From Homily XXXVI on John, 1 (ca. 390)
This pool was one among many types of that baptism, which was to purge away sin. First God enjoined water for the cleansing from the filth of the body, and from those defilements, which were not real, but legal, e.g., those from death, or leprosy, and the like. Afterwards infirmities were healed by water, as we read: in these (the porches) lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. This was a nearer approximation to the gift of baptism, when not only defilements are cleansed, but sicknesses healed.
Types are of various ranks, just as in a court, some officers are nearer to the prince, others farther off. The water, however, did not heal by virtue of its own natural properties, (for if so, the effect would have followed uniformly) but by the descent of an angel. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water.
In the same way, in baptism, water does not act simply as water, but receives first the grace of the Holy Spirit, by means of which it cleanses us from all our sins. And the angel troubled the water, and imparted a healing virtue to it, in order to prefigure to the Jews that far greater power of the Lord of the angels, of healing the diseases of the soul. But then their infirmities prevented their applying the cure; for it follows, “Whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in, was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.”
But now everyone may attain this blessing, for it is not an angel which troubles the water, but the Lord of angels, which works everywhere. Though the whole world come, grace fails not, but remains as full as ever; like the sun’s rays which give light all day, and every day, and yet are not spent. The sun’s light is not diminished by this bountiful expenditure: no more is the influence of the Holy Spirit by the largeness of its outpourings.
Not more than one could be cured at the pool; God’s design being to put before men’s minds, and oblige them to dwell upon, the healing power of water; that from the effect of water on the body, they might believe more readily its power on the soul.
St. John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407) was Archbishop of Constantinople, and one of the greatest preachers of his era. He is traditionally counted among the Four Great Doctors of the Eastern Church. The Homilies on John date from his ministry in his native Antioch. His feast day is September 13.