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

Analysis

In this chapter, the Apostle infers, from the superior excellence of Christ above the angels, he demonstrated in the preceding, the New Law, of which he was the promulgator, was to be observed with greater diligence than was required in the observance of the Old (1–4). Then, reverting to the question of the superiority of Christ over the angels, he shows, that to him, and not to them, was subjected the world to come; and although we do not see all things subjected to him; still, the prophecy of David regarding him, a part of which is already fulfilled, shall ultimately receive its full accomplishment (4–9).

As the passion of Christ was a source of scandal to the Jews, on this account, the Apostle points out from several reasons, the congruity of his suffering, and vindicates the economy of redemption (10–15). Finally, he shows how perfectly our blessed Saviour possessed the qualities required in one, who was to undertake the redemption of mankind (17, 18).

Paraphrase

1. Such, therefore, being the dignity and superior excellence of Christ, it is our duty to attend more carefully to what we have heard, and to be more diligent in observing his precepts, lest, perhaps, we may be irrecoverably lost, like water, which flows through a leaky vessel, and forfeit by our sins the great blessings of the new law.

2. For, if the law promulgated by the ministry of, angels was firmly ratified and sanctioned in such a way, that every violation of it, great or small, was visited with condign punishment:

3. How can we escape punishment, if we neglect a law infinitely more dignified, because it confers on us salvation, which the old law could lay no claim to—a law which was originally promulgated and announced by the Lord himself, and not announced by his ministers, and was, besides, confirmed to our times, or, unto us, Hebrews, by the testimony of those who saw him in the flesh, and heard his teachings?

4. And to their testimony God himself has set his seal by repeated miracles—which were so many proofs of his interposition—so many stupendous works—so many exhibitions of his omnipotent power—and by the copious and abundant effusion of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his will and pleasure.

5. It is not, however, to be supposed, because the angels were the promulgators of the Mosaic law, and were intrusted, in a subordinate capacity, with the government of this world, that they are the rulers of the future world, of which we speak; for, not to them, but to Christ, as father of the world to come, and pontiff of future blessings, had God confided the future world.

6. That it was to Christ he subjected the future world, of which we speak, we have the authority of David (Psalm 8), when addressing God in words, the mystical, if not the literal, sense of which refers to Christ, he says: “What is man, that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that thou visitest him,” by assuming him to a union with the Divine Person at his Incarnation?

7. Thou hast made him, for a short time, during his passion, appear lower than the angels; but thou hast, after his passion, crowned him with honour and glory, and placed him over all the works of thy power.

8. Thou hast subjected all creatures whatsoever under the feet of thy Christ; and by saying, he subjected all, without exception, the Psalmist leaves it to be inferred, that there is nothing left unsubjected. But this part of the prophecy, regarding the universal subjection of all things to Christ, is not yet fully accomplished; for, we do not yet see all things actually subjected to him.

9. But the other part is fulfilled. We see that Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels in his passion, now crowned with honour and glory, in reward for this passion, which he submitted to, so as to die for all, owing to the gratuitous love and bounty of God, sincerely wishing for the redemption of all men.

10. (But as the ignominious death and sufferings of Christ might prove to you a subject of scandal, I shall point out to you the congruity, on the part of God, of fixing on suffering as the means of redeeming man, and glorifying his own Son). For, it became the wisdom of God the Father, the end and author of all things, after having decreed to bring many adopted sons to glory (by means of suffering), to fix also upon suffering, as the means of bringing to perfect glory, the author of their salvation, i.e., to adopt unity and identity of means, in glorifying all his children, both natural and adopted.

11. For the pontiff, who sanctifies (such as Christ), and they who are sanctified, should be of the same stock, of the same nature. Therefore, it is, that Christ having adopted our nature, is not ashamed to call us brethren, saying—

12. “I will announce thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the church will I praise thee.”

13. And again (Isaias, 8:17): “I will put my trust in him.” And again: “Behold I and my children whom God hath given me.”—(Isaias, 8:18).

14. Since, then, the children of Christ have partaken of a passible nature, he also assumed the same, in order that, by his death, he might destroy the power of the devil, by depriving him of that empire of death, which he had abased, by inflicting it on Christ himself, who was undeserving of it, being wholly innocent.

15. And might ransom and emancipate those who, owing to the great dread and terror they had of death, were, during their lifetime, kept in servitude, or the servile fear of its approach.

16. For, in truth, it was not the angels, who were by nature immortal, that he came to rescue, but mortal men of the seed of Abraham, the spiritual Father of the redeemed generation.

17. Hence, as Christ came to redeem, not angels, but mankind, and came to sanctify them, as high priest, it was meet he should become like them, who in his assumed nature, were his brethren, in all their infirmities not unbecoming his dignity, infirm, mortal, and passible, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the affairs appertaining to God, his fidelity as a high priest consisting in expiating for our sins, and propitiating God for them.

18. And his mercy in this, that by suffering and being tempted himself, he becomes more fit and inclined to carry aid, and show compassion to those who are themselves tempted and afflicted.

Commentary

1. “Therefore,” as Christ possesses such superior excellence above the angels.—“Lest perhaps we let them slip.” The Greek for “slip,” παραρρυωμεν, conveys the idea of water slipping through a vessel full of chinks. Some understand by it: lest we suffer them to slip from our memories, as water through a leaky vessel; others, lest we be irrecoverably lost and involved in the common rejection of our countrymen, like water, &c. This latter is the more probable meaning, because the word refers to their suffering punishment, as is clear from the comparison (verse 2) instituted between the menaced punishment, and the punishment annexed to the violation of the Mosaic law. “More diligently” than hitherto, or more diligently than we should attend to the law of Moses. The Greek for “diligently,” περισσοτερως, literally means, more abundantly.

2. “And every transgression,” i.e., grievous violation, “and disobedience,” lighter violation. “Received a just recompense,” a penalty decreed by law. “The word spoken by angels,” evidently refers to the law given to Moses on Sinai. This the Apostle more clearly expresses (Gal. 3), “ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator,” i.e., Moses. But, was not the law, although promulgated by angels, on Sinai, still the law of God? Yes. But the Lord has shown how much the new law exceeds it, by reason of trusting its promulgation to no other than his own Son, its author and promulgator at the same time. Again, the violation of the new law, besides the guilt of the violation of God’s law in general, common to it with the old, involved a specific contempt of its promulgator, Christ, in which respect its violation is more sinful than was that of the old. But, is not he who gave the law to Moses (Exodus, 19:20), styled “Dominus,” “the Lord?” Moreover, is it not the common opinion of the Holy Fathers, that the Son of God repeatedly appeared to the patriarchs, and that it was he also, who gave the law to Moses on Sinai? From this verse, and also from the above cited passage to the Galatians, it is quite clear, that the old law was given to Moses by angels. And the opinion of the ancients can mean nothing more, than that the angel promulgating the law on Sinai represented the Son of God; and in the instances, in which particular worship was paid to one angel beyond the others, as happened, when Abraham adored one of the three angels on their way to destroy Sodom, the angel in question is supposed to have exhibited the same external form which the Son of God afterwards exhibited, in human flesh, and so on this, as on other similar occasions, he represented the Son of God; and as such termed, Dominus.

3. In this verse is shown the excellence of the Christian above the Mosaic law. “Confirmed unto us,” i.e., unto our times; or, according to others, unto us, Hebrews, with whom the Apostle identifies himself, by speaking in the first person. “How shall we escape if we neglect?” &c

4. “Signs, wonders, miracles,” refer to the same thing, but considered under different respects (as in Paraphrase). “And distributions of the Holy Ghost,” &c., refer to the gratiæ gratis datæ, such as, tongues, prophecy, &c. He leaves us to infer that the old law was characterized by no such favours; but, by terrors and chastisements. The miracles referred to in this verse served to confirm the truth of the gospel, though not absolutely required for that purpose.

5. Some Expositors include all from the words, “which have begun,” &c. (verse 3), inclusively, to this verse, within a parenthesis, and connect this with verse 3, thus:—“How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” … which salvation does not take its rise from the angels, who are not appointed the rulers of the future world, wherein salvation is obtained. Others (as in Paraphrase), say, that in this verse, the Apostle answers, by anticipation, an objection which might arise in the minds of the Jews, in consequence of the power assigned to angels in many parts of Scripture, of ruling this world (v.g.), Daniel, 10:13–20. And he says, that although the angels may have been entrusted with the government of this present world, it is not so with “the future world,” by which some understand the Church, wherein alone salvation is found. But others, more probably, understand by it, the world after the resurrection, when the words adduced next verse in proof, that it is on Christ the government of the future world is conferred, “thou hast subjected all,” &c., will be fully verified.

6, 7. He proves that it was to Christ this future world, of which he speaks, (1:6–12), is to be subjected. “But one in a certain place,” &c.—(David, Psalm 8) The Apostle omits mentioning the passage from which the words are taken, because addressing the Jews, so accurately versed in the Scriptures. Some Commentators understand Psalm 8 to refer, in its literal sense, to the benefits conferred on Adam and his posterity. The Psalmist is supposed by them, while in his youth tending his flocks at night, “oves et boves universas,” &c., and gazing on the heavens, “the moon and the stars which thou hast founded.” (Psalm 8:4), resplendently reflecting the attributes of the Creator, to have burst forth into the praises of God—“Domine, dominus noster,” &c., admiring, at the same time, his concern for man, to whose use and benefit all creation was made subservient. He was specially “mindful” of frail, weak man, and “visited” him by conferring on him so many signal favours. He set him over the rest of creation, and made him “a little lower than the angels.” The Hebrew for “little” (meat), as also the Greek, βραχυ τι, may signify, either for a short time, during his mortal life—for, in heaven all “shall be as the angels of God,”—or, a little, in dignity, below the angels, the angelic being superior to human nature. The Hebrew for “angels” (elohim), is frequently applied to creatures, and is rendered “angels” by the Septuagint, both here and in other places, (v.g.) adorent eum angeli (elohim) Dei (chap. 1, verse 6). He “subjected all things under his feet,” by giving him dominion over all earthly creatures. Therefore, it is added in the Psalm, “all sheep and oxen,” &c. Taken in their mystical sense, on which the reasoning of the Apostle, applying them to Christ is founded, the words mean, what is human nature (“man and the son of man,”) that God should specially visit it by becoming personally united to it at his incarnation. “For a little,” during his mortal life, and especially his passion, Christ in his human nature appeared lower than the angels; or, in dignity, the human nature of Christ was lower than the angels (for many hold that of itself the angelic nature is superior to the human nature of Christ). “Thou hast subjected,” &c. These words are taken in their widest extent, and from his saying that he “subjected all things,” the Apostle infers that nothing, not excepting the angels, was left unsubjected. It is not unusual with the Apostle to ground an argument quite conclusively on the mystical meaning of the Scriptures of the Old Testament (see chap. 1 verse 5).

Others maintain that Psalm 8 literally and directly refers to Christ. He frequently styles himself in the Gospel, “filius hominis,” to which the words of the Psalmist are, most likely, prophetically allusive. The Psalm is quoted from in three other places of the New Testament (Matthew, 21:16; 1 Cor. 15:27; Ephes. 1:22), and in all these it is applied to Christ. To this it might be said in reply, that the Psalm is quoted in its mystical sense, in the passages referred to. The advocates of this opinion also say that, although some passages of the Psalm may literally apply to Adam and mankind in general; still, it is only to Christ the entire Psalm could refer, as there are other passages which could not apply to man (v.g.), that after being lowered beneath the angels, he was crowned with honour and glory, that he was set over the works of God and that “all things,” except God, as the Apostle interprets it (1 Cor. 15), were “subjected under his feet.” It might, however, be said in reply, that after being lowered, in dignity, below the angels, man was crowned with honour and glory in the high destiny in store for him hereafter, and the lofty dominion over creatures given to him and continued after his fall; and that, after a short time, he shall be equal to the angels in the fruition of heavenly bliss; with regard to the subjection of all things, it might be said, that the Apostle, in their mystical application, gives the words a greater extension, so that in their mystical sense, as applying to Christ, they are more fully and more perfectly verified.

8. “Thou hast subjected all things under his feet;” from the Psalmist’s universal assertion that “he subjected all,” the Apostle infers that nothing, of course, not even the angels, was left unsubjected. “But now we do not see,” &c. The Apostle admits that the portion of the divine oracle, which regards the universal subjection of all things to Christ, is not yet actually fulfilled in execution. But he says, that from the fulfilment of the other part of the promise, which regards the “crowning of Christ with honour,” &c., after his passion, we can calculate on the fulfilment of this also, in due time; and that the other part is fulfilled, is clear from verse 9.

9. “But we see Jesus,” &c. Hence, one part of the promise is fulfilled. “For the suffering of death,” may be also connected with the words, “made a little lower than the angels,” as if he said, “he was made a little lower than the angels, on account of the suffering of death.” “That through the grace of God” is an explanation of the words, “suffering of death,” as if he said, when I refer to the suffering of death, I must explain it, as being the result of the gratuitous love of God by which he sincerely wished for the redemption of the entire human race. “For all.” In Greek, ὑπὲρ παντὸς, for every man.

10. The ignominious death of Christ was to the Jews a subject of scandal. Hence, the Apostle here sets about vindicating the economy of redemption. “Who had brought many children unto glory.” The words, by suffering, are understood. Some understand the words, “who had brought,” to mean, “who had decreed to bring,” because no one was brought to heavenly glory, before Christ’s Passion and Ascension. Others, who by “glory,” also understand heavenly glory, take the word “brought,” literally to mean, actually brought, because the patriarchs, and just of old, were sure of heavenly glory, and were immediately to enter on it; or rather these say, that “glory” means not heavenly glory, but renown, celebrity; and God had rendered many of his sons of old, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, &c., renowned and celebrated, through the ordeal of suffering. Hence, God brought them to glory by suffering, because they performed the works of suffering, to which this glory or renown was attached. “The author of their salvation.” In Greek, αρχηγον, the chief, or captain of their salvation.

11. “He that sanctifieth,” &c. The Apostle more fully explains the preceding verse. The Pontiff who sanctifies, and they who are sanctified, should be of the same nature, or from the same stock. The Pontiffs among the Jews were taken from the Jewish people. Hence, as Christ is constituted by God (verse 18) a Pontiff to redeem men, he ought to be of the same nature, a nature passible and liable to suffering. The reason why Christ, as Pontiff, should assume a passible nature is assigned (verse 17), between which verse and this (verse 11) the closest connexion is clearly traceable. “For which cause he is not ashamed,” &c. Hence, to observe this congruity of being of the same nature with the redeemed, Christ assumed our nature, in virtue of which he is not ashamed to call us brethren, as appears from (verse 12).

12. Psalm 21 from which these words are quoted, evidently refers to the Passion of Christ, and the words quoted from it in this verse have reference to the time after his Resurrection, when he frequently calls his Apostles “brethren” (Mat. 28; John, 20); he then announced to them the name of God during forty days, and afterwards announced it through them to the world, and it was after the promulgation of his law, that the praises of God the Father, and his own, were solemnly proclaimed in the churches.

13. “I will put my trust in him.” These words are found in the Greek version of the Septuagint, from which the quotations in this Epistle are taken (chap. 8:17, of Isaias). They convey the “trust” of a man in distress, and, as in their mystical sense they applied to Christ, they prove that he must have assumed a passible nature; otherwise, he could not be in distress, as the word “trust” supposes. “Behold I and my children,” &c. The words are found in verse 18 of the same chapter, and though, like the preceding, literally applying to Isaias himself, they refer mystically to Christ, and are applied to him by the Apostle, in the next verse.

14. Since the children of Christ have a passible nature (which is meant by “flesh” and “blood”), so, in like manner, he assumed the nature of “these children, whom God gave him” (John, 17:15), for the purpose of destroying the power of the devil (see Paraphrase), according to which interpretation, the words have the same meaning as chap. 8:3, to the Romans. They may also mean, that he destroyed the power of the devil, by obtaining for men, through his passion and death, the means of escaping that second and eternal death, in which the empire of the devil principally consisted.

15. According to the meaning in the Paraphrase, the Apostle says, that by his death and subsequent resurrection, Christ showed men, that death was a mere sleep, and not so formidable, owing to his grace, as they were apt to imagine; for, the terror of its approach kept them in servile fear, during the entire course of their lives. The words may also mean, that he rescued men from the servitude of the Mosaic law, which restrained them within the bounds of duty only by the fear of death, which it proposed in cases of weightier transgressions.

16. According to the interpretation in Paraphrase, this verse is connected with verse 15: he rescued “those who were through fear of death all their lifetime,” &c.; for, it was not the angels, who, being immortal, were not afraid of death, and required not to be ransomed, that he grasped and dragged forth from their servitude, and asserted into liberty. The Greek word for “take hold of,” επιλαμβανεται, means, to seize hold of, and drag back, one flying from us. This is the interpretation of the verse that accords best with the following. Others connect this verse with verse 14, thus: “he also in like manner hath been partaker of the same” … for it was not the angelic nature he assumed to an hypostatic union, but human nature of the seed of Abraham. This is the interpretation more commonly given of this verse. The interpretation adopted in the Paraphrase seems, however, preferable; both because it is the natural meaning of the verb, “take hold of,” and because it accords better with the following verse; moreover, the latter interpretation would appear a useless repetition of the words—verse 15—“he also in like manner hath been partaker of the same,” which clearly express that he assumed human nature, the nature of his “children.”

17. As Christ, then, came to redeem and sanctify mankind; it was meet that he should become like them in all their infirmities, not unsuited to his dignity and infinite sanctity, i.e., become weak, passible, mortal; this assimilation in these respects being necessary, in order that he might he adorned with the two great qualities of a high priest, viz., fidelity, consisting in his satisfying for sin, of which he would be incapable, if he had not a passible nature;

18. And mercy, which he is the better fitted to exercise, by having suffered himself; for, the circumstance of his own possibility, and of his experimentally becoming acquainted with the miseries of his people, and of his participation in them, will serve to render the pontiff who sanctifies, more apt to compassionate, and will add energy and force (“he is able”) to his exertions for their relief.








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