Lectio notes: John 8:12-36

Today's section of St John's Gospel returns to the question of how we can know that what Jesus is saying is true.  It returns to the image of Christ as the light of the world, and contains that famous line, 'The truth will set you free'...

Freedom is one of those concepts that has become utterly corrupted in our culture: instead of being the freedom to act rightly through the power of grace, it has become synonymous with the idea that we should all be permitted to indulge our basest desires at will.  A freedom grounded in truth though, stands as a corrective to this.


The New Advent page with Greek, Latin and English can be found here. You can hear the Latin read here (from 1.20) and the Greek here.

The Latin:

12 Iterum ergo locutus est eis Jesus, dicens: Ego sum lux mundi: qui sequitur me, non ambulat in tenebris, sed habebit lumen vitæ. 13 Dixerunt ergo ei pharisæi: Tu de teipso testimonium perhibes; testimonium tuum non est verum. 14 Respondit Jesus, et dixit eis: Et si ego testimonium perhibeo de meipso, verum est testimonium meum: quia scio unde veni et quo vado; vos autem nescitis unde venio aut quo vado. 15 Vos secundum carnem judicatis: ego non judico quemquam; 16 et si judico ego, judicium meum verum est, quia solus non sum: sed ego et qui misit me, Pater. 17 Et in lege vestra scriptum est, quia duorum hominum testimonium verum est. 18 Ego sum qui testimonium perhibeo de meipso, et testimonium perhibet de me qui misit me, Pater. 19 Dicebant ergo ei: Ubi est Pater tuus? Respondit Jesus: Neque me scitis, neque Patrem meum: si me sciretis, forsitan et Patrem meum sciretis. 20 Hæc verba locutus est Jesus in gazophylacio, docens in templo: et nemo apprehendit eum, quia necdum venerat hora ejus.21 Dixit ergo iterum eis Jesus: Ego vado, et quæretis me, et in peccato vestro moriemini. Quo ego vado, vos non potestis venire. 22 Dicebant ergo Judæi: Numquid interficiet semetipsum, quia dixit: Quo ego vado, vos non potestis venire? 23 Et dicebat eis: Vos de deorsum estis, ego de supernis sum. Vos de mundo hoc estis, ego non sum de hoc mundo. 24 Dixi ergo vobis quia moriemini in peccatis vestris: si enim non credideritis quia ego sum, moriemini in peccato vestro. 25 Dicebant ergo ei: Tu quis es? Dixit eis Jesus: Principium, qui et loquor vobis. 26 Multa habeo de vobis loqui, et judicare; sed qui me misit, verax est; et ego quæ audivi ab eo, hæc loquor in mundo. 27 Et non cognoverunt quia Patrem ejus dicebat Deum. 28 Dixit ergo eis Jesus: Cum exaltaveritis Filium hominis, tunc cognoscetis quia ego sum, et a meipso facio nihil, sed sicut docuit me Pater, hæc loquor: 29 et qui me misit, mecum est, et non reliquit me solum: quia ego quæ placita sunt ei, facio semper. 30 Hæc illo loquente, multi crediderunt in eum.31 Dicebat ergo Jesus ad eos, qui crediderunt ei, Judæos: Si vos manseritis in sermone meo, vere discipuli mei eritis, 32 et cognoscetis veritatem, et veritas liberabit vos. 33 Responderunt ei: Semen Abrahæ sumus, et nemini servivimus umquam: quomodo tu dicis: Liberi eritis? 34 Respondit eis Jesus: Amen, amen dico vobis: quia omnis qui facit peccatum, servus est peccati. 35 Servus autem non manet in domo in æternum: filius autem manet in æternum. 36 Si ergo vos filius liberaverit, vere liberi eritis.

The English:

Again therefore, Jesus spoke to them, saying: I am the light of the world: he that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life. [13] The Pharisees therefore said to him: Thou givest testimony of thyself: thy testimony is not true. [14] Jesus answered, and said to them: Although I give testimony of myself, my testimony is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I go: but you know not whence I come, or whither I go. [15] You judge according to the flesh: I judge not any man. [16] And if I do judge, my judgment is true: because I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me. [17] And in your law it is written, that the testimony of two men is true. [18] I am one that give testimony of myself: and the Father that sent me giveth testimony of me. [19] They said therefore to him: Where is thy Father? Jesus answered: Neither me do you know, nor my Father: if you did know me, perhaps you would know my Father also. [20] These words Jesus spoke in the treasury, teaching in the temple: and no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come.[21] Again therefore Jesus said to them: I go, and you shall seek me, and you shall die in your sin. Whither I go, you cannot come. [22] The Jews therefore said: Will he kill himself, because he said: Whither I go, you cannot come? [23] And he said to them: You are from beneath, I am from above. You are of this world, I am not of this world. [24] Therefore I said to you, that you shall die in your sins. For if you believe not that I am he, you shall die in your sin. [25] They said therefore to him: Who art thou? Jesus said to them: The beginning, who also speak unto you.[26] Many things I have to speak and to judge of you. But he that sent me, is true: and the things I have heard of him, these same I speak in the world. [27] And they understood not, that he called God his Father. [28] Jesus therefore said to them: When you shall have lifted up the Son of man, then shall you know, that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself, but as the Father hath taught me, these things I speak: [29] And he that sent me, is with me, and he hath not left me alone: for I do always the things that please him. [30] When he spoke these things, many believed in him.[31] Then Jesus said to those Jews, who believed him: If you continue in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed. [32] And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. [33] They answered him: We are the seed of Abraham, and we have never been slaves to any man: how sayest thou: you shall be free? [34] Jesus answered them: Amen, amen I say unto you: that whosoever committeth sin, is the servant of sin. [35] Now the servant abideth not in the house for ever; but the son abideth for ever. [36] If therefore the son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.


The Catena Aurea looks first at this fresh assertion of the divinity of Jesus, and 'the light of the world' image:

BEDE Where it is to be observed, He does not say, I am the light of Angels, or of heaven, but the Light of the world, i.e. of mankind who live in darkness, as we read, To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.

CHRYS. As they had brought Galilee as an objection against Him, and doubted His being one of the Prophets, as if that was all He claimed to be, Me wished to show that He was not one of the Prophets, but the Lord of the whole earth: Then spoke Jesus again to them, saying, I am the Light of the world: not of Galilee, or of Palestine, or of Judea...

AUG. He withdraws you however from the eyes of the flesh, to those of the heart, in that He adds, He that follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. He thinks it not enough to say shall have light, but adds, of life. These words of our Lord agree with those of the Psalm, In Your light shall we see light; for with you is the well of life. For bodily uses, light is one thing, and a well another; and a well ministers to the mouth, light to the eyes. With God the light and the well are the same. He who shines upon you, that you may see Him, the Same flows to you, that you may drink Him. What He promises is put in the future tense; what we ought to do in the present. He that follows Me, He says, shall have; i.e. by faith now, in sight hereafter. The visible sun accompanies you, only if you go westward, whither it go also; and even if you follow it, it will forsake you, at its setting. Your God is every where wholly; He will not fall from you, if you fall not from Him. Darkness is to be feared, not that of the eyes, but that of the mind; and if of the eyes, of the inner not the outer eyes; not those by which white and black, but those by which just and unjust, are discerned.

The Catena also includes some insights on the discussion of witness, and the Trinitiarian theology expounded here:

CHRYS. It is written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. If this is to be taken literally, in what respect does our Lord differ from men? The rule has been laid down for men, on the ground that one man alone is not to be relied on: but how can this be applicable to God? These words are quoted then with another meaning. When two men bear witness, both to an indifferent matter, their witness is true: this constitutes the testimony of two men. But if one of them bear witness to himself, then they are no longer two witnesses. Thus our Lord means to show that He is consubstantial with the Father, and does not need another witness, i.e. besides the Father's. I and the Father that sent Me. Again, on human principles, when a man bears witness, his honesty is supposed, he is not home witness to; and a man is admitted as a fair and competent witness in an indifferent matter, but not in one relating to himself, unless he is supported by other testimony. But here it is quite otherwise. Our Lord, though giving testimony in His own case, and though saying that He is borne witness to by another, pronounces Himself worthy of belief; thus showing His all-sufficiency. He says He deserves to be believed.

ALCUIN. Or it is as if He said, If your law admits the testimony of two men who may be deceived, and testify to more than is true; on what grounds can you reject Mine and My Father's testimony, the highest and most sure of all?

For us today, though, living in a culture that espouses the completely false idea that freedom means doing whatever you feel like doing, the discussion of the liberating nature of truth is perhaps the most important section of this text.

Apprehension of the truth, the Fathers point out, requires us to shake off the miasma of our culture that obscures our capacity to reason:

AUG. As if to say: Whereas you have now belief, by continuing, you shall have sight. For it was not their knowledge which made them believe, but rather their belief which gave them knowledge. Faith is to believe that which you see not: truth to see that which you believe? By continuing then to believe a thing, you come at last to see the thing; i.e. to the contemplation of the very truth as it is; not conveyed in words, but revealed by light. The truth is unchangeable; it is the bread of the soul, refreshing others, without diminution to itself; changing him who eats into itself; itself not changed. This truth is the Word of God, which put on flesh for our sakes, and lay hid, not meaning to bury itself, but only to defer its manifestation, till its suffering in the body, for the ransoming of the body of sin, had taken place.

CHRYS. Or, You shall know the truth, i.e. Me: for I am the truth. The Jewish was a typical dispensation; the reality you can only know from Me.

Why does it matter?  It matters because our apprehension of eternity frees us to act with our eternal destiny in mind:

AUG. Some one might say perhaps, And what does it profit me to know the truth? So our Lord adds, And the truth shall free you; as if to say, If the truth does not delight you, liberty, will. To be freed is to be made free, as to be healed is to be made whole. This is plainer in the Greek; in the Latin we use the word free chiefly in the sense of escape of danger, relief from care, and the like.

AUG. From what shall the truth free us, but from death, corruption, mutability, itself being immortal, uncorrupt, immutable? Absolute immutability is in itself eternity.

Jesus' listeners are aggrieved at this, for they prided themselves on being the race that God had already led out of slavery.  They did not understand that their earlier freedom but prefigured the true freedom that comes from grace, not the law alone:

CHRYS. Men who really believed could have borne to he rebuked. But these men began immediately to show anger. Indeed if they had been disturbed at His former saying, they had much more reason to be so now. For they might argue; If He says we shall know the truth, He must mean that we do not know it now: so then the law is a lie, our knowledge a delusion. But their thoughts took no such direction: their grief is wholly worldly; they know of no other servitude, but that of this world: They answered Him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man. How say you then, we shall be made free? As if to say, They of Abraham's stock are free, and ought not to be called slaves: we have never been in bondage to any one.

AUG. Or it was not those who believed, but the unbelieving multitude that made this answer. But how could they say with truth, taking only secular bondage into account, that we have never been in bondage to any man? Was not Joseph sold? were not the holy prophets carried into captivity? Ungrateful people! Why does God remind you so continually of His having taken you out of the house of bondage if you never were in bondage? Why do you who are now talking, pay tribute to the Romans, if you never were in bondage?

The slavery Christ is talking about though, is the slavery of sin:

CHRYS. Christ then, who speaks for their good, not to gratify their vainglory, explains His meaning to have been that they were the servants not of men, but of sin, the hardest kind of servitude, from which God only can rescue: Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say to you, Whosoever commits sin is the servant of sin.

GREG. Because whoever yields to wrong desires, puts his hitherto free soul under the yoke of the evil one, and takes him for his master. But we oppose this master, when we struggle against the wickedness which has laid hold upon us, when we strongly resist habit, when we pierce sin with repentance, and wash away the spots of filth With tears.

GREG. And the more freely men follow their perverse desires, the more closely are they in bondage to them.

AUG. O miserable bondage! The slave of a human master when wearied with the hardness of his tasks, sometimes takes refuge in flight. But whither does the slave of sin flee? He takes it along with him, wherever he goes; for his sin is within him. The pleasure passes away, but the sin does not pass away: its delight goes, its sting remains behind. He alone can free from sin, who came without sin, and was made a sacrifice for sin. And thus it follows: The servant abides not in the house for ever. The Church is the house: the servant is the sinner; and many sinners enter into the Church. So He does not say, The servant is, not in the house; but, The servant abides not in the house for ever. If a time then is to come, when there shall be no servant in the house; who will there be there? Who will boast that he is pure from sin? Christ's are fearful words. But He adds, The Son abides for ever. So then Christ will live alone in His house. Or does not the word Son, imply both the body and the head? Christ purposely alarms us first, and then gives us hope. He alarms us, that we may not love sin; He gives us hope, that we may not despair of the absolution of our sin. Our hope then is this, that we shall be freed by Him who is free. He has paid the price for us, not in money, but in His own blood: If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.

AUG. Not from the barbarians, but from the devil; not from the captivity of the body, but from the wickedness of the soul.

Through Christ, we are empowered to turn away from sin.  In this life though, the struggle to act in true freedom will always be there; it is only in the next that we will have true freedom:

AUG. The first stage of freedom' is, the abstaining from sin. But that is only incipient, it is not perfect freedom: for the flesh still lusts against the spirit, so that you do not do the things that you would. Full and perfect freedom will only be, when the contest is over, and the last enemy, death, is destroyed.

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