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

Post 1: St Cyril of Alexandria on John 18:1-23 for Good Friday

Posted by Dim Bulb on April 16, 2011

xviii. 1, 2 When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which He entered, Himself and His disciples. Now Judas also, which betrayed Him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with His disciples.

After having enlightened His disciples, and turned them by suitable instruction to all those things that make for righteousness, and after having bidden them |566 choose the life which is most spiritual and pleasing to God, and besides also promising Himself to fulfil them with spiritual graces, and saying that blessings from the Father above would be showered down upon them, Jesus goes forth readily, not shrinking from the time of His suffering, nor yet fearing to die for all men. For what likelihood could there be that He should do this, Who was brought face to face with suffering, that, by His own agony, He might purchase exemption for all; when, too, for this purpose only He had come, that He might by His own Blood reconcile the whole earth to God the Father? It is true, that often when the Jews chose to rage against Him, and attempted in their fury to stone Him, He escaped by His Divine power, rendering Himself invisible, and withdrawing Himself with the greatest ease from the reach of those who sought Him; for He was not willing yet to suffer, the fitting time not yet calling Him thereto. But, as the time had now come, Christ left the house where He had instructed His disciples in the mystery, and came to the place whither He Himself, the Saviour of all mankind, was wont often to resort, together with His holy disciples. He did this, too, from a wish to make it easy for the traitor to find Him. The place was a garden, typifying the Paradise of old. For in it, as it were, all places were summed up; and in it was consummated our return to man’s ancient condition. For in Paradise the troubles of mankind had their origin; while in the garden began Christ’s suffering, which brought us deliverance from all evil that had befallen us in time past.

3 Judas then, having received the band of soldiers and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither, with lanterns, and torches, and weapons.

Very appropriately, then, the inspired Evangelist says that Jesus was in the garden, when no number of men, nor any crowd, were congregating together, or |567 contemplated coming to His succour; and that He was alone with His disciples, that He might display, in all its nakedness, the great folly of the thoughts the traitor harboured in his heart. For our conscience is very apt to create alarms in us, and torment us with the pangs of cowardice, whenever we are bent on any unholy deed. Such, I think, was the state of the traitor’s mind, when he brought in his train the cohort, armed with weapons of war, together with the officers of the Jews, as though to capture a notorious malefactor. For in all likelihood he knew that he could never take Him, unless He chose to suffer, and encountered death by His own Will. But he had his understanding perverted by his unholy enterprise, and was, as it were, intoxicated by his own excessive audacity; and so he did not see whither he was tending, nor perceive that he was attempting what it was beyond his power to perform. For he thought, that by the multitude of his followers, and by the hand of man, he could prevail over the Divine power of Christ. And be not amazed that the miserable man should be afflicted with such madness, and be convicted of conceiving so ridiculous an idea. For when he gave up the rudder of his mind into another’s hand, and sold to the devil the power over his desires, he was wholly possessed by his madness; for the devil leapt upon him once for all, and nestled in his bosom like a poisonous snake. Surely, one may well wonder at the traitor’s fall, and find in it cause for ceaseless weeping. He that had just been supping with Christ, and shared His food, and partaken at the Holy Table, and, equally with the rest, had had the benefit of His words exhorting unto righteousness, and had heard Him declare plainly that one of you shall betray Me, so to say, leapt up from his seat at that very Table, and straightway,after reclining with Him at the Board, hurried off to the Jews to earn the reward of his treachery. He gave no thought to Christ’s inspiring words, entertained not the desire of future glory, and paid no heed to the honour |568 given unto him; in short, preferred before the perfect blessedness, which has no end, a mean and paltry sum of money, and proved himself the net and snare wherewith the devil entrapped Christ, the prime mover and fellow-worker with the Jews in their iniquity against God.

The following thought, too, moves my scorn in no small degree. The crowd that attended the traitor, when they made their attack upon Christ, carried lanterns and torches. They would seem to have guarded against stumbling in the dark, and falling into pitfalls unawares, for such accidents often happen in darkness. But, alas for their blindness! The miserable men, in their gross ignorance, did not perceive that they were stumbling on the stone concerning which God the Father says: Behold, I lay in Sion a Stone of stumbling and a Rock of offence. They who were on occasion seized with fear of a small pitfall, saw not that they were rushing into the depths of the abyss, and the very bowels of the earth; and they, who were suspicious of the twilight of evening, took no account of perpetual and endless night. For they who impiously plotted against the Light of God, that is, Christ, were doomed to walk in darkness and the dead of night, as the prophet says; and not only so, but also to vanish away into outer darkness, there to give an account of their impiety against Christ, and to be consigned to bitter and endless punishment.

4, 5, 6 Jesus therefore, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth, and saith unto them, Whom seek ye? They answered Him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am He. And Judas also, which betrayed Him, was standing with them. When therefore He said unto them, I am He, they went backward, and fell to the ground.

During the night the traitor appeared, bringing with him the servants of the Jews together with the band of soldiers. For, as we said just now, he thought that he |569 would take Him even against His will, trusting in the number of his followers, and believing that he would find Him lingering in the spot whither He was wont to resort, and that day had not yet dawned to allow of His going forth elsewhere, but that night would be still detaining the Lord in the place of His lying down. Christ, then, in order to show that Judas, in holding either view, had been regarding Him as a mere Man, and that his plans were vain, anticipates their attack and goes out readily to meet them; showing thereby that He well knew what Judas presumed to attempt, and that, though it were easy for Him, through His foreknowledge, to escape unawares, He went of His own Will to meet His sufferings, and was not, by the malice of any man, involved in peril; to the intent that the scorn of philosophers among the Greeks might not be moved thereby, who, in their levity, make the Cross a stumblingblock and a charge against Him, and that Judas, the murderer of his Lord, might not be highly exalted against Christ, thinking that he had prevailed over Him against His Will. He inquires of those who come to capture Him, Whom they have come in search of, not because He did not know (for how could that be?), but that He might thereby prove, that those who were for that very reason come, and were gazing upon Him, were not able so much as to recognise Him of Whom they were in search, and so confirm us in the true conviction that He would never have been taken, if He had not of His own Will gone to those who sought Him. For observe, that when He openly asks, Whom seek ye? they did not at once rejoin, We are here to take Thee Who thus speakest; but they reply, as though He were not yet present or before their eyes, and say, Jesus of Nazareth.

But perhaps some may reply: The Roman soldier perhaps knew not Jesus, and the servants of the Jews shared their ignorance. We answer that any such suggestion is groundless. For how could they who were selected to the priesthood fail to know Him, Who was in their |570 power continually when He was teaching daily in the temple, as our Saviour Himself says? But that no one should trust in arguments of this sort, and miss apprehending the truth, the inspired Evangelist, foreseeing this, is impelled to add, that with the soldiers and the servants was standing Judas also, which betrayed Him. Then how could the traitor fail to recognise the Lord? You may answer that it was night, and dark, and therefore not easy to see Him of Whom they were in search. How worthy our admiration is the writer of the book, in that not even so small a point as this has escaped his notice! For he has said that, when they came into the garden, they had lanterns and torches in their hands. A solution, therefore, is found to this curious inquiry, and the Divine dignity of Christ is seen, Who brought Himself to those who were seeking Him, though they could no longer of themselves recognise Him. In order to prove that they were so blinded as not to be able to recognise Him, He says plainly, I am He. And that He might show the fruitlessness of numbers, and the utter incapacity of all human power to affect anything against the ineffable power of God, by merely addressing them in mild and courteous language He bows down to the earth the multitude of those who sought Him, that they might be taught how powerless to endure His threatenings is the nature of created beings, unable as it is to bear one word of God, and that spoken in kindness; according to the word of the Psalmist: Terrible art Thou, and who shall withstand Thy wrath? That which happened to a portion, and befell those who came to take Him, is, as it were, symbolical of the humbling of the entire race; yea, the prophet Jeremiah laments for the Jews, saying: The house of Israel is fallen: there is none to raise it up. That which here happened is a type of what inevitably comes to pass in a similar case; for it teaches us, that he is altogether doomed to fall who practises iniquity against Christ. |571

7, 8, 9 Again, therefore, He asked them, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, I told you that I am He: if therefore ye seek Me, let these go their way: that the word might be fulfilled which He spake, Of those whom Thou hast given Me I lost not one.

He asks them again a second time, of set purpose, that He might show the extent of the blindness He had put in their minds. For they were robbed of their right judgment, and had their minds, as it were, deranged bytheir impiety, and knew not that they were speaking to Him Whom they sought. Christ, indeed, proved by His actions the truth of what He professed: I am, He says, the Good Shepherd: the good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep. Christ, then, saves the Apostles as with a shield; and, bearing the brunt of the danger Himself, advances to those who were come to lead Him to death, sent thereunto, that is, by the high priests and Pharisees. When they answered, Jesus of Nazareth, to His question, Whom have ye come to take and bind in the bonds of death? He pointed to Himself, and, well-nigh accusing them of delay, bade them take Him away and let the rest go free; for it was necessary that One should die for all, Whose life was an equivalent for the lives of all men, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

For other reasons, too, it were wholly impossible to accept the opinion of some that the deaths of the holy Apostles themselves also resulted in the overthrow of death and corruption, when they must themselves be reckoned among those who have been delivered from death and corruption; and with great reason, for their nature is one with ours, and over us death had dominion. It was necessary, then, that alone, and first of all, the Son of the living Father should give over His own Body to death as a ransom for the lives of all men, that by connexion with the Life of the Word, Which was united with Itself, It might so prepare the way, that our mortal bodies might be enabled henceforth also to triumph over |572 the bondage of death. For the Lord is the Firstfruits of them that are asleep, and the Firstborn from the dead; and so, by His own Resurrection, makes smooth for those who come after Him the way to incorruption. He therefore withdraws the disciples from the peril of the moment, as well knowing that the conflict was in special meet for Himself; and showing thereby that our redemption was the work of none other, save only that Nature Which is supreme over the universe.

The wise Evangelist turns to a clear proof of the general and universal mercy, which will be shown to all who come to Him through faith, this partial and special care here manifested to those who were with Him. For, he says, He procured that His disciples should be suffered to go their way, that the word might be fulfilled which He spake, Of those whom Thou gavest Me I lost not one. For how can there be any question that He will show mercy on them that come after the disciples? For where care is shown in small things, how can there be neglect in greater? And is it likely that He, Who showed mercy to a mere handful, will pay no heed to a multitude whom no man can number? For the multitude of believers is exceeding great. You must receive, then, the partial as a type of the universal; and you can easily perceive, by His refusal to put His disciples in any danger at all, what and how great will be His wrath against His murderers. For does He not altogether hate whatever opposes His Will? Can there be any further doubt that severe and endless punishment awaits those who do the things which are hateful to Him?

10 Simon Peter therefore, having a sword, drew it, and struck the high-priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. Now the servant’s name was Malchus.

What was it, someone may say, that induced the inspired Evangelist to make mention of this, and point out to us the disciple using a sword, contrary to his wont, against those who came to take Christ, and stirred to a |573 hotter and more precipitate fit of wrath than was meet, and Christ thereupon rebuking him? This narrative may, perhaps, seem superfluous; but it is not so. For he has here given us a pattern expressly for our learning; for we shall know, from what took place here, to what lengths our zeal in piety towards Christ may proceed without reproach, and what we may choose to do in conflicts such as this, without stumbling on something displeasing to God. For this typical instance forbids us to draw a sword, or lift up stones, against any man, or to strike our adversaries with a stick, when, through our piety towards Christ, we are in conflict with them: for our weapons are not of the flesh, as Paul saith; but we ought rather to treat even our murderers with kindness when occasion precludes our escape. For it is far better for other men to be corrected for their sins against us by Him That judgeth righteously, than that we ourselves should make excuses for our blood-guiltiness, making piety our plea. Besides, we may call it most irrational to honour by the death of our persecutors Him Who, to set men free from death, Himself cheerfully suffered death. And herein we must surely follow Christ Himself; for if He had been called to die perforce and of necessity, as unable by His own power to repel the assault of His foes, who were invincible through the number of the servants of the Jews, there might perhaps have been nothing unreasonable in those who chose to love Him succouring Him with all their might, and showing the utmost courage in order to rescue Him from the peril, into which He had been brought by the impiety of His foes, against His Will. But since, being truly God, He was able to destroy His adversaries, root and branch, and at the very outset of the conflict, so to say, had given them such a token of His might, as by a single word, and that spoken in courtesy, to lay them low on the earth, for they all fell backward; how could it be right for us, in unbridled and inordinate wrath, to wilfully and recklessly proceed to lengths that He did not, though He |574 might have done so with the utmost ease? We find also traces of the same spirit elsewhere recorded by the holy Evangelists. For our Saviour once came to a village bordering on Judaea, to lodge there. It belonged to the Samaritans; and when He was drawing nigh unto it they roughly drove Him away. The disciples were enraged thereat, and came to Him, and said: Lord, wilt Thou that we bid fire to come down from heaven, and consume them? And the Saviour answered them: Let them alone; know ye not that I can beseech My Father, and He shall even now send Me twelve legions of angels? For He came not as God to use His own innate power against those who vented their fury upon Him; but rather to school us to patient forbearance under every affliction, and to be Himself a type of the most perfect and passionless tranquillity. Therefore also He said: Learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.

The purpose of Peter in drawing his sword against the adversaries does not trespass outside the commandment of the Law; for the Law bade us requite unreproved evildoers—-foot for foot, hand for hand, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. For with what other object did they come armed with swords and staves, equipped with armour, and banded together in numbers, than to wage such a conflict as they thought the disciples would wage in their extremity? For that they brought swords and staves, the Saviour tells us plainly, when He says elsewhere to them: Are ye come out as against a robber with swords and staves to seize Me? I sat daily in the temple teaching, and ye took Me not. The passion of Peter, therefore, was lawful, and accorded with the old enactments; but our Lord Jesus Christ, when He came to give us teaching superior to the Law, and to reform us to His meekness of heart, rebukes those passions which are in accordance with the Law, as incompatible with the perfect accomplishment of true virtue. For perfect virtue consists not in requital of like for like, but is rather seen in perfect forbearance. |575

Someone may now, perhaps, raise the question, and ask himself. Why did Peter carry a sword? We reply, that the duty of repelling the assaults of evil-doers, according to the Law, brought the need of a sword. For if one of the disciples had chosen to strike the innocent with a sword, how could the same issue have been tried? It is likely, too, that the holy disciples, as they were hurrying at midnight from their place of rest, and expected to find woods and gardens in their way, were suspicious of the attacks of wild beasts; for of these Judaea was very fertile. Perhaps you may rejoin: “But what need had the disciples of a sword? Was not Christ sufficient for them in time of peril; and could not He scare away wild beasts, and release them from all fear on that account?” If you say this, you say well; for Christ can do all things. But we shall find that, though Christ might have effected it otherwise, the disciples continued to live after the manner usual to men. For must we not suppose that Christ was able to turn stones into bread, and out of nothing to create money sufficient to defray their expenses? Still they fetched loaves and carried a purse, taking alms of those who brought them. And when Christ wished to cross the sea in their company, they entered into a ship, though He might have walked over the billows, if He had been so minded. It is fruitless, then, to cavil at the disciples, for following the ordinary usages of mankind.

Peter strikes off the right ear of the servant, and his action points, as in a figure, to the inability of the Jews to hear aright. For they would not hearken to Christ’s words. They rather, so to say, honoured the left ear, obeying simply the dictates of their own misguided prejudice, deceiving and being deceived, according to the Scripture; for even when walking in the Law ordained them of old, they turned to doctrines the precepts of men.

11 Jesus therefore said unto Peter, Put up thy sword into its sheath: the cup which the Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?

Christ’s bidding is fraught with the enactment of life according to the Gospel, and the spirit, not of the Mosaic Law revealed to the men of old time, but of the dispensation of Christ; which so dissuades us from using the sword, or offering resistance, that if a man choose to smite us on one cheek, and then to demand the other to be smitten, we ought to turn to him the other also; cutting out, as it were, by the roots the human weakness of our hearts. But, He says, in effect, even if no law had been laid down by Me concerning forbearance under evil, thy mind, Peter, has failed to reason aright, and thou hast made an attempt altogether un-suited to the occasion. For when it was the decree and pleasure of God the Father, that I should drink this cup, that is, willingly undergo, as it were, the deep sleep of death, in order to overthrow death and corruption, how then can I shrink from it, when so great blessings are certain to result to the race of man through My drinking it? The foregoing words well explain the drift of the passage before us. There is another passage also of a similar purport. Our Lord Jesus Christ, wishing to confirm the disciples in the faith, and to remove, in anticipation, the stumblingblock of His precious Cross, said once to them in His discourse, as they were halting on the way: Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man is betrayed unto the hands of sinners: and they shall crucify Him, and shall hill Him, and the third day He shall be raised up. And the inspired Peter, not considering the benefits of His death, but only regarding the ignominy of the Cross, said: Be it far from Thee, Lord; this shall never be unto Thee. What answered Christ? Get thee behind Me, Satan; thou art a stumblingblock unto Me: for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men. |577 For he that savourest the things that be of God, makes it his end and object to set at naught worldly honours,and to account as nothing the loss of reputation among men, so long as the good of his fellow-men is achieved thereby; for love, the Apostle says, seeketh not its own. But he who is absorbed in the contemplation of the things of men, deems the loss of the paltry honours of earth intolerable, and looks only to his own advantage, and feels no sympathy with the losses of others. Just as, in that passage, Christ called Peter an offence unto Him, though he was not wont so to be, and though he spoke out of love, which yet could not escape blame, because he looked only at the death on the Cross, and not at the benefits to result therefrom; Peter tried, so far as in him lay, to prevent that which had been resolved and determined for the salvation of all men. So also here we see him doing the same, by his passion and impetuous act with his sword. He is once more rebuked, not merely by the words: Put up thy sword into its sheath; but, according to another Evangelist, Christ added: For all they that take the sword, shall perish with the sword. And, to repeat once more what we said before, seeing that His capture was effected by His own Will, and did not merely result from the malice of the Jews, how could it be right to repel or thwart, in any way, and with a sword, too, the bold attack of His combined foes and the impious conspiracy of the Jews? He says, that God the Father gave unto Him the cup, that is, death, though it was prepared for Him by the obstinate hatred of the Jews; because it would never have come to pass if He had not suffered it for our sakes. Therefore also Christ said to boasting Pilate: Thou wouldest have no power against Me, except it were given thee from above. When Christ says that power was given Pilate from above, He refers to His own willingness to suffer death, and the consent of His Father in heaven. |578

12, 13, 14 So the band, and the chief captain, and the officers of the Jews, seized Jesus and bound Him, and led Him away to Annas first; for he was father-in-law to Caiaphas, which was high priest that year. Now Caiaphas was he which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.

Now that all obstacles had been overcome, and Peter had put away his sword, and Christ had, as it were, surrendered Himself to the hand of the Jews, though He need not have died, and it was easier for Him to escape, the soldiers and servants, together with their guide, give way to cruel rage, and are transported with the ardour of victory. They took the Lord, Who gave Himself up wholly to their will, and put fetters upon Him, though He came to us to release us from the bondage of the devil, and to loose us from the chains of sin. And they bring Him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, whence we may conclude that he was the prime mover and contriver of the iniquity against Christ, and that the traitor, when he received his hire, obtained from him the band to take Christ. He is, therefore, taken away to him first of all. For the Jews were bent on showing to us, that that was indeed truly spoken of them which the prophet put into their mouths: Let us bind the righteous Man, for He is useless unto us. Christ was, indeed, to the Jews useless, not because of His own Nature, but because, as they were prone to love sin and pleasure, He seemed to bring them no good thing, when He expounded to them a righteousness exceeding the Law, and set before them, without concealment, the knowledge of the pleasure of the God that loves virtue, when the Law pointed out no such way, but rather, in the darkness of allegory, feebly and indirectly indicated what might be of profit to its hearers. Just as, then, the sunlight is useless to those whose sight is injured, and brings them no profit, because the disease prevents it; and just as, |579 to people in bad health, healthy food sometimes seems the most useless, though it used to bring the health so much desired; so likewise to the Jews the Lord seemed useless, though He was the Prince of Salvation. For they refused to be saved.

They sent Him bound to Caiaphas, the high priest. Now Caiaphas was he which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people. The sacred and holy Victim, then, that is, Christ, was captured by the malice of Annas and the services of his hirelings; and, ensnared within the net, was led to him that compassed and instigated the slaughter of the innocent. This was Caiaphas, and he was adorned with the office of the priesthood. And by his questions he seems to have begun the shedding of blood, as he also is convicted of having originated the impious enterprise. He receives Jesus bound, and, as the fruit of his counsel and impious designs, the miserable man committed the most impious act that has ever been committed. For what can be more grievous than impiety against Christ?

15 And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did the other disciple.

While the other disciples, it seems, were panic-stricken, and fled from the present wrath of the murderers, Peter, who was always moved thereto by more fervent passion, clings to his love for Christ, and follows Him at the peril of his life, and watches the issue of events; the other disciple accompanying him, and, with like courage, sustaining a similar resolution. This was John, the truly pious writer of this Divine work. For he calls himself that other disciple, without giving himself a definite name, fearing to seem boastful, and abhorring the appearance of being better than the rest. For the crowning achievements of virtue, if manifested by any of the righteous, yet are never blazoned forth to the world by their own mouth. For it very ill beseems a man to win praise rather out of his own mouth than the conversation of other men. In the Book of Proverbs it is written: Let |580 another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips.

15 Now that disciple was known unto the high priest, and entered in with Jesus into the court of the high priest.

The Apostle shows great forethought in condescending to mention this fact, and does not scruple to enter into detail where it is profitable for us. For, as he was about to set down in order in his book what was done and said in the palace of the high priest, he was, as it were, compelled to show us how he was able to enter there with Christ; for, he says, he was known unto the high priest. He enters, therefore, without hindrance, his knowledge of the leader of the people—-for he has not thought proper to say friendship—-allowing him free entrance within the doors. In order, then, that he might convince us that he did not compile his account of what took place in the palace from information drawn from others, but that he himself saw and heard what passed, he has given us this most useful explanation of his knowledge of the high priest.

16 But Peter was standing at the door without. So the other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, went out, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter.

Peter did not lag behind from any lack of fervour of heart, but only because the vigilance of the damsel at the gate made entrance perilous for those with whom she had no previous acquaintance. And though it might not have been difficult for a man to push a woman aside, yet it might have involved a charge of unruly behaviour. The disciple, therefore, though in great distress of mind, was compelled to stay without, till the other, seeing that he was much grieved thereat, brought him in with himself by speaking to the maiden presiding at the door, and asking as a favour that his companion in jealous fervour might accompany him. |581

17 The maid, therefore, that kept the door, saith unto Peter, Art thou also one of this Man s disciples? He saith, I am not.

As Christ had already foretold to Peter that he would thrice deny our Saviour Christ, and that before the cock crew his faith would fail, the inspired Evangelist relates in detail where, and how, the prophecy was fulfilled. The maid, seated at the door, then, inquires of him whether he was not one of the number of the disciples of Him Who was undergoing the unjust trial. Peter denies it, and parries the question as though it were a charge, saying, “I am not;” not fearing at all to be taken, or shrinking from proclaiming the truth, but disregarding and making light of enduring any kind of evil against his will in comparison with being with Christ. His transgression, then, proceeds from love, and his denial has its root in the love of God; not indeed proceeding from any just reasoning, but, at any rate, testifying to the fervour of his desire to be with Christ.

18 Now the servants and the officers were standing there, having made a fire of coals; for it was cold, and they were warming themselves: and Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.

Peter, having passed inside the door, and finding himself encircled by the servants, affects to do what they do (though bowed down with grief and with an intolerable burden of agony at heart), that he might not be convicted by his despondent and sorrowful countenance of feeling sympathy with the Man Who was on trial, and be cast out from the doors which contained all he loved. For it is quite incredible that the disciple should have been so carnally minded as to seek out a means of appeasing the chill of winter, when he was thus heavy with grief. For if he might have enjoyed greater luxuries than this, he could not have borne to do so while Christ was thus afflicted. He intentionally models his behaviour on the apathy of the attendants, and, as though he had no inducement to despondency, shakes off the chill of winter, |582 in order that he might create the belief that he was one of the inmates of the house, and might thus for the future escape answering any further questions with a denial. But the word of the Saviour could not be falsified; for He foretold to the disciple what He, as God, knew would certainly happen.

19 The high priest therefore asked Jesus of His disciples, and of His teaching.

A teacher of the people, learned in the Law, one of those on whom the Divine bidding lays the duty, “Judge ye righteous judgment,” after having taken the Lord, as though He had been a notorious robber, by a band of armed soldiers and a number of impious officers, asks Him of His disciples and of His doctrine, showing thereby that he was in want of charges to bring against Him. For the Man Who was now on trial knew no sin. He asks Him about His doctrine, to elicit from Him whether it accorded with the Mosaic Law, or coincided and concurred with the old dispensation; and what purpose His disciples had implanted in their hearts, whether to submit to be guided by ancient customs, or to practise any strange and novel kind of worship. He did this in malice, for he supposed that Christ would make an outspoken attack on the Law, and that, by pleading for the rejection of the Mosaic dispensation, He would excite the Jews to embittered and furious revilings against Himself, so that He might in the future appear to be paying a just penalty for deliberately fighting against God. For to enter the lists against the Divine commandments, if any mere human being were convicted of any word or deed with that intent, were to declare oneself an open enemy of God. And they were treating Christ as a mere man, and thought that they were doing well to chastise the Lord of the Law for the transgression of the Law, not remembering him that said: Impious is he that saith unto a king, Thou art a law-breaker. |583

20 Jesus answered him, I have spoken openly to the world; I ever taught in synagogues, and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and in secret spake I nothing.

It were fruitless labour, Christ says, to search out as obscure what is universally known; and how can it be seemly, where full knowledge is present, to set up a pretence of ignorance? This is what Christ seems to us to say, with the object of releasing Himself from the charges that had been fabricated and maliciously devised against Him by the malice of the leaders of the people. But I think, also, that there is a suggestion of another meaning. For He says: I have spoken openly to the world; that is to say, the utterances given to you by the mediation of Moses come in types and shadows, and do not teach expressly the Will of God, but rather create a vision of the actual truth beyond themselves, and, wrapped up in the obscurity of the letter, do not completely reveal the knowledge of those things which are needful for us. I have spoken openly to the world; and, apart from riddles, and the shadow, as it were, of the form of that which is good, I set before you the right, and pointed out the straight path of piety towards God without any tortuous turnings. I spake to the world—-not, He says, to the one nation of the Israelites; for if the things that are of Me are not yet known throughout the whole world, they will be so in due season. I ever taught in synagogues. We can scarcely fail to see what He means here. He reminds those of the Jews who were in His Presence, methinks, however reluctant, of prophecy which thus spoke concerning Him. For what said the Divine Isaiah, putting the words in Christ’s mouth? I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth; and again: I have spread out My hands all the day unto a disobedient and rebellious people. For what else can “not speaking in secret, in a dark place” mean, but giving discourses openly, and speaking in places where there is no small concourse of hearers? Very well and appropriately He brings to |584 their recollection the saying of the prophet, that they might learn that they are judging impiously that Messiah, Who was the due fulfilment of their hopes. For to the Jews belonged the promise, as Paul says.

21 Why askest thou Me? Ask them that have heard Me, what I spake unto them: behold, these know the things which I said.

He rebukes those learned in the Law, for that they themselves sinned against the Law in which they took pride. For before He had been condemned, they passed premature sentence upon Him, and yet busied themselves in seeking for errors on His part. Why, then, He says, dost thou question Me, and call on Me to answer, Who have already endured your attack, and had punishment allotted Me before conviction? Or you may put another construction on what He said: Those who already hate Me, and receive with such extreme dishonour whatever I tell them of the things that are Mine, would not, perhaps, shrink from proclaiming what is false. Learn, then, from the lips of others. The search for witnesses would not be at all difficult, for these heard My words. Someone may, perhaps, imagine that He That knoweth the hearts and reins indicated some of the bystanders as having chanced to hear His words. But it is not so. For He referred to certain of the officers who once marvelled at His doctrine; and perhaps, to make our meaning clear, we ought to explain the time and occasion when this occurred. This same inspired Evangelist has told us, that once, when our Saviour Christ was preaching, and unfolding the doctrine concerning the Kingdom of Heaven to the assembled Jews, the teachers of the Jewish ordinances were sore enraged, and full of bitter envy of Him. and strove to remove Him from their midst. In the words of the Evangelist: And the chief priests and the Pharisees sent officers to take Him. But as our Saviour was continuing His long and full discourse, those which were sent by the Jews were |585 convinced along with all the rest, and were more amazed than any one else among the multitude of His hearers. Thus speaks the Evangelist: The officers, therefore, came to the chief priests and Pharisees; and they said unto them, Why did ye not bring Him? The officers answered, Never man so spake. The Pharisees, therefore, answered them, Are ye also led astray? Observe how distressed at heart the Pharisees were, when they found that the officers had been at length convinced and sore amazed. The Saviour, then, knowing this, says: Ash them that have heard Me: behold, these know the things which I said. Either, then, He says, these know, looking at those who were then standing by, or else referring to the fact, that even they who ministered to the impiety of the chief priests themselves marvelled at the beauty of His teaching.

22 And when He had said this, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying unto Him, Answerest Thou the high priest so?

It had been foretold, by the mouth of the prophet, that with Christ this would come to pass: I gave My back to the scourge, and My cheeks to them that smite. He was being led on in truth to the end long ago foretold, to the verdict of Jewish presumption, which was also the abolition and determination of our deserved dishonour, for that we sinned in Adam first, and trampled under foot the Divine commandment. For He was dishonoured for our sake, in that He took our sins upon Him, as the prophet says, and was afflicted on our account. For as He wrought out our deliverance from death, giving up His own Body to death, so likewise, I think, the blow with which Christ was smitten, in fulfilling the dishonour that He bore, carried with it our deliverance from the dishonour by which we were burthened through the transgression and original sin of our forefather. For He, being One, was yet a perfect Ransom for all men, and bore our dishonour. |586 But I think the whole creation would have shuddered, had it been suffered to be conscious of such presumption. For the Lord of glory was insulted by the impious hand of the smiter.

And I think that it would display a spirit of pious research to desire to learn why this insolent and presumptuous officer smites Jesus, Who had made no stubborn or angry reply at all, but had returned a very gentle answer to all the charges brought against Him. And it may be observed, that the leader of the Jewish nation had not bidden him smite Jesus, and assail Him with such extravagant impiety. Some may, perhaps, allege as a reason the ordinary and received custom among the officers, when they brought to the rulers men accused of some transgression to compel them to reply courteously, even against their will, and treat them at times with contumely when they returned a rude answer. But I do not think this ever occurred to excite his passion against Christ; and, if we fix our attention on what has already been said, we shall find another reason for his insolence. For we said just now, that certain of the officers, who were bidden to take Jesus, came into collision with the rulers, and returned so far initiated into the mysteries of Christ, and amazed at Him, that they openly declared: Never man so spake. Whereat the Pharisees were greatly enraged, and said: Are ye also led astray? Hath any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on Him? But this multitude, who know not the Law, are accursed. As, then, the Saviour’s words reminded the rulers of the indignation then stirred up in them against the officers (for He referred to them as witnesses of His teaching, saying: Behold, these know the things which I said), the officer was charged before them with having been struck with admiration of Christ; and, wishing to repel the suspicion of being well-disposed towards Him, and to divert their thoughts elsewhere, smote Him on the mouth, not suffering Him to say anything that could injure the reckless band of officers. |587

23 Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou Me?

He proves the officer guilty of a gross wrong, even if He That was on His trial had been a man of obscure position. For he smote Him causelessly, contrary to his express duty; not urged thereto by legal commands, but rather incited to brutal ferocity of behaviour by his own inbred madness. Call in question, if it please thee, and refute My words, as not spoken aright; but if thou canst not do this, why smitest thou Me, with Whose speech thou canst find no fault?

This is, indeed, the ordinary and most usual interpretation of the passage; but I think the meaning of the passage is different from this. For it may be, that He convicts the officer as guilty of the greater sin; not because he smote Him merely, but because, after having been previously amazed at His teaching, and not having now found Him in any wise guilty, he yet endured to treat Him with contumely. For if, He says, thou hadst not once been struck by My words; if I had not then seemed to you to teach most noble doctrines, and thou hadst not been convinced that I expounded Holy Writ in a marvellous way; if thou hadst not thyself exclaimed: Never man so spake, perhaps some plea might have been found for giving mercy to thy inexperience, and acquitting thee of this charge; but since thou hast known and hast marvelled at My teaching, and wouldst not, perhaps, Christ says, have borne witness against My words, if thou didst now think it right to bear in mind thine own words, how canst thou have any cloak for thy sin? You may understand the passage in this way; but also remark how the Saviour herein sketches for us the pattern of His great long-suffering towards us, in all its incomparable excellence, and, as in a well-defined portrait, by the actions of His life, gives us a type of the nature of His exceeding great mercy. For He That, by one single word, might have brought utter ruin on the Jews, endures to be smitten as a slave. He offers no resistance, and does |588 not requite His persecutors with instant chastisement; for He is not subject to our infirmities, nor under the dominion of passion, or resentment, or discomposed by their malicious insults; but He gently puts His adversary to shame, and tells him, that he did not right to strike One Who answered courteously, and in the hour of His imminent peril forgets not the virtues He continually practised. For, by proper argument, He strives to induce the servant that ministered to the malice of the Jews to abandon his fit of passion, Himself receiving evil for good, according to the Scripture, but requiting those who were dishonouring Him with good instead of evil.

But our Lord Jesus Christ, even when He was smitten, endured it patiently, though He was truly God, the Lord of heaven and earth; and we poor miserable mortals, mean and insignificant as we are, mere dust and ashes, and likened to the green herb: For, as for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth, according to the Scripture,—-when one of our brethren happens to have some words with us, and lets fall some vexatious expression, we think we do right to be enraged with the fury of dragons, and cease not to pelt him with a storm of words in return for one; not granting forgiveness to human littleness, nor considering the frailty of our common humanity, nor burying in brotherly love the passions that thus arise, nor looking unto Jesus Himself, the Author and Perfecter of our faith; but eager to avenge ourselves, and that to the uttermost, though Holy Writ declares in one place: He that pursueth vengeance, pursueth it to his own death; and in another: Let none of you harbour resentment in your heart against your brother. But let Christ, the Lord of all, Himself be unto us a Pattern of gentleness to one another, and exceeding great forbearance; for He, for this very reason, saith unto us: A disciple is not above his master, nor a servant above his lord.

5 Responses to “Post 1: St Cyril of Alexandria on John 18:1-23 for Good Friday”

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