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

That the Son is by Nature Light and therefore not originate, but of the Essence of God the Father, as Very Light from Very Light.

And the Life was the light of men.

IN these words too does the blessed Evangelist shew us that the Son is by Nature God and Essentially Heir of the good things of Him Who begat Him. For having taught before that being by Nature Life, He was in all things that were made by Him, holding them together and quickening them and granting them of His unutterable Power to pass from not being into being, and preserving them when made, he advances to another train of ideas, from all sides minded to lead us by the hand unto the apprehension of the truth, as was right. Therefore in things made was the Word, as Life. But since the rational living creature among them on earth recipient both of mind and knowledge and participant of the wisdom that is from God, is man, needs does the Spirit-bearer shew us clearly the Word as Bestower of the wisdom that is in man, that God the Father may be conceived of being all things in all through the Son;—life in them that lack life, light again and life in them that lack life and light. And therefore he says, And the Life was the light of men, that is, God the Word Who quickeneth all things, the Life in all that are, both enlighteneth the rational creature, and lavisheth understanding upon those who are recipient of understanding: that so that may be kept and have full force that is said to the creature, for what hast thou that thou didst not receive? For nought of wealth from itself hath the originate and created nature, but whatever it is seen to possess, this is surely of God, Who bestoweth both being, and how one ought to be. And well was the was put of the life, that it might signify in every way the eternal Being of the Word, and might cut off the triflings of those void of understanding, who introduce to us the Son, of the things that are not, which manifestly warreth against the whole of Divine Scripture.

In regard then of the Eternity of the Word with the Father;—having already sufficiently gone through it both in the present Book, and in that called the Thesaurus, we deem that we may be silent. But what the mind of the words before us introduces, this with all readiness examining to the extent of our power, we will be diligent to profit both ourselves and those who shall hereafter read it, God again opening to us both doors and a mouth to our words.

What then will the fighter against Christ say to us, when he learns that the Life, that is, the ever-living God the Word, is the Light of men? What arguments will he sling at us, when we come forward and say, If the Son be not by Nature God, and Fruit of the Essence That begat Him, if He have not beamed forth to us Very Light from Very Light, but Himself too being from without is subordinated according to your unlearning: He is connatural with things made, and will in no wise escape being originate. How then, O ye filled full of all folly, doth He illuminate, they receive illumination from Him? For is not that which illuminates one thing, that which is illuminated another? but this is plain and clear to every one. For if we grant that they are the same, as regards kind of essence and the mode of existence, what is there more in that which has power of illumining, what again less in that which lacketh light? For whatsoever cometh, will come to both of them, and apart to each, and that which is in need of light will be light, and the light will not differ from the illumined. But great is the confusion of ideas manifest herein, and necessity of reason severs each of the things named and puts in its own proper nature the supplier herein apart from the supplied. Not therefore connatural with things made is the Son, but He will abide in the Essence of the Father, being Very Light of Very Light.

And it were nothing hard, by transferring the method of reasoning in the foregoing, which we made concerning the Son being by Nature Life, and demonstrated that He is Other than the things wherein He is, to give clear proof in this chapter too.—But in order not to leave the labour of this to others, nor to appear overmastered by sloth, I myself will endeavour, so far as I can, to transfer the form of argument used in the foregoing reasonings. For as in those, He being Life by Nature, is shewn to be Other than those wherein He is, so here too, said to be and in verity being the Light of men, He will be found to be Other than things that lack light and partake thereof; as we shall see more clearly in the following.

Proofs by demonstrations, that the Son who illumineth is Other than the creation that is illumined.

If the Word was in the things spoken of, as Light by Nature, immingling Himself by means of participation in things that are, He is then Other than the things wherein He is believed to be. But He That is by Nature Other than what the creation participant of Him and by Him illumined is, how will He not needs be the God Who is over all?

Another. If the fighter against God says that the ‘Son being by Nature Light is in things originate as originate, illumining things that lack light:—first of all He will “be conceived of as being in Himself, then besides, He will Himself be partaker of Himself and Light, if being in things originate, He one and the same be conceived to be of them. But he that has applied his heart unto wisdom, as it is written, sees surely how great the absurdity of thinking thus. Therefore if the Word Who illuminateth them is by participation in things originate. He will not Himself be among the participants and illumined, but Other therefore than they. And if so, He is then not originate, but as Light by Nature and God in things that lack Light.

Another. If the Son be not of the Essence of God the Father, but being from without He have subordinated Him according to them, He is then originate and created: how then is He in things made, enlightening them? or what special shall we find any longer in the Divine Essence? or how does the most wise Psalmist say as something marvellous of Him “Who is by Nature God, In Thy Light shall we see light? For if the Son being originate illumines all things, the creation will illumine itself, having no wise need thereto of God its Maker. There is then nothing more in God than in the creature, and it inworks no less than God could do. But this is absurd. The Son then is not originate, but God rather, and therefore Light by Nature, as is the Father.

Another of the same. If the Son being the Light of God the Father (as is said, In Thy Light shall we see Light and, O send out Thy Light and Thy Truth), is originate and brought into being, there is no longer ought to hinder, by equal analogy, all things originate from being called the Light of God the Father. For if the nature of things created at all admits this, it will be in potential common to them all, and not the own property of the One Son. But this is absurd: for to the Son Alone will it pertain to be called and to be the Light of God the Father. Not therefore originate is He, but Light, as God from God Who illumineth through Him things lacking light.

Another. If the Son being by Nature Light is not of the Essence of the Father, but being from without is subordinated, according to the uninstructed speech of the fighters against God, it follows that He is connatural and kin to things created, as having forsooth fallen away from the Divine Essence. How then is He called and is Light, but of the holy Baptist it is said, He was not the Light, albeit the blessed Baptist is light in potential, and not he alone, if it be once granted that the Son being originate, can be by Nature Light? For that which has once had place in the nature, is I suppose common to each that partakes of such nature, according to the law of consequence. But John was not Light, the Son Light. Other therefore by Nature is He and not connatural with things made.

Another of the same. If the Son being by Nature Light is originate and created, as not possessing forsooth the being of the Essence of God the Father, as some surmise, the nature of things originate will admit of being and being called light; it will be altogether light according to the law of potential. For that which has in its nature to be anything, will I suppose surely be so, even if it have not yet been. Since then the being light is common to the nature of things originate, and the property in aloneness of none, why in vain does the Son vaunt of Himself, saying, I am the Light? for He ought I suppose to say, I am with you the Light. But since He puts it about Himself Alone as His own proper good, joining to Himself no one else, He clearly classes Himself, not with things originate, but with the Divine Essence of God the Father, whereto belongs the being by Nature Light.

Another. That which is participate of light is not in its own right the Light; for it is clearly one thing in another. If then the Son be by participation in things originate, as Light; He will be other than those that partake of Him and lack Light. Therefore not originate is He, nor seeking, as things originate, to be illumined by another: it remains therefore that He is God and able to illuminate. If so, He will be conceived of also as sprung of the Essence of the Father, if we worship One God, and serve none other than the True God.

Another. Accurately testing the nature of things that are, we behold God and the creature, and nought else besides. For whatever faileth of being by Nature God, is wholly originate, and whatever escapeth the category of being made, is wholly and entirely within the limits of Divinity. Since then we have established this, let them tell us who thrust forth the Son from being of the Essence of God the Father, how Ho can illumine as Light, seeing the Divine Nature retaineth this as Its own, and yields it to none else. But if the Son being originate, can be also Light, the grace of this excellence will surely overtake all things originate, and all will be by nature light. What further need then have they of participation with the Son, or what more will they gain hence, having themselves too the being by nature light, even as the Son hath it in them? But the creature does need the Illuminator, not having this of its own. God then by Nature is the Son, and therefore Light, as able to illumine things that lack Light.

Another. The Son being by Nature Light, is either Other than the creature, in regard that is of the mode of being, or connatural with it. If then He be cognate and consubstantial, vainly, as it seems, did He come to us saying, I am come a Light Into the world; for the creation has of its own itself also the being light: but light is imparticipate of light, that it may be understood to be light. But if He be not connatural, but the creature lack light to whom belongs, What hast thou that thou didst not receive? needs will the Son escape being originate, withdrawing from the creation together with Himself His own proper good. For the creature will not be by nature light, but rather lacking and participate of light.

Another. If nought be participate of itself and the creature partake of the Son as Light: He is not a creature, nor yet the creature Light, which the Son is.

Another. If to illumine be one thing, to be illumined another, as action and passion, and the Son illumines, the creature is illumined; therefore not the same is Son and creature, since neither is the inworker with the inwrought.

5 And the Light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.

Needs does the most wise Evangelist hasten to expand to us by this too that is now before us the thought expressed above. For he did not think, I suppose, that it would suffice to the hearers unto being able to think unerringly of God the Word, that He is verily the Light of men, by only saying, And the Life was the Light of men. For it was like I suppose that some would arise who should hear the things uttered without weighing them, and should moreover set forth or try to teach others also that the Word of God is indeed verily Light, but not Giver of light to all, but in whomsoever He will He infuses the light of understanding, approving him who ought to receive it and is worthy of so bright a gift: and that the nature of the rest of the rational creation either gets the power of understanding from its natural seed, or God the Father ingrafts into it mind and understanding, as though the Son were unable to do this. In order then that God the Word, Who was in God the Father, may be clearly shewn to be both Life and Light, not of some individually, of others not, but by some ineffable mode of participation, as wisdom and understanding (which is what is called light in things rational), immingling Himself in all things that are, that the things rational may become rational, and things recipient of sense may have sense, which in no other way they could have had:—needs does he say, And the Light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehended it not.

As though he with all exactitude crieth aloud to his hearers after this sort: I said, sirs, teaching the truth with all my power, that the Life was the Light of men, not that any should suppose from these words that they who shew themselves righteous and good receive from another, as the reward of their conduct, the illumination from Him, but that ye might learn, that as the Word is Life in all things that have been made, quickening things recipient of life; so He is in them Light also, rendering things recipient of understanding and sense, what they are. For God the Father through the Son in the Spirit is all things in all.

Darkness he calls the nature that lacks illumination, i. e. the whole originate nature. For since he calls Him the Light, to shew that the rational creation which lacks and is imparticipate thereof is other than It, he turns the force of the epithet used to the very contrary, doing this also, after my judgment, not without an aim, but considering in himself this above all, that the nature of things originate, producing nothing whatever from its own self, but receiving its whole being and well-being such as it is from its Creator, has rightly said to it, What hast thou that thou didst not receive? And since along with the rest, it has light itself also God-given, not possessing it does it receive it: but that which has not of itself light, how will it not be the contrary, or how will it not be called darkness? For that the Light shineth in darkness is a credible demonstration (yea rather one following from very necessity), that the creation is darkness, the Word of God Light. For if the nature of things originate receive the Word of God by participation, as Light, or as of Light: it receives it thenasitself darkness,and the Son shineth in it, as the light doth in darkness, even though the darkness know not a whit the Light. For this, I suppose, is the meaning of The darkness comprehended it not. For the Word of God shineth upon all things that are receptive of His Irradiance, and illumineth without exception things that have a nature receptive of illumining. But He is unknown of the darkness. For that which is the rational nature upon earth, I mean man, served the creature more than the Creator: it comprehended not the Light, for it knew not the Creator, the Fountain of wisdom, the beginning of understanding, the root of sense. Things originate possess nevertheless, of His love to man, the light, and are provided with the power of perception implanted concurrently with their passing into being.

But we must again note here, that no argument will permit to suppose that the Son of God is originate or created, but in every way does He surpass our measure, and rise above the nature of the creature, and is wholly Other than they are and far removed as regards quality of essence, even as the light is not the same as darkness, but soothly contrary and parted by incomparable diversity into physical alieniety.

Having now sufficiently gone through the method of reasoning hereupon in the foregoing, we will go on to what follows.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light.

Having before explained about God the Word, and most accurately gone through the things whereby He is shewn to be by Nature Son of God the Father, he fortifies their faith in what they had already heard by his words. And since (according to what was said by God through Moses), At the mouth of two and three witnesses shall every word be Established, wisely does he bring in addition to himself the blessed Baptist, and introduces him along with himself a most noteworthy witness. For he did not suppose that he ought, even if of gravest weight, to demand of the readers in his book concerning our Saviour credence above that of the law, and that they should believe him by himself when declaring things above our understanding and sense.

Therefore the blessed Evangelist himself testifies that The Word was in the beginning and the Word was God and was in the beginning with God and that all things were made by Him, and He was in the things made as Life, and that the Life was the Light of men, that by all these he might shew that the Son is by Nature God. And the Divine Baptist too testifies in addition to him, crying aloud, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God. For soothly one will say that He is Very God, in Whom is by Nature inherent the dignity of lordship and it accrues not to any other rightly and truly, since to us there is one God the Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ, as Paul saith; and though there be many called gods by grace and lords both in heaven and earth, yet the Son is One with the Father Very God.

Therefore, most noteworthy is the pair of holy witnesses, and credence no longer capable of blame is due to the things said, both as having received the fulness of the law, and supported by the notability of the persons. For the blessed Evangelist then to say ought concerning himself, and to take hold of his own praises, were in truth burdensome and moreover ill-instructed. For he would rightly have heard, Thou bearest record of thyself, thy record is not true. Therefore he commits to those who know him to form their opinion of him, and goes to his namesake, doing well in this too, and says that he was sent by God. For it behoved him to shew that not of his own accord nor with self-invited zeal does the holy Baptist come to his testimony respecting our Saviour, but yielding to the commands from above, and ministering to the Divine Will of the Father … Wherefore he says, There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

But we must notice how unerringly and fitly he expressed himself as to each, and correspondently to the nature of the things indicated. For in the case of God the Word, was is fitly introduced indicating every way His Eternity, and His being more ancient than all beginning that is in time, and removing the idea of His having been created. For that which always is, how can it be conceived of as originate? But of the blessed Baptist, befittingly does he say, There was a man sent from God, as of a man having an originate nature. And very unerringly does the Evangelist herein seem to me not merely to say that There was, but by adding the word a man, to overthrow the most unadvised surmise of some.

For already was there a report bruited of many, commonly saying that the holy Baptist was not really a man by nature but one of the holy angels in heaven, making use of human body and sent by God to preach. And the plea for this surmise they found in its being said by God, Behold I send My messenger before Thy Face, which shall prepare Thy way before Thee. But they err from the truth who imagine thus, not considering that the name of Angel is indicative of ministry rather than of essence, even as in the history of the blessed Job messengers one after the other run to announce his manifold sufferings and ministering to those incurable afflictions. Something like this does the most wise Paul himself define respecting the holy angels, writing thus: Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?

John the blessed Baptist then is called an angel by the mouth of the Lord, not as being actually by nature an angel, but as sent to announce and crying aloud, Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Very profitably does he declare moreover that the angel was sent by God, shewing that his witness is most sure. For he that was sent by God, to preach, would not utter anything in his teaching that was not wholly according to the will of Him Who put the mission on him. True therefore is the witness as being God-taught. For the most wise Paul also telling us that he was sent by Jesus Christ, affirmed that he learned the power of the mystery not of any other, but by revelation of Him Who sent him, signifying the revelation in sum so to say and briefly, in saying that he was sent by Jesus Christ. Hence the being God-taught wholly follows on being sent by God. And that freedom from lying is wholly the aim of the ministers of the truth is undoubted.

The man’s name he says was John. It needed that he who was sent should be recognized by the mark of the name, which introduces, as I suppose, great authenticity to what is said. For an angel (namely Gabriel that stand in the presence of God, as himself says) when he declared to Zacharias the good tidings of his birth of Elizabeth, added this to what he said, namely that his name shall be John. It is I suppose clear and confessed by all that he was so named of the angel according to the Divine purpose and appointment. How then will not he who was crowned by God with so great honour be conceived of as above all praise? Wherefore the mention of his name is profitably and necessarily brought in.

But since the Evangelist has added that the holy Baptist was sent by God for a witness that all men through him might believe, we will further say when our opponents fall foul and say, “Why did not all believe the God-sent? how came” he who was fore-appointed by the decree from above to be “powerless to persuade any?”—It is meet, sirs, that we should not blame John for want of zeal herein, but should exclaim against the obstinacy of those who disbelieved. For so far as pertains to the aim of the herald, and the mode of his apostolate from above, none would have been found imparticipate in the teaching, nor would have remained in unbelief: but since there was diversity of disposition in the hearers and each has power over his own free-choice, some receiving not the faith missed what was profitable. Wherefore we must say to them (as it is in the prophet), He that heareth, let him hear; and he that forbeareth, let him forbear.

This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light.

The word This is full of declaration of virtue and praise of person. For he that was sent, he says, from God, he that with reason struck with astonishment the whole of Judæa, by the gravity of his life and its marvellous exercise in virtue, he that is fore-announced by the voice of the holy Prophets: called by Isaiah, The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, and by the blessed David, a lamp fore-ordained for Christ; This man came for a witness to bear witness of the Light. He here calls God the Word Light, and shews that He is One and strictly the very actual Light, with Whom there is by nature nought else that has the property of illumining, and that is not lacking light. Therefore foreign and, so to say’ of other nature than the creature is the Word of God, since verily and truly is He strictly Light, the creature participate of light. He then that is unclassed with things made, and conceived of therefore as being of other nature than they, how will He be originate, rather how will He not be within the limits of Deity and replete with the Good Nature of Him who begat Him?

8 He was not the Light, but was sent to bear witness of the Light.

The Baptist having esteemed desert-abodes above the haunts of the cities, and having shewn forth an unwonted persistence in exercise of virtue, and having mounted to the very summit of the righteousness attainable by man, was most rightly wondered at, and even by some imagined to be Christ Himself. And indeed the rulers of the Jews led by his achievements in virtue to some such notion, send some to him bidding them to inquire if he be the Christ. The blessed Evangelist then not ignorant of the things that were by many bruited of him, of necessity puts, He was not the Light, that he might both uproot the error as to this, and again build up some weight of credence to him who was sent from God for a witness. For how is he not eminent exceedingly, how is he not every way worthy of marvel, who is so clad with great virtue and so illustrious in righteousness as to imitate Christ Himself, and by the choice beauty of his piety, to be even imagined to be the Light Itself?

He was not then, says he, the Light, but sent to bear witness of the Light. In saying the Light, with the addition of the article, he shews that it is really one: for so it is in truth. For that both the blessed Baptist and each of the other saints, may be rightly called light we will not deny, seeing that it is said of them by our Saviour, Ye are the light of the world. And again it is said of the holy Baptist, I have ordained a lamp for My Christ, and, He was a turning and a shining light, and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light. But even though the saints be light, and the Baptist a lamp, we are not ignorant of the grace that was given them and of their supply from the Light. For neither is the light in the lamp its own, nor the illumination in the saints, but they are rendered bright and lightsome by the enlightening of the Truth and are lights in the world, holding forth the word of life. And what is the Life, whose word they holding forth are called light, save surely the Only-Begotten, Who saith, I am the Life? Therefore, One of a truth is That Which is verily Light, lighting, not enlightened: and by participation of the One, whatever is called light, will be so deemed of by imitation of It.

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