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

That Christ is not holy from participation in anything different from Himself; and that the sanctification through the Spirit is not alien to His Substance

18 As Thou didst send Me into the world, even so sent I them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

After giving the Father here especially the name of Holy, and praying that the disciples might be kept in the truth, that is, in His Spirit (for the Spirit is the truth, as John says, as He is also the Spirit of truth, that is, of the Only-begotten Himself), He declares that He sent them into the world after the fashion of His own mission; for Jesus is the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, as Paul says, in the appropriate character of His Manhood, and by the way of His humiliation. He says, then, that the disciples, after having been once for all thereto prepared, stand wholly in need of sanctification by the Holy Father, Who implanteth in them the Holy Spirit through the Son. For in truth the disciples of the Saviour would never have become so illustrious as to be the torchbearers of the whole world, nor would they have withstood the brunt of the temptations of their enemies, nor the terrible assaults of the devil, had they not had their minds fortified by communion with the Spirit; and had they not been continually thereby enabled to accomplish a bidding unheard of before and passing mere human power; and had they not been ever led by the light of the Spirit, without effort, to a perfect knowledge of the inspired writings and the holy doctrines of the Church. Furthermore, the Saviour, being assembled together with them after His resurrection from the dead, as is recorded, and bidding them preach grace through faith throughout the whole world, charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which they had heard of Him as well as by the mouth of the holy prophets. For it shall come to pass in those days, saith the Lord, that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh And the Saviour Himself plainly declared that His Holy Spirit would be shed forth upon them, in the words: I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He shall guide you into all truth and again: I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter For the Spirit belongeth unto God the Father, and none the less also unto the Son Himself, not as distinct Entities, or as though He was inherent or existed in Either divisibly; but, inasmuch as the Son by Nature proceeds from the Father and is in Him (being the true Offspring of His Essence), the Spirit—Which is the Father’s by Nature—is brought down to men; shed forth indeed from the Father, but through the Son Himself conveyed to the creature; not merely ministerially or in the manner of a servant, but, as I said just now, proceeding from the Substance Itself of God the Father; and shed forth on those worthy to receive Him through the Word, Which is Consubstantial with and proceeded from Him, and so proceeded as to have a self-dependent being, and ever abideth in Him, at the same time in unity, and also, as it were, with an individual existence. For we maintain that the Son has an independent existence, but still inheres in His Father, and has in Himself Him that begat Him; and that the Spirit of the Father is indeed the Spirit of the Son; and that, when the Father sends or promises to distribute the Spirit to the Saints, the Son also vouchsafes the Spirit to them as His own, because of His identity in Substance with the Father. And that the Father works in every respect through Him He has Himself very clearly pointed out to us in the words: It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away the Comforter cannot come unto you; but when I depart I will send Him unto you. And again: I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter. Plainly here He promises to send us the Comforter.

Since, then, the disciples, who respect My sayings, have been sent forth on their mission in the world, even as I myself, keep them, Holy Father, in Thy truth; that is, in Thy Word, in Which, and through Which, the Spirit Which sanctifies is and proceeds. And what is the Saviour’s aim in saying this? He besought the Father for that sanctification which is in and through the Spirit to be given to ourselves; and He desires that which was in us at the first age of the world, and at the beginning of creation by gift of God, to be quickened anew into life. This we say, because the Only-begotten is our Mediator, and fulfils the part of Advocate for us before our Father Which is in heaven. But that we may free our explanation from all obscurity, and make the meaning of what is said clear to our hearers, let us say a few words about the creation of the first man.

The inspired Moses said concerning him, that God took dust from the earth and formed man of it. He then goes on to tell the manner in which, after the body was perfectly joined together, life was given to it. He breathed, he says, into his nostrils the breath of life signifying that not without sanctification by the Spirit was life given to man, nor yet was it wholly devoid or barren of the Divine Nature. For never could anything, which had so base an origin, have been seen to be created in the Image of the Most High, had it not taken and received, through the Spirit moulding it, so to speak, a fair mask, by the Will of God. For as His Spirit is a perfect Likeness of the Substance of the Only-begotten, according to the saying of Paul: For whom He foreknew, He also fore-ordained to be conformed to the Image of His Son He maketh those in whom He abides to be conformed to the Image of the Father, that is, the Son; and thus all thoughts are uplifted through the Son to the Father, from Whom He proceeds by the Spirit. He desires, therefore, the nature of man to be renewed, and moulded anew, as it were, into its original likeness, by communion with the Spirit; in order that, putting on that pristine grace, and being shaped anew into conformity with Him, we may be found able to prevail over the sin that reigns in this world, and may simply cling to the love of God, striving with all our might after whatsoever things be good, and, lifting our minds above fleshly lusts, may keep the beauty of His Image implanted in ourselves unspoiled. For this is spiritual life, and this is the meaning of worship in the Spirit.

And if we may sum up in brief the whole matter, Christ called down upon us the ancient gift of humanity, that is, sanctification through the Spirit and communion with the Divine Nature, His disciples being the first to receive it; for the saying is true, that the husbandman that laboureth must be the first to partake of the fruits But that He might herein also indeed have the pre-eminence (for it was meet that He, being, as it were, one of many brethren, and still Man even as we are men, should, through being in our likeness, be seen to be and in fact be the Beginning, and the Gate, and the Way, of every good thing for us), He is impelled to add what follows, namely, the words: For their sakes I sanctify Myself.

And, indeed, the saying is hard to explain and difficult to understand. Still, the Word Which maketh all things clear, and discovereth deep things out of darkness will reveal to us even this mystery. That which is brought by any one to God by way of an offering or gift, as sacred to Him, is said to be sanctified according to the custom of the Law; as, for example, every firstborn child that opens the womb among the children of Israel. For sanctify unto Me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb, God said to the good Moses; that is, offer and dedicate and set down as holy. We do not indeed assert, nor would we listen to any one’s suggestion, that God bade Moses impose on any the sanctification of the Spirit, for the stature of created beings attains not unto ability to perform any such act, but it is adapted and can be ascribed to God only. Moreover, when He wished to appoint to office the elders together with Him, He did not bid Moses himself impose sanctification upon those who were selected; but, instead, plainly said that He would take of the Spirit That was upon him and would put It upon each of those who were called. For the power of sanctifying by communion with the Spirit belongs only to the Nature of the Ruler of the Universe; and what the meaning of sanctification is, I mean so far as the customs of the Law are concerned, the saying of Solomon will make quite clear to us: It is a snare to a man hastily to sanctify anything that is his, for after he has made his vow repentance cometh

Since, then, this is what sanctification is, so far as the custom of offering and setting apart is concerned, we say that the Son sanctified Himself for us in this sense. For He brought Himself as a Victim and holy Sacrifice to God the Father, reconciling the world unto Himself, and bringing into kinship with Him that which had fallen away therefrom, that is, the race of man. For He is our Peace, according to the Scripture. And, indeed, our reconciliation to God could no otherwise have been accomplished through Christ that saveth us than by communion in the Spirit and sanctification. For that which knits us together, and, as it were, unites us with God, is the Holy Spirit; Which if we receive, we are proved sharers and partakers in the Divine Nature, and we admit the Father Himself into our hearts, through the Son and in the Son. Further, the wise John writes for us concerning Him: Hereby know we that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit And what does Paul also say? And because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father, as, if we had chanced to remain without partaking of the Spirit, we could never at all have known that God was in us; and, if we had not been enriched with the Spirit that puts us into the rank of sons, we should never have been at all the sons of God. How, then, should we have had added to us, or how should we have been shown to be partakers in, Divine Nature, if God had not been in us, nor we been joined to Him through having been called to communion with the Spirit? But now are we both partakers and sharers in the Substance That transcends the universe, and are become temples of God. For the Only-begotten sanctified Himself for our sins; that is, offered Himself up, and brought Himself as a holy Sacrifice for a sweet-smelling savour to God the Father; that, while He as God came between and hedged off and built a wall of partition between human nature and sin, nothing might hinder our being able to have access to God, and have close fellowship with Him, through communion, that is, with the Holy Spirit, moulding us anew to righteousness and sanctification and the original likeness of man. For if sin sunders and dissevers man from God, surely righteousness will be a bond of union, and will somehow set us by the side of God Himself, with nothing to part us. We have been justified through faith in Christ, Who was delivered up for our trespasses, according to the Scripture, and was raised for our justification. For in Him, as in the first-fruits of the race, the nature of man was wholly reformed into newness of life, and ascending, as it were, to its own first beginning, was moulded anew into sanctification. Sanctify them, He says, O Father, in Thy truth; that is, in Me, for Thy Word is truth; that is, I once more. For I sanctified Myself for them; that is, brought Myself as an offering, One dying for many, that I might reform them into newness of life, and that they might be sanctified in truth, that is, in Me.

Now that the foregoing speech has been explained, and understood in the sense we have just given out, we shall not be slack to enter on another investigation. For to be very zealous in searching out the meaning of difficult passages in Scripture, must, I think, reflect much honour both on those who have this desire, and also on those who listen to them attentively. Our Lord Jesus Christ, then, said that He sanctified Himself for our sakes, that we also may be sanctified in truth. In what sense He is sanctified, being Himself by Nature holy, in order that we may be sanctified also, let us then, adhering to the doctrines of the Church, and not starting aside from the right rule of faith, so far as we can, carefully consider. We say, then, that the Only-begotten, being by Nature God, and in the form of God the Father, and in equality with Him, emptied Himself, according to the Scripture, and became Man born of a woman, receiving all the properties of man’s nature, sin only excepted, and in an unspeakable way uniting Himself to our nature by His own free will, in order that He might in Himself first, and through Himself, regenerate it into that glory which it had at the beginning; and that He, having proved Himself the second Adam, that is, a heavenly Man, and being found first of all, and the firstfruits of those who are built up into newness of life, in incorruption that is, and in righteousness and the sanctification which is through the Spirit, He might henceforth through Himself send good gifts to the whole race. For this cause, though He is Life by Nature, He became as one dead; that, having destroyed the power of death in us, He might mould us anew into His own life; and being Himself the righteousness of God the Father, He became sin for us. For, according to the saying of the Prophet, He Himself beareth our sins, and He was counted together with us among transgressors, that He might justify us through Himself, rending the bond that was against us, and nailing it to His cross according to the Scripture. Being also Himself by Nature holy as God, and granting to the whole creation participation in the Holy Spirit, to their continuance and stablishing and sanctification, He is sanctified on our account in the Holy Spirit; no one else sanctifying Him, but rather He Himself working for Himself to the sanctification of His own Flesh. For He receiveth His own Spirit, and partakes of It in so far as He was Man; yea, and giveth it unto Himself as God. And He did this for our sakes, not for His own, that, originating in Him first, the grace of sanctification might henceforth reach even unto all mankind. Just as by Adam’s transgression and disobedience, as in the founder of the race, human nature was doomed to die by the fault of one man, the first of men hearing the sentence, Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return; in the same way, I think, through the obedience and righteousness of Christ, in so far as He became under the Law, though as God He was Himself the Lawgiver, the Eucharist and the quickening power of the Spirit might be extended unto men universally. For the Spirit reforms into incorruption that which was by sin corrupted, and fashions into newness of life that which was obsolete through apathy, and verging to decay.

But perhaps you will ask, How, then, was He That is holy by Nature sanctified, and that through participation? And in what sense does He Who granteth His own Spirit to all who are worthy to receive it, both those, I mean, in heaven and those on earth, do Himself this service? Such things are indeed hard to fathom or comprehend, and difficult to explain, when you consider the Word That proceeded from God as still devoid of, or as only partially endued with, the humanity so sanctified; but when you think with wonder on His incomprehensible Incarnation and union with the flesh, and have present before your minds the true God now become Man, even as we are men, you will no longer be surprised; but, putting off all perplexity of mind, and having before your thoughts the Son Who is at the same time God and Man, you will not think that the proper attributes of humanity ought to be cast aside, even though they be merged in the Person of One Who is the Son by Nature, I mean Christ. For do we not think, for example, that death is foreign to the Nature of the all-quickening Word?

Still, you will say, He endured death in the flesh; for the body is mortal, and therefore is said to die, for His own Body died.

You are quite right in your idea, and say well; for of a truth in His scheme for our redemption, He did give up His Body to die, and again infused His own life into it, and did not, that is, rescue Himself from the bonds of death, by the power He actually has as God. For He came among us and became Man, not for His own sake, but rather He prepared the way, through Himself and in Himself, for human nature to escape from death and to return to its original incorruption. Let us, then, by an analogous train of reasoning, find out the manner of His sanctification. Can we then at all maintain that the body, which is of earth, is holy by the law of its own nature, even if it receive not sanctification from God, Who is by Nature holy? How could this be? For what difference could there then be any longer between earth-born flesh and that Substance Which is holy and pure? And if it be true to say that all rational creatures, and in general everything that has been called into being and ranks among created things, do not enjoy sanctification as the fruit of their own nature, but, as it were, borrow grace from That Which is by Nature holy, would it not be the height of absurdity to think that the flesh had no need of God, Who is able to sanctify all things? Since, then, the flesh is not of itself holy, it was therefore sanctified, even in the case of Christ—the Word That dwelt therein sanctifying His own Temple through the Holy Spirit, and changing it into a living instrument of His own Nature. For the Body of Christ is for this cause holy and pure; as being, in accordance with what I said just now, in a corporeal sense, as Paul says, the Temple of the Word united with it. Therefore the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descends upon Him from heaven; and the wise John bore testimony to this, that we might also know that on Christ first, as on the first-fruits of the renewed nature of man, the Spirit came down, in so far as He was Man, and so capable of sanctification. We do not indeed affirm that Christ then became holy as to His Flesh, when the Baptist saw the Spirit descending upon Him; for He was holy when He was still unborn and in the womb. Yea, and it was said unto the Blessed Virgin, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. Rather was the sight given as a sign to the Baptist. We are of opinion, nevertheless, that Christ’s Flesh was sanctified by the Spirit; the Word, Which is by Nature holy, and proceedeth from the Father, anointing His own Temple that is in Him, like all else that is created. And the Psalmist, knowing this, exclaimed, while he gazed upon the human Person of the Only-begotten: Therefore God, even Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows For when the Son anoints the Temple of His Body, the Father is said so to do. For He only works through the Son. For whatsoever the Son doeth is referred to the Father from Whom He springs, as the Father is, as it were, the Root and Source of His Offspring.

And no marvel if He declares that even He Himself is sanctified, though by Nature He is holy, when the Scripture calls God His Father, though He is Himself by Nature God. But I think one may well and justly attribute such expressions, without fear of error, to the requirements of human reason, and to analogy with human relationships. Just as, then, He died in the flesh for our sakes as Man, though being by Nature God; and just as, ranking Himself among creatures, and under subjection on account of His Manhood, He calls God His Father, though He was Lord of all; so He affirms that He sanctifies Himself for our sakes: that, when the influence thereof reaches even to us, as through the firstfruits of regenerate human nature in Him, we also may be sanctified in truth, that is, in the Holy Spirit. For the Spirit is the truth, as John says; for the Spirit is not separate from the Son, in Substance at any rate, inasmuch as He exists in Him and proceeds through Him.

He says that He was sent into the world, though He was in it before His Incarnation. For He was in the world, though the world knew Him not, according to the Scripture; signifying that the manner in which His mission was given Him was by the unction of the Holy Spirit, in so far as He was Man, and was the Angel of great counsel, after the analogy of the prophetic office. And when He says that His disciples have been prepared, as He was Himself, and sent from Him to announce to the world the message of the Gospel from heaven, He declares that they stand in great need of being sanctified in truth, that they may be enabled well and strenuously to run the course of their apostleship to the end.

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