S it has been found impossible to compress the Translation of the Commentary upon S. John’s Gospel into one volume, it is now given in two, of which this is the first. The second volume comprises the remainder of the Gospel, and the Commentary of À Lapide upon S. John’s Epistles.
It is with great pleasure I present this portion of this great Commentary to the English reader. Admirable as Cornelius à Lapide almost invariably is in his exposition of Holy Scripture, on the Gospel of S. John he seems to me to surpass himself. Beginning from the Incarnation of the Divine Word, nothing can be more masterly, nothing more magnificent, than the way in which he shows that the whole sacramental system of the Catholic Church of Christ is the necessary consequence and complement, as well as the extension of the Incarnation, Divinely planned and ordained for the eternal salvation of the whole human race. Granted the truth of the Incarnation as an objective fact, dealing with realities both in the spiritual and immaterial universe, and also in the material and physical universe, in this world of time and sense, as we call it, I do not see how it is possible to dispute our author’s conclusions, taken as a whole.
The translation of Vol. 1. is by myself as far as the end of the 6th chapter. From the 27th verse of 6th chapter to the end, I have translated practically without any abridgment or omission, and also with greater literalness than I sometimes do, on account of the surpassing importance of the doctrine treated of, and the controversies resulting from it. Chapters vii.-x. are by the Rev. James Bliss, Rector of Manningford Bruce. For the last chapter, the 11th, I am indebted to the Rev. S. J. Eales, M.A., D.C.L., lately Principal of S. Boniface’s College, Warminster, and now Principal of the Grove College, Addlestone, Surrey.
In Volume II. the Translation of chap. xiii. is by a young scholar, Mr. Macpherson. The remainder of the Gospel is by my most kind friend, Mr. Bliss, and myself.
Of S. John’s Epistles, the first three chapters of the First Epistle are by Mr. Bliss, the remaining two chapters, and the Second and Third Epistles, are by myself.
T. W. Mossman.
JOHN the Apostle, the son of Zebedee and Salome, wrote this Gospel in Asia in the Greek language, towards the end of his life, after his return from Patmos, where he wrote the Apocalypse.
His reasons for writing were two. The first was that he might confute the heretics Ebion and Cerinthus, who denied Christ’s Divinity, and taught that He was a mere man. The second was to supply the omissions of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Hence S. John records at length what Christ did during the first year of His ministry, which the other three had for the most part passed over.
Listen to S. Jerome in his preface to S. Matthew. “Last was John, the Apostle and Evangelist, whom Jesus loved the best, who lay on the Lord’s bosom, and drank of the purest streams of His doctrines. When he was in Asia, at a time when the seeds of the heresies of Cerinthus, Ebion and the rest, who denied that Christ had come in the flesh, those whom in his Epistle he calls Antichrists, and whom the Apostle Paul frequently refutes, he was constrained by well nigh all the bishops who were at that time in Asia, and by the deputies of many other Churches, to write of the deep things of the Divinity of our Saviour, and to ‘break through,’* as it were, to the Word of God by a kind of happy temerity. Whence also we are told in ecclesiastical history that when he was urged by the brethren to write, he agreed to do so, on condition that they should all fast, and pray to God in common. When the fast was ended, being filled with the power of revelation, he burst forth with the preface coming straight from above, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.”
Others add that S. John’s beginning to write was preceded by lightnings and thunderings, as though he had been another Moses, who thus received the Law of God (Exod. xix.)
Baronius shows that S. John wrote his Gospel in the year of Christ 99, or sixty-six years after the Ascension. This was the first year of the reign of Nerva, and the twenty-seventh after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus.
As then Isaiah surpassed all the rest of the Prophets in sublimity, so did John the other Evangelists. Last in time, he is first in dignity and perfection. Thus in the first chapter of Ezekiel he is compared to an eagle flying above all other birds. Thus his dignity and special excellence, as well as his consequent obscurity, may be considered under three heads.
First, his matter and scope. S. John alone of set purpose treats of the Divinity of Christ, of the origin, eternity, and generation of the Word, of the spiration of the Holy Spirit, of the unity of the Godhead, and of the Divine relations and attributes. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are concerned with the actions of Christ’s humanity. This is why the Fathers derive almost all their arguments against the Arians, Nestorians, Eutychians and such like heretics from S. John.
The second is the order of time. We know that the Church, like the dawning of the day, advanced by the succession of time to the perfect day of the knowledge of the mysteries of the faith. Thus the sacred writers of the New Testament, the Apostles and Evangelists, write far more clearly concerning them than do Moses and the Prophets of the Old Testament. John was the last of all, and his Gospel was his last work. He composed it therefore as a sort of crown of all the sacred books.
The third is the author. S. John alone was counted worthy to win the laurels of all saints. For he is in very deed a theologian, or rather the prince of theologians. The same is an apostle, a prophet and an evangelist. The same is a priest, a bishop, a high priest, a virgin, and a martyr. That S. John always remained a virgin is asserted by all the ancient writers, expressly by Tertullian (Lib. de monogam.) and S. Jerome (Lib. 1 contra. Jovin.). To him therefore as a virgin Christ from His cross commended His Virgin Mother. For “blessed are the clean in heart, for they shall see God,” as the Truth Itself declares.
The Only Begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, made known to this His most chaste and beloved friend, who reclined upon His breast, the hidden things and sacraments of the Divinity, which had been kept-secret from the foundation of the world. John hath declared the same to us, as a son of thunder, thundering and lightening the whole world with the Deity of the Word. As with a flaming thunderbolt “he hath given shine to the world;” and with the fire of love he hath inflamed it. Let that speech of Christ, His longest and His last, bear witness, which He made after supper (S. John xiii. &c.), which breathes of nothing but the ardour of Divine love.
See more to the same effect in S. Cyril, S. Augustine, and S. Chrysostom (Præm. in Joan.). Indeed, S. Chrysostom dares to say that S. John in his Gospel hath taught the angels the secrets of the Incarnate Word, such as before they knew not, and that therefore he is the Doctor of the cherubim and the seraphim. He proves this from the passage of S. Paul in Ephesians iii., “that there might be made known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places by the Church the multiform wisdom of God.” “If,” he says, “the principalities and powers, the cherubim and seraphim, have learned these things through the Church, it is very evident that the angels listen to him with the deepest attention. Not slight therefore is the honour which we gain in that the angels are our fellow-disciples in the things that they knew not.
OHN has a style peculiar to himself, entirely different from that of the other Evangelists and sacred writers. For as an eagle at one time he raises himself above all, at another time he stoops down to the earth, as it were for his prey, that with the rusticity of his style he may capture the simple. At one time he is as wise as the cherubim, at another time he burns as do the seraphim. The reason is because John was most like Christ, and most dear to Him; and he in turn loved Christ supremely. Therefore at His Last Supper he reclined upon His breast. From this source, therefore, he sucked in, as it were, the mind, the wisdom, and the burning love of Christ. Wherefore, when thou readest and hearest John, think that thou readest and hearest Christ. For Christ hath transfused His own spirit and His own love into S. John.
2. Although John by the consent of all wrote his Gospel in Greek for Greeks, yet because he himself was a Hebrew, and from love of this primeval language, which was his native tongue, he abounds above the rest in Hebrew phrases and idioms. Hence to understand him we require a knowledge of two, or indeed of three languages—Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Thus he Hebraizes in his frequent use of and for like as (sicut) as Solomon does in Proverbs, where he compares like with like by means of the conjunction and. And in such instances is a mark of similitude, and has the same meaning as like as (sicut). On the other hand, he Grecizes in his use of perchance (forsitan) for surely. In John viii. 19 the Greek particle άν expresses affirmation, not uncertainty. So also in viii. 43 ού δύνασθε, ye are not able, is put for ye are not willing. He likewise constantly duplicates the Hebrew Amen, when the other Evangelists only express it once. The reasons for this diversity are examined in chap. iii. 2.
3. John abounds more in the discourses and disputations of Christ with the Jews than in the things that were done by Him. Not that he relates all the discourses and disputations of Christ, but such as were of greater importance. Especially he gives a compendious account of those in which Christ proved that He was God as well as man.
4. In S. John Christ speaks sometimes as God, and sometimes as man. There is need therefore of a careful examination of contexts to distinguish one from the other.
5. When Christ says, as He often does in S. John, that He “does, or says nothing of Himself,” or that “not He, but the Father, does, or says this, or that” there must be understood “originally” and “alone.” As thus, “neither alone, nor as man perform I these things: nor yet as God am I the first originator of them; but it is God the Father, who together with His Divine essence communicates to Me omniscience and omnipotence, even the power of doing all things.”
6. Although the Apostles and other saints wrought miracles, yet Christ in S. John’s Gospel often proves that He is the Messiah and God by the miracles which were done by Him. This proof is a true and effectual one; first, because He Himself made direct use of it. For a miracle as the work of God, and the Voice of the prime Verity, is an infallible proof of that which it is brought forward to confirm. Second, because Christ wrought them by His own power and authority, which He could not have done unless He had been God of God. Thus then He did them that they might appear to proceed from Him as from God, the original source of miracles. For the saints do not work miracles by their own authority, but by the invocation of the name of God, or Christ. Let us add that the miracles which were done by Christ were foretold by Isaiah and the other prophets, that they might be indices and marks of the Messiah, as will appear in chap. xi. 4.
7. Matthew, Mark, and Luke record for the most part the acts of the last year, and the last but one of Christ’s ministry, that is to say, what He did after the imprisonment of S. John the Baptist. But S. John’s Gospel for the most part gives an account of the two preceding years. This consideration will solve many seeming discrepancies between S. John and the other Evangelists. So S. Augustine in his preface.
8. There is frequently in S. John both great force as well as obscurity in the adverbs and conjunctions of causation, influence, connection, and so on, in such a manner that a single particle will often include and point out the entire meaning of a passage. Hence these particles must be most carefully examined and weighed, as I shall show in each place.
9. The particles that, wherefore, on account of which, and the like do not always signify the cause, or the end intended, but often only a consequence or result. This is especially the case if an event has been certainly foreseen, and therefore could not happen otherwise. This is plain from chap. xii. 38, 39, where it said, They believed not on Him, that the saying of Isaias might be fulfilled: and shortly afterwards, Wherefore they could not believe, because Isaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes. For the reason why the Jews would not believe in Christ was not the prediction of Isaiah foretelling that they would not believe (non credituros), but the hardness of heart and malice of the Jews, which as a sort of objective cause preceded Isaiah’s prophecy. For Isaiah foretold that the Jews were not about to believe, because in truth they themselves through their own malice and obstinacy were not going to do so. So S. Chryostom and others.
10. By the Jews S. John sometimes means the rulers only, sometimes the people only. Thus he represents the Jews at one time as opposing, at another time as favouring Christ. For the people were His friends, the rulers were His adversaries.
11. By a Hebraism the present tense often signifies not an action issuing in a result, but a force, or power of nature, or the act (in the sense of will or intention, Trans.) of the agent, even in cases where the effect is opposed by the subject, or in some other way. Thus in i. 9 it is said that Christ by His advent gave light to the world. That means, so far as He was concerned. For many, like the Jews, refused to receive this light, as he immediately adds, and continued in the darkness of their unbelief.
12. The particles as if, so as, and the like, because they correspond to the Hebrew caph, do not always signify likeness, but the truth of a fact, or assertion. Thus in i. 14, we have seen His glory, as of the Only Begotten, means, “we have seen the glory of the Only Begotten to be truly such, and so great as became Him who was indeed the Only Begotten Son of God the Father.” So S. Chrysostom and others.
13. John, following the Hebrew idiom, sometimes takes words of inceptive action to signify the beginning of something that is done; but sometimes to signify continuation, that a work is in progress; and sometimes, that a work has been perfected and accomplished. Thus we must not be surprised, if sometimes that which increases, or is being perfected, is spoken of as if it were just commencing, and vice versa. An example of inceptive action is to be found in xvi. 6, where Peter, resisting Christ desiring to wash his feet, says, Lord, dost Thou wash my feet? Dost Thou wash? that is, “Dost Thou wish, prepare, begin to wash?” There is an example of continued action in ii. 11, where, after the miracle of the conversion of water into wine, it is added, And His disciples believed in Him: that is, they went on believing, they increased, and were confirmed in faith. For they had already before this believed in Christ, for if they had not believed in Him, they would not have followed Him as His disciples. There is an example of a perfected action in xi 15, where Christ, when about, at the close of His life, to raise up Lazarus, said, I am glad for your sakes, that ye may believe. That is, “that by means of this My last and greatest miracle ye may be altogether made perfect in your belief in Me.” Again, in xx. 17, Jesus appearing after His resurrection to Mary Magdalene, who had fallen at His feet, said, Touch Me not. That is, “Do not delay, and waste time in touching My feet, but go quickly, and tell the Apostles, who are very sorrowful because of My death, that I have risen again.”
14. John, after the Hebrew idiom, asserts and confirms over again what he had already asserted, by a denial of the contrary. This is especially the case when the subject matter is of importance, and is doubted about by many, so that it requires strong confirmation. Thus in i. 20, when John the Baptist is asked by the Jews if he were the Christ, he confessed, and denied not, but confessed, I am not the Christ. And in i. 3, All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.
15. John delights in calling Christ the Life, and the Light, for reasons which I will give hereafter. He has several other similar and peculiar expressions. For instance, he often uses the word judgment for condemnation which takes place in judgement. In other places he uses judgment for the secret judgments and decrees of God, because they are just. Sins he calls darkness. The saints he calls sons of light. That which is true and just he calls the truth. In vi. 27, for procure food, or labour for food he has ε̉ζγάεσθα βζω̃σιν. In the 9th chap., when Jesus is asked by the Jews, Who art Thou? He answers, The Beginning, who also am speaking unto you.
16. John relates that Christ said previously certain things, the when and the where of His saying which He had not previously mentioned. For studying brevity, he considered it sufficient to relate them once. Thus in the 11th chap. he says that Martha said to her sister Mary, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. Yet he had not previously related that Christ bade Martha to call Magdalene; for his mentioning that Martha, by Christ’s command, called her sister was sufficient to show that Christ had so commanded. In the same chapter Christ saith to Martha, Said I not unto thee, that if thou wouldest believe, thou wouldest see the glory of God? Yet there is no previous account of Christ saying this. Also in vi. 36, Christ says, But I said unto you, that ye also have seen Me and believe not. Yet we nowhere recall that Christ previously so said.
17. The miracles of Christ which John alone records are as follows:- The conversion of water into wine, chap. ii. The first expulsion of the sellers from the Temple, in the same chapter. The healing of the sick child of the nobleman, iv. 47. The healing of the paralytic at the pool in the sheep-market, chap. v. Giving sight to the man born blind, chap. ix. Raising Lazarus from the dead, chap. xi. The falling of Judas and the servants to the earth, when they came to take Jesus, xviii. 6. The flow of blood and water from the side of Christ after He was dead, xix. 34. The multiplication of the fishes, xxi. 6.
Very many persons have written commentaries upon the Gospel of S. John, and among them the principal Greek and Latin Fathers. Among the Greeks, after Origen, who composed thirty-two tomes, or books, upon this Gospel, were S. Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, who has written a learned and very excellent commentary. He has written a didactic work, and is especially able and skilful in expounding the literal sense. S. Cyril’s commentary on S. John’s Gospel consisted originally of twelve books. But of these the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth have perished. Their loss has been supplied, by Clictovæus, a doctor of Paris, whose work has been mistaken by many learned men for the original of S. Cyril.
A second commentator is S. Chrysostom, who seems to have been imbued with the very spirit of S. John himself. He wrote eighty seven homilies on this Gospel.
A third is Theophylact, and a fourth Euthymius. They, as is usual with them, follow S. Chrysostom. Theophylact is the more diffuse of the two.
A fifth commentator is Nonnus Panopolitanus, an Egyptian, and a very eloquent writer, who, as Suidas says, explained the virgin theologian, that is, John the Evangelist, in heroic verses. Although the commentary of Nonnus can properly only be called a paraphrase, nevertheless in many places he points out and illustrates the meaning of the Evangelist in pithy sentences.
Among the Latins the first and chief commentator is S. Augustine, who has written systematically upon the whole Gospel in one hundred and twenty-four tractates.
The second is Venerable Bede, who follows S. Augustine passim, and often word for word.
A third commentary is what is called the Gloss. Where observe that the Gloss is tripartite. The first is the Interlinear Gloss, so called because written between the lines of the sacred text. For that reason it is brief, but pithy, and treats many things in the Gospel learnedly and usefully. The second is the Marginal Gloss, because written on the margin of the text. To this is subjoined the Gloss of Nicolas Lyra. This Nicolas was called Lyra from a village in Normandy. He was a Jew by birth, and was converted to Christianity. He entered the Franciscan Order, and taught scholastic theology, A.D. 1320. He was a learned man, and skilled in Hebrew. He wrote his Gloss upon S. John and the other sacred writers, expounding them literally, and became so celebrated that it has passed into a proverb—
“If Lyra’s hand had erst not swept his lyre,
Our theologians had not danced in choir.”
However, we must keep this in mind, that he is too credulous with regard to Jewish fables and puerilities, giving too much heed to writers of his own nation, to the Rabbin, and especially to R. Salomon, who is a great retailer of fables.
In later ages, and especially in our own day, many commentaries have been written upon this Gospel. Pre-eminent among them are Maldonatus, of the Society of Jesus, who is copious, acute, elegant, and learned: Cornelius Jansen, who is exact, solid, and to be depended upon: Frank Toletus, who displays a sound judgment, especially in the application of metaphors and similitudes. Sebastian Barradi has written a good literal commentary, mingling with it moral reflections. He is useful to preachers in affording materials for sermons, and showing how to treat them. Frank Ribera is brief, but as usual excellent and learned. Frank Lucas is entirely literal, but he uses the letter to draw the reader to pious affections.
Among the heretics, Martin Bucer, Wolfgang Musculus, Bullinger, Brentius, Calvin, and Beza have written upon S. John’s Gospel. Of all these authors Augustinus Marloratus has made a catena, which I read through and refuted when I was in Belgium.