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

That the soul of man does not exist prior to the body, nor is the embodiment as some say a consequence of former sins.

Which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

SURE is the Divine, for he not only thinks that he ought to declare that the Only-Begotten is indeed the Very Light, but he adds forthwith to the things that he has said the demonstration thereof, all but crying aloud with most earnest voice, I say that He is the Very Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

Do then, (may one say who would fain receive the Divine doctrines not without search,) the angels not lighten the mind of men? Cornelius, tell me, from whom did he learn that he must by Baptism be saved by God? And Manoah the father of Sampson, was he not by an angel’s voice fore-instructed of things to come? The Prophet Zechariah likewise does he not clearly tell us, And the angel that talked with me said unto me I will shew thee what these be? And again going through the same words, does he not clearly shew that angels used to reveal the knowledge of hidden things spiritually to him? And behold, says he, the angel that talked with me went forth and another angel went out to meet him and said unto him Run, speak to this young man saying, Jerusalem, shall be inhabited as towns without walls for the multitude of men and cattle therein. What, tell me, does not the most wise Daniel too, falling in with marvellous visions, gain through the voice of angels the revelation of the things beheld by him? For hear him saying And it came to pass when I, I Daniel had seen the vision and sought for the meaning, then behold there stood before me as the appearance of a man, and I heard a man’s voice between the banks of Ulai which called and said Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision. Hence the power of lighting is in angels, and not only in them, but even man too borrows illumination from man. And of a truth that Eunuch eager after learning when he understood not the prophecies about our Saviour says to Philip, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the Prophet this? of himself or of some other man? And they who hasten to this world’s teachers, go to them I suppose for no other reason than this alone. And why do we yet linger in these things, when it is in our power to free ourselves easily, producing as proof what was said by our Saviour to the holy Apostles, Ye are the light of the world?

Such things is it like that one in his perplexity will say, but he will hear from us the reply, We see my friend that in the creature is what is compound, and nought of simple is in it: hence he who can give wisdom to others, if he be originate, is not wisdom itself, but a minister of the wisdom that is in him: for in wisdom is the wise man wise. And he who teaches the prudent, is not prudence itself, but the minister of prudence that is in him; for in prudence are these too prudent. And he again who has skill to enlighten others, is not the light itself, but the lender of the light that is in him, imparting it to others also by teaching, and communicating to the rest the good that he has received. Wherefore it was said to the holy Apostles also, Freely ye have received, freely give. For whatever goods there were in them, these were surely God-given, and the nature of men may not a whit boast itself of its own goods, nor yet that of the holy Angels. For after the being called into being, each of things that are has of God the mode of its existence, and we lay it down for certain that nought is in them essentially which is not a gift of the liberality of Him Who created, and has for its root the Favour of the Maker.

Since therefore things originate are compound, there will be in them no light strictly and simply or without compound, but this too with everything else they will have of participation and receiving it of God. But the Very Light, is that which lightens, not which is lighted of another; and this the Only-Begotten is, considered in simple and uncompounded nature: for the God-head withdraws from ought of double.

These things then are thus. But the opponent will haply say again to us, If the saints were not by nature light, why did the Saviour call them not partakers of light, but light? And how is the creature other in nature than He, if as He is called Light, so too is the rational creation? For Ye are the light of the world, did the disciples hear.

What then, excellent sir, will we reply? Sons of God and gods are we called by the Divine Scriptures, according as it is said, I have said Ye are gods and all of you are children of the Most High. Shall we then, leaving off being what we are, mount up to the Divine and unutterable Essence, and deposing the Word of God from His very Sonship, in place of Him sit with the Father and make the kindness of Him Who honours us a pretext for impiety? God forbid; but the Son will be unchangeably in that which He is, we, adopted unto sonship and gods by grace, not ignorant of what we are: and in this way do we believe that the saints are light.

I think that we should consider and look at this also. The rational portion of the creation being enlightened enlightens by participation of ideas out of the mind inpoured into another’s understanding, and such sort of enlightenment will rightly be called teaching rather than revelation. But the Word of God lighteth every man that cometh into the world, not after the manner of teaching, as the angels for example or men, but rather as God after the mode of creation He engrafteth in each of those that are called unto being, the seed of wisdom or of Divine knowledge, and implanteth a root of understanding and so rendereth the living creature rational, shewing it participate of His own Nature, and sending into the mind as it were certain luminous vapours of the Unutterable Brightness, in way and mode that Himself knoweth: for one may not, I deem, say on these subjects anything overmuch. Therefore our forefather

Adam too is seen to have attained the being wise not in time, as we, but straightway from the first beginnings of his being does he appear perfect in understanding, preserving in himself the illumination given of God to his nature as yet untroubled and pure, and holding the dignity of his nature unadulterated.

The Son therefore lights after the manner of creation, as being Himself the Very Light, and by participation with the Light the creature shines forth, and is therefore called and is light, mounting up to what is above its nature by the kindness of Him Who glorified it and Who crowneth it with divers honours, so that each one of those who have been honoured, may with reason come forth and lifting up prayers of thanksgiving, sing with loud voice, Bless the Lord O my soul and forget not all His benefits, Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, Who healeth all thy diseases, Who redeemeth thy life from destruction, Who crowneth thee with loving kindness and tender mercies, Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things. For verily doth the Lord mercies, rendering those that are little and a mere nothing according to their own nature, great and worthy of marvel through His Goodness toward them, even as He has, as God, willed to adorn us ungrudgingly with His own goods, and hence calls us gods and light, and what of good things does He not call us?

What does he say next? That He was in the world. Profitably does the Divine add this also, introducing thereby a thought most needful for us. For when he said, He was the Very Light which lighteth every man coming into the world, and it was not wholly clear to the hearers, whether it meant that the Light lighteth every man that cometh into the world, or that the Very Light itself, passing as from some other place into the world, maketh its illumination of all men: needs does the Spirit-bearer reveal to us the truth and interpret the force of his own words, saying straightway of the Light, that He was in the world: that hence you might understand the words coming into the world of man, and that it might be predicated rather of the enlightened nature, as being called out of not being into being. For like a certain place seen in thought is the not being to things originate, whence in a sort of way passing into being, it takes at length another place, that namely of being. Hence more properly and fitly will the nature of man admit of itself that it was lighted immediately from the first periods, and that it received understanding coincident and co-fashioned with its being from the Light Which is in the world, that is the Only-Begotten, Who fills all things with the unspeakable light of the God-head, and is present with the angels in Heaven, is with those on the earth, leaves not even Hellitself empty of His God-head, and everywhere abiding with all removes from none, so that with reason does the most wise Psalmist marvelling thereat say: Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy Presence? If I ascend up into Heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in Hell, behold Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy Hand lead me, and Thy Right Hand shall hold me. For the Divine Hand graspeth every place and all creation, holding together into being things made and drawing together unto life things lacking life, and implanting the spiritual light in things recipient of understanding. Yet It is not in place, as we have already said, nor does it endure motion of place (for this is the property of bodies), but rather fulfils all things as God.

But perhaps some one will say to this, What then do we say, good sir, when any brings forward to us Christ saying, I am come a light into the world? what when the Psalmist speaks, O send out Thy Light and Thy Truth? For lo here He Himself clearly says that He is come into the world, as not being in it, that is: and the Psalmist again was entreating that He Who was not yet present should be sent, according, that is, to the meaning of the words, and its declaration of His being sent to us.

To this we say, that the Divine having clad the Only-Begotten with God-befitting dignity says that He is ever and unceasingly in the world, as Life by Nature, as Light by Essence, fulfilling the creation as God, not circumscript by place, not meted by intervals, not comprehended by quantity, neither compassed at all by ought, nor needing to pass from one place to another, but in all He dwells, none He forsakes: yet he asserted that He came in the world (although present therein) by the Incarnation. For He shewed Himself upon earth and conversed with men with flesh, making His Presence in the world more manifest thereby, and He Who was aforetime comprehended by idea, seen at length by the very eyes of the body also, implanted in us a grosser so to speak perception of the knowledge of God, made known by wonders and mighty deeds. And the Psalmist entreats that the Word of God may be sent to us to enlighten the world, in no other way as seems to me, but in this. But I think that the studious should consider this again, that keener is the mind than all speech, sharper the motion of the understanding than the tongue. Hence as far as pertains to the delicacy of the mind and its subtil motion, we behold the varied beauty of the Divine Nature: but we utter the things respecting it in more human wise and in the speech that belongs to us, the tongue not being able to stretch forth unto the measure of the truth. Wherefore Paul too, the steward of the Mysteries of the Saviour, used to ask of God utterance to open his mouth. Nought then will the poverty of our language hurt the Natural Dignities of the Only-Begotten, but what belongs to Him will be conceived of after a Divine sort, but will be uttered as matter of necessity in more human wise, both by Him for our sakes and by the Saints of Him according to the measure of our nature.

It were then, it seems, not amiss to be content with what has been already said in explanation of the words before us. Yet since I deem that the pen that ministers to the Divine doctrines should be above sloth, come let us bringing forward the lection again examine more exactly how the words coming into the world predicated of man, as is fit, should be understood. For the light was in the world, as the Evangelist also himself testified to us, and we have maintained that it was not the Light that cometh into the world but rather the man who is being lighted. Some therefore say, belching forth of their own heart and not out of the mouth of the Lord, as it is written, that the souls of men were pre-existent in Heaven before the fashioning of their bodies, passing long time in un-embodied bliss, and enjoying more purely the true Good. But when the sate of better things came into them and, declining at length to the worser, they sank to strange thoughts and desires, the Creator justly displeased sends them forth into the world, and entangled them with bodies of earth compelling them to be burdened therewith, and having shut them as it were in some cave of strange pleasures, decreed to instruct them by the very trial itself, how bitter it is to be carried away to the worser, and to make no account of what is good.

And in proof of this most ridiculous fable of theirs, they wrest first of all this that is now before us: He was the Very Light Which lighteth every man coming into the world, and, besides, certain other things of the Divine Scripture, such as, Before I was afflicted I went astray, and moreover not ashamed of such foolish prating say, Lo the soul says that before its humiliation, that is, its embodiment, it transgressed and that therefore it was justly afflicted, brought in bondage to death and corruption, even as Paul too stileth the body saying O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? But if the soul, he says, goeth astray before it was afflicted, it also cometh into the world, as having that is a previous being (for how could it sin at at all if it existed not yet?); and cometh into the world, setting out that is from some quarter. Such things as these they stringing against the doctrines of the Church and heaping up the trash of their empty expositions in the ears of the of the faithful will rightly hear, Woe unto the foolish prophets that follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! For visions in truth, and auguries by birds and prophecies of their own heart they setting against the words spoken by the Spirit, do not perceive to how great absurdity their device will run; as the Psalmist says unto God, Thou, Thou art to be feared: and who may stand in Thy Sight when once Thou art angry?

But that it is most exceedingly absurd to suppose that the soul pre-exists, and to think that for elder transgressions it was sent down into bodies of earth, we shall endeavour to prove according to our ability by the subjoined considerations, knowing what is written, Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.

Thoughts or considerations of a complex kind in the way of demonstration.

1. If the soul of man have existence prior to the formation of the body, and, declining to evil according to the surmises of some, has for punishment of its transgression a descent into flesh, how, tell me, does the Evangelist say that it is lighted on coming into the world? For this I suppose is honour and the addition of fair gifts. But not by being honoured is one punished, nor yet chastised by being made recipient of the Divine good things, but by meeting with what is of the wrath of the punisher. But since man on his coming into the world is not in this condition, but on the contrary is even lighted, it is I suppose clear that he that is honoured with flesh has not his embodiment for a punishment.

2. Another. If before the body the soul were a mind yet pure, living in bliss, and by turning aside to ill fell, and therefore came to be in flesh, how is it lighted on its entry into the world? For one must needs say that it was destitute of light before it came: if so, how any longer was that pure mind which had then scarce a beginning of being lighted, when it came into the world, and not without flesh?

3. Another. If the soul of man existed before the body; and the mind therefore existed yet pure, attached more properly to the desire of good things, but from turning aside to the worser is sent into earthly body, and being therein, no longer rejects the will to transgress, how is it not wronged, not then specially entrusted with the doing of this, when it existed with a greater aptness for virtue, not as yet in bondage to the ills that proceed from the body, but when it had come into the turbid waters of sin, then out of season compelled to do this? But the Divinity will not miss of the befitting time, nor that injure to Whose Nature doing injury belongeth not. In season then and rightly do we refuse sin when in the flesh, having this season alone of being, in which with bodies we come into the world, leaving the former not being, as though a certain place, and from it passing into a beginning of being.

4. Another. What reason is there, I would fain ask them, in the soul that sinned prior to the body being sent into the body, that it might learn by experience the disgrace of its own lusts? For they are not ashamed to set forth this too, although it ought rather to have been withdrawn from the very imagination of its ills, not thrust down to the very depth of base pleasures. For this rather than the other were a mode of healing. If then it has the embodiment an increase of its disease in order that it may revel in the pleasures of the body, one would not praise the Corrector, injuring that which was sick by the very means whereby He thought to advantage it. But if it has it in order that it may cease from its passions, how is it possible that it having fallen into the very depth of lust should arise, and not rather have spurned the very beginning of the disease, while it was free from that which dragged it down into sin?

5. Another. If the soul in pre-existence transgressed and was for this reason entangled with flesh and blood, receiving this in the nature of punishment, how is it not the duty of them who believe in Christ and who received thereby the remission of sin, to go forthwith out of their bodies and to cast away that which is put about them as a punishment? How, tell me, does the soul of man have perfect remission while yet bearing about it the method of its punishment? But we see that they who believe are so far from wishing to be freed from their bodies, that together with their confessions in Christ they declare the resurrection of the flesh. No method of punishment then will that be which is honoured even with the confession of the faith, witnessing, through its return back to life, to the Divine Power of the Saviour the being able to do all things easily.

6. Another. If the soul pre-existing according to them sinned and was for this reason entangled with flesh, why does the Law order the graver offences to be honoured with death, and suffer him who has committed no crime to live? For I suppose that it would rather have been right to let those who are guilty of the basest ill linger long in their bodies, that they might be the more heavily punished, and to let those who had committed no crime free from their bodies, if the embodiment ranks as a punishment. But on the contrary, the murderer is punished with death, the righteous man suffers nothing in his body. The embodiment does not therefore belong to punishment.

7. Another. If souls were embodied for previous sins, and the nature of the body were invented as a species of punishment for them, how did the Saviour profit us by abolishing death? how was not rather decay a mercy, destroying that which punished us, and putting an end to the wrath against us? Hence one might rather say that it were meeter to give thanks to decay than on the contrary to Him Who laid on us endless infliction through the resurrection of the dead. And yet we give thanks as freed from death and decay through Christ. Hence embodiment is not of the nature of punishment to the soul of man.

8. Another from the same idea. If the souls of men were entangled with earthly bodies in satisfaction of elder transgressions, what thank tell me shall we acknowledge to God Who promises us the Resurrection? For this is clearly a renewal of punishment and a building up of what hurts us, if a long punishment is clearly bitter to every one. It is then hard that bodies should rise which have an office of punishment to their wretched souls. And yet nature has from Christ, as a gift renewing it unto joy, the resurrection. The embodiment is not therefore of the nature of punishment.

9. Another. The Prophetic word appears as publishing to us some great and long desired-feast. For, says it, the dead shall arise, and they that be in the tombs shall he raised. But if the embodiment were indeed of the nature of punishment to the wretched souls of men, how would not the Prophet rather sorrow when proclaiming these things as from God? How will that proclamation be in any way good which brings us the duration of what vexes us? For he should rather have said, if he wished to rejoice those who had received bodies by reason of sin, The dead shall not arise, and the nature of the flesh shall perish. But on the contrary he rejoices them saying that there shall be a resurrection of bodies by the will of God. How then can the body wherein both ourselves rejoice and God is well pleased be (according to the uncounsel of some) of the nature of a punishment?

10. Another. God, in blessing the blessed Abraham promised that his seed should be as the multitude innumerable of the stars. If it be true that the soul sinning before the body is sent down to earth and flesh to be punished, God promised to the righteous man, an ignoble multitude of condemned, runagates from good, and not a seed participant of blessing. But God says this as a blessing to Abraham: hence the origin of bodies is freed from all accusal.

11. Another. The race of the Israelites spread forth into a multitude great and innumerable. And indeed justly marvellous at this does the hierophant Moses pray saying to them, And behold ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude: the Lord God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as ye are. But if it were punishment to the souls of men to be in the world with bodies, and they must needs so be, and not bare of them, Moses’ saying will be found to be verily a curse, not a blessing. But it is not so, it was made as a blessing: the embodiment therefore is not of the nature of punishment.

12. Another. To those who attempt to ask amiss God endures not to give. And an unlying witness to us will be the disciple of the Saviour, saying, Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss. If then it were a punishment to a soul to be embodied, how would not one with reason say that Hannah the wife of Elkanah missed widely of what was fit, when she so instantly poured her prayer unto God and asked for a man child. For she was asking for the downfall of a soul and its descent into a body. How then came God to give her the holy Samuel as her son, if it were wholly of necessity that a soul should sin, in order that so, entangled with a body, it might fulfil the woman’s request. And yet God gave, to Whom it is inherent to give only good things and, by readily assenting to her, He frees her request from all blame. Hence embodiment is not a result of sin, nor yet of the nature of punishment as some say.

13. Another. If the body has been given as a punishment to the soul of man, what induced Hezekiah the king of Jerusalem, although good and wise, to deprecate not without bitter tears the death of the body, and to shrink from putting off the instrument of his punishment, and to beseech that he might be honoured with an increase of years, although he surely ought, if he were really good, not to have deprecated death, but to have thought it a burden to be entangled with a body and to have acknowledged this rather than the other as a favour. And how did God promise him as a favour saying, Behold I will add unto thy days fifteen years, albeit the promise was an addition of punishment, not a mode of kindness, if these set forth the truth? Yet the promise from above was a gift and the addition a kindness. Hence the embodiment is not a punishment to souls.

14. Another. If the body is given to the soul of man in the light of punishment, what favour did God repay to the Eunuch who brought up Jeremiah out of the dungeon, saying, I will give thy life for a prey and will save thee from the Chaldeans? For He should rather have let him die that He might also honour him, releasing him from the prison and punishment. What tell me did He give to the young men of Israel, in delivering them from the flame and from the cruelty of the Babylonians? why did He rescue the wise Daniel from the cruelty of the lions? But verily He doeth these things in kindness and is glorified because of them. The dwelling in the flesh is not then of the nature of punishment, in order that honour and punishment at God’s hands may not be one and the same.

15. Another. Paul teaching ns that there shall be in due time an investigation before the Divine Judgment-seat of each man’s life says, For we must all appear before the judgement-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he done, whether it be good or bad. But if it be only for the things done in the body that a man either receiveth punishment at the hands of the Judge, or is accounted worthy of befitting reward, and no mention is made of prior sins, nor any charge previous to his birth gone into: how had the soul any pre-existence, or how was it humbled in consequence of sin, as some say, seeing that its time with flesh is alone marked out, for that the things alone that were done in it are gone into?

16. Another. If souls were embodied on account of previous sins, how does Paul write to us saying, Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God? For if in the nature of punishment they were given to our wretched souls, how should we present then for an odour of a sweet smell to God? how will that be acceptable through which we received our sentence? or what kind of virtue at all will that admit of, whose nature is punishment, and root sin?

17. Another. Shewing that corruption is extended against the whole nature of man, because of the transgression in Adam, Paul saith, Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression. How then does he say that death reigned even over them that had not sinned, if the mortal body were given us in consequence of former sins? For where at all are they that have not sinned, if the embodiment be the punishment of faults, and our being in this life with our body is a pre-existing charge against us? Unlearned then is the proposition of our opponents.

18. Another. The Disciples once made enquiry of our Saviour concerning one born blind, and said, Master who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? For since it is written in the prophetic Scriptures, of God, that He visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, the disciples began to imagine that such was the case with this man. What then does Christ say to this? Verily I say to you, neither hath this man sinned nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. How then does He exempt them from sin, although not free from blame as to their lives? for being men, they were surely liable also to faults. But it is manifest and clear that the discourse pertains to the period prior to birth, during which they not yet existing, neither had they sinned, that Christ may be true.

19. Another. The blessed Prophet Isaiah explaining the reason of the earth being made says, He created it not in vain, He formed it to be inhabited. But it was altogether right that the earth should be inhabited, not filled with bare spirits, nor with fleshless and unclad souls, but with bodies suitable to it. Was it then Divine Counsel that wrought that souls should sin, in order that the nature of bodies should also come into being, and thus at length the earth be shewn to have been created not in vain? But this is absurd; the other therefore has the better.

20. Another. Wisdom the Artificer of all things says of herself in the book of Proverbs I was she in whom He rejoiced, the Creator of all that is, and I daily rejoiced always before Him when He rejoiced in having consummated the world and took delight in the sons of men. When then on His completion of the world, God rejoices exceedingly in the forming of man, how will he not be bereft of all sense who subjects the soul to previous sins and says that it was therefore embodied, and was punished after this fashion? For will not God be the maker of a prison rather than a world? will He not be delighting contrary to reason in those who are undergoing punishment? And how will He be Good who delights in things so absurd? But verily He is Good and therefore the Maker of things good: the embodiment will not therefore be of the nature of punishment.

21. Another. If the soul of man by its entanglement with flesh pays the penalty of transgressions prior to its birth in the world, and the body occupies the position of a punishment to it, why was the Flood brought in upon the world of the ungodly, and Noah being upright was preserved and has this recompense of his faith from God? For ought not rather those who had sinned exceedingly to have lingered longer time in the body that they might be punished also more severely, and the good to have been set free from their bonds of flesh and received the release from the body as the recompense of their piety toward God? But I suppose that the Creator of all being Righteous lays on each rank the sentence due to it. Since then He being Righteous punishes the ungodly with the death of the body, gladdens again the righteous with life together with the body: bodies are no punishment to the souls of men, that God be not unrighteous, punishing the ungodly with favour, honouring again the righteous with punishment.

22. Another. If to pay the penalty of previous offences the soul has descended into flesh and body, how did the Saviour love Lazarus, raising him, and compelling him who was once set free from his bands to return to them again? But Christ did it helping him and as a friend did He honour the dead by raising him from the dead. To no purpose then is the proposition of the opponents.

23. Another. If, as those in their nonsense say, the body was given to the soul in the light of a punishment, devised on account of former sin of its, it was sin that brought in the nature of human bodies. But again also death entered by sin: sin therefore clearly appears arming itself against itself, undoing the beginning by what follows, and Satan is therefore divided against himself, how then shall his kingdom stand? as our Saviour saith. But verily so to think is incredible: the contrary therefore is true.

24. Another. God created all things in incorruption and He made not death, but through envy of the devil came death into the world. But if it be true, that the body was given in nature of punishment to the soul of man, why, sirs, should we accuse the envy of the devil for bringing in to us the termination of wretchedness and destroying the body which is our punishment? And for what in the world do we offer thanks to the Saviour for having again bound us to the flesh through the resurrection? yet we do indeed give thanks, and the envy of the devil has vexed our nature, procuring corruption to our bodies. No mode of punishment then is the body nor yet is it the wages of our former sin.

And the world was made by Him.

The Evangelist in these words needfully indicates that the world was made through the Very Light, that is, the Only-Begotten. For although, having called Him most distinctly Word at the beginning, he affirmed that all things were made through Him and that without Him nothing was brought into being, and demonstrated thereby that He was their Maker and Creator: yet it was necessary now most particularly to take this up again anew, that no room of error and perdition might be left to those who are wont to pervert the uprightness of the Divine dogmas. For when he said of the Light that it was in the world, that no one wresting the saying to senseless conceptions, should make the Light connumerate with the visible portions of the universe (as sun and moon and stars for example are in the world, but as parts of the universe, and as limbs of one body), profitably and of necessity does the Evangelist introduce the Only-Begotten as Fashioner and Artificer of the whole universe, and thereby again fully stablishes us and leads us into an unerring and right apprehension of the truth. For who would be so silly or have such great folly in his mind, as not to conceive that wholly other than the universe is He through Whom it is said to have been made, and to put the creature in its own place, to sever off the Creator in reasoning and to conceive that His Nature is Divine? For the thing made must needs be other in nature than the Maker, that maker and made appear not the same.

For if they be conceived of as the same, without any inherent distinction as to the mode of being, the made will mount up to the nature of the Maker, the Creator descend to that of the creatures, and will no longer have Alone the power of bringing into being, but this will be found to exist in potential in things made also, if nothing at all severs them from being consubstantial with God: and so at length the creature will be its own creator and the Evangelist will endow the Only-Begotten with a mere title of honour when he says that He was in the world, and the world, was made by Him. But he knows that the Creator of all things is One in Nature. Not as the same then will made and Maker, God and creature be conceived of by those who know how to believe aright, but the one will be subject as a bondman, acknowledging the limit of its own nature: the Son will reign over it, having Alone with the Father the power both to call things which he not as though they were and by His ineffable Power to bring that which is not yet into being.

But that the Son being by Nature God, is wholly Other than the creature, we having already sufficiently gone through in the Discourse of the Holy Trinity, will say nothing more here. But we will add this for profit, that in saying that the world was made through Him he brings us up to the thought of the Father, and with the “Through Whom” brings in also the “Of Whom.” For all things are from the Father through the Son in the Holy Ghost.

And the world knew Him not.

The bearer of the Spirit is watchful and hastens to forestall the sophistry of some; and you may marvel again at the reasoning in his thoughts. He named the Son Very Light, and affirmed that He lighteth every man that cometh into the world, and besides says that He was in the world and the world was made through Him.

But one of our opponents might forthwith say, “If the Word, sirs, were light and if it lighted the heart of every man, unto Divine knowledge that is and unto the understanding that befits man, and if it were always in the world and were Himself its Maker, how came He to be unknown even during so long periods? He therefore was not lighting nor yet was He at all the Light.”

These things the Divine meets with some warmth saying The world knew Him not: not on His own account was He unknown, says he; but let the world blame its own weakness. For the Son lighteth, the creature blunts the grace. It had imparted to it sight to conceive of Him Who is God by Nature, and it squandered the gift, it made things made the limit of its contemplation, it shrank from going further, it buried the illumination under its negligence, it neglected the gift which that it might not befall him Paul commands his disciple to watch. Nought then to the light is the ill of the enlightened. For as the light of the sun rises upon all, but the blind is nothing profited, yet we do not therefore reasonably blame the sun’s ray, but rather find fault with the disease of the sight (for the one was lighting, the other received not the lighting): so (I deem) ought we to conceive of the Only-Begotten also, that He is Very Light. But the god of this world, as Paul too saith, hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the knowledge of God should shine among them. We say then that the man was subjected to blindness herein, not that he reached a total deprivation of light (for the God-given understanding is surely preserved in his nature) but that he was quenching it with his more foolish manner of life and that by turning aside to the worse he was wasting and melting away the measure of the grace. Wherefore the most wise Psalmist too when representing to us the character of such an one, then indeed (and rightly) begs to be enlightened, saying to God, Open Thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law. For He gave them the law to be their help, which re-kindled in us the Divine Light and purged away like a sort of humour from the eyes of the heart the darkness which came upon them from the ancient unlearning.

The world then is under the charge of unthankfulness alike and want of perception in this matter, both as ignorant of its own Creator, and shewing forth no good fruit from being lighted, that that again may be manifestly true of it, which was sung by prophet’s voice of the children of Israel, I looked that it should bring forth grapes, but it brought forth thorns. For the fruit of being enlightened is verily the true apprehension of the Only Begotten, hanging like a grape-bunch from the vine branch, I mean man’s understanding, and not on the contrary the uncounsel that leads to polytheistic error, like the sharp briar rising up within us and wounding to death our mind with its deceits.

11 He came unto His own and His own received Him not.

The Evangelist pursues his plea that the world knew not its Illuminer, that is the Only-Begotten, and from the worse sin of the children of Israel, he hastens to clench the charges against the Gentiles and shews the disease of ignorance alike and unbelief which lay upon the whole world. Very appositely does he drive forward to discourse of the Incarnanation, and from speaking of the Godhead, he comes down by degrees to the exposition of the Dispensation with Flesh, which the Son made for our sakes.

For it were no marvel if the world knew not, says he, the Only-Begotten, seeing that it had left the understanding that befits man, and was ignorant that it is and was made in honour, and compared to the beasts that perish, as the Divine Psalmist also said; when the very people who were supposed above all to belong to Him shook Him off when present with the Flesh and would not receive Him when He came among them for salvation to all, recompensing to faith the kingdom of Heaven. But observe how exact is his language about these things. For the world he accuses of not at all knowing Him Who lighteth it, elaborating for it a pardon so to speak just on this account, and preparing beforehand reasonable causes for the grace given to it: but of those of Israel who were reckoned among those specially belonging to Him, he says, Received Him not. For it would not have been true to say, Knew Him not, when the older law preached Him, the Prophets who came after led them by the hand to the apprehension of the truth. The sentence therefore of severity upon them was just, even as the goodness too upon the Gentiles. For the world, or the Gentiles, having lost their relation with God through their downfall into evil, lost besides the knowledge of Him Who enlighteneth them: but the others, who were rich in knowledge through the law and called to a polity pleasing to God, were at length voluntarily falling away from it, not receiving the Word of God Who was already known to them and Who came among them as to His own. For the whole world is God’s own, in regard of its creation, and its being brought into being from Him and through Him: but Israel will more fitly be called His own, and will gain the glory hereof, both on account of the election of the holy fathers and for that he was named the beginning and the first-born of the children of God. For Israel is My son, My first-born, says God somewhere to Moses: whom also setting apart for Himself as one and picked out, He was wont to call His own people, saying to Pharaoh king of Egypt Let My people go. Proof from the books of Moses also shews that Israel specially pertains unto God. For when, it says, the Most High was dividing the nations, when he was separating the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels of God, and his people Jacob became the Lord’s portion, Israel the lot of his inheritance. Among whom He also walked, as in His own lot and special portion, saying, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

But when He was not received, He transfers the grace to the Gentiles, and the world which knew Him not at the beginning is lighted through repentance and faith, and Israel returns to the darkness whence he had come forth. Wherefore the Saviour too saith, For judgement I am come into this world, that they which see not might see, and that they which see might be made blind.

12 But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, to them that believe on His Name.

A right judgement verily and worthy of God! The firstborn, Israel, is cast out; for he would not abide in ownness with God, nor did he receive the Son, Who came among His own, he rejected the Bestower of Nobility, he thrust away the Giver of Grace: the Gentiles received Him by faith. Therefore will Israel with reason receive the wages of their folly, they will mourn the loss of good things, they will receive the bitter fruit of their own ill-counsel, bereft of the sonship; and the Gentiles will delight themselves in the good things that are through faith, they shall find the bright rewards of their obedience and shall be planted out in his place. For they shall be cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and be graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree. And Israel shall hear, Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters, they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger: but one of Christ’s disciples shall say to the Gentiles, But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should shew forth the praises of Him Who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous Light. For since they received the Son through faith, they receive the power to be ranked among the sons of God. For the Son gives what is His alone and specially and of nature to be in their power, setting it forth as common, making this a sort of image of the love for man that is inherent to Him, and of His love for the world. For in none other way could we who bore the image of the earthy escape corruption, unless the beauty of the image of the heavenly were impressed upon us, through our being called to sonship. For being partakers of Him through the Spirit, we were sealed unto likeness with Him and mount up to the primal character of the Image after which the Divine Scripture says we were made. For thus hardly recovering the pristine beauty of our nature, and re-formed unto that Divine Nature, shall we be superior to the ills that have befallen us through the transgression. Therefore we mount up unto dignity above our nature for Christ’s sake, and we too shall be sons of God, not like Him in exactitude, but by grace in imitation of Him. For He is Very Son, existing from the Father; we adopted by His Kindness, through grace receiving I have said, Ye are gods and all of you are children of the Most High. For the created and subject nature is called to what is above nature by the mere nod and will of the Father: but the Son and God and Lord will not possess this being God and Son, by the will of God the Father, nor in that He wills it only, but beaming forth of the Very Essence of the Father, He receives to Himself by Nature what is Its own Good. And again He is clearly seen to be Very Son, proved by comparison with ourselves. For since that which is by Nature has another mode of being from that which is by adoption, and that which is in truth from that which is by imitation, and we are called sons of God by adoption and imitation: hence He is Son by Nature and in truth, to Whom we made sons too are compared, gaining the good by grace instead of by natural endowments.

13 Which were begotten, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man but of God.

They who, he says, have been called by faith in Christ unto sonship with God, put off the littleness of their own nature, and adorned with the grace of Him Who honoureth them as with a splendid robe mount up unto dignity above nature: for no longer are they called children of flesh, but rather offspring of God by adoption.

But note how great guardedness the blessed Evangelist used in his words. For since he was going to say that those who believe are begotten of God, lest any should suppose that they are in truth born of the Essence of God the Father and arrive at an exact likeness with the Only-Begotten, or that of Him too is less properly said, From the womb before the Day star begat I Thee, and so at length He too should be brought down to the nature of creatures, even though He be said to be begotten of God, needs does he contrive this additional caution. For when he had said that power was given to them from Him Who is by Nature Son, to become sons of God, and had hereby first introduced that which is of adoption and grace, without peril does he afterwards add were begotten of God; that he might shew the greatness of the grace which was conferred on them, gathering as it were into kinness of nature that which was alien from God the Father and raising up the bond to the nobility of its Lord, by means of His warm love to it.

What more then, will one perchance say, or what special have they who believe in Christ over Israel, since he too is said to have been begotten of God, as in, I begat and exalted sons, but they rejected Me? To this I think one must say, first, that the Law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, did not give to the children of Israel to have even this in truth, but limned as in type and outline upon them, until the time of reformation, as it is written, wherein they should at length be manifested who should more fitly and truly call God Father, because the Spirit of the Only-Begotten dwells in them. For the one had the spirit of bondage to fear, the other the spirit of adoption unto liberty, whereby we cry Abba, Father. Therefore the people who should attain unto sonship through faith that is in Christ, were fore-described in Israel as it were in shadow, even as we conceive that the circumcision in Spirit was fore-typified in theirs of old in the flesh, and in short, all of ours were in them in type. Besides, we say that Israel was called to sonship typically through the mediator Moses. Wherefore they were baptized into him too, as Paul saith, in the cloud and in the sea, and were refashioned out of idolatry unto the law of bondage, the commandment contained in the letter being ministered by angels: but they who by faith in Christ attain unto sonship with God, are baptized into nought originate, but into the Holy Trinity Itself, through the Word as Mediator, Who conjoined to Himself things human through the Flesh which was united to Him, being conjoined of nature to the Father, in that He is by Nature God. For so mounteth up the bond unto sonship, through participation with the in truth Son, called and so to say raised up to the dignity which is in Him by Nature. Wherefore we who have received the regeneration by the Spirit through faith, are called and are begotten of God.

But since some in mad peril dare to lie, as against the Son, so against the Holy Ghost too, saying that He is originate and created, and to thrust Him forth altogether from Consubstantiality with God the Father, come let us again arraying the word of the true Faith against their unbridled tongues, beget occasions of profit both to ourselves and to our readers. For if neither God by Nature, O sirs, nor yet of God, is He Who is His Own Spirit and therefore Essentially inexistent in Him, but is other than He, and not removed from being connatural with things made, how are we who are begotten through Him said to be begotten of God? For either we shall say that the Evangelist certainly lies, or (if he is true and it be so and not otherwise), the Spirit will be God and of God by Nature, of Whom we too being accounted worthy to partake through faith to Christ-ward, are rendered partakers of the Divine Nature and are said to be begotten of God, and are therefore called gods, not by grace alone winging our flight to the glory that is above us, but as having now God too indwelling and lodging in us, according to what is said in the prophet, I will dwell in them and walk in them.

For let them tell us who are filled full with so great unlearning, how, having the Spirit dwelling in us, we are according to Paul temples of God, unless He be God by Nature. For if He be a creature and originate, wherefore does God destroy us, as defiling the temple of God when we defile the body wherein the Spirit indwells, having the whole Natural Property of God the Father and likewise of the Only-Begotten? And how will the Saviour be true in saying: If a man love Me, he will keep My Words: and My Father will love him and we will come unto him and make Our abode with him and rest in him? albeit it is the Spirit Who dwells in us, and through Him do we believe that we have the Father and the Son, even as John himself said again in his epistles. Hereby know we that we dwell in Him and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit. And how at all will He be called Spirit of God, if He be not of Him and in Him by Nature and therefore God? For if being, as those say, originate, He is the Spirit of God, there is nothing to hinder the other creatures too from being called spirits of God. For this will have already overtaken them in potential, if it is at all possible that originate essence should be Spirit of God.

And it were meet in truth to set forth a long discourse upon these things and to satiate more at length, overturning the uncounsels of the heretics. But having already sufficiently gone through what relates to the Holy Ghost, in the De Trinitate, we shall therefore forbear to say much yet.

14 And the Word was made Flesh.

He has now entered openly upon the declaration of the Incarnation. For he plainly sets forth that the Only-Begotten became and is called son of man; for this and nought else does his saying that the Word was made Flesh signify: for it is as though he said more nakedly The Word was made Man. And in thus speaking he introduces again to us nought strange or unwonted, seeing that the Divine Scripture ofttimes calls the whole creature by the name of flesh alone, as in the prophet Joel: I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh. And we do not suppose that the Prophet says that that the Divine Spirit should be bestowed upon human flesh soul-less and alone (for this would be by no means free from absurdity): but comprehending the whole by the part, he names man from the flesh: for thus it was right and not otherwise. And why, it is needful I suppose to say.

Man then is a creature rational, but composite, of soul that is and of this perishable and earthly flesh. And when it had been made by God, and was brought into being, not having of its own nature incorruption and imperishableness (for these things appertain essentially to God Alone), it was sealed with the spirit of life, by participation with the Divinity gaining the good that is above nature (for He breathed, it says, into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul). But when he was being punished for his transgressions, then with justice hearing Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return, he was bared of the grace; the breath of life, that is the Spirit of Him Who says I am the Life, departed from the earthy body and the creature falls into death, through the flesh alone, the soul being kept in immortality, since to the flesh too alone was it said, Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return. It needed therefore that that in us which was specially imperilled, should with the greater zeal be restored, and by intertwining again with Life That is by Nature be recalled to immortality: it needed that at length the sentence, Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return should be relaxed, the fallen body being united ineffably to the Word That quickeneth all things. For it needed that becoming His Flesh, it should partake of the immortality that is from Him. For it were a thing most absurd, that fire should have the power of infusing into wood the perceptible quality of its inherent power and of all but transfashioning into itself the things wherein it is by participation, and that we should not fully hold that the Word of God Which is over all, would in-work in the flesh His own Good, that is Life.

For this reason specially I suppose it was that the holy Evangelist, indicating the creature specially from the part affected, says that the Word of God became Flesh, that so we might see at once the wound and the medicine, the sick and the Physician, that which had fallen unto death and Him Who raised it unto life, that which was overcome of corruption and Him Who chased away the corruption, that which was holden of death and Him Who is superior to death, that which was bereft of life and the Giver of life.

But he says not that the Word came into flesh but that It was made Flesh, that you may not suppose that He came to it as in the case of the Prophets or other of the Saints by participation, but did Himself become actual Flesh, that is man: for so we just now said. Wherefore He is also God by Nature in Flesh and with Flesh, as having it His own, and conceived of as being Other than it, and worshipped in it and with it, according to what is written in the prophet Isaiah, Men of stature shall come over unto thee and they shall be thine: they shall come after thee; in chains they shall come over and they shall fall down unto thee, they shall make supplication unto thee, for God is in thee, and there is no God beside thee. Lo they say that God is in Him, not severing the Flesh from the Word; and again they affirm that there is none other God save He, uniting to the Word that which He bears about Him, as His very own, that is the temple of the Virgin: for He is One Christ of Both.

And dwelt among us.

The Evangelist profitably goes over again what he has said, and brings the force of the thought to a clearer comprehension. For since he said that the Word of God was made Flesh, lest any out of much ignorance should imagine that He forsook His own Nature, and was in truth changed into flesh, and suffered, which were impossible (for the Godhead is far removed from all variableness and change into ought else as to mode of being): the Divine exceeding well added straightway And dwelt among us, that considering that the things mentioned are two, the Dweller and that wherein is the dwelling, yon might not suppose that He is transformed into flesh, but rather that He dwelt in Flesh, using His own Body, the Temple that is from the Holy Virgin. For in Him dwelt all the fulness of the God head bodily, as Paul saith.

But profitably does he affirm that the Word dwelt in us, unveiling to us this deep Mystery also: for we were all in Christ, and the community of human nature mounteth up unto His Person; since therefore was He named the last Adam, giving richly to the common nature all things that belong to joy and glory, even as the first Adam what pertained to corruption and dejection. The Word then dwelt in all through one that the One being declared the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, the dignity might come unto all the human nature and thus because of One of us, I have said Ye are gods and all of you are children of the Most High might come to us also. Therefore in Christ verily is the bond made free, mounting up unto mystic union with Him Who bare the form of the servant; yet in us after the likeness of the One because of the relation after the flesh. For why doth He take on Him not the nature of angels but the seed of Abraham, whence in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, and to become in truth Man? Is it not clear to all, that He descended unto the condition of bondage, not Himself giving thereby ought to Himself, but bestowing Himself on us, that we through His Poverty might be rich, and, soaring up through likeness to Him unto His own special good, might be made gods and children of God through faith? For He Who is by Nature Son and God dwelt in us, wherefore in His Spirit do we cry Abba Father. And the Word dwells in One Temple taken for our sakes and of us, as in all, in order that having all in Himself, He might reconcile all in one body unto the Father, as Paul saith.

And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Having said that the Word was made Flesh, that is Man, and having brought Him down to brotherhood with things made and in bondage, he preserves even thus His Divine dignity intact and shews Him again full of the own Nature of the Father inherent to Him. For the Divine Nature has truly stability in Itself, not enduring to suffer change to ought else, but rather always unvarying and abiding in Its own Endowments. Hence even though the Evangelist says that the Word was made Flesh, he yet affirms that It was not overcome by the infirmities of the flesh, nor fell from Its pristine Might and Glory, when It clad Itself in our frail and inglorious body. For we saw, he says, His Glory surpassing that of others, and such as one may confess befits the Only-Begotten Son of God the Father: for full was He of grace and truth. For if one looks at the choir of the saints and measures the things that are wondrously achieved by each, one will with reason marvel and be delighted at the good things that belong to each and will surely say that they are filled with glory from God. But the Divines and witnesses say that they have seen the glory and grace of the Only-Begotten, not competing with that of the rest, but very far surpassing it and mounting up by incomparable excellencies, having no measured grace, as though another gave it, but perfect and true as in the Perfect, that is, not imported nor supplied from without in the way of accession, but essentially in-existent, and the fruit of the Father’s essential Property passing Naturally to the Son Who is of Him.

And if it seem good to any to test more largely what has been said, let him consider with himself both the deeds that are wonderfully done by each of the saints and those of our Saviour Christ and he will find the difference as great as we have just said. And there is this besides;—they are true servants about the house, He as a Son over his own house. And the Divine Scripture says of the Only-Begotten Blessed be he that cometh in the Name of the Lord, but of the saints God the Father says, I have even sent unto you all my servants the prophets. And the one were recipients of the grace from above, the other as Lord of Hosts says, If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not: but if I do, though ye believe not Me, believe My works. If then the Only-Begotten is seen by the very works to be as great in power as the Father, He will conformably be celebrated by equal honours, as the Doer of equal works, and will surely as much surpass, even when in the Flesh, those who have been called unto brotherhood, as God by Nature overleaps the limits of men, and the Very Son the sons by adoption.

But since it is written in the blessed Luke, And Jesus increased in wisdom and grace, we must observe here that the Spirit-clad said that the Son hath His glory full of grace. Whither then will that which is full advance, or what addition will that at all admit, beyond which there is nought? Hence He is said to increase, not in that He is Word and God, but because He ever more greatly marvelled at, appeared more full of grace to those who saw Him, through His achievements, the disposition of those who marvelled advancing, as is more true to say, in grace, than He Who is Perfect as God. Be these things then spoken for profit, though they be somewhat discursive.

15 John bare witness of Him and cried.

The most wise Evangelist follows again the course of his thoughts and makes the sequel duly correspondent to what preceded. For when he said of the Son of God, we beheld His Glory, the Glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father, that he might not appear to alone say this (the word we have seen not suiting a single person), he joins with himself his namesake witness, having one and the same piety with himself. I then, says he, bear witness (for I have beheld what I said), and the Baptist likewise bears witness. A most weighty pair of Spirit-clad, and a notable pair of men foster-brothers in truth and unknowing how to lie.

But see how exceeding forcible he made his declaration. For he not only says that John bears witness of Him, but profitably adds and cried, taking his proof from the words The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, and this too exceeding well. For it was possible that some of the opponents might say, When did the Baptist witness to the Only-Begotten or to whom did he impart the things regarding Him? He cried then, says he, that is, not in a corner does he utter them, not gently and in secret does he bear witness: you may hear him crying aloud more clear than a trumpet, (not you alone hearing these things,) widespread and to all is his speech, glorious the herald, remarkable the voice, great and not unknown the Forerunner.

This was He of Whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred [has become] before me, for He was before me.

Having named the witness same-minded and same-named with himself, and having shewn that he used a great voice for the service of his preaching, he profitably adds the mode too of his testimony: for it is in this in particular that the whole question lies. What then do we find the great John crying regarding the Only-Begotten? He that cometh after me has become before me for He was before me. Deep is the saying and one that demands keen search into its meaning.

For the obvious and received meaning is thus: As far as belongs to the time of the Birth according to the Flesh, the Baptist preceded the Saviour, and Emmanuel clearly followed and came after by six whole months, as the blessed Luke related. Some suppose that John said this, that it may be understood thus, He that cometh after me, in point of age, is preferred before me. But he who fixes a keener eye on the Divine thoughts may see, in the first place, that this view introduces us to futile ideas and carries us far from the needful subject of consideration. For the holy Baptist is introduced as a witness, not in order to shew that Christ was once later, then again earlier in the time of His Birth, but as a co-witness of His Glory, the Glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father full of grace and truth.

What meaning then can one give to such unseasonably introduced explanations as these? or how can one give us any clear interpretation, by understanding of time the words before us, He That cometh after me became before me? For be it laid down beyond a doubt that the Lord came after the Baptist, as being second to him in time according to the Flesh: how will He be also before him, I mean in time? for due order and sequence call us to this sense analogously to what preceded. But I think that it is evident to every one, that this is an impossibility. For that which cometh short of anything in point of time will never have the start of its leader. Hence it is a thing utterly senseless and altogether past belief, to imagine that the holy Baptist said of time after the Flesh, He that cometh after me has become before me. But understanding it rather in accordance with the line of thought that preceded, we will believe that it was said in some such sense as this. The blessed Baptist meetly carries up his mode of speaking from a customary phrase to its spiritual import, and advances as it were from an image drawn from our affairs to the exposition of subtler thoughts.

For that which leads is ever considered to be more glorious than those which are said to follow, and things which succeed yield the palm to those that precede them. As for example, he who is a skilled worker in brass, or carpenter, or weaver, takes the lead and has superiority over him who is conceived as following by being a learner and advancing to perfect knowledge. But when such an one has surpassed the skill of his teacher and leaving that behind attains to something superior, I deem that he who is surpassed may not unfitly say of his outstripping pupil, He that cometh after me, has become before me.

Transferring then after this sort the force of our idea to our Saviour Christ and the holy Baptist, you will rightly understand it. Take now the account of each from the beginning. The Baptist was being admired by all, he was making many disciples, a great multitude of those who came for Baptism was always surrounding him: Christ, albeit superior, was unknown, they knew not that He was Very God. Since then He was unknown, while the Baptist was admired, He seemed I suppose to fall short of him; He came a little after him who had still the higher position in honour and glory from men. But He That cometh after has become before, being shewn to be greater and superior to John. For the One was at length revealed by His works to be God, the other not surpassing the measure of human nature, is found at last to have become after.

Hence the blessed Baptist said darkly, He that cometh after me has become before me, instead of, He who was once behind me in honour, is beheld to be more glorious, and surpasses by incomparable excellencies the measure that befits and belongs to me. Thus understanding the words, we shall find him a witness of the Glory of the Only-Begotten and not an unseasonable setter forth of useless things. For his saying that Christ is greater than himself who has a great reputation for holiness, what else is it than witnessing to His especial glory?

For He was before me.

Having said that He has become before me, he needfully adds, For He was before me, ascribing to Him glory most ancient, and affirming that the precedence of all things accrued not to Him in time, but is inherent in Him from the beginning as God by Nature. For He was before me, says he, instead of, Always and every-way superior and more glorious. And by His being compared with one among things originate, the judgment against all is concentrated in behalf of Him Who is above all. For we do not contemplate the great and glorious dignity of the Son as consisting in this alone that He surpassed the glory of John, but in His surpassing every originate essence.

16 And of His fulness have all we received.

The Evangelist in these words accepts the true testimony of the Baptist, and makes clear the proof of the superiority of our Saviour, and of His possessing essentially the surpassing every thing originate, both in respect of glory itself (whereof he is now more especially speaking) and of the bright catalogue of all the other good things.

For most excellently, says he, and most truly does the Baptist appear to me to say of the Only-Begotten, For He was before me, that is far surpassing and superior. For all we too, who have been enrolled in the choir of the saints, enjoy the riches of His proper good, and the nature of man is ennobled with His rather than its own excellences, when it is found to have ought that is noble. For from the fulness of the Son, as from a perennial fountain, the gift of the Divine graces springing forth comes to each soul that is found worthy to receive it. But if the Son supplies as of His Natural fulness, the creature is supplied:—how will He not be conceived of as having glory not similar to the rest, but such as will beseem the Only-Begotten of God, having the superiority over all as the fruit of His own Nature, and the pre-eminence as the Dignity of His Father’s Being? And I think that the most wise Paul too when defining as to the nature of all things, was moved thereby to true ideas, so as hence at length to address the creature, For what hast thou that thou didst not receive? For together with being, the well-being after such and such wise, is God’s gift to the creature, and it has nothing of its own, but becomes rich only with the munificence of Him Who gives to it. But we must note again that he says that the Son is full, that is, All-perfect in all things, and so greatly removed from being lacking in anything whatever, that He can bestow even on all, refusing diminution, and preserving the greatness of His own excellence always the same.

17 And grace for grace, for the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

Having said that the glory of the Only-Begotten was found more brilliant than any fame among men, and introducing the greatness in holiness incomparable above all saints that is in Him, he studies to prove this from those who have mounted up to the height of virtue. Of John then the Saviour saith, Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist. But this so great and exalted man, he brought forward but now, as himself says, crying and saying with a loud voice, He that cometh after me is preferred before me for He was before me. But since John’s glory was inferior and gave place to the Only-Begotten, how must one not needs suppose that no one of the saints besides is brought up to equal measure with the Saviour Christ in regard of the glory which appears in the splendour of their actions? The Saints then that lived at the time of the Advent, not being able to surpass the virtue of John, nor mounting up to the measure that accrued to him, will with him yield the victor’s palm to Christ, if the blessed Baptist gaining the highest summit in what is good, and having failed in no manner of excellence, receives not through the voice of another the judgment of inferiority to Him, but himself sealed it against himself, speaking, as a saint, truly. But since it was necessary that Emmanuel should be shewn to be greater and better than the saints of old, needs does the blessed Evangelist come to the hierophant Moses first; to whom it was said by God, I know thee before all and thou didst find grace in My sight. For that he was known before all to God, we shall know by this again: If, he says, there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make Myself known unto him in a vision and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all Mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently and not in dark speeches. The all-wise Moses having therefore so great excellency above the elder saints, he shews that the Only-Begotten is in every way superior and of more renown, that He might be shewn in all things to have the pre-eminence, as Paul saith: and therefore he says, And grace for grace, for the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ: for I think that the blessed Evanglist would indicate something of this kind: The great Baptist, he says, made true confession declaring openly respecting the Only-Begotten, He that cometh after me is preferred before me, for He was before me, for of His fulness have all we received. And let no one suppose that the Only-Begotten surpasses John or the rest of the saints who belonged to the times of the Advent, but came short of the glory of the elder saints, who were illustrious in holiness in the times before the Advent; for he will see Him, says he, far surpassing the measure of Moses, although he possessed the superiority in holiness as compared with them; for the Lawgiver clearly affirmed that He knew him before all. John then was convicted by his own mouth of coming behind the glory of Christ: he comes short of His splendour, and there is no question at all about him, or anything to embarrass the finding out of the truth.

Whence then shall we find that the hierophant Moses himself also came short of the glory of the Lord? Let the student, he says, diligently examine the evangelic grace given to us by the Saviour, in contrast with the grace of the law that was through Moses. For then will he see that the Son was as much superior, as He is proved to be the Lawgiver of better things than the polity of the law and introducing things superior to all those which were through Moses. For the law, he says, was given through Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. What then is the distinction between the law and the grace that comes through the Saviour, let him again see who is fond of search and an ally of good labours; we will say a little out of much, believing that boundless and vast is the number of the thoughts thereto belonging. The Law therefore was condemning the world (for God through it concluded all under sin, as Paul saith) and shewing us subject to punishments, but the Saviour rather sets it free, for He came not to judge the world but to save the world. And the Law too used to give grace to men, calling them to the knowledge of God, and drawing away from the worship of idols those who had been led astray and in addition to this both pointing out evil and teaching good, if not perfectly, yet in the manner of a teacher and usefully: but the truth and grace which are through the Only-Begotten, does not introduce to us the good which is in types, nor limn things profitable as in shadow, but in glorious and most pure ordinances leads us by the hand unto even perfect knowledge of the faith. And the Law used to give the spirit of bondage to fear, but Christ the spirit of adoption unto liberty. The Law likewise brings in the circumcision in the flesh which is nothing (for circumcision is nothing, as Paul writes to certain): but our Lord Jesus Christ is the Giver of circumcision in the spirit and heart. The Law baptizes the defiled with mere water: the Saviour with the Holy Ghost and with fire. The Law brings in the tabernacle, for a figure of the true: the Saviour bears up to Heaven itself and brings into the truer tabernacle, which the Lord pitched and not man. And it were not hard to heap up other proofs besides, but we must respect our limits.

But we will say this for profit and need. The blessed Paul in few words solved the question, saying of the law and of the Saviour’s grace, For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For he says that the commandment by Moses is the ministration of condemnation; the grace through the Saviour, he calls the ministration of righteousness, to which he gives to surpass in glory, most perfectly examining the nature of things, as being clad with the Spirit. Since then the Law which condemns was given by Moses, the grace which justifies came by the Only-Begotten, how is not He, he says, superior in glory, through Whom the better things were ordained? The Psalmist then will also be true, crying aloud in the Spirit that our Lord Jesus Christ surpasses the whole illustrious multitude of the saints. For who, he says, among the clouds shall be made equal unto the Lord? or who shall be likened unto the Lord among the sons of God? For the spiritual clouds, that is the holy Prophets, will yield the palm to Christ, and will never think that they ought to aim at equal glory with Him, when he who was above all men known of God, Moses, is brought down to the second place: and they who were called sons of God at the time of the Advent, will not be wholly likened to Him Who is by Nature Son, but will acknowledge their own measure, when the holy Baptist says that he himself is far behind, of whom He That knoweth the hearts says, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist. True therefore is the blessed Evangelist, saying that he has seen His glory, the glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father, that is, which beseems the Only-Begotten Son of God the Father, and not rather those who are called to brotherhood with Him, of whom He is Firstborn.

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