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 3:7-10

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 31, 2011

I posted this yesterday and incorrectly identified it in the title as 1 John 2:7-10. In fact, it is on 3:7-10.

1Jn 3:7  Little children, let no man deceive you. He that doth justice is just, even as he is just.

Little children, let no man deceive you. Neither Simon nor the Gnostics, who teach that a man is justified by faith only, and that good works are not required in order to his justification, and that if a man retains faith he can love as he pleases.  S. Peter, James, and John, all of them opposed this heresy.

He that doth justice is just. Not merely some works of righteousness, but perfect and entire righteousness. For no one can completely fulfil the law of God, unless by grace and love, which the righteous alone has. See James 2:10.

(2.) S. John here contrasts the children of God, and the children of the devil. See above 2:29. He here speaks of righteousness, in a general sense, as the aggregate of all virtues.

(3.) He that doth justice is just because his acts, which flow from a habit of righteousness, prove him to be righteous; and they also gain for him an increase of righteousness. And also because he should ever exercise himself in works of righteousness, if he wishes to preserve it. The Apostle speaks not of the infusion, but of the exercise of righteousness, says Thomas Anglicus.

Morally: S. John teaches us that the righteous man should ever be advancing in righteousness, like the Bride in Song 6:10, and Prov 4:15.  S. Augustine says, “That the whole life of a good Christian is a holy longing.” See Philipp 3:14;  Ezek 1:12, of the four living creatures; S. Gregory, Hom. iii.;  S. Bernard, Ep. ccliv.;  S. Basil, Hexaem. Hom. xi.; and S. Jerome, ad Celantium.

Even as he is just. See Ps 15:10, Ps 111:7, Ps 145:13.

The word ‘as’ does not signify equality, but resemblance. No creature can equal the righteousness and holiness of the Creator, but he can imitate it. Just “as a mirror represents the image of a man, not the man himself,” says Bede. Hear S. Augustine. “He is pure from eternity, we from faith. We are righteous, even as He is righteous. But He is so in His perpetual unchangeableness, we are righteous by believing in Him we see not, in order that we may see Him hereafter. But not even when our righteousness is perfected, and when we become equal to the angels, shall we become equal to Him. How far then is our righteousness from His now, when even then it will not be equal to His?”

1Jn 3:8  He that committeth sin is of the devil: for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God appeared, that he might destroy the works of the devil.

He that committeth sin is of the devil, because he follows his practices and suggestions. To be of the devil is to imitate the devil. For, as S. Augustine says, “The devil made no man, begat no man, but whoever imitates the devil, is born of him, by imitating him, and not actually by being born of him.” He then who sinneth is of the devil as his follower and imitator, and not, as the Manichees dreamed, as being descended from him. There is a similar phrase, Ezek 16:3, respecting wicked Jews.

For the devil sinneth from the beginning, not from the first moment of his creation, but shortly after it. And this was the beginning of sin. As S. Augustine says (in loc.) and S. Cyril (Catech. ii.), the devil is the beginning of sin, and the father of the wicked. To which Didymus adds, “He infuses the first suggestions of sin, and lastly he perseveres in his sin,” as the Ps. [74. ult.] says, “The price of them that hate Thee ever rises up.”

S. John alludes to his own Gospel, John 8:44; on which Isidorus (De Summo. Bono, i. 3) remarks, “He abode not in the truth, because he fell as soon as he was made. He was created in the truth, but by not standing therein he fell from the truth.” To which Bede adds, “He never ceased to sin, unrestrained either by his enormous sufferings, nor by the dread of sufferings to come. And he, therefore, who neglects to keep himself from sin is rightly said to be from him.” He explains further that his sin was pride, and rebellion against God.

For this purpose the Son of God appeared, that he might destroy the works of the devil. To loose, that is, for sins are the cords which the devil twines, to entangle and ensnare the sinner. See Prov 5:22; Isa 5:10. And Christ gave His Apostles power to burst those bonds asunder.

It is clear from this that Christ would not have been incarnate if Adam had not sinned, though some of the Schoolmen think otherwise. But both Scripture and the Fathers give no other reason for His Incarnation than our redemption from sin. See Nicene Creed. And the Church sings at the blessing of the Paschal candle (using the words of S. Gregory), 0 most necessary sin of Adam, which was blotted out by the death of Christ. 0 blessed sin which required so great a Redeemer. So S. Ambrose, S. Augustine, S. Leo, and others.

1Jn 3:9  Whosoever is born of God committeth not sin: for his seed abideth in him. And he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

And he cannot sin, because he is born of God. Hence Jovinian, Luther, and Calvin taught that a man could not fall away, but was sure of his salvation. But S. John says, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.” Consequently they could sin, faithful though they were. And it is contrary to daily experience, for we find daily the faithful becoming heretics and falling into sin. And the Council of Trent (vi. 23) rules otherwise. What then is S. John’s meaning that he who is born of God cannot sin, that is mortally and gravely?  1. We must take the word collectively—and then it will mean, So long as he preserves the seed of grace, he cannot sin. So Œcumenius, Thomas Anglicus, Cajetan, and S. Hierom, lib. 11 extra Jovin. And accordingly theologians say that he who has effectual grace cannot sin, because effectual grace in its very conception includes its result. For that grace is called ‘effectual’ which (as is foreseen) will produce its effect, which is to lead our free will to co-operate in a good work. But, speaking abstractedly, he who has effectual grace can resist it, and commit sin. (See Conc. Trid. sess. vi. can. 4.)
2. He who is born of God cannot (in a formal sense) commit sin, that is as far as relates to his heavenly new birth. For if this be allowed to act, and is not withstood by our free will, it is fully able to keep out all sin. (See S. Augustine, de grat. Christi, cap. xxi.) Thus Adam is said in his state of innocence to have been immortal, because he could not die, as long as he remained therein. But as he could fall, so also could he die. Thus we say that this medicine, e.g., is so powerful that any one who takes it could not die of the plague. But a man refuses to take the medicine and then dies; so can he who has the grace of God refuse to use it, and thus fall into sin.  S. John here distinguishes between the supernatural action of Divine grace, and the exercise of moral virtues, the first of these preventing every sin, while the others do not. But the habit of temperance is not lost by one act of intemperance, even as temperance is not acquired by a single act of temperance. Again, the grace of Christ is distinguished from the grace given to Adam, which gave the power but not the will, whereas the grace of Christ gives both the will and the power. See S. Augustine (de corrupt. et gratia), “It is so provided (to meet the weakness of the human will), that Divine grace never fails, is never overpowered by any difficulty, so as ever to resolutely will that which is good, and obstinately refuse to abandon it.” And it is thus that he explains the words of S. John, “Every one that is born of God sinneth not.”

3. He cannot sin. He sins with difficulty. He has no wish to sin, says Œcumenius. Others explain the words, He has power not to sin, this power being given him by God.

4. Rightfully and properly he cannot sin, though he may in fact sin against all that is right and proper.

5. Gagneius says, “He cannot sin, i.e., by unbelief, which S. John calls a sin unto death.”

6. Some take these words as referring to those who are predestinated and absolutely elected to eternal life. But this must be understood, not of antecedent, but consequent impossibility, which consists with our liberty of will, as including and presupposing it.

The first and second of these explanations seem to be the best.

Anagogically: S. Augustine (de peccat. et merit. ii. 7) says that the righteous man cannot sin, by reason of his hope of eternal life.  In like manner he says (de nupt, et concup. i. 23, and de Spirit. et lit. cap. ult.), “We cannot observe perfectly in this life the two commandments, ‘Thou shalt not covet,’ and ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,’ &c. But we are exhorted to attain to that place where we shall perfectly fulfil them. It is impossible not to feel concupiscence in this world, but we are directed not to yield to it. And the same with the other commandment, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.’ See Rom 7:7.”

Morally: S. John here teaches us an easy and certain way of avoiding sin, namely, by carefully attending to those holy inspirations which God suggests, and thus shut out from our minds all the evil suggestions of the devil. For he who sins must needs give way to evil thoughts, for we cannot desire or wish anything unless the mind suggests it to us as a good to be desired. And accordingly the Blessed cannot sin, because they behold God as their chief and boundless good, and are swallowed up in Him as the very abyss of all good.  S. Francis Xavier used for this very reason to occupy himself in good thoughts, in ruminating on some holy sentence of Scripture, or the doings or virtues of some saint. For the mind in this way drives out all other thoughts which lead to sin. And so with regard to our will. For he who fixes his mind on holy affections and desires cannot give his mind to evil lusts, and consequently cannot sin. He says with Joseph, “How can I do this wickedness and sin against God?” See Gen 39:9. As S. Leo says (Serm. viii de Epiphany), “He who wishes to learn whether God dwells within him, should honestly examine the secrets of his heart, and carefully ascertain with what humility he resists pride, with what good will he strive against envy, how he is not charmed with flattering tongues, and how pleased he is at another’s happiness. Whether he does not render evil for evil, and would rather pass over injuries than mar in himself the image of Him who sends His rain upon the just and unjust, and makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good. And not to enter on a more minute enquiry, let him see whether he find within him such love of God and his neighbour, as to wish to render even to his enemies that which he desires to be rendered to himself.”

 For his seed abideth in him. Œcumenius by the ‘seed’ understands Christ. See Gal 3:29.   (2.) S. Augustine and others understand by it the word of God. See Luke 8:11;  James 1:18;  1 Pet1:23.  (3.) Lyra, Hugo, Cajetan, and Thomas Anglicus most fitly understand by it the grace of God. For, 1. All other virtues spring from it. 2. Because it is the seed of glory. (See D. Thorn. par. i. quæst. 62, art. 3.) 3. Because as a seed must die in order to bear fruit, so does grace suffer death and martyrdom, from whence all good, both public and private, proceeds. See John 12:24.

1Jn 3:10  In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil. Whosoever is not just is not of God, or he that loveth not his brother.

In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil. The two tests are, the doing righteousness, and loving his brother. Righteousness and charity are of God, unrighteousness and hatred are of the devil. Righteousness is here taken in its widest sense, as including all virtues. But St. John here states that among all kinds of righteousness none shows more that we are the sons of God, than charity and the love of our neighbour, as the contrary vices show us to be the children of the devil. And hence S. John, the beloved disciple, breathes forth love only. Hear S. Augustine (in loc.): “Love alone distinguishes between the children of God and the children of the devil. Let all sign themselves with the sign of the cross, let all answer Amen, let all sing Alleluia, let all be baptized, let all go to church, let all build churches. Yet the sons of God are distinguished from the children of the devil only by charity. They who have charity are born of God, they who have it not are not born of God. Have what thou wilt; if this alone thou have not, it profiteth thee nothing. If thou hast not anything else, have this: thou hast fulfilled the law.” But by charity God is loved for His own sake, and our neighbour for the sake of God. Whence charity is “the fulfilling of the law.” Rom_13:10. And S. Augustine (de Nat. et. Grat. cap. xlii.). “Charity is the most true, complete, and perfect righteousness.” S. Clement Alex. calls it “The highest duty of a Christian man.” S. Cyprian (de Bono Patient.) terms it “The foundation of peace, the firm bond of unity, surpassing even the deeds of martyrdom.”  S.Basil, “The root of the commandments.”  S. Gregory Nazianzen (Epist. xx.), “The head of all our teaching.”  S. Jerome (Epist. ad Theophylact), “The parent of all virtues.”  S. Ephraim (de Humil.), “The support of all virtues.”  S. Augustine, “The stronghold of all virtues.” (Serm. liii. de temp.). Prosper (de Vita Contempl. iii. 13), “The most powerful of all our affections, the sum of good works, the protector of virtue, the end of heavenly precepts, the death of sins, the life of virtues.” “Firmness in every virtue” (S. Cyril). “The mother and guardian of all good” (S. Gregory). “The mother of men and angels, bringing peace, not only to all things in earth, but even in heaven” (S. Bernard, Epist. ii.).

Lastly, S. Basil says, “Where charity fails, hatred comes in its room. But if God (as S. John says) is love, the devil must undoubtedly be hatred. And as he who has love has God, so he who has hatred, fosters a devil within him.”

One Response to “Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 John 3:7-10”

  1. […] Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (1 John 3:7-10). […]

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