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

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.


One Response to “Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on 1 John 2:3-11”

  1. […] Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (1 John 2:3-11). […]

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