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

Analysis

In this concluding chapter, the Apostle inculcates certain duties of morality, and exhorts the Hebrews to the practice of several virtues, both as regards their neighbour and themselves. With regard to the virtues to be exercised towards their neighbour, the Apostle exhorts them to persevere in fraternal charity, to exercise hospitality, and manifest a practical sympathy for those who were suffering for the faith (1–3). He exhorts them to guard strictly conjugal chastity, and shunning avarice, to exhibit their confidence in God (4–6).

He exhorts them to be mindful of their deceased prelates, the consideration of whose edifying lives and holy death should be an encouragement to persevere in the same faith which they professed—a faith as unchangeable as Jesus Christ himself (7, 8). Hence, they should not be led away by fluctuating and contrary doctrines, particularly in reference to the useless distinction of food, and the legal victims. The Christians, although deprived of Jewish victims, have a still more excellent one, whereof those cannot partake who adhere to Judaism; for, in order to be able to partake of it, they must relinquish the synagogue, and the profession of the Jewish religion (9–13).

He recommends liberality towards the poor, and obedience to their prelates (16, 17). He begs the assistance of their prayers, and finally concludes with a prayer and salutation.

Paraphrase

1. Persevere in the exercise of mutual love towards each other, as Christians.

2. And forget not to continue the usual practice of the kind offices of hospitality, i.e., receiving the harbourless, supporting the stranger and the needy; for, it was in reward for the exercise of this virtue, that some persons, not knowing who their guests were, entertained angels, whom they supposed to be mere men.

3. Sympathize with your brethren imprisoned for the faith, as if you were yourselves partners in their chains; compassionate those who are oppressed, bearing in mind, that you yourselves are liable and exposed to the like distress, during the time you live in frail, mortal bodies.

4. Let due honour be paid to the marriage state in all things appertaining thereto, and let the marriage bed be free from all defilement. For, God will judge and punish, with the utmost severity, fornicators and adulterers.

5. (Be not deaf to the cry of affliction). Let your morals be free from all disposition to indulge in the sordid vice of avarice; be content with a sufficiency at present, and as regards the future, cast yourselves with confidence on God’s bountiful providence; for, his promise pledged to Josue also extends to all who confide in him: “I will not leave thee, neither will I forsake thee.”—(Josue, 1:5).

6. So, that we may even confidently expect to vanquish our enemies, as did David under the like circumstances, when he exclaimed: The Lord is my helper; “I will not fear what man shall do unto me.”—(Psalm 117)

7. Remember your former deceased prelates, who preached to you the word of God, and confirmed you in the faith; looking to their edifying lives and holy death, imitate their faith—the source of their sanctity in life, and happiness in death.

8. (Their faith and yours must be the same), since Jesus Christ—the principal object of their faith and yours—is the same, yesterday, to-day, and for ever.

9. Be not carried about by the varying and strange doctrines (of heretics), an example of which is found in the choice of legal, or, rather, in the effects attributed to, sacrificial meats; it is much better to strengthen your hearts by the grace of the New Law, which faith in Christ brings with it, than trust in the efficacy of the observances referred to, which never had the effect of sanctifying those who followed them, and spent their lives in them.

10. (Let it not, however, be supposed, that by giving up the legal offerings, we are without victims, or sacrifice); for, in Christianity, we have on our altars, a victim, that supplies us with the grace which strengthens the heart, whereof they cannot partake who serve the tabernacle and still adhere to the Jewish religion.

11. This exclusion of the ministers and followers of the Jewish tabernacle, from a participation of the victim of our “altar,” was typified by the ordinance of the law respecting the great sacrifice of expiation. For, the bodies of the animals, viz., the goat and the heifer, whose blood was carried by the high priest into the sanctum sanctorum, in the great sacrifice of expiation, were burnt outside the camp (wherein dwelt the Jews, at this time, sojourning in the desert).

12. For which cause, Jesus also, the reality typified, in order to fulfil this figure, suffered outside the gate of Jerusalem, sanctifying the people, with his blood.

13. We, therefore, and all who wish to be partakers of the Christian sacrifice, must go forth to him, outside the camp of the synagogue. In other words, we must desert the synagogue, and join the Church; bearing the reproach attached to the name of Christian.

14. And this voluntary exile, and departure from the synagogue and Jerusalem, should not disturb or frighten us, for we, Christians, have not on this earth any permanent city; as exiles and pilgrims, we are in search of one to come, that is, the heavenly Jerusalem.

15. Having, therefore, been united to Christ, let us continually present through him to God a sacrifice of praise, that is to say, the fruit of lips confessing his name.

16. And to this piety towards God, neglect not to add charity towards your neighbour. Forget not liberality, nor omit to impart your goods to the poor, by relieving them according to your ability; for, by such sacrifices the favour of God is obtained, with them he is well pleased.

17. Obey your prelates, and reverence them; for, you are to regard them as watching over your souls (as they are bound to do in virtue of their office), since, in the day of judgment they must render an account of you. Obey them, therefore, from the heart, that they may discharge this responsible duty of watching over you with joy and not with pain. This would not be expedient for you; for, the groans of the pastor would provoke against you the heavy vengeance of God.

18. Pray for us, and this favour we beg with the greater confidence of obtaining it, since our conscience bears testimony, that in all things connected with the gospel ministry, we have acted with truth and sincerity, and not from any hostility to the law of Moses, or from motives of self-interest.

19. And I beseech you still more to pray for me with the greater earnestness, that I may be restored to you the sooner.

20. Now may God, the author of peace, who raised from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the supreme pastor of the sheep, which he has redeemed by his blood, wherein is sanctioned the new and eternal testament—

21. May he, I say, perfect you in every good work, so that you may do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through the merits of Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever.—Amen.

22. I beseech you brethren, to take in good part this Epistle, designed to console and exhort you; for, considering the vast and comprehensive nature of the subject, I have written to you very briefly.

23. Know ye that our brother Timothy is at large after his imprisonment; should he come to me without delay, I will visit you, accompanied by him.

24. Salute in my name all your prelates, and all the faithful who serve Jesus. The brethren of Italy salute you.

25. The grace of God be with you all. Amen.

Commentary

1. “Let the charity of the brotherhood abide in you.” The words “in you” are not in the Greek. The meaning, however, is not much affected, whether they be expressed or not, because they are understood.

2. The exercise of hospitality, which, in the proper sense of the word, consisted in affording lodging and shelter to distressed strangers, was particularly obligatory in the early ages of the Church, when accommodation was so imperfect, and the Christian converts incurred great risk, both as to faith and morals, by associating and lodging with the infidels. Hence, the exercise of this branch of charity is particularly required of bishops and ecclesiastical widows.—(1 Tim. 3:2; 5:10).

“For, by this,” i.e., in reward of this virtue, “some, not being aware of it, have entertained angels.” God had thus shown, how acceptable and agreeable to him, this virtue of hospitality must be. He alludes to the cases of Abraham and Lot (Genesis, 18:19) On the day of judgment, eternal life will be given, as the reward of this virtue. “I was a stranger and you took me in.”—(St. Matthew, 25:35).

3. They should not only exercise charity towards their distressed brethren, who were at large, by receiving them into their houses; but they should also sympathize with and succour their brethren, who were prisoners for the faith, bearing in mind, that they themselves, as long as they were in the body, were liable and exposed to similar distress. “Them that labour;” των κακουχουμενων, maltreated. It is implied, that it was on account of the Faith, they were so treated.

4. “Marriage honourable in all.” This is clearly hortatory; hence, it means, “let marriage be,” &c. “In all.” Some make, in all persons; and then, it only refers to such as can lawfully engage in the marriage state; but, it could by no means convey a precept to marry on the part of all; nor could it commend marriage in all persons, without exception; because, St. Paul himself would have violated the precept (1 Cor. 7:8), the widows who married, after their vows of chastity, incurred damnation. (1 Tim. 5:12). The meaning which makes it, in all things, connected with marriage, is the true one, as appears from the words immediately subjoined, “for God will judge fornicators,” &c., by which is shown that in the preceding words is inculcated the avoidance of the sin to which damnation is attached in these. Instead of “for fornicators,” the Greek is, πορνους δε, but fornicators. The Alexandrian manuscript has “for.”

5. It is likely that some among them, under the pretext of want, brought on by the confiscation of their property, were indulging in the vice of avarice; hence, his exhortation to avoid it; moreover, they should shun it as being “the root of all evils” (1 Tim. 6) “I will not leave thee,” &c. In these words, the Lord promises Josue not to desert him, but to give him all necessary assistance in the government of the people. This the Apostle extends to the aid which God will grant the just in all their warts; and, thus, he accommodates them to his present purpose.

6. So that we may confidently say, “The Lord is my helper,” &c. These words, quoted from Psalm 117, express the interposition of God to save David from the persecution of his enemies; and are very applicable to the condition of the Hebrews, persecuted, on account of their faith, by their fellow-countrymen.

7. “The end of their conversation” means their death, in justice and sanctity. The words of this verse clearly show that the Apostle refers to their deceased prelates and religious guides, viz., James, Stephen, &c., who trampled under foot, and undervalued all earthly things: the example of these they should follow, and to their faith they should firmly adhere; for, this faith was the source of their sanctity in life, and of their happiness in death.

From this passage we can clearly perceive the advantage of perusing the lives of the saints, who have gone before us. Their lives are to us a practical illustration of the gospel; they point out the means, and serve as an incentive, to labour for heaven, Nonne potes tu, quod isti et istæ.—St. Augustine. It is to the pious reading of the lives of the saints, that the Church is, to a certain degree, indebted for the illustrious Society of Jesus, whose equals the world has never seen; the first, whom the enemies of God and man are sure to assail, as being the leading and the most powerful defenders of religion and social order; their persecution, in any particular country, as the annals of modern rebellions against the altar and the throne too clearly attest, is a sure sign of national reprobation; the certain forerunner of terrible religious and social disasters.

8. As Jesus Christ—the principal object of faith—is always the same; therefore, the faith in him must always be the same; and hence, the faith of the Hebrews, and of their predecessors in the faith, must be identical. These words, most probably, refer to Jesus Christ, as God-man. “Yesterday” refers to the time of his Incarnation. This verse connects the preceding with the following verses. The words, “the same,” are, according to the Greek punctuation, joined to “to-day.”

9. As faith must be, therefore, always one and indivisible, be not carried about by doctrines “various,” i.e., varying in themselves, and from the truth; “and strange,” foreign to the deposit left by God to his Church. “For, it is best to establish the heart with grace.” He gives a particular instance of the false doctrines, to which he has been referring in a general way, in the words, “various … doctrines.” He, most likely, refers to the doctrine regarding the distinction of meats, some of which were forbidden, and others allowed by the law; or rather to the doctrine regarding the effects of meats offered in sacrifice, to which the Judaizers attributed the power and efficacy of sanctifying men. This latter interpretation is rendered probable by the following verse. The Apostle says, it is better to establish and render the heart firm by the grace of Christianity, than by recurring to the use of such meats, which never conferred true sanctity on the worshippers (9:10).

“To walk in,” is a Hebraism for principles of action followed out in practice.—Kenrick, in hunc locum.

10. “We have an altar,” &c. This altar, which is understood of the victim offered on it, refers, according to some, to the adorable Eucharist, the first step to obtain which must be, to go forth from the synagogue; and, that in order to partake of it, they must first leave the synagogue, or Jewish religion, he proves (verse 11), from the rite observed in the great sacrifice of expiation, a type of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, of which the Eucharistic sacrifice is a continuation, and a real unbloody commemoration. The word “eat,” greatly serves to confirm this opinion. “Serve” (λατευοντες) has reference directly to the priests; it also embraces, in a general way, all who approach the Jewish altar, as worshippers.

11. “Are burned without the camp.” The Jews, at the time of this ordinance dwelt in the desert, in a moveable camp, outside which were burned the bodies of the heifer and the goat, whereof neither the priests nor the people could partake.

12. On this account it was that Jesus, in order to correspond with his type (for, of his sacrifice, the great sacrifice of expiation was a mere type and figure) suffered outside the gates of Jerusalem.

13. Hence, we should go forth to him outside the camp, and leaving the synagogue, submit to the reproach of Christ, before we can be partakers of the victim of the Christian “altar,” that is to say, of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, where he is offered up daily, in an unbloody manner, and partaken of by the faithful. Whether the opinion which refers “altar” to the Eucharist, be true or false, matters but little in regard to the faith of the Church, on the subject of the Eucharist, which is clearly demonstrated from other passages; and such of the Fathers as understand this passage of it, show their faith regarding the Eucharist to have been the same as ours. Others make “altar” refer directly to the altar of the cross; because it was of the sacrifice of the cross that the sacrifice of expiation, to which he alludes (verse 11), was typical. The Hebrews were attaching great importance to the sacrifices of the Mosaic law. Now, he says, it would be far better for them to have recourse to grace (verse 9), which they cannot receive, since it is purchased by a sacrifice wherein they can have no share, without first going forth from the synagogue (verse 10); for, the bodies of the victims, &c., were burned outside the camp (verse 11). Hence, Jesus suffered outside the gate of Jerusalem (verse 12); and hence, to become partakers of the merits of his sacrince, “to eat of the altar,” according to these interpreters, we must go forth from the synagogue, and join the Church, “bearing his reproach;” for, the name of Christian was counted a reproach. Should this passage refer directly to the sacrifice of the cross, in it must be indirectly included the sacrifice of the Eucharist; inasmuch as it is the same sacrifice with that of the cross, from which it differs, only as to the mode of offering.

Some Expositors say, that in this verse is conveyed an exhortation to bear our cross patiently, after the example of Christ. “Bearing his reproach” will then mean: bearing his cross after him, which is a reproach and folly.

14. In this verse is contained a reason why we should not hesitate to leave the synagogue; because, we are in search of our heavenly Jerusalem; according to others, in it is contained a reason why we should be prepared to suffer for Christ’s sake; because, no matter what may befall us, whether exile, death, &c., it will not deprive us of our country, but rather hasten our approach to it.

Commentators remark that the Apostle explains, in the foregoing passage, the sacrifice of expiation, according to the four-fold sense attached to SS. Scripture—viz., the literal, the allegorical, the tropological (or moral), and the anagogical. (Litera gesta docet; quid credas, Allegoria; Moralis, quid agas; quo tendas, Anagogia). According to the literal sense, the victim in the sacrifice of expiation was carried out of the camp and burned, and the blood was carried by the high priest into the sanctuary, as an expiation for sin—litera gesta docet—verse 11. According to the allegorical sense, this victim was a figure of Christ ignominiously driven outside the city, to suffer death, as an atonement for sin—quid credas, Allegoria—verse 12. According to the tropological or moral sense, those who wish to partake of the sacrifice of Christ, must go outside the precincts of the synagogue, and abandon the Jewish religion; thus bearing their share in the ignominy which he was pleased to undergo—Moralis, quid agas—verse 13. And according to the anagogical meaning of the ceremony, they are not to regret this temporary exile, since neither Jerusalem nor the synagogue is our true country or lasting home; we are in search of our heavenly and everlasting dwelling-place above—quo tendas, anagogia—verse 14. Rutter, in hunc locum.

15. Having given up the legal sacrifices prescribed by law, let us offer up to God, through Christ, to whom we are united, after deserting the synagogue, “a sacrifice of praise,” according to some, the sacrifice of the Eucharist. This is the opinion of those who refer “altar” (verse 10) to the Eucharist. The explanation, however, given by the Apostle himself, of what this sacrifice is, “that is the fruit of lips,” &c., shows that it refers to the spiritual offering of thanksgiving to God, in every shape and form. These acts of thanksgiving are called “the fruit of lips, confessing his name;” because, it is by the lips his praises are sounded, and his benefits deserving thanks, together with his eternal attributes, proclaimed. No doubt, among the most acceptable channels of thanksgiving and praise, the sacrifice of the Eucharist holds the first place; but, it is only in this general respect, as a means of thanksgiving, that the Apostle seems to make any reference to it in this verse.

16. In this verse is prescribed another offering most pleasing to God, the offering of charity and beneficence to our neighbour; “for by such sacrifices,” viz., praise of God, and charity towards our neighbour, “God’s favour is obtained.” The Greek, ευαρεστειται ὀ Θεος, means, God receives delight; or, in them he is well pleased; unlike the sacrifices of the Old Law, which were unpleasing to him.

17. To the two-fold sacrifice of praise (verse 15), and of charity (verse 16), he wishes them to add, the sacrifice of their own will, by obedience to their prelates and pastors. “For they watch” (for your souls, ὑπερ τῶν ψυχῶν ὑμων, is added here in the Greek; the Vulgate construction, which places these words not here but after the words “render an account”—rationem pro animabus vestris reddituri—is preferable)—this merely expresses the duty of the pastors; and the light in which the faithful are bound to regard them. What a heavy responsibility, those charged with the care of souls have incurred! they must account for each and every one of them, at God’s judgment-seat; for each and every one, Jesus Christ shed his blood, with the dispensation of which the pastor is charged. Woe to him if it shall have flowed in vain for immortal souls, through any fault of his! “That they may do this,” i.e., watch over your souls, “with joy, and not with grief,” seeing your disobedience, and the absence of progress made by you, “for this is not expedient for you.” The groans of the prelates, whose words you slight, will provoke God’s wrath, which he shall manifest in his own time. He who shall disobey or despise ecclesiastical authority shall be overtaken, sooner or later, by the justice of God, whom he despises.

18. If the Apostle did not derogate from the intercession of Christ, in begging the prayers of the Hebrews, how can it be said we derogate from it in supplicating the saints reigning in heaven?—(See 1 John, 2:2).

“For, we trust that we have a good conscience;” he adds this, to remove the false impressions which his enemies were anxious to create regarding him, charging him with being the enemy of the Mosaic Law, and an apostate from Judaism. He says he has the testimony of conscience assuring him that he had been no such thing, and that “in all things” appertaining to the gospel ministry, “he behaved well,” injuring no one; and also, labouring without any regard to filthy lucre, or selfish emolument. The words, “in all things,” are rendered by some, “towards all persons,” Jew and Gentile, without distinction, giving no cause of offence to any man, either by word or deed.

20. “The great pastor of the sheep,” to whom all other pastors bear merely the relation of vicars. “In the blood of the everlasting testament.” Some join these words with “pastor,” as if they expressed how he was the pastor of the sheep—viz., by redeeming them, and feeding them with the blood in which the New Testament was sanctioned, “everlasting,” in opposition to the Old, which was temporary; and because its promises have for object an eternal inheritance; moreover, it will be succeeded by no other covenant. Others connect them with, “who brought again from the dead,” in the blood, i.e., through the merits of his blood, since by his passion (says St. Thomas) he merited for himself and for us the glory of the resurrection.

21. “Doing in you,” by his inspiration and co-operation, “that which is well pleasing in his sight,” he is said to work or perform that which he gives us by his grace, the power to perform, “through Jesus Christ,” i.e., through the merits of Jesus Christ.

22. “In a few words,” considering the importance and comprehensive nature of the subject, and the sublime mysteries of which the Epistle treats.

23. “Is set at liberty.” From these words some Expositors infer that Timothy had been in chains, not at Rome, as the words “with whom (if he come shortly, &c.,”) show; he announces his enlargement as agreeable to the Hebrews, with whom Timothy was in great favour. Others say the words “set at liberty,” only mean, that he was disengaged from any urgent duty which could prevent him from accompanying the Apostle. The former is more probable. (“If he come shortly”) shows the Apostle’s anxiety to visit them. Some say, he did not visit them; however, he only expresses here his present resolution to do so.

The Greek subscription is to the following effect: “Written to the Hebrews from Italy, by Timothy.”








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