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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 47

Tractate 47 (John 10:14-21)

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1. Those of you who hear the word of our God, not only with willingness, but also with attention, doubtless remember our promise. Indeed the same gospel lesson has also been read today which was read last Lord's day; because, having lingered over certain closely related topics, we could not discuss all that we owed to your powers of understanding. Accordingly, what has been already said and discoursed about we do not inquire into to day, lest by continual repetitions we should be prevented from reaching what has still to be spoken. You know now in the Lord's name who is the good Shepherd, and in what way good shepherds are His members, and therefore the Shepherd is one. You know who is the hireling we have to bear with; who the wolf, and the thieves, and the robbers we have to beware of; who are the sheep, and what is the door whereby both sheep and shepherd enter: how we are to understand the doorkeeper. You know also that every one who enters not by the door is a thief and a robber, and comes not but to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. All these sayings have, as I think, been sufficiently handled. Today we ought to tell you, as far as the Lord enables us (for Jesus Christ our Saviour has Himself told us that He is both the Shepherd and the door, and that the good Shepherd enters in by the door), how it is that He enters in by Himself. For if no one is a good shepherd but he that enters by the door, and He Himself is preeminently the good Shepherd, and also Himself the door, I can understand it only in this way, that He enters in by Himself to His sheep, and calls them to follow Him, and they, going in and out, find pasture, which is to say, eternal life.

2. I proceed, then, without more delay. When I seek to get into you, that is, into your heart, I preach Christ: were I preaching something else, I should be trying to climb up some other way. Christ, therefore, is my gate to you: by Christ I get entrance, not to your houses, but to your hearts. It is by Christ I enter: it is Christ in me that you have been willingly hearing. And why is it you have thus willingly hearkened to Christ in me? Because you are the sheep of Christ, purchased with the blood of Christ. You acknowledge your own price, which is not paid by me, but is preached by my instrumentality. He, and only He, was the buyer, who shed precious blood — the precious blood of Him who was without sin. Yet made He precious also the blood of His own, for whom He paid the price of blood: for had He not made the blood of His own precious, it would not have been said, Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. So also when He says, The good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep, He is not the only one who has done such a deed; and yet if those who have done so are His members, He only Himself was the doer of it. For He was able to do so without them, but whence had they the power apart from Him, who Himself had said, Without me you can do nothing? But from the same source we can show what others also have done, for the apostle John himself, who preached the very gospel you have been hearing, has said in his epistle, Just as Christ laid down His life for us, so ought we also to lay down our lives for the brethren. 1 John 3:16 We ought, he says: He made us debtors who first set the example. To the same effect it is written in a certain place, If you sit down to sup at a ruler's table, make wise observation of what is set before you; and put to your hand, knowing that it will be your duty to make similar provision in turn. You know what is meant by the ruler's table: you there find the body and blood of Christ; let him who comes to such a table be ready with similar provision. And what is such similar provision? As He laid down His life for us, so ought we also, for the edification of others, and the maintenance of the faith, to lay down our lives for the brethren. To the same effect He said to Peter, whom He wished to make a good shepherd, not in Peter's own person, but as a member of His body: Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep. This He did once, again, and a third time, to the disciple's sorrow. And when the Lord had questioned him as often as He judged it needful, that he who had thrice denied might thrice confess Him, and had a third time given him the charge to feed His sheep, He said to him, When you were young, you girded yourself, and walked whither you would, but when you shall be old, you shall stretch forth your hands, and another shall gird you, and carry you whither you would not. And the evangelist has explained the Lord's meaning: But this spoke He, signifying by what death he should glorify God. Feed my sheep applies, then, to this, that you should lay down your life for my sheep.

3. And now when He says, As the Father knows me, even so know I the Father, who can be ignorant of His meaning? For He knows the Father by Himself, and we by Him. That He has knowledge by Himself, we know already: that we also have knowledge by Him, we have like wise learned, for this also we have learned of Him. For He Himself has said: No one has seen God at any time; but the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. And so by Him do we also get this knowledge, to whom He has declared Him. In another place also He says: No one knows the Son, but the Father; neither knows any one the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him. Matthew 11:27 As He then knows the Father by Himself, and we know the Father by Him; so into the sheepfold He enters by Himself, and we by Him. We were saying that by Christ we have a door of entrance to you; and why? Because we preach Christ. We preach Christ; and therefore we enter in by the door. But Christ preaches Christ, for He preaches Himself; and so the Shepherd enters in by Himself. When the light shows the other things that are seen in the light, does it need some other means of being made visible itself? The light, then, exhibits both other things and itself. Whatever we understand, we understand with the intellect: and how, save by the intellect, do we understand the intellect itself? But does one in the same way with the bodily eye see both other things and [the eye] itself? For though men see with their eyes, yet their own eyes they see not. The eye of the flesh sees other things, itself it cannot [see]: but the intellect understands itself as well other things. In the same way as the intellect sees itself, so also does Christ preach Himself. If He preaches Himself, and by preaching enters into you, He enters into you by Himself. And He is the door to the Father, for there is no way of approach to the Father but by Him. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:5 Many things are expressed by a word: all that I have just said, I have said, of course, by means of words. If I were wishing to speak also of a word itself, how could I do so but by the use of the word? And thus both many things are expressed by a word, which are not the same as the word, and the word itself can only be expressed by means of the word. By the Lord's help we have been copious in illustration. Remember, then, how the Lord Jesus Christ is both the door and the Shepherd: the door, in presenting Himself to view; the Shepherd, in entering in by Himself. And indeed, brethren, because He is the Shepherd, He has given to His members to be so likewise. For both Peter, and Paul, and the other apostles were, as all good bishops are, shepherds. But none of us calls himself the door. This — the way of entrance for the sheep — He has retained as exclusively belonging to Himself. In short, Paul discharged the office of a good shepherd when he preached Christ, because he entered by the door. But when the undisciplined sheep began to create schisms, and to set up other doors before them, not of entrance to their joint assembly, but for falling away into divisions, saying, some of them, I am of Paul; others, I am of Cephas; others, I of Apollos; others, I of Christ: terrified for those who said, I am of Paul,— as if calling out to the sheep, Wretched ones, whither are you going? I am not the door — he said, Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? 1 Corinthians 1:12-13 But those who said, I am of Christ, had found the door.

4. But of the one sheepfold and of the one Shepherd, you are now indeed being constantly reminded; for we have commended much the one sheepfold, preaching unity, that all the sheep should enter by Christ, and none of them should follow Donatus. Nevertheless, for what particular reason this was said by the Lord, is sufficiently apparent. For He was speaking among the Jews, and had been specially sent to the Jews, not for the sake of that class who were bound up in their inhuman hatred and persistently abiding in darkness, but for the sake of some in the nation whom He calls His sheep: of whom He says, I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Matthew 15:24 He knew them even amid the crowd of His raging foes, and foresaw them in the peace of believing. What, then, does He mean by saying, I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but that He exhibited His bodily presence only to the people of Israel? He did not proceed Himself to the Gentiles, but sent: to the people of Israel He both sent and came in person, that those who proved despisers should receive the greater judgment, because favored also with the sight of His actual presence. The Lord Himself was there: there He chose a mother: there He wished to be conceived, to be born, to shed His blood: there are His footprints, now objects of adoration where last He stood, and whence He ascended to heaven: but to the Gentiles He only sent.

5. But perhaps some one thinks that, as He Himself came not to us, but sent, we have not heard His own voice, but only the voice of those whom He sent. Far from it: let such a thought be banished from your hearts; for He Himself was in those whom He sent. Listen to Paul himself whom He sent; for Paul was specially sent as an apostle to the Gentiles; and it is Paul who, terrifying them not with himself but with Him says, Do ye wish to receive a proof of Him who speaks in me, that is, of Christ? 2 Corinthians 13:3 Listen also to the Lord Himself. And other sheep I have, that is, among the Gentiles, which are not of this fold, that is, of the people of Israel: them also must I bring. Therefore, even when it is by the instrumentality of His servants, it is He and not another that brings them. Listen further: They shall hear my voice. See here also, it is He Himself who speaks by His servants, and it is His voice that is heard in those whom He sends. That there may be one fold, and one shepherd. Of these two flocks, as of two walls, is the corner-stone formed. Ephesians 2:11-22 And thus is He both door and the corner-stone: all by way of comparison, none of them literally.

6. For I have said so before, and earnestly pressed it on your notice, and those who comprehend it are wise, yea, those who are wise do comprehend it; and yet let those who are not yet intellectually enlightened, keep hold by faith of what they cannot as yet understand. Christ is many things metaphorically, which strictly speaking He is not. Metaphorically Christ is both a rock, and a door, and a corner-stone, and a shepherd, and a lamb, and a lion. How numerous are such similitudes, and as many more as would take too long to enumerate! But if you select the strict significations of things as you are accustomed to see them, then He is neither a rock, for He is not hard and senseless; nor a door, for no artisan made Him; nor a corner-stone, for He was not constructed by a builder; nor a shepherd, for He is no keeper of four-footed animals; nor a lion, as it ranks among the beasts of the forest; nor a lamb, as it belongs to the flock. All such, then, are by way of comparison. But what is He properly? In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God [God was the Word]. And what, as He appeared in human nature? And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us [in us].

7. Hear also what follows. Therefore does my Father love me, He says, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. What is this that He says? Therefore does my Father love me: because I die, that I may rise again. For the I is uttered with special emphasis: Because I lay down, He says, I lay down my life, I lay down. What is that I lay down? I lay it down. Let the Jews no longer boast: they might rage, but they could have no power: let them rage as they can; if I were unwilling to lay down my life, what would all their raging effect? By one answer of His they were prostrated in the dust: when they were asked, Whom do you seek? they said, Jesus; and on His saying to them, I am He, they went backward, and fell to the ground. Those who thus fell to the ground at one word of Christ when about to die, what will they do at the sound of His voice when coming to judgment? I, I, I say, lay down my life, that I may take it again. Let not the Jews boast, as if they had prevailed; He Himself laid down His life. I laid me down [to sleep], He says [elsewhere]. You know the psalm: I laid me down and slept; and I awaked [rose up], for the Lord sustains me. What of that — I lay down? Because it was my pleasure, I did so. What does I lay down mean? I died. Was it not a lying down to sleep on His part, who, when He pleased, rose from the tomb as He would from a bed? But He loves to give glory to the Father, that He may stir us up to glorify our Creator. For in adding, I arose, for the Lord sustains me; think you there was here a kind of failing in His power, so that, while He had it in His own power to die, He had it not in His power to rise again? So, indeed, the words seem to imply when not more closely considered. I lay down to sleep; that is, I did so, because I pleased. And I arose: why? Because the Lord sustains [will sustain] me. What then? Would Thou not have power to rise of Yourself? If You had not the power, You would not have said, I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again. But, as showing that not only did the Father raise the Son, but the Son also raised Himself, hear how, in another passage in the Gospel, He says, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. And the evangelist adds: But this He spoke of the temple of His body. For only that which died was restored to life. The Word is not mortal, His soul is not mortal. If even yours dies not, could the Lord's be subject to death?

8. How can I know, you will say, that mine dies not? Slay it not yourself, and it cannot die. How, thou asks, can I slay my soul? To say nothing meanwhile of other sins, The mouth that lies, slays the soul. Wisdom 1:11 How, you say, can I be sure that it dies not? Listen to the Lord Himself giving security to His servant: Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But what in the plainest terms does He say? Fear Him who has power to slay both soul and body in hell. Here you have the fact that it dies, and that it does not die. What is its dying? What is dying to your flesh? Dying, to your flesh, is the losing of its life: dying to your soul, is the losing of its life. The life of your flesh is your soul: the life of your soul is your God. As the flesh dies in losing the soul, which is its life, so the soul dies in losing God, who is its life. Of a certainty, then, the soul is immortal. Manifestly immortal, for it lives even when dead. For what the apostle said of the luxurious widow, may also be said of the soul if it has lost its God, she is dead while she lives. 1 Timothy 5:6

9. How, then, does the Lord lay down His life [soul]? Let us, brethren, inquire into this a little more carefully. The time is not so pressing as is usual on the Lord's day: we have leisure, and theirs will be the profit who have assembled today also to wait on the Word of God. I lay down my life, He says. Who lays down? What lays He down? What is Christ? The Word and man. Not man as being flesh alone: but as man consists of flesh and soul, so, in Christ there is a complete humanity. For He would not have assumed the baser part, and left the better behind, seeing that the soul of man is certainly superior to the body. Since, then, there is entire manhood in Christ, what is Christ? The Word, I repeat, and man. What is the Word and man? The Word, soul, and flesh. Keep hold of that, for there has been no lack of heretics on this point also, expelled as they were some time ago from the catholic truth, but still persisting, like thieves and robbers who enter not by the door, to lay their snares around the fold. These heretics are termed Apollinarians, and have ventured to assert dogmatically that Christ is only the word and flesh, and contend that He did not assume a human soul. And yet some of them could not deny that there was a soul in Christ. See their intolerable absurdity and madness. They would have Him to possess an irrational soul, but deny Him a rational one. They allowed Him a mere animal, they deprived Him of a human, soul. But they took away Christ's reason by losing their own. Let it be otherwise with us, who have been nourished and established in the catholic faith. Accordingly, on this occasion I would remind your Charity, that, as in former lectures, we have given you sufficient instruction against the Sabellians and Arians — the Sabellians, who say, The Father is the same as the Son — the Arians, who say, The Father is one being, the Son is another, as if the Father and Son were not of the same substance — and also, provided you remember as you ought, against the Photinian heretics, who have asserted that Christ was mere man, and destitute of Godhead: and against the Manicheans, who maintain that He was God only without any true humanity: we may, on this occasion, in speaking about the soul, give you some instruction also in opposition to the Apollinarians, who say that our Lord Jesus Christ had no human soul, that is, a rational intelligent soul — that soul, I mean, by which, as men, we differ from the brutes.

10. In what sense, then, did our Lord say here, I have power to lay down my soul [life]? Who lays down his soul, and takes it again? Is it as being the Word that Christ does so? Or is it the human soul He possesses that lays down and resumes its own existence? Or is it His fleshly nature that lays down its life and takes it again? Let us sift each of the three questions I have suggested, and choose that which conforms to the standard of truth. For if we say that the Word of God laid down His soul, and took it again, we should have to fear the entrance of a wicked thought, and have it said to us: Then there was a time when that soul was separated from the Word, and a time, after His assumption of that soul, when He was without a soul. I see, indeed, that the Word was once without a human soul, but only so, when in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. But from the time that the Word was made flesh, to dwell among us, and manhood was assumed by the Word, that is, our whole nature, soul and flesh, what more could His passion and death do than separate the body from the soul? It separated not the soul from the Word. For if the Lord died, yea, because He died (for He did so for us on the cross), doubtless His flesh breathed out that which was its life: for a short time the soul forsook the flesh, although destined by its own return to raise the flesh again to life. But I cannot say that the soul was separated from the Word. He said to the soul of the thief, Today shall you be with me in paradise. Luke 23:43 He forsook not the believing soul of the robber, and did He abandon His own? Surely not; but when the Lord took that of the other into His keeping, He certainly retained His own in indissoluble union. If, on the other hand, we say that the soul laid down and reassumed itself, we fall into the greatest absurdity; for what was not separated from the Word, was inseparable from itself.

11. Let us turn, then, to what is true and easily understood. Take the case of any man, who does not consist of the word and soul and flesh, but only of soul and flesh; and let us inquire how any such man lays down his life. Can no ordinary man do so? You may say to me: No man has power to lay down his life [soul], and to take it again. But were not a man able to lay down his life, the Apostle John would not say, As Christ laid down his life for us, even so ought we also to lay down our lives for the brethren. 1 John 3:16 Therefore may we also (if only we are filled with His courage, for without Him we can do nothing) lay down our lives for the brethren. When some holy martyr has laid down his life for the brethren, who laid it down, and what laid he down? If we understand this, we shall perceive in what sense it was said by Christ, I have power to lay down my life. Are you prepared, O man, to die for Christ? I am prepared, he replies. Let me repeat the question in other words. Are you prepared to lay down your life for Christ? And to these words he makes me the same reply, I am prepared, as he had, when I said, Are you prepared to die? To lay down one's life [soul], is, then, the same as to die. But in whose behalf is the sacrifice in this case? For all men, when they die, lay down their life; but it is not all who lay it down for Christ. And no one has power to resume what he has laid down. But Christ both laid it down for us, and did so when it pleased Him; and when it pleased Him, He took it again. To lay down one's soul then, is to die. As also the Apostle Peter said to the Lord: I will lay down my life [soul] for Your sake; that is, I will die for Your sake. View it, then, as referable to the flesh: the flesh lays down its life, and the flesh takes it again; not, indeed, the flesh by its own power, but by the power of Him that inhabites it. The flesh, then, lays down its life in expiring. Look at the Lord Himself on the cross: He said, I thirst: those who were present dipped a sponge in vinegar, fastened it to a reed, and applied it to His mouth; then, having received it, He said, It is finished; meaning, All is fulfilled which had been prophesied regarding me as, prior to my death, still in the future. And because He had the power, when He pleased, to lay down His life, after He had said, It is finished, what adds the evangelist? And He bowed His head, and gave up the spirit. This is to lay down the soul [life]. Only let your Charity attend to this. He bowed His head, and gave up the spirit. Who gave up what gave He up? He gave up the spirit; His flesh gave it up. What means, the flesh gave it up? The flesh sent it forth, breathed it out. For so, in becoming separated from the spirit, we are said to expire. Just as getting outside the paternal soil is to be expatriated, turning aside from the track is to deviate; so to become separated from the spirit is to expire; and that spirit is the soul [life]. Accordingly, when the soul quits the flesh, and the flesh remains without the soul, then is a man said to lay down his soul [his human life]. When did Christ lay down His life? When it pleased the Word. For sovereign authority resided in the Word; and therein lay the power to determine when the flesh should lay down its life, and when it should take it again.

12. If, then, the flesh laid down its life, how did Christ lay down His life? For the flesh is not Christ. Certainly in this way, that Christ is both flesh, and soul, and the Word; and yet these three things are not three Christs, but one. Ask your own human nature, and from yourself ascend to what is above you, and which, if not yet able to be understood, can at least be believed. For in the same way that one man is soul and body, is one Christ both the Word and man. Consider what I have said, and understand. The soul and body are two things, but one man: the Word and man are two things, but one Christ. Apply, then, the subject to any man. Where is now the Apostle Paul? If one answer, At rest with Christ, he speaks truly. And likewise, should one reply, In the sepulchre at Rome, he is equally right. The one answer I get refers to his soul, the other to his flesh. And yet we do not say that there are two Apostle Pauls, one who rests in Christ, another who was laid in the sepulchre; although we may say that the Apostle Paul lives in Christ, and that the same apostle lies dead in the tomb. Some one dies, and we say, He was a good man, and faithful; he is in peace with the Lord: and then immediately, Let us attend his obsequies, and lay him in the sepulchre. You are about to bury one whom you had just declared to be in peace with God; for the latter regards the soul which blooms eternally, and the other the body, which is laid down in corruption. But while the partnership of the flesh and soul has received the name of man, the same name is now applied to either of them, singly and by itself.

13. Let no one, then, be perplexed, when he hears that the Lord has said, I lay down my life, and I take it again. The flesh lays it down, but by the power of the Word: the flesh takes it again, but by the same power. Even His own name, the Lord Christ, was applied to His flesh alone. How can you prove it? Says some one. We believe of a certainty not only in God the Father, but also in Jesus Christ His Son, our only Lord: and this that I have just said contains the whole, in Jesus Christ His Son, our only Lord. Understand that the whole is here: the Word, and soul, and flesh. At all events you confess what is also held by the same faith, that you believe in that Christ who was crucified and buried. Ergo, you deny not that Christ was buried; and yet it was the burial only of His flesh. For had the soul been there, He would not have been dead: but if it was a true death, and its resurrection real, it was previously without life in the tomb; and yet it was Christ that was buried. And so the flesh apart from the soul was also Christ, for it was only the flesh that was buried. Learn the same likewise in the words of an apostle. Let this mind, he says, be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God. Who, save Christ Jesus, as respects His nature as the Word, is God with God? But look at what follows: But emptied Himself, and took upon Him the form of a servant; being made in the likeness of men, and found in fashion as a man. And who is this, but the same Christ Jesus Himself? But here we have now all the parts, both the Word in that form of God which assumed the form of a servant, and the soul and the flesh in that form of a servant which was assumed by the form of God. He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death. Philippians 2:6-8 Now in His death, it was His flesh only that was slain by the Jews. For if He said to His disciples, Fear not them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul, Matthew 10:28 how could they do more in His own case than kill the body? And yet in the slaying of His flesh, it was Christ that was slain. Accordingly, when the flesh laid down its life, Christ laid it down; and when the flesh, in order to its resurrection, assumed its life, Christ assumed it. Nevertheless this was done, not by the power of the flesh, but of Him who assumed both soul and flesh, that in them these very things might receive fulfillment.

14. This commandment, He says, have I received of my Father. The Word received not the commandment in word, but in the only begotten Word of the Father every commandment resides. But when the Son is said to receive of the Father what He possesses essentially in Himself, as it is said, As the Father has life in Himself, so has He given to the Son to have life in Himself, John 5:26 while the Son is Himself the life,there is no lessening of His authority, but the setting forth of His generation. For the Father added not after-gifts as to a son whose state was imperfect at birth, but on Him whom He begot in absolute perfection He bestowed all gifts in begetting. In this manner He gave Him equality with Himself, and yet begot Him not in a state of inequality. But while the Lord thus spoke, for the light was shining in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not, there was a dissension again created among the Jews for these sayings, and many of them said, He has a devil, and is mad: why hear ye him? This was the thickest darkness. Others said, These are not the words of him that has a devil; can a devil open the eyes of the blind? The eyes of such were now begun to be opened.

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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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