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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 95

Tractate 95 (John 16:8-11)

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1. The Lord, when promising that He would send the Holy Spirit, said, When He has come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. What does it mean? Is it that the Lord Jesus Christ did not reprove the world of sin, when He said, If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin? And that no one may take it to his head to say that this applied properly to the Jews, and not to the world, did He not say in another place, If you were of the world, the world would love his own? Did He not reprove it of righteousness, when He said, O righteous Father, the world has not known You? And did He not reprove it of judgment when He declared that He would say to those on the left hand, Depart ye into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels? Matthew 25:41 And many other passages are to be found in the holy evangel, where Christ reproves the world of these things. Why is it, then, He attributes this to the Holy Spirit, as if it were His proper prerogative? Is it that, because Christ spoke only among the nation of the Jews, He does not appear to have reproved the world, inasmuch as one may be understood to be reproved who actually hears the reprover; while the Holy Spirit, who was in His disciples when scattered throughout the whole world, is to be understood as having reproved not one nation, but the world? For mark what He said to them when about to ascend into heaven: It is not for you to know the times or the moments, which the Father has put in His own power. But you shall receive the power of the Holy Spirit, that comes upon you: and you shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. Acts 1:7-8 Surely this is to reprove the world. But would any one venture to say that the Holy Spirit reproves the world through the disciples of Christ, and that Christ Himself does not, when the apostle exclaims, Would ye receive a proof of Him that speaks in me, namely Christ? 2 Corinthians 13:3 And so those, surely, whom the Holy Spirit reproves, Christ reproves likewise. But in my opinion, because there was to be shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit that love Romans 5:5 which casts out the fear, 1 John 4:18 that might have hindered them from venturing to reprove the world which bristled with persecutions, therefore it was that He said, He shall reprove the world: as if He would have said, He shall shed abroad love in your hearts, and, having your fear thereby expelled, you shall have freedom to reprove. We have frequently said, however, that the operations of the Trinity are inseparable; but the Persons needed to be set forth one by one, that not only without separating Them, but also without confounding Them together, we may have a right understanding both of Their Unity and Trinity.

2. He next explains what He has said of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. Of sin indeed, He says, because they have believed not on me. For this sin, as if it were the only one, He has put before the others; because with the continuance of this one, all others are retained, and in the removal of this, the others are remitted. But of righteousness, He adds, because I go to the Father, and you shall see me no more. And here we have to consider in the first place, if any one is rightly reproved of sin, how he may also be rightly reproved of righteousness. For if a sinner ought to be reproved just because he is a sinner, will any one imagine that a righteous man is also to be reproved because he is righteous? Surely not. For if at any time a righteous man also is reproved, he is rightly reproved on this account, that, according to Scripture, There is not a just man upon earth, that does good, and sins not. And accordingly, when a righteous man is reproved, he is reproved of sin, and not of righteousness. Since in that divine utterance also, where we read, Be not made righteous over-much, there is notice taken, not of the righteousness of the wise man, but of the pride of the presumptuous. The man, therefore, that becomes righteous over-much, by that very excess becomes unrighteous. For he makes himself righteous over-much who says that he has no sin, or who imagines that he is made righteous, not by the grace of God, but by the sufficiency of his own will: nor is he righteous through living righteously, but is rather self-inflated with the imagination of being what he is not. By what means, then, is the world to be reproved of righteousness, if not by the righteousness of believers? Accordingly, it is convinced of sin, because it believes not on Christ; and it is convinced of the righteousness of those who do believe. For the very comparison with believers is itself a reproving of unbelievers. And this the exposition itself sufficiently indicates. For in wishing to open up what He has said, He adds, Of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you shall see me no more. He does not say, And they shall see me no more; that is, those of whom He had said, because they have believed not on me. Of them He spoke, when expounding what He denominated sin, in the words, because they have believed not on me; but when expounding what He called righteousness, whereof the world is convicted, He turned to those to whom He was speaking, and said, because I go to the Father, and you shall see me no more. Wherefore it is of its own sins, but of others' righteousness, that the world is convicted, just as darkness is reproved by the light: For all things, says the apostle, that are reproved, are made manifest by the light. Ephesians 5:13 For the magnitude of the evil chargeable on those who do not believe, may be made apparent not only by itself, but also by the goodness of those who do believe. And since the cry of unbelievers usually is, How can we believe what we do not see? So the righteousness of unbelievers just required this very definition, Because I go to the Father, and you shall see me no more. For blessed are they who see not, and yet do believe. For of those also who saw Christ, the faith in Him that met with commendation was not that they believed what they saw, namely, the Son of man; but that they believed what they did not see, namely, the Son of God. But after His servant-form was itself also withdrawn from their view, then in every respect was the word truly fulfilled, The just lives by faith. For faith, according to the definition in the Epistle to the Hebrews, is the confidence of those that hope, the conviction of things that are not seen.

3. But how are we to understand, You shall see me no more? For He says not, I go to the Father, and you shall not see me, so as to be understood as referring to the interval of time when He would not be seen, whether short or long, but at all events terminable; but in saying, You shall see me no more, as if a truth announced beforehand that they would never see Christ in all time coming. Is this the righteousness we speak of, never to see Christ, and yet to believe in Him; seeing that the faith whereby the just lives is commended on the very ground of believing that the Christ whom it sees not meanwhile, it shall see some day? Once more, in reference to this righteousness, are we to say that the Apostle Paul was not righteous when confessing that He had seen Christ after His ascension into heaven, 1 Corinthians 15:8 which was undoubtedly the time of which He had already said, You shall see me no more? Was Stephen, that hero of surpassing renown, not righteous in the spirit of this righteousness, who, when they were stoning him, exclaimed, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God? Acts 7:56 What, then, is meant by I go to the Father, and you shall see me no more, but just this, As I am while with you now? For at that time He was still mortal in the likeness of sinful flesh. Romans 8:3 He could suffer hunger and thirst, be wearied, and sleep; and this Christ, that is, Christ in such a condition, they were no more to see after He had passed from this world to the Father; and such, also, is the righteousness of faith, whereof the apostle says, Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more. 2 Corinthians 5:16 This, then, He says, will be your righteousness whereof the world shall be reproved, because I go to the Father, and you shall see me no more: seeing that you shall believe in me as in one whom you shall not see; and when you shall see me as I shall be then, you shall not see me as I am while with you meanwhile; you shall not see me in my humility, but in my exaltation; nor in my mortality, but in my eternity; nor at the bar, but on the throne of judgment: and by this faith of yours, in other words, your righteousness, the Holy Spirit will reprove an unbelieving world.

4. He will also reprove it of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. Who is this, save he of whom He says in another place, Behold, the prince of the world comes, and shall find nothing in me; that is, nothing within his jurisdiction, nothing belonging to him; in fact, no sin at all? For thereby is the devil the prince of the world. For it is not of the heavens and of the earth, and of all that is in them, that the devil is prince, in the sense in which the world is to be understood, when it is said, And the world was made by Him; but the devil is prince of that world, whereof in the same passage He immediately afterwards subjoins the words, And the world knew Him not; that is, unbelieving men, wherewith the world through its utmost extent is filled: among whom the believing world groans, which He, who made the world, chose out of the world; and of whom He says Himself, The Son of man came not to judge the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He is the judge by whom the world is condemned, the helper whereby the world is saved: for just as a tree is full of foliage and fruit, or a field of chaff and wheat, so is the world full of believers and unbelievers. Therefore the prince of this world, that is, the prince of the darkness thereof, or of unbelievers, out of whose hands that world is rescued, to which it is said, You were at one time darkness, but now are you light in the Lord: Ephesians 5:8 the prince of this world, of whom He elsewhere says, Now is the prince of this world cast out, is assuredly judged, inas much as he is irrevocably destined to the judgment of everlasting fire. And so of this judgment, by which the prince of the world is judged, is the world reproved by the Holy Spirit; for it is judged along with its prince, whom it imitates in its own pride and impiety. For if God, in the words of the Apostle Peter, spared not the angels that sinned, but thrust them into prisons of infernal darkness, and gave them up to be reserved for punishment in the judgment, 2 Peter 2:4 how is the world otherwise than reproved of this judgment by the Holy Spirit, when it is in the Holy Spirit that the apostle so speaks? Let men, therefore, believe in Christ, that they be not convicted of the sin of their own unbelief, whereby all sins are retained: let them make their way into the number of believers, that they be not convicted of the righteousness of those, whom, as justified, they fail to imitate: let them beware of that future judgment, that they be not judged with the prince of the world, whom, judged as he is, they continue to imitate. For the unbending pride of mortals can have no thought of being spared itself, as it is thus called to think with terror of the punishment that overtook the pride of angels.

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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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