The Divine Lamp

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Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 John 5:14-21

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 5, 2012

1Jn 5:14  And this is the confidence which we have towards him: That, whatsoever we shall ask according to his will, he heareth us.

And this is the confidence, &c. Truly says S. Augustine, “Whatsoever we ask unprofitable for our salvation we do not ask in the name of the Saviour.”

1Jn 5:15  And we know that he heareth us whatsoever we ask: we know that we have the petitions which we request of him.

And we know: the Greek adds εαν, i.e. if. This makes the words of the verse more connected: And if we know that He heareth us, whatsoever we shall ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of Him.

1Jn 5:16  He that knoweth his brother to sin a sin which is not to death, let him ask: and life shall be given to him who sinneth not to death. There is a sin unto death. For that I say not that any man pray.

He that knoweth his brother to sin a sin which is not to death, let him ask: and life shall be given to him who sinneth not to death.  (S. Ambrose, lib. 1 de Penitent, c. 9, and Tertullian, de Pudicit. c. 2, read, because he sinneth not to death.)

There is a sin unto death, &c. Instead of I do not say, S. Augustine reads in this place, non præcipio, =  I do not command. He means, If any one knows his brother to commit any sin, let him pray for him, and God will give him repentance and forgiveness. I except, however, the sin unto death. If any one sins a sin unto death, I dare not promise, nor have any certain hope, that thou wilt obtain pardon for him. Yet I do not altogether forbid prayer in such a case. Pray if thou wilt, but with a doubt of obtaining.

You will ask, what is the sin unto death? 1st. Tertullian (de pudicii. caps. 2 and 19) is of opinion from this passage that there are some sins, like those of the devils while they were yet in a state of probation, so deadly that they are absolutely irremissible in this life. Such a sin was adultery after baptism. But this is an error condemned in Scripture and the Lateran Council under Innocent III.

2nd. Origen thinks it is a sin which leads to destruction, and drags down to hell.

3rd. Surrianus (lib. 4 pro Epist. Pont. c. 3) thinks it is a sin which insolves excommunication. For an excommunicate person is impenitent. And it is not lawful to pray for one excommunicate in the public prayers of the Church. But S. John is speaking of any kind of prayer, even in private.

4th. S. Augustine (lib. 1 in Serm. Dom.) thought it was the sin of envy, by which any one envies his brother’s grace, virtue, and salvation. But this opinion S. Augustine afterwards modified and retracted.

5th. The same S. Augustine (lib. de corrept. et grat. c. 12) and many others think it is the sin in which any one perseveres unto death. Lorinus thinks that it is the sin of hatred and murder. Others think it means the sins of the reprobate, and of those who will be damned. But it is uncertain who and what those are. Yet S. John says, He that knoweth his brother to sin a sin which is not to death.

6th. The Gloss supposes it to be a mortal sin. For to pray for such sins is the duty ex officio, so to say, of the Priest alone. But for venial sins any layman whatever may pray. But what S. John says is opposed to this, For he intimates that he is speaking, not of venial, but of mortal sins, and subjoins, life shall be given to him.

7th. S. Jerome (in cap. 14 Jerem.) thinks it is some very grave sin which God has determined to punish. “For he who once,” saith he, “hath been devoted to the sword, or famine, or pestilence, cannot be delivered by any prayers. Wherefore it was said to the Prophet that he should not ask in vain what he could not obtain.”

8th. Dionysius thinks it is the sin of final impenitence. Wherefore the Bishop of Rochester (Art. 17 cont. Luther) proves the doctrine of Purgatory from this passage. For S. John says we are to pray for those who are not finally impenitent, that is, who depart in a state of justification or repentance. And this surely implies prayer that they be delivered from Purgatory.

9th. Anastasius Niceenus thinks it is a sin against God, such as blasphemy, concerning which it is said (1 Sam 2:25), “If a man sin against God, who shall pray for him?”

10th. Gagneius thinks it is the sin of apostasy and infidelity, by which any one falls from the faith into heresy or idolatry.

11th. S. Hilary (in Ps 140) thinks it is the sin which any one commits of set purpose and malice.

12th. S. Ambrose thinks (lib. 1 de Pen. c. 8) it is every very grave sin which is remitted with difficulty.

Most of these opinons are true, and partly explain, but few touch the exact point of the difficulty.

My own opinion is, that the sin unto death is every very grave sin which, either on account of its enormity or long habit, obstinacy or malice, is irremediable according to the ordinary rule of grace which God gives. Such was the sin of Judas in betraying Christ. It was sin unto death because of its enormity; and incorrigible, because of his obstinate persistence in it. So too the sin of the Jews in blasphemy and slaying Christ was a sin unto death, because so heinous and persisted in. Therefore the sin unto death is a chronic and irremediable one, the pardon of which is despaired of, and which so provokes the wrath of God that the ordinary prayers of the saints cannot pacify it, and one therefore which with absolute certainty brings the sinner to the destruction of hell, unless some especially eminent saint, like another Moses, obtains for him from God extraordinary grace and forgiveness. This sin unto death is as if a physician was summoned to a sick man, and after examining him were to say, I cannot heal him, he is sick unto death, the vital parts are mortifying. In like manner, says S. John, when a Christian sees a heretic and an apostate, let him say, I should not dare to pray for him, he is sinning unto death. His vitality is gone. He casts away faith, which is the principle of spiritual life. This is the mind and general opinion of S. Augustine and Jerome, Origen, Bernard, Bonaventura, S. Thomas, and many others. There is a reference to the words of Christ to the Jews (John 8:21 and 24), “I go: and you shall seek me. And you shall die in your sin.” From which passage we gather that though the sin unto death be of various and multiform kinds, as impenitence, obstinacy, determination to persevere in any sin until death, and so on, yet strictly by the sin unto death S. John understands and intends a sin by which a Christian departs from the faith and Church of Christ, and maliciously attacks them, and strives to draw others away into his own heresy, or idolatry. This was what some were doing in S. John’s time, to his great fear and grief. Wherefore, in order to deter the faithful from being led away, he calls such persons sinners unto death.

There is a reference to such passages as Jer 17:1, “The sin of Judah is written with an iron stylus, in an adamantine nail, it is ploughed deep upon the breadth of their heart.” ( Vulg.) On which verse S. Gregory says, “The finger-nail is the extremity of the body: but the diamond is so hard a stone that it cannot be cut with iron. Now by the iron style is signified the strong sentence, but by the adamantine nail the eternal result. Therefore the sin of Judah is said to be written with an iron stylus in an adamantine nail, because the offence of the unbelievers among the Lord’s hearers by the strong sentence of God is reserved for an eternal end.”

By this sin a man opposes himself directly to Christ, from whom is the only hope of salvation. He drives Him from him, yea he blasphemes Him by whom alone he can be healed. So the disease is said to be incurable which does not admit of food or medicine. Whence S. Paul saith (Heb 6:4-6), “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened,” &c.

From what has been said it is plain that the sin unto death is distinguished from blasphemy against the Spirit, spoken of in S. Matt 12:21, although it is akin to it. Christ calls the sin of the Scribes blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, because they ascribed His Divine works, such as the casting out devils, which He did by the power of the Holy Ghost, to an unclean spirit. And they did this knowingly and maliciously, because they might and ought easily have known that those works were wrought by the Holy Ghost, and not by a devil. Christ opposes such blasphemy against the Holy Spirit of God to blasphemy against the Son of Man, by which some who were offended at the human conversation and condescension of Christ caluminated His actions as man. They called him a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. And this was a less, and therefore more easily remissible, sin. But as the sin spoken of in S. Matthew was the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, so here the sin unto death is blasphemy and treachery against Christ. And both one and the other are with difficulty remitted.

This sin is not to be healed by any one but by Christ alone. For such a sinner is like unto Lazarus, of whom Martha said unto Christ, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been buried four days.” Wherefore Jesus, with great effort, weeping and lifting up His eyes to heaven, and crying with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” raiseth him again to life.

There is a sin unto death. For that I say not that any man pray.  Thus the Greek and Latin. S. Gregory has a reading, that any one should pray for him. The meaning is, I do not forbid prayer for such, but I dare not promise that the prayer will be answered. For often God will not hear those who pray on behalf of the sin unto death, according to the words in Jeremiah, 7:16, “do not thou pray for this people, nor take to thee praise and supplication for them: and do not withstand me: for I will not hear thee.”

S. Bernard says (de Grad. Humil. cap. ult.), “The Apostle John says, for such a one I do not say that any one should pray. But dost thou say, O Apostle, that any one should despair? Indeed let him who loves him groan. Though he may not persume to pray, yet let him weep. Thus Martha and the Magdalen wept the death of Lazarus, and by weeping obtained his resurrection.”

1Jn 5:17  All iniquity is sin. And there is a sin unto death.

All iniquity is sin. And there is a sin unto death. The Greek and Syriac add the negative proposition, and there is a sin not unto death. He opposes the two kinds of sin. Every iniquity is sin, but not every iniquity unto death, because it is a peculiar kind of sin which, as is said, is sin unto death.

For iniquity the Greek has αδικια, injustice, which is properly opposed to justice. But as in Scripture, so also in Aristotle and the ethical writers, justice is taken generally for any virtue, and injustice or iniquity for any sin.

1Jn 5:18  We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not: but the generation of God preserveth him and the wicked one toucheth him not.

We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not: but the generation of God preserveth him. The Latin translator reads, γενεσις  εκ του θεου τηρει αυτον,. The present Greek reading is γεννηθεις  εκ του θεου τηρει αυτον, i.e. he who is born of God keepeth himself, viz., by the virtue received from his divine birth.

And the wicked one toucheth him not. This is the third fruit of the living faith, or regeneration, by which any one through faith and grace is born again in Christ, viz., preservation from at least grave and deadly sin, and consequently from the power of the malignant one, i.e. the devil. I have explained this in chapter 3 vers. 6 and 9.

Generation is here put for the grace generating. S. Gregory and S. Bernard, for generation of God read heavenly generation. By generation here S. Gregory understands knowledge of the Divine will, with the love of the same; S. Bernard, the Divine predestination; Didymus, the regeneration of the will which takes place by voluntary conversion and repentance. But others better understand it to mean grace and charity. For by these are wrought the regeneration and renovation of the new man, that is to say, of the faithful and holy soul, and its continuance in charity.

And the wicked one (malignus), &c. By the wicked one Didymus and Thomas English understand the world. But others, generally with more correctness, understand it of the devil. For the devil is more especially the wicked or the evil one. He toucheth him not, i.e does not hurt, him who is born of God. The Syriac translates, doth not come nigh him. This is what is said in Zech 2:8, “He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of My eye.” And Ps 105:15, “Touch not My Christs” (Vulg., Ps 104:15)-, and S. Paul says, “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able” (1 Cor 10:13).

1Jn 5:19  We know that we are of God and the whole world is seated in wickedness.

We know that we are of God and the whole world is seated in wickedness. For is seated the Greek reads κειται, i.e. lieth. The wicked one (malignus), i.e the devil, as in the last verse. This is the epilogue of the Epistles. As though S. John said, This is the conclusion and the sum of my words. We ought greatly to rejoice that, being born of God, we live and abide in Him, and lead in Him a pure and holy and heavenly life. Whilst, on the contrary, the world, i.e. worldly men, are situated in the wicked one. That is, they live oppressed beneath the tyrannical power and domination of the devil, and in him they lead a life impure and wicked, which leads to hell. The Manichaeans, however, are in error who think that the world is placed in the wicked one because it was made by the devil, as if he in making it breathed into it his own wickedness and malignity.

Another meaning that may be given to wicked is that it is put for wickedness, depravity. Whence Salviatus (lib. 4 de Provid.) recalls, The whole world is placed in evil. There is an allusion to Gen 6:5, “God seeing that the wickedness of men was great on the earth, and that all the thought of their heart was bent upon evil at all times.” The Hebrew is, “the whole fashioning, or imagination, of the thoughts of his heart was evil.” The whole world therefore is placed in wickedness and concupiscence which entices to every wickedness. For indeed the world, i.e. all the people of the world, in the Sin of Adam contracted original sin and concupiscence, and by this they are led to all evil. The world therefore is an ocean of crimes and a deluge of vices, according to the words in Hosea 4:2, “Cursing, and lying, and killing, and theft, and adultery, have overflowed, and blood hath touched blood.”

Experience teaches us that the world, like Sodom, is full of covetousness, pride, deceit, luxury, gluttony, and every evil.

S. John seems to be alluding to the three evils of the world which he spoke of in chapter 2:16, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Wherefore he who is wise flies from the world, and the conversation of worldlings, and betakes himself to a congregation of the Saints, as Lot saved himself from the burning of Sodom by fleeing to the mountain.

Listen to what was represented to S. Anselm in a heavenly vision concerning the unnumbered evils of the world, as it is related in his life: “Being rapt in an ecstasy, he beheld a mighty rushing river, into which all the filth in the world flowed from every quarter, so that nothing could be more horribly polluted than its waters. And wherever these waters reached, they carried off and bore down with them men and women, rich and poor. Anselm being full of wonder and pity at this sight, inquired how these persons were fed, and how they could live. He was told that the unhappy wretches drank and were delighted with the filthy mud by which they were borne along. Then there was added an explanation of this mystery. The world itself was the torrent in which blind mortals are hurried along by the riches and honours and other objects of their lust. And although they are so wretched that they cannot even stand, yet they count themselves happy and fortunate. After this he was led into a certain spacious and ample enclosure, and whose walls were overlaid with the purest silver, and shone in a marvellous manner. In the midst there was a meadow, and the plants which were therein were not common herbs, but all of a soft and living silver. They gently gave way to him who sat upon them, and when he arose they again stood up. The air, too, was calm and pleasant. And in short all things were sweet and delightful, so that nothing more could seem to be desirable for felicity. And it was shown to him that this was the religious life. So that without doubt God willed to teach him by this image that all things in the world are unclean, uncertain, deadly, ever rushing headlong; but that in religion, on the other hand, all things are pleasant in fine, they are all like silver, fair and precious.”

1Jn 5:20  And we know that the Son of God is come. And he hath given us understanding that we may know the true God and may be in his true Son. This is the true God and life eternal.

And we know that the Son of God is come. S. Ambrose (lib. 1 de Fid. .7) reads, hath appeared. The Apostle now explains what he had said, that we are of God, and therefore have overcome the world and the wicked one; namely, that this has been done and is being done through Christ. God for this very end sent His Son into the world in our flesh, that by His Divine doctrine He might give us the sense and the knowledge of heavenly things, that forsaking our idols, and being freed from sin, the devil, and the world, as from false gods, we might know the true God, and might, by faith, hope, and charity, be incorporated into Christ His Son and His Church, and so be endowed by Him with the life of grace and everlasting glory. For He is the very true God, and the true, uncreated, everlasting Life itself.

And he hath given us understanding. The Vulgate has, he hath given us sense. The Greek has διανοιαν, which the Syriac renders understanding, i.e., illumination of the mind, divine knowledge. Vatablus translates, mind.

That we may know the true God, i.e. the Father.

And may be in His true Son. (Vulg.). The Greek, the Syriac, and S. Athanasius (Orat. Dens de Deo) read, And may be in Himself the True, namely in His Son Jesus Christ. By this is meant that the Son is of the same substance with the Father, because He is True and the Truth essentially; namely, true God, even as the Father.

In these few words S. John gives as it were a compendium of his whole epistle, and of the Christian faith and creed. He marks its two chief mysteries; namely, the oneness of Substance of the Father and the Son, and the Incarnation of Christ. Wherefore Bede saith, “What can be plainer than these words? .What more sweet? What stronger utterances can there be against all heresies?” And
S. Athanasius (Disp. c. Arius) says, “This is the very thing which Arius asked for, a written demonstration of the Godhead of the Son.” And S. Cyril (12 Thesau. c. 13) says, “If He (the Son) is true God, this must be as to His Substance, not participatively, as a creature. For He who is true God is God by nature.” And S. Ambrose (lib. 1 de fide, cap. ult.) says, “If He be true God, surely He was not created, having nothing fallacious or unreal, nothing confused or dissimilar.” And in the 8th chapter he intimates that the expressions in the Nicene Creed, “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God,” &c., are drawn from this verse. And S. Jerome says, “If He were not true (God), He would be like an idol.”

This is the true God. Erasmus, Arianising after his manner, says, and twisting, as he does many passages of Scripture which speak of the Divinity of the Son, perverts this passage also. He, he says, viz., the true God that is, the Father, not the Son is true God. But this would be tautology. For who does not know that the true God is true God? Wherefore the pronoun He, or This (hic), does not refer to the words true God, which preceded, but refers to the true Son of God. We may add that in S. John’s age, just as in later ages, no one doubted about the Divinity of the Father, but many doubted about, yea denied, the Godhead of the Son. It is this therefore which S. John labours to maintain. Listen to S. Athanasius on the words (Matt 11:37), All things are delivered to Me by My Father: “This Father is Light, the Son is a beam and ray of Light, the Father is true Light and true God. The Son is true God. For so it is written by S. John, We are in Jesus Christ the True; He is the true God and eternal Life.

1Jn 5:21  Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen. S. John gives this last admonition, because in that age idolatry was a great danger, and it was most needful to warn against it. For at that time the whole world lay in the wicked one, i.e. in idolatry, and so Christians who were recently converted from it were obliged to be continually conversant with their Gentile and idolatrous relations and friends, to dine and feast with them, when meats offered to idols were set before them as sacred things to be eaten, concerning which I have spoken on 1 Cor 8. Lest, therefore, by their examples and entreaties they should fall back into idolatry which they had lately forsaken, S. John in this last verse diligently warns them, so that he may fasten it deeply in their mind and their memory, that they should abstain from all commerce with idols, and from all meats offered to idols. So Didymus, Lyra, Cajetan, &c. Beza and the heretics falsely render the words, Little children, keep yourselves from images. For an image is the likeness of some thing true, or real: but a simulchrum or idol, of something false, as for instance of a false god. Thus Scripture and the Fathers distinguish those two words. And the Seventh Œcumenical Council pronounces an anathema against those who say that the images of Christ and the Saints are idols.

Now S. John says, Keep yourselves from, he does not say, Destroy idols, for this would excite the rage of the heathen against all Christians. Wherefore S. Augustine warns us that the idols in men’s hearts ought first to be destroyed, afterwards those in the temples. He adds that those must not be accounted Martyrs who are killed for destroying idols. But this must be understood of those who did it rashly and imprudently so as to cause scandal. For those who did it advisedly out of greatness of soul, or by a Divine prompting, either to confound the heathen or to confirm the faithful, are reckoned among the Martyrs. Such were S. Theodoras, S. Barbara, S. Christina, and many others.

Keep yourselvesfrom idols. This means, Do not carve, or paint, or polish them. Do not uncover the head or bend the knee to them, or pay them any honour. Do not swear by them. Do not eat meats offered to them. Do not hold any office connected with their worship or honour. Do not bear offerings, frankincense or wine, to them. Do not celebrate their fame either in prose or verse. With the greatest circumspection, therefore, were the faithful to keep them selves from idols, and to be on their guard against them, so as not to consent to, or take part in, and so be defiled in any manner with idolatrous rites and ceremonies. Lastly, S. John in these words rebukes the heresy of Elxai, which arose towards the close of his life. Amongst other things he taught that it was no sin if any one chanced to adore idols in a time of hot persecution, if only a man did not adore them in his conscience, and if belief in them were professed only with the lips and not in the heart. And this crafty deceiver was not ashamed to cite in confirmation of his doctrine a certain priest of the name of Phinees, a descendant of Aaron and of the ancient Phinees, who in the time of the Babylonish captivity worshipped Diana, and thus at Susa escaped destruction in the presence of King Darius. So S. Epiphanius (Hæres. 19).

One Response to “Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on 1 John 5:14-21”

  1. […] Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (1 John 5:14-21). […]

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