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§ I. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
At the summit of his doctrine, St. John places the idea of God. God is the Absolute Being, the great I Am, whom no eye hath seen or can see. He is a Spirit.550550θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε. John i, 18; iv, 24. All perfection dwells in him; he is at once life, light, and love. As he is Absolute Being, so he is Absolute, Eternal Life, the inexhaustible source, the sole principle of every thing that is.551551Ἡ ζωὴ αἰώνιος. 1 John v, 20. But this life is at the same time light. 1 John i, 5. Light represents perfect knowledge and spotless purity.552552Γινώσκει πάντα. 1 John iii, 20. Ἁγνὸς ἐστι. 1 John iii, 3. God knows all things; God is holy. But John does not pause at this abstract conception of moral good. He gives us a concrete notion of it when he tells us that God is love.553553Ὁ Θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν. 1 John iv, 16. This he is, as essentially as he is life and light. Love is not only a manifestation of his being, it is its very essence. Never before had this sublime thought been expressed with such clearness; it had been discerned only by glimpses. Under the old covenant the love of God was subordinate to his justice. Under the new, this limited view had for a long time prevailed. St. Paul insisted with much force upon the love of God, but he considered it 444rather in its historical manifestation for the salvation of man than in its eternal principle. It is on this eternal principle that St. John dwells. He sees in the cross not only reconciliation between man and God, but also the revelation of the true name of God, of his very being. He is love; the God who is love is the true God. 1 John v, 20. Love is so assuredly the absolute truth, that he who loveth is "of the truth." He is a partaker of the nature of God.554554Πᾶς ὁ ἀγαπῶν ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ γεγέννηται καὶ γινώσκει τὸν Θεόν. 1 John iv, 7. Thus truth or light is inseparable from love; it is not simple knowledge, a mere theory. St. John does not recognize the ray of light which has no flame. Truth is, as it were, full of life; it is life as it is love. It is all that God himself is. To be of the truth is to be born of God, to possess him, to be what he is; it is, therefore, to have love in one's self. The object of knowledge being the God who is love, it is natural that true knowledge should be inseparable from love.
It must not be supposed, because John dwells especially on the moral attributes of God, that he passes by in silence his metaphysical attributes. These are all comprised in the absolute life which he ascribes to God.555555"The Father hath life in himself." John v, 26. To the Apostle, love is not one of the attributes of God, it is God himself; the metaphysical attributes are the attributes of the divine love. God is holy, infinite, almighty love, knowing every thing, every-where present. John delights, therefore, to give Him the name of the Father—that wondrous name which commands at once tenderness and reverence. John i, 14, 18; 1 John iii, 1.445
But how does this invisible God reveal himself? How does He who inhabits the inaccessible light communicate himself to the creature, and what can be the first object of his love? We know the response of ancient philosophy to this question. At one time, finding no means of really bringing together the Infinite Being and the changing and finite creature, it left them face to face as two eternal principles—Uncreated Spirit opposed to uncreated matter. Again it sought in the Infinite Spirit the germ of the finite and perishable being, and arrived at the second by a series of descending steps from the first. Human opinion vacillated between Platonic dualism and the oriental or Alexandrian theory of emanation. Neither of these solutions is that given by St. John. The prologue of his gospel, written distinctly in view of the false philosophies of his age, solves the delicate problem of the relation of the invisible God to the world by the doctrine of the Word-a doctrine absolutely unknown before Christianity, and which, so far from being borrowed from Philo, is in direct opposition to his system. What is here treated of is not an impersonal Word, which is only a scholastic term to designate the world, or rather, the complex of the ideas realized in the innumerable beings of which the universe is composed.556556See our exposition of Philo's doctrine in "The Life and Times of Jesus Christ." The prologue speaks of a Being distinct from God, and yet God as God himself. He is, like him, life and light in an absolute sense.557557Ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος. John i, 1. The only begotten Son dwelling in the bosom of the Father, he is the eternal object of his love. Eternal 446love has thus an object like itself beyond the world and time.558558Ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν. John i, 4. The Son calls himself the Word, because he is the perfect manifestation of the Father. He reveals him in his person, which is his express image, and becomes the organ of his revelations in the world when it pleases him to create a world. The single fact that he bears this name of the Son and the Word appears to us to imply in the doctrine of St. John, as in that of St. Paul, a relation of subordination to the Father. The Son proceeding eternally from the Father is, in comparison with him, eternally in the relation of him who is begotten to him who begets. Their nature is identical because of this very relationship. He is God with God, but he is God begotten of God from all eternity.559559Ὁ μονογενὴς υἱὸς, ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς. John i, 18. M. Reuss sees in this passage only the idea of the free existence, not of the eternity, of the Word. But is not this eternity implied in the divinity so clearly recognized in the Word by St. John? He may nevertheless truly say, "I and my Father are one."560560Compare John v, 43; vii, 28; viii, 42. According to Fromman, neither the Father nor the Son alone constitutes the Deity. Just as the idea of the State is only realized by the co-existence of the governing and the governed, so the idea of the Deity is only realized by the co-existence of the Father and the Son, necessary to the relation of absolute love. (See Fromman's explanation of the prologue of St. John.) This analogy with the State is not happy, for the relations between the Son and the Father bear no parallel to those between the governing and the governed. But it may reasonably be said that there are ideas involved of complex elements, and of several agents, which are only realized by their co-existence.
After the Son and the Father, John recognizes a third Divine Person—the Holy Spirit, who is sent to the Church by the Father and the Son. John xiv, 26; xv, 26. This Spirit speaks of those things which he 447has heard. John xvi, 13. Here the subordination is evident. Some have even gone so far as to question the personality of the Holy Spirit, on the ground of certain expressions which seem to contradict it; but the offices attributed to him, such as teaching, consoling, the guidance of the Church, imply a personal existence. This fact appears to us to come out distinctly from the writings of St. John, though we may not be able to deduce from them a clear and complete statement of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.561561God himself is called a Spirit. John iv, 24. Mention is made of more than one Spirit. 1 John iv, 1, 2; compare John vii, 39, οὔπω γὰρ ἦν Πνεῦμα ἅγιον, and John xx, 22. See Reuss, work quoted, vol. ii, pp. 413-432.
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