John i. 1.-"In the beginning was the Word."
Were John about to converse with us, and to say to us words of his own,
we needs must describe his family, his country, and his education. But
since it is not he, but God by him, that speaks to mankind, it seems to
me superfluous and distracting to enquire into these matters. And yet even
thus it is not superfluous, but even very necessary. For when you have
learned who he was, and from whence, who his parents, and what his character,
and then hear his voice and all his heavenly wisdom,1 then you shall know
right well that these (doctrines) belong not to him, but to the Divine
power stirring his soul.
From what country2 then was he? From no country; but from a poor village,
and from a land little esteemed, and producing no good thing. For the Scribes
speak evil of Galilee, saying, "Search and look, for out of Galilee ariseth
no prophet." (John vii. 52.) And "the Israelite indeed" speaks ill of it,
saying, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" And being of this land,
he was not even of any remarkable place in it, but of one not even distinguished
by name. Of this he was,3 and his father a poor fisherman, so poor that
he took his sons to the same employment. Now you all know that no workman
will choose to bring up his son to succeed him in his trade, unless poverty
press him very hard, especially where the trade is a mean one. But nothing
can be poorer, meaner, no, nor more ignorant, than fishermen. Yet even
among them there are some greater, some less; and even there our Apostle
occupied the lower rank, for he did not take his prey from the sea, but
passed his time on a certain little lake. And as he was engaged by it with
his father and his brother James, and they mending their broken nets, a
thing which of itself marked extreme poverty, so Christ called him.4
As for worldly instruction, we may learn from these facts that he had
none at all of it. Besides, Luke testifies this when he writes not only
that he was ignorant,5 but that he was absolutely unlettered.6 (Acts iv.
13.) As was likely. For one who was so poor, never coming into the public
assemblies, nor falling in with men of respectability, but as it were nailed
to his fishing, or even if he ever did meet any one, conversing with fishmongers
and cooks, how, I say, was he likely to be in a state better than that
of the irrational animals? how could he help imitating the very dumbness
of his fishes?
[2.] This fisherman then, whose business was about lakes, and nets,
and fish; this native of Bethsaida of Galilee; this son of a poor fisherman,
yes, and poor to the last degree; this man ignorant, and to the last degree
of ignorance too, who never learned letters either before or after he accompanied
Christ; let us see what he utters, and on what matters he converses with
us. Is it of things in the field? Is it of things in rivers? On the trade
in fish? For these things, perhaps, one expects to hear from a fisherman.
But fear ye not; we shall hear nought of these; but we shall hear of things
in heaven, and what no one ever learned before this man. For, as might
be expected of one who speaks from the very treasures of the Spirit, he
is come bringing to us sublime doctrines, and the best way of life and
wisdom, [as though just arrived from the very heavens; yea, rather such
as it was not likely that all even there should know, as I said before.7
] Do these things belong to a fisherman? Tell me. Do they belong to a rhetorician
at all? To a sophist or philosopher? To every one trained in the wisdom
of the Gentiles? By no means. The human soul is simply unable thus to philosophize
on that pure and blessed nature; on the powers that come next to it; on
immortality and endless life; on the nature of mortal bodies which shall
hereafter be immortal; on punishment and the judgment to come; on the enquiries
that shall be as to deeds and words, as to thoughts and imaginations. It
cannot tell what is man, what the world; what is man indeed, and what he
who seems to be man, but is not; what is the nature of virtue, what of
[3.] Some of these things indeed the disciples of Plato and Pythagoras
enquired into. Of the other philosophers we need make no mention at all;
they have all on this point been so excessively ridiculous; and those who
have been among them in greater esteem than the rest, and who have been
considered the leading men in this science, are so more than the others;
and they have composed and written somewhat on the subject of polity and
doctrines, and in all have been more shamefully ridiculous than children.
For they have spent their whole life in making women common to all, in
overthrowing the very order of life,8 in doing away the honor of marriage,
and in making other the like ridiculous laws. As for doctrines on the soul,
there is nothing excessively shameful that they have left unsaid; asserting
that the souls of men become flies, and gnats, and bushes,9 and that God
Himself is a soul; with some other the like indecencies.
And not this alone in them is worthy of blame, but so is also their
ever-shifting current of words; for since they assert everything on uncertain
and fallacious arguments, they are like men carried hither and thither
in Euripus, and never remain in the same place.
Not so this fisherman; for all he saith is infallible; and standing
as it were upon a rock, he never shifts his ground. For since he has been
thought worthy to be in the most secret places, and has the Lord of all
speaking within him, he is subject to nothing that is human. But they,
like persons who are not held worthy even in a dream10 to set foot in the
king's palace, but who pass their time in the forum with other men, guessing
from their own imagination at what they cannot see, have erred a great
error, and, like blind or drunken men in their wandering, have dashed against
each other; and not only against each other, but against themselves, by
continually changing their opinion, and that ever on the same matters.
[4.] But this unlettered man, the ignorant, the native of Bethsaida,
the son of Zebedee, (though the Greeks mock ten thousand times at the rusticity
of the names, I shall not the less speak them with the greater boldness.)
For the more barbarous his nation seems to them, and the more he seems
removed from Grecian discipline, so much the brighter does what we have
with us appear. For when a barbarian and an untaught person utters things
which no man on earth ever knew, and does not only utter, (though if this
were the only thing it were a great marvel,) but besides this, affords
another and a stronger proof that what he says is divinely inspired, namely,
the convincing all his hearers through all time; who will not wonder at
the power that dwells in him? Since this is, as I said, the strongest proof
that he lays down no laws of his own. This barbarian then, with his writing
of the Gospel, has occupied all the habitable world. With his body he has
taken possession of the center of Asia, where of old philosophized all
of the Grecian party, shining forth in the midst of his foes, dispersing11
their darkness, and breaking down the stronghold of devils: but in soul
he has retired to that place which is fit for one who has done such things.
[5.] And as for the writings of the Greeks, they are all put out and
vanished, but this man's shine brighter day by day. For from the time that
he (was) and the other fishermen, since then the (doctrines) of Pythagoras
and of Plato, which seemed before to prevail, have ceased to be spoken
of, and most men do not know them even by name. Yet Plato was, they say,
the invited companion of kings, had many friends, and sailed to Sicily.
And Pythagoras occupied Magna Graecia,12 and practiced there ten thousand
kinds of sorcery. For to converse with oxen, (which they say he did,) was
nothing else but a piece of sorcery. As is most clear from this. He that
so conversed with brutes did not in anything benefit the race of men, but
even did them the greatest wrong. Yet surely, the nature of men was better
adapted for the reasoning of philosophy; still he did, as they say, converse
with eagles and oxen, using sorceries. For he did not make their irrational
nature rational, (this was impossible to man,) but by his magic tricks
he deceived the foolish. And neglecting to teach men anything useful, he
taught that they might as well eat the heads of those who begot them, as
beans. And he persuaded those who associated with him, that the soul of
their teacher had actually been at one time a bush, at another a girl,
at another a fish.
Are not these things with good cause extinct, and vanished utterly?
With good cause, and reasonably. But not so the words of him who was ignorant
and unlettered; for Syrians, and Egyptians, and Indians, and Persians,
and Ethiopians, and ten thousand other nations, translating into their
own tongues the doctrines introduced by him, barbarians though they be,
have learned to philosophize. I did not therefore idly say that all the
world has become his theater. For he did not leave those of his own kind,
and waste his labor on the irrational creatures, (an act of excessive vainglory
and extreme folly,) but being clear of this as well as of other passions,
he was earnest on one point only, that all the world might learn somewhat
of the things which might profit it, and be able to translate it from earth
For this reason too, he did not hide his teaching in mist and darkness,
as they did who threw obscurity of speech, like a kind of veil, around
the mischiefs laid up within. But this man's doctrines are clearer than
the sunbeams, wherefore they have been unfolded13 to all men throughout
the world. For he did not teach as Pythagoras did, commanding those who
came to him to be silent for five years, or to sit like senseless stones;
neither did he invent fables defining the universe to consist of numbers;
but casting away all this devilish trash and mischief, he diffused such
simplicity through his words, that all he said was plain, not only to wise
men, but also to women and youths. For he was persuaded that the words
were true and profitable to all that should hearken to them. And all time
after him is his witness; since he has drawn to him all the world, and
has freed our life when we have listened to these words from all monstrous
display of wisdom; wherefore we who hear them would prefer rather to give
up our lives, than the doctrines by him delivered to us.
[6.] From this then, and from every other circumstance, it is plain,
that nothing of this man's is human, but divine and heavenly are the lessons
which come to us by this divine soul. For we shall observe not sounding
sentences, nor magnificent diction, nor excessive and useless order and
arrangement of words and sentences, (these things are far from all true
wisdom,) but strength invincible and divine, and irresistible force of
right doctrines, and a rich supply of unnumbered good things. For their
over-care about expression was so excessive, so worthy of mere sophists,
or rather not even of sophists, but of silly striplings, that even their
own chief philosopher introduces his own master as greatly ashamed of this
art, and as saying to the judges, that what they hear from him shall be
spoken plainly and without premeditation, not tricked out rhetorically
nor ornamented with (fine) sentences and words; since, says he, it cannot
surely be becoming, O men, that one at my age should come before you like
a lad inventing speeches.14 And observe the extreme absurdity of the thing;
what he has described his master avoiding as disgraceful, unworthy of philosophy
and work for lads, this above all he himself has cultivated. So entirely
were they given up to mere love of distinction.
And as, if you uncover those sepulchers which are whitened without you
will find them full of corruption, and stench, and rotten bones; so too
the doctrines of the philosopher, if you strip them of their flowery diction,
you will see to be full of much abomination, especially when he philosophizes
on the soul, which he both honors and speaks ill of without measure. And
this is the snare of the devil, never to keep due proportion, but by excess
on either hand to lead aside those who are entangled by it into evil speaking.
At one time he says, that the soul is of the substance of God; at another,
after having exalted it thus immoderately and impiously, he exceeds again
in a different way, and treats it with insult, making it pass into swine
and asses, and other animals of yet less esteem than these.
But enough of this; or rather even this is out of measure. For if it
were possible to learn anything profitable from these things, we must have
been longer occupied with them; but if it be only to observe their indecency
and absurdity, more than requisite has been said by us already. We will
therefore leave their fables, and attach ourselves to our own doctrines,
which have been brought to us from above by the tongue of this fisherman,
and which have nothing human in them.
[7.] Let us then bring forward the words, having reminded you now, as
I exhorted you at the first, earnestly to attend to what is said. What
then does this Evangelist say immediately on his outset?
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God." (Ver. 1.)
Seest thou the great boldness and power of the words, how he speaks nothing
doubting nor conjecturing, but declaring all things plainly? For this is
the teacher's part, not to waver in anything he says, since if he who is
to be a guide to the rest require another person who shall be able to establish
him with certainty, he would be rightly ranked not among teachers, but
But if any one say, "What can be the reason that he has neglected the
first cause, and spoken to us at once concerning the second?" we shall
decline to speak of "first" and "second," for the Divinity is above number,
and the succession of times. Wherefore we decline these expressions; but
we confess that the Father is from none, and that the Son is begotten of
the Father. Yes, it may be said, but why then does he leave the Father,
and speak concerning the Son? Why? because the former was manifest to all,
if not as Father, at least as God; but the Only-Begotten was not known;
and therefore with reason did he immediately from the very beginning hasten
to implant the knowledge of Him in those who knew Him not.
Besides, he has not been silent as to the Father in his writings on
these points. And observe, I beg of you, his spiritual wisdom. He knows
that men most honor the eldest of beings which was before all, and account
this to be God. Wherefore from this point first he makes his beginning,
and as he advances, declares that God is, and does not like Plato assert,
sometimes that He is intellect, sometimes that He is soul; for these things
are far removed from that divine and unmixed Nature which has nothing common
with us, but is separated from any fellowship with created things, I mean
as to substance, though not as to relation.
And for this reason he calls Him "The Word." For since he is about to
teach that this "Word" is the only-begotten Son of God, in order that no
one may imagine that His generation is passible, by giving Him the appellation
of "The Word," he anticipates and removes beforehand the evil suspicion,
showing that the Son is from the Father, and that without His suffering
[8.] Seest thou then that as I said, he has not been silent as to the
Father in his words concerning the Son? And if these instances are not
sufficient fully to explain the whole matter, marvel not, for our argument
is God, whom it is impossible to describe, or to imagine worthily; hence
this man nowhere assigns the name of His essence, (for it is not possible
to say what God is, as to essence,) but everywhere he declares Him to us
by His workings. For this "Word" one may see shortly after called "Light,"
and the "Light" in turn named "Life."
Although not for this reason only did he so name Him; this was the first
reason, and the second was because He was about to declare to us the things
of the Father. For "all things," He saith, "that I have heard from my Father,
I have made known unto you." (John xv. 15.) He calls Him both "Light" and
"Life," for He hath freely given to us the light which proceeds from knowledge,
and the life which follows it. In short, one name is not sufficient, nor
two, nor three, nor more, to teach us what belongs to God. But we must
be content to be able even by means of many to apprehend, though but obscurely,
And he has not called Him simply "Word," but with the addition of the
article, distinguishing Him from the rest in this way also. Seest thou
then that I said not without cause that this Evangelist speaks to us from
heaven? Only see from the very beginning whither he has drawn up the soul,
having given it wings, and has carried up with him the mind of his hearers.
For having set it higher than all the things of sense, than earth, than
sea, than heaven, he leads it by the hand above the very angels, above
cherubim and seraphim, above thrones and principalities and powers; in
a word, persuades it to journey beyond all created things.
[9.] What then? when he has brought us to such a height as this, is
he in sooth able to stop us there? By no means; but just as one by transporting
into the midst of the sea a person who was standing on the beach, and looking
on cities, and beaches, and havens, removes him indeed from the former
objects, yet does not stay his sight anywhere, but brings him to a view
without bound; so this Evangelist, having brought us above all creation,
and escorted us towards the eternal periods which lie beyond it, leaves
the sight suspended,15 not allowing it to arrive at any limit upwards,
as indeed there is none.
For the intellect, having ascended to "the beginning," enquires what
"beginning"; and then finding the "was" always outstripping its imagination,
has no point at which to stay its thought; but looking intently onwards,
and being unable to cease at any point, it becomes wearied out, and turns
back to things below. For this "was in the beginning," is nothing else
than expressive of ever being and being infinitely.
Seest thou true philosophy and divine doctrines? Not like those of the
Greeks, who assign times, and say that some indeed of the gods are younger,
some eider. There is nothing of this with us. For if God Is, as certainly
He Is, then nothing was before Him. If He is Creator of all things, He
must be first; if Master and Lord of all, then all, both creatures and
ages, are after Him.
[10.] I had desired to enter the lists yet on other difficulties, but
perhaps our minds are wearied out; when therefore I have advised you on
those points which are useful16 to us for the hearing, both of what has
been said, and of what is yet to be said, I again will hold my peace. What
then are these points? I know that many have become confused17 by reason
of the length of what has been spoken. Now this takes place when the soul
is heavy laden with many burdens of this life. For as the eye when it is
clear and transparent is keen-sighted also, and will not easily be tired
in making out even the minutest bodies; but when from some bad humor from
the head having poured into it, or some smoke-like fumes having ascended
to it from beneath, a kind of thick cloud is formed before the ball, this
does not allow it clearly to perceive even any larger object; so is naturally
the case with the soul. For when it is purified, and has no passion to
disturb it, it looks steadfastly to the fit objects of its regard; but
when, darkened by many passions, it loses its proper excellence, then it
is not easily able to be sufficient for any high thing, but soon is wearied,
and falls back; and turning aside to sleep and sloth, lets pass things
that concern it with a view to excellence and the life thence arising,
instead of receiving them with much readiness.
And that you may not suffer this, (I shall not cease continually thus
to warn you,) strengthen your minds, that ye may not hear what the faithful
among the Hebrews heard from Paul. For to them he said that he had "many
things to say, and hard to be uttered" (Heb. v. 11); not as though they
were by nature such, but because, says he, "ye are dull of hearing." For
it is the nature of the weak and infirm man to be confused even by few
words as by many, and what is clear and easy he thinks hard to be comprehended.
Let not any here be such an one, but having chased from him all worldly
care, so let him hear these doctrines.
For when the desire of money possesses the hearer, the desire of hearing
cannot possess him as well; since the soul, being one, cannot suffice for
many desires; but one of the two is injured by the other, and, from division,
becomes weaker as its rival prevails, and expends all upon itself.
And this is wont to happen in the case of children. When a man has only
one, he loves that one exceedingly. But when he has become father of many,
then also his dispositions of affection being divided become weaker.
If this happens where there is the absolute rule and power of nature,
and the objects beloved are akin one with another, what can we say as to
that desire and disposition which is according to deliberate choice; especially
where these desires lie directly opposed to each other; for the love of
wealth is a thing opposed to the love of this kind of hearing. We enter
heaven when we enter here; not in place, I mean, but in disposition; for
it is possible for one who is on earth to stand in heaven, and to have
vision of the things that are there, and to hear the words from thence.
[11.] Let none then introduce the things of earth into heaven; let no
one standing here be careful about what is at his house. For he ought to
bear with him, and to preserve both at home and in his business, what he
gains from this place, not to allow it to be loaded with the burdens of
house and market. Our reason for entering in to the chair of instruction
is, that thence we may cleanse ourselves from18 the filth of the outer
world; but if we are likely even in this little space to be injured by
things said or done without, it is better for us not to enter at all. Let
no one then in the assembly be thinking about domestic matters, but let
him at home be stirring with what he heard in the assembly. Let these things
be more precious to us than any. These concern the soul, but those the
body; or rather what is said here concerns both body and soul. Wherefore
let these things be our leading business, and all others but occasional
employments; for these belong both to the future and the present life,
but the rest neither to the one nor the other, unless they be managed according
to the law laid down for these. Since from these it is impossible to learn
not only what we shall hereafter be, and how we shall then live, but how
we shall rightly direct this present life also.
For this house is19 a spiritual surgery, that whatever wounds we may
have received without, here20 we may heal, not that we may gather fresh
ones to take with us hence. Yet if we do not give heed to the Spirit speaking
to us, we shall not only fill to clear ourselves of our former hurts, but
shall get others in addition.
Let us then with much earnestness attend to the book as it is being
unfolded to us; since if we learn exactly its first principles and fundamental
doctrines,21 we shall not afterwards require much close study, but after
laboring a little at the beginning, shall be able, as Paul says, to instruct
others also. (Rom. xv. 14.) For this Apostle is very sublime, abounding
in many doctrines, and on these he dwells more than on other matters.
Let us not then be careless hearers. And this is the reason why we set
them forth to you by little and little, so that all may be easily intelligible
to you, and may not escape your memory. Let us fear then lest we come under
the condemnation of that word which says, "If I had not come and spoken
unto them, they had not had sin." (John xv. 22.) For what shall we be profited
more than those who have not heard, if even after hearing we go our way
home bearing nothing with us, but only wondering at what has been said.
Allow us then to sow in good ground; allow us, that you may draw us
the more to you. If any man hath thorns, let him cast the fire of the Spirit
amongst them. If any hath a hard and stubborn heart, let him by employing
the same fire make it soft and yielding. If any by the wayside is trodden
down by all kind of thoughts, let him enter into more sheltered places,
and not lie exposed for those that will to invade for plunder: that so
we may see your cornfields waving with corn. Besides, if we exercise such
care as this over ourselves, and apply ourselves industriously to this
spiritual hearing, if not at once yet by degrees, we shall surely be freed
from all the cares of life.
Let us therefore take heed that it be not said of us, that our22 ears
are those of a deaf adder. (Ps. lviii. 4.) For tell me, in what does a
hearer of this kind differ from a beast? and how could he be otherwise
than more irrational than any irrational animal, who does not attend when
God is speaking? And if to be well-pleasing23 to God is really to be a
man, what else but a beast can he be who will not even hear how he may
succeed in this? Consider then what a misfortune it would be for us to
fall down24 of our own accord from (the nature of) men to (that of) beasts,
when Christ is willing of men to make us equal to angels. For to serve
the belly, to be possessed by the desire of riches, to be given to anger,
to bite, to kick, become not men, but beasts. Nay, even the beasts have
each, as one may say, one single passion, and that by nature. But man,
when he has cast away the dominion of reason, and torn himself from the
commonwealth of God's devising, gives himself up to all the passions, is
no longer merely a beast, but a kind of many-formed motley monster; nor
has he even the excuse from nature, for all his wickedness proceeds from
deliberate choice and determination.
May we never have cause to suspect this of the Church of Christ. Indeed,
we are concerning you persuaded of better things, and such as belong to
salvation; but the more we are so persuaded, the more careful we will be
not to desist from words of caution. In order that having mounted to the
summit of excellencies, we may obtain the promised goods. Which may it
come to pass that we all attain to, through the grace and lovingkindness
of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom and with whom, to the Father and the
Holy Ghost, be glory world without end. Amen.
3 One ms. "not even distinguished by name had he not been
of it. His," &c.
4 [On the other hand, the facts that John's father Zebedee
had hired servants, that his mother Salome aided in the support of Jesus,
that John was acquainted with the high-priest, and seems to have possessed
a home in Jerusalem into which he took the mother of our Saviour after
the crucifixion, prove that he was not the poorest among the fishermen,
but in tolerably good circumstances Comp. Mark ii. 20; Luke v. 10; viii.
3; Mark xvi. 1; John xviii. 15; xix. 27.-P. S.]
7 See above, p. 2 . [From one ms. in the Bened. ed.-P.
9 Empedocles said this. Vid. Diog. Laert. viii. 2.
@Hdh ga/r pot 9 e0gwl geno/mhn kou=ro/j te ko/rh te
------------Qa/mnoj t' oi@wno/j te kai\ e0c a9lo\j e@mpuroj
10 ou0de\ o@nar.
11 Lit. "quenching."
12 th\n megi/sthn # Ellada.
14 Plat. Apol. Socr. § 1, in init.
16 al. "to you."
18 al. "rub off."
19 al. "is set."
20 al. "hence."
22 al. "their."
23 al. "to be thankful."
24 al. "to change."