Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume VII/Gospel According to St. John/Part 10
Chapter II. 12–21
1. In the psalm you have heard the groaning of the poor, whose members endure tribulations over the whole earth, even unto the end of the world. Make it your chief business, my brethren, to be among and of these members: for all tribulation is to pass away. “Woe to them that rejoice!” “Blessed,” says the Truth, “are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” God has become man: what shall man be, for whom God is become man? Let this hope comfort us in every tribulation and temptation of this life. For the enemy does not cease to persecute; and when he does not openly rage, he plots in secret. How does he plot? “And for wrath, they worked deceitfully.” Thence is he called a lion and a dragon. But what is said to Christ? “Thou shall tread on the lion and the dragon.” Lion, for open rage; dragon, for hidden treachery. The dragon cast Adam out of Paradise; as a lion, the same persecuted the Church, as Peter says: “For your adversary, the devil, goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” Let it not seem to you as if the devil had lost his ferocity. When he blandly flatters, then is he the more vigilantly to be guarded against. But amid all these treacherous devices and temptations of his, what shall we do but that which we have heard in the psalm: “And I, when they were troublesome to me, clothed me in sackcloth, and humbled my soul in fasting.” There is one that heareth prayer, hesitate not to pray; but He that heareth abideth within. You need not direct your eyes towards some mountain; you need not raise your face to the stars, or to the sun, or to the moon; nor must you suppose that you are heard when you pray beside the sea: rather detest such prayers. Only cleanse the chamber of thy heart; wheresoever thou art, wherever thou prayest, He that hears is within, within in the secret place, which the psalmist calls his bosom, when he says, “And my prayer shall be turned in my own bosom.” He that heareth thee is not beyond thee; thou hast not to travel far, nor to lift thyself up, so as to reach Him as it were with thy hands. Rather, if thou lift thyself up, thou shalt fall; if thou humble thyself, He will draw near thee. Our Lord God is here, the Word of God, the Word made flesh, the Son of the Father, the Son of God, the Son of man; the lofty One to make us, the humble to make us anew, walking among men, bearing the human, concealing the divine.
2. “He went down,” as the evangelist says, “to Capernaum, He, and His mother, and His brethren, and His disciples; and they continued there not many days.” Behold He has a mother, and brethren, and disciples: whence He has a mother, thence brethren. For our Scripture is wont to call them brethren, not only that are sprung from the same man and woman, or from the same mother, or from the same father, though by different mothers; or, in truth, that are of the same degree as cousins by the father’s or mother’s side: not these alone is our Scripture wont to call brethren. The Scripture must be understood as it speaks. It has its own language; one who does not know this language is perplexed and says, Whence had the Lord brethren? For surely Mary did not give birth a second time? Far from it! With her begins the dignity of virgins. She could be a mother, but a woman known of man she could not be. She is spoken of as mulier [which usually signifies a wife], but only in reference to her sex, not as implying loss of virgin purity: and this follows from the language of Scripture itself. For Eve, too, immediately she was formed from the side of her husband, and as yet not known of her husband, is, as you know, called mulier: “And he made her a woman [mulier].” Then, whence the brethren? The kinsmen of Mary, of whatever degree, are the brethren of the Lord. How do we prove this? From Scripture itself. Lot is called “Abraham’s brother;” he was his brother’s son. Read, and thou wilt find that Abraham was Lot’s uncle on the father’s side, and yet they are called brethren. Why, but because they were kinsmen? Laban the Syrian was Jacob’s uncle by the mother’s side, for he was the brother of Rebecca, Isaac’s wife and Jacob’s mother. Read the Scripture, and thou wilt find that uncle and sister’s son are called brothers. When thou hast known this rule, thou wilt find that all the blood relations of Mary are the brethren of Christ.
3. But rather were those disciples brethren;
for even those kinsmen would not be brethren were they not disciples: and to no advantage brethren, if they did not recognize their brother as their master. For in a certain place, when He was informed that His mother and His brethren were standing without, at the time He was speaking to His disciples, He said: “Who is my mother? or who are my brethren? And stretching out His hand over His disciples, He said, These are my brethren;” and, “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father, the same is my mother, and brother, and sister.” Therefore also Mary, because she did the will of the Father. What the Lord magnified in her was, that she did the will of the Father, not that flesh gave birth to flesh. Give good heed, beloved. Moreover, when the Lord was regarded with admiration by the multitude, while doing signs and wonders, and showing forth what lay concealed under the flesh, certain admiring souls said: “Happy is the womb that bare Thee: and He said, Yea, rather, happy are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.” That is to say, even my mother, whom ye have called happy, is happy in that she keeps the word of God: not because in her the Word was made flesh and dwelt in us; but because she keeps that same word of God by which she was made, and which in her was made flesh. Let not men rejoice in temporal offspring, but let them exult if in spirit they are joined to God. We have spoken these things on account of that which the evangelist says, that He dwelt in Capernaum a few days, with His mother, and His brethren, and His disciples.
4. What follows upon this? “And the Jews’ passover was at hand; and He went up to Jerusalem.” The narrator relates another matter, as it came to his recollection. “And He found in the temple those that sold oxen, and sheep, and doves, and the changers of money sitting: and when He had made, as it were, a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the temple; the oxen likewise, and the sheep; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; and said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; and make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise.” What have we heard, brethren? See, that temple was still a figure, and yet the Lord cast out of it all that sought their own, all who had come to market. And what did they sell there? Things which people needed in the sacrifices of that time. For you know, beloved, that sacrifices were given to that people, in consideration of the carnal mind and stony heart yet in them, to keep them from falling away to idols: and they offered there for sacrifices oxen, sheep, and doves: you know this, for you have read it. It was not a great sin, then, if they sold in the temple that which was bought for the purpose of offering in the temple: and yet He cast them out thence. If, while they were selling what was lawful and not against justice (for it is not unlawful to sell what it is honorable to buy), He nevertheless drove those men out, and suffered not the house of prayer to be made a house of merchandise; how, if He found drunkards there, what would the Lord do? If the house of God ought not to be made a house of trading, ought it to be made a house of drinking? But when we say this, they gnash upon us with their teeth; but the psalm which you have heard comforts us: “They gnashed upon me with their teeth.” Yet we know how we may be cured, although the strokes of the lash are multiplied on Christ, for His word is made to bear the scourge: “The scourges,” saith He, “were gathered together against me, and they knew not.” He was scourged by the scourges of the Jews; He is now scourged by the blasphemies of false Christians: they multiply scourges for their Lord, and know it not. Let us, so far as He aids us, do as the psalmist did: “But as for me, when they were troublesome to me, I put on sackcloth, and humbled my soul with fasting.”
5. Yet we say, brethren (for He did not spare those men: He who was to be scourged by them first scourged them), that He gave us a certain sign, in that He made a scourge of small cords, and with it lashed the unruly, who were making merchandise of God’s temple. For indeed every man twists for himself a rope by his sins: “Woe to them who draw sins as a long rope?” Who makes a long rope? He who adds sin to sin. How are sins added to sins? When the sins which have been committed are covered over by other sins. One has committed a theft: that he may not be found out to have committed it, he seeks the astrologer. It were enough to have committed theft: why wilt thou add sin to sin? Behold two sins committed. When thou art forbidden to go to the astrologer, thou revilest the bishop: behold three sins. When thou hearest it said of thee, Cast him forth from the Church; thou sayest, I will betake me to the party of Donatus: behold thou addest a fourth sin. The rope is growing; be thou afraid of the rope. It is good for thee to be corrected
here, when thou art scourged with it; that it may not be said of thee at the last, “Bind ye his hands and feet, and cast him forth into outer darkness.” For, “With the cords of his own sins is every one bound.” The former of these is the saying of the Lord, the latter that of another Scripture; but yet both are the sayings of the Lord. With their own sins are men bound and cast into outer darkness.
6. However, to seek the mystery of the deed in the figure, who are they that sell oxen? Who are they that sell sheep and doves? They are they who seek their own in the Church, not the things which are Christ’s. They account all a matter of sale, while they will not be redeemed: they have no wish to be bought, and yet they wish to sell. Yes; good indeed is it for them that they may be redeemed by the blood of Christ, that they may come to the peace of Christ. Now, what does it profit to acquire in this world any temporal and transitory thing whatsoever, be it money, or pleasure of the palate, or honor that consists in the praise of men? Are they not all wind and smoke? Do they not all pass by and flee away? Are they not all as a river rushing headlong into the sea? And woe to him who shall fall into it, for he shall be swept into the sea. Therefore ought we to curb all our affections from such desires. My brethren, they that seek such things are they that sell. For that Simon too, wished to buy the Holy Ghost, just because he meant to sell the Holy Ghost; and he thought the apostles to be just such traders as they whom the Lord cast out of the temple with a scourge. For such an one he was himself, and desired to buy what he might sell: he was of those who sell doves. Now it was in a dove that the Holy Ghost appeared. Who, then, are they, brethren, that sell doves, but they who say, “We give the Holy Ghost”? But why do they say this, and at what price do they sell? At the price of honor to themselves. They receive as the price, temporal seats of honor, that they may be seen to be sellers of doves. Let them beware of the scourge of small cords. The dove is not for sale: it is given freely; for grace, or favor, it is called. Therefore, my brethren, just as you see them that sell, common chapmen, each cries up what he sells: how many stalls they have set up! Primianus has a stall at Carthage, Maximianus has another, Rogatus has another in Mauritania, they have another in Numidia, this party and that, which it is not in our power now to name. Accordingly,one goes round to buy the dove, and everyone at his own stall cries up what he sells. Let the heart of such an one turn away from every seller; let him come where he receives freely. Aye, brethren, and they do not blush, that, by these bitter and malicious dissensions of theirs, they have made of themselves so many parties, while they assume to be what they are not, while they are lifted up, thinking themselves to be something when they are nothing. But what is fulfilled in them, since that they will not be corrected, but that which you have heard in the psalm: “They were rent asunder, and felt no remorse”?
7. Well, who sell oxen? They who have dispensed to us the Holy Scriptures are understood to mean the oxen. The apostles were oxen, the prophets were oxen. Whence the apostle says: “Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith He it for our sakes? Yea, for our sakes He saith it: that he who ploweth should plow in hope; and he that thresheth, in hope of partaking.”  Those oxen, then, have left to us the narration of the Scriptures. For it was not of their own that they dispensed, because they sought the glory of the Lord. Now, what have ye heard in that psalm? “And let them say continually, The Lord be magnified, they that wish the peace of His servant.” God’s servant, God’s people, God’s Church. Let them who wish the peace of that Church magnify the Lord, not the servant: “and let them say continually, The Lord be magnified.” Who, let say? “Them who wish the peace of His servant.” The voice of that people, of that servant, is clearly that voice which you have heard in lamentations in the psalm, and were moved at hearing, because you are of that people. What was sung by one, re-echoed from the hearts of all. Happy they who recognized themselves in those voices as in a mirror. Who, then, are they that wish the peace of His servant, the peace of His people, the peace of the one whom He calls His “only one,” and whom He wishes to be delivered from the lion: “Deliver mine only one from the power of the dog?” They who say always, “The Lord be magnified.” Those oxen, then, magnified the Lord, not themselves. See this ox magnifying his Lord, because “the ox knoweth his owner;” observe that ox in fear lest men desert the ox’s owner and rely on the ox: how he dreads them that are willing to put their confidence in him: “Was Paul crucified for you? or
were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” Of what I gave, I was not the giver: freely ye have received; the dove came down from heaven. “I have planted,” saith he, “Apollo, watered; but God gave the increase: neither he that planteth is anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” “And let them say always, The Lord be magnified, they that wish the peace of His servant.”
8. These men, however, deceive the people by the very Scriptures, that they may receive honors and praises at their hand, and that men may not turn to the truth. But in that they deceive, by the very Scriptures, the people of whom they seek honors, they do in fact sell oxen: they sell sheep too; that is, the common people themselves. And to whom do they sell them, but to the devil? For if the Church be Christ’s sole and only one, who is it that carries off whatever is cut away from it, but that lion that roars and goes about, “seeking whom he may devour?” Woe to them that are cut off from the Church! As for her, she will remain entire. “For the Lord knoweth them that are His.” These, however, so far as they can, sell oxen and sheep, they sell doves too: let them guard against the scourge of their own sins. But when they suffer some such things for these their iniquities, let them acknowledge that the Lord has made a scourge of small cords, and is admonishing them to change themselves and be no longer traffickers: for if they will not change, they shall at the end hear it said, “Bind ye these men’s hands and feet, and cast them forth into outer darkness.”
9. “Then the disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up:” because by this zeal of God’s house, the Lord cast these men out of the temple. Brethren, let every Christian among the members of Christ be eaten up with zeal of God’s house. Who is eaten up with zeal of God’s house? He who exerts himself to have all that he may happen to see wrong there corrected, desires it to be mended, does not rest idle: who if he cannot mend it, endures it, laments it. The grain is not shaken out on the threshing-floor that it may enter the barn when the chaff shall have been separated. If thou art a grain, be not shaken out from the floor before the putting into the granary; lest thou be picked up by the birds before thou be gathered into the granary. For the birds of heaven, the powers of the air, are waiting to snatch up something off the threshing-floor, and they can snatch up only what has been shaken out of it. Therefore, let the zeal of God’s house eat thee up: let the zeal of God’s house eat up every Christian, zeal of that house of God of which he is a member. For thy own house is not more important than that wherein thou hast everlasting rest. Thou goest into thine own house for temporal rest, thou enterest God’s house for everlasting rest. If, then, thou busiest thyself to see that nothing wrong be done in thine own house, is it fit that thou suffer, so far as thou canst help, if thou shouldst chance to see aught wrong in the house of God, where salvation is set before thee, and rest without end? For example, seest thou a brother rushing to the theatre? Stop him, warn him, make him sorry, if the zeal of God’s house doth eat thee up. Seest thou others running and desiring to get drunk, and that, too, in holy places, which is not decent to be done in any place? Stop those whom thou canst, restrain whom thou canst, frighten whom thou canst, allure gently whom thou canst: do not, however, rest silent. Is it a friend? Let him be admonished gently. Is it a wife? Let her be bridled with the utmost rigor. Is it a maid-servant? Let her be curbed even with blows. Do whatever thou canst for the part thou bearest; and so thou fulfillest, “The zeal of Thy house hath eaten me up.” But if thou wilt be cold, languid, having regard only to thyself, and as if thyself were enough to thee, and saying in thy heart, What have I to do with looking after other men’s sins? Enough for me is the care of my own soul: this let me keep undefiled for God;—come, does there not recur to thy mind the case of that servant who hid his talent and would not lay it out? Was he accused because he lost it, and not because he kept it without profit? So hear ye then, my brethren, that ye may not rest idle. I am about to give you counsel: may He who is within give it; for though it be through me, it is He that gives it. You know what to do, each one of you, in his own house, with his friend, his tenant, his client, with greater, with less: as God grants an entrance, as He opens a door for His word, do not cease to win for Christ; because you were won by Christ.
10. “The Jews said unto Him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?” And the Lord answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and dost thou say, In three days I will rear it up?”
Flesh they were, fleshly things they minded; but He was speaking spiritually. But who could understand of what temple He spoke? But yet we have not far to seek; He has discovered it to us through the evangelist, he has told us of what temple He said it. “But He spake,” saith the evangelist, “of the temple of His body.” And it is manifest that, being slain, the Lord did rise again after three days. This is known to us all now: and if from the Jews it is concealed, it is because they stand without; yet to us it is open, because we know in whom we believe. The destroying and rearing again of that temple, we are about to celebrate in its yearly solemnity: for which we exhort you to prepare yourselves, such of you as are catechumens that you may receive grace; even now is the time, even now let that be purposed which may then come to the birth. Now, that thing we know.
11. But perhaps this is demanded of us, whether the fact that the temple was forty and six years in building may not have in it some mystery. There are, indeed, many things that may be said of this matter; but what may briefly be said, and easily understood, that we say meanwhile. Brethren, we have said yesterday, if I mistake not, that Adam was one man, and is yet the whole human race. For thus we said, if you remember. He was broken, as it were, in pieces; and, being scattered, is now being gathered together, and, as it were, conjoined into one by a spiritual fellowship and concord. And “the poor that groan,” as one man, is that same Adam, but in Christ he is being renewed: because an Adam is come without sin, to destroy the sin of Adam in His own flesh, and that Adam might renew to himself the image of God. Of Adam then is Christ’s flesh: of Adam the temple which the Jews destroyed, and the Lord raised up in three days. For He raised His own flesh: see, that He was thus God equal with the Father. My brethren, the apostle says, “Who raised Him from the dead.” Of whom says he this? Of the Father. “He became,” saith he, “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross; wherefore also God raised Him from the dead, and gave Him a name which is above every name.” He who was raised and exalted is the Lord. Who raised Him? The Father, to whom He said in the psalms, “Raise me up and I will requite them.” Hence, the Father raised Him up. Did He not raise Himself? And doeth the Father anything without the Word? What doeth the Father without His only One? For, hear that He also was God. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Did He say, Destroy the temple, which in three days the Father will raise up? But as when the Father raiseth, the Son also raiseth; so when the Son raiseth, the Father also raiseth: because the Son has said, “I and the Father are one.”
12. Now, what does the number Forty-six mean? Meanwhile, how Adam extends over the whole globe, you have already heard explained yesterday, by the four Greek letters of four Greek words. For if thou write the four words, one under the other, that is, the names of the four quarters of the world, of east, west, north, and south, which is the whole globe,—whence the Lord says that He will gather His elect from the four winds when He shall come to judgment; —if, I say, you take these four Greek words,—ἀνατολὴ, which is east; δύσις, which is west; ἄρχτος, which is north; μεσημβρία, which is south; Anatole, Dysis, Arctos, Mesembria,—the first letters of the words make Adam. How, then, do we find there, too, the number forty-six? Because Christ’s flesh was of Adam. The Greeks compute numbers by letters. What we make the letter A, they in their tongue put Alpha, α, and Alpha, α, is called one. And where in numbers they write Beta, β, which is their b, it is called in numbers two. Where they write Gamma, γ, it is called in their numbers three. Where they write Delta, δ, it is called in their numbers four; and so by means of all the letters they have numbers. The letter we call M, and they call My, μ, signifies forty; for they say My, μ, τεσσαράχοντα. Now look at the number which these letters make, and you will find in it that the temple was built in forty-six years. For the word Adam has Alpha, α, which is one: it has Delta, δ, which is four; there are five for thee: it has Alpha, α, again, which is one; there are six for thee: it has also My, μ, which is forty; there hast thou forty-six. These things, my brethren, were said by our elders before us, and that number forty-six was found by them in letters. And because our Lord Jesus Christ took of Adam a body, not of Adam derived sin; took of him a corporeal temple, not iniquity which must be driven from the temple: and that the Jews crucified that very flesh which He derived from Adam (for Mary was of Adam, and the Lord’s flesh was of Mary); and that, further, He was in three days to raise that same flesh which they were about to slay on the cross: they destroyed
the temple which was forty-six years in building, and that temple He raised up in three days.
13. We bless the Lord our God, who gathered us together to spiritual joy. Let us be ever in humility of heart, and let our joy be with Him. Let us not be elated with any prosperity of this world, but know that our happiness is not until these things shall have passed way. Now, my brethren, let our joy be in hope: let none rejoice as in a present thing, lest he stick fast in the way. Let joy be wholly of hope to come, desire be wholly of eternal life. Let all sighings breathe after Christ. Let that fairest one alone, who loved the foul to make them fair, be all our desire; after Him alone let us run, for Him alone pant and sigh; “and let them say always, The Lord be magnified, that wish the peace of His servant.”
- Luke vi. 25.
- Ps. xxxv. 20.
- 1 Pet. v. 8.
- Ps. xxxv. 13.
- Ps. xxxv. 13.
- Gen. xiii. 8; xiv. 14.
- Gen. xxviii. 5.
- Gen. xxix. 12–15.
- Matt. xii. 46–50.
- Luke xi. 27.
- Ps. xxxv. 13.
- Isa. v. 18; LXX.
- Matt. xxii. 3.
- Prov. v. 22.
- Matt. iii. 16.
- Gal. vi. 3.
- 1 Cor. ix. 9, 10.
- Ps. xxxv. 27.
- Ps. xxii. 20.
- Isa. i. 3.
- 1 Cor. i. 13.
- 1 Cor. iii. 6, 7.
- 1 Pet. v. 8.
- 2 Tim. ii. 19.
- Matt. xxv. 25–30.
- Phil. ii. 8.
- Ps. xli. 11.
- John x. 30.
- Mark xiii. 27.