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A summary of the remarks of S. Irenæus on this important subject may be presented to the English reader in the words of Bp. Bull;—
"All the Gnostics, of whatever denomination, did in reality deny the true Nativity, Passion, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, although not all in the same way. This is a learned observation of Irenæus, who was a most careful investigator of the doctrine of the Gnostics, in the third book of his Treatise, where, after showing how the Apostle John, in the very beginning of his Gospel, glances at the Cerinthians and Nicolaitans, he proceeds presently to those words of the Apostle', and demonstrates that neither the Cerinthians, nor any other sect of the Gnostics, did sincerely acknowledge the Incarnation, the Passion, or the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
"These are the words of Irenæus. According to those heretics, neither was the Word made Flesh, nor Christ, nor the Saviour. For they maintain, that the Word and Christ did not even come into this world, and that the Saviour was neither Incarnate, nor suffered, but that He descended like a dove upon Jesus, and having declared the unknown Father, ascended again into the pleroma. But He who was incarnate and suffered, some of them affirm, was that Jesus who is of the Gospel dispensation, who, they say, passed through the Virgin Mary, as water through a tube; others assert, that He, who suffered, was the Son of the Demiurge, or Creator, upon whom that Jesus descended, who is of the Gospel dispensation; others again say, that Jesus was indeed born of Joseph and Mary, and that upon him Christ descended, who is from above, being without flesh, and incapable of suffering.
"According, however, to no view entertained by these Heretics, was the Word of God made Flesh. For if one carefully search into the theories of them all, he will find, that there is introduced a Word of God, and a Christ that is on high, without flesh, and incapable of suffering. For some of them think that He was manifested, as transfigured into the form of man, but say that He was neither born, nor incarnate; whereas others suppose that He did not even assume the form of man, but descended as a dove upon that Jesus who was born of Mary. The Lord's disciple, St. John, therefore, showing that they are all false witnesses, says, 'And the WORD was made FLESH, and DWELT AMONG US","
The reader may be also glad to be reminded here of the remarks made by another learned English Theologian, Dr. Waterland, who has illustrated this subject with his usual erudition, and with special application to the Epistles of St. John.
Those remarks, together with the observations of the two English Prelates quoted in this Introduction, may serve as preparatory to a profitable study of this Epistle.
"If we examine this Epistle, we shall perceive "-says Dr. Waterland-" that a great part of it was levelled, not so much against Jews, or Pagans, as against false Christians; against the heretics of that time, Simonians perhaps, or Cerinthians, or Ebionites, or Nicolaitans, or all of them.
"The two principal errors which St. John there censures, were, the denial of Christ's being come in the flesh, and the disowning that Jesus was Christ. The Docetæ, as they were afterwards called, the followers of Simon Magus, denied Christ's real humanity, making Him a mere phantom, shadow, or apparition. And the Cerinthians, making a distinction between Jesus and Christ, did not allow that both were one Person. Against those chiefly St. John wrote his Epistle. He speaks of Antichrists newly risen up, which could not be intended of Jews or Pagans, who had opposed the Gospel all along; and he speaks of men that had been of the Church, but had apostatized from it; 'they went out from us, but they were not of us ".'
"Let us now proceed to the explication of those passages in St. John's Epistle which relate to our purpose.
"The Apostle observes, that the Word of Life (or the Word in whom was Life) was from the beginning; conformable to what he says in the entrance to his Gospel, and in opposition both to Cerinthus and Ebion, who made Jesus a mere man, and who either denied any pre-existing sub
Pleroma. Incarnatum autem et passum quidam quidem eum, qui ex dispositione sit, dicunt Jesum, quem per Mariam dicunt pertransisse, quasi aquam per tubum: alii verò Demiurgi filium, in quem descendisse eum Jesum qui ex dispositione sit: alii rursum Jesum quidem ex Joseph et Mariâ natum dicunt, et in hune descendisse Christum, qui de superioribus sit sine carne et impassibilem existentem. Secundùm autem nullam sententiam hæreticorum, Verbum Dei caro factum est. Si enim quis regulas ipsorum omnium perscrutetur, inveniet quoniam sine carne et impassibile ab omnibus illis inducitur Dei Verbum, et qui est in superioribus Christus. Alii enim putant manifestatum eum, quemadmodum hominem transfiguratum; neque autem natum neque incarnatum dicunt illum: alii verò neque figuram eum
stantial Logos, or at most supposed him to stand foremost in the rank of creatures. The Apostle further styles the same Logos, Eternal Life', to intimate his eternal existence, in opposition to the same heretics. He adds, which was with the Father, parallel to what he says in his Gospel, was with God 2.
"In the second chapter of the Epistle, the Apostle describes the antichristian heretics of that time as denying that Jesus is Christ, which amounted to the same with denying the Father and the Son; because whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father. Cerinthus denied that Jesus was Christ, dividing Christ from Jesus; and he, of consequence, denied the Son, because he allowed not that Jesus was personally united with the Word, the eternal Son of God; nor that the Logos which he speaks of, was the only-begotten of the Father, being Son only of the only begotten, according to his scheme; so that he totally disowned the divine Sonship, both of Jesus and Christ, and by such denial denied both the Father and Son'.
"The Apostle goes on to say, Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. Where again he manifestly strikes at the Cerinthian and Ebionite principles, which allowed not Jesus to be the Son of God, in any true and proper sense, such as St. John lays down in several places of his writings, but particularly in the entrance to his Gospel.
"In the chapter next following, the Apostle repeats the same thing as before, or uses words to the same effect; Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God"; and soon after adds, Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? Here lay the main stress,-to believe that Jesus, who was truly and really Man, was as truly and really the eternal Son of God. The Apostle in the next verse seems to point at the Docetæ, as he had before done in the same Epistle ", being equally concerned to maintain that Christ had real flesh, as that He had real Divinity; that so the faith of the Gospel might stand upon this firm foundation, that the Eternal Son of God became Son of Man for the salvation of mankind. Hereupon therefore the Apostle, in defence of Christ's real humanity, says, This is He that came by water and blood". What he elsewhere expresses by His coming in the flesh, here he expresses more emphatically, by His coming in, or by, water and blood; alluding to what Christ shed at His passion, as a proof that He had then a real body, and was really man, not a spectre, phantom, or apparition, as some heretics pretended. It is to be noted, that the ancient visionaries (who were the Simonians, Menandrians, Saturnilians, and Basilidians), being ashamed perhaps to confess Christ crucified 13, contrived any wild supposition imaginable to evade it. Basilides pretended that Christ Himself did not suffer, but that Simon of Cyrene was crucified in His room 1. The elder Docetæ said that Christ had no real body, and suffered in appearance only.
"But the Apostle here emphatically observes that Christ came by water and blood: this shedding of both water and blood out of his side, at his Passion, was a demonstration, that there was a real body then hanging upon the cross, not a phantom, or a spiritual substance. Which very argument is well urged by Irenæus and Novatian", in proof of the same thing, against the Docetæ. As St. John is the only Evangelist who has related that circumstance of the Passion ", so it is observable
11 John i. 2. Compare 1 John v. 20.
2 Conf. Tertull. contra Prax. c. xv. Bp. Bull, Judic. Eccles. c. ii. sect. 5, p. 295.
31 John ii. 22.
4 1 John ii. 22. 66 Apostoli verba commune Cerinthi et Ebionis dogma manifesti perstringunt, nam illi ambo Jesum esse verum Dei Filium ante Mariam, adeoque ante res omnes creatas ex Deo Patre natum omninò negabant, ac proinde, Apostolo judice, neque Deum Patrem reverâ confessi sunt; siquidem à revelato Evangelio, nemo potest Deum Patrem ritè colere aut credere, nisi qui Deum Filium simul amplectatur." Bull, Judic. Eccl. c. ii. sect. 5, p. 296.
5"Dum enim Cerinthiani negabant Jesum esse Christum per veram scilicet perpetuamque unionem, Christum insuper Filium Dei verum et unigenitum inficiebantur; perinde hoc erat ac si et Patrem et Filium negassent, cum, ut rectè Joannes dicit, Qui Filium negat, nec Patrem habeat.-Eo ipse enim, dum negabant Jesum esse Christum, nec ipsum quoque Christum pro Dei Filio agnoscebant, non poterant non multò magis negare. Jesum esse Filium Dei." Buddæi Eccles. Apostol. p. 445.
6"Non est dubitandum, quin Apostolus his verbis confessionem exigat illius Filii Dei, quem ipse ex parte supra in hâc Epistolâ prædicaverat, et plenius in Evangelio suo declarat, nempe Filii Dei, qui sit Dei Patris Aóyos, qui in principio erat, et apud Deum erat, et Deus ipse erat, per quem omnia facta sunt, &c.— Hujusmodi verò Dei Filium Jesum nostrum esse, non confessus est Cerinthus, neque post ipsum Ebion." Bp. Bull, Judic. c. ii. sect. 9, p. 297.
12 1 John i. 1, 2; iv. 2, 3. 2 John 7. Compare 1 Tim. iii. 16. 1 Pet. iii. 18; iv. 1.
13 Hence it is that Polycarp joins both together in the same reproof: πᾶς γὰρ, ὃς ἂν μὴ ὁμολογῇ Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθέναι, ἀντίχριστός ἐστι· καὶ ὃς ἂν μὴ ὁμολογῇ τὸ μαρτύριον τοῦ σταυροῦ, ἐκ τοῦ Διαβόλου ἐστί. Polycarp, Epist. c. 7.
Irenæus, lib. i. c. 24, aliàs 22, p. 101. Epiphan. xxiv. 3. Philastr. c. xxxii. p. 68. Augustine, de Hæres. n. iv. Theodoret, Hæret. Fab. lib. i. c. 4.
15" Quomodo autem, cùm caro non esset, sed pareret (i. e. appareret), quasi homo, crucifixus est, et à latere ejus puncto sanguis exiit et aqua?" Iren. lib. iv. c. 33 (aliàs 57), p. 271.
16 "Sanguis idcirco de manibus ac pedibus, atque ipso latere demanavit, ut nostri consors corporis probaretur, dum occasûs nostri legibus moritur." Novatian, c. x. p. 31, edit. Welchmann. 17 John xix. 34.
how particular a stress he lays upon it, immediately subjoining, in confirmation of it, and he that saw it bare record, and his record is true. And he confirms it further from two prophecies out of
the Old Testament.
"St. John strengthens the argument further by superadding the consideration of the testimony of the Spirit. And there is the Spirit also bearing witness, because the Spirit is truth', is essential truth. The Spirit residing in the Church, and working in believers by supernatural graces, bears testimony to the doctrine taught by the Apostles, and believed by the Church; particularly to the doctrine here spoken of, viz., that Christ the Son of God became Son of Man for the salvation of mankind.
"The Apostle, in the close of this Epistle, sums up all in these strong words: we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life2.
"The title of true God, in this text, is to be understood of Christ, as I have shown elsewhere. I would observe further, how aptly every word is chosen to obviate the erroneous tenets of Cerinthus, and of other the like false teachers of those times. The Son of God, not the Son of Joseph and Mary, nor the Son of the only-begotten, but the immediate Son of God, related to God as a son to a father, not as a creature to his Lord and Maker. He is come, come in the flesh, and not merely to reside for a time, or occasionally, and to fly off again, but to abide and dwell with man, clothed with humanity. We are in Him that is true, in the true Father, by His Son Jesus Christ, who is the true God; not an inferior power or angel (such as Cerinthus supposed the Demiurgus, or Creator to be), not a created on, the offspring of the Monogenes, or of Silence, as Cerinthus fondly imagined the Logos to be; but true God, one with the Father. And He is eternal life, the same that had been with the Father, from the beginning, before any thing was created, consequently from all eternity.
"I have now gone," says Dr. Waterland, "through the Epistle of St. John. The sum of what I have advanced is, that St. John most apparently levelled a great part of his First Epistle against the Cerinthian doctrines.
"It appears further, that in his Epistle particularly, he has asserted the necessity of believing our Lord's divine Sonship, His proper Divinity, under pain of being excluded from heaven and happiness. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father. Whosoever denies Christ to be Son of God, in St. John's sense of Son, a Son that was always with God, and is God, is a liar and antichrist, denying both the Father and the Son. The conclusion therefore is, that the denying our blessed Lord's real Divinity, is heresy and antichristianism, much to be abhorred by every disciple of Christ, according to the infallible decision of an inspired Apostle'. Many were the evasions and subterfuges of self-opinionated men, who thought it a thing incredible that the Divine Word should put on flesh, or become man; and who chose rather to pass censure upon the wisdom of Heaven, than suspect their own. But sober and modest men resigned up their faith to divine Revelation; and among the foremost of those was our blessed Apostle. So now, taking in what the Scriptures have declared of the truth of the doctrine of the Trinity in Unity; besides the true and natural import of the form of Baptism, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; we have the determination of St. John himself for the importance of the doctrine of our Lord's Divinity; and of consequence, for the doctrine of a co-equal and co-eternal Trinity 5.
The student of Holy Writ will readily acknowledge the importance of these statements as elucidating the design and language of St. John in his Epistles; and they are confirmed by the fact, that one of St. John's disciples, S. Ignatius, speaks in similar language of censure and caution against the same heresies.
Here again we may refer to the words of Bp. Bull". "The words in which S. Ignatius exhorts the Magnesians to run together unto one Jesus Christ, who came forth from the Father, and who is and hath returned unto one,' are plainly aimed against the Gnostics, especially the Cerinthians; for the Cerinthians did not believe in one Jesus Christ, but taught that Jesus was one, and Christ another, who came down from the supreme power upon Jesus after His baptism, and returned again
1 1 John v. 6.
21 John v. 20.
3 1 John ii. 22, 23.
Sermons, vol. ii. pp. 123-128. Compare Taylor's True
Scripture Doctrine, p. 282, &c. Dr. Bishop's Eight Sermons, p. 56, &c.
5 Dr. Waterland on the Trinity, v. 139.'
6 Bp. Bull, Defence of the Nicene Creed, iii. J.
* Ignat. ad Magnes. c. 7, συντρέχειν ἐπὶ ἕνα Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν.
from Jesus before His Passion, back to His own pleroma. Nor did they acknowledge one Father of Jesus Christ; but professed that the Father was the Father of Christ. Next, when Ignatius afterwards says', 'that the Prophets of the Old Testament were inspired by the grace of Christ, to convince the unbelievers that there is one God, who hath manifested Himself through Jesus Christ His Son,' in these words again the Gnostics are evidently glanced at. For they all taught, that the Father of Jesus was the Demiurgus or Creator of the world, and God who created the world was one, the God who manifested himself to mankind through Christ his Son, another."
These assertions may also be confirmed by the testimony of another English Prelate, Bishop Pearson, who has observed, that the heresies of Ebion and the Doceta were specially censured and condemned by St. John, and his scholar, S. Ignatius, in his Epistles; the former heresy involving a denial of the divinity of Christ, and the latter impugning His humanity 2.
Another of St. John's disciples, S. Polycarp, joins with his brother Bishop and brother Martyr,
S. Ignatius, in condemning these erroneous and strange doctrines.
Every one," says he, "who does not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is an antichrist; and whosoever does not confess the sufferings of the cross, is of the devil; and whosoever tampers with the oracles of the Lord, and accommodates them to his own lust, and says that there is neither Resurrection nor Judgment to come, is the firstborn of Satan 3.” Such were the doctrines taught by the disciples of St. John.
Almighty God permitted Heresies to arise even in the Apostolic Age, and under His controlling power and superintending providence, Heresies have been made subservient to the clearer manifestation, and stronger confirmation, of the Faith.
Hence, therefore, it is evident that the Heresies which impugn the doctrine of Christ's Godhead and Manhood, are not of modern origin. They who would despoil Christ's Person of its historic reality, and would reduce it to a visionary phantom, and would dissolve the solid verities of the Gospel into legendary fables, are not propounding novelties. Their "new light is an old darkness." They are only borrowing the Heresies of ancient days. They are dressing them up in new attire, and displaying them in a new fashion to the world. These theories, when stripped of their disguise, are nothing more than reproductions of the exploded dogmas of Ebion, Cerinthus, and the Docetæ, which were propagated in primitive times.
By the mercy of God, the life of the Apostle and Evangelist St. John, the beloved disciple of Christ, was extended to the beginning of the second century after Christ. By God's good Providence he was still living, and governing the Asiatic Church, when those heresies sprung up, like tares sown by the Enemy, in the field of Christ. By the inspiration of the Holy Ghost he wrote his Gospel, in which the doctrine of the Divinity of Christ is asserted in clear language, and in which the evidences of His Humanity in life and death, particularly in the shedding forth of the Blood and Water from His side when pierced on the cross, are displayed to the world'.
By the same holy guidance, St. John was moved to write Epistles, in which he has delivered an Apostolic verdict on those who deny or undermine those verities of the Gospel.
He who was the beloved disciple, and who was taught by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Love, has dwelt more at large than any other writer of the New Testament on the duty and blessedness of Christian Love.
Yet he, the divinely-inspired Apostle of Love, the aged Evangelist, has pronounced the sternest
1 Ignat. ad Magnes. c. 8.
2 "Duæ potissimum Hæreses de naturâ Christi eâ tempestate obtinebant, ut veritati Catholicæ ita et sibi ipsis prorsus contrariæ; quarum altera Docetarum fuit, à Simonianis ortorum, humanæ naturæ veritatem in Christo destruentium; altera Ebionitarum, divinam prorsus naturam et æternam generationem denegantium, legisque cæremonias urgentium. Has primi sæculi Hæreses antiqui scriptores agnoscunt: Ignatiano ævo viguisse omnes fatentur. Unde Theodoretus (Procem.) ita Hæreticarum Fabularum libros partitus est, ut primus eos, qui alterum Creatorem confinxerunt, δοκήσει δὲ φανῆναι τὸν Κύριον εἰς ἀνθρώπους ἔφασαν, secundus autem illos, qui ψιλόν ἄνθρωπον τὸν Κύριον προσηγόρευσay, complecteretur. De prioribus Hieronymus adversus Luciferianos (c. xxiii.), Apostolis adhuc in sæculo superstitibus, apud Judæam Christi sanguine recenti, phantasma Domini corpus asserebatur.' De secundis idem in Catalogo (cap. ix.), Joannes Apostolus novissimus omnium scripsit Evangelium rogatus ab
Asiæ Episcopis adversus Cerinthum aliosque hæreticos, et maximè
4 John i. 1, 2. 9-11.
5 John xix. 34.
sentence of reprobation upon those who impugn the doctrine of Christ's Godhead, and of Christ's Humanity. He has spoken of them in the strongest terms of censure, and has condemned them as deceivers, as false prophets, as antichrists. He forbids his disciples to receive them into their houses, or to bid them God speed'. And why? Because he well knew, and has taught in his Epistle", that the doctrine of Christ's Godhead and Manhood displays the Love of God to Man in its true light; and because that doctrine is the genuine source and well-spring of Love to God and of Love to Man in God; and because wheresoever that doctrine is denied, the life of Love vanishes away. Such considerations as these may serve to place in a clear light the enormity of the guilt of heretical teaching on these doctrines.
They may also be of use in guarding the faithful against those erroneous and strange notions, in whatever form they may present themselves; and in establishing their minds in a firm belief of the truth.
With the Epistles of St. John in our hands, we are enabled by God's grace to stand proof against all assaults, however violent, of the enemies of the Truth. We are empowered to overcome all who impugn the doctrine on which the Church of Christ is built, and on which our hopes of salvation rest; the doctrine of the unity of the two Natures, the Divine and the Human, in the one Person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and Son of Man. In controversies concerning the Godhead and Manhood of Christ our appeal is not to the words of human wisdom, but to the words of the Holy Spirit of God, speaking by the mouth of St. John.
The date of the Epistle may probably be assigned to the close of the first century. The question concerning the persons to whom it was in the first instance addressed, will be considered in the Introduction to the Second Epistle.
1 2 John 10, 11.
21 John iii. 1. 16, 17; iv. 8—12. 19—21.
3 See Matt. xvi. 18.
4 It is well said by Bp. Bull, referring to this characteristic use of this Epistle, "The doctrinal criteria of this Epistle (1 John ii. 18, 19; iii. 23; iv. 1, 2; v. 10-13. 20) enabled the Faithful to discern those heretical Teachers who diffused false and impious doctrines in the Apostolic age concerning the person of our Saviour."
The sum of these criteria is this: "Every Teacher who confesses one Christ Jesus, verily Son of God, verily made Man, for the salvation of men, is of God; in so far, that is, as he makes this confession. But, on the other hand, every one is to be held to be a false prophet, and an Antichrist, who does not confess this."
"The Apostle insists mainly on these marks, which characterize as heretics those who deny the Saviour to be very man, or to be very God, as Tertullian has observed (de Præscr. c. 33). It is therefore abundantly clear from the Apostolic writings, as well as from other early testimony, that there existed some persons, in the age of the Apostles, who denied the Divinity of Christ, and who on that account were regarded by the Apostles as Heretics and Antichrists; so far were they who held such doctrines from being considered as brethren, and true members of the Church. Hence also it is clearly evident, that the doctrine concerning the Incarnation of the Son of God, and concerning Christ, Very God and Very Man, was maintained by true Pastors of the Church from the beginning as the very root and groundwork of Christianity." Bp. Bull, Jud. Eccl. Cath. ii. 10.
5 See above, p. 97, note.