Early Church Fathers
John vi. 53, 54.-"Jesus therefore said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have not eternal1 life in yourselves. Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath life2 in himself."
[1.] When we converse of spiritual things, let there be nothing secular in our souls, nothing earthy, let all such thoughts retire, and be banished, and let us3 be entirely given up to the hearing the divine oracles only. For if at the arrival of a king4 all confusion is driven away, much more when the Spirit speaketh with us do we need5 great stillness, great awe. And worthy of awe is that which is said to-day. How it is so, hear. "Verily I say unto you, Except a man eat My flesh, and drink My blood, he hath not eternal life in him." Since the Jews had before asserted that this was impossible, He showeth not only that it is not impossible, but that it is absolutely necessary. Wherefore He addeth, "He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life."
"And I will raise him up at the last day." For since He had said, "He that eateth of this bread shall not die for ever" (ver. 50, not verbally quoted), and it was likely that this would stand in their way, (just as they before said, "Abraham is dead, and the prophets are dead; and how sayest Thou, that he shall not taste of death?"-c. viii. 52, not verbally quoted.) He bringeth forward the Resurrection to solve the question, and to show that (the man who eateth) shall not die at the last.6 He continually handleth the subject of the Mysteries, showing the necessity of the action, and that it must by all means be done.
Ver. 55. "For My flesh is true7 meat, and My blood is true drink."
What is that He saith?8 He either desireth to declare that this is the true meat which saveth the soul, or to assure them concerning what had been said, that they might not suppose the words to be a mere enigma or parable, but might know that it is by all means needful to eat the Body. Then He saith,
Ver. 56. "He that eateth My flesh, dwelleth in Me."
This He said, showing that such an one is blended with9 Him. Now what follows seems unconnected, unless we enquire into the sense; for, saith some one, after saying, "He that eateth My flesh, dwelleth in Me," what kind of a consequence is it to add,
Ver. 57. "As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father"?
Yet the words harmonize perfectly. For since He continually spake of "eternal life," to prove this point He introduceth the expression, "dwelleth in Me"; for "if he dwelleth in Me, and I live, it is plain that he will live also." Then He saith, "As the living Father hath sent Me." This is an expression of comparison and resemblance, and its meaning is of this kind, "I live in like manner as the Father liveth." And that thou mayest not deem Him unbegotten, He immediately subjoineth, "by the Father," not by this to show that He needeth, in order to live, any power working in Him,10 for He said before, to remove such a suspicion, "As the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son also to have life in Himself"; now if He needeth the working of another, it will be found that either the Father hath not given Him so to have it, and so the assertion is false, or if He hath so given it, then He will need no other one to support Him. What then means the, "By the Father"? He here merely hinteth at the cause, and what He saith is of this kind: "As the Father liveth, so I live, and he that eateth Me shall live by Me." And the "life" of which He speaketh is not life merely, but the excellent11 life; for that He spake not simply of life, but of that glorious and ineffable life, is clear from this. For all men "live," even unbelievers, and uninitiated, who eat not of that flesh. Seest thou that the words relate not to this life, but to that other? And what He saith is of this kind: "He that eateth My flesh, when he dieth shall not perish nor suffer punishment"; He spake not of the general resurrection, (for all alike rise again,) but concerning the special, the glorious Resurrection, that which hath a reward.
Ver. 58. "This is that bread which came down from heaven; not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead; he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever."
Continually doth He handle the same point, so as to imprint it on the understanding of the hearers, (for the teaching on these points was a kind of final teaching,) and to confirm the doctrine of the Resurrection and of eternal life. Wherefore He mentioneth the Resurrection since He promiseth eternal life, showing that that life is not now, but after the Resurrection.12 "And whence," saith some one, "are these things clear?" From the Scriptures; to them He everywhere referreth the Jews, bidding them learn these things from them. And by saying, "Which giveth life to the world," He inciteth them to jealousy, that from very vexation that others should enjoy the gift, they may not stay without. And continually He remindeth them of the manna, showing the difference, (between it and His bread,) and guiding them to the faith; for if He was able13 to support their life for forty years without harvest, or corn, or other things in course;14 much more now will He be able to do so, as having come for greater ends. Moreover, if those things were but types, and yet men collected what came down without sweat or labor; much more shall this be the case, where the difference is great both in the never dying, and in the enjoying the true life. And rightly hath He spoken often of "life," since this is desired by men, and nothing is so pleasing to them as not to die. Since even under the old Covenant, this was the promise, length of life and many days, but now it is not length merely, but life having no end. He desireth at the same time to show, that He now revoketh the punishment caused by sin, annulling that sentence which condemneth to death, and bringing in not life merely, but life eternal, contrariwise to the former things.15
Ver. 59. "These things said He in the synagogue, as He taught in Capernaum."
[2.] The place where most of His marvels had been done, so that He ought there especially to have been listened to. But wherefore taught He in the synagogue and in the Temple? As well because He desired to catch the greatest number of them, as because He desired to show that He was not opposed to the Father.
Ver. 60. "But many of the disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is a hard saying."
What means "hard"? Rough, laborious, troublesome. Yet He said nothing of this kind, for He spake not of a mode of life,16 but of doctrines, continually handling the faith which is in Him. What then means, "is a hard saying"? Is it because it promiseth life and resurrection? Is it because He said that He came down from heaven? Or that it was impossible for one to be saved who ate not His flesh? Tell me, are these things "hard"? Who can assert that they are? What then means "hard"? It means, "difficult to be received," "transcending their infirmity," "having much terror." For they thought that He uttered words too high for His real character, and such as were above Himself. Therefore they said,
"Who can hear it?"
Perhaps making excuse for themselves, since they were about to start away.
Ver. 61, 62. "When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples murmured at it," (for this is an attribute of His Godhead to bring secret things to light,) "He said unto them, Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see17 the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?"
This also He doth in the case of Nathanael, saying, "Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig-tree, believest thou? Thou shall see greater things than these." (c. i. 50.) And to Nicodemus, "No man hath ascended up to heaven but the Son of man which is in heaven." (c. iii. 13.) What then, doth He add difficulties to difficulties? No, (that be far from Him,) but by the greatness of the doctrines, and the number of them, He desireth to bring them over. For if one had said simply, "I have come down from heaven," and added nothing more, he would have been the more likely to offend them; but He who said, "My body is the life of the world"; He who said, "As the living Father hath sent Me, so I live by the Father"; and who said, "I have come down from heaven," solves the difficulty. For the man who utters any one great thing concerning himself may perhaps be suspected of feigning, but he who connects together so many one after another removes all suspicion. All that He doth and saith is intended to lead them away from the thought, that Joseph was His father. And it was not with a wish to strengthen, but rather to do away that stumbling-block, that He said this. For whosoever deemed that He was Joseph's son could not receive His sayings, while one that was persuaded that He had come down from heaven, and would ascend thither, might more easily give heed to His words: at the same time He bringeth forward also another explanation, saying,
Ver. 63. "It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing."
His meaning is, "Ye must hear spiritually what relateth to Me, for he who heareth carnally is not profited, nor gathereth any advantage." It was carnal to question how He came down from heaven, to deem that He was the son of Joseph, to ask, "How can he give us His flesh to eat?" All this was carnal, when they ought to have understood the matter in a mystical and spiritual sense. "But," saith some one, "how could they understand what the `eating flesh' might mean?" Then it was their duty to wait for the proper time and enquire, and not to abandon Him.
"The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life."
That is, they are divine and spiritual, have nothing carnal about them, are not subject to the laws of physical consequence, but are free from any such necessity, are even set above the laws appointed for this world, and have also another and a different meaning. Now as in this passage He said "spirit," instead of "spiritual," so when He speaketh of "flesh," He meant not "carnal things," but "carnally hearing," and alluding at the same time to them, because they ever desired carnal things when they ought to have desired spiritual. For if a man receives them carnally, he profits nothing. "What then, is not His flesh, flesh?" Most certainly. "How then saith He, that the flesh profiteth nothing?" He speaketh not of His own flesh, (God forbid!) but of those who received His words in a carnal manner. But what is "understanding carnally"? It is looking merely to what is before our eyes, without imagining anything beyond. This is understanding carnally. But we must not judge thus by sight, but must look into all mysteries with the eyes within. This is seeing spiritually. He that eateth not His flesh, and drinketh not His blood, hath no life in him. How then doth "the flesh profit nothing," if without it we cannot live? Seest thou that the words, "the flesh profiteth nothing," are spoken not of His own flesh, but of carnal hearing?
Ver. 64. "But there are some of you that believe not."
Again, according to His custom, He addeth weight to His words, by foretelling what would come to pass, and by showing that He spake thus not from desire of honor from them, but because He cared for them. And when He said "some," He excepted the disciples. For at first He said, "Ye have both seen Me, and believe not" (ver. 36); but here, "There are some of you that believe not."
For He "knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray Him."
Ver. 65. "And He said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto Me except it were given unto Him from above from My Father."
[3.] Here the Evangelist intimates to us the voluntary character of the Dispensation, and His endurance of evil. Nor is the, "from the beginning," put here without a cause, but that thou mayest be aware of His foreknowledge from the first, and that before the words were uttered, and not after the men had murmured nor after they had been offended, He knew the traitor, but before, which was an attribute of Godhead. Then He added, "Except it be given him from above from My Father"; thus persuading them to deem God His Father, not Joseph, and showing them that it is no common thing to believe in Him. As though He had said, "Unbelievers disturb Me not; trouble Me not, astonish Me not. I know of old before they were created, I know to whom the Father hath given to believe;" and do thou, when thou hearest that "He hath given," imagine not merely an arbitrary distribution,18 but that if any hath rendered himself worthy to receive the gift, he hath received it.
Ver. 66. "From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him."
Rightly hath the Evangelist said, not that they "departed," but that they "went back"; showing that they cut themselves off from any increase in virtue, and that by separating themselves they lost the faith which they had of old. But this was not the case with the twelve;. wherefore He saith to them,
Ver. 67. "Will ye also go away?"
Again showing that He needeth not their ministry and service, and proving to them that it was not for this that He led them about with Him. For how could He when He used such expressions even to them? But why did He not praise them? why did He not approve them? Both because He preserved the dignity befitting a teacher, and also to show them that they ought rather to be attracted by this mode of dealing. For had He praised them, they might, supposing that they were doing Him a favor, have had some human feeling; but by showing them that He needed not their attendance, He kept them to Him the more. And observe with what prudence He spake. He said not, "Depart ye," (this would have been to thrust them from Him,) but asked them a question, "Will ye also go away?" the expression of one who would remove all force or compulsion, and who wished not that they should be attached to Him through any sense of shame, but with a sense of favor. By not openly accusing, but gently glancing at them, He showeth what is the truly wise course under such circumstances. But we feel differently; with good reason, since we do everything holding fast our own honor, and therefore think that our estate is lowered by the departure of those who attend on us. But He neither flattered nor repulsed them, but asked them a question. Now this was not the act of one despising them, but of one wishing them not to be restrained by force and compulsion: for to remain on such terms is the same as to depart. What then saith Peter?
Ver. 68, 69. "To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Seest thou that it was not the words that caused offense, but the heedlessness, and sloth, and wrong-mindedness of the hearers? For even had He not spoken, they would have been offended, and would not have ceased to be ever anxious about bodily food, ever nailed to earth. Besides, the disciples heard at the same time with the others, yet they declared an opinion contrary to theirs, saying, "To whom shall we go?" An expression indicating much affection, for it shows that their Teacher19 was more precious to them than anything, than father or mother, or any possessions,20 and that if they withdrew from Him, they had not then whither to flee. Then lest it should seem that he had said, "to whom shall we go?" because there were none that would receive them, he straightway added, "Thou hast the words of eternal life." For the Jews listened carnally, and with human reasonings, but the disciples spiritually, and committing all to faith. Wherefore Christ said, "The words which I have spoken unto you are spirit"; that is, "do not suppose that the teaching of My words is subject to the rule of material consequences, or to the necessity of created things. Things spiritual are not of this nature, nor endure to submit to the laws of earth." This also Paul declareth, saying, "Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down;) or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.") (Rom. x. 6, Rom. x. 7.)
"Thou hast the words of eternal life." These men already admitted the Resurrection, and all the apportionment21 which shall be there. And observe the brotherly and affectionate man, how he maketh answer for all the band. For he said not, "I know," but, "We know." Or rather, observe how he goes to the very words of his Teacher, not speaking as did the Jews. They said, "This is the son of Joseph"; but he said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God"; and "Thou hast the words of eternal life"; having perhaps heard Him say,22 "He that believeth on Me23 hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." For he showed that he retained all that had been said, by recalling the very words. What then did Christ? He neither praised nor expressed admiration of Peter, though He had elsewhere done so; but what saith He?
Ver. 70. "Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?"
For since Peter said, "We believe," Jesus excepteth Judas from the band. In the other place Peter made no mention of the disciples; but when Christ said, "Whom say ye that I am?" he replied, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. xvi. 15); but here, since he said, "We believe," Christ with reason admitteth not Judas into that band. And this He did afar off, and long before the time, to check the wickedness of the traitor, knowing that He should avail nothing, yet doing His own part.
[4.] And remark His wisdom. He made not the traitor manifest, yet allowed him not to be hidden; that on the one hand he might not lose all shame, and become more contentious; and on the other, that he might not, thinking to be unperceived, work his wicked deed without fear. Therefore by degrees He bringeth plainer reproofs against him. First, He numbered him too among the others, when He said, "There are some of you that believe not," (for that He counted the traitor the Evangelist hath declared, saying, "For He knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray Him;") but when he yet remained such, He brought against him a more severe rebuke, "One of you is a devil," yet made the fear common to them all, wishing to conceal him. And here it is worth while to enquire, why the disciples at this time said nothing, but afterwards were afraid and doubted, looking one upon another, and asking, "Lord, is it I?" (Matt. xxvi. 22), when Peter beckoned to John to find out the traitor, by enquiring of their Teacher which was he. What is24 the reason? Peter had not yet heard, "Get thee behind me, Satan," wherefore he had no fear at all; but when he had been rebuked, and though he spoke through strong affection,25 instead of being approved of, had even been called "Satan," he afterwards with reason feared when he heard, "One of you shall betray Me." Besides, He saith not even now, "One of you shall betray Me," but, "One of you is a devil"; wherefore they understood not what was spoken, but thought that He was only reflecting upon their wickedness.
But wherefore said He, "I have chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil"? It was to show that His teaching was entirely free from flattery. For that they might not think that He would flatter them, because when all had left Him they alone remained, and confessed by Peter that He was the Christ, He leadeth them away from such a suspicion. And what He saith is of this kind. "Nothing abasheth Me from rebuking the bad; think not that because ye have remained I shall choose to flatter you, or that because ye have followed Me I shall not rebuke the wicked. For neither doth another circumstance abash Me, which is much more powerful than this to abash a teacher. For he that remaineth affordeth a proof of his affection, while one that hath been chosen by a teacher, being rejected, attacheth to him a character for folly among senseless persons. Still neither doth this cause Me to refrain from My reproofs." This at least even now the heathen frigidly and senselessly urge against Christ. For God is not wont to make men good by compulsion and force, neither is His election and choice compulsory on those who are called,26 but persuasive.27 And that thou mayest learn that the calling compelleth not, consider how many of these who have been called have come to perdition, so that it is clear that it lieth in our own will28 also to be saved, or to perish.
[5.] Hearing therefore these things, learn we always to be sober and to watch. For if when he who was reckoned among that holy band, who had enjoyed so great a gift, who had wrought miracles, (for he too was with the others who were sent to raise the dead and to heal lepers,) if when he was seized by the dreadful disease of covetousness, and betrayed his Master, neither the favors, nor the gifts, nor the being with Christ, nor the attendance on Him, nor the washing the feet, nor the sharing His table, nor the bearing the bag, availed him, if these things rather served to help on29 his punishment, let us also fear lest we ever through covetousness imitate Judas. Thou betrayest not Christ. But when thou neglectest the poor man wasting with hunger, or perishing with cold, that man draws upon thee the same condemnation.30 When we partake of the Mysteries unworthily, we perish equally with the Christ-slayers. When we plunder, when we oppress31 those weaker than ourselves, we shall draw down upon us severest punishment. And with reason; for how long shall the love of things present so occupy us, superfluous as they are and unprofitable? since wealth consists in superfluities, in which no advantage is. How long shall we be nailed to vanities? How long shall we not look through and away into heaven, not be sober, not be satiated with these fleeting things of earth, not learn by experience their worthlessness? Let us think of those who before us have been wealthy; are not all those things a dream? are they not a shadow, a flower? are they not a stream which floweth by? a story and a tale? Such a man has been rich, and where now is his wealth? It has gone, has perished, but the sins done by reason of it stay by him, and the punishment which is because of the sins. Yea, surely if there were no punishment, if no kingdom were set before us, it were a duty to show regard for those of like descent and family, to respect those who have like feelings with ourselves. But now we feed dogs, and many of us wild asses, and bears, and different beasts, while we care not for a man perishing with hunger; and a thing alien to us is more valued than that which is of our kin, and our own family less honored than creatures which are not so, nor related to us.
Is it a fine thing to build one's self splendid houses, to have many servants, to lie and gaze at a gilded roof? Why then, assuredly, it is superfluous and unprofitable. For other buildings there are, far brighter and more majestic than these; on such we must gladden our eyes, for there is none to hinder us. Wilt thou see the fairest of roofs? At eventide look upon the starred heaven. "But," saith some one, "this roof is not mine." Yet in truth this is more thine than that other. For thee it was made, and is common to thee and to thy brethren; the other is not thine, but theirs who after thy death inherit it. The one may do thee the greatest service, guiding thee by its beauty to its Creator; the other the greatest harm, becoming thy greatest accuser at the Day of Judgment, inasmuch as it is covered with gold, while Christ hath not even needful raiment. Let us not, I entreat you, be subject to such folly, let us not pursue things which flee away, and flee those which endure; let us not betray our own salvation, but hold fast to our hope of what shall be hereafter; the aged, as certainly knowing that but a little space of life is left us; the young, as well persuaded that what is left is not much. For that day cometh so as a thief in the night. Knowing this, let wives exhort their husbands, and husbands admonish their wives; let us teach youths and maidens, and all instruct one another, to care not for present things, but to desire those which are to come, that we may be able also to obtain them; through the grace and loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom and with whom, to the Father and the Holy Ghost be glory, now and ever and world without end. Amen.