1 John 1
1, 1-4: The Witness to the Word of Life. The author
omits the formal greetings usual to epistles, his own name and that of those to whom he writes, possibly because these were
no way in doubt, and because of his preoccupation with his message. It is to be noted that 2 constitutes a parenthesis,
and that the relative clauses of 1 form the object of we announce of 3.
The Word of life: i.e., as in the Prologue of the Fourth Gospel, the personal Word of God, the Logos, the Second
Person of the Blessed Trinity. From the beginning: this refers not to the beginning of the Christian dispensation,
but to eternity. Hence the Word is eternal and divine. He is called the Word of life because life constitutes
the very essence of Divinity (John 1, 1.4; 6, 35; 8, 12; etc.), and because He shares it with those
who come to Him. Handled: referring probably to the events that took place after the Resurrection (Luke 24,
39; John 20, 27 f), though John's experience at the Last Supper may also be in view (John 13, 25).
2. And the Life was made known: i.e., the divine Word, who is life itself and the source of
all life, manifested Himself, or became visible to man through the Incarnation. 3 f.
The preaching and witness of the Apostles has a definite purpose. The term fellowship is in a sense the key
word of the entire Epistle. It means intimacy, intercourse, communion, a joint sharing. Christians are partakers
of the good things which they possess in common from God and Jesus Christ. The term is also characteristic of St. Paul's
writings. The Christians to whom St. John addresses this letter already possess this divine fellowship; their increase
in faith and in this sharing in the divine life is the Apostle's purpose in writing.
GOD IS LIGHT 1, 5 -- 2, 27
In this section the Apostle warns and
encourages his readers to walk in the light, i.e., to conduct themselves as befits children of God. To walk thus is
effective of that fellowship or communion with God already referred to. The Apostle lays down certain precepts which
his readers are to follow if they would walk in the light. There are, first, a series of positive precepts (1,
5 -- 2, 11), and then some negative precepts (2, 12-27), in which he also indicates his reasons for writing.
5 -- 2, 2: Walk in Light. 5. From him may refer either to God or
to Christ; probably the latter, indicating His general teaching. God is light: a definition of God by one of
His attributes. The term light is frequent in Sacred Scripture, and is a favorite of St. John in his Gospel.
It is indicative of the infinite truth and holiness of God, and here especially of the latter. The Christian religion
is light both to the intellect (as truth to be believed) and to the will (as truth to be put into practice). In
him is no darkness: the negative expression of the same thought, a semitism. Darkness is used to symbolize
error and evil, perhaps because error blinds the intellect, and evil strives to hide itself. Darkness is the domain
of Satan (Eph. 6, 12; Col. 1, 13; 1 Pet. 2, 9); sins are the works of darkness (Rom. 13,
12; Eph. 5, 11).
6 f. The term walk in biblical language
frequently indicates a moral and not a physical action, as is the case here. Fellowship with God and a life of sin are
incompatible concepts (cf. 2 Cor. 6, 14). Are not practising the truth: Christian truth is
a rule of life to be lived and practised. This is a condemnation of all those heretics who looked upon the truth merely
as something to be believed speculatively. 7. The advantages of walking in the light
are two: fellowship with one another, and purification from sin. Fraternal charity is both a sign and an effect of communion
with God. Cleanses us from all sin: the sin from which we are purified has been variously understood:
concupiscence, attachment to earthly things, sins already remitted, human frailty.
Some of those to whom John was writing considered themselves free from sin, and hence in no need of this purification.
This attitude is self-deception, and it makes God a liar. If we acknowledge our sins: very probably a reference
to sacramental confession; it is in John's Gospel we find the words instituting the sacrament of Penance (20, 22;
cf. also Jas. 5, 16). He is faithful and just: the hope of complete pardon. We make him
a liar: God has expressly stated in Scripture that all men are sinners, and that God sent His Son to save men from their
sins (Mark 2, 17; Rom. 3, 23-26). [Commentary on this section is continued at the beginning of
the next chapter.]
The Witness to the Word of Life
1 I write of what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon and
our hands have handled: of the Word of Life. 2 And the Life was made known and we have seen, and now testify and announce
to you, the Life Eternal which was with the Father, and has appeared to us. 3 What we have seen and have heard we announce
to you, in order that you also may have fellowship with us, and that our fellowship may be with the Father, and with his Son
Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that you may rejoice, and our joy may be full.
Walk in Light
5 And the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, is this: that God is light, and in him is no darkness.
6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and are not practising the truth. 7 But
if we walk in the light as he also is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his
Son, cleanses us from all sin.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth in not in us. 9 If we acknowledge
our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all iniquity. 10 If we say that we have
not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.