Father Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on John 20:19-23

Joh 20:19  Now when it was late the same day, the first of the week, and the doors were shut, where the disciples were gathered together, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst and said to them: Peace be to you.

Now when it was late the same day, the first of the week. Or the feast of the Pasch. (See notes on Mat_28:1.)

When the doors were shut. Calvin says that Christ opened the doors, or entered through an open window, so as not to be compelled to admit that one dimension could penetrate another—penetratio dimensionum, or that two bodies could exist together in the same place, which Durandus (in iv. dist. 44, Quæst. vi.) says is even beyond the power of God. But S. John here intimates the contrary, for he says that the doors were shut, to signify that Christ passed through the closed doors, as He did both at His conception and nativity, and passed through the stone when He rose from the grave, thus manifesting the almighty power of His Godhead, and the gifts conferred upon His glorified Body. On this subject see Bellarmine, de Eucharistia, iii. 6, who quotes both Greek and Latin fathers on this point. As S. Augustine, “The closed doors opposed not His Body. Let us grant that God can do anything, which we admit, though we cannot understand. It all turns on the power of the Creator.” (S. Ambrose on Luke 24; S. Hilary, de Trin. lib. iii.; S. Justin Martyr, Resp. ad Græcor Quæstiones; Epiphanius, Hæresi, lxiv.) “As our Lord rose from the grave, not by raising up another Body, but the very same, changing it into the subtile nature of a spirit, thus He entered the closed doors, a thing impossible to our gross bodies,” &c. (Origen). And S. Cyril, “The Lord entered suddenly, the doors being closed, overcoming the ordinary nature of things by His omnipotence; for being true God, He is not under the power of nature.” And Euthymius, quoting S. Chrysostom, “He did not knock at the doors, lest they should be alarmed, but as God entered through them, though closed.”

Tropologically. Christ appears to those who have closed the doors of their mind to the world and the flesh, and gives them unexpectedly the sweetest peace. As S. Gregory (Lib. iv. in Lib. i. Reg. cap. v.) says, “They have their doors closed, who keep their bodies strictly guarded against human frailty and carelessness. They too are within, because they rest in the inward love of the life above. And the Lord appears to them on His Resurrection, because they behold His glory the more clearly, the more strictly they despise the world and imitate the mystery of His Passion. And they too can be filled with His Spirit within, because they enjoy His gifts and graces in abundance who have trained themselves for their enjoyment by despising the things of sight.”

And stood. Without any previous sign of His coming, with the swiftness of thought.

Tropologically. S. Bernard says (Serm. vi. de Ascens.), “Thou art deceived, 0 Thomas, in hoping to see the Lord when separated from the company of the Apostles. The truth loves not holes and corners, takes no pleasure in places apart. He stands in the midst, that is, He takes pleasure in common discipline, common life, common studies.”

And said to them: Peace be to you. This is the usual Hebrew mode of greeting, for peace brings with it every good, war every evil.

Joh 20:20  And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad, when they saw the Lord.

And when He had so said, He showed them His hands and His side. It is clear from this verse (and still more clearly from ver. 27) that Christ after His Resurrection retained not only the scars, but even the very holes, of His wounds, and that really and not in appearance. So S. Augustine teaches in answer to Porphyrius (Epist. xlix. [al cii.] ad Deogratias). He did not fill them up with His glorified flesh, but left them open, in order that they might be incontrovertible proofs of the truth of His Body, and of Its Resurrection. So S. Cyril and Leontius.  S. Augustine says (in loc.), “The nails had wounded His hands, the spear had pierced His side, and the marks of the wounds were left, to heal the hearts of the doubtful.” 2. This was a sign of His victory over sin, the world, the flesh, and the devil. So S. Augustine and S. Ambrose in Luke (cap. ult.) 3. To inspire us with greater confidence, inasmuch as Christ, by displaying these wounds to the Father, intercedes for us. See S. Anselm on Heb. 9 and [Pseudo]-Cyprian, de Baptismo Christi. 4. To enkindle our love, and to lead us in return willingly to bear even death itself for His sake. So S. Ambrose (ut supra), and S. Gregory in Son_3:5. That Christ might in the day of judgment convict Jews and reprobates of impiety and ingratitude, in neglecting such great grace. So S. Augustine. All theologians teach us (as well as S. Cyril, xii. 58) that Christ carried these wounds into heaven, and will retain them for ever. See Zec_13:6, Joh_19:37. It was miraculously so ordered by God that these wounds interfered not with the actions and motions of His Body. (See Suarez, iii. part, Quæst. xliv., Disput. xlvii. art. 4, sect. 2.)

S. Augustine accordingly thinks (de civ. xxii. 20) that it will be thus with the wounds of the martyrs. He thus writes, “Are we so inspired with love for the martyrs as to wish to behold in their bodies the scars of the wounds which they suffered for Christ? And it may be we shall see them. For this will not be a deformity, but an honour; and even though some of their limbs have been cut off, yet will they not appear without them at the resurrection. For it was said to them, ‘Not a hair of your head shall perish.’” He adds, and “these proofs of their virtue must not be counted as defects.”

S. Cyril (ut supra) seems to deny this; but he is not speaking of martyrs, but of those who have some natural defect, as those who are blind, deaf, &c. These will rise again with all their faculties.

The disciples therefore were glad when they saw the Lord, and recognised Him by His wounds.  S. Augustine (de Civ. xxii. 19) says, “The brightness with which the righteous will shine as the sun, seems to have rather been veiled in Christ’s person than wanting. For man’s feeble sight could not have endured it, when steadily looking at Him, in order to recognise Him.”

They were glad, not only because they saw that Christ was risen, but also because they hoped that all His gracious promises would now be made good.

Joh 20:21  He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you.

He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. Why again? The Interlinear Gloss says, “It was a repeated confirmation, Peace upon peace, according to the prophet.” Bede says, “He repeats it, because the virtue of charity is twofold, or because He is the peace who makes both one.” The Gloss, “He offers peace, who came for the sake of peace; and He repeats His words to show that all things whether in heaven or in earth are restored to peace through Him.” S. Chrysostom, “Because they were waging an unappeasable contest with the Jews.” He proclaims peace in order to console them, and sets forth also the power of the cross, by which He drove away all sorrow, and conferred every good, which is peace. But a further joy was announced to the women, for they had to bear the curse, “in sorrow shalt thou bring forth,” and they were indeed in sorrow.

As My Father hath sent Me, I also send you. With like power, authority, end, mode, and love.

Observe here by this word ‘as’ Christ in a manner puts His Apostles on an equality with Himself, that is proportionately, as His successors and vicars. This word signifies likeness in office; with the same power and special authority with which the Father sent Me to found His Church, do I send you as its teachers and rulers (as I am Myself), that ye may have power to remit sin, as I also have. So Rupertus, S. Cyril, Theophylact, who maintain that by these words Christ made His Apostles His Vicars, the teachers and pastors of the world, and communicated to them His own office and authority, that is to say, all ecclesiastical authority, in fact made them Bishops. But Turrianus thinks that they were created Bishops on the day of Pentecost, as he writes in his notes on the Apostolic Constitution, vi. 11. Bellarmine (de Rom. Pontif, i. 24), following Turrecremata, thinks that only S. Peter was ordained Bishop by our Lord, and that the other Apostles were ordained by S. Peter. Suarez considers it more probable that all the Apostles were ordained Bishops by Christ, though not certain as to time and place (see Tract de Fide, Disput. v. sect. 1 num. 8). S. Augustine takes this latter view (Quæst. xcviii. in Quæst. N. and Vet. Test.) (2.) The word ‘as’ signifies similarity of origin. The beginning of Christ’s mission, as also that of the Apostles, was God Himself. (3.) It signifies likeness of object or end, that is, the propagation of the faith and the salvation of the world. So S. Cyril and Leontius. (4.) Likeness of mode, that ye way confirm your teaching by miracles, as I have confirmed Mine. (5.) Likeness of mutual love. As the Father sent Me to shed My blood from love of Him, with the same love do I send you. For it is a mark of the supreme love of God when He makes any one his witness and martyr.

Hear S. Gregory. “In sending you forth among the perils of persecutors, I love you with the same love that the Father had to Me, when He sent Me to endure My Passion.”

Joh 20:22  When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost.

And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and he said to them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Why did He breathe on them? (1.) To signify the nature of the Holy Spirit, as proceeding both from Him and the Father. For as a man by breathing on another imparts to him his breath, so the Father and the Son by breathing produce the Holy Spirit, and communicate to Him their Spirit and Godhead. So S. Augustine (in loc.), Cyril, Bede, and others. This breathing was not the Holy Spirit Himself, but a sign of Him: so that it means, Receive by this breathing,-as by a sign and instrumental cause, the gift of the Holy Spirit.

(2.) To signify that the Holy Spirit was consubstantial with Himself and the Father. (3.) To show that it was He who first breathed into Adam the breath of life. As if He would say, I first gave Adam his natural life by breathing on him, so by breathing on you, do I give you that Holy Spirit which bestows on you supernatural and divine life. I who first created men, am now their re-creator and restorer. See S. Cyril (Lib. xii. 56), Leontius, Euthymius, and S. Athanasius (Quæst. lxiv. ad Antiochum). (4.)  S. Cyril and S. Basil (de Spir. Sancto, cap. xvi.) and S. Ambrose (Serm. xx. in Ps. cxviii. [cxix.]) say that Christ, by these words, signified that He breathed into Adam not only breath but grace, and because he had lost grace by sin He restored it in this way to the Apostles, and through them to all men, being in fact the restorer of grace. He seems to say, Receive ye the Spirit which ye lost in Adam’s person by sin. Breathe Him forth on penitents in the sacrament of penance, remit through Him their sins and restore them to the life of the Spirit by grace. Hear S. Cyril. “Man was at first made by the Word of God, and God breathed into him the breath of life, and strengthened him by the imparting of His Spirit. But since he fell by disobedience, God the Father refashioned him, and brought him to new life by His Son. And we may learn that as it was He who in the beginning created our nature, and sealed it by His Holy Spirit, so when He began the renewal of our nature, He gives the Spirit to the disciples by breathing on them, that just as we were created by Him at first, we may in like manner also be renewed by Him.

Symbolically. This breathing represents sin as a black cloud. For as a cloud is dispersed by the wind, so is every cloud of sin driven away by the breath of the Spirit. See Is. xliv. And again, it represents the judiciary power of remitting sins, which is exercised by the breath of the voice which says, I absolve thee.

Tropologically. It denotes that a Priest, in order to remit sin, should possess a mighty spirit, charity, and zeal, so as to breathe on penitents and lead them to true penitence, sorrow, and repentance, and thus dispose them for the remission of their sins. And so we see Confessors who are gifted with mighty resolution, wound with the spirit of their mouth many and great sinners, and convert them to holiness. Just as we read that S. Ambrose, when hearing the sins of those who confessed to him, was wont to weep, and thus by his own tears lead them to tears and contrition.

Receive ye the Holy Ghost. The Apostles had already received the Holy Ghost in Baptism and Holy Communion. But they were about to receive His fulness, according to Christ’s promise, at Pentecost, in order to the conversion of the Gentiles, when the Holy Spirit descending on them visibly in form of fiery tongues, filled them to the full with all His gifts, and especially with the power of preaching. But here He confers on them the Holy Ghost for another purpose, the remission of sin. “Receive ye the Holy Ghost,” that is, power to remit sins by the Holy Ghost. So Theophylact, Euthymius, and Rupertus. This signifies that He came as was prophesied by Isaiah (xxvii. 9), and that both Christ and the Father gave the Holy Ghost. And from hence it is clear that the Holy Ghost is given, not merely by grace making us acceptable (to God), but also by grace given freely, as is the power of remitting sins, which is given to priests even in mortal sin, when they are ordained. For the Holy Ghost is the primary author of grace who works in the sacrament, and by it remits sins, even though its minister be an ungodly man. Whence Cyril and Chrysostom thus expound the passage, Receive the Holy Ghost, that is, the power of remitting sin by the Holy Ghost, co-operating with you in that sacrament and remitting sins. And again, by the Holy Ghost you must understand with S. Augustine (in loc.), and S. Ambrose (Serm. x. in Ps. cxviii. [cxix.]), the very grace and charity of the Holy Ghost. For this was infused into the Apostles more fully and abundantly, and is likewise by the power of the sacrament of order infused into priests at their ordination (unless they put an obstacle and choose to continue in their sins, and refuse to be contrite for their past sins), so that they may duly and without sin administer the sacrament of penitence, and absolve sinners. For a priest who absolves others ought to be free from sin; if not, he is guilty of sin, and yet truly absolves sinners. From these words it is clear that the Holy Ghost has the primary and highest power of forgiving sins, and that He communicated this power to the Apostles, and accordingly that He Himself is truly God. (So S. Basil, Lib. v. contra Eunomium; S. Ambrose, Lib. iii. ch. 19, de Spir. Sancto, and S. Chrysostom, Hom. vi. on 2 Cor.) The same power is indeed common to the whole Holy Trinity, but specially belongs to the Holy Ghost, as do Goodness and Love, and all the work of sanctification, just as Power specially belongs to the Father, and to the Son Wisdom, and all its works.

2. Observe that the Holy Ghost and His power of remitting sins are here given them, not only for their own sakes, as about to be judges of sinners in the tribunal of penitence, but also for the sake of penitent sinners themselves. And consequently the same power is given even to wicked priests when they are ordained, as the power of judging in a secular court can be given to a wicked judge. But yet if they dispose themselves by penitence to the right reception of the Sacrament of Ordination, they will receive therein the Holy Ghost even to their own sanctification, to make them the more fit to sanctify others (penitents, for instance), as was here done to the Apostles.

3.  S. Cyril (and Maldonatus after him) remarks that the Holy Ghost was here conferred on S. Thomas, even though absent, and with it the consequent power of remitting sins, just as the spirit of prophecy was given by Moses to Eldad and Medad who were absent. But the contrary opinion seems more true. For Thomas was then unbelieving and incapable of receiving the Holy Spirit, and accordingly the Holy Ghost was given him on the eighth day when Christ appeared to him, and converted him by showing him His wounds. So Toletus, Ribera, and others.

Lastly, notice this act of Christ as an example for ecclesiastical ceremonies. Christ, by the ceremony of breathing on them, gave the Apostles the Holy Ghost and the power of remitting sins. Therefore ecclesiastical ceremonies are not useless, frivolous, and superstitious, but seemly, efficacious, and sacred.

Joh 20:23  Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them: and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.

Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained. Calvin twists and turns this to make it mean the preaching of the Gospel, namely, that they to whom ye preach the Gospel, if they believe it, will have their sins forgiven by their mere belief. But every one sees that this explanation is strained, forced, foolish, and ridiculous. For in this way it would not be the Apostles, but believers themselves who would themselves remit their own sins, which is absurd. For no one is judge in his own case, or stands higher than himself, so as to remit his own sins. (2.) These two things, viz., preaching the Gospel and remitting sins, are clearly dissimilar and distinct, the one being the work of an Apostle in preaching, the other the judicial act of a judge. (3.) The Gospel must be preached to all: and consequently this absolution of Calvin’s must be given even to all the wicked. But Christ wishes not that all sins should be remitted, but orders that some should be retained, and that the Apostles and their successors should be judges in this matter. (4.) Christ had already given the Apostles power to preach (Luke x. 1), and commanded them to preach to every creature. Why then should He repeat all this in such obscure and unintelligible words?

I say therefore, it is a matter of faith to understand this passage of the sacrament of penance, wherein the priest, as judge, remits not only the punishment but also the guilt of penitents who accuse themselves in confession. This is clear from the words themselves, all of which signify that a judicial power of remitting or retaining sins was here given to the Apostles as judges in the tribunal of conscience. For so all the Fathers and the whole Church in every age understood the words. See Council of Trent, sess. xiv. can. 3 and 1. Bellarmine quotes the testimonies of the Fathers (De Pœnit. iii 2), and amongst them S. Gregory, who says, “They hold the chief place in the Divine judgment, so as in the place of God to retain some men’s sins, and remit the sins of others.”

The meaning then is, “I give you by the Spirit the power of Order, which a man can have even when in sin, and I confer on you at the same time grace and sanctification, to enable you to exercise this power in a worthy and holy manner, not merely for the salvation of others, but also for your own. And ye will really remit sins as my ministers, and not merely announce that they are remitted, and whosesoever sins ye retain, either with some, because they do not come to you, or others because ye will consider them undeserving of absolution, are retained in heaven by God.”

You may say, Cyril explains this passage as speaking of the preaching of the Gospel. I reply, Cyril does not explain these latter words, as speaking of the preaching of the Gospel, but the former words, “As the Father sent Me, even so send I you.” But you will say again, Cyril says that sins are remitted in two ways, by Baptism and repentance. But I reply, “This is true, but not to the point. Christ is properly speaking of the tribunal of Penance, but Cyril extends His words to include Baptism. Christ is here speaking of the judicial remission of sins, which is to be had specially, not in Baptism, but in the sacrament of Penance only.” See S. Chrysostom (Lib. iii. and vi. De Sacerdotio), where he shows that priests are of higher honour than not only kings but even angels, who have not the power of remitting sins.

Moreover, Christ by here instituting the tribunal of Penance, sanctioned, in this very way, Sacramental Confession, and enjoins it by Divine right. For sins cannot be remitted in this tribunal unless they are known, nor can they be known, unless they are confessed, for they are frequently secret; nay more, hidden in the mind. It is therefore necessary that the penitent should act as his own accuser, and should be at the same time a criminal, an accuser, and a witness against himself, and should humbly ask pardon of the priest, as his judge, for the sins whereof he accuses himself, and for which he is penitent. But if the priest sees that he is truly penitent, he will pronounce the sentence of absolution, and will, in the Name of Christ, as His Vicar, pardon all his sins. For Christ ratifies the sentence of His priest, and pardons everything which His priest pardons, and what he retains, Christ also retains. For Christ in the Gospel often bids men to repent of their sins. But this they should do in the way which Christ instituted, that is, by submitting to the Sacrament of Penance, that is, by confessing their sins to the priest, and asking him for absolution. See Council of Trent, sess. xiv. cap. v. Cajetan therefore is wrong in saying that Confession is not here enjoined. This error is a heresy since that Council, but Cajetan lived before it.

and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. This does not signify merely a refusal of absolution, but positive power. For it means, Those whom ye count unworthy of absolution, on account of their unfitness, whom ye reject, and consider guilty of sin, and deserving of hell, God will judge in like manner, who alone primarily and by His own authority forgives or retains sins. It belongs to God alone to condemn an offence against Himself. But in this matter He appoints priests to be as it were His Vicars. See Matt. xviii. 18. If a priest sees that a penitent has not serious sorrow for his sins, or no serious purpose of amendment, as refusing, e.g., to give up his concubine, or other occasions of sin, or who will not restore the good name or the wealth which he has stolen from his neighbour, the priest ought to refuse such a one absolution, to judge that he is unfit for absolution, and that he must abide in his sin, and incur the guilt of hell.

Lastly, observe that though the Apostles were ordained priests before His Passion, and at His last supper after the institution of the Eucharist with these words, Do this, &c., yet they then received only the power of consecrating the Eucharist; but after Christ’s resurrection they received from Him another power, that of remitting sins. These are two different powers, and can be divided and separated from each other. For Christ had this pre-eminent power of appointing priests in a different way from that in which they were afterwards to be appointed. For now in the ordination of priests the matter is the Chalice and Paten with the Bread and Wine, the form being, “Receive thou power to offer sacrifice.” And when the bishop delivers these vessels to any one, pronouncing these words, he makes him a perfect priest, and confers on him both the power of remitting sins and also of offering sacrifice. So that when he says afterwards, “Receive thou power to remit, sins” these words are not of the essence of the form, but merely declare the power which was given in those former words. (See Soto, Contr. Paludanem in iv. Dist. 24, Quæst. i., art. 4; and Gregory de Valentia, Tract de Ordine, disp. 9, Quæst. 1, punct. 5.)

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One Response to Father Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on John 20:19-23

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for Pentecost Sunday | stjoeofoblog

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