The Johannine Comma1
Peter de Rosa, a former Jesuit priest, is typical of several modern writers with a profound knowledge of the affairs of the Vatican and the papacy who, while remaining devoted to the Catholic faith, have not shrunk from criticising events of the past, notably the deeds of former popes, in an attempt to reform and help preserve their church from further error as it passes through its current critical stage. There have been many others who have lapsed from the faith as a result of their researches and their criticisms have been naturally far less sympathetic.
In his Vicars of Christ , de Rosa has a section entitled “Bible Truth for Catholics”, in which he states that “even before Pius X the Catholic Church had got itself into a tangle over the Bible, in particular in a passage in the First Epistle of St. John ( 5:7 ), known as the Johannine Comma”. 3 (This verse embraces verse 8 also in our version.) “In 1897 the Holy Office took it upon itself to decide that this was genuine Scripture. It forbade Catholic scholars to say otherwise. This was first in a long line of official errors”.
De Rosa’s own testimony is that the reference to the witnesses in heaven does not figure in a single early Greek manuscript. It was added to the Latin manuscripts, probably first in North Africa, being mentioned by Cyprian of Carthage in 258 and Augustine about the year 400. “In their text the earthly witnesses came first. In the fourteenth century the text was tampered with to put the heavenly witnesses in the first place”. (It is possible that Cyprian, who wrote a treatise establishing the doctrine of the Trinity, was the first to incorporate the disputed text as a note, since it was assumed by the later “Fathers” of the Church that “the spirit, the water and the blood” were to be interpreted as symbols of the Trinity.—A.H.N.)
For thirty years from 1897 Catholic scholars were required to ignore the evidence and follow the edict of the Holy Office (formerly the Inquisition) in blind obedience and, says de Rosa, “from this time on, Bible scholarship was a hazardous occupation”. After 1927, however, the Holy Office decided that Catholics were entitled to “incline against the genuineness of the Comma, provided they profess themselves ready to stand by the judgement of the church (italics ours) to which Jesus Christ entrusted the office not only of interpreting the Sacred Scriptures but also of faithfully guarding them”.
Author: Alfred Nichols
1. The word "comma" means "a short clause."