St. Francis de Sales on St. John the Baptist
Ecce Agnus Dei by Dirk Bouts
"It is truly amazing that our ancient Fathers, though so discerning and so insightful in explaining and developing even the most obscure difficulties presented by Holy Scripture, nevertheless find themselves wondering how to understand the first part of today's Gospel [Matt 11: 2-10]: that St. John [the Baptist], who knew Our Lord, nevertheless sent his disciples to learn if He were that great Prophet, that promised Messias, or if they should look for another. For, they ask, since St. John certainly knew that He was indeed the Messias, why does he sent someone to ask Him that?"
"There is no doubt that he knew that the One to whom he sent his envoys was truly the Messias. For he knew Him while he was still in his mother's womb, and there is no saint with a more penetrating knowledge of the mystery of the Incarnation than this glorious St. John. He was Our Lady's pupil. He was sanctified by the dear Saviour of our souls when Our Lady went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. He surely knew Him from that moment, and, leaping with joy in his mother's womb [Luke 1:41, 42], he adored Him and consecrated himself to His service. He was His Precursor, and announced His coming to the world. It was he who baptized Him, who saw the Holy Spirit descend as a dove on Him and who heard the voice of the Father saying: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." It is he who pointed Him out in these words: 'Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!' [Matthew 3:13-17, John 1:29-36]."
"Thus he indeed knew Our Lord and never wavered in the least regarding who He was and in His belief and certitude of His coming. Then why, as our ancient Fathers, does John, while in prison and hearing of the great prodigies and miracles wrought by our Divine Master, send his disciples to learn who He is and whether it is He who is to come or if they are to wait for another?..."
"...[T]he glorious St. John did not send his disciples to Our Lord to find out whether or not He was the Messias, for he had no doubt about that. He had three reasons for sending those disciples to Jesus."
"First, to make Him known to the whole world. He had already spent time preaching His coming, His miracles, and His greatness to his disciples. Now he wanted them to see Him whom he had announced to them. Surely, to make God known should be the principal aim of all doctors and preachers. Teachers and those who govern and have charge of souls ought neither to seek nor to obtain anything but this: that He whom they preach and in whose name they teach may be known to everyone. That was this glorious saint's wish...."
"The second reason he sent them was this: he did not want to draw disciples to himself, but only to his Teacher, to whose school he now sends them so that they might be instructed personally by Him. For what else was he suggesting in this sending but this: 'Although I teach and preach to you, it is not to attract you to myself, by rather to Jesus Christ, whose voice I am [John 1: 23]. That is why I am sending you to Him. Learn from Him whether He is the promised Messias, or whether you are to look for another.' By this John meant: 'I am not content to assure you that it is He whom we await. I am sending you that you may be instructed by Him personally to that effect....'"
"The third reason St. John send his disciples to Our Lord was to detach them from himself. He feared they would be led into the great error of esteeming him more than the Saviour. They were already complaining to St. John in this manner: Teacher, you and we, your disciples, along with the Pharisees, fast. We are poorly clothed and do great penance. But this man, this great prophet who performs so many miracles among us, does not do so [Matthew 9:14; Mark 2:18]. In hearing this, and in seeing the love and esteem which his disciples felt for him was beginning to produce in them a feeling of contempt for Jesus Christ, St. John sent them to this Divine Majesty to be instructed and informed of the truth."
"It was not, therefore, because St. John doubted in the least that Our Lord was the Messias that he sent his disciples to question Him. He sent them for their own benefit and advantage and to make Him known to the whole world; not to draw them to himself but to detach them from him; to let them see the miracles that Jesus Christ performed so that they might come to Him in a manner worthy of Him. He deals with them as befits their status as still children. He assuredly believed that Jesus is the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world [John 1:29]. And certainly he could, by his own words, have brought them to understand this truth, but he chos to direct them to Our Lord for this instruction. He could have sent them to Him to adore and confess Him; but, accomodating himself to their weakness and infirmity, he sent them only to ask Him who He is and whether He is "He who is to come" or whether they should look for another. Surely those who direct souls must make themselves all things to all men, as the Apostle say to save all [1 Cor. 9:19-22]. Let them be gentle with some and severe with others, children with children, strong with the strong, weak with the weak; in short, they need great discretion so as to accomodate themselves to each one's need."