SEVERAL ancient writers have entertained doubts respecting the Second and Third Epistles of S. John, supposing them to have been written by John the Presbyter, not John the Apostle. They have been led to think this because the writer begins by calling himself the Elder, or the Presbyter, in Greek πζεσβύτεζος. This doubt is mentioned by Eusebius (H. E. lib. 3 cap ult.) and S. Jerome (de Scrip. Eccles.). But that both these Epistles are canonical is now de fide, and also that they were written by S. John the Apostle. This appears, 1st From the definition of the Council of Trent (sess. 4), and the Third Council of Carthage (cap. 47), and the Council of Laodicæa (cap. 59), and the 84 of the Canons of the Apostles.
2d. From the Fathers, viz. Irenæeus (lib. 3 c. 13), S. Augustine (lib. 2 de Doct. Christ. c. 8). Hear also S. Jerome (Epis. ad Paul): “James, Peter, John, and Jude the Apostles published seven epistles, both mystical, succinct, and brief, all about the same length: short in words, long in sentences, so that there are few readers who are unacquainted with them.”1 He says elsewhere (Epis. ad Evagr.): “The son of thunder, whom Jesus loved most dearly, sounds with his trumpet; he, I mean, who from the Saviour’s breast drank rivers of doctrine, ‘the Presbyter to the Elect Lady and her children, whom I love in the truth.’”
3d. Similarity of style and matter is an argument for these two Epistles having the same author as the first. This is what Baronius says (An. 99, cap. 9): “Certainly, if ever it be allowable to judge by their likeness to one another that children are born of the same parents, any one can easily perceive, from the words, the sentences, the style, the tone, bearing as they do on the surface the same character, that these Epistles have proceeded from the same author. First, with regard to the words and sentences, there are many indications of this, as when he says in the First Epistle ‘I write not a new commandment unto you, but an old.’ So in the Second, ‘Not as writing a new commandment unto you, but that which we have had from the beginning.’ Again in the First, ‘Every one who denieth the Son, neither hath he the Father: he who confesseth the Son hath the Father also.’ And in the Second he utters the same sentiment in the words, ‘Every one who draws back, and abides not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God: he who abides in the doctrine of Christ hath both the Father and the Son.’ So too in the First, ‘Whosoever is born of God sinneth not. In the Third the same idea is thus expressed, ‘He that doeth good is of God; and he that is born of God sinneth not.’ And as in the First Epistle it is frequently inculcated that we should love in deed and in truth, in the Second and Third there are injunctions to love in truth. In the First Epistle we find, ‘Many false prophets are gone out into the world; in this is known the spirit of God,’ &c. So in the Second we find the same idea in almost identical words, ‘There are many seducers gone out into the world: he who confesseth not that Jesus is come in the flesh, this is a seducer and an antichrist.’ Again, we have in the First Epistle, ‘This is love, that we keep His commandments;’ and in the Second, ‘This is love, that we walk according to His commandments.’ This continual inculcation of charity, love, and truth in these two Epistles clearly indicates that we have in them a genuine transcript of the mind of S. John, just as we have in the First.”
To the objection that John writes of himself as the Elder, or Presbyter, I reply that in that age Presbyter and Bishop had the same meaning, as I have shown on 1 Tim. iv. 14. Moreover, S. John, worn out at this time with the fulness of years and the weight of the apostolic dignity, was the oldest of all living Christians. The last of the Apostles, he lived until the age of Trajan, and died about A.D. 101.
1 He exhorteth a certain honourable matron, with her children, to persevere in Christian love and belief, 8 lest they lose the reward of their former profession: 10 and to have nothing to do with those seducers that bring not the true doctrine of Christ Jesus.
HE elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth;
Douay Rheims Version
He recommends walking in truth, loving one another and to beware of false teachers.
HE Ancient to the lady Elect and her children, whom I love in the truth: and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth,
4. I was exceeding glad that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father.
5. And now I beseech thee, lady, not as writing a new commandment to thee, but that which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another.
The Elder: S. John, as the last survivor of the Apostles, surpassed all the three Bishops both in age and dignity. As S. Ambrose says, “an Elder, who was furnished with a sort of swan-like grace of age.” And Ścumenius says, “John speaks of himself as a Bishop under the name of a Presbyter.”
Elect: Serarius endeavours to prove by eight conjectural reasons that by the name Electa is signified not a person, or matron, but an Asiatic Church. For the Church is the elect Spouse of God, according to the words in Cant. vi. 9, “Fair as the moon, elect as the sun” (Vulg.); and S. Peter’s 1st Epist. v. 13, “The Church in Babylon co-elect with you.” Serarius thinks that this Church was one of the seven Churches of Asia, which S. John warns and teaches in the Apocalypse: or else that it was the Church of Corinth, because Gaius the host of S. Paul was a member of it, as we gather from Rom. xvi. 23; and 1 Cr. i. 14. For it would seem that this Second Epistle was sent with the Third to the Church in which Gaius, to whom the Third Epistle is inscribed, lived. Moreover, this Church is called κυζία, i.e. lady, either on account of the dignity of the place, or because it excelled in virtue.
But, omitting other things, it is against this opinion that S. John says in his Third Epistle, speaking to Gaius, “I might perchance have written to the Church, but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the primacy among them, receiveth not us.” He shows by these words that he did not write an Epistle to the Church where Gaius was. Wherefore it is the general opinion that the Epistle was written to a particular matron. And that this is the meaning of elect Lady, or the Lady Electa. What then is the meaning of Electa? 1st Some say it means a faithful Christian woman. For Christians generally were called the elect. Thus S. Peter (1 Ep. c. 1) writes “to the elect strangers of Pontus,” &c.
But others, with more probability, think that Electa is a proper name. For epistles are wont to be inscribed to particular persons, who are addressed by their proper names. This too is why the word ε̉κλακτη̃ is without the article. For if it were an appellative noun it would have the article as in the last ver. τη̃ ε̉κλακτη̃.
Again, the word Electa is usually written with a capital letter. In a similar manner many Christians had appellatives conferred upon them instead of proper names, such as Justus, Justa, Christianus, Christiana. It may be that the faithful called her by this name because of her eminent virtue, especially because she brought up her daughters in the love of virginity, and had a religious household, as I shall show presently. Thus Elect, as meaning of excellent virtue and nobility, may answer to the Heb. bechira, chosen, illustrious.
Again, it may have been that this matron, on account of her nobility, influence, and virtue, may have been chosen to preside over other Christian women, especially those who were poor, that she might give them instruction in the faith and Christian principles, and supply their wants by procuring alms for them. Lyra adds that she supported the ministers of the Church. She was then a mother, and refuge of the faithful, such as was S. Potentiana, the sister of S. Praxedes, in the persecution of the Emperor Antoninus. For as the Apostles chose S. Stephen and the six other deacons for such an office, so did the Bishops subsequently choose deaconesses to minister to women.
The Latin translation does not call her Eclecla, following the Greek, but in the Latin form Electa. This is in favour of its being an appellative converted into a proper name by reason of her dignity and office. Lucitis Dexter, in his “Chronicle,” says that this lady’s original proper name was Drusia. This is what he says, “In the year of Christ 105, S. John wrote his Second Epistle to Drusia the elect female, who as a mother of the Church of that city at the time abounded in charity and alms-giving.” Lastly, Clement of Alexandria says, “The Second Epistle of John is most simply written to virgins. It is inscribed to a certain lady Electa of Babylon.”
Lady: from this it is plain that this Electa was a noble and influential matron, to whom, though not in accordance with his usual practice, S. John writes to confirm her, and through her others in the faith, that they might not be led astray by Ebion, Cerinthus, and the Gnostics. Such heretics would seem to have crept into this lady’s house, and were endeavouring to infect her with their false doctrine. S. John seems to intimate this in the 10th ver., where he strictly forbids her to wish them God speed, or to receive them into her house.
There is an allusion to a very pretty Hebrew pun, libeclura gebira, meaning the same as chosen, or elect Lady. Similarly, S. Jerome instructed several noble Roman matrons by his words and his writings, and drew many of them to Bethlehem to the monastery of S. Paula and S. Eustochium under his direction. This is how he answers the charge brought against him for associating with these women (Epist. 140 ad Princip.), “If men would search the Scriptures, I should not speak to women. If Barach had been willing to go out to battle there would have been no triumph for Debora. Jeremiah is shut up in prison, and, in order that Israel should not perish for lack of a prophet amongst them, Huldah the prophetess is raised up. The priests and Pharisees crucify the Son of God, but Mary Magdalen is weeping at the Cross, is preparing ointments, is seeking Him in the tomb. She interrogates the gardener, she recognises the Lord, she runs to the disciples, she tells them He is found. While they are doubting, she is full of confidence. She is a true tower (πυζγίτις),2 yea a very tower of ivory and cedar looking toward Damascus, that is to the Blood of the Saviour, which calls to deeds of penitence. It ceased to be with Sara after the manner of women, and Abraham was made subject unto her, and it was said to him, ‘Whatsoever Sara saith unto thee, hearken unto her voice.’” But this particular conduct of S. Jerome is certainly not for every one to imitate; indeed, with young women it should be wholly avoided.
And her children: Clement of Alexandria testifies that these children were virgins, and thus are affectionately saluted by the virgin John. It seems then that Electa brought up her daughters for virginity and holiness, so that her home might be called a very Parthenon, or convent of virgins.
Whom I love in the truth, i.e. truly, sincerely. In the truth, i.e. in Christian charity. Or, in the truth, i.e. in the Lord, who is Truth.
And not I only, &c. “This common love removes all suspicion of private affection, and makes it of greater force,” says the Inter. Gloss.
Ver. 2.—For the Truth’s sake. He means, I love them in the Truth, because they themselves constantly adhere to the Truth, i.e. to the true faith. And Electa and her daughters showed that they had this true faith, because they showed it in works of love to the brethren. Therefore did S. John love them. “I love them,” he means to say, “for the Truth’s sake, because they live a life agreeable to the truth of the Gospel.”
Ver. 3.—Grace, mercy, and peace be with you. Concerning this salutation I have spoken in the beginning of St. Paul’s Epistles to Titus, the Romans, and Corinthians. He adds mercy (or, as the Syriac translation, compassions) to grace, that by the mercies which they had received, and were daily receiving from God through Christ, he might stir up Electa and her children to show like mercy to their neighbours. For all, however holy they may be, still are poor and weak, and need the mercy of God, either because they fall, or are in danger of falling.
In truth and love, understand, that ye may persevere and increase in them. Catharinus takes it differently, thus: “The grace, mercy, and peace which I ask for you consist in the truth, i.e. true doctrine, in faith, and the charity in which ye sincerely love one another for God’s sake. For in those two things the perfection of Christ consists.” This is a very apposite meaning, easy and obvious, and requires nothing to be understood, or supplied.
I was exceeding glad because I found of thy children. Of thy children. This is a Hebraism. There is a similar grammatical form in Ps. lxxii. 16, “To Him shall be given of the gold of Arabia, and they shall worship of Him” (de ipso), i.e. “shall worship Him.”
Electa seems to have had many sons or grandsons, for they too are called children.
Walking in the Truth: ordering their lives according to the rule of the Gospel. Observe, he does not say standing, or sitting, to signify that they made daily progress in the Christian life, and went on from virtue to virtue, in which he proposes them as a model for imitation.
As we have received commandment from the Father. For the Father has commanded through the Son, even as Christ saith (John xv. 15), “All things whatsoever I have heard of the Father I have made known unto you.”
Ver.5.—And now, I beseech thee, Lady, &c. This must be referred to the end of the verse, that we love one another. I beseech thee, lady, to exercise thyself, and those who belong to thee, in mutual love. For this commandment of love is not recent and new, but delivered by Christ to me and the rest of the Apostles at the very beginning of the Gospel. Observe the modesty of S. John as something which ought to be imitated by Prelates, in that he says, I beseech thee, Lady, when he might have said, I command thee, 0 my daughter.
Ver. 6.—For this is the commandment . . . that ye should walk, &c. Viz., that ye should make careful progress in evangelical truth and love, growing and making progress in the love of God and your neighbours, as I enjoined upon you in the very beginning of my preaching.
Ver. 7.—Because many seducers are going out into the world. He now passes to the second branch of his epistle, from charity to evangelical truth. For these two virtues are inseparable sisters and companions. Now the word because gives the reason for what he had said in the verse preceding. “I have said that ye should walk in charity, should make progress in the commandment of Gospel truth and charity, because many seducers are gone out into the world, who endeavour to overturn this truth, and as a consequence Christian charity, and to tear it from you. Of such therefore ye ought to beware as of wolves. For they strive to draw you away from union with Christ to their own conventicles of Satan.”
This is a seducer and an antichrist. Whosoever thinks, or teaches, that Christ has not come in the flesh, has not been incarnate; this man is a deceiver.
Ver. 8.—Lest ye lose that which ye have wrought: the Greek reads in the first person, lest we lose, &c. Lest I should have preached to you in vain, and lest both I and you should lose all our former labour. As the old saying hath it, “There is no greater unhappiness than to remember that we once were happy.”
But that ye may receive a full reward. That is, if ye take heed to yourselves, and persevere, your perseverance will bring you a full reward. Full, i.e. copious and abundant. For he who falls back, even though he afterwards repent, receives only a half reward, for he loses all the time and the works of the period of his apostasy. The Greek has α̉πολάβωμεν, that we may receive, for the reward of an Apostle and teacher is full when he sees the fruit of his works in his disciples, and when he is honoured and crowned, not only in himself, but in them. As S. Paul says, “What is our hope, or joy, or crown of glory? Ye are our glory and joy.”
Ver. 9.—Whosoever goeth back, &c. The Greek is παζαβαινιν, i.e., who transgresses. The Syriac reads, he who passes by, and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ, has not God for his friend.
Ver. 10.—lf any one come to you, and bring not this doctrine, &c. S. John in this place not only advises, as some think, but also commands Electa and all the rest of the faithful not to receive to hospitality, nor say Hail, to any one who brings another doctrine, i.e. one which is contrary to the orthodox faith of Christ. For he who saith hail to such is partaker of their evil deeds. That is, he seems to favour and applaud the heretical teacher.
Observe, not only by human and canon laws, as since the time of S. John they have been enacted by Pontiffs and Councils, heretics are to be avoided in three cases. The first is, when there is danger lest you or yours should be perverted by them, which is a thing which ordinarily happens. For, as S. Paul saith, “Their word doth creep as doth a cancer.” (2 Tim. ii. 17.)
2d. When, by receiving, you would seem to favour his heresy, and tacitly profess or encourage it. As, for example, if you were to receive to your house and table a recognised Calvinistic minister, who came for the purpose of propagating his heresy. In the same way it would be wrong to be present at his preaching, or eucharists, or to communicate with him in sacris.
3d. When you give scandal to others, so that they, thinking you to be a host and patron of heretics, should be by your example emboldened to do the same.
These cases being excepted, intercourse with heretics is not forbidden by the Divine and natural law, especially if necessity, or mercy, or grave benefit counsels it.
What S, John here teaches by way of precept he enforced by his example. For having entered into a bath, as soon as he saw Cerinthus there, he sprang out, crying, “Let us flee quickly lest the bath in which is Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, should fall upon us!”
S. John’s disciple, S. Polycarp, followed his master, saying in his Epistle to the Philippians, in allusion to these words of S. John, “Abstain,” he says, “from scandals, and from false brethren, who bear the name of the Lord in vain, who cause foolish men to go astray. For every one who confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, he is antichrist: and he who confesses not the mystery of the Cross is a devil.” Thus wrote holy Polycarp, and he acted accordingly. For meeting the heretic Marcion, and being asked by him if he knew him, he answered, “I know thee to be the devil’s first-born.”
Thus S. Hermenegild was slain by command of his father, Levvigild, king of the Goths, because he would not receive the Eucharist at Easter from an Arian bishop. This is related by S. Gregory (3 Dial. 31), who calls him a martyr of the Church.
Eusebius of Vercelli, being taken by the Arians, preferred to die of hunger rather than take food from those heretics.
S. Paphnutius took Maximus Bishop of Jerusalem by the hand when he was through simplicity associating with heretics, and led him away from them, saying, “I cannot suffer so venerable a bishop to sit in the seat of pestilence, and to communicate with unclean heretics even by a word.”
When S. Martin communicated with the Bishops of the Ithacian sect, in the hope of saving them, he was warned by an angel not to do so. And although he repeated, he experienced a diminution of grace, so that he did not work so many miracles as he had previously wrought. (Sulp. Sever. lib. 3 Dial)
Still more are heretical books to be avoided. For these pestilent productions conceal their heresy like a plague under an appearance of elegance and wisdom, and instil it into the minds of the readers. In this present age the heresy of Luther and Calvin has been dispersed through so many kingdoms by means of their books. If you wish to take away their heresy, take away their books and their ministers. In truth you will have taken it away as soon as you have substituted pious and learned priests and preachers.
Neither say godspeed (ave) to him. The Syriac has, ye shall not say either hail to him or farewell. The ancient Romans said ave, or salve at coming in, vale at going out. Ave then here means the same as the Greek χαὶζειν, rejoice.
For he who saith to him Ave (Syriac rejoice) is a partaker in his evil deeds. For he who salutes a heretical teacher seems to approve his heresy. Some Latin copies add here, Lo, I have told you beforehand, that ye may not be confounded in the day of the Lord.
Ver. 12.—Having many things, &c. Either because they were confidential, or because letters might perish, or fall into the hands of unbelievers, who would interpret them falsely.
For I hope to come unto you. This shows that this letter was not written and sent to a lady at Babylon, as Clement of Alexandria says, but to some one in Asia Minor, or Greece near to Ephesus. For S. John, who was now in extreme old age and infirm, was wont to make excursions to the neighbouring cities of Asia to instruct and confirm them, but not to go as far as Babylon.
That your joy may be full: For the living voice of a Doctor and Apostle, especially S. John, would bring far more joy, instruction, comfort, and devotion than any mere letters.
Ver. 13.—The children of thy sister Electa salute thee. From hence Ścumenius and our Serarius maintain that the name of Electa, to whom this Epistle is inscribed, is an appellative noun and the title of some particular church. They think the meaning is, “The children of thy sister, i.e. the faithful of the elect Church of Ephesus, salute thee, 0 elect Church of Corinth.” Some think that these Electas were particular persons, but were called sisters, not as being so in the flesh, but because they were disciples of the same master, S. John.
It is probable that the sister of Electa was also called Electa on the principle that in many families two or more children bear the same name, so that there are two Johns, two Peters, two Marys, or Margarets. I add what I have intimated at the commencement of the Epistle, that Electa is not so strictly a proper as an appropriated name, a title, so to say, of dignity and office which is bestowed upon several persons discharging similar functions. Electa thus seems to have been the name of a chief matron, who like a mother supported the ministers of the Church, the widows, the orphans, and the poor, and who as a Deaconess presided over the instruction and government of other women in the Church. The meaning then is, “0 Electa, mother of the faithful in the Church, say of Corinth, the children of thy sister, who is also Electa, a mother of the faithful, in the Church of Ephesus, from whence I write, salute thee.” It is in favour of this that the Greek article is prefixed to Electa, which is not usual in the use of proper names, but to names of dignity and office appropriated to certain persons.
It is an instance of the kindness and courtesy of S. John that he salutes Electa, not only in his own name, but in the name of his grandchildren.
Some Greek and Latin codices add, Grace be with them. Amen. This is a salutation worthy of S. John and common with S. Paul.
1 He commendeth Gaius for his piety, 5 and hospitality 7 to true preachers: 9 complaining of the unkind dealing of ambitious Diotrephes on the contrary side, 11whose evil example is not to be followed: 12 and giveth special testimony to the good report of Demetrius.
HE elder unto the well beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.
4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.
5 Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers:
10 Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.
11 Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.
Douay Rheims Version
St. John praises Gaius for his walking in truth and for his charity, complains of the bad conduct of Diotrephes and gives a good testimony to Demetrius.
HE Ancient, to the dearly beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.
1. To Gaius, the Greek form of Caius. Who was this Caius? Lucius Dextor in his “Chronicle” thinks he was the son of Caius Oppius, the centurion. He thus writes concerning him:—“S. John the Theologian wrote from Ephesus to the Spaniard Caius, the son of Caius Malacitanus, the centurion, and brother of Demetrius, a hospitable man, whose father was afterwards Bishop of Milan. Now Diotrephes hindered the guests who were coming into the Spains for the sake of pilgrimage. This wicked bishop was afterwards deposed on account of his crimes and his pride. There was a pilgrimage from many other places to the holy places of Spain from the very times of the Apostles, when Caius Oppius the centurion supported the pilgrims. This Caius was domiciled at Corinth, but of Spanish descent. He also liberally entertained in his house the blessed Paul when he was returning from Spain, and he invited John when he was going redeuntim into Spain after his exile. He accompanied John, and was at Rome until the time of Hyginus. After that he went to Milan, and being made Bishop there died in the Lord.” So also Onuphrius in his “Chronicle” makes Caius the third Bishop of Milan. But he says he was a Roman, not a Spaniard.
2. Bede, the Gloss, Ambrosiaster, and many others think that this Caius was the Corinthian, of whom S. Paul, writing from Corinth to the Romans, says (xiv. 23), “Gaius, wine host and of the whole Church” (as Bede and the Greek read), “salutes you.” This was because of his hospitality in receiving any members of the Church into his house. In like manner, S. John here warmly commends this Caius for his hospitality. S. Paul also says of Caius (1 Cor. i. 14), “I baptized none of you save Crispus and Gaius.” Moreover, S. Athanasius, in his Synopis, testifies that this Caius was an intimate friend of S. John’s, and that he wrote his Gospel at S. John’s dictation.
Mariana and Serarius add that this Caius is the same as he to whom four Epistles of S. Dionysius the Areopagite are extant. They are inscribed to Caius the Therapeutes, i.e. the Essene, or monk. It is considered to favour this idea that S. John writes to his Caius in ver. 11, “He that doeth good is of God: he that doeth not good hath not seen God.” For the Therapeutæ, giving themselves up continually to pious contemplation, by this means saw God. From hence they were called Seers, like the Prophets of old.
Ver. 2.—Concerning all I make prayer that thou mayest prosper and be well, &c. The meanin is, I wish that thou in all things mayest be well and prosper, as now indeed thy soul, i.e. thou thyself, art well and dost prosper in all things. For God does prosper thee in all things both in mind and body. He blesses and enlarges thy family, thy servants, thy friends, thy riches, and all that thou hast, because thou expendest it in God’s service, and in providing for the ministers of the Church and the poor. Thus God blessed all good men, and made a hedge about His friends in the old time, as Abraham (Gen. xxii. 17), and many more.
Ver. 3.—I rejoiced greatly when the brethren came and bore witness to thy truth. Vulgate. Truth here in the first place means the faith. “They testify that thou dost constantly persevere in Christian faith and doctrine through all persecutions.” 2d This truth means moral conduct. “They testify that thou livest according to the faith and truth of the Gospel, that thy character is conformable to the Gospel which thou professest.” 3d Truth in this place may be taken to mean charity and beneficence. For this is especially taught and sanctioned by the truth of the Gospel. 4th. Truth may be put for sincerity and candour as opposed to hypocrisy and dissimulation. “They testify that thou art in all things candid and sincere.”
Ver. 4.—Greater grace than these I have none. (Vulgate.) That is, nothing can be more grateful or pleasing to me than that they so act that I may hear they are walking in the truth that I have spoken of. Instead of χάζιν, grace, some Greek MSS. read χάζαν, joy. This is followed by the Syriac. S. Jerome on the 5th chapter to the Ephesians mentions that celebrated axiom of Christ, “Never be joyful except when ye shall see a brother in charity.”
Ver. 5.—Dearly beloved, one thou doest faithfully, &c. Faithfully, i.e. thou actest in a Christian manner, thou doest that which becometh a believer, by showing hospitality towards and nourishing the faithful, especially pilgrims and strangers. For hospitality was of old most highly esteemed by Christians. It was a sure mark and sign of Christian faith, as the heathen Lucian testifies (in Peregrino).
2d Faithfully in this place not only signifies the faith, but also the fidelity of Caius. Thou art faithful to Christ. Thou fulfillest indeed that which thou hast promised to Christ in thy baptism. Listen to Tertullian recounting hospitality amongst the notes of the faithful (de Præscrip. c. 20): “Amongst the many and notable marks of the Church there is one prime note handed down by the Apostles by which all the chief and Apostolic Churches prove their oneness and their unity. This mark is the communion of peace, the attestation of brotherhood, the mutual bond (contesserationem) of hospitality. And the one principle which governs these rules of hospitality is the one tradition of the same Sacrament.” He makes use of the word contesseratio because of the tessera, or sign, which Christians were wont to exhibit to Christians to show that they were Christians, that so they might be received to brotherly hospitality. The heathen had similar tesseræ, or mutual tokens and pledges of hospitality. It was because the heathen discovered, and used these Christian tokens for purposes of deceit, as Lucian tells us Peregrinus did, that the Council of Mie substituted commendatory letters instead of tesseræ. On which see Baronius.
And this to strangers, Greek καί είς τοὺς ξένους. The καί here means especially. Thus Christ says, “Tell the disciples, and, i.e. especially, Peter.” (Mark xvi. 17.)
Moreover, by peregrini here we may understand with Bede apostolic men who went about spreading the Gospel. Also Christian exiles proscribed by the Gentiles.
Ver. 6.—Who have borne testimony to thy charity in the face of the Church. For of old the bishops and presbyters used to invite guests who came to give a sermon or exhortation in the church. And when they did this they would praise the charity and hospitality of Caius, of which they had experienced elsewhere. This duty of allowing hospitality to guests is spoken of by S. Clement (lib. 2 Constit. 62), and is sanctioned by the 4th Council of Carthage, cap. 4.
Whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort thou shall do well. (E. V.) To whom doing good thou shalt lead (deduces) worthily of God. The meaning is, To whom, if thou continuest to show kindness by receiving them to hospitality, thou wilt cause their journey to be easy, so that they will be able to reach the place whither they are going. This is a pious work and worthy of God. The word translated deduces in the Vulg. is πζοπέμψας in the Greek. It does not mean that S. John wished Caius personally to accompany his guests, but it refers to his affording them provisions for their journey, and other things, such as guides and letters of introduction.
Worthily of God. As it is worthy of God that His worshippers should treat worthily other worshippers of Him, honouring them as ministers of God, and honouring God in them, by treating them charitably and reverently as befits servants and members of Christ. As Christ saith, Matt. x. 40, “He that receiveth you receiveth Me. He that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward.”
Moraliter: let every believer examine himself, and see whether his works be full, perfect, and of such excellence as to be worthy of God; whether his charity be like to the charity of God and Christ; whether he live and act worthily of Christ. The gift which thou presentest to a king must not be of some mean sort. It should be excellent and regal. What then does it become us to offer unto God, who is King of kings and Lord of lords? This is what S. Paul admonishes the Ephesians (iv. 1.), “I, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.”
Ver. 7.—For they have gone forth onbehalf of His name, viz., that they might preach the name of God and Christ, says Bede. Or else because for His name they have been driven into exile. The first of these is the more probable reason. And it is strengthened by what follows.
Taking nothing of the Gentiles. Because without price they preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, that they may not seem to gain any profit by the Gospel.
Ver. 8.—We therefore ought to receive such. The Greek for receive is κατα λάμβανίν. This means, not to wait until they come to us, but to prevent them, to invite them to our house, yea, to constrain them to come in. Ścumenius says, as the disciples constrained Christ at Emmaus (Luke xxiv. 29). Moreover to receive and reception means in Scripture every sort of kindness and protection, care and assistance.
That we may be fellow-workers with the truth, by ministering necessary things to those who preach the truth or who suffer exile or tribulation for the truth’s sake.
Observe: S. John by many arguments stirs up Caius to persevere in his liberality to pilgrims. 1st He praises his generosity because also his guests praised it before the whole Church. (Ver. 3.) 2d Because it was a work befitting a Christian believer. (Ver. 5.) 3d Because it was a work worthy of God. (Ver. 6.) 4th Because it was done to those who made known the name of God. (Ver. 7.) 5th Because it was done to those who were forsaken or despoiled by other Gentiles. (Ver. 7.) 6th Because by this means they became fellow-workers with the truth and the Gospel, and preached it themselves through the preachers and confessors whom they received and nourished.
Moreover, when S. John exhorts Caius to persevere in hospitality he makes use of the first person, “we ought therefore,” that his exhortation may be sweeter and more powerful. Certain it is that S. John was very hospitable to pilgrims. For he was the Bishop of Ephesus, and in that capacity was wont to dispense the goods of the Ephesian Church to the poor and strangers. Moreover, Bede says that S. John, like S. Paul, lived by the labour of his hands.
9. I would have written, it may be, to the Church. The Greek is έγζαψα, i e. I have written. So Erasrnus, Cajetan, Vatablus, Clarius, who think the Vulg. of this passage is corrupt. But Gagneius, Serarius, &c. think the translator’s reading was έγζαψα άν, or at least that άν ought to be understood. They think this for three reasons: 1st Because it gives the better meaning. “I would have written, but I have not written, because that proud Diotrephes receives neither us, nor our letters.” 2d Because there is no extant letter of S. John to a church. 3d Because the Syriac version entirely supports this reading. It is, I was seeking, or desiring to write to the Church, but he who loves to be first among you, Diotrephes, receives us not.
But he who loves to bear the primacy among them, i.e. in the Church. This Greek is φιλοπζωτέυων, ambitious of the primacy. Wherefore Diotrephes seems to have been either a bishop, or else some powerful and arrogant man, who was fond of domineering in the Church, and arrogated to himself episcopal rank. Bede adds that he was a heresiarch. But S. John intimates nothing of the kind; indeed rather the contrary. For had he been a heresiarch S. John would have dealt much more severely with him, and have excommunicated him, as S. Paul did Hymenæus and Alexander. (1 Tim. 20.) Diotrephes then hated S. John, not because he was heretic, but because he was ambitious. For he saw that S. John resisted the pre-eminence which he coveted.
Diotrephes: Vatablus thinks this was an appellative name, meaning full of boasting and arrogance. For of old those who were puffed up by the nobility of their extraction were accustomed to be called διοτζεφει̃ς, i.e. nourished by Jupiter. But L. Dexter, with more reason, thinks that it was a proper name, or rather one given him. For he, boasting of his riches and birth among the heathen, colled himself by a heathen name, Diotrephes, or a son of Jove.
Moraliter: they imitate Diotrephes who covet benefices and prelacies, and assert that they are their due because of their nobility and their wealth, whereas Christ chose for His Apostles the ignoble and the poor. Again, those temporal princes and nobles imitate Diotrephes who having no rights of patronage in conferring benefices usurp and invade them, or abuse them by domineering over the clergy.
Receives us not: i.e. our apostleship and authority, our letters and our precepts. For it was part of the bishop’s office to receive the letters addressed to his Church, and to read them publicly to the faithful. For he was, as it were, the head and primate of the Church.
Ver. 10.—I will remember his works. Some read, though incorrectly, I will remove his works. Others read, I will mark his works; others, I will judge. Observe S. John’s gentleness in rebuking and correcting.
Prating against us with malicious wards, i.e. raising calumnies against, detracting and maligning me. The Greek is φλυαζω̃ν, to trifle, babble, prate.
Neither doth he himself receive the brethren, i.e. orthodox Christians. He receives none but the pseudo-Christians of his own party.
And those who do receive them he casts out of the Church, both from the place and assembly of the Church, especially the agape and feast after the Eucharist, and also from the company of the faithful by excommunicating them.
Ver. 11.—Do not imitate the evil: do not imitate the proud, impious, and inhospitable Diotrephes, even though he does occupy the chief place in the Church, but rather imitate the humble, pious, and hospitable Demetrius, of whom in ver. 12.
He who does good is of God, &c. This is especially applicable to the good of kindness and beneficence. And this is the chief meaning of the Greek α̉γαθοποιει̃ν, which is to benefit, or do a kindness to any one. For S. John is here treating of kindness and hospitality. For this he praises Caius, whilst he condemns the unkindness of Diotrephes. He is alluding to what he says in his first Epist. iii. 6. The meaning is, He who does to them that need—as, for instance, by receiving guests and pilgrims, as thou doest, 0 Caius—is of God. He knows, loves, and worships Him. But he who does ill to his neighbour, as Diotrephes does, is not of God: he neither sees, nor hath seen Him: that is, practically, he does not know God, because he does not love, imitate, or worship Him. Although indeed every virtue is of God, the words especially apply to charity and beneficence. For it is an attribute of God that He communicates Himself and His good things, and doeth good.
The reason is, because it is a property of God so to abound in all good that He overflows, and pours out his goodness by bestowing it upon others. He therefore that shows kindness is a child and an imitator of the good and kind God.
He that doeth evil hath nor seen God. The direct antithesis would have been, is not of God, but S. John amplifies, saying, so much is he not of God, that he does not see, i.e. practically know God. He who is unkind, and does evil to his neighbour, does not truly see, i.e. know God practically, because he does not acknowledge God’s infinite and unceasing kindnesses to himself, so as to show himself grateful for them by showing kindness to others for God’s sake.
S. Dionysius, writing to the same Caius, the Therapeut, i.e. the Seer and Contemplative, which is the reason why the Apostle speaks of seeing God, alludes to these words of the Apostle. And he explains in what way good and perfect men, especially Therapeuts like Caius, see God: “If there be any one who when he has seen God has understood what he has seen, he hath not seen Him, but something of Him which is and is known. But He Himself being placed on high above all understanding and all being, far surpasses all understanding.” For God being in Himself invisible transcends all things, and inhabits the unapproachable light, which is to us impenetrable darkness, as the same Dionysius teaches elsewhere. He proves the same thing by the example of S. Paul, who, although he was rapt up to God, nevertheless declares that God surpasses all understanding and knowledge. Hence also our John the Evangelist says in his Gospel (i. i8), “No man hath seen God at any time,” namely, by any clear vision. For men have seen Him imperfectly by faith, according to the words, “now we see through a mirror in an enigma.” (1 Cor. xiii. 12. Vulg.)
Ver. 12.—To Demetrius testimony is borne by all, concerning his hospitality, probity, and all other Christian virtues. He proposes him therefore to Caius for imitation and assistance. Our Serarius conjectures that this Demetrius was the same as the chief of the craftsmen of Diana, who raised a tumult against S. Paul at Ephesus (Acts xix. 24), who afterwards repented, and changed his persecution for the propagation of the faith. But there is no mention of this in any ancient history.
And by the truth itself: the testimony of men may be erroneous, but the testimony of the truth can never be deceptive. The truth bears testimony to Demetrius. That is, Demetrius leads a truly Christian life, and does Christian works. His life therefore is a true witness to his virtue.
We also bear witness, which is most weighty and certain, inasmuch as it is episcopal, apostolic, and canonical, as being that of one of the sacred writers.
Ver. 14.—Salute the friends by name. The Syriac renders this verse, The friends pray for your peace: pray for the peace of the friends, for every one by name.