John XVII. 9-13.
1. When the Lord was speaking to the Father of those whom He already had as disciples, He said this also among other things: "I pray for them. I pray not for the world, but for those whom Thou hast given me." By the world, He now wishes to be understood those who live according to the lust of the word, and stand not in the gracious lot of such as were to be chosen by Him out of the world. Accordingly it is not for the world, but for those whom the Father hath given Him, that He expresses Himself as praying: for by the very fact of their having already been given Him by the Father, they have ceased to belong to that world for which He refrains from praying.
2. And then He adds, "For they are Thine." For the Father did not lose those whom He gave, in the act of giving them to the Son; since the Son still goes on to say, "And all mine are Thine, and Thine are mine." Where it is sufficiently apparent how it is that all that belongs to the Father belongs also to the Son; in this way, namely, that He Himself is also God, and, of the Father born, is the Father's equal: and not as was said to one of the two sons, to wit, the elder, "Thou art ever with me; and all that I have is thine."1 For that was said of all those creatures which are inferior to the holy rational creature, and are certainly subordinate to the Church; wherein its universal character is understood as including those two sons, the elder and the younger, along with all the holy angels, whose equals we shall be in the kingdom of Christ and of God:2 but here it was said, "And all mine are Thine, and Thine are mine," with this meaning, that even the rational creature is itself included, which is subject only to God, so that all beneath it are also subject to Him. As it then belongs to God the Father, it would not at the same time be the Son's likewise, were He not equal to the Father: for to it He was referring when He said, "I pray not for the world, but for those whom Thou hast given me: for they are Thine, and all mine are Thine, and Thine are mine." Nor is it morally admissible that the saints, of whom He so spake, should belong to any save to Him by whom they were created and sanctified: and for the same reason, everything also that is theirs must of necessity be His also to whom they themselves belong, Accordingly, since they belong both to the Father and to the Son, they demonstrate the equality of those to whom they equally belong. But when He says, speaking of the Holy Ghost, "All things that the Father hath are mine; therefore said I, that He shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you,"3 He referred to those things which concern the actual deity of the Father, and in which He is equal to Him, in having all that He has. And no more was it of the creature, which is subject to the Father and the Son, that the Holy Spirit was to receive that whereof He said, "He shall receive of mine;" but most certainly of the Father, from whom the Spirit proceedeth, and of whom also the Son is born.
3. He proceeds: "And I am glorified in them." He now speaks of His glorification as already accomplished, although it was still future; while a little before He was demanding of the Father its accomplishment. But whether this be the same glorification, whereof He had said, "And now, O Father, glorify Thou me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was," is certainly a point worthy of examination For if "with Thee," how can it be "in them"? Is it when this very knowledge is imparted to them, and, through them, to all who believe them as His witnesses? In such a way we may clearly understand Christ as having said of the apostles, that He was glorified in them; for in saying that it was already accomplished, He showed that it was already foreordained, and only wished what was future to be regarded as certain.
4. "And now," He adds, "I am no more in the world, and these are in the world." If your thoughts turn to the very hour in which He was speaking, both were still in the world; to wit, He Himself, and those of whom He was so speaking: for it is not in respect of the tendency of heart and life that we can or ought to understand it, so that they should be described as still in the world, on the ground that they still savored of the earthly; and that He was no longer in the world, because divine in the disposition of His mind. For there is one word used here, which makes any such understanding altogether inadmissible; because He does not say, And I am not in the world; but, "I am no more in the world:" thereby showing that He Himself had been in the world, but was no more so. And are we then at liberty to believe that He at one time savored of the worldly, and, delivered at length from such a mistake, no longer retained the old disposition? Who would venture to shut himself up in so profane a meaning. It remains, therefore, that in the same sense in which He Himself also was previously in the world, He declared that He was no longer in the world, that is to say, in His bodily presence; in other words, showing thereby that His own absence from the world was now in the immediate future, and theirs later, when He said that He was no longer here, and that they were so, although both He and they were still present. For He thus spake, as a man in harmony with men, in accordance with the prevailing custom of human speech. Do we not say every day, he is no longer here, of one who is on the very point of departure? And such in particular is the way we are wont to speak of those who are at the point of death. And besides all else, the Lord Himself, as if foreseeing the thoughts that might possibly be excited in those who were afterwards to read these words, added, "And I come to Thee:" explaining thereby in some measure why He said, "I am no more in the world."
5. Accordingly He commends to the Father's care those whom He was about to leave by His bodily absence, saying: "Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom Thou hast given me." That is to say, as man He prays to God in behalf of His disciples, whom He has received from God. But attend to what follows: "That they may be one," He says, "even as we." He does not say, That they may be one with us, or, that they and we may be one, as we are one; but He says, "That they may be one, even as we:" meaning, of course, that in their nature they may be one, even as we are one in ours, Which certainly would not be spoken with truth, unless in this respect, that He, as God, is of the same nature as the Father also, in accordance with what He has said elsewhere, "I and the Father are one; "4 and not with what He also is as man, for in this respect He said, "The Father is greater than I."5 But since one and the same person is God and man, we are to understand the manhood in respect of His asking; but the Godhead, in as far as He Himself, and He whom He asks, are one. But there is still a passage in what follows, where we must have a more careful discussion of this subject.
6. But here He proceeds: "While I was with them, I kept them in Thy name." Since I am coming, He says, to Thee, keep them in Thy name, in which I myself have kept them while I was with them. In the Father's name, the Son as man kept His disciples, when placed side by side with them in human presence; but the Father also, in the name Of the Son, kept those whom He heard and answered when praying in the name of the Son. For to them had it also been said by the Son Himself: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name. He will give it you."6 But we are not to take this in any such carnal way, as that the Father and Son keep us in turn, with an alternation in the guardianship of both in guarding us, as if one succeeded when the other departed; for we are guarded all at once by the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, who is the one true and blessed God. But Scripture does not exalt us save by descending to us: as the Word, by becoming flesh, came down to lift us up, and fell not so as to remain Himself in the depths. If we have known Him who thus descendeth, let us rise with Him who lifteth us up; and let us understand, when He speaks thus, that He is marking a distinction in the persons, without making any separation of the natures. While, therefore, the Son in bodily presence was keeping His disciples, the Father was not waiting the Son's departure in order to succeed to the guardianship, but both were keeping them by Their spiritual power; and when the Son withdrew from them His bodily presence, He retained along with the Father the spiritual guardianship. For when the Son also as man assumed the office of their guardian, He did not withdraw them from the Father's guardianship; and when the Father gave them to the guardianship of the Son, in the very giving He acted not apart from Him to whom He gave them, but gave them to the Son as man, yet not apart from that same Son Himself as God.
7. The Son therefore goes on to say: "Those that Thou gavest me, I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the Scripture might be fulfilled." The betrayer of Christ was called the son of perdition, as foreordained to perdition, according to the Scripture, where it is specially prophesied of him in the 109th7 Psalm.
8. "And now," He says, "come I to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves." See! He says that He speaketh in the world, when He had said only a little before, "I am no more in the world:" the reason of which we have there explained, or rather have shown that He Himself explained it. Accordingly, on the one hand, as He had not yet departed, He was still here; and because He was on the very point of departure, in a kind of way He was no more here. But what this joy is whereof He says, "That they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves," has already been elucidated above, where He says, "That they may be one, even as we are." This joy of His that is bestowed on them by Him, was to be fulfilled, He says, in them; and for that very end declared that He had spoken in the world. This is that peace and blessedness in the world to come, for the attaining of which we must live temperately, and righteously, and godly in the present.