THE FIRST EPISTLE OF S. JOHN THE APOSTLE. CHAPTER I.
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life :
2 For the life was manifested; and we have seen and do bear witness, and declare unto you the life eternal, which was with the Father, and hath appeared to us:
3 That which we have seen and have heard, we declare unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship may be with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ
This was S. John's ground for dignity, authority, communication of grace to others, and fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ; viz., that he had himself heard, and seen, and looked upon with his own eyes, and handled with his own hands the Incarnate Word of God. [See infra, Note B, p. 279.] Think of Nazareth, and Bethlehem, and Jerusalem, and Egypt, and Nazareth and Jerusalem again—and say whether Mary had not enjoyed these privileges more intimately and abundantly, unspeakably far, than the Apostle, and whether her dignity in this respect does not immeasurably surpass that of S. John. If on this title Christians might have fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, how much more through Mary.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
" The holy Mary," writes S. Augustine, " lived without any sin. No other of the Saints was without sin. He (Pelagius) goes on to make mention of those ' who are recounted not only not to have sinned, but also to have lived justly, Abel, Enoch, Melchisedech, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Josue, . . . Joseph to whom the Virgin Mary was espoused, and John.' He adds women also, ' Debbora, . . . Elisabeth, and Mary the Mother of our Lord and Saviour,' whom, he says, 'piety necessarily obliges us to confess to have been without sin.' Except, then, the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom, for the Lord's honour, I will have no question raised at all, in treating of sins,—for we know that more grace [Or, according to the other reading : " For, how do we know what was the greater grace conferred on her . . . who merited," etc.?] was conferred on her to be victorious over sin from every quarter, [Or, "for the entire conquest of sin," ad vincendum omni ex parte pecatum.] from the fact that she merited to conceive, and give birth to Him, Who, it is certain, had no sin. This Virgin, therefore, excepted ; could we gather together, and ask all those holy men and women, whether when they lived here on earth, they were without sin, what, think we, they would answer ? Would it be what this man says, or what the Apostle John says ? I ask you—however great the excellence of their sanctity whilst in the body—if they could be questioned, would they not cry out with one voice, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." [S August., De Natura et Gratia, cap. 36. See supra, Rom. iii. 23.]
1 My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin. But if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just.
" We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just, 'Who also maketh intercession for us,' says S. Paul. [Rom. viii. 34] But because He is not only our Advocate, but also appointed to be Judge of the living and of the dead,' [ Acts x. 42.] and so will examine into everything, and will leave no sin unpunished; human weakness, and especially a sinner—since the just is scarcely secure before Him [1 Pet. iv. 18.] —might perhaps, not bear to approach to Him as Advocate. And consequently God most loving has provided us with an advocate in Mary who is all mild and sweet. Nothing harsh is found in her, never did a hard word come forth from her." [S. Antoninus, p. iv. tit. 15, c. 14, 7.]
5 But he that keepeth his word, in him in very deed the charity of God is perfected; and by this we know that we are in him.
In Mary then, in very deed, was the charity of God perfected. For of her emphatically the Holy Ghost records: " His Mother kept all these (His) words in her heart." [Luke ii. 52, and v. 19. See supra, Rom. ii. 13.] Again the Angel assures her from God that she is united to Him—Dominus tecum. Hence to Mary above all others belongs that supreme blessedness pronounced by her Divine Son, on those who hear the Word of God and keep it. By this we know that she, in a sense beyond all others, is in Him.
20 But you have the unction from the Holy one, and know all things.
Who had the unction from the Holy One as Mary, upon whom the Holy Ghost came, and whom the power of the Most High overshadowed ; of whom was born the Holy One ; with whom the Holy One lived and conversed so many years; on whom the Holy Ghost descended again in His fulness on the day of Pentecost ? What, then, must have been the fulness of Mary's knowledge.
1 Behold what manner of charity the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called, and should be the sons of God. Therefore the world knoweth not us, because it knew not him.
2 Dearly beloved, we are now the sons of God; and it hath not yet appeared what we shall be. We know, that, when he shall appear, we shall be like to him: because we shall see him as he is.
3 And every one that hath this hope in him, sanctifieth himself, as he also is holy.
O charity in manner yet more admirable, bestowed upon Mary, that she should not only be the elect one, blessed above others amongst all God's daughters, but moreover be called, and really be His own beloved Mother!—a charity wherein we are made to share, in that we also have His Mother for our Mother, and are called, and in truth are, the children of Mary. May we not well say: Behold what manner of charity our Lord Jesus Christ from the Cross hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called by Him, and should be the children of Mary His own most holy Mother, and that thus He should become our own Brother. We need not wonder that the world knows not but rejects Mary—her dignity, her holiness and her power; and that it opposes her servants and children, and sets itself against the practice of devotion to her.
If such will be the manifestation of all the children of God, what will be the glorious manifestation of His chosen one, of Mary His own most perfect Mother ? As we are unable to conceive the blessedness of Mary's assured hope of the beatific vision, so neither can we comprehend the sanctification by which she prepared herself for it.
8 He that committeth sin is of the devil: for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose, the Son of God appeared, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
9 Whosoever is born of God, committeth not sin: for his seed abideth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
10 In this the children of God are manifest and the children of the devil.
13 Wonder not, brethren, if the world hate you.
The Apostle here takes us back to the beginning, and evidently refers to the primeval prophecy and promise contained in Genesis : [Gen. iii. 15.] " I will put enmities between thee (the serpent) and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel." Whether it is there said that the Woman (Mary, the Second Eve), or her Seed, that is Jesus Christ her Son—and in and by Him all His true members, the faithful—should destroy the power of the devil, is immaterial. We see that what there is called "the seed of the woman " is here by S. John called the children of God, those born of God. Hence we may learn that it is one and the same thing to be children of God, and children of Mary. We must not wonder, then, that the world, that is, the seed of the serpent, who are the children of error, should hate the children of God and Mary; since it had been prophesied long before, even from the beginning: " I will put enmities between thy seed and her seed."
16 In this we have known the charity of God, because he hath laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
Mary was ready a thousand times to lay down her life for her children, had such been the will of God. She did in effect, what cost her far more. She was transfixed in her heart with the wounds of her Divine Son. The same sword which pierced Him pierced her maternal soul through and through. Mary at the foot of the Cross laid down for us a life dearer far than her own.
21 Dearly beloved, if our heart do not reprehend us, we have confidence towards God:
22 And whatsoever we shall ask, we shall receive of him: because we keep his commandments, and do those things which are pleasing in his sight.
23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ: and love one another, as he hath given commandment unto us.
24 And he that keepeth his commandments, abideth in him, and he in him. And in this we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.
If the prayers of good Christians in the grace of God are thus powerful, what must be the exceeding power with God of the prayers of Mary His Mother, who possessed, as the Spirit of truth expressly testifies, in such an excellent degree all the conditions here mentioned for favour and acceptance in His sight. Mary had confidence towards God, so that when her petition to her Divine Son was seemingly refused, she still with confidence pressed her suit. [John ii. 3-5.] She kept God's Word. [Luke ii. 52.] She did what was pleasing in His sight. " Thou hast found grace with God." [ib. i. 30.] She was strong in faith. " Blessed art thou that hast believed." [ib. i. 45.] She abounded in fraternal charity, so that Jesus from the Cross gave her to us, His beloved ones, to be our Mother, giving her at the same time a Mother's heart and a Mother's love.[John xix. 26.] She abode in God. " The Lord is with thee." She knew and had full assurance of her union with Him by the Spirit, which was given to her. [Luke i. 28, 35. See Acts i. 14 ; ii. 1, 4 ; 1 John iv. 12, 13.]
1 Dearly beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits if they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
2 By this is the spirit of God known. Every spirit which confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God :
3 And every spirit that dissolveth Jesus, is not of God: and this is Antichrist. [The Apostle again denounces in his Second Epistle (v.v. 7-11) the heresy of which he here speaks.]
" Believe nut every spirit, but try the spirits if they be of God; 'for Satan himself transformed himself into an angel of light,' [2 Cor. xi. 14.] to be adored. . . . 'The spiritual man judgeth all things,' [1 Cor. ii.15.] says S. Paul, that is, discerns what should be done from what should not be done, and the fictitious from the true. Because, then, Mary was spiritual above all others she had beyond all others the discernment of spirits. When S. Anthony on seeing in spirit the whole world full of snares closely set together cried out, Oh, who shall escape these snares ? the answer was, Humility alone. The Blessed Virgin was incomparably more humble than all others; and therefore through this grace of discernment of spirits, escaped all deceits. The evil spirit is wont to tempt to spiritual pride, but the Blessed Mary never had any movement of pride. The Apostle Paul says of himself, 'We are not ignorant of his (that is, the devil's) devices.' But since Mary is more than Paul, much less was she ignorant, but had greater discernment, and was never deceived by him." [ S. Antoninus, p. iv. tit. 15, cap. 19, § 7.] The very essential ideal of everything that is most opposed to Jesus Christ is Antichrist, and the spirit of Antichrist. On the contrary, the most perfect ideal of all that is for Jesus Christ, is Mary, and her spirit, which breathes in the souls of the faithful devotion to her. For Mary is the living testimony and pledge in the Church on earth, and in heaven to Angels and Saints for all eternity of the truth of the Incarnation, that God is indeed become Man. Take away Mary and Jesus Christ is dissolved. Whoever entertains wrong thoughts and ideas of her will hold error, explicitly or implicitly, with regard to Our Lord Jesus Christ. Let devotion to Mary droop, and Catholic Faith will soon grow weak, or die. Mary is still the guardian of her Divine Son, as she is of us her children. The experience of ages has proved this. Hence the Church sings: Gaude Maria Virgo, cunctas hevreses sola interemisti in universo mundo. Dignare me laudare te Virgo sacrata. Da mihi virtutern contra hostes tuos. The Spirit of Mary is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God.
21 And this commandment we have from God, that he who loveth God, love also his brother.
" As there never was, and never will be," writes S. Alphonsus, "anyone who loved God as much as Mary loved Him, so there never was, and never will be, anyone who loved her neighbour as much as she did. Father Cornelius a Lapide, on these words of the Canticles: ' King Solomon hath made him a litter of the wood of Libanus . . . the midst he covered with charity for the daughters of Jerusalem,' [Cant. iii. 9, 10.] says that ' this litter was Mary's womb, in which the Incarnate Word dwelt, filling it with charity for the daughters of Jerusalem; for Christ, who is love itself, inspired the Blessed Virgin with charity in its highest degree, that she might succour all who had recourse to her. So great was Mary's charity when on earth, that she succoured the needy without even being asked, as was the case at the marriage-feast of Cana, when she told her Son that family's distress, ' They have no wine,' [John ii. 3.] and asked him to work a miracle. Oh, with what speed did she fly when there was question of relieving her neighbour ! When she went to the house of Elizabeth to fulfil an office of charity: * She went into the hill country with haste.' [Luke i. 39.] She could not, however, more fully display the greatness of her charity than she did in the offering which she made of her Son to death for our salvation. On this subject S. Bonaventure says,' Mary so loved the world as to give her only-begotten Son.' Hence S. Anselm exclaims, ' O blessed amongst women, thy purity sur passes that of the angels, and thy compassion that of the saints. [Invoc. B. V. et Filii.] '- ' Nor has this love of Mary for us,' says S. Bonaventure, 'diminished, now that she is in heaven, but it has increased, for now she better sees the miseries of man.' And therefore the Saint goes on to say: ' Great was the mercy of Mary towards the wretched when she was still in exile on earth ; but far greater is it now that she reigns in heaven.' " [Spec. B. V. M. lect. x. Glories of Mary, p. 448, 9.]