"It is...Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as 'profane novelties of words,' out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: 'This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved' (Athanasian Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim 'Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,' only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself." -- Pope Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 24 (1914)

Friday, April 6, 2012

St Thomas Aquinas’ Lectures on John 18 for Good Friday


1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples across the Kidron valley [brook], where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas, procuring a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that was to befall him, came forward and said to them, "Whom do you seek?" 5 They answered him, "Jesus of Nazareth. "Jesus said to them, I am he." Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When he said to them, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 Again he asked them, "Whom do you seek?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth." 8 Jesus answered, "I told you that I am he; so, if you seek me, let these men go." 9 This was to fulfill the word which he had spoken, "Of those whom you gave me I lost not one."[1]

2271 Before his passion, as we saw above, our Lord prepared his disciples in many ways: teaching them by his example, comforting them with his words, and aiding them by his prayers. Now the Evangelist begins the history of the passion: first, he sets forth the mystery of the passion; secondly, the glory of the resurrection (20:1). Christ's passion was effected partly by the Jews, and partly by the Gentiles. Thus, he first describes what Christ suffered from the Jews; secondly, what he suffered from the Gentiles (19:1). He does three things regarding the first: he shows how our Lord was betrayed by a disciple; secondly, how he was brought before the high priests (v 13); and thirdly, how he was accused before Pilate (v 28).

In regard to Christ's betrayal, the Evangelist mentions three things: first, the place; secondly, the procedure; and thirdly, the willingness of Christ to submit to the betrayal (v 4). The place of the betrayal was shown to be appropriate in three ways: because it was outside the city; it was private and enclosed; and it was known to the traitor.

2272 The place of the betrayal was some distance from the city, and so Judas could more easily do what he intended. The Evangelist says, When Jesus had spoken these words, the words we have read above. But since what Christ said belonged to his prayer, it would seem more appropriate for the Evangelist to say, "When Jesus had prayed." The Evangelist put it the way he did to show that Christ did not pray because of any need of his own, since he was the one who, as man, prayed, and who, as God, heard the prayer. Rather, Christ prayed in order to teach us. Thus this prayer is described as "spoken words."

2273 He went forth with his disciples, but not immediately after this prayer, as Augustine notes.[2] Other things happened, omitted by this Evangelist, but mentioned by the others. For example, there was an argument among the disciples about who was to be regarded as the greatest (Lk 22:24); before setting out he said to Peter: "Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail" (Lk 22:31); again, the disciples recited a hymn with the Lord, as Matthew (26:30) and Mark (14:26) report. And so we should not think that they went out immediately after the words of the previous chapter, but that Christ said these things before they went out.

2274 He went forth across the Kidron brook. Matthew and Mark say that they went to the Mount of Olives, and then to a garden called Gethsemane. There is no conflict here, because all of them are referring to the same place, for the Kidron brook is at the foot of the Mount of Olives, where there was a garden called Gethsemane. In Greek, Kidron is genitive plural; and so in effect he is saying a brook "of cedars." Perhaps there were many cedar trees planted there.

It is fitting for this mystery that he cross a brook, because the brook indicates his passion: "He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head" (Ps 110:7). Again, it is fitting that he cross the Kidron brook for Kidron is interpreted to mean an overshadowing, and by his passion Christ removed the shadow of sin and of the law, and stretching out his arms on the cross, he protected us under the shadow of his arms: "Hide me in the shadow of your wings" (Ps 17:8).

2275 The place was especially suitable for the betrayal. He says, there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. This was especially suitable because Christ was satisfying for the sin of our first parent which had been committed in a garden (for paradise means a garden of delights). It was also suitable because by his passion he is leading us into another garden and paradise to receive a crown: "Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Lk 23:43).

2276 It was also an appropriate place because it was known to the traitor, now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with his disciples, including Judas, who was like a wolf among sheep: "Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?" (6:71). This wolf in sheep's clothing, who had been tolerated among the sheep according to the profound plan of the master, learned where he could scatter the small flock when the time came.

2277 Since Judas had left the supper a while before the others, how did he know that Christ would later be in the garden? Chrysostom says that it was Christ's custom, especially at the major feasts, to bring his disciples there after supper and teach them the deeper meaning of the feasts, things that others were not ready to hear.[3] And so, because this was an important feast, Judas surmised that Christ would be going there after supper. It was Christ's custom to teach his disciples these sublime matters in the mountains or in private gardens, seeking places free from disturbance so they would not be distracted: "I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her" (Hos 2:14).

2278 Now the Evangelist shows the procedure of the traitor. Notice, as we see from Luke (22:4), that after Judas had agreed with the chief priests to betray Christ, he looked for an opportunity to deliver him without disturbing the people. Consequently, he wanted to come to him privately and at night, because during the day Christ was always busy teaching the people. Yet even at night it was possible that he be hindered by a quickly gathering crowd, or by the darkness in which Christ could be spirited away or escape from their hands. So against the crowd, he armed himself with weapons, and against the darkness he brought lanterns and torches. And because some of the crowd might resist, he took a band of soldiers, not from the Jews, but from the governor. In this way, no one would dare to resist because they would see the marks of legitimate authority. Further, some Jews might resist out of zeal for the law, especially because Christ was being taken by Gentiles. For this reason Judas took some servants or officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees: "He has run against God with his head held high" [Job 15:26]; "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs?" (Lk 22:52)

2279 Now the Evangelist shows the promptness of Christ to willingly undergo betrayal: first, by voluntarily offering himself; secondly, by stopping one of the disciples who was resisting (v 10). In regard to the first, the Evangelist does two things: first, he tells how Christ identified himself to show his power; secondly, to show his patience (v 7). In regard to the first he does three things: first, he states the question Christ asked; secondly, he shows Christ identifying himself, I am he; thirdly, we see the effect this has (v 6).

2280 He does three things regarding the first. First, he recalls Christ's knowledge: Then Jesus, knowing all that was to befall him, came forward; "Jesus knew that his hour had come" (13:1). The Evangelist mentions this for two reasons: first, so that it does not appear that the question he is asking comes from his ignorance; and secondly, so that it does not seem that he is offering himself unintentionally and without knowing that they have come to kill him. He knew everything that would happen to him.

Secondly, he states Christ's question, for although he knew all these things he came forward and said to them, Whom do you seek? But this was not because of his ignorance, as we said. Thirdly, he gives their answer, Jesus of Nazareth. They were seeking him not to imitate him, but to slander and kill him: "You will seek me and die in your sin" (8:21).

2281 Now we see Jesus identifying himself and offering himself so that they can seize him. I am he, he says, that is, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are looking for. The Evangelist adds that Judas was also there because he had mentioned before that Judas had left them (13:31). It could be expected that they might not recognize the face of Christ because of the darkness. But this darkness would not explain why they did not know Christ from his voice, especially those who were quite familiar with him. By saying, I am he, Christ shows that he was not recognized even by Judas who was with them and on close terms with Christ. This in particular shows the power of Christ's divinity. Judas ... was standing with them, that is, he continued in his evil to the point of identifying him with a kiss.

2282 Now we see the effect of his revealing himself: they drew back and fell to the ground. As Gregory says, sometimes we read that the saints fall to the ground: "The king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and did homage to Daniel" (Dan 2:46); "When I saw it, I fell upon my face" (Ez 1:28).[4] We also read that the evil fall: "Your men shall fall by the sword" (Is 3:25). Yet there is a difference. It is said that the evil fall backward: "Eli fell over backward from his seat" (1 Sam 4:18); while the saints fall on their face. The reason for this is given in Proverbs (4:18): "The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn.... The path of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble." Now those who fall backward do not see where they fall. And so those who are evil are said to fall backward because they fall over things that are invisible. Those who fall forward see where they are falling. Thus the saints, who willingly cast themselves down with respect to visible things, so they can be raised up to invisible things, are said to fall on their face because they humble themselves.

Mystically understood, we can say that by this falling backward we can understand that the Jewish people, who were a special people, because they did not listen to the voice of Christ in his preaching, fell backward, excluded from the kingdom.

2283 Now we see Christ questioning them a second time. First we see his question; secondly, he identifies himself; thirdly, he offers himself to them.

According to Chrysostom, there are two reasons why Christ asks them a second time whom they were seeking.[5] First, to teach the faithful that he was captured because he willed it: "He was offered because it was his own will" [Is 53:7]; he had already shown his power because when his enemies came against him, they fell backward to the ground before him. Secondly, he wanted, as far as he could, to give the Jews a reason to be converted, having seen this miracle of his power: "What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done it?" (Is 5:4). And when they were not converted by the revelation of his power, he voluntarily offered himself to be taken by them. When Again he asked them, Whom do you seek? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth, he again identified himself and answered, I told you that I am he. It is obvious from this that they were so blind that they could not recognize him.

He offers himself when he says, if you seek me, to arrest me, then do what you want, but let these men go, my disciples, for it is not yet their time to be taken from the world by suffering: "I do not pray that you should take them out of the world" (17:15). It is clear from this that Christ gave them the power to capture him, for just as he saved his disciples by his own power, so, much more clearly, he could have saved himself: "No one takes it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord" (10:18).

2284 The Evangelist shows that the officers allowed the apostles to leave not because Christ persuaded them to do so, but because of his power, when he says, This was to fulfill the word which he had spoken. The officers let the apostles go because they were not able to hold them, since Christ had said that of those whom you gave me I lost not one.

2285 On the contrary. When our Lord said that none was lost, he was referring to the soul. How can the Evangelist adapt this to refer to the loss of the body? We may answer, according to Chrysostom, that our Lord was speaking (17:12) of the loss of both the soul and the body.[6] And if he spoke only of the soul we could say that here the Evangelist extends it to the loss of the body. Or, we could say, with Augustine, that we must understand these words to refer here also to the loss of the soul.[7] The reason being that the apostles did not yet believe in the way that those who do not perish believe. And so, if they had left the world then, some would have perished. 

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