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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2

THE following Work contains a condensed abstract of a portion of Lectures which, some years ago, it devolved upon me, as Professor of Sacred Scriptures, to deliver to a class of Divinity Students, in this College. The greater part of it was committed to writing at the time, for the purpose of having before me, on future occasions, a methodical digest of my former studies, to serve as a help to memory, and to supersede the necessity of wading, in each successive year, in order to acquire the same amount of information, through the learned and voluminous Commentaries, which I was obliged in the first instance to consult, rather than with the remotest view to publication. I will not, at the same time, conceal, that in common with many on whom I repose the most implicit reliance, by whose advice, too, I have been mainly influenced in my present undertaking, I felt it to be a subject of deep regret, that the intelligent laity and the reading portion of the Catholic community in these countries were not possessed of the advantage, enjoyed by their Catholic brethren elsewhere, of having in their own language—now, from several causes, become an universal vehicle of knowledge, and unfortunately, in the greater number of instances, of knowledge of the worst description—a popular and thoroughly Catholic Exposition of, at least, the Doctrinal portions of the New Testament. It is hardly necessary to point out, how powerfully a familiar acquaintance with the hopeful and consoling maxims of the Sacred Scripture would act as an antidote against these noxious and baneful works, alike subversive of faith and morals, with which the world is deluged, in some shape or other, circulating through every rank and order of society. The serious consideration of the eternal truths relating to the world to come, always present to the mind of the devout reader of Sacred Scripture, will have the salutary effect of inspiring, instead of a perverse and corrupt taste, a tone of religious feeling suited to those who know from faith, that in the different circumstances of life, they are but pilgrims journeying on to their true country; that here they are only in a temporary place of abode, awaiting that everlasting habitation, “whose builder and maker is God.”—(Heb. 11:10).

Besides supplying the intelligent Catholic with additional means of giving, in due circumstances, an account of “the hope that is in him” (1 Peter, 3:15)—the chief object of the present work—and furnishing the Ecclesiastical Student with a compendious Treatise, briefly setting forth the sense of these divine oracles, the study of which will form a portion of his daily occupation in the sacred ministry, to draw therefrom useful materials for “teaching, reproving, correcting, and instructing in justice, and to be rendered perfect, furnished to every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16), it is humbly conceived, that the publication of this and other such works, clearly setting forth the sense of the Sacred Scriptures, and fully carrying out the wholesome requisition of the Church, on this vitally important subject, will serve as a further practical confirmation of the arguments, whereby is abundantly demonstrated the anxious desire of the Catholic Church, to have the Holy Scriptures, hedged round with proper safeguards, communicated to her children. It will serve as an additional standing fact, a living exposition of her will in this respect, which even her bitterest enemies, on whom the most evident speculative reasoning usually fails to make any impression, will not presume to gainsay or call in question. Far from regarding the Holy Scriptures as sealed fountains, as we hear every day calumniously asserted regarding her, she proclaims the very contrary to the world in the person of the successor of St. Peter—“Illi enim sunt fontes uberrimi qui cuique patere debent ad hauriendam et morum et doctrinæ sanctitatem, depulsis erroribus, qui his corruptis temporibus late disseminantar.” “For they,” viz., the Sacred Scriptures, “are the most abundant sources, which ought to be left open to every one, to draw from them purity of morals and of doctrine, to eradicate the errors which are widely disseminated in these corrupt times.”—(See Letter of Pius VI. to Martini, prefixed to Martini’s Bible.)

Among the groundless charges with which the Church is every day assailed, not the least strange is that which accuses her of being opposed to the Bible. The most zealous propagators of this clumsy calumny cannot but be aware, that it is to that Church, which they thus misrepresent, they are indebted for whatever is sound in that portion of Scripture which they possess; that were it not for the vigilant care which She, as the infallible depositary of divine truth, employed with the utmost jealousy for the preservation of the Bible, guarding its integrity from either mutilation or addition, these invaluable records of God’s revealed will, owing to the fiendish attempts repeatedly made for their utter extinction, would have been long since forgotten. It is truly surprising, after the continual proofs of veneration which from the beginning she exhibited towards the Sacred Volume, employing the labours of her holy Doctors in every age, to elucidate its sense and determine its genuine readings—visiting with the severest ecclesiastical penalties the base betrayal of those who, in the days of dire persecution, were either intimidated or allured to surrender the inspired Scriptures into the hands of the profane, to give these holy things to dogs, to cast these precious pearls before swine, and regarding such impiety as a virtual abnegation of the faith—directing the decrees of her several Councils from Laodicea to Trent to determine their genuineness and meaning—rendering it an imperative duty on her sacred ministers in their daily office, in these solemn prayers which, like the Psalmist, they present seven times in the day, to recite a portion of the divine word—and commanding them, under pain of the strictest penalties and the sanction of moral guilt, to explain a portion thereof on all Sundays to their respective flocks; it is, I say, surprising that such a charge, so palpably contradicted by the very evidence of facts, should even be thought of, and can only be accounted for by the utter hopelessness of the cause in defence of which it is adduced.

True, the Church is opposed to the abuse of the Sacred Volume. Under the influence of the same Holy Spirit, by which she was guided during the early ages, in not admitting for some time on her Canon, certain portions of Scripture which are now admitted, at least as regards the New Testament, on her authority—and, be it observed, as regards many of them, admitted with the utmost inconsistency—by almost all Christian sects, she is utterly opposed to the circulation of any portion of Scripture which is not stamped with the high seal of her sacred authority—without which St. Augustine would have rejected the four Gospels (Contra Epist. Fundam). She is opposed to the indiscriminate circulation of even the true Scriptures; save under her own guidance and with her own sanction; since in Her alone, resides the Holy Spirit by whom they were originally inspired, knowing that no prophecy or exposition of Scripture is made by the private interpretation of anyone. She knows that the inspired oracles are a two-edged sword not to be carelessly or incautiously handled; that, like the Eternal Word of God himself, they are often set as a sign to be contradicted, to serve as well for the ruin as for the resurrection of many; that now, as in the days of St. Peter, “they contain many things hard to be understood,” not only absolutely difficult in themselves, and as regards every class of men; but, ruinous to some “which the weak and unstable”—nor are these confined to the illiterate classes—“wrest to their own destruction”—(2 Peter, 3:16). She knows, that it was with the perverted application of God’s sacred word, the tempter introduced sin and death into the world, thus succeeding in blighting the glory and upsetting the grand design of the original creation; and that the most powerful engine which he successfully wields in modern days, for insnaring and ruining thousands of souls, is a perverted use a fanatical reliance on God’s holy word For a melancholy experience, as exemplified in the lives of modern Reformers, has taught her, that the great storehouse of divine truth—the revealed word of God—is converted by them, into an abundant repertory of errors the most monstrous, subversive no less of religion than of society.

In truth, the unmeaning boasting in which the Sectaries indulge regarding the fancied possession of the Sacred Scriptures—and which is one of the fatal fruits of their indiscriminate circulation—has no parallel in the history of religion, save in the foolish pride which the Jews of old conceived from being intrusted with these sacred oracles, or in their stolid reliance on the material temple of Jerusalem, as a means of averting the downfall of their city. And if it proved of little avail to them for obtaining the grace of justification, to be the depositaries of God’s true word (Rom. 3), how much less will the possession of a mutilated and corrupted Bible—which even when whole and genuine is, at best, but a means, not an end, an external grace, involving its due share of responsibility—avail its votaries for obtaining true justice, which consists, not in hearing or reading, but in doing the will of God? And if the unmeaning cry, “the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (Jeremias 7:4), whereby the infatuated Jews were lulled into a fatal security in the midst of carnage, and famine, and woes unnumbered, availed but little in arresting the sword of the Assyrian, or in preventing the ruin of their doomed city, and the captivity of their unhappy race, how much less will the fanatical cry, “the Bible, and nothing but the Bible,” wherein many of the Sectaries, after having vitiated it in despite of the heavy menace of the Apostle (Apocalypse, 22:18, 19), seem to repose their entire hopes of salvation, avail them, in the midst of the spiritual famine and death which, unfortunately, are but too palpably witnessed, ravaging far and near, among those bereft of the healing and life-giving influences to be found only in the Catholic Church, in averting the still more unutterable woes of God’s eternal judgments on sin, whereof those the sword of the Assyrian was employed to inflict, were a faint but expressive image.

It is to guard against the evils which, according to revelation and experience itself, are found to flow from the indiscriminate reading of the Sacred Scriptures, without curtailing the blessings which their devout perusal is directly calculated to produce; it is to feed her children with the wholesome food of God’s holy word, properly administered, without exposing them to the evils of fanaticism on the one hand, or of infidelity on the other, that the Catholic Church wishes to have the circulation of the true Scriptures always accompanied with notes and comments derived from authorized sources, to elucidate what the Holy Ghost himself declares to be absolutely difficult and “hard to be understood.” Thus—in accordance with that Spirit of Wisdom, whereby she has been guided from the beginning in her conflict with error, and which she will not fail to exhibit during her militant state here below—she grasps the very arms which the enemy had wielded against her, and wresting them from his hands, she employs them for his utter discomfiture.

In opposing the genuine sense of the Sacred Scriptures to their perverted use and misapplication, the Church but literally adheres to the line of conduct proposed for her guidance by her heavenly spouse and master. We read in the Gospel of St. Matthew (chap. 4) that at the temptation to which our Blessed Lord was pleased to submit, like every other occurrence of his sacred life, conveying to us a most important lesson for our guidance, the enemy employing the very same artifice successfully resorted to in the case of Eve (Genesis, 3), attempts to seduce him into sin by a perverted application of the words of God, alleging, that to his case and the circumstances in which it was sought to place him, the gracious promise of protection, vouchsafed to just men in general, literally applied—“he hath given his Angels charge over thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest, perhaps, thou dash thy foot against a stone.” But by the proper use of the arms that had been employed against him—by the correct application of those very Scriptures, that had been then, as they are now, perverted against truth, our Redeemer demonstrates the sinfulness of the act to which he had been solicited, “thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” And the heinousness of the crime of Idolatry, to which he had been in the last place tempted, he demonstrates from the same Scriptures “the Lord thy God thou shall adore, and him alone shalt thou serve.”

It is in accordance with the practical lesson which the Church has learned from our Blessed Lord, on this important occasion, that I have ventured, in the following work, to set forth the true meaning of a portion of these sacred oracles, which we hear every day perverted to the purposes of error.

The plan which I have followed is that adopted in the well known Commentary of Piconio, on the Epistles of St. Paul. It is needless to remind the Student of Scripture, that Piconio’s work is confined to the Epistles of St. Paul; it does not extend to the Catholic Epistles, which are included in this. I think it right to say, that in following the plan of Piconio, I have not borrowed from him any more than I have done from the other learned authorities, to which I shall take leave to refer hereafter.

The TEXT is from the Edition published by Duffy, Dublin, A.D. 1857, with the approval, and under the sanction of, the Archbishops and Bishops of Ireland. I have taken particular care to collate it with the Clementine Vulgate, to which I find it to be perfectly conformable, with some unimportant verbal exceptions, and these I have corrected or noticed in the Commentary—(See 1 Cor. 7:7, 14:4; 1 Tim. 6:6).

The PARAPHRASE was the portion of the Work written in the first instance, The reader can readily understand the difficulty I had to encounter in this part of my task, and may easily perceive the involution of phrase necessary to express with faithful and literal accuracy the idiomatic peculiarity of style observable in the writings of the Apostles, whose ideas, partaking of a Hebrew or Syro-Chaldaic turn, were expressed in a language, viz., the Greek, the idiom of which is so different from that of either the Hebrew or Syro-Chaldaic. In the Paraphrase, besides expressing the meaning, I have endeavoured to point out the connexion of the several parts, a thing by no means easy of accomplishment, particularly as regards the Epistles of St. Paul, who, frequently carried away by some idea that may occur to him, defers, for a long time, the completion of the sentence upon which he had entered. Of this peculiarity several examples will be pointed out in his writings.

In the COMMENTARY, which was written in the next place, I have endeavoured to vindicate the correctness of the interpretation and connexion adopted in the Paraphrase. Before, however, entering on the elucidation of the several words and phrases of the sacred Text, I thought it right to notice any difference of reading that may be found to exist between the Vulgate and the ordinary or received Greek Text, and to point out the preponderance of authorities, both as regards the ancient Fathers and chief Manuscripts, in favour of the former. In the quotations from the Old Testament, which are, in many instances, according to the Septuagint—the version then principally in use—I take care to point out the difference of reading between it and the Vulgate of the same Texts, as translated or corrected by St. Jerome. Although the chief object which I proposed to myself, in the notes which form the Commentary, was to elucidate the meaning of the Sacred Text, and point out the doctrinal bearing of the several passages, still, I trust, that as regards the critical portion of them, enough will be found to satisfy the reader that, even in this department, the rules of sound Biblical criticism have been judiciously applied, so as fully to answer the ends of such learned researches without encumbering the Work to any inconvenient extent.

In the Exegetical portion of the Commentary is shown the correctness of the interpretation and connexion adopted in the Paraphrase; and from the obvious meaning of the Text, the context, and the parallel passages of Scripture, the meaning of the several words and phrases is more fully developed and explained in detail. Whenever there is question of any particular passage, regarding which there may exist, apart from defined doctrine, a diversity of opinion among Commentators, the two, or sometimes (which very rarely occurs), the three, most probable opinions are cited, and reasons assigned in favour of the one selected. These reasons, it is hoped, the reader will find to be, in general, well founded and satisfactory. In many instances the opinions are merely quoted, together with the reasons in favour of each, the reader himself being left to determine which may seem to him, all things considered, as the more probable.

In the Dogmatical portion, care is taken, in the first instance, to explain briefly the doctrine of the Catholic Church respecting any particular point or article of faith, whenever such explanation is deemed necessary. In the next place, the point of faith is proved, or the opposite error refuted, from the context, according as the occasion may require, that is to say, according as there may be question of a passage, that, sustained by the authentic and authoritative interpretation of the Catholic Church—without which a great many, or, rather, most points of Christian faith could not be proved demonstratively from Scripture—may furnish a proof of doctrine, or of a passage which may have been perverted by heretics against Catholic truth. This system of proof from the context, which seems by no means out of place in a Work like this, is of all others the most satisfactory and unanswerable; and is well-suited to the present times, considering the aggressive attempts that have been fiercely made against the faith of the people—attempts, the abortive issue and utter failure of which, no less than of those made on every preceding and similar calamitous occasion are now, thank God, a matter of history; but which, at the same time, no one who believes, as every Catholic must, that the loss of faith, wilful apostacy from the Church, involves everlasting perdition, or the loss of the eternal vision of God, can fail to remember. I have also occasionally inserted into the body of the Commentary such pious reflections as seem naturally to arise from the several passages, which should be one of the fruits to be derived from the reading of the Holy Scriptures.

In the ANALYSIS, which was written in the last place, is exhibited a summary of the contents, as well as the connexion of the several parts, in such a way as to enable the reader to perceive at once the subject matter of each chapter, which is more fully developed in the Paraphrase and the Commentary.

The Commentators whom I consulted, and whose opinions are reflected in the following Work, are Estius, A’Lapide, Piconio, Mauduit, Calmet, Natalis Alexander, Fromondus, Kenrick, Beelen; among the ancients, St. Jerome, St. Chrysostom, Œcumenius; and on Dogmatical points, St. Thomas, Bellarmine, Suarez, Perrone, St. Ligorio, Milner. It will be seen that the substance of the several opinions advanced therein, is found in some one or other of these learned authorities. I wish to observe, once for all, that I refrain from quoting them in detail on each particular question, lest such a course might render the Work too cumbrous, and by breaking up its continuity, deprive it of interest for the general reader.

I must not omit to observe, that I am far from imagining this to be, in every respect, what a work of the kind ought to be, so as to fully answer the requirements of the age. No one can be more fully alive to its many defects and short-comings than I am myself.

If, such as it is, it serve, even in an humble way, to promote the general ends of edification, I will have no reason to regret the labour its composition has cost me, or the heavy pecuniary risk I have incurred in its publication.

In conclusion, I have only to say, that it has been my anxious desire, and my peculiar study, to embrace and faithfully give expression, on every point, to the teachings and doctrines of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, wherein alone resides the plenitude of Ecclesiastical power, and the fulness of the indefectible faith of the blessed Peter, who has been divinely appointed to teach and confirm the faith of his brethren. She alone is the infallible depositary of God’s revealed truth. He that gathers not with her, scattereth; whosoever communicates outside her pale is profane.

JOHN MACEVILLY.

St. Jarlath’s College, Tuam,

December 20, 1855.








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