The Johannine Comma
The standard Greek text of I John 5: 7—8 may be rendered literally:
Because there are three who testify, the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three are unto one.
The symbolism in the passage is obscure, as we have seen in the Commentary; and so it is no surprise that there have been attempts to clarify and that these have left marks upon the text in the course of transmission. The most famous, which refers to three heavenly witnesses, is known as the Johannine Comma and consists of the words italicized below
Because there are three who testify in heaven.
Father, Word, and Holy Spirit; and these three are one;
and there are three who testify on earth:
the Spirit and the water and the blood;
and these three are unto one.
The Comma offers some explanation for the Spirit, the water, and the blood (footnote 31 below) but leaves unexplained the exact witness that is borne. It is not surprising then that in the late eighth century, Heterius and Beatus in their response to the Archbishop of Toledo2 glossed the Comma by supplying information about the contents of the witness. But with or without further explanation the Comma is not pellucid. Isaac Newton, who was interested in the Bible as well as in mathematics, remarked of the Comma, “Let them make good sense of it who are able; for my part I can make none.” Without yielding to such despair, one may recognize that, even were the textual evidence for the Comma stronger, one could be suspicious on several scores that the Comma did not belong to I John. The terms “Holy Spirit” and personified “Word” are not found elsewhere in I John. Even in the GJohn Prologue the personified Word is not joined with the “Father” as in the Comma—the GJohn Prologue says, “The Word was with God
.” The Comma awkwardly has the Spirit both an earthly and a heavenly witness, and the latter idea is foreign to the Johannine picture where the Spirit/Paraclete bears witness on earth and within the Christian. No other passage in the NT betrays the trinitarian sophistication of the Comma, which mentions not only three divine entities (as does Matt 28:19) but also that they are one. And while such a statement of unity among the three divine figures would have been helpful in the trinitarian debates of the fourth century, it is awkward in the first-century context of I John where a plurality of witnesses was needed to give force to the argument. (In the undisputed Greek text of I John the three witnesses are “unto one,” i.e., of one accord; but they are not one witness.) Today scholars are virtually unanimous that the Comma arose well after the first century as a trinitarian reflection upon the original text of I John and was added to the biblical MSS. hundreds of years after I John was written. Nevertheless, the Comma has had such an important place in the history of textual criticism and in theology that it must be discussed in a serious commentary on the Johannine Epistles. This will be done under three headings: A. The Textual Evidence before A.D. 1500; B. Important Discussions since 1500; and C. The Origins of the Comma.
1 The word “comma” in this usage means part of a book or sentence. The Latin witnesses show variance as to the exact text of the Comma, e.g., most read the heavenly witnesses before the earthly ones, but early Instances such as Priscillian, Contra Varimadum
, Cassiodorus, and the Palimpsest of León have the opposite order. (Information about these authors and works will be given below under Al and C.) Kunstle, Comma 48, argues for a variant line 3 of the Comma as stated by Priscillian and the Palimpsest of León: “and these three are one in Christ Jesus ”—a variant that appears in the genuine text of I John 5:7-8 as well (footnote 9 below). Occasionally “Son” is read for “Word” in the Comma (e.g., Cassiodorus).
2 Ad Elipandum epistolam
1.26; PL 96, 909B.
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A. The Textual Evidence before 1500
The key to the Comma lies in the history of the Latin Bible in Spain, but first let us discuss the non-Latin evidence (or lack thereof) pertinent to the Comma.
1. The Non-Latin Evidence
The italicized words above that constitute the Comma appear in only eight among some five thousand known Greek biblical MSS. and lectionaries; and in none of the eight can they be dated before A.D. 1400. In four of the eight the Comma appears in the text; in the other four it is a marginal addition serving as an alternative or variant reading. The eight are as follows according to the Gregory enumeration
• 61: the Codex Montfortianus (Britannicus), an early-sixteenth-century MS. at Trinity College, Dublin.4This codex was copied from an earlier Lincoln (Oxford) Codex (326) that did not have the Comma. Insertions elsewhere in Montfortianus have been retroverted from the Latin.
• 629: the Codex Ottobonianus at the Vatican. It is of the fourteenth or fifteenth century and has a Latin text alongside the Greek, which has been revised according to the Vulgate.
• 918: an Escorial (Spain) MS. of the sixteenth century.
• 2318: a Bucharest (Rumania) MS. of the eighteenth century influenced by the Clementine Vulgate.
• 88vl: a variant reading of the sixteenth century added to the twelfth-century Codex Regius at Naples.
• 22lvl: a variant reading added to a tenth-century MS. in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.
• 429vl: a variant reading added to a sixteenth-century MS. at Wolfenbüttel
• 636vl: a variant reading added to a fifteenth-century MS. at Naples.
(3) I am indebted to Professor B. M. Metzger for information about these MSS. (see also his TCGNT 716—18), all of which are listed in the apparatus of the 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek NT (1979). I have omitted Codex Ravianus (Tischendorf w110), preserved in the Royal Library of Berlin. It is of the sixteenth century and has merely copied from the printed Complutensian Polyglot of 1514.
(4) Seemingly the scribe was a Franciscan monk named Froy(e) or Frater Roy (d. 1531). As we shall see, this was the codex that forced Erasmus to change his Greek text of the NT, and perhaps the Comma was translated from Latin to Greek and inserted into a Greek codex in order to bring about that change.
Oct 20, 2014#3
It is quite clear from a survey of this evidence that the Comma in a form probably translated from the Latin was added very late to a few Greek MSS. by scribes influenced by its presence in Latin MSS. Within the uncontaminated Greek tradition, the Comma is never quoted by a Greek author of the first Christian millennium. This silence cannot be dismissed as accidental; for the genuine Greek text of I John 5:7 is quoted (e.g., three times by Cyril of Alexandria) without the Comma. And there is no reference to the Comma by the Greeks even in the midst of the trinitarian debates when it would have been of help were it known. Indeed, the first instance of the appearance of the Comma in Greek seems to have been in a translation of the Latin Acts of the IV Lateran Council
(1215). Later Manuel Kalekas (d. 1410), who was heavily influenced by Latin thought, translated the Comma into Greek from the Vulgate.
If we turn from the Greek to ancient versions other than the Latin, we note that the Comma is absent from all pre-1500 copies of the Syriac, Coptic, Armenian,(5) Ethiopic, Arabic, and Slavonic translations of the NT—an incredible situation if it were once part of the original Greek text of I John. The Oriental church writers do not seem to know the Comma before the thirteenth century. Let us be more specific, however, about the Aramaic/Syriac tradition. There were no Catholic Epistles in the Palestinian Syriac version. By the mid-fourth century three of the seven Catholic Epistles (I Peter, James, I John) began to be accepted in the Syriac-speaking churches. Nevertheless, all the old copies of I John in the Peshitta and Harclean Syriac lack the Comma. Where it appears in the later Syriac MSS., it has been translated from the Latin Vulgate. While absent from the first 1555 edition of the Syriac NT by Widmanstadt, it is found in the margin of the 1569 Tremellius edition; and by the next century it is incorporated into the body of the text with the supposition that it was original but had been excised by the Arians.(6) No clear knowledge of the Comma appears among the great church writers in Syriac, although a debate has arisen about Jaqub of Edessa (d. 708). In the Borgia collection of the Vatican Library there are two copies (133, 159) of a commentary “On the Holy [Eucharistic] Mysteries” attributed to Jaqub, albeit written in a style very different from his other works. In them there is a reference to: “The soul and the body and the mind which are sanctified through three holy things: through water and blood and Spirit, and through the Father and the Son and the Spirit.” Baumstark, “Citat” 440-4 1, discusses the possibility that Jaqub knew a Latin or Greek (from Latin?) MS. that had the Comma. Yet a reference to Father, Son (note: not Word), and Spirit need not reflect a knowledge of the Comma—the mention of three
witnesses in the standard text of I John 5:7—8 led many Western church writers to think of the Father, Son, and Spirit in Matt 28:19. Indeed, as we shall see below, the Comma probably arose through allegorical reflection on what the three witnesses (Spirit, water, blood) of I John 5:7 might symbolize in relation to the Trinity, especially on the basis of texts in GJohn. Thus we are far from certain that Jaqub was an exception to the Syriac ignorance of the Comma.
(5) While the Comma is totally absent from Coptic and Ethiopic NT MSS.. It appears in a few late Armenian witnesses under Latin Influence. In the Armenian edition of Oskan (1662), which he conformed to the Latin Vulgate, the Comma appears marked with an asterisk. The Comma (with variants known in the Latin) entered into debates of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries between the Armenian and Roman churches over unification and the use of water In the chalice at Mass. See Bludau, “Orientalischen Übersetzungen” 132-37.
(6) Bludau, Ibid., 126—32
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2. The Latin Textual Tradition
The two great textual traditions of the Bible in Latin are the Old Latin (OL) and Jerome’s Vulgate (Vg). In the instance of the Catholic Epistles, Jerome did not revise the OL; and although eventually a revision appeared in the Vg, we are not certain of the date of origin. In both the OL and the Vg, before the appearance of the Comma, the translation of the Greek of I John 5:7—8 was almost literal.(7) However, in the course of Latin textual transmission, independently of the Comma, variants appeared that show that the passage was the subject of reflection and “improvement” by scribes. (Some of these would be retained when the Comma was introduced.) For instance, Facundus of Hermiane (ca
. 550) reads I John as saying “There are three who give testimony on earth” (Pro Defensione Trium Capitulorum ad Iustinianum
1.3.9; CC 90A, 12; also inferior MSS. of Bade). If that addition was an older tradition, it may have facilitated the creation of the Comma with its corresponding witnesses in heaven. Instead of the masc./fem. numeral for “three” (tres
) corresponding to the mixed masc. and fem., genders of the Latin nouns for “Spirit, water, and blood,” the neuter tria
appears. This neuter may reflect trinitarian reflection.(8 ) Still another variant occurs at the end of the passage, after “these three are one,” when a phrase is added, whether it be “in Christ Jesus”(9) or “in us.”(10)
As for the Comma itself, in the MSS. known to us it does not appear in the OL until after A.D. 600, nor in the Vg until after 750, although obviously these MSS. reflect an already existing tradition. Even then its appearance is geographically limited, for until near the end of the first millennium the Comma appears only in Latin NT MSS. of Spanish origin or Influence.(11) These include:
• Palimpsest of León Cathedral: OL-Vg, seventh century, Spanish origin.
• Fragment of Freising: OL-Vg, seventh century, Spanish.
• Codex Cavensis: Vg, ninth century, Spanish.
• Codex Complutensis: Vg, tenth century, Spanish.
• Codex Toletanus: Vg, tenth century, Spanish.
(7) Quonlam (quia) tres runt qul testimonium dant, Spiritus (et) aqua et san guis, et tres unum sunt.
(“that, because”) and quia
(“because”) are alternative translations of hoti
. The “three are one,” for the awkward Greek “are unto [into] one,” is a change that ultimately facilitated trinitarian reflection.
(8 ) See below how Tertullian makes a point of the neuter “one.” Some early Latin NT MSS. must have had tres
and some must have had tria in the opinion of Riggenbach, “Comma” 38 1-85. The neuter appears in Priscillian, who is the first clear witness to the Comma.
(9) Cassiodorus (?), Speculum
, and the Palimpsest of León. We can see the roots of this addition in the Adumbratines
of Clement of Alexandria: after citing “these three are one,” he says, “For in the Savior
are those saving virtues.”
(10) In Contra Varimadum.
Another variant is Priscillian’s “water, flesh, and blood.” The replacement of “Spirit” with “flesh” may have had sacramental overtones, e.g., “water” is baptism, and “flesh and blood” is the eucharist.
(11) However, it is still absent In some tenth-century Spanish MSS. (Legionensis and Valvanera), and in a Catalan witness (Farfensis) which is a recension based on earlier witnesses. The Comma is not attested before the tenth century in Lath biblical MSS. with a pure Italian, French, or British lineage. It is absent, for instance, in the following Latin codices: Fuldensis (AD. 546, Italian origin); Amiatinus (early eighth century, Northumbrian); Vallicellianus* (ninth century, Alcuin tradition); Sangermanensia (ninth century, French); and in the Lectionary of Luxeuil (sixth-seventh century, French).
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Codex Theodulphianus: Vg eighth or ninth
Some Sangallense MS&: Vg, eighth or ninth
If we try to go
back beyond the evidence of our extant MSS.,12 It is not clear that
the Comma was included in the text of I John when St. Peregrinus edited the
Vulgate in Spain in the fifth century. After a stage when the Comma was written
in the margin, it was brought into the Latin text in or before the time of
Isidore of Seville (early seventh century), In the period of the Spaniard
Theodulf (d. 821), who served in France as bishop of Orleans, the Comma was
brought from Spain and made its way into some of
the copies of the Vg written in the Carolingian era. Nevertheless, in a survey
of some 258 MSS. of the Vg in the National Library of Paris, among those
predating the twelfth century more lacked the Comma than had it.13
Discussions since 1500
Granted the poor textual attestation
of the Comma, It would merit a historical footnote, not an appendix, were it
not for some curious events related to it that have occurred since 1500. It was
absent from Erasmus’ first Greek NT edition (1516) and from his second edition
(1519). D. Lopez de Zuñiga (Stunica), the editor of the Complutensian Polyglot
Bible of Cardinal Ximenes (NT printed 1514,
published 1522), criticized
Erasmus for omitting it and included it in his own work (wherein the Greek form
of the Comma was translated from the Latin!). Another critic of Erasmus was the
Englishman E. Lee In 1520, and Erasmus replied to Lee that he would have
inserted the Comma In his editions of the Greek NT If he had found a Greek MS.
that had ft.13a Between May 1520 and June 1521 it was pointed out to
Erasmus that the Comma existed in Greek In the Codex Montfortianus (In which,
almost surely, the Comma had been translated into Greek from the Vulgate in
order to embarrass Erasmus). Reluctantly and not believing that it was
original, Erasmus inserted the Comma into the third edition of his Greek NT (1522); and it remained in the fourth
(1527) and fifth (1535)
editions. Erasmus’ reputation for
scholarship lent support to the contention that the Comma must be genuine; and
the Parisian printer Robert Estienne the Elder (Stephanus) included the Comma
(conformed to the form in the Complutensian
Polyglot) in his third Paris edition (1550)
of the Greek NT.
Finally the Comma found its way into the Textus Receptus (Elzevir, 1633)
which served for centuries as the standard Greek NT. On both sides of the
Reformation it won acceptance. Although it was absent at first from Luther’s
NT,14 It was inserted by editors at Frankfurt after 1582. Although
Zwingli rejected the Comma, Calvin accepted
[color=7pt;line-height:150%;letter-spacing:.9pt;">12 Epistles [/i]13
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it with hesitation. On the Catholic side, the Comma appeared in both the Sixtine (1590) and the Clementine (1592) editions of the Vulgate, the latter of which became the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church. (15) Although Tyndale placed the Comma in brackets in the English NT, ultimately it was accepted by both the KJV and Rheims translations. Even if the Comma had won the battle for acceptance in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the war was not over; for in 1764 J. S. Semler challenged it, thus opening a new campaign of rejection. Doubts increased, and since the nineteenth century no recognized authority upon the Greek text of the NT has accepted the authenticity of the Comma. (16)
In Roman Catholicism still another battle remained to be fought over the Comma. On January 13, 1897, the Sacred Congregation of the Inquisition in Rome issued a declaration (confirmed by Pope Leo XIII on January 15) that one could not safely deny or call into doubt the authenticity of the Comma. Such an extraordinary intervention of church authority on a matter of textual criticism produced consternation; and very quickly Cardinal Vaughan wrote to Wilfrid Ward (17) with the assurance (which he said was officially sanctioned) that the declaration was not meant to end discussion or discourage biblical criticism. This was confirmed by H. Janssens (who was to become Secretary of the Roman Pontifical Biblical Commission) writing in 1900, as well as by the absence of hostile Roman reaction to Künstle’s Comma
published in Freiburg in 1905 (with the Archbishop’s imprimatur
), which attributed the origin of the Comma to the Spanish heretic Priscillian in the fourth century. How could one reconcile such freedom with the declaration of the Inquisition? One explanation was that the declaration was disciplinary, not doctrinal. A more popular explanation was that the Inquisition was not speaking about the genuineness
of the Comma (i.e., that it was written by the author of I John) but about its authenticity
as Scripture. (18 ) The latter would have to be judged by the norms of the Council of Trent, which declared (DBS 1504) to be holy and canonical those books or parts of books that were customarily used in church over the centuries and belonged to the Latin Vulgate. (19) However, the authenticity of the Comma could scarcely meet such criteria: It was totally ignored for the whole first millennium of Christianity by all but a small section of the Latin Church, and it was not part of Jerome’s original Vg. De facto
the nonauthenticity of the Comma for Roman Catholics may now be regarded as settled; for Rome has permitted church translations of the NT from the Greek rather than from the Latin, and naturally such recent Catholic translations, including those approved for use In the liturgy (NAB, JB), omit the
(15) Ayuso Marazuela, “Nuevo estudio” 99, traces the roots of the Clementine form of the Comma to the usage in a Parisian family of thirteen Vg MSS.
(16) For the history of the Comma in the printed Greek NT, see Bludau, “Im Jahrhundert” 280—86.
(17) The Guardian
of June 9, 1897, and RB 15 (1898) 149.
(18 ) This interpretation was confirmed on June 2, 1927, by a declaration of the Holy Office (the renamed successor to the Congregation of the Inquisition) stating that, while scholars were free to discuss and deny the genuineness of the Comma, only the Church could decide whether it was authentically a part of Scripture, A good example of the distinction is supplied by the story of the adulteress in John 7:53-8:11. Like other scholars, Roman Catholic exegetes recognize that It was not written by the evangelist but added to GJohn by scribes (thus, not genuine). However, they would also recognize that it is authentic Scripture according to the norms of the Council of Trent, which did not make authorship a criterion of canonicity.
(19) There was discussion at Treat of certain disputed scriptural passages the authenticity of which participants wanted affirmed. However, the Comma was not one of these.
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Comma. All recent Roman Catholic scholarly discussion has recognized that the Comma Is neither genuine nor authentic.(20)
C. The Origins of the Comma
Granted that the Comma was not written by the author of I John, when, where, and how did it originate? The first clear appearance of the Comma is in the Liber apologeticus
1.4 (CSEL 18, 6) of Priscillian who died in 385. (21) Priscillian seems to have been a Sabellian or modalist for whom the three figures in the Trinity were not distinct persons but only modes of the one divine person. Seemingly he read the Comma (“Father, Word, and Holy Spirit; and these three are one in Christ Jesus”) in that sense; and because the Comma fits Priscillian’s theology many have surmised that he created it. Before commenting on that, let me survey the subsequent history of the Comma among Latin writers before its appearance two hundred or three hundred years later in the extant MSS. of the NT, as discussed above.
1. The Comma in Writers after Priscillian (A.D. 400-650)
Whether or not modalist in origin, the Comma could be read in an orthodox trinitarian manner. For instance, it was invoked at Carthage in 484 when the Catholic (anti-Arian) bishops of North Africa confessed their faith before Huneric the Vandal (Victor of Vita, Historia persecutionis Africanae
Prov. 2.82 ; CSEL 7, 60). Indeed, in the century following Priscillian, the chief appearance of the Comma is in tractates defending the Trinity. In PL 62, 237—334 there is a work De Trinitate
consisting of twelve books. Formerly it was attributed to the North African bishop Vigilius of Thapsus who was present at the Carthage meeting; it has also been designated Pseudo-Athanasius; but other guesses credit it to a Spanish scholar such as Gregory of Elvira (d. 392) or Syagrius of Galicia (ca. 450).22 Recently the first seven books have been published (CC 9, 3—99) as the work of Eusebius of Vercelli (d. 371), but not without debate (see CPL #1O5). In any case, the work is probably of North African or Spanish origin; and its parts may have been composed at different times, e.g., Books 1—7 written just before 400, and 8—12 at a period within the next 150 years. In Books 1 and 10 (PL 62, 243D, 246B, 297B) the Comma is cited three times. Another work on the Trinity consisting of three books Contra Varimadum
has also been the subject of speculation about authorship and dating, (23) but North African origin ca. 450 seems probable. The Comma is cited in 1.5 (CC 90, 20—2 1). Victor, the bishop of Vita in North Africa toward the end of the Vandal crisis (Ca. 485), wrote the Historia persecutionis Africanae Provinciae
in the course of which he cited the Comma as representing the testimony of John the evangelist (2.82 In CSEL 7, 60; 3.11 in PL 58, 227C). Early in the next century the Comma was known as the work of John the apostle as we hear from Fulgentius, the bishop of Ruspe in North Africa (d. 527), in his Responsio
(20) See Rivière, “Authenticité
(21) Occasionally ft has been attributed to his follower Instantius. Priscillian founded a sect with ascetic (Manichean? gnostic?) leanings in southern Spain ca. 375. He was consecrated bishop of Avila but aroused the strong opposition of Ithacius of Ossonoba. In 385 Priscillian was executed in Trier for heresy and magic by the usurper Emperor Maximus, despite the intervention of St. Martin of Tours. The persecution of his followers continued after his death.
(22) Ayuso Marazuela, “Nuevo estudio” 69.
(23) Implausible are the attributions to Augustine (by Cassiodorus), to Athanasius (by Bede), to Vigilius of Thapsus, to Idacius of Clarus (or Hydatius, a Spanish bishop ca. 400). The editor of CC 90 (p. vii) thinks that the unknown North African author may have gone into exile in Naples whence came the later knowledge of the Comma in Italy by Cassiodorus.
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(Ad 10; CC 91, 93), and in his De Trinitate
(1.4.1; CC 91A, 636). The Vandal movements in the fifth century brought North Africa and Spain into close relationship, and the evidence listed above shows clearly that the Comma was known in those two regions between 380 and 550. How and when was it known elsewhere?
To the period before 550 belongs a Prologue to the Catholic Epistles
, falsely attributed to Jerome, which is preserved in the Codex Fuldensis (PL 29, 827—3 1). Although the Codex itself does not contain the Comma, the Prologue
states that the Comma is genuine but has been omitted by unfaithful translators. The Prologue
has been attributed to Vincent of Lerins (d. 450) and to Peregrinus (Künstle, Ayuso Marazuela), the fifth-century Spanish editor of the Vg. In any case, Jerome’s authority was such that this statement, spuriously attributed to him, helped to win acceptance for the Comma.
In Italy Cassiodorus (d. ca. 583) cited the Comma in his commentary In Epistolam S. Joannis ad Parthos
(10.5.1; PL 70, 1373A), although it is not clear that he thought it belonged to the Bible and was written by John. The work of Cassiodorus was a channel through which knowledge of the Comma came also to France. As for England, no MS. of the commentary on the Catholic Epistles by Venerable Bede (d. 735) was thought to show knowledge of the Comma, although two inferior MSS. had the phrase “on earth” after “testify” in the standard text of I John 5:7—8. C. Jenkins has now found a late-twelfth-century MS. (177 at Balliol, Oxford) that does contain the Comma, but by that date it may well have been read into Bede from the Latin Bible.
Overall, then, the evidence from the writers of the period 400-650 fits in with the evidence of the Latin Bible where the Comma begins to appear after 600 in the MSS. known to us. (Isidore of Seville, d. 636, who shows knowledge of the Comma in his Testimonia divinae Scripturae
2 [PL 83, 1203C], if the work is genuinely his, may have served as a bridge to the biblical MSS., for his name is connected with editorial work on the Latin Bible.) The Comma was known in North Africa and Spain, and knowledge of it elsewhere was probably derivative from North African and Spanish influence.
2. The Comma In Writers before Priscillian (A.D. 200-375)
Let us now look in the other direction to see if there was pre-Priscillian knowledge of the Comma. On the one hand, del Alamo (“Comma” 88—89) gives evidence to show that Priscillian was quite free with biblical texts and might well have shaped the Comma himself by combining the original I John passage with the reflections of the North African church writers (e.g., Cyprian) on the Trinity. On the other hand, as we saw in A2 above and also in the INTRODUCTION (VI B), there were early Latin additions to I John for which there is little or no support in Greek MSS.; and one may wonder if the origins of the Comma are to be divorced from such earlier Latin textual expansions. (24) Moreover, Riggenbach (Comma 382—86) argues on the basis of variants (25) that Priscillian’s was only one form of the Comma which, therefore, must have antedated him. (However, Lemmonyer, “Comma” 71-72, points out that variants would have arisen when the Comma was still a meditation on I John 5:7-8 and before it became part of the Latin biblical text.) One way to control these theoretical observations is to check through the church writers before Priscillian for knowledge of the Comma; and because of subsequent history, particular attention must be paid to North Africa.
(24) Thiele, “Beobachtungen” 72-73, argues that since some Latin additions to I John may have been translated from lost Greek originals, we cannot deny the possibility of a Greek original for the Comma. I judge this quite implausible—see Al above.
(25) These may be seen from comparing the Comma In Priscillian’s Liber apologeticus
, in Contra Varimadum
, and in the Palimpsest of León.
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In Tertullian’s Adversus
CC 2, 1195), written ca.
215, he comments on John
16:14 in terms of the connection among the Father, the Son, and the Paraclete:
“These three are one thing [unam]
not one person [unus]
as it is said, ‘My Father and I are one’ [John
10:30]” This is scarcely a reference to the Comma, but it should be kept
in mind as we turn to Cyprian (d. 258), another North African.26 In De ecclesiae catholicae unitate
(CC 3, 254) Cyprian states, “The Lord says, ‘The Father and I are one [John
10:30],’and again of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit it is written, ‘And three
are one.”27 There is a good
chance that Cyprian’s second citation, like the first, is Johannine and comes
from the OL text of I John 5:8,
which says, “And these three are one,”
in reference to the Spirit, the water, and
the blood. His application of It to the divine trinitarian figures need not
represent a knowledge of the Comma,28
but rather a continuance of the reflections of Tertullian combined with a
general patristic tendency to invoke any scriptural group of three as symbolic
of or applicable to the Trinity. In other words, Cyprian may exemplify the
thought process that gave rise to the Comma. That Cyprian did not know the
Comma Is suggested by its absence In the early Pseudo-Cyprian work Dc
which twice (15 and 19; CSEL 38, 88, 92) cites the standard
text of I John 5:7_. 8.29
Similarly other church writers, even in North Africa, who knew Cyprian’s
work show no knowledge of the Comma. In particular, the mid-sixth-century
African, Facundus of Hermiane, in his Pro Defensione Trium Capitulorum ad
(1.3.9—14; CC 90A, 12—14), cites I John 5:7—8
the Comma (which he does not seem to know) as proof for the Trinity—the
trinitarian references are derived from the significance of the Spirit, the
water, and the blood. Facundus then goes on to quote Cyprian in the same vein,
thus understanding Cyprian to have given a trinitarian interpretation of the standard
I John text.
430) was a North African bishop a generation after the time when Priscillian
was a bishop in Spain. A serious debate centers on whether or not Augustine
knew the Comma. He never cites it;30
but in his De civitate Dei (5.
11; CC 47, 141) he speaks of Father,
Word, and Spirit and says “the three [neuter] are one” To jump from that to ta
knowledge of the Comma is hasty, for all that it shows is that Augustine
mediated in a Trinitarian way on the “three” of I John. We see this clearly in Contra
2.22.3 (PL 42, 794—95)
where he says that I John 5:7—8
text without the Comma) brings the Trinity to mind; for the “Spirit” is the
Father (John 4:24), the “blood” is the Son (see
26 It has been argued seriously by Thiele and others that
Cyprian knew the Comma, a knowledge which would make second- or third-Century
North Africa the most probable area of origin. I would rather speak of area of
27See also Cyprian’s Epistula
(CSEL 32, 787) where the same “three are one” statement is applied to God. Christ, and the Spirit without a reference to
favorable to Cyprian’s knowledge of the Comma is that he knew other Latin
additions to the Greek text of I John, e.g., the addition to 2:17 (NOTE on 2:
17e). Unfavorable to knowledge of the Comma is his use of “Son” instead of
"Word,” although that is an occasional variant in the text of the Comma,
e.g., Fulgentius, Contra Fabianum
(Frag. 21.4; CC 91.4, 797), applies the “three are one” to the Divine Persons,
and speaks of the “Son.” while in his Responsio contra Arianos
(cited above) he speaks of the “Word.”
Pseudo-Cyprianic Sermo de Centesima,
published by L Reitzenstein, ZNW 15
(1914) 60—90, is attributed by H. Koch, ZNW 31(1932) 248, to fourth-century
Africa and (possibly) to a follower of Priscillian, drawing upon Cyprian’s
works. It speaks of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as “three witnesses” without
any reference to I John (PL Supp 1, 65; Reitzenstein, 87).
Oct 20, 2014#10
and the “water” is the Spirit (John 7:38—39). Such
reflection on the symbols of I John in light of other Johannine symbolic
usage may have been exactly what gave rise to the wording of the Comma.31
Fickermann, “Augustinus,” has recently raised the possibility that in fact he
did know the Comma but rejected it (and for that reason never quoted it).
Fickermann points to a hitherto unpublished eleventh-century text which says
that Jerome considered the Comma to be a genuine part of I John— clearly a
memory of the Pseudo-Jerome Prologue
mentioned above. But the text goes on to make this
claim: “St. Augustine, on the basis of apostolic thought and on the authority
of the Greek text, ordered it to be left out.” No known text of Augustine
substantiates this, and yet it is strange that a medieval writer would dare to
invent a testimony of Augustine against what was being widely accepted as a
text of Scripture and which seemingly had Jerome’s approval.32 Could
the Comma have come from Spain to North Africa and have been rejected by him?
Such an explanation would mean that the Comma was not part of the Latin Bible
known to Augustine33 and would make it most unlikely that the Comma
was known to have had Cyprian’s approval.
Without seeking to be exhaustive, I
should mention that, besides never being quoted in Jerome’s writings, the Comma
Is absent from the writings of the following major Latin theologians: Hilary of
Poitiers (d. 367) who wrote on the Trinity; Ambrose (d.. 397) who cited I John
5:7—8 four times; Leo the Great (d. 461); and Gregory the Great (d. 604).
picture emerges from the information drawn from the church writers. In North
Africa in the third and fourth centuries (a period stretching from Tertullian
to Augustine), the threefold witness of the Spirit, the water, and the blood in
I John 5:7—8 was the subject of trinitarian reflection, since the OL
translation affirmed that “these three are one.”
Woven into this reflection were
statements In GJohn offering symbolic identifications of each of the three
elements, plus John 10:30, “The Father and I are one.” Eventually, in the
continued debates over the Trinity, the modalist Priscillian or some
predecessor34 took the Johannine equivalents of Spirit, water, and
blood, namely, Father, Spirit, and Word, and shaped from them a matching
statement about another threefold witness that was also one. If
In PG 5,
Claudius Apollinaris of Hierapolis (late second century) interprets the “blood
” and “water” of John 19:34—3 5 as Word
and Spirit. Bucherius of Lyons (d. 450), living just after Augustine, makes no
reference to the Comma but interprets the
water, blood, and Spirit In John 19:30-35 as references to Father, Son, and
Spirit who testify (Instructionum I: De Epistula lohannis
CSEL 31, 137—38 ). A century later Facundus of Hermiane was applying the three elements of I
John to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit without clearly indicating he knew
would have been all the more difficult because there were then in circulation
spurious works of Augustine (thought to be
genuine) that cited the Comma, e.g., Liber de divinis Scripturis sive
(CSEL 12, 314—a work from fifth-century Africa?).
“Beobachtungen” 71-fl, would argue that Augustine’s silence in reference to the
Comma (which is not as serious as his rejection of it) does not necessarily
tell us whether the Comma was already present in the OL text of North Africa,
for Augustine used a Lath text more closely revised according to the Greek.
However, Augustine seems to know some Latin readings of I John not found in the
Greek. and the history of Latin MSS. narrated in A2 above does nothing to
support the thesis of such an early presence of the Comma in the OL
“Textkritik” 572-73, argues that the trinitarlan modallsm of the Comma is close
to that of the so-called Symbol of Sardica (343) sometimes attributed to the
Western bishops under the leadership of Hosius of Cordoba, and he and Julicher
and Thiele would move the formation of the Comma back into the third century.
The evidence, in my judgment, shows the formative process at work in the third
century, but we do not know that the Comma existed before the fourth century;
and we remain uncertain how soon after its formation it found its way Into