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The Great Commentary Of Cornelius À Lapide Volumes 1 To 8

1 He describeth the person of Christ, in whom we have eternal life, by a communion with God: 5 to which we must adjoin holiness of life, to testify the truth of that our communion and profession of faith, as also to assure us of the forgiveness of our sins by Christ’s death.

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 docs 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 1:1. 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 1), 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 1, ‘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 1, under, stand 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 Ps. 109:3 (Vulg.); Prov. 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. Prov. 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 5:2). 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 1) 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 (Prov. 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 explicity 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.”

“O strange union, O 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. 6, &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 Heb. 1:1; Matt. 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. 3) 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 (John 20:27), and also the other Apostles (Luke 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 (Acts 10:40). For, as Tertullian (de Anim. ch. 17.) 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 17:24 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 μητροπάτορα.” (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. 9:6. 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 1:1) 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, O 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 move than a man surpasses a sheep. This therefore is the great mystery of godliness (1 Tim. 3:16). 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 (Opusc. 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. 45:8.) 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.), “O the sweetness, the grace! O 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, “O 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, “O 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 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 1:1.

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 1, 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 Cor. 1:23)

4th. It may mean ‘the form.’ For the Word is the brightness of the Eternal Light. Wisd. 7:26; Heb. 1:2, 3. [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 1. 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 Feather’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 el Symb. cap. 3.), “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. 9) 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 Grœc. 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 coeternal 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. xlvi.), “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. 1): “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. 45:1.) “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. 110, 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 (Cant. 2), “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 (Ps. 36), “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 1:1) 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 John 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 1:4, 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 5:2. 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 Ζεῦς.

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. 36(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. 6:4]. 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 12:24). 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. 5:1.) 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. Ecclesiœ), “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 Pet. 1:4; 1 Cor. 1:9 and 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 Eph. 2:19; 1 John 3:1; 2 Cor. 11:2; Hos. 2:19.)

And these things write we that ye may rejoice in the fellowship of the Church of Christ, and that your joy may be full. Increase daily more and more (see Phil. 2:2; John 17:13.) This is the result of a good conscience (2 Cor. 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 Ps. xxxi.], “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, as to drive away and cast a shade over the sorrow which springs from other causes. But the fear of God is firm and immovable, and is the source of so much joy, that no sense of other evils can gain hold of us.” And S. Augustine (Confess. x. 22) distinguishes between true and false joy by saying, “There is a joy which is not vouchsafed to the wicked, but to those who freely worship Thee. For Thou Thyself art their joy. And a happy life consists in rejoicing in Thee, and for Thee. There is no other joy but this, and they who think that there is another, follow after another kind of joy, and not the true one.”

And this is the announcement. That is, the message announced: As God is called our fear, our hope, that is the object of our fear and hope, by a metonymy.

That God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. Referring to John 1:4. The Word then is the light of men, by which they are enlightened through faith, hope, and charity. For it is spiritual light which is here spoken of. The meaning is, that our life consists in the enlightenment of the Word, whereby men are enlightened in the knowledge of God and their own salvation. And this was the reason why the Word was made flesh, and manifested to men. The Word then is substantial and uncreated light, formally, ideally, and as the cause of all light, whether corporeal or spiritual, of grace and of glory. God, accordingly, is said to be clothed with light (Ps. 104.), to be the Father of lights (James 1:17), and to dwell in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16). For light is the noblest quality of matter, setting forth the glory and gifts of God’s illumination and grace. There are indeed very many and most beautiful resemblances between God and light. For the quality of light is its great swiftness and its efficacy, its purity, which is not soiled by anything it comes into contact with, bringing with it warmth, brightness, and gladness—making everything visible, giving to all living things life and vigour. Such is the grace of God. Sin is the opposite, and is therefore symbolised by darkness. S. [Pseudo]-Dionysius (Cœlest. Hier. cap. xv.) gives thirty-one resemblances between light and the grace of God. And S. John Damascene (de Fide ii. 11) compares the Holy Trinity to a parhelion, in which there appear to be three suns, though in reality there is but one. “He says the Godhead is indivisible, just as in these three suns, inseparably connected together, there is one and the same tempering and blending of light.” And [Pseudo]-Dionysius represents the Holy Trinity by three lamps, illuminating a house as with one single indistinguishable brightness. And the light of the Deity, and the Trinity, bright as it is in itself, yet is obscure darkness to us, because the eyes of our mind are unable to gaze steadily on so brilliant and over-powering a light. This is also referred to by [Pseudo]-Dionysius. The Father then is the source of light; the Son, light proceeding directly from Him with equal and commensurate brightness; the Holy Spirit, as a reflected brightness, proceeding from the mutual and reflected love of the Father and the Son. The Gentiles had some shadowy notion of this, Parmenides defining God as a continuous circle of light, encompassing heaven, and Democritus, as mind in a fiery circle.

Christ, as God and the Word, is the formal uncreated light; as man, He is the created light, because He is full of wisdom, grace, and glory. He is also the causal light, as being the cause of all grace and glory in us. As S. John says, “He is the light, because He enlightens every man that cometh into the world,” and that not as giving them the light of reason (as Origen and S. Cyril suppose), but rather as giving them the supernatural light of faith and wisdom. Malachi terms Him the Son of righteousness. Manichæus was wrong in supposing that the material sun was Christ (see S. Augustine, Tract. xxxiv. on S. John). Christ specially shone forth after His Incarnation, though He shone as a light even before that, as the dawn precedes the day. See S. Augustine (Tract i. on S. John, and Isa. 49:6). Christ said Himself, “I am the Light of the World.” And Simeon also, Luke 2:32. S. Augustine (Hom. xliii. inter? [nunc cxxxv.]) says beautifully, “Christ came as an illuminator, because the devil had blinded men. This chiefest Physician compounded an eye-salve of infinite value to cure the blinded eyes. How healing was it, compounded of the Word and the flesh. But the eyes of man were so restored and enlightened, as to be equal to the eyes of angels, and to behold the heavenly glory of God Himself.” This light He imparted to the faithful, and especially to apostolic men, for them to become the light of the world (see Job 38; Ps. 89.) And as He said to His apostles, “Ye are the light of the world.” So John, speaking of S. John the Baptist, and so S. Paul writes to the Ephesians, 5:5.

And in Him is no darkness at all, darkness being the type of ignorance and sin. So Didymus and Œcumenius, who quotes John 1:5, and adds, “He calls our sinful flesh darkness, in which Christ was born, and yet was not partaker of sin.” As Moses, David, Habakkuk, and S. James (1:17) say of God. Our actions, however they shine, are not the light. But the Divine Essence is light. It was said of the holiest of men, “He was not that Light;” but of the Word of God, it was said, “That was the true Light,” &c. And S. Gregory Nazianzen (Orat. xi.) says, “God is that highest and unapproachable Light, which cannot be conceived in the mind, or expressed in words, enlightening every nature which is endowed with reason, in matters intelligible to the mind, as the sun does in objects of sense, presenting itself more clearly to our comprehension, the more carefully we have cleansed our minds from sin, and as one who is the more greatly loved, the more we contemplate Him, and lastly, as one who is better known the more we love Him.”

All this indicates the truth of John’s words, that God is light perfectly unblended with darkness, and that light of the understanding, which enlightens the eyes of our soul to discern it, by withdrawing it from all material objects, exciting all our affections to desire it, and it alone.

This corresponds with John 1:4: “The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.” Of which S. Gregory Nyssen (Orat. de Nativ.) remarks, “His purity touched our filthiness, but was not defiled.” And S. Augustine (Epist. ad Honorat) says, “The Son of God is not absent even from the minds of the ungodly, though they see Him not, just as light is not seen when presented to the eyes of the blind. But the light of the Word shines in the darkness of ungodly men, by the light of reason, by the voices of created beings, which exclaim that there is a Creator who is to be venerated and loved, by the law of nature within in the mind, by the new law, by Scripture, by doctors and preachers, holy inspirations,” &c.

And hence S. Augustine (Tract. ii. in John) says, “Sink not into sin, and that sun will not sink to thee. If thou sinkest, He will sink to thee.”

The Gentiles seem to have seen this in a shadowy way. See S. Clement Alex., Strom. Lib. iv.

Ver. 6.—If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie. See 2 Cor. 6:14. To walk in darkness, is to live in sin, to add sin to sin. He here aims at the Gnostics, who, like the Lutherans and Calvinists, think that they are predestinate, and that they will certainly be saved, however sinfully they may live. And so too the Ebionites. Here observe sins are called darkness for various reasons. (1.) Darkness is a loss of light, sin is a loss of grace. (2.) Darkness causes us to stumble, so do sins cause us to stumble in the way of holiness. (3.) Those who work in the dark (owls) hate the light, so do sinners. John 3:20. (4.) Sins are the work of the prince of darkness. (5.) They are committed in the dark. (6.) Sins arise from blindness of heart. “This can be removed only by God, who enlightens our minds” (see S. Augustine, contr. Julian, lib. v.) This darkness is a sin and the punishment of sin. (7.) Sins darken the mind more and more; and (8.) they lead to everlasting darkness, and are called the shadow of death.

We lie, and do not the truth. The truth here meant is not mere speculative truth, but truth in act and deed. By truth we mean duty, and he who merely pretends to do it, is merely a masked hypocrite. (See Gregory Nyssen, Epist. ad Harm.) It is said of the devil that he abode not in the truth (John 8:44), because he fell from his first estate, and was “a liar and the father of a lie.”

Ver. 7.—But if we walk in the light (of reason, virtue, grace), going on from virtue to virtue, as He is in the light. He is in truth the very substantial and divine Light, and does all things in the light of wisdom, prudence, and divine holiness.

We have fellowship one with another, and consequently with God. S. Augustine truly said (Confess, iv. 9), “Blessed is he that loveth Thee, his friend in Thee, and his enemy on account of Thee. For he loses no friend to whom all men are dear in Him, who is never lost.” See Prov. 4:18, and Phil. 2:15. S. Augustine says (de Verb. Apost. Serm. xv.), “Ye see that we are wayfarers. What then is walking? It is in a word to make progress, lest ye should not understand this, and walk too slowly. Be ever displeased with what thou art, if thou wishest to arrive at that which as yet thou art not. For thou remainest in the spot where thou art satisfied to be. If thou sayest it is enough, thou art lost. Ever be adding somewhat, ever be walking, ever make progress. Do not tarry in the way, do not turn back. He tarries who is not going onward, he turns back who goes back to his old starting-place—he who apostatises turns away from the path. A lame man who walks in the way, is better than a swift runner who goes astray from it.”

And the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin. But not so as to make us impeccable. It means that He has cleansed us from our sins by baptism, that He cleanses us (at the present time) from venial sins, and will cleanse us hereafter from the peril of mortal sins, and at last will cleanse in heaven from all concupiscence. S. John uses the present tense, as including both the past and future. (See S. Augustine and Bede in loc. and S. Jerome contra Pelag. Lib. ii.)

Here note (1.) that God does not merely erase sins, but washes them away entirely. The Council of Trent (sess. vi. chap. 6) says, “No one can be righteous unless the merits of Christ’s Passion are imparted to him,” &c. And Clement VI. (Extrav. ‘Unigenitus’) asserts that “one drop of Christ’s blood could have redeemed the whole world, as being the blood of the Word by hypostatic union.” S. Gregory Nazianzen says, “No miracle is comparable with that of our salvation, wherein a few drops of blood restored the whole world, and (as blood curdles milk) binds us all into one;” and S. Augustine, on Ps. lxv., “Ask ye what He purchased? See what He gave, and then find out what He purchased. The blood of Christ is the price. What did it purchase, save the whole world?” “The blood of the Lord is the price of our life,” &c. And S. Ambrose (de Virg. Lib. iii.), “We have all things in Christ. Let every soul draw nigh to Him, whether suffering from bodily sins, or firmly fastened by the nails of worldly desire, or which is still imperfect, but yet is making progress in inward meditation, or being even perfect in many virtues is altogether in the power of God; and Christ is all things to us. If thou wishest to cure thy wound, He is thy Physician; if thou art burning with fever, He is a fountain of waters; if thou art burdened with guilt, He is thy righteousness; if thou needest help, He is thy strength; if thou fearest death, He is thy life; if thou longest for heaven, He is the way; if thou shrinkest from darkness, He is thy light; if thou seekest food, He is thy sustenance.”

The blood of Jesus Christ is put, by a metonymy, for the pouring forth His Blood. It follows that His blood cleanses us not physically but meritoriously. But see S. Thomas (3 part 9. 48, art. 6, and 9. 50, art. 6), who says that it has physically power to sanctify as being the physical instrument which God makes use of for our sanctification. But see the whole passage.

8. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. Cajetan understands this of original sin, which we all contract from Adam, the Blessed Virgin alone excepted (see authorities quoted). (2.) Lyranus understands it of mortal sin, from which no one can dare to assert that he is free. (3.) Cardinal Hugo and others generally understand it of venial sin, into which we cannot help falling. See Conc. Irid. sess. iii. can. 23, where, however, the Blessed Virgin is counted as an exception. By speaking in the first person John includes himself and the other Apostles, for though they were so strengthened by grace that they could not sin mortally, yet they did sin venially. And how much more are we guilty, and how constantly should we humble ourselves and sorrow for our sins. Others regard it as speaking of the punishment of sin, others of concupiscence which remains even in those who are regenerate and justified. See Conc. Irident. But we may include all sin under one general statement, the word ‘have’ comprehending both past and future time. We have had original sin, and we have, or shall have, some actual sin. In ver. 10 the past tense is used. S. John wishes to show that all are guilty of sin, and need redemption by Christ, for he says, “If we say that we have no sin,” &c. But though these words may be taken as referring to all sin, yet properly and directly they speak of actual sin, whether mortal or venial. For he speaks of our confessing our sins, which refers only to actual sins. The meaning then is this, that we deceive ourselves if we assert that we are free from any actual sin. It is thus understood by the Council of Millois, S. Jerome, S. Basil, S. Gregory (Mor. xviii. 4), and many others. S. James supports this view (chap. 3:2). Both S. John and S. James refer to the heretics of their own day, who said that unbelief was the only sin, and that all things were pure to the believer, however foul his life. Luther and the Libertines taught the same, while the Beynards and Beguines considered they had attained to such perfection that they could not possibly sin, under whatever temptation. Pelagius taught that all sins could be avoided by the power of nature alone. Durandus (in Part ii. Dist. xxviii. q. 3) had much the same opinion, viz., that all deliberate venial sins could be avoided, but not all such as come upon us by surprise. See Eccles. 7:20, and Prov. 24:16. It is then our humiliation to own ourselves sinners, and to pray daily in our Lord’s words, “Forgive us our trespasses.” S. Augustine (de Nat. et Gratia, cap. xxxvi.) says, “With the exception of the Virgin Mary (respecting whom I do not wish, for the honour of the Lord, to raise any question about sin, for we know that more grace was given her to overcome sin of every kind, to whom it was vouchsafed to conceive and bear Him who, it is admitted, had no sin)—with her exception, if we were to question all those holy men and women, when they were living here, what, think you, would be their answer? that which this man, or what the apostle John, said? would they not say, ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves’?” And so too S. Gregory (Hom. 39. on the Gospels): “If then thou art elated by thy learning, thy wealth, &c., knowest thou who thou art? Thou art a sinner. Knowest thou what sin is? It is the greatest vileness, the greatest misery of man, the greatest evil to the world, for it is in the highest measure opposed to the highest good. It is the greatest contempt of God, the greatest ingratitude, the greatest hatred of God, the greatest offence to Him. It is Christicide, nay Deicide. For if God could be killed, sin would be the weapon.”

Cassian (Collet. xxxii. cap. 19.) gives an example from prayer, in which there is scarce any one who does not wander in thought, and thus commit a venial sin. But he seems to say that anything which withdraws us, even against our wills, from continual contemplation of God, is a sin; and therefore he must be read with caution. But he must be understood to speak of the evil of punishment, from which however there frequently arises the evil of guilt.

We deceive ourselves, and moreover are deceived in our own minds: to the ruin of our soul. For he who thinks he is free from sin, neglects to seek a remedy for that sin, for which he will be punished. And moreover, he proudly contradicts Scripture, which says that we all are sinners, and does away with the grace and passion of Christ, in saying that he does not need to be cleansed by His Blood.

And the truth is not in us. That is, we lie. S. Augustine (commenting on Eccles. 7, in Sententiis Sent. 365) says, “He who is just overmuch, becomes unjust over much. For who is he who makes himself just, but he who says that he has no sin?”

Ver. 9.—If we confess. S. John here suggests a remedy for sin, namely, its sincere acknowledgment, and humble confession, and penance, for by this is the Blood of Christ applied to us, to cleanse us from it. But what is the kind of confession which he requires? a general confession made to God, or a special confession to a Priest? S. John seems to require both of those, a general confession for lighter sins, special confession for grave ones. Mortal sins must be confessed, not only to God, but to the Priest, who has power to forgive (John 20:23). See Bellarmine, de Pœnit. i. 13, iii. 4. As S. Cyprian says (Serm. de Lapsis): “In this way do they remove the burden of their mind, and seek for a salutary remedy for such small and slight wounds.” And Tertullian (de Pœnit. ch. 3) says, “Confession removes the burden of sins, just as concealment adds to it.” He then sets forth the acts of penance; as sackcloth and ashes, simple food, frequent fasts, tears and sighs, &c. As S. Chrysostom briefly says, “Penitence is contrition of heart, confession with the lips, and humility in every act.”

See here the great benefit of confession, in appeasing God’s wrath, and obtaining His grace. (See Is. 43:26, sec. lxx., and Ps. 51:4, 32:5). Origen, on Ps. 87 [88], says that it is like a vomit, which relieves the overloaded stomach. And S. Diadochus says that it is the best remedy against sin for “religious” to confess to their spiritual director; and S. Francis, quoting S. Augustine (Sentent.), says, “If thou excusest thyself, God accuses thee; and if thou accusest thyself, He excuses thee.” Besides this, S. John teaches us that as we sin frequently, we should confess frequently, for trifling sins, if neglected, become great ones, “as many drops fill a river, and many grains make up a mass.” And what difference is it, whether a ship he sunk with one huge wave, or by the gradual oozing in of water, through a neglected leak? See Ecclus. 19:1. And as S. Gregory says, “If we neglect to cure small faults, we are insensibly led on to boldly commit greater ones;” and again, “He who neglects to sorrow for and avoid even the least sins, does not fall suddenly from a state of grace, but, by little and little, he falls entirely away. Those then who frequently fall away in little things, should seriously consider that sometimes we sin more grievously in a little fault than in a greater one. For the greater it is, the more quickly do we discover that it is a fault, and therefore more speedily correct it, whereas a smaller fault is counted as nothing, and is therefore more fatally and more unconcernedly persevered in. And frequently a mind accustomed to lesser faults dreads not greater ones.”

Is faithful. Because He who told us to pray for forgiveness of our sins promised that His fatherly forgiveness and pardon would follow. (S. Cyprian, de Orat. Dom.)

And just. How is this? He is not bound as an act of justice to forgive sins even to him who is penitent. It is of His mere mercy and clemency. But it is fitting and an act worthy of God to forgive the sin of a penitent, both because He promised to do so, as the reward of penitence (see John 20:23, Ezek. 18:32, and elsewhere)—His promise is a debt which ought to be paid—as well as being in accordance with Divine goodness. “It is just for Thee, O God, to spare the wicked: it is also just to punish them,” says S. Anselm (in Prosolog. cap. ix and x.) Some accordingly explain ‘just’ as compassionate, compassion being most accordant with God’s nature, and penitence in its very nature is a disposition towards reconciliation and grace.

2. He is just. Because Christ has by this death merited pardon for us, and God has promised it Him. The remission of our sins is due to Christ and not to ourselves. And Christ communicates His merits to the sinner, and makes them his, so that he can offer them as his own to God. And God is just in accepting this ransom. This rule of justice, properly speaking, is with reference to Christ, not to ourselves. For otherwise we (and not Christ) should be our own redeemers, which is impious and a wrong to Christ.

3. Suarez says, rather too subtilly (3 p. disp. xi. sect. 1, conc. 3), “He is faithful, whence He forgives penitents their more mortal sins, but just when He condones the venial sins of the righteous, because they deserve this by their deserts” (de condigno). (See S. Augustine, de Corrupt. and Grat. cap. xiii.)

4. God is in a certain way ‘just’ when He forgives one who is penitent and confesses his mortal sins, because this is a kind of satisfaction. Just as an offender who vilifies his neighbour, by humbling himself and asking pardon, and the offended person is bound in justice to accept this satisfaction, so does the penitent make some kind of satisfaction to God when he humbly confesses his faults, and especially if he does so from true and perfect contrition. For contrition, proceeding as it does from the love of God above all things, is a kind of compensation for the wrong and slight he has done to God by preferring the creature to Him. For the love which loves God above all things compensates for the hatred felt towards Him, as the honour paid Him makes up for the former contempt and slight, though not to an equal extent. And therefore it is just in a certain measure that God should pardon the sinner for some such acts as these. And for this reason penitence is counted by theologians as closely allied to justice, and as its effective part. Nay, Durandus (in 4 Dist. 14 q.) thinks that penitence is reciprocal justice, inasmuch as the theological virtues enjoin it to make due satisfaction (as far as it can) for its offence. But others on every side more truly suppose that penitence is a special virtue distinct from strict justice, and all other moral virtues. Richard (in 4 Dist. art. i. q. 2) adds, that the merits of Christ being granted, penitence can in strictness, as an act of justice, make satisfaction for sin. And (on Dist. xvii. art. 2, Quæst. 7) he asserts that contrition, if it precedes remission of sins, merits it by desert (ex condigno). And so also others teach that contrition stands on the same level as mortal sin, and can by itself make satisfaction for it. And they derive that from S. Thomas’ own principles; for he teaches (1, 2 q. 113, art. 8) that in the justification of a sinner, sanctifying grace is infused prior to contrition and remission of sin. In this he is followed by many of his disciples. But the general opinion is otherwise, namely, that contrition does not result from sanctifying, but from prescient grace. For since contrition disposes us for receiving sanctifying grace, it cannot result from it, but necessarily precedes it (see Conc. Iriden. sess. vi. chap. 6, 7, and 8), and consequently teaches that we are justified freely, and do not merit that justification which includes remission of sins. (See authorities quoted.)

And to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Sin and unrighteousness are here used synonymously.

Ver. 10.—If we say that we have not sinned, &c. 1. By original sin, and (2) by actual sin. This no one questions. S. John probably refers to venial sins. He uses the past tense, as speaking to those who had been converted from heathenism, and who in that state had committed many grievous sins. Again, among those who had been brought to Christ many deferred their baptism till the last, and were consequently termed ‘clinics.’ The Fathers severely condemn them. But those who were baptized as children, had committed (as adults) many venial sins, at least. The Apostle therefore speaks to all in the past tense, as wishing to warn them for the future, that (as having been regenerate) they should carefully abstain from sin, as he says in the next chapter.

We make Him a liar. Because God says in Scripture that all men are sinners and do not live without sin. See Eccles. 7:20; Prov. 24:16; Ps. 142:2; James 3:2, and elsewhere, and in the Lord’s Prayer.

And His word abideth not in us. We do not understand, or embrace, or retain its true doctrine, or anyhow we forget it. We do not believe Scripture, which says that we are all liable to sin. So S. Clement, Didymus, Cajetan, and others. But the Gloss understands by ‘His Word’ His Son Jesus Christ; and says that He abides not in us, because from our unbelief and pride we overthrow the mystery of redemption, and say that we do not need, nor ever needed, a Redeemer. Or it may mean the word which God has said (“the greater thou art, humble thyself the more,” Ecclus. 3:20) abideth not in us. For we do the exact contrary, and being of no account, and sinners, we wish to be great, and incapable of sin.








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