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

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.

19 Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Verily verily I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do: for what things soever He doeth, these doeth also the Son likewise.

WHAT we have spoken of above, this again He interprets in another way, from all quarters snaring the hearers unto finding of the truth. For the word which was not received at first, by reason of the weakness of them that could not understand, He re-forms in another way, and going through the same thoughts introduceth it manifoldly. For this too is the work of the virtue that befits a teacher, namely not to make his word rapid and speeding beyond the knowledge of the pupils, but carefully wrought and diversely fashioned and that by frequent change of expression strips off the difficulties in the things under consideration. Mingling then human with Divine, and forming one discourse of both, He as it were gently sinks the honour befitting the Only-Begotten, and raises the nature of man; as being at once Lord and reckoned among servants, He says, The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do: for what things soever He doeth, these doeth also the Son likewise. For in that He is able to do without distinction the works of God the Father and to work alike with Him That begat Him, He testifieth the identity of His Essence. For things which have the same nature with one another, will work alike: but those whose mode of being is diverse, their mode of working too will be in all respects not the same. Therefore as Very God of Very God the Father, He says that He can do these things equally with Him; but that He may appear not only Equal in Power to the Father, but likeminded in all things, and having in all things the Will One with Him, He saith that He can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do.

Just as though He should say distinctly to those who are trying to persecute Him for healing a man on the Sabbath day, Ye deem the honour of the Sabbath broken, but I would not have done this, had I not seen My Father do the like; for He worketh for the good order of the world on the Sabbath too, even though through Me. It is then impossible (saith He) that I, the Son of Him by Nature, should not wholly in all things work and will the works of the Father, not as though I received from without by being taught the exemplar of action, or were called by a deliberate motion to will the same with the Father, but by the laws of Uncreated Nature I mount up to Equal Counsel and Action with God the Father. For the being able to do nothing of Himself, is excellently well defined herein. And thus I deem that piously minded we ought to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ, as it is written.

But perchance the opposer of the truth will disbelieve, and will make what is said the food so to say of his own ill counsel saying: “If the Son were Equal to the Father, attributing to Him no Preeminence as of necessity, by reason of the inferiority of His Own Nature, what induced Him so unconcealedly to say, that He could do nothing of Himself but what He seeth the Father do? For clearly (saith he) does He herein confess that He can do nothing at all of Himself, as knowing Him that is the Better and superior to Himself. But do thou again refute our argument.”

What then is to be said to these things by us? Bold unto blasphemy is the enemy of Christ and drunken with folly he perceives it not. For one must, most excellent sir, test accurately the force of what has been said, and not dash offhand to reasonings springing from unlearning. For to what kind of equality with the Father dost thou deem it right to bring down the Son, by reason of His saying that He can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do? Is it as not having Equality in Power that He says these things, although from the very passage under consideration one may see that the Son is Equal in Power with the Father, rather than inferior in God-befitting Might? For plainly He does not say, The Son can do nothing of Himself, except He receive Power of the Father (for this would be the part of one really weak) but, but what He seeth the Father do. But that by the sense of seeing, we are not usually called to be powerful, but to look at something, I suppose no one will dispute. The Son then in saying that He looketh on the works of His Father doth not shew Himself impotent, but rather a zealous Imitator, or Beholder: and how, shall be more accurately spoken of in what follows. But that through His exact and likest working, I mean in all things, He is shewn to have Equality in Power, Himself will clearly teach below, adding as of His Father, for what things soever He doeth, these (saith He) doeth also the Son likewise. How then is He inferior, Who is Eminent in equal workings with God the Father? for will the offspring of fire work ought different from fire, any change being seen in its work? how could it be so? How then will the Son work in like manner with the Father, if by reason of having inferiority He come short of equal Might with Him?

And these things were taken from the words at present under comment. But let us consider, going through other considerations also, whether the Nature of the Son admits any law of inferiority to that of the Father. Let the consideration of Power also be before us. Do they confess that the Son is God of God by Nature and verily and of the actual Essence of the Father; or do they say indeed that He is God, but blasphemously add, that He is outside of the Essence of the Father? If then they say that He is not of the Essence of the Father, He will neither be God by Nature, nor Very Son. For that which is not of God by nature, neither ought it at all to be conceived of as by nature God, nor yet Son if it be not begotten of the Essence of the Father, but they are bringing in privily to us some bastard and new god. If they do not say this, blushing at the absurdity that is in their own doctrines, but will grant that the Only-Begotten is truly of the Father, and is God by Nature and Verily: how will He be inferior to the Father, or how powerless to ought, and this not accuse the Essence of Him Who begat Him? For if it be possible that He Who is by Nature God should at all be impotent, what is to hinder the Father from being in the same case, if the Divine and Ineffable Nature once has the power of being so, and is already so manifested in the Son, according to their account? Hence then neither will the Divinity be Impassible, nor will It remain in sameness and Bliss wholly Unchangeable. But who (tell me) will endure them that hold such opinions? Who when the Scripture crieth aloud that the Son is the Lord of Hosts, will not shudder to say, that He must needs be strengthened, and is imperfect in that which of right is His alone with the Father and Holy Ghost?

But our opponent will say again, “We say, that the Father surpasses the Son in this. For the One is the First Beginner of works, as having Perfection both in Power and in the knowledge of all things: but the Son becomes first a spectator then a worker by receiving into Himself the imitation of the Father’s working, in order that through the similarity of works, He too might be thought to be God. For this He teacheth us, saying that He can do nothing of Himself but what He seeth the Father do.”

What art thou saying, thou all-daring? doth the Son receive into Himself the types of the Father’s Working, that thereby He may be thought to be God? By learning then will He be God, not by Nature. As in us is (it may be) knowledge and art, so is in Him the Dignity, and He is rather an Artificer of the works of Deity than Very God: yet is He (I suppose) altogether other than the art that is in Him, though it be God-befitting. Him then that has passed forth of the boundaries of the Godhead, and has his glory in the art alone, how do angels in Heaven worship Him, we too worship without blame, albeit the Holy Scripture admonisheth us that we ought not to serve any apart from Him Who is truly God? for it says, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and Him only shall thou serve. Yet the holy multitude of Angels in particular erred not from what is befitting, but they worship the Son and serve Him with us, acknowledging Him to be God by Nature, and not by learning, as those babbling say: for they perceive not (it seems) into how great absurdities they will thence fall. For in the first place the Son will admit change and variation as from the less to the greater, albeit Himself saith through the Prophet, Behold, behold I am, and change not. The Psalmist too will surely lie in the spirit, crying out to the Son, But Thou art the Same. For He awaiteth, as those say, the Father’s working at something, as a Guide and Teacher, that He may see and imitate. Then how will not such an one appear to mount up from ignorance of certain things unto knowledge thereof, and to turn from worse to better, if we reckon that knowledge of any thing good is better than not knowing it?

Next, what additional absurdity is herein beheld? Let them tell us who introduce God as an Instructer rather than a Father, Doth the Son await the sight of His Father’s works in ignorance of them, or having most perfect knowledge of them? If then they say that He awaits though He knows them, they clearly shew that He is doing something very superfluous, and the Father practising a most idle thing: for the One, as though ignorant looks at what He knows perfectly, the Other attempts to teach One Who knows: and to whom is it not evident, that such things incur the charge of the extremest absurdity? But perchance they will not say this; but will go over to the opposite alternative. For they will affirm that He awaiteth of necessity the Father working in order to learn by seeing. How then doth He know all things before they were? or how will He be true saying of Himself, Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Shall ought be hidden from Me? But how is it not absurd and unlearned to believe that the Spirit searcheth and knoweth the deep things of God, and to suppose that the Giver of the Spirit is in ignorance of the works of the Father and of His own Spirit, so as to come short in knowledge? For will not the Son at length lose His being Wisdom, if He be wholly ignorant and receive by learning? for He will be a recipient of wisdom, rather than Wisdom Itself by Nature. For wisdom is that which maketh wise, not that which is formed to become wise, just as light too is that which enlighteneth, not that which is formed to receive light. Therefore is He again other than the wisdom which is in Him, and in the first place He is not Simple, but compounded of two: next besides this, He will also lose the being God, I mean God by Nature and Essentially. For the Divine Nature endureth not the being taught by any at all, nor the duplication of composition, seeing It hath as Its Proper Good the being both Simple and All-Perfection. And if the Son be not God by Nature, how doth He both work and do things befitting God Alone? will they say that it suffices for Him unto God-befitting Power, only to see the Father working, and by the mere sight does He attain to being by Nature God, and to being able to do such things as He That sheweth Him doth? There is therefore nothing to hinder, but that many others too should be manifested to us as gods, if the Father be willing to shew them too the mode of His works, and the excellence of the Father’s Essence will consist in learning something over and above. For He that was taught (as those say) is found to have mounted up to the dignity of the God-head by Nature, saying, I and My Father are One, He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.

Let them weigh then how great a crowd of blasphemies is heaped up by them, from their choosing so to think, and let them think truly of the Son as it is written. For neither by contemplation of what is performed by the Father, nor yet by having Him as antecedent to Himself in actions, is the Son a Doer or Wonder-worker, and by reason hereof God: but because a certain law of Nature carries Him to the Exact Likeness of Him who begat Him, even though it shine forth and is manifested through the unceasing likeness of Their Works. But setting before us again, if you please, the verse, and testing it with more diligent scrutiny, let us consider accurately, what is the force of the words and let us now see how we must think with piety. Therefore,

Verily verily I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of Himself but what He seeth the Father do: for what things soever He doeth, these doeth also the Son likewise.

Thou seest how through the exact likeness too in the works, He sheweth Himself like in all things to the Father, that thereby He may be shewn to be Heir of His Essence also. For in that He must of necessity and incontrovertibly be conceived of as being God by Nature, Who hath Equal working with God the Father, the Saviour says thus. But let no one be offended, when He says economically, that He can do nothing of Himself but what He seeth the Father do. For in that He was now arrayed in the form of the servant and made Man by being united to flesh, He did not make His discourse free, nor altogether let loose unto God-befitting boldness, but used rather at times by an economy such discourse as befits alike God and Man. For He was really both in the same.

And this is one true word, but I think one ought again to explain what is before us in another way too, and to apply more keenly to the accurate meaning of the passage. The Son (it says) can do nothing of Himself but what He seeth the Father do. The word cannot, or impossibility, is predicated of certain things, or is applied to certain of things that are. For this being predicated we say is not indicative at all of necessity, nor of weakness; but often denotes the stability of natures and the immoveable condition of essences, in respect of what each thing mentioned either is or has been, and of what it can effect by nature and without change. But let our argument, if you please go through demonstration also. When for instance a man says that he cannot carry a piece of wood, immeasurable perhaps and heavy, he predicates his innate weakness: but when another says, I being by nature a reasonable man, and born of a father by nature reasonable, cannot do anything my own and of myself, which I do not see belonging to the nature of my parent; the words “I cannot” express the stability of essence, and its inability to change into any thing but what it is. For (says he) I cannot of myself be not a reasonable creature, strengthened by increases accruing to me by nature: for I do not see the power of doing this in the nature of my father. In this way then you may hear Christ saying, The Son can do nothing of Himself but what He seeth the Father do. For do not (saith He) blame the works of the Son: for He beholding, as in His Proper Thoughts or Natural Motions, the Essence of Him That begat Him; what things He seeth That Nature befittingly work, these He doeth and none other, not being able to suffer ought contrary to His Nature, by reason of His being of It. Thus, the Nature of the Father hath the Will to compassionate: the Son seeing this inherent therein, is Compassionate as being of Him by Nature, not being able to be Other than what It is. For He hath of the Father, as Essence, so the good things too of the Essence, simply that is and uncompound as God, therefore He wisely subjoins to the former words, For what things soever He doeth, these doeth also the Son likewise: in these words collecting, so to say, the whole meaning of His being able to do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do. But by considering the cause why the Son says these things, you will apply your mind more accurately to the things spoken by us.

When then He on the sabbath day was compassionating the paralytic, the Jews began trying to persecute Him: but Christ shames them, shewing that God the Father hath mercy on the sabbath day. For He did not think He ought to hinder what things were tending to our salvation. And indeed He said at the beginning, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. But when they of their great ill-counsel shewed that they were vexed at these things, He subjoins again The Son can do nothing of Himself but what He seeth the Father do: for what things soever He doeth, these doeth also the Son likewise. For since (saith He) the Father refuseth not to have mercy on the sabbath day, I, seeing that He is altogether full of compassion, am therefore Myself too wholly compassionate, not able to cut out anew in Myself the Essence of My Father, through not appearing and being such as He is by Nature. For I wholly work what is His, as being of Him.

But the saying that the Father is antecedent in the works, is not free from the deepest unlearning. For how should He ever of Himself and alone begin, Who has the Son as the operative Power for all things, Eternally with Him, the Exponent of His Will as to ought and of His motion to operation in respect of ought. But if they uninstructedly assert that He awaits the Separate Operation of the Father for each several work, in order to imitate equally, let them shew us that the Father wrought anything separately and of Himself, or what paralytic He having first healed, hath given the deed as a pattern to His Son.

20 For the Father loveth the Son

Those who were heedlessly blaspheming against Him by reason of the sabbath, Christ convicts of being foolishly exasperated to empty anger, making most clear proof of the matter by saying that He is loved by His Father. For if the Father wholly loveth the Son, it is plain that He loves Him not as grieving Him, but rather as gladdening Him in what He does and works. Vainly then do they persecute Him Who refuseth not to shew mercy on the sabbath, and hereby again are they found opposing the decrees of God the Father. For they think they ought to hate Him Whom He loves, but it is altogether (I suppose) manifest, that He would never have loved Him if He had gone contrary to the Will of His Father, and been accustomed to do of Himself and Alone whatsoever Himself willed. But since He justly loves, He approves, it is plain, and agrees to the breaking of the sabbath, and shews that it has nothing in respect of which God the Lord of the Law might reasonably be angry.

and sheweth Him all things that Himself doeth;

Needs does He subjoin this too to the preceding; and wherefore, I will say. Fathers who are among us, sometimes overcome by natural affection, bear with their sons grieving them, and seeing them attempt things against their judgment, they often suffer it. For vehement is the yearning love implanted in them in respect of their children persuading them to overcome all littleness of soul towards them. But not thus (saith He) does God the Father love the Son, for He cannot do anything which He too does not work by Nature, but as having One Essence with Him, He is called by certain Physical laws, so to say, to identical Will and Power. The Son then (saith He) worketh nothing contrary to what is pleasing or fitting to the Father, nor does He vaunt Himself in the love of the Father, as though a lover of novelty in His works and unbridled, but whatsoever things He sees Him doing, as in conception, all these He performeth restrained by Identity of Essence from falling aside in ought that is befitting God. For He hath no part with change in ought, or variableness: for He remaineth the Same unceasingly, as the Psalmist says. The Father again sheweth the Son what He Himself doeth, not as though setting before Him things depicted, on a tablet, or teaching Him as though ignorant (for He knoweth all things as God): but depicting Himself wholly in the Nature of His Offspring, and shewing in Him His Own Natural Properties in order that from what Properties Himself is and is manifested, He may know of what kind and Who He is by nature That begat Him. Therefore Christ says, that no man knoweth Who the Son is but the Father, and Who the Father is, but the Son. For the accurate knowledge of each is in Both, not by learning, but by Nature. And God the Father seeth the Son in Himself, the Son again seeth the Father in Himself. Therefore He saith, I am in the Father and the Father in Me. But “to see” and “to be seen” must here be conceived of after a Divine sort.

And greater works than these will He shew Him, that YE may marvel.

Above the blessed Evangelist says, The Jews were seeking to kill Jesus, because He was not only breaking the sabbath, but saying also that God was His Father, making Himself Equal with God. He therefore put down the accusation respecting the sabbath, by shewing that the Father Himself worked on the sabbath day, and expending many words thereupon: and endeavours to teach them that He is in Equality with the Father, even when made Man for our sakes (for this was what the argument yet lacked), and therefore does He say And greater works than these will He shew Him that YE may marvel. And what again does He will to shew us hereby?

The paralytic (it says) has been healed, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. And marvellous indeed the Power of Him That healed him, God-befitting exceedingly the Authority. This so great Wonderworker, no one (I suppose) in his senses would blame for saying that He is God, and since He is Son, Equal in all things to Him That begat Him. But since ye (He says) imagining things most wicked and foolish, are offended because of this mortal Body, ye must needs learn that My Authority and Power stop not here: for ye shall be, even though ye will it not, spectators of greater wonders, to wit of the resurrection of the dead, and yet more shall ye be astonished, seeing Power and Glory befitting God, in Me Whom now ye charge with blasphemy and are not ashamed to persecute, for merely saying, I am the Son of God.

But how God the Father shews His Works to the Son, we have already said at much length.

21 For as the Father raiseth the dead and quickeneth them, so the Son too quickeneth whom He will.

See again in these words clear proof of His Equality. For He That worketh equally in respect of the reviving of the dead, how can He have inferiority in ought? or how shall He be of another nature and alien to the Father Who is radiant with the Same Properties? For the Power of quickening, which is in the Father alike and the Son, is a Property of the Divine Essence. But the Father doth not again separately and of Himself quicken some, the Son some separately and apart: for the Son having in Himself by Nature the Father, the Father doth all things and worketh all things through the Son. But since the Father hath the Power of quickening in His Own Nature, as also Himself too, He attributes the Power of quickening the dead as though accruing to each separately.

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