Augustin on 1John 2000
1Jn 5,7-8. — Tres sunt testes; spiritus, et aqua, et sanguis; et tres unum sunt.55
I would not have thee mistake that place in the epistle of Jn the apostle where he saith, “There are three witnesses: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three are one.” Lest haply thou say that the Spirit and the water and the blood are diverse substances, and yet it is said, “the three are one:” for this cause I have admonished thee, that thou mistake not the matter. For these are mystical expressions,56 in which the point always to be considered is, not what the actual things are, but what they denote as signs: since they are signs of things, and what they are in their essence is one thing, what they are in their signification another. If then we understand the things signified, we do find these things to be of one substance. Thus, if we should say, the rock and the water are one, meaning by the Rock, Christ; by the water, the Holy Ghost: who doubts that rock and water are two different substances? yet because Christ and the Holy Spirit are of one and the same nature, therefore when one says, the rock and the water are one, this can be rightly taken in this behalf, that these two things of which the nature is diverse, are signs of other things of which the nature is one. Three things then we know to have issued from the Body of the Lord when He hung upon the tree: first, the spirit: of which it is written, “And He bowed the head and gave up the spirit:”57 then, as His side was pierced by the spear, “blood and water.” Which three things if we look at as they are in themselves, they are in substance several land distinct, and therefore they are not one. But if we will inquire into the things signified I by these, there not unreasonably comes into our thoughts the Trinity itself, which is the One, Only, True, Supreme God, Father and Son and Holy Ghost, of whom it could most truly be said, “There are Three Witnesses, and the Three are One:” so that by the term Spirit we should understand God the Father to be signified; as indeed it was concerning the worshipping of Him that the Lord was speaking, when He said, “God is a Spirit:”58 by the term, blood, the Son; because “the Word was made flesh:”59 and by the term water, the Holy Ghost; as, when Jesus spake of the water which He would give to them that thirst, the evangelist saith, “But this said He of the Spirit which they that believed on Him were to receive.”60 Moreover, that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are “Witnesses,” who that believes the Gospel can doubt, when the Son saith, “I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me, He beareth witness of me.”61 Where, though the Holy Ghost is not mentioned, yet He is not to be thought separated from them. Howbeit neither concerning the Spirit hath He kept silence elsewhere, and that He too is a witness hath been sufficiently and openly shown. For in promising Him He said, “He shall bear witness of me.”62 These are the “Three Witnesses, and the Three are One, because of one substance. But whereas, the signs by which they were signified came forth from the Body of the Lord, herein they figured the Church preaching the Trinity, that it hath one and the same nature: since these Three in threefold manner signified are One, and the Church that preacheth them is the Body of Christ. In this manner then the three things by which they are signified came out from the Body: of the Lord: like as from the Body of the Lord sounded forth the command to “baptize the nations in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”63 “In the name:” not, In the names: for “these Three are One,” and One God is these Three. And if in any other way this depth of mystery which we read in John’s epistle can be expounded and understood agreeably with the Catholic faith, which neither confounds nor divides the Trinity, neither believes the substances diverse nor denies that the persons are three, it is on no account to be rejected. For whenever in Holy Scriptures in order to exercise the minds of the faithful any thing is put darkly, it is to be joyfully welcomed if it can be in many ways but not unwisely expounded.
55 Mt 16,19 Mt 16
56 The clause of “the Three Heavenly Witnesses,” 5,7, appears to be wholly unknown to St. Augustin: a circumstance left unexplained by Mill, who asserts that copies which had the clause “abounded in Africa” in the interval between St. Cyprian and the close of the fifth century.
58 Jn 19,30 Jn 19,34.
59 Jn 4,24
60 Jn 1,14
61 Jn 7,39
62 Jn 8,18).
63 Jn 15,26
(1Jn 5,16 Si quis scit peccare fratrem suum peccatum non ad mortem, postulabit, et dabit illi Dominus vitam qui peccat non ad mortem; est autem peccatum ad mortem; non pro illo dico ut roget.
But what presses harder upon the present question fin the Lord’s command of praying for enemies and persecutors] is that saying of the apostle John, “If any man know that his brother sinneth a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and the Lord will give life to that man who sinneth not unto death: but there is a sin unto death: not for that do I say that he should ask.” For it manifestly shows that there are some “brethren” whom we are not commanded to pray for, whereas the Lord bids us pray even for our persecutors. Nor can this question be solved except we acknowledge, that there are some sins in brethren that are worse than the sin of enemies in persecuting. That “brethren” mean Christians, may be proved by many texts of Holy Writ; the plainest, however, is that of the apostle which he puts thus: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the brother.”64 For he has not added our; but thought it plain enough, when by the term brother he spake of the Christian that should have an unbelieving wife. And accordingly he says just afterwards, “But if the unbelieving depart, let her depart: but a brother or sister is not put under servitude in a matter of this sort.” The “sin,” therefore, of a brother, “unto death,” I suppose to be when, after the acknowledging of God through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, one fights against the brotherhood, and is set on by the fire-brands of hatred65 against the very grace through which he was reconciled to God.66 But “a sin not unto death” is when a person, not having alienated his love from his brother. yet through some infirmity of mind may have failed to exhibit the due offices of brotherhood. Wherefore, on the one hand, the Lord on the cross said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,”67 since they had not yet, by being made partakers of the grace of the Holy Spirit, entered into the fellowship of holy brotherhood; and blessed Stephen in the Ac of the Apostles prays for them who are stoning him;68 because they had not yet believed Christ, and were not fighting against that grace of communion. On the other hand, the apostle Paul does not pray for Alexander, and the reason I suppose, is, that this man was a brother, and had sinned “unto death,” i.e. by opposing the brotherhood in a spirit of hatred.69 Whereas for such as had not broken off the bonds of love, but had given way through fear, he prays that they may be forgiven. For so he says: “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works: of whom be thou ware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words.”70 Then he subjoins for whom he prays, saying, “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.” This difference of sins it is that distinguishes Judas with his treason from Peter with his denial. Not that to him who repenteth there is to be no forgiveness: lest we go against that sentence of the Lord, in which He commands always to forgive the brother who asks his brother’s forgiveness:71 but that the mischief of that sin is, that the man cannot submit to the humiliation of begging for pardon, even when he is forced by his evil conscience both to acknowledge and to publish his sin. For when Judas had said, “I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood,”72 he went and hanged himself in desperation, rather than pray for forgiveness in humiliation. Wherefore it makes a great difference, what sort of repentance God forgives. For many are much quicker than others to confess that they have sinned, and are angry with themselves in such sort that they vehemently wish they had not sinned, while yet they cannot lay down their pride, and submit to have the heart humbled and broken so as to implore pardon: a state of mind which one may well believe to be, for the greatness of their sin, a part of their already begun damnation.
And this, perhaps, it is “to sin against the Holy Ghost:”73 i.e. through malice and envy to fight against brotherly charity after receiving the grace of the Holy Spirit: that sin which the Lord saith hath no forgiveness, either here or in the world to come. . . . For the Lord in saying to the Pharisees, “Whosoever shall speak an evil word against the Son of Man,”74 &c., may have meant to warn them to come to the grace of God, and having received it, not to sin as they have now sinned. For now they have spoken an evil word against the Son of Man, and it may be forgiven them, if they be converted and believe and receive the Holy Spirit: which when they have received, if they will then have ill-will against the brotherhood and oppose the grace they have received, there is no forgiveness for them, either in this world or in the world to come.
64 Mt 28,19
65 1Co 7,14-15.
67 In the Retractations, 1,7, he remarks on this passage: “I have not positively affirmed it to be so. for I have said, ‘I suppose:0’ still it should have been added, ‘if in this so wicked perversity of mind he departs this life:0’ since we have certainly no right to despair of any ever so wicked man so long as he is in this life, and it cannot be unwise to pray for that man of whom we do not despair.” Comp. Serm. lxxi. 21.
68 Lc 23,34 Lc 23
69 Ac 7,59 Ac 7
70 So the traditional interpretation of the Greeks in (Ecumenius. “This ‘alone0’ is ‘the sin unto death,0’ viz.sin which has no thought of repentance: which sin Judas being diseased withal, was brought to eternal death.” Especially (he adds) the sin of an unforgiving spirit, impenitently persisted in: “For the ways of the resentful are unto death,” saith Solomon (Pr 12,28, LXX ). So Theophylact.—The Scholia ap Matthäi, p. 146, 230: “ ‘The sin unto death0’ is, when a person having sinned is callous in impenitence.” Comp. S. Hilar). Tr. in Ps. 140,sec. 8.
71 2Tm 4,14-16).
72 Lc 17,3
73 Mt 27,4-5.
74 Comp. Serm. lxxi. Scholl). ap Mathai, p. 230. “By ‘the sin unto death,0’ he means the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, i.e., against the Godhead,” p. 147. “Some say that it is the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, the sin of misbelief (kakopistiva").”
By this grace such is the liberty they receive, that although as long as they live here they have to fight against the lusts of sins, and are overtaken by some sins for which they must daily pray, “Forgive us our debts,” yet they no longer serve the sin which is unto death, of which the apostle Jn saith, “There is a sin unto death, I do not say that he shall ask for that.” Concerning which sin (since it is not expressed) many different opinions may be formed: but I affirm that sin to be the forsaking until death75 the “faith which worketh by love.
75 Mt 12,24-33.
(1Jn 5,20 Ut simus in vero Filio ejus Jesu Christo; ipse est verus Deus et vita aeterna.” 1Jn 7 1Jn 6
When ye read, “That we may be in His true Son Jesus Christ,” think of the “true Son” of God. But this Son ye in no wise think to be the true Son of God, if ye deny Him to be begotten of the substance of the Father. For was He already Son of Man and by gift of God became Son of God, begotten indeed of God, but by grace, not by nature? Or, though not Son of Man, yet was He some sort of creature which, by God’s changing it, was converted into Son of God? If you mean nothing of this sort, then was He either begotten of nothing, or of some substance. But thou hast relieved us from all fear of having to suppose that you affirm the Son of God to be of nothing, for thou hast declared that this is not your meaning. Therefore, He is of some substance. If not of the substance of the Father, then of what? Tell me. But ye cannot find any other . . . Consequently, the Father and the Son are of one and the same substance. This is the Homousion . . . In the Scriptures both you and We read, “That we may be in His true Son Jesus Christ; He is the true God and Eternal Life.” Let both parties yield to such weighty evidence. Tell us then, whether this “true Son” of God, discriminated as He is by the property of this name from those who are sons by grace,77 be of no substance or of some substance. Thou sayest, “I do not say that He is of no substance, lest I should say that He is of nothing.” He is therefore of some substance: I ask, of what? If not of the substance of the Father, seek another. If thou findest not another, as indeed thou canst find none at all, then acknowledge it to be the Father’s, and confess the Son Homousios, “of one substance with the Father.” Flesh is begotten of flesh, the Son of flesh is begotten of the substance of the flesh. Set: aside corruption, reject from the eye of the mind all carnal passions, and behold “the invisible things of God understood by the means of the things that are made.”78 Believe that the Creator who hath given flesh power to beget flesh, who hath given parents power of the substance of the flesh to generate “true sons” of flesh, much more had power to beget a “true Son” of His own substance, and to have one substance with the true Son, the spiritual incorruption remaining and carnal corruption being altogether alien therefrom.79
76 So in the Retractations, supra, note b). (Si in hac tam scelerata mentis perversitate finierit hanc vitam: “unto death,” in the sense, “until death.”
77 St. Hilary de Trin. 6,43, cites the passage with additions, of which there are no traces in the Mss. and other authorities; Quia scimus quod Filius Dei venit et concarnatus est propter nos, et, passus est, et resurgens de mortuis assumpsit nos, et dedit nobis intellectum optimum, ut intelligamus verum, et simus in vero filio ejus Jesu Christo: hic est versus [Deus om.], et vita aeterna, et resurrectio nostra: and it is remarkable that his contemporary Faustinus (the Luciferian) in his work de Trinitate, gives the passage totidem verbis, except that it is doubtful whether he read verus Deus, and that after resurrectio nostra he adds in ipso.—Vulg). et simus in vero Filio ejus. Hic est verus Deus, et vita aeterna. In the Greek the second ejn tw` is omitted by St Cyril, Alex. St. Basil, adv. Eunom. and others; and this is the received reading of the Latins.—There is no certain evidence to show how the text was interpreted by the ante-Nicene Fathers. St. Athanasius Orat. c. Arian. 3,24, sec. 4; 25, sec. 16; 4,9, init.and St. Basil adv. Eunom. 4,p 294, unhesitatingly refer the ou|to" to the nearest antecedent: “And we are in Him the True,” (even) “in His Son Jesus Christ: this” (Jesus Christ) “is the True God and eternal Life:” and the Latin Fathers from St. Hilary and St. Ambrose downward allege the text as an explicit declaration of the true Godhead of the Son.—St. Epiphanius Ancorat c. 4, seems to have read in his copy, ou|to" ejstin oJ ajlhqino;" kai; zeh; aiwvnio", omitting Qeo;" (as Hilary): for he says: “And though the epithet ‘Very God0’ (qeoj" ajlhqino;") is not added,” i. e. though this ou|to", meaning Jesus Christ, is not expressly called the true God (as in 5,20, where he seems to have had in his copy the reading ajlhqino`n Qeovn), “we do but accumulate madness if we dare to blaspheme and to say that the Son is not Very God. For it is enough that in the One [who is so called] we take in the whole Trinity, and from the Father [as Very God] understand the Son also to be Very God.”
78 Serm. 140,3 “Seek in the Epistle of this same Jn what he hath said of Christ. ‘Believe0’ (credamus) saith he, ‘on His true Son Jesus Christ, He is the True God and Eternal Life!0’ What meaneth, ‘True God and Eternal Life?0’ The ‘True Son0’ of God is ‘the True God and Eternal Life.0’ Why has he said, ‘On His True Son?0’ Because God hath many sons, therefore He was to be distinguished by adding that He was the ‘True Son.0’ Not just by saying that He is the Son, but by adding, as I said, that He is the ‘True Son0’: He was to be distinguished because of the many sons whom God hath. For we are sons by grace, He by Nature. We, made such by the Father through Him; He, what the Father is, Himself is also: what God is, are we also?”
79 Rm 1,20.
If He is begotten, He is Son: if He is Son, He is the “true Son,” because Only-Begotten. For we also are called sons: He Son by nature, we sons by grace . . . To say that because He is begotten, He is of another nature, is to deny that He is the “true Son.” Now we have the Scripture: “That we may be in His true Son Jesus Christ; He is the true God and Eternal Life.”80 Why “true God”? because “true Son” of God. For if He has given to animals this property, that what they beget shall be none other than what they themselves are: man begets man, dog begets dog, and should God not beget God? If then He is of the same substance, why tallest thou Him less? Is it because when a human father begets a son, though human beget human, yet greater begets less? If so, then let us wait for Christ to grow as human beings grow whom human beings beget!81 But if Christ, ever since He was begotten (and this was not in time but from eternity), is what He is, and yet is less than the Father, at that rate the human condition is the better of the two: for a human being at any rate can grow, and has the property of sooner or later attaining to the age, to the strength of the father; but He never: then how is He a “true Son”?
80 Serm. 139,3, 4.
81 C. Serm. Arian, sec. 1.
7000 And if the Son be not of the same substance as the Father, then is He a made substance: if a made substance, then not “all things were made by Him:” but, “all things were made by Him;”82 therefore, He is of one and the same substance with the Father. And therefore, not only God, but True (or, Very) God. Which the same Jn doth most openly affirm in his epistle: Scimus quod Filius Dei venerit et dederit nobis intellectum ut cognoscamus verum Deum, et simus in vero Filio ejus Jesu Christo. Hic est verus Deus et vita aeterna.” “We know that the Son of God is come; and hath given us an understanding that we may (learn to) know the True God,83 and may be in His true Son Jesus Christ. This is the True God and Eternal Life.”
10. Hence also by consequence we understand, that what the apostle Paul saith, “Who only hath immortality,”84 he saith not merely of the Father, but of the One and Only God, which the Trinity itself is. For neither is the “Eternal Life” itself mortal in respect of any mutability: and consequently, since the Son of God “is Eternal Life,” He also is to be understood together with the Father, where it is said, “Who only hath immortality.
82 C. Maximin. 1,5.
83 Jn 1,2
84 So ajlhqino;n Qeovn. St. Basil, St. Cyril). Al. Vers. Arab. Aeth. Cod. Al. (ALHQEINONQN, which abbreviated manner of writing may explain the omission) and several other Mss. Beda, verum Deum. Facundus: quod est verum (to; alhqinovn).
[i]Roberts, Alexander and Donaldson, James, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series: Volume VII, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc). 1997.
Augustin on 1John 2000