St Augustine of Hippo: Have You Gone Down into Troubled Water?

Feast of the Holy Great Martyr Procopius

Augustine_Square_5.jpgIT OUGHT not to be a matter of wonder that a miracle was wrought by God; the wonder would be if man had wrought it. Rather ought we to rejoice than wonder that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was made man, than that He performed divine works among men. It is of greater importance to our salvation what He was made for men, than what He did among men; it is more important that He healed the faults of souls, than that He healed the weaknesses of mortal bodies. But as the soul knew not Him by whom it was to be healed, and had eyes in the flesh whereby to see corporeal deeds, but had not yet sound eyes in the heart with which to recognize him as God concealed in the flesh, He wrought what the soul was able to see, in order to heal that by which it was not able to see.

He entered a place where lay a great multitude of sick folk—of blind, lame, withered; and being the physician both of souls and bodies, and having come to heal all the souls of them that should believe, of those sick He chose one for healing, thereby to signify unity. If in doing this we regard Him with a commonplace mind, with the mere human understanding and wit, as regards power it was not a great matter that He performed; and also as regards goodness He performed too little. There lay so many there, and yet only one was healed, whilst He could by a word have raised them all up. What, then, must we understand but that the power and the goodness was doing what souls might, by His deeds, understand for their everlasting salvation, than what bodies might gain for temporal health? For that which is the real health of bodies, and which is looked for from the Lord, will be at the end, in the resurrection from the dead. What shall live then shall no more die; what shall be healed shall no more be sick; what shall be satisfied shall no more hunger and thirst; what shall be made new shall not grow old. But at this time, however, the eyes of the blind, that were opened by those acts of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, were again closed in death; and limbs of the paralytics that received strength were loosened again in death; and whatever was for a time made whole in mortal limbs came to nought in the end: but the soul that believed passed to eternal life. Accordingly, to the soul that should believe, whose sins He had come to forgive, to the healing of those ailments He had humbled Himself, He gave a significant proof by the healing of this impotent man. Of the profound mystery of this thing and this proof, so far as the Lord deigns to grant us, while you are attentive and aiding our weakness by prayer, I will speak as I shall have ability. And whatever I am not able to do, that will be supplied to you by Him by whose help I do what I can.

Of this pool, which was surrounded with five porches, in which lay a great multitude of sick folk, I remember that I have very often treated; and most of you will with me recollect what I am about to say, rather than gain the knowledge of it for the first time. But it is by no means unprofitable to go back upon matters already known, that both they who know not may be instructed, and they who do know may be confirmed. Therefore, as being already known, these things must be touched upon briefly, not leisurely inculcated. That pool and that water seem to me to have signified the Jewish people. For that peoples are signified under the name of waters, the Apocalypse of John clearly indicates to us, where, after he had asked what they were, was answered that they were peoples (Rev. 17.15). That water, then—namely, that people—was shut in by the five books of Moses, as by five porches. But those books brought forth the sick, not healed them. For the law convicted, not acquitted sinners. Accordingly the letter, without grace, made men guilty, whom on confessing, grace delivered. For this is what the apostle saith: “For if a law had been given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” Why, then, was the law given? He goes on to say, “But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe” (Gal. 3.21-22). What more evident? Have not these words expounded to us both the five porches, and also the multitude of sick folk? The five porches are the law. Why did not the five porches heal the sick folk? Because, “if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” Why, then, did the porches contain those whom they did not heal? Because “the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”

What was done, then, that they who could not be healed in the porches might be healed in that water after being troubled? For on a sudden the water was seen troubled, and that by which it was troubled was not seen. Thou mayest believe that this was wont to be done by angelic virtue, yet not without some mystery being implied. After the water was troubled, the one who was able cast himself in, and he alone was healed; whoever went in after that one, did so in vain. What, then, is meant by this, unless it be that there came one, even Christ, to the Jewish people; and by doing great things, by teaching profitable things, troubled sinners, troubled the water by His presence, and roused it towards His own death? But He was hidden that troubled. For had they known Him, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2.8). Wherefore, to go down into the troubled water means to believe in the Lord’s death. There only one was healed, signifying unity: whoever came thereafter was not healed, because whoever shall be outside unity cannot be healed.

—St Augustine of Hippo, On the Gospel of St John

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