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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 61

Tractate 61 (John 13:21-26)

1. This short section of the Gospel, brethren, we have in this lesson brought forward for exposition, as thinking that we ought also to say something of the Lord's betrayer, as now plainly enough disclosed by the dipping and holding out to him of the piece of bread. Of that indeed which precedes, (namely), that Jesus, when about to point him out, was troubled in spirit, we have treated in our last discourse; but what I perhaps omitted to mention there, the Lord, by His own perturbation of spirit, thought proper to indicate this also, that it is necessary to bear with false brethren, and those tares that are among the wheat in the Lord's field until harvest-time, because that when we are compelled by urgent reasons to separate some of them even before the harvest, it cannot be done without disturbance to the Church. Such disturbance to His saints in the future, through schismatics and heretics, the Lord in a way foretold and prefigured in Himself, when, at the moment of that wicked man Judas' departure, and of his thereby bringing to an end, in a very open and decided way, his past intermingling with the wheat, in which he had long been tolerated, He was troubled, not in body, but in spirit. For it is not spitefulness, but charity, that troubles His spiritual members in scandals of this kind; lest perchance, in separating some of the tares, any of the wheat should also be uprooted therewith.

2. Jesus, therefore, was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said: Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. One of you, in number, not in merit; in appearance, not in reality; in bodily commingling, not by any spiritual tie; a companion by fleshly juxtaposition, not in any unity of the heart; and therefore not one who is of you, but one who is to go forth from you. For how else can this one of you be true, of which the Lord so testified, and said, if that is true which the writer of this very Gospel says in his Epistle, They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us? 1 John 2:19 Judas, therefore was not of them; for, had he been of them, he would have continued with them. What, then, do the words One of you shall betray me mean, but that one is going out from you who shall betray me? Just as he also, who said, If they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us, had said before, They went out from us. And thus it is true in both senses, of us, and not of us; in one respect of us, and in another not of us; of us in respect to sacramental communion, but not of us in respect to the criminal conduct that belongs exclusively to themselves.

3. Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom He spoke. For while they were imbued with a reverential love to their Master, they were none the less affected by human infirmity in their feelings towards each other. Each one's own conscience was known to himself; but as he was ignorant of his neighbor's, each one's self-assurance was such that each was uncertain of all the others, and all the others were uncertain of that one.

4. Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom, one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. What he meant by saying in His bosom, he tells us a little further on, where he says, on the breast of Jesus. It was that very John whose Gospel is before us, as he afterwards expressly declares. For it was a custom with those who have supplied us with the sacred writings, that when any of them was relating the divine history, and came to something affecting himself, he spoke as if it were about another; and gave himself a place in the line of his narrative becoming one who was the recorder of public events, and not as one who made himself the subject of his preaching. Saint Matthew acted also in this way, when, in coming in the course of his narrative to himself, he says, He saw a publican named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom, and says unto him, Follow me. Matthew 9:9 He does not say, He saw me, and said to me. So also acted the blessed Moses, writing all the history about himself as if it concerned another, and saying, The Lord said unto Moses. Exodus 6:1 Less habitually was this done by the Apostle Paul, not however in any history which undertakes to explain the course of public events, but in his own epistles. At all events, he speaks thus of himself: I knew a man in Christ fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows;) such an one caught up into the third heaven. 2 Corinthians 12:2 And so, when the blessed evangelist also says here, not, I was leaning on Jesus' bosom, but, There was leaning one of the disciples, let us recognize a custom of our author's, rather than fall into any wonder on the subject. For what loss is there to the truth, when the facts themselves are told us, and all boastfulness of language is in a measure avoided? For thus at least did he relate that which most signally pertained to his praise.

5. But what mean the words, whom Jesus loved? As if He did not love the others, of whom this same John has said above, He loved them to the end John 13:1; and as the Lord Himself, Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. And who could enumerate all the testimonies of the sacred pages, in which the Lord Jesus is exhibited as the lover, not only of this one, or of those who were then around Him, but of such also as were to be His members in the distant future, and of His universal Church? But there is some truth, doubtless, underlying these words, and having reference to the bosom on which the narrator was leaning. For what else can be in dicated by the bosom but some hidden truth? But there is another more suitable passage, where the Lord may enable us to say something about this secret that may prove sufficient.

6. Simon Peter therefore beckons, and says to him. The expression is noteworthy, as indicating that something was said not by any sound of words, but by merely beckoning with the head. He beckons, and says; that is, his beckoning is his speech. For if one is said to speak in his thoughts, as Scripture says, They said [reasoned] with themselves; Wisdom 2:1 how much more may he do so by beckoning, which expresses outwardly by some sort of signs what had previously been conceived within! What, then, did his beckoning mean? What else but that which follows? Who is it of whom He speaks? Such was the language of Peter's beckoning; for it was by no vocal sounds, but by bodily gestures, that he spoke. He then, having leaned back on Jesus' breast,— surely the very bosom of His breast this, the secret place of wisdom!— says unto Him, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, He it is to whom I shall give a piece of bread, when I have dipped it. And when He had dipped the bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the bread, Satan entered into him. The traitor was disclosed, the coverts of darkness were revealed. What he got was good, but to his own hurt he received it, because, evil himself, in an evil spirit he received what was good. But we have much to say about that dipped bread which was presented to the false-hearted disciple, and about that which follows; and for these we shall require more time than remains to us now at the close of this discourse.

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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/1701061.htm>.

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