Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume VII/First Epistle of John/The Prologue

ten homilies

on the epistle of john

{{small-caps|to the parthians.[1]


The Prologue.

Ye remember, holy brethren, that the Gospel according to John, read in orderly course of lessons, is the subject on which we usually discourse: but because of the now intervening solemnity of the holy days, on which there must be certain lessons recited in the Church, which so come every year that they cannot be other than they are:[2] the order which we had undertaken is of necessity for a little while intermitted, not wholly omitted. But when I was thinking what matter of discourse upon the Scriptures, agreeable with the cheerfulness of these days, I might undertake with you, as the Lord shall vouchsafe to grant, during the present week, being such an one as might be finished in these seven or eight days; the Epistle of blessed John occurred to me: that whereas we have for a while intermitted the reading of his Gospel, we may in discoursing upon his Epistle not go from his side: the rather, as in this same Epistle, which is very sweet to all who have a healthy taste of the heart to relish the Bread of God, and very meet to be had in remembrance in God’s Holy Church, charity is above all commended. He has spoken many words, and nearly all are about charity.[3] He that hath in himself that which he is to hear, must needs rejoice at that which he heareth. For so shall this reading be to that man, as oil upon flame; if that be there which may be nourished, it is nourished and groweth and abideth. Again, to some it ought to be as flame to fuel; that if he did not burn, by added discourse he may be

set on fire. For in some that which is there, is nourished: in some it is kindled, if it be not there: that we all may rejoice in one charity. But where charity, there peace; and where humility, there charity. Now let us hear himself: and at his words, what the Lord suggests, that let us speak also to you, that ye may well understand.



  1. In this designation of St. John’s first Epistle, the manuscript copies of St. Augustin all agree, both here and in the incidental mention, Quæst. Evang. ii. 39, of St. John’s Epistola ad Parthos; and that there is no error of transcription is further proved by the fact, that the present work appears in the Indiculus of Posidius under the title, In Epistolam Joannis ad Parthos Tractatus decem. And yet St. Augustin neither in these Tractates nor in any other of his extant works explains or comments upon this peculiar address. In the Latin church, since Augustin, it frequently occurs in authors and in mss}}. of the Vulgate. According to Venerable Bede, “Many ecclesiastical authors, and among them St. Athanasius, Bishop of the Church of Alexandria, witness that the first Epistle of St. John was written ad Parthos.” (Cave, Hist. Lit. i. 614). But there is no indication elsewhere that St. Athanasius was acquainted with this superscription, and with the exception of a few very modern mss. which have πρὸς πάρθους in the subscription to the second Epistle, it seems to be unknown to the Greek Church. The tradition according to which St. John preached the Gospel in Parthia rests (so far as appears) on no ancient authority, and perhaps has no other foundation than the superscription itself: which may have originated either, as some critics have supposed, in an abbreviated form of πρὸς παρθένους, “To the Virgins,” or as Gieseler suggests, in τοῦ παρθένου, as the designation of St. John himself, “The Epistle of John the Virgin;” an epithet which has gone with his name from very early times. In favor of this explanation it may be remarked, that Griesbach’s Codex, 30, has for the superscription of the Apocalypse, τοῦ ἁγίου ἐνδοξοτάτου ἀποστόλου καὶ εὐαγγελιστοῦ παρθένου ἠγαπημένου ἐπιστηθίου ’Ιωάννου θεολόγου: “The Apocalypse of the holy, most glorious Apostle and Evangelist, ‘the Virgin,’ the Beloved, who lay in the bosom (of the Lord), John the Theologus.” [Most recent critics and commentators adopt the plausible conjecture of Gieseler that the title originated in the mistake of a transcriber for τοῦ παρθένου. Other conjecturers: Ad Spartos, Ad Pattimios, Ad Sparsos, are not worth considering. See the commentaries of Huther, Haupt, Braune, Westcott, and Plummer.—P.S.]
  2. From S. Aug. Serm. ccxxxii. 1, and ccxxxix. 1, it appears to have been the custom, that during seven or eight days after Easter Sunday, the history of the Resurrection from all four Evangelists should furnish the Gospel Lessons: but not always in the same order, St. Luke being sometimes read before St. Mark. And in fact the second of these Homilies, which one of the oldest mss. assigns to Easter Monday, appears from the opening of it to have been preached on the day which had for its Lesson the narrative of St. Luke concerning the two disciples to whom Christ appeared on the way to Emmaus.—Ben. Ed.
  3. Some mss. have in the title of these Homilies the addition, De Caritate.