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

Analysis

The chief object which the Apostle expressly proposes to himself in this chapter, as is clear from verse 4, is to point out the superior excellence of Christ, the promulgator of the New Law—above the Angels, the promulgators of the Old. He thus refutes one of the grounds upon which the false teachers founded the superior excellence of the Law of Moses, with the view of inducing the converted Hebrews to apostatize to Judaism, and leaves it to be inferred that if the excellence of a Law is to be estimated by the excellence of its promulgators, the Gospel must far exceed the Law of Moses. It is remarked however, by Commentators, that before expressly instituting a comparison between Christ and the Angels, the Apostle institutes an implied comparison between him and the most exalted personages in the Old Law, and raises him above them: above the Prophets, who were mere men, mere servants; whereas, Jesus Christ was the Eternal Son of God, himself, true God: above the Patriarchs, who were merely the fathers of the Jewish people, and the heirs of a merely earthly inheritance; whereas, Jesus Christ was the Creator of all things, and the heir of the universe: above Moses, the brightness of whose countenance could bear no comparison with the eternal effulgence of the Father’s glory: above Aaron, whom he far excelled in the expiation he made for sin (1, 2, 3).

The Apostle then expressly compares Christ with the Angels, and shows how far he is above them, in his name and origin (4, 5), in the honours paid him, by the Angels themselves; (6) in their respective offices; the duty of one party being to minister, the glorious prerogative of the other, to reign (7, 8); in power and immutability (10–12); in dignity of place; it being the privilege of one, to sit at the right hand of God, the duty of the other, to serve (13, 14).

Paraphrase

1. God, who formerly revealed himself, in the Old Testament, to our fathers by the Prophets, on different occasions—disclosing one portion of his divine mysteries to one Prophet, and a different portion to another—and in different ways—employing various modes of revelation; such as dreams, ecstasies, visions, corporeal appearances and the rest,

2. Has in these our days, the last period of time, revealed himself to us, not by his servants, but by his only Son Jesus Christ, whom, in his assumed human nature, he has constituted the heir of all things; by whom, as his eternal Word, he has created the universe, and all that it contains.

3. Who, as the Son of God, being the eternal effulgence of the Father’s glory, emanating from him, light of light; and the express image of his substance (being possessed of the very same divine substance with the Father, which was communicated to him by an eternal generation), by his Providence sustains in existence and rules all creatures; and after having fully atoned for sin, now holds the highest place, as man, next the glorious Majesty of God, in heaven.

4. He has been rendered as far superior to the angels as the name of natural Son of God, which he inherited, exceeds theirs.

5. For, to which, even of the highest Angels, has God ever addressed these words, spoken to Jesus Christ from eternity, and again repeated at his incarnation and resurrection: “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee;” and again, speaking of him in another place: “I shall be to him a father and he shall be to me a Son”?

6. And when the majesty of his second coming to judgment is described, God the Father commands all the angels to pay him adoration, as Lord and God.

7. And speaking of the angels indeed (Psalm, 103) he saith: He that maketh his angels, as fleet as the winds, and his ministers as efficient, as a flame of fire.

8. Whereas, when speaking of his Son, he employs quite a different style of language: Thy throne, O God, shall last for ever; the sceptre of thy kingdom is a sceptre of equity or rectitude.

9. Because thou hast loved justice and hated iniquity, therefore, O God, Christ, has thy God annointed thee with the oil of gladness beyond all thy fellows, all the co-heirs and sharers in thy kingdom.

10. And in another Psalm (101.), referring to his Omnipotence, he says: Thou in the beginning, O Lord, didst found the earth, and the heavens are the works of thy power.

11. They shall perish, but thou shalt continue (hence his immutability), and by the continual revolutions, they shall grow old and become like unto a garment, worn by constant friction.

12. And as a garment thou shalt change them, and they shall be changed; but thou art always the self-same, immutable in thy nature; eternal in thy duration. (Of which of the angels was any such thing ever said?)

13. But to which of the angels were the words ever spoken, addressed by the Eternal Father to his Son (Psalm 109): Sit on my right hand and reign with me, until I shall have subjected thine enemies so completely, as to make them thy footstool?

14. So far are the angels from enjoying any such dignity, that, we know, they are but ministering spirits whom God sends to take charge of men, especially of such as are to enjoy the inheritance of salvation and eternal glory.

Commentary

1. The Apostle, contrary to his usual custom, without any mention of his name or office, and without commencing with the usual Apostolical salutation introduces, at once, the subject of the Epistle. The omission of his name is easily accounted for, on the ground, that it was odious to the Jews, owing to the great zeal displayed by him in proclaiming the abolition of the Mosaic Law, of which he was regarded by many of them, as the enemy. The omission of his name accounts for the omission of the usual Apostolical salutation. He omits referring to his Apostleship, because he was, in a special way, the Apostle of the Gentiles.

“At sundry times,” πολυμερως, in many parts. To one prophet, he revealed one portion of his mysteries; and a different portion to another: (v.g.) to Isaias, Christ’s birth of a Virgin, and his passion; to Daniel, the period of his coming; to Jonas, his sepulture, and so of the rest. The word will also mean, he communicated one part, at one time; and a different part, at another.

“In divers manners.” He employed dreams, ecstasies, visions, corporeal appearances, figures, and similitudes.

2. “Last of all in these days;” the Greek puts it more clearly, ἐπʼ ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων, in these last days, referring to the period of the New Law, which is often in Scripture termed “the last hour,” because it is the last form of religion, that shall be established on earth.

“Hath spoken to us by his Son,” as if he said; no longer by his servants, the Prophets, has he spoken to us and revealed the truths of his Gospel; but, by his Eternal Son, Jesus Christ, who being infinite and essential truth, has imparted to us the knowledge of his saving mysteries; not in mere parts, or at different times, but fully, and all at once; not in obscure figures, but openly, in the full dawn of day, when “the day star” of faith “has arisen in our hearts.”—(2 Peter, 1:19).

Of course, the superiority of Christ over all creatures, both Angels and Prophets, Moses included, is clearly implied in the words “his Son.” It is however, with the view of showing his superiority above the Angels in particular, in the first instance, as appears from the entire chapter, that he now assigns some of the most glorious attributes of his divine and human natures.

“Whom he hath appointed heir of all things.” As man, Christ is the natural Son of God; the Father conferred on him, as man, at his Incarnation, the heirship of all things created.

“By whom he made the world.” (In Greek, τους αιωνας, sæcula, i.e., all created beings). In this, the Apostle refers to his divine nature. Creation being an act of wisdom, is, by appropriation, attributed to the Son. “All things were made by him” (John, 1:3). So here, “the world” (the Greek has the worlds) refers to the universe, or, to all creatures; for, everything created was made by him.

3. “Who being the brightness of his glory.” The Greek for “brightness,” απαυγασμα, means the refulgence or beam of his glory; since, from eternity he possessed the same glorious divine nature with the Father. The illustration is borrowed from the emanation of the radiant beams of light from the sun. The Eternal Father is compared to the sun; the Word, to its rays. The rays emanate from the sun, necessarily, purely, unceasingly, without any separation. All ideas, however, of inequality between the rays and the sun, all notions of imperfection which may occur in the latter emanation, are by no means to be applied to the eternal generation of the Word, who possesses the same identical nature, and is, in every respect, equal to the Father.

“And the figure of his substance.” In Greek, χαράκτηρ της ὑποττασεως. Another illustration of the same eternal generation, derived from the comparison of a seal and figure. The Word is the impression, the image of the Father, the substantial, living eternal image of his substance, communicated to him, in his eternal generation. The Greek word for “substance,” ὑποστάσεως, may be rendered, subsistence, or personality; and, then, the words will mean; that he is the image of the Father’s subsistence; because, the personality or subsistence of the Son is perfectly similar to that of the Father; although, of course, distinct from it. In the words, “brightness of his glory,” there is an implied comparison between Christ and Moses, whose face was beaming with glory, after his long converse with God.

“And upholding all things by the word of his power.” This expresses another of the divine attributes of Christ, by his omnipotent “word” or will, “upholding,” (i.e.), exerting a Providence in sustaining and positively preserving creatures in existence.

“Making purgation of sins.” The Greek is, διʼ ἑαυτοῦ καθαρισμον ποιησαμενος, having made by himself a purgation of our sins; but neither the Alexandrian nor Vatican MSS., nor the Armenian version have, by himself. This he did, as Man God. There is allusion here to the human nature of Christ, which he assumed, in order, as God and Man, to become the Saviour of the world, by making full and adequate reparation for sin, to his offended Father. There is an implied comparison here between Christ and Araon, and it is tacitly insinuated, that the expiation made by the former infinitely surpasses that made by the latter.

“Sitteth on the right hand of majesty on high.” As man, Christ occupies the most honourable place, next to God in heaven.

4. “Being made,” &c. The words “being made” do not imply that Christ is a creature. The corresponding Greek word, γενομενος, might be rendered simply “being, so much better than the Angels,” &c. They merely express that by the union of his human nature with the divine, under the personality of the Word, the Man, Christ Jesus, became the natural Son of God, and so, was as superior to the angels, as the honoured and adorable name of Son of God exceeds, in dignity, that of servant.

5. Another argument, in favour of the superiority of Christ over the angels, is derived from the SS. Scriptures; and, therefore, a most powerful one in the minds of the Jews. It is founded on the singular use of the words of God the Father addressing his Son (Psalm 2:7): “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” The angels and men are often called “Sons of God,” but never “the Son of God.”

But, since according to many, these words literally refer to David; how, then, from the use of them, infer their incommunicability to the angels?

RESP.—Even supposing the correctness of that opinion, these words refer to David, only inasmuch as he was a type of Christ.

But, since it is far more probable that they refer primarily and literally to Christ; as is clear from the promise contained, verse 8—dabo tibi gentes in hereditatem et possessionem tuam terminos terræ. And then they mean, according to St. Augustine, “I have begotten thee to-day,” i.e., from eternity, which is an everlasting, indivisible, permanent instant. They may also refer to the Incarnation of Christ, when he assumed flesh, and also to his third birth in the glory of his Resurrection, in which latter sense they are used by St. Paul himself.—(Acts, chap. 13).

“I will be to him a father,” &c. (2nd Book of Kings, chap. 14) These words literally refer to Solomon; but, in their mystical meaning—the meaning principally intended by the Holy Ghost in the present instance—they refer to Christ; and it is upon their mystical meaning, which the converted Jews themselves admitted (for they were aware that Solomon, in this respect, was a type of Christ), the Apostle builds his argument, a thing by no means unusual with the sacred writers, as appears from several parts of the Epistles (v.g.), 1 Cor. chap. 9; 1 Tim. chap. 5; Galatians, chap. 5; St. Matthew, chap. 2:15; St. John 19:36. The Jews themselves admitted this mystical meaning; and though Solomon was a sinner, he was not in his sins a type of Christ, any more than was Cyrus in his misdeeds, although, in other respects, the latter was a type of Christ (v.g.) in his rescuing the Jews from the Babylonish captivity.

6. Another argument of his superiority is founded on the adoration which the Heavenly Father commanded all his angels to pay him (Psalm 96:7). This quotation is from the Septuagint version of the Psalms, and the words refer, most probably, to the second coming of Christ to judgment. The construction of the Greek favours this view, and when he bringeth in the first begotten again in the world. According to which “again” refers to his second coming. Moreover, the entire 29th Psalm clearly refers to the second coming of Christ, and then, all the angels, good and bad, and all creatures, will adore his Majesty—the good, willingly, and with joy, the bad, unwillingly, and with terror. No doubt, the good angels adored him at his first introduction also, in his Nativity. “Adore” προσκυνησατωσαν• this word means always, in the New Testament, the supreme worship due to God alone.

7. Another argument is derived from the difference of manner in which the SS. Scriptures speak of the angels and the Son of God. When there is question of the angels (Psalm 103), they are spoken of as servants and messengers, executing the commands of God. According to the Paraphrase, the word “angels,” of whom the Apostle understands these words of the Psalm, and also the word “ministers,” who refer to the same, are made the subjects of the proposition, which the article prefixed to each in the Greek shows them to be: τους αγγελους αυτου πνευματα, τους λειτουργους αυτου πυρος φλογα. Moreover, the reasoning of the Apostle requires that they should be the subjects, of which “spirits,” or, winds, and “flame of fire” would be predicated.

8. Whereas, speaking of his Son, the employment assigned him is, not to serve, like the angels, but to reign. “Thy throne O God,” &c. (Psalm 44), which entirely regards the Messiah, and is the marriage song, in which are celebrated his future nuptials with his Church. “A sceptre of justice.” In Greek, a sceptre of rectitude or uprightness. The Socinians, in order to do away with the clear argument which this passage furnishes in favour of our Lord’s divinity, endeavour to make it appear that, “O God,” is to be read in the nominative case, thus, “thy throne is God”—an unmeaning construction, for, although we often find heaven, earth, angels, and just men, called the throne of God, we never find that God is called a throne. Again, the Attic vocative is like the nominative, and the versions of Aquila and Symmachus make it, “O God,” in the vocative. Add to this, the unanimous interpretation of the Fathers of the Church, who argued from this text in favour of the divinity of Christ, In order to elude the strong argument in favour of the divinity of Christ, which the application of the Psalm, regarding the creation of heaven and earth to Christ, supplies, the Socinians deny the authenticity of verses 10, 11, 12. But these verses are found in all the Greek copies of this Epistle, and in all the ancient versions. Others among them understand heaven and earth of the new heavens and earth, foretold by the prophets, viz., the gospel economy of the New Law. But, were these the heavens, &c., made “in the beginning?” Was it the new heavens, in their sense of the words, that were “to perish,” “to wax old as a garment,” and “to be folded up as a vesture?”

9. Thou hast loved justice, &c., “therefore, God, thy God,” &c. These words may mean, that he has loved justice and hated iniquity, “therefore,” i.e., because God has bestowed on him the plenitude of grace at his Incarnation; in which case, “therefore,” refers to the cause and not to the effect of his “loving justice and hating iniquity;” or, they may mean, that in reward for his having loved justice, &c., God has bestowed the plenitude of heavenly glory and delights. The latter interpretation is more conformable to the Greek, διὰ τοῦτο ἔχρισε σε ὁ Θεὸς, and is the more probable meaning; for, the “oil of gladness” appears to refer to the exalted degree of glory conferred on the Messiah in his resurrection and ascension, after the labours of his mission, in recompense for his heroic actions, characterized by his “loving justice and hating iniquity”—a degree of glory and happiness far surpassing that of any of his saints, who, as fellow-members and co-heirs, were to share in his kingdom. “God, thy God,” &c. The first term is used vocatively, according to some, according to others it is a nominative case, and is repeated for the sake of emphasis. The former is more probable; there is no reason for the repetition; but there is every reason why the Psalmist should, in a transport of exultation at the great glory conferred on Christ, cry out: “O God, thy God has annointed thee,” &c.

10. The words of this verse refer to the attribute of Omnipotence.

11. This proves his immutability. When the Psalmist says, “they shall perish,” he only means as to external form; for (verse 12) he declares “they shall be changed,” “but thou shalt continue.” In Greek, thou dost continue. The original Hebrew word is in the future tense.

12. “Thou shalt change them.” In the ordinary Greek reading, it is, ξλίξεις, thou shalt fold them, as the leaves of a book are folded, when closed. This will have a good meaning., However, that αλλαξεις, “thou shalt change,” the reading followed by the Vulgate, is the true one, appears, clear, from the following words—“and they shall be changed,” with which the Vulgate reading accords better than the others. The same appears from the Hebrew, where the original word answers to αλλαξεις, not ελιξεις. Moreover, the Ethiopic version, although made from the Septuagint, has here a word signifying “thou shalt change.” “But thou art the self-same,” proves his Immutability; and “thy years shall not fail,” his “Eternity.”

13. This Psalm (109) the Jews themselves admit to refer to Christ (Matt. 22:43). Moreover, to Christ alone could the characteristic marks there referred to apply (v.g.) “Thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech.”

14. He asks the question, “Are they not all ministering spirits?” as a thing well known among the faithful. Far from sitting at God’s right hand, their duty is to minister; but, their ministry, like all creation, is ancillary to the good of the elect. The reprobates all have their angels,; however, they ultimately profit not by their ministry. This verse proves against St. Thomas, that out of every order of angels some are sent on missions to earth, “are they not ALL … sent to minister?” &c. Besides, SS. Scripture furnishes instances of the mission of the highest angels.








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