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

That the Only-Begotten is Alone by Nature the Son from the Father, as being of Him and in Him.

18 No man hath seen God at any time; the Only-Begotten God, Which is in the Bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.

SEE again herein the vigilance of the Spirit-clad. He was not ignorant that some would surely say, bitterly searching into the things which are spoken of the Only-Begotten: You said, good sir, that you had beheld His Glory, the glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father: then when you ought to unfold to us the explanation of this and to tell us some thing God-befitting and due, you made your demonstration from His superiority to Moses and to the measure of John, as though one could not in any other way see His Glory, although the blessed Prophet Isaiah says, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up and His train filled the temple. Above it stood the Seraphim, each one had six wings, with twain he covered his face and with twain he covered his feet and with twain he did fly; and one cried unto another and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory: Ezekiel again cried openly to us that he both saw the Cherubim, having a firmament like a sapphire resting upon their heads, and upon a throne likewise the Lord of Hosts: his words are these, And there was a voice, says he, from the firmament that was over their heads, and above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it: and I saw as the colour of amber, from the appearance of his loins even upwards and from the appearance of his loins even downwards, I saw as it were the appearance of fire and it had brightness round about, as the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.

Since therefore it was not unlikely that not a few of the more unlearned would say some such things to us, needs does the blessed Evangelist hasten to cut short their attempts, saying, No man hath seen God at any time; for the Only-Begotten Himself being God, Which is in the bosom of God the Father, made this declaration to us, saying most clearly to the hierophant Moses, There shall no man see My Face and live: and sometime to His own disciples, Not that any man hath seen the Father, save He Which is of God, He hath seen the Father. For to the Son Alone That is by Nature is the Father visible and that in such wise as one may think that the Divine Nature Divinely sees and is seen, and to none other of things which are. Yet will the speech of the holy Prophets in no way be false when they cry aloud that they saw the Lord of Hosts: for they do not affirm that they saw that very essential Thing that the Nature of God is, but they themselves too openly cry out, This is the appearance of the likeness of the Glory of the LORD. Therefore the fashion of the Divine Glory was darkly formed out of things such as are ours, and was rather a likeness giving things Divine as it were in a picture, while the truth of them mounts up to excellence above mind and speech. Most excellently then does the most wise Evangelist saying, And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, bring in the demonstration thereof from His superiority to all. For like as from the beauty of the creatures proportionably is the Power of the Creator of all beheld, and the heavens without voice declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handy work: so again will the Only-Begotten be proved superior in Glory and more resplendent, surpassing apprehension, as regards the power of the eye, as God; and wherein He surpasses the creature, therein deemed of and glorified as being above it. Such thought then and no other I deem that the words now before us are replete with. But we must note again that he both calls the Son Only-Begotten God, and says that He is in the Bosom of the Father, that He may be shewn again to be outside of any connaturality with the creature and to have His own proper Being of the Father and in the Father. For if He is verily Only-Begotten God, how is He not Other in nature than they who are by adoption gods and sons? For the Only-Begotten will be conceived of not among many brethren, but as the Only one from the Father. But since, while there are as Paul saith many who are are called gods in heaven and earth, the Son is Only-Begotten God, He will clearly be outside of the rest and will not be reckoned among those who are gods by grace, but will rather be Very God with the Father. For so does Paul conjoin Him, saying to us, But to us One God the Father of Whom are all things, and One Lord Jesus Christ by Whom are all things. For the Father being by Nature One God, the Word That is of Him and in Him will not remain external from being God, eminent in the ownness of Him Who begat Him, and ascending essentially to equal Dignity, because He is by Nature God.

Therefore does he say that He is in the Bosom of the Father, that you may again conceive His being in Him and of Him according to what is said in the Psalms: From the womb before the day-star begat I Thee. For as here he puts From the womb, because of His being of Him and that really, from likeness of things belonging to us (for things born of men proceed from the womb); so too when he says in the bosom, he would plainly shew the Son all but in the womb of the Father which begat Him forth, (as it were in some Divine gleaming forth and unspeakable forth-come unto His own Person1), but which yet possesses Him, since not by cutting away or division after the flesh, did the Divine Offspring come forth of the Father. And indeed the Son somewhere says that He is in the Father and has again the Father in Him. For the very own of the Father’s Essence passing essentially into the Son, shews the Father in Him, and the Father again has the Son rooted in Himself in exact sameness of Essence and begotten of Him, yet not by division or interval of place, but inherent and ever co-existing; thus rather shall we piously understand that the Son is in the Bosom of the Father, not as some of those who are wont to fight against God have taken it, whose damnation is just: for they pervert all equity, as the Prophet says, undoing the ears of the simpler ones and sinning without heed against the brethren, for whom Christ died.

What it is then that these both think and say and try to teach others, we must needs say. When the holy Evangelist says that the Son is in the Bosom of God the Father, and the children of the Church think rightly, and affirm that He is therefore of the Father and in the Father, and contend and that aright, that the true mode of Generation must be preserved; straightway they that are drunk with all unlearning laugh outright and even dare to say: Your opinion, sirs, is all nonsense: for not well-instructedly do ye think of God, deeming that because the Son is said to be in the Bosom of the Father, He is therefore wholly of His Essence, and foolishly imagining that He is the Fruit of the Inoriginate Nature. For have ye not heard, say they, in the Gospel parables, when Christ Himself was discoursing of the Rich man and Lazarus, that it came to pass that Lazarus died and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom? will ye then grant, because Lazarus was in the bosom of Abraham, that therefore he is of him and in him by nature, or will ye not rightly refuse to say this, and yourselves too with us allow that love is meant by the “bosom”? we say therefore that the Son is in the Bosom of God the Father, instead of in His love, as Himself also says, The Father loveth the Son.

But when the fault-finders hit us with these words, though they be zealous to nought but railing, then we too will answer them, arraying against them the right word of the truth: The bosom, good sirs, according to you means love: for this we just now heard you say. Shall we then, since God loved the world, as the Saviour saith, and The Lord loveth the gates of Sion, according to the holy Psalmist, fearlessly say that both the world itself and the gates of Sion are in the bosom of God the Father? And when He says too to the hierophant Moses, Put thine hand into thy bosom, does He bid him, tell me, love his hand and not rather keep it hidden? Then how shall we not incur great laughter hereby, yea rather how shall we not behave with impiety towards the Father Himself, if we say that all things are in His Bosom, and make that common to the rest which is the special prerogative of the Only-Begotten, in order that the Son may have nought above the creature?

Hence bidding good bye to their ill-counsel, we will go on the straight road of thoughts of the Truth, when the Son is said to be in the Bosom of the Father, conceiving of Him as of Him and in Him: and accurately taking in the force of the thought, we shall find it thus and not otherwise. The Only-Begotten God, he says, Which is in the Bosom of the Father, He hath declared. For when he said Only-Begotten and God, he straightway says, Which is in the Bosom of the Father, that He may be conceived of as Son of Him and in Him Naturally, saying Bosom of the Father instead of Essence, as by corporeal simile. For things manifest are types of things spiritual, and things among us lead us by the hand to the apprehension of the things which are above us: and the corporal things are often taken in the way of image and introduce to us the apprehension of subtler thoughts, even though they be in their proper time understood as they were uttered, as I mean that to Moses, Put thine hand into thy bosom. And it will no way hurt our argument to say that Lazarus was laid in Abraham’s bosom, but will aid it rather and will go along with our thoughts. For the Divine Scripture says so to speak thus: Lazarus having died and deceased from his life in the body, was carried into Abraham’s bosom, instead of “was numbered among Abraham’s children.” For “I have made thee a father of many nations,” said God to him, for so is it somewhere written of him, For a father of many nations have I made thee.

19 And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? 20 And he confessed and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.

The Evangelist recalls his own words and endeavours to explain to us more fully (doing exceeding well) what he had already told us told us briefly as in summary. For having said There was a man sent from God, whose name was John: the same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, needs does he bring in the mode also of the witness given by him. For when, he says, the chiefs of the Jewish divisions after the Law, sent priests and Levites to him, bidding them ask him, what he would say of himself, then very clearly did he confess, spurning all shame for the truth’s sake. For he said, I am not the Christ. Therefore neither do I, says he, the compiler of this Book, lie saying of him, He was not the Light but to bear witness of the Light.

21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? and he saith, I am not. Art thou that Prophet? And he answered, No.

Having said by way of explanation, he confessed, I am not the Christ; he tries to shew how or in what manner the confession was made; and he appears to me to wish thereby to lay bare the ill-instructedness of the Jews. For professing them selves to be wise they became fools, and puffed up at their knowledge of the Law, and ever putting forward the commandments of Moses and asserting that they were perfectly instructed in the words of the holy Prophets, by their foolish questions they are convicted of being wholly uninstructed. For the hierophant Moses saying that the Lord should be revealed as a Prophet foretold to the children of Israel, The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me, unto Him shall ye hearken; according to all that thou desiredst of the Lord thy God in Horeb. The blessed Isaiah, introducing to us the fore-runner and fore-messenger, says, The voice of one crying in the wilderness Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight: and in addition to these the Prophet Joel says of the Tishbite (he was Elias) Behold, I send you Elijah the Tishbite who shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

There being then three, who were promised should come, Christ and John and Elias, the Jews expect that more will come, that they may rightly hear, Ye do err not knowing the Scriptures. For when they enquired of the blessed Baptist and learned that he was not the Christ, they answer, What then? art thou Elias? and on his saying I am not, when they ought to have asked respecting the fore-runner (for he it was that remained) they ignorantly return to Christ Himself, Who was revealed through the Law as a Prophet. For see what they say, not knowing what was told them through Moses, Art thou the Prophet? and he answered, No. For he was not the Christ, as he had already before declared.

22 What sayest thou of thyself? 23 I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.

He accuses them sharply as knowing nothing, and accredits the design or purpose entrusted to him by Prophetic testimony. For I come, he says, to say nothing else than that He, The Looked for, is at length at the doors, yea rather the Lord within the doors. Be ye ready to go whatsoever way He bids you, ye have gone the way given you through Moses, take up that by Christ: for this the choir of the holy Prophets foretold you.

A setting forth of sayings concerning the way that is after Christ.

Isaiah. Come ye and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.

The same. And an highway shall be there and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; no lion shall be there nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, but the redeemed shall walk there.

The same. I will give beginning to Sion, and will exhort Jerusalem unto the way.

The same. And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not: I will lead them in paths that they have not known.

Jeremiah. Stand ye in the ways and see and ask for the old paths, where is the good way and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.

What then is the good way and that purifies those who walk in it, let Christ Himself say: I am the Way.

24 And they had been sent from the Pharisees.

They who were sent from the Jews (they were Levites and certain of those who belonged to the priesthood) were convicted of asking foolish questions. For supposing that Christ was one person, the Prophet declared by the Law another, they said, after the holy Baptist had said, I am not the Christ, Art thou the Prophet? But lo, the multitude of the Pharisees also is caught in conceit of wisdom rather than having really an accurate knowledge of the Divine oracles. For why, it says, baptizest thou at all, if thou be not the Christ nor Elias neither the Prophet? and they are shewn again to be full of no small senselessness against the Baptist. For they do not, it seems, vouchsafe to put him in the number of those expected, but sick with the haughtiness that was their foster-sister, they deem that he is nought, albeit he be fore-announced by the Prophet’s voice. For though they heard, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness Prepare ye the way of the Lord: receiving not his word, they rebuke him without restraint saying after this sort: There is nought in thee, Sir, worthy of credit, nor wondrous nor great: why baptizest thou even at all? why dost thou, who art absolutely nothing, take in hand so great a thing? It was the habit of the ungodly Pharisees to act thus, to disparage one who was already come, to pretend to honour one who was to come. For in order that they might always procure for themselves honours at the hand of the Jews, and might procure to themselves incomes of money, they desire that none save themselves should appear illustrious. For thus slew they the heir Himself also, saying Come let us kill Him and let us seize on His inheritance.

26 I baptize with water.

Much enduringly does the blessed Baptist bear with the fault finders: and very seasonably does he make the declaration regarding himself a basis of saving preaching: and teaches those who were sent from the Pharisees now even against their will that Christ was within the doors. For I, he says, am bringing in an introductory Baptism, washing those defiled by sin with water for a beginning of penitence and teaching them to go up from the lower unto the more perfect. For this were to accomplish in act, what I was sent to preach, Prepare ye, I mean, the way of the Lord. For the Giver of the greater and most notable gifts and Supplier of all perfection of good things, standeth among you, unknown as yet by reason of the veil of flesh, but so much surpassing me the Baptist, that I must deem myself not to have the measure even of a servant’s place in His Presence. For this I deem is the meaning of, I am not worthy to unloose His shoe-latchet.

And in saying what is true, he works something else that is useful, for he persuades the haughty Pharisee to think lowlily, and brings himself in as an example of this.

But he says that these things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, putting this too as a sign of accurate and careful narration. For we are all accustomed, so to speak, in our accounts of things that require it to mention also the places where they happened.

Cyril Arch-Bishop of Alexandria on the Gospel according to John, Book I.


CHAPTER 1. That the Holy Ghost is in the Son, not by participation, nor from without, but Essentially and by Nature: on the words, And John bare record, I saw the Spirit descending from Heaven like a dove and It abode upon Him.

CHAPTER 2. That the Son is not in the number of things originate, but above all, as God and of God, on the words, He that cometh from above is above all.

CHAPTER 3. That the Son is God and of God by Nature, on the words, He that hath received His testimony, hath set to his seal that God is true.

CHAPTER 4. That not by participation are the Properties of God the Father in the Son, but Essentially and by Nature, on the words, The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His Hand.

CHAPTER 5. That the Son is not in the number of worshippers, in that He is Word and God, but rather is worshipped with the Father, on the words, Ye worship ye know not what, we know what we worship.

CHAPTER 6. That the Son is not inferior to the Father, either in power, or in operation for any work, but is Equal in Might, and Consubstantial with Him, as of Him and that by Nature, on the words, The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do: for what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

CHAPTER 7. That nought of God-befitting dignities or excellences is in the Son, by participation, or from without, on the words, For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.

CHAPTER 8. That the Son being God and of God by Nature, and the Exact Image of Him Who begat Him, hath equal honour and glory with Him, on the words, That all men should honour the Son even as they honour the Father.

CHAPTER 9. That the Son is in nothing inferior to God the Father, but is of Equal Might in operation as to all things, as God of God, on the words, I can of Mine own Self do nothing: as I hear, I judge.

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