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CATHOLICCATENA AUREAECUMENICAL COMMENTARIES
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The Vine and the Branches

In the Gospel of John, chapter 15, Jesus teaches that if we do not produce good works, we will be separated from him and thrown into the fire. And, that if we do bear fruit, we will be pruned in order to bear more fruit. Check out the video above with Dr. Brant Pitre to learn more about this topic and the implications of what Jesus is teaching.

AGAPE CATHOLIC Bible Study

Jesus’ True Vine Discourse

As branches draw life and grow from the parent stalk, so too do our souls receive life from Christ as we grow, spiritually nourished by His word and by the Eucharist in the arms of Mother Church.
In today’s Gospel Reading, at Jesus’ Last Supper discourse, He identified Himself to His disciples as the “True Vine,” and all who believed in Him as the “branches” united to Him. Jesus used the metaphor of the vine and its branches to emphasize the importance of divine grace in joining the lives of Christians to the glorified life of God the Son, the Redeemer-Messiah, who is the source of divine life and wisdom. For those of us who believe in Him as our Lord and Savior, He unites us to Him in the same way the branches of a plant are connected to the main stem or trunk. If we have faith in Him, we abide/remain in Him, and He abides/remains in us.  We become reborn sons and daughters of God by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Christian Baptism, who are united to Christ and each other. As branches draw life and grow from the parent stalk, so too do our souls receive life from Christ as we grow, spiritually nourished by His word and by the Eucharist in the arms of Mother Church. In the assembly of the faithful, we share our love and sing hymns to praise God who abides in us, as in today’s Responsorial Psalm, we sing: “I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people.”

Divine Grace

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.

Using the vine as a metaphor, Jesus emphasizes the importance of divine grace in uniting the Christian to Christ. In the Vatican II document Apostolicam actuositatem, 4, the Church instructs the faithful: “Christ, sent by the Father, is the source of the Church’s whole apostolate. Clearly then, the fruitfulness of the apostolate of lay people depends on their living union with Christ.” 

Jesus makes this truth clear in His statement to the Apostles:

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit because, without me, you can do nothing.”

John 15:1 is Jesus’ seventh use of “I AM” with a predicate nominative statement that connects Jesus to the Divine Name of God (see Jn 6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 11; 11:25; 14:6; and 15:1). In Sacred Scripture, seven is the symbolic number of fullness, perfection, and completion.  It is also the number of spiritual perfection and the Holy Spirit.

Divine Judment

A barren vine or a barren fig tree was a symbolic image of Israel in rebellion against God and on the path to divine judgment.
The Old Testament prophets used the fruitful vine or vineyard’s imagery and the fruitful fig tree as symbols for Israel as Yahweh’s faithful covenant people. The prophet Isaiah wrote: The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his cherished plant (Is 5:1-7). However, a barren vine or a barren fig tree was a symbolic image of Israel in rebellion against God and on the path to divine judgment. See the section on the Vine and Fig Tree imagery in the chart on the Symbolic Images of the Old Testament.

During His last week in Jerusalem, Jesus pronounced divine judgment on Judea in a symbolic act when He cursed an unfruitful fig tree, causing it to wither and die (Mt 21:19-22 and in Mk 11:13-21). He also told parables about a barren fig tree (Lk 13:6-9), and a vineyard tended by wicked tenants (Mt 21:33-43; Mk 12:1-12; Lk 20:9-19). All the parables were symbols of the Sinai Covenant people’s failures in their obedience to God’s commandments and prophesied the coming of divine judgment. Their failures included the rejection of the Messiah.

Israel as “the Vine”

To grasp Jesus’ teaching of the “True Vine” in John chapter 15, it is necessary to understand how the disciples associated the symbolic significance of Israel as “the Vine” in the writings of the prophets. All Jews who were ethnically Israelite or became converts to the Sinai Covenant (like Ruth the Moabitess) were part of Israel, the holy “Vine” of Yahweh. For Old Testament references to Israel as “the Vine” see for example, Deuteronomy 32:32-33; Sirach 24:17; Is 5:1-7; 27:2-6; Jeremiah 2:21; 5:10; 6:9; 12:10; Ezekiel 15:1-8; 17:3-10; 19:10-14; Hosea 10:1; Joel 1:7; and Psalm 80:8-18.

Compare the Old Testament references to Israel as “the Vine” with the New Testament passages of Jesus’ parables of the vine/vineyard during His last week teaching in Jerusalem. In each parable, He identified the covenant people with a vineyard that failed to produce good fruit, and in each parable, He prophesied His death. God’s prophets depicted Israel in covenant union with Yahweh as a fruitful vineyard/fig tree. However, Israel in rebellion against Yahweh was a withered vine or tree, ready to be cut down and doomed to destruction in the fire of divine judgment (Mt 21:19-22, 33-43; Mk 11:13-21; 12:1-12; Lk 13:6-9; 20:9-19).

Jesus as the “True Vine”

In John chapter 15, when Jesus began to speak of Himself as the “True Vine,” His disciples were sitting with Him at the table after the first meal of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. They knew the Scriptures, and they would immediately have thought of those very significant verses from the prophets as well as Jesus’ teachings about God’s judgment before and during His last week in Jerusalem. They would have especially remembered when He cursed the fruitless fig tree on Monday and afterward when they saw it withered to the ground on Tuesday (Mk 11:12-14, 20-25). However, there is a significant difference between Israel’s symbolic imagery as “the Vine” of Yahweh in the Old Testament and Jesus’ statement to the Apostles in this passageJesus identifies Himself, not Israel, as the genuine “True Vine.”

The fact that “Vine” describes both Israel and the Messiah reinforces the close identification of Jesus with Yahweh’s covenant people.
The fact that “Vine” describes both Israel and the Messiah reinforces the close identification of Jesus with Yahweh’s covenant people. Under the law of the New Covenant, it was not enough to avoid the outward act of sexual immorality in the sin of adultery and other sexual sins. If someone harbored lust in his/her heart, that person had already sinned (Mt 5:27-28). In the New Covenant, the Old Covenant ritual purity laws were not enough to cleanse the believer. Nor was the Old Covenant sign of circumcised flesh the covenantal sign God desired. He wanted a pure, circumcised heart committed to living the “Law of Love” of God and our “neighbors,” redefined as our brothers and sisters in the human family (Dt 30:6; Mt 22:37-39). In the New Covenant, the people of God are no longer identified only ethnically as “Israel the Church.”  Now, through the miracle of Baptism in the rebirth by water and the Spirit, we become the New Covenant people in the universal family of God (Jn 3:3-5). Those of Old Covenant Israel who follow Jesus as the Messiah were now a part of Christ the “True Vine” (Jn 15:1). They became members of the New Israel of the New Covenant Church, fulfilling Israel’s mission to become a “light to the nations” of the world (Is 49:6b, CCC 877).

Jesus’ True Disciples

The faithful remnant of the old Israel followed Jesus to become the new Israel of a new and everlasting covenant (see Jer 31:31-34; Rom 9:6ff; and 11:1-10). Jesus of Nazareth’s true disciples are those:

  • who believe in Jesus who is the promised Davidic Redeemer-Messiah
  • who obey Jesus’ commands
  • who will stay attached to the “True Vine”
  • who have the “True Vine’s power and strength to produce “good fruit,” and
  • who will bring in the Gentile peoples for grafting onto the “True Vine” that is Christ (Rom 11:17-24)

These men and women would form the nucleus of the New Covenant Israel—the Catholic [universal] Church.

The “False Vine”

If Jesus is the “True Vine,” then the “False Vine” has to be the people of Old Covenant Israel who rejected their Messiah. Clothing Himself in the symbolic imagery of the “True Vine” instead of the “False Vine” of what Old Covenant Israel had become in their rejection of the Messiah, Jesus affirmed that God’s covenant people could not find the path to eternal salvation in the old Sinai Covenant. They must come into the New Covenant ratified by Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah, whose very name means “I SAVE,” to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins (venial and mortal), and eternal salvation. The old covenant could only forgive unintentional sin through animal sacrifice, not mortal/intentional sins (Num 15:27-31). It also did not have the power to grant the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

“True Vine” that is symbolic of the Eucharistic Banquet

Jesus is the “True Vine” that is symbolic of the Eucharistic Banquet. The fruit of the vine produces grapes that are crushed, trampled, and made into wine. In His Passion, Christ was crushed and trampled for our sins, and in His crucifixion, He yielded the best wine of the Eucharistic banquet as prefigured at the Wedding at Cana. We join in that heavenly banquet on earth in the celebration of Most Holy Eucharist when the fruits of our labors, the bread and wine we offer, become, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Body and Blood of Christ as He foretold in John 6:54-56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.

As in the Creation event, the word God speaks becomes a reality. St. Paul gave a warning to those who received Jesus’ gift of the Eucharist without discerning His Body and Blood or receiving His gift with an impure soul stained with sin. Paul wrote, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself (1 Cor 11:27-29, RSV Catholic edition).

2 He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. 3 You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.

John uses wordplay with two similar sounding Greek verbs, which we translate as “cuts away” = airein and “prunes” [better translation = trims or cleans] = kathairein. In the next verse, He uses the adjective “clean” = katharos, which corresponds to the second verb and unites the idea of cutting with cleansing or purifying. God the Son is the True Vine, God the Father is the Vinedresser who prunes and maintains the branches. The branches represent the New Covenant believers, the Church of the new Israel, and those who are the “clean/purified” people of God, forgiven their sins and sanctified through the Sacrament of Christian Baptism, and who remain purified in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (CCC 877)

Notice the relationship between Jesus the Vine and the New Covenant believers as the branches.  The branches are physically and spiritually united to the Vine and receive nourishment, life, and fruitfulness from the “True Vine” that is Christ. The Holy Spirit provides the life-giving “sap” of the Father’s Vine, that is Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit provides nourishment to the branches, and those branches produce fruit. The fruit that they bear is a life of obedience to the commandments, especially the commandment to love one another as Christ has loved us (Jn 13:34-35 and Jn 15:12-17). This fruitful love will result in the works of God working through believers who are empowered to reach out to change the world (CCC# 1108).

The Branch which Bears No Fruit

In verse 2, Jesus gave a warning to the branch that bears no fruit. The significance of this statement is that obedience to Christ’s command to love requires active faith. The failure to produce works of love jeopardizes the branches’ spiritual life, which may cause them to become separated from the True Vine. This verse implies that a condition of our salvation is to be part of the True Vine to have life eternally. Believers can lose their salvation if they choose to separate themselves from the Vine who is Christ through unrepented mortal sin. The journey to everlasting salvation is a life-long process, but those who persevere in faith to the end will find salvation (see Jn 15:6; 1Tim 1:18-19; Rev 3:5; 20:12; CCC 161-62). In His letter to the Christians at Sardis, the glorified Jesus promised: Anyone who proves victorious will be dressed, like these, in white robes; I shall not blot that name out of the book of life, but acknowledge it in the presence of my Father and his angels (Rev 3:5 NJB)To remain united to the True Vine is to have your name inscribed in the Book of Life, and you will secure eternal salvation if you persevere in faith.

God “Prunes” the “Branch”

and every one that does, he prunes so that it bears more fruit. 3 You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.

God “prunes” the “branch” to make it bear even more “fruit.” If you have ever kept a grape wine, you know that new life springs back to produce fruit wherever you prune. The pruning sometimes seems severe when removing healthy growth so the plant will continue to grow in the desired direction and create the most fruit. The same is true for our lives when God the Vinedresser “prunes” us to keep us from growing astray. In His Fatherly discipline, He prunes out our selfishness and indifference. God does this through the trials we experience to encourage us to produce, through the work of the Holy Spirit, the desired “fruit”/works pleasing to Him (Heb 12:5-11; Jam 1:1-4; 1 Pt 1:6-7). The desired result is a fruitful harvest of souls for Heaven.

 3 You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. 4 Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. 

In verses 4-7, the verb menei/meno meaning “to remain, abide or live,” appears seven times in the Greek text. It is the same Greek verb Jesus used in the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6:56, Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains [menei] in me and I in him. The Eucharist unites the family of Jesus Christ, and when one receives Christ in the Holy Eucharist, He “remains/abides/lives” in that person. The Greek verb “meno” is one of the most important theological terms in John’s Gospel:

  • The Father menon (remains/lives/abides) in the Son (Jn 14:10).
  • St. John saw the Spirit emeinen (remain) on Jesus at His baptism (Jn 1:32).
  • Believers menei (remain/abide) in Jesus and He in them (Jn 6:56 and 15:4).

Just as Jesus has His life from the Father and the Father is in Him, so too believers who receive Christ in the Eucharist have life because Jesus remains/abides/lives in them. His promise to us is to abide/remain/live with us always, until the end of time (Mt 27:20).

Eucharistic language of the Bread of Life Discourse

5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me, you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire, and they will be burned.

The sign that one remains/abides in Christ and Christ in him is that the believer will bear much fruit. One who partakes of Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice enjoys a mutual abiding relationship with Jesus. This theme began in the Prologue of John’s Gospel in 1:32 with God the Holy Spirit who “remains on Jesus” at His baptism. It is developed in the Eucharistic language of the Bread of Life Discourse in John Chapter 6 in believers who “remain/abide” in Jesus and He in them (6:56). The theme expands to the Father who “remains/abides” in the Son in John 14:10.  And now, the same theme comes into focus again in 15:4 for believers who “remain/abide” in Christ and He in them. The implications of this “remaining/abiding” are many.  A believer enjoys intimacy with and security in Jesus the Savior. Just as Jesus has His life from the Father, believers have life because of Jesus, who gives them His life in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the promise of eternal life if we persevere and continue to “remain/abide” in Him.

Unfruitful Branches

What happens to unbelievers and professed believers who do not obey the commandments and are not united to Christ through God’s grace? Jesus spoke in detail about such “unfruitful branches” in His Final Judgment Discourse in Matthew 25:31-46. All our works will be purified by fire, both the good deeds that bear fruit and the fruitless, empty works that lack goodness. St. Paul speaks about the purification of the Christian by fire in 1 Corinthians 3:13-15. Paul was addressing the destruction of “bad works” and accountability for one destined for Heaven. However, Jesus is speaking not of the destruction of “bad works” or atonement for sins and the preservation of good works by God’s fiery love in one who is saved (1 Cor 3:15, CCC 1030-32).

Final Judgment

In the Final Judgment Discourse, Jesus spoke of destruction in Divine Judgment and the eternal separation that waits for every “branch” separated from Christ that has become worthless. St. John will write of that final “Day of the Lord” in Revelation 20:11-15. Also see parallels with other images Jesus used in the parable of the fruit from a sound or a rotten tree in Matthew 7:17-20, the dragnet in Matthew 13:49-50. And do no miss the warning in the parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22:11-14, where the improperly dressed wedding guest, not clothed in the garment of sanctifying grace, was thrown out of the feast.  Also, see Matthew 3:10 and Hebrews 6:4-8.

In this part of the discourse, some scholars suggest that Jesus and His disciples departed from the Upper Room of the Last Supper, and crossing the Kidron Valley, went to the Mount of Olives where there were many vineyards. Vinedressers pruned the grapevines from February through March. The pruned branches were then destroyed in great bonfires. Other scholars suggest that Jesus and His disciples had entered the Temple precincts where they are gazing on the beautiful golden grapevine, the size of a man, which adorned the entrance to the Temple’s Holy Place (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 5.5.4). The Jewish priest and historian Flavius Josephus recorded that the Temple gates were locked securely at night, and unauthorized people could not enter the Temple precincts except on the first night of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. At midnight, when the covenant people had finished their sacrificial meals of the Passover victim, the Temple’s gates remained open for those who wished to pray in the courts of God’s house.

When We Pray

7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want, and it will be done for you. 8 By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

In verse 7, Jesus promised to honor whatever request we make in His name. Most people stop with that statement and then complain that what they have asked in prayer was not fulfilled. They miss that Jesus placed a condition on our requests in the next verse that we must remain/abide in Him and keep the commandments. Keep His commandments includes everything He has taught, including His teaching that we must conform to God the Father’s will in our lives just as Jesus was perfectly in accord with the Father’s will. We see that accord when He prayed to God the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, which John does not repeat in his Gospel but appears in the Synoptic Gospels. In Matthew 26:39, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.”

Therefore, when we pray, our petitions must not be contrary to the teachings of Christ and His Church, and our petitions must be obedient to the will of God for our lives. Our prayers of faith consist not only in crying out to the Lord in our distress but in submitting our hearts to do the will of the Father. Jesus calls His disciples to bring into their prayer life this concern for cooperating with the divine plan guided by God the Holy Spirit (see CCC 2558-2565). The Catechism teaches: “By this power of the Spirit, God’s children can bear much fruit. He who has grafted us onto the true vine will make us bear ‘the fruit of the Spirit: … love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.’ ‘We live by the Spirit’ the more we renounce ourselves, the more we ‘walk by the Spirit.'” (CCC 736). When we are faithful and obedient to the will of the Father in our lives, St. Paul promised, all things work for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).

Catechism References (* indicated Scripture quoted or paraphrased in the citation):
Psalm 22 (CCC 304*); 22:27 (CCC 716*)

1 John 3:19-24 (CCC 2845*); 3:19-20 (CCC 2081781); 3:21 (CCC 2778*); 3:22 (CCC 2631)

John 15:1-5 (CCC 755*); 15:1-4 (CCC 1988*); 15:3 (CCC 517*); 15:4-5 (CCC 787); 15:5 (CCC 308*, 737859*, 864*, 1694*, 20742732); 15:7 (CCC 2615*); 15:8 (CCC 737)

Christ’s prayer at the Last Supper (CCC 2746*, 2747*, 2748*, 27492750*, 2751*)
Christ is the vine, and we are the branches (CCC 736*, 737*, 755*, 787*, 1108*, 1988*, 2074*)
The fruit of charity (CCC 953*; 18221823*, 1824*, 1825*, 1826*, 18271828*, 1829)

SOURCE: content taken from Michal E. Hunt at Agape Bible Study; used with permission. Section divisions and titles added.

The Vine and the Branches

The Catena Aurea (Golden Chain) is Thomas Aquinas’ compilation of Patristic commentary on the Gospels. It seamlessly weaves together extracts from various Church Fathers.
Annotated index of Church Fathers used in commentary

Third Century

  • Origen – Alexandrian biblical critic, exegete, theologian, and spiritual writer; analyzed the Scriptures on three levels: the literal, the moral, and the allegorical
  • Cyprian – pagan rhetorician converted to Christianity; acquired acquired a profound knowledge of the Scriptures and the writings of Tertullian; elected bishop of Carthage; martyred in 258

Fourth Century

  • Eusebius – Bishop of Caesarea; author of Ecclesiastical History, the principal source for the history of Christianity from the Apostolic Age till his own day; also wrote a valuable work on Biblical topography called the Onomasticon
  • Athanasius – Bishop of Alexandria; attended the Council of Nicea; opposed Arianism, in defence of the faith proclaimed at Nicaea—that is, the true deity of God the Son
  • Hilary – Bishop of Poitiers; the earliest known writer of hymns in the Western Church; defended the cause of orthodoxy against Arianism; became the leading Latin theologian of his age
  • Gregory of Nazianzus – one of the “Cappadocian Fathers”; a great influence in restoring the Nicene faith and leading to its final establishment at the Council of Constantinople in 381
  • Gregory of Nyssa – one of the “Cappadocian Fathers”; Bishop of Nyssa; took part in the Council of Constantinople
  • Ambrose – Bishop of Milan; partly responsible for the conversion of Augustine; author of Latin hymns; it was through his influence that hymns became an integral part of the liturgy of the Western Church
  • Jerome – biblical scholar; devoted to a life of asceticism and study; his greatest achievement was his translation of the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate); also wrote many biblical commentaries
  • Nemesius – Christian philosopher; Bishop of Emesa in Syria
  • Augustine – Bishop of Hippo (in northern Africa); a “Doctor of the Church”; most famous work is his Confessions; his influence on the course of subsequent theology has been immense
  • Chrysostom – Bishop of Constantinople; a “Doctor of the Church”; a gifted orator; his sermons on Gen, Ps, Isa, Matt, John, Acts, and the Pauline Epistles (including Hebrews) established him as the greatest of Christian expositors
  • Prosper of Aquitaine – theologian; supporter of Augustinian doctrines; closely associated with Pope Leo I (“the Great”)
  • Damasus – pope; active in suppressing heresy
  • Apollinaris of Laodicea – Bishop of Laodicea; close friend of Athanasias; vigorous advocate of orthodoxy against the Arians
  • Amphilochius of Iconium – Bishop of Iconium; close friend of the Cappadocian Fathers; defended the full Divinity of the Holy Spirit

Fifth Century

  • Asterius of Amasea – Arian theologian; some extant homilies on the Psalms attributed to him
  • Evagrius Ponticus – spiritual writer; noted preacher at Constantinople; spent the last third of his life living a monastic life in the desert
  • Isidore of Pelusium – an ascetic and exegete; his extant correspondence contains much of doctrinal, exegetical, and moral interest
  • Cyril of Alexandria – Patriarch of Alexandria; contested Nestorius; put into systematic form the classical Greek doctrines of the Trinity and of the Person of Christ
  • Maximus of Turin – Bishop of Turin; over 100 of his sermons survive
  • Cassion (prob. Cassian) – one of the great leaders of Eastern Christian monasticism; founded two monasteries near Marseilles; best known books the Institutes and the Conferences
  • Chrysologus – Bishop of Ravenna; a “Doctor of the Church”
  • Basil “the Great” – one of the “Cappadocian Fathers”; Bishop of Caesarea; responsible for the Arian controversy’s being put to rest at the Council of Constantinople
  • Theodotus of Ancyra – Bishop of Ancyra; wrote against the teaching of Nestorius
  • Leo the Great – Pope who significantly consolidated the influence of the Roman see; a “Doctor of the Church”; his legates defended Christological orthodoxy at the Council of Chalcedon
  • Gennadius – Patriarch of Constantinople; the author of many commentaries, notably on Genesis, Daniel, and the Pauline Epistles
  • Victor of Antioch – presbyter of Antioch; commentator and collector of earlier exegetical writings
  • Council of Ephesus – declared the teachings of Nestorious heretical, affirming instead the unity between Christ’s human and divine natures
  • Nilus – Bishop of Ancyra; disciple of St John Chrysostom; founder of a monastery; conducted a large correspondence influencing his contemporaries; his writings deal mainly with ascetic and moral subjects

Sixth Century

  • Dionysius Areopagita (aka Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite) – mystical theologian; combined Neoplatonism with Christianity; the aim of all his works is the union of the whole created order with God
  • Gregory the Great – Pope; a “Doctor of the Church”; very prolific writer of works on practical theology, pastoral life, expositions of Job, sermons on the Gospels, etc.
  • Isidore – Bishop of Seville; a “Doctor of the Church”; concerned with monastic discipline, clerical education, liturgical uniformity, conversion of the Jews; helped secure Western acceptance of Filioque clause
  • Eutychius (Patriarch of Constan­tinople) – consecrated the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople; defended the Chalcedonian faith against an unorthodox sect; became controversial later in life
  • Isaac (Bp. of Nineveh) (aka Isaac the Syrian) – monastic writer on ascetic subjects
  • Severus (Bp. of Antioch) – Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch; the leading theologian of the moderate Monophysites
  • John Climacus – ascetic and writer on the spiritual life; later Abbot of Mt. Sinai; best known for his Ladder of Divine Ascent which treats of the monastic virtues and vices
  • Fulgentius – Bishop of Ruspe in N. Africa; scholarly disposition; follower of St. Augustine; wrote many treatises against Arianism and Pelagianism

Seventh Century

  • Maximus ( of Constantinople, 645.) – Greek theologian; prolific writer on doctrinal, ascetical, exegetical, and liturgical subjects

Eighth Century

  • Bede (131CESK) – “the Venerable Bede”; a “Doctor of the Church”; pedagogue, biblical exegete, hagiographer, and historian, the most influential scholar from Anglo-Saxon England
  • John Damascene – Greek theologian; a “Doctor of the Church”; defender of images in the Iconoclastic Controversy; expounded the doctrine of the perichoresis (circumincession) of the Persons of the Trinity
  • Alcuin – Abbot of St. Martin’s (Tours); a major contributor to the Carolingian Renaissance; supervised the production of several complete editions of the Bible; responsible for full acceptance of the Vulgate in the West

Ninth Century

  • Haymo (of Halberstadt) – German Benedictine monk who became bishop of Halberstadt; prolific writer
  • Photius (of Constantinople) – Patriarch of Constantinople; a scholar of wide interests and encyclopedic knowledge; his most important work, Bibliotheca, is a description of several hundred books (many now lost), with analyses and extracts; also wrote a Lexicon
  • Rabanus Maurus – Abbot of Fulda in Hess Nassau; later Archbishop of Mainz; wrote commentaries on nearly every Book of the Bible
  • Remigius (of Auxerre) – monk, scholar, and teacher
  • Paschasius Radbertus – Carolingian theologian; wrote commentaries on Lamentations and Matthew, as well as the first doctrinal monograph on the Eucharist, he maintained the real Presence of Christ

Eleventh Century

  • Theophylact – Byzantine exegete; his principal work, a series of commentaries on several OT books and on the whole of the NT except Revelation, is marked by lucidity of thought and expression and closely follows the scriptural text
  • Anselm – Archbishop of Canterbury; a “Doctor of the Church”; highly regarded teacher and spiritual director; famous ontological argument for the existence of God as “that than which nothing greater can be thought”
  • Petrus Alphonsus – Jewish Spanish writer and astronomer, a convert to Christianity; one of the most important figures in anti-Judaic polemics
  • Laufranc (prob. Lanfranc) – Archbishop of Canterbury; commented on the Psalms and Pauline Epistles; his biblical commentary passed into the Glossa Ordinaria

John 15:1-3

1. I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

2. Every branch in me that bears not fruit he takes away: and every branch that bears fruit, he purges it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

3. Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

COMMENTARY

HILARY. (ix. de Trin) He rises in haste to perform the sacrament of His final passion in the flesh, (such is His desire to fulfil His Father’s commandment:) and therefore takes occasion to unfold the mystery of His assumption of His flesh, whereby He supports us, as the vine doth its branches: I am the true vine.

AUGUSTINE. (Tr. lxxx. 2) He says this as being the Head of the Church, of which we are the members, the Man Christ Jesus; for the vine and the branches are of the same nature. When He says, I am the true vine, He does not mean really a vine; for He is only called so metaphorically, not literally, even as He is called the Lamb, the Sheep, and the like; but He distinguishes Himself from that vine to whom it is said, How art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me. (Jer. 11:21) For how is that a true vine, which when grapes are expected from it, produces only thorns?

HILARY. (ix. de Trin) But He wholly separates this humiliation in the flesh from the form of the Paternal Majesty, by setting forth the Father as the diligent Husbandman of this vine: And My Father is the Husbandman.

For we cultivate God, and God cultivates us. But our culture of God does not make Him better: our culture is that of adoration, not of ploughing: His culture of us makes us better.

AUGUSTINE. (de Verb. Dom. serm. lix) For we cultivate God, and God cultivates us. But our culture of God does not make Him better: our culture is that of adoration, not of ploughing: His culture of us makes us better. His culture consists in extirpating all the seeds of wickedness from our hearts, in opening our heart to the plough, as it were, of His word, in sowing in us the seeds of His commandments, in waiting for the fruits of piety.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxvi) And forasmuch as Christ was sufficient for Himself, but His disciples needed the help of the Husbandman, of the vine He says nothing, but adds concerning the branches, Every branch in Me that bears not fruit, He takes away. By fruit is meant life, i. e. that no one can be in Him without good works.

HILARY. (ix. de Trin) The useless and deceitful branches He cuts down for burning.

He alludes here to the tribulations and trials which were coming upon them, the effect of which would be to purge, and so to strengthen them.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxvi. 1) And inasmuch as even the best of men require the work of the husbandman, He adds, And every branch that bears fruit, He purges it, that it may bring forth more fruit. He alludes here to the tribulations and trials which were coming upon them, the effect of which would be to purge, and so to strengthen them. By pruning the branches we make the tree shoot out the more.

AUGUSTINE. (Tr. lxxx. 3) And who is there in this world so clean, that he cannot be more and more changed? Here, if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. (1 John 1:8) He cleanses then the clean, i. e. the fruitful, that the cleaner they be, the more fruitful they may be. Christ is the vine, in that He says, My Father is greater than I; but in that He says, I and My Father are one, He is the husbandman; not like those who carry on an external ministry only; for He gives increase within. Thus He calls Himself immediately the cleanser of the branches: Now you are clean through the word, which I have spoken unto you. He performs the part of the husbandman then, as well as of the vine. But why does He not say, you are clean by reason of the baptism wherewith you are washed? Because it is the word in the water which cleanses. Take away the word, and what is the water, but water? Add the word to the element, and you have a sacrament. Whence has the water such virtue as that by touching the body, it cleanses the heart, but by the power of the word, not spoken only, but believed? For in the word itself, the passing sound is one thing, the abiding virtue another. This word of faith is of such avail in the Church of God, that by Him who believes, presents, blesses, sprinkles the infant, it cleanses that infant, though itself is unable to believe.

CHRYSOSTOM. you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you, i. e. you have been enlightened by My doctrine, and been delivered from Jewish error.

John 15:4-7

4. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me.

5. I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.

6. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

7. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you.

COMMENTARY

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxvi non occ.) Having said that they were clean through the word which He had spoken unto them, He now teaches them that they must do their part.

For he who thinks that he bears fruit of himself, is not in the vine; he who is not in the vine, is not in Christ; he who is not in Christ, is not a Christian.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. lxxxi. 1) Abide in Me, and I in you: not they in Him, as He in them; for both are for the profit not of Him, but them. The branches do not confer any advantage upon the vine, but receive their support from it: the vine supplies nourishment to the branches, takes none from them: so that the abiding in Christ, and the having Christ abiding in them, are both for the profit of the disciples, not of Christ; according to what follows, As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can you, except you abide in Me. Great display of grace! He strengthens the hearts of the humble, stops the mouth of the proud. They who hold that God is not necessary for the doing of good works, the subverters, not the assertors, of free will, contradict this truth. For he who thinks that he bears fruit of himself, is not in the vine; he who is not in the vine, is not in Christ; he who is not in Christ, is not a Christian.

ALCUIN. All the fruit of good works proceeds from this root. He who has delivered us by His grace, also carries us onward by his help, so that we bring forth more fruit. Wherefore He repeats, and explains what He has said: I am the vine, you are the branches. He that abides in Me, by believing, obeying, persevering, and I in Him, by enlightening, assisting, giving perseverance, the same, and none other, brings forth much fruit.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. lxxxi. 3) But lest any should suppose that a branch could bring forth a little fruit of itself, He adds, For without Me you can do nothing. He does not say, you can do little. Unless the branch abides in the vine, and lives from the root, it can bear no fruit whatever. Christ, though He would not be the vine, except He were man, yet could not give this grace to the branches, except He were God.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxvi. 1) The Son then contributes no less than the Father to the help of the disciples. The Father changes but the Son keeps them in Him, which is that which makes the branches fruitful. And again, the cleansing is attributed to the Son also, and the abiding in the root to the Father who begat the root. (c. 2.). It is a great loss to be able to do nothing, but He goes on to say more than this: If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, i. e. shall not benefit by the care of the husbandman, and withereth, i. e. shall lose all that it desires from the root, all that supports its life, and shall die.

ALCUIN. And men gather them, i. e. the reapers, the Angels, and cast them into the fire, everlasting fire, and they are burned.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. lxxxi. 3) For the branches of the vine are as contemptible, if they abide not in the vine, as they are glorious, if they abide. One of the two the branch must be in, either the vine, or the fire: if it is not in the vine, it will be in the fire.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxvi. 2) Then He shows what it is to abide in Him. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you. It is to be shewn by their works.

AUGUSTINE. (Tract. lxxxi. 4) For then may His words be said to abide in us, when we do what He has commanded, and love what He has promised. But when His words abide in the memory, and are not found in the life, the branch is not accounted to be in the vine, because it derives no life from its root. So far as we abide in the Saviour we cannot will any thing that is foreign to our salvation. We have one will, in so far as we are in Christ, another, in so far as we are in this world. And by reason of our abode in this world, it sometimes happens that we ask for that which is not expedient, through ignorance. But never, if we abide in Christ, will He grant it us, Who does not grant except what is expedient for us. And here we are directed to the prayer, Our Father. Let us adhere to the words and the meaning of this prayer in our petitions, and whatever we ask will be done for us.

SOURCE: eCatholic 2000Commentary in public domain.

Gospel Exegesis

JOHN 13:31—14:31.  THE CONTEXT

JOHN 15:1-8.  OVERVIEW

JOHN 15:1-3.  I AM THE TRUE VINE

JOHN 15:4-8.  REMAIN IN ME, AND I IN YOU

SOURCE: Richard Niell Donavan, a Disciples of Christ clergyman, published SermonWriter from 1997 until his death in 2020. His wife Dale has graciously kept his website online. A subscription is no longer required.
Feasting on the Word

Vines, vines, vines everywhere!

Jesus takes the common everyday image of the vine and transforms it into a symbol of community, mission, and love. This community is characterized by interdependence, mutual respect, and the ongoing presence of Christ. The preacher, then, must ask some important questions: In what ways is my community connected to or disconnected from the true Vine? Is my community fruitful or not? In what ways is my community abiding in Christ? What fruit does my community produce? The vine imagery is about discipleship and community over the long haul—what, then, needs to happen for each church community to produce a bountiful harvest?

SOURCE: Content taken from FEASTING ON THE WORD, YEAR B (12 Volume Set); David L. Bartlett (Editor); Copyright © 2011. Westminster John Knox Press. All rights reserved.
Christ-Centered Exposition

Fruit-Producing Faith

In John 15 Jesus is preparing his disciples for his upcoming death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven. His final instructions primarily relate to what it means to be his disciple. What does it look like to follow Jesus? How can a person be his disciple after the cross? He uses an illustration based on the fact that we each do what’s in our nature. True disciples of Jesus have a permanent, life-giving, fruit-producing union with Jesus. Disciples will bear fruit. It’s part of their new nature. This passage breaks down into two parts. The first part is verses 1-6, the illustration of the vine and the branches. The point of the illustration is simple: being united with Jesus brings life, and life is revealed by fruit. In verses 7-17 we discover what the fruit looks like: answered prayer, obedient love, inexhaustible joy, and sacrificial love.

SOURCE: Content taken from CHRIST-CENTERED EXPOSITION COMMENTARY (32 Volumes); David Platt, Daniel L. Akin, and Tony Merida (Editors); Copyright © 2013-16. Holman Reference. All rights reserved.
Understanding the Bible Commentary

Jesus' "I Am" Statement

The vine or vineyard metaphor is an ancient one for describing the people of Israel under God’s care (cf. Ps. 80:14–18; Isa. 5:1–7). Though the identification with Israel remains implicit and undeveloped (cf. 1:43–51), the metaphor calls attention not only to Jesus himself but to the disciples and their relationship to him. Even in verses 1–4, where Jesus defines his identity first in relation to the Father (vv. 1–2), the disciples are quickly brought into the picture (you, vv. 3–4), whereas verses 5–8 center almost entirely on them, the branches, and how they bear fruit. Most of the other “I am” sayings in this Gospel are accompanied by an invitation to “come” to Jesus or “believe” in him (e.g., 6:35; 8:12; 10:9; 11:25–26; 14:6), but I am the vine focuses instead on those who have already come and has as its corollary the command to “remain in” (or “united to”) him in whom they have believed. The vine metaphor seems, in fact, to have been introduced at this point in the discourses primarily to dramatize the single imperative of “remaining” (Gr.: menein) spiritually united to Jesus in a life-sustaining relationship.

SOURCE: Content taken from UNDERSTANDING THE BIBLE COMMENTARY SERIES (36 Volumes); W. Ward Gasque, Robert L Hubbard Jr., Robert K Johnston (General Editors); Copyright © 2000. Baker Books. All rights reserved.

LIFE APPLICATION STUDY BIBLE

Two Kinds of Pruning

Jn 15:1ff Christ is the vine, and God is the gardener who cares for the branches to make them fruitful. The branches are all those who claim to be followers of Christ. The fruitful branches are true believers who by their living union with Christ produce much fruit. But those who become unproductive—those who turn back from following Christ after making a superficial commitment—will be separated from the vine. Unproductive followers are as good as dead and will be cut off and tossed aside.

Jn 15:2, 3 Jesus makes a distinction between two kinds of pruning: (1) separating and (2) cutting back branches. Fruitful branches are cut back to promote growth. In other words, God must sometimes discipline us to strengthen our character and faith. But branches that don’t bear fruit are cut off at the trunk because not only are they worthless, but they often infect the rest of the tree. People who won’t bear fruit for God or who try to block the efforts of God’s followers will be cut off from his life-giving power.
Jn 15:8 When a vine bears “much fruit,” God is glorified, for daily he sent the sunshine and rain to make the crops grow, and constantly he nurtured each tiny plant and prepared it to blossom. What a moment of glory for the Lord of the harvest when the harvest is brought into the barns, mature and ready for use! He made it all happen. This farming analogy shows how God is glorified when people come into a right relationship with him and begin to “bear much fruit” in their lives.

SOURCE: Content taken from LIFE APPLICATION STUDY BIBLE NOTES, Copyright © 2019. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.
Boice Expositional Commentary

Obeying Jesus' Teaching

Jesus says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you.” This is a point that we have seen earlier in other contexts. It is in chapter 14, for instance. There Christ speaks of love and the expression of love through obedience to his commandments. He says, “If anyone loves me he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (v. 23). Or again, even in this present chapter Jesus says, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (v. 3).

Some people imagine that they can have the person of Christ without the doctrine of Christ. They like the idea of Jesus, but they shy away from his teaching. Some even revolt against it. But their goal is impossible, for he has declared that he will come to none and make his abode with none except those who keep his commandments. Spurgeon once wrote on this theme, “We cannot separate Christ from the Word; for, in the first place, he is the Word; and, in the next place, how dare we call him Master and Lord and do not the things which he says, and reject the truth which he teaches? We must obey his precepts or he will not accept us as disciples. Especially that precept of love which is the essence of all his words. … If thou wilt not have Christ and his words, neither will he have thee nor thy words.”

SOURCE: Content taken from BOICE EXPOSITIONAL COMMENTARY (27 Volumes). James Montgomery Boice, 2007.All rights reserved.

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