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


Having introduced the subject of Christ’s priesthood rather abruptly in verse 14 of the preceding chapter, the Apostle undertakes in this to show, from the distinguishing marks and qualities which characterised the Aaronic priesthood (for, it is to the Levitical priests, he refers in instituting this comparison), that Christ too was a priest, as possessing in a more excellent degree the qualities of the Aaronic priests. He first points out what these distinguishing qualities are (1–4), and next applies them to Christ. The first note or quality of a priest, viz., that he be a man, he forbears from applying to Christ, as requiring no application, it was a thing known to all. The second, viz., his offering gifts, &c., he defers for a fuller exposition, in a subsequent part of the Epistle. He treats of the two remaining notes, and applies them to Christ, commencing with the last He shows that Christ had as divine a call to the priesthood, as had Aaron or his sons (5, 6).

He then applies to him the third mark, viz., his capability of compassionating sinners, and referring to his infirmities and sufferings during his mortal life, he shows that he had an experimental knowledge of the arduous nature of obedience, and of the difficult of avoiding sin (7, 8). And having attained consummate glory by suffering, he became to all his true followers, the cause of eternal glory, by the merits of his passion, which, as High Priest, he offered up in sacrifice for us, having been declared by his Father, a pontiff, according to the order of Melchisedech (9, 10).

Although he has much to say concerning this priesthood of Melchisedech, and its relation to Christ, he defers treating of it, until he first gives them further instruction in the principles of faith, which, notwithstanding the length of time they had been professing Christianity, they very much needed.


1. (In order to establish the assertion made 4:14, &c.—viz., that Christ is our high priest, whom we should approach with confidence, it is merely required to show that he has the qualities and marks of a high priest, such as we know to be necessary for a high priest of the Levitical order). Every high priest, then (of the Levitical order), is taken from among men, and is also constituted by his office in behalf of men, to manage their affairs with God, and to act as their mediator with him. This duty he principally discharges by offering up in sacrifice the gifts voluntarily presented, as also those prescribed by law.

2. He should also be possessed of a merciful, kind disposition to sympathize with and compassionate sinners of every description, bearing in mind that he himself is surrounded with the infirmities of our sinful nature.

3. And it is because of this sinful infirmity with which every priest is surrounded, that the Levitical priest is bound by the Law of Moses (Leviticus, 4:3) to offer up sacrifice for his own sins, as well as for those of the people.

4. Again, no legitimate priest ever arrogates to himself, unauthorized, the honour of the priesthood; he alone is a true and legitimate priest who is called by God, as was Aaron.

5. Hence it was, that Christ did not take to himself the glorious quality of high priest; it was bestowed on him by his heavenly Father; for, it was the same who addressed him (Psalm 2) as his natural son—“Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee;”

6. That addressed to him also, as we find in another passage (Psalm, 109), these words—“Thou art a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech;” and thus conferred on him the sacerdotal dignity.

7. Who, when living here on earth, clad in weak, mortal flesh, but more especially while suspended on the cross, having offered up earnest prayers and suppliant entreaties to his Father with a strong cry and tears, to rescue him from the corruption of the tomb, was heard on account of the great reverence he had for his Father; or, on account of the great reverence in which the Father held this venerable high priest, his own beloved Son.

8. Nay, although he was the Son of God, he still vouchsafed to learn experimentally the difficulty of obedience from the sufferings which he underwent, in compliance with the will of his heavenly Father.

9. And having attained consummate glory by sufferings, he is become to all those who obey his precepts, the cause of eternal glory;

10. Being declared by God, a high priest according to the order of Melchisedech,

11. Concerning whom, and the relation of similitude which he bears to Christ, we have much to say, which is not suited to your capacity, and hard to be understood by you, owing to your slowness and indifference in learning the principles of the Christian faith.

12. For, although, looking to the length of time you have been Christians, and had the gospel preached to you, you should be able to become teachers of Christianity, you yourselves still stand in need of being taught its first elementary principles, far from being able to profit by its abstruse and difficult truths, like children, who are to be nourished with milk, and not with solid food.

13. For the person requiring to be nourished with the milk of the plain truths of faith, is unable to profit by the doctrine of high perfection; he is a mere infant in the faith.

14. But the perfect, i.e., those who are practised in the principles of faith, and, by long habit, have their intellectual faculties improved and cultivated, so as to be able to understand more abstruse doctrines, and distinguish one point of faith from the other, are the only persons to be nourished with the solid food of such doctrines.


1. The first quality of a priest is to “be taken from among men,” i.e., to possess human nature. The second is derived from his office, which is to manage the affairs of men, which regard God. And the duty of this office is principally discharged in offering up sacrifice for men. “Gifts,” voluntary oblations, presented by the people. “Sacrifices,” those enjoined by law.

2. The third, is to have a merciful, kind disposition to sympathize with sinners The Greek for “have compassion,” μετριοπαθειν, means, to be possessed of a capability of sympathizing with a degree of moderation, which would enable him to observe a dignified mean between harsh severity on the one hand, and misplaced clemency on the other. The latter defect is frequently abused by the perverse, in the further commission of sin. “Ignorant and err,” extend to all sinners, even those who commit sins that are not the result of ignorance; for, they too are fit objects of compassion. “Because he himself is surrounded with infirmities.” The Apostle refers to the infirmities of sin, as appears from the following verse. This note applies to Christ only as far as the sanctity and perfection of his nature will permit. Hence, it will apply to him, so far as regards the common infirmities and possibility of human nature, which he felt, but not so far as sin is concerned; nor is this required, because the liability to sin is a defect in a priest; and hence, follows the perfection of Christ’s priesthood; since, he possesses all the good qualities, without any of the defects of other priests.

3. And it is on account of this sinful infirmity to which every priest is subject, that the Mosaic Law (Leviticus, 4:3) prescribes, &c.

4. The fourth mark or character is a divine vocation, like that of Aaron and his successors. Aaron was called by God, and ordered to be consecrated (Levit. 8) with the sacerdotal succession, secured to his family. Hence, the necessity of a vocation for the ecclesiastical state, as well as of ordination in the Church. Hence, schismatics and heretics cannot, without sin, perform ecclesiastical functions, not being deputed by God or his Church. Their call is the rebellious usurpation of Core, Dathan, and Abiron, to whom, as they are likened in ministering, so shall they be also in punishment, rather than the divine call of Aaron and his successors transferred to and perpetuated in the holy, Catholic Church.

5, 6. He now applies these marks to Christ. He passes over the first altogether, it being evident that Christ was a man, and, therefore, needed no application. The application of the second he reserves for chapters 7, 8, 9, of this Epistle; the other two he here applies, commencing with the fourth. Christ did not arrogate to himself, unauthorized and uncommissioned, the glory of the priesthood. He was called to it by his Father. For, it was the same who said to him, “Thou art my Son,” &c., that also said, as we find it in another place, “Thou art a priest,” &c., and by the very fact of saying it, constituted him such. Christ, then, had the fourth mark of a true priest, viz., a vocation from God. And instead of saying, God the Father, said to him, “Thou art a priest,” &c., the Apostle says, “He who said to him, thou art my son,” &c., also said, “Thou art a priest,” &c., to insinuate the superiority of Christ, as priest and Son of God at the same time, over Aaron or any other.

7. He now applies the third mark, viz., his capability of compassionating sinners. “Who in the days,” &c.… “with strong cry and tears,” &c. This most probably refers to his prayers on the cross, and his cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” i.e., do not forsake me. “To save him from death,” i.e., from remaining in death. It means, that he begged to be rescued from the grave; and so he was, three days after. “For his reverence.” In Greek, απο της ευλαβειας, may be taken either actively, to denote the reverence which Christ had for the Father; or passively, to denote the Father’s reverence for him. Calvin understands by the Greek word, ευλαβείας, not reverence, but fear of damnation. Christ had fallen into despair, according to the shocking blasphemous notions of this Arch Heretic.

8. “And whereas he was the Son of God.” The Greek omits the words, “of God.” “Whereas,” in Greek, καιπερ, although. Having experienced the miseries of sinners (except sin), and knowing from experience the sacrifice of obedience, and the difficulty of avoiding sin, Christ is, then, perfectly capable of sympathizing with sinners.

9. “And being consummated” by suffering (2:10). “He became to all who obey him,” i.e., who observe his precepts, among which faith in him is reckoned “the cause of eternal salvation.” And to show us how this was effected, viz.:—by his death on the cross—the Apostle refers to his sacerdotal character, in the following verse.

10. The sacrifice of the cross was not offered after the rite of Melchisedech; but the Apostle refers to his priesthood, merely for the purpose of showing that it was as priest he redeemed us, or became for us “the cause of eternal salvation.” The sacrifice of the cross was offered after a new and extraordinary rite, different from that of Aaron and Melchisedech, holding a middle place between the cessation of the one, and the succession of the other.

11. “Of whom” may be also rendered “concerning which” priesthood of Melchisedech. “Because you are become weak.” In Greek, νωθροὶ, because you are slow or dull. Perhaps, this slowness was occasioned by their faltering in faith. This was the place for the Apostle to treat of the priesthood of Melchisedech and its relation to Christ; he defers doing so, however, until he first proposes further instruction; and while reproaching them for their slowness, he excites their attention. Although he afterwards treats of the priesthood of Melchisedech, he does so only as far as it was necessary for his purpose, and omits many points regarding his sacrifice, which the Hebrews were not prepared to hear.

12. “The first elements;” the idea is borrowed from children taught the alphabet. “Need of milk;” another elucidation borrowed from babes, who require to be nourished with milk.

13. He explains what he means by the “perfect”—those who “by custom,” &c., i.e., the practice of learning, meditating, and submitting to the truths of faith, “have their senses exercised.” “Senses” mean the external organs of the body, through which sensations are transmitted to the soul; here, the idea is transferred to the soul, which the Apostle invests, as it were, with internal senses. The words refer to those who have their intellect cultivated and exercised to distinguish good from bad, Catholic truth from heresy. The idea is precisely the same as that conveyed—1st Epistle to Corinthians, chap. 2:14, 15—where the subject is fully explained.

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