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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 115

Tractate 115 (John 18:33-40)

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1. What Pilate said to Christ, or what He replied to Pilate, has to be considered and handled in the present discourse. For after the words had been addressed to the Jews, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law, and the Jews had replied, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death, Pilate entered again into the judgment hall, and called Jesus, and said to Him, Are you the King of the Jews? And Jesus answered, Do you say this thing of yourself, or did others tell it you of me? The Lord indeed knew both what He Himself asked, and what reply the other was to give; but yet He wished it to be spoken, not for the sake of information to Himself, but that what He wished us to know might be recorded in Scripture. Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Your own nation, and the chief priests, have delivered you unto me: what have you done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. This is what the good Master wished us to know; but first there had to be shown us the vain notion that men had regarding His kingdom, whether Gentiles or Jews, from whom Pilate had heard it; as if He ought to have been punished with death on the ground of aspiring to an unlawful kingdom; or as those in the possession of royal power usually manifest their ill-will to such as are yet to attain it, as if, for example, precautions were to be used lest His kingdom should prove adverse either to the Romans or to the Jews. But the Lord was able to reply to the first question of the governor, when he asked Him, Are you the King of the Jews? with the words, My kingdom is not of this world, etc.; but by questioning him in turn, whether he said this thing of himself, or heard it from others, He wished by his answer to show that He had been charged with this as a crime before him by the Jews: laying open to us the thoughts of men, which were all known to Himself, that they are but vain; and now, after Pilate's answer, giving them, both Jews and Gentiles, all the more reasonable and fitting a reply, My kingdom is not of this world. But had He made an immediate answer to Pilate's question, His reply would have appeared to refer to the Gentiles only, without including the Jews, as entertaining such an opinion regarding Him. But now when Pilate replied, Am I a Jew? Your own nation, and the chief priests, have delivered you to me; he removed from himself the suspicion of being possibly supposed to have spoken of his own accord, in saying that Jesus was the king of the Jews, by showing that such a statement had been communicated to him by the Jews. And then by saying, What have you done? he made it sufficiently clear that this was charged against Him as a crime: as if he had said, If you deny such kingly claims, what have you done to cause your being delivered unto me? As if there would be no ground for wonder that one should be delivered up to a judge for punishment, who proclaimed himself a king; but if no such assertion were made, it became needful to inquire of Him, what else, if anything, He had done, that He should thus deserve to be delivered unto the judge.

2. Hear then, you Jews and Gentiles; hear, O circumcision; hear, O uncircumcision; hear, all you kingdoms of the earth: I interfere not with your government in this world, My kingdom is not of this world. Cherish ye not the utterly vain terror that threw Herod the elder into consternation when the birth of Christ was announced, and led him to the murder of so many infants in the hope of including Christ in the fatal number, made more cruel by his fear than by his anger: My kingdom, He said, is not of this world. What would you more? Come to the kingdom that is not of this world; come, believing, and fall not into the madness of anger through fear. He says, indeed, prophetically of God the Father, Yet have I been appointed king by Him upon His holy hill of Zion; but that hill of Zion is not of this world. For what is His kingdom, save those who believe in Him, to whom He says, You are not of the world, even as I am not of the world? And yet He wished them to be in the world: on that very account saying of them to the Father, I pray not that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil. Hence also He says not here, My kingdom is not in this world; but, is not of this world. And when He proved this by saying, If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews, He says not, But now is my kingdom not here, but, is not from hence. For His kingdom is here until the end of the world, having tares intermingled therewith until the harvest; for the harvest is the end of the world, when the reapers, that is to say, the angels, shall come and gather out of His kingdom everything that offends; Matthew 13:38-41 which certainly would not be done, were it not that His kingdom is here. But still it is not from hence; for it only sojourns as a stranger in the world: because He says to His kingdom, You are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. They were therefore of the world, so long as they were not His kingdom, but belonged to the prince of this world. Of the world therefore are all mankind, created indeed by the true God, but generated from Adam as a vitiated and condemned stock; and there are made into a kingdom no longer of the world, all from thence that have been regenerated in Christ. For so did God rescue us from the power of darkness, and translate us into the kingdom of the Son of His love: Colossians 1:13 and of this kingdom it is that He says, My kingdom is not of this world; or, My kingdom is not from hence.

3. Pilate therefore said to Him, Are you a king then? Jesus answered, You say that I am a king. Not that He was afraid to confess Himself a king, but You say has been so balanced that He neither denies Himself to be a king (for He is a king whose kingdom is not of this world), nor does He confess that He is such a king as to warrant the supposition that His kingdom is of this world. For as this was the very idea in Pilate's mind when he said, Are you a king then? so the answer he got was, You say that I am a king. For it was said, You say, as if it had been said, Carnal yourself, you say it carnally.

4. Thereafter He adds, To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.** Whence it is evident that He here referred to His own temporal nativity, when by becoming incarnate He came into the world, and not to that which had no beginning, whereby He was God through whom the Father created the world. For this, then, that is, on this account, He declared that He was born, and to this end He came into the world, to wit, by being born of the Virgin, that He might bear witness unto the truth. But because all men have not faith, 2 Thessalonians 3:2 He still further said, Every one that is of the truth hears my voice. He hears, that is to say, with the ears of the inward man, or, in other words, He obeys my voice, which is equivalent to saying, He believes me. When Christ, therefore, bears witness unto the truth, He bears witness, of course, unto Himself; for from His own lips are the words, I am the truth; as He said also in another place, I bear witness of myself. But when He said, Every one that is of the truth hears my voice, He commends the grace whereby He calls according to His own purpose. Of which purpose the apostle says, We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to those who are called according to the purpose of God, Romans 8:28 to wit, the purpose of Him that calls, not of those who are called; which is put still more clearly in another place in this way, Labor together in the gospel according to the power of God, who saves us and calls us with His holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace. 2 Timothy 1:8-9 For if our thoughts turn to the nature wherein we have been created, inasmuch as we were all created by the Truth, who is there that is not of the truth? But it is not all to whom it is given of the truth to hear, that is, to obey the truth, and to believe in the truth; while in no case certainly is there any preceding of merit, lest grace should cease to be grace. For had He said, Every one that hears my voice is of the truth, then it would be supposed that he was declared to be of the truth because he conforms to the truth; it is not this, however, that He says, but, Every one that is of the truth hears my voice. And in this way he is not of the truth simply because he hears His voice; but only on this account he hears, because he is of the truth, that is, because this is a gift bestowed on him of the truth. And what else is this, but that by Christ's gracious bestowal he believes in Christ?

5. Pilate said to Him, What is truth? Nor did he wait to hear the answer; but when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and said to them, I find in him no fault. But you have a custom that I should release unto you one at the passover: will you therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews? I believe when Pilate said, What is truth? there immediately occurred to his mind the custom of the Jews, according to which he was wont to release unto them one at the passover; and therefore he did not wait to hear Jesus' answer to his question, What is truth? To avoid delay on recollecting the custom whereby He might be released unto them during the passover — a thing which it is clear he greatly desired. It could not, however, be torn from his heart that Jesus was the King of the Jews, but was fixed there, as in the superscription, by the truth itself, whereof he had just inquired what it was. But on hearing this, they all cried again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber. We blame you not, O Jews, for liberating the guilty during the passover, but for slaying the innocent; and yet unless that were done, the true passover would not take place. But a shadow of the truth was retained by the erring Jews, and by a marvellous dispensation of divine wisdom the truth of that same shadow was fulfilled by deluded men; because in order that the true passover might be kept, Christ was led as a sheep to the sacrificial slaughter. Hence there follows the account of the injurious treatment received by Christ at the hands of Pilate and his cohort; but this must be taken up in 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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