One of the most powerful sentences in the New Testament in contained in today’s Gospel: “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him not die but may have eternal life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (Jn 3:16-17).
These sentences disclose the relationship of Jesus as the Son of the Father. The Greek description of the Son as monogenēs, “only-begotten,” means that the Son is from the Father’s very being. The Father “gave” and “sent” His Son into the world not to condemn but to save us.
St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Commentary on the Gospel of John, reflects that the Father’s gift of Jesus is rooted in who the Father is: “The cause of all our good is the Lord and divine love. For to love is, properly speaking, to will good to someone. Therefore, since the will of God is the cause of things, good comes to us because God loves us. And God’s love is the cause of the good of nature” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 477). The Book of Wisdom declares: “You love everything which exists” (Wis 11:25).
God’s love is also the cause of “grace,” which is the way that God intervenes in our lives: “It is also the cause of the good which is grace: ‘I have loved you with an. everlasting love, and so I have drawn you” i.e., through grace’ (Jer 31:3)” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 477).
This same love offers us eternal life: “It is because of His great love that He gives us the good of glory” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 477).
According to Thomas, “God’s love is the greatest from the person of the one loving, because it is God who loves, and immeasurably. So He says, ‘For God so loved’: ‘He has loved the people; all the holy ones are in his hand’” (Dt 33:3) (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 477).
God love is the greatest because it is for the world: “God’s love is the greatest, from the condition of the one who is loved, because it is man, a bodily creature of the world, i.e., existing in sin: ‘God shows His love for us, because while we were still His enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son’ (Rom 5:8). Thus, the world” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 477).
Thomas affirms: “God’s love is the greatness because of His gifts, for love is shown by a gift; as Gregory says: ‘The proof of love is given by action’” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 477).
God has given us His greatest gift: “But God has given us the greatest of gifts, His Only Begotten Son, and so He says, that He gave His Only Begotten Son. ‘God did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for all of us’ (Rom 8:32)” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 477).
Thomas calls attention to the designation of the Son as “Only Begotten” since God’s love is not divided, “All of it is for that Son whom He gave to prove the immensity of His love: ‘For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him everything that He does’ (Jn 5:20)” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 477).
The fruits of God’s love are the greatest: “Through Him (the Son) we have eternal life. Hence He says, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life, which He obtained for us through the death of the Cross” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 477).
Jesus is the “Son,” as Thomas explains: “The specific reason why He here calls Him the Son of God is that He set forth that gift as a sign of the divine love, through which the fruit of eternal life comes to us” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 479).
Eternal life does not come to us through Jesus’ humanity but His divine Sonship: “And so, He should be called by that name which indicates the power that produces eternal life; and this power is not in Christ as Son of Man but as Son of God: ‘This is the true God and eternal life,’ (1 John 5:20); “In Him was life” (Jn 1:4). (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 479).
Thomas affirms “The end to which man is ordained is eternal life, and as long as he sins, he turns himself from that end. And although while he is living he cannot entirely perish in the sense that he cannot be restored, yet when he dies in sin, then he entirely perishes” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 480).
Thomas asserts that “eternal life” is the gift of God Himself”: “He indicates the immensity of God’s love in saying, have eternal life: for by giving eternal life, He gives himself. For eternal life is nothing else than enjoying God. But to give oneself is a sign of great love: ‘But God, who is rich in mercy, has brought us to life in Christ’ (Eph 2:5), i.e., He gave us eternal life (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 480).
Jesus did not come to judge us, as He also says later in the Gospel “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (Jn 12:47). According to Thomas, “Man’s salvation is to attain to God: ‘My salvation is in God’ (Ps 61:8). And to attain to God is to obtain eternal life; hence to be saved is the same as to have eternal life” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 482).
Thomas cautions us that we should not use Jesus’ desire to save us as an excuse, “to be lazy or abuse God’s mercy, or give themselves over to sin” ” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 482). In His first coming, the Son comes to forgive. In His second coming, He will come to judge.
Thomas remarks that simple belief in Jesus is not sufficient for salvation, belief must be alive with love for Jesus. Thomas teaches that no virtue is a true virtue unless it is formed by love:
“Therefore we must say that the foundation of salvation is not faith without charity (unformed faith), but faith informed by charity. Significantly therefore the Lord did not say, ‘whoever believes him,’ but ‘whoever believes in him,’ that is, whoever by believing tends toward Him through love is not judged” ” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 486).
Thomas grants the opinion of St. John Chrysostom, that everyone who acts sinfully is not a real believer: ‘They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their actions’ (Ti 1:16); but only one who acts worthily: ‘Show me your faith by your works’ (Jas 2:18) ” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 486).
Thomas comments, “Not to believe is not to adhere to the light—which is to live in darkness, and this is a momentous condemnation: ‘All were bound with one chain of darkness’ (Wis 17:17)” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 488).
Jesus is the light:
“It is abundantly clear that whoever does not believe is already judged, because the light came into the world. For men were in the darkness of ignorance, and God destroyed this darkness by sending a light into the world so that men might know the truth: ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me does not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (Jn 8:12); ‘To enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death’ (Lk 1:78). Now the light came into the world because men could not come to it: for ‘He dwells in inaccessible light, whom no man has seen or is able to see’ (1 Tim 6:16)” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 491).
The sin of those who do not believe is that they have “loved darkness more than the light, i.e., they preferred to remain in the darkness of ignorance rather than be instructed by Christ: ‘They have rebelled against the light’ (Jb 24:13); ‘Woe to you who substitute darkness for light, and light for darkness’ (Is 5:20) (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 491).
Thomas asks whether all those who do not believe cannot do virtuous actions. Thomas distinguishes between working by reason of virtue, and working by reason of a natural aptitude or disposition. Thomas notes that a person might live chastely because he is not drawn to sin, “But those who act well by reason of virtue do not depart from virtue, in spite of inclinations to the contrary vice, because of the rightness of their reason and the goodness of their will; and this is proper to believers” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 492).
Thomas maintains that a person who does not believe may do many good things “but they did not do all things well; for they failed to render to God the worship due Him” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 492).
Today’s reading from the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians (2 Cor 13:11-13) blends easily with the Gospel. Paul instructs the Christians: “Mend your ways” (2 Cor 13:11). Thomas affirms: “The good should have in themselves a zeal for perfection; in regard to this he says, mend your ways [be perfect], i.e., always tend to what is perfect: “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (Heb. 6:1) (Commentary on the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 537).
Thomas recalls that Jesus declared: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Thomas explains: “What is said here is not a precept to be perfect, but always tend toward perfection. And this is necessary because a person who does not aim at progressing is in danger of falling back. For we notice that unless the rowers strive to go forward, the ship always goes backward” (Commentary on the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 537).
Paul instructs the Christians: “Encourage one another” Thomas notes, “To our neighbor we must give exhortations to good; in regard to this he says, heed my appeal” (Commentary on the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 538).
Paul urges the Christians: “Live in harmony and peace.” Thomas observes:
“There is a double union required for uniting the members of the Church: one is interior, that is, that they agree by faith in regard to the intellect by believing the same things, and by love in the will by loving the same things. Hence he says, agree with one another, i.e., agree in regard to matters of faith, and love the same things with the affection of charity” (Commentary on the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 539).
Paul announces: “That together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6);
Paul urges agreement among the Christians: “That all of you agree” (1 Cor. 1:10); “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Phil. 2:2).
Peace is exterior: “Strive for peace with all men” (Heb. 12:14); “Seek peace, and pursue it” (Ps. 34:15); “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways” (2 Th. 3:16).
Paul refers to God as “the God of love and peace.” Thomas explains that when Paul speaks of, “the God of love and peace will be with you,” he means:
“Christ is called the God of peace because He is the giver of peace and is one who loves: ‘My peace I give to you’ (Jn. 14:27); ‘For God is not a God of confusion but of peace’ (1 Cor. 14:53); ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us’ (Rom. 5:5). He is also the author of peace: ‘In Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation’ (Jn. 16:33)” (Commentary on the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 540).
Christ is also the God of love:
“He is not only the God of peace, but also of love; hence, he says: the God of love and peace will be with you. This is so, because a person who exists in true peace of heart and body exists in charity, and “He who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn. 4:16); and because a person merits only through peace and love ‘If a man loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him’ (Jn. 14:23)” (Commentary on the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 540).
Paul instructs the Christians to “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” Thomas reflects: “A kiss is a sign of peace … When people give one another kisses, it is a sign that they are uniting their spirit of peace.” There is also a false peace of those who “speak peace with their neighbors, while mischief is in their hearts” (Ps. 28:3).
Thomas points out: “There is also a holy peace which God produces: ‘And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 4:7).” The exchange of a sign of peace is “a sign of charity and union” (Commentary on the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 542).
Paul closes his letter with the words: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
Thomas comments on the manner by which particular characteristics are attributed to the Three Persons of the Trinity. This is called “appropriation.” One might speak of each of the Three Persons in regard to what Each is in particular: “Power is appropriated to the Father because He is power essentially; inasmuch as He is the principle [source]. To the Son, wisdom, inasmuch as He is the Word. To the Holy Spirit, love, inasmuch as He is goodness” (Commentary on the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 544).
Another way to appropriate characteristics is to speak of each Person of the Trinity in regard to us, as Paul does in this passage.
Thomas explains why “grace” is attributed to the Son:
“Since grace is a gift by which sins are forgiven: ‘Justified by His grace as a gift’ (Rom. 3:24), and the remission of sin is accomplished in us by the Son who took our flesh and satisfied for our sins: ‘Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’ (Jn. 1:17): for this reason the Apostle attributes grace to Christ, when he says, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Commentary on the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 544).
Paul attributes “love” to the Father:
“But charity is necessary for us because we must become united to God: ‘He who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him’ (1 Jn. 4:16). And because this is from God the Father, inasmuch as He so loved the world as to send His only begotten Son (Jn. 3:16): ‘God shows His love for us’ (Rom. 5:8), he attributes charity to Him as to its source, when he says, and the love of God, namely, the Father” (Commentary on the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 544).
The communication of God’s gifts is attributed to the Spirit:
“Finally, the communication of divine gifts is accomplished by the Holy Spirit: ‘All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit’ (1 Cor. 12:11). Therefore he attributes communication to the Holy Spirit, when he says, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Or, he attributes this to Him because He is common to the other two persons” (Commentary on the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 544).
“Therefore the Apostle in his greeting wishes them all things that are necessary when he says: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. The grace of Christ, by which we are made just and are saved; the charity of God the Father, by which we are united to Him; and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit distributing divine gifts to us. Amen” (Commentary on the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 545).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
The quotations from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of St. John and his Commentary on the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians were translated by R.F. Larcher, O.P. The full text may be found on the web site of the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C.: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/