The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on John 3:13-21

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 12, 2010

Joh 3:13  And no man hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven.

And no man hath ascended, &c. And is put instead of however. The meaning is, Ye do not believe Me, and yet no other person hath ascended into heaven, and there beheld the things which I declare, except Myself, who am God and man, and as God have come down to the earth that I might teach them to you. Christ raises the mind of Nicodemus so that he should not regard Him as only a man, but that in this man God lay hidden, who filleth heaven and earth, and therefore that he should have full faith in Him.

Ascended: so in the Greek, in the perfect tense. Wherefore this passage cannot be understood of Christ’s future ascension into heaven. Besides, He says expressly that no one else but He hath ascended into heaven; by which He tacitly declares that He has been there, and has there beheld God and all the Divine mysteries. So Toletus.

More subtilely Maldonatus. Christ, he says, as man, hath ascended into heaven, from the beginning of His Incarnation, not by the elevation of the Humanity into heaven, but by the communication of attributes, because being Incarnate, He was straightway, as man, in heaven, by means of that communication, and so is rightly said to have ascended into heaven. For as concerning God Incarnate in Christ, it is rightly said that God was born in time, was crucified, and died, because the Humanity which God assumed was born and died; so in turn, concerning the Man Christ, it is truly said this man was from eternity, this man is in heaven, because that Divinity which was in the same Person of Christ was from eternity, and is in heaven.

Falsely, however, do the Ubiquitarian heretics maintain that the body of Christ is everywhere, because His Divinity is everywhere. For it is proper to His Divinity to be everywhere, but to His Humanity to be in a certain and determined place, circumscribed by limits.

But He that descended from heaven. From this Valentinus contended that Christ brought a body from heaven, and therefore did not receive one on earth of the Blessed Virgin. This is a heresy condemned by the Church. God therefore, or the Word, is said to have descended from heaven, by the figure of speech called catachresis. For God does not properly change His place, or descend. But He is said to have descended because He assumed human nature, and so seemed to men to have come down upon earth.  S. Cyril in the Council of Ephesus gives the reason. “Because God the Word emptied Himself and was called the Son of Man, remaining still what He was, that is, God, it is as if He, reckoned with His own flesh, were said to have come down from heaven.”

The Son of Man, &c. He explains what he has said. Christ hath ascended into heaven, who as God was from eternity in heaven for He is always in heaven, as its Maker and Ruler. The Son o Man therefore, that is, the Man Christ, is said to be in heaven by the communication of attributes, because His Divinity was in heaven, as I have said

Joh 3:14  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up:
Joh 3:15  That whosoever believeth in him may not perish, but may have life everlasting.

And as Moses, &c. Christ proceeds to instruct Nicodemus; (for as in the verses preceding He has taught him that He is God, so now He teaches him that He has been made man), that being crucified for man’s redemption He will merit that every one who believeth in Him, and trusts for salvation to the merit of His death, shall obtain it. For thus Christ is wont, when speaking concerning Himself, to unite things human to things Divine, and things lowly to things glorious. As though He said, “Whosoever is bitten by the serpents of sins, let him look to Christ, and he shall have healing by the remission of sins,” as Pope Adrian I. says in his first epistle to Charles the Great. The same proves that the use of images is lawful from this serpent. He adds, The figure afforded temporal life; the thing itself, of which it was the figure, life eternal.”

Christ refers to the history of the brazen serpent in the wilderness, which is given in the 21st chapter of Numbers. Upon this history S. Augustine comments as follows (de peccat. merit., lib. 1, c. 32). “The serpent lifted up is the death of Christ. By the serpent came death, for he persuaded man to sin. Now the Lord took upon His flesh, not the poison of the serpent, which is sin, but death, that there might be in the likeness of flesh the penalty of sin without its fault, that thus both the penalty and the fault might be done away.” And Theophylact says, “In that brazen serpent was the appearance indeed of the noxious creature, but not its poison: so in Christ was the likeness of sinful flesh, but no sin.”

Most fully does S. Chrysostom draw out the analogies between the brazen serpent and Christ. He says, “Lest any one should say, ‘How are those who believe in the Crucified One able to be saved, when he did not deliver Himself from death?'” He brings forward the ancient history. For if the Jews by looking at the image of a brazen serpent were freed from death, how much greater benefit will they enjoy who look to the Crucified Redeemer? For by the one the Jews escaped temporal death: by the other believers escape everlasting death. There the suspended serpent healed the wounds which the serpents had made: here Jesus, nailed to the cross, healed the wounds inflicted by the incorporeal serpent (the devil). There those who looked with their bodily eyes obtained the healing of the body: here those who look with their spiritual eyes obtain the remission of all their sins. There a serpent bit, and a serpent healed: here death destroyed, and death hath saved. In the one case the serpent which destroyed was full of poison, and delivered no one from poison. And in the other case the death which destroyeth had sin, as the serpent had poison: but the Lord’s death was free from all sin, just as the brazen serpent had no poison. You see how the figure answers to the reality.

Lifted up: i.e., set up upon a lofty pole. The Hebrew in Numbers xxi. 9, adds al nes, i.e., upon a standard. This may have been a long spear with an ensign raised like a standard. For this was a type and figure of the standard of the cross of Christ, to which He Himself calls His faithful ones, like soldiers. This spear with the brazen serpent suspended from it Moses reared up upon the tabernacle, which was in the midst of the camp in the wilderness, and served the Hebrews in the room of a temple. So Justin, towards the end of his “Second Apology.” By this was signified that the cross of Christ should be fixed in His temples, and adored by all the faithful as the standard and trophy of the Christian faith and religion.

S. Chrysostom asks, Why did He not here say suspended rather than lifted up, or exalted? And he replies, “That it might neither give a sense of shame to His hearer, nor be different from the type.” From all that has been said it will appear how foolish is Calvin’s interpretation, that this lifting up of Christ is not His crucifixion, but the preaching of His Gospel.

That whosoever believeth: and obeys His laws, or who believes in Him, not with a bare and unformed faith, but a faith formed by love. May have life everlasting, by grace, repentance, and good works, which Christ from the cross inspires for this end, that a man may deserve and attain to life, happiness, and eternal glory.

Joh 3:16  For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son: that whosoever believeth in him may not perish, but may have life everlasting.

For God so loved, &c. This is said by way of anticipation, lest Nicodemus should object, “If thou art the Son of God, how will God suffer Thee to be suspended and exalted upon the cross?”

Christ meets this by implying that God will permit it in order to show forth His burning love to men, which was typified by the serpent of brass, which is called in Hebrew saraph, which means fiery, and setting on fire. So S. Chrysostom and Theophylact.

Observe that every word of Christ in this sentence has a great and special emphasis, in order to magnify to the utmost the love of God. For (i.) He says, So, with such vehemence, such excess of love. 2. Not a king, or an angel, loved, but God. 3. Loved, i e., first and as it were gratuitously; without merit, yea, even without desire on our part. 4. The world, His enemy, and under the sentence of damnation. 5. Gave not another man, not an angel, not another world, but His Son; and that not an adopted Son, but His own Son; and again not one Son of many, but His only Son, His Only Begotten Son. 6. He did not sell, or lend, but gave freely; and not to a kingdom and triumphs, but to death and the Cross. 7. Christ did not do it for Himself, to gain any advantage for Himself, but that He, the Creator, might give life to us His creatures by His own death, that by His humility He might exalt us, that by His emptying Himself He might heap upon us eternal glory, and an infinite weight of wealth and goodness. This is the love of God towards man, which the Apostle celebrates (Tit_3:5).

You may say, it would have been greater love if God the Father had given Himself for us, and taken our flesh, than that He sent His Son. For he gives more who gives himself than he who sends another.

But I reply that this is true of those who are of a different essence, but not of God: for the Father and the Son have the same Divine Essence, and are consubstantial. Wherefore the Father, in giving us His Son, with Him gave us His own Essence, than which nothing greater can exist, or be given. This gift of the Father was therefore the greatest possible, and infinite. So S. Cyril on this passage.

You may further urge, God gave not His own Person, but His Essence only: and that He would have given more if He had given His Person also. I answer by denying the conclusion. 1. Because Person is God is in reality the same as Essence; for it adds nothing to His Essence except relatively, and the idea of distinction from the other Persons: also because the Person of the Son is as worthy a the Person of the Father. For all the three Divine Persons are co-equal in all things, as the Athanasian Creed saith. Besides, the Father in giving the Person of His Son, gave us also His own Person, as well as the Person of the Holy Ghost. Because the Father is in the Son, and both are in the Holy Ghost. And again the Son is in the Father, and the Holy Ghost in the Father and the Son, of which I will speak more fully on chapter xiv. 10.

Moreover S. Thomas (3 part, qu. 3) gives several reasons why God the Father gave not proximately His own Person, but the Person of His Son; or why the Son alone took upon Him our flesh. Among which the primary is, because the Father willed to adopt us and our nature, and to make us His sons, and so heirs. For He made His Son to be our brother, that by Him we might become sons of God, and so heirs, as Christ here intimates.

Joh 3:17  For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world: but that the world may be saved by him.

For God sent not, &c. He confirms and intensifies the assertion of the infinite love of God to men, as proved by Christ’s being crucified. For God might justly have sent His Son into the world to destroy it for its great wickedness. For this was what His justice demanded, but the infinite love of God overcame justice in that it bestowed the highest blessing upon the world, which deserved the utmost extremity of punishment, in giving it salvation through Him.

Observe: the expression judge the world, as it is in the Vulgate, means to condemn, and destroy it in hell. It is opposed to the word saved. Hence S. Augustine observes that this was the end of Christ’s Incarnation, that all men might be saved, and that He earnestly desired and willed this. Wherefore it is of themselves, through their own fault, and not Christ’s, that many of them will be damned.

Joh 3:18  He that believeth in him is not judged. But he that doth not believe is already judged: because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

He that believeth . . . is not judged, shall not be condemned, but saved. But he that doth not believe is already judged, i.e., is condemned already. For such an one manifestly condemns himself by his unbelief; for by it he cuts himself off from the very pathway and beginning of salvation, i.e., faith; because he believeth not in the name, &c., Greek, ει̉ς όνομα, which means the same thing as believing on the Son of God Himself. For name is here put by metonymy for the thing named. “He shows,” says S. Cyril, “how dreadful a crime unbelief is, because He is the Only Begotten Son of God. For by how much greater is the excellence of that which is despised, by so much will he who despises be liable to severer punishment. Especially, because such persons make God a liar, because they believe not the witness which God hath testified of His Son” (1 John 5:10).

Joh 3:19  And this is the judgment: Because the light is come into the world and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil.

This is the judgment, &c. (Vulg.) Judgment, i.e., cause of judgment, or condemnation. This is the cause why those are already condemned who believe not on Me, because they have preferred darkness, and ignorance of God, and of what they ought to do, and their own pleasures and lusts and sins upon the earth, rather than light, that is, Christ, who hath brought the knowledge of God and salvation into the world. For light and darkness are the symbols of these things. Wherefore Bede says, He calls Himself the Light; sins He calls darkness. Moreover, light came into the world to arouse men, says the Gloss: to admonish them to know their evils, says S. Chrysostom. “For they themselves would not admit the light of truth and holiness, which He preached by His word and example.” In like manner many at the present day become heretics that they may follow their carnal will, which heresy permits, but the faith forbids. Therefore to convert a heretic make use of this method: first persuade him to lead an honest life, moral, chaste, and holy. Thus will you the more easily bring him to the true faith.

Judgment might be taken thus, as signifying the condemnation and rejection of unbelievers, or the judgment wherewith they condemn themselves, in that they prefer darkness to light, that is, cupidity to sanctity, ignorance to knowledge, the devil to God. Wherefore Christ as it were says to such, “It is not I who judge thee, but thine own conscience which judges and condemns thee.”

Joh 3:20  For every one that doth evil hateth the light and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved.

For every one that doth evil, Greek, φαυ̃λα, depraved and perverse things, &c. “Every one who does wickedly,” says S. Cyril, “refuses the illumination of the light, not because he is ashamed of his wickedness, and repents, for if he did he would be saved, but because he prefers to be in ignorance of the better way, lest in his daily sins he should feel the stings of conscience.” “For,” as S. Chrysostom observes, “it marks those who still persevere in their wickedness, and are zealous to do evil to their last breath; who persevere in evil deeds, and always wallow in the mire of vice.”

Joh 3:21  But he that doth truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest: because they are done in God.

But he that doth truth…in God, i.e., according to God’s will and law, and by His guidance, light, and help. Truth, i.e., practically by doing what is right and just, and pleasing to God. For as there is truth of the heart and mouth, so is there of deed, by which it comes to pass that an honest and holy work corresponds to the practical rule of reason and prudence, or virtue, and the will of God. Thus (John 8:43-44), it is said of Lucifer, he stood not in the truth, i.e., in equity, justice, and sanctity. So also the Apostle exhorts us to do the truth, i.e., what is truly good, and holy, and pleasing to God.

The meaning is, he who does, i.e., who by the light and grace of God proposes and determines to do the truth, i.e., what is truly good and holy, cometh to the light, i.e., embraces My doctrine, and the Christian faith, that his works may be made manifest because they are done in God, that they please God because they are done by His leading and guidance. And if they be otherwise, He will correct them, and amend them in accordance with the will of God. “He shows,” says S. Chrysostom, “that none of those who are in error will submit to the truth, unless a man will first persuade himself to lead a correct life; and that no one will persist in unbelief unless he be wholly given up to wickedness.”

7 Responses to “Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on John 3:13-21”

  1. […] Cornelius a Lapide on Today’s Gospel, John 3:13-17. […]

  2. […] Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (John 3:13-17). […]

  3. […] Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (John 3:14-21). Post actually begins with verse 13. […]

  4. […] Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (John 3:16-21). Post begins with verse 13. […]

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  7. […] Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (John 3:16-21). Post begins with verse 13. […]

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