Early Church Fathers
John xiv. 31; xv. 1.-"Arise, let us go hence. I am the true Vine, (ye are the branches,1 ) and My Father is the Husbandman."
[1.] `Ignorance' makes the soul timid and unmanly, just as instruction in heavenly doctrines makes it great and sublime. For when it has enjoyed no care, it is in a manner timid, not by nature but by will.2 For when I see the man who once was brave,3 now become a coward, I say that this latter feeling no longer belongs to nature, for what is natural is immutable. Again, when I see those who but now were cowards all at once become daring, I pass the same judgment, and refer all to will. Since even the disciples were very fearful, before they had learned what they ought, and had been deemed worthy of the gift of the Spirit; yet afterwards they became bolder than lions. So Peter, who could not bear the threat of a damsel, was hung with his head downwards, and was scourged, and though he endured ten thousand dangers, would not be silent, but enduring what he endured as though it were a dream, in such a situation spake boldly; but not so before the Crucifixion. Wherefore Christ said, "Arise, let us go hence." "But why, tell me? Did he not know the hour at which Judas would come upon Him? Or perhaps He feared lest he should come and seize them, and lest the plotters should be upon him before he had furnished his most excellent teaching." Away with the thought! these things are far from His dignity. "If then He did not fear, why did He remove them, and then after finishing His discourse lead them into a garden known to Judas? And even had Judas come, could He not have blinded their eyes, as He also did when the traitor was not present?4 Why did He remove them?" He alloweth the disciples a little breathing time. For it was likely that they, as being in a conspicuous place, would tremble and fear, both on the account of the time and the place, (for it was the depth of night,) and would not give5 heed to His words, but would be continually turning about, and imagining that they heard those who were to set upon them; and that more especially when their Master's speech made them expect evil. For, "yet a little while," He saith, "and I am not with you," and, "the ruler of this world cometh." Since now when they heard these and the like words they were troubled, as though they should certainly be taken immediately, He leadeth them to another place, in order that thinking themselves in safety, they might listen to Him without fear. For they were about to hear lofty doctrines. Therefore He saith, "Arise, let us go hence." Then He addeth, and saith,6 "I am the Vine, ye are the branches." What willeth He to imply by the comparison? That the man who gives no heed to His words can have no life, and that the miracles about to take place, would be wrought by the power of Christ."My Father is the Husbandman." "How then?Doth the Son need a power7 working within?" Away with the thought! this example does not signify this. Observe with what exactness He goeth through the comparison. He saith not that the "root" enjoys the care of the Husbandman, but, "the branches." And the foot is brought in in this place for no other purpose, but that they may learn that they can work nothing without His power, and that they ought to be united with Him by faith as the branch with the vine.
Ver. 2. "Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit the Father8 taketh away."
Here He alludeth to the manner of life, showing that without works it is not possible to be in Him.
"And every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it."9
That is, "causeth it to enjoy great care." Yet the root requires care rather than the branches, in being dug about, and cleared, yet about this He saith nothing here, but all about the branches. Showing that He is sufficient to Himself, and that the disciples need much help from the Husbandman, although they be very excellent. Wherefore He saith, "that which beareth fruit, He purgeth it." The one branch, because it is fruitless, cannot even remain in the Vine, but for the other, because it beareth fruit, He rendereth it more fruitful. This, some one might assert, was said with relation also to the persecutions then coming upon them. For the "purgeth it," is "pruneth," which makes the branch bear better. Whence it is shown, that persecutions rather make men stronger. Then, test they should ask concerning whom He said these things, and lest He should throw them back into anxiety, He saith,
Ver. 3. "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you."
Seest thou how He introduceth Himself as tending the branches? "I have cleansed you," He saith; yet above He declareth that the Father doth this. But there is no separation10 between the Father and the Son. "And now your part also must be performed." Then to show that He did not this as needing their ministry,11 but for their advancement, He addeth,
Ver. 4.12 "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine, so neither can he who abideth not in Me."13
For that they might not be separated from Him by timidity, He fasteneth and glueth to Himself their souls slackened through fear, and holdeth out to them good hopes for the future. For the root remains, but to be taken away, or to be left, belongs to the branches. Then having urged them on in both ways, by things pleasant and things painful, He requireth first what is to be done on our side.
Ver. 5. "He that abideth in Me, and I in him."14
Seest thou that the Son contributeth not less than the Father towards the care of the disciples? The Father purgeth, but He keepeth them in Himself. The abiding in the root is that which maketh the branches to be fruit-bearing. For that which is not purged, if it remain on the root, bears fruit, though perhaps not so much as it ought; but that which remains not, hears none at all. But still the "purging" also hath been shown to belong to the Son, and the "abiding in the root," to the Father, who also begat the Root. Seest thou how all is common,15 both the "purging," and the enjoying the virtue which is from the root?
[2.] Now it were a great penalty, the being able to do nothing, but He stayeth not the punishment at this point, but carrieth on His discourse farther.
Ver. 6. "He is cast forth,"16 He saith.
No longer enjoying the benefit of the husbandman's hand. "And is withered." That is, if he had aught of the root, he loses it; if any grace, he is stripped of this, and is bereft of the help and life which proceed from it. And what the end? "He is cast into the fire." Not such he who abideth with Him. Then He showeth what it is to "abide," and saith,
Ver. 7. "If My words abide in you."17
Seest thou that with reason I said above, that He seeketh the proof by works? For when He had said, "Whatsoever ye shall ask I will do it" (c. xiv. 14, 15), He added, "If ye love Me, ye will keep18 My commandments." And here, "If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you."
"Ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."
This He said to show that they who plotted against Him should be burnt up, but that "they" should bear fruit. Then transferring the fear from them to the others, and showing that they should be invincible, He saith,
Ver. 8. "Herein is My Father glorified, that ye be My disciples, and bear much fruit."
Hence He maketh His discourse credible, for if the bearing fruit pertains to the glory of the Father, He will not neglect His own glory. "And ye shall be My disciples." Seest thou how he that beareth fruit, he is the disciple? But what is, "In this is the Father glorified"? "He rejoiceth when ye abide in Me, when ye bear fruit."
Ver. 9. "As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you."
Here at length He speaketh in a more human manner, for this, as spoken to men,19 has its peculiar force. Since what a measure of love did He manifest, who chose to die, who counted worthy of such honor those who were His slaves, His haters, His open enemies, and led them up to the heavens! "If then I love you, be bold; if it be the glory of My Father that ye bear fruit, imagine nothing ill." Then that He may not make them supine, observe how He braceth them again,
"Continue ye in My love."
"For this ye have the power to do." And how shall this be?
Ver. 10. "If ye keep My commandments, even as I have kept my Father's commandments."20
Again, His discourse proceedeth in a human way; for certainly the Lawgiver would not be subject to commandments. Seest thou that here also, as I am always saying, this is declared because of the infirmity of the hearers? For He chiefly speaketh to their suspicions, and by every means showeth them that they are in safety, and that their enemies are being lost, and that all, whatever they have, they have from the Son, and that, if they show forth a pure life, none shall ever have the mastery over them. And observe that He discourseth with them in a very authoritative manner, for He said not, "abide in the love of My Father," but, "in Mine"; then, lest they should say, "when Thou hast set us at war with all men, Thou leavest us, and departest," He showeth that He doth not leave them, but is so joined to them if they will, as the branch in the vine. Then, lest from confidence they should become supine, He saith not that the blessing cannot be removed if they are slack-minded. And in order not to refer the action to Himself, and so make them more apt to fall, He saith, "Herein is My Father glorified." For everywhere He manifesteth His own and His Father's love towards them. Not the things of the Jews, then, were "glory," but those which they21 were about to receive. And that they might not say, "we have been driven from the possessions of our fathers, we have been deserted, we have become naked, and destitute of all things,""Look," He saith, "on Me. I am loved by the Father, yet still I suffer these things appointed. And so I am not now leaving you because I love you not. For if I am slain, and take not this for a proof of not being loved by the Father, neither ought ye to be troubled. For, if ye continue in My love, these dangers shall not be able to do you any mischief on the score of love."
[3.] Since then love is a thing mighty and irresistible, not a bare word, let us manifest it by our actions. He reconciled us when we were His enemies, let us, now that we have become His friends, remain so. He led the way, let us at least follow; He loveth us not for His own advantage, (for He needeth nothing,) let us at least love Him for our profit; He loved us being His enemies, let us at least love Him being our friend. At present we do the contrary; for every day God is blasphemed through us, through our plunderings, through our covetousness. And perhaps one of you will say, "Every day thy discourse is about covetousness." Would that I could speak about it every night too; would that I could do so, following you about in the market-place, and at your table; would that both wives, and friends, and children, and domestics, and tillers of the soil, and neighbors, and the very pavement and walls, could ever shout forth this word, that so we might perchance have relaxed a little. For this malady hath seized upon all the world, and occupies the souls of all, and great is the tyranny of Mammon. We have been ransomed by Christ, and are the slaves of gold. We proclaim the sovereignty of the one, and obey the other. Whatever "he" commands we readily obey, and we have refused to know family, or friendship, or nature, or laws, or anything, for him. No one looks up to Heaven, no one thinks about things to come. But there will be a time, when there will be no profit even in22 these words. "In the grave," itsaith, "who shall confess to Thee?" Gold is adesirable thing, and procures us much luxury, and makes us to be honored, but not in like manner as doth Heaven. For from the wealthy man many even turn aside, and hate him, but him who lives virtuously they respect and honor. "But" saith some one "the poor man is derided, even though he be virtuous." Not among men, but brutes.23 Wherefore he ought not so much as to notice them. For if asses were to bray and daws chatter at us, while all wise men commended us, we should not, losing sight ofthis latter audience, have regard to clamors of the brutes; for like to daws, and worse than asses, are they who admire present things. Moreover, if an earthly king approve thee, thou makest no account of the many, though they all deride thee; but if the Lord of the universe praise thee, seekest thou the good words of beetles and gnats? For this is what these men are, compared with God, or rather not even this, but something viler, if there be aught such. How long do we wallow in the mire? How long do we set sluggards and belly-gods for our judges?They can prove dicers well, drunkards, those who live for the belly, but as for virtue and vice, they cannot imagine so much as a dream. If any one taunt thee because thou hast not skill to draw the channels of the watercourses,24 thou wilt not think it any terrible thing, but wilt even laugh at him who objects to thee ignorance of this kind; and dost thou, when thou desirest to practice virtue, appoint as judges those who know nothing of it? On this account we never reach that art. We commit our case not to the practiced, but to the unlearned, and they judge not according to the rules of art, but according to their own ignorance. Wherefore, I exhort you, let us despise the many; or rather let us desire neither praises, nor possessions, nor wealth, nor deem poverty any evil. For poverty is to us a teacher of prudence, and endurance, and all true wisdom. Thus Lazarus lived in poverty, and received a crown; Jacob desired to get bread only; and Joseph was in the extreme of poverty, being not merely a slave, but also a prisoner; and on this account we admire him the more, and we do not so much praise him when he distributed the corn, as when he dwelt in the dungeon: not when he wore the diadem, but when the chain; not when he sat upon the throne, but when he was plotted against and sold.25 Considering then all these things, and the crowns twined for us after the conflicts, let us admire not wealth, and honor, and luxury, and power, but poverty, and the chain, and bonds, and endurance in the cause of virtue. For the end of those things is full of troubles and confusion, and their lot is bound up with this present life; but the fruit of these, heaven, and the good things in the heavens, which neither eye hath seen, nor ear heard; which may we all obtain, through the grace and lovingkindness of I our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever. Amen.