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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 76

Sermon 76 on the New Testament

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[CXXVI. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, John 5:19 , The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father doing.

1. The mysteries and secrets of the kingdom of God first seek for believing men, that they may make them understanding. For faith is understanding's step; and understanding faith's attainment. This the Prophet expressly says to all who prematurely and in undue order look for understanding, and neglect faith. For he says, Unless ye believe, you shall not understand. Faith itself then also has a certain light of its own in the Scriptures, in Prophecy, in the Gospel, in the Lessons of the Apostles. For all these things which are read to us in this present time, are lights in a dark place, that we may be nourished up unto the day. The Apostle Peter says, We have a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that you take heed, as unto a light in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts.

2. You see then, Brethren, how exceedingly unregulated and disordered in their haste are they who like immature conceptions seek an untimely birth before the birth; who say to us, Why do you bid me believe what I do not see? Let me see something that I may believe. Thou biddest me believe while yet I see not; I wish to see, and by seeing to believe, not by hearing. Let the Prophet speak. Unless ye believe, you shall not understand. You wish to ascend, and dost forget the steps. Surely, out of all order. O man, if I could show you already what you might see, I should not exhort you to believe.

3. Faith then, as it has been elsewhere defined, is the firm support of those who hope, the evidence of things which are not seen. If they are not seen, how are they evidenced to be? What! Whence are these things which you see, but from That which you see not? To be sure you see somewhat that you may believe somewhat, and from that you see, may believe what you see not. Be not ungrateful to Him who has made you see, whereby you may be able to believe what as yet you can not see. God has given you eyes in the body, reason in the heart; arouse the reason of the heart, wake up the interior inhabitant of your interior eyes, let it take to its windows, examine the creature of God. For there is one within who sees by the eyes. For when your thoughts within you are on any other subject, and the inhabitant within is turned away, the things which are before your eyes you see not. For to no purpose are the windows open, when he who looks through them is away. It is not then the eyes that see, but some one sees by the eyes; awake him, arouse him. For this has not been denied you; God has made you a rational animal, set you over the cattle, formed you after His Own image. Ought you to use them as the cattle do; only to see what to add to your belly, not to your soul? Stir up, I say, the eye of reason, use your eyes as a man should, consider the heaven and earth, the ornaments of the heaven, the fruitfulness of the earth, the flight of the birds, the swimming of the fish, the virtue of the seeds, the order of the seasons; consider the works, and seek for the Author; take a view of what you see, and seek Him whom you see not. Believe on Him whom you see not, because of these things which you see. And lest you think that it is with my own words that I have exhorted you; hear the Apostle saying, For the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen by those things which are made.

4. These things you disregarded, nor looked upon them as a man, but as an irrational animal. The Prophet cried out to you, and cried in vain. Be not like to horse and mule, which have no understanding. These things I say you saw, and disregard. God's daily miracles were disesteemed, not for their easiness, but their constant repetition. For what is more difficult to understand than a man's birth, that one who was in existence should by dying depart into darkness, and that one who was not, by being born should come forth to light? What so marvellous, what so difficult to comprehend? But with God easy to be done. Marvel at these things, awake; at His unusual works, you can wonder, are they greater than those which you are accustomed to see? Men wondered that our Lord God Jesus Christ filled so many thousands with five loaves; and they do not wonder that through a few grains the whole earth is filled with crops. When the water was made wine, men saw it, and were amazed; what else takes place with the rain along the root of the vine? He did the one, He does the other; the one that you may be fed, the other that you may wonder. But both are wonderful, for both are the works of God. Man sees unusual things, and wonders; whence is the man himself who wonders? Where was he? Whence came he forth? Whence the fashion of his body? Whence the distinction of his limbs? Whence that beautiful form? From what beginnings? What contemptible beginnings? And he wonders at other things, when he the wonderer is himself a great wonder. Whence then are these things which you see but from Him whom you see not? But as I had begun to say, because these things were disesteemed by you, He came Himself to do unusual things, that in these usual ones too you might acknowledge your Creator. He came to Whom it is said, Renew signs. To Whom it is said, Show forth Your marvellous mercies. For dispensing them He ever was; He dispensed them, and no one marvelled. Therefore came He a Little one to the little, He came a Physician to the sick, who was able to come when He would, to return when He would, to do whatsoever He would, to judge as He would. And this, His will, is very righteousness; yea what He wills, I say, is very righteousness. For that is not unrighteous which He wills, nor can that be right which He wills not. He came to raise the dead, men marvelling that He restored a man to the light who was in light already, He who day by day brings forth to the light those who were not.

5. These things He did, yet was He despised by the many, who considered not so much what great things He did, as how small He was; as though they said within themselves, These are divine things, but He is a man. Two things then you see, divine works, and a man. If divine works cannot be wrought but by God, take heed lest in This Man God lie concealed. Attend, I say, to what you see; believe what you see not. He has not abandoned you, who has called you to believe; though He enjoin you to believe that which you can not see: yet has He not given you up to see nothing whereby you may be able to believe what you do not see. Is the creation itself a small sign, a small indication of the Creator? He also came, He did miracles. You could not see God, a man you could, so God was made Man, that in One you might have both what to see, and what to believe. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Thus you hear, and as yet see not. Lo, He comes, lo, He is born, lo, He comes forth of a woman, who made man and woman. He who made man and woman was not made by man and woman. For you would perhaps have been likely to despise Him for being born, the manner of His birth can you not despise; for He ever was before that He was born. Lo, I say, He took a Body, He was clothed in Flesh, He came forth from the womb. Do you now see? Do you see now, I say? I ask as to the Flesh, but I point out as to That Flesh; something you see, and something you see not. Lo, in this very Birth, there are at once two things, one which you may see, and another you may not see; but so that by this which you see, you may believe that which you see not. You had begun to despise, because you see Him who was born; believe what you do not see, that He was born of a virgin. How trifling a person, says one, is he who was born! But how great is He who was of a virgin born! And He who was born of a virgin brought you a temporal miracle; He was not born of a father, of any man, I mean, His father, yet was He born of the flesh. But let it not seem impossible to you, that He was born by His mother only, Who made man before father and mother.

6. He brought you then a temporal miracle, that you may seek and admire Him who is Eternal. For He who came forth as a Bridegroom out of His chamber, that is, out of the virgin's womb, where the holy nuptials were celebrated of the Word and the Flesh: He brought, I say, a temporal miracle; but He is Himself eternal, He is coeternal with the Father, He it is, who In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He did for you whereby you might be cured, that you might be able to see what you did not see. What you despise in Christ, is not yet the contemplation of him that is made whole, but the medicine of the sick. Do not hasten to the vision of the whole. The Angels see, the Angels rejoice, the Angels feed Thereon and live; Whereon they feed fails not, nor is their food minished. In the thrones of glory, in the regions of the heavens, in the parts which are above the heavens, the Word is seen by the Angels, and is their Joy; is their Food, and endures. But in order that man might eat Angel's Bread, the Lord of Angels became Man. This is our Salvation, the Medicine of the infirm, the Food of the whole.

7. And He spoke to men, and said what you have now heard, The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do. Is there now any one, think we, that understands this? Is there any one, think we, in whom the eye-salve of the flesh has now its effect to the discerning in any fashion the brightness of the Divinity? He has spoken, let us speak too; He, because the Word; we, because of the Word. And why speak we, howsoever we do it, of the Word? Because we were made by the Word after the likeness of the Word. As far then as we are capable of, as far as we can be partakers of that ineffableness, let us also speak, and let us not be contradicted. For our faith has gone before, so that we may say, I believed, therefore have I spoken. I speak then that which I believe; whether or no I also see, or howsoever I see; He sees rather; ye cannot see it. But when I shall have spoken, whether he who sees what I speak of, believe that I see too what I have spoken of, or whether he believe it not, what is that to me? Let him only really see, and let him believe what he will of me.

8. The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do. Here rises up an error of the Arians; but it rises up that it may fall; because it is not humbled, that it may rise. What is it which has set you off? You would say that the Son is less than the Father. For you have heard, The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do. From this you would have the Son called less; it is this I know, I know it is this has set you off; believe that He is not less, you can not as yet see it, believe, this is what I was saying a little while ago. But how, you will say, am I to believe against His own words? He says Himself, The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do. Attend too to that which follows; For whatever things the Father does, the same also does the Son likewise; He did not say, such things, Beloved, consider a while, that you cause not confusion to yourselves. There is need of a tranquil heart, a godly and devout faith, a religious earnest attention; attend, not to me the poor vessel, but to Him who puts the bread in the vessel. Attend then a while. For in all that I have said above in exhorting you to faith, that the mind imbued with faith may be capable of understanding, all that has been said has had a pleasing, glad, and easy sound, has cheered your minds, you have followed it, you have understood what I said. But what I am now about to say I hope there are some who will understand; yet I fear that all will not understand. And seeing that God has by the lesson of the Gospel proposed to us a subject to speak upon, and we cannot avoid that which the Master has proposed; I fear lest haply they who will not understand, who perhaps will be the greater number, should think that I have spoken to them in vain; but yet because of those who will understand, I do not speak in vain. Let him who understands rejoice, let him who does not understand bear it patiently; what he does not understand, let him bear, and that he may understand, let him bear delay.

9. He does not say then, Whatever things the Father does, such does the Son: as if the Father does some things, and the Son others. For it did seem as though He had meant this when He said above, The Son does nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do. Mark; He did not there either say, But what He hears the Father enjoin; but, what He sees the Father do. If then we consult the carnal understanding, or sense rather, He has set before Him as it were two workmen, the Father and the Son, the Father working without seeing any, the Son working from seeing the Father. This is still a carnal view. Nevertheless, in order to understand those things which are higher, let us not decline these lower and mean things. First, let us set something before our eyes in this way; let us suppose there are two workmen, father and son. The father has made a chest, which the son could not make, unless he saw the father making it: he keeps his mind on the chest which the father has made, and makes another chest like it, not the same. I put off for a while the words which follow, and now I ask the Arian; Do you understand it in the sense of this supposition? Hath the Father done something, which when the Son saw Him do, He too has done something like it? For do the words by which you are perplexed seem to have this meaning? Now He does not say, The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He hears the Father enjoin. But He says, The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do. See, if you understand it thus; the Father has done something, and the Son attends that He may see what He Himself too has to do; and that, some other thing like that which the Father had done. This which the Father has done, by whom has He done it? If not by the Son, if not by the Word, you have incurred the charge of blasphemy against the Gospel. For all things were made by Him. So then what the Father had done, He had done by the Word; if by the Word He had done it, He had done it by the Son. Who then is that other who attends, that He may do some other thing which he sees the Father do? You have not been wont to say that the Father has two sons: there is One, One Only-Begotten of Him. But through His mercy, Alone as regards His Divinity and not Alone as regards the inheritance. The Father has made coheirs with His Only Son; not begotten them like Him of His Own Substance, but adopted them by Him out of His Own family. For we have been called, as Holy Scripture testifies, into the adoption of sons.

10. What then do you say? It is the Only Son Himself That speaks; the Only-Begotten Son speaks in the Gospel: the Word Himself has given us the words, we have heard Himself saying, The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do. Now then the Father does that the Son may see what to do; and nevertheless the Father does nothing but by the Son. Assuredly you are confused, you heretic, assuredly you are confused; but your confusion is as from taking hellebore, that you may be cured. Even now you can not find your own self, you even yourself condemn your own judgment and your carnal view, I think. Put behind you the eyes of the flesh, raise up what eyes you have in your heart, behold things divine. They are men's words it is true you hear, and by a man, by the Evangelist, by the Gospel you hear men's words, as a man; but it is of the Word of God you hear, that you may hear what is human, come to know what is Divine. The Master has given trouble, that He might instruct; has sown a difficulty, that He might excite an earnest attention. The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do. It might follow that He should say, For whatever things the Father does, the like does the Son. This He does not say; but, Whatever things the Father does, the same does the Son likewise. The Father does not some things, the Son other things; because all things that the Father does, He does by the Son. The Son raised Lazarus; did not the Father raise him? The Son gave sight to the blind man; did not the Father give him sight? The Father by the Son in the Holy Ghost. It is the Trinity; but the Operation of the Trinity is One, the Majesty One, the Eternity One, the Coeternity One, and the Works the Same. The Father does not create some men, the Son others, the Holy Ghost others; the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost create one and the same man; and the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, One God, creates him.

11. You observe a Plurality of Persons, but acknowledge the Unity of the Divinity. For because of the Plurality of Persons it was said, Let Us make man after Our image and likeness. He did not say, I will make man, and do Thou attend when I am making him, that Thou too may be able to make another. Let Us make, He says; I hear the Plurality; after Our image; again I hear the Plurality. Where then is the Singularity of the Divinity? Read what follows, And God made man. It is said, Let Us make man; and it is not said, The Gods made man. The Unity is understood in that it was said, God made man.

12. Where then is that carnal view? Be it confounded, hidden, brought to nought; let the Word of God speak to us. Even now as godly men, as believing already, as already imbued with faith, and having gotten some attainment of understanding, turn we to the Word Himself, to the Fountain of light, and let us say together, O Lord, the Father does ever the same things as Thou; for that whatsoever the Father does, by You He does it. We have heard that You are the Word in the beginning; we have not seen, but believed. There too have we heard what follows, that 'all things were made by You.' All things then that the Father does, He does by You. Therefore You do the same things as the Father. Why then did You wish to say, 'The Son can do nothing of Himself'? For I see a certain equality in You with the Father, in that I hear, 'Whatever things the Father does, the same does the Son.' I recognise an equality, hereby I understand, and comprehend as far as I am able, 'I and My Father are One.' What means it, that You can do nothing, but what You see the Father do? What means this?

13. Peradventure He would say to me, yea say to us all: Now as to this that I have said, 'The Son can do nothing, but what He sees the Father do;' My 'Seeing' how do you understand? My 'Seeing,' what is it? Put aside for a while the form of the servant which He took for your sake. For in that servant's form our Lord had eyes and ears in the Flesh, and that human form was the same figure of a Body, such as we bear, the same outlines of members. That Flesh had come from Adam: but He was not as Adam. So then the Lord walking whether on the earth or in the sea, as it pleased Him, as He would, for whatever He would, He could; looked at what He would; He fixed His eyes, He saw; He turned away His eyes, and did not see; who followed was behind Him, whoever could be seen, before Him; with the eyes of His Body, He saw only what was before Him. But from His Divinity nothing was hid. Put aside, put aside, I say, for a while the form of the servant, look at the Form of God in which He was before the world was made; in which He was equal to the Father; hereby receive and understand what He says to you, 'Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.' There see Him if you can, that you may be able to see what His 'Seeing' is. In the beginning was the Word. How does the Word see? Hath the Word eyes, or are our eyes found in Him, the eyes not of the flesh, but the eyes of godly hearts? For, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

14. Christ you see Man and God; He does manifest to you the Man, God He reserves for you. Now see how He reserves God for you, who does manifest Himself to you as Man. Whoever loves Me, says He, keeps My commandments; whoever loves Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him. And as if it were asked, What will You give to him whom You love? And I will manifest Myself, says He, to him. What means this, Brethren? He whom they saw already, promised that He would manifest Himself to them. To whom? Those by whom He was seen, or those also by whom He was not seen? Thus speaking to a certain Apostle, who asked to see the Father, that it might suffice him, and said, Show us the Father, and it suffices us — Then He standing before this servant's eyes, in the form of a servant, reserving for his eyes when deified the Form of God, says to him, Have I been so long time with you, and have ye not known Me? He that sees Me, sees the Father also. Thou ask to see the Father; see Me, you see Me, and dost not see Me. You see what for you I have assumed, you do not see What I have reserved for you. Give ear to My commandments, purify your eyes. For whoever loves Me, keeps My commandments, and I will love him. To him as keeping My commandments, and by My commandments made whole will I manifest Myself.

15. If then, Brethren, we are not able to see what the Seeing of the Word is, whither are we going? What Vision it may be with too great haste are we requiring? Why are we wishing to have shown us what we are not able to see? These things accordingly are spoken of which we desire to see, not as what we are able already to comprehend. For if you see the Seeing of the Word, perhaps in that you see the Seeing of the Word, you will see the Word Himself; that the Word may not be one thing, the Seeing of the Word another, lest there be Therein anything joined, and coupled, and double, and compacted. For It is something Simple, of a Simplicity ineffable. Not as with a man, the man is one thing, the man's seeing another. For sometimes a man's seeing is extinguished, and the man remains. This it is of which I said that I was about to say something which all would not be able to understand; the Lord even grant that some may have understood. My Brethren, to this end does He exhort us, that we may see, that the Seeing of the Word is beyond our powers; for they are small; be they nourished, perfected. Whereby? By the commandments. What commandments? He that loves Me, keeps My commandments. What commandments? For already do we wish to increase, to be strengthened, perfected, that we may see the Seeing of the Word. Tell us, Lord, now what commandments? A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another. This charity then, Brethren, let us draw from the plentifulness of the Fountain, let us receive it; be nourished by it. Receive that whereby you may be able to receive. Let charity give you birth, let charity nourish you; charity bring you to perfection, charity strengthen you; that you may see this Seeing of the Word, that the Word is not one thing and His Seeing another, but that the Seeing of the Word is the Very Word Himself; and so perhaps you will soon understand that that which is said, The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do, is as if He had said, The Son would not be, if He had not been born of the Father. Let this suffice, Brethren; I know that I have said that which perhaps, if meditated upon, may develop itself to many, which oftentimes when expressed in words may chance to be obscured.

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Source. Translated by R.G. MacMullen. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>.

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