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The Great Commentary Of Cornelius À Lapide Volumes 1 To 8

S. JOHN the Apostle, the son of Zebedee and Salome, wrote this Gospel in Asia in the Greek language, towards the end of his life, after his return from Patmos, where he wrote the Apocalypse.

His reasons for writing were two. The first was that he might confute the heretics Ebion and Cerinthus, who denied Christ’s Divinity, and taught that He was a mere man. The second was to supply the omissions of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Hence S. John records at length what Christ did during the first year of His ministry, which the other three had for the most part passed over.

Listen to S. Jerome in his preface to S. Matthew. “Last was John, the Apostle and Evangelist, whom Jesus loved the best, who lay upon the Lord’s bosom, and drank of the purest streams of His doctrines. When he was in Asia, at a time when the seeds of the heresies of Cerinthus, Ebion and the rest, who denied that Christ had come in the flesh, those whom in his Epistle he calls Antichrists and whom the Apostle Paul frequently refutes, he was constrained by well nigh all the bishops who were at that time in Asia, and by the deputies of many other Churches, to write of the deep things of the Divinity of our Saviour, and to ‘break through,’1 as it were, to the WORD of God by a kind of happy temerity. Whence also we are told in ecclesiastical history that when he was urged by the brethren to write, he agreed to do so, on condition that they should all fast, and pray to God in common. When the fast was ended, being filled with the power of revelation, he burst forth with the preface coming straight from above, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.”

Others add that S. John’s beginning to write was preceded by lightnings and thunderings, as though he had been another Moses, who thus received the Law of God (Exod. 19).

Baronius shows that S. John wrote his Gospel in the year of Christ 99, or sixty-six years after the Ascension. This was the first year of the reign of Nerva, and the twenty-seventh after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus.

As then Isaiah surpassed all the rest of the Prophets in sublimity, so did John the other Evangelists. Last in time, he is first in dignity and perfection. Thus in the first chapter of Ezekiel he is compared to an eagle flying above all other birds. This his dignity and special excellence, as well as his consequent obscurity, may be considered under three heads.

First, his matter and scope. S. John alone of set purpose treats of the Divinity of Christ, of the origin, eternity, and generation of the Word, of the spiration of the Holy Spirit, of the unity of the Godhead, and of the Divine relations and attributes. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are concerned with the actions of Christ’s humanity. This is why the Fathers derive almost all their arguments against the Arians, Nestorians, Eutychians and such like heretics from S. John.

The second is the order of time. We know that the Church, like the dawning of the day, advanced by the succession of time to the perfect day of the knowledge of the mysteries of the faith. Thus the sacred writers of the New Testament, the Apostles and Evangelists, write far more clearly concerning them than do Moses and the Prophets of the Old Testament. John was the last of all, and his Gospel was his last work. He composed it therefore as a sort of crown of all the sacred books.

The third is the author. S. John alone was counted worthy to win the laurels of all saints. For he is in very deed a theologian, or rather the prince of theologians. The same is an apostle, a prophet and an evangelist. The same is a priest, a bishop, a high priest, a virgin, and a martyr. That S. John always remained a virgin is asserted by all the ancient writers, expressly by Tertullian (Lib. de monogam.) and S. Jerome (Lib. 1 contra Jovin.) To him therefore as a virgin Christ from His cross commended His Virgin Mother. For “blessed are the clean in heart, for they shall see God,” as the Truth Itself declares.

The Only Begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, made known to this His most chaste and beloved friend, who reclined upon His breast, the hidden things and sacraments of the Divinity, which had been kept secret from the foundation of the world. John hath declared the same to us, as a son of thunder, thundering and lightening the whole world with the Deity of the Word. As with a flaming thunderbolt “he hath given shine to the world;” and with the fire of love he hath inflamed it. Let that speech of Christ, His longest and His last, bear witness, which He made after supper (S. John 13 &c.), which breathes of nothing but the ardour of Divine love.

See more to the same effect in S. Cyril, S. Augustine, and S. Chrysostom (Prœm. in Joan.) Indeed, S. Chrysostom dares to say that S. John in his Gospel hath taught the angels the secrets of the Incarnate Word, such as before they knew not, and that therefore he is the Doctor of the cherubim and the seraphim. He proves this from the passage of S. Paul in Ephesians 3, “that there might be made known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places by the Church the multiform wisdom of God.” “If,” he says, “the principalities and powers, the cherubim and seraphim, have learned these things through the Church, it is very evident that the angels listen to him with the deepest attention. Not slight therefore is the honour which we gain in that the angels are our fellow-disciples in the things that they knew not.








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