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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 66

Tractate 66 (John 13:36-38)

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1. While the Lord Jesus was commending to the disciples that holy love wherewith they should love one another, Simon Peter says unto Him, Lord, where are You going? So, at all events, said the disciple to his Master, the servant to his Lord, as one who was prepared to follow. Just as for the same reason the Lord, who read in his mind the purpose of such a question, made him this reply: Whither I go, you can not follow me now; as if He said, In reference to the object of your asking, you can not now. He does not say, You can not; but You can not now. He intimated delay, without depriving of hope; and that same hope, which He took not away, but rather bestowed, in His next words He confirmed, by proceeding to say, You shall follow me afterwards. Why such haste, Peter? The Rock (petra) has not yet solidified you by His Spirit. Be not lifted up with presumption, You can not now; be not cast now into despair, You shall follow afterwards. But what does he say to this? Why cannot I follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake. He saw what was the kind of desire in his mind; but what the measure of his strength, he saw not. The weak man boasted of his willingness, but the Physician had an eye on the state of his health; the one promised, the Other foreknew: the ignorant was bold; He that foreknew all, condescended to teach. How much had Peter taken upon himself, by looking only at what he wished, and having no knowledge of what he was able! How much had he taken upon himself, that, when the Lord had come to lay down His life for His friends, and so for him also, he should have the assurance to offer to do the same for the Lord; and while as yet Christ's life was not laid down for himself, he should promise to lay down his own life for Christ! Jesus therefore answered him, Will you lay down your life for my sake? Will you do for me what I have not yet done for you? Will you lay down your life for my sake? Can you go before, who art unable to follow? Why do you presume so far? What do you think of yourself? What do you imagine yourself to be? Hear what you are: Verily, verily, I say unto you, The cock shall not crow, till you have denied me thrice. See, that is how you will speedily become manifest to yourself, who art now talking so loftily, and know not that you are but a child. You promise me your death, and you will deny me your life. You, who now thinkest yourself able to die for me, learn to live first for yourself; for in fearing the death of your flesh, you will occasion the death of your soul. Just as much as it is life to confess Christ, it is death to deny Him.

2. Or was it that the Apostle Peter, as some with a perverse kind of favor strive to excuse him, did not deny Christ, because, when questioned by the maid, he replied that he did not know the man, as the other evangelists more expressly affirm? As if, indeed, he that denies the man Christ does not deny Christ; and so denies Him in respect of what He became on our account, that the nature He had given us might not be lost. Whoever, therefore, acknowledges Christ as God, and disowns Him as man, Christ died not for him; for as man it was that Christ died. He who disowns Christ as man, finds no reconciliation to God by the Mediator. For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:5 He that denies Christ as man is not justified: for as by the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners; so also by the obedience of one man shall many be made righteous. Romans 5:19 He that denies Christ as man, shall not rise again into the resurrection of life; for by man is death, and by man is also the resurrection of the dead: for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 And by what means is He the Head of the Church, but by His manhood, because the Word was made flesh, that is, God, the Only-begotten of God the Father, became man. And how then can one be in the body of Christ who denies the man Christ? Or how can one be a member who disowns the Head? But why linger over a multitude of reasons when the Lord Himself undoes all the windings of human argumentation? For He says not, The cock shall not crow till you have denied the man; or, as He was wont to speak in His more familiar condescension with men, The cock shall not crow till you have thrice denied the Son of man; but He says, till you have denied me thrice. What is that me, but just what He was, and what was He but Christ? Whatever of Him, therefore, he denied, he denied Himself, he denied the Christ, he denied the Lord his God. For Thomas also, his fellow disciple, when he exclaimed, My Lord and my God, did not handle the Word, but only His flesh; and laid not his inquisitive hands on the incorporeal nature of God, but on His human body. And so he touched the man, and yet recognized his God. If, then, what the latter touched, Peter denied; what the latter invoked, Peter offended. The cock shall not crow till you have denied me thrice. Although thou say, I know not the man; although thou say, Man, I know not what you say although thou say, I am not one of His disciples; you will be denying me. If, which it were sinful to doubt, Christ so spoke, and foretold the truth, then doubtless Peter denied Christ. Let us not accuse Christ in defending Peter. Let infirmity acknowledge its sin; for there is no falsehood in the Truth. When Peter's infirmity acknowledged its sin, his acknowledgment was full; and the greatness of the evil he had committed in denying Christ, he showed by his tears. He himself reproves his defenders, and for their conviction, brings his tears forward as witnesses. Nor have we, on our part, in so speaking, any delight in accusing the first of the apostles; but in looking on him, we ought to take home the lesson to ourselves, that no man should place his confidence in human strength. For what else had our Teacher and Saviour in view, but to show us, by making the first of the apostles himself an example, that no one ought in any way to presume of himself? And that, therefore, really took place in Peter's soul, for which he gave cause in his body. And yet he did not go before in the Lord's behalf, as he rashly presumed, but did so otherwise than he reckoned. For before the death and resurrection of the Lord, he both died when he denied, and returned to life when he wept; but he died, because he himself had been proud in his presumption, and he lived again, because that Other had looked on him with kindness.

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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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