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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 52

Tractate 52 (John 12:27-36)

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1. After the Lord Jesus Christ, in the words of yesterday's lesson, had exhorted His servants to follow Him, and had predicted His own passion in this way, that unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone; but if it die, it brings forth much fruit; and also had stirred up those who wished to follow Him to the kingdom of heaven, to hate their life in this world if their thought was to keep it unto life eternal — He again toned down His own feelings to our infirmity and says, where our lesson today commenced, Now is my soul troubled. Whence, Lord, was Your soul troubled? He had, indeed, said a little before, He that hates his life [soul] in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. Do you then love your life in this world, and is your soul troubled as the hour approaches when you shall leave this world? Who would dare affirm this of the soul [life] of the Lord? We rather it was whom He transferred unto Himself; He took us into His own person as our Head, and assumed the feelings of His members; and so it was not by any others He was troubled, but, as was said of Him when He raised Lazarus, He was troubled in Himself. For it behooved the one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, just as He has lifted us up to the heights of heaven, to descend with us also into the lowest depths of suffering.

2. I hear Him saying a little before, The hour comes that the Son of man should be glorified: if a grain of wheat die, it brings forth much fruit. I hear this also, He that hates his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. Nor am I permitted merely to admire, but commanded to imitate, and so, by the words that follow, If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be, I am all on fire to despise the world, and in my sight the whole of this life, however lengthened, becomes only a vapor; in comparison with my love for eternal things, all that is temporal has lost its value with me. And now, again, it is my Lord Himself, who by such words has suddenly transported me from the weakness that was mine to the strength that was His, that I hear saying, Now is my soul troubled. What does it mean? How biddest Thou my soul follow You if I behold Your own troubled? How shall I endure what is felt to be heavy by strength so great? What is the kind of foundation I can seek if the Rock is giving way? But methinks I hear in my own thoughts the Lord giving me an answer, saying, You shall follow me the better, because it is to aid your power of endurance that I thus interpose. You have heard, as addressed to yourself, the voice of my fortitude; hear in me the voice of your infirmity: I supply strength for your running, and I check not your hastening, but I transfer to myself your causes for trembling, and I pave the way for your marching along. O Lord our Mediator, God above us, man for us, I own Your mercy! For because Thou, who art so great, art troubled through the good will of Your love, Thou preservest, by the richness of Your comfort, the many in Your body who are troubled by the continual experience of their own weakness, from perishing utterly in their despair.

3. In a word, let the man who would follow learn the road by which he must travel. Perhaps an hour of terrible trial has come, and the choice is set before you either to do iniquity or endure suffering; the weak soul is troubled, on whose behalf the invincible soul [of Jesus] was voluntarily troubled; set then the will of God before your own. For notice what is immediately subjoined by your Creator and your Master, by Him who made you, and became Himself for your teaching that which He made; for He who made man was made man, but He remained still the unchangeable God, and transplanted manhood into a better condition. Listen, then, to what He adds to the words, Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify Your name. He has taught you here what to think of, what to say, on whom to call, in whom to hope, and whose will, as sure and divine, to prefer to your own, which is human and weak. Imagine Him not, therefore, as losing anything of His own exalted position in wishing you to rise up out of the depths of your ruin. For He thought it meet also to be tempted by the devil, by whom otherwise He would never have been tempted, just as, had He not been willing, He would never have suffered; and the answers He gave to the devil are such as thou also ought to use in times of temptation. Matthew 4:1-10 And He, indeed, was tempted, but not endangered, that He might show you, when in danger through temptation, how to answer the tempter, so as not to be carried away by the temptation, but to escape its danger. But when He here said, Now is my soul troubled; and also when He says, My soul is sorrowful, even unto death; and Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; He assumed the infirmity of man, to teach him, when thereby saddened and troubled, to say what follows: Nevertheless, Father, not as I will, but as You will. Matthew 26:38-39 For thus it is that man is turned from the human to the divine, when the will of God is preferred to his own. But to what do the words Glorify Your name refer, but to His own passion and resurrection? For what else can it mean, but that the Father should thus glorify the Son, who in like manner glorifies His own name in the similar sufferings of His servants? Hence it is recorded of Peter, that for this cause He said concerning him, Another shall gird you, and carry you whither you would not, because He intended to signify by what death he should glorify God. Therefore in him, too, did God glorify His name, because thus also does He glorify Christ in His members.

4. Then came there a voice from heaven, [saying], I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. I have both glorified it, before I created the world, and I will glorify it again, when He shall rise from the dead and ascend into heaven. It may also be otherwise understood. I have both glorified it,— when He was born of the Virgin, when He exercised miraculous powers; when the Magi, guided by a star in the heavens, bowed in adoration before Him; when He was recognized by saints filled with the Holy Spirit; when He was openly proclaimed by the descent of the Spirit in the form of a dove, and pointed out by the voice that sounded from heaven; when He was transfigured on the mount; when He wrought many miracles, cured and cleansed multitudes, fed so vast a number with a very few loaves, commanded the winds and the waves, and raised the dead —and I will glorify it again; when He shall rise from the dead; when death shall have no longer dominion over Him; and when He shall be exalted over the heavens as God, and His glory over all the earth.

5. The people therefore that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spoke to Him. Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes. He thereby showed that the voice made no intimation to Him of what He already knew, but to those who needed the information. And just as that voice was uttered by God, not on His account, but on that of others, so His soul was troubled, not on His own account, but voluntarily for the sake of others.

6. Look at what follows: Now, He says, is the judgment of the world. What, then, are we to expect at the end of time? But the judgment that is looked for in the end will be the judging of the living and the dead, the awarding of eternal rewards and punishment. Of what sort, then, is the judgment now? I have already, in former lessons, as far as I could, put you in mind, beloved, that there is a judgment spoken of, not of condemnation, but of discrimination; as it is written, Judge me, O God, and plead [discern, discriminate] my cause against an unholy nation. And many are the judgments of God; as it is said in the psalm, Your judgments are a great deep. And the apostle also says, O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments! Romans 11:33 To such judgments does that spoken of here by the Lord also belong, Now is the judgment of this world; while that judgment in the end is reserved, when the living and the dead shall at last be judged. The devil, therefore, had possession of the human race, and held them by the written bond of their sins as criminals amenable to punishment; he ruled in the hearts of unbelievers, and, deceiving and enslaving them, seduced them to forsake the Creator and give worship to the creature; but by faith in Christ, which was confirmed by His death and resurrection, and, by His blood, which was shed for the remission of sins, thousands of believers are delivered from the dominion of the devil, are united to the body of Christ, and under this great head are made by His one Spirit to spring up into new life as His faithful members. This it was that He called the judgment, this righteous separation, this expulsion of the devil from His own redeemed.

7. Attend, in short, to His own words. For just as if we had been inquiring what He meant by saying, Now is the judgment of the world, He proceeded to explain it when He says, Now shall the prince of this world be cast out. What we have thus heard was the kind of judgment He meant. Not that one, therefore, which is yet to come in the end, when the living and dead shall be judged, some of them set apart on His right hand, and the others on His left; but that judgment by which the prince of this world shall be cast out. In what sense, then, was he within, and whither did He mean that he was to be cast out? Was it this: That he was in the world. and was cast forth beyond its boundaries? For had He been speaking of that judgment which is yet to come in the end, some one's thoughts might have turned to that eternal fire into which the devil is to be cast with his angels, and all who belong to him — that is, not naturally, but through moral delinquency; not because he created or begot them, but because he persuaded and kept hold of them: some one, therefore, might have thought that that eternal fire was outside the world, and that this was the meaning of the words, he shall be cast out. But as He says, Now is the judgment of this world, and in explanation of His meaning, adds, Now shall the prince of this world be cast out, we are thereby to understand what is now being done, and not what is to be, so long afterwards, at the last day. The Lord, therefore, foretold what He knew, that after His own passion and glorification, many nations throughout the whole world, in whose hearts the devil was an inmate, would become believers, and the devil, when thus renounced by faith, is cast out.

8. But some one says, Was he then not cast out of the hearts of the patriarchs and prophets, and the righteous of olden time? Certainly he was. How, then, is it said, Now he shall be cast out? How else can we think of it, but that what was then done in the case of a very few individuals, was now foretold as speedily to take place in many and mighty nations? Just as also that other saying, For the Spirit was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified, may suggest a similar inquiry, and find a similar solution. For it was not without the Holy Spirit that the prophets predicted the events of the future; nor was it so that the aged Simeon and the widowed Anna knew by the Holy Spirit the infant Lord; Luke 2:25-38 and that Zacharias and Elisabeth uttered by the Holy Spirit so many predictions concerning Him, when He was not yet born, but only conceived. But the Spirit was not yet given; that is, with that abundance of spiritual grace which enabled those assembled together to speak in every language, Acts 2:4-6 and thus announce beforehand in the language of every nation the Church of the future: and so by this spiritual grace it was that nations were gathered into congregations, sins were pardoned far and wide, and thousands of thousands were reconciled unto God.

9. But then, says some one, since the devil is thus cast out of the hearts of believers, does he now tempt none of the faithful? Nay, verily, he does not cease to tempt. But it is one thing to reign within, another to assail from without; for in like manner the best fortified city is sometimes attacked by an enemy without being taken. And if some of his arrows are discharged, and reach us, the apostle reminds us how to render them harmless, when he speaks of the breastplate and the shield of faith. 1 Thessalonians 5:8 And if he sometimes wounds us, we have the remedy at hand. For as the combatants are told, These things I write unto you, that you sin not: so those who are wounded have the sequel to listen to, And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 2:1-2 And what do we pray for when we say, Forgive us our debts, but for the healing of our wounds? And what else do we ask, when we say, Lead us not into temptation, Matthew 6:12-13 but that he who thus lies in wait for us, or assails us from without, may fail on every side to effect an entrance, and be unable to overcome us either by fraud or force? Nevertheless, whatever engines of war he may erect against us, so long as he has no more a place in the heart that faith inhabits, he is cast out. But except the Lord keep the city, the watchman wakes but in vain. Presume not, therefore, about yourselves, if you would not have the devil, who has once been cast out, to be recalled within.

10. On the other hand, let us be far from supposing that the devil is called in any such way the prince of the world, as that we should believe him possessed of power to rule over the heaven and the earth. The world is so spoken of in respect of wicked men, who have overspread the whole earth; just as a house is spoken of in respect to its inhabitants, and we accordingly say, It is a good house, or a bad house; not as finding fault with, or approving of, the erection of walls and roofs, but the morals either of the good or the bad within it. In a similar way, therefore, it is said, The prince of this world; that is, the prince of all the wicked who inhabit this world. The world is also spoken of in respect to the good, who in like manner have overspread the whole earth; and hence the apostle says, God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself. 2 Corinthians 5:19 These are they out of whose hearts the prince of this world is ejected.

11. Accordingly, after saying, Now shall the prince of this world be cast out, He added, And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things after me. And what all is that, but those out of which the other is ejected? But He did not say, All men, but all things; for all men have not faith. 2 Thessalonians 3:2 And, therefore, He did not allude to the totality of men, but to the creature in its personal integrity, that is, to spirit, and soul, and body; or all that which makes us the intelligent, living, visible, and palpable beings we are. For He who said, Not a hair of your head shall perish, Luke 21:18 is He who draws all things after Him. Or if by all things it is men that are to be understood, we can speak of all things that are foreordained to salvation: of all which He declared, when previously speaking of His sheep, that not one of them would be lost. And of a certainty all classes of men, both of every language and every age, and all grades of rank, and all diversities of talents, and all the professions of lawful and useful arts, and all else that can be named in accordance with the innumerable differences by which men, save in sin alone, are mutually separated, from the highest to the lowest, and from the king to the beggar, all, He says, will I draw after me; that He may be their head, and they His members. But this will be, He adds, if I be lifted up from the earth, that is, when I am lifted up; for He has no doubt of the future accomplishment of that which He came to fulfill. He here alludes to what He said before: But if the grain of wheat die, it brings forth much fruit. For what else did He signify by His lifting up, than His suffering on the cross, an explanation which the evangelist himself has not omitted; for he has appended the words, And this He said signifying what death He should die.

12. The people answered Him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abides for ever: and how sayest Thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? And who is this Son of man? It had stuck to their memory that the Lord was constantly calling Himself the Son of man. For, in the passage before us, He does not say, If the Son of man be lifted up from the earth; but had called Himself so before, in the lesson which was read and expounded yesterday, when those Gentiles were announced who desired to see Him: The hour has come that the Son of man should be glorified John 12:23. Retaining this, therefore, in their minds, and understanding what He now said, When I am lifted up from the earth, of the death of the cross, they inquired of Him, and said, We have heard out of the law that Christ abides for ever; and how sayest Thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man? For if it is Christ, He, they say, abides for ever; and if He abides for ever, how shall He be lifted up from the earth, that is, how shall He die through the suffering of the cross? For they understood Him to have spoken of what they themselves were meditating to do. And so He did not dissipate for them the obscurity of such words by imparting wisdom, but by stimulating their conscience.

13. Then said Jesus unto them, Yet a little light is in you. And by this it is you understand that Christ abides forever. Walk, then, while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you. Walk, draw near, come to the full understanding that Christ shall both die and shall live for ever; that He shall shed His blood to redeem us, and ascend on high to carry His redeemed along with Him. But darkness will come upon you, if your belief in Christ's eternity is of such a kind as to refuse to admit in His case the humiliation of death. And he that walks in darkness knows not whither he goes. So may he stumble on that stone of stumbling and rock of offense which the Lord Himself became to the blinded Jews: just as to those who believed, the stone which the builders despised was made the head of the corner. 1 Peter 2:6-8 Hence, they thought Christ unworthy of their belief; because in their impiety they treated His dying with contempt, they ridiculed the idea of His being slain: and yet it was the very death of the grain of grain that was to lead to its own multiplication, and the lifting up of one who was drawing all things after Him. While you have the light, He adds, believe in the light, that you may be the children of light. While you have possession of some truth that you have heard, believe in the truth, that you may be born again in the truth.

14. These things spoke Jesus, and departed, and did hide Himself from them. Not from those who had begun to believe and to love Him, nor from those who had come to meet Him with branches of palm trees and songs of praise; but from those who saw and hated Him, for they saw Him not, but only stumbled on that stone in their blindness. But when Jesus hid Himself from those who desired to slay Him (as you need from forgetfulness to be often reminded), He had regard to our human weakness, but derogated not in anything from His own authority.

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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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