Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume VII/Gospel According to St. John/Part 9
Chapter II. 1–11
1. May the Lord our God be present, that He may grant us to render you what we promised. For yesterday, if you remember, holy brethren, when the shortness of the time prevented us from completing the sermon we had begun, we put off until to-day the unfolding, by God’s assistance, of those things which are mystically put in hidden meanings in this fact of the Gospel lesson. We need not, therefore, now stay any longer to commend the miracle of God. For He is the same God who, throughout the whole creation, worketh miracles every day, which become lightly esteemed by men, not because of the ease with which they are wrought, but by reason of their constant recurrence. Those uncommon works, however, which were done by the same Lord—that is, by the Word for us made flesh—occasioned greater astonishment to men, not because they are greater than those which He daily performs in the creation, but because these which happen every day are accomplished as it were in the course of nature; but the others appear exhibited to the eyes of men, wrought by the efficacy of a power, as it were, immediately present. We said, as you remember, one dead man rose again, people were amazed, whilst no man wonders at the birth every day of those who were not in being. In like manner, who does not wonder at water turned into wine, although God is doing this every year in vines? But since all the works which the Lord Jesus did, serve not only to rouse our hearts by their miraculous character, but also to edify our hearts in the doctrine of faith, it behoves us thoroughly to examine into the meaning and significance of those works. For the consideration of the meaning of all these things we deferred, as you remember, till today.
2. The Lord, in that He came to the marriage to which He was invited, wished, apart from the mystical signification, to assure us that marriage was His own institution. For there were to be those of whom the apostle spoke, “forbidding to marry,” and asserting that marriage was an evil, and of the devil’s institution: notwithstanding the same Lord declares in the Gospel, on being asked whether it be lawful for a man to put away his wife for any cause, that it is not lawful save for the cause of fornication. In His answer, if you remember, He said, “What God hath joined together let not man put asunder.” And they that are well instructed in the catholic faith know that God instituted marriage; and as the union of man and wife is from God, so divorce is from the devil. But in the case of fornication it is lawful for a man to put away his wife, because she first chose to be no longer wife in not preserving conjugal fidelity to her husband. Nor are those women who vow virginity to God, although they hold a higher place of honor and sanctity in the Church, without marriage. For they too, together with the whole Church, attain to a marriage, a marriage in which Christ is the Bridegroom. And for this cause, therefore, did the Lord, on being invited, come to the marriage, to confirm conjugal chastity, and to show forth the sacrament of marriage. For the bridegroom in that marriage, to whom it was said, “Thou hast kept the good wine until now,” represented the person of the Lord. For the good wine—namely, the gospel—Christ has kept until now.
3. For now let us begin to uncover the hidden meanings of the mysteries, so far as He in whose name we made you the promise may enable us. In the ancient times there was prophecy, and no times were left without the dispensation of prophecy. But the prophecy, since Christ was not understood therein, was water. For in water wine is in some manner latent. The apostle tells us what we are to understand by this water: “Even unto this day,” saith he, “whilst
Moses is read, that same veil is upon their heart; that it is not unveiled because it is done away in Christ. And when thou shalt have passed over,” saith he, “to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.” By the veil he means the covering over of prophecy, so that it was not understood. When thou hast passed over to the Lord, the veil is taken away; so likewise is tastelessness taken away when thou hast passed over to the Lord; and what was water now becomes wine to thee. Read all the prophetic books; and if Christ be not understood therein, what canst thou find so insipid and silly? Understand Christ in them, and what thou readest not only has a taste, but even inebriates thee; transporting the mind from the body, so that forgetting the things that are past, thou reachest forth to the things that are before.
4. Wherefore, prophecy from ancient times, even from the time when the series of human births began to run onwards, was not silent concerning Christ; but the import of the prophecy was concealed therein, for as yet it was water. Whence do we prove that in all former times, until the age in which the Lord came, prophecy did not fail concerning Him? From the Lord’s own saying. For when He had risen from the dead, He found His disciples doubting concerning Himself whom they had followed. For they saw that He was dead, and they had no hope that He would rise again; all their hope was gone. On what ground was the thief, after receiving praise, deemed worthy to be that same day in Paradise? Because when bound on the cross he confessed Christ, while the disciples doubted concerning Him. Well, He found them wavering, and in a manner reproving themselves because they had looked for redemption in Him. Yet they sorrowed for Him as cut off without fault, for they knew Him to be innocent. And this is what the disciples themselves said, after His resurrection, when He had found certain of them in the way, sorrowful, “Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days? And He said unto them, What things? And they said, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deeds and words before God and all the people: how our priests and rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and bound Him to the cross. But we trusted that it was He who should have redeemed Israel; and to-day is now the third day since these things were done.” After one of the two whom He found in the way going to a neighboring village had spoken these and other words, Jesus answered and said, “O irrational, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Ought not Christ to have suffered all these things. and to enter into His glory? And beginning from Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” And likewise, in another place, when He would even have His disciples touch Him with their hands, that they might believe that He had risen in the body, He saith, “These are the words which I have spoken unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me. Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, that Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
5. When these words of the Gospel are understood, and they are certainly clear, all the mysteries which are latent in this miracle of the Lord will be laid open. Observe what He says, that it behoved the things to be fulfilled in Christ that were written of Him. Where were they written? “In the law,” saith He, “and in the prophets, and in the Psalms.” He omitted no part of the Old Scriptures. These were water; and hence the disciples were called irrational by the Lord, because as yet they tasted to them as water, not as wine. And how did He make of the water wine? When He opened their understanding, and expounded to them the Scriptures, beginning from Moses, through all the prophets; with which being now inebriated, they said, “Did not our hearts burn within us in the way, when He opened to us the Scriptures?” For they understood Christ in those books in which they knew Him not before. Thus our Lord Jesus Christ changed the water into wine, and that has now taste which before had not, that now inebriates which before did not. For if He had commanded the water to be poured out of the water-pots, and so Himself had put in the wine from the secret repositories of the creature, whence He made bread when He satisfied so many thousands; for five loaves were not in themselves sufficient to satisfy five thousand men, nor even to fill twelve baskets, but the omnipotence of the Lord was, as it were, a fountain of bread; so likewise He might, on the water being poured
out, have poured in wine: but had He done this, He would appear to have rejected the Old Scriptures. When, however, He turns the water itself into wine, He shows us that the Old Scripture also is from Himself, for at His own command were the water-pots filled. It is from the Lord, indeed, that the Old Scripture also is; but it has no taste unless Christ is understood therein.
6. But observe what Himself saith, “The things which were written in the law, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms concerning me.” And we know that the law extends from the time of which we have record, that is, from the beginning of the world: “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth.” Thence down to the time in which we are now living are six ages, this being the sixth, as you have often heard and know. The first age is reckoned from Adam to Noah; the second, from Noah to Abraham; and, as Matthew the evangelist duly follows and distinguishes, the third, from Abraham to David; the fourth, from David to the carrying away into Babylon; the fifth, from the carrying away into Babylon to John the Baptist; the sixth, from John the Baptist to the end of the world. Moreover, God made man after His own image on the sixth day, because in this sixth age is manifested the renewing of our mind through the gospel, after the image of Him who created us; and the water is turned into wine, that we may taste of Christ, now manifested in the law and the prophets. Hence “there were there six water-pots,” which He bade be filled with water. Now the six water-pots signify the six ages, which were not without prophecy. And those six periods, divided and separated as it were by joints, would be as empty vessels unless they were filled by Christ. Why did I say, the periods which would run fruitlessly on, unless the Lord Jesus were preached in them? Prophecies are fulfilled, the water-pots are full; but that the water may be turned into wine, Christ must be understood in that whole prophecy.
7. But what means this: “They contained two or three metretæ apiece”? This phrase certainly conveys to us a mysterious meaning. For by “metretæ” he means certain measures, as if he should say jars, flasks, or something of that sort. Metreta is the name of a measure, and takes its name from the word “measure.” For μέτρον is the Greek word for measure, whence the word “metretæ” is derived. “They contained,” then, “two or three metretæ apiece.” What are we to say, brethren? If He had simply said “three apiece,” our mind would at once have run to the mystery of the Trinity. And, perhaps, we ought not at once to reject this application of the meaning, because He said, “two or three apiece;” for when the Father and Son are named, the Holy Spirit must necessarily be understood. For the Holy Spirit is not that of the Father only, nor of the Son only, but the Spirit of the Father and of the Son. For it is written,” If any man love the world, the Spirit of the Father is not in him.” And again, “Whoso hath not the Spirit of Christ is none of His.” The same, then, is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son. Therefore, the Father and the Son being named, the Holy Spirit also is understood, because He is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son. And when there is mention of the Father and Son, “two metretæ,” as it were, are mentioned; but since the Holy Spirit is understood in them, “three metretæ.” That is the reason why it is not said, “Some containing two metretæ apiece, others three apiece;” but the same six water-pots contained “two or three metretæ apiece.” It is as if he had said, When I say two apiece, I would have the Spirit of the Father and of the Son to be understood together with them; and when I say three apiece, I declare the same Trinity more plainly.
8. Wherefore, whoso names the Father and the Son ought thereby to understand the mutual love of the Father and Son, which is the Holy Spirit. And perhaps the Scriptures on being examined (I do not say that I am able to show you this to-day, or as if another proof cannot be found),—nevertheless, the Scriptures, perhaps, on being searched, do show us that the Holy Spirit is charity. And do not count charity a thing cheap. How, indeed, can it be cheap, when all things that are said to be not cheap are called dear (chara)? Therefore, if what is not cheap is dear, what is dearer than dearness itself (charitas)? The apostle so commends charity to us that he says, “I show unto you a more excellent way. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I know all mysteries and all knowledge, and have prophecy and all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I distribute all my goods to the poor, and give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” How great, then, is charity, which, if
wanting, in vain have we all things else; if present, rightly have we all things! Yet the Apostle Paul, setting forth the praise of charity with copiousness and fullness, has said less of it than did the Apostle John in brief, whose Gospel this is. For he has not hesitated to say, “God is love.” It is also written, “Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given us.”  Who, then, can name the Father and the Son without thereby understanding the love of the Father and Son? Which when one begins to have, he will have the Holy Spirit; which if one has not, he will not have the Holy Spirit. And just as thy body, if it be without spirit, namely thy soul, is dead; so likewise thy soul, if it be without the Holy Spirit, that is, without charity, will be reckoned dead. Therefore “The water-pots contained two metretæ apiece,” because the Father and the Son are proclaimed in the prophecy of all the periods; but the Holy Spirit is there also, and therefore it is added, “or three apiece.” “I and the Father,” saith He, “are one.” But far be it from us to suppose that where we are told, “I and the Father are one,” the Holy Spirit is not there. Yet since he named the Father and the Son, let the water-pots contain “two metretæ apiece;” but attend to this, “or three apiece.” “Go, baptize the nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” So, therefore, when it says “two apiece,” the Trinity is not expressed but understood; but when it says, “or three,” the Trinity is expressed also.
9. But there is also another meaning that must not be passed over, and which I will declare: let every man choose which he likes best. We keep not back what is suggested to us. For it is the Lord’s table, and the minister ought not to defraud the guests, especially when they hunger as you now do, so that your longing is manifest. Prophecy, which is dispensed from the ancient times, has for its object the salvation of all nations. True, Moses was sent to the people of Israel alone, and to that people alone was the law given by him; and the prophets, too, were of that people, and the very distribution of times was marked out according to the same people; whence also the water-pots are said to be “according to the purification of the Jews:” nevertheless, that the prophecy was proclaimed to all other nations also is manifest, forasmuch as Christ was concealed in him in whom all nations are blessed, as it was promised to Abraham by the Lord, saying, “In thy seed shall all nations be blessed.” But this was not as yet understood, for as yet the water was not turned into wine. The prophecy therefore was dispensed to all nations. But that this may appear more agreeably, let us, so far as our time permits, mention certain facts respecting the several ages, as represented respectively by the water-pots.
10. In the very beginning, Adam and Eve were the parents of all nations, not of the Jews only; and whatever was represented in Adam concerning Christ, undoubtedly concerned all nations, whose salvation is in Christ. What better can I say of the water of the first water-pot than what the apostle says of Adam and Eve? For no man will say that I misunderstand the meaning when I produce, not my own, but the apostle’s. How great a mystery, then, concerning Christ does that of which the apostle makes mention contain, when he says, “And the two shall be in one flesh: this is a great mystery!” And lest any man should understand that greatness of mystery to exist in the case of the individual men that have wives, he says, “But I speak concerning Christ and the Church.” What great mystery is this, “the two shall be one flesh?” While Scripture, in the Book of Genesis, was speaking of Adam and Eve, it came to these words, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they two shall be one flesh.”  Now, if Christ cleave to the Church, so that the two should be one flesh, in what manner did He leave His Father and His mother? He left His Father in this sense, that when He was in the form of God, He thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but emptied Himself, taking to Him the form of a servant. In this sense He left His Father, not that He forsook or departed from His Father, but that He did not appear unto men in that form in which He was equal with the Father. But how did He leave His mother? By leaving the synagogue of the Jews, of which, after the flesh, He was born, and by cleaving to the Church which He has gathered out of all nations. Thus the first water-pot then held a prophecy of Christ; but so long as these things of which I speak were not preached among the peoples, the prophecy was water, it was not yet changed into wine. And since the Lord has enlightened us through the apostle, to show us what we were in search of, by this one sentence, “The two shall be one flesh; a great mystery concerning Christ and the Church;” we are now permitted to seek Christ everywhere, and to drink wine from all the water-pots. Adam sleeps, that Eve may be formed; Christ dies, that the Church may
be formed. When Adam sleeps, Eve is formed from his side; when Christ is dead, the spear pierces His side, that the mysteries may flow forth whereby the Church is formed. Is it not evident to every man that in those things then done, things to come were foreshadowed, since the apostle says that Adam himself was the figure of Him that was to come? “Who is,” saith he, “the figure of Him that was to come.” All was mystically prefigured. For, in reality, God could have taken the rib from Adam when he was awake, and formed the woman. Or was it, haply, necessary for him to sleep lest he should feel pain in his side when the rib was taken away? Who is there that sleeps so soundly that his bones may be torn from him without his awaking? Or was it because it was God that tore it out, that the man did not feel it? Well, He who could take it from him without pain when he was asleep, could do it also when he was awake. But, without doubt, the first water-pot was being filled, there was a dispensation of the prophecy of that time concerning this which was to be.
11. Christ was represented also in Noah and in that ark of the whole world. For why were all kinds of animals shut in, in the ark but to signify all nations? For God could again create every kind of animals. When as yet they were not, did He not say, “Let the earth bring forth,” and the earth brought forth? From the same source He could make anew, whence He then made; by a word He made, by a word He could make again: were it not that He was setting before us a mystery, and filling up the second water-pot of prophetical dispensation, that the world might by the wood be delivered in a figure; because the life of the world was to be nailed on wood.
12. Now, in the third water-pot, to Abraham, as I have mentioned before, it was said, “In thy seed shall all nations be blessed.” And who does not see whose figure Abraham’s only son was, he who bore the wood for the sacrifice of himself, to that place whither he was being led to be offered up? For the Lord bore his own cross, as the Gospel tells us. This will be enough to say concerning the third water-pot.
13. But as to David, why do I say that his prophecy extends to all nations, when we have just heard the psalm (and it is difficult to mention a psalm in which the same is not sounded forth)? But certainly, as I have said, we have been just singing, “Arise, O God, judge the earth; for Thou shalt inherit among all nations.” And this is why the Donatists are as men cast forth from the marriage: just as the man who had not a wedding garment was invited, and came, but was cast forth from the number of the guests because he had not the garment to the glory of the bridegroom; for he who seeks his own glory, not Christ’s, has not the wedding garment: for they refuse to agree with him who was the friend of the Bridegroom, and says, “This is He that baptizeth.” And deservedly was that which he was not made, by way of rebuke, an objection to him who had not the wedding garment, “Friend, how art thou come hither?” And just as he was speechless, so also are these. For what can tongue-clatter avail when the heart is mute? For they know that inwardly, and with their own selves, they have not anything to say. Within, they are mute; without, they make a din. But whether they will or no, they hear this sung even among themselves, “Arise, O God, judge the earth; for Thou shalt inherit among the nations:” and by not communicating with all nations, what do they but acknowledge themselves to be disinherited?
14. Now what I said, brethren, that prophecy extends to all nations (for I wish to show you another meaning in the expression, “Containing two or three metretæ apiece”),—that prophecy, I say, extends to all nations, is pointed out, as we have just now reminded you, in Adam, “who is the figure of Him that was to come.” Who does not know that from him all nations are sprung; and that in the four letters of his name the four quarters of the globe, by their Greek appellations, are indicated? For if the east, west, north, and south are expressed in Greek even as Holy Scripture mentions them in various places, the initial letters of the words, thou wilt find, make the word Adam: for in Greek the four quarters of the world are called Anatole, Dysis, Arktos, Mesembria. If thou write these four words, one under the other, like four verses, the capital letters form the word Adam. The same is represented in Noah, by reason of the ark, in which were all animals, significant of all nations: the same in Abraham, to whom it was said more clearly, “In thy seed shall all nations be blessed:” the same in David, from whose psalms, to omit other expressions, we have just been singing, “Arise, O God, judge the earth; for Thou shalt inherit among all nations.” Now to what God is it said “Arise,” but to Him who slept? “Arise, O God, judge the earth.” As if it were said, Thou hast been asleep, having been judged by the earth; arise, to
judge the earth. And whither does that prophecy extend, “For Thou shalt inherit among all nations”?
15. Moreover, in the fifth age, in the fifth water-pot as it were, Daniel saw a stone that had been cut from a mountain without hands, and had broken all the kingdoms of the earth; and he saw the stone grow and become a great mountain, so as to fill the whole face of the earth. What can be plainer, my brethren? The stone is cut from a mountain: the same is the stone which the builders rejected, and is become the head of the corner. From what mountain is it cut, if not from the kingdom of the Jews, of which our Lord Jesus Christ was born according to the flesh? And it is cut without hands, without human exertion; because Christ sprung from a virgin, without a husband’s embrace. The mountain from which it was cut had not filled the whole face of the earth; for the kingdom of the Jews did not possess all nations. But, on the other hand, the kingdom of Christ we see occupying the whole world.
16. To the sixth age belongs John the Baptist, than whom none greater has arisen among those born of women; of whom it was said, that he was “greater than a prophet.” And how did John show that Christ was sent to all nations? When the Jews came to him to be baptized, that they might not pride themselves on the name of Abraham, he said to them, “O generation of vipers, who has proclaimed to you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of repentance;” that is, be humble; for he was speaking to proud people. But whereof were they proud? Of their descent according to the flesh, not of the fruit of imitating their father Abraham. What said he to them? “Say not, We have Abraham for our father: for God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” Meaning by stones all nations, not on account of their durable strength, as in the case of that stone which the builders rejected, but on account of their stupidity and their foolish insensibility, because they had become like the things which they were accustomed to worship: for they worshipped senseless images, themselves equally senseless. “They that make them are like them, and so are all they that trust in them.” Accordingly, when men begin to worship God, what do they hear said to them? “That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven; who maketh His sun to rise on the good and on the evil, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Wherefore, if a man becomes like that which he worships, what is meant by “God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham”? Let us ask ourselves and we shall see that it is a fact. For of those nations are we come, but we should not have come of them had not God of the stones raised up children unto Abraham. We are made children of Abraham by imitating his faith, not by being born of his flesh. For just as they by their degeneracy have been disinherited, so have we by imitating been adopted. Therefore, brethren, this prophecy also of the sixth water-pot extended to all nations; and hence it was said concerning all, “containing two or three metretæ apiece.”
17. But how do we show that all nations belong to the “two or three metretæ apiece”? It was a matter of reckoning, in some measure, that he should say the same water-pots contained “two apiece,” which he had said contained “three apiece;” evidently in order to intimate to us a mystery therein. How are there “two metretæ apiece”? Circumcision and uncircumcision. Scripture mentions these two classes of people, and leaves out no kind of men, when it says, “Circumcision and uncircumcision;” in these two appellations thou hast all nations: they are the two metretæ apiece. In these two walls, meeting from different quarters, “Christ became the corner-stone, in order to make peace in Himself.” Let us show also the “three metretæ apiece” in the case of these same all nations. Noah had three sons, through whom the human race was restored. Hence the Lord says, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.” What is this woman, but the flesh of the Lord? What is the leaven, but the gospel? What the three measures, but all nations, on account of the three sons of Noah? Therefore the “six water-pots containing two or three metretæ apiece” are six periods of time, containing the prophecy relating to all nations, whether as represented in two sorts of men, namely, Jews and Greeks, as the apostle often mentions them; or in three sorts, on account of the three sons of Noah. For the prophecy was represented as reaching unto all nations. And because of that reaching it is called a measure, even as the apostle says, “We have received a measure for reaching unto you.” For in preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, he says, “A measure for reaching unto you.”
- 1 Tim. iv. 3.
- Matt. xix. 6.
- 2 Cor. iii. 14–16.
- Phil. iii. 13.
- Gen. i. 1.
- Matt. i. 17.
- Col. iii. 10.
- 1 John ii. 15.
- Rom. viii. 9.
- 1 Cor. xiii. 1–3.
- Rom. v. 5.
- John x. 30.
- Gen. xxii. 18.
- Eph. iii. 31.
- Gen. ii. 24.
- Phil. ii. 6.
- Rom. v. 14.
- Ps. lxxxii. 8.
- Matt. xxii. 13.
- Dan. ii. 34.
- Ps. cxviii. 22.
- Matt. xi. 11.
- Matt. iii. 9.
- Ps. cxv. 8.
- Matt. v. 45.
- Col. iii. 11.
- Eph. ii. 14.
- Luke xiii. 21.
- Rom. ii. 9; 1 Cor. i. 24, etc.
- 2 Cor. x. 13.