St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John 15:26-27, 16:12-15

26, 27 But when the Comforter is come, Whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall bear witness of Me. And ye also bear witness, because ye have been with Me from the beginning.

When He says that both He Himself and His Father were hated by the perverse Jews, this hatred of theirs being gratuitous and without justification, He with good reason makes mention of the Spirit. He thus at once adds to the Word the completion of the Holy Trinity, and also shows that it was dishonoured, to the intent that the spectators of His miracles, who were guilty of insult against the Son, might also be convicted of treating with contumely the power which so far excels every substance, not only by refusing to accept Christ, even though He had worked great marvels to convince them, but also by their actions against Him. For they treated Him with an impiety which is shocking even to think of; and yet one might say, O senseless Jew, Christ was a worker of wonders before you far exceeding the glory of Moses and the glory of every Saint. For the saying of the Lord, If I had not done among them the works which none other did, brings back a thought before our minds. While then you crown with honours so illustrious Moses, the servant and minister of lesser things than these, you do not blush when you so perversely reject Him Who is immeasurably superior and a worker of far nobler deeds; even though He brought to their long foretold fulfilment the oracles given by Moses, and terminated the shadow by the truth. Our Lord Jesus Christ therefore of necessity joined the mention |431 of the Spirit to that of Himself and the Father. And He also shows what has been said to be true; that is, that if any one chooses to hate the Son, he will also utterly contemn the Father from Whom He proceeds. And how, or in what way, consider further.

For observe, when calling the Comforter “the Spirit of truth,” that is, His own, He says that He comes from the Father. For as the Spirit naturally belongs to the Son,being in Him and proceeding through Him, so also He belongs to the Father. But the qualities of Their Substance cannot be distinct, where the Spirit is common to both. Let not then any of those who are accustomed impiously to employ the language of folly lead us to the perverted opinion that the Son, executing as it were a kind of ministerial service, vouchsafes the Spirit that is received from the Father to the creature. For some have not scrupled perversely to say this. But it is more consistent to believe that since the Spirit belongs to Him, as He also certainly belongs to God the Father, He sends Him to His holy disciples to sanctify them. For if they think that in making the Son in this also a minister and servant to us, they form and utter a shrewd conception, surely it follows that we say to them: Ye fools and blind; do you not perceive that you are going back, and diminishing the glory of the Only-begotten, when you string together miserable sophistries from the ignorance that is in you? For if the Son ministers the Spirit from the Father, being ranked as a servant, surely it is necessary to admit that the Spirit is utterly different in Essence from Him, and perhaps His superior and far above Him, if the case be as you in your ignorance suppose. For if the Son does not proceed from the Father, that is, from His Essence, as you think, surely the Spirit when compared with the Son would be regarded as superior to Him. What then say we, when we hear Christ himself saying of the Spirit: He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine and shall declare it unto you? |432

Now, besides what has been mentioned, this also will necessarily follow. For if you consider that the Son performs a ministerial service, providing us with That which is of another Nature, that is, the Spirit proceeding from God the Father Which is naturally holy, the Son is not by Nature holy, but only by participation, as we are. For by the ignorance of the impious He is declared to be different in Substance from the Father, from Whom also the Spirit provided unto us by Him proceeds. It will then be possible, since the Spirit does not belong to the Son, but He Himself is sanctified by adoption, as is the case with the creature, that He may fall away from the holiness that is in Him. For that which has been acquired as an addition might surely be removed, at the pleasure of Him Who has bestowed it. Who then will not flee away from such doctrines as these? I think, however, that our statement is more conformable to the truth.

The truth then is dear to us, as are the dogmas, expressing the truth; and we will not follow those heretics, but, pursuing the faith handed down by the holy fathers, we declare that the Comforter, that is, the Holy Spirit, belongs to the Son, and is not introduced from outside nor acquired in His case, as He is in that of those who receive sanctification, in whom though not originally innate He is implanted; but that the Son is of one Substance with the Spirit, as also He is with the Father. For if we take this view, the power of the doctrines of the Church will not be reduced in our case to a polytheistic mythology, but the Holy Trinity is united in the doctrine of a Single Divinity. Showing then that there is a Unity of Substance, I mean that of Himself and God the Father, in the same Being, in saying that the Comforter is the Spirit of truth He declares that He proceeds from the Father, and makes plain and beyond contradiction that the opposer of Christ is wholly at enmity with God. For he who in any degree allows himself to contemn the Son may be reasonably considered to transgress against Him from Whom He proceeds. |433

When then, He says, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, that is My Spirit, Which proceeds from the Father, is come, He will testify of Me. And how will He testify? By working marvels in you, and by you He will be a just and true witness of My Godlike authority, and of the greatness of My power. For He that works in you is My Spirit, and as He is My Spirit, so also is He That of God the Father. Therefore it is necessary to consider that they who, to confirm our faith, work marvels in us by the one good Spirit are alike insulted in the Person of Christ, in Whom dwelt, as Paul says, no mere part of the ineffable Divine Nature, but all the fulness [of the Godhead] bodily.

But when the Spirit bears witness, you yourselves also, He says, will bear witness with Him. For you have been eye-witnesses and spectators of what I have done among My own, being even with Me as My disciples.

12, 13 I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He shall guide you into all the truth: for He shall not speak from Himself; but what things soever He shall hear, these shall He speak; and He shall declare unto you the things that are to come.

He found their sorrow increased by their knowledge of the future, and that they were ill-disposed to bear the coming evils. For sorrow, He says, hath filled your heart. And He thought that it would not be meet to dispirit them by adding the rest, but He buries as it were in timely silence what He had to say next, as likely to cause them no small alarm, and reserves what remained for them to know, for the revelation through the Spirit, and for the light that was to be given them at the fitting season 1. And perhaps also, seeing the disciples slow to apprehend the mystery, because they had not yet been illuminated by the Spirit, nor become partakers of the Divine Nature: For the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Christ was not yet glorified, as the holy Evangelist says, He speaks thus, wishing to suggest to them that He would hereafter be able to reveal mysteries exceeding deep and passing man’s understanding, while at present He refuses to do this, and with good reason, because He says that they are not yet prepared for it. For when, He says, My Holy Spirit shall transform you and change the elements of your mind into a willingness and an ability to despise the types of the Law, and rather to |449 prefer the beauty of spiritual service, and to honour the reality more than the shadow; then, He says, youwill surely be able readily to understand the things concerning Me. For the complete expression of these things will find place in your hearts when you are well fitted to receive it.

One might suppose then that our Lord thought He ought thus to address His disciples. For what He once said as by way of illustration is of a piece with, and will fit in with, the meaning we have just given to His words: No man rendeth a piece from a new garment and putteth it upon an old garment; and again: But neither do men put new wine into old wine-skins; else the skins burst, and the wine is spilled. But new wine must be put into new wine-skins. For the new instruction of the Gospel message belongs not to those who are not yet moulded by the Spirit into newness of life and knowledge, and they cannot as yet contain the mysteries of the Holy Trinity. The exposition then of the deeper mysteries of the faith is suitably reserved for the spiritual renovation that was to proceed from the Spirit when the mind of those who believed on Christ would no longer allow them to remain in the obsolete letter of the Law but rather induce their conversion to new doctrines and implant in them thoughts enabling them to see a fair vision of the truth. And that before the Resurrection of our Saviour Christ from the dead, and before partaking of His Spirit, the disciples were living too much after the manner of the Jews, and were clinging to the legal dispensation, even though the mystery of Christ was clearly superior to it, one might very readily perceive. And therefore the blessed Peter, even though he was pre-eminent among the holy disciples, when the Saviour was once setting forth His suffering on the Cross and telling them that He must be outraged by the insults of the Jews, rebuked Him, saying, Be it far from Thee, Lord; this shall never be unto Thee. And yet the holy prophets had plainly |450 declared not only that He would suffer, but also the nature and extent of what He would endure. And let us also examine this further consideration. For when, as is recorded and as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter was hungry and desired to eat, and when he saw thereupon the sheet let down by four corners from heaven, in which were included all creatures of the earth and the sea and the air, and heard a voice from heaven, saying, Rise, Peter, kill and eat; he answered, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean; and for this received a well-merited rebuke in the answer: What God hath cleansed, make not thou common. And yet he ought to have remembered the frequent statement of our Saviour to the Jews: Not that which entereth into the mouth defileth the man. See then what need there was in his case for the illumination of the Spirit. Do you perceive then that it was necessary that his temper of mind should be forged anew into another better and wiser than that which was in the Jews? And therefore when, by being enriched with the grace that is from above and from heaven, they had their strength renewed, according to the Scripture, and had attained to a better knowledge than before, then we hear them boldly saying: But we have the mind of Christ. By the Mind of Christ they mean nothing else but the advent of the Holy Spirit into their hearts, revealing unto them in due measure all things whatsoever they ought to know and learn.

When then “He,” that is the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He shall guide you into all the truth. See how free from extravagance the expression is: note the soberness of the phrase. For having told them that the Comforter would come unto them, He called Him the Spirit of Truth, that is, His own Spirit. For He is the Truth. For that His disciples might know that He does not promise them the visitation of a foreign and strange power, but rather that He will vouchsafe unto them His Presence in another form, He calls the |451 Comforter the Spirit of Truth, that is, His own Spirit. For the Holy Spirit is not in truth alien from the Substance of the Only-begotten, but proceeds naturally from it, having no separate existence from Him so far as identity of nature is concerned, even though He may be in some sort conceived of as having a separate existence. The Spirit of Truth then, He says, will lead you to complete knowledge of the truth. For as having perfect knowledge of the truth, of which He is also the Spirit, He will make no partial revelation of it to those who worship Him, but will rather engraft in their hearts the mystery concerning it in its entirety. For even if now we know in part, as Paul says, still, though our knowledge be limited, the fair vision of the truth has gleamed upon us entire and undefiled. As then no man knoweth the things of a man, according to the Scripture, save the spirit of the man which is in him, in the same way, I think, to use the words of Paul, none knoweth the things of God save the Spirit of God which is in Him.

When then He cometh, He says, He shall not speak from Himself (He does not say, He will make you wise, and will reveal to you the mystery of the truth); He will tell you nothing that is not in accord with My teaching, nor will He expound to you any strange doctrine, for He will not introduce laws peculiar to Himself; but since He is My Spirit, and as it were My Mind, He will surely speak to you of the things concerning Me. And this the Saviour saith, not that we should suppose that the Holy Spirit has merely ministerial functions, as some ignorantly maintain, but rather from a wish to satisfy the disciples that His Spirit, not being separate from Him so far as identity of Substance is concerned, will surely speak the things concerning Him, and will work and purpose the same.

And for this reason He added the words, and He will show you things to come; and it is almost as though He said these very words, “This will be a sign |452 unto you that the Spirit is in very truth of My Substance and as it were My Mind—-His telling you things to come, as I have done. For I foretold, even though you have not been able to take everything to heart. He would not then foretell things to come, as I have done, if He did not indeed exist in Me and proceed through Me, and if He were not Consubstantial with Me.”

14 He shall glorify Me: for He shall take of Mine, and shall declare it unto you.

As the Holy Spirit was about to reveal to those who should be found worthy the mystery that is in Christ, and to demonstrate completely Who He is by nature, and how great is His power and might, and that He reigneth over all with the Father, Christ is impelled to say, He shall glorify Me. For He sets our mind above the conceits of the Jews, and does not suffer us to entertain so limited and dwarfed a conception as to think that He is a mere Man, slightly surpassing the prophets in the stature they attained, or even falling short of their renown—-for we find that the leaders of the Jews had this idea concerning Him, because they not knowing the mystery of piety, frequently uttered blasphemies against Christ, and, encountering His sayings with their mad folly, said on one occasion: Who art Thou? Abraham is dead, and the prophets are dead; and Thou sayest, If a man keep My word, He shall never see death. Whom makest Thou Thyself? And on another occasion they cast in His teeth the meanness of His birth according to the flesh, and His great insignificance in this respect: Is not this the son of Joseph, whose father |455 and mother we know? How then doth He say, I am come down out of heaven? Note herein the miserable reasoning of the Jews. As then the multitude were so disposed and thought that the Lord was not truly God because in this human frame He was liable to death, and because they did not scruple to entertain the basest conception of His Nature, the Spirit, when He came down from heaven, illustrated completely His glory to the Saints; not that we should say, that He merely convinced them by wise words, but that He by actual proof also satisfied the minds of all that He was truly God, and the fruit of the Substance of God the Father. What then is this proof? And how did He increase the honour and admiration in which Christ was held? By exercising His activity universally in a marvellous and Divine manner, and by implanting in the Saints complete and perfect knowledge, He furthered His glory. For to the Sovereign Nature of the Universe alone must we ascribe omniscience and the sight of all things naked and laid open to the view, and the ability to accomplish all His purposes.

The Comforter then, that is, His own Spirit, being omnipotent and omniscient, glorifies the Son. And how does He glorify Him? Surely what His Spirit knows and is able to effect, Christ knows and is able to effect. And if, as He says, the Spirit receives of Him, the Spirit Himself being omnipotent, surely He Himself has a power which is universal. And we must in no wise suppose that the Comforter, that is, the Spirit, is lacking in innate and inherent power in such a way that, if He did not receive assistance from without, His own power would not be self-sufficient to fully accomplish the Divine designs. Any one who merely imagined any such idea to be true about the Spirit would with good reason undergo the charge of the worst blasphemy of all. But it is because He is Consubstantial with the Son, and divinely proceeds through Him, |456 exercising universally His entire activity and power, that Christ says, “He shall receive of Me.” For we believe that the Spirit has a self-supporting existence and is in truth that which He is, and with the qualities predicated of Him; though, being inherent in the Substance of God, He proceeds and issues from it and has innate in Himself all that that nature implies. For the Divine Substance is not His by participation or by relation, still less is It His as though He had a separate existence from It, since He is an attribute of It. For just as the fragrance of sweet-smelling flowers, proceeding in some sort from the essential and natural exercise of the functions or qualities of the flowers that emit it, conveys the perception thereof to the outer world by meeting those organs of smell in the body, and yet seems in some way, so far as its logical conception goes, to be separate from its natural cause, while (as having no independent existence) it is not separate in nature from the source from which it proceeds and in which it exists, even so you may conceive of the relation of God and the Holy Spirit, taking this by way of illustration. In this way then the statement that His Spirit receives something from the Only-begotten is wholly unimpeachable and cannot be cavilled at. For proceeding naturally as His attribute through Him, and having all that He has in its entirety, He is said to receive that which He has. And if this meaning is conveyed in language that is obscure, far from being offended at it, we should with more justice lay the blame on the poverty of our own language, which is not able to give expression to Divine truths in a suitable way. And what language is adequate to explain the ineffable Nature and Glory of God? He says then that the Comforter “will receive of Mine, and will show it unto you;” that is, He will say nothing that is not in harmony with My purpose; but, since He is My Spirit, His language will be in every way identical with Mine, and He will show you of My Will. |457

15 All things whatsoever the Father hath are Mine: and therefore I said unto you, that He taketh of Mine and shall declare it unto you.

The Son once more shows to us herein the complete and perfect character of the Person of the Father Himself also, and allows us to see why He said that He, being the fruit of the Father’s Substance, engrosses in Himself all that belongs to It, and says that It is all His own, and with reason. For, as there is nothing to dissever or estrange the Son from the Father, so far as their complete similarity and equality is concerned, save only that He is not Himself the Father, and as the Divine Substance does not show Itself differently in the Two Persons, surely Their attributes are common, or rather identical; so that what the Father hath is the Son’s, and what He That begat hath, belongs also to Him that is begotten of Him. For this reason, I think, in His watchful care over us, He has thus spoken to us concerning this. For He did not say, All things whatsoever the Father hath I have also, in order to prevent our imagining He meant a mere likeness founded on similarity, only moulded by adventitious graces into conformity with the Archetype, as is the case with us; for we are after God’s likeness. Rather, when He says, All things whatsoever the Father hath are Mine, He illustrates hereby the perfect union which He hath with His Father, and the meaning of |458 their Consubstantiality existing in unchangeable attributes. And this you may see, that He clearly says elsewhere, when addressing the Father, All things that are Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine. For surely they are identical in nature, in whom there is no severance at all, but complete and perfect essential equality and likeness. God the Father then hath, of Himself, and in Himself, His own Spirit; that is, the Holy Spirit, through Whom He dwelleth in the Saints, and reveals His mysteries to them; not as though the Spirit were called to perform a merely ministerial function (do not think this), but rather, as He is in Him essentially, and proceeds from Him inseparably and indivisibly, interpreting what is in reality His own when He interprets that which belongs to Him in Whom He exists, and from Whom He springs. For God only has union with the creation through His Son in the Spirit. And this Spirit is also an attribute of the Only-begotten, for He is Consubstantial with the Father.

Since then, He says, it is seen to be natural to God the Father to reveal Himself in His own Spirit to those who are worthy of Him, and to accomplish through Him all His purposes, and since this kind of action belongs to Me also, for this cause I said, “He receiveth of Me and will show it unto you.” And let no man be perplexed when he here hears the word “receiveth,” but rather let him consider the following fact, and he will do well. The things of God are spoken of in language as though God were even as we are; but this is not really the case, for His ways are superhuman. We say then that the Spirit receives of the Father and the Son the things that are Theirs in the following way; not as though at one moment He were devoid of the knowledge and power inherent in Them, and at the next hardly acquires such knowledge and power when He is conceived of as receiving from Them. For the Spirit is wise and powerful, nay, rather, absolute Wisdom and |459 Power, not by participation in anything else, but by His own Nature. But, rather, just as we should say that the fragrance of sweet-smelling herbs which assails our nostrils is distinct from the herbs so far as their conception in thought is concerned, but proceeds from the herbs in which it originates only by being a recipient of their faculty of giving scent in order to its display, and is not in fact distinct from them, because its existence is due to, and is wrapped up in, them; even such an idea, or rather one transcending this, must you imagine about the relation of God to the Holy Spirit. For He is, as it were, a sweet savour of His Substance, working plainly on the senses, conveying to the creature an effluence from God, and instilling in him through Itself participation in the Sovereign Substance of the Universe. For if the fragrance of sweet herbs imparts some of its power to garments with which it comes in contact, and in some sort transforms its surroundings into likeness with itself, surely the Holy Ghost has power, since He [is by nature of God, to make those in whom He abides partakers in the Divine Nature through Himself. The Son then, being the Fruit and express Image of the Father’s Person by nature, engrosses all that is His. And therefore He says, All things whatsoever the Father hath are Mine: therefore said I unto you, that He taketh of Mine and shall declare it unto you—-the Spirit, that is, Who is through Him and in Him, by Whom He personally dwells in the Saints. For His Spirit is not distinct from Him, even though He may be conceived of as having a separate and independent existence: for the Spirit is Spirit, and not the Son.

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One Response to St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John 15:26-27, 16:12-15

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for Pentecost Sunday | stjoeofoblog

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