The Fathers of the Church on the Spring of Living Water

August 21, 2021 • 11 min

From The Catena Aurea, page 142

John 4:13-18

13. Jesus answered and said unto her. Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:

14. But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

15. The woman saith unto him. Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.

16. Jesus saith unto her. Go, call thy husband, and come hither.

17. The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her. Thou hast well said, I have no husband:

18. For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.


Chrys. To the woman’s question, Art Thou greater than our father Jacob? He does not reply, I am greater, lest He should seem to boast; but His answer implies it; Jesus answered and said to her. Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; as if He said, If Jacob is to be honoured because he gave you this water, what wilt thou say, if I give thee far better than this? He makes the comparison however not to depreciate Jacob, but to exalt Himself. For He does not say, that this water is vile and counterfeit, but asserts a simple fact of nature, viz. that whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again.

Aug. Which is true indeed both of material water, and of that of which it is the type. For the water in the well is the pleasure of the world, that abode of darkness. Men draw it with the waterpot of their lusts; pleasure is not relished, except it be preceded by lust. And when a man has enjoyed this pleasure, i. e. drunk of the water, he thirsts again; but if he have received water from Me, he shall never thirst. For how shall they thirst, who are drunken with the abundance of the house of God? But He promised this fulness of the Holy Spirit.

Chrys. The excellence of this, viz. that he that drinketh of it never thirsts, He explains in what follows, But the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. As a man who had a spring within him, would never feel thirst, so will not he who has this water which I shall give him.

Theophyl. For the water which I give him is ever multiplying. The saints receive through grace the seed and principle of good; but they themselves make it grow by their own cultivation.

Chrys. See how the woman is led by degrees to the highest doctrine. First, she thought He was some lax Jew. Then hearing of the living water, she thought it meant material water. Afterwards she understands it as spoken spiritually, and believes that it can take away thirst, but she does not yet know what it is, only understands that it was superior to material things: The woman saith unto Him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw. Observe, she prefers Him to the patriarch Jacob, for whom she had such veneration.

Aug. Or thus; The woman as yet understands Him of the flesh only. She is delighted to be relieved for ever from thirst, and takes this promise of our Lord’s in a carnal sense. For God had once granted to His servant Elijah, that he should neither hunger nor thirst for forty days; and if He could grant this for forty days, why not for ever? Eager to possess such a gift, she asks Him for the living water; The woman saith unto Him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw. Her poverty obliged her to labour more than her strength could well bear; would that she could hear, Come unto Me, all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. Jesus had said this very thing, i. e. that she need not labour any longer; but she did not understand Him. At last our Lord was resolved that she should understand: Jesus saith unto her, Go call thy husband, and come hither. What meaneth this? Did He wish to give her the water through her husband? Or, because she did not understand, did He wish to teach her by means of her husband? The Apostle indeed saith of women, If they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home. But this applies only where Jesus is not present. Our Lord Himself was present here; what need then that He should speak to her through her husband? Was it through her husband that He spoke to Mary, who sat at His feet?

Chrys. The woman then being urgent in asking for the promised water, Jesus saith unto her, Go call thy husband; to shew that he too ought to have a share in these things. But she was in a hurry to receive the gift, and wished to conceal her guilt, (for she still imagined she was speaking to a man;) The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Christ answers her with a seasonable reproof; exposing her as to former husbands, and as to her present one, whom she had concealed; Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband.

Aug. Understand, that the woman had not a lawful husband, but had formed an irregular connexion with some one. He tells her, Thou hast had five husbands, in order to shew her His miraculous knowledge.

Origen. May not Jacob’s well signify mystically the letter of Scripture; the water of Jesus, that which is above the letter, which all are not allowed to penetrate into? That which is written was dictated by men, whereas the things which the eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, cannot be reduced to writing, but are from the fountain of water, that springeth up unto everlasting life, i. e. the Holy Ghost. These truths are unfolded to such as carrying no longer a human heart within them, are able to say with the Apostle, We have the mind of Christ. Human wisdom indeed discovers truths, which are handed down to posterity; but the teaching of the Spirit is a well of water which springeth up into everlasting life. The woman wished to attain, like the angels, to angelic and super-human truth without the use of Jacob’s water. For the angels have a well of water within them, springing from the Word of God Himself. She says therefore. Sir, give me this water. But it is impossible here to have the water which is given by the Word, without that which is drawn from Jacob’s well; and therefore Jesus seems to tell the woman that He cannot supply her with it from any other source than Jacob’s well; If we are thirsty, we must first drink from Jacob’s well. Jesus saith unto her. Go, call thy husband, and come hither. According to the Apostle, the Law is the husband of the soul.

Aug. The five husbands some interpret to be the five books which were given by Moses. And the words, He whom thou now hast is not thy husband, they understand as spoken by our Lord of Himself; as if He said, Thou hast served the five books of Moses, as five husbands; but now he whom thou hast, i, e. whom thou hearest, is not thy husband; for thou dost not yet believe in him. But if she did not believe in Christ, she was still united to those five husbands, i. e. five books, and therefore why is it said, Thou hast had five husbands, as if she no longer had them? And how do we understand that a man must have these five books, in order to pass over to Christ, when he who believes in Christ, so far from forsaking these books, embraces them in this spiritual meaning the more strongly? Let us turn to another interpretation.

Aug. Jesus seeing that the woman did not understand, and wishing to enlighten her, says, Call thy husband; i. e. apply thine understanding. For when the life is well ordered, the understanding governs the soul itself, pertaining to the soul. For though it is indeed nothing else than the soul, it is at the same time a certain part of the soul. And this very part of the soul which is called the understanding and the intellect, is itself illuminated by a light superior to itself. Such a Light was talking with the woman; but in her there was not understanding to be enlightened. Our Lord then, as it were, says, I wish to enlighten, and there is not one to be enlightened; Call thy husband, i. e. apply thine understanding, through which thou must be taught, by which governed. The five former husbands may be explained as the five senses, thus: a man before he has the use of his reason, is entirely under the government of his bodily senses. Then reason comes into action; and from that time forward he is capable of entertaining ideas, and is either under the influence of truth or error. The woman had been under the influence of error, which error was not her lawful husband, but an adulterer. Wherefore our Lord says, Put away that adulterer which corrupts thee, and call thy husband, that thou mayest understand Me.

Origen. And what more proper place than Jacob’s well, for exposing the unlawful husband, i. e. the perverse law? For the Samaritan woman is meant to figure to us a soul, that has subjected itself to a kind of law of its own, not the divine law. And our Saviour wishes to marry her to a lawful husband, i. e. Himself; the Word of truth which was to rise from the dead, and never again to die.

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