Augustin on John 95

Tractate XCVI.

(Jn 16,12-13.

96 1. In this portion of the holy Gospel, where the Lord says to His disciples, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now,” there meets us first this subject of needful inquiry, how it was that He said a little before, “All things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you,”1 and yet says here, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” But how it was that He spake of what He had not yet done as if it were done, just as the prophet testifies that God has made those things which are still to come, when He says, “Who hath made those things which are still to come,”2 we have already explained as well as we could when dealing with those words themselves. Now, however, you are perhaps wishing to know what those things were which the apostles were then unable to bear. But which of us would venture to assert his own present capacity for what they wanted the ability to receive? And on this account you are neither to expect me to tell you things which perhaps I could not comprehend myself were they told me by another; nor would you be able to bear them, even were I talented enough to let you hear of things that are above your comprehension. It may be, indeed, that some among you are fit enough already to comprehend things which are still beyond the grasp of others; and if not all about which the divine Master said, “I have yet many things to say unto you,” yet perhaps some of them: but what they were which He Himself thus omitted to tell them, it would be rash to have even the wish to presume to say. For at that time the apostles were not yet fitted even to die for Christ, when He said to them, “Ye cannot follow me now,” and when the very foremost of them, Peter, who had presumptuously declared that he was already able, met with a different experience from what he anticipated:3 and yet afterwards a countless number both of men and women, boys and girls, youths and maidens, old and young, were crowned with martyrdom; and the sheep were found able for that which, when the Lord spake these words, the shepherds were still unable to bear. Ought, then, those sheep to have been asked, in that extremity of trial, when required to contend for the truth even unto death, and to shed their blood for the name or doctrine of Christ;-ought they, I say, to have been asked, Which of you would venture to account himself ready for martyrdom, for which Peter was still unfitted, even when taught face to face by the Lord Himself? In the same way, therefore, one may say that Christian people, even when desiring to hear, ought not to be told what those things are of which the Lord then said, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” If the apostles were still unable, much more so are ye: although it may be that many now can bear what Peter then could not, in the same way as many are able to be crowned with martyrdom which at that time was still beyond the power of Peter, more especially that now the Holy Spirit has been sent, as He was not then, of whom He went on immediately to add the words “Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will teach you all truth,” thereby showing of a certainty that they could not bear what He had still to say, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon them.

2. Well, then, let us grant that it is so, that many can now bear those things when the Holy Spirit has been sent, which could not then, prior to His coming, be borne by the disciples: do we on that account know what it is that He would not say, as we should know it were we reading or hearing it as uttered by Himself? For it is one thing to know whether we or you could bear it; but quite another to know what it is, whether able to be borne or not. But when He Himself was silent about such things, which of us could say, It is this or that? Or if he venture to say it, how will he prove it? For who could manifest such vanity or recklessness as when saying what he pleased to whom he pleased, even though true, to affirm without any divine authority that it was the very thing which the Lord on that occasion refused to utter? Which of us could do such a thing without incurring the severest charge of rashness,-a thing which gets no countenance from prophetic or apostolic authority? For surely if we had read any such thing in the books confirmed by canonical authority, which were written after our Lord’s ascension, it would not have been enough to have read such a statement, had we not also read in the same place that this was actually one of those things which the Lord was then unwilling to tell His disciples, because they were unable to bear them. As if, for example, I were to say that the words which we read at the opening of this Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; the same was in the beginning with God:” and those which follow, because they were written afterwards, and yet without any mention of their being uttered by the Lord Jesus when He was here in the flesh, but were written by one of His apostles, to whom they were revealed by His Spirit, were some of those which the Lord would not then utter, because the disciples were unable to bear them; who would listen to me in making so rash a statement? But if in the same passage where we read the one we were also to read the other, who would not give due credence to such an apostle?

3. But it seems to me also very absurd to say that the disciples could not then have borne what we find recorded, about things invisible and of profoundest import, in the apostolic epistles, which were written in after days, and of which there is no mention that the Lord uttered them when His visible presence was with them. For why could they not bear then what is now read in their books, land borne by every one, even though not understood? Some things there are, indeed, in the Holy Scriptures which unbelieving men both have no understanding of when they read or hear them, and cannot bear when they are read or heard: as the pagans, that the world was made by Him who was crucified; as the Jews, that He could be the Son of God, who broke up their mode of observing the Sabbath; as the Sabellians, that the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit are a Trinity; as the Arians, that the Son is equal to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to the Father and Son; as the Photinians, that Christ is not only man like ourselves, but God also, equal to God the Father; as the Manicheans, that Christ Jesus, by whom we must be saved, condescended to be born in the flesh and of the flesh of man: and all others of divers perverse sects, who can by no means bear whatever is found in the Holy Scriptures and in the Catholic faith that stands out in opposition to their errors, just as we cannot bear their sacrilegious vaporings and mendacious insanities. For what else is it not to be able to bear, but not to retain in our minds with calmness and composure? But what of all that has been written since our Lord’s ascension with canonical truth and authority, is it not read and heard with equanimity by every believer, and catechumen also, before in his baptism he receive the Holy Spirit, even although it is not yet understood as it ought to be? How then, could not the disciples bear any of those things which were written after the Lord’s ascension, even though the Holy Spirit was not yet sent to them, when now they are all borne by catechumens prior to their reception of the Holy Spirit? For although the sacramental privileges of believers are not exhibited to them, it does not therefore happen that they cannot bear them; but in order that they may be all the more ardently desired by them, they are honorably concealed from their view.

4. Wherefore, beloved, you need not expect to hear from us what the Lord then refrained from telling His disciples, because they were still unable to bear them: but rather seek to grow in the love that is shed abroad in your hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto you;4 that, fervent in spirit, and loving spiritual things, you may be able, not by any sign apparent to your bodily eyes, or any sound striking on your bodily ears, but by the inward eyesight and hearing, to become acquainted with that spiritual light and that spiritual word which carnal men are unable to bear. For that cannot be loved which is altogether unknown. But when what is known, in however small a measure, is also loved, by the self-same love one is led on to a better and fuller knowledge. If, then, you grow in the love which the Holy Spirit spreads abroad in your hearts, “He will teach you all truth;” or, as other codices have it, “He will guide you in all truth:”5 as it is said, “Lead me in Thy way, O Lord, and I will walk in Thy truth.”6 So shall the result be, that not from outward teachers will you learn those things which the Lord at that time declined to utter, but be all taught of God;7 so that the very things which you have learned and believed by means of lessons and sermons supplied from without regarding the nature of God, as incorporeal, and unconfined by limits, and yet not rolled out as a mass of matter through infinite space, but everywhere whole and perfect and infinite, without the gleaming of colors, without the tracing of bodily outlines, without any markings of letters or succession of syllables,-your minds themselves may have the power to perceive. Well, now, I have just said something which is perhaps of that same character, and yet you have received it; and you have not only been able to bear it, but have also listened to it with pleasure. But were that inward Teacher, who, while still speaking in an external way to the disciples, said, “I have still many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now,” wishing to speak inwardly to us of what I have said of the incorporeal nature of God in the same way as He speaks to the angels, who always behold the face of the Father8 we should still be unable to bear them. Accordingly, when He says, “He will teach you all truth,” or “will guide yon into all truth,” I do not think the fulfillment is possible in any one’s mind in this present life(for who is there, while living in this corruptible and soul-oppressing body,9 that can know all truth, when even the apostle says, “We know in part “?), but because it is effected by the Holy Spirit, of whom we have now received the earnest,10 that we shall attain also to the actual fullness of knowledge: whereof iris said by the same apostle, “But then face to face;” and, “Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known;”11 not as a thing which he knows fully in this life, but which, as a thing that would still be future on to the attainment of that perfection, the Lord promised us through the love of the Spirit, when He said, “He will teach you all truth,”’ or “will guide you unto all truth.”

5. As these things are so, beloved, I warn you in the love of Christ to beware of impure seducers and sects of obscene filthiness, whereof the apostle says, “But it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret:12 lest, when they begin to teach their horrible impurities, which no human ear whatever can bear, they declare them to be the very things whereof the Lord said, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now;” and assert that it is the Holy Spirit’s agency that makes such impure and detestable things possible to be borne. The evil things which no human modesty whatever can endure are of one kind, and of quite another are the good things which man’s little understanding is unable to bear: the former are wrought in unchaste bodies, the latter are beyond the reach of all bodies; the one is perpetrated in the filthiness of the flesh, the other is scarcely perceivable by the pure mind. “Be ye therefore renewed in the spirit of your mind,”13 and “understand what is the will of God, which is good, and acceptable, and perfect;”14 that, “rooted and grounded in love, ye may be able to comprehend, with all saints, what is the length, and breadth, and height, and depth, even to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled with all the fullness of God.”15 For in such a way will the Holy Spirit teach you all truth, when He shall shed abroad that love ever more and more largely in your hearts).

1 Chap. 15,15.
2 (
Is 45,11, Septuagint.
3 Chap. 13,36-38).
4 (Rm 5,5,
5 `Odhghsei uJma`" eiv" th;n ajlhvqeian pa`san, or ejn th` ajghqeiva/ pavsh
6 (Ps 86,11,
7 Chap. 6,45.
8 (Mt 18,10,
9 (Sg 9,15,
10 (2Co 1,22,
11 (1Co 13,9 1Co 13,12.
12 (Ep 5,12,
13 (Ep 4,23,
14 (Rm 12,2,
15 (Ep 3,17-19.

Tractate XCVII.

97 (Jn 16,12-13 (continued).

1. The Holy Spirit, whom the Lord promised to send to His disciples, to teach them all the truth which, at the time He was speaking to them, they were unable to bear: of the which Holy Spirit, as the apostle says, we have now received “the earnest,”1 an expression whereby we are to understand that His fullness is reserved for us till another life: that Holy Spirit, therefore, teacheth believers also in the present life, as far as they can severally apprehend what is spiritual; and enkindles a growing desire in their breasts, according as each one makes progress in that love, which will lead him both to love what he knows already, and to long after what still remains to be known: so that those very things which he has some notion of at present, he may know that he is still ignorant of, as they are yet to be known in that life which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man hath perceived.2 But were the inner Master wishing at present to say those things in such a way of knowing, that is, to unfold and make them patent to our mind, our human weakness would be unable to bear them. Whereof you remember, beloved, that I have already spoken, when we were occupied with the words of the holy Gospel, where the Lord says, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” Not that in these words of the Lord we should be suspecting an over-fastidious concealment of no one knows what secrets, which might be uttered by the Teacher, but could not be borne by the learner, but those very things which in connection with religious doctrine we read and write, hear and speak of, as within the knowledge of such and such persons, were Christ willing to utter to us in the self-same way as He speaks of them to the holy angels, in His own Person as the only-begotten Word of the Father, and co-eternal with Him, where are the human beings that could bear them, even were they already spiritual, as the apostles still were not when the Lord so spoke to them, and as they afterwards became when the Holy Spirit descended? For, of course, whatever may be known of the creature, is less than the Creator Himself, who is the supreme and true and unchangeable God. And yet who keeps silence about Him? Where is His name not found in the mouths of readers, disputants, inquirers, respondents, adorers, singers, all sorts of haranguers, and lastly even of blasphemers themselves? And although no one keeps silence about Him, who is there that apprehends Him as He is to be understood, although He is never out of the mouths and the hearing of men? Who is there, whose keenness of mind can even get near Him? Who is there that would have known Him as the Trinity, had not He Himself desired so to become known? And what man is there that now holds his tongue about that Trinity; and yet what man is there that has any such idea of it as the angels? The very things, therefore, that are incessantly being uttered off-hand and openly about the eternity, the truth, the holiness of God, are understood well by some, and badly by others: nay rather, are understood by some, and not understood at all by others. For he that understands in a bad way, does not understand at all. And in the case even of those by whom they are understood in a right sense, by some they are perceived with less, by others with greater mental vividness, and by none on earth are apprehended as they are by the angels. In the very mind, therefore, that is to say, in the inner man, there is a kind of growth, not only in order to the transition from milk to solid food, but also to the taking of food itself in still larger and larger measure. But such growth is not in the way of a space-covering mass of matter, but in that of an illuminated understanding; because that food is itself the light of the understanding. In order, then, to your growth and apprehension of God, and in order that your apprehension may keep full pace with your ever-advancing growth, you ought to be addressing your prayer, and turning your hope, not to the teacher whose voice only reaches your ears, that is, who plants and waters only by outside labor, but to Him who giveth the increase.3

2. Accordingly, as I have admonished you in my last sermon, take heed, those of you specially who are still children and have need of a milk diet, of turning a curious ear to men, who have found occasion for self-deception and the deceiving of others in the words of the Lord, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now,” in order to the discovery of that which is unknown, while you still have minds that are incompetent to discriminate between the true and the false; and most especially on account of the obscene lewdnesses which Satan has instilled, by God’s permission, into unstable and carnal souls, for this end, that His judgments may everywhere be objects of terror, and that pure discipline may best manifest its sweetness in contrast with the impurities of wickedness; and that honor may be given to Him, and fear and modesty of demeanor assumed by every one, who has either been kept from falling into such evils by His kingly power, or been raised out of them by His uplifting hand. Beware, with fear and prayer, of rushing into that mystery of Solomon’s, where “the woman that is foolish and brazen-faced, and become destitute of bread,” invites the passers-by with the words, “Come and make a pleasant feast on hidden bread, and the sweetness of stolen waters.”4 For the woman thus spoken of is the vanity of the impious, who, utterly senseless as they are, fancy that they know something, just as was said of that woman, that she had “become destitute of bread;” who, though destitute of a single loaf, promises loaves; in other words, though ignorant of the truth, she promises the knowledge of the truth. But it is bread of a hidden character she promises, and which she declares is partaken of with pleasure, as well as the sweetness of stolen waters; in order that what is publicly forbidden to be uttered or believed in the Church, may be listened to and acted upon with willingness and relish. For by such secrecy profane teachers give a kind of seasoning to their poisons for the curious, that thereby they may imagine that they learn something great, because counted worthy of holding a secret, and may imbibe the more sweetly the folly which they regard as wisdom, the hearing of which, as a thing prohibited, they are represented as stealing.

3. Hence the system of magical arts commends its nefarious rites to those who are deceived, or ready to be so, by a sacrilegious curiosity. Hence, also, those unlawful divinations by the inspection of the entrails of slain animals, or of the cries and flights of birds, or of multiform demoniacal signs, are distilled by converse with abandoned wretches into the ears of persons who are on the brink of destruction. And it is because of these unlawful and punishable secrets that the woman mentioned above is styled not merely “foolish,” but also “audacious.” But such things are alien not only to the reality, but to the very name of our religion. And what shall we say of this foolish and brazen-faced woman seasoning, as she does, so many wicked heresies, and serving up so many detestable fables with Christian forms of expression? Would that they were only such as are found in theatres, whether as the subjects of song or dancing, or turned into ridicule by a mimicking buffoonery; and not, some of them, such as makes us grieve at the foolishness, while wondering at the audacity that could have contrived them, against God! And yet all these utterly senseless heretics, who wish to be styled Christians, attempt to color the audacities of their devices, which are perfectly ahorrent to every human feeling, with the chance presented to them of that gospel sentence uttered by the Lord, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now:” as if these were the very things which the apostles could not then bear, and as if the Holy Spirit had taught them what the unclean spirit, with all the length he can carry his audacity, blushes to teach and to preach in broad daylight.

4. It is such whom the apostle foresaw through the Holy Spirit, when he said: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”5 For that mentioning of secrecy and theft, whereof it is said, “Partake with pleasure of hidden bread and the sweetness of stolen waters,” creates an itching in those who listen with ears that are lusting after spiritual fornication, just as by a kind of itching also of desire in the flesh the soundness of chastity is corrupted. Hear, therefore, how the apostle foresaw such things, and gave salutary admonition about avoiding them, when be said, “Shun profane novelties of words; for they increase unto much ungodliness, and their speech insinuates itself as cloth a cancer.”6 He did not say novelties of words merely; but added, “profane.” For there are also novelties of words in perfect harmony with religious doctrine, as is told us in Scripture of the very name of Christians, when it began to be used. For itwas in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians after the Lord’s ascension, as we read in the Ac of the Apostles:7 and certain houses were afterwards called by the new names of hospices8 and monasteries; but the things themselves existed prior to their names, and are confirmed by religious truth, which also forms their defense against the wicked. In opposition also to the impiety of Arian heretics, they coined the new term, Patris Homousios;9 but there was nothing new signified by such a name; for what is called Homousios is just this: “I and my Father are one,”10 to wit, of one and the same substance. For if every novelty were profane, as little should we have it said by the Lord, “A new commandment I give unto. you;”11 nor would the Testament be called New, nor the new song be sung throughout the whole earth. But there is profanity in the novelties of words, when it is said by “the foolish and audacious woman, Come and enjoy the tasting of hidden bread, and the sweetness of stolen waters.” From such enticing words of false science the apostle also gives his prohibitory warning, in the passage where he says, “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane novelties of expression, and oppositions of science falsely so called; which some professing, have erred concerning the faith.”12 For there is nothing that these men so love as to profess science, and to deride as utter silliness faith in those verities which the young are enjoined to believe.

5. But some one will say, Have spiritual men nothing in the matter of doctrine, which they are to say nothing about to the carnal, but to speak out upon to the spiritual? If I shall answer, They have not, I shall be immediately met with the words of the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Corinthians: “I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal. As unto babes in Christ I have given you milk to drink, and not meat to eat: for hitherto ye were not able; neither yet now are ye able; for ye are yet carnal;”13 and with these, “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect;” and with these also, “Comparing spiritual things with spiritual: but the natural man perceiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him.”14 The meaning of all this, in order that these words of the apostle may no longer lead to the hankering after secrets through the profane novelties of verbiage, and that what ought always to be shunned by the spirit and body of the chaste may not be asserted as only unable to be borne by the carnal, we shall, with the Lord’s permission, make the subject of dissertation in another discourse, so that for the time we may bring the present to a close.

1 (2Co 1,22,
2 (1Co 2,9,
3 (1Co 3,6).
4 (Pr 9,13-17, according to the Septuagint, where, in verse 13, hyy<rB is rendered ejndeh;" ywmou`, “in want of a morsel of bread,” as if from tK or twtK, a morsel. The form of the word, however, as well as the Masoretic pointing, shows its connection with ytK in the sense of “simplicity” or “folly” personified. And again in verse 17, the LXX. have partly inverted the Hebrew order of the words, and translate wqtmy (“are sweet”) in its active sense of “taste with relish” (or pleasure), as if it were wqtm, Imperative; and read µxny (“is sweet”) in the last clause, as if it were µyxn or µxn, “sweet,” or “sweetness:” hence Augustin’s rendering above. The Vulgate corresponds more nearly with the Hebrew and our English version.-Tr.
5 (2Tm 4,3-4.
6 2Tm 2,16-17. Augustin translates kenofwniva" (“babblings,” “empty utterances,” vaniloquia, Vulgate)as if it read kainofwniva", “novelties of words.”-Tr.
7 (Ac 11,26,
8 Xenodochia, houses of entertainment for strangers.
9 “Of the same essence (or substance) with the Father,” as applied to Christ.
10 Chap. 10,30).
11 Chap. 13,34.
12 (1Tm 6,20-21).
13 (1Co 3,1-2).
14 (1Co 2,6 1Co 2,13-14.

Tractate XCVIII

98 (Jn 16,12-13 (continued).

1. From the words of our Lord, where He says, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now,” there arose a difficult question, which I recollect to have put off, that it might be handled afterwards at greater leisure, because my last discourse had reached its proper limits, and required to be brought to a close. And now, accordingly, as we have time to redeem our promise, let us take up its discussion as the Lord Himself shall grant us ability, who put it into our heart to make the proposal. And the question is this: Whether spiritual men have aught in doctrine which they should withhold from the carnal, but declare to the spiritual. For if we shall say, They have not, we shall meet with the reply, What, then, is to be made of the words of the apostle in writing to the Corinthians: “I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal. As unto babes in Christ, I have given you milk to drink, and not meat to eat: for hitherto ye were not able; neither yet now are ye able; for ye are yet carnal?”1 But if we say, They have, we have cause to fear and take heed, lest under such a pretext detestable doctrines be taught in secret, and under the name of spiritual, as things which cannot be understood by the carnal, may seem not only capable of being whitewashed by plausible excuses, but deserving also to be lauded in preaching.

2. In the first place, then, your Charity ought to know that it is Christ Himself as crucified, wherewith the apostle says that he has fed those who are babes as with milk; but His flesh itself, in which was witnessed His real death, that is, both His real wounds when transfixed and His blood when pierced, does not present itself to the minds of the carnal in the same manner as to that of the spiritual, and so to the former it is milk, and to the latter it is meat; for if they do not hear more than others, they understand better. For the mind has not equal powers of perception even for that which is equally received by both in faith. And so it happens that the preaching of Christ crucified, by the apostle, was at once to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Gentiles foolishness; and to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, the power of God, and the wisdom of God;”2 but to the carnal, as babes who held it only as a matter of faith, and to the spiritual, as those of greater capacity, who perceived it as a matter of understanding; to the former, therefore, as a milk-draught, to the latter as solid food: not that the former knew it in one way out in the world at large, and the latter in another way in their secret chambers; but that what both heard in the same measure when it was publicly spoken, each apprehended in his own measure. For inasmuch as Christ was crucified for the very purpose of shedding His blood for the remission of sins, and of divine grace being thereby commended in the passion of His Only-begotten, that no one should glory in man, what understanding had they of Christ crucified who were still saying, “I am of Paul”?3 Was it such as Paul himself had, who could say, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”?4 In regard, therefore, even to Christ crucified, he himself found food in proportion to his own capacity, and nourished them with milk in accordance with their infirmity. And still further, knowing that what he wrote to the Corinthians might doubtless be understood in one way by those who were still babes, and differently by those of greater capacity, he said, “If any one among you is a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandment of the Lord; but if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.”5 Assuredly he would have the knowledge of the spiritual to be substantial, wherever not only faith had found a suitable abode, but a certain power of understanding was possessed; and whereby such believed those very things which as spiritual they likewise acknowledged. But “let him be ignorant,” he says, who “is ignorant;” because it was not yet revealed to him to know that which he believes. When this takes place in a man’s mind, he is said to be known of God; for it is God who endows him with this power of understanding, as it is elsewhere said, “But now, knowing God, or rather, being known of God.”6 For it was not then that God first knew those who were foreknown and chosen before the foundation of the world;7 but then it was that He made them to know Himself.

3. Having ascertained this, therefore, at the outset, that the very things, which are equally heard by the spiritual and the carnal, are received by each according to the slender measure of his own capacity,-by some as babes, by others as those of riper years,-by one as milk nourishment, by another as solid food,-there seems no necessity for any matters of doctrine being retained in silence as secrets, and concealed from infant believers, as things to be spoken of apart to those who are older, or possessed of a riper understanding; and let us regard it as needful to act thus, just because of the words of the apostle, “I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal.” For even this very statement of his, that he knew nothing among them but Jesus Christ and Him crucified,8 he could not speak unto them as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal; because even that they were not able to receive as spiritual. But all who were spiritual among them received with spiritual understanding the very same truths which the others only heard as carnal; and in this way may we understand the words, “I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal,” as if he said, What I did speak, ye could not receive as spiritual, but as carnal. For “the natural man”-that is, the man whose wisdom is of a mere human kind, and is called natural [literally, soulish] from the soul, and carnal from the flesh, because the complete man consists of soul and flesh-“perceiveth not the things of the Spirit of God;”9 that is, the measure of grace bestowed on believers by the cross of Christ, and thinks that all that is effected by that cross is to provide us with an example for our imitation in contending even to death for the truth. For if men of this type, who have no desire to be aught else than men, knew how it is that Christ crucified is “made of God unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”10 they would doubtless no longer glory in man, nor say in a carnal spirit, “I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas;” but in a spiritual way, “I am of Christ.”11

4. But the question is still further raised by what we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “When now for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again to be taught which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk hath no experience in the word of righteousness; for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are perfect, even those who by habit have their senses exercised to distinguish good from evil.”12 For here we see, as if clearly defined, what he calIs the strong meat of the perfect; and which is the same as that which he writes to the Corinthans, “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect.”13 But who it was that he wished in this passage to be understood as perfect, he proceeded to indicate in the words, “Even those who by habit have their senses exercised to distinguish good from evil.” Those, therefore, who, through a weak and undisciplined mind, are destitute of this power, wi11 certainly, unless enabled by what may be called the milk of faith to believe both the invisible things which they see not, and the comprehensible things which they do not yet comprehend, be easily seduced by the promise of science to vain and sacrilegious fables: so as to think both of good and evil only under corporeal forms, and to have no idea of God Himself save as some sort of body, and be able only to view evil as a substance; while there is rather a kind of falling away from the immutable Substance in the case of all mutable substances, which were made out of nothing by the immutable and supreme substance itself, which is God. And assuredly whoever not only believes, but also through the exercised inner senses of his mind understands, and perceives, and knows this, there is no longer cause for fear that he will be seduced by those who, while accounting evil to be a substance uncreated by God,make God Himself a mutable substance, as is done by the Manicheans, or any other pests, if such there be, that fall into similar foily.

5. But to those who are still babes in mind, and who as carnal, the apostle says, require to be nourished with milk, all discoursing on such a subject, wherein we deal not only with the believing, but also with the understanding and the knowing of what is spoken, must be burdensome, as being still unable to perceive such things, and be more fitted to oppress than to feed them. Whence it comes to pass that the spiritual, while not altogether silent on such subjects to the carnal, because of the Catholic faith which is to be preached to all, yet do not so handle them as, in their wish to simplify them to understandings that are still deficient in capacity, to bring their discourse on the truth into disrepute, rather than the truth that is in their discourse within the perceptions of their hearers. Accordingly in his Epistle to the Colossians he says: “And though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and that which is lacking14 in your faith in Christ.”15 And in that to the Thessalonians: “Night and day,” he says, “praying more abundantly, that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith.”16 Here we are, of course, to understand those who were under such primary catechetical instruction, as implied their nourishment with milk and not with strong meat; of the former of which there is mention made in the Epistle to the Hebrews of an abundant supply for such as nevertheless he would now have had to be feeding on solid food. Accordingly he says: “Therefore leaving the word of the beginning of Christ, let us have regard to the completion; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of the baptismal font, and of the laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.”17 This is the copious supply of milk, without which even they cannot live, who have already indeed their reason sufficiently in use to enable them to believe, but who cannot distinguish good from evil, so as to be not only a matter of faith, but also of understanding (which belongs to the department of solid food). But when he includes doctrine also in his description of the milk, it is that which has been delivered to us in the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.

6. But let us be far from supposing that there is any contrariety between this milk and the food of spiritual things that has to be received by the sound understanding, and which was wanting to the Colossians and Thessalonians, and had still to be supplied. For the supply of the deficiency implies no disapproval of that which existed. For even in the very food that we take, so far is there from being any contrariety between milk and solid food, that the latter itself becomes milk, in order to make it suitable to babes, whom it reaches through the medium of the mother’s or the nurse’s body; so did also mother Wisdom herself, who is solid food in the lofty sphere of angels, condescend in a manner to become milk for babes, when the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.18 But the man Christ Himself, who in His true flesh, true cross, true death, and true resurrection is called the pure milk of babes, is, when rightly understood by the spiritual. found to be the Lord of angels. Accordingly, babes are not to be so fed with milk as always to remain without understanding the Godhead of Christ; nor are they to be so withdrawn from milk as to turn their backs on His manhood. And the same thing may also be stated in another way in this manner: they are neither so to be fed with milk as never to understand Christ as Creator, nor so to be withdrawn from milk as ever to turn their backs on Christ as Mediator. In this respect, indeed, the similitude of maternal milk and solid food scarcely harmonizes with the reality as thus stated, but rather that of a foundation: for when the child is weaned, so as to be withdrawn from the nourishment of infancy, he never looks again amongst solid food for the breasts which he sucked; but Christ crucified is both milk to sucklings and meat to the more advanced. And the similitude of a foundation is on this account the more suitable, because, for the Completion of the structure, the building is added without the foundation being withdrawn.

7. And since this is the case, do you, whoever you be, who are doubtless many of you still babes in Christ, be making advances towards the solid food of the mind, not of the belly. Grow in the ability to distinguish good from evil, and cleave more and more to the Mediator, who delivers you from evil; which does not admit of a local separation from you, but rather of being healed within you. But whoever shall say to you, Believe not Christ to be truly man, or that the body of any man or animal whatever was created by the true God, or that the Old Testament was given by the true God, and anything else of the same sort, for such things as these were not told you previously, when your nourishment was milk, because your heart was still unfit for the apprehension of the truth: such an one provides you not with meat, but with poison. For therefore it was that the blessed apostle, in addressing those who appeared to him already perfect, even after calling himself imperfect, said, “Let us, therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” And that they might not rush into the hands of seducers, whose desire would be to turn them away from the faith by promising them the knowledge of the truth, and suppose such to be the meaning of the apostle’s words, “God shall reveal even this unto you,” he forthwith added, “Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule.”19 If, then, thou hast come to some understanding of what is not at variance with the rule of the Catholic faith, whereto thou hast attained as the way that is guiding thee to thy fatherland; and hast so understood it as to feel it a duty to dismiss all doubts whatever on the subject: add to the building, but do not abandon the foundation. And surely of such a character ought to be any teaching given by eiders to those who are babes, as not to involve the assertion that Christ the Lord of all, and the prophets and apostles, who are much farther advanced in age than themselves, had in any respect spoken falsely. And not only ought you to avoid the babbling seducers of the mind, who prate away at their fables and falsehoods, and in such vanities make the promise, forsooth, of profound science contrary to the rule of faith, which we have accepted as Catholic; but avoid those also as a still more insidious pest than the others, who discuss truthfully enough the immutability of the divine nature, or the incorporeal creature, or the Creator, and fully prove what they affirm by the most conclusive documents and reasonings, and yet attempt to turn you away from the one Mediator between God and men. For such are those of whom the apostle says, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God.”20 For what advantage is it to have a true understanding of the immutable Good to one who has no hold of Him by whom there is deliverance from evil? And let not the admonition of the most blessed apostle by any means lose its place in your hearts: “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”21 He does not say, More than ye have received; but, ’Other than ye have received.” For had he said the former, he would be prejudging himself, inasmuch as he desired to come to the Thessalonians to supply what was lacking in their faith. But one who supplies, adds to what was deficient, without taking away what existed: while he that transgresses the rule of faith, is not progressing in the way, but turning aside from it.

8. Accordingly, when the Lord says, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now,” He means that what they were still ignorant of had afterwards to be supplied to them, and not that what they had already learned was to be subverted. And He, indeed, as I have already shown in a former discourse, could so speak, because the very things which He had taught them, had He wished to unfold them to them in the same way as they are conceived in regard to Him by the angels, their still remaining human weakness would be unable to bear. But any spiritual man may teach another man what he knows, provided the Holy Spirit grant him an enlarged capacity for profiling, wherein also the teacher himself may get some further increase, in order that both may be taught of God.22 Although even among the spiritual themselves there are some, doubtless, who are of greater capacity and in a better condition than others; so that one of them attained even to things of which it is not lawful for a man to speak. Taking advantage of which, there have been some vain individuals, who, with a presumption that betrays the grossest folly, have forged a Revelation of Paul, crammed with all manner of fables, which has been rejected by the orthodox Church; affirming it to be that whereof he had said that he was caught up into the third heavens, and there heard unspeakable words “which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”23 Nevertheless, the audacity of such might be tolerable, had he said that he heard words which it is not as yet lawful for a man to utter; but when he said, “which it is not lawful for a man to utter,” who are they that dare to utter them with such impudence and non-success? But with these words I shall now bring this discourse to a close; whereby I would have you to be wise indeed in that which is good, but untainted by that which is evil.

1 (1Co 3,1-2).
2 (1Co 1,23-24.
3 (1Co 1,12,
4 (Ga 6,14,
5 (1Co 14,37-38.
6 (Ga 4,9,
7 (Ep 1,4,
8 (1Co 2,2,
9 (1Co 2,14).
10 (1Co 1,30-31.
11 (1Co 1,12,
12 (He 5,12-14.
13 (1Co 2,6,
14 In place of to; sterew;ma, solidity, steadfastness, Augustin reads to; uvsterh`ma, that which is lacking. So also in his epistle to Paulinus, which is marked 149 (in Migne’s edition of Augustin).
15 (Col 2,5,
16 (1Th 3,10,
17 (He 6,1-2).
18 Chap. 1,1, 14.
19 (Ph 3,15-16.
20 (Rm 1,21,
21 (Ga 1,9).
22 Chap. 6,45.
23 (2Co 12,2 2Co 12,4.

Augustin on John 95