Early Church Fathers
John x. 14, 15.-"I am the Good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine. As the Father knoweth Me, even so know I the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep."
[1.] A Great matter, beloved, a great matter it is to preside over a Church: a matter needing wisdom and courage as great as that of which Christ speaketh, that a man should lay down his life for the sheep, and never leave them deserted or naked; that he should stand against the wolf nobly. For in this the shepherd differs from the hireling; the one always looks to his own safety, caring not for the sheep; the other always seeks that of the sheep, neglecting his own. Having therefore mentioned the marks of a shepherd, Christ hath put two kinds of spoilers; one, the thief who kills and steals; the other, one who doth not these things, but who when they are done doth not give heed nor hinder them. By the first, pointing to Theudas and those like him; by the second, exposing the teachers of the Jews, who neither cared for nor thought about the sheep entrusted to them. On which account Ezekiel of old rebuked them, and said, "Woe,1 ye shepherds of Israel! Do the shepherds feed themselves? Do not the shepherds feed the sheep?" (Ezek. xxxiv. 2, Ezek. xxxiv 2 LXX.) But they did the contrary, which is the worst kind of wickedness, and the cause of all the rest. Wherefore It saith, "They have not turned back the strayed, nor sought the lost, nor bound up the broken, nor healed the sick, because they fed themselves and not the sheep." (Ezek. xxxiv. 4.) As Paul also hath declared in another passage, saying, "For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's" (Phil. ii. 21); and again, "Let no man seek his own, but every man his neighbor's." (1 Cor. x. 24.) From both Christ distinguisheth Himself; from those who came to spoil, by saying, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have more abundantly" (ver. 10); and from those who cared not for the sheep being carried away by wolves, by never deserting them, but even laying down His life for them, that the sheep might not perish. For when they desired to kill Him, He neither altered His teaching, nor betrayed those who believed on Him, but stood firm, and chose to die. Wherefore He continually said, "I am the good Shepherd." Then because His words appeared to be unsupported by testimony, (for though the, "I lay down My life," was not long after proved, yet the, "that they might have life, and that they might have more abundantly," was to come to pass after their departure hence in the life to come,) what doth He? He proveth one from the other; by giving His mortal life2 (He proveth) that He giveth life immortal.3 As Paul also saith, "If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more being reconciled we shall be saved." (Rom. v. 10.) And again in another place, "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Rom. viii. 32.)
But wherefore do they not now bring againstHim the charge which they did before, whenthey said, "Thou bearest witness of thyself, thywitness is not true?" (c. viii. 13.) Because He had often stopped their mouths, and because His boldness towards them had been increased by His miracles. Then because He said above "And the sheep hear his voice, and follow him," lest any should say, "What then is this to those who believe not?" hear what He addeth "And I know My sheep, and am known of Mine." As Paul declared when he said, "God hath not rejected His people whom He foreknew" (Rom. xi. 2); and Moses, "The Lord knew those that were His" (2 Tim. ii. 19; comp. Num. xvi. 5); "those," He saith, "I mean, whom He4 foreknew." Then that thou mayest not deem the measure of knowledge to be equal, hear how He setteth the matter right by adding, "I know My sheep, and am known of Mine." But the knowledge is not equal. "Where is it equal?" In the case of the Father and Me, for there, "As the Father knoweth Me, even so know I the Father." Had He not wished to prove this, why should He have added that expression? Because He often ranked Himself among the many, therefore, lest any one should deem that He knew as a man knoweth, He added, "As the Father knoweth Me, even so know I the Father." "I know Him as exactly as He knoweth Me." Wherefore He said, "No man knoweth the Son5 save the Father, nor the Father save the Son" (Luke x. 22), speaking of a distinct kind of knowledge, and such as no other can possess.
[2.] "I lay down My life." This He saith continually, to show that He is no deceiver. So also the Apostle, when he desired to show that he was a genuine teacher, and was arguing against the false apostles, established his authority by his dangers and deaths, saying, "In stripes above measure, in deaths oft." (2 Cor. xi. 23.) For to say, "I am light," and "I am life," seemed to the foolish to be a matter of pride; but to say, "I am willing to die," admitted not any malice or envy. Wherefore they do not say to Him, "Thou bearest witness of thyself, thy witness is not true," for the speech manifested very tender care for them, if indeed He was willing to give Himself for those who would have stoned Him. On this account also He seasonably introduceth mention of the Gentiles;
Ver. 16. "For other sheep also I have," He saith, "which are not of this fold, them also must I bring."
Observe again, the word "must," here used, doth not express necessity, but is declaratory of something which will certainly come to pass. As though He had said, "Why marvel ye if these shall follow Me, and if My sheep shall hear My voice? When ye shall see others also following Me and hearing My voice, then shall ye be astonished more." And be not confounded when you hear Him say, "which are not of this fold" (Gal. v. 6), for the difference relateth to the Law only, as also Paul saith, "Neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision."
"Them also must I bring." He showeth that both these and those were scattered and mixed, and without shepherds, because the good Shepherd had not yet come. Then He proclaimeth beforehand their future union, that,
"They shall be one fold."6
Which same thing also Paul7 declared, saying, "For to make in Himself of twain one new man." (Eph. ii. 15.)
Ver. 17. "Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again."
What could be more full of humanity than this saying, if so be that on our account our Lord shall be beloved, because He dieth for us? What then? tell me, was He not beloved during the time before this; did the Father now begin to love Him, and were we the causes of His love? Seest thou how He used condescension? But what doth He here desire to prove? Because they said that He was alien from the Father, and a deceiver, and had come to ruin and destroy He telleth them, "This if nothing else would persuade Me to love you, namely, your being so beloved by the Father, that I also am beloved by Him, because I die for you." Besides this He desireth also to prove that other point, that He came not to the action unwillingly, (for it unwillingly, how could what was done cause love?) and that this was especially known to the Father. And if He speaketh as a man, marvel not, for we have often mentioned the cause of this, and to say again the same things is superfluous and unpleasant.
"I lay down My life, that I might take it again."
Ver. 18. "No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again."
Because they often took counsel to kill Him, He telleth them, "Except I will, your labor is unavailing." And by the first He proveth the second, by the Death, the Resurrection. For this is the strange and wonderful thing. Since both took place in a new way, and beyond ordinary custom. But let us give heed exactly to what He saith, "I have power to lay down My life." And who hath not "power to lay down his life"? Since it is in the power of any that will, to kill himself. But He saith it not so, but how? "I have in such a way the power to lay it down, that no one can effect this against My will." And this is a power not belonging to men; for we have no power to lay it down in any other way than by killing ourselves. And if we fall into the hands of men who plot against us, and have the power to kill us, we no longer are free to lay it down or not, but even against our will they take it from us. Now this was not the case with Christ, but even when others plotted against Him, He had power not to lay it down. Having therefore said that, "No man taketh it from Me," He addeth, "I have power to lay down My life," that is, "I alone can decide as to laying it down," a thing which doth not rest with us,8 for many others also are able to take it from us. Now this He said not at first, (since the assertion would not have seemed credible,) but when He had received the testimony of facts, and when, having often plotted against Him, the), had been unable to lay hold on Him, (for He escaped from their hands ten thousand tithes,) He then saith, "No man taketh it from me." But if this be true, that other point follows, that He came to death voluntarily. And if this be true, the next point is also certain, that He can "take it again" when He will. For if the dying9 was a greater thing than man could do, doubt no more about the other. Since the fact that He alone was able to let go His life, showeth that He was able by the same power to take it again. Seest thou how from the first He proved the second, and from His death showed that His Resurrection was indisputable?
"This commandment have I received of My Father."
What commandment was this? To die for the world. Did He then wait first to hear, and then choose, and had He need of learning it? Who that had sense would assert this? But before when He said, "Therefore doth My Father love Me," He showed that the first motion was voluntary, and removed all suspicion of opposition to the Father; so here when He saith that He received a commandment from the Father, He declared nothing save that, "this which I do seemeth good to Him," in order that when they should slay Him, they might not think that they had slain Him as one deserted and given up by the Father, nor reproach Him with such reproaches as they did, "He saved others, himself he cannot save"; and, "If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross" (Matt. xxvii. 42, 40); yet the very reason of His not coming down was, that He was the Son of God.
[3.] Then test on hearing that, "I have received a command from the Father," thou shouldest deem that the achievement10 doth not belong to Him, He hath said preventing the, "The good Shepherd layeth down His life for the sheep"; showing by this that the sheep were His, and that all which took place was His achievement, and that He needed no command. For had He needed a commandment, how could He have said, "I lay it down of Myself"? for He that layeth it down of Himself needeth no commandment. He also assigneth the cause for which He doeth this. And what is that? That He is the Shepherd, and the good Shepherd. Now the good Shepherd needeth no one to arouse him to his duty; and if this be the case with man, much more is it so with God. Wherefore Paul said, that "He emptied Himself." (Phil. ii. 7.) So the "commandment" put here means nothing else, but to show His unanimity with the Father; and if He speaketh in so humble and human a way, the cause is the infirmity of His hearers.
Ver. 19. "There was a division therefore11 among the Jews.12 And some13 said, He hath a devil (and is mad14 ). Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil: can a devil open the eyes of the blind?"
For because His words were greater than belonged to man, and not of common use, they said that He had a devil, calling Him so now for the fourth time. For they before had said "Thou hast a devil, who seeketh to kill thee?" (c. vii. 20); and again, "Said we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?" (c. viii. 48); and here, "He hath a devil and is mad why hear ye him?" Or rather we should say, that He heard this not for the fourth time, but frequently. For to ask, "Said we not well that thou hast a devil?" is a sign that they had said so not twice or thrice, but many times. "Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil: can a devil open the eyes of the blind?" For since they could not silence their opponents by words, they now brought proof from His works. "Certainly neither are the words those of one that hath a devil, yet if ye are not persuaded by the words, be ye shamed by the works. For if they are not the acts of one that hath a devil, and are greater than belong to man, it is quite clear that they proceed from some divine power." Seest thou the argument? That they were greater than belonged to man is plain, from the Jews saying, "He hath a devil" that He had not a devil, He showed by what He did.
What then did Christ? He answered nothing to these things. Before this He had replied, "I have not a devil"; but not so now; for since He had afforded proof by His actions, He afterwards held His peace. For neither were they worthy of an answer, who said that He was possessed of a devil, on account of those actions for which they ought to have admired and deemed Him to be God. And how were any farther refutations from Him needed, when they opposed and refuted each other? Wherefore He was silent, and bore all mildly. And not for this reason alone, but also to teach us all meekness and long-suffering.
[4.] Let us now imitate Him. For not only did He now hold His peace, but even came among them again,15 and being questioned answered and showed the things relating to His foreknowledge; and though called "demoniac" and "madman," by men who had received from Him ten thousand benefits, and that not once or twice but many times, not only did He refrain from avenging Himself, but even ceased not to benefit them. To benefit, do I say? He laid down His life for them, and while being crucified spake in their behalf to His Father. This then let us also imitate, for to be a disciple of Christ, is the being gentle and kind. But whence can this gentleness come to us? If we continuallyreckon up our sins, if we mourn, if we weep; for neither doth a soul that dwelleth in the company of so much grief endure to be provoked or angered. Since wherever there is mourning, it is impossible that there should be anger; where grief is, all anger is out of the way; where there is brokenness of spirit, there is no provocation. For the mind, when scourged by sorrow, hath not leisure to be roused, but will groan16 bitterly, and weep yet more bitterly. I know that many laugh on hearing these things, but I will not cease to lament for the laughers. For the present is a time for mourning, and wailings, and lamentations, since we do many sins both in word and deed, and hell awaiteth those who commit such transgressions, and the river boiling with a roaring stream of fire, and banishment from the Kingdom, which is the most grievous thing of all. When these things then are threatened, tell me, dost thou laugh and bear thee proudly? And when thy Lord is angered and threatening, dost thou stand careless,17 and fearest thou not lest by this thou light for thyselfthe furnace to a blaze? Hearest thou not whatHe crieth out every day? "Ye saw Me18 an hungered, and gave Me no meat;thirsty, and ye gave Me no drink; depart ye into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels." (Matt. xxv.) And these things He threatened every day. "But," saith some one, "I did give Him meat." When, and for how many days? Ten or twenty? But He willeth it not merely for so much time as this, but as much as thou spendest upon earth. For the virgins also had oil, yet not sufficient for their salvation; they too lighted their lamps, yet they were shut out from the bridechamber. And with reason, since the lamps had gone out before the coming of the Bridegroom. On this account we need much oil, and abundant lovingkindness. Hear at least what the Prophet saith, "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy great mercy." (Ps. li. 1.) We therefore must so take pity upon our neighbor, according to His great mercy towards us. For such as we are towards our fellow-servants,such shall we find our Lord towards ourselves. And what kind of "mercy" is "great"? When we give not of our abundance, but of our deficiency. But if we give not even of our abundance, what hope shall there be for us? Whence shall we have deliverance from those woes? Where shall we be enabled to flee and to find salvation? For if the virgins after so many and so great toils found no comfort anywhere, who shall stand forth for us when we hear those fearful words of the Judge Himself, addressing and reproaching us, because "I was an hungered, and ye gave Me no meat; for inasmuch," It saith, "as ye did it not unto one of the least ofthese, ye did it not unto Me"; saying this not merely of His disciples, nor of those who have taken upon themselves the ascetic life, but of every faithful man. For such an one though he be a slave, or one of those that beg in the market-place, yet if he believeth in God, ought by right to enjoy all our good will. And if we neglect such an one when naked or hungry, we shall hear those words. With reason. For what difficult or grievous thing hath He demanded of us? What that is not of the very lightest and easiest? He saith not, "I was sick, and ye restored Me not," but, "and ye visited Me not." He saith not, "I was in prison, and ye delivered Me not," but, "and ye came not unto Me." In proportion therefore as the commands are easy, so is the punishment greater to them that disobey. For what is easier, tell me, than to walk forth and enter into a prison? And what more pleasant? For when thou seest some bound, others covered with filth, others with uncut hairand clothed in rags, others perishing with hunger, and running like dogs to your feet, others with deep ploughed sides,19 others now returning in chains from the market-place, who beg all day and do not collect even necessary sustenance, and yet at evening are required by those set over them to furnish that wicked and savage service;20 though thou be like any stone, thou wilt certainly be rendered kinder; though thou livest a soft and dissipated life, thou wilt certainly become wiser, when thou observest the nature of human affairs in other men's misfortunes; for thou wilt surely gain an idea of that fearful day, and of its varied punishments. Revolving and considering these things, thou wilt certainly cast out both wrath and pleasure, and the love of worldly things, and wilt make thy soul more calm than the calmest harbor; and thou wilt reason concerning that Judgment seat, reflecting that if among men there is so much forethought, and order, and terror, and threatenings, much more will there be with God. "For there is no power but from God." (Rom. xiii. 1.) He therefore who permitteth rulers to order these things thus, will much more do the same Himself.
[5.] And certainly were there not this fear, all would be lost, when though such punishments hang over them, there are many who go over to the side of wickedness. These things if thou wisely observe, thou wilt be more ready-minded towards alms-doing, and wilt reap much pleasure, far greater than those who come down from the theater. For they when they remove from thence are inflamed and burn with desire. Having seen those women hovering21 on the stage, and received fromthem ten thousand wounds, they will be in no better condition than a tossing sea, when the image of the faces, the gestures, the speeches, the walk, and all the rest, stand before their eyes and besiege their soul. But they who come forth from a prison will suffer nothing of this kind, but will enjoy great calmand tranquillity. For the compunction arising from the sight of the prisoners, quenches all that fire. And if a woman that is an harlot and a wanton meet a man coming forth from among the prisoners, she will work him no mischief. For becoming for the time to come, as it were, incapable of molding,22 he will thus not be taken by the nets of her countenance, because instead of that wanton countenance there will then be placed before his eyes the fear of the Judgment. On this account, he who had gone over every kind of luxury said, "It is better to go into the house of mourning than into the house of mirth." (Eccl. vii. 2.) And so "here" thou wilt show forth great wisdom, and "there" wilt hear those words which are worth ten thousand blessings. Let us then not neglect such a practice and occupation. For although we be not able to bring them food, nor to help them by giving money, yet shall we be able to comfort them by our words, and to raise up the drooping spirit, and to help them in many other ways by conversing with those who cast them into prison, and by making their keepers kinder, and we certainly shall effect either small or great good. But if thou sayest that the men there are neither men of condition,23 nor good, nor gentle, but man-slayers, tomb-breakers, cut-purses, adulterers, intemperate, and full of many wickednesses, by this again thou showest to me a pressing reason for spending time there. For we are not commanded to take pity on the good and to punish the evil, but to manifest this lovingkindness to all men. "Be ye," It saith, "like to My Father24 which is in heaven, for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matt. v. 45.) Do not then accuse other men's faults bitterly, nor be a severe judge, but mild and merciful. For we also, if we have not been adulterers, or tomb-breakers, or cut-purses, yet have we other transgressions which deserve infinite punishment. Perchance we have called our brother "fool," which prepares25 for us the pit; we have looked on women with unchastened eyes, which constitutes absolute adultery; and what is more26 grievous than all, we partake not worthily of the Mysteries, which maketh us guilty of the Body and Blood of Christ. Let us then not be bitter enquirers into the conduct of others, but consider our own state, so shall we desist from this inhumanity and cruelty. Besides this, it may be said that we shall there find many good men, and often men worth as much as all the city. Since even that prison-house in which Joseph was had in it many evil men, yet that just man had the care of them all, and was, with the rest, concealed as to his real character; for he was worth as much as all the land of Egypt, yet still he dwelt in the prison-house, and no one knew him of those that were within it. Thus also even now it is likely that there are27 many good and virtuous men, though they be not visible to all men, and the care thou takest of such as these gives thee a return for thy exertions in favor of the whole. Or if there be none such, still even in this case great is thy recompense; for thy Lord conversed not with the just only, while He avoided the unclean, but received with kindness both the Canaanitish woman, and her of Samaria, the abominable and impure; another also who was a harlot, on whose account the Jews reproached Him, He both received and healed, and allowed His feet to be washed by the tears of the polluted one, teaching us to condescend to those that are in sin, for this most of all is kindness. What sayest thou? Do robbers and tomb-breakers dwell in the prison? And, tell me, are all they just men that dwell in the city? Nay, are there not many worse even than these, robbing with greater shamelessness? For the one sort, if there be no other excuse for them, at least put before themselves the veil of solitude and darkness, and the doing these things clandestinely; but the others throw away the mask and go after their wickedness with uncovered head, being violent, grasping, and covetous. Hard it is to find a man pure from injustice.
[6.] If we do not take by violence gold, or such and such a number of acres of land, yet we bring about the same end by deceit and robbery in lesser matters, and where we are able to do so. For when in making contracts, or when we must buy or sell anything, we dispute and strive to pay less than the value, and use our utmost endeavors to have it so, is not the action robbery? Is it not theft and covetousness? Tell not me that thou hast not wrested away houses or slaves, for injustice is judged not by the measure of the things taken, but by the intention of those who commit the robbery. Since "just" and "unjust" have the same force in great and in little things; and I call cut-purses alike the man who cuts through a purse and takes the gold, and him who buying from any of the market people deducts something from the proper price; nor is he the only house-breaker who breaks through a wall and steals anything within, but that manalso who corrupts justice, and takes anything from his neighbor.
Let us not then pass by our own faults, and become judges of other men's; nor let us, when it is time for lovingkindness, be searching out their wickedness; but considering what our own state was once, let us now be gentle and kind. What then was our state? Hear Paul say; "For we ourselves also were sometime foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, hateful, and hating one another" (Tit. iii. 3); and again, "We were by nature children of wrath." (Eph. ii. 3.) But God seeing us as it were confined in a prison-house, and bound with grievous chains, far more grievous than those of iron, was not ashamed of us, but came and entered the prison, and, though we deserved ten thousand punishments, both brought us out from hence, and brought us to a kingdom, and made us more glorious than the heaven, that we also might do the same according to our power. For when He saith to His disciples, "If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet; for I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you" (c. xiii. 14), He writeth this law not merely for the washing the feet, but also in all the other acts which He manifested towards us. Is it a manslayer who inhabits the prison? Yet let not us be weary in doing Him good. Is it a tomb-breaker, or an adulterer? Let us pity not his wickedness, but his calamity. But often, as I before said, one will be found there worth ten thousand; and if thou goest continually to the prisoners, thou shall not miss so great a prize. For as Abraham, by entertaining even common guests, once met with Angels, so shall we meet with great men too, if we make the action a business. And if I may make a strange assertion, he who entertains a great man is not so worthy of praise as he who receives the wretched and miserable. For the former hath, in his own life, no slight occasion of being well treated, but the other, rejected and given up by all, hath one only harbor, the pity of his benefactor;so that this most of all is pure kindness. He,moreover, who shows attention to an admired and illustrious man, doth it often for ostentationamong men, but he who tends the abject and despairing, doth it only because of the command of God. Wherefore, if we make a feast, we are bidden to entertain the lame and halt, and if we do works of mercy, we are bidden to do them to the least and meanest. "For," It saith, "inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto Me." (Matt. xxv. 45.) Knowing, therefore, the treasure which is laid up in that place,28 let us enter continually, and make it our business, and turn29 there our eager feelings about theaters. If thou hast nothing to contribute, contribute the comfort of thy words. For God recompenseth not only him that feedeth, but him also who goeth in. When thou enterest and arouseth the trembling and fearful soul, exhorting, succoring, promising assistance, teaching it true wisdom, thou shalt thence reap no small reward. For if thou shouldest speak in such manner outside the prison, many will even laugh, being dissipated30 by their excessive luxury: but those who are in adversity, having their minds humbled, shall meekly attend to thy words, and praise them, and become better men. Since even when Paul preached, the Jews often derided him, but the prisoners listened with much stillness. For nothing renders the soul so fit for heavenly wisdom as calamity and temptation, and the pressure of affliction. Considering all these things, and how much good we shall work both to those within the prison, and to ourselves, by being continually mixed31 up with them, let us there spend the time we used to spend in the market-place, and in unseasonable occupations, that we may both win them and gladden ourselves, and by causing God to be glorified, may obtain the everlasting blessings, through the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom and with whom, to the Father and the Holy Ghost, be glory for ever and ever. Amen.