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

Archive for December 24th, 2011

Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on 1 John 2:3-11

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 24, 2011

This post begins with Bishop MacEvily’s brief summary analysis of the chapter followed by his commentary on 2:3-11. I’ve also included in the post the Bishop’s paraphrase (purple text) of the text he is commenting on.

Analysis of 1 John 2~In this chapter, the Apostle points out the object which he had in view in reminding them, in the foregoing, of their weakness and liability to sin; and that was, to prevent them from committing sin any longer. He strengthens such as may have committed sin, against the horrors of despair, by pointing to the powerful advocacy of Jesus Christ in heaven (verse 1). He explains in what sense he is our advocate—viz., an advocate of redemption and propitiation (2). He next proceeds to point out the necessity of good works, the performance of them being the surest sign that we love God (3); and whosoever says he loves him, and observes not his commandments, is a liar, and asserts what is untrue (4); while, on the other hand, whosoever keeps his law, gives the clearest proof of the sincerity of his lovefor God, and a probable conjectural fnark of being in his love andfriendship (5). He requires for a continuance in God’s friendship and grace, a moral assimilation ivith Christ in the performance of good works (6).

He says that the precept which he is inculcating, is not a ”new”’ precept, but an ”old” one, with which they were familiarfrom the very beginning of their conversion, although, under a different respect, it might be termed “new” also (7, 8). He shows what the precept is, to which he is referring—viz., the precept of loving our neighbour, and he points out the evils of its infraction, and the advantages flowing from its observance (9, 10 11).

He next addresses the faithful in general, and congratulates them on the spiritual gifts which they received (12); and having referred to the different stages of spiritual life, he congratulates them on their spiritual perfections, analogous to the natural gifts in which men, in the different stages of human life, are prone to glory (13, 14).

The Apostle next guards them against the greatest obstacle to fraternal charity—viz., the love of the world, and the things of the world, and assigns reasons for shunning all inordinate attachment to both one and the other— viz., their incompatibility with the love of God (15), their innate deordination (16), and the transient, fleeting conditiion of their enjoyment andpossession (17).

The Apostle next proceeds to caution them against the snares of the heretics of the day. These heretics are the forerunners of the great Antichrist, and they deserted the Church, because they were not solid members of it (18, 19). But the faithful, who persevered in the unity of the Church, were sharers in the graces deposited with her (20).

He refers to one leading heresy of the day—viz., the denial ofJesus Christ, which involved a denial of his Father (22,23). He exhorts them to perseverance in the profession of the old faith, from which the heretics wished to seduce them (24-26), and ascribes their perseverance to the grace of God, left in his Church, of which grace they were sharers (27).

He again exhorts them to perseverance (28), and closes the chapter by entering on a new subject—viz., a description of the sons of God (29).


1Jn 2:3  And by this we know that we have known him, if we keep his commandments.

And the probable test or mark, whereby we can ascertain, as far as can be ascertained in this life, that we have known him with a practical and effective knowledge of love and charity is, if we observe his commandments.

The Apostle proceeds to inculcate the necessity of good works against the heretics who put forward the sufficiency of faith only. “By this we know,” as far as it is given us here below to ascertain, that is to say, with great probability, “that we have known him “—the word “known” expresses a knowledge of love and affection; it means, that we have loved him, a signification the word frequently bears in sacred Scripture (Jeremiah 31:34; Wisdom 15:2; and Gospel of John 10:14); “if we keep his commandments;” but as no one can be infallibly sure that he observes God’s commandments, in every respect: so, neither can he be infallibly sure that he enjoys the charity and friendship of God.—See Council of Trent, SS. vi. 9.

1Jn 2:4  He who saith that he knoweth him and keepeth not his commandments is a liar: and the truth is not in him.


Whosoever says that he knows him, in the sense already expressed, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

“He who saith that he knoweth him” (in Greek, ο λεγων οτι εγνωκα αυτον, he who saith I have known him), with the eftective knowledge of love already explained; in other words, he who saith that he loves God or Christ, “and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar;” for the test of his love (verse 3) is wanting; and hence, his pretences are proved to be false, “and the truth is not in him,” he asserts what is untrue.

1Jn 2:5  But he that keepeth his word, in him in very deed the charity of God is perfected. And by this we know that we are in him.

But on the other hand, whosoever observeth his commandments, in him the charity or love which we bear to God is genuine and sincere; and it is by observing his word, we can for a very probable conjecture, that we are united to him by charity, and have society with him.

In this verse, the Apostle, by an antithesis, confirms his assertion, made in the preceding one. “But he that keepeth his word,” that is, his commandments, particularly that which regards the love of our neighbour, including the love of our enemy, “in him in very deed, the charity of God,” that is, the charity or love we have for God, “is perfected,” that is, sincere and genuine; it is as sincere and
genuine as our love of God can be in this life, notwithstanding the numerous venial sins and frailties to which we are all subject (1 Jn 1:8). Others understand “perfected” of the external manifestation of our charity. In such a person the charity or love he bears to God is not merely confined to the mind, it is externally maniiested in its fruits, which is the perfection of charity; for, all charity, which is externally manifested, is more perfect than that which is confined to the mind. It is in the same sense that sin is said by St. James to be perfected or “completed,” (James 1:15). “And by this,” that is, by observing his word, “we know,” as far as we can know in this life—viz., by a probable conjecture, “that we are m him,” united to him by love and friendship.


1Jn 2:6  He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also to walk even as he walked.

Whosoever says that he is united with God in the bonds of charity and operative love, should prove the truth of his assertion by becoming morally assimilated to Christ in the performance of works of sanctity, such as he performed.

He continues the same idea expressed in the preceding verses; to ” abide in
God,” and “to be in him,” signify the same thing—viz., to be united with God, in the bonds of friendship and sanctifying grace. Whosoever then, says that he holds the endearing relation of a friend with God, “ought himself also to walk,” that is, should prove the truth of this assertion, and the sincerity of such a pretence, by “walking, even as he walked,” by habitually livmg and progressing in the practice of good works, and the observance of God’s commandments, as Christ did. Of course, the Apostle only requires a moral assimilation, such as can subsist between man and God, just as the words, “be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” regard a likeness, not an equality of perfection. The verse may also mean, if any man pretend to enjoy God’s friendship, he must, in order to remain in such a state, continue to perform good works, as Christ also performed good works, when here on earth.

1Jn 2:7  Dearly beloved, I write not a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you have heard.


Dearly beloved brethren, in inculcating the observance of God’s commandments, alluded to in the foregoing, or rather, in inculcating the love of our neighbor, to which I am about to make special allusion, I do not mean to burden you with a multiplicity of new precepts; I only repeat an old precept, with which you have been familiar, from the very beginning of your conversion.  That old precept regarding the love of our neighbor, which you have received from the very beginning of your conversion.

“Dearly beloved,” (in some Greek copies, brethren ; but the chief MSS. have αγαπητοι, the Vulgate reading). Both readings are united in the Paraphrase—”I write not a new commandment to you,” when inculcating the observance of God’s commandments, to which I have been alluding in the foregoing part of the Epistle; or rather, in inculcating that precept by which the whole law is fulfilled—viz., the love of our neighbour (which he specifies immedietely after),
“but an old commandment,” a comandment with which you have been familiar, “which you had from the beginning.” By the “beginning,” some understand the beginning of creation, the love of our neighbour being a precept of the natural law; others, from the beginning of the Mosaic law, transmitted to you by your fathers. The word, however, most probably refers to the beginning of the gospel, or, of their conversion to the faith, as St. Augustine understands it, and as the following words, which are a further explanation of the preceding, render very probable. “The old commandment is the word which you have heard;” (to which is added in the Greek, from the beginning; but they are wanting in the chief MSS.; and hence, although implied in sense, expunged by modern critics). These words explain what the “beginning” in the foregoing refers to. It refers to the beginning of their conversion, when they first, ”heard the word” of faith, and embraced the gospel.

1Jn 2:8  Again a new commandment I write unto you: which thing is true both in him and in you, because the darkness is passed and the true light now shineth.

Again, the same precept already designated as old, when considered under a different respect, I call a new precept, and that this precept is new, is a thing true both in reference to Christ himself, who has observed  it in an extraordinary manner, dying for his enemies; and in reference to you; because, the darkness and mists of infidelity are dissipated by the promulgation of the gospel, and the true light of faith, which proposes new motives for this love of our neighbour, is already shining in the hearts of the faithful.

“Again,” although he called this precept of loving our neighbour, “an old
commandment.” as having been received from the beginning of their conversion; or, according to others, as having been as old as creation; still he calls it “a new commandment,” considered in a different light. It was called “new ” by our Divine Redeemer himself, when he first promulgated it, and made it the distinctive badge of his followers (Gospel of St. John 14:35-36); and it may have been termed “new” by him, either on the grounds of new and re-exalted motives for its observance and its heavier obligation; or new, as to its standard of fulfilment (“as I have loved you”); or, new, with reference to the persons to whom it was first promulgated, in regard to whom the precept of loving their neighbour was unheeded both speculatively (for, the false grossary of the Pharisees was “thou shalt love thy neighbour; therefore, thou shalt hate thine enemy”), and practically, owing to the universal corrupt selfishness prevailing, when the Gospel began to be preached.

“Which thing,” viz., that this precept is new, “is true both in him,” viz., Christ, with whom St. John was so fully engaged, as not to permit his expressing who it was; for, who else but Christ could it be that thus filled his soul, and engrossed his thoughts? It was true in reference to Christ; for, he fulfilled the precept of loving his neighbour in an extraordinary way, by dying for his enemies, and praying for his very executioners; and even now, as head of the Church, he loves us intensely.

“And in you,” the same thing is true in reference to you also, “because the
darkness is passed,” the night of infidelity is rapidly passing away, owing to the preaching of the Apostles, who in a particular manner, inculcate the precept of charity; “and the true light shineth now,” the true light of faith is now shining in our hearts, and in the hearts of the faithful; who, owing to the dictates of faith, love their neighbour from new and more exalted motives: hence, the precept is observed, in a new manner in them also. Some translate the Greek words corresoondins with “true both in him,” αληθες εν αυτω thus: true in itself; because, the precept of loving our neighbour is a precept of the law of nature.

1Jn 2:9  He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother is in darkness even until now.

Whosoever congratulating himself on having received the Christian faith, and on being a true follower of Christ, still hates his brother, is grievously mistaken. He is still, at least equivalently, in darkness of infidelity.

The man, whoever he be, that pretends to enjoy the possession of the true light of Christian faith and friendship with God, and, at the same time “hates his brother,” which word embraces every fellow-creature, not excluding our very enemy; such a person “is in darkness even until now;” still involved in the darkness of Paganism, at least, equivalently and practically; his faith will not avail him; for, as charity or brothtrly love is the great leading virtue of Christianity; so, is the opposite vice a leading characteristic of Paganism.

1Jn 2:10  He that loveth his brother abideth in the light: and there is no scandal in him.


While, on the other hand, whosoever loveth his brother, equally enjoys the light of the gospel, and the love and friendship of God; and such a person offends not against the commandments and the holy law of God.

In this verse, the Apostle specifies what the precept is to which he has been referring in the foregoing, viz., the precept of loving our brethren. “He that loveth his brother,” embracing every human being; for, all mankind are united in one common bond of brotherhood; “abideth in the light,” that is, really enjoys the true light of the gospel, and is united in friendship with God; the love of our neighbour is the surest mark, that we are loved by God. “And there is no scandal in him.” Such a person does not himself impinge or offend against the weighty commandments of God, which is passive scandal; nor does he serve as an occasion for others to do so, which is active scandal; a man walking in the light will not fall in with the obstacles placed in the way. The Apostle most probably alludes to the words of the Psalmist: “Much peace have they that love thy law, and to them there is no stumbling block,” or
scandal.—Psalm 119.

1Jn 2:11  But he that hateth his brother is in darkness and walketh in darkness and knoweth not whither he goeth: because the darkness hath blinded his eyes.


But whosever hateth his brother is in a state of darkness, even when he refrains from action, and walks in darkness, whenever he performs any work, his actions being generally infected by the state of sin and hatred in which he lives; nor does he know whither he is going, for want of duly considering his actions in a proper light; because the darkness of sin and ignorance in which he exists, blinds the eyes of his soul.

This point regarding the love and hatred of our neighbour is so important, that St. John is not tired of repeating it. “Is in darkness,” is always, even when performing no particular action, in a state of sin and spiritual darkness, “and walketh in darkness;” whenever he acts, his actions are generally infected with the hatred and sin in which he exists; for, although such a person may and does perform some good actions; still, while hating and retaining feelings of hatred for his neighbour, he will, probably, render his actions vitiated by this evil passion. “And knoweth not whither he is going,” which is understood by some thus: He knoweth not, that he is on the straight road to hell; but it more likely means (as in Paraphrase) that he does not weigh his actions properly or consider them in the true light. “Because the darkness (of sin and ignorance) hath blinded his eyes.” Hence, every sin is the result of a practical error, which precedes it.


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Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 John 1:5-2:2

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 24, 2011

1Jn 1:5  And this is the declaration which we have heard from him and declare unto you: That God is light and in him there is no darkness.

And this is the declaration. That is, the message announced: As God is called our fear, our hope, that is the object of our fear and hope, by a metonymy.

That God is light and in Him there is not darkness.  Referring to John 1:4. The Word then is the light of men, by which they are enlightened through faith, hope, and charity. For it is spiritual light which is here spoken of. The meaning is, that our life consists in the enlightenment of the Word, whereby men are enlightened in the knowledge of God and their own salvation. And this was the reason why the Word was made flesh, and manifested to men. The Word then is substantial and uncreated light, formally, ideally, and as the cause of all light, whether corporeal or spiritual, of grace and of glory. God, accordingly, is said to be clothed with light (Ps 104), to be the Father of lights (James 1:17), and to dwell in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:16). For light is the noblest quality of matter, setting forth the glory and gifts of God’s illumination and grace. There are indeed very many and most beautiful resemblances between God and light. For the quality of light is its great swiftness and its efficacy, its purity, which is not soiled by anything it comes into contact with, bringing with it warmth, brightness, and gladness making everything visible, giving to all living things life and vigour. Such is the grace of God. Sin is the opposite, and is therefore symbolised by darkness. S. [Pseudo-Dionysius (Cælest. Hier. cap. xv.) gives thirty-one resemblances between light and the grace of God. And S. John Damascene (de Fide ii. n) compares the Holy Trinity to a parhelion, in which there appear to be three suns, though in reality there is but one. “He says the Godhead is indivisible, just as in these three suns, inseparably connected together, there is one and the same tempering and blending of light.” And [Pseudo-Dionysius represents the Holy Trinity by three lamps, illuminating a house as with one single indistinguishable brightness. And the light of the Deity, and the Trinity, bright as it is in itself, yet is obscure darkness to us, because the eyes of our mind are unable to gaze steadily on so brilliant and overpowering a light. This is also referred to by Pseudo-Dionysius. The Father then is the source of light; the Son, light proceeding directly from Him with equal and commensurate brightness; the Holy Spirit, as a reflected brightness, proceeding from the mutual and reflected love of the Father and the Son. The Gentiles had some shadowy notion of this, Parmenides denning God as a continuous circle of light, encompassing heaven, and Democritus, as mind in a fiery circle.

Christ, as God and the Word, is the formal uncreated light; as man, He is the created light, because He is full of wisdom, grace, and glory. He is also the causal light, as being the cause of all grace and glory in us. As S. John says, He is the light, because He enlightens every man that cometh into the world, and that not as giving them the light of reason (as Origen and S. Cyril suppose), but rather as giving them the supernatural light of faith and wisdom. Malachi terms Him the Son of righteousness. Manichseus was wrong ia supposing that the material sun was Christ (see S. Augustine, Tract, xxxiv. on S. John). Christ specially shone forth after His Incarnation, though He shone as a light even before that, as the dawn precedes the day. See S. Augustine (Tract, 1. on S.John, and Isa 49:6). Christ said Himself, I am the Light of the World. And Simeon also, Luke 2:32. S. Augustine (Hom, xliii. inter? [nunc cxxxv. ]) says beautifully, “Christ came as an illuminator, because the devil had blinded men. This chiefest Physician com pounded an eye-salve of infinite value to cure the blinded eyes. How healing was it, compounded of the Word and the flesh. But the eyes of man were so restored and enlightened, as to be equal to the eyes of angels, and to behold the heavenly glory of God Himself.” This light He imparted to the faithful, and especially to apostolic men, for them to become the light of the world (see Job 38; Ps 89) And as He said to His apostles, &q You are the light of the world. So John, speaking of S. John the Baptist, and so S. Paul writes to the Ephesians 5:5.

And in Him there is no darkness, darkness being the type of ignorance and sin. So Didymus and Œcumenius, who quotes John 1:5, and adds, “He calls our sinful flesh darkness, in which Christ was born, and yet was not partaker of sin.” As Moses, David, Habakkuk, and S. James 1:17 say of God. Our actions, however they shine, are not the light. But the Divine Essence is light. It was said of the holiest of men, He was not that Light (Jn 1:8); but of the Word of
God, it was said, That was the true Light, &c (Jn 1:9). And S. Gregory Nazianzen (Orat. xl.) says, “God is that highest and unapproachable Light, which cannot be conceived in the mind, or expressed in words, enlightening every nature which is endowed with reason, in matters intelligible to the mind, as the sun does in objects of sense, presenting itself more clearly to our comprehension, the more carefully we have cleansed our minds from sin, and as one who is the more greatly loved, the more we contemplate Him, and lastly, as one who is better known the more we love Him.”

All this indicates the truth of John s words, that God is light perfectly unblended with darkness, and that light of the understanding, which enlightens the eyes of our soul to discern it, by withdrawing it from all material objects, exciting all our affections to desire it, and it alone.

This corresponds with John 1:4: The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. Of which S. Gregory Nyssen (Orat. de Nativ.) remarks, “His purity touched our filthiness, but was not defiled.” And S. Augustine (Epist. ad Honorat) says, “The Son of God is not absent even from the minds of the ungodly, though they see Him not, just as light is not seen when presented to the eyes of the blind. But the light of the Word shines in the darkness of ungodly men, by the light of reason, by the voices of created beings, which exclaim that there is a Creator who is to be venerated and loved, by the law of nature within in the mind, by the new law, by Scripture, by doctors and preachers, holy inspirations,” &c.

And hence S. Augustine (Tract, ii. in John) says, “Sink not into sin, and that sun will not sink to thee. If thou sinkest, He will sink to thee.”

The Gentiles seem to have seen this in a shadowy way. See S. Clement Alex., Strom. Lib. iv.

1Jn 1:6  If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth.

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie. See 2 Cor 6:14. To walk in darkness, is to live in sin, to add sin to sin. He here aims at the Gnostics, who, like the Lutherans and Calvinists, think that they are predestinate, and that they will certainly be saved, however sinfully they may live. And so too the Ebionites. Here observe sins are called darkness for various reasons, (1.) Darkness is a loss of light, sin is a loss of grace. (2.) Darkness causes us to stumble, so do sins cause us to stumble in the way of holiness. (3.) Those who work in the dark (owls) hate the light, so do sinners. John 3:20. (4.) Sins are the work of the prince of darkness. (5.) They are committed in the dark. (6.) Sins arise from blindness of heart. “This can be removed only by God, who enlightens our minds” (see S. Augustine, contr. Julian, lib. v.) This darkness is a sin and the punishment of sin. (7.) Sins darken the mind more and more; and (8.) they lead to everlasting darkness, and are called the shadow of death.

We lie, and do not the truth. The truth here meant is not mere speculative truth, but truth in act and deed. By truth we mean duty, and he who merely pretends to do it, is merely a masked hypocrite. (See Gregory Nyssen, Epist. ad Harm.) It is said of the devil that he abode not in the truth (John 8:44), because he fell from his first estate, and was a liar and the father of a lie.

1Jn 1:7  But if we walk in the light, as he also is in the light, we have fellowship one with another: And the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

But if we walk in the light (of reason, virtue, grace), going on from virtue to virtue, as He is in the light. He is in truth the very substantial and divine Light, and does all things in the light of wisdom, prudence, and divine holiness.

We have fellowship one with another, and consequently with God. S. Augustine truly said (Confess, iv. 9), “Blessed is he that loveth Thee, his friend in Thee, and his enemy on account of Thee. For he loses no friend to whom all men are dear in Him, who is never lost.” See Prov 4:18, and Phil 2:15. S. Augustine says (de Verb. Apost. Serm. xv.), “Ye see that we are wayfarers. What then is walking? It is in a word to make progress, lest ye should not understand this, and walk too slowly. Be ever displeased with what thou art, if thou wishest to arrive at that which as yet thou art not. For thou remainest in the spot where thou art satisfied to be. If thou sayest it is enough, thou art lost. Ever be adding somewhat, ever be walking, ever make progress. Do not tarry in the way, do not turn back. He tarries who is not going onward, he turns back who goes back to his old starting-place he who apostatises turns away from the path. A lame man who walks in the way, is better than a swift runner who goes astray from it.”

And the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin. But not so as to make us impeccable. It means that He has cleansed us from our sins by baptism, that He cleanses us (at the present time) from venial sins, and will cleanse us hereafter from the peril of mortal sins, and at last will cleanse in heaven from all concupiscence. S. John uses the present tense, as including both the past and future. (See S. Augustine and Bede in loc. and S. Jerome contra Pelag. Lib. ii.) Here note (1.) that God does not merely erase sins, but washes them away entirely. The Council of Trent (Sess. vi. chap. 6) says, “No one can be righteous unless the merits of Christ’s Passion are imparted to him,” &c. And Clement VI. (Extrav. Unigenitus) asserts that “one drop of Christ’s blood could have redeemed the whole world, as being the blood of the Word by hypostatic union.” S. Gregory Nazianzen says, “No miracle is comparable with that of our salvation, wherein a few drops of blood restored the whole world, and (as blood curdles milk) binds us all into one;” and S. Augustine, on Ps 65, “Ask ye what He purchased? See what He gave, and then find out what He purchased. The blood of Christ is the price. What did it purchase, save the whole world?”  “The blood of the Lord is the price of our life,” &c. And S. Ambrose (de Virg. Lib. iii.), “We have all things in Christ. Let every soul draw nigh to Him, whether suffering from bodily sins, or firmly fastened by the nails of worldly desire, or which is still imperfect, but yet is making progress in inward meditation, or being even perfect in many virtues is altogether in the power of God; and Christ is all things to us. If thou wishest to cure thy wound, He is thy Physician; if thou art burning with fever, He is a fountain of waters; if thou art burdened with guilt, He is thy righteousness; if thou needest help, He is thy strength; if thou fearest death, He is thy life; if thou longest for heaven, He is the way; if thou shrinkest from darkness, He is thy light; if thou seekest food, He is thy sustenance.”

The blood of Jesus Christ is put, by a metonymy, for the pouring forth His Blood. It follows that His blood cleanses us not physically but meritoriously. But see S. Thomas (3 part 9. 48, art. 6, and 9. 50, art. 6), who says that it has physically power to sanctify as being the physical instrument which God makes use of for our sanctification. But see the whole passage.

1Jn 1:8  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. Cajetan understands this of original sin, which we all contract from Adam, the Blessed Virgin alone excepted (see authorities quoted). (2.) Lyranus understands it of mortal sin, from which no one can dare to assert that he is free. (3.) Cardinal Hugo and others generally understand it of venial sin, into which we cannot help falling. See Conc. Irid. sess. iii. can. 23, where, however, the Blessed Virgin is counted as an exception. By speaking in the first person John includes himself and the other Apostles, for though they were so strengthened by grace that they could not sin mortally, yet they did sin venially. And how much more are we guilty, and how constantly should we humble ourselves and sorrow for our sins. Others regard it as speaking of the punishment of sin, others of concupiscence which remains even in those who are regenerate and justified. See Conc. Indent. But we may include all sin under one general statement, the word have comprehending both past and future time. We have had original sin, and we have, or shall have, some actual sin. In ver. 10 the past tense is used. S. John wishes to show that all are guilty of sin, and need redemption by Christ, for he says, If we say that we have no sin, &c. But though these words may be taken as referring to all sin, yet properly and directly they speak of actual sin, whether mortal or venial. For he speaks of our confessing our sins, which refers only to actual sins. The meaning then is this, that we deceive ourselves if we assert that we are free from any actual sin. It is thus understood by the Council of Millois, S. Jerome, S. Basil, S. Gregory (Mor. xviii. 4), and many others. S. James 3:2 supports this view. Both S. John and S. James refer to the heretics of their own day, who said that unbelief was the only sin, and that all things were pure to the believer, however foul his life. Luther and the Libertines taught the same, while the Beynards and Beguines considered they had attained to such perfection that they could not possibly sin, under whatever temptation. Pelagius taught that all sins could be avoided by the power of nature alone. Durandus (in Part ii. Dist. xxviii. q. 3) had much the same opinion, viz., that all deliberate venial sins could be avoided, but not all such as come upon us by surprise. See Eccles 7:20, and Prov 24:16. It is then our humiliation to own ourselves sinners, and to pray daily in our Lord’s words,  Forgive us our trespasses. S. Augustine (de Nat. et Gratia, cap. xxxvi.) says, “With the exception of the Virgin Mary (respecting whom I do not wish, for the honour of the Lord, to raise any question about sin, for we know that more grace was given her to overcome sin of every kind, to whom it was vouchsafed to conceive and bear Him who, it is admitted, had no sin) with her exception, if we were to question all those holy men and women, when they were living here, what, think you, would be their answer? that which this man, or what the apostle John, said? would they not say, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves?” And so too S. Gregory (Hom, xxxix. on the Gospels): “If then thou art elated by thy learning, thy wealth, &c., knowest thou who thou art? Thou art a sinner. Knowest thou what sin is? It is the greatest vileness, the greatest misery of man, the greatest evil to the world, for it is in the highest measure opposed to the highest good. It is the greatest contempt of God, the greatest ingratitude, the greatest hatred of God, the greatest offence to Him. It is Christicide, nay Deicide. For if God could be killed, sin would be the weapon.”

Cassian (Collet, xxxii. cap. 19.) gives an example from prayer, in which there is scarce any one who does not wander in thought, and thus commit a venial sin. But he seems to say that anything which withdraws us, even against our wills, from continual contemplation of God, is a sin; and therefore he must be read with caution. But he must be understood to speak of the evil of punishment, from which however there frequently arises the evil of guilt.

We deceive ourselves, and moreover are deceived in our own minds: to the ruin of our soul. For he who thinks he is free from sin, neglects to seek a remedy for that sin, for which he will be punished. And moreover, he proudly contradicts Scripture, which says that we all are sinners, and does away with the grace and passion of Christ, in saying that he does not need to be cleansed by His Blood.

And the truth is not in us. That is, we lie. S. Augustine (commenting on Eccles 7, in Sententiis Sent. 365) says, “He who is just overmuch, becomes unjust over much. For who is he who makes himself just, but he who says that he has no sin?

1Jn 1:9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all iniquity.

If we confess. S. John here suggests a remedy for sin, namely, its sincere acknowledgment, and humble confession, and penance, for by this is the Blood of Christ applied to us, to cleanse us from it. But what is the kind of confession which he requires? a general confession made to God, or a special confession to a Priest? S. John seems to require both of those, a general confession for lighter sins, special confession for grave ones. Mortal sins must be confessed, not only to God, but to the Priest, who has power to for give (John 20:23). See Bellarmine, de Pænit. i. 13, iii. 4. As S. Cyprian says (Serm, de Lapsis): “In this way do they remove the burden of their mind, and seek for a salutary remedy for such small and slight wounds.” And Tertullian (de Pænit. ch. 3) says, “Confession removes the burden of sins, just as concealment adds to it.” He then sets forth the acts of penance; as sackcloth and ashes, simple food, frequent fasts, tears and sighs, &c. As S. Chrysostom briefly says, “Penitence is contrition of heart, confession with the lips, and humility in every act.”

See here the great benefit of confession, in appeasing God’s wrath, and obtaining His grace. (See Is a43:26, sec. LXX., and Ps 51:4, Ps 32:5). Origen, on Ps 37[38], says that it is like a vomit, which relieves the overloaded stomach. And S. Diadochus says that it is the best remedy against sin for “religious” to confess to their spiritual director; and S. Francis, quoting S. Augustine (Sentent.), says, “If thou excusest thyself, God accuses thee; and if thou accusest thyself, He excuses thee.” Besides this, S. John teaches us that as we sin frequently, we should confess frequently, for trifling sins, if neglected, become great ones, “as many drops fill a river, and many grains make up a mass.” And what difference is it, whether a ship be sunk with one huge wave, or by the gradual oozing in of water, through a neglected leak? See Sirach 19:1. And as S. Gregory says, “If we neglect to cure small faults, we are insensibly led on to boldly commit greater ones;”  and again, “He who neglects to sorrow for and avoid even the least sins, does not fall suddenly from a state of grace, but, by little and little, he falls entirely away. Those then who frequently fall away in little things, should seriously consider that sometimes we sin more grievously in a little fault than in a greater one. For the greater it is, the more quickly do we discover that it is a fault, and therefore more speedily correct it, whereas a smaller fault is counted as nothing, and is therefore more fatally and more unconcernedly persevered in. And frequently a mind accustomed to lesser faults dreads not greater ones.”

He (God) is faithful. Because He who told us to pray for forgiveness of our sins promised that His fatherly forgiveness and pardon would follow. (S. Cyprian, de Orat. Dom.)

And just. (1) How is this? He is not bound as an act of justice to forgive sins even to him who is penitent. It is of His mere mercy and clemency. But it is fitting and an act worthy of God to forgive the sin of a penitent, both because He promised to do so, as the reward of penitence (see John 20:23, Ezek 18:32, and else where) His promise is a debt which ought to be paid as well as being in accordance with Divine goodness. “It is just for Thee, O God, to spare the wicked: it is also just to punish them,” says S. Anselm (in Prosolog. cap. ix. and x.) Some accordingly explain just as compassionate, compassion being most accordant with God’s nature, and penitence in its very nature is a disposition towards reconciliation and grace.

(2) He is just because Christ has by this death merited pardon for us, and God has promised it Him. The remission of our sins is due to Christ and not to ourselves. And Christ communicates His merits to the sinner, and makes them his, so that he can offer them as his own to God. And God is just in accepting this ransom. This rule of justice, properly speaking, is with reference to Christ, not to ourselves. For otherwise we (and not Christ) should be our own redeemers, which is impious and a wrong to Christ.

(3) Suarez says, rather too subtilly (3 p. disp. xi. sect, r, conc. 3), “He is faithful, whence He forgives penitents their more mortal sins, but just when He condones the venial sins of the righteous, because they deserve this by their deserts” (de condigno). (See S. Augustine, de Corrupt, and Grat. cap. xiii.).

(4) God is in a certain way is just when He forgives one who is penitent and confesses his mortal sins, because this is a kind of satisfaction. Just as an offender who vilifies his neighbour, by humbling himself and asking pardon, and the offended person is bound in justice to accept this satisfaction, so does the penitent make some kind of satisfaction to God when he humbly confesses his faults, and especially if he does so from true and perfect contrition. For contrition, proceeding as it does from the love of God above all things, is a kind of compensation for the wrong and slight he has done to God by preferring the creature to Him. For the love which loves God above all things compensates for the hatred felt towards Him, as the honour paid Him makes up for the former contempt and slight, though not to an equal extent. And therefore it is just in a certain measure that God should pardon the sinner for some such acts as these. And for this reason penitence is counted by theologians as closely allied to justice, and as its effective part. Nay, Durandus (in 4 Dist. 14 q.) thinks that penitence is reciprocal justice, inasmuch as the theological virtues enjoin it to make due satisfaction (as far as it can) for its offence. But others on every side more truly suppose that penitence is a special virtue distinct from strict justice, and all other moral virtues. Richard (in 4 Dist. art. 1. q. 2) adds, that the merits of Christ being granted, penitence can in strictness, as an act of justice, make satisfaction for sin. And (on Dist. xvii. art. 2, Qncest. 7) he asserts that contrition, if it precedes remission of sins, merits it by desert (ex condigno). And so also others teach that contrition stands on the same level as mortal sin, and can by itself make satisfaction for it. And they derive that from S. Thomas own principles; for he teaches (1, 2 q. 113, art. 8) that in the justification of a sinner, sanctifying grace is infused prior to contrition and remission of sin. In this he is followed by many of his disciples. But the general opinion is otherwise, namely, that contrition does not result from sanctifying, but from prescient grace. For since contrition disposes us for receiving sanctifying grace, it cannot result from it, but necessarily precedes it (see Conc. Triden. sess. vi. chap. 6, 7, and 8), and consequently teaches that we are justified freely, and do not merit that justification which includes remission of sins. (See authorities quoted.)

And to cleanse its from all iniquity. Sin and unrighteousness are here used synonymously.

1Jn 1:10  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar: and his word is not in us.

If we say that we have not sinned, &c. (1) By original sin, and (2) by actual sin. This no one questions. S. John probably refers to venial sins. He uses the past tense, as speaking to those who had been converted from heathenism, and who in that state had committed many grievous sins. Again, among those who had been brought to Christ many deferred their baptism till the last, and were consequently termed “clinics”. The Fathers severely condemn them. But those who were baptized as children, had committed (as adults) many venial sins, at least. The Apostle therefore speaks to all in the past tense, as wishing to warn them for the future, that (as having been regenerate) they should carefully abstain from sin, as he says in the next chapter.

We make Him a liar. Because God says in Scripture that all men are sinners and do not live without sin. See Eccles 7:20; Prov 14:6 ; Ps 142:2; James 3:2, and elsewhere, and in the Lord’s Prayer.

And His word is not in us. We do not understand, or embrace, or retain its true doctrine, or anyhow we forget it. We do not believe Scripture, which says that we are all liable to sin. So S. Clement, Didymus, Cajetan, and others. But the Gloss understands by His Word His Son Jesus Christ; and says that He abides not in us, because from our unbelief and pride we overthrow the mystery of redemption, and say that we do not need, nor ever needed, a Redeemer. Or it may mean the word which God has said (“the greater thou art, humble thyself the more,” Sirach 3:20) abideth not in us. For we do the exact contrary, and being of no account, and sinners, we wish to be great, and incapable of sin.

1Jn 2:1  My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin. But if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just.

My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin. At the end of the last chapter it was said that all who were grown up had sinned, either mortally as heathens, or venially as Christians. But he now exhorts them one by one to be most watchful against the sins they committed as heathens, and to abstain as far as they could from venial sins. For though it be impossible to avoid them collectively, yet it is possible to avoid them one by one, especially such as are committed not by surprise, but with previous consideration, and deliberately.

But if any man sin, we have an advocate. This anticipates the objection, what then will he do, who through human weakness has fallen into some unusual and shameful sin? He answers, he should not despair, or be cast down, because we have Christ as our advocate with our most loving Father, Christ who by presenting His death and sufferings which He underwent for us, will easily obtain our pardon, if we are truly penitent, for God is most merciful, and Christ’s merits are infinite. And just as the seventy of a wound or disease displays the skill and credit of the physician who cures them, so does the greatness of our sins which He heals, and in which He is a propitiator, set forth the greatness of Christ s mercy, grace, and redemption. As in the case of the Magdalene and S. Paul. See 1 Tim 1:15. Here observe Advocate means one who pleads our cause: in a forensic sense; and He is so 1. By displaying His wounds, and thus silently pleading His own merits. 2. Many, with great probability, assert that He is ever praying for us orally, being no longer a wayfarer on earth, but as having attained to his rest and claiming our pardon as His right. See Heb. 7:25, 9:12; John 14:16; Rom 7:3. Beza and others thence contend that the saints are not our advocates, and that we make them superior to Christ, if we regard them as such. But they reason falsely, for we know and profess that Christ is the Son of God, and that the Blessed Virgin and the Saints are immeasurably inferior to Him. But yet they intercede for us through His merits. See S. Irenseus, v. 29; S. Bernard, xii.; and on the whole question, Bellarmine, de Invocat. Sanct.

Jesus Christ the just. That is, (1) Innocent and holy, and who by His very sanctity is most loved of the Father, and desirous to be heard of Him. (2.) He who made a full satisfaction for our sins, paying a full ransom for them by His own Blood. He is then our righteous advocate in another sense, as pleading a righteous cause, as those who plead for gain. Whence Cassiodorus says (Epist. xi. 4.), “If in your zeal for advocacy ye have shone forth with the light of justice.” Such an one, then, is a good advocate amongst men, but not with God, since we ask of Him, not justice, but mercy and grace. And His is a tribunal of grace.

1Jn 2:2  And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.


And (i.e. because) He is the propitiation (the propitiator) for our sins. For by offering Himself on the Cross as a Victim for sins, He has made satisfaction for them, and reconciled the Father to us. This refers to the mercy-seat, which was above the ark (see Exodus 25:17), which represented Christ our Propitiator (see Rom 3:25.) S. Augustine (de Fide et Operibus) reads, “He is the entreater (exoratio) for our sins.” S. Cyprian reads deprecatio, John means that Christ is so powerful an advocate, that our case cannot fail in His hands, being Himself, by His very office, our redemption and propitiation, who made a full satisfaction for our sins.

So S. John says (Rev 1:5); and S. Leo (Serm, xii. de Passione), “The pouring forth of His righteous Blood for the unrighteous, was so powerful to gain this privilege, so fully sufficient to pay the price, that if the whole body of captives believed in their Redeemer, the bands of tyranny would not retain their hold of a single one . . . For though the death of the Saints was precious in the sight of the Lord, yet it was not the death of any innocent person that was the propitiation of the world. The righteous received crowns, they did not confer them. In the fortitude of the saints were exhibited examples of patience, not gifts of righteousness. They each died their own several deaths, and none of them dying discharged any other s debt than his own, since the Lord Jesus Christ stood forth alone among the sons of men, in whom all are crucified, all die, all are buried, and all moreover will be raised again.” For this cause S. Augustine and other saints who had sinned betook themselves to the wounds of Christ, and dwelt therein as in a refuge. See note on Zechariah 12. As S. Ambrose (pref. in Ps 35) says, “The Blood of Christ is fine gold, plenteous to redeem, and flowing forth to wash away every sin.”

And not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. Not for Jews only but for Gentiles, to whom Christ ordered the Gospel to be preached. Again, Christ is offered in the Sacrifice of the Mass for all men, excepting those who are excommunicated.



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St Augustine’s Homily on 1 John 1:1-4

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 24, 2011

This is part of a longer homily which encompasses 1 Jn 1:1-2:11. Text in red are my additions.

“That which was from the beginning. which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, and our hands have handled, of the word of life” (1 Jn 1:1).  Who is he that with hands doth handle the Word. except because “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt in us “? Now this Word which was made flesh that it might be handled, began to be flesh, of the Virgin Mary: but not then began the Word, for the Apostle saith, “That which was from the beginning.” See whether his epistle does not bear witness to his gospel, where ye lately heard, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God (John 1:1).  Perchance, “Concerning the word of life” on may take as a sort of expression concerning Christ, not the very body of Christ which was handled with hands. See what follows: “And the Life was manifested.” Christ therefore is “the word of life.” And whereby manifested? For it was “from the beginning,” only not manifested to men: but it was manifested to angels, who saw it and fed on it as their bread. But what saith the Scripture “Man did eat angels’ bread” (Ps 78:25) Well then “the Life was manifested” in the flesh; because it exhibited in manifestation, that that which can be seen by the heart only, should be seen by the eyes also, that it might heal the hearts. For only by the heart is the Word seen: but the flesh is seen by the bodily eyes also. We had wherewith to see the flesh, but had not wherewith to see the Word: “the Word was made flesh,” which we might see, that so that in us might be healed wherewith we might see the Word.

“And we have seen and are witnesses” (1 Jn 1:2). Perhaps some of the brethren who are not acquainted with the Greek do not know what the word “witnesses” is in Greek: and yet it is a term much used by all, and had in religious reverence; for what in our tongue we call “witnesses,” in Greek are “martyrs.” Now where is the man that has not heard of martyrs, or where the Christian in whose mouth the name of martyrs dwelleth not every day and would that it so dwelt in the heart also, that we should imitate the sufferings of the martyrs, not persecute them with our cups! (see note at end of post) Well then, “We have seen and are witnesses,” is as much as to say, We have seen and are martyrs. For it was for bearing witness of that which they had seen, and bearing witness of that which they had heard from them who had seen, that, while their testimony itself displeased the men against whom it was delivered, the martyrs suffered all that they did suffer. The martyrs are God’s witnesses. It pleased God to have men for His witnesses, that men also may have God to be their witness. “We have seen,” saith he, “and are witnesses.” Where have they seen? In the manifestation. What meaneth, in the manifestation? In the sun, that is, in this light of day. And how should He be seen in the sun who made the sun, except as “in the sun He hath set His tabernacle; and Himself t as a bridegroom going forth out of his chamber, exulted as a giant to run His course?” (Ps 19:4-5).  He before the sun (see Ps 110:3) who made the sun, He before the day-star, before all the stars, beforeall angels, the true Creator, (“for all thingswere made by Him, and without Him was nothing made,”) that He might be seen by eyes of flesh which see the sun, set His very tabernacle in the sun, that is, showed His flesh in manifestation of this light of day: and that Bridegroom’s chamber was the Virgin’s womb, because in that virginal womb were joined the two, the Bridegroom and the bride, the Bridegroom the Word, and the bride the flesh; because it is written, “And they twain shall be one flesh” (Gen 2:24); and the Lord saith in the Gospel, “Therefore they are no more twain but one flesh (Matt 19:6).  And Esaias (Isaiah) remembers right well that they are two: for speaking in the person of Christ he saith, “He hath set a mitre upon me as upon a bridegroom, and adorned me with an ornament as a bride” (Isa 61:10). One seems to speak, yet makes Himself at once Bridegroom and Bride; because “not two, but one flesh:” because “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt in us.” To that flesh the Church is joined, and so there is made the whole Christ, Head and body.

 “And we are witnesses, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us:” i.e., manifested among us: which might be more plainly expressed, manifested to us. “The things,” therefore, “which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you” (1 Jn 1:3). Those saw the Lord Himself present in the flesh, and heard words from the mouth of the Lord, and told them to us. Consequently we also have heard, but have not seen. Are we then less happy than those who saw and heard? And how does he add, “That ye also may have fellowship with us”? Those saw, we have not seen, and yet we are fellows; because we hold the faith in common. For there was one who did not believe even upon seeing, and would needs handle, and so believe, and said, “I will not believe except I thrust my fingers into the place of the nails, and touch His scars” (John 20:25-29).  And He did give Himself for a time to be handled by the hands of men, who always giveth Himself to be seen by the sight of the angels; and that disciple did handle, and exclaimed, “My Lord, and my God!” Because he touched the Man, he confessed the God. And the Lord, to console us who, now that He sitteth in heaven, cannot touch Him with the hand, but only reach Him with faith, said to him, “Because thou hast seen, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet believe. We are here described, we designated. Then let the blessedness take place in us, of which the Lord predicted that it should take place; let us firmly hold that which we see not; because those tell us who have seen. “That ye also,” saith he, “may have fellowship with us.” And what great matter is it to have fellowship with men? Do not despise it; see what he adds: “and our fellowship may be with God the Father, and Jesus Christ His Son. And these things, “saith he, “we write unto you, that your joy may be full” (1 Jn 1:4). Full joy he means in that fellowship, in that charity, in that unity.

NOTE:  we should imitate the sufferins of the Martyrs, not persecute them with our cups. A difficult Lain phrase is used here (Non calcibus persequamur) and translators have proposed different renderings. The phrasing used is similar to what is found in the last line of the Saint’s exposition of Psalm 60~Where are now the enemies of the Martyrs, except perchance that now drunken men with their cups do persecute (modò eos ebriosi calicibus persequuntur) those whom at that time frenzied men did use with stones to persecute? St Augustine, in saying we should imitate the sufferings of the Martyrs, not persecute them with out cups! seems to have in mind those Christians who were using the memorial day’s of the Martyrs to engage in “wantonness.” In his exposition of Psalm 70 he writes: There is then in this Psalm the voice of men troubled, and so indeed of Martyrs amid sufferings in peril, but relying on their own Head. Let us hear them, and speak with them out of sympathy of heart, though it be not with similarity of suffering. For they are already crowned, we are still in peril: not that such sort of persecutions do vex us as have vexed them, but worse perchance in the midsts of all kinds of so great scandals. For our own times do more abound in that woe, which the Lord cried: “Woe to the world because of scandals.” And, “Because iniquity hath abounded, the love of man shall wax cold.” For not even that holy Lot at Sodom suffered corporal persecution from any one, or had it been told him that he should not dwell there: the persecution of him were the evil doings of the Sodomites. Now then that Christ sitteth in Heaven, now that He is glorified, now that necks of kings are made subject to His yoke, and their brows placed beneath His sign, now that not any one remaineth to dare openly to trample upon Christians, still, however, we groan amid instruments and singers, still those enemies of the Martyrs, because with words and steel they have no power, with their own wantonness do persecute them. And O that we were sorrowing for Heathens alone: it would be some sort of comfort, to wait for those that not yet have been signed with the Cross of Christ; when they should be signed, and when, by His authority attached, they should cease to be mad. We see besides men wearing or their brow the sign of Him, at the same time on that same brow wearing the shamelessness of wantonness, and on the days and celebrations of the Martyrs not exulting but insulting. And amid these things we groan, and this is our persecution, if there is in us the love which saith, “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is scandalized, and I burn not?” Not any servant of God, then, is without persecution: and that is a true saying which the Apostle saith, “But even all men that will to live godly in Christ, shall suffer persecution.”  


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