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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 121

Tractate 121 (John 20:10-29)

1. Mary Magdalene had brought the news to His disciples, Peter and John, that the Lord was taken away from the sepulchre; and they, when they came there, found only the linen clothes wherewith the body had been shrouded; and what else could they believe but what she had told them, and what she had herself also believed? Then the disciples went away again unto their own (home); that is to say, where they were dwelling, and from which they had run to the sepulchre. But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping. For while the men returned, the weaker sex was fastened to the place by a stronger affection. And the eyes, which had sought the Lord and had not found Him, had now nothing else to do but weep, deeper in their sorrow that He had been taken away from the sepulchre than that He had been slain on the tree; seeing that in the case even of such a Master, when His living presence was withdrawn from their eyes, His remembrance also had ceased to remain. Such grief, therefore, now kept the woman at the sepulchre. And as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre. Why she did so I know not. For she was not ignorant that He whom she sought was no longer there, since she had herself also carried word to the disciples that He had been taken from thence; while they, too, had come to the sepulchre, and had sought the Lord's body, not merely by looking, but also by entering, and had not found it. What then does it mean, that, as she wept, she stooped down, and looked again into the sepulchre? Was it that her grief was so excessive that she hardly thought she could believe either their eyes or her own? Or was it rather by some divine impulse that her mind led her to look within? For look she did, and saw two angels in white, sitting, the one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Why is it that one was sitting at the head, and the other at the feet? Was it, since those who in Greek are called angels are in Latin nuntii [news-bearers], that in this way they signified that the gospel of Christ was to be preached from head to foot, from the beginning even to the end? They say to her, Woman, why do you weep? She says unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him. The angels forbade her tears: for by such a position what else did they announce, but that which in some way or other was a future joy? For they put the question, Why do you weep? as if they had said, Weep not. But she, supposing they had put the question from ignorance, unfolded the cause of her tears. Because, she said, they have taken away my Lord: calling her Lord's inanimate body her Lord, meaning a part for the whole; just as all of us acknowledge that Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, our Lord, who of course is at once both the Word and soul and flesh, was nevertheless crucified and buried, while it was only His flesh that was laid in the sepulchre. And I know not, she added, where they have laid Him. This was the greater cause of sorrow, because she knew not where to go to mitigate her grief. But the hour had now come when the joy, in some measure announced by the angels, who forbade her tears, was to succeed the weeping.

2. Lastly, when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus says unto her, Woman, why do you weep? Whom do you seek? She, supposing Him to be the gardener, says unto Him, Sir, If you have borne Him hence, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away. Jesus says unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and says unto Him, Rabboni, which is to say, Master. Let no one speak ill of the woman because she called the gardener, Sir (domine), and Jesus, Master. For there she was asking, here she was recognizing; there she was showing respect to a person of whom she was asking a favor, here she was recalling the Teacher of whom she was learning to discern things human and divine. She called one lord (sir), whose handmaid she was not, in order by him to get at the Lord to whom she belonged. In one sense, therefore, she used the word Lord when she said, They have taken away my Lord; and in another, when she said, Sir (lord), if you have borne Him hence. For the prophet also called those lords who were mere men, but in a different sense from Him of whom it is written, The Lord is His name. But how was it that this woman, who had already turned herself back to see Jesus, when she supposed Him to be the gardener, and was actually talking with Him, is said to have again turned herself, in order to say unto Him Rabboni, but just because, when she then turned herself in body, she supposed Him to be what He was not, while now, when turned in heart, she recognized Him to be what He was.

3. Jesus says unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; to my God, and your God. There are points in these words which we must examine with brevity indeed, but with somewhat more than ordinary attention. For Jesus was giving a lesson in faith to the woman, who had recognized Him as her Master, and called Him so in her reply; and this gardener was sowing in her heart, as in His own garden, the grain of mustard seed. What then is meant by Touch me not? And just as if the reason of such a prohibition would be sought, He added, for I am not yet ascended to my Father. What does this mean? If, while standing on earth, He is not to be touched, how could He be touched by men when sitting in heaven? For certainly, before He ascended, He presented Himself to the touch of the disciples, when He said, as testified by the evangelist Luke, Handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see me have; Luke 24:39 or when He said to Thomas the disciple, Reach hither your finger, and behold my hands; and put forth your hand, and thrust it into my side. And who could be so absurd as to affirm that He was willing indeed to be touched by the disciples before He ascended to the Father, but refused it in the case of women till after His ascension? But no one, even had any the will, was to be allowed to run into such folly. For we read that women also, after His resurrection and before His ascension to the Father, touched Jesus, among whom was Mary Magdalene herself; for it is related by Matthew that Jesus met them, and said, All hail. And they approached, and held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him. Matthew 28:9 This was passed over by John, but declared as the truth by Matthew. It remains, therefore, that some sacred mystery must lie concealed in these words; and whether we discover it or utterly fail to do so, yet we ought to be in no doubt as to its actual existence. Accordingly, either the words, Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father, had this meaning, that by this woman the Church of the Gentiles was symbolized, which did not believe in Christ till He had actually ascended to the Father, or that in this way Christ wished Himself to be believed on; in other words, to be touched spiritually, that He and the Father are one. For He has in a manner ascended to the Father, to the inward perception of him who has made such progress in the knowledge of Christ that he acknowledges Him as equal with the Father: in any other way He is not rightly touched, that is to say, in any other way He is not rightly believed on. But Mary might have still so believed as to account Him unequal with the Father, and this certainly is forbidden her by the words, Touch me not; that is, Believe not thus on me according to your present notions; let not your thoughts stretch outwards to what I have been made in your behalf, without passing beyond to that whereby you have yourself been made. For how could it be otherwise than carnally that she still believed on Him whom she was weeping over as a man? For I am not yet ascended, He says, to my Father: there shall you touch me, when you believe me to be God, in no wise unequal with the Father. But go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father. He says not, Our Father: in one sense, therefore, is He mine, in another sense, yours; by nature mine, by grace yours. And my God, and your God. Nor did He say here, Our God: here, therefore, also is He in one sense mine, in another sense yours: my God; under whom I also am as man; your God, between whom and you I am mediator.

4. Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples, I have seen the Lord, and He has spoken these things unto me. Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus, and stood in the midst, and says unto them, Peace be unto you. And when He had so said, He showed unto them His hands and His side. For nails had pierced His hands, a spear had laid open His side: and there the marks of the wounds are preserved for healing the hearts of the doubting. But the shutting of doors presented no obstacle to the matter of His body, wherein Godhead resided. He indeed could enter without their being opened, by whose birth the virginity of His mother remained inviolate, Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord. Then said He unto them again, Peace be unto you. Reiteration is confirmation; for He Himself gives by the prophet a promised peace upon peace. As the Father has sent me, He adds, even so send I you. We know the Son to be equal to the Father; but here we recognize the words of the Mediator. For He exhibits Himself as occupying a middle position when He says, He me, and I you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive the Holy Ghost. By breathing on them He signified that the Holy Spirit was the Spirit, not of the Father alone, but likewise His own. Whose soever sins, He continues, ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever ye retain, they are retained. The Church's love, which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, discharges the sins of all who are partakers with itself, but retains the sins of those who have no participation therein. Therefore it is, that after saying Receive the Holy Ghost, He straightway added this regarding the remission and retention of sins.

5. But Thomas, one of the twelve, who is called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe. And after eight days, again His disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then says He to Thomas, Reach hither your finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither your hand, and put it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God. He saw and touched the man, and acknowledged the God whom he neither saw nor touched; but by the means of what he saw and touched, he now put far away from him every doubt, and believed the other. Jesus says unto him, Because you have seen me, you have believed. He says not, You have touched me, but, You have seen me, because sight is a kind of general sense. For sight is also habitually named in connec tion with the other four senses: as when we say, Listen, and see how well it sounds; smell it, and see how well it smells; taste it, and see how well it savors; touch it, and see how hot it is. Everywhere has the word, See, made itself heard, although sight, properly speaking, is allowed to belong only to the eyes. Hence here also the Lord Himself says, Reach hither your finger, and behold my hands: and what else does He mean but, Touch and see? And yet he had no eyes in his finger. Whether therefore it was by looking, or also by touching, Because you have seen me, He says, you have believed. Although it may be affirmed that the disciple dared not so to touch, when He offered Himself for the purpose; for it is not written, And Thomas touched Him. But whether it was by gazing only, or also by touching that he saw and believed, what follows rather proclaims and commends the faith of the Gentiles: Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. He made use of words in the past tense, as One who, in His predestinating purpose, knew what was future, as if it had already taken place. But the present discourse must be kept from the charge of prolixity: the Lord will give us the opportunity to discourse at another time on the topics that remain.

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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/1701121.htm>.

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