The Divine Lamp

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

Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 John 2:18-21

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 28, 2011

1Jn 2:18  Little children, it is the last hour: and as you have heard that Antichrist cometh, even now there are become many Antichrists: whereby we know that it is the last hour.

Little children, it is the last hour.  The time is now at hand for the coming of Antichrist, as ye have often heard. Many antichrists have already come, which is a sign that the world is waxing old, and that your life in it cannot be long. Tear your mind away from the world, its vain and perishing pleasures, fix it entirely on heavenly and eternal things, and on God Himself (see Rom 13:11). And be also on your strict guard against all heretics and impostors. For this, says Œcumenius and Didymus very properly, leads every one to think about his own end as if his own last hour were at hand, and thus sobriety and purity of living prevail among Christians. See 1 Pet 3:14.

By the last hour is meant the last age of the world. See S. Augustine, Ep. lxxx. to Hesychius. It is the last age in regard to the duration of the world and its division into the three parts of the law of Nature, the law of Moses, and the law of grace, after which no other law or state is to be looked for, as the Jews still expect their Messiah. Œcumenius (after S. Chrysostom) adds it may mean the ‘worst’ age, as we say of a sick man that he is in extremis. And so too Ribera (in Heb. ix. num. cxiii. seq.) says, that it is the time of impostors and heretics. This exposition is most fitting and appropriate. So says the Gloss, Cajetan, Dionysius, and others.

But the word must be taken in a very wide sense. Some wrongly conjecture that as the first, under the law of nature, lasted for 2000 years, and so also the second period under the law, that it will be the same under the Gospel. The early Christians considered that Nero was Antichrist, and S. Cyprian thought that the end of the world was near in his time. See Epist. lib. iv. 6; and so too S. Jerome, de Monog.;  S. Gregory, Epist. iv. 38; and Lactantius, lib. vii. cap. 25. See notes on Rev. 20

The word ‘hour’ is used indefinitely. The phrase was familiar to S. John, who called the period an ‘hour,’ because it was very short. But in classic authors it signifies a period of time of any length, a season, e.g., as well as the hour of the day. See Isa 38:8.
Morally: Hence learn the shortness of life. For if this age of the world is only an hour, what a very small part of it is the life of any one! We are all creatures of an hour. The old have but a part of an hour to live; the young hope for a whole hour, but yet are cut off in its very beginning. As S. Jerome says, “A youth may die soon, an old man cannot live very long.”

This word then warns us to be very diligent in employing the time which is allotted us. Suppose a physician or a judge were to tell you to prepare to die—”you will certainly die an hour hence,” how anxiously would you clear your conscience, what acts of contrition and charity would you exercise, how would you expend all your goods in good works. Do the same now, for your life is but an hour. Or again, you are afflicted, are sick, are calumniated. Wait a while. It is but for an hour, and after that you pass to a blessed eternity. See 1 Cor. i. 29. Melania, a very wealthy noble lady, persuaded her people, by this text of S. John, to sell all they had, and to go to the Holy Land. For she used frequently to say (as indeed she thought) that the world was about to perish. She went to Jerusalem, and died forty days after, and the Barbarians laid waste the city. This took place under Alaric, A.D. 410.

S. Basil (in Moral. Reg. lxxx cap. 21) says, “It is the duty of a Christian to watch every day and hour, and to be thus ready for that perfection by which he can please God, as knowing that the Lord will come at an hour he expects not.”

Antichrist cometh. See on this the notes on 2 Thess 2:7.

Even now there are become many Antichrists. Those who are against Christ and true forerunners of Antichrist, because they impugn equally with the faith, the Church, the sacraments of Christ, nay His very nature and person. As Ebion, Cerinthus, &c., and their followers, of whom S. Paul says “the mystery of iniquity is already worketh” (2 Thess 2:7). See note on passage. Rabanus (apud S. Augustine) [vol. vi. append.] says, “Antichrist has many ministers of his malignity. For every one, layman or canon or monk, who lives not righteously, and violates the authority of his order, and speaks against that which is good, is an antichrist, a minister of Satan.” Heretics are antichrists, as S. Hilary called Constantius. See note on 1 Pet 3:14.

Whereby we know that it is the last hour.  For we see the heretics who are his forerunners, just as when we see a king’s outrider, we know that he is near, or that the dawn shows that the sun is about to rise. “Many antichrists,” as Œcumenius says, “go before the one Antichrist, and prepare for him the way.”

1Jn 2:19  They went out from us but they were not of us. For if they had been of us, they would no doubt have remained with us: but that they may be manifest, that they are not all of us.

They went out from us but they were not of us, (either real or pretended) Catholics; and a heretic is one who apostatises from the faith of Christ which he once embraced, and lapses into heresy. See S. Cyprian, Epist. i. 8, and de Unit. Eccl.: “Bitterness cannot co-exist with sweetness, darkness with light, rain with clear weather, strife with peace, barrenness with fertility, drought with gushing water, storm with calm. Let none imagine that good men can forsake the Church; the wind does not sweep away the wheat, nor does the storm throw down a tree which is firmly rooted—the chaff is blown away with the storm, and trees weakly rooted are cast down by the violence of a whirlwind,” &c. And S. Jerome says [Lib. i. in Jerem.], “They go out in order that they may openly worship that which they used to venerate in secret.” And S. Augustine (in loc.) “Ye will understand, from the Apostle’s own exposition, that none can go away but antichrists, but that they who are not contrary to Christ can in no wise go out. For he who is not contrary to Christ abideth in His Body, and is counted a member of it.” “They are (he adds afterwards) as evil humours, and just as the body is relieved when they are removed, so is the Church relieved when they go forth, and when the body casts them forth it says, They were not of me, they only weighed on my chest when they were within me.”

For if they had been of us, they would no doubt have remained with us. They were not genuine Christians. They had not Christian virtue and constancy boldly to resist all temptations, so that when persecution came on them, they gave up the faith and became apostates, as grass is dried up by the heat of the sun. As was said of Joseph and Azarias (1 Macc. 5:62), that “they were not of the seed of those by whom deliverance was wrought in Israel.” As the Romans said of traitors that they were not Romans, or as Saul reviled Jonathan
(1 Sam 20:30). As S. Augustine says here, “Temptation proves that they are not of us, for when it comes they fly away as not being sound grain.” As he says of Judas (Tract. 1. on John), “He did not at that particular time become wicked when he betrayed the Lord. He was a thief even when he followed the Lord, for he followed Him with the body only, and not in heart.” And again (in. loc.), “Every one is of his own will either an antichrist, or in Christ; either one of His members, or among the evil humours. He that changeth himself for the better is a member of the Body, but he that abideth in his wickedness is an evil humour, and when he is gone out, they who were oppressed will be relieved.

2. Many explain these words, ‘they were not of us,’ as referring to the free knowledge and predestination of God. They were not thus predestinated and elected, because it was foreseen that they would fall, for everything future is foreseen by God. This does not refer to election to eternal blessedness.  S. John did not wish to touch on this mystery, especially because so many who have fallen from the faith have in the end returned to it. And on the other hand there are many reprobates who are still in the Church who are not predestined to glory. But S. Augustine (de bono persever. cap. viii.) understands it of those who are predestined to glory, and of those who (it is foreseen) will perish. Now almost all heresiarchs (excepting only Berengarius), when they have once left the Church, never return to it again, and are consequently foreknown to be reprobates. But we must avoid the error of those who infer from this that the reprobation of God is the cause of their leaving the Church, and subsequent condemnation: a charge which the Semipelagians falsely urged against S. Augustine. He defends himself thus, “They went out voluntarily, they fell voluntarily, and because it was foreseen they would fall, they were not predestinated; but they would have been predestinated, if so be they were to return, and abide in holiness. And in this way predestination is to many a cause of their remaining stedfast, to none is it a cause of their falling.” (Art. xii. in art. sibi falso impositis).

3. Some explain the words thus, “They were not of us,” because, before they openly withdrew from the Church they had secretly withdrawn from it. Heresy is the very height of impiety, and is reached but gradually. See S. Cyprian, Epist. i. 8, and de Unit. Eccl.; and S. Cyril, Catech. vi.

Catherinus and Melchior Canus take the word ‘us’ to mean the Apostles. But this is too narrow a meaning. & John speaks of Christians in general. S. John here warns his disciples not to be alarmed if they saw even bishops become apostate (see Acts 20:3O). Salmeron thinks that of the hundred and twenty who received the Holy Ghost at the day of Pentecost fourteen became heresiarchs. See, too, S. Vincent of Lerius and Tertullian, de Præscript. ch. i. And at the same time he warns them to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. See also Rom 11:20.

But that they may be manifest, that they are not all of us. God allowed this to show their inconsistency and want of faith, and to teach the faithful to avoid them. See 1 Cor 11:19.

Beza has no ground for inferring from this that the faithful could never fall away. It means only that their falling away was a sign that they were not firmly rooted in the faith. S. Augustine says their apostacy was a sign that they were not of the number of the predestinate and elect.

1Jn 2:20  But you have the unction from the Holy One and know all things.

But you have the unction from the Holy One, and know all things, so that it is not necessary to speak at greater length to these antichrists. By the word ‘unction’ he refers to Antichrist, and also to Christ (the anointed One). See also what Christ Himself says, John 16:13.

But what is this ‘unction‘? (1.) Œcumenius and S. Jerome on Habakkuk 3. and S. Cyril Alex. say ‘baptism,’ when we are anointed on our head. (2.)  S. Cyril of Jerus. says, ‘the sacrament of confirmation,’ when we are anointed on our forehead. (3.) Em. Sa. says, ‘the profession of Christianity;’ others the Christian faith, grace, the gift of wisdom and understanding; others the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But they all come to the same point, for in these various ways you will learn all the duties and doctrines of Christianity, and to discern and avoid heretics as opposed to Christ. The word unction stands for the ointment or oil, not for the mere transient act of anointing. In the Greek it is χζίσμα. It has reference to the name of Christ, and the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, which used to be given immediately after baptism as its complement and perfection.  S. Cyril accordingly understands it to refer to confirmation, so also does Turrianus, and Bellarmine, de Confim. lib. ii. capp. 5 et 8. For by anointing is here to be understood, not so much sanctifying grace, as the gift of wisdom and understanding. (See S. Gregory, Mor. v. 19 (al. 20), S. Irenæus iv. 43). For this gift was bestowed at first on baptized persons. Acts 2:6, Acts 10:46, Acts 19:6; 1 Cor 14. And it is even now given in baptism (Isa 11:1), though not so abundantly. The word also relates to the royal priesthood, which S. Peter (1 Peter2:9) ascribes to all Christians. For as in old time prophets, priests, and kings were anointed to their office, so do Christians when anointed in baptism and confirmation receive grace, to rule themselves as kings; to foresee future good and evil, as prophets; and to present, as priests, the offerings of good works. So that this gift of the, Holy Spirit, conferred by the outward anointing, will teach Christians everything which concerns Christian life and conduct. For these reasons S. John rejoices in the word ‘unction,’ as representing Christ and His ‘love,’ of which it is said (Son 1:2), “Thy name is like ointment poured forth;” and S. John was, in consequence of his constant preaching of Christ, thrown about this time into a caldron of boiling oil, but escaped unhurt as having been strengthened by the anointing of Christ. See also Psa 45:8; Isa 61:1; Acts 10:38. S. Athanasius (Epist. ad Serap.) says that this ointment is the Holy Spirit with all His gifts and graces. For in justification is infused not only grace and charity, but the Holy Spirit Himself. See Rom 5:5; Conc. Trid. Sess. vi. cap. 7. And S. Augustine (in loc.) says, This spiritual anointing is the Holy Spirit Himself, and the outward anointing is the sacrament thereof. So, too, in the “Veni Creator,” we read of the ‘Anointing Spirit.’ The Holy Spirit then, inhabiting, enlightening, and directing the soul, teaches it at the fitting time all things befitting its salvation. S. Clement (Const. Apost.

1Jn 2:21  I have not written to you as to them that know not the truth, but as to them that know it: and that no lie is of the truth.

Lapide offers no comment on this verse.

One Response to “Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 John 2:18-21”

  1. […] Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (1 John 2:18-21). […]

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