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 2:3-11

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 27, 2012

1Jn 2:3  And by this we know that we have known him, if we keep his commandments.

We know Him by probability and conjecturally. But our knowledge must be practised: it must show itself in love and affection, and in outward acts. And we shall in this way secure Him as our Advocate. S. Augustine says (De Fide et 0per. cap. xii), “Let not our mind be so deceived as to think that it knows God if it confess Him with a dead faith, that is, without works.” So David says, Ps 103:18, “To think upon His commandments to do them.” See his dying advice to Solomon, “Know thou the God of thy fathers,” that is believe, reverence, love, and obey Him. See also Hosea 6:6, For he who does not observe the law of God assuredly does not know it, because he does not practically value or ponder as he ought on His boundless majesty, goodness, power, wisdom, and righteousness, for else he would love, reverence, and obey Him with his whole heart. For, as Bede says, “He who loves not God, shows that he knows not His loveliness, and he has not learned to taste and see how gracious and sweet He is, if he does not labour continually to do those things which are pleasing in His sight.” See 1 John 4:7-8.

Catharinus wrongly infers that the righteous can know for certain that they are righteous and in God’s favour. But although they may have grace and the love of God in their hearts, yet they do not see them, and though they outwardly observe the commandments of God, yet they know not whether they observe them from love of Him, and as He commanded. And though they feel that they love God, yet they know not whether this love is what it should be, and simply for God’s sake. (See Conc. Indent. sess. vi. cap. 9; Bellarmine, de Justif. iii. 1 seq.)

1Jn 2:4  He who saith that he knoweth him and keepeth not his commandments is a liar: and the truth is not in him.

He who saith that he knoweth him, that is, with true and saving knowledge, such as leads to eternal life, and keepeth not his commandments is a liar. As the Apostle said (Rom 1:21) of the philosophers who knew God, but only in a speculative and barren way, “When they knew God, they have not glorified him as God.”

1Jn 2:5  But he that keepeth his word, in him in very deed the charity of God is perfected. And by this we know that we are in him.

But he that keepeth his word, in him in very deed the charity of God is perfected. This confirms the previous statement, by way of antithesis. The word is spoken of in the singular number, because the law of love comprehends all others, just as a root implies the leaves and fruit, and the whole tree.

Perfect love is that which fulfils that command, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” &c. (Mat_22:37.) For he who observes the commands of God loves God with all his heart, though he may sin venially, which is a necessary evil in this life of corruption. But in this perfectness of Christian charity and life there are various grades. The first is so to love God with all the heart as never to offend Him mortally. 2. Never deliberately to offend Him venially, even for the sake of the whole world. 3. To renounce, for the love of God, the love of every creature, and to devote thyself entirely to His service as “religious” do. See, too, Rom. viii. 35. 4. Not to think, wish, or love anything save God, or for His sake. Origen (Præf. in Evan. S. Joan) says, “He who is perfect, no longer lives himself, but Christ lives in him;” and S. Augustine (Serm. xxxix. de temp. [nunc cccl]) says, “As covetousness is the root of all evil, so is love the root of all good. The love of God and our neighbour fills up the whole length and breadth of the sacred word.” He then adds, “Without it a rich man is poor, with it a poor man is rich. It gives patience in adversity, moderation in prosperity, endurance in hard sufferings, and so forth.” And S. Bernard writes thus to the brethren (de Monte Dei, xix.): “Perfection, though not of the same kind, is required of you all. As one star differs from another star in glory, so does cell from cell,* in the beginners, the progressing, and the perfect The first state may be called the animal, the next the rational, the last the spiritual, the first relating to the body, the second to the soul, the third finding its rest in God alone. Each, however, has its own rate of progress and measure of perfection. The beginning consists in perfect obedience in the animal life, its progress in bringing the body into subjection, its perfection in turning the practice of good into delight in it. And so too, in the rational life, the perfection of which is the spiritual life, and the perfection of the spiritual life is to be changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” And S. Maximus says (De Charitate Cent. iii. 97), “That soul is perfect whose whole powers turn only towards God.” See also Centur. iv. 17; and S. Francis (in 0pusc. decem perfect—considered to be spurious: see Cave) says, “A Christian’s perfection is to root out from his heart all worldly affections, and to find no root, or resting-place, save in Him who made it. And again, to have such patience as to love him the more who has done or said any wrong of him. For as God of His bounty conferred on him all his blessings, so should he believe that He secretly pledges Himself to send on him every kind of evil, in order to show a sinner his sins, and thus lightly punish them once in this present life, that He may not scourge them more severely for ever. He should therefore love him who has done or spoken any evil against him, as being the messenger of God to him for good,” &c.

And by this we know that we are in him. S. Augustine here adds, ‘If we be perfected in Him,’ but nearly all MSS. omit these words. The meaning is, we know that we are in Him if we keep His commandments. This is the effect and sign of our cleaving to Him. Moreover, it is by love that we abide in God, as the thing loved is in the lover. For the soul is more in that which it loves, than in that which it animates. And God in return loves those who love Him, dwells in them, cares for, directs and protects them. Augustine says, that we who love Christ are in Christ, as the members in the body. See John 15:23. The soul then of one who loves God is a kind of temple, in which all the three Persons abide. And by abiding S. John means intimate union, permanent resting, continual presence, friendly converse, and all other offices of true friendship.

1Jn 2:6  He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also to walk even as he walked.

By advancing in virtue, especially in charity, and exhibiting its works more and more every day, as Christ “increased in wisdom and stature.” “The true righteousness of the perfect,” says S. Leo (Serm. ii. de Quadr.), “is for them never to presume that they are perfect, lest by stopping short when their journey is not yet done, they should incur the risk of failing.” See Eph. v. 1. S. Prosper (de vit. contempl. lib. 11) beautifully says, “What is walking as He walked, except the despising all the good things which He despised, not to fear the sufferings He endured, to teach what He taught, to hope for what He promised, to confer kindnesses on the ungrateful, not to requite to evil-wishers according to their deserts, to pray for our enemies, to pity the perverse, patiently to bear with the crafty and proud, and, as the Apostle says, to die to the flesh that we may live to Christ?” &c.

Whence Gregory Nyssen defines Christianity to be an imitation of the Divine nature, &c. S. Augustine (de Vera Relig. cap. xv.) tells us that the Word was made flesh, to teach us the way of life not by force but by example, in ministering to the poor, in refusing to be a king, in submitting to every kind of injury, &c. In fact, His whole life, in the nature He deigned to assume, was a moral discipline. S. Cyprian (de Zelo et Livore), “If parents delight in having children who are like themselves, much more does God rejoice when a man is spiritually born; and again, as we have borne the image of the earthly, let us also bear the image of the heavenly. But we cannot do this unless we exhibit a resemblance to Christ; for this is to change our old self, and to begin a new life, and that thus the Divine truth may shine forth in thee, as He Himself promised, ‘Those that honour Me, I will honour.'”

1Jn 2:7  Dearly beloved, I write not a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you have heard.

Dearly beloved, I write not a new commandment to you. This commandment of loving God and our neighbour was not new, for it was given to the Jews, and before that to Adam and all men by the Law of Nature, which was in the mind of God from all eternity. This, was an answer to the objection made to the Apostle’s teaching, that it was new and unheard of. It was again an old commandment as having been taught Christians from their very baptism.

1Jn 2:8  Again a new commandment I write unto you: which thing is true both in him and in you, because the darkness is passed and the true light now shineth.

Again, a new commandment I write unto you. It was new, as being a new enforcing of an old commandment, which had been forgotten by long disuse. (See John 13:33.) And it was enforced by Christ on the new principle of love, and also more fully explained (Matt 5:38; John 14:15-16). It was new on various grounds—1. Because of the new efficient cause, viz. Christ, who enforced it more stringently upon us. And again, by reason of the new source of charity and grace, viz., the Holy Spirit poured forth at Pentecost. The false interpretations of the Jews were thus put aside, and a new law, and new obligations and duties, imposed on Christians. See Matt 5:43.

2. It was a new law; by reason of a new material cause, viz., the new and enlarged body of Christians, who were before in the darkness of unbelief and hatred, but who were now bound by it to love God and their neighbour.

3. There was a new formal cause, namely, the Incarnation, and the union of all Christians in Christ. For in Christ there is an union, not with Christ only, but with all Christians in Him, an union by nature, by grace, and by the sacraments (especially by the Holy Eucharist), which is the foundation of a greater and singular obligation to a stricter love of God, of Christ, and of all Christians. And this is a pure, perfect love, in so much as Christ is far above, and more perfect than other men. Moreover, by Christ’s Incarnation we owe greater love, not only to Christ, but also to the whole Trinity, by reason of our closer union, and also of the new and very great blessings conferred on us thereby. For by the Incarnation we have a new relation and union to the Holy Trinity, and also between ourselves, and a new cause and formal reason for love. For by the Incarnation Christ has became our kinsman and brother, so that we ought mutually to love each other, as brethren and members of the one body of Christ. So Toletus and F. Lucas on John 13.

4. It is new, with regard to the example Christ has set us. He poured forth His blood out of pure love. And such indeed was the love of the Blessed Virgin, and the early Christians. We are taught to do according to the pattern shewed us in the Mount. Christ says, “As I have loved you”—words which have caused much matter for shame, and also much matter for exaggeration. For consider what arguments for love Christ furnished at every moment, by His birth, His labour, His preaching, His suffering, His dying, and thus thou wilt see how little is the love of all men. As S. John the Almoner, Bishop of Alexandria, used to say when one praised his liberality to the poor: “My brother, I have not yet shed my life for thee, as the Lord commanded me.”

We are therefore taught by Christ not merely to love our neighbour as ourselves, but even more than ourselves. For Christ died for us though we were His enemies, teaching us to do the same. This was an unheard-of love both among the Jews and the world at large. So S. Cyril, in John 13, S. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Rupertus. Arias [Montanus] says, that our love should be most fervent, and abounding in kind offices, even towards our enemies, and ready to shed our, blood for the good of our brethren, as Christ did. So Cajetan, Gagneius, S. Major, and others.

5. In regard of the new end Christ set before us, He wished to make us heavenly men, and not earthly. And he wished us to renew our love by frequent communions, sermons, meditations, &c. S. John in his old age used frequently to repeat and inculcate these words.  S. Bernard (Serm. v. in Cæna. Dom.): “It is a new commandment because it makes all things new, putting off the old man and putting on the new, and by daily admitting to heaven mankind who were banished from paradise.” ” Is it not a new commandment,” says S. Augustine, “because this commandment renews those who obey it, and thus makes us new men, heirs of the New Testament, singers of the new song, making and gathering into one a new people?”  S. Gregory (Hom. xxxii. in Evang.) says, “Our Lord and Redeemer came as a new man into the world, giving us new precepts. For since our old life was brought up in sin, He set up in opposition to it newness of life,” charity as opposed to concupiscence, and the love of God and our neighbour against our self-love.

6. Maldonatus understands by ‘new’ something excellent and pre-eminent. And others again by ‘new’ understand a commandment never given before, as men were called ‘new’ who were newly made: and ‘new’ also because Christ wished His disciples to observe it ‘anew,’ as being the last He gave them. As F. Lucas explains it, “I have reserved this commandment to you, in order that ye may keep it more firmly in your memory. For I wish specially to commend it to you, being such a command as no one ever yet gave his disciples, being a gentle and loving command. It was ‘new’ then, as newly enjoined by Christ in His Last Supper, and as being a command peculiar to Christ, and being in a singular manner commanded by Him.” (See. S. Basil, de Bapt. cap. ult.)

7. It was ‘new’ with respect to its effects, the heroic deeds of S. Paul and the other Apostles, their new and unheard-of labours and persecutions, and the new alacrity and ardour with which they subdued the world to Christ. A love which led Paul to wish himself accursed for the sake of his brethren, which caused Paulinus to sell himself into slavery for the sake of ransoming the son of a widow—a love which led S. Dominick, S. Francis, S. Ignatius and others to devote themselves to the salvation of souls, and led the blessed Jacoponus to pray that he might suffer all the sufferings of all the lost, that he might save them all, if it were God’s will.

8. It was a ‘new’ commandment as specially pertaining to the New Testament, and distinguishing it from the Old. See John 13:35; Song 2:4, Song 8:6.

Such was the love of the early Christians. See Act_4:32. “See how these Christians love one another, and are ready to die for each other,” was remarked by the heathen. Tertullian says why they called each other brethren, as acknowledging one God as their father, having drunk of the one Spirit of holiness, as having come from the same womb of ignorance to the same Light of Truth, &c.

Which thing is true both in Him and in you. Namely, this law of love, as springing from the Law of Nature, and it is not only the most ancient command, but is true also in you, because ye have embraced it together with your new life in Christ. But some refer this to Christ, which is far better. For though He is not expressly mentioned, yet He was mentioned above (ver 1-4). But S. John’s heart was so full of Christ, that when he says ‘Him,’ he does not mean any one else, but Christ, as was the case also with the Magdalene (John 20:15).  S. Jerome (contra Jovin, lib. 11) accordingly reads, “which is most true both in Christ and in you.” Some explain it thus, “This law of charity is that which makes you to be as truly in Christ as ye are in yourselves.” 2d. We may explain it thus (and it is the best meaning), “As Christ loves Christians in the highest degree as members of His Body, so should we devote ourselves entirely to the love of Him and our fellow-Christians.”

Because the darkness (of ignorance, lust, and sin, as well as of the shadows, the terrors and ceremonies of the Old Testament) is past, and the true Light now shineth, the light of faith, grace, love, and of all holiness. See Rom 13:12; Eph 5:6. This is called the ‘true,’ i.e. the perfect, full, Divine Light. See John 1:9. Christ calls Himself the true vine (John 15:1) and the true head, i.e. fully satisfying (John 6:55). As a symbol of this, Christ was incarnate at the Vernal Equinox, and was born at the Winter Solstice, when the days are beginning to increase. See S. Augustine, Serm. xxii. de temp. [not S. Augustine.]

1Jn 2:9  He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother is in darkness even until now.

He that saith he is in the Light (of the Gospel, Faith, and Charity) and hateth his brother, is in darkness, in ignorance of his sins, anger, hatred, lust, &c. And by these he is so blinded as not to see the great evil of hatred, how odious to God, who is the light of Charity, what destruction it causes, what torments of hell it brings with it. “He is blinded with his wickedness,” says S. Chrysostom (de Erudit. discipl.): “he goes ignorantly into hell-fire, and is hurled headlong into punishments.” See Exodus 11:16. And S. Cyprian (de zelo et livore) says: “If thou hast begun to be a man of light, do the things of Christ, for He is our Light and day. Why rushest thou into the darkness of anger? Why wrappest thou thyself in a mist of envy? Why dost thou extinguish with the darkness of envy every spark of peace and charity? Why dost thou go back to the devil, whom thou hast renounced? Why hast thou become like Cain? Cain? He is in the darkness of hell, because he is tending towards it.” S. Basil says, “As he who has charity has God within him, so he that has hatred and anger has a devil within him,” &c.; and S. Chrysostom calls anger a self-chosen (voluntarium) devil. In an angry man you may see all the furies of hell. As Seneca says (lib. ii. de Ira).

Even until now. For though baptism be an enlightenment, yet it cannot dispel the darkness of hatred, if it be voluntary, or come on after baptism. (See S. Augustine, Bede, and Hugo.)

1Jn 2:10  He that loveth his brother abideth in the light: and there is no scandal in him.

He that loveth his brother abideth in the light (of faith and love: this is an antithesis to the former verse), and there is no scandal in him.  S. Jerome (in Matt. xxv.) explains the words πζόστομμα and σκάνδαλον. This may be taken to have either an active or a passive meaning, the giving of offence, or the taking of offence. See 1 Cor 13:4; Prov 15:19; Ps 119:165. One who loves neither gives offence, nor takes it: “If my brother offends me,” they would say, “shall I abandon charity? Far from it. I will overcome evil with good, I will follow Christ, I will show him how I love the brethren, how I love God. I will not fight against my brother who has wronged me. I will rather fight against his disease of mind, and drown his anger and ill-will with floods of charity.”  S. Augustine says (in loc.), “Who are they who either take or make offence? They who are offended at Christ or the Church. They who are offended in Christ are burnt as by the sun, they who are offended in the Church are burnt as by the moon. But the Psalm says (Ps 122:6), ‘the sun shall not burn thee by day, nor the moon by night,’ that is, if thou holdest fast by charity thou wilt suffer no offence either in Christ or the Church, and thou wilt forsake neither Christ nor the Church.” A passage is here added from a sermon once supposed to be S. Augustine’s, but subsequently regarded as spurious, as is also another sermon quoted just afterwards, showing who are true and who are false friends, and that those who seem to be our enemies are in truth our best friends, and to be regarded as such. And S. Basil (Reg. brev. clxxvi.) says the same.

1Jn 2:11  But he that hateth his brother is in darkness and walketh in darkness and knoweth not whither he goeth: because the darkness hath blinded his eyes.

But he that hateth his brother is in darkness. For, as Œcumenius says, “He cannot be in the light of Christ, who hateth him for whom Christ died.”

And knoweth not whither he goeth. “For (as says S. Cyprian, de Zelo) he goes down to hell, ignorantly and blindly, and withdrawn from the light of Christ, who says, ‘I am the Light of the world.'” “Hatred,” says the author of Imperf. Homily xiii. [on S. Matt.] “is the spirit of darkness, and wherever it settles it defiles the purity of holiness;” and adds, “The world is so full of offences, that if we wish to love our friends only, we shall not find anything to love.” See Prov 4:19; Zeph 1:17;  and Isa 59:10. For in truth nothing so blinds our reason as hatred. “There is no difference between anger and madness,” says S. Chrysostom on S. John (Hom. xlvii.)

And anger is so blind as not to see its own blindness. Seneca adduces the case of Harpasto, his wife’s handmaid (Ep. li.), who did not understand that she was blind, adding, “No one admits that he is covetous, or ambitious, or angry. I have not settled on my course of life (he says), it is our youth that causes it. But why do we deceive ourselves? The evil is not without us, but within us, and therefore we find it hard to regain our health, because we know not that we are ill.” Democritus blinded himself by looking at the sun, in order that he might not see the happiness of the wicked. And in like manner do the envious and malicious blind themselves.

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