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

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on 1 John 1:1-4

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 23, 2011

This post begins with Father MacEvily’s brief analysis of the first chapter, followed by his notes on verses 1-4. The post also includes, in purple, his own paraphrase of the text he is commenting on.

The Apostle commences this Epistle, omitting the usual salutation and inscription, as he also commences his Gospel, by entering at once on the most sublime of all subjects, the Divinity, and eternal generation of the Son of God; who, though existing from eternity, was still, in time, manifested to the world: of the reality of his assumed nature, the united testimony of all the senses gave his Apostles the most complete knowledge and the firmest certainty. It is with the announcement of the great mystery of God’s love, in manifesting himself to the world, the Apostle commences this Epistle; his object in doing so is to bring men to a union and fellowship with God (verses 1, 2, 3).

In the next place, he declares, that in addressing them, and expounding the great mysteries of the Divinity and Humanity of Jesus Christ, and wishing them a fellowship with God, he only wishes to secure to them the fulness of spiritual joy (4).

He then enters on the great subject of all the Catholic Epistles, which is to inculcate the necessity of good works. This he does, first, by representing God, as the pure, unalloyed light, having no communication with the works of darkness (5); whence he infers, that those who live in the habitual commission of sin, are guilty of a lie, when they assert they have any fellowship with God (6); while, on the other hand, those who perform good works enjoy the union and fellowship with him. The Apostle, however, takes care to refer this blessing to its meritorious cause, viz., the blood of Christ, which merited for us the remission of our sins (7). He next points out the necessity of availing ourselves
of the merits of Christ, since we all have sins to be remitted (8); and he shows the mode in which their actual remission is to be obtained, viz., by confessing them in the way in which the law of God prescribes confession to be made (9).

He shows, in conclusion, that by adopting the opposite course of confessing our sins, and denying that we have any sins to confess, we not only deceive ourselves (9), but that we also make God a liar (10).

1Jn 1:1  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled, of the word of life.

We declare unto you (verse 3) the Word of Life, which existed from eternity, which, in His assumed nature, we, Apostles, have heard speak, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have closely and minutely examined, which our hands have touched and handled.

From the absence of the usual salutation, some expositors call this a treatise, rather than, an Epistle. The same, however, might be said of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews, which has no preface either; it may also be said, that the announcement contained (verse 3), “and our fellowship may be with God the Father,” &c., holds the place of the usual form of salutation; for, in substance, it is a most desirable one. The construction of the words in these three verses, is rather intricate and complicated. The common interpretation, followed in the Paraphrase, includes the second verse within a parenthesis, and makes the words, “we declare” (verse 3), the first words in the arrangement of the sentence. The meaning of the passage, to verse 3, is kept suspended. “We declare unto you” (verses), “that,” viz., “the word of life which was from the beginning,” &c. (verse 1). “For the the was manifested,” &c. (verse 2). In this construction the “terms of the word of life” (“de verbo vitæ“) are put for the accusative case, “the word of life (“verbum vitæ“) With the Hebrews, it was not unusual, to employ the ablative with a preposition for the accusative or
nominative v.g.) “effundam de spiritu meo, i.e.., spiritum meum,” (Acts 2), dabitur ei de auro Arabiæ, i.e. aurum Arabice” ”adorabunt de ipso i.e., ipsum” (Psalm 72).

This construction, however, is totally opposed to the Greek reading, wherein, ο “that which,” is of a different gender from, λογου “the word.” On which account, others arrange the words thus, “we declare unto you (3) of,” or concerning “the word of life, that which was from the beginning,” viz., his Divinity, “which we have heard, which we have seen,” &c., viz., his Humanity, assumed at his Incarnation; in other words, we announce to you concerning the eternal Son of God that he possesses two natures —one, the Divine, which he had from eternity; the other, the Human, which he had assumed at his Incarnation. Both constructions amount to the same, in sense.

“That which was from the beginning.” From these words, as well as from the first words of St. John’s gospel, “In the beginning was the word,” is inferred the eternity of the Son of God. By the word “beginning,” some understand, the beginning of time, or, of creation; and even from the words understood in this sense, they infer his eternity; for, at the beginning of all time, before any object was created, the Word “was,” and to what other moment can it refer, but the permanent, indivisible moment of eternity. This interpretation derives probability from the clear parallelism that exists between the description given by Moses of the Genesis of creation, and that given by St. John, both here, and in his gospel, of the eternal Genesis of the Son of God. In the one, it is said, “inprincipio creavit Deus cœelum et terrain;” in the other, “in principio a principio erat verbun;” the difference being, that at the beginning of time, the world received existence, but at the same beginning the Word already was; hence, existing before all time, before anything was created, which would be untrue, if he himself were a creature. Therefore, he was uncreated and from eternity. By “the beginning,” then, according to these, is meant, the beginningof any time, whether actual or imaginary, and even then the Word “was;” hence, eternal. In scriptural language, “to be from the beginning,” expresses eternity, thus, in Isaias (43:13), God says of himself,
“and from the beginning I am the same.”

Others understand the word “beginning,” as well here, as in the commencement of the gospel, to refer directly to eternity, which is a beginning without a beginning; termed, “beginning,” to suit the weak conceptions of our obscure and limited understandings.

“Which we have heard, have seen with our eyes,” &c. This refers to the human nature of the Son of God, of the reality of which, the united testimony of all the senses, viz., the hearing, sight, touch, &c., had conspired to assure the Apostles, “heard, seen, handled,” &c.; “which we have looked upon,” i.e., leisurely examined, and closely viewed, and not in a mere passing way, which is expressed by the words, “have seen him;”  “which our hands have handled,” may be allusive to the practice usual with our divine Redeemer, of kissing his disciples when returning to him after any considerable absence; hence, it was with a kiss, when saluting him as usual, that Judas betrayed him; or, to the words addressed to them after his resurrection, palpate et videte, quia spiritus carnem et ossa non habet, &c.

From this verse, is proved the unity of person in Christ with two distinct natures; for, the Apostle declares, that it was the same word which existed from eternity, he and the Apostles saw, heard, &c., of course, in his human nature.

“Of the word of life,” i.e., the eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Adorable Trinity. The Son of God is called in Scripture, “the Word” i.e., the thought or conception of God. For, as our thought, or, the internal word of our mind, is generated and remains in the mind, even after it is externally expressed by the voice; so, in like manner (as far as human and divine things admit of comparison), is the Son of God begotten of Him, by an eternal generation, the substantial expression of His divine mind, consubstantial with Him, yet still existing in Him, as a distinct divine person. This, and other such comparisons, by which it is attempted to illustrate the eternal generation of the Son of God, his identity of nature and distinction of person with the Father, are, however, so imperfect and obscure, that it is better for us to contemplate, and firmly believe, rather than curiously pry into what faith proposes regarding him, both with respect to his divine nature, or his eternal generation, as God, begotten of the Father; and his human nature, assumed by him, as man, in time, being born of a virgin.

1Jn 1:2  For the life was manifested: and we have seen and do bear witness and declare unto you the life eternal, which was with the Father and hath appeared to us.

For this essential life, who is also the source of all life both natural and supernatural in creatures, was manifested in his incarnation, and we have seen him, and testify regarding him even by our sufferings, and we declare him to you to be the essential life, (the cause also of eternal life in us), that existed from eternity in the bosom of the Father, and in time has been manifested to us, in his assumed nature.

“For the life was manifested”, &c. This verse is, according to the commonly received construction, included in a parenthesis; “the life,” i.e., essential life in
himself, and the author of all life, but particularly of spiritual and supernatural life in us, “was manifested,” in his assumed nature. This is added by the Apostle to show how it is that he, and the other Apostles, could have heard, seen him, &c. (verse 1); “and we have seen.” The heavenly love with which the heart of the Apostle glowed, makes him fond of repetition in everything connected with the great mystery of the Incarnation; hence, in these three verses, he repeatedly asserts, that he saw him, in his assumed nature; “and do bear witness,” we are become true martyrs by our sufferings; and declare unto you the life eternal,” that is, we declare him unto you to be the life eternal. These words evidently refer to a person, who is the essential life in himself, and the cause of life eternal, of which the life of grace here is the seed, in others.

“Which was with the Father,” shows him to be a distinct person from the Father: “and hath appeared to us.” “Manifested” and “appeared,” have the same corresponding word in the Greek, εφανερωθη. Here, too, the fondness for repetition, the effect of divine love, in the heart of the Apostle, is observable.

1Jn 1:3  That which we have seen and have heard, we declare unto you: that you also may have fellowship with us and our fellowship may be with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

The Eternal Word, I say, which we have both seen and heard, we declare unto you, and our object in doing so is, that you may have a fellowship with us Apostles, in the profession of the same faith, and in the bonds of charity springing therefrom and that this fellowship may be the foundation of a more perfect fellowship, and more exalted union, between us and God the Father, together with his Son Jesus Christ.

“That which we have seen and heard, we declare unto you.” These latter words, “we declare unto,” are the first in the construction of these three verses.— (Vide Paraphrase).

“That you also may have fellowship with us.” He says, his object in announcing to them this eternal Word, which existed from eternity, and was manifested in time, was, that they should have a fellowship with the Apostles, both in the profession of the same faith, of which he had announced the two leading articles in the preceding verses, viz., the Trinity and Incarnation, involved in the Divinity of the Word, and in the bonds of charity springing from faith; “and our fellowship may be with the Father, &c,” and this union may be with the Father and Son; for. this society between the faithful and the Apostles must not rest there; it must be the foundation of a further union with God. Hence, in order to enjoy the union of sanctifymg grace or charity with God, it is necessary beforehand to be united with the true Church, and no one, who is outside the true Church by a voluntary act, can enjoy such a union with God—”non potest habere Deum patrem, qui Ecclesiam noluerit habere matrem,” (St. Cyprian de Un. Eccl.) In some copies, for “may be with the Father,” we have, is with the Father, as if the Apostle meant to show the value of a union with the Church, which is no less than a union with God himself. The Greek admits either. Commentators notice the exact parallelism which exists between the opening of this Episde and that of the Gospel of St. John. “In principio erat verbum” (Gospel); ”quod erat ab initio de verbo vitæ” (in this place); “in ipso vita erat—et verbum caro factum est,” (Gospel); “et vita
manifestata est” (here); ”erat lux vera quæ illuminat omnem hominem,” (Gospel); “Deus lux est,” (here,) perfectly correspond.

1Jn 1:4  And these things we write to you, that you may rejoice and your joy may be full.

And the things which we have spoken regarding the eternal and incarnate Word, announced to you by us, in order that you may enjoy a union with us and God, we write to you for this end, that you may rejoice with true and spiritual joy, on account of the prospects of future blessings, which this union will bring you, and that this your joy man be perfected in the sure possession of future glory.

In the Greek, the words, “that you may rejoice,” are wanting.

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2 Responses to “Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on 1 John 1:1-4”

  1. […] Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (1 John 1:1-4). […]

  2. […] Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (1 John 1:1-4). […]

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