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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 7

Tractate 7 (John 1:34-51)

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1. We rejoice at your numbers, for you have come together with readiness and in greater numbers than we could have hoped. This it is that delights and consoles us in all the labors and dangers of this life, your love towards God, and pious zeal, and assured hope, and fervor of spirit. You heard when the psalm was read, that the needy and poor man cries to God in this world. For it is the voice, as you have often heard, and ought to remember, not of one man, and yet of one man; not of one, because the faithful are many — many grains groaning amid the chaff diffused throughout the whole world — but of one, because all are members of Christ, and thus one body. This people, then, poor and needy, does not know to rejoice with the world: its grief is within, and its joy is within, where no one sees but He who listens to him who groans, and crowns him who hopes. The rejoicing of the world is vanity. With great expectation is it hoped for and it cannot, when it comes, be held fast. For this day which is a day of rejoicing in this city to the lost, tomorrow will, of course, cease to be; nor will they themselves be the same tomorrow that they are today. And all things pass away, fly away, and vanish like smoke; and woe to those who love such things! For every soul follows what it loves. All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field: the grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of the Lord abides forever. Isaiah 40:1-8 Behold what you must love if you desire to abide forever. But you had this to reply: How can I apprehend the word of God? The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. John 1:14

2. Wherefore, beloved, let it belong to our neediness and poverty to grieve for those who seem to themselves to abound. For their joy is as that of madmen. But as a madman rejoices for the most part in his madness, and laughs, and grieves over him who is in his senses, so let us, beloved, if we have received the medicine coming from heaven, because we all were madmen, as if made whole, because those things which we did love we do not love — let us, I say, groan unto God for those who are yet in madness, for He is able to save them also. And there is need that they should look upon themselves and be displeased with themselves: to behold they desire, and to behold themselves they have not known. For if they for a little turn their eyes upon themselves, they see their own confusion. But until this take place, let our pursuits be different, let the recreations of our souls be different; our grief avails more than their joy. As far as regards the number of the brethren, it is difficult to conceive that any one of the men should have been carried away by that celebration; but as regards the number of the sisters, it grieves us, and this is a greater cause for grief, that they do not rather repair to the Church, whom if not fear, modesty at all events ought to deter from the public scene. May He see to this who sees it; and may His mercy be present to heal all. Let us who have come together feed upon the feast of God, and let our joy be His word. For He has invited us to His gospel, and He is our food, than whom nothing is sweeter, if only a man have a healthy palate in his heart.

3. But I imagine, beloved brethren, that you remember that this Gospel is read in order in suitable portions; and I think that it has not escaped you what has lately been treated of, specially the recent matters concerning John and the dove. Concerning John, namely, what new thing he learned concerning the Lord by means of the dove, although he had already known the Lord. And this was discovered by the inspiration of the Spirit of God, that John indeed already knew the Lord, but that the Lord Himself was to baptize, that the power of baptizing He would not transfer from Himself to any one, this he learned by means of the dove, because it was said to him, On whom you shall see the Spirit descending as a dove, and abiding upon Him, this is He which baptizes with the Holy Ghost. John 1:33 What is This is He? Not another, although by means of another. But why by means of a dove? Many things were said, and I am not able, nor is there need that I should go over all — principally, however, to denote peace, because also the trees which were baptized outside, because the dove found in them fruit, it brought to the ark, as you remember the dove sent out by Noah from the ark, which floated on the flood and was washed by baptism, was not submerged. When, then, it was sent forth, it brought an olive branch; but it had not leaves alone, it had also fruit. Genesis 8:8-11 This, then, we ought to wish for our brethren who are baptized outside, that they may have fruit; the dove will not permit them to remain outside, but bring them back to the ark. For the whole of fruit is charity, without which a man is nothing, whatever else he have. And this, which is most fully said by the apostle, we have mentioned and recounted. For he says, Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I have become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal; and though I should have all knowledge, and know all mysteries, and have all prophecy, and should have all faith (but in what sense did he say all faith?), so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I should distribute all my goods to the poor, and though I should give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profits me nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 But in no manner are they able to say that they have charity who divide unity. These things were said: let us see what follows.

4. John bare record because he saw. What record did he bear? That this is the Son of God. It behooved, then, that He should baptize who is God's only Son, not His adopted son. Adopted sons are the ministers of the only Son: the only Son has power; the adopted, the ministry. In the case that a minister baptizes who does not belong to the number of sons, because he lives evilly and acts evilly, what is our consolation? This is He which baptizes.

5. The next day, John stood, and two of his disciples; and looking upon Jesus as He walked, he says, Behold the Lamb of God! Assuredly, in a special sense, the Lamb; for the disciples were also called lambs: Behold, I send you as lambs in the midst of wolves. Matthew 10:16 They were also called light: You are the light of the world; Matthew 5:14 but in another sense is He called so, concerning whom it was said, That was the true light, which lights every man that comes into the world. John 1:9 In like manner was He called the dove in a special sense, alone without stain, without sin; not one whose sins have been washed away, but One who never had stain. For what? Because John said concerning the Lord, Behold the Lamb of God, was not John himself a lamb? Was he not a holy man? Was he not the friend of the Bridegroom? Wherefore, with a special meaning, said John of Him, This is the Lamb of God; because solely by the blood of this Lamb alone could men be redeemed.

6. My brethren, if we acknowledge our price, that it is the blood of the Lamb, who are they who this day celebrate the festival of the blood of I know not what woman, and how ungrateful are they! The gold was snatched, they say, from the ear of a woman, and the blood ran, and the gold was placed on a pair of scales or on a balance, and the advantage was much on the side of the blood. If the blood of a woman was sufficiently weighty to outweigh the gold, what power to outweigh the world has the blood of the Lamb by whom the world was made? And, indeed, that spirit, I know not who, was pacified by the blood that he should depress the weight. Impure spirits knew that Jesus Christ would come, they had heard of His coming from the angels, they had heard of it from the prophets, and they expected it. For if they were not expecting it, why did they exclaim, What have we to do with You? Have You come before the time to destroy us? We know who You are; the Holy One of God. Mark 1:24 They expected that He would come, but they were ignorant of the time. But what have you heard in the psalm regarding Jerusalem? For Your servants have taken pleasure in her stones, and will pity the dust thereof. You shall arise, says he, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time has come that You will have mercy upon her. When the time came for God to have mercy, the Lamb came. What sort of a Lamb whom wolves fear? What sort of a Lamb is it who, when slain, slew a lion? For the devil is called a lion, going about and roaring, seeking whom he may devour. 1 Peter 5:8 By the blood of the Lamb the lion was vanquished. Behold the spectacles of Christians. And what is more: they with the eyes of the flesh behold vanity, we with the eyes of the heart behold truth. Do not think, brethren, that our Lord God has dismissed us without spectacles; for if there are no spectacles, why have ye come together today? Behold, what we have said you saw, and you exclaimed; you would not have exclaimed if you had not seen. And this is a great thing to see in the whole world, the lion vanquished by the blood of the Lamb: members of Christ delivered from the teeth of the lions, and joined to the body of Christ. Therefore some spirit or other contrived the counterfeit that His image should be bought for blood, because he knew that the human race was at some time to be redeemed by the precious blood. For evil spirits counterfeit certain shadows of honor to themselves, that they may deceive those who follow Christ. So much so, my brethren, that those who seduce by means of amulets, by incantations, by the devices of the enemy, mingle the name of Christ with their incantations: because they are not now able to seduce Christians, so as to give them poison they add some honey, that by means of the sweet the bitter may be concealed, and be drunk to ruin. So much so, that I know that the priest of that Pilleatus was sometimes in the habit of saying, Pilleatus himself also is a Christian. Why so, brethren, unless that they were not able otherwise to seduce Christians?

7. Do not, then, seek Christ elsewhere than where Christ wished Himself to be preached to you; and as He wished Himself to be preached to you, in that fashion hold Him fast, in that manner write Him on your heart. It is a wall against all the assaults, and against all the snares of the enemy. Do not fear, he does not tempt unless he has been permitted; it is certain that he does nothing unless permitted or sent. He is sent as an evil angel by a power holding him in control: he is permitted when he asks anything; and this, brethren, does not take place unless that the just may be tried, the unjust punished. Why, then, do you fear? Walk in the Lord your God; be assured, what He does not wish you to suffer you do not suffer; what He permits you to suffer is the scourge of one correcting, not the punishment of one condemning. We are being educated for an eternal inheritance, and do we spurn to be scourged? My brethren, if a boy were to refuse the punishment of cuffs or stripes from his father, would he not be called proud, incorrigible, ungrateful towards paternal discipline? And for what does an earthly father educate his son? That he may not lose the temporal things which he has acquired for him, which he has collected for him, which he does not wish him to lose, which he who leaves them cannot retain eternally. He does not teach a son with whom he is to possess, but one who is to possess after him. My brethren, if a father teaches a son who is to succeed him, and teaches him also that he will have to pass through all these things, in same way as he who is admonishing him is destined to pass through them, how do you wish that He educate us, our Father to whom we are not to succeed, but to whom we are to approach, and with whom we are to abide eternally in an inheritance which does not decay nor die, and which no storms can desolate? He is Himself both the inheritance and the Father. Shall we possess Him, and ought we not to undergo training? Let us hear the instruction of the Father. When our head aches, let us not have recourse to the superstitious intercessor, to the diviners and remedies of vanity. My brethren, shall I not mourn over you? Daily do I find these things; and what shall I do? Not yet have I persuaded Christians that their hope ought to be placed in God. Behold, if one dies to whom one of these remedies has been given (and how many have died with remedies, and how many have lived without them!), with what confidence does the spirit go forth to God? He has lost the sign of Christ, and has received the sign of the devil. Perhaps he may say that he has not lost the sign of Christ. You can have, then, the sign of Christ along with the sign of the devil. Christ does not desire community of ownership, but He desires to possess alone what He has purchased. He has bought at so great a price that He may possess alone: you make Him the partner of that devil to whom you sold yourself by your sin. Woe to the double-hearted, Sirach 2:12 to those who in their hearts give part to God and part to the devil. God, being angry that the devil has part there, departs, and the devil will possess the whole. Not in vain, therefore, says the apostle, Neither give place to the devil. Ephesians 4:27 Let us know the Lamb, then, brethren; let us know our price.

8. John stood, and two of his disciples. Behold two of John's disciples: since John, the friend of the Bridegroom, was such as he was, he sought not his own glory, but bore witness to the truth. Did he wish that his disciples should remain with him and not follow the Lord? Rather he himself showed hisdisciples whom they should follow. For they accounted of him as though he were the lamb; and he said, Why do you give heed to me? I am not the lamb; behold the Lamb of God, of whom also he had already said, Behold the Lamb of God. And what benefit does the Lamb of God confer upon us? Behold, he says, who takes away the sin of the world. The two who were with John followed Him when they heard this.

9. Let us see what follows: Behold the Lamb of God. This John said, and the two disciples heard him speak, and followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned and saw them following, and says unto them, What do you seek? And they said, Rabbi (that is to say, being interpreted, Master), where dwellest Thou? They did not follow Him in such manner as that they should cleave to Him; for it is plain when they clave unto Him, for He called them from the ship. For one of the two was Andrew, as you have just heard, and Andrew was the brother of Peter; and we know from the Gospel that the Lord called Peter and Andrew from the ship, saying, Come ye after me, and I will make you fishers of men. Matthew 4:19 And from that time they clave unto Him, so as not to go away. On the present occasion these two followed Him, not as those who were not again to leave Him, but to see where He dwelt, and to fulfill the Scripture: Let your foot wear out the threshold of His doors; arise to come to Him continually, and be instructed in His precepts. Sirach 6:36-37 He showed them where He dwelt: they came and remained with Him. What a blessed day they spent, what a blessed night! Who can make known to us those things which they heard from the Lord? Let us also build in our heart, and make a house into which He may come and teach us, and have converse with us.

10. What do you seek? They said to Him, Rabbi (which is to say, being interpreted, Master), where dwellest Thou? He says to them, Come and see. And they came and saw where He dwelt, and abode with Him that day: and it was about the tenth hour. Do we think that it did in no wise pertain to the evangelist to tell us what hour it was? Is it possible that he wished us to give heed to nothing in that, to inquire after nothing? It was the tenth hour. That number signifies the law, because the law was given in ten commandments. But the time had come for the law to be fulfilled by love, because it could not be fulfilled by the Jews by fear. Hence the Lord says, I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill. Matthew 5:17 Suitably, then, at the tenth hour did these two follow Him, at the testimony of the friend of the Bridegroom, and that He at the tenth hour heard Rabbi (which is interpreted, Master). If at the tenth hour the Lord heard Rabbi, and the tenth number pertains to the law, the master of the law is no other than the giver of the law. Let no one say that one gave the law, and that another teaches the law: for the same teaches it who gave it; He is the Master of His own law, and teaches it. And mercy is in His tongue, therefore mercifully teaches He the law, as it is said regarding wisdom, The law and mercy does she carry in her tongue. Proverbs 31:26 Do not fear that you are not able to fulfill the law, flee to mercy. If you can not fulfill the law, make use of that covenant, make use of the bond, make use of the prayers which the heavenly One, skilled in the law, has ordained and composed for you.

11. For those who have a cause, and wish to supplicate the emperor, seek for some one skilled in the law, and trained in the schools, to compose their petition for them; lest perchance, if they ask in an unbecoming manner, they not only do not obtain what they seek, but get punishment instead of a benefit. When, therefore, the apostles sought to petition, and could not find how to approach the Emperor God, they said to Christ, Lord, teach us to pray; that is to say, O you who are our skilled One in the law, our Assessor, yea, the Concessor of God, compose for us prayers. And the Lord taught them from the book of the celestial law, taught them how to pray; and in that which He taught, He laid down a certain condition: Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. Luke 11:1-4 If you seek not according to the law, you become guilty. Do you not tremble before the Emperor, having become guilty? Offer the sacrifice of humility, offer the sacrifice of mercy; pray, saying, Forgive me, for I also forgive. But if you say, do. For what will you do? Whither will you go if you have lied in your prayers? Not as it is said in the forum, you shall lose the benefit of the rescript; but you shall not obtain a rescript. For it is the law of the forum that he who shall have lied in his petition shall derive no benefit from that which he has obtained. But this among men, because a man can be deceived: the emperor might have been deceived, when you addressed to him your petition; for you said what you would, and he to whom you spoke knew not whether it was true or false; he sent you away to your adversary to be confuted if possible, so that if before the judge you should be convicted of falsehood (because he was not able not to grant the rescript, not knowing whether you had lied), you should lose the benefit of the rescript, in the place to which you had taken it. But God, who knows whether you lie or speakest the truth, does not cause you to lose in the judgment the benefit, but does not permit you to obtain it, because you have dared to lie to the Truth.

12. What, then, will you do? Tell me. To fulfill the law in every part, so as to offend in nothing, is difficult: the condition of guilt is therefore certain; will you refuse to use the remedy? Behold, my brethren, what a remedy the Lord has provided for the sicknesses of the soul! What then? When your head aches, we praise you if you place the gospel at your head, instead of having recourse to an amulet. For so far has human weakness proceeded, and so lamentable is the estate of those who have recourse to amulets, that we rejoice when we see a man who is upon his bed, and tossed about with fevers and pains, placing his hope on nothing else than that the gospel lies at his head; not because it is done for this purpose, but because the gospel is preferred to amulets. If, then, it is placed at the head to allay the pain of the head, is it not placed at the heart to heal it from sin? Let it be done then. Let what be done? Let it be placed at the heart, let the heart be healed. It is well — well that you should have no further care regarding the safety of the body, than to ask it from God. If He knows that it will do you good, He will give it you; if He give it not to you, it would not have profited you to have it. How many are sick in bed, and for that reason are innocent! For if they were to recover, they would go forth to commit acts of wickedness. To how many is health an injury! The robber who goes forth to the narrow path to slay a man, how much better for him would it have been to have been sick! And he who rises by night to dig through his neighbor's wall, how much better for him to be tossed by fever! If he were ill, he would have been comparatively innocent; being well, he is guilty of wickedness. It is known, then, to God what is expedient for us: let us make this only our endeavor, that our hearts be whole from sins; and when it happens that we are scourged in the body, let us pray to Him for relief. The Apostle Paul besought Him that He would take away the thorn in his flesh, and He would not. Was he disturbed? Was he filled with sadness, and did he speak of himself as deserted? Rather did he say that he was not deserted, because that was not taken away which he desired to be taken away, to the end that infirmity might be cured. For this he found in the voice of the Physician, My grace is sufficient for you; for my strength is made perfect in weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 Whence do you know, then, that God does not wish to heal you? As yet it is expedient for you to be scourged. Whence do you know how diseased that is which the physician cuts, using his knife on the diseased parts? Does he not know the measure, what he is to do, and how far he is to do it? Does the shrieking of him he cuts restrain the hands of the physician cutting according to his art? The one cries, the other cuts. Is he cruel who does not listen to the man crying out, or is he not rather merciful in following the wound, that he may heal the sick man? These things have I said, my brethren, in order that no one seek any other aid than that of God, when we happen to be under the reproof of God. See that you perish not; see that you do not depart from the Lamb, and be devoured by the lion.

13. We have declared, then, why it was at the tenth hour. Let us see what follows: One of the two which heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He finds his own brother Simon, and says unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. Messias, in Hebrew; Christ, in Greek; in Latin, Anointed. Χρῖσμα is anointing in Greek; Christ, therefore, is the Anointed. He is peculiarly anointed, pre-eminently anointed; wherewith all Christians are anointed, He is pre-eminently anointed. Hear how He speaks in the psalm: Wherefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your fellows. For all the holy ones are His fellows, but He in a peculiar sense is the Holy of Holies, peculiarly anointed, peculiarly Christ.

14. And he brought him to Jesus; and when Jesus beheld him, He said, You are Simon the son of Joannes: you shall be called Cephas, which is, by interpretation, Peter. It is not a great thing that the Lord said whose son Peter was. What is great to the Lord? He knew all the names of His own saints, whom He predestinated before the foundation of the world; and do you wonder that He said to one man, You are the son of this man, and you shall be called this or that? Is it a great matter that He changed his name, and converted it from Simon to Peter? Peter is from petra, a rock, but the petra [rock]; is the Church; in the name of Peter, then, was the Church figured. And who is safe, unless he who builds upon the rock? And what says the Lord Himself? He that hears these my words, and does them, I will liken him unto a wise man building his house upon a rock (he does not yield to temptation). The rain descended, the floods came, the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. But he that hears my words, and does them not (now let each one of us fear and beware), I will liken him to a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand: the rain descended, the floods came, the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. Matthew 7:24-27 What profit is it to enter the Church for him who builds upon the sand? For, by hearing and not doing, he builds indeed, but on the sand. For if he hears nothing, he builds nothing; but if he hears, he builds. But we ask, Where? For if he hears and does, he builds upon the rock; if he hears and does not, he builds upon the sand. There are two kinds of builders, those building upon the rock, and those building upon the sand. What, then, are those who do not hear? Are they safe? Does He say that they are safe because they do not build? They are naked beneath the rains, before the winds, before the floods; when these come, they carry away those persons before they overthrow the houses. It is then the only security, both to build, and to build upon the rock. If you will hear and do not, you build, but you build a ruin: and when temptation comes it overthrows the house, and carries away you with the ruin. But if you do not hear, you are naked; you yourself art dragged away by those temptations. Hear, then, and do; it is the only remedy. How many, perchance, on this day, by hearing and not doing, are hurried away on the stream of this festival! For, through hearing and not doing, the flood comes, this annual festival; the torrent is filled, it will pass away and become dry, but woe to him whom it shall carry away! Know this, then, beloved, that unless a man hears and does, he builds not upon the rock, and he does not belong to that great name which the Lord so commended. For He has called your attention. For if Simon had been called Peter before, you would not have so clearly seen the mystery of the rock, and you would have thought that he was called so by chance, not by the providence of God; therefore God willed that he should be called first something else, that by the very change of name the reality of the sacrament might be commended to our notice.

15. And the day following He would go forth into Galilee, and finding Philip, He says unto him, Follow me. Now he was of the city of Andrew and Peter. And Philip finds Nathanael (Philip who had been already called by the Lord); and he said to him, We have found Him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus, the son of Joseph. He was called the son of that man to whom His mother had been espoused. For that He was conceived and born while she was still a virgin, all Christians know well from the Gospel. This Philip said to Nathanael, and he added the place, from Nazareth. And Nathanael said to him, From Nazareth something good can come. What is the meaning, brethren? Not as some read, for it is likewise wont to be read, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? For the words of Philip follow, who says, Come and see. But the words of Philip can suitably follow both readings, whether you read it thus, as confirming, From Nazareth something good can come, to which Philip replies, Come and see; or whether as doubting, and making the whole a question, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Come and see. Since then, whether read in this manner or in that, the words following are not incompatible, it is for us to inquire which of the two interpretations we shall adopt.

16. What sort of a man this Nathanael was, we prove by the words which follow. Hear what sort of a man he was; the Lord Himself bears testimony. Great is the Lord, known by the testimony of John; blessed Nathanael, known by the testimony of the truth. Because the Lord, although He had not been commended by the testimony of John, Himself to Himself bore testimony, because the truth is sufficient for its own testimony. But because men were not able to receive the truth, they sought the truth by means of a lamp, and therefore John was sent to show them the Lord. Hear the Lord bearing testimony to Nathanael: Nathanael said to him, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip says to him, Come and see. And Jesus sees Nathanael coming to Him, and says concerning him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile. Great testimony! Not of Andrew, nor of Peter, nor of Philip was that said which was said of Nathanael, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.

17. What do we then, brethren? Ought this man to be the first among the apostles? Not only is Nathanael not found as first among the apostles, but he is neither the middle nor the last among the twelve, although the Son of God bore such testimony to him, saying, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile. Is the reason asked for? In so far as the Lord intimates, we find a probable reason. For we ought to understand that Nathanael was learned and skilled in the law and for that reason was the Lord unwilling to place him among His disciples, because He chose unlearned persons, that He might by them confound the world. Listen to the apostle speaking these things: For you see, says he, your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things that are despised, has God chosen, yea, and things which are not, as though they were things that are, to bring to nought things that are. 1 Corinthians 1:20-28 If a learned man had been chosen, perhaps he would have said that he was chosen for the reason that his learning made him worthy of choice. Our Lord Jesus Christ, wishing to break the necks of the proud, did not seek the orator by means of the fisherman, but by the fisherman He gained the emperor. Great was Cyprian as an orator, but before him was Peter the fisherman, by means of whom not only the orator, but also the emperor, should believe. No noble was chosen in the first place, no learned man, because God chose the weak things of the world that He might confound the strong. This man, then, was great and without guile, and for this reason only was not chosen, lest the Lord should seem to any to have chosen the learned. And from this same learning in the law, it came that when he heard from Nazareth,— for he had searched the Scripture, and knew that the Saviour was to be expected thence, what the other scribes and Pharisees had difficulty in knowing — this man, then, very learned in the law, when he heard Philip saying, We have found Him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph; — this man, who knew the Scriptures excellently well, when he heard the name Nazareth, was filled with hope, and said, From Nazareth something good can come.

18. Let us now see the rest concerning this man. Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile. What is in whom is no guile? Perhaps he had no sin? Perhaps he was not sick? Perhaps he did not need a physician? God forbid. No one is born here in such fashion as not to need that Physician. What, then, is the meaning of the words, in whom is no guile? Let us search a little more intently — it will appear presently — in the name of the Lord. The Lord says dolus [guile]; and every one who understands Latin knows that dolus is when one thing is done and another feigned. Give heed, beloved. Dolus (guile) is not dolor (pain). I say this because many brethren, not well skilled in Latin, so speak as to say, Dolus torments him, using it for dolor. Dolus is fraud, it is deceit. When a man conceals one thing in his heart, and speaks another, it is guile, and he has, as it were, two hearts; he has, as it were, one recess of his heart where he sees the truth, and another recess where he conceives falsehood. And that you may know that this is guile, it is said in the Psalms, Lips of guile. What are lips of guile? It follows, In a heart and in a heart have they spoken evil. What is in a heart and in a heart, unless in a double heart? If, then, guile was not in Nathanael, the Physician judged him to be curable, not whole. A whole man is one thing, a curable another, an incurable a third: he who is sick, but not hopelessly sick, is called curable; he who is sick hopelessly, incurable; but he who is already whole does not need a physician. The Physician, then, who had come to cure, saw that he was curable, because there was no guile in him. How was guile not in him, if he is a sinner? He confesses that he is a sinner. For if he is a sinner, and says that he is a just man, there is guile in his mouth. Therefore in Nathanael He praised the confession of sin, He did not judge that he was not a sinner.

19. Wherefore, when the Pharisees, who seemed righteous to themselves, blamed the Lord, because, as physician, he mixed with the sick, and when they said, Behold with whom he eats, with publicans and sinners, the Physician replied to the madmen, They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. Matthew 11:11-13 That is to say, because you call yourselves righteous when you are sinners, because you judge yourselves to be whole when you are languishing, you put away from you the medicine, and do not hold fast health. Hence that Pharisee who had asked the Lord to dinner, was whole in his own eyes; but that sick woman rushed into the house to which she had not been invited, and, made impudent by the desire of health, approached not the head of the Lord, nor the hands, but the feet; washed them with tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed them, anointed them with ointment — made peace, sinner as she was, with the footprints of the Lord. The Pharisee who sat at meat there, as though whole himself, blamed the Physician, and said within himself, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known what woman touched his feet. He suspected that He knew not, because He did not repulse her to prevent His being touched with unclean hands; but He did know, He permitted Himself to be touched, that the touch itself might heal. The Lord, seeing the heart of the Pharisee, put forth a parable: There was a certain creditor, which had two debtors; the one owed five hundred denars, and the other fifty; and when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Which of them loved him most? He answered, I suppose, Lord, he to whom he forgave most. And turning to the woman, He said to Simon, Do you see this woman? I entered into your house, you gave me no water for my feet; but she has washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head: you gave me no kiss; she has not ceased to kiss my feet: you gave me no oil; she has anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore, I say unto you, to her are forgiven many sins, for she loved much; but to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little. Luke 7:36-47 That is to say, you are more sick, but you think yourself whole; you think that little is forgiven you when you owe more. Well did she, because guile was not in her, deserve medicine. What means, guile was not in her? She confessed her sins. This He also praises in Nathanael, that guile was not in him; for many Pharisees who abounded in sins said that they were righteous, and brought guile with them, which made it impossible for them to be healed.

20. Jesus then saw this man in whom was no guile, and said, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile. Nathanael says unto Him, Whence know Thou me? Jesus answered and said, Before that Philip called you, when you were under the fig (that is, under the fig-tree), I saw you. Nathanael answered and said to Him, Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel. Some great thing Nathanael may have understood in the saying, When you were under the fig-tree, I saw you, before that Philip called you; for his words, You are the Son of God, You are the King of Israel, were not dissimilar to those of Peter so long afterwards, when the Lord said to him, Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you, but my Father which is in heaven. And there He named the rock, and praised the strength of the Church's support in this faith. Here already Nathanael says, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel. Wherefore? Because it was said to him, Before that Philip called you, when you were under the fig-tree, I saw you.

21. We must inquire whether this fig-tree signifies anything. Listen, my brethren. We find the fig-tree cursed because it had leaves only, and not fruit. Matthew 20:19 In the beginning of the human race, when Adam and Eve had sinned, they made themselves girdles of fig leaves. Genesis 3:7 Fig leaves then signify sins. Nathanael then was under the fig-tree, as it were under the shadow of death. The Lord saw him, he concerning whom it was said, They that sat under the shadow of death, unto them has light arisen. Isaiah 9:2 What then was said to Nathanael? You say to me, O Nathanael, Whence do you know me? Even now you speak to me, because Philip called you. He whom an apostle had already called, He perceived to belong to His Church. O you Church, O you Israel, in whom is no guile! If you are the people, Israel, in whom is no guile, you have even now known Christ by His apostles, as Nathanael knew Christ by Philip. But you beheld His compassion before you knew Him, when you were lying under sin. For did we first seek Christ, and not He seek us? Did we come sick to the Physician, and not the Physician to the sick? Was not that sheep lost, and did not the shepherd, leaving the ninety-nine in the wilderness, seek and find it, and joyfully carry it back on his shoulders? Was not that piece of money lost, and the woman lighted the lamp, and searched in the whole house until she found it? And when she had found it, Rejoice with me, she said to her neighbors, for I have found the piece of money which I lost. Luke 15:4-10 In like manner were we lost as the sheep, lost as the piece of money; and our Shepherd found the sheep, but sought the sheep; the woman found the piece of money, but sought the piece of money. What is the woman? The flesh of Christ. What is the lamp? I have prepared a lamp for my Christ. Therefore were we sought that we might be found; having been found, we speak. Let us not be proud, for before we were found we were lost, if we had not been sought. Let them then not say to us whom we love, and whom we desire to gain to the peace of the Catholic Church, What do you wish with us? Why do you seek us if we are sinners? We seek you for this reason that you perish not: we seek you because we were sought; we wish to find you because we have been found.

22. When, then, Nathanael had said How do You know me? the Lord said to him, Before that Philip called you, when you were under the fig-tree, I saw you. O you Israel without guile, whosoever you are; O people living by faith, before I called you by my apostles, when you were under the shadow of death, and you saw not me, I saw you. The Lord then says to him, Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig-tree, you believe; you shall see a greater thing than these. What is this, you shall see a greater thing than these? And He says unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, you shall see heaven open, and angels ascending and descending upon the Son of man. Brethren, this is something greater than under the fig-tree I saw you. For it is more that the Lord justified us when called than that He saw us lying under the shadow of death. For what profit would it have been to us if we had remained where He saw us? Should we not be lying there? What is this greater thing? When have we seen angels ascending and descending upon the Son of man?

23. Already on a former occasion I have spoken of these ascending and descending angels; but lest you should have forgotten, I shall speak of the latter briefly by way of recalling it to your recollection. I should use more words if I were introducing, not recalling the subject. Jacob saw a ladder in a dream; and on a ladder he saw angels ascending and descending: and he anointed the stone which he had placed at his head. Genesis 28:12-18 You have heard that the Messias is Christ; you have heard that Christ is the Anointed. For Jacob did not place the stone, the anointed stone, that he might come and adore it: otherwise that would have been idolatry, not a pointing out of Christ. What was done was a pointing out of Christ, so far as it behooved such a pointing out to be made, and it was Christ that was pointed out. A stone was anointed, but not for an idol. A stone anointed; why a stone? Behold, I lay in Zion a stone, elect, precious: and he that believes in Him shall not be confounded. Why anointed? Because Christus comes from chrisma. But what saw he then on the ladder? Ascending and descending angels. So it is the Church, brethren: the angels of God are good preachers, preaching Christ; this is the meaning of, they ascend and descend upon the Son of man. How do they ascend, and how do they descend? In one case we have an example; listen to the Apostle Paul. What we find in him, let us believe regarding the other preachers of the truth. Behold Paul ascending: I know a man in Christ fourteen years ago was caught up into the third heaven (whether in the body, or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows), and that he heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 You have heard him ascending, hear him descending: I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal; as babes in Christ I have fed you with milk, not with meat. 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 Behold he descended who had ascended. Ask whether he ascended to the third heaven. Ask whether he descended to give milk to babes. Hear that he descended: I became a babe in the midst of you, even as a nurse cherishes her children. 1 Thessalonians 2:7 For we see both nurses and mothers descend to babes, and although they be able to speak Latin, they shorten the words, shake their tongues in a certain manner, in order to frame childish endearments from a methodical language; because if they speak according to rule, the infant does not understand nor profit. And if there be a father well skilled in speaking, and such an orator that the forum resounds with his eloquence, and the judgment-seats shake, if he have a little son, on his return home he puts aside the forensic eloquence to which he had ascended, and in child's language descends to his little one. Hear in one place the apostle himself ascending and descending in the same sentence: For whether, says he,we be beside ourselves, it is to God; or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. 2 Corinthians 5:13 What is we are beside ourselves? That we see those things which it is not lawful for a man to speak. What is we are sober for your cause? Have I judged myself to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified? If the Lord Himself ascended and descended, it is evident that His preachers ascend by imitation, descend by preaching.

24. And if we have detained you somewhat longer than is our wont, the design was that the dangerous hours might pass: we imagine that those people have now brought their vanity to a close. But let us, brethren, having fed upon the feasts of salvation, do what remains, that we may in a religious manner fill up the Lord's day with spiritual joys, and compare the joys of verity with the joys of vanity; and if we are horrified, let us grieve; if we grieve, let us pray; if we pray, may we be heard; if we are heard, we gain them also.

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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. <>.

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