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Commentary On The Gospel According To Saint John Volumes 1&2

That the Son is not in the number of things originate, but above all, as God of God.

31 He That cometh from above is above all.

No great thing is it, saith he, nor exceeding wonderful, if Christ surpass the glory of human nature: for not thus far doth He set the bounds of His own glory, but is over all creation, as God, is above all things made, not as numbered among all, but as excepted from all, and Divinely set over all. He adds the reason, shaming the gainsayer, and silencing the opposer. He That cometh from above, saith he, that is, He That is born of the root from above, preserving in Himself by Nature the Father’s Natural goodness, will confessedly possess the being above all. For it would be impossible that the Son should not altogether appear to be such as He That begat is conceived of, and rightly. For the Son Who excelleth in sameness of Nature, the Brightness and express Image of the Father, how will He be inferior to Him in glory? Or will not the Property of the Father be dishonoured in the Son, and we insult the Image of the Begotten, if we count Him inferior? But this I suppose will be manifest to all. Therefore is it written also, That all men should honour the Son even as they honour the Father: he that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father. He That glorieth in equal honour with God the Father, by reason of being of Him by Nature, how will He not be conceived of as surpassing the essence of things originate? for this is the meaning of is above all.

But I perceive that the mind of the fighters against Christ will never rest, but they will come, as is probable, vainly babbling and say, “When the blessed Baptist says that the Lord sprang from above, what reason will compel us to suppose that He came of the Essence of the Father, by reason of the word from above, and not rather from heaven, or even from His inherent superiority above all, so that for this reason He should be conceived of and said to be also above all?” When therefore they aim at us with such words, they shall hear in return, Not your most corrupt reasonings o most excellent, will we follow, but rather the Divine Scriptures and the Sacred Writings only. We must then search in them, how they define to us the force of from above. Let them hear then a certain one of the Spirit-clad crying, Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights. Lo, plainly he says that from above is from the Father: for knowing that nought else surpasseth things originate save the Ineffable Nature of God, he rightly attached to it the term from above. For all things else fall under the yoke of bondage, God alone riseth above being ruled, and reigneth: whence He is truly above all. But the Son, being by Nature God and of God, will not be excluded from the glory in respect of this. But if ye deem that from above ought to be taken as Of heaven, let the word be used of every angel and rational power. For they come to us from heaven who inhabit the city that is above, and ascend and descend, as the Saviour somewhere says, upon the Son of man. What then persuaded the blessed Baptist to attribute that which was in the power of many to the Son Alone specially, and as to One coming down from above to call Him, He That cometh from above? For surely he ought to make the dignity common to the rest, and say, They that come from above are above all. But he knew that the expression was due to the One Son, as sprung of the Supreme Root.

Therefore from above does not mean from heaven: but will be piously and truly understood, in the sense we spoke of before. For how is He at all above all, if from above signify not From the Father, but rather From Heaven? For if this be so, every one of the angels too will be above all, as coming from thence. But if each one escapes being reckoned among all, of whom at last will all be composed? or how will the word all remain intact, preserving accurately its meaning, while such a multitude of angels overpass and break down the boundary of all? For all it is no longer, if they remain outside, who were in all. But the Word That shone forth ineffably from God the Father, having His Proper Birth from above, and being of the Essence of the Father as of a fountain, will not by His coming wrong the word all, seeing He escapes being reckoned among all as if a part: but rather will be above all, as Other than they, both by Nature and God-befitting Power and all other Properties of Him Who begat Him.

But perchance they will say abashed at the absurd result of the investigation, “From above means not from heaven, but from His inherent superiority above all.” Come then, testing more accurately the force of what is said, let us see at what an end their attempt will terminate. First then, it is wholly foolish and without understanding, to say that the Son Himself hath come from His Own Dignity, and that as from a certain place or out of one, He One and the Same advances from His Own Excellency to be above all. In addition to this, I would also most gladly enquire of them, in respect of the excellence above all, whether they will grant it to the Son Essentially and irrevocably, or added from without in the nature of accident. If then they say that He hath the Excellence by acquisition, and is honoured with dignities from without, one must needs acknowledge that the Only-Begotten could exist deprived of glory, and be stripped of the acquired (as they call it) grace, and be deprived of being above all, and appear bare of the excellence which they now admire, since an accident may be lost, seeing that it belongeth not to the essence of its subject. There will therefore be change and varying in the Son: and the Psalmist will lie hymning Him with vain words, The heavens shall perish, but Thou shalt endure: yea all of them shall wax old like a garment, as a vesture shalt Thou change them and they shall be changed: but Thou art the Same, and Thy years shall have no end. For how is He the Same, if with us He changeth, and that with changes for the worse? Vainly too (it seems) doth He glory of Himself, saying, Behold, behold, I am, I change not, and there is no God beside Me. And how will not the passions of the offspring reach up to the Father Himself too, since He is His Impress and Exact Likeness? God the Father then will be changeable, and has the Supremacy over all accruing to Him: I omit the rest. For what belongs to the Image will of necessity appertain unto the Archetype. But they will not say that He hath the supremacy from without (shuddering at such difficulties alike and absurdities of their arguments), but Essential rather and irrevocable. Then again (o most excellent) how will ye not agree with us even against your will, that the Son being by Nature God, is above all, and therefore cometh of the Alone Essence of God the Father? For if there be nought of things originate which is not parted off by the force of the All, but the Son is above all, to wit, as Other than all, and having the Essential Supremacy over all, and not the same in nature with all, how will He not be at length conceived of as Very God? For He Who is Essentially separate from the multitude of created beings, and by Nature escapes the being classed among things originate, what else can He be, save God? For we see no mean, as far as regards existing essence. For the creation is ruled over, and God is conceived of as over it. If then the Son be by Nature God, and have been ineffably begotten of God the Father, from above signifies the Nature of the Father. Therefore the Only Begotten is above all, inasmuch as He too is seen to be of that Nature.

He that is of the earth is earthly and speaketh of the earth.

The earthborn (says he) will not effect equally in power of persuasion with Him Who is God over all. For he that is of the earth will speak as man, and will rank merely as an adviser, committing to his disciples the whole reins of desire to believe: but He That cometh from above, as God, having used discourse with a certain Divine and ineffable grace, sends it into the ears of those who come to Him. But in proportion as He is by Nature Superior, so much the more effectually will He surely in-work. And with much profit does the blessed Baptist say such things to his disciples. For since they were beholding him surpassed by the glory of the Saviour, and were now not a little offended thereat, wherefore they came to him and said, Rabbi, He That was with thee beyond Jordan, to Whom thou barest witness, behold the Same baptizeth, and all men come to Him; needs did the Spirit-clad, cutting off the sickness of offence, and implanting in his disciples a healthful perception on most necessary points, explain the Saviour’s supremacy over all, and teach no less the cause why all men were already going to Him, and leaving the baptism by water alone, went to the more Divine and perfect one, to wit, that by the Holy Ghost.

He that cometh from heaven is above all.

This testifieth (saith he) that very great and incomparable the distinction between those of the earth and the Word of God That cometh down from above and from Heaven. If I am not fit to teach, and my word alone suffice you not, the Son Himself will confirm it, testifying that in an incomprehensible degree differs the earth-born from the Beginning Which is above all. For disputing somewhere with the unholy Jews, the Saviour said, Ye are from beneath; I am from above. For He says that the nature of things originate is from beneath, as subject and of necessity in bondservice to God Who calleth them into being: from above again He calleth the Divine and Ineffable and Lordly Nature, as having all things originate under Its feet, and subjecting them to the yoke of His Authority. For not idly did the blessed Baptist add these things to those above. For that he may not be supposed by his disciples to be inventing empty arguments, and from fear of seeming with reason inferior to Christ, to call Him greater and from above, himself from beneath and of the earth; needs does he from what the Saviour Himself said, seal the force of the things said, and shew the explanation to be not as they thought, an empty excuse, but rather a demonstration of the truth.

But since the other part of the verse runs thus, And what He hath seen and heard, that He testifieth, come we will discuss a few things on this too. We are so constituted and habituated, as to receive the full proof of everything, by means of two especial senses particularly, I mean sight and hearing. For having been both ear-witnesses and eye-witnesses of anything, we come to speak positively thereof. Persuading them therefore to hasten to belief in Christ (for He speaks, says he, that He knows accurately), he takes again, as it were, from the likeness to us, that we may understand it more Divinely, and says, What He hath seen and heard, that He testifieth.

And no man receiveth His testimony.

Not as though no one receiveth the testimony, that Christ is God by Nature and, sprung from above and the Father, is above all, does the blessed Baptist say this (for many received, and have believed it, and before all Peter, saying, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God): but as having himself conceived of the great dignity of the Speaker more rightly than they all, does he all but shaking his head, and smiting with right hand on his thigh, marvel at the folly of them that disbelieve Him.

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