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


The Apostle conveys to Elccta and her children the love and spiritual affection not only of himself, but also of all true Christians, who are incorporated with them in the profession of the same faith (ver. 1, 2). He wishes them the fulness of all heavenly and spiritual blessings (3). He next congratulates her and her children on their progress in Christian virtue (4); and exhorts them to the performance of good works, especially the works relating to fraternal charity (5). He thus confutes the demoralizing error of Simon Magus, regarding the sufficiency of faith only. He then exhorts them to fulfil God’s commandments; and, in a particular manner, specifies his commandment to persevere in the true faith (6).

He enters on the second part of the Epistle, which is to warn them against being seduced from the faith by the heretics who then sprang forth. He alludes to Basilides, Ebion and Cerinthus, &c., who erred regarding the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ (7). He cautions them against forfeiting eternal life, by following these heretics (8). He shows the disadvantage and ruin entailed by the doctrine of the heretics, and the reward, both here and hereafter, of perseverance in the true faith (9). He next tells them to deny all entrance into their houses, to all false teachers, as also to refuse them the common civilities of life (10)—lest they might be chargeable with countenancing or approving of their wicked works (11).

He puts off many things of importance which he wished to impart to her, not desiring to commit them to writing; he hopes soon to see her (13). He conveys to her the salutation of her sister’s children (13).


1. The ancient bishop (salutes) the lady Electa and her children, whom I love with a sincere spiritual affection, and whom not only I, but also all true Christians united with me in the profession of the Christian faith, embrace with true Christian love and regard.

2. On account of a conformity in the profession of the same true faith which dwells in us now, and shall remain with us in its effects for ever, or which shall remain in the Church until the end of the world.

3. May the abundance of all spiritual blessings, and of divine mercy, and the undisturbed possession of the same, be conferred on you by their efficient cause, God the Father, and their meritorious cause, Jesus Christ, the true Son of the Father, being of the same nature with him, and the beloved Son, in whom he was always well pleased.

4. It has been to me a subject of great spiritual joy to find your children advancing and progressing in the profession of the true faith, and in the practice of Christian virtue, as we have been commanded by the Father.

5. And now, lady, I entreat you, and I also entreat your children, to attend to a precept by no means new (for I have no idea of proposing to you any such), but to a precept which you have heard from the very beginning of your conversion—viz., that we love one another.

6. And the true test of our love of God, with which the love of our neighbour is inseparably connected, is the observance of his commandments. Now, one of his chief commandments is, that we should persevere in the same faith which we have heard from the beginning, through the preaching of the Apostles.

7. (It is not without cause I exhort you to perseverance in the faith, and wish to put you on your guard); for, many deceitful seducers have gone forth into the world, who deny that Jesus Christ, descending from the bosom of the eternal Father, assumed real flesh; the leader of this heretical swarm is a deceiver, and one of the principal precursors of Antichrist.

8. Take heed, therefore, and beware, lest, seduced by these, you may lose the reward of the good works which you have heretofore wrought; rather strive to secure the full and abundant reward which is in store for you.

9. Whosoever recedes from the Church, and passes over to the heretics, and perseveres not in professing the doctrine and obeying the precepts of Christ, has not God as his friend, neither has he him residing in him, and united to him by sanctifying grace; but, on the other hand, whosoever perseveres in the doctrine and precepts of Christ, the same is united to the Father and Son, by sanctifying grace here, and shall be eternally united to them in glory hereafter.

10. If any man come to you and express anything opposed to the doctrine which you have received admit him not into your houses, nor manifest in his regard the common civilities of saluting him, or bidding him God speed.

11. For every person that shows any civility in the way of salutation, or expresses friendly feelings for such a person, countenances to a certain extent, and is, therefore, a sharer in, his wicked doctrines and works.

12. Having many matters of importance to write to you, I have not thought fit to communicate them through the medium of writing; for, I hope soon to be enabled to be with you, and speak to you personally, that, from the more free communication of spiritual blessings, your joy may be full.

13. The children of thy sister Elect, wish thee the abundance of all spiritual blessings.


1. “The ancient.” St. John suppresses his title of Apostle, through modesty, in writing to a single individual, and calls himself “the ancient,” in Greek, Ὁ Πρεσβυτερος which is a term not only employed to express age, but also ecclesiastical dignity in the Church. He was the oldest Christian and Bishop in the Church. Hence, he might be termed “the ancient,” by excellence. “To the lady Elect;” in the Greek it is, εκλεκτῇ κυρία, to Eclecta, lady. Hence, it probably refers to an epithet which had been given to the lady in question, in consequence of her superior virtues and charity; “lady,” a title of respect, which shows that she was a person of quality, “and her children,” both sons and daughters, “whom,” both mother and children, “I love in the truth,” with a true Christian love, whereby I wish for them all spiritual blessings, “and not only I, but also all who have known the truth,” i.e., all true and sincere Christians hold them in the like sincere and spiritual regard.

2. “For the sake of the truth,” i.e., they and I love Electa and her children, on account of professing the same unchangeable Catholic faith, which abides in us, and in the Church at present, and shall abide with the Church to the end, and continue with us in its effects for ever, even in the life to come.

3. This is the usual form of Apostolical salutation, “be with you;” in Greek it is, εσται μεθʼ ὑμων, shall be with you. By a Hebrew idiom, however, the future indicative is used for the imperative. Hence, the sense is expressed in our version. “In truth and charity,” are connected by some (as in Paraphrase), with “the Son of the Father.” Others connect them with the preceding words, “grace, mercy,” &c., thus: may grace, mercy, be bestowed on you, together with an increase of true faith and charity.

4. He now enters on the subject of the Epistle, “that I found of thy children,” which some understand to mean, by a Hebrew idiom, I found thy children, as “adorabunt de ipso,” i.e., ipsum (Psalm 71:16), “dabitur ei de auro Arabiæ”, i.e., “aurum Arabiæ, docebit vos de viis suis,” i.e., vias suas (Isaias, 2:3). Others understand the words to mean, some of your children, “walking in truth,” i.e., progressing, as the word “walking” implies, in Christian faith and virtue, “as we have received a commandment from the Father,” i.e., as the Father has commanded all to walk and progress. Of course, this congratulation for their past virtue, is a tacit admonition to her and them to persevere in the same praiseworthy course.

5. “And I now beseech thee, lady,”—of course, the admonition is through her conveyed to her children and all Christians—“not as writing a new precept,” when recommending that which he beseeches them to practise, “but that which we have heard from the beginning,” viz., of their conversion (vide 1 Ep. 2:7). What he beseeches of her and her children, and proposes to them as an old precept is, “that we love one another.”

6. The charity of God is inseparably connected with the love of our neighbour, since the love of God must be the motive of the love of our neighbour, and without it we could not love our neighbour as we ought (1 Ep. 5:2); and our love of God is most sincerely attested by observing his commandments (1 Ep. 5:3). “For this is the commandment.” “For,” is not in the Greek, and the sense will be more clearly expressed without it, by substituting either, and, or, but, for it, thus: “but this is the commandment,” or one of the commandments, the observance of which will be a sincere test of our love for God, it is, “that as you have heard from the beginning,” &c., i.e., that you persevere in the faith which has been taught from the beginning of your conversion. This perseverance in the true faith he insists on, in consequence of the pernicious errors then disseminated, of which he treats in the following.

7. In this verse he commences the second part of the Epistle, wherein, after exhorting them to charity and good works in the preceding part, he encourages them to perseverance in the true faith, and cautions them against the wiles of the heretics. He, in a particular manner, alludes to Basilides and his followers, who denied that Christ assumed real flesh; they asserted that he assumed merely fantastical flesh; and hence, they subverted the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption. What he says applies also to the heretics, who erred either regarding Christ’s Divinity or Humanity. “This is a seducer and antichrist.” He employs the singular number to mark out the leader of these heretics; or, to show that each of them is a precursor of Antichrist (vide 1 Epistle, 2:18), “are gone out.” In the ordinary Greek, εισηλθον εις τον κοσμον, are entered into the world. The Vatican supports the Vulgate, εξηλθον εις τον κοσμον.

8. “Look to yourselves,” and be cautious, “that you lose not the things which you wrought,” lest being seduced by them, you lose the merit and fruit of the good works which, aided by divine grace, you heretofore performed; “but that you may receive a full reward,” i.e., but rather endeavour, by persevering in the true faith, to secure the possession of the reward, the “full,” i.e., copious and abundant reward which is reserved for you in heaven. The word “full” does not imply that, should they not persevere, they would receive a reward, not full; it only expresses the quality of the reward they would receive in case of perseverance, and forfeit altogether, should they be seduced by the heretics from the true faith. From this verse it follows—first, that good works merit a reward with God; secondly, that charity, as also the merit of our former good works, may be lost. In the ordinary Greek, the reading is in the first person thus: μη απολεσωμεν … απολαβωμεν. (The Alexandrian and Vatican MSS. have these verbs in the second person; and, thus, support the Vulgate), “that we lose not … we have wrought … that we may receive,” &c. The meaning is, however, the same, since the Apostle identifies himself with them, as is frequently done by orators when speaking of disagreeable or saddening matters; or, it may be, that he refers to the accidental reward, the aureola, which the preachers of the gospel enjoy from seeing their people saved (see 1 Peter, 5:4).

9. “Whosoever revolteth;” for which the ordinary Greek is, πας ὁ παραβαινων, passes over, and means, whosoever deserts the standard of God, and passes over to the camp of the heretics, Basilides, Ebion, Cerinthus, &c. The Vatican has, πας ὁ προαγων, “and continueth not in the doctrine of Christ,” including faith and morals, “hath not God” dwelling in him, by sanctifying grace. “He that continueth in the doctrine,” to which is added in the ordinary Greek, of Christ, i.e., whosoever professes his faith, and obeys his precepts, “the same hath the Father and the Son” (see 1 Epistle, 2:23). Of Christ, is wanting in the Alexandrian and Vatican MSS.

10. “And bring not this doctrine.” There is in these words, a meiosis, i.e., they express less than they are meant to convey; they mean: “If any man brings,” that is, expresses any doctrine opposed or contrary to what you have received; for, the Apostle would not prevent them from harbouring in their houses or paying the ordinary civilities to a Pagan, who never heard of Christ, and says nothing opposed to his Divine or Human nature. Hence, he speaks of the seducers and antichrists, of whom he treats in the foregoing verses, “receive him not into the house,” i.e., deny him all entrance into your houses, and what is more, “say not to him, God speed you.” The word for “God speed you,” χαίρειν, means, hail, or joy be with you.

11. The Apostle assigns the reason of the precept given above, “he that saith to him, God speed you, communicateth with his wicked works.” He is supposed, by manifesting friendship and civility towards him, to approve of his heresy and wicked actions. Of course, this prohibition of the Apostle does not extend to showing charity and offering relief to heretics in distress; they are all our neighbours, and we are ordered by the God of charity himself, in such cases to imitate the good Samaritan. But, most undoubtedly, the words of the Apostle convey a strict precept to avoid, as much as possible, all intercourse with such heretics, as make any attempt at perversion. They should then be treated by us, as the heathens and publicans were treated by the Jews, i.e., we should know nothing of them; we should have nothing to do with these traffickers in human souls; and this holds in a particular way, when there is question of proselytizing ministers, “whose speech spreadeth like a canker.”—(2 Tim. 2:17). St. John himself, although the Apostle of love, gives us a striking example of the abhorrence all should feel in coming in contact with heresiarchs, or disseminators of false doctrine: “Fugiamus,” said he, when he heard that Cerinthus was in the same bath with him—“ne cadat et opprimat nos balneum in quo lavatur Cerinthus” (St. Ireneus, lib. 3, ch. 3)—and Polycarp, when at Rome, refused to return the “ave” of Marcion, calling him “primogenitus diaboli.” Such conduct, far from being uncharitable, is the perfection of the charity, which we owe our own souls, and the souls of others.

12. “Having more,” in the Greek it is, πολλα εχων ὑμιν γρᾶφειν, “having many things to write to you,” doubtless, matters of great importance, worthy of the aged Apostle of love; “I would not by paper and ink,” i.e., I would not wish to make writing with paper and ink, the medium of conveying them, “for,”—the Greek is, ἄλλὰ, but; the Alexandrian and other MSS. have the causal particle—“I hope I shall be with you.” Hence, she lived not far from Ephesus. The ordinary Greek has, ελθειν προς ὑμας, “to come to you.” The chief manuscripts have the Vulgate reading. “And speak face to face,” i.e., speak to you in person, not, as now, by writing, “that your joy maybe full,” i.e., the joy which the treating more freely on spiritual subjects is calculated to beget, may be perfect and full. The ordinary Greek has, ἡμων χαρα, our joy; the Vatican and Alexandrian Manuscripts have ὑμῶν χαρα, your joy. From this verse it appears there were many things of importance, communicated orally by the Apostles, which they did not commit to writing.

13. “The children of thy sister Elect” may mean, taking “elect” for a common noun, the children of thy excellent sister, who may have been herself dead, or absent from Ephesus, “salute thee,” i.e., wish thee the abundance of all spiritual gifts and blessings. In the Greek the word, “Amen,” is added. It is, however, commonly rejected by critics.

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