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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2


In this chapter, the Apostle continues his exhortation to brotherly love; he considers our brethren as sons of God, and under this respect, he exhorts us to love them, since our love of the Father involves the love of his sons (verse 1). He gives a mark for knowing that we love our neighbour, viz., if we love God himself and observe his commandments (2). The surest test of our loving God himself is to keep his commandments, and this duty is not too grievous to the sons of God, aided by his actual graces (3). He shows that His commandments are not grievous to the sons of God, since, every description of persons born of Him have conquered the world, and thus observed his precepts, and the instrumental cause of this victory is faith (4), viz., the faith in Christ, as God and man (5).

The Apostle next proves Christ to be Saviour of the world, of whom the Prophets predicted, that he would redeem mankind by water and blood,—and the Holy Ghost also, on divers occasions, testified that he was true God and true man (6). He next adduces three undoubted witnesses in heaven (7), and three witnesses on earth, to prove the Divinity and Humanity of Jesus Christ (8). He contrasts the superior excellence of the Divine testimony with the testimony of men, which is considered, in some cases, as final and decisive (9).

He tacitly exhorts and stimulates them to persevere in the faith of Christ, by pointing out the advantage of this faith, and the spiritual and eternal ruin which its rejection entails on us (10). One of the fruits of this true faith is, eternal life (11, 12). Another result of this faith is, a firm confidence of obtaining from God the objects of our lawful petitions (14, 15).

He takes occasion, from the mention of the confidence with which all true Christians should approach the throne of God, to recommend the exercise of charity in behalf of their sinning brethren. He tells them to pray confidently for such persons; for, in certain cases, their prayers will be attended to. He does not hold out the same encouragement in case our brethren may fall into sins of a certain description which he calls “sins unto death” (16). He points out the blessings exclusively enjoyed by the children of God—they are preserved from sin and the tyranny of the devil, and they only are thus favoured (18, 19). He shows the source of these blessings—Christ our Saviour (20). He cautions them against idol worship (21).


1. Every one who believes that Jesus is the long expected Messiah promised by the prophets, is spiritually born of God by sanctifying grace, and every one who loves the Father, loves also his Son, whether natural or adopted.

2. And by this we can know that we love the children of God, viz., by our loving God himself and observing his commandments.

3. And the surest test we can have that we love God is, the observance of his commandments, and these commandments, whether viewed in contrast with the heavy yoke of the ceremonial law of the Jews, or considered in themselves, are not onerous to the sons of God, aided by actual grace.

4. For, every description of persons, spiritually born of God, be they young or old, male or female, Jew or Gentile, have overcome the world, and renounced all its false maxims—to such, therefore, the commandments of God are not heavy—and the instrumental cause by which this victory over the world is obtained, is our faith.

5. And what faith is it that overcomes the world, but Christian faith, of which the belief in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, is the foundation?

6. This is he, who has come into the world, Jesus Christ, God and man, to save us according to the prediction of the Prophets, by the water of baptism and the blood of his passion, and not by water only, as came the Baptist, whose baptism had only the effect of preparing men for penance, but by water and blood. And we have also the testimony of the Holy Ghost, bearing witness to the truth of Christ’s Divinity and Humanity.

7. For, there are three divine and uncreated witnesses, who, in heaven and from heaven, bear testimony both to angels and men, that Christ is true God and true man, and the Saviour of the world, viz.; the Father, the Word (or Son), and the Holy Ghost, and these, although three in Person, are one in Nature.

8. And there are three earthly and created witnesses that bear testimony on earth to the reality of the same Divinity and Humanity in Jesus Christ, viz., the water, and blood, that issued from his side on the cross, and his soul which he breathed forth, when expiring; and these three witnesses concur in one and the same testimony.

9. But, if we admit the testimony of two or three men, as conclusive on any subject, how much more weight should we not attach to the undoubted testimony of God the Father. Now, the testimony of God has been pledged in favour of the divinity of his Son (Matthew, 3:17; 17:25, &c.)

10. He that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God and the Word Incarnate, has within himself, and firmly assents to, the testimony of God the Father regarding him, and thus honours the Father; whereas, he that does not believe him to be the Son of God, insults and outrages the veracity of God, by making him a liar, since he does not believe the testimony which he has borne regarding his son, but rather rejects it, as if it were false.

11. And a portion of the testimony of the Father regarding Jesus, is this, that he has given us, who believe in him, and obey his law, the life of grace here, which is a certain pledge of glory, and he will surely give us eternal life hereafter, and this life of grace and of glory is attributable to the saving merits of his Son.

12. He that has the Son residing in him, owing to his lively operative faith, has within himself the fountain of all grace, and the source of eternal life. On the other hand, he that has not this lively operative faith in the Son of God, has no claim or title to eternal life.

13. These things I have written to you, regarding the utility and necessity of faith in Christ, in order that you who believe in the Son of God, may know that you have here a sure claim to eternal life, and may thus be stimulated to perseverance in the same faith.

14. Another result of our sincere faith in Christ is, an assured confidence which we have regarding him, that whenever we ask anything of him, which is conformable to his will, both as to the object and manner of petition, he hears us, as far as it may be expedient for our true welfare.

15. And not only have we confidence, but we know that he will hear us in regard to whatever we shall ask of him (of course, according to his will), for, we know that he has granted the petitions which we have heretofore made to him.

16. Should, then, a person know that his Christian brother has committed a mortal sin, which is not a sin unto death, let him pray for him, and the spiritual life of grace, whereof the commission of such a sin has deprived his brother, will be restored to him, whose sin does not contain the peculiar malignity of being unto death. I say, whose sin is not unto death; for, there is such a thing as a sin unto death; in case a brother commit a sin of this sort, I do not tell every one to pray for such a person with the same confidence he would have in praying for the remission of the sin which is not unto death.

17. Every violation of the equity and rectitude of God’s law, or every injustice or injury done to God, is a sin; and the sin which is unto death contains an injury against God of greater enormity, than is ordinarily contained in mortal sins.

18. We know from the principles of our faith, that whosoever is become the adopted son of God, and receives of him a spiritual birth through sanctifying grace, commits no grievous sin; the infusion of sanctifying grace, whereby he was begotten of God, will, however, preserve him, and the devil cannot reach him, so as to tempt him to commit grievous sin.

19. We know that we and all good Christians are born of God, and we only; for, all the rest of mankind, lovers of the world and earthly pleasures, are placed under the power of the devil.

20. We know as a certain matter of faith, that the eternal son of God has come amongst us, by assuming human nature, to be our Redeemer; and has given us a supernatural knowledge, so as to know the true God, and to be united and incorporated with his true and consubstantial Son, Jesus Christ. This Son is true God, of the same divine essence with his Father, and is both the object in the fruition, as well as the meritorious cause, of eternal life.

21. Dearly beloved children, carefully guard against joining in any way in the worship of idols. Amen.


1. The Apostle here inculcates brotherly love, on the ground, that our brethren are sons of God, but this does not exclude from our love such of them as are not sons of God; for, these are to be loved so as to be made sons of God and true brethren in Christ. “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ,” that is, the long-expected Messiah, and of course reduces this faith to practice; “is born of God,” has received of him the new spiritual birth through sanctifying grace which imparts to him a new essence, and makes him “partaker of the divine nature,” (2 Peter, 1). Under the faith that “Jesus is the Christ,” is most probably contained the belief in all the other points of revealed doctrine; and the truths of Christ’s divine mission is prominently put forward, because called in question by the heretics of the day. “Is born of God;” this being an affirmative proposition, of course, only implies, that he is such, all other conditions being observed; “and every one that loveth him who begot,” that is, the Father, “loveth him also who is born of him,” viz., the Son, be he natural or adopted. Some persons restrict the words, “him who is born of him,” to Christ, the natural Son of God. It is better, however, to give it a general signification of an adage or maxim, in use among men, referring to fathers and sons generally.

2. The Apostle, in this verse, applies to a particular case, viz., as regards the children of God, the adage employed in a general sense, as regarding all fathers and sons in the preceding. In the foregoing part of this Epistle, he gave it as a sign and argument of our loving God, if we loved our neighbour. Now, by an argument, e converso, he shows, that if we love God, we love our neighbour, the love of both being inseparable; for, the motive of both is the very same, as has been shown (4:12). It may often happen, that the love of God may be better known at one time, and the love of our neighbour at another, according to the nature of our immediate occupation; according as we may be engaged in acts immediately affecting the divine honour, or, in relieving human misery. “And keep his commandments;” this he adds to the words, “we love God,” lest any person should deceive himself by imagining that he can love God, without fulfilling his precepts.

3. The best proof we can afford that we love God is to keep his commandments; for, whosoever sincerely loves God, will, influenced by that love, observe all his other precepts. And lest any one should be disheartened by the test of God’s love required by the Apostle, he says, “his commandments are not heavy,” which words are understood by some, in a relative sense, as compared with the heavy yoke of the Ceremonial Law of the Jews, “which neither they nor their fathers could bear,” and was abrogated by Christ; the precepts of the New Law are not heavy. Or, although many precepts in the New Law be repugnant to the feelings of corrupt nature (v.g.)—taking up our cross, renouncing ourselves, losing our lives, &c.; still, they are rendered light by God’s grace, and the stimulating examples of Christ and his saints. Moreover, it is likely, as appears from the entire context, that the Apostle refers to such as are sons of God, and in sanctifying grace, and love him; and to such, persons nothing is “heavy,” or burdensome. Hence, St. Paul calls all present tribulations, as compared with eternal bliss, “light and momentary” (2 Cor. 4:17). If the commandments of God are not “heavy,” none of them, therefore, is impossible, as has been taught by Jansenius.

4. “For whatsoever is born of God.” “Whatsoever,” that is, every description of persons born of God—and this favours the interpretation of the preceding verse, which understands it of all the sons of God—“overcometh the world,” with all its temptations, seductive maxims, and ruling principles, “the concupiscence of the flesh,” &c. (2:16). To such, therefore, the commandments of God are not heavy. He next points out the source of victory, viz., “our faith,” since faith alone is the foundation of all those graces which enable us to overcome the world; it alone obtains for us those necessary graces; without it no one can ever have the means necessary for overcoming the world.

5. “Who is he that overcometh the world,” &c.—In other words, no one can have the faith whereby the world is overcome except he who believes “that Jesus is the Son of God.” The Apostle shows, in this verse, what the faith is, to which he refers, it is the faith of which the belief in Christ’s Divinity is the foundation. Of course, he supposes this Christian, victorious faith, to be an operative faith, a faith enlivened by charity, and he refers to the article regarding the Divinity of Christ in a special manner, both here and in other parts of this Epistle, in consequence of the leading errors of the day being specially levelled against this—the foundation of the Christian religion.

6. The Apostle here proves, that Christ is the long expected Messiah, the Son of God. “Jesus Christ,” God and man, the Saviour of the world, who, as the prophets predicted, was about to redeem mankind by his blood, and expiate their sins in the waters of Baptism (Ezechiel, 36:25, &c., 47; Zach. 12:13). “This is he that came” (or, as the Greek, ὅ ἐλθων implies, this is the man long expected to come), “by water and blood,” to redeem the world, and spiritually regenerate mankind “by water” of baptism “and blood” of his passion, of which the baptism in water, and purifications by the shedding of blood, among the Jews, were so many significant types and figures. “Not by water only,” in which allusion is evidently made to the Baptist, of whom it is everywhere pointedly asserted by the Evangelist—and the same is repeatedly asserted by himself—that he came to baptize in water only, and that he was sent by God for this purpose, and his baptism did not of itself remit sin, as it most probably, was a mere preparation for penance, and for the true baptism instituted by Christ. “But by water and blood.” He came “by water,” because he instituted baptism of water, whereof that which issued from his side while hanging on the cross was a sign; and “by blood,” poured forth on the cross, from which baptism, and all the other channels of divine grace, derive their efficacy. “And it is the Spirit that testifieth, that Christ is the truth”; to the testimony of the water and blood, the Apostle adds that of the Holy Ghost, who testified to the Divinity of Christ, during his sacred life, working wonders in proof thereof; and after his death and resurrection, when descending on the Apostles, in the form of fiery tongues, he filled them with his graces, he also bore testimony to the same, in the many gifts which he bestowed on the faithful. In the Greek reading the words run thus: καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα ἐστιν τὸ μαρτυροῦν, ὅτι τὸ πνεῦμα εστιν, η ἀληθεια “and it is the Spirit that testifieth, because the Spirit is truth,” according to which the meaning is: the Holy Ghost also bears testimony, that Christ is the expected Messiah and Saviour of the world, and this testimony is of the greatest weight, because the Holy Ghost is essential truth. The Vulgate reading is, however, preferable, since the question regards the truth of Christ’s Divinity and Humanity; both of which are necessary to constitute him the true Saviour of the world.

7. The Apostle now adduces the most incontrovertible evidence of the truth of his assertion made in the foregoing verse, viz., that Jesus Christ was the long-expected Messiah, true God and true man, who was to come and redeem mankind. The witnesses here adduced are divine witnesses. (Such is the meaning of “in heaven,” as contradistinguished from “on earth,” next verse), viz., the three Adorable Persons of the Trinity, “the Father,” who bore testimony to Christ (Matthew, 1:21; 3:17; 17:5; John, 12:28);—“the Word,” that is, the Son. He bore testimony that he was himself the Messiah promised by the Father, and proved it by repeated miracles (John. chap. 5, verses 17, 36; 8:14, 25; 10:25);—and finally, he testified that he was the Son of God in presence of the High Priest, during his sacred Passion. “And the Holy Ghost.” The Holy Ghost testified, that Christ was the only begotten Son of God, and in his assumed nature, the Saviour of the world, viz., at his baptism by John, on the day of Pentecost; and in the abundant effusion of his heavenly gifts, on many occasions.

“And these three are one.” These three witnesses, who “in heaven,” and from heaven, give a testimony certain beyond all doubt, regarding Christ’s Divinity and Humanity, His Mediatorial and Redemptory qualities, as man-God, although distinct in Person, are one and indivisible in the same divine nature and essence. The word “one” is taken in the same sense in which it is taken in chap. 10 of John, where our Redeemer says, “I and the Father are ONE,” that is, we possess the same power and the same divine essence. Hence, the evidence which St. John here adduces is that of the Godhead, three in Person and one in nature.

8. And there are three earthly and created witnesses (such is the meaning of “on earth,” as contrasted with “in heaven,” in the preceding verse), viz., “the Spirit,” that is, the created soul of Christ, which he breathed forth with a loud cry upon the cross; from the mode in which this happened, the Centurion cried out, “truly this man was the Son of God,” (Mark, 15:39), “and the water and the blood.” The “water”—the first and chiefest of material elements—which flowed from his side extended on the cross, and the “blood”—the first of the four humours whereby animated creatures live—which likewise flowed there from, and which he abundantly shed during his entire Passion, proved him to have a true body. He had, then, a true body and a soul (“spirit.”) These three witnesses, therefore, prove him to be a real man. They also prove him to be truly God also; since the very mode in which he expired convinced the Centurion at the foot of the cross of this; and his laying down his life freely, and reuniting, by an astonishing effort of his own power, his soul and body in his Resurrection, the circumstances, and mode; and time of which he predicted beforehand, also proves the same. “And these three are one,” that is (as is more clearly expressed in the Greek, εἰς τὸ ἔν εἰσιν, unto one); they conspire together and concur in one and the same testimony, viz., that Jesus Christ is both God and man.

The authenticity of this passage, from the words of verse 7, “in heaven,” to the words of verse 8, “on earth,” inclusively, has been disputed, and has given rise to several learned critical dissertations, for and against. It may be fairly asserted that, at the opening of the present century, there existed a preponderance of Protestant opinion both at home and abroad, in favour of its genuineness. The preponderance of Protestant opinion, however, of late years has been the other way. This change of opinion among Protestants is attributable to the prevalence of the rationalistic and infidel spirit, which of late has so generally infected the cultivated Protestant mind.

But as regards Catholics, while freely indulging in critical researches, which, fairly followed up, only serve to throw additional light in every department of science, on God’s revelation, to which natural truth can never be opposed (for, God, the source of all truth, it is that “enlightens every man”)—whether naturally or supernaturally—“(that cometh into this world;)” they feel that the genuineness of the above passage is clearly decided for them, after the twofold Decree of the Council of Trent; one, on the subject of inspired Scriptures (“De Canonicis Scripturis”); the other, on the authenticity of the Vulgate, “De Editione et usu Sacrorum librorum” (SS. iv.) The Decree regarding the Canonical Scriptures, after enumerating the several books which are to be regarded as inspired Scripture, concludes with these words: “But should any one not receive as Sacred and Canonical the entire books themselves, with all their parts, as they were wont to be read in the Catholic Church, and are found in the old Latin Vulgate edition … let him be anathema.” Now, whatever latitude of interpretation may be allowed in regard to the words, “with all their parts,” as also in regard to the authenticity of the Latin Vulgate, as decreed by the Council, one thing seems beyond all question or doubt, viz., that all texts or passages establishing a doctrine of faith or a precept of morals must be included. For, the very object which the Council professes (loco citato) to have in view, in issuing the above Decree in its present form, as well as the subjoined Decree on the authenticity of the Vulgate, was to show that, in its future definitions regarding faith or morals, the Council employed the revealed word of God. Hence, dogmatic texts, like the one in question, are clearly included. Now, the disputed words, “were wont to be read in the Catholic Church.” They are solemnly read in the Epistle of Low Sunday and in the 8th Responsory of Matins, in the office of all Sundays, from Trinity to Advent. They are also “found in the old Vulgate Latin edition,” The definition of the Council regarding the integrity of the several books, contained in the Canon of SS. Scriptures, and the authenticity of the Vulgate was grounded on the constant and public use made by the Church of these books, as contained in the Vulgate Edition; and considering the divine constitution of the Church, and the promises of inerrancy divinely accorded to her, we cannot suppose, for a moment, that, consistently with such promises, she could admit on the Canon of SS. Scriptures, or venerate as the word of God, to be employed, as such, in her definitions of faith, in her instructions to the people, in her ritualistic Decrees, &c., what was, in reality, but the word of man.

But, apart from the unerring authority of the Church, the genuineness of this passage regarding the three heavenly witnesses can be proved from the most unexceptionable testimony.

In the Western Church it has been quoted as Divine Scripture from the earliest period. In the 3rd century, we have Tertullian adv. Praxeam (ch. xxv.) “ita connexus Patris in Filio et Filii in Paracleto tres efficit coherentes” … “qui tres unum sint,” “non unus,” St. Cyprian (3rd century) ad Jubaianum, Ep. lxxiii., “cum tres unum sint,” &c. The same Father, de Unitate Ecclesiæ, says, “Et iterum de Patre … Scriptum est.” Et hi tres unum sunt (1 Joan, verse 7). We are assured by St. Fulgentius, in the beginning of the 6th century, that, in these words, St. Cyprian referred to the 7th verse of 5th chapter of St. John.

St. Jerome (5th century) in his prologue to the Canonical Epistles, refers to the genuineness of this verse, and to the clear proof of the Trinity which it contains.

In the Speculum of St. Augustine (contemporary of St. Jerome), the words of verse 7, are quoted more than once as Divine Scripture, and a proof of the Trinity founded on them. Some very learned critics assert that this Speculum is the genuine production of St. Augustine. At all events, the great antiquity of the work is admitted on all hands, and the text in question must surely be known to him, as it would be absurd to suppose him ignorant of a dogmatic text, quoted 50 years after his death by over 400 African Bishops in their Profession of Faith, in 484, addressed to King Hunneric. St. Augustine’s silence elsewhere regarding this verse, may be accounted for on this ground, that it was the Italic version, which was but a recension of the African, St. Augustine used. It was in Italy, he first learned the Scriptures on his conversion, and it was the Italic recension, to which he was so partial, he used after he returned home. Now, in this latter, the words in question, from some accident, were wanting. In his Speculum, intended for the unlearned, he uses the African version, to which the people were accustomed, and in which these words are found. In his Tracts on the Epistles of St. John these words are wanting, as these Tracts concluded with the first verses of chapter 5, before he came to treat of verse 7.

Neither does he refer to the Second and Third Epistles of St. John for the same reason. Vigilius, of Thapsus (end of 5th century) quotes the words of verse 7, De Trinitate.

About the same time (A.D. 484), Eugene of Carthage, in obedience to the Edict of Hunneric, the Arian King of the Vandals, presented to him a Profession of Faith framed by a Council of more than four hundred Bishops, from Africa and the Islands of Corsica, Sardinia, &c., of whom many endured exile and tortures, as confessors of the Faith. In the second part of this Profession they quote the words of verse 7 (they make no reference to them in the first part of that Profession which referred to the Consubstantiality of the Word), and addressing this Arian persecutor, they unhesitatingly assert, that the refutation of Arianism which the words of verse 7 contained, was “luce clarius” (clearer than light). Surely, they would not have ventured to speak thus confidently, had the slightest doubt of the genuineness of the words existed in their minds, or even on the part of the Arians themselves. Nor is it to be supposed that the Arians, if any doubt existed on this head, would have allowed the words to pass unchallenged, as they did, without the slightest stricture or animadversion.

Fulgentius (6th century) quotes the words (de Trinitate) also in his “decima Responsio contra Arianos”—in which he refers to St. Cyprian as quoting this verse 7 in his Treatise, de Unitate Ecclesiæ.

Besides the African, we have other Churches of the West bearing testimony from the earliest date. In the Church of Spain, we have the words of verse 7 quoted in the “Collectio testimoniorum Scripturæ et Patrum” which most learned critics believe to be more ancient than St. Isidore; they are quoted also in the famous Codex Toletanus of the Bible in the 8th century, also by Etherius, Contra Elipandum. They are also quoted by St. Isidore himself. “Testimonia Scripturæ de distinctione personarum.”

In Italy, towards the middle of the 6th century, Cassiodorus, the most learned man of his day, who evinced the greatest zeal and industry, and had the most ample opportunities, besides, in procuring the best MSS., Greek and Latin, and collating the most accurate readings, one with another, quotes verse 7, in his Complexiones, or brief notes on the Epistles, &c.

Italy, too, furnishes further most important evidence. We are informed by the learned Cardinal Wiseman (Two Letters on 1 John, verse 7, 1832–3), that in the Monastery della Cava between Naples and Salerno, was found an old Latin MS., which Cardinal Maia, and himself refer to the 7th or 8th century, in which this verse 7 was read. Cardinal Wiseman gives the quotation, of which the following is a portion:—Quia tres sunt qui testimonium dant in terra. Spiritus et aqua et sanguis; et hii tres hunum sunt in Xho. 1hu. Et tres sunt qui testimonium dicunt in cœlo. Pater verbum et Sps., et, hii tres hunum sunt. Si testimonium hominum, &c.

The Cardinal calls attention to the fact of the 8th verse being placed before the 7th in this MS. and he quotes the words of Griesbach to show that this is the case in the oldest MSS.—“Antiquiores fere anteponunt Comma Octavum Septimo.” This fully answers the negative argument founded by some adversaries on the 8th verse being found in some MSS. after the 6th. They should prove besides, that the 7th verse is not found after the 8th in the MSS. referred to, as is the case in the above quotation.

From time out of mind this verse 7 was recited in the Roman Liturgy as may be inferred from St. Bernard (Sermo II., in Octava Paschæ.) Rupertus (12th century), de Divinis “Officiis Lib. xiii. c. xvii.” Durandus (13th century), Rational. Div. Offic. Lib. vi. c. xxvii.

The Fourth Council of Lateran, at which some Greek Bishops, and the Procurators of others, assisted, quotes it unhesitatingly, as SS. Scripture.

It is quoted as furnishing a dogmatic proof in the Decretals. Cap. damnamus de Summa Trinitate, lib. i. tit. i. c. i.; also de Celebratione Missæ. Cap. in quodam, lib. iii. tit. xli., &c.

It is quoted in the prologue to the Canonical Epistles attributed to St. Jerome.

It was commented on by ancient Interpreters, without hesitation. St. Bernard, the Master of Sentences, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas. It is to be observed that St. Thomas, in his Exposition of the Decretal, de Summa Trinitate, against the Abbot Joachim, says—as is stated in a marginal note of the Complutensian Polyglot—that the words, “hi tres unum sunt,” in reference to the earthly witnesses, were added by the Arians, which shows he regarded the rest as genuine.

The clear and uniform testimony of the African Fathers and writers from the earliest date in favour of the genuineness of verse 7 is of the utmost importance, as it proves that these words were found in the early African Latin Version of the Vulgate, in existence before the days of Tertullian, who quotes from it. Now, this early African Latin Version represents a Greek MS., from which the version was made, of an earlier date than any Greek MS. of the Scripture now extant.

It is proved by Cardinal Wiseman, in one of the letters referred to, that Africa was the birth-place of the first Latin version of the Scriptures. In Africa, it was most needed. For, at Rome, Greek was extensively cultivated among all classes, as we are informed by Juvenal (Sat. 6). Greek was the language employed by the earliest Ecclesiastical writers in Rome. A Latin version of the Scriptures was not so much needed there as in Africa, whose earliest Ecclesiastical writers wrote in Latin. Moreover, Cardinal Wiseman (loco citato) adduces several examples of peculiar phrases and constructions, clearly Africanisms, or African idioms, employed in the Vulgate, for the purpose of showing that the original version was made in Africa, of which the Italian was a mere Recension. The fact of the words of verse 7 being found in this old African, version, is the strongest argument in its favour. It being wanted in the Italian Vulgate, besides being a mere negative argument, might be accounted for on the grounds of its being passed over by the copyist. It is easier to suppose its omission on account of Homoioteleuton and other causes, than for its insertion, if it were not found in the original Greek MS.; the more so, as there is question of a public record in public use from the earliest ages in the Church, containing a fundamental law of Christian faith, warmly disputed by heretics from the very beginning.

The arguments against are mostly, if not all, of a negative character. In view of the strong positive arguments in favour of this text, these negative arguments should contain the most overwhelming evidence, and considering that the text in question was a public document, in public use, it is sufficient to assign probable grounds for its omission in some MSS., and for the silence of some Fathers in regard to it. When our adversaries assert that a reading common to all the Church, and even to heretics and schismatics, is spurious and an interpolation, they should prove this to demonstration. Some Fathers, who omitted quoting these words in their disputations with heretics, did so, not because they were ignorant of its existence, but because they did not want it, having abundance of other texts to prove their point, and this in a special manner is true when the Divinity of the Son of God alone was questioned. It was only when speaking of the entire Trinity they used it. This is true of Iræneus, Clement of Alexandria, Dionysius of Alexandria, Leo in his Epistle to Flavian, although he must have well known the existence of such a leading Dogmatic text, quoted by Cassiodorus shortly after his death. Leo quotes verse 8 after verse 6; but this was the connection in his copy of the SS. Scriptures—moreover, verse 7 did not bear on his subject. Most likely, some Fathers omitted quoting it, seeing it was disputed, as they had other texts in abundance to prove their point.

Its disappearance from the leading Greek MSS., the Vatican (B), Alexandrian (A), and Sinaitic, which are generally referred to the fourth or fifth century, may be ascribed to the hurry or negligence of copyists, to Homoioteleuton; possibly, to the artifices of heretics, who may have corrupted the copies that came into their hands, and these multiplied in the transcription. At all events, the positive arguments in its favour, and especially that founded on its being read in almost all Latin editions of the earliest date, far outweigh, putting the authority of the Church altogether aside, all the negative arguments against it. Its insertion, in case it were spurious, would be utterly unaccountable, as Catholics needed it not to prove Catholic doctrine, having an abundant supply of other texts for the purpose.—(Vide Franzelin, de Deo Trino; Perrone, &c.)

9. By an argument, a minori ad magus, he sets forth, in a still clearer light the weight of the Divine testimony, which he adduces in verse 7. If the testimony of two or three witnesses, taken from among men, be regarded as final and decisive on any subject, “in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall stand,” (Deut. 19:15), how much more authoritative must not the testimony of God the Father be, when joined to the concordant testimony of the two other Persons of the Adorable Trinity. Now, “this is the testimony of God, which is greater,” viz., that which “he has borne concerning his Son,” (which is greater, is not in the Greek). The ordinary Greek copies, in place of, “BECAUSE he hath testified,” have, ην μεμαρτυρηκε, which he hath testified, as if he said the testimony of the Father, to which I refer, is that which regards the Son. When it was, that the Father had borne this testimony, has been already shown (verse 7). The Alexandrian and Vatican MSS. support the Vulgate, and have ὅτι μεμαρτυρηκεν.

10. In this verse is contained a tacit exhortation to embrace and retain the faith regarding Jesus Christ, which the Apostle has been proposing throughout this chapter, in refutation of the errors of the day, viz., that he is true God and true man, the Saviour and Mediator given by God to mankind—“he that believeth in the Son of God,” in the sense now explained, “hath the testimony of God in himself,” that is, firmly assents to what God testified, and thereby honours him by doing homage to his veracity. The words “of God,” are omitted in the Greek, they are, however, found in the Alexandrian MS. On the other hand, “he that believeth not the Son,” (in Greek, “he that believeth not God,” ὁ μὴ πιστευων τῳ Θεῷ the Alexandrian MS. favours the Vulgate); he that refuses to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, “maketh him a liar,” proclaims by this unbelief that God is a liar, having borne testimony to what is false, “because he believeth not in the testimony which God had testified.” He believes not what God has testified “of his Son,” viz., that Jesus is his Son, and the Saviour of the world; but rejects it as false, as if God were a liar.

11. “And this is the testimony,” that is, the following is a part of the testimony which the Father “hath testified of his Son,” (verse 10), or the result of our faith in this testimony is, “that God had given to us eternal life,” in its certain seed, viz., sanctifying grace, in hope here, and in the actual possession of it hereafter. “And this life is in his Son,” that is, his Son is the meritorious cause of the graces which God imparts to us here, and of our glory hereafter. The practical advantage, resulting to us from God’s testimony, concerning his Son, and from our faith in it, is life eternal, which is to be obtained through his merits; he, therefore, is justly entitled to be termed our Saviour.

12. The Apostle, here, again exhorts them to have faith in Jesus Christ, on the grounds both of its great utility, “hath life,” and of its necessity, “he that hath not,” &c., “hath not life.”

“He that hath the Son,” means, he that believes in the Son of God, and, of course, it is understood, obeys his law, thus having a faith that worketh by charity, hath life, has within himself the source, and a sure pledge of eternal life. Whereas, “he that hath not the Son of God,” either by not believing in him, or who, although he believes, still, obeys not his law, whose faith, therefore, is dead and inoperative, such a man “hath not life.” There is no other name under heaven, given to men, wherein they may be saved (Acts, 4:12), “no one comes to the Father but by me,” (John, 14). The Apostle thus particularly insists on the necessity of faith in Christ, owing to the errors of the time, which were specially directed against this fundamental point of belief.

13. “These things,” which have been mentioned in the preceding verse, “I write to you,” (in Greek, ἔγραψα, I have written to you), “that you may know, that you have eternal life,” that is, a claim to eternal life, and a sure earnest here, which, however, is not inamissible; “you who believe in the name of his Son,” or, in his Son himself. Name, is used for the person named. In some Greek copies, these words, and that you may believe in the name of the Son of God, are added, and must mean, unless we fall into a useless tautology, that you may persevere in the same belief, which you hold at present. The same is, however, sufficiently implied in our version, since it was to encourage them to persevere in the faith, notwithstanding the allurements of pleasure and the pressure of persecution, that he writes these things. The words are wanting in the Alexandrian and Vatican MSS., which support the Vulgate reading. Similar are the words of the gospel: “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in his name.”—(John. 20:31).

14. Another fruit of our sincere faith in the testimony of the Father regarding his Son, Jesus Christ, is a strong feeling of confidence, which springs from this faith, that whatever we ask of him, he will hear us, provided it be “according to his will.” In order that our prayers should have the effect of infallible impetration, certain conditions are required; for, sometimes, we do not obtain the fruit of our prayers, “because we ask amiss” (St. James, chap. 1). One general condition, in which all the others are included, is, that our prayers “be according to God’s will,” and the will of God is, first, as regards the object of petition, that it be necessary or useful for our salvation; if there be a question of temporal blessings, they should be petitioned for always conditionally, with a spirit of conformity to God’s holy will. Spiritual blessings, whether necessary or useful, are to be petitioned for absolutely. Secondly, as regards the mode of offering up our prayers, “the will of God” is, that they be presented with piety and perseverance; piety implies, first, a certain and undoubted faith in all that God had revealed in general, as also a particular faith that God would grant us the effect of our lawful petitions, as far as it may be expedient for us—a firm confidence in obtaining the effect of our petition grounded on God’s fidelity, liberality, and mercy—attention and devotion in presenting our petition—also, the virtue of humility. Piety also implies, that a man is in the state of grace, or at least, disposed to return to God by penance. It is needless to add, that the condition of perseverance in prayer is almost everywhere recommended and inculcated in the SS. Scriptures. Besides the above mentioned conditions, St. Augustine and St. Thomas require, in order that prayer would be infallibly impetratory, that a man pray for himself; for, says St. Augustine, the promise is, “dabit vobis,” “he will give it to you” (John, 16). And, moreover, our neighbour, in whose behalf we offer up our prayers, may place an obstacle to its effect. Hence, according to them, it is only to prayer in behalf of one’s self, the promise of infallibly granting a request is made. Others do not require this latter condition for the infallible efficacy of prayer. In a just man, prayer, as a work supernaturally good, is meritorious of a reward de condigno, but whether, in a just man or sinner, who wishes to be converted, it is infallibly impetratory, if accompanied with the requisite conditions; and this infallible effect is not founded on God’s justice, but on his mercy and simple fidelity.

15. Here he repeats the same thing asserted in verse 14; and, he says, that we have not only confidence, but we know, that he hears us “whatsoever we ask.” Of course, it is implied, that we ask “according to God’s will.” This knowledge is grounded on the experience which we have, that our past prayers have been heard, and our past petitions granted by him, “we know that we have the petitions which we request of him;” for, “we request,” it is in the ordinary Greek, ητηκαμεν, “we requested,” as if we had a certain guarantee of being heard in future, in the fact of our having been heard by him on past occasions. In the Greek, the particle “if,” is used in the first part of the verse, thus, καὶ ἐάν οιδαμεν, “and if we know, that he heareth us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have requested of him.” Estius supposes, that the same particle “if,” is understood in the latter member of this verse also, and that the whole sense is completed in verse 16, according to the Greek reading, thus: “If we know that he heareth us …, and if we know that we have the petitions,” &c., then the conclusion is, “that if any man know his brother to sin,” verse 16, “let him ask” for him. This would appear to be the construction and meaning according to the Greek reading referred to. The Vatican MS. has και αν οιδαμεν, in support of the Vulgate.

16. This verse is a conclusion drawn from the two preceding verses, thus: since we have confidence, and know that God will hear our petitions in future, as he has heard them on former occasions, I recommend to you, therefore, the exercise of fraternal charity towards your sinning brethren; “he that knoweth his brother to sin” (in Greek, εαν τις ἴδῃ τον αδελφον αυτοῦ ἁμαρτάνοντα if any one shall see his brother sinning) “a sin which is not unto death, let him ask, and life shall be given” to such a brother, at his request. The great difficulty in this passage is, to determine what is meant by “a sin unto death,” and by “a sin not unto death.” In the first place, it is clear the difference between them cannot consist in this, that one is venial, and the other mortal; for, St. John supposes the sin “not unto death,” to take away spiritual life, “life shall be given to him who sinneth not unto death;” and hence, to be a mortal sin. The “sin,” therefore, “which is unto death,” must be a mortal sin, of some peculiar enormity or aggravation. Some interpreters understand it of wilful apostasy from the faith; others of any mortal sin, wherein a person obstinately intends to persevere, and owing to which he refuses to do anything towards extricating himself from the wretched state in which he is; so that it refers to a sort of temporary impenitence in sin. Some understand it of final impenitence; but, this opinion is improbable; for, final impenitence is known only at death; but with reference to the sin, of which there is question here, St. John supposes, that we can know that our brother has fallen into it. The Greek is more expressive, if any one see his brother sinning, &c. Moreover, St. John would not have a person free to pray for one who died in final impenitence; whereas, here, he neither commands nor prohibits it, “I say not that any man ask.”

“There is a sin unto death.” He uses these words to show that it is not without reason he made mention in the preceding, of a man sinning not unto death.

“For that I say not that any man ask.” The Apostle does not command us to pray for such a sinner, with the firm confidence of being heard in his behalf, with which we ordinarily present our petitions to God. The conversion of such a person is the result of a very great grace on the part of God, and requires an abundant degree of favour and acceptability with Him, on which every person cannot, without a certain degree of presumption, calculate. The Apostle does not prevent our praying for such a person; for, we ought to pray for our enemies and persecutors, be they ever so obstinate in evil; he only abstains from holding out certain hopes, that our prayers will be always heard, in the case of a sinner of this sort. Of course, whatever interpretation we adopt of this passage, we know from faith, that God wishes not the death of any sinner, but “that he be converted and live” (Ezech. 33:11; Isaias, 3:18). There is no sin, for the remission of which, the Lord has not left power with his Church.

“A sin unto death,” probably refers to the sin of apostasy from the faith, and some other heinous sins, which are seldom, and with difficulty, remitted. The Apostle gives very little encouragement to such as pray for sinners like these, to expect that their petitions will be heard.

17. “All iniquity,” i.e., every violation of the rectitude and equity of God’s law, “is sin;” for, sin is defined to be, “factum, dictum vel concupitum contra legem Dei eternam.” (St. Augustine, lib. ii. 27, contra Faustum.) “And there is a sin unto death,” i.e., although every violation of God’s law be a sin, there is a peculiar violation of his eternal law, which is called and is, “a sin unto death.” There is a difference of degree both in intensity and effect between the sin unto death, and others. In the Greek, instead of “there is sin unto death,” it is, εστιν ἁμαρτία ου προς θανατον, there is a sin not unto death. However, there is no difference in the sense, because in the expression, “there is a sin unto death,” is implied the existence of such a thing as “a sin not unto death,” and vice versa.

18. The Apostle having digressed, at verse 14, from the subject of recommending persevering and practical faith in Jesus Christ, which he had been inculcating throughout the chapter, now returns to the same, and shows the advantages of this persevering faith. Not only will the remission of past sins, but also preservation against future sins, be the fruit of it. “Whosoever is born of God,” i.e., has been partaker, in a certain sense, of the divine nature, and received a new nativity of him, by sanctifying grace, “sinneth not.” i.e., commits no grievous sin, so long as he remains a son of God; for, with a state of grievous sin, the state of divine sonship is incompatible. And hence, every one should strive to persevere in that state, “but the generation of God preserveth him,” i.e., the sanctifying grace whereby he was born of God, and the spiritual strength therein imparted to him, will preserve him. In the ordinary Greek it is, αλλʼ ὁ γεννηθεις εκ του Θεου τηρεῖ ἑαντον, he that is begotten of God keepeth himself. The Vatican reading is “keepeth him,” τηρεῖ αυτον. Of course, this does not imply inamissibility of grace (vide 3:6–9). “And the wicked one,” i.e., the devil, “toucheth him not,” i.e., cannot induce him to commit sin.

19. “We know,” i.e., we Apostles know, “that we are of God,” i.e., that we, and all good Christians, are born of God; and hence, safe from sin, and out of the reach of the fraud and violence of the devil, as long as we preserve in ourselves this heavenly seed of sanctifying grace, “and the whole world,” i.e., all the rest of mankind, lovers of the world and of earthly pleasures, solely influenced by its leading corrupt maxims, viz., “the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes,” &c. (chap. 2:16), “is seated in wickedness,” i.e., are placed under the dominion of the wicked one, who is called in Sacred Scripture, “the prince of this world” (John, 12:31; and Ephes. chap. 2), “the prince of the power of this air, that now worketh on the children of unbelief”—(see also Colos. chap. 1). Hence, as all the world besides are under the power of the devil, we are stimulated to persevere in the true faith, which alone will rescue us from his dominion.

20. The Apostle closes the Epistle by proposing anew the great subjects of faith which pervade the entire Epistle, viz., the Divinity and Humanity of Jesus Christ—articles which the heretics of the day had specially impugned; and he also shows the source to which we are indebted for our being rescued from the dominion of the wicked one, and segregated from the rest of men, viz., faith in Jesus Christ. “We know that the Son of God is come,” i.e., that Jesus Christ, who is the eternal Son of God, “is come,” has assumed human nature, to redeem us, “and hath given to us understanding to know the true God.” (The word “God,” is not in the Greek. It is, however, found in the Alexandrian MS.) Unlike the unconverted Pagans, who adore idols, and obey their passions like brute beasts, we have received from Jesus Christ “understanding,” reason, and spiritual faculties and knowledge, whereby we “know,” by a supernatural knowledge, and obey and serve “the true God,” viz., God the Father, “and may be in his true Son,” i.e., incorporated with him by sanctifying grace, and ingrafted on him, as branches of the same tree. In the Greek the reading is, καὶ εσμὲν εν τῳ αληθινῷ, εν τῳ υἰῳ αυτοῦ Ιησοῦ Χριστῷ, and we are in the true one, in his Son Jesus Christ. The first member probably refers to God the Father. “This is the true God, and life eternal,” refers to the words immediately preceding, and must refer to them only; for, to say that it refers to the words, “true God,” as is asserted by Erasmus, would be quite absurd, since it would mean: “this true God is true God.” Hence, it refers to Jesus Christ, who, therefore, is “true God,” and “eternal life,” i.e., the object of the beatific vision in heaven, and the meritorious cause of eternal life.

21. “Keep yourselves from idols,” i.e., idol worship of every kind, or from externally joining in any way in the worship of idols—a crime which was frequently committed by partaking of idolothytes, or meats offered to idols, in circumstances calculated to scandalize their weaker brethren, or endanger their own faith. Hence it is, that St. Paul strongly cautions the early Christians in this matter (1 Cor. chap. 8 and 10); and hence, also, the occasion of the decree of the Council of Jerusalem on the same subject (Acts, chap. 15). This verse furnishes an instance of Protestant perversion of the Sacred Text. In some Protestant editions of the Bible, the verse is translated thus: “my little children, keep yourselves from images.” Whereas, the text is, απο των ειδολων, “from idols.” The object of such corruption obviously was to bring an argument against the Catholic practice of venerating images and sacred relics.

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