1. Now when John had heard in prison the works of Christ:
sending two of his disciples, he said to Him. Art thou He that is to come
or look we for another? Did John in his prison not know
the Lord? Did so great a prophet know not his God? But as Precursor
he had foretold that He was to come; as Prophet he had recognised Him standing
in their midst; as Confessor he had venerated Him before men. Did
error creep into so profound and varied knowledge? The subsequent
testimony of the Lord concerning John does not permit us to think so.
Nor can we believe that the light of the Holy Spirit was denied him in
prison, when the Light of that same Power was to be given to the imprisoned
Why John sent to Christ
2. But a clearer understanding is furnished from the things John did,
and from the efficacy of the action the grace that was in him is evident.
For as Prophet he prophesied the very circumstances of his imprisonment;
because in him the Law became silent. For the Law had foretold Christ,
and the forgiveness of sin, and had promised men the kingdom of heaven.
John had continued and brought to a close this purpose of the Law.
The Law was now silenced, imprisoned by the wickedness of men, and as it
were held in bonds, lest Christ become known, because John has been fettered
and imprisoned. The Law therefore sends messengers to behold the
works of the Gospel, so that unbelief may contemplate the truth of the
faith in the light of these wonders; so that whatever in it (the Law) is
frustrated by the violence of sinful men, may be set free by an understanding
of the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free (Gal. iv. 31).
In this manner John remedied not his own but his disciples’ ignorance.
For he had himself proclaimed that Christ was to come unto the forgiveness
of sin. But that his disciples might learn that he had preached none
other than Christ, he sends them to Him that they may behold His works,
so that the works of Christ may confirm his own teaching, and, finally:
so that they might look for no other Christ than He to whom the works gave
The Scandal of the Cross is Foretold
3. And when the Lord had revealed Himself in wonders, namely: in the
blind seeing, the lame walking, in lepers being cleansed, the deaf hearing,
the dumb speaking, in the dead rising again, and in the preaching of the
gospel to the poor, He says: blessed is he that shall not be scandalised
in Me. Was there anything in what Christ had done which might scandalise
John? Far from it. For in the whole course of his mission and teaching
he had had nothing to say opposed to Him.
But the force and significance of the preceding sentence must be carefully
dwelt on; on that, namely, which is preached to the poor; that is, they
who have laid down their lives, who have taken up the cross and followed
after, who have become humble in spirit, for these a kingdom is prepared
in heaven. Therefore, because this universality of suffering was to be
fulfilled in Christ Himself, and because His Cross would become a stumbling-block
to many (I Cor. i. 23), He now declares that they are blessed to whom His
Cross, His death, and Burial, will offer no trial of faith. So He makes
clear that of which already, earlier, John has himself warned them, saying
that blessed are they in whom there would be nothing of scandal concerning
Himself. For it was through fear of this that John had sent his disciples,
so that they might see and hear Christ.
Whom does the reed signify?
4. Lest however this saying should be referred to John, as if something
in Christ had scandalised him, the disciples going away, Our Lord
said to the crowd concerning John: What went you out to the desert to
see; a reed shaken by the wind? Mystically, the desert must be
considered as a place empty of the Holy Spirit, in which there is no dwelling
place of God. The reed must be taken as meaning a man such as is
wholly absorbed in the glory of this world, and in the emptiness of his
own life; within he is without fruit of truth, he has a pleasing exterior,
but no interior; responsive to the breath of every wind, that is, to the
suggestions of unclean spirits, unable ever to stand firm, and vain to
the marrow of his bones. Therefore when He said, what went you out into
the desert to see? A reed shaken by the wind? this is what He said.
Did you go out to see a man who was empty of the knowledge of God, and
responsive to the breath of every unclean spirit? For He spoke to them
in a spirit of approval rather than reproach; wishing to affirm that they
had not seen anything in John that was empty or fickle.
Bodies corrupted by lust are the dwelling places of devils
5. But what went you out to see? A man clothed in soft garments:
behold that they are clothed in soft garments are in the house of kings.
By garments are mystically signified the body which the soul as it
were puts on, and which grows soft through luxury and wantonness. In kings
we have a name for the fallen angels. For those are the powers of the world,
lording it over men. Therefore, those dressed in luxurious garments are
in the house of kings means that those whose bodies are lax and dissolute
through wantonness are habitations of the demons, who choose such dwelling places
as being suited to their designs and evil works.
The glory of John
6. But what went you out to see? A prophet? Yea, and more than a
prophet. The Lord makes plain to all the greatness of John, declaring
him to be more than a prophet, because only to him was it given both to
foretell the Coming of Christ and to behold Him. How then shall it be believed
that he knew not Christ, who was sent with the power of an angel to make
ready for His Coming, and than whom no greater prophet born of woman had
arisen; excepting that he is less than Him Who was questioned by the disciples
of John, Who was not believed, to ‘Whom not even His works gave testimony.
He is greater in the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.