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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 113

Tractate 113 (John 18:13-27)

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1. After that His persecutors had, through the treason of Judas, taken and bound the Lord, who loved us, and gave Himself for us, Ephesians 5:2 and whom the Father spared not, but gave Him up for us all: Romans 8:32 that we may understand that there was no praise due to Judas for the usefulness of his treachery, but damnation for the willfulness of his wickedness: They led Him, as John the evangelist tells us, to Annas first. Nor does he withhold the reason for so doing: For he was father-in-law to Caiaphas, who was the high priest that same year. Now Caiaphas was he, he says, who gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people. And properly enough Matthew, when wishing to say the same in fewer words, tells us that He was led to Caiaphas; Matthew 26:57 for He was also taken in the first place to Annas, simply because he was his father-in-law; and where we have only to understand that such was the very thing that Caiaphas wished to be done.

2. But Jesus was followed, he says, by Simon Peter, and another disciple. Who that other disciple is, we cannot affirm with confidence, because it is left unnoticed here. But it is in this way that John usually refers to himself, with the addition, whom Jesus loved. Perhaps, therefore, it is he also in the present case; but whoever it is, let us look at what follows. And that disciple, he says, was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest; but Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, who was known unto the high priest, and spoke unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter. Then says the damsel that kept the door unto Peter, Are you also one of this man's disciples? He says, I am not. Lo, the pillar of greatest strength has at a single breath of air trembled to its foundations. Where is now all that boldness of the promiser, and his overweening confidence in himself beforehand? What now of those words, when he said, Why cannot I follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake. Is this the way to follow the Master, to deny his own discipleship? Is it thus that one's life is laid down for the Lord, when one is frightened at a maid-servant's voice, lest it should compel us to the sacrifice? But what wonder, if God foretold what was true, and man presumptuously imagined what was false? Assuredly in this denial of the Apostle Peter, which had now entered on its first stage, we ought to take notice that not only is Christ denied by one who says that He is not Christ, but by him also who, while really a Christian, himself denies that he is so. For the Lord said not to Peter, You shall deny that you are my disciple; but, You shall deny me. Matthew 26:34 Him, therefore, he denied, when he denied that he was His disciple. And what else did such a form of denial imply, but that of his own Christianity? For although the disciples of Christ were not yet called by such a name — because it was after His ascension, in Antioch, first that the disciples began to be called Christians, Acts 11:26 — yet the thing itself, that afterwards assumed such a name, already existed, those who were afterwards called Christians were already disciples; and this common name, like the common faith, they transmitted to their posterity. He, therefore, who denied that he was Christ's disciple, denied the reality of the thing, of which the being called a Christian was only the name. How many afterwards, not to speak of old men and women, whose satiated feelings as regards the present life might more easily enable them to brave death for the confession of Christ; and not merely the youth of both sexes, when of an age at which the exercise of fortitude seems to be fairly required; but even boys and girls could do — even as an innumerable company of holy martyrs with brave hearts and by a violent death entered the kingdom of heaven— what at that moment he was unable to do, who received the keys of that kingdom. Matthew 16:19 It is here we see why it was said, Let these go their way, when He, who has redeemed us by His own blood, gave Himself for us; that the saying which He spoke might be fulfilled, Of those whom You have given me I have lost none. For assuredly, had Peter gone hence after denying the Christ, what else would have awaited him but destruction?

3. And the servants and officers stood beside the fire of burning coals, for it was cold, and warmed themselves. Though it was not winter, it was cold: which is sometimes wont to be the case even at the vernal equinox. And Peter was standing with them, and warming himself. The high priest then asked Jesus of His disciples, and of His doctrine. Jesus answered him, I spoke openly to the world; I always taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither all the Jews resort, and in secret have I said nothing. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard me, what I have said to them: behold, they know what I said. A question occurs that ought not to be passed over, how it is that the Lord Jesus said, I spoke openly to the world; and in particular that which He afterwards added, In secret have I said nothing. Did He not, even in that latest discourse which He delivered to the disciples after supper, say to them, These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs; but the hour comes, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall show you plainly of my Father? If, then, He spoke not openly even to the more intimate company of His disciples, but gave the promise of a time when He would speak openly, how was it that He spoke openly to the world? And still further, as is also testified on the authority of the other evangelists, to those who were truly His own, in comparison with others who were not His disciples, He certainly spoke with much greater plainness when He was alone with them at a distance from the multitudes; for then He unfolded to them the parables, which He had uttered in obscure terms to others. What then is the meaning of the words, In secret have I said nothing? It is in this way we are to understand His saying, I spoke openly to the world; as if He had said, There were many that heard me. And that word openly was in a certain sense openly and in another sense not openly. It was openly, because many heard Him; and again it was not openly, because they did not understand Him. And even what He spoke to His disciples apart, He certainly spoke not in secret. For who speaks in secret, that speaks before so many persons; as it is written, At the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established: Deuteronomy 19:15 especially if that be spoken to a few which he wishes to become known to many through them; as the Lord Himself said to the few whom He had as yet, What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light; and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the house-tops? Matthew 10:27 And accordingly the very thing that seemed to be spoken by Himself in secret, was in a certain sense not spoken in secret; for it was not so spoken to remain unuttered by those to whom it was spoken; but rather so in order to be preached in every possible direction. A thing therefore may be uttered at once openly, and not openly; or at the same time in secret, and yet not in secret, as it is said, That seeing, they may see, and not see. Mark 4:12 For how may they see, save only because it is openly, and not in secret; and again, how is it that the same parties may not see, save that it is not openly, but in secret? Howbeit the very things which they had heard without understanding, were such as could not with justice or truth be turned into a criminal charge against Him: and as often as they tried by their questions to find something whereof to accuse Him, He gave them such replies as utterly discomfited all their plots, and left no ground for the calumnies they devised. Therefore He said, Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard me, what I have said to them: behold, they know what I said.

4. And when He had thus spoken, one of the officers who stood by gave Jesus a blow with his open hand, saying, Do you answer the high priest so? Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you smite me? What could be truer, meeker, juster, than such an answer? For it is His [reply], from whom the prophetic voice had issued before, Make for your goal (literally, take aim), and advance prosperously and reign, because of truth, and meekness, and righteousness. If we con sider who it was that received the blow, might we not well feel the wish that he who struck it were either consumed by fire from heaven, or swallowed up by the gaping earth, or seized and carried off by devils, or visited with some other or still heavier punishment of this kind? For what one of all these could not He, who made the world, have commanded by His power, had He not wished rather to teach us the patience that overcomes the world? Some one will say here, Why did He not do what He Himself commanded? Matthew 5:39 for to one that smote Him, He ought not to have answered thus, but to have turned to him the other cheek. Nay, more than this, did He not answer truthfully, and meekly, and righteously, and at the same time not only prepare His other cheek to him who was yet again to smite it, but His whole body to be nailed to the tree? And hereby He rather showed, what needed to be shown, namely, that those great precepts of His are to be fulfilled not by bodily ostentation, but by the preparation of the heart. For it is possible that even an angry man may visibly hold out his other cheek. How much better, then, is it for one who is inwardly pacified to make a truthful answer, and with tranquil mind hold himself ready for the endurance of heavier sufferings to come? Happy is he who, in all that he suffers unjustly for righteousness' sake, can say with truth, My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready; for this it is that gives cause for that which follows: I will sing and I give praise; which Paul and Barnabas could do even in the cruellest of bonds.

5. But let us return to what follows in the Gospel narrative. And Annas sent Him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest. To him, according to Matthew's account, He was led at the outset, because he was the high priest that year. For both the pontiffs are to be understood as in the habit of acting year by year alternately, that is, as chief priests; and these were at that time Annas and Caiaphas, as recorded by the evangelist Luke, when telling of the time when John, the Lord's forerunner, began to preach the kingdom of heaven and to gather disciples. For he speaks thus: Under the high priests Annas and Caiaphas, the word of the Lord came upon John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness, Luke 3:2 etc. Accordingly these two pontiffs fulfilled their years in turn: and it was the year of Caiaphas when Christ suffered. And so, according to Matthew, when He was apprehended, He was taken to him; but first, according to John, they came with Him to Annas; not because he was his colleague, but his father-in-law. And we must suppose that it was by Caiaphas' wish that it was so done; or that their houses were so situated, that Annas could not properly be overlooked by them as they passed on their way.

6. But the evangelist, after saying that Annas sent Him bound unto Caiaphas, returns to the place of his narrative, where he had left Peter, in order to explain what had taken place in Annas' house in regard to his threefold denial. But Peter was standing, he says, and warming himself. He thus repeats what he had already stated before; and then adds what follows. They said therefore unto him, Are you also one of his disciples? He denied, and said, I am not. He had already denied once; this is the second time. And then, that the third denial might also be fulfilled, one of the servants of the high priest, being his kinsman whose ear Peter cut off, says, Did I not see you in the garden with him? Peter then denied again, and immediately the cock crew. Behold, the prediction of the Physician is fulfilled, the presumption of the sick man is brought to the light. For there is no performance of what the latter had asserted, I will lay down my life for Your sake; but a performance of what the former had predicted, You shall thrice deny me. But with the completion of Peter's threefold denial, let the present discourse be also now completed, that hereafter we may make a fresh start with the consideration of what was done respecting the Lord before Pontius Pilate the governor.

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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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