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1. Most dearly beloved , &c. By the word spirit he means suggestion, inspiration, impulse, teaching or rather the person himself who suggests, inspires, teaches, &c. He means, do not give credit to everything which every teacher or adviser teaches and advises you. For there are diverse, yea contrary teachers, who are influenced by contrary spirits. Wise and orthodox teachers are moved by the good Spirit of God, wicked and erring teachers, such as heretics, by the evil spirit of the devil. And so, as Dionysius says, the good, or evil spirit, speaks by the mouth of doctors. Thus the devil, speaking by the mouth of the serpent, tempted and seduced Eve. There is a reference to sailors, who do not trust every spirit, or breath, or blast of wind, for if they did, they would miss their destined port, and would be often driven upon rocks and quicksands. Wherefore he bids us examine and search out by what spirit teachers are led before we give them our confidence. This is the forewarning which Paul gives 1 Timothy 4:0 : i. "The Spirit speaketh expressly," &c.
But try ye (as gold is tried by the Lydian stone), Syriac, discern Ye between : because, as saith Ambrosiaster, "unclean spirits are wont by imitation to say good things deceitfully, and so to superinduce evil things, that by means of the things which are good the evil things may be accepted, so that they should be supposed to be the words of one and the same spirit, and that they should not be discerned the one from the other, but that which is unlawful should be commanded by that which is lawful."
Moreover, that Lydian stone by which spirits and doctrines are to be tried is not every one's own private spirit. For this may be, and often is, moved by the devil, as when one is contrary to another: (for from this have been generated as many sects conflicting with themselves, as the poets have feigned heads to Cerberus but it must be the doctrines of the Apostles and the Church. For this is the certain and common heritage of all the faithful. Such was that teaching which S. John suggests as suitable and necessary for his own age, saying, "Every spirit which confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God." Falsely therefore do the heretics argue from this passage that their heresies ought to be tried and examined. For they have been examined and condemned by the Church. So there is no need, nor indeed is it right for each private Christian to try them. Thus S. Jerome says to Pammachium, "Why after 4000 years dost thou strive to teach what we have not known before? Has the Christian world been without this doctrine until to-day?" And S. Augustine says ( contra Crescen. lib. 2. c. 35), "The Church, ye say, hath perished, and ye show of whom ye are sprung." And Vincent of Lerius says, "If novelty is to be shunned, antiquity is to be held fast: if novelty is profane, antiquity is sacred." And Primasius says acutely, "The spirits have been already tried by the Church. Why dost thou wish to prove that which hath been already disproved?"
Moraliter : S. John here teaches that no Christian ought to trust all his inward motions, impulses, inspirations, desires, reasons seemingly good, but ought carefully to examine their origin and their author. Thus a man of a melancholy temperament perceives motions and impulses to sadness, pusillanimity, suspicion. Let him not give way to them. For if he examine their origin, he will find that they arise from the evil spirit of melancholy, which is false and deceitful. The choleric man is agitated by blasts of anger, revenge, indignation. He thinks he is moved by a zeal for justice. But let him with a calm mind and reason search into their origin, and he will find they spring from the evil spirit of bile and anger. Thus when the Samaritans would not receive Christ, and James and John said, "Lord, wilt thou that we call down fire from heaven to consume them?" He answered, "Ye know not what spirit ye are of." For ye think ye are moved by the Spirit of God, and ye are acted upon by the human spirit of impatience. Thus many think they are led by the Spirit of God, that is to say by the Spirit of truth, sobriety, chastity, charity; whereas, if they would thoroughly and sincerely, as in the presence of God, examine the ground of their heart, they would find that they are led by the spirit of the devil, that is to say, of vanity, gluttony, lust, &c. Wherefore in those blasts, passions, and tumults of the mind, the judgment ought to be suspended. And most especially ought the Holy Spirit to be invoked, that He would bestow upon us the gift of discernment of spirits.
In this is known the Spirit of God. He means, This is the pledge of the true faith and doctrine, which the Spirit of God teaches and suggests, that is to say, every spirit which confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God. This therefore was in the time of S. John as it were the pledge and the symbol of the true Christian faith, namely, to believe and confess the Incarnation of Christ the Son of God, and the rest of the Dispensation in the flesh. For all the heretics and heresies at that time fought against this article of the faith as something new and strange. Some denied Christ's Divinity, and taught that He was a mere man, as Cerinthus and others denied Christ's humanity, and said that it was not real, but a phantasm. Such were Simon Magus, Manes, and many others.
S. Augustine adds that all heresies reject Christ Incarnate, because they oppose His doctrine, Church, Sacraments, Pontiff, or priestly order, which He established. Thus Pelagius, in denying the grace of Christ, although with his lips he confessed His Incarnation, in reality overthrew it, because the Incarnation of Christ took place for the very purpose of giving us grace. You may say the same of Luther, Calvin, and the rest of the sectaries. For which cause S. John calls all heresiarchs antichrists, because they are all opposed to Christ's doctrine and His Church.
Mystically : Œcumenius understands this confession of the coming of Christ in the flesh "to be made not with the tongue, but by works." For not many heretics only, but bad Catholics also, confess Christ in words, but deny Him by their deeds. It means, he who confesses Christ, both by living rightly, as well as by believing truly concerning Him, this man is of God. So Bede. As S. Augustine says, "Let us confess that Christ has come in the flesh, both by speaking the truth in words, and by living well in deeds. For if we confess in words, and deny by deeds, the faith of such is very nigh the faith of devils." Ver. 3. And every spirit which dissolves ( solvit ) Jesus, is not of God. (Vulg.) It means that Jesus is composed of the Godhead and the manhood by the bond of the hypostatic union. He therefore who loosens this bond, by denying that Christ is God, as do the Arians, or that He is man, as other heretics, is not of God, but of the devil. For such deny that Christ the Son of God came from heaven in the flesh, and say that He is God only or man only. This is what is set forth to be believed in the Athanasian symbol concerning Christ. "For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man are one Christ;" where observe that the word as signifies union and unity, not the same but similar. For the rational soul and flesh make our composite being, our man. But the Godhead and the manhood united in Christ make one composite Being, not essentially, but substantially, or hypostatically. Nor indeed does the Godhead inform the Humanity in the same way that the soul informs the body, but subsists whole and immingled. It unites the Manhood to Itself in the same hypostasis of the Word. Wherefore Nestorius truly dissolves Christ, teaching that in Him are two Persons, as there are two Natures, and that therefore in Christ the man is diverse and distinct from God. Christ therefore as God in the Humanity is as the pearl in the shell, conceived and formed of virgin matter, and the dew of the Holy Ghost, most fair by the innocency of His life, most bright by the light of His wisdom, rounded by the possession of all perfection, having the weight of constancy, the polish of meekness, the price of blessedness. So Salmeron.
Observe: the Greek and Syriac read here, Every spirit which confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God. So also reads S. Cyprian ( l . 2. contr. Jud. ), Tertullian ( lib. de Carne Christ, c. 24), though they, instead of does not confess , read who denies . But the rest of the Latin Fathers have generally which dissolves , as above. So S. Leo ( Epist. 10 c. 5), Tertullian also ( lib. contr. Psych. c. 1), and Irenæus ( lib. 3 c. 18), and S. Augustine on this passage, who also brings forward and explains the other reading. Moreover, in the Greek, instead of ὸμολογε̃ι , i.e., confess, it was formerly read α̉ναλύει , i.e., dissolves. This we learn from Didymus and S. Cyril ( de Fide ad Regin .). And from him Socrates writes ( l 7 c. 32), speaking of Nestorius, who denied that the Blessed Virgin was the Mother of God, as follows: "He was ignorant that in ancient copies of the Catholic Epistle of John, it is written, 'Every spirit which dissolves Jesus is not of God.' For those who wished to separate the Godhead from the dispensation of the Manhood took away this sentence out of the ancient codices."
Allegorically : he dissolves Christ, who by schism rends the Church, which is the Body of Christ. "Christ," says S. Augustine, "came to gather together: thou comest to dissolve. How dost thou not deny that He came in the flesh, when thou breakest in pieces the Church which He gathered together?"
And this is Antichrist : The Greek reads, And this is of Antichrist ; the Syriac, This is from the false Christ himself. And S. Cyprian reads ( contr. Jud. lib. 2 c. 7 vol . 8), He who denies that He is come in the flesh is not of God, but is of the spirit of Antichrist. In a similar manner, John the Baptist is called Elias, not in person, but in office and spirit.
Because he comes (Vulg.), i.e ., will surely come.
And now already he is in the world , not in person, but in spirit; that is to say, in his forerunners. This is what Paul says, "The mystery of iniquity doth already work." (2 Thessalonians 2:7; 2 Thessalonians 2:72 Thessalonians 2:7 .) Thus Luther paved the way for Mahometanism, and consequently for Antichrist, by teaching, amongst other things, that the Turk ought not to be resisted. This he attempted to prove by the following sophistical argument We must not resist the scourge of God, for that is the same thing as resisting God scourging us. But the Turk is the scourge of God. Therefore the Turk ought not to be resisted. The same argument would prove that thieves and robbers ought not to be resisted, for they are all a scourge of God. But there are scourges that ought to be scourged by the magistrates, for they are not by the direct, but the permissive will of God. And what other effect would such an argument have but to subject all Christians to the Turks, and make them Turks? Wherefore when the Turkish Sultan Solyman asked the imperial ambassador how old Luther was, and received in reply that he was forty-eight, he said he was sorry that on account of his impending old age he would not be able to assist him as much in the time to come as he had done. Luther makes a boast of this Solyman's good opinion of him ( lib. Symposiac ), and glories in his entire good-will towards him. Ver. 4. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome him. Because ye, 0 Christians, are of God, who is the prime and eternal Truth, therefore ye have overcome him; namely, the spirit of Antichrist, the spirit of error and heresy. Hence the Greek and Syriac read them, i.e., ye have overcome the false prophets, and spirits of error. S. Cyprian ( lib. de Simp. Prelat .) reads νικα̃τε , i.e ., overcome them, as a voice exhorting to battle and victory. The present Greek text has νενικήκατα , ye have overcome them, the voice of congratulation on account of victory.
For greater is He that is in you , &c. He gives the reason of victory, namely Christ and His Spirit of truth, which rules the faithful, and who is greater than the devil, and his spirit of error, who rules over the world, i.e ., worldly men, heretics and impious persons. He says this to impress humility upon the faithful, that they should ascribe their victory, not to their own strength, but to the grace of God.
The same principle may be extended to every temptation. Wherefore S. John says (Revelation 12:11; Revelation 12:11 ), "They overcame him by the Blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony." And the Church sings in her hymn for martyrs, "Thou conquerest in the martyrs."
3. S. Ambrose ( Hom. 1 de Elisæo ) extends the same principle to hostile armies: "I remember that I have often said that we ought by no means to fear the warlike assaults of enemies, nor dread their numbers, however vast. For, as the Apostle says "greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world." Christ is more powerful to protect His servants than the devil is to urge their enemies on. For although the devil collects his multitudes, and arms them with cruel rage, yet are they soon destroyed, because the Saviour encompasses His people with better defenders. For the prophet says, "The Lord shall send His angel round about them that fear Him, and deliver them." But if the angel of the Lord rescues them that fear Him out of dangers, they who fear the Saviour cannot fear barbarians. Neither can he who keeps the precepts of Christ fear the attack of an enemy." He gives the reason, the arms of Christ. "The commands of Christ are the arms of Christians. And the fear of God drives out the enemies' fear. Our arms are those with which the Saviour has provided us, prayer, mercy, and fasting. Fasting is a better defence than a wall. Mercy more easily delivers than rapiers. Prayer hath a longer flight than an arrow." Then he confirms what he says by the example of Elisæus when he was encompassed by the hosts of Syrians. He said to his trembling servant, "Fear not, for more are they that are with us, than they that are with them."
4. S. Prosper ( lib. 1 de Vocat. Gent .) extends it to the daily temptations of the faithful. He shows, in opposition to Pelagius, that there is need of the grace of God to overcome them. "The victory of the saints," he says, "is the work of God dwelling in the saints."
5. Some extend it to every arduous work, so that each Christian should animate himself by saying to himself, "Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world." And with S. Paul, "I can do all things through Him who strengtheneth me." And with S. Cyprian, "He who is greater than the world cannot desire anything of the world." ( lib. 2, Ephesians 2:0; Ephesians 2:0 ). And he adds, "He becomes greater and stronger in might, so that with imperial authority he rises superior to all the hosts which attack him." "Let us despise therefore everything under heaven as vain and deceitful, and unworthy of our love." And with S. Hilary, "Let us be lowly in heart, but lofty in mind," for we bear upon our head the strength and omnipotence of Christ. I once saw in Belgium a colonel who said to the heretics who were menacing him, "I fear none of you, for I bear the crown of Spain upon my head." So let the Christian say, "I bear upon my head, not the crown of Spain, but the crown of God. Therefore I fear not all the power of men and devils; no, not all the might of hell. I challenge them all to battle." Thus did S. Athanasius challenge all the Arians and the whole world. For "if God be for us, who can be against us?" What great things by the power of God did S. Paul, S. Antony, S. Simeon Stylites, S. Francis, and all the virgins, heroes, and martyrs! We can do likewise through the same God "who triumphs," i.e ., "who makes us to triumph in Christ." ( 2Co 2:14 ). And God Himself has made us this promise ( Isa 58:24 ), saying, "I will lift thee up above the high places of the earth," so that like an eagle dwelling in heaven thou mayest there despise whatsoever is in the world. This Seneca saw as in a shadow, when he said, "We must seek for that which does not become more worthless day by day. And what is that? It is the mind. But this must be a mind right, and good, and great. And what else can you call this but God dwelling as a guest in a human body?" ( Epist. 54.)
5. They are of the world , &c. For heretics are not of God but of the world, because they love the riches, honours, and pleasures of the world. Whence worldly people, who care only for what is of the world, gladly hear them. "A heretic," says S. Augustine ( de util. credendi ), "is he who for the sake of some temporal advantage, but especially of glory, and the pre-eminence which it gives, either brings forth or follows new and false opinions." "All heretics," says Tertullian, "are puffed up, all make profession of science." "What heretic," says S. Jerome, "does not swell with pride?" And again, S. Augustine says, "One mother, pride, hath brought forth all heresies, even as our own mother, the Catholic Church, all faithful Christians dispersed throughout the world." Ver. 6. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us , &c. Even as Christ saith, "He that heareth you, heareth Me: he that despiseth you, despiseth Me," We, i.e ., all the faithful, who have been born again in baptism, and are endued with charity. We , viz. the predestinated. 3d. And last: We, i.e ., the Apostles. For, as Œcumenius says to heresiarchs, who, he said, spoke of the world, and from the world i.e ., who teach worldly and carnal cupidity to them he opposes the Apostles, who being born of God, and imbued with heavenly doctrine, and being sent by God, teach men to covet things spiritual, divine, and heavenly. Wherefore he who practically knows God, i.e ., he who loves Him, heareth us, i.e ., me John, and the rest of the Apostles, and Apostolic men. But he who does not love God, and therefore is not of God, but of the world, this man heareth not us. Wherefore he adds, By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error; by this , namely, "because he that heareth us hath the spirit of truth, he that heareth not us hath the spirit of error," as S. Augustine saith. For heretics, who are led by the spirit of error, teach the things of the world: but the Apostles and Apostolic Doctors, who are born of God, teach things Divine. Ver. 7. Dearly beloved, let us love one another. These words are rightly connected with what preceded. He means that the spirit of error is the spirit of cupidity, but the Spirit of truth is the Spirit of love and charity. Erroneous and heretical doctrine teaches men to love honours, wealth, gluttony; but the Apostles teach us to love God and our neighbour. He subjoins the reason:
For love is of God. The Spirit of truth is the Spirit of charity, that we may love one another; because as truth is from God, so also is charity. Yea, God, who is the chief and eternal Truth, is also the highest and uncreated Love. Wherefore it follows as a necessary consequence, that any one who loveth (not by natural, but by supernatural charity) is born of God . Being born again of faith and charity, which are from God, he is made a child of God. For charity is a supernatural faculty, giving to the soul the ability to love God and our neighbour. That he may know God , not merely theoretically, but practically, because he supremely loves God whom he knows to be the Highest Good. Again, love causes a man more fully to know, and to have taste and experience of God, as it were by spiritual taste. And this taste and experience grow continually, even as love increases. Especially is this so, because God manifests Himself to him who loves, and more clearly reveals Himself to him by interior illuminations, inspirations, and consolations, according to that promise of Christ, "He that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father: and I will love him, and will manifest Myself unto him." ( Joh 14:21 ).
Observe : Love is of God , 1st. Because the essential, uncreated charity flows naturally from the Divine Essence Itself, like heat from fire. Indeed, the Divine Essence Itself is Love.
2d. Because the Holy Spirit is Itself substantial or essential ( notionalis ) Love. For He, as essential Love, proceeds from the Father and the Son by that act of love by which they love one another with an infinite love.
3d. Charity was created by God, because it is the highest and noblest gift of God, according to the words (Rom. v. 5), "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts;" not as if the charity wherewith we love God were itself God, or the Holy Spirit. For this is an exploded error. But because God, who is uncreated Love, inspires and kindles in us that created charity with which we love Him. As the light illuminating produces the light illuminated, as S. Augustine says ( Confess. 12. 15). And this is precisely S. John's meaning in this place, in which he tacitly intimates that this gift is not to be ascribed to our own strength, but is to be asked of God by constant prayer.
4th. Charity is of God, because God first loved us ( 1Jo 4:19 ), and by loving us inflames us to love Him in return.
5th. Charity is of God, because it is sanctioned by the law of God, and frequently and especially commanded by it. For the whole Decalogue is nothing else but the law of love to God and our neighbour.
From hence it follows that God is in Himself formal charity, and in us causal charity, and that as respecting every kind of cause: material , because He Himself is the object of our love; formal, because He is the pattern of the same; efficient , because He produces it in us; He is the final cause, because He is our end, and the end of our love.
Lastly, natural love is from nature, carnal love from the flesh, worldly love from the world; but supernatural love, or charity, is from God alone. Ver. 8. He that loveth not knoweth not God. S. John having said just above, Every one that loveth is born of God, now proves the same thing from the contrary. He means, he who loveth not God and his neighbour, although he may know God speculatively, does not know Him practically, that is, experimentally. Just as no one knows experimentally the savour and sweetness of honey unless he taste it. For as taste is known by tasting, so is love known and tasted by actually loving. Wherefore, although S. John might in a similar manner have said, He who is not wise doth not know God, because God is Wisdom; or he who is not patient, knows not God, because God is Patience; or he who is not humble, knows not Christ, because Christ is Humility, and so on nevertheless, preferred to say, He that loveth not, knoweth not God, because God is Love. This was (1.) Because he is treating of charity, not of wisdom, patience, &c. (2.) Because being full of the love of God and Christ, he breathes and delights in nothing else. For, as S. Bernard says, "Between the bridegroom and the bride, i.e ., between lovers, no union need be sought but to love and be loved, for that Spouse is not only loving, but Love Itself." This is what Jeremiah says ( Jer 31:3 ), "I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee."
For God is love : both formal and uncreate, and so essential, and also causal and created. For in God and the Divine Essence, on account of Its perfection and simplicity, there are no accidents, but those things which in us are accidents, are in God inseparable from His Essence. Wisdom, goodness, love, and power are themselves the Divine Essence. So the Council of Rheims defined against Gilbert. Moreover, God is charity, or love, both in the abstract and the concrete. For He is supreme affection, and loves supremely, and therefore ought to be supremely loved by us in return. God , then, is Love, because He hath supremely loved us. And He hath given us this most clear proof of His love in that He sent His only Begotten Son to save us. Hence S. Augustine and Bede teach that he who loves not his neighbour sins against God, because God is Love.
Again, S. Chrysostom teaches that nothing can be compared with charity, because God Himself, who is incomparable, is Charity. Gagneius declares that we are certain that God loves us with an infinite love because He is very Love Itself. Hence the Fathers infer that Charity commands and embraces all the other virtues, for God commands and includes them. Ver. 9. In this love appeared: He now declares why he said, God is Love. It is because God hath declared His infinite love towards us by sending Christ in the flesh for our salvation, that by this means He might invite us to love Him back. There is an allusion to the words in 8. John's Gospel ( Joh 3:19 ), "So God loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life."
"Behold," says S. Augustine, "how we have an exhortation to love God. How could we love Him unless He had first loved us? If we were slow to love, let us not be slow to love again." Pathetically and learnedly does S. Paulinus write about S. Mary Magdalene ( Epist. 4 ad Sever .): "Therefore, let us love Him whom it is our duty to love. Let us kiss Him whom to kiss is purity. Let us be joined to Him whose marriage-bond is virginity. Let us be subject to Him, at whose feet to lie is to stand above the world. Let us fall down because of Him for whom to fall is resurrection. Let us die for Him in whom is life. In whom we live though we are dead."
In this , i.e., in the love of God wherewith He loved us. S. John, the beloved of Christ, lays special stress upon this, that God, moved by no love or duty on our part, but offended by our many provocations and wickednesses, first loved us. And when we were sinners and enemies, fleeing from Him, and fighting against Him, He followed us, and turned us by His love, that He might bring us back and save us. "For to this end He loved us," says S. Augustine, "that we might love Him." And therefore He sent his Son to be a propitiation , i.e., to be a propitiator, and a propitiatory victim for our sins. S. Augustine reads libatorem, a pourer of libations , and explains it to mean Sacrificer . As S. Augustine says again, "He loved the wicked, that He might make them holy. He loved the unjust, that He might make them just. He loved the sick, that He might make them whole."
See in this how high the ways of God are above the ways of men. For with men, if any one despise them, vex or spoil them, straightway they hate him, and think how they may do him some greater injury. But God despised, contemned, robbed of His honour, injured in a thousand ways enlarges the bowels of His love towards us. With love He fights against man's hate. By hatred He is stirred up to love. Hatred is the whip of His love. He overcomes hatred by His infinite love, swallows it up, drowns and extinguishes it, as a mighty conflagration extinguishes a little drop of water. The love of God therefore towards His enemies is so wonderful, that by it He makes them His friends, His sons and heirs, and turns the greatest sinners into the greatest saints. Out of the thief upon the cross He made a preacher of Himself. Out of Saul He made S. Paul. Out of the sinful Magdalene He made a mirror of penitence and holiness. This is what Paul celebrates and admires
( 1Ti 1:15 ), "This is a faithful saving, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief; but therefore I obtained mercy, that in me first Christ Jesus might shew all patience, for the instruction of those who should hereafter believe in Him unto eternal life." Ver. 11. Dearly beloved, if God so loved us , &c. If here is not a particle expressive of doubtfulness. It is not conditional, but causal, and is equivalent to because . It means, Because God so loves us. Christ uses a similar construction, when He says, "If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet."
S. John says if , rather than because, for the sake of greater weight and pathos, as it were lost in amazement at the infinite love of God. Wherefore it is advisedly and intentionally that he says after the antecedent, if God so loved us, not we therefore ought so to love God , which is impossible, but, we ought also to love one another. As much as to say, Since we cannot render equal love in return for Divine love, let us at least love one another according to our slender capacity. For what we do to our neighbour God accounts as done to Him.
The word us includes also our neighbours. If God, who is not a partaker, vouchsafes to love all who participate in our nature, how much more does it become us to embrace with our love all who are of the same nature, and in respect of it are equals? Truly does S. Augustine say on this passage ( Tract . 7): "Love, and do what thou wilt. For if thou art silent, thou keepest silence through love. If thou criest out, thou criest out in love. If thou correctest, thou correctest lovingly. If thou sparest, thou sparest in love. Let this be the root of love within. From that root nothing but love can spring." Ver. 12. No man hath seen God at any time. Why does S. John here introduce these words? It is because these words partly give the reason why from the antecedent, if God so loved us the inference is drawn we also ought to love one another, not God (as might seem to be the conclusion that should be drawn), because we cannot see God, and benefit Him by loving Him. Hence, in the place of God, we testify our love towards Him whom we cannot see and do good to, by doing good to our neighbour whom we can see and benefit. Partly the words invite us to love our neighbour, and cohere with what follows. As though he said, Zealously love your neighbour. For this love God reckons as given to Himself. For although we cannot see Him, yet, if we love our neighbour, He, the Invisible, will be most truly present with us, and thus abiding in our soul, will place His seat and throne there. Yea, His love will be fully imprinted and perfected in our soul. The reason is because indivisible and Divine charity conjoins and confederates us with the invisible God. Moreover, God, who is invisible in Himself, seems visible in our neighbour. For he is God's image.
Observe, no one hath seen God at any time , viz., in His Essence, or face to face, in this life. Whence the Doctors teach, with probability, that neither Moses, nor Paul, nor any other mere man (for Christ saw God, but He was the God-man), hath seen the Divine Essence in this life, according to the words in Exod. xxxiii.: "No man shall see Me and live." Yet S. Augustine holds a contrary opinion, and from him S. Thomas.
Again, no man hath seen God , for neither is he able to see Him by the powers of his nature, as the Anomæans and Eunomæans supposed. Whom S. Chrysostom and S. Basil ( lib. contr. Eunom .) refute. For the Blessed in heaven see God, but by the power of grace. For their mind is there elevated, and receives as it were another eye of a Divine order, even the light of glory, by which it sees God. By this sentence, then, S. John signifies that the majesty of God is so sublime, and so transcends, not only all other created things, but also the intelligence both of men and angels, that although He Himself is the most glorious Light, yet on account of His purity, subtilty, and sublimity, He cannot be perceived by any mind, or any created eye. S. John says the same thing in his Gospel (i. 18). But there he applies it to the knowledge of God, as here to the love of God. It is as though he said, "God is invisible, and therefore cannot (in Himself) receive any office of love from man, because He far transcends all human wealth, as well as human sight and action. Yet He makes so much account of love, and of those who love their neighbour, that He stoops to them from the topmost height of heaven, and as it were comes down, dwells and abides in their hearts. This is that which S. Paul speaks of ( 1Ti 6:16 ), "Who only hath immortality, and dwelleth in the inaccessible light, whom no man hath seen or can see."
Lastly, S. Cyril of Jerusalem ( Cateches . 9) thinks that God cannot be seen with the bodily eyes, because He Himself is incorporeal; and that therefore He stretches out the heaven itself as a veil before our eyes, lest the brightness of the Godhead should blind us, or kill us. But this is not true unless it be thus explained, that God, although dwelling Himself incorporeally in the empyrean, which is corporeal, and manifesting Himself and His glory to the bodies of the Blessed, there produces so great sensible light, which in some way sets forth His majesty, that it would blind the eyes of the Blessed, yea destroy them, unless they were fortified and preserved by the Divine power.
Hence S. Epiphanius ( in vii . Synod. Actor. 6) teaches that God as He is in Himself cannot be expressed by any image. Moreover also, Moses, forbidding the Jews to make an image of God, gives the reason. "Ye heard the voice of His words, but ye saw no shape, &c. Ye saw no similitude, lest being deceived ye should make a graven image." (Deuteronomy 4:12 .)
His love is perfected in us: perfected, because it is perfect and complete in all its parts. Now the parts and offices of charity are two-fold 1st. Love of God; 2d. Love of our neighbour. Wherefore, if there were only that part of charity that we loved God, it would be imperfect; but it is perfected and completed if the second be added, and charity extends to our neighbour. Again, the charity with which we love God is perfected by charity towards our neighbour, because we love our neighbour for no other reason than for God's sake. The love therefore of our neighbour for God's sake perfects the love of God, because that which is the reason why other things are loved is Itself much more loved. When therefore we love our neighbour for God's sake, much more do we love God Himself.
2d. The words may be understood of charity not ours, but God's. For this is the meaning of the word His : thus Although God be invisible, yet He abides in us by love. Moreover, He shows that He loves us with a perfect love, since abiding in us, He forms, preserves, and augments in us the charity with which we love, not only Himself, but our neighbour for His sake. This meaning is alluded to in the next verse.
Moreover, charity is chiefly perfected by the love of our enemies, extending itself beyond our friends to our rivals, enemies, and persecutors. "The fire of charity," says S. Augustine, "first seizes upon our neighbours, and so extends itself further, from our brethren to strangers, from thence to our adversaries." Further on he teaches us to love our enemies, just as a physician loves the sick and insane. "When any one rages against thee, let him rage, but do thou entreat. When he hates, do thou pity. It is his fevered soul which hates thee. As soon as he is well, he will give thee thanks. How do physicians love the sick? Do they wish them always to be sick? They love the sick in order to make them whole. How much do they suffer from the insane! What reproaches! How often they are struck! The physician attacks the fever, he forgives the man." Ver. 13. In this we know that we abide in Him . . . by His Spirit , &c. By His Spirit , i.e., the participation of the Spirit, the communication of grace and charity, which are the gifts of the Spirit.
In the preceding verse S. John said that God abides in us, and consequently we in God by charity. For so loving He abides in the lover and the beloved. For so God loves us and we God. He here inculcates the same thing, repeats it, and as it were enforces it by a reason. The reason is this, He who hath the Spirit of God abides in God, and God in him: but he who hath charity hath the Spirit of God. Therefore he who hath charity abides in God and God in him. The major premiss is self-evident, because where the Spirit of God is, there is God Himself. But where God is, there He unites to Himself the subject in which He is, and by, as it were, the infinity of His Essence incorporates and absorbs it, so that the subject should be more in God than God in it. He therefore who hath experience in himself of the Spirit of God, i.e. of charity, this man feels God's presence and liberality. He feels God to be in him and himself in God, in such wise that God is bestowing His gifts upon him, and printing His perfect image in him, according to the words, "he that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit." (1 Cor. xii.) Ver. 14. And we have seen and do testify , &c. These words have reference to the 9th verse, where he saith that God hath shown His love to us by sending His Son. This he now proves and confirms by his own testimony, and that of the other Apostles. For they were the eye and ear witnesses, who saw, heard, and conversed with Christ Incarnate, as he said in the beginning of the Epistle.
This is an allusion to S. John's Gospel ( Joh 3:17 ). "For God sent not His Son into the world to judge the world, but that through Him the world might be saved." Whence S. Bernard saith ( de amor Dei, c. 8), "Christ Himself is our Love, by whom we attain to Thee, by whom we embrace Thee: for how otherwise, 0 incomprehensible Majesty, couldest Thou appear comprehensible to the soul that loveth Thee? For although no understanding of any soul or spirit can comprehend Thee, yet the love of the loving soul comprehends Thee wholly as thou art." Ver. 15 . Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God , &c. He here maintains the Divinity of Christ because Ebion, Cerinthus, and many others at that time impugned it. This is as it were a conclusion drawn from the preceding verse. As though he said, Christ is the Saviour of the world. Whosoever therefore believeth in Him, and stedfastly confesses His faith, God abideth in him, and he in God. He abides, I say, by a true, living faith and confession, which includes charity, and which works by love. As S. Augustine says, "Whosoever shall confess, not in word, but in deed, not in tongue, but in life. For many confess in words, but deny by their deeds." Ver. 16 . And we know and have believed the love which God hath in us. In these words S. John confirms and inculcates what he has said in the two preceding verses. His meaning is, "We have seen and do testify of Christ incarnate, who is the Love of God, because we know Him by experience and conversation to be really such. And we have believed in Him by faith. Therefore we have believed the love which God hath in us , i.e., towards us, because we have believed that God in his infinite love towards us hath given to us Christ the Saviour. The Vulg. has in us , but the Syriac translates towards us . (So also the Eng. Version.)
Observe: S. John moves in a circle. From God he leaps to Christ, from Christ to charity, from charity to love of our neighbour, from charity and love he returns to God, thence to Christ, and so on. For all these things have reference to this one point, that we should love one another. And this is his argument, God in His infinite charity hath loved us, i.e. all men, by giving Christ His Son for our salvation. Therefore it is just that we should imitate His charity, and answer to His love by loving our neighbours and doing good to them in His love, because we cannot do good to God Himself.
Observe: the Vulgate renders more significantly, we have trusted in the charity ( credidimus chatitate ) than it is in the Greek ( we have believed the charity [ credidimus charitatem ]), signifying that we are joined to the love of God, not only by faith, but likewise by hope and charity. We have not only known, and by faith believed the mystery of the Incarnation, in which God's peculiar love to us shines forth, but we have wholly trusted and committed ourselves to the Divine charity. We have fixed our whole faith, hope, and love upon it. We rest securely upon it in all things, certain that it can never fail us, and saying with the Psalmist, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth which I desire in comparison of thee. God is the God of my heart, and my portion for eternity."
God is love : the Syriac reads, for God is love , giving the reason why he had said, and we have believed the love , and why God hath love towards us. The reason is because God Himself by His Essence is love. Therefore He cannot deceive him who believes, hopes in, and loves Him.
Now the reason why God is essentially love is because He Himself in His Essence is pure, perfect, and highest goodness, whose nature it is to be plainly and fully communicative and diffusive of Himself. This, says S. Dionysius, is an attribute of love. For God is a sea of honey, an ocean of goodness and charity. God is as it were a fire always burning, kindling all things and transforming them into Itself. For "our God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:29; Hebrews 12:29 .) Listen to S. Bernard ( Serm. 83 in Cant .): "I read," he says, "that God is love, not that He is honour, or dignity. It is not that God does not wish to be honoured, for He saith, 'If I be a Father, where is My honour?' Honour is the due of a father. But if he manifest Himself as a bridegroom, I think He will change His voice and say, 'If I be a Husband, where is My love?' For before this He had spoken, and said, 'If I be a Master, where is My fear?' God therefore requires to be feared as a master, to be honoured as a father, to be loved as a husband. What is it which shines pre-eminently amongst these? Surely it is love . Without love fear hath torment, and honour hath no grace. Fear is slavish until it be manumitted by love. And the honour which springs not from love is mere flattery. And indeed to God alone belong honour and glory: yet will He accept of neither unless they be flavoured with the honey of love."
Therefore God is love, because love is as it were a spiritual flame, kindling all, and like light shining everywhere, and illuminating all things. Hence S. Dionysius ( de Div. Nom. c. 24, part 1) says that "Divine love is a motive force drawing things upward to God, who alone is Himself of Himself beautiful and good." On these words of S. Dionysius our Lessius comments thus ( de Div. Attrib. lib. 9, c. 2 and 3): "For by this very thing that God beholds His own infinite beauty and excellence, there arises in Him an infinite fire of love, by which he loves them as they are worthy to be loved, i.e. with an absolutely infinite love. For that which is beautiful and good, as soon as it is perceived, kindles love. Wherefore what is infinitely beautiful and good, when it is infinitely known, will excite infinite love; infinite, I say, both as to its warmth, and as to its appreciation, or, as the Schoolmen say, infinite intensively and appreciatively. 2d. That which is beautiful and good extends Itself and descends to the creatures, that It may communicate the same to them, either fully, or else some of Its rays and adumbrations, according to each one's capacity and merits. For of what we supremely love, we desire to make known to all the excellency and beauty, and that its sweetness should be perceived by all, so that all may praise it. Love does the same in God. A third effect of this love is that it raises creatures upward, and turns them to the beautiful and good. This especially obtains with angels and men: for other things cannot take in the Divine goodness and beauty. But in man other things are drawn in some way to God, both because all the other steps of nature are in him, and also because all other things are for him. 4th. The Divine love is ecstatic, because it draws the lover out of itself to the thing loved. For it causes God in a sense to forget His loftiness, and inclines Him to our humility, and makes Him to be wholly occupied in the business of our salvation. The token of which is the Incarnation, preaching, miracles, His passion, death, sacraments, the sending of the Holy Ghost, the perpetual and wonderful government of His Church, the care and direction of individuals. In like manner it sets man outside himself, making him think not of himself and his own advantage, but only of God, and the good things of God. Wherefore a great lover of God denies himself, renounces his own desires, is careless about benefits for himself; forgets himself, and is wholly taken up with the things of God. In thought and affection he is wholly outside of himself, and is translated to his beloved. Such was S. Ignatius the Martyr, who said, 'My Love is crucified.' Such was the Apostle S. Paul, who said, 'To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.' There is an illustrious figure of this in the sun. For in things corporeal the sun is the highest beauty and greatest. Wherefore S. Gregory Nazianzen in a certain place saith, 'As is the sun in things sensible, so is God in things intellectual.' From the sun heat descends to lower things. It descends also by light. And things are illuminated before they receive heat. Receiving heat they become light, and are carried up to the sky. The sun is an emblem of God, and light of wisdom, warmth of love, and earthly things of souls and spirits. Love descends from God by wisdom. For first the mind is enlightened by the knowledge of the Divine beauty and goodness: then through that knowledge it conceives love. Love conceived makes the soul spiritual, heavenly, and presently draws it upward, and unites it to God, and makes it like to Him, the only and eternal One, as it were a parhelion, which is an express image of the sun."
And he that abideth in love , &c. And , i.e., therefore . For this is as it were the conclusion from the premisses. God is love, therefore he that remaineth in love, remaineth in God, because God and Love are one and the same thing. And God in him , as in a sort of temple of love.
Thus love has united God to man, not only in affection and care, but also effectually and substantially, by, in truth, an hypostatic union. But it unites man to God, so that, wholly departing out of himself, he passes into God, and as it were loses himself, no longer thinking of anything, understanding or feeling anything but God. Not seeking, or desiring any other thing, having joy in no other thing but the good things of God. He who is thus joined to God is made one spirit with Him, because he puts off himself, and puts on God. Wherefore, as if he was altogether transformed into the Divine nature, he is in thought and affection wholly in God. Thus all the Saints in heaven will be one with God (this the Lord prays for them, John 17:17-21; John 17:17-21 .), because they all acknowledge their own nothingness, as they are in themselves, and value themselves at nothing, except so far as they belong to God, and are for Him. And in this way they altogether cease from themselves. For why should they abide in nothing? Thus by the intellect and the will they will be most powerfully borne to Him, and will be wholly in Him. And they will, as it were, flow into Him, and be transformed, feeling and tasting nothing else but God, valuing nothing but His good, altogether as if they themselves were changed into God. Listen to S. Augustine He who abideth in love , &c.: "They dwell one in the other, both that which contains and that which is contained." Again he saith, "Let God be thy house. be thou the house of God. Abide in God, and let God abide in thee. God abides in thee that He may contain thee. Thou abidest in God that thou mayest not fall. For thus speaks the Apostle of charity, 'Charity never falls.' How can he fall whom God holds?"
For this cause, namely for a symbol of love, Christ instituted, and left to us by His testament, His very Self in the Eucharist, that indeed He might remain in us, and we in Him, not by a figure, as the heretics say, but really, substantially, personally, according to the words, "He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood abideth in Me and I in him." ( S. John 6:54; John 6:54 .) The Eucharist therefore is the fuel and incentive of love, which S. John in his whole epistle commends. For by it, as S. Chrysostom says ( Hom . 54 in Joan .), "Not only in love, but in reality let us be changed into that Flesh." By the Food which he has bestowed upon us this is brought about. For when He would show His love towards us, by means of His Body He commingled Himself with us, and brought Himself to be one with us, that body might be united with body. For this is the great desire of lovers." Pope Leo teaches the same thing. "The participation of the Body and Blood of Christ does this very thing, that we should pass into that which we receive." Lastly, S. Cyril of Jerusalem says, "Thus we shall be Christophus, i.e ., Christ-bearers, when we have received His Body and Blood into our members: and thus, as Blessed Peter saith, we shall 'become partakers of the Divine nature.'" Wherefore S. Irenæus ( lib. 5 c. 6), explaining 1 Thessalonians 5:26 , "that your whole spirit, soul, and body may be preserved," declares that the perfect man is renewed by the Body and Soul (of Christ) and the Holy Ghost dwelling in him.
Beautifully does S. Bernard say ( Serm. 71 in Song ), "Who is he who is perfectly joined to God but he who remains in God, as beloved by God? He has drawn God to himself by loving Him again. Therefore since man and God are wholly united between themselves, they are united by a close and mutual, as it were, bosom affection. And that in this way God is in man, and man is in God, I say without any doubt. But man indeed has been eternally in God, as being eternally loved, but God has been in man since He has been loved (by man)." Herein is that saying of Cato true, "Those who love are in a manner dead in their own bodies, but live in another's." Therefore God by love willed to bring us back to our first beginning, to unite us, that is, to His own goodness and beauty, to transform us into Himself. This could not be done by nature, therefore He found a method whereby He might perfectly accomplish this by love, that by its warmth we might flow into and be absorbed in Him. As S. Bernard says ( de Delig. Deo ), "In that what is felt is wholly Divine, to be thus affected is to be deified. As a little drop of water infused in a great quantity of wine seems wholly to lose itself whilst also it takes the colour and flavour of wine. And as iron made red-hot in the fire becomes exactly like (fire), and ceases from its own original appearance. And as the atmosphere suffused with the solar light is transformed into the brightness, so that it seems to be not so much illuminated, as light itself. Thus it will be necessary that all human affection in the Saints should in an ineffable manner cease from itself, and be wholly transfused into the will of God." This indeed will be perfectly accomplished in the glory of heaven, but it is begun on earth by charity and grace. The same S. Bernard ( Serm. 83 in Cant .) says, "Love is its own merit, its own reward. Beyond itself it requires neither cause nor enjoyment. Its enjoyment is experience. I love because I love. I love that I may love. A mighty thing is love. Yet if it recur to its origin, if it be brought back to its beginning, if it flow back to its fountain-head, it can always take of itself that wherewith it may flow. Love is the only one of all the motions, senses, and affections of the soul in which the creature can, although not upon an equality, yet in some likeness, respond to its Creator."
Moreover, God abiding by love in the faithful soul produces in it these effects. First, it purifies it from earthly desires, so that it only seeks for and accomplishes heavenly things. Thus king Josaphat, when he was converted by Barlaam, burned with so great a fire of love that he left his kingdom, in his pleasures and honours; and as he went away into solitude he exclaimed, "Like as the hart desireth the water brooks, so longeth my soul after Thee, 0 God. My soul cleaveth unto Thee, 0 Christ. Let Thy right hand uphold me." ( Damas. Hist. cap. 37.)
2d. The soul draws all its powers, senses, affections, love, faculties, thoughts, intentions Godward, so that it thinks only of God, sighs for Him, according to those words of S. Basil, "Have continually imprinted in thee the remembrance of God, as it were an indelible mark." For what does he seek for without who has God within?
3d. Love causes the soul to desire to do great and heroic things for God her beloved, and to endure many things, and to be made like unto Christ crucified. Thus while the Spouse saith in the Canticles, "My Beloved is mine, and I am His," she also saith, "A bundle of myrrh is my Beloved unto me, He shall dwell between my breasts." Which words S. Bernard explains thus ( Serm. 43), "Myrrh is a harsh and bitter thing, and signifies the harshness of tribulations. Looking with joyfulness at such things impending over her for the sake of her Beloved, the Bride speaks thus, being confident that she can bravely endure them all. 'The disciples,' it says, 'went with joy from the presence of the Council because they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Jesus' name.' Lastly, the Bride speaks not of a bunch , but a little bunch ( fasciculus ), of myrrh , because she reckons all labours and sorrows light in comparison with love. Truly 'a little bunch,' because 'the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.'"
4th. It causes the soul to increase in love day by day. Listen to S. Bonaventura speaking of the charity of S. Francis ( Lib. 1, Vit. ejus ): "As it were a living coal of fire he seemed altogether absorbed in the Divine love. For as soon as he heard speak of the love of the Lord he was affected, roused up, inflamed, as though the inner chord of his heart were struck by the bow of the voice. In the midst of beauty he beheld Him the most beautiful, and by means of His footsteps impressed on visible things He followed His Beloved everywhere, making of all things a ladder for himself by which he might mount up to apprehend Him who is altogether desirable." And again, "He was inflamed with love towards the Sacrament of the Lord's Body with a thrill in every pulse, being lost in utter amazement at that most loving condescension of the Divine love."
In chap. 13 he treats of the sacred stigmata. "The furnace of the love of the Blessed Jesus had grown in him to lamps of fire and flames. Since therefore he was drawn to God by the ardour of seraphic desires, and was transformed into Him by the fellowship of His sufferings who, out of his exceeding love, willed to be crucified, he beheld a seraph having six burning and glorious wings. There appeared between the wings the likeness of one crucified. He understood from, this that he should be wholly transformed, not by the martyrdom of the flesh, but by the inflaming of his mind into the likeness of Christ crucified. When the vision disappeared it left in his heart a marvellous ardour: in his flesh also it left a no less wonderful impress of the signs (of Christ crucified)."
5th. It causes the soul which is kindled with the love of God to be in earnest to kindle the whole world with the same love. Thus the Blessed Jacoponus, when he heard of some sin by which God was offended, burning with charity, was wont to be greatly troubled, and would straightway weep. When he was asked "why?" he would answer, "Because Love is not loved." Love is burning and hath wings. There is no tarrying in love. As S. Bernard says, "Love is nothing else than a burning will for good. He therefore who hath no zeal hath no love."
6th. It causes that the soul which loves God should, by its love and confidence in Him, as it were rule over Him, and obtain from Him everything it asks. Thus it becomes as it were almighty, as Jacob struggling with the angel, God's vicar, prevailed over him, and so was called Israel, i.e. "ruling God." Hence the paradox, "To a believer belongs the whole world of riches." Wherefore S. Francis says, "Fly from the creatures, if you wish to possess the creatures."
7th. God makes the loving soul like unto Himself in character and virtues, and so makes it to be conscious of His secrets. He reveals to it the secrets of hearts, and things distant, and yet to come, as He did to His Apostles and Prophets.
8th. This love tranquillises the soul, makes it calm and imperturbed, yea glad and joyful in adversity as well as prosperity. Thus it always exults in God, and gives Him thanks. It praises and blesses Him, singing with the Psalmist, "I will bless the Lord at all times: His praise shall ever be in my mouth" (xxxiv. 1). And it saith, "As oft as I breathe, I breathe unto Thee, 0 my God."
Lastly, this love so increases in very eminent saints that it brings on a sort of languor, and at last death itself, according to the words of the Spouse ( Song ii. 15), "Prop me up with flowers, support me with apples, for I am sick through love. His left arm shall be under my head, and His right arm shall embrace me." Thus the Blessed Virgin, languishing and panting for her Son, breathed out her soul into His hands, not from any disease, but from love and desire of enjoying Christ her Son. So teach Suarez, Canisius, and others. Ver. 17. In this is the love of God perfected, that we should have confidence , &c. Conf . Greek παζζησίαν , i.e., liberty, boldness in speaking. 1st. In this, i.e., with this end and fruit. Perfect charity produces this result, viz., confidence in the day of judgment both the particular and the general judgment. Hence the righteous desire the coming of the Lord, and desire like Paul to be dissolved, and to be with Christ. As S. Augustine says, "They live with patience, and die with delight." John descends from charity to its fruits. Of these he enumerates thus: (1.) Confidence to live and die trustfully. (2.) That the loving soul becomes without fear. (3.) That she obtains of God whatever she asks.
2d. And more powerfully. In this , i.e., God hath loved us and doth love us to such a purpose, and we in our turn are so allured by this precious love that we fully and perfectly love Him back again. And He so abides, I say, in us, that when we shall be examined by Him in the day of judgment concerning charity, we shall answer with confidence that we have loved, not the world, but Him, with our whole heart, and therefore He will award us the bliss of heaven.
3d. Others explain the words in this as follows: By this sign we know that we have perfect love, if casting fear away we can anticipate the judgment day with great hope and confidence. From hence S. Augustine draws this conclusion, "Therefore, brethren, take heed, strive inwardly with yourselves that ye desire the day of judgment. In no other way is charity proved to be perfect except when that day begins to be longed for."
Because as He is, so are we in this world. Who is He ? First, God, whom shortly before he had spoken of. It means Therefore shall we have confidence in the day of judgment because we are in charity, and live in this world perfected in it, so that we love even our enemies. So too God in His perfect love makes His sun to shine upon the evil and the good, and sendeth rain upon the just and the unjust.
2d. And more profoundly: He , namely Christ, whom, as my love, I always carry in my mind and my mouth. For this reason, S. John when he says He is , means Christ. Moreover Christ is, i.e. in this world, as the Syriac version renders. And even now He is
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Lapide, Cornelius. "Commentary on 1 John 4". The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany