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- 1 John
by Cornelius a Lapide
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EPISTLE
OF S. JOHN.
mention three things by way of preface. First, concerning the authority of the Epistle. Second, concerning the author. Third, concerning the argument.
1. It is of faith that this Epistle is canonical Scripture. This is the general belief of the whole Church, expressed both elsewhere and in the Council of Trent ( sess. 4). Here observe that the canonical books of Holy Scripture are of two kinds. The first are called proto-canonical , because they have been accounted canonical in all ages by all Christians, so that of their authority none of the orthodox have ever been in doubt.
The second kind are called deutero-canonical , because at one time the Church or the Fathers doubted of their authority, but they were subsequently received into the canon by all men. Such are the books of Esther, Baruch, part of Daniel, Tobias, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, two books of the Maccabees, certain portions of the Gospels of S. Mark, S. Luke, or S. John, the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistle of James, the second of Peter, the second and third of John, the Epistle of Jude, and the Apocalypse. All the rest are proto-canonical. Among them, therefore, is this Epistle of S. John, with the exception of one verse, concerning which in its place. This is what Eusebius says of this Epistle ( H. E. 3. 24), "Among those things which John wrote after his Gospel, his first Epistle is also received both by the ancients and the moderns without any hesitation." Moreover, it is equally received by ancient and modern heretics. And S. Augustine says ( Tract . 7, in Ephesians 1:0; Ephesians 1:0 Joan .), "That Epistle is canonical which is read by all nations, is accepted by the authority of the whole world, which itself has edified the whole world." And Dionysius of Alexandria, says, "The Gospel and the first Epistle of John are not only without fault, but are written with the utmost elegancy of style, the greatest weight of their sentiments and with perfect diction."
2. The orthodox are all agreed that the author of this Epistle is S. John the Apostle, as the inscription gives it. The same is indicated by the style of the Epistle in all things agreeable to S. John's Gospel, so beautiful, and flowing with the honey of charity, plainly indicating its source, the fair and loving breast of S. John. Add to this that he inculcates the same things in this Epistle which he does in his Gospel, as Eusebius well observes ( H. E. 7. 25), "He who reads carefully will find frequently in both, the words 'life,' 'light,' 'departure from darkness,' 'the truth,' 'grace,' 'joy,' 'the flesh and blood of the Lord,' 'judgment,' 'the remission of sins,' 'the love of God towards us,' 'the command to love one another,' 'the rebuke of the world, the devil, and antichrist,' 'the promise of the Holy Ghost;' he will find everywhere 'the Father and the Son.' And if the character of both writings be observed in all things, there will be found altogether the same sense and form of expression in both the Gospel and the Epistle."
3. The object of the Epistle is, first, to teach the true faith, hope, and charity: the faith both concerning the Holy Trinity and the Incarnate Word, of which assuredly no one has treated more fruitfully than S. John both in his Gospel and in this Epistle. And for this reason he is called by S. Dionysius, Athanasius, Cyril, Chrysostom, Epiphanius and others generally, John the Theologian.
Moreover, this is a Catholic Epistle, that is circular and general, written to all Christians throughout the world, like the Epistles of S. Peter, S. James, and S. Jude. Some, however, of the ancients say that this Epistle of John was written expressly to the Parthians. So Pope Hyginus ( Epist. 1), Pope John II. ( Epist. ad Valer .), S . Augustine ( Lib . 2 quæst. Evang. c. 39), Idacius ( Lib. de Trin .) and others. Our Serarius suspects that Patmos ought here to be read instead of Parthos. For John being banished by Domitian to the Isle of Patmos, converted its inhabitants to Christ. Junius, a Calvinist, against Bellarmine ( Lib. 2 de Verbo Dei, cap. 15 Numbers 22:0; Numbers 22:0 ), understands by Parthians, not the inhabitants of Parthia, but pious exiles distant from their native land. For in the Scythian language exiles were formerly called Parthi , from the Hebrew word pur , i.e., to divide. To the Parthians , then, would mean the same thing as to the tribes which are in the dispersion, as S. James says in his Epistle, and "to the elect strangers of the dispersion," as S. Peter says, in the beginning of his Epistle. But exiles, impious as well as pious, were called Parthi by the Scythians, not by the Greeks or Hebrews, such as was St. John. For otherwise S. Peter and S. James, who write to the dispersed, would have written to the Parthians. Properly, therefore, I understand Parthians here to mean those whose name and empire were at that time widely extended, and embraced several nations, the Persians among them. Now there are in Parthia many Jews as well as Christians, both of Jewish and Gentile extraction, to all of whom S. John here writes.
S. John then wrote to the Parthians, either because he had formerly been amongst them and taught them the faith of Christ, as Baronius and others think, or else because many of the Ephesians and other natives of Asia Minor, to whom S. John had preached, and who had been converted to Christ, had migrated into the nearer regions of Parthia and Persia.
All writers agree that this Epistle was written in Greek. There is no reason for wonder that S. John does not give his name at the beginning of the Epistle. Neither did S. Paul in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The same is the case with many modern writers who do not prefix their names to the beginning of their letters, but subscribe them at the end. Besides, the Holy Spirit was the Author of this Epistle rather than S. John. As S. Gregory says ( Præfat. in Job c. i.), "It is altogether vain to ask for the Author of this Epistle, since it is faithfully believed to have been the Holy Ghost. He then wrote these words who commanded them to be written. If we should receive a letter from any great man, we should look upon it as a ridiculous question to ask with what pen it had been written."
S. John appears to have been an old man, and altogether forgetful of earthly things, and panting after Christ, both when he wrote this Epistle and also his Gospel. He was so absorbed in the greatness of the mystery that he omitted both his name and the salutation, and by so doing carries the reader with him in such a manner as to intimate that he was the writer of the Epistle as well as the Gospel. So Thomas Anglicus. The same thing is sufficiently indicated by the words of the first Epistle, by which one is made wonderfully full of sweetness and delight with Christ Incarnate. Lastly, it is plain that S. John wrote these words in extreme old age, from the words themselves in which he calls himself the Elder, and the faithful his little children. The precise date when he wrote is uncertain: but it seems to have been about the same time that he wrote the Gospel, for there is a great agreement between the Epistles and the Gospel. This has led Baronius to assign the same date to both, namely, A.D. 99, which was the seventh year of Pope S. Clement, and the first of the Emperor Nerva.
S. Gregory concludes with the following golden words ( Hom. 15 in Ezech .): "Do we seek to have our hearts inflamed with the fire of love? Then let us ponder over the words of S. John, for everything that he says is filled with the fire of love." He breathes, repeats and enforces nothing else but the love of God, of Christ, and of our neighbour. He is like old men and lovers, who think and speak of nothing else but what they love and have loved all their lives.
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30