Jesus tells His disciples, “Believe in Me” (Jn 14:1). St. Thomas Aquinas points out that we believe persons but God is the only one we can believe in (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1851).
Jesus declares, “In My Father’s house there are many dwelling places” (Jn 14:2). According to Thomas, a “house” is where we dwell. On earth, God dwells with believers: “the society of those who believe: ‘that you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God’ (1 Tim 3:15). God dwells in this house by faith. ‘The dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them’ (Rev 21:3)” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1853).
In heaven, God’s dwelling place is in the holy ones: “the society of the saints in the glory of the Father” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1853). God Himself is the home:
Yet the house of the Father is not only where He dwells, but He Himself is the house, for He exists in Himself. It is into this house that He gathers us. We see from 2 Corinthians (5:1) that God Himself is the house: "We have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." This house is the house of glory, which is God Himself… We remain in this place, in God, with our will and affections by the joys of love: ‘He who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him’ (1 Jn 4:16). And we remain here with our minds by our knowledge of the truth: ‘Sanctify them in the truth’ (Jn 17:17) (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1853).
Thomas asks whether the “many dwelling places” implies that there are different levels of happiness in heaven. In a certain way, all receive the same good, just as in the parable, where all the workers receive a denarius, no matter how long they have worked (Mt 20:10). Thomas explains: “the supreme good itself, which is the object and cause of happiness, cannot be greater or less. This is because there is only one supreme good, which is God” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1854).
In another way, we delight in God according as we are “the better disposed and prepared he is to enjoy it”:
Happiness consists in two things. The first is the vision of God; and one is disposed for this by purity. And so the more one has a heart which is raised above earthly matters, the more he will see God, and the more perfectly. Secondly, happiness consists in the delight of enjoying [God], and one is disposed for this by love. Thus, one who has a more burning love for God will find more delight in the enjoyment of God. We read about the first in Matthew (5:8): "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see" (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1854).
Thomas picks up on St. Gregory the Great’s explanation of the different dwellings: “It is like a spring of water, available to all to take as much as they wish. Then, one who has a larger cup will receive more, and one who has a smaller cup will receive less. Therefore, there is one fountain, considering it in itself, but everyone does not receive the same portion” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1855).
The reward is one, but “there are differences in capacity” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1855). In another way, the reward is one because we all delight in each other: “This reward is one because of charity, which unites everything, and makes the joy of each the joy of the rest, and conversely: "Rejoice with those who rejoice" (Rom 12:15)” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1855).
Jesus says that He would have prepared a place for us. Is there some imperfection in the place? Does it have to be cleaned or enlarged? Isaiah says, "Enlarge the place of your tent" (Is 54:2). Thomas answers that the place itself is already prepared: “But this place, in itself, is prepared; for this place is God himself, as was said, in whom is the abundance of all perfections. But perhaps you do not have the means to enter it” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1857).
Thomas says that Jesus prepared a place by helping the disciples grow in faith: “First He made room for faith: for since faith concerns things not seen, when the disciples saw Christ in person, they did not need faith for this. Thus He left them, so that the one they had possessed by His bodily presence and saw with their bodily eyes, they could still possess in His spiritual presence and see with the eyes of their mind. This is to possess Him by faith” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1859).
Jesus shows us the way to the place, which is Himself. Jesus prays for us: “… by His prayers for them: "He is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through Him" (Heb 7:25). Jesus draws us to Himself: ‘by attracting them to what is above: ‘Draw me after you’ (Song 1:4); ‘If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above’ (Col 3:1).” Jesus prepares us by giving us His Spirit: by sending them the Holy Spirit: ‘As yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified’ (7:39) (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1859).
Jesus tells the disciples: I shall come back to take you with Me that where I am you also may be” (Jn 14:3). Does this happen to us when we die? Paul tells the Philippians: “I long to depart this life and be with Christ” (Phil 1:23). Thomas reflects that Jesus’ words “can be understood as that spiritual coming with which Christ always visits the Church of the faithful and vivifies each of the faithful at death” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1861).
According to Thomas, Jesus is saying: “I will come again, to the Church, spiritually and continuously, and will take you to Myself, that is, I will strengthen you in faith and love for Me: … that is, to the community of the saints… to delight in their virtues… and to draw pure souls to Himself when He gives life to the saints at death” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1861).
Jesus tells the disciples that they know where He is going and they know the way but the apostle Thomas protests that they do not know where He is going and they do not know the way (Jn 14:4-5). Thomas Aquinas affirms that both statements are true: “They clearly knew that Christ was a human being, they only imperfectly recognized his divinity” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1866). Thomas states: “Knowledge of the way depends on knowledge of the destination” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1866).
Jesus announces that He is the “way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). Jesus is our way to the Father, as Paul declares: “through Him we have gained access to this grace in which we stand” (Rom 5:2). The way is also the destination: “this way is not separated from its destination but united to it… Christ is at once both the way and the destination. He is the way by reason of his human nature, and the destination because of his divinity” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1868).
Humans desire two things, truth and to continue to exist. Christ is the answer:
Christ is the way to arrive at the knowledge of the truth, while still being the truth itself: ‘Teach me thy way O Lord, that I may walk in Your truth’ (Ps 86:11). Christ is also the way to arrive at life, while still being life itself: ‘You show me the path of life’ (Ps 16:11). And so He indicated the destination or end of this way as truth and life. These two were already applied to Christ: first, He is life: ‘In Him was life’ (Jn 1:4); then, He is truth, because "the life is the light of men" (Jn 1:4), and light is truth (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1868).
According to Thomas, truth is the conformity between our intellect and the thing itself. Our truth is the conformity between our perception, our word, and reality. The Son is God’s Word, the measure of all reality:
Yet although our word is true, it is not truth itself, since it is not true of itself but because it is conformed to the thing conceived. And so the truth of the divine intellect belongs to the Word of God. But because the Word of God is true of itself (since it is not measured by things, but things are true in the measure that they are similar to the Word) the Word of God is truth itself. And because no one can know the truth unless he adheres to the truth, it is necessary that anyone who desires to know the truth adhere to this Word (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1869).
Life also belongs to Christ. A living thing is something whose motion is from itself. Chief among the activities of living things is “understanding.” Thomas reflects: “Now in God the activity of understanding and the intellect itself are the same. Thus, it is clear that the Son, who is the Word of the intellect of the Father, is His own life” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1869).
Christ is then the way and the destination: “Christ referred to himself as the way, united to its destination: because He is the destination, containing in Himself whatever can be desired, that is, existing truth and life” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1869).
Christ is the way. Thomas recalls Isaiah’s words: “This is the way; walk in it” (Is 30:21). Augustine had stated: “"Walk like this human being and you will come to God. It is better to limp along on the way than to walk briskly off the way” (Sermones de Verbis Domini 142, ch. 1). Thomas reflects: “For one who limps on the way, even though he makes just a little progress, is approaching his destination; but if one walks off the way, the faster he goes the further he gets from his destination” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1870).
If you ask where to go, cling to Christ, for He is the truth which we desire to reach… If you ask where to remain, remain in Christ because he is the life: "He who finds Me finds life and shall have favor from the Lord" [Prv 8:35].
Therefore, cling to Christ if you wish to be secure, for you cannot get off the road because He is the way. And so those who hold on to Him are not walking off the road but on the right road…
Again, those who hold on to Christ cannot be deceived, because He is the truth and teaches all truth: ‘For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth’ (Jn 18:37). Further, they cannot be troubled, because He is the life and the giver of life: ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’ (Jn 10:10).
Christ has gone in the flesh but remains. Thomas offers an explanation: “When I speak to others, my mind goes out to them, yet it does not leave me; and when I am silent, in a certain sense I return to myself, yet still remain with those to whom I spoke [if they remember what I said]. And so Christ, who is our way, became the way even for himself, this is, for his flesh, to go to the truth and the life” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1872).
Jesus declares: “No one comes to the Father but by Me” (Jn 14:6). Thomas affirms: “The way, which is Christ, leads to the Father. Yet, because the Father and the Son are one, this way leads also to Himself. And so Christ says that He is the terminus of the way” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1873).
Paul states: “… who knows what pertains to a person except the spirit of the person that is within?” (1 Cor 2:11). Thomas reflects that a person may choose to reveal himself: “A person reveals what is hidden within by his words, and it is only by the words of a person that we can know what is hidden within” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1874).
Paul’s thought continued: “Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2:11). Thomas understand this to mean, “No one can acquire a knowledge of the Father except by his Word, which is His Son: ‘No one knows the Father except the Son’ (Mt 11:27)” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1874).
Humans express their thoughts in words. God also expresses Himself in a word: “And just like one of us who wants to be known by others by revealing to them the words in his heart, clothes these words with letters or sounds, so God, wanting to be known by us, takes his Word, conceived from eternity, and clothes it with flesh in time. And so no one can arrive at a knowledge of the Father except through the Son. Thus He says: ‘I am the door; if any one enters by Me, he will be saved’ (10:9)” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1874).
Jesus proclaims: “If you know Me, then you will also know My Father” (Jn 14:7). Thomas brings together passages of the New Testament where this idea is located:
For there is no better way to know something than through its word or image, and the Son is the Word of the Father: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God’ (1:1); ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father’ (1:14). The Son is also the image of the Father: ‘He is the image of the invisible God’ (Col 1:15); ‘He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature’ (Heb 1:3). Therefore, the Father is known in the Son as in His Word and proper image (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1878).
Every word in some way reflects God and everything that God has created reflects the Creator:
Note that to the extent that something approaches to a likeness of the Word of the Father, to that extent the Father is known in it, and to that extent it is in the image of the Father. Now since every created word is some likeness of that Word, and some likeness, though imperfect, of the divinity is found in everything, either as an image or a trace, it follows that what God is cannot be known perfectly through any creature or by any thought or concept of a created intellect. It is the Word alone, the only‑begotten Word, which is a perfect word and the perfect image of the Father that knows and comprehends the Father (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1879).
Jesus announces to His disciples: “From now on you do know Him and have seen Him” (Jn 14:7). How have they seen the Father? Thomas develops this:
… henceforth you shall know Him, after the mystery of My passion has been accomplished. Or, in the other way, henceforth, after my resurrection and ascension and after I have sent the Holy Spirit, you shall know Him, with the perfect knowledge of faith, for when the Spirit, the Paraclete, comes, ‘He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you’ (Jn 14:26).
They saw Christ in the flesh He had taken on, in which the Word existed, and in the Word they saw the Father. Thus they saw the Father in Him: ‘He who sent Me is with Me’ (Jn 8:29) (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1880).
Thomas is sympathetic with Philip’s request that Jesus show them the Father: “This is not surprising since that vision of the Father is the end of all our desires and actions, and nothing else is necessary: ‘You will show me the path of life, abounding joy in Your presence," that is, by the vision of your face [Ps 16:11]; "He fills your days with good things" [Ps 103:5] (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1883).
Jesus chides His disciples because He had been with them but still they don’t know Him. Thomas thinks that they still knew Him in a human way but not in a divine way (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1886). Jesus asserts: “Whoever has seen Me had seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). Thomas recalls an idea of Augustine that we say about people who look like each other, that to see one is to see the other. Thomas shows that the likeness between the Son and the Father is greater:
In fact, there is a greater likeness in the Son than there is among mere human beings, because in them there can never be a likeness based on the very same numerical form or quality, but only a likeness in species. In the Son, however, there is the same numerical nature as in the Father. Thus, when seeing the Son, the Father is better seen than when seeing some mere human another mere human is seen, no matter how much alike they are (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1887).
Jesus announces: “Whoever believes in Me will do the works that I do and will do greater than these because I am going to the Father” (Jn 14:12). Thomas comments:
For the strongest sign of great power is when a person does extraordinary things not only by himself but also through others. So he says, he who believes in Me will also do the works that I do. These words not only show the power of the divinity in Christ, but also the power of faith, and the union of Christ with those who believe. For just as the Son acts because the Father dwells in Him by a unity of nature, so also those who believe act because Christ dwells in them by faith (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1898).
Thomas emphasizes our cooperation with God:
Christ works in two ways. In one way, He works without us, as in creating the heavens and the earth, raising the dead to life, and things like that. In the other way, He works in us but not without us: the result of this is faith, by which the impious are brought to life. Our Lord is speaking here of what is found in all believers: this is the result which Christ produces in us, but not without us. The reason for this is that whoever believes is producing the same result since what is produced in me by God is also produced in me by myself, that is, by my free choice (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1900).
According to Thomas, our conversion is greater than creation itself:
Thus the Apostle says: "it was not I," that is, I alone, "but the grace of God which is with me" (1 Cor 15:10). Christ is speaking of this result or work when He says that believers will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, for it is a greater thing to justify the impious than to create the heavens and the earth. For the justification of the impious, considered in itself, continues forever: ‘Righteousness is immortal’ (Wis 1:15). But the heavens and the earth will pass away, as Luke (21:33) says. Further, effects which are physical are directed to what is spiritual. Now the heavens and the earth are physical effects, but the justification of the impious is a spiritual effect (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1900).
Jesus declares, “Whatever you ask the Father in My name, I will do it” (Jn 14:14). Thomas explains: “… believers work by reason of the Son; so He says, in My name, that is, by reason of My name: ‘There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). For this name is above every name: ‘Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory’ (Ps 115:1).
It is the Son who does these works: “… the Son Himself does all these works in them and through them: thus he says, I will do it. Note that the Father is asked and the Son does the work, the reason being that the works of the Father and the Son are inseparable: ‘Whatever He [the Father] does, that the Son does likewise’ (Jn 5:19). For the Father does all things through the Son: ‘All things were made through Him’ (Jn 1:3).
Thomas acknowledges that sometimes we ask but we do not receive. Thomas points out that Jesus’ name implies salvation: “The name of Christ is the name of salvation: "You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Mt 1:21). In the Lord’s compassion, He does not grant it because it would not be helpful to us. Even Paul asked and did not receive (2 Cor 12:8).
Thomas notices that Jesus speaks in the future: “I will do it, using the future tense, not the present tense, because he sometimes postpones doing what we ask so that our desire for it will increase and so that he can grant it at the right time: ‘Rain will fall on you when it should fall’ [Lev 26:4]; ‘In a day of salvation I have helped you’ (Is 49:8)” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1905).
Thomas points out that Jesus says “that the Father may be glorified in the Son”: “This is like saying: I will do what you ask in my name so that the Father may be glorified in the Son, and everything that the Son does is directed to the glory of the Father: ‘I do not seek my own glory’ (8:50). We also should direct all our works to the glory of God: ‘Do all to the glory of God’ (1 Cor 10:31)” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1906).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
The quotations from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of St. John were translated by R.F. Larcher, O.P. The full text may be found on the web site of the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C.: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/