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


In this chapter, the Apostle, alluding to the spiritual regeneration (1–23), by which the faithful contracted towards one another the relation of spiritual brotherhood, calls upon them to lay aside the vices opposed to the exercise of fraternal charity (1), and as they had lately received a new spiritual existence, to continue to covet the milk of the divine word (2), the sweets of which they already experienced (3).

He, in the next place, views than under a different respect, as living stones of the spiritual edifice, of which Christ was the chief corner-stone; and that he was the corner-stone of his Church, the Apostle proves from Isaias (4–7). He shows, that while to the believers Christ is a source of glory and honour, by their incorporation with him, to the unbelievers, he is the occasion of ruin (7, 8).

He applies to the Christian converts, the exalted titles bestowed by God on his chosen people of old (9), and shows the magnitude of the blessings bestowed on them, by contrasting their present benefits, with their former deplorable condition (10). He encourages them to subdue their passions, and to edify, by their good works, the unconverted Gentiles (11, 12).

He inculcates the duty of subjection to temporal rulers, whether exercising supreme or subordinate authority, as both derive it from God (13, 14), and he enjoins this duty on the ground, that God wills it so. He also tells them not to make the liberty, into which Christ asserted them, the pretext of insubordination, and of unrestrained licentiousness, (15, 16).

He, then, descending to domestic obedience, enjoins on servants, the duty of obedience to their masters, even to such as are unkind (11). He encourages them, to suffer wrongs patiently after the example of Christ, he shows the great merit of such patience (19–24), and points out the great blessing of redemption through Christ (25).


1. As, then, you have received a new spiritual regeneration (1:23), having divested yourselves of the vices and evil inclinations, opposed to fraternal charity, that is to say, the deliberate desire of injuring one another, every deceitful design of inflicting on your neighbour a private injury, all feelings of dissimulation and hypocrisy, all feelings of envy at our neighbour’s prosperity, all attempts at slandering his reputation.

2. Like newly born babes, on whom has been lately conferred the new birth of grace, eagerly long for, and imbibe the spiritual and intellectual milk of divine truth, free from every corrupt admixture of error, so that it may strengthen and nourish you, until you shall have arrived at the full vigour and maturity of spiritual manhood, in the life to come.

3. Continue to imbibe this spiritual milk, since, indeed, you have already tasted in baptism the sweetness of those graces and consolations, which the Lord Jesus has benignly bestowed upon you.

4. Unto whom approaching by a conformity of life, as unto a living stone, whereon is built the sacred edifice of the Church, and whereby is also communicated a spiritual life to the parts that form the superstructure; a stone, rejected as valueless, by men; but, chosen by God as the foundation of his Church, and honoured by him in his Resurrection, Ascension, and the other mysteries of his glory.

5. You, also, as living stones, to whom he imparted the life of grace, are built up to form the spiritual edifice of his Church. You are, likewise, in a certain sense, an assemblage of holy priests; inasmuch, as you are constituted to offer up the spiritual sacrifices of good works, rendered acceptable to God through the merits of Jesus Christ.

6. It is to point out to us, that Christ is the living foundation of his Church, that the following words are contained in the sacred Scripture (Isaias, 28): Behold I place in Sion—in which was contained the palace of David, and, was a type of the Church, wherein Christ reigns—a chief corner-stone, whereby the entire edifice is bound together, propped up and supported; chosen for this, in preference to every other, and “precious,” owing to the infinite dignity of his person, in which are united the divine and human natures. Whosoever shall believe, and place his trust in him, will not be confounded in his expectation.

7. To you, therefore, that believe in him, will belong the special privileges of not being confounded in your hopes; or, to you, who by faith are incorporated with him, will belong, a share and participation in the honour conferred on him; but to those who refuse to believe in him, this same stone, which the builders rejected, shall, in despite of their efforts and machinations against him, become “the head of the corner,” by being vested with supreme, legal, and judicial authority, so as to punish and destroy them.

8. And he shall become a stone of offence, which shall cause them to fall, and a rock of scandal, against which they shall be dashed, who stumble against his word, and refuse to obey; into this blindness and incredulity, they are permitted by God to fall, in punishment of their sins, and their resistance to divine grace.

9. But you are, in a still more exalted sense than were the Jewish people of old, a chosen generation, peculiarly selected by God as his chosen people—a kingly priesthood, in whom are united the exalted dignities of kings and priests at the same time—a holy nation called to interior sanctity, and rendered such, by the plentiful effusion of heavenly and sanctifying grace—a purchased people, whom your Lord has rescued and redeemed by the effusion of his blood, and asserted into liberty, thereby making you his own peculiar possession, in order that you may announce, and loudly proclaim the wonderful attributes and perfections of him who called you forth from the darkness of vice and ignorance, in which you were involved, into the light of faith, which reveals to you the admirable truths and mysteries of his gospel.

10. You can estimate the magnitude of God’s favors to you, by considering your former wretched condition, and comparing it with the present. You, who were not his people, while following the bent of your passions, are now become the people of God, by the obedience of faith and love, and you who had not obtained mercy, while involved in the darkness of ignorance and servitude of sin, have now obtained mercy, by being called to the bosom of his Church.

11. Dearly beloved, I earnestly exhort and implore of you, as strangers here below, and pilgrims travelling on through this vale of tears towards your heavenly country, to refrain from, and have no communication with, these carnal desires so much valued by this world, and which war against the soul, and ruin its eternal interests.

12. Leading an edifying and praiseworthy life, among the unconverted Gentiles, so that instead of reproaching you, and speaking against you as malefactors, as they do at present, they may, upon a closer inspection of your good works, give glory to God in the day on which he may be pleased to visit them in his mercy, and give them his grace and faith.

13. Be subject, therefore, and obedient to every human being, whether Jew or Gentile, faithful or unbeliever, placed in authority over you, for the sake of God whom they represent, and by whose ordinance they rule, whether to the king or emperor, as exercising supreme temporal authority in the state.

14. Or to governors or other inferior magistrates as sent by the same God, for the purpose of upholding order, by rewarding those who do good, and punishing such as do evil.

15. For the will of God is this, that by your good actions you close, or rather muzzle, the mouths of foolish, ignorant men, who wrongfully bring charges against our holy religion, of the teachings and principles of which they are utterly ignorant.

16. (Be subject to every human being placed in authority over you—verse 13—from a free spirit of generosity, and a love of justice), and make not the liberty into which Christ asserted you the pretext for insubordination and other wicked deeds, but serve temporal rulers, as if you were serving God himself, from whom they derive their power.

17. Treat all men with the honour and respect due to them; but in a special manner, cherish and love the brethren of the faith. As a safe check against carrying your obedience too far, so as to extend to things evil as well as good, have a filial fear of God, and hold in special honour the supreme ruler on earth, the king or emperor.

18. Servants, be subject to your masters with great reverence and respect; not only to such as are kind and gentle, but also to such are froward and morose.

19. For, this is the work of God’s grace, exceedingly pleasing to him; it from a consciousness of God’s will and pleasure that he should do so, or from a pure motive of religion, a person submit to troubles and sorrows, and suffer unjustly.

20. I say, suffer unjustly; for, what subject for special glory or distinguished praise can you have, if you merely endure the punishment and buffetings justly due to your transgressions? But if for your good actions, you patiently suffer wrong, this is exceedingly pleasing and acceptable with God.

21. For, it is a condition of your Christian vocation to suffer patiently, and endure evil for your good actions; since Christ, the predestined model of God’s elect, suffered thus for us, leaving you an example to follow by walking in his footsteps.

22. He suffered unjustly; for, he did nothing to merit it; he committed no offence either by deed or word.

23. He suffered patiently; for, when he was reproached and reviled, he did not recriminate or retort; when suffering, he did not threaten his enemies with the divine vengeance; but he delivered himself to Pontius Pilate, by whom he was judged and condemned unjustly.

24. He bore our sins as to their imputability and the punishment due to them, in his body, extended on the wood of the cross, to the end, that we, being dead to sins, having no more commerce with them than the living have with the dead, should lead a life of justice; by the stripes and marks inflicted on his body, you have been healed.

25. And you required healing; for, like sheep wandering abroad without a shepherd, you were wandering astray from God, from virtue, from heaven, rushing headlong to vice and eternal ruin; but now, through the bountiful grace of God, you are brought back to your good Pastor, who will feed you with the wholesome pastures of eternal life, and to the Bishop of your souls, who will watch over you, and guard you from straving away from him in future.


1. “Wherefore,” has reference to chap. 1:23, where it is said, the converted Jews and Gentiles received a new spiritual birth, whereby they contracted the relation of a spiritual brotherhood towards each other. The Apostle now exhorts them to lay aside the vices and wicked passions, opposed to the exercise of fraternal charity.

“Laying away;” these words probably contain an allusion to their laying aside their clothes at baptism, which was an emblem of their putting away the sinfulness of their corrupt nature.

“Guile,” a deceitful design of circumventing and injuring our neighbour. “Dissimulations,” showing in our actions, the opposite feelings of those which we actually entertain. The vices here enumerated are quite opposed to the simplicity of that spiritual infancy, upon which they have just entered.

2. “As new born babes,” i.e., as persons, who have just received the spiritual life of grace, “desire the rational milk.” By “milk,” is commonly understood the doctrine of Christ whether it regard faith or moral duties, and this he calls “rational,” that is, spiritual or intellectual, to show that he is not referring to material milk. The word “rational,” (in Greek, το λογικον), is employed in this sense by St. Paul (Rom. 12), “rationabile obsequium vestrum,” which the Greek, αδολον γάλα, shows to be connected with the word “milk.” It is also termed “without guile,” unadulterated by the admixture of false and erroneous doctrine. The Jewish converts, in particular, were anxious to add to the Gospel truth certain false tenets respecting the necessity of the ceremonial law of Moses. “That thereby you may grow unto salvation,” that, owing to the vigour imparted to you by this spiritual milk of God’s holy word, you may arrive at the consummation of spiritual manhood, which is accomplished in the life to come.

QUERY.—How reconcile this with St. Paul (1 Epistle to Cor. chap. 3), where he says that not milk but solid food is the nourishment of those who are well instructed in the faith?

ANSWER.—There is no opposition between both Apostles. The word “milk,” in this passage, is contrasted with their former carnal mode of living, and not with the solid food, referred to by St. Paul. It may be, also, said in reply, that, during our term here below, we are in a kind of spiritual infancy; in a certain sense, all the doctrines of Christ are milk, accommodated to our present condition, contrasted with the life to come. The words, “unto salvation,” are wanting in many Greek copies. They are, however, admitted to be genuine by critics, on the authority of the chief manuscripts.

3. “If so be you have tasted,” &c. The word “if” may be taken conditionally, thus: If, however, you have tasted, &c. (as I know you have). It is better, however, understand it to mean, since, a meaning warranted by the Greek, εἰπερ, as if he said, since, indeed, you have tasted, how sweet the Lord is. In the Vatican MS it is εἰ not, εἰπερ. The Apostle here alludes to Psalm 33: “gustate et videte, quoniam suavis est Dominus.” For “sweet,” the Hebrew word in the Psalm is, good, and in the Greek, as here, benign, χρηστος. By some, this verse is understood of the participation of the Holy Eucharist, which in the early ages was received after baptism. The words are employed by the Apostle to imply, that as children, after tasting of their mother’s milk, become fonder of it, so ought the Christian converts desire more and more, that wholesome milk of God’s holy word, the sweets and consolations of which they have already experienced.

4. After having regarded the Christian converts under the relation of spiritual children, who should continue to partake, during life, of the pure and nutritious food of Christian doctrine, the Apostle views them under a different respect viz., as living stones of the spiritual edifice of the Church, the great foundation and corner-stone of which was Christ. He it is, that continually imparts life and animation to the different parts of this spiritual edifice; and they should continue to approach him by good works and charity, after having been incorporated with him in baptism. “Unto whom coming,” by good works and charity, “as to a living stone”—“living,” because he imparts life to all the other parts of the spiritual edifice. These words, “living stone,” show that the Apostle is here employing metaphorical language—“rejected by men,”—“his own received him not.”—(John 1:11). They would not have “this man to reign over them:” (Luke 19:14). There is an allusion in the Text to (Psalm 117:22), “the stone which the builders rejected,” &c. “But chosen by God,” as select and excellent, to become the foundation of his Church, “and honourable by God.” Honoured in his Resurrection, Ascension, in the glorious and adorable name of Jesus, &c. The Apostle, addressing the Jewish Christians, borrows his images from the temple and its service; hence, he represents Christ as the corner-stone of the edifice, and the faithful were to lead the life of grace, as its living, component parts.

5. “Be you also as living stones;” “living,” through the life of grace, which Christ has imparted to you; the word “living” is also employed to show more clearly the metaphor, and to admonish them to promote, by good works, the advancement of the mystic edifice. “Be you built up;” the Greek word, οικοδομεισθε, admits of being rendered in the indicative mood also, you are built up; and, this latter is the more probable construction; for the Apostle, has principally in view here, to point out the dignity to which Christians are raised by their connection with Christ; “a spiritual house,” the faithful are built up, and from the superstructure of the spiritual and mystical edifice of the Church.

OBJECTION.—Is not the Church, then, invisible?

ANSWER.—By no means. The word “spiritual,” is not opposed to visible, but to a material house, such as the temple of Solomon. Hence, it means mystical, as typified in the Old Testament, by the material temple of Solomon and the Tabernacle; but, this, by no means, implies, that the thing typified is invisible; for, the men who constitute the living stones of this edifice surely are visible, and so must the house which they compose. “A holy priesthood.”

OBJECTION.—Is not the Christian, therefore, a priestly state, and are not all Christians priests?

ANSWER.—By no means. It is clear that the words are taken metaphorically, for the entire passage is nothing more than a series of metaphors, contained in the words, “infants,” “milk,” “living stone,” “living stones,” “spiritual house;” hence, the words mean, you are a collection of priests in a general, figurative sense, inasmuch as you are constituted to offer up “spiritual sacrifices,” that is, good works, called “sacrifices” in a general sense, as offered to the Supreme Being, and “spiritual,” as opposed to the offerings of bulls and goats, presented by the Jews. “Acceptable to God by Jesus Christ,” since it is in consideration, of the merits of Christ applied to them, that our works are acceptable with God. From the entire context, it is quite evident, that the word “priesthood” is taken metaphorically, as are the functions of these priests, consisting in offering to God spiritual sacrifices, since a sacrifice, properly so called, must always contain an external object, &c. But, what puts the matter beyond all doubt, is the expression in verse 9, “a kingly priesthood.” These words refer to the same priesthood, of which mention is made here, “a holy priesthood.” Now, in verse, 9, the word “priesthood” is used figuratively; for it is one of the glorious titles which God confers on his chosen people, the Jews, whom he calls “a priestly kingdom” (Exodus, 19:6); and this glorious title, St. Peter here tells us, is typically verified in the Christian Church. Now, will any one say, that all the Jews were priests in the strict sense of the word? If so, why confine the priesthood to the tribe of Levi and family of Aaron? Why should Core, Dathan, and Abiron, be punished for attempting to discharge the priestly functions? The word, then, is taken figuratively in its typical meaning, when referred to carnal Israel (Exodus, 19), as it is also in its typified application to the spiritual Israel of the Christian Church in this passage. Moreover, the word “priests” is to be applied in the same sense to Christians, as the word “kingdom,” that is to say, kings (Apocalypse, 1:6), where there is question of all Christians, and, where it is manifest the word must be employed figuratively. Should, however, any one insist in giving the word its literal meaning, then it is to be confined to such as God has called in his Church to the office of priests, as he called Aaron.

6. “Wherefore, it is said in the Scripture.” In Greek, περιεχει εν γραφη, “is it contained in Scripture.”—(Isaias, 28:16). The Apostle quotes the passage, with some transposition of the words. He expresses the sense, however, both of the Hebrew and Septuagint. He proves, from the prophet, that Christ was made the living foundation of his Church. “Behold I will place in (Mount) Sion”—a type of the Christian Church—“a chief corner stone,” because, he supports the edifice; and, by a Hebrew idiom, the rulers and governors are called the corners or angles of the people, as being their chief props of support.—(Judges, 21:1; 1 Kings, 16; Isaias, 19) Christ might be called the “corner-stone,” because he connects and unites in one, the two walls of Jews and Gentiles (Ephes. 2:14–21); “elect” for, in no other name can salvation be found; “and precious,” and most highly honoured, since, “in His name every knee in heaven, &c., must bow.” (Philip. 2:10). “And he that shall believe in him shall not be confounded.” The Apostle quotes from the Septuagint version. In the Hebrew, instead of “shall not be confounded,” we have “let him not hasten.” The sense, however, is the same, for, the word “hasten,” expresses the hurry and trepidation, consequent on confusion or disappointment in one’s expectation; hence, the words mean, he need not be in that hurried anxiety into which those are thrown, who dread disappointment in any important concern (see Rom. 9:33).

7. “To you, therefore, that believe, he is honour.” The word “honour” may refer either to the last part of the preceding verse, “shall not be confounded,” or, to “precious,” that is, honourable. This “corner-stone” is honourable and precious. To you, therefore, who as living stones, are constructed as a part of the spiritual edifice on him, and incorporated with Him, shall be given a share in the honour and preciousness, which belongs to him.—(See Paraphrase). The Apostle wishes to show the glory of the believers, and the greatness of the benefits conferred on them, by being incorporated with Christ, and this he does the more clearly, by contrasting their advantages with the evils, in which the unbelievers are involved, “But to them, that believe not;” “the stone which the builders rejected;” by “builders” are meant the Scribes and Pharisees, who under pretext of zeal for their religion, rejected Christ, and persecuted him unto death, this stone is “made for them, the head of the corner,” that is, He who is represented by this stone, is vested with supreme authority, to punish and destroy them. The words are taken from Psalm 117:21.

8. In the first words of this verse, there is an allusion to Isaias (8:14). The words “stone of stumbling, and rock of scandal,” probably mean the same thing, which is repeated, for the sake of emphasis, in two different forms of expression; “who stumble at the word,” that is, who make it the occasion of sin and unbelief; “neither do believe,” they stumble against his word, by their positive incredulity and unbelief. “Whereunto also they are set.” Some Commentators understand these words to mean, that they were set, and appointed by God to believe this word, which, through incredulity, they rejected. Looking, however, to the construction in the Greek, where, for “neither do believe,” we have but one word, απειθουντες, disbelieving; the most probable construction seems to be that given in the Paraphrase. “Whereunto,” i.e., into which unbelief they are permitted by God to fall in punishment of their sins. There is nothing in this, which is not perfectly warranted by the sacred Scripture. “God delivered them up to a reprobate sense.”—(Rom. 1:28; 1 Thessal.; 2 Thessal. 2:10). On which passages, (see Commentary.)

9. The Apostle now reckons up the glorious titles and prerogatives conferred by God on the faithful. These several titles were originally bestowed on his chosen people, the Jews, but, as “all things happened unto them in figure” (Cor. 10), hence, the Apostle applies, in a still more exalted sense, the same glorious titles to spiritual Israel, the children of the promise called in Isaac. “You are a chosen generation,” which according to some, is taken from Isaias (43:20), “my people, my chosen,” also from Deuteronomy (chap. 4, 8, 10, 14), and elsewhere; “a kingly priesthood,” from Exodus (19:6), where it is written, “a priestly kingdom.” The Apostle, however, here quotes, according to the Septuagint version. The words mean that they are priests and kings at the same time. This meaning is also conveyed (Apocalypse, 1:6). Hence, it appears, that as the word “kings” is employed figuratively, so is the word priesthood, or priests, in like manner.

“A holy nation,” from Deuteronomy (7:6), “because thou art a holy people to the Lord thy God.” Also (Exodus, 19:6). They are called a “holy nation” in the same sense, in which the Church is termed holy, viz., in her doctrine, sacraments, founder, and many members, in the abundant means of sanctity, and the plentiful effusion of sanctifying grace; all Christians are called to the state and practice of sanctity; “a purchased people,” that is, a people asserted into liberty, and fully ransomed, so as to become peculiarly his (Exodus, 19:6), “you shall be my peculiar possession above all people;” also, Deuteronomy (7:6). “That you may declare his virtues;” by “virtues,” as appears from the Greek, τας αρετας, are meant, his attributes and perfections, his power, his goodness, mercy, &c. There is allusion made to the canticle, which the Jewish people sang, proclaiming God’s perfections after their deliverance from the Egyptian bondage, when they crossed the Red Sea. “Who hath called you out of darkness,” that is, the darkness of sin and ignorance, in which the Jews, as well as the Gentiles, were involved (Isaias, 60), “surge, illuminare Jerusalem” (Matthew, 4), “populus qui sedebat in tenebris, vidit lucent magnam.” “Into his marvellous light,” the light of faith, which proposed to their view, the marvellous mysteries of God’s designs upon man, and the whole economy of man’s redemption.

10. The Apostle places in a clear light the magnitude of God’s benefits towards them, by reminding them of their former wretched condition—“Who in time past, were not a people,” &c. This quotation is taken from the Prophet Osee (chap. 2:23, 24), and it is quoted by St. Paul (9 ad Rom.) to prove the vocation of the Gentiles to the faith. This, he shows, by taking the text in its mystical sense; for, in its literal signification, it refers to the deliverance of the Jews from the kings of Syria, after they turned aside, to the worship of the false gods. From this passage, some Expositors derive an argument in favour of the opinion, that this Epistle was addressed to the Gentile converts. All, however, that would follow at most from this and other such passages is, that the Epistle was addressed to Jews and Gentiles indiscriminately, and that some parts of it primarily regard the Gentile converts; and others, the Jews. Nor, would that necessarily follow, because, passages, like that from Osee might refer to both Jews and Gentiles; to the former, in its literal, and to the latter, in its mystical sense, and St. Peter here applies it in a far more exalted meaning to the Jews, to whom it was originally addressed. (In 5:12. He addresses the Jews directly.) This is the opinion of St. Jerome on Osee, or, we might say, that “the children of Juda, and the children of Israel, who were to be gathered together,” (Osee. 1:11), represented, respectively—the former, the Jewish converts; the latter, the Gentiles; and that the text here taken from Osee (2:23), includes both; St. Paul applies it to the Gentiles, and St. Peter here applies it to the Jews converted to the faith. Hence, no proof that this Epistle was addressed to the Gentile converts.

11. “I beseech you,” may also bear, as appears from the Greek, παρακαλω, the signification of, I exhort you, as “strangers and pilgrims.” Reference is made to the condition of Christians here below, whose country is heaven, and who are here living in a foreign land. The idea may have been suggested by the condition of the Jews scattered in foreign regions, far away from Judea. “To refrain yourselves from carnal desires.” As travellers should not busy themselves with the concerns of the countries through which they pass, so neither should Christians, traveling on through this strange land, towards their heavenly country, take any part in these carnal, noxious desires of pleasures, honours, and riches, so much prized by this world. “Which war against the soul;” these desires, if indulged into an illicit extent, and for bad ends, ruin the life of the soul, and involve it in spiritual and eternal death.

12. “Having your conversation,” that is, the whole course of your conduct and actions, “good,” or praiseworthy and edifying. “Among the Gentiles,” the unconverted Gentiles, among whom they live in Pontus, Galatia, &c. “That whereas they speak of you as evil doers.” The Greek for “whereas,” ἐν ᾧ, means, instead of. “Speaking ill of you as evil doers,” probably refers to the charges of infanticide and other obscenities, which the early Christians were accused of having committed at their meetings by the Pagans. This we learn from St. Justin Martyr, Eusebius (libro 5. Hist. Eccles. 1). The frightful crimes committed by the Gnostic heretics, in their conventicles, might have given some grounds for charging Christians in general with the perpetration of impure actions at their meetings (Epiphanius in Heresi Gnosticorum). The principal accusation, however, to which St. Peter here refers, would appear to be, as the context warrants us in thinking, that of refusing to obey the temporal magistrates and governors. “In the day of visitation,” most probably regards the gracious visitation of God, when he will visit them in his mercy, and call them to his holy faith.

13. It appears that at this time the Jews were imbued with a spirit of disaffection towards the Roman emperors, as we learn from Josephus and Suetonius; they considered it degrading to the chosen people of God, the descendants of Abraham, to whom were made so many and such magnificent promises, to obey or pay tribute to foreigners and unbelievers. This spirit they carried with them into the very bosom of Christianity. The foolish rebellion of Judas of Galilee (Acts, 5:37), would serve to fasten more closely this imputation of insubordination, so injurious to the spread of the Gospel, on the Christians, whose teachers were Galileans. Hence, the zeal displayed by St. Peter and by St. Paul (Rom. 13, and Titus, 3) in instructing the Christians of their own day, and at all future times, regarding their obligations in this respect. “Be ye subject, therefore, to every human creature.” The word “therefore” shows that the chief point in which they were reproached, “as evil doers” (verse 12), was on the subject of insubordination and disaffection towards temporal authority. “For God’s sake.” In Greek, δια τον κυριον, for the Lord’s sake. “Whether to the king.” The word “king” refers to the Roman emperor, called by the Greeks, βασιλευς or king. Claudius, or according to others, Nero, was the reigning emperor at this time “As excelling,” i.e., exercising supreme secular authority; for, the state, or secular authority is supreme in its own sphere, that is to say, in regard to merely temporal matters, or temporal government; and the Church is, by divine appointment supreme, in its own sphere also, in regard to all that spiritual and ecclesiastical government involves. It is of faith that spiritual authority, which resides in the Church, comes immediately from God. Secular authority also comes from him; “for, there is no power but from God” (Rom. 13:1); but in what sense these words, as far as they regard secular authority are to be understood, that is to say, in what way secular authority comes from God whether mediately or immediately, is still an open question very much disputed. Some maintain that secular authority comes, immediately, from God. Others maintain, that it comes only, mediately, from him; that by him it has been placed, as a deposit, in the hands of the community; and by them transmitted to the objects of their choice, be the form of government instituted by them what it may, whether kingly, republican, &c. This seems a very probable opinion (see Rom. 13:2). Others maintain, that the election of the people does not immediately confer power—that it is a mere necessary condition, consequent on which, God himself immediately, confers power on the object of the people’s choice. This also seems a very probable opinion (see Epistle to Titus, 3:1).

14. “Or to governors as sent by him.” Under the word “governors” are included all those in a subordinate capacity, entrusted with authority; “as sent by him;” by God. The opinion referring “him” to God, is pre erred by Estius; because, he says, the Roman emperors did not always send out governors. This was often done by the senate. Again, they did not always send them for the object here specified, viz., “for the punishment of evil doers,” &c. Others understand the words to mean, “as sent” by the emperor or king; for, he ordinarily did so, and the general end for which they were and should be sent was, for the punishment of those who did ill, and the praise or reward of such as acted well. Similar are the words (Romans, 13)—“for he is God’s minister to thee for good; he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” For the nature and extent of the duty of obedience, (see Commentary on chapter 13 to the Romans.)

15. “For so is the will of God.” These words, as appears from the Greek, refer not to the preceding, but the following. “That by doing well, you may put to silence.” The Greek word for “put to silence,” φιμουν, means, to muzzle. “The ignorance of foolish men,” who attempt to revile a religion, of which they are wholly ignorant. The “doing well,” regards good works in general, but especially subordination to temporal authority.

16. “As free.” These words, as appears from the Greek, ὡς ελευθεροι, are to be connected with verse 13, and not with “doing well,” αγαθοποιουντας, which is in a different case (verse 14). “And not as making liberty,” the liberty into which Christ asserted you by his grace; a liberty and freedom from the dominion of sin and of the passions; “a cloak for malice,” a pretext for insubordination and other crimes. It appears that the Gnostics, Nicholaites, and other heretics in the Apostolic age construed the liberty into which Christ asserted them, as implying a total independence of all temporal authority, and even a freedom from moral restraint. Hence, they thought themselves justified in indulging in the most unbounded licentiousness. This is what the Apostle here alludes to in saying, “not making liberty a cloak for malice,” i.e., licentiousness of all sorts. “But as the servants of God,” serving our temporal rulers in all things lawful, as if we were serving God, whose vicegerents they are, and from whom they hold the reigns of government.

17. “Honour all men, i.e., pay all men the degree of honour and respect due to each one.” Similar is the injunction (Rom. 13), “honour to whom honour.” “Love the brotherhood.” The members of the household of the faith should be, in a special manner, the objects of our affection. “We should do good to all, but especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”—(Gal. 5:10). “Fear God” with a reverential fear, which should serve as a check upon us against carrying our compliance with the mandates of authority too far, to evil and unlawful things, as well as to the lawful subjects of obedience. “Honour the king,” is probably added, because the reigning prince, whether Claudius or Nero, were not the most deserving objects of respect or reverence.

18. The Apostle passes from inculcating obedience to public authority, to treat of domestic obedience, which servants and slaves owe their masters. It appears that, on this subject also, false notions were afloat, and that many were of opinion, that the duties of servitude were inconsistent with the liberty of the gospel, and that slaves, after their conversion, were exempted from obedience to their temporal masters. One of the charges against Christianity was, that it subverted the relations between masters and slaves. “Servants.” The Greek word, οἱ οικεται, means, domestics. The word, slaves, might be offensive to the Jews, whom St. Peter addresses. “With all fear,” that is, great reverence and respect. “To the froward,” such as may be rough and unkind in their treatment of them.

19. “Thanksworthy,” χαρις, grace, that is the effect of God’s grace, or a thing exceedingly pleasing to him. “If for conscience towards God,” that is, from a conscientious knowledge that God wills it so; in other words, from pure religious motives, “man endure sorrows,” anguish of mind, and miseries. “Suffering wrongfully,” suffering unmerited punishment.

20. “For what glory is it, if committing sin and being buffeted.” The word “buffeted” expresses the contumelious treatment of offending slaves—“you endure?” The Apostle does not deny that a man may have glory and merit, even while suffering the penalty due to his crimes; but, he denies that this is a subject of any peculiar merit of singular praise, which is the meaning of “glory” (in Greek, κλεος), in this passage. “But if doing well, you suffer patiently.” The Greek is, αγαθοποιουντες και πασχοντες ὑπομενειτε, but if doing well, and suffering, you endure. The meaning is the same as that conveyed in our reading. “But if doing well … this is thanksworthy,” i.e., grateful and acceptable “before God.”

21. “For, unto this are you called,” viz., to suffer unjust persecutions and wrongs patiently, even when doing good. This is a condition of our call to Christianity. “By many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” “All who wish to live piously in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” “Because Christ also suffered for us.” In Greek, ὑπερ ὑμων, for you. He is the predestined model of God’s elect; and we must tread in his footsteps, and follow the example he left us, if we wish to share in his glory.

22. He committed not sin either by word or deed. The quotation, “who did no sin,” &c., is taken from Isaias, 53:9. He did no sin; he was incapable of sin, whether original or actual; “neither was guile,” that is, lying or deceit, “found in his mouth,” a Hebrew form of saying, there was no guile or deceit in him. Hence, he suffered, unjustly.

23. “He also suffered patiently”; for, “when reviled,” charged with being a “drinker of wine,” a Samaritan, possessed by a devil, &c., “he did not revile,” or recriminate. And although he occasionally reproached his enemies (v.g. John, 8:44), he did not do so, in a spirit of recrimination. “When he suffered, he threatened not;” for, although, at times, he threatened sinners with eternal death, (Matt. 10:15; Luke, 10:5, and elsewhere); still, he did not do so when suffering, lest it might savour of impatience or vindictiveness. “But delivered himself to him, that judged him unjustly.” According to which reading the meaning is, that he patiently and silently submitted to the unjust judgment of Pontius Pilate. In the Greek the reading is, τω κρεινοντι δικαιως, to him that judged him justly; the meaning of which is, that he committed his cause to the just judgment of his heavenly Father, by whom he was charged with the full imputability of our sins, and justly punished as the victim of atonement for them.

24. “Who, his ownself, bore our sins.” He had no sins of his own to bear. He bore ours as to their imputability, and the punishment due to them, “in his body upon the tree.” “The tree” of the cross, was his altar of sacrifice. In this verse there is allusion to Isaias, 53, “vere languores nostros ipse tulit … ipse peccata multorum tulit.” “That we being dead to sins,” holding no more commerce with them than the living hold with the dead, “should live to justice.” The end of his suffering was, to effect our spiritual death to sin, and our resuscitation to a perpetual and undying life of grace. Hence, St. Paul says (Rom. 6), “let not sin reign in your mortal body,” &c. “Let us live to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” “Let us exhibit our members as arms of justice to God.” “By whose stripes you were healed.” The Apostle changes the person, and says, “you.” The word “stripes” is allusive to the bad treatment slaves sometimes receive from their masters, when scourged by them. In such cases, they should remember and derive consolation from reflecting, that the Son of God was scourged and treated unjustly and harshly, to atone for their sins, while he was wholly innocent. Oh! how it would alleviate the miseries in which we may often chance to be involved, owing to the injustice of men, were we, after seriously reflecting that the Son of God suffered still more for us, to unite our sufferings with his, and to bear in mind, that, unlike him, we, at some time, deserved punishment—“quoniam ego in flagella paratus sum, peccatumme um contra me est semper?”—(Psalm.)

25. “For, you were as sheep going astray,” owing to your spiritual disorders, and therefore, required to be healed; but now you are brought back, as it were, to your original condition. You were converted to the good Pastor, who will lead you into wholesome pastures, and support your souls with his heavenly word, his sacraments, and especially with his own most precious body and blood. “And bishop of your souls;” he will watch over you, as the word “bishop,” επισκοπος, signifies, and guard you unless it be your own fault, from straying away any more from him. Can anything so strikingly demonstrate to us the greatness of the benefits of our redemption, as the forlorn and wretched condition of those, from whom a participation in this blessing has been withheld. This state of wretchedness is most clearly exhibited in the affecting idea which the Apostle gives us of it, when comparing it to the condition of sheep wandering and scattered abroad without a shepherd, to tend or protect them from the incursions of ravenous wolves. Oh! what gratitude do we not owe to the infinite bounty and gratuitous mercy of our good shepherd, who has rescued us, at the price of such excruciating tortures, in preference to millions of his creatures, from this deplorable condition? Who can enumerate the countless advantages we enjoy in the bosom of his holy Church, within the precincts of his saving fold? What return then should we make him? “Quid retribuam Domino, pro omnibus quæ retribuit mihi?” From our mother’s womb he was our God—(Psalm 21:11). And who can sufficiently comprehend all that he has done for us? “In loco pascuæ, ibi me collocavit.” In this place of pasture has he placed us from our mother’s womb, without any claim on him, an the grounds of merit, actual or foreseen; for, before we were born, or capable of good or evil, has he loved us with a love of predilection; while others he has left outside his saving fold. See what immense sacrifice of feeling, of friends, of worldly position, of all that the world values or esteems, it costs the few, at one time placed outside his fold, whom his grace enables to return to the bosom of his church, while it costs us nothing. We should, by sanctity of life, endeavour to correspond with his goodness, and seek by all means to promote the salvation of our brethren. “Si diligis me, pasce oves meas.” This is the return he demands from each one, in his proper sphere and capacit.

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