Aquinas on John 1: Verses 3 to 5: Lecture 2 & 3

Attend the Meetup Live here on Mar 3 at 9pm ET


1. How were all things made?

2. What does “In him was life” mean?

3. What is light of men?

4. What are the many meanings of darkness?

5. How does John 1 compare to Genesis 1 & 2?

Aquinas Lectures 2 & 3 on John 1:3-5


3 All things were made through him,

and without him nothing was made.

What was made 4a in him was life.

68 After the Evangelist has told of the existence and nature of the Divine Word, so far as it can be told by man, he then shows the might of his power. First, he shows his power with respect to all things that come into existence. 

69 The first clause, All things were made through him, is used to show three things concerning the Word. First, according to Chrysostom, to show the equality of the Word to the Father. He shows the omnipotence of the Son, saying, All things were made through him. For to be the principle of all the things that are made is proper to the great omnipotent God. ”Thus the Word, through whom all things were made, is God, great and coequal to the Father.

70 Secondly, according to Hilary, this clause is used to show the coeternity of the Word with the Father. 

71 Thirdly, according to Augustine, this clause is used to show the consubstantiality of the Word with the Father. For if all things were made through the Word, the Word himself cannot be said to have been made. This Word, through whom all things are made, we call the only begotten Son of God, because he is neither made nor is he a creature. It is necessary to say that he is of the same substance with the Father, since every substance other than the divine essence is made. And so the Word, through whom all things were made, is consubstantial with the Father, since he is neither made, nor is he a creature.

72 And so in saying All things were made through him, you have, according to Chrysostom, the equality of the Word with the Father; the coeternity of the Word with the Father, according to Hilary; and the consubstantiality of the Word with the Father, according to Augustine.

And because the wisdom and power of the Father are attributed to the Son, as when we say, “Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24), then by appropriation we say that the Father does all things through the Son, i.e., through his wisdom. And so Augustine says that the phrase “from whom all things,” is appropriated to the Father; “through whom all things,” is appropriated to the Son; and “in whom all things,” is appropriated to the Holy Spirit. But if the “through” denotes causality from the standpoint of the thing produced, then the statement, “The Father does all things through the Son,” is not [mere] appropriation but proper to the Word, because the fact that he is a cause of creatures is had from someone else, namely the Father, from whom he has being.

77 If we carefully consider the words, All things were made through him, we can clearly see that the Evangelist spoke with the utmost exactitude. For whoever makes something must preconceive it in his wisdom, which is the form and pattern of the thing made: as the form preconceived in the mind of an artisan is the pattern of the cabinet to be made. So, God makes nothing except through the conception of his intellect, which is an eternally conceived wisdom, that is, the Word of God, and the Son of God. Accordingly, it is impossible that he should make anything except through the Son. And so Augustine says, in The Trinity, that the Word is the art full of the living patterns of all things. Thus it is clear that all things which the Father makes, he makes through him.

78 It should be remarked that, according to Chrysostom, all the things which Moses enumerates individually in God’s production of things, saying, “And God said, ‘Let there be light’” (Gn 1:3) and so forth, all these the Evangelist transcends and embraces in one phrase, saying, All things were made through him. The reason is that Moses wished to teach the emanation of creatures from God; hence he enumerated them one by one. But John, hastening toward loftier things, intends in this book to lead us specifically to a knowledge of the Creator himself.

The Evangelist adds, and without him nothing was made. As if to say: Not only all the things contained in the Gospels were made through him, but none of the things that were made, was made without him. And so, according to Chrysostom, this clause is added to bring out his total causality, and serves, as it were, to complete his previous statement.

86 In a certain homily attributed to Origen, and which begins, “The spiritual voice of the eagle,” we find another rather beautiful exposition. It says there that the Greek has thoris where the Latin has sine (without). Now thoris is the same as “outside” or “outside of.” It is as if he had said: All things were made through him in such a way that outside him nothing was made. And so he says this to show that all things are conserved through the Word and in the Word, as stated in Hebrews (1:3), “He sustains all things by his powerful word.” So lest anyone suppose that all things were made through the Word in such a way that he is merely the cause of their production and not of their continuation in existence, the Evangelist added, and without him nothing was made, i.e., nothing was made outside of him, because he encompasses all things, preserving them.

88 So then, this clause is added to show the universal causality of the Word, according to Chrysostom; his association with the Father, according to Hilary; the power of the Word in the preserving of things, according to Origen; and finally, the purity of his causality, because he is so the cause of good as not to be the cause of sin, according to Augustine, Origen, and a number of others.

90 There are, nevertheless, a number of ways to explain it without error. In that homily, “The spiritual voice,” we find this explanation: What was made in him, i.e., through him, was life, not in each thing itself, but in its cause. Therefore, since the cause of all effects produced by God is a certain life and an art full of living archetypes, for this reason What was made in him, i.e., through him, was life, in its cause, i.e., in God.

And so Origen, explaining it along these lines, says that although in himself the Son is life, yet he was made life for us by the fact that he gave us life, as is said, “Just as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will come to life” (1 Cor 15:22). And so he says “the Word that was made” life for us in himself was life, so that after a time he could become life for us; and so he immediately adds, and that life was the light of men.

94 Chrysostom has a different reading and punctuation, thus: And without him was made nothing that was made. The reason for this is that someone might believe that the Holy Spirit was made through the Word. So to exclude this, the Evangelist says, that was made, because the Holy Spirit is not something that is made. And afterward follows, In him was life, which is introduced for two reasons. First, to show that after the creation of all things his causality was indefectible not only with respect to the things already produced, but also with respect to things yet to be produced. As if to say: In him was life, by which he could not only produce all things, but which has an unfailing flow and a causality for producing things continually without undergoing any change, being a living fountain which is not diminished in spite of its continuous outflow; whereas collected water, that is not living [i..e., running] water, is diminished when it flows out, and is used up. So the Psalm (35:10) says, “With you is the fountain of life.” The second reason is to show that things are governed by the: Word. For since In him was life, this shows that he produced things by his intellect and will, not by a necessity of his nature, and that he governs the things he made. “The Word of God is living” (Heb 4:12).

Chrysostom is held in such esteem by the Greeks in his explanations that they admit no other where he expounded anything in Holy Scripture. For this reason, this passage in all the Greek works is found to be punctuated exactly as Chrysostom did, namely, And without him was made nothing that was made.


4b And that life was the light of men.

5 And the light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness did not overcome it.

95 Above, the Evangelist described the power of the Word insofar as he brought all things into existence; here he describes his power as it is related to men, saying that this Word is a light to men. As to the first point he says, And that life was the light of men.

96 Here we should note first that, according to Augustine and many others, light is more properly said of spiritual things than of sensible things. 

And so the Evangelist, speaking of the Word, not only says that he is life but also light, lest anyone suppose he means life without knowledge. And he says that he is the light of men, lest anyone suppose he meant only sensible knowledge, such as exists in the brutes.

Chrysostom says that the Evangelist intended in this Gospel to give us a knowledge of the Word precisely as directed to the salvation of men and therefore refers, in keeping with his aim. Origen, however, says that participation in this light pertains to men insofar as they have a rational nature; accordingly, when the Evangelist says, the light of men, he wants us to understand every rational nature.

99 We also see from this the perfection and dignity of this life, because it is intellectual or rational. But man, since he is master of his act, moves himself freely to all that he wills. Consequently, man has perfect life, as does every intellectual nature. And so the life of the Word, which is the light of men, is perfect life.

102 Having introduced a certain light, the Evangelist now considers its irradiation, saying, And the light shines in the darkness. This can be explained in two ways, according to the two meanings of “darkness.”

And the darkness did not overcome it, i.e., enclose it [i.e., intellectually]. For to overcome something [ comprehendere, to overcome, to comprehend, to seize or apprehend, and so forth], is to enclose and understand its boundaries. As Augustine says, to reach God with the mind is a great happiness; but to overcome [comprehend] him is impossible. And so, the darkness did not overcome it. 

103 We can explain this passage in another way by taking “darkness” as Augustine does, for the natural lack of wisdom in man, which is called a darkness. “And I saw that wisdom excels folly as much as light excels knowledge” (Ecc 2:13). Someone is without wisdom, therefore, because he lacks the light of divine wisdom. Consequently, just as the minds of the wise are lucid by reason of a participation in that divine light and wisdom, so by the lack of it they are darkness. Now the fact that some are darkness is not due to a defect in that light, since on its part it shines in the darkness and radiates upon all. Rather, the foolish are ‘without that light because the darkness did not overcome it, i.e., they did not apprehend it, not being able to attain a participation in it due to their foolishness; after having been lifted up, they did not persevere. “he hides his light,” i.e., the light of wisdom.

Although some minds are darkness, i.e., they lack savory and lucid wisdom, nevertheless no man is in such darkness as to be completely devoid of divine light, because whatever truth is known by anyone is due to a participation in that light which shines in the darkness; for every truth, no matter by whom it is spoken, comes from the Holy Spirit. Yet the darkness, i.e., men in darkness, did not overcome it, apprehend it in truth. This is the way, [ i.e., with respect to the natural influx of knowledge] that Origen and Augustine explain this clause.

104 Starting from And that life was the light of men, we can explain this in another way, according to the influx of grace, since we are illuminated by Christ.

After he had considered the creation of things through the Word, the Evangelist considers here the restoration of the rational creature through Christ, saying, And that life, of the Word, was the light of men. For the Son of God assumed flesh and came into the world to illumine all men with grace and truth. “I came into the world for this, to testify to the truth” (below 18:37); “As long as I am in the world I am the light of the world” (below 9:5). 

It was fitting to join light and life by saying, And that life was the light of men, in order to show that these two have come to us through Christ: life, through a participation in grace, “Grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ”; and light, by a knowledge of truth and wisdom.

105 According to this explanation, the light shines in the darkness, can be expounded in three ways, in the light of the three meanings of “darkness.”

In one way, we can take “darkness” for punishment. For any sadness and suffering of heart can be called a darkness, just as any joy can be called a light. “When I sit in darkness and in suffering the Lord is my light,” i.e., my joy and consolation. And so Origen says: In this explanation, the light shines in the darkness, is Christ coming into the world, having a body capable of suffering and without sin, but “in the likeness of sinful flesh”. The light is in the flesh, that is, the flesh of Christ, which is called a darkness insofar as it has a likeness to sinful flesh. As if to say: The light, i.e., the Word of God, veiled about by the darkness of the flesh, shines on the world.

106 Secondly, we can take “darkness” to mean the devils, as in Ephesians (6:12), “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness.” Looked at this way he says, the light, i.e., the Son of God, shines in the darkness, i.e., has descended into the world where darkness, i.e., the devils, hold sway: “Now the prince of this world will be cast out” (below 12:31). And the darkness, i.e., the devils, did not overcome it, i.e., were unable to obscure him by their temptations

107 Thirdly, we can take “darkness” for the error or ignorance which filled the whole world before the coming of Christ, “You were at one time darkness”. And so he says that the light, i.e., the incarnate Word of God, shines in the darkness, i.e., upon the men of the world, who are blinded by the darkness or error and ignorance. “To enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death”, “The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light”.And the darkness did not overcome it, i.e., did not overcome him. For in spite of the number of men darkened by sin, blinded by envy, shadowed over by pride, who have struggled against Christ (as is plain from the Gospel) by upbraiding him, heaping insults and calumnies upon him, and finally killing him, nevertheless they did not overcome it, i.e., gain the victory of so obscuring him that his brightness would not shine throughout the whole world. Wisdom (7:30) says, “Compared to light, she takes precedence, for night supplants it, but wisdom,” that is, the incarnate Son of God, “is not overcome by wickedness,” that is, of the Jews and of heretics, because it says, “She gave him the prize for his stern struggle that he might know that wisdom is mightier than all else” (Wis 10:12).

One thought on “Aquinas on John 1: Verses 3 to 5: Lecture 2 & 3

Please ask your Question, Add recommended Links & Write your comments here

%d bloggers like this: