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

St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John 3:16-21

Posted by Dim Bulb on April 30, 2011

16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever helieveth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

He desireth to shew openly herein, that He is God by Nature, since one must needs deem that He Who came forth from God the Father, is surely God also, not having the honour from without, as we have, but being in truth what He is believed to be. With exceeding skill does He say this, having joined therewith the love of God the Father to us, well and opportunely coming to discourse thereon. For He shames the unbelieving Nicodemus, yea rather, He shews that he is ungodly also. For the not coming readily to believe, when God teaches anything, what else is it, than laying upon the Truth a charge of falsehood? Besides this, in saying that He was given for the life of the world, He persuades him to consider seriously, of how great punishment they will be in danger, who from their mad folly, have made of no account so wondrous grace of God the Father. For God, says He, so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son.

Let the Christ-opposing heretic again hear, and let him come forward and say, what is the greatness of the Love of God the Father, or how we should reasonably marvel at it. But he will say that the marvel of the love is seen, in His giving His Son for us, and that the Only Begotten. In order then that the great love of God the Father may remain and be preserved, let Him be held to be Son not a creature, I mean Son of the Essence of the Father, that is to say, Consubstantial with Him Who begat Him, and God verily and in truth. But if, according to thy speech, o thou, He possesseth not the being of the Essence of God the Father, He will also lose the being by Nature Son and God, and the wide-spread marvel of the Love of God will at length come to nought: for He gave a creature for creatures, and not truly His Son. Vainly too will the blessed Paul trouble us, saying, He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot the Son of God? For confessedly |175 he that despised trampleth under foot, but not the Very Son, but a fellow servant of Moses, if indeed creature be always akin to creature, in respect at least of having been made, even if it surpass the glory of another, in the excellences of being greater or better. But the word of Paul is true; and a severer penalty shall he pay who hath trodden under foot the Son, not as though he were transgressing against a creature, or one of the fellow servants of Moses. Great then and above nature is the Love of the Father, Who for the life of the world gave His Own Son and Who is of Himself.

17 For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

Having plainly called Himself the Son of God the Father, He thought not good to leave the word without witness, but brings forward proof from the quality, so to say, of the things themselves, making the hearers more steadfast unto faith. For I was not sent, saith He, like the law-expounder Moses, condemning the world by the law, nor introducing the commandment unto conviction of sin, nor do I perform a servile ministry, but I introduce loving-kindness befitting the Master: I free the embondaged, as Son and Heir of the Father, I transform the law that condemneth into grace that justifieth, I release from sin him that is holden with the cords of his transgressions, I am come to save the world, not to condemn it. For it was right, it was right, saith He, that Moses, as a servant, should be a minister of the law that condemns, but that I as Son and God should free the whole world from the curse of the law and, by exceedingness of lovingkindness, should heal the infirmity of the world. If then the grace that justifieth is better than the commandment that condemneth, how is it not meet to conceive that He surpasseth the measure of the servant Who introduceth so God-befitting authority, and releaseth man from the bonds of sin?

This then is one aim of the passage under consideration, and no mean one. A second besides this, revolving through the same circuit, and introducing a consideration akin to |176 those above, will be given from love of learning. The Saviour saw that Nicodemus was cleaving to the law of Moses, and was fast held to the more ancient commandment, and was somehow startled at the new Birth through the Spirit, shrinking from the new and Gospel polity, supposing it seems that this would be more burdensome than the things already enjoined. Being therefore not ignorant, as God, of the fear which from his ignorance had sprung upon him, by using one short argument, He frees him from all trouble on this score, and shews that the commandment of Moses, by reason of its condemning the world, is harder to be borne, and introduces Himself as a mild Judge, saying, For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

18 He that believeth on the Son is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the Name of the Only Begotten Son of God.

Having proved by facts, that He is both Son of God the Father, and introduceth into the world grace which is more excellent than the ministration of Moses (for how is not the being justified by grace better than the being condemned by the law?), He devised, as God, another way to bring unto the faith, from all quarters driving together to salvation them that were lost. He puts forth then to the believer as his reward the not being called to judgement, to the unbeliever punishment, bringing into one and the same way by both, calling to come readily unto the faith, some by desire for the grace, others by fear of suffering. He shews that heinous and great is the crime of unbelief, since He is Son and Only Begotten. For by how much is that worthy of belief which is insulted, so much the more will that which despises be condemned for his dire transgression. He says that he that believeth not is condemned already, in that he hath already determined against himself the due sentence of punishment, by knowingly rejecting Him Who gives not to be condemned. |177

19   And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light.

He lets not the condemnation of the unbelievers remain without consideration, but recounts its causes, and shews clearly that, according to the words of the Proverbs, Not unjustly is the net spread for the birds. For they, saith He, who when it was in their power to be illuminated preferred to remain in darkness, how will not they fairly be determiners of punishment against themselves, and self-invited to suffering which it was in their power to escape, if they had been right provers of things, choosing rather to be enlightened than not, and studying to make the baser things second to the better? But He preserved the mind of man free from the bonds of necessity, and tending by its own impulses to both sides, that it might justly receive praise for good things, and punishment for the contrary. As indeed He sheweth in another place, saying, If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall, eat the good of the land; but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword.

20   For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.

Profitably doth He go over what has been said, and convicts indolence unto things helpful of proceeding from love of evil, and of having its root in unwillingness to learn those things whereby one may become wise and good. For the doer of evil, says He, flees from and refuses the being in the Divine Light: not hiding from shame on account of evil (for so he would have been saved) but desiring to remain in ignorance of what is becoming, lest transgressing he should be smitten, falling upon the now keener convictions of his own conscience, and by means of at length clearly knowing what is good, should pay a more woeful account to the Judge, if he should not do what was pleasing to God. But he that doeth truth (that is, the lover and doer of the works of the Truth) cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God. For he doth not reject the illumination in the Spirit, by It specially led to be able to |178 understand in all calm collectedness, whether he hath transgressed the Divine commandment, and whether he hath wrought all things according to the Law of God.

It is then a plain proof of an unbridled tendency to evil, and unrestrained pleasure in what is worse, not to wish to learn that whereby one may avail to attain unto what is better: again of desire for the best, to thirst for illumination, and to make His Law a rule so to say and index unto a conversation pleasing to God. And the Divine Psalmist knowing that this was so, sings, The Law of the Lord is perfect converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.

5 Responses to “St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John 3:16-21”

  1. […] St Cyril of Alexandria on Today’s Gospel (John 3:16-21). […]

  2. […] Resources for Sunday Mass, June 19~Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Sorry, I’m exhausted. I’ll try to post this latter tonight or on Thursday. See the last two links under Monday for some homilies by St John Chrysostom and St GregoryNanzianzus. You can read St Cyril’s commentary on the Gospel (John 3:16-18 here. […]

  3. […] St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (John 3:16-21). […]

  4. […] St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (John 3:16-21). […]

  5. […] St Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on Today’s Gospel (John 3:16-21). […]

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