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 15:1-8

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 21, 2011

15:1 I am the true Vine, and My Father is the Husbandman.

He wishes to show us that it behoves us to love, to hold fast to our love towards Him, and how great a gain we shall have from our union with Him, when He says that He is the Vine, by way of illustration; and that those who are united and fixed and rooted in a manner in Him, and who are already partakers in His nature through their participation in the Holy Spirit are branches; for it is His Holy Spirit Which has united us with the Saviour Christ, since connexion with the Vine produces a choice of those things which belong to It, and our connexion with It holds us fast. From a firm resolve in goodness we proceed onward by faith, and we become His people, obtaining from Him the dignity of Sonship. For according to the holy Paul, He that is joined unto the Lord is one Spirit. As then in other places He has been called the foundation and coping-stone by the voice of the prophets, for upon Him we are built up, ourselves being the stones, living and spiritual stones, into a holy priesthood for a habitation of God in the Spirit, and in no other way are we able to be built up into this, save only if Christ be the coping-stone, so here by a similar reflection He says that He is a Vine, as it were the mother and nourisher of its branches. For we are begotten of Him and in Him in the Spirit, to produce the fruits of life; not the old life |364 of former days, but that which consists in newness of faith and love towards Him. And we are preserved in our hold on this life by clinging as it were to Him, and holding fast to the holy commandment given to us, and by making haste to preserve the blessing of our high birth; that is, by our refusing to grieve in any way whatever the Holy Spirit That has taken up His abode in us, by Whom God is conceived to dwell in us. For in what manner we are in Christ and He in us the wise John will show us when He says: Hereby we know that we are in Him and He in us, by the Spirit Which He gave us; and again, Hereby know we that we are in Him; he that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also to walk even as He walked. And he makes this even clearer to his hearers by the words, He that keepeth His commandments abideth in Him, and He in him. For if the keeping of His commandments worketh love towards Him, and we are joined to Him by love, surely what has been said has been shown to be true by these quotations. For just as the root of the vine ministers and distributes to the branches the enjoyment of its own natural and inherent qualities, so the Only-begotten Word of God imparts to the Saints as it were an affinity to His own nature and the nature of God the Father, by giving them the Spirit, insomuch as they have been united with Him through faith and perfect holiness; and He nourishes them in piety, and worketh in them the knowledge of all virtue and good works.

And when He calls the Father Husbandman, why does He give Him this title, for the Father is not idle or inert in His dealings with us, and while the Son nourishes us and sustains us in a perfect state by the Holy Spirit, the rectification of our condition is as it were the function of the whole sacred and consubstantial Trinity, and the will and power to do all the actions done by It pervades the whole Divine Nature? Therefore it is glorified by us in its entirety, and in one single aspect. For we call God a Saviour, not gaining the graces which are |365 compassionately bestowed upon us partly from the Father, and partly from the Son Himself or the Holy Spirit, but calling our salvation the work of One Divinity. And if we must apportion the gifts which are bestowed upon us, or those activities which They display about creation, to each person of the Trinity separately, none the less do we believe that everything proceeds from the Father by the Son in the Spirit. You will think then quite rightly that the Father nourishes us in piety by the Son in the Spirit. He husbands us, that is He watches over us, and cares for us, and deems us worthy of His sustaining providence by the Son in the Spirit. For this view will be more correct than any other, in my opinion. For if we attribute to each a separate activity in His dealings with us, apart from the others, is it not beyond controversy that since the Son is called a Vine and the Father a Husbandman, we are nourished and sustained in well-being especially by the Son alone, while from the Father we receive merely His providential care. For it is the function of the vine to nourish the branches, and of the tiller of the soil to tend them. And if we think aright, we shall believe that neither the one function, if performed apart from the Father, nor the other apart from the Son or the Holy Ghost, could sustain the whole. For all proceeds from the Father by the Son in the Spirit, as we have said. Very appropriately now the Saviour called the Father a Husbandman, and it is not at all difficult to assign the cause. For it was to the intent that no one might think that the Only-begotten merely exercised care over us that He represents God the Father as co-operating with Him, calling Himself the Vine that quickens His own branches with life and productive power, and the Father a Husbandman, and for this reason teaching us that providential care over us is a sort of distinct activity of the Divine Substance. For we were bound to know that God did not only make us partakers of His nature, conceived of as belonging to the Holy and |366 consubstantial Trinity, but also He watches over us with, the most diligent care, which is illustrated to us very appropriately on this occasion by the figure of husbandry. For when He has before spoken of the vine and its branches, how is not the illustration of the husbandman most apt, introducing the One Who takes the care and charge of the whole, that is God. And if we are convinced that the Son is really and truly in His own Father, and He has Him that begat Him in His own nature, and all things are brought to perfection by Both in the Spirit as by One Divinity, neither will the Father be without His share in nourishing us, nor can the Son be thought not to partake in His husbandry. For where Their identity of nature is seen in unmistakeable language, there too there is no division of activity, though any one may think that they have manifold diversities of operations. And, as there is one Substance, that is the true and real Godhead conceived of in three Persons, that is in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, is it not extremly clear and incontrovertible that when we speak of an activity of one, it is a function of the One and entire Divinity, in the way of inherent power?

Moreover, our Lord Jesus Christ, accepting His Father as His Fellow-worker in all He did, once went amongst the impious Jews and said: Many good works have I showed you from My Father: for which of those works do ye stone Me? And again, about working on the Sabbath-day: My Father worketh even until now, and I work. And no one would think He said that the Father acts separately in His dealings with the world, and so also the Son. For since the Father does all things by the Son, and could not otherwise act, as He is His wisdom and power, for this reason He, on the other hand, called the Father the doer of His own works, when He said: I do nothing of Myself; but the Father abiding in Me doeth His works. I think, therefore, we ought to take this view and no other, that Christ takes |367 the place of the vine, and we are dependent on Him as branches, enriched as it were by His grace, and drinking in by the Spirit spiritual power to bear fruit.

And since we who have chosen the right path are assailed by the trenchant arguments of our adversaries, who try to persuade us to take a false view, we will make things clear to our hearers, compressing into short compass what one of them has set forth at length. “Well,” he says, “has the Only-begotten refuted and brought to shame those who think that He is of the same Substance with God the Father. For note how He clearly calls Himself the Vine and the Father the Husbandman: for as the vine is not the same in substance with the husbandman, for the one is wood and the other is man, and these things are altogether separate and alien in nature, so the Son is not of the same Essence with the Father, and the definition of Their Essence is widely different and distinguishes Them, if the One is a Husbandman and the Other a Vine. For there is no question that some people unjustifiably attempt to prove that this has only reference to the Incarnation. For He does not say that His Flesh is the Vine, but rather His Godhead. But will it not be clear to everyone,” he says, “that our body has no dependence on the Flesh of the Saviour as the branches on the vine, nor yet is the fruit of the Saints fleshly but spiritual? Therefore,” he says, “putting on one side for the present all reference to the flesh, we say that the meaning of the speech relates to the Divinity itself of the Son; and we maintain that that Divinity is the Vine on which we depend by faith.”

These idle ravings then suggested themselves to him, as he capriciously rejected according to his own private judgment the correct interpretation of the Divine doctrine, and distorted it, in his headstrong folly, into conformity with his own preconceived theory. But we who cling to the truth are quite of the opposite opinion, and following in the lines of the knowledge of the holy |368 fathers shall retain the correct doctrine. We may now pertinently inquire, according to our lights, how we ought to interpret the meaning of the text, and we must also see how and in what manner we may equip ourselves to encounter their arguments. For if we saw that no harm could steal therefrom unto the hearts of the simple-minded, we would pass them over in silence, and, rightly disdaining to intermeddle with their vain theories, have embarked on the investigation of the ensuing passage. But since such doctrines would be very calamitous if they gained acceptance, does it not follow that we ought, fired with religious zeal, to enter on the contest of words and arguments? For thus the wickedness of our adversaries can be very easily detected. Let us commence by saying that it is the height of folly unseasonably to reject what has been given by way of illustration and brought in as a similitude of the relations of the Trinity to display the manner of Their Nature or Essence. For I say that those who wish rightly to comprehend anything that is said, do well in looking at the purpose of the discussion, and ought attentively to consider what is the meaning of the Maker of the speech in His conversation. For consider, too, in the light of what lies before us, whether I do not seem to you to speak well. It was not the purpose of our Saviour Christ to teach the disciples that He was different in nature or separate from the Father; and it was not for this reason that He resolved to call Him That begat Him the Husbandman and Himself the Vine. For if this was His aim, why did He not end His speech here, without adding any qualification to it? For He would have illustrated what His purpose was, according to your idea, without chance of confusion, if He had merely given these names to Himself and the Father. But now, after premising that He was the Vine, and saying that we depend on Him as branches, and then investing the Father with the character of the Husbandman, He makes it quite clear and obvious to all, I think, that He |369 has no such meaning as you suppose, and wishes, by palpable illustrations visible to the bodily eye, to persuade His hearers that all power of producing the fruits of the Spirit proceeds from Him; as the branches which grow up from the root are pervaded by its inherent quality. For every good thing which we have is given; but it is not so with God. For He is in Himself the originator of His own peculiar attributes, glory and might, which appertain to Him alone. Therefore Christ, being as it were the root, is the Vine, and we are the branches. And if He called the Father the Husbandman, do not think that He spoke of Him as being different in substance. For He does not mean this, as we have said; but wishes to point out that the Divine Nature is the root and origin in us of the power of producing the fruits of the Spirit of life, besides the blessings we have spoken of, tending us like a husbandman, and extending over those who are called by faith to partake in it the providence of love. The unlikeness of the illustrations used then has no reference to the definition of the essence, for it is not the purpose of our Saviour Christ to speak on that subject, but His teaching has quite another object.

And since the deluded heretic chooses to propound his false views in his folly, and says that no argument will induce those who as it were distort the aim of the words which are before us from their right meaning, and attribute to them a reference to the Incarnation of Christ, for we were not united to Him in the body, nor yet did the Apostles as branches abide in the body of Christ, nor were they after this fashion connected with Him, but in temper of mind and faith unfeigned; let us briefly reply to this, and show him that he is altogether astray, and does not follow aright the holy writings. For that we are spiritually united with Christ in a disposition made conformable to perfect love, in true and uncorrupted faith, in virtue and purity of mind, the statement of our doctrine will no way deny. For we confess that he is |370 quite right in saying this; but in venturing to say that no reference is intended to our union with Him after the flesh, we will point out that he is wholly out of harmony with the inspired writings. For how could it be disputed, or what right-minded man could deny, that Christ is the Vine in this relation? And we, as being branches after a figure, receive into ourselves life out of and proceeding from Him, as Paul says: For we are all one body in Christ, seeing that we who are many are one bread: for we all partake of the one bread. And let any one account for this and give us an interpretation of it without reference to the power of the blessed mystery. Why do we receive it within us? Is it not that it may make Christ to dwell in us corporeally also by participation and communion of His Holy Flesh? Rightly would he answer, I deem. For Paul writes, that the Gentiles have become fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers, and fellow-heirs of Christ. How are they shown to be “embodied”? Because, being admitted to share the Holy Eucharist, they become one body with Him, just as each one of the holy Apostles. For why did he (S. Paul) call his own, yea, the members of all as well as his own, the members of Christ? For he writes thus: Know ye not that your members are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ, and make them members of a harlot? God forbid. And the Saviour Himself says: He that eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood, abideth in Me, and I in him. For here it is especially to be observed that Christ saith that He shall be in us, not by a certain relation only, as entertained through the affections, but also by a natural participation. For as, if one entwineth wax with other wax and melteth them by the fire there resulteth of both one, so through the participation of the Body of Christ and of His precious Blood, He in us, and we again in Him, are co-united. For in no other way could that which is by nature corruptible be made alive, unless it were bodily entwined with the Body of That Which is by nature |371 Life, the Only-begotten. And if any be not persuaded by my words, give credence to Christ Himself, crying aloud: Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, ye have not life in yourselves. He that eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up in the last day. Thou nearest now Himself plainly declaring that, unless we “eat His Flesh, and drink His Blood,” we “have not in ourselves,” that is, in our flesh, “Eternal Life.” But Eternal Life may be conceived to be, and most justly, the Flesh of that which is Life, that is, the Only-begotten. And how or in what manner this raises us up on the last day hear now; and I will not scruple to tell you. For since the Life, that is the Word which shone forth from God the Father, took unto Himself flesh, the flesh became transformed into a living principle, and it is inconceivable that the life should be vanquished by death. Therefore, since the life is in us, it will not endure the bondage of death, but will wholly vanquish corruption, since it cannot endure its results. For corruption does not inherit incorruption, as Paul says. For if Christ uses the emphatic expression, I will raise him up, He not only invested His own Flesh with the power of raising those who are asleep, but the Divine and Incarnate Word, being one with His own Flesh, says, I will raise him up, and with good reason. For Christ is not severed into a duality of Sons, nor can any one think that His Body is alien from the Only-begotten, as no doubt no one could maintain that the body in which the soul dwells is alien from it.

When then by these disquisitions Christ has been shown to us to be the Vine in this sense, and we the branches, inasmuch as we partake in a fellowship with Him that is not merely spiritual but also corporeal, why does he talk so vainly, asserting that, since our dependence on our fellowship with Him is not corporeal, but consisting rather in faith and disposition to love according to the law, He did not call His own Flesh, he says, the vine, |372 but rather His Godhead? And yet, why, some one may say, does he reject the interpretation that is more fitting and appropriate to the passage, and hasten to adopt one widely divergent? For shall we not grant that Christ is the Vine in a more appropriate way also according to the fellowship of the flesh, and that we are branches through the similarity of our nature? For that which proceeds from the vine is of like nature with it. And this we say, not as attempting to deny the possibility of union with Christ by right faith and sincere love, but rather from a wish to point out that Christ is the Vine and we are the branches, both in a spiritual and corporeal sense.

Further, the statement of the truth is simple and obvious; but our adversary, in his wickedness, disdains the admission that Christ was the Vine in a corporeal sense also, as conferring His own Life on the branches, that is to say on us, just as the visible and earthly vine confers life on the branches that cling to it. He distorts and does violence to the meaning of the thought, making it have reference only to His Godhead. For he thought that he might thus bring a calumny against it, raising this ignorant contention: “If the Son is the Vine,” he says, “and the Father the Husbandman, and the Son differs in nature from Him, as in the figure of the vine, the Son will not be of the same Substance with the Father.”

And he thinks he has built up a profound, trenchant, and incontrovertible theory against the doctrines of the Church, but will no less here also be convicted of folly. For when he first asserts that the Son is alien in nature, and places Him outside the Substance of Him That begat Him, how then can he any longer call God a Father, and the Son a Son in any sense? For if he says that He was not begotten, that is, proceeded from the Substance of the Father, just as the offspring of men from men, how could He be in any true sense the Son? How then can he set aside the blessed John, when he says: He that denieth the Son, will deny the Father also: he that confesseth the |373 Son, confesseth the Father also? And the saying is true. For the denial or confession of the One altogether involves the denial or confession of the Other. For the Father could not exist if the Son did not; nor could the Son be conceived of if He That begat Him were not conceived of with Him. If then he denies the Son, for he says that He belongs to another class, he thereby denies the Father also. What answer then, my good Sir, have you to make? Whom has faith left? Where is the glory of the Holy Trinity? For the nature that rules over the universe is hereby wholly taken away; that nature which is shown to us in plain language in the Holy Scripture. For their temerity and falsehood force us into the midst of difficult discussions. But, perhaps shrinking from so prodigious a blasphemy, he says that the Son belongs to another class, but was begotten of God the Father. But we will ask him once more to tell us how then does he grant and confess that He is begotten? For if as one of created beings, according to a state of mind that is in love and according to will, for all things are said to be produced from God, this none the less involves the same blasphemy. And if he says that He is truly the Son, but asserts that He is alien, and asserts even after saying this that He is different in class, even after this admission he commits an impiety against the Father Himself. For that which the nature of created beings disdained to suffer, this he would show that God underwent. For surely is not that which is truly the offspring of anything by nature manifestly of the same substance with the father of it? Is it not quite obvious to every one? The world then proceeds according to a suitable principle, for no creature produces anything different in kind from itself. And only in God shall we find the reverse, since He has begotten the Son different in kind and not of His own Nature.

It were likely then that our adversary should not like to make any reply; but if he persists in his folly, and thinks that the Son is different in kind from God the Father, we will not be slack in our advocacy of the |374 doctrines of the truth. For we shall show that he says that God the Father is the same in kind with created beings; and how, or in what way, you may now learn. He clearly contends and maintains that it is not so much the flesh as the Divinity Itself of the Only-begotten that is called the Vine. Suppose it is so then. For I will ask the question, and let him make the reply. “Does he think that the Son is truly God, or not; or does he maintain that He is spurious, or that His dignity only consists in empty titles?” And if he maintains that He is not God by nature, let him ponder over the testimony of the Only-begotten Himself, when He says, I am the Truth. For the truth has only one form, and does not admit of the spurious or mis-named. And let him accept the witness hereon of the most wise John, when he clearly exclaims, and says: And we are in the true God, Jesus Christ: this is the true God and eternal life. But if perhaps he is ashamed of this, and gives up his contention, and confesses that the Son is truly God, we will not shift our position, but will use his own words to overturn what he said. “Is not the Father, as the Husbandman, different in nature from the vine; for the one is man and the other wood?” Thus must not the vine be conceived of as really and truly of the same nature with its branches? And I suppose some would attain such a pitch of folly as to venture to deny what is so clear. When then, being truly God, He is of the same Substance with the true and living God, that is the Father, and He is the vine, and we are the branches, of the same nature plainly for this reason with the vine; shall not we ourselves also surely be Gods by nature, putting off as it were our own nature? But such an idea, only those wicked men, who shrink from no impiety, can entertain. For we have been created, and the Son is God by nature. Then how can this be? And how can that which was said of Him be true, if the branches are of the same nature with the vine? For it must be that either we ourselves are uplifted into the nature of the true Godhead, or that is brought down to |375 us. For the branches are of like nature with the vine. And since the Son clearly says: I and the Father are one, either we shall ascend with Him to perfect likeness with the Father, or the Father Himself will be drawn down with the Son, Who is like in nature to us, into our likeness. You see then what a mass of blasphemies we have arising from his statement. Therefore we will rather follow the true doctrine, believing that the Son says by way of illustration: “I am the Vine, ye are the branches, My Father is the Husbandman.”

2 Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit, He taketh it away: and every branch that beareth fruit, He cleanseth it, that it may bear more fruit.

Our connexion with Christ is of the mind, and implies a power of union affecting the tenor of our lives; perfecting us in love and faith. And the faith dwells in our hearts, making the manifestation of the Divine knowledge complete: while the manner of the love requires us to keep the commandment laid down for us by Him. For thus He also indicated him that loves Him, saying: “He that loveth Me will keep My commandments.” We must know then that being united with Him by faith, and giving effect to the manner of our union in mere barren confessions of faith, and not clenching the bond of our union by the good works that proceed from love, we will be branches indeed, but still dead and without fruit. For faith without works is dead, as the Saint says. If then after this manner the branch be seen to exist fruitlessly, depending, so to speak, from the trunk of the vine, know that such a man will encounter the pruning-knife of the husbandman. For He will wholly cut it off, and will give it to the fire to consume as worthless rubbish; for this is the judgment of the barren, as I think also in the case of the fig-tree, which was set before us by way of parable. The lord of the vineyard says to the tiller of the soil: Cut it down; why doth it also cumber the ground? So in this case too I think that the God |376 and Father of all mows down the thick and barren burden of branches that hangs down from the vine in the figure with no produce of fruit. And I think that the Overseer of our souls, that is God, wishes to show by the parable here employed what and how great is the injury which the soul that is cut off from fellowship with Him has to endure. For it will wholly wither away, and become barren of every good work, and will unquestionably be abandoned to punishment, and be the prey of all consuming flames. Moreover, by the mouth of the prophet Ezekiel, wishing to show this very clearly, He said: Son of man, what is the vine-tree more than any other tree, or than a branch which is among the trees of the forest? Shall wood be taken thereof to do any work? Or will men take it to hang any vessel upon it? The yearly purging of it the fire performs; and at last it faileth. Is it meet for any work? Know then that that which has once been cut off and wholly severed is altogether useless, and cannot be taken to serve for any necessary purpose, but is soon only useful for firewood. Is it not clear that if we be a branch, and have been drawn away from the deceitfulness of a plurality of gods, and have confessed the faith of Christ, but are still barren, so far as the union which shows itself in works is concerned, we shall surely suffer the fate of the barren branches? And what then? For we are wholly cut off, and we shall be given to the flames, and shall have lost besides that life-giving sap, that is to say, the Spirit, Which we once had from the Vine. For that which Christ said of the man who buried his talent one may see accomplished in the case of those who have suffered complete severance. For just as the talent was taken away from him at once, so I think also is the Spirit taken from the branch, as in figure of sap or quality. And why is it taken away? That the Spirit of the Lord may not seem to share in the condemnation of those who are doomed to go to the perdition of fire by the sentence of the judge. For if earthly rulers will not |377 on a sudden determine the fate of those who have once been held in honour, and dignified by kingly favours, but if such an one be convicted of some crime for which he may justly pay the penalty, this fate could not overtake him before he has been robbed of his honours; is it not necessary then that the soul that has been sentenced by the verdict from above to the fate of punishment, should in a manner be divested of, and lay aside, the grace of the Spirit before experiencing the evils? We say further that the barren branch will suffer such a fate, wishing to confirm our minds as far as possible, to be prone to lay fast hold on love towards Him by the active principle of virtue within us and faith unshaken, while He says that the fruitful branch will not at all be left without experiencing the care of the tiller of the soil, but will be throughly cleansed, so as to be more able to bear fruit. For God works with those who have chosen to live the best and most perfect life, and to do good works so far as in them lies, and have elected to seek perfection as citizens of God. He, as it were, uses the working-power of the Spirit as a pruning-hook, and circumcising in them sometimes the pleasures which are always calling us to fleshly lusts and bodily passions, and sometimes all those temptations which are wont to assail the souls of men, defiling the mind by divers kinds of evils. For this we say is that circumcision which is not the work of hands, but is truly that of the Spirit, of which Paul in one place says: For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly: neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly: and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. And in another place, again: In Whom ye also believed and were circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands. And therefore they say to some, that if the branches of the vine in the figure suffer any purging, that cannot take place, I suppose, without suffering. |378 For it is painful so far as, and to the extent that, the wood can suffer pain. In the same way then we must think it affects the Saints: and, if we consider attentively, we shall give them our consent and approval. For our God, Who loves virtue, instructs us by pain and tribulation. Moreover the prophet Isaiah says thus: When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the sons and daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning. And the inspired Paul himself too says: If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as sons, for what son is there whom his father chasteneth not? Nay, more, the choir of the Saints themselves, who exceed all conception, do not reject the instruction given by the Holy Ones, but rather eagerly welcome it with the words: Instruct us, Lord, but in judgment, and not in wrath, that Thou make us not few. For in wrath will be accomplished the complete severance of the barren branches, for He sends them to punishment; but in judgment rather—-that is, consideration and in mercy—-will be accomplished the purging of those which bear fruit, which brings but small pain, to the quickening of their fertility, and occasioning a greater abundance of blossom springing up. Further, some accepting this exclaim: Lord, by brief tribulation dost Thou chasten us; for the tribulation of purification lasts but a short while, but, giving us instruction from above, makes us blessed. And we will receive the blessed David as a witness, who thus exclaims: Blessed is the man whom Thou, Lord, chastenest, and instructest in Thy law, to comfort him in evil days. For the days of the impartial judgment are truly days of evil omen, and dreadful to those who are wholly cut off and doomed to the perdition of punishment by fire; but to those who are chastened in that day the Lord robs them of their terrors. For such a man can no way be numbered among those who are doomed to judgment and punishment, as he is not a |379 barren branch. Let then the fervour that shows itself in works be combined with the confession of the faith, and let it unite action with the doctrines concerning God. For then shall we be with Christ, and experience the secure and safe power of fellowship with Him, escaping the peril that results from being cut off from Him.

We made these observations because we thought we ought to deal with the investigation of the passage after a spiritual manner, and it is likely that Christ wished to hint at some other meaning, by His clearly saying: Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit, He taketh it away; and every branch that beareth fruit, He cleanseth it, that it may bear more fruit. For by the branch that has been taken away from fellowship with Christ by the severance of the Father, He means, I think, the people of the Jews, who are not capable of bearing fruit; against whom the thrice-blessed John declares that the axe will be brought; saying that the wood which is cut off will be given over to the flames; while by those branches which do not need to be completely cut off, but which abide in the Vine, and which are to be purged by the providence of God, He means those among the Jews themselves who believed, and the converts to them from other nations, who have one and the same purification; for it is accomplished in the Holy Spirit, according to the Scriptures: but the manner of their purification is separate and distinct. For the children of Israel have cast off from them the wish to guide their life and conduct by the Mosaic Law, while the heart of the worshippers of idols is stripped of the past deceitfulness that held sway over their hearts, and also of the rubbish of impure and ignorant customs, in order that they may bring forth the fruit of the divine training of the Gospel, which may be meet for the table of God, and be acceptable to Him. And that what we have said is clearly true there is no difficulty in satisfying ourselves from the inspired writings themselves. For the inspired |380 Paul enjoins those of the Jews who believed, when making light of the doctrines of the Gospel, they were once more backsliders, honouring the shadows of the Law: Ye are alienated from Christ, ye who would he justified by the Law; ye are fallen away from grace. And again: I say unto you that if ye receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing. And if the wish to be justified according to the Law alienates them from Christ, is it not beyond question that it is the discarding of the Law as a guide of conduct that invites the power of union with Christ? In this way, then, the Israelites are circumcised, or rather purged, and so also he that once worshipped the creature more than the Creator, by getting rid of his past disease. And what does Paul say to them? For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God, through the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by His life. And he charges them in another passage, and says: But now, after ye have come to know God, or rather to be known of God, how turn ye back again to the weak and beggarly rudiments of the world, whereunto ye desire to be in bondage over again? As therefore those who are willing to serve the beggarly elements become alienated from Christ, while those who do not endure to serve the creature rather than the Creator become one with Him, shall we not confess that the manner of the purification of the Gentiles shall be the most profitable cutting away by the Spirit of the old deceit, bringing in all manner of good things to us in divers ways in its stead? For in the putting off and casting aside of evil things, the beauty of virtue is conspicuous by contrast. For where vileness is driven out, there holiness is seen to arise.

We must show, too, that our circumcision is by the Spirit fulfilling the need of purification in us, and that the Son brings in the Spirit; for of His fulness we all received, as John saith; and He it is that says to us, Receive ye the Holy Spirit. The Father then worketh |381 our purification through the Son, by means of the circumcision that we conceive of through the Spirit. We have humbled then the rash and impious hardihood of our adversaries, who did not scruple to maintain that as Christ spoke of Himself as the Vine, and God the Father as the Husbandman, He could not be the same by nature with Him. “For no argument shall convince us,” he says, “that the husbandman and the vine are identical in essence.” When then the Son is found to be a Husbandman through the circumcision by the Spirit, they must be of this mind for the future, that since husbandmen are of the same class with each other, in so far as they are men, it is clear that the Son is not alien to God the Father, but like in substance with Him.

3 Already ye are clean, because of the word which I have spoken unto you.

He makes then His disciples a palpable and convincing demonstration of the art of the purifier of their souls; for already, He says, they are purged, not through a participation in anything else, but merely by the word spoken unto them, that is, the divine guidance of the Gospel. And this word proceeds from Christ. What man of sense, then, can any longer call in question that the Father has, as it were, a pruning-knife and hand, through whose instrumentality everything exists; that is, the Son, fulfilling the activity of that husbandry in us, which He attributes to the person of the Father, teaching us that all things proceed from the Father but by the instrumentality of the Son? For it is the Word of the Saviour that purgeth us, though the husbandry of our souls is attributed to God the Father. For this is His Living Word, sharp as a sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. For, reaching into the depths of each man’s inmost soul, and having every man’s |382 hidden purpose revealed before It as God, It brings Its keen edge to bear upon our vain pursuits by the working of the Spirit. For in this, I suppose, we shall deem our purification to consist. And all things that profit us in the attainment of virtue It increases and multiplies to bear the fruit which is conceived in righteousness.

When then the manner of His husbandry of our souls is shown in the excellence of its operation, the ingenious and impious attempt of our adversaries is surely brought to nought, when they say that the Son is distinct in nature from God the Father, as He is called the Vine, and the Father the Husbandman. Let us consider and reflect on the fact that He declares that His disciples are clean, not through the special and distinct working of God the Father in them, that is, apart from the Only-begotten, but because they were obedient to His Word. As then He is the Quickener of our souls by the Son, and in the Son, in the same way as He is also the Husbandman or Guardian, He may properly be thought to act not otherwise than by the Son. And if those who start the argument against us think they ought to abide by the false theory they once broached, and, as Christ said that He was the Vine, think they are therefore, as it were, perforce compelled to degrade Him into a separate and foreign nature, what is there now to hinder us too from going to the same height of shamelessness, and distorting the meaning of the illustration, and being converted against our will by a like folly, and choosing to revolt from this puerile and ridiculous conception? For if, since He is spoken of as the Vine, they think that for this reason He falls away from His natural relationship with God the Father, and is wholly different in Substance, since the vine and the husbandman are not identical in nature; why cannot we also, encountering them with an argument as ignorant and unscholarly as their own, say this—-Are only the branches profited by the care of the tiller of the soil; and will the branches |383 that depend from the stem alone reap the profit of His art, or will the nourisher or nurse too of the branches, that is, the vine, to which they cling and are fixed by nature, require some tending? I do not think this will be difficult to demonstrate. For our adversary himself will at once agree with us that if the trunk were not tended, the branches could not remain in good condition. Since then Christ has called Himself the Vine, and the trunk itself of the vine requires the fostering care of the tiller of the soil, or it will be wholly and entirely ruined, we shall draw the inference that the Son is on a level with ourselves, and requires, as we do, the Father’s providence, that He may not Himself be distorted from what He is into something else, and fall away from His native dignity or the position that He holds. For the ridiculous argument of the enemies of divine truth reduces itself to this.

But let us have done with these diseased and foolish ravings, and enter upon a discussion concerning the Holy Apostles. For He says: Already ye are clean, because of the word which I have spoken unto you: just as though He were to say, the manner of your spiritual purification, which is conceived of as by the Spirit and in the Spirit, has been wrought by the Father, through My Word on you first. Behold, casting off the burden of the vain customs and corruption of this world, be ready to bring forth fruits acceptable to God: rid yourselves of the vain and profitless law of the Jews, and pay heed to it no more. My Word has purified you: for no longer do you conduct your lives by the Mosaic Law, or according to the dispensation of the writings thereof. For you will not seek sanctification in what ye eat and drink, nor in doctrines of baptisms, nor yet in sacrificial atonements; but consider that ye are established in firm faith, and make haste to appease God by every kind of good work. For in them is seen the power of spiritual bondage. Those who are destined to be pure will be, He says, even as you are. For they, just escaping from the |384 net of the devil, and getting away from the snares of idol-worship, will be taught no longer to be governed by his decrees; but, shaking off the impurity of former customs as vain rubbish, and being thus for the future fitted to bear the fruits of the virtue that loves God, will be joined to Me in the manner of branches; and, being dependent on their love towards Me, will have their hearts enriched by the influences of the Spirit, and, imbibing the grace of My goodness, will continue stedfast to the end and be nurtured in righteousness. The Israelites, when they have been converted to faith in Me, and have been attached to Me in the manner of branches, then receiving into their mind purification through My Word, no longer devote themselves to the service of the letter; and not fixing their heart, as now, on shadows and types, bear the fruit of a true and spiritual service to God. For God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him, must worship in Spirit and truth. At the same time also He shows clearly, as in a figure, to His disciples the beauty that will belong to those who are about to be purified, and gives them the greatest encouragement to attain the still more ample excellence; showing them that their service and the training of their past teaching had not been vain —-that teaching of the Gospel, through which they were destined to benefit those who dwell in the whole world—-displaying themselves as an example to those that believe on Christ. For it has been written concerning the

Saints, that it behoves us to watch closely the issue of their life, and to imitate their faith. And Paul incites those who serve God to be imitators of himself.

4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; so neither can ye, except ye abide in Me.

We shall know then, by an accurate investigation of the words before us, that the being received of Christ through faith pure and true is the first work of that zeal which is requisite and dear to God. For this is the |385 meaning of being numbered among the branches, which cling to the true Vine, I mean Christ. But the fruit of our second meditation is by no means less in importance than our first, but it has, indeed, an even more pregnant meaning: the loving to be united to God, and to lay fast hold on Him, through a love exhibited in works, which has the fulfilment of the holy and Divine command. For this causes us inseparably to inhere in, and to be closely united to, Him, as the Psalmist expresses it: My soul has been joined unto Thee. The being received then as it were into the rank of branches will not be sufficient for complete joy of heart, or for the sanctification which, as it were, exhibits Christ sanctifying us. But I maintain that the following Him purely through love perfect and unfailing is also necessary. For by this means, the power of union or intimate conjunction with the Father may be best maintained and preserved. When therefore Christ said to His disciples, Already ye are clean because of the word which I have spoken unto you; lest any one of those who have once been purified should be considered incapable of falling away, even though he should bestow no care to remain in a state of grace, He adds this useful injunction—-that it is necessary to abide in Him. And what will this be? Nothing else, as I think, but quite obviously that which Paul well expresses: Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. For a thousand backslidings befall those who think that they are firmly fixed, and who do not take great precautions not to lose the place which they have obtained; and I think that we require the utmost modesty and sobriety, even though a man think himself firmly fixed by the progress he has already made towards establishing himself in righteousness. He then has shown the nature and extent of the punishment of him who has, as it were, been cut off from intimate union with God, through slipping back from negligence into what is wrong, in the statement, As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, so neither |386 can ye, except ye abide in Me. For unless the branch had supplied to it from its mother the vine the life-producing sap, how would it bear grapes, or what fruit will it bring forth, and from what source? You will perceive that the language of Christ has an application by analogy to ourselves. For no fruit of virtue will spring up anew in us, who have once fallen away from intimate union with Christ. To those, however, who are joined to Him Who is able to strengthen them, and Who nourishes in righteousness, the capacity of bearing fruit will readily be added by the provision and grace of the Spirit, as by life-producing water. And knowing this, the Only-begotten said in the Gospels: If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. And to this, the Evangelist, inspired by the Spirit, has testified, when in his excellent explanation he says: But this spake He of the Spirit, Which they that believe on Him were to receive. And the blessed David, speaking as though to God the Father, thus addressed Him: With Thee is the fountain of life, and Thou shalt give them to drink of the river of blessedness. For by the fountain of Divine and spiritual life and of the fulness of blessedness, who else could be meant but the Son, Who fattens and waters our souls in the position of branches clinging to Him by faith and love, with the quickening and joy-giving grace of the Spirit.

5, 6 I am the Vine, ye are the brandies: he that abideth in Me and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for apart from Me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

Our Lord Jesus Christ openly says that He has been called the Vine for this reason, and this reason only, that we may clearly understand, and not merely perceive with the eyes of the body, as by a palpable, sensible, and most visible figure, that to those who are eager to be closely |387 joined to Him, and who choose to enjoy a close union with His nature, will be added the capacity and the conditions requisite for the production of virtue and spiritual fruit-bearing; since they are evidently provided, from its source, as from the vine their mother, with a potential and an actual force. In those however who have as it were been torn away or cut off from their hold on Him, by turning to what is wrong and to conduct displeasing to God, not merely will no capacity of a fitness for virtue, or of being able to show the fruits that spring from goodness be seen, but the doom of being consumed by all-devouring fire, as by an inevitable necessity, will await them. For that which is useless for righteousness seems fit to pay the penalty, just as the withered branches will be only useful for the fire.

You would find an indisputable and true proof of what we have said, not by perusing the chapters of the saints of old, but rather by applying your attention to the study of the holy Apostles themselves. For they, by neglecting in no way love towards Christ, but abiding in Him, and considering that nothing whatever should be set before righteousness towards Him, have become known throughout the world. And they exhibited through the world the fruit of their virtue, and showing themselves a pattern of a God-loving state, as a bright image to all under the sun, they wreathed for themselves the fadeless crown of glory with God. But he, who by a few pieces of silver was entrapped into the net of destruction, I mean the base and most mercenary Judas, was cut off from the true Vine, that is Christ, and withered away in a certain sense, and lost together his position of discipleship and the quickening quality of the Spirit. For he was cast outside, according to the saying of the Saviour. For he became alienated from Christ, and was given over like rubbish to him that chastises with fire. Pertinently then does our Lord Jesus Christ set forth to His hearers the joy of heart that springs from the desire of intimate union with Him, and on the other hand place before them the |388 punishment resulting from severance, thus conceiving a twofold method of salvation. For either by an aim which looks forward to glory and life, or our dread of the chastisement by fire, we shall lay hold more earnestly, with all the strength of our mind, on intimate union with Him.

But He calls the Father Husbandman, attributing to His Divine Nature the watchful care over us, as also we have previously shown at length. For He will be found doing the work of a hand to the Husbandman, Who uses no other hand, according to His Consubstantiality both from Him, and in Him; as is really the case, and as it is in our power to see in the following way. For as a proof that all things are done by the Son, as by the hand of the Father, listen to what the Father Himself says respecting His creatures: My hand made all these things; whereas all things were made by the Son, according to the holy writings.

We must observe that the divine Paul figures darkly to us the true cutting, even though it be not that of a vine, when he says: Behold then the goodness and severity of God: toward them that fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in His goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.

7 If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

He says that the love of unbroken union with Him, and the keeping in mind as a Divine and spiritual treasure entrusted to them the pure treasure of the lessons of the Gospel, and the true instruction of the doctrines of the faith, established also by unerring interpretations, will be the root of the most perfect goodness. For the whole discourse of the Saviour would convey this meaning to us, if we consider the aim set forth in the Gospels. For in the promise of Christ that He will continually give what is good to those who ask Him, how shall we deny that a very clear pledge of this is given to us? I suppose |389 it is necessary to inquire what in addition is the accurate meaning of the words: If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you. For can any one say that to abide in Christ can be attained without keeping in oneself also His words? Now to this question men of sense will doubtless answer “No.” For our hearer must remember, that when inquiring into the kind of love towards Christ, and investigating what it was, and how it could exist in perfection, we said that there are two methods given; I mean that through faith which is wholly blameless, and that again which projects itself in actuality, which enters secretly by pure love. And if we trust our Saviour’s words that this is so with us, it follows that they adopt a dangerous and intolerable explanation of the relationship, in admitting the bare faith, which consists in words only, but not receiving the love which is moulded by right actions to perfection. They indeed abide in Christ in the sense of the relationship that results from belief, and so far as they do not adopt another religious worship; but when they no longer have His words in themselves they will be condemned. And we do not go so far as to say that, burying the preaching of the Gospels in oblivion, they are altogether unmindful of the words of the Saviour, submitting everything to their own pleasures, and directing their unbridled impulse to the consideration of earthly things alone, and, on account of this, carry themselves away from the true Vine, and, despising the favour of intimate relationship with Him, by their own passions, they deem the citizenship that is in Christ of no account. Now concerning every such person Christ Himself says: Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doeth the will of My Father Which is in heaven. And that faith which is alone, and by itself, and which does not obtain the assistance of the light that proceeds from works, will not suffice to secure an intimate relationship with God, the disciple of Christ |390 also proves, saying: Thou believest that God is one; the devils also believe and shudder. Shall one then say to those who think that a faith bare and alone will be sufficient to enable them to get possession of the fellowship that is from above,—-will even the band of demons rise to fellowship with God, since they acknowledge His Unity, and have believed in His Existence? How could this be? For the mere knowledge that the Creator and Producer of all things is One God is useless. But I think it necessary that the confession of piety towards Him should accompany faith. For such a man abideth in Christ, and will be seen to possess His words, according to the text in the Book of Psalms: I have kept Thy saying in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee. Just as if any one should place into a brazen vessel the element of fire, he will make the vessel entirely the sharer of the warmth arising from it, so also the mind which in soul and heart is wholly possessed by the Divine and heavenly doctrine, by striving up to every kind of virtue is always thereby inflamed towards it. For it is written: Thy word is very pure: therefore Thy servant loveth it.

” Let him therefore,” He says, “who establishes himself therein, and has attained to this high honour, so as to remain in Me, and to have My words in him, go boldly on, and with complete confidence ask for whatever tendeth to bliss, and without delay it shall be given him. For,” He says, “I will grant it.” “Well then,” says our opponent,” if any one should ask for what is wrong, will He take more fully of this, and will He that loves virtue allot him such a portion as this?” Get thee behind me, thou man of evil counsel! For God will provide nothing that is opposed to His own Nature, nor any of those things which are numbered among evil things. But my view seems more appropriate: does it not appear right and just? It is clear then that He who abides in Christ, and has His words in him, knows, by the very fact of his goodness and righteousness, how |391 to think only those things which are acceptable to God. For it is clear that He has permitted to those who have His Word in their hearts to ask whatsoever they may reasonably wish; well knowing that they only aim at a participation in blessings of a spiritual and Divine nature. As then our Saviour Christ has excellently defined, in these words, the character of the man who prays and asks to receive whatever he wills from God, let us mould our own condition into conformity with this ideal, if we desire to obtain the heavenly blessing. But if you know that you are yourself not such an one as Christ has just indicated to us, take it not ill if you stumble, but if the effort seems burdensome to you, uniting with your faith the glory which proceeds from good works, (for this is abiding in Christ), and, having in yourself His words, go forward in confidence, and yourself receive without delay whatever you request from God.

8 Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit, and so shall ye be My disciples.

He says that God His Father has been glorified, being justly admired for His incomparable goodness and crowning as it were His exceeding kindness with actual proof. For He so loved the world according to the Scripture, that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have eternal life. The life of all, that of course which is fulfilled by Christ, is then the fruit of the kindness of God the Father. For this reason I suppose He Himself, conversing with God the Father, said: I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to fulfil it. For the Only-begotten, being entrusted as it were with the salvation of us all, has well accomplished it by the Father, and He a Being not comprehended under the condition of necessary obedience, but Himself the absolute wisdom and power of His Father, apart from Whom nothing whatever can |392 exist. For all things are by Him, according to the Holy Evangelist, and we in a special manner. And for this reason the blessed David declares that the ordering of all that concerns us, and the directing aright of the life of all is entrusted by the Father to the Son, as His power and wisdom, when he says: O God, order the working of Thy power: O God, confirm that which Thou hast prepared; and once more: O God, give Thy judgment to the King. For it was the work of Him Who alone reigns with God the Father to restore the earth that was entirely corrupted, and to be able to mould it anew into its former state. Therefore My Father was glorified by giving His Own Son as a ransom for the life of the world, being content to see among us Him Who is above every creature, not that He might bring any addition of perfection to His Own Nature. For He is all perfect and self-sufficing, having power over all things, but in order that you may bring forth more fruit and become My disciples. For if He had not become man, we should not, being deemed worthy of sharing His nature, and being united to Him like branches, and gaining for Him the power of bearing fruit by sharing in His Spirit, have produced the fruit of a state of life pleasing to God, which He even calls much, putting in the background that which sprang from service of the Law, and showing that it is of less importance. For the Law hath made nothing perfect, according to the saying of Paul. For this reason He said to His holy disciples, nay to all of us who have been united to Him by faith and perfect love: 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. And again: 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; casting, as it were, from the treasury of their hearts the Mosaic injunctions, and the memory of the ancient |393 writings. He therefore, who is a willing hearer, and ready to learn, and is full of the torchlight of the Gospel, has his wealth increased and multiplied; I mean, of course, spiritual wealth. For he brings forth things new and old, transforming the shadow of the Law and the power of servitude to the Law into the pattern of citizenship according to the Gospel. For what the Law figured by types, this Christ did openly in truth. Wherefore also He said: I came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfil; and again: Verily, verily, I say unto you, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the Law, till all things be accomplished. The power then of the service of the Gospel is the much fruit, spiritual, and in truth; seeing that the Only-begotten became Man for the glory of God the Father. And on this account it has followed that those who are on the earth are His disciples. For He spoke to those of old time and formerly through the prophets as God; but has told us and said concerning us: And they shall all be taught of God. For to us who believe in Him, not merely has no other person intervened and conveyed the message from Him, or become a mediator of His Will towards us, as Moses doubtless was to the Israelites in Mount Sinai: or again, the prophets after Moses to those among them; but Christ Himself has taught us. And for this reason we are all taught of God. We should not then have at all become His disciples, we should not have brought forth the fruits of love towards God, and this in abundance, unless the Father had been glorified by His goodness, taking such pleasure in us, that the Word proceeding from His Essence should become Man. For we shall think thus when we hear the Holy Scripture declaring that He gave His own Son. For He also approved of His choosing to suffer this for us; and, on this account, is said to have given Him: and with justice. |394

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6 Responses to “St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John 15:1-8”

  1. […] St Cyril of Alexandria on Today’s Gospel (John 15:1-8). […]

  2. […] St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John 15:1-7. Includes vs. 8. […]

  3. […] St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John 15:1-7. Includes vs. 8. […]

  4. […] St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (John 15:1-8). […]

  5. […] St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (John 15:1-8). […]

  6. […] St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John 15:1-7. Includes vs. 8. […]

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