Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume VII/Gospel According to St. John/Part 84
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Chapter XV. 13.
1. The Lord, beloved brethren, hath defined that fullness of love which we ought to bear to one another, when He said: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Inasmuch, then, as He had said before, “This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you;” and appended to these words what you have just been hearing, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends;” there follows from this as a consequence, what this same Evangelist John says in his epistle, “That as Christ laid down His life for us, even so we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren;” loving one another in truth, as He hath loved us, who laid down His life for us. Such also is doubtless the meaning of what we read in the Proverbs of Solomon: “If thou sittest down to supper at
the table of a ruler, consider wisely what is set before thee; and so put to thy hand, knowing that thou art bound to make similar preparations.” For what is the table of the ruler, but that from which we take the body and blood of Him who laid down His life for us? And what is it to sit thereat, but to approach in humility? And what is it to consider intelligently what is set before thee, but worthily to reflect on the magnitude of the favor? And what is it, so to put to thy hand, as knowing that thou art bound to make similar preparations, but as I have already said, that, as Christ laid down His life for us, so we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren? For as the Apostle Peter also says, “Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps.” This is to make similar preparations. This it was that the blessed martyrs did in their burning love; and if we celebrate their memories in no mere empty form, and, in the banquet whereat they themselves were filled to the full, approach the table of the Lord, we must, as they did, be also ourselves making similar preparations. For on these very grounds we do not commemorate them at that table in the same way, as we do others who now rest in peace, as that we should also pray for them, but rather that they should do so for us, that we may cleave to their footsteps; because they have actually attained that fullness of love, than which, our Lord hath told us, there cannot be a greater. For such tokens of love they exhibited for their brethren, as they themselves had equally received at the table of the Lord.
2. But let us not be supposed to have so spoken as if on such grounds we might possibly arrive at an equality with Christ the Lord, if for His sake we have undergone witness-bearing even unto blood. He had power to lay down His life, and to take it again; but we have no power to live as long as we wish; and die we must, however unwilling: He, by dying, straightway slew death in Himself; we, by His death, are delivered from death: His flesh saw no corruption; ours, after corruption, shall in the end of the world be clothed by Him with incorruption: He had no need of us, in order to work out our salvation; we, without Him, can do nothing: He gave Himself as the vine, to us the branches; we, apart from Him, can have no life. Lastly, although brethren die for brethren, yet no martyr’s blood is ever shed for the remission of the sins of brethren, as was the case in what He did for us; and in this respect He bestowed not on us aught for imitation, but something for congratulation. In as far, then, as the martyrs have shed their blood for the brethren, so far have they exhibited such tokens of love as they themselves perceived at the table of the Lord. (One might imitate Him in dying, but no one could, in redeeming.) In all else, then, that I have said, although it is out of my power to mention everything, the martyr of Christ is far inferior to Christ Himself. But if any one shall set himself in comparison, I say, not with the power, but with the innocence of Christ, and (I would not say) in thinking that he is healing the sins of others, but at least that he has no sins of his own, even so far is his avidity overstepping the requirements of the method of salvation; it is a matter of considerable moment for him, only he attains not his desire. And well it is that he is admonished in that passage of the Proverbs, which immediately goes on to say, “But if thy greed is too great, be not desirous of his dainties; for it is better that thou take nothing thereof, than that thou shouldst take more than is befitting. For such things,” it is added, “have a life of deceit,” that is, of hypocrisy. For in asserting his own sinlessness, he cannot prove, but only pretend, that he is righteous. And so it is said, “For such have a deceiving life.” There is only One who could at once have human flesh and be free from sin. Appropriately are we commanded that which follows; and such a word and proverb is well adapted to human weakness, when it is said, “Lay not thyself out, seeing thou art poor, against him that is rich.” For the rich man is Christ, who was never obnoxious to punishment either through hereditary or personal debt and is righteous Himself, and justifies others. Lay not thyself out against Him, thou who art so poor, that thou art manifestly to the eyes of all the daily beggar that thou art in thy prayer for the remission of sins. “But keep thyself,” he says, “from thine own counsel” [“cease from thine own wisdom”—E.V.]. From what, but from this delusive presumption? For He, indeed, inasmuch as He is not only man but also God, can never be chargeable with evil. “For if thou turn thine eye upon Him, He will nowhere be visible.” “Thine eye,” that is, the human eye, wherewith thou distinguishest that which is human; “if thou turn it upon Him, He will nowhere be visible,” because
He cannot be seen with such organs of sight as are thine. “For He will provide Himself wings like an eagle’s, and will depart to the house of His overseer,” from which, at all events, He came to us, and found us not such as He Himself was who came. Let us therefore love one another, even as Christ hath loved us, and given Himself for us. “For greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” And let us be imitating Him in such a spirit of reverential obedience, that we shall never have the boldness to presume on a comparison between Him and ourselves.
- 1 John iii. 16.
- Prov. xxiii. 1, 2: see below, and also Tract. XLVII. sec. 2, note 4.
- 1 Pet. ii. 21.
- Chap. x. 18.
- Acts ii. 31.
- This parenthesized sentence is found, according to Migne, inserted here in six mss. In three others it occurs immediately before the second following sentence, beginning, “But if any one,” etc. In other mss. it is wanting; and Migne omits it from the text.—Tr.
- The whole of this passage, taken from Proverbs xxiii. 3–5, as well as verses 1 and 2, quoted in sec. 1 of this Lecture, and in Tract. XLVII. sec. 2 (where see note 4), departs so widely from the Hebrew text, and even from the Septuagint (which is itself considerably astray), that it is hardly possible to account for the differences; and we refrain from attempting it. The text had evidently been felt to be obscure from very early times, especially for those who were unacquainted with the Hebrew; and hence transformations, omissions, and interpolations of words, and even of sentences, on the part of copyists and commentators, had resulted in the very various readings of different versions. The passage as given by Augustin is a good example of his ingenuity in spiritualizing the statements of Scripture.—Tr.
- Gal. ii. 20.