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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 60

Tractate 60 (John 13:21)

1. It is no light question, brethren, that meets us in the Gospel of the blessed John, when he says: When Jesus had thus said, He was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. Was it for this reason that Jesus was troubled, not in flesh, but in spirit, that He was now about to say, One of you shall betray me? Did this occur then for the first time to His mind, or was it at that moment suddenly revealed to Him for the first time, and so troubled Him by the startling novelty of so great a calamity? Was it not a little before that He was using these words, He that eats bread with me will lift up his heel against me? And had He not also, previously to that, said, And you are clean, but not all? Where the evangelist added, For He knew who should betray Him: to whom also on a still earlier occasion He had pointed in the words, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? Why is it, then, that He was now troubled in spirit, when He testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me? Was it because now He had so to mark him out, that he should no longer remain concealed among the rest, but be separated from the others, that therefore He was troubled in spirit? Or was it because now the traitor himself was on the eve of departing to bring those Jews to whom he was to betray the Lord, that He was troubled by the imminency of His passion, the closeness of the danger, and the swooping hand of the traitor, whose resolution was foreknown? For some such cause it certainly was that Jesus was troubled in spirit, as when He said, Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour; but for this cause came I unto this hour. And accordingly, just as then His soul was troubled as the hour of His passion approached; so now also, as Judas was on the point of going and coming, and the atrocious villainy of the traitor neared its accomplishment, He was troubled in spirit.

2. He was troubled, then, who had power to lay down His life, and had power to take it again. That mighty power is troubled, the firmness of the rock is disturbed: or is it rather our infirmity that is troubled in Him? Assuredly so: let servants believe nothing unworthy of their Lord, but recognize their own membership in their Head. He who died for us, was also Himself troubled in our place. He, therefore, who died in power, was troubled in the midst of His power: He who shall yet transform the body of our humility into similarity of form with the body of His glory, has also transferred into Himself the feeling of our infirmity, and sympathizes with us in the feelings of His own soul. Accordingly, when it is the great, the brave, the sure, the invincible One that is troubled, let us have no fear for Him, as if He were capable of failing: He is not perishing, but in search of us [who are]. Us, I say; it is us exclusively whom He is thus seeking, that in His trouble we may behold ourselves, and so, when trouble reaches us, may not fall into despair and perish. By His trouble, who could not be troubled save with His own consent, He comforts such as are troubled unwillingly.

3. Away with the reasons of philosophers, who assert that a wise man is not affected by mental perturbations. God has made foolish the wisdom of this world; 1 Corinthians 1:20 and the Lord knows the thoughts of men, that they are vain. It is plain that the mind of the Christian may be troubled, not by misery, but by pity: he may fear lest men should be lost to Christ; he may sorrow when one is being lost; he may have ardent desire to gain men to Christ; he may be filled with joy when such is being done; he may have fear of falling away himself from Christ; he may sorrow over his own estrangement from Christ; he may be earnestly desirous of reigning with Christ, and he may be rejoicing in the hope that such fellowship with Christ will yet be his lot. These are certainly four of what they call perturbations— fear and sorrow, love and gladness. And Christian minds may have sufficient cause to feel them, and evidence their dissent from the error of Stoic philosophers, and all resembling them: who indeed, just as they esteem truth to be vanity, regard also insensibility as soundness; not knowing that a man's mind, like the limbs of his body, is only the more hopelessly diseased when it has lost even the feeling of pain.

4. But says some one: Ought the mind of the Christian to be troubled even at the prospect of death? For what comes of those words of the apostle, that he had a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, Philippians 1:23 if the object of his desire can thus trouble him when it comes? Our answer to this would be easy, indeed, in the case of those who also term gladness itself a perturbation [of the mind]. For what if the trouble he thus feels arises entirely from his rejoicing at the prospect of death? But such a feeling, they say, ought to be termed gladness, and not rejoicing. And what is that, but just to alter the name, while the feeling experienced is the same? But let us for our part confine our attention to the Sacred Scriptures, and with the Lord's help seek rather such a solution of this question as will be in harmony with them; and then, seeing it is written, When He had thus said, He was troubled in spirit, we will not say that it was joy that disturbed Him; lest His own words should convince us of the contrary when He says, My soul is sorrowful, even unto death. Matthew 26:38 It is some such feeling that is here also to be understood, when, as His betrayer was now on the very point of departing alone, and straightway returning along with his associates, Jesus was troubled in spirit.

5. Strong-minded, indeed, are those Christians, if such there are, who experience no trouble at all in the prospect of death; but for all that, are they stronger-minded than Christ? Who would have the madness to say so? And what else, then, does His being troubled signify, but that, by voluntarily assuming the likeness of their weakness, He comforted the weak members in His own body, that is, in His Church; to the end that, if any of His own are still troubled at the approach of death, they may fix their gaze upon Him, and so be kept from thinking themselves castaways on this account, and being swallowed up in the more grievous death of despair? And how great, then, must be that good which we ought to expect and hope for in the participation of His divine nature, whose very perturbation tranquillizes us, and whose infirmity confirms us? Whether, therefore, on this occasion it was by His pity for Judas himself thus rushing into ruin, or by the near approach of His own death, that He was troubled, yet there is no possibility of doubting that it was not through any infirmity of mind, but in the fullness of power, that He was troubled, and so no despair of salvation need arise in our minds, when we are troubled, not in the possession of power, but in the midst of our weakness. He certainly bore the infirmity of the flesh—an infirmity which was swallowed up in His resurrection. But He who was not only man, but God also, surpassed by an ineffable distance the whole human race in fortitude of mind. He was not, then, troubled by any outward plessure of man, but troubled Himself; which was very plainly declared of Him when He raised Lazarus from the dead: for it is there written that He troubled Himself, that it may be so understood even where the text does not so express it, and yet declares that He was troubled. For having by His power assumed our full humanity, by that very power He awoke in Himself our human feelings whenever He judged it becoming.

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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/1701060.htm>.

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