December 27, 2020: ST. JOHN, APOSTLE AND EVANGELIST
December 27, 2020: COMMEMORATION OF ST. JOHN, APOSTLE AND EVANGELIST
This is John, who at the supper leaned on the breast of the Lord: the blessed Apostle to whom the secrets of heaven were revealed!
℣. Blessed John is much to be honoured.
℟. Who at the supper leaned on the breast of our Lord.
Mercifully, O Lord, enlighten thy Church, that being taught by blessed John thy Apostle and Evangelist, she may come to thy eternal rewards. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
Nearest to Jesus' Crib, after Stephen, stands John, the Apostle and Evangelist. It was only right, that the first place should be assigned to him, who so loved his God, that he shed his blood in his service; for, as this God himself declares, greater love than this hath no man, that he lay down his life for his friends (St. John, xv. 13), and Martyrdom has ever been counted, by the Church, as the greatest act of love, and as having, consequently, the power of remitting sins, like a second Baptism. But, next to the sacrifice of Blood, the noblest, the bravest, and which most wins the heart of Him who is the Spouse of souls, is the sacrifice of Virginity. Now, just as St. Stephen is looked upon as the type of Martyrs, St. John is honoured as the Prince of Virgins. Martyrdom won for Stephen the Crown and palm; Virginity merited for John most singular prerogatives, which, while they show how dear to God is holy Chastity, put this Disciple among those, who, by their dignity and influence, are above the rest of men.
St. John was of the family of David, as was our Blessed Lady. He was, consequently, a relation of Jesus. This same honour belonged to St. James the Greater, his Brother [St. John & St. James the Greater, both being the sons of Zebedee]; as also to St. James the Less, and St. Jude, both Sons of Alpheus. When our Saint was in the prime of his youth, he left, not only his boat and nets, not only his Father Zebedee, but even his betrothed, when everything was prepared for the marriage. He followed Jesus, and never once looked back. Hence, the special love which our Lord bore him. Others were Disciples or Apostles, John was the Friend, of Jesus. The cause of this our Lord's partiality, was, as the Church tells us in the Liturgy, that John had offered his Virginity to the Man-God. Let us, on this his Feast, enumerate the graces and privileges that came to St. John from his being The Disciple whom Jesus loved.
This very expression of the Gospel, which the Evangelist repeats several times—The Disciple whom Jesus loved (St. John, xiii. 23; xix. 26; xxi. 7; xxi. 20)—says more than any commentary could do. St. Peter, it is true, was chosen by our Divine Lord, to be the Head of the Apostolic College, and the Rock whereon the Church was to be built: he, then, was honoured most; but St. John was loved most. Peter was bid to love more than the rest loved, and he was able to say, in answer to Jesus' thrice repeated question, that he did love him in this highest way: and yet, notwithstanding, John was more loved by Jesus than was Peter himself, because his Virginity deserved this special mark of honour.
Chastity of soul and body brings him who possesses it into a sacred nearness and intimacy with God. Hence it was, that at the Last Supper—that Supper, which was to be renewed on our Altars, to the end of the world, in order to cure our spiritual infirmities, and give life to our souls—John was placed near to Jesus, nay, was permitted, as the tenderly loved Disciple, to lean his head upon the Breast of the Man-God. Then it was, that he was filled, and from their very Fountain, with Light and Love: it was both a recompense and a favour, and became the source of two signal graces, which make St. John an object of special reverence to the whole Church.
Divine wisdom wishing to make known to the world the Mystery of the Word, and commit to Scripture those profound secrets, which, so far, no pen of mortal had been permitted to write—the task was put upon John. Peter had been crucified, Paul had been beheaded, and the rest of the Apostles had laid down their lives in testimony of the Truths they had been sent to preach to the world; John was the only one left in the Church. Heresy had already begun its blasphemies against the Apostolic Teachings; it refused to admit the Incarnate Word as the Son of God, Consubstantial to the Father. John was asked by the Churches to speak, and he did so in language heavenly above measure. His Divine Master had reserved to this his Virgin-Disciple the honour of writing those sublime Mysteries, which the other Apostles had been commissioned only to teach—THE WORD WAS GOD, and this WORD WAS MADE FLESH for the salvation of mankind. Thus did our Evangelist soar, like the Eagle, up to the Divine Sun, and gaze upon Him with undazzled eye, because his heart and senses were pure, and therefore fitted for such vision of the uncreated Light. If Moses, after having conversed with God in the cloud, came from the divine interview with rays of miraculous light encircling his head:—how radiant must have been the face of St. John, which had rested on the very Heart of Jesus, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge! (Coloss, ii. 3) how sublime his writings! how divine his teaching! Hence, the symbol of the Eagle, shown to the Prophet Ezechiel (Ezechiel, i. 10; x. 14), and to St. John himself in his Revelations (Apoc, iv. 7), has been assigned to him by the Church: and to this title of The Eagle has been added, by universal tradition, the other beautiful name of Theologian.
This was the first recompense given by Jesus to his Beloved John—a profound penetration into divine Mysteries. The second was the imparting to him a most ardent charity, which was equally a grace consequent upon his angelic purity, for purity unburdens the soul from grovelling egotistic affections, and raises it to a chaste and generous love. John had treasured up in his heart the Discourses of his Master: he made them known to the Church, and especially that divine one of the Last Supper, wherein Jesus had poured forth his whole Soul to his own, whom he had always tenderly loved, but most so at the end (St. John, xiii. 1). He wrote his Epistles, and Charity is his subject: God is Charity—he that loveth not, knoweth not God—perfect Charity casteth out fear—and so on throughout, always on Love. During the rest of his life, even when so enfeebled by old age as not to be able to walk, he was for ever insisting upon all men loving each other, after the example of God, who had loved them and so loved them! Thus, he that had announced more clearly than the rest of the Apostles the divinity of the Incarnate Word, was by excellence the Apostle of that divine Charity, which Jesus came to enkindle upon the earth.
But, our Lord had a further gift to bestow, and it was sweetly appropriate to the Virgin-Disciple. When dying on his cross, Jesus left Mary upon this earth. Joseph had been dead now some years. Who, then, shall watch over his Mother? who is there worthy of the charge? Will Jesus send his Angels to protect and console her?—for, surely, what man could ever merit to be to her as a second Joseph? Looking down, he sees the Virgin-Disciple standing at the foot of the Cross: we know the rest, John is to be Mary's Son—Mary is to be John's Mother. Oh! wonderful Chastity, that wins from Jesus such an inheritance as this! Peter, says St. Peter Damian, shall have left to him the Church, the Mother of men; but John, shall receive Mary, the Mother of God, whom he will love as his own dearest Treasure, and to whom he will stand in Jesus' stead; whilst Mary will tenderly love John, her Jesus' Friend, as her Son.
Can we be surprised after this, that St. John is looked upon by the Church as one of her greatest glories? He is a Relative of Jesus in the flesh; he is an Apostle, a Virgin, the Friend of the Divine Spouse, the Eagle, the Theologian, the Son of Mary; he is an Evangelist, by the history he has given of the Life of his Divine Master and Friend; he is a Sacred Writer, by the three Epistles he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost; he is a Prophet, by his mysterious Apocalypse, wherein are treasured the secrets of time and eternity. But, is he a Martyr? Yes, for if he did not complete his sacrifice, he drank the Chalice of Jesus (St. Matth, xx. 22), when, after being cruelly scourged, he was thrown into a caldron of boiling oil, before the Latin Gate, at Rome. He was, therefore, a Martyr in desire and intention, though not in fact. If our Lord, wishing to prolong a life so dear to the Church, as well as to show how he loves and honours Virginity,—miraculously stayed the effects of the frightful punishment, St. John had, on his part, unreservedly accepted Martyrdom.
Such is the companion of Stephen at the Crib, wherein lies our Infant Jesus. If the Protomartyr dazzles us with the robes he wears of the bright scarlet of his own blood—is not the virginal whiteness of John's vestment fairer than the untrod snow? The spotless beauty of the Lilies of Mary's adopted Son, and the bright vermilion of Stephen's Roses—what is there more lovely than their union? Glory, then, be to our New-Born King, whose court is tapestried with such heaven-made colours as these! Yes, Bethlehem's Stable is a very heaven on earth, and we have seen its transformation. First, we saw Mary and Joseph alone there—they were adoring Jesus in his Crib; then, immediately, there descended a heavenly host of Angels singing the wonderful Hymn; the Shepherds soon followed, the humble simple-hearted Shepherds; after these, entered Stephen the Crowned, and John the Beloved Disciple; and, even before there enters the pageant of the devout Magi, we shall have others coming in, and there will be, each day, grander glory in the Cave, and gladder joy in our hearts. Oh! this Birth of our Jesus! Humble as it seems, yet, how divine! What King or Emperor ever received, in his gilded cradle, honours like these shown to the Babe of Bethlehem? Let us unite our homage with that given him by these the favoured inmates of his court. Yesterday, the sight of the Palm in Stephen's hand animated us, and we offered to our Jesus the promise of a stronger Faith: to-day, the Wreath, that decks the brow of the Beloved Disciple, breathes upon the Church the heavenly fragrance of Virginity—an intenser love of Purity must be our resolution, and our tribute to the Lamb.
St. John, Apostle and Evangelist of Jesus Christ, a brother of St James [the Greater], and son of Zebedee and Salome, was born at Bethsaida, a town in Galilee. Christ, our Lord, called him and his brother James to follow Him, at the time when they were mending their nets in a boat on the shore of the Sea of Genesareth. John, without delay, left all he possessed, even his own father, and, with his brother, followed the Lord. Although the youngest of the Apostles, he was beloved by the Saviour above all the others; whence he is several times mentioned in the Gospel, as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” The cause of this special love of Jesus for him, was, according to the Holy Fathers, his virginal purity, which he kept undefiled, and the tender love he bore to the Lord. “He was more beloved than all the other Apostles,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, “on account of his purity.” “For the same reason,” says St. Anselm, “God revealed more mysteries to him than to the other Apostles. Justly,” says he, “did Christ the Lord reveal the greatest mysteries to him, because he surpassed all in virginal purity.” It is evident from the Gospel that St. John was one of the most intimate of the friends of the Lord, and was, in consequence, sometimes admitted into Christ's presence, when, except Peter and James [the Greater], no other Apostle was allowed to be near. Thus, he was with Christ when He healed the mother-in-law of Peter; when He raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead; and when He was transfigured on Mount Thabor. He also accompanied Christ when He suffered His agony in the Garden of Olives. The other two above-named Apostles [St. Peter and St. James the Greater] shared these favors with John; but none was permitted to lean upon the Saviour's bosom, at the last supper, save John; none was recommended as son to the divine Mother, but John. Only he, of all the Apostles, followed Christ to Mount Calvary, and remained there with Him until His death. To recompense this love, Christ gave him to His Mother as her son, when He said: “Behold thy Mother!” Christ, who had lived in virginal chastity, would trust His Virgin Mother to no one else but John, who himself lived in virginal purity. As St. Jerome says: “Christ, a virgin, recommended Mary, a virgin, to John, a virgin.” No greater grace could John have asked of Christ; no more evident proof could he have received of His love. The most precious thing which the Lord possessed on earth, His holy Mother, He commended to His beloved disciple. He took him as brother, by giving Him as son to His mother. Who cannot see from all this that Christ loved and honored St. John above all others? How deeply this beloved disciple must have suffered by seeing his Saviour die so ignominious a death, is easily to be conceived; and St. Chrysostom hesitates not to call him, therefore, a manifold martyr. After Christ had died on the Cross, had been taken from it, and interred with all possible honors, St. John returned home with the divine Mother, who was now also his mother, and waited for the glorious resurrection of the Lord. When this had taken place, he participated in the many apparitions of the Lord, by which the disciples were comforted, and doubtless received again particular marks of love from the Saviour. He afterwards assisted, with the divine Mother and the Apostles, and other disciples of Christ, at the wonderful Ascension of the Lord. With these, also, he received, after a ten days' preparation, the Holy Ghost, on the great festival of Pentecost. Soon after this, he and Peter had, before all others, the grace to suffer for Christ's sake. For when these two Apostles had, in the name of Christ, miraculously healed a poor cripple who was lying at the door of the temple of Jerusalem, and improved this opportunity to show to the assembled people that Jesus of Nazareth was the true Messiah, they were seized, at the instigation of the chief priests, and were cast into prison. On the following day, the priests came together, and John and Peter were called before them, and asked in whose name, and by what power they had healed the cripple. Peter and John answered fearlessly, that it had been done in the name of Jesus Christ. The high priest dared not do anything further to them, but, setting them free, prohibited them from preaching, in future, the name of Christ. The two holy Apostles, however, nothing daunted, said: “If it be just in the sight of God to hear you rather than God, judge ye: for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
St. John remained for some time in Jerusalem after this, and, with the other Apostles, was zealous in his endeavors to convert the Jews. When the Apostles separated, to preach the gospel over all the world, Asia Minor was assigned to St. John. Going thither, he began with great zeal his apostolic functions, and, by the gift of miracles, he converted many thousands to the faith of Christ. The many bishoprics which he instituted in the principal cities sufficiently prove this. In the course of time, he went also to other countries, preaching everywhere, with equal success, the word of Christ. The Emperor Domitian, who, after the death of the Emperor Nero, again began to persecute the Christians, ordered his officers to apprehend John, and bring him to Rome. Hardly had the holy Apostle arrived there, when he was commanded by the Emperor to sacrifice to the gods. As the Saint refused this, and fearlessly confessed Christ, the Emperor had him most cruelly scourged, and afterwards cast into a large caldron, filled with boiling oil. The Saint signed himself and the caldron with the holy cross, and remained unharmed when he was cast into it. This gave him an opportunity to announce, with great energy, to the assembled people, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The tyrant, who could not suffer this, had him taken out of the caldron, and sentenced him to banishment on the island of Patmos, to work in the mines, and perform other hard labor, in company with other Christians. St. John had, at that time, reached his ninetieth year, but was willing to undergo the unjust sentence. After his arrival on the island, he had many and wonderful visions, which, by command of God, he put down in writing. The book which contains them is a part of Holy Writ, called the Apocalypse, or Revelation of St. John, a book which, according to St. Jerome, contains almost as many mysteries as words. After the death of Domitian, St. John was liberated, and returning to Ephesus, remained there until his death. He outlived all the other Apostles, as he reached the age of 100 years. His great labors, wearisome travels, and the many hardships he endured, at last enfeebled him to such an extent, that he could not go to the church without being carried. Frequently he repeated, in his exhortations, the words: “My little children, love one another.” Some, annoyed at this, asked him why he so often repeated these words. He answered: “Because it is the commandment of the Lord; and if that is done, it suffices.” By this he meant, that if we love each other rightly, we also love God; and when we love God and our neighbor, no more is needed to gain salvation; as love to God and to our neighbor contains the keeping of all other commandments.
The holy Apostle, who had suffered and labored so much for his beloved Master, was, at length, in the year 104, called by Him into heaven to receive his eternal reward. Besides the Apocalypse, to which we referred above, St. John also wrote three Epistles and his Gospel, on account of which he is called Evangelist. In his Gospel he gives many more facts than the other Evangelists, to prove the divinity of Jesus Christ; as, at that period, several heretics, as Cerinthus, Ebion, and the Nicolaites fought against this truth. In his Epistles, he exhorts particularly to love God and our neighbor, and to avoid heretics. In the first, among other things, he explains that love to God consists in keeping the commandments of God, which are not difficult to keep. “For this is the charity of God,” writes he, “that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not heavy.” Of the love of our neighbor he says, that it must manifest itself in works, that is, we must assist our brethren in their need, and, if necessary, give even our lives for them, after the example of Christ. The holy Apostle exemplified his words by his actions. Several holy fathers relate the following of him. The Saint had given a youth in charge of a bishop, with the commendation to instruct him carefully in virtue and sacred sciences. After some years, when the Saint returned to this bishop, and asked for the young man, he heard with deep sorrow that he had secretly left, and had joined the highwaymen, and had even become their chief. The holy Apostle set out at once, and went, not without danger to his life, into the woods, where the unhappy young man was said, to be. Finding him, he spoke most kindly to him, and succeeded in bringing him back. It is touching to read how the holy, man promised to atone for the youth's sins, if he would repent, and lead a better life. The youth followed the Saint's admonition, and did penance with such fervor and zeal that the Saint hesitated not to give him charge of the church at Ephesus.
Another account of St. John, the Evangelist.
St. John the Evangelist, who is styled in the gospel, “The beloved disciple of Christ,” and is called by the Greeks, “The Divine,” was a Galilean, the son of Zebedee and Salome, and younger brother to St. James the Great, with whom he was brought up to the trade of fishing. From his acquaintance with the high-priest Caiphas, St. Jerom infers that he was a gentleman by birth; but the meanness of his father's trade, and the privacy of his fortune sufficiently prove that his birth could not much distinguish him in the world, neither could his education give him any tincture of secular learning. His acquaintance with the high-priest may be placed to some other account. Nicephorus Calixtus, a modern historian of the fourteenth century (in whom, amidst much rubbish, several curious anecdotes are found), says, we know not upon what authority, that St. John had sold a paternal estate to Annas father-in-law to Caiphas, a little before the death of our Lord. Before his coming to Christ he seems to have been a disciple to John the Baptist, several thinking him to have been that other disciple that was with St. Andrew when they left the Baptist to follow our Saviour (St. John, i. 37); so particularly does our Evangelist relate all the circumstances, through modesty concealing his own name, as in other parts of the gospel. He was properly called to be a disciple of our Lord, with his brother James, as they were mending their nets (St. Matth, iv. 21) on the same day, and soon after Jesus had called Peter and Andrew. These two brothers continued still to follow their profession, but upon seeing miraculous draught of fishes, they left all things to attach themselves more closely to him (St. Luke, v. 11). Christ gave them the surname of Boanerges, or sons of thunder (St. Mark, iii. 17), to express the strength and activity of their faith in publishing the law of God without fearing the power of man. This epithet has been particularly applied to St. John, who was truly a voice of thunder in proclaiming aloud the most sublime mysteries of the divinity of Christ. He is said to have been the youngest of all the apostles, probably about twenty-five years of age, when he was called by Christ; for he lived seventy years after the suffering of his divine Master. Piety, wisdom, and prudence equalled him in his youth to those who with their grey hairs had been long exercised in the practice and experience of virtue; and, by a pure and blameless life he was honourable in the world. Our divine Redeemer had a particular affection for him above the rest of the apostles; insomuch that when St. John speaks of himself, he saith, that he was “The disciple whom Jesus loved;” and frequently he mentions himself by this only characteristic; which he did not out of pride to distinguish himself, but out of gratitude and tender love for his blessed Master. Humility suffered him not to mention any of his other great privileges; but tenderness and love made him never forget, but on every occasion to repeat this title, which was the strongest motive to inflame his own love of his Saviour, who, without any merit on his side, had prevented him by such distinguishing love. If we inquire into the causes of this particular love of Christ towards him, which was not blind or unreasonable, the first was doubtless, as St. Austin observes, the love which this disciple bore him; secondly, his meekness and peaceable disposition, by which he was extremely like Christ himself; thirdly, his virginal purity. For St. Austin tells us that, “The singular privilege of his chastity rendered him worthy of the more particular love of Christ, because being chosen by him a virgin, he always remained such.” St. Jerom sticks not to call all his other privileges and graces the recompense of his chastity, especially that which our Lord did him by recommending in his last moments his virgin mother to the care of this virgin disciple. St. Ambrose, St. Chrysostom, St. Epiphanius, and other fathers frequently make the same reflection. Christ was pleased to choose a virgin for his mother, a virgin for his precursor, and a virgin for his favourite disciple; and his church suffers only those who live perfectly chaste to serve him in his priesthood, where they daily touch and offer his virginal flesh on his holy altar. In heaven virgins follow the spotless Lamb wherever he goes (Apoc, xiv. 4). Who then can doubt but purity is the darling virtue of Jesus? “who feeds among the lilies” of untarnished chastity. For “he who loves purity of heart, will have the king his friend.” Another motive of the preference which Jesus gave to this apostle in his intimacy and predilection, was his perfect innocence and simplicity without guile in his youth. Virtue in that age has peculiar charms to Christ, and is always a seed of extraordinary graces and blessings.
The love which Jesus bears is never barren. Of this his sufferings and death are the strongest proof. As St. John had the happiness to be distinguished by Christ in his holy love, so was he also in its glorious effects. Though these principally consisted in the treasure of interior graces and virtues, exterior tokens, helps, and comforts were not wanting. This appears from the familiarity and intimacy with which his divine Master favoured him above the rest of the apostles. Christ would have him with Peter and James privy to his Transfiguration, and to his agony in the garden; and he showed St. John particular instances of kindness and affection above all the rest. Witness this apostle's lying in our Saviour's bosom at the last supper; it being then the custom among the Jews often to lie along upon couches at meals, so that one might lean his head upon the bosom of him that lay before him: which honour Christ allowed St. John (St. John, xiii. 25). No tongue certainly can express the sweetness and ardour of the holy love which our saint on that occasion drew from the divine breast of our Lord, which was the true furnace of pure and holy love. St. John repeats this circumstance several times in his gospel to show its importance, and his grateful remembrance. We discover in the holy scriptures a close particular friendship between St. John and St. Peter, which was doubtless founded in the ardour of their love and zeal for their divine Master. When St. Peter durst not, as it seems, says St. Jerom, propound the question to our Lord, who it was that should betray him, he by signs desired St. John to do it, whose familiarity with Christ allowed him more easily such a liberty, and our Lord gave him to understand that Judas was the wretch, though, at least, except St. John, none that were present seemed to have understood his answer, which was only given by the signal of the traitor's dipping a morsel of bread with him in the dish. St. Chrysostom says, that when our Lord was apprehended, and the other apostles fled, St. John never forsook him. Several other ancients believe that he was that young man who followed Jesus with a linen cloth cast about his naked body; by the looseness of which he disengaged himself from the officers who otherwise would have laid hold of him, had he not made his escape by flying away naked. Some interpreters suppose this linen garment to have been a night vest which it might be customary to wear at supper, and in the night, it being then night. However, if this was St. John, he soon followed Christ again; and many imagine that he was the disciple who being known to the high-priest, got Peter admitted by the servants into the court of Caiphas.
Our saint seems to have accompanied Christ through all his sufferings; at least he attended him during his crucifixion, standing under his cross, owning him in the midst of arms and guards, and in the thickest crowds of his implacable enemies. Here it was that our Lord declared the assurance he had of this disciple's affection and fidelity, by recommending with his dying words, his holy mother to his cure; giving him the charge to love, honour, comfort and provide for her with that dutifulness and attention which the character of the best and most indulgent mother challenges from an obedient and loving son. What more honourable testimony could Christ have given him of his confidence, regard, and affection, than this charge? Accordingly St. John took her to his home, and ever after made hers principal part of his care. Christ had at the same time given her to St. John for his mother, saying to her, “Woman, be hold thy son.” Our Lord disdained not to call us all brethren, as St. Paul observes. And he recommended us all as such to the maternal care of his own mother: but amongst these adoptive sons St. John is the first-born. To him alone was given this special privilege of being treated by her as is if she had been his natural mother, and of reciprocally treating her as such by respectfully honouring, serving, and assisting her in person. This was the recompense of his constancy and fervour in his divine Master's service and love. This holy apostle, though full of inexpressible grief for the death of his divine Master yet left not the cross, and saw his side opened with a spear; was attentive to the whole mystery, and saw the blood and water issue from the wound, of which he bore record. It is believed that he was present at the taking down of our Lord’s body from the cross, and helped to present it to his most blessed mother, and afterwards to lay it in the sepulchre, watering it with abundance of tears, and kissing it with extraordinary devotion and tenderness. He may be said to have left his heart with it; for his soul was more where it loved than where it lived.
When Mary Magdalen and other devout women brought word that they had not found Christ's body in the sepulchre, Peter and John ran immediately thither, and John, who was younger and more nimble, running faster, arrived first at the place. Some few days after this, St. John went a fishing in the lake of Tiberias, with other disciples; and Jesus appeared on the shore in a disguised form. St. John, directed by the instinct of love, knew him, and gave notice to Peter: they all dined with him on the shore; and when dinner was ended, Christ walked along the shore questioning Peter about the sincerity of his love, gave him the charge of his church, and foretold his martyrdom. St. Peter seeing St. John walk behind, and being solicitous for his friend, asked Jesus what would become of him; supposing that as Christ testified a particular love for him, he would show him some extraordinary favour. Christ checked his curiosity, by telling him that it was not his business if he should prolong John's life till he should come; which most understand of his coming to destroy Jerusalem; an epoch which St. John survived. Some of the disciples, however, misapprehended this answer so far as to infer that John would remain in the body till Christ shall come to judge the world: though St. John has taken care in his gospel to tell us that no such thing was meant. After Christ's ascension, we find these two zealous apostles going up to the temple, and miraculously healing a poor cripple. Our two apostles were imprisoned, but released again with an order no more to preach Christ, but no threats daunted their courage (Acts, iv. 19). They were sent by the college of the apostles to confirm the converts which Philip the Deacon had made in Samaria (Acts, viii. 14). St. John was again apprehended by the Jews, with the rest of the apostles, and scourged; but they went from the council rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus (Acts, v. 41). When St. Paul went up to Jerusalem, three years after his conversion, he saw there only St. Peter and St. James the Less, St. John being probably absent. But St. Paul going thither in the fourteenth year after his conversion, addressed himself to those who seemed to be pillars of the church, chiefly Peter and John, who confirmed to him his mission among the infidels (Gal, ii. 9). About that time St. John assisted at the council which the apostles held at Jerusalem in the year 51. For St. Clement of Alexandria tells us, that all the apostles attended in it. That father says, that Christ at his ascension preferred St. Peter, St. James the Less, and St. John to the rest of the apostles, though there was no strife or pre-eminence amongst any in that sacred college, and this St. James was chosen Bishop of Jerusalem. St. Clement adds, that our Lord particularly instructed these three apostles in many sacred mysteries, and that the rest of the apostles received much holy science from them.
St. John seems to have remained chiefly at Jerusalem for a long time, though he sometimes preached abroad. Parthia is said to have been the chief scene of his apostolical labours. St. Austin sometimes quotes his first epistle under the title of his Epistle to the Parthians; and by a title then prefixed to it in some copies it seems to have been addressed to the Jews that were dispersed through the provinces of the Parthian empire. Certain late missionaries in the East Indies assure us, that the inhabitants of Bassora, a city upon the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates, on the Persian gulf, affirm, by a tradition received from their ancestors, that St. John planted the Christian faith in their country. He came to Jerusalem in the year 62 to meet the rest of the apostles who were then living, when they chose in council St. Simeon, bishop of that church after the martyrdom of St. James the Less. It seems to have been after the death of the Blessed Virgin that St. John visited Lesser Asia, making those parts his peculiar care, and residing at Ephesus, the capital of that country. It is certain that he was not come thither in 64, when St. Paul left St. Timothy bishop of that city. St. Irenӕus tells us, that he did not settle there till after the death of SS. Peter and Paul. St. Timothy continued still Bishop of Ephesus till his martyrdom in 97. But the apostolical authority of St. John was universal and superior, and the charity and humility of these two holy men prevented all differences upon account of their jurisdiction. St. John preached in other parts, and took care of all the churches of Asia, which, St. Jerom says, he founded and governed. Tertullian adds that he placed bishops in all that country; by which we are to understand that he confirmed and governed those which SS. Peter and Paul had established, and appointed others in many other churches which he founded. It is even probable that in the course of his long life, he put bishops into all the churches of Asia: for while the apostles lived, they supplied the churches with bishops of their own appointing, by the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and by virtue of their commission to plant the church.
St. John, in his extreme old age, continued often to visit the churches of Asia, and sometimes undertook journeys to assume to the sacred ministry a single person whom the Holy Ghost had marked out to him. Appollonius, not the Roman senator, apologist, and martyr, but a Greek father who wrote against the Montanists, and confuted their pretended prophecies step by step, about the year 192, assures us, that St. John raised a dead man to life at Ephesus. A certain priest of Asia having been convicted of writing a fabulous account of the voyages of St. Paul and St. Thecla, in defence and honour of that apostle, was deposed by St. John. St. Epiphanius affirms, that St. John was carried into Asia by the special direction of the Holy Ghost, to oppose the heresies of Ebion and Cerinthus. St. Irenӕus relates that St. John, who ordinarily never made use of a bath, went to bathe on some extraordinary occasion, but understanding that Cerinthus was within, started back, and said to some friends that were with him, “Let us, my brethren, make haste and be gone, lest the bath, wherein is Cerinthus, the enemy of the Truth, should fall upon our heads.” Dr. Conyers Middleton, in his posthumous works, pretends this anecdote must be false, because inconsistent with this apostle's extraordinary meekness. But St. Irenӕus tells us he received this account from the very mouth of St. Polycarp, St. John's disciple, whose behaviour to Marcion is an instance of the same spirit. This great apostle would teach his flock to beware of the conversation of those who wilfully corrupted the truth of religion, and by their ensnaring speeches endeavoured to seduce others. This maxim he inculcates in his second epistle (II St. John, x), but this precaution was restrained to the authors of the pestilential seduction. Nevertheless, the very characteristic of St. John was universal meekness and charity towards all the world. But towards himself he was always most severe; and St. Epiphanius tells us, that he never wore any clothes but a tunic and a linen garment, and never ate flesh; and that his way of living was not unlike that of St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem, who was remarkable for austerity and mortification.
In the second general persecution, in the year 95, St. John was apprehended by the proconsul of Asia, and sent to Rome, where he was miraculously preserved from death when thrown into a caldron of boiling oil. On account of this trial, the title of martyr is given him by the fathers, who say that thus was fulfilled what Christ had foretold him, that he should drink of his cup (St. Matth, xx. 23). The idolaters, who pretended to account for such miracles by sorcery, blinded themselves to this evidence, and the tyrant, Domitian, banished St. John into the isle of Patmos, one of the Sporades in the Archipelago. In this retirement the apostle was favoured with those heavenly visions which he has recorded in the canonical book of the Revelations, or of the Apocalypse: they were manifested to him on a Sunday, in the year 96. The first three chapters are evidently a prophetic instruction given to seven neighbouring churches of Asia Minor, and to the bishops who governed them. The three last chapters celebrate the triumph of Christ, the judgment and reward of his saints. The intermediate chapters are variously expounded. By these visions God gave St. John a prospect of the future state of the church. His exile was not of long continuance; for Domitian being slain in September in 96, all his edicts and public acts were declared void by a decree of the senate, on account of his excessive cruelty; and his successor, Nerva, recalled all those whom he had banished. St. John, therefore, returned to Ephesus in 97, where he found that St. Timothy had been crowned with martyrdom on the preceding 22nd of January. The apostle was obliged, by the pressing entreaties of the whole flock, to take upon him the particular government of that church, which he held till the reign of Trajan. St. John, in imitation of the high-priest of the Jews, wore a plate of gold upon his forehead, as an ensign of his Christian priesthood, as Polycrates informs us. St. Epiphanius relates the same of St. James, the Bishop of Jerusalem, and the author of the history of the martyrdom of St. Mark the Evangelist, attributes to him the same ornament. St. John celebrated the Christian Pasch on the 14th day of the moon, agreeing as to time with the Jewish passover; but was so far from holding the Jewish rites of obligation in the New Law, that he condemned that heresy in the Nazarites, and in Ebion and Cerinthus. As his apostolic labours were chiefly bestowed among the Jews, he judged such a conformity, which was then allowable, conducive to their conversion.
The ancient fathers inform us, that it was principally to confute the blasphemies of Ebion and Cerinthus, who denied the divinity of Christ, and even his pre-existence before his temporal birth, that St. John composed his gospel. Another reason was, to supply certain omissions of the other three gospels, which he read and confirmed by his approbation. He therefore principally insists on the actions of Christ, from the commencement of his ministry to the death of the Baptist, wherein the others were sparing; and he largely records his discourses, mentioning fewer miracles. It being his principal aim to set forth the divinity of Christ, he begins with his eternal generation, and his creating the world; and both his subject and manner of treating it is so sublime and mysterious, that Theodoret calls his gospel “a theology which human understanding can never fully penetrate and find out.” Hence he is compared by the ancients to an eagle, soaring aloft within the clouds, whither the weak eye of man is unable to follow him; and by the Greeks he is honoured with the title of The Divine. St. Jerom relates, that “when he was earnestly pressed by the brethren to write his gospel, he answered he would do it, if by ordering a common fast they would all put up their prayers together to God; which being ended, replenished with the clearest and fullest revelation coming from heaven, he burst forth into that preface: “In the beginning was the word,” &c. St. Chrysostom and other fathers mention that the evangelist prepared himself for this divine undertaking by retirement, prayer, and contemplation. Some think he wrote his gospel in the isle of Patmos; but it is the more general opinion that he composed it after his return to Ephesus, about the year of our Lord 98, of his age ninety-two, after our Lord's ascension sixty-four. This apostle also wrote three epistles. The first is Catholic, or addressed to all Christians, especially his converts, whom he presses to purity and holiness of manners, and he cautions them against the crafty insinuations of seducers, especially the Simonians and Cerinthians. The other two epistles are short, and directed to particular persons: the one a lady of honourable quality, called, as it seems, Electa (though some think this rather an epithet of honour than a proper name); the other Gaius, or Caius, a courteous entertainer of all indigent Christians; rather one of that name at Derbe, mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts, xx. 4), than the Caius of Corinth, of whom St. Paul speaks (Rom, xvi. 23). The style and sentiments in St. John's gospel and in these epistles are the same; and the same inimitable spirit of charity reigns throughout all these writings.
The largest measures of this charity with which our apostle's breast was inflamed, he expressed in the admirable zeal which he showed for the souls of men; in which service he spent himself without ever being weary in journeys, in preaching, in enduring patiently all fatigues, breaking through all difficulties and discouragements, shunning no dangers that he might rescue men from error, idolatry, or the snares of vice. A remarkable instance is recorded by Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius. When St. John returned from Patmos to Ephesus, he made a visitation of the churches of Lesser Asia to correct abuses, and supply them with worthy pastors. Coming to a neighbouring city, after having made a discourse, he observed a young man in the company, of a fair stature and pleasing aspect, and being much taken with him, he presented him to the bishop whom he had ordained for that see, saying, “In the presence of Christ, and before this congregation, I earnestly recommend this young man to your care.” The bishop took the trust upon him, and promised to discharge it with fidelity. The apostle repeated his injunction, and went back to Ephesus. The young man was lodged in the bishop's house, instructed, kept to good discipline, and at length baptized and confirmed by him. When this was done, the bishop, as if the person had been now in a state of security, began to slacken the reins, and be less watchful over him. This was quickly perceived by a company of idle, debauched wretches, who allured the youth into their society. By bad company he soon forgot the precepts of the Christian religion, and passing from one degree of wickedness to another, he at length stifled all remorse, put himself at the head of a band of robbers, and, taking to the highway, became the most cruel and profligate of the whole band. Sometime after, St. John was again called to the same city, and when he had settled other affairs, said to the bishop, “Restore to me the trust which Jesus Christ and I committed to you in presence of your church.” The bishop was surprised, imagining he meant some trust of money. But the saint explained himself that he spoke of the young man, and the soul of his brother which he had entrusted to his care. Then the bishop, with sighs and tears, said, “Alas! he is dead.” “What did he die of?” said our saint. The bishop replied, “He is dead to God, is turned robber, and instead of being in the church with us, he hath seized on a mountain, where he lives with a company of wicked men like himself.” The holy apostle having heard this, rent his garments, and fetching a deep sigh, said, with tears, “Oh! what a guardian have I provided to watch over a brother's soul!” Presently he called for a horse and guide, and rode away to the mountain where the robber and his gang kept their rendezvous; and being made prisoner by their sentinels, he did not offer to fly or beg his life, but cried out, “It is for this that I am come; lead me to your captain.” They conducted the saint to him, who stood at first armed to receive him; but when he saw it was St. John, was seized with a mixture of shame and fear, and began to make off with precipitation and confusion. The apostle, forgetting his feebleness and old age, pursued him full speed, and cried out after him in these words: “Child, why do you thus fly from me, your father, unarmed and an old man? My son, have compassion on me. There is room for repentance; your salvation is not irrecoverable. I will answer for you to Jesus Christ. I am ready most willingly to lay down my life for you, as Jesus Christ laid down his for all men. I will pledge my soul for yours. Stay, believe me, I am sent by Christ.” At these words the young man stood still, with his eyes fixed upon the ground; then throwing away his arms, he trembled and burst into tears. When the apostle came up, the penitent, bathed in tears, embraced his tender father, imploring forgiveness; but he hid his right hand, which had been sullied with many crimes. By his sighs and bitter compunction, he endeavoured to satisfy for his sins as much as he was able, and to find a second baptism in his tears, as our author, St. Clement, emphatically expresses it. The apostle, with wonderful condescension and affection, fell on his knees before him, kissed his right hand, which the other endeavoured in confusion to conceal, gave him fresh assurances of the divine pardon, and earnestly praying for him, brought him back to the church. He continued some time in that place for his sake, praying and fasting with him and for him, and comforting and encouraging him with the most affecting passages of the holy scriptures. Nor did he leave the place till he had reconciled him to the church, that is, by absolution restored him to the participation of the sacraments. This charity, which our great saint was penetrated with and practised himself, he constantly and most affectionately pressed upon others. It is the great vein that runs through his sacred writings, especially his epistles, where he urges it as the great and peculiar law of Christianity, without which all pretensions to this divine religion are vain and frivolous, useless and insignificant: and this was his constant practice to his dying day. St. Jerom relates, that when age and weakness grew upon him at Ephesus, so that he was no longer able to preach, or make long discourses to the people, he used always to be carried to the assembly of the faithful by his disciples with great difficulty; and every time said to his flock only these words, “My dear children, love one another.” When his auditors, wearied with hearing constantly the same thing, asked him why he always repeated the same words, he replied, “Because it is the precept of the Lord, and if you comply with it, you do enough:” an answer, says St. Jerom, worthy the great St. John, the favourite disciple of Christ, and which ought to be engraved in characters of gold, or rather to be wrote in the heart of every Christian. St. John died in peace at Ephesus, in the third year of Trajan (as seems to be gathered from Eusebius's chronicle), that is, the hundredth of the Christian era, or the sixty-sixth from our Lord's crucifixion, the saint being then about ninety-four years old, according to St. Epiphanius. Some amongst the ancients pretend that St. John never died, but are very well confuted by St. Jerom and St. Austin. The same opinion has been revived by James Le Fevre d'Etaples and Florentinius, whom Tillemont has accurately refuted. St. John was buried on a mountain without the town. The dust of his tomb was carried away out of devotion, and was famous for miracles, as St. Austin, St. Ephrem, and St. Gregory of Tours mention. A stately church stood formerly over this tomb, which is at present a Turkish mosque. The 26th of September is consecrated to the memory of St. John in the Greek church; and in the Latin the 27th of December.
The great love which this glorious saint bore to his God and Redeemer, and which he kindled from his master's divine breast, inspired him with the most vehement and generous charity for his neighbour. Without the sovereign love of God no one can please him. “He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is charity.” (I St. John, iv. 8) “Let us therefore love God, because God first loved us.” (I St. John, iv. 19) This is the first maxim in a spiritual life, which this apostle most tenderly inculcates. The second is that our fidelity in shunning all sin, and in keeping all God's commandments is the proof of our love for God (I St. John, iii; iv), but especially a sincere love for our neighbour is its great test. “For he that loveth not his brother whom he seeth, how can he love God whom he seeth not?” says St. John (I St. John, iv. 20). Our blessed Redeemer, in the excess of his boundless charity for all men, presses this duty upon all men, and, as an infinitely tender parent, conjures all his children to love one another even for his sake. He who most affectionately loves them all, will have them all to be one in him, and therefore commands us to bear with one another's infirmities, and to forgive one another all debts or injuries, and, as much as in us lies, “to live peaceably with all men.” (Heb, xii. 14; Rom, xii. 18) This is the very genius and spirit of his law, without which we can have nothing of a Christian disposition, or deserve the name of his children or disciples. Neither can we hope with a peevish, passionate, or unforgiving temper ever to be heirs of heaven. Harmony, goodness, unanimity, mutual complacency, and love will be the invariable temper of all its blessed inhabitants. No ruffling passion, no unfriendly thought will ever be found amongst them. Those happy regions are the abode of everlasting peace and love. “We must learn and cultivate this temper of heaven here on earth, or can never hope to get thither. We are all professedly travelling together towards that blessed place, where, if we are so happy as to meet, we shall thus cordially embrace each other. Does not this thought alone suffice to make us forget little uneasinesses, and to prevent our falling out by the way? St. John teaches us that to attain to this heavenly and Christian disposition, to this two-fold charity towards God and towards our neighbour for his sake, we must subdue our passions, and die to the inordinate love of the world and ourselves. His hatred and contempt of the world was equal to his love of God, and he cries out to us, “My little children, love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any one loves the world the charity of the Father is not in him.”
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Christmas, Vol. I, Edition 1868;
The Lives of the Saints, Rev. F.X. Weninger D.D., S.J. Vol. II, Permissu Superiorum, 1876;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
St. John, the Beloved of our Lord, pray for us.