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 John 8:31-42

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 24, 2012

Joh 8:31  Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed him: If you continue in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed.

Then said Jesus, &c. He wished to confirm them in the faith they had accepted. If ye are so faithful and constant as to follow Me through persecutions and crosses, even to heaven itself, ye will be worthy not only of the name and title of My disciples, but also of their deserts and reward.

Joh 8:32  And you shall know the truth: and the truth shall make you free.

And you shall know the truth, &c. The Greek Fathers understand by the Truth, Christ Himself; meaning ye shall know Me to be the Truth, shadowed forth by the figures of the old Law, from which I will set you free, that ye may serve God not with bodily ceremonies, but in the Spirit and truth of faith, hope, and charity (John 4:23).

(2.) Hence, in accordance with the mind of Christ, If ye abide in My doctrine, ye shall taste by experience how sweet it is, and it will free you from the yoke of sin (see below, verse 34). For faith in Me will lead you to penitence, contrition, and charity, which does away with all sin. “If the Truth pleaseth thee not, let liberty please thee.” He clearly restored liberty, and took away iniquity.

Analogically: My doctrine will deliver you from the corruption of this place of mortality, change, and exile, because it will bring you to the liberty of a blessed immortality, and the glory of the children of God. Thus S. Augustine on this passage: “What doth He promise to those who believe? Ye shall know the truth. But did they not know it, when the Lord spake? for if they knew it not, how did they believe? They believed, not because they knew, but that they might know; for what is faith but believing that we see not? But the truth is, to see that which thou hast believed.” There is a fourfold bondage which Christ did away with, and a fourfold liberty which He bestowed. (1.) The bondage of the Law which Christ did away with by the liberty of the Gospel, (2.) Bondage under sin, which He took away by the liberty of righteousness. (3.) Bondage under the dominion of concupiscence, which He took away by the liberty of the Spirit, and the dominion of charity and grace. (4.) Bondage under death and mortality, which He will take away by the liberty and glory of the resurrection. It does not refer to the liberty of the will, as though sinners were so entirely the slaves of sin as not to have any free-will, and that Christ gives it them back when He justifies them. For a sinner sins by free will, and a penitent repents and is justified only by his free-will, aided by the grace of God.

Calvin foolishly denies free-will both to sinners and to the righteous. “Let us who are conscious of our own bondage glory only in Christ our deliverer.” For he thinks that we are not intrinsically free, just as we are not intrinsically just by inherent righteousness, but only by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Each of which opinions is not only an impious, but also a foolish heresy.

Joh 8:33  They answered him: We are the seed of Abraham: and we have never been slaves to any man. How sayest thou: You shall be free?

They answered Him, &c. Christ in what He had said indirectly charged the Jews with ignorance and bondage. But as glorying in their descent from Abraham, they felt wounded; and putting aside the charge of ignorance, they proudly deny the charge of bondage, and say that they had no need of the liberty of Christ. We are slaves neither by birth, nor by condition. “And in like manner,” says S. Chrysostom, “men when charged with impurity and wickedness put it aside, but when their family and work are impugned, they start up, as if they were mad.” But the Jews did not understand Christ, for He spake not of civil, but of spiritual bondage, and that He would set them free from the bondage of sin by the liberty of grace. But did the Jews say truly that they were never in bondage to any man? S. Chrysostom and others say that they spoke too boastfully, but that they veiled their falsehood, because though often conquered they had never been sold as slaver.

(2.) Cajetan, Toletus, Jansen, and others reply to the charge by saying that though the Jews had formerly been in bondage, yet that the present generation of Jews had never been so, for they were merely the subjects, not the slaves, of the Romans. And this seems to be the most satisfactory meaning; for to say that their fathers had never been in bondage would have been a falsehood at which the sun itself would have blushed, and Christ would have at once confuted it. All they meant to say was that their race was a free and noble one, and that their subjection to the Romans was not slavery.

Joh 8:34  Jesus answered them: Amen, amen, I say unto you that whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.

Amen, amen, I say to you, &c. Most assured, i.e., the saying is, and specially commended to their notice. But our Lord speaks to them modestly and becomingly, using only general terms and the third person. He might have said, Ye commit many sins, and are therefore the servants of sin, and from this bondage no one but Myself can deliver you. “A miserable bondage,” exclaims S. Augustine in loc., and adds the reason. “A man slave, when worn out by his master’s cruel treatment, can at length escape and be at rest. But whither can the servant of sin flee? He carries with him himself, whithersoever he flies. A wicked conscience cannot fly from itself; it has no place to go to, it follows itself. It cannot withdraw from itself; for the sin which causes it is within.” (2.) S. Peter (2 Pet 2:19) gives a further reason. “Of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.” (3.) He who committeth sin is the servant of the devil, who instigates to sin, and he is a cruel tyrant, who drives on sinners, as though they were his slaves, ever drawing them on from one sin to another, and in the end to hell. (4.) Every sin leaves behind it a desire and inclination to repeat the sin, and this concupiscence remains, even after the sin has been given up, for our punishment and temptation. Whence the Apostle says that he was sold under sin, that he did what he would not (as feeling against his will the motives of concupiscence), and that he cannot do the things he would. (5.) Because the sinner is bound by the chains of the sin he has committed, so that he cannot free himself, unless Christ sets him free by His grace, according to the saying (Prov 5:22), “His own iniquities take the wicked himself, and he is bound with the cords of his sins.” In these passages, to sin, which is inanimate, is ascribed the character of a master, or tyrant, to signify (1.) the tyrannical power of sin and concupiscence, and (2.) because by sin is understood the devil, who holds sway in the realm of sin, and holds stern dominion over sinners.

St. Ambrose, on the words of Psalm cxix. 94, “I am thine, 0 save me,” says strikingly, “the worldling, cannot say to Him, I am Thine, for he has many masters. Lust comes, and says, Thou art mine, for thou desirest the things of the body. Avarice comes, and says, Thou art mine, for the silver and gold thou hast is the price of thy bondage. Luxury comes and says, Thou art mine, for one day’s feasting is the price of thy life. Ambition comes, and says, Thou art clearly mine, for knowest thou not that I have set thee over others that thou mightest serve me? knowest thou not that I have conferred power on thee, in order to subject thee to mine own power? All the vices come, and say severally, Thou art mine. What a vile bond-slave is he whom so many compete for? And moreover the sinner who cannot say to God, I am Thine, hears from the devil, Thou art mine.” For as S. Ambrose adds, “Satan came and entered into him, and began to say, he (Judas) is not thine, 0 Jesus, but mine. He thinks those things that are mine, he ponders my thoughts in his heart; he feasts with Thee, and feeds with me; he receives bread from Thee, and money from me; he drinks with me, and sells me Thy Blood; he is Thy Apostle, but my hireling.”

Joh 8:35  Now the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the son abideth for ever.

Now the servant abideth not, &c. He who is the servant of sin, like you Jews, has not the right of remaining in his Master’s house (that is the Church of God) for ever: for after death he will be cast into the outer darkness of hell, as ye too will be cast out. But the Son abideth for ever in His Father’s house, that is, I ever abide with My Father in heaven. But if through Me and My grace ye have been delivered from the bondage of sin, ye will abide for ever with Me, as adopted children, in the house of God, that is in the Church militant by grace, and in the Church triumphant, for ever happy and glorious in heaven. So S. Augustine, Bede, and others.

Joh 8:36  If therefore the son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.

If therefore the Son, &c. I alone can make you free, not Abraham or Moses, though most beloved servants of God. So S. Chrysostom and others.

Joh 8:37  I know that you are the children of Abraham: but you seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you.

I know, &c. By nature ye are Abraham’s children, but in your deeds ye are degenerate. Your descent from Abraham will not therefore profit you. It will increase your damnation, for he will say at the last day, I acknowledge you not as my children, for ye have crucified Christ, my son and your brother.

Because My word, &c. Because ye will not take it in. Origen and S. Chrysostom think that these words were said to those who had before feebly believed in Christ, but who, on hearing themselves called “servants,” were incensed against Him and wished to kill Him. But it is more probable that they were addressed to unbelievers who had before that plotted His death.

Joh 8:38  I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and you do the things that you have seen with your father.

I speak, &c. Ye not only speak, but do that which ye have learnt from your father, the devil, especially in seeking to kill Me, implying that Abraham was not their father. See this more clearly declared verse 44.

Joh 8:39  They answered and said to him: Abraham is our father. Jesus saith them: If you be the children of Abraham, do the works of Abraham.

They answered, &c. Because Christ seemed to imply that they had another father, they wished to learn from Him who he was. We own Abraham, and none other as our father.

 If you be the children of Abraham, do the works of Abraham. It is so in the Vulgate. But some Greek MSS. read as in the English version. He does not deny their extraction, but condemns their doings. Says S. Augustine, “Your flesh may be from Abraham, but not so your life.”

Joh 8:40  But now you seek to kill me, a man who have spoken the truth to you, which I have heard of God. This Abraham did not.

But now you seek to kill me, &c. Abraham did not injure any one, but saved Lot, and as many as he could. But the Jews were eager to kill Christ. The Jews (Perke. Avoth. cap. v.) draw the same contrast between a disciple of Abraham and of Balaam.

Joh 8:41  You do the works of your father. They said therefore to him: We are not born of fornication: we have one Father, even God.

You do the works of your father. He persists in saying that they were not Abraham’s children, but does not say whose children they were.

Then said therefore to Him, We be not born of fornication, &c. Origen, Cyril, and Leontius think that in these words they implicitly reproached Him with His own birth. An atrocious statement, which the Pharisees studiously propagated, to detract from our Lord’s credit and authority. But it would have been atrocious blasphemy. (2.) Euthymius and Rupertus suppose it to be only an assertion of their descent from Sarah, and not from Hagar, and thus not spurious, or in a secondary rank. (3.) We are not born of spiritual fornication, i.e., idolatry. We are not Hagarenes, who were idolaters. Rupertus objects that to make out this meaning the word “but” should have been inserted. But Maldonatus maintains that such particles are often omitted, adding that fornication in the prophets means idolatry, as being spiritual fornication, drawing away the soul from its true Spouse (see Hosea 1:2). Theophylact explains it to mean, “We are not born of mixed marriages of Jews and Gentiles, which were forbidden, and counted illegitimate by the Jews.” (4.) The Jews reply in a straightforward manner, Abraham is our true earthly father; and one is our Father, even God in heaven. Your charge is therefore false. You unjustly claim the God of Abraham for thyself alone, and exclude us from sonship with Him, and hand us over to another father, the devil, making us spurious, and consequently infamous.

Joh 8:42  Jesus therefore said to them: If God were your Father, you would indeed love me. For from God I proceeded and came. For I came not of myself: but he sent me.

Jesus therefore said, &c. Put syllogistically, our Lord’s argument runs this, “He who loves God, loves also the Son of God. But ye do not love Me, who am the Son of God. Therefore ye love not God. Just as the Arians, who by denying Christ to be the Son of God, deny the Father also; for if He has not a Son, He cannot be called God the Father.

For from God I proceeded  (ε̉ξη̃λθον) and came (ήκω), “I am here”. S. Augustine, S. Hilary (de Trin. vi.), consider that the twofold generation of our Lord is here set forth. I came forth by eternal generation. I am come into the world by My Incarnation. “That the Word proceeded forth from God, is His eternal procession” (says S. Augustine), but He came to us, because He was made flesh; His advent was His being made man. But Jansen, Maldonatus, and others refer both the expressions to the Incarnation, but yet as implying, and presupposing His eternal generation. “I came forth from God, and came into the world, though I had before come forth from God, and was in heaven as God” (John 16:27).

For I came not of Myself, but He sent Me. He teaches that He was not self-originate, says S. Hilary (de Trin. vi.). Origen adds, He says this on account of some who came of themselves, and were not sent of the Father (see Jer 33:21). A warning to such as Lutherans, Calvinists, and others, who have no true mission.

2 Responses to “Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on John 8:31-42”

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