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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 27

Tractate 27 (John 6:60-72)

1. We have just heard out of the Gospel the words of the Lord which follow the former discourse. From these a discourse is due to your ears and minds, and it is not unseasonable today; for it is concerning the body of the Lord which He said that He gave to be eaten for eternal life. And He explained the mode of this bestowal and gift of His, in what manner He gave His flesh to eat, saying, He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, dwells in me, and I in him. The proof that a man has eaten and drank is this, if he abides and is abode in, if he dwells and is dwelt in, if he adheres so as not to be deserted. This, then, He has taught us, and admonished us in mystical words that we may be in His body, in His members under Himself as head, eating His flesh, not abandoning our unity with Him. But most of those who were present, by not understanding Him, were offended; for in hearing these things, they thought only of flesh, that which themselves were. But the apostle says, and says what is true, To be carnally-minded is death. Romans 7:6 The Lord gives us His flesh to eat, and yet to understand it according to the flesh is death; while yet He says of His flesh, that therein is eternal life. Therefore we ought not to understand the flesh carnally. As in these words that follow:

2. Many therefore, not of His enemies, but of His disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is a hard saying; who can hear it? If His disciples accounted this saying hard, what must His enemies have thought? And yet so it behooved that to be said which should not be understood by all. The secret of God ought to make men eagerly attentive, not hostile. But these men quickly departed from Him, while the Lord said such things: they did not believe Him to be saying something great, and covering some grace by these words; they understood just according to their wishes, and in the manner of men, that Jesus was able, or was determined upon this, namely, to distribute the flesh with which the Word was clothed, piecemeal, as it were, to those that believe in Him. This, say they, is a hard saying; who can hear it?

3. But Jesus, knowing in Himself that His disciples murmured at it,— for they so said these things with themselves that they might not be heard by Him: but He who knew them in themselves, hearing within Himself—answered and said, This offends you; because I said, I give you my flesh to eat, and my blood to drink, this forsooth offends you. Then what if you shall see the Son of man ascending where He was before? What is this? Did He hereby solve the question that perplexed them? Did He hereby uncover the source of their offense? He did clearly, if only they understood. For they supposed that He was going to deal out His body to them; but He said that He was to ascend into heaven, of course, whole: When you shall see the Son of man ascending where He was before; certainly then, at least, you will see that not in the manner you suppose does He dispense His body; certainly then, at least, you will understand that His grace is not consumed by tooth-biting.

4. And He said, It is the Spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing. Before we expound this, as the Lord grants us, that other must not be negligently passed over, where He says, Then what if you shall see the Son of man ascending where He was before? For Christ is the Son of man, of the Virgin Mary. Therefore Son of man He began to be here on earth, where He took flesh from the earth. For which cause it was said prophetically, Truth is sprung from the earth. Then what does He mean when He says, When you shall see the Son of man ascending where He was before? For there had been no question if He had spoken thus: If you shall see the Son of God ascending where He was before. But since He said, The Son of man ascending where He was before, surely the Son of man was not in heaven before the time when He began to have a being on earth? Here, indeed, He said, where He was before, just as if He were not there at this time when He spoke these words. But in another place He says, No man has ascended into heaven but He that came down from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven. John 3:13 He said not was, but, says He, the Son of man who is in heaven. He was speaking on earth, and He declared Himself to be in heaven. And yet He did not speak thus: No man has ascended into heaven but He that came down from heaven, the Son of God, who is in heaven. Whither tends it, but to make us understand that which even in the former discourse I commended to your minds, my beloved, that Christ, both God and man, is one person, not two persons, lest our faith be not a trinity, but a quaternity? Christ, therefore, is one; the Word, soul and flesh, one Christ; the Son of God and Son of man, one Christ; Son of God always, Son of man in time, yet one Christ in regard to unity of person. In heaven He was when He spoke on earth. He was Son of man in heaven in that manner in which He was Son of God on earth; Son of God on earth in the flesh which He took, Son of man in heaven in the unity of person.

5. What is it, then, that He adds? It is the Spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing. Let us say to Him (for He permits us, not contradicting Him, but desiring to know), O Lord, good Master, in what way does the flesh profit nothing, while You have said, Except a man eat my flesh, and drink my blood, he shall not have life in him? Or does life profit nothing? And why are we what we are, but that we may have eternal life, which Thou dost promise by Your flesh? Then what means the flesh profits nothing? It profits nothing, but only in the manner in which they understood it. They indeed understood the flesh, just as when cut to pieces in a carcass, or sold in the shambles; not as when it is quickened by the Spirit. Wherefore it is said that the flesh profits nothing, in the same manner as it is said that knowledge puffs up. Then, ought we at once to hate knowledge? Far from it! And what means Knowledge puffs up? Knowledge alone, without charity. Therefore he added, but charity edifies. 1 Corinthians 8:1 Therefore add to knowledge charity, and knowledge will be profitable, not by itself, but through charity. So also here, the flesh profits nothing, only when alone. Let the Spirit be added to the flesh, as charity is added to knowledge, and it profits very much. For if the flesh profited nothing, the Word would not be made flesh to dwell among us. If through the flesh Christ has greatly profited us, does the flesh profit nothing? But it is by the flesh that the Spirit has done somewhat for our salvation. Flesh was a vessel; consider what it held, not what it was. The apostles were sent forth; did their flesh profit us nothing? If the apostles' flesh profited us, could it be that the Lord's flesh should have profited us nothing? For how should the sound of the Word come to us except by the voice of the flesh? Whence should writing come to us? All these are operations of the flesh, but only when the spirit moves it, as if it were its organ. Therefore it is the Spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing, as they understood the flesh, but not so do I give my flesh to be eaten.

6. Hence the words, says He, which I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. For we have said, brethren, that this is what the Lord had taught us by the eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood, that we should abide in Him and He in us. But we abide in Him when we are His members, and He abides in us when we are His temple. But that we may be His members, unity joins us together. And what but love can effect that unity should join us together? And the love of God, whence is it? Ask the apostle: The love of God, says he, is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given to us. Romans 5:5 Therefore it is the Spirit that quickens, for it is the Spirit that makes living members. Nor does the Spirit make any members to be living except such as it finds in the body, which also the Spirit itself quickens. For the Spirit which is in you, O man, by which it consists that you are a man, does it quicken a member which it finds separated from your flesh? I call your soul your spirit. Your soul quickens only the members which are in your flesh; if you take one away, it is no longer quickened by your soul, because it is not joined to the unity of your body. These things are said to make us love unity and fear separation. For there is nothing that a Christian ought to dread so much as to be separated from Christ's body. For if he is separated from Christ's body, he is not a member of Christ; if he is not a member of Christ, he is not quickened by the Spirit of Christ. But if any man, says the apostle, have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. Romans 8:9 It is the Spirit, then, that quickens; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. What means are spirit and life? They are to be understood spiritually. Have you understood spiritually? They are spirit and life. Have you understood carnally? So also are they spirit and life, but are not so to you.

7. But, says He, there are some among you that believe not. He said not, There are some among you that understand not; but He told the cause why they understand not. There are some among you that believe not, and therefore they understand not, because they believe not. For the prophet has said, If you believe not, you shall not understand. We are united by faith, quickened by understanding. Let us first adhere to Him through faith, that there may be that which may be quickened by understanding. For he who adheres not resists; he that resists believes not. And how can he that resists be quickened? He is an adversary to the ray of light by which he should be penetrated: he turns not away his eye, but shuts his mind. There are, then, some who believe not. Let them believe and open, let them open and be illumined. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed, and who should betray Him. For Judas also was there. Some indeed, were offended; but he remained to watch his opportunity, not to understand. And because he remained for that purpose, the Lord kept not silence concerning him. He described him not by name, but neither was He silent about him; that all might fear though only one should perish. But after He spoke, and distinguished those that believe from those that believe not, He clearly showed the cause why they believed not. Therefore I said unto you, says He, that no man can come unto me except it were given to him of my Father. Hence to believe is also given to us; for certainly to believe is something. And if it is something great, rejoice that you have believed, yet be not lifted up; for What do you have that you did not receive? 1 Corinthians 4:7

8. From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him. Went back, but after Satan, not after Christ. For our Lord Christ once addressed Peter as Satan, rather because he wished to precede his Lord, and to give counsel that He should not die, He who had come to die, that we might not die for ever; and He says to him, Get behind me, Satan; for you savor not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men. Matthew 16:23 He did not drive him back to go after Satan, and so called him Satan; but He made him go behind Himself, that by walking after his Lord he should not be a Satan. But these went back in the same manner as the apostle says of certain women: For some are turned back after Satan. 1 Timothy 5:15 They walked not further with Him. Behold, cut off from the body, for perhaps they were not in the body, they have lost life. They must be reckoned among the unbelieving, notwithstanding they were called disciples. Not a few, but many went back. This happened, it may be, for our consolation. For sometimes it happens that a man may declare the truth, and that what he says may not be understood, and so they that hear it are offended and go away. Now the man regrets that he had spoken that truth, and he says to himself, I ought not to have spoken so, I ought not to have said this. Behold; it happened to the Lord: He spoke, and lost many; He remained with few. But yet He was not troubled, because He knew from the beginning who they were that believed and that believed not. If it happen to us, we are sorely perplexed. Let us find comfort in the Lord, and yet let us speak words with prudence.

9. And now addressing the few that remained: Then said Jesus to the twelve (namely, those twelve who remained), Will ye also, said He, go away? Not even Judas departed. But it was already manifest to the Lord why he remained: to us he was made manifest afterwards. Peter answered in behalf of all, one for many, unity for the collective whole: Then Simon Peter answered Him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You drive us from You; give us Your other self. To whom shall we go? If we abandon You, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. See how Peter, by the gift of God and the renewal of the Holy Spirit, understood Him. How other than because he believed? You have the words of eternal life. For You have eternal life in the ministration of Your body and blood. And we have believed and have known. Not have known and believed, but believed and known. For we believed in order to know; for if we wanted to know first, and then to believe, we should not be able either to know or to believe. What have we believed and known? That You are Christ, the Son of God; that is, that You are that very eternal life, and that You give in Your flesh and blood only that which You are.

10. Then said the Lord Jesus: Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? Therefore, should He have said, I have chosen eleven: or is a devil also chosen, and among the elect? Persons are wont to be called elect by way of praise: or was man elected because some great good was done by him, without his will and knowledge? This belongs peculiarly to God; the contrary is characteristic of the wicked. For as wicked men make a bad use of the good works of God; so, on the contrary, God makes a good use of the evil works of wicked men. How good it is that the members of the body are, as they can be disposed only by God, their author and framer! Nevertheless what evil use does wantonness make of the eyes? What ill use does falsehood make of the tongue? Does not the false witness first both slay his own soul with his tongue, and then, after he has destroyed himself, endeavor to injure another? He makes an ill use of the tongue, but the tongue is not therefore an evil thing; the tongue is God's work, but iniquity makes an ill use of that good work of God. How do they use their feet who run into crimes? How do murderers employ their hands? And what ill use do wicked men make of those good creatures of God that lie outside of them? With gold they corrupt judgment and oppress the innocent. Bad men make a bad use of the very light; for by evil living they employ even the very light with which they see into the service of their villanies. A bad man, when going to do a bad deed, wishes the light to shine for him, lest he stumble; he who has already stumbled and fallen within; that which he is afraid of in his body has already befallen him in his heart. Hence, to avoid the tediousness of running through them separately, a bad man makes a bad use of all the good creatures of God: a good man, on the contrary, makes a good use of the evil deeds of wicked men. And what is so good as the one God? Since, indeed, the Lord Himself said, There is none good, but the one God. Mark 10:10 By how much He is better, then, by so much the better use He makes of our evil deeds. What worse than Judas? Among all that adhered to the Master, among the twelve, to him was committed the common purse; to him was allotted the dispensing for the poor. Unthankful for so great a favor, so great an honor, he took the money, and lost righteousness: being dead, he betrayed life: Him whom he followed as a disciple, he persecuted as an enemy. All this evil was Judas's; but the Lord employed his evil for good. He endured to be betrayed, to redeem us. Behold, Judas's evil was turned to good. How many martyrs has Satan persecuted! If Satan left off persecuting, we should not today be celebrating the very glorious crown of Saint Laurence. If then God employs the evil works of the devil himself for good, what the bad man effects, by making a bad use, is to hurt himself, not to contradict the goodness of God. The Master makes use of that man. And if He knew not how to make use of him, the Master contriver would not have permitted him to be. Therefore, He says, One of you is a devil, while I have chosen you twelve. This saying, I have chosen you twelve, may be understood in this way, that twelve is a sacred number. For the honor of that number was not taken away because one was lost, for another was chosen into the place of the one that perished. Acts 1:26 The number remained a sacred number, a number containing twelve: because they were to make known the Trinity throughout the whole world, that is, throughout the four quarters of the world. That is the reason of the three times four. Judas, then only cut himself off, not profaned the number twelve: he abandoned his Teacher, for God appointed a successor to take his place.

11. All this that the Lord spoke concerning His flesh and blood;— and in the grace of that distribution He promised us eternal life, and that He meant those that eat His flesh and drink His blood to be understood, from the fact of their abiding in Him and He in them; and that they understood not who believed not; and that they were offended through their understanding spiritual things in a carnal sense; and that, while these were offended and perished, the Lord was present for the consolation of the disciples who remained, for proving whom He asked, Will ye also go away? that the reply of their steadfastness might be known to us, for He knew that they remained with Him—let all this, then, avail us to this end, most beloved, that we eat not the flesh and blood of Christ merely in the sacrament, as many evil men do, but that we eat and drink to the participation of the Spirit, that we abide as members in the Lord's body, to be quickened by His Spirit, and that we be not offended, even if many do now with us eat and drink the sacraments in a temporal manner, who shall in the end have eternal torments. For at present Christ's body is as it were mixed on the threshing-floor: But the Lord knows them that are His. 2 Timothy 2:19 If you know what you thresh, that the substance is there hidden, that the threshing has not consumed what the winnowing has purged; certain are we, brethren, that all of us who are in the Lord's body, and abide in Him, that He also may abide in us, have of necessity to live among evil men in this world even unto the end. I do not say among those evil men who blaspheme Christ; for there are now few found who blaspheme with the tongue, but many who do so by their life. Among those, then, we must necessarily live even unto the end.

12. But what is this that He says: He that abides in me, and I in him? What, but that which the martyrs heard: He that perseveres unto the end, the same shall be saved? Matthew 24:13 How did Saint Laurence, whose feast we celebrate today, abide in Him? He abode even to temptation, abode even to tyrannical questioning, abode even to bitterest threatening, abode even to destruction—that were a trifle, abode even to savage torture. For he was not put to death quickly, but tormented in the fire: he was allowed to live a long time; nay, not allowed to live a long time, but forced to die a slow, lingering death. Then, in that lingering death, in those torments, because he had well eaten and well drunk, as one who had feasted on that meat, as one intoxicated with that cup, he felt not the torments. For He was there who said, It is the Spirit that quickens. For the flesh indeed was burning, but the Spirit was quickening the soul. He shrunk not back, and he mounted into the kingdom. But the holy martyr Xystus, whose day we celebrated five days ago, had said to him, Mourn not, my son; for Xystus was a bishop, he was a deacon. Mourn not, said he; you shall follow me after three days. He said three days, meaning the interval between the day of Saint Xystus's suffering and that of Saint Laurence's suffering, which falls on today. Three days is the interval. What comfort! He says not, Mourn not, my son; the persecution will cease, and you will be safe; but, do not mourn: whither I precede you shall follow; nor shall your pursuit be deferred: three days will be the interval, and you shall be with me. He accepted the oracle, vanquished the devil, and attained to the triumph.

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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/1701027.htm>.

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