The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

St Cyril Of Alexandria’s Commentary On John 13:31-35

Posted by Dim Bulb on April 25, 2010

31, 32 When therefore he was gone out, Jesus saith, Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; and God shall glorify Him in Himself, and straightway shall He glorify Him.

The traitor departs to minister to the stratagems of the devil. And now Christ begins His discourse; teaching us thereby, as in a figure, that the things which are fitted only for true disciples are not to be uttered in the hearing of all men. For it is not meet to give that which is holy unto the dogs, as Christ Himself says, nor even to allow pearls to be insulted by the feet of swine. The very same lesson that He had thus given them before in the form of a parable He now endeavours to teach them at a time requiring its practice, and calling for a more distinct explanation of it. So then, after the departure of the traitor and his hasty withdrawal from the house, Christ now, as at the fitting moment, unfolds the mysteries to His true disciples, saying: Now is the Son of Man glorified; and by this He is pointing to His sufferings as Saviour, as being already at the doors, and after but a brief while to come |209 upon Him. He says, however, that “the Son of Man” is glorified, meaning none other than Himself; not implying a separation in Himself, as some have thought, for the Christ is one only Son both before and after His incarnation, as well after He became man like unto us as before He had become man. But we must now inquire what manner of glorification that is to which He now specially alludes; for some perhaps may say: Was He not surely glorified before this, by the mighty wonders which He wrought? Surely, when with a single word He rebuked the angry rage of the sea and checked the violence of the fierce winds, then He was worshipped by those that were in the boat, and heard them say: Of a truth Thou art the Son of God. Again, when He had bidden Lazarus at Bethany return once more to life, the marvellous deed was noised abroad, even so much that as He went up to Jerusalem at the time of the feast all the people together with their babes came forth to meet Him, and joined in the strain of wondrous praise addressed to Him, saying: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Nay, more, there was a time when He brake five loaves and two small fishes, and satisfied therewith the hunger of the multitude who had come together unto Him, amounting to five thousand men, besides babes and women. And to some the wonder then wrought seemed so magnificent that, astonished at the greatness of the achievement, they sought even to proclaim Him king; for this the Evangelist himself has testified to us. And there would be no difficulty in extending our argument at length by enumerating many other deeds wherein Christ’s glory was manifested no less highly than in those we have just mentioned. How then, after all, does it happen that He Who had been glorified long before speaks of Himself as glorified at this particular time? Truly He had been glorified in other ways, and had won for Himself most distinctly a reputation for possessing Divine authority: still the perfect consummation of His |210 glory and the fulness of His fame were summed up in the facts of His suffering for the life of the world and opening by His own resurrection the gate through which all may rise. For if we examine as well as we may the real character of the mystery of His work, we shall see that He died, not merely for Himself, nor even especially for His own sake; but that it was on behalf of humanity that He suffered and carried out both the suffering in itself and the resurrection that followed. For in that He died according to the flesh, He offered up His own life as an equivalent for the life of all; and by rendering perfect satisfaction for all, He fulfilled in Himself to the uttermost the force of that ancient curse. And in that He has risen again from the dead to a life imperishable and unceasing, in Himself He raises the whole of nature. For having died once for all, thenceforward, as it is written, He dieth no more; death no more hath dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died unto sin once: but the life that He liveth, He liveth unto God. This also will for Christ’s sake be true even in our own case. For we shall rise, no more subject to death, but endowed with endless life; even though there will be hereafter a great diversity of lot among those that rise—-I mean as regards their glory and the recompence which each shall receive as due to his works. Christ therefore, after becoming obedient to God the Father even unto death, yea, the death of the cross, according to the saying of Paul, was once again highly exalted, receiving the name which is above every name. For He Who was believed to be a mere man was glorified very much beyond that, by being acknowledged as in very truth really God and the Son of God; not being promoted to a new dignity in possessing the Divine nature, but rather returning with His flesh to the full enjoyment of that very glory which was equally His before He took flesh. For this reason then we shall reckon that He was now glorified, although there never was a time when He was not Lord of glory. |211 For in Christ we do not find one of His God-befitting attributes appearing as a new thing, but all appear as having naturally belonged to Him as God, even before the time when He is said to have emptied Himself. But still, when the form of a servant had been assumed, forasmuch as He raised Himself to those conditions again, even after He became man, He is conceived of as being “glorified,” and is said to have “received” [the exalted name]. With Christ therefore in His glorification, God the Father also is greatly glorified. And He is glorified in the Son; not as receiving from His Offspring any addition of glory, for of no such addition does the Divine and ineffable nature stand ever in need; but because it is made known of what a Son He is the Father. For even as it is a pride and a glory to the Son to have such a Being for His Father, likewise also methinks it is a pride and a glory even to the Father to have born from Himself so glorious a Son. Therefore Christ says this: And God is glorified in Him; and God shall glorify Him in Himself, and straightway shall He glorify Him: for at the same time the Father is glorified on account of the Son, and straightway glorifies the Son in return. For to Both, for the sake of Both, the ascription of glory extends.

But in order that we may bring down the application of the passage to our own level, and so make it a source of edification to our hearers, we will add this to what has been said. If in ourselves we glorify God, we may expect that we shall be glorified by Him. For, As I live, saith the Lord, them that honour Me I will honour, and they shall not be lightly esteemed. And God is glorified by us and in us, when, casting away the defilement of sin, we adorn our lives in all the beauty of good works. For thus it is that we live to His glory.

33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you.

He places the disciples in the position of little children and accounts them as new-born babes, although they had |212 advanced to so high a stage in virtue, and were possessed of wisdom such as is fully vouchsafed to few; showing us hereby, and that very plainly, that even he who is accounted very perfect in the eyes of man is an infant in the sight of God, and feeble in mental faculties. For what is the understanding of man in comparison with the wisdom that fashioned the universe? Therefore it is that a Psalmist said to God: I was as a beast before Thee. And no one whatever will say, if he has any perception at all, that the Psalmist compares himself to a beast because of his having cleaved closely unto God; for such an idea would be a bitter disparagement of the Divine nature, and would be seen to involve a great impropriety. For he that cleaves to a wise man and “is” ever “before” him, (for I suppose I must adapt the words of the Psalm so far as is necessary,) would never become “as a beast;” but rather would become ready of mind, and quick of understanding, and skilful in judgment. If therefore any one acknowledged this to be very just and true, would not a person be thought foolish in the extreme who should suppose that one who cleaves fast to the wisdom that comes from God Himself will ever become as a beast in senseless folly? Why then does the Psalmist say that even he who is counted very wise among men will in comparison with the wisdom of God appear to be as a beast, and be reckoned among those who have no sense to guide them? It is because the understanding of man can no more be compared with the wisdom of God than the smallest star can vie with the rays of the sun, or even the heaviest of stones with the highest of all mountains; but rather is as nothing at all in comparison with it. And so it appears that even the perfect man is but as a little child.

Yet a little while, however, Christ said He would be with the disciples; not meaning that He was soon to depart so as to return no more, or to be separated from them altogether and entirely, for He is with us (according to His own words) alway, even unto the end of the |213 world; but implying that He would not be with them in the flesh, as He had been yesterday and the day before, and that now there was even at the door, or rather within the door, the time of His departure thence unto the Father, and of His ascension into heaven. And I say that it is necessary for us all, at least those who are right minded and have their faith well established, to realise the fact that even though He is absent from us in the flesh, now that He has returned from earth to God the Father, yet He pervades all things in His Divine power, and is ever present with those who love Him. For surely this is why He also declared: Verily, verily, I say unto you, wherever two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them. For just as, while still sojourning among men, yea, while verily on earth with flesh, He filled the heavens, and even then was still present with the holy angels, and never left the realms above; so now also, while verily in heaven with His own flesh, He fills the earth, and is ever present with those who know Him. And notice how, although expecting to be removed from earth as regards His flesh alone, since in the power of His Divinity He is ever with us, He nevertheless speaks of being with us yet a little while, including in this statement His whole and perfect Self without any division: lest any should endeavour to sever the One Christ into two Sons, but that all should think and believe that the Word begotten of God the Father is one with the Temple assumed from the holy virgin; not that they are of the same essence, but that after their ineffable union, none can speak of severing them without impiety: for the Christ is, of them both, One.

Ye shall seek Me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say unto you.

Not altogether without pain to His own disciples will the departure be, He says; it will be the departure of Himself. In the first place they will languish in |214 grief on account of it, and will find the weight of bitterness produced by it to be intolerable. For beyond all question they will thirst once more to be with Him, and long to live with Him for ever; just as also the inspired Paul, preferring the being with Christ to life itself here, said it was better to depart and be with Christ. Perceiving this, and well knowing the hearts of those who love Him, Christ said that His Ascension would not be without grief to His disciples. But there was also, besides this feeling, another just cause that forced the holy disciples to seek to be with Christ. They were destined within a brief while to be compassed about with grievous dangers, and to be exposed on all sides to the ungovernable frenzies of the Jews, and even to fall victims to madness on the part of strangers, while on their mission through the whole world, preaching the word of the Saviour to those that were still wandering afar; so as to become acquainted with prisons, and to have their part in all kinds of insult and outrage, and to gain no less experience of other tortures: and all this in spite of their never having experienced any such suffering while they were with Christ. “Then most especially,” He says, “ye shall seek My company, when the manifold waves of trial break over you.” And hereby He sought not to bring the disciples to cowardly timidity, or to shatter their courage with fear; but rather to brace them up to fresh vigour, and in a manner to teach them to be ready prepared for the patient endurance of all which they expected would come upon them. For we shall find the Psalmist’s song to be anything but meaningless, nay, rather to convey very profitable instruction in the words: I was prepared and was not confounded. For the wholly unexpected arrival of misfortune is wont to throw us into confusion, taking us as it were off our guard: but when a trial has been known beforehand and long expected, the greater part of the terror it occasions has passed away before it comes, and its power over its victims is not at all |215 absolute, as the mind has already rehearsed it and often in imagination received its attack. In the same way, if some wild and savage animal, starting up from the midst of a luxuriant and dense jungle, rushes on one who does not see it coming, it tears him limb from limb before he is conscious of the attack, having seized him while he was unprepared for warfare: whereas if the beast is seen from afar and its coming expected, it meets an armed foe, and either does him less harm, or perchance has even to depart in helpless impotence. Just so in the case of temptations: that which is wholly unexpected will attack us more fiercely and more severely than one which has been anticipated for some time. With kind intent therefore does our Lord Jesus the Christ in saying “Ye shall seek Me” hint at the evils that will come on the disciples when His presence is removed, and the troubles that will arise from their enemies; preparing them by this warning for a renewal of their courage: with kind intent also He adds to these hints the statement that there will for the present be an obstacle in the way of their following Him. For as I said to the Jews, He says, even so I say now unto you: Whither I go ye cannot come. For not yet was the time come when the disciples should have accomplished their service on earth, and be admitted to the mansions above. For their entrance to those realms was reserved most strictly to its appointed season.

This point however we must notice again, that in speaking to the Jews, while giving to them this same warning, He said: Ye shall seek Me, and shall not find Me; but to His disciples He only says: Ye shall seek Me, fitly breaking off without the words “and shall not find Me.” And why so? The Jews will rightly deserve to be told that they should never find Him, on account of their monstrous infidelity and the surpassing baseness of their impiety towards Him: but to those who have a true affection for Him, and have preserved their love in all sincerity, it could not be fitly said: “Ye shall |216 not find Me.” For He was ever with them, and will be with them to the end.

34 A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

Well and truly writes the inspired Paul: Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold all things are become new. For Christ does renew us, and fashions us again to a newness of life which is unknown to and untravelled by the rest of mankind, who love to regulate their lives by the Law, and remain constant to the precepts given by Moses. For the Law makes nothing perfect, as it is written; but it is very evident that the standard of reverence towards God involved in the commands of our Saviour is the highest possible. For this is why He Himself somewhere says to us: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. We do not wish to struggle against the manner of life of the Jews, and yet except we outstrip very decisively the righteousness contained in the Law, I doubt if we should ever enter into the kingdom of heaven. And we do not mean to assert that the Law as given by Moses was useless and unprofitable: for it has brought to us, albeit imperfectly, a knowledge of good, or at any rate has been found to be a tutor for our instruction as to the nature of the Gospel dispensation. And in bringing before us by hints and types a pattern of the true worship, it imprinted on our minds the dim outline of the teaching we learn from Christ. Hence, surely Christ Himself also said: For I say unto you, that every scribe who hath been made a disciple to the kingdom of heaven is like unto a rich man, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old. For in very truth it is the highest form of spiritual wealth, that a man should be |217 well versed in the words spoken by Moses, and have all the good that can be derived from them treasured up in his mind, and besides should have added to this store the beauty of the evangelic teaching, and so have twofold ground for boasting, in his knowledge as well of the ancient as of the new laws. Therefore our Lord Jesus the Christ, by way of shewing that His commandment was better than the ancient one, and that His preaching of salvation was as yet foreign to those who regulated their lives by the Law, now that He is about to ascend into heaven, lays down the law of love as a foundation and corner-stone of all that is good, meaning by love not that which was in accordance with, but that which transcended, the Mosaic Law. Therefore He says: A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another. “But tell me now,’ some one may say, “why He has called this commandment new, when He had said to former generations by the voice of Moses: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy mind, and thy neighbour as thyself. For see, while setting love to God in its fitting place, in the forefront of and in preeminence to all other affections, He has there introduced in the very next place our mutual love, and has joined with our love to God love to each other, implying that in no other way would love to God rightly exist, except it were accompanied by the love which is due to our neighbour. For we all are brethren one of another. For instance, the very wise John, most excellent alike in knowledge and in teaching, says: He that loveth his brother loveth God. How then cometh a new commandment by Christ, although the very same had been declared by the ancient laws?” But notice, I pray you, the justifying clause; look at the illustration used. He does more than say: A new commandment give I unto you, that ye love one another; He plainly signifies the novelty involved in His command, and the extent by which the love that He enjoins surpasses that old idea of mutual love, by straightway adding the |218 words: Even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

We must investigate therefore the question how the Christ loved us, in order to understand clearly the full force of the words used. For then we shall indeed perceive, and that very easily, the novel character and the changed nature of the commandment now given. We know that, being in the form of God, He counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. And again: though He was rich, yet He became poor, as Paul elsewhere testifies to us. Dost thou see the novelty of His love towards us? For whereas the Law enjoined the necessity of loving our brethren as ourselves, our Lord Jesus the Christ on the other hand loved us far more than He loved Himself, Else He would never have descended to our humiliation from His original exaltation in the form of God and on an equality with God the Father, nor would He have undergone for our sakes the exceeding bitterness of His death in the flesh, nor have submitted to buffetings from the Jews, to shame, to derision, and all His other sufferings: speaking briefly, so as not to protract our argument to endless length by enumerating everything in detail. Nay, He would never have become poor from being rich, if He had not loved us very exceedingly more than Himself. Marvellous then indeed was the extent of His love. So also He would have us be minded, keeping ever our love to our brethren as superior to all other motives, such as reputation or riches; not hesitating to descend if need be even to death in the flesh, so that we may secure the salvation of our neighbour. And this is exactly what the blessed disciples of our Saviour have done, as also have those that followed in their train; reckoning the salvation of others superior to their own life, enduring |219 toil of all kinds, and suffering the extremest of evils, that so they might sa\e the souls of those that were perishing. For instance, Paul in one place saith: I die daily; and in another again: Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I burn not? Thus the Saviour urges us to practise ever the love that transcends the Law as the root of all true and perfect devotion to God; well knowing that so, assuredly, and not otherwise, we shall be most highly approved in the sight of God, and by tracing out the Divine beauty of the love by Him implanted in us we shall attain to the enjoyment of great and perfect blessings.

35 By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye love one another.

You will set upon yourselves, He says, an irresistible and unquestionable mark of your having been My disciples, if you hasten to follow in the track marked out by My own conduct, at least as far as your nature and the limit of human powers will permit; so as to have ever the bond of mutual love firmly drawn, and to be united one to the other in full sympathy, at least to the extent of mutual love and the incomparable glory of affectionateness: for this it is that will stamp on us most exactly the true character of our Master. “Nay, but,” some one will object, meeting us perchance with this question: “How comes it that love alone is the characteristic token of discipleship to Christ, whereas in Him there appeared the perfect display of all possible virtues: not exhibited merely in kindness to others, nor again as the outcome of much labour and struggling, as would be the case in a man; but as the natural and essential attributes of His real self? For to the Divine Nature there belong as its special and peculiar attributes things which transcend all wonder.”

In very truth, my good sir, we will admit that you acted most rightly in adding this last remark. For the peculiar and especial attributes of the Supreme |220 Essence are the natural fruits of Itself. But it is quite possible to perceive, by looking into the matter, that every species of virtue is necessarily comprehended in perfect love, and that everything which can rightly be looked upon as really and truly good seems to have its principle and aim comprised in love. For this reason, surely, the Law lays it down as a commandment preeminent above all, to love the Lord God with all the soul, and with all the heart, and with all the mind; and, second only to this, there is joined to it in close proximity the sister commandment, to love one’s neighbour, which completes the whole Law. So again, the inspired Paul, summarizing all the commandments in this one, writes in an epistle: For this, Thou, shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not swear falsely, and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up in this word, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love, therefore, is the fulfilment of the Law. And that love has created for itself a fashion of every kind of virtue within its own proper limits, and as it were embraces within its arms all that is really good, the very wise Paul himself again shall testify, exclaiming: Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, and similar expressions —- for it would be a long task to tell the full extent of love. Most especially then do I say that it is most befitting and right for those who have given themselves up to a life of love that they should make themselves known to all men as having become Christ’s disciples, by making the crown of love their chief glory, and by bearing about with them their mutual affection as a sign and seal of their discipleship. And the reason for this I will specify in a few words. Supposing that any ordinary man were practising the art of working in brass or of weaving, would he not appear very evidently to have been a pupil of a brassworker or of a weaver? And what of the man who shows some experience in |221 carpentry? Would he not tell you that the reason why he can succeed in the works of his art is that, while gaining his experience, he had a carpenter as his guide? On just the same grounds I believe that they who display in themselves fully developed the power of Divine love, will speedily make known to the world that they have been disciples of Love, or of Christ Who is filled to the uttermost with love. For He so loved the world as to lay down even His life for it, and to endure the fierceness of Jewish outrages: and He shall Himself testify to this in His words to the disciples: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. For seeing that God is love, according to the saying of John, He, being the Son of Love, i.e. of Him Who is by nature the only and true God, has Himself also been shown forth to us as love; not resting His claim to the title on elaboration of arguments and grandiloquence of boastful words, but by deeds and positive facts proving Himself to be the Fruit of His Father’s Essence. For by no means will we suppose that the Essence which is exalted far above all others is capable of receiving additional good; nor yet will we admit that the possession of any good quality is for It an acquired attribute, as with us; nor again that it is what we term a merely accidental quality, such as may pertain to an ordinary person, similar for example to the knowledge of any science which a man may possess: for man is not in himself knowledge, but is rather a recipient of knowledge; whereas we affirm that the Divine Ineffable Nature is by special right in Itself the sum of all that is good, whatsoever we may believe this to be; and is, as it were, a fountain-head containing within itself every kind of virtue, and pouring it forth in an inexhaustible stream. Most reasonably, therefore, will He, Who is the Fruit of Love, Himself also be Love; and being Himself like to the Father Whose Son He is, He will be shown forth in our lives most chiefly by |222 the token of love, ever engraving on the hearts of good men, as an evident characteristic of their close relationship to Himself, an ardent clinging to the grace of mutual affection. Besides, according to the saying of Paul, Christ is our peace: for in Him all things were united, the world below to the world above; and by His means we were reconciled to God the Father, though we had in old times deliberately wandered far away from Him in our evil courses; and we who had formerly been divided into two peoples, Gentiles and Israelites, were created in Him into one new man, for the middle wall of partition has been broken down, and the power of the enmity abolished, the Law being put to silence by the ordinances of the Gospel. If this be so, how could those who had no peace in their mutual relations be known as disciples of [Him Who is] peace? For what else would be involved in the severance of love than a stirring up of war, and an utter overthrow of peace, and an introduction of every kind of discord? For just as by an unbroken bond of love all the blessings of peace are safely secured to us, so in the same way by the interruption of our love the evil that arises from war finds a way to insidiously enter. And what follows thereupon? Insults arise, and strifes, and jealousies, and angers, and wraths, and whisperings, and back-bitings, and envyings, and every form of baseness.

Seeing therefore that every virtue is summed up and fulfilled in the form and habit of love, let no one among us think highly of himself for fastings, or prostrations on the ground, or any other ascetic practices, unless he be faithful to preserve in all fulness his love for his brethren. For else he is carried away very wide of the turning-post in the race, like the more unskilled of the charioteers; and wanders out of his course like a pilot who, with the ship’s rudder in his hand, ignorantly misses the goal that lies directly in front of his course. Wherefore also, he who said in all boldness: If ye seek a proof of Christ that speaketh |223 in me, I mean of course the inspired Paul, gloried not simply in the fact of his hastening onwards, but in the fact of his moving in the right direction, onward towards the goal: for to glory boastfully in bodily labours, while falling short all the while of the more important and essential qualities, this surely is to fail in hastening onwards towards our goal. And he knew so well that love is as it were a corner-stone at the foundation of every virtue, that he most justly says, in eager contention on its behalf: And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing: if I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And so it appears that it is the special glory of love to be in us a figure and characteristic token of belonging to the Saviour Christ.

One Response to “St Cyril Of Alexandria’s Commentary On John 13:31-35”

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