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

Bishop MacEvilly’s Commentary on John 1:45-51

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 22, 2013

Notes on red are my additions.

Joh 1:45  Philip findeth Nathanael and saith to him: We have found him of whom Moses, in the law and the prophets did write, Jesus the son of Joseph of Nazareth.

Philip having followed our Lord into Galilee, sought diligently for his friend Nathanael, who was a native of Cana of Galilee (Jn 21:2), with a view of making him a sharer in the heavenly treasure, which he himself had found. He brought him to Jesus.

Who this Nathanael was, of whom we have mention only here, and Jn 21:2, we cannot know for certain. By some, among them, Patrizzi, he is said to be Bartholomew the Apostle. We are told by St. Chrysostom (Hom. 19), and St. Cyril (Lib. 2), that Nathanael was profoundly versed in the SS. Scriptures; and hence, accommodating himself to Nathanael’s character for sacred erudition. Philip said, “We have found Jesus the son of Joseph of Nazareth, of whom Moses wrote,” etc., Him of whom Moses wrote in the Law and the Prophets, the long expected of the Jewish nation—who is no other, than Jesus the son of Joseph, from Nazareth. He was reupted to be the son of Joseph of the Royal House of David. Our Lord was a Galilean, being educated and brought up at Nazareth. “Of Nazareth,” is to be joined with the word “Jesus,” not with Joseph,” as is clear from the Greek. The words of this verse are precisely the same as those briefly addressed by Andrew to Peter (v. 41, “We have found the Messiah.”

Joh 1:46  And Nathanael said to him: Can any thing of good come from Nazareth? Philip saith to him: Come and see.

“Can any good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael, versed in the SS. Scriptures, knew that Christ was to come from Bethlehem (Micah 5), and the Scribes, in their reply to Herod, said the same (Matthew 2:5). The Jews, in reply to Nicodemus (John 7:52), said that no Prophet could come out of Nazareth. Hence, Nathanael, in admiration, asks, can any thing extraordinary, can so great a blessing come from this obscure, mean village, in the despised Province of Galilee? Still, Nathanael does not deny it. He only seems to wonder at it. It might be true. For, although Micheas pointed to Bethlehem as his birthplace; still, other Prophecies said he would come from Nazareth (Matthew 2:23). Hence, the prudence of Nathanael, who, answering in hesitation, does not deny it, but only expresses surprise at such a great blessing coming from Nazareth, since the prevalent opinion among the people was, that He was to come from the seed of David and the town of Bethlehem (Jn 7:42). “Come and see.” Philip had no doubt that a brief conversation with our Lord would at once convince Nathanael that He was the promised Messiah.

Joh 1:47  Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him and he saith of him: Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile.

Seeing Nathanael coming to Him on the invitation of Philip, our Lord shows in his hearing, that He was the searcher of hearts, intimately acquainted with the inmost thoughts and dispositions of men, so that Nathanael might see who He was. “An Israelite indeed,” a true follower and imitator of Israel, who is praised for His guileless simplicity (Genesis 25:2), “in whom there is no guile,” no deceit, dissimulation, or duplicity. He saw that Nathanael came not from any captious or deceitful design, or with the view of arguing against Him from the SS. Scriptures, in which he was well versed; but, with all simplicity of heart, unlike those who, born of Israel according to the flesh, are still devoid of His spirit (Rom. 9:6); unlike those, who came to question John in the name of the Sanhedrim (v. 19, etc.).

Joh 1:48  Nathanael saith to him: Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said to him: Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.

“Whence knowest thou Me?” Nathanael wishes to know how could our Lord know his character and interior dispositions, as they were not acquainted with one another. In order to show him that He was not speaking rashly, in disclosing His inmost thoughts, our Lord manifests to him two other things which he supposed to be most occult, viz., that he was under the fig-tree, hidden he supposed from human eye, probably engaged in prayer, or some pious thoughts, humanly speaking, known to himself alone; and again, that he was called by Philip, after going forth from under the fig-tree.

“I saw thee.” I was present on both occasions. He does not say, I knew thee. But in virtue of my Divine Immensity, I was present and saw thee.

Joh 1:49  Nathanael answered him and said: Rabbi: Thou art the Son of God. Thou art the King of Israel.

Owing to the supernatural knowledge displayed by our Lord, in knowing things absent as if they were present, the secret thoughts of the heart, as if they were public, Nathanael, aided by Divine grace, at once acknowledges the truth of what Philip stated, and proclaims our Lord, the true Son of God and King of Israel. “Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel.”

Nathanael declares three things, which had been predicted of our Lord in the SS. Scriptures. 1st, he declares Him a doctor and teacher, “Rabbi,’ This was prophesied regarding Him by Joel (2:23), who calls Him “a teacher of justice.” 2nd, “the Son of God.” declared long before by the Psalmist, “filius meus es tu.” 3rdly, King of Israel, as predicted by Zechariah (Zech9:9).

It is disputed whether Nathanael believed or proclaimed our Lord’s Divinity, in calling Him “the Son of God.” Cardinal Franzelin maintains that he proclaimed His Divinity in the words just quoted, and His Messiahship in the words, “King of Israel.” Others maintain the contrary, inasmuch, as the mystery of the Trinity was not yet commonly revealed, to the just of old, save, perhaps, in a certain way, to some of the Prophets. Hence, according to them, Nathanael termed our Lord the “Son of God,” in the sense commonly understood by the Jews, as implying a filiation above all others, angels and saints. But, they did not believe in His Divinity or regard Him as consubstantial with the Father (see Toletus). Our Lord reserved for Himself to promulgate commonly the mystery of the Trinity. “Pater, manifestavi nomen tuum hominibus” (John 17:6).

Although the revealing of the secrets of his heart would hardly, per se, warrant Nathanael in proclaiming our Lord as the Eternal Son of God—do we not find Elisha declaring the secrets of his servant Gehazi (2 Kings 5:26), and of the King of Syria (2 Kings 6:9, 10, 12, 32)? Still, Nathanael might have done so. For, he knew the fulness of time had arrived. He probably heard from Philip, that the Baptist had proclaimed our Lord as the Messiah. To this add, the general opinion regarding Him, and the disclosure of his own secrets. All these considerations, with the help of Divine grace, most likely, impressed him with the conviction expressed in the words taken in their natural sense, “Thou art the Son of God.” I am of the opinion (for whatever its worth to the reader) that the confessions of the disciples in this chapter are to be seen as misguided. Neither Andrew ( “Messiah” verse 41), Philip (“him of whom Moses, in the law and the prophets did write” 45) or Nathanael (“Thou art the Son of God. Thou art the King of Israel ” 49) understand what these words actually mean in relation to Christ and his mission. See Father Francis Moloney’s perceptive notes on these verses in his commentary).

A. Lapide thinks, Nathanael and Philip believed Christ to be the Son of God, but only in a confused and indistinct way; not precisely understanding whether He was the Son of God by an eternal generation, consubstantial with the Father, or merely by adoption.

Joh 1:50  Jesus answered and said to him: Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, thou believest: greater things than these shalt thou see.

“Thou believest” Me to be “the Son of God,” in whatever sense understood by thee, and “the King of Israel.” Our Lord, while commending Nathanael’s confession, tacitly insinuates that this confession, however imperfect, will be increased by still greater motives.

“Thou shalt see greater things than these.” Greater wonders than the revelation of occult and secret things, which will heighten thy opinion of Me, so as to believe and confess greater things regarding Me, viz., that I am the natural, consubstantial Son of God, and not only “the King of Israel,” but the King also and Sovereign Ruler of the universe, angels and men.

Joh 1:51  And he saith to him: Amen, amen, I say to you, you shall see the heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

“Amen, amen,” point to the solemnity of the declaration about to follow, viz., that Nathanael and those present on this occasion, would see the heavens opened and “the angels ascending and descending” to minister to our Redeemer, who would thus be shown to be “the Son of God” and Lord of Angels. Our Redeemer calls Himself “the Son of Man,” out of humility, and His apparent condition of lowliness at the time in His assumed human nature. As our Lord was spoken of throughout the chapter in His Divine nature, He now refers to the other nature He assumed, so that He was true God and true man.

When did this vision take place? Some say, at His Passion and Resurrection—His Baptism was now past—others, at His Ascension; others, understand it of the ministration of Angels in the Church to be founded by Him, of which the stone, whereon Jacob lay, was a mere figure; others, of the Day of Judgment. A. Lapide holds, it had reference to some particular vision calculated to increase the faith of His hearers. Some say, this particular and wonderful manifestation, like many other acts of our Lord, was left unrecorded by the Evangelist. The words, “the heaven opened,” would seem to refer to some special wonderful manifestation calculated to beget or increase faith in the spectators, relative to our Lord’s Divinity. Some think the reference is to the revelatory signs of John’s Gospel, the first of which opens chapter 2 (water made wine). Others think it is a reference to Jesus’ revelatory discourses in the Gospel. The image of the heaven’s being opened often conveys a sense of communication between heaven and earth, or divine action being played out upon the earth (Gen 7:11; Isa 24:18; Isa 64:1; Ezek 1:1; Mark 1:10; Mt 3:16; Lk 3:21; Rev 4:1).

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