1 He comforteth them against the sins of infirmity. 3 Rightly to know God is to keep his commandments, 9 to love our brethren, 15 and not to love the wor1d. 18 We must beware of seducers: 20 from whose deceits the godly are safe, preserved by perseverance in faith, and holiness of life.
Y little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
Douay Rheims Version
Christ is our advocate. We must keep his commandments and love one another. We must not love the world nor give ear to new teachers, but abide by the spirit of God in the church.
Y little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin. But if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just.
8. Again a new commandment I write unto you: which thing is true both in him and in you, because the darkness is passed and the true light now shineth.
9. He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother is in darkness even until now.
14. I write unto you, babes, because you have known the Father. I write unto you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.
15. Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him.
20. But you have the unction from the Holy One and know all things.
21. I have not written to you as to them that know not the truth, but as to them that know it: and that no lie is of the truth.
Ver. 1.—My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. At the end of the last chapter it was said that all who were grown up had sinned, either mortally as heathens, or venially as Christians. But he now exhorts them one by one to be most watchful against the sins they committed as heathens, and to abstain as far as they could from venial sins. For though it be impossible to avoid them collectively, yet it is possible to avoid them one by one, especially such as are committed not by surprise, but with previous consideration, and deliberately.
But if any man sin, we have an Advocate. This anticipates the objection, what then will he do, who through human weakness has fallen into some unusual and shameful sin? He answers, he should not despair, or be cast down, because we have Christ as our advocate with our most loving Father, Christ who by presenting His death and sufferings which He underwent for us, will easily obtain our pardon, if we are truly penitent, for God is most merciful, and Christ’s merits are infinite. And just as the severity of a wound or disease displays the skill and credit of the physician who cures them, so does the greatness of our sins which He heals, and in which He is a propitiator, set forth the greatness of Christ’s mercy, grace, and redemption. As in the case of the Magdalene and S. Paul. See 1 Tim. i. 15. Here observe Advocate means one who pleads our cause: in a forensic sense; and He is so—1. By displaying His wounds, and thus silently pleading His own Merits. 2. Many, with great probability, assert that He is ever praying for us orally, being no longer a wayfarer on earth, but as having attained to his rest and claiming our pardon as His right. See Heb. vii. 25, ix. 12; John xiv. 16; Rom. vii. 3. Beza and others thence contend that the saints are not our advocates, and that we make them superior to Christ, if we regard them as such. But they reason falsely, for we know and profess that Christ is the Son of God, and that the Blessed Virgin and the Saints are immeasurably inferior to Him. But yet they intercede for us through His merits. See S. Irenæus, v. 29; S. Bernard, xii.; and on the whole question, Bellarmine, de lnvocat. Sanct.
Jesus Christ the righteous. That is, (1.) Innocent and holy, and who by His very sanctity is most loved of the Father, and desirous to be heard of Him. (2.) He who made a full satisfaction for our sins, paying a full ransom for them by His own Blood. He is then our righteous advocate in another sense, as pleading a righteous cause, as those who plead for gain. Whence Cassiodorus says (Epist. xi. 4.), “If in your zeal for advocacy ye have shone forth with the light of justice.” Such an one, then, is a good advocate amongst men, but not with God, since we ask of Him, not justice, but mercy and grace. And His is a tribunal of grace.
Ver. 2.—And (i.e., because) He is the propitiation (the propitiator) for our sins. For by offering Himself on the Cross as a Victim for sins, He has made satisfaction for them, and reconciled the Father to us. This refers to the mercy-seat, which was above the ark (see Exod. xxv. 17), which represented Christ our Propitiator (see Rom. iii. 25.). S. Augustine (de Fide et 0peribus) reads, “He is the entreater (exoratio) for our sins.” S. Cyprian reads deprecatio, John means that Christ is so powerful an advocate, that our case cannot fail in His hands, being Himself, by His very office, our redemption and propitiation, who made a full satisfaction for our sins.
So S. John says (Rev. i. 5); and S. Leo (Serm. xii. de Passione), “The pouring forth of His righteous Blood for the unrighteous, was so powerful to gain this privilege, so fully sufficient to pay the price, that if the whole body of captives believed in their Redeemer, the bands of tyranny would not retain their hold of a single one . . . For though the death of the Saints was precious in the sight of the Lord, yet it was not the death of any innocent person that was the propitiation of the world. The righteous received crowns, they did not confer them. In the fortitude of the saints were exhibited examples of patience, not gifts of righteousness. They each died their own several deaths, and none of them dying discharged any other’s debt than his own, since the Lord Jesus Christ stood forth alone among the sons of men, in whom all are crucified, all die, all are buried, and all moreover will be raised again.” For this cause S. Augustine and other saints who had sinned betook themselves to the wounds of Christ, and dwelt therein as in a refuge. See note on Zech. xiii. As S. Ambrose (pref. in Ps. xxxv.) says, “The Blood of Christ is fine gold, plenteous to redeem, and flowing forth to wash away every sin.”
And not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. Not for Jews only but for Gentiles, to whom Christ ordered the Gospel to be preached. Again, Christ is offered in the Sacrifice of the Mass for all men, excepting those who are excommunicated.
And hereby do we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. We know Him by probability and conjecturally. But our knowledge must be practised: it must show itself in love and affection, and in outward acts. And we shall in this way secure Him as our Advocate. S. Augustine says (De Fide et 0per. cap. xii), “Let not our mind be so deceived as to think that it knows God if it confess Him with a dead faith, that is, without works.” So David says, Ps. ciii. 18, “To think upon His commandments to do them.” See his dying advice to Solomon, “Know thou the God of thy fathers,” that is believe, reverence, love, and obey Him. See also Hos. vi. 6, For he who does not observe the law of God assuredly does not know it, because he does not practically value or ponder as he ought on His boundless majesty, goodness, power, wisdom, and righteousness, for else he would love, reverence, and obey Him with his whole heart. For, as Bede says, “He who loves not God, shows that he knows not His loveliness, and he has not learned to taste and see how gracious and sweet He is, if he does not labour continually to do those things which are pleasing in His sight.” See chap. iv. 7, 8.
Catharinus wrongly infers that the righteous can know for certain that they are righteous and in God’s favour. But although they may have grace and the love of God in their hearts, yet they do not see them, and though they outwardly observe the commandments of God, yet they know not whether they observe them from love of Him, and as He commanded. And though they feel that they love God, yet they know not whether this love is what it should be, and simply for God’s sake. (See Conc. Indent. sess. vi. cap. 9; Bellarmine, de Justif. iii. 1 seq.)
Ver. 4.—He that saith he knoweth Him, that is, with true and saving knowledge, such as leads to eternal life, and keepeth not His commandments is a liar. As the Apostle said (Rom. i. 21) of the philosophers who knew God, but only in a speculative and barren way, “When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God.”
Ver. 5.—But whoso keepeth His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected. This confirms the previous statement, by way of antithesis. The word is spoken of in the singular number, because the law of love comprehends all others, just as a root implies the leaves and fruit, and the whole tree.
Perfect love is that which fulfils that command, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” &c. (Matt. xxii. 37.) For he who observes the commands of God loves God with all his heart, though he may sin venially, which is a necessary evil in this life of corruption. But in this perfectness of Christian charity and life there are various grades. The first is so to love God with all the heart as never to offend Him mortally. 2. Never deliberately to offend Him venially, even for the sake of the whole world. 3. To renounce, for the love of God, the love of every creature, and to devote thyself entirely to His service as “religious” do. See, too, Rom. viii. 35. 4. Not to think, wish, or love anything save God, or for His sake. Origen (Præf. in Evan. S. Joan) says, “He who is perfect, no longer lives himself, but Christ lives in him;” and S. Augustine (Serm. xxxix. de temp. [nunc cccl]) says, “As covetousness is the root of all evil, so is love the root of all good. The love of God and our neighbour fills up the whole length and breadth of the sacred word.” He then adds, “Without it a rich man is poor, with it a poor man is rich. It gives patience in adversity, moderation in prosperity, endurance in hard sufferings, and so forth.” And S. Bernard writes thus to the brethren (de Monte Dei, xix.): “Perfection, though not of the same kind, is required of you all. As one star differs from another star in glory, so does cell from cell,* in the beginners, the progressing, and the perfect The first state may be called the animal, the next the rational, the last the spiritual, the first relating to the body, the second to the soul, the third finding its rest in God alone. Each, however, has its own rate of progress and measure of perfection. The beginning consists in perfect obedience in the animal life, its progress in bringing the body into subjection, its perfection in turning the practice of good into delight in it. And so too, in the rational life, the perfection of which is the spiritual life, and the perfection of the spiritual life is to be changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” And S. Maximus says (De Charitate Cent. iii. 97), “That soul is perfect whose whole powers turn only towards God.” See also Centur. iv. 17; and S. Francis (in 0pusc. decem perfect—considered to be spurious: see Cave) says, “A Christian’s perfection is to root out from his heart all worldly affections, and to find no root, or resting-place, save in Him who made it. And again, to have such patience as to love him the more who has done or said any wrong of him. For as God of His bounty conferred on him all his blessings, so should he believe that He secretly pledges Himself to send on him every kind of evil, in order to show a sinner his sins, and thus lightly punish them once in this present life, that He may not scourge them more severely for ever. He should therefore love him who has done or spoken any evil against him, as being the messenger of God to him for good,” &c.
Hereby know we that we are in Him. S. Augustine here adds, ‘If we be perfected in Him,’ but nearly all MSS. omit these words. The meaning is, we know that we are in Him if we keep His commandments. This is the effect and sign of our cleaving to Him. Moreover, it is by love that we abide in God, as the thing loved is in the lover. For the soul is more in that which it loves, than in that which it animates. And God in return loves those who love Him, dwells in them, cares for, directs and protects them. Augustine says, that we who love Christ are in Christ, as the members in the body. See John xiv. 23. The soul then of one who loves God is a kind of temple, in which all the three Persons abide. And by abiding S. John means intimate union, permanent resting, continual presence, friendly converse, and all other offices of true friendship.
Ver. 6.—He that saith he abide in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked. By advancing in virtue, especially in charity, and exhibiting its works more and more every day, as Christ “increased in wisdom and stature.” “The true righteousness of the perfect,” says S. Leo (Serm. ii. de Quadr.), “is for them never to presume that they are perfect, lest by stopping short when their journey is not yet done, they should incur the risk of failing.” See Eph. v. 1. S. Prosper (de vit. contempl. lib. 11) beautifully says, “What is walking as He walked, except the despising all the good things which He despised, not to fear the sufferings He endured, to teach what He taught, to hope for what He promised, to confer kindnesses on the ungrateful, not to requite to evil-wishers according to their deserts, to pray for our enemies, to pity the perverse, patiently to bear with the crafty and proud, and, as the Apostle says, to die to the flesh that we may live to Christ?” &c.
Whence Gregory Nyssen defines Christianity to be an imitation of the Divine nature, &c. S. Augustine (de Vera Relig. cap. xv.) tells us that the Word was made flesh, to teach us the way of life not by force but by example, in ministering to the poor, in refusing to be a king, in submitting to every kind of injury, &c. In fact, His whole life, in the nature He deigned to assume, was a moral discipline. S. Cyprian (de Zelo et Livore), “If parents delight in having children who are like themselves, much more does God rejoice when a man is spiritually born; and again, as we have borne the image of the earthly, let us also bear the image of the heavenly. But we cannot do this unless we exhibit a resemblance to Christ; for this is to change our old self, and to begin a new life, and that thus the Divine truth may shine forth in thee, as He Himself promised, ‘Those that honour Me, I will honour.’”
My beloved, I write a new commandment unto you. This commandment of loving God and our neighbour was not new, for it was given to the Jews, and before that to Adam and all men by the Law of Nature, which was in the mind of God from all eternity. This, was an answer to the objection made to the Apostle’s teaching, that it was new and unheard of. It was again an old commandment as having been taught Christians from their very baptism.
Again, a new commandment I write unto you. It was new, as being a new enforcing of an old commandment, which had been forgotten by long disuse. (See John xiii. 33.) And it was enforced by Christ on the new principle of love, and also more fully explained (Matt v. 38; John xiv. 15, 16). It was new on various grounds—1. Because of the new efficient cause, viz. Christ, who enforced it more stringently upon us. And again, by reason of the new source of charity and grace, viz., the Holy Spirit poured forth at Pentecost. The false interpretations of the Jews were thus put aside, and a new law, and new obligations and duties, imposed on Christians. See Matt. v. 43.
2. It was a new law; by reason of a new material cause, viz., the new and enlarged body of Christians, who were before in the darkness of unbelief and hatred, but who were now bound by it to love God and their neighbour.
3. There was a new formal cause, namely, the Incarnation, and the union of all Christians in Christ. For in Christ there is an union, not with Christ only, but with all Christians in Him, an union by nature, by grace, and by the sacraments (especially by the Holy Eucharist), which is the foundation of a greater and singular obligation to a stricter love of God, of Christ, and of all Christians. And this is a pure, perfect love, in so much as Christ is far above, and more perfect than other men. Moreover, by Christ’s Incarnation we owe greater love, not only to Christ, but also to the whole Trinity, by reason of our closer union, and also of the new and very great blessings conferred on us thereby. For by the Incarnation we have a new relation and union to the Holy Trinity, and also between ourselves, and a new cause and formal reason for love. For by the Incarnation Christ has became our kinsman and brother, so that we ought mutually to love each other, as brethren and members of the one body of Christ. So Toletus and F. Lucas on John xiii.
4. It is new, with regard to the example Christ has set us. He poured forth His blood out of pure love. And such indeed was the love of the Blessed Virgin, and the early Christians. We are taught to do according to the pattern shewed us in the Mount. Christ says, “As I have loved you”—words which have caused much matter for shame, and also much matter for exaggeration. For consider what arguments for love Christ furnished at every moment, by His birth, His labour, His preaching, His suffering, His dying, and thus thou wilt see how little is the love of all men. As S. John the Almoner, Bishop of Alexandria, used to say when one praised his liberality to the poor: “My brother, I have not yet shed my life for thee, as the Lord commanded me.”
We are therefore taught by Christ not merely to love our neighbour as ourselves, but even more than ourselves. For Christ died for us though we were His enemies, teaching us to do the same. This was an unheard-of love both among the Jews and the world at large. So S. Cyril, in John xiii., S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Rupertus. Arias [Montanus] says, that our love should be most fervent, and abounding in kind offices, even towards our enemies, and ready to shed our, blood for the good of our brethren, as Christ did. So Cajetan, Gagneius, S. Major, and others.
5. In regard of the new end Christ set before us, He wished to make us heavenly men, and not earthly. And he wished us to renew our love by frequent communions, sermons, meditations, &c. S. John in his old age used frequently to repeat and inculcate these words. S. Bernard (Serm. v. in Cæna. Dom.): “It is a new commandment because it makes all things new, putting off the old man and putting on the new, and by daily admitting to heaven mankind who were banished from paradise.” “ Is it not a new commandment,” says S. Augustine, “because this commandment renews those who obey it, and thus makes us new men, heirs of the New Testament, singers of the new song, making and gathering into one a new people?” S. Gregory (Hom. xxxii. in Evang.) says, “Our Lord and Redeemer came as a new man into the world, giving us new precepts. For since our old life was brought up in sin, He set up in opposition to it newness of life,” charity as opposed to concupiscence, and the love of God and our neighbour against our self-love.
6. Maldonatus understands by ‘new’ something excellent and pre-eminent. And others again by ‘new’ understand a commandment never given before, as men were called ‘new’ who were newly made: and ‘new’ also because Christ wished His disciples to observe it ‘anew,’ as being the last He gave them. As F. Lucas explains it, “I have reserved this commandment to you, in order that ye may keep it more firmly in your memory. For I wish specially to commend it to you, being such a command as no one ever yet gave his disciples, being a gentle and loving command. It was ‘new’ then, as newly enjoined by Christ in His Last Supper, and as being a command peculiar to Christ, and being in a singular manner commanded by Him.” (See. S. Basil, de Bapt. cap. ult.)
7. It was ‘new’ with respect to its effects, the heroic deeds of S. Paul and the other Apostles, their new and unheard-of labours and persecutions, and the new alacrity and ardour with which they subdued the world to Christ. A love which led Paul to wish himself accursed for the sake of his brethren, which caused Paulinus to sell himself into slavery for the sake of ransoming the son of a widow—a love which led S. Dominick, S. Francis, S. Ignatius and others to devote themselves to the salvation of souls, and led the blessed Jacoponus to pray that he might suffer all the sufferings of all the lost, that he might save them all, if it were God’s will.
8. It was a ‘new’ commandment as specially pertaining to the New Testament, and distinguishing it from the Old. See John xiii 35; Cant. ii. 4, viii. 6.
Such was the love of the early Christians. See Acts iv. 32. “See how these Christians love one another, and are ready to die for each other,” was remarked by the heathen. Tertullian says why they called each other brethren, as acknowledging one God as their father, having drunk of the one Spirit of holiness, as having come from the same womb of ignorance to the same Light of Truth, &c.
Which thing is true in Him and in you. Namely, this law of love, as springing from the Law of Nature, and it is not only the most ancient command, but is true also in you, because ye have embraced it together with your new life in Christ. But some refer this to Christ, which is far better. For though He is not expressly mentioned, yet He was mentioned above (ver 1-4). But S. John’s heart was so full of Christ, that when he says ‘Him,’ he does not mean any one else, but Christ, as was the case also with the Magdalene (John xx. 15). S. Jerome (contra Jovin, lib. 11) accordingly reads, “which is most true both in Christ and in you.” Some explain it thus, “This law of charity is that which makes you to be as truly in Christ as ye are in yourselves.” 2d. We may explain it thus (and it is the best meaning), “As Christ loves Christians in the highest degree as members of His Body, so should we devote ourselves entirely to the love of Him and our fellow-Christians.”
Because the darkness (of ignorance, lust, and sin, as well as of the shadows, the terrors and ceremonies of the Old Testament) is past, and the true Light now shineth, the light of faith, grace, love, and of all holiness. See Rom. xiii. 12; Eph. v. 6. This is called the ‘true,’ i.e. the perfect, full, Divine Light. See John i. 9. Christ calls Himself the true vine (John xv. 1) and the true head, i.e. fully satisfying (John vi. 55). As a symbol of this, Christ was incarnate at the Vernal Equinox, and was born at the Winter Solstice, when the days are beginning to increase. See S. Augustine, Serm. xxii. de temp. [not S. Augustine.]
Ver. 9.—He that saith he is in the Light (of the Gospel, Faith, and Charity) and hateth his brother, is in darkness, in ignorance of his sins, anger, hatred, lust, &c. And by these he is so blinded as not to see the great evil of hatred, how odious to God, who is the light of Charity, what destruction it causes, what torments of hell it brings with it. “He is blinded with his wickedness,” says S. Chrysostom (de Erudit. discipl.): “he goes ignorantly into hell-fire, and is hurled headlong into punishments.” See Exodus xi. 16. And S. Cyprian (de zelo et livore) says: “If thou hast begun to be a man of light, do the things of Christ, for He is our Light and day. Why rushest thou into the darkness of anger? Why wrappest thou thyself in a mist of envy? Why dost thou extinguish with the darkness of envy every spark of peace and charity? Why dost thou go back to the devil, whom thou hast renounced? Why hast thou become like Cain? Cain? He is in the darkness of hell, because he is tending towards it.” S. Basil says, “As he who has charity has God within him, so he that has hatred and anger has a devil within him,” &c.; and S. Chrysostom calls anger a self-chosen (voluntarium) devil. In an angry man you may see all the furies of hell. As Seneca says (lib. ii. de Ira).
Even until now. For though baptism be an enlightenment, yet it cannot dispel the darkness of hatred, if it be voluntary, or come on after baptism. (See S. Augustine, Bede, and Hugo.)
Ver. 10.—He that loveth his brother abideth in the light (of faith and love: this is an antithesis to the former verse), and there is no occasion for stumbling in him. S. Jerome (in Matt. xxv.) explains the words πζόστομμα and σκάνδαλον. This may be taken to have either an active or a passive meaning, the giving of offence, or the taking of offence. See 1 Cor. xiii. 4; Prov. xv. 19; Ps cxix. 165. One who loves neither gives offence, nor takes it: “If my brother offends me,” they would say, “shall I abandon charity? Far from it. I will overcome evil with good, I will follow Christ, I will show him how I love the brethren, how I love God. I will not fight against my brother who has wronged me. I will rather fight against his disease of mind, and drown his anger and ill-will with floods of charity.” S. Augustine says (in loc.), “Who are they who either take or make offence? They who are offended at Christ or the Church. They who are offended in Christ are burnt as by the sun, they who are offended in the Church are burnt as by the moon. But the Psalm says (cxxii. 6), ‘the sun shall not burn thee by day, nor the moon by night,’ that is, if thou holdest fast by charity thou wilt suffer no offence either in Christ or the Church, and thou wilt forsake neither Christ nor the Church.” A passage is here added from a sermon once supposed to be S. Augustine’s, but subsequently regarded as spurious, as is also another sermon quoted just afterwards, showing who are true and who are false friends, and that those who seem to be our enemies are in truth our best friends, and to be regarded as such. And S. Basil (Reg. brev. clxxvi.) says the same.
Ver. 11.—But he that hateth his brother is in darkness. For, as Ścumenius says, “He cannot be in the light of Christ, who hateth him for whom Christ died.”
And knoweth not whither he goeth. “For (as says S. Cyprian, de Zelo) he goes down to hell, ignorantly and blindly, and withdrawn from the light of Christ, who says, ‘I am the Light of the world.’” “Hatred,” says the author of Imperf. Homily xiii. [on S. Matt.] “is the spirit of darkness, and wherever it settles it defiles the purity of holiness;” and adds, “The world is so full of offences, that if we wish to love our friends only, we shall not find anything to love.” See Prov. iv. 19; Zeph. i. 17; and Isa. lix. 10. For in truth nothing so blinds our reason as hatred. “There is no difference between anger and madness,” says S. Chrysostom on S. John (Hom. xlvii.)
And anger is so blind as not to see its own blindness. Seneca adduces the case of Harpasto, his wife’s handmaid (Ep. li.), who did not understand that she was blind, adding, “No one admits that he is covetous, or ambitious, or angry. I have not settled on my course of life (he says), it is our youth that causes it. But why do we deceive ourselves? The evil is not without us, but within us, and therefore we find it hard to regain our health, because we know not that we are ill.” Democritus blinded himself by looking at the sun, in order that he might not see the happiness of the wicked. And in like manner do the envious and malicious blind themselves.
Ver. 11.—I write unto you, little children. Commending what he had said to the several grades whom he addressed. He places them in three classes according to their respective ages. He congratulates them on the gift of the Gospel which they had received, and exhorts them to persevere and make progress therein. The children represent beginners or neophytes; young men, those who are advancing; the old men, those who are perfect. And he thus suggests that Christians should advance in virtue, as they advance in years. Clemens, Ścumenius, and others take this view, though S. Augustine holds that these three terms apply equally to all classes; that they are called children as having been new-born in baptism, fathers as acknowledging Christ as their Father and the Ancient of Days, and youths because they are strong. But the first meaning seems the simplest. Because your sins, into which ye are likely to fall, are forgiven you, in baptism, for His Name’s sake, i.e., for Christ’s sake, or else by our calling on Christ’s Name, or else by the authority and power of Christ. For by this are sins remitted through His grace and merits.
Morally. S. John here teaches that great care must be taken in training children. (He here gives as an instance the case of the youth whom he entrusted to a Bishop.) For the whole regulation of our life depends on our childhood’s training. S. Ignatius accordingly founded schools for such training. See Rebadeneira in his life (lib. iii. cap. 24), where he quotes many Fathers, Councils, and Philosophers.
Mystically. S. Augustine (de Vera Relig. cap. 26) describes the seven ages of a righteous man. He first drinks in the lessons and examples of history—next he forgets things of earth, and reaches after things divine, and strives after the highest and unchanging rule of life, by the steps of wisdom—next he proceeds more boldly, wedding his carnal appetite to the strength of reason, and rejoicing within with a kind of conjugal joy, when the soul is united to the mind, and is so covered with the veil of modesty as no longer to be compelled to live rightly, but even not to delight in sin, though all might allow it. And fourthly, he acts thus in a more bold and orderly manner, shining forth into the perfect man, and becoming more capable of bearing all the persecutions and tempests of this world and even breaking their force. Fifthly, to be calm and tranquil, in every respect enjoying to the full the highest and ineffable wisdom; and sixthly, a thorough turning to the life eternal, and a complete obliviousness to this temporal life, and a passing on to the perfect image and likeness of God. The seventh age is that of eternal rest, which is not distinguished by any different stages of growth.
Ver 13.—I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him who is from the beginning. Fathers, we know, are proud of their experience; and therefore he fitly congratulates them on having known the Ancient of Days, who is from eternity. For, as S. Augustine says, “Christ is new in the flesh, but ancient in His Godhead.” He adds, “Remember, ye who are fathers, if ye forget Him who is from the beginning, ye have lost your fatherhood.”
I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. He passes to that stage of life which rejoices in its strength, and is full of concupiscence. He congratulates them for having overcome the wicked one, for he is speaking to Christian young people living in a Christian way, as S. Agnes, S. Lucy, S. Agatha, and many others, or that young man of whom S. Jerome speaks (in the life of Paul the first hermit), who when tempted by a harlot to sin, bit off his tongue, and spat it in her face, and thus by the intensity of the pain overcame the feeling of lust. This strength and this victory was Prompted by Christ. See 1 Cor. xv. 57. And S. Augustine (in. loc.) says, “If the wicked one is overcome by the young men, He is fighting with us. He fights, but he does not overcome. Is it because we are strong, or because He is strong in us, who in the hands of His persecutors was found weak? He hath made us strong who resisted not His persecutors, for He was crucified in weakness, but liveth by the power of God.” (2 Cor. xiii. 4.)
Ver. 14.—I write unto You, children. He here comes round and says the same thing in other words, to enforce it the more, calling them τεκνία in the first instance, and παιδία here.
Because ye have known the Father, by the words of the Creed.
Morally, Catherinus beautifully says, “The life of beginners is to be, in a sense, under Him, who by cherishing us in His paternal embraces and allurements, keeps away from us for a while sharper temptations. But He afterwards hands us over to the Son, for our growth and fuller instruction, and at last to the Holy Spirit to be strengthened and perfected.”
Here in some MSS. the exhortation to fathers is repeated. F. Lucas notices its omission in the Complut. Polyglot and in the Vulgate, and asks why it is omitted. Is it because a single admonition was enough for the aged?
I write to you, young men, because ye are strong, and have overcome the wicked one. Him who is the chief and head of all malignity. “Consider,” says S. Augustine (in. loc.), “that ye are young, fight that ye may overcome again and again, overcome that ye may be crowned. Be lowly, that ye fall not in the fight.” And again, “This is a great commendation of grace, that it instructs the hearts of the humble, but stops the mouths of the proud.”
And the word of God abideth in you. Ye keep that word which we and our fellows have preached. Others understand it of the Uncreate and Eternal Word. Ye have remained stedfast in the faith, and have thus overcome the wicked one. As Ścumenius says, “In promising youths and young men (strong as they may be and needing to be trained for war) the glory of victory, he shows that they require to be addressed in noble and warlike terms.” And S. Prosper (Epist. ad Demetriad in S. Ambrose Ep. iv. 33) says, “Our will is aided by the operation of the Spirit, but is not done away with. The effect of grace is this, that our will, corrupted as it is by sin, beside itself with vanities, surrounded by corruptions, entangled with difficulties, should not remain in this feeble state, but should be cured and regain its strength by the aid of the All-compassionate Physician.” And again, “The crafty tempter is ever on the watch, that, as our devotion increases, pride should steal in, and a man should glory in himself, rather than in God, for the good that is in him. The Apostle tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. And accordingly the more we advance in holiness, the greater reason we have for fear and trembling, lest the mind, conscious of its progress, should be hurried into excess of pride, and thus become defiled by vanity, while it seems to itself to be resplendent in virtue.”
Ver. 15.—Love not the world. “There are two loves,” says S. Augustine (in. loc.), “the love of God and the love of the world. If the love of the world occupy the heart, there is no room for the love of God to enter. Let the love of the world retire, let the love of God enter in; let the better have its own place. Thou lovedst the world: love it no more. When thou hast drained out the love of the world from thy heart, thou shalt drink in love divine, and then shall charity begin to dwell in thee, from whence nothing evil can proceed.” “It is,” he proceeds, “as clearing a field before planting fresh trees.”
The Abbot Isaias (de Pænit. Orat. xxi.) answered the question, “What is the world?” in this way. “It is a fatal rushing into sin—doing what is contrary to nature—fulfilling the desires of the flesh—thinking we shall live here for ever, the caring more for the body than for the soul—glorying in things which perish.” As the Apostle John says, “Love not the world,” &c. As S. Augustine says, “In this vale of misery thou shouldst not possess anything so beautiful, or so delightful, as to fully occupy your mind. Shun the world, if thou wishest not to be worldly. If thou art not worldly, the world delighteth thee not. Avoid the creatures if thou desirest to have the Creator. Let every creature be vile in thy sight, that the Creator may be sweet in thy heart”
If any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. See James iv. 4. “We must not give half our heart to God, and half to the world.” As S. Leo says (Serm. v. de Jejun. 7 Mensis): “There are two loves . . . for the rational soul loves either God or the world. There can be no excess in the love of God. But in the love of the world all things are hurtful. And therefore we must firmly cleave to eternal goods, but use worldly goods only by the way, and since we are pilgrims, and hastening to return to our country, we must use the good things of this world as food for our journey through it, and not as an allurement to abide in it.”
Ver. 16.—For all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. You will say that these properly are not in the world, but in the souls of men who desire them. But I answer, the word world is used in a threefold sense.
1. For men of the world, see John i. 10, xvi. 18; and S. Augustine on Ps. lv., “the wicked and ungodly in the world,” in which sense S. John uses it in his Gospel.
2. It means this created world, in which, as being inanimate, there is not, properly speaking, any concupiscence. But these are provocatives of concupiscence. For everything we see affects our senses and lures us on to love it.
3. It signifies a worldly life, consisting in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. It is the whole body of sin consisting of these several parts or members. As S. Antony of Padua said, “The earth is avarice, water is luxury, the air is inconstancy, fire is pride.” These three kinds of concupiscence are embraced in the general term concupiscence. As is added, “It is not of the Father but of the world.”
The world can be taken in all these senses, and S. John first takes up one and then another.
But the second of these meanings is most to the point. And S. John wishes to withdraw the minds of the faithful from all objects of desire which the world contains (for they are the roots of every evil), and to fix them on God.
All these worldly things estrange our hearts from the love of God, and relate only to the perishing goods of the world, or rather to the shadows and phantoms of good. Here notice that as the lust of the eyes is avarice, so that which creates the desire is gold, silver, jewels, &c. As S. Augustine says (Lib. iii. de Symb. cap. i.), “To the lust of the flesh belong the allurements of pleasure; to the lust of the eye, foolish spectacles; to the ambition of the world, the madness of pride.” It is called the lust of the eyes, because it provokes the eyes, and through the eyes the fancy and the mind. “The eyes,” says S. Augustine in Ps. xli., “are members of the body, the windows of the mind. It is the inner man who sees by their means.” The covetous lays up riches, he does not spend them, and his only pleasure is looking at them. An exceeding wretchedness and fatuity. For he might just as well look at the gold, silver, and jewels in the temples, and feed himself on them. Whereas he would feed himself the more with his own wealth, and enjoy it the more, if he expended it on his friends and the poor.
2. As the lust of the flesh is gluttony, so is it wine, delicate and sensual pleasure, which provoke it. It hence appears how vile it is, as being common to the beasts; how little, because it feeds not the mind, but the flesh alone; short-lived, perishing in the very act, and bringing after it foul and filthy diseases. Whence S. Augustine (de Vera. Relig. cap. lv.) says, “Let us not delight in corrupting or being corrupted by carnal pleasure, lest we should come at last to the more miserable corruption of pain and suffering.”
3. As the pride of life is ambition, haughtiness, desire of pre-eminence and glory, so are its provocatives superb dresses, grand houses, attendants, carriages, &c. We speak of being as proud as a peacock, who spreads its wings and struts along. S. Bernard (on Ps. xi. Serm. vi.) says, “Ambition is a subtle evil, a secret poison, a hidden pest, the contriver of craft, the parent of hypocrisy, the fruit of envy, the source of sin, the fosterer of crime, the destroyer (ærugo) of virtues, the devourer of sanctity, the blinder of hearts, generating disease from the very remedies, and sickness from that which should heal.” S. Basil terms it the “whetstone of wickedness.” See S Gregory, Mor. xxxiv. 14, xxxi. 17. These three passions are the threefold sources of all temptations and sin. See S. Augustine, Confess. x. 30. S. Thomas, i. 2, q. lxxv. art. 5. As the Poet says:-
“Ambition, wealth, and foul desires,
These three as gods the world admires.”
Our first parents were tempted by them, and so was our Lord. See S. Augustine, de Vera Relig. cap. xxxviii.
This threefold desire is opposed to the Holy Trinity. Avarice to the Father, who is most liberal in communicating His essence and all His attributes to the Son and the Holy Spirit essentially, but to creatures only by way of participation. The lust of the flesh is opposed to the Son, who was begotten not carnally but spiritually from the mind of the Father, and who hates all carnal impurity. The pride of life is opposed to the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of humility and gentleness. Again, it is opposed to the three primary virtues, as lust of the flesh to continence, lust of the eyes to charity and kindness, pride of life to humility. (See S. Bernard, Serm. i. in Octav. Pasch. and de diligendo Deo).
Which is not of the Father, but is of the world. This refers not merely to the pride of life, but to the threefold lust just spoken of. Moreover, concupiscence or lust comes from the world, from the corruption and vice of those who cleave to the world. Just as the word ‘flesh’ signifies in Scripture the corruption of the flesh, so in like manner does ‘world’ signify here the corrupt manners and lust of worldly men.
The reason is that concupiscence arises from a worldly life. Good things become objects of desire, by reason of man’s concupiscence. For before the Fall there were no objects for concupiscence, but man’s fall caused them to be such. And it is from hence that we derive our concupiscence together with original sin, and accordingly all the things that God gave for the good of man are now become allurements and excitements of concupiscence, when we see after and desire them immoderately. See Wisdom xiv. 11, iv. 12. For the pleasure which arises from desire fascinates the mind, and prevents its seeing the filthiness and the punishment of sin, or the beauty and rewards of virtue. See James i. 14. Ścumenius understands by the ‘world’ Satan himself—“as Christ said to the Jews, Ye are of your father the devil, that is devoted to worldly pursuits, the seeds of which the devil sows within us”—who accordingly is called the Prince of this world. See John xi. 31, xiv. 30, xvi. 11.
Ver. 17.—And the world passeth away and the lust thereof. See Matt. xxiv. 35; 1 Cor. vii. 31; 2. Pet. iii. xi. See also Wisdom v. 7; S. Bernard, Epist. cvii., &c.
As S. Jerome says (Epist. iii.): “If we were granted the years of Methusalem, yet the previous length would be nothing when it ceased to be, for when the end of life arrives, there will be no difference between the child of ten and the man of a thousand years, except that the old man goes out of life bearing a heavier burden of sin.” S. Cyprian (ad. Demetriad) shows at great length that the world is growing old: “The labourer is failing in the field, the mariner at sea, the soldier in camp, honesty in the market, justice in the courts, firmness in friendships, skill in arts, discipline in morals, for the sentence has been passed on the world that all things born should die, all things which have grown up should wax old, strong things should become weak, great things become small, and when they are thus weakened and diminished they come to an end.” And S. Anselm, in Rom. xii., says, “Be not constant in love for the world, for, since that which thou lovest abideth not, it is in vain for thee to fix thy heart firmly on it, while that which thou lovest is flying away.” This is the reason a posteriori; but the a priori reason is that the world is created from nothing, and therefore tends to become nothing, returning to that from whence it came. But, on the other hand, eternity belongs only to God, He having an uncreated, unchangeable, and eternal nature. Again, the world is not simple, but compounded of various elements; but everything which is so composed is resolved into its own elements or component parts. And the final cause of its being so is that we should turn our thoughts from transient and changing creatures to the Creator, who is unchangeable, and always the same. All creatures silently proclaim this by their changeableness, and our own heart also, as S. Augustine says (Confess. i. 1), “Thou hast made us, 0 Lord, for Thyself, and our heart is restless till it rests in Thee.” S. John adds,
But he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. Because the soul which doeth the will of God will, on leaving the body, be blessed for ever, and the body will after death rise immortal and glorious. See Ps. cxix. 96, and John v. 52. The reason is that love, like the chameleon, conforms the one who loves into the pattern of the thing which he loves, love being an impulse of the mind, and a going out of itself towards the beloved object, whereas understanding and knowledge are, on the contrary, the entering of the thing which is known into the understanding which embraces it. As S. Augustine says, “Every one is like the object he loves. Thou lovest the earth: thou wilt be earthy. Thou lovest God. What shall I say? Wilt thou be God? I dare not say it of myself. Let us hear the scriptures, ‘I have said ye are gods, and are all the children of the Most Highest.’ If then ye wish to be gods and sons of the Most Highest, love not the world, nor the things that are in the world.” The object which is here loved is God, and the will of God which is stable and eternal, and therefore he that loveth it becomes eternal. See Hos. ix. 10, and Sam. i. 8, and note. Dost thou wish to be eternal? love eternal good. Dost thou wish to enjoy for ever the beloved object? Love that which is eternal. For if thou lovest a perishable thing, thou wilt perish together with it. But if thou fixest thy mind on an object which is stable, heavenly, divine, and eternal, thou wilt become the same. This is true wisdom, the wisdom of Saints. Fools then are lovers of the world, who in the place of these love transitory and perishable things, and accordingly they pass away, and in truth perish with them for ever. “0 ye sons of men, why do ye love vanity and seek after a lie?” (Ps. 4.) Why follow ye after—not real things, but—the empty and fleeting shadows of things? Ye cannot grasp a shadow, nor yet hold fast shadowy wealth and honours. Grant us, Lord, this wisdom, “that among all the changes of the world our hearts may there be fixed where there are true joys.” S. Augustine says beautifully (in loc.), “Why should not I love that which God made? But what dost thou wish? to love temporal things, and to pass away with them, or not to love the world, and to live for ever with God?” He then compares lovers of the world to a bride who loves the ring her husband has given her, more than she does her husband himself; which is assuredly a spurious love, since he gave it in order that he might be loved in his gift. God gave thee all these things: love Him that made them. He wishes to give thee something more, namely Himself; but if thou lovest these things (though God made them) and neglectest thy Maker, and lovest the world, will it not be regarded as a spurious love?
And Didymus says, “Whosoever despises all things will be above the world. For righteousness endureth for ever, for it is so written.” See also Prov. x. 25. The old Philosophers had some shadowy notion of this. See Seneca, Ep. lix.
My little children, this is the last hour. The time is now at hand for the coming of Antichrist, as ye have often heard. Many antichrists have already come, which is a sign that the world is waxing old, and that your life in it cannot be long. Tear your mind away from the world, its vain and perishing pleasures, fix it entirely on heavenly and eternal things, and on God Himself (see Rom. xiii. 11). And be also on your strict guard against all heretics and impostors. For this, says Ścumenius and Didymus very properly, leads every one to think about his own end as if his own last hour were at hand, and thus sobriety and purity of living prevail among Christians. See i. Pet. iii. 14.
By the last hour is meant the last age of the world. See S. Augustine, Ep. lxxx. to Hesychius. It is the last age in regard to the duration of the world and its division into the three parts of the law of Nature, the law of Moses, and the law of grace, after which no other law or state is to be looked for, as the Jews still expect their Messiah. Ścumenius (after S. Chrysostom) adds it may mean the ‘worst’ age, as we say of a sick man that he is in extremis. And so too Ribera (in Heb. ix. num. cxiii. seq.) says, that it is the time of impostors and heretics. This exposition is most fitting and appropriate. So says the Gloss, Cajetan, Dionysius, and others.
But the word must be taken in a very wide sense. Some wrongly conjecture that as the first, under the law of nature, lasted for 2000 years, and so also the second period under the law, that it will be the same under the Gospel. The early Christians considered that Nero was Antichrist, and S. Cyprian thought that the end of the world was near in his time. See Epist. lib. iv. 6; and so too S. Jerome, de Monog.; S. Gregory, Epist. iv. 38; and Lactantius, lib. vii. cap. 25. See notes on Rev. xx.
The word ‘hour’ is used indefinitely. The phrase was familiar to S. John, who called the period an ‘hour,’ because it was very short. But in classic authors it signifies a period of time of any length, a season, e.g., as well as the hour of the day. See Is. xxxviii. 8.
Morally. Hence learn the shortness of life. For if this age of the world is only an hour, what a very small part of it is the life of any one! We are all creatures of an hour. The old have but a part of an hour to live; the young hope for a whole hour, but yet are cut off in its very beginning. As S. Jerome says, “A youth may die soon, an old man cannot live very long.”
This word then warns us to be very diligent in employing the time which is allotted us. Suppose a physician or a judge were to tell you to prepare to die—“you will certainly die an hour hence,” how anxiously would you clear your conscience, what acts of contrition and charity would you exercise, how would you expend all your goods in good works. Do the same now, for your life is but an hour. Or again, you are afflicted, are sick, are calumniated. Wait a while. It is but for an hour, and after that you pass to a blessed eternity. See 1 Cor. i. 29. Melania, a very wealthy noble lady, persuaded her people, by this text of S. John, to sell all they had, and to go to the Holy Land. For she used frequently to say (as indeed she thought) that the world was about to perish. She went to Jerusalem, and died forty days after, and the Barbarians laid waste the city. This took place under Alaric, A.D. 410.
S. Basil (in Moral. Reg. lxxx cap. 21) says, “It is the duty of a Christian to watch every day and hour, and to be thus ready for that perfection by which he can please God, as knowing that the Lord will come at an hour he expects not.”
Antichrist cometh. See on this the notes on 2 Thess. ii. 7.
Even now are there many antichrists. Those who are against Christ and true forerunners of Antichrist, because they impugn equally with the faith, the Church, the sacraments of Christ, nay His very nature and person. As Ebion, Cerinthus, &c., and their followers, of whom S. Paul says “the mystery of iniquity is already working” (2 Thess. ii. 7). See note on passage. Rabanus (apud S. Augustine) [vol. vi. append.] says, “Antichrist has many ministers of his malignity. For every one, layman or canon or monk, who lives not righteously, and violates the authority of his order, and speaks against that which is good, is an antichrist, a minister of Satan.” Heretics are antichrists, as S. Hilary called Constantius. See note on 1 Pet. iii. 14.
They went out from us, for they were not of us (either real or pretended) Catholics; and a heretic is one who apostatises from the faith of Christ which he once embraced, and lapses into heresy. See S. Cyprian, Epist. i. 8, and de Unit. Eccl.: “Bitterness cannot co-exist with sweetness, darkness with light, rain with clear weather, strife with peace, barrenness with fertility, drought with gushing water, storm with calm. Let none imagine that good men can forsake the Church; the wind does not sweep away the wheat, nor does the storm throw down a tree which is firmly rooted—the chaff is blown away with the storm, and trees weakly rooted are cast down by the violence of a whirlwind,” &c. And S. Jerome says [Lib. i. in Jerem.], “They go out in order that they may openly worship that which they used to venerate in secret.” And S. Augustine (in loc.) “Ye will understand, from the Apostle’s own exposition, that none can go away but antichrists, but that they who are not contrary to Christ can in no wise go out. For he who is not contrary to Christ abideth in His Body, and is counted a member of it.” “They are (he adds afterwards) as evil humours, and just as the body is relieved when they are removed, so is the Church relieved when they go forth, and when the body casts them forth it says, They were not of me, they only weighed on my chest when they were within me.”
Whereby we know that it is the last time. For we see the heretics who are his forerunners, just as when we see a king’s outrider, we know that he is near, or that the dawn shows that the sun is about to rise. “Many antichrists,” as Ścumenius says, “go before the one Antichrist, and prepare for him the way.”
They were not of us, for had they been of us, no doubt they would have continued with us. They were not genuine Christians. They had not Christian virtue and constancy boldly to resist all temptations, so that when persecution came on them, they gave up the faith and became apostates, as grass is dried up by the heat of the sun. As was said of Joseph and Azarias (1 Macc. v. 62), that “they were not of the seed of those by whom deliverance was wrought in Israel.” As the Romans said of traitors that they were not Romans, or as Saul reviled Jonathan (1 Sam. xx. 30). As S. Augustine says here, “Temptation proves that they are not of us, for when it comes they fly away as not being sound grain.” As he says of Judas (Tract. 1. on John), “He did not at that particular time become wicked when he betrayed the Lord. He was a thief even when he followed the Lord, for he followed Him with the body only, and not in heart.” And again (in. loc.), “Every one is of his own will either an antichrist, or in Christ; either one of His members, or among the evil humours. He that changeth himself for the better is a member of the Body, but he that abideth in his wickedness is an evil humour, and when he is gone out, they who were oppressed will be relieved.”
2. Many explain these words, ‘they were not of us,’ as referring to the free knowledge and predestination of God. They were not thus predestinated and elected, because it was foreseen that they would fall, for everything future is foreseen by God. This does not refer to election to eternal blessedness. S. John did not wish to touch on this mystery, especially because so many who have fallen from the faith have in the end returned to it. And on the other hand there are many reprobates who are still in the Church who are not predestined to glory. But S. Augustine (de bono persever. cap. viii.) understands it of those who are predestined to glory, and of those who (it is foreseen) will perish. Now almost all heresiarchs (excepting only Berengarius), when they have once left the Church, never return to it again, and are consequently foreknown to be reprobates. But we must avoid the error of those who infer from this that the reprobation of God is the cause of their leaving the Church, and subsequent condemnation: a charge which the Semipelagians falsely urged against S. Augustine. He defends himself thus, “They went out voluntarily, they fell voluntarily, and because it was foreseen they would fall, they were not predestinated; but they would have been predestinated, if so be they were to return, and abide in holiness. And in this way predestination is to many a cause of their remaining stedfast, to none is it a cause of their falling.” (Art. xii. in art. sibi falso impositis).
3. Some explain the words thus, “They were not of us,” because, before they openly withdrew from the Church they had secretly withdrawn from it. Heresy is the very height of impiety, and is reached but gradually. See S. Cyprian, Epist. i. 8, and de Unit. Eccl.; and S. Cyril, Catech. vi.
Catherinus and Melchior Canus take the word ‘us’ to mean the Apostles. But this is too narrow a meaning. & John speaks of Christians in general. S. John here warns his disciples not to be alarmed if they saw even bishops become apostate (see Acts xx. 3O). Salmeron thinks that of the hundred and twenty who received the Holy Ghost at the day of Pentecost fourteen became heresiarchs. See, too, S. Vincent of Lerius and Tertullian, de Præscript. ch. i. And at the same time he warns them to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. See also Rom. xi. 20.
But that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. God allowed this to show their inconsistency and want of faith, and to teach the faithful to avoid them. See 1 Cor. xi. 19.
Beza has no ground for inferring from this that the faithful could never fall away. It means only that their falling away was a sign that they were not firmly rooted in the faith. S. Augustine says their apostacy was a sign that they were not of the number of the predestinate and elect.
Ver. 20.—But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things, so that it is not necessary to speak at greater length to these antichrists. By the word ‘unction’ he refers to Antichrist, and also to Christ (the anointed One). See also what Christ Himself says, John xvi. 13.
But what is this ‘unction’? (1.) Ścumenius and S. Jerome on Hab. iii. and S. Cyril Alex. say ‘baptism,’ when we are anointed on our head. (2.) S. Cyril of Jerus. says, ‘the sacrament of confirmation,’ when we are anointed on our forehead. (3.) Em. Sa. says, ‘the profession of Christianity;’ others the Christian faith, grace, the gift of wisdom and understanding; others the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But they all come to the same point, for in these various ways you will learn all the duties and doctrines of Christianity, and to discern and avoid heretics as opposed to Christ. The word unction stands for the ointment or oil, not for the mere transient act of anointing. In the Greek it is χζίσμα. It has reference to the name of Christ, and the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, which used to be given immediately after baptism as its complement and perfection. S. Cyril accordingly understands it to refer to confirmation, so also does Turrianus, and Bellarmine, de Confim. lib. ii. capp. 5 et 8. For by anointing is here to be understood, not so much sanctifying grace, as the gift of wisdom and understanding. (See S. Gregory, Mor. v. 19 (al. 20), S. Irenæus iv. 43). For this gift was bestowed at first on baptized persons. Acts ii. 6, x. 46, xix. 6; 1 Cor. xiv. And it is even now given in baptism (Isa. xi. 1), though not so abundantly. The word also relates to the royal priesthood, which S. Peter (1 ii. 9) ascribes to all Christians. For as in old time prophets, priests, and kings were anointed to their office, so do Christians when anointed in baptism and confirmation receive grace, to rule themselves as kings; to foresee future good and evil, as prophets; and to present, as priests, the offerings of good works. So that this gift of the, Holy Spirit, conferred by the outward anointing, will teach Christians everything which concerns Christian life and conduct. For these reasons S. John rejoices in the word ‘unction,’ as representing Christ and His ‘love,’ of which it is said (Cant. i. 2), “Thy name is like ointment poured forth;” and S. John was, in consequence of his constant preaching of Christ, thrown about this time into a caldron of boiling oil, but escaped unhurt as having been strengthened by the anointing of Christ. See also Ps. xlv. 8; Isa. lxi. 1; Acts x. 38. S. Athanasius (Epist. ad Serap.) says that this ointment is the Holy Spirit with all His gifts and graces. For in justification is infused not only grace and charity, but the Holy Spirit Himself. See Rom. v. 5; Conc. Trid. Sess. vi. cap. 7. And S. Augustine (in loc.) says, This spiritual anointing is the Holy Spirit Himself, and the outward anointing is the sacrament thereof. So, too, in the “Veni Creator,” we read of the ‘Anointing Spirit.’ The Holy Spirit then, inhabiting, enlightening, and directing the soul, teaches it at the fitting time all things befitting its salvation. S. Clement (Const. Apost. iii. 17) explains the ceremonies of baptism and confirmation thus:—“Baptism is an administration into the death of the Son of God, water as betokening burial, oil the Holy Spirit, the sign of the Cross for the Cross itself, the Chrism as the confirmation of our confession.” See too 2 Cor. vii. 2. But though oil has various virtues, yet its special use is to give light, and to feed a flame. And accordingly the fathers teach that by the chrism and oil is specially signified the gift of wisdom and understanding which is conferred in confirmation. Amatarius (de Eccl. Off. i. 27) tells us why the chrism is formed of oil and balsam, “because by oil we should understand right conversation, which rules in the mind by mature wisdom, and by balsam our teaching, which sends abroad a sweet odour.” And S. Ambrose (de in qui initiantur, chap. 7) says, “Call to mind that thou hast received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom, &c. The Father sealed thee, Christ the Lord confirmed thee, and gave thee the pledge of the Spirit in thy heart, as ye have learned from the Apostle’s teaching.” The Ordo Romanus prescribes a prayer for blessing the chrism.
Rabanus Marcus (de Inst. Cleric. i. 30) speaks of the anointing in baptism and confirmation, by the Priest and Bishop respectively, and points out their respective differences. Tertullian (de Resurr. cap. 8) thus speaks of the ceremonies at confirmation: “The flesh is anointed that the soul may be consecrated, the flesh is signed that the soul also may be strengthened, the flesh is overshadowed by the imposition of hands that the soul also may be enlightened by the Spirit.” Hugh of S. Victor (de Sacram. Lib. ii. par. 7, chapt. 6) says that the chrism should remain on the forehead for seven days, to indicate the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit; and Origen (Hom. vii. in Ezek.) speaks of this oil as the oil of Christ, the oil of holy doctrine.
But the Innovators misapply this passage, and may that they are so guided by the inward light as not to need the teaching of the Church. But they greatly err, for this very anointing enlightens the faithful in what they have been taught, and teaches them the doctrines of the faith which were first taught, and that the antichrists who oppose them are not to be listened to. For if any doubt should arise, the same anointing of the Spirit teaches us, that it is not the part of any one to resolve it, but that the doctors and rulers of the Church should be consulted, whom God placed in the Church for this very purpose (Eph. iv. ii).
Morally, we are here taught to implore the aid of the Holy Spirit in all our doubts, difficulties, and perplexities. (See 2 Chron. xx. 12.) S. Cyril (Catech. xvi.) strikingly remarks on the light which the Holy Spirit pours into men’s hearts, as with Isaiah who saw the Lord sitting on His throne; as with Ezekiel and Daniel; or with S. Peter, who then knew the wickedness of Ananias and Sapphira; or as in the case of Elisha and Gehazi.
Mystically. There is a threefold unction: of compunction, in detesting sin; of devotion, in calling to mind the benefits God has conferred; and of piety, in compassion for our neighbours. S. Bernard (Serm. x. and xx. on Canticles, and Serm. ii. on Pentecost) dwells at length on these points.
And ye know all things—of which I have just spoken, all ye ought to know.
Ver. 21.—I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it. S. John says this, to gain their favour, and to stimulate them to more diligent study. I have not written to teach you, but to strengthen you in what you already know. See Rom. xv. 15.
And that no lie is of the truth. By a lie he means, false doctrine and heresy. For all these doctrines come not from God, who is the source of truth, but from the father of lies. See John viii. 44. And accordingly S. Augustine says, “We are here told how to know Antichrist. For what is Christ? The truth, as He Himself said. All they then who lie are not of the truth.” (Contra Mendæ. cap. xviii.)
Ver. 22.—Who is a liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He here explains what kind of lie he means, the heresy of denying that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, as Simon Magus, Ebion, Cerinthus, and other Judaisers, against whom S. John wrote, both ancient and modern. For, as Bede says, “Compared with this all other lies are little or nothing.” Indeed, what more pernicious lie could be uttered or invented than this, cutting off as it does all faith and hope of salvation? He then that maintains it, is pre-eminently a liar, because he is heretical, sacrilegious, an atheist, an antichrist. The word is commonly used of those who mean one thing and say another. And this is the case with these very persons, for they knew or ought to know that Jesus was the Christ. So writes Tertullian (de Præscript. Heret. cap. xxxiii.): “John in his Epistle specially calls those persons antichrist, who said that Jesus had not come in the flesh, as Marcion and Ebion maintained.” And as Ścurnenius tells us, “Simon stated that Jesus and Christ were different persons. Jesus who was born of Mary, Christ who had come down from heaven.” S. Cyril (Catech. vi.) says that Simon Magus was the author of all these heresies, and then enlarges on them and his impostures.
Cornelius here says much of the heresies and follies of the Anabaptists, for which he quotes their history by Arnold Meshovius.
He is antichrist that denieth the Father and the Son. Because by saying that Christ is not the Son of God, they say that God is not His Father. For the terms Father and Son are correlative, and accordingly if one of them is done away with, so is the other also. Ścumenius supposes that Valentinus is here aimed at, who said that there was another Father, beside Him who was called the Father of Christ. And these self-same heretics (he says) deny the Son, by affirming that He is a mere man, and not God by nature. So too Basilides. (See Irenæus, i. 23; Tertullian, de Præscript.; Epiphanius, Hær. xxiv., and others.)
Ver. 23.—Whosoever denieth the Son, hath not the Father. In Whom to abide (as Cajetan says), “nor as abiding in Him, for he believes not His eternal generation” (see Dionysius).
He hath Him not in his mind, and consequently does not confess Him with his life. He seems to refer to John v. 37, and as he says above, cap. i., “His word is not in us.” And in this chapter, vers. 5 and 24. For it is by faith, hope, and charity that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit abide in us, and we consequently have them in us, just as a Church has the Eucharist within it, for a holy soul is in truth the temple of God who dwells within it. He here aims at the Judaising heretics, who deny the doctrine of the Trinity, and say that there is but one Person in the Godhead, and consequently deny that Christ is God, and the Son of God. Christ in this very Gospel maintains against them that He is the Only Begotten Son of God the Father. Sec iii. 35, v. 18 seq. 36 seq., vi. 58. For, as Ścumenius says, “Had they known the Father, they would without any doubt have known Him to be the Father of the Only Begotten Son.” And more especially because he who knows not the Trinity knows not the nature of the Godhead to be so full and prolific as to require a plurality of Persons, and demands that it should be communicated to all the Three, so that in taking away One Person you in fact do away with the Godhead altogether. And this is what S. John means here. In like manner, Christ said to Philip, “He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father. . . . Believest thou not that I am in the Father and the Father in Me?” (John xiv. 9, 10). Whereby is signified plurality of Persons and identity of Essence, and the intimate and complete indwelling of one Person in another. Damascene (de Fide, i. 2) terms this πεζιχώζησιδ, and the Schoolmen (after him) circumincessio. See S. Augustine, de Trinit. vi.; S. Hilary, de Trinit. Lib. iv.; and Ambroseaster, in 2 Cor. 13. S. Augustine says, “Each is in each, and all in each, and each in all, and all in all, and all are One.”
S. Cyprian (Exhort. Martyr, cap. 5) and S. Hilary (de Trin. lib. vi.) here read, He that hath the Son, hath both the Father and the Son, i.e., wishing him well, and favouring him. S. Augustine has the same reading, but explains it of worship and veneration: “He who worships the Son worships the Father, for he cannot worship the Father who worships not the Son, as it is said John v. 23.”
Ver. 24.—Let that which ye have heard from the beginning abide in you. Be stedfast in the faith, doctrine, and Christian life, which ye received at first, for thus will true faith abide in you, and ye will abide in the true faith and sonship of God. See Gal. i. 9; Heb. xiii. 9. As S. Cyprian strikingly says (Ep. xl.). “I exhort and advise you not to believe rashly pernicious words, or readily yield consent to words of falsehood, not to put darkness for light, night for day, hunger for food, poison for a remedy, death for life.”
If that abide with you, which ye have heard from the beginning (as I have just explained it), ye also shall abide in the Son, and in the Father. We must consider that the Holy Spirit is also included in the expression, the Father and the Son. For the Father and the Son are the Breathers forth of the Holy Spirit, and in their Essence, as understood in its full meaning, they include the power of breathing forth the Holy Spirit, yea, its actual exercise. But at this time no question had arisen respecting the Holy Spirit, but merely respecting the Son, and consequently respecting the Father. The Son is here put before the Father, for the special reason that “no man cometh to the Father but through the Son.” John xiv. “For no one will behold the greatness of the Divine Glory, except he be born again by the sacraments of that Manhood, which the Son assumed.” So Bede.
But further, if ye abide in the Son and in the Father, the Father and the Son will in their turn abide in you. As Ścumenius says, “Ye will have union and communion with Him, as Christ promised” (John xiv. 23). As S. Augustine remarks on this passage, “The Holy Spirit also dwells in the Saints together with the Father and the Son: just as God in His temple. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit come to us when we come to them—they come to us by their aid, we by our obedience—they come by their enlightening, we by gazing on them—they come by filling us, we by admitting them within—so that we behold them by no outward, but by inward vision, and they abide in us, not transitorily, but for ever.”
Ver. 25.—And this is the promise which He has promised us, even eternal life. Gagneius refers thus to the promise made by our Lord, John xvii. 20. “For (he says) the promise He has made us is indeed eternal life, since it is eternal life to abide in God, and to enjoy Him here in grace, and hereafter in glory.” Ścumenius makes the word ‘and’ equivalent to ‘because:’ “Ye will abide in the Father and the Son because He promised you this in promising eternal life.” But the first meaning is the best. This is a powerful motive for constancy in the faith. “Let the memory of the promised reward,” says Bede, “make thee persevere in thy work.” “Let us see (says S. Augustine) what He hath promised? Silver, or possessions, or pleasant lands? No indeed, this is not the reward for which He exhorts us to endure. It is eternal life.” And he adds, “God combines threats with His promises, even eternal death, if we disobey Him.” “A powerful man threatens us with imprisonment, with fire, with torments, with wild beasts. But does he threaten us with eternal fire? Dread that which the Almighty threatens, love that which He promised, and then the whole world is a worthless thing, whether in its promises or its threats.”
Ver. 27.—And let that anointing which ye have received abide in you. By the anointing he means the gift of wisdom and understanding given in baptism and augmented in confirmation. See above, Ver. 20.
And ye need not that any man teach you, but as his anointing teacheth you of all things, understand ‘abide in it,’ as S. John adds shortly afterwards. Some MSS. add ‘so do ye.’ It means, ye need not go to false apostles and heretics to teach you the truth, for ye have already learned it from the Apostles themselves, and that which they taught outwardly, the Holy Spirit must needs teach you within. (See Is. liv. 13; John vi. 45; Ps. xciv. 10.) Be stedfast then in that which ye have thus been taught. See Bellarmine, de Verbo Dei, iii. 3, who says, “Ye have no need for a Lutheran or Calvinist to teach you Christian doctrine, because ye have been fully taught it by the teaching of the Church, and the aid of the Holy Spirit.” See 1 Pet. v. 12; Col. i. 6. And S. Augustine (in loc.) thus writes. “I for my part have spoken to all. But they to whom that unction speaketh not within, they whom the Holy Spirit teacheth not, go away untaught. The outward teachings of a master are a kind of aid and warning, but He who teacheth the heart hath His seat in heaven. . . . One is your master, even Christ. Let Him speak to you within, when no one is present. For though some one is at thy side, yet there is no one in thy heart. Let there be no one in thy heart, let Christ be in thy heart, let His unction be in thy heart, lest thy heart be athirst in the desert, and have no fountains to water it. The Master who teacheth is within, Christ teacheth, His inspiration teacheth. But where His inspiration and His unction are not, words echo in vain from without.” And so too S. Gregory, expounding these very words, says, “Unless the same spirit be in the heart of the hearer the words of the teacher are useless;” and he adds, “Do not ascribe to the teacher that which ye hear from his lips, for unless He who really teaches you be within, the tongue of the teacher labours outwardly in vain.” But when he says, “His unction will teach you of all things,” &c., he means, of all that ye have heard, all that the faithful are bound to know, as having been so taught by their earliest instruction and catechising (so even Beza argues), lest any one should infer from this passage that private judgment should be the interpreter of scripture, and the judge of controversies.” See Ezek. xiii. 3.
This anointing, some refer to Christ, the Anointed One, the abstract for the concrete.
And is truth and is no lie. This is a double assertion, confirming the first statement by a denial of its contrary (see John i. 20).
And as it hath taught you. ‘And’ here stands for ‘therefore.’
And now, little children, abide in it. In the orthodox faith which ye have been taught, amid all the fair words of heretics, and persevere therein.
That when Christ shall appear ye may have confidence. That is, boldness of speech. See Wisdom v. 1; Col. iii. 4. S. Basil says (Hom. xi Hex. i), “Abraham also will fear in the judgment, and be in agony.” This is an exaggeration. But it signifies the severity of the judgment in itself (1 Pet. iv. 18). But if we look at the grace and mercy of God, on the other hand, it will assure all saints of their salvation, and will place them as His friends and His elect on His right hand, and separate them from the reprobate, before the judgment begins.
And not be ashamed before Him at His coming. Let us not shame one another by your falling from the faith—shame, i.e. yourselves, and us your apostles and teachers for not keeping you therein. For the goodness of the scholar is the praise and glory of the teacher. S. Basil (on the words of Ps. xxxiv.), “I will teach you the fear of the Lord,” says that the shame and confusion of the lost will be their bitterest punishment. See Rev. vii. 17. And the ground of their shame will be this, that Christ will proclaim, before the whole world, all their shameful and horrible sins, however secret, and committed in thought only; that they will see the saints, whom they despised in this world, raised up above them to glory, to judge and to condemn them, because they foolishly neglected to expiate their sins by penitence and the shame of confession. See Isa. lxvi. 24; Dan. xii. 2. S. Cyril (Catech. iii.) says that the faithful are at their confirmation anointed on their foreheads, as being the seat of shame, in order that they might not be ashamed to confess the name of Christ, and that they might not commit any shameful act, and thus be confounded at the day of judgment. S. Augustine (in loc.) strikingly observes, “Faithful is He that promiseth. He deceiveth not. Only do thou faint not, but wait for the promise. The truth cannot deceive. Be not thou false, professing one thing and doing another. Keep thou the faith, and He will keep His promise. But if thou keep not the faith, thou hast defrauded thyself, He has not broken faith with thee.” And Ścumenius: “What can be more glorious or more admirable than to act boldly in His sight, to whom we shall give an account of our labours, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming?”
At His coming, in glory to judge the world. “We now see through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face” (1 Cor. xiii. 12).
Ver. 29.—If (i.e., since) ye know that He is righteous, know ye that every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him. He shows the way and means by which we can have confidence before Christ as our judge: that is, by performing righteous and holy deeds, to offer to Him as our just judge. Let not any one suppose that orthodox belief alone suffices, works of righteousness are also required. For Christ, not only as God, but as the holiest of men, loves those who are righteous; and will pass on them a righteous sentence of acquittal. It is the part of a just judge to judge of every one’s works, and to assign their rewards and punishments accordingly. He then that doeth righteousness, will in the day of judgment not be confounded before Him, but will have every confidence. Because he is like his judge, nay more, His son and heir, and thus he will be sure of his inheritance (Rom. viii. 17). For all our righteousness flows from the righteousness, holiness, and grace of Christ. Righteousness is here to be understood in a general sense, as including all the virtues through which we are called righteous before God (see John i. 12). Moreover, there is no surer argument that we are born of God than showing Him forth in our deeds and life. Didymus observes that the Apostle uses the present tense (doeth), not the past or future. Because a good root brings forth good fruit. As born again of God by righteousness and grace, and being made partakers of the Divine Nature (2 Pet. i. 4), (for we really partake of the Substance of God by supernatural grace), we ought ever to manifest this our birth and our divine life by loving works of righteousness. For as a man is not alive who does not perform the functions of a living man, so in like manner he is not righteous, not regenerate or living to God, who does not perform righteous acts, especially since it is the part of a child to imitate his father. And since the righteous God ever does righteousness, we, as His children, should ever do the same.
2. Salmeron observes that this divine generation resembles, in a measure, our natural birth. For Christ, as man, brought us forth with the greatest suffering, and as God He works in us that grace and righteousness whereby we are born again as children of God.
3. Ścumenius remarks that as like begets like so are the righteous born of God. And Didymus says, “that virtue manifests our righteousness in act. No one therefore is righteous, before he does righteous acts, nor yet after he ceases to do them.”
Lastly, S. Augustine says, that righteousness is perfect in the angels, but only beginning in men. “In the holy angels, who turn aside by no lapse, who fall not away through pride, but remain ever in the contemplation of the Word, and count nothing else sweet, save Him who created them—in them is perfect righteousness, whereas in us it has only begun to be through the Spirit.” And again, “The beginning of our righteousness is the confession of our sins. Thou hast begun not to defend thy sin: thou hast begun thy righteousness. But it will be perfected in thee, when nothing else shall delight thee to do; when death will be swallowed up in victory, when no lust shall excite thee, when there will be no struggling with flesh and blood, when there shall be the crown of victory, the triumph over the enemy; then there will be perfect righteousness. But now we are still fighting, we are still in the lists, we smite and are smitten. We have still to wait, to see who is conqueror. But he is the conqueror, who in striking a blow relies not on his own strength, but on God, who cheers and encourages him on.”
The righteous therefore emulate the righteousness of the angels, so that keeping their minds from all earthly defilements, and tearing away their love from created objects, they may fix it on their Creator alone, and love Him, worship Him, and give Him thanks both in prosperity and adversity, making their words and life together with His Cross and Passion a continuous and constant praise to God. Such is the life of angels. See job xxxvii. 7.
Christians, moreover, as new born in Christ, should emulate Christ, should “speak as oracles, should live as gods,”* for Christ thus spake and thus lived. And in this way will they smite even the hearts of sinners, convert and beget them for Christ, as was said of S. Basil (S. Gregory Nazianzen, Orat. funeb.), “His word was as thunder, for his life was as lightning!”