1 There was a certain Pharisee named Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one could perform the signs you perform, unless he had God with him.” 3 Jesus responded and said to him,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless one is born again,
he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born again when he is already an old man? Is it possible for him to return to his mother’s womb and be born all over again?” 5 Jesus replied,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless one is born again of water and the Holy Spirit,
he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
6 What is born of flesh is itself flesh;
and what is born of Spirit is itself spirit.”
423 Above, the Evangelist showed Christ’s power in relation to changes affecting nature; here he shows it in relation to our reformation by grace, which is his principal subject. Reformation by grace comes about through spiritual generation and by the conferring of benefits on those regenerated. First, then, he treats of spiritual generation. Secondly, of the spiritual benefits divinely conferred on the regenerated, and this in chapter five.
As to the first he does two things. First, he treats of spiritual regeneration in relation to the Jews. Secondly, of the spreading of the fruits of this regeneration even to foreign peoples, and this in chapter four. Concerning the first he does two things. First, he explains spiritual regeneration with words. Secondly, he completes it with deeds (3:22).
As to the first he does three things. First, he shows the need for a spiritual regeneration. Secondly, its quality (3:4). Thirdly, its mode and nature (3:9). As to the first he does two things. First, he mentions the occasion for showing this need. Secondly, the need itself for this regeneration (3:3).
The occasion was presented by Nicodemus; hence he says, There was a certain Pharisee named Nicodemus. And he describes him as to his person, from the time, and from his statements.
424 he describes his person in three ways. First, as to his religion, because he was a Pharisee, hence he says, There was a certain Pharisee. For there were two sects aniong the Jews: the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Pharisees were closer to us in their beliefs, for they believed in the resurrection, and admitted the existence of spiritual creatures. The Sadducees, on the other hand, disagree more with us, for they believed neither in the resurrection to come nor in the existence of spirits. The former were called Pharisees, as being separated from the others. And because their opinion was the more credible and nearer to the truth, it was easier for Nicodemus to be converted to Christ. “I lived as a Pharisee, according to the strictest sect of our religion” (Acts 26:5).
425 As to his name he says, named Nicodemus, which means “victor,” or “the victory of the people.” This signifies those who overcame the world through faith by being converted to Christ from Judaism. “This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith” (1 Jn 5:4).
426 Thirdly, as to his rank he says, a member of the Sanhedrin. For although our Lord did not choose the wise or powerful or those of high birth at the beginning, lest the power of the faith be attributed to human widsom and power—“Not many of you are learned in the worldly sense, not many powerful, not many of high birth. But God chose the simple ones of the world” (1 Cor 1:26)—still he willed to convert some of the wise and powerful to himself at the very beginning. And he did this so that his doctrine would not be held in contempt, as being accepted exclusively by the lowly and uneducated, and so that the number of believers would not be attributed to the rusticity and ignorance of the converts rather than to the power of the faith. However, he did not will that a large number of those converted to him be powerful and of high birth, lest, as has been said, it should be ascribed to human power and wisdom. And so it says, “many of those in authority believed in him” (below 12:42), among whom was this Nicodemus. “The rulers of the people have come together” (Ps 46:10).
427 Then he describes him as to the time, saying, he came to Jesus at night. In regard to this, it might be noted that in Scripture the quality of the time is mentioned as to certain persons in order to indicate their knowledge or the condition of their actions. Here an obscure time is mentioned, at night. For the night is obscure and suited to the state of mind of Nicodemus, who did not come to Jesus free of care and anxiety, but in fear; for he was one of those of whom it is said that they “believed in him; but they did not admit it because of the Pharisees, so that they would not be expelled from the synagogue” (below 12:42). For their love was not perfect, so it continues, “For they loved the glory of men more than the glory of’ God.”
Further, night was appropriate to his ignorance and the imperfect understanding he had of Christ: “The night has passed, and day is at hand. So let us cast-off the works of darkness” (Rom 13:12); “They have not known or understood; they are walking in darkness” (Ps 81:5).
428 Then he is described from his statements, when he says that Nicodemus said to Jesus: Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God. Here he affirms Christ’s office as teacher when he says, Rabbi, and his power of acting, saying, for no one could perform the signs you perform, unles he had God with him. And in both remarks he says what is true, but he does not affirm enough.
He is right is calling Jesus Rabbi, i.e., Teacher, because, “You call me Teacher and Lord; and you do well, for so I am,” as we read below (13:13). For Nicodemus had read what was written in Joel (2:23): “Children of Sion, rejoice, and be joyful in the Lord your God, because he has given you a teacher of justice.” But he says too little, because he says that Jesus came as a teacher from God, but is silent on whether he is God. For to come as a teacher from God is common to all good prelates: “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, and they will feed you with knowledge and doctrine,” as it says in Jeremiah (3:15). Therefore, this is not unique to Christ even though Christ taught in a manner unlike other men. For some teachers teach only from without, but Christ also instructs within, because “He was the true light, which enlightens every man” (above 1:9); thus he alone gives wisdom: “I will give you an eloquence and a wisdom” (Lk 21:15), and this is something that no mere man can say.
429 He affirms his power because of the signs he saw. As if to say: I believe that you have come as a teacher from God, for no one could perform the signs you perform. And he is speaking the truth, because the signs which Christ did cannot be worked except by God, and because God was with him: “He who sent me is with me” (below 8:29). But he says too little, because he believed that Christ did not perform these signs through his own power, but as relying on the power of another; as though God were not with him by a unity of essence but merely by an infusion of grace. But this is false, because Christ performed these signs not by an exterior power but by his own; for the power of God and of Christ is one and the same. It is similar to what the woman says to Elijah: “Because of this I know that you are a man of God” (1 Kgs 17:24).
430 Then when he says that Jesus answered, Amen, amen, I say to you, he sets down the necessity for spiritual regeneration, because of the ignorance of Nicodemus. And so he says, Amen, amen. Here we should note that this word, amen, is a Hebrew word frequently employed by Christ; hence out of reverence for him no Greek or Latin translator wanted to translate it. Sometimes it means the same as “true” or “truly”; and sometimes the same as “so be it.” Thus is the Psalms 71 (v 19), 88 (v 53), and 106, where we have, “So be it, so be it,” the Hebrew has “Amen, amen.” But John is the only Evangelist who duplicates or makes a twin use of this word. The reason for this is that the other Evangelists are concerned mainly with matters pertaining to the humanity of Christ, which, since they are easier to believe, need less reinforcement; but John deals chiefly with things pertaining to the divinity of Christ, and these, since they are hidden and remote from men’s knowledge and experience, require greater formal declaration.
431 Next we should point out that at first glance this answer of Christ seems to be entirely foreign to Nicodemus’ statement. For what connection is there between Nicodemus’ statement, Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, and the Lord’s reply, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
But we should note, as has already been stated, that Nicodemus, having an imperfect opinion about Christ, affirmed that he was a teacher and performed these signs as a mere man. And so the Lord wishes to show Nicodemus how he might arrive at a deeper understanding of him. And as a matter of fact, the Lord might have done so with an argument, but because this might have resulted in a quarrel—the opposite of which was prophesied about him: “He will not quarrel” (Is 42:2)—he wished to lead him to a true understanding with gentleness. As if to say: It is not strange that you regard me as a mere man, because one cannot know these secrets of the divinity unless he has achieved a spiritual regeneration. And this is what he says: unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
432 Here we should point out that since vision is an act of life, then according to the diverse kinds of life there will be diversity of vision. For there is a sentient life which some living things share in common, and this life has a sentient vision or knowledge. And there is also a spiritual life, by which man is made like God and other holy spirits; and this life enjoys a spiritual vision. Now spiritual things cannot be seen by the sentient: “The sensual man does not perceive those things that pertain to the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2:14), but they are perceived by the spiritual vision: “No one knows the things of God but the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2:11). So the apostle says: “You did not receive the spirit of slavery, putting you in fear again, but the spirit of adoption” (Rom 8:15). And we receive this spirit through a spiritual regenaration: “He saved us by the cleansing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit” (Ti 3:3). Therefore, if spiritual vision comes only through the Holy Spirit, and if the Holy Spirit is given through a cleansing of spiritual regeneration, then it is only by a cleansing of regeneration that we can see the kingdom of God. Thus he says, unless one is born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. As if to say: It is not surprising if you do not see the kingdom of God, because no one can see it unless he receives the Holy Spirit, through whom one is reborn a son of God.
433 It is not only the royal throne that pertains to a kingdom, but also the things needed for governing the kingdom, such as the royal dignity, royal favors, and the way of justice by which the kingdom is consolidated. Hence he says, he cannot see the kingdom of God, i.e., the glory and dignity of God, i.e., the mysteries of eternal salvation which are seen through the justice of faith: “The kingdom of God is not food and drink” (Rom 14:17).
Now in the Old Law there was a spiritual regeneration; but it was imperfect and symbolic: “All were baptized into Moses, in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor 10:2), i.e., they received baptism in symbol. Accordingly, they did see the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but only symbolically: “seeing from afar” (Heb 11:13). But in the New Law there is an evident spiritual regeneration, although imperfect, because we are renewed only inwardly by grace, but not outwardly by incorruption: “Although our outward nature is wasting away, yet our inward nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). And so we do see the kingdom of God and the mysteries of eternal salvation, but imperfectly, for as it says, “Now we see in a mirror, in an obscure manner” (1 Cor 13:12). But there is perfect regeneration in heaven, because we will be renewed both inwardly and outwardly. And therefore we shall see the kingdom of God in a most perfect way: “But then we will see face to face,” as is said in 1 Corinthians (13:12); and “When he appears we will be like him, because we will see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2).
434 It is clear, therefore, that just as one does not have bodily vision unless he is born, so one cannot have spiritual vision unless he is reborn. And according to the threefold regeneration, there is a threefold kind of vision.
435 Note that the Greek reading is not “again,” but anothe, i.e., “from above,” which Jerome translated as “again,” in order to suggest addition. And this is the way Jerome understood the saying, unless one is born again. It is as if he were saying: Unless one is reborn once more through a fraternal generation.
Chrysostoin, however, says that to be “born from above” is peculiar to the Son of God, because he alone is born from above: “The one who came from above is above all things” (below 3:31). And Christ is said to be born from above both as to time (if we may speak thus), because he was begotten from eternity: “Before the daystar I begot you” (Ps 109:3), and as to the principle of his generation, because he proceeds from the heavenly Father: “I came down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (below 6:38). Therefore, because our regeneration is in the likeness of the Son of God, inasmuch as “Those whom he foreknew he predestined to become conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29), and because that generation is from above, our generation also is from above: both as to the time, because of our eternal predestination, “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4), and as to its being a gift of God, as we read below (6:44), “No one can come to me unless the Father, who sent me, draws him”; and “You have been saved by the grace of God” (Eph 2:5).
436 Then when he says, Nicodemus said to him, he gives the manner of and the reason for this spiritual regeneration. First, the doubt of Nicodemus is set forth. Secondly, Christ’s response (v 5).
437 As to the first we should note that as stated in 1 Corinthians (2:14): “The sensual man does not perceive those things that pertain to the Spirit of God.” And so because Nicodemus was yet carnal and sensual, he was unable to grasp, except in a carnal manner, the things that were said to him. Consequently, what the Lord said ,to him about spiritual regeneration, he understood of carnal generation. And this is what he says: How can a man be born again when he is already an old man?
We should note here, according to Chrysostom, that Nicodemus wanted to object to what was said by the Savior. But his objection is foolish, because Christ was speaking of spiritual regeneration, and he is objecting in terms of carnal regeneration. In like manner, all the reasons brought forth to attack the things of faith are foolish, since they are not according to the meaning of Sacred Scripture.
438 Nicodemus objected to the Lord’s statement that a man must be born again according to the two ways in which this seemed impossible. In one way, on account of the irreversibility of human life; for a man cannot return to infancy from old age. Hence we read, “I am walking on a path,” namely, this present life, “by which I will not return” (Jb 16:23). And it is from this point of view that he says, How can a man be born again when he is already an old man? As if to say: Shall he become a child once more so that he can be reborn? “He will not return again to his home, and his place will not know him any more” (Jb 7:10). In the second way, regeneration seemed impossible because of the mode of carnal generation. Forin the beginning, when a man is generated, he is small in size, so that his mother’s womb can contain him; but later, after he is born, he continues to grow and reaches such a size that he cannot be contained within his mother’s womb. And so Nicodemus says, Is it possible for him to return to his mother’s womb and be born all over again? As if to say: He cannot, because the womb cannot contain him.
439 But this does not apply to spiritual generation. For no matter how spiritually old a man might become through sin, accordto the Psalm (31:3): “Because I kept silent, all my bones grew old,” he can, with the help of divine grace, become new, according to the Psalm (102:5): “Your youth will be renewed like the eagle’s.” And no matter how enormous he is, he can enter the spiritual womb of the Church by the sacrament of baptism. And it is clear what that spiritual womb is; otherwise it would never have been said: “From the womb, before the daystar, I begot you” (Ps 109:3). Yet there is a sense in which his objection applies. For just as a man, once he is born according to nature, cannot be reborn, so once he is born in a spiritual way through baptism, he cannot be reborn, because he cannot be baptized again: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism,” as we read in Ephesians (4:5).
440 Then we have the answer of Christ. Concerning this he does three things. First, he answers the arguments of Nicodemus by showing the nature of regeneration. Secondly, he explains this answer with a reason (v 6). Thirdly, he explains it with an example.
441 He answers the objections by showing that he is speaking of a spiritual regeneration, not a carnal one. And this is what he says: unless one is born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. As if to say: You are thinking of a carnal generation, but I am speaking of a spiritual generation.
Note that above he had said, he cannot see the kingdom of God, while here he says, he cannot enter the kingdom of God, which is the same thing. For no one can see the things of the kingdom of God unless he enters it; and to the extent that he enters, he sees. “I will give him a white stone upon which is written a new name, which no one knows but he who receives it” (Rv 5:5).
442 Now there is a reason why spiritual generation comes from the Spirit. It is necessary that the one generated be generated in the likeness of the one generating; but we are regenerated as sons of God, in the likeness of his true Son. Therefore, it is necessary that our spiritual regeneration come about through that by which we are made like the true Son. and this conies about by Our having his Spirit: “If any one does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not his” (Rom 8:9); “By this we know that we abide in him, and he in us: because he has given us of his Spirit” (1 Jn 4:13). Thus spiritual regeneration must come from the Holy Spirit. “You did not receive the spirit of slavery, putting you in fear again, but the spirit of adoption” (Rom 8:15); “It is the Spirit that gives life” (below 6:63).
443 Water, too, is necessary for this regeneration, and for three reasons. First, because of the condition of human nature. For man consists of soul and body, and if the Spirit alone were involved in his regeneration, this would indicate that only the spiritual part of man is regenerated. Hence in order that the flesh also be regenerated, it is necessary that, in addition to the Spirit through whom the soul is regenerated, something bodily be involved, through which the body is regenerated; and this,is water.
Secondly, water is necessary for the sake of human knowledge. For, as Dionysius says, divine wisdom so disposes all things that it provides for each thing according to its nature. Now it is natural for man to know; and so it is fitting that spiritual things be conferred on men in such a way that he may know them: “so that we may know what God has given us” (1 Cor 2:12). But the natural manner of this knowledge is that man know spiritual things by means of sensible things, since all our knowledge begins in sense knowledge. Therefore, in order that we might understand what is spiritual in our regeneration, it was fitting that there be in it something sensible and material, that is, water, through which we understand that just as water washes and cleanses the exterior in a bodily way, so through baptism a man is washed and cleansed inwardly in a spiritual way.
Thirdly, water was necessary so that there might be a correspondence of causes. For the cause of our regeneration is the incarnate Word: “He gave them power to become the sons of God,” as we saw above (1:12). Therefore it was fitting that in the sacraments, which have their efficacy from the power of the incarnate Word, there be something corresponding to the Word, and something corresponding to the flesh, or body. And spiritually speaking, this is water when the sacrament is baptism, so that through it we may be conformed to the death of Christ, since we are submerged in it during baptism as Christ was in the womb of the earth for three days: “We are buried with him by baptism” (Rom 6:4).
Further, this mystery was suggested in the first production of things, when the Spirit of God hovered over the waters (Gn 1:2). But a greater power was conferred on water by contact with the most pure flesh of Christ; because in the beginning water brought forth crawling creatures with living souls, but since Christ was baptized in the Jordan, water has yielded spiritual souls.
444 It is clear that the Holy Spirit is God, since he says, unless one is born again of water and the Holy Spirit (ex aqua et Spiritu Sancto). For above (1:13) he says: “who are born not from blood, nor from the desires of the flesh, nor from man’s willing it, but from God (ex Deo).” From this we can form the following argument: He from whom men are spiritually reborn is God; but men are spiritually reborn through the Holy Spirit, as it is stated here; therefore, the Holy Spirit is God.
445 Two questions arise here. First, if no one enters the kingdom of God unless he is born again of water, and if the fathers of old were not born again of water (for they were not baptized), then they have not entered the kingdom of God. Secondly, since baptism is of three kinds, that is, of water, of desire, and of blood, and many have been baptized in the latter two ways (who we say have entered the kingdom of God immediately, even though they were not born again of water), it does not seem to be true to say that unless one is born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
The answer to the first is that rebirth or regeneration from water and the Holy Spirit takes place in two ways: in truth and in symbol. Now the fathers of old, although they were not reborn with a true rebirth, were nevertheless reborn with a symbolic rebirth, because they always had a sense perceptible sign in which true rebirth was prefigured. So according to this, thus reborn, they did enter the kingdom of God, after the ransom was paid.
The answer to the second is that those who are reborn by a baptism of blood and fire, although they do not have regeneration in deed, they do have it in desire. Otherwise neither would the baptism of blood mean anything nor could there be a baptism of the Spirit. Consequently, in order that man may enter the kingdom of heaven, it is necessary that there be a baptism of water in deed, as in the case of all baptized persons, or in desire, as in the case of the martyrs and catechumens, who are prevented by death from fulfilling their desire, or in symbol, as in the case of the fathers of old.
446 It might be remarked that it was from this statement, unless one is born again of water and the Holy Spirit, that the Pelagians derived their error that children are baptized not in order to be cleansed from sin, since they have none, but in order to be able to enter the kingdom of God. But this is false, because as Augustine says in his book, The Baptism of Children, it is not fitting for an image of God, namely, man, to be excluded from the kingdom of God except for some obstacle, which can be nothing but sin. Therefore, there must be some sin, namely, original sin, in children who are excluded from the kingdom.
447 Then when he says, What is born of flesh is itself flesh, he proves by reason that it is necessary to be born of water and the Holy Spirit. And the reasoning is this: No one can reach the kingdom unless he is made spiritual; but no one is made spiritual except by the Holy Spirit; therefore, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again of the Holy Spirit.
So he says, what is born of flesh (ex carne) is itself flesh, i.e., birth according to the flesh makes one be born into the life of the flesh: “The first man was from the earth, earthly” (1 Cor 15:47); and what is born of Spirit (ex Spiritu) , i.e., from the power of the Holy Spirit, is itself spirit, i.e., spiritual.
448 Note, however, that this preposition ex (from, of, by) sometines designates a material cause, as when I say: “A knife is made of (ex) iron”; sometimes it designates an efficient cause, as when I say: “The house was built by (ex) a carpenter.” Accordingly, the phrase, what is born of (ex) flesh is itself flesh, can be understood according to either efficient or material causality. As efficient cause, indeed, because a power existing in flesh is productive of generation; and as material cause, because some camal element in animals makes up the animal generated. But nothing is said to be made out of spirit (ex spiritu) in a material sense, since spirit is unchangeable, whereas matter is the subject of change; but it is said in the sense of efficient causality.
According to this, we can discern a threefold generation. One is materially and effectively from (ex) the flesh, and is common to all who exist according to the flesh. Another is according to the Spirit effectively, and according to it we are reborn as sons of God through the grace of the Holy Spirit, and are made spiritual. The third is midway, that is, only materially from the flesh but effectively from the Holy Spirit. And this is true in the singular case of Christ: because he was born deriving his flesh materially from the flesh of his mother, but effectively from the Holy Spirit: “What she has conceived is of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:20). Therefore, he was born holy: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. And so the Holy One who will be born from you, will be called the Son of God” (Lk 1:35).
7 “Do not be surprised that I said to you,
you must be born again.
8 The wind blows where it wills,
and you hear its sound, but you do not know
where it comes from or where it goes.
So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can all this happen?” asked Nicodemus. 10 Jesus replied: “You are a teacher in Israel and you do not know these things?
11 “Amen, amen I say to you,
that we know of what we speak,
and we bear witness of what we see;
but you do not accept our testimony.
12 If I spoke of earthly things,
and you did not believe me,
how will you believe if I tell you of heavenly things?
13 No one has gone up to heaven
except the One who came down from heaven,
the Son of Man, who lives in heaven.
14 Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
15 so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost,
but have eternal life.”
449 Above, in his instruction on spiritual generation, the Lord presented a reason; here he gives an example. For we are led to see that Nicodemus was troubled when he heard that what is born of Spirit is itself spirit. And so the Lord says to him, Do not be surprised that I said to you, you must be born again.
Here we should note that there are two kinds of surprise or astonishment. One is the astonishment of devotion in the sense that someone, considering the great things of God, sees that they are incomprehensible to him; and so he is full of astonishment: “The Lord on high is wonderful” (Ps 92:4), “Your testimonies are wonderful” (Ps 118:129). Men are to be encouraged, not discouraged, to this kind of astonishment The other is the astonishment of disbelief, when someone does not believe what is said. So Matthew (13:54) says: “They were astonished,” and further on adds that “They did not accept him.” It is from this kind of astonishment that the Lord diverts Nicodeintis wheii he proposes an example and says: The wind (spiritus, wind, spirit) blows where it wills. In the literal sense, the same words can he explained in two ways.
450 In the first way, according to Chrysostom, spiritus is taken for the wind, as in Psalm 148 (v 8): “The winds of the storm that fulfill his word.” According to this interpretation, he says four things about the wind. First, the power of the wind, when he says, the wind blows where it wills. And if you say that the wind has no will, one may answer that “will” is taken for a natural appetite, which is nothing more than a natural inclination, about which it is said: “He created the weight of the wind” (Jb 28:25). Secondly, he tells the evidence for the wind, when he says, and you hear its sound, where “sound” (vox, voice, sound) refers to the sound the wind makes when it strikes a body. Of this we read: “The sound (vox) of your thunder was in the whirlwind” (Ps 76:19).
Thirdly, he mentions the origin of the wind, which is unknown; so he says, but you do not know where it comes from, i.e., from where it starts: “He brings forth the winds out of his storehouse” (Ps 134:7). Fourthly, he mentions the wind’s destination, which is also unknown; so he says, or where it goes you do not know, i.e., where it remains.
And he applies this similarity to the subject under discussion, saying, So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. As if to say: If the wind, which is corporeal, has an origin which is hidden and a course that is unknown, why are you surprised if you cannot understand the course of spiritual regeneration.
451 Augustine objects to this explanation and says that the Lord was not speaking here about the wind, for we know where each of the winds comes from and where it goes. For “Auster” comes from the south and goes to the north; “Boreas” comes from the north and goes to the south. Why, then, does the Lord say of this wind, you do not know where it comes from or where it goes?
One may answer that there are two ways in which the source of the wind might be unknown. In one way, in general: and in this way it is possible to know where it comes from, i.e., from which direction of the world, for example, that Auster comes from the south, and where it goes, that is, to the north. In another way, in particular: and in this sense it is not known where the wind comes from, i.e., at which precise place it originated, or where it goes, i.e., exactly where it stops. And almost all the Greek doctors agree with this exposition of Chrysostom.
452 In another way, spiritus is taken for the Holy Spirit. And according to this, he mentions four things about the Holy Spirit. First, his power, saying, The Spirit blows where it wills, because it is by the free use of his power that he breathes where he wills and when he wills, by instructing hearts: “One and the same Spirit does all these things, distributing to each as he wills” (1 Cor 12:11). This refutes the error of Macedonius who thought that the Holy Spirit was the minister of the Father and the Son. But then he would not be breathing where he willed, but where he was commanded.
453 Secondly, he mentions the evidence for the Holy Spirit, when he says, and you hear its voice: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Ps 94:8).
Chrysostom objects to this and says that this cannot pertain to the Holy Spirit. For the Lord was speaking to Nicodemus, who was still an unbeliever, and thus not fit to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. We may answer to this, with Augustine, that there is a twofold voice of the Holy Spirit. One is that by which he speaks inwardly in man’s heart; and only believers and the saints hear this voice, about which the Psalm (84:9) says: “I will hear what the Lord God says within me.” The other voice is that by which the Holy Spirit speaks in the Scriptures or through those who preach, according to Matthew (10:20): “For it is not you who speak, but the Holy Splirit who is speaking through you.” And this voice is heard by unbelievers and sinners.
454 Thirdly, he refers to the origin of the Holy Spirit, which is hidden; thus he says, but you do not know where it comes from, although you may hear its voice. And this is because the Holy Spirit comes from the Father and the Son: “When the Paraclete comes, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father” (below 15:26). But the Father and the Son “dwell in inaccessible light, whom no man has seen or is able to see” (1 Tim 6:16).
455 Fourthly, he gives the destination of the Holy Spirit, which is also hidden; and so he says, you do not know where it goes, because the Spirit leads one to a hidden end, that is, eternal happiness. Thus it says in Ephesians (1:14) that the Holy Spirit is “the pledge of our inheritance.” And again, “The eye has not seen, nor has the ear heard, nor has the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).
Or, you do not know where it comes from, i.e., how the Spirit enters into a person, or where it goes, i.e., to what perfection he may lead him: “If he comes toward me, I will not see him” (Jb 9:11).
456 So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit, i.e., they are like the Holy Spirit. And no wonder: for as he had said before, “What is born of Spirit is itself spirit,” because the qualities of the Holy Spirit are present in the spiritual man, just as the qualities of fire are present in burning coal.
Therefore, the above four qualities of the Holy Spirit are found in one who has been born of the Holy Spirit. First of all, he has freedom: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17), for the Holy Spirit leads us to what is right: “Your good Spirit will lead me to the right path” (Ps 142:10); and he frees us from the slavery of sin and of the law: “The law of the Spirit, of life in Christ, has set me free” (Rom 8:2). Secondly, we get an indication of him through the sound of his words; and when we hear them we know his spirituality, for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.
Thirdly, he has an origin and an end that are hidden, because no one can judge one who is spiritual: “The spiritual man judges all things, and he himself is judged by no one” (1 Cor 2:15). Or, we do not know where such a person comes from, i.e., the source of his spiritual birth, which is baptismal grace; or where he goes, i.e., of what he is made worthy, that is, of eternal life, which remains concealed from us.
457 Then the cause and reason for spiritual regeneration are set forth. First, a question is asked by Nicodemus; secondly, the Lord’s answer is given (v 10).
458 It is apparent from the first that Nicodemus, as yet dull, and remaining a Jew on the level of sense, was unable to understand the mysteries of Christ in spite of the examples and explanations that were given. And so he says, How can all this happen?
There are two reasons why one may question about something. Some question because of disbelief, as did Zechariah, saying: “How will I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in age” (Lk 1:18); “He confounds those who search into mysteries” (Is 40:23). Others, on the other hand, question because of a desire to know, as the Blessed Virgin did when she said to the angel: “How shall this be, since I do not know man?” (Lk 1:34). It is the latter who are instructed. And so, because Nicodemus asked from a desire to learn, he deserved to be instructed.
459 And this is what follows: Jesus replied. First the Lord chides him for his slowness. Secondly, he answers his question (v 13).
460 He chides him for his slowness, basing himself on three things. First, the condition of the person to whom he is speaking, when he says, You are a teacher in Israel. And here the Lord did not chide him to insult him. Rather, because Nicodemus, presuming on his own knowledge, was still relying on his status as a teacher, the Lord wished to make him a temple of the Holy Spirit by humbling him: “For whom will I have regard? For he who is humble and of contrite spirit” (Is 66:2). And he says, You are a teacher, because it is tolerable if a simple person cannot grasp profound truths, but in a teacher, it deserves rebuke. And so he says, You are a teacher, i.e., of the letter that kills (2 Cor 3:6), and you do not know these things? i.e., spiritual things. “For although you ought to be teachers by now, you yourselves need to be taught again” (Heb 5:12).
461 You might say that the Lord would have rebuked Nicodemus justly if he had spoken to him about matters of the Old Law and he did not understand them; but he spoke to him about the New Law. I answer that the things which the Lord says of spiritual generation are contained in the Old Law, although under a figure, as is said in 1 Corinthians (10:2): “All were baptized into Moses, in the cloud and in the sea.” And the prophets also said this: “I will pour clean water upon you, and you will be cleansed from all your uncleanness” (Ez 36:25).
462 Secondly, he rebukes him for his slowness on account of the character of the person who is speaking. For it is tolerable if one does not acquiesce to the statements of an ignorant person; but it is reprehensible to reject the statements of a man who is wise and who possesses great authority. And so he says, Amen, amen I say to you, that we know of what we speak, and we bear witness of what we see. For a qualified witness must base his testimony on hearing or sight: “What we have seen and heard” (1 Jn 1:3). And so the Lord mentions both: we know of what we speak, and we bear witness of what we see. Indeed, the Lord as man knows all things: “Lord, you know all things” (below 21:17); “The Lord, whose knowledge is holy, knows clearly” (2 Mc 6:30). Further, he sees all things by his divine knowledge: “I speak of what I have seen with my Father,” as we read below (8:38).
He speaks in the plural, we know, we see, in order to suggest the mystery of the Trinity: “The Father, who dwells in me, he does the works” (below 14:10). Or, we know, i.e., I, and others who have been made spiritual, because “No one knows the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son wishes to reveal him” (Mt 11:27).
But you do not accept our testimony, so approved, so solid. “And his testimony no one accepts (below 3:32).
463 Thirdly, he rebukes him for his slowness because of the quality of the things under discussion. For it is not unusual when someone does not grasp difficult matters, but it is inexcusable not to grasp easy things. So he says, If I spoke of earthly things, and you did not believe, how will you believe if I tell you of heavenly things? As if to say: If you do not grasp these easy things, how will you be able to understand the progress of the Holy Spirit? “What is on earth we find difficult, and who will search Out the things in heaven,” as is said in Wisdom (9:10).
464 But one might object that the above does not show that the Lord spoke of earthly things to Nicodemus. I answer, according to Chrysostom, that the Lord’s statement, If I spoke of earthly things, refers to the example of the wind. For the wind, being something which is generable and corruptible, is regarded as an earthly thing. Or one might say, again according to Chrysostom, that the spiritual generation which is given in baptism is heavenly as to its source, which sanctifies and regenerates; but it is earthly as to its subject, for the one regenerated, man, is of the earth.
Or one might answer, according to Augustine, that we must understand this in reference to what Christ said earlier: “Destroy this temple,” which is earthly, because he said this about the temple of his body, which he had taken from the earth.
If I spoke of earthly things, and you did not believe, how will you believe if I tell you of heavenly things? As if to say: If you do not believe in a spiritual generation occurring in time, how will you believe in the eternal generation of the Son? Or, if you do not believe what I tell you about the power of my body, how will you believe what I tell you about the power of my divinity and about the power of the Holy Spirit?
465 Jesus replied. Here he answers the question. First, he lays down the causes of spiritual regeneration. Secondly, he explains what he says (3:16). Now there are two causes of spiritual regeneration, namely, the mystery of the incarnation of Christ, and his passion. So first, he treats of the incarnation; secondly, of the passion (3:14).
466 Here we should consider, first of all, how this answer of Christ is an adequa~,e reply to the question of Nicodemus. For above, when the Lord was speaking of the Spirit, he said: you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. We understand by this that spiritual regeneration has a hidden source and a hidden end. Now the things in heaven are hidden from us: “Who will search out the things in heaven?” (Wis 9:16). Therefore, the sense of Nicodemus’ question, How can all this happen? is this: How can something come from the secret things of heaven or go to the secret things of heaven? So before answering, the Lord expressed this interpretation of the question, saying, how will you believe if I tell you of heavenly things?
And immediately he begins to show whose prerogative it is to ascend into heaven, namely, anyone who came down from heaven, according to the statement of Ephesians (4:10): “He who descended is he who ascended.” This is verified even in natural things, namely, that each body tends to a place according to its origin or nature. And so in this way it can come about that someone, through the Spirit, may go to a place which carnal persons do not know, i.e., by ascending into heaven, if this is done through the power of one who descended from heaven: because he descended in order that, in ascending, he might open a way for us: “He ascends, opening the way before them” (Mi 2:13).
467 Some have fallen into error because of his saying, the One who came down from heaven, the Son of Man. For since Son of Man designates human nature, which is composed of soul and body, then because he says that the Son descended from heaven, Valentinus wanted to maintain that he even took his body from heaven and thus passed through the Virgin without receiving anything from her, as water passes through a pipe; so that his body was neither of an earthly substance nor taken from the Virgin. But this is contrary to the statement of the Apostle, writing to the Romans (1:3): “who was made from the seed of David according to the flesh.”
On the other hand, Origen said that he descended from heaven as to his soul, which, he says, had been created along with the angels from the very beginning, and that later this soul descended from heaven and took flesh from the Virgin. But this also conflicts with the Catholic faith, which teaches that souls do not exist before their bodies.
468 Therefore, we should not understand that the Son of Man descended from heaven according to his human nature, but only according to his divine nature. For since in Christ there is one suppositum, or hypostasis, or person of the two natures, the divine and human natures, then no matter from which of these two natures this suppositum is named, divine and human things can be attributed to him. For we can say that the Son of Man created the stars and that the Son of God was crucified. But the Son of God was crucified, not according to his divine nature, but according to his human nature; and the Son of Man created the stars according to his divine nature. And so in things that are said of Christ, the distinction is not to be taken with respect to that about which they are said, because divine and human things are said of God and man indifferently; but a distinction must be made with respect to that according to which they are said, because divine things are said of Christ according to his divine nature, but human things according to his human nature. Thus, to descend from heaven is said of the Son of Man, not according to his human nature, but according to his divine nature, according to which it was appropriate to him to have been from heaven before the incarnation, as is said, “Heaven belongs to the Lord” (Ps 113:16).
469 he is said to have come down, but not by local motion, becatise then he Would not have remained in heaven; for nothing which moves locally remains in the place from which it comes down. And so to exclude local motion, he adds, who lives in heaven. As if to say: He descended from heaven in such a way as yet to be in heaven. For he came down from heaven without ceasing to be above, yet assuming a nature which is from below. And because he is not enclosed or held fast by his body which exists on earth, he was, according to his divinity, in heaven and everywhere. And therefore to indicate that he is said to have come down in this way, because he assumed a [human] nature, he said, the Son of Man came down, i.e., insofar as he became Son of Man.
470 Or it can be said, as Hilary does, that he came down from heaven as to his body: not that the material of Christ’s body came down from heaven, but that the power which formed it was from heaven.
471 But why does he say, No one has gone up to heaven except the Son of Man, who lives in heaven? For have not Paul and Peter and the other saints gone up, according to 2 Corinthians (5:1): “We have a house in the heavens.” I answer that no one goes up into heaven except Christ and his members, i.e., those believers who are just. Accordingly, the Son of God came down from heaven in order that, by making us his members, he might prepare us to ascend into heaven: now, indeed, in hope, but later in reality. “He has raised us up, and has given us a place in heaven in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6).
472 Here he mentions the mystery of the passion, in virtue of which baptism has its efficacy: “We who have been baptized into Christ Jesus, have been baptized into his death” (Rom 6:3). And with regard to this he does three things. First, he gives a symbol for the passion. Secondly, the manner of the passion. Thirdly, the fruit of the passion.
473 He takes the symbol from the old law, in order to adapt to the understanding of Nicodemus; so he says, Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert. This refers to Numbers (21:5) when the Lord, faced with the Jewish people saying, “We are sick of this useless food,” sent serpents to punish them; and when the people came to Moses and he interceded with the Lord, the Lord commanded that for a remedy they make a serpent of bronze; and this was to serve both as a remedy against those serpents and as a symbol of the Lord’s passion. Hence it says that this bronze serpent was lifted up as a sign (Nm 21:9).
Now it is characteristic of serpents that they are poisonous, but not so the serpent of bronze, although it was a symbol of a poisonous serpent. So, too, Christ did not have sin, which is also a poison: “Sin, when it is fully developed, brings forth death” (Jas 1:15); but he had the likeness of sin: “God sent his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3). And thus Christ had the effect of the serpent against the insurgence of inflamed concupiscences.
474 He shows the manner of the passion when he says, so must the Son of Man be lifted up: and this refers to the lifting up of the cross. So below (12:34) when it says, “The Son of Man must be lifted up,” it also has, “He said this to indicate the manner of his death.”
He willed to die lifted up, first of all, to cleanse the heavens: for since he had cleansed the things on earth by the sanctity of his life, the things of the air were left to be cleansed by his death: “through him he should reconcile all things to himself, whether on earth or in the heavens, making peace through his blood” (Col 1:20). Secondly, to triumph over the demons who prepare for war in the air: “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2). Thirdly, he wished to die lifted up to draw our hearts to himself: “I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to myself” (below 12:32). And fourthly, because in the death of the cross he was lifted up in the sense that there he triumphed over his enemies; so it is not called a death, but a lifting up: “He will drink from the stream on the way, therefore he will lift up his head” (Ps 109:7). Fifthly, he willed to die lifted up because the cross was the reason for his being lifted up, i.e., exalted: “He became obedient to the Father even to death, the death of the cross; on account of which God has exalted him” (Phil 2:8).
475 Now the fruit of Christ’s passion is eternal life; hence he says, so that everyone who believes in him, performing good works, may not be lost, but have eternal life. And this fruit corresponds to the fruit of the symbolic serpent. For whoever looked upon the serpent of bronze was freed from poison and his life was preserved. But he who looks upon the lifted up Son of Man, and believes in the crucified Christ, he is freed from poison and sin: “Whoever believes in me will never die” (below 11:26), and is preserved for eternal life. “These things are written that you may believe ... and that believing you may have life in his name” (below 20:3 1).
16 “For God so loved the world
that he gave his Only Begotten Son,
so that whoever believes in him should not perish,
but have eternal life.
17 God did not send his Son into the world
to judge the world,
but that the world might he saved through him.
18 Whoever believes in him is not judged;
but whoever does not believe is already judged,
since he does not believe in the name of the
Only Begotten Son of God.
19 The judgment of condemnation is this:
the light came into the world,
and men loved darkness more than the light,
because their deeds were evil.
20 Everyone who practices evil hates the light,
and does not approach the light
for fear that his deeds might be exposed.
21 But everyone who practices the truth
comes to the light,
to make clear that his deeds are done in God.”
476 Above, the Lord assigned as the cause of spiritual regeneration the coming down of the Son and the lifting up of the Son of Man; and he set forth its fruit, which is eternal life. But this fruit seemed unbelievable to men laboring under the necessity of dying. And so now the Lord explains this. First, he proves the greatness of the fruit from the greatness of God’s love. Secondly, he rejects a certain reply (v 17).
477 Here we should note that the cause of all our good is the Lord and divine love. For to love is, properly speaking, to will good to someone. Therefore, since the will of God is the cause of things, good comes to us because God loves us. And God’s love is the cause of the good of nature: “You love everything which exists” (Wis 11:2 5). It is also the cause of the good which is grace: “I have loved you with an. everlasting love, and so I have drawn you” i.e., through grace (Jer 3 1:3). But it is because of his great love that he gives us the good of glory. So he shows us here, from four standpoints, that this love of God is the greatest.
First, from the person of the one loving, because it is God who loves, and immeasurably. So he says, For God so loved: “He has loved the people; all the holy ones are in his hand” (Dt 33:3). Secondly, from the condition of the one who is loved, because it is man, a bodily creature of the world, i.e., existing in sin: “God shows his love for us, because while we were still his enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom 5:8). Thus he says, the world. Thirdly, from the greatness of his gifts, for love is shown by a gift; as Gregory says: “The proof of love is given by action.” But God has given us the greatest of gifts, his Only Begotten Son, and so he says, that he gave his Only Begotten Son. “God did not spare his own Soil, but delivered him up for all of us” (Rom 8:32).
He says his Son, i.e., his natural Son, consubstantial, not an adopted son, i.e., not those sons of which the Psalmist says: “I said: You are gods” (Ps 81:6). This shows that the opinion of Arius is false: for if the Son of God were a creature, as he said, the immensity of God’s love through the taking on of infinite goodness, which no creature can receive, could not have been revealed in him. He further says Only Begotten, to show that God does not have a love divided among many sons, but all of it is for that Son whom he gave to prove the immensity of his love: “For the Father loves the Son, and shows him everything that he does” (below 5:20).
Fourthly, from the greatness of its fruit, because through him we have eternal life. Hence he says, so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life, which he obtained for us through the death of the cross.
478 But did God give his Son with the intention that he should die on the cross? He did indeed give him for the death of the cross inasmuch as he gave him the will to suffer on it. And he did this in two ways. First, because as the Son of God he willed from eternity to assume flesh and to suffer for us; and this will he had from the Father. Secondly, because the will to suffer was infused into the soul of Christ by God.
479 Note that above, when the Lord was speaking about the coming down which belongs to Christ according to his divinity, he called him the Son of God; and this because of the one suppositum of the two natures, as was explained above. And so divine things can be said about the suppositum of the human nature, and human things can be said about the suppositum of the divine nature, but not with reference to the same nature. Rather, divine things are said with reference to the divine nature, and human things with reference to the human nature. Now the specific reason why he here calls him the Son of God is that he set forth that gift as a sign of the divine love, through which the fruit of eternal life comes to us. And so, he should have been called by that name which indicates the power that produces eternal life; and this power is not in Christ as Son of Man but as Son of God: “This is the true God and eternal life,” as we read in 1 John (5:20); “In him was life” (above 1:4).
480 Note also that he says, should not perish. Someone is said to be perishing when he is hindered from arriving at the end to which he is ordained. But the end to which man is ordained is eternal life, and as long as he sins, he turns himself from that end. And although while he is living he cannot entirely perish in the sense that he cannot be restored, yet when he dies in sin, then he entirely perishes: “The way of the wicked will perish” (Ps 1:7).
He indicates the immensity of God’s love in saying, have eternal life: for by giving eternal life, he gives himself. For eternal life is nothing else than enjoying God. But to give oneself is a sign of great love: “But God, who is rich in mercy, has brought us to life in Christ” (Eph 2:5), i.e., he gave us eternal life.
481 Here the Lord excludes an objection that might be made. For in the old law it was promised that the Lord would come to judge: “The Lord will come to judge” (Is 3:14). So someone might say that the Son of God had not come to give eternal life but in order to judge the world. The Lord rejects this. First, he shows that he has not come to judge. Secondly, he proves it (v 18).
482 So he says: The Son of God has not come to judge, because God did not send his Son, referring to his first coming, into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. The same thing is found below (12:47): “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.”
Now man’s salvation is to attain to God: “My salvation is in God” (Ps 61:8). And to attain to God is to obtain eternal life; hence to be saved is the same as to have eternal life. However, because the Lord says, “I did not come to judge the world,” men should not be lazy or abuse God’s mercy, or give themselves over to sin: because although in his first coming he did not come to judge but to forgive, yet in his second coming, as Chrysostom says, he will come to judge but not to forgive. “At the appointed time I will judge with rigor” (Ps 74:3).
483 However, this seems to conflict with what is said below (9:39): “1 came into this world to judge.” I answer that there are two kinds of judgment. One is the judgment of distinction, and the Son has come for this in his first coming; because with his coming men are distinguished, some by blindness and some by the light of grace. The other is the judgment of condemnation; and he did not come for this as such.
484 Now he proves what he had said, as though by a process of elimination, in the following way: Whoever will be judged will be either a believer or an unbeliever. But I have not come to judge unbelievers, because they are already judged. Therefore, from the outset, God did not send his Son to judge the world. So first he shows that believers are not judged. Secondly, that unbelievers are notjudged (v 18).
485 He says therefore: I have not come to judge the world: because he did not come to judge believers, for Whoever believes in him is not judged, with the judgment of condemnation, with which no one who believes in him with faith informed by love is judged: “Whoever believes ... will not encounter judgment, but will pass from death to life” (below 5:24). But he is judged with the judgment of reward and approval, of which the Apostle says: “It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Cor 4:4).
486 But will there be many believing sinners who will not be damned? I reply that some heretics [e.g., Origen] have said that no believer, however great a sinner he may be, will be damned, but he will be saved by reason of his foundation of salvation, namely, his faith, although he may suffer some [temporary] punishment. They take as the basis of their error the statement of the Apostle: “No one can lay a foundation other that the one that has been laid, that is, Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:11); and further on: “If a man’s building burns ... he himself will be saved as one fleeing through fire” (3:15).
But this view is clearly contrary to what the Apostle says in Galatians (5:1): “It is obvious what proceeds from the flesh: lewd conduct, impurity, licentiousness ... Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Therefore we must say that the foundation of salvation is not faith without charity (unformed faith), but faith informed by charity. Significantly therefore the Lord did not say, “whoever believes him,” but whoever believes in him, that is, whoever by believing tends toward him through love is not judged, because he does not sin mortally, thereby removing the foundation.
Or one could say, following Chrysostom, that everyone who acts sinfully is not a believer: “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions” (Ti 1:16); but only one who acts worthily: “Show me your faith by your works” (Jas 2:18). It is only such a one who is not judged and not condemned for unbelief.
487 Here [the Lord] shows that unbelievers are not judged. First he makes the statement; secondly, he explains it (v 19).
488 Concerning the first we should note, according to Augustine, that Christ does not say, “whoever does not believe is judged,” but rather is not judged. This can be explained in three ways. For, according to Augustine, whoever does not believe is not judged, because he is already judged, not in fact, but in God’s foreknowledge, that is, it is already known to God that he will be condemned: “The Lord knows who are his” (2 Tim 2:19). In another way: according to Chrysostom, whoever does not believe is already judged, that is, the very fact that he does not believe is for him a condemnation: for not to believe is not to adhere to the light—which is to live in darkness, and this is a momentous condemnation: “All were bound with one chain of darkness” (Wis 17:17). “What kind ofjoy can I have, I who sit in darkness and do not see the light of heaven?” (Tb 5:12). In a third way: also according to Chrysostom, whoever does not believe is not judged, that is, being already condemned, he displays the obvious reason for his condemnation. This is like saying that a person who is proven guilty of death is already dead, even before the sentence of death has been passed on him, because he is as good as dead.
Hence Gregory says that in passing judgments there is a twofold order. Some will be sentenced by a trial; such are the ones who have something not deserving of condemnation, namely, the good of faith, that is, sinners who believe. But unbelievers, Whose reason for condemnation is manifest, are sentenced without trial; and of these it is said, whoever does not believe is already judged. “In judgment the wicked will not stand” (Ps 1:6), that is, stand in trial.
489 It should be noted that to be judged is the same as to be condemned; and to be condemned is to be shut out from salvation, to which only one road leads, that is, the name of the Son of God: “There is no other name under heaven given to men, by which we are saved” (Acts 4:12); “O’God, save me by your name” (Ps 53:3). Therefore, those who do not believe in the Son of God are cut off from salvation, and the cause of their damnation is evident.
490 Here the Lord explains his statement that unbelievers have an evident cause for their condemnation. First, he sets forth the sign which shows this. Secondly, the fittingness of this sign (v 20).
491 In the sign he sets forth he does three things. First, he mentions the gift of God. Secondly, the perversity of mind in unbelievers. Thirdly, the cause of this perversity.
So he says: It is abundantly clear that whoever does not believe is already judged, because the light came into the world. For men were in the darkness of ignorance, and God destroyed this darkness by sending a light into the world so that men might know the truth: “I am the light of the world. He who follows me does not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (below 8:12); “To enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Lk 1:78). Now the light came into the world because men could not come to it: for “He dwells in inaccessible light, whom no man has seen or is able to see” (1 Tim 6:16).
It is also clear from the perversity of mind in unbelievers who loved darkness more than the light, i.e., they preferred to remain in the darkness of ignorance rather than be instructed by Christ: “They have rebelled against the light” (Jb 24:13); “Woe to you who substitute darkness for light, and light for darkness” (Is 5:20).
And the cause of this perversity is that their deeds were evil: and such deeds do not conform to the light but seek the darkness: “Let us cast off the works of darkness” (Rom 13:12), i.e., sins, which seek the darkness; “Those who sleep, sleep at night” (1 Thes 5:7); “The eye of the adulterer watches for the darkness,” as we read in Job (24:15). Now it is by withdrawing from the light,which is unpleasant to him, that one does not believe the light.
492 But do all unbelievers produce evil works? It seems not: for many Gentiles have acted with virtue; for example, Cato, and many others. I answer, with Chrysostom, that is it one thing to work by reason of virtue, and another by reason of a natural aptitude or disposition. For some act well because of their natural disposition, because their temperament is not inclined in a contrary way. And even unbelievers can act well in this way. For example, one may live chastely because he is not assailed by concupiscence; and the same for the other virtues. But those who act well by reason of virtue do not depart from virute, in spite of inclinations to the contrary vice, because of the rightness of their reason and the goodness of their will; and this is proper to believers.
Or, one might answer that although unbelievers may have done good things, they do not do them for love of virute but out of vainglory. Further, they did not do all things well; for they failed to render to God the worship due him.
493 Then when he says, Everyone who practices evil hates the light, he shows the appropriateness of the sign he used. First, with respect to those who are evil. Secondly, with respect to the good.
494 So he says: The reason why they did not love the light is that their works were evil. And this is plain because Everyone who practices evil hates the light. He does not say, “practiced,” but rather practices: because if someone has acted in an evil way, but has repented and is sorry,seeing that he has done wrong, such a person does not hate the light but comes to the light. But Everyone who practices evil, i.e., persists in evil, is not sorry, nor does he come to the light, but he hates it; not because it reveals truth, but because it reveals a person’s sins. For an evil person still wants to know the light and the truth; but he hates to be unmasked by it. “If the dawn suddenly appears, they regard it as the shadow of death” Qb 24:17). And so he does not approach the light; and this for fear that his deeds might be exposed. For no one who is unwilling to desert evil wants to be rebuked; this is fled from and hated. “They hate the one who rebukes at the city gate” (Am 5:10); “A corrupt man does not love the one who rebukes him” (Prv 15:12).
495 Now he shows the same things with respect to the good, who practice the truth, i.e., perform good works. For truth is found not only in thought and words. but also in deeds. Everyone of these comes to the light.
But did anyone practice the truth before Christ? It seems not, for to practice the truth is not to sin; and “before Christ all have sinned” (Rom 3:23). I answer, according to Augustine, that he practices the truth in himself who is displeased at the evil he has done; and after leaving the darkness, keeps himself from sin, and repenting of the past, comes to the light, with the special intention of making his actions known.
496 But this conflicts with the teaching that no one should make public the good he has done; and this was a reason why the Lord rebuked the Pharisees. I answer that it is lawful to want one’s works to be seen by God so that they may be approved: “It is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom God commends” (2 Cor 10:18); “My witness is in heaven,” as is said in Job (16:20). It is also lawful to want them to be seen by one’s own conscience, so that one may rejoice: “Our glory is this: the testimony of our conscience” (2 Cor 1:12). But it is reprehensible to want them to be seen by men in order to be praised or for one’s own glory. Yet, holy persons desire that their good works be known to men for the sake of God’s glory and for the good of the faith: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:16). Such a person comes to the light to make clear that his deeds are done in God, that is, according to God’s commandment or through the grace of God. For whatever good we do, whether it be avoiding sin, repenting of what has been done, or doing good works, it is all from God: “You have accomplished all our works” (Is 26:12).
22 After this Jesus and his disciples came to Judean territory; he stayed there with his disciples and was baptizing. 23 But John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, where the water was plentiful, and people kept coming and were baptized. 24 John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison. 25 A controversy arose between the disciples of John and the Jews concerning purification. 26 They went to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the man who was with you across the Jordan, the one of whom you have given testimony, he is here baptizing, and all the people are flocking to him.”
497 Above, the Lord gave us his teaching on spiritual regeneration in words, here he completes his teaching through action, by baptizing. First, two kinds of baptism are mentioned. Secondly, a question about their relationship is raised (v 25). As to the first, two things are done. Mention is first made of the baptism of Christ. Secondly, of the baptism of John.
498 He says first, After this, i.e., the teaching on spiritual regeneration, Jesus and his disciples came to Judean territory. There is a question here about the literal meaning. For above, the Evangelist had said that the Lord had come from Galilee to Jerusalem, which is in Judean territory, where he taught Nicodemus. So how, after teaching Nicodemus, can he come into Judea, since he was already there?
Two answers are given to this. According to Bede, after his discussion with Nicodemus, Christ went to Galilee, and after remaining there for a time, returned to Judea. And so After this Jesus and his disciples came to Judean territory, should not be understood to mean that he came into Judea immediately after his talk with Nicodemus. Another explanation, given by Chrysostom, is that he did come into the territory of Judea immediately after this discussion: for Christ wanted to preach where the people gathered, so that many might be converted: “I have declared your justice in the great assembly” (Ps 3 9:10); “1 have spoken openly to the world” (below 18:20). Now there were two places in Judea where the Jewish people gathered: Jerusalem, where they went for their feasts, and the Jordan, where they gathered on account of John’s preaching and his baptism. And so the Lord used to visit both places; and after the feast days were over in Jerusalem, which is in one part of Judea, he went to another part, to the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
499 As for the moral sense, Judea means “confession,” to which Jesus came, for Christ visits those who confess their sins or speak in praise of God: “Judea became his sanctuary” (Ps 113:2). He stayed there, because he did not make a merely temporary visit: “We will come to him, and make our abode with him,” as it says below (14:23). And was baptizing, i.e., cleansing from sin; because unless one confesses his sins he does not obtain forgiveness: “He who hides his sins will not prosper” (Prv 28:13).
500 Then when he says, But John also was baptizing, the Evangelist presents the baptism of John. And in regard to this he does four things. First, he presents the person who is baptizing. Secondly, the place of the baptism. Thirdly, its fruit. Fourthly, the time.
501 John is the person who is baptizing-, so he says, John also was baptizing. There is a question about this: Since John’s baptism was ordained to the baptism of Christ, it seems that John should have stopped baptizing when Christ started to baptize, just as the symbol does not continue when the truth comes. Three reasons are given for this. The first is in relation to Christ, for John baptized in order that Christ might be baptized by him. But it was not fitting that John baptize just Christ; otherwise, on this point alone, it might seem that John’s baptism was superior to Christ’s. Accordingly, it was expedient that John baptize others before Christ, because before Christ’s teaching was to be made public it was necessary that men be prepared for Christ by John’s baptism. In this way, the baptism of John is related to the baptism of Christ as the catechesis or religious instruction given to prospects to teach and prepare them for baptism is related to the true baptism. It was likewise important that John baptize others after he had baptized Christ, so that John’s baptism would not seem to be worthless. For the same reason, the practice of the ceremonies of the old law was not abolished as soon as the truth came, but as Augustine says, the Jews could lawfully observe them for a time.
The second reason relates to John. For if John had stopped baptizing at once after Christ began baptizing, it might have been thought that he stopped out of envy or anger. And because, as the Apostle says, “We ought to look after what is good, not only before God, but also before all men” (Rom 12:17), this is the reason why John did not stop at once.
The third reason relates to John’s disciples, who were already beginning to act like zealots toward Christ and his disciples, because they were baptizing. So if John had entirely stopped from baptizing, it would have provoked his disciples to an even greater zeal and opposition to Christ and his disciples. For even while John continued baptizing, they were hostile to Christ’s baptism, as later events showed. And so John did not stop at once: “Take care that your freedom does not become a hindrance to those who are weak,” as is said in 1 Corinthians (8:9).
502 The place of his baptism was at Aenon near Salim, where the water was plentiful. Another name for Salim is Salem, which is the village from which the king Melchizedek came. It is called Salim here because among the Jews a reader may use any vowel he chooses in the middle of his words; hence it made no difference to the Jews whether it was pronounced Salim or Salem. He added, where the water was plentiful, to explain the name of this place, i.e., Aenon, which is the same as “water.”
503 The fruit of his baptism is the remission of sins; thus he says, people kept coming and were baptized, i.e., cleansed: for as is stated in Matthew (3:5) and in Luke (3:7), great crowds came to John.
504 The time is indicated when he says, John had not yet been thrown into prison. He says this so that we may know that he began his narrative of Christ’s life before the other Evangelists. For the others began their account only from the time of John’s imprisonment. So Matthew (4:12) says: “When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee.” And so, because they had passed over the things that Christ did before John’s imprisonment, John, who was the last to write a Gospel, supplied these omissions. He suggests this when he says: John had not yet been thrown into prison.
505 Note that by divine arrangement it came about that when Christ began to baptize, John did not continue his own baptizing and preaching for very long, in order not to create disunion among the people. But he was granted a little time so that it would not seem that he deserved to be repudiated, as was mentioned before. Again, by God’s arrangement, it came about that after the faith had been preached and the faithful converted, the temple was utterly destroyed, in order that all the devotion and hope of the faithful could be directed to Christ.
506 Then when he says, A controversy arose, he brings in the issue of the two baptisms. First, the issue is mentioned. Secondly, it is brought to John’s attention (v 26). Thirdly, the issue is resolved.
507 Because both John and Christ were baptizing, the disciples of John, out of zeal for their teacher, started a controversy over this. And this is what he says, A controversy arose, i.e., a dispute, between the disciples of John, who were the first to raise the issue, and the Jews, whom the disciples of John had rebuked for preferring Christ, because of the miracles he did, to John, who did not do any miracles. The issue was concerning purification, i.e., baptizing. The cause of their envy and the reason why they started the controversy was the fact that John sent those he baptized to Christ, but Christ did not send those he baptized to John. It seemed from this, and perhaps the Jews even said so, that Christ was greater than John. Thus, the disciples of John, having not yet become spiritual, quarreled with the Jews over the baptisms. “While there is envy and fighting among you, are you not carnal?” (1 Cor 3:3).
508 They referred this issue to John; hence he says, They went to John. If we examine this closely, we see that they were trying to incite John against Christ. Indeed, they are like the gossip and the double-tongued: “Those who gossip and are double-tongued are accursed, for they disturb many who are at peace” (Sir 28:15).
So they bring up four things calculated to set John against Christ. First, they recall the previous unimportant status of Christ. Secondly, the good John did for him. Thirdly, the role which Christ took on. Fourthly, the loss to John because of Christ’s new role.
509 They recall Christ’s unimportance when they say, the man who was with you, as one of your disciples; and not the one you were with as your teacher. For there is no good reason for envy if honor is shown to one who is greater; rather, envy is aroused when honor is given to an inferior: “I have seen slaves on horses, and princes walking like slaves” (Ecc 10:7); “I called my servant, and he did not answer me” (Jb 19:16). For a master is more disturbed at the rebellion of a servant and a subject than of anyone else.
510 Secondly, they remind John of the good he did Christ. Thus they do not say, “the one whom you baptized,” because they would then be admitting the greatness of Christ which was shown during his baptism when the Holy Spirit came upon him in the form of a dove and in the voice of the Father speaking to him. So they say, the one of whom you have given testimony, i.e., we are very angry that the one you made famous and admired dares to repay you in this way: “The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me” (Ps 40:10). They said this because those who seek their own glory and personal profit from their office become dejected if their office is taken over by someone else
511 And so thirdly, they even add that Christ took over John’s office for himself, when they say, he is here baptizing, i.e., he is exercising your office; and this also distrubed them very much. For we generally see that men of the same craft are envious and underhanded with respect to one another; a potter envies another potter, but does not envy a carpenter. So, even teachers, who are seeking their own honor, become sad if another teaches the truth. In opposition to them, Gregory says: “The mind of a holy pastor wishes that others teach the truth which he cannot teach all by himself.” So also Moses: “Would that all the people might prophesy,” as we read in Numbers (11:29).
512 Yet they were not satisfied with merely disturbing John, rather they report something that should really excite him, that is, the loss that John seemed to be having because of the office Christ took over. They give this when they say: and all the people are flocking to him, i.e., the ones who used to come to you. In other words, they have rejected and disowned you, and now are all going to his baptism. It is clear from Matthew (11:7) that they used to go to John: “What did you go into the desert to see?” The same envy affected the Pharisees against Christ; so they said: “Look, the whole world has gone after him” (below 12:19). However, all this did not set John againt Christ, for he was not a reed swaying in the wind, and this is clear from John’s answer to their question.
27 John replied and said:
“No one can lay hold of anything
unless it is given to him from heaven.
28 “You yourselves are witnesses to the fact that I said: I am not the Christ, but the one sent before him.
>29 “It is the groom who has the bride.
The groom’s friend waits there and listens to him,
rejoicing at hearing his voice.
Therefore in this case my joy is complete.
30 He must increase,
and I must decrease.
31 The One who came from above
is above all things.
He who is of earth is earthly,
and speaks of earthly things.
32a The One who comes from heaven
is above all things,
and he testifies to what he sees,
and to what he hears.
513 Here we have John’s answer to the question presented to him by his disciples. Their question contained two points: a complaint about the office Christ took on, and so they said, he is here baptizing; and about Christ’s increasing fame and reputation among the people, and so they said, all the people are flocking to him. Accordingly, John directs his answer to these two complaints. First he answers the complaint about the office Christ took on. Secondly, the complaint about Christ’s increasing reputation (v 30). As to the first he does two things. First, he shows the source of Christ’s office and of his own. Secondly, their difference (v 28). Thirdly, how Christ and he are related to these offices.
514 As to the first, note that although John’s disciples broach their question maliciously, and so deserve to be rebuked, John nevertheless does not sharply reprove them; and this because of their imperfection. For he feared that they might be provoked by a rebuke, leave him, and, joining forces with the Pharisees, publicly harass Christ. In acting this way he was putting into practice what is said of the Lord: “The burised reed he will not break” (Is 42:3). Again, we should also note that he begins his answer not by telling them what is great and wonderful about Christ, but what is common and obvious; and he did this on account oftheir envy. For since the excellence of a person provokes others to envy, if John had stressed Christ’s excellence at once, he would have fed the fire of their envy.
515 Thus he states something unpretentious, and says, No one can lay hold of anything unless it is given to him from heaven; and he said this to them in order to inspire them with reverence. As if to say: If all men are going to him, it is God’s doing, because no one can lay hold of anything, in the order of perfection and goodness, unless it is given to him from heaven. Therefore, if you oppose him, you oppose God. “If this plan or work is from men, it will fail,” as is said in Acts (5:38). This is the way Chrysostom explains it, applying these words to Christ.
Augustine, on the other hand, does much better when he refers them to John. No one can lay hold of anything unless it is given to him from heaven: as if to say: You are zealous on my behalf and you want me to be greater than Christ; but that has not been given to me, and I do not wish to usurp it: “No one takes this honor on himself” (Heb 5:4). This is the origin of their offices.
516 Then follows the difference of their offices, when he says, You yourselves are witnesses. As if to say: From the testimony which I bore to him, you can know the office committed to me by Christ: for You yourselves are witnesses, i.e., you can testify, to the fact that I said: I am not the Christ—“He declared openly and did not deny” (above 1:20)—but the one sent before him, as a herald before a judge. And so from my own testimony you can know my office, which is to go before Christ and prepare the way for him: “There was a man sent by God, whose name was John” (above 1:6). But the office of Christ is to judge and to preside. If we look at this closely we can see that John, like a skilful disputant, answers them with their own arguments: “I judge you out of your own mouth,” as said in Luke (19:22).
517 He shows how John is related to his own office when he says: It is the groom who has the bride. First, he gives a simile. Secondly, he applies it to his own situation. With respect to the first he does two things. First, he gives a simile which applies to Christ; and secondly, to himself.
518 As to the first, we should note that on the human level it is the groom who regulates, governs and has the bride. Hence he says, It is the groom who has the bride. Now the groom is Christ: “Like a bridegroom coming out of his bridal chamber” (Ps 18:6). His bride is the Church, which is joined to him by faith: “I will espouse you to myself in faith” Mos 2:20). In keeping with this figure, Zipporah said to Moses: “You are a spouse of blood to me” (Ex 4:25). We read of the marriage: “The marriage of the Lamb has come” (Rv 19:7). So, because Christ is the groom, he has the bride, that is, the Church; but my part is only to rejoice in the fact that he has the bride.
519 Consequently he says, The groom’s friend waits there and listens to him, rejoicing at hearing his voice. Although John had said earlier that he was not worthy to unfasten the strap of Jesus’ sandal, he here calls himself the friend of Jesus in order to bring out the faithfulness of his love for Christ. For a servant does not act in the spirit of love in regard to the things that pertain to his master, but in a spirit of servitude; while a friend, on the other hand, seeks his friend’s interests out of love and faithfulness. Hence a faithful servant is like a friend to his master: “If you have a faithful servant, treat him like yourself” (Sir 33:31). Indeed, it is proof of a servant’s faithfulness when he rejoices in the prosperity of his master, and when he obtains various goods, not for himself, but for his master. And so because John did not keep the bride entrusted to his care for himself, but for the groom, we can see that he was a faithful servant and a friend of the groom. It is to suggest this that he calls himself the groom’s friend.
Those who are friends of the truth should act in the same way, not turning the bride entrusted to their care to their own advantage and glory, but treating her honorably for the honor and glory of the groom; otherwise they would not be friends of the groom but adulterers. This is why Gregory says that a servant who is sent by the groom with gifts for the bride is guilty of adulterous thoughts if he himself desires to please the bride. This is not what the Apostle did: “I espoused you to one husband in order to present you to Christ as a chaste virgin” (2 Cor 11:2). And John did the same, because he did not keep the bride, i.e., the faithful, for himself, but brought them to the groom, that is, to Christ.
520 And so by saying, the groom’s friend, he suggests the faithfulness of his love. Further, he suggests his constancy when he says, waits, firm in friendship and faithfulness, not extolling himself above what he really is: “I will stand my watch” (Hb 2:1); “Be steadfast and unchanging” (1 Cor 15:58); “A faithful friend, if he is constant, is like another self” (Sir 6:11).
He suggests his attention when he says, and listens to him, i.e., attentively considers the way in which the groom is united to the bride. For according to Chrysostom, these words explain the manner of this marriage, for it is accomplished through faith, and “faith comes through hearing” (Rom 10:17). Or, he listens to him, i.e., reverently obeys him, by caring for the bride according to the commands of the groom: “I will listen to him as my master,” as is said in Isaiah (50:4). This is in opposition to those evil prelates who do not follow Christ’s command in governing the Church.
Likewise, he hints at his spiritual joy when he says, rejoicing at hearing his voice, that is, when the groom talks to his bride. And he says, rejoicing (literally, “rejoicing with joy”), to show the truth and perfection of his joy. For one whose rejoicing is not over the good, does not rejoice with true joy. And so, if it made me sad that Christ, who is the true groom, preaches to the bride, i.e., the Church, I would not be a friend of the groom; but I am not sad.
521 Therefore in this case my joy is complete, namely, in seeing what I have so long desired, that is, the groom speaking to his bride. Or, my joy is complete, i.e., brought to its perfect and due measure, when the bride. is united to the groom, because I now have my grace and I have completed my work: “I will rejoice in the Lord, and I will take joy in God, my Jesus” (Hb 3:18).
522 Then when he says, He must increase, and I must decrease, he answers their question as to their complaint about the increasing esteem given to Christ. First, he notes that such an increase is fitting. Secondly, he gives the reason for it (v 31).
523 So he says: You say that all the people are flocking to him, i.e., to Christ, and therefore that he is growing in honor and esteem among the people. But I say that this is not unbecoming, because He must increase, not in himself, but in relation to others, in the sense that his power becoipe more and more known. And I must decrease, in the reverence and esteem of the people: for esteem and reverence are not due to me as if I were a principal; but they are due to Christ. And therefore since he has come, the signs of honor are diminishing in my regard, but increasing in regard to Christ, just as with the coming of the prince, the office of the ambassador ceases: “When the perfect comes, what is imperfect will pass away” (1 Cor 13:10). And just as in the heavens the morning star appears and gives light before the sun, only to cease giving light when the sun appears, so John went before Christ and is compared to the morning star: “Can you bring out the morning star?” (Jb 38:32).
This is also signified in John’s birth and in his death. In his birth, because John was born at a time when the days are getting shorter; Christ, however, was born when the days are growing longer, on the twenty-fifth of December. In his death, because John dies shortened by decapitation; but Christ died raised up by the lifting up of the cross.
524 In the moral sense, this should take place in each one of us. Christ must increase in you, i.e., you should grow in the knowledge and love of Christ, because the more you are able to grasp him by knowledge and love, the more Christ increases in you; just as the more one improves in seeing one and the same light, the more that light seems to increase. Consequently, as men advance in this way, their self-esteem decreases; because the more one knows of the divine greatness, the less he thinks of his human smallness. As we read in Proverbs (30:1): “The revelation spoken by the man close to God”; and then there follows: “I am the most foolish of men, and the wisdom of men is not in me.” “I have heard you, but now I see you, and so I reprove myself, and do penance in dust and ashes,” as we read in Job (42:5).
525 Then when he says, The One who came from above is above all things, he gives the reason for what he has just said. And he does this in two ways. First, on the basis of Christ’s origin. And secondly, by considering Christ’s teaching.
526 Regarding the first, we should note that in order for a thing to be perfect, it must reach the goal fixed for it by its origin; for example, if one is born from a king, he should continue to progress until he becomes a king. Now Christ has an origin that is most excellent and eternal; therefore he must increase by the manifestation of his power, in relation to others, until it is recognized that he is above all things. Thus he says, The One who came from above, that is, Christ, according to his divinity. “No one has gone up to heaven except the One who came down from heaven” (above 3:13); “You are from below, I am from above” (below 8:23).
527 Or, he came from above, as to his human nature, i.e., from the “highest” condition of human nature, by assuming it according to what was predominant in it in each of its states. For human nature is considered in three states. First, is the state of human nature before sin; and from this state he took his purity by assuming a flesh unmarked by the stain of original sin: “A lamb without blemish” (Ex 12:5). The second state is after sin; and from this he took his capability to suffer and die by assuming the likeness of sinful flesh as regards its punishment, but not in its guilt: “God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3). The third state is that of resurrection and glory; and from this he took his impossibility of sinning and his joy of soul.
528 Here we must be on guard against the error of those who say that there was left in Adam something materially unmarked by the original stain, and this was passed on to his descendants; for example, to the Blessed Virgin, and that Christ’s body was formed from this. This is heretical, because whatever existed in Adam in a material way was marked by the stain of original sin. Further, the matter from which the body of Christ was formed was purified by the power of the Holy Spirit when he sanctified the Blessed Virgin.
529 The One who came from above, according to his divinity as well as his human nature, is above all things, both by eminence of rank: “The Lord is high above all nations” (Ps 112:4), and by his authority and power: “He has made him the head of the Church,” as is said in Ephesians (1:22).
530 Now he gives the reason for what he had said above (v 30), by considering the teaching of Christ. First, he describes the doctrine of Christ and its grandeur. Secondly, the difference in those who receive or reject this doctrine (v 32b). He does two things with respect to the first. First, he describes John’s doctrine. Secondly, he describes the doctrine of Christ (v 32).
531 As to the first we should note that a man is known mainly by what he says: “Your accent gives you away” (Mt 26:73); “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt 12:34). This is why the quality of a teaching or doctrine is considered according to the quality of its origin. Accordingly, in order to understand the quality of John’s doctrine, we should first consider his origin. So he says, He who is of earth, that is John, not only as to the matter from. which he was made, but also in his efficient cause: because the body of John was formed by a created power: “They dwell in houses of clay, and have a foundation of earth” (Jb 4:19). Secondly, we should consider the quality of John himself, which is earthly; and so he says, is earthly. Thirdly, the quality of his teaching is described: he speaks of earthly things. “You will speak of the earth” (Is 29:4).
532 But since John was full of the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb, how can he be said to speak of earthly things? I answer that, according to Chrysostom, John says he speaks of earthly things by comparison with the teaching of Christ. As if to say: The things I speak of are slight and inferior as becomes one of an earthly nature, in comparison to him “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3); “As the heavens are high above the earth, so my ways are high above your ways” (Is 55:9).
Or we could say according to Augustine, and this is a better explanation, that we can consider what any person has of himself and what he has received from another. Now John and every mere human of himself is of the earth. Therefore, from this standpoint, he has nothing to speak of except earthly things. And it’ he does speak of divine things, it is due to a divine enlightenment: “Your heart has visions, but unless they come from the Almighty, ignore them” (Sir 34:6). So the Apostle says, “It is not 1, but the grace of God which is with me” (1 Cor 15:10); “For it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit who is speaking through you” (Mt 10:20). Accordingly, as regards John, he is earthly and speaks of earthly things. And if there was anything divine in him, it did not come from him, as he was the recipient, but from the one enlightening him.
533 Now he describes the doctrine of Christ. And he does three things. First, he shows its origin, which is heavenly; hence he says, The One who comes from heaven is above all things. For although the body of Christ was of the earth as regards the matter of which it was made, yet it came from heaven as to its efficient cause, inasmuch as his body was formed by divine power. It also came from heaven because the eternal and uncreated person of the Son came from heaven by assuming a body. “No one has gone up to heaven except the One who came down from heaven, the Son of Man, who lives in heaven” (above 3:13).
Secondly, he shows the dignity of Christ, which is very great; so he says, is above all things. This was explained above.
Thirdly, he infers the dignity of Christ’s doctrine, which is most certain, because he testifies to what he sees and to what he hears. For Christ, as God, is truth itself; but as man, he is its witness: “For this was I born, and for this I came into the world: to testify to the truth” (below 18:37). Therefore, he gives testimony to himself: “You testify to yourself” (below 8:13). And he testifies to what is certain, because his testimony is about what he has heard with the Father: “I speak to the world what I have heard from my Father” (below 8:26); “What we have seen and heard” (1 Jn 1:3).
534 Note that knowledge of a thing is acquired in through sight and in one way another way through hearing. For by sight, a knowledge of a thing in acquired by means of the very thing seen; but by hearing, a thing is not made known by the very voice that is heard, but by means of the understanding of the one speaking. And so, because the Lord has knowledge which he has received from the Father, he says, to what he sees, insofar as he proceeds from the essence of the Father; and to what he hears, insofar as he proceeds as the Word of the Father’s intellect. Now because among intellectual beings, their act of being is other than their act of understanding, their knowledge through sight is other than their knowledge through hearing. But in God the Father, the act of being (esse) and the act of understanding (intelligere) are the same. Thus in the Son, to see and hear are the same thing. Moreover, since even in one who sees there is not the essence of the thing seen in itself but only its similitude, as also in the hearer there is not the actual thought of the speaker but only an indication of it, so the one who sees is not the essence of the thing in itself, nor is the listener the very thought expressed. In the Son, however, the very essence of the Father is received by generation, and he himself is the Word; and so in him to see and to hear are the same.
And so John concludes that since the doctrine of Christ has more grandeur and is more certain than his, one must listen to Christ rather than to him.
32b “And his testimony no one accepts.
33 But whoever accepts his testimony
has given a sign [or certifies] that God is true.
34 For the One whom God sends
speaks the words of God,
for God does not bestow the Spirit in fractions.
35 The Father loves the Son,
and has put everything into his hands.
36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.
But whoever is unbelieving in the Son
will not see life;
rather, the anger of God rests on him.”
535 Above, John the Baptist commended the teaching of Christ; here, however, he considers the difference in those who receive it. Thus, he treats of the faith that must be given to this teaching. And he does three things. First, he shows the scarcity of those who believe. Secondly, the obligation to believe (v 33). Lastly, the reward for belief (v 36).
536 He says therefore: I say that Christ has certain knowledge and that he speaks the truth. Yet although few accept his testimony, that is no reflection on his teaching, because it is not the fault of the teaching but of those who do not accept it: namely, the disciples of John, who did not yet believe, and the Pharisees, who slandered his teaching. Thus he says, And his testimony no one accepts.
537 No one can be explained in two ways. First, so that it implies a few; and so some did accept his testimony. He shows that some did accept it when he adds, “But whoever accepts his testimony.” The Evangelist used this way of speaking before when he said: “He came unto his own, and his own did not receive him” (above 1:11): because a few did receive him.
In another way, to accept his testimony is understood as to believe in God. But no one can believe of himself, but only due to God: “You are saved by grace” (Eph 2:8). And so he says, his testimony no one accepts, i.e., of himself, but it is given to him by God.
This can be explained in another way by realizing that Scripture refers to people in two ways. As long as we are in this world the wicked are mingled with the good; and so Scripture sometimes speaks of “the people,” or “they,” meaning those who are good; while at other times, the same words can refer to the wicked. We can see this in Jeremiah (26): for first it says that all the people and the priests sought to kill Jeremiah, and this referred to those who were evil; then at once it says that all the people sought to free him, and this referred to those who were good. In the same way, John the Baptist says, looking to the left, i.e., toward those who are evil, And his testimony no one accepts; and later, referring to those on the right, i.e., to the good, he says, But whoever accepts his testimony.
538 But whoever accepts his testimony. Here he speaks of the obligation to believe, i.e., to submit oneself to divine truth. As to this he does four things. First, he presents the divine truth. Secondly, he speaks of the proclamation of the divine truth (v 34). Thirdly, of the ability to proclaim it ( v 34b). Fourthly, he gives the reason for this ability (v 35).
539 Man’s obligation to the faith is to submit himself to divine truth, and so he says that if few accept his testimony that means that some do. Hence he says, whoever accepts his testimony, i.e., whoever he may be, has given a sign, i.e., he ought to affix a certain sign or has in fact placed a seal in his own heart, that Christ is God. And he [Christ] is true, because he said that he is God. If he were not, he would not be true, but it is written: “God is true” (Rom 3:4). Concerning this seal it is said: “Set me as a seal on your heart” (Sg 8:6), and “The foundation of God stands firm, bearing a seal, etc.” as we read in 2 Timothy (2:19).
Or, following Chrysostom, he has given a sign, i.e., he has shown that God, that is, the Father, is true, because he sent his Son whom he promised to send. The Fvangelist says this to show that those who do not believe Christ deny the truthfulness of the Father.
540 Then immediately he adds a commendation of divine truth, saying, For the One whom God sends speaks the words of God. As if to say: He has given this as a sign, namely, that Christ, whose testimony he accepts, the One whom God sends speaks the words of God. Consequently, one who believes Christ believes the Father: “I speak to the world what I have heard from the Father” (below 8:26). So he expressed verbally nothing but the Father and the words of the Father, because he has been sent by the Father, and because he is the Word of the Father. Hence, he says that he even bespeaks the Father.
Or, if the statement God is true refers to Christ, we understand the distinction of persons; for since the Father is true God, and Christ is true God, it follows that the true God sent the true God, who is distinct from him in person, but not in nature.
541 The ability to proclaim divine truth is present in Christ in the highest degree, because he does not receive the Spirit in a partial way; and so he says, for God does not bestow the Spirit in fractions.
You might say that although God sent Christ, yet not all that Christ says is from God, but only some of the things; for even the prophets spoke at times from their own spirit, and at other times from the Spirit of God. For example, we read that the prophet Nathan (2 Sm 7:3), speaking out of his own spirit, advised David to build a temple, but that later, under the influence of the Spirit of God, he retracted this. However, the Baptist shows that such is not the case with Christ. For the prophets receive the Spirit of God only fractionally, i.e., in reference to some things, but not as to all things. Consequently, not all they say are the words of God. But Christ, who received the Spirit fully and in regards to all things, speaks the words of God as to all things.
542 But how can the Holy Spirit be given in fractions, since he is immense or infinite, according to the Creed of Athanasius: “Immense is the Father, immense the Son, immense the Holy Spirit”? I answer that the Holy Spirit is given in fractions, not in respect to his essence or power, according to which he is infinite, but as to his gifts, which are given fractionally: “Grace has been given to each of us according to degree” (Eph 4:7).
543 We should note that we can understand in two ways what is said here, namely, that God the Father did not give the Spirit to Christ in a partial way. We can understand it as applying to Christ as God, and, in another way, as applying to Christ as man. Something is given to someone in order that he may have it: and it is appropriate to Christ to have the Spirit, both as God and as man. And so he has the Holy Spirit with respect to both. As man, Christ has the Holy Spirit as Sanctifier: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me” (Is 6 1:1), namely, as man. But as God, he has the Holy Spirit only as manifesting himself, inasmuch as the Spirit proceeds from him: “He will give glory to me,” that is, make known, “because he will have received from me,” as is said below (16:14).
Therefore, both as God and as man, Christ has the Holy Spirit beyond measure. For God the Father is said to give the Holy Spirit without measure to Christ as God, because he gives to Christ the power and might to bring forth (spirandi) the Holy Spirit, who, since he is infinite, was infinitely given to him by the Father: for the Father gives it just as he himself has it, so that the Holy Spirit proceeds from him as much as from the Son. And he gave him this by an everlasting generation. Similarly, Christ as man has the Holy Spirit without measure, for the Holy Spirit is given to different men in differing degrees, because grace is given to each “by measure” [cf., e.g., Mk 4:24; Mt 7:2]. But Christ as man did not receive a certain amount of grace; and so he did not receive the Holy Spirit in any limited degree.
544 It should be noted, however, that there are three kinds of grace in Christ: the grace of [the hypostatic] union, the grace of a singular person, which is habitual, and the grace of headship, which animates all the members. And Christ received each of these graces without measure.
The grace of union, which is not habitual grace, but a certain gratuitous gift, is given to Christ in order that in his human nature he be the true Son of God, not by participation, but by nature, insofar as the human nature of Christ is united to the Son of God in person. This union is called a grace because he had it without any preceding merits. Now the divine nature is infinite; hence from that union he received an infinite gift. Thus it was not by degree or measure that he received the Holy Spirit, i.e., the gift and grace of union which, as gratuitous, is attributed to the Holy Spirit.
His grace is termed habitual insofar as the soul of Christ was full of grace and wisdom: “the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (above 1:14). We might wonder if Christ did receive this grace without measure. For since such grace is a created gift, we must admit that it has a finite essence. Therefore, as far as its essence is concerned, since it is something created, this habitual grace was finite. Yet Christ is not said to have received this in a limited degree for three reasons.
First, becatise of the one who is receiving the grace. For it is plain that each thing’s nature has a finite capacity, because even though one might receive an infinite good by knowing, loving and enjoying it, nevertheless one receives it by enjoying it in a finite way. Further, each creature has, according to its species and nature, a finite amount of capacity. But this does not make it impossible for the divine power to make another creature possessing a greater capacity; but then such a creature would not be of a nature which is specifically the same, just as when one is added to three, there is another species of number. Therefore, when some nature is not given as much of the divine goodness as its natural capacity is able to contain, then it is seen to be given to it by measure; but when its total natural capacity is filled, it is not given to it by measure, because even though there is a measure on the part of the one receiving, there is none on the part of the one giving, who is prepared to give all. Thus, if someone takes a pail to a river, he sees water present without measure, although he takes the water by measure on account of the limited dimensions of the pail. Thus, the habitual grace of Christ is indeed finite according to its essence, but it is said to be given in an infinite way and not by measure or partially, because as much was given to him as created nature was able to hold.
Secondly, Christ did not receive habitual grace in a limited way by considering the gift which is received. For every form or act, considered in its very nature, is not finite in the way in which it is made finite by the subject in which it is received. Nevertheless, there is nothing to prevent it from being finite in its essence, insofar as its existence (esse) is received in some subject. For that is infinite according to its essence which has the entire fulness of being (essendi): and this is true of God alone, who is the supreme esse. But if we consider some “spiritual” form as not existing in a subject, for example, whiteness or color, it would not be infinite in essence, because its essence would be confined to some genus or species; nevertheless it would still possess the entire fulness of that species. Thus, considering the nature of the species, it would be without limit or measure, since it would have everything that can pertain to that species. But if whiteness or color should be received into some subject, it does not always have everything that pertains necessarily and always to the nature of this form, but only when the subject has it as perfectly as it is capable of being possessed, i.e., when the way the subject possesses it is equivalent to the power of the thing possessed. Thus, Christ’s habitual grace was finite according to its essence; yet it is said to have been in him without a limit or measure because he received everything that could pertain to the nature of grace. Others, however, do not receive all this, but one receives in one way, and another in another way: “There are different graces”
The third reason for saying that the habitual grace of Christ was not received in a limited way is based on its cause. For an effect is in some way present in its cause. Therefore, if someone has an infinite power to produce something, he is said to have what can be produced without measure and, in a way, infinitely. For example, if someone has a fountain which could produce an infinite amount of water, he would be said to have water in an infinite way and without measure. Thus, the soul of Christ has infinite grace and grace without measure from the fact that he has united to himself the Word, which is the infinite and unfailing source of the entire emanation of all created things.
From what has been said, it is clear that the grace of Christ which is called capital grace, insofar as he is head of the Church, is infinite in its influence. For from the fact that he possessed that from which the gifts of the Spirit could flow out without measure, he received the power to pour them out without measure, so that the grace of Christ is sufficient not merely for the salvation of some men, but for all the people of the entire world: “He is the offering for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the entire world” ( 1 Jn 2:2), and even for many worlds, if they exsited.
545 Christ also had the ability appropriate for declaring divine truth, because all things are in his power; hence he says, The Father loves the Son, and has put everything into his hands. This can refer to Christ both as man and as God, but in different ways. If it refers to Christ according to his divine nature, then loves does not indicate a principle but a sign: for we cannot say that the Father gives all things to the Son because he loves him. There are two reasons for this. First, because to love is an act of the will; but to give a nature to the Son is to generate him. Therefore, if the Father gave a nature to the Son by his will, the will of the Father would be the principle of the generation of the Son; and then it would follow that the Father generated the Son by will, and not by nature; and this is the Arian heresy.
Secondly, because the love of the Father for the Son is the Holy Spirit. So, if the love of the Father for the Son were the reason why the Father put everything into his hands, it would follow that the Holy Spirit would be the principle of the generation of the Son; and this is not acceptable. Therefore, we should say that loves implies only a sign. As if to say: The perfect love with which the Father loves the Son, is a sign that the Father has put everything into his hands, i.e., everything which the Father has: “All things have been given to me by my Father- (Mt 11:27); “Jesus, knowing that the Fallier had given all things into his hands” (below 13:3).
But if loves refers to Christ as man, then it implies the notion of a principle, so that the Father is said to have put everything into the hands of the Son, everything, that is, that is in heaven and on earth: “All authority has been given to me, in heaven and on earth,” as he says in Matthew (28:18); “He has appointed him [the Son] the heir of all things” (Heb 1:2). And the reason why the Father gives to the Son is because he loves the Son; hence he says, The Father loves the Son, for the Father’s love is the reason for creating each creature: “You love everything which exists, and hate nothing which you have made” (Wis 11:25). Concerning his love for the Son we read in Matthew (3:17): “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”; “He has brought us into the kingdom of the Son of his love,” that is, i.e., of his beloved Son (Col 1:13).
546 Then when he says, Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, he shows the fruit of faith. First, he sets forth the reward for faith. Secondly, the penalty for unbelief (v 36b).
547 The reward for faith is beyond our comprehension, because it is eternal life. Hence he says, Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. And this is shown from what has already been said. For if the Father has given everything he has to the Son, and the Father has eternal life, then he has given to the Son to be eternal life: “Just as the Father possesses life in himself, so he has given it to the Son to have life in himself” (below 5:26): and this belongs to Christ insofar as he is the true and natural Son of God. “That you may be in his true Son, Christ. This is the true God and eternal life” (1 Jn 5:20). Whoever believes in the Son has that toward which he tends, that is, the Son, in whom he believes. But the Son is eternal life; therefore, whoever believes in him has eternal life. As it says below (10:27): “My sheep hear my voice ... and I give them eternal life.”
548 The penalty for unbelief is unendurable, both as to the punishment of loss and as to the punishment of sense. As to the punishment of loss, because it deprives one of life; hence he says, whoever is unbelieving in the Son will not see life. He does not say, “will not have,” but will not see, because eternal life consists in the vision of the true life: “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (below 17:3): and unbelievers will not have this vision and this knowledge: “Let him not see the brooks of honey” (Jb 4:19), that is, the sweetness of eternal life. And he says, will not see, because to see life itself is the proper reward for faith united with love.
The punishment of sense is unendurable because one is severely punished; so he says: the anger of God rests on him. For in the Scriptures anger indicates the pain with which God punishes those who are evil. So when he says, the anger of God, the Father, rests on him, it is the same as saying: They will feel punishment from God the Father.
Although the Father “has given all judgment to the Son,” as we read below (5:22), the Baptist refers this to the Father in order to lead the Jews to believe in the Son. It is written about this judgment: “It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31). He says, rests on him, because this punishment will never be absent from the unbelieving, and because all who are born into this mortal life are the objects of God’s anger, which was first felt by Adam: “We were by nature,” that is, through birth, “children of anger” (Eph 2:3). And we are freed from this anger only by faith in Christ; and so the anger of God rests on those who do not believe in Christ, the Son of God.