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 Homiletic Commentary on John 14:1-6

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 15, 2011

14:1 Let not your heart be troubled.

By saying that Peter’s courage will fail him so utterly that he will deny his Master thrice, and will suffer so sad a downfall in one single night, He almost seems by the overwhelming weight of His words to arouse in the disciples the extremity of terror at the dangers before them. Whence it may very well have happened that the other disciples began at once to reason with one another, saying: “What can be the nature, the extent, or the exceeding heaviness of that dread of coming troubles, and of that temptation so irresistible as to attack the chief among us and overcome him, not once only, but many times by the same assault, and that within so brief a space of time? Surely, who among us will escape a yet worse plight, or how can any other among us withstand such an attack, when Peter wavers and yields as of necessity to the grievous weight of the trials that beset him? Vainly it seems have we endured toils for the sake of our duty in following Him: our efforts are ending only in the exhaustion of our vital powers, though they seemed to hold out to us a prospect of life with God.” There is surely nothing improbable in supposing that the disciples were thus reasoning in their inmost thoughts: and since it was needful to restore again their drooping spirits, He introduces as it were the necessary antidote to the reasonings and fears that His words had aroused, and bids them arm themselves with a calm and untroubled spirit, saying to them: Let not your heart be troubled. Notice, however, in how guarded a manner He promises them the forgiveness of |232 their coming feebleness of spirit. He does not say plainly: “I will forgive you even in spite of your weakness,” or. “I will be present with you none the less, although you deny Me and forsake Me;” His object therein being, not to completely remove their fears of shame, or completely take away their suspicions of failure, lest He should seem to make out their error to be a light matter and teach them to regard as of no account the blame they would incur in their denial of Him. But in bidding them not be troubled, He placed them as it were on the borderland betwixt hope and fear: so that, if they fell into weakness and suffering in their human frailty, the hope of His clemency might help them to recovery; while the fear of stumbling might urge them to fall but seldom, since they had not yet been endowed with the power never to fail at all, not having as yet been clothed with the power from above, from on high, I mean the grace that comes through the Spirit. He bids them therefore not to be troubled, teaching them at once that it was fitting that those who were prepared for the conflict, and ready to enter on the struggles for the sake of the glory that is on high, should be altogether superior to feelings of cowardice: for an untroubled mind is a great help towards a courageous temper: at the same time, with somewhat obscure and not very distinct intimations, yet certainly, sowing the seed of a germinant hope of forgiveness, if ever it should really happen to them in their human weakness to fall away into cowardice. For a mind that is not yet stablished by the grace that comes from above is timid and easily upset, and very apt to be disturbed. For this reason also surely the very wise Paul prays for certain to whom he is writing, in the words: And the peace of Christ, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts. For this is in reality to be untroubled in heart.

14:1 cont. Ye believe in God, believe also in Me. 

He is making an able soldier out of one who but now |233 was a coward, and while the disciples were smarting with the anxieties of fear He bids them take to themselves the terrible power of faith. For thus are we safe, and not otherwise, according surely to the song of the Psalmist: The Lord is my illumination and my saviour; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the shield of my life; of tvhom shall I be afraid? For if the all-powerful God fights for us and shields us, who could ever have power to harm us? And who will by any chance advance to such a height of power as to keep the elect in subjection to him, and to force them to submit to the evil designs of his perverse imagination? Or who could take by his spear and lead captive those that wear the panoply of God? Faith therefore is a weapon whose blade is stout and broad, that drives away all cowardice that may spring from expectation of coming suffering, and that renders the darts of evil-doers utterly void of effect and utterly profitless of success in their temptations. And this being the nature of faith, we must further notice another point: Christ bade them believe not in God alone, but also on Himself, not implying thereby that He is at all different from the One Who is in His nature God, I mean as regards identity of essence; but that to believe in God and to suppose that the province of faith must be wholly bound up in this one phrase, is rather a peculiar characteristic of the Jewish imagination, whereas the inclusion of the name of the Son within the compass of faith in God indicates the acceptance of an injunction of evangelic preaching. For those at least who are rightly minded must believe in God the Father, and not merely in the Son, but also in the fact of His Incarnation, and in the Holy Ghost. For the Persons of the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity are distinguished both by difference of names and by the peculiar qualities and special offices of each: for the Father is Father and not Son, the Son again is Son and not Father, and the Holy Ghost is the Spirit peculiar to the Godhead. And yet the Trinity is summed up into a common Unity of Essence, so that our |234 Creed gives us not three Gods, but one God. Still, I maintain that we must preserve accurately the definitions of our faith, not content with saying “We believe in God,” but fully explaining our confession, and attaching to each Person the same measure of glory. For in our minds there should be no difference as to the intensity of our faith: our faith in the Father is not to be greater than our faith in the Son, or even than our faith in the Holy Ghost. But one and the same is the extent and the manner of our confession, uttered in regard to each of the three Persons with the same measure of faith; in such a way that herein again the Holy Trinity may appear in Unity of nature, so that the glory that encircles It may be seen in unchallenged perfection, and our souls may display our faith in the Father and in the Son, even in His Incarnation, and in the Holy Ghost. And I believe no man, if he were wise, would make any distinction between the Word of God and the Temple formed from the virgin, at least as regards the question of sonship; for there is One Lord, Jesus Christ, according to the saying of Paul. But let him who would sever into two sons Him Who is One and One alone, know surely that he is denying the faith. The inspired Paul, for instance, in working out very excellently and accurately the doctrine on this point, would have us confess our belief not simply in Christ as the Only-begotten, but also in Him as made like unto us, that is, made man, and as having both died and risen again from the dead. For what does he say? The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach: that if thou shalt say with thy mouth, Jesus is Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved: for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Now if we believe on the Son as having risen again, who was He that died so that He might rise again? But it is evident that He is reckoned to have died according to the flesh. |235 For His own body was imprisoned in the bonds of death, and restored to life again: for it was a body that shared in our natural life, though containing in itself in full perfection that peculiar indwelling power so mysteriously united to it, namely an energy capable of bestowing life. Whensoever therefore any one shall sever these two natures, and in separating the flesh from Him Who corporeally dwelt therein shall dare to speak of two sons, let him know that he is believing on the flesh alone. For the Divine Scriptures teach us to believe on Him Who was crucified and died and rose again from the dead, as being no other than the Word of God Himself; not so much in regard to identity of essence, for the body of Christ is body and not Word, though it be the body of the Word; but rather in respect of veritable sonship. And if any one were to think that herein we are not speaking with all possible accuracy, he would have to come forward and show us the Word Who is from God dead as regards His Divine nature, a thing which it is impossible or rather impious even to conceive.

14:2, 3 In My Father s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I come again, and will receive you with Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

Having forcibly enjoined upon them that they ought not to be troubled, and having bidden them rather believe both in God the Father and in Himself, He now tells them plainly as an encouragement to them to shake off their feebleness of mind, that they shall not be excluded from the holy courts, but shall be made to dwell in the mansions above, living their eternal life in the Church of the Firstborn, in the enjoyment of bliss unending. He says moreover that in His Father’s house are many mansions, teaching them thereby that heaven is wide enough for all, and that the world He has created needs no enlargement at all to make it capable of containing those who |236 love Him. And it seems likely that in speaking of the many mansions He wishes also to indicate the different grades of honour, implying that each one who desires to live a life of virtue will receive as it were his own peculiar place, and the glory that is suitable to his own individual acts. Therefore if the mansions in God the Father’s home had not been many in number, He would have said that He was going on before them, namely to prepare beforehand the habitations of the saints: but knowing that there are many such, already fully prepared and awaiting the arrival of those who love God, He says that He will depart not for this purpose, but for the sake of securing the way to the mansions above, to prepare a passage of safety for you, and to smooth the path that was impassable in old time. For heaven was then utterly inaccessible to mortal man, and no flesh as yet had ever trodden that pure and all-holy realm of the angels; but Christ was the first Who consecrated for us the means of access to Himself, and granted to flesh a way of entrance into heaven; presenting Himself as an offering to God the Father, as it were the firstfruits of them that are asleep and are lying in the tomb, and the first of mankind that ever appeared in heaven. Therefore also it was that the angels in heaven, knowing nothing of the august and stupendous mystery of the Incarnation, were astonished in wonder at His coming, and exclaim almost in perplexity at the strange and unusual event: Who is this that cometh from Edom? that is, from the earth. But the Spirit did not leave the host above uninstructed in the marvellous wisdom of God the Father, but bade them rather open the heavenly gates in honour to the King and Master of all, proclaiming: Lift up the gates, O ye princes, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in. Therefore our Lord Jesus the Christ consecrated for us a new and living way, as Paul says; not having entered into a holy place made with hands, but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us. For it is not that He may present Himself |237 before the presence of God the Father that Christ has ascended up on high: for He ever was and is and will be continually in the Father, in the sight of Him Who begat Him, for He it is in Whom the Father ever takes delight: but now He Who of old was the Word with no part or lot in human nature, has ascended in human form that He may appear in heaven in a strange and unwonted manner. And this He has done on our account and for our sakes, in order that He, though found as a man, may still in His absolute power as Son, while yet in human form, obey the command: Sit Thou on My right hand, and so may transfer the glory of adoption through Himself to all the race. For in that He has appeared in human form He is still one of us as He sits at the right hand of God the Father, even though He is far above all creation; and He is also Consubstantial with His Father, in that He has come forth from Him as truly God of God and Light of Light. He has presented Himself therefore as Man to the Father on our behalf, that so He may restore us, who had been removed from the Father’s presence by the ancient transgression, again as it were to behold the Father’s face. He sits there in His position as Son, that so also we through Him may be called sons and children of God. For this reason also Paul, who insists that he has Christ speaking by his voice, teaches us to regard the events that happened in the life of Christ alone as common to the whole race; saying that God raised us up with Him, and made us to sit with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ. For to Christ, as by nature Son, it belongs as a special prerogative to sit at the Father’s side, and the glory of this dignity we can ascribe rightly and truly to Him, and Him alone. But the fact that Christ Who sits there is in all points like unto us, in that He has appeared as Man, while we believe Him to be God of God, seems to confer on us also the privilege of this dignity. For even if we shall not sit at the side of the Father Himself,—-for how could the servant ever ascend to equal honour |238 with the master?—-yet nevertheless Christ promised the holy disciples that they should sit on thrones. For He says: When the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

“I shall not then,” He says, “depart to prepare mansions for you, for many there are already, and to make new habitations for creation is needless; but I go to make ready a place for you on account of the sin that has mastery over you, that so those who are on the earth may be able to be mingled with the holy angels; for else the saintly multitude of those above would never have mingled with those who had been so denied. But now, when I shall have accomplished this work, and united the world below to the world above, and given you a path of access to the city on high, I will return again at the time of the regeneration, and receive you 5 with Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” And this is also in the mind of Paul, when he thus writes in his own letter: For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

14:4 And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.

“I Myself,” He seems to say, “am going on before to make ready for you the path of entrance into the heavens: but if you wish, and if it is the delight of your heart, to rest within those mansions, and if you have devoted all your endeavours to reach the city above and to dwell in the |239 company of the holy spirits, then ye know the way, which is Myself; for assuredly through Me. and none other, will you gain that blessing so marvellous. No other will ever open the heavens to you, or ever smooth for you the ground that none on earth could hitherto ever tread or ever know, except Myself alone.” And the saying is true. Therefore surely it was that the prophet Jeremiah, speaking by the Spirit, bade us ever seek this way most diligently, saying: Stand ye in the ways, and ask for the everlasting paths of the Lord, and see what is the good way, and walk therein; and ye shall find sanctification to your souls. For the ways and paths of the Lord are, according to the prophet, the saving precepts of the holy prophets; but if any one devote his mind to them, he will find the Good Way, that is, Christ, through Whom cometh the perfect sanctification to our souls: for we are justified by faith, and are made partakers of the Divine nature by sharing in the gift of the Holy Spirit. Nay, more, Isaiah himself, that prophet of mighty-sounding voice, thus heralded forth to us the coming of Christ, saying: There shall be in that time an undefiled way, and it shall be called a holy way; where by the phrase “in that time” he clearly means to speak of the time of the Incarnation of the Only-begotten: for He has made Himself for us an Undefiled and Holy Way, along which whosoever shall travel will at the appointed season behold the fair brightness of the city of the saints, and the Jerusalem which is free. And again, the inspired Psalmist himself says to us, addressing himself as to God the Father: Teach me, O Lord, in Thy way: for he is desirous to be instructed in the laws that are given by Christ, as one who is not unaware that he will travel onward even to the city above, if led by the Evangelic teaching, journeying straight towards every blessing. And it would not be difficult to bring forward also many other testimonies out of the prophets, from which we might know assuredly that Jesus was called by them the holy “Way”; but I consider that there is |240 no necessity for laying excessive stress on arguments whose effective use is so self-evident. “Ye know therefore,” He says, “the way by which you yourselves also may pass to the mansions above;” signifying thereby just this, and nothing else: “There are indeed resting-places in God the Father’s home, many and glorious; and I am going on before you to prepare for you a means of access whereby you may in all boldness enter the regions yonder. But be well assured that no man would ever be able to reach those courts save through Me, and Me alone.” If therefore any one fall away from the love of Christ, or (giving way to profane babblings and to impure and unnatural suggestions on the part of men whose hearts are set on false slanders) venture to degrade to the condition of slavery His nature so ineffable and incomprehensible, numbering among those born in the world Him Who is the Word begotten of the Father’s essence in perfect freedom, or having any like base thoughts; let that man be well assured that he has lost the track of the journey to heaven above, and that he has been “deceived as to the waggon-wheels of his own farm,” according to the saying of some one, and will most certainly undergo the penalties that are merited by those who cling to the world below. Therefore also the most wise Paul says of those who in madness have refused to order their lives in the manner of Christ, rushing back to the shadows of the law, that they have been alienated from Christ, and have fallen from grace in their desire to be justified by the law. For even as he who strays from the direct and beaten path will certainly be exposed to the disastrous consequences of his wandering, just so methinks and in the same degree will they who have rejected the righteousness that is in Christ, and have set at nought the teaching of the Evangelic dispensation, never see the city above, and never dwell with the saints. For Christ alone is the Way that can bring them thither. |241

14:5, 6 Thomas saith unto Him, We know not whither Thou goest, and how know we the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by Me.

Christ willed not as yet to tell His disciples in so many words that He was going away to the world above and returning to His Father, although in dark hints and through many impressive sayings He had been referring to the event. But one of His disciples, that one being Thomas, now questions Him directly, and by introducing at the same time a sort of argument, all but forces Him in spite of Himself to tell them plainly both whither it is that He is going, and where the path of His journey lies. For we know not, said he, whither Thou goest: so then, how could we know the way? Christ in His reply evades the excessive curiosity of His disciple, for He does not give the desired answer at all, but treasuring up the question in His all-knowing mind, and rather reserving it for a more convenient moment, He in His kindness unfolds a truth which it was essential for them to learn. He says, therefore: I am the Way, I the Truth, I the Life. Now as to the truth of the Lord’s saying in these words concerning Himself, no reasonable person can ever have felt the slightest shadow of doubt; yet I conceive it is needful to examine the question attentively. For how comes it that, whereas in the inspired Scriptures He is spoken of as Light, and Wisdom, and Power, and by many other names, He selects a few only as being of very especial significance for the present occasion, calling Himself the Way, and the Truth, and the Life? For the real force of the words is deep and not easily discernible, as it seems to me; yet still we must not shrink from attempting to discover it. I shall say exactly what occurs to my own mind, commending to those who are wont to speculate more keenly the task of thinking out a higher meaning. |242

There are then three means whereby we shall reach the Divine courts that are above and enter the Church of the firstborn; namely, by practice in virtue of every kind, by faith in rightness of doctrine, and by hope of life to come. Is there any one else than our Lord Jesus the Christ, who could ever be a leader, a helper, or a means for granting us success in such matters as these? Surely not: do not think it. For He Himself has taught us things that are beyond the Law; He has pointed out to us the way that any one might safely take as leading to a virtue mighty in operation, and to a zealous and unhindered performance of those acts that are after the pattern of Christ. And so He Himself is the Truth, He is the Way; that is, the true boundary of faith, and the exact rule and standard of an unerring conception concerning God. For by a true belief in the Son, namely as begotten of the very essence of God the Father, and as bearing the title of Son in its fullest and truest meaning, and not even in any sense a made or created being, we shall then clothe ourselves in the confidence of a true faith. For he who has received the Son as a Son, has fully confessed a belief also in Him of Whose essence the Son is, and knows and will straightway accept God as the Father. Therefore He is the Truth, He is the Life; for none other will restore to us the life which is within our hopes, namely, that life which is in incorruption, and blessedness, and sanctification: for He it is that raises us up, and will bring us back again from the death we died under the ancient curse, to the state in which we were at the beginning. In Him therefore and through Him, all that is best and all that is precious has already appeared, and will appear for us. And notice again that the meaning connected with these words is very suitable to the idea involved in the previous verses. For while the disciple was still in doubt, and saying: How know we the way? He shewed him briefly that since they knew Himself to be the motive cause, the leader, and the prince of the blessings that would bring |243 them to the world above, they would have no further need of knowing the way.

But since He has added hereunto the words: No one cometh unto the Father but by Me, let us give some attention to this point in what we are about to say; first examining the question how one could go to the Father. We approach Him in two ways: either by becoming holy, as far as is possible for humanity, we thus are led to cleave to a holy God, for it is written: Ye shall be holy, for I am holy; or else we arrive, through faith and contemplation, at that knowledge of the Father which is as it were in a mirror darkly, as it is written. But no man would ever be holy and make progress in a life according to the rule of virtue, unless Christ were the guide of his footsteps in everything: and none would ever be united to God the Father save through the mediation of Christ. For He is Mediator between God and men, through Himself and in Himself uniting humanity to God. For since He is born of the essence of God the Father, in that He is the Word, the Effulgence, and the very Image, He is one with the Father, being wholly in the Father, and having the Father in Himself; while in that He has become a man like unto us, He is united to all on the earth in everything except in our sin: and so He has become a sort of border-ground, containing in Himself all that concurs to unity and friendship.

No man therefore will come to the Father, that is, will appear as a partaker of the Divine nature, save through Christ alone. For if He had not become a Mediator by taking human form, our condition could never have advanced to such a height of blessedness; but now, if any one approach the Father in a spirit of faith and reverent knowledge, he will do so, by the help of our Saviour Christ Himself. For even as I said just now, so I will say again, the course of the argument being in no wise different. By accepting the Son truly as Son a man will arrive also at the knowledge of God the Father: for one could not be looked upon as a son, except the father who |244 begat him were fully acknowledged at the same time. The knowledge of the Father is thus necessarily concurrent with belief in the Son, and knowledge of the Son with belief in the Father. And so the Lord says most truly: No man cometh unto the Father but by Me. For the Son is in nature and essence an Image of God the Father, and not (as some have thought) a Being moulded merely into His likeness by attributes specially bestowed, Himself being by nature something essentially different, and being so esteemed.

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2 Responses to “St Cyril of Alexandria’s Homiletic Commentary on John 14:1-6”

  1. […] St Cyril of Alexandria on Today’s Gospel (John 14:1-6). […]

  2. […] Part 1: John 14:1-6. […]

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