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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 59

Tractate 59 (John 13:16-20)

1. We have just heard in the holy Gospel the Lord speaking, and saying, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord, nor the apostle [he that is sent] greater than he that sent him: if you know these things, blessed shall you be if you do them. He said this, therefore, because He had washed the disciples' feet, as the Master of humility both by word and example. But we shall be able, with His help, to handle what is in need of more elaborate handling, if we linger not at what is perfectly clear. Accordingly, after uttering these words, the Lord added, I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but, that the Scripture may be fulfilled, He that eats bread with me, shall lift up his heel upon me. And what is this, but that he shall trample upon me? We know of whom He speaks: it is Judas, that betrayer of His, who is referred to. He had not therefore chosen the person whom, by these words, He sets utterly apart from His chosen ones. When I say then, He continues, Blessed shall you be if you do them, I speak not of you all: there is one among you who will not be blessed, and who will not do these things. I know whom I have chosen. Whom, but those who shall be blessed in the doing of what has been commanded and shown as needful to be done, by Him who alone can make them blessed? The traitor Judas, He says, is not one of those that have been chosen. What, then, is meant by what He says in another place, Have I not chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? Was it that he also was chosen for some purpose, for which he was really necessary; although not for the blessedness of which He has just been saying, Blessed shall you be if you do these things? He speaks not so of them all; for He knows whom He has chosen to be associated with Himself in blessedness. Of such he is not one, who ate His bread in order that he might lift up his heel upon Him. The bread they ate was the Lord Himself; he ate the Lord's bread in enmity to the Lord: they ate life, and he punishment. For he that eats unworthily, says the apostle, eats judgment unto himself. 1 Corinthians 11:29 From this time, Christ adds, I tell you before it come; that when it has come to pass, you may believe that I am He: that is, I am He of whom the Scripture that preceded has just said, He that eats bread with me, shall lift up his heel upon me.

2. He then proceeds to say: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receives whomsoever I send, receives me; and he that receives me, receives Him that sent me. Did He mean us to understand that there is as little distance between one sent by Him, and Himself, as there is between Himself and God the Father? If we take it in this way, I know not what measurements of distance (which may God forbid!) we shall be adopting, in the Arian fashion. For they, when they hear or read these words of the Gospel, have immediate recourse to their dogmatic measurements, whereby they ascend not to life, but fall headlong into death. For they straightway say: The Son's messenger stands at the same relative distance from the Son, as expressed in the words, He that receives whomsoever I send, receives me, as that in which the Son Himself stands from the Father, when He said, He that receives me, receives Him that sent me. But if you say so, you forget, heretic, your measurements. For if, because of these words of the Lord, you put the Son at as great a distance from the Father as the messenger [apostle] from the Son, where do you purpose to place the Holy Spirit? Has it escaped you, that you are wont to place Him after the Son? He will therefore come in between the messenger and the Son; and much greater, then, will be the distance between the Son and His messenger, than between the Father and His Son. Or perhaps, to preserve that distinction between the Son and His messenger, and between the Father and His Son, at their equality of distance, will the Holy Spirit be equal to the Son? But as little will you allow this. And where, then, do ye think of placing Him, if you place the Son as far beneath the Father, as you place the messenger beneath the Son? Restrain, therefore, your foolhardy presumption; and do not be seeking to find in these words the same distance between the Son and His messenger as between the Father and His Son. But listen rather to the Son Himself, when He says, I and my Father are one. For there the Truth has left you no shadow of distance between the Begetter and the Only-begotten; there Christ Himself has erased your measurements, and the rock has broken your staircase to pieces.

3. But now that the heretical slander has been disposed of, in what sense are we to understand these words of the Lord: He that receives whomsoever I send, receives me; and he that receives me, receives Him that sent me? For if we were inclined to understand the words, He that receives me, receives Him that sent me, as expressing the oneness in nature of the Father and the Son; the sequence from the similar arrangement of words in the other clause, He that receives whomsoever I send, receives me, would be the unity in nature of the Son and His messenger. And there might, indeed, be no impropriety in so understanding it, seeing that a twofold substance belongs to the strong man, who has rejoiced to run the race; for the Word was made flesh, that is, God became man. And accordingly He might be supposed to have said, He that receives whomsoever I send, receives me, with reference to His human nature; and he that receives me as God, receives Him that sent me. But in so speaking, He was not commending the unity of nature, but the authority of the Sender in Him who is sent. Let every one, therefore, so receive Him that is sent, that in His person he may give heed to Him who sent Him. If, then, you look for Christ in Peter, you will find the disciple's instructor; and if you look for the Father in the Son, you will find the Begetter of the Only-begotten: and so in Him who is sent, you are not mistaken in receiving the Sender. What follows in the Gospel cannot be compressed within the shortness of the time remaining. And therefore, dearly beloved, let what has been said, if thought sufficient, be received in a healthful way, as pasture for the holy sheep; and if it is somewhat scanty, let it be ruminated over with ardent desire for more.

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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/1701059.htm>.

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