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

That the Only-Begotten Son is the Impress of the Person of God the Father, and no other Impress either is, or is conceived of, save He.

which the Son of Man shall give unto you: for Him the Father sealed, God.

HE was not ignorant, as God, of the charges that would result from Jewish folly, nor of the reasons why they were often foolishly enraged. He knew that they would reason in themselves, looking to the flesh alone, and not conceiving of God the Word therein, Who is This That seizeth upon God-befitting words? for who can give unto men food that keepeth them unto everlasting life? for wholly foreign to man’s nature is such a thing, and it beseemeth Him Alone Who is God over all. The Saviour therefore defends Himself beforehand, and by seasonable arguments, shames their looked-for shameless talk. For He says that the Son of Man will give them the food which nourisheth them unto everlasting life, and immediately affirmed that He is sealed by the Father. Sealed again is either put for anointed (for he who is anointed is sealed), or as shewing that He has been by Nature formed unto the Father. Just as if He had said, I am not unable to give you food which endureth and bringeth up unto everlasting life and delight. For though I seem as one of you, that is Man with flesh, yet was I anointed and sealed by God the Father unto an exact Likeness with Him. For ye shall see (He saith) that He is in Me, and I again in Him Naturally, even though for your sakes I was born Man of a woman, according to the Ineffable order of the economy. For I can do all things in God-befitting Authority and do not in any way come short of the Might inherent in My Father. And though God the Father giveth you the Spiritual Food, which preserveth unto everlasting life, it is clear that the Son too will give it, even though made in Flesh, since He is His Exact Image; the Likeness in every thing being conceived, not after the lineaments of flesh, nor yet ought conceived of in bodily form, but in God-befitting glory and Equal Power and royal Authority. But we must observe again, that when He says that the Son of Man will give the things God-befitting and that He hath been sealed unto the Image of God the Father, He endureth not the division of him that separateth the Temple of the Virgin from the true Sonship, but defines Himself and willeth to be conceived of again as One. For One in truth over us is Christ, bearing as it were the royal purple His Own Robe, I mean His Human Body, or His Temple, to wit of Soul and Body; since One too of Both is Christ.

But, most excellent sir, will the Christ-opposer again say, give the truth the power of overcoming: deal not subtilly with the saying, dishonourably turning it about, whithersoever thou wilt. Lo clearly hereby is the Son proved to be not of the Essence of the Father, but rather a copy of His Essence. Suppose some such thing (say they) as we say: A seal or signet impressed on wax, for example, or any other matter fit to receive it, and engraving a likeness only of itself, is taken away again by him who pressed it on, having lost no part of itself: so the Father, having imposed and imprinted Himself Wholly upon the Son in some way by a most accurate Likeness, from Himself hath He surely no part of His Essence, nor is conceived of as therefrom but a mere image and accurate likeness.

Let him that is zealous for knowledge see that now too is our opponent darting on us, like a serpent, and rears aloft his head surcharged with venom: but He Who shattereth the heads of the Dragon, will shatter it too, and will give us power to escape his manifold stubbornness. Let him then tell us, who has just been dinning us with dreadful words, Does not the seal or signet, which is made (it may be) of wood or of iron or of gold, full surely seal with some impress those things whereon it comes, and will it not be and be conceived of as a seal apart from the impress? But I suppose that any one of our opponents too, even against his will constrained by fitness unto the very truth would confess that it will by all means seal with an impress; and without an impress, according to fair reasoning, not at all. Since then, as the Divine Scripture testifieth to us, the Son is the Impress of the Person of God the Father, in that He is in It and of It by Nature, whereupon is Himself impressed, or through whom else will the Father seal His Own Impress? For no one will say that the Father is not altogether in God-befitting Form, which is the Son, the Form of Him That begat Him; Whom if any behold spiritually, it is manifest that he will see the Father. Wherefore He says that He too is in Him Naturally, even though He be conceived to be of Him by reason of His Own Existence: as the brightness for instance, is in the brightening and of the brightening, and something different, according to the mode of conception, and again not different, as viewed in relation to it, because it is said to be of it, and again in it. And not I suppose in the way of division and complete essential partition are these things considered of: for they are inherent in respect of identity of essence in those things whence they are, and of which they are believed to be, tending forth according to expression in idea to something else, of their own, yet not separate. The Word of the Essence of the Father, not bare Word, nor without Flesh, is sealed then by the Father, yea rather through Him are sealed those things which are brought to likeness with God, as far as can be, as we understand in that which certain say, The light of Thy Countenance was marked upon us, O Lord. he says that the Countenance of God the Father, is the Son, Which is again the Impress, but the light thereof is the grace which through the Spirit passeth through unto the creation, whereby we are remoulded unto God through faith, receiving through Him as with a seal, the conformation unto His Son, Who is the Image of the Father, that our being made after the Image and Likeness of the Creator, might be well preserved in us. But since the Son is confessedly the Countenance of God the Father, He will surely be the Impress too with which God seals.

Yea (says our opponent) we believe that God through the Spirit seals the Saints, but the things that you are bringing forward have no place in the present question. Wherefore we will recapitulate and say, The seal supposed to be of iron, or may be gold, impresses its own likeness on the matter whereon it comes, losing nothing of its own, but by the operation only of its being pressed on does it mark the things that receive it: thus do we hold that the Son has been sealed by the Father, not having ought of His Essence but possessing merely an accurate likeness thereof, and being Other than He, as the image to the archetype.

O boundless folly, and perilous conceit! how easily hast thou forgotten those things just now gone through. For we said that the Son was the Impress of the Father, and that with Him was sealed other than He, and not Himself, lest He be thought to be His Own Impress. But thou, having not rightly spurned our argument hereon, dost not blush to put about Him a likeness of operation only. In image only then will the Son be God according to you, and by Nature not at all, but merely in that He was fashioned and well formed after the Likeness of Him That begat; haply no longer of Him That begat: for it is time that ye should on these accounts take away the begetting also, yea rather there is every need even if ye will it not. On the duty of believing that the Son is begotten of the Father, we have already expended much argument, or shall do so in its place. But it were more fitting that we should proceed to the matter in hand, putting forward to those who are accustomed unrestrainedly to shameless talk the question, Will they not surely say that that which is given may also be taken away, and confess that that which is added can altogether be also lost? for does it not at some time happen that every thing is rejected, which is not firmly rooted in any by nature? It is evident, even should any of them not assent thereto. Some time then or other, according to the argument of possibility, the Son will be bereft of His Likeness. For He was sealed (as ye say) by the mere Operation of His Father upon Him, not having the stability that is of natural Endowments, but conceived of and existing wholly other than His Father, and completely severed from His Essence. Doing then very excellently and fore-seeing matters by most cunning reasoning did ye secure the Father, by saying that He gives nought of Himself to the Son, save that He vouchsafes Him Likeness only, lest ought of passion should be conceived of as about Him. For this is your foolish mystery. For belike ye were ignorant that God the Father, Who doeth all things without passion, will also beget without passion, and is superior to fire (for the argument brings us down to this necessity) which without passion or corporeal division, begets the burning which is of it. Let those then hear who are zealous in fancies only, and account unrestrained blasphemy to be not an unholy thing, but rather a virtue, that if they say that the Son is classed with the Father, in the propriety of likeness alone, He will abide in no secure possession of good things, but will wholly risk His being by Nature God, and will in possibility at least, admit of change for the worse. For there was said to that governor of Tyre too, words which reason necessitates us to attribute to the person of the devil, Thou art the seal of the likeness: but he to whom that speech is addressed, is found to have fallen from the likeness. Thou seest then, and clearly too, by such instances, that the mere being in the likeness of God is no security for an unmoved stability in things spiritual, nor yet does it suffice to perfect endurance in the good things in which they are, to have been duly sealed unto the Nature of the Maker. For they too fall, and are borne headlong, oft-times changing into a worse mind, than they had at the beginning. It is then possible, according to this argument, that the Son, attaining to Likeness with the Father by sameness of work only, and not firm fixed by the prop by Nature, but having His stability in the mere motions of His Own Will, should undergo change, or, though He do not suffer it, should find the not so suffering the result of admirable purpose, and not rather the steadfastness of Native stability, as God.

What then, most noble sirs, is the Son no longer God in truth? And if according to you, He is so found, why do we worship Him? why is He co-glorified with God the Father? why is He borne, as God, upon the highest Powers? Are then with us the Holy Seraphim themselves too ignorant that they do greatly err from what is fit, in glorifying Him Who is not by Nature God? They err, it seems, in calling Him Who is honoured with equal honour Lord of Sabaoth. Or shall we not say, that the highest Powers, Principalities Thrones and Dominions and Lordships, essay, after their power, to appear conformed to God? For if the so small animal of the earth, in respect of that creation, I mean man, be honoured with such beauty, what reason has one not for fully thinking, that to them who are far better than we, far better things are allotted? How then do they both call Him Lord of Sabaoth, and stand around as a guard, as ministering to the King of the universe? why sitteth He with the Father, and that on His Right Hand, the bond with the Lord, the creature with the Creator? For is it not fitter to bring that which by means of heed and wariness is free from passion and perfect, to the level of things originate rather than of God by Essence Who hath Naturally the inability to suffer? But it is manifest, though they confess it not. Who then will endure these babblers, or how will they not with reason hear, Woe to them that are drunken without wine

But perchance they will be ashamed of the absurdities of such arguments, and will betake themselves to this, and say, that the Son was sealed by the Father unto a most accurate Likeness, and is Unchangeable in Nature, even though He be not from the Father.

How then, tell me, will that which is not of God by Nature, bear His Attribute, and that be found not without share-essentially of the Excellences of the Divine Essence, which proceeded not therefrom, after the true mode of generation? For it is, I suppose, clear and confessed by all, that the Properties of the Godhead are wholly unattainable by the created nature, and that the qualities belonging to It by Nature will not exist in ought else that is, in equal and exact manner: as for example, Immutability is in God Naturally; in us by no means so, but a kind of stability likens us thereto, through heed and vigilance not suffering us readily to go after those things which we ought not. But if it were possible, that according to them, ought of Divine Attributes should be in any who is not of the Divine Nature Essentially, and that they should be so in him as they are in It; what (tell me) is to prevent all things God-befitting from at length coming down even upon those who are not by nature gods? For if one of them unhindered finds place (I mean Immutability) there will be room for the rest also, and what follows? utter confusion. For will not the superior pass below, and the inferior mount up into the highest place? And what is there yet to hinder even the Most High God from being brought down to our level, and us again from being gods even as the Father, when there no longer is or is seen any difference intervening, if the qualities which belong to God Only pass to us, and are in us naturally? And since God the Father contains in Himself Alone, as it seems, those Properties whereby we should be as He, we have remained men, and the angels likewise with us what they are, not mounting up to That which is above all. For if God should reveal Himself not Jealous, by putting His Own Attribute into the power of all, many surely would be those who were by nature gods, able to create earth and heaven and all the rest of the creation. For the Excellencies of Him Who is by Nature the Creator having once passed on, how will not they be as He is? or what prevents that which is radiant with equal goods from appearing in equal glory? But the God-opposer surely sees completely, how great the multitude of strange devices which is hence heaped up upon us and exclaims against the mislearning that is in him. The Godhead then will remain in Its Own Nature, and the creature will partake of It through spiritual relationship, but will never mount up unto the Dignity that unchangeably belongs to It. But our argument being thus arranged, we shall find that Immutability exists Essentially in the Son: He is then God by Nature, and of necessity of the Father, lest ought that is not of Him by Nature should reach to an equal dignity of Godhead.

But since they hold out to us as an incontestable argument their saying that the Son is other than the Father, as Image to archetype, and through this subtlety think to sever Him from the Essence of Him That begat Him, they shall be caught in no slight folly, and to have studied their assertion to no purpose, of any force in truth to accomplish fairly what they have at heart. For what further are they vainly contending for, or whence do they from only the distinctness of His own Being, sever the Son from the Father? For the fact that He exists Personally does not (I suppose) prove that He is diverse from the Essence of Him who begat Him. For He is confessedly of the Father, as being of His Essence; He is again in the Father, by reason of His being in Him by Nature; and you will hear Him say, at one time, I proceeded forth from the Father, and am come, again at another time, I am in the Father and the Father in Me. For He will not withdraw into a Personality wholly and completely separated, seeing that the Holy Trinity is conceived of as being in One Godhead; but being in the Father, in mode or position undivided as to consubstantiality, He will be conceived of as likewise of Him, according to the Procession which ineffably manifesteth Him in respect of beaming forth. For He is Light of Light. Therefore in the Father and of the Father, alike Undivided and separate, in Him as Impress, but as Image to Archetype will He be conceived of in His Own Person. But we will not simply discourse concerning this, but will confirm it by example from the Law, on all sides fortifying the force of truth against those who think otherwise.

The Law then appointed to the children of Israel to give to every man a ransom for his poll, half a didrachm. But one stater contains a didrachm. Yea and herein again was shadowed out to us Christ Himself, Who offered Himself for all, as by all, a Ransom to God the Father, and is understood in the one drachma, but not separately from the other, because that in the one coin, as we said before, two drachmae are contained. Thus may both the Son be conceived of in respect of the Father, and again the Father in respect of the Son, Both in One Nature, but Each Separate in part, as existing in His own Person, yet not wholly severed, nor One apart from the Other. And as in the one coin were two drachmae, having equal bulk with one another, and in no ways one less than the other; so shalt thou conceive of the in nought differing Essence of the Son in respect of God the Father, and again of the Father in respect of the Son, and thou shalt at length receive wholesome doctrine upon all points spoken of concerning Him.

28 They said therefore unto Him, What shall we do, that we might work the work of God? 29 Jesus answered and said unto them,

Not of good purpose is the enquiry, nor yet as one might suppose does the question proceed from desire of knowledge on their part, but is rather the result of exceeding arrogance. For as if they would deign to learn nought beyond what they knew already, they well nigh say something of this sort, Sufficient, good Sir, to us are the writings of Moses: we know as much as we need of the things at which he who is skilful in the works of God ought to aim. What new thing then wilt Thou supply, in addition to those which were appointed at that time? what strange thing wilt Thou teach, which was not shewn us before by the Divine words? The enquiry then is rather of folly, than really of a studious will. You have something of this kind in blessed Matthew too. For a certain young man, overflowing with not the most easily-gotten abundance of wealth, was intimating that he would enter upon the due service of God. When he came to Jesus, he eagerly enquired what he should do, that he might be found an heir of everlasting life. To whom the Lord saith, Thou knowest surely the commandments, Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not bear false witness, and the like. But he, as lacking none of these things, or even not accepting an exposition of teaching which fell far short of his existing practice, says, All these things have I kept from my youth up, what lack I yet? what then he did joining haughtiness to ignorance in his question, what lack I yet, the same do these too through their over much arrogance alike and self-conceit, saying, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?

A good thing then is a low conceit, and it is the work of a noble soul, to commit to her teachers the thorough knowledge of what is profitable, and so to yield to their lessons, which they think it right to instil, seeing they are superior in knowledge. For how shall they be accepted at all as teachers, if they have not superiority of understanding above what the mind of their pupils hath, since their advance will scarcely end at the measure of their masters’ knowledge, according to the word of the Saviour, The disciple is not above his Master, and, It is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master?

This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom HE sent.

Most severely doth the Lord, even though secretly as yet and obscurely, attack the folly of the questioners. For one would suppose, looking merely at the simple meaning of the words, that Jesus was commanding them nothing else, save to believe on Him: but on examining the intent of the words, he will see that they refer to something else. For full well does He arrange His discourse suitably to the folly of the questioners. For they, as though they learnt sufficiently through the Law how to work what was well-pleasing to God, blasphemously neglect the teaching of our Saviour, saying, what shall we do, that we might work the work of God? But it was necessary that He should shew them, that they were still very far removed from the worship most pleasing unto God, and that they knew no whit of the true good things, who cleaving to the letter of the law, have their mind full of mere types and forms. Therefore with some great emphasis does He say, opposing the fruit of faith to the worship of the Law, This is the work of God that ye believe on Him whom HE sent. That is, it is not what ye supposed (He says) looking to the types alone; but know ye, even though ye will not learn it, that the Lawgiver took no pleasure in your sacrifices of oxen, nor needest thou to sacrifice sheep, as though God willed and required this. For what is frankincense, though it curl in the air in fragrant steam, what will the he-goat profit (saith He) and the costly offerings of cinnamon? God eateth not the flesh of bulls, nor yet drinketh He the blood of goats: He knoweth all the fowls of the Heaven, and the wild beasts of the field are with Him. But He hath hated and despised your feasts, and will not smell in your solemn assemblies, as Himself saith: nor spake He unto your fathers concerning whole burnt offerings or sacrifices. Therefore not this is the work of God, but rather that, that ye should believe on Him whom He sent. For of a truth better than the legal and typical worship is the salvation through faith and the grace that justifieth than the commandment that condemneth.

The work then of the pious soul is faith to Christ-ward, and more excellent far the zeal for to become wise in the knowledge of Him, than the cleaving to the typical shadows. You will marvel also at this besides: for whereas Christ was wont to take no notice of those who questioned Him, tempting Him, He answers this for the present economically (even though He knew that they would be nothing profited) to their own condemnation, as He says elsewhere too, If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloke for their sin.

30 They said therefore unto Him, What sign doest THOU then, that we may see and believe Thee? what dost Thou work? 31 our fathers ate the manna in the desert, as it is written, Bread from Heaven gave He them to eat.

The disposition of the Jews unveils itself by little and little, although hidden and as yet buried in less overt reasonings. For they were saying in their folly, What shall we do that we might work the works of God? as if, as we said before, they held the commandment through Moses sufficient to conduct them to all wisdom, whereby they might know how to perform what was well-pleasing unto God. But their aim being such was concealed, but is now being unveiled, and by little and little comes forth more plainly. For nothing is secret, as the Saviour says, that shall not be made manifest. What then (are they saying) What sign shewest THOU? The blessed Moses was honoured (he says) and with great reason, he was set forth as a mediator between God and man. Yea and he gave too a sufficient sign, for all they that were with him ate the manna in the wilderness. But do THOU at length, since Thou comest to us in a position greater than his, and dost not shrink from adding to the things decreed of old, with what signs wilt Thou give us a warrant, or what of wondrous works dost Thou shewing us, introduce Thyself as the Author of more novel doctrines unto us? Hereby too is our Saviour’s word shewn to be true: for they are convicted by their own words of thinking that they ought to seek Him, not to admire Him for those things which He had in God-befitting manner wrought, but because they did eat of the loaves and were filled. For they demand of Him a sign, not any chance one, but such as (they thought) Moses wrought, when not for one day, but for forty whole years, he fed the people that came out of Egypt in the wilderness, by the supply of manna. For, knowing nothing at all (it seems) of the Mysteries in the Divine Scriptures, they did not consider that it was fit to attribute the marvellous working hereunto to the Divine power which wrought it, but very foolishly crown the head of Moses for this. They therefore ask of Christ a sign equal to that, giving no wonder at all to the sign which had been shewn them for a day, even though it were great, but saying that the gift of food ought to be extended to them for a long time. For that even so hardly would He shame them into confessing and agreeing that most glorious was the Power of the Saviour, and His Doctrine therefore to be received. Manifest then is it even though they do not say it in plain terms, that they wholly disregard signs, and under pretext of marvelling at them, are zealous to serve the impure pleasure of the belly.

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