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 5:5-13

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 1, 2012

1Jn 5:5  Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?

Who is he that overcometh the world, &c.  For by believing he hopes, by hoping he invokes, by invoking he loves Christ, and therefore he is strengthened by the grace of Christ to despise the world, and by despising he overcomes it, according to the saying of S. Paul, “I am able to do all things in Him who strengtheneth me.” For he who believes in Christ, ought to follow the precepts of Christ and obey Him, not the world.

S. John proves his thesis ex hypothesi, the general from the particular. He proves, I say, that faith is the victory of believers, because the faith of Christ is the victory over the world. And at the same time he confutes Cerinthus, Ebion, and the other heretics of that age, who denied the Divinity of Christ. Hence when Peter confessed this doctrine, saying, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of
the Living God,” he deserved to hear from Him, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church.”

1Jn 5:6  This is he that came by water and blood, Jesus Christ: not by water only but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit which testifieth that Christ is the truth.

This is he that cam by water and blood, Jesus Christ. This is Messias, the Son of God, the Saviour and Redeemer of the world, whom the Prophets foretold should come to redeem the world by His Blood, and purify it by the water of baptism, as is plain from Ezek 36:47, and Zech 12:13. John proves that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; that is, that Jesus is true Man and true God. He does this, ist. Because He is He who came, Greek,  ο ελθων, i.e., He, the Coming One, the Messias, who indeed the Prophets promised should come: whom the Scripture (Isa 9:6. and else where) signified should be God and the Son of God. Wherefore Coming or About to come is the Name of Messiah. For so the Jews called Him from the prophetic oracles. This is plain from S. John 1:15, &c.

Again, he proves the same thing from the water and the blood of which the Body of Christ was constituted, and which He shed for us. For they signify, 1st. That Christ was a true man, and not a phantasm, as Simon Magus and Manes pretended. For the human body is composed of water and blood.

2nd. The water and blood proved that Christ is true God. One reason is that the Blood of Christ was the full price of our redemption, entirely satisfying God for the offences of our sins. Therefore it was necessary that the Blood should be the Blood of a God-man, a man hypostatically united to God: for the blood of a mere man could not be an adequate price for offences against God. A second reason is, because Christ by the virtue of His Blood in ordaining baptism, endowed it with a Divine power to expiate all the sins of all men. Therefore it was necessary for Him to be God. For Christ did this per se, and authoritatively, not ministerially as dependent upon some one else. But per se to institute a sacrament to remit and atone for sin is a work of Divine power.

There is an allusion in the first place to the water and blood of the victims with which Moses ratified the Old Testament (Ex 24:8). By this he signified that Christ by His own Blood and Water would ratify the New Testament. Hear S. Paul, Heb 9:19, “For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and
scarlet wool, and hyssop,” &c.

There is an allusion, secondly, to the water and blood which miraculously flowed from the side of Christ when He was dead upon the Cross. For a dead body, instead of the blood and water of a living one, naturally emits gore (saniem). S. John alone of the Evangelists records this emission of blood and water. By these two it was set forth that by the power of the blood of Christ the faithful should be cleansed from their sins by the water of Baptism. And this is the meaning of the Bride, i.e. the Church, when she says (Cant. 5. 10), “My Beloved is white and ruddy.” (So Cyril, Hieros. Cat. 13; S. Augustine, lib. 2 de Catech. rud. c. 6; S. Leo, Epist 45, Hier. 83; Damascene, 4 de Fide, c. 10; Suarez, 3 part, quast. 53, disput. 41, and others.) From hence our Salmeron is of opinion that Christ always mingled water with His Blood, viz., tears at His circumcision, His Bloody Sweat, His Scourging, and on the Cross before His death. And that this was why He ordered water to be mingled with wine in the Eucharistic Chalice to be converted into His Blood.

Moreover, S. John distinguishes Christ s Baptism from that of John the Baptist, because the latter was in water only, and, therefore unavailing for the remission of sins. But Christ’s Baptism was in water and blood, and therefore availing to that end. Again, he confutes the Ebionites, who thought that God was appeased with mere water, and who therefore washed themselves daily with water, and offered water only, without wine, in the Eucharistic Chalice, because they denied that we were redeemed by the Blood of Christ. (See Irenaeus, lib. 5 c. i.)

Lastly, Tertullian (lib. de Bapt. c. 16) says, Christ came by water when he was baptized by John, by blood when He suffered, that “He might be washed by water, glorified by blood,” by the victory of His Passion and Death. “He would have us called by water, elected by blood. This twofold Baptism He shed forth from the wound in His pierced side, that they who believed in His Blood might be washed with water, and that those who were laved with the water of Baptism might also drink His Blood in the Eucharist”

Tropologically: S. Bernard explains it to mean a twofold baptism and a twofold martyrdom: ist, Of compunction by tears; 2nd, By the desire of mortification. “Now because we have said that baptism is signified by water, martyrdom by blood, remember that there is one only and daily baptism, one only and daily martyrdom. For there is indeed a kind of martyrdom and a certain effusion of blood in the daily affliction of the body. There is also a species of baptism in compunction of the heart and frequent tears.”

This is he that came by water and blood. Some Greek codices add and by spirit: not by water only, but by water and blood, and by spirit.

And it is the Spirit which testifieth that Christ is the truth. (Vulg.) The Greek has οτι το πνευμα εστιν η αληθεια, i.e., The Spirit is the Truth. This is also the reading of the Syriac. The meaning is, It is the Spirit who recently at Pentecost testified that Christ is the Son of God. Him therefore we must believe because He is the Spirit of Truth, and the Truth Itself. But the genuine reading is, Because Christ is Truth. For the Apostle is here treating of Christ, and Christ’s proper name is the Truth.

To the obscure and as it were dead testimony of water and blood, is added the clear and living witness of the Holy Ghost. For He as well during Christ’s (earthly) life, in which He wrought miracles by Him to bear witness to this, as also after His death and resurrection, when He was sent by Him to the Apostles at Pentecost, testified by their mouth, and preached everywhere that Christ was the Truth, i.e. true God. For Christ, in that He is God is the Word, and therefore the Truth and Wisdom of the Father. In that He is man, He is the true ambassador and interpreter of the Father, who opened out the shadows of the Old Law, and published the true doctrine concerning God, according to His own words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Hence too the Aaronic High Priest bore, as a type of Christ the true and real High Priest, the Urim and Thummim, i.e. doctrine and truth, in his breastplate.

1Jn 5:7  And there are Three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost. And these three are one.

And there are three who give testimony in heaven, &c. S. John here more fully explains and confirms the testimony already adduced of the water, the blood and the spirit concerning Christ. The particle and  (οτι = “because”, “and”, “for”,) is partly confirmatory of what He had said in the 5th ver. that Jesus is the Son of God, partly of what he said in the 6th, that the Spirit bears witness that Jesus is true God. For this is here confirmed because the Holy Spirit is one of the three witnesses who in heaven bear testimony to Christ.

S. Jerome (Pref. in Epist. Canon.) observes that this verse had been erased by unbelievers, i.e. the Arians, from some Greek copies. Therefore it is not found in the Syriac, Clement of Alexandria, Bede, Œcumenius, and some others. It is, however, the constant reading of the Latin Bibles, and the more correct Greek MSS. and of many of the ancients, SS. Athanasius, Augustine, Jerome, Cyprian, the Lateran Council, at which Greeks were present. Therefore it is certain that these words are to be taken as canonical Scripture.

The meaning then is this All the Three Persons of the Sacred Trinity in heaven and from heaven bear testimony to the angels, but especially to men (for to men S. John chiefly refers) concerning Christ, that He is the true Messiah and the Son of God. This the Father did at His Baptism and Transfiguration. Again, when He answered Christ by thunder out of heaven, “I have both glorified, and will glorify Thee again” (John 12:18). Similarly also the Holy Ghost bore witness when He descended upon Christ in the form of a dove, and poured out Himself upon the Apostles and other Christians at Pentecost. And this was the result of Christ’s prediction, promise, and mission. Wherefore the same Holy Spirit by the mouths of the Apostles preached little else save Christ The Son also very often declared, taught, and proved convincingly by His miracles that He was the Messias and the Son of God, as is plain from the whole Gospel of S. John. Therefore heaven and earth mutually agree, yea the whole universe appears at one, in bearing this witness to Christ.

And these three are one– as in nature and Divine Essence, so likewise in intelligence, voice, and testimony, concerning Christ. For all these things in the Holy Trinity are one and the same. There is another reading of these words in the Greek, signifying These Three are into One (in unum), but the Latin and other Greek copies have These Three are One (Hi tres unum sunt), signifying the oneness of Substance of the Holy Trinity, that the Three Persons have one and the same undivided Godhead.

1Jn 5:8  And there are three that give testimony on earth: the spirit and the water and the blood. And these three are one.

And there are three that give testimony on earth: the spirit and the water and the blood. Three (tres in the masc.). He might have said tria in the neuter, for the Greek πνευμα (spirit),  υδωρ (water), and αιμα (blood), are all in that gender. But he chose to say tres, to show that these three earthly witnesses concur with, yea represent, the Three Heavenly witnesses already spoken of. So says S. Augustine. By a figure of speech, personality is attributed to these earthly witnesses, as speaking with man’s voice. S. John sets the human and earthly testimony over against the Divine. Some think that the Three Witnesses in heaven are witnesses to Christ s Divinity, and the three on earth witnesses to His Humanity. Among these are Innocent III. (cap. in quad, de Celebrat. Miss.), and S. Thomas. But it is better to take both classes as attesting the Divinity. For this is what S. John undertook to prove (per. 5), because Cerinthus and others denied it. And this is why he subjoins presently, He that believeth in the Son of God hath the testimony of God in himself (ver. 10).

There are Three. S. John places a twofold Trinity of witnesses to Christ, who testify of His Divinity, and that He is the Son of God. And he sets the one over against the other. Indeed, he unites them as regards their office of witness bearing. The first are uncreated, viz., the Father, the Son, and the Ghost. The second are created, the Spirit, the water, and the blood. These emanate from the uncreated witnesses, and correspond to them. For water refers to the Father, blood to the Son, spirit to the Holy Ghost. For the Father is the beginning (principiuni) of all things, as like wise is water. For out of water were formed the heavens, the air, the birds and the fishes, as I have shown in the beginning of Genesis. Again, water nourishes herbs, trees, plants, and every living thing. Wherefore, also, the heavens are called in Hebrew scamaim, i.e. waters. Again, water signifies the affluence of goods and graces which there is in God the Father, according to the words in Isaiah 12, “You shall draw water with joy from the wells of the Saviour.” ( Vulg.) It is well known that the Egyptians worshipped the Nile as a god, because all their crops were due to the over flowing of the Nile. Moreover, water appositely represents the mercy and goodness of God the Father. At the present day some of the Indians adore water. Suidas, under the word Brachmans, says that the Brahmins lived to a very great age because they drank nothing but water. Apollonias of Syana was wont to say that those who drink water never suffer from giddiness in the head.

  On earth– from earth: like as the first Three testify in heaven, i.e. from heaven, to men dwelling on earth.

The Spirit, the water, and the blood- the spirit, namely, which Christ when dying on the Cross committed into the hands of the Father. Also the water and the blood which flowed from the side of Christ testify that Christ was truly not only man, but God, because by these, as by a just price, Christ made satisfaction to an offended God. Again, His spirit, because it went forth with a loud cry, showed Him to be God. Wherefore the centurion, when he saw that He thus cried out and expired, said, Truly this man was the Son of God.” For speech fails those who are at the point of death. This cry of Christ was then miraculous and not natural, signifying that Christ was more than human, and therefore that He died of His own will, and not through weakness.

2nd. S. Augustine Lyra and the Gloss understand by the Spirit in this place the Holy Ghost shed forth at Pentecost. For He testified that Christ was God.

3rd. (Ecumenius understands by Spirit the Holy Ghost given at Baptism. “In Baptism,” he says, “by water Jesus Christ was declared to be the Son of God by the witness of the Father.”

Anagogically: but very appropriately, and almost literally, the water, the blood, and the spirit that were emitted by Christ upon the Cross, but resumed by Him at His resurrection, signify that He was the very promised Messiah, the conqueror of death and hell, and therefore the Son of God. For Christ rose again by His own power, and resumed these three things.

Mystically:  by spirit, water, and blood are signified the three things which concur for our justification. As S. Ambrose says, “By the Spirit our mind is renewed, by water we are washed; the blood is the price.”

Allegorically: by these three things are signified the three chief sacraments which bear testimony to Christ, as instituted by Him, and as sanctifying by virtue of His merits. Water signifies Baptism, blood the Eucharistic Chalice, the Spirit penance. Whence by breathing the Spirit upon His Apostles Christ gave them the power of remitting sins.

Symbolically: Baldwin of Canterbury, whose work I examined in manuscript at Louvain (lib. i de Eucharist, c. 48) says, The spirit of the righteous, the tears of penitents, the blood of the martyrs bear witness that Christ is the Redeemer.”

S. Augustine upon this passage thinks that by these three earthly witnesses the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity are denoted, viz., the Father by the spirit, the Son by the the blood, the Holy Ghost by the water. For of the Father it is said, “God is a Spirit” (Jn 4:14), the Son assumed the blood and flesh of man s nature. Of the Holy Ghost it is spoken: “Out of his belly shall flow rivers of
living water” (Jn 7:18.).  And for this reason they are called tres in the masculine, not tria, three things, in the neuter.

Tropologically:  S. Bernard (Serm. 2 in Oct. Pasch.0 says, “By the blood, the water, and the spirit thou hast witness unto righteousness; that thou art born again through Christ, if thou refrainest from sin, if thou bringest forth worthy fruits of penance, if thou doest living works.” The blood there signifies continence, the water tears, the Spirit spirit, and works which testify that we are regenerated and made holy. “He also shows that these three things are opposed to three things which are in the world, and overcome them. For the concupiscence of the flesh is overcome by the mortification of the blood, the lust of the eyes by the compunction of tears, the pride of life, or the spirit of vanity, by the spirit of charity.” S. Bernard adds (Serm. 76) that there are in like manner three witnesses in hell, the worm by which the conscience is gnawed, the fire which burns both soul and body, and the spirit of despair. “By the witnesses in heaven,” he says, “is given the witness of beatitude, by those in earth of justification, by those in hell of damnation. The first testimony is of glory, the second of grace, the third of wrath.

And these three are one. Some Greek and Latin codices, as the Complutensian and the Royal, omit these words. Wherefore S. Thomas (Opusc. 24 in 2 decret.) says, that they were foisted in by the Arians, that it might be gathered that the Three heavenly Persons are not spoken of as being one in Essence, but only as bearing witness. But many of the Latin and the more correct Greek copies
have the words, but read, These three are into one (in unum). And the Syriac, These three are in one (in uno), meaning to say, the water, the blood, and the spirit of Christ are not one as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are One, but that they are referred to One, &c., Christ and His Humanity, or mystically to one justifying and perfecting of man.

1Jn 5:9  If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater. For this is the testimony of God, which is greater, because he hath testified of his Son.

If we receive the testimony of men, &c. If we give credit to man’s testimony, much more ought we to believe the witness of God concerning Christ. It is greater both in dignity and authority, in truth and certainty. For God infinitely surpasses all men and angels in majesty and veracity. He is the first and supreme Verity, who cannot lie, neither can He deceive, or be deceived. As S.
Paul declares (Rom 3:4), “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” Moreover, the testimony of the Church, of the Apostles and Prophets, is the testimony of God, for the Church is governed by the Holy Ghost, who is the Spirit of Truth.

For this is the testimony of God, &c. The word For here is not so much causative as explanatory, and means the same as but. The meaning is, But this is God’s testimony, because, i.e. which, He has testified, &c., namely, as He testified at the Baptism of Christ, and at many other times, “This is My Beloved Son.”

1Jn 5:10  He that believeth in the Son of God hath the testimony of God in himself. He that believeth not the Son maketh him a liar: because he believeth not in the testimony which God hath testified of his Son.

He that believeth in the Son of God hath the testimony of God in himself.  1st. Because he hath in him the thing attested by God, namely this truth, that Christ is the Son of God.

2nd. Because he hath in himself the very witness of God, and God Himself attesting.

3rd. This testimony is the faith itself by which we believe the witness of God. There is a metonymy, because the object is put instead of the habit, or act tending to the object. It means, he who believes has a special gift of God, viz., faith. And this includes the witness, or testimony of God, and God Himself attests, which marvellously honours the believer, and makes him strong to confess Christ.

4th. This testimony may be taken to signify the regeneration and adoption, the grace and glory of the believer meaning, He who believes in the Son of God hath in himself the witness of God, namely, that by which God witnesses to his soul and conscience by means of this faith with which he believes in Christ, that he is faithful, and a son and heir of God.

He that believeth not the Son, &c. As he that believeth in the Son, and receives God s testimony concerning Him, makes God to be true, and honours and worships Him; so, on the contrary, he that believeth not the Son, and rejects God’s testimony concerning Him, makes God false, and does Him great despite.

Observe: instead of believe, the Greek has πεπιστευκεν, hath believed. This is a Hebraism by which the perfect is put for any tense.

1Jn 5:11  And this is the testimony that God hath given to us eternal life. And this life is in his Son.

And this is the testimony, &c. This means, 1st. God hath not only testified that Christ is His Son, but also that He is our Saviour and Redeemer, so that he who believes in Him is justified, and receives the spiritual life of grace and glory.

2nd. This very thing is the end and fruit of the testimony, i.e. of the faith by which we believe God s witness concerning Christ, that by this faith we obtain the life of grace and glory. There is an allusion and reference to the words of the Gospel (Jn 17:3), “Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”

That hath given to us eternal life. By these words that hath given, S. John denotes the firmness and certainty both of the Divine promise and of our hope, namely, that we are just as sure of everlasting life, if we persevere in faith and obedience, as if it had been actually now bestowed upon us.

The primitive Christians represented this faith and hope of life eternal by the Phoenix, which after death is said to be born again and rise up in a fresh and youthful life, as Lactantius testifies in his poem on the Phoenix. Therefore it was often depicted on the tombs of the faithful. S. Cecilia, as the Acts relate, ordered it to be sculptured on the sarcophagus of S. Maximus the Martyr. So too at Rome the Phoenix is often found depicted on tombs in the catacombs. For Christ rising again to life eternal is our Phoenix. And He by raising up Christians to the same life, will make them phoenixes likewise.

1Jn 5:12  He that hath the Son hath life. He that hath not the Son hath not life.

He that hath the Son, i.e. by faith, love, and obedience, hath life, of grace in fact, of glory in hope. He alludes to the words in his own Gospel, “He that believeth in the Son hath life everlasting: but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life: but the wrath of God abideth on him. ” (Jn 3:36).

1Jn 5:13  These things I write to you that you may know that you have eternal life: you who believe in the name of the Son of God.

The name of the Son of God is put for the thing signified, the Son of God Himself. There is an allusion to his own Gospel (Jn 20:31): “But these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God: and that believing, you may have life in his name.”

S. John here reckons up three fruits of a living faith in Christ. The first, eternal life in this verse; the second, confidence of obtaining all things from God (ver. 14); the third is complete banishment of sin, and moral sinlessness (ver. 18).

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2 Responses to “Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 John 5:5-13”

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