5th Sunday of Easter, John 14:1-12
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Our Savior tells St. Thomas the Apostle, I am the way, and the truth, and the life (John 14:6), but we might ponder in what sense the Lord is each of these three. Is Christ the Way in the same sense that he is the Truth and the Life? What is it about the Lord that makes him to be the Way, and what makes him to be the Truth and the Life?
The greatest Catholic biblical scholar and theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, plumbs the depths of this mystery as he comments on this verse from St. John’s Gospel. As we consider our Savior’s words, under the guidance of the Angelic Doctor (cf. Vatican II, Optatum Totius 16), we will find who our Lord wants to be for us, and who we are called to be in him.
Jesus is not the Way as God
It would be misleading and would probably draw us into heresy to claim that Jesus is the Way in his divinity. As God, the Son is not the Way to the eternal Father; for the Son is in the Father and the Father is in the Son. Moreover, though it is true that there is an order in the Most Holy Trinity (the Son proceeding from the Father), yet we must be very cautious when we try to draw conclusions about the relation which men have to the internal life of the Triune God. If the Son is truly and fully God, then he cannot be subordinated to the Father in his divinity. If the Son is divine, then he is himself man’s happiness and is not merely a medium through which men come to the Father.
No, indeed, Jesus is not the Way according to his divinity – at least, it would be misleading to speak of him as the Way to the Father in his divinity. Rather, our Savior is the Way in his human nature – he is the Way as man, not as God. In his humanity, Christ our Lord is the Way through which all men are to come to God. The human nature of Christ is the medium through which all men may attain to communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – not merely with the person of the Father, but with the whole God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
How essential is the humanity of Jesus to our salvation! Though his humanity is not our salvation in and of itself, it is nevertheless the instrument of our salvation and through it we come into a real and living communion with God. The humanity of Christ is what the Angel of the Schools (i.e. St. Thomas Aquinas) has called “the united instrument of our salvation” – meaning, Jesus humanity is united to the divinity in the person of the Word and, through this union, serves as the instrument of the salvation of all men. The instrumental role of the humanity of Christ leads us to say that he is the Way in his human nature, though we might not want to claim that he is the Way from his human nature (since it is from the union which his nature has with the divinity and not from the humanity per se).
St. Paul teaches likewise stating, A new and living way which he hath dedicated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh (Hebrews 10:20). Christ is that living Way in his human flesh and by his human blood. In his humanity, the Savior is our Way to God.
Jesus is the Truth and the Life as God
But the Lord does not merely tell us I am the way, he adds further and the truth, and the life. The Savior is not only our Way to salvation, but he is that salvation. However, in his humanity, Christ is not our salvation; for human nature cannot be the end toward which all come, since human nature cannot be infinite goodness. Nevertheless, he who is perfect man is also perfect God and, in his divinity, he is the Truth and the Life.
As man, Christ is our Way. As God, he is our destination and our goal which is Truth and Life. Moreover, St. Thomas Aquinas shows that it is particularly fitting to identify the Word as the Truth and the Life – though, of course, the whole Trinity is the Truth and the Life of men.
The words of the Common Doctor: “Note that both truth and life belong properly and essentially (per se) to Christ. Truth belongs essentially to him because he is the Word. Now truth is the conformity of a thing to the intellect, and this results when the intellect conceives the thing as it is. Therefore, the truth of our intellect belongs to our word, which is its conception. 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.
“Life also belongs properly to Christ: for everything which has some activity from itself is said to be living, while non living things do not have motion from themselves. Among the activities of life the chief are the intellectual activities. Thus, the intellect itself is said to be living, and its activities are a certain kind of life. 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.
“This is the reason why 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 John XIV.2)
Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life for you
Again the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, as he follows the opinion of St. Augustine: “If then, you ask which way to go, accept Christ, for he is the way: This is the way, walk in it (Is 30:21). And Augustine says: ‘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.’ 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.
“If you ask where to go, cling to Christ, for he is the truth which we desire to reach: My mouth will utter truth (Prv 8:7). If you ask where to remain, remain in Christ because he is the life: He who finds me finds life and shall have salvation 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: I have taught you the way of wisdom (Prv 4:11). But some are just the opposite: They did not find the way of truth to dwell in (Ps 107:4).
“Augustine says that when our Lord said I am the way, and the truth, and the life, he was saying in effect: How do you want to go? I am the way. Where do you want to go? I am the truth. Where do you want to remain? I am the life.” (Commentary on John XIV.2)