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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 86

Sermon 86 on the New Testament

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[CXXXVI. Ben.]

On the same lesson of the Gospel, John 9 ., on the giving sight to the man that was born blind.

1. We have heard the lesson of the Holy Gospel which we are in the habit of hearing; but it is a good thing to be reminded: good to refresh the memory from the lethargy of forgetfulness. And in fact this very old lesson has given us as much pleasure as if it were new. Christ gave sight to one blind from his birth; why do we marvel? Christ is the Saviour; by an act of mercy He made up that which He had not given in the womb. Now when He gave that man no eyes, it was no mistake of His surely; but a delay with a view to a miracle. You are saying, it may be, Whence do you know this? From Himself I have heard it; He just now said it; we heard it all together. For when His disciples asked Him, and said, Lord, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? What answer He made, you heard, as did I. Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. Lo then wherefore it was that He delayed when He gave him no eyes. He did not give what He could give, He did not give what He knew He should give, when need was. Yet do not suppose, Brethren, that this man's parents had no sin, or that he himself had not, when he was born, contracted original sin, for the remission of which sin infants are baptized unto remission of sins. But that blindness was not because of his parents' sin, nor because of his own sin; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. For we all when we were born contracted original sin: and yet we were not born blind. However enquire carefully, And we were born blind. For who was not born blind? Blind, that is, in heart. But the Lord Jesus, for that He had created both, cured both.

2. With the eyes of faith you have seen this man blind, you have seen him too of blind seeing; but you have heard him erring. Wherein this blind man erred, I will tell you; first, in that he thought Christ a prophet, and knew not that He was the Son of God. And then we have heard an answer of his entirely false; for he said, We know that God hears not sinners. If God hears not sinners, what hope have we? If God hears not sinners, why do we pray, and publish the record of our sin by the beating of the breast? Where again is that Publican, who went up with the Pharisee into the temple and while the Pharisee was boasting, parading his own merits, he standing afar off, and with his eyes fastened on the ground, and beating his breast, was confessing his sins? And this man, who confessed his sins, went down from the temple justified rather than the other Pharisee. Assuredly then God does hear sinners. But he who spoke these words had not yet washed the face of the heart in Siloa. The sacrament had gone before on his eyes; but in the heart had not been yet effected the blessing of the grace. When did this blind man wash the face of his heart? When the Lord admitted him into Himself after he had been cast out by the Jews. For He found him, and said to him as we have heard; Do you believe in the Son of God? And he, Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him? With the eyes, it is true, he saw already; did he see already in the heart? No, not yet. Wait; he will see presently. Jesus answered him, I that speak with you am He. Did he doubt? No, immediately he washed his face. For he was speaking with That Siloa, which is by interpretation, Sent. Who is the Sent, but Christ? Who often bore witness, saying, I do the will of My Father That sent Me. He then was Himself the Siloa. The man approached blind in heart, he heard, believed, adored; washed the face, saw.

3. But they who cast him out continued blind, forasmuch as they cavilled at the Lord, that it was the sabbath when He made clay of the spittle, and anointed the eyes of the blind man. For when the Lord cured with a word, the Jews openly cavilled. For He did no work on the sabbath day, when He spoke, and it was done. It was a manifest cavil; they cavilled at Him merely commanding, they cavilled at Him speaking; as if they did not themselves speak all the sabbath day. I might say that they do not speak not only on the sabbath, but on no day, forasmuch as they have kept back from the praises of the True God. Nevertheless, as I have said, brethren, it was a manifest cavil. The Lord said to a certain man, Stretch forth your hand; he was made whole, and they cavilled for that He healed on the sabbath day. What did He do? What work did He do? What burden did He bear? But in this instance, the spitting on the ground, the making clay, and anointing the man's eyes, is doing some work. Let no one doubt it, it was doing a work. The Lord did break the sabbath; but was not therefore guilty. What is that I have said, He broke the sabbath? He, the Light had come, He was removing the shadows. For the sabbath was enjoined by the Lord God, enjoined by Christ Himself, who was with the Father, when that Law was given; it was enjoined by Him, but in shadow of what was to come. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days, which are a shadow of things to come. He had now come whose coming these things announced. Why do the shadows delight us? Open your eyes, you Jews; the Sun is present. We know. What do ye know, you blind in heart? What know ye? That this man is not of God, because he thus breaks the sabbath day. The sabbath, unhappy men, this very sabbath did Christ ordain, who you say is not of God. You observe the sabbath in a carnal manner, you have not the spittle of Christ. In this earth of the sabbath look also for the spittle of Christ, and you will understand that by the sabbath Christ was prophesied. But you, because you have not the spittle of Christ in the earth upon your eyes, you have not come unto Siloa, and have not washed the face, and have continued blind, blind to the good of this blind man, yea now no longer blind either in body or heart. He received clay with the spittle, his eyes were anointed, he came to Siloa, he washed his face, he believed on Christ, he saw, he continued not in that exceedingly fearful judgment; For judgment I came into this world, that they which see not may see, and that they which see may be made blind.

4. Exceeding alarm! That they which see not may see: Good. It is a Saviour's office, a profession of healing power, That they which see not may see. But what, Lord, is that You have added, That they which see may be made blind? If we understand, it is most true, most righteous. Yet what is, They which see? They are the Jews. Do they then see? According to their own words, they see; according to the truth, they do not see. What then is, they see? They think they see, they believe they see. For they believed they did see, when they maintained the Law against Christ. We know; therefore they see. What is We know, but we see? What is, this Man is not of God, because He thus breaks the sabbath day? They see; they read what the Law said. For it was enjoined that whosoever should break the sabbath day, should be stoned. Therefore said they that He was not of God; but though seeing, they were blind to this, that for judgment He came into the world who is to be the Judge of quick and dead; why came He? That they which see not may see: that they who confess that they do not see, may be enlightened. And that they which see may be made blind; that is, that they who confess not their own blindness, may be the more hardened. And, in fact, That they which see may be made blind, has been fulfilled; the defenders of the Law, Doctors of the Law, the teachers of the Law, the understanders of the Law, crucified the Author of the Law. O blindness, this is that which in part has happened to Israel. That Christ might be crucified, and the fullness of the Gentiles might come in, blindness in part has happened to Israel. What is, that they which see not may see? That the fullness of the Gentiles might come in, blindness in part has happened to Israel. The whole world lay in blindness; but He came, that they which see not may see, and that they which see may be made blind. He was disowned by the Jews, He was crucified by the Jews; of His Blood He made an eye-salve for the blind. They who boasted that they saw the light, being more hardened, being made blind, crucified the Light. What great blindness? They killed the Light, but the Light Crucified enlightened the blind.

5. Hear one seeing, who once was blind. Behold, against what a cross they have miserably stumbled, who would not confess their blindness to the Physician! The Law had continued with them. What serves the Law without grace? Unhappy men, what can the Law do without grace? What does the earth without the spittle of Christ? What does the Law without grace, but make them more guilty? Why? Because hearers of the Law and not doers, and hereby sinners, transgressors. The son of the hostess of the man of God was dead, and his staff was sent by his servant, and laid upon his face, but he did not revive. What does the Law without grace? What says the Apostle, now seeing, now of blind, enlightened? For if there had been a Law given which could give life, verily righteousness should have been by the Law. Take heed; let us answer and say; what is this that he has said? If there had been a Law given which could give life, verily righteousness should have been by the Law. If it could not give life, why was it given? He went on and added, But the Scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise by the faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. That the promise of illumination, the promise of love by the faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe, that Scripture, that is the Law, has concluded all under sin. What is, has concluded all under sin? I had not known concupiscence, except the Law had said, You shall not lust. What is, has concluded all under sin? Hath made the sinner a transgressor also. For it could not heal the sinner. It has concluded all under sin; but with what hope? The hope of grace, the hope of mercy. You have received the Law: you wished to keep it, you were not able; you have fallen from pride, hast seen your weakness. Run to the Physician, wash the face. Long for Christ, confess Christ, believe in Christ; the Spirit is added to the letter, and you will be saved. For if you take away the Spirit from the letter, the letter kills; if it kill, where is hope? But the Spirit gives life.

6. Let then Gehazi, Elisha's servant, receive the staff, as Moses the servant of God received the Law. Let him receive the staff, receive it, run, go before, anticipate him, lay the staff upon the face of the dead child. And so it was; he did receive it, he ran, he laid the staff upon the face of the dead child. But to what purpose? What serves the staff? If there had been a Law given which could give life, the boy might have been raised to life by the staff; but seeing that the Scripture has concluded all under sin, he still lies dead. But why has it concluded all under sin? That the promise by the faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. Let then Elisha come, who sent the staff by the servant to prove that he was dead; let him come himself, come in his own person, himself enter into the woman's house, go up to the child, find him dead, conform himself to the members of the dead child, himself not dead, but living. For this he did; he laid his face upon his face, his eyes upon his eyes, his hands upon his hands, his feet upon his feet, he straitened, he contracted himself, being great, he made himself little. He contracted himself; so to say, he lessened himself. For being in the Form of God, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant. What is He conformed Himself, alive to the dead? Do you ask, what this is? Hear the Apostle; God sent His Son. What is, he conformed himself to the dead? Let him tell this, let him go on and declare it again; In the likeness of flesh of sin. This is to conform Himself Alive to the dead; to come to us in the likeness of flesh of sin, not in the flesh of sin. Man lay dead in a flesh of sin, the likeness of flesh of sin conformed Himself to him. For He died who had not wherefore to die. He died, Alone Free among the dead; forasmuch as the whole flesh of men was indeed a flesh of sin. And how should it rise again, had not He who had no sin, conforming Himself to the dead, come in the likeness of flesh of sin? O Lord Jesus, who hast suffered for us, not for Yourself, who had no guilt, and endured its punishment, that you might dissolve at once the guilt and punishment.

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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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