From: John 1:1-18
 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word
was God.  He was in the beginning with God;  all things were made through
him, and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life,
and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the
darkness has not overcome it.
 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came for
testimony to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.  He
was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.
 The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.  He
was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him
not.  He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. 
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become
children of God;  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor
of the will of man, but of God.
 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we
have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the father.  (John bore
witness to him, and cried, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me
ranks before me, for he was before me.’”)  And from his fullness have we all
received, grace upon grace.  For the law was given through Moses; grace
and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God; the only
Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.
1-18. These verses form the prologue or introduction to the Fourth Gospel; they
are a poem prefacing the account of Jesus Christ’s life on earth, proclaiming
and praising his divinity and eternity. Jesus is the uncreated Word, God the
Only-begotten, who takes on our human condition and offers us the opportunity
to become sons and daughters of God, that is, to share in God’s own life in a
real and supernatural way.
Right through his Gospel St John the Apostle lays special emphasis on our
Lord’s divinity; his existence did not begin when he became man in Mary’s vir-
ginal womb: before that he existed in divine eternity as Word, one in sub-
stance with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This luminous truth helps us under-
stand everything that Jesus says and does as reported in the Fourth Gospel.
St John’s personal experience of Jesus’ public ministry and his appearances
after the Resurrection were the material on which he drew to contemplate
God’s divinity and express it as “the Word of God”. By placing this poem as
a prologue to his Gospel, the Apostle is giving us a key to understand the
whole account which follows, in the same sort of way as the first chapters of
the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke initiate us into the contemplation of
the life of Christ by telling us about the virgin birth and other episodes to do
with his infancy; in structure and content, however, they are more akin to the
opening passages of other NT books, such as Col 1:15-20, Eph 1:13-14 and
1 Jn 1-4.
The prologue is a magnificent hymn in praise of Christ. We do not know whe-
ther St John composed it when writing his Gospel, or whether he based it on
some existing liturgical hymn; but there is no trace of any such text in other
early Christian documents.
The prologue is very reminiscent of the first chapter of Genesis, on a number
of scores: 1) the opening words are the same: “In the beginning...”; in the Gos-
pel they refer to absolute beginning, that is, eternity, whereas in Genesis they
mean the beginning of Creation and time; 2) there is a parallelism in the role of
the Word: in Genesis, God creates things by his word (”And God said ...”); in
the Gospel we are told that they were made through the Word of God; 3) in Ge-
nesis, God’s work of creation reaches its peak when he creates man in his own
image and likeness; in the Gospel, the work of the Incarnate Word culminates
when man is raised — by a new creation, as it were — to the dignity of being a
son of God.
The main teachings in the prologue are: 1) the divinity and eternity of the Word;
2) the Incarnation of the Word and his manifestation as man; 3) the part played
by the Word in creation and in the salvation of mankind; 4) the different ways
in which people react to the coming of the Lord — some accepting him with
faith, others rejecting him; 5) finally, John the Baptist bears witness to the
presence of the Word in the world.
The Church has always given special importance to this prologue; many Fa-
thers and ancient Christian writers wrote commentaries on it, and for centuries
it was always read at the end of Mass for instruction and meditation.
The prologue is poetic in style. Its teaching is given in verses, which combine
to make up stanzas (vv. 1-5; 6-8; 9-13; 14-18). Just as a stone dropped in a
pool produces ever widening ripples, so the idea expressed in each stanza
tends to be expanded in later verses while still developing the original theme.
This kind of exposition was much favored in olden times because it makes it
easier to get the meaning across — and God used it to help us go deeper into
the central mysteries of our faith.
1. The sacred text calls the Son of God “the Word.” The following comparison
may help us understand the notion of “Word”: just as a person becoming con-
scious of himself forms an image of himself in his mind, in the same way God
the Father on knowing himself begets the eternal Word. This Word of God is
singular, unique; no other can exist because in him is expressed the entire
essence of God. Therefore, the Gospel does not call him simply “Word”, but
“the Word.” Three truths are affirmed regarding the Word — that he is eternal,
that he is distinct from the Father, and that he is God. ‘’Affirming that he exis-
ted in the beginning is equivalent to saying that he existed before all things”
(St Augustine, “De Trinitate”, 6, 2). Also, the text says that he was with God,
that is, with the Father, which means that the person of the Word is distinct
from that of the Father and yet the Word is so intimately related to the Father
that he even shares his divine nature: he is one in substance with the Father
(cf. “Nicean Creed”).
To mark the Year of Faith (1967-1968) Pope Paul VI summed up this truth con-
cerning the most Holy Trinity in what is called the “Creed of the People of God”
(n. 11) in these words: “We believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Son
of God. He is the eternal Word, born of the Father before time began, and one
in substance with the Father, “homoousios to Patri”, and through him all things
were made. He was incarnate of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit,
and was made man: equal therefore to the Father according to his divinity, and
inferior to the Father according to his humanity and himself one, not by some
impossible confusion of his natures, but by the unity of his person.”
“In the beginning”: “what this means is that he always was, and that he is eter-
nal. [...] For if he is God, as indeed he is, there is nothing prior to him; if he is
creator of all things, then he is the First; if he is Lord of all, then everything
comes after him — created things and time” (St John Chrysostom, “Hom. on St
John”, 2, 4).
3. After showing that the Word is in the bosom of the Father, the prologue goes
on to deal with his relationship to created things. Already in the Old Testament
the Word of God is shown as a creative power (cf. Is 55:10-11), as Wisdom pre-
sent at the creation of the world (cf. Prov 8:22-26). Now Revelation is extended:
we are shown that creation was caused by the Word; this does not mean that
the Word is an instrument subordinate and inferior to the Father: he is an active
principle along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The work of creation is an
activity common to the three divine Persons of the Blessed Trinity: “the Father
generating, the Son being born, the Holy Spirit proceeding; consubstantial, co-
equal, co-omnipotent and co-eternal; one origin of all things: the creator of all
things visible and invisible, spiritual and corporal.” (Fourth Lateran Council, “De
Fide Catholica”, Dz-Sch, 800). From this can be deduced, among other things,
the hand of the Trinity in the work of creation and, therefore, the fact that all
created things are basically good.
4. The prologue now goes on to expound two basic truths about the Word — that
he is Life and that he is Light. The Life referred to here is divine life, the primary
source of all life, natural and supernatural. And that Life is the light of men, for
from God we receive the light of reason, the light of truth and the light of glory,
which are a participation in God’s mind. Only a rational creature is capable of
having knowledge of God in this world and of later contemplating him joyfully in
heaven for all eternity. Also the Life (the Word) is the light of men because he
brings them out of the darkness of sin and error (cf. Is 8:23; 9:1-2; Mt 4:15-16;
Lk 1:74). Later on Jesus will say: “I am the light of the world; he who follows
me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12; cf. 12:46).
Vv. 3 and 4 can be read with another punctuation, now generally abandoned but
which had its supporters in ancient times: “All things were made through him,
and without him nothing was made; in so far as anything was made in him, he
was the life and the life was the light of men.” This reading would suggest that
everything that has been created is life in the Word, that is, that all things re-
ceive their being and activity, their life, through the Word: without him they can-
not possibly exist.
5. “And the darkness has not overcome it”: the original Greek verb, given in
Latin as “comprehenderunt”, means to embrace or contain as if putting one’s
arms around it — an action which can be done with good dispositions (a friendly
embrace) or with hostility (the action of smothering or crushing someone). So
there are two possible translations: the former is that given in the Navarre
Spanish, the latter that in the RSV. The RSV option would indicate that Christ
and the Gospel continue to shine among men despite the world’s opposition,
indeed overcoming “it”, as Jesus later says: “Be of good cheer: I have over-
come the world” (Jn 16:33; cf. 12:31; 1 Jn 5:4). Either way, the verse expres-
ses the darkness’ resistance to, repugnance for, the light. As his Gospel pro-
ceeds, St John explains further about the light and darkness: soon, in vv. 9-11,
he refers to the struggle between them; later he will describe evil and the po-
wers of the evil one, as a darkness enveloping man’s mind and preventing him
from knowing God (cf. Jn 12:15-46; 1 Jn 5:6).
St Augustine (”In Ioann. Evang.”, 1, 19) comments on this passage as follows:
“But, it may be, the dull hearts of some cannot yet receive this light. Their sins
weigh them down, and they cannot discern it. Let them not think, however, that,
because they cannot discern it, therefore it is not present with them. For they
themselves, because of their sins, are darkness. Just as if you place a blind
person in the sunshine, although the sun is present to him, yet he is absent
from the sun; in the same way, every foolish man, every unrighteous man, every
ungodly man, is blind in heart. [...] What course then ought such a one to take?
Let him cleanse the eyes of his heart, that he may be able to see God. He will
see Wisdom, for God is Wisdom itself, and it is written: ‘Blessed are the clean
of heart, for they shall see God.’” There is no doubt that sin obscures man’s
spiritual vision, rendering him unable to see and enjoy the things of God.
6-8. After considering the divinity of the Lord, the text moves on to deal with his
incarnation, and begins by speaking of John the Baptist, who makes his appea-
rance at a precise point in history to bear direct witness before man to Jesus
Christ (Jn 1:15, 19-36; 3:22ff). As St Augustine comments: “For as much as he
[the Word Incarnate] was man and his Godhead was concealed, there was sent
before him a great man, through whose testimony He might be found to be more
than man” (”In Ioann. Evang.”, 2, 5).
All of the Old Testament was a preparation for the coming of Christ. Thus, the
patriarchs and prophets announced, in different ways, the salvation the Messiah
would bring. But John the Baptist, the greatest of those born of woman (cf. Mt
11:11), was actually able to point out the Messiah himself; his testimony marked
the culmination of all the previous prophecies.
So important is John the Baptist’s mission to bear witness to Jesus Christ that
the Synoptic Gospels stage their account of the public ministry with John’s
testimony. The discourses of St Peter and St Paul recorded in the Acts of the
Apostles also refer to this testimony (Acts 1:22; 10:37; 12:24). The Fourth Gos-
pel mentions it as many as seven times (1:6, 15, 19, 29, 35; 3:27; 5:33). We
know, of course, that St John the Apostle was a disciple of the Baptist before
becoming a disciple of Jesus, and that it was precisely the Baptist who showed
him the way to Christ (cf. 1 :37ff).
The New Testament, then, shows us the importance of the Baptist’s mission,
as also his own awareness that he is merely the immediate Precursor of the
Messiah, whose sandals he is unworthy to untie (cf. Mk 1:7): the Baptist stres-
ses his role as witness to Christ and his mission as preparer of the way for the
Messiah (cf. Lk 1:15-17; Mt 3: 3-12). John the Baptist’s testimony is undimi-
nished by time: he invites people in every generation to have faith in Jesus, the
9. “The true light...” [The Spanish translation of this verse is along these lines:
“It was the true light that enlightens every man who comes into the world.”] The
Fathers, early translations and most modern commentators see “the Word” as
being the subject of this sentence, which could therefore be translated as “the
Word was the true light that enlightens every man who comes into the world...”.
Another interpretation favored by many modern scholars makes “the light” the
subject, in which case it would read “the true light existed, which enlightens...”.
Either way, the meaning is much the same.
“Coming into the world”: it is not clear in the Greek whether these words refer
to “the light”, or to “every man”. In the first case it is the Light (the Word) that
is coming into this world to enlighten all men; in the second it is the men who,
on coming into this world, on being born, are enlightened by the Word; the
RSV and the new Vulgate opt for the first interpretation.
The Word is called “the true light” because he is the original light from which
every other light or revelation of God derives. By the Word’s coming, the world
is fully lit up by the authentic Light. The prophets and all the other messengers
of God, including John the Baptist, were not the true light but his reflection,
attesting to the Light of the Word.
Apropos the fullness of light which the Word is, St John Chrysostom asks: “If
he enlightens every man who comes into the world, how is it that so many have
remained unenlightened? For not all, to be sure, have recognized the high dignity
of Christ. How, then, does he enlighten every man? As much as he is permitted
to do so. But if some, deliberately closing the eyes of their minds, do not wish
to receive the beams of this light, darkness is theirs. This is not because of the
nature of the light, but is a result of the wickedness of men who deliberately
deprive themselves of the gift of grace (Hom. on St. John, 8, 1).
10. The Word is in this world as the maker who controls what he has made (cf.
St Augustine, “In Ioann. Evang.”, 2, 10). In St John’s Gospel the term “world”
means “all creation, all created things (including all mankind)”: thus, Christ
came to save all mankind: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only
Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For
God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world
might be saved through him” (Jn 3:16-17). But insofar as many people have
rejected the Light, that is, rejected Christ, “world” also means everything op-
posed to God (cf. Jn 17:14-15). Blinded by their sins, men do not recognize
in the world the hand of the Creator (cf. Rom 1:18-20; Wis 13:1-15): “they be-
come attached to the world and relish only the things that are of the world”
(St John Chrysostom, “Hom. on St John”, 7). But the Word, “the true light”,
comes to show us the truth about the world (cf. Jn 1:3; 18:37) and to save us.
11. “His own home, his own people”: this means, in the first place, the Jewish
people, who were chosen by God as his own personal “property”, to be the
people from whom Christ would be born. It can also mean all mankind, for man-
kind is also his: he created it and his work of redemption extends to everyone.
So the reproach that they did not receive the Word made man should be under-
stood as addressed not only to the Jews but to all those who rejected God de-
spite his calling them to be his friends: “Christ came; but by a mysterious and
terrible misfortune, not everyone accepted him. [...] It is the picture of humani-
ty before us today, after twenty centuries of Christianity. How did this happen?
What shall we say? We do not claim to fathom a reality immersed in myste-
ries that transcend us — the mystery of good and evil. But we can recall that
the economy of Christ, for its light to spread, requires a subordinate but neces-
sary cooperation on the part of man — the cooperation of evangelization, of the
apostolic and missionary Church. If there is still work to be done, it is all the
more necessary for everyone to help her” (Paul VI, General Audience, 4 De-
12. Receiving the Word means accepting him through faith, for it is through
faith that Christ dwells in our hearts (cf. Eph 3:17). Believing in his name means
believing in his Person, in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. In other words,
“those who believe in his name are those who fully hold the name of Christ, not
in any way lessening his divinity or his humanity” (St Thomas Aquinas, “Com-
mentary on St John, in loc.”).
“He gave power [to them]” is the same as saying “he gave them a free gift” —
sanctifying grace — “because it is not in our power to make ourselves sons of
God” (”ibid.”). This gift is extended through Baptism to everyone, whatever his
race, age, education etc. (cf. Acts 10:45; Gal 3:28). The only condition is that
we have faith.
“The Son of God became man”, St Athanasius explains, “in order that the sons
of men, the sons of Adam, might become sons of God. [...] He is the Son of
God by nature; we, by grace” (”De Incarnatione Contra Arrianos”). What is re-
ferred to here is birth to supernatural life: in which “Whether they be slaves or
freemen, whether Greeks or barbarians or Scythians, foolish or wise, female or
male, children or old men, honorable or without honor, rich or poor, rulers or
private citizens, all, he meant, would merit the same honor. [...] Such is the
power of faith in him; such the greatness of his grace” (St John Chrysostom,
“Hom. on St John”, 10, 2).
“Christ’s union with man is power and the source of power, as St John stated
so incisively in the prologue of his Gospel: ‘(The Word) gave power to become
children of God.’ Man is transformed inwardly by this power as the source of a
new life that does not disappear and pass away but lasts to eternal life (cf. Jn
4:14)” (Bl. John Paul II, “Redemptor Hominis”, 18).
13. The birth spoken about here is a real, spiritual type of generation which is
effected in Baptism (cf. 3:6ff). Instead of the plural adopted here, referring to the
supernatural birth of men, some Fathers and early translations read it in the sin-
gular: “who was born, not of blood...but of God”, in which case the text would
refer to the eternal generation of the Word and to Jesus’ generation through the
Holy Spirit in the pure womb of the Virgin Mary. Although the second reading is
very attractive, the documents (Greek manuscripts, early translations, referen-
ces in the works of ecclesiastical writers, etc.) show the plural text to be the
more usual, and the one that prevailed from the fourth century forward. Besides,
in St John’s writings we frequently find reference to believers as being born of
God (cf. Jn 3:3-6; 1 Jn 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18).
The contrast between man’s natural birth (by blood and the will of man) and his
supernatural birth (which comes from God) shows that those who believe in Je-
sus Christ are made children of God not only by their creation but above all by
the free gift of faith and grace.
14. This is a text central to the mystery of Christ. It expresses in a very con-
densed form the unfathomable fact of the incarnation of the Son of God.
“When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman”
The word “flesh” means man in his totality (cf. Jn 3:6; 17:2; Gen 6:3; Ps 56:5);
so the sentence “the Word became flesh” means the same as “the Word be-
came man.” The theological term “incarnation” arose mainly out of this text.
The noun “flesh” carries a great deal of force against heresies which deny that
Christ is truly man. The word also accentuates that our Savior, who dwelt
among us and shared our nature, was capable of suffering and dying, and it
evokes the “Book of the Consolation of Israel” (Is 40:1-11), where the fragility
of the flesh is contrasted with the permanence of the Word of God: “The grass
withers, the flower fades; but the Word of our God will stand for ever” (Is 40:8).
This does not mean that the Word’s taking on human nature is something pre-
carious and temporary.
“And dwelt among us”: the Greek verb which St John uses originally means “to
pitch one’s tent”, hence, to live in a place. The careful reader of Scripture will
immediately think of the tabernacle, or tent, in the period of the exodus from
Egypt, where God showed his presence before all the people of Israel through
certain sights of his glory such as the cloud covering the tent (cf., for example,
Ex 25:8; 40:34-35). In many passages of the Old Testament it is announced
that God “will dwell in the midst of the people” (cf., for example, Jer 7:3; Ezek
43:9; Sir 24:8). These signs of God’s presence, first in the pilgrim tent of the
Ark in the desert and then in the temple of Jerusalem, are followed by the most
wonderful form of God’s presence among us — Jesus Christ, perfect God and
perfect Man, in whom the ancient promise is fulfilled in a way that far exceeded
men’s greatest expectations. Also the promise made through Isaiah about the
“Immanuel” or “God-with-us” (Is 7:14; cf. Mt 1:23) is completely fulfilled through
this dwelling of the Incarnate Son of God among us. Therefore, when we devout-
ly read these words of the Gospel “and dwelt among us” or pray them during
the Angelus, we have a good opportunity to make an act of deep faith and gra-
titude and to adore our Lord’s most holy human nature.
“Remembering that ‘the Word became flesh’, that is, that the Son of God be-
came man, we must become conscious of how great each man has become
through this mystery, through the Incarnation of the Son of God! Christ, in fact,
was conceived in the womb of Mary and became man to reveal the eternal love
of the Creator and Father and to make known the dignity of each one of us”
(Bl. John Paul II, “Angelus Address” at Jasna Gora Shrine, 5 June 1979).
Although the Word’s self-emptying by assuming a human nature concealed in
some way his divine nature, of which he never divested himself, the Apostles
did see the glory of his divinity through his human nature: it was revealed in the
transfiguration (Lk 9:32-35), in his miracles (Jn 2:11; 11:40), and especially in
his resurrection (cf. Jn 3:11; 1 Jn 1:1) The glory of God, which shone out in the
early tabernacle in the desert and in the temple at Jerusalem, was nothing but
an imperfect anticipation of the reality of God’s glory revealed through the holy
human nature of the Only-begotten of the Father. St John the Apostle speaks
in a very formal way in the first person plural: “we have beheld his glory”, be-
cause he counts himself among the witnesses who lived with Christ and, in
particular, were present at his transfiguration and saw the glory of his resur-
The words “only Son” (”Only-begotten”) convey very well the eternal and unique
generation of the Word by the Father. The first three Gospels stressed Christ’s
birth in time; St John complements this by emphasizing his eternal generation.
The words “grace and truth” are synonyms of “goodness and fidelity”, two attri-
butes which, in the Old Testament, are constantly applied to Yahweh (cf., e.g.,
Ex 34:6; Ps 117; Ps 136; Osee 2:16-22): so, grace is the expression of God’s
love for men, the way he expresses his goodness and mercy. Truth implies per-
manence, loyalty, constancy, fidelity. Jesus, who is the Word of God made
man, that is, God himself, is therefore “the only Son of the Father, full of grace
and truth”; he is the “merciful and faithful high priest” (Heb 2:17). These two
qualities, being good and faithful, are a kind of compendium or summary of
Christ’s greatness. And they also parallel, though on an infinitely lower level,
the quality essential to every Christian, as stated expressly by our Lord when
he praised the “good and faithful servant” (Mt 25:21).
As Chrysostom explains: “Having declared that they who received him were
‘born of God’ and ‘become sons of God,’ he then set forth the cause and rea-
son for this ineffable honor. It is that ‘the Word became flesh’ and the Master
took on the form of a slave. He became the Son of Man, though he was the
true Son of God, in order that he might make the sons of men children of God
(”Hom. on St John”, 11,1).
The profound mystery of Christ was solemnly defined by the Church’s Magi-
sterium in the famous text of the ecumenical council of Chalcedon (in the year
451): “Following the holy Fathers, therefore, we all with one accord teach the
profession of faith in the one identical Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We declare
that he is perfect both in his divinity and in his humanity, truly God and truly
man, composed of body and rational soul; that he is consubstantial with the
Father in his divinity, consubstantial with us in his humanity, like us in every
respect except for sin (cf. Heb 4:15). We declare that in his divinity he was be-
gotten in this last age of Mary the Virgin, the Mother of God, for us and for our
salvation” (Dz-Sch, n. 301).
15. Further on (cf. Jn 1:19-36) the Gospel tells us more about John the Bap-
tist’s mission as a witness to the messiahship and divinity of Jesus. Just as
God planned that the Apostles should bear witness to Jesus after the resur-
rection, so he planned that the Baptist would be the witness chosen to pro-
claim Jesus at the very outset of his public ministry (cf. note on Jn 1:6-8).
16. “Grace upon grace”: this can be understood, as it was by Chrysostom and
other Fathers, as “grace for grace”, the Old Testament economy of salvation gi-
ving way to the new economy of grace brought by Christ. It can also mean (as
the RSV suggests) that Jesus brings a superabundance of gifts, adding on, to
existing graces, others — all of which pour out of the one inexhaustible source,
Christ, who is for ever full of grace. “Not by sharing with us, says the Evange-
list, does Christ possess the gift, but he himself is both fountain and root of all
virtues. He himself is life, and light, and truth, not keeping within himself the
wealth of these blessings, but pouring it forth upon all others, and even after the
outpouring still remaining full. He suffers loss in no way by giving his wealth to
others, but, while always pouring out and sharing these virtues with all men, he
remains in the same state of perfection” (St John Chrysostom, “Hom. on St
John”, 14, 1).
17. Here, for the first time in St John’s Gospel, the name of Jesus Christ ap-
pears, identified with the Word of whom John has been speaking.
Whereas the Law given by Moses went no further than indicate the way man
ought follow (cf. Rom 8:7-10), the grace brought by Jesus has the power to
save those who receive it (cf. Rom 7:25). Through grace “we have become
dear to God, no longer merely as servants, but as sons and friends” (Chry-
sostom, “Hom. on St John”, 14, 2).
On “grace and truth” see note on Jn 1:14.
18. “No one has ever seen God”: in this world men have never seen God other
than indirectly: all that they could contemplate was God’s “glory”, that is the
aura of his greatness: for example, Moses saw the burning bush (Ex 3:6); Eli-
jah felt the breeze on Mount Horeb — the “still small voice” (RSV) — (1 Kings 19:
11-13). But in the fullness of time God comes much closer to man and reveals
himself almost directly, for Jesus Christ is the visible image of the invisible God
(cf. Col 1:15), the maximum revelation of God in this world, to such an extent
that he assures us that “he who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).
“The most intimate truth which this revelation gives us about God and the sal-
vation of man shines forth in Christ, who is himself both the mediator and the
sum total of Revelation” (Vatican II, “Dei Verbum”, 2).
There is no greater revelation God could make of himself than the incarnation
of his eternal Word. As St John of the Cross puts it so well: “In giving to us, as
he has done, his Son, who is his only Word, he has spoken to us once and for
all by his own and only Word, and has nothing further to reveal” (”Ascent of
Mount Carmel”, Book II, chap. 22).
“The only Son”: the RSV note says that “other ancient authorities read “God”
(for Son); the Navarre Spanish has “the Only-begotten God” and comments as
follows: some Greek manuscripts and some translations give “the Only-begot-
ten Son” or “the Only-begotten”. “The Only-begotten God” is preferable be-
cause it finds best support in the codices. Besides, although the meaning
does not change substantially, this translation has a richer content because
it again explicitly reveals Christ’s divinity.
Source: “The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries”. Biblical text from the
Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of
the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.
Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and
by Scepter Publishers in the United States.
1a. In the beginning was the Word,
CHRYS. While all the other Evangelists begin with the Incarnation, John, passing over the Conception, Nativity, education, and growth, speaks immediately of the Eternal Generation, saying, In the beginning was the Word.
AUG. The Greek word "logos" signifies both Word and Reason. But in this passage it is better to interpret it Word; as referring not only to the Father, but to the creation of things by the operative power of the Word; whereas Reason, though it produce nothing, is still rightly called Reason.
AUG. Words by their daily use, sound, and passage out of us, have become common things. But there is a word which remains inward, in the very man himself; distinct from the sound which proceeds out of the mouth. There is a word, which is truly and spiritually that, which you understand by the sound, not being the actual sound. Now whoever can conceive the notion of word, as existing not only before its sound, but even before the idea of its sound is formed, may see enigmatically, and as it were in a glass, some similitude of that Word of Which it is said, In the beginning was the Word. For when we give expression to something which we know, the word used is necessarily derived from the knowledge thus retained in the memory, and must be of the same quality with that knowledge. For a word is a thought formed from a thing which we know; which word is spoken in the heart, being neither Greek nor Latin, nor of any language, though, when we want to communicate it to others, some sign is assumed by which to express it. . . Wherefore the word which sounds externally, is a sign of the word which lies hid within, to which the name of word more truly appertains. For that which is uttered by the mouth of our flesh, is the voice of the word; and is in fact called word, with reference to that from which it is taken, when it is developed externally.
BASIL; This Word is not a human word. For how was there a human word in the beginning, when man received his being last of all? There was not then any word of man in the beginning, nor yet of Angels; for every creature is within the limits of time, having its beginning of existence from the Creator. But what says the Gospel? It calls the Only-Begotten Himself the Word.
CHRYS. But why omitting the Father, does he proceed at once to speak of the Son? Because the Father was known to all; though not as the Father, yet as God; whereas the Only-Begotten was not known. As was meet then, he endeavors first of all to inculcate the knowledge of the Son on those who knew Him not; though neither in discoursing on Him, is he altogether silent on the Father. And inasmuch as he was about to teach that the Word was the Only-Begotten Son of God, that no one might think this a possible generation, he makes mention of the Word in the first place, in order to destroy the dangerous suspicion, and show that the Son was from God impassibly. And a second reason is, that He was to declare to us the things of the Father. But he does not speak of the Word simply, but with the addition of the article, in order to distinguish It from other words. For Scripture calls God's laws and commandments words; but this Word is a certain Substance, or Person, an Essence, coming forth impassibly from the Father Himself.
BASIL; Wherefore then Word? Because born impassibly, the Image of Him that begat, manifesting all the Father in Himself; abstracting from Him nothing, but existing perfect in Himself.
AUG. As our knowledge differs from God's, so does our word, which arises from our knowledge, differ from that Word of God, which is born of the Father's essence; we might say, from the Father's knowledge, the Father's wisdom, or, more correctly, the Father Who is Knowledge, the Father Who is Wisdom. The Word of God then, the Only-Begotten Son of the Father, is in all things like and equal to the Father; being altogether what the Father is, yet not the Father; because the one is the Son, the other the Father. And thereby He knows all things which the Father knows; yet His knowledge is from the Father, even as is His being: for knowing and being are the same with Him; and so as the Father's being is not from the Son, so neither is His knowing. Wherefore the Father begat the Word equal to Himself in all things as uttering forth Himself. For had there been more or less in His Word than in Himself, He would not have uttered Himself fully and perfectly. With respect however to our own inner word, which we find, in whatever sense, to be like the Word, let us not object to see how very unlike it is also. A word is a formation of our mind going to take place, but not yet made, and something in our mind which we toss to and fro in a slippery circuitous way, as one thing and another is discovered, or occurs to our thoughts. When this, which we toss to and fro, has reached the subject of our knowledge, and been formed therefrom, when it has assumed the most exact likeness to it, and the conception has quite answered to the thing; then we have a true word. Who may not see how great the difference is here from that Word of God, which exists in the Form of God in such wise, that It could not have been first going to be formed, and afterwards formed, nor can ever have been unformed, being a Form absolute, and absolutely equal to Him from Whom It is. Wherefore; in speaking of the Word of God here nothing is said about thought in God; lest we should think there was any thing revolving in God, which might first receive form in order to be a Word, and afterwards lose it, and be canted round and round again in an unformed state.
AUG. Now the Word of God is a Form, not a formation, but the Form of all forms, a Form unchangeable, removed form accident, from failure, from time, from space, surpassing all things, and existing in all things as a kind of foundation underneath, and summit above them.
BASIL; Yet has our outward word some similarity to the Divine Word. For our word declares the whole conception of the mind; since what we conceive in the mind we bring out in word. Indeed our heart is as it were the source, and the uttered word the stream which flows therefrom.
CHRYS. Observe the spiritual wisdom of the Evangelist. He knew that men honored most what was as most ancient, and that honoring what is before every thing else, they conceived of it as God. On this account he mentions first the beginning, saving, In the beginning was the Word.
ORIGEN; There are many significations of this word beginning. For there is a beginning of a journey, and beginning of a length, according to Proverbs, The beginning of the right path is to do justice. There is a beginning too of a creation, according to Job, He is the beginning of the ways of God. Nor would it be incorrect to say, that God is the Beginning of all things. The preexistent material again, where supposed to be original, out of which any thing is produced, is considered as the beginning. There is a beginning also in respect of form: as where Christ is the beginning of those who are made according to the image of God. And there is a beginning of doctrine, according to Hebrews; When for the time you ought to be teachers, you have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God. For there are two kinds of beginning of doctrine: one in itself, the other relative to us; as if we should say that Christ, in that He is the Wisdom and Word of God, was in Himself the beginning of wisdom, but to us, in that He was the Word incarnate. There being so many significations then of the word, we may take it as the Beginning through Whom, i.e. the Maker; for Christ is Creator as The Beginning, in that He is Wisdom; so that the Word is in the beginning, i.e. in Wisdom; the Savior being all these excellences at once. As life then is in the Word, so the Word is in the Beginning, that is to say, in Wisdom. Consider then if it be possible according to this signification to understand the Beginning, as meaning that all things are made according to Wisdom, and the patterns contained therein; or, inasmuch as the Beginning of the Son is the Father, the Beginning of all creatures and existences, to understand by the text, In the beginning was the Word, that the Son, the Word, was in the Beginning, that is, in the Father.
AUG. Or, In the beginning, as if it were said, before all things.
BASIL; The Holy Ghost foresaw that men would arise, who should envy the glory of the Only-Begotten, subverting their hearers by sophistry; as if because He were begotten, He was not; and before He was begotten, he was not. That none might presume then to babble such things, the Holy Ghost says, In the beginning was the Word.
HILARY; Years, centuries, ages, are passed over, place what beginning you will in your imagining, you grasp it not in time, for He, from Whom it is derived, still was.
CHRYS. As then when our ship is near shore, cities and port pass in survey before us, which on the open sea vanish, and leave nothing whereon to fix; the eye; so the Evangelist here, taking us with him in his flight above the created world, leaves the eye to gaze in vacancy on an illimitable expanse. For the words, was in the beginning, are significative of eternal and infinite essence.
AUG. They say, however, if He is the Son, He was born. We allow it. They rejoin: if the Son was born to the Father, the Father was, before the Son was born to Him. This the Faith rejects. Then they say, explain to us how the Son could; be born from the Father, and yet be coeval with Him from whom He is born: for sons are born after their fathers, to succeed them on their death. They adduce analogies from nature; and we must endeavor likewise to do the same for our doctrine. But how can we find in nature a coeternal, when we cannot find an eternal? However, if a thing generating and a thing generated can be found any where coeval, it will be a help to forming a notion of coeternals. Now Wisdom herself is called in the Scriptures, the brightness of Everlasting Light, the image of the Father. Hence then let us take our comparison, an from coevals form a notion of coeternals. Now no one doubts that brightness proceeds from fire: fire then we may consider the father of the brightness. Presently, when I light a candle, at the same instant with the fire, brightness arises. Give me the fire without the brightness, and I will with you believe that the Father was without the Son. An image is produced by a mirror. The image exists as soon as the beholder appears; yet the beholder existed before he came to the mirror. Let us suppose then a twig, or a blade of grass which has grown up by the water side. Is it not born with its image? If there had always been the twig, there would always have been the image proceeding from the twig. And whatever is from another thing, is born. So then that which generates may be coexistent from eternity with that which is generated from it. But some one will say perhaps, Well, I understand now the eternal Father, the coeternal Son: yet the Son is like the emitted brightness, which is less brilliant than the fire, or tile reflected image, which is less real than the twig. Not so: there is complete equality between Father and Son. I do not believe, he says; for you have found nothing whereto to liken it. However, perhaps we can find something in nature by which we may understand that the Son is both coeternal with the Father, and in no respect inferior also: though we cannot find any one material of comparison that will be sufficient singly, and must therefore join together two, one of which has been employed by our adversaries, the other by ourselves. For they have drawn their comparison from things which are preceded in time by the things which they spring from, man, for example, from man. Nevertheless, man is of the same substance with man. We have then in that nativity an equality of nature; an equality of time is wanting. But in the comparison which we have drawn from the brightness of fire, and the reflection of a twig, an equality of nature you cost not find, of time you lost. In the Godhead then there is found as a whole, what here exists in single and separate parts; and that which is in the creation, existing in a manner suitable able to the Creator.
EX GESTIS CONCILII EPHESINI; Wherefore in one place divine Scripture calls Him the Son, in another the Word, in another the Brightness of the Father; names severally meant to guard against blasphemy. For, forasmuch as your son is of the same nature with yourself, the Scripture wishing to show that the Substance of the Father and the Son is one, sets forth the Son of the Father, born of the Father, the Only-Begotten. Next, since the terms birth and son, convey the idea of passibleness, therefore it calls the Son the Word, declaring by that name the impassability of His Nativity. But inasmuch as a father with us is necessarily older shall his son, lest thou should think that this applied to the Divine nature as well, it calls the Only-Begotten the Brightness of the Father; for brightness, though arising from the sun, is not posterior to it. Understand then that Brightness, as revealing the co-eternity of the Son with the Father; Word as proving the impassability of His birth, and Son as conveying His consubstantiality.
CHRYS. But they say that In the beginning does not absolutely express in eternity: for that the same is said of the heaven and the earth: In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth. But are not made and was, altogether different For in like manner as the word is, when spoken of man, signifies the present only, but when applied to God, that which always and eternally is; so too was, predicated of our nature, signifies the past, but predicated of God, eternity.
ORIGEN; The verb to be, has a double signification, sometimes expressing the motions which take place in time, as other verbs do; sometimes the substance of that one thing of which it is predicated, without reference to time. Hence it is also called a substantive verb.
HILARY; Consider then the world, understand what is written of it. In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth. Whatever therefore is created is made in the beginning, and you would contain in time, what, as being to be made, is contained in the beginning. But, lo, for me, an illiterate unlearned fisherman is independent of time, unconfined by ages, advances beyond all beginnings. For the Word was, what it is, and is not bounded by any time, nor commenced therein, seeing It was not made in the beginning, but was.
ALCUIN. To refute those who inferred from Christ's Birth in time, that He had not been from everlasting, the Evangelist begins with the eternity of the Word, saying, In the beginning was the Word.
1b. And the Word was with God.
CHRYS. Because it is an especial attribute of God, to be eternal and without a beginning, he laid this down first: then, lest any one on hearing in the beginning was the Word, should suppose the Word Unbegotten, he instantly guarded against this; saying, And the Word was with God.
HILARY; From the beginning He is With God: and though independent of time, is not independent of an Author.
BASIL; Again he repeats this, was, because of men blasphemously saying, that there was a time when He was not. Where then was the Word? Illimitable things are not contained in space. Where was He then? With God. For neither is the Father bounded by place, nor the Son by aught circumscribing.
ORIGEN; It is worth while noting, that, whereas the Word is said to come [be made] to some, as to Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, with God it is not made, as though it were not with Him before. But, the Word having been always with Him, it is said, and the Word was with God: for from the beginning it was not separate from the Father.
CHRYS. He has not said, was in God, but was with God: exhibiting to us that eternity which He had in accordance with His Person.
THEOPHYL. Sabellius is overthrown by this text. For he asserts that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one Person, Who sometimes appeared as the Father, sometimes as the Son, sometimes as the Holy Ghost. But he is manifestly confounded by this text, and the Word was with God; for here the Evangelist declares that the Son is one Person, God the Father another.
1c. And the Word was God.
HILARY; You will say, that a word is the sound of the voice, the enunciation of a thing, the expression of a thought: this Word was in the beginning with God, because the utterance of thought is eternal, when He who thinks is eternal. But how was that in the beginning, which exists no time either before, or after, I doubt even whether in time at all? For speech is neither in existence before one speaks, nor after; in the very act of speaking it vanishes; for by the time a speech is ended, that from which it began does not exist. But even if the first sentence, in the beginning was the Word, was through your inattention lost upon you, why dispute you about the next; and the Word was with God? Did you hear it said, "In God," so that you should understand this Word to be only the expression of hidden thoughts? Or did John say with by mistake, and was not aware of the distinction between being in, and being with, when he said, that what was in the beginning, was not in God, but with God? Hear then the nature and name of the Word; and the Word was God. No more then of the sound of the voice, of the expression of the thought. The Word here is a Substance, not a sound; a Nature, not an expression; God, not a nonentity.
HILARY; But the title is absolute, and free from the offense of an extraneous subject. To Moses it is said, I have given you for a god to Pharaoh: but is not the reason for the name added, when it is said, to Pharaoh? Moses is given for a god to Pharaoh, when he is feared, when he is entreated, when he punishes, when he heals. And it is one thing to be given for a God, another thing to be God. I remember too another application of the name in the Psalms, I have said, you are gods. But there too it is implied that the title was but bestowed; and the introduction of, I said, makes it rather the phrase of the Speaker, than the name of the thing. But when I hear the Word was God, I not only hear the Word said to be, but perceive It proved to be, God.
BASIL; Thus cutting off the cavils of blasphemers, and those who ask what the Word is, he replies, and the Word was God.
THEOPHYL. Or combine it thus: From the Word being with God, it follows plainly that there are two Persons. But these two are of one Nature; and therefore it proceeds, In the Word was God: to show that Father and Son are of One Nature, being of One Godhead.
ORIGEN; We must add too, that the Word illuminates the Prophets with Divine wisdom, in that He comes to them; but that with God He ever is, because He is God. For which reason he placed and the Word was with God, before and the Word was God.
CHRYS. Not asserting, as Plato does, one to be intelligence, the other soul; for the Divine Nature is very different from this. . . But you say, the Father is called God with the addition of the article, the Son without it. What say you then, when the Apostle writes, The great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; and again, Who is over all, God; and Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father; without the article? Besides, too, it were superfluous here, to affix what had been affixed just before. So that it does not follow, though the article is not affixed to the Son, that He is therefore an inferior God.
2. The same was in the beginning with God.
HILARY; Whereas he had said, the Word was God, the fearfulness, and strangeness of the speech disturbed me; the prophets having declared that God was One. But, to quiet my apprehensions, the fisherman reveals the scheme of this so great mystery, and refers all to one, without dishonor, without obliterating [the Person], without reference to time , saying, The Same was in the beginning with God; with One Unbegotten God, from whom He its, the One Only-begotten God.
THEOPHYL. Again, to stop any diabolical suspicion, that the Word, because He was God, might have rebelled against His Father, as certain Gentiles fable, or, being separate, have become the antagonist of the Father Himself, he says, The Same was in the beginning with God; that is to say, this Word of God never existed separate from God.
CHRYS. Or, lest hearing that In the beginning was the Word, you should regard It as eternal, but yet understand the Father's Life to have some degree of priority, he has introduced the words, The Same was in the beginning with God. For God was never solitary, apart from Him, but always God with God. Or forasmuch as he said, the Word was God, that no one might think the Divinity of the Son inferior, he immediately subjoins the marks of proper Divinity, in that he both again mentions Eternity, The Same was in the beginning with God; and adds His attribute of Creator, All things were made by Him.
ORIGEN; Or thus, the Evangelist having begun with those propositions, reunites them into one, saying, The Same was in the beginning with God. For in the first of the three we learnt in what the Word was, that it was in the beginning; in the second, with whom, with God; in the third who the Word was, God. Having, then, by the term, The Same, set before us in a manner God the Word of Whom he had spoken, he collects all into the fourth proposition, viz. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; into, the Same was in the beginning with God. It may be asked, however, why it is not said, In the beginning was the Word of God, and the Word of God was with God, and the Word of God was God? Now whoever will admit that truth is one, must needs admit also that the demonstration of truth, that is wisdom, is one. But if truth is one, and wisdom is one, the Word which enuntiates truth and develops wisdom in those who ho are capable of receiving it, must be One also. And therefore it would have been out of place here to have said, the Word of God, as if there were other words besides that of God, a word of angels, word of men, and so on. We do not say this, to deny that It is the Word of God, but to show the use of omitting the word God. John himself too in the Apocalypse says, And his Name is called the Word of God.
ALCUIN; Wherefore does he use the substantive verb, was? That you might understand that the Word, Which is coeternal with God the Father, was before all time.
3a. All things were made by him.
ALCUIN; After speaking of the nature of the Son, he proceeds to His operations, saying, All things were made by him, i.e. every thing whether substance, or property.
HILARY; Or thus: [It is said], the Word indeed was in the beginning, but it may be that He was not before the beginning. But what says he; All things were made by him. He is infinite by Whom every thing, which is, was made: and since all things were made by Him, time is likewise.
CHRYS. Moses indeed, in the beginning of the Old Testament, speaks to us in much detail of the natural world, saying, In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth; and then relates how that the light, and the firmament, and the stars, and the various kinds of animals were created. But the Evangelist sums up the whole of this in a word, as familiar to his hearers; and hastens to loftier matter, making the whole of his book to bear not on the works, but on the Maker.
AUG. Since all things were made by him, it is evident that light was as also, when God said, Let there be light. And in like manner the rest. But if so, that which God said, viz. Let there be light, is eternal. For the Word of God, God with God, is coeternal with the Father, though the world created by Him be temporal. For whereas our when and sometimes are words of time, in the Word of God, on the contrary, when a thing ought to be made, is eternal; and the thing is then made, when in that Word it is that it ought to be made, which Word has in It neither when, or at sometime, since It is all eternal.
AUG. How then can the Word of God be made, when God by the Word made all things? For if the Word Itself were made, by what other Word was It made? If you say it was the Word of the Word by Which That was made, that Word I call the Only-Begotten Son of God. But if thou cost not call It the Word of the Word, then grant that that Word was not made, by which all things were made.
AUG. And if It is not made, It is not a creature; but if It is not a creature, It is of the same Substance with the Father. For every substance which is not God is a creature; and what is not a creature is God.
THEOPHYL. The Arians are wont to say, that all things are spoken of as made by the Son, in the sense in which we say a door is made by a saw, viz. as an instrument; not that He was Himself the Maker. And so they talk of the Son as a thing made, as if He were made for this purpose, that all things might be made by Him. Now we to the inventors of this lie reply simply: If, as you say, the Father had created the Son, in order to make use of Him as an instrument, it would appear that the Son were less honorable than the things made, just as things made by a saw are more noble than the saw itself; the saw having been made for their sake. In like way do they speak of the Father creating the Son for the sake of the things made, as it; had He thought good to create the universe, neither would He have produced the Son. What can be more insane than such language? They argue, however, why was it not said that the Word made all things, instead of the preposition by being used. For this reason, that you might not understand an Unbegotten and Unoriginate Son, a rival God.
CHRYS. If the preposition by perplex you, and you would learn from Scripture that the Word Itself made all thin as, hear David, You, Lord, in the beginning has laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. That he spoke this of the Only-Begotten, you learn from the Apostle, who in the Epistle to the Hebrews applies these words to the Son.
CHRYS. But if you say that the prophet spoke this of the Father, and that Paul applied it to the Son, it comes to the same thing. For he would not have mentioned that as applicable to the Son, unless he fully considered that the Father and the Son were of equal dignity. If again you dream that in the preposition by any subjection is implied, why does Paul use of the Father? as, God is faithful, by Whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son; and again, Paul an Apostle by the will of God.
ORIGEN; Here too Valentines errs, saying, that the Word supplied to the Creator the cause of the creation of the world. If this interpretation is true, its should have been written that all things had their existence from the Word through the Creator, not contrariwise, through the Word from the Creator.
3b. And without him was not any thing made.
CHRYS. That you may not suppose, when he says, All things were made by Him, that he meant only the things Moses had;, spoken of, he seasonably brings in, And without Him was not any thing made, nothing, that is, cognizable either by the senses, or the understanding. Or thus; Lest you should suspect the sentence, All things were made by Him, to refer to the miracles which the other Evangelists had related, he adds, and without Him was not any thing made.
HILARY; Or thus; That all things were made by him, is pronouncing too much, it may be said. There is an Unbegotten Who is made of none, and there is the Son Himself begotten from Him Who is Unbegotten. The Evangelist however again implies the Author, when he speaks of Him as Associated; saying, without Him was not any thing made. This, that nothing was made without Him, I understand to mean the Son's not being alone, for 'by whom' is one thing, 'not without whom another.
ORIGEN: Or thus, that you might not think that the things made by the Word had a separate existence, and were not contained in the Word, he says, and without Him was not any thing made: that is, not any thing was made externally of Him; for He encircles all things, as the Preserver of all things.
AUG. Or, by saying, without Him was not any thing made, he tells us not to suspect Him in any sense to be a thing made. For how can He be a thing made, when God, it is said, made nothing without Him?
ORIGEN; If all things were made by the Word, and in the number of all things is wickedness, and the whole influx of sin, these too were made by the Word; which is false. Now 'nothing' and 'a thing which is not,' mean the same. And the Apostle seems to call wicked things, things which are not, God calls those things which be not, as though they were. All wickedness then is called nothing, forasmuch as it is made without the Word. Those who say however ever that the devil is not a creature of God, err. In so far as he is the devil, he is not a creature of God; but he, whose character it is to be the devil, is a creature of God. It is as if we should say a murderer is not a creature of God, when, so far as he is a man, he is a creature of God.
AUG. For sin was not made by Him; for it is manifest that sin is nothing, and that men become nothing when they sin. Nor was an idol made by the Word. It has indeed a sort of form of man, and man himself was made by the Word; but the form of man in an idol was not made by the Word: for it is written, we know that an idol is nothing. These then were not made by the Word; but whatever things were made naturally, the whole universe, were; every creature from an angel to a worm.
ORIGEN; Valentinus excludes from the things made by the Word, all that were made in the ages which he believes to have existed before the Word. This is plainly false; inasmuch as the things which he accounts divine are thus excluded from the "all things," and what he deems wholly corrupt are properly 'all things!'
AUG. The folly of those men is not to be listened to, who think nothing is to be understood here as something because it is placed at the end of the sentence: as if it made so any difference whether it was said, without Him nothing was made, or, without Him was made nothing.
ORIGEN; If 'the word' be taken for that which is in each man, inasmuch as it was implanted in each by the Word, which was in the beginning then also, we commit nothing without this 'word' [reason] taking this word 'nothing' in a popular sense. For the Apostle says that sin was dead without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived; for sin is not imputed when there is no law. But neither was there sin, when there was no Word, for our Lord says, If I had not come and spoken to them, they had not had sin. For every excuse is without drawn from the sinner, if, with the Word present, and enjoining what is to be done, he refuses to obey Him. Nor is the Word to be blamed on this account; any more than a master, whose discipline leaves no excuse open to a delinquent pupil on the ground of ignorance. All things then were made by the Word, not only the natural world, but also whatever is done by those acting without reason.
4a. In him was life.
BEDE; The Evangelist having said that every creature was made by the Word, lest perchance any one might think that His will was changeable, as though He willed on a sudden to make a creature, which from eternity he had not made; he took care to show that, though a creature was made in time, in the Wisdom of the Creator it had been from eternity arranged what and when He should create.
AUG. 'The passage can be read thus: What was made in Him was life. Therefore the whole universe is life: for what was there not made in Him? He is the Wisdom of God, as is said, In Wisdom have You made them all. All things therefore are made in Him, even as they are by Him. But, if whatever was made in Him is life, the earth is life, a stone is life. We must not interpret it so unsoundly, lest the sect of the Manicheans creep in upon us, and say, that a stone has life, and that a wall has life; for they do insanely assert so, and when reprehended or refuted, appeal as though to Scripture, and ask, why was it said, That which was made in Him. was life?
Read the passage then thus: make the stop after What was made, and then proceed, In Him was life. The earth was made; but, the earth itself which was, as made is not life. In the Wisdom of God however there is spiritually a certain Reason after which the earth is made. This is Life. A chest in workmanship is not life, a chest in art is, inasmuch as the mind of the workman lives wherein that original pattern exists. And in this sense the Wisdom of God, by Which all things are made, contains in art 'all things which are made, according to that art.' And therefore whatever is made, is not in itself life, but is life in Him.
ORIGEN; It may also be divided thus: That which was made in him; and then, was life; the sense being, that all things that were made by Him and in Him, are life in Him, and are one in Him. They were, that is, in Him; they exist as the cause, before they exist in themselves as effects. If you ask how and in what manner all things which were made by the Word subsist in Him vitally, immutably, causally, take some examples from the created world.
See how that all things within the arch of the world of sense have their causes simultaneously and harmoniously subsisting in that sun which is the greatest luminary of the world: how multitudinous crops of herbs and fruits are contained in single seeds: how the most complex variety of rules, in the art of the artificer, and the mind of the director, are a living unit, how an infinite number of lines coexist in one point. Contemplate these several instances, and you will be able as it were on the wings of physical science, to penetrate with your intellectual eye the secrets of the Word, and as far as is allowed to a human understanding, to see how all things which were made by the Word, live in Him, and were made in Him.
HILARY; Or it can be understood thus. In that he had said, without Him was not anything thing made, one might have been perplexed, and have asked, Was then any thing made by another, which yet was not made without Him? If so, then though nothing is made without, all things are not made by Him: it being one thing to make, another to be with the maker.
On this account the Evangelist declares what it was which was not made without Him, viz. what was made in Him. This then it was which was not made without Him, viz. what was made in Him. And that which was made in Him, was also made by Him. For all things were created in Him and by Him. Now things were made in Him, because He was born God the Creator. And for this reason also things that were made in Him, were not made without Him, viz. that God, in that He was born, was life, and He who was life, was not made life after being born. Nothing then which was made in Him, was made without Him, because He was life, in Whom they were made; because God Who was born of God was God, not after, but in that He was born.
CHRYS Or to give another explanation. We will not put the stop at without Him was not any thing made, as the heretics do. For they wishing to prove the Holy Ghost a creature, read, That which was made in Him, was life. But this cannot be so understood. For first, this was not the place for making mention of the Holy Ghost. But let us suppose it was; let us take the passage for the present according to their reading, we shall see that it leads to a difficulty. For when it is said, That which was made in Him, was life; they say the life spoken of is the Holy Ghost. But this life is also light; for the Evangelist proceeds, The life was the light of men.
Wherefore according to them, he calls the Holy Ghost the light of all men. But the Word mentioned above, is what he here calls consecutively, God, and Life, and Light. Now the Word was made flesh. If follows that the Holy Ghost is incarnate, not the Son. Dismissing then this reading, we adopt a more suitable one, with the following meaning: All things were made by Him, and without Him was not any thing made which was made: there we make a stop, and begin a fresh sentence: In Him was life. Without Him was not any thing made which was as made; i.e. which could be made. You see how by this short addition, he removes any difficulty which might follow. For by introducing without Him was not any thing made, and adding, which was made, he includes all things invisible, and excepts the Holy: Spirit: for the Spirit cannot be made.
To the mention of creation, succeeds that of providence. In Him was life. As a fountain which produces vast depths of water, and yet is nothing diminished at the fountain head; so works the Only-Begotten. How great soever His creations be, He Himself is none the less for them. By the word life here is meant not only creation, but that providence by which the things created are preserved. But when you are told that in Him was life, do not suppose Him confounded; for, as the Father has life in Himself, so has He given to the Son to have life in Himself. As then you would not call the Father compounded, so neither should you the Son.
ORIGEN; Or thus: Our Savior is said to be some things not for Himself, but for others; others again, both for Himself and others. When it is said then, That which was as made in Him was life; we must inquire whether the life is for Himself and others, or for others only; and if for others, for whom? Now the Life and the Light are both the same Person: He is the light of men: He is therefore their life. The Savior is called Life here, not to Himself, but to others; whose Light He also is. This life is inseparable from the Word, from the time it is added on to it.
For Reason or the Word must exist before in the soul, cleansing it from sin, till it is pure enough to receive the life, which is thus engrafted or inborn in every one who renders himself fit to receive the Word of God. Hence observe, that though the Word itself in the beginning was not made, the Beginning never having been without the Word; yet the life of men was not always in the Word. This life of men was made, in that It was the light of men; and this light of men could not be before man was; the light of men being understood relatively to men. And therefore he says, That which was made in the Word was life; not That which was in the Word was life. Some copies read, not amiss, "That which was made, in Him is life." If we understand the life in the Word, to be He who says below, 'I am the life,' we shall confess that none who believe not. in Christ live, and that all who live not in God, are dead.
4b. And the life was the light of men.
THEOPHYL. He had said, In him was life, that you might not suppose that the Word was without life. Now he shows that that life is spiritual, and the light of all reasonable creatures. And the life was the light of men: i.e. not sensible, but intellectual light, illuminating the very soul.
AUG. Life of itself gives illumination to men, but to cattle not: for they have not rational souls, by which to discern wisdom: whereas man, being made in the image of God, has a rational soul, by which he can discern wisdom. Hence that life, by which all things are made, is light, not however of all animals whatsoever, but of men.
THEOPHYL. He said not, the Light of the Jews only, but of all men: for all of us, in so far as we have received intellect and reason, from that Word which created us, are said to be illuminated by Him. For the reason which is given to us, and which constitutes us the reasonable beings we are, is a light directing us what to do, and what not to do.
ORIGEN; We must not omit to notice, that he puts the life before the light of men. For it would be a contradiction to suppose a being without life to be illuminated; as if life were an addition to illumination. But to proceed: if the life was the light of men, meaning men only, Christ is the light and the life of men only; an heretical supposition. It does not follow then, when a thing is predicated of any, that it is predicated of those only; for of God it is written, that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and yet He is not the God of those fathers only. In the same way, the light of men is not excluded from being the light of others as well. Some moreover contend from , Genesis, Let us make man after our image, that man means whatever is made after the image and similitude of God. If so, the light of men is the light of any rational creature whatever.
5. And the light shines in darkness.
AUG. Whereas that life is the light of men, but foolish hearts cannot receive that light, being so encumbered with sins that they cannot see it; for this cause lest any should think there is no light near them, because they cannot see it, he continues: And the light shines in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. For suppose a blind man standing in the sun, the sun is present to him, but he is absent from the sun. In like manner every fool is blind, and wisdom is present to him; but, though present, absent from his sight, forasmuch as sight is gone: the truth being, not that she is absent from him, but that he is absent from her.
ORIGEN; This kind of darkness however is not in men by nature, according to the text in the Ephesians, You were some time darkness, but now are you light in the Lord.
ORIGEN; Or thus, The light shines in the darkness of faithful souls, beginning from faith, and drawing onwards to hope; but the deceit and ignorance of undisciplined souls did not comprehended the light of the Word of God shining in the flesh. That however is an ethical meaning. The metaphysical signification of the words is as follows. Human nature, even though it sinned not, could not shine by its own strength simply; for it is not naturally light, but only a recipient of it; it is capable of containing wisdom, but is not wisdom itself. As the air, of itself, shines not, but is called by the name of darkness, even so is our nature, considered in itself; a dark substance, which however admits of and is made partaker of the light of wisdom. And as when the air receives the sun's rays, it is not said to shine of itself, but the sun's radiance to be apparent in it; so the reasonable part of our nature, while possessing the presence of the Word of God, does not of itself understand God, and intellectual things, but by means of the divine light implanted in it. Thus, The light shines in darkness: for the Word of God, the life and the light of men, ceases not to shine in our nature; though regarded in itself, that nature is without form and darkness. And forasmuch as pure light cannot be comprehended by any creature, hence the text: The darkness comprehended it not.
CHRYS. Or thus: throughout the whole foregoing passage he, had been speaking of creation; then he mentions the spiritual; benefits which the Word brought w with it: and the life was the light of men. He said not, the light of Jews, but of all men without exception; for not the Jews only, but the Gentiles also have come to this knowledge. The Angels he omits, for he is speaking of human nature, to whom the Word came bringing glad tidings.
ORIGEN; But they ask, why is not the Word Itself called the light of men, instead of the life which is in the Word? We reply, that the life here spoken of is not that which rational and irrational animals have in common, but that which is annexed to the Word which is within us through participation of the primeval Word. For we must distinguish the external and false life, from the desirable and true. We are first made partakers of life: and this life with some is light potentially only, not in act; with those, viz. who are not eager to search out the things which appertain to knowledge: with others it is actual light, those who, as the Apostle said, covet earnestly the best gifts, that is to say, the word of wisdom. (If the life and the light of men are the same, whoso is in darkness is proved not to live, and none who lives abides in darkness.)
CHRYS. Life having come to us, the empire of death is dissolved; a light having shone upon us, there is darkness no longer: but there remains ever a life which death, a light which darkness cannot overcome. Whence he continues, And the light shines in darkness: by darkness meaning death and error, for sensible light does not shine in darkness, but darkness must be removed first; whereas the preaching of Christ shone forth amidst the reign of error, and caused it to disappear, and Christ by dying changed death into life, so overcoming it, that, those who were already in its grasp, were brought back again. Forasmuch then as neither death nor error has overcome his light, which is every where conspicuous shilling forth by its own strength; therefore he adds, And the darkness comprehended it not.
ORIGEN; As the light of men is a word expressing two spiritual things, so is darkness also. To one who possesses the light, we attribute both the doing the deeds of the light, and also true understanding, inasmuch as he is illuminated by the light of knowledge: and, on the other hand, the term darkness we apply both to unlawful acts, and also to that knowledge, which seems such, but is not. Now as the Father is light, and in Him is no darkness at all, so is the Savior also. Yet, inasmuch as he underwent the similitude of our sinful flesh, it is not incorrectly said of Him, that in Him there was some darkness; for He took our darkness upon Himself, in order that He might dissipate it. This Light therefore, which was made the life of man, shines in the darkness of our hearts, when the prince of this darkness wars with the human race. This Light the darkness persecuted, as is clear from what our Savior and His children suffer; the darkness fighting against the children of light. But, forasmuch as God takes up the cause, they do not prevail; nor do they apprehend the light, for they are either of too slow a nature to overtake the light's quick course, or, waiting for it to come up to them, they are put to flight at its approach. We should bear in mind, however, that darkness is not always used in a bad sense, but sometimes in a good, as in Psalm xvii. He made darkness His secret place: the things of God being unknown and incomprehensible. This darkness then I will call praiseworthy, since it tends toward light, and lays hold on it: for, though it were darkness before, while it was not known, yet it is turned to light and knowledge in him who has learned.
AUG. A certain Platonist once said, that the beginning of this Gospel ought to be copied in letters of gold, and placed in the most conspicuous place in every church.
BEDE; The other Evangelists describe Christ as born in time; John witnesses that He was in the beginning, saying, In the beginning was the Word. The others describe His sudden appearance among men; he witnesses that He was ever with God, saying, And the Word was with God. The others prove Him very man; he very God, saying, And the Word was God. The others exhibit Him as man conversing with men for a season; he pronounces Him God abiding with God in the beginning, saying, The Same was in the beginning with God. The others relate the great deeds which He did amongst men; he that God the Father made every creature through Him, saying, All things were made by Him, and without Him was not any shiny made.
6. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
8. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
AUG. What is said above, refers to the Divinity of Christ. He came to us in the form of man, but man in such sense, as that the Godhead was concealed within Him. And therefore there was sent before a great man, to declare by his witness that He was more than man. And who was this? He was a man.
THEOPHYL. Not an Angel, as many have held. The Evangelist here refutes such a notion.
AUG. And how could he declare the truth concerning God, unless he were sent from God.
CHRYS. After this esteem nothing that he says as human; for he speaks not his own, but his that sent him. And therefore the Prophet calls him a messenger, I send My messenger, for it is the excellence of a messenger, to say nothing of his own. But the expression, was sent, does not mean his entrance into life, but to his office. As Esaias was sent on his commission, not from any place out of the world, but from where he saw the Lord sitting upon His high and lofty throne; in like manner John was sent from the desert to baptize; for he says, He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said to me, Upon Whom you shall see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptizes with the Holy Ghost.
AUG. What was he called? whose name was John?
ALCUIN. That is, the grace of God, or one in whom is grace, who by his testimony first made known to the world the grace of the New Testament, that is, Christ. Or John may be taken to mean, to whom it is given: because that through the grace of God, to him it was given, not only to herald, but also to baptize the King of kings.
AUG. Wherefore came he? The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light.
ORIGEN; Some try to undo the testimonies of the Prophets to Christ, by saying that the Son of God had no need of such witnesses; the wholesome words which He uttered and His miraculous acts being sufficient to produce belief; just as Moses deserved belief for his speech and goodness, and wanted no previous witnesses. To this we may reply, that, where there are a number of reasons to make people believe, persons are often impressed by one kind of proof; and not by another, and God, Who for the sake of all men became man, can give them many reasons for belief in Him. And with respect to the doctrine of the Incarnation, certain it is that some have been forced by the Prophetical writings into an admiration of Christ by the fact of so many prophets having, before His advent, fixed the place of His nativity; and by other proofs of the same kind. It is to be remembered too, that, though the display of miraculous powers might stimulate the faith of those who lived in the same age with Christ, they might, in the lapse of time, fail to do so; as some of them might even get to be regarded as fabulous. Prophecy and miracles together are more convincing than simply past miracles by themselves. We must recollect too that men receive honor themselves from the witness which they bear to God. He deprives the Prophetical choir of immeasurable honor, whoever denies that it was their office to bear witness to Christ. John when he comes to bear witness to the light, follows in the train of those who went before him.
CHRYS. Not because the light wanted the testimony, but for the reason which John himself self gives, viz. that all might believe on Him. For as He put on flesh to save all men from death; so He sent before Him a human preacher, that the sound of a voice like their own, might the readier draw men to Him.
BEDE; He says not, that all men should believe in him; for, cursed be the man that trusts in man; but, that all men through him might believe; i.e. by his testimony believe in the Light.
THEOPHYL. Though some however might not believe, he is not accountable for them. When a man shuts himself up in a dark room, so as to receive no light from the sun's rays, he is the cause of the deprivation, not the sun. In like manner John was sent, that all men might believe; but if no such result followed, he is not the cause of the failure.
CHRYS. Forasmuch however as with us, the one who witnesses, is commonly a more important, a more trustworthy person, than the one to whom he bears witness, to do away with any such notion in the present case the Evangelist proceeds; He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. If this were not his intention, in repeating the words, to bear witness of that Light, the addition would be superfluous, and rather a verbal repetition, than the explanation of a truth.
THEOPHYL. But it will be said, that we do not allow John or any of the saints to be or ever to have been light. The difference is this: If we call any of the saints light, we put light without the article. So if asked whether John is light, without the article, you may allow without hesitation that he is: if with the article, you alloy it not. For he is not very, original, light, but is only called so, on account of his partaking of the light, which comes from the true Light.
9. That was the true Light which lights every man that comes into the world.
AUG. What Light it is to which John bears witness, he shows himself, saying, That was the true Light.
CHRYS. Or thus; Having said above that John had come, and was sent, to bear witness of the Light, lest any from the recent coming of the witness, should infer the same of Him who is witnessed to, the Evangelist takes us back to that existence which is beyond all beginning, saying, That was the true Light.
AUG. Wherefore is there added, true? Because man enlightened is called light, but the true Light is that which lightens. For our eyes are called lights, and yet, without a lamp at night, or the sun by day, these lights are open to no purpose. Wherefore he adds: which lightens every man: but if every man, then John himself. He Himself then enlightened the person, by whom He wished Himself to be pointed out. And just as we may often, from the reflection of the sun's rays on some object, know the sun to be risen, though we cannot fool; at the sun itself; as even feeble eyes can look at an illuminated wall, or some object of that kind: even so, those to whom Christ came, being too weak to behold Him, He threw His rays upon John; John confessed the illumination, and so the illuminator Himself was discovered. It is said, that comes into the world. Had man not departed from Him, he had not had to be enlightened; but therefore is he to be here enlightened, because he departed thence, when the might have been enlightened.
THEOPHYL. Let the Manichean blush, who pronounces us the creatures of a dark and malignant creator: for we should never be enlightened, v ere we not the children of the true Light.
CHRYS. Where are those too, who deny Him to be very God? We see here that He is called very Light. But if He lightens every man that comes into the world, how is it that so many have gone on without light? For all have not known the worship of Christ. The answer is: He only enlightens every man, so far as pertains to Him. If men shut their eyes, and will not receive the rays of this light, their darkness arises not from the fault of the light, but from their own wickedness, inasmuch as they voluntarily deprive themselves of the gift of grace. For grace is poured out upon all; and they, who will not enjoy the gift, may impute it to their own blindness.
AUG. Or the words, lightens every man, may be understood to mean, not that there is no one who is not enlightened, but that no one is enlightened except by Him.
BEDE; Including both natural and divine wisdom; for as no one can exist of himself, so no one can be wise of himself.
ORIGEN; Or thus: We must not understand the words, lightens every man that comes into the world, of the growth from hidden seeds to organized bodies, but of the entrance into the invisible world, by the spiritual regeneration and grace, which is given in Baptism. Those then the true Light lightens, who come into the world of goodness, not those who rush into the world of sin.
THEOPHYL. Or thus: The intellect which is given in us for our direction, and which is called natural reason, is said here to be a light given us by God. But some by the ill use of their reason have darkened themselves.
10. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
AUG. The Light which lightens every man that comes into the world, came here in the flesh; because while He was here in His Divinity alone, the foolish, blind, and unrighteous could not discern Him; those of whom it is said above, The darkness comprehended it not. Hence the text; He was in the world.
ORIGEN; For as, when a person leaves off speaking, his voice ceases to be, and vanishes; so if the Heavenly Father should cease to speak His Word, the effect of that Word, i.e. the universe which is created in the Word, shall cease to exist.
AUG. You must not suppose however, that He was in the world in tile same sense in w which the earth, cattle, men, are in the world; but in the sense in which an artificer controls his own work; whence the text, And the world was made by Him. Nor again did He make it after the manner of all artificer; for whereas an artificer is external to what he fabricates, God pervades the world, carrying on the work of creation in every part, and never absent from any part: by the presence of His Majesty He both makes and controls what is made. Thus He was in the world, as He by Whom the world w as made.
CHRYS. And again, because He was in the world, but not coeval with the world, for this cause he introduced the words, and the world was made by Him: thus taking you back again to the eternal existence of the Only-Begotten. For when we are told that the whole of creation was made by Him, we must be very dull not to acknowledge that the Maker existed before the work.
THEOPHYL. Here he overthrows at once the insane notion of the Manichaean, who says that the world is the work of a malignant creature, and the opinion of the Arian, that the Son of God is a creature.
AUG. But what means this, The world was made by Him? The earth, sky, and sea, and all that are therein, are called the world. But in another sense, the lovers of the world are called the world, of whom he says, And the world knew Him not. For did the sky, or Angels, not know their Creator, Whom the very devils confess, Whom the whole universe has borne witness to? Who then did not know Him? Those who, from their love of the world, are called the world; for such live in heart in the world, while those who do not love it, have their body in the world, but their heart in heaven; as said the Apostle, our conversation is in heaven. By their love of the world, such men merit being called by the name of the place where they live. And just as in speaking of a bad house, or good house, we do not mean praise or blame to the walls, but to the inhabitants; so when we talk of the world, we mean those who live there in the love of it.
CHRYS. But they who were the friends of God, knew Him even before His presence in the body; whence Christ said below, Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day. When the Gentiles then interrupt us with the question, Why has He come in these last times to work our salvation, having neglected us so long? we reply, that He was in the world before, superintending what He had made, and was known to all who were worthy of Him; and that, if the world knew Him not, those of whom the world was not worthy knew Him. The reason follows, why the world knew Him not. The Evangelist calls those men the world, who are tied to the world, and savor of worldly things; for there is nothing that disturbs the mind so much, as this melting with the love of present things.
11. He came to his own, and his own received him not.
12. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
13. Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the wild of man, but of God.
CHRYS. When He said that the world knew Him not, he c referred to the times of the old dispensation, but what follows H has reference to the time of his preaching; He came to his own.
AUG. Because all things were made by Him.
THEOPHYL. By his own, understand either the world, or Judea, which He had chosen for His inheritance.
CHRYS. He came then to His own, not for His own good, but for the good of others. But whence did He Who fills all things, and is every where present, come? He came out of condescension to us, though in reality He had been in the world all along. But the world not seeing Him, because it knew Him not, He deigned to put on flesh. And this manifestation and condescension is called His advent. But the merciful God so contrives His dispensations, that we may shine forth in proportion to our goodness, and therefore He will not compel, but invites men, by persuasion and kindness, to come of their own accord: and so, when He came, some received Him, and others received Him not. He desires not an unwilling and forced service; for no one who comes unwillingly devotes himself wholly to Him. Whence what follows, And his own received him not. He here calls the Jews His own, as being his peculiar people; as indeed are all men in some sense, being made by Him. And as above, to the shame of our common nature, he said, that the world which was made by Him, knew not its Maker: so here again, indignant at the ingratitude of the Jews, he brings a heavier charge, viz. that His own received Him not.
AUG But if none at all received, none will be saved. For no one will be saved, but he who received Christ at His coming; and therefore he adds, As many as received Him.
CHRYS. Whether they be bond or free, Greek or Barbarian, wise or unwise, women or men, the young or the aged, all are made meet for the honor, which the Evangelist now proceeds to mention. To them gave He power to become the sons of God.
AUG. O amazing goodness! He was born the Only Son, yet would not remain so; but grudged not to admit joint heirs to His inheritance. Nor was this narrowed by many partaking of it.
CHRYS. He said not that He made them the sons of God, but gave them power to become the sons of God: showing that there is need of much care, to preserve the image, which is formed by our adoption in Baptism, untarnished: and showing at the same time also that no one can take this power from us, except we rob ourselves of it. Now, if the delegates of worldly governments have often nearly as much power as those governments themselves, much more is this the case with us, who derive our dignity from God. But at the same time the Evangelist wishes to show that this grace comes to us of our own will and endeavor: that, in short, the operation of grace being supposed, it is in the power of our free will to make us the sons of God.
THEOPHYL. Or the meaning is, that the most perfect sonship will only be attained at the resurrection, as said the Apostle, Wailing for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. He therefore gave us the power to become the sons of God, i.e. the power of obtaining this grace at some future time.
CHRYS. And because in the matter of these ineffable benefits, the giving of grace belongs to God, but the extending of faith to man, He subjoins, even to those who believe on his name. Why then declare you not, John, the punishment of those who received Him not? Is it because there is no greater punishment than that, when the power of becoming the sons of God is offered to men, they should not become such, but voluntarily deprive themselves of the dignity? But besides this, inextinguishable fire awaits all such, as will appear clearly farther on.
AUG. To be made then the sons of God, and brothers of Christ, they must of course be born; for if they are not born, how can they be sons? Now the sons of men are born of flesh and blood, and the will of man, and the embrace of wedlock; but how these are born, the next words declare: Not of bloods; that is, the male's and the female's. Bloods is not correct Latin, but as it is plural in the Greek, the translator preferred to put it so, though it be not strictly grammatical, at the same time explaining the word in order not to offend the weakness of one's hearers.
BEDE; It should be understood that in holy Scripture, blood in the plural number, has the signification of sin: thus in the Psalms, Deliver me from blood-guiltiness.
AUG. In that which follows, Nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, the flesh is put for the female; because, when she was made out of the rib, Adam said, This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh. The flesh therefore is put for the wife, as the spirit sometimes is for the husband; because that the one ought to govern, the other to obey. For what is there worse than a house, where the woman has rule over the man? But these that we speak of are born neither of the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God.
BEDE; The carnal birth of men derives its origin from the embrace of wedlock, but the spiritual is dispensed by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
CHRYS. The Evangelist makes this declaration, that being taught the vileness and inferiority of our former birth, which is through blood, and the will of the flesh, and understanding the loftiness and nobleness of the second, which is through grace, we might hence receive great knowledge, worthy of being bestowed by him who begat us, and after this show forth much zeal.
14a. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.
AUG. Having said, Born of God; to prevent surprise and trepidation at so great, so apparently incredible a grace, that men should be born of God; to assure us, he says, And the Word was as made flesh. Why marvel you then that men are born of God? Know that God Himself was born of man.
CHRYS. Or thus, After saying that they were born of God, who received Him, he sets forth the cause of this honor, viz. the Word being made flesh, God's own Son was made the son of man, that he might make the sons of men the sons of God. Now when you hear that the Word was made flesh, be not disturbed, for He did not change His substance into flesh, which it were indeed impious to suppose; but remaining what He was, took upon Him the form of a servant. But as there are some who say, that the whole of the incarnation was only in appearance, to refute such a blasphemy, he used the expression, was made, meaning to represent not a conversion of substance, but an assumption of real flesh. But if they say, God is omnipotent; why then could He not be changed into flesh? we reply, that a change from an unchangeable nature is a contradiction.
AUG. As our word becomes the bodily voice, by its assumption of that voice, as a means of developing itself externally, so the Word of God was made flesh, by assuming flesh, as a means of manifesting Itself to the world. And as our word is made voice, yet is not turned into voice; so the Word of God was made flesh, but never turned into flesh. It is by assuming another nature, not by consuming themselves in it, that our word is made voice, and the Word, flesh.
EX GESTIS CONC. EPH. The discourse which we utter, which we use in conversation with each other, is incorporeal, imperceptible, impalpable; but clothed in letters and characters, it becomes material, perceptible, tangible. So too the Word of God, which was naturally invisible, becomes visible, and that comes before us in tangible form, which was by nature incorporeal.
ALCUIN. When we think how the incorporeal soul is joined to the body, so as that of two is made one man, we too shall the more easily receive the notion of the incorporeal Divine substance being joined to the soul in the body, in unity of person; so as that the Word is not turned into flesh, nor the flesh into the Word; just as the soul is not turned into body, nor the body into soul.
THEOPHYL. Apollinarius of Laodicea raised a heresy upon this text; saying, that Christ had flesh only, not a rational soul; in the place of which His divinity directed and controlled His body.
AUG. If men are disturbed however by its being said that the Word was made flesh, without mention of a soul; let them know that the flesh is put for the whole man, the part for the whole, by a figure of speech; as in the Psalms, Unto you shall all flesh come; and again in Romans, By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified. In the same sense it is said here that the Word was made flesh; meaning that the Word was made man.
THEOPHYL. The Evangelist intends by making mention of the flesh, to show the unspeakable condescension of God, and lead us to admire His compassion, in assuming for our salvation, what was so opposite and incongenial to His nature, as the flesh: for the soul has some propinquity to God. If the Word, however, was made flesh, and assumed not at the same time a human soul, our souls, it would follow, would not be yet restored: for what He did not assume, He could not sanctify. What a mockery then, when the soul first sinned, to assume and sanctify the flesh only, leaving the weakest part untouched! This text overthrows Nestorius, who asserted that it was not the very Word, even God, Who the Self-same was made man, being conceived of the sacred blood of the Virgin: but that the Virgin brought forth a man endowed with every kind of virtue, and that the Word of God was united to him: thus making out two sons, one born of the Virgin, i.e. man, the other born of God, that is, the Son of God, united to that man by grace, and relation, and love. In opposition to him the Evangelist declares, that the very Word was made Man, not that the Word fixing upon a righteous man united Himself to him.
CYRIL; The Word uniting to Himself a body of flesh animated with a rational soul, substantially, was ineffably and incomprehensibly made Man, and called the Son of man, and that not according to the will only, or good-pleasure, nor again by the assumption of the Person alone. The natures are different indeed which are brought into true union, but He Who is of both, Christ the Son, is One; the difference of the natures, on the other hand, not being destroyed in consequence of this coalition.
THEOPHYL; From the text, The Word was made flesh, we learn this farther, that the Word Itself is man, and being the Son of God was made the Son of a woman, who is rightly called the Mother of God, as having given birth to God in the flesh.
HILARY; Some, however, who think God the Only-Begotten, God the Word, Who was in the beginning with God, not to be God substantially, but a Word sent forth, the Son being to God the Father, what a word is to one who utters it, these men, in order to disprove that the Word, being substantially God, and abiding in the form of God, was born the Man Christ, argue subtilely, that, whereas that Man (they say) derived His life rather from human origin than from the mystery of a spiritual conception, God the Word did not make Himself Man of the womb of the Virgin; but that the Word of God was in Jesus, as the spirit of prophecy in the Prophets. And they are accustomed to charge us with holding, that Christ was born a Man, not of our body and soul; whereas we preach the Word made flesh, and after our likeness born Man, so that He Who is truly Son of God, was truly born Son of man; and that, as by His own act He took upon Him a body of the Virgin, so of Himself He took a soul also, which in no case is derived from man by mere parental origin. And seeing He, The Self-same, is the Son of man, how absurd were it, besides the Son of God, Who is the Word, to make Him another person besides, a sort of prophet, inspired by the Word of God; whereas our Lord Jesus Christ is both the Son of God, and the Son of man.
CHRYS. Lest from it being said, however, that the Word was made flesh, you should infer improperly a change of His incorruptible nature, he subjoins, And dwelt among us. For that which inhabits is not the same, but different from the habitation: different, I say, in nature; though as to union and conjunction, God the Word and the flesh are one, without confusion or extinction of substance.
ALCUIN; Or, dwelt among us, means, lived amongst men.
14b. And we saw his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
CHRYS. Having said that we are made the sons of God and in no other way than because the Word was made flesh; he mentions another gift, And we saw His glory. Which glory we should not have seen, had He not, by His alliance with humanity, become visible to us. For if they could not endure to look on the glorified face of Moses, but there was need of a veil, how could soiled and earthly creatures, like ourselves, have borne the sight of undisguised Divinity, which is not vouchsafed even to the higher powers themselves.
AUG. Or thus; in that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, His birth became a kind of ointment to anoint the eyes of our heart, that we might through His humanity discern His majesty; and therefore it follows, And we saw His glory. No one could see His glory, who was not healed by the humility of the flesh. For there had flown upon man's eye as it were dust from the earth: the eye had been diseased, and earth was sent to heal it again; the flesh had blinded you, the flesh restores you. The soul by consenting to carnal affections had become carnal; hence the eye of the mind had been blinded: then the physician made for thee ointment. He came in such wise, as that by the flesh He destroyed the corruption of the flesh. And thus the Word was made flesh, that you might be able to say, We saw His glory.
CHRYS. He subjoins, As of the Only-Begotten of the Father: for many prophets, as Moses, Elijah, and others, workers of miracles, had been glorified, and Angels also who appeared to men, shining with the brightness belonging to their nature; Cherubim and Seraphim too, who were seen in glorious array by the prophets. But the Evangelist withdrawing our minds from these, and raising them above all nature, and every preeminence of fellow servants, leads us up to the summit Himself; as if he said, Not of prophet, or of any other man, or of Angel, or Archangel, or any of the higher powers, is the glory which we beheld; but as that of the very Lord, very King, very and true Only-Begotten Son.
GREG. In Scripture language as, and as it were, are sometimes put not for likeness but reality; whence the expression, As of the Only-Begotten of the Father.
CHRYS. As if he said: We saw His glory, such as it was becoming and proper for the Only-Begotten and true Son to have. We have a form of speech, like it, derived from our seeing kings always splendidly robed. When the dignity of a man's carriage is beyond description, we say, In short, he went as a king. So too John says, We saw His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father. For Angels, when they appeared, did every thing as servants who had a Lord, but He as the Lord appearing in humble form. Yet did all creatures recognize their Lord, the star calling the Magi, the Angels the shepherds, the child leaping in the womb acknowledged Him: yes the Father bore witness to Him from heaven, and the Paraclete descending upon Him: and the very universe itself shouted louder than any trumpet, that the King of heaven had come. For devils fled, diseases were healed, the graves gave up the dead, and souls were brought out of wickedness, to the utmost height of virtue. What shall one say of the wisdom of precepts, of the virtue of heavenly laws, of the excellent institution of the angelical life?
ORIGEN; Full of grace and truth. Of this the meaning is twofold. For it may be understood of the Humanity, and the Divinity of the Incarnate Word, so that the fullness of grace has reference to the Humanity, according to which Christ is the Head of the Church, and the first-born of every creature: for the greatest and original example of grace, by which man, with no preceding merits, is made God, is manifested primarily in Him. The fullness of the grace of Christ may also be understood of the Holy Spirit, whose sevenfold operation filled Christ's Humanity. The fullness of truth applies to the Divinity but if you had rather understand the fullness of grace and truth of the New Testament, you may with propriety pronounce the fullness of the grace of the New Testament to be given by Christ, and the truth of the legal types to have been fulfilled in Him.
THEOPHYL. Or, full of grace, inasmuch as His word w as gracious, as said David, Full of grace are your lips; and truth, because what Moses and the Prophets spoke or did in figure, Christ did in reality.
15. John bore witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spoke, He that comes after me is preferred before me, for he was before me.
ALCUIN; He had said before that there was a man sent to bear witness; now he gives definitely the forerunner's own testimony, which plainly declared the excellence of His Human Nature and the Eternity of His Godhead. John bore witness of Him.
CHRYS. Or he introduces this, as if to say, Do not suppose that we bear witness to this out of gratitude, because we were with Him a long time, and partook of His table; for John who had never seen Him before, nor tarried with Him, bore witness to Him. The Evangelist repeats John's testimony many times here and there, because he was held in such admiration by the Jews. Other Evangelists refer to the old prophets, and say, This was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet. But he introduces a loftier, and later witness, not intending to make the servant vouch for the master, but only condescending to the weakness of his hearers. For as Christ would not have been so readily received, had He not taken upon Him the form of a servant; so if he had not excited the attention of servants by the voice of a fellow-servant beforehand, there would not have been many Jews embracing the word of Christ. It follows, And cried; that is, preached with openness, with freedom, without reservation. He did not however begin with asserting that this one was the natural only-begotten Son of God, but cried, saying, This was He of whom I spoke, He that comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me. For as birds do not teach their young all at once to fly, but first draw them outside the nest, and afterwards try them with a quicker motion; so John did not immediately lead the Jews to high things, but began with lesser flights, saying, that Christ was better than he; which in the mean time was no little advance. And observe how prudently he introduces his testimony; he not only points to Christ when He appears, but preaches Him beforehand; as, This is He of whom I spoke. This would prepare men's minds for Christ's coming: so that when He did come, the humility of His garb would be no impediment to His being received. For Christ adopted so humble and common an appearance, that if men had seen Him without first healing John's testimony to His greatness, none of the things spoken of Him would have had any effect. THEOPHYL. He said, Who comes after me, that is, as to the time of His birth. John was six months before Christ, according to His humanity.
CHRYS. Or this does not refer to the birth from Mary; for Christ was born, when this was said by John; but to His coming for the work of preaching. He then said, is made before me; that is, is more illustrious, more honorable; as if he said, Do not suppose me greater than He, because I came first to preach.
THEOPHYL. The Arians infer from this Word, that the Son of God is not begotten of the Father, but made like any other creature.
AUG. It does not mean - He was made before I was made, but He is preferred to me.
CHRYS. If the words, made before me, referred to His coming into being, it was superfluous to add, For He was before me. For who would be so foolish as not to know, that if He was made before him, He was before him. It would have been more correct to say, He was before me, because He was made before me. The expression then, He was made before me, must be taken in the sense of honor: only that which was to take place, he speaks of as having taken place already, after the style of the old Prophets, who commonly talk of the future as the past.
16. And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.
17. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
ORIGEN; This is to be considered a continuation of the Baptist's testimony to Christ, a point which has escaped the attention of many, who think that from this to, He has declared Him, St. John the Apostle is speaking. But the idea that on a sudden, and, as it would seem, unseasonably, the discourse of the Baptist should be interrupted by a speech of the disciple's, is inadmissible. And any one, able to follow the passage, will discern a very obvious connection here.
For having said, He is preferred before me, for He was before me, he proceeds, From this I know that He is before me, because I and the Prophets who preceded me have received of His fullness, and grace for grace, (the second grace for the first.) For they too by the Spirit penetrated beyond the figure to the contemplation of the truth. And hence receiving, as we have done, of his fullness, we judge that the law was given by Moses, but that grace and truth were made, by Jesus Christ - made, not given: the Father gave the law by Moses, but made grace and truth by Jesus.
But if it is Jesus who says below, I am the Truth, how is truth made by Jesus? We must understand however that the very substantial Truth, from which First Truth and Its Image many truths are engraver on those who treat of the truth, was not made through Jesus Christ, or through any one; but only the truth which is in individuals, such as in Paul, e.g. or the other Apostles, was made through Jesus Christ.
CHRYS. Or thus; John the Evangelist here adds this testimony to that of John the Baptist, saying, And of his fullness have we all received. These are not the words of the forerunner, but of the disciple; as if he meant to say, We also the twelve, and the whole body of the faithful, both present and to come, have received of His fullness.
AUG. But whet have you received? Grace for grace. So that we are to understand that we have received a certain something from His fullness, and over and above this, grace for grace; that we have first received of His fullness, first grace; and again, we have received grace for grace. What grace did we first receive; Faith: which is called grace, because it is given freely. This is the first grace then which the sinner receives, the remission of his sins. Again, we have grace for grace; i.e. instead of that grace in which we live by faith, we are to receive another, viz. life eternal: for life eternal is as it were the wages of faith. And thus as faith itself is a good grace, so life eternal is grace for grace. There was not grace in the Old Testament; for the law threatened, but assisted not, commanded, but healed not, showed our weakness, but relieved it not.
It prepared the way however for a Physician who was about to come, with the gifts of grace and truth: whence the sentence which follows: For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth were made by Jesus Christ. The death of your Lord has destroyed death, both temporal and eternal; that is the grace which was promised, but not contained, in the law.
CHRYS. Or we have received grace for grace; that is, the new in the place of the old. For as there is a justice and a justice besides, an adoption and another adoption, a circumcision and another circumcision; so is there a grace and another grace; only the one being a type, the other a reality. He brings in the words to show that the Jews as well as ourselves are saved by grace: it being of mercy and grace that they received the law. Next, after he has said, Grace for grace, he adds something to show the magnitude of the gift; For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth were made by Jesus Christ. John when comparing himself with Christ above had said, He is preferred before me: but the Evangelist draws a comparison between Christ, and one much more in admiration with the Jews than John, viz. Moses.
And observe his wisdom. He does not draw the comparison. between the persons, but the things, contrasting grace and truth to the law: the latter of which he says was given, a word only applying to an administrator; the former made, as we should speak of a king, who does every thing by his power: though in this King it would be with grace also, because that with power He remitted all sins. Now His grace is shown in His gift of Baptism, and our adoption by the Holy Spirit, and many other things; but to have a better insight into what the truth is, we should study the figures of the old law: for what was to be accomplished in the New Testament, is prefigured in the Old, Christ at His Coming filling up the figure. Thus was the figure given by Moses, but the truth made by Christ.
AUG. Or, we may refer grace to knowledge, truth to wisdom. Amongst the events of time the highest grace is the uniting of man to God in One Person; in the eternal world the highest truth pertains to God the Word.
18. No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him.
ORIGEN; Heracleon asserts, that this is a declaration of the disciple, not of the Baptist: an unreasonable supposition; for if the words, Of His fullness have we all received, are the Baptist's, does not the connection run naturally, that he receiving of the grace of Christ, the second in the place of the first grace, and confessing that the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ; understood here that no man had seen God at any time, and that the Only Begotten, who was in the bosom of the Father, had committed this declaration of Himself to John, and all who with him had received of His fullness? For John was not the first who declared Him; for He Himself who was before Abraham, tells us, that Abraham rejoiced to see His glory.
CHRYS. Or thus; the Evangelist after showing the great superiority of Christ's gifts, compared with those dispensed by Moses, wishes in the next place to supply an adequate reason for the difference. The one being a servant was made a minister of a lesser dispensation: but the other Who was Lord, and Son of the King, brought us far higher things, being ever coexistent with the Father, and beholding Him. Then follows, No man has seen God at any time, &c.
AUG. What is that then which Jacob said, I have seen God face to face; and that which is written of Moses, he talked with God face to face; and that which the prophet Isaiah said of himself, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne?
GREG. It is plainly given us to understand here, that while we are in this mortal state, we see God only through the medium of certain images, not, in the reality of His own nature. A soul influenced by the grace of the Spirit may see God through certain figures, but cannot penetrate into his absolute essence. And hence it is that Jacob, who testifies that he saw God, saw nothing but an Angel: and that Moses, who talked with God face to face, says, Show me Your way, that I may know You: meaning that he ardently desired to see in the brightness of His own infinite Nature, Him Whom he had only as yet seen reflected in images.
CHRYS. If the old fathers had seen That very Nature, they would not have contemplated It so variously, for It is in Itself simple and without shape; It sits not, It walks not; these are the qualities of bodies. Whence he said through the Prophet, I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes, by the ministry of the Prophets: i.e. I have condescended to them, I appeared that which I was not. For inasmuch as the Son of God was about to manifest Himself to us in actual flesh, men were at first raised to the sight of God, in such ways as allowed of their seeing Him.
AUG. Now it is said, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God; and again, When He shall appear, we shall be like to Him, for we shall see Him as He is. What is the meaning then of the words here: No man has seen God at any time? The reply is easy: those passages speak of God, as to be seen, not as already seen. They shall see God, it is said, not, they have seen Him: nor is it, we have seen Him, but, we shall see Him as He is. For, No man has seen God at any time, neither in this life, nor yet in the Angelic, as He is; in the same way in which sensible things are perceived by the bodily vision.
GREG. If however any, while inhabiting this corruptible flesh, can advance to such an immeasurable height of virtue, as to be able to discern by the contemplative vision, the eternal brightness of God, their case affects not what we say. For whoever sees wisdom, that is, God, is dead wholly to this life, being no longer occupied by the love of it.
AUG. For unless any in some sense die to this life, either by leaving the body altogether, or by being so withdrawn and alienated from carnal perceptions, that he may well not know, as the Apostle says, whether he be in the body or out of the body, he cannot be carried away, and borne aloft to that vision.
GREG. Some hold that in the place of bliss, God is visible in His brightness, but not in His nature. This is to indulge in over much subtlety. For in that simple and unchangeable essence, no division can be made between the nature and the brightness.
AUG. If we say, that the text, No one has seen God, at any time, applies only to men; so that, as the Apostle more plainly interprets it, Whom no man has seen nor can see, no one is to be understood here to mean, no one of men: the question may be solved in a way not to contradict what our Lord says, Their Angels do always behold the face of My Father; so that we must believe that Angels see, what no one, i.e. of men, has ever seen.
GREG. Some however there are who conceive that not even the Angels see God.
CHRYS. That very existence which is God, neither Prophets, nor even Angels, nor yet Archangels, have seen. For inquire of the Angels; they say nothing concerning His Substance; but sing, Glory to God in the highest, and Peace on earth to men of good will. Nay, ask even Cherubim and Seraphim; you will hear only in reply the mystic melody of devotion, and that heaven and earth are full of His glory.
AUG. Which indeed is true so far, that no bodily or even mental vision of man has ever embraced the fullness of God; for it is one thing to see, another to embrace the whole of what you see. A thing is seen, if only the sight of it be caught; but we only see a thing fully, when we have no part of it unseen, when we see round its extreme limits.
CHRYS. In this complete sense only the Son and the Holy Ghost see the Father. For how can created nature see that which is uncreated? So then no man knows the Father as the Son knows Him: and hence what follows, The Only-Begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared, Him. That we might not be led by the identity of the name, to confound Him with the sons made so by grace, the article is annexed in the first place; and then, to put an end to all doubt, the name Only-Begotten is introduced.
HILARY; The Truth of His Nature did not seem sufficiently explained by the name of Son, unless, in addition, its peculiar force as proper to Him were expressed, so signifying its distinctness from all beside. For in that, besides Son, he calls Him also the Only-Begotten, he cut off altogether all suspicion of adoption, the Nature of the Only-Begotten guaranteeing the truth of the name.
CHRYS. He adds, Which is in the bosom of the Father. To dwell in the bosom is much more than simply to see. For he who sees simply, has not the knowledge thoroughly of that which he sees; but he who dwells in the bosom, knows every thing. When you hear then that no one knows the Father save the Son, do not by any means suppose that he only knows the Father more than any other, and does not know Him fully. For the Evangelist sets forth His residing in the bosom of the Father on this very account: viz. to show us the intimate converse of the Only-Begotten, and His co-eternity with the Father.
AUG. In the bosom of the Father, i.e. in the secret Presence of the Father: for God has not the fold on the bosom, as we have; nor must be imagined to sit, as we do; nor is He bound with a girdle, so as to have a fold: but from the fact of our bosom being placed innermost, the secret Presence of the Father is called the bosom of the Father. He then who, in the secret Presence of the Father, knew the Father, the same has declared what He saw.
CHRYS. But what has He declared? That God is one. But this the rest of the Prophets and Moses proclaim: what else have we learnt from the Son Who was in the bosom of the Father? In the first place, that those very truths, which the others declared, were declared through the operation of the Only Begotten: in the next place, we have received a far greater doctrine from the Only Begotten; viz. that God is a Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth; and that God is the Father of the Only Begotten.
BEDE; Farther, if the word declared have reference to the past, it must be considered that He, being made man, declared the doctrine of the Trinity in unity, and how, and by what acts we should prepare ourselves for the contemplation of it. If it have reference to the future, then it means that He will declare Him, when He shall introduce His elect to the vision of His brightness.
AUG. Yet have there been men, who, deceived by the vanity of their hearts, maintained that the Father is invisible, the Son visible. Now if they call the Son visible, with respect to His connection with the flesh, we object not; it is the Catholic doctrine. But it is madness in them to say He was so before His incarnation; i.e. if it be true that Christ is the Wisdom of God, and the Power of God. The Wisdom of God cannot be seen by the eye. If the human word cannot be seen by the eye, how can the Word of God?
CHRYS. The text then, No man has seen God at any time, applies not to the Father only, but also to the Son: for He, as Paul said, is the Image of the invisible God; but He who is the Image of the Invisible , must Himself also be invisible.
Catena Aurea John 1