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

Analysis

In this chapter, St. James denounces against the hard-hearted rich, the heaviest punishments in the life to come, on account of their crimes and cruelties towards the poor (1). These cruelties he enumerates. First—Their hard-heartedness was such, as to suffer their wealth to rot, sooner than give it to the poor (2), and their money to rust, sooner than dispense it: the consequence of which is, that they will suffer the severest punishments (3). The next crime he charges them with is, defrauding the labouring poor of their hire, one of the most iniquitous means of amassing riches (4). He then charges them with leading luxurious and debauched lives, pampering themselves in delicacies, like cattle destined for slaughter (5). And finally, he charges them until committing the most heinous crime, of persecuting unto death, innocent just men; and, as an aggravating circumstance of their injustice, he states, that these were unable to make resistance (6).

Turning to the poor and persecuted, he exhorts them to patience by several considerations such as the near approach of the Lord—the example of the husbandman, who patiently endures hardships in hopes of the distant harvest (7–8). He cautions them against murmurings (9), and consoles them by the examples of the prophets of old, and especially by the example of Job. He prohibits rash swearing.

He promulgates the Sacrament of Extreme Unction (14, 15). He exhorts them to the confession of their sins, and to prayer for one another, and he adduces the example of Elias, as an instance of efficacious prayer (16–19). Finally, he points out the great merit of converting sinners from their evil ways.

Paraphrase

1. Come on, now, ye (hard-hearted and haughty) rich men, weep and howl on account of the miseries in which you shall be eternally involved (unless you expiate your crimes by a true repentance).

2. (As a proof of your inhumanity and hard-heartedness towards the poor, who are perishing for want of food and raiment), you permit your substance to rot, and your garments to be eaten by moths, sooner than feed or clothe your famishing brethren.

3. Your gold and silver (which you should have expended on the suffering poor) is idly laid by; and the rust of this money, hoarded up, shall serve to accuse your barbarous inhumanity, and be a witness against you on the day of judgment, and shall serve as the moral cause of your tortures in inextinguishable flames; you have laid up for yourselves a treasure of wrath and heavy punishment, against the day of final judgment.

4. You have resorted to the most iniquitous practices for amassing wealth. Behold the hire of the labourers, who have reaped down your fields, which you have unjustifiably withheld from them, cries for vengeance against you; and the cry of those whom you have thus injured, has been attended to by Him who is able to inflict summary vengeance on you—the Lord God of armies.

5. You have lived in delicacies and debaucheries upon earth, and you have feasted your hearts, preparing yourselves for vengeance, like the animals fattened for slaughter.

6. You have procured the condemnation and death of just and unoffending men, whenever they stood in your way, and what adds to, and aggravates your guilt—you did this, when the victims of your unjust persecution were quite helpless, and unable to resist you.

7. Do you, on the other hand, afflicted poor, who are the objects of this unjust treatment, bear it with enduring patience, until the coming of the Lord to judgment, when you will receive an unfading crown. With the prospect of this reward before you, follow the example of the husbandman, who waits for the fruits of the earth, from which he is to derive sustenance; in expectation of it, he patiently continues his labours, awaiting the early rain, which irrigates the earth after the seed is committed to it, and the latter, which ripens the crop.

8. You should, therefore, after his example, amidst the trials of this life, patiently expect the fruit of eternal life and the consoling effusion of divine grace, and strengthen your hearts against all temptation to impatience or despair; for, the coming of the Lord is not far distant.

9. Do not fretfully indulge in murmurings and rash judgments against one another, lest you should be, in turn, condemned. For, the judge is near at hand, to pass sentence of condemnation upon you.

10. Take, my brethren, for examples to stimulate you to the patient and persevering suffering of evils and afflictions, the prophets, who have gone before you into bliss, who have not been freed from suffering, notwithstanding their high commission, of reclaiming sinners in the name and authority of the Lord, or of predicting future events.

11. Behold, we account those blessed, we have regarded their lot as happy, who have suffered for the cause of righteousness. You have all been acquainted with the patience of Job; and you have seen the happy end, to which the Lord brought his sufferings, rewarding him, even in this life, an hundred fold. The Lord will bring your sufferings also, to a happy issue; for, of his own nature, he is full of the tenderest compassion, and inclined to exercise acts of mercy, at all times.

12. But above all vices of the tongue, you should avoid, with special care, the common vice of swearing, or invoking either the name of God, or heaven, earth or any other creatures, or employing any other form of oath, without sufficient cause, and without due conditions in swearing. All your assertions should be simple asseverations of truth, or “yes,” and all your denials, simple and bare negations, or “no,” without the interposition of an oath, lest, otherwise, you may incur condemnation on account of your profane irreverence towards God’s holy and adorable name.

13. Should any one among you be in a sad mood, owing to his afflictions and adversity, let him seek consolation from God in prayer. Should he be in a joyous mood, let him nourish this feeling by singing spiritual songs, and by offering to God in thanksgiving, a sacrifice of praise.

14. Is any one among you labouring under grievous and dangerous bodily infirmity? Let him send for, and have called in, some one of the priests ordained and consecrated to minister in the church, and let the priest pray over him, anointing him, at the same time, with oil, in the name and person, or by the authority and command of the Lord.

15. And the form of prayer which is based upon the faith of the Church, and which the Church has marked out, will effect the salvation of the sick man, both in this life (if it be expedient), and in the life to come; and the Lord will assuage his bodily pains, and lighten his mental anxiety, and remove his spiritual torpor. And should there remain any sins not yet remitted, they will be forgiven him.

16. Confess, then, your faults to one another, both for the purposes of mutual counsel, and the assistance of your prayers; or, confess your sins to such as are empowered to absolve from them, that is, the priests of the Church, and pray for each other, particularly the just for sinners, that freed from their sins, they may come to God and be saved; for, the fervent and earnest prayer of the just man has great efficacy with God.

17. Of the truth of this latter assertion, we have a striking proof in the case of the Prophet Elias who, though a mortal man, subject to the same passions of soul, and bodily wants with ourselves, still obtained by fervent prayer, that rain would not descend on the earth, for three years and six months.

18. And having again fervently prayed for rain, the heaven gave its rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

19. My brethren, should any among you stray from the path of truth, either in the order of faith or morality; and if any one convert him to the right path from his evil ways,

20. Let him know, that whosover shall effect the conversion of a sinner, from the error of his way, will save his soul from spiritual death here, and eternal death hereafter, and shall cover—by being the instrument in effecting their total remission before God—the multitude of his transgressions.

Commentary

1. “Go to,” ἄγε, an interjection, having for object, to excite attention (as in chapter 4:13). “Ye rich;” some interpreters understand these words to refer to the hard-hearted rich among the Pagans. But it is most probable (as in chapter 2) that he is addressing the rich, who, contrary to their Christian profession, were guilty of the crimes here enumerated. Of course, there is question of such among the rich, as “were not poor in spirit,” and were guilty of in humanity towards the poor. “Weep and howl” in anticipation of the miseries, in which you shall be eternally involved hereafter, unless you repent for your crimes; it is to induce them to do penance that St. James menaces them with the rigorous judgments of God. Some Commentators understand the woes here denounced by St. James to have reference to the coming destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and the injuries which the rich were to sustain from the party of the zealots, the dominent party at Jerusalem, before its total destruction. It is more probable, however, that the words are to be understood in a more general sense, as extending to the punishments with which the abuse of riches, and the crimes consequent thereon, are visited at all times.

2. St. James now recounts the crimes of the rich which draw down such heavy chastisements. The first charge against them is, their inhumanity to the poor, the proof of which is, that they suffer “their riches,” i.e., the abundance of food of all kind sored up in their granaries, to rot, and their superfluous garments to become “moth-eaten,” sooner than feed and clothe the hungry and famishing poor. There cannot be a greater proof of their inhumanity and hard-heartedness—crimes so strongly denounced in every part of sacred Scripture.

3. “Your gold and your silver is cankered.” Another instance or proof of their inhumanity to the poor, against whose cries, their hearts are steeled and their bowels closed. Their gold and silver utensils, probably, had a greater proportion of alloy than in modern times; and hence, were liable to rust. “And the rust of them shall be for a testimony against you,” inasmuch as it will be a witness of their inhumanity, in having these riches uselessly laid by—contrary to all laws natural and divine, while the wretched poor were starving. “And shall eat your flesh as fire,” because it shall be the moral cause of their tortures in the avenging flames of hell; or, because the recollection of this rusting of their wealth, which they might have meritoriously expended on God’s poor, will supply fresh food to the eternal gnawing of the never-dying worm of conscience, one of the bitterest torments of the damned. Some even add, that there is allusion here made to the painful effects of rust rubbed into raw flesh, which gives us a vivid idea of the dreadful punishment, that is sure to overtake either the abuse, or the unjust acquisition of riches.

“You have stored up to yourselves (wrath) against the last days,” this is referred by some to the days then immediately preceding the approaching destruction of Jerusalem. Others, more probably, understand the words of the day of general judgment, when both body and soul shall be tormented. “Wrath” is not found in the Greek, which runs thus, you have treasured up for yourselves, &c. Hence, the word was, most likely, added to the passage from (Rom. chap. 2:5), where the phrase is very like the present, and refers to the punishments of the life to come. The Greek reading is understood by others to mean: You have been so eager for sordid gain as not to cease from amassing it even in your last days, in extreme old age, when you can have but very little time for enjoying it.

4. The crime with which he charges them, and which is calculated to draw down upon them the heavy vengeance of God is, defrauding the labourer of his hire. This is said “to cry against them,” a form of expression which strongly points out its enormity. Hence, it is reckoned among the sins, which cry to heaven for vengeance. “Which by fraud has been kept back by you.” The Greek word, αφυστερημενος means, to keep back by any unjustifiable means. “And the cry of them,” i.e. of those who have reaped (for, this latter is expressed in the Greek, των θερισαντων), “hath entered the ears of the Lord of sabaoth,” which shows the prompt vengeance to be inflicted in punishment of this crime. “Lord of sabaoth,” i.e., the Lord of armies, who, therefore sets at nought all human power and greatness. In him the poor and the orphan, although here apparently helpless, have a powerful defender. “Tibi derelictus est pauper, orphano tu eris adjutor.”—(Psalm 9) “Sabaoth,” this Hebrew word is retained by St. James, because it sounds better in the ears of the Jews, as expressing God’s power and majesty. The same has been done by the Septuagint translators who always retain the Hebrew word “Sabaoth.” If such heavy punishments are here denounced by the Apostle against individual cases of the unjust detention of the labourers’ hire, what must the grievous enormity of their crimes, who, after ruthlessly exterminating entire districts, unjustly appropriate to themselves, against the clearest dictates of every law, natural and divine, the accumulated and permanent fruits of the labour, sweat, time, and money of the defenceless occupier of the soil? If this be not detaining and defrauding, on a gigantic scale, the hire of labourers, it is hard to say what else is. Will not this National sin, in many instances aggravated by heartless cruelty, and committed against the defenceless poor, out of hatred of their religion, cry to heaven for vengeance?

5. “You have feasted upon earth,” i.e., like the rich glutton in the Gospel (Luke 16:20, &c.), you indulged in unbounded and sumptuous gratification in eating and drinking and the enjoyment of good cheer. “And in riotousness you have nourished your hearts.” In Greek it is, και εσπαταλησατε, εθρεψατε κας καοδιας, and you have rioted; you have nourished your hearts. “You have rioted,” refers to the crime of voluptuousness and the indu gence of impure pleasures—an inseparable attendant of excess in eating and drinking—“in vino luxuria” (Eph. 5:18), “venter æstuans mero spumit in libidinem” (St. Jerome). “You have nourished your hearts,” i.e., “indulged in good cheer unto satiety.” “In the days of slaughter.” In some Greek copies, as in a day of slaughter; the Vulgate follows the Vatican MS., which, besides the meaning in the Paraphrase, may also mean, that their daily banquets were like festival days, on which the victims were slain, and great feasting indulged. The meaning in the Paraphrase, however, seems preferable.

6. The next crime with which he charges them is of a still blacker character. “You have condemned,” i.e., caused to be condemned, contrary to all justice—or, the word may mean, that, while by a mockery of justice, instituting a trial, in which might was, the only rule of justice, they condemned and put to death the just man. “And he resisted you not,” which shows the helplessness of their victim, and the consequent aggravation of their cruelty and injustice towards him. Of the injustice referred to by St. James, the murder of Naboth by Achab (3 Kings, 21), is adduced by Commentators, as a most striking exemplification. By “the just one,” some interpreters understand Him, who was JUST by excellence—our Blessed Redeemer, whom the Jews put to death. It more probably, however, refers to just men in general, who might stand in the way of the aggrandizement or further enrichment of those unjust rich men whom St. James is here addressing, and the singular number, “the just one,” is employed, for emphasis sake, to show the helplessness of each victim of oppression, which is more clearly seen, by considering each case individually.

7. St. James now points out the duty of the oppressed, and offers them consolation under affliction. The first consoling consideration which he proposes is, “the coming of the Lord,” which is understood by some to refer to his coming at the destruction of Jerusalem; others, more probably, refer it to his coming at the general judgment, when both soul and body shall be glorified. The last day is frequently proposed in sacred Scripture, as a subject of consolation to the just, when under persecution. Both interpretations may be united; for, both events were associated in the minds of the Jews, as appears from the mode, in which our Redeemer details the circumstances of one and the other, in the gospel. The straits to which the Jews were reduced at the capture of Jerusalem, might be regarded as a fair type of the anguish, in which the reprobate shall be involved, on the dreadful day of judgment. “Behold, the husbandman,” &c. The next consideration which St. James proposes to console them is the example of the husbandman, who patiently waits for “the fruit of the earth;” “precious,” because procured by great labour; and also because it supplies him with bread, the most necessary part of human food. “Patiently bearing.” In Greek, μακροθυμων επʼ αυτου, long suffering for it, viz., the expected fruit. “Till he receive the early and latter rain.” The word, rain, is not in the Vulgate, nor in the Vatican MS.; it is found in some Greek copies. And the words “early” and “latter” refer to the rain; the early to that which irrigated the earth, after the sowing of the seed; this fell in Palestine towards the end of October—and the “latter,” to the harvest rain, by which the crops were ripened; this fell about the middle of April. St. James calls them, “early and latter,” looking upon the interval that elapsed between the sowing of the seed in October (the morning), and the gathering of the harvest about the middle of April (the evening), as one day, the end of which the husbandman was, with care and toil, anxiously looking for.

8. St. James exhorts them to persevere, after the example of the husbandman, in patiently enduring evils and miseries, until they receive the never-fading crown of eternal life, for which the abundant effusion of divine grace (“the early and latter rain,”) will dispose them. “Strengthen your hearts” against all temptations to impatience or despair; “for the coming of the Lord is at hand,” because the day of judgment virtually takes place for each one, at death.

9. “Grudge not, brethren, one against another.” St. James cautions them, while under afflictions and persecution, against murmuring in regard to one another, of fretfully misjudging, or envying one another, a state of feeling apt to spring from the pressure of persecution and misery. As a motive for avoiding this, and for practising the opposite virtue of patience, he proposes the fear of being condemned by God. “Behold the judge standeth before the door,” a form of expression frequently employed in Sacred Scripture, to intimate the near approach, or immediate presence of a person. Here, it is used with a view of cautioning them against incurring judgment and condemnation, on account of their murmurings and impatience; for, the judge is near to condemn them; or, perhaps, by it is meant to encourage them to overcome impatience, at the prospect of the rewards which the Judge, who is near, will render them. The phrase has the same meaning as the words in verse, 8, “for the coming of the Lord is nigh.” Some understand the words, of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem and the total dispersion of the Jews by the Romans. The former interpretation, which extends to all times, appears, however, far the more probable.

10. St. James stimulates them to the patient endurance of evil by the example of the prophets, who preceded them; they could not reach heaven, without first passing through the ordeal of suffering, notwithstanding the high and exalted commission they received from God. “An example of suffering evil, of labour, and patience.” In the Greek there are only two words, της κακοπαθειας και της μακροθυμιας, of suffering evil and patience, or, rather, long suffering. Hence, the word, “labour,” must have been inserted by some scribe, who, perhaps, finding in some copies, the Greek word translated, labour, in others, evil suffering, united both. This does not much affect the meaning of the passage. By “the prophets,” are meant the prophets of old, of whose sufferings mention is made in the Old Testament, and (Ep. ad Hebrews 11). “Who spoke in the name of the Lord,” which may either mean, that they spoke to reclaim sinners, or, to predict future events; “in the name of the Lord,” i.e., by divine commission and authority, Hence, as the prophets, whose lot they envy, did not reach heaven, except in passing through the ordeal of suffering, they are not to expect happiness on easier terms.

11. He proposes the example of Job, as a memorable instance of patience for the instruction of all ages. “The end of the Lord,” which is understood by some to refer to the death and sufferings of our Saviour—the most perfect pattern of patience. The same example is proposed by St. Paul (Hebrews, 12), after having counted up the heroic exploits of the saints of old (chap. 11). It is more likely that the words refer to the end to which the Lord happily brought the sufferings of Job, rewarding him an hundred-fold even in this life; and this interpretation is rendered probable by the following words: “that the Lord is merciful and compassionate,” as if he said, you have seen the happy end to which the Lord has brought the sufferings of Job, which is an effect of his merciful disposition to exercise acts of mercy at all times, and the same mercy, you have good grounds to hope, will one day be extended to you also. The word “merciful,” in Greek, πολυσπλαγχνος, means, full of interior, visceral mercy, and refers to the divine nature, of itself merciful. The other word “compassionate,” in Greek, οικτειρμων, refers to acts of this mercy.

12. St. James here proceeds to caution the converted Jews against a vice resulting from impatience, which vice being prevalent among the Jews of old, was, most likely, not wholly eradicated after their conversion; this was the abusive practice of indiscriminate swearing in common conversation. It appears from the Gospel, that there were erroneous doctrines taught by the Jewish doctors, and consequent abuses on two points, connected with the taking of an oath. The first was, that no matter how trivial or unnecessary the occasion of an oath might be, it was not sinful to invoke the name of God, provided it was done in truth; and hence, in the prohibition (Exodus, 20:7), “thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” they understood the words “in vain,” to mean, falsely, or in a lie—a signification which the original Hebrew word bears, but not exclusively, as they interpret it. Secondly, they held, that an oath by creatures, except in the cases favourable to their own avarice, “by the gold of the temple” (Matthew 23:17), was not binding. These erroneous and abusive teachings our divine Redeemer corrects in his Gospel (Matt. 5:34), and tells men “not to swear at all,” i.e., indiscriminately and in common conversation—even though their assertions should be true, in the sense, in which swearing was permitted by the Jewish teachers; and he also declares that swearing by heaven, or earth, was equally binding with the direct invocation of the name of God, since his attributes were reflected both in one and the other. Now, as St. James, the disciple, is to be supposed to have in view the same prohibition, which he heard from the lips of his Divine Master, his words; in this passage, are to be understood in the same meaning.

St. James, any more than our divine Redeemer, does not prohibit our resorting to an oath, when accompanied with the necessary dispositions of “judgment, justice, and truth” (Jeremias, 4:2); for, then, it is an act of homage in recognition of the supreme veracity of God, who knows all truth, and is incapable of sanctioning falsehood of any kind. But to be invoking God’s name on every occasion, is only insulting him, and profanely irreverencing his holy name. That it is sometimes lawful for Christians to swear, is a point of faith defined against the Anabaptists and Wicliffe, and clearly proved, from the example of God himself, “juravit Dominus et non pœnitebit eum,” from the examples of Moses, Abraham, St. Paul, &c. “Nor by any other oath,” i.e., by any other mode of invoking God’s veracity, as witness of truth. “But let your speech be, yea, yea; no, no;” in Greek, the word “speech” is not found, it is, ἤτω δε ὑμων το ναι, ναι, και το οὒ, οὔ; but let your yea be yea; and your no be no; the word, “speech” was, most likely, introduced here from (Matthew, 5:37), as both passages referred, in the mind of the interpreter, to the same thing. “That you fall not under judgment.” In some Greek readings it is, that you fall not into hypocrisy. The reading adopted in our Vulgate is, however, the most probable. They would fall under judgment or condemnation, by swearing in violation of God’s law and prohibition.

13. St. James here prescribes a rule for the guidance of such as are in sadness; he had prohibited them already from uttering complaints against one another (9). He now tells them to have recourse to God for consolation and to commune with him in prayer. “Is he cheerful,” i.e., in a happy and joyous mood of mind, “let him sing,” i.e., sing spiritual canticles, a befitting way of nourishing this happy mood of mind, and of rendering God thanks—See Epistle to the Ephesians, 5:19.

14. “Is any man sick among you?” By “sick,” is meant, as appears from the Greek, ασθενει, labouring under grievous bodily infirmity, or in danger of death from sickness. “Let him bring in (in Greek, προσκαλεσασθω call in,) the priests of the Church,” i.e., “either bishops or priests duly ordained by them by the imposition of hands.”—(Council of Trent. xiv. c. 3)—to officiate in the Church. “And let him pray over him;” the words “over him” show there was a ceremony or rite to be observed in this prayer. “Anointing him with oil.” Of course the oil of olives, which, properly speaking, is alone to be termed, “oil.” “In the name of the Lord,” i.e., in the person of the Lord, or by his commission and authority. The words, “in the name of the Lord,” most probably affect the entire action of praying over the sick man, and anointing him with oil.

15. “And the prayer of faith,” i.e., the form of prayer which the priest will pronounce over him, called “of faith,” because proceeding from faith and grounded on the faith of the Church, which prescribes one particular form, “will save the sick man.” “Save,” i.e., restore him to health, should it be expedient for his salvation, or save his soul in the life to come, should he die. “And the Lord shall raise him up,” i.e., shall alleviate his bodily pains, and fortify him against the terrors of death, and remove all the langour, and anxiety, and sadness with which the dying are afflicted, and which prevent the application of their minds to God. “And if he be in sins,” most likely, includes all kinds of sin, mortal or venial; for, owing to some cause, his mortal sins may not have been remitted by penance, and the sacrament may have been invalidly administered: in that case, this prayer of faith, joined to the anointing with oil, will remit them, “they shall be forgiven him.”

PROOF OF THE SACRAMENT OF EXTREME UNCTION.—From this passage is derived a most satisfactory proof, in favour of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. We have all the conditions necessary to constitute a Sacrament of the New Law, viz., a sensible external rite—“anointing with oil,”—coupled with the prayer of faith, pronounced over the sick man. A permanent rite—St. James places no limitation as to time, nor are we to affix any limitation to the continuance of the precept, given here by the Apostle, any more than to the other precepts, laid down by him in this Epistle. Besides, the rite has been permanently continued in the Church. A rite, collative of sanctifying grace, as appears from the words, “if he be in sins, they will be forgiven,” which can be done only by the infusion of sanctifying grace. The same follows from the words, “the prayer of faith will save the sick man,” which most probably, mean—saving him in the life to come, wherein is implied the conferring of sanctifying grace or its increase. A rite also, instituted by Christ; since St. James could not have instituted a means of grace; he only promulgated this sacred rite instituted by his Divine Master, “in nomine Domini.” The rite, therefore, here promulgated by St. James, and to which he makes it imperative on Christians to resort, in dangerous illness, has all the conditions requisite to constitute a Sacrament of the New Law.

The Council of Trent treating on this subject (SS. xiv. c. 1, &c.) teaches—“that the Sacrament of Extreme Unction has been insinuated by Mark, and promulgated by James, the Apostle. From the words of this verse, ‘is any man sick,’ &c., as handed down to us, and interpreted from apostolical tradition, the Church teaches us the matter, form, minister, effect of this sacrament. The matter is oil, consecrated by the bishop; … the form is the words, ‘per istam unctionem,’ &c.; ‘the prayer of faith;’ the effect is conveyed in the words, ‘the prayer of faith will save the sick man; the Lord shall raise him up, and his sins shall be forgiven,’ which means, that the grace and unction of the Holy Ghost wipes away his sins (or faults), if there be any remaining to be expiated, and also the relics of sin; and alleviates and strengthens the soul of the sick man, by exciting in him a great confidence in God’s mercy, owing to which he bears more patiently the inconveniences and labours of his sickness, and resists more easily the temptations of the devil, ‘and sometimes obtains health of body, when it will be expedient for the salvation of his soul.’ ”—(SS. xiv. c. 2).

The ministers are either bishops or priests, duly ordained by the imposition of hands. “Let him call in the priests of the Church.” That by the word “priests,” are meant those who have received holy orders in the Church—“Priests ordained by the bishop”—and not the elders of the people, is clear from the fact, that in the New Testament the word, presbyter, is employed to designate an office of some kind; and when there is question of Ecclesiastical functions, it refers to those who are ordained, as is seen in the Acts, Epistles of St. Paul. 1 Epistle of St. Peter, chap. 3, and St. John, Epistles 2 and 3; and here, they are called, Presbyteri Ecclesiæ. The tradition of the Church has placed beyond all doubt the interpretation given of “presbyter,” which the Council of Trent (ibidem, canon iv.) has defined, as a matter of faith, to be the true meaning. St. James says, “Let him call in the priests,” i.e., some one of the priests. This change of number is often to be met with in SS. Scripture. Thus, it is said (Mark. chap. 15:32). “They that were crucified with him reviled him,” although only one of them did so, Thus, Hebrews, 11, it is said, “they closed the mouths of lions,” although we read only of one, viz., Daniel, having done so; also, “they were cut asunder,” although, it happened only to Isaias.

The objections raised by heretics against the Catholic doctrine and interpretation of this passage, hardly deserve refutation. The false interpretation of those who say that St. James prescribes anointing with the generous oil of Palestine, as a means of natural cure, cannot stand for a moment; for, in that case, why call in the “priests of the Church?” Would not physicians or nurses answer better? Moreover, why prescribe the anointing with oil in every case? In some cases of disease, the use of oil is decidedly noxious and injurious. Again, St. James is not merely addressing the Jews of Palestine, but “the twelve tribes” scattered all over the earth, even in cold regions, where such oil could not be had.

The false interpretation of Calvin, who understands the passage to refer to the grace of healing miraculously, accorded in the infant Church, and which has long since ceased, is equally unfounded; for, the grace of healing, and, in general, the grace of miracles, only extended to corporal and not to spiritual effects. Moreover, in the distribution of these gratiæ gratis datæ, which continued only for a time in the Church, St. Paul tells us, that the Spirit distributed them to each one at will.—1 Cor. 12 Hence, most likely, priests were not the only persons endowed with the gift of healing, nor was it probably conferred on all priests. Why, then, should St. James tell them, “call in the priests?” He should rather have told them, call in such as had the gift of healing miraculously. Again, we do not find those who were endowed with the gift of healing, commanded or advised to make use of it for all the sick, nor were the sick ordered to seek for a cure from those who had this gift. Thus, St. Paul, who had this gift, did not cure Timothy (1 Tim. 5:23), nor Trophimus (2 Tim. 4:20), nor Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:27); whereas, here is issued a general precept, to all the sick, when dangerously ill, “to bring in the priests of the Church.” Again, Christ promised his disciples, after his resurrection, that by imposing hands on the sick, they would cure them (St. Mark, last chapter). And in the different cures performed by Christ’s disciples, in virtue of this promise after his resurrection, we find no instance of the application of oil. Why, then, should St. James restrict the exercise of this power to the ceremony of anointing with oil? It is, therefore, clear that St. James does not here refer to the exercise of any such power; but that he promulgates one of the sacraments of the New Law, instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ as a means of grace, of strengthening the dying Christian against the horrors of despair, and the violence of the approaching combat, when the enemy of his salvation shall strain every nerve to effect his destruction.

From this, we see the great and tremendous responsibility of those who are charged with the care of the dying sick to have the Sacrament of Extreme Unction administered—a sacrament which saves the patient, at least in the life to come, and in this life too, if administered in time, should it be expedient for his salvation; alleviates and strengthens the soul of the sick man, by assuaging his pains, invigorating his spirit, pouring into his soul the balm of consolation and hope, and enabling him to direct his mind to God; finally, “remits his sins, if there be any to be remitted.” How many are the souls saved by this sacrament, which deprived of it, would be damned? Surely those who are negligent to have the priests called in, will render “soul for soul, blood for blood.” The different questions raised about the mode in which this sacrament operates the remission of sins, and the quality of the sins which it remits, &c., more properly belong to Treatises of Theology, where these and other such questions are fully and professedly explained.

16. “Confess, therefore, your sins one to another.” “Therefore,” is omitted in some Greek readings. It is found in the Vatican MS. The words may mean, acknowledge your offences against one another, and mutually beg pardon of each other. Similar is the precept in the Gospel (Matt. 5), “if your brother shall sin against thee,” &c. Others understand the words to have reference to the confession of our faults to our brethren, for the purpose of seeking counsel, or of obtaining the assistance of their prayers; and this latter reason is suggested by St. James, “pray one for another,” &c. This practice or acknowledging their faults within due limits is observed in religious communities, with great spiritual advantage. The practice of mutually confessing their sins is followed by the priest and the people at the beginning of Mass. “Confitcor Deo … et tibi, pater … et vobis fratres.” By others, the passage is understood of the confession of sins to a priest, in the sacrament of penance; and then, “one to another” is to be understood (as the Greek corresponding word, αλληλοις, frequently is), in accommodation to the subject matter of the precept, of such as are empowered to hear confession and bestow absolution. These are alone the priests and bishops, “whose sins you shall forgive, shall be forgiven, and whose sins you shall retain,” &c. “One to another,” has the restricted meaning assigned to it here in several passages of Scripture, thus: (Romans, 15:7), “receive one another,” though it only refers to the strong supporting the weak; (1 Thes. 5:11), “comfort one another”; (Ephes. 5), “be subject to one another.” And St. James says, “confess to one another.” in order to remove the shame of confessing our sins, by showing that it is not to angels or beings of a higher nature we are confessing; but to weak mortal men like ourselves, and perhaps also to show that the priests too are bound by this precept. At all events, whether this latter interpretation be the true one or not matters but very little, as far as the warrant for absolving from sins, on the part of the priests is concerned. It is from the words of Christ to his Apostles, “receive you the Holy Ghost, whose sins you shall forgive,” &c., and from the constant tradition of the Church, that the existence of this power is clearly demonstrated. “And pray one for another.” This is specially to be understood of the just praying for sinners. “That you may be saved,” i.e. obtain conversion to God, and the great gift of final perseverance. “For the continual prayer of the just,” &c. The Greek word for “continual,” ενεργουμενη, means, fervent, earnest. “Availeth much” with God; because, he is his favourite and friend.

17. He shows, by the example of Elias, the truth of the assertion, that the fervent prayer of the just man avails much. “He was a passible man, like unto us,” subject to the same passions of soul—but of course kept under control—and wants of body; hence, he was hungry, thirsty, subject to the other common wants and miseries of this mortal life. “And with prayer he prayed,” a Hebrew form for, he fervently prayed, “that it might not rain,” &c. (3 Kings, chap. 17). There is a slight difference in the Greek, from our Vulgate. In the Greek, the words “upon the earth” are joined to the latter part of the verse, thus: “And it rained not upon the earth, for three years and six months.” The sense is the same in both.

18. “And he prayed again.” After Achab and his people did penance, “Elias prayed fervently for rain; casting himself upon the earth, he placed his face between his knees.”—(3 Kings, 18:42). From the efficacious and fervent prayers of Elias, for the opening and shutting of the heavens, St. James wishes us to infer, that we should employ more earnestness, to obtain by our joint prayers, a matter of far greater consequence—viz., the salvation of our brethren.

19. But prayer is not the only means to be employed for their conversion. “Err from the truth,” whether practical or speculative—as regards faith or morals.

20. “Shall save his soul from death,” i.e., spiritual death here, and eternal death and torments hereafter. In most Greek copies, “his,” is wanting; shall save a soul, which is more valuable than all material creation put together. It is found in the Vatican MS. αὑτοῦ. In the Greek copies in which it is used, “his” may also mean according to the breathing, whether smooth or rough, placed over it, his own. It is better, however, understand it of the soul of our neighbour, which is supposed to have been in danger. And the same is conformable to the words, “if your brother shall hear you … you shall have gained your brother,” (Matthew, 18). “And shall cover a multitude of sins,” by being instrumental in their remission; for, the covering of sins with God supposes their total remission (vide Ep. ad Rom. ch. 4). It is disputed whose sins are referred to here, whether those of the man who is converted, or of the person who converts him. It more likely refers to the former; the idea is the same as that conveyed (1 Peter, 4:8), “charity covereth a multitude of sins,” i.e., of our neighbour’s defects. And there as well as here, allusion is made to (Proverbs. 10:2), “hatred begets disputes—charity covers all faults.” Hence, the meaning of the passage is, that the man who is instrumental in the conversion of a sinner, performs the meritorious work of saving a soul, and covering the multitude of the sins of the person thus converted. No doubt, indirectly reference is made to the sins of the man who exercises the good work of converting his neighbour; for by this act of charity, he will obtain from God the remission of his own sins, or an increase of grace to persevere in justice, and the remission of the temporal penalties, due to his sins already remitted.

From this passage we can see the great merit of labouring for the salvation of souls. By the Prophet Abdais (verse 21), such persons are called “saviours”; and justly, for, they are continuing the great work in which our Redeemer and Saviour had been engaged during his mortal life, and in which he shed the last drop of his most precious blood. They are “the coadjutors of God” (1 Cor. 3:8). They resemble the angels, whose ministry is employed about such, as are to be saved—(Hebrews, 1:14). The merit of this sublime occupation can be estimated from the priceless value of immortal souls, one of which is prized more highly in the sight of God than all the riches of creation put together. It is the most sublime exercise of charity, and one of the surest proofs we can give that we sincerely love God, who is so deserving of the love of our entire hearts.—“Si amas me, pasce oves meas.” To this faithful discharge of this exalted function of saving souls is attached a special crown, a bright aureola in heaven. “Qui erudierint multos ad justitiam, fulgebunt quasi stellæ in perpetuas eternitates”—Daniel. “Qui fecerit et docuerit, hic magnus vocabitur in regno cœlorum.”—St. Matthew, 5








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