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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 114

Tractate 114 (John 18:28-32)

1. Let us now consider, so far as indicated by the evangelist John, what was done with, or in regard to, our Lord Jesus Christ, when brought before Pontius Pilate the governor. For he returns to the place of his narrative where he had left it, to explain the denial of Peter. He had already, you know, said, And Annas sent Him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest: and having returned from where he had dismissed Peter as he was warming himself at the fire in the hall, after completing the whole of his denial, which was thrice repeated, he says, Then they bring Jesus unto Caiaphas into the hall of judgment (pretorium); for he had said that He was sent to Caiaphas by his colleague and father-in-law Annas. But if to Caiaphas, why into the hall of judgment? Nothing else is thereby meant to be understood than the place where Pilate the governor dwelt. And therefore, either for some urgent reason Caiaphas had proceeded from the house of Annas, where both had met to give Jesus a hearing, to the governor's pretorium, and had left the hearing of Jesus to his father-in-law; or Pilate had made his pretorium in the house of Caiaphas, which was so large as to contain separate apartments for its own master, and the like for the judge.

2. And it was morning; and they themselves, that is, those who brought Jesus, went not into the judgment hall, to wit, into that part of the house which Pilate occupied, supposing it to be Caiaphas' house. And then in explanation of the reason why they went not into the judgment hall, he says, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover. For it was the commencement of the days of unleavened bread: on which they accounted it defilement to enter the abode of one of another nation. Impious blindness! Would they, forsooth, be defiled by a stranger's abode, and not be defiled by their own wickedness? They were afraid of being defiled by the pretorium of a foreign judge, and had no fear of defilement from the blood of an innocent brother: not to say more than this meanwhile, which was enough to fix guilt on the conscience of the wicked. For the additional fact, that it was the Lord who was led to death by their impiety, and the giver of life that was on the way to be slain, may be charged, not to their conscience, but to their ignorance.

3. Pilate then went out unto them, and said, What accusation bring ye against this man? They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto you. Let the question be put to, and the answer come from, those who had been delivered from foul spirits, from the sickly who had been healed, the lepers who had been cleansed, the deaf who were hearing, the dumb who were speaking, the blind who were seeing, the dead who were raised to life, and, above all, the foolish who had become wise, whether Jesus were a malefactor. But these things were said by those of whom He Himself had already foretold by the prophet, They rewarded me evil for good.

4. Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death. What is this that their insane cruelty says? Did not they put Him to death, whom they were here presenting for the very purpose? Or does the cross, forsooth, fail to kill? Such is the folly of those who do not pursue, but persecute wisdom. What then mean the words, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death? If He is a malefactor, why is it not lawful? Did not the law command them not to spare malefactors, especially (as they accounted Him to be) those who seduced them from their God? We are, however, to understand that they said that it was not lawful for them to put any man to death, on account of the sanctity of the festal day, which they had just begun to celebrate, and on account of which they were afraid of being defiled even by entering the pretorium. Had you become so hardened, false Israelites? Were you by your excessive malice so lost to all sense, as to imagine that you were unpolluted by the blood of the innocent, because you gave it up to be shed by another? Was even Pilate himself going to slay Him with his own hands, when made over by you into his power for the very purpose? If you did not wish Him to be slain; if you did not lay snares for Him; if you did not get Him to be betrayed to you for money; if you did not lay hands upon Him, and bind Him, and bring Him there; if you did not with your own hands present Him, and with your voices demand Him to be slain,— then boast that He was not put to death by you. But if in addition to all these former deeds of yours, you also cried out, Crucify, crucify [him]; then hear what it is against you that the prophet proclaims: The sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword. These, look you, are the spears, the arrows, the sword, wherewith you slew the righteous, when you said that it was not lawful for you to put any man to death. Hence it is also that when for the purpose of apprehending Jesus the chief priests did not themselves come, but sent; yet the evangelist Luke says in the same passage of his narrative, Then said Jesus unto those who had come to him, [namely] the chief priests, and captains of the temple, and elders, Be come out, as against a thief, etc? Luke 22:52 As therefore the chief priests went not in their own persons, but by those whom they had sent, to apprehend Jesus, what else was that but coming themselves in the authority of their own order and so all, who cried out with impious voices for the crucifixion of Christ, slew Him, not, indeed, directly with their own hands, but personally through him who was impelled to such a crime by their clamor.

5. But when the evangelist John adds, That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which He spoke, signifying what death He should die: if we would understand such words as referring to the death of the cross, as if the Jews had said, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death, for this reason that it was one thing to be put to death, and another to be crucified: I do not see how such can be understood as a consequence, seeing that this was their answer to the words that Pilate had just addressed to them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. If it were so, could they not then have taken Him, and crucified Him themselves, had they desired by any such form of punishment to avoid the putting of Him to death? But who is there that may not see the absurdity of allowing those to crucify any one, who were not allowed to put any one to death? Nay more, did not the Lord Himself call that same death of His, that is, the death of the cross, a putting to death, as we read in Mark, where he says, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles: and they shall mock Him, and shall spit upon Him, and shall scourge Him, and shall put Him to death, and the third day He shall rise again? Mark 10:33-34 There is no doubt, therefore, that in so speaking the Lord signified what death He should die: not that He here meant the death of the cross to be understood, but that the Jews were to deliver Him up to the Gentiles, or, in other words, to the Romans. For Pilate was a Roman, and had been sent by the Romans into Judea as governor. That, then, this saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, namely, that, being delivered up to them, He should be put to death by the Gentiles, as Jesus had foretold would happen; therefore when Pilate, who was the Roman judge, wished to hand Him back to the Jews, that they might judge Him according to their law, they refused to receive Him, saying, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death. And so the saying of Jesus was fulfilled, which He foretold concerning His death, that, being delivered up by the Jews, He should be put to death by the Gentiles: whose crime was less than that of the Jews, who sought by this method to make themselves appear averse to His being put to death, to the end that, not their innocence, but their madness might be made manifest.

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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. <>.

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