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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, raises Christ above Aaron, and thus evidently raises his Priesthood above that of Aaron, and his successors. The superior excellence of Christ, as Priest, is shown from the exalted place he holds in heaven (1), and from the superior excellence of the heavenly tabernacle, of which he is the ministering Pontiff (2). From the very nature of his Priestly office is shown that he is a ministering Pontiff (3), and the superior excellence of the victim which he offers, clearly proves his exalted dignity (4). His superiority over Aaron is also shown from the superior excellence of the Testament, of which he is Mediator (6).

The Apostle, finally, proves the translation not only of the Jewish Priesthood, but of the entire ancient Testament. For, this Testament was not faultless; there was room, therefore, for a better. The translation of the ancient Testament, on this ground, he proves from the Prophet Jeremias (8–12). The Apostle grounds another argument in proof of the translation and abrogation of the Old Testament, on the word “new”—the epithet, with which Jeremias designates the Second Testament—and from the meaning of this word, he infers that the Old Testament must now have ceased.

Paraphrase

1. The summary abridgment of all we have said concerning the priesthood of Christ is this: that in him we have a Pontiff, who sits at the right hand of the throne of majesty in heaven,

2. The ministering pontiff of the celestial Holy of Holies, that is to say, of the true tabernacle (to which the Jewish bore the relation of type), which the Lord hath framed, and not man.

3. (Although sitting at the right hand of God, he still acts as ministering pontiff of the true tabernacle), because every high priest, by the very nature of his office, is constituted to offer gifts and victims in sacrifice to God. Hence, as Christ is priest even in heaven, he must have something to offer.

4. If, then, he were a priest of an earthly tabernacle, and belonged to that department which is opposed to the celestial, or rather, if this “something,” or victim, which, as priest, he must offer, were terrestrial, he would be no priest at all; because, not belonging to the tribe of Levi, he would be disqualified by the law for such offerings, or, rather, because his priesthood would be quite useless, since the established ministry of the Aaronic priests would suffice for that purpose:

5. Who minister in the tabernacle, which is but the obscure delineation, and mere shadowing representation of the heavenly (of which Christ is ministering pontiff—verse 2), according to the divine response given to Moses, when about to make the tabernacle:—“See (he says), that thou do all things according to the model shown thee on the mount.”

6. But now, in his heavenly sanctuary, Christ has obtained a priestly ministry as far exceeding in superior excellence the priesthood of Aaron, as the covenant, of which he is mediator, surpasses the covenant of Moses and as the promises, with which this new testament is promulgated, exceed the promises of the old.

7. But if the former covenant were free from imperfection, so that nothing were wanting to it, there would be no room for a second, nor would a second and better covenant have been sought for

8. (Now, there was room and necessity for a second), for, finding fault with the Jews themselves, and indirectly with their testament, God says—(Jeremias, 31:31)—“Behold the days shall come, saith the Lord, and I will perfect unto the house of Israel and unto the house of Juda, a new testament.”

9. “Not like the testament which I made to their fathers, the time I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt.” Because they violated my covenant, I in turn, slighted and neglected them, saith the Lord.

10. “But this is the testament which I shall make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord. I shall give my laws into their minds, and in their hearts will I write them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

11. Nor will there be any further necessity for each one to teach his neighbour, or his brother, to know the Lord (by a practical knowledge consisting in loving him and keeping his commandments); because all, who, properly speaking, belong to this new testament, will have this knowledge impressed on their minds and written on their hearts by grace.

12. Because I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will no longer remember their sins (and consequently will give them grace to fulfil my law).

13. Now, in promising a new testament by the mouth of Jeremias, God has represented the former as old and antiquated. But what is grown old and antiquated, is approaching dissolution: consequently, the testament grown old in the days of Jeremias, must, by this time, have perished.

Commentary

1. St. Chrysostom understands by “sum,” κεφάλαιον, the chief, the greatest of all the qualities yet enumerated; others, the recapitulation of the foregoing; but, the interpretation in the Paraphrase is preferable.

2. He was minister of the true tabernacle, of which the Jewish tabernacle—built after the model proposed to Moses on the Mount, verse 5—was a mere type. The Greek for “minister,” λειτουργος, means one who performs publicly religious services; it is a term, which applies to all priests; but particularly to a high priest. “Holies and true tabernacle,” probably refer to the same thing—viz., the Church triumphant in heaven and militant on earth; then, “and” means, that is. He is “minister of the holies and (that is) of the true tabernacle”—or, if they refer to different things; then, “the holies” refer to heaven, and “the true tabernacle,” as distinguished from it (although, in reality, “the holies,” formed a part of the Jewish tabernacle), means the Church militant; and Jesus is minister in both; for, he exercises his priesthood in heaven and on earth. “True” is said, not in opposition to false, it means real, opposed to type and figure.

By an allusion to the duties of the high priest in the old law, the Apostle points out the superior excellence of Christ. The great duty of the Jewish high priest was to enter yearly and minister in the earthly “Holy of Holies,” which might be termed a “throne of majesty” (verse 1), but not “in the heavens.” He did not “sit” there; he rather trembled before it. Our High Priest sits down in the real Holy of Holies, “in the heavens,” next the majesty of God himself.

3. Christ exercises the office of priest by presenting his humanity and passion to God the Father (9:24); but especially by the ministry of his vicars on earth, in the sacrifice of the Mass. It is the former mode of ministering that the Apostle here principally regards. The question of the Eucharist did not fall within his scope, and he omitted direct reference to it, for reasons already assigned. However, the universal proposition employed by the Apostle, together with the word “gifts,” which refers to unbloody oblations, as well as his frequent allusions to the order of Melchisedech, which is fulfilled only in the Eucharistic sacrifice, renders it very probable, that reference is here made to that sacrifice, at least in such a way, as to be perceived and understood by the faithful.

4. “If then.” In the ordinary Greek copies, εἰ μὲν γὰρ, for if. The Vulgate is supported by the Alexandrian and other manuscripts, and is generally preferred by critics.

“On earth,” may refer to the priest, if Christ were priest of an earthly tabernacle, or, more probably, it refers to the victim, “should have something to offer” (verse 3), as if he said, If then this “something,” or victim, were earthly, Christ would not be priest at all; since “there would be others to offer gifts according to the law,” which law would disqualify him, not being of the tribe of Levi. Moreover, his priesthood would be, in that case, quite useless; as the Aaronic priests would suffice. And since, according to the Psalmist, he is a priest; he is, therefore, a priest of the heavenly tabernacle, of which the Jewish is a mere type. He is, of course, as superior to the Levitical priests, as heaven is to earth; as the reality, to its type and figure.

5. The Aaronic priests “serve.” The Greek word, λατρευουσι, implies worship, in a tabernacle, which is but “the example.” In Greek, ὑποδείγματι, a mere obscure delineation; “and shadow of heavenly things,” i.e., of the heavenly sanctuary and true tabernacle of the Church, militant and triumphant (verse 2). The word “example” is not taken here in its ordinary signification, which is, that of model or pattern, as in the words, “according to the pattern,” κατὰ τον τὺπον. The Greek word already quoted, shows the meaning given in the Paraphrase to be correct. “As it was answered to Moses,” &c. The tabernacle of Moses was, according to the Apostle, only a figure and obscure representation of things done by Christ in the Church militant and triumphant. And this, Moses clearly perceived, from the divine oracle commanding him, when about to frame the tabernacle, to make it according to the pattern, sensibly presented to him on the Mount. He saw that this pattern had a typical relation to the future things to be done by Christ in his Church and in heaven. “See thou make all things,” &c. The words, “all things,” are not found in the text (Exodus, 25:40), they have been added by the Apostle.

6. The Apostle having already clearly proved the translation of the Aaronic priesthood, is preparing, in this verse, while adducing a further argument in favour of the superior excellence of Christ’s priesthood, to show us, that the entire Mosaic law or covenant is to make way for, and to be abolished by, a more excellent one introduced by Christ.

7. “If that former had been faultless,” i.e., free from all imperfection—it contained nothing positively bad, being “holy, just, and good” (Rom. 7:12); but, it was imperfect, for remitting sin and imparting justification. “There should not, indeed, a place have been sought for a second;” i.e., a second and better covenant would have no place, as there would have been no use or occasion for it; and consequently, it would not have been sought for.

8. “For, finding fault with them;” as if he said: but, a place for another and better testament was to be found, “for, finding fault with them he saith,” or, “finding fault” (with the covenant), he saith to them, i.e., the Jews. The Greek, μεμφόμενος γὰρ αὐτοῖς λέγει, will admit either construction; the former is, however, the more probable. “Finding fault” with the Jews, implies, finding fault with the old testament, which did not of itself supply them with the means of observing its laws, in a manner pleasing to God and meritorious or eternal life; for, all the graces attached to the old testament, and justifying its children, were, properly speaking, derived from the new. The words are taken from the 31st chapter of the Prophet Jeremias, and are quoted by the Apostle from the Septuagint version; the Jews themselves admit that, in its literal sense, this passage refers to the Messiah. The Prophet is speaking of a new testament, which the Lord promises to make “with the house of Israel and the house of Juda,” i.e., with the faithful of the Christian Church.

9. And he says, it will not be like the covenant or testament which he made with their fathers, the Israelites, on the fiftieth day after their deliverance from the Egyptian bondage. They violated his covenant, and on this account, he in turn forsook them, withdrawing his special care and protection from them.

10. And then he declares what this testament shall be, as contrasted with the old:—“I will give my laws unto their minds, and in their hearts will I write them,” which is evidently allusive to the manner in which the Old Law was given; for, God gave his laws (the decalogue) to the Jews, written on the tables of stone. The same laws he gives to the Christians of the new testament, written on their hearts and minds, by grace and love.

11. Another thing peculiar to the new testament, and an effect of the laws being written on their hearts is, that “they shall not teach every man his neighbour, … know the Lord,” &c. It is by no means easy to see how these words are verified in the new testament; hence, the variety of interpretations given, all of which render the passage difficult and perplexing. Whatever may be the true meaning of the words, it can be clearly shown from several passages of the Gospel and the Epistles, particularly Ephesians (chap. 4) that they cannot exclude the external ministry of teaching, in the Church. The same clearly follows from the Apostle’s writing this Epistle. If the external ministry of teaching were excluded, why should the Apostle write this Epistle to instruct the Hebrews? Some Expositors say the Prophet refers to the crime of idolatry, to which the Jews were particularly prone, and against which they required to be constantly cautioned, by proposing the knowledge of the true God. “Know the Lord:” but amongst Christians, no such danger was to be apprehended; and therefore, no necessity for reminding them of the true God. The words are, most probably, to be understood of instruction, not in mere speculative knowledge; but, in the practical knowledge and love of God. In the old testament, each one was obliged to put his neighbour in mind of God, and instruct him in that practical knowledge which consisted in knowing the Jewish law and observing it, not merely externally, so as to avoid the penalties of its infraction, but in observing it through grace, and in a manner, meritorious of eternal life. The reason why this was required in the Old Law arose from its being necessarily imperfect. To the Old Law, as such, the grace referred to here had not been attached, nor could it beget that practical love and knowledge, of which there is question in the words of the Prophet. God had promised the Jewish people temporal blessings—under the figure of which he promised eternal blessings also—and as a condition for securing these, he required the observance of his law; but the greater part of the Jews did not observe the law in a proper way, “they continued not in my testament” (9). In the New Law spiritual blessings, viz., the inheritance of God’s kingdom, are promised to such as observe the gospel.

Another great difference is, that in the Old Law, God left the Jews in a great measure to themselves, to observe the conditions necessary for arriving at the promised goods. Whereas, in the New Law, he not only promises the kingdom of heaven, but as a part of the testament, he gives the graces necessary for fulfilling his law, and for observing the conditions, necessary for arriving at this kingdom. That Jeremias or St. Paul speaks of this practical knowledge or love of God, which consists in fulfilling his law, is confirmed by the following verse.

12. Here the prophet assigns the reason why it will not be necessary for every man to be teaching his neighbour; because God will “no longer remember their sins” he will fully pardon them, and give the grace necessary to fulfil his law—a grace peculiar to the new testament; it did not belong to the old testament, as such. But how is it, that in the new testament “all from the least to the greatest of them,” will have this knowledge; surely, all do not love God? The Apostle here refers to such as were, properly speaking, children of the new testament—viz., the just of the Church; for, these have received a portion of the inheritance here below, in the remission of their sins, grace, &c.; and, by persevering, they will obtain the whole hereafter. There are, doubtless, many sinners under the New Law, who might be called children of the Old; as, on the other hand, there were many just under the old, who were sanctified by the graces belonging to the new testament, and could, therefore, be justly called children of the new testament. Such appears to be a probable interpretation of the passage so perplexing to Commentators, and presenting under every view, very grave difficulties.

13. The Apostle, having proved from the prophetic testimony, that the first testament was not faultless, and that there was room for a second and better (7); now, grounds a new argument in proof of the abrogation of the Mosaic law, and of the old testament, on the word “new,” by which the prophet designates this second testament. By calling it “new,” he represents the former testament as antiquated. Now, whatever is grown old and antiquated, and consequently weak and useless (as in the ordinary affairs of nature), is approaching dissolution; and hence, the testament, grown old in the days of Jeremias, must now have altogether ceased.








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