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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 33

Tractate 33 (John 7:40-8:11)

1. You remember, my beloved, that in the last discourse, by occasion of the passage of the Gospel read, we spoke to you concerning the Holy Spirit. When the Lord had invited those that believe in Him to this drinking, speaking among those who meditated to lay hold of Him, and sought to kill Him, and were not able, because it was not His will: well, when He had spoken these things, there arose a dissension among the multitude concerning Him; some thinking that He was the very Christ, others saying that Christ shall not arise from Galilee. But they who had been sent to take Him returned clear of the crime and full of admiration. For they even gave witness to His divine doctrine, when those by whom they had been sent asked, Why have ye not brought him? They answered that they had never heard a man so speak: For not any man so speaks. But He spoke thus, because He was God and man. But the Pharisees, repelling their testimony, said to them: Are ye also deceived? We see, indeed, that you also have been charmed by his discourses. Hath any one of the rulers or the Pharisees believed on him? But this multitude who know not the law are cursed. They who knew not the law believed on Him who had sent the law; and those men who were teaching the law despised Him, that it might be fulfilled which the Lord Himself had said, I have come that they who see not may see, and they that see may be made blind. John 9:39 For the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, were made blind, and the people that knew not the law, and yet believed on the author of the law, were enlightened.

2. Nicodemus, however, one of the Pharisees, who had come to the Lord by night,— not indeed as being himself unbelieving, but timid; for therefore he came by night to the light, because he wished to be enlightened and feared to be knownNicodemus, I say, answered the Jews, Does our law judge a man before it hear him, and know what he does? For they perversely wished to condemn before they examined. Nicodemus indeed knew, or rather believed, that if only they were willing to give Him a patient hearing, they would perhaps become like those who were sent to take Him, but preferred to believe. They answered, from the prejudice of their heart, what they had answered to those officers, Are you also a Galilean? That is, one seduced as it were by the Galilean. For the Lord was said to be a Galilean, because His parents were from the city of Nazareth. I have said His parents in regard to Mary, not as regards the seed of man; for on earth He sought but a mother, He had already a Father on high. For His nativity on both sides was marvellous: divine without mother, human without father. What, then, said those would-be doctors of the law to Nicodemus? Search the Scriptures, and see that out of Galilee arises no prophet. Yet the Lord of the prophets arose thence. They returned, says the evangelist, every man to his own house.

3. Thence Jesus went unto the mount; namely, to mount Olivet,— unto the fruitful mount, unto the mount of ointment, unto the mount of chrism. For where, indeed, but on mount Olivet did it become the Christ to teach? For the name of Christ is from chrism; χρισμα in the Greek, is called in Latin unctio, an anointing. And He has anointed us for this reason, because He has made us wrestlers against the devil. And early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came unto Him; and He sat down and taught them. And He was not taken, for He did not yet deign to suffer.

4. And now observe wherein the Lord's gentleness was tempted by His enemies. And the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman just taken in adultery: and they set her in the midst, and said to Him, Master, this woman has just been taken in adultery. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what do you say? But this they said, tempting Him, that they might accuse Him. Why accuse Him? Had they detected Himself in any misdeed; or was that woman said to have been concerned with Him in any manner? What, then, is the meaning of tempting Him, that they might accuse Him? We understand, brethren, that a wonderful gentleness shone out pre-eminently in the Lord. They observed that He was very meek, very gentle: for of Him it had been previously foretold, Gird Your sword upon Your thigh, O most Mighty; in Your splendor and beauty urge on, march on prosperously, and reign, because of truth, and meekness, and righteousness. Accordingly, as a teacher, He brought truth; as a deliverer, He brought gentleness; as a protector, He brought righteousness. That He was to reign on account of these things, the prophet had by the Holy Spirit foretold. When He spoke His truth was acknowledged; when He was not provoked to anger against His enemies, His meekness was praised. Whilst, therefore, in respect of these two—namely, His truth and meekness—His enemies were tormented with malice and envy; in respect of the third—namely, righteousness—they laid a stumbling-block for Him. In what way? Because the law had commanded the adulterers to be stoned, and surely the law could not command what was unjust: if any man should say other than the law had commanded, he would be detected as unjust. Therefore they said among themselves, He is accounted true, he appears to be gentle; an accusation must be sought against him in respect of righteousness. Let us bring before him a woman taken in adultery; let us say to him what is ordered in the law concerning such: if he shall approve her being stoned, he will not show his gentleness; if he consent to let her go, he will not keep righteousness. But, say they, that he may not lose the reputation of gentleness, for which he has become an object of love to the people, without doubt he will say that she must be let go. Hence we find an opportunity of accusing him, and we charge him as being a transgressor of the law: saying to him, You are an enemy to the law; you answer against Moses, nay, against Him who gave the law through Moses; you are worthy of death: thou too must be stoned with this woman. By these words and sentiments they might possibly be able to inflame envy against Him, to urge accusation, and cause His condemnation to be eagerly demanded. But this against whom? It was perversity against rectitude, falsehood against the truth, the corrupt heart against the upright heart, folly against wisdom. When did such men prepare snares, into which they did not first thrust their own heads? Behold, the Lord in answering them will both keep righteousness, and will not depart from gentleness. He was not taken for whom the snare was laid, but rather they were taken who laid it, because they believed not on Him who could pull them out of the net.

5. What answer, then, did the Lord Jesus make? How answered the Truth? How answered Wisdom? How answered that Righteousness against which a false accusation was ready? He did not say, Let her not be stoned; lest He should seem to speak against the law. But God forbid that He should say, Let her be stoned: for He came not to lose what He had found, but to seek what was lost. What then did He answer? See you how full it is of righteousness, how full of meekness and truth! He that is without sin of you, says He, let him first cast a stone at her. O answer of Wisdom! How He sent them unto themselves! For without they stood to accuse and censure, themselves they examined not inwardly: they saw the adulteress, they looked not into themselves. Transgressors of the law, they wished the law to be fulfilled, and this by heedlessly accusing; not really fulfilling it, as if condemning adulteries by chastity. You have heard, O Jews, you have heard, O Pharisees, you have heard, O teachers of the law, the guardian of the law, but have not yet understood Him as the Lawgiver. What else does He signify to you when He writes with His finger on the ground? For the law was written with the finger of God; but written on stone because of the hard-hearted. The Lord now wrote on the ground, because He was seeking fruit. You have heard then, Let the law be fulfilled, let the adulteress be stoned. But is it by punishing her that the law is to be fulfilled by those that ought to be punished? Let each of you consider himself, let him enter into himself, ascend the judgment-seat of his own mind, place himself at the bar of his own conscience, oblige himself to confess. For he knows what he is: for no man knows the things of a man, but the spirit of man which is in him. Each looking carefully into himself, finds himself a sinner. Yes, indeed. Hence, either let this woman go, or together with her receive ye the penalty of the law. Had He said, Let not the adulteress be stoned, He would be proved unjust: had He said, Let her be stoned, He would not appear gentle: let Him say what it became Him to say, both the gentle and the just, Whoso is without sin of you, let him first cast a stone at her. This is the voice of Justice: Let her, the sinner, be punished, but not by sinners: let the law be fulfilled, but not by the transgressors of the law. This certainly is the voice of justice: by which justice, those men pierced through as if by a dart, looking into themselves and finding themselves guilty, one after another all withdrew. The two were left alone, the wretched woman and Mercy. But the Lord, having struck them through with that dart of justice, deigned not to heed their fall, but, turning away His look from them, again He wrote with His finger on the ground.

6. But when that woman was left alone, and all they had gone out, He raised His eyes to the woman. We have heard the voice of justice, let us also hear the voice of clemency. For I suppose that woman was the more terrified when she had heard it said by the Lord, He that is without sin of you, let him first cast a stone at her. But they, turning their thought to themselves, and by that very withdrawal having confessed concerning themselves, had left the woman with her great sin to Him who was without sin. And because she had heard this, He that is without sin. let him first cast a stone at her, she expected to be punished by Him in whom sin could not be found. But He, who had driven back her adversaries with the tongue of justice, raising the eyes of clemency towards her, asked her, Hath no man condemned you? She answered, No man, Lord. And He said, Neither do I condemn you; by whom, perhaps, you feared to be condemned, because in me you have not found sin. Neither will I condemn you. What is this, O Lord? Do You therefore favor sins? Not so, evidently. Mark what follows: Go, henceforth sin no more. Therefore the Lord did also condemn, but condemned sins, not man. For if He were a patron of sin, He would say, Neither will I condemn you; go, live as you will: be secure in my deliverance; how much soever you will sin, I will deliver you from all punishment even of hell, and from the tormentors of the infernal world. He said not this.

7. Let them take heed, then, who love His gentleness in the Lord, and let them fear His truth. For The Lord is sweet and right. You love Him in that He is sweet; fear Him in that He is right. As the meek, He said, I held my peace; but as the just, He said, Shall I always be silent? Isaiah 42:14 The Lord is merciful and pitiful. So He is, certainly. Add yet further, Long-suffering; add yet further, And very pitiful: but fear what comes last, And true. For those whom He now bears with as sinners, He will judge as despisers. Or do you despise the riches of His long-suffering and gentleness; not knowing that the forbearance of God leads you to repentance? But you, after your hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up for yourself wrath against the day of wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds. Romans 2:4-6 The Lord is gentle, the Lord is long-suffering, the Lord is pitiful; but the Lord is also just, the Lord is also true. He bestows on you space for correction; but you love the delay of judgment more than the amendment of your ways. Have you been a bad man yesterday? Today be a good man. Have you gone on in your wickedness today? At any rate change tomorrow. You are always expecting, and from the mercy of God makest exceeding great promises to yourself. As if He, who has promised you pardon through repentance, promised you also a longer life. How do you know what tomorrow may bring forth? Rightly you say in your heart: When I shall have corrected my ways, God will put all my sins away. We cannot deny that God has promised pardon to those that have amended their ways and are converted. For in what prophet you read to me that God has promised pardon to him that amends, you do not read to me that God has promised you a long life.

8. From both, then, men are in danger; both from hoping and despairing, from contrary things, from contrary affections. Who is deceived by hoping? He who says, God is good, God is merciful, let me do what I please, what I like; let me give loose reins to my lusts, let me gratify the desires of my soul. Why this? Because God is merciful, God is good, God is kind. These men are in danger by hope. And those are in danger from despair, who, having fallen into grievous sins, fancying that they can no more be pardoned upon repentance, and believing that they are without doubt doomed to damnation, do say with themselves, We are already destined to be damned, why not do what we please with the disposition of gladiators destined to the sword. This is the reason that desperate men are dangerous: for, having no longer anything to fear, they are to be feared exceedingly. Despair kills these; hope, those. The mind is tossed to and fro between hope and despair. You have to fear lest hope slay you; and, when you hope much from mercy, lest you fall into judgment: again, you have to fear lest despair slay you, and, when you think that the grievous sins which you have committed cannot be forgiven you, you do not repent, and you incur the sentence of Wisdom, which says, I also will laugh at your perdition. Proverbs 1:26 How then does the Lord treat those who are in danger from both these maladies? To those who are in danger from hope, He says, Be not slow to be converted to the Lord, neither put it off from day to day; for suddenly His anger will come, and in the time of vengeance, will utterly destroy you. Sirach 5:8-9 To those who are in danger from despair, what does He say? In what day soever the wicked man shall be converted, I will forget all his iniquities. Ezekiel 18:21 Accordingly, for the sake of those who are in danger by despair, He has offered us a refuge of pardon; and because of those who are in danger by hope, and are deluded by delays, He has made the day of death uncertain. You know not when your last day may come. Are you ungrateful because you have today on which you may be improved? Thus therefore said He to the woman, Neither will I condemn you; but, being made secure concerning the past, beware of the future. Neither will I condemn you: I have blotted out what you have done; keep what I have commanded you, that you may find what I have promised.

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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/1701033.htm>.

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