You have very often heard, holy brethren, and you know well,
that John the Baptist, in proportion as he was greater than those born
of women, and was more humble in his acknowledgment of the Lord, obtained
the grace of being the friend of the Bridegroom; zealous for the Bridegroom,
not for himself; not seeking his own honor, but that of his Judge, whom
as a herald he preceded. Therefore, to the prophets who went before, it
was granted to predict concerning Christ; but to this man, to point Him
out with the finger. For as Christ was unknown by those who did not believe
the prophets before He came, He remained unknown to them even when present.
For He had come humbly and concealed from the first; the more concealed
in proportion as He was more humble: but the people, despising in their
pride the humility of God, crucified their Saviour, and made Him their
2. But will not He who at first came concealed, because humble, come
again manifested, because exalted? You have just listened to the Psalm:
"God shall come manifestly, and our God shall not keep silence." He was
silent that He might be judged, He will not be silent when He begins to
judge. It would not have been said, "He will come manifestly," unless at
first He had come concealed; nor would it have been said, "He shall not
keep silence," unless He had first kept silence. How was He silent? Interrogate
Isaiah: "He was brought as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before
his shearer was dumb, so He opened not His mouth.' "But He shall come manifestly,
and shall not keep silence." In what manner "manifestly"? "A fire shall
go before Him, and round about Him a strong tempest." That tempest has
to carry away all the chaff from the floor, which is now being threshed;
and the fire has to burn what the tempest carries away. But now He is silent;
silent in judgment, but not silent in precept. For if Christ is silent,
what is the purpose of these Gospels? what the purpose of the voices of
the apostles, what of the canticles of the Psalms, what of the declarations
of the prophets? In all these Christ is not silent. But now He is silent
in not taking vengeance: He is not silent in not giving warning. But He
will come in glory to take vengeance, and will manifest Himself even to
all who do not believe on Him. But now, because when present He was concealed,
it behoved that He should be despised. For unless He had been despised,
He would not have been crucified; if He had not been crucified, He would
not have shed His blood-the price by which He redeemed us. But that He
might give a price for us, He was crucified; that He might be crucified,
He was despised; that He might be despised, He appeared in humility.
3. Yet because He appeared as it were in the night, in a mortal body,
He lighted for Himself a lamp by which He might be seen. That lamp was
John, concerning whom you lately heard many things: and the present passage
of the evangelist contains the words of John; in the first place, and it
is the chief point, his confession that he was not the Christ. But so great
was the excellence of John, that men might have believed him to be the
Christ: and in this he gave a proof of his humility, that he said he was
not when he might have been believed to have been the Christ; therefore,
"This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites
to him from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?" But they would not have
sent unless they had been moved by the excellence of his authority who
ventured to baptize. "And he confessed, and denied not." What did he confess?
"And he confessed, I am not the Christ."
4. "And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias?" For they knew that
Elias was to precede Christ. For to no Jew was the name of Christ unknown.
They did not think that he was the Christ; but they did not think that
Christ would not come at all. When they were hoping that He would come,
they were offended at Him when He was present, and stumbled at Him as on
a low stone. For He was as yet a small stone, already indeed cut out of
the mountain without hands; as saith Daniel the prophet, that he saw a
stone cut out of the mountain without hands. But what follows? "And that
stone," saith he "grew and became a great mountain and filled the whole
face of the earth." Mark then, my beloved brethren, what I say: Christ,
before the Jews, was already cut out from the mountain. The prophet wishes
that by the mountain should be understood the Jewish kingdom. But the kingdom
of the Jews had not filled the whole face of the earth. The stone was cut
out from thence, because from thence was the Lord born on His advent among
men. And wherefore without hands? Because without the cooperation of man
did the Virgin bear Christ. Now then was that stone cut out without hands
before the eyes of the Jews; but it was humble. Not without reason; because
not yet had that stone increased and filled the whole earth: that He showed
in His kingdom, which is the Church, with which He has filled the whole
face of the earth. Because then it had not yet increased, they stumbled
at Him as at a stone: and that happened in them which is written, "Whosoever
shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever that stone
shall fall, it will grind them to powder." At first they fell upon Him
lowly: as the lofty One He shall come upon them; but that He may grind
them to powder when He comes in His exaltation, He first broke them in
His lowliness. They stumbled at Him, and were broken; they were not ground,
but broken: He will come exalted and will grind them. But the Jews were
to be pardoned because they stumbled at a stone which had not yet increased.
What sort of persons are those who stumble at the mountain itself? Already
you know who they are of whom I speak. Those who deny the Church diffused
through the whole world, do not stumble at the lowly stone, but at the
mountain itself: because this the stone became as it grew. The blind Jews
did not see the lowly stone: but how great blindness not to see the mountain!
5. They saw Him then lowly, and did not know Him. He was pointed out
to them by a lamp. For in the first place he, than whom no greater had
arisen of those born of women, said, "I am not the Christ." It was said
to him, "Art thou Elias? He answered, I am not." For Christ sends Elias
before Him: and he said, "I am not," and occasioned a question for us.
For it is to be feared test. men, insufficiently understanding, think that
John contradicted what Christ said. For in a certain place, when the Lord
Jesus Christ said certain things in the Gospel regarding Himself, His disciples
answered Him: "How then say the scribes," that is, those skilled in the
law, "that Elias must first come?" And the Lord said, "Elias is already
come, and they have done unto him what they listed;" and, if you wish to
know, John the Baptist is he. The Lord Jesus Christ said, "Elias is already
come, and John the Baptist" is he; but John, being interrogated, confessed
that he was not Elias, in the same manner that he confessed that he was
not Christ. And as his confession that he was not Christ was true, so was
his confession that he was not Elias. How then shall we compare the words
of the herald with the words of the Judge? Away with the thought that the
herald speaks falsehood; for that which he speaks he hears from the Judge.
Wherefore then did he say, "I am not Elias;" and the Lord, "He is Elias"?
Because the Lord Jesus Christ wished in him to prefigure His own advent,
and to say that John was in the spirit of Elias. And what John was to the
first advent, that will Elias be to the second advent. As there are two
advents of the Judge, so are there two heralds. The Judge indeed was the
same, but the heralds two,but not two judges. It was needful that in the
first instance the Judge should come tobe judged. He sent before Him His
first herald; He called him Elias, because Elias will be in the second
advent what John was in the first.
6. For mark, beloved brethren, how true it is what I say. When John
was conceived, or rather when he was born, the Holy Spirit prophesied that
this would be fulfilled in him: "And he shall be," he said, "the forerunner
of the Highest, in the spirit and power of Elias." What signifieth "in
the spirit and power of Elias"? In the same Holy Spirit in the room of
Elias. Wherefore in room of Elias? Because what Elias will be to the second,
that John was to the first advent. Rightly therefore, speaking literally,
did John reply. For the Lord spoke figuratively, "Elias, the same is John:"
but he, as I have said, spoke literally when he said, "I am not Elias."
Neither did John speak falsely, nor did the Lord speak falsely; neither
was the word of the herald nor of the Judge false, if only thou understand.
But who shall understand? He who shall have imitated the lowliness of the
herald, and shall have acknowledged the loftiness of the Judge. For nothing
was more lowly than the herald. My brethren, in nothing had John greater
merit than in this humility, inasmuch as when he was able to deceive men,
and to be thought Christ, and to have been received in the place of Christ
(for so great were his grace and his excellency), nevertheless he openly
confessed and said, "I am not the Christ." "Art thou Elias?" If he had
said I am Elias, it would have been as if Christ were already coming in
His second advent to judge, not in His first to be judged. As if saying.
Elias is yet to come, "I am not," said he, "Elias." But give heed to the
lowly One before whom John came, that you may not feel the lofty One before
whom Elias came. For thus also did the Lord complete the saying: "John
the Baptist is he which is to come." He came as a figure of that in which
Elias is to come in his own person. Then Elias will in his own proper person
be Elias, now in similitude he was John. Now John in his own proper person
is John, in similitude Elias. The two heralds gave to each other their
similitudes, and kept their own proper persons; but the Judge is one Lord,
whether preceded by this herald or by that.
7. "And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he said, No.
And they said unto him, Art thou a prophet? and he answered, No! They said
therefore unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that
sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? He saith, I am the voice of one crying
in the wilderness." That said Isaiah. This prophecy was fulfilled in John,
"I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness." Crying what? "Prepare
ye the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God." Would it not
have seemed to you that a herald would have cried, "Go away, make room."
Instead of the herald's cry "Go away," John says "Come." The herald makes
men stand back from the judge; to the Judge John calls. Yes, indeed, John
calls men to the lowly One, that they may not experience what He will be
as the exalted Judge. "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness,
Prepare ye the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaiah." He did not
say, I am John, I am Elias, I am a prophet. But what did he say? This I
am called, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way
for the Lord: I am the prophecy itself."
8. "And they which were sent were of the Pharisees," that is, of the
chief men among the Jews; "and they asked him and said unto him, Why baptizest
thou then, if thou be not the Christ, nor Elias, nor a prophet?" As if
it seemed to them audacity to baptize, as if they meant to inquire, in
what character baptizest thou? We ask whether thou art the Christ; thou
sayest that thou art not. We ask whether thou perchance art His precursor,
for we know that before the advent of Christ, Elias will come; thou answerest
that thou art not. We ask, if perchance thou art some herald come long
before, that is, a prophet, and hast received that power, and thou sayest
that thou art not a prophet. And John was not a prophet; he was greater
than a prophet. The Lord gave such testimony concerning him: "What went
ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?" Of course
implying that he was not shaken by the wind; because John was not such
an one as is moved by the wind; for he who is moved by the wind is blown
upon by every seductive blast. "But what went ye out for to see? A man
clothed in soft raiment?" For John was clothed in rough garments; that
is, his tunic was of camel's hair. "Behold, they who are clothed in soft
raiment are in kings' houses." You did not then go out to see a man clothed
in soft raiment. "But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say
unto you, one greater than a prophet is here;" for the prophets prophesied
of Christ a long time before, John pointed Him out as present.
9. "Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not the Christ, nor Elias, nor
a prophet? John answered them, saying, I baptize with water; but there
standeth One among you whom ye know not." For, very truly, He was not seen,
being humble, and therefore was the lamp lighted. Observe how John gives
place, who might have been accounted other than he was. "He it is who cometh
after me, who is made before me" (that is, as we have already said, is
"preferred before me"), whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose."
How greatly did he humble himself! And therefore he was greatly lifted
up; for he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. Hence, holy brethren,
you ought to note that if John so humbled himself as to say, "I am not
worthy to unloose His shoe-latchet," what need they have to be humbled
who say, "We baptize; what we give is ours, and what is ours is holy."
He said, Not I, but He; they say, We. John is not worthy to unloose His
shoe's latchet; and if he had said he was worthy, how humble would he still
have been! And if he had said he was worthy, and had spoken thus, "He came
after me who is made before me, the latchet of whose shoe I am only worthy
to unloose," he would have greatly humbled himself. But when he says that
he is not worthy even to do this, truly was he full of the Holy Spirit,
who in such fashion as a servant acknowledged his Lord, and merited to
be made a friend instead of a servant.
10. "These things were done in Bethany, beyond Jordan, where John was
baptizing. The next day John saw Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold
the Lamb of God; behold Him who taketh away the sin of the world!" Let
no one so arrogate to himself as to say that he taketh away the sin of
the world. Give heed now to the proud men at whom John pointed the finger.
The heretics were not yet born, but already were they pointed out; against
them he then cried from the river, against whom he now cries from the Gospel.
Jesus comes, and what says he? "Behold the Lamb of God!" If to be innocent
is to be a lamb, then John was a lamb, for was not he innocent? But who
is innocent? To what extent innocent? All come from that branch and shoot,
concerning which David sings, even with groanings, "Behold, I was shapen
in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." Alone, then, was He,
the Lamb who came, not so. For He was not conceived in iniquity, because
not conceived of mortality; nor did His mother conceive Him in sin, whom
the Virgin conceived, whom the Virgin brought forth; because by faith she
conceived, and by faith received Him. Therefore, "Behold the Lamb of God."
He is not a branch derived from Adam: flesh only did he derive from Adam,
Adam's sin He did not assume. He who took not upon Him sin from our lump,
He it is who taketh away our sin. "Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away
the sin of the world!"
11. You know that certain men say sometimes, We take away sin from men,
we who are holy; for if he be not holy who baptizeth, how taketh he away
the sin of another, when he is a man himself full of sin? In opposition
to these disputations, let us not speak our own words, let us read what
John says: "Behold the Lamb of God; behold Him who taketh away the sin
of the world!" Let there not be presumptuous confidence of men upon men:
let not the sparrow flee to the mountains, but let it trust in the Lord;
and if it lift its eyes to the mountains, from whence cometh aid to it,
let it understand that its aid is from the Lord who made heaven and earth.
So great is the excellence of John, that to him it is said, "Art thou the
Christ?" He says, No. Art thou Elias? He says, No. Art thou a prophet?
He says, No. Wherefore then dost thou baptize? "Behold the Lamb of God;
behold Him who taketh away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I spake,
After me cometh a Man who was made before me; for He was before me." "Cometh
after me," because He was born later; "was made before me," because preferred
before me; "He was before me," because, "In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
12. "And I knew Him not," he said; "but that He might be made manifest
to Israel, therefore came I baptizing with water. And John bare record,
saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode
upon Him. And I knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize with water,
the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending,
and abiding upon Him, the same is He who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God." Give heed for
a little, beloved. When did John learn Christ? For he was sent to baptize
with water. They asked, Wherefore? That He might be made manifest to Israel,
he said. Of what profit was the baptism of John? My brethren, if it had
profited in any respect, it would have remained now, and men would have
been baptized with the baptism of John, and thus have come to the baptism
of Christ. But what saith he? "That He might be made manifest to Israel,"-that
is, to Israel itself, to the people Israel, so that Christ might be made
manifest to it,-therefore he came baptizing with water. John received the
ministry of baptism, that by the water of repentance he might prepare the
way for the Lord, not being himself the Lord; but where the Lord was known,
it was superfluous to prepare for Him the way, for to those who knew Him
He became Himself the way; therefore the baptism of John did not last long.
But how was the Lord pointed out? Lowly, that John might so receive a baptism
in which the Lord Himself should be baptized.
13. And was it needful for the Lord to be baptized? I instantly reply
to any one who asks this question: Was it needful for the Lord to be born?
Was it needful for the Lord to be crucified? Was it needful for the Lord
to die? Was it needful for the Lord to be buried? If He undertook for us
so great humiliation, might He not also receive baptism? And what profit
was there that he received the baptism of a servant? That thou mightest
not disdain to receive the baptism of the Lord. Give heed, beloved brethren.
Certain catechumens were to arise in the Church of higher grace. It sometimes
comes to pass that you see a catechumen who practises continence, bids
farewell to the world, renounces all his possessions, distributing them
to the poor; and although but a catechumen, instructed in the saving doctrine
better, perhaps, than many of the faithful. It is to be feared regarding
such an one that he may say to himself about holy baptism, whereby sins
are remitted, What more shall I receive? Behold, I am better than this
faithful man, and this,-having in his mind those among the faithful who
are either married, or who are perhaps ignorant, or who keep possession
of their property, while he has given his to the poor,-and considering
himself better than those who have been already baptized, he deigns not
to come to baptism, saying, Am I to receive what this man has, and this
thinking of persons whom he despises, and, as it were, considers it an
indignity to receive that which inferiors have received, because he appears
to himself to be already better than they; and, nevertheless, all his sins
are upon him, and without coming to saving baptism, wherein all sins are
remitted, he cannot, with all his excellence, enter into the kingdom of
heaven. But the Lord, in order to invite such excellence to his baptism,
that sins might be remitted, Himself came to the baptism of His servant;
and although He had no sin to be remitted, nor was there anything in Him
that needed to be washed, He received baptism from a servant; and by so
doing, addressed Himself to the son carrying himself proudly, and exalting
himself, and disdaining, perhaps, to receive along with the ignorant that
from which salvation comes to him, and said to him: How dost thou extend
thyself? How dost thou exalt thyself? How great is thy excellence? How
great is thy grace? Can it be greater than mine? If I come to the servant,
dost thou disdain to come to the Lord? If I have received the baptism of
the servant, dost thou disdain to be baptized by the Lord?
14. But that you may know, my brethren, that not from a necessity of
any chain of sin did the Lord come to this John, as the other evangelists
say when the Lord came to him to be baptized, John himself said, "Comest
Thou to me? I have need to be baptized of Thee." What did He reply to him?
"Suffer it to be so now: let all righteousness be fulfilled?" What meaneth
this, "let all righteousness be fulfilled"? I came to die for men, have
I not to be baptized for men? What meaneth" let all righteousness be fulfilled"?
Let all humility be fulfilled. What then? Was not He to accept baptism
from a good servant who accepted suffering at the hands of evil servants?
Give heed then. The Lord being baptized, if John for this end baptized,
that by means of his baptism the Lord might manifest His humility, should
no one else have been baptized with the baptism of John? But many were
baptized with the baptism of John. When the Lord was baptized with the
baptism of John, the baptism of John ceased. John was forthwith cast into
prison. Afterwards we do not find that any one is baptized with that baptism.
If, then, John came baptizing for this end that the humility of the Lord
might be made manifest to us, in order that we might not disdain to receive
from the Lord that which the Lord had received from a servant, should John
have baptized the Lord alone? But if John had baptized the Lord alone,
some would have thought that the baptism of John was more holy than that
of Christ: as if Christ alone had been found worthy to be baptized with
the baptism of John, but the human race with that of Christ. Give heed,
beloved brethren. With the baptism of Christ we have been baptized, and
not only we, but the whole world, and this will continue to the end. Which
of us can in any respect be compared with Christ, whose shoe's latchet
John declared himself unworthy to unloose? If, then, the Christ, a man
of such excellence, a man who is God, had been alone baptized with the
baptism of John, what were men likely to say? What a baptism was that of
John! His was a great baptism, an ineffable sacrament; behold, Christ alone
deserved to be baptized with the baptism of John. And thus the baptism
of the servant would appear greater than the baptism of the Lord. Others
were also baptized with the baptism of John, that the baptism of John might
not appear better than the baptism of Christ; but baptized also was the
Lord, that through the Lord receiving the baptism of the servant, other
servants might not disdain to receive the baptism of the Lord: for this
end, then, was John sent.
15. But did he know Christ, or did he not know Him? If he did not know
Him, wherefore did He say, when Christ came to the river, "I have need
to be baptized of Thee"? that is to say, I know who Thou art. If, then,
he already knew Him, assuredly he knew Him when he saw the dove descending.
It is evident that the dove did not descend upon the Lord until after He
went up out of the water of baptism. "The Lord having been baptized, went
up out of the water, and the heavens were opened, and he saw a dove descending
on Him." If, then, the dove descended after the baptism, and if, before
the Lord was baptized, John said to Him, "Comest Thou to me? I have need
to be baptized of Thee;" that is to say, before he knew Him to whom he
said, "Comest Thou to me? I have need to be baptized of Thee;"-how then
said he, "And I knew Him not: but He who sent me to baptize with water.
the same said to me, Upon whom thou seest the Spirit descending as a dove,
and abiding upon Him, the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost?"
It is not an insignificant question, my brethren. If you have seen the
question, you have seen not a little; it remains that the Lord give the
solution of it. This, however, I say, if you have seen the question, it
is no small matter. Behold, John is placed before your eyes, standing beside
the river. Behold John the Baptist. Behold, the Lord comes, as yet to be
baptized, not yet baptized. Hear the voice of John, "Comest Thou to me?
I have need to be baptized of Thee." Behold, already he knew the Lord,
by whom He wishes to be baptized. The Lord, having been baptized, goes
up out of the water; the heavens are opened, the Spirit descends; then
John knows Him. If then for the first time he knew Him, why did he say
before, "I have need to be baptized of Thee"? But if he did not then recognize
Him for the first time, because he knew Him already, what is the meaning
of what he said, "I knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize with water,
the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending,
and abiding upon Him, as a dove, the same is He which baptizeth with the
16. My brethren, this question if solved today would oppress you, I
do not doubt, for already have I spoken many words. But know that the question
is of such a character that alone it is able to extinguish the party of
Donatus. I have said thus much, my beloved, in order to gain your attention,
as is my wont; and also in order that you may pray for us, that the Lord
may grant to us to speak what is suitable, and that you may be found worthy
to receive what is suitable. In the meantime, be pleased to defer the question
for to-day. But in the meantime, I say this briefly, until I give a fuller
solution: Inquire peacefully, without quarreling, without contention, without
altercations, without enmities; both seek by yourselves, and inquire of
others, and say, "This question our bishop proposed to us to-day, and he
will resolve it at a future time, if the Lord will." But whether it be
resolved or not, reckon that I have propounded what appears to me of importance;
for it does seem of considerable importance. John says, "I have need to
be baptized of Thee," as if he knew Christ. For if he did not know Him
by whom he wished to be baptized, he spoke rashly when he said, "I have
need to be baptized of Thee." Therefore he knew Him. If he knew Him,what
is the meaning of the saying, "I knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize
with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit
descending, and abiding upon Him, as a dove, the same is He which baptizeth
with the Holy Ghost"? What shall we say? That we do not know when the dove
came? Lest perchance they take refuge in this, let the other evangelists
be read, who have spoken of this matter more plainly, and we find most
evidently that the dove then descended when the Lord came up out of the
water. Upon Him baptized the heavens opened, and He saw the Spirit descending.
If it was when He was already baptized that John knew Him, how saith he
to Him, coming to baptism, "I have need to be baptized of Thee"? Ponder
this in the meantime with yourselves, confer upon it, treat of it, one
with another. The Lord our God grant that before you hear it from me, the
explanation may be revealed to some of you first. Nevertheless, brethren,
know this, that by means of the solution of this question, the allegation
of the party of Donatus, if they have any sense of shame, will be silenced,
and their mouths will be shut regarding the grace of baptism, a matter
about which they raise mists to confuse the uninstructed, and spread nets
for flying birds.