This post begins with verse 2.
2, 3 And His disciples asked Him, saying, Rabbi, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind? Jesus answered, Neither did this man sin nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
Being desirous (and not without good reason) that the mystery should be explained, or rather being Divinely guided, the most wise disciples were urged to ask instruction on the subject. And they are inquisitive with profit, by this means furnishing an advantage not so much for themselves as for us. For we are benefited greatly both by hearing the true explanation of these things from the Omniscient, and in addition also by being warned off from the abomination of effete doctrines. These errors not only used to exist among the Jews, but are also |2 advocated now by some who are insufferably conceited in their knowledge of inspired Scripture and seem to pass for Christians. Such persons of a truth delight too much in their own sophistries, indulging their private fancies, and not fearing to mingle Greek error with the doctrines of the Church. For the Jews, when they were in misery, greatly murmured, as if merely suffering the penalty of their forefathers’ impiety, or as if God were most unreasonably laying upon them the sins of their fathers, and scoffed at it as a most unjust punishment; they even said in a proverb: The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge. And these again, being afflicted with a like and kindred ignorance to those just mentioned by us, earnestly maintain 9 that the souls of men existed and had their being before the creation of their bodies, and that these souls having turned willingly to sin even before the existence of their bodies, then souls and bodies became united, when in the order of chastisement the souls received birth in the flesh. But in one brief statement the follies of both these parties are exposed by Christ, Who confidently affirms that neither had the blind man sinned nor his parents. He refutes the doctrine of the Jews by saying that the man had not been born blind on account of any sin either of himself or of his ancestors, no, not even of his father or mother; and he also overthrows the silly nonsense of the others, who say that souls sin before their existence in the body.
For some one will say to them and very reasonably: How, tell me, does Christ say that neither had the blind man sinned nor his parents? And yet we could not grant that they were altogether free from sin. For, inasmuch as they were human, it is I suppose in every way likely or rather it of necessity follows that they fell into errors. Pray then, what time does Christ mean to define as that concerning which His word shall appears to us true, that neither did the man himself sin, nor indeed his parents? |3 Surely He speaks of that which is previous to birth, when having no existence whatever, they did not sin.
Again, concerning such matters, how truly frivolous and beside the mark it is to think that souls sinned before the existence of their bodies, and on that account were embodied and sent into this world, we have argued at length at the beginning of the present gospel, 10 in interpreting and commenting on the words: That was the True Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world; and it would be superfluous for us to discuss the subject again. But it is necessary to say whence it occurred to the Jews to fall into this opinion and supposition; also to shew clearly that from inability to understand the Divine Word, they mistook its proper meaning. Israel once dwelt in tents in the wilderness, and God called His hierophant Moses on Mount Sinai; but when he extended his stay there with God to the number of forty days, he seemed to be a loiterer to those who had influence with the people, who both rose up against Aaron then being alone, and falling back in contempt upon the idolatries of Egypt, cried saying: Make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. Then what followed thereupon I think it necessary to speak of briefly. They made a calf, as it is written, and at this God was justly provoked to anger: then indeed He threatened to destroy the whole congregation at once. Moses fell down before Him and sought for pardon with much entreaty. The Creator of the universe granted forgiveness, and promised to punish the people no further than that He would not continue to go up with them to the land of promise, but would send with them instead His special Angel as it were in the position of leader. At this Moses was sorely grieved, and as God was not willing to go up with the people, he inferred with some likelihood indeed that the Divine anger was not yet thoroughly appeased. So he prayed again earnestly that God would accompany them, |4 knowing that the mere guidance of an Angel would not suffice some of the Israelites, and perhaps also fearing the weakness of the people and therefore deprecating the holy angels’ hatred of evil; and he entreated the Good One, the Lover of men, the Supreme King and Lord over all, to be willing rather to be present with those so prone to transgress. For he knew that God would pardon them not once only but many times, and that He would grant mercy to those who should offend. And God also consented to this. Then Moses sought a sign from Him, even that he might see Him, as a full assurance and testimony that He had forgiven them completely: For, said he, if I have found grace in Thy sight, manifest Thyself to me; that I may evidently see Thee, that I may find grace in Thy sight, and that I may know that this great nation is Thy people. This also God granted, as far as it was possible, assuring in every way His own servant both that He had forgiven the people their sin and that He would go up with them to the land of promise. Then, giving as it were a sort of finishing touch to the promises, which seemed wanting, He commands Moses to hew out two other tables for Him, the former ones as we know having been broken in pieces, so that He might write down the Law yet again for the people; even in this affording no small evidence of His kindness towards them. And when Moses was ready also for this, the Lord descended in a child, as it is written, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the Name of the Lord. And the Lord passed by before his face and proclaimed: The Lord God is pitiful and merciful, long-suffering and abundant in mercy, and true, and keeping justice, and shewing mercy unto thousands, taking away iniquities and unrighteousnesses and sins; and He will not clear the guilty; visiting the sins of fathers upon children and upon children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.
But now attend carefully, for I am about to take up again the question proposed at first. God declares Himself to shew His kindness and His incomparable love of |5 men in a manner suitable to Deity. For we maintain that these were the words of God, not of any other speaker; not (as some think) the words of the all-wise Moses, offering up laudatory prayers on behalf of the people. For that it is the Lord of all Himself speaking these things of Himself, no other than the blessed Moses himself will bear witness to us, teaching in the Book of Numbers, when the Israelites had again taken offence from unseasonable cowardice, because some, who by Moses at God’s command had been sent to spy it out, spake evil of the Land of Promise. For when they returned from the land of the strangers and were come again to their own people, they spat out bitter words concerning it. Affirming the land to be so wild and rugged that it was capable of eating up its inhabitants, they excited so much hatred of it in the minds of their hearers, that bursting into tears they now desired again to be in Egypt with all its hardships. For, Let us make, said they, captains, and let us journey into Egypt. And when God threatened to destroy them, Moses again prayed, and all but reminding Him also of the promise He had given, went on to cry: And now let Thy strength be exalted, O Lord, according as Thou hast spoken, saying, The Lord is long-suffering and of great mercy and true, forgiving transgressions and iniquities and sins; and He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the sins of fathers upon children unto the third and fourth generation. Forgive this people their sin according to Thy great mercy, as Thou hast been favourable to them from Egypt even until now. It appears therefore that He Who is God over all attributes to Himself love of men and the greatest forbearance towards evil. It will be fitting in the next place to set forth the cause on account of which the Jews, being deceived, could suppose our good God to be mindful of injury and exceeding wrathful.
For my part, I do not think them able to lay hold of the Divine Oracles in any way, or to cavil at them as if they have not expressed what is most excellent or have |6 strayed far from the law of fairness. On the other hand, I think that they only indulge their own ignorance in this matter, to suppose the sins of fathers to be really brought upon children, and the Divine anger to be stretched so far that it may even reach to the third and fourth generation, exacting unjustly from innocent persons the penalties of others’ crimes. Would it not at all events be more becoming to them, if they were wise, to hold the opinion that the Source of righteousness and of our moral laws would do nothing so shameful? For even men inflict punishments according to the laws upon habitual transgressors, but by no means visit them on their children, unless perchance they are detected as partners and associates in the misdeeds: and as to Him Who prescribed to us the laws of all justice, how can He be detected in inflicting penalties such as among ourselves are greatly condemned? Then this also in addition is to be considered. By the mouth of Moses He published laws innumerable, and in many cases those living in bad habits were ordered to be punished, but nowhere is a command from Him to be found, that children should share the penalties incurred by their sinning fathers. For penalty is for those who are detected in crime, and it was ordained that it was fitting to punish those only who were obnoxious to the law. To think as the Jews do is therefore surely impious, but it is certainly the part of a wise man to investigate the Divine mind and by every means to observe what things are agreeable to Nature, the queen of all things. Rightly therefore let us hold that the God of the universe, setting as it were before Him His inherent clemency, willing to be admired for His pure love of men and to this end proclaiming: The Lord is longsuffering and of great mercy and true, forgiving transgressions and sins, would not wish to be known as so mindful of evil that He extends His anger even to the fourth generation inclusive. For how can He still be longsuffering and of great mercy, or how does He forgive transgressions and sins, Who cannot endure to limit the infliction of penalty to the person |7 of the sinner, but extends it beyond the third generation, and like a sort of thunderbolt assaults even the innocent? Surely then it is quite incredible and of almost utter folly, to suppose that God attributes to Himself, together with love of men and gentleness, anger so lasting and so unreasonable.
To these things another may be added by those who support the Jewish opinion, and do not allow that God knows a suitable time for every kind of action. For if He promises longsuffering and is found to yield very easily in laying aside His anger, why is He seen to have added: Visiting the sins of fathers upon children unto the third and fourth generation? Of course this was done for no other reason than a wish to frighten those who expect remission of sins from Him, as shewing that the object of their hopes should never be realized, since He Who with reason is grieved with them is so mindful of evil and tenacious in anger.
But further, tell me what the hierophant Moses himself indicates to us. Would he not seem to do a thing most opposite to all reason, if, when Israel had given offence and was about to suffer punishment, he proceeded to pray for them, and, while asking for oblivion of the offence and an exhibition of God’s love for men, he should unseasonably say to God: Thou art of such a nature that Thou requitest the sins of fathers upon children’s children? For this would be rather the way of one instigating to anger than of one calling for mercy, and of one asking mindfulness of injury rather than longsuffering. But in my opinion by these words he seemed to importune God and to recall to His memory almost the very words which He Himself uttered, when He publicly proclaimed His inherent goodness. For in what way He is longsuffering and of great mercy, and how He is by nature One Who takes away sins and transgressions, will be most excellently discerned, in the very dealings wherein He seems to be somewhat bitter.
In the next place then I think it is fitting to set forth |8 in what way we may rightly understand the words which were spoken by God. The Lord, He says, is long suffering and of great mercy, taking away transgressions and sins. Then we will read that which immediately follows as if with a note of interrogation:. And will He not surely clear the guilty? So that thou mayest understand something of this sort: Will not, says He, the longsuffering and greatly merciful God, Who takes away transgressions and sins, will He not surely clear the guilty? Of course it is not to be doubted: certainly He will thoroughly purge him. For how is He longsuffering and of great mercy and how does He at all take away sins, unless He purges the guilty? At these words He goes off to a demonstration of His inherent longsuffering and forbearance, even that He will visit the sins of the fathers upon children unto the third and fourth generation: not chastising the son for the father; do not think this: nay, not even does He lay upon a descendant the faults of his ancestors like a burden: but meaning something of this sort. There was (we will suppose) a certain man, a transgressor of laws, having his mind full of all wickedness, and who, being taken in this manner of lining, deserved to be punished without any respite; but yet God in forbearance dealt with him patiently, not bringing upon him the wrath he had merited. Then to him was born a son, a rival of his father in impious deeds and outdoing his parent in villainy: God also shewed longsuffering towards this man. But from him is born a third, and from the third a fourth, in no way inferior to their progenitors in wickedness, but practising equal impiety with them. Then God pours out wrath upon them, already even from the beginning deserved by the whole race, after He has tolerated as much as and even more than it behoved Him. A postponement of vengeance even unto the fourth generation, how is it not truly a commendation of Divine gentleness? For that He is wont to chastise neither son for father nor father for son, it is not hard to learn from those words which by the voice of the prophet Ezekiel He clearly spake to the Jews |9 themselves, when over this same thing they murmured and said: The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge. And, says he, the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, what mean ye by this proverb in Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord, this proverb shall be said no more in Israel. For all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son; they are mine. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of his son: each in his own iniquity in which he hath sinned, in that shall he die. But I suppose no one is so foolish as to think that God did not at the beginning legislate in the most excellent way, but somehow changed His plans and altered His ideas for the better, and like one of ourselves was with difficulty and after subsequent deliberation able to improve His legislation to what was most fitting. In such a case, if we praise the earlier laws we shall clearly be blaming the later, and if we express an opinion that the later laws are superior we shall condemn the earlier by our lower estimation of them. God too will legislate in opposition to Himself, and will have fallen short, as we may have done, of a perfect standard, by ordaining one thing at one time and a different thing at another time. But I suppose every one will say that the Divine Nature cannot be in any way subject to such inconsistencies as this, and could not even have ever fallen short of absolute perfection.
It is then as a demonstration of His incomparable munificence that He alleges the words quoted above, viz:—-Requiting the sins of fathers upon children unto the third and fourth generation. For that the merciful God is wont to punish sinners not immediately, but rather to do it reluctantly and to put off punishments for long seasons, thou wilt understand from His own words: And I was full of Mine anger and restrained it, and: did not make a full end of them. And again in another place: For the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. Thou seest that He was |10 indeed full of anger, for some were perpetrating deeds deserving fulness of anger, but as God He forbore patiently and delayed to make a full end of those who offended Him. But in order that we may exhibit to thee as in a picture the proof of what we have said and from actual events demonstrate the praise of God’s love for men to be contained in this text, I will bring forward something recorded in the Sacred Books, and will endeavour from the Divine Scripture itself to show the sins of fathers visited on children even to the third and fourth generation; not unjustly, but justly, and in a manner merited by the sufferers themselves. The story shall be summarized, because of the length of the narrative.
Well then, in the First Book of Kings we read that after other kings Ahab reigned over Israel, and burning with a most unrighteous desire for another man’s vineyard, he slew the lord of it, even Naboth. For although he did not himself command that deed, yet he expressed no anger at the wickedness of his wife. At this God was of course wroth, and spake to Ahab by Elijah the prophet: Thus saith the Lord, Forasmuch as thou hast killed and also taken possession, therefore thus saith the Lord, In the place where the swine and the dogs licked the blood of Naboth, there shall the dogs lick thy blood; and the harlots shall wash themselves in thy blood. And again immediately: Thus saith the Lord, Behold I bring evil upon thee, and will kindle a fire behind thee, and will utterly destroy from Ahab every male and him that is shut up and left in Israel. And I will make thy house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahab, for the provocations wherewith thou hast provoked Me to anger and made Israel to sin. And of Jezebel he spake, saying, The dogs shall eat her within the outer-wall of Jezreel. And him that dieth of Ahab in the city the dogs shall eat, and him that dieth in the field shall the birds of the air eat. When the Lord of all unmistakably threatened to do all these things and to inflict them, Ahab rent his garment and entered into his house; as it is written, He was pricked |11 to the heart, and burst bitterly into tears, and girded his loins with sackcloth. In which state God pities him, and begins to allay His anger, and putting as it were a bridle to His sudden fury says to the Prophet: Hast thou seen how Ahab was pricked to the heart before Me? I will not bring these things in his days, but in his son’s days I will bring the evil. Will it not therefore be right to inquire upon whom these things were fulfilled? Well, the son of Ahab was Ahaziah, Who, Scripture says, did evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of his father Ahab, and in the way of Jezebel his mother. Then the son of Ahaziah was, Scripture says, Joram, of whom again it is written that he walked in the sins of the house of Jeroboam. Next to Joram reigned a third Ahaziah, of whom again the language of the narrative says that he did evil in the sight of the Lord, as did the house of Ahab. But when the time had now come for punishing the house of Ahab, which had not ceased from impiety towards God even to the fourth generation, there was anointed to be the next king over Israel Jehoshaphat son of Nimshi, who slew Ahaziah, and beside him Jezebel; he slew also seventy other sons of Ahab, carrying out as it were the Divine wrath to the uttermost, so that he obtained both honour and favour on account of it. For what saith God to him? Because thou hast done well in executing that which is right in Mine eyes, and hast done unto the house of Ahab according to all that was in Mine heart, thy children of the fourth generation shall sit upon thy throne. Thou seest therefore that He reluctantly punished in the fourth generation the wicked descendants of wicked men, whereas to him from whom He received honour He extends His mercy even to the fourth generation. Cease therefore, O Jew, to accuse the righteousness of God. As a form of encomium certainly we will accept that saying: Requiting the sins of fathers upon children unto the third and fourth generation.
3 But that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
That which lies before us is hard to explain and capable |12 of causing much perplexity, so that it would be perhaps not unlearned to pass it over in silence, and because of its excessive difficulty to leave it. But when the Jewish doctrines have been refuted, lest another thing akin to them, like any root of bitterness springing up, trouble you, as Paul says; (for perhaps some will hence suspect that the bodies of men are affected with sufferings, in order that the works of Grod may be made manifest in them;) I, for my part, think it seasonable to subjoin a few words with reference to this, that thereby we may both keep off any injuries arising from this source, and leave no loophole for deceptive arguments. That God does not bring the sins of parents upon children unless they are partakers of their wickedness, and further, that embodiment is not on account of sins previously committed by the soul, we have shown. For by speaking in opposition to these two errors, Christ in a wonderful manner overturned them, since He unquestionably knows all things, as God; or rather, since He Himself is the over-ruler of our affairs, and the ordainer of those things which befit and are deserved by every man. For in that He says the blind man had not sinned, nor was suffering blindness on that account, He shows that it is foolish to suppose the soul of man to be guilty of sins previous to its birth in the body: moreover, when He openly says that neither had His parents sinned that their son should be born blind, He refutes the silly suspicion of the Jews. Therefore, after He had taught His disciples as much as was necessary for them to know in order to refute the doctrines which we have above stated, and imparted to them as much as it was fitting to exhibit to the understanding of man, He is silent as to the rest, and sets forth no further with clearness the reason why he was born blind who was guilty of no sin previous to birth, attributing to the Divine Nature alone the knowledge of all such things and a management of affairs which is past finding out. But again He very skilfully transfers the language of His answer to something else and says; But that the works of God should be made manifest in him. |13
Does then, some one will say, the Lord declare to us these words here as a certain doctrine, as if for this single reason ailments attack the bodies of men, that the works of God should be made manifest in them? It does not seem so at all to me, but rather it is evidently absurd so to imagine or suppose; He certainly is not dogmatizing at all (as some might think) when He says this. For that it happens to some to be smitten on account of their sins, we have often learnt from the Holy Scriptures. Paul indeed plainly writes to those who with feet as it were unwashed dared to approach the holy altar, and with profane and unholy hand to touch the mystical Eucharist: For this cause many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep. For if we judged ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. Accordingly, upon the sickly and dead, it is sometimes by Divine wrath that the suffering has been brought. But also our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, after He had loosed the paralytic from a long disease, and had miraculously made him whole, says: Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing befal thee. Surely He says this as though it might happen that unless the man took heed he would suffer something worse for his sin, although he had once escaped and by the Lord’s favour been restored to health. But perhaps some may say: we will grant that these things are rightly said; but as to those who suffer something terrible from the cradle and their earliest years, or even from the very womb are afflicted with diseases, it is not easy to understand what kind of explanation any one can satisfactorily give. For we do not believe that the soul previously existed; nor indeed can we think that it sinned before the body, for how can that sin, which has not yet been called to birth? But if there has been no sin nor fault preceding the suffering, what then shall we allege as the cause of the suffering? Truly, by our minds we cannot comprehend those things which are far above us, and I should advise the prudent, and myself above all, to abstain from wishing |14 to thoroughly scrutinize them. For we should recall to mind what we have been commanded, and not curiously examine things which are too deep, nor pry into those which are too hard, nor rashly attempt to discover those which are hidden in the Divine and ineffable counsel alone; but rather concerning such matters we should piously acknowledge that God alone knows some things, peculiar to Himself and excellent. At the same time we should maintain and believe that since He is the fountain of all righteousness, He will neither do nor determine anything whatever in human affairs, or in those of the rest of creation, which is unbecoming to Himself, or differs at all from the true rectitude of justice.
Since therefore it becomes us to be affected in this way, I say, that the Lord does not speak dogmatically when He says, that the works of God should be made manifest in him; but rather He says it to draw off the answer of the questioner in another direction, and to lead us from things too deep for us to more suitable ones; for that is a thing He was in some sort wont to do. And that this assertion is true, hear again how when the holy disciples were earnestly inquiring about the end of the world, and very curiously putting questions concerning His second coming, and going far beyond the limits proper for man, He very evidently draws them away from such interrogations. It is not for you, says He, to know times or seasons which the Father hath set within His own authority. But ye shall receive power, when the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea. Thou hearest that He does not permit us at all to seek into those things which no way are fit for us, but rather directs us to come back to what is necessary. So also in this place, having spoken plainly what was meet for us to learn, He reserves the rest in silence, knowing that it behoved Himself alone to understand this. But lest by being altogether silent He should as it were invite them again to ask Him about the same things, in the manner of alleging a reason, and as though courteously fashioning |15 some such answer as the questions seemed to deserve, He says, But that the works of God should be made manifest in him. Which is just as if He had said, in different and simpler language: The man was not born blind on account of his own sins or the sins of his parents; but since it has happened that he was so affected, it is possible that in him God may be glorified. For when, by power from above, he shall be found free from the affliction which lies upon him and troubles him, who will not admire the Physician? Who will not recognise the power of the Healer shown forth in Him?
I think this sense is latent in the words before us, but let those who are clever think out the more perfect meaning. And if any think fit to be contentious and say that the man was born blind for the very end that Christ might be glorified in him, we will say to them in reply: Do you suppose, O good people, that this was the only man in Judea who was blind from birth in the time of the coming of our Saviour, and that there was no other whatever? Surely, even though unwilling, they will confess, I think, that in all likelihood very many such were found in all the land. How was it then that Christ only exhibited His kindness and power to one of them, or at all events to but a small number? Concerning these things, however, I deem it superfluous to hold an argument. Wherefore, the other opinion being rejected as foolish, we will hold it true, that after Christ had revealed to us as much about the questions asked as was meet for us to learn, He passed on to another subject, skilfully turning aside His own disciple from searching into such things.
4 We must work the works of Him that sent us, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
Lo here again in these words, plainly and reasonably, He rebukes in a similar manner the disciples, as if they had done something they ought not, and having left the high road, well-trodden and firm, had ventured on another |16 which seemed not at all fit for them. For, why do ye ask, says He, things touching which it is good to be silent? Or why, leaving that which suits the time, do ye hasten to learn things beyond the capacity of man? It is not a time for such curiosity, says He, but for work and intense zeal; for I deem it more becoming, passing by such questions, to execute zealously God’s commands, and since He has appointed us Apostles, to fulfil the works of the Apostleship. When the Lord numbers Himself with those who are sent, and enrols Himself among those who ought to work, in no way does He make Himself really one of us, or say that He Himself is subject as we are- by a certain servile necessity to the will of a commander: but He uses a common habit of speech, even to ourselves trite and familiar. For, especially when the bare substance of an argument is not calculated to impress our hearers, we are wont to join ourselves to them, and to reckon ourselves with them. For which reason doubtless the most wise Paul addressed the Corinthians as if concerning himself and Apollos, and at last added: Now these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos; that in us ye might learn not to be wise beyond the things which are written. While therefore it is day, says He, let us work the works of Him that sent us; for the night will come, when no man can work. In these words He calls the time of bodily life, day; and the time we are in death, He calls night. For since the day was given for works, but the night for rest and sleep, therefore the time of life in which we ought to work what is good, people call day; and the time of sleeping, in which nothing whatever can be done, they call night. For he that hath died is justified from sin, according to the saying of Paul, being found unable to do anything, and therefore unable to sin.
Thus Holy Scripture really does recognise a theory of a metaphorical day, and in no less degree a corresponding theory of night. And if taken into consideration at the right moment each of these metaphorical interpretations exhibits the aspect of the questions under investigation in |17 a manner free from error. But concerning unsuitable subjects, and when it ought not to be done, to attempt violently to drag round to a spiritual interpretation that which ought to be taken historically, is nothing else than unlearnedly to confuse what is profitable if understood simply, and to spoil its usefulness through excess of ignorance.
5 When I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.
Shall we then think that Christ is now not at all in the world, or do we believe that He, having ascended to heaven after His restoration to life from the dead, no longer dwells among those in this present life? And yet being very God, He fills and tends not only the heavens and what is beyond the firmament, but also the world which we inhabit. And just as while He associated in the flesh with men, He was not absent from heaven, so if we think rightly we shall hold the opinion that even though He is out of the world as regards the flesh, His Divine and ineffable Nature is yet no less present among those who dwell in the world. Yea, it overrules the universe, being absent from nothing that exists, neither having abandoned anything, but present everywhere in all things; and, filling all the visible universe and whatever may be conceived of as beyond it, is fully contained by Itself alone.
The next thing therefore is to understand what it is that the Lord says in these words. Having cast aside as a stale thing the suspicion of the Jews, and shewn that they were foolishly entangled in unsound doctrines; having given counsel to His own disciples that it was more becoming for them to strive to love the things that please God, and to leave off pursuing a search into what was altogether beyond them; and having in a manner warned them that the time for work will slip away from those who do nothing, unless they devote all their zeal to the wish to do well, while they are in the flesh in the world;—-He holds up Himself as an Example in the matter. For behold, He says, I also work at My own proper work, and |18 since I have come to give light to those things that were in want of light, it behoves Me to cause light to dwell even in the eyes of the body, if they are diseased with the terrible lack of light, whensoever any of the sufferers come before Me.
We will accordingly understand what was said as spoken with reference to the occasion, and in a simple sense. For that the Only-Begotten is indeed a real Light, with the knowledge and power to illumine not only the things that are in this world, but also every other supramundane creature, is not to be doubted. And if we accommodate the sense of the words to the matter in hand, I do not think we shall be found guilty of setting forth anything unworthy of credit.
6, 7 When He had thus spoken, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and with the clay thereof anointed his eyes, and said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went away therefore, and washed, and came seeing.
Accepting the cure wrought upon this blind man as a type of the calling of the Gentiles, we will again tell the meaning of the mystery, summing it up in few words. First then because it was merely in passing, and after leaving the Jewish temple, that He saw the blind man: and again from this circumstance also, that without in-treaty and no man soliciting Him, but rather of His own accord and from a spontaneous inclination, the Saviour came to a determination to heal the man; hence we shall profitably look upon the miracle as symbolical. It shows that as no intreaty has been made by the multitude of the Gentiles, for they were all in error, God, being indeed in His nature good, of His own will has come forward to shew mercy unto them. For how at all or in what way could the vast number of Greeks and of Gentiles beseech God for mercy, having their mind darkened by gross ignorance, so as to be in no wise able to see the Illuminator? As therefore certainly the man who has |19 been healed, being blind, does not know Jesus, and by an act of mercy and philanthropy receives an unhoped-for benefit; so also has it happened to the Gentiles through Christ. On the sabbath too was the work of healing accomplished, the sabbath being capable thereby completely to exhibit to us a type of the last age of the present world, in which the Saviour has made light to shine on the Gentiles. For the sabbath is the end of the week, and the Only-Begotten took up His abode and was manifested to us all in the last time, and in the concluding ages of the world. But at the manner of the healing it is really fit that we should be astonished and say: O Lord, how great are Thy works; in wisdom hast Thou performed them all.
For some one perhaps will say: Why, although able to set all things right easily by a word, does He mix up clay from the spittle, and anoint the eyes of the sufferer, and seem to prescribe a sort of operation; for He says, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam? Surely I deem that some deep meaning is buried beneath these words, for the Saviour accomplishes nothing without a purpose. For by anointing with the clay He makes good that which is (so to speak) lacking or vitiated in the nature of the eye, and thus shews that He is the One Who formed us in the beginning, the Creator and Fashioner of the universe. And the power of the action possesses a sort of mystical significance; for that which we said just now with reference to this, and what we consider may be understood by it, we will mention again. It was not otherwise possible for the Gentiles to thrust off the blindness which affected them, and to behold the Divine and holy light, that is, to receive the knowledge of the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity, except by being made partakers of His Holy Body, and washing away their gloom-producing sin, and renouncing the authority of the devil, namely in Holy Baptism. And when the Saviour stamped on the blind man the typical mark which was anticipative of the mystery, He meanwhile fully exhibited the power of such participation by the anointing with His spittle. And as an image of Holy |20 Baptism He commands the man to run and wash in Siloam, a name whose interpretation, the Evangelist, being very wise and Divinely-inspired, felt it necessary to give. For we conclude that the One Sent is no other than God the Only-Begotten, visiting us and sent from above, even from the Father, to destroy sin and the rapacity of the devil: and recognising Him as floating invisibly on the waters of the sacred pool, we by faith are washed, not for the putting away of the filth of the flesh, as it is written, but as it were washing away a sort of defilement and uncleanness of the eyes of the understanding, in order that for tho future, being purified, we may be able in pureness to behold the Divine beauty. As therefore we believe the Body of Christ to be life-giving, since it is the temple and abode of the Word of the Living God, possessing all His energy, so we declare it to be also a Patron of light; for it is the Body of Him Who is by nature the True Light. And as, when He raised from death the only son of the widow, He was not satisfied with merely commanding and saying: Young man, I say unto thee, Arise; although accustomed to accomplish all things, whatsoever He wished, by a word; but also touched the bier with His hand, showing that even His Body possesses a life-giving power: so in this case He anoints with His spittle, teaching that His Body is also a Patron of light, even by so slight a touch. For it is the Body of the True Light, as we said above. The blind man accordingly departs with what haste he can, and washes, and without delay performs all that was bidden him, shewing as it were in his own person the ready obedience of the Gentiles, concerning whom it is written: He inclined His ear to the preparation of their hearts. The wretched Jews then were hard of heart, but they of the Gentiles were altogether docile in obedience and bear witness of it in experience. The man having forthwith, removed his blindness, washing it away together with the clay, now returns, seeing. For it was Christ’s pleasure that thus it should come to pass. Excellent therefore is faith, which makes God-given grace to be |21 strong in us; and harmful is hesitation. For the double-minded man is unstable in all his ways, as it is written, and shall receive nothing whatever from the Lord.
8, 9 The neighbours therefore, and they which saw him aforetime that he was a beggar, said, Is not this he that sat and begged? Another said, No, but he is like him. He said, I am he.
Hard indeed to be believed are such surpassing wonders, and that [which exceeds man’s experience], from whatever source it comes, finds the intellect to be intolerant of it, and is scarcely treated with honour when convincingly forced upon people’s minds. For the attempt to investigate what is beyond the grasp of reason indicates a state of mind akin to insanity. Hence, I think, the unbelief of some who had previously known the blind man haunting the cross-roads, and who were astonished afterwards when they beheld him unexpectedly able to discern objects with clear vision. And they are divided, from uncertainty regarding the event, and some who consider more carefully the greatness of the deed say that it is not the same man, but one remarkably like him whom they had known. For indeed it really is not strange that this opinion should be expressed by some, who by rejecting the truth were compelled through the greatness of the miracle to adopt an involuntary falsehood. Others again keep their minds free from obvious objections, and in reverence and fear they recognise the wonder, and say that it is the same man. But he who was healed quickly settled the question, by making his own statement, most worthy of credit as concerning himself. For no man can be ignorant of his own identity, even though very ill in delirium. Thus in every way the marvellous deed, discredited on account of the unusual degree of power it displayed, testifies that the Wonder-worker is to be reckoned among the great.
10 They said therefore unto him, How were thine eyes opened?
With difficulty they consent to believe that he was the |22 same man whom they had known aforetime, and abandoning their hesitation on this point, they ask how he had got rid of his blindness, and what was the manner of such an unhoped-for event. For it seems usual for those who are astonished to make careful inquiries and to investigate the manner of what has been done; and these persons resolved to do the same, not without the guidance of God, in our opinion, bnt in order that even unwillingly they might learn the power of Our Saviour from the narration and clear announcement which the blind man made to them. This thou mayest accept as a beautiful type of the converts from among the Gentiles becoming teachers to the people of Israel, after escaping from their former blindness and receiving the illumination which comes from Our Saviour Christ through the Spirit. And that what we have said is true, the events themselves will loudly proclaim.
11 He answered, A man that is called Jesus made clap, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to Siloam and wash. So I went away and washed, and I received sight.
He appears still to be ignorant that the Saviour is by nature God, for otherwise he would not have spoken of him so unworthily. He probably thought of Him and esteemed Him as a holy Man, forming this opinion perhaps from the somewhat indistinct rumour concerning Him that went about all Jerusalem, and was repeated everywhere in the common talk. Moreover we may observe that those afflicted of body and struggling with abject poverty never feel overmuch zeal in occupying themselves about making acquaintance, their unmitigated poverty exhausting as it were their mental faculties. Therefore he speaks of Him merely as a Man, and describes the manner of the healing. He must surely have been compelled by the magnitude of the miracle to attribute a glory beyond the nature of man to the Wonder-worker, but from giving credit to the belief that holy men were enabled by |23 God to work miracles, he was probably drawn to look upon Jesus as one of them.
12 And they said unto him, Where is He? He saith, I know not.
Not from devout feelings do they inquire for Jesus, nor are they moved to inquire where and with whom He was uttering discourses, so that they might go and seek some profit from His doings; but being blinded in the eyes of their understanding, even much worse than he had formerly been in those of his body, they are inflamed with most unjust anger, and rage like untamable beasts, thinking that Our Saviour had broken a commandment of the law, that one namely which forbids any work whatever to be done on the sabbath. And they raved immoderately, because He had dared actually to touch clay, rubbing the dirt round with His finger, and in addition to this had also directed the man to wash it off on the sabbath. Wherefore in anger and desperation they spit out the words, Where is He? without making any excuse for speaking so rudely. For in their pettiness they bestow abuse upon Him Who rightly deserved the highest honour, though they must have admired Him if they had been sincere and had known how to honour God’s power with befitting praises. But thrusting aside in their extravagant maliciousness that which I think they ought in fairness to have thought and done, they devote themselves to untimely zeal. And falsely supposing that they were performing a duty in supporting the law which had somehow been wronged, they inquire for Jesus as one who had worked on the sabbath and thus wronged the excellent commandment by healing the man. Certainly they may have supposed that God was (so to speak) cruel and not compassionate on the sabbath, and was very angry when he saw a man healed, who was made in His own image and likeness, and on whose account the sabbath was instituted. For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath, according to the saying of the Saviour. |24
13, 14 They bring to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind. Now it was the sabbath on the day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes.
They bring the man to the rulers, not that they might learn what had been done to him, and admire it; for it was not likely that men travailing with extreme envy against our Saviour Christ could ever be pleased by any such thing; but that they might publicly convict Jesus, as they thought, of a transgression of the law, and accuse Him of being a wrong-doer in having made clay on the sabbath. For rejecting the idea of the miracle because of its incredibility, they lay hold of the deed as a transgression, and for a proof of what had been done they exhibit the man upon whom He had dared to perform the miracle. At the same time they think to succeed in gaining a reputation for piety according to Jewish customs, and proceed to strain the legal commandment to the utmost. For in Deuteronomy He Who by Nature is Very God, enjoining the minds of the pious not to be drawn aside to another, nor to think there were any gods besides Him, but bidding them to serve Him only in truth, and to hate bitterly those who should dare to counsel them differently, thus speaks: If thy brother by thy father or mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or thy wife in thy bosom, or friend who is equal to thine own soul entreat thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, thou shalt not consent to him, neither shalt thou hearken to him, and thine eye shall not spare him, and thou shalt feel no regret for him, neither shalt thou at all protect him; thou shalt surely report concerning him. And so the Jews, looking only at the errors of others, and foolishly treating everything by the regulation laid down concerning one thing, brought before the magistrates those who were detected in, any action contrary to the aw, thinking that thereby they were honouring the Lawgiver. For this reason I think they enquired for Jesus, saying, Where is He? but being unable to find Him anywhere, they take as it were in the second place him upon whom the wonder had been wrought, that he might seal |25 with his own voice the testimony to the breach of the law which had been committed by the actions of the One Who healed him on the sabbath.
When the blessed Evangelist is making it manifest to us that they were immoderately vexed at the making of clay on the sabbath, he fitly hints at the absurdity of the thing, by adding: Now it was the sabbath on the day when Jesus made the clay.
15 Again therefore the Pharisees also asked him, How didst thou receive thy sight?
They busy themselves about the manner of the healing, stirring up as it were the fire of malice which was in them to a greater heat, and ask unnecessary questions, not failing, as it seems to me, to recognize the miracle. For is it not altogether absurd to suppose that they, who had come bringing to them the man who aforetime was blind, had not expressed at all the reason for which they had brought him? But as if they were not sufficient to accuse Christ, the magistrates compel him to confess with his own mouth what had been done, believing that by this means the malicious accusation would have greater force. For observe that they do not ask simply and barely if he had been healed, but they seek rather to hear how he received his sight; this was what they were particularly anxious to hear:—-”He made clay, and anointed mine eyes.” For it was in this that they foolishly conceived all the transgression of the law to lie, and imagining that laws from above were violated, they thought they were righteously vexed, and that punishment ought to be inflicted on Him Who vexed them.
And he said unto them, He put clay upon mine eyes and I washed, and do see.
They receive eagerly, as if it were a sort of food for their envy, his confession of the marvel, and gladly seize upon the excuse for their rage against Jesus. For the man who had been blind relates everything on this occasion |26 very simply, and speaks very abruptly, in brief expressions praising as. it were his Physician: for he is somewhat astounded at the nature of the deed. Probably he may have thought in his mind that Jesus had miraculously enabled him to see by anointing him with clay, an unusual medicament; and it seems to me that it was very significantly and with sharp meaning that he said He made clay, and anointed mine eyes. For it was as though one might suppose him to say: I know that I am speaking to a malicious audience, but nevertheless I will not on that account conceal the truth. I will requite my Benefactor with my thanks; I will be above unseasonable silence. I will honour by my confession the Physician, Who did not trouble me by an elaborate process of healing, or perform the operation by the knife and surgery, or effect what was necessary by compound mixtures of drugs, or adopt any ordinary method, but rather exhibited His power by strange devices. He made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and I washed, and do see. It is perhaps worthy of notice that the man very rightly added, as the climax to his description of these events, the words: And do see. For it is almost as though he said: I will prove to you that the power of the Healer was not exerted in vain; I will not deny the favour I received, for I now possess what I formerly longed for; I, he says, who was blind from birth and afflicted from the womb, having been anointed with clay, am healed, and do see. That is, I do not merely shew you my eye opened, concealing the darkness in its depth, but I really see. I am henceforth able to look upon the things which formerly I could only hear about. Lo! the bright light of the sun is shining around me: lo! the beauty of strange sights surrounds my eye. A short time ago I scarcely knew what Jerusalem was like; now I see glittering in her the temple of God, and I behold in its midst the truly venerable altar. And if I stood outside the gate, I could look around on the country of Judea, and should recognise one thing as a hill and another as a tree. And when the time changes to evening, my eye will no longer fail to notice |27 the beauty of the wondrous objects on high, the brilliant company of the stars, and the golden light of the moon. Thereupon I shall be amazed at the skill of Him Who made them; from the beauty of the creatures I as well as others shall acknowledge the Great Creator. So that however little breadth of imagination or elegance of argument he uttered, his language is pregnant with all this power when he adds: and do see, after saying: He made clay and anointed mine eyes. For the preacher’s style of argument, which we employ, does not exclude all that is graceful in imagination, or reject it as useless. He therefore who had received mercy from Christ, when questioned before the priests, speaks as we have said, declaring in a truly innocent manner, and to the best of his ability, the power of the One Who had healed him.
16 Some therefore of the Pharisees said, This man is not from God, because he keepeth not the sabbath.
In their folly they say He is not from God, Who has the power to work the works of God; and although they see the Son crowned with an equal measure of glory with the Almighty Father, they are not ashamed unreasonably to cast upon him the blame of impiety; and disregarding the report of the miracle, they attack the Wonder-worker with their peculiar envy, and carelessly accuse as an evildoer Him Who knew no sin. They foolishly believe the whole law to have been broken by His daring to move one finger on the sabbath, although they would themselves loose their ox from the stall and lead it away to water; moreover, if a sheep fell into a pit, as it is written, with much eagerness they would lift it out. So they strain out the gnat, according to the Saviour’s word; for this was their ordinary custom. With much folly and very desperately they do not give credit to Christ for the marvellous deed, nor from the work of healing do they henceforth acknowledge Him to be what He is; but they cavil pettily about the sabbath, and, as if in their opinion all virtue was observed by merely remaining unemployed on the sabbath, |28 they totally deny His relationship to God, saying that He was not from God; although they ought rather to have understood that the One before them had authority over His own laws, and that it was pleasing and acceptable to God to do good even on the sabbath, and not to leave without hope one who needed mercy. For whenever will any of you refuse to praise the doer of good deeds, or what set time can exercise a tyranny against virtue? Yet while they admire the ancient hero Joshua, who captured Jericho on the sabbath, and commanded their forefathers to do such things as are customary for conquerors, and himself by no means observed the proper sabbath rest; they persistently attack Christ, and as their personal ill-feeling prompted them, not only strive to take away from Him the glory due to God, but also to rob Him of the honour due to holy men. And being stirred up by their mere malice to speak very inconsiderately, they pour forth a charge of impiety against Him Who justifies the world, and for that very purpose came from the Father to us.
But others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such signs? And there was a division among them.
Even these still think too meanly, speaking and reckoning as of a mere man; only, being convinced by the marvellous deed, they give the palm to Christ rather than to the law; and, putting the proof afforded by the Divine sign in opposition to the sabbath rest on this occasion, they appear in a better light as just judges. Yet, was it not acting greatly in opposition to the precepts laid down respecting the sabbath, to withdraw altogether the charge of transgression, and to acquit Him of sin, Who had not hesitated, when He thought fit, to do something even on the sabbath? But, coming to this conclusion by reasoning which seems unanswerable and has much common sense in it, they argue thus. For it is manifest and acknowledged beyond question, that to those who neglect the Divine law, and set at nought precepts ratified from on high, God would never give the power to achieve |29 anything wonderful. To Christ, however, in the opinion of the Jews, He gave such power, although He slighted the law respecting the sabbath. Certainly the doing something on the sabbath, does not necessarily involve sin, but neither can any one doubt that the doing of good works is far better than remaining unemployed on that day. At all events, as the Saviour Himself somewhere else says, it is permitted to the Levites to minister on the sabbath, and they exercise their functions on that day without blame, or rather their remaining unemployed would be blamable. For would any one find fault if they were detected sacrificing oxen on the sabbath, or even attending to other kinds of offerings? He would on the other hand more probably accuse them if they were not doing their duty and fulfilling the regulations of Divine service. When therefore things dedicated according to the law for the good of certain persons are brought to the Divine altar even on the sabbath without prohibition, is it not more fitting still that a kind action should be performed unto a man, for whose sake the marvellous deed might be acceptable even on the sabbath? By just reasoning therefore, some of the Jews are inclined to an excellent judgment, and putting off by an effort from the eyes of their understanding the mist of ignorance that characterises their nation, they admire the glory of the Saviour, (although as yet not very ardently, for they speak of Him less worthily than they ought;) and they separate themselves from those who are actually condemning Him. For the one part unholily allowed themselves to be swayed by envy more than by just reasoning, and treat as a transgression that which in its nature could not in any wise be blamed; whereas the others, rightly considering the nature of the action, condemn such a foolish accusation.
It is of course possible that it was with reference to some other matter that they chose to say: How can a man that is a sinner do such signs? Perhaps, to put it briefly, they are eager to defend the general practice of holy men. For, say they, if we allow that it is quite possible |30 for habitual transgressors to make themselves glorious by extraordinary actions and to be seen working marvellous deeds, what is there any longer to hinder those fond of making accusations from bringing charges against most of the prophets, or indeed by and bye attacking the blessed Moses himself, and lightly esteeming one so venerable, even though he was borne witness to by the most mighty actions of all? These men therefore may be contending for the reputation of the fathers as at stake in Christ, treating the circumstances respecting Him as a sort of pretext for shewing their love towards them.
17 They say therefore unto the blind man again, What sayest thou of Him, in that He opened thine eyes?
They imagine those who are disposed to judge fairly to be wandering in their wits, and they seem to me to have forgotten altogether Him Who says: Judge righteous judgment; and having been taken captive as it were in the bonds of envy, they cannot endure to listen at all to any word that honours Christ. Turning away from any one wishing to speak of His miracles as from some one most hostile to themselves, and mistrusting their own powers of explanation, they haughtily address their words to the man that had been healed. Again they ask what had been many times told them, having already proclaimed their belief that He Who had performed an action contrary to the sabbath was both worthless and wicked. They think that in this way the blind man will join them in condemning Him, and take his cue from their words; that he will suppress all outward signs of gratitude, out of fear and trembling before their anger, and readily charge Jesus with contempt of the law, because of its being the sabbath. Evil therefore was the design of the Pharisees, and it cannot be doubted that it was foolish also. For how could the voice of one thankless man weaken the force of the miracle? And would not Christ’s Divine glory appear, if it so happened that the blind man, overcome by fear, should deny the kindness he had received, in order to |31 avoid suffering anything from those wont to inflict pain? But envy is powerful to persuade those who are bursting with it to eagerly do any thing in their passion, even though it involves conduct very fairly open to ridicule. The mind which is free from such thoughts, however, is not entangled by foolish arguments; but, ever preserving its natural excellence untarnished, is borne directly towards a right conclusion, and does not go beyond the limits of troth. Mean therefore and insolent are the Pharisees, thinking that those who choose to think and speak rightly are wandering in their wits, and endeavouring to compel the man to speak evil words concerning Him Who had miraculously bestowed on him an unhoped-for blessing. But he was disposed to express gratitude and had been brought nigh to a clear knowledge by means of the miracle.
And he said, He is a prophet.
They receive a sharp arrow into their hearts, who do not admit fair and just reasoning, and are eager to seek that only which gratifies their malice. For, as it is written, the crafty man shall not meet with prey. For their zealous design is upset, contrary to their expectation; and they are greatly disappointed of their hope when to their surprise they receive the reply: He is a prophet. For the man who had been healed, judging very rightly, agrees with the opinion of the other party. For they, not unwisely considering the nature of the action, maintain that a man who was a sinner could not perform such a deed: and he upon whom the marvel has been wrought, all but pursuing the same track of argument, declares Jesus to be a prophet, not yet having accurately learned Who He is in truth, but adopting a notion current among the Jews. For it was customary with them to call wonder-workers prophets, deeming that their holiness was thereby borne witness to by God. Accordingly, just as they wisely determine not to dishonour the majesty of the Divine sign oat of reverence for the sabbath, but argue from it that |32 He Who wrought it was altogether guiltless of sin; so also I suppose this man, thrusting aside the petty cavil respecting the sabbath, with worthier thoughts gives glory to Him Who had freely given him sight, and, having allotted him a place amongst holy men, calls him a prophet. He seems to me, moreover, not to have thought too highly of the regulations of the law; for [otherwise] he would not have admired Jesus so much, or raised his Physician to the rank of a prophet in spite of his apparent transgression of the sabbatical law. Having certainly derived benefit from the marvellous deed, and having arrived at a better state of mind than that of the Jews, he is therefore obliged to admit a superiority to legal observances in the Wonder-worker, Who, in doing good works, deemed an infringement of the law altogether blameless.
18, 19 The Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and had received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight, and asked them, saying, Is this your son, who ye say was born blind? how then doth he now see?
The envy against the Healer which is hot within them does not allow them to believe what is acknowledged by all; and, swayed by the frenzy of madness, they of course care little for the discovery of truth, and speak falsely against Christ. First they applied pressure to the man himself, and now they are seen to be no less rashly distressing his parents, but with the very opposite result to that which they intended. They propose a most superfluous question to the man’s parents, and they seem to me, in their unbounded folly, to dishonour the very law which they so venerated and so extravagantly upheld. For the neighbours, as it is written, brought him that aforetime was blind, and setting him face to face with those who were asking these questions, they reported most clearly that he had been born blind, and bore witness that now he had received sight. Thus, whereas the law distinctly says that every matter is established by the mouth of two or |33 three witnesses, they set aside the testimony not merely of two or three but probably of many more, and go for further evidence to the parents of him who was healed, thus acting contrary to the law as well as to good manners. But the law is nothing to them when they are eager to accomplish something agreeable to their private pleasures. For when the testimony borne to the miracle, by the voices both of the neighbours and of the man who was healed, put them out of countenance sorely against their will; they expected to be able to persuade those now being questioned, to make light of truth, and rather to speak as they wished them to speak. For see in how overbearing a manner they put their question, saying: Is this your son, who ye say was born blind? For they all but avow their certain intention to treat them very dreadfully, and they frighten them with unbounded fear, calling as it were by compulsion and violence for that which they wished to hear, namely the answer: “He was not born blind.” For they had but one object and that an impious one, namely, to loosen the hold which Christ had on the multitudes, and to turn away the simple faith of such as were now overcome with admiration. And just as men who strive to take some well-fortified city environ it on every side and besiege it in all manner of ways; at one time they are eager to undermine the foundations, at another they strike blows with battering-rams against the towers: so the shameless Pharisees lay siege to the miracle with all their evil devices and leave no method of impiety untried. But it was not possible to disparage as unworthy of credit what was well known to all, or to distort that at which many had marvelled into a less certain conviction.
20, 21 His parents answered and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind: but how he now seeth, we know not; or who opened his eyes, we know not: ask him; he is of age to speak for himself.
They acknowledge as true that which was in no wise doubtful and for which it was hardly likely they would |34 suffer anything disagreeable; for they say that they recognise their own offspring, and do not deny what really was the case at his birth, but distinctly affirm that he was born with the affliction. Nevertheless they shrink from relating the miracle, leaving the nature of the deed to speak for itself, and maintaining that it would be much more suitable to put the question as to how he had been healed to their son himself. Fear of danger is certainly a powerful motive to turn men aside from what it befits them to do. Being greatly alarmed by the harshness of the Pharisees, they do not observe that which is somewhere well said: Strive for the truth unto death. It is likely that they did suffer something of another sort; for the poor man is always timid, and, losing through, his poverty the power to offer bold resistance, often takes refuge in an unwilling silence, and a forced acquiescence: as if already completely crushed in spirit by the vexation of poverty, he seems insensible to being burdened with other misfortunes. We suspect that the parents of the blind man suffered something of this sort, even though their answer on the whole is composed with great plausibility. For every one would agree that the recognition of the man as their son was a matter as to which it was far more reasonable to interrogate them than the man himself, whereas the question as to the Physician was one not so much, for the parents to answer as for him who had experienced the benefit of the wonderful operation. Thus they distinctly acknowledge what they know, inasmuch as they are fairly called upon for this; but what he could tell more truly, since he had the more accurate knowledge, about that they call upon him to give information. And it is not without Divine guidance. I think, that they added to their speech the words: He is of age. For this too seems to indicate the impiety of the Pharisees. Because, if he that received sight was qualified by his time of life to form a sound opinion; when he relates the miracle and how he was treated, he will not speak with the mind of a boy, but with an understanding now well matured, and probably |35 able to support by argument those speakers with whom he agrees. This then will of necessity tend to shew the utterly shameless incredulity of the Pharisees. For behold! they will believe neither the neighbours nor the blind man himself, although it is not with an immature intellect that he gives evidence, nor on account of a boyish understanding does he easily glide into falsehood; but he is of age, a fact which prevents his being ignorant of the nature of affairs.
22 These things said his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man should confess Him to be Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.
Well and fitly does our Lord Jesus the Christ utter this woe at the heads of the Pharisees: Woe unto you lawyers! for ye took away the hey of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered. For again let the devout person consider if the beauty of truth will not correspond to these words; for Christ could never be deceived. For behold! besides the unwillingness of any one of them to teach the doctrine of the presence of the Christ among them, they both terrify with cruel fear those who could perceive Him by the brilliance of His actions, and, by imposing a severe compulsion in their savageness, hinder any member of their company who seemed disposed to do so from acknowledging His miracles. For by putting out of the synagogue him who was right-minded and therefore disposed to believe, the wretches do not blush of their own authority to alienate in a manner from God him who cleaves to God; and to persuade him that the Lord of all is a partaker of the madness against all which they themselves possess. The admirable Evangelist however defends such, and says that the persons questioned were overcome by fear and therefore unwilling to say that the Christ had healed their son: so that by exposing the magnitude of the fury of the Jews, he might make it evident to those that come after. For what could be more inhuman than the conduct of these men, who deem right-minded persons worthy of |36 punishment, and bring under the necessity of being punished, such as at all understand Him Who was proclaimed by the Law and the Prophets? And we shall find from the sacred Scriptures that the unholy design of the Jews was not unknown to the holy Prophets. For He Who searcheth the hearts and reins, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart, to Whom all things are naked and laid open, saith by Isaiah: Woe to the rebellious children: thus saith the Lord, Ye took counsel, but not of Me; ye made covenants, but not by My Spirit; to add sin to sin. For he who saith that Jesus is Lord most certainly will speak in the Holy Spirit, according to the words of Paul; but any one who professes the contrary will not speak in the Holy Spirit, (how could it be possible?) but rather in Beelzebub. Surely then the covenants of the Jews were not made by the Holy Spirit, for they added sins to sins. They first of all draw down the doom of disobedience upon their own heads, and then they communicate it to others by forbidding them to confess the Christ. Surely the design is full of the grossest impiety, albeit the Psalmist laughs at those who to their disappointment engage in a fruitless undertaking, saying: Thou O Lord shalt confound them in Thy wrath, and the fire shall devour them; their fruit shalt Thou destroy from the earth, and their seed from among the children of men: for they intended evil against Thee; they imagined a device which they are not able to perform. For they were quite unable to carry out a design which fought against God, although often and in ten thousand ways they attempted to obscure the glory of Christ. Therefore they were turned back, that is, were driven from the face and presence of the Lord of all, justly being addressed with the words: Walk in the light of your fire, and in the flame which ye kindled.
24 So they called a second time the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give glory to God: we know that this man is a sinner.
Being unable to stop the man from speaking well of |37 Christ, they attempt to attain a similar end by another method, and proceed to entice him in a sort of coaxing way to fulfil their private aim. Trying by many arguments to make him forget Christ altogether, and not even mention Him as a Physician, they say most craftily that he ought to ascribe glory to God on account of the marvellous deed, thus pretending piety. Nevertheless they bid him agree with and believe themselves, even when they maintain the highest impiety possible by saying that He is a sinner, Who came to destroy sin. They bring forward no proof whatever of this slanderous assertion, but being boasters and thinking something great and extraordinary of themselves, merely because they were leaders of the people, they command implicit confidence to be put in their discernment of character, and lay it down as a matter of duty. For the words, We know, will be found pregnant with surpassing arrogance by those who closely examine what they imply. But thou mayest in no small degree wonder at the foolish mind of the Jews from this also, that whereas they decree that glory should be ascribed to God on account of the miracle, since He alone is the doer of such deeds, they condemn One Who works the works of God by His own might; and not only do the miserable people act thus themselves, but they compel others to agree with them. Yet when they aver that by their own unaided knowledge they are sure that Christ is a sinner, they are ignorant that they assert something most harmful to themselves. For, being wont to boast greatly of their learning in the Law, and exhibiting intolerable conceit about the Sacred Scriptures, they will suffer a greater penalty; because, it being in their power to know the mystery of Christ, which by the Law and the Prophets in many ways is typified and proclaimed, they with much heedlessness cling to their self-imposed ignorance; or, if they possess accurate knowledge, are always most pertinaciously unwilling to do what they ought. For they ought rather to instruct the mind of the common people to comprehend the mysteries of Christ, and to try to lead |38 others to the knowledge of what it behoved them to know. But they, profuse in arguments and mighty in boasts, and crying out with far too high an opinion of themselves: We know, set aside the words of the Law, account the voice of Moses as nothing, and think the declarations of prophets to be as vain as those of the thoughtless mob; for they quite fail to take notice of what the voice of the prophet foretels will happen at the time of Our Saviour Christ’s coming, for he says: Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear; then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall be distinct. For the paralytic was healed at the pool of Bethesda, and after passing through thirty and eight years in his infirmity, as it is written, by one word of the Saviour he took up his bed and leaped away like a hart: yet when they ought to have admired Jesus for that, they lamented the breach of the sabbath, and, holding that the law had been transgressed, disparaged the excellence of the miracle. At another time, when an evil spirit had been cast out of him, the dumb man spake; but they fell into such terrible folly as not to gain even a little profit from it. The blind man received sight, the prophetic announcement was fulfilled, the word of the Spirit was brought to pass to the uttermost, and what? Again at this they go mad, they condemn the Wonder-worker, they attribute sin to Him Who is able to shine forth with Divine brightness, and Who displays as actually now present that which had been expected long ages before.
25 He therefore answered, Whether He be a sinner, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.
The benefit which the man formerly blind had received from Christ appears to have been twofold: his understanding was in some way enlightened at the same time as his bodily eyes, and as he possesses the, light of the physical sun in his fleshly eyes, so the intellectual beam, I mean the illumination by the Spirit, takes up its abode |39 within him, and he receives it into his heart. For hear how he resists the abominable conduct of the magistrates out of his great love towards Christ, and how cleverly he reproaches them as being well-nigh intoxicated and beside themselves. But he frames h.is speech with proper respectfulness, and giving them their due honour as the ruling order, courteously says: Whether He he a sinner, I know not. We do not argue from this that the man was unaware that Jesus was not a sinner, but shall rather suppose that he so addressed those men with the following design. For he may be imagined to speak thus. Though compelled against my will to acquiesce in what is wrong, I will not endure to slander my Benefactor: I will not join myself to those who wish to dishonour Him Who deserves all honour: I will not say that such a Wonderworker is a sinner: I will not give an unjust vote against One Who is mighty to work the works of God. The miracle wrought in me does not permit me to consent to your words: I was blind and I see. It is not another man’s account of His doings that I have believed: I am not carried away by the reports of mere strangers: it is not cures effected upon others that I am led to admire. I myself, he says, am a proof of His power: I stand here seeing, having been formerly blind, as a sort of monument, exhibiting the excellence of His love for men, and flashing forth the greatness of His Divine power. Something like this I conceive to be the real significance of the words used by him who had received his sight. For to say: Whether he be a sinner I know not; and immediately to add: One thing I know, that, whereas I was Mind, now I see, is not in the style of a simple statement, but shews a deeper meaning of very wise reasoning.
26 They said therefore unto him again, What did He to thee? how opened He thine eyes?
They again resort to questioning, and inquire about the manner of the Divine sign; not doing this out of good feeling or a laudable curiosity, but placing and reckoning |40 the speaking well of Christ by any living being as baser than any villainy and worse than any wickedness, they stir up all these matters afresh; thinking perhaps that the man would no more repeat the same words, but would vary his account of the event, and say something inconsistent with his former answers, so that they might lay hold of the contradiction and denounce him as an impostor and a liar. For, supercilious in their excessive cleverness, they imagined the force of the miracle to depend on the mere words of the man, as though it were not evident from the fact of what had been done. And moreover, I think that they may have experienced something of this sort: such as are not backward in hating others unjustly, when they are making inquiries about anything done by them which does not seem to have been rightly done, wish to hear it from the witnesses not once only but over and over again, whetting as it were into keener action the anger which seems too feeble. For, conscience, ever testing our motives, makes us uncomfortable, and ceases not to accuse us of injustice, even though from passionate prejudice we may feel a certain pleasure in the unjust action. The man who had been healed is accordingly provoked and urged against his will to go over the story again and to answer the same questions, while they almost make signs to one another to observe closely whether something illegal might not have been done in the working of this Divine sign on the sabbath. For conscience checks the savage design that rages within them, and (so to speak) puts a bridle on them, though they are unwilling to admit its interference.
27 He answered them, I told yon even now, and ye did not hear: wherefore would ye hear it again?
It seems superfluous now, he says, to tell the story over again to an incredulous audience, and it is useless for you to inquire so often concerning these things, when you do not gain anything whatever, although you learn and have conclusive evidence. But you bid me now again reiterate |41 the same words for no good purpose, as experience proclaims. For hereby the man who had been healed thoroughly convicts the Pharisees of unreasonableness, of turning away their ears from the truth, as it is written, not being laudably angry at the law being broken, but by these questions bidding him who wished to speak well of the Wonder-worker to appear in the character of an accuser, rather than accepting him as an admirer. For this was in truth their aim, since the transgression of the law was altogether a matter of indifference to them, and passed over as quite unimportant. On this account they set aside just judgment and were only bent on gratifying their prejudice; forgetting God, Who says: The priest’s lips shall guard judgment and they shall seek the law at his mouth.
Would ye also become His disciples?
He has now confessed distinctly, and without any evasion, that he has been made a disciple, if not by argument yet in consequence of the marvellous deed; and has become a believer, accepting his miraculous sight in the place of instruction. For when he said to them: Would ye also become His disciples? he as it were revealed his own condition of mind, that he was not only willing to become, but actually had already become, a disciple. And in some degree even before he had fulness of faith, acting upon the precept: Freely ye received, freely give, he was prepared at once and very unselfishly to communicate his advantages to them. He affirms unhesitatingly and often his account of the marvellous deed, if they had only considered his narrative really as instruction. He certainly therefore observed in an excellent way that in the Book of Proverbs: He speaketh in the ears of them that hear.
It seems probable that some deep and hidden meaning is obscurely intimated in these words of his, and I will briefly state what it is. There were some of the magistrates who recognised that the Wonder-worker was in truth Christ, but keeping their knowledge of Him buried (so to speak) within their hearts, they as yet were |42 unsuspected by the majority of their companions. And our witness will be the wise Evangelist himself, where he says that the rulers knew that He was the Christ, hut hecause of the Pharisees they did not confess it. The proofs of this will be strengthened also to some extent by Nicodemus, boldly exclaiming and saying to Our Lord Jesus Christ: Rabbi, we know that Thou art a Teacher come from God, and that no man can do these signs that Thou doest, except God be with Him. Certainly therefore some of the rulers knew, and the report of this was spread abroad throughout all Jerusalem. The majority of the Jews suspected that the rulers knew, but were determined not to confess it through malice and envy; and that this also is true, we will shew from the evangelical writings themselves. For the blessed John himself somewhere says that Jesus stood teaching in the very temple and explaining things which, at least to the understanding of His hearers, seemed to be breaking the law. And when the magistrates of the Jews did not proceed at all against Him, nay, did not venture so much as to say: “O fellow, cease teaching what does not harmonize with our ancient laws,” they brought suspicion on themselves among the multitudes as we have just observed. Thus for instance it is written: Some of them of Jerusalem said, Is not this He Whom they seek to kill? And lo, He speaketh openly and they say nothing unto Him. Can it he that the rulers know that this is the Christ? Surely he all but says, “Those whose lot it is to be leaders know that He is indeed the Christ; see, although they are generally considered to be desirous of killing Him, He is speaking with very great boldness and they do not rebuke Him even so much as by words.” Accordingly, this suspicion being spread abroad through all Jerusalem, the blind man had at some time heard it, and had this report about these men ringing in his ears. Gracefully therefore reproving them, as we may suppose, he says: “Surely it is to no purpose that ye bid me again utter the same words and again speak the praise of the marvellous deed: or do ye indeed consider the narrative a pleasure, thirsting even |43 now for instruction from Him, although, overcome by fear of others, ye allow ungrateful cowardice to stand in the way of such excellent knowledge?”
28 And they reviled him, and said, Thou art His disciple; but we are disciples of Moses.
We almost see the Evangelist smile as he says this. For he beholds those whose lot it was to hold sacred offices degraded in mental stupor so far as to make an object of reviling that which was so excellent, namely discipleship under Christ; smitten with a worthy love of which, some of the saints say: How sweet are Thy words unto my throat, sweeter than honey and honeycomb unto my mouth. And again another, as if speaking to Our Lord Jesus the Christ concerning those that disobey Him, says: Consume them, and Thy word shall be to me a pleasure and delight, yea the joy of my heart. But they attach no value to His sacred words, and think that one who is being instructed by Him is worthy of blame even on that account alone; and holding so far true opinions even against themselves, they speak of the Christ as the blind man’s teacher, and Moses as their own. For in very truth the Gentiles were illuminated by Christ through the Evangelical teaching, and Israel died in the types given by Moses and was buried in the shadow of the letter. Wherefore also Paul somewhere says of them: Unto this day, whensoever Moses is read, a veil lieth upon their heart. And there is no doubt that it was as a type of the Gentiles that we were as in a picture delineating the history of the blind man, fashioning, as in a type, the incidents connected with him to express the truth concerning them.
Yet this also is signified, that to suffer reproach for Christ’s sake is a thing delightful and most honourable; for the very means by which those who do not shrink from becoming persecutors think to vex those who love Him, become (though the persecutors know it not) sources of joy to them. Yea, those who persecute Christians cause their excellence to shine more conspicuously, and do not |44 so easily succeed in causing them injury. The abandoned Pharisees then, disparaging as seems probable themselves more than Christ, say of the blind man: Thou art His disciple; and being elated and puffed up with pride, foolishly say of themselves: But we are disciples of Moses.
29 We know that God hath spoken unto Moses: but as for this Man, we know not whence He is.
Boldly do they speak again, armed with that folly which is so familiar and dear to them; and in undiminished shamelessness they once more boastfully exclaim: We know. And when they add: that God hath spoken unto Moses, thereby recognising that he deserved great honour, they in another way again insult him, seeing that they take no account of his precepts. For they ignorantly condemn One Whom as yet they know not, or rather they dishonour Him in spite of what they have learnt concerning Him, although the Law forbids them to act unjustly and quarrelsomely towards any or to judge at all in this way. Something of this sort they say again now: “confessedly God hath spoken unto Moses; there is no sufficient reason for any to be in doubt on this point; He enacted laws by him, and laid down regulations how every thing is to be done. Certainly therefore, he says, he is a transgressor of the sacred Scriptures, who has contrary opinions to those expressed by Moses: and manifestly the law concerning the sabbath has been broken, for thou wast healed on the sabbath: it is righteous not to acknowledge one who is detected in this matter and therefore condemned. Now we have good reason to say that He has not observed the Divine law.” Then, when they say of Christ: We know not whence He is, they surely do not say so as being ignorant Who or whence He was, for they are elsewhere found publicly confessing that they know all about Him. Is not this the carpenter’s Son, Whose father and mother we know? How then doth He say, I am come down out of heaven? Certainly therefore we can not accept this statement: We know not whence He is, as indicative of ignorance, |45 but we shall look upon it as the expression of the arrogance which was in them. For, throwing contempt on their own previous judgment, and setting it altogether at naught, they make this statement concerning Him. Perhaps indeed their words indicate that they argued as follows; for it is only fair to their arguments that we should scrutinise them more carefully. “We know,” say they, “that God has spoken unto Moses: certainly therefore we must believe without hesitation what was spoken by him, and observe the commandments given him from God. But this Man we know not, for God hath not spoken unto Him, nor have we recognised any such thing with regard to Him.” But the Pharisees, wont to be wise in their own conceit, and boasting much of their knowledge of the Divine word, ought to have considered that God the Father thus speaks, when by the all-wise Moses He proclaims the future advent of Jesus: I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren like unto thee, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak unto them as I shall command Him. And whatever man shall not hearken to whatsoever that Prophet shall speak in My Name, I will take vengeance on him. Surely any one might have rebuked the Jews with good reason, and said: O ye who only know how to disbelieve, if ye are so readily persuaded by the words of Moses, because God hath spoken unto him, ought ye not to believe Christ in the same way, when ye hear Him publicly declaring: The words that I say unto you are not Mine, but the Father’s Who sent Me; and again: I speak not from Myself; but the Father which sent Me, He hath given Me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. Certainly therefore the words of the Pharisees are a mere excuse, a fiction of vain reasoning. For if they say they ought rather to follow Moses, on this account, that God spake to him; why do they not think similarly with regard to Christ, when He distinctly says what we have just mentioned? But while in part they honour the law, and pretend to hold God’s will in high esteem, in another way they violate it and dishonour it |46 greatly by refusing to accept its proclamation concerning their time, that namely which was announced by it concerning Christ, that by His Incarnation He should appear in the character of a Prophet.
30 The man answered and said unto them, Why, herein is the marvel, that ye know not whence He is, and yet He opened mine eyes.
I am astonished, he says, and very justly, that you say you do not know One Who is borne witness to by such holiness and by the Divine power shewn in His actions; yet you are thought to incessantly give attention to God’s teaching, you administer the law, you make the verbal study of the sacred Words your great delight, you possess the chief power among the people and especially may be expected to know who are good teachers. For who ought to rightly know those who by God’s power work wonders, if they do not who are appointed to minister in holy things and who have been put in charge of the venerable mysteries? And by saying that he is astonished that they are altogether ignorant respecting the Divine sign, so wonderful and strange, which had been wrought upon him, the man covertly and by implication rebukes them, hinting that they were so far removed from sanctification and fitness for piety, that they shamelessly confessed themselves utterly ignorant of Him Who is truly holy, that is, Christ.
For let us lay bare what we believe to have been the concealed thought. If that is true which is somewhere well said: Every beast loveth his like, and a man will cleave to his like, how then if they were holy and good did they turn away and refuse to cleave to Him Who was holy and good? Certainly therefore that which was spoken was pregnant with a rebuke of the accursed policy and behaviour of the Pharisees. And I think another thing also will help to make this manifest. For I think that the diligent student who devotes his attention to such expressions will perceive more distinctly that which seems to be hidden in each. What then is this? Many rumours |47 went about through all Judaea concerning our Saviour Christ, but they spoke of Him only as a Prophet. For thus the Law prophesied that He would come, saying: The Lord our God will raise up a Prophet from among your brethren; yet they hoped that when He was revealed in His proper time He would instruct them in things above the Law, and by unfolding the truer intent of the Lawgiver would educate them in worthier wise. And thou needest not wonder that there was among the Jews such a hope and opinion, when even among the other nations the same opinion was spread abroad. For instance even that Samaritan woman said: We know that Messiah cometh (which is called Christ): when He is come, He will declare unto us all things. Most clearly therefore the Jews knew that Christ would come, (for this is what Messiah meaneth), and would interpret to them the higher counsel of God; and moreover that He would also open the eyes of the blind was declared by Isaiah, who says distinctly: Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened. But there was also another opinion prevalent in Jerusalem, forasmuch as the prophet Isaiah speaks of the Ineffable Son of God the Father as quite unrecognised, saying: Who shall declare His generation? The Jews, here also distorting the force of the words in accordance with their own notions, imagined that the Christ would be altogether unrecognised, no one whatever knowing whence He was: although the Divine Scriptures establishes for us very evidently His birth in the flesh, and therefore exclaims: Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son. And that the mind of the Jews in this again was uneducated as regards the comprehension of essential truths, when they supposed that the Christ would be unrecognised, it is easy to see, from what the blessed Evangelist John declared to be evident concerning Him, when speaking to them of Jerusalem. For some of them of Jerusalem said, Is not this He Whom they seek to kill? And lo, He speaketh openly, and they say nothing unto Him. Can it be that the rulers indeed know that this is the Christ? |48 Howbeit we know this Man whence He is: but when the Christ cometh, no one knoweth whence He is.
While the Jews therefore are thus absurdly laying down these opinions concerning Christ, the man who had been blind already forms [right] ideas about Him, quickly drawing inferences from the marvellous deed, and all but seizes on the words of the Pharisees in confirmation of his own reasoning. For he says: Why, herein is the miracle, that ye know not whence He is, and yet He opened mine eyes. Two signs, he says, I have, and very clear ones, of His being the Christ. For ye know not whence He is, but yet He opened mine eyes. Certainly therefore this is evidently He Who was foretold by the Law, and borne witness to by the voice of Prophets.
31 We know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and do His will, him He heareth.
Having already in some measure shewn his delight in the proclamations made by the Prophets and the Law as now fulfilled, both in its being unknown whence Christ was, and in the eyes of the blind being opened, he collects for himself aids to faith from every quarter, and thus discovers something else also. Starting from necessary and acknowledged principles, he makes a show of going on to the inquiry as to what is profitable and fitting, and constructs what may be termed a piece of reasoning well-pleasing to God. For he maintains, and surely there are good grounds for so thinking, that the God Who loves justice and virtue never hears those who love sin; and laying this down as indisputable and universally acknowledged, he introduces as a contrast the opposite statement as true, and as gainsaid in no quarter, I mean of course that everywhere and always the Lord of all listens to such as are habitually pious. And although the conclusion to be drawn was designed to refer to the Christ alone, it was so constructed as if it had reference to a general and universal principle. For as I have already pointed out by anticipation, the man who had been blind has an unworthy |49 conception of Christ and has not yet learnt accurately that He is by nature God; so that he thinks and speaks of Him as a Prophet, to Whom he might without blame ascribe piety: but this does not rightly apply to Christ at all, because He is by nature God, receiving the worship of the pious as it were a spiritual sacrifice.
32 Since the world began it was never heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind.
Pained as it seems very keenly, and grieving as we may say over their revilings against Christ, so as to be vexed beyond endurance because they contemptuously said; Thou art His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses, he is eager to speak on behalf of his Master; hence he draws a sort of comparison between the achievements of Moses and the brilliant deeds of Our Saviour, showing that as the latter is greater in wonder-working, so far He is the better. For indeed, is it not a matter of course that he who accomplishes the greater work should be in every way superior in glory? Surely it is not to be doubted. And at the same time he probably signifies something of this sort. Whereas a very ancient prophecy foretells and declares thus concerning the coming of Christ: Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and no one ever before caused astonishment by having done any such deed; now it has been fulfilled by Him and Him only, Whom you (I know not why, he says) do not scruple to call a sinner. Moreover, a great company of holy prophets are spoken of, and a number not easily computed of just men are mentioned throughout the Sacred Scriptures, but since the world began it was never heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind. Is it not therefore certain that this is the Christ, Who accomplishes the declarations of the Prophets, Who thoroughly and completely fulfils the things proclaimed of old? For if no other besides Him opens the eyes of the blind, what henceforth shall stand in the way of faith? What shall turn us aside from accepting Him? Or how can we fail, every doubt being |50 cast aside, to attain by the very easiest way the mystery of knowing Him?
Thus in these words also the man who was healed speaks on behalf of the Saviour Christ. And see how cleverly he puts together the argument of his plea. For it would really have been altogether outspoken and frank to say that Christ was better and more illustrious than Moses and the Prophets, but it was not unreasonable to suppose that the Pharisees, frantic at that, would have pretended that they were contending for the saints thus insulted, and with a good excuse would have attempted to punish the man, that he might not live and be looked upon as a monument of Christ’s glory and a sort of representative of the Divine power which Christ possessed: wherefore, craftily avoiding the passion that might arise, and depriving their murderous thoughts of this pretext for development, he diverts the application of the argument to what is universal and indefinite, saying: Since the world began that which Christ had wrought upon him had never been done by any one. This was nothing else than shewing that Christ was certainly greater and more glorious than all, since He manifested by His actions such power and authority to be possessed by Him, as none of the saints had ever possessed. Thus he crowns his Physician with excellent honour in every thing, taking for justification the marvellous deed never before accomplished or attempted, namely, the removal of blindness.
33 If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.
He who had just received sight and been miraculously freed from his old blindness, was quicker to perceive truth than they who had been instructed by the law, for see, see how by very many and wise arguments he demonstrates the utter baseness of the Pharisees’ opinion. For when they absurdly said of Christ: As for this Man we know not whence He is, he in reply severely rebukes them for their unfairness of thought, when they deny all knowledge of One Who worked such wonders; it being evident to all |51 that one who was not from God would be unable to do any of those deeds which are only accomplished by Divine energy. For God works such deeds through the saints only, and would never bestow upon a stranger who had not yet entered on the way of godliness the ability to boast of such glories. Else let the dumbfoundered Pharisee come forward and say what is henceforth the distinction with God between the holy and the profane, the just and the sinner, the impious and the devout. For if He enables each equally to become glorious by the same means, there is no longer any distinction, but at once all things are brought into confusion, and we will say with good reason that which is written: How shall we fitly serve Him, and what will be the profit if we appear before Him? For if, as one of the Greek poets said:
11 Ἴση μοῖρα μένοντι, καὶ εἰ μάλα τις πολεμίζοι,
and the evil and the good are held in equal honour, will it not be useless to experience bitter hardships on account of virtue? But we will not consider that these things are so, and wherefore? Because: Them that honour Me, saith God, I will honour; and he that despiseth Me shall be despised.
For my part, I would ask the self-conceited Pharisees, if God indifferently works such deeds even by the hands of sinners, why the magicians of Egypt did not achieve the same things as the great Moses? Wherefore could they not do equally wonderful works and carry off the same glory as he did? But thou wilt say that Moses’ rod when it fell on the ground became a serpent, and those of the magicians became so in like manner. We answer that their rods were not transmuted into serpents, but a deceit was practised, and something which appeared to men like the form of serpents deluded them into error; a certain magical art made their rods look like serpents: whereas Moses’ rod was truly changed into a serpent and suddenly |52 received the nature of that beast. And from the distinction which is laid down in the Sacred Scriptures thou wilt see that what I have said is true. For Moses’ rod swallowed up their rods: for since the latter were merely in the outward form of serpents, but the former was truly and in nature that which it appeared to be, it was provoked to anger that they should look no longer like rods but like living beings, and devoured them with unheard of power beyond the power of an [ordinary serpent], God rendering such a difficult thing easy to it. And again, let the Pharisee tell me why these magicians, who caused their own rods to take the outward form of serpents, did not exhibit a leprous hand made clean, but in despair openly confessed: This is the finger of God? And tell me why the priests of Baal did not bring down fire from heaven, and yet Elijah brought it down? Are therefore God’s ways certainly characterised by respect of persons? God forbid! But because He is just and a lover of just men He works His gracious miracles through the agency of the saints, but by no means through the agency of the sinful. With excellent reason therefore the man who had been blind rebukes the impudent pratings of the Pharisees and convicts them of an erroneous opinion, when they say He is not from God Who is proved to have a Divine Nature by His power of working miracles.
34 They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.
Hard of acceptation to most people are the wounds of refutation, and the consequent correction of error. They are certainly welcome and sweet to the wise, since they convey much profit, and have an improving tendency, although they may carry with them a painful sting. But to those who love sin they are bitter, and wherefore? Because, having fixed their mind on debasing pleasures, they turn away from any warning that draws them thence as vexatious, and deem it a loss to be diverted from their pleasures, setting no value on what is truly profitable. |53
For just as they who fall overboard from a ship, and, being caught by the current of a river, are not strong enough to resist it, and, thinking it dangerous to swim in opposition to the waves, are simply borne on by the current; so I think these men, of whom we were just speaking, overcome by the tyranny of their own pleasures allow those pleasures to rush on unbridled, and decline to offer any resistance whatever. Hence the wretched Pharisees are displeased, and crying out like wild beasts against him who brought forward excellent arguments, they welcome the beginnings of anger, and spouting forth the extreme rage of madness, unlawfully revile him; and somehow recurring to the haughtiness so natural to them, say that the blind man was born in sins, thus maintaining the Jewish errors, and ignorantly supporting a doctrine that will not hold together. For that no living person, either on his own account or on account of his parents, is born either blind or with any other bodily infirmity; moreover, that God does not visit the sins of their fathers upon children, not unskilfully, in my opinion at least, we have shown at some length, when we had to explain the words: Rabbi, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind? Since therefore the man who had been born blind knew how to refute the Pharisees, he was on that account not only reviled, but cast out by them. And here again learn that what was done is typical of a true event: for that the people of Israel were going to utterly loathe the Gentiles as nurtured in sins from erroneous prejudice, any one can recognise from what the Pharisees said to that man. And they expel him, exactly as they who plead the doctrine of Christ are expelled and cast out by the Jews.
35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out.
The inspired Evangelist says that our Lord Jesus Christ heard, not implying certainly or of necessity that any one reported the fact to Him, but because, as one of the wise somewhere says: The Spirit of the Lord filleth the world, |54 and the ear of hearing heareth all things. Surely He hears, as the Psalmist says: He that planted, the ear, doth He not hear? and He that formed the eye, doth He not perceive? When therefore we suffer insult on His account, or endure any grievous thing from those who are wont to fight against God, we are bound to believe that most assuredly God is a looker-on, and listens as it were to the trial that comes upon us: for the very nature of the occurrence, and the sincerity of those who are dishonoured on His account, cry aloud in His Divine Ears.
And finding him, He said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?
The man who had been blind has been cast out by the Pharisees, but after no long interval of time Christ seeks him, and finding him, initiates him. in mysteries. Therefore this also shall be a sign to us that God keeps in mind those who are willing to speak on His behalf and who do not shrink from peril through faith in Him. For thou hearest how, making Himself manifest as though to give a good recompense, He hastens to implant in him the highest perfection of the doctrines of the faith. And He proposes the question in order that He may receive the assent. For this is the way of shewing faith. Wherefore also those who are going to Divine Baptism are previously as a preparation asked questions concerning their belief, and when they have assented and confessed, then at once we admit them as fit for the grace. Hence therefore arises the significance of the event to us, and we have learnt from Our Saviour Christ Himself how right it is that this profession of faith should be made. Wherefore also the inspired Paul asserted that [Timothy] confessed the confession of these things with many witnesses, meaning the holy angels: and if it is an aweful thing to falsify what is spoken before angels, how much more so before Christ Himself? So then He asks the man who had been blind not simply if he was willing to believe, but also mentions on Whom. For the faith [must be] on the Son of |55 God, and not as on a man like ourselves, but as on God Incarnate. Surely this is the fulness of the mystery concerning Christ. And in saying: Dost thou believe? He all but says “Wilt thou shew thyself superior to the madness of those men? Wilt thou bid farewell to their incredu-lousness and accept the faith?” For the emphatic Thou implies such a contradistinction from other persons in some way.
36 And Who is He, Lord, saith he, that I may believe on Him?
The soul furnished with sound reason, diligently seeking the word of truth with the eyes of the understanding free, without embarrassment makes straight for it like a ship going into port, and obtains its advantages by a chase without fatigue. And again the man who had been blind will be a proof of what has been said. For when he had already by many arguments and reasonings admired the mystery concerning Christ, and moreover had been struck with astonishment at His unspeakable might, which had been experienced not by any other but by himself in himself, he is found thus ready to believe and without delay proceeds to do so. For see, see, he earnestly asks upon whom he should fasten that faith which had been already built up within him. For this alone was lacking to him, and he was previously prepared for it, as we have said.
37 And Jesus said, Thou hast both seen Him, and He it is that speaketh with thee.
Being asked upon whom it was proper to believe, Jesus points to Himself, and not simply by saying “It is I,” but by saying that the Person Whom the other was looking at and by Whom he was being addressed, was the Son of God; in every way consulting beforehand our advantage, and in divers manners constructing aids towards a faith both free from error and unperverted, lest while thinking ourselves pious we might fall into the meshes of the net of the devil, by foolishly turning aside from the truth of the mystery. For even now some of those who think |56 themselves Christians, not accurately understanding the scope of the Incarnation, have dared to separate from God. the Word that Temple which was for our sakes taken from woman, and have divided Him Who is truly and indeed One Son into two sons, even because He was made Man. For with great folly they disdain to acknowledge as probable that which the Only-Begotten disdained not even to do for our sakes. For He, being in the form of God, according to that which is written, counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, that He might become a Man like us, of course without sin: but they in their strange opinions find fault in a sort of way with His Divine and philanthropic design, and thrusting away the Temple taken from woman from the true Sonship as far as they can in their thoughts, they do not accept His humiliation: and conceiving an opinion far removed from the truth, they say that the Only-Begotten Son of God the Father, that is, the Word Begotten of His Essence, is One; and that the son born of woman is another again. Still, when the inspired Scripture proclaims the Son and Christ to be One, are they not full of all impiety who sever into two Him Who is truly and indeed One Son? For inasmuch as He is God the Word, He is thought of as distinct from the flesh; and inasmuch as He is flesh, He is thought of as distinct from the Word: but inasmuch as the Word of God the Father was made flesh, the two will cease to be distinct through their ineffable union and conjunction. For the Son is One and only One, both before His conjunction with flesh, and when He came with flesh; and by flesh we denote man in his integrity, I mean as consisting of soul and body. Certainly therefore on account of this pretence, with the greatest foresight, the Lord here again when asked, “Who is the Son of God?” did not say, ” It is I,” for it would then perhaps have been possible for some ignorantly to suppose that the Word alone Who shone forth from God the Father was thereby signified; but shewed Himself forth in the very manner which to |57 some seems so doubtful, by saying: Thou hast seen Him, and also indicated that the Word Himself was dwelling in the flesh by speaking again and adding: And He it is that speaketh with thee. Thou seest therefore what a unity the Word possesses; for He makes no distinction but says that Himself is both that which presents itself to bodily eyes, and that which is known by speech. Certainly therefore it is altogether ignorant and impious to say as some inconsiderately do say: “O Christ’s man,” for being God He was made man without being severed from His Divinity, and is the Son also with flesh: for in these things is the most perfect confession and knowledge of faith in Him.
38 And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped Him.
Quick to make a confession, I mean as regards his faith, and warm in shewing piety, is the man who had been blind. For when he knew that the One present with him and visible to his eyes was truly the Only-Begotten Son, he worshipped Him as God, although beholding Him in the flesh without the glory which is really God-befitting. But having had his heart illumined by Christ’s indwelling power and authority, he advances to wise and good thoughts by fair reasoning, and beholds the beauty of His Divine and Ineffable Nature; for he would not have worshipped Him as God unless he believed Him to be God, having been prepared and led thus to think by what had happened unto himself, even the miraculously accomplished marvellous deed. And since we transferred all the circumstances connected with the blind man to the history of the Gentiles, let us now speak again concerning this. For see, I pray you, how he fulfils by the prefiguring of the worship in spirit the type to which the Gentiles were conducted by their faith. For it was the custom for Israel to serve the Lord of all according to the bidding of the Law, with sacrifices of oxen and incense and with offerings of other animals; but the faithful among the Gentiles know not this manner of service but were turned |58 to the other, that is, the spiritual, which God says is truly and especially dear and sweet to Him. For He says: I will not eat the flesh of hulls, neither will I drink the blood of goats. And in preference He bids us offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving, that is, worship with song, to celebrate which the Psalmist through faith in the Holy Spirit sees that all the Gentiles would go up, and says as if to our Lord and Saviour: All the earth shall worship Thee, and shall sing unto Thee; yea they shall sing to Thy name. Moreover, Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself shows the spiritual to be better than the legal service, when He says to the woman of Samaria: Woman, believe Me, the hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth: for such doth the Father seek to be His worshippers. God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth. And if we rightly think, we shall conclude that the holy angels also are distinguished by this kind [of service], presenting unto God such worship as a sort of spiritual offering. For instance when the Spirit gave command to those above to bring God-befitting honour to the Firstborn and Only-Begotten, He says: And let all the angels of God worship Him. Moreover the Divine Psalmist called us to do this, saying: O come let us worship and fall down before Him. And it would not be difficult to treat of this matter at great length; but putting a convenient limit to our words, we will abstain from bringing forward any more arguments for the present. Except that we will once more repeat that the man who had been blind admirably carries out the type of the service of the Gentiles, making his worship the close companion of his confession of faith.
39 And Jesus said, For judgment came I into this world, that they which see not may see; and that they which see may become blind.
Christ, when explaining to us by the voice of Isaiah the |59 cause of His manifestation, I mean in this world, says: The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me: He hath sent Me to preach good tidings unto the poor to proclaim deliverance to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind. Moreover he saith somewhere in another place: Hear, ye deaf; and receive your sight O blind, that ye may see. When therefore He saith that for this cause He was chosen by God the Father, that He might proclaim recovery of sight to the blind, how is it that here He saith: For judgment came I into this world, that they which see not may see; and that they which see may become blind? Is then, some one will say, Christ a minister of sin, according to the language of Paul? God forbid. For He came to accomplish the predetermined intention of His goodness towards us, namely, to illuminate all men by the torch of the Spirit. But the Jews, being obstinate in unbelief did not accept the grace shining upon them, imprecating as it were on themselves a self-chosen darkness. For instance, it is written concerning them in the prophetic records: While they waited for light darkness came upon them: waiting for brightness they walked in obscurity. For inasmuch as He was to come according to the declaration of the Law, the Jews waited for brightness and the Light, that is, Christ. For they accepted the fact that He would come, and expected Him, but they who thought themselves pious in this matter were walking in obscurity, that is, in profound darkness, when there was no other cause why they suffered the gloom that came upon them, except that by their own unbelief they drew the affliction upon themselves. I came therefore, He says, to give sight to the blind through their faith; but the unyielding obstinacy of the stubborn and refractory, which tended greatly to unbelief, caused the coming of the Illuminator to be unto them a coming for judgment. For since they believe not, they are condemned. And this the Saviour has said more clearly to thee in other words also: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on the Son is not judged: but he that believeth not on the Son hath been judged already, |60 because he hath not believed on the name of the Son of God. With beautiful fitness therefore He mentions this in connection with the event now under our consideration, making the deed miraculously wrought upon the blind man the basis as it were of his discourse: for He declares that man to have received sight not only as regards the body, but also as regards the mind, because he had accepted the faith; but that the Pharisees suffered just the contrary, because they did not behold His glory, although it was shining most clearly, even in that marvellous deed that was so great and so novel.
40 Those of the Pharisees which were with Him heard these things, and said unto Him, Are we also blind?
The Pharisees keep close to the Saviour Christ and are eager to associate with Him, although they have a sharp arrow shot into their heart, and pine with vexation and envy at His glory; they associate with Him, however, gathering nourishment for their hatred, and devising various slanders against His marvellous deeds, and by these means perverting the guileless mind of such as are more ready to believe. And when they heard Christ say these words, they were cut to the heart again, for it was not likely they would fail to know that the aim of the discourse was directed against them. But when He said at first, vaguely and indefinitely: That they which see may become blind, not yet having an occasion to find fault with good reason as being insulted, they maliciously question Him, applying the force of what had been said to their own persons, and demanding as it were that He should say more clearly whether He meant that they were blind also, so that they might now condemn Him again as offending against the commandment of the Law. For being constantly familiar with every part of the writings of Moses, they knew that it was written: Thou shalt not speak evil of a ruler of thy people. Either therefore expecting to be insulted they say such words, so that they |61 might seem with good reason to attack Him, and to be angry, and now without blame to take counsel against Christ; or because they really felt such excess of bitterness in their mind, and were bursting to show the malice which was in them. For when Christ said: For judgment came I into this world, that they which see not may see, and by these words indicated the restoration of sight to the blind man, they were unable to endure being reminded of the miracle, and being goaded by envy they once more rise up against Him, and endeavour to oppose Him. In His presence they do not shrink from saying what almost amounts to this: “O fellow, thou boastest strange things, having accomplished none of those deeds which Thou thinkest Thyself to have wrought. Dost Thou indeed wish, say they, to impose even upon us with Thy wonderworking? Wilt Thou be capable of saying that Thou hast healed us, for that we are blind also? Dost Thou wish that we should ascribe to Thee the glory of a physician and wonder-worker, telling lies after the manner of this man, of whom Thou sayest that he has received his sight, having been born blind? Wilt Thou dare to deal falsely with us by similar statements?” Certainly therefore the language of the Pharisees as they mock at the events relating to the blind man is evil and very bitter, and they deem the whole thing an imposture rather than a truth; for nothing convinces the obstinate.
41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye would have no sin: but now ye say, We see: your sins will remain.
The Saviour once more confounds them, tempering His reproof with skill. For He holds aloof from all reviling and puts them out of countenance by setting before them the force of the truth: He shows them that they derive no advantage from possessing sight, or rather that they fell into a worse condition than one who could not see at all. For the blind man, saith He, by not beholding any of the deeds miraculously wrought, escaped without sin, |62 and is so far blameless; but they who have been watchers and beholders of the marvellous deed, and through great folly and evilness of disposition have not accepted the faith in consequence of them, make their sin difficult of removal, and it is really hard to escape from the condemnation which such conduct incurs. Therefore it is not hard to understand the meaning of this as regards bodily blindness and restoration to sight: and when we pass to that which is to be understood by analogy, receiving our impressions from the argument itself, we shall again repeat the same signification: that the man who does not understand may claim his pardon with excellent reason from the judge, but he who is keen of intellect and understands his duty, and then, having indulged his debasing inclination in the baser principles of his mind, and given himself to the sway of pleasures and not of duty, shall shamelessly claim compassion,—-the request for which he ought to be punished shall in no wise be granted, and he will very justly perish for having kept in himself a sin without excuse. For instance Our Lord Jesus Christ signifies exactly the same thing in the Gospels, saying: He that knew Ms lord’s will, and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes. For the charge against him that knew not is merely that of ignorance; but against him that understood and yet inconsiderately refused to act, the charge is that of overweening presumption. Observe again how guardedly accurate was the language of the Saviour on this occasion also; for He does not say plainly, “Ye see,” but He says: Ye say, We see. For it would of course have been very much beside the mark, to ascribe understanding to those who possessed a mind so blind and emptied of light as to dare to say concerning Him: We know that this Man is a sinner. Self-condemned therefore are the Jews, who affirm of themselves that they see, but do not act at all as they ought; aye, most emphatically self-condemned, for they know the will of the Lord, but are so self-conceited that they thus resist even His mightiest miracles. |63 (source)