HIS is the title in the Greek and Latin codices. In the Syriac it is as follows, The Holy Gospel, the Preaching of Jouchanon (John), which he spake and preached in Ionic (Greek) at Ephesus. The Arabic has, The Gospel of the holy and great disciple, the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee, the beloved of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 The Divinity, Humanity, and Office of Jesus Christ. 15 The Testimony of John. 35 The Calling of Andrew, Peter, &c.
N the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Douay Rheims Version
The divinity and incarnation of Christ. John bears witness of him. He begins to call his disciples.
N the beginning was the Word: and the Word was with God: and the Word was God.
36. And beholding Jesus walking, he saith: Behold the Lamb of God.
37. And the two disciples heard him speak: and they followed Jesus.
41. He findeth first his brother Simon and saith to him: We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.
42. And he brought him to Jesus. And Jesus looking upon him, said: Thou art Simon the son of Jona. Thou shalt be called Cephas, which is interpreted Peter.
In the beginning, &c. So the Persian, Syriac, Egyptian, Ethiopic, and Arabic, except that the last version has the article in the second and third clauses of the verse—“the Word was with God, the Word was God.” The Ethiopic for Word has cal, answering to the Latin Verbum, which is better than Sermo, as Erasmus and the innovators translate the Greek λόγος.
John begins from the Godhead of the Word: first, because the right order and a full account of Christ require it; second, because in the time of S. John the heresies of Cerinthus and Ebion had arisen, which denied Christ’s Divinity.
After a similar manner did Moses begin his account of the genesis of the world, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Moses begins from the creation of the world, but John far higher, even from the eternity of the Word. Moses marks the beginning of time, in which God made all things. John marks a beginning which was from eternity, when the Word was, by which all things were made by God in time. John therefore takes up the exordium of Moses, and presupposes the beginning of the world, when he gives, so to say, an account of the long anterior beginning of the Word. Hence Tertullian, in his book against Hermogenes, truly asserts that the Gospel is the supplement of the Old Testament.
S. John alludes to Ecclus. xxiv. 5, “I (the Eternal Wisdom) came forth from the mouth of the Most High, the first begotten before every creature.” Also to Prov. viii. 22, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, before He made anything, from the beginning.” Where the Septuagint translates, “The Lord built, or founded (έκτισε) me the beginning of His ways, in His work. Before the age He founded me in the beginning, before He made the earth, and appointed the great depths.”
In the beginning, i.e., first, “in the Eternal Father,” as Cyril says, and Origen. For by-and-by John says in the 14th verse, that the Word was in the bosom of the Father. Second, and more simply, Augustine, Bede, and Hilary, In the beginning, i.e., of the world, or of times, such as you can only imagine, which went on from all eternity before the foundation of the world. As much as to say, the Word was not made in the beginning of time, however ancient and imaginary; but He existed then, because He was not made, but was begotten from eternity. Third, and most simply, Augustine, Chrysostom, and Basil, In the beginning, i.e., before all things, even from the beginning of all eternity, long before all angels, or men, or things created, the Word was. For S. John is here speaking of a true and real beginning (principium), just as Moses does in the first verse of Genesis, and Solomon in Prov. viii. 22. Wherefore, all the Fathers from the passage prove the true Divinity and eternity of Christ. This beginning S. John sets in opposition to Ebion, who affirmed that Christ began to be after His birth of the Virgin, and that He had no previous existence. So Cyril. Hence Nonnus expounds the expression In the beginning, in a fivefold manner one following after another. He was in the beginning, saith he, first, as not subject to conditions of time; second, as coeternal with the Father; third, as equal to the Father by nature; fourth, as incomprehensible; fifth, as ineffable. The four last are consequences of the first.
You will say, Eternity is infinite duration, having neither beginning, nor end: why then is a beginning here spoken of? I answer, the reason is, because of the weakness of the human intellect, which is not able to comprehend eternity, nor to conceive of it definitely, except by a comparison with time. Therefore it conceives of eternity as duration which is coexistent with all time—past, present, and future, and that not only time actual, but which can be conceived of. Indeed, it precedes all time. The meaning therefore is this, In the beginning, that is, before all time, even that which can be, imagined in the mind, the Word was. Think of millions of millions of years, as much as ever thou canst conceive in thy mind; before all these, and whatsoever infinite number thou canst add, the Word was. This is why S. John repeats was four times, saying, In the beginning was the Word, &c., that thou mayest understand that whatsoever time thou thinkest of, the Word was then: that in all ages, however far back thou goest, the Word was in those ages. Beginning therefore is here used relatively, for it is spoken with reference to all time, even that which far precedes. For as the whole substance and immensity of God is in every place whatsoever, yes, in every point of space, and yet it encompasses all space and every place, even what we can think of above the heavens, so likewise God’s eternity, which altogether in time present, or in one single instant of the duration of time, includes and embraces all time, past, present, and to come, and far exceeds and transcends it all. And this is what we mean when we say, following the words of S. John, that God’s eternity was in the beginning.
Thus we are able to ascend with our minds to the idea of the antiquity, and as it were the origin of eternity, which is here called Principium, that is, the beginning of all duration and eternity.
Though indeed this beginning is without beginning, a commencement without commencement. Therefore when we would say of anything, that it did not have a beginning in time, we say that it was in the beginning of all duration and eternity. And by this we mean nothing else but that it always existed, that it was from all eternity. This is the meaning of S. John when he says, In the beginning was the Word. This is also why we say in ordinary discourse, that God has existed from the beginning of eternity, that is, that He is from all eternity.
Was: the expression was, says S. Basil upon these words of S. John, leads us to eternity, not as if the word was signified that the Word preceded the beginning, concerning which it is said, It was the beginning, and consequently the beginning of time and the world were here to be understood (because the Word preceded in computation (ratione) only, as it were, for as everything whatsoever precedes its own duration, so also God is before His duration and eternity: for duration is the continuance and measure of the thing which exists and endures), therefore, even before, from all eternity, was the Word. Here observe that the word employed is was (erat), not has been (fuit), for has been signifies that which has existed, and passed away; but was signifies that it is even now, or that it is perennial and eternal. So S. Chrysostom, Cyril, and Theophylact. The Holy Ghost therefore suggested was to the mind and pen of S. John, as against the Arians, whom He foresaw would arise. They were wont to say, There was when there was no was; meaning there was a time when the Son was not. From these words of S. John the Council of Nice condemns them; because, In the beginning was the Word, i.e., from eternity.
Moreover, S. Gregory Nazianzen observes that the substantive verbs is and was have a special application to God from the plentitude of His essence. Wherefore God in Hebrew is called Jehovah, i.e., He who is.
The Word, Gr. ό λόγος, That Word, eternal and divine, which is the Son of God, as even the Arians formerly allowed. For John soon after calls this Word the Only Begotten of the Father. So constantly in Scripture, the Son is called the Word of the Father. S. Basil thought that the Holy Spirit might also be called the Word; but S. Thomas rightly observes that this can only be said improperly (improperly being used in the logical sense).*
You will ask why is the Son of God called the Word? I answer that the Greek λόγς (Logos) has many meanings, which are all applicable in this place. 1. Logos may be translated reason, because, as reason proceeds from the mind, so does the Son from the Father. So SS. Chrysostom and Basil.
2. Logos may be translated definition, because the Word definitely expresses and unfolds the nature and attributes of the Father. Wherefore Nicetas (in Orat. 42 Nazianz.) says, “The same relation that a definition bears to the thing defined does the Son bear to the Father. For He declares the Father as a definition declares that which is defined by it. Wherefore Christ said, ‘Philip, he that seeth Me, seeth My Father also.’ For the Son is a compendious demonstration of the Paternal nature; for every offspring is a sort of tacit account, or definition, of its parent.”
3. Logos may be translated cause, because the Word is the cause of all things which have been created and produced by the Word of God.
4. Λόγος may be translated work, because the Word is the Work of the Father, coextensive with Him, coeternal and coequal.
5. Λόγος can be translated power, or virtue, because the Word is the strength and right hand of the Father.
6. Λόγος may be translated beauty, because the Word is the form, grace, and beauty of the Father.
7. And chiefly, Λόγος may be translated, with Tertullian, Cyprian, and Ambrose, speech (sermo), or rather Word (Verbum). This Word, or speeeh, is not of the mouth, but of the mind; because as we by thinking form a conception to ourselves of the thing thought of, or understood, which is called the word of the mind, so the eternal Father, by comprehending and understanding His Essence, and all that belongs to It, has produced this Eternal Word, coequal with, and like to, Itself, by means of which it comes to pass that this Word is God, and the Son of God, begotten of the Father.
Hence also the Gentile philosophers, Trismegistus, Orpheus, Plato, and the rest of the Greeks, Chaldæans, and Egyptians called the Father νο̃υν i.e., mind; and the Son Logos, as it were, the offspring of the mind. See S. Augustine (lib. 7, Confess. c. 9). Whence that saying of Plato’s, “A Monad begat a Monad, and in it reflected his ardour.” He means, The Father begat the Son, and through Him breathed the Holy Spirit, which is the reciprocal Love of the Father and the Son. Many, however, are of opinion that Plato and the other Gentile philosophers mean by the Logos not the Son but the idea in the mind of God, according to which He created all things, and reflected His love back upon Himself, because He created the world on account of His love.
Here observe, the Word of God is twofold. First, essential, because it is the very Intelligence of the Father, which together with essence, understanding, and will, He shares with the Son and the Holy Ghost. The second is notional, which is the Word produced by the Father, and subsisting personally, that is, as the Son. So S. Thomas (1, dist. 27 q. 2. a. 2). This is the twofold meaning of the Word, taken in its widest sense.
I have written more upon the Word in 1 Epis. John, chap. i. ver. 1. Let me add here what S. Augustine says (Serm. 38 de Verb. Dom.) “The Word of God is, as it were, a Form, but not formed. It is the Form of all forms, over all things, and existing in all things. But some ask, How could the Son be begotten coeternal with the Father? As if fire were eternal, would not its brightness be coeternal with it? Is it not the same with the reflection in a mirror, or in water? As, for example, a shrub would always have its reflection in the water beside which it grew.” And S. Chrysostom says, “He said not Word simply, but by the article distinguished it from all others. For it is an Hypostasis, proceeding forth impassibly from the Father. This is the meaning of was in the beginning, that it always existed, and with an infinite existence. For it is not said of the heaven and the earth, that they were in the beginning, but that they were made in the beginning.
And the Word was with God. S. John meets an objection. Some one may say, “Where was the Word in the beginning, i.e., from eternity, when as yet there was no place, and no created nature of things?” He answers, “The Word had no need of place, because It is spiritual, and divine; but It was with the Father, as with that from which It derived Its origin.” As it is said in the 18th verse, It was in the bosom of the Father. Or, as we might say, It was in the Father’s House, which is God Himself, and His immensity.
The preposition with denotes—1. Distinction of person, because indeed the Son is a different Person from the Father, not one and the same, as the Sabellians say. “For how should that which is one numerically be understood to be with itself?” says S. Cyril. “Before all things,” says Tertullian (lib. 5 cons. Prax.) “God alone was Himself to Himself both universe and space and everything. But in this respect only was He alone, that He had nothing external to Himself, for not even then was He alone; for He had with Himself what he had in Himself, His Reason, or that which the Greeks call His Logos.”
2. With denotes the loving and perfect union of the Son with the Father, by which it comes to pass that it is impossible for Him to be separated from the Father. So Nonnus.
3. With denotes the equality of the Son with the Father. For to be with God, or near to (juxta) God, means to sit at the right hand of God, as it were God of the same substance as the Father. Wherefore Christ is said after His Ascension to have returned to the right hand of the Father (Mark xvi.) As Nonnus expounds, “the Son is sunthronos with the Father,” a term which cannot be expressed by a single word in English, but which means an associate in the same throne, an assessor in the same seat.
And the Word was God. The order of the words in the Greek is, And God was the Word. Lest the Arians should bring forward the objection, “If the Word was with God, then the Word was not God, John confutes them by anticipation, saying The Word was God. For the Arians placed the interior and essential Word of God, that is, the Intelligence of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (as the orthodox faith is) in one Person of Godhead, coeternal with Himself. They said that God began to be a Father in time, when He produced the Word (Verbum notionale) distinct from Himself, as it were the first of creatures, and by him all other creatures. John refutes this by saying, And God was the Word, meaning that the Word already spoken of was God. He said this lest any one should suppose that the Word was not God, because he had said that He was with God. He means that the Word was with God in such sort that He Himself was God.
The Arians object that the Greek word θεὸν i.e., God, has not the article in this clause as it had in the preceding clause, and the Word was with God (apud τὸν θεὸν). Therefore, say they, the Word was not true God. I reply by denying the conclusion. For the reason of the difference is that the word God (θεὸν) in the preceding clause, with God, denotes a distinct Person, namely, the Person of the Father with whom the Word was. But in this latter clause it denotes not a Person but the essence of the Godhead common to each Person. For the Word is one God with the Father, so far as relates to Essence and Godhead, but not as regards Person. And the article in this place signifies a distinct Person, not the nature common to both. Again, the Greeks prefix the article to the subject, not the predicate; and in this place God is the predicate, the Word is the subject.
Observe that John in this sentence with three clauses, by the first clause unfolds the when of the Word: it was eternity. Secondly, the where of the Word, and His distinction from the Father. In this third clause, the essence of the Word, and His identity in essence with the Father. S. John unfolded this threefold sentence of His Gospel in the Creed which, at the bidding of the Blessed Virgin, he delivered to S. Gregory Thaumaturgus, as S. Gregory of Nyssa relates in his life. For this symbol is as follows, “There is one Father of the living Word, the substantial Wisdom and Power, and eternal Image, the perfect Father of the perfect and only begotten Son. One Lord, alone from the Only One, God of God, the form and image of the Godhead, the efficacious Word, the comprehensive Wisdom by which all things were made, and the effectual power of the whole creation. True Son that cannot be seen, of the true Father that cannot be seen, incorruptible, immortal, and eternal Son of the incorruptible, immortal, and eternal Father.”
The same was in the beginning with God. He compendiously repeats and confirms this proposition of this clause by a sentence of a single clause. Thus, “This Word, which I have said is God, was in the beginning, that is, from eternity, with God.” For it is difficult to understand how the Word can be with God, and yet the same be God. Therefore John writes and inculcates both together, that he may signify at one and the same time the unity of essence and the diversity of persons, and that he may teach that in the Godhead there is a Trinity of Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. For this is the deepest and most obscure mystery of our faith, and the most difficult to be believed.
Maldonatus gives a second reason for this repetition, derived from the third clause, the Word was God, that is to say, forasmuch as the Word was God, therefore it follows that He was in the beginning with God the Father, that is, coeternal and of one substance with the Father.
S. Hilary gives a third reason (lib. 1 de Trin.), lest any one should suppose because he said the Word was God, and the same was in the beginning with God, there were therefore two Gods, one which was the Word, and the other with whom the Word was, as the Manichæans held two Principles, or Gods, one of which was the Creator of all things corporeal, the other the Creator of angels and things spiritual, John declares that the Word was so with God the Father as to be the same God with Him.
All things were made by Him, that is, by the Word. All things which were not God were created by the Word. “All things, from an angel to a worm,” says S. Augustine; who adds, “between God who speaks, and the creature which was made, what is there by which it was made, but the Word, by whom God said, Let it be made, and it was made. As the Apostle says, “By Him,” i.e., the Word, “were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him” (Col. i. 16).
From these words of S. John the Macedonians falsely denied that the Holy Ghost is God, arguing that He was made by the Word, and therefore that He was a creature, and not the Creator. But it is plain that the words refer to things created, not things uncreated, such as the Spirit, who is One God with the Father and the Son, and the Creator of all things. For if you were to take the word all absolutely, you might infer that the Father also had been created by the Word, which would be ridiculous, as S. Gregory Nazianzen learnedly teaches against the Macedonians (Orat. de Sp. Sanct.) S. John does not in this place make mention of the Holy Ghost, because he is only treating of the generation and incarnation of the Word. Wherefore, after he had said that the Word was Himself God, that is, coeternal, and of one substance with the Father, he now in this third verse describes the relation of the same Word to all created things, asserting that they were made by Him. Then in the ninth and following verses he comes down to man, showing the relation of the Word to man. He asserts that He took upon Him the nature of man, that He might illuminate and save him. This is the scope and object of the whole passage.
Observe that when it is said by Him, the preposition by does not signify an instrumental cause, or a minister, as though the Word were the instrument, or minister of God, by which He created all things, as Origen supposed, and also the Arians, but it signifies an original, or chief (principalem) cause, as in Prov. viii. 15, “By me kings reign,” and 1 Cor. i. 9, “Faithful is God, by whom ye have been called” (Vulg.) The preposition by in this and other places is referred to God the Father, who is the First Cause of all things. And by here means that the Word with the Father is the original Cause of the creation of all things. So S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Euthymius on this passage, and SS. Athanasius, Basil, and others against the Arians. Wherefore also S. Paul (Heb. i. 10) interprets Psalm cii. 26, “Thou Lord in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Thy hands,” of the Word, or Son. “Never, certainly, would he have said this,” says S. Chrysostom, “unless he had believed the Son to be the Founder, not a minister, and that the Father and the Son were equal in dignity.”
You will ask, Why then does S. John use the preposition διὰ (per, or through) instead of ύπὸ by, when he says that all things were made through (διὰ) Him? 1. That he might signify that the Word proceeds from the Father, and is begotten of Him. “Lest any one should suppose,” says S. Chrysostom, “that the Word was unbegotten.”
2. That he might signify that the Word is the Idea of created things, according to which the Father with the Son created all things. For an artificer makes all the works of his art by an ideal, or conception, or mental word, or plan. All these similitudes are transferred to the Divine Word, who is the Begotten but Uncreated Wisdom.
And without Him was made nothing (Vulg.) Nothing: i.e., evil, as corruptible things, whose constant tendency is to nothingness, from whence they came forth, as the Manichæans say. For they thought that things corporeal and corruptible were not created by God, but by a demon, or evil god. But that this interpretation of the words is false and foolish is shown by the Greek for nothing (ου̉δε έν), nor even one thing, meaning that everything, without one single exception, was created by the Word. So the Arabic clearly translates, All things were made by Him, and without Him was there not made anything of the things which were made.
3. By nothing, S. Augustine understands sin: that all things were made by the Word, nothing, i.e., sin being excepted, the author of which is the devil and an evil will not God. But this idea is shown to he untenable in this place by the Greek, ου̉δ έν, not even one thing.
Which was made. Here there are three ways of pointing, and in consequence a threefold interpretation and meaning. The first is without Him was nothing made, which was made in Him: then the stop, after which begins a new sentence, There was life, &c. So read and punctuate SS. Hilary, and Epiphanius, and some others.
But this reading is generally rejected as containing a manifest tautology.
A second reading is, without Him was made nothing: then a full stop, after which a new sentence is commenced, That which was made in Him was life. This is the pointing and reading of S. Austin, Tertullian (cond. Hermog.) S. Ambrose (lib. 3 de fide, c. 3), and the Latin Fathers passim. And among the Greeks are Clement of Alexandria (lib. 1 Pæ. c. 6.) and S. Cyril in loc. S. Augustine expounds as follows, “Everything mad and created by the Word was in the same Word vitally and intellectually, before it was made and created.” It was in the ideas and eternal plans which exist in the Word. It was therefore life, i.e., it lived in the mind and idea of the Word. S. Cyril explains differently, “Everything was made life in the Word, that is, it received, and continues to receive life, i.e., vigour and the preservation of its being, as long as it exists, from the Word.”
The third reading is that of the Syriac, Arabic, and Greek texts of S. Chrysostom, Nonnus, Euthymius, and Tertius (in cantena): without Him was nothing made that was made; then the stop, and then a fresh sentence, In Him was life. This is by far the best reading, and in conformity with it the Bible has been corrected at Rome, and most of the other Latin copies.
S. John adds this sentence against the Macedonians, who argued as we have seen above. As if he said, “When I say that all things were made by the Word, I mean, not the Holy Spirit, but only such things as were created and made.”
In Him was life, &c. Life is the thing which is most excellent, as death is the worst. S. John also ascribes to the Word the Fountain of life: for in Him “we live, and move and have our being” (Acts xvii.) Hence the Greeks call their God Zeus, from ξη̃ν, to live, because he breathes life into all living things. S. John’s meaning therefore is, “Our true life of grace and glory was in the Word as its origin and fountain. And that He might communicate, Himself as this life and light to men, He came down to them, and became man. That as by the Word this macrocosm or great universe was created, so also by the same might the microcosm, or little world of man, be re-created, and called back from the death of sin to the life of grace and righteousness.” S. John explains himself by adding, And the life was the light of men. In his first Epistle he speaks thus of the Word of Life (chap. i. ver. 2). “For the Life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal Life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.” And in chap. v., the last verse, “that we may know the true God, and may be in His true Son. This is the true God, and life eternal” (Vulg.) And this is why S. John. constantly calls Christ The Life.
The Fathers expound this Life of the Word in various ways.
1. Of Formal Life. In Him was Life: that is, life is the very substance of the Word. The Word Himself is substantial Life. So says Œcumenius on 1 John i. The Word Himself is essentially Life. For Life and to live are His very essence.
2. In the Word is Life ideal, or exemplar, because in the Word, as in Idea, the eternal plans of all things exist, as S. Austin says. For the Word is the Idea of all creatures, but the Idea is itself the essence and life of God. Thus therefore the Word is the life of all creatures, even of things inanimate, for all live in the Word, inasmuch as He is all Life.
3. In the Word is efficient natural Life, because the Word is the efficient Cause of all living things, and He gives them their life. To plants He gives vegetable life, to animals animal life, to men rational life, to angels angelic life. Jansen expounds thus, “The natural life of living things depends upon the Word.”
4. and last. You may here take life to mean, supernatural efficient Life, and explain as follows, “In the Word, as in a Fount and prime Cause, was our supernatural life, that is to say, of grace and glory; and therefore that He might impart this life to us, He became Incarnate, as I have before said. For supernatural life is twofold. It is begun by grace, by which a just man serves God in faith, hope, and charity, and lives the supernatural life, believing in, hoping in, and loving God above all things, supernaturally. The other supernatural life is that which is consummated in glory, wherein the blessed enjoy God, and are eternally beatified. There is an allusion to Psalm xlvi., “With Thee is the Well of Life, and in Thy light shall we see life.” “This is,” says Theodoret, “‘With Thee is the Word Eternal, the fountain of life; and in the light of the Holy Spirit shall we behold the light of Thy Only Begotten Son.’”
The light of man, by which men are spiritually illuminated through faith and grace. For he is speaking, not of natural and corporeal, but of spiritual and supernatural light, as is plain from what follows. The meaning is, Our life, which I have just said was in the Word, was this illumination of the Word, by which He has illuminated men with the knowledge of God and His salvation—externally, by words and holy examples; internally, by heavenly light infused into the soul. This was why the Word was made flesh. So Clement of Alexandria (Exhort. ad. Gent.) says, “The Word which was with God appeared as a Teacher—the Word by which all things were made, and which, with Him who made them, gave them at the same time life as their Maker, and taught them to live well when He appeared as their Teacher, that He might hereafter, for the time to come, supply them with the means of living for ever.”
And the light shineth in darkness, &c. The meaning is, As the natural light by its illumination dispels the darkness, so likewise has Christ, forasmuch as He is light, done His part; but the darkness, at is, men by reason of their ignorance and unbelief, have closed the eyes of their soul, that they should not admit this light.
Observe, that Christ, as He is God, is the uncreated, efficient light: as man also He is the efficient light, because He is to men the Author of all wisdom, grace, and glory, not only giving them the natural light of reason, as Origen and Cyril explain, but still more as giving them the supernatural light of faith and wisdom. Wherefore Christ is called in Mal. iv. 2, “The Sun of righteousness.”
Observe Christ as man is here called light, because He chiefly gave light after His Incarnation. He was indeed light before, even from the first beginning of the universe. For as the sun, before it ascends above the horizon, sends forth some rays of its dawning, with which it gives light to the world, so likewise does Christ. This is what the Father says to Christ: “I have given Thee for a light unto the Gentiles, that Thou mayest be My salvation unto the ends of the earth.”
Admirably does S. Augustine say (Hom. 43), “Christ therefore came to give light to the eyes, because the devil had blinded them.” And the same saint says (Epist. 120, ad. Honor), “The Son of God is not absent even from the minds of the wicked, although they see Him not, just as no light is seen when it is presented to the eyes of the blind.” The light of the Word shines in the darkness of wicked men by the light of reason, by the voices of creatures, which all cry aloud that there is a Creator, and that He ought to be worshipped and loved. It shines by the law of nature written in the soul, by the New Law, by the Scriptures, by doctors and preachers, by holy inspirations, and by many such things. Wherefore, the same Augustine says (Tract. 2. in Joan), “Fall not into sin, and this sun shall not go down upon thee. If thou shalt fall into sin, it will set, and darkness will fall upon thee.” “If thou wilt see light, be thou also thyself light. But if thou lovest darkness, and the lusts of darkness, then will they overshadow thee, yea, make thee blind.”
Observe in holy Scripture, and especially in S. John, both in his Gospel and his Epistles, the faith and grace of Christ are compared to light, and sin to darkness, on account of many apposite analogies between them. For light is heavenly, and is the most noble, the swiftest and most pure of natural things. It is impassible and most active. It cannot be defiled by any impurities, even though they be commingled with it. It brings warmth, glory, and joy. It causes all things to be seen, and brings life and power to every living thing. Such also is God, and His grace. The contrary to all this is found in sin, whose symbol is darkness. Besides all this, grace leads to everlasting light and glory, sin to the lowest and most extreme darkness.
Comprehended it not. Greek, ου̉ κατέλαβεν i.e., as Vatablus translates, did not receive it. The meaning is, so great was the blindness and depravity of unbelieving and wicked men, that when the Light offered itself to them of its own accord, they would not embrace, nor receive it; for they closed their eyes that they might not admit it; for “their works were evil,” as S. John says (iii. 19).
The was a man sent from God, &c. He was sent, as Luke says, (iii. 1), “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Cæsar: and the Word of God came to him in the wilderness.” “Thou, then,” Chrysostom, “when thou understandest that he was sent from God, do not think that anything merely human is being announced, but that all is Divine. He does not declare anything of his own, but the secrets of Him who sends him. Therefore he, John, is called an angel, that is, a messenger. It is the office of a messenger to know nothing of himself.”
The same came for a witness, &c. Namely, that he might bear witness that Jesus is the true Light of the world, and that we must look for, and ask of Him all the light of faith, and all the knowledge of salvation.
Observe that in Greek the article is prefixed to light, as it were that light meaning the spiritual and Divine light, that which shineth of itself, and is essentially light, and the source of all enlightenment, which is as it were a Divine Sun, in respect of which John the Baptist was but as the moon, or the day-star. For as the morning star goes before the sun, so did John precede Christ the Sun of righteousness. The meaning is as follows—Inasmuch as the light the Godhead was hidden in the humanity of Christ, as in a lantern dark and shaded, so that men discerned it not, therefore did God send John, that he might uncover and make this light manifest, and testify that Jesus was the very Son of God, the Teacher and Redeemer of the world. For, as Paul saith (1 Tim. vi. 16), God “inhabiteth the unapproachable light, whom no man hath seen, nor can see.” And again, the Son “is the splendour of His glory, and the form of the substance” of God the Father (Heb. i. 3, vulg.)
And again, the same is “the brightness of eternal light, and the spotless mirror of the majesty of God, and the image of His goodness” (Wisd. vii. 26).
That all men through him might believe: that is, believe in the Light, and so be justified and saved. Through him, namely, John, who as it were with his finger pointed out Christ, saying. “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world.”
He was not that Light, &c. The Jews and the Scribes thought, because of the preaching and heavenly life of John in the wilderness, that he was himself the Light, i.e., Christ. John the Evangelist by these words destroys such an idea. He was not that Light. That is, he was not the Saviour of the world, but only His witness, who received all his own light of knowledge and prophecy and grace from Christ. Wherefore in v. 35, he is called “a burning and a shining lamp.” “But,” says Origen, “he did not burn by his own fire, nor shine by his own light.”
That was the true Light, &c. Not John, but Christ Himself. You will ask, Why is Christ called the true Light? or, as the Greek forcibly expresses it, τὸ φω̃ς τὸ α̉ληθινὸν, the Light the true? I answer, first, because the Word is the original, uncreated, and essential Light: but John the Baptist and the rest of the saints are light only by participation and communication from the Word. Wherefore, in comparison with Christ they do not deserve the name of light, forasmuch as they are infinitely surpassed by His brightness. Christ therefore alone is Light, and alone deserves the name of light. In the same way the name of God is Jehovah, or He who is, because Re is the true, essential, eternal, and infinite Being, but all other things derive from Him a spark of being. Wherefore, in comparison with God they have but an imperfect and mutilated existence, so as rather to seem to exist, than actually to be. For they are as it were the shadow of that infinite Being, which fills immensity, that is, God, who truly is the only Being, or He who is.
2. Christ is the true Light of the world, because His faith and doctrine are opposed to the errors and false doctrines of Gentile philosophers, heretics, and atheists. For the true Light is that which is pure, Sincere, genuine, which has nothing feigned, nor obscure, nor imperfect.
3. Because Christ illuminates us far more truly and perfectly than any corporeal light does, therefore spiritual light alone deserves the name of light, and corporeal light is only, as it were, a shadow of it. In a similar way, and with a like meaning, Christ says (xv. 1), I am the true Vine: and in vi. 55, He calls Himself the true Bread. In like manner that which is perfect, and of surpassing excellency, is often called true.
4. Christ is the true Light because He most fully and most widely diffuses His light in every direction. Therefore everywhere is He the true Light. For, as S. John adds by way of explanation, He lighteneth every man that cometh into this world. For all the saints and the faithful, how great soever, and how many soever they are, which have been, and are, and shall be, from the beginning of the world, have derived all their light of faith and grace from Christ. But John the Baptist was a light only to Judea, a little corner of the world, and that only in the days of Herod. In like manner it has been with the rest of the saints.
Lastly, John and the rest were only able to teach their hearers exteriorly, and with the outward voice, but they could not directly, nor of themselves, illuminate the soul. But Christ does both. The voice only strikes upon the outward ears, but Christ, by His grace, both strikes upon, and illuminates the soul
This is why Christ is continually called by John, the Truth. And Christ says in the 14th chapter: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. For in Christ there is all truth, and that fourfold: there is the truth of being, or existence, the truth of the soul, the truth of word, and the truth of deed.
Truth lies hid, as the true Deity lay hid, in the humanity of Christ. Yet cannot it lie hid for ever. As Cicero says (pro Cælio), “0 mighty power of truth, which by itself easily defends itself against the wit of men, against craft and cunning, and against every ensnaring device.” Wherefore, the truth may be oppressed, but can never be extinguished, just as the sun may be obscured by the clouds, but by-and-by it disperses the clouds by the force of its rays, and shines out brightly. Such is truth, and such too is Christ.
Lighteneth every man: that is, as far as Christ is concerned. Wherefore, let those who are not enlightened, ascribe the fault to themselves, because they will not receive the light of faith and grace which Christ offers them. Thus does the sun give light so far as he is concerned to all that are in the house. But if any one shut the window, and prevent the sun from shining through it, this will be his own fault, not the fault of the sun. S. John here alludes to the sun, which gives light to the whole world. So S. Chrysostom, Cyril, Euthymius. This may be gathered from what preceded, the light shineth in darkness, &c. This is said of the supernatural light of grace, though S. Cyril explains it of the natural light of reason. For God has given to every man the light of reason, that by it he may know what is good, what is evil, what to embrace, and what to shun.
That cometh into this world, i.e., born in this world. This is a Hebraism. The Greek ε̉ζχόμενον, coming, may be taken to be in grammatical agreement with light, so that the meaning would be, the light coming into this world, that is, Christ born in this world, enlightens, so far as He is concerned, every man. So S. Augustine (lib. 1. de pec. mer. c. 25). So Christ says (xii. 46), I am come a Light into the world. But almost all the Greek and Latin interpreters take coming to be in the accusative, as agreeing with man.
Ver. 10.—He was in the world, &c. The Word, or Son of God, was in the world. For He as God was in the world by His essence and presence, and power, from the beginning, preserving and governing it by His providence. So S. Paul says (Acts xvii 27). So SS. Chrysostom, Austin, and all the other Greek and Latin Fathers. Otherwise Maldonatus, who refers the passage to the Incarnation. But the Evangelist is about to treat of the Incarnation in the verses following.
And the world was made by Him. And is here put for assuredly, or, more emphatically, for because. The meaning is—Therefore was the Word in the world, because the world was created, and is still preserved, and exists by Him. For the Word is the foundation, yea, as it were, the very soul of the world, even as Plato, though a heathen, thought. Wisely Philo saith, “It is the property of the Creator to bless, of the creature to give thanks.”
And the world knew Him not. John marks the ingratitude of the world, because it knew not its Maker, whom it always had present, even the Word, or Son of God. Moreover, there is a play upon the word world. For (1.) by world is properly understood the universe, and all the things that are therein, all which were made by the Word. But when it is added, and the world knew Him not, by the world is understood inhabitants of the world, that is to say, men given up to the world, who knew not the Author of the world. So SS. Augustine and Chrysostom.
Observe here, that by the works of Nature, it may be naturally known that God is One in Essence, but not Three in Person, and consequently the Word cannot in this way be known as the Word. John therefore here blames worldly men, not because they did not recognise the Word qua Word, but because they did not recognise Him as God, the Creator of the world, by means of His workmanship. And this affords a reply to Maldonatus, who argues that John is speaking in these words of the Incarnation of the Word. But we answer, that they did not know the Word as the Word, or the Person of the Son. Indeed, many have not from the works of God in the world even recognised God as its Creator. I allow that some men, both patriarchs and prophets, knew the Word, or Son of God, and prophesied concerning Him. But they knew this by a special revelation of God, not by His works in the world. John therefore is here deploring the blindness and ignorance of human infirmity, since the Fall, because with faith it lost the knowledge of its Creator and Saviour, that is, the Word.
He came unto His own, &c. By His own Augustine, Cyril, Chrysostom, &c., understand the Jews, for they were the peculiar people of God. But by His own you may better understand the world, and all the inhabiters thereof. For S. John says the same thing, and after his manner repeats and enforces it, as I have already said: thus, “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.” Hear S. Cyril at the Council of Ephesus, “The Only Begotten came unto His own, especially the Israelites, when He became man incarnate.”
And His own—not all, but many, for some did receive Jesus as the Christ, such as the twelve apostles, and the seventy-two disciples. But these were few compared with the rest of the Jews who did not receive Him.
Ver. 12.—But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to those who believe in His name: i.e., on Himself, for the name signifies the Person of Christ. The pronoun who must be referred, not to sons of God, but to as many. This is plain from the Greek οί, which is masculine, and must refer to οσοι, as many, or whosoever, not to τεκνα (children, or sons), which is neuter. The meaning is, “to as many as have received Christ, that is, to all who believe in His name, He has given power to become sons of God,” And so S. John explains himself (1 Ep. v. 1), “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.”
Power, Greek, ε̉ξονσίαν, i.e., dignity, authority, right, that indeed by this very thing, that they receive Christ by faith and by the sacrament of faith, i.e., baptism, or certainly by faith formed by love, which includes the wish for, or desire of baptism, they become at the same time justified, and they are made and are (for the Greek γενέσθαι means both), the adopted sons of God by participation and grace, even as Christ is the natural Son of God by His own Divine Hypostasis.
Wherefore Clement of Alexandria (Adhort. ad Gent.) says, that Christ by His Incarnation changed earth into heaven, and of men made angels, yea gods, and therefore that He is the beautiful charioteer who drives to heaven, to a blessed immortality, the chariot, whose two horses are the Jews and the Gentiles.
Therefore the word ε̉ξονσία, power, signifies both the dignity of the Divine adoption, and the liberty of our will freely to embrace it. For He does not say, He made them to be sons of God, but He gave them power, i.e., free will to become sons of God, if, that is, they will freely to believe in, and obey Him. Calvin and Beza deny this, but Augustine asserts it (de Spirit. et Lit. c. 31). “For,” he says, “we call this power, where the faculty of performing is added to the will. Wherefore every one is said to have in his power that which if he wills to do, he does, which if he wills not to do, he does not.” S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius, Bede, and others, assert the same thing continually. Hear S. Chrysostom, “Like as if fire shall touch metalliferous earth, it immediately turns it into gold, so much more does baptism make those whom it washes to be gold instead of clay. For the Holy Ghost, as it were fire, in that same hour that He enters our hearts, takes away our. likeness to earth, and makes us to have a heavenly likeness new and bright, and shining as in a furnace. And why did He not say, He made us to become the sons of God? It was that he might show that we have need of great diligence, that we may keep pure and undefiled the mark of adoption stamped upon us by baptism. Moreover because no one is able to take away this power from us unless we shall first take it away from ourselves.
You will say, faith equally with adoption is the gift of God, therefore it cannot be at the disposal of man’s will. I reply by denying the inference. For God does not bestow faith, hope, and charity and other virtues and gifts of His upon men against their will, or as unreasoning beings, but as reasonable creatures, co-operating freely with Him. For this is what S. John here says, God has given power to become sons of God to those who freely receive Christ by faith and obedience, excluding those who are unwilling to receive Him. “Power is given that they who believe in Him may become sons of God, since this very thing is give that they may believe in Him,” says S. Augustine (lib. 1 contr. 2. epist. Pelag. c. 3). And this is given by God, when He so by His grace illuminates and influences the soul of man as freely herself to consent and believe.
To become the sons of God. How this is wrought and how great is the dignity of this adoption, I have shown on Hosea i 10, upon the words, “It shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God.” wherefore Cyril saith, “Let us rise to Our supernatural dignity through Christ,—not indeed that we should be sons of God by nature as He is, but that, through likeness to Him, we may be sons of God by grace.”
Ver. 13.—Which were born, not of bloods (Greek) nor of the will (Arabic, appetite) of the flesh, &c. S. John here gives an antithesis between human generation and Divine, and demonstrates the superiority of the latter. For (1.) he says that the former is of bloods, which is a Hebraism for blood, meaning the blood of man, produced by food.
2. He asserts that it is of the will, i.e., the concupiscence of the flesh. This is what is elsewhere called flesh and blood, in which the will, or concupiscence of man, consists. He explains the will of the flesh to be the will of man. That is, the will, or appetite, or concupiscence of the flesh is the will, or concupiscence, for the generative act, which the carnal appetite desires.
On the other hand, the Divine generation of the sons of God is not of blood, nor of the will and concupiscence of the flesh, but is of God, that is, of the will, predestination, and love of God. Again, of God means of the Spirit and grace of God, by which the mind of man, beforetime carnal, is regenerated and justified, and so a man becomes spiritual, just, and holy, a friend, yea, a son of God.
3. Of God, because in this regeneration of man, God not only gives him His grace and love and all other virtues, but also Himself, that a man may be truly justified, and may have the Spirit really dwelling in his soul, yea, may have the whole Trinity, and so may become Divine, a son and heir of God, and a joint-heir with Christ.
Ver.14.—And the Word was made flesh, &c. Thus it is literally translated in the Syriac, Persian, Egyptian, and Ethiopic versions. But the Arabic has, The Word was made a body. For flesh here means the human body, and so man. From this the heresiarch Apollinaris denied that the Word assumed a human soul and mind. He asserted that in their place were the mind and Divinity of the Divine Word. So says S. Augustine (Hæres. 55). For the faith teaches that the Word assumed as well true human flesh as a true reasonable soul, and therefore had two perfect and uncommingled natures, the Divine and the human, and consequently possessed two wills, and a twofold mind, the Divine and the human. So that these two natures with their attributes subsist in the one only Person of the Word, in which Person, but not in His nature, this union has taken place, as the Council of Ephesus defines against Nestorius, and the Council of Chalcedon against the Eutychians.
From this unity of Person there follows, as theologians teach, a participation of the attributes (communicatio idiomatum) of both natures, so that in Christ whatsoever is an attribute of man as man, the same may be predicated of His Divinity, and conversely. For example, we truly say, this Man, namely, Jesus, is God, is Almighty, is the Creator, is from eternity. And conversely we say that God, or the Son of God, truly suffered, was crucified, and died. For indeed there is one and the same Divine Person in Christ, God and man, who underwent all these things, although in accordance with two different natures. For actions and passions inhere in concrete individuals, or persons, in whatsoever nature they subsist. Hear S. Austin (in Dial. 65. quæst. ad Oros. qu. 4). “The Word was made flesh, not being changed by the flesh; so that He did not cease to be what He was, but began to be what He had not been. For He assumed flesh, He did not convert Himself into flesh. By that flesh, as a part for the whole, we understand the whole man, that is, flesh and reasonable soul. And as the first man had died both in the flesh and in the soul, so also it behoved that he should be quickened both in flesh and in soul, through the Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus”
It follows (2.) that the Word was made flesh, not in the way in which water became wine when it was changed into wine, nor as food becomes our flesh, when it is changed into it, nor yet again as gold becomes a statue, by the addition to the material of gold of the accidental form of a statue, but after a similar manner to that in which soul and flesh being united become one man. So S. Athanasius in the Creed. “One, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ.” But man is one essentialiter; Christ is One personaliter. Or again, it is after the manner in which a man is clothed by the putting on of a garment. So a new substance was added to the Word, as it were a garment, but substantially, not accidentally: for the Son of God clothed Himself with the substance of flesh, and of our nature, and joined, and most closely united it to Himself substantially in the same Hypostasis of the Word.
Flesh here, as often in Scripture, signifies by synecdoche the whole man. The Word was made flesh, i.e., the Son of God became man. In a similar manner, S. John might have said, The Word of God became a soul. But he preferred to say flesh rather than soul, that he might show how great was the kindness of God, that for love of us He emptied Himself. For God was made flesh, that we instead of flesh that was most corrupt through concupiscence and sin might become as it were Divine, and sons of God, and akin to God Himself, “The Word,” says S. Cyril (epist. 8. ad Nestor.), “uniting to Himself, according to His substance, flesh animated by a reasonable soul, was ineffably made man.”
We will now comment upon each word of this passage singly.
And: this word conjoins the sentence with those preceding it. It has partly an historical, partly a causative force. Historically—that Eternal Word, whose generation I have declared, and of whom I have said, that He was with God, and was God, was in the time divinely appointed made flesh, for He assumed our flesh of the Blessed Virgin, and when He was born of her was called Jesus. So that and in this place may stand for therefore. As thus, Therefore was the Word made flesh, that He might make us to be the sons of God. Therefore S, Augustine says, “Let us not be amazed, or astounded at such grace, and let it not seem a thing incredible to us, that men should be born of God, when He asks you to consider that God was born of men.”
The Word: the Greek has the article, and is emphatic—that Divine and Eternal Word, of whom we have been thus far speaking. Wherefore S. Athanasius (Epist. ad Epictetum) cites Gal. iii. as a parallel passage, and says, “For as Christ is called a curse, not because He Himself was made a curse, but because for us He bore the curse, so is He said to be made flesh, not because He Himself was changed into flesh, but because He assumed flesh for us.”
The Word was made flesh is explained by the same parallel of a curse by S. Gregory Nazianzen (Epist. ad Cledon.), S. Flavian, Patriarch of Antioch, S. Ignatius, S. Irenæus, S. Hippolytus, S. Basil, S. Chrysostom, S. Gregory Nyssen, Amphilochius, and others, who are cited by Theodoret in a Dialogue entitled Immutabilis. In this he confutes those Eutychians who said that the Word was changed by His Incarnation, and transformed into flesh. He confutes others who said that flesh was changed into the Word, and that the Word absorbed the flesh in the same way that the sea swallows up a stream which flows into it. These he confutes in his Dialogue Inconfusus. He confutes a third section of the Eutychians, who said that the Godhead in Christ suffered and was crucified, in a third Dialogue called Impassibilis.
Lastly, listen to S. Cyril in the Council of Ephesus, “By the Word flesh the whole man must be understood, as in the place where it is said, ‘All flesh shall see the salvation of God,’ and ‘I communed not with flesh and blood’ (Gal. i.). Soul is understood in similar way, as ‘Seventy-five souls of our fathers went down into Egypt’ (Acts vii.). As often therefore as we hear that the Word was made flesh, we understand that He became a man of flesh and blood.” S. Cyril elsewhere repeats this, and adds, “Not according to transference, or conversion, or commutation, as though there were a transformation into the nature of flesh, nor as having commingling, nor consubstantiation, &c.”
Flesh, i.e., man. To the Word he opposes flesh, as it were the lowest to the highest, what is wretched to what is blessed, what is most vile, weak, and impure, to what is most glorious. For what is more vile, weak, and filthy than human flesh? And yet the Word of God deigned to stoop to such flesh as this, from love of us. This is that φιλανθζωπία and ecstasy of love which the Apostle celebrates (Titus iii. 4). Hear S. Bernard (Serm. 3. de Nativ.): “Forasmuch as He was in the beginning with God, He dwelt in the unapproachable light, and none could comprehend Him. For ‘who hath found out the mind of the Lord, or who hath been His counsellor?’ ‘The carnal mind perceiveth not the things of the Spirit of God,’ but now even the carnal man may receive them, because the Word has been made flesh. 0 man who art in the flesh, to thee is manifested that wisdom which afore was hid. Behold, now is it drawn forth from its hiding-place, and introduces itself into the very senses of thy flesh. After a fleshly manner, that I may so say, is it preached unto thee. Flee from voluptuousness, for death has been placed beside the gate of pleasure.”
The Word then was made flesh, i.e., man, as subsisting (existentem), not as a person (subsistentem). For He assumed the very nature of man, but not the person of a man. Nor indeed was the Person of the Word made the person of a man, for this were impossible. The Word assumed the essence and substance of man, not human personality. A human nature was assumed by Him in that very moment of time in which it was formed by the Holy Ghost, who came first that it, namely, the humanity, should not subsist as a person; and He conjoined the same human nature to Himself in the unity of His Divine Person, and made it to subsist in the same. Wherefore the Humanity of Christ subsists not in itself, but in the Person of the Word.
Was made: not that the Word was changed into flesh, or flesh into the Word, for, as S. Chrysostom says, “far from that immortal nature is transmutation.” For how could flesh become God, that is, how could the creature become the Creator? Neither does it mean that the Word was made flesh, that is, became a man, in such a sense that He assumed not only human nature, but a human person, as Nestorius thought. “It is not as if,” says Theophylact, “the Word had found a man endued with virtues, and united him to Himself,” as the Holy Ghost united Himself to the prophets, the angel Raphael to Tobias. But it is that He united the nature of man to His own Hypostasis, and caused that the man Jesus should subsist in- the same Hypostasis as God the Word, God the Son. Moreover, the Word was made flesh, not in imagination, nor appearance, nor fancy, as the Manichæans maintained, but in the very truth and reality of actual fact. The Word was made man, I say, not by Himself alone, but by the whole Trinity. For all the Holy Trinity way the efficient cause of the Incarnation of the Word, but still in such a manner that the Hypostatic Union was with the sole Person of the Word, not with that of the Father, or the Holy Ghost: and the Son alone became man. “For the Trinity itself made the Word only to be flesh,” says S. Fulgentius (lib. de fide ad Petr.)
The Word therefore clothed with flesh was as the sun vested with a cloud, or as fire burning iron, or as a burning coal, as S. Cyril says. Wherefore its type and symbol is a carbuncle, as I have said on Apoc. xxi. 29. Again, it was like unto a pearl in a shell, or as lightning in a cloud, or as gold in a furnace, or an angel in a body. Moreover S. Augustine says (lib. 15. de Trin. c. 11), “As our speech becomes a voice, and yet is not changed into a voice, so the Word of God being made flesh was not changed into flesh.”
I have said more on the subject of the Incarnation in the first chapter of S. John’s Epistle. Among other things I have shown that it was with this end and object in view, that the Word which before, as God, was our Father, might become, as it were, our Mother, through the Humanity which He assumed. And I added from Damascene, that God assumed human nature, that He might unite the whole world to Himself by it, and, as it were, make it godlike.
And dwelt among us: Greek, ε̉σκήνωσεν, i.e., tabernacled amongst us for a short time, like a guest and a foreigner in a strange land. For He was a citizen and an inhabitant, and the Lord of Heaven and Paradise. As it is said in Jeremiah (xiv. 8), “Wherefore wilt thou be as a sojourner in the land, and as a wayfarer turning aside to lodge?” Christ therefore wished to teach us by His own example that this world is, as it were, a guest-house, but that heaven is our country, which we ought to strive to attain, despising earthly things.
SS. Chrysostom and Cyril explain a little differently. Among us, i.e., in us, in our nature, namely, in the Humanity which He assumed, that He might redeem us. S. Chrysostom gives the reason. “The Word constructed a holy temple for Himself, and by means of it introduced from heaven a way in which we should spend our life.”
And we have seen His glory: Greek, ε̉θεασάμεθα, we have gazed upon, as on a new and wonderful spectacle in a theatre, that the Word veiled in flesh might indeed show us the glory of His Godhead by means of miracles and Divine wisdom. Thus the Apostle says (1 Cor. iv. 9), “We were made a spectacle (Greek, a theatre) to the world, to angels and to men.” Listen to S. Austin, “By that His nativity He made an eye-salve, whereby the eyes of our heart might be cleansed. No man could see His glory unless he would be healed by the humility of the flesh. Flesh had blinded thee: flesh healeth thee. Thus cometh the physician that by the flesh He may heal the vices of the flesh.”
The glory as of the only Begotten. The meaning is, we have seen the glory of Christ, being such and so great as became the Only Begotten Son: or that it was such as might manifest Him to be the Only Begotten Son of God. For to Him, as S. Basil says, hath God the Father given all His glory, all His substance, as parents are wont to leave all their inheritance to an only begotten son. This glory of Christ did S. John with his fellows behold in the Transfiguration upon Mount Tabor, in His glorious Resurrection, in His Ascension, and in His Divine life and miracles. Therefore the word as here denotes not similitude, but reality. So S. Chrysostom says, “The word as in this place is an expression not of similarity, but of confirmation, and certain definition.” And Theophylact says, “We behold His glory, not such as that which Moses had, nor glory such as that with which the cherubim and seraphim appeared to the prophet, but glory such as that which became the Only Begotten of the Father, the glory which appertains to Him by His nature.”
Moreover, the glory of the Godhead of Christ shone through the flesh which He assumed, as through a veil, as Euthymius says, who further adds, “What was that grace of the Word? Surely it was the performance of miracles such as had never been beheld before: it was His bright and supernatural Transfiguration, the preternatural darkening of the sun at the time of His Passion, the fearful rending of the veil, the terrible earthquake, the rending of the rocks, the opening of the graves, the raising of the dead, and that which is the chief of all, wonderful beyond speech or thought, the Resurrection of the Lord.”
Of the Father. This is added, saith S. Bernard, “because Christ hath brought to us from the Father’s heart everything that is paternal, that fear itself might perceive nothing in the Son of God but what is sweet and fatherly towards the human race.” More loftily, and more literally, says St. Cyril, “That supernatural grace is ever firm and immutable, ever the same, ever equally full of its own dignity. Wherefore, although the Word was made flesh, He was not overcome by the infirmity of the flesh, nor did He fall from His ancient majesty and omnipotence, because He became man. For we saw, he says, the glory of Christ from God, more lofty than the glory of creatures, that every one who is in possession of his senses might confess that it could belong to no other than to the Only Begotten Son of God.”
Full of grace and truth. Erasmus and Cajetan join these words to what follows, and refer them to John the Baptist. They connect and translate as follows, John being full of grace and truth bears witness of Him, namely, of Jesus, that He is the Christ. They support their view by saying that the Greek for full is πληζης in the nominative masculine. But this pointing and translation is opposed to all the Fathers, and the perpetual consent of the Church, contrary, too, to the pointing of the Greek, Latin, Syriac and Arabic versions, which place a full stop after truth. It is moreover inconsistent with what follows, for John, explaining how Christ was full of grace and truth, subjoins, of His fulness have all we received. The Greek for full being in the nominative, is inconclusive, as well because many MSS. have πλήζη in the accusative, and others have πλήζη in the margin, as also because the preceding words, And we have seen His glory, the glory &c., should be read as in a parenthesis. For πλήζης, the nominative refers to λόγος, meaning, the Word was made flesh, being full of grace and truth. Thee is a reference to human speech, the greatest commendation of which is, when it is gracious and true. So also the Divine Word, not merely as He is in Himself, but also as He became flesh, carried with Him most excellent grace, as it were in a fountainhead, and was most abundantly endowed by God with every gift of grace, both in word and deed, according as it was said, “And all marvelled at the words of grace which proceeded out of His mouth” (Luke iv. 22.). The same Word made flesh was full of truth also, because He was exposed all errors, and banished the shadows of tie Old Law, and brought to light the very truth itself which was promised by the prophets. “In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. ii. 5).
Full of grace: “For we have not see the glory of power or splendour,” says S. Bernard, “but the glory of paternal kindness,” the glory of grace, of which the Apostle saith, “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Eph. 1.). Wherefore the Apostle exclaims, (1 Tim. iii. 16), “Great is the mystery of piety” (namely, the Word made flesh), “which was manifested in the flesh, justified in the spirit, appeared unto angels, was preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” For how full and altogether perfect was the grace of Christ, see the teaching of S. Thomas (3 p. q. 7.art. 9 et seq.)
And truth. A symbol of the union of grace and truth is found in the breastplate of the high priest Aaron, which bore the inscription of Urim and Thummim, that is, doctrines and truth, or, literally, illumination and perfection, that is, truth and grace. These two superabounded in Christ, and are especially needful for every priest that he may be like Christ.
Therefore although the Blessed Virgin, S. Stephen, and other saints are said to be full of grace above other men, yet in respect of Christ were they not full. For Christ is, as it were, an ocean flowing out in rivers of grace to all the faithful, to apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins. As the Apostle says (Col. ii. 9), “in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” And again, “To every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Eph. iv. 7), and “To the Son God hath not given the Spirit by measure.”
Ver. 15.—John bears witness, &c. He proves what he had said concerning the Word Incarnate, and that He was full of grace and truth, by the irrefragable testimony of John the Baptist. For him the Jews accounted as a prophet and divine. It is as if he said, “Not only have we seen Jesus Christ full of grace and truth, but John, who was sent from God, openly and plainly has testified the same concerning Him.”
And crieth: the Greek is, έκζαγε, i.e., cried out. For he himself was the voice of one crying in the wilderness (Isa. xl. 23). “Whom not I myself alone have heard,” says S. Cyril, “but far and wide among all hath his cry come. For it was not in secret, nor with low and stammering accents, but louder than a trumpet.” As S. Chrysostom says, “Freely and confidently, casting away fear, he preached the advent of God.”
This was He of whom I spake: see verses 27 and 30. It means, “Before John had seen and known Christ, he said, that He was about to come to save man. And when he had seen Him, he repeated and confirmed it.” As Theophylact says, “Lest he should seem to please merely the person of Jesus, in speaking in too much praise of Him, he saith, of whom I spake, that is, even before I had seen Him.”
He who cometh, i.e., who is about to preach, says S. Chrysostom, after me, was before me. That is, He is preferred in honour before me, because He was the destined Redeemer of the world. As Bede says, “not in order of time, but of dignity.” And S. Augustine, “He was not made before I was made” (for John was born six months before Christ), but He was placed before me.”
For He was before me: for since Jesus is true God, He was from eternity. So SS. Augustine and Chrysostom. Again, before means, greater by nature, more worthy in majesty. S. Chrysostom remarks, “John does not say, Christ, by making advance in grace and virtue, hath surpassed me; but He was before me, i.e., ‘He was always my superior, always more glorious than I,’” as Cyril adds, because He was very God.”
And of His fulness, &c. He follows up and unfolds what he had said in the fourteenth verse that the Word Incarnate was full of grace and truth: for of this plenitude of grace and truth have all we, apostles and Christians, yea, all the faithful before Christ, received. For Enoch, Noab, Moses, and all the rest of the prophets and patriarchs, have been sanctified and saved by the aforeseen merits of Christ. Origen and Theophylact think that these are a continuation of the words of John the Baptist; but SS. Chrysostom, Cyril, and others better take them as the words of S. John the Evangelist, confirming the preceding words of the Baptist.
Of His fulness: i.e., of Him who is most full. For Christ as the Head of the Church sheds abroad upon all the faithful, who are His members, not the whole fulness of His grace, but a portion thereof according to His will. “The saints,” says Bede, “receive not the fulness of His Spirit, but of His fulness what He giveth.” “For from the fulness of the Son,” says S. Cyril, “as a perpetual fountain, the gifts of grace flow out abroad to each soul that is worthy of them.” This is what the Apostle says, “He hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places,” i.e., by “Christ,” (Eph. 1.) “For He is the fountain and the root of all good,” says S. Chrysostom; “He is life, He is light, He is truth, not keeping in Himself the riches of His goodness, but diffusing them to all, and when He bath diffused them remaining full. Neither is there any diminution in Him of that which He supplies to others, but He ever bestows His riches yet more abundantly; and when He has imparted to all He still abides in the same perfectness.”
And grace for grace: Greek, χάζιν α̉ντὶ χάζιτος, where α̉ντὶ, for, is the same as instead of. First some expound thus, grace for grace, i.e., grace upon grace, or, all grace have we received from Christ. As it might be said in Hebrew, chen al chen. But this would require ε̉πί instead of α̉ντὶ in the Greek. Johannes Alba, however, defends this interpretation. Grace for grace, he says, means copious and superabundant grace. He quotes the Hebrew expressions in the Prophets, stroke upon stroke, for a very great stroke, or plague: and Job’s skin for skin, i.e., skin upon skin, meaning all a man’s flocks and herds, skin after skin, will he give for his life. Suarez takes the same view: Grace for grace, i.e., second grace instead of first grace. That is to say, we all, not men only, but angels, have received increasing grace.
2. Maldonatus, grace for grace; i.e., one man has received one grace or favour; another, instead of it, another grace. But this does not suit the meaning of the Greek α̉ντὶ, which signifies succession, not distribution.
3. S. Austin says, we receive the grace of life eternal, that is, beatific glory, here in hope, and after death in reality, instead of the grace of this life. For, on the one hand, grace is the seed of glory; and on the other hand, glory is the consummation of grace.
4. Others say, we have received from Christ the evangelical instead of the ancient Law. For each is grace, because given gratis by God. So S. Cyril, Chrysostom, Jansen, &c.
5. Others expound, In the grace of Christ we have all received grace, and by Him have been made pleasing to God. Wherefore Paul declares constantly that we are justified and sanctified in Christ. This is a useful, but not an exact meaning, for the Greek άντὶ means instead of, not in.
6. And exactly: The Greek άντὶ has two meanings; chiefly and precisely it denotes vicarious succession, answering to the Hebrew tachath, in the place, or room of. “For the grace of Christ we, as it were, His sons and successors, have received like grace with Him. For as the grace of Christ made Him well-pleasing unto God, so likewise does the same grace make us pleasing unto God, and sons of God by adoption.” So SS. Chrysostom, Cyril, and others. Secondly, άντὶ is often used, though improperly, for on account of: “on account of, or, through the grace of Christ as a fountain, we have received grace.” It is explanatory of what precedes—and of His fulness have all we received—by means of what follows, even grace for grace. For grace flows down from God through Christ as our Head unto us, who are, as it were, His members, as the Apostle teaches (Eph. i.) For God has willed to appoint Christ to be, as it were, the universal fountain of grace, from whence every grace should flow down to the faithful, that we may owe everything to Christ, and render unto Him endless and infinite thanks. For the sake of Christ, who is well-pleasing and most beloved in His sight, who is also the Mediator, God has reconciled us unto Himself, and enriched us with His grace and friendship, according to the words in S. Matthew iii. 7, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased;” and no man pleases Me except through Him. From hence it is plain that we receive from Christ the same grace which He has in Himself—the same, I say, in kind, not in degree, which would be, ordinarily speaking, unbecoming and impossible, though some have even maintained this. Thirdly, the word “for” (άντὶ) might denote a certain equality. For this is the meaning of the Greek compound άντίθεος, that is to say, the equal of God, or he who makes himself a god, as Lucifer did, and Antichrist will do. So also antitype (ὶντίτυπος), is that which is set over against and corresponds, that which is equal, and of the same form. And the antipodes are properly those who walk with their feet planted exactly opposite to our own. The meaning then would be—Through Christ we have received grace as it were equal to the grace of Christ, because by it we have been lifted up, and made to belong to the Divine order of things, that is to say, sons of God, and “partakers of the Divine nature” (2 Pet. i. 4). Thus the Apostles were in some sense the fellows and peers of Christ, for He calls them His brethren. Thus the Pope calls the cardinals brethren, and so, in some sort, equals them to himself. Let a believer then, more especially a priest, or a religious, think with himself how he ought to live like Christ and lead the heavenly life which Christ led, that whosoever shall see him, or hear him, may say he has seen and heard Christ in his lively image.
Under the word grace here include truth also. For Christ is spoken of as full of grace and truth. And of His fulness of both have we all received. For through Christ have we received truth, that is, knowledge of God, faith, wisdom, understanding of salvation and things Divine: also remission of sins, reconciliation with God, the adoption of sons, charity, humility and all other virtues and gifts. All are here comprehended under the word grace.
Ver. 16.—For the law was given by Moses, &c. He gives the reason why through Christ we have received grace for grace. It is because Moses, who was the Jews’ greatest prophet and lawgiver, could only give a law which taught and commanded the precepts of God, but could not bestow grace to keep those commandments. Hence the need of Christ to give grace to fulfil the law. Wherefore the Arabic translates, grace the and truth were needful through Jesus Christ. The Evangelist therefore opposes, and prefers Christ to Moses, grace to law. 1. Because Moses in the law only taught directly what God willed the Jews to do, namely the precepts of the Decalogue, under the promise of temporal blessings, such as abundance of corn, wine and oil. But the way of salvation, remission of sins, justification, and holiness, by which we arrive at life eternal, he did not teach, much less bestow that life. But Christ hath both taught it, and hath also bestowed it, through that grace and truth which He hath brought from heaven. That is what Zacharias sings of in the first chapter of Luke, “To give knowledge of salvation unto His people for the remission of sins.” Thus too S. Chrysostom, “Grace came by Christ because with authority He forgave sins, and bestowed regeneration. Truth came by Him because He fulfilled the types and figures.”
2. In the law was a threefold commandment, the moral law, or the Decalogue; the judicial, and the ceremonial law. To the two first the Evangelist opposes grace, without which they could not be observed. And the effect of grace is that a believer fulfilling the same law from love of God, deserves eternal life. To the ceremonial law he opposes truth, because those ceremonies were types and shadows of Christ and His sacraments, which shadows Christ fulfilled, and so brought in truth. Wherefore S. Austin saith, “When the Law itself was fulfilled” (through Christ), “grace and truth came in. Grace pertains to the fulness of charity, truth to accomplishment of prophecy” (cont. Faust. c. 6).
3. Because Moses gave only an obscure and slight knowledge of God and the Holy Trinity, but Christ a knowledge that was clear and full. Wherefore Bede thus comprises the whole of what we have been saying. “Christ being made man hath declared what we ought to think concerning the truth of the Trinity, in what manner we ought to hasten to the contemplation of It, by what acts we ought to arrive at It.”
Symbolically, S. Austin (lib. de. Trin. 13, cap. 19) by grace understands the Word Himself, incarnate in time; by truth the eternal vision of God, to which He leads us. This is what he says: “In things that have their origin in time, the highest grace is, that man is united to God by unity of person; but in things eternal the highest truth is rightly attributed to the Word of God. Now in that He is the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, it is brought to pass that He should be the same in the things which are done for us in time, for whom we are cleansed by the like faith, so that we may steadfastly contemplate Him in the things eternal.”
Ver. 18.—No man hath seen God, &c. He gives the reason why neither Moses, nor any one else, but Christ alone, hath taught us the perfect truth concerning God and Divine things—because He alone hath seen God. It is as though he said, those things of which thus far I have been speaking, concerning God and the Word, are so sublime, that inasmuch as no mortal man (and therefore not Moses), except the Son of God, hath seen God, therefore that Incarnate Son alone is able perfectly to declare these things. Thus the Fathers passim; who teach from this passage that Moses saw not the essence of God, but only a certain luminous substance assumed by an angel, in some manner representing to the eyes of Moses the glory of God. Thus S. Gregory says in the Catena: “So long as we live here in mortal flesh, God may be seen by certain manifestations or images of Him, but as He is in His own nature He cannot be seen.”
Tropologically, & Gregory teaches (lib. 18, Mor. cap. ult. et. penult.), that no one can behold God and Divine things, unless he first die to this world and its pleasures. For thus he expounds the words in the 18th chapter of Job, It is hid from the eyes of the living: “Because whoever seeth wisdom, which is God Himself, dieth wholly to this life, lest he should be holden of its love. For no man seeth It who still liveth to the flesh, because no man can at the same time embrace God and the world. For he who seeth God dieth in this respect, either in will, or in reality, for with his whole soul he is separated from the pleasures of this life.”
The Only Begotten who is in the bosom: Syriac, in the lap: S. Cyril, in the womb, for this is one meaning of the Greek κὸλπος. It is a figure of speech. For by bosom is signified the highest possible union of the Son with the Father. It means that the Son, who is most closely united, and consubstantial with the Father, is partaker of the wisdom of the Father, and conscious of His most secret counsels. And because He knoweth them most perfectly and intimately, therefore He alone is able most fully and plainly to declare them. And so in fact He has declared them. Thus SS. Chryostom, Cyril, and Augustine. S. Athanasius observes (lib. 3 de Unica Trin. substant.) that this expression, the Only Begotten, which is in the bosom of the Father, is made use of lest when it is said that He was made flesh, it should be supposed that He was divided from the Father. For in truth He abideth, and is with the Father, even as He was in the beginning, and everlasting.
Listen to S. Chrysostom, who by this word bosom thinks it is signified that the Son not only sees, but comprehends the Father. “Many,” saith he, “know God, yet none but the Only Begotten Son know of what nature His substance is. He has certain knowledge, sight, and comprehension, such as it is befitting a son to have of his father. For as the Father knoweth Me, He said, so also know I the Father, (John x. 15). Observe therefore with what fulness of language the Evangelist speaks; for when he says, no man hath seen God at any time, he does not go on to say, the Son who hath seen, hath declared Him, but He who is in the bosom of the Father hath declared Him. For he who only seeth hath not certain knowledge of the thing seen: but he who dwelleth in the bosom, to him are all things plain and certain. Lest therefore when you hear, no man knoweth the Father save the Son (Matt. xi. 27), you should say that though He hath greater knowledge of the Father than others have, and yet knows not what His nature is, therefore the Evangelist says, ‘He is in the bosom of the Father.’”
There is an allusion to the words of David concerning, Christ in the 110th Psalm, “From the womb, before the morning star, have I begotten Thee” (Vulg.) That is, “From my fruitful understanding I have, as it were, as a Word spoken this, and as a Son have I begotten thee.” S. Jerome says, “From the womb, i.e., of My substance, of My nature, of the very essence of My substance, have I begotten Thee.” So also Theodoret says, “From the womb,” that is, “of My substance. For as human beings produce from the womb, and that which they bring forth hath the same nature as those who bring it forth, so art Thou begotten of Me, and Thou showest forth in Thyself the substance of Him who begat.” Moreover, Jerome himself translates this verse of the 110th Psalm thus, “The dew of Thy youth shall arise to Thee as it were from the womb;” Aquila, “The dew of Thy childhood arising to Thee early from the womb.” It means, “Of My Deity have I begotten Thee God:” as it is in the Creed, “God of God.” So SS. Hilary, Ambrose, Augustine, Athanasius, and others against the Arians. For dew means in Hebrew the same as flower in English. “Dew,” says R. Solomon, “means sweetness, joyfulness, purity of heavenly generation, as it were dew born of the heavenly dayspring.”
He hath declared: that is, He hath clearly explained and set forth to His disciples, and through them to the whole world. The Greek is ε̉ξηγήσατο, which S. Chrysostom says means clearly to explain secret and hidden things, as Christ has explained to us the secrets of the Father concerning the Trinity and the Word, concerning the vocation of man, grace, resurrection, heavenly glory, and such like. “This word,” says S. Chrysostom, “sets forth more express and certain doctrine: wherefore also Christ is called the Word, and (the Angel) of great counsel.”
Ver. 19.—And this is the witness of John, &c. John the Baptist often bare witness to Jesus, that He was the Messias, or the Christ, both before and after His baptism. John the Evangelist therefore, omitting in this place the testimony which the Baptist bore to Jesus before His baptism, which had been related by the three other Evangelists, gives his testimony concerning Him after he had baptised Him. For this testimony was public, judicial, and most celebrated. It had been judicially demanded by the chief priests and magistrates, and had been received by them through the ambassadors whom they sent to John. The reason of this embassy was because the chief priests saw John leading in the desert an angelic life, preaching with great power, baptising, and moving men to repentance, as none of the other prophets had done. The chief priests thought therefore that it was their duty to ask him who he was, especially because they knew that the sceptre had passed from Judah to Herod, and the seventy weeks of Daniel being completed, the coming of Messias must be nigh at hand. Wherefore, suspecting that John was the Messias, they ask him, Who art thou?
S. Chrysostom gives another reason—that they asked out of envy and hatred of Jesus, in order that they might show that Jesus was not the Messiah. They would have preferred to bestow the title upon John. They disliked John’s preferring Jesus to himself, and calling Him the Messias or Christ. But although there might be some envy mingled with it, the true reason was, as I have said, that it was the counsel of God so to exalt John, that the chief priests might be driven to ask him whether he were the Christ or not, that being asked he might authoritatively answer that which was the truth, namely, that not he, but Jesus, was the Messias, and that, being convicted by this testimony of John, they might be compelled either to receive Jesus as the Messias or to be without excuse.
Who art thou? The chief priests appear tacitly at least to have inquired of John, whether he were the Christ or not; for John replies, I am not the Christ.
Moreover, they were aware that John was the son of the priest Zacharias, and therefore a priest himself. When therefore they say, Who art thou? they ask virtually, What office hast thou received from God ? With what object has God sent thee to preach and baptize? For God was wont to commit greater offices to priests.
Tropologically, let every one often ask himself, Who art Thou? Firstly, as regards our substance. Listen to thy conscience making answer to thyself—the name of God my Creator is, I AM THAT I AM(Exod. iii.) My name therefore as a creature is “I am that am not,” because I am nothing of myself, but out of my nothingness have been brought forth by God, and made a man. Wherefore my body and soul are not my own, but God’s, who has given them, or rather lent them, to me. As S. Francis was wont to say, “Who art Thou, Lord? Who am I? Thou art an abyss of wisdom and long-suffering, and all goodness. I am an abyss of ignorance, weakness, of all evil and wretchedness. Thou art an abyss of being, I of nothingness.” So when Christ appeared to S. Catherine of Sienna, He said, “Blessed art thou if thou knowest who I am, and who thou art. I am He who is, thou art she who is not.”
Secondly, as to quality. Who? that is, of what sort art thou? Answer, As regards my body, I am weak, miserable, and wretched. As to my soul, as regards my reason, I am like unto the angels. As regards my sensual appetite, and concupiscence, I am like the brutes. Therefore I will follow my reason, and so become assimilated to the angels.
Thirdly, as regards relation. Who? that is, whose son art thou? Reply, I am the son of Adam, the first sinner, and therefore being born in sin, I am living in sin, and must die in sin, unless the grace of Christ rescue me from my sins, and sanctify and save me.
Fourthly, as regards employment. Who art thou? what trade or profession art thou? I am a carpenter, a baker, a governor, a shepherd, a lawyer. See then that thou exercise thyself in thy calling, whatsoever it be, as the law of God requires, namely, in such wise that thou live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, looking for the blessed hope, and the coming of the glory of the great God, that thou mayest so pass through things temporal, that thou lose not, but gain the things eternal. Work, study, live for eternity. As S. Bernard was wont often to say to himself, “Bernard, tell me, wherefore art thou here?” And with this goad, as it were, he stirred himself up to zeal for all virtues.
Fifthly, as regards suffering. Who art thou? that is to say, what dost thou suffer? Reply, In the body I suffer hunger, thirst, disease, continual afflictions, so that there is scarcely the smallest space of time: in which I have not many things to bear. As regards my soul, I have far greater and more bitter afflictions, griefs, and anguish, anxieties, sorrows, angers, indignation, darkness, fear, &c., so that I seem to be, as it were, a mark at which all afflictions hurl their darts, and thrust me through with their arrows. Be thou therefore a very adamant of patience, that thou mayest patiently and generously endure all things, and win the everlasting crown of patience in heaven.
Sixthly, as regards place. Who? that is, where art thou? Answer, I am on earth, placed between heaven and hell, in such wise, that if I live holily, I may pass to heaven, if wickedly, to hell. Live therefore carefully, warily, and holily, that not hell, but heaven may receive thee, when this short mortal life is over.
Seventhly, as regards time. Who art thou? When wast thou born? How long hast thou lived? When shalt thou die? Answer, Born yesterday, today I live, to-morrow I die. “For we are of yesterday, and know nothing; all our days upon the earth are but a shadow” (Job viii. 9). Therefore despise all things temporal, which fly past as a bird doth. Love and covet heavenly things, which endure forever with God and the angels. So shalt thou, being eternal, be happy eternally, and abide in everlasting delights. For as S. Gregory says, “That we may be eternal, and happy eternally, let us imitate eternity. And this is to us a great eternity, even the imitation of eternity.”
Lastly, as regards posture and clothing. Who art thou? that is, what posture, or clothing hast thou? Reply, I stand, I sit, I lie. I wear the habit of a Christian, a priest, a bishop, a religious. Take heed then that thou live conformably to thy habit. For it is not the habit which makes the Christian, or the monk, but purity of life, humility, charity.
Ver. 20.—And he confessed, &c. That is, publicly, plainly, and fully that he was not the Christ. For when the Hebrews wished very strongly to assert anything, they doubled the affirmative, and trebled the negative. Observe the great humility of S. John: how firmly he refused the name of Christ when it was offered to him. For he loved the truth, and Jesus, to whom this name belonged. Men of the world love to boast, and say, I am a nobleman, a governor, a canon, a bishop. But John teaches us to say, “I am nothing,” because if I am anything, I have it from God.
Ver. 21.—And they asked him, &c. When John denied that he was the Christ, the messengers asked him if he were Elias. For him God took away, that he might be the forerunner of Christ. And of him they were then in expectation, according to the words of Malachi (iv. 5), “Behold, I send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord come,” meaning the day of judgment, when Christ shall return to be the judge of all. But the Scribes did not understand this. They thought that there would be but one advent of Christ, and that a glorious one, the precursor of which would be Elias. Thus the Jews think even now that Christ has not yet come, but is about to come with Elias. And yet they ought to have known from the same Malachi (iii. 1) that there would be another precursor of Christ’s first coming in the flesh, even John the Baptist. “For I,” saith the Lord, “do send My messenger, and he shall prepare My way before My face.”
Art thou that prophet? Greek, ό πζοφήτης, the prophet par excellence. “Art thou a new and great prophet, such an one as we think will come with Messiah, to be His herald?” So SS. Chrysostom and Cyril. But they (the Jews) were in error. For Christ needed not a prophet, as Moses, who was not eloquent, needed Aaron. But Christ was His own prophet, herald, priest, and lawgiver. Moreover John was not a prophet in the sense that he foretold things to come. But he pointed out with his finger, as it were, Christ present. Therefore was he more than a prophet, as Christ says in the 11th of Matthew.
Ver. 23.—I am the Voice, &c. (Isa. xl. 3), where I have expounded the meaning. Listen to what the Fathers say about it. “I am a servant, and prepare paths, your hearts, for the Lord,” says Theophylact. “I come, he says, to say that He is at the doors who is expected, that you may be prepared to go whithersoever He may bid you,” says Cyril.
Ver. 24.—And they that were sent, &c. John adds this, to suggest the occasion why they examined John the Baptist concerning baptism. These messengers who were sent to John were Pharisees, and therefore were well versed in the Scriptures. Consequently they knew that Messiah would baptize for the remission of sins, because Ezekiel (xxxvi. 25) and Zechariah (xiii. 1) had predicted that He would do so. But concerning other prophets and saints they had not read in Scripture that they would baptize. They ask John therefore to tell them by what authority he baptized, especially since he not only asserted that he was not Christ, but not even a prophet.
Ver. 25.—And they asked him, &c. “These Pharisees,” says S. Cyril, in their arrogancy insult John, as though they said, Neither Elias, nor Eliseus, nor any of the other prophets dared to take upon themselves the office of baptizing. With what face then, or boldness, dost thou, who art not a prophet, arrogate this office to thyself?”
Ver. 26.—John answered them, &c. As though he had said, “God hath sent me to baptize with water, that I might stir you up to repentance and tears, so as to fit you for Christ’s baptism. For He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, for the remission of sins,” as the remaining three Evangelists declare. Therefore John is silent about this.
There standeth one, &c. That is, Christ is living in the midst of you, and yet ye know Him not. That is, you do not recognise Him as Messiah, but look upon Him as a mere man, as vile and abject.
Ver. 27.—He it is who, coming after me, &c. After me Christ shall come to baptize you, that by His baptism He may perfect mine, and may wash and justify them that are penitent. As S. Cyril paraphrases, “I in preparation wash with water those who are polluted with sins as a beginning of repentance, and by this means leading you from what is lower I prepare you for more lofty things. For He who is the giver of greater things, and of the highest perfection, is about to come after me.” Or, as S. Chrysostom says,
“My baptism is only a disposition and preparation for the baptism of Christ. Mine is of water and corporeal, Christ’s is of fire and spiritual.”
Whose shoe’s latchet, &c. As though he said, “I am not worthy to be reckoned amongst the last of the servants of Christ, on account of the greatness of the Deity which is in Him.”
Ver 28.—These things were done in, &c. Bethany is the reading of the Latin, Syriac, Arabic versions, of many codices, including the Vatican, of Bede, Alcuin, the Gloss, &c. But instead of Bethany, Origen, S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius, S. Epiphanius, and S. Jerome (in loc. Heb.) read Bethabara, where Gideon slew the Midianites. I observe with Toletus that Bethany and Bethabara were one and the same place, or at least that one was nigh the other, or on opposite banks of the Jordan. This was the place in which the Hebrews, when they came out of Egypt first crossed the Jordan under the leadership of Joshua, to enter the promised land. For Bethabara means in Hebrew a house of passage; Bethany, a house of ships. For vessels were waiting here to carry passengers over Jordan. This Bethany is derived from Beth, a house, and any, spelt with alpha, a ship. The Bethany of Martha and Lazarus was a different place, and spelt differently in Hebrew. That Bethany means the house of humility, from Beth, a house, and any, spelt with ain, humility.
John, then, chose this place wherein to baptize for several reasons, because of the abundance of water, also in memory of the ancient passage of the Israelites. S. Jerome says (loc. Hebræis), “Even at this present time many of our brethren who believe, desiring there to be born again, are baptized in the life-giving flood.” They did this in memory of Christ, who was there baptized by John. This place is distant about four leagues from the Dead Sea.
Observe, Christ was baptized on the 6th of January. It was fifty-five days afterwards that John bore this witness to Christ, or about the 1st of March, when Jesus was absent. On the day following Jesus presented Himself before John, when John renewed his testimony, saying, Behold the Lamb of God. (See Epiphan. Hæres. 51.)
Whence there follows (Ver. 29), The next day again John saw, &c. Observe that after Jesus was baptized He went into the desert, where He fasted for forty days, as is plain from S. Matthew iii. Then He came down from the Mount of Temptation, and returned to John, to visit and hear him; but especially that John might in His presence confirm the testimony which in His absence he had given to the messengers of the Jews; that he might point Him out with his very finger, and leave no place for hesitation to any.
Behold the Lamb of God. Nonnus paraphrases, “He lifted up his finger, and pointed Him out as He drew near to the people who beheld Him.” “The word Behold,” says S. Chrysostom, “is used because many were inquiring for Him: therefore he pointed Him out being present, saying, “This is He of whom I have been speaking.”
Lamb, Greek, ό α̉μνος, the Lamb divinely prefigured and predicted by Moses and Isaiah. “He is led as a lamb to the slaughter,” &c. (Isa. liii. 7).
Christ is thus called the Lamb by S. John the Baptist, and by His Apostle, S. John the Evangelist, in the Apocalypse. 1. Because He was prefigured by the Paschal Lamb, and by the daily morning and evening sacrifice of a lamb to God in the Temple, and by the other lambs which were offered for sin, according to the Law, and yet they could not take away sins. Wherefore they represented Christ, who was to take away sin by His Blood. So Origen, &c.
2. Because Christ was called a Lamb by Isaiah and Jeremiah (xi. 19), who was to be offered for the redemption of the world.
3. He is called a Lamb because of his lamb-like innocence, meekness, patience, and obedience, even unto death, which, like a lamb, He bore in silence. As S. Peter says, “Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pet. ii. 23).
Christ truly is called the Lamb of God, i.e., the offspring, not of sheep, but of God, who by the will of God was offered for man’s redemption. Thus the sacrifice which Abraham offered is called Abraham’s sacrifice, as Theophylact says. Or because He was offered up to God Himself. Or the Lamb of God is the Divine Lamb, because of the Deity which was in Him. Or as S. Clement of Alexandria says, because He was made for us the child and babe of the Father. So we call children, lambs. These are the words of Clement, Since the Scripture calls boys and infants lambs, he called God who is the Word, who for us was made man, who wished in all things to be made like unto us, the Lamb of God, the Son of God, the Infant of the Father” (Pædag. lib. 1 c. 5).
Moreover, Christ for His strength and His victory is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” He was a Lamb in His Passion, a Lion in His Resurrection.
Who taketh away the sins: taketh away, both as regards the stain which sin in act imprints upon the soul, and as regards the guilt of sin, which makes the sinner liable to hell. This He takes away by making expiation, and bearing the punishment in Himself, thus in justice and equity satisfying for sin by His death upon the cross. John said this, that no one might think Christ came to his baptism to wash away His own sins, as others did; for He had no sin, but was most innocent and most holy. Therefore God made Him the victim for the sins of the whole world, that He might sanctify all who repent and believe in Him. As S. Augustine says, “He who had no participation in our sinfulness is He who takes away our sin.”
Sin: this is the reading of the Greek, Latin, and Syriac. The Arabic reads sins; but the sense is the same. By sin here is to be understood the first and universal sin of Adam, that is, original sin, which he by generation transmitted to all his posterity, and out of which all actual sins, whether venial or mortal, spring. Christ therefore, in taking away sin, takes away its source as well as its filth. So Bede, S. Thomas, Jansen, &c. As Isaiah saith, “The Lord laid upon Him the iniquities of us all.” And, “He shall bear their iniquities;” and 1 John ii. 2, “And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
As S. Cyril says, “One is slain for all, that the whole human race may be won to God the Father.” For there is in Christ a perpetual power of making expiation for sin in all ages and all nations, and in all men who are willing to receive His faith, His baptism, His repentance.
Ver. 31.—And I knew Him not, &c. As though he said, “Think not, 0 ye Jews, that I affirm Jesus to be the Messiah for the sake of friendship, or relationship, as though I were His friend and companion; for I declare unto you that I knew Him not, that I never saw Him, or spoke to Him, before His baptism. But as soon as I saw Him I recognised Him by the inspiration of God.” “What wonder,” says S. Chrysostom, “that he who from a child dwelt in the desert away from his father’s house knew not Christ?”
But that He should be manifested, &c. That is, to the Jews, to whom the Messiah was promised, “that they all might be brought to believe in Him.” Wherefore Nonnus paraphrases, “But that He whose face was unknown might be manifested to all the children of Israel, who have no ruler, I am come a precursor of the way not declared, baptizing an unlearned, ignorant, erring people.”
Ver. 33.—And I knew Him not, &c With water. Nonnus, “in the laver without fire and the Holy Ghost.” A second time S. John declares that he knew not Jesus was the Christ by sight and converse, but by revelation from God, that no one might dare to dispute his testimony. So S. Cyril.
Note the expression abiding. From this it is clear that it is peculiar to Christ to have all the graces of the Holy Spirit, and prophecy, by way of habit; but that in others only those gifts abide which are necessary for holiness of life: according to the words in chap. xiv., “He shall abide with you.” (See Suarez, Tract. de fide. disp. 8, sect. 6, n. 6.)
Ver. 35.—The next day, &c. The Evangelist says that John bare witness to Jesus in three consecutive days that He was the Christ. He did this to make his witness the more sure and solid. The first testimony that he gave was judicial, when he was asked by the messengers of the Jews. This was in the first day. The second he gave on the day following, which was the 2d of March. The third time was here on the 3d of March, before his own disciples, that he might cause them to pass from himself to Jesus.
Ver. 36.—And seeing Jesus as he walked, &c. As though he said, “Behold Christ like a spotless Lamb, destined for a victim, that He may be offered to God upon the cross, for the sins of the whole world.” When John spoke thus it was as though he said to his disciples, “Why do you follow me? follow Him who is the Lamb of God, the ransom of the world.”
Here observe the prudence and modesty of John. He does not compel or urge his disciples to follow Christ, but only points Him out to them, that they might the more ardently pursue after so great a good when it was discovered by themselves. Like a man who, when a jewel is being sold for a small price, points out to merchants how great is its worth, and causes them of their own accord to long to purchase it.
Ver. 37.—And two of his disciples, &c. S. Chrysostom says, “There were indeed others of S. John’s disciples, but they not only did not follow Christ, but were jealous of John’s, their master’s, honour, and preferred him to Christ, as is plain from iii. 26.
Two: one of those was Andrew, as appears from verse 40; who the other was is not known. S. Chrysostom asks, “Why is not the name of the other given? Either because it was the writer himself, S. John the Apostle, or because it was a person of no note.” The first idea is the more probable. And what favours the conjecture is that John and James were companions in fishing with Peter and Andrew (Matt. iv.), when, shortly after Andrew and Peter, Christ calls John and James. Lastly, the great purity, the virginity, and holiness of S. John the Evangelist seem to have been the result of the teaching, the purity, and holiness of S. John the Baptist.
They followed Jesus: that they might know Him more fully, says Euthymius, and contract a friendship with Him: and if they should experience that advantage, they would follow Him wholly, and be altogether His disciples. For from what follows it is plain they had not given themselves up entirely to Christ, but only desired to make trial of Him.
Ver. 38.—Jesus turning, &c. What seek ye? It is the voice not of one who is ignorant, but of one who invites, and deals gently with their bashfulness. As S. Cyril says, “He asks what they sought, not as ignorant, for He knew all things as God, but that His question might afford the beginning of conversation.”
Rabbi: Syriac, Rabboni, i.e., our master; Arabic, Rabban, or master. By this expression the disciples honoured Christ, and sought His favour, and intimated that they wished to become His disciples. As Bede saith, “The question itself is an indication of faith: for when they say Rabbi, which means master, they follow and call Him their Master.” And S. Cyril says, “They called Him Master from whom they desired to learn.”
Where dwellest thou? Greek, που̃ μένεις, i.e., where remainest thou? For Christ had but a hospice on earth, and no proper habitation or house, according to the words in Matthew: “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.” The disciples ask this question, that they may be able to converse privately with Christ in the house, and be instructed by Him in Divine things, and those which pertain to the more perfect life. They show that they wish to become His friends and servants.
Ver. 39.—He said unto them, Come and see, &c. The tenth hour, i.e., four o’clock in the afternoon, or about two hours before sunset. S. John adds these words, to show both the zeal of Christ, who though night was nigh, would not put them off to the following day, but entered immediately upon the things pertaining to salvation; as also to show the ardent devotion of the disciples to Christ, who, careless about their night’s lodging, had rather spend the night in listening to Christ, than at home in their beds. So Euthymius. For they remained with Him not merely the two hours which were left of daylight, as some suppose, but the whole night. For those two hours were not sufficient to speak about their affairs, and to know Christ. Neither could they have returned to John before nightfall. For, as Cyril says, “It is not fitting that we should speedily be satisfied with Divine things, and leave them.”
Moreover, what great things they heard from Christ, what draughts of piety they drank, what flames of love they felt kindled by Christ those only know who have had experience of them. Wherefore S. Austin exclaims, “How blessed they accounted the day! how blessed the night! Who can tell us the things which they heard from the Lord?” Certainly we may gather what was said from the effect produced: for Andrew was so inflamed with love for Christ that he forthwith strove to gain his brother Peter to Christ, and inflame him with love for Him.
Ver. 40.—Now one of the two, &c. John inserts this to show in what way Peter, who was to be the prince of the Apostles, and the head of the whole Church, was led to Christ. It was because Andrew, being glad at finding and hearing Christ, brought his own brother Peter, for whom he had a singular love, to Him, that he might make him partaker in so great a good. For this zeal, which burns to make others, especially those nearest to us, partakers with us, and to draw them to God, is a mark and an effect of the Divine Vocation. For as fire kindles fire, so does zeal kindle zeal. Moreover, Peter, as well as Andrew, seems to have been a disciple, or at least a diligent hearer of John the Baptist. Which of the two was the elder is not known. The conversion of Peter is the glory and praise of Andrew.
Ver. 41.—He first findeth, &c. . . . the Christ, that is, the Anointed, not indued with corporeal anointing, but with spiritual grace, both that of the Hypostatic Union, as well as that grace which was habitual and specially excellent. This last was the grace by which as man He was created by God, and, as it were, Consecrated, first a priest, secondly, a teacher, thirdly, a prophet, fourthly, a king, fifthly, a lawgiver, sixthly, the Redeemer of the world. The Greek is τόν Μεσσίαν, i.e., that Christ, that Anointed One: the one, only, special Prophet, predicted by the rest, whom all were eagerly expecting as the Restorer of Israel. So Euthymius.
We have found the Messiah, whom I and thou are most eagerly expecting. It would seem that both Andrew and Peter, partly from the prophetic oracles, and partly from the testimony of John, were inflamed with the desire of seeing Christ. For, as Bede says, “No one finds but he who seeks: he who saith that he hath found shows that he had been a long while seeking.” Euthymius, following S. Chrysostom, as he is wont, saith, “This is the speech of one who is very glad; We have found Him whom we sought, whom we hoped should come, whom the Scriptures announced.” Andrew, therefore, that he might communicate his great joy at finding Christ, to his brother Peter exclaims, “We have found the Messiah.” Wherefore “they no more returned to S. John,” as S. Chrysostom says, “but were so closely united to Christ, that they undertook John’s office, and themselves preached Christ.”
Hence we learn, morally, that God by His grace meets the longing soul, and so fills it that it may the more desire and thirst for Him. Yea, God is wont first to put this desire of Himself into the soul, that He may thereby prepare the soul for Himself and His gifts, and make it capable of receiving them.
Ver. 42.—And he brought him to Jesus. “It is probable,” says S. Chrysostom, “that Andrew related many other things calculated to persuade. The other disciple was also present to confirm what he said. But Andrew, since it was not his office, and because he was not sufficient to tell of so great a light, brings him to that very fountain which he had discovered.” Moreover, the mind of Peter, like a straw in presence of the fire, was inflamed with the desire of seeing and hearing Christ. Wherefore S. Chrysostom proceeds, “Consider the obedient mind of Peter from the beginning, and how full of good will. He brought him to Jesus; but let no one find fault with his too great readiness in believing. For it is not said that he immediately persuaded him, but only that he brought him to Jesus, there to learn all.”
Jesus beholding him (as it were a fitting subject to preach and make known His glory, and therefore designing him to be His successor and vicar, that is, the Pontiff of the Church) said, &c. Simon Peter’s father was called Johanan or John, by contraction Jona, as Jehoshua is contracted into Joshua and Jesus. Christ says this that He may reveal secrets, and show him that He is the Searcher of hearts and his God.
Thou shall be called Cephas. Christ promises to Simon the name of Cephas, or Peter, as much as to say, I will give thee, Simon, another name. I will call thee Cephas, i.e., a rock or Peter, for I will make thee the rock of the Church, so that on thee and thy faith, and thy government the fabric of My Church may rest securely as upon a most solid foundation of rock. (See what is said on S. Matt. xvi. 18)
Ver. 43.—On the morrow, &c. That out of Galilee He might call untutored fishermen, to create them His Apostles, and the preachers of His Gospel, lest the Christian faith should be supposed to be the work of man, not of God. For the Apostles were Galileans. For the Galileans were poor and ignoble in comparison with the Jews who were sprung from Judah, which was the royal tribe.
He findeth Philip, not by chance, but going of set purpose to the place where He knew Philip was. There He found him whom He carefully sought, and whom He destined to be an Apostle.
And Jesus saith unto him. This is the first exterior calling by Christ. For Peter and Andrew were first called by an inward inspiration, not outwardly by Christ’s external voice, but by hearing the voice of John the Baptist their master saying of Christ, Behold the Lamb of God! They were not called by Him, but of their own accord they came to Jesus, in order to find out His doctrine and life, but not, as it were, about to become His sure and firm disciples. Thus Toletus. To Philip therefore this praise and glory is due that he was the first of all to hear Christ say, follow Me, and to experience an outward call at the same time that the Holy Ghost influenced his mind inwardly; and obedient to this vocation he straightway followed Christ, for he was himself a student of the Mosaic law, and anxious about the coming of Christ, as Theophylact says. Theophylact gives as the cause of his following the attractive voice of Christ, “The voice of the Lord seems to have touched his mind as it were with a goad of love.” For it was not merely the Saviour’s voice which spoke, but He forthwith made those to whom He spoke worthy to be inflamed with His love, even as Cleophas said, “Did not our heart burn within us, whilst He talked with us by the way?”
Ver. 44.—Now Philip was of Bethsaida, &c. John adds this, says Theophylact, to intimate that Andrew and Peter had previously informed Philip, who was their townsman, that they had found the Messiah, and that He was Jesus of Nazareth. Wherefore Philip, as soon as he heard Christ call, Follow Me, immediately followed Him, because his mind was already prepared, and eager for Christ.
Moreover, Bethsaida was contiguous to the Sea of Galilee, and near Capharnaum, where Peter and Andrew had a house, as we learn from the 8th of S. Matthew. This, then, was the country of three of the Apostles, namely, Peter, Andrew, and Philip. Bethsaida means in Hebrew the house of hunting, or fishing, because fishermen, such as Peter and Andrew, dwelt there, and caught fish in the neighbouring sea.
Ver. 45.—Philip findeth Nathanael, &c. “Not by chance,” as Cyril saith; “but he sought him with great diligence, for he knew that he was a very diligent searcher of the Scriptures.” It would appear that he found him at Cana of Galilee, which was the native place of Nathanael, as is plain from chap. xxi. 2.
Nathanael, his friend and comrade. You will inquire who was this Nathanael?
1. Claudius Espenæus, commenting on 2 Tim. iv., says that Nathanael was the same as Ursicinus, the first Bishop of Bourges.
2. The Greek Menæa says that Nathanael is the same as the Apostle Simon the Cananite. He is there commemorated on the 22d of April as follows: “The Holy Apostle Nathanael, which was Simon Zelotes, of Cana in Galilee, where Christ at the marriage feast turned the water into wine.” He is also commemorated in the Menæa on the 10th of May.
3. and more probably, Rupertus and Jansen in this passage think Nathanael is the Apostle Bartholomew. They show this, firstly, because the other Evangelists always join together Philip and Bartholomew, as John here joins Philip and Nathanael. Secondly, because we nowhere read of Christ’s calling Bartholomew, unless it were this call of Nathanael. Thirdly, because the other three Evangelists who make mention of Bartholomew make no mention of Nathanael, and vice versâ with S. John. Fourthly, because S. John (xxi. 2) associates Nathanael with the Apostles Peter, Thomas, James, and John in fishing, and the vision of Jesus. It would seem therefore that he was an Apostle, and yet it is not apparent who else he could be if he were not Bartholomew. Fifthly, because Bartholomew does not seem to be a proper name, but only to signify that he was the son of Tolmai; and his proper name seems to have been Nathanael. Sixthly, because Christ said of Nathanael, Behold an Israelite indeed, it whom is no guile. And then Christ promises him a vision of angels ascending and descending upon Himself. Christ therefore seems to have specially loved him, and to have chosen him for a friend and Apostle.
S. Augustine, however, dissents from this view, because he thinks Nathanael was a doctor of the Law. He discoursed with S. Philip out of the law. But Christ did not choose for His Apostles men learned in the Law, but rude and ignorant fishermen. To this it may be replied that Nathanael was a student, but not a doctor of the Law. Just as Philip, Andrew, and Peter all discoursed out of the Law concerning the coming of Messiah. If, however, Nathanael was not an Apostle, he was certainly a disciple, wherefore L. Dexter (Chron. ad. A.D. 101) says, “Nathanael, one of the seventy disciples of the Lord, sleeps in Treuga, a city of Spain,” now called Leon. Another writer adds that he slept in the Lord on the 30th of November.
Nathanael means in Hebrew the gift of God, or God gave, or given by God; in Latin, Adeo-datus. The prince of the tribe of Issachar in the time of Moses was called Nathanael (Num. i. 8). It may be that our Apostle was descended from him, and took his name.
Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. For Nazareth is only three hours distant from Cana, so that Nathanael of Cana might easily know of Jesus of Nazareth, Joseph’s son, as he was commonly reputed to be.
Ver. 46.—Nathanael said unto him, &c. For Nazareth of Galilee was a place ignoble and obscure, and despised by the Jews. Wherefore the Pharisees say (vii. 57), Out of Galilee ariseth no prophet. “How then, 0 Philip, canst thou think that Christ is sprung from Nazareth, especially when Micah foretold that Christ was to spring from Judah and David, and to be born at Bethlehem?” So S. Chrysostom, who adds, “He shows therefore both knowledge of the Scripture, and simplicity of disposition, as well as a vehement desire for the coming of Christ in that he did not despise Philip’s words. For he knew that Philip might be deceived with regard to things to be commemorated in his country.” And Philip was partly wrong; for though Christ was conceived at Nazareth, He was born at Bethlehem, of which Philip was at this time ignorant.
Come and see. Syriac, Come and thou shalt see. “I will not dispute with thee about Nazareth, but come, see and hear Jesus: and you shall experience what I have experienced, that you may be ravished with His love, and believe that He is the very Christ.” Listen to S. Chrysostom. “Philip does not tell him how He is the Christ, and how the prophets have foretold, but he leads him to Jesus, knowing that he will not go away from Him if he tastes His words and His doctrine. If you only see Him, he says, if you only speak with Him, you will at once agree with me.” “We ought to believe,” says Cyril, “that there was a certain unspeakable loveliness in the words of Christ which attracted the minds of the hearers by its great sweetness.”
Ver. 47.—Jesus saw Nathanael, &c. He is a follower of the candour, simplicity, and sanctity of Israel, that is, of the patriarch Jacob, from whom he was descended. Wherefore the Syriac translates, Behold a son of Israel indeed. Jesus shows that He knew the pure state of Nathanael’s mind, that thereby Nathanael might know that Jesus was not a mere man, but that He was a1so God, and the Searcher of hearts. S. Chrysostom thinks that Christ alludes to what Nathanael had said to Philip, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? As if Jesus had said, “I am not displeased with what thou hast said about Me, because I know thou hast a candid mind, and art anxious to know the truth.”
Ver. 48.—Nathanael saith, &C “Observe,” says S. Chrysostom, “the consistency of the man. He is not puffed up by praise, but he proceeds to inquire accurately, that he may learn something certain about Christ.”
Jesus answered, &c. “When thou wast alone under the fig tree, and thoughtest that no one saw thee, I saw thee, and know what thou wast doing in secret there. Hence thou mayest gather that I am greater than man, even Messiah, the Son of God.” So S. Cyril, S. Augustine, and others.
Mystically, S. Gregory (Moral. l. 18, c. 20), Under the fig tree, i.e., beneath the shadow of the Law, I saw thee, that I might transfer thee to the vine of My Gospel.
Tropologically, learn from hence that God and Christ are everywhere present, and are to be feared, when thou art alone in thy chamber; yea, when thou secretly thinkest and desirest anything in thy heart, Christ is looking at thee, and beholding thy thoughts and desires. Take heed therefore lest thou do anything, or desire, or think anything, which will offend the eyes of His majesty. For so He beheld Nathanael, and what he was doing under the fig tree. So also God saw Adam under a fig tree eating its forbidden fruit.
Ver. 49.—Nathanael answered, &c. Son of God: that is, His natural and consubstantial Son, for this is the plain meaning of the words. So SS. Cyril, Augustine, Maldonatus, &c. But S. Chrysostom, Euthymius, Lyra, &c., think Nathanael was ignorant that Christ was God, and only believed that He was the adopted Son of God, by a peculiar grace by which he saw that He was superior to all other prophets and saints.
I am disposed to think that Philip, from the testimony of John the Baptist concerning Jesus (ver. 34), believed Him to be the Son of God, but in a confused sort of way, without clearly discerning between natural and adoptive sonship, and that he persuaded Nathanael to think as he did himself. For although John the Baptist in saying that Christ was the Son of God meant His natural Son, by the Hypostatic Union of the Humanity with the Word, Philip and Nathanael did not as yet understand this until they had been more fully taught.
King of Israel, i.e., Messiah, son of David and Solomon, and therefore heir of the kingdom of the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what David foretold in the 2d Psalm, speaking in the person of Christ: “Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion. I will declare His precept: the Lord said unto Me, Thou art My Son, to-day have I begotten Thee.” From hence it is clear that David foretold that Messiah would be the Son of God by nature. But few before John the Baptist and Christ Himself clearly and fully understood this. The Œcumenical Council of Constantinople, by a constitution of Pope Vigilius, pronounces an anathema against those who would explain the words of Nathanael, Thou art the Son of God, to be so applied to Christ as though He were not very God, but as it were of the household of God, and were named God on account of the friendship which he had with God.
Ver. 50.—Jesus answered—greater things—the greater mysteries of My doctrine, life, passion, resurrection, by which thou shalt know not only that I am the King and Lord of Israel, but of the whole universe of heaven, and of the angels.
Ver. 51.—Ye shall see heaven opened: not that the heaven was to be in reality cleft, but because it was to afford a passage to the angels going in and out, like as it were a door that is opened. Thus heaven shall appear to be opened. This is the figure of speech called catachresis. In like manner, the heaven seemed to be opened at Christ’s baptism. So too S. Stephen, when he was stoned, saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. By this vision it is signified that heaven, which had been shut for four thousand years because of the sins of men, was now to be opened by Christ.
The angels of God, &c., to obey Him as their King. This is the force of the Greek ε̉πὶ, which answers to the Hebrew al. Wherefore Vatablus translates under the Son of man, as though Christ said, “under My power and sway, as I will and command.” So Frank Lucas.
Observe (1.) that Christ, in calling Nathanael an Israelite in whom was no guile, evidently alludes to the vision of angels ascending and descending in the ladder from earth to heaven, which the Patriarch Jacob saw at Bethel (Gen. xxviii. 12). So S. Augustine. For Israel or Jacob, was a type of Christ. For Christ is the true Israel, i.e., having power with God. Christ is the Patriarch of Christians, the founder of Bethel, the House of God, i.e., the Church both militant and triumphant.
2. Christ, by what He says about this vision of the angels ascending to Himself, signifies that He is the Prince not only of men, but of angels, and therefore true God, the Son of God. For the angels ascend and descend to Him as His ministers, that they may obey and fulfil all His commands both in heaven and earth. So S. Cyril and Chrysostom.
You will ask, When did this descent and ascent of the angels to Christ take place? 1. S. Chrysostom thinks it took place when Christ suffered His agony and bloody sweat in the garden, when an angel appeared, strengthening Him (S. Luke, xxii. 44). Also when the angels appeared to the woman to announce His resurrection (S. Matt. xxviii.)
2. S. Cyril thinks it took place at His baptism; for then it was that by the ministry of angels a dove was formed, and flew down upon Christ, which was the sign of the Holy Ghost. But this had already taken place when Christ spoke to Nathanael.
3. Euthymius thinks it took place at the ascension; for then all the angels accompanied Him as He went up, like servants their prince, and soldiers their king.
4. Toletus thinks that it is continually taking place in the Church, which Christ rules by means of the angels.
5. Maldonatus thinks it will take place in the Day of judgment; for then all the angels, both good and bad, will stand in His presence—the good, that they may after the judgment lead the righteous to heaven; the bad, that they may carry the wicked to hell.
6. Frank Lucas understands the words to refer to the miracles of Christ, and the heavenly gifts, in which the angels were employed by Christ in this life, and afterwards. Jesus means, he says, that at the bidding of the Son of Man from henceforth heaven should seem to be open, with the angels going and coming, because in a short time the angels, being commanded by the Son of Man, would bring great abundance of God’s great gifts to the earth, which all would behold, —even the healing of the sick, the cleansing of the lepers, giving sight to the blind, the justification of the wicked, the effusion of the Holy Ghost. And since all of these are manifest gifts of God, heaven could not seem other than to be opened, and the holy angels, by whom heavenly things are ministered, to serve, at the bidding of the Son of Man, by those who beheld Him bestowing them upon many. Christ therefore is here speaking of all kinds of miracles and heavenly gifts, which, immediately after the calling of Nathanael, He was about to manifest in the whole period of His mortal life, and after His ascension, in the government of the Church until the end of the world. All these meanings are true and apposite.
But because Christ specially promises this vision of angels to Philip and Nathanael to strengthen and augment their faith in Him, this ascent and descent of the angels upon Him was not fulfilled either at His baptism, passion, resurrection, or ascension. Therefore we say that the words more plainly, simply, and expressly imply that this was an open, or manifest, and peculiar vision of angels coming to the living Christ, such as was given to Jacob, who was a type of Christ. Wherefore that vision of Jacob presignified a similar vision of angels to Christ, a vision like that which took place at His birth, when the angels who descended to Him sang, Glory to God in the highest. But where and when this angelic vision took place the Evangelists do not tell us, just as they omit many other acts in the life of Christ. So Jansen.
This vision took place (1.) to show that Christ had reconciled men and angels, earth and heaven, and had restored the mutual communion and friendship which existed in Paradise.
2. To show that Christians are strangers and foreigners on earth, and ought to converse with angels, and imitate the angelic life, as “fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”
3. To assign angels to us as our guardians, to defend us against all the attacks of men and evil spirits, to urge us to the practice of heroic virtues, and when we die to carry us to heaven. For the angels ascend to bear our sighs and prayers to God: they descend to bring God’s gracious gifts to us.
4. To declare the majesty of Christ and the obedience and reverence of the angels to Him. For He, as S. Chrysostom says, has been set “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1. 21).