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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 85

Sermon 85 on the New Testament

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[CXXXV. Ben.]

On the words of the Gospel, John 9:4 and 31 , We must work the works of him that sent me, etc. Against the Arians. And of that which the man who was born blind and received his sight said, We know that God hears not sinners.

1. The Lord Jesus, as we heard when the Holy Gospel was being read, opened the eyes of a man who was born blind. Brethren, if we consider our hereditary punishment, the whole world is blind. And therefore came Christ the Enlightener, because the devil had been the Blinder. He made all men to be born blind, who seduced the first man. Let them run to the Enlightener, let them run, believe, receive the clay made of the spittle. The Word is as it were the spittle, the Flesh is the earth. Let them wash the face in the pool of Siloa. Now it was the Evangelist's place to explain to us what Siloa means, and he said, which is by interpretation, Sent. Who is This That is Sent, but He who in this very Lesson said, I have come to do the works of Him That sent Me. Lo, Siloa, wash the face, be baptized, that you may be enlightened, and that you who before saw not, may see.

2. Lo, first open your eyes to that which is said; I have come, says He, to do the works of Him That sent Me. Now here at once stands forth the Arian, and says, Here you see that Christ did not His Own works, but the Father's who sent Him. Would he say this, if he saw, that is, if he had washed his face in Him who was sent, as it were in Siloa? What then do you say? Lo, says he, Himself said it. What said He? I have come to do the works of Him That sent Me. Are they not then His Own? No. What then is that which the Siloa Himself says, the Sent Himself, the Son Himself, the Only Son Himself, whom you complain of as degenerate? What is that He says, All things that the Father has are Mine. You say that He did the works of Another, in that He said, I must do the works of Him That sent Me. I say that the Father had the things of another: I am speaking according to your principles. Why would you object to me that Christ said, I have come to do His works as if, not My own but 'His That sent Me'?

3. I ask You, O Lord Christ, resolve the difficulty, put an end to the contention. All things, says He, that the Father has are Mine. Are they then not the Father's, if they are Yours? For He does not say, All things that the Father has He has given unto Me; although, if He had said even this, He would have shown His equality. But the difficulty is that He said, All things that the Father has are Mine. If you understand it aright, All things that the Father has, are the Son's; all things that the Son has, are the Father's. Hear Him in another place; All Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine. The question is finished, as to the things which the Father and the Son have: they have them with one consent, do not you introduce dissension. What He calls the works of the Father, are His Own works; for, Yours too are Mine, for He speaks of the works of That Father, to whom He said, All Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine. So then, My works are Yours, and Your works are Mine. For whatever things the Father does; Himself has said, the Lord has said, the Only-Begotten has said, the Son has said, the Truth has said. What has He said? Whatever things the Father does, these also does the Son in like manner. Signal expression! signal truth! signal equality. All things that the Father does, these does the Son also. Were it enough to say, All things that the Father does, these does the Son also? It is not enough; I add, in like manner. Why do I add, in like manner? Because they who do not understand, and who walk with eyes not yet open, are wont to say, The Father does them by way of command, the Son of obedience, therefore not in like manner. But if in like manner, as the One, so the Other; so what things the One, the same the Other.

4. But, says he, the Father commands, that the Son may execute. Carnal indeed is your conceit, but without prejudice to the truth, I grant it to you. Lo, the Father commands, the Son obeys; is the Son therefore not of the same Nature, because the One commands, and the Other obeys? Give me two men, father and son; they are two men: he that commands is a man; he that obeys is a man; he that commands and he that obeys have one and the same nature. Does not he that commands, beget a son of his own nature? Does he who obeys, by obeying lose his nature? Now take for the present, as you thus take two men, the Father commanding, the Son obeying, yet God and God. But the first two together are two men, the Latter together is but One God; this is a divine miracle. Meanwhile if you would that with you I acknowledge the obedience, do you first with me acknowledge the Nature. The Father begot That which Himself is. If the Father begot ought else than what Himself is, He did not beget a true Son. The Father says to the Son, From the womb before the day-star, I begot You. What is, before the day-star? By the day-star times are signified. So then before times, before all that is called before; before all that is not, or before all that is. For the Gospel does not say, In the beginning God made the Word; as it is said, In the beginning God made the Heaven and the earth; or, In the beginning was the Word born; or, In the beginning God begot the Word. But what says it? He was, He was, He was. You hear, He was; believe. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. So often do you hear, Was: seek not for time, for that He always was. He then who always was, and was always with the Son, for that God is able to beget without you; He said to the Son, From the womb before the day-star I begot You. What is from the womb? Had God a womb? Shall we imagine that God was fashioned with bodily members? God forbid! And why said He, From the womb, but that it might be understood that He begot Him of His Own Substance? So then from the womb came forth That which Himself was who begot. For if He who begot was one thing, and another came forth out of the womb; it were a monster, not a Son.

5. Therefore let the Son do the works of Him That sent Him, and the Father also do the works of the Son. At all events, you say, the Father wills, the Son executes. Lo, I show, that the Son wills, and the Father executes. Do you say, where do you show this? I show it at once. Father, I will. Now here if I had a mind to cavil, lo, the Son commands, and the Father executes. What will You? That where I am, they may be also with Me. We have escaped, there shall we be, where He is; there shall we be, we have escaped. Who can undo the I Will of the Almighty? You hear the will of His power, hear now the power of His will. As the Father says He raises up the dead and quickens them; even so the Son quickens whom He will. Whom He will. Say not, The Son quickens them, whom the Father commands Him to quicken. He quickens whom He will. So then whom the Father will, and whom Himself will: because where there is One Power, there is One Will. Let us then in a heart blind no more hold fast that the Nature of the Father and the Son is One and the Same; because the Father is very Father, the Son is very Son. What He is, That did He beget: because the Begotten was not degenerate.

6. There is a something in the words of that man who was blind, which may cause perplexity, and perhaps make many who understand them not aright despair. For he said among the rest of his words, the same man whose eyes were opened, We know that God hears not sinners. What shall we do, if God hears not sinners? Dare we pray to God if He hears not sinners? Give me one who may pray: lo, here is One to hear. Give me one who may pray, sift thoroughly the human race from the imperfect to the perfect. Mount up from the spring to the summer; for this we have just chanted. You have made summer and spring; that is, Those who are already spiritual, and those who are still carnal have You made; for so the Son Himself says, Your Eyes have seen My imperfect being. That which is imperfect in My Body, Your Eyes have seen. And what then? Have they who are imperfect hope? Undoubtedly they have. Hear what follows; And in Your Book shall all be written. But perhaps, Brethren, the spiritual pray and are heard, because they are not sinners? What then must the carnal do? What must they do? Shall they perish? Shall they not pray to God? God forbid! Give me that publican in the Gospel. Come, you publican, stand forth, show your hope, that the weak may not lose hope. For behold the publican went up with the Pharisee to pray, and with face cast down upon the ground, standing afar off, beating his breast, he said, Lord, be merciful to me a sinner. And he went down justified rather than the Pharisee. Said he true or false, who said, Be merciful to me a sinner? If he said true, he was a sinner; yet was he heard and justified. What then is that, that you whose eyes the Lord opened said, We know that God hears not sinners? Lo, God does hear sinners. But wash your inferior face, let that be done in your heart, which has been done in your face; and you will see that God does hear sinners. The imagination of your heart has deceived you. There is still something for Him to do to you. We see that this man was cast out of the synagogue; Jesus heard of it, came to him, and said to him, Do you believe in the Son of God? And He said, Who is He, Lord, that I should believe in Him? He saw, and did not see; he saw with the eyes, but as yet with the heart he saw not. The Lord said to him, You both see Him, that is, with the eyes; and He that talks with you is He. He then fell down, and worshipped Him. Then washed he the face of his heart.

7. Apply yourselves then earnestly to prayer, you sinners: confess your sins, pray that they may be blotted out, pray that they may be diminished, pray that as you increase, they may decrease: yet do not despair, and sinners though ye be, pray. For who has not sinned? Begin with the priests. To the priests it is said, First offer sacrifices for your own sins, and so for the people. The sacrifices convicted the priests that if any one should call himself righteous and without sin, it might be answered him, I look not at what you say, but at what you offer; your own victim convicts you. Wherefore do you offer for your own sins, if you have no sins? Do you in your sacrifice lie unto God? But perhaps the priests of the ancient people were sinners; of the new people are not sinners. Of a truth, Brethren, for that God has so willed, I am His priest; I am a sinner; with you do I beat the breast, with you I ask for pardon, with you I hope that God will be merciful. But perhaps the Holy Apostles, those first and highest leaders of the flock, shepherds, members of The Shepherd, these perhaps had no sin. Yes, indeed, even they had, they had indeed; they are not angry at this, for they confess it. I should not dare. First hear the Lord Himself saying to the Apostles, In this manner pray ye. As those other priests were convicted by the sacrifices, so these by prayer. And among the other things which He commanded them to pray for, He appointed this also, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. What do the Apostles say? Every day they pray for their debts to be forgiven them. They come in debtors, they go out absolved, and return debtors to prayer. This life is not without sin, that as often as prayer is made, so often should sins be forgiven.

8. But what shall I say? Peradventure when they learned the prayer, they were still weak. Some one, perhaps, will say this. When the Lord Jesus taught them that prayer, they were yet babes, weak, carnal; they were not yet spiritual, who have no sin. What then, Brethren? When they became spiritual, did they cease to pray? Then Christ ought to have said, Pray in such wise now; and to have given them, when spiritual, another prayer. It is one and the same. He who gave it is One and the Same; use it then in prayer in the Church. But we will take away all controversy, when you say the Holy Apostles were spiritual, up to the time of the Lord's Passion they were carnal; this you must say. And indeed, the truth is, as He was hanging, they were in alarm, and the Apostles then despaired when the robber believed. Peter dared to follow, when the Lord was led to suffering, he dared to follow, who came to the house, and was wearied in the palace, and stood at the fire, and was cold; he stood at the fire, he was frozen with a chilling fear. Being questioned by the maid-servant, he denied Christ once; being questioned a second time, he denied Him; being questioned a third time, he denied Him. God be thanked, that the questioning ceased; if the questioning had not ceased, long would the denial have been repeated. So then after He rose again, then He confirmed them, then did they become spiritual. Had they at that time then no sin? The Apostles spiritual, wrote spiritual epistles, they sent them to the Churches; they had no sin. This you say. I do not believe you, I ask themselves. Tell us, O holy Apostles, after the Lord rose again, and confirmed you with the Holy Ghost sent from heaven; did ye cease to have sin? Tell us, I pray you. Let us hear, that sinners may not despair, that they may not leave off to pray to God, because they are not without sin. Tell us. One of them says. And who? He whom the Lord loved the most, and who lay on the Lord's Breast, and drank in the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven which he was to pour forth again. Him I ask; Have ye sin or not? He makes answer and says, If we shall say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Now it is the same John who said, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. See ye what heights he had passed, that he could reach to the Word! Such an one, and so great, who like an eagle soared above the clouds, who in the serene clearness of his mind saw, In the beginning was the Word; he has said, If we shall say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we shall confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Therefore pray ye.

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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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