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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 points out the practical instruction which the Hebrews should derive from the examples of the illustrious heroes of faith, who served at the same time as witnesses of its great efficacy. It is this; that they should, like them, enter on the spiritual struggle, with patience and alacrity (1). He also animates them by the prospect of the rewards, which Jesus holds out for them (2), and by the example of suffering which he set them (3). He adduces the testimony of the Holy Ghost, wherein is set forth the advantage of affliction, in order to console them under persecution and suffering (5–8). He institutes a comparison between the correction administered to us by our earthly parents, and that administered by God, and the effects of both (8–10). He shows that the effect of our present affliction, although bitter at present, shall be, in the end, most sweet and agreeable (11).

From the foregoing, he exhorts them to advance straightforward with courage and vigour in the path of Christian perfection (12, 13), to cultivate peace and purity of heart (14), to correspond with God’s grace, and by prudent vigilance and circumspection, to see that there be found amongst them neither impure nor impious men, who may, like Esau, be reprobated and lose their eternal inheritance (15–17).

He institutes a comparison between the New and the Old Testaments, with a view of exhorting them to purity of life and morals, corresponding with the dignity of the better and more perfect covenant to which they belonged; or, perhaps, as appears from verse, 25, with a view of deterring them from apostasy, by showing the grievousness of that crime, and the heavy punishment in store for such transgressions (18–25). He points out, with the same view, the rigours of future judgment (29).

Paraphrase

1. Having, therefore, so great a multitude of illustrious witnesses, bearing testimony to the excellence and efficacy of faith, surrounding and enveloping us in every direction, like a cloud; let us, casting away all weight of sensual, terrene affections, all grossness of ideas respecting faith and sin entangling us in our inward course, by patient endurance, enter on the path marked out for us.

2. Keeping a steady eye on the master of the race, Jesus himself, who is both the author of our faith—having by his merit secured the graces necessary for it; and its finisher—because he will reward and bring it to a happy issue; who instead of the joy, upon which, in a different order of things, he might have entered, freely and voluntarily bore the cross; and having despised the ignominy attached thereto, now sits at the right hand of the throne of majesty in heaven.

3. For, reflect diligently on the example he has given you, who, although Son of God, has borne such persecution in the way of bodily suffering, contempt, and reproaches against himself from sinners, so that by the contrast you will feel ashamed to yield or despond in mind, under the trifling privations which you are doomed to endure.

4. For, while he has poured out the last drop of his sacred blood, you have not yet shed a single drop in the spiritual contest, in which you have been engaged against sin.

5. Have you forgotten the consolatory exhortation, which, in the sacred Scriptures, God holds forth to you as to his own children, saying: My son, disregard not the disciplinary chastisement of the Lord, and be not disheartened, when corrected by him? (This is a sign of his fatherly benevolence towards thee).

6. For, whom the Lord loveth, him does he chastise by temporal afflictions, with a view of trying, instructing, and amending him; and he scourges every one whom he has received into the adoption of sons.—Proverbs, 3:11.

7. Persevere under chastisement, since, by inflicting it, God shows himself as a father, and treats you as children; for, what son is there, whom his father does not correct and chastise?

8. But if you are left without chastisement or correction, in which all true sons of God are made to share; then, you are regarded by him not as legitimate sons, but as bastards, of whose education and morals the father takes no care.

9. Moreover, our earthly fathers according to the flesh, corrected us, and we reverenced them; with how much greater reverence ought we not receive the paternal correction of the heavenly father of our souls, and thereby receive eternal life for recompense?

10. And (mark the difference of correction in both instances) the fathers of our flesh instructed us in reference to the regulating of this short life; and that, following their own capricious wills; but, our heavenly Father instructs and chastises us in reference to what is useful for us, not for a merely temporal end, but for the end of our sanctification.

11. And if we look to the immediate effect of God’s chastisement, this would seem to be, while we are suffering under it, not joy, but sorrow; but those exercised in it will reap in abundance, hereafter the fruit of justice, which justice carries with it peace and consolation of soul.

12. Wherefore, such being the good effects of suffering, shaking off all sloth, brace your nerves for further exertion, lift up the hands which hang down, and the tottering knees.

13. And instead of staggering, from the effects of persecution, between Christianity and Judaism, walk straightforward in the way of the gospel, that no one halting in the right path, may turn aside from it, but rather may be healed.

14. Cultivate peace as far as possible, with all men, and that general purity of heart, without which no one shall see God.

15. Exercising also a prudent and charitable vigilance over others, seeing that no one amongst you be wanting to the great grace of faith and of his Christian calling, lest any root of bitterness (either in the shape of depraved example or false doctrine) springing up, should impede your onward straight course and prove the cause of spiritual defilement to many.

16. Lest there be any fornicator among you, any sacrilegious person, like Esau, who, for one mess of pottage, sold his birthright.

17. For, you should remember, that when afterwards anxiously endeavouring to obtain his father’s blessing, he was rejected; for, he could find no means of inducing his father to change his act, although he sought it with tears.

18. (Your sanctity should be greater, as the religion which you profess is the more holy and exalted); for, you have not approached the material tangible mountain (Sinai), nor the fire kindled on its summit, nor the impetuous winds, nor the dense clouds, nor the storm of rain, thunder, and lightning;

19. Nor the sound of a trumpet through which were uttered the words of the angel, which the Jews hearing, exclaimed: “Let not the Lord speak to us, but Moses, lest we die.”—(Exodus, 20:19).

20. For they could not bear the dreadful edict, that should even a beast approach the mount, it should be stoned.

21. And so terrible was the entire appearance, that Moses himself, though accustomed to long and familiar converse with God, said, I am seized with fright and trembling.

22. But you have approached the spiritual Mount Sion, or the Church of Christ founded on Sion, and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and the joyous assemblage of many thousands of angels, not arrayed in terror, like the angels of Sinai, but celebrating an eternal festival of joy;

23. And to the Church of the first-born, i.e., of the Apostles, Martyrs, and primitive faithful, who, having been first regenerated in Christ, and having received the first fruits and abundance of the spirit, are now enrolled as citizens of heaven, in which they reign with Christ, and to God the Judge of all, who will reward your fidelity and punish your persecutors; and to the spirits of the just of the Old Testament, who now, after performing prodigies of faith, are possessed of consummate felicity, in the enjoyment of the beatific vision of God;

24. And to Jesus, the Mediator of the New Testament (on the part of God promising eternal rewards to such as observe the conditions of the testament, and on the part of men, enabling them, by the grace which he has merited, to observe the law), and to the sprinkling of the blood of Christ (typified by the sprinkling of the blood of the legal victims), speaking better things than that of Abel (the blood of Abel cried aloud for vengeance, that of Christ, for peace and mercy).

25. See, then, lest you refuse attending to the voice of him who thus speaks to you. For, if your fathers were dealt with so severely, for refusing to listen to him (i.e., Moses), who spoke on earth; how much more severely will we be punished, if we refuse to listen to Christ speaking to us from heaven (and enforcing, through his Apostles and ministers, that law, promulgated by himself, while here on earth).

26. Whose voice, as God, then moved the earth when the law was given on Sinai; but which now again will, according to the prophecy of Aggeus, yet once more move not only the earth, but heaven also.

27. And by saying, yet once, &c., he implies the translation of the changeable and moveable things, as of merely temporary institution, to make room for the immoveable.

28. Therefore, receiving an immoveable kingdom, which is prepared for us, let us firmly possess the grace of Christianity, whereby alone we can please God, serving him with fear, which will prevent our offending him by sin, and with reverence, by rendering unto him the worship due to him.

29. For, our God is like a most destructive fire in consuming his enemies, in torturing and taking vengeance on them.

Commentary

1. “A cloud of witnesses,” for, in what direction soever we look, some of these illustrious heroes meet us, bearing testimony to the excellence and efficacy of faith. “And the sin that surroundeth us,” probably refers to the disposition to commit the sin of apostasy, to which so many temptations were impelling them; or, it might refer to the external provocations and seductive examples, which were urging them on to sin. To these, he opposes the examples of the saints of old. “That surrounds us;” in the Greek, ευπεριστατον that easily besets us, as flowing garments impede men in their onward course. It is needless to remark, that there is an agonistic allusion, contained in this verse. “By patience, run to the fight,” &c. In Greek, run the contest, i.e., race, proposed to us. The Apostle frequently represents the Christian’s progress, as in a race-course, in which men are striving for the prize of eternal life. The innumerable multitude of the saints of old are, like the spectators of the agonistic exercises in the amphitheatre, placed over our heads, and encouraging us in the combat. And Jesus himself is the distributor of the prizes to such as comply with the prescribed conditions of the race. In this race, two things are to be removed, viz., all unnecessary weight, and all obstacles that lie in the way.

2. Jesus is the distributor of the prizes to such as win according to the prescribed laws of the contest. “Who having joy set before him,” which is interpreted by some, who, in consideration of the joy set before him, as the reward of his sufferings. The interpretation in the Paraphrase is more in accordance with the Greek, αντι της χαρας, “who,” instead of the joy, which, in a different order of Providence, it was free for him to select, “endured the cross,” &c. Of course, there is question of the joy which he might enjoy, as man; for, as God, he necessarily enjoyed the glory of the Divinity.

3. They are not to look upon Jesus, merely in the light of one holding the prize of eternal life for the victor (verse 2), but they should also regard him as their model in suffering. “Think diligently upon him,” i.e., upon the exalted dignity of him who “endured such opposition,” i.e., torments persecution, reproaches, &c. He is the eternal Son of God. From whom did he endure it? “From sinners,” in whose behalf he suffers. All our present sufferings will appear trifling, if compared with the sufferings of the Son of God, and in meditating on his sacred passion, we should never lose sight of these two thoughts. Who, is it that suffers? and why, is it he suffers? The sufferer is the Eternal God, the Creator of the universe. He suffers torments, which he could not merit, to save us from the eternal excruciating torments we justly merited, and to which we should be otherwise infallibly subjected without hope of alleviation; nay, with the certain knowledge, every moment we suffered, that these tortures should be for eternity, as long as God would be God. Ut servum redimeres, filium tradidisti. How the consideration of Christ’s Passion, with all its circumstances, should humble his sinful creatures, and challenge their everlasting love and gratitude!

4. The confiscation of property and the ignominious treatment which they had hitherto endured, were comparatively light trials. They did not yet pour out their blood, in their resistance to sin. By “sin,” some understand, sinners, the abstract, for the concrete. Others, more probably, think that the word “sin,” is personified as an adversary, with whom they are contending (for, the agonistic metaphor referred to, verse 1, is here again introduced); and, then, this adversary, “sin,” refers to the temptation and allurements, held out to them by the false doctrines and pernicious examples of apostates.

5. “And you have forgotten,” &c. This is read interrogatively by some, and with great force, and have you forgotten? &c. The meaning is the same in both readings. These words are quoted from the Book of Proverbs (chap. 3) according to the Septuagint version. They are introduced by the Apostle to encourage the Hebrews in their afflictions; since they show that crosses and afflictions, far from being evils, are, on the contrary, a mark of God’s special love and adoption. “Consolation.” The Greek, παρακλησεως, also means, exhortation. “Neglect not the discipline,” &c. “Discipline,” in the Greek, παιδειας, means, the chastisement of children.

7. “Persevere under discipline,” &c. In Greek, ει παιδειαν ὑπομενετε, if you patiently endure discipline. “God dealeth with you as with his sons.” “For what son is there whom the father does not correct?” and hence, as sons of God, they should not expect to be exempted from the common lot of all true children. The Greek reading derives great probability from the antithesis, next verse. If you persevere under discipline, God, by sending it, treats you as children; “for, what son is there whom the father does not correct?”

8. But if he does not send you chastisements, he treats you as bastards are treated by their fathers, who neglect their education and moral culture.

9. This contains a new motive for patiently receiving correction from the hands of God. God is said to be “the father of spirits,” i.e., of our souls, because, although he is the father of our bodies also, still he creates our souls without any instrumentality on the part of man, and he regenerates them in a new way, by his holy Spirit.

10. The Apostle points out the different effects of the chastisement and paternal correction in both cases. “According to their own pleasure,” i.e., according to their capricious and changeable wills, proposing as end, in many instances, not so much our amendment, as the gratification of their own whims and caprice. “That we might receive his sanctification.” The end of his castigation and correction is to purge and prepare us to become “partakers of the divine nature,” (2 Peter, 1:4), i.e., of his sanctity here, and of his glory hereafter.

11. The present effect of correction and suffering would appear to be, not joy, but sorrow, during the time we are enduring it. He says, “seemeth not to bring with it joy, but sorrow,” because it is commonly regarded in that light; however, in its effects, it is really “all joy.”—(St. James, 1:2). “The most peaceable fruit of justice,” According to the interpretation in the Paraphrase, by the “fruit of justice,” is meant, justice itself: thus we say, the virtue of humility, i.e., humility itself, &c., and “justice.” or, “the fruit of justice,” has the same meaning as “sanctification,”—verse, 10. Others understand the words to mean, that the patient endurance of affliction will give the fruit of eternal peace, due to it as a matter of justice, or as the reward of strict merit. The former interpretation is the more probable; because the Apostle is not treating of the fruit which justice produces, but of the fruit which patience under affliction begets, and that is, justice.

12. He continues the allusion to the agonistic exercises, from which he borrows many illustrations of a Christian life. He exhorts them, leaving aside all indolence and remissness, to prepare themselves for the patient endurance of evil, in their struggles with adversity.

13. And also to prepare themselves for the performance of good works, signified by “straight steps,” instead of “halting” in the path of Christian faith, and of inclining to turn aside and not persevere; they should “rather be healed,” i.e., be restored to Christian integrity, in case of departure from it. “The figure is taken from a rough, uneven road,” on which, if a man who is somewhat lame walk, his lameness is increased; while, by moderate exercise on a smooth road, an incipient lameness from paralysis might gradually disappear by the strengthening of the foot.—Kenrick, in hunc locum.

14. “Follow peace,” &c. The Greek word for “follow,” διωκετε contains an allusion to the eager pursuit of battle or the chase. It shows how earnestly the Apostle recommends them to cultivate peace.

15. “Looking diligently,” &c., επισκοπουντες, i.e., not merely confining your attention, each one to his own spiritual concerns, but also exercising a charitable superintendence and vigilance, over the spiritual good of his neighbour. “The grace of God,” i.e., the grace of faith and of Christian vocation. “Lest any root of bitterness springing up.” This is the just designation which the Apostle gives the sin of apostasy and of bad example.

16. “Or profane person, as Esau,” &c. By “profane” βηβηλος is meant a sacrilegious person, who having no sense of religion, treats sacred things with contempt. The chief point of profaneness in the conduct of Esau consisted in his having so far undervalued the right of primogeniture—then considered a singular gift of God, particularly on account of the right to his father’s blessing—as to sell it for a mere mess of pottage. It is said of him in Genesis, chap. 25, “that he made little account of having sold his first birthright.” This is the more tenable opinion, because, if the profaneness be made to consist in his selling a spiritual thing, it will be hard to excuse Jacob from sin in buying it. Nor will it mend the matter much to say, that he knew God had transferred it from Esau to himself; for, still it would be true to say, that he bought a spiritual thing.

17. “No place of repentance,” i.e., on the part of his father Isaac. Others understand it of Esau’s own inefficacious sorrow for having sold his birthright, in neither of which interpretations, is there left the slightest ground of objection to the Novatians. And even should it be referred to penance for sin, no objection still exists; since, Esau had not true sorrow, being intent on killing his brother, as appears from the book of Genesis, 27:41. The Apostle wishes to teach them, by the example of Esau, not to barter heavenly and spiritual things for the earthly, nor to sell the precious inheritance of faith for any human consideration.

18. Some Commentators say, that the object of the Apostle, in contrasting here the New with the Old Testament, was, to anticipate or answer an objection which the Hebrews might make against the New Law, on the ground, that its promulgation was not attended with the splendid phenomena, which ushered in the Old. The Apostle, according to their view, admits the many distinguished marks of divine sanction which characterised the Old Testament; but still, he shows the New was marked by still greater (verse 22). Others, more probably, maintain, that the comparison between both laws was instituted for the purpose of showing the heinousness of desertion from the New Law; for, if the violators of a less perfect law were punished so severely, how much more so will be the apostates from Christianity? which is the conclusion drawn (verse 25). “Approached the mountain which could be touched.” “Approach,” is a term signifying religious worship generally (v.g. 11:6); here, it signifies embracing a religion. The two laws are designated by two mountains, Sinai and Sion. “Which could be touched,” i.e., the material and corporeal, or tangible mountain, as opposed to the incorporeal and spiritual one (verse 22). All the solemnities which accompanied the promulgation of the Old Law are mentioned (Exodus, chap. 19) “And a burning fire.” Sinai “appeared like a furnace” (Exodus, 19) “To a whirlwind, and darkness, and storm” (Exodus, 19, and Deut. 4).

19. “And the sound of a trumpet, and (i.e.), the voice of words,” since it was by a trumpet the angel spoke. “Which they that heard excused themselves,” saying, “speak thou to us … let not the Lord speak to us, lest we die.”—(Exodus, 20:19).

20. They could not endure the dreadful edict menacing them, “if so much as a beast … it shall be stoned,” to which is added in some Greek readings, or thrust through with a dart. But these words are commonly rejected, because wanting in many ancient manuscripts.

21. And so terrible was the entire scene, all that was seen and heard, that Moses himself, though accustomed to long converse with God, said, “I am frighted and tremble.” In the narration of Genesis, we have no record that Moses uttered these words; hence, the Apostle must have learned them from tradition or inspiration, the same way in which he learned the names of the Egyptian magicians.—(2 Timothy, 3)

22. “They are come to Mount Sion,” i.e., they embraced the religion or Church of Christ, founded on Mount Sion. This refers to the Church militant. “And to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” which refers to the Church triumphant, whereof the earthly Jerusalem was a figure. The Apostle, then, alludes, in this verse, to the entire Church, militant and triumphant, regarded here, as one by him; the Church militant here below, is the entrance to the Church militant in heaven, which it continually peoples with blessed spirits, between whom and us here on earth, there is a constant, unceasing communion. They communicate their merits to us, and present our petitions to God, and act as our intercessors with him in heaven.

23. He here, more fully and in detail, points out the inhabitants of the heavenly Jerusalem, with whom we are associated. “To the Church of the first-born,” who are enrolled as citizens of heaven, (vide Paraphrase). In the Greek τανηγυρει και εκκλησια to the general assembly and church of the first-born. Others, by “first-born,” understand all the elect, selected out of the mass of creation; and chosen, as the sons of God, to the inheritance of the first-born. “God the Judge of all.” This is said to console them, because God will reward them, and, as is just, will punish their persecutors (2 Thess. 1:6). “And to the spirits of the just made perfect.” This is, more commonly understood of the just of old, who, having performed glorious works, were still not perfected until now, when Christ opened the gates of heaven—(chap. 11:40).

24. Jesus is the Mediator of the New Testament, because he holds out promises on the part of God; and on the part of man, merits the graces necessary for fulfilling the conditions of the promises, that is to say, the proper observance of the law. The Apostle makes a similar allusion to the mystical signification of Sinai and Jerusalem, in his Epistle to the Galatians (4:24).

25. From this verse appears the scope of the comparison between the Old Testament and the New. He wishes them to understand, that, if the Jews of old, though not favoured with so many advantages, though not permitted to approach him, as we are, nor even to touch the mountain from which he spoke, were visited with such chastisements, for the violation of a law, which had a mere man of earth for its promulgator; how much greater rigour will be exercised against the apostates from the Christian law, which, though, in promulgation, not equal to the Old Law in terror, yet was far beyond it, in majesty and grandeur, its promulgator being God himself, who, by the mouths of his vicars, ceases not to enforce it from heaven! The idea is the same as that conveyed, chap. 2:2, 3, of this Epistle.

But when did the rejection of Moses by their fathers, or refusal to hear him, referred to here by the Apostle, take place?

It more probably refers to their repeated violations of the law promulgated by him, so that the rejection of him here refers to the violation of his law.

26. “I will move.” In the Greek, σειω, I shake. The future is used in the Septuagint version, from which this passage is taken. That Sinai was moved at the giving of the law, we know from Psalm 67: “The earth was moved, and the heavens dropped at the presence of the God of Sinai,” which refers to the giving of the law. The words of the Prophet Aggeus, “yet once,” &c., are quoted from the Septuagint version. In the Vulgate by St. Jerome, they are “yet a little while, and I will move,” &c. (chap. 2). There is, however, but very slight variation in sense; for by, yet a little, he refers to some permanent change not far off. The words of the prophet were first used in reference to Christ’s coming. And the star appearing at his birth, the darkening of the sun, the earthquake, &c., at his death, all show the change which the heavens and the earth underwent. It is, however, far more probable, that the Apostle here applies the words, in an extended sense, and in accommodation to his present purpose, to Christ’s second coming, when, in the language of the Church, cœli movendi sunt et terra. Some Expositors say, that the words of Aggeus refer to Christ’s first coming, and embrace the entire period from his birth, to the end of the world, when this movement and change of the heavens and the earth shall be completed.

27. “Moveable things.” Those who refer the foregoing words of the prophet, in the meaning given them by the Apostle, to the general judgment, understand by these words, the present heavens and the earth, which are to be changed into “new heavens and a new earth” (2 Peter, 3:13); this is the more probable meaning; since, the Apostle would appear to introduce the future judgment of Christ, as a motive to secure their steadfastness in the faith. Those who confine them to his first coming (an improbable interpretation), refer the words “moveable things” to the Jewish tabernacle with its contents.

28. In this verse, he appears to show what the “immoveable things” are, viz., the new heavens and kingdom of Christ.

29. “Fire,” the most active of the four elements aptly represents the avenging wrath of God. These words are taken from Deuteronomy (chap. 9:4), where Moses threatens the people with the heavy anger of God, should they violate his precepts, particularly by falling into idolatry. They are introduced here by the Apostle to show that we should “please God with fear and reverence,” and also, that we shall be visited with more rigorous punishments, than were the Jews of old, if we violate his precept, (verse 25).








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