My thesis is focusing increasingly on the idea of “divine pedagogy” in Aquinas’ and Calvin’s commentaries on Scripture. While most often it is Christ or the Spirit who is spoken of as “the Teacher,” in this passage we find God the Father as the source of this teaching. These are Aquinas’ comments on John 17:8, “For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.”
Here Jesus first sets out the order of the process of knowing from the Father to the disciples; second, the order by which the disciples’ minds are led back to the Father.
First, he discusses the giving of teaching by the Father. And this is a twofold giving. There is one which the Father gave to the Son–where it says, “the words that you gave me”–in his eternal generation, in which the Father gave word to the Son, since he is after all the Word of the Father. Words of this kind are nothing other than the ratio of everything that has been made, all of which the Father gave to the Son from eternity in giving him birth… The other giving is that which Christ gives to the disciples–where it says, “I have given them”–by teaching from within and without (interius et exterius). As it says in John 15:15 above, “For all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” In doing this, he shows himself to be “the mediator between God and men” (1 Tim. 2:5), because what he received from the Father, he passed on to his disciples: “I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord” (Deut. 5:5).
The leading back of the disciples’ minds to God is laid out when Jesus says, “and they have received them.” There is a twofold reception corresponding to the twofold giving of preaching. One responds to the second giving [i.e., what Jesus gives to his disciples]–where it says, “and they have received”, that is, from me, not being rebellious… John 6:45 above, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” And while receiving, “they know that everything that you have given me is from you” (John 17:7), which responds to the first giving [i.e., what the Father gives to the Son in eternity]. (Super euangelium Iohannis 17.2.2200-2202)
There is very much fascinating in this passage. First of all, the role of the Father as the source of divine teaching, which we have already mentioned. But also, how here as elsewhere, the work of the Son in time mysteriously is prepared for in the shape of the Son’s generation by the Father. The Son is given “words” in his eternal birth, as he is the Word of the Father; these words the Son gives to the creation in shaping it according to the ratio (reason, idea, form) the Father gives him, but the Son also gives them to the disciples in his teaching, his doctrina, during his earthly mission. Thus, new creation is a fresh beginning for the old creation; what was made in the Word is remade in his words.
Further, we see here a theme more visible in Bonaventure than Aquinas: the reductio, the “leading back” of humanity to the Father. The result of the Father’s giving to the Son and the Son’s giving to his disciples is for the gift to issue in a return: the disciples turn in faith to Christ–“not being rebellious”–and Christ shows them the Father: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). And even more remarkably, the disciples know that “everything the Father has given Christ is from him” in eternity (cf. John 17:7); they begin to see into the mysterious eternal giving of the life between Father and Son; they begin to see with that eternal blessed vision.