God So Loved the World
The Catena Aurea (Golden Chain) is Thomas Aquinas’ compilation of Patristic commentary on the Gospels. It seamlessly weaves together extracts from various Church Fathers.
14. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
15. That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. xxvii. 1) Having made mention of the gift of baptism, He proceeds to the. source of it, i. e. the cross: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.
BEDE. He introduces the teacher of the Mosaic law, to the spiritual sense of that law; by a passage from the Old Testament history, which was intended to be a figure of His Passion, and of man’s salvation.
AUGUSTINE. (de Pecc. mer. et remiss. c. xxxii) Many dying in the wilderness from the attack of the serpents, Moses, by commandment of the Lord, lifted up a brazen serpent: and those who looked upon it were immediately healed. The lifting up of the serpent is the death of Christ; the cause, by a certain mode of construction, being put for the effect. The serpent was the cause of death, inasmuch as he persuaded man into that sin, by which he merited death. Our Lord, however, did not transfer sin, i. e. the poison of the serpent, to his flesh, but death; in order that in the likeness of sinful flesh, there might be punishment without sin, by virtue of which sinful flesh might be delivered both from punishment and from sin.
THEOPHYLACT. (in loc.) See then the aptness of the figure. The figure of the serpent has the appearance of the beast, but not its poison: in the same way Christ came in the likeness of sinful flesh, being free from sin. By Christ’s being lifted up, understand His being suspended on high, by which suspension He sanctified the air, even as He had sanctified the earth by walking upon it. Herein too is typified the glory of Christ: for the height of the cross was made His glory: for in that He submitted to be judged, He judged the prince of this world; for Adam died justly, because he sinned; our Lord unjustly, because He did no sin. So He overcame him, who delivered Him over to death, and thus delivered Adam from death. And in this the devil found himself vanquished, that he could not upon the cross torment our Lord into hating His murderers: but only made Him love and pray for them the more. In this way the cross of Christ was made His lifting up, and glory.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. xxvii. 2) Wherefore He does not say, ‘The Son of man must be suspended, but lifted up, a more honourable term, but coming near the figure. He uses the figure to shew that the old dispensation is akin to the new, and to shew on His hearers’ account that He suffered voluntarily; and that His death issued in life.
AUGUSTINE. (Tr. xii. c. 11) As then formerly he who looked to the serpent that was lifted up, was healed of its poison, and saved from death; so now he who is conformed to the likeness of Christ’s death by faith and the grace of baptism, is delivered both from sin by justification, and from death by the resurrection: as He Himself saith; That whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. What need then is there that the child should be conformed by baptism to the death of Christ, if he be not altogether tainted by the poisonous bite of the serpent?
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. xxvii. 2) Observe; He alludes to the Passion obscurely, in consideration to His hearer; but the fruit of the Passion He unfolds plainly; viz. that they who believe in the Crucified One should not perish. And if they who believe in the Crucified live, much more shall the Crucified One Himself.
AUGUSTINE. (Tr. xii. c. 11) But there is this difference between the figure and the reality, that the one recovered from temporal death, the other from eternal.
16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
18. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
CHRYSOSTOM. Having said, Even so must the Son of man be lifted up, alluding to His death; lest His hearer should be cast down by His words, forming some human notion of Him, and thinking of His death as an evil1, He corrects this by saying, that He who was given up to death was the Son of God, and that His death would be the source of life eternal; So God loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life; as if He said, Marvel not that I must be lifted up, that you may be saved: for so it seemeth good to the Father, who hath so loved you, that He hath given His Son to suffer for ungrateful and careless servants. The text, God so loved the world, shews intensity of love. For great indeed and infinite is the distance between the two. He who is without end, or beginning of existence, Infinite Greatness, loved those who were of earth and ashes, creatures laden with sins innumerable. And the act which springs from the love is equally indicative of its vastness. For God gave not a servant, or an Angel, or an Archangel, but His Son. Again, had He had many sons, and given one, this would have been a very great gift; but new He hath given His Only Begotten Son.
HILARY. (vi. de Trin. c. 40) If it were only a creature given up for the sake of a creature, such a poor and insignificant loss were no great evidence of love. They must be precious things which prove our love, great things must evidence its greatness. God, in love to the world, gave His Son, not an adopted Son, but His own, even His Only Begotten. Here is proper Sonship, birth, truth: no creation, no adoption, no lie: here is the test of love and charity, that God sent His own and only begotten Son to save the world.
THEOPHYLACT. (in loc.) As He said above, that the Son of man came down from heaven, not meaning that His flesh did come down from heaven, on account of the unity of person in Christ, attributing to man what belonged to God: so now conversely what belongs to man, he assigns to God the Word. The Son of God was impassible; but being one in respect of person with man, who was passible, the Son is said to be given up to death; inasmuch as He truly suffered, not in His own nature, but in His own flesh. From this death follows an exceeding great and incomprehensible benefit: viz. that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. The Old Testament promised to those who obeyed it, length of days: the Gospel promises life eternal, and imperishable.
BEDE.1; Note here, that the same which he before said of the Son of man, lifted up on the cross, he repeats of the only begotten Son of God: viz. That whosoever believeth in Him, &c. For the same our Maker and Redeemer, who was Son of God before the world was, was made at the end of the world the Son of man; so that He who by the power of His Godhead had created us to enjoy the happiness of an endless life, the same restored us to the life we have lost by taking our human frailty upon Him.
ALCUIN. Truly through the Son of God shall the world have life; for for no other cause came He into the world, except to save the world. God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
AUGUSTINE. (Tr. xii. c. 12) For why is He called the Saviour of the world, but because Ho saves the world? The physician, so far as his will is concerned, heals the sick. If the sick despises or will not observe the directions of the physician, he destroys himself.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. xxviii. 1) Because however He says this, slothful men in the multitude of their sins, and excess of carelessness, abuse God’s mercy, and say, There is no hell, no punishment; God remits us all our sins. But let us remember, that there are two advents of Christ; one past, the other to come. The former was, not to judge but to pardon us: the latter will be, not to pardon but to judge us. It is of the former that He says, I have not come to judge the world. Because He is merciful, instead of judgment, He grants an internal remission of all sins by baptism; and even after baptism opens to us the door of repentance, which had He not done all had been lost; for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. (Rom. 3:23) Afterwards, however, there follows something about the punishment of unbelievers, to warn us against flattering ourselves that we can sin with impunity. Of the unbeliever He says, ‘he is judged already.’—But first He says, He that believeth on Him is not judged. He who believeth, He says, not who enquires. But what if his life be impure? Paul very strongly declares that such are not believers: They confess, he says, that they know God, but in works deny Him. (Tit. 1:16) That is to say, Such will not be judged for their belief, but will receive a heavy punishment for their works, though unbelief will not be charged against them.
ALCUIN. He who believes on Him, and cleaves to Him as a member to the head, will not be condemned.
AUGUSTINE. (Tr. xii. c. 12) What didst thou expect Him to say of him who believed not, except that he is condemned. Yet mark His words: He that believeth not is condemned already. The Judgment hath not appeared, bat it is already given. For the Lord knows who are His; who are awaiting the crown, and who the fire.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. xxviii. 1) Or the meaning is, that disbelief itself is the punishment of the impenitent: inasmuch as that is to be without light, and to be without light is of itself the greatest punishment. Or He is announcing what is to be. Though a murderer be not yet sentenced by the Judge, still his crime has already condemned him. In like manner he who believes not, is dead, even as Adam, on the day that he ate of the tree, died.
GREGORY. (1. xxvi. Mor. c. xxvii. [50.]) Or thus: In the last judgment some perish without being judged, of whom it is here said, He that believeth not is condemned already. For the day of judgment does not try those who for unbelief are already banished from the sight of a discerning judge, are under sentence of damnation; but those, who retaining the profession of faith, have no works to shew suitable to that profession. For those who have not kept even the sacraments of faith, do not even hear the curse of the Judge at the last trial. They have already, in the darkness of their unbelief, received their sentence, and are not thought worthy of being convicted by the rebuke of Him whom they had despised Again; For an earthly sovereign, in the government of his state, has a different rule of punishment, in the case of the disaffected subject, and the foreign rebel. In the former case, he consults the civil law; but against the enemy he proceeds at once to war, and repays his malice with the punishment it deserves, without regard to law, inasmuch as he who never submitted to law, has no claim to suffer by the law.
ALCUIN. He then gives the reason why he who believeth not is condemned, viz. because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God. For in this name alone is there salvation. God hath not many sons who can save; He by whom He saves is the Only Begotten.
AUGUSTINE. (de Pecc. mer. et Rem. l. 1. c. 33) Where then do we place baptized children? Amongst those who believe? This is acquired for them by the virtue of the Sacrament, and the pledges of the sponsors. And by this same rule we reckon those who are not baptized, among those who believe not.
19. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
21. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
ALCUIN. Here is the reason why men believed not, and why they are justly condemned; This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. xxviii. 2) As if He said, So far from their having sought for it, or laboured to find it light itself hath come to them, and they have refused to admit it; Men loved darkness rather than light. Thus He leaves them no excuse. He came to rescue them from darkness, and bring them to light; who can pity him who does not choose to approach the light when it comes unto him?
BEDE. (in loc. c. 1) He calls Himself the light, whereof the Evangelist speaks, That was the true light; whereas sin He calls darkness.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. xxviii. 2) Then because it seemed incredible that man should prefer light to darkness, he gives the reason of the infatuation, viz. that their deeds were evil. And indeed had He come to Judgment, there had been some reason for not receiving Him; for he who is conscious of his crimes, naturally avoids the judge. But criminals are glad to meet one who brings them pardon. And therefore it might have been expected that men conscious of their sins would have gone to meet Christ, as many indeed did; for the publicans and sinners came and sat down with Jesus. But the greater part being too cowardly to undergo the toils of virtue for righteousness’ sake, persisted in their wickedness to the last; of whom our Lord says, Every one that doeth evil, hateth the light. He speaks of those who choose to remain in their wickedness.
ALCUIN. Every one that doeth evil, hateth the light; i. e. he who is resolved to sin, who delights in sin, hateth the light, which detects his sin.
AUGUSTINE. (Conf. l. x. c. xxiii. [34.]) Because they dislike being deceived, and like to deceive, they love light for discovering herself, and hate her for discovering them. Wherefore it shall be their punishment, that she shall manifest them against their will, and herself not be manifest unto them. They love the brightness of truth, they hate her discrimination; and therefore it follows, Neither cometh to the light, that his deeds should be reproved.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. xxvii. 2) No one reproves a Pagan, because his own practice agrees with the character of his gods; his life is in accordance with his doctrines. But a Christian who lives in wickedness all must condemn. If there are any Gentiles whose life is good, I know them not. But are there not Gentiles? it may be asked. For do not tell me of the naturally amiable and honest; this is not virtue. But shew me one who has strong passions, and lives with wisdom. You cannot. For if the announcement of a kingdom, and the threats of hell, and other inducements, hardly keep men virtuous when they are so, such calls will hardly rouse them to the attainment of virtue in the first instance. Pagans, if they do produce any thing which looks well, do it for vain-glory’s sake, and will therefore at the same time, if they can escape notice, gratify their evil desires as well. And what profit is a man’s sobriety and decency of conduct, if he is the slave of vain-glory? The slave of vain-glory is no less a sinner than a fornicator; nay, sins oven oftener, and more grievously. However, even supposing there are some few Gentiles of good lives, the exceptions so rare do not affect my argument.
BEDE. Morally too they love darkness rather than light, who when their preachers tell them their duty, assail them with calumny.
But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. xxviii. 3) He does not say this of those who are brought up under the Gospel, but of those who are converted to the true faith from Paganism or Judaism. He shews that no one will leave a false religion for the true faith, till he first resolve to follow a right course of life.
AUGUSTINE. (de Pecc. mer. et Remiss. l. i. c. 33) He calls the works of him who comes to the light, wrought in God; meaning that his justification is attributable not to his own merits, but to God’s grace.
AUGUSTINE. (Tr. xii. 13, 14) But if God hath discovered all men’s works to be evil, how is it that any have done the truth, and come to the light, i. e. to Christ? Now what He saith is, that they loved darkness rather than light; He lays the stress upon that. Many have loved their sins, many have confessed them. God accuseth thy sins; if thou accuse them too, thou art joined to God. Thou must hate thine own work, and love the work of God in thee. The beginning of good works, is the confession of evil works, and then thou doest the truth: not soothing, not flattering thyself. And thou art come to the light, because this very sin in thee, which displeaseth thee, would not displease thee, did not God shine upon thee, and His truth shew it unto thee. And let those even who have sinned only by word or thought, or who have only exceeded in things allowable, do the truth, by making confession, and come to the light by performing good works. For little sins, if suffered to accumulate, become mortal. Little drops swell the river: little grains of sand become an heap, which presses and weighs down. The sea coming in by little and little, unless it be pumped out, sinks the vessel. And what is to pump out, but by good works, mourning, fasting, giving and forgiving, to provide against our sins overwhelming us?
SOURCE: eCatholic 2000Commentary in public domain.