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 3:11-21

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 31, 2011

1Jn 3:11  For this is the declaration which you have heard from the beginning, that you should love one another.

For this is the declaration, ever to be announced by us the Apostles of Christ. It is the message of good tidings, which Christ brought from heaven. He might have exacted from us many hard and painful sufferings. But He is satisfied if we love each other. And what is more joyous, pleasant, and easy than this? For as God ordered us to love our brethren, He orders our brethren to love us in return—love in this way eliciting and demanding love. See John 15:12. On which S. Augustine remarks that charity is here distinguished from mere human love. We should love men, not merely as men, but as we love ourselves as the children of the Most Highest.

1Jn 3:12  Not as Cain, who was of the wicked one and killed his brother. And wherefore did he kill him? Because his own works were wicked: and his brother’s just.

Not as Cain. For he loved himself only, and hated his brother because he saw that his offering was acceptable to God. As God says to Cain (according to LXX), “Hast thou not sinned, if thou offerest rightly, but dividest not rightly?” “For Cain did this,” says S. Augustine (de Civ. xv. 7), “giving to God something which was His, but gratifying himself. Which,” says he, “all who do not follow the will of God, but their own will, and in their perversity of heart make Him an offering with which they think He can be bought off, and this too even to gratify their depraved desires.” And accordingly Eusebius (de Præp. xi. 4) says that he was appositely called Cain from the Hebrew word kana to envy. See S. Gregory, Mor. x. 6;  S. Chrysostom, in Matt. 18., where he speaks of nine degrees of love; and S. Augustine (de Doct. Christ, i. 22), who says, “The rule of love is laid down by God. And in saying ‘the whole heart,’ &c., He left no portion of our life unemployed, and left no room for the enjoyment of ought beside. So that whatever else comes into our minds as an object of love, it should be swept away into the full current of our complete love for Him. He then who loves his neighbours aright, should at the same time love God with all his heart and mind. And thus loving his neighbour as himself, he should refer all his love of himself and his neighbour to that love of God, who suffers not a single drop to be withdrawn from Him, so as to diminish our love for Him.”

Who was of the wicked one. Cain was not of God, but of the devil, by imitating him, and listening to his suggestions. For when the devil could not injure God Himself, he sought to injure man who was His image; the malignity of Cain, and of the devil also, consists in hatred and envy. Such too is the life of tyrants, who like fishes prey upon those who are weaker than themselves. A fish was a type of envy. (See S. Clement, Strom. lib, v.)

And wherefore did he kill him? Because his own works were wicked. Because he took little account of God, and offered Him the poorer victims, reserving the better ones for himself, and, moreover, envied Abel, who by the more excellent offerings he made was the more acceptable to God. From this envy sprang hatred and ultimately murder. S. Cyprian dwells on this at great length in his treatise “de zelo et livore.”

And his brother’s (works were) just. Innocent, righteous, and holy. For he esteemed God above himself, and therefore presented the best offerings he could. There were three special grounds for praising him, his virgin life, his priesthood, and his martyrdom. (As the writer of the Quastiones ad Orosun says); and S. Cyprian (de Bono Patiant.) calls him the Protomartyr. So also Rupert in Isa. lix.;  S. Jerome iv. 42.;  S. Augustine (contr. Faust, xii. 9 and 10), and others.  S. Augustine commences his “City of God” from Abel, and the city of the devil from Cain. See Book xv. 8.

1Jn 3:13  Wonder not, brethren, if the world hate you.

This is an inference from the previous antithesis of the children of God, and the children of the devil. Our Lord alludes to the hatred of wicked men against Christ in S. John 15:18. Everything is opposed to and hates its contrary, as black is opposed to white, cold to heat, sweetness to bitterness, &c. The world hates the faithful—1st Because their ways of going on are so different. See Wisdom 2:15. And S. Leo (Serm. ix. de Quadrig.), “Wickedness never is at peace with righteousness. Drunkenness ever hates temperance, &c.; and so obstinate is this opposition, that when there is peace without there is war within, so that it never ceases to disquiet the hearts of the righteous; and it is true that they who wish to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution, and that our whole life is a temptation.” And he gives as another reason the craft and malice of the devil, who when he cannot overpower our virtue would undermine our faith.

2d. There is further the envy which worldlings feel when they see that the righteous are not ensnared by their evil desires, but are stedfastly going on towards heaven, while they themselves are sinking down and down to hell.

3d. They hate the righteous, because they withdraw themselves from their company. See Matt 15:18; Wisdom 2:16.

4th. Because their conduct is a tacit reproof to the worldly. See Wisdom 2:12; and John 15:8.

5th. Worldlings are full of self-love, but Saints are full of the love of God, for which reason they hate them.

S. James (James 4:4) agrees with S. John, and so does S. Paul, Gal 1:10. Tertullian and others read here, “Be not afraid,” for some not only marvelled, but were afraid of the hatred they would incur in becoming Christians. S. John therefore exhorts them not to be surprised or afraid, for those whom the world hates God loves. “It would be a greater wonder,” says Didymus, “if wicked men did love those who were godly.” We must not therefore in the least regard the hatred of such persons, but rather persevere in holiness and love of God, and make it our endeavour to make them our friends when they hear that we surpass them in charity.

As S. Peter says, 1Pe_4:12. And Sencea (de Prov. cap. i.) says, “God brings not up a good man in delicate ways; He makes trial of him, He hardens him, and thus prepares him for Himself, while the man himself considers all misfortunes as means of training, and as teaching him how much his patience can bear.” And S. Basil (adm. ad filii spirit) says that “Patience is the highest virtue of the mind, enabling us most speedily to attain the height of perfection.”  S. Augustine gives the reason, that God, through the hatred of the world, may draw us on to love Himself. “Oh the unhappiness of mankind! The world is bitter, and yet is loved. But how much more would it be loved, if it were sweet! How gladly wouldest thou gather its flowers, since thou withdrawest not this hand even from its thorns.”

1Jn 3:14  We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not abideth in death.

We know that we have passed from death to life. Not because we believe that we are predestinated, but as a moral certainty, by the testimony of a good conscience, by the innocency of our life, and the consolation of the Holy Spirit.  S. John says this for their consolation and to keep them from dreading the hatred of the world. Be comforted by the thought, that by faith ye have been translated from the death of sin to a state of grace in this world, and in the world to come to glory, which will raise us above all hatred. And the clear proof of this is that we love the brethren. For this love is an undoubted sign and effect of sanctifying grace, and of the Holy Spirit Himself, from whom, as from an uncreated source, all love proceeds.  S. Basil truly says, “When can a man be fully persuaded that God has remitted his sins? When he finds that his feelings are like his who said, ‘I have hated and abominated iniquity’ (Ps 119:163).”

He gives here three signs of indwelling grace and righteousness. (1.) Hatred of sin; (2.) mortifying the flesh, and all evil desires; and (3.) zeal for the salvation of others, like S. Paul (2 Cor 11:29). And S. Gregory (Dial. i. 1), “The mind which is filled with the Divine Spirit, furnishes its own proofs, viz., virtuous actions and humility. And if those perfectly co-exist in the same mind, it is clear that they witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit.” And S. Leo (Serm. de Epiph. viii.) gives these three signs of grace and sanctity, humility, forgiveness of injuries, and doing as we would be done by. And “let every one who is such, doubt not that God rules and dwells within him.”

He who loveth not (when he ought, or he who hates) abideth in death, with the stain of habitual sin, which abides after the act of sin is over; and from this he cannot escape, except by the grace of Christ, says Thomas Anglicus. But how the soul though immortal can yet die through sin, S. Augustine explains (de Civ. iii. 1), “The death of the soul takes place when God forsakes it, just as, the body dies when the soul leaves it. It is then the entire death of a man, when the soul which has been forsaken of God, leaves the body, for in this case it does not itself live by God, nor does the body live through it.” And in like manner S. Cyril Alex. says, “Death, properly speaking, is not that which separates body and soul, but that which separates the soul from God. God is life, and he who is cut off from Him, perishes.”

Nay more, this death of the soul is absolutely termed death in our deeper teaching, for that death of the body which we dread so much is but a shadow and image of that true death, and not to be compared with it. See S. Gregory (Mor. iv. 17). And S. Augustine (de Civ. vi. cap. ult.), “If the soul lives in everlasting punishment, it should rather be called everlasting death, and not life.” And S. Basil (Hom. v. on the Martyr Julitta) says, “Sin is the death of the soul, which would else be immortal. It deserves to be lamented with inconsolable grief,” &c, And S. Jerome, on Isa. xiv. (Lib. vi.), terms a sinner “the devil’s carcase, for no one can doubt that sin is a most fœtid thing, when the sinner himself says, ‘My wounds stink and are corrupt.'”

1Jn 3:15  Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer. And you know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in himself.

Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer. As he said before, “He that loveth not abideth in death.”  S. John counts ‘not loving’ and ‘hating’ as the same thing, by miosis, when little is said, but more is meant, and also because want of love is counted as constructive hatred. Moreover, he who hates his brother is in will and desire a murderer. See S. Jerome (Epist. xxxvi. ad Castorin.) and S. Matt 5:28, and hatred moreover disposes to murder, as desire disposes to adultery.

Mystically: He who hates his brother murders his own soul. As S. Ambrose says, “He who hates murders himself in the first place, slaying himself with his own sword.” And S. Gregory (Hom. x. 11) says the same thing more at length. Again, ” he who hates his brother, ofttimes destroys his soul, by provoking him to anger and contention.”

[Pseudo]-Alexander says, “He who calumniates his brother is a murderer, and no murderer hath any part in the kingdom of God.” For, as Dionysius says, there are three kinds of murder, Bodily, Detraction, and Hatred.

No murderer hath eternal life abiding in himself. Hath not grace abiding in him, nor doth he abide in that grace whereby eternal life is obtained. It is a metonymy, say Cajetan and others. Or else he will not have eternal life; he cannot have it, the present being taken for the future tense. Which comes to this, He who hateth, hath no hope of eternal life, but abideth in the death of sin. As S. Augustine says (Præf. in Ps. xxxi.), “As an evil conscience is full of despair, so is a good conscience full of hope; as Cain said, ‘From Thy face shall I be hid, and shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth,'” &c.; as S. Jerome says, “Whosoever finds me out, from the trembling of my body and the agitation of my mind, will know that I deserve to die.” Just as Orestes for the murder of his mother was continually harassed by the Furies.

1Jn 3:16  In this we have known the charity of God, because he hath laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

S. John here goes back to the law and living pattern of perfect charity, even Christ, who by laying down His life for us, taught us in like manner to lay down our lives for the brethren. For in Him there shone forth that boundless love which far exceeds the love of all parents and kinsfolk. For He, the Infinite God, laid down His life for us unworthy and ungrateful sinners, with great suffering and shame to Himself, and thus tacitly gave us a pattern for us to imitate, by laying down our lives for the brethren.

But yet we must not risk our own salvation in order to save the souls of others, though we are bound to risk our life for their salvation, which is of more value than our own earthly life, which we must undoubtedly sacrifice for the eternal good of others, as S. Paul did and the other martyrs.

But you will ask, are we bound to risk our own lives for the sake of the lives of others? In ordinary cases, No, but in extraordinary cases, Yes. As when bound by oath or promise, or in defence of our country. But a friend is not bound to risk his own life for that of his friend, since that would be to love his neighbour even more than himself, which, S. Augustine says (de Mend. cap. 10), goes beyond the rule laid down. But yet to do so would be laudable, for a man would risk his life for the sake of honour, and for the virtue of friendship. And this is a spiritual good, higher than life itself. So S. Augustine teaches (de Amic. cap. 10); and S. Jerome on Micah vii. says, “When a man was asked, What is a friend? he replied, ‘A second self.’ And accordingly two Pythagoreans gave themselves up to the tyrant as mutual pledges for each other.” (See S. Ambrose, Off. lib. iii.; Fr. Victoria, Relect. de Homicid.;  Soto, de Just. i. 6;  and S. Thomas, 2. 2, q. 26, art. 4, ad 2). And Valentia adds this case, “Ought a man to suffer himself to be killed rather than kill his assailant?” And he rules that he ought rather to be killed himself, than kill another who would die in the very act of sin. We should also risk our life to preserve another’s chastity. As the soldier who saved Theodora by changing clothes with her in prison, and who in the end suffered with her. And Paulinus, who became a slave in the place of a widow’s son (slavery being a kind of civil death), and who was highly praised for his act by S. Augustine and other fathers.

Instances are also given from heathen authors of those who gave up their lives for their friends, which is the highest proof of love. See John 15:13.

1Jn 3:17  He that hath the substance of this world and shall see his brother in need and shall shut up his bowels from him: how doth the charity of God abide in him?

He deduces this as a consequence from the former verse. It is an argument from the less to the greater. If the love of Christ obliges us to lay down our lives for the brethren (which is most difficult), much more does it oblige us to give alms to the needy, which is most easy. And again, our laying down our lives for the brethren is a case which seldom happens, the duty of relieving the needy frequently occurs. So Œcumenius and S. Augustine.

Many doctors argue from this passage that the precept of alms-giving is binding not only in extreme but even in grave cases of necessity, so that a rich man is obliged to give up, not only superfluities, but even things necessary for his station, if he can avert in this way a grave loss to his neighbour. (See Gregory, de Valent. Tom. iii. Disput. iii.; and Bellarmine, de bonis Oper. lib. iii.  See Eccles. iv. 1,  S. Ambrose, de 0ff. iii 31;  S. Gregory Nazianzen, de cura pauper;  and S. Chrysostom, de Eleemos.)

And shall shut up his bowels from him. The bowels being the seat of compassion and pity. See Lam 2:11;  Col 3:12. They are the symbols of paternal as well as of maternal love. See Philemon 7, and Jer 58:7 (this is an obvious typographical error since the passage doesn’t exist). This teaches that alms should be given with much kindness and affection. As S. Gregory says (Moral xx. 16), “Let the hard and merciless hear the thundering words of the wise man.” Prov 21:13

Salvian, lib. iv., exhorts the faithful to put on these bowels of mercy, when teaching that Christ, in the persons of the poor, is a mendicant and in need of everything, and that they are cruel who squander their goods on their relations who are in no need, and suffer Christ in the person of the poor to be in want. . . . He shows that they have no faith, and that they do not believe in Christ, who promised abundant rewards to His almoners. . . . And next he shows that they greatly sin, not only because they do not relieve the poor, but also bestow those goods which they have laboriously acquired, on those who misapply them for purposes of display, gluttony, and luxury. “If thou wishest to have eternal life” (he continues), “and to see good days, leave thy substance to the saints that are in want, to the lame, the blind, the sick; let thy means be sustenance to the wretched, thy wealth the life of the poor, and may the refreshment thou givest them be thy own reward, that their refreshment may thus refresh thee.” He concludes by severely inveighing against them, and more especially against ecclesiastics, who are particularly bound to relieve the poor, and not to enrich their kinsfolk out of the funds of the Church, which Prosper calls the patrimony of the poor. See S. Bernard (Epist. xxiv.), who says that a bishop must not indulge in luxuries, but merely live on the funds of the Church: everything more which thou takest out of them is robbery and sacrilege. See, too, S. Basil on Luke 12:18. The Stoics thought, on the contrary, that pity was no virtue, but rather the mark of a weak mind. See Seneca (de Clem. ii. 5) and Plautus, as quoted by Lactantius, xi. 11, who condemns any giving of alms as being a waste, and an injury to the recipient. Valerius (Max. iv. 8), on the other hand, records with approval the bountifulness of a certain Silicus.

1Jn 3:18  My little children, let us not love in word nor in tongue, but in deed and in truth.

He condemns here all false charity, which exhibits itself in words only, as S. James (James 2:15) does also.  S. Gregory (Moral. xxi. 14) says that our charity must ever be exhibited in reverent words, &c., and in ministering bountifully. And S. Bernard (in Song 2:4) explaining the words, “He ordered charity in me” (see. Vulg.) says, “He requires not the craft of the lying tongue, nor the taste of affected wisdom. Let us love in deed and in truth, being moved to good deeds by the impulse of living charity rather than by any affected love. Give me a man who loves God with all his heart, himself and his neighbours, and everything else relating to God with well-ordered love, and I boldly pronounce him to be a wise man, to whose taste all things seem to be just as they really are, and who can in truth safely say, Because He hath ordered love in me. But who is he?”

But observe here, that if any one cannot succour in deed and act (as, e g., being too poor), yet he can do so in words and kind feelings. And again, he who gives relief should not give it grudgingly, or with words of reproof, but cheerfully and kindly. See Rom 12:8; Sirach 18:15.

S. Gregory (Hom. iii. in Evang.) says well, “Let not any one credit himself with anything which his mind suggests, unless his acts bear witness to it. For in loving God, our tongue, our thoughts, and our life are all required. Love towards Him is never idle. It worketh great things if it really exist, but if it refuses to do so, it is not love.” And S. Chrysostom (Hom. liii. et lxviii. ad pop.) says, “The more thou givest to God, the more does He love thee, and to those He loves more, He gives more grace; when He sees any one to whom He owes nothing, He flies from him, and avoids him; but when He sees any one to whom He owes something, He runs up to him at once. Thou shouldest therefore do everything to make God thy debtor.” And then he explains how this can be done, viz., by showing mercy to the poor. “Give largely, that thou mayest be rich, scatter abroad, that thou mayest gather in, imitate a sower. Sow in blessings, that thou mayest reap in blessings.” And S. Leo (Serm. vi. de Jejun. x. Mensis) says, “Persevere, 0 Christian, in thy bounty, give that which thou wilt receive back again, sow what thou wilt reap, scatter that which thou wilt gather up. Fear not the cost, be not anxious or doubtful about the result. Thy substance, when well laid out, is increased, and to wish for rightful profit for thy piety, is to traffic for the gain of an eternal reward. He who rewardeth thee wishes thee to be munificent, and He who gives that thou hast, orders thee to give it away, saying, ‘Give, and it shall be given,’ and so on.” S. Chrysostom accordingly said rightly, “that almsgiving was of all things the most gainful.”

1Jn 3:19  In this we know that we are of the truth and in his sight shall persuade our hearts.

In this we know that we are of the truth, that we have true love, that we are the sons of truth, of true and genuine charity.

Secondly, we are of God, who is the chief and highest truth, and true charity. See John 14:6, 18:37. And accordingly S. Augustine rightly concludes (de Moribus Eccl. cap. xxxiii.), “Let our meals, our words, our dress, our appearance be blended with charity, and be united and joined together in one charity; to violate this is counted as sinning against God . . . if only this be wanting, everything else is vain and empty; where it exists is perfect fulness.”

And in his sight shall persuade our hearts. (1.) Hugo, Lyranus, and Dionysius explain, We shall induce our hearts to please God daily more and more. (2.) Ferus explains it, We shall gain confidence to ask anything of God. (3.) We shall have our hearts at peace, for we shall persuade them that we are striving after true charity, when we love, not in word, but in deed and in truth. (4.) The sense most clearly is this, We, shall approve our hearts to God in manifesting the fruits of love. We can lie to men by pretending love in our hearts, but we cannot lie to God, who sees the heart. They then who love their neighbour in deed and in truth fear not the eye and judgment of God, but would boldly appear in His sight, lay their hearts before Him, and show that they were resting on real charity. So Œcumenius; and see Gal 1:10, “Do I wish to persuade men or God?” That is, I strive to prove my cause to God. So S. Chrysostom.  S. Augustine reads in this passage, “I wish to make myself approved to God, and not to men.” As S. Augustine (contra Secundi, num. i. 1) says, “Think as you please about Augustine, provided only my conscience accuses me not in the sight of God.”

Morally: S. John here teaches us to examine all our deeds by the rule of God’s judgment. For frequently we are deceived into thinking that we are acting purely from the love of God, when in fact we are acting from the impure motive of self-love. Before beginning anything conform thyself to this rule, act as in the sight of God, who sees, and will call thee to account. Do it as though it were thy very last act. And in any doubt, adopt that course which thou wouldest wish thou hadst adopted when thou comest to die. So did the Psalmist (Ps 16:8); Elisha ( 2 Kings 3:14); and S. Paul (2 Cor 1:12).

And S. Francis Xavier, “Wherever I am, I would remember that I am on the stage of the world.” And Campion, when about to suffer martyrdom, said, “We are made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men” (1 Cor 4:9). Let us imitate these, and thus “shall we persuade our hearts in His sight.”

1Jn 3:20  For if our heart reprehend us, God is greater than our heart and knoweth all things.

If we cannot conceal our hypocrisy from our own hearts, much less can we conceal it from God, who is greater and deeper even than our own heart, who is more intimately acquainted with it, and is nearer to it than we are ourselves. If thy conscience condemns thee, how much more will God, who rules over and judges thy conscience? “If we cannot hide anything from our conscience,” says Œcumenius, “how can we hide it from God who is ever present?” “Thou hidest thy conscience from man,” says S. Augustine, “hide it from God if thou canst. Let thy conscience bear thee witness, for it is of God. And if it is of God, do not boast of it before men, because the praises of men exalt thee not, nor do their reproofs bring thee down. Let Him see thee who crowneth thee: let Him, by whose judgment thou wilt be crowned.” Diadochus says (de perf. Spirit. cap. c.), “The judgment of God is far above that of our conscience.” See 1 Cor 4:1 and Ps 63 (Vulg. 7). “Man will go down to his deep heart, and God will be exalted,” that is, man will think many evils in the depth of his heart, but God will be deeper than it. But Lyra, Aquila, and Theodotion read iorem, will shoot at it. See A. V.

Thomas Anglicus merely applies the passage thus, If the sin of the heart is great, greater is God’s compassion in forgiving. And God too is greater than our heart, because He alone satisfies the desires of our heart, and even overflows and surpasses them.

1Jn 3:21  Dearly beloved, if our heart do not reprehend us, we have confidence towards God.

We have confidence, viz., that we shall obtain from Him all that we ask. See Ps 119:6. The contrary is the case with the wicked. See Prov 28:9, as S. Gregory says (Mor. x. 15, or 17), “He who remembers that he still refuses to listen to the command of God, doubts whether he will obtain what he wishes for. And our heart blames us when we pray, when it calls to mind that he opposes the will of Him whom he is addressing. ‘As oil makes the light to shine, so do good deeds give confidence to the soul.'”

2 Responses to “Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 John 3:11-21”

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