Click to donate today!
THE FIRST EPISTLE GENERAL OF
S. JOHN. o
CHAPTER 1 Ver. 1. That which was from the beginning , &c. The beginning of this Epistle corresponds with the beginning of St. John's Gospel. Both here and there he sets forth the eternity and the Godhead of Christ, and next His Incarnation, these being the two chief Mysteries, and the cardinal points, of the whole Christian faith.
The word 'was' points, says St. Basil, 'to eternity,' "that thus we might understand," says Bede, "that the Word which was coeternal with the Father was before all time," for whatever time you may assign, or imagine beforehand, it is true to say that the Word then was; thousands, or millions of years, or ever the world was, for He was before any imaginable number of years, even from all eternity. Nor does it mean merely that He was before the beginning of the world, and of time, but that even then He was from all past eternity. And we speak of the Word in the imperfect, and not in the past time, to signify that He still exists. So St. Cyril, Chrysostom, Theophylact, and others, on John i 1. And St. John wrote thus against the Arians who would afterwards arise, and say that there was a time when He 'was' not, denying that He was eternal. This also was condemned by the Nicene Council, and therefore St. John repeats the word 'was' to show that whatever time you may think of, or imagine, the Word at that very time 'was'. "Carry your thoughts back (says St. Basil, Contr. Eunom .) as far as you can, and you will not be able to rise beyond that time." Ver. 2. But the word signifies not only His eternity, but His eternal generation, and (3.) His Godhead, for 'Being' or existence, as Elias Cretensis says, is peculiar ( proprium ) to God. For He is the fulness and boundlessness of being, a very boundless ocean of being. Whence Didymus ( in loc .), S. Cyril (in John i.), and S. Ambrose ( de.Fide i. 5) acutely observe that the several creatures are said to be this or that, but that God alone is said absolutely to be . (4.) The word 'was' signifies that the 'Word' still exists and abides. Thus St. Thomas says on John i., 'Was' signifies past, present, and future time. The Word then ever was, ever is, and ever will be. As St. Basil says ( de Sp. Sancto , cap. vi.) When John said 'In the beginning was the Word' he confines our thoughts within fixed limits. For the word 'was' allows our thoughts no outlet; and the word 'beginning' keeps our thoughts also from soaring beyond it, for however thou mayest strive to see ought beyond the Son, yet wilt thou never be able to pass beyond 'the beginning.' But if we speak correctly of God, His eternity cannot be bounded by any time whatsoever. For, as St. Gregory Nazianzen says, 'God both ever was, and is, and will be.' Or, to speak more correctly, He ever is . But our expressions designate only the flow and lapse of time. As St. Augustine says, "I separate in my mind every mutable thing from eternity, and in eternity itself I discern no spaces of time, for they consist in past and future motions, but in eternity there is nothing past or future, for the past has ceased to be, and future has not come into being; while eternity only is : it has not passed away as ceasing to be, nor is it future as not yet existing." Plato says the same. Why then does the Vulgate use the perfect and not the imperfect tense? 1. Because St. John in what follows uses the perfect tense. 2. Because 'first' signifies more clearly that the Word was from the beginning. 3. Both these tenses are used indiscriminately, as St. Ambrose uses the imperfect tense; and lastly, Holy Scripture uses both past, present, and future tenses in speaking of God, for His eternity includes them all. As S. Augustine says ( Tract xcix. in John ), "Although the immutable and ineffable nature of God admits not of past or future time, but simply Is as incapable of change, yet because time is ever changing with us (in this our mortal and changeable state) we say not falsely, He hath been, He shall be, He is: hath been, because He has never ceased to be; shall be, because He will never cease to be; is, because He ever exists."
From the beginning , referring to Genesis 1:1 . But here there is a distinction between 'created' and 'was.' God created the world in the beginning of time: but He begat the Son in the beginning of eternity, which is signified by 'was.' Tertullian rightly says that the Gospel was the supplement of the Old Testament. For John supplements Moses, by putting the beginning of the Word before the beginning of the world, which was created ages afterwards. But what then was this 'Beginning'? 1. S. Cyril and Origen, in John i., understand by it God the Father, for the Son was ever in the bosom of the Father. 2. S. Augustine, Bede, and S. Hilary (de Trin. lib. ii.) understand by it the beginning of the world, or of time. For even before this the Word 'was' from all eternity. See Psalms 119:3 (Vulg.); Proverbs 8:25 . As S. Hilary says: "Conceive any beginning you please, you cannot bound Him by time, for He then was;" and again, "He is out-limited by any time, as to make that to begin which existed, rather than was made, in the beginning. 3. S. Augustine, Chrysostom, Theophylact explain it that the Word was before all created beings. See. Proverbs 8:22 . Nonnus in his Paraphrase says that it means, He was before all time, coeval with the Father, of the same nature as the Father, incomprehensible, ineffable. 'In the beginning' then, is from all eternity (Micah v. 2). For eternity is a beginning without beginning. So S. Athanasius ( Contr. Ar .) and others. S. Ambrose ( de Fide i . 5) says that the word 'was' reaches indefinitely. That which was in the beginning is not included in time, is not preceded by any beginning." (Pseudo)-Augustine, Serm . vi . de temp . (ccxxxiv. in App.): "He who was in the beginning includes within Himself all beginning." And Nazianzen ( Orat. de Fide ): "Whatever beginning you choose to assign, will be objected to, for He was in the beginning." But S. Cyril (in John i.) speaks more expressly: "Nothing is more ancient than the beginning, if the word retains its proper meaning. In the beginning of a beginning cannot be thought of. For if it be conceived, this first beginning will be done away with, and then will be really no beginning. And besides, we should then be obliged to go through an infinite series, and not be able to rest simply in any beginning whatsoever." 4. But it may be explained thus. The Word was the beginning of the breathing forth of the Holy Spirit, and thus of the creation of all things ( Pro 8:22 ). The Word being regarded as the pattern or idea according to which God created all things. By this expression John approves the Divinity of the Son of God against Cerinthus and the heretics of the day, who said that Christ was a mere man; as Paul of Samosata, and Photinus afterwards. The Arians partly held this opinion, for though they allowed that He existed before His birth in the flesh, yet they denied His eternal generation, and regarded Him as the first of all God's creatures. This one expression 'which was from the beginning,' implicitly includes the threefold statement in the gospel: (1) In the beginning was the Word. (2) The Word was with God. (3.) The Word was God. And without quoting this passage S. John refers here to it, for that which was from all eternity must necessarily be God: for nothing is eternal but God.
The first member of the sentence properly and explicitly sets forth when the Word, was: then where He was, and then what was His essence, and its identity with that of the Father. These three blessings did the Word confer on us in His Incarnation, wherein He betrothed His humanity (as it were) to the Eternal Word, and thus joined and betrothed to Itself the whole human race, that we who are temporal might become eternal, from being earthly might become heavenly, that we men might become Gods, in order that our being in time or place, our very essence, might be firmly fixed in the Divine and eternal Word. S. Gregory Nazianzen ( Orat . xxxvii. on the Nativity ) beautifully says, "The Son of God, who was before all worlds, invisible, incomprehensible, incorporeal, that Beginning, coming from the Beginning, that Light of Light, that Fount of Light and immortality, that stamp of the Archetype, that firmly impressed Seal, betakes Himself to His own image, takes upon Him flesh for the sake of flesh, and is united to an intellectual soul for my soul's sake, in order that He might cleanse like by like." And again, "God united with manhood made one Person of two contrary natures, body and spirit, one of them being deified by the other."
"0 strange union, 0 wondrous interblending! He who exists is made, the uncreated is created; He who is unconfined is (by the medium of an intellectual soul) contained within the compass of a gross body of flesh; He who enriches others suffers poverty, for He takes my poor and humble flesh that I might attain to the riches of His Divinity. He who is full is made empty, emptied of His glory for a short time, that I might be made partaker of His fulness. What riches of His goodness! What a mystery encircles me: He becomes partaker of my flesh, in order to save man who is His image, and to confer immortality on our flesh."
That which we have heard, which we have seen. Lyra refers this to the preaching of John the Baptist, and what he pronounced Christ to be. Didymus and others to the prophecies respecting Christ, and to the several appearances of God to Adam, and the Patriarchs in the Old Testament. For though the whole three Persons were manifested, yet it was specially a manifestation of the Word of God, signifying and anticipating His real appearance, at His own due time, in the flesh. (See Clement, Constit. v. 22; Justin, contr. Trypho ; Origen , Hom. i. in Isa. vi., &c.) For though in all these appearances, and especially in that noblest of all, at the giving of the Law, there appeared, properly speaking, only the person of an Angel (see Gal 3:19 ), yet this Angel specially represented the Word or Son of God.
But these instances are not to the point, for the Patriarchs and Prophets heard and saw the Word only darkly and in type, and not as the Apostles and disciples of Christ did, which is what S. John here means (see Hebrews 1:1 ; Mat 17:5 ).
S. John puts hearing first, sight afterwards, ascending from that which is less certain to that which is more certain, for he adds lastly, and our hands have handled . As S. Augustine says ( de Diversis lxi. [ al . ccclxxi.]), "A man who could be seen was not to be followed, but God was to be followed Who could be seen. In order then that He might be made manifest, and be seen of men, and followed by men, He was made man." And on Ps. 33., "That man might not disdain to follow a humble man, God humbled Himself, that the pride of man might not disdain to follow the footsteps of God." See also S. Gregory, Mor. xxix. 1; and Hugh of S. Victor ( lib. Sent .) gives as one reason for the Incarnation, "that the inward eye might feast on His Godhead, the outward eye on His manhood." This is what S. Paul speaks of ( Tit. iii.) when he says that the love of God towards man appeared.
Which we have seen, and admired, as a most wonderful sight. It was with the mind only that the Apostles beheld Christ's Godhead, gathering it from His doctrine, miracles, holiness, &c. The Word was both seen and heard through the flesh, as a king is seen by His people, as we look on anything through a cloud, as fire is seen through the heated metal, &c. And though the union of the Word with flesh resembled all these, yet it was more perfect than any of them, for all of them, save that of body and soul, are accidental, but the union of the Word with the manhood is substantial. It is not, however, essential, for the Divine Essence is clearly separate and distinct from the manhood. But yet the union is hypostatical or personal, the manhood and the Godhead existing in the same Person. As in the Eucharist, the Godhead and manhood are hid under the species of the Bread and Wine. As S. Chrysostom says, "Behold, thou seest Christ, thou touchest, thou eatest Him." ( Hom. lx . ad pop .)
And our hands have handled , just as blind men do, touching everything by the hand, as S. Thomas did ( Joh 20:27 ), and also the other Apostles ( Luk 24:39 ). So S. Leontius ( Epist. xcvii.), S. Athanasius ( Orat. contr. Arian ), and many others; though Euthymius thinks that Thomas alone touched His wounds. And in their daily intercourse with Christ the Apostles must have touched Him, with love and veneration when they acknowledged Him as God. For as Oecum says, "He was both seen and not seen, tangible and intangible, speaking as man, working miracles as God." But we may fully believe that S. John did this with peculiar devotion and affection, when he rested on His breast. S. Clement Alex. seems to say that Christ's wounds miraculously yielded to the touch of the disciples, so as to make them feel as though they were open. S. Augustine, Ambrose, and others believe that the wounds remained open. ( See Suarez, par. iii . Disput. xlvii. sect . 2.)
S. John inculcates and enlarges upon the doctrine of the Incarnation, first against Basilides, who maintained that Christ assumed flesh in appearance only, and therefore did not really suffer and redeem us. So Epiphanius, Hær . xxiv.
Secondly, to confirm the faithful in their belief of the doctrine, and to convert unbelievers by an argument derived from the evidence of our senses. He maintains then that he himself had seen, heard, and touched Christ. So also S. Peter ( Act 10:40 ). For, as Tertullian ( de Anim. ch. xvii) says, "It would indeed be false testimony, if our very senses proved false."
Thirdly, to show the condescension of the Word, and the dignity of the Apostles. For the Word deigned to come down from heaven, and to join together God and man in the closest personal union, so that all the attributes of God belong to man, and vice versa , and He accordingly, through the attributes of a man, manifests the attributes of God to the Apostles.
In this way the intangible became tangible (says Nazianzen, Orat . xxxviii.), for we cannot form in our minds any likeness of God, Who is a Spirit. In order then that we might conceive of Him, invoke Him, behold, address, and touch Him, He was made man. Whence Paulinus says (in his Epistle to Florentinus), "He, our Lord and God, Who appeared on earth, and held converse with men, is our Sheep and our Shepherd. He is our Emmanuel, God with us, the Lord of Majesty, and the Son of the Handmaiden, being one of these by nature , and being made the other. The same Person being the Creator and the Redeemer of man, God of God, Man for man's sake, the Son of God before all worlds, the Son of man for the sake of the world," &c. He then, Who in His Godhead was our Father, became, as it were, a mother to mankind by the manhood He assumed (see notes on Acts xvii. 24 and 29), but also because God as Bridegroom took to Himself our mother humanity as His spouse, and joined it to Himself in everlasting wedlock. (This was prefigured by the marriage of Adam and Eve.) By His humanity then He wedded ourselves and our nature, to become our Mother, as He was before that our Father, in order that we might approach Him with boldness, as children who are afraid of their father approach their mother first of all, and obtain their request. (2.) We therefore invoke Christ's manhood, when we end all our prayers 'through Jesus Christ our Lord.' And as a mother bears a child in her womb, and then trains and fashions it, so did Christ by His continual labours for us, especially on the cross, conceive us, bring us to the birth, nourish and fashion us. Thirdly, because the Incarnation was the work of the highest intelligence and wisdom, as well as of the highest goodness. This latter is ascribed to the Holy Spirit, as the former to the Word. But all of them are subordinate to the omnipotence of the Father. He conceived all things by His Word, as if in the womb, and by His goodness He pours forth His bowels of mercy on us, and especially through the Incarnation He addresses His children ( Isa 49:15 ) as a mother. "The Gentiles," says S. Clement ( Strom. lib . v.), "used to call God μητζοπάτοζα ."( See S. Augustine, de Civ . vii. 9.)
In order that we may understand the boundless benefits of the Incarnation, S. John suggests four points for our consideration Who? What? For Whom? and Why?
1. Who then assumed our flesh? The eternal Word, the King of kings and Lord of lords, Emmanuel, Wonderful, Counsellor, &c. See Isa. ix. 6. This is what the Church says in the Preface for Christmas Day, "By the mystery of the Incarnate Word Thy new and bright light has shone in the eyes of our mind, so that by visibly beholding our God we may thereby be enraptured with the love of invisible things." The Divine Nature did not suffer change or loss by the Incarnation, but remained unaltered in Its own nature and impassible. S. Leontius ( Serm. x. de Nativ .) says , "The same who took on Him the form of a servant, is in the form of God. The same is incorporeal, and yet assumed a body. The same Being is inviolate in His own might, and subject to suffering in our weakness. He was ever the same Being, never separated from His Father's throne, and yet was by wicked men crucified on the tree." S. Cyril (in John i. 1) compares the Word made man to a heated coal or iron. As the fire consumes not the iron, but both substances remain uninjured, in like manner the Godhead changed not the manhood, nor the manhood the Godhead: both remain unchanged. This was signified by the burning bush. See too the three Dialogues of Theodoret, where he maintains this against Eutyches. As Damascene says ( Orat. i. de Nativ .), "Thy love, 0 Lord, towards me was so great, that Thou didst not carry out the work of my redemption by an angel or any created being, but as Thou didst create me at first, so didst Thou Thyself effect my redemption. And S. Augustine, Serm. lix. Verb. Dom . ( al. lxii.), says, "The all-powerful Physician came down to heal the sufferer. He humbled Himself so far as to take mortal flesh, just as the physician comes down to the bedside of his patient."
2. What did God become in the Incarnation? He became flesh, or man: "The flesh," says S. Augustine, "had blinded, the Flesh healeth thee. For the soul became carnal by yielding to carnal affections, and the eyes of its heart were thus blinded. But the Word was made flesh. Thy Physician made thee an eye-salve, that by His Flesh He might extinguish the sins of the flesh." The flesh of man is wretched, above that of other animals, subject to countless sufferings and diseases, and corrupted by concupiscence. But yet the Word assumed it, and passing by all the orders of angels, came down into this vale of misery, and united this very flesh to Himself by the closest bond of a personal union. Supposing a sheep were led to the slaughter, and a man from love and compassion wished to die in its stead, as S. Francis used to buy and set them free for love of Christ, would not this be termed an insane and extravagant love? But the love of Christ was as much greater than this, as God surpasses man infinitely more than a man surpasses a sheep. This therefore is the great mystery of godliness ( 1Ti 3:18 ). We ought then to wonder and be astounded at this when we see the Infant lying in the manger, and say, "Can this child be my God, the King of heaven, the Creator of the universe?" S. Thomas says ( 0pusc. lx.), God communicates Himself to all by His presence, to the just by His grace, and above all to our flesh by His substance; naturally, supernaturally, and personally, says Cajetan. And in fact, by His manhood He has raised all men, and through them the whole universe, and united it to Himself, that God might be all in all. And again, He united Himself to man, the first to the last, for man was the last created of all things, God coming round to that point from which He started.
3. But for whom did He become flesh? For man, a sinner, and like to the vilest worm. "The child was born, the Son was given for us ." Christ did not assume our nature for Himself, as though He needed or delighted in that humanity which He assumed. It was for us. We were the ultimate end of His Incarnation. For He was born in the flesh, that we might be born spiritually in our souls. "For us men," &c., in the Nicene Creed. What, says S. Anselm, "can we imagine more compassionate, than God saying to a sinner, destined to eternal punishment, and unable to redeem himself, Take My Only Begotten Son, and offer Him for thyself; or for the Son to say, 'Take me, and redeem thyself.' Codrus sacrificed himself for his country; but what comparison can this bear to Christ, who, clothing Himself with our flesh, freed us from eternal death and hell, and made us heirs of His heavenly kingdom and eternal glory?"
4. But why was the Word made man? To deliver man from hell, death, sin, and utter misery of body and soul. For the Word gained nothing for Himself but the "emptying" of Himself, insults, poverty, death, and the cross. For our redemption "He was born in time, that we might be born for eternity, He was born in a stable, that we might be born in heaven." (S. Gregory Nazianzen). Hear S. Augustine ( Serm. ix . de Nativ .): Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is from eternity, the Creator of all things, became our Saviour by being born on this day. He was born for us in this ever-changing state, in order to bring us to the eternal Father. God became man, that man might become God, and, that man might eat angels' food, the Lord of angels became man." And also S. Gregory Nazianzen ( in. Distiches ). S. Clemens Alex. says that by His Incarnation He changed earth into heaven, and made angels, and even gods, of men. (And so too [Pseudo]-Origen, Hom. ix . in diversis ; S. Leontius, Serm. vi . de Nat. ; and S. Anselm, Cur. Deus Homo .)
See then the immensity of this blessing. God not only rains down manna, but rends the heavens as it were, and showers all the treasures and compassions of the Godhead upon us. (See Isa. xlv. 8.) And S. Augustine, Serm. xxvii . ( nunc clxxxvii.): "My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord, the Lord by whom all things were made, the Revealer of His Father, the Maker of His Mother, the Son of God of His Father without a mother; the Son of Man of His mother without a father; the Word of God before all times, made man at the fitting time. . . . Great in the form of God, little in the form of a servant. . . . And yet not so as to detract ought from His greatness, or that His littleness should be overwhelmed by His greatness," &c. And S. Gregory Nazianzen thus rejoices ( Orat. xxx. 7): "Christ is born: glorify Him; Christ has come down from heaven: go forth to meet Him. . . . Clap your hands together, all ye people, for unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given. . . . He who is without flesh is incarnate, the Word increases in stature, the invisible is seen, the intangible is touched, He who is without time begins to be the Son of God is made the Son of man. Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." See S. Bernard ( Serm. i. de Epiphany ): "What could declare His mercy so much as His taking on Him our misery? . . . for the more He humbled Himself in His humanity, the more did He exhibit His goodness; and the viler He became for me, the dearer did He become to me." And ( Serm. lxiv. in Cant .), "0 the sweetness, the grace! 0 the power of love! The highest of all has become the lowest of all. And who effected this? Love ignoring dignity, great in condescension, mighty in its affections, powerful in persuasion. And what mighty violence! love triumphs over God, to teach us that it was of His love that His fulness was poured forth, His height brought down, and His one nature associated with another."
Let us then open our heart wide to receive this manna pouring down from heaven, that so by our boundless desires we may embrace and taste all its sweetness. Let us imitate the Patriarchs, who waited four thousand years, and longed and thirsted for it, saying, "0 that thou wouldest rend the heavens and come down!"
Let us imitate the Blessed Virgin, who after His conception longed for His birth, was torn away from the world, and wholly united to Christ. Let every one make known to Christ his necessities, and that temptation which specially weighs him down, and say confidently with S. Catherine of Sienna, "0 Lord, I have Thee present: Thou art mine, I will not let Thee go till Thou removest this temptation; grant me this virtue or grace, till Thou entirely possessest my heart, and imbuest it with Thy love." For He came on earth for this very purpose. S. Jerome and S. Paula went to Bethlehem, that they might continually behold in their minds the birth of Christ. So S. Francis just before his death celebrated Christmas with an ox and ass, ever repeating, "Let us love the Babe of Bethlehem." And S. Bernard on this mystery surpasses himself, as he preached, saying, "Christ gave Himself wholly for thee: do thou give thyself wholly to Him; as He became man for thee, do thou in return be born to Christ engraft thyself with the Word, betroth and give thyself wholly to God." See also Serm. in Cœna Dom . at the end of his works.
And our hands have handled of the word of life. That is, that Very Word which we have handled, seen, and heard. That which we could handle and touch, His humanity, e.g ., and thus have found that He truly assumed human flesh, and was not a phantom or spectre. Happy they who were permitted thus to see, hear, and touch the Incarnate Word. See Luke 10:23 .
Didymus refers all this to the Resurrection, a mystery which the Apostles constantly confirm and enforce. The Gloss confines it to the Transfiguration. But it is far better to refer it to the whole economy of the Incarnation of the Word of life , that is, the eternal, uncreated, Divine Word. S. Basil thinks that the Holy Spirit may be called the Word. But, as S. Thomas says, in an improper sense. See notes on John i. 1.
But it may be asked, (1.) why does S. John call the Son, the Word? 1st, Because both in his Gospel and Epistle he refers to that beginning which Moses speaks of. 2d, Because the Word Who is in the bosom of the Father has all wisdom. And this wisdom S. John sets forth, dwelling more on Christ's teaching and doctrine, while the other evangelists dwell more on what He did. He therefore calls Christ the Word, because he purposes to recount the sayings of this "Word." 3d, If he had called Him the Son, they might have imagined Him to be of a bodily and passible nature. But the "Word" signifies that His generation was not human but spiritual and divine, and consequently pure, perfect, and incorruptible, generated by the Divine mind as a word is generated in our mind. 4th, Because the "Word" signifies the mental conception of God the Father, and this is the generation of the Son, who represents and sets forth the wisdom and will of the Father, as a word would do. And this too is the very reason why the Son, and not the Father or the Holy Spirit, was incarnate, because the Incarnation took place in order to manifest God to man. But it is by a word that anything is manifested. And as the Word was begotten of the Father in the Spirit, so did it become Him to be born of His mother in the flesh. S. John therefore leads us to the Word, and through Him to God, in order to teach us ever to hold sweet converse with Him. As Seneca says, "As the rays of the sun reach the earth, but dwell in their own source, so does a noble soul, which is sent among us to bring a closer knowledge of divine things, hold converse indeed with us, but is not separated from its own source." It is wedded to the eternal word, as S. Ambrose says and S. Augustine ( Serm. xxxviii . nunc Serm. cxvii.), "A man becomes happy by attaining to that which ever continues happy, and is itself perpetual happiness, and that by which man lives is perpetual life, that by which he becomes wise is perpetual wisdom, and that by which he is enlightened is perpetual light."
2d. But why is the Son called λόγος ? (1.) That word can be translated 'wisdom.' And just as wisdom is intimately connected with ourselves, so is the Son with the Father. And (2.) as reason or knowledge proceeds from the mind, so does the Word or the Son proceed from the Father. So Origen, S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius in John i., Nazianzen, Orat . iv., S. Basil, &c. And (3.) because He makes us subject to reason. See Rupertus on John i., and Eusebius, Demetrius, Evang. v . 5. "The Word has in Himself the reasons of all created things, and is accordingly termed the Wisdom and the Word of God." But this word 'reason' does not express so clearly His procession from the Father. (See S. Augustine, Quæst. lxiii. inter lxxxvii.) Besides which the word 'reason' speaks of the Essence of God and is common to the Whole Trinity, and is not merely personal as [Pseudo]-Dionysius says ( De Divinis Nominibus ). But lastly, 'reason' can exist in one who at the time does not understand (as when sleeping), but the 'Word' only in one who actually understands.
2d. The word λόγος may mean 'work.' For the Word is the coequal work of the Father as God. See Wisd. 7:25.
3d. It may mean 'power.' For the, Word is the arm of the Father, by which He created all things (as God), and by whom He redeemed all things. (See 1 Corinthians 1:23 .)
4th. It may mean 'the form.' For the Word is the brightness of the Eternal Light. Wisd. 7:26; Heb 1:23 . [Pseudo]-Dionysius speaks of the Father as the primordial Fount of Godhead, and the Son and the Holy Ghost as shoots (so to speak) of Godhead. And accordingly S. Augustine ( de Trin. vi. 10) says, "A certain person (S. Hilary, de Synod ) says that when he wished to express in the clearest manner the properties of the several Persons in the Trinity, he used to say that 'Eternity was in the Father, His Image in the Son, His use in the gift, i.e ., the Holy Spirit the gift of the Father and the son.'" And (as above) "The Word increases not as we know Him, but ever remains one and the same, whether we adhere to or withdraw from Him, ever abiding in Himself, and renewing all things. The Form (or pattern) of all things, unfashioned Himself, independent of time and space."
5th. It can mean 'definition,' because He definitely and fully sets forth the nature of the Father, and of all things besides. As S. Gregory Nazianzen says, "The Son has the same relation to the Father as the definition to the thing defined. For he who sees the Son, sees the Father: for the Son is a brief and simple setting forth of the Father's nature." See Euthymius on John i. Again, it may mean 'a computation;' for the Word is the standard by which all things are computed.
6th. Again, it may mean the ' cause ,' for the Word was both the efficient cause of all creatures, and also the idea which conceived them.
7th. Beza and others suppose it to be the promised Word, foretold by the Prophets. But Salmeron states in reply, that He was before all Prophets, and was with God. In fact, Beza denies the λόγος quite as much as do the Alogians (see Epiph. Hær. li.), as do also the Magdeburg Centuriators, and thus are semi-atheists.
8th. But the best meaning is that He is the 'Word,' not of the mouth and voice, but of the heart and mind. For as we conceive anything in our mind, so did the Eternal Father, knowing what was His own Essence and all its capacities, form and produce this Word from eternity in every respect equal and like to Himself, and consequently God, the Son of God, begotten of the Father. (See Suarez, lib. ix. de Deo Trin. cap. 4, 6, and others.)
Here note that the Word of God has a twofold sense, first, essential , because He is the very essence, mind, and will of the Father which He communicates to the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Arians believed this, but added that God began to be the Father only in time. (2.) There is the personal sense of the word, viz. the Word begotten of the Father, and a Person subsisting by Himself. Of Him S. John speaks both here and in his Gospel. S. Cyril ( Thesaur. vii. 1) says, "S. John chose the name of the 'Word' as most appropriate, and significative of the Godhead, and the procession of the second Person of the Trinity." But S. Augustine ( de Trin. xv. 14), "the Father knoweth all things in Himself in Himself essentially, but in the Son as His Word."
The word λόγος is the same as discourse , or speech . Accordingly, Tertullian, S. Cyprian, S. Ambrose, Jerome, use the word ' Sermo .' Erasmus adopted this in the passage before us. For this innovation he was sharply handled by theologians, but defended by Calvin.
The term 'word' ( verbum ) is more appropriate (1.) as the simplest; (2.) the most general term; (3.) because it is the proper word for any mental conception, and the Son is the conception of the Father's mind; (4.) a word is uttered by the mouth, and so did the Father make known His will through the Word, as S. Epiphanius expressly says ( Hær. lxxi.), and S. Augustine ( de Fide et Symb. cap iii.), "He is called the Word of the Father, because the Father is made known through Him. For just as we by our words make our mind known to a hearer, so is that Wisdom, whom the Father begat, most fittingly called the Word, because it is through Him that the very secrets of the Father are made known." S. John here and elsewhere calls Christ the Word by reason of His Godhead and not His manhood.
S. Basil, describing the dignity and attributes of the Word ( lib. ii . contr. Eunom .), says, "In order to have a worthy understanding of His generation from God, we should consider it to be impassible, indivisible, before all time, like a ray shooting forth from a light, not carefully wrought out at some subsequent time, but as existing together with its prototype, which gave it its being, and coexisting with it, like the impression of a seal, or as when teachers impart knowledge, without losing anything themselves, and yet instructing their hearers." And Tertullian ( adv. Praxeam, ch. ix.) uses the same comparisons. "God brought forth His Word, as a root produces a plant, a fountain the river, and the sun its rays. But yet we cannot separate them from each other, as the Word cannot be separated from God." This doctrine is fully set forth in the Creed which S. Gregory Thaumaturgus is said to have received from S. John himself, at the bidding of the Blessed Virgin. The Gentiles knew this truth in a shadowy way, having learned it either from the Old Testament or from the Sibylline Books, or even from the light of nature, or Divine Inspiration. Plato accordingly was called the Attic Moses, (Eusebius, de Prep. Evan. xiii . ; and Theodoret, de Curando Græc. Affect. lib. ii.), Lactantius ( de Sap. iv. 9) says, "Philosophers were not ignorant of this divine Word. For Zeno calls the Orderer of Nature and the Maker of the Universe the λόγος ."
But it will be asked, was this Divine Word like our Word, or unlike? Partly like, and partly unlike. It was like in these respects . 1. As being immaterial. 2. As being in either case the vehicle of our thoughts; and 3, of our conceptions. 4. As being within. 5. As being the idea according to which nations are moulded. Hence Tinneus calls the Word of God his pattern world, the model of all created things. 6. As the thoughts of our mind are uttered outwardly in word, so was it when the Word of God spake in the Flesh He assumed. 7. As our word is the image of our understanding, so is the Word the image of God the Father. 8. As our word or conception lasts as long as we understand any matter, so is it with the Divine Word. The Divine mind ever abides, so does His Word. And as the mind of the Father is ever active, so is it with the generation of the Word. It is ever going on. As the Ephesian fathers say, "Let the splendour of light set forth that the Son of God has ever been co-eternal with the Father, let the 'Word' declare that His generation was without suffering, and let the Name of Son reveal His consubstantiality." See, too, S. Basil ( Hom . i . on S. John ). 9. As the conceptions of our mind precede our action. As S. Augustine says ( de Trinit. lib. xv. 11), "There are no acts of ours which are not previously suggested in the mind. There may be words of ours which are not followed by action, but the contrary cannot be: and in like manner the Word of God could be when as yet no creature existed, but no creature could exist except by Him by Whom all things were made."
II. It is unlike: (1.) Because our word is merely an accident of our mind: but the Word of God exists as a Substance and a Person. See S. Athanasius, Serm. i. Contr. Arianos ; and S. Chrysostom, Hom. i. on John ix. 2. (2.) Our word is a thing of time, subsequent to its conception in the mind, whereas the Word of God is from all eternity, and coeval with the Father. And again our 'word' results from our being unable otherwise to understand others. But the Word of God arises from the infinite perfection and productiveness of the Father's mind. (3.) Our speech is imperfect, ever changing, and complex. Whereas the Word of God is perfect, ever constant, unchangeable, one and the same, as S. Augustine says (on Ps. xliv.), "All things exist in One," and S. Athanasius, Serm . iii . contr. Arian . (4.) Our word or speech is distinct from our mind, whereas the Word of God is consubstantial with the Father. (5.) Our speech (or word) is part of our nature, but the Word of God is a Person distinct from the Father. (6.) Our word is not our son whereas the Word of God is the Son of God, as S. Augustine says ( de Trinit. vi. i): "The Father is Very Wisdom, but the Son is Wisdom and Power from the Wisdom and Power of the Father. The Father is not wise by engendered Wisdom, but is in Himself unbegotten Wisdom." (7.) Our words are feeble and ineffectual; the Word of God is all-powerful. (8.) Our words soon pass away and come to naught. The Word of God is eternal, for eternal is the understanding and the generation of the Father. S. Hilary says ( de Trinit. ii.), "The sound of the voice ceases, and the expression of our thought. But this Word is a reality, not a mere sound." (See Suarez ut supra .)
And therefore, though we may in some measure ascend from the word of our mind to (the knowledge of) the Word of God, yet this ascent by the light of nature is only to (the knowledge of) His essential Word. For this God conceives, understands, and bringeth forth all things. But that He brought forth and begat His Personal Word, that is as Son, surpasses the understanding both of angels and men. It must therefore be wondered at and adored in mute and holy silence, rather than be pried into and set forth by our too curious and yet feeble understanding, so that we may wonder and cry aloud with the Seraphim, 'Holy, Holy, Holy,' &c. This was not known to Plato, or to Demosthenes with all his eloquence. "I will bring to nought the understanding of the prudent," says S. Jerome to Paulinus. "My heart hath uttered a good word. I will speak of thy works to the King," says the Psalmist (Ps. xly. i.) "Thou seest that this Word is the Son of God, and we believe that He came forth from the Father's breast; from the womb of His heart, so to speak." (Nazianzen, Orat. de Fide .) See Ps. cx., on which S. Jerome says, "He brought Him forth from His own Nature, from His own substance, from the very inmost being ( medullis ) of His Godhead. Whatever the Father is Himself in His Godhead He gave wholly to His Son."
Tropologically . S. Augustine ( Confess. xi . 9) explains how the Word preaches to the heart of man, and S. Bernard says ( Serm. xlv . in Cant .): "His beauty is His love, and it is the greater because it takes the lead. But then it is, that from the very depths of His heart, and from His inmost affections, He cries more ardently for our love in return, in proportion as He feels that He was more ready to love us than we were to be loved by Him. And hence arose His speaking to us, His pouring forth His gift, and the response of the soul, its wonder and its thankfulness. And it therefore loves the more, because it sees that it is mastered in love, and wonders the more, and feels that it was not the first to love." And S. Ambrose, ( de Virg. iii.) says, "the Word of God wounds, but leaves not a sore ( ulcerat )." There is a wound of gracious love, there are wounds of charity, as the Spouse says ( Song ii .), "She who is perfect is wounded with charity. Good then are the wounds of the Word the wounds of Him who loveth us."
The word of life . "For as the Father hath life in Himself, &c." (John 5:26 .) Being is here attributed to the Father, life to the Word, love to the Holy Spirit.
Life is threefold, divine, angelic, human. Of these the Divine is most perfect, boundless, eternal, uncreated, the origin and source of angelic and human life. Angelic life is created, but spiritual. Human life is partly spiritual, partly corporeal. It is also natural and supernatural. The natural consists in life, sense, and reason. The supernatural also is two-fold, begun by grace and consummated in glory. Further than this the Divine Life is formal and causal. Formal is that life with which God Himself exists, causal that by which He gives life (whether natural or spiritual) to others. The Word then is called the Word of Life, as having life in Himself and as being the cause of life to others. As S. John says, "in Him was life," being in Himself essential life. See S. Thomas, par . i. Quæst . 28, where he alludes to the words (Psalms 36:0 ), "With Thee is the Fount of Life;" as Theodoret says, "With Thee is the Eternal Word, the Fount of Life, and in the Light of the Holy Spirit we shall see the light of the only Begotten One."
But secondly, it may mean, that in the Word there exist, as in archetype, the eternal reasons of all things. "The Wisdom of God, (says S. Augustine in John i. 1) in art (or theory) contains all things. Thou beholdest the heaven, sun, moon, they exist in the theory; outwardly they are bodies, in theory they are life." And again, "All things which are made, and have not life, have life in the Word of God, though they are not life, in themselves." The same statement occurs in the Homilies ascribed to Origen. As Philo says, "When He resolved to create this world, He formed a conception of it, and from that fashioned the world we now see." See note in translation of S. Augustine (on Joh 1:3 ) in Library of the Fathers.
But again, in Him is that which sustains and supports everything in life. See S. Chrysostom, Cyril, Theophylact, Euthymius in John i. 4, and Clement Alex. Adhort. ad gentes .
Thirdly, But it is best to understand it to mean that in the Word is our true life, both of grace and glory. He became man in order to communicate this life and light to men: that, just as the world at large was created by Him, so might man (this existence of the world) be re-created, and brought back from sin to the life of grace and glory. See below, verse 2, and chapter v. ii. See S. Chrysostom, Augustine, S. Ambrose, de Fide, cap. iii. and others. See too the many passages in this Gospel where life is spoken of as coming from the Word. See also Lactantius i. 11, on the meaning of Ζευ̃ς .
And the Life was manifested : By the Incarnation, by which He was beheld and even touched by men. This was prophesied by Isaiah; and see Luke 3:5 . And S. Ambrose in Ps. xxxvi. ( Psa 37:19 ) says, "Christ is in all things our life. His Godhead is our life, His eternity is our life, His flesh is our life, His Passion is our life." Whence Jeremy says, "We shall live in His shadow, the shadow of His wings. The shadow of the cross is the shadow of His Passion, His death is life, His wounds are life, His blood is life, His burial is life, His Resurrection is the life of all men. Wishest thou to know how His death is life? We are baptized into His death, that we may walk with Him in newness of life [Rom. vi. 4]. And He says Himself, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit (John xii. 24). He, that grain of wheat, was separated from the body for us, and died that He might bring forth much fruit in us. His death therefore is the fruit of life."
And bear witness . In our words, our life, our suffering death and martyrdom. As S. John says of himself (Rev. v. 1.). Again, it means, "We protest and denounce, by threatening unbelievers with the terrible judgment of God." As Cassian says ( de Incarn. v . 6), "In faithfully discharging His Office, He leaves those who refuse to listen, to bear the peril of their own disobedience."
And shew unto you that Eternal Life : Christ, who as the Word of God is eternal life: which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us being made visible by His Incarnation, miracles, especially (says Cajetan) by His Transfiguration, Resurrection, and Ascension. By which latter He shows that not only as the Word, but as man also, He will live a glorious and eternal life.
With the Father . As the Gospel says, "The Word was with God." Being, as Nonnus says, "never parted from the Father: ever seated on His Throne."
S. John here answers the objection, "How could He be ever with the Father, when there was no place where He could be? S. John replies that there was no need of space for Him. He was in the bosom of the Father. But the word 'with' signifies three things: (1) That He was a person distinct from the Father, (2) that He was closely connected with Him, (3) was equal to the Father. This overthrows the Eunomian heresy that the Son was not the Word, for S. John says that it was the same Word which was with the Father, and was manifested in the flesh. And to keep them from inferring that the Word was not God, S. John expressly adds, "And the Word was God." For the Divine Persons, though distinct the one from the other, have yet one and the same Essence. And that the Word was not, as Arian suggested, separable from the Father, as some article of dress (see S. Fulgent, contr. Monimum, lib. iii . cap. 2, 3), He is one with the Father as heat and brightness co-exist in the fire, or as memory and understanding co-exist in the same mind, or perhaps intellect, memory, and will are identical with the mind itself.
And was manifested unto us. This was at the Incarnation (as S. Dionysius Alex. says), where the invisible became visible, and when He who far surpasses every being came from the hidden shrine of Godhead, became man, and stood forth to our view. But God in truth is hidden even after this manifestation of Himself, or indeed (to announce a higher truth) even in this very manifestation. For the Godhead of Jesus was hidden, and the mystery which then was wrought respecting Him is not revealed or brought into light by anything which can be said or thought about Him, but even when it is spoken of cannot be explained, and when it is understood is still kept secret. Ver. 3. That ye also may have fellowship with us. That is, in the same faith and Church of Christ, where all partake in the same sacraments. It means also that ye should make increase and advance in the faith. It signifies a continuous and growing act. For he speaks to the faithful who already belonged to this society, though Œcumenius thinks it refers to unbelievers, whom John wished to attract to the Church of Christ. This is what S. Paul speaks of ( Heb 12:22 ), "Ye have come unto Mount Sion," &c. For with all these we have fellowship in the Church with Angels, with the Apostles, with the early Christians, with just men made perfect, with Christ and with God. Whence S. John adds,
And that our fellowship may be with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. Not with the god of Simon Magus, and with his mediating angels, whom he regards, as does Plato also, as demigods. For, as Bede says, "No one can have fellowship with God, unless he be first joined to the fellowship of the Church." And as S. Cyprian says ( de Unit. Eccelesiæ ), "Whoever is separated from the Church is joined to an adulteress. He is severed from the promises of the Church, and will not attain to the rewards which Christ offers. He who has left the Church of Christ is an alien, is profane, is an enemy. He cannot have God as his Father, who hath not the Church as his mother. If no one could escape who was without the ark, so can no one escape who is without the Church, &c." Excommunicated persons then who are separated from the Church are likewise separated from God. In the Greek this is stated more plainly and forcibly, Our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. It sets forth the nobleness of the fellowship of the Church, as being our fellowship with God and Christ, for the Church is His spouse. (See 2 Peter 1:4 ; 1Co 1:9 and 1 Corinthians 6:7 .) All the faithful then have fellowship with Christ and God by faith, hope, and charity, and the more so as they advance in these graces, imitate His life, and help to propagate His truth, like the Apostles, who did and suffered so much for Christ, and devoted themselves entirely to promote His glory and the salvation of souls. This fellowship or society embraces all the qualifications of true friendship which Aristotle, Cicero, and others speak of. Accordingly S. Augustine ( Tract. lxxvi . on John ) says, "The Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son makes His abode with us as in a temple. The whole three Persons come to us, when we come to them: they come by succouring, we by obeying; they by enlightening, we by beholding the light; they by filling us, we by receiving so that our sight of them is not outward, but inward, and their dwelling with us is not transitory but eternal." Dionysius the Carthusian beautifully and piously explains ( in loc .) how the faithful should hold converse with God. Hesselius and Lorinus describe our fellowship with Christ as that of a lord with his servant, a father with an adopted child, of the enlightener and the enlightened, the justifier and the justified, a ruler and subject, a giver and receiver, of one who invokes and one who hears, of one who bestows gifts and one who returns thanks, of Him who blesses and he who is blessed; so that, cleaving to God, we may be one with Him, and walking in the light as He is in the light, may have fellowship with Him. It is (as concerns Christ's human nature) like the relation of a master and his scholars, of a Priest and those for whom he offers sacrifice and intercedes, of one who suffers punishment which another deserved, and one who receives a favour which he did not deserve, &c. Scripture explains it under the type of a Shepherd and his sheep, the head and the members, of food and its eaters, the vine and the branches, and so on. We, in a word, who are partakers of His sufferings, are partakers of His consolations. Christ also calls us His friends, brethren, &c. He says that His God is our God, His Father and our Father. (See Ephesians 2:19 ; 1 John 3:1 ; 2 Corinthians 11:2 ; Hos 2:19 )
And these things write we that ye may rejoice in the fellowship of the Church of Christ, and that our joy may be full. Increase daily more and more (see Philippians 2:2 ; John 17:13 .) This is the result of a good conscience ( 2Co 1:12 ). As S. Bernard says to Pope Eugenius, "What is more precious, what more calm, and what freer from care than a good conscience? It fears not losses, it fears not reproaches, it fears not bodily tortures, for it is exalted rather than cast down by death itself." And so too Cicero, Horace, and other heathen writers. The Apostle therefore rightly sets forth the hope and confidence inspired by a pure and innocent conscience. For S. Augustine truly said [on Psalms 31:0 ], "The very charity of a righteous man gives him hope of a good conscience, for a good conscience inspires hope; for just as an evil conscience leads to utter despair, so does a good conscience inspire confident hope."
The joy then of believers is real and solid. Being joy in the Lord it satisfies and fills the mind, while joy in worldly delights, wealth, and honours, does but excite without gratifying. Hear S. Gregory ( Hom. xi . in Evang .), "Because unending lamentations follow after present joys, avoid vain joys in this life if ye dread sorrow in the next. For no one can both rejoice with the world here, and reign with Christ hereafter. Abstain therefore from the fleeting pleasures of temporal delight, subdue the desires of the flesh. And if anything charms thy mind here, let it shrivel to nothing at the thought of the eternal fire; and whatever makes thee merry in youth, let youthful discipline check and restrain, that so ye may more easily obtain eternal joys, by fleeing of your own accord from those which are only temporal." And S. Chrysostom ( Hom . xviii. ad populum ), "He that rejoices in the Lord can never by anything accidental be deprived of it. For all other things which delight us are subject to change, nor can they afford us so much pleasure
CHAPTER 5 Ver. 1. Every one that believeth, with a living faith, which extends itself to charity, and worketh by love, that Jesus is the Christ , i.e., the Messiah, the Saviour and Redeemer of the world, is born of God , by a divine and spiritual birth, which takes place by faith, love, and grace, by which a man becomes not only a friend, but a son and heir of God, and a partaker of the Divine nature (2 Peter 1:5; 2 Peter 1:52 Peter 1:5 ).
And every one . . . loveth also Him who is born of Him. Born : 1st Christ the Son of God is properly He who is born of God the Father. 2d Born of God applies to every believer, who is adopted of God through the grace of Christ. And this is S. John's reasoning, by which he proves that our neighbours ought to be loved: Whosoever loveth God the Father who begat, loveth equally God the Son who was begotten. But he who loveth God the Son loveth also all the other sons of God, as being His brethren and members. Therefore he who loveth God the Father loveth also all the children of God who are born of Him. It is in favour of this exposition, says S. Augustine, that the Apostle here says Son in the singular as understanding the Only Begotten of the Father. But presently, in the next verse he says sons in the plural as intending the just, by adoption and regeneration sons of God. Ver. 2. By this we know that we love the children ( τέκνα ) of God, when ( όθαν , i.e., because ) we love God , &c. We know , i.e., we conclude, we show and demonstrate . S. John uses this expression, we know, in a similar sense 1Jo 3:16 and 1 John 3:19 , and 1Jo 4:2 1 John 4:6 . We know , i.e., we are convinced that we love Christians as the children of God. We know this, i.e . we prove it by this argument, that we love God. The following is S. John's syllogism and demonstration. All the sons of God are believers and Christians. Whosoever therefore loves God loves also the children of God. Therefore he who loves God loves faithful Christians as being the brethren and members of Christ, born of the same God the Father. For as from the love of our neighbour we infer and conclude the love of God, so in turn and reciprocally from the love of God we infer and conclude the love of our neighbour. Again, whosoever keeps the commands of God keeps also the love of his neighbour: for this is one of the commandments. But he who keeps the command of love, this man loves his neighbour. Therefore whosoever keeps the commands of God is a lover of his neighbour.
Moreover, in this place S. John does not speak of all our neighbours, but only of such as are born of God, that is, believing Christians, because he seeks to kindle amongst them mutual love, in order that by their faith and Christian life they may defend, animate, help, and be profitable to one another against the heathen. Ver. 3. For this is the charity of God , &c . He means, Charity consists in the keeping of the commandments of God. For charity is the love and friendship of God. For this is what is said ( Wisd. 6:9), "Love is the keeping of His laws." So it is said in Eccles. xii. 13, "Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole man." It means, the whole good of man; all his duty, all his happiness; his end and perfection consist in the fear of God. As S. Jerome says, "For this man was created." And as Salonius says, He who lives otherwise is not a man but a beast, because he does not live according to reason, which pertains to man's nature. But if he lives gluttonously, he lives like a hog. If he lives deceitfully, he lives like a fox. If he lives proudly, he lives like a lion, and so on. All this you may apply to charity.
And His commandments are not heavy ( gravia ), much less impossible, as heretics say. He alludes to the words of Christ, "My yoke is sweet, and My burden light."
The reason is, 1st Because Christ has freed Christians from the heavy and manifold burden of the ceremonial and judicial precepts of the Old Law, and has imposed upon them only the moral Law, or the ten precepts of the natural Law, adding to them a few things concerning faith, baptism, and the rest of the sacraments. The Rabbi Moses numbers 218 positive, and 365 negative precepts of the Old Law ( More Hannelbuchim, caps. 56 and 57). From all these Christ has set us free.
2d. Because to charity and him who loves God nothing is heavy. "For how can it be heavy when it is the command of love? For either a man loves not, and thus it is heavy; or else he does love, and it cannot be heavy," says S. Augustine.
3d. Because Christ gives grace as it were wings, with which we fulfil the commandments. Yea, we as it were fly over them, according to the words, "I ran the way of Thy commandments when Thou hadst enlarged my heart." ( Ps. cxix.) As S. Augustine says, "There is nothing heavy either in loving, or fearing. For perfect love casts out fear, and makes the burden of the commandment light, not depressing to the ground with its weight, but lifting it up instead of wings. Let the soul therefore which feels the commandments heavy, pray and sigh with the will that it may obtain the gift of the sense of lightness." Wherefore S. Bonaventura says, "The commandments are heavy to fallen and corrupt nature, but light to that which is whole and sound." For grace heals our nature, even as sin wounds and as it were maims it. Therefore sin makes the commandments to be as "a talent of lead." ( Zech. v. 7.)
4th. Because, although certain things be heavy in themselves, such as to mortify all the lusts, to undergo martyrdom, to suffer all adversity, yet they become light when we consider the example of Christ and His Saints, and God's promise of heavenly glory, according as S. Paul says, "The sufferings of this present time are not comparable to the future glory which shall be revealed in us."
As S. Augustine says ( Serm. 18 de Sanct. ), "If we must needs endure daily torments, if hell itself for a brief space, that we might be worthy to behold Christ coming in His glory, and to be reckoned in the company of His Saints, would it not be worth while to suffer anything that is sad, so that we were made partakers of such great good and such great glory?" Ver. 4. For every thing which is born of God , &c. He proves what he had said that His commandments are not heavy, because the faithful, who are born again of faith, and charity, and are armed by God, overcome the world, i.e. the lusts and terrors of the world, which alone resist charity, and make the keeping of the commandments difficult. When therefore they are taken away, the commandments become easy. "The proof of a heavenly generation is victory over temptation," says S. Bernard.
Observe: he says every thing ( neuter ), not every one who is born of God overcometh. This is to signify, 1st That this victory falls to the believer, not of himself, but from the love and grace of God. This is why he adds by way of explanation, And this is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith.
2d. The expression every thing is emphatic, and signifies the whole company of all nations. There is an allusion to the animals of every kind, both clean and unclean, which were in Noe's ark, and which Peter saw in vision in the linen sheet of the Church. ( Acts. x. 12.) By these it was signified that all sorts of men, of every nation, state, and condition, were to be admitted into the Church by the new Birth of Baptism. For the same reason, and with the same emphasis, Christ said, " Everything that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me."
Hence S. Cyprian, S. Leo, and others say that a believer is greater than the world, and having his conversation in heaven he looks down upon the little point of the world. Beautifully does S. Augustine write ( lib. 2 de Synub. and Catechum ), "Admirable, truly admirable, is our combat" ( spectaculum ), "in which God helps, faith obtains strength, innocence fights, holiness conquers, and the reward which follows is such that whilst he who has conquered receives, he who gives loses nothing."
And this is the victory , &c., victory , i.e., the victor , the conqueror. The victory then is the cause of victory , the arms by which the victory is obtained, i.e., faith. This victorious faith is not naked and idle faith, but clothed with charity and good works, struggling and fighting bravely, according to the words, "Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness," &c. ( Heb. xi.) And as S. Paul says ( Eph. vi. i6), "And in all taking the shield of faith by which ye can quench all the fiery darts of the most wicked one." For overcomes the Greek has νικήσασα , aorist overcame. By this all time is signified. He hath overcome, he overcomes, and shall overcome. So S. Augustine teaches that the faith of Christ has subdued the whole world to itself by the sanctity, chastity, patience, constancy, of the Apostles, Virgins, and Martyrs, by whom the nations of the whole world have been converted to Christ. And as he saith again ( Ser. de Verb. Apost .), "There are no greater riches, or treasures, no substance of this world greater than the Catholic Faith. It saves sinful man, gives sight to the blind, heals the sick, baptizes catechumens, restores the penitent, helps the just, crowns the martyrs." And S. Bernard says, "Faith reaches things inaccessible, discovers the unknown, comprehends the infinite, seizes the remotest bounds of things, and in short embraces eternity itself in its own most spacious bosom. I would say boldly that the eternal and Blessed Trinity, whom I cannot understand, I believe in and hold firmly by faith, a thing which I am not capable of by mere soundness of intellect.
Ver. 5. Who is he that overcometh the world , &c. For by believing he hopes, by hoping he invokes, by invoking he loves Christ, and therefore he is strengthened by the grace of Christ to despise the world, and by despising he overcomes it, according to the saying of S. Paul, "I am able to do all things in Him who strengtheneth me." For he who believes in Christ, ought to follow the precepts of Christ and obey Him, not the world.
S. John proves his thesis ex hypothesi, the general from the particular. He proves, I say, that faith is the victory of believers, because the faith of Christ is the victory over the world. And at the same time he confutes Cerinthus, Ebion, and the other heretics of that age, who denied the Divinity of Christ. Hence when Peter confessed this doctrine, saying, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God," he deserved to hear from Him, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church."
Ver. 6. This is He who cometh by water and blood, Jesus Christ. This is Messias, the Son of God, the Saviour and Redeemer of the world, whom the Prophets foretold should come to redeem the world by His Blood, and purify it by the water of baptism, as is plain from Eze 36:47 , and Zechariah 12:13 . John proves that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; that is, that Jesus is true Man and true God. He does this, 1st Because He is He who came, Greek, ό ε̉λθὼν , i.e., He, the Coming One, the Messias, who indeed the Prophets promised should come: whom the Scripture (Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 9:6 . and elsewhere ) signified should be God and the Son of God. Wherefore Coming or About to come is the Name of Messiah. For so the Jews called Him from the prophetic oracles. This is plain from S. John 1:15 , &c.
Again, he proves the same thing from the water and the blood of which the Body of Christ was constituted, and which He shed for us. For they signify, 1st That Christ was a true man, and not a phantasm, as Simon Magus and Manes pretended. For the human body is composed of water and blood.
2d. The water and blood proved that Christ is true God. One reason is that the Blood of Christ was the full price of our redemption, entirely satisfying God for the offences of our sins. Therefore it was necessary that the Blood should be the Blood of a God-man, a man hypostatically united to God: for the blood of a mere man could not be an adequate price for offences against God. A second reason is, because Christ by the virtue of His Blood in ordaining baptism, endowed it with a Divine power to expiate all the sins of all men. Therefore it was necessary for Him to be God. For Christ did this per se , and authoritatively, not ministerially as dependent upon some one else. But per se to institute a sacrament to remit and atone for sin is a work of Divine power.
There is an allusion in the first place to the water and blood of the victims with which Moses ratified the Old Testament (Exodus 24:8; Exodus 24:8 ). By this he signified that Christ by His own Blood and Water would ratify the New Testament. Hear S. Paul, Hebrews 9:19 , "For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop," &c.
There is an allusion, secondly, to the water and blood which miraculously flowed from the side of Christ when He was dead upon the Cross. For a dead body, instead of the blood and water of a living one, naturally emits gore ( saniem ). S. John alone of the Evangelists records this emission of blood and water. By these two it was set forth that by the power of the blood of Christ the faithful should be cleansed from their sins by the water of Baptism. And this is the meaning of the Bride, i.e ., the Church, when she says (Song of Solomon 5:10; Song of Solomon 5:10 ), "My Beloved is white and ruddy." (So Cyril, Hieros. Cat. 13; S. Augustine, lib. 2 de Catech. rud. c. 6; S. Leo, Epist. 45 , Hier. 83; Damascene, 4 de Fide, c. 10; Suarez, 3 part. quæst. 53 , disput. 41, and others.) From hence our Salmeron is of opinion that Christ always mingled water with His Blood, viz., tears at His circumcision, His Bloody Sweat, His Scourging, and on the Cross before His death. And that this was why He ordered water to be mingled with wine in the Eucharistic Chalice to be converted into His Blood.
Moreover, S. John distinguishes Christ's Baptism from that of John the Baptist, because the latter was in water only, and, therefore unavailing for the remission of sins. But Christ's Baptism was in water and blood, and therefore availing to that end. Again, he confutes the Ebionites, who thought that God was appeased with mere water, and who therefore washed themselves daily with water, and offered water only, without wine, in the Eucharistic Chalice, because they denied that we were redeemed by the Blood of Christ. (See Irenæus, lib. 5 c . 1.)
Lastly, Tertullian ( lib. de Bapt. c. 16) says, Christ came by water when he was baptized by John, by blood when He suffered, that "He might be washed by water, glorified by blood," by the victory of His Passion and Death. "He would have us called by water, elected by blood. This twofold Baptism He shed forth from the wound in His pierced side, that they who believed in His Blood might be washed with water, and that those who were laved with the water of Baptism might also drink His Blood in the Eucharist."
Tropologically, S. Bernard explains it to mean a twofold baptism and a twofold martyrdom: 1st Of compunction by tears; 2nd, By the desire of mortification. "Now because we have said that baptism is signified by water, martyrdom by blood, remember that there is one only and daily baptism, one only and daily martyrdom. For there is indeed a kind of martyrdom and a certain effusion of blood in the daily affliction of the body. There is also a species of baptism in compunction of the heart and frequent tears." Ver. 6. This is He who cometh by water and blood. Some Greek codices add καί πνεύματος, i.e., and by spirit : not by water only, but by water and blood, and by spirit.
And the Spirit it is which testifies that Christ is Truth . (Vulg.) The Greek has ότι τὸ πνεύμα έστιν ή α̉λήθεια , i.e., The Spirit is the Truth. This is also the reading of the Syriac. The meaning is, It is the Spirit who recently at Pentecost testified that Christ is the Son of God. Him therefore we must believe because He is the Spirit of Truth, and the Truth Itself. But the genuine reading is, Because Christ is Truth. For the Apostle is here treating of Christ, and Christ's proper name is the Truth.
To the obscure and as it were dead testimony of water and blood , is added the clear and living witness of the Holy Ghost. For He as well during Christ's (earthly) life, in which He wrought miracles by Him to bear witness to this, as also after His death and resurrection, when He was sent by Him to the Apostles at Pentecost, testified by their mouth, and preached everywhere that Christ was the Truth , i.e., true God. For Christ, in that He is God is the Word, and therefore the Truth and Wisdom of the Father. In that He is man, He is the true ambassador and interpreter of the Father, who opened out the shadows of the Old Law, and published the true doctrine concerning God, according to His own words, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." Hence too the Aaronic High Priest bore, as a type of Christ the true and real High Priest, the Urim and Thummim, i.e., doctrine and truth , in his breastplate. Ver. 7. Because there are Three which bear witness in Heaven , &c. S. John here more fully explains and confirms the testimony already adduced of the water, the blood and the spirit concerning Christ. The particle because is partly confirmatory of what He had said in the 5th ver. that Jesus is the Son of God, partly of what he said in the 6th, that the Spirit bears witness that Jesus is true God. For this is here confirmed because the Holy Spirit is one of the three witnesses who in heaven bear testimony to Christ.
S. Jerome ( Pref. in Epist. Canon .) observes that this verse had been erased by unbelievers, i.e . the Arians, from some Greek copies. Therefore it is not found in the Syriac, Clement of Alexandria, Bede, Œcumenius, and some others. It is, however, the constant reading of the Latin Bibles, and the more correct Greek MSS. and of many of the ancients, SS. Athanasius, Augustine, Jerome, Cyprian, the Lateran Council, at which Greeks were present. Therefore it is certain that these words are to be taken as canonical Scripture.
The meaning then is this All the Three Persons of the Sacred Trinity in heaven and from heaven bear testimony to the angels, but especially to men (for to men S. John chiefly refers) concerning Christ, that He is the true Messiah and the Son of God. This the Father did at His Baptism and Transfiguration. Again, when He answered Christ by thunder out of heaven, "I have both glorified, and will glorify Thee again " (John 12:18; John 12:18 ). Similarly also the Holy Ghost bore witness when He descended upon Christ in the form of a dove, and poured out Himself upon the Apostles and other Christians at Pentecost. And this was the result of Christ's prediction, promise, and mission. Wherefore the same Holy Spirit by the mouths of the Apostles preached little else save Christ. The Son also very often declared, taught, and proved convincingly by His miracles that He was the Messias and the Son of God, as is plain from the whole Gospel of S. John. Therefore heaven and earth mutually agree, yea the whole universe appears at one, in bearing this witness to Christ.
And these Three are One as in nature and Divine Essence, so likewise in intelligence, voice, and testimony, concerning Christ. For all these things in the Holy Trinity are one and the same. There is another reading of these words in the Greek, signifying These Three are into One ( in unum ), but the Latin and other Greek copies have These Three are One ( Hi tres unum suns ), signifying the oneness of Substance of the Holy Trinity, that the Three Persons have one and the same undivided Godhead. Ver. 8. And there are three which give witness in earth, the Spirit, the water, and the blood. Three ( tres in the masc .). He might have said tria in the neuter, for the Greek πνευ̃μα ϋδως αίμα , are all in that gender. But he chose to say tres , to show that these three earthly witnesses concur with, yea represent, the Three Heavenly witnesses already spoken of. So says S. Augustine. By a figure of speech, personality is attributed to these earthly witnesses, as speaking with man's voice. S. John sets the human and earthly testimony over against the Divine. Some think that the Three Witnesses in heaven are witnesses to Christ's Divinity, and the three on earth witnesses to His Humanity. Among these are Innocent III. ( cap. in quad de Celebrat. Miss .), and S. Thomas. But it is better to take both classes as attesting the Divinity. For this is what S. John undertook to prove (ver. 5), because Cerinthus and others denied it. And this is why he subjoins presently, He that believeth in the Son of God hath the witness of God in himself.
There are Three. S. John places a twofold Trinity of witnesses to Christ, who testify of His Divinity, and that He is the Son of God. And he sets the one over against the other. Indeed, he unites them as regards their office of witness-bearing. The first are uncreated, viz., the Father, the Son, and the Ghost. The second are created, the Spirit, the water, and the blood. These emanate from the uncreated witnesses, and correspond to them. For water refers to the Father, blood to the Son, spirit to the Holy Ghost. For the Father is the beginning ( principium ) of all things, as likewise is water. For out of water were formed the heavens, the air, the birds and the fishes, as I have shown in the beginning of Genesis. Again, water nourishes herbs, trees, plants, and every living thing. Wherefore, also, the heavens are called in Hebrew scamiam , i.e., waters. Again , water signifies the affluence of goods and graces which there is in God the Father, according to the words in Is. xii., "Ye shall draw water with joy from the wells of the Saviour." ( Vulg .) It is well known that the Egyptians worshipped the Nile as a god, because all their crops were due to the over- flowing of the Nile. Moreover, water appositely represents the mercy and goodness of God the Father. At the present day some of the Indians adore water. Suidas, under the word Brachmans , says that the Brahmins lived to a very great age because they drank nothing but water. Apollonias of Syana was wont to say that those who drink water never suffer from giddiness in the head.
On earth from earth: like as the first Three testify in heaven, i.e ., from heaven, to men dwelling on earth.
The Spirit, the water, and the blood the spirit, namely, which Christ when dying on the Cross committed into the hands of the Father. Also the water and the blood which flowed from the side of Christ testify that Christ was truly not only man, but God, because by these, as by a just price, Christ made satisfaction to an offended God. Again, His spirit, because it went forth with a loud cry, showed Him to be God. Wherefore the centurion, when he saw that He thus cried out and expired, said, "Truly this man was the Son of God." For speech fails those who are at the point of death. This cry of Christ was then miraculous and not natural, signifying that Christ was more than human, and therefore that He died of His own will, and not through weakness.
2d. S. Augustine Lyra and the Gloss understand by the Spirit in this place the Holy Ghost shed forth at Pentecost. For He testified that Christ was God.
3d. Œcumenius understands by Spirit the Holy Ghost given at Baptism. "In Baptism," he says, "by water Jesus Christ was declared to be the Son of God by the witness of the Father."
Anagogically, but very appropriately, and almost literally, the water, the blood, and the spirit that were emitted by Christ upon the Cross, but resumed by Him at His resurrection, signify that He was the very promised Messiah, the conqueror of death and hell, and therefore the Son of God. For Christ rose again by His own power, and resumed these three things.
Mystically, by spirit, water, and blood are signified the three things which concur for our justification. As S. Ambrose says, "By the Spirit our mind is renewed, by water we are washed; the blood is the price."
Allegorically, by these three things are signified the three chief sacraments which bear testimony to Christ, as instituted by Him, and as sanctifying by virtue of His merits. Water signifies Baptism, blood the Eucharistic Chalice, the Spirit penance. Whence by breathing the Spirit upon His Apostles Christ gave them the power of remitting sins.
Symbolically, Baldwin of Canterbury whose work I examined in manuscript at Louvain ( lib. 1 de Eucharist, c. 48) says, "The spirit of the righteous, the tears of penitents, the blood of the martyrs bear witness that Christ is the Redeemer."
S. Augustine upon this passage thinks that by these three earthly witnesses the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity are denoted, viz., the Father by the spirit , the Son by the the blood , the Holy Ghost by the water. For of the Father it is said, "God is a Spirit" ( Jno. iv . 14), the Son assumed the blood and flesh of man's nature. Of the Holy Ghost it is spoken: "Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." (John 7:18; John 7:18 .) And for this reason they are called tres in the masculine, not tria, three things, in the neuter.
Tropologically, S. Bernard ( Serm. 2 in Oct. Pasch .) says , "By the blood , the water , and the spirit thou hast witness unto righteousness, that thou art born again through Christ, if thou refrainest from sin, if thou bringest forth worthy fruits of penance, if thou doest living works." The blood there signifies continence, the water tears, the Spirit spirit, and works which testify that we are regenerated and made holy. "He also shows that these three things are opposed to three things which are in the world, and overcome them. For the concupiscence of the flesh is overcome by the mortification of the blood, the lust of the eyes by the compunction of tears, the pride of life, or the spirit of vanity, by the spirit of charity." S. Bernard adds ( Serm. 76) that there are in like manner three witnesses in hell, the worm by which the conscience is gnawed, the fire which burns both soul and body, and the spirit of despair. "By the witnesses in heaven," he says, "is given the witness of beatitude, by those in earth of justification, by those in hell of damnation. The first testimony is of glory, the second of grace, the third of wrath."
And these three are one. Some Greek and Latin codices, as the Complutensian and the Royal, omit these words. Wherefore S. Thomas ( Opusc. 24 in 2 decret .) says, that they were foisted in by the Arians, that it might be gathered that the Three heavenly Persons are not spoken of as being one in Essence, but only as bearing witness. But many of the Latin and the more correct Greek copies have the words, but read, These three are into one ( in unum ). And the Syriac, These Three are in one ( in uno ), meaning to say, the water, the blood, and the spirit of Christ are not one as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are One, but that they are referred to One, &c., Christ and His Humanity, or mystically to one justifying and perfecting of man. Ver. 9. If we receive the witness of men , &c. If we give credit to man's testimony, much more ought we to believe the witness of God concerning Christ. It is greater both in dignity and authority, in truth and certainty. For God infinitely surpasses all men and angels in majesty and veracity. He is the first and supreme Verity, who cannot lie, neither can He deceive, or be deceived. As S. Paul declares (Romans 3:4; Romans 3:4 ), "Let God be true, and every man a liar." Moreover, the testimony of the Church, of the Apostles and Prophets, is the testimony of God, for the Church is governed by the Holy Ghost, who is the Spirit of Truth.
Because this is the witness of God , &c. The word because here is not so much causative as explanatory, and means the same as but. The meaning is, But this is God's testimony, because , i.e., which , He has testified, &c., namely, as He testified at the Baptism of Christ, and at many other times, "This is My Beloved Son." Ver. 10. He that believeth in the Son of God hath the witness in himself. 1st Because he hath in him the thing attested by God, namely this truth, that Christ is the Son of God.
2d. Because he hath in himself the very witness of God, and God Himself attesting.
3d. This testimony is the faith itself by which we believe the witness of God. There is a metonymy, because the object is put instead of the habit, or act tending to the object. It means, he who believes has a special gift of God, viz., faith. And this includes the witness, or testimony of God, and God Himself attests, which marvellously honours the believer, and makes him strong to confess Christ.
4th This testimony may be taken to signify the regeneration and adoption, the grace and glory of the believer meaning, He who believes in the Son of God hath in himself the witness of God, namely, that by which God witnesses to his soul and conscience by means of this faith with which he believes in Christ, that he is faithful, and a son and heir of God.
He that believeth not the Son , &c. As he that believeth in the Son, and receives God's testimony concerning Him, makes God to be true, and honours and worships Him; so, on the contrary, he that believeth not the Son, and rejects God's testimony concerning Him, makes God false, and does Him great despite.
Observe: instead of believe , the Greek has πεπίστευκεν , hath believed . This is a Hebraism by which the perfect is put for any tense. Ver. 11 . And this is the testimony , &c. This means, 1st God hath not only testified that Christ is His Son, but also that He is our Saviour and Redeemer, so that he who believes in Him is justified, and receives the spiritual life of grace and glory.
2d. This very thing is the end and fruit of the testimony, i.e ., of the faith by which we believe God's witness concerning Christ, that by this faith we obtain the life of grace and glory. There is an allusion and reference to the words of the Gospel (xvii. 3), "This is life eternal, that they may know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent."
Hath given to us eternal life. By these words hath given , S. John denotes the firmness and certainty both of the Divine promise and of our hope, namely, that we are just as sure of everlasting life, if we persevere in faith and obedience, as if it had been actually now bestowed upon us.
The primitive Christians represented this faith and hope of life eternal by the Phœnix, which after death is said to be born again and rise up in a fresh and youthful life, as Lactantius testifies in his poem on the Phœnix. Therefore it was often depicted on the tombs of the faithful. S. Cecilia, as the Acts relate, ordered it to be sculptured on the sarcophagus of S. Maximus the Martyr. So too at Rome the Phœnix is often found depicted on tombs in the catacombs. For Christ rising again to life eternal is our Phœnix. And He by raising up Christians to the same life, will make them phœnixes likewise. Ver. 12. He that hath the Son, i.e ., by faith, love, and obedience, hath life , of grace in fact, of glory in hope. He alludes to the words in his own Gospel, "He that believeth in the Son hath everlasting life, but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him." (John 3:35 .) Ver. 13. These things I write unto you, that ye who believe in the name of the Son of God have eternal life. The Greek adds, that ye may believe in the name of the Son of God. But this seems to be tautologous. The name of the Son of God is put for the thing signified, the Son of God Himself. There is an allusion to his own Gospel ( Joh 20:31 ): "These things are written that ye may believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that believing ye may have life in His name."
S. John here reckons up three fruits of a living faith in Christ. The first, life eternal in this verse; the second, confidence of obtaining all things from God (ver. 14); the third is complete banishment of sin, and moral sinlessness (ver. 18). Ver. 14. And this is the confidenre , &c. Truly says S. Augustine, "Whatsoever we ask unprofitable for our salvation we do not ask in the name of the Saviour."
And we know : the Greek adds ε̉ὰν , i.e., if . This makes the words of the verse more connected: And if we know that He heareth us, whatsoever we shall ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of Him. Ver. 16. He who knows his brother to sin a sin not unto death, let him ask, and life shall begiven him for him that sinneth not unto death. ( S. Ambrose, lib. 1 de Penitent. c. 9, and Tertullian, de Pudicit. c. 2, read, because he sinneth not to death .) There is a sin unto death , &c. Instead of I do not say , S. Augustine reads in this place, non præcipio, I do not command. He means, If any one knows his brother to commit any sin, let him pray for him, and God will give him repentance and forgiveness. I except, however, the sin unto death. If any one sins a sin unto death, I dare not promise, nor have any certain hope, that thou wilt obtain pardon for him. Yet I do not altogether forbid prayer in such a case. Pray if thou wilt, but with a doubt of obtaining.
You will ask, what is the sin unto death? 1st Tertullian ( de pudicit. caps. 2 and 19) is of opinion from this passage that there are some sins, like those of the devils while they were yet in a state of probation, so deadly that they are absolutely irremissible in this life. Such a sin was adultery after baptism. But this is an error condemned in Scripture and the Lateran Council under Innocent III.
2d. Origen thinks it is a sin which leads to destruction, and drags down to hell.
3d. Surrianus ( lib. 4 pro Epist. Epist. Pont. c. 3) thinks it is a sin which involves excommunication. For an excommunicate person is impenitent. And it is not lawful to pray for one excommunicate in the public prayers of the Church. But S. John is speaking of any kind of prayer, even in private.
4th. S. Augustine ( lib. 1 in Serm. Dom .) thought it was the sin of envy, by which any one envies his brother's grace, virtue, and salvation. But this opinion S. Augustine afterwards modified and retracted.
5th. The same S. Augustine ( lib. de corrept. et grat. c. 12) and many others think it is the sin in which any one perseveres unto death. Lorinus thinks that it is the sin of hatred and murder. Others think it means the sins of the reprobate, and of those who will be damned. But it is uncertain who and what those are. Yet S. John says, he who knows his brother sin a sin not onto death.
6th. The Gloss supposes it to be a mortal sin. For to pray for such sins is the duty ex officio , so to say, of the Priest alone. But for venial sins any layman whatever may pray. But what S. John says is opposed to this, for he intimates that he is speaking, not of venial, but of mortal sins, and subjoins, " life shall be given him ."
7th. S. Jerome ( in cap. 14 Jerem .) thinks it is some very grave sin which God has determined to punish. "For he who once," saith be, "hath been devoted to the sword, or famine, or pestilence, cannot be delivered by any prayers. Wherefore it was said to the Prophet that he should not ask in vain what he could not obtain."
8th. Dionysius thinks it is the sin of final impenitence. Wherefore the Bishop of Rochester (Art. 17 cont. Luther ) proves the doctrine of Purgatory from this passage. For S. John says we are to pray for those who are not finally impenitent, that is, who depart in a state of justification or repentance. And this surely implies prayer that they be delivered from Purgatory.
9th. Anastasius Niceenus thinks it is a sin against God, such as blasphemy, concerning which it is said ( 1Sa 2:25 ), "If a man sin against God, who shall pray for him?"
10th. Gagneius thinks it is the sin of apostasy and infidelity, by which any one falls from the faith into heresy or idolatry.
11th. S. Hilary ( in Ps. cxl.) thinks it is the sin which any one commits of set purpose and malice.
12th. S. Ambrose thinks ( lib. 1 de Pen. c. 8) it is every very grave sin which is remitted with difficulty.
Most of these opinions are true, and partly explain, but few touch the exact point of the difficulty.
My own opinion is, that the sin unto death is every very grave sin which, either on account of its enormity or long habit, obstinacy or malice, is irremediable according to the ordinary rule of grace which God gives. Such was the sin of Judas in betraying Christ. It was sin unto death because of its enormity; and incorrigible, because of his obstinate persistence in it. So too the sin of the Jews in blasphemy and slaying Christ was a sin unto death, because so heinous and persisted in. Therefore the sin unto death is a chronic and irremediable one, the pardon of which is despaired of, and which so provokes the wrath of God that the ordinary prayers of the saints cannot pacify it, and one therefore which with absolute certainty brings the sinner to the destruction of hell, unless some especially eminent saint, like another Moses, obtains for him from God extraordinary grace and forgiveness. This sin unto death is as if a physician was summoned to a sick man, and after examining, him were to say, I cannot heal him, he is sick unto death, the vital parts are mortifying. In like manner, says S. John, when a Christian sees a heretic and an apostate, let him say, I should not dare to pray for him, he is sinning unto death. His vitality is gone. He casts away faith, which is the principle of spiritual life. This is the mind and general opinion of S. Augustine and Jerome, Origen, Bernard, Bonaventura, S. Thomas, and many others. There is a reference to the words of Christ to the Jews (John 8:21; John 8:21 and John 8:24; John 8:24 ), "I go away, and ye shall seek Me, and shall die in your sin." From which passage we gather that though the sin unto death be of various and multiform kinds, as impenitence, obstinacy, determination to persevere in any sin until death, and so on, yet strictly by the sin unto death S. John understands and intends a sin by which a Christian departs from the faith and Church of Christ, and maliciously attacks them, and strives to draw others away into his own heresy, or idolatry. This was what some were doing in S. John's time, to his great fear and grief. Wherefore, in order to deter the faithful from being led away, he calls such persons sinners unto death.
There is a reference to such passages as Jer. xvii. 1, "The sin of Judah is written with an iron stylus , in an adamantine nail, it is ploughed deep upon the breadth of their heart." ( Vulg .) On which verse S. Gregory says, "The finger-nail is the extremity of the body: but the diamond is so hard a stone that it cannot be cut with iron. Now by the iron style is signified the strong sentence, but by the adamantine nail the eternal result. Therefore the sin of Judah is said to be written with an iron stylus in an adamantine nail, because the offence of the Jews by the strong sentence of God is reserved for an eternal end."
By this sin a man opposes himself directly to Christ, from whom is the only hope of salvation. He drives Him from him, yea he blasphemes Him by whom alone he can be healed. So the disease is said to be incurable which does not admit of food or medicine. Whence S. Paul saith to the Hebrews ( Heb 6:4-6 ), "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened," &c.
From what has been said it is plain that the sin unto death is distinguished from blasphemy against the Spirit, spoken of in S. Matthew 12:21 , although it is akin to it. Christ calls the sin of the Scribes blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, because they ascribed His Divine works, such as the casting out devils, which He did by the power of the Holy Ghost, to an unclean spirit. And they did this knowingly and maliciously, because they might and ought easily have known that those works were wrought by the Holy Ghost, and not by a devil. Christ opposes such blasphemy against the Holy Spirit of God to blasphemy against the Son of Man, by which some who were offended at the human conversation and condescension of Christ calumniated His actions as man. They called him a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. And this was a less and therefore more easily remissible sin. But as the sin spoken of in S. Matthew was the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, so here the sin unto death is blasphemy and treachery against Christ. And both one and the other are with difficulty remitted.
This sin is not to be healed by any one but by Christ alone. For such a sinner is like unto Lazarus, of whom Martha said unto Christ, "Lord, by this time he stinketh, for he has been buried four days." Wherefore Jesus, with great effort, weeping and lifting up His eyes to heaven, and crying with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!" raiseth him again to life.
I do not say that any one should pray for it . Thus the Greek and Latin. S. Gregory has a reading, that any one should pray for him. The meaning is, I do not forbid prayer for such, but I dare not promise that the prayer will be answered. For often God will not hear those who pray on behalf of the sin unto death, according to the words in Jeremiah 7:16 , "Pray not thou for this people, for I will not hear thee."
S. Bernard says ( de Grad. Humil. cap. ult. ), "The Apostle John says, for such a one I do not say that any one should pray. But dost thou say, 0 Apostle, that any one should despair? Indeed let him who loves him groan. Though he may not persume to pray, yet let him weep. Thus Martha and the Magdalen wept the death of Lazarus, and by weeping obtained his resurrection." Ver. 17. A11 iniquity is sin, and there is a sin unto death : the Greek and Syriac add the negative proposition, and there is a sin not unto death. He opposes the two kinds of sin. Every iniquity is sin, but not every iniquity unto death, because it is a peculiar kind of sin which, as is said, is sin unto death.
For iniquity the Greek has α̉δικία , injustice , which is properly opposed to justice . But as in Scripture, so also in Aristotle and the ethical writers, justice is taken generally for any virtue, and injustice or iniquity for any sin. Ver. 18. We know that every one who is born of God sinneth not, but the generation of God preserveth him. The Latin translator reads, γένεσις ε̉κ του̃ Θεου̃ τηζει̃ αυ̉τόν . The present Greek reading is γεννηθείς ε̉κ του̃ Θεου̃ τηζει̃ αυ̉τόν , i.e. he who is born of God keepeth himself, viz., by the virtue received from his divine birth.
And the wicked one toucheth him not . This is the third fruit of the living faith, or regeneration, by which any one through faith and grace is born again in Christ, viz., preservation from at least grave and deadly sin, and consequently from the power of the malignant one, i.e. the devil. I have explained this in cap. 3 vers. 6 and 9.
Generation is here put for the grace generating . S. Gregory and S. Bernard, for generation of God read heavenly generation. By generation here S. Gregory understands knowledge of the Divine will, with the love of the same; S. Bernard, the Divine predestination; Didymus, the regeneration of the will which takes place by voluntary conversion and repentance. But others better understand it to mean grace and charity. For by these are wrought the regeneration and renovation of the new man, that is to say, of the faithful and holy soul, and its continuance in charity.
And the wicked one ( malignus ),&c. By the wicked one Didymus and Thomas English understand the world. But others, generally with more correctness, understand it of the devil. For the devil is more especially the wicked or the evil one. He does not touch, i.e ., does not hurt, him who is born of God. The Syriac translates, doth not come nigh him. This is what is said in Zechariah 2:8 , "He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of Mine eye." And Psalms 104:15 , "Touch not My Christs" ( Vulg. ); and S. Paul says, "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able."
Ver. 19 . e know that we are of God, and the whole world is placed in the wicked one. For is placed the Greek reads κείται , i.e., lieth. The wicked one ( malignus ) i.e ., the devil, as in the last verse. This is the epilogue of the Epistles. As though S. John said, This is the conclusion and the sum of my words. We ought greatly to rejoice that, being born of God, we live and abide in Him, and lead in Him a pure and holy and heavenly life. Whilst, on the contrary, the world, i.e ., worldly men, are situated in the wicked one. That is, they live oppressed beneath the tyrannical power and domination of the devil, and in him they lead a life impure and wicked, which leads to hell. The Manichæans, however, are in error who think that the world is placed in the wicked one because it was made by the devil, as if he in making it breathed into it his own wickedness and malignity.
Another meaning that may be given to wicked is that it is put for wickedness, depravity. Whence Salviatus ( lib. 4 de Provid .) recalls, The whole world is placed in evil. There is an allusion to Genesis 6:5 , "God saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth, and that the whole thought of his heart was intent to evil." The Hebrew is, "the whole fashioning, or imagination, of the thoughts of his heart was evil." The whole world therefore is placed in wickedness and concupiscence which entices to every wickedness. For indeed the world, i.e. all the people of the world, in the Sin of Adam contracted original sin and concupiscence, and by this they are led to all evil. The world therefore is an ocean of crimes and a deluge of vices, according to the words in Osee ( Hos 4:2 ), "Cursing and lying and murder and theft and adultery have been a flood, and blood hath touched blood."
Experience teaches us that the world, like Sodom, is full of covetousness, pride, deceit, luxury, gluttony, and every evil.
S. John seems to be alluding to the three evils of the world which he spoke of in chap. ii. 16, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Wherefore he who is wise flies from the world, and the conversation of worldlings, and betakes himself to a congregation of the Saints, as Lot saved himself from the burning of Sodom by fleeing to the mountain.
Listen to what was represented to S. Anselm in a heavenly vision concerning the unnumbered evils of the world, as it is related in his life: "Being rapt in an ecstasy, he beheld a mighty rushing river, into which all the filth in the world flowed from every quarter, so that nothing could be more horribly polluted than its waters. And wherever these waters reached, they carried off and bore down with them men and women, rich and poor. Anselm being full of wonder and pity at this sight, inquired how these persons were fed, and how they could live. He was told that the unhappy wretches drank and were delighted with the filthy mud by which they were borne along. Then there was added an explanation of this mystery. The world itself was the torrent in which blind mortals are hurried along by the riches and honours and other objects of their lust. And although they are so wretched that they cannot even stand, yet they count themselves happy and fortunate. After this he was led into a certain spacious and ample enclosure, and whose walls were overlaid with the purest silver, and shone in a marvellous manner. In the midst there was a meadow, and the plants which were therein were not common herbs, but all of a soft and living silver. They gently gave way to him who sat upon them, and when he arose they again stood up. The air, too, was calm and pleasant. And in short all things were sweet and delightful, so that nothing more could seem to be desirable for felicity. And it was shown to him that this was the religious life. So that without doubt God willed to teach him by this image that all things in the world are unclean, uncertain, deadly, ever rushing headlong; but that in religion, on the other hand, all things are pleasant in fine, they are all like silver, fair and precious." Ver. 20. And we know that the Son of God has come , &c. S. Ambrose ( lib. 1 de Fid. c. 7) reads, hath appeared. The Apostle now explains what he had said, that we are of God, and therefore have overcome the world and the wicked one; namely, that this has been done and is being done through Christ. God for this very end sent His Son into the world in our flesh, that by His Divine doctrine He might give us the sense and the knowledge of heavenly things, that forsaking our idols, and being freed from sin, the devil, and the world, as from false gods, we might know the true God, and might, by faith, hope, and charity, be incorporated into Christ His Son and His Church, and so be endowed by Him with the life of grace and everlasting glory. For He is the very true God, and the true, uncreated, everlasting Life itself
And hath given us sense. ( Vulg .). Instead of sense the Greek has διανοίαν , which the Syriac lenders understanding, i.e ., illumination of the mind, divine knowledge. Vatablus translates, mind.
That we may know the true God, i.e. the Father.
And may be in His true Son. ( Vulg. ). The Greek, the Syriac, and S. Athanasius ( Orat. Deus de Deo ) read, And may be in Himself the True , namely in His Son Jesus Christ. By this is meant that the Son is of the same substance with the Father, because He is True and the Truth essentially; namely, true God, even as the Father.
In these few words S. John gives as it were a compendium of his whole epistle, and of the Christian faith and creed. He marks its two chief mysteries; namely, the oneness of Substance of the Father and the Son, and the Incarnation of Christ. Wherefore Bede saith, "What can be plainer than these words? What more sweet? What stronger utterances can there be against all heresies?" And S. Athanasius ( Disp. c. Arius ) says, "This is the very thing which Arius asked for, a written demonstration of the Godhead of the Son." And S. Cyril (12 Thesau. c. 13) says, "If He (the Son) is true God, this must be as to His Substance, not participatively, as a creature. For He who is true God is God by nature." And S. Ambrose ( lib . 1 de fide, cap. ult .) says, "If He be true God, surely He was not created, having nothing fallacious or unreal, nothing confused or dissimilar." And in the 8th chap. he intimates that the expressions in the Nicene Creed, "God of God, Light of Liaht, very God of very God," &c., are drawn from this verse. And S. Jerome says, "If He were not true (God), He would be like an idol."
This is the true God. Erasmus, Arianising after his manner, says, and twisting, as he does many passages of Scripture which speak of the Divinity of the Son, perverts this passage also. He, he says, viz., the true God that is, the Father, not the Son is true God. But this would be tautology. For who does not know that the true God is true God? Wherefore the pronoun He , or This ( hic ), does not refer to the words true God, which preceded, but refers to the true Son of God. We may add that in S. John's age, just as in later ages, no one doubted about the Divinity of the Father, but many doubted about, yea denied, the Godhead of the Son. It is this therefore which S. John labours to maintain. Listen to S. Athanasius on the words, " things are delivered to Me of My Father :" This Father is Light, the Son is a beam and ray of Light, the Father is true Light and true God. The Son is true God. For so it is written by S. John, We are in Jesus Christ the True : He is the true God and eternal Life ." Ver. 21. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen. S. John gives this last admonition, because in that age idolatry was a great danger, and it was most needful to warn against it. For at that time the whole world lay in the wicked one, i.e. in idolatry, and so Christians who were recently converted from it were obliged to be continually conversant with their Gentile and idolatrous relations and friends, to dine and feast with them, when meats offered to idols were set before them as sacred things to be eaten, concerning which I have spoken on 1 Cor. viii. Lest, therefore, by their examples and entreaties they should fall back into idolatry which they had lately forsaken, S. John in this last verse diligently warns them, so that he may fasten it deeply in their mind and their memory, that they should abstain from all commerce with idols, and from all meats offered to idols. So Didymus, Lyra, Cajetan, &c. Beza and the heretics falsely render the words, Little children, keep yourselves from images. For an image is the likeness of some thing true, or real: but a simulchrum or idol , of something false, as for instance of a false god. Thus Scripture and the Fathers distinguish those two words. And the Seventh Œcumenical Council pronounces an anathema against those who say that the images of Christ and the Saints are idols.
Now S. John says, Keep yourselves from , he does not say, Destroy idols , for this would excite the rage of the heathen against all Christians. Wherefore S. Augustine warns us that the idols in men's hearts ought first to be destroyed, afterwards those in the temples. He adds that those must not be accounted Martyrs who are killed for destroying idols. But this must be understood of those who did it rashly and imprudently so as to cause scandal. For those who did it advisedly out of greatness of soul, or by a Divine prompting, either to confound the heathen or to confirm the faithful, are reckoned among the Martyrs. Such were S. Theodoras, S. Barbara, S. Christina, and many others.
Keep yourselves from idols. This means, Do not carve, or paint, or polish them. Do not uncover the head or bend the knee to them, or pay them any honour. Do not swear by them. Do not eat meats offered to them. Do not hold any office connected with their worship or honour. Do not bear offerings, frankincense or wine, to them. Do not celebrate their fame either in prose or verse. With the greatest circumspection, therefore, were the faithful to keep themselves from idols, and to be on their guard against them, so as not to consent to, or take part in, and so be defiled in any manner with idolatrous rites and ceremonies. Lastly, S. John in these words rebukes the heresy of Elxai, which arose towards the close of his life. Amongst other things he taught that it was no sin if any one chanced to adore idols in a time of hot persecution, if only a man did not adore them in his conscience, and if belief in them were professed only with the lips and not in the heart. And this crafty deceiver was not ashamed to cite in confirmation of his doctrine a certain priest of the name of Phinees, a descendant of Aaron and of the ancient Phinees, who in the time of the Babylonish captivity worshipped Diana, and thus at Susa escaped destruction in the presence of King Darius. So S. Epiphanius ( Hæres , 19).
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Lapide, Cornelius. "Commentary on 1 John 1". The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter