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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 29

Tractate 29 (John 7:14-18)

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1. What follows of the Gospel and was read today, we must next in order look at, and speak from it as the Lord may grant us. Yesterday it was read thus far, that although they had not seen the Lord Jesus in the temple on the feast-day, yet they were speaking about Him: And some said, He is a good man: but others said, Nay; but he seduces the people. For this was said for the comfort of those who, afterwards preaching God's word, were to be seducers, and yet true men. 2 Corinthians 6:8 For if to seduce is to deceive, neither was Christ a seducer, nor His apostles, nor ought any Christian to be such; but if to seduce (to lead aside) is by persuading to lead one from something to something else, we ought to inquire into the whence and the whither: if from evil to good, the seducer is a good man; if from good to evil, the seducer is a bad man. In that sense, then, in which men are seduced from evil to good, would that all of us both were called, and actually were seducers!

2. Then afterwards the Lord went up to the feast, about the middle of the feast, and taught. And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knows this man letters, having never learned? He who was in secret taught, He was speaking openly and was not restrained. For that hiding of Himself was for the sake of example; this showing Himself openly was an intimation of His power. But as He taught, the Jews marvelled; all indeed, so far as I think, marvelled, but all were not converted. And why this wondering? Because all knew where He was born, where He had been brought up; they had never seen Him learning letters, but they heard Him disputing about the law, bringing forward testimonies of the law, which none could bring forward unless he had read, and none could read unless he had learned letters: and therefore they marvelled. But their marvelling was made an occasion to the Master of insinuating the truth more deeply into their minds. By reason, indeed of their wondering and words, the Lord said something profound, and worthy of being more diligently looked into and discussed. On account of which I would urge you, my beloved, to earnestness, not only in hearing for yourselves, but also in praying for us.

3. How then did the Lord answer those that were marvelling how He knew letters which He had not learned? My doctrine, says He, is not mine, but His that sent me. This is the first profundity. For He seems as if in a few words He had spoken contraries. For He says not, This doctrine is not mine; but, My doctrine is not mine. If not Yours, how Yours? If Yours, how not Yours? For You say both: both, my doctrines; and, not mine. For if He had said, This doctrine is not mine, there would have been no question. But now, brethren, in the first place, consider well the question, and so in due order expect the solution. For he who sees not the question proposed, how can he understand what is expounded? The subject of inquiry, then, is that which He says, My, not mine this appears to be contrary; how my, how not mine? If we carefully look at what the holy evangelist himself says in the beginning of his Gospel, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; thence hangs the solution of this question. What then is the doctrine of the Father, but the Father's Word? Therefore, Christ Himself is the doctrine of the Father, if He is the Word of the Father. But since the Word cannot be of none, but of some one, He said both His doctrine, namely, Himself, and also, not His own, because He is the Word of the Father. For what is so much Yours as Yourself? And what so much not Yours as Yourself, if that You are is of another?

4. The Word then is God; and it is also the Word of a stable, unchangeable doctrine, not such as can be sounded by syllables and fleeting, but abiding with the Father, to which abiding doctrine let us be converted, being admonished by the transitory sounds of the voice. For that which is transitory does not so admonish us as to call us to transitory things. We are admonished to love God. All this that I have said were syllables; they smote through the air to reach your sense of hearing, and by sounding passed away: that, however, which I advise you ought not so to pass away, because He whom I exhort you to love passes not away; and when you, exhorted in transient syllables, shall have been converted, you shall not pass away, but shall abide with Him who is abiding. There is therefore in the doctrine this great matter, this deep and eternal thing which is permanent: whither all things that pass away in time call us, when they mean well and are not falsely put forward. For, in fact, all the signs which we produce by sounds do signify something which is not sound. For God is not the two short syllables Deus, and it is not the two short syllables that we worship, and it is not the two short syllables that we adore, nor is it to the two short syllables that we desire to come — two syllables which almost cease to sound before they have begun to sound; nor in sounding them is there room for the second until the first has passed away. There remains, then, something great which is called God, although the sound does not remain when we say the word God. Thus direct your thoughts to the doctrine of Christ, and you shall arrive at the Word of God; and when you have arrived at the Word of God, consider this, The Word was God, and you will see that it was said truly, my doctrine: consider also whose the Word is, and you will see that it was rightly said, is not mine.

5. Therefore, to speak briefly, beloved, it seems to me that the Lord Jesus Christ said, My doctrine is not mine, meaning the same thing as if He said, I am not from myself. For although we say and believe that the Son is equal to the Father, and that there is not any diversity of nature and substance in them, that there has not intervened any interval of time between Him that begets and Him that is begotten, nevertheless we say these things, while keeping and guarding this, that the one is the Father, the other the Son. But Father He is not if He have not a Son, and Son He is not if He have not a Father: but yet the Son is God from the Father; and the Father is God, but not from the Son. The Father of the Son, not God from the Son: but the other is Son of the Father, and God from the Father. For the Lord Christ is called Light from Light. The Light then which is not from Light, and the equal Light which is from Light, are together one Light not two Lights.

6. If we have understood this, thanks be to God; but if any has not sufficiently understood, man has done as far as he could: as for the rest, let him see whence he may hope to understand. As laborers outside, we can plant and water; but it is of God to give the increase. My doctrine, says He, is not mine, but His that sent me. Let him who says he has not yet understood hear counsel. For since it was a great and profound matter that had been spoken, the Lord Christ Himself did certainly see that all would not understand this so profound a matter, and He gave counsel in the sequel. Do you wish to understand? Believe. For God has said by the prophet: Unless you believe, you shall not understand. Isaiah 7:9 To the same purpose what the Lord here also added as He went on — If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak from myself. What is the meaning of this, If any man be willing to do His will? But I had said, if any man believe; and I gave this counsel: If you have not understood, said I, believe. For understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that you may understand; since, except ye believe, you shall not understand. Therefore when I would counsel the obedience of believing toward the possibility of understanding, and say that our Lord Jesus Christ has added this very thing in the following sentence, we find Him to have said, If any man be willing to do His will, he shall know of the doctrine. What is he shall know? It is the same thing as he shall understand. But what is If any man be willing to do His will? It is the same thing as to believe. All men indeed perceive that shall know is the same thing as shall understand: but that the saying, If any man be willing to do His will, refers to believing, all do not perceive; to perceive this more accurately, we need the Lord Himself for expounder, to show us whether the doing of the Father's will does in reality refer to believing. But who does not know that this is to do the will of God, to work the work of God; that is, to work that work which is pleasing to Him? But the Lord Himself says openly in another place: This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent. John 6:29 That ye believe in Him, not, that you believe Him. But if you believe on Him, you believe Him; yet he that believes Him does not necessarily believe on Him. For even the devils believed Him, but they did not believe in Him. Again, moreover, of His apostles we can say, we believe Paul; but not, we believe in Paul: we believe Peter; but not, we believe in Peter. For, to him that believes in Him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted unto him for righteousness. Romans 4:5 What then is to believe in Him? By believing to love Him, by believing to esteem highly, by believing to go into Him and to be incorporated in His members. It is faith itself then that God exacts from us: and He finds not that which He exacts, unless He has bestowed what He may find. What faith, but that which the apostle has most amply defined in another place, saying, Neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith that works by love? Galatians 5:6 Not any faith of whatever kind, but faith that works by love: let this faith be in you, and you shall understand concerning the doctrine. What indeed shall you understand? That this doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me; that is, you shall understand that Christ the Son of God, who is the doctrine of the Father, is not from Himself, but is the Son of the Father.

7. This sentence overthrows the Sabellian heresy. The Sabellians have dared to affirm that the Son is the very same as He who is also the Father: that the names are two, but the reality one. If the names were two and reality one, it would not be said, My doctrine is not mine. Anyhow, if Your doctrine is not Yours, O Lord, whose is it, unless there be another whose it is? The Sabellians understand not what You said; for they see not the trinity, but follow the error of their own heart. Let us worshippers of the trinity and unity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and one God, understand concerning Christ's doctrine, how it is not His. And He said that He spoke not from Himself for this reason, because Christ is the Son of the Father, and the Father is the Father of Christ; and the Son is from God the Father, God, but God the Father is God not from God the Son.

8. He that speaks of himself seeks his own glory: 'This will be he who is called Antichrist,' exalting himself, as the apostle says, above all that is called God, and that is worshipped. 2 Thessalonians 2:4 The Lord, declaring that this same it is that will seek his own glory, not the glory of the Father, says to the Jews: I have come in my Father's name, and you have not received me; another will come in his own name, him you will receive. John 5:45 He intimated that they would receive Antichrist, who will seek the glory of his own name, puffed up, not solid; and therefore not stable, but assuredly ruinous. But our Lord Jesus Christ has shown us a great example of humility: for doubtless He is equal with the Father, for in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; yea, doubtless, He Himself said, and most truly said, Am I so long time with you, and you have not known me, Philip? He that has seen me has seen the Father. John 14:9 Yea, doubtless, Himself said, and most truly said, I and the Father are one. John 10:30 If, therefore, He is one with the Father, equal to the Father, God from God, God with God, coeternal, immortal, alike unchangeable, alike without time, alike Creator and disposer of times; and yet because He came in time, and took the form of a servant, and in condition was found as a man, Philippians 2:7 He seeks the glory of the Father, not His own; what ought you to do, O man, who, when you do anything good, seek your own glory; but when you do anything ill, dost meditate calumny against God? Consider yourself: you are a creature, acknowledge your Creator: you are a servant, despise not your Lord: you are adopted, not for your own merits; seek His glory from whom you have this grace, that you are a man adopted; His, whose glory He sought who is from Him, the Only-begotten. But He that seeks His glory that sent Him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him. In Antichrist, however, there is unrighteousness, and he is not true; because he will seek his own glory, not His by whom he was sent: for, indeed, he was not sent, but only permitted to come. Let us all, therefore, that belong to the body of Christ, seek not our own glory, that we be not led into the snares of Antichrist. But if Christ sought His glory that sent Him, how much more ought we to seek the glory of Him who made us?

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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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