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

Introduction

CANONICITY OF.—The Canonicity or Divine authority of this Epistle has never been questioned in the Church. From this follows the admission of its authenticity, or the certainty of its having for author, St. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, who prefixes his name to it, in the usual form of apostolical salutation (chap. 1:1).

SUBJECT OF.—This Epistle, like almost all the inspired Epistles of the other Apostles, embraces subjects of a twofold nature, partly of a doctrinal, and partly of a moral, character. The doctrinal portion of it is confined to the first twelve verses of the first chapter. In it, are proposed to the consideration of the faithful, the eternal decrees of God predestining them to grace and glory—the sublime excellence of the great mystery of the Incarnation—and the exalted nature of the incorruptible and heavenly inheritance, to which they are called; to obtain which they must pass through an ordeal of suffering and trial, from which the first-born of God, our Divine Redeemer himself, had not been exempted. The Apostle also employs in many parts of the Epistle, reasons, grounded on the principles of faith, to inculcate certain precepts of morality. In the moral part, he enjoins on all Christians, in a general way, to preserve that innocence of soul, which they acquired in baptism—to mortify their passions—to defy the unbelievers by their holy and exemplary lives—to be subject to temporal powers, &c. Descending to particular precepts, he enjoins on wives, slaves, and the faithful in general, the duty of obedience and subjection to masters, husbands, and the pastors of the Church; on the other hand, to masters, husbands, and pastors, he prescribes their reciprocal duties. But in a special manner, he prescribes the exercise of patience, under the afflictions the early converts were exposed to for the faith. In short, the subject matter of this Epistle is very much the same with that of the Epistle of St. James.

WHERE WRITTEN?—It was written from “Babylon” (chap. 5:13). What the place designated by “Babylon” is, has been a subject of much controversy between Protestants and Catholics. Protestants maintain that it refers to “Babylon” of Assyria, on the Euphrates, whether to the New Babylon (Seleucia), or to the old, is a matter not agreed on amongst themselves. The more common opinion among Protestants, however, makes it refer to old Babylon, there being no evidence that Seleucia was, at this early period, called by the name of Babylon.

By Catholics, it is made to refer to the city of Rome, an appellation which Rome richly deserved, in consequence of being, at that time, the centre of idolatry and vice. It was usual with the Jews to call such cities by the figurative name of Babylon; as to cities, infamous for debaucheries, they gave the name of Sodom; an idolatrous country, they called Egypt; and to a race cursed by heaven, they gave the name of Chanaan. It is very probable, therefore, that the early Christians called Rome by the name of Babylon. In support of the Catholic opinion, we have the early Fathers and Ecclesiastical writers. Papias, the disciple of St. John (Apud Eusebium, libro 2do Histor. c. 14, alias 15), St. Jerome (in Isaiam c. 24–27, et libro 2do contra Jovin.), Tertullian (libro 3tio contra Marcion, c. 13), Bede, Œcumenius, &c. That the Babylon from which this Epistle is dated, was not the Babylon of Assyria, on the Euphrates, appears extremely probable (leaving the authorities, in favour of the Catholic opinion, altogether aside), from the fact that, at this time, Babylon was in ruins, as we learn from Strabo (libro 17) and Pliny; we are, moreover, assured by Josephus (libro 18 de Antiq. c. ultimo), that the Jews were expelled from Babylon and Assyria by Caius Claudius; and as for Babylon in Egypt, it was no more than a castle. It is, then, extremely probable, that it was written from Rome, called “Babylon,” (Apocalypse, 17, 18). The reason why St. Peter, in inditing this letter from Rome, calls it “Babylon,” was, according to the conjecture of Baronius, to keep his place of abode a secret, and elude Herod, who, in all probability, would inform Cæsar of his being at Rome, and would thus draw down fresh persecutions on the faithful.

WHEN WRITTEN?—There is a diversity of opinion also respecting the date of this Epistle. By some it is maintained, that it was written some time about the year 45 of our era; for, in it the Apostle conveys the salutations of St. Mark, who, according to Ecclesiastical authority, left St. Peter about the year 45, after having written his Gospel at Rome, and proceeded to found the Church of Alexandria in Egypt, in the third year of the Emperor Claudius. According to these, this Epistle was written prior to any of the Epistles of St. Paul; for, that to the Thessalonians—the first written by him—was written about the tenth year of Claudius, and the fiftieth or fifty-second of Christ. Others maintain that it could not have been written earlier than the year 64 of our era. This they infer from the allusion which the Apostle makes to certain disturbances in Judea, that must have occurred shortly before his death, which, we are informed by all the Holy Fathers and Ecclesiastical historians, took place at Rome (whither St. Peter had transferred his see from Antioch), about the year 67 of Christ, towards the close of the reign of Nero. Hence, they fix the date of the Epistle about the year 64. Nothing definite, however, can be known on this point.

TO WHOM WRITTEN?—This also has been much controverted. Some maintain that it was addressed to the converted Jews only, dispersed throughout the provinces of Asia, mentioned (1:1), whom St. Peter, as Apostle of the circumcision, takes under his special care. These assert that the “dispersion” referred to (1:1) regards the Jews dispersed at different periods, no matter how remote and far asunder, from that under Salmanazar, to the last dispersion, which happened after the death of St. Stephen; and they are called “strangers dispersed” (verse 1), because, although centuries might have elapsed since the abduction of their fathers into these countries, and although they might have been perfectly naturalized, and have enjoyed all the rights and privileges of citizens in these regions, still, Judea alone could properly be called their country, “the land flowing with milk and honey,” originally marked by God for his chosen people, where alone was the temple, wherein they could practise all the rites, and offer up the sacrifices of the Jewish religion. Hence, although they might be inhabitants of these countries for any term, be it ever so long, they still could be called “strangers.” These admit that the precepts given in the Epistle apply equally to the converted Gentiles also; that they were, however, primarily addressed to the converted Jews.

Others maintain that it was equally addressed to the Gentiles and Jewish converts; and in support of this view of the case, they adduce certain passages in the Epistle which would appear to apply to the Gentiles in a special way (1:14; 2:10; 4:3, 4). In reply to the reasons of the former opinion, they say, that the word “dispersed,” or dispersion (1:1), does not apply in Sacred Scripture exclusively to the Jews, it is applied also to the Gentiles (v.g.), it is said: “nunquid ibit in dispersionem gentium” (John 7:35; 11:52), in which passages “dispersed” only means, scattered or extended over these countries. They say also, that the word “strangers” could not have reference to the countries in which they were located—(for, from the periods of the forcible abduction under Salmanazar, Nebuchodonozor, and Antiochus, seven hundred and sixty-three, six hundred and eleven, and two hundred and thirty-nine years, respectively, elapsed)—but that it refers to the Church, into which both Jews and Gentiles had lately entered. In support of this opinion—which was adopted by St. Augustine—Mauduit has written an able dissertation. It is, however, probable that the Apostle primarily addresses the converted Jews, and includes, at the same time, the converted Gentiles.








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