about those who are called the sons of God by grace and not by nature, as the evangelist says, “He gave them power to become the sons of God,”5 and according to what the Lord Himself also mentioned, as declared in the law, “I said, Ye are gods; and all of you children of the Most High: ”6 because He said, “He that believeth on me, believeth not on me,” to show that the whole extent of our faith in Christ should not be limited by His manhood. He therefore, He saith, believeth on me, who doth not believe on me merely according to what he seeth of me, but on Him that sent me: so that, believing thus on the Father, he may believe that He has a Son co-equal with Himself, and then attain to a true faith in me. For if one should think that He has sons only according to grace, who are certainly no more than His creatures, and not the Word, but those made by the Word, and that He has no Son co-equal and co-eternal with Himself, ever born, alike incommutable, in nothing dissimilar and inferior, then he believes not on the Father who sent Him, for the Father who sent Him is no such conception as this.
3. And, accordingly, after saying, “He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on Him that sent me,” that it might not be thought that He would have the Father so understood, as if He were the Father only of many sons regenerated by grace, and not of the only-begotten Word, His own co-equal, He immediately added, “And he that seeth me, seeth Him that sent me.” Does He say here, He that seeth me, seeth not me, but Him that sent me, as He had said, “He that believeth me, believeth not on me, but on Him that sent me”? For He uttered the former of these words, that He might not be believed on merely as He then appeared, that is, as the Son of man; and the latter, that He might be believed on as the equal of the Father. He that believeth on me, believeth not merely on what He sees of me, but believeth on Him that sent me. Or, when he believeth on the Father, who begat me, His own co-equal, let him believe on me, not as he seeth me, but as [he believeth] on Him that sent me; for so far does the truth, that there is no distance between Him and me, reach, that He who seeth me, seeth Him that sent me. Certainly, Christ the Lord Himself sent His apostles, as their name implies: for as those who in Greek are called angeli are in Latin called nuntii [messengers], so the Greek apostoli [apostles] becomes the Latin missi [persons sent]. But never would any of the apostles have dared to say, “He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on Him that sent me;” for in no sense whatever would he say, “He that believeth on me.” We believe an apostle, but we do not believe on him; for it is not an apostle that justifieth the ungodly. But to him that believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.7 An apostle might say, He that receiveth me, receiveth Him that sent me; or, He that heareth me, heareth Him that sent me; for the Lord tells them so Himself: “He that receiveth you, receiveth me; and he that receiveth me, receiveth Him that sent me.”8 For the master is honored in the servant, and the father in the son: but then the father is as it were in the son, and the master as it were in the servant. But the only-begotten Son could rightly say, “Believe on God, and believe on me;”9 as also what He saith here, “He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on Him that sent me.” He did not turn away the faith of the believer from Himself, but only would not have the believer continue in the form of a servant: because every one who believeth in the Father that sent Him, straightway believeth on the Son, without whom he knoweth that the Father hath no existence as such, and thus reacheth in his faith to the belief of His equality with the Father, in conformity with the words that follow, “And he that seeth me, seeth Him that sent me.”
4. Attend to what follows: “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.” He said in a certain place to His disciples, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; that it may give light to all that are in the house: so let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven:”10 but He did not say to them, Ye are come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on you should not abide in darkness. Such a statement, I maintain, can nowhere be met with. All the saints, therefore, are lights, but they are illuminated by Him through faith; and every one that becomes separated from Him will be enveloped in darkness. But that Light, which enlightens them, cannot become separated from itself; for it is altogether beyond the reach of change. We believe, then, the light that has thus been lit, as the prophet or apostle: but we believe him for this end, that we may not believe on that which is itself enlightened, but, with him, on that Light which has given him light; so that we, too, may be enlightened, not by him, but, along with him, by the same Light as he. And when He saith, “That whosoever believeth on me may not abide in darkness,” He makes it sufficiently manifest that all have been found by Him in a state of darkness: but that they may not abide in the darkness wherein they have been found, they ought to believe on that Light which hath come into the world, for thereby was the world created.
5. “And if any man,” He says, “hear my words, and keep them not, I judge him not.” Remember what I know you have heard in former lessons; and if any of you have forgotten, recall it: and those of you who were absent then, but are present now, hear how it is that the Son saith, “I judge him not,” while in another place He says, “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son;”11 namely, that thereby we are to understand, It is not now that I judge him. And why not now? Listen to the sequel: “For I am not come,” He says, “to judge the world, but to save the world;” that is, to bring the world into a state of salvation. Now, therefore, is the season of mercy, afterwards will be the time for judgment: for He says, “I will sing to Thee, O Lord, of mercy and judgment.”12
6. But see also what He says of that future judgment in the end: “He that despiseth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” He says not, He that despiseth me, and receiveth not my words, I judge him not at the last day; for had He said so, I do not see how it could have been else than contradictory of that other statement, when He says, “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.” But when He said, “He that despiseth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one to judge him,” and, for the information of those who were waiting to hear who that one was, went on to add, “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day,” He made it sufficiently manifest that He Himself would then be the judge. For it was of Himself He spake, Himself He announced, and Himself He set forth as the gate whereby He entered as the Shepherd to His sheep. In one way, therefore, will those be judged who have never heard that word, in another way those who have heard and despised. “For as many as have sinned without law,” says the apostle, “shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law.”13
7. “For I have not,” He says, “spoken of myself.” He says that He has not spoken of Himself, because He is not of Himself. Of this we have frequently discoursed already; so that now, without any more instruction, we have simply to remind you of it as a truth with which you are familiar. “But the Father who sent me, He gave me a commandment what I should say, and what I should speak.” We would not stay to elaborate this, did we know that we were now speaking with those with whom we have spoken on former occasions, and of these, not with all, but such only whose memories have retained what they heard: but because there are perhaps some now present who did not hear, and some in a similar condition who have forgotten what they heard, on their account let those who remember what they have heard bear with our delay. How giveth the Father a commandment to His only Son? With what words doth He speak to the Word, seeing that the Son Himself is the only-begotten Word? Could it be by an angel, seeing that by Him the angels were created? Was it by means of a cloud, which, when it gave forth its sound to the Son, gave it not on His account, as He Himself also tells us elsewhere, but for the sake of others who were needing to hear it (ver. 29)? Could it be by any sound issuing from the lips, where bodily form was wanting, and where there is no such local distance separating the Son from the Father as to admit of any intervening air, to give effect, by its percussion, to the voice, and render it audible? Let us put away all such unworthy notions of that incorporeal and ineffable subsistence. The only Son is the Word and the Wisdom of the Father, and therein are all the commandments of the Father. For there was no time that the Son knew not the Father’s commandment, so as to make it necessary for Him to possess in course of time what He possessed not before. For what He has received from the Father, He received in being born, and was given it in being begotten. For the life He is, and life He certainly received in being born, while yet there was no antecedent time when life was wanting to His personal existence. For, on the one hand, the Father has life, and is what He has: and yet He received it not, because He is not of any one. But the Son received life as the Father’s gift, of whom He is: and so He Himself is what He has; for He has life, and is the life. Listen to Himself when He says, “As the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself.”14 Could He give it to one who was in being, and yet hitherto was destitute thereof? On the contrary, in the very begetting it. was given by Him who begat the life, and so life begat the life. And to show that He begat the life equal, and not inferior to Himself, it was said, “As He hath life in Himself, so hath He also given to the Son to have life in Himself.” He gave life; for in begetting the life, what was it He gave Him, save to be the life? And as His nativity is itself eternal, there never was a time without that Son who is the life, and never was there a time when the Son Himself was without the life; and as His nativity is eternal, so He, who was thus born, is eternal life. And so the Father gave not to the Son a commandment which He had not already; but, as I said, in the Wisdom of the Father, that is, in the word of the Father, are laid up all the Father’s commandments. And yet the commandment is said to have been given Him, because He, to whom it is thus given, is not of Himself: and to give that to the Son which He never was without, is the same in meaning as to beget that Son who never was without existence.
8. There follow the words: “And I know that His commandment is life everlasting.” If, then, the Son Himself is eternal life, and the Father’s commandment the same, what else is expressed than this, I am the Father’s commandment? And in like manner, in what He proceeds to say, “Whatsoever I speak, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak,” let us not be taking the “said unto me” as if the Father used words in speaking to the only Word, or that the Word of God needed words from God. The Father spake to the Son in the same way as He gave life to the Son; not that He knew not the one, or had not the other, but just because He was the Son. What, then, do the words mean, “Even as He said unto me, so I speak;” but just, I speak the truth? So the former said as the Truthful One15 what the latter thus spake as the Truth. The Truthful begat the Truth. What, then, could He now say to the Truth? For the Truth had no imperfection to be supplied by additional truth. He spake, therefore, to the Truth, because He begat the Truth. And in like manner the Truth Himself speaks what has been said to Him; but only to those who have understanding, and who are taught by Him as the God-begotten Truth. But that men might believe what they had not yet capacity to understand, words that were audible issued from His human lips; sounds passing rapidly away broke on the ear, and speedily completed the little term of their duration: but the truths themselves, of which the sounds are but signs, passed, as it were, into the memory of those who heard them, and have come down to us also by means of written characters as signs addressed to the eye. But it is not thus that the Truth speaks; He speaks inwardly to the souls of the intelligent; He needs no sound to instruct, but floods the mind with the light of understanding. And he, then, who in that light is able to behold the eternity of His birth, himself hears in the same way the Truth speaking, as He heard the Father telling Him what He should speak. He has awakened in us a great longing for that sweet experience of His presence within; but it is by daily growth that we acquire it; it is by walking that we grow, and it is by forward efforts we walk, so as to beable at last to attain it.
1 (Jc 4,6,
2 Chap. 8,28).
3 Chap. 7,16.
4 Tract. XXIX., haberet a quo esset.
5 Chap. 1,12.
6 Chap. 10,34; Ps 82,6.
7 (Rm 4,5,
8 (Mt 10,40).
9 Chap. 14,1.
10 (Mt 5,14-16.
11 Chap. 5,22.
12 (Ps 101,1,
13 (Rm 2,12).
14 Chap. 5,26.
55 (Jn 13,1-5.
1). The Lord’s Supper, as set forth in John, must, with His assistance, be unfolded in a becoming number of Lectures, and explained with all the ability He is pleased to grant us. “Now, before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” Pascha (passover) is not, as some think, a Greek noun, but a Hebrew: and yet there occurs in this noun a very suitable kind of accordance in the two languages. For inasmuch as the Greek word paschein means to suffer, therefore pascha has been supposed to mean suffering, as if the noun derived its name from His passion: but in its own language, that is, in Hebrew, pascha means passover;1 because the pascha was then celebrated for the first time by God’s people, when, in their flight from Egypt, they passed over the Red Sea.2 And now that prophetic emblem is fulfilled in truth, when Christ is led as a sheep to the slaughter,3 that by His blood sprinkled on our doorposts, that is, by the sign of His cross marked on our foreheads, we may be delivered from the perdition awaiting this world, as Israel from the bondage and destruction of the Egyptians;4 and a most salutary transit we make when we pass over from the devil to Christ, and from this unstable world to His well-established kingdom. And therefore surely do we pass over to the ever-abiding God, that we may not pass away with this passing world. The apostle, in extolling God for such grace bestowed upon us, says: “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.”5 This name, then, of pascha, which, as I have said, is in Latin called transitus (pass over), is interpreted, as it were, for us by the blessed evangelist, when he says, “Before the feast of pascha, when Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should pass out of this world to the Father.” Here you see we have both pascha and pass-over. Whence, and whither does He pass? Namely, “out of this world to the Father.” The hope was thus given to the members in their Head, that they doubtless would yet follow Him who was “passing” before. And what, then, of unbelievers, who stand altogether apart from this Head and His members? Do not they also pass away, seeing that they abide not here always? They also do plainly pass away: but it is one thing to pass from the world, and another to pass away with it; one thing to pass to the Father, another to pass to the enemy. For the Egyptians also passed over [the sea]; but they did not pass through the sea to the kingdom, but in the sea to destruction.
1 Transitus, transit, pass over.-Tr.
2 (Ex 14,29, curious mistake of Augustin’s to derive the name of the feast from Israel’s passing over the Red Sea, instead of Jehovah’s passing over the houses of the Israelites, when He smote the firstborn of Egypt! Compare Ex 12,11 Ex 12,13 Ex 12,23 Ex 12,27 Tr.
3 (Is 53,7).
4 (Ex 12,23).
5 (Col 1,13,
2. “When Jesus knew,” then, “that His hour was come that He should pass out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” In order, doubtless, that they also, through that love of His, might pass from this world where they now were, to their Head who had passed hence before them. For what mean these words, “to the end,” but just to Christ? “For Christ is the end of the law,” says the apostle, “for righteousness to every one that believeth.”6 The end that consummates, not that consumes; he end whereto we attain, not wherein we perish. Exactly thus are we to understand the passage, “Christ our passover is sacrificed.”7 He is our end; into Him do we pass. For I see that these gospel words may also be taken in a kind of human sense, that Christ loved His own even unto death, so. that this may be the meaning of “He loved them unto the end.” This meaning is human, not divine:8 for it was not merely up to this point that we were loved by Him, who loveth us always and endlessly. God forbid that He, whose death could not end, should have ended His love at death. Even after death that proud and ungodly rich man loved his five brethren;9 and is Christ to be thought of as loving us only till death? God forbid, beloved. He would have come in vain with a love for us that lasted till death, if that love had ended there. But perhaps the words, “He loved them unto the end,” may have to be understood in this way, That He so loved them as to die for them. For this He testified when He said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”10 We have certainly no objection that “He loved them unto the end” should be so understood, that is, it was His very love that carried Him on to death.
6 (Rm 10,4,
7 (1Co 5,7).
8 That is, “applies to Christ’s humanity, not His divinity.”-Tr.
9 (Lc 16,27-28.
10 Chap. 15,13.
3. “And the supper,” he says, “having taken place,11 and the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, [Jesus] knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He has come from God, and is going to God; He riseth from supper, and layeth aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself. After that He poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded.” We are not to understand by the supper having taken place, as if it were already finished and over; for it was still going on when the Lord rose and washed His disciples’ feet. For He afterwards sat down again, and gave the morsel [sop] to His betrayer, implying certainly that the supper was not yet over, or, in other words, that there was still bread on the table. Therefore, by supper having taken place, is meant that it was now ready, and laid out on the table for the use of the guests.
4. But when he says, “The devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him;” if one inquires, what was put into Judas’ heart, it was doubtless this, “to betray Him.” Such a putting [into the heart] is a spiritual suggestion: and entereth not by the ear, but through the thoughts; and thereby not in a way that is corporal, but spiritual. For what we call spiritual is not always to be understood in a commendatory way. The apostle knew of certain spiritual things [powers], of wickedness in heavenly places, against which he testifies that we have to maintain a struggle;12 and there would not be spiritual wickednesses, were there not also wicked spirits. For it is from a spiritual being that spiritual things get their name. But how such things are done, as that devilish suggestions should be introduced, and so mingle with human thoughts that a man accounts them his own, how can he know? Nor can we doubt that good suggestions are likewise made by a good spirit in the same unobservable and spiritual way; but it is matter of concern to which of these the human mind yields assent, either as deservedly left without, or graciously aided by, the divine assistance. The determination, therefore, had now been come to in Judas’ heart by the instigation of the devil, that the disciple should betray the Master, whom he had not learned to know as his God. In such a state had he now come to their social meal, a spy on the Shepherd, a plotter against the Redeemer, a seller of the Saviour; as such was he now come, was he now seen and endured, and thought himself undiscovered: for he was deceived about Him whom he wished to deceive. But He, who had already scanned the inward state of that very heart, was knowingly making use of one who knew it not.
11 Caena facta; deivpnou genomevnou . See Augustin’s explanation below.-Tr.
12 (Ep 6,12).
5. “[Jesus] knowing that the Father has given all things into His hands.” And therefore also the traitor himself: for if He had him not in His hands, He certainly could not use him as He wished. Accordingly, the traitor had been already betrayed to Him whom he sought to betray; and he carried out his evil purpose in betraying Him in such a way, that good he knew not of was the issue in regard to Him who was betrayed. For the Lord knew what He was doing for His friends, and patiently made use of His enemies: and thus had the Father given all things into His hands, both the evil for present use, and the good for the final issue. “Knowing also that He has come from God, and is going to God:” neither quitting God when He came from Him, nor us when He returned.
6. Knowing, then, these things, “He riseth from supper, and layeth aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself. After that He poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded.” We ought, dearly beloved, carefully to mark the meaning of the evangelist; because that, when about to speak of the pre-eminent humility of the Lord, it was his desire first tocommend His majesty. It is in reference to this that he says, “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He has come from God, and is going to God.” It is He, therefore, into whose hands the Father had given all things, who now washes, not the disciples’ hands, but their feet: and it was just while knowing that He had come from God, and was proceeding to God, that He discharged the office of a servant, not of God the Lord, but of man. And this also is referred to by the prefatory notice he has been pleased to make of His betrayer, who was now come as such, and was not unknown to Him; that the greatness of His humility should be still further enhanced by the fact that He did not esteem it beneath His dignity to wash also the feet of one whose hands He already foresaw to be steeped in wickedness.
7. But why should we wonder that He rose from supper, and laid aside His garments, who, being in the form of God, made Himself of no reputation?13 And why should we wonder, if He girded Himself with a towel, who took upon Him the form of a servant, and was found in the likeness of a man?14 Why wonder, if He poured water into a basin wherewith to wash His disciples’ feet, whopoured His blood upon the earth to wash l away the filth of their sins? Why wonder, ifwith the towel wherewith He was girded He wiped the feet He had washed, who with thevery flesh that clothed Him laid a firm path way for the footsteps of His evangelists? In order, indeed, to gird Himself with the towel,He laid aside the garments He wore; butwhen He emptied Himself [of His divine glory] in order to assume the form of a servant, He laid not down what He had, but assumed that which He had not before. When about to be crucified, He was indeed stripped of His garments, and when dead was wrapped in linen clothes: and all that suffering of His is our purification. When, therefore, about to suffer the last extremities [of humiliation,] He here illustrated beforehand its friendly compliances; not only to those for whom He was about to endure death, but to him also who had resolved onbetraying Him to death. Because so great is the beneficence of human humility, that even the Divine Majesty was pleased to commend it by His own example; for proud man would have perished eternally, had he not been found by the lowly God. For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost.15 And as he was lost by imitating the pride of the deceiver, let him now, when found, imitate the Redeemer’s humility.
13 Literally, “emptied Himself,” as in the Greek.-Tr.
14 (Ph 2,6-7.
15 (Lc 19,10,
56 (Jn 13,6-10.
1. When the Lord was washing the disciples’ feet, “He cometh to Simon Peter; and Peter saith unto Him, Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?” For who would not be filled with fear at having his feet washed by the Son of God? Although, therefore, it was a piece of the greatest audacity for the servant to contradict his Lord, the creature his God; yet Peter preferred doing this to the suffering of his feet to be washed by his Lord and God. Nor ought we to think that Peter was one amongst others who so expressed their fear and refusal, seeing that others before him had suffered it to be done to themselves with cheerfulness and equanimity. For it is easier so to understand the words of the Gospel, because that, after saying, “He began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded,” it is then added, “Then cometh He to Simon Peter,” as if He had already washed the feet of some, and after them had now come to the first of them all. For who can fail to know that the most blessed Peter was the first of the apostles? But we are not soto understand it, that it was after some others that He came to him; but that He began with him.1 When, therefore, He began to wash the disciples’ feet, He came to him with whom He began, namely, to Peter; and then Peter took fright at what any one of them might have been frightened, and said, “Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?” What is implied in this” Thou”? and what in “my”? These are subjects for thought rather than for speech; lest perchance any adequate conception the soul may have formed of such words may fail of explanation in the utterance.
2. But “Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.” And not even yet, terrified as he was by the sublimity of the Lord’s action, does he allow it to be done, while ignorant of its purpose; but is unwilling to see, unable to endure, that Christ should thus humble Himself to his very feet. “Thou shalt never,” he says, “wash my feet.” What is this “never” [in aeternum]? I will never endure, never suffer, never permit it: that is, a thing is not done “in aeternum” which is never done. Then the Saviour, to terrify His reluctant patient with the danger of his own salvation, says, “If I wash thee not, thou shalt have no part with me.” He speaks in this way, “If I wash thee not,” when He was referring only to his feet; just as it is customary to say, You are trampling on me, when it is only the foot that is trampled on. And now the other, in a perturbation of love and fear, and more frightened at the thought that Christ should be withheld from him, than even to see Him humbled at his feet, exclaims, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” Since this, indeed, is Thy threat, that my bodily members must be washed by Thee, not only do I no longer withhold the lowest, but I lay the foremost also at Thy disposal. Deny me not having a part with Thee, and I deny Thee not any part of my body to be washed.
3. “Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.” Some one perhaps may be aroused at this, and say: Nay, but if he is every whit clean, what need has He even to wash his feet? But the Lord knew what He was saying, even though our weakness reach not into His secret purposes. Nevertheless, so far as He is pleased to instruct and teach us out of His law, up to the little measure of my apprehension, I would also, with His help, make some answer bearing on the depths of this question: and, first of all, I shall have no difficulty in showing that there is no self-contradiction in the manner of expression. For who may not say, as here, with the greatest propriety, He is all clean, except2 his feet?-although he would speak with greater elegance were he to say, He is all clean, save3 his feet; which is equivalent in meaning. Thus, then, doth the Lord say, “He needeth not save to wash his feet, but is all clean.” All, that is, except, or save4 his feet, which he still needs to wash.
4. But what is this? what does it mean? and what is there in it we need to examine? The Lord says, The Truth declares that even he who has been washed has need still to wash his feet. What, my brethren, what think you of it, save that in holy baptism a man has all of him washed, not all save his feet, but every whit; and yet, while thereafter living in this human state, he cannot fail to tread on the ground with his feet. And thus our human feelings themselves, which are inseparable from our mortal life on earth, are like feet wherewith we are brought into sensible contact with human affairs; and are so in such a way, that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.5 And every day, therefore, is He who intercedeth for us6 , washing our feet: and that we,too have daily need to be washing our feet, that is ordering aright the path of our spiritual foot. steps, we acknowledge even in the Lord’: prayer, when we say, “Forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors.”7 For “if,’ as it is written, “we confess our sins,” then verily is He, who washed His disciples’ feet, “faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,”8 that is, even to our feet wherewith we walk on the earth.
5. Accordingly the Church, which Christ cleanseth with the washing of water in the word, is without spot and wrinkle,9 not only in the case of those who are taken away immediately after the washing of regeneration from the contagious influence of this life, and tread not the earth so as to make necessary the washing of their feet, but in those also who have experienced such mercy from the Lord as to be enabled to quit this present life even with feet that have been washed. But although the Church be also clean in respect of those who tarry on earth, because they live righteously; yet have they need to be washing their feet, because they assuredly are not without sin. For this cause is it said in the Song of Songs, “I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?”10 For one so speaks when he is constrained to come to Christ, and in coming has to bring his feet into contact with the ground. But again, there is another question that arises. Is not Christ above? hath He not ascended into heaven, and sitteth He not at the Father’s right hand? Does not the apostle expressly declare, “If ye, then, be risen with Christ, set your thoughts on those things which are above, where Christ is sitting on the right hand of God. Seek the things which are above, not things which are on earth?”11 How is it, then, that to get to Christ we are compelled to tread the earth, since rather our hearts ought to be turned upwards toward the Lord, that we may be enabled to dwell in His presence? You see, brethren, the shortness of the time to-day curtails our consideration of this question. And if you perhaps fail in some measure to do so, yet I for my part see how much clearing up it requires. And therefore I beg of you to suffer it rather to be adjourned, than to be treated now in too negligent and restricted a manner; and your expectations will not be defrauded, but only deferred. For the Lord who thus makes us your debtors, will be present to enable us also to pay our debts.
1 It is curious to notice how Augustin here contradicts his previous and natural explanation of the passage, in order to uphold the primacy of Peter. It looks as if here he suddenly felt that his former words were rather adverse to the notion.-Tr).
2 Of course, it is a mere elegance in the Latinity to which Augustin here refers, as between praeter pedes and nisi pedes, when qualifying the expression, “Mundus est totus” (he is all clean).-Tr.
3 Of course, it is a mere elegance in the Latinity to which Augustin here refers, as between praeter pedes and nisi pedes, when qualifying the expression, “Mundus est totus” (he is all clean).-Tr.
4 Of course, it is a mere elegance in the Latinity to which Augustin here refers, as between praeter pedes and nisi pedes, when qualifying the expression, “Mundus est totus” (he is all clean).-Tr.
5 (1Jn 1,8,
6 (Rm 8,34,
7 (Mt 6,12,
8 (1Jn 1,9,
9 (Ep 5,26-27.
10 Ct 5,3).
11 (Col 3,1-2.
Augustin on John 53