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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 80

Tractate 80 (John 15:1-3)

1. This passage of the Gospel, brethren, where the Lord calls Himself the vine, and His disciples the branches, declares in so many words that the Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 1 Timothy 2:5 is the head of the Church, and that we are His members. For as the vine and its branches are of one nature, therefore, His own nature as God being different from ours, He became man, that in Him human nature might be the vine, and we who also are men might become branches thereof. What mean, then, the words, I am the true vine? Was it to the literal vine, from which that metaphor was drawn, that He intended to point them by the addition of true? For it is by similitude, and not by any personal propriety, that He is thus called a vine; just as He is also termed a sheep, a lamb, a lion, a rock, a corner-stone, and other names of a like kind, which are themselves rather the true ones, from which these are drawn as similitudes, not as realities. But when He says, I am the true vine, it is to distinguish Himself, doubtless, from that [vine] to which the words are addressed: How are you turned into sourness, as a strange vine? Jeremiah 2:21 For how could that be a true vine which was expected to bring forth grapes and brought forth thorns? Isaiah 5:4

2. I am, He says, the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that bears not fruit, He takes away; and every one that bears fruit, He purges it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Are, then, the husbandman and the vine one? Christ is the vine in the same sense as when He said, The Father is greater than I; but in that sense wherein He said, I and my Father are one, He is also the husbandman. And yet not such a one as those, whose whole service is confined to external labor; but such, that He also supplies the increase from within. For neither is he that plants anything, neither he that waters; but God that gives the increase. But Christ is certainly God, for the Word was God; and so He and the Father are one: and if the Word was made flesh—that which He was not before—He nevertheless still remains what He was. And still more, after saying of the Father, as of the husbandman, that He takes away the fruitless branches, and prunes the fruitful, that they may bring forth more fruit, He straightway points to Himself as also the purger of the branches, when He says, Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Here, you see, He is also the pruner of the branches— a work which belongs to the husbandman, and not to the vine; and more than that, He makes the branches His workmen. For although they give not the increase, they afford some help; but not of themselves: For without me, He says, ye can do nothing. And listen, also, to their own confession: What, then, is Apollos, and what is Paul? But ministers by whom you believed, even as the Lord gave to every man. I have planted, Apollos watered. And this, too, as the Lord gave to every man; and so not of themselves. In that, however, which follows, but God gave the increase, 1 Corinthians 3:5-7 He works not by them, but by Himself; for work like that exceeds the lowly capacity of man, transcends the lofty powers of angels, and rests solely and entirely in the hands of the Triune Husbandman. Now you are clean, that is, clean, and yet still further to be cleansed. For, had they not been clean, they could not have borne fruit; and yet every one that bears fruit is purged by the husbandman, that he may bring forth more fruit. He bears fruit because he is clean; and to bear more, he is cleansed still further. For who in this life is so clean as not to be in need of still further and further cleansing? Seeing that, if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness; to cleanse in very deed the clean, that is, the fruitful, that they may be so much the more fruitful, as they have been made the cleaner.

3. Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Why does He not say, You are clean through the baptism wherewith you have been washed, but through the word which I have spoken unto you, save only that in the water also it is the word that cleanses? Take away the word, and the water is neither more nor less than water. The word is added to the element, and there results the Sacrament, as if itself also a kind of visible word. For He had said also to the same effect, when washing the disciples' feet, He that is washed needs not, save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit. And whence has water so great an efficacy, as in touching the body to cleanse the soul, save by the operation of the word; and that not because it is uttered, but because it is believed? For even in the word itself the passing sound is one thing, the abiding efficacy another. This is the word of faith which we preach, says the apostle, that if you shall confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Lord, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Romans 10:10 Accordingly, we read in the Acts of the Apostles, Purifying their hearts by faith; Acts 15:9 and, says the blessed Peter in his epistle, Even as baptism does also now save us, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience. This is the word of faith which we preach, whereby baptism, doubtless, is also consecrated, in order to its possession of the power to cleanse. For Christ, who is the vine with us, and the husbandman with the Father, loved the Church, and gave Himself for it. And then read the apostle, and see what he adds: That He might sanctify it, cleansing it with the washing of water by the word. Ephesians 5:25-26 The cleansing, therefore, would on no account be attributed to the fleeting and perishable element, were it not for that which is added, by the word. This word of faith possesses such virtue in the Church of God, that through the medium of him who in faith presents, and blesses, and sprinkles it, He cleanses even the tiny infant, although itself unable as yet with the heart to believe unto righteousness, and to make confession with the mouth unto salvation. All this is done by means of the word, whereof the Lord says, Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

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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/1701080.htm>.

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