Seeking the Gatekeeper

From Tractates on John 44.3 (ca. 410)

We understand the door as the Lord Jesus Christ, and the shepherd as well, for these two things Christ himself explained; but whom do we understand as the gatekeeper? He has left the meaning of the gatekeeper to be sought by us. And what does he say about the gatekeeper? About him, Christ says the gatekeeper opens. To whom does the gatekeeper open? To the shepherd. What does he open to the shepherd? The door. And who is the door? The shepherd himself. You see, if the Lord Christ had not explained it, if he himself had not said, “I am the shepherd” and “I am the door,” would any of us dare to say that Christ was himself both shepherd and door? For if he has said, “I am the shepherd” and had not said, “I am the door,” we would have set about investigating what the door was, and perhaps comes to the wrong conclusion while standing right in front of it. His grace and compassion have revealed the shepherd since he said that it was he himself. He has revealed the door in the same way, but he has left the gatekeeper to be sought by us. Who are we going to say is the gatekeeper?…

We should perhaps understand the gatekeeper to be the Lord himself. For in human terms, there is a greater difference between a shepherd and a door than between a gatekeeper and a door. Why, then, may we not understand him as the gatekeeper also? For if we consider his personal identity, the Lord Christ is neither a shepherd, as we have been accustomed to know and see shepherds, nor is he a door, for no carpenter made him. If, however, we say we understand these things as a kind of metaphor, he both door and shepherd and, I dare say, a sheep… “As a sheep he was led to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7). Ask the friend of the bridegroom, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

I will say something even more marvelous about these metaphors. The lamb, the sheep, and the shepherd are friendly with each other. However, sheep are usually guarded by their shepherds against lions. And yet although he is a sheep and shepherd, we read this about Christ, “The Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered” (Rev. 5:5). Understand these things, brothers and sisters, as metaphors and not as personal identity. We are used to seeing shepherds sit on top of a rock, and from there, they watch over the herd entrusted to them. Certainy the shepherd is greater than the rock upon which he sits, and yet Christ is both shepherd and rock (1 Cor. 10:4). All of this is metaphor.

If you seek Christ’s personal identity, it is this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). If you seek his personal identity, he is the only Son, begotten of the Father from eternity to eternity, equal to his begetter, through whom all things were made, unchangeable along with the Father and unchanged by taking human form, a man by Incarnation, the Son of Man and the Son of God. All this is not metaphor, but reality.

St. Augustine (354-430) was a theologian and philosopher who served as Bishop of Hippo Regius in North Africa. He was a voluminous author, whose writings about God’s grace, the Sacraments, and the Church have been profoundly influential in the development of Western Christianity. His Tractates on John are exegetical sermons preached during his episcopal ministry. His feast day is August 26. This translation is from John: Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators, Bryan Stewart and Michael Thomas, trans (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2018).


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