1. There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
2. The same came to Jesus by night, and said to him, Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that you do, except God be with him.
3. Jesus answered and said to him, Verily, verily, I say to you, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
AUG. He had said above that, when He was at Jerusalem many believed in His Name, when they saw the miracles which He did. Of this number was Nicodemus, of whom we are told; There was a man of the Pharisees, Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
BEDE. His rank is given, A ruler of the Jews; and then what he did, This man came to Jesus by night: hoping, that is, by so secret an interview, to learn more of the mysteries of the faith; the late public miracles having given him an elementary knowledge of them.
CHRYS. As yet however he was withheld by Jewish infirmity: and therefore he came in the night, being afraid to come in the day. Of such the Evangelist speaks elsewhere, Nevertheless, among the chief rulers also many believed on Him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue.
AUG. Nicodemus was one of the number who believed, but were not as yet born again. Wherefore he came to Jesus by night. Whereas those who are born of water and the Holy Ghost, are addressed by the Apostle, You were sometimes darkness, but now are you light in the Lord.
HAYMO. Or, well may it be said that he came in the night, enveloped, as he was, in the darkness of ignorance, and not yet come to the light, i.e. the belief that our Lord was very God. Night in the language of Holy Writ is put for ignorance. And said to him, Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God. The Hebrew Rabbi, has the meaning of Magister in Latin. He calls him, we see, a Master, but not God: he does not hint at that; he believes Him to be sent from God, but does not see that He is God.
AUG. What the ground of his belief was, is plain from what immediately follows: For no one can do these miracles that You do, except God be with him. Nicodemus then was one of the many who believed in His Name, when they saw the signs that He did.
CHRYS. He did not however conceive any great idea of them from His miracles; and attributed to Him as yet only a human character, speaking of Him as a Prophet, sent to execute a commission, and standing in need of assistance to do His work; whereas the Father had begotten Him perfect, self-sufficient, and free from all defect. It being Christ's design however for the present not so much to reveal His dignity, as to prove that He did nothing contrary to the Father; in words He is often humble, while His acts ever testify His power. And therefore to Nicodemus on this occasion He says nothing expressly to magnify Himself; but He imperceptibly corrects his low views of Him, and teaches him that He was Himself all-sufficient, and independent in His miraculous works. Hence He answers, Verily, verily, I say to you, Except a man be born again, the cannot see the kingdom of God.
AUG. Those then are the persons to whom Jesus commits Himself, those born again, who come not in the night to Jesus, as Nicodemus did. Such persons immediately make profession.
CHRYS. He says therefore, Except a man be born again, be cannot see the kingdom of God: as if He said, You are not yet born again, i.e. of God, by a spiritual begetting; and therefore your knowledge of Me is not spiritual, but carnal and human. But I say to you, that neither you, nor any one, except he be born again of God, shall be able to see the glory which is around me, but shall be out of the kingdom: for it is the begetting by baptism, which enlightens the mind. Or the meaning is, Except you are born from above, and have received the certainty of my doctrines, you wander out of the way, and are far from the kingdom of heaven. By which words our Lord discloses His nature, showing that He is more than what He appears to the outward eye. The expression, From above, means, according to some, from heaven, according to others, from the beginning. Had the Jews heard it, they would have left Him in scorn; but Nicodemus shows the love of a disciple, by staying to ask more questions.
4. Nicodemus said to him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
5. Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say to you, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
6. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
7. Marvel not that I said to you, You must be born again.
8. The wind blows where it lists, and you hear the sound thereof, but can not tell whence it comes, and whither it goes; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
CHRYS. Nicodemus coming to Jesus, as to a man, is startled on learning greater things than man could utter, things too lofty for him. His mind is darkened, and he does not stand firm, but reels like one on the point of falling away from the faith. Therefore he objects to the doctrine as being impossible, in order to call forth a fuller explanation. Two things there are which astonish him, such a birth, and such a kingdom; neither yet heard of among the Jews. First he urges the former difficulty, as being the greatest marvel. Nicodemus, said to him, How can a man be born when be is old? can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
BEDE. The question put thus sounds as if a boy might enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born. But Nicodemus, we must remember, was an old man, and took his instance from himself; as if he said, I am an old man, and seek my salvation; how can I enter again into my mother's womb, and be born?
CHRYS. You call Him Rabbi, and say that He comes from God, and yet receive not His sayings, but use to your master a word which brings in endless confusion; for that how, is the inquiry of a man who has no strong belief; and many who have so inquired, have fallen from the faith; some asking, how God became incarnate? others, how He was born? Nicodemus here asks from anxiety. But observe when a man trusts spiritual things to reasonings of his own, how ridiculously he talks.
AUG. It is the Spirit that speaks, whereas he understands carnally; he knew of no birth save one, that from Adam and Eve; from God and the Church he knows of none. But do you so understand the birth of the Spirit, as Nicodemus did the birth of the flesh; for as the entrance into the womb cannot be repeated, so neither can baptism.
CHRYS. While Nicodemus stumbles, dwelling upon our birth here, Christ reveals more clearly the manner of our spiritual birth; Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say to you, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
AUG. As if He said, You understand me to speak of a carnal birth; but a man must be born of water and of the Spirit, if he is to enter into the kingdom of God. If to obtain the temporal inheritance of his human father, a man must be born of the womb of his mother; to obtain the eternal inheritance of his heavenly Father, he must be born of the womb of the Church. And since man consists of two parts, body and soul, the mode even of this latter birth is twofold; water the visible part cleansing the body; the Spirit by His invisible cooperation, changing the invisible soul.
CHRYS. If any one asks how a man is born of water, I ask in return, how Adam was born from the ground. For as in the beginning though the element of earth was the subject-matter, the man was the work of the fashioner; so now too, though the element of water is the subject-matter, the whole work is done by the Spirit of grace. He then gave Paradise for a place to dwell in; now He has opened heaven to us. But what need is there of water, to those who receive the Holy Ghost? It carries out the divine symbols of burial, mortification, resurrection, and life. For by the immersion of our heads in the water, the old man disappears and is buried as it were in a sepulcher, whence he ascends a new man. Thus should you learn, that the virtue of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, fills all things. For which reason also Christ lay three days in the grave before His resurrection. That then which the womb is to the offspring, water is to the believer; he is fashioned and formed in the water. But that which is fashioned in the womb needs time; whereas the water all is done in an instant. For the nature of the body is such as to require time for its completion; but spiritual creations are perfect from the beginning. From the time that our Lord ascended out of the Jordan, water produces no longer reptiles, i.e. living souls; but souls rational and endued with the Spirit.
AUG. Because He does not say, Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he shall not have salvation, or eternal life; but, he shall not enter into the kingdom of God; from this, some infer that children are to be baptized in order to be with Christ in the kingdom of God, where they would not be, were they not baptized; but that they will obtain salvation and eternal life even if they die without baptism, not being bound with any chain of sin. But why is a man born again, except to be changed from his old into a new state? Or why does the image of God not enter into the kingdom of God, if it be not by reason of sin?
HAYMO. But Nicodemus being unable to take in so great and deep mysteries, our Lord helps him by the analogy of our carnal birth, saying, That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. For as flesh generates flesh, so also does spirit, spirit.
CHRYS Do not look then for any material production, or think that the Spirit generates flesh; for even the Lord's flesh is generated not by the Spirit only, but also by the flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spiritual. The birth here spoken of takes place not according to our substance, but according to honor and grace. But the birth of the Son of God is otherwise; for else what would He have been more than all who are born again? And He would be proved too inferior to the Spirit, inasmuch as His birth would be by the grace of the Spirit. How does this differ from the Jewish doctrine? - But mark next the part of the Holy Spirit, in the divine work. For whereas above some are said to be born of God, here, we find, the Spirit generates them. - The wonder of Nicodemus being roused again by the words, He who is born of the Spirit is spirit, Christ meets him again with an instance from nature; Marvel not that I said to you, You must be born again. The expression, Marvel not, shows that Nicodemus was surprised at His doctrine. He takes for this instance some thing, not of the grossness of other bodily things, but still removed from the incorporeal nature, the wind; The wind blows where it lists, and you hear the sound thereof, but can not tell whence it comes, and whither it goes: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. That is to say, if no one can restrain the wind from going where it will; much less can the laws of nature, whether the condition of our natural birth, or any other, restrain the action of the Spirit. That He speaks of the wind here is plain, from His saving, You hear the sound thereof, i.e. its noise when it strikes objects. He would not in talking to an unbeliever and ignorant person, so describe the action of the Spirit. He says, Blows where it lists; not meaning any power of choice in the wind, but only its natural movements, in their uncontrolled power. But can not tell whence it comes or whither it goes; i.e. If you can not explain the action of this wind which comes under the cognizance both of your feeling and hearing, why examine into the operation of the Divine Spirit? He adds, So is every one that is born of the Spirit.
AUG. But who of us does not see, for example, that the south wind blows from south to north, another wind from the east, another from the west? And how then do we not know whence the wind comes, and whither it goes?
BEDE. It is the Holy Spirit therefore, Who blows where He lists. It is in His own power to choose, whose heart to visit with in His enlightening grace. And you hear the sound thereof. When one filled with the Holy Spirit is present with you and speaks to you.
AUG. The Psalm sounds, the Gospel sounds, the Divine Word sounds; it is the sound of the Spirit. This means that the Holy Spirit is invisibly present in the Word and Sacrament, to accomplish our birth.
ALCUIN. Therefore, You know not whence it comes, or whither it goes; for, although the Spirit should possess a person in your presence at a particular time, it could not be seen how He entered into him, or how He went away again, because He is invisible.
HAYMO. Or, You can not tell whence it comes; i.e. you know not how He brings believers to the faith; or whither it goes, i.e. how He directs the faithful to their hope. And so is every one that is born of the Spirit; as if He said, The Holy Spirit is an invisible Spirit; and in like manner, every one who is born of the Spirit is born invisibly.
AUG. Or thus: If you are born of the Spirit, you will be such, that he, who is not yet born of the Spirit, will not know whence you come, or whither you go. For it follows, So is every one that is born of the Spirit.
THEOPHYL. This completely refutes Macedonius the impugner of the Spirit, who asserted that the Holy Ghost was a servant. The Holy Ghost, we find, works by His own power, where here He will, and what He will.
Catena Aurea John 3