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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 83

Sermon 83 on the New Testament

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On the words of the Gospel of John 7:6 , etc., where Jesus said that He was not going up unto the feast, and notwithstanding went up.

1. I Purpose by the Lord's assistance to treat of this section of the Gospel which has just been read; nor is there a little difficulty here, lest the truth be endangered, and falsehood glory. Not that either the truth can perish, nor falsehood triumph. Now hearken for a while what difficulty this lesson has; and being made attentive by the propounding of the difficulty, pray that I may be sufficient for its solution. The Jews' feast of tabernacles was at hand; these it seems are the days which they observe even to this day, when they build huts. For this solemnity of theirs is called from the building of tabernacles; since σκηνὴ means a tabernacle, σκηνοπηγία is the building of a tabernacle. These days were kept as feast days among the Jews; and it was called one feast day, not because it was over in one day, but because it was kept up by a continued festivity; just as the feast day of the Passover, and the feast day of unleavened bread, and notwithstanding, as is manifest, that feast is kept throughout many days. This anniversary then was at hand in Judæa, the Lord Jesus was in Galilee, where He had also been brought up, where too He had relations and kinsfolk, whom Scripture calls His brethren. His brethren, therefore, as we have heard it read, said to Him, Pass from hence, and go into Judæa; that Your disciples also may see Your works that You do. For no man does anything in secret, and himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, manifest Yourself to the world. Then the Evangelist subjoins, For neither did His brethren believe in Him. If then they did not believe in Him, the words they threw out were of envy. Jesus answered them, My time is not yet come; but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you; but Me it hates, because I testify of it that the works thereof are evil. Go up to this feast day. I go not up to this feast day, for My time is not yet accomplished. Then follows the Evangelist; When He had said these words, He Himself stayed in Galilee. But when His brethren had gone up, then went He also up to the feast day, not openly, but as it were in secret. Thus far is the extent of the difficulty, all the rest is clear.

2. What then is the difficulty? What makes the perplexity? What is in peril? Lest the Lord, yea, to speak more plainly, lest the Truth Itself should be thought to have lied. For if we would have it thought that He lied, the weak will receive an authority for lying. We have heard say that He lied. For those who think that He lied, speak thus, He said that He should not go up to the feast day, and He went up. In the first place then, let us, as far as in the press of time we can, see whether he does lie, who says a thing and does it not. For example, I have told a friend, I will see you tomorrow; some greater necessity occurs to hinder me; I have not on that account spoken falsely. For when I made the promise, I meant what I said. But when some greater matter occurred, which hindered the accomplishment of my promise, I had no design to lie, but I was not able to fulfil the promise. Lo, to my thinking I have used no labour to persuade you, but have merely suggested to your good sense, that he who promises something, and does it not, does not lie, if, that he do it not, something has occurred to hinder the fulfilment of his promise, not to be any proof of falsehood.

3. But some one who hears me will say, Can you then say this of Christ, that He either was not able to fulfil what He would, or that He did not know things to come? You do well, good is your suggestion, right your hint; but, O man, share with me my anxiety. Dare we to say that He lies, Who we do not dare to say is weak in power? I for my part, to the best of my thinking, as far as according to my infirmity I am able to judge, would choose that a man should be deceived in any matter rather than lie in any. For to be deceived is the portion of infirmity, to lie of iniquity. You hate, O Lord, says he, all them that work iniquity. And immediately after, You shall destroy all them that speak a lie. Either iniquity and a lie are upon a level; or, You shall destroy, is more than You hate. For he who is held in hatred, is not immediately punished by destruction. But let that question be, whether there be ever a necessity to lie; for I am not now discussing that; it is a dark question, and has many lappings; I have not time to cut them, and to come to the quick. Therefore let the treatment of it be deferred to some other time; for perhaps it will be cured by the Divine assistance without any words of mine. But attend and distinguish between what I have deferred, and what I wish to treat of today. Whether on any occasion one may lie, this difficult and most obscure question I defer. But whether Christ lied, whether the Truth spoke anything false, this, being reminded of it by the Gospel lesson, have I undertaken today.

4. Now what the difference is between being deceived, and lying, I will briefly state. He is deceived who thinks what he says to be true, and therefore says it, because he thinks it true. Now if this which he that is deceived says, were true, he would not be deceived; if it were not only true, but he also knew it to be true, he would not lie. He is deceived then, in that it is false, and he thinks it true; but he only says it because he thinks it true. The error lies in human infirmity, not in the soundness of the conscience. But whosoever thinks it to be false, and asserts it as true, he lies. See, my Brethren, draw the distinction, you who have been brought up in the Church, instructed in the Lord's Scriptures, not uninformed, nor simple, nor ignorant men. For there are among you men learned and erudite, and not indifferently instructed in all kinds of literature; and with those of you who have not learned that literature which is called liberal, it is more that you have been nourished up in the word of God. If I labour in explaining what I mean, do ye aid me both by the attention of your hearing, and the thoughtfulness of your meditations. Nor will you aid, unless you are aided. Wherefore pray we mutually for one another, and look equally for our common Succour. He is deceived, who whereas what he says is false, thinks it to be true; but he lies, who thinks a thing to be false, and gives it out as true, whether it be true or false. Observe what I have added, whether it be true or false; yet he who thinks it to be false, and asserts it as true, lies; he aims to deceive. For what good is it to him, that it is true? He all the while thinks it false, and says it as if it were true. What he says is true in itself, it is in itself true; with regard to him it is false, his conscience does not hold that which he is saying; he thinks in himself one thing to be true, he gives out another for truth. His is a double heart, not single; he does not bring out that which he has in it. The double heart has long since been condemned. With deceitful lips in a heart and a heart have they spoken evil things. Had it been enough to say, in the heart have they spoken evil things, where is the deceitful lips? What is deceit? When one thing is done, another pretended. Deceitful lips are not a single heart; and because not a single heart, therefore in a heart and a heart; therefore in a heart twice, because the heart is double.

5. How then think we of the Lord Jesus Christ, that He lied? If it is a less evil to be deceived than to lie, dare we to say that He lies who we dare not to say is deceived? But He is neither deceived, nor does He lie; but in very deed as it is written (for of Him is it understood, of Him ought it to be understood), Nothing false is said to the King, and nothing false shall proceed out of His mouth. If by King here he meant any man, let us prefer Christ the King, to a man-king. But if, which is the truer understanding of it, it is Christ of whom he spoke, if I say, as is the truer understanding of it, it is Christ of whom he spoke (for to Him indeed nothing false is said, in that He is not deceived; from His Mouth nothing false proceeds, in that He does not lie); let us look how we are to understand the section of the Gospel, and let us not make the pitfall of a lie, as it were, on heavenly authority. But it is most absurd to be seeking to explain the truth, and to prepare a place for a lie. What are you teaching me, I ask you, who art explaining this text to me, what would you teach me? I do not know whether you would dare to say, Falsehood. For if you should dare to say this, I turn away mine ears, and fasten them up with thorns, that if you should try to force your way, I might through their very pricking make away without the explanation of the Gospel. Tell me what you would wish to teach me, and you have resolved the difficulty. Tell me, I pray you; lo, here I am; mine ears are open, my heart is ready, teach me. But I ask, what? I will not travel through many things. What are you going to teach me? Whatsoever learning you are about to bring forward, whatsoever strength to show in disputation, tell me this one thing only, one of two things I ask; are you going to teach me truth or falsehood? What do we suppose he will answer lest one depart; lest while he is open-mouthed and making an effort to bring out his words, I immediately leave him: what will he promise but truth? I am listening, standing, expecting, most earnestly expecting. See here, he who promised that he will teach me truth, insinuates falsehood concerning Christ. How then shall he teach truth, who would say that Christ is false? If Christ is false, can I hope that you will tell me the truth?

6. Consider again. What does he say? Hath Christ spoken falsely? Where, I ask you? Where He says, 'I go not up to the feast day;' and went up. For my part, I should wish thoroughly to examine this place, if so be we may see that Christ did not speak falsely. Yea rather, seeing that I have no doubt that Christ did not speak falsely, I will either thoroughly examine this passage and understand it, or, not understanding it, I will defer it. Yet that Christ spoke falsely will I never say. Grant that I have not understood it; I will depart in my ignorance. For better is it with piety to be ignorant, than with madness to pronounce judgment. Notwithstanding we are trying to examine, if so be by His assistance, who is the Truth, we may find something, and be found something ourselves, and this something will not be in the Truth a lie. For if in searching I find a lie, I find not a something but a nothing. Let us then look where it is you say that Christ lied. He will say, In that He said, 'I go not up to this feast,' and went up. Whence do you know that He said so? What if I were to say, nay, not I, but any one, for God forbid that I should say it; what if another were to say, Christ did not say this; whereby do you refute him, whereby will you prove it? You would open the book, find the passage, point it out to the man, yea with great confidence force the book upon him if he resisted, Hold it, mark, read, it is the Gospel you have in your hands. But why, I ask you, why do you so rudely accost this feeble one? Do not be so eager; speak more composedly, more tranquilly. See, it is the Gospel I have in my hands; and what is there in it? He answers: The Gospel declares that Christ said what you deny. And will you believe that Christ said it, because the Gospel declares it? Decidedly for that reason, says he. I marvel exceedingly how you should say that Christ lies, and the Gospel does not lie. But lest haply when I speak of the Gospel, you should think of the book itself, and imagine the parchment and ink to be the Gospel, see what the Greek word means; Gospel is a good messenger, or a good message. The messenger then does not lie, and does He who sent him, lie? This messenger, the Evangelist to wit, to give his name also, this John who wrote this, did he lie concerning Christ, or say the truth? Choose which you will, I am ready to hear you on either side. If he spoke falsely, you have no means of proving that Christ spoke those words. If he said the truth, truth cannot flow from the fountain of falsehood. Who is the Fountain? Christ: let John be the stream. The stream comes to me, and you say to me, Drink securely; yea, whereas you alarm me as to the Fountain Himself, whereas you tell me there is falsehood in the Fountain, you say to me, Drink securely. What do I drink? What said John, that Christ spoke falsely? Whence came John? From Christ. Is he who came from Him, to tell me truth, when He from whom he came lied? I have read in the Gospel plainly, John lay on the Lord's Breast; but I conclude that he drank in truth. What saw he as he lay on the Lord's Breast? What drank he in? What, but that which he poured forth? In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made. That which was made in Him was life, and the Life was the Light of men; And the Light shines in darkness, and the darkness comprehended It not; nevertheless It shines, and though I chance to have some obscurity, and cannot thoroughly comprehend It, still It shines. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John; he came to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not the Light: who? John: who? John the Baptist. For of him says John the Evangelist, He was not the Light; of whom the Lord says, He was a burning, and a shining lamp. But a lamp can be lighted, and extinguished. What then? Whence do you draw the distinction? Of what place are you enquiring? He to whom the lamp bore witness, was the True Light. Where John added, the True, there are you looking out for a lie. But hear still the same Evangelist John pouring forth what he had drunk in; And we beheld, says he, His glory. What did he behold? What glory beheld he? The glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. See then, see, if we ought not haply to restrain weak or rash disputings, and to presume nothing false of the truth, to give to the Lord what is His due; let us give glory to the Fountain, that we may fill ourselves securely. Now God is true, but every man a liar. What is this? God is full; every man is empty; if he will be filled, let him come to Him That is full. Come unto Him, and be enlightened. Moreover, if man is empty, in that he is a liar, and he seeks to be filled, and with haste and eagerness runs to the fountain, he wishes to be filled, he is empty. But youK2say, Beware of the fountain, there is falsehood there. What else do you say, but there is poison there?

7. You have already, he says, said all, already have you checked, already chastened me. But tell me how He did not speak falsely who said, 'I go not up,' and went up? I will tell you, if I can; but think it no little matter, that if I have not established you in the truth, I have yet kept you back from rashness. I will nevertheless tell you, what I imagine you know even already, if you remember the words which I have set forth to you. The words themselves solve the difficulty. That feast was kept for many days. On this, that is this present feast day, says He, this day, that is when they hoped, He went not up; but when He Himself resolved to go. Now mark what follows, When He had said these words, He Himself stayed in Galilee. So then He did not go up on that feast day. For His brethren wished that He should go first; therefore had they said, Pass from hence into Judæa. They did not say, Let us pass, as though they would be His companions; or, Follow us into Judæa, as though they would go first; but as though they would send Him before them. He wished that they should go before; He avoided this snare, impressing His infirmity as Man, hiding the Divinity; this He avoided, as when He fled into Egypt. For this was no effect of want of power, but even of truth, that He might give an example of caution; that no servant of His might say, I do not fly, because it is disgraceful; when haply it might be expedient to fly. As He was going to say to His disciples, When they have persecuted you in this city, flee ye into another; He gave them Himself this example. For He was apprehended, when He willed; He was born, when He willed. That they might not anticipate Him then, and announce that He was coming, and plots be prepared; He said, I go not up to this feast day. He said, I go not up, that He might be hid; He added this, that He might not lie. Something He expressed, something He suppressed, something He repressed; yet said He nothing false, for nothing false proceeds out of His Mouth. Finally, after He had said these words, When His brethren had gone up; the Gospel declares it, attend, read what you have objected to me; see if the passage itself do not solve the difficulty, see if I have taken from anywhere else what to say. This then the Lord was waiting for, that they should go up first, that they might not announce beforehand that He was coming, When His brethren had gone up, then went He also up to the feast day, not openly, but as it were in secret. What is, as it were in secret? He acts there as if in secret. What is, as it were in secret? Because neither was this really in secret. For He did not really make an effort to be concealed, who had it in His Own power when He would be taken. But in that concealment, as I have said, He gave His weak disciples, who had not the power to prevent being taken when they would not, an example of being on their guard against the snares of enemies. For He went up afterwards even openly, and taught them in the temple; and some said, ' Lo, this is He; lo, He is teaching.' Certainly our rulers said that they wished to apprehend Him: 'Lo, He speaks openly, and no one lays hands on Him.'

8. But now if we turn our attention to ourselves, if we think of His Body, how that we are even He. For if we were not He, Forasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of Mine, you have done it unto Me, would not be true. If we were not He, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me? would not be true. So then we are He, in that we are His members, in that we are His Body, in that He is our Head, in that Whole Christ is both Head and Body. Peradventure then He foresaw us that we were not to keep the feast days of the Jews, and this is, I go not up to this feast day. See neither Christ nor the Evangelist lied; of the which two if one must needs choose one, the Evangelist would pardon me, I would by no means put him that is true before the Truth Himself; I would not prefer him that was sent to Him by whom he was sent. But God be thanked, in my judgment what was obscure has been laid open. Your piety will aid me before God. Behold, I have, as I was best able, resolved the question, both concerning Christ and the Evangelist. Hold fast the truth with me as men who love it, embrace charity without contention.

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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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