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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 103

Tractate 103 (John 16:29-33)

1. The inward state of Christ's disciples, when before His passion He talked with them as with children of great things, but in such a way as befitted the great things to be spoken to children, because, having not yet received the Holy Spirit, as they did after His resurrection, either by His own breathing upon them, or by descent from above, they had a mental capacity for the human rather than the divine,— is everywhere declared through the Gospel by numerous testimonies; and of a piece therewith, is what they said in the lesson before us. For, says the evangelist, His disciples say unto Him: Lo, now do You speak plainly, and utterest no proverb. Now we are sure that You know all things, and needest not that any man should ask You: by this we believe that You came forth from God. The Lord Himself had said shortly before, These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: the hour comes, when I shall no more speak to you in proverbs. How, then, say they, Lo, now do You speak plainly, and utterest no proverb? Was the hour, indeed, already come, when He had promised that He would no more speak unto them in proverbs? Certainly that such an hour had not yet come, is shown by the continuation of His words, which run in this way: These things, said He, have I spoken unto you in proverbs: the hour comes, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall show you plainly of my Father. At that day you shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. I came forth from the Father, and have come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father John 16:25-28. Seeing that throughout all these words He is still promising that hour when He shall no more speak in proverbs, but shall show them openly of the Father; the hour, when He says that they will ask in His name, and that He will not pray the Father for them, on the ground that the Father Himself loves them, and that they also have loved Christ, and have believed that He came forth from the Father, and had come into the world, and was again about to leave the world and go to the Father: when thus that hour is still the subject of promise when He was to speak without proverbs, why say they, Lo, now do You speak plainly, and utterest no proverb; but just because those things, which He knows to be proverbs to those who have no understanding, they are still so far from understanding, that they do not even understand that they do not understand them? For they were babes, and had as yet no spiritual discernment of what they heard regarding things that had to do not with the body, but with the spirit.

2. And still further admonishing them of their age as still small and infirm in regard to the inner man, Jesus answered them: Do ye now believe? Behold the hour comes, yea, is now come, that you shall be scattered every man to his own, and shall leave me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. He had said shortly before, I leave the world, and go to the Father; now He says, The Father is with me. Who goes to him who is with him? This is a word to him that understands, a proverb to him that understands not: and yet in such way that what at present is unintelligible to babes, is in some sort sucked in; and even though it yield them not solid food, which they cannot as yet receive, it denies them not at least a milky diet. It was from this diet that they drew the knowledge that He knew all things, and needed not that any one should ask Him: and, indeed, why they said this, is a topic worthy of inquiry. For one would think they ought rather to have said, Thou needest not to ask any one; not, That any one should ask You. They had just said, We are sure that You know all things: and surely He that knows all things is accustomed rather to be questioned by those who do not know, that in reply to their questions they may hear what they wish from Him who knows all things; and not to be Himself the questioner, as if wishing to know something, when He knows all things. What, then, are we to understand by this, that, when apparently they ought to have said to Him, whom they knew to be omniscient, Thou needest not to ask any man, they considered it more befitting to say, Thou needest not that any man should ask You? Yea, is it not the case that we read of both being done; to wit, that the Lord both asked, and was asked questions? But this latter is speedily answered: for this was needful not for Him, but for those rather whom He questioned, or by whom He was questioned. For He never questioned any for the purpose of learning anything from them, but for the purpose rather of teaching them. And for those who put questions to Him, as desirous of learning something of Him, it was assuredly needful to be made acquainted with some things by Him who knew everything. And doubtless on the same account also it was that He needed not that any man should ask Him. As it is the case that we, when questioned by those who wish to get some information from us, discover by their very questionings what it is that they wish to know, we therefore need to be questioned by those whom we wish to teach, in order that we may be acquainted with their inquiries that call for an answer: but He, who knew all things, had no need even of that, and as little need had He of discovering by their questions what it was that any one desired to know of Him, for before a question was put, He knew the intention of him who was to put it. But He suffered Himself to be questioned on this account, that He might show to those who were then present, or to those who should either hear the things that were to be spoken or read them when written, what was the character of those by whom He was questioned; and in this way we might come to know both the frauds that were powerless to impose upon Him, and the ways of approach that would turn to our profit in His sight. But to foresee the thoughts of men, and thus to have no need that any one should ask Him, was no great matter for God, but great enough for the babes, who said to Him, By this we believe that You came forth from God. A much greater thing it was, for the understanding of which He wished to have their minds expanded and enlarged, that, on their saying, and saying truly, You came forth from God, He replied, The Father is with me; in order that they should not think that the Son had come forth from the Father in any sense that would lead them to suppose that He had also withdrawn from His presence.

3. And then, in bringing to a close this weighty and protracted discourse, He said, These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. The beginning of such tribulation was to be found in that whereof, in order to show that they were infants, to whom, as still wanting in intelligence, and mistaking one thing for another, all the great and divine things He had said were little better than proverbs, He had previously said, Do ye now believe? Behold, the hour comes, yea, is now come, that you shall be scattered, every man to his own. Such, I say, was the beginning of the tribulation, but not in the same measure of their perseverance. For in adding, and you shall leave me alone, He did not mean that they would be of such a character in the subsequent tribulation, which they should have to endure in the world after His ascension, as thus to desert Him; but that in Him they should have peace by still abiding in Him. But on the occasion of His apprehension, not only did they outwardly abandon His bodily presence, but they mentally abandoned their faith. And to this it is that His words have reference, Do ye now believe? Behold, the hour comes, that you shall be scattered to your own, and shall leave me: as if He had said, You will then be so confounded as to leave behind you even what you now believe. For they fell into such despair and such a death, so to speak, of their old faith, as was apparent in the case of Cleophas, who, after His resurrection, unaware that he was speaking with Himself, and narrating what had befallen Him, said, We trusted that it had been He who should have redeemed Israel. Luke 24:21 That was the way in which they then left Him, abandoning even the very faith wherewith they had formerly believed in Him. But in that tribulation, which they encountered after His glorification and they themselves had received the Holy Spirit, they did not leave Him: and though they fled from city to city, from Himself they did not flee; but in order that, while having tribulation in the world, they might have peace in Him, instead of being fugitives from Him, it was rather Himself that they made their refuge. For in receiving the Holy Spirit, there was wrought in them the very state described to them now in the words, Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. They were of good cheer, and they conquered. But in whom, save in Him? For He had not overcome the world, were it still to overcome His members. Hence said the apostle, Thanks be unto God, who gives us the victory; and immediately added, through our Lord Jesus Christ: 1 Corinthians 15:57 through Him who had said to His own, Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.

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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/1701103.htm>.

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