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The Great Commentary Of Cornelius À Lapide Volumes 1 To 8

1 He that loveth God loveth His children, and keepeth His commandments: 3 which to the faithful are light, and not grievous. 9 Jesus is the Son of God, able to save us, 14 and to hear our prayers, which we make for ourselves, and for others.

Ver. 1.—Everyone that believeth, with a living faith, which extends itself to charity, and worketh by love, that Jesus is the Christ, i.e. the Messiah, the Saviour and Redeemer of the world, is born of God, by a divine and spiritual birth, which takes place by faith, love, and grace, by which a man becomes not only a friend, but a son and heir of God, and a partaker of the Divine nature (2 Pet. 1:5).

And every one … loveth also Him who is born of Him. Born: 1st. Christ the Son of God is properly He who is born of God the Father. 2d. Born of God applies to every believer, who is adopted of God through the grace of Christ. And this is S. John’s reasoning, by which he proves that our neighbours ought to be loved: Whosoever loveth God the Father who begat, loveth equally God the Son who was begotten. But he who loveth God the Son loveth also all the other sons of God, as being His brethren and members. Therefore he who loveth God the Father loveth also all the children of God who are born of Him. It is in favour of this exposition, says S. Augustine, that the Apostle here says Son in the singular as understanding the Only Begotten of the Father. But presently, in the next verse he says sons in the plural, as intending the just, by adoption and regeneration sons of God.

Ver. 2.—By this we know that we love the children (τέκνα) of God, when (ὅθαν, i.e. because) we love God, &c. We know, i.e. we conclude, we show and demonstrate. S. John uses this expression, we know, in a similar sense 3:16 and 19, and 4:2 and 6. We know, i.e. we are convinced that we love Christians as the children of God. We know this, i.e. we prove it by this argument, that we love God. The following is S. John’s syllogism and demonstration. All the sons of God are believers and Christians. Whosoever therefore loves God loves also the children of God. Therefore he who loves God loves faithful Christians as being the brethren and members of Christ, born of the same God the Father. For as from the love of our neighbour we infer and conclude the love of God, so in turn and reciprocally from the love of God we infer and conclude the love of our neighbour. Again, whosoever keeps the commands of God keeps also the love of his neighbour: for this is one of the commandments. But he who keeps the command of love, this man loves his neighbour. Therefore whosoever keeps the commands of God is a lover of his neighbour.

Moreover, in this place S. John does not speak of all our neighbours, but only of such as are born of God, that is, believing Christians, because he seeks to kindle amongst them mutual love, in order that by their faith and Christian life they may defend, animate, help, and be profitable to one another against the heathen.

Ver. 3.—For this is the charity of God, &c. He means, Charity consists in the keeping of the commandments of God. For charity is the love and friendship of God. For this is what is said (Wisd. 6:9), “Love is the keeping of His laws.” So it is said in Eccles. 12:13, “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole man.” It means, the whole good of man; all his duty, all his happiness; his end and perfection consist in the fear of God. As S. Jerome says, “For this man was created.” And as Salonius says, He who lives otherwise is not a man but a beast, because he does not live according to reason, which pertains to man’s nature. But if he lives gluttonously, he lives like a hog. If he lives deceitfully, he lives like a fox. If he lives proudly, he lives like a lion, and so on. All this you may apply to charity.

And His commandments are not heavy (gravia), much less impossible, as heretics say. He alludes to the words of Christ, “My yoke is sweet, and My burden light.”

The reason is, 1st. Because Christ has freed Christians from the heavy and manifold burden of the ceremonial and judicial precepts of the Old Law, and has imposed upon them only the moral Law, or the ten precepts of the natural Law, adding to them a few things concerning faith, baptism, and the rest of the sacraments. The Rabbi Moses numbers 218 positive, and 365 negative, precepts of the Old Law (More Hannebuchim, caps. 56 and 57). From all these Christ has set us free.

2d. Because to charity and him who loves God nothing is heavy. “For how can it be heavy when it is the command of love? For either a man loves not, and thus it is heavy; or else he does love, and it cannot be heavy,” says S. Augustine.

3d. Because Christ gives grace as it were wings, with which we fulfil the commandments. Yea, we as it were fly over them, according to the words, “I ran the way of Thy commandments when Thou hadst enlarged my heart.” (Ps. 119) As S. Augustine says, “There is nothing heavy either in loving, or fearing. For perfect love casts out fear, and makes the burden of the commandment light, not depressing to the ground with its weight, but lifting it up instead of wings. Let the soul therefore which feels the commandments heavy, pray and sigh with the will that it may obtain the gift of the sense of lightness.” Wherefore S. Bonaventura says, “The commandments are heavy to fallen and corrupt nature, but light to that which is whole and sound.” For grace heals our nature, even as sin wounds and as it were maims it. Therefore sin makes the commandments to be as “a talent of lead.” (Zech. 5:7)

4th. Because, although certain things be heavy in themselves, such as to mortify all the lusts, to undergo martyrdom, to suffer all adversity, yet they become light when we consider the example of Christ and His Saints, and God’s promise of heavenly glory, according as S. Paul says, “The sufferings of this present time are not comparable to the future glory which shall be revealed in us.”

As S. Augustine says (Serm. 18 de Sanct.), “If we must needs endure daily torments, if hell itself for a brief space, that we might be worthy to behold Christ coming in His glory, and to be reckoned in the company of His Saints, would it not be worth while to suffer anything that is sad, so that we were made partakers of such great good and such great glory?”

Ver. 4.—For every thing which is born of God, &c. He proves what he had said that His commandments are not heavy, because the faithful, who are born again of faith and charity, and are armed by God, overcome the world, i.e. the lusts and terrors of the world, which alone resist charity, and make the keeping of the commandments difficult. When therefore they are taken away, the commandments become easy. “The proof of a heavenly generation is victory over temptation,” says S. Bernard.

Observe: he says every thing (neuter), not every one who is born of God overcometh. This is to signify, 1st. That this victory falls to the believer, not of himself, but from the love and grace of God. This is why he adds by way of explanation, And this is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith.

2d. The expression every thing is emphatic, and signifies the whole company of all nations. There is an allusion to the animals of every kind, both clean and unclean, which were in Noe’s ark, and which Peter saw in vision in the linen sheet of the Church. (Acts. 10:12) By these it was signified that all sorts of men, of every nation, state, and condition, were to be admitted into the Church by the new Birth of Baptism. For the same reason, and with the same emphasis, Christ said, “Every thing that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me.”

Hence S. Cyprian, S. Leo, and others say that a believer is greater than the world, and having his conversation in heaven he looks down upon the little point of the world. Beautifully does S. Augustine write (lib. 2 de Synub. and Catechum.), “Admirable, truly admirable, is our combat” (spectaculum), “in which God helps, faith obtains strength, innocence fights, holiness conquers, and the reward which follows is such that whilst he who has conquered receives, he who gives loses nothing.”

And this is the victory, &c., victory, i.e., the victor, the conqueror. The victory then is the cause of victory, the arms by which the victory is obtained, i.e. faith. This victorious faith is not naked and idle faith, but clothed with charity and good works, struggling and fighting bravely, according to the words, “Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness,” &c. (Heb. 11) And as S. Paul says (Eph. 6:16), “And in all taking the shield of faith by which ye can quench all the fiery darts of the most wicked one.” For overcomes the Greek has νικήσασα, aorist overcame. By this all time is signified. He hath overcome, he overcomes, and shall overcome. So S. Augustine teaches that the faith of Christ has subdued the whole world to itself by the sanctity, chastity, patience, constancy, of the Apostles, Virgins, and Martyrs, by whom the nations of the whole world have been converted to Christ. And as he saith again (Ser. 1 de Verb. Apost.), “There are no greater riches, or treasures, no substance of this world greater than the Catholic Faith. It saves sinful man, gives sight to the blind, heals the sick, baptizes catechumens, restores the penitent, helps the just, crowns the martyrs.” And S. Bernard says, “Faith reaches things inaccessible, discovers the unknown, comprehends the infinite, seizes the remotest bounds of things, and in short embraces eternity itself in its own most spacious bosom. I would say boldly that the eternal and Blessed Trinity, whom I cannot understand, I believe in and hold firmly by faith, a thing which I am not capable of by mere soundness of intellect.”

Ver. 5.—Who is he that overcometh the world, &c. For by believing he hopes, by hoping he invokes, by invoking he loves Christ, and therefore he is strengthened by the grace of Christ to despise the world, and by despising he overcomes it, according to the saying of S. Paul, “I am able to do all things in Him who strengtheneth me.” For he who believes in Christ, ought to follow the precepts of Christ and obey Him, not the world.

S. John proves his thesis ex hypothesi, the general from the particular. He proves, I say, that faith is the victory of believers, because the faith of Christ is the victory over the world. And at the same time he confutes Cerinthus, Ebion, and the other heretics of that age, who denied the Divinity of Christ. Hence when Peter confessed this doctrine, saying, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” he deserved to hear from Him, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church.”

Ver. 6.—This is He who cometh by water and blood, Jesus Christ. This is Messias, the Son of God, the Saviour and Redeemer of the world, whom the Prophets foretold should come to redeem the world by His Blood, and purify it by the water of baptism, as is plain from Ezek. 36:25, and Zech. 12:13. John proves that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; that is, that Jesus is true Man and true God. He does this, 1st. Because He is He who came, Greek, ὁ ἐλθὼν, i.e., He, the Coming One, the Messias, who indeed the Prophets promised should come: whom the Scripture (Isa. 9:6 and elsewhere) signified should be God and the Son of God. Wherefore Coming or About to come is the Name of Messiah. For so the Jews called Him from the prophetic oracles. This is plain from S. John 1:15, &c.

Again, he proves the same thing from the water and the blood of which the Body of Christ was constituted, and which He shed for us. For they signify, 1st. That Christ was a true man, and not a phantasm, as Simon Magus and Manes pretended. For the human body is composed of water and blood.

2d. The water and blood proved that Christ is true God. One reason is that the Blood of Christ was the full price of our redemption, entirely satisfying God for the offences of our sins. Therefore it was necessary that the Blood should be the Blood of a God-man, a man hypostatically united to God: for the blood of a mere man could not be an adequate price for offences against God. A second reason is, because Christ by the virtue of His Blood in ordaining baptism, endowed it with a Divine power to expiate all the sins of all men. Therefore it was necessary for Him to be God. For Christ did this per se, and authoritatively, not ministerially as dependent upon some one else. But per se to institute a sacrament to remit and atone for sin is a work of Divine power.

There is an allusion in the first place to the water and blood of the victims with which Moses ratified the Old Testament (Ex. 24:8). By this he signified that Christ by His own Blood and Water would ratify the New Testament. Hear S. Paul, Heb. 9:19, “For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop,” &c.

There is an allusion, secondly, to the water and blood which miraculously flowed from the side of Christ when He was dead upon the Cross. For a dead body, instead of the blood and water of a living one, naturally emits gore (saniem). S. John alone of the Evangelists records this emission of blood and water. By these two it was set forth that by the power of the blood of Christ the faithful should be cleansed from their sins by the water of Baptism. And this is the meaning of the Bride, i.e. the Church, when she says (Cant. 5:10), “My Beloved is white and ruddy.” (So Cyril, Hieros. Cat. 13; S. Augustine, lib. 2 de Catech. rud. c. 6; S. Leo, Epist. 45, Hier. 83; Damascene, 4 de Fide, c. 10; Suarez, 3 part, quæst. 53, disput. 41, and others.) From hence our Salmeron is of opinion that Christ always mingled water with His Blood, viz., tears at His circumcision, His Bloody Sweat, His Scourging, and on the Cross before His death. And that this was why He ordered water to be mingled with wine in the Eucharistic Chalice to be converted into His Blood.

Moreover, S. John distinguishes Christ’s Baptism from that of John the Baptist, because the latter was in water only, and, therefore unavailing for the remission of sins. But Christ’s Baptism was in water and blood, and therefore availing to that end. Again, he confutes the Ebionites, who thought that God was appeased with mere water, and who therefore washed themselves daily with water, and offered water only, without wine, in the Eucharistic Chalice, because they denied that we were redeemed by the Blood of Christ. (See Irenæus. lib. 5 c. 1.)

Lastly, Tertullian (lib. de Bapt. c. 16) says, Christ came by water when he was baptized by John, by blood when He suffered, that “He might be washed by water, glorified by blood,” by the victory of His Passion and Death. “He would have us called by water, elected by blood. This twofold Baptism He shed forth from the wound in His pierced side, that they who believed in His Blood might be washed with water, and that those who were laved with the water of Baptism might also drink His Blood in the Eucharist.”

Tropologically, S. Bernard explains it to mean a twofold baptism and a twofold martyrdom: 1st, Of compunction by tears: 2nd, By the desire of mortification. “Now because we have said that baptism is signified by water, martyrdom by blood, remember that there is one only and daily baptism, one only and daily martyrdom. For there is indeed a kind of martyrdom and a certain effusion of blood in the daily affliction of the body. There is also a species of baptism in compunction of the heart and frequent tears.”

Ver. 6.—This is He who cometh by water and blood. Some Greek codices add καὶ πιεύματος, i.e. and by spirit: not by water only but by water and blood, and by spirit.

And the Spirit it is which testifies that Christ is Truth. (Vulg.) The Greek has ὅτι τὸ πνεύμα ἔστιν ἡ ἀληθεια i.e., The Spirit is the Truth. This is also the reading of the Syriac. The meaning is, It is the Spirit who recently at Pentecost testified that Christ is the Son of God. Him therefore we must believe because He is the Spirit of Truth, and the Truth Itself. But the genuine reading is, Because Christ is Truth. For the Apostle is here treating of Christ, and Christ’s proper name is the Truth.

To the obscure and as it were dead testimony of water and blood, is added the clear and living witness of the Holy Ghost. For He as well during Christ’s (earthly) life, in which He wrought miracles by Him to bear witness to this, as also after His death and resurrection, when He was sent by Him to the Apostles at Pentecost, testified by their mouth, and preached everywhere that Christ was the Truth, i.e. true God. For Christ, in that He is God is the Word, and therefore the Truth and Wisdom of the Father. In that He is man, He is the true ambassador and interpreter of the Father, who opened out the shadows of the Old Law, and published the true doctrine concerning God, according to His own words. “I am the way. the truth, and the life.” Hence too the Aaronic High Priest bore, as a type of Christ the true and real High Priest, the Urim and Thummim, i.e. doctrine and truth, in his breastplate.

Ver. 7.—Because there are Three which bear witness in Heaven, &c. S. John here more fully explains and confirms the testimony already adduced of the water, the blood and the spirit concerning Christ. The particle because is partly confirmatory of what He had said in the 5th ver. that Jesus is the Son of God, partly of what he said in the 6th, that the Spirit bears witness that Jesus is true God. For this is here confirmed because the Holy Spirit is one of the three witnesses who in heaven bear testimony to Christ.

S. Jerome (Pref. in Epist. Canon.) observes that this verse had been erased by unbelievers, i.e. the Arians, from some Greek copies. Therefore it is not found in the Syriac, Clement of Alexandria, Bede, Œcumenius, and some others. It is, however, the constant reading of the Latin Bibles, and the more correct Greek MSS. and of many of the ancients, SS. Athanasius, Augustine, Jerome, Cyprian, the Lateran Council, at which Greeks were present. Therefore it is certain that these words are to be taken as canonical Scripture.

The meaning then is this—All the Three Persons of the Sacred Trinity in heaven and from heaven bear testimony to the angels, but especially to men (for to men S. John chiefly refers) concerning Christ, that He is the true Messiah and the Son of God. This the Father did at His Baptism and Transfiguration. Again, when He answered Christ by thunder out of heaven, “I have both glorified, and will glorify Thee again” (Jno. 12:18). Similarly also the Holy Ghost bore witness when He descended upon Christ in the form of a dove, and poured out Himself upon the Apostles and other Christians at Pentecost. And this was the result of Christ’s prediction, promise, and mission. Wherefore the same Holy Spirit by the mouths of the Apostles preached little else save Christ. The Son also very often declared, taught, and proved convincingly by His miracles that He was the Messias and the Son of God, as is plain from the whole Gospel of S. John. Therefore heaven and earth mutually agree, yea the whole universe appears at one, in bearing this witness to Christ.

And these Three are One—as in nature and Divine Essence, so likewise in intelligence, voice, and testimony, concerning Christ. For all these things in the Holy Trinity are one and the same. There is another reading of these words in the Greek, signifying These Three are into One (in unum), but the Latin and other Greek copies have These Three are One (Hi tres unum sunt), signifying the oneness of Substance of the Holy Trinity, that the Three Persons have one and the same undivided Godhead.

Ver. 8.—And there are three which give witness in earth, the Spirit, the water, and the blood. Three (tres in the masc.) He might have said tria in the neuter, for the Greek πνεῦμα, ὕδως, αἷμα, are all in that gender. But he chose to say tres, to show that these three earthly witnesses concur with, yea represent, the Three Heavenly witnesses already spoken of. So says S. Augustine. By a figure of speech, personality is attributed to these earthly witnesses, as speaking with man’s voice. S. John sets the human and earthly testimony over against the Divine. Some think that the Three Witnesses in heaven are witnesses to Christ’s Divinity, and the three on earth witnesses to His Humanity. Among these are Innocent III. (cap. in quad. de Celebrat. Miss.), and S. Thomas. But it is better to take both classes as attesting the Divinity. For this is what S. John undertook to prove (ver. 5), because Cerinthus and others denied it. And this is why he subjoins presently, He that believeth in the Son of God hath the witness of God in himself.

There are Three. S. John places a twofold Trinity of witnesses to Christ, who testify of His Divinity, and that He is the Son of God. And he sets the one over against the other. Indeed, he unites them as regards their office of witness-bearing. The first are uncreated, viz., the Father, the Son, and the Ghost. The second are created, the Spirit, the water, and the blood. These emanate from the uncreated witnesses, and correspond to them. For water refers to the Father, blood to the Son, spirit to the Holy Ghost. For the Father is the beginning (principium) of all things, as likewise is water. For out of water were formed the heavens, the air, the birds and the fishes, as I have shown in the beginning of Genesis. Again, water nourishes herbs, trees, plants, and every living thing. Wherefore, also, the heavens are called in Hebrew scamaim, i.e. waters. Again, water signifies the affluence of goods and graces which there is in God the Father, according to the words in Is. 12, “Ye shall draw water with joy from the wells of the Saviour.” (Vulg.) It is well known that the Egyptians worshipped the Nile as a god, because all their crops were due to the overflowing of the Nile. Moreover, water appositely represents the mercy and goodness of God the Father. At the present day some of the Indians adore water. Suidas, under the word Brachmans, says that the Brahmins lived to a very great age because they drank nothing but water. Apollonias of Syana was wont to say that those who drink water never suffer from giddiness in the head.

On earth—from earth: like as the first Three testify in heaven, i.e. from heaven, to men dwelling on earth.

The Spirit, the water, and the blood—the spirit, namely, which Christ when dying on the Cross committed into the hands of the Father. Also the water and the blood which flowed from the side of Christ testify that Christ was truly not only man, but God, because by these, as by a just price, Christ made satisfaction to an offended God. Again, His spirit, because it went forth with a loud cry, showed Him to be God. Wherefore the centurion, when he saw that He thus cried out and expired, said, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” For speech fails those who are at the point of death. This cry of Christ was then miraculous and not natural, signifying that Christ was more than human, and therefore that He died of His own will, and not through weakness.

2d. S. Augustine Lyra and the Gloss understand by the Spirit in this place the Holy Ghost shed forth at Pentecost. For He testified that Christ was God.

3d. Œcumenius understands by Spirit the Holy Ghost given at Baptism. “In Baptism,” he says, “by water Jesus Christ was declared to be the Son of God by the witness of the Father.”

Anagogically, but very appropriately, and almost literally, the water, the blood, and the spirit that were emitted by Christ upon the Cross, but resumed by Him at His resurrection, signify that He was the very promised Messiah, the conqueror of death and hell, and therefore the Son of God. For Christ rose again by His own power, and resumed these three things.

Mystically, by spirit, water, and blood are signified the three things which concur for our justification. As S. Ambrose says, “By the Spirit our mind is renewed, by water we are washed; the blood is the price.”

Allegorically, by these three things are signified the three chief sacraments which bear testimony to Christ, as instituted by Him, and as sanctifying by virtue of His merits. Water signifies Baptism, blood the Eucharistic Chalice, the Spirit penance. Whence by breathing the Spirit upon His Apostles Christ gave them the power of remitting sins.

Symbolically, Baldwin of Canterbury, whose work I examined in manuscript at Louvain (lib. i de Eucharist, c. 48) says, “The spirit of the righteous, the tears of penitents, the blood of the martyrs bear witness that Christ is the Redeemer.”

S. Augustine upon this passage thinks that by these three earthly witnesses the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity are denoted, viz., the Father by the spirit, the Son by the blood, the Holy Ghost by the water. For of the Father it is said, “God is a Spirit” (Jno. 4:14), the Son assumed the blood and flesh of man’s nature. Of the Holy Ghost it is spoken: “Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (Jno. 7:18.) And for this reason they are called tres in the masculine, not tria, three things, in the neuter.

Tropologically, S. Bernard (Serm. 2 in Oct. Pasch.) says, “By the blood, the water, and the spirit thou hast witness unto righteousness, that thou art born again through Christ, if thou refrainest from sin, if thou bringest forth worthy fruits of penance, if thou doest living works.” The blood there signifies continence, the water tears, the Spirit spirit, and works which testify that we are regenerated and made holy. “He also shows that these three things are opposed to three things which are in the world, and overcome them. For the concupiscence of the flesh is overcome by the mortification of the blood, the lust of the eyes by the compunction of tears, the pride of life, or the spirit of vanity, by the spirit of charity.” S. Bernard adds (Serm. 76) that there are in like manner three witnesses in hell, the worm by which the conscience is gnawed, the fire which burns both soul and body, and the spirit of despair. “By the witnesses in heaven,” he says, “is given the witness of beatitude, by those in earth of justification, by those in hell of damnation. The first testimony is of glory, the second of grace, the third of wrath.”

And these three are one. Some Greek and Latin codices, as the Complutensian and the Royal, omit these words. Wherefore S. Thomas (Opusc. 24 in 2 decret.) says, that they were foisted in by the Arians, that it might be gathered that the Three heavenly Persons are not spoken of as being one in Essence, but only as bearing witness. But many of the Latin and the more correct Greek copies have the words, but read, These three are into one (in unum). And the Syriac, These three are in one (in uno), meaning to say, the water, the blood, and the spirit of Christ are not one as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are One, but that they are referred to One, &c., Christ and His Humanity, or mystically to one justifying and perfecting of man.

Ver. 9.—If we receive the witness of men, &c. If we give credit to man’s testimony, much more ought we to believe the witness of God concerning Christ. It is greater both in dignity and authority, in truth and certainty. For God infinitely surpasses all men and angels in majesty and veracity. He is the first and supreme Verity, who cannot lie, neither can He deceive, or be deceived. As S. Paul declares (Rom. 3:4), “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” Moreover, the testimony of the Church, of the Apostles and Prophets, is the testimony of God, for the Church is governed by the Holy Ghost, who is the Spirit of Truth.

Because this is the witness of God, &c. The word because here is not so much causative as explanatory, and means the same as but. The meaning is, But this is God’s testimony, because, i.e. which, He has testified, &c., namely, as He testified at the Baptism of Christ, and at many other times, “This is My Beloved Son.”

Ver. 10.—He that believeth in the Son of God hath the witness in himself. 1st. Because he hath in him the thing attested by God, namely this truth, that Christ is the Son of God.

2d. Because he hath in himself the very witness of God, and God Himself attesting.

3d. This testimony is the faith itself by which we believe the witness of God. There is a metonymy, because the object is put instead of the habit, or act tending to the object. It means, he who believes has a special gift of God, viz., faith. And this includes the witness, or testimony of God, and God Himself attests, which marvellously honours the believer, and makes him strong to confess Christ.

4th. This testimony may be taken to signify the regeneration and adoption, the grace and glory of the believer—meaning, He who believes in the Son of God hath in himself the witness of God, namely, that by which God witnesses to his soul and conscience by means of this faith with which he believes in Christ, that he is faithful, and a son and heir of God.

He that believeth not the Son, &c. As he that believeth in the Son, and receives God’s testimony concerning Him, makes God to be true, and honours and worships Him; so, on the contrary, he that believeth not the Son, and rejects God’s testimony concerning Him, makes God false, and does Him great despite.

Observe: instead of believe, the Greek has πεπίστευχεν, hath believed. This is a Hebraism by which the perfect is put for any tense.

Ver. 11.—And this is the testimony, &c. This means, 1st. God hath not only testified that Christ is His Son, but also that He is our Saviour and Redeemer, so that he who believes in Him is justified, and receives the spiritual life of grace and glory.

2d. This very thing is the end and fruit of the testimony, i.e. of the faith by which we believe God’s witness concerning Christ, that by this faith we obtain the life of grace and glory. There is an allusion and reference to the words of the Gospel (17:3), “This is life eternal, that they may know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”

Hath given to us eternal life. By these words hath given, S. John denotes the firmness and certainty both of the Divine promise and of our hope, namely, that we are just as sure of everlasting life, if we persevere in faith and obedience, as if it had been actually now bestowed upon us.

The primitive Christians represented this faith and hope of life eternal by the Phœnix, which after death is said to be born again and rise up in a fresh and youthful life, as Lactantius testifies in his poem on the Phœnix. Therefore it was often depicted on the tombs of the faithful. S. Cecilia, as the Acts relate, ordered it to be sculptured on the sarcophagus of S. Maximus the Martyr. So too at Rome the Phœnix is often found depicted on tombs in the catacombs. For Christ rising again to life eternal is our Phœnix. And He by raising up Christians to the same life, will make them phœnixes likewise.

Ver. 12.—He that hath the Son, i.e. by faith, love, and obedience, hath life,—of grace in fact, of glory in hope. He alludes to the words in his own Gospel, “He that believeth in the Son hath everlasting life, but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (3:35)

Ver. 13.—These things I write unto you, that ye who believe in the name of the Son of God have eternal life. The Greek adds, that ye may believe in the name of the Son of God. But this seems to be tautologous. The name of the Son of God is put for the thing signified, the Son of God Himself. There is an allusion to his own Gospel (20:31): “These things are written that ye may believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that believing ye may have life in His name.”

S. John here reckons up three fruits of a living faith in Christ. The first, life eternal in this verse; the second, confidence of obtaining all things from God (ver. 14); the third is complete banishment of sin, and moral sinlessness (ver. 18).

Ver. 14.—And this is the confidence, &c. Truly says S. Augustine, “Whatsoever we ask unprofitable for our salvation we do not ask in the name of the Saviour.”

And we know: the Greek adds ἐὰν, i.e. if. This makes the words of the verse more connected: And if we know that He heareth us, whatsoever we shall ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of Him.

Ver. 16.—He who knows his brother to sin a sin not unto death, let him ask, and life shall be given him for him that sinneth not unto death. (S. Ambrose, lib. 1 de Penitent, c. 9, and Tertullian, de Pudicit. c. 2, read, because he sinneth not to death.) There is a sin unto death, &c. Instead of I do not say, S. Augustine reads in this place, non prœcipio, I do not command. He means, If any one knows his brother to commit any sin, let him pray for him, and God will give him repentance and forgiveness. I except, however, the sin unto death. If any one sins a sin unto death, I dare not promise, nor have any certain hope, that thou wilt obtain pardon for him. Yet I do not altogether forbid prayer in such a case. Pray if thou wilt, but with a doubt of obtaining.

You will ask, what is the sin unto death? 1st. Tertullian (de pudicit. caps. 2 and 19) is of opinion from this passage that there are some sins, like those of the devils while they were yet in a state of probation, so deadly that they are absolutely irremissible in this life. Such a sin was adultery after baptism. But this is an error condemned in Scripture and the Lateran Council under Innocent III.

2d. Origen thinks it is a sin which leads to destruction, and drags down to hell.

3d. Surrianus (lib. 4 pro Epist. Pont. c. 3) thinks it is a sin which insolves excommunication. For an excommunicate person is impenitent. And it is not lawful to pray for one excommunicate in the public prayers of the Church. But S. John is speaking of any kind of prayer, even in private.

4th. S. Augustine (lib. 1 in Serm. Dom.) thought it was the sin of envy, by which any one envies his brother’s grace, virtue, and salvation. But this opinion S. Augustine afterwards modified and retracted.

5th. The same S. Augustine (lib. de corrept. et grat. c. 12) and many others think it is the sin in which any one perseveres unto death. Lorinus thinks that it is the sin of hatred and murder. Others think it means the sins of the reprobate, and of those who will be damned. But it is uncertain who and what those are. Yet S. John says, he who knows his brother sin a sin not unto death.

6th. The Gloss supposes it to be a mortal sin. For to pray for such sins is the duty ex officio, so to say, of the Priest alone. But for venial sins any layman whatever may pray. But what S. John says is opposed to this, For he intimates that he is speaking, not of venial, but of mortal sins, and subjoins, “life shall be given him.”

7th. S. Jerome (in cap. 14 Jerem.) thinks it is some very grave sin which God has determined to punish. “For he who once,” saith he, “hath been devoted to the sword, or famine, or pestilence, cannot be delivered by any prayers. Wherefore it was said to the Prophet that he should not ask in vain what he could not obtain.”

8th. Dionysius thinks it is the sin of final impenitence. Wherefore the Bishop of Rochester (Art. 17 cont. Luther) proves the doctrine of Purgatory from this passage. For S. John says we are to pray for those who are not finally impenitent, that is, who depart in a state of justification or repentance. And this surely implies prayer that they be delivered from Purgatory.

9th. Anastasius Niceenus thinks it is a sin against God, such as blasphemy, concerning which it is said (1 Sam. 2:25), “If a man sin against God, who shall pray for him?”

10th. Gagneius thinks it is the sin of apostasy and infidelity, by which any one falls from the faith into heresy or idolatry.

11th. S. Hilary (in Ps. 140) thinks it is the sin which any one commits of set purpose and malice.

12th. S. Ambrose thinks (lib. 1 de Pen. c. 8) it is every very grave sin which is remitted with difficulty.

Most of these opinons are true, and partly explain, but few touch the exact point of the difficulty.

My own opinion is, that the sin unto death is every very grave sin which, either on account of its enormity or long habit, obstinacy or malice, is irremediable according to the ordinary rule of grace which God gives. Such was the sin of Judas in betraying Christ. It was sin unto death because of its enormity; and incorrigible, because of his obstinate persistence in it. So too the sin of the Jens in blasphemy and slaying Christ was a sin unto death, because so heinous and persisted in. Therefore the sin unto death is a chronic and irremediable one, the pardon of which is despaired of, and which so provokes the wrath of God that the ordinary prayers of the saints cannot pacify it, and one therefore which with absolute certainty brings the sinner to the destruction of hell, unless some especially eminent saint, like another Moses, obtains for him from God extraordinary grace and forgiveness. This sin unto death is as if a physician was summoned to a sick man, and after examining him were to say, I cannot heal him, he is sick unto death, the vital parts are mortifying. In like manner, says S. John, when a Christian sees a heretic and an apostate, let him say, I should not dare to pray for him, he is sinning unto death. His vitality is gone. He casts away faith, which is the principle of spiritual life. This is the mind and general opinion of S. Augustine and Jerome, Origen, Bernard, Bonaventura, S. Thomas, and many others. There is a reference to the words of Christ to the Jews (John 8:21 and 24), “I go away, and ye shall seek Me, and shall die in your sin.” From which passage we gather that though the sin unto death be of various and multiform kinds, as impenitence, obstinacy, determination to persevere in any sin until death, and so on, yet strictly by the sin unto death S. John understands and intends a sin by which a Christian departs from the faith and Church of Christ, and maliciously attacks them, and strives to draw others away into his own heresy, or idolatry. This was what some were doing in S. John’s time, to his great fear and grief. Wherefore, in order to deter the faithful from being led away, he calls such persons sinners unto death.

There is a reference to such passages as Jer. 17:1, “The sin of Judah is written with an iron stylus, in an adamantine nail, it is ploughed deep upon the breadth of their heart.” (Vulg.) On which verse S. Gregory says, “The finger-nail is the extremity of the body: but the diamond is so hard a stone that it cannot be cut with iron. Now by the iron style is signified the strong sentence, but by the adamantine nail the eternal result. Therefore the sin of Judah is said to be written with an iron stylus in an adamantine nail, because the offence of the Jews by the strong sentence of God is reserved for an eternal end.”

By this sin a man opposes himself directly to Christ, from whom is the only hope of salvation. He drives Him from him, yea he blasphemes Him by whom alone he can be healed. So the disease is said to be incurable which does not admit of food or medicine. Whence S. Paul saith to the Hebrews (6:4–6), “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened,” &c.

From what has been said it is plain that the sin unto death is distinguished from blasphemy against the Spirit, spoken of in S. Matt. 12:21, although it is akin to it. Christ calls the sin of the Scribes blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, because they ascribed His Divine works, such as the casting out devils, which He did by the power of the Holy Ghost, to an unclean spirit. And they did this knowingly and maliciously, because they might and ought easily have known that those works were wrought by the Holy Ghost, and not by a devil. Christ opposes such blasphemy against the Holy Spirit of God to blasphemy against the Son of Man, by which some who were offended at the human conversation and condescension of Christ caluminated His actions as man. They called him a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. And this was a less, and therefore more easily remissible, sin. But as the sin spoken of in S. Matthew was the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, so here the sin unto death is blasphemy and treachery against Christ. And both one and the other are with difficulty remitted.

This sin is not to be healed by any one but by Christ alone. For such a sinner is like unto Lazarus, of whom Martha said unto Christ, “Lord, by this time he stinketh, for he has been buried four days.” Wherefore Jesus, with great effort, weeping and lifting up His eyes to heaven, and crying with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” raiseth him again to life.

I do not say that any one should pray for it. Thus the Greek and Latin. S. Gregory has a reading, that any one should pray for him. The meaning is, I do not forbid prayer for such, but I dare not promise that the prayer will be answered. For often God will not hear those who pray on behalf of the sin unto death, according to the words in Jeremiah, 7:16, “Pray not thou for this people, for I will not hear thee.”

S. Bernard says (de Grad. Humil. cap. ult.), “The Apostle John says, for such a one I do not say that any one should pray. But dost thou say, O Apostle, that any one should despair? Indeed let him who loves him groan. Though he may not persume to pray, yet let him weep. Thus Martha and the Magdalen wept the death of Lazarus, and by weeping obtained his resurrection.”

Ver. 17.—All iniquity is sin, and there is a sin unto death: the Greek and Syriac add the negative proposition, and there is a sin not unto death. He opposes the two kinds of sin. Every iniquity is sin, but not every iniquity unto death, because it is a peculiar kind of sin which, as is said, is sin unto death.

For iniquity the Greek has ἀδικία, injustice, which is properly opposed to justice. But as in Scripture, so also in Aristotle and the ethical writers, justice is taken generally for any virtue, and injustice or iniquity for any sin.

Ver. 18.—We know that every one who is born of God sinneth not, but the generation of God preserveth him. The Latin translator reads, γένεσις ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ τηρεῖ αὐτόν. The present Greek reading is γεννηθείς ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ τηρεῖ αὐτόν, i.e. he who is born of God keepeth himself, viz., by the virtue received from his divine birth.

And the wicked one toucheth him not. This is the third fruit of the living faith, or regeneration, by which any one through faith and grace is born again in Christ, viz., preservation from at least grave and deadly sin, and consequently from the power of the malignant one, i.e. the devil. I have explained this in cap. 3 vers. 6 and 9.

Generation is here put for the grace generating. S. Gregory and S. Bernard, for generation of God read heavenly generation. By generation here S. Gregory understands knowledge of the Divine will, with the love of the same; S. Bernard, the Divine predestination; Didymus, the regeneration of the will which takes place by voluntary conversion and repentance. But others better understand it to mean grace and charity. For by these are wrought the regeneration and renovation of the new man, that is to say, of the faithful and holy soul, and its continuance in charity.

And the wicked one (malignus), &c. By the wicked one Didymus and Thomas English understand the world. But others, generally with more correctness, understand it of the devil. For the devil is more especially the wicked or the evil one. He does not touch, i.e. does not hurt, him who is born of God. The Syriac translates, doth not come nigh him. This is what is said in Zach. 2:8, “He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of Mine eye.” And Ps. 104:15, “Touch not My Christs” (Vulg.); and S. Paul says, “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able.”

Ver. 19.—We know that we are of God, and the whole world is placed in the wicked one. For is placed the Greek reads κεῖται, i.e. lieth. The wicked one (malignus), i.e. the devil, as in the last verse. This is the epilogue of the Epistles. As though S. John said, This is the conclusion and the sum of my words. We ought greatly to rejoice that, being born of God, we live and abide in Him, and lead in Him a pure and holy and heavenly life. Whilst, on the contrary, the world, i.e. worldly men, are situated in the wicked one. That is, they live oppressed beneath the tyrannical power and domination of the devil, and in him they lead a life impure and wicked, which leads to hell. The Manichæans, however, are in error who think that the world is placed in the wicked one because it was made by the devil, as if he in making it breathed into it his own wickedness and malignity.

Another meaning that may be given to wicked is that it is put for wickedness, depravity. Whence Salviatus (lib. 4 de Provid.) recalls, The whole world is placed in evil. There is an allusion to Gen. 6:5, “God saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth, and that the whole thought of his heart was intent to evil.” The Hebrew is, “the whole fashioning, or imagination, of the thoughts of his heart was evil.” The whole world therefore is placed in wickedness and concupiscence which entices to every wickedness. For indeed the world, i.e. all the people of the world, in the Sin of Adam contracted original sin and concupiscence, and by this they are led to all evil. The world therefore is an ocean of crimes and a deluge of vices, according to the words in Osee (4:2), “Cursing and lying and murder and theft and adultery have been a flood, and blood hath touched blood.”

Experience teaches us that the world, like Sodom, is full of covetousness, pride, deceit, luxury, gluttony, and every evil.

S. John seems to be alluding to the three evils of the world which he spoke of in chap. 2:16, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Wherefore he who is wise flies from the world, and the conversation of worldlings, and betakes himself to a congregation of the Saints, as Lot saved himself from the burning of Sodom by fleeing to the mountain.

Listen to what was represented to S. Anselm in a heavenly vision concerning the unnumbered evils of the world, as it is related in his life:—“Being rapt in an ecstasy, he beheld a mighty rushing river, into which all the filth in the world flowed from every quarter, so that nothing could be more horribly polluted than its waters. And wherever these waters reached, they carried off and bore down with them men and women, rich and poor. Anselm being full of wonder and pity at this sight, inquired how these persons were fed, and how they could live. He was told that the unhappy wretches drank and were delighted with the filthy mud by which they were borne along. Then there was added an explanation of this mystery. The world itself was the torrent in which blind mortals are hurried along by the riches and honours and other objects of their lust. And although they are so wretched that they cannot even stand, yet they count themselves happy and fortunate. After this he was led into a certain spacious and ample enclosure, and whose walls were overlaid with the purest silver, and shone in a marvellous manner. In the midst there was a meadow, and the plants which were therein were not common herbs, but all of a soft and living silver. They gently gave way to him who sat upon them, and when he arose they again stood up. The air, too, was calm and pleasant. And in short all things were sweet and delightful, so that nothing more could seem to be desirable for felicity. And it was shown to him that this was the religious life. So that without doubt God willed to teach him by this image that all things in the world are unclean, uncertain, deadly, ever rushing headlong; but that in religion, on the other hand, all things are pleasant—in fine, they are all like silver, fair and precious.”

Ver. 20.—And we know that the Son of God has come, &c. S. Ambrose (lib. 1 de Fid. c. 7) reads, hath appeared. The Apostle now explains what he had said, that we are of God, and therefore have overcome the world and the wicked one; namely, that this has been done and is being done through Christ. God for this very end sent His Son into the world in our flesh, that by His Divine doctrine He might give us the sense and the knowledge of heavenly things, that forsaking our idols, and being freed from sin, the devil, and the world, as from false gods, we might know the true God, and might, by faith, hope, and charity, be incorporated into Christ His Son and His Church, and so be endowed by Him with the life of grace and everlasting glory. For He is the very true God, and the true, uncreated, everlasting Life itself.

And hath given us sense. (Vulg.). Instead of sense the Greek has διανοίαν, which the Syriac renders understanding, i.e., illumination of the mind, divine knowledge. Vatablus translates, mind.

That we may know the true God, i.e. the Father.

And may be in His true Son. (Vulg.). The Greek, the Syriac, and S. Athanasius (Orat. Deus de Deo) read, And may be in Himself the True, namely in His Son Jesus Christ. By this is meant that the Son is of the same substance with the Father, because He is True and the Truth essentially; namely, true God, even as the Father.

In these few words S. John gives as it were a compendium of his whole epistle, and of the Christian faith and creed. He marks its two chief mysteries; namely, the oneness of Substance of the Father and the Son, and the Incarnation of Christ. Wherefore Bede saith, “What can be plainer than these words? What more sweet? What stronger utterances can there be against all heresies?” And S. Athanasius (Disp. c. Arius) says, “This is the very thing which Arius asked for, a written demonstration of the Godhead of the Son.” And S. Cyril (12 Thesau. c. 13) says, “If He (the Son) is true God, this must be as to His Substance, not participatively, as a creature. For He who is true God is God by nature.” And S. Ambrose (lib. 1 de fide, cap. ult.) says, “If He be true God, surely He was not created, having nothing fallacious or unreal, nothing confused or dissimilar.” And in the 8th chap. he intimates that the expressions in the Nicene Creed, “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God,” &c., are drawn from this verse. And S. Jerome says, “If He were not true (God), He would be like an idol.”

This is the true God. Erasmus, Arianising after his manner, says, and twisting, as he does many passages of Scripture which speak of the Divinity of the Son, perverts this passage also. He, he says, viz., the true God—that is, the Father, not the Son—is true God. But this would be tautology. For who does not know that the true God is true God? Wherefore the pronoun He, or This (hic), does not refer to the words true God, which preceded, but refers to the true Son of God. We may add that in S. John’s age, just as in later ages, no one doubted about the Divinity of the Father, but many doubted about, yea denied, the Godhead of the Son. It is this therefore which S. John labours to maintain. Listen to S. Athanasius on the words, All things are delivered to Me of My Father: “This Father is Light, the Son is a beam and ray of Light, the Father is true Light and true God. The Son is true God. For so it is written by S. John, We are in Jesus Christ the True: He is the true God and eternal Life.”

Ver. 21.—Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen. S. John gives this last admonition, because in that age idolatry was a great danger, and it was most needful to warn against it. For at that time the whole world lay in the wicked one, i.e. in idolatry, and so Christians who were recently converted from it were obliged to be continually conversant with their Gentile and idolatrous relations and friends, to dine and feast with them, when meats offered to idols were set before them as sacred things to be eaten, concerning which I have spoken on 1 Cor. 8. Lest, therefore, by their examples and entreaties they should fall back into idolatry which they had lately forsaken, S. John in this last verse diligently warns them, so that he may fasten it deeply in their mind and their memory, that they should abstain from all commerce with idols, and from all meats offered to idols. So Didymus, Lyra, Cajetan, &c. Beza and the heretics falsely render the words, Little children, keep yourselves from images. For an image is the likeness of something true, or real: but a simulchrum or idol, of something false, as for instance of a false god. Thus Scripture and the Fathers distinguish those two words. And the Seventh Œcumenical Council pronounces an anathema against those who say that the images of Christ and the Saints are idols.

Now S. John says, Keep yourselves from, he does not say, Destroy idols, for this would excite the rage of the heathen against all Christians. Wherefore S. Augustine warns us that the idols in men’s hearts ought first to be destroyed, afterwards those in the temples. He adds that those must not be accounted Martyrs who are killed for destroying idols. But this must be understood of those who did it rashly and imprudently so as to cause scandal. For those who did it advisedly out of greatness of soul, or by a Divine prompting, either to confound the heathen or to confirm the faithful, are reckoned among the Martyrs. Such were S. Theodoras, S. Barbara, S. Christina, and many others.

Keep yourselves from idols. This means, Do not carve, or paint, or polish them. Do not uncover the head or bend the knee to them, or pay them any honour. Do not swear by them. Do not eat meats offered to them. Do not hold any office connected with their worship or honour. Do not bear offerings, frankincense or wine, to them. Do not celebrate their fame either in prose or verse. With the greatest circumspection, therefore, were the faithful to keep themselves from idols, and to be on their guard against them, so as not to consent to, or take part in, and so be defiled in any manner with idolatrous rites and ceremonies. Lastly, S. John in these words rebukes the heresy of Elxai, which arose towards the close of his life. Amongst other things he taught that it was no sin if any one chanced to adore idols in a time of hot persecution, if only a man did not adore them in his conscience, and if belief in them were professed only with the lips and not in the heart. And this crafty deceiver was not ashamed to cite in confirmation of his doctrine a certain priest of the name of Phinees, a descendant of Aaron and of the ancient Phinees, who in the time of the Babylonish captivity worshipped Diana, and thus at Susa escaped destruction in the presence of King Darius. So S. Epiphanius (Hæres. 19).








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