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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 106

Tractate 106 (John 17:6-8)

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1. In this discourse we purpose speaking, as He gives us grace, on these words of the Lord which run thus: I have manifested Your name unto the men whom You gave me out of the world. If He said this only of those disciples with whom He had supped, and to whom, before beginning His prayer, He had said so much, it can have nothing to do with that clarification, or, as others have translated it, glorification, whereof He was previously speaking, and whereby the Son clarifies or glorifies the Father. For what great glory, or what like glory, was it to become known to twelve, or rather eleven mortal creatures? But if, in saying, I have manifested Your name unto the men whom You gave me out of the world, He wished all to be understood, even those who were still to believe in Him, as belonging to His great Church which was yet to be made up of all nations, and of which it is said in the psalm, I will confess to You in the great Church [congregation]; it is plainly that glorification wherewith the Son glorifies the Father, when He makes His name known to all nations and to so many generations of men. And what He says here, I have manifested Your name unto the men whom You gave me out of the world, is similar to what He had said a little before, I have glorified You upon the earth, John 17:4; putting both here and there the past for the future, as One who knew that it was predestinated to be done, and therefore saying that He had done what He had still to do, though without any uncertainty, in the future.

2. But what follows makes it more credible that His words, I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave me out of the world, were spoken by Him of those who were already His disciples, and not of all who were yet to believe in Him. For after these words, He added: Yours they were, and You gave them me; and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things, whatsoever You have given me, are of You: for I have given unto them the words which You gave me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from You, and they have believed that You sent me. Although all these words also might have been said of all believers still to come, when that which was now a matter of hope had been turned into fact, inasmuch as they were words that still pointed to the future; yet we are impelled the more to understand Him as uttering them only of those who were at that time His disciples, by what He says shortly afterwards: While I was with them, I kept them in Your name: those that You gave me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the Scripture might be fulfilled John 17:12; meaning Judas, who betrayed Him, for He was the only one of the apostolic twelve that perished. And then He adds, And now come I to You, from which it is manifest that it was of His own bodily presence that He said, While I was with them, I kept them, as if already that presence were no longer with them. For in this way He wished to intimate His own ascension as in the immediate future, when He said, And now come I to You: going, that is, to the Father's right hand; whence He is hereafter to come to judge the quick and the dead in the self-same bodily presence, according to the rule of faith and sound doctrine: for in His spiritual presence He was still, of course, to be with them after His ascension, and with the whole of His Church in this world even to the end of time. Matthew 28:20 We cannot, therefore, rightly understand of whom He said, While I was with them, I kept them, save as those only who believed on Him, whom He had already begun to keep by His bodily presence, but was now to leave without it, in order that He might keep them with the Father by His spiritual presence. Thereafter, indeed, He also unites with them the rest of His disciples, when He says, Neither pray I for these alone, but for those also who shall believe in me through their word. Where He shows still more clearly that He was not speaking before of all who belonged to Him, in the passage where He says, I have manifested Your name unto the men whom You gave me, but of those only who were listening to Him when He so spoke.

3. From the very outset, therefore, of His prayer, when He lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, on to what He said a little afterwards, And now, O Father, glorify Thou me with Your own self with the glory which I had with You before the world was, He wished all His disciples to be understood, to whom He makes the Father known, and thereby glorifies Him. For after saying, That Your Son may glorify You, He straightway showed how that was to be done, by adding, As You have given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him: and this is life eternal, that they might know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. For the Father cannot be glorified through any knowledge attained by men, unless He also be known by whom He is glorified, that is to say, by whom He is made known to the nations of the world. The glorification of the Father is not that which was displayed in connection with the apostles only, but that which is displayed in all men, of whom as His members Christ is the head. For the words cannot be understood as applied to the apostles only, As You have given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him; but to all, assuredly, on whom, as believing on Him, eternal life is bestowed.

4. Accordingly, let us now see what He says about those disciples of His who were then listening to Him. I have manifested, He says, Your name unto the men whom You gave me. Did they not, then, know the name of God when they were Jews? And what of that which we read, God is known in Judah; His name is great in Israel? Therefore, I have manifested Your name unto these men whom You gave me out of the world, and who are now hearing my words: not that name of Yours whereby You are called God, but that whereby You are called my Father: a name that could not be manifested without the manifestation of the Son Himself. For this name of God, by which He is called, could not but be known in some way to the whole creation, and so to every nation, before they believed in Christ. For such is the energy of true Godhead, that it cannot be altogether and utterly hidden from any rational creature, so long as it makes use of its reason. For, with the exception of a few in whom nature has become outrageously depraved, the whole race of man acknowledges God as the maker of this world. In respect, therefore, of His being the maker of this world that is visible in heaven and earth around us, God was known unto all nations even before they were indoctrinated into the faith of Christ. But in this respect, that He was not, without grievous wrong being done to Himself, to be worshipped alongside of false gods, God was known in Judah alone. But in respect of His being the Father of this Christ, by whom He takes away the sin of the world, this name of His, previously kept secret from all, He now made manifest to those whom the Father Himself had given Him out of the world. But how had He done so, if the hour were not yet come, of which He had formerly said that the hour would come, when I shall no more speak unto you proverbs, but I shall show you plainly of my Father? Can it be supposed that the proverbs themselves contained such a plain anouncement? Why, then, is it said, I will declare to you openly, but just because that in proverbs is not openly? But when it is no longer concealed in proverbs, but uttered in plain words, then without a doubt it is spoken openly. How, then, had He manifested what He had not as yet openly declared? It must be understood, therefore, in this way, that the past tense is put for the future, like those other words, All things that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you: as something He had not yet done, but spoke of as if He had, because His doing of it He knew to be infallibly pre-determined.

5. But what are we to make of the words, Whom You gave me out of the world? For it is said of them that they were not of the world. But this they attained to by regeneration, and not by generation. And what, also, of that which follows, Yours they were, and You gave them me? Was there a time when they belonged to the Father, and not to His only-begotten Son; and had the Father once on a time anything apart from the Son? Surely not. Nevertheless, there was a time when God the Son had something, which that same Son as man possessed not; for He had not yet become man of an earthly mother, when He possessed all things in common with the Father. Wherefore in saying, Yours they were, there is thereby no self-disruption made by God the Son, apart from whom there was nothing ever possessed by the Father; but it is His custom to attribute all the power He possesses to Him, of whom He Himself is, who has the power. For of whom He has it that He is, of Him He has it that He is able; and both together He always had, for He never had being without having ability. Accordingly, what ever the Father could [do], always side by side with Him could the Son; since He, who never had being without having ability, was never without the Father, as the Father never was without Him. And thus, as the Father is eternally omnipotent, so is the Son co-eternally omnipotent; and if all-powerful, certainly all-possessing. For such rather, if we would speak exactly, is the word by which we translate what is called by the Greeks παντοκράτωρ which our writers would not interpret by the term omnipotent, seeing that παντοκράτωρ is all-possessing, were it not that they felt it to be equivalent in meaning. What, then, could the eternal all-possessing ever have, that the co-eternal all-possessing had not likewise? In saying, therefore, And You gave them me, He intimated that it was as man He had received this power to have them; seeing that He, who was always omnipotent, was not always man. Accordingly, while He seems rather to have attributed it to the Father, that He received them from Him, since all that is, is of Him, of whom He is; yet He also gave them to Himself, that is, Christ, God with the Father, gave men to the manhood of Christ, which had not its being with the Father. Finally, He who says in this place, Yours they were, and You gave them me, had already said in a previous passage to the same disciples, I have chosen you out of the world. Here, then, let every carnal thought be crushed and annihilated. The Son says that the men were given Him by the Father out of the world, to whom He says elsewhere, I have chosen you out of the world. Those whom God the Son chose along with the Father out of the world, the very same Son as man received out of the world from the Father; for the Father had not given them to the Son had He not chosen them. And in this way, as the Son did not thereby set the Father aside, when He said, I have chosen you out of the world, seeing that they were simultaneously chosen by the Father also: as little did He thereby exclude Himself, when He said, Yours they were, for they were equally also the property of the Son. But now that same Son as man received those who belonged not to Himself, because He also as God received a servant-form which was not originally His own.

6. He proceeds to say, And they have kept Your word: now they have known that all things, whatsoever You have given me, are of You; that is, they have known that I am of You. For the Father gave all things at the very time when He begot Him who was to have all things. For I have given unto them, He says, the words which You gave me; and they have received them; that is, they have understood and kept hold of them. For the word is received when it is perceived by the mind. And they have known truly, He adds, that I came out from You, and they have believed that You sent me. In this last clause we must also supply truly; for when He said, They have known truly, He intended its explanation by adding, and they have believed. That, therefore, they have believed truly which they have known truly; just as I came out from You is the same as You sent me. When, therefore, He said, They have known truly, lest any might suppose that such a knowledge was already acquired by sight, and not by faith, He subjoined the explanation, And they have believed, so that we should supply truly, and understand the saying, They have known truly, as equivalent to They have believed truly: not in the way which He intimated shortly before, when He said, Do ye now believe? The hour comes, and is now come, that you shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone. But they have believed truly, that is, in the way it ought to be believed, without constraint, with firmness, constancy, and fortitude: no longer now to go to their own, and leave Christ alone. As yet, indeed, the disciples were not of the character He here describes in words of the past tense, as if they were so already, but as thereby declaring beforehand what sort they were yet to be, namely, when they had received the Holy Spirit, who, according to the promise, should teach them all things. For how was it, before they received the Spirit, that they kept that word of His which He spoke regarding them, as if they had done so, when the chief of them thrice denied Him, Matthew 26:69-74 after hearing from His lips the future fate of the man who denied Him before men? Matthew 10:33 He had given them, therefore, as He said, the words which the Father gave Him; but when at length they received them spiritually, not in an outward way with their ears, but inwardly in their hearts, then they truly received them, for then they truly knew them; and they truly knew them, because they truly believed.

7. But what human language will suffice to explain how the Father gave those words to the Son? The question, of course, will appear easier if we suppose Him to have received such words in His capacity as the Son of man. And yet, although thus born of the Virgin, who will undertake to relate when and how it was that He learned them, since even that very generation which He had of the Virgin who will venture to declare? But if our idea be that He received these words of the Father in His capacity as begotten of, and co-eternal with, the Father, let us then exclude all such thoughts of time as if He existed previous to His possessing them, and so received the possession of that which He had not before; for whatever God the Father gave to God the Son, He gave in the act of begetting. For the Father gave those things to the Son without which He could not be the Son, in the same manner as He gave Him being itself. For how otherwise would He give any words to the Word, wherein in an ineffable way He has spoken all things? But now, in reference to what follows, you must defer your expectations till another discourse.

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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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