Tractate 44 on the Gospel of John
1. We have just read the long lesson of the man born blind, whom the Lord Jesus restored to the light; but were we to attempt handling the whole of it, and considering, according to our ability, each passage in a way proportionate to its worth, the day would be insufficient. Wherefore I ask and warn your Charity not to require any words of ours on those passages whose meaning is manifest; for it would be too protracted to linger at each. I proceed, therefore, to set forth briefly the mystery of this blind man’s enlightenment. All, certainly, that was done by our Lord Jesus Christ, both works and words, are worthy of our astonishment and admiration: His works, because they are facts; His words, because they are signs. If we reflect, then, on what is signified by the deed here done, that blind man is the human race; for this blindness had place in the first man, through sin, from whom we all draw our origin, not only in respect of death, but also of unrighteousness. For if unbelief is blindness, and faith enlightenment, whom did Christ find a believer at His coming? Seeing that the apostle, belonging himself to the family of the prophets, says: And we also in times past were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. Ephesians 2:3 If children of wrath, then children of vengeance, children of punishment, children of hell. For how is it by nature, save that through the first man sinning moral evil rooted itself in us as a nature? If evil has so taken root within us, every man is born mentally blind. For if he sees, he has no need of a guide. If he does need one to guide and enlighten him, then is he blind from his birth.
2. The Lord came: what did He do? He set forth a great mystery. He spat on the ground, He made clay of His spittle; for the Word was made flesh. And He anointed the eyes of the blind man. The anointing had taken place, and yet he saw not. He sent him to the pool which is called Siloam. But it was the evangelist’s concern to call our attention to the name of this pool; and he adds, Which is interpreted, Sent. You understand now who it is that was sent; for had He not been sent, none of us would have been set free from iniquity. Accordingly he washed his eyes in that pool which is interpreted, Sent— he was baptized in Christ. If, therefore, when He baptized him in a manner in Himself, He then enlightened him; when He anointed Him, perhaps He made him a catechumen. In many different ways indeed may the profound meaning of such a sacramental act be set forth and handled; but let this suffice your Charity. You have heard a great mystery. Ask a man, Are you a Christian? His answer to you is, I am not, if he is a pagan or a Jew. But if he says, I am; you inquire again of him, Are you a catechumen or a believer? If he reply, A catechumen; he has been anointed, but not yet washed. But how anointed? Inquire, and he will answer you. Inquire of him in whom he believes. In that very respect in which he is a catechumen he says, In Christ. See, I am speaking in a way both to the faithful and to catechumens. What have I said of the spittle and the clay? That the Word was made flesh. This even catechumens hear; but that to which they have been anointed is not all they need; let them hasten to the font if they are in search of enlightenment.
3. And now, because of certain points in the lesson before us, let us run over the words of the Lord, and of the whole lesson itself rather than make them a theme of discourse. As He passed out, He saw a man who was blind; blind, not from any cause whatever, but from his birth. And His disciples asked Him, Rabbi. You know that Rabbi is Master. They called Him Master, because they desired to learn. The question, at all events, they proposed to the Lord as a master, Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents, that he was born blind. What is this that He has said? If no man is sinless, were the parents of this blind man without sin? Was he himself either born without original sin, or had he committed none in the course of his lifetime? Because his eyes were closed, had his lusts lost their wakefulness? How many evils are done by the blind? From what evil does an evil mind abstain, even though the eyes are closed? He could not see, but he knew how to think, and perchance to lust after something which his blindness hindered him from attaining, and so still in his heart to be judged by the searcher of hearts. If, then, both his parents had sin, and the man himself had sin, wherefore said the Lord, Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents, but only in respect to the point on which he was questioned, that he was born blind? For his parents had sin; but not by reason of the sin itself did it come about that he was born blind. If, then, it was not through the parents’ sin that he was born blind, why was he born blind? Listen to the Master as He teaches. He seeks one who believes, to give him understanding. He Himself tells us the reason why that man was born blind: Neither has this man sinned, He says, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
4. And then, what follows? I must work the works of Him that sent me. See, here is that sent one [Siloam], wherein the blind man washed his face. And see what He said: I must work the works of Him that sent me, while it is day. Recall to your mind the way in which He gives universal glory to Him of whom He is: for that One has the Son who is of Him; He Himself has no One of whom He is. But wherefore, Lord, said You, While it is day? Hearken why He did so. The night comes when no man can work. Not even Thou, Lord. Will that night have such power that not even Thou, whose work the night is, will be able to work therein? For I think, Lord Jesus, nay I do not think, but believe and hold it sure, that You were there when God said, Let there be light, and there was light. Genesis 1:3 For if He made it by the Word, He made it by You: and therefore it is said, All things were made by Him; and without Him was nothing made. God divided between the light and the darkness: the light He called Day, and the darkness He called Night. Genesis 1:4-5
5. What is that night wherein, when it comes, no one shall be able to work? Hear what the day is, and then you will understand what the night is. But how shall we hear what the day is? Let Himself tell us: As long as I am in this world, I am the light of the world. See, He Himself is the day. Let the blind man wash his eyes in the day, that he may behold the day. As long, He says, as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. Then will it be night of a kind unknown to me, when Christ will no longer be there; and so no one will be able to work. An inquiry remains, my brethren; patiently listen to me as I inquire. With you I inquire: With you shall I find Him to whom my inquiry is addressed. We are agreed; for it is expressly and definitely stated that the Lord proclaimed Himself in this place as the day, that is, the light of the world. As long, He says, as I am in this world, I am the light of the world. Therefore He Himself works. But how long is He in this world? Are we to think, brethren, that He was here then, and is here no longer? If we think so, then already, after the Lord’s ascension, did that fearful night begin, when no one can work. If that night began after the Lord’s ascension, how was it that the apostles wrought so much? Was that the night when the Holy Spirit came, and, filling all who were in one place, gave them the power of speaking in the tongues of every nation? Was it night when that lame man was made whole at the word of Peter, or rather, at the word of the Lord dwelling in Peter? Acts 3:6-8 Was it night when, as the disciples were passing by, the sick were laid in couches, that they might be touched at least by their shadow as they passed? Acts 5:15 Yet, when the Lord was here, there was no one made whole by His shadow as He passed; but He Himself had said to the disciples, Greater things than these shall you do. Yes, the Lord had said, Greater things than these shall you do; but let not flesh and blood exalt itself: let such hear Him also saying, Without me you can do nothing.
6. What then? What shall we say of that night? When will it be, when no one shall be able to work? It will be that night of the wicked, that night of those to whom it shall be said in the end, Depart into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. But it is here called night, not flame, nor fire. Hearken, then, why it is also night. Of a certain servant He says, Bind ye him hand and foot, and cast him into outer darkness. Matthew 22:13 Let man, then, work while he lives, that he may not be overtaken by that night when no man can work. It is now that faith is working by love; and if now we are working, then this is the day— Christ is here. Hear His promise, and think Him not absent. It is Himself who has said, Lo, I am with you. How long? Let there be no anxiety in us who are alive; were it possible, with this very word we might place in perfect security the generations still to come. Lo, He says, I am with you always, even to the end of the world. Matthew 28:28 That day, which is completed by the circuit of yonder sun, has but few hours; the day of Christ’s presence extends even to the end of the world. But after the resurrection of the living and the dead, when He shall say to those placed at His right hand, Come, you blessed of my Father, receive the kingdom; and to those at His left, Depart into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels; Matthew 25:34, 41 then shall be the night when no man can work, but only get back what he has wrought before. There is a time for working, another for receiving; for the Lord shall render to every one according to his works. Matthew 16:27 While you live, be doing, if you are to be doing at all; for then shall come that appalling night, to envelope the wicked in its folds. But even now every unbeliever, when he dies, is received within that night: there is no work to be done there. In that night was the rich man burning, and asking a drop of water from the beggar’s finger; he mourned, agonized, confessed, but no relief was vouchsafed. He even endeavored to do good; for he said to Abraham, Father Abraham, send Lazarus to my brethren, that he may tell them what is being done here, lest they also come into this place of torment. Luke 16:24-28 Unhappy man! When thou were living, then was the time for working: now you are already in the night, in which no man can work.
7. When He had thus spoken, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and He spread the clay upon his eyes, and said unto him, Go and wash in the pool of Siloam (which is, by interpretation, Sent). He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing. As these words are clear, we may pass them over.
8. The neighbors therefore, and those who saw him previously, for he was a beggar, said, Is not this he who sat and begged? Some said, It is he: others, No; but he is like him. The opening of his eyes had altered his countenance. He said, I am he. His voice utters its gratitude, that it might not be condemned as ungrateful. Therefore said they unto him, How were your eyes opened? He answered, The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and saw. See, he has become the herald of grace; see, he preaches the gospel; endowed with sight, he becomes a confessor. That blind man makes confession, and the heart of the wicked was troubled; for they had not in their heart what he had now in his countenance. They said to him, Where is he who has opened your eyes? He said, I know not. In these words the man’s own soul was like that of one only as yet anointed, but not yet seeing. Let us so put it, brethren, as if he had that anointing in his soul. He preaches, and knows not the Being whom he preaches.
9. They brought to the Pharisees him who had been blind. And it was the Sabbath when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes. Then again the Pharisees also asked how he had received his sight. And he said unto them, He put clay upon my eyes, and I washed, and do see. Therefore said some of the Pharisees; not all, but some; for some were already anointed. What then said those who neither saw nor were anointed? This man is not of God, because he keeps not the Sabbath. He it was rather who kept it, who was without sin. For this is the spiritual Sabbath, to have no sin. In fact, brethren, it is of this that God admonishes us, when He commends the Sabbath to our notice: You shall do no servile work. Leviticus 23:8 These are God’s words when commending the Sabbath, You shall do no servile work. Now ask the former lessons, what is meant by servile work; and listen to the Lord: Every one that commits sin is the servant of sin. But these men, neither seeing, as I said, nor anointed, kept the Sabbath carnally, and profaned it spiritually. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? These were the anointed ones. And there was a division among them. The day had divided between the light and the darkness. They say then unto the blind man again, What do you say of him who has opened your eyes? What is your feeling about him? What is your opinion? What is your judgment? They sought how to revile the man, that he might be cast out of the synagogue, but be found by Christ. But he steadfastly expressed what he felt. For he said, That he is a prophet. As yet, indeed, anointed only in heart, he does not thus far confess the Son of God, and yet he speaks not untruthfully. For the Lord says of Himself, A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country. Matthew 13:57
10. Therefore the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and received his sight, till they called the parents of him that received his sight; that is, who had been blind, and had come to the possession of sight. And they asked them, saying, Is this your son, who ye say was born blind? How then does he now see? His parents answered them, and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind: but how he now sees, we know not; or who has opened his eyes, we know not. And they said, Ask himself; he is of age, let him speak of himself. He is indeed our son, and we might justly be compelled to answer for him as an infant, because then he could not speak for himself: from of old he has had power of speech, only now he sees: we have been acquainted with him as blind from his birth, we know him as having speech from of old, only now do we see him endowed with sight: ask himself, that you may be instructed; why seek to calumniate us? These words spoke his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had conspired already, that if any man did confess that He was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue. It was no longer a bad thing to be put out of the synagogue. They cast out, but Christ received. Therefore said his parents, He is of age, ask himself.
11. Then again called they the man who had been blind, and said unto him, Give God the glory. What is that, Give God the glory? Deny what you have received. Such conduct is manifestly not to give God the glory, but rather to blaspheme Him. Give God, they say, the glory: we know that this man is a sinner. Then said he, If he is a sinner, I know not: one thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see. Then said they to him, What did he to you, how opened he your eyes? And he, indignant now at the hardness of the Jews, and as one brought from a state of blindness to sight, unable to endure the blind, answered them, I have told you already, and you have heard: wherefore would ye hear it again? Will ye also become his disciples? What means, Will ye also, but that I am one already? Will ye also be so? Now I see, but see not askance.
12. They cursed him, and said, You are his disciple. Such a malediction be upon us, and upon our children! For a malediction it is, if you lay open their heart, not if you ponder the words. But we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spoke unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is. Would ye had known that God spoke to Moses! ye would have also known that God preached by Moses. For you have the Lord saying, Had ye believed Moses, you would have also believed me; for he wrote of me. Is it thus ye follow the servant, and turn your back against the Lord? But not even the servant do ye follow; for by him ye would be guided to the Lord.
13. The man answered and said unto them, Herein is a marvellous thing, that you know not from whence he is, and yet he has opened my eyes. Now we know that God hears not sinners; but if any man is a worshipper of God, and does His will, him He hears. He speaks still as one only anointed. For God hears even sinners. For if God heard not sinners, in vain would the publican, casting his eyes on the ground, and smiting on his breast, have said, Lord, be merciful to me a sinner. And that confession merited justification, as this blind man enlightenment. Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this man were not of God, he could do nothing. With frankness, constancy, and truthfulness [he spoke]. For these things that were done by the Lord, by whom were they done but by God? Or when would such things be done by disciples, were not the Lord dwelling in them?
14. They answered and said unto him, You were wholly born in sins. What means this wholly? Even to blindness of the eyes. But He who has opened his eyes, also saves him wholly: He will grant a resurrection at His right hand, who gave enlight enment to his countenance. You were altogether born in sins, and do you teach us? And they cast him out. They had made him their master; many questions had they asked for their own instruction, and they ungratefully cast forth their teacher.
15. But, as I have already said before, brethren, when they expel, the Lord receives; for the rather that he was expelled, was he made a Christian. Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said unto him, Do you believe in the Son of God? Now He washes the face of his heart. He answered and said, as one still only anointed, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe in him? And Jesus said unto him, You have both seen Him, and it is He that talks with you. The One is He that is sent; the other is one washing his face in Siloam, which is interpreted, Sent. And now at last, with the face of his heart washed, and a conscience purified, acknowledging Him not only as the son of man, which he had believed before, but now as the Son of God, who had assumed our flesh, he said, Lord, I believe. It is but little to say, I believe: would you also see what he believes Him? He fell down and worshipped Him.
16. And Jesus said to him. Now is He, the day, discerning between the light and the darkness. For judgment am I come into this world; that they who see not might see, and they who see might be made blind. What is this, Lord? A weighty subject of inquiry have You laid on the weary; but revive our strength that we may be able to understand what You have said. You have come that they who see not may see: rightly so, for You are the light: rightly so, for You are the day: rightly so, for Thou deliverest from darkness: this every soul accepts, every one understands. What is this that follows, And those who see may be made blind? Shall then, because You have come, those be made blind who saw? Hear what follows, and perhaps you will understand.
17. By these words, then, were some of the Pharisees disturbed, and said unto Him, Are we blind also? Hear now what it is that moved them, And they who see may be made blind. Jesus said unto them, If you were blind, you should have no sin; while blindness itself is sin. If you were blind, that is, if you considered yourselves blind, if you called yourselves blind, you also would have recourse to the physician: if then in this way you were blind, you should have no sin; for I have come to take away sin. But now ye say, We see; [therefore] your sin remains. Wherefore? Because by saying, We see: ye seek not the physician, you remain in your blindness. This, then, is that which a little above we did not understand, when He said, I have come, that they who see not may see; for what means this, that they who see not may see? They who acknowledge that they do not see, and seek the physician, that they may receive sight. And they who see may be made blind: what means this, they who see may be made blind? That they who think they see, and seek not the physician, may abide in their blindness. Such discerning therefore of one from another He called judgment, when He said, For judgment I have come into this world, whereby He distinguishes the cause of those who believe and make confession from the proud, who think they see, and are therefore the more grievously blinded: just as the sinner, making confession, and seeking the physician, said to Him, Judge me, O God, and discern my cause against the unholy nation, — namely, those who say, We see, and their sin remains. But it was not that judgment He now brought into the world, whereby in the end of the world He shall judge the living and the dead. For in respect to this He had said, I judge no man; seeing that He came the first time, not to judge the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
Source. Translated by John Gibb. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 7. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.