NPNF1-07. St. Augustine: Homilies on the Gospel of John; Homilies on the First Epistle of John; Soliloquies
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Tractate XLII.

Chapter VIII. 37–47

1. Our Lord, in the form of a servant, yet not a servant, but even in servant-form the Lord (for that form of flesh was indeed servant-like; but though He was “in the likeness of sinful flesh,”775775     Rom. viii. 3. yet was He not sinful flesh) promised freedom to those who believed in Him. But the Jews, as if proudly glorying in their own freedom, refused with indignation to be made free, when they were the servants of sin. And therefore they said that they were free, because Abraham’s seed. What answer, then, the Lord gave them to this, we have heard in the reading of this day’s lesson. “I know,” He said, “that ye are Abraham’s children; but ye seek to kill me, because my word taketh no hold in you.” I recognize you, He says; “Ye are the children of Abraham, but ye seek to kill me.” I recognize the fleshly origin, not the believing heart. “Ye are the children of Abraham,” but after the flesh. Therefore He says, “Ye seek to kill me, because my word taketh no hold in you.” If my word were taken, it would take hold: if ye were taken, ye would be enclosed like fishes within the meshes of faith. What then means that—“taketh no hold in you”? It taketh not hold of your heart, because not received by your heart. For so is the word of God, and so it ought to be to believers, as a hook to the fish: it takes when it is taken. No injury is done to those who are taken; since they are taken for salvation, and not for destruction. Hence the Lord says to His disciples: “Come after me, and I shall make you fishers of men.”776776     Matt. iv. 19. But such were not these; and yet they were the children of Abraham,—children of a man of God, unrighteous themselves. For they inherited the fleshly genus, but were become degenerate, by not imitating the faith of him whose children they were.

2. You have heard, indeed, the Lord saying, “I know that ye are Abraham’s children.” Hear what He says afterwards: “I speak that which I have seen with my Father; and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.” He had already said, “I know that ye are Abraham’s children.” What is it, then, that they do? What He told them: “Ye seek to kill me.” This they never saw with Abraham. But the Lord wishes God the Father to be understood when He says, “I speak that which I have seen with my Father.” I have seen the truth: I speak the truth, because I am the Truth. For if the Lord speaks the truth which He has seen with the Father, He has seen Himself—He speaks Himself; because He Himself is the Truth of the Father, which He saw with the Father. For He is the Word—the Word which was with God. The evil, then, which these men do, and which the Lord chides and reprehends, where have they seen it? With their father. When we come to hear in what follows the still clearer statement who is their father, then shall we understand what kind of things they saw with such a father; for as yet He names not their father. A little above He referred to Abraham, but in regard to their fleshly origin, not their similarity of life. He is about to speak of that other father of theirs, who neither begat them nor created them to be men. But still they were his children in as far as they were evil, not in as far as they were men; in what they imitated him, and not as created by him.

3. “They answered and said unto Him, Abraham is our father;” as if, What hast thou to say against Abraham? or, If thou canst, dare to find fault with Abraham. Not that the Lord dared not find fault with Abraham; but Abraham was not one to be found fault with by the Lord, but rather approved. But these men seemed to challenge Him to say some evil of Abraham, and so to have some occasion for doing what they purposed. “Abraham is our father.”

4. Let us hear how the Lord answered them, praising Abraham to their condemnation. “Jesus saith unto them, If ye are Abraham’s children, do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham.” See, he was praised, they were condemned. Abraham was no manslayer. I say not, He implies, I am Abraham’s Lord; though did I say it, I would say the truth. For He said in another place, “Before Abraham was, I am” (ver. 58); and then they sought to stone Him. He said not so. But meanwhile, as you see me, as you look upon me, as alone you think of me, I am a man. Wherefore, then, wish you to kill a man who is telling you what he has heard of God, but because you are not the children of Abraham? And yet He said above, “I know that ye are Abraham’s children.” He does not deny their origin, but condemns their deeds. Their flesh was from him, but not their life.

5. But we, dearly beloved, do we come of Abraham’s race, or was Abraham in any sense our father according to the flesh? The flesh of the Jews draws its origin from his flesh, not so the flesh of Christians. We have come of other nations, and yet, by imitating him, we have become the children of Abraham. Listen to the apostle: “To Abraham and to his seed were the promises made. He saith not,” he adds, “And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”777777     Gal. iii. 16, 29. We then have become Abraham’s seed by the grace of God. It was not of Abraham’s flesh that God made any co-heirs with him. He disinherited the former, He adopted the latter; and from that olive tree whose root is in the patriarchs, He cut off the proud natural branches, and engrafted the lowly wild olive.778778     Rom. xi. 17. And so, when the Jews came to John to be baptized, he broke out upon them, and addressed them, “O generation of vipers.” Very greatly indeed did they boast of the loftiness of their origin, but he called them a generation of vipers,—not even of human beings, but of vipers. He saw the form of men, but detected the poison. Yet they had come to be changed,779779     In some editions, “to be cleansed.” because at all events to be baptized; and he said to them, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance. And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father; for God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”780780     Matt. iii. 7–9. If ye bring not forth fruits meet for repentance, flatter not yourselves about such a lineage. God is able to condemn you, without defrauding Abraham of children. For He has a way to raise up children to Abraham. Those who imitate his faith shall be made his children. “God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” Such are we. In our parents we were stones, when we worshipped stones for our god. Of such stones God has created a family to Abraham.

6. Why, then, does this empty and vain bragging exalt itself? Let them cease boasting that they are the children of Abraham. They have heard what they ought to have heard: “If ye are the children of Abraham,” prove it by your deeds, not by words. “Ye seek to kill me, a man;”—I say not, meanwhile, the Son of God; I say not God; I say not the Word, for the Word dies not. I say merely this that you see; for only what you see can you kill, and whom you see not can you offend. “This,” then, “did not Abraham.” “Ye do the works of your father.” And as yet He says not who is that father of theirs.

7. And now what answer did they give Him? For they began somewhat to realize that the Lord was not speaking of carnal generation, but of their manner of life. And because it is the custom of the Scriptures, which they read, to call it, in a spiritual sense, fornication, when the soul is, as it were, prostituted by subjection to many false gods, they made this reply: “Then said they to Him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.” Abraham has now lost his importance. For they were repulsed as they ought to have been by the truth-speaking mouth; because such was Abraham, whose deeds they failed to imitate, and yet gloried in his lineage. And they altered their reply, saying, I believe, with themselves, As often as we name Abraham, he goes on to say to us, Why do ye not imitate him in whose lineage ye glory? Such a man, so holy, just, and guileless, we cannot imitate. Let us call God our Father, and see what he will say to us.

8. Has falsehood indeed found something to say, and should not truth find its fitting reply? Let us hear what they say: let us hear what they hear. “We have one Father,” they say, “even God. Then said Jesus unto them, If God were your Father, ye would [doubtless] love me; for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but He sent me.” Ye call God Father; recognize me, then, as at least a brother. At the same time He gave a stimulus to the hearts of the intelligent, by touching on that which He has a habit of saying, “I came not of myself: He sent me. I proceeded forth and came from God.” Remember what we are wont to say: From Him He came; and from whom He came, with Him He came. The sending of Christ, therefore, is His incarnation. But as respects the proceeding forth of the Word from God, it is an eternal procession. Time holds not Him by whom time was created. Let no one be saying in his heart, Before the Word was, how did God exist? Never say, Before the Word of God was. God was never without the Word, because the Word is abiding, not transient; God, not a sound; by whom the heaven and earth were made, and which passed not away with those things that were made upon the earth. From Him, then, He proceeded forth as God, the equal, the only Son, the Word of the Father; and came to us, for the Word was made flesh that He might dwell among us. His coming indicates His humanity; His abiding, His divinity. It is His Godhead towards which, His humanity whereby, we make progress. Had He not become that whereby we might advance, we should never attain to Him who abideth ever.

9. “Why,” He says, “do ye not understand my speech? Even because ye cannot hear my word.” And so they could not understand, because they could not hear. And whence could they not hear, but just because they refused to be set right by believing? And why so? “Ye are of your father the devil.” How long do ye keep speaking of a father? How often will ye change your fathers,—at one time Abraham, at another God? Hear from the Son of God whose children ye be: “Ye are of your father the devil.”

10. Here, now, we must beware of the heresy of the Manicheans, which affirms that there is a certain principle of evil, and a certain family of darkness with its princes, which had the presumption to fight against God; but that God, not to let His kingdom be subdued by the hostile family, despatched against them, as it were, His own offspring, princes of His own [kingdom of] light; and so subdued that race from which the devil derives his origin. From thence, also, they say our flesh derives its origin, and accordingly think the Lord said, “Ye are of your father the devil,” because they were evil, as it were, by nature, deriving their origin from the opposing family of darkness. So they err, so their eyes are blinded, so they make themselves the family of darkness, by believing a falsehood against Him who created them. For every nature is good; but man’s nature has been corrupted by an evil will. What God made cannot be evil, if man were not [a cause of] evil to himself. But surely the Creator is Creator, and the creature a creature [a thing created]. The creature cannot be put on a level with the Creator. Distinguish between Him who made, and that which He made. The bench cannot be put on a level with the mechanic, nor the pillar with its builder; and yet the mechanic, though he made the bench, did not himself create the wood. But the Lord our God, in His omnipotence and by the Word, made what He made. He had no materials out of which to make all that He made, and yet He made it. For they were made because He willed it, they were made because He said it; but the things made cannot be compared with the Maker. If thou seekest a proper subject of comparison, turn thy mind to the only-begotten Son. How, then, were the Jews the children of the devil? By imitation, not by birth. Listen to the usual language of the Holy Scriptures. The prophet says to those very Jews, “Thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother a Hittite.”781781     Ezek. xvi. 3. The Amorites were not a nation that gave origin to the Jews. The Hittites also were themselves of a nation altogether different from the race of the Jews. But because the Amorites and Hittites were impious, and the Jews imitated their impieties, they found parents for themselves, not of whom they were born, but in whose damnation they should share, because following their customs. But perhaps you inquire, Whence is the devil himself? From the same source certainly as the other angels. But the other angels continued in their obedi ence. He, by disobedience and pride, fell as an angel, and became a devil.

11. But listen now to what the Lord says: “Ye,” said He, “are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.” This is how ye are his children, because such are your lusts, not because ye are born of him. What are his lusts? “He was a murderer from the beginning.” This it is that explains, “the lusts of your father ye will do.” “Ye seek to kill me, a man that telleth you the truth.” He, too, had ill-will to man, and slew man. For the devil, in his ill-will to man, assuming the guise of a serpent, spoke to the woman, and from the woman instilled his poison into the man. They died by listening to the devil,782782     Gen. iii. 1. whom they would not have listened to had they but listened to the Lord; for man, having his place between Him who created and him who was fallen, ought to have obeyed the Creator, not the deceiver. Therefore “he was a murderer from the beginning.” Look at the kind of murder, brethren. The devil is called a murderer not as armed with a sword, or girded with steel. He came to man, sowed his evil suggestions, and slew him. Think not, then, that thou art not a murderer when thou persuadest thy brother to evil. If thou persuadest thy brother to evil, thou slayest him. And to let thee know that thou slayest him, listen to the psalm: “The sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.”783783     Ps. lvii. 4. Ye, then, “will do the lusts of your father;” and so ye go madly after the flesh, because ye cannot go after the spirit. “He was a murderer from the beginning;” at least in the case of the first of mankind. From the very time that murder [manslaughter] could possibly be committed, he was a murderer [manslayer]. Only from the time that man was made could manslaughter be committed. For man could not be slain unless man was previously made. Therefore, “he was a murderer from the beginning.” And whence a murderer? “And he stood [abode] not in the truth.” Therefore he was in the truth, and fell by not standing in it. And why “stood he not in the truth”? “Because the truth is not in him;” not as in Christ. In such a way is the truth [in Him], that Christ Himself is the Truth. If, then, he had stood in the truth, he would have stood in Christ; but “he abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him.”

12. “When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”784784     In this and the following paragraph, Augustin deals with the rendering given to these words by the Manichæans in support of their heresy, stated in section 10. The words “pater ejus” (ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ), taken by themselves, might of course mean either “his father” or “the father of it” [i.e. of falsehood]. Both the Greek idiom and the context require the latter, but the Manichæans adopted the former, and made the passage run, “for he [i.e. the devil] is a liar, and [so is] his father.” Hence the question they are made to put afterwards, “Who was his [the devil’s] father?” and our author’s exposition of the passage.—Tr. What is this? You have heard the words of the Gospel: you have received them with attention. Here now, I repeat them, that you may clearly understand the subject of your thoughts. The Lord said those things of the devil which ought to have been said of the devil by the Lord. That “he was a murderer from the beginning” is true, for he slew the first man; “and he abode not in the truth,” for he lapsed from the truth. “When he speaketh a lie,” to wit, the devil himself, “he speaketh of his own;” for he is a liar, and its [his] father.” From these words some have thought that the devil has a father, and have inquired who was the father of the devil. Indeed this detestable error of the Manicheans has found means down to this present time wherewith to deceive the simple. For they are wont to say, Suppose that the devil was an angel, and fell; and with him sin began as you say; but, Who was his father? We, on the contrary, reply, Who of us ever said that the devil had a father? And they, on the other hand, rejoin, The Lord saith, and the Gospel declares, speaking of the devil, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and his father.”

13. Hear and understand. I shall not send thee far away [for the meaning]; understand it from the words themselves. The Lord called the devil the father of falsehood. What is this? Hear what it is, only revolve the words themselves, and understand. It is not every one who tells a lie that is the father of his lie. For if thou hast got a lie from another, and uttered it, thou indeed hast lied in giving utterance to the lie; but thou art not the father of that lie, because thou hast got it from another. But the devil was a liar of himself. He begat his own falsehood; he heard it from no one. As God the Father begat as His Son the Truth, so the devil, having fallen, begat falsehood as his son. Hearing this, recall now and reflect upon the words of the Lord. Ye catholic minds, consider what ye have heard; attend to what He says. “He”—who? The devil—“was a murderer from the beginning.” We admit it,—he slew Adam. “And he abode not in the truth.” We admit it, for he lapsed from the truth. “Because there is no truth in him.” True: by falling away from the truth he has lost its possession. “When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” He is both a liar, and the father of lies. For thou, it may be, art a liar, because thou utterest a lie; but thou art not its father. For if thou hast got what thou sayest from the devil, and hast believed the devil, thou art a liar, but not the father of the lie. But he, because he got not elsewhere the lie wherewith in serpent-form he slew man as if by poison, is the father of lies just as God is Father of truth. Withdraw, then, from the father of lies: make haste to the Father of truth; embrace the truth, that you may enter into liberty.

14. Those Jews, then, spake what they saw with their father. And what was that but falsehood? But the Lord saw with His Father what He should speak; and what was that, but Himself? What, but the Word of the Father? What, but the truth of the Father, eternal itself, and co-eternal with the Father? He, then, “was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him; when he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar,”—and not only a liar, but also “the father of it;” that is, of the very lie that he speaks he is the father, for he himself begat his lie. “And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. Which of you convicteth me of sin,” as I convict both you and your father? “If I say the truth, why do ye not believe me,” but just because ye are the children of the devil?

15. “He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” Here, again, it is not of their nature as men, but of their depravity, that you are to think. In this way they are of God, and yet not of God. By nature they are of God, in depravity they are not of God. Give heed, I pray you. In the gospel you have the remedy against the poisonous and impious errors of the heretics. For of these words also the Manicheans are accustomed to say, See, here there are two natures,785785     That is, in man. Compare section 10.—Tr. —the one good and the other bad; the Lord says it. What says the Lord? “Ye therefore hear me not, because ye are not of God.” This is what the Lord says. What then, he rejoins, dost thou say to that? Hear what I say. They are both of God, and not of God. By nature they are of God: by depravity they are not of God; for the good nature which is of God sinned voluntarily by believing the persuasive words of the devil, and was corrupted; and so it is seeking a physician, because no longer in health. That is what I say. But thou thinkest it impossible that they should be of God, and yet not of God. Hear why it is not impossible. They are of God, and yet not of God, in the same way as they are the children of Abraham, and yet not the children of Abraham. Here you have it. It is not as you say. Hearken to the Lord Himself; it is He that said to them, “I know that ye are the children of Abraham.” Could there be any lie with the Lord? Surely not. Then is it true what the Lord said? It is true. Then it is true that they were the children of Abraham? It is true. But listen to Himself denying it. He who said, “Ye are the children of Abraham,” Himself denied that they were the children of Abraham. “If ye are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that telleth you the truth, which I have heard from God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the works of your father,” that is, of the devil. How, then, were they both Abraham’s children, and yet not his children? Both states He showed in them. They were both Abraham’s children in their carnal origin, and not his children in the sin of following the persuasion of the devil. So, also, apply it to our Lord and God, that they were both of Him, and not of Him. How were they of Him? Because He it was that created the man of whom they were born. How were they of Him? Because He is the Architect of nature,—Himself the Creator of flesh and spirit. How, then, were they not of Him? Because they had made themselves depraved. They were no longer of Him, because, imitating the devil, they had become the children of the devil.

16. Therefore came the Lord God to man as a sinner. Thou hast heard the two names, both man and sinner. As man, he is of God; as a sinner, he is not of God. Let the moral evil786786     Vitium. in man be distinguished from his nature. Let that nature be owned, to the praise of the Creator; let the evil be acknowledged, that the physician may be called in to its cure. When the Lord then said, “He that is of God heareth the words of God: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” He did not distinguish the value of different natures, or find, beyond their own soul and body, any nature in men which had not been vitiated by sin; but foreknowing those who should yet believe, them He called of God, because yet to be born again of God by the adoption of regeneration. To these apply the words “He that is of God heareth the words of God.” But that which follows, “Ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God,” was said to those who were not only corrupted by sin (for this evil was common to all), but also foreknown as those who would not believe with the faith that alone could deliver them from the bondage of sin. On this account He foreknew that those to whom He so spake would continue in that which they derived from the devil, that is, in their sins, and would die in the impiety in which they resembled him; and would not come to the regeneration wherein they would be the children of God, that is, be born of the God by whom they were created as men. In accordance with this predestinating purpose did the Lord speak; and not that He had found any man amongst them who either by regeneration was already of God, or by nature was no longer of God.

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