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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 28

Tractate 28 (John 7:1-13)

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1. In this chapter of the Gospel, brethren, our Lord Jesus Christ has most especially commended Himself to our faith in respect of His humanity. For indeed He always keeps in view, both in His words and deeds, that He should be believed to be God and man: God who made us, man who sought us; with the Father, always God; with us, man in time. For He would not have sought man whom He had made if Himself had not become that which He had made. But remember this, and do not let it slip from your hearts, that Christ became man in such manner that He ceased not to be God. While remaining God, He who made man took manhood. While, therefore, as man He concealed Himself, He must not be thought to have lost His power, but only to have offered an example to our infirmity. For He was detained when He willed to be, and He was put to death when he willed to be. But since there were to be His members, that is, His faithful ones, who would not have that power which He, our God, had; by His being hid, by His con cealing Himself as if He would not be put to death, He indicated that His members would do this, in which members He Himself in fact was. For Christ is not simply in the head and not in the body, but Christ whole is in the head and body. What, therefore, His members are, that He is; but what He is, it does not necessarily follow that His members are. For if His members were not Himself, He would not have said, Saul, why do you persecute me? Acts 9:4 For Saul was not persecuting Himself on earth, but His members, namely, His believers. He would not, however, say, my saints, my servants, or, in short, my brethren, which is more honorable; but, me, that is, my members, whose head I am.

2. With these preliminary remarks, I think that we shall not have to labor much for the meaning in this chapter; for that is often betokened in the head which was to be in the body. After these things, says he, Jesus walked in Galilee: for He would not walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him. This is what I have said; He offered an example to our infirmity. He had not lost power, but He was comforting our weakness. For it would happen, as I have said, that some believer in Him would retreat into concealment, lest he should be found by the persecutors; and lest the concealment should be objected to him as a crime, that occurred first in the head, which should afterwards be confirmed in the member. For it is said, He would not walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him, just as if Christ were not able both to walk among the Jews, and not be killed by them. For He manifested this power when He willed; for when they would lay hold of Him, as He was now about to suffer, He said to them, Whom do you seek? They answered, Jesus. Then, said He, I am He, not concealing, but manifesting Himself. That manifestation, however, they did not withstand, but going backwards, they fell to the ground. John 18:6 And yet, because He had come to suffer, they rose up, laid hold of Him, led Him away to the judge, and slew Him. But what was it they did? That which a certain scripture says: The earth was delivered into the hands of the ungodly. Job 9:24 The flesh was given into the power of the Jews; and this that thereby the bag, as it were, might be rent asunder, whence our purchase-price might run out.

3. Now the Jews' feast of tabernacles was at hand. What the feast of tabernacles is, they who read the Scriptures know. They used on the holy day to make tabernacles, in likeness of the tabernacles in which they dwelt while they sojourned in the wilderness, after being led out of Egypt. This was a holy day, a great solemnity. The Jews were celebrating this, as being mindful of the Lord's benefits — they who were about to kill the Lord. On this holy day, then (for there were several holy days; but it was called a holy day with the Jews, though it was not one day, but several), His brethren spoke to the Lord Christ. Understand the phrase, His brethren, as you know it must be taken, for it is not a new thing you hear. The blood relations of the Virgin Mary used to be called the Lord's brethren. For it was of the usage of Scripture to call blood relations and all other near kindred by the term brethren, which is foreign to our usage, and not within our manner of speech. For who would call an uncle or a sister's son brother? Yet the Scripture calls relatives of this kind brothers. For Abraham and Lot are called brothers, while Abraham was Lot's uncle. Genesis 11:27 Laban and Jacob are called brothers, while Laban was Jacob's uncle. Genesis 28:2 When, therefore, you hear of the Lord's brethren, consider them the blood relations of Mary, who did not a second time bear children. For, as in the sepulchre, where the Lord's body was laid, neither before nor after did any dead lie; so, likewise, Mary's womb, neither before nor after conceived anything mortal.

4. We have said who the brethren were, let us hear what they said: Pass over hence, and go into Judea, that your disciples also may see your work which you do. The Lord's works were not hid from the disciples, but to these men they were not apparent. They might have Christ for a kinsman, but through that very relationship they disdained to believe in Him. It is told us in the Gospel; for we dare not hold this as a mere opinion, you have just now heard it. They go on advising Him: For no man does anything in secret, and he himself seeks to be known openly: if you do these things, show yourself to the world. And directly after it says: For neither did His brethren believe in Him. Why did they not believe in Him? Because they sought human glory. For as to what His brethren appear to advise Him, they consult for His glory. You do marvellous works, make yourself known; that is, appear to all, that you may be praised by all. The flesh spoke to the flesh; but the flesh without God, to the flesh with God. It was the wisdom of the flesh speak ing to the Word which became flesh and dwelt among us.

5. What did the Lord answer to these things? Then says Jesus to them: My time is not yet come; but your time is always ready. What is this? Had not Christ's time yet come? Why then was Christ come, if His time had not yet come? Have we not heard the apostle say, But when the fullness of time came, God sent His Son? Galatians 4:4 If, therefore, He was sent in the fullness of time, He was sent when He ought to be sent, He came when it behooved that He should come. What means then, My time is not yet come? Understand, brethren, with what intention they spoke, when they appeared to advise Him as their brother. They were giving Him counsel to pursue glory; as advising in a worldly manner and with an earthly disposition, that He should not be unknown to fame, nor hide Himself in obscurity. This is what the Lord says in answer to those who were giving Him counsel of glory, My time is not yet come;— the time of my glory is not yet come. See how profound it is: they were advising Him as to glory; but He would have loftiness preceded by humility, and willed to prepare the way to elevation itself through humility. For those disciples, too, were of course seeking glory who wished to sit, one at His right hand and the other at His left: they thought only of the goal, and saw not by what way it must be reached; the Lord recalled them to the way, that they might come to their fatherland in due order. For the fatherland is on high, the way there lies low. That land is the life of Christ, the way is Christ's death; that land is the habitation of Christ, the way is Christ's suffering. He that refuses the way, why seeks he the fatherland? In a word, to these also, while seeking elevation, He gave this answer: Can ye drink the cup which I am about to drink? Matthew 20:22 Behold the way by which you must come to that height which you desire. The cup He made mention of was indeed that of His humility and suffering.

6. Therefore also here: My time is not yet come; but your time, that is the glory of the world, is always ready. This is the time of which Christ, that is the body of Christ, speaks in prophecy: When I shall have received the fit time, I will judge righteously. For at present it is not the time of judging, but of tolerating the wicked. Therefore, let the body of Christ bear at present, and tolerate the wickedness of evil livers. Let it, however, have righteousness now, for by righteousness it shall come to judgment. And what says the Holy Scripture in the psalm to the members — namely, that tolerate the wickedness of this world? The Lord will not cast off His people. For, in fact, His people labors among the unworthy, among the unrighteous, among blasphemers, among murmurers, detractors, persecutors, and, if they are allowed, destroyers. Yes, it labors; but the Lord will not cast off His people, and He will not forsake His inheritance until justice is turned into judgment. Until the justice, which is now in His saints, be turned into judgment; when that shall be fulfilled which was said to them, You shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Matthew 19:28 The apostle had righteousness, but not yet that judgment of which he says, Do you not know that we shall judge angels? 1 Corinthians 6:3 Be it now, therefore, the time for living rightly; the time for judging them that have lived ill shall be hereafter. Until righteousness, says he, is turned into judgment. The time of judgment will be that of which the Lord has here said, My time is not yet come. For there will be a time of glory, when He who came in humility will come in loftiness; He who came to be judged will come to judge; He who came to be slain by the dead will come to judge the quick and the dead. God, says the psalm, will come manifest, our God, and He will not be silent. What is shall come manifest? Because He came concealed. Then He will not be silent; for when He came concealed, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer, He opened not His mouth. Isaiah 53:7 He shall come, and shall not keep silence. I was silent, says He, shall I always be silent? Isaiah 42:14

7. But what is necessary at the present time for those who have righteousness? That which is read in that psalm: Until righteousness is turned into judgment, and they that have it are upright of heart. You ask, perhaps, who are the upright in heart? We find in Scripture those to be upright in heart who bear the evils of the world, and do not accuse God. See, brethren, an uncommon thing is that which I speak of. For I know not how it is that, when any evil befalls a man, he runs to accuse God, when he ought to accuse himself. When you get any good, you praise yourself; when you suffer any evil, you accuse God. This is then the crooked heart, not the upright. When you are cured of this distorting and perversity, what you used to do will be turned into the contrary. For what did you use to do before? You praised yourself in the good things of God, and accused God in your own evil things; with your heart converted and made right, you will praise God in His good things, and accuse yourself in your own evil things. These are the upright in heart. In short, that man, who was not yet right in heart when the success of the wicked and the distress of the good grieved him, says, when he is corrected: How good is the God of Israel to the upright in heart! But as for me, when I was not right in heart, my feet were almost gone; my steps had nearly slipped. Why? Because I was envious at sinners, beholding the peace of sinners. I saw, says he, the wicked prosperous, and I was displeased at God; for I did wish that God should not permit the wicked to be happy. Let man understand: God never does permit this; but a bad man is thought to be happy, for this reason, because men are ignorant of what happiness is. Let us then be right in heart: the time of our glory is not yet come. Let it be told to the lovers of this world, such as the brethren of the Lord were, your time is always ready; our time is not yet come. For let us, too, dare to say this. And since we are the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, since we are His members, since we joyfully acknowledge our head, let us say it without hesitation; since, for our sakes, He deigned also Himself to say this. And when the lovers of this world revile us, let us say to them, Your time is always ready; our time is not yet come. For the apostle has said to us, For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When will our time come? When Christ, says he, your life shall appear, then shall you also appear with Him in glory. Colossians 3:3-4

8. What said He further? The world cannot hate you. What is this, but, The world cannot hate its lovers, the false witnesses? For you call the things that are evil, good; and the things that are good, evil. But me it hates, because I bear witness concerning it, that its works are evil. Go up to this feast. What means to this? Where ye seek human glory. What means to this? Where ye wish to prolong carnal joys, not to meditate on eternal joys. I go not up to this feast, because my time is not yet full come. On this feast-day you seek human glory; but my time, that is, the time of my glory, is not yet come. That will be my feast-day, not running before and passing over these days, but remaining for ever; that will be festivity, joy without end, eternity without a blot, serenity without a cloud. When He had said these words unto them, He abode still in Galilee. But when His brethren had gone up, then went He also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret. Therefore not to this feast-day, because His desire was not for temporal glory, but to teach something to profit, to correct men, to admonish them of an eternal feast-day, to turn away their love from this world, and to turn it to God. But what means this, He went up as it were in secret to the feast? This action of the Lord also is not without meaning. It appears to me that, even from this circumstance that He went up as it were in secret, He had intended to signify something; for the things that follow will show that He thus went up on the middle of the feast, that is, when those days were half over, to teach even openly. But he said, As it were in secret, meaning, not to show Himself to men. It is not without meaning that Christ went up as it were in secret to that feast, because He Himself lay hid in that feast-day. What I have said as yet is also under cover of secrecy. Let it be manifested then, let the veil be lifted, and let that which was secret appear.

9. All things that were spoken to the ancient people Israel in the manifold Scripture of the holy law, what things they did, whether in sacrifices, or in priestly offices, or in feast-days, and, in a word, in whatever things they worshipped God, whatever things were spoken to and given them in precept, were shadows of things to come. Of what things to come? Things which find their fulfillment in Christ. Whence the apostle says, For all the promises of God are in Him yea; 2 Corinthians 1:20 that is, they are fulfilled in Him. Again he says in another place, All happened to them in a figure; but they were written for our sakes, upon whom the end of the ages has come. 1 Corinthians 10:1 And he said elsewhere, For Christ is the end of the law; Romans 10:4 likewise in another place, Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of a new moon, or of Sabbath-days, which is a shadow of things to come. 1 Corinthians 2:16-17 If, therefore, all these things were shadows of things to come, also the feast of tabernacles was a shadow of things to come. Let us examine, then, of what thing to come was this feast-day a shadow. I have explained what this feast of tabernacles was: it was a celebration of taber nacles, because the people, after their deliverance from Egypt, while directing their course through the wilderness to the land of promise, dwelt in tents. Let us observe what it is, and we shall be that thing; we, I say, who are members of Christ, if such we are; but we are, He having made us worthy, not we having earned it for ourselves. Let us then consider ourselves, brethren: we have been led out of Egypt, where we were slaves to the devil as to Pharaoh; where we applied ourselves to works of clay, engaged in earthly desires, and where we toiled exceedingly. And to us, while laboring, as it were, at the bricks, Christ cried aloud, Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden. Thence we were led out by baptism as through the Red Sea — red because consecrated by the blood of Christ. All our enemies that pursued us being dead, that is, all our sins being blotted out, we have been brought over to the other side. At the present time, then, before we come to the land of promise, namely, the eternal kingdom, we are in the wilderness in tabernacles. They who acknowledge these things are in tabernacles; for it was to be that some would acknowledge this. For that man, who understands that he is a sojourner in this world, is in tabernacles. That man understands that he is travelling in a foreign country, when he sees himself sighing for his native land. But while the body of Christ is in tabernacles, Christ is in tabernacles; but at that time He was so, not evidently but secretly. For as yet the shadow obscured the light; when the light came, the shadow was removed. Christ was in secret: He was in the feast of tabernacles, but there hidden. At the present time, when these things are already made manifest, we acknowledge that we are journeying in the wilderness: for if we know it, we are in the wilderness. What is it to be in the wilderness? In the desert waste. Why in the desert waste? Because in this world, where we thirst in a way in which is no water. But yet, let us thirst that we may be filled. For, Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. Matthew 5:6 And our thirst is quenched from the rock in the wilderness: for the Rock was Christ, and it was smitten with a rod that the water might flow. But that it might flow, the rock was smitten twice: because there are two beams of the cross. All these things, then, which were done in a figure, are made manifest to us. And it is not without meaning that it was said of the Lord, He went up to the feast-day, but not openly, but as it were in secret. For Himself in secret was the thing prefigured, because Christ was hid in that same festal-day; for that very festal-day signified Christ's members that were to sojourn in a foreign land.

10. Then the Jews sought Him on the feast-day: before He went up. For His brethren went up before Him, and He went not up then when they supposed and wished: that this too might be fulfilled which He said, Not to this, that is, the first or second day, to which you wish me to go. But He went up afterwards, as the Gospel tells us, on the middle of the feast.' that is, when as many days of that feast had passed as there remained. For they celebrated that same festival, so far we can understand, on several successive days.

11. They said, therefore, Where is he? And there was much murmuring among the people concerning Him. Whence the murmuring? Of strife. What was the strife? Some said, He is a good man; but others said, Nay; but he deceives the people. We must understand this of all His servants: this is said now of them. For whoever becomes eminent in some spiritual grace, of him some will assuredly say, He is a good man; others, Nay; but he deceives the people. Whence is this? Because our life is hid with Christ in God. Colossians 3:3 On this account people may say during the winter, This tree is dead; for example, a fig tree, pear tree, or some kind of fruit tree, it is like a withered tree, and so long as it is winter it does not appear whether it is so or not. But the summer proves, the judgment proves. Our summer is the appearing of Christ: God shall come manifest, our God, and He will not be silent; fire shall go before Him: that fire shall burn up His enemies: that fire shall lay hold of the withered trees. For then shall the dry trees be apparent, when it shall be said to them, I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat; but on the other side, namely, on the right, will be seen abundance of fruit, and magnificence of leaves; the green will be eternity. To those, then, as withered trees, it shall be said, Go into everlasting fire. For behold, it says, the axe is laid to the root of the trees: every tree, therefore, that brings not forth good fruit shall be cut down, and cast into the fire. Matthew 3:10 Let them then say of you, if you are growing in Christ, let men say of you, He deceives the people. This is said of Christ Himself; it is said of the whole body of Christ. Think of the body of Christ still in the world, think of it still on the threshing-floor; see how it is blasphemed by the chaff. The chaff and the grain are, indeed, threshed together; but the chaff is consumed, the grain is purged. What was said of the Lord then, avails for consolation, whenever it will be said of any Christian.

12. Howbeit no man spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews. But who were they that did not speak of Him for fear of the Jews? Undoubtedly they who said, He is a good man: not they who said, He deceives the people. As for them who said He deceives the people, their din was heard like the noise of dry leaves. He deceives the people, they sounded more and more loudly: He is a good man, they whispered more and more constrainedly. But now, brethren, notwithstanding that glory of Christ which is to make us immortal is not yet come, yet now, I say, His Church so increases, He has deigned to spread it abroad through the whole world, that it is now only whispered. He deceives the people; and more and more loudly it sounds forth, He is a good man.

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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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