1 Jesus absolved the woman taken in adultery 12 Proclaims Himself to be the light of the world. 25 Asserts Himself to be ‘the beginning’ and that He frees those that believe in Him, but that the Jews were the servants of sin (ver. 34) and children of the devil (ver. 44). 49 When the Jews accused Him of having a devil, He answered that He had not a devil, but that He honoured His heavenly Father. 55 He declares that He was before Abraham, and hid Himself from the Jews, who consequently sought to stone Him.
ESUS went unto the mount of Olives.
Douay Rheims Version
The woman taken in adultery. Christ justifies his doctrine.
ND Jesus went unto mount Olivet.
10. Then Jesus lifting up himself, said to her: Woman, where are they that accused thee? Hath no man condemned thee?
11. Who said: No man, Lord. And Jesus said: Neither will I condemn thee. Go, and now sin no more.
12. Again therefore, Jesus spoke to: them, saying: I am the light of the world. He that followeth me walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
13. The Pharisees therefore said to him: Thou givest testimony of thyself. Thy testimony is not true.
15. You judge according to the flesh: I judge not any man.
16. And if I do judge, my judgment is true: because I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me.
49. Jesus answered: I have not a devil: but I honour my Father. And you have dishonoured me.
Ver. 1.—But Jesus went unto the Mount of Olives. On the last day of the Feast Jesus had taught in the temple, and confuted the Pharisees, while they, after their wont, returned home to a sumptuous banquet. But no one showed hospitality to Jesus for fear of the rulers and Pharisees. He went therefore probably to Gethsemane, to continue there all night in prayer (see xviii. 1, 2, and Matt. xxvi. 36). Food was either secretly sent Him by Martha from Bethany, or bought by the disciples at Jerusalem. He selected this spot as His nightly refuge, or rather His place of prayer, six months before His death, and used to retire there to pray by night (see Matt. xxvi. 36). The Mount of Olives was a type of Christ’s sorrow, when He there prayed for the pardon of sinners: as the feast of tabernacles signified that He and His people are but strangers and pilgrims here, on their way to their heavenly country, travelling from the wealthy and splendid city Jerusalem, to the mountain of heavenly refreshment.
Ver. 2.—And early in the morning, &c. He gave the night to prayer, the day to teaching, setting an example to apostolic men, as S. Paul, S. Francis Xavier, and others.
Vers. 3, 4, 5.—But the Scribes and Pharisees brought unto Him a woman taken in adultery, &c. Now Moses in the Law commanded us that such should be stoned. This story is not found in the Greek Fathers, but as it is found in the Vulgate and thus approved by the Council of Trent, Cornelius à Lapide regards it as canonical.
Here note that the Mosaic law ordered adulteresses to be killed. But the rulers ordered them to be stoned, according to the Rabbinical tradition. For the Law ordered a betrothed woman should be stoned, if she had committed adultery, and thence the Scribes extended this punishment to an adulterous wife. But the punishment of stoning (Lev. xx. 10) is to be extended to all the cases mentioned in that chapter. (See also Ezek. xvi. 38, 40.) And this is clear from the History of Susanna, where, by the law of requital, her false accusers were stoned. This was also the punishment of adulteresses in many heathen nations. (See notes on Gen. xxxviii. 24, and Num. v. ad fin.)
Ver. 6.—This they said, tempting Him, that they might have to accuse Him, as being opposed to the law, if He said that she was not to be stoned, but as cruel and harsh if He said otherwise. But they rather supposed He would not order her to be stoned, “in order to keep up His appearance of gentleness, and not to lose the favour of the people.” So Rupertus, Bede, and S. Augustine, who says, “They saw that He was very gentle; they said therefore among themselves, If He rules that she be let go, He will not observe that righteousness which the Law enjoins. But not to lose His (character for) gentleness, by which He has already won the love of the people, He will say that she ought to be released. And we shall hence find occasion to accuse Him. But the Lord in His answer both observed justice, and did not forego His gentleness.” They thought to accuse Him of violating the law by her acquittal, and would say to Him, says S. Augustine, “Thou art an enemy of the law, thou judgest contrary to Moses, or rather against Him who gave the law. Thou art guilty of death, and must be stoned together with her.”
But Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground. To turn away His face, not so much from the adulteress as from her accusers, as if to say, “Why do ye bring her before Me, who am not a civil judge, but the physician and Saviour of sinners?” So S. Augustine. Some Greek MSS. add μὴ πζοσποιούμενος, not attending to them and their accusations. Though Toletus and others translate, “not pretending, but really writing on the ground.” Either meaning is suitable.
(2.) Christ refers to Jer. xvii. 1. “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond,” and as S. Augustine, S. Jerome and others say more fittingly on verse 13, “They that depart from thee, shall be written in the earth.” Jeremiah has here painted you, 0 Scribes, to the life. Ye accuse this adulteress, but ye have committed greater sins than hers; ye deserve punishment rather than she doth; ye deserve to be stoned more than she does, even to be cast into hell. For your sins of rebellion, unbelief, obstinacy, and persecution against Me are indelible, written as it were with a pen of iron, and the point of a diamond, because ye have forsaken the Lord and turned your back upon Him, therefore has He in His turn turned His back upon you.” (See Jer. xviii. 17.) Ye have neglected heavenly, and followed after worldly goods, and therefore ye will speedily pass away with them, just as that which is written in the earth soon comes to nothing by a breath of wind, and by the foot passing over it. Ye have departed from God, and therefore ye will not be written in Heaven, but on the earth, yea in its very centre, in hell itself. (See S Augustine Lib. iv. de. Consen. Evang., cap. 10.) And S. Ambrose (Ep. lxxvi. ad Studitem) says, “He wrote on the ground, for sinners are written on the earth, the just in heaven.” Symbolically, S. Augustine (as above) gives two other reasons. (1.) To show that He worked miracles on earth, for, though God, He humbled Himself to become man, for miracles are signs which are wrought on earth. (2.) To point out that the time had now come for His law to be written on the fruitful earth, not on barren stones. (3.) He adds here (Tract. xxxiii.) a third reason, that it was to signify that it was He who had written the old law on tables of stone, but that the new law was to be written on the productive earth. But what did Christ write? He could not in the paved court of the temple cut out the shape of the letters, but merely delineate them with His finger. But He seems to have marked out something to put them to shame, or to expose their sin. For He added, in explanation of what He had done, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” S. Jerome even says that He wrote the mortal sins of the Scribes and of all men (Lib. ii. Contra Pelag.), S. Ambrose (Ep. lvi.) that He wrote Jer. xxii. 29; and (Epist. lxxix.) that He wrote among other words, Thou seest the mote in thy brother’s eye, but seest not the beam in thine own. Others think that He wrote “Mene, Mene” (Dan. v. 25). But nothing certain can be stated.
Ver. 7.—When therefore they continued asking Him. Because they did not see clearly what He had written, or pretended they did not. They therefore urge Him to reply explicitly to their captious question, believing that He could not escape from the horns of a dilemma by going against the law if He acquitted the woman or against His own compassion, were He to condemn her.
He lifted up Himself and said, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. Ye Scribes and Pharisees have committed greater sins than this woman, as your conscience testifies; do not therefore so rigidly and importunately urge her condemnation, but rather have pity for her, as sinners for a sinner, as guilty for a guilty one, as criminals for a criminal. For otherwise, if ye condemn her, ye ought to condemn yourselves; if ye wish to stone her, ye yourselves ought to be stoned, nay more, to be burned. Observe Christ’s prudence. He maintains the law in conceding that an adulteress was guilty of death, but adds that the Scribes should not so pertinaciously urge her death, but rather have compassion on her, since outwardly professing sanctity, but inwardly conscious of greater sins, they should wish indulgence to be shown to themselves both by God and man. So S. Augustine. “Ye have heard, Let the law be fulfilled, let the adulteress be stoned. But in punishing her must the law be fulfilled by those who deserve punishment?” And again, “Jesus said not, Let her not be stoned; lest He should seem to speak against the law. But be it far from Him to say, Let her be stoned; for He came not to destroy that which He had formed, but to save that which had perished. What then answered He? ‘He who is without sin of you,’ &c 0 answer of wisdom! How did He make them look unto themselves! They brought charges against others, they did not carefully search out themselves within.” “What more divine,” says S. Ambrose, “than that saying, that He should punish sin who is Himself devoid of it? For how couldest thou endure one who punishes another’s sin, and defends his own? For does he not condemn himself the more, who condemns in another what he himself commits?”
But thou wilt say Christ here seems to do away with the use of tribunals of justice, and their strictness. But I answer, Christ launched not this sentence against judges, but only against the Scribes, who as private persons contended that Christ should take on Himself to judge the adulteress, and condemn her according to law. This He refused to do, and having been sent to save, and not to condemn sinners, He retorted it upon themselves, as follows; “If ye are not judges, and yet are so desirous of punishing this adultery, take it upon yourselves, stone the adulteress, if ye are so pure and holy as not to have committed adultery, or any other sin;” for if the Scribes had condemned her to be stoned, Jesus would not have freed her from the punishment she justly deserved. Moreover, it is the judge’s duty to condemn a criminal, when convicted, though conscious that he is himself guilty of the same or a similar offence. And yet, if guilty himself it is unseemly in him to condemn another for a like offence.
Christ then in these words quietly advises judges to lead innocent lives themselves. As a moral rule, Christ teaches us that we ought to judge ourselves before we judge others. S. Gregory (Moral. Lib. 13. cap. iv.) gives the reason. “For he who judges not himself in the first place, knows not how to pass right judgment on another. For his own conscience supplies no rule to go by. These Scribes then are summoned first to look within, and find out their own faults, before reproving others.” On which head there are well known proverbs. “First prune thy own vineyards,” &c.
Ver 8.—And again stooping down He wrote on the ground. Both to inspire them with shame, and also to give the Scribes time to withdraw creditably. So S. Jerome (Lib. ii contra Pelag.), and Bede, who adds, “He saw that they were staggered, and would be more likely to retire at once than to put any more questions.”
Ver. 9.—But on hearing this they went out one by one. Some Greek copies add, “Convicted by their own conscience,” as being adulterers, or even worse. For what Jesus said was true, and ought to strike home to them. And hence S. Augustine says (Epist. liv.), “Methinks that even the husband himself who had been wronged, would on hearing these words have shrunk back from his desire for punishment.”
Went out. “By their very withdrawal,” says S. Augustine, “confessing that they were guilty of like offences. For they were smitten with a keen sense of justice on looking within, and finding themselves guilty.” They feared also lest Christ should proceed still further to expose their crimes.
Beginning at the eldest. As being more inveterate sinners, like the false accusers of Susanna, or because they first felt the force of His words. As says S. Ambrose, “They first felt the strength of His answer, which they could not reply to, and being quicker of apprehension, they were the first to go away.”
And He was left alone, &c. “Two were left,” says S. Augustine, “misery and commiseration;” deep calling upon deep, the depth of her misery on the depth of His compassion. But she fled not, as having experienced His grace, and hoping for more.
Ver. 10.—When Jesus had lifted up Himself, &c. Lifting up on her His eyes of gentleness, as He had repulsed His adversaries with the words of righteousness, as saith S. Augustine. He spoke to her, (1.) to show that He had driven away her accusers, and that she could acknowledge what Jesus had, in His mercy, done for her, and ask pardon from Him of her sin. (2.) That He might the more readily absolve her, because her accusers had withdrawn their charge, and had fled away, as doubting the justice of their cause.
Ver. 11.—She said, No man, Lord, &c. I who am alone free from all sin, and appointed by God to judge the world, might most justly condemn thee. But I do not, because I came not to judge, but to save the world. Thus S. Ambrose; “See how He moderated His answer, so that the Jews could not accuse him for acquitting her; but rather throw it back on themselves, if they chose to complain. For she is dismissed, not absolved; inasmuch as no one accused her, she was not acquitted as innocent. Why then should they complain who had already withdrawn from prosecuting the charge and from enforcing the punishment? Moreover Christ by these words absolved the woman not only in open court before the people, but in the court of heaven, before God, as is plain from what He subjoins. Go, as being certain that I have forgiven thy adultery. As He said to the Magdalene, “Go in peace” (Luke vii. 50). But Christ says not that openly, but secretly; lest the Pharisees should have something to carp at. Christ therefore inspired in her secret sorrow for her sins and an act of contrition, and then pardoned her sins, condoning her sin and its punishment together. “He condemns not,” says S. Ambrose, “as being our Redemption, but reproves her as our life, and cleanses her as our fountain.” And Euthymius, “Such an exposure and shame before so many adversaries was a sufficient punishment, more especially when He knew that she was heartily penitent.” So Jansen and others.
And sin no more. Returning as a dog to its vomit. For thou wilt thus in thy ingratitude sin more grievously, and wilt defile thy soul; and though I do not condemn thee, yet will I certainly condemn thee in the day of judgment. Hear S. Augustine. “What means, I will not condemn thee? Dost Thou, 0 Lord, favour sin? Assuredly not; for listen to what follows, Go and sin no more. The Lord therefore condemned the sin, but not the person. For else He would have said, Go and live as thou wilt, being sure of my forgiveness.” To which Bede adds, “Since He is pitiful and tender He forgives the past; but as just, and loving justice, He forbids her sin any more.”
Ver. 12.—Then said Jesus again unto them, I am the Light of the world. The Gloss connects these words with what had immediately preceded, in this way:—“He adds what His Divinity could effect, in order that no one should doubt His power of forgiving sin.” Marvel not that I set free the adulteress from the darkness of sin, for I am the uncreated Light of the world, i.e., God. And He adds below (ver. 15), “Judge no one;” I neither sentence nor acquit the woman in a human court, but in the court of heaven. But others refer back His words to verse 2, where His discourse had been broken off by the Scribes. Having put them to shame, He resumes His teaching. So S. Chrysostom and others. S. Chrysostom adds, “The Jews objected to Christ that He was a Galilean; He shows that He was not merely one of the Prophets, but the Lord of heaven and earth.”
I am the Light of the world; and hence the Manicheans thought that He was the sun. And S. Augustine, being a Platonist, at one time had his doubts about it (see Euchir. lviii.) But commenting on this passage he mentions and confutes their folly. “Christ the Lord was not the sun which was made, He was its Maker, ‘For all things were made by Him,’ &c. He therefore is the Light, which made this light of ours. Let us love It, let us long to understand It, let us thirst for It, that so at length we may attain to the Light Itself, and so live therein that we may never die. For He is the Light, of whom the Psalmist foretold, ‘Thou shalt save both man and beast, so multifold is Thy mercy.’” And further on, “By this Light was the light of the sun made, and the Light which made the sun (beneath which He made us also) was made beneath the sun for our sakes. He, I say who made the sun. Despise not the veil (nubem) of His flesh. The sun is covered by a cloud, not to obscure, but to temper its rays. Speaking then through the veil of His flesh, the Light which never fails, the Light of knowledge, the Light of wisdom says to men, I am the Light of the world.” But how Christ as God is the boundless and uncreated Light and as man the created “light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world,” I have shown at length on chap. i. 4, and also on Is. xlv. 1, that Christ is the Sun of His Kingdom.
Of this world. And not, like the Prophets, merely the light of Israel and Judah. He tacitly here foretells the conversion of the Gentiles. So S. Cyril, who adds that He here alludes to the pillar of the cloud in the wilderness. For Christ as a brilliant light shines before us in the darkness and sin of the world, and guides us to heaven. He that followeth Me, by believing in Me as the Christ, and obeying My commands, walketh not in darkness, in which the wise men of this world walked, but liveth without error and sin, in the light of true faith and virtue.
But shall have the light of life. “Now by faith, hereafter by sight,” says S. Augustine, who adds “These words agree with those of the Psalmist, ‘In Thy Light shall we see light, for with Thee is the fount of life.’” In things of the body the light is one thing, the fountain another. But with God the Light and the Fount are one and the same. It shines for thee, that thou mayest see; It flows for thee, that thou mayest drink. If thou followest this sun which thou seest, it leaves thee when it sets; but if thou fallest not away from God, He will never set to thee.
The light of life, therefore, according to Augustine and Bede, the light of glory, giving blessing to the faithful and saints which they themselves will obtain from Him in heaven. Others understand by it the light of faith, leading us to glory and very blessedness. For faith is a torch, guiding the faithful through the darkness of the world, showing them the true way of life, by which they can without stumbling attain to eternal blessedness. So S. Cyril, “He will attain to that revelation of the mysteries in Me, which will bring him to eternal life.” But (3) the light of life can be explained as the quickening life, for faith, conjoined with the grace of God and charity, is the Divine and supernatural light, which quickens the soul, breathing into it the life of grace here, and the life of glory hereafter.
Hence learn that the doctrine and life of Christ must be imitated by every man who wishes to be truly enlightened, and to be purged from all blindness of mind. S. Thomas à Kempis lays this down as an axiom in his golden book (De imitatione Christi), which contains as many axioms as sentences, which I study daily with much delight and profit. I know many who are striving after perfection, and who strive to conform their several actions to some one action, doctrine, or saying of Christ, ever looking at it as their ideal, and endeavouring to set it forth in all their actions. This is a pious and profitable means of attaining perfect holiness. For Christ was specially given as a mirror of sanctity. For what is more holy than the Saint of saints? What brighter than the Sun, and Light Itself? what wiser than Wisdom Itself?
Ver. 13.—The Pharisees therefore, &c. That is, is not worthy of credit. For no one is accepted as a witness in his own case, but must produce other witnesses (see above, v. 31).
These were not the same Pharisees as those who had accused the adulteress, but others, who wished to avenge the disgrace of their fellows, and in their malevolence against Christ, brought this charge against Him, to put Him to shame. “Being nurtured in ignorance,” says S. Cyril, “and not knowing Him to be Emmanuel, they suspected Him of aiming at His own glory, and attack Him, as though one of ourselves.”
Ver. 14.—Jesus answered, &c. Not only true in itself, but such as ought to be accepted and believed. This testimony of the Light is true, whether it show or hide Itself, says S. Augustine. The light itself needs no other witness. It shows itself clearly by its own light to be bright and shining. And thus is Christ the Light of the world, showing Itself to the world by Its miraculous works. Christ needed not any other witness, and yet He brings forward the highest and most indisputable witness, even God the Father.
For I know whence I came, and whither I go. And therefore My testimony is true, as being confirmed by the testimony of God the Father, says the Gloss. This I know, but ye do not because ye will not know, though ye ought to know it both from My miracles and My words. But I know that I was sent from heaven, as the Messenger of the Father, being the Son of God, and Very God, from Very God. And when My ministry is over I shall return to Him again. So S. Augustine and Leontius. But He speaks obscurely, lest He should seem to boast, and for fear of kindling the more the anger of the Jews against Him. He might else have spoken more plainly. I am the Son of God, and therefore My testimony is true and legitimate, for the testimony of God, Who is the chief and irrefragable truth, is indisputable. “He wished the Father to be understood,” says S. Augustine, “from Whom He departed not, when coming to us, as He left not us when He returned to heaven. But as the Sun shines on those that see and those that are blind, though the one sees and the other does not, so the wisdom of God is everywhere present, even to unbelievers, though they have not the eyes to behold Him,” distinguishing thus His friends and enemies.
Ver. 15.—Ye judge after the flesh. (1.) Ye judge of Me, not according to truth and equity, but from the carnal hatred ye have against Me; as living according to the flesh is to live ill, so judging according to the flesh is to judge unjustly. (2.) From My Body, which ye see, ye count Me a mere man; because I am in the flesh ye count Me mere flesh, judging wrongly. And thus ye rule that Truth can lie. For I am the Truth (S. Cyril).
(3.) Ye judge by your senses alone, by that which ye see of Me; that I am a mean, poor, abject man, not the Messiah, not God who hides Himself in My flesh; and therefore ye condemn Me as a proud blasphemer for asserting Myself to be the Son of God. And this ye would not do, if ye judged of Me by reason and the spirit of truth. For this would declare to you that I am what I assert, Messiah, the Son of God. “They saw the man,” says S. Augustine, “but did not believe Him to be God.” And the Gloss, “they thought Him to be a man, who was not to be believed when praising Himself.” “Moreover,” says S. Cyril, “He acts like a physician who heeds not the insults of his patients who are mad, but applies to them the fitting remedies; fighting against disease, but not against the patient, whom he wishes to restore to health of body and mind.”
I judge no man, not as ye do, by outward appearance, but according to reason and the spirit. (4.) S. Chrysostom says, “Because the Jews might make this objection to Christ, ‘If we judge wrongly of Thee, why dost not thou convince us?’ Christ replies, I judge no one. It is not My business. Were I now to judge you, I should assuredly condemn you. But this is not the time for doing so.” (5.) To judge in this place, means to perform a kind of judicial act, and hence it means to testify, or bear witness, for witnesses force as it were the judge to give sentence in accordance with their testimony. And hence a witness is a kind of judge (see Is. lv. 4). For the whole question between Christ and the Jews was with reference to His testimony, whether it could be lawfully accepted. And He maintains that it can be, as He was not alone, but the Father was with him (see S. Ambrose, Lib. v. Epist. 20). And this is plain from what Christ says, verses 17 and 18, “I am He that bear witness of Myself, and the Father that sent Me beareth witness of Me.” But He uses the word “judge” because He seemed just before to have judged the adulteress, which the Pharisees resented. But He meant thereby that He had not judicially acquitted her, though He might have done so, as the Son of God. For I am not a mere man, as ye suppose, nor am I alone, for God the Father is with Me. And in this sense “I judge” is understood in its own proper sense, “I pass not a judicial sentence.”
Ver. 16.—And yet if I judge (i.e., bear witness of Myself) My judgment (i.e., witness) is true, i.e., fit to be taken in court, for I am not alone, &c. S. Chrysostom explains, “If I judge, I should justly condemn you, because I should not judge by Myself, but I and the Father together.” But the true meaning is that given in verse 15.
I and the Father that sent Me. “For I took the form of a servant, but lost not the form of God,” says S. Augustine; “Thy Incarnation was Thy mission.” And the Interlinear Gloss, “Though I am a man, yet I left not the Father; though sent in the flesh, yet I and the Father are ever One by Our Godhead; the judgment of both and the will of both are alike One.” As He says elsewhere, “I do nothing of Myself,” for I have never proceeded to any punishment, which was not in the mind of the Father. “For whatever thoughts the nature of the Father entertains, the same are completed in Me also, for I shine forth from His bosom, and am the true offspring of His substance,” says S. Cyril.
Ver. 17.—It is also written in your Law (Deut. xvii. 6, xix. 5), that the testimony of two men is true: that is to be admitted by the judge, who can base on it a legal sentence, though the testimony may as a matter of fact be false. But a judge must go by the evidence; and so his sentences may be legally right, but in reality wrong. If then the testimony of two men be true, how much more must the sentence of two Divine Persons, the Father and the Son, be accepted as most true, most equitable, and most just? Christ applies this to His own case. For that the Father is with Him, and witnesses to Him, and that He is the Son of the Father, He had more than sufficiently proved, and therefore assumes it. “It is,” says Augustine, “a grand and most mysterious question when God says in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established;’ for Susanna was accused by two false witnesses, and all the people witnessed falsely against Christ. But in this way is the Trinity represented as in mystery; for therein is the ever-enduring firmness of truth. If thou wishest to have a good cause, have three witnesses, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
Ver. 18.—I am one that bear witness of Myself, &c. But thou wilt say, no one’s testimony is accepted in his own case, and therefore Christ’s testimony to Himself ought not to be accepted. But the answer is, that Christ as God witnesses to Himself as man. But God and man are two beings, and in Christ God was different from man: in nature, I mean, not in person. And from this very passage the Fathers gather against both Nestorians and Eutycheans, that in Christ there was one Person, the Divine, but two natures, the Divine and the human. So Cyril, Chrysostom, and S. Ambrose (de Fide v. 2). Besides this, God the Father and God the Son bore witness that Jesus was the Christ by the miracles which they wrought both through Him and for Him (see chap. v. 31, 32). And especially when the Father spake in thunder out of heaven, This is My beloved Son. So Bede.
Ver. 19.—Then said they unto Him, Where is Thy Father? They said this, in order to elicit from Him a clear statement that God was His Father, in order to accuse Him of blasphemy, as they did, chap. v. 18, xix. 7. So Chrysostom and others.
But Cyril and Leontius less probably think that the Pharisees spoke contemptuously and sarcastically, as if He were the Son of some unknown father. S. Augustine and Bede think that they referred to Joseph, as being His father in the flesh. But the first is the best meaning.
Jesus answered, &c. Christ did not wish to answer clearly and directly, “My Father is in heaven,” because He knew that the question was put in order to ensnare Him. He therefore, though answering their question directly, yet spoke so guardedly that the Pharisees could not bring any charge against Him. As if He said, Ye think that I am a man, and that I have only an earthly father. But ye are wrong, for ye know not that I am God as well as man. And therefore ye understand not that I have no other Father than God in heaven, though I have proved this by so many miracles.
But how does this agree with what Christ said (vii. 28), Ye both know Me, and know whence I am? I answer, Christ then spoke of Himself as man, but here He speaks of Himself as God. Origen adds that then Christ spoke to the people of Jerusalem who knew Him, but here to the Pharisees who knew Him not, and were moreover His enemies. The word “if” is here equivalent to assuredly. See Leontius. As Christ says to Philip (xiv. 9), He that seeth Me seeth My Father also.
S. Augustine explains it somewhat differently; “Ye ask, who is My Father, because ye know Me not, for ye think not that I am God eternal in heaven.”
(2.) Cyril speaks more profoundly and to the point. “The names of Father and Son imply each other,” Christ therefore is the gate (as it were) leading to the Father. “Let us learn then,” he adds, “what He is by nature, and then we shall rightly understand as in an express image the Antitype Itself.” For the Father is manifested in the Son, as in a mirror, in the proper nature of His offspring. (See Wisdom vii. 26 and Heb. i 3.)
Origen considers that “know” means to “love.” If ye loved Me ye would surely love My Father. For evil livers practically know not God, as is said of Eli’s sons.
Ver. 20.—These words, &c. . . . in the temple (i.e., the Court of the Temple). Rupertus thinks that the reason why no man laid hands on Him was because the treasury was a remote spot, frequented only by the Priests who wished to take money out, and the lay people who wished to pay it in. But it was in fact a public and much-frequented place, being a large portico close to the court of the temple, and in it were preserved all the treasures of the temple. Christ then spake all these things openly and boldly in a place where He could easily have been taken. But He by His Divine power restrained their hands and their resolve, because the destined hour had not yet come. Adrichoniuus (Descript. Hieros. 103) describes the treasury as a chest wherein all requisites were kept for the sacrifices, the support of the poor, repair of the temple, &c. When Heliodorus attempted to plunder it, he was said to have been scourged by angels, and Pilate was prevented by a popular tumult from applying its contents to bringing water into the city. It was afterwards plundered by the Romans. Here also the poor woman cast in her two mites. It was from this chest that the whole porch where it stood was called the treasury.
The other reason why Christ spoke thus in the treasury was of a more hidden kind. Because it was the dark hiding-place of the Pharisees, where they wrought all those evil devices which Christ recounts, Matt. v. and xxiii. In this very spot He condemns their dark deeds by saying, “I am the Light of the world,” the true Light of wisdom and holiness, who teach men to despise earthly riches, as mean and perishing, and to aim at heavenly riches, as being great and eternal. Follow not the Pharisees who are blindly intent on these earthly riches, for Vespasian will speedily carry them all away; but rather follow Me, the Light of the world, for I preach to you poverty of spirit as the way to gain boundless riches in heaven. And on the other hand, “Woe to you rich,” &c. (Luke vi. 24). This then was the cause of the intense hatred they felt against Christ, which led them to persecute Him even to death on the cross. It was out of this treasury that they sacrilegiously took the thirty pieces of silver which they gave to Judas to betray Jesus. And therefore in the very same spot He willed that He would by that means be lifted up on the cross, and draw all men unto Him.
Origen gives a mystical reason. “Christ,” he says, “spake these things in the treasury, because the treasury, or rather the treasures, are His divine discourses, impressed with the image of the great King. Coins (he says) are divine words. Let every one then contribute to the treasury, i.e., for the edification of the Church, whatever he is able for the honour of God, and the common benefit.” And Bede, “Christ speaks in the treasury, because He spake to the Jews in parables which were covered and kept close. But the treasury then began (as it were) to be opened, when He explained them to His disciples, and unlocked the heavenly mysteries therein conceived.”
For His hour was not yet come. “Not the fated, but the opportune and self-chosen hour,” says the Interlinear Gloss. “Some,” says S. Augustine, “on hearing this, believe that Christ was subject to fate. But how can He be under fate, by whom the heaven and the stars were made, when Thy will, if Thou thinkest aught, transcends even the stars? The hour therefore had not come, not ‘the hour in which He should he forced to die, but in which He deigned to be slain.’”
Ver. 21.—Jesus therefore said to them again. (1.) Some think that “therefore” only indicates the beginning of a new discourse. (2.) Origen thinks it indicates that what follows was spoken by Christ at the same time and place. (3.) Maldonatus refers it to verse 19, Ye neither know Me nor My Father. The time therefore will come for you to know Me as God, but ye will not find Me, for ye will die in your sins. (4.) Rupertus and Toletus refer it more appositely, to the words immediately preceding. Because He saw that the Pharisees understood, and were angered at His words, He adds, I go My way, &c.
He had said the same before (see vii. 33), first to the officers, and then to the Pharisees. I go My way, that is out of this life to My Father by My cross and death. “Death was to Christ,” says S. Augustine, “a going forth, for He abode not in the world, but passed through it to heaven and immortal life.”
And ye shall seek Me, i.e., ye shall seek another Messiah, and will not find him, says Toletus, for there is none other but Me. More simply. Ye shall seek Me, to crucify Me again (see vii 34). So Origen and S. Augustine, who says, “Ye shall seek Me, not from desire but from hatred.” For after He had withdrawn from sight, they who hated and they who loved Him alike sought Him, the one to persecute, and the other from desire to hear Him. For He adds, And ye shall die in your sins. Your obstinate sins of unbelief and hatred. Ye will therefore seek Me in vain, for I shall ascend to heaven, ye will be thrust down to hell. Euthymius explains “in your sin,” in consequence of your sin, for which ye will be slain by the Romans. But the first explanation is the plainest and most forcible. For Christ frequently alarms the Pharisees with the terrors of the last judgment.
Whither I go ye cannot come. Ye cannot, because ye will not, says Origen, for every sin is a voluntary and free act.
S. Augustine thinks that these words were spoken to the disciples, “Whither I go ye cannot go now,” not depriving them of hope, but predicting its postponement. But the words which follow were evidently addressed to the Pharisees.
Ver. 22.—Then said the Jews, &c. The officers made a wiser inquiry (vii. 35), Will He go to the dispersion of the Gentiles? But the Pharisees, blinded by their hatred, thought He had no way of escape but by killing Himself. Wherever He may go, we will follow Him up. If He goes to the Gentiles, we will drag Him back. He must therefore mean that He will kill Himself, so as to escape our hands. A presumptuous and foolish thought, suggested, however, by their malice. He might have withdrawn Himself from them in various ways, as He had already done. But He meant that He would go up to heaven, whither the Pharisees could not come. But His words, says S. Augustine, referred not to His going to death, but to where He was going afterwards.
Ver. 23.—And (therefore) He said unto them, &c. Ye cleave to your sins and will go to the lowest depth, while I shall return to heaven, and therefore ye will seek Me and will not find Me. For I am like the soaring eagle, dwelling in the loftiest mountains of eternity, while ye are as worms and insects creeping on the earth. So Rupertus and S. Augustine, who says, “Ye are from beneath; ye savour of the earth; serpent-like, ye eat the earth. But what is meant by eating the earth? Ye feed on things of earth, ye delight in things of earth, are greedy for things of earth, ye lift not up your hearts above.”
S. Chrysostom and others, and S. Augustine and Bede among the Latins, think that the Pharisees misunderstood the words of Christ by reason of their earthly minds. Morally:—Ye are from beneath, as descended from Adam, and deriving from him your earthly desires, and inflamed by evil passions, thus hankering only after worldly things. But I am from above, because as God I am begotten of the Father, and as man am incarnate of the Holy Spirit. And therefore My feelings, My love, My desires are all heavenly. And to these ye cannot attain, unless ye are born again; and thus from earthly become heavenly and spiritual, as I said to Nicodemus.
Physically:—Christ here teaches us that our birth-place, training, &c., impart to each one their qualities. And just as fishes could not live out of water, nor birds excepting in the air, so the Pharisees, born in Canaan or Judæa, could not but be earthly both in body and mind, as Ezekiel said (xvi. 3), “Thy birth was of the land of Canaan, and thy mother a Hittite.” But Christ, as born and dwelling in heaven, was heavenly
Metaphysically:—Ye are of your father the devil, because as he killed Adam by the forbidden fruit, so do ye wish to kill Me. But I am from above, as being the Son of the Most High God. Hear S. Augustine (Tract xxxvii.): “He was from above. But how was He from above? From the air? By no means. For there the birds do fly. From the heaven we see? By no means. For there the sun, the moon, and stars go their rounds. From the angels? Do not imagine it, for they too were made by Him, by Whom all things were made. How then was He from above? From the Father Himself. For there is nothing above Him, who begat the Word equal to Himself, co-eternal with Himself, His only Begotten before time, by Whom He would create the times. Understand, therefore, this word ‘from above,’ as transcending in Thy conception everything that was made, the whole creation, every body, every created spirit, everything that is in any way subject to change.” Ye are of this world, I am not of this world: ye are of this earth, or more closely to the point, ye are worldly. Ye aim at worldly favours, wealth, and honours. Ye live as do worldlings. Ye possess the very qualities of the world, says Toletus. Listen to S. Augustine (Tract. xxxviii.): “Let no one say, I am not of the world; whosoever thou be, 0 man, thou art of the world. But He who made the world hath come to thee, and hath freed thee from the world. But if the world delight thee, thou wishest for ever to be unclean; but if this world no longer delight thee, thou art clean. But if through some infirmity the world still delights thee, let Him who cleanseth dwell in thee, and thou shalt be clean; but if thou art clean thou wilt not abide in the world, nor hear that which the Jews heard said, ‘Ye shall die in your sins.’”
Ver. 24.—I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins. The sin of unbelief, and all your other sins, for there is no forgiveness of sin, save through faith in Christ, whom ye reject.
For if ye believe not that I am the Saviour of the world, as I constantly affirm and prove also by so many miracles. So Lyra. But S. Augustine, Bede, and Toletus more ingeniously: “Because I am that I am; i.e., God.” But Rupertus thus subtilly: “Because I am from above.” Ye shall die in your sins, because there is no one but Myself, whom ye despise, who can pardon and take away sin.
Ver. 25.—They said therefore to Him, Who art Thou? Because they did not understand, or pretended they did not, they appositely ask, Who art Thou?
Jesus said to them, the Beginning (Vulg.), I who am speaking to you. S. Augustine, Bede, Rupertus, and S. Ambrose (De Fide, iii. 4), consider the word, the Beginning, to be in the nominative case, explaining it, I am the Beginning, the First and the Last, or the Beginning of all things, for all things were made by the Word of God. In the Greek the word is not α̉ζχὴ, but, α̉ζχὴν, in the beginning.
S. Augustine and S. Ambrose explain it (2.) by supplying the word “credite” which is not in the text. We must therefore consider it to be a Greek form of expression, α̉ζχὴν for κα̉τ α̉ζχὴν, in the beginning. I am from the beginning, i.e. from eternity (before Abraham, as He said Himself, verse 58), Very God of Very God. And therefore I am the beginning of time, and age, and of all things. And yet I am speaking to you; that is, it is I who announce this to you, for I assumed flesh, and was made man in order to announce it, and save those who believe in it. I am from the beginning, which very thing I solemnly declare to you. Or rather, since I am the Word, which the Father spake from all eternity, I having been made man to announce to you the same truth. For the Son is the Word by whom the Father speaks, and the Son is also the Word which speaks to us. The word “beginning,” therefore, is more appropriate to the Son than to the Holy Spirit, for the Son is together with the Father the source (principium) of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit is not the source of any other Divine Person, but only of creatures; and further, because He is the beginning (principium) proceeding from the beginning, that is to say, from the Father. And accordingly this word signifies His origin, as being begotten of the Father. This is clear from what is said below, verse 27. The Vulgate does not translate it literally from the beginning, but the beginning, signifying thereby the Eternal Word, which was from the beginning, and begotten of the Father, to be with the Father, the beginning both of the Holy Spirit and of all creatures.
From the beginning signifies two things; first from all eternity, and next as begotten of God the Father. It is the same thing to say I am from the beginning, or I am the beginning. (See John i. 1; Rev. i. 8, iii. 14; and also Col. i. 18.) And this is what SS. Augustine, Ambrose, and others above mentioned consider it to mean. So says the Gloss, “The Father is the Beginning, but not from the beginning: the Son is the Beginning, from the Beginning, that is, from the Father, who worketh all things by the Son, for He is the Right Hand, Strength, Wisdom, and Word of the Father.” But the Greek α̉ζχὴ means also the Chief Rule (principatus), meaning that to Christ belongs the dominion and rule over all things. (See Ps. cx. 3, Vulg., and Prov. viii. 22, sec. lxx. See also S. Augustine, contra Max. cap. xviii., and S. Thomas, part 1, Quest. xxxvi., art. 4, who show that the Father and Son are not two, but the one principle of the Holy Spirit.)
Morally: learn that Christ, as God and man, must be regarded as the beginning and the end of all our doings; after the example of S. Paul and the other Apostles both in the beginning and end of their Epistles. S. Gregory Nazianzen begins his acrostics in this way, and Paulinus, “In Thee my only hopes of life depend, Thou my beginning, Thou my goal and end.” As all numbers start from unity, and all lines run from the centre to the circumference, so should all the actions of a Christian begin and end in Christ (see Col. iii. 117).
Nonnus and others explain, I am the same as I said to you at first; that is, that I am the Messiah, the Light and the Salvation of the world, but ye believe Me not. But this is a strange interpretation.
Some others refer to what comes afterwards, Because ye do not believe Me, I have more to say to you,, And to judge of you. But this is a mere evading of the question. As if Christ said, Ye are unworthy of an answer, but yet deserve My condemnation.
Ver. 26.—I have many things, &c. I have many things to say against you, and to accuse you of. And in the day of judgment I will do so. As S. Cyril says, “I will accuse you not of one thing but of many, and of nothing falsely. For I can condemn you as unbelieving, as arrogant, as insulting, as opposers of God, as impudent, as ungrateful, as malignant, as lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, as courting the praise of men, and not seeking the glory of God.”
But He that sent Me, &c. I will omit many points and will merely say this, in refutation of your unbelief, that the Father who hath sent Me is true, and whatever therefore I say is true, and worthy of belief by all. “I am true” (says S. Augustine) “in judgment, because I am the Son of Truth, and the Truth Itself.” But others explain differently, (1.) Toletus: “I have many things to say against you. But I will not do so now, for the Father sent Me into the world, not to judge but to save it, and therefore, in obedience to Him, I say only those things which concern its salvation.” (2.) Maldonatus, as though it were, “Because” He that hath sent Me is true, not “but” He that sent Me, &c. (3.) Rupertus refers it to what He had said before, that He was the Beginning, “These are not My own words, but what the Father bade Me say of Myself.” (4.) Ye do not believe in Me as the Messiah, but this is what the Father wishes Me to proclaim. (5.) Ye do not believe Me now, but My Father is true. He will fulfil His own word that I shall be your judge, and reward you according to your deeds. But the first meaning is the best. Which I have heard of Him, both as God and as man. The Interlinear Gloss says, “To hear from Him, is the same as though being from Him.” “The co-equal Son gives glory to the Father, why then dost thou set thyself against Him, being only His servant?” So S. Augustine.
Ver. 27.—They knew not, &c. For Jesus spake covertly and obscurely, for fear of exciting the hatred of the Pharisees. But some of the more acute of them began to suspect the true meaning of His words, though they did not clearly understand them, and could not refute Him. None of them fully knew it. And God so ordered it, that the Passion of Christ, and the consequent redemption of the world, might not be hindered. (See 1 Cor. ii. 8.) “I withhold the knowledge of Myself,” says S. Augustine, “that My Passion may be effected” by your hands.
Ver. 28.—Then said Jesus, &c. When ye have lifted Me up on the Cross. He calls it His exaltation, for though it seemed to be His greatest degradation and disgrace, yet it was made to be, by God’s Providence, His greatest exaltation and glory, that all nations should adore Christ crucified, and hope for pardon from Him. For this Christ won for Himself by His great humility (see Phil. ii. 8 seq.). And thus does God deal with every follower of Christ who humbles himself for Christ’s sake, as He says, “Every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled,” &c.
Then shall you know that I am Messiah, the Son of God, whom I declare Myself to be, and not a mere man, as ye now think Me. For many of the Jews, when they saw in the Cross, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, such patience, charity, zeal, and such great prodigies and miracles, were moved with compunction to believe in Him. Christ had obtained all this by His Cross, and obtained it from His Father (see Acts ii.41). As S. Augustine says, “He saw that many would believe after His Passion. And this He says that no one who is conscious of guilt should despair, when even His own murder was condoned.” See S. Cyril, and others.
I do nothing of Myself, &c. Christ frequently inculcates the same truth, both in order to speak humbly of Himself, and to gain authority for His doctrine from God the Father. “But the Father,” says S. Augustine, “did not so teach the Son, as though He were ignorant when He begat Him; but His teaching Him, was His begetting Him full of knowledge.” For with the Son His being is His knowledge. And therefore the Father by begetting gave Him both existence and knowledge.
Ver. 29.—And He that sent Me is with Me. He adds this (says S. Chrysostom) lest He should be accounted inferior to the Father who taught Him. The one relates to the Incarnation (dispensationem), the other to the Godhead. “The Father,” says S. Augustine, “sent the Son, but did not leave Him.” Moreover, the Father is ever with the Son, not only by the inseparable essence of Deity, which continues ever in number the same, but also by the special providence and guidance vouchsafed to the manhood which He assumed, the Godhead guiding and directing it in every work, to make all His work perfect and divine.
Ver. 30.—As He spake these wards many, &c.; i.e., many of the simple-minded, candid and teachable people, but few or none of the proud Pharisees. And they believed, not only as convinced by the force of His arguments, but charmed by the grace and power of His words. “Never man spake like this man.”
Ver. 31.—Then said Jesus, &c. He wished to confirm them in the faith they had accepted. If ye are so faithful and constant as to follow Me through persecutions and crosses, even to heaven itself, ye will be worthy not only of the name and title of My disciples, but also of their deserts and reward.
Ver. 32.—And ye shall know the truth, &c. The Greek Fathers understand by the Truth, Christ Himself; meaning ye shall know Me to be the Truth, shadowed forth by the figures of the old Law, from which I will set you free, that ye may serve God not with bodily ceremonies, but in the Spirit and truth of faith, hope, and charity (see above, iv. 23).
(2.) Hence, in accordance with the mind of Christ, If ye abide in My doctrine, ye shall taste by experience how sweet it is, and it will free you from the yoke of sin (see below, verse 34). For faith in Me will lead you to penitence, contrition, and charity, which does away with all sin. “If the Truth pleaseth thee not, let liberty please thee.” He clearly restored liberty, and took away iniquity.
Analogically: My doctrine will deliver you from the corruption of this place of mortality, change, and exile, because it will bring you to the liberty of a blessed immortality, and the glory of the children of God. Thus S. Augustine on this passage: “What doth He promise to those who believe? Ye shall know the truth. But did they not know it, when the Lord spake? for if they knew it not, how did they believe? They believed, not because they knew, but that they might know; for what is faith but believing that we see not? But the truth is, to see that which thou hast believed.” There is a fourfold bondage which Christ did away with, and a fourfold liberty which He bestowed. (1.) The bondage of the Law which Christ did away with by the liberty of the Gospel, (2.) Bondage under sin, which He took away by the liberty of righteousness. (3.) Bondage under the dominion of concupiscence, which He took away by the liberty of the Spirit, and the dominion of charity and grace. (4.) Bondage under death and mortality, which He will take away by the liberty and glory of the resurrection. It does not refer to the liberty of the will, as though sinners were so entirely the slaves of sin as not to have any free-will, and that Christ gives it them back when He justifies them. For a sinner sins by free will, and a penitent repents and is justified only by his free-will, aided by the grace of God.
Calvin foolishly denies free-will both to sinners and to the righteous. “Let us who are conscious of our own bondage glory only in Christ our deliverer.” For he thinks that we are not intrinsically free, just as we are not intrinsically just by inherent righteousness, but only by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Each of which opinions is not only an impious, but also a foolish heresy.
Ver. 33.—They answered Him, &c. Christ in what He had said indirectly charged the Jews with ignorance and bondage. But as glorying in their descent from Abraham, they felt wounded; and putting aside the charge of ignorance, they proudly deny the charge of bondage, and say that they had no need of the liberty of Christ. We are slaves neither by birth, nor by condition. “And in like manner,” says S. Chrysostom, “men when charged with impurity and wickedness put it aside, but when their family and work are impugned, they start up, as if they were mad.” But the Jews did not understand Christ, for He spake not of civil, but of spiritual bondage, and that He would set them free from the bondage of sin by the liberty of grace. But did the Jews say truly that they were never in bondage to any man? S. Chrysostom and others say that they spoke too boastfully, but that they veiled their falsehood, because though often conquered they had never been sold as slaver.
(2.) Cajetan, Toletus, Jansen, and others reply to the charge by saying that though the Jews had formerly been in bondage, yet that the present generation of Jews had never been so, for they were merely the subjects, not the slaves, of the Romans. And this seems to be the most satisfactory meaning; for to say that their fathers had never been in bondage would have been a falsehood at which the sun itself would have blushed, and Christ would have at once confuted it. All they meant to say was that their race was a free and noble one, and that their subjection to the Romans was not slavery.
Ver. 34.—Veri1y, verily, &c. Most assured, i.e., the saying is, and specially commended to their notice. But our Lord speaks to them modestly and becomingly, using only general terms and the third person. He might have said, Ye commit many sins, and are therefore the servants of sin, and from this bondage no one but Myself can deliver you. “A miserable bondage,” exclaims S. Augustine in loc., and adds the reason. “A man slave, when worn out by his master’s cruel treatment, can at length escape and be at rest. But whither can the servant of sin flee? He carries with him himself, whithersoever he flies. A wicked conscience cannot fly from itself; it has no place to go to, it follows itself. It cannot withdraw from itself; for the sin which causes it is within.” (2.) S. Peter (II. ii. 19) gives a further reason. “Of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.” (3.) He who committeth sin is the servant of the devil, who instigates to sin, and he is a cruel tyrant, who drives on sinners, as though they were his slaves, ever drawing them on from one sin to another, and in the end to hell. (4.) Every sin leaves behind it a desire and inclination to repeat the sin, and this concupiscence remains, even after the sin has been given up, for our punishment and temptation. Whence the Apostle says that he was sold under sin, that he did what he would not (as feeling against his will the motives of concupiscence), and that he cannot do the things he would. (5.) Because the sinner is bound by the chains of the sin he has committed, so that he cannot free himself, unless Christ sets him free by His grace, according to the saying (Prov. v. 22), “His own iniquities take the wicked himself, and he is bound with the cords of his sins.” In these passages, to sin, which is inanimate, is ascribed the character of a master, or tyrant, to signify (1.) the tyrannical power of sin and concupiscence, and (2.) because by sin is understood the devil, who holds sway in the realm of sin, and holds stern dominion over sinners.
St. Ambrose, on the words of Psalm cxix. 94, “I am thine, 0 save me,” says strikingly, “the worldling, cannot say to Him, I am Thine, for he has many masters. Lust comes, and says, Thou art mine, for thou desirest the things of the body. Avarice comes, and says, Thou art mine, for the silver and gold thou hast is the price of thy bondage. Luxury comes and says, Thou art mine, for one day’s feasting is the price of thy life. Ambition comes, and says, Thou art clearly mine, for knowest thou not that I have set thee over others that thou mightest serve me? knowest thou not that I have conferred power on thee, in order to subject thee to mine own power? All the vices come, and say severally, Thou art mine. What a vile bond-slave is he whom so many compete for? And moreover the sinner who cannot say to God, I am Thine, hears from the devil, Thou art mine.” For as S. Ambrose adds, “Satan came and entered into him, and began to say, he (Judas) is not thine, 0 Jesus, but mine. He thinks those things that are mine, he ponders my thoughts in his heart; he feasts with Thee, and feeds with me; he receives bread from Thee, and money from me; he drinks with me, and sells me Thy Blood; he is Thy Apostle, but my hireling.”
Ver. 35.—The servant abideth not, &c. He who is the servant of sin, like you Jews, has not the right of remaining in his Master’s house (that is the Church of God) for ever: for after death he will be cast into the outer darkness of hell, as ye too will be cast out. But the Son abideth for ever in His Father’s house, that is, I ever abide with My Father in heaven. But if through Me and My grace ye have been delivered from the bondage of sin, ye will abide for ever with Me, as adopted children, in the house of God, that is in the Church militant by grace, and in the Church triumphant, for ever happy and glorious in heaven. So S. Augustine, Bede, and others.
Ver. 36.—If therefore the Son, &c. I alone can make you free, not Abraham or Moses, though most beloved servants of God. So S. Chrysostom and others.
Ver. 37.—I know, &c. By nature ye are Abraham’s children, but in your deeds ye are degenerate. Your descent from Abraham will not therefore profit you. It will increase your damnation, for he will say at the last day, I acknowledge you not as my children, for ye have crucified Christ, my son and your brother.
Because My word, &c. Because ye will not take it in. Origen and S. Chrysostom think that these words were said to those who had before feebly believed in Christ, but who, on hearing themselves called “servants,” were incensed against Him and wished to kill Him. But it is more probable that they were addressed to unbelievers who had before that plotted His death.
Ver. 38.—I speak, &c. Ye not only speak, but do that which ye have learnt from your father, the devil, especially in seeking to kill Me, implying that Abraham was not their father. See this more clearly declared verse 44.
Ver. 39.—They answered, &c. Because Christ seemed to imply that they had another father, they wished to learn from Him who he was. We own Abraham, and none other as our father.
Jesus saith unto them, If ye are the children of Abraham, do the works of Abraham. It is so in the Vulgate. But some Greek MSS. read as in the English version. He does not deny their extraction, but condemns their doings. Says S. Augustine, “Your flesh may be from Abraham, but not so your life.”
Ver. 40.—But now ye seek, &c. Abraham did not injure any one, but saved Lot, and as many as he could. But the Jews were eager to kill Christ. The Jews (Perke. Avoth. cap. v.) draw the same contrast between a disciple of Abraham and of Balaam.
Ver. 41.—Ye do the works of your father. He persists in saying that they were not Abraham’s children, but does not say whose children they were.
Then said they unto Him, We be not born of fornication, &c. Origen, Cyril, and Leontius think that in these words they implicitly reproached Him with His own birth. An atrocious statement, which the Pharisees studiously propagated, to detract from our Lord’s credit and authority. But it would have been atrocious blasphemy. (2.) Euthymius and Rupertus suppose it to be only an assertion of their descent from Sarah, and not from Hagar, and thus not spurious, or in a secondary rank. (3.) We are not born of spiritual fornication, i.e., idolatry. We are not Hagarenes, who were idolaters. Rupertus objects that to make out this meaning the word “but” should have been inserted. But Maldonatus maintains that such particles are often omitted, adding that fornication in the prophets means idolatry, as being spiritual fornication, drawing away the soul from its true Spouse (see Hos. i. 2). Theophylact explains it to mean, “We are not born of mixed marriages of Jews and Gentiles, which were forbidden, and counted illegitimate by the Jews.” (4.) The Jews reply in a straightforward manner, Abraham is our true earthly father; and one is our Father, even God in heaven. Your charge is therefore false. You unjustly claim the God of Abraham for thyself alone, and exclude us from sonship with Him, and hand us over to another father, the devil, making us spurious, and consequently infamous.
Ver. 42.—Jesus said, &c. Put syllogistically, our Lord’s argument runs this, “He who loves God, loves also the Son of God. But ye do not love Me, who am the Son of God. Therefore ye love not God. Just as the Arians, who by denying Christ to be the Son of God, deny the Father also; for if He has not a Son, He cannot be called God the Father.
For I proceeded forth (ε̉ξη̃λθον) and came (ήκω), I am here. S. Augustine, S. Hilary (de Trin. vi.), consider that the twofold generation of our Lord is here set forth. I came forth by eternal generation. I am come into the world by My Incarnation. “That the Word proceeded forth from God, is His eternal procession” (says S. Augustine), but He came to us, because He was made flesh; His advent was His being made man. But Jansen, Maldonatus, and others refer both the expressions to the Incarnation, but yet as implying, and presupposing His eternal generation. “I came forth from God, and came into the world, though I had before come forth from God, and was in heaven as God” (see chap. xvi. 27).
For I came not of Myself, but He sent Me. He teaches that He was not self-originate, says S. Hilary (de Trin. vi.). Origen adds, He says this on account of some who came of themselves, and were not sent of the Father (see Jer. xxxiii. 21). A warning to such as Lutherans, Calvinists, and others, who have no true mission.
Ver. 43.—Why do ye not understand, &c. Because cleaving to your pride, avarice, hatred, and enmity against Me, ye will not hear Me and understand. “They could not hear,” says S. Augustine, “because they refused to be corrected by what they heard;” but (as says the Gloss) ye are of the devil, and have elected to go on with him. S. Gregory Nazianzen (Orat. iv., de Theol.) tells us that in Scripture “I cannot” sometimes means “I will not.” (See Matt. xix. 12.) But secondly, and more properly and forcibly, “Ye do not understand My words because ye cannot endure My teaching, and will not let My words enter your ears, so hateful am I to you, and so obstinately have you from hatred hardened your hearts against Me.” Thus Emmanuel Sa.
Ver. 44.—Ye are of your father the devil. “Not by descent but by imitation,” says S. Augustine, quoting Ezek. xvi. 4; and adding, “The Jews, by imitating their impieties, found for themselves parents, not of whom to be born, but with whom they would be lost, by following their evil ways.”
S. Epiphanius (Her. 38, 40) by the devil in this place understands Judas Iscariot, whom our Lord also calls a devil. But the author of “Questions on the Old and New Testament” (apud S. Augustine) understands Cain. But it is certain that it must be taken literally to mean Lucifer. For the Jews in persecuting Jesus followed him as their father; “not by succession in the flesh, but in sin,” says Ambrose (Lib. iv. in 1oc.)
Ye are of, &c. “In order to kill Me.” He explains that they are of the devil, by following his suggestion. S. Chrysostom says he speaks not of “works,” but of desires (or lusts), showing that both lie and they greatly delighted in murders. For the devil has an ardent desire to destroy all men, both because he grudges them the glory from which he himself fell, but also to injure God, whom he hates as his torturer, and wishes to tear away men from Him whom He created in His own image, and called and predestinated to His own eternal grace and glory.
He was a murderer, &c. For as soon as Adam was created, Lucifer, the very same day through envy destroyed both him and all his posterity, by persuading him to eat of the forbidden fruit. And in like manner does he endeavour through you, 0 Jews, to kill Me, by Whom all men are to be redeemed from death. For he ever persists in his eager desire to destroy men, as the leopard and wolf, which feed on human flesh. He urged on Cain to kill Abel, and Joseph’s brethren to destine him to death. And even now instigates all murderers to commit their murders. And much more does he thirst for the death and destruction of souls, though bodily death is here more properly meant, for this it was they plotted against Christ. Euthymius and S. Augustine (Contra Petib. ii. 13).
And abode not in the truth, i.e., in the integrity and perfection, the grace, righteousness, and sanctity in which he was created. True means pure and unadulterated. As Nathaniel is called “a true Israelite, in whom is no guile.” Again “in truth” means in that which was his duty. In S. John, David, and Solomon “the truth” commonly means this (see John iii. 21). There is a threefold truth, in heart, word, and deed. The truth of the heart is opposed to error; the truth of word is opposed to a lie, the truth of deed is when a man acts in accordance with what is practically right, and this is opposed to iniquity and sin. Now the devil did not stand in the truth because he did not persevere in what he ought to have done. He refused to be under God. He claimed to be His equal, a kind of second god, and rose up against Him through pride. Hence he fell from his state of grace, and was cast down to hell (see Is. xiv. 12). And so S. Chrysostom (Hom. liv.; S. Leo, Ser. de Quadr., and others). Hence (1.) S. Augustine (contr. Adimantum iv. 4), understands by the “truth,” the law, meaning that the devil did not abide in the Law of God. Others by “truth” understand fidelity, or the obedience due to God as the Creator.
(2.) S. Irenæus (v. 22, 23) understands it to mean “veracity,” as our Lord says below he is “a liar, and the father of it.” Christ seems to charge the Jews with two faults, which they had learned from the devil, murder, and mendacity, and calumny.
(3.) Origen (Tom. xxiv.) understands it to mean “truth in practical matters,” which Lucifer abandoned when he sinned by pride, which practically was a false step. This resulted from his not abiding in truth of act, and thus he departed from truth in heart and word, and thus by his lies deceived mankind.
Hence S. Augustine (de Civ. xi. 13) rightly infers that he was created in grace and righteousness, and that the Manichees were wrong in asserting that he was naturally wicked or created by an evil god. They inferred this wrongly from 1 John iii., “The devil sinneth from the beginning.” The true meaning of this passage is explained in loco.
Because there is no truth in him. Neither in thought, word, or deed, for those three kinds of truth have a sisterly relation to each other. But here “truth” rather signifies veracity.
When he speaketh a lie, &c. When he fell from his original beauty as an angel and became a hideous demon, it was innate in him to deceive; his special and proper business was to lie, and to this he entirely devotes himself.
(2.) “Of his own,” means of his own special invention. But men lie from imitating him, and by his suggestion.
(3.) “Of his own,” from his own inward delight in it He delights in it, as a thief in his thefts.
For he is a liar. From his constant habit of lying, he is altogether made up of lies. And if he ever speaks truth, it is by compulsion, or else by means of truth to persuade men to what is false.
And the father of it. “His father,” says Nonnus. The Cainian heretics understood the devil to mean Cain. But the Manicheans on S. Augustine’s authority (in loco) said that the devil had a father, even the evil god, and that both he and his son were liars. But I maintain that “of it” refers to the word “lie,” which is understood in the term liar which occurs just before. And he is the father of a lie. (1.) Because he first invented the act of lying. (2.) Because he fashions and forms lies, as the potter moulds the clay. So S. Augustine and others. It is a Hebraism. Origen says, “The devil begot a lie. He was seduced by himself, and in this respect was worse, because others are deceived by him, whereas he is the author of his own deception.” And S. Augustine, “Not every one that lies is a father of a lie, but he only who, like the devil, received it not from any other quarter.”
And hence the devil is the father and author of heresies, and therefore heresiarchs have had a devil at their side who suggested their heresies, as well as arguments to uphold them. So Luther confessed of himself. Such a suggester had Arius, Eunomius, Calvin, &c. The Apostle (1 Tim. iv. 1) speaks of heresies as “doctrines of devils” (see notes in loco).
45. But if I speak the truth, ye believe Me not. His argument stands thus, “Whosoever believeth a lie is a son of the devil. And ye believe a lie, and are therefore sons of the devil.” But “if” may mean “because,” as some Greek and Latin copies read. And so it would mean, “Because I speak the truth in truly reproving your sins, and truly asserting myself to be the Messiah, and prove this by miracles, yet ye will not believe Me because ye will not give up your sins, and will not believe what I say and teach, but rather believe the devil who persuades you that I am a false prophet, and my miracles are mere sleight of hand.
Ver. 46.—Which of you, &c. This is to anticipate an objection of the Jews. For they might say, “We do not believe thee, because thou art a violater of our law, in healing the sick on the Sabbath-day.” Produce any other charge against Me, and I will submit to your disbelieving Me. My healing on the Sabbath was not a violation, but a sanctification of the Sabbath. I leave any further charge to be decided by you who are my sworn enemies. So confident was Christ in His innocence that no one could lay anything to His charge which bore the slightest resemblance to sin. For He was Himself sinless, both on account of the Beatific Vision which He enjoyed, as the Blessed in heaven are incapable of sin for the same reason (for seeing God to be the Supreme Good, they necessarily love Him with all their strength, and hate whatever displeases Him) and likewise from the hypostatical union with the Word. For because His humanity existed in the Person of the Word, the Word kept His humanity free from all sin, and in perfect holiness. For if the humanity of Christ had sinned, the Person of the Word would have sinned; which is impossible. For virtuous or vicious actions relate to persons, and are attributed to them. Hence S. Ambrose (on Ps. xl. 13) brings in God the Father thus addressing Christ, “Thou wert conversant with sinners, Thou didst take on Thee the sins of all, Thou wast made sin for all, but yet no practice of sin could reach Thee. Thou didst dwell among men, as if among angels, Thou madest earth to be like heaven, that even there also Thou mightest take away sin.”
If I say the truth, &c. He here shuts out another objection of the Jews. For they could have said, We believe Thee not, not for any sin which Thou hast committed, but because the things Thou sayest and teachest are not true.” Christ meets the. objection by saying, “I have proved to you My doctrine by so many arguments and miracles, that no prudent person who is not blinded by hatred could question its perfect truth. If then My life is most innocent, and My doctrine most true, why do ye not believe Me?” Receive then the truth not as a bare assertion, but as demonstrated by reason.
Ver. 47.—He that is of God, &c. He here assigns the true reason for the unbelief of the Jews, because they were born not of God, but of the devil; that is, ye do not listen to the spirit and instinct of God, but of the devil. For the devil has blinded your hearts with covetousness, hatred, and envy of Me. And ye therefore listen not to the words of God which I, who am sent from Him, announce to you, because ye will not hear and understand them. Because then ye are not the children of God who is true, but of the devil who is a liar, ye listen to his lying suggestions, but will not give a hearing to the true words of God which are uttered by Me.
Moreover S. Augustine and S. Gregory (Hom. xviii.) understand these words of the elect and reprobate. He who is predestinated and elected hears the words of God, ye hear them not because ye are reprobate. But this is not the literal and genuine sense of the word, but merely an adapted one. For as Toletus and Maldonatus observe, many of those who at that time did not believe in Christ afterwards believed at the preaching of S. Peter and the Apostles; and on the other hand, some who then believed in Christ afterwards fell away from the faith, and became reprobates (see John vi. 67).
Lastly, the Manichees inferred wrongly from the passage (as S. Augustine asserts) that some men are good by their own nature, as created by the good God, but others are naturally evil, as created by the evil principle.
Morally:—S. Gregory infers thus from this saying of Christ: “Let each one ask himself if he takes in the word of God with the ear of his heart, and he will understand whence it is. The truth bids us long for the heavenly country, to crush the desires of the flesh, to shun the glory of the world, not to covet others’ goods, to be liberal with one’s own. Let each one of you consider with himself if this voice of God has prevailed in the ear of his heart, and he will acknowledge that it is from God.” And just below, “There are some who willingly listen to the words of God so as to be moved by compunction even to tears, but who after their tears go back again to their sin. And these assuredly hear not the words of God, because they scorn to carry them out in deed.” Hence S. Gregory infers that it is a mark of divine predestination if a man obeys the holy inspirations of God, and of reprobation if he rejects them (see Prov. i. 24). And John x. 27, “My sheep hear My voice.” They who hear the voice of Christ their Shepherd are saved, they who hear not are devoured by the devil. So too Christ says plainly, “Blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke xi. 25). And S. Bernard (Serm. 1, in Septuag.) tells his monks that the greatest proof of predestination is the profitable hearing of the word of God. For it was their constant food, by reading and meditation and prayer, to examine whatever proceeds from the mouth of God, and to fulfil it in their lives.
Ver. 48.—The Jews answered and said, &c. They used to say it, though it is written nowhere else. But why did they call Him a Samaritan? (1.) Because He associated with the Samaritans. (2.) Because He came from Galilee, which was near Samaria. (3.) Because the Samaritans were partly Jews and partly Gentiles, and Christ seemed to them to be the same as bringing in a new faith and religion; and He thus seemed to be mixing up the traditions of the elders with the Gospel. (4.) And lastly, because He seemed to be making a schism, like the Samaritans. A Samaritan was, moreover, a term of reproach.
And has a devil. (1.) Because they said He cast out devils through Beelzebub, the chief of the devils. (2.) Because He made Himself God, transferring to Himself the glory due to God, as Lucifer strove to do. So Leontius. Our Lord so understood it, and answered, “I seek not My own glory.” (3.) Thou art mad, like lunatics, and those possessed with devils (see x. 20, and vii. 20). This was an atrocious blasphemy. How wondrous, then, the patience of Christ! For He answered,
Ver. 49.—I have not a devil, &c. As loving truth He denies the false charge, but though all-powerful He returns not their reproach. “God, though receiving an injury, replies not with words of contumely; and thou, when insulted by thy neighbours, shouldest abstain from their evil words, lest the exercise of just reproof should be turned into weapons of anger.” And Chrysostom, “When it was necessary to teach, and to inveigh against their pride, He was severe. But in bearing with those who reproached Him, He exercised great gentleness, to teach us to resent any wrongs done to God, to overlook the wrongs done to ourselves.” And S. Augustine, “Let us imitate His patience, that we may attain to His powers.”
Christ took no notice of the term Samaritan, because it was a reproach directed only against Himself, and not against God. He refused therefore to avenge His own wrongs, but would defend the honour of God. All knew He was a Galilean, and not a Samaritan, and by saying that He had not a devil, He refuted at the same time the charge of being a Samaritan. For the Samaritans, as schismatics, were the bond slaves of the devil. S. Gregory (Hom. xviii.) gives a mystical reason for His silence. “A Samaritan,” he says, “means a guardian, and He is truly our guardian, of whom the Psalmist speaks, ‘Except the Lord keep the city, they watch in vain who guard it’ (Ps. cxxvii. 2); to whom moreover it is said by Isaiah, ‘Watchman, what of the night?’ He would not therefore say, ‘I am not a Samaritan,’ lest he should deny also that He was our guardian.”
I have not a devil. But ye have one. So far from detracting from the glory of God, or claiming it for Myself, as Lucifer did, I continually honour the Father and say that I derive everything from Him, that I am sent from Him, that I obey Him in all things, that I refer everything I have to Him, and direct everything to His honour and glory. But ye rather dishonour God the Father, because ye dishonour Me, and assail Me with most bitter reproaches, though I am His Son, and His ambassador in the world. So Leontius. Others explain it more generally of sin— I honour My Father by good works, ye dishonour Him by your sins. So S. Augustine.
Ver. 50.—I seek not, &c. It is God the Father who will most sharply punish those who seek not My glory, but in every way dishonour and discredit Me. S. Chrysostom.
It may be said, “This is contrary to what Christ says (v. 22), The Father judgeth man.” But there Christ speaks of the public and general judgment, here He speaks of the private and daily judgment with which He avenges the wrongs done to His Son and His saints, as by the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus for the death of Christ; as He here seems to hint. So Maldonatus and others.
But the Gloss says, “There is one that judgeth who distinguishes My glory from yours; as David says, ‘Judge Me, 0 God, and distinguish My cause from that of the ungodly people’” (Ps. xliii. 1, Vulg.)
Ver. 51.—Verily, verily, I say. He says this not from indignation but from pity of the Jews, showing that He is seeking not His own glory, but their salvation. “I say in very truth,” and as S. Augustine thinks, he means I swear, “that if ye keep My commandments ye shall never die the death of the soul; ye shall never sin, for sin is the death of the soul. But ye shall ever live, here in the grace of God, and in heaven in His glory. Ye shall die indeed in the body, but I will raise you up in the day of judgment, and ye shall live in happiness of body and spirit for all eternity.” So S. Augustine.
Ver. 52.—Now we know, &c. “The devil suggests to Thee such proud and absurd boasting, that Thy word will drive away death from those who believe in Thee, when we see that Prophets and holy men, as Abraham, all died. But as says S. Gregory (Hom. xviii.), looking only to the death of the body, they were dark to the word of truth. For as Bede saith, “Abraham, though dead in the body, was alive in his soul.” Learn from this, thou Religious, thou Preacher, thou Christian, from thy Master to receive calumnies for thy good deeds, curses and ill-will for thy kindnesses. Learn also to be good to the ungrateful. For Christ, though unweariedly teaching the Jews, healing them, delivering them from evil spirits, yet patiently endured these contumelies and reproaches, ingratitude in return for kindnesses, blasphemies for miracles, and for His teaching derision and reprehension, and yet did not cease to benefit those who were ungrateful, the very highest point of patience and charity.
Abraham is dead, &c. Thou blasphemest then, in making thyself greater than Abraham and the Prophets, yea, even greater than God Himself, since the word of God could not deliver Abraham and the Prophets from death. But yet the word of God, promulged by the lips of Christ, was more powerful than the word of God which was uttered to Abraham and the Prophets. And, moreover, Abraham and the Prophets were not dead in their souls, and though dead in the body were to be raised up by Christ to eternal life.
Ver. 53.—Art thou greater? &c. They considered it most absurd, and even blasphemous, for Christ to prefer Himself to Abraham, as He really did; for He was both God and man, though the Jews knew it not, or rather refused to believe it.
Ver. 54.—Jesus answered, &c. This was in answer to their question, Whom makest thou Thyself? He refers all His glory to His Father from whom He is, and who is God. What I say of Myself is of no value or weight, and that not only with you, as S. Chrysostom says, but with others. For in every court no one is believed on his own word but on the testimony of others, who witness for him (see chap. v. 31). Solomon also says, “Let another praise thee, and not thine own lips” (Prov. xxvii. 2). The Arians objected that the Father glorifies the Son. He is therefore greater than the Son. S. Augustine replies, “Thou heretic, readest thou not that the Son Himself said that He glorifies His Father? But He also glorifies the Son, and the Son glorifies the Father. Put aside thy pernicious teaching, acknowledge their equality, correct thy perversity.”
Ver. 55.—Yet ye have not known Him, &c. (1.) Ye know not the true God whom ye worship; ye know Him not to be one in essence and threefold in person, for ye think Him to be one in Person, as He is one in essence. Ye know not that God is a Father, and that He begat Me His Son, and that we two by our Breath produced the Holy Ghost. For had ye known it, ye would certainly have known and believed Me to be the Messiah, the Son of God; and conversely, “if ye had known Me, ye would assuredly have known My Father,” says S. Chrysostom.
(2.) S. Augustine says, Ye believe that there is one God, though ye neither see nor hear Him (see chap. v. 37). Ye ought therefore equally to believe in Me His Son, on account of the many signs and wonders which I work, though ye see not the Godhead which is hid within. (3.) Ye have not known Him, ye have not believed His testimony, This is My beloved Son; for ye knew not, or rather would not know, that this was the true voice of God. (4.) Euthymius explains, “Ye have not shown that ye know Him, because ye live wickedly, not as worshippers of God, but like idolatrous Gentiles, professing, as S. Paul says, to know Him (Tit, i. 16), but in works denying Him.”
And if I say, &c. Maldonatus thinks that Christ called the Jews “liars,” because they said to Him, “Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil.” For these were two most gross falsehoods, nay even blasphemies. But S. Chrysostom, Ammonius, and Theophylact are more to the point in asserting that they were called “liars,” because they lied in saying that they knew God. For they believed not that He had a Son, and was threefold in His personality.
But I know Him, &c. Theophylact explains it thus, “I show by my life and conduct that I know, reverence, and worship God, because I reverently observe and constantly fulfil His word. Or it may be explained, even better, in this way. Because I acknowledge God the Father, and clearly perceive His Majesty, Power, and Holiness; I therefore, as man, greatly reverence Him, and clearly and fully observe His precept, which ye Jews do not observe, because ye know not nor comprehend His Majesty, and therefore do not reverence it.” So Theophylact. Moreover, S. Augustine says, “He spake as the Son, the Word of the Father, and was the very Word of the Father Who spake to men.” And He fitly said the “word,” not the “precept,” because He Himself was the Word of the Father, and the Father had ordered Him to announce to men that very truth, that they should acknowledge, believe, and worship God the Father and God the Son.
Ver. 56.—Your father Abraham, &c. He longed for it with exulting mind; “He feared not, but exulted,” says S. Augustine. “Believing he exulted with hope, that he might see by understanding.” It is a catachresis. But what day? S. Augustine understands by it, that day of all eternity, wherein from all eternity the Son was begotten of the Father. “He wished to know My eternal generation and My Godhead, that he might believe in it, and be thereby saved.” “He saw,” says S. Augustine, “My day because he acknowledged the mystery of the trinity.” (Bede follows him, as usual.) S. Jerome (on Dan. viii.) and S. Gregory (in loc.) say that it was the day when, by the three angels that appeared to him, only one of whom spoke to him, the mystery of the Trinity was by symbols revealed to him; he saw three but adored one (Gen. xviii. 2).
(1.) But others generally refer it to the day of His Humanity, and thus understand it of the day of His Passion, Crucifixion, and death. See S. Chrysostom, &c. (2.) It is more simple to understand it of the day of His Incarnation. For all the Prophets and Patriarchs earnestly longed for the coming of Christ, to free them from their sins and from their imperfect state (limbo). “To see” (says John Alba) “is to enjoy the happiness and blessings brought by Christ.” The word has often that meaning, as in the Psalm “to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” i.e., to enjoy it.
He saw it. By faith, and again in a figure when he was commanded by God to offer up his son Isaac, which was a type of Christ’s offering on the Cross. So S. Chrysostom and S. Augustine, and S. Bernard (Serm. vi. de. Vigil Natalis) adds that by smiting on his thigh he signified that Christ was to come from his race.
(2.) He knew by prophetical revelation. But this would not be “seeing.”
(3.) The genuine meaning is, he saw from his own place (in limbo). He knew the day when Christ was incarnate and was born, not only from what Simeon told him, when he met him in the place below (in limbo), but also from what Anna the Prophetess, Zacharias, Anna the Virgin’s Mother, and S. John the Baptist told him, but he saw it by intuitive perception. He saw all, just as the Blessed in heaven behold all things on earth and under the earth, and as S. Anselm saw with his eyes lifted up by God what was doing behind a wall. Abraham longingly desired to see this, as if present. For the promise that Christ should be born of him had been frequently made him by God. And it was due to him, in consequence of his faith, obedience, and many merits, that as the father of the faithful, who for so long a time, without any fault of his own, was so long detained in prison (limbo), most eagerly looking for Christ to deliver him, might for his own consolation, and that of his fellow-patriarchs, and in solace of their long and anxious expectation, know the very day when Christ was Incarnate and born. For two thousand years had he eagerly waited for Christ and sighed for His birth. And therefore God revealed it to him by His Spirit, and then Abraham and all the Saints in prison rejoiced and were glad. So Jansen, Maldonatus, and others. Lastly, the angels who comfort souls in Purgatory, much more consoled the souls of Abraham and the Patriarchs (in limbo), even as the same angels announced that much longed-for birth to the shepherds. Christ said this, (1.) To show that He was greater than Abraham, and that He was God, (2.) to show how highly He was valued, though absent, by Abraham, though the Jews despised Him when present among, them. (3.) And also to prick their consciences indirectly in this way: “Abraham had so great a longing for Me, but ye have rejected Me. Ye are therefore not true children of Abraham, but spurious and degenerate.” He says “Abraham your father,” whose children ye glory in being, though I do not glory in him, but he rather glories and exults in Me.
Ver. 57.—Thou art not yet, &c. So that Abraham on his part could have seen Thee, and rejoiced at the sight. Irenæus hence infers that Christ lived fifty years on earth (adv. Hær. ii. 39, 40). But it is the common opinion that He was on earth for only thirty four (and those not complete) years. S. Chrysostom and Euthymius read forty years, but the common reading is fifty. The Jews seem to have been thinking of the jubilee. “Thou hast not reached one jubilee, how then canst Thou say that Thou hast seen Abraham, who lived forty jubilees before?” (So Severus of Antioch in Catena.) But Euthymius thinks that Christ seemed to the Jews, by reason of the maturity of His judgment and the gravity of His bearing, and also from the labours He had undergone in journeying and preaching, to be fifty years old. But you may easily say that the Jews, in order to avoid exception or mistake, put His age much higher than they knew He had attained to.
Ver. 58.—Jesus said, &c. That is, I am God. The word am denotes eternity, which is ever present, and has no past or future. I am eternal, immutable, and ever the same. So S. Augustine, Bede, S. Gregory. I as God exceed the age of Abraham not by fifty years, but by infinite durations of years. For as Tertullian (de Trinit.) says, unless He had been God, He could not, as being descended from Abraham, have been before him. Hear S. Augustine on this passage, “Before Abraham was made, that refers to human nature, but I am pertains to the Divine Substance; was made (Vulg.), because Abraham was a creature. He said not, ‘Before Abraham was, I am,’ but Before Abraham was made, I am. Nor did He say, ‘Before Abraham was made, I was made.’ For in the beginning God made heaven and earth; for in the beginning was the Word. Before Abraham was made, I am. Acknowledge the Creator, distinguish the creature. He who spake was made of the seed of Abraham; and in order that Abraham might he made, He was (existed) before Abraham.”
Ver. 59.—Then they look up, &c., as a blasphemer, who placed Himself above Abraham, and made Himself equal to God. Blasphemers were ordered to be stoned (Lev. xxiv. 16). It is clear that these Jews were not those who were said to have believed in Him (as Theophylact supposes), but the others who were opposed to Christ. “And to what should such hardness betake itself but to stones?” says S. Augustine (in loc.) “They sought to crush Him, whom they could not understand,” says S. Gregory (Hom. xviii.)
But Jesus hid Himself, &c. He made Himself invisible, and thus passed unharmed through the midst of them. So Leontius and others. S. Gregory says, “Had He willed to exercise His power, He would have bound them in their sins, or would have plunged them into the pains of eternal death. But He who came to suffer, would not exercise judgment.” And S. Augustine, “He would rather commend to us His patience, than exercise His power. He forsakes them, since they would not accept His correction. He hides not Himself in a corner of the temple, as if afraid, or running into a cottage, or turning aside behind a wall or column: but by .His Divine Power making Himself invisible, He passed through their midst. As man He fled from the stones, but woe to them from whose stony hearts God flies away.
Morally, we are taught by this example (says S. Gregory) humbly to avoid the anger of the proud, even when we have the power to resist them.