The Epistles of John
by Fr. William Most
Author: There are great similarities in doctrine, style and
vocabulary among these Epistles and the Gospel. Most would admit
that all these are by the one author.
St. Polycarp in his Epistle to Philippi 7:1 clearly alludes to 1
John 22-3 and also to 2 John 7. And Polycarp knew John personally.
Eusebius affirms that Papias used 1 John. There is a complication
in the case of Papias, for he peaks of two Johns. From the end of
2nd century there begin explicit citations: Muratorian Canon, St.
Irenaeus (who knew St. Polycarp), Tertullian and Origen. Early
Canons of Scripture, both East and West, attribute them to John.
A complication comes from the fact that the Beloved Disciple is
left without a name in the Gospel. But St. Irenaeus identifies him
as John, and Irenaeus knew Polycarp who knew John. Also: the
Beloved Disciple is one of inner three: he reclined on breast of
Jesus, was present at the cross, went to the tomb with Peter, the
Mother of Jesus was entrusted to him. Now could not be Peter of
course. Is it James Elder? - but he was martyred in 44, too early
to write the Gospel. James the Younger is barely known outside of
the lists of the Apostles. He then could hardly be the special
Another complication: in 2 John and 3 John he calls himself the
Presbyter, not the Apostle. This is strange, yet Peter also calls
himself a fellow presbyter. (1 Pet. 5:1)
Many today propose that the Gospel of John and 1 John were
composed by a Johannine Community. The reasons are these: 1) they
claim to find traces of splits within the community. 2) They claim
there are signs of breaks in the composition.
I. Splits within the community?
Even among the Twelve there were squabbles --arguing about who is
greater. Jesus used this event to teach humility and the most
essential lesson of all: God is our Father: to get a place in His
mansions we are not required, or able, to earn a place. We get
that because our Father is most generous. Unless by doing evil we
could earn to lose it (This is the essence of the right answer on
The early church of Corinth had factions which Paul combatted.
On his way to Jerusalem: Paul (Acts 20:29) said ravening wolves
would come from their number. -Such as these would be apt to
claim: "We are the church". They really went out, yet claimed to
be within. But not all squabbles led to that situation:, e. g, the
factions at Corinth did not lead to any departures.
Yet there are some texts in 1 John that seem to indicate such
In 2:19: "They went out from us they were not of us". That going
out seems doctrinal rather than moral. --And 2:26. warns against
deception, which would be doctrinal rather than moral. Bad morals
would be scandal, not deception. They can distinguish truth from
error by means of the Spirit given to them.
In 3:6 we read : "No one who abides in him sins" Could hardly mean
those who do not secede are free of sin (Cf. the fact that we have
an advocate, in 2:1, who obtains pardon for sin). Rather we have
here a picture, the sort of thing St. Paul often uses
when he artificially limits his field of vision, as if he were
looking through a tube, and so would see only the things within
the circle formed by the tube. e.g. when he says that no one can
keep the law, and it is the ministry of condemnation, he is
leaving out, (blocked out by the circle), the fact that even
before Christ grace was available. So if one accepts it, he can
stay out of sin. An example of a factual picture (without the
tube's circle) would be the texts early in chapters 3 and 9 of
Romans which say that having the law was a great privilege. In
short this means: the state of being a child of the Father as such
can bring only good, not sin. So: no one who aides in Him sins.
4:15 "everyone who confesses Jesus is of God"--seems to mean
accepts the divinity of Christ, cf. confessing Him to be saved
(=enter the Church) in Rom 10.
5:16 : If we see someone commit a sin which is not mortal, a sin
to death, --pray for him. But if it is mortal--i.e. if he stays in
his sin until he dies, then finally he breaks with the Church,
then we need not pray for him, for he has died in his sin. Of
course we should pray for his conversion, --getting out of the
mortal state, ---this fits with 2 John: whoever denies divinity of
Christ does not have God within him.
3 John 9 speaks of Diotrephes, who rejects John and casts out
those who do accept John. Most likely that break was doctrinal,
not just disciplinary.
Many, not nearly all, hold for the existence of a Johannine
Community, who broke over interpretations of the Gospel of John.
For sure 1 John does speak of some who have broken--but is this
the same? Reasons for a supposed split are chiefly as follows:
The major division in the Gospel of John is between the concept of
a Jesus who is from above, the so-called high vs low christology.
II. There are some strange points. The clearest cases come in
chapters 15-17 and 21, especially they come after verses that seem
to be definite conclusions:
In 14:31: Jesus says He does as the Father has commanded Him: But
right away: "Get up and go hence". But then there is more
discourse on vine and branches. COMMENTS : Could He have said
these added things on the way to garden? And although memories
were fine then, and Jesus probably taught in digestible units, as
the rabbis commonly did, yet what came to mind later could not be
inserted as with an insert key--so just write it on next available
Chapter 20, 30-31 says there were many other things Jesus did and
said so that if all were written down, the: "world could not
contain all the books. These are written so you may believe" --but
then after seeming to have concluded, there follows chap 21 on the
apparition at the Lake and the grant of primacy. COMMENTS: The
comment on memories given in 14:31 above holds here too.
It is said that 16:5 contradicts 14:4. For in 16:5 we read: "Now I
am going to Him who sent me". - but in 14:4: "You know the way".
COMMENT: no problem at all, injected in a long discourse.
The functions of the Paraclete in 14:16-17 and in 14:26 are said
to differ from those given in 16:7-11 and 16:13-14. -- COMMENT:
the lines from cap 14:16-17 say the Father will send another
Paraclete whom the world does not recognize and v. 26 says
Paraclete will bring to your mind all I have said. In contrast,
the lines from chapter 16 say: "If I do not go He will not come
and He will take what is mine from the Father and give it to
you."--COMMENT: no change of function.
So it is suggested these were things circulating in the Johannine
community which were added later on, without good connections--
yes, but again remember they had no insert key.
John's Gospel suggests three groups:
1) Followers of the Baptist: 1:35-37; 3:23-30; 4:1-3; 10:40-42.
COMMENT: There is no solid evidence that followers of John stayed
within the community as followers of John. In 1:35-37, Peter and
Andrew left the Baptist and followed Jesus--so no problem.
In 3:23-30 some followers of the Baptist object that Jesus is
baptizing COMMENT: But John himself had testified to Jesus, as he
then said the objectors had admitted. - In 4:1-4 it is really the
Pharisees who are objecting. -- In 10:40-42 Jesus went where John
was baptizing and they went over to Jesus saying John had not done
any sign, and what John had said about Jesus was true.
Further, when Paul came to Ephesus in Acts 19 he found followers
of John the Baptist. But they readily accepted the baptism of
2) There were Jews who had taken measures to expel those who
believed in Jesus: 9:22-23; 16:1-4a. COMMENT: the Jews who moved
to expel those who went to Jesus did not themselves become part of
the Jcommunity; but those expelled did so.
3) Others, former followers, who now have separated themselves
from Jesus' community over such things as the promise of the
Eucharist: John 6:60-65. COMMENTS: They just gave up on Jesus, no
longer walked with Him.
4) It is claimed that some gave up, seeing the futility to the
mission to the Jews. and so turned to outsiders. This happened
later in the 1st century, some suggest c 90 when the benediction
was formulated against the "heretics ": birkat hamminim. --
COMMENT: There was such a curse against the . Some Jewish Christians then may have given up on
converting other Jews and so turned to the gentiles. But did not
give up altogether, cf. Paul's practice: go first to synagogue,
few converts, often persecution. So he turned to gentiles --but did not give up on Jews altogether He tried to convert
them in other places. And, notice his anguished exclamation in
Romans 9:1 ff. Jesus at first told apostles to go not to the
Samaritans and other gentiles. This was a provisional move.
Apostles were not really psychologically ready to go to gentiles
yet--see the scene in Acts 10, it was not even then a case of
Apostles giving up on gentiles.
5) Finally it is claimed that Peter in the Gospel seems to
represent Christians of apostolic communities outside the
Johannine church. Peter emerges as leader of the Twelve and cap 21
makes Peter the shepherd--but at same time the faith and closeness
of Peter to Jesus are always inferior to that of the Beloved
Disciple. COMMENT: Faith has a double category: sanctifying and
charismatic. Peter was weak on the second, not on the first.
Objector misses distinction of grant of authority and special
warmth of affection. says Jesus had triple love-
-third was a love of feeling. Its special power has nothing to do
with grant of authority.
1:1: The very form of the opening tells us what cannot be put into
words. It does not give the usual greeting. In the beatific vision
there will be no image: the soul, joined to the divinity without
even an image in between, just contemplates and so is filled,
filled beyond what we or any one can now imagine: "Eye has not
seen nor has ear heard what things God has prepared for those who
love Him." So now John can do no more than gaze on this stupendous
reality: "That which was from the beginning." He does not say he
or she -- the absence of gender seems more appropriate. It is a
recalling of the vision with which John's Gospel opens: "In the
beginning was the word". The eagle soars up and up -- suitable
iconography often pictures John as an eagle-- and rests in that
We might perhaps compare it too to the of which St.
Augustine writes in his tract 48 on John 10:22 when he says that
at times we sing to expresses the deepest all-engulfing joy -- but
when we have used up al the words we know for our song, we just
keep on vocalizing melodically. Here too words fail, as they must
always fail in this life.
St. Augustine said: "He should not even be called inexpressible,
for when we say that word, we says something," Pardonable
exaggeration - for though we can say true things about God, when
we take away from our words all that is in any way short of
perfection, hardly anything is left. As Pseudo-Dionysius wrote: He
is best known by unknowing. For we cannot with absolute rightness
say: "In the beginning there was a good Father-- for there is no
beginning. and when we say that He made (past tense) the world, it
is all one eternal present to Him. And if we call Him good, we
must ever remember: One is - good: God. Similarly in this way
Plato could even say He is beyond being; while St. Gregory of
Nyssa wrote well that the object of our seeing consists in not
And yet John continues: "What we have heard, what we have seen
with our eyes and your hands have touched about the Logos of
Life." Great Saints before this day have feared to see God, for
they might die. But John says he has not only seen and heard, but
, the Logos of which He wrote in the opening of
Ecstatic, John continues: "And the Life has appeared, and we have
seen, and we have testified and announced to you the Eternal Life
which was with the Father and has appeared to us. What we have
seen and heard we announce to you so that you too may have a state
of communion ( ) with us and this of
ours is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. We write
these things so that your joy may be in a state of fullness."
Plato had written in his Symposium that no god associates with
men; Aristotle said friendship with a god is impossible--distance
too great. What overflowing joy then to not only associate with
Him, but to become of one nature with Him!
1:5: So this is the message which we have heard from Him and pass
on to you: that God is light, and there is no darkness in Him. It
is not enough to say God has light or dwells in light: He IS
light, much as 1 John says later (4:8 ) God IS love. To say He has
light or has love would be contrary to absolute unity. Hence He is
love, is light. And so the creed says of the Logos: "Deum de Deo,
lumen de lumine." (in mind there is this fact: if a candle is
lighted from a flame, the second flame is as fully flame as the
first. And he first is in no way diminished). The result is this:
if we say we have with Him, and yet walk in darkness,
we are lying, and we do not do the truth. -- The background is
profound: with Him means we even share His nature. But
that divinity we share produces no evil, but only good, so: "no
one who abides in Him sins", (please recall our words above on
"focusing" in the introduction).
In regard to "doing the truth" we need to know that truth in John,
and elsewhere in the NT (e.g., Romans 3:4-7 ) is equated with
good, and the lie with sin. It helps to recall an English
expression that says someone or something is "true to form".
Logically, before God said: "let there be light", He had as it
were within His mind the concept of light. Since this was in that
way in which He created, if we do the truth we are "true to form",
i.e., we match the idea or form within God to which we must
conform, in order to , in order to be "true to form". Hence
St. Augustine said well (City of God 14:4 ) that if we sin we move
in the direction of For it is only when and to
the extent that we are true to the divine form that we exist at
all, that we have good. So to walk in the light is to live one's
life or to walk according to the concept as it were that He had in
His mind before saying: Let it be." (cf. Jn 14:6: "I am the
1 John continues: if we walk in the light, we have not
only with God, but with one another. For to love God is to will
good to Him, i.e., that He may have the satisfaction of being able
to give good to us (possible only if we are open to receive--hence
we keep His commandments which tell us how to be open). But also
we will that our neighbor be open so that: 1) our neighbor may
receive God's gifts -- which is His love and 2) God may have the
satisfaction of being able to give to our neighbor. So in this way
love of God and love of neighbor melt into the same thing. If we
act this way, then the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. Of
itself His blood has infinite power, but to be effective we must
be open, by walking in the Way, which He is, walking in the light.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. (Sirach 7:20;
Prov. 20:9) for everyone sins to some extent. (DB 633). With
ordinary graces one can avoid all mortal sins, and can even avoid
venial sins. And one can reduce the number of
kinds and frequency of sins of frailty--but cannot without an
extraordinary grace avoid all of these. But if we confess our
sins, He is just and faithful and will cleanse us from sin. He is
: This pertains to the covenant in which He has
bound Himself to do good to us if we our sins.
What does mean here? Even though chapter 21 of John's
Gospel institutes the sacrament of Penance, the present mention of
confessing might be something less formal--it could mean the
attitude of admitting in general that we are in the wrong at
times, especially in a sort of liturgical confession such as our
Since we have no entirely clear mention of the
Sacrament of Penance this early - it is clear in the of
Hermas - we suspect this confession is something less than
Further there is no mention of any form of contrition here. Of
course it is presupposed that there is some sort of change of
heart. But there is no such mention--merely if the evil man turns,
he will live. It is worthwhile here to indulge in a bit of
theological speculation. This passage does not mention explicitly
any contrition, nor does Ezekiel 18:21 and 33:14-19. Yet in
changing course, it is implied that the sinner came to see: "What
I am doing is wrong. No more of it after this": Now perfect
contrition is concerned with an offense to the goodness of God,
who is good in Himself. So
His moral rightness within the covenant makes it an act of
to forgive. (On = Hebrew cf.
appendix to Wm. Most ). God who is eager
to save all, will gladly utilize this opening.
2:1-2: If we do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus
Christ. He is propitiation not only for our sins but for those of
the whole world. We gather that His suffering atones for all sins
of all men, for its value is infinite.
Jesus is called the , as in Romans 3:24-26: "We are
justified gratuitously through the redemption in Jesus Christ,
whom God set up as the propitiatory through faith in His blood, to
show His righteousness because of the passing over of previous
sins, in the patience of God to show His righteousness at the
present time, so that He is righteous and makes righteous the one
who depends on faith in Christ Jesus."
The old propitiatory was the golden plate with cherubim on it, on
the top of the ark of the covenant. Once a year (Lev 16:2-13) the
High Priest, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, would sprinkle
the blood of a sacrificed animal on that propitiatory to make
atonement for Israel's sins of the previous year --There was no
other rite for the remission of sins committed ,
"with a high hand", in contrast to things done in inadvertence,
, for which Lev. 4 prescribed sacrifices once the
sinner became aware of his previously not noted sin. It is
imperative to understand God's for
objective righteousness (and not as many would have it, His
salvific activity"- cf. Wm. Most,
appendix on ). If we took it that way then the shedding
of the blood of Jesus would be merely a liturgical ceremony,
excessively painful. Really His blood was a balancing of the
objective order, called for by God's holiness. But taking
righteousness in this sense, the meaning will be that Christ's
blood really rebalanced the objective order which had been put out
of line by sin, but which the Holiness of God wanted to have
Thus atonement means to make up. Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar c 170
(. 1:14) gives a helpful comparison: "He
[anyone] has committed a transgression. Woe to him! He has tipped
the scales to the side of for himself and for the world."
The sinner takes from one pan what he has no right to have. It is
the of God that wants the scales rebalanced. Jesus gave
up, and endured more than all sins of all times - so He atoned for
all. (On the concept of sin as debt cf. Wm. Most, appendix to ). To get in on His atonement we must be His
members and like Him: Rom 8:17: "We are heirs of God, fellow heirs
with Christ, provided we suffer with Him so we may also be
glorified with Him." He calls us heirs of the Father since we have
not our inheritance, we get it from the kindness of our
Father. though we could earn to lose it. He wants "all men to be
saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth", that is, to
formally enter the Church. But if through no fault one fails to
find the Church, but yet follows what the Spirit writes on His
heart (Rom 2:15) he will be a Christian, even if he does not know
it (cf. St. Justin Martyr, 1. 46; 2. 10 and #16). We do not earn it, Jesus earned it for us --
provided we do not forfeit it by sin. Cf. also Paul VI,
, Jan. 1967.
There are two phases: 1) the once-for-all atonement made on the
cross, which established an infinite title or claim to all
forgiveness and grace; 2) the giving out of that which was once-
for-all (cf. Heb. 10:10) earned. In the Mass, Jesus of course does
not suffer or die again. But a sacrifice includes an outward sign
and interior dispositions. The outward sign on Holy Thursday was
the seeming separation of body and blood, in the separate species;
on Friday it was the physical separation in His dying; in the Mass
the sign is again that of Holy Thursday. But in all there is the
interior disposition of obedience to the will of the Father, which
is constant, and so not strictly repeated in the Mass: it is
always present. The outward sign in many Masses is multiplied; the
interior disposition is, as we said, not repeated, but continually
present. Death makes permanent the interior attitude with which
the soul leaves this world.
vv. 3-6: The way we know that we know Him is if we keep His
commandments. Hebrew which is often translated is
really much broader: it means not just mental knowledge, but
adherence of will in obedience, and even conformity in feelings.
Hence if we know Him, we also obey, and are in accord with his
commandments. to obey God is to love Him. Our obedience of course does Him no good, but it
makes us open to receive what He so generously wants to give. St.
Irenaeus wrote ( 4. 14. 1) that God created Adam
not that He needed anything, but to have someone to receive His
gifts. Recall again comments above on 1:5.
2:3-6: If anyone claims to know Him, but does not keep His
commandments, He is a liar and the truth is not in him. - The
thought is the same as in 2:4 above and 2 John 6: "And this is
love [namely] that we walk according to His commandments." The
Pelagians said this meant only that we need to be humble. But that
idea was condemned by II Council of Milan, approved by Pope
Zosimus in 418. Many Gnostics -- whose ideas were probably around
this early (cf. the opponents of Paul in Colossians) said they
were automatically saved, no matter how they lived. But the worst
case of error here is in Martin Luther, who in his of Aug 1, 1521 ( 48. 282)
wrote: "No sin will separate us from the Lamb even if we commit
murder and fornication 1000 times a day." (Yet in his , tr. Packer &
Johnston, Revell. , Old Tappan, N J, 1957, pp. 103-04) he says we
have no free will - our will is like a beast: - either God or
devil rides, and so we do good or evil and go to heaven or hell,
but we have nothing to say about which rider we get, so that those
who go to hell are "undeserving" ( p. 314) and God "saves so few
and damns so many" (p, 101). And so he even says at times he
wishes he had never been made a man (p. 217).
2:7-8: The commandment of love is both old and new (Jn 14:34). But
to love as I have loved you (Jn 15:12) is extending the old. He
died for us when we were still sinners: Rom 5:8. There was a
commandment of love of God in the OT (Dt. 6:3) But the commandment
of love of neighbor was in Lev. 19:18. where the wording is like
that in the Gospel, but the Jews of that time took it to mean only
other Jews are neighbor. Jesus of course properly extended the
2:12-14: John says he writes to his little children since their
sins are forgiven --to fathers since they have known the One who
is from the beginning-- to young men since they have conquered the
evil one. And so on through a largely repetitive set. The language
is odd. It is simply stylized: they know God and do not sin, they
cannot sin (to be a son of God brings only good, it
cannot bring any evil). To make it vivid he uses the several words
for the recipients, but the general sense is the same.
2:15-17: Do not love the world or the things in it. The world here
means the attraction of creatures, or of evil men. If we consider
the world merely as God's creation, we would not speak the same
way. Vatican II, #7 teaches that all
creatures are good: God made them all good in Genesis 1; they have
added dignity, being destined for men, the peak of visible
creation; they have very high dignity Jesus in the
Incarnation took on a created nature and used created things. It
used to be common to speak of
despising the world, and not loving it. And in Phil 3:7-8 St. Paul
says he has gladly taken the loss of all things for Christ, and
considers them as dung (), to gain Christ. Paul is
speaking there like 1 John. And beautifully in Wisdom of Solomon
9:15 we read that the magic spell of paltry things corrupts the
soul and weighs it down. Pagan Socrates many times said the same
thing: in 82-83 Plato reports Socrates said that each
pleasure and pain seems to nail the soul to the body and makes it
bodily, so that the soul thinks things are true if the body say
so. Therefore Socrates concludes that the soul that seeks the
truth should have as little as possible to do with the things of
the body. (Cf. 519).
But here is no contradiction with what our Epistle says: there are
two scales on which we weigh the two. Compared to the things of
eternity the things of this world seem nothing or worse than
1 John then urges us to avoid the three chief things that take us
away from God. First, the . This means
not just the disorderly use of feelings and passions: it includes
the attraction of earthly things, such as we have just seen above.
Secondly comes , which desire to see
things that arouse lust, and even idle curiosity. In the day of 1
John there was also the desire to see the cruel gladiator fights.
Thirdly, he warns against . This means not just
deficiencies in humility, but every unrestrained desire of honors,
or power. The saying is so true: power corrupts, and absolute
power corrupts absolutely. This is a stronger pull on one than
even sex. In fact, pride is the root of absolutely every sin. We
think of Eve in the garden: the tempter told her the forbidden
fruit was good, that she would be like God, able to determine for
herself what was good or bad. She looked at the fruit, and as it
were said to herself: "God may know what is right many times --but
right now, I know better." Pride can mimic humility: wanting to be
praised for what seems to be humility.
How can kings and others with absolute power swallow some of the
silly flattery they receive? Before we put a man in space, a
preliminary experiment put him in a sealed capsule with no light
or any other sensation. In a relatively short time all got
hallucinations. In normal circumstances if a foolish thought
comes, we readily compare it with reality about us, and see it is
silly. But the man in the capsule has no points of reference, and
so loses perspective. Similarly a king - or for that matter anyone
with power such that all around him fear to tell him anything he
might not like loses his points of reference, and can believe
truly vain things. Not only kings but powerful ecclesiastics,
judges, doctors, and many others suffer from this danger.
The world and its desires are passing: to ignore its pulls so as
to adhere to God makes one share in His eternal perspective.
2:18-21: This is the last hour of God's dealings with our race.
The first was the time of the Old Testament. It is now completed
and fulfilled by leading into the last period of God's dealings
with us: the New Testament. John does not mean that the end of the
world is just around the corner. In 1 Cor 7:29 Paul says the time
has grown short. In 2 Thes 2:7 Paul says the mystery of iniquity
is already at work: the forces of evil are at work. This includes
the lesser antichrists. But there is still to come the great
Antichrist, who will even sit in the temple proclaiming himself
God. (When we recall the description of the future restored
Jerusalem Temple, in Ezek 40-48, perhaps here that will be the
time and place for the chief Antichrist to sit proclaiming himself
Jesus warned in Mt 24:24 that the great Antichrist would work
signs and wonders so as to deceive if possible even the elect. He
will not be satan incarnate - the devil does not have such a
capability. But the devil will put all his power at the disposal
of the Antichrist. Will Antichrist be able to work a wonder and
present it as the authentication of himself? In Exodus the
magicians of Pharaoh turned rods into snakes; but the snake from
the rod of Moses devoured the other snakes. So God in some way or
other will always provide the means of recognizing the deception
of the Antichrist. The mere fact that Jesus thus warns us is
enough. And when Jesus Himself really comes, He will not be in
some out of the way place: His coming will be as clear as
lightning flashing from one end of the sky to another.
Further, the period of the Antichrist is often given as 3 1/2
years in Revelation/Apocalypse. that is apt to be a symbolic
number: but it surely means that that period will be relatively
Also, Jesus warns in Luke 18:8: "When the Son of Man comes, do you
think He will find faith on the earth." And 2 Thes 2:3 gives the
same warning. Similarly Mt 24:12 says that the love of most people
will grow cold since sin will reach its peak, "filling up its
measure". Cf. also 2 Timothy 3:1 ff on the characteristics of men
near the end.
Now it is true that St. Paul three times teaches that the grace of
final perseverance will be offered to all: 1 Thes 4:23-24; 1 Cor
1:8-9; Phil 1:6. Yet one could resist even that grace. However
there is a final protection. Pius XI wrote in AAS
15. 104, Feb. 2, 1932: "Nor would he incur eternal death whom the
most Blessed Virgin assists especially at his last hour. This view
of the Doctors of the Church, in accord with the feelings of the
Christian people and supported by the experience of all times,
depends especially on this reason: the fact that the Sorrowful
Virgin shared in the work of redemption with Jesus Christ. . ."
There are similar teachings of Benedict XV and Pius XII. Benedict
XV also called her "omnipotentia supplex" - whatever God can do by
His own inherent power, she can obtain by asking Him.
22-25: The liar and antichrist is the one who denies the divinity
of the Son. Such a one has neither the Son nor the Father.
26-29: I have written these things to you. But you have the
anointing from Him, and do not need anyone to teach you. Vatican
II in LG 12. wrote: "The entire body of the faithful, anointed as
they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief." This
is often called passive infallibility: if the whole Church, people
and authorities has believed -- accepted as revealed -- anything,
that belief cannot be in error. This of course would not apply to
remote and recondite points of theology, but it does apply to most
truths. It does not mean that the Magisterium should be merely the
echo of the people: LH adds that the people do this "under the
lead of the sacred magisterium, which they faithfully follow."
A truth once guaranteed by this universal belief cannot be changed
or reversed if at a later time the people fall away from it--as is
the case today when most Catholics reject the teaching on
contraception. This covers so many things: e.g. today many deny
the existence of angels, though the whole Church has long believed
in them. and John urges them to do this, so that when He appears,
they may not be ashamed, but may be able to stand before Him with
3:1-3:Look at what kind of love the Father has given us, namely
that we should not only be called sons of God, but really be sons,
sharing in His very nature.
"When He appears we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He
is" In what way? In Mt 11:27 we read: "No one knows the Son except
the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone
to whom the Son wills to reveal Him." For in the vision of God,
the divinity joins itself to the created soul without even an
image in between, even the three Divine Persons know each other
within the Holy Trinity. So the Eastern Fathers with pardonable
If we go back to the opening of John's Gospel, we can begin to get
some glimpse: "In the beginning was the Word." That is, the Father
speaks one Word. But it is not a ripple in the air such as our
words, which cannot fully express the speaker. No, the Father's
Word is substantial, and fully expresses Him. thus Father and Son
know each other. But means not just mental knowledge: it
includes will as well for to love is to will good to another for
the other's sake. So the Father wills divine nature to the Son:
thus He intellectually knows and wills or loves the Son. Father
and Son together will divinity to the Holy Spirit. By this will
the Spirit is constituted and is God --this is ,
sharing, in the most perfect way. This is the perfect
which John speaks of above in 1:3. We are given to take part in
this -- thus we share in the Divine Nature itself!
So the Three Persons know and love each other and God IS love. The
act of creating wills our being to us, and so we come into
existence by the knowledge and will of God.
Already 1:3. said we are in with him, John And also
with others who have come to this divine life. Within this
- we explained it above-- we will good to neighbor by
willing that he be open (by obedience) to receive what God likes
to give. But this love of neighbor entails also love of God, for
by willing that our neighbor receive from God, we will that God
may have the satisfaction of giving, which so pleases Him. We
recall again the words of St. Irenaeus cited above: "God created
Adam, not that He had need of anything, but to have someone to
whom to give His goodness."
St. Paul told the Ephesians (5:24-33) that marriage is an image of
the union of Christ with His Church. Yes, marriage is aimed
basically at the continuation of our race, but it does this by
producing the of husband and wife. In this sense Pope
Pius XI wrote brilliantly : "this mutual inner conformation of the
spouses to each other, this constant zeal to perfect each other,
can in a most true way, as the teaches, be
called the primary reason and cause of marriage, if it be
understood not narrowly as the institution for procreating and
educating offspring, but more broadly as the communion (really:
), custom and association of the whole of life." (, DS 3707).
The last line of v 3 adds an important conclusion: Everyone who
has this hope, purifies himself, as He is pure. If we even begin
to realize the goal expressed in the above lines, of being a
sharer in the divine nature, we begin to see that all things on
this earth are or little or no value compared to it. - we recall
again what was said above about St. Paul's words saying all things
in this world are so much dung compared to eternity. We spoke of
: for there is an immense difference between
what Cardinal Newman called notional knowledge and realized
knowledge. If we read or hear there is a famine in Africa, we
believe it. But it is not apt to move us much. But if we went to
the famine area, and saw people dying, and got hungry ourselves:
then we would know the same thing in a realized way. There is a
large scale, a huge difference between deeply realized and merely
3:4-10: The sinner violates the law and sin is lawlessness. And we
know that He, Jesus, came to take away sin, and there is no sin in
Him. So whoever remains in Him does not sin: Everyone who sins has
not seen Him or known Him. So John begs his little children: let
no one deceive you. He who does what is right is righteous as He
is righteous. means is in accord with the true form,
as we saw in 1:5.
He who sins is of the devil, is a son of satan. Satan sins from
the beginning. We note John does not say he but
There are three kinds of duration: time, eternity and
aevum. In time, all kinds of change are possible and do happen.
There is deep change, i.e., substantial change. There is also
accidental, shallow change. If we look ahead to the moment ahead
of us it is future, but quickly it changes to present, and then to
past. This restless unending cycle of change is characteristic of
time. In eternity taken in the strict sense, there is no change,
and so no past, and no future. Thus we say that God made the
world, a past statement. But to His eye it is all present. We say
Christ will return: again: to the divine eye it is all present.
When a human sins, he never sees with ultimate clarity everything
about this action. So there is room for him to reconsider, to go
back over it, in the future and say within himself: That was not
right, it was evil. I wish I had not done it, no more of that. But
angels and devils are incapable of reconsidering. Humans, since
their intelligence is composed on two parts, the material brain,
and the spiritual intellect, never see things with absolute
clarity at the time of sinning: the material instrument, the
physical brain, hinders the clarity of the spiritual intellect. In
contrast, the intellect of an angel or devil since it lacks the
material instrument that is the physical brain, sees all with
maximum possible clarity at the time of acting, and so cannot
reconsider, and so cannot repent. So the devil, having once turned
his will to evil cannot undo that evil: he is eternally fixed in
evil; while angels are eternally fixed in good. So Johns says very
exactly, not that the devil has sinned, but that he sins. He is
eternally fixed in evil.
But departed souls, and angels and devils are not in time, but in
, the kind of duration in which there is no substantial or
deep change, but only accidental change. And that does not go on
constantly like our succession of future-present-past. Those who
are in in a way participate in the timelessness of God.
There is no constant change for them. In a way those in
are like God - they simply ARE as He simply IS. (For a soul in the
vision of God, there is no boredom: God is infinite, and also they
do not go through an endless succession of changes: they ARE
totally filled, completely blessed).
3:11-12: For this is the message you have heard from the
beginning: we should love one another. We should not be like Cain,
who was of the evil one and killed his brother. And for what
reason? Because Cain's works were evil, while the works of his
brother were just. In Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-20 we see the wicked
say that the just man is a reproach to them. So they plot to kill
him by a shameful death. - We cannot help wondering if the
inspired author wrote more than he understood, for the Chief
Author, the Holy Spirit could clearly have had more in mind than
the human author saw. Vatican II in LG 55 shows they are uncertain
if the writers of Gen 3:15 and Isaiah 7:14 understood all the
Church has gradually come to see in those texts, led by the full
light of the Holy Spirit.
So Cain could have been distressed by the life of his brother,
which was a reproach to him. St. Augustine in 15:7
thinks the sacrifice of Cain was not accepted because of a lack of
the interior disposition of obedience to God. For it is that
interior which gives all the value to a sacrifice.
3:13-18: Since we have moved over from the realm of death to life,
we are a reproach to the wicked. No wonder the world finds us
disagreeable. John calls one who hates his brother a murderer --
the sense is that hate consists in willing evil to another for the
other's sake. Logically that is the root of doing evil to him,
culminating in murder. Cf. Mt. 5:21-22. Then, whoever hates does
not have eternal life remaining in him. For this is eternal life,
namely: to know the Father and Him whom He has sent. (Jn 17:3). In
heaven the soul knows and loves God -- both included in ,
and it reaches even to with Him, as we explained above.
Even in this life we can have by grace, the Three Persons present
in our soul. Now a spirit is present wherever it causes an effect.
The effect is imparting the basic capability of knowing and loving
Him later face to face.
Some commentators, not seeing this link, have said that John at
time speaks of realized eschatology. But the eternal life is both
now and then.
The practical test of this love of neighbor is doing good to him.
If neighbor is in need, and we have the means, to refuse to help
denies our claim of having interior love for him, for love wills
good to another for the other's sake.
3:19-24: And this, namely the fact that our deeds show our love is
genuine, reassures our hearts before Him whenever (or if) our
hearts reproach us -- for God is greater than our hearts, and He
knows everything. So dear children if our hearts do not reproach
us and our deeds to neighbor show that we are at least basically
on the right side we can have speak confidently to Him, and we
receive whatever we ask , since we keep His commandments and do
what pleases Him -- the phrasing in the above is crucial. If we
grouped words differently it might be taken to mean that even if
our hearts reproach us we are still all right, for God still know
And this is the commandment, namely that we believe in the name of
His' Son, Jesus Christ and love one another as He has commanded
us. And he who keeps His commandments remains in Him. And by this
means do we know that He remains in us, by the Spirit He has given
us. - the Spirit leads us to know and do His will (Rom 8:9 & 2:14-
1- 4: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, for many lying spirits
are in the world today. We can recognize the Spirit of God in this
way: Every spirit that confesses Jesus Christ, who is divine, has
come in the flesh is a spirit from God. And every spirit that does
not confess Jesus, is not from God. You have heard that he is
coming and he is now here. And such a one is an antichrist.
5-6: Those who are of the world speak in accord with the world ,
and the world listens to them. But we are of God. One who knows
God listens to us. One who is not of God does not listen to us. By
this means we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of lie.
7-10: Beloved let us love one another, for love is of God, and
everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. One who does not
love does not know God, for God is love. (We explained above in
1:5 in what sense God is love).
The love of God was made clear in this, namely, that He sent His
Son into the world that it might be saved through Him (cf. John
3:16). We stressed above that to love is to will good to another
for the other's sake. But then, if in our effort to bring good to
the other, a small obstacle will stop us - our love is small. But
if even an immense or measureless obstacle will not stop us, then
our love is beyond measure. The Father sent His Son to a horrible
death to bring us the good of eternal life. --Really since even
the first instant of the incarnation was infinite in merit and
satisfaction, the Father could have stopped there. But even when
His Son begged in a sweat of blood to go no further-- farther than
needed--the Father's love still pressed on.
11-16: Beloved, if God has loved us in this way, we too must love
one another. No one has ever seen God, but yet, if we love one
another we know by this means that God is within us and His love
is perfect within us. A spirit does not take up space, but we know
He is present from the effects He is producing in us: we can tell
that by the effect His Spirit produces in us: love for one another
is an effect of the love of God, for love of God and love of
others are inseparable, as we explained in 1:5. speaking of
. We have seen and we bear witness that the Father has
sent His Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus
is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. --. We have
known and have believed in the love which God has in and for us.
For God is love, as we explained in comments on 1:5 above, and the
one who abides in His love has God abiding in him.
17-21: Perfect love brings it about that we have confidence on the
day of judgment, for as He is in the world so are we -- He is God-
man; we by grace become men-gods. He is in the world, not of the
world, so should we be. But then John advances: he has been
speaking of love and fear abstractly. Now in the concrete, if love
really is perfect, it eliminates all fear on the day of judgment -
- but in practice, love may not be entirely perfect. The ideal is
the realization of with Him (cf. notes on 1:5)
We love, for He has first loved us. --- We would not be able to
love, in fact, would not be, if He had not taken the initiative in
loving us. We recall the text of St. Irenaeus that God created not
out of need of anything, but to have someone to receive His gifts.
One who does not love his brother whom he has seen, will not love
God whom he cannot see. This does not mean that love of God must
include feeling -- rather John compares two things:. Loving what
we cannot see is more difficult than loving one we can see. Love
in humans includes two elements: the act of will in willing good
to the other for the other's sake, and the feeling that in human
affairs often goes along with it. The feeling is the somatic
resonance to real love, which resides in the will. There need be
no feeling in our love of God. In fact one might have strong
feelings toward God and have no love of Him: not obeying His
1-4: Everyone who believes Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and
everyone who loves the parent loves the child. The way for us to
know that we love the children of God is if we love God and obey
His commandments This is love of God, namely, keeping the
commandments. And His commandments are not heavy. For every one
who is born of God conquers the world -- the one born of God
cannot sin-- and this is the victory that conquers the world: our
faith. - Faith includes obedience, and obedience to God is the
same as love of God. Please cf. also comments above on 1:5.
5-12: Who is the one that conquers the world but the one who
believes that Jesus is the Son of God. He is the one who came
through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not in water alone, but in
water and in blood -- the reference is to the water of baptism and
the blood which flowed from His side. The Spirit who is truth,
testifies to the truth of this. Then vv. 7-8 add: "There are three
who give witness: the Spirit and the water and the blood. And
these three are one." The Biblical Commission at first strongly
discouraged denying these words, "the Johanine Comma" were by the
author of 1 John, but later it admitted scholars may continue to
discuss the question of authorship--it has always been clear that
these words are part of inspired Scripture.
If we accept the testimony of men, the testimony of God is
greater. And this is that testimony: He has testified to His Son.
One who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in himself.
The one who does not believe makes God a liar by not believing
what God has testified about His Son. And the testimony is this:
that God gave eternal life to us, and this eternal life is in His
Son. Whoever has the Son has eternal life. The one who does not
have the Son of God does not have life.
13-15: I have written these things to you so you may know that you
have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God.
And this is the confidence we have towards Him, that whatever we
ask according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He
hears us in whatever we ask we know that we have obtained the
requests that we have made of Him.
16-17: If anyone sees his brother committing a sin that does is
not finally death-bringing, he will ask and life will be given
him, to the one who does not commit sins that are finally death-
bringing. There is a sin that is finally death-bringing. I do not
say that one should pray for that one. All violation of the law is
sin, but there is also a sin that is not finally death-bringing.
The lack of precise terms here is a problem. John does not mean of
course that there is no use in praying for someone who commits
mortal sin - it is the sin that is going to bring
spiritual death, i.e., the sin of final impenitence, or such
hardening that it is hardly possible for the sinner to repent.
We know that everyone who is born of God does not sin. The One who
is born of God (Jesus) keeps the man and the evil one does not
touch him. We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies
under the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and
has given us understanding so as to know Him who is true. And we
are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true
God and eternal life.
Little children, keep yourself from idols.
Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN