“From the moment we were punished with mortality and our race was condemned to increase by a passionate means of conception, a thick cloud covered our noetic eyes, like a cloak of flesh”

John 9:34–38. They answered and said unto him, “Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us?” And they cast him out. Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said unto him, “Dost thou believe in the Son of God?” He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I might believe in Him?” And Jesus said unto him, “Thou hast both seen Him, and it is He that talketh with thee.” And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped Him.

As long as they still had hope the blind man would say something of use to them, the Pharisees called on him and questioned him more than once. But when they realized by his answers that he did not think as they did, but took the side of truth, they despised and rejected him as one born in sins. Quite foolishly do they refer to his blindness, thinking that he had been condemned before he was born and was punished with blindness at birth. This is nonsense. These sons of falsehood expelled from the temple the confessor of truth, but it was to his benefit. Cast out of the temple, he was at once found by the master of the temple. Apparently dishonored for Christ’s sake, he was honored by the knowledge of the Son of God. Jesus found him, the Evangelist says, implying that He had come for just this purpose — to console the blind man, as the judge of a contest consoles an athlete after the agony of his exertion by placing on his head the crown of victory. The Lord inquires, “Dost thou believe in the Son of God?” Why does He ask this? After such a vigorous dispute with the Pharisees, after the bold words he had spoken, can there be any doubt that he believes? The Lord asks the question, not because He is uncertain whether the man believes, but in order to reveal Himself to him. For the blind man had never seen Christ, even after his healing. How could he have, when he was straightway harried by the Jews, as if by vicious dogs? The Lord asks this question now, so that the blind man’s response — “And who is He, this Son of God?”— would provide the opportune moment to reveal Himself. At the same time the Lord shows that He highly honors the faith of the blind man. “The people reviled Me greatly, but their words mean nothing to Me,” He says. “One thing matters, that you believe.” The blind man’s question, “Who is He, Lord, this Son of God?” reveals his ardent desire. The Lord answered, Thou hast both seen Him, and it is He that talketh with thee. He does not say, “It is I Who healed you and said to you, ‘Go, wash.'” He begins enigmatically, “Thou hast … seen Him;” then He continues more openly, and “it is He that talketh with thee.” The Lord first said to him, “Thou … hast seen Him,” to remind the blind man of the healing and to help him recognize that he had received his sight from the One Who now stood before him. And the blind man at once believes, showing his fervent and true faith by falling prostrate before Him, thus confirming his own word by his deed and giving glory to Jesus as God. For according to the law, worship must be rendered to God alone (see Dt. 6:13).

Understand also the spiritual meaning of this miracle. Every man is blind from birth, as a result of being brought into existence by coition, and being yoked thereby to corruption. From the moment we were punished with mortality and our race was condemned to increase by a passionate means of conception, a thick cloud covered our noetic eyes, like a cloak of flesh, as the Scriptures say (see Gen. 1:21). The Gentiles are “blind from birth” in another sense: they made gods of what is subject to birth and corruption, and consequently were blinded, as Paul says, “and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:21). Just as blind were the Persian magi, who wasted their lives with horoscopes and astrological predictions. The blind man whom Jesus saw (Jn. 9:1) therefore represents all men, and the Gentiles in particular. He was unable to see his Creator, so God Himself, “the Dayspring from on high, through His tender mercy visited him” (Lk. 1:28). How did Jesus “see the blind man”? As He “passed by” (Jn. 9:1), which means, not while the Lord was in heaven, but when He came among us by His Incarnation. Humbling Himself and accepting limitation, He bent down from heaven, as the Prophet David says, to see all the sons of men (see Ps. 13:3; 32:13). Although He came, first and foremost, to the lost sheep of the sons of Israel (Mt. 10:5-6; 15:24), He also “passed by” and saw the Gentiles; for the secondary purpose of His coming was to visit the people which sat in the darkness (Mt. 4:16) of complete ignorance. And how does He heal their blindness? By spitting on the ground and making clay. If it helps you to believe, consider how God the Word descended upon the holy Virgin like a rain-drop falling upon the ground (see Ps. 71:6), and anointed the eyes of the mind with clay made from spittle and the earth. This clay is the one Christ in two natures — the divine nature, symbolized by the rain-drop and the spittle, and the human nature, symbolized by the earth from which came the body of the Lord. Do men receive healing merely by believing? Certainly not: they must first go to Siloam, which is the spring of Baptism, to be baptized into Him Who sends them there, namely, Christ. “For as many of us as have been baptized spiritually have been baptized into Christ” (Gal. 3:27).

After a man has been baptized, temptations will beset him. “He shall be brought before governors and kings” (Mt. 10:18), as it were, because of his allegiance to Christ Who healed him. He must then hold steadfastly to his confession, never denying it out of fear, but willing to be denounced and excommunicated, as it is written, “Ye shall be hated by all nations for My name’s sake” (Mt. 24:9), and, “They shall put you out of the synagogues” (Jn. 16:12). Even if this confessor is cast out by men who hate the truth, and driven from their temples and the places of honor, (meaning, he is deprived of wealth and glory,) Jesus will find him. Then he who was abused by his enemies will be highly honored by Christ. The Lord will bestow upon him knowledge and a more exact faith, and the confessor will fall prostrate and worship Christ, Who appears as a man but is also the Son of God. For there are not two sons—one, the Son of God, and another, the son of Mary (this is the blasphemous doctrine of Nestorius)—but one and the same Son, of both God and man. See how the Lord answered the blind man when he asked, “Who is the Son of God, that I might believe in Him?” “Thou hast both seen Him,” Christ says, and “it is He that talketh with thee.” Who gave this answer? Was it not the Son born of Mary? But this Son of Mary is also the Son of God, not two different persons. Therefore the holy Mary is truly the Theotokos, the Birthgiver of God, who bore the Son of God made flesh. He is undivided, and the two are One — Christ the Lord.

9:39–41. And Jesus said, “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might become blind.” And some of the Pharisees which were with Him heard these words, and said unto Him, “Are we blind also?” Jesus said unto them, “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin; but now ye say, ‘We see;’ therefore your sin remaineth.”

The Lord saw that the Pharisees harmed themselves by rejecting the benefit of this miracle, and therefore deserved greater condemnation. Appraising events by their outcome, He declares, For judgment I am come, meaning, “for the greater condemnation and punishment of My enemies, that they which see not might see; and that they which see, such as the Pharisees, might become blind in the eyes of their soul.” Behold, the man blind from birth sees both spiritually and physically, while those who think they see are blind noetically. In this verse, the Lord speaks of two kinds of vision and two kinds of blindness, but the Pharisees, who are always fixated on the material world, think He means only a material affliction. “Are we blind also?” they ask, fearing only physical blindness. The Lord desires to show them that it is better to be blind physically than to lack faith, saying, “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin. If blindness were your natural condition, you would have some excuse for being ill with unbelief. But you insist that you can see; furthermore, you are eyewitnesses of the miraculous healing of the blind man. Because you suffer from self-inflicted unbelief, you deserve no forgiveness. Your sin remains unabsolved, and you will undergo greater punishment, because you refuse to acknowledge the truth even after seeing such wonders.” The words, “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin,” may also be understood as follows. “You seem afraid only of physical blindness, but I warn you of spiritual blindness. If ye were blind, that is, ignorant of the Scriptures, ye should have no sin; that is, you would be sinning in ignorance. But since you say that you see, and consider yourselves wise and learned in the law, you condemn yourselves and have the greater sin, because you sin deliberately, with knowledge.”

St Theophylact of Ochrid

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9 Responses to “From the moment we were punished with mortality and our race was condemned to increase by a passionate means of conception, a thick cloud covered our noetic eyes, like a cloak of flesh”

  1. Rob says:

    “The Lord desires to show them that it is better to be blind physically than to lack faith, saying, “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin. If blindness were your natural condition, you would have some excuse for being ill with unbelief.”

    This seems to directly contradict what was said a few paragraphs above.

    “Understand also the spiritual meaning of this miracle. Every man is blind from birth, as a result of being brought into existence by coition, and being yoked thereby to corruption.”

    Is a man blind from birth, or is he not?

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    • FrankF says:

      Rob,
      Do you think Theophylact is making a distinction between the condition that man is born into vs. “self-inflicted unbelief”? Or do you only see contradiction?

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      • Rob says:

        I just see that at one point he asserts that blindness is the natural condition and then the next says that it is not. Also self inflicted unbelief sounds like a symptom of blindness to me, per 1 Corinthians 2:8 none of the rulers understood what they were doing or they would not have crucified Jesus. He himself says they know not what they do.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Rob, I do not see a contradiction. In the first text, he is referring to physical blindness; in the second (“every man is blind from birth”) he is referring to spiritual blindness.

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      • Rob says:

        Huh? Physical blindness does not have any effect on the sinfullness or lack thereof of an action, as far as I am aware.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Exactly. St Theophylact isn’t saying that it does. He’s playing off the analogy posed by the fact that the man was born blind. It’s figurative speech used by preachers all the time in preaching this text from John.

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          • Rob says:

            I’m not sure I’m understanding you. He says that spiritual blindness is the natural condition of man, then later he says the Pharisees lack an excuse because blindness is not the natural condition of man. If he’s talking about physical bindless being an excuse or lack thereof being an excuse then that appears to me to be a simple non sequitur.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            I see now what you’re saying. I agree, that is a perplexity. The problem lies not with Theophylact but with Jesus. He sometimes talks that way in the gospels. Note again how Theophylact interprets Jesus’ words in that last paragraph. Jesus often takes the Pharisees to task for not “seeing” the Truth that is right before them.

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  2. Dale Crakes. says:

    I’m interested in the opening quote on conception. Do you think it has any derivation from Gregory of Nyssa. I’ve read recently that he had some rather strange conjecturing on human procreation if the Fall hadn’t occurred. Unfortunately I forgot to note the source but the info was really bizarre.

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