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Home > Fathers of the Church > Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 37

Tractate 37 (John 8:19-20)

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1. What in the holy Gospel is spoken briefly ought not briefly to be expounded, so that what is read may be understood. The words of the Lord are few, but great; to be valued not by number, but by weight: not to be despised because they are few, but to be sought because they are great. You who were present yesterday have heard, as we discoursed according to our ability from that which the Lord said, You judge after the flesh: I judge not any man. But yet if I judge, my judgment is true; because I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me. It is written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me bears witness of me. Yesterday, as I have said, from these words a discourse was delivered to your ears and to your minds. When the Lord had spoken these words, they who heard, You judge after the flesh, manifested the truth of what they had heard. For they answered the Lord, as He spoke of God His Father, and said to Him, Where is your Father? The Father of Christ they understood carnally, because they judged the words of Christ after the flesh. But He who spoke was openly flesh, but secretly the Word: man visible, God hidden. They saw the covering, and despised the wearer: they despised because they knew not; knew not, because they saw not; saw not, because they were blind; they were blind, because they believed not.

2. Let us see, then, what answer the Lord made to this. Where, say they, is your Father? For we have heard you say, I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me: we see you alone, we do not see your Father with you; how do you say that you are not alone, but that you are with your Father? Else show us that your Father is with you. And the Lord answered them: Do you know me, that I should show you the Father? This is indeed what follows; this is what He answered in His own words, the exposition of which we have already premised. For see what He said, You neither know me nor my Father: if you knew me, you would perhaps know my Father also. You say then, Where is your Father? As if already you knew me; as if what you see were all that I am. Therefore because you know not me, I do not show you my Father. You suppose me, in fact, to be a man; hence you seek a man for my father, because you judge after the flesh. But because, according to what you see, I am one thing, and another thing according to what you see not, and that I as hidden from you speak of my Father as hidden, it is requisite that you should first know me, and then you know my Father also.

3. For if you knew me, you would perhaps know my Father also. He who knows all things is not in doubt when He says perhaps, but rebuking. Now see how this very word perhaps, which seems to be a word of doubting, may be spoken chidingly. Yea, a word expressive of doubt it is when used by man, for man doubts because he knows not; but when a word of doubting is spoken by God, from whom surely nothing is hid, it is unbelief that is reproved by that doubting, not the Godhead merely expressing an opinion. For men sometimes chidingly express doubt concerning things which they hold certain; that is, use a word of doubting, while in their heart they doubt not: just as you would say to your slave, if you were angry with him, Thou despisest me; but consider, perhaps I am your master. Hence also the apostle, speaking to some who despised him, says: And I think that I also have the Spirit of God. 1 Corinthians 7:40 When he says, I think, he seems to doubt; but he is rebuking, not doubting. And in another place the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, rebuking the future unbelief of mankind, says: When the Son of man comes, will He, do you think, find faith on the earth? Luke 18:8

4. You now, as I think, understand how the word perhaps is used here, in case any weigher of words and poiser of syllables, as if to show his knowledge of Latin, finds fault with a word which the Word of God spoke; and by blaming the Word of God, remain not eloquent, but mute. For who is there that speaks as does the Word which was in the beginning with God? Do not consider these words as we use them, and from these wish to measure that Word which is God. You hear the Word indeed, and despisest it; hear God and fear Him: In the beginning was the Word. Thou referrest to the usage of your conversation, and sayest within yourself, What is a word? What mighty thing is a word? It sounds and passes away; after beating the air, it strikes the ear and is no more. Hear further: The Word was with God; remained, did not by sounding pass away. Perhaps thou still despisest it: The Word was God. With yourself, O man, a word in your heart is a different thing from sound; but the word that is with you, in order to pass to me, requires sound for a vehicle as it were. It takes to itself sound, mounts it as a vehicle, runs through the air, comes to me and yet does not leave you. But the sound, in order to come to me, left you and yet did not stay with me. Now has the word that was in your heart also passed away with the passing sound? You spoke your thought; and, that the thought which was hid with you might come to me, you sounded syllables; the sound of the syllables conveyed your thought to my ear; through my ear your thought descended into my heart, the intermediate sound flew away: but that word which took to itself sound was with you before you sounded it, and is with me, because you sounded it, without quitting you. Consider this, thou nice weigher of sounds, whoever thou be. Thou despisest the Word of God, thou who comprehendest not the word of man.

5. He, then, by whom all things were made knows all things, and yet He rebukes by doubting: If you knew me you would perhaps know my Father also. He rebukes unbelievers. He spoke a like sentence to the disciples, but there is not a word of doubting in it, because there was no occasion to rebuke unbelief. For this, If you knew me, you would perhaps know my Father also, which He said to the Jews, He said also to the disciples, when Philip asked, or rather, demanded of Him, saying, Lord, show us the Father, and it suffices us: just as if he said, We already know You even ourselves; You have been apparent to us; we have seen You; You have deigned to choose us; we have followed You, have seen Your marvels, heard Your words of Salvation, have taken Your precepts upon us, we hope in Your promises: You have deigned to confer much upon us by Your very presence: but still, while we know You, and we do not yet know the Father, we are inflamed with desire to see Him whom we do not yet know; and thus, be cause we know You, but it is not enough until we know the Father, show us the Father and it suffices us. And the Lord, that they might understand that they knew not what they thought they did already know, said, Am I so long time with you, and you know me not, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father. John 14:8 Has this sentence a word of doubting in it? Did He say, He that has seen me has perhaps seen the Father? Why not? Because it was a believer that listened to Him, not a persecutor of the faith: hence did the Lord not rebuke, but teach. Whoever has seen me has seen the Father also: and here, If you knew me, you would know my Father also, let us remove the word which indicates the unbelief of the hearers, and it is the same sentence.

6. Yesterday we commended it to your consideration, beloved, and said that the sentences of the Evangelist John, in which he narrates to us what he learned from the Lord, had not required to be discussed, were that possible, except the inventions of heretics had compelled us. Yesterday, then, we briefly intimated to you, beloved, that there are heretics who are called Patripassians, or Sabellians after their founder: these say that the same is the Father who is the Son; the names different, but the person one. When He wills, say they, He is Father; when He wills, He is Son: still He is one. There are likewise other heretics who are called Arians. They indeed confess that our Lord Jesus Christ is the only Son of the Father; the one, Father of the Son; the other, Son of the Father; that He who is Father is not Son, nor He who is Son is Father; they confess that the Son was begotten, but deny His equality. We, namely, the catholic faith, coming from the doctrine of the apostles planted in us, received by a line of succession, to be transmitted sound to posterity — the catholic faith, I say, has, between both those parties, that is, between both errors, held the truth. In the error of the Sabellians, He is only one; the Father and Son is the same person: in the error of the Arians, the Father and the Son are indeed different persons; but the Son is not only a different person, but different in nature. Thou midway between these, what do you say? You have shut out the Sabellian, shut out the Arian also. The Father is Father, the Son is Son; another person, not another in nature; for, I and the Father are one, which, so far as I could, I pressed on your thoughts yesterday. When he hears that word, we are, let the Sabellian go away confounded; when he hears the word one, let the Arian go away confounded. Let the catholic steer the bark of his faith between both, since in both he must be on his guard against shipwreck. Say thou, then, what the Gospel says, I and the Father are one. Not different in nature, because one; not one person, because are.

7. A little before He said, My judgment is true; because I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me: as if He said, The reason why my judgment is true is, because I am the Son of God, because I speak the truth, because I am truth itself. Those men, understanding Him carnally, said, Where is your Father? Now hear, O Arian: You neither know me, nor my Father; because, If you knew me, you would know my Father also. What does this mean, except I and the Father are one? When you see some person like some other — give heed, beloved, it is a common remark; let not that appear to you difficult which you see to be customary — when, I say, you see some person like another, and you know the person to whom he is like, you say in wonder, How like this person is to that! You would not say this unless there were two. Here one who does not know the person to whom you say the other is like remarks, Is he so like him? And you answer him: What, do you not know that person? Says he, No, I do not. Immediately thou, in order to make known to him the person whom he does not know by means of the person whom he observes before him, answerest, saying, Having seen this man, you have seen the other. You did not, surely, assert that they are one person in saying this, or that they are not two; but made such answer because of the likeness: If you know the one, you know the other; for they are very like, and there is no difference whatever between them. Hence also the Lord says, If you knew me, you would know my Father also; not that the Son is the Father but like the Father. Let the Arian blush. Thanks be to the Lord that even the Arian is separate from the Sabellian error, and is not a Patripassian: he does not affirm that the Father assumed flesh and came to men, that the Father suffered, rose again, and somehow ascended to Himself; this he does not affirm; he acknowledges with me the Father to be Father, the Son to be Son. But, O brother, you have escaped that shipwreck, why go to the other? Father is Father, Son is Son; why do you affirm that the Son is unlike, that He is different, another substance? If He were unlike, would He say to His disciples, He that has seen me has seen the Father? Would He say to the Jews, If you knew me, you would know my Father also? How would this be true, unless that other was also true, I and the Father are one?

8. These words spoke Jesus in the treasury, speaking in the temple: great boldness, without fear. For He could not suffer if He did not will it, since He were not born if He did not will it. What follows then? And no man laid hold of Him, because His hour was not yet come. Some, again, when they hear this, believe that the Lord Christ was subject to fate, and say: Behold, Christ is held by fate! O, if your heart were not fatuous, you would not believe in fate. If fate, as some understand it, is derived from fando, that is from speaking, how can the Word of God be held by fate, while all things that are made are in the Word itself? For God has not ordained anything which He did not know beforehand; that which was made was in His Word. The world was made; both was made and was there. How both was made and was there? Because the house which the builder rears, was previously in his art; and there, a better house, without age, without decay: however, to show forth his art, he makes a house; and so, in a manner, a house comes forth from a house; and if the house should fall, the art remains. So were all things that are made with the Word of God; because God made all things in wisdom, and all that He made were known to Him: for He did not learn because He made, but made because He knew. To us they are known, because they are made: to Him, if they had not been known, they would not have been made. Therefore the Word went before. And what was before the Word? Nothing at all. For were there anything before it, it would not have been said, In the beginning was the Word; but, In the beginning was the Word made. In short, what says Moses concerning the world? In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth. Made what was not: well, if He made what was not, what was there before? In the beginning was the Word. And whence came heaven and earth? All things were made by Him. Do you then put Christ under fate? Where are the fates? In heaven, do you say, in the order and changes of the stars. How then can fate rule Him by whom the heavens and the stars were made; while your own will, if you think rightly, transcends even the stars? Or, because you know that Christ's flesh was under heaven, is that the reason why you think that Christ's power was put under the heavens?

9. Hear, thou fool: His hour was not yet come; not the hour in which He should be forced to die, but that in which He would deign to be put to death. For Himself knew when He should die: He considered all things that were foretold of Him, and awaited all to be finished that was foretold to be before His suffering; that when all should be fulfilled, then should come His suffering in set order, not by fatal necessity. In short, hear that you may prove. Among the rest that was prophesied of Him, it is also written: They gave me gall for meat, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. How this happened, we know from the Gospel. First, they gave Him gall; He received it, tasted it, and spat it out. Thereafter, as He hung on the cross, that all that was foretold might be fulfilled, He said, I thirst. They took a sponge filled with vinegar, bound it to a reed, and put it to His mouth; He received it, and said, It is finished. What did that mean? All things which were prophesied before my death are completed, then what do I here any longer? In a word, when He said It is finished, He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost. Did the thieves, who were nailed beside Him, expire when they would? They were held by the bonds of flesh, for they were not the creators of the flesh; fixed by nails, they were a long time tormented, because they had not lordship over their weakness. The Lord, however, when He would, took flesh in a virgin's womb: came forth to men when He would; lived among men so long as He would; and when He would He quitted the flesh. This is the part of power, not of necessity. This hour, then, He awaited; not the fated, but the fitting and voluntary hour; that all might first be fulfilled which behooved to be fulfilled before His decease. How could he have been under necessity of fate, when He said in another place, I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again: no man takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself and take it again? John 10:18 He showed this power when the Jews sought Him. Whom do you seek? says He. Jesus, said they. And He answered, I am He. When they heard this voice, they went back and fell to the ground. John 18:6

10. Says one, If he had this power, why, when the Jews insulted him on the cross and said, If he be the Son of God let him come down from the cross, did He not come down, to show them His power by coming down? Because He was teaching us patience, therefore He deferred the demonstration of His power. For if He came down, moved as it were at their words, He would be thought to have been overcome by the sting of their insults. He did not come down; there He remained fixed, to depart when He would. For what great matter was it for Him to descend from the cross, when He could rise again from the sepulchre? Let us, then, to whom this is ministered, understand that the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, then concealed, will be made manifest in the judgment, of which it is said, God will come manifest; our God, and He will not be silent. Why is it said, will come manifest? Because He, our God — namely, Christ, — came hidden, will come manifest. And will not be silent: why this will not be silent? Because at first He did keep silence. When? When He was judged; that this, too, might be fulfilled which the prophet had foretold: As a sheep He was led to the slaughter, and as a lamb before his shearer is dumb, so He opened not His mouth. Isaiah 53:7 He would not have suffered did He not will to suffer: did He not suffer, that blood had not been shed; if that blood were not shed, the world would not be redeemed. Therefore let us give thanks to the power of His divinity, and to the compassion of His infirmity; both concerning the hidden power which the Jews did not recognize, whence it is now said to them, You neither know me nor my Father, and also concerning the flesh assumed, which the Jews did not recognize, and yet knew His lineage: whence He said to them elsewhere, You both know me, and you know whence I am. Let us know both in Christ, both wherein He is equal to the Father and wherein the Father is greater than He. That is the Word, this is the flesh; that is God, this is man; but yet Christ is one, God and man.

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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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