Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on John 20:19-31
Posted by Dim Bulb on February 4, 2017
19 Now when it was late the same day, the first of the week, and the doors were shut, where the disciples were gathered together, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst and said to them: Peace be to you.
“Late that same day,” not at night time, but in the evening of Resurrection day, “the first of the week,” after the disciples had, in the evening, returned from Emmaus. There is reference to the same apparition, as in Luke 24:26; Mark 16:14.
“And the doors were shut … for fear of the Jews.” Our Lord’s disciples still timorous and terrified at the cruel treatment inflicted by the Jews on their Divine Master, were in dread of similar treatment themselves. Hence, “the doors” of the apartment in which they were assembled, “were shut,” as a security against attack.
“Jesus came,” entered the apartment, in virtue of the gift of subtility appertaining to His glorified body, “and stood in their midst, and said to them. Peace be to you.” This was a form of salutation common among the Jews, implying the plenitude of all benedictions, temporal and spiritual. It was meant here, to inspire the disciples with confidence and consolation, in their present depressed and dejected condition.
20 And when he had said this, he shewed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad, when they saw the Lord.
“He showed them His hands and His side,” as a proof of His identity. The traces and marks of the wounds in His sacred body, would show He was the same whose hands and side were perforated on the cross. Whether they touched His hands and feet, is disputed.
“The disciples, therefore, were glad.” Joy succeeded sadness, “when they saw the Lord,” and had no doubts of His identity. He now fulfils the promise made them on a former occasion, that “He would again see them, and their sorrow would be turned into joy” (16:22).
21 He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you.
“He said, therefore, to them again. Peace be to you.” Now being convinced that it was the Lord, they were, therefore, somewhat confused and disturbed at their inconstancy and want of firm faith. Hence, compassionating their weakness, He removes their uneasiness, and addresses them in words of consolation, giving them His peace; thus, remitting their own sins, receiving them back into favour, and preparing them for the great spiritual gift of remitting the sins of others. Also, about to send them into the entire world, He communicates His peace, which they were to impart to a world of unrest and sin.
“As the Father hath sent Me,” to redeem mankind, to sanctify and save them. He was thus constituted by His Father, an Apostle, which means, “one sent”—St. Paul terms Him (Heb. 3:1), “the Apostle of our Confession”—“I also send you,” thus constituting them His Apostles and vicars, with full power to apply the merits of His Redemption, by preaching His Gospel including the precepts of faith and morals, by instituting in His name, or at least, inculcating the necessity of, the Sacraments. They were also to edify the world by the example of good and holy lives. In a word, He sends them to perfect the work of Redemption, achieved by Him, at such sacrifices, privations, and sufferings, including even the ignominious death of the cross; and communicates to them, all the authority in its fulness that the Father gave Him. The parallelism is remarkable in all the words. “The Father” (who is God), “I” (who also am God), “sent,” “send” (with the fulness and plenitude of authority), “Me,” “you.”
Catholic Tradition enables us to specify what amount of the authority here communicated, in regard to the remission of sin, was reserved for the Bishops, the successors of the Apostles to the consummation of ages; and what amount for the priests, to whom also was communicated the radical power of remitting sin, with some limitations, as to its actual exercise. The word, “as,” does not express full equality; as if the Apostles received the same amount of authority, and in the same way, as He received from His Father; but, only similarity, in many respects.
22 When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost.
“Breathed on them.” This breathing on the Apostles was an exterior sign of His communicating of the Holy Ghost which He was about giving them—a Spirit who proceeds from the Father and Him. This breathing denotes, that as God, in the original creation, breathed into man the soul, which was the principle of natural life; so, the same God, now in the second creation and regeneration of man, breathes into him the Holy Spirit, who is the principle of spiritual and everlasting life.
“Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” It is quite clear He now actually imparts to them His Holy Spirit. It was, however, for a certain purpose, and in reference to a certain special gift, viz., the remission of sins, the only means for securing peace and reconciliation to sinful man. This gift, although given by the Father also, is attributed by appropriation to our Lord, who died for sin and specially merited this power. The full abundance of all the gifts of the Holy Ghost, the working of miracles, the gift of tongues, etc., etc., was reserved for the day of Pentecost, and not publicly given, until after He ascended to the Father, as He Himself declared (16:7). But here, although the Apostles had previously received the Holy Ghost in the gift of sanctifying grace, a special gift was granted which they had not before, viz., the power to remit sin, after He Himself had paid a full ransom for sin, on the tree of the cross. It was a partial concession at present of the gifts given in their plenitude on Pentecost; just as the Apostles had previously, in receiving sanctifying grace, received the Holy Ghost. This was not publicly given, with great external show and display, as on the day of Pentecost. The power to remit sin belonged to God only, who was offended by sin. But this power is communicated by Him to the Apostles. Hence, in receiving it, they are said to “receive the Holy Ghost.”
23 Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them: and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.
“Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven.” The power here given, as to the number or quality of sins is universal and without exception. All depends, so far as its efficacious exercise is concerned, on the dispositions and qualities of the subject, as is clear from the words, “whose sins,” etc. It is also clear, that they to whom this power is given, to the end of time, do actually remit sin and, not declare them remitted, as the Innovators teach. They remit on earth; and the sins thus remitted by a subordinate, delegated, ministerial exercise of power, are remitted by the sovereign power of God, in the High Court of Heaven. Similar are the words, “Whatsoever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed also in heaven” (Matthew 17:18).
Similar is the power given to Peter (Matthew 16:19). “Whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.”
“And whose sins you shall retain,” when in the exercise of judicial discretion, you declare the subjects unfit for absolution, undeserving of receiving pardon from God, from want of proper dispositions, wanting contrition, wanting in a sincere desire to make reparation, and the other required conditions.
This two-fold power of remitting and retaining, which was not to be exercised capriciously, but with a just discretion, considering the merits of each case, shows the necessity of the confession of all sins; otherwise the party exercising would not know the case. Many grievous sins are occult—there are also sins of wicked thoughts. Neither could the dispositions of the sinner be known, save from his own confession. Hence, the necessity of a full and distinct confession of sins for the just exercise of the power here granted by our Lord to His Church (see Matthew 3:6, Commentary).
The Council of Trent defines, that the words of this verse are to be understood of the power of remitting and retaining sins in the Sacrament of Penance, as the Catholic Church always understood from the beginning; and anathematizes any one who, denying this, would wrest them, contrary to the institution of this Sacrament, to the authority of preaching the Gospel. (SS. xiv. Canon iii.)
They also condemn any one who, confounding the Sacraments, shall say that Baptism itself is the Sacrament of Penance, as if these two Sacraments were not distinct. (SS. xiv. Canon 2).
Thomas was absent when this power was given (v. 24). Some, however, maintain, that although absent, being a member of the Apostolic College, the gifts bestowed on his colleagues, as a body, were communicated to him; just as of old, the spirit of prophecy given through Moses to the Seventy of the Ancients of Israel, was given to Eldad and Medad, who were numbered among them, although absent when the gift of prophecy was given to the Seventy (Numbers 11:27).
Others, considering Thomas’s incredulity at the time, hold that this power of forgiving sins, etc., was given him after he made a full profession of faith (v. 28).
From Catholic Tradition we learn that the words, “receive ye the Holy Ghost, whose sins,” etc., were confined, from among those present, to the Apostles, to whom He addressed the words, “as the living Father sent Me,” etc. From the words thus understood, is proved the Sacrament of Penance and the necessity of confession (as above). The words also prove, that confession of sins with the absolution of the Priests, is the only ordinary means for the remission of sins; otherwise, it would not be true to say, “whose sins you shall retain,” etc. I say, ordinary; because, from other passages of Sacred Scripture, we know that perfect contrition, including perfect love of God, remits sin. But this contrition including the love of God involves a resolution to observe God’s commandments. Now, one of God’s commandments is, to have recourse, when convenient, to the Priests of the Church for absolution and remission of sin. On the observance of this precept, when practicable, the remission of sins, by means of contrition, is dependent and conditional. To it is it subordinate. (See Treatises on Theology, passim).
24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, who is called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
“Thomas, one of the twelve.” He says, “one of the twelve,” although the Apostolic College was now reduced to eleven, because “twelve” was the original number, just as in the case of the “Decemvirs,” they would be thus termed, although only nine out of the ten were present on a particular occasion.
“Who is called Didymus.” “Didymus” is not a sirname, but, only a Greek rendering of the term, “Thomas,” which, in Hebrew, means what Didymus signifies, in Greek, that is to say, “twin,” probably, because he was one of two who were born at the same birth.
Some Commentators seem to think Thomas was present; because, St. Luke (24:33), informs us, that when the disciples returned from Emmaus, they found “the eleven gathered together” where our Lord appeared to them. But, as the Apostolic College went by the name of “the eleven,” after our Lord’s death, they might be called “the eleven,” even if any of them were absent on any particular occasion. The words of this verse very clearly state that Thomas was absent on this occasion. It may be, he did not return after the flight of the Apostles at our Lord’s Passion; or, he may have gone out on some business, and be absent when our Lord appeared. Possibly, the account given by the disciples, who returned that evening from Emmaus, may have been too much for his incredulity; and he may, becoming impatient at their recital, have left the chamber.
25 The other disciples therefore said to him: We have seen the Lord. But he said to them: Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails and put my finger into the place of the nails and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.
Our Lord, as we learn from St. Luke (24:40), showed them His feet also. Hence, not only His hands were each perforated with a rough nail; but, His feet also—“foderunt manus meas et pedes meos.” Whether two distinct nails were used for His feet, a nail for each, or only one for both feet, is disputed. In this is displayed the obstinate incredulity of Thomas.
Our Lord mercifully permitted this hesitation on the part of Thomas, in order to strengthen our faith, and remove all doubt on our part, “Plus enim nobis Thomœ infidelitas ad fidem, quam fides credentium discipulorum profuit. Quia, dum ille ad fidem palpando reducitur, nostra mens omni dubitatione posthabita, in fide solidatur”—(St. Gregory, Homil. in Evangel. 26).
26 And after eight days, again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Jesus cometh, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst and said: Peace be to you.
“The disciples were within.” It is disputed whether this took place in the same room at Jerusalem, where He appeared before, or in Galilee, whither He ordered them to repair. (Matthew 28) It seems more likely, that it occurred at Jerusalem, as the Apostles, who were well known, and would be closely watched by the persecuting Jews, would hardly venture much out at this time, while the memory of recent events was still fresh in men’s minds. Moreover, the uniformity of narrative in regard to this and the preceding apparition would indicate the same place. There was no reason for assembling with closed doors in Galilee. The eighth day was selected, as likely having been assembled on the preceding Sabbath, they did not depart all at once. Our Lord wished to appear when they were together, so that in bestowing the faith on Thomas, He could confirm the faith of all the rest.
27 Then he said to Thomas: Put in thy finger hither and see my hands. And bring hither the hand and put it into my side. And be not faithless, but believing.
“Then He saith to Thomas,” specially addressing Him, whose infidelity he came to cure. He employs the language of doubt used by Thomas, thereby showing His Divinity and Omniscience, conveying to him, that, although absent when Thomas used the language of unbelief, He still knew what he said. Hence, with merciful condescension, He said to him: as you would not believe unless you saw the prints of the nails in My hands, etc., thus irreverently dictating to Me what proof of My Resurrection I was to adduce, as if I could not bring home conviction by the sole act of My will; come now, do what you said, and, by touching Me, “see My hands,” etc.
We cannot but admire the wonderful love and condescension of our Lord in coming to bring about the conversion of His unbelieving Apostle. It is likely, though others think He durst not do it, that Thomas did actually touch our Lord’s hands and feet, which, although now glorified, were, by divine dispensation, made sensible to the sense of touch. “See My hands,” etc. The sense of seeing is made to comprise all the other senses.
“And be not faithless, but believing,” as if He said, thou didst say that unless thou hadst seen My perforated hands and side, thou wouldst not believe. Now, thou hast seen them; I have done My part, by exhibiting My wounds for your inspection, with the merciful design of curing thy blindness and unbelief. Do thou, therefore, thy part; give up thy incredulity, and become a sincere believer.
St. Thomas, it is thought, was guilty of the sin of disbelieving our Lord’s Resurrection. As regards His Divinity, he would seem to have very unsettled and hazy notions. He was guilty of pride, obstinacy and self-conceit, from which his sin of incredulity sprang.
28 Thomas answered and said to him: My Lord and my God.
“Thomas”—addressing our Lord—“said to Him, My Lord,” etc. This short incisive sentence, clearly expresses Thomas’s earnestness. It was a clear confession, on the part of Thomas, of our Lord’s humanity, through which He accomplished Redemption, and thus became, by purchase, Thomas’s “Lord” and Master; and of His Divinity, “my God.” In these words, Thomas acknowledges our Lord to be Man and God, and, that not only did He rise again, but raised Himself up by His own power.
The attempt on the part of some to evade the force of these words, which, in their plain and literal import, clearly denote faith in our Lord’s Divinity and humanity; by saying they were a mere exclamation, “O, My God,” as the Pagans used to exclaim, “Mi Hercle,” etc., is more deserving of ridicule than refutation, as Patrizzi (in hunc locum) observes.
The language is addressed to our Lord Himself. “Thomas … said to Him,” without reproof from our Lord, who, far from reproving him for this irreverent exclamation, as He would have done were it so; on the contrary, commends His faith, of which these words are the only expression on record.
Moreover, it would have been a shocking profanity on the part of Thomas—a thing held in horror by the Jews—to invoke the name of God, so inconsiderately. These words are, therefore, an expression of faith on the part of St. Thomas, in our Lord’s Divinity, accepted and commended by our Lord as such.
29 Jesus saith to him: Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen and have believed.
“Because thou hast seen Me … thou hast believed.” Our Lord clearly commends the faith of Thomas, who, having seen the proofs of His Resurrection, aided by God’s grace, believed in His invisible Divinity, and also believed in what he did not see. viz., that His Resurrection was brought about by His own Divine power. This followed from his believing Him to be his “God.” Our Lord does not reprimand Thomas’s faith, but accepts it. Hence, He accepts his profession, that He was Himself God by nature, and not by participation. He was his “Lord” in right of Redemption, thus indicating His human nature. His “God,” in whom the Divine nature and all the Divine attributes were essentially resplendent.
The words, “thou hast believed,” may be understood of faith in our Lord’s Resurrection. Thomas did not believe in our Lord’s Resurrection, until he had the testimony of the senses and his own experience in proof of it. But, then, having experimental knowledge of the fact, he believed in it, not on account of his knowledge; but, on account of the authority of God revealing it. For His Resurrection proved Him to be God. Our Lord had frequently predicted His own Resurrection. The truth of this Revelation at once dawned on Thomas, and aided by Divine grace, he believed in our Lord’s Resurrection. He believed in His Divinity and Humanity, believed in all He revealed and disclosed. While our Lord commends the faith of Thomas, He tacitly reproaches him for his mode of believing, for his tardiness, and for not simply confiding in the narrative of the other Apostles, who declared they saw Him. In contrast with the obstinate tardiness of Thomas, He praises the simple faith of the others.
“Blessed are they that have not seen.” Under the past, by a Hebrew idiom, often used by the prophets in expressing future events in a past form, is, as if they had actually occurred, included the present, and not the Apostles alone, but, all future believers, such as are referred to, “who have not seen.”
“Blessed,” is used in a comparative sense, a thing, by no means unusual in Scriptures—more blessed. For, Thomas himself was “blessed,” in his faith, “credidisti,” which faith our Lord commends.
The faith of these simple believers referred to by our Lord, is deserving of higher commendation, who, without waiting for the argument of experience and demonstration, as a motive of credibility, accept the proposed truths at once on competent authority propounding them.
30 Many other signs also did Jesus in the sight of his disciples, which are not written in this book.
“Many other signs,” etc. Some understood these words of all the miracles performed by our Lord both during His mortal life and after His Resurrection, of which this is a brief epitome. Others, more probably understand those of the miracles He wrought after His Resurrection in presence of His disciples, in order to confirm their faith in His Resurrection, the foundation of all Christian faith. The miracles performed during His missionary life were performed in presence of others, as well as “in the sight of His disciples.” “Which are not written in the book;” these are recorded partly by the other Apostles. Hence, it is not necessary to repeat them here; as those already recorded are sufficient to prove His Resurrection.
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.
“But these,” viz., the things recorded in this Gospel, “are written,” not only that you may have a record of them, but also, and chiefly, “that you may believe, that Jesus.” the man so called, whose history I have written, “is the Christ,” the promised Messias, “the (natural) Son of God;” and, therefore, consubstantial, and of the same identical Divine nature, with His Father.
“And that (thus) believing, you may have life,” the supernatural life of grace here, and the eternal life of glory, hereafter. “In His name,” through His merits and the redemption wrought by Him. To prove our Lord’s Divinity was the whole scope and end St. John had in view in writing this Gospel. With this theme he commenced, and now with the same he almost concludes his Gospel. He also had in view, as he says here, to bring conviction and faith to the minds of all; and thus to secure for them, life eternal. This design is strictly adhered to throughout the entire Gospel. The record of the miraculous works, arguments and discourses of our Blessed Lord had this clearly in view throughout.