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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 46

Tractate 46 (John 10:11-13)

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1. The Lord Jesus is speaking to His sheep — to those already so, and to those yet to become such — who were then present; for in the place where they were, there were those who were already His sheep, as well as those who were afterwards to become so: and He likewise shows to those then present and those to come, both to them and to us, and to as many also after us as shall yet be His sheep, who it is that had been sent to them. All, therefore, hear the voice of their Shepherd saying, I am the good Shepherd. He would not add good, were there not bad shepherds. But the bad shepherds are those who are thieves and robbers, or certainly hirelings at the best. For we ought to examine into, to distinguish, and to know, all the characters whom He has here depicted. The Lord has already unfolded two points, which He had previously set forth in a kind of covert form: we already know that He is Himself the door, and we know that He is Himself the Shepherd. Who the thieves and robbers are, was made clear in yesterday's lesson; and today we have heard of the hireling, as we have heard also of the wolf. Yesterday the porter was also introduced by name. Among the good, therefore, are the door, the doorkeeper, the shepherd, and the sheep: among the bad, the thieves and robbers, the hirelings, and the wolf.

2. We understand the Lord Christ as the door, and also as the Shepherd; but who is to be understood as the doorkeeper? For the former two, He has Himself explained: the doorkeeper He has left us to search out for ourselves. And what does He say of the doorkeeper? To him, He says, the porter [doorkeeper] opens. To whom does he open? To the Shepherd. What does he open to the Shepherd? The door. And who is also the door? The Shepherd Himself. Now, if Christ the Lord had not Himself explained, had not Himself said, I am the Shepherd, and I am the door, would any of us have ventured to say that Christ is Himself both the Shepherd and the door? For had He said, I am the Shepherd, and had not said, I am the door, we should be setting ourselves to inquire what was the door, and perhaps, mistaken in our views, be still standing before the door. His grace and mercy have revealed to us the Shepherd, by His calling Himself so; have revealed to us also the door, when declared Himself such; but He has left us to search out the doorkeeper for ourselves. Whom, then, are we to call the doorkeeper? Whomsoever we fix upon, we must take care not to think of him as greater than the door itself; for in men's houses the doorkeeper is greater than the door. The doorkeeper is placed before the door, not the door before the doorkeeper; because the porter keeps the door, not the door the porter. I dare not say that any one is greater than the door, for I have heard already what is the door: that is no longer unknown to me, I am not left to my own conjecture, and I have not got much room for mere human guess work: God has said it, the Truth has said it, and we cannot change what the Unchangeable has uttered.

3. In respect, then, of the profound nature of this question, I shall tell you what I think: let each one make the choice that pleases him, but let him think of it reverently; as it is written, Think of the Lord with goodness, and in simplicity of heart seek Him. Wisdom 1:1 Perhaps we ought to understand the Lord Himself as the doorkeeper: for the shepherd and the door are in human respects as much different from each other as the doorkeeper and the door; and yet the Lord has called Himself both the Shepherd and the door. Why, then, may we not understand Him also as the doorkeeper? For if we look at His personal qualities, the Lord Christ is neither a shepherd, in the way we are accustomed to know and to see shepherds; nor is He a door, for no artisan made Him: but if, because of some point of similarity, He is both the door and the Shepherd, I venture to say, He is also a sheep. True, the sheep is under the shepherd; yet He is both the Shepherd and a sheep. Where is He the Shepherd? Look, here you have it; read the Gospel: I am the good Shepherd. Where is He a sheep? Ask the prophet: He was led as a sheep to the slaughter. Isaiah 53:7 Ask the friend of the bridegroom: Behold the Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world. John 1:29 Moreover, I am going to say something of a still more wonderful kind, in accordance with these points of similarity. For both the lamb, and the sheep, and the shepherd are friendly with one another, but from the lions as their foes the sheep are protected by their shepherds: and yet of Christ, who is both sheep and Shepherd, we have it said, The Lion of the tribe of Judah has prevailed. Revelation 5:5 All this, brethren, understand in connection with points of similarity, not with personal qualities. It is a common thing to see the shepherds sitting on a rock, and there guarding the cattle committed to their care. Surely the shepherd is better than the rock that he sits upon; and yet Christ is both the Shepherd and the rock. All this by way of comparison. But if you ask me for His peculiar personal quality: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. If you ask me for the personal quality peculiarly His own: The only Son, from everlasting to everlasting begotten of the Father, the equal of Him that begot, the Maker of all things, unchangeable with the Father, unchanged by the assuming of human form, man by incarnation, the Son of man, and the Son of God. All this that I have said is not figure, but reality.

4. Therefore, let us not, brethren, be disturbed in understanding Him, in harmony with certain resemblances, as Himself the door, and also the doorkeeper. For what is the door? The way of entrance. Who is the doorkeeper? He who opens it. Who, then, is He that opens Himself, but He who unveils Himself to sight? See, when the Lord spoke at first of the door, we did not understand: so long as we did not understand, it was shut: He who opened it is Himself the doorkeeper. There is no need, then, of seeking any other meaning, no need; but perhaps there is the desire. If there is so, quit not the path, go not outside of the Trinity. If you are in quest of some other impersonation of the doorkeeper, bethink you of the Holy Spirit; for the Holy Spirit will not think it unmeet to be the doorkeeper, when the Son has thought it meet to be Himself the door. Look at the doorkeeper as perhaps the Holy Spirit: about Him the Lord says to His disciples, He shall guide you into all truth. What is the door? Christ. What is Christ? The Truth. Who, then, opens the door, but He who guides into all truth?

5. But what are we to say of the hireling? He is not mentioned here among the good. The good Shepherd, He says, gives His life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the Shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees; and the wolf catches them, and scatters the sheep. The hireling does not here bear a good character, and yet in some respects is useful; nor would he be called an hireling, did he not receive hire from his employer. Who then is this hireling, that is both blameworthy and needful? And here, brethren, let the Lord Himself give us light, that we may know who the hirelings are, and be not hirelings ourselves. Who then is the hireling? There are some in office in the church, of whom the Apostle Paul says, Who seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ's. What means that, Who seek their own? Who do not love Christ freely, who do not seek after God for His own sake; who are pursuing after temporal advantages, gaping for gain, coveting honors from men. When such things are loved by an overseer, and for such things God is served, whoever such an one may be, he is an hireling who cannot count himself among the children. For of such also the Lord says: Verily, I say unto you, they have their reward. Matthew 6:5 Listen to what the Apostle Paul says of St. Timothy: But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your circumstances; for I have no man like-minded, who will naturally care for you. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's. Philippians 2:19-21 The shepherd mourned in the midst of hirelings. He sought some one who sincerely loved the flock of Christ, and round about him, among those who were with him at that time, he found not one. Not that there was no one then in the Church of Christ but the Apostle Paul and Timothy, who had a brother's concern for the flock; but it so happened at the time of his sending Timothy, that he had none else of his sons about him; only hirelings were with him, who sought their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's. And yet he himself, with a brother's anxiety for the flock, preferred sending his son, and remaining himself among hirelings. Hirelings are also found among ourselves, but the Lord alone distinguishes them. He that searches the heart, distinguishes them; and yet sometimes we know them ourselves. For it was not without a purpose that the Lord Himself said also of the wolves: By their fruits you shall know them. Matthew 7:16 Temptations put many to the question, and then their thoughts are made manifest; but many remain undiscovered. The Lord's fold must have as overseers, both those who are children and those who are hirelings. But the overseers, who are sons, are the shepherds. If they are shepherds, how is there but one Shepherd, save that all of them are members of the one Shepherd, to whom the sheep belong? For they are also members of Himself as the one sheep; because as a sheep he was led to the slaughter.

6. But give heed to the fact that even the hirelings are needful. For many indeed in the Church are following after earthly profit, and yet preach Christ, and through them is heard the voice of Christ; and the sheep follow, not the hireling, but the Shepherd's voice speaking through the hireling. Hearken to the hirelings as pointed out by the Lord Himself: The scribes, He says, and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: do what they say; but do not what they do. Matthew 23:2-3 What else said He but, Listen to the Shepherd's voice speaking through the hirelings? For sitting in Moses' seat, they teach the law of God; therefore God teaches by them. But if they wish to teach their own things, hear them not, do them not. For certainly such seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's; but no hireling has dared to say to Christ's people, Seek your own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's. For his own evil conduct he does not preach from the seat of Christ: he does injury by the evil that he does, not by the good that he says. Pluck the grapes, beware of the thorn. It is well I see that you have understood; but for the sake of those that are slower, I shall repeat these words with greater plainness. How said I, Pluck the bunch of grapes, beware of the thorn; when the Lord says, Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? That is quite true: and yet what I said is also true, Pluck the bunch of grapes, beware of the thorn. For sometimes the grape-cluster, springing from the root of the vine, finds its support in a common hedge; its branch, grows, becomes embedded among thorns, and the thorn bears other fruit than its own. For the thorn has not been produced from the vine, but has become the resting-place of its runner. Make your inquiries only at the roots. Seek for the thorn-root, you will find it apart from the vine: seek the origin of the grape, and from the root of the vine it will be found to have sprung. And so, Moses' seat was the vine; the morals of the Pharisees were the thorns. Sound doctrine comes through the wicked, as the vine-branch in a hedge, a bunch of grapes among thorns. Gather carefully, so as in seeking the fruit not to tear your hand; and while you are to hear one speaking what is good, imitate him not when doing what is evil. What they tell you, do,— gather the grapes; but what they do, do not,— beware of the thorns. Even through hirelings listen to the voice of the Shepherd, but be not hirelings yourselves, seeing you are members of the Shepherd. Yea, Paul himself, the holy apostle who said, I have no one who has a brother's concern about you; for all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's, draws a distinction in another place between hirelings and sons; and see what he says: Some preach Christ even of envy and strife, and some also of good will: some of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel; but some also preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds. These were hirelings who disliked the Apostle Paul. And why such dislike, but just because they were seeking after temporal things? But mark what he adds: What then, notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached: and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. Philippians 1:15-18 Christ is the truth: let the truth be preached in pretense by hirelings, let it be preached in truth by the children: the children are waiting patiently for the eternal inheritance of the Father, the hirelings are longing for, and in a hurry to get, the temporal pay of their employer. For my part let me be shorn of the human glory, which I see such an object of envy to hirelings: and yet by the tongues both of hirelings and of children let the divine glory of Christ be published abroad, seeing that, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached.

7. We have seen who the hireling is also. Who, but the devil, is the wolf? And what was said of the hireling? When he sees the wolf coming, he flees: but the sheep are not his own, and he cares not for the sheep. Was the Apostle Paul such an one? Certainly not. Was Peter such an one? Far from it. Was such the character of the other apostles, save Judas, the son of perdition? Surely not. Were they shepherds then? Certainly they were. And how is there one Shepherd? I have already said they were shepherds, because members of the Shepherd. In that head they rejoiced, under that head they were in harmony together, with one spirit they lived in the bond of one body; and therefore belonged all of them to the one Shepherd. If, then, they were shepherds, and not hirelings, wherefore fled they when suffering persecution? Explain it to us, O Lord. In an epistle, I have seen Paul fleeing: he was let down by the wall in a basket, to escape the hands of his persecutor. 2 Corinthians 11:33 Had he, then, no care of the sheep, whom he thus abandoned at the approach of the wolf? Clearly he had, but he commended them by his prayers to the Shepherd who was sitting in heaven; and for their advantage he preserved himself by flight, as he says in a certain place, To abide in the flesh is needful for you. Philippians 1:24 For all had heard from the Shepherd Himself, If they persecute you in one city, flee ye into another. Matthew 10:23 May the Lord be pleased to explain to us this point! Lord, You said to those whom Thou certainly wished to be faithful shepherds, and whom You formed into Your own members, If they persecute you, flee. Doest Thou, then, injustice to them, when Thou blamest the hirelings who flee when they see the wolf coming! We ask You to tell us what meaning lies hid in the depths of the question. Let us knock, and the keeper of the door, which is Christ, will be here to reveal Himself.

8. Who is the hireling that sees the wolf coming, and flees? He that seeks his own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's. He is one that does not venture plainly to rebuke an offender. 1 Timothy 5:20 Look, some one or other has sinned— grievously sinned; he ought to be rebuked, to be excommunicated: but once excommunicated, he will turn into an enemy, hatch plots, and do all the injury he can. At present, he who seeks his own, not the things that are Jesus Christ's, in order not to lose what he follows after, the advantages of human friendship, and incur the annoyances of human enmity, keeps quiet and does not administer rebuke. See, the wolf has caught a sheep by the throat; the devil has enticed a believer into adultery: you hold your peace — you utter no reproof. O hireling, you have seen the wolf coming and hast fled! Perhaps he answers and says: See, I am here; I have not fled. You have fled, because you have been silent; you have been silent, because you have been afraid. The flight of the mind is fear. Thou stoodest with your body, you fled in your spirit, which was not the conduct of him who said, Though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit. Colossians 2:5 For how did he flee in spirit, who, though absent in the flesh, yet in his letters reproved the fornicators? Our affections are the motions of our minds. Joy is expansion of the mind; sorrow, contraction of the mind; desire, a forward movement of the mind; and fear, the flight of the mind. For you are expanded in mind when you are glad; contracted in mind when you are in trouble; you move forward in mind when you have an earnest desire; and you flee in mind when you are afraid. This, then, is how the hireling is said to flee at the sight of the wolf. Why? Because he cares not for the sheep. Why cares he not for the sheep? Because he is an hireling. What is that, he is an hireling? He seeks a temporal reward, and shall not dwell in the house forever. There are still some things here to be inquired about and discussed with you, but it is not prudent to burden you. For we are ministering the Lord's food to our fellow-servants; we feed as sheep in the Lord's pastures, and are fed together. And just as we must not withhold what is needful, so our weak hearts are not to be overcharged with the abundance of provisions. Let it not then annoy your Charity that I do not take up today all that I think is still here to be discussed; but the same lesson will, in the Lord's name, be read over to us again on the preaching days, and be, with His help, more carefully considered.

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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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