19, 20 When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when He had said this, He showed unto them His Hands and His Side.
On the selfsame day on which He had appeared unto Mary, and discoursed with her, He also showed Himself to the holy disciples, who dreaded the intolerable attacks of the impious Jews, and were, on that account, collected together in a certain house. For it was not likely that they who had been so instructed, and had often been bidden to make haste to escape from the wrath of their would-be murderers, would be found lacking in proper prudence. Christ miraculously appears unto them. For while the doors were shut, as the Apostle says, Christ unexpectedly stood in the midst, by His ineffable Divine power rising superior to the chain of cause and effect, and showing Himself able to dispense with the design and method appropriate to His action. For let no man say, “How did the Lord, Whose Body was of solid Flesh, enter without let or hindrance, though the doors were shut?” but rather let him reflect that the Evangelist is not here speaking of one of ourselves, but rather of Him Who is enthroned by the side of God the Father, and Who easily doth whatsoever He will. For He that was by Nature the true God, was of necessity not subject unto the sequences of cause and effect, as are the creatures that owe their being to Him; but rather does He exercise Lordship over necessity itself, and due and appropriate methods of performance. For how did He make the sea afford a footing unto His Feet, and walk thereon as upon dry land, though we are not so framed that we can tread upon the paths of the sea? And how did He perform the rest of His marvellous works with God-like power? All these things, you will say, surpass man’s understanding. Put this miracle of Christ side by side with the rest, and do not, following the opinion of certain men, who, in the folly of their hearts, have been led astray to judge falsely, imagine on account of this very occurrence that Christ rose again without His human Body, wholly bereft thereof, and severed from the Temple that He had taken on Himself. For if thou canst not understand the working of God’s ineffable Nature, why dost thou not rather cry out against the infirmity of man’s reason—for that would be the wiser course—and then silently acquiesce in the limit prescribed to you by the Creator? For in rejecting the conclusion of wisdom, thou doest wrong to the great mystery of the Resurrection, on which all our reliance is fixed. For remember the exclamation of Paul: If the dead are not raised, neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain, and ye are yet in your sins. And again: Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we witnessed of God that He raised up Christ: Whom He raised not up, if so be that the dead are not raised. For what can be raised up save that which is fallen? or what restored to life, save that which is bowed down in death? And how shall we expect to rise again, if so be that Christ raised not up His own Temple, making Himself, for us, the Firstfruits of them which are asleep, and the Firstborn from the dead? Or how shall this mortal put on immortality, if, as some think, it be lost in total annihilation? For how shall it escape this fate if it have no hope of a new life? Do not, then, swerve from orthodoxy in the faith, because a miracle was accomplished; but rather be wise, and add this to the other marvellous works that Christ did.
For observe how, by unexpectedly entering when the doors were shut, Christ showed, once more, that He was by Nature God, and no other than He Who had erewhile dwelt among them; and also, by laying bare the wounded Side of His Body, and by showing the print of the nails, He gave us complete satisfaction that He had raised that Temple of His Body which had hung upon the Cross, and had restored to life that Body which He had worn, thereby subduing death, which is due to all flesh, inasmuch as He was by Nature Life and God. What need, then, was there for Him to show them His Hands and Side, if, as some perversely think, He did not rise again with His Body? And, if He wished His disciples not to entertain this idea concerning Him, why did He not rather appear in another form, and, disdaining the likeness of flesh, conjure up other thoughts in their minds? But, as it is, He thought it of so great importance that they should be convinced of the Resurrection of His Body, that, when the time even seemed to call Him to change His Body into some form of ineffable and surpassing Majesty, He resolved in His Providence to appear once more as He had been of old, that He might not be thought to be wearing any other form than that in which also He had suffered crucifixion. For that our eyes could not have endured the glory of the holy Body, if Christ had chosen to reveal it unto the disciples before He ascended to the Father, is easily to be inferred, when we reflect upon His transfiguration on the Mount before the holy disciples. For the blessed Matthew the Evangelist writes, that Jesus took Peter, and James, and John, and went up into the mountain, and was transfigured before them: and His Face did shine as lightning, and His garments became white as snow, and they could not endure the sight, but fell on their faces. Very appropriately, then, our Lord Jesus Christ, as He had not yet transformed the Temple of His Body into its due and proper majesty, still appeared in His original shape, not wishing the belief in the Resurrection to be transferred to another form or body than that which He had received from the Holy Virgin, in which also He was crucified, and died, according to the Scripture, the power of death extending only over Flesh, from which also it was driven forth. For if His Body, after death, did not rise again, what sort of death was vanquished, and in what way was the power of corruption weakened? For it could not be by the death of a single rational being, or soul, or angel, or even the very Word of God. When, then, the power of death has reference only to that which is doomed by nature to corruption, with this it is that the power of the Resurrection is concerned, and with this alone, in order that the dominion of the lord of this world might be taken away. The entry of our Lord through the closed doors must be classed, by men of wisdom, with the other miracles that He wrought. He then greeted His holy disciples. Peace be unto you, He says; meaning by peace, Himself. For while Christ is present among men it follows that the tranquillity of their minds is assured unto them. Paul also declared that this boon is granted to those who believe on Him, when he says: The peace of Christ, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts; meaning by the peace of Christ which passeth all understanding nothing else than His Spirit, of Which if any man partake he shall be filled with everything that is good.
20 The disciples, therefore, were glad when they saw the Lord.
Hereby, also, the blessed Evangelist testifies to the truth of our Saviour’s Words, when he says that the disciples were full of peace and joy of heart when they saw Jesus. For we remember the mysterious utterance that He spake unto them concerning His precious Cross and Resurrection from the dead, saying: A little while, and ye behold Me no more; and again a little while, and ye shall see Me; and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one talceth away from you. The Jews, indeed, whose minds were transported by a frenzy of fury, rejoiced when they saw Jesus nailed to the Cross, while the heart of the holy disciples was heavy laden with an intolerable burthen of sorrow. But as He is by Nature Life, He overcame the power of death, and rose again, and the joy of the Jews was extinguished, while the heaviness of the holy disciples was turned into joy, and nothing could rob or deprive them of their soul’s delight. Christ, having died once for all to put away sin, dieth no more, as is written. For He is alive for evermore, and of a surety He will preserve those whose hope is in Him, in joy without ceasing. He once more greets them with the oft-repeated assurance: Peace be unto you; laying down, as it were, this law for the children of the Church. Therefore, also, more especially in the assembling and gathering of ourselves together in holy places, at the very commencement of the blessed mystery of the Eucharist, we repeat this saying to one another. For our being at peace with each other and with God must be accounted a fountain and source of all good. Therefore, also, Paul, when he prays that those who are called may enjoy the highest of all blessings, says: Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; and also, when he invites those who have not yet believed to make their peace with God, he says: We are ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God. None the less, also, the Prophet Isaiah exhorts us, crying out: Let us make peace with Him, let us make peace who come. The meaning of the saying well befits the Dispenser of Peace, or rather the Peace of all men; that is, Christ, for He is our peace, according to the Scripture.
21 Then said He to them again, Peace be unto you: as the living Father sent Me, even so send I you.
Hereby our Lord Jesus Christ ordained the disciples to be guides and teachers of the world, and to be ministers of His Divine mysteries, and also bade them, for the time was now come, like lights to illuminate and enlighten, not merely the country of Judaea, according to the limit of the commandment of the Law, which extended from Dan even unto Beersheba, according to the Scripture, but rather also all under the sun, and men scattered throughout all lands, wheresoever they dwelt. The saying of Paul, therefore, is true: No man taketh the honour unto himself, but he that is called of God. For our Lord Jesus Christ called into His most glorious apostleship, before all others, His own disciples, and firmly fixed the whole earth, which was well-nigh tottering and in the act of falling, pointing out, as God, men to be props thereof who were well able to support it. Therefore, also, He thus spake by the mouth of the Psalmist, concerning the earth and the Apostles: I have fixed the pillars of it; for the blessed disciples were as the pillars and ground of the truth, whom also He says that He sent forth, even as the Father had sent Him; showing at the same time the dignity of their apostle-ship, and the incomparable honour of the power vouchsafed unto them, and also in all likelihood suggesting the method of life the Apostles were to follow. For if He thought it meet that He should send forth His own disciples, even as the Father had sent Him, was it not necessary for those who were destined to imitate His mission to ascertain what the Father sent forth the Son for to do? In divers ways, then, expounding unto us the character of His own mission, He said in one place: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance; and again: They that are whole have no need of a physician; but they that are sick: and again, in another place: For I am come down from heaven, not to do Mine own Will, but the Will of Him That sent Me; and yet once more: For God sent not His Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through Him. Summing up, therefore, in a few words the character of their mission, He says that He sent them even as the Father had sent Him, that they might know thereby that they were bound to call sinners to repentance, and to minister to those who were in evil plight, whether of body or soul, and in all their dealings upon earth, not in any wise to follow their own will, but the Will of Him That sent them, and to save the world by their teaching, so far as was possible. And in truth we shall find the holy disciples eager to show the utmost zeal in performing all these things; and it is not difficult for any one to satisfy himself of this, who has once turned his attention to the Acts of the Apostles, and the words of the holy Paul.
22, 23 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whosesoever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.
After dignifying the holy Apostles with the glorious distinction of the apostleship, and appointing them ministers and priests of the Divine Altar, as I have just said, He at once sanctifies them by vouchsafing His Spirit unto them, through the outward sign of His Breath, that we might be firmly convinced that the Holy Spirit is not alien to the Son, but Consubstantial with Him, and through Him proceeding from the Father; He shows that the gift of the Spirit necessarily attends those who are ordained by Him to be Apostles of God. And why? Because they could have done nothing pleasing unto God, and could not have triumphed over the snares of sin, if they had not been clothed with power from on high, and been transformed into something other than they were before. Therefore, also, it was said to one of old time: The Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee, and thou shalt be turned into another man; and the Prophet Isaiah also declared that those who waited upon the Lord should renew their strength. The wise Paul, too, when he says that he surpassed some in his labours, that is, in the deeds of an Apostle, adds at once: Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Besides, we say this, that the disciples would never at all have understood the mystery that is in Christ, nor have been true guides in this knowledge, if they had not advanced in the light of the Spirit to a revelation of things which surpass man’s reason and understanding, a revelation which is able to point out to them the heights to which they were bound to ascend; for no man can say Jesus is Lord, as Paul says, but in the Holy Spirit. As, then, they were destined to proclaim that Jesus was the Lord, that is, to preach that He was God and Lord of necessity, therefore they received the grace of the Holy Spirit in immediate connexion with the office of apostleship, Christ granting Him unto them, not ministering to the desires of another, but rather vouchsafing Him of Himself; for the Spirit could only come down unto us from the Father through the Son. The old and written Law, however, which contained shadows and types of the reality, ordained that the appointment of priests should be performed in a more physical way, so to say, and that their appointment should be attended with more outward display. For the blessed Moses, by God’s command, bade Aaron and the Levites wash themselves with water: then he slew the ram of consecration and anointed with the blood the tip of Aaron’s right ear, as is written, and also put of the blood upon the thumb of the right hand, and upon the big toe of the right foot, giving an outline and type, as in a picture, of the mystery concerning Christ. For in the presence here of water and blood, the instruments of sanctification, how can there be any question that in an obscure type an outline was given of the fair beauty of the reality? Our Lord Jesus Christ, transforming into the power of truth the figure of the Law, consecrates through Himself the ministers of the Divine Altar. For He is the Lamb of consecration, and He consecrates by actual sanctification, making men partakers in His Nature, through participation in the Spirit, and in some sort strengthening the nature of man into a power and glory that is superhuman.
And there can be no doubt that the explanation I have here given can be proved not to err from the truth. But, perhaps, someone will come and say as follows, with a praiseworthy desire for knowledge, it may be, putting to us the question, “Where then, and when, did the Saviour’s disciples receive the grace of the Spirit? When the Saviour appeared unto them in the house, immediately after the Resurrection, and breathed upon them, saying: Receive ye the Holy Ghost; or in the days of the holy Pentecost, when, as they were again assembled together in one place, suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind. And there appeared unto them tongues parting asunder, like as of fire; and it sat upon each one of them. And they began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance?” For either, such an one will say, we must suppose that a double grace was given unto them, or we must remain in ignorance of the occasion on which they, in fact, became partakers in the Holy Spirit; if indeed our Saviour’s saying, and that which is written in the Acts of the holy Apostles, is found to be true. And, indeed, the question may well excite our perplexity, especially as Christ Himself said: It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away the Comforter cannot come unto you; but when I depart, I will send Him unto you; for the inquirer will perhaps go on to say, “The Truth, that is, Christ, cannot lie. When, then, He said in plain words that the Comforter would not come unto the disciples unless He were taken up unto the Father, but of a surety He would send Him then, when He was in heaven at His side; how, then, can He be supposed to grant the gift of the Spirit, though His journey from hence was not yet accomplished?” Still, though the inquiry is very obscure, and very likely to cause perplexity, it yet allows of an appropriate solution, when we remember our faith that Christ is not as one of ourselves, but rather is God, and of God, and so exercises dominion over His own Words, and moulds them to suit His purposes.
For He proclaimed that He would send down to us from heaven the Comforter, when He was ascended to God the Father; and this, indeed, He did, when He had gone away to the Father, and vouchsafed to shed forth the Spirit abundantly upon all who were willing to receive it. For any man could receive it, through faith, that is, and Holy Baptism; and then was fulfilled that which was spoken by the voice of the Prophet: I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh. But it was necessary that the Son should appear as co-operating with the Father in granting the Spirit; it was necessary that those who believed on Him should understand that He is the Power of the Father, That has created this whole world, and called man out of nothing into being. For God the Father, at the beginning, by His own Word, took of the dust of the ground, as is written, and fashioned the animal, that is man, and endowed him with a soul, according to His Will, and illuminated him with a share of His own Spirit; for He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, as is written. And when it came to pass that through disobedience man fell under the power of death, and lost his ancient honour, God the Father built him up and restored him to newness of life, through the Son, as at the beginning. And how did the Son restore him? By the death of His own Flesh He slew death, and brought the race of man back again into incorruption; for Christ rose again for us. In order, then, that we might learn that He it was Who at the beginning created our nature, and sealed us with the Holy Spirit, our Saviour again grants the Spirit, through the outward sign of His Breath, to the holy disciples, as being the firstfruits of renewed nature. For Moses writes concerning our creation of old, that God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life. As, then, at the beginning, man was formed and came into being, so likewise is he renewed; and as he was then formed in the Image of his Creator, so likewise now, by participation in the Spirit, is he transformed into the Likeness of his Maker. For that the Spirit impresses the Saviour’s Image on the hearts of those who receive Him surely does not admit of question; for Paul plainly exhorteth those who had fallen through weakness into observance of the Law, in the words: My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you. For he says that Christ will not be formed in them save by partaking of the Holy Spirit, and living according to the law of the Gospel. Therefore, as in the firstfruits of creation, which is made regenerate into incorruption and glory and into the Image of God, Christ establishes anew His own Spirit in His disciples. For it was necessary that we should also perceive this truth, namely, that He brings down and grants the Spirit unto us. Therefore, also, He said: All things, whatsoever the Father hath, are Mine. And as the Father hath, of Himself and in Himself, His own Spirit, so also the Son hath the Spirit in Himself, because He is Consubstantial with Him, and essentially proceeded from Him, having by Nature in Himself all the attributes of His Father.
From the following fact we can prove that, many as were the actions that He repeatedly promised us that He would perform in due season, He even in part anticipated the appointed time in the performance of them, for our edification, that we might be fully convinced that whatsoever He has spoken will assuredly come to pass. He declared that He would raise up the dead, and bring back again to life those who are lying in the earth and in tombs. The hour cometh, He says, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done ill, unto the resurrection of judgment. And, desiring to satisfy us that He could readily accomplish this, He taught, saying: I am the Resurrection and the Life. But, inasmuch as the vastness of the miracle made it difficult of belief that the dead could ever be restored to life, He anticipated to our profit the time of the Resurrection, and gave us a sign by raising Lazarus and the widow’s son and the daughter of Jairus. And what else besides? As He said that full of glory would be the resurrection of the Saints, for then, He says, shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father, in order that here again He might be believed to speak truth, He granted the sight thereof before the time to the disciples. For He took Peter and James and John, and went up into the mountain, and was transfigured before them: and His Face did shine as lightning, and His garments became white as snow. Just as, then, although He promised to accomplish these things in their season, yet He performed the works in part and with a limited scope even out of due time, as an earnest and foretaste of that which was expected to come to pass and to affect the whole world, so doing in order that faith in Him might not be shaken; even so, likewise, after having said that He would send the Comforter to us when He went away to the Father, and having fixed this occasion for granting this grace universally, He performed in the persons of His disciples the first instalment, as it were, of the promise, for the many just and sufficient reasons we have previously given.
They, therefore, partook of the Holy Spirit when He breathed on them, saying, Receive ye the Holy Ghost; for it were impossible for Christ to lie, and He would never have said “Receive” without giving; but in the days of Holy Pentecost, when God more openly proclaimed His grace, and manifested the stablishment of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, there appeared unto them tongues through flame, not signifying the beginning of the gift of the Spirit in their hearts, but rather having reference to the time when they were first endowed with the gift of languages. It is written, indeed, that they began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Note, that they began to speak, not to receive sanctification, and that the gift of divers tongues came down upon them; and this was the working of the Spirit that was in them. For just as the Father spake from heaven, and bare witness to His Son, saying, This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased; and did this to satisfy the minds of those who heard, uttering, or causing to be uttered, a sound as of some instrument which fell upon the ear; even so, also, in the case of the holy disciples He made the manifestation of the grace given them more public, sending down upon them tongues as of fire, and causing the descent of the Holy Spirit to resemble the sound of the rushing of a mighty wind. And that this very portent was given unto the Jews by way of a sign, you will readily see, if you listen to God, the Lord of all, saying by the mouth of the Prophet: By men of strange tongues, and by the lips of strangers, will I speak unto this people, and yet will they not believe. And to the intent that we might believe that the blessed disciples did, in fact, partake of the Holy Spirit, and were from henceforth honoured with the grace of Christ from above, and that they were able to expound the truth, and that the glory of their apostleship was worthy all admiration, witness being borne thereto by the gift from on high, therefore it was that fire came down in the form of tongues.
I think, indeed, that I have here said enough to accurately explain the meaning of the passage; but, inasmuch as we are bound to take every precaution in our treatise, that no stumblingblock spring up to offend the brethren through the carping spirit of any amongst us, let us make this addition to what we have said, and refute the vain talk that we may expect will be started. We shall find, then, in the passage that follows, the words: Thomas, called Didymus, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. How, then, someone may not unreasonably inquire, if he were away, was he in fact made partaker in the Holy Spirit when the Saviour appeared unto the disciples and breathed on them, saying: Receive ye the Holy Ghost? We reply that the power of the Spirit pervaded every man who received grace, and fulfilled the aim of the Lord Who gave Him unto them; and Christ gave the Spirit not to some only but to all the disciples. Therefore, if any were absent, they also received Him, the munificence of the Giver not being confined to those only who were present, but extending to the entire company of the holy Apostles. And that this interpretation is not strained, or our idea extravagant, we may convince you from Holy Writ itself, bringing forward as a proof a passage in the Books of Moses. The Lord God commanded the all-wise Moses to select elders, to the number of seventy, from the assembly of the Jews, and plainly declared: I will take of the Spirit which is upon thee and will put it upon them. Moses, as he was bidden, brought them together, and fulfilled the Divine decree. Two only of the men who were included in the number of the seventy elders were left behind, and remained in the assembly, to wit, Eldad and Medad. Then when God put upon them all the Divine Spirit, as He had promised, those whom Moses had collected together immediately received grace, and prophesied; but none the less also the two who were in the assembly prophesied, and, in fact, the grace from above came upon them first. Nay, further, Joshua, that was called the son of Nun, who was the constant attendant of Moses, not understanding at once the meaning of the mystery, but thinking that after the manner of Dathan and Abiram they were rivals in the art of prophecy to those whom Moses had brought together, said unto him: Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp; my lord Moses, forbid them. And what answered that truly wise and great man, seeing in his wisdom the working of the grace given unto them, and the power of the Spirit? Enviest thou for my sake? Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them! Observe how he rebukes the saying of Joshua, who knew not what had been done. Would that, he says, the Spirit were given to all the people! Nay, this will indeed come to pass in due season, when the Lord, that is, Christ, will grant unto them His Spirit; breathing upon His holy Apostles as upon the firstfruits of those whose due it is to receive Him, and saying: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Then, if Thomas were absent, he was not cut off from receiving the Spirit, for the Spirit pervaded all whose due it was to receive Him, and who were included among the number of His honoured disciples.
Christ, when He gave the Spirit unto them, said: Whosesoever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained; though only the living God is able and powerful to grant unto sinners remission of sins; for whom could it befit to pardon the transgressions that sinners have committed against the Divine Law, save the Lawgiver Himself? You may, if you choose, see the meaning of the saying from the analogy of human affairs. Who has authority to meddle with the decrees of earthly monarchs, and who tries to undo that which has been ordained by the will and judgment of rulers, save only someone who is invested with regal honour and dignity? Therefore, wise was the saying, Insolent is he who saith unto the king, Thou breakest the law. In what way, then, and in what sense did the Saviour invest His disciples with the dignity which befits the Nature of God alone? The Word that is in the Father cannot err; and this He did, and whatsoever He doeth, He doeth well. For He thought it meet that they who have once been endued with the Spirit of Him Who is God and Lord, should have power also to remit or retain the sins of whomsoever they would, the Holy Spirit That dwelt in them remitting or retaining them according to His Will, though the deed were done through human instrumentality.
They who have the Spirit of God remit or retain sins in two ways, as I think. For they invite to Baptism those to whom this sacrament is already due from the purity of their lives, and their tried adherence to the faith; and they hinder and exclude others who are not as yet worthy of the Divine grace. And in another sense, also, they remit and retain sins, by. rebuking erring children of the Church, and granting pardon to those who repent; just as, also, Paul gave up him that had committed fornication at Corinth, for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved, and admitted him again into fellowship, that he might not be swallowed up with his overmuch sorrow, as he says in his letter. When, then, the Spirit of Christ dwelling in our hearts doeth things which befit God alone, surely He is the living God, invested with the glorious dignity of the Divine Nature, and having power over sacred laws.