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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 22

Tractate 22 (John 5:24-30)

Upon the discourses delivered yesterday and the day before, follows the Gospel lesson of today, which we must endeavor to expound in due course, not indeed proportionably to its importance, but according to our ability: both because you take in, not according to the bountifulness of the gushing fountain, but according to your moderate capacity; and we too speak into your ears, not so much as the fountain gives forth, but so much as we are able to take in we convey into your minds,— the matter itself working more fruitfully in your hearts than we in your ears. For a great matter is treated of, not by great masters, nay, rather by very small; but He who, being great, for our sakes became small, gives us hope and confidence. For if we were not encouraged by Him, and invited to understand Him; if He abandoned us as contemptible, since we were not able to partake His divinity if He did not partake our mortality and come to us to speak His gospel to us; if He had not willed to partake with us what in us is abject and most small—then we might think that He who took on Himself our smallness, had not been willing to bestow on us His own greatness. This I have said lest any should blame us as over-bold in handling these matters, or despair of himself that he should be able to understand, by God's gift, what the Son of God has deigned to speak to him. Therefore what He has deigned to speak to us, we ought to believe that He meant us to understand. But if we do not understand, He, being asked, gives understanding, who gave His Word unasked.

2. Lo, what these secrets of His words are, consider well. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whoso hears my word, and believes in Him that sent me, has eternal life. Surely we are all striving after eternal life: and He says, Whoso hears my word, and believes Him that sent me, has eternal life. Then, would He have us hear His word, and yet would He not have us understand it? Since, if in hearing and believing is eternal life, much more in understanding. But the action of piety is faith, the fruit of faith understanding, that we may come to eternal life, when there will be no reading of Gospel to us; but after all pages of reading and the voice of reader and preacher have been removed out of the way, He, who has at this time dispensed to us the gospel, will Himself appear to all that are His, now present with Him with purged heart and in an immortal body never more to die, cleansing and enlightening them, now living and seeing how that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. Therefore let us consider at this time who we are, and ponder whom we hear. Christ is God, and He is speaking with men. He would have them to apprehend Him, let Him make them capable; He would have them see Him, let Him open their eyes. It is not, however, without cause that He speaks to us, but because that is true which He promises to us.

3. Whoso hears my words, says He, and believes Him that sent me, has eternal life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death unto life. Where, when do we come from death to life, that we come not into judgment? In this life there is a passing from death to life; in this life, which is not yet life, there is a passing hence from death unto life. What is that passing? Whoso hears my words, He said, and believes Him that sent me. Observing these, you believe and passest. And does a man pass while standing? Evidently; for in body he stands, in mind he passes. Where was he, whence he should pass, and whither does he pass? He passes from death to life. Look at a man standing, in whom all that is here said may happen. He stands, he hears, perhaps he did not believe, by hearing he believes: a little before he did not believe, just now he believes; he has made a passage, as it were, from the region of unbelief to the region of faith, by motion of the heart, not of the body, by a motion into the better; because they who again abandon faith move into the worse. Behold, in this life, which, just as I have said, is not yet life, there is a passing from death to life, so that there may not be a coming into judgment. But why did I say that it is not yet life? If this were life, the Lord would not have said to a certain man, If you will come into life, keep the commandments. Matthew 19:17 For He says not to him, If you will come into eternal life; He did not add eternal, but said only life. Therefore this life is not to be named life, because it is not a true life. What is true life, but that which is eternal life? Hear the apostle speaking to Timothy, when he says, Charge them that are rich in this world, not to be high-minded, nor to trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us all things richly to enjoy; let them do good, be rich in good works, ready to distribute, to communicate. Why does he say this? Hear what follows: Let them lay up in store for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold of the true life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 If they ought to lay up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, in order to lay hold of the true life, surely this in which they were is a false life. For why should you desire to lay hold of the true, if you have the true already? Is the true to be laid hold of? There must then be a departing from the false. And by what way must be the departing? Whither? Hear, believe; and you make the passage from death into life, and comest not into judgment.

4. What is this, and you come not into judgment? And who will be better than the Apostle Paul, who says, We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may there receive what he has done in the body, whether it be good or evil? 2 Corinthians 5:10 Paul says, We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; and do you dare promise to yourself that you shall not come into judgment? Be it far from me, do you say, that I should dare promise this to myself. But I believe Him that does promise. The Saviour speaks, the Truth promises, Himself said to me, Whoso hears my words, and believes Him that sent me, has eternal life, and makes a passage from death unto life, and shall not come into judgment. I then have heard the words of my Lord, and I have believed; so now, when I was an unbeliever, I became a believer; even as He warned me, I passed from death to life, I come not into judgment; not by my presumption, but by His promise. Does Paul, however, speak contrary to Christ, the servant against his Lord, the disciple against his Master, the man against God; so that, when the Lord says, Whoso hears and believes, passes from death to life, the apostle should say, We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ? Otherwise, if he comes not into judgment who appears before the judgment-seat, I know not how to understand it.

5. The Lord our God then reveals it, and by His Scriptures puts us in mind how it may be understood when judgment is spoken of. I exhort you, therefore, to give attention. Sometimes judgment means punishment, sometimes it means discrimination. According to that mode of speech in which judgment means discrimination, we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ that a man may there receive what things he has done in the body, whether it be good or ill. For this same is a discrimination, to distribute good things to the good, evil things to the evil. For if judgment were always to be taken in a bad sense, the psalm would not say, Judge me, O God. Perhaps some one is surprised when he hears one say, Judge me, O God. For man is wont to say, Forgive me, O God; Spare me, O God. Who is it that says, Judge me, O God? Sometimes in the psalm this very verse even is placed in the pause, to be given out by the reader and responded by the people. Does it not perhaps strike some man's heart so much that he is afraid to sing and to say to God, Judge me, O God? And yet the people sing it with confidence, and do not imagine that they wish an evil thing in that which they have learned from the divine word; even if they do not well understand it, they believe that what they sing is something good. And yet even the psalm itself has not left a man without an insight into the meaning of it. For, going on, it shows in the words that follow what kind of judgment it spoke of; that it is not one of condemnation, but of discrimination. For says it, Judge me, O God. What means Judge me, O God, and discern my cause from an unholy nation? According to this judgment of discerning, then, we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ. But again, according to the judgment of condemnation, Whoso hears my words, says He, and believes Him that sent me, has eternal life, and shall not come into judgment, but makes a passage from death to life. What is shall not come into judgment? Shall not come into condemnation. Let us prove from the Scriptures that judgment is put where punishment is understood; although also in this very passage, a little further on, you will hear the same term judgment put for nothing else than for condemnation and punishment. Yet the apostle says in a certain place, writing to those who abused the body, what the faithful among you know; and because they abused it, they were chastised by the scourge of the Lord. For he says to them, Many among you are weak and sickly, and deeply sleep. For many therefore even died. And he went on: For if we judged ourselves, we should not be judged by the Lord; that is, if we reproved ourselves, we should not be reproved by the Lord. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. There are therefore those who are judged here according to punishment, that they may be spared there; there are those who are spared here, that they may be the more abundantly tormented there; and there are those to whom the very punishments are meted out without the scourge of punishment, if they be not corrected by the scourge of God; that, since here they have despised the Father that scourges, they may there feel the Judge that punishes. Therefore there is a judgment into which God, that is, the Son of God, will in the end send the devil and his angels, and all the unbelieving and ungodly with him. To this judgment, he who, now believing, passes from death unto life, shall not come.

6. For, lest you should think that by believing you are not to die according to the flesh, or lest, understanding it carnally, you should say to yourself, My Lord has said to me, Whoso hears my words, and believes Him that sent me, is passed from death to life: I then have believed, I am not to die; be assured that you shall pay that penalty, death, which you owe by the punishment of Adam. For he, in whom we all then were, received this sentence, You shall surely die; Genesis 2:17 nor can the divine sentence be made void. But after you have paid the death of the old man, you shall be received into the eternal life of the new man, and shall pass from death to life. Mean while, make the transition of life now. What is your life? Faith: The just does live by faith. The unbelievers, what of them? They are dead. Among such dead was he, in the body, of whom the Lord says, Let the dead bury their dead. Matthew 8:22 So, then, even in this life there are dead, and there are living; all live in a sense. Who are dead? They who have not believed. Who are living? They who have believed. What is said to the dead by the apostle? Arise, you that sleepest. But, quoth an objector, he said sleep, not death. Hear what follows: Arise, you that sleepest, and come forth from the dead. And as if the sleeper said, Whither shall I go? And Christ shall give you light. Ephesians 1:14 Christ having enlightened you, now believing, immediately you make a passage from death to life: abide in that to which you have passed, and you shall not come into judgment.

7. Himself explains that already, and goes on, Verily, verily, I say unto you. In case, because He said is passed from death to life, we should understand this of the future resurrection, and willing to show that he who believes is passed, and that to pass from death to life is to pass from unbelief to faith, from injustice to justice, from pride to humility, from hatred to charity, He says now, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour comes, and now is. What more evident? And now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live. We have already spoken of these dead. What think we, my brethren? Are there no dead in this crowd that hear me? They who believe and act according to the true faith do live, and are not dead. But they who either do not believe, or believe as the devils believe, trembling, James 2:19 and living wickedly, confessing the Son of God, and without charity, must rather be esteemed dead. This hour, however, is still passing. For the hour of which the Lord spoke will not be an hour of the twelve hours of a day. From the time when He spoke even to the present, and even to the end of the world, the same one hour is passing; of which hour John says in his epistle, Little children, it is the last hour. 1 John 2:18 Therefore, is now. Whoso is alive, let him live; whoso was dead, let him live; let him hear the voice of the Son of God, who lay dead; let him arise and live. The Lord cried out at the sepulchre of Lazarus, and he that was four days dead arose. He who stank in the grave came forth into the air. He was buried, a stone was laid over him: the voice of the Saviour burst asunder the hardness of the stone; and your heart is so hard, that Divine Voice does not yet break it! Rise in your heart; go forth from your tomb. For you were lying dead in your heart as in a tomb, and pressed down by the weight of evil habit as by a stone. Rise, and go forth. What is Rise, and go forth? Believe and confess. For he that has believed has risen; he that confesses is gone forth. Why said we that he who confesses is gone forth? Because he was hid before confessing; but when he does confess, he goes forth from darkness to light. And after he has confessed, what is said to the servants? What was said beside the corpse of Lazarus? Loose him, and let him go. How? As it was said to His servants the apostles, What things you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven. Matthew 18:18

8. The hour comes, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live. From what source shall they live? From life. From what life? From Christ. How do we prove that the source is Christ the life? I am, says He, the way, the truth, and the life. John 14:6 Do you wish to walk? I am the way. Do you wish not to be deceived? I am the truth. Would you not die? I am the life. This says your Saviour to you: There is not whither you may go but to me; there is not whereby you may go but by me. Therefore this hour is going on now, this act is clearly taking place, and does not at all cease. Men who were dead, rise; they pass over to life; at the voice of the Son of God they live; from Him they live, while persevering in the faith of Him. For the Son has life, whence He has it that they that believe shall live.

9. And how has He? Even as the Father has. Hear Himself saying, For as the Father has life in Himself, so also has He given to the Son to have life in Himself. Brethren, I shall speak as I shall be able. For these are those words that perplex the puny understanding. Why has He added, in Himself? It would suffice to say, For as the Father has life, so also has He given to the Son to have life. He added, in Himself: for the Father has life in Himself, and the Son has life in Himself. He meant us to understand something in that which He says, in Himself. And here a secret matter is shut up in this word; let there be knocking, that there may be an opening. O Lord, what is this that You have said? Wherefore have You added, in Himself? For did not Paul the apostle, whom You made to live, have life? He had, said He. As for men that were dead to be made alive, and at Your word to pass unto life by believing; when they shall have passed, will they not have life in You? They shall have life; for I said also a little before, Whoso hears my words, and believes Him that sent me, has eternal life. Therefore those that believe in You have life; and You have not said, in themselves. But when You speak of the Father, even as the Father has life in Himself; again, when You speak of Yourself, Thou said, So also has He given to the Son to have life in Himself. Even as He has, so gave He to have. Where has He? In Himself. Where gave He to have? In Himself. Where has Paul life? Not in himself, but in Christ. Where have you, believer? Not in yourself, but in Christ. Let us see whether the apostle says this: Now I live; but not I, but Christ lives in me. Galatians 2:20 Our life, as ours, that is, of our own personal will, will be only evil, sinful, unrighteous; but the life in us that is good is from God, not from ourselves; it is given to us by God, not by ourselves. But Christ has life in Himself, as the Father has, because He is the Word of God. With Him, it is not the case that He lives now ill, now well; but as for man, he lives now ill, now well. He who was living ill, was in his own life; he who is living well, is passed to the life of Christ. You are made a partaker of life; you were not that which you have received, but wast one who received: but it is not so with the Son of God as if at first He was without life, and then received life. For if thus He received life, He would not have it in Himself. For, indeed, what is in Himself? That He should Himself be the very life.

10. I may perhaps declare that matter more plainly still. One lights a candle: that candle, for example, so far as regards the little flame which shines there— that fire has light in itself; but your eyes, which lay idle and saw nothing, in the absence of the candle, now have light also, but not in themselves. Further, if they turn away from the candle, they are made dark; if they turn to it, they are illumined. But certainly that fire shines so long as it exists: if you would take the light from it, you also at the same time extinguish it; for without the light it cannot remain. But Christ is light inextinguishable and co-eternal with the Father, always bright, always shining, always burning: for if He were not burning, would it be said in the psalm, Nor is there any that can hide himself from his heat? But you were cold in your sin; you turn that you may become warm; if you will turn away, you will become cold. In your sin you were dark; you turn in order to be enlightened; if you turn away, you will become dark. Therefore, because in yourself you were darkness, when you shall be enlightened, you will be light, though in the light. For says the apostle, You were once darkness, but now light in the Lord. Ephesians 5:8 When he had said, but now light, he added, in the Lord. Therefore in yourself darkness, light in the Lord. In what way light? Because by participation of that light you are light. But if you will depart from the light by which you are enlightened, you return to your darkness. Not so Christ, not so the Word of God. But how not? As the Father has life in Himself, so has He given also to the Son to have life in Himself; so that He lives, not by participation, but unchangeably, and is altogether Himself life. So has He given also to the Son to have life. Even as He has, so has He given. What is the difference? For the one gave, the other received. Was He already in being when He received? Are we to understand that Christ was at any time in being without light, when Himself is the wisdom of the Father, of which it is said, It is the brightness of the eternal light? Wisdom 7:26 Therefore what is said, gave to the Son, is such as if it were said, begot the Son; for by begetting He gave. As He gave Him to be, so He gave Him to be life, so also gave Him to be life in Himself. What is that, to be life in Himself? Not to need life from elsewhere, but to be Himself the plenitude of life, out of which others believing should have life while they lived. Hath given Him, then, to have life in Himself. Hath given as to whom? As to His own Word, as to Him who in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.

11. Afterwards, because He was made man, what gave He to Him? And has given Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of man. In that He is the Son of God, As the Father has life in Himself, so also has He given to the Son to have life in Himself; in that He is the Son of man, He has given Him authority of executing judgment. This is what I ex plained to you yesterday, my beloved, that in the judgment man will be seen, but God will not be seen; but after the judgment, God will be seen by those who have prevailed in the judgment, but by the wicked He will not be seen. Since, therefore, the man will be seen in the judgment in that form in which He will so come as He ascended, for that reason He had said above, The Father judges not any man, but has given all judgment to the Son. He repeats the same thing also in this place, when He says, And has given Him authority of executing judgment, because He is the Son of man. As if you were to say, has given Him authority of executing judgment. In what way? When He had not that authority of executing judgment? Since in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; since all things were made by Him, did He not already have authority of executing judgment? Yes, but according to this, I say, He gave Him authority of executing judgment, because He is the Son of man: according to this, He received authority of judging because He is the Son of man. For in that He is the Son of God, He always had this authority. He that was crucified, received; He who was in death, is in life: the Word of God never was in death, but is always in life.

12. Now, therefore, as to a resurrection, perhaps some one of us was saying: Behold, we have risen; he who hears Christ, and believes, and is passed from death to life, also will not come into judgment. The hour comes, and now is, that whoso hears the voice of the Son of God shall live: he was dead, he has heard; behold, he does rise. What is this that is said, that there is to be a resurrection afterwards? Spare yourself, do not hasten the sentence, lest you hurry after it. There is, indeed, this resurrection which comes to pass now; unbelievers were dead, the unrighteous were dead; the righteous live, they pass from the death of unbelief to the life of faith. But do not thence believe that there will not be a resurrection afterwards of the body; believe that there will be a resurrection of the body also. For hear what follows after the declaration of this resurrection which is by faith, lest any should think this to be the only resurrection, or fall into that desperation and error of men who perverted the thoughts of others, saying that the resurrection is past already, of whom the apostle says, and they overthrow the faith of some. 2 Timothy 2:18 For I believe that they were saying to them such words as these: Behold, when the Lord says, And he that believes in me is passed from death unto life; the resurrection has already taken place in believing men, who were before unbelievers: how can a second resurrection be meant? Thanks to our Lord God, He supports the wavering, directs the perplexed, confirms the doubting. Hear what follows, now that you have not whereof to make to yourself the darkness of death. If you have believed, believe the whole. What whole, do you say, am I to believe? Hear what He says: Marvel not at this, namely, that He gave to the Son authority of making judgment. I say, in the end of the world, says He. How in the end? Do not marvel at this; for the hour comes. Here He has not said, and now is. In reference to that resurrection of faith, what did He say? The hour comes, and now is. In reference to that resurrection which He intimates there will be of dead bodies, He said, The hour comes; He has not said, and now is. because it is to come in the end of the world.

13. And whence, do you say, do you prove to me that He spoke about the resurrection itself? If you hear patiently, you will presently prove it to yourself. Let us go on then: Marvel not at this; for the hour comes, in which all that are in the graves. What more evident than this resurrection? A while ago, He had not said, they that are in the graves, but, The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live. He has not said, some shall live, others shall be damned; because all who believe shall live. But what does He say concerning the graves? All that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth. He said not, shall hear and live. For if they have lived wickedly, and lay in the graves, they shall rise to death, not to life. Let us see, then, who shall come forth. Although, a little before, the dead by hearing and believing did live, there was no distinction there made: it was not said, The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and when they shall have heard, some shall live, and some shall be damned; but, all that hear shall live: because they that believe shall live, they that have charity shall live, and none of them shall die. But concerning the graves, They shall hear His voice, and come forth: they that have done well, to the resurrection of life; they that have done ill, to the resurrection of judgment. This is the judgment, that punishment of which He had said a while before, Whoso believes in me is passed from death to life, and shall not come into judgment.

14. I cannot of myself do anything; as I hear I judge, and my judgment is just. If as You hear You judge, of whom dost Thou hear? If of the Father, yet surely the Father judges not any man, but has given all judgment to the Son. When do You, being in a manner the Father's herald, declare what You hear? I speak what I hear, because what the Father is, that I am: for, indeed, speaking is my function; because I am the Father's Word. For this Christ says to you. Thereupon, of yours. What is As I hear I judge, but As I am? For in what manner does Christ hear? Let us inquire, brethren, I beg of you. Does Christ hear of the Father? How does the Father speak to Him? Undoubtedly, if He speaks to Him, He uses words to Him; for every one who says something to any one, says it by a word. How does the Father speak to the Son, seeing that the Son is the Father's Word? Whatever the Father says to us, He says it by His Word: the Word of the Father is the Son; by what other word, then, does He speak to the Word Himself? God is one, has one Word, contains all things in one Word. What does that mean, then, As I hear, I judge? Just as I am of the Father, so I judge. Therefore my judgment is just. If You do nothing of Yourself, O Lord Jesus, as carnal men think; if You do nothing of Yourself, how did You say a while before, So also the Son quickens whom He will? Just now You say, Of myself I do nothing. But what does the Son declare, but that He is of the Father? He that is of the Father is not of Himself. If the Son were of Himself, He would not be the Son: He is of the Father. That the Father is, is not of the Son; that the Son is, is of the Father. Equal to the Father; but yet the Son of the Father, not the Father of the Son.

15. Because I seek not my own will, but the will of Him that sent me. The Only Son says, I seek not my own will, and yet men desire to do their own will! To such a degree does He who is equal to the Father humble Himself; and to such a degree does He extol Himself, who lies in the lowest depth, and cannot rise except a hand is reached to Him! Let us then do the will of the Father, the will of the Son, the will of the Holy Ghost; because of this Trinity there is one will, one power, one majesty. Yet for that reason says the Son, I came not to do my own will, but the will of Him that sent me; because Christ is not of Himself, but of the Father. But what He had that He might appear as a man, He assumed of the creature which He himself formed.

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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/1701022.htm>.

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