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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 5

Tractate 5 (John 1:33)

We have arrived, as the Lord has willed it, to the day of our promise. He will grant this also, that we may arrive at the fulfillment of the promise. For then those things which we say, if they are useful to us and to you, are from Him; but those things which proceed from man are false, as our Lord Jesus Christ Himself has said, He that speaks a lie speaks of his own. John 8:44 No one has anything of his own except falsehood and sin. But if man has any truth and justice, it is from that fountain after which we ought to thirst in this desert, so that being, as it were, bedewed by some drops from it, and comforted in the meantime in this pilgrimage, we may not fail by the way, but reach His rest and satisfying fullness. If then he that speaks a lie speaks of his own, he who speaks the truth speaks of God. John is true, Christ is the Truth; John is true, but every true man is true from the Truth. If, then, John is true, and a man cannot be true except from the Truth, from whom was he true, unless from Him who said, I am the truth? John 14:6 The Truth, then, could not speak contrary to the true man, or the true man contrary to the Truth. The Truth sent the true man, and he was true because sent by the Truth. If it was the Truth that sent John, then it was Christ that sent him. But that which Christ does with the Father, the Father does; and what the Father does with Christ, Christ does. The Father does nothing apart from the Son, nor the Son anything apart from the Father: inseparable love, inseparable unity: inseparable majesty, inseparable power, according to these words which He Himself propounded, I and my Father are one. John 10:30 Who then sent John? If we say the Father, we speak truly; if we say the Son, we speak truly; but to speak more plainly, we say the Father and the Son. But whom the Father and the Son sent, one God sent; because the Son said, I and the Father are one. How, then, did he not know Him by whom he was sent? For he said, I knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me. I interrogate John: Who sent you to baptize with water? What did He say to you? Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending as a dove, and abiding upon Him, the same is He which baptizes with the Holy Ghost. Is it this, O John, that He said to you who sent you? It is manifest that it was this; who, then, sent you? Perhaps the Father. True God is the Father, and the Truth is God the Son: if the Father without the Son sent you, God without the Truth sent you; but if you are true, because you speak the truth, and dost speak of the Truth, the Father did not send you without the Son, but the Father and the Son together sent you. If, then, the Son sent you with the Father, how did you not know Him by whom you were sent? He whom you had seen in the Truth, Himself sent you that He might be recognized in the flesh, and said, Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending as a dove, and abiding upon Him, the same is He which baptizes with the Holy Ghost.

2. Did John hear this that he might know Him whom he had not known, or that he might more fully know Him whom he had already known? For if he had been entirely ignorant of Him, he would not have said to Him when He came to the river to be baptized, I have need to be baptized by You, and You come to me? Matthew 3:14 He knew Him therefore. But when did the dove descend? When the Lord had been baptized, and was ascending from the water. But if He who sent Him said, Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending as a dove, and abiding upon Him, the same is He which baptizes with the Holy Ghost, and he knew Him not, but when the dove descended he learned to know Him, and the time at which the dove descended was when the Lord was going up from the water; but John had known the Lord, when the Lord came to him to the water: it is made plain to us that John after a manner knew, and after a manner did not at first know the Lord. And unless we understand it so, he was a liar. How was he true acknowledging the Lord and saying, Comest Thou to me to be baptized, and, I have need to be baptized by You? Is he true when he said this? And how is he again true when he says, I knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending as a dove, and abiding upon Him, the same is He who baptizes with the Holy Ghost? The Lord was made known by a dove, not to him who knew Him not, but to him who in a manner knew Him, and in a manner knew Him not. It is for us to discover what, in Him, John did not know, and learned by the dove.

3. Why was John sent baptizing? Already, I recollect, I have explained that to you, beloved, according to my ability. For if the baptism of John was necessary for our salvation, it ought even now to be used. For we cannot think that men are not saved now, or that more are not saved now, or that there was one salvation then, another now. If Christ has been changed, the salvation has also been changed; if salvation is in Christ, and Christ Himself is the same, there is the same salvation to us. But why was John sent baptizing? Because it behooved Christ to be baptized. Wherefore did it behoove Christ to be baptized? Wherefore did it behoove Christ to be born? Wherefore did it behoove Christ to be crucified? For if He had come to point out the way of humility, and to make Himself the way of humility; in all things had humility to be fulfilled by Him. He deigned from this to give authority to His own baptism, that His servants might know with what alacrity they ought to run to the baptism of the Lord, when He Himself did not refuse to receive the baptism of a servant. This favor was bestowed upon John that it should be called his baptism.

4. Give heed to this, exercise your discrimination, and know it, beloved. The baptism which John received is called the baptism of John: alone he received such a gift. No one of the just before him and no one after him so received a baptism that it should be called his baptism. He received it indeed, for of himself he could do nothing: for if any one speaks of his own, he speaks of his own a lie. And whence did he receive it except from the Lord Jesus Christ? From Him he received power to baptize whom he afterwards baptized. Do not marvel; for Christ acted in the same manner in respect to John as in respect to His mother. For concerning Christ it was said, All things were made by Him. John 1:3 If all things were made by him, Mary also was made by Him, of whom Christ was afterwards born. Give heed, beloved; in the same manner that He did create Mary, and was created by Mary, so did He give the baptism of John, and was baptized by John.

5. For this purpose therefore did He receive baptism from John, in order that, receiving what was inferior from an inferior, He might exhort inferiors to receive that which was superior. But wherefore was not He alone baptized by John, if John, by whom Christ was baptized, was sent for this end, to prepare a way for the Lord, that is, for Christ Himself? This we have already explained, but we recur to it, because it is necessary for the present question. If our Lord Jesus Christ had been alone baptized with the baptism of John;— hold fast what we say; let not the world have such power as to efface from your hearts what the Spirit of God has written there; let not the thorns of care have such power as to choke the seed which is being sown in you: for why are we compelled to repeat the same things, but because we are not sure of the memory of your hearts?— and if then the Lord alone had been baptized with the baptism of John, there would be persons who would so reckon it, that the baptism of John was greater than is the baptism of Christ. For they would say, that baptism is so much the greater, that Christ alone deserved to be baptized with it. Therefore, that an example of humility might be given us by the Lord, that the salvation of baptism might be obtained by us, Christ accepted what for Him was not necessary, but on our account was necessary. And again, lest that which Christ received from John should be preferred to the baptism of Christ, others also were permitted to be baptized by John. But for those who were baptized by John that baptism did not suffice: for they were baptized with the baptism of Christ; because the baptism of John was not the baptism of Christ. Those who receive the baptism of Christ do not seek the baptism of John; those who received the baptism of John sought the baptism of Christ. Therefore was the baptism of John sufficient for Christ. How should it not be sufficient, when not even it was necessary? For to Him was no baptism necessary; but in order to exhort us to receive His baptism, He received the baptism of His servant. And lest the baptism of the servant should be preferred to the baptism of the Lord, other fellow-servants were baptized with the baptism of the servant. But it behooved those fellow-servants who were baptized with that baptism to be likewise baptized with the baptism of the Lord: but those who were baptized with the baptism of the Lord do not require the baptism of the fellow-servant.

6. Since, then, John had accepted a baptism which may be properly called the baptism of John, but the Lord Jesus Christ would not give His baptism to any, not that no one should be baptized with the baptism of the Lord, but that the Lord Himself should always baptize: that was done, that the Lord should baptize by means of servants; that is to say, those whom the servants of the Lord were to baptize, the Lord baptized, not they. For it is one thing to baptize in the capacity of a servant, another thing to baptize with power. For baptism derives its character from Him through whose power it is given; not from him through whose ministry it is given. As was John, so was his baptism: the righteous baptism of a righteous man; but of a man who had received from the Lord that grace, and so great grace, that he was worthy to be the forerunner of the Judge, and to point Him out with the finger, and to fulfill the saying of that prophecy: The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way for the Lord. Isaiah 40:3 As was the Lord, such was His baptism: the baptism of the Lord, then, was divine, because the Lord was God.

7. But the Lord Jesus Christ could, if He wished, have given power to one of His servants to give a baptism of his own, as it were, in His stead, and have transferred from Himself the power of baptizing, and assigned it to one of His servants, and have given the same power to the baptism transferred to the servant as it had when bestowed by the Lord. This He would not do, in order that the hope of the baptized might be in him by whom they acknowledged themselves to have been baptized. He would not, therefore, that the servant should place his hope in the servant. And therefore the apostle exclaimed, when he saw men wishing to place their hope in himself, Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? 1 Corinthians 1:13 Paul then baptized as a servant, not as the power itself; but the Lord baptized as the power. Give heed. He was both able to give this power to His servants, and unwilling. For if He had given this power to His servants— that is to say, that what belonged to the Lord should be theirs— there would have been as many baptisms as servants; so that, as we speak of the baptism of John, we should also have spoken of the baptism of Peter, the baptism of Paul, the baptism of James, the baptism of Thomas, of Matthew, of Bartholomew: for we spoke of that baptism as that of John. But perhaps some one objects, and says, Prove to us that that baptism was called the baptism of John. I will prove it from the very words of the Truth Himself, when He asked the Jews, The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven, or of men? Matthew 21:25 Therefore, lest as many baptisms should be spoken of as there are servants who received power from the Lord to baptize, the Lord kept to Himself the power of baptizing, and gave to His servants the ministry. The servant says that he baptizes; he says so rightly, as the apostle says, And I baptized also the household of Stephanas; 1 Corinthians 1:16 but as a servant. Therefore, if even he be bad, and he happen to have the ministration of baptism, and if men do not know him, but God knows him, God, who has kept the power to Himself, permits baptism to be administered through him.

8. But this John did not know in the Lord. That He was the Lord he knew, and that he ought to be baptized by Him he knew; and he confessed that He was the Truth, and that he, the true man, was sent by the Truth: this he knew. But what was in Him which he knew not? That he was about to retain to Himself the power of His baptism, and was not to transmit or transfer it to any servant; but that, whether a good servant baptized in a ministerial manner, or whether an evil servant baptized, the person baptized should not know that he was baptized, unless by Him who kept to Himself the power of baptizing. And that you may know, brethren, what John did not know in Him, he learned it by means of the dove: for he knew the Lord; but that He was to retain to Himself the power of baptizing, and not to give it to any servant, he did not yet know. Regarding this he said, I knew Him not. And that you may know that he there learned this, give heed to what follows: But He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending as a dove, and abiding upon Him, the same is He. What same is He? The Lord? But he already knew the Lord. Suppose, then, that John had said thus far, I knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me— We ask, what He said? It follows: Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending as a dove, and abiding upon Him. I do not say what follows. In the meantime give heed: Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending as a dove, and abiding upon Him, the same is He. But what same is He? What did He who sent me mean to teach me by means of a dove? That He was Himself the Lord. Already I knew by whom I was sent; already I knew Him to whom I said, Comest Thou to me to be baptized? I have need to be baptized by You. So far, then, did I know the Lord, that I wished to be baptized by Him, not that He should be baptized by me; and then He said to me, Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness. Matthew 3:15 I came to suffer; do I not come to be baptized? Let all righteousness be fulfilled, says my God to me. Let all righteousness be fulfilled; let me teach entire humility. I know that there will be proud ones in my future people; I know that some men then will be eminent in some grace, so that when they see ordinary persons baptized, they, because they consider themselves better, whether in continence, or in almsgiving, or in doctrine, will perhaps not deign to receive what has been received by their inferiors. It was needful that I should heal them, so that they should not disdain to come to the baptism of the Lord, because I came to the baptism of the servant.

9. Already, then, John knew this, and he knew the Lord. What then did the dove teach? What did He desire to teach by means of the dove— that is, by means of the Holy Spirit thus coming to teach who had sent him to whom He said, Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending as a dove, and abiding upon Him, the same is He? Who is this He? The Lord? I know. But did you already know this, that the same Lord having the power to baptize, was not to give that power to any servant, but to retain it to Himself, so that all who were baptized by the ministration of the servant, should not impute their baptism to the servant, but to the Lord? Did you already know this? I did not know this: so what did He say to me? Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending as a dove, and abiding upon Him, the same is He who baptizes with the Holy Ghost. He does not say, He is the Lord; He does not say, He is the Christ; He does not say, He is God; He does not say, He is Jesus; He does not say, He is the One who was born of the Virgin Mary, after you, before you. This He does not say, for this John did already know. But what did he not know? That this great authority of baptism the Lord Himself was to have, and to retain to Himself, whether present in the earth or absent in body in the heaven, and present in majesty; lest Paul should say, my baptism; lest Peter should say, my baptism. Therefore see, give heed to the words of the apostles. None of the apostles said, my baptism. Although there was one gospel of all, yet you find that they said, my gospel: you do not find that they say, my baptism.

10. This, then, my brethren, John learned. What John learned by means of the dove let us also learn. For the dove did not teach John without teaching the Church, the Church to which it was said, My dove is one. Song of Songs 6:8 Let the dove teach the dove; let the dove know what John learned by the dove. The Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove. But this which John learned in the dove, wherefore did he learn it in the dove? For it behooved him to learn, and perhaps it did not so much behoove him to learn as to learn by the dove. What shall I say, my brethren, concerning the dove? Or when will faculty of tongue or heart suffice to speak as I wish? And perchance, my wish falls short of my duty in speaking; even if I were able to speak as I wish, how much less am I able to speak as I ought? I could wish to hear one better than myself speak this, rather than speak of it to you.

11. John learns to know Him whom he knew; but he learns in Him with regard to what he did not know; with regard to what he did know, he does not learn. And what did he know? The Lord. What did he not know? That the power of the Lord's baptism was not to pass from the Lord to any man, but that the ministration of it plainly would do so; the power from the Lord to no one, the ministration both to good and bad. Let not the dove shrink from the ministration of the bad, but have regard to the power of the Lord. What injury does a bad servant do to you where the Lord is good? What impediment can the malicious herald put in your way if the judge is well-disposed? John learned by means of the dove this. What is it that he learned? Let him repeat it himself. The same said unto me, says he, Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending as a dove, and abiding on Him, this is He which baptizes with the Holy Ghost. Let not those seducers deceive you, O dove, who say, We baptize. Acknowledge, dove, what the dove has taught: This is He which baptizes with the Holy Ghost. By means of the dove we are taught that this is He; and do you think that you are baptized by his authority by whose ministration you are baptized? If you think this, you are not as yet in the body of the dove; and if you are not in the body of the dove, it is not to be wondered at that you have not simplicity; for by means of the dove, simplicity is chiefly designated.

12. Wherefore, my brethren, by the simplicity of the dove did John learn that This is He which baptizes with the Holy Ghost, unless to show that these are not doves who have scattered the Church? Hawks they were, and kites. The dove does not tear. And you see that they hold us up to hatred, for the persecutions, as they call them, which they have suffered. Bodily persecutions, indeed, if they are to be so called, they have suffered, since these were the scourges of the Lord, plainly administering temporal correction, lest He should have to condemn them eternally, if they did not acknowledge it and amend themselves. They truly persecute the Church who persecute by means of deceit; they strike the heart more heavily who strike with the sword of the tongue; they shed blood more bitterly who, as far as they can, slay Christ in man. They seem to be in fear, as it were, of the judgment of the authorities. What does the authority do to you if you are good? But if you are evil, fear the authority; For he bears not the sword in vain, Romans 13:4 says the apostle. Draw not the sword wherewith you strike Christ. Christian, what do you persecute in a Christian? What did the Emperor persecute in you? He persecuted the flesh; you in a Christian persecute the Spirit. You do not slay the flesh. And, nevertheless, they do not spare the flesh; as many as they were able, they slew with the sword; they spared neither their own nor strangers. This is known to all. The authority is hated because it is legitimate; he acts in a hated manner who acts according to the law; he acts without incurring hatred who acts contrary to the laws. Give heed, each one of you, my brethren, to what the Christian possesses. His humanity he has in common with many, his Christianity distinguishes him from many, and his Christianity belongs to him more strictly than his humanity. For, as a Christian, he is renewed after the image of God, by whom man was made after the image of God; Colossians 3:10 but as a man he might be bad, he might be a pagan, he might be an idolater. This you persecute in the Christian, which is his better part; for this by which he lives you wish to take away from him. For he lives tempo rally according to the spirit of life, by which his body is animated, but he lives for eternity according to the baptism which he received from the Lord; you wish to take this away from him which he received from the Lord, this you wish to take away from him by which he lives. Robbers, with regard to those whom they wish to despoil, have the purpose to enrich themselves and to deprive their victims of all that they have; but you take from him, and with you there will not be anything more, for there does not accrue more to you because you take from him. But, truly, they do the same as those who take away the natural life: they take it away from another, and yet they themselves have not two lives.

13. What, then, do you wish to take away? What displeases you in the man whom you wish to rebaptize? You are not able to give what he already has, but you make him deny what he has. What greater cruelty did the pagan persecutor of the Church commit? Swords were stretched out against the martyrs, wild beasts were let loose, fires were applied: for what purpose these things? In order that the sufferer might be induced to say, I am not a Christian. What do you teach him whom you wish to rebaptize, unless that he first say, I am not a Christian? For the same purpose for which the persecutor put forth the flame, you put forth the tongue; you do by seducing what he did not do by slaying. And what is it you give, and to whom are you to give it? If he tells you the truth, and does not lie, seduced by you, he will say, I have. Thou ask, Have you baptism? I have, he says. As long as he says, I have, you say, I will not give. And do not give, for that which you wish to give cannot cleave to me; because what I received cannot be taken away from me. But wait, nevertheless; let me see what you would teach me. Say, he said, in the first place, I have not. But this I have; if I shall say, I have not, I lie; for what I have I have. You have not, he says. Teach me that I have it not. An evil man gave it to you. If Christ is evil, an evil man did give it to me. Christ, he says, is not evil; but Christ did not give it to you. Who then gave it to me? Reply, I know that I received it from Christ. He who gave it to you, he says, was not Christ, but some traditor. I shall see to it who was the minister; I shall see who was the herald. Concerning the official, I do not dispute; I give heed to the Judge: and, perchance, in your objection to the official, you speak falsely. But I decline to discuss it; let the Lord of both decide the cause of His own official. If, perhaps, I were to ask for proof, you could give none; indeed, you lie, it has been proved that you were not able to give proof. But I do not place my case on this, lest from my zealous defense of innocent men you infer that I have placed my hope even on innocent men. Let the men be what they may, I received from Christ, I was baptized by Christ. No, he says; not Christ, but that bishop baptized you, and that bishop communicates to them. By Christ I have been baptized, I know. How do you know? The dove taught me, which John saw. O evil kite, you may not tear me from the bowels of the dove. I am numbered among the members of the dove, because what the dove taught, this I know. You say to me, This man or that baptized you: by means of the dove it is said to me and to you, This is He which baptizes. Which shall I believe, the kite or the dove?

14. Tell me certainly, that you may be confounded by that lamp by which also were the former enemies confounded, who were like to you, the Pharisees, who, when they questioned the Lord by what authority He did those things: I also, said He, will ask you this question, Tell me, the baptism of John, whence is it? From heaven, or of men? And they, who were preparing to spread their wiles, were entangled by the question, and began to debate with themselves, and say, If we shall answer, It is from heaven, He will say unto us, Wherefore did ye not believe him? For John had said of the Lord, Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 Why then do you inquire by what authority I act? O wolves, what I do, I do by the authority of the Lamb. But that you may know the Lamb, why do you not believe John, who said, Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world? They, then, knowing what John had said regarding the Lord, said among themselves, If we shall say that John's baptism is from heaven, He will say unto us, Wherefore then did ye not believe him? If we shall say, It is of men, the people will stone us; for they hold John as a prophet. Hence, they feared men; hence, they were confounded to confess the truth. Darkness replied with darkness; but they were overcome by the light. For what did they reply? We know not; regarding that which they knew, they said, We know not. And the Lord said, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things. Matthew 21:23-27 And the first enemies were confounded. How? By the lamp. Who was the lamp? John. Can we prove that he was the lamp? We can prove it; for the Lord says: He was a burning and a shining lamp. John 5:35 Can we prove also that the enemies were confounded by him? Listen to the psalm: I have prepared, he says, a lamp for my Christ. His enemies I will clothe with shame.

15. As yet, in the darkness of this life, we walk by the lamp of faith: let us hold also to the lamp John, and let us confound by him the enemies of Christ; indeed, let Christ Himself confound His own enemies by His own lamp. Let us put the question which the Lord put to the Jews, let us ask and say, The baptism of John, whence is it? From heaven, or of men? What will they say? Mark, if they are not as enemies confounded by the lamp. What will they say? If they shall say, Of men, even their own will stone them; but if they shall say, From heaven, let us say to them, Wherefore, then, did ye not believe him? They perhaps say, We believe him. Wherefore, then, do you say that you baptize, when John says, This is He which baptizes? But it behooves, they say, the ministers of so great a Judge who baptize, to be righteous. And I also say, and all say, that it behooves the ministers of so great a Judge to be righteous; let the ministers, by all means, be righteous if they will; but if they will not be righteous who sit in the seat of Moses, my Master made me safe, of whom His Spirit said, This is He which baptizes. How did He make me safe? The scribes and the Pharisees, He says, sit in Moses' seat: what they say, do; but what they do, that do not ye: for they say, and do not. Matthew 23:2-3 If the minister is righteous, I reckon him with Paul, I reckon him with Peter; with those I reckon righteous ministers: because, in truth, righteous ministers seek not their own glory; for they are ministers, they do not wish to be thought judges, they abhor that one should place his hope on them; therefore, I reckon the righteous minister with Paul. For what does Paul say? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. Neither is he that plants anything, nor he that waters; but God who gives the increase. 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 But he who is a proud minister is reckoned with the devil; but the gift of Christ is not contaminated, which flows through him pure, which passes through him liquid, and comes to the fertile earth. Suppose that he is stony, that he cannot from water rear fruit; even through the stony channel the water passes, the water passes to the garden beds; in the stony channel it causes nothing to grow, but nevertheless it brings much fruit to the gardens. For the spiritual virtue of the sacrament is like the light: both by those who are to be enlightened is it received pure, and if it passes through the impure it is not stained. Let the ministers be by all means righteous, and seek not their own glory, but His glory whose ministers they are; let them not say, The baptism is mine; for it is not theirs. Let them give heed unto John. Behold, John was full of the Holy Spirit; and he had his baptism from heaven, not from men; but how long had he it? He said himself, Prepare ye the way for the Lord. John 1:23 But when the Lord was known, Himself became the way; there was no longer need for the baptism of John to prepare the way for the Lord.

16. What, however, are they accustomed to say against us? Behold, after John, baptism was given. For before that question was properly treated in the Catholic Church, many erred in it, both great and good men; but because they were members of the dove, they did not cut themselves off, and in their case that happened which the apostle said, If in any thing you are otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Philippians 3:15 Whence those who separated themselves became unteachable. What then are they wont to say? Behold, after John baptism was given; after heretical baptism is it not to be given? Because certain who had the baptism of John were commanded by Paul to be baptized, Acts 19:3-5 for they had not the baptism of Christ. Why then, say they, do you exaggerate the merit of John, and, as it were, underrate the misery of heretics? I also grant to you that the heretics are wicked; but the heretics gave the baptism of Christ, which baptism John did not give.

17. I go back to John, and say, This is he which baptizes. For John is better than a heretic, just as John is better than a drunkard, as John is better than a murderer. If we ought to baptize after the worse because the apostles baptized after the better, whosoever among them were baptized by a drunkard,— I do not say by a murderer, I do not say by the satellite of some wicked man, I do not say by the robber of other men's goods, I do not say by the oppressor of orphans, or a separater of married persons; I speak of none of these; I speak of what happens every year, of what happens every day; I speak of what all are called to, even in this city, when it is said to them, Let us play the part of the irrational, let us have pleasure, and on such a day as this of the calends of January we ought not to fast: these are the things I speak of, these trifling everyday proceedings—when one is baptized by a drunkard, who is better? John or the drunkard? Reply, if you can, that the drunkard is better than John! This you will never venture to do. Do you then, as a sober man, baptize after your drunkard. For if the apostles baptized after John, how much more ought the sober to baptize after the drunkard? Or do you say, the drunkard is in unity with me? Was not John then, the friend of the Bridegroom, in unity with the Bridegroom?

18. But I say to you yourself, whoever you are, Are you better than John? You will not venture to say: I am better than John. Then let your own baptize after you if they are better. For if baptism was administered after John, blush that baptism is not administered after you. You will say, But I have and teach the baptism of Christ. Acknowledge, then, now the Judge, and do not be a proud herald. You give the baptism of Christ, therefore baptism is not administered after you: after John it was administered, because he gave not the baptism of Christ, but his own; for he had in such manner received it that it was his own. You are then not better than John: but the baptism given through you is better than that of John; for the one is Christ's, but the other is that of John. And that which was given by Paul, and that which was given by Peter, is Christ's; and if baptism was given by Judas it was Christ's. Judas gave baptism and after Judas baptism was not repeated; John gave baptism, and baptism was repeated after John: because if baptism was given by Judas, it was the baptism of Christ; but that which was given by John, was John's baptism. We prefer not Judas to John; but the baptism of Christ, even when given by the hand of Judas, we prefer to the baptism of John, rightly given even by the hand of John. For it was said of the Lord before He suffered, that He baptized more than John; then it was added: Howbeit, Jesus Himself baptized not, but His disciples. John 4:1-2 He, and not He: He by power, they by ministry; they performed the service of baptizing, the power of baptizing remained in Christ. His disciples, then, baptized, and Judas was still among his disciples: and were those, then, whom Judas baptized not again baptized; and those whom John baptized were they again baptized? Plainly there was a repetition, but not a repetition of the same baptism. For those whom John baptized, John baptized; those whom Judas baptized, Christ baptized. In like manner, then, they whom a drunkard baptized, those whom a murderer baptized, those whom an adulterer baptized, if it was the baptism of Christ, were baptized by Christ. I do not fear the adulterer, the drunkard, or the murderer, because I give heed unto the dove, through whom it is said to me, This is He which baptizes.

19. But, my brethren, it is madness to say that— I will not say Judas— but that any man was better than he of whom it was said, that Among those that are born of women, there has not arisen a greater than John the Baptist. Matthew 11:11 No servant then is preferred to him; but the baptism of the Lord, even when given through an evil servant, is preferred to the baptism even of a servant who was a friend. Listen to the sort of persons whom the Apostle Paul mentions, false brethren, preaching the word of God through envy, and what he says of them: And I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. Philippians 1:15-18 They proclaimed Christ, through envy indeed, but still they proclaimed Christ. Consider not the why, but the whom: through envy is Christ preached to you. Behold Christ, avoid envy. Do not imitate the evil preacher, but imitate the Good One who is preached to you. Christ then was preached by some out of envy. And what is envy? A shocking evil. By this evil was the devil cast down; this malignant pest it was which cast him down; and certain preachers of Christ were possessed by it, whom, nevertheless, the apostle permitted to preach. Wherefore? Because they preached Christ. But he who envies, hates; and he who hates, what is said concerning him? Listen to the Apostle John: He who hates his brother is a murderer. 1 John 3:15 Behold, after John baptism was given, after a murderer baptism was not given; because John gave his own baptism, the murderer gave the baptism of Christ. That sacrament is so sacred that not even the ministration of a murderer pollutes it.

20. I do not reject John, but rather I believe John. In what do I believe John? In that which he learned through the dove? What did he learn through the dove? This is He which baptizes with the Holy Ghost. Now therefore, brethren, hold this fast and impress it upon your hearts; for if I would more fully explain today, Wherefore through the dove? time fails. For I have, I think, to some extent made plain to you, holy brethren, that a matter which had to be learned was instilled into John by means of the dove, a matter with regard to Christ which John did not know, although he already knew Christ; but why it behooved this matter to be pointed out by means of the dove, I would say, were it possible to say it briefly: but because it would take long to say, and I am unwilling to burden you, since I have been helped by your prayers to perform my promise; with the renewed help of your pious attention and good wishes, it will likewise become clear to you, wherefore John with regard to that matter which he learned regarding the Lord, namely, that it is He which baptizes with the Holy Ghost, and that to none of His servants had he transferred the power of baptizing— why this it became him not to learn except through the dove.

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Source. Translated by John Gibb. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 7. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1701005.htm>.

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