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


In the preceding chapter, the Apostle had been inculcating the duty of political subjection, on the part of the governed, to their rulers, and the domestic subjection of servants to their masters, from which he digressed at verse 18, to treat of the benefits of redemption. In this, he resumes the subject with reference to another species of subjection, somewhat different from the preceding, viz., that which is due by wives to their husbands; and he inculcates this duty, by pointing out the advantages its observance might confer on the husbands, in case they should have continued to be unbelievers (verses 1, 2). He next shows, in what manner women should adorn themselves, viz., by attending more to the decoration of their souls than of their persons (3, 4). He inculcates the same duty of subjection, by the examples of the wives of the patriarchs of old, and particularly by that of Sara (5, 6).

He then enjoins on husbands the faithful observance of the reciprocal duties of more abundant attention and respect, which they owe their wives, whom they will thus relieve from a consciousness of their inferiority (7).

He briefly and summarily enjoins on all, the exercise of charity and compassion for one another (8). He prohibits retaliation for injuries, whether in word or deed (9); and proves from the Psalms, that in order to be heirs to their destined benediction, they must return blessing for cursing, avoid evil, and do good (10–12). He shows that if they are zealous in the practice of good works, un just persecutions will not only be ultimately harmless (13), but will procure a special benediction for them (14). He exhorts them to fear God only, and to be prepared with some satisfactory answer when questioned, in due circumstances, respecting their faith. He encourages them to suffer patiently for justice sake; since, in doing so, they conform to God’s will (17); and moreover, by so doing, they perfectly conform to the example of Christ, who also suffered unjustly, even death, for our sins; he shows, for their consolation, the efficacy and good effects of the unjust suffering of Christ, both in reference to himself, who was raised to a glorious and immortal life, “enlivened in the spirit” (18), and with reference to his creatures, whether we regardpast generations—and among them the most signal instance of the great efficacy of his merits was the salvation of the Antedeluvians; to whom he went and preached during the interval between his death and resurrection, in the prison of Limbo, the glad tidings of their approaching admittance unto glory (19, 20)—or, whether we regard present or future generations during the entire term of the law of grace, during which, men are saved by the waters of baptism, received with due dispositions, of which waters those of the deluge were a type and figure (21, 22).


1. Let wives also be subject to their husbands, and exhibit towards them that liberal and free obedience which the marriage contract implies, in order that, should there be any husbands who have resisted the preaching of God’s holy word, and his invitations to embrace the faith, these may be gained over to Christ by the pious conduct and exemplary obedience of their wives, without any further necessity for a formal preaching of the word to them.

2. When they consider and examine into the chaste and holy conduct of their wives, together with their respectful and reverential deportment towards themselves.

3. Whose decoration should not consist so much in the external embellishment and decking out of their persons, either in braidings or toppings of the hair, or in the use of golden ornaments, or excessive costliness of dress:

4. As in the embellishment of their interior, that is, of their souls, with the incorruptible and imperishable virtues of meekness, and of a peaceful, unruffled serenity of mind, which interior, thus ornamented, is rich and valuable in the sight of God.

5. For, it was by interior embellishment of this sort that the holy women of old, of whom you are begotten, and to whom you are to look up as models, putting their trust in God, adorned themselves; but particularly by exhibiting obedience and due subjection to their husbands.

6. Among these holy women, Sara shone conspicuous, and afforded a signal instance of subjection to her husband, Abraham; obeying him, and reverentially calling him her lord—whose daughters you are when doing good, and not deterred from the discharge of your Christian duties by the nervous fears and timidity inherent in the female character.

7. Husbands, do you in like manner, attend to the duties of respect and love which you owe your wives; in cohabiting with them, treat them according to the dictates of your superior reason, and the principles of religion, bestowing on them more abundant respect and attention as the weaker parties, (thus relieving them from the consciousness of their inferiority) you should also treat them as equally destined with you to share the heavenly inheritance which Christ has purchased for us, and thus you will be enabled to attend to the duty of prayer, to which family broils and domestic discord are a great hindrance.

8. In a word, or to sum up all briefly, be of one way of thinking and willing, of one heart and one soul; sympathize with one another; love one another as brethren, rendered such by a new generation (1:23) have feelings of real inward compassion for one another; become affable and benign, lowly and humble in your own eyes and your own estimation:

9. Not returning evil for evil, nor abusive language for reproachful, abusive language; in other words, not retaliating either by word or action, but on the contrary, returning benediction for malediction; for, you have been called to enter on the possession of your heavenly inheritance, which is the effect of God’s benediction conferred on you, and prepared for you even when his enemies by sin; hence, like him, you should bless your enemies.

10. For, whosoever anxiously desires to enjoy eternal life, and see happy days in the land of the living, must refrain his tongue from speaking ill of the neighbour, and must guard his lips against giving utterance to the language of fraud or circumvention for the purpose of injuring him.

11. He must avoid evil, not only of the tongue, but of all kinds, and also do good; he must diligently search after and find peace, with his neighbour, and after having found it, even though it should attempt to fly from him, he must vigorously grasp it, and retain it.

12. For the merciful and benevolent regard of the Lord is upon the just, to them all the decrees of his Providence subserve, to their entreaties he is always ready to lend a willing ear; but upon the doers of evil frowneth the ire of his angry countenance.

13. And who is it that can ultimately harm you, if you be zealous followers of good, really anxious to conform your life, all your words and actions in the standard of goodness?

14. But if you suffer anything for justice sake, you will not only be really free from harm, but blessed. And fear not the evils with which they menace you, and show no apprehension of them.

15. But reverence in your hearts the Lord Christ, and manifest this reverence in the edifying practice of all Christian virtues; and be always prepared to give some satisfactory answer or apology to every one that asks, in due circumstances, for some reason of the hope that is in you.

16. But your answer should be always marked by gentleness and due reverence for those who interrogate you, having a good conscience and leading lives conformable to the principles of your holy faith, so that instead of speaking evil of you, those may be confounded and put to shame, who now falsely accuse and calumniate your virtuous edifying life and Christian conversation.

17. For, it is much better and far more meritorious to suffer for our good actions (if such be the will of God, without whose will nothing happens, except sin), than to be forced to undergo punishment for our misdeeds.

18. (And by thus suffering unjustly you will more perfectly conform to Christ). For, he also suffered, nay, even died once, not for his own, but for our sins; the just suffered for the unjust; that he might offer us to God; and, by breaking down the enmities that existed between him and us, bring us nearer to him, by a conformity of our virtues, by our faith and belief in his gospel, “being indeed put to death in the flesh,” when his mortal life was put an end to, but again resuscitated in the reunion of his soul—now become the principle of a glorious and immortal life—with his body, on which were conferred the properties of glorification.

19. In which soul he came, during the interval between his death and resurrection, and preached to the departed souls of the ancient just who died in the Lord, and were confined in the prison of Limbo, the glad tidings of their near deliverance, when they were to accompany Him on high, while he “led captivity, captive.”

20. And among those to whom Christ then preached, should be reckoned, and especially noted by us, those who for some time, had been great sinners and incredulous in the days of Noe, for whose conversion the patience of God had been waiting during the term of years that Noe had been employed in constructing the ark, wherein only eight persons were saved from death, by the water on which, borne aloft, it floated in security amidst the surrounding desolation.

21. To this diluvian water, baptism corresponding, as the antitype, or thing typified, to its type and figure now, in the New Law, saves you too from the death of your souls by the graces and right to life eternal, which it confers; and these effects it produces, not inasmuch as it is a mere external rite, washing away bodily uncleanness; but, inasmuch as this external rite is accompanied by the internal dispositions which the subject of baptism, when interrogated sincerely, and before God, declares that he possesses; these effects baptism produces owing to the resurrection from the dead of our Lord Jesus Christ; for “he rose for our justification.”—(Rom. chap. 14).

22. Who, in his divine nature, being equal to God in his human nature, sits at His right hand, and holds, next him, the most honourable place in heaven, by his own death and resurrection he destroyed death, and deprived it of its sting, in order that we might be made heirs of life everlasting; he has, also, ascended and gone into heaven, the entire heavenly host, of every order and degree, whether from the ranks of angels, powers, virtues, or any other order, having been subjected to him by his heavenly Father.


1. “In like manner.” In these words the Apostle by no means conveys that the wife should exhibit the same kind of servile subjection to her husband that the slave owes to his master (3:18), for, she is only subject to her husband, as her head; as the Church is to Christ, who treats her as his spouse.—Ephes. 5 The Apostle only intends to inculcate the duty of obedience in one case as well as the other; an obedience, however, in both cases, differing in kind. “Be subject;” the Greek is, ὑποτασσαμεναι, being subject.

“That if any believe not the word.” The Greek word for “believe not,” απειθουσι, conveys the idea of positive unbelief, or positively rejecting the word. “May be won without the word,” i.e., without the necessity of any formal preaching of the word, a second time. Of course, this is not opposed to St. Paul to the Romans (10), “faith comes from hearing,” for, the Greek word for “believe not,” already quoted, supposes them to have heard the word already. It is only meant that a second preaching of the word to them would be unnecessary.

2. “With fear,” may also refer to the husbands, when with feelings of reverential respect they consider and examine into your chaste conversation and holy life. In the Paraphrase it refers to the wives. “Your chaste conversation.” Chastity and fidelity to her marriage engagement should be the first and chiefest ornament of a Christian wife; and this, not only with regard to others, but also with reference to her own husband, and the obligations of conjugal chastity.

3. The decoration of women should not consist so much in excessive fineries and decking-out of their persons, as in embellishing their souls—verse 4. In the interpretation now given, the words, “whose adorning let it not be the outward,” &c., are employed in a comparative sense to mean, that the ornaments of females should not consist so much in external decoration of their persons, as in the embellishment of their souls—verse 4. The injunction given here by St. Peter is perfectly similar to that given by St. Paul, (1 Ep. to Tim. 2:9). An excessive regard for the fineries of dress, and an undue attention to the decoration of their persons, are faults at all times, peculiar to females. It is likely, that in the luxurious cities of Greece and Asia Minor, even the converted females carried with them into the church their former faulty habits in this respect, to the scandal of the Pagans, and the injury of the faith. Hence, the severe strictures of St. Paul (Ep. 1 ad Cor. 11), on the same subject. “The wearing of gold” refers to the extravagant golden ornaments, such as armlets, bracelets, headbands, &c., of gold. “Or the putting on of apparel” refers to the excessive costliness of cloaks, &c., worn by females. From the fact of two Apostles delivering wholesome instructions on this subject, we can estimate the importance of the precept regarding it; for, although custom be variable, there can be no doubt that the precept given here by the Apostle is binding at all times, and is violated, whenever, females deck themselves out in dresses beyond their means, or when their dresses, either in shape or form, are not conformable to the laws of modesty or of Christian propriety. The Apostle by no means censures the use of costly ornaments suited to one’s rank and station, for “the valiant woman” is commended for wearing “purple and fine linen,” but, these were suited to her rank; for “her husband is honourable in the gates, when he sitteth among the senators of the land.”—Proverbs. 31:23.

4. Their chief care should be to purify their affections, of which the “heart” is the seat, and to ornament “the hidden man,” that is, their souls, which are imperishable, with the virtues “of a quiet,” an unruffled, peaceful, “and meek spirit,” that are incorruptible, unlike the ornaments of dress, which, like the external person, they are applied to, are fading and perishable, “which is rich,” &c., which spirit thus decorated is precious in the sight of God.

5. It is by interior ornaments of a quiet and meek spirit, that the “holy women,” of whom they were descended, the wives of the Patriarchs and others, Rebecca Rachael, &c., Abigail, Esther, Judith, &c., “who trusted in God,” and loved and served him faithfully and devoutly (for under “trusted in God,” are included the other virtues of faith, love, devotion, &c., by which they pleased God), “adorned themselves, being in subjection,” &c. (see Paraphrase).

6. Among these holy women whom the Apostle proposes as models for their imitation, he particularizes Sara, the wife of the Patriarch Abraham, whom she obeyed reverentially calling him “her lord,” as appears from many passages of Genesis (her own name implied, that she was mistress, Sarai, that is, domina mea). She obeyed him, going with him wherever he went, whether to Canaan, Egypt, Gerara, &c.

“Whose daughters you are, doing well.” These words furnish no argument in favour of the opinion that this Epistle was addressed to the converted Jews; because, as all the faithful of the male sex, whether from among the Jews or Gentiles, might be termed the spiritual sons of Abraham, so might all of the female sex be termed the spiritual daughters of Sara; in this sense it would appear from the words, “doing well,” the word is taken here—when doing well, they were the spiritual daughters of Sara. “And not fear any disturbance,” that is, not to be deterred from the faithful discharge of their Christian duties by the nervous fears and timidity which are the characteristics of the female character.

7. The Apostle in this verse addresses himself to the husbands on whom he enjoins the reciprocal duties they owe their wives. “Dwelling with them.” The Greek συνοικουντες, means, cohabiting with them. “According to knowledge.” “Knowledge” refers both to the superior intellectual faculty with which man is gifted beyond the woman; hence, it means the superior knowledge of reason; it also refers to the knowledge of religion. The two meanings are united in the Paraphrase. “Giving honour to the female as to the weaker vessel;” as we should clothe our weaker or less honourable members with more abundant honour (1 Cor. 12:23, &c.), so ought the man bestow greater honour on the woman, as “the weaker vessel,” or person, in order that by this more abundant honour and more careful attention on the part of her husband, she might be relieved from the consciousness of her inferiority. “The weaker vessel.” The word “vessel” is frequently used to signify a body (v.g., 1 Thes. 4:4). It is frequently used to signify anything created. Hence, it is applied to the female person. “And as to the co-heirs of the grace of life.” The husband should treat his wife with the care and attention due to an equal; for, the female is made equally sharer in the inheritance of salvation with the man. “That your prayers be not hindered.” This is another reason why the husband should treat his wife with due respect.—Vide Paraphrase. Some interpreters understand the injunction here given by the Apostle to regard the legitimate exercise of marriage, and to prohibit the sins committed in this way, sins most common in the Gentile world, and perhaps, not regarded by many of the newly converted, with due feelings of horror. The similarity between the words, “that your prayers be not hindered,” and the passage of St. Paul (1 Cor. 7), “that you may give yourselves to prayer”—where he counsels abstinence at times from marriage intercourse—confirms this interpretation. It is better, however, give the words a general import, as affecting the whole conduct of husbands, in regard to their wives, the lawful exercise of marriage specially included.

8. “And, in fine,” which means, briefly to sum up all, “having compassion one of another.” The Greek word, συμπαθεις, means, sympathizing with one another. “Merciful;” the Greek word, ευσπλαγχνοι, signifies, that their bowels should be moved with tender compassion for one another. “Modest,” “humble.” For these two words we have but one in the Greek, ταπεινοφρονες, the reading of the three chief MSS. For it, in some copies, we have φιλοφρονες, which means, affable or humane. The former Greek word was most likely rendered differently in different versions; and probably, to reconcile all, the Vulgate gives both translations—a thing by no means unusual. “Modest” means “benign,” “kind,” “Humble,” entertaining a low opinion of one’s self, a virtue very much recommended in sacred Scripture.

9. “Not rendering evil for evil, nor railing for railing,” in other words, not retaliating by word or action, “but contrariwise blessing.” “Bless them that curse you,” says our divine Redeemer. “Bless them that persecute you, bless and curse not” (Rom. 12:12). “For unto this are you called,” viz., “that you may inherit a blessing.” In his construction, also adopted in the Paraphrase, “unto this,” regards the following words: “that you may inherit,” &c. Reference is made by St. Peter to the final sentence which is to take place on the last day: “Come, you blessed of my Father, possess the kingdom prepared,” &c. And hence, as persons called to the possession of an inheritance, which may be called “a blessing,” as being its effect—a blessing also which God prepared for us even while his enemies—we should, like him, bless our enemies, and wish for them the possession of the greatest good. The construction may be so arranged, that the words “unto this,” be referred to the foregoing, thus: You are called to render benediction for malediction, as being a necessary condition for your obtaining the heavenly inheritance of bliss which is in store for you. And this the Apostle proves from the following passage of the Psalms, where eternal life is promised. “For he that will love life, &c.” Some Greek copies have, Knowing that to this you are called. The words, Knowing that, are wanting in the chief manuscripts.

10. These words are adduced, by the Apostle, from Psalm 33, to prove that in order to inherit the heavenly benediction in store for us, we must guard our tongues from evil, under which is included, “malediction,” we should, therefore, not return malediction for malediction, but on the contrary, benediction; for, it is not sufficient to avoid evil, we must also “do good.” In the Psalm, the words are read interrogatively, “Who is the man that desireth life?” &c. But there is no difference in sense from the reading of the Apostle. “He that will love life and see good days.” These words were spoken in their literal sense by David, of temporal happiness and longevity, but in their mystical meaning—the one principally intended by the Holy Ghost, and in which they are quoted here by St. Peter—they refer to life eternal. “Let him refrain his tongue from evil,” from speaking ill of his neighbour either by detraction or calumny, or by contumeliously affronting him, when present, “and his lips that they speak no guile,” from uttering words of fraud to deceive and injure him.

11. Let him avoid not only all evils committed by the tongue, but all evils whatsoever; it is not sufficient merely to avoid evil, he must do positive good: “Let him do good.” “Let him seek after peace,” with his neighbour; by some it is also understood, of peace with himself too and with God. “And pursue it.” The Greek, διωξατω, means to follow after it constantly. Then, the words mean, after having sought and found peace, let him follow after it, to secure it fast, even should it attempt to fly from him.

12. “The eyes,” i.e., the gracious, benign regard of the Lord is upon the just. All the decrees of his Providence have them in view. “And his ears unto their prayers.” God is always ready to listen favourably to the petitions of his friends and chosen servants. “Countenance,” means the frowning, wrathful countenance of one in anger, “upon them that do evil things,” so as to punish and destroy them, even here. For, in the Psalm, the words are added, “to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.”

13. Since, then, “the eyes of the Lord are upon the just,” who can in reality harm you in the end, if you be zealous imitators of good, if you take care to conform all your words and actions to the standard of goodness, for, “if the Lord be with us, who is against us?” “All things work together unto good for them that love God.” (Rom. 8) Others interpret this verse differently. According to them, the Apostle, in it adduces an argument derived from ordinary experience to confirm what he had already said with reference to God’s Providence regarding his elect. If a man “be zealous of good,” if he take care to govern his tongue and refrain from retaliation either by word or deed, very few will have any disposition to injure him in his temporal prospects. And in reply to the objection against this interpretation derived from the words of St. Paul, “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim 3:12), they say that the words of St. Paul regard times of persecution for the faith, or at least that the just shall always carry the cross in some shape or other, if not from external persecution, at least from temptations on the part of the leagued enemies of man’s salvation. The first interpretation seems the more probable.—(Vide Paraphrase). “Zealous of good.” In some Greek copies, followers of good. The chief manuscripts and versions are in favour of the Vulgate, του αγαθου ζηλωται.

14. And by suffering in the cause of justice and Christian virtue, whole they continue “zealous of good,” they shall not only be free from real harm, but they shall positively gain a blessedness by this very circumstance; for, “blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice sake.”—(Matt. 5) According to the other interpretation of the preceding verse, the connexion of this is: But should there be found men perverse enough to persecute you for your faith and virtues (and there shall be found such in every age, perhaps in the very bosom of Christianity, whose cry it shall be, “opprimamus justum, contrarius est operibus nostris,” let us not put up with his conduct, which is a direct censure on our corrupt principles and immoral practices), and that you are doomed to suffer for justice sake, “you are blessed.” “And be not afraid of their fear.” The word “fear” is put for the object or evil menaced, and the punishment feared. The words mean, be not afraid of the evils with which they menace you when they endeavour to inspire you with fear, “and be not troubled,” or seized with confusion or apprehension, on that account.

15. “But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts.” The word “sanctify” means to proclaim him “holy,” and endeavour to show him forth as such to the world. The Apostle adds this to show that, if the fear of the Lord reign in their souls, they will be proof against every other base fear which would prompt to acts opposed to his holy will. These words, as well as the words in the preceding verse, “and be not afraid of their fear, and be not troubled.” are taken from Isaias, chap. 8:13, with this difference, that in the latter the words are, “Sanctify the Lord of Hosts himself,” whereas here it is “the Lord Christ;” and St. Peter adds “Christ,” probably to show that Christ is “the Lord of Hosts” referred to by Isaias. In some Greek copies the reading is, Sanctify the Lord God. But the Vulgate reading is supported by the Syriac, and found in the chief manuscripts. “Being always ready to satisfy every one,” which, in the Greek, runs thus: ετοιμοι αει προς απολογιαν, “being always ready for an apology to every one,” &c., that is to say, being always furnished with, and having ready at hand, some satisfactory reply to give to those who, in due and proper circumstances, interrogate you about the grounds of that hope which you entertain, and which supports you against the pressure of evil and persecution. In this the Apostle does not require that every person among the faithful should be a Theologian, able to account for all the truths of faith, and to dispute regarding them; neither does he require that under all circumstances, whether interrogated from idle, impertinent curiosity, without any regard for instruction, or, from motives of embarrassing us, we should enter on a defence of our holy faith or give answer: all he requires is, that when interrogated at proper times, and in due circumstances, every Christian should be instructed in some general satisfactory reasons for embracing and adhering to the Catholic faith (v.g.), if the question were proposed by infidels, he might ground his hopes in Christ on the fact, that He was proved to be the God predicted of old by the Prophets, from the circumstances of the prophecies being all fulfilled in Him and Him only; from his having confirmed by miracles his declaration that He was the Son of God; and finally, as he had foretold, from his having raised himself from the dead; that this innately veracious God promised us eternal life, provided we adhered to his true faith and kept his commandments; and that the enduring of crosses here below, far from showing that he did not exercise a paternal care over us, was, on the contrary, a necessary condition for obtaining the heavenly inheritance marked out by him beforehand for his followers; he himself having first given us the example, by taking up the cross, and despising the ignominy attached thereto, even when joy had been proposed to him.—(Hebrews, 12) To heretics, one general answer should be:—That we believe all the truths which the Catholic Church proposes, because that Church is infallible, being “the pillar and ground of truth”—having been vested unto the end of time with power and knowledge, “to preserve us from being carried away and tossed about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephes. 4)—having the plentitude of truth deposited with HER by the Holy Ghost, in teaching which he promised to abide with her for ever—having Christ himself remaining with her “all days even to the end of the world.”

16. Our answer should be wholly exempt from harshness or contentious arrogance of any kind. In truth, no man was ever converted by abuse; and it is to be feared that the practice of abusing such as differ from us in religion, under ordinary circumstances, proceeds from another spirit than the spirit of God, from passion and caprice rather than from zeal. The ample benedictions poured on the labours of a De Sales and a Xavier are the clearest evidence of the will of God in this respect. “Having a good conscience,” otherwise our reasonings will prove prejudicial; for, it may fairly be said, if we believe what we say, why not live up to this belief? Hence, in order that our disputations or instructions may prove of any avail, we should lead lives conformable to our faith; and then, by this readiness to account, with meekness, for the hope which is in us, and by our exemplary lives, we will confound such as now calumniate us and our holy faith. In some Greek copies, after the words, “who speak evil of you,” are added the words, ὡς κακοποιων, as malefactors. It is likely, however, that they were added from verse 12, of the preceding chapter. In the Syriac version, the words run thus—that your enemies may be confounded as calumniators of your good conversation in Christ.

17. To such as are suffering for justice sake, the Apostle proposes motives of consolation founded on the advantages and merit of such suffering, and also on the consideration of God’s holy will, that they should thus suffer. “For, it is better,” &c. These words would appear to be immediately connected with verse 14. “It is better,” that is, more meritorious for you (“if such be the will of God.”) This he adds to show, that in thus suffering, they are only conforming to God’s holy will; for, everything happens by his positive will, sin excepted. “Than to suffer doing ill,” because, then you would be only paying the just penalty due to your misdeeds. No doubt the very act of submitting to merited punishment may be rendered a just and meritorious thing; but, still not so meritorious as suffering for justice sake. This latter is “better” than the former, which may sometimes be good.

18. In this verse, the Apostle adduces another motive for consolation under the unjust sufferings for justice sake, to which the faithful, whom he is addressing, may have been exposed. This is, the example of Christ, to whom in such circumstances they most perfectly conform. “Because Christ also died, once for our sins.” “Also,” shows that the Apostle is exhorting them to suffer for justice sake even unto death; which can happen only once, “and Christ also died once for our sins,” for, he was himself incapable of sinning; “the just for the unjust;” hence, he could not himself merit the tortures and death to which he was subjected. “That he might offer us to God,” for which we have in the Greek, προσαγαγη, “that he might bring us to God.” The meaning furnished by both readings is given in the Paraphrase. We were afar off from God owing to our sins. Christ “broke down the wall of separation,” “the enmities in his flesh” (Ephes. 2:14), and by paying an adequate and sufficient ransom, of which a Man-God alone was capable, purchased the grace by which we were enabled to draw near and approach to God. “Being put to death indeed in the flesh,” that is, his mortal and animal life, requiring the aid of earthly aliments, for its continuance—which life Christ voluntarily led, and preferred up to the time of his death, although he might, if he pleased, have enjoyed, from his Incarnation, a life independent of all the requirements of animal existence—was put an end to by the separation of his soul from his body on the cross. “But enlivened in the spirit.” By “the spirit,” some interpreters understand, the Holy Ghost, or Spirit of Christ, by whom Christ was raised from the dead; this resuscitation was an act of the Divinity, of the three Adorable Persons of the Trinity, to whom all acts, ad extra are common. Others, and it would seem with greater probability, understand it of the Soul of Christ, in which Christ “was enlivened,” just as it is said (1 Cor. 15:45), “the last Adam was made into a quickening spirit,” inasmuch as his soul, after his Resurrection, imparted to his glorified body the gift of spirituality, in virtue of which it subsists without the aid of earthly aliments, such as food, clothing, &c.—required for the continuance of an animal life.—and will also be the principle of similar spiritual life, at a future day, to others. Of course, from his very Incarnation, Christ could have led such a life, exempt from all the necessities of animal existence; but it was only after his glorious birth at his Resurrection, that he actually entered on that glorified spiritual state.—Vide 1 Cor. 15:45, Commentary.

19, 20. “In which also coming he preached to those spirits that were in prison.” There is a great diversity of opinion respecting the meaning of this obscure passage. Dismissing the improbable and heretical interpretations, the probable opinions regarding it may be reduced to two: the one, that of St. Augustine (Epistola 99), who, at first, understood the word “spirits in prison,” to refer to the souls of men departed out of life; but when he came to interpret the words, verse 6, of next chapter, “for this cause, was the Gospel preached also to the dead,” he made the word “dead” refer to the same person with “spirits” in this verse. Seeing the difficulties involved in the interpretation of verse 6, of next chapter, should it be understood of the preaching of the Gospel to the departed souls of men; and still holding, that in both passages there was reference made to the same persons, he adopted a different interpretation of the words of this verse, and understood “spirits in prison,” to refer to those who were detained, while in the body, in the prison of vice and infidelity. According to St. Augustine’s interpretation, the meaning of the passage is this: “Christ was vivified in the spirit,” that is, by the Holy Ghost (verse 18); and to prove that Christ always lived in the spirit, he says it was in the same spirit that he came and preached to the unbelievers, who were detained in the prison of vice and infidelity, through the ministry of his prophets and chosen servants (verse 19), and he particularizes one signal instance, viz., that of the great sinners, to whom he preached through the ministry of Noe, during the one hundred and twenty years employed by him in building the ark, in which only eight persons were saved from the waters of the deluge (verse 20). Instead of the Vulgate reading, “when they waited for the patience of God,” the Greek reading preferred by St. Jerome and St. Augustine, and preserved in the Roman Missal, corrected by Clement VIII., in the Epistle of Friday in Easter week is ὅτε απεδεξεχετο ἡ τοῦ Θεοῦ μακροθυμια, When the patience of God was waiting in the days of Noe; and this seems the more natural reading of the passage; since, of the incredulous, who mocked and derided Noe, it could hardly be said, that “they waited for the patience of God;” this is true only of such as, sincerely anxious for a reconciliation with him, expect, that in his patience he will avert the scourges of his wrath, which their sins deserve; whereas, it is quite fair to say, that the patience of God was waiting for the conversion of these sinful, incredulous men, whom he graciously forewarned of their impending destruction, during the one hundred and twenty years that Noe had been employed in building the ark.

The interpretation of St. Augustine appears open to insuperable difficulties. In the first place, it makes the word “spirits” refer, not to the disembodied souls of men, but to the very persons, souls and bodies, of the antediluvians, to whom he supposes Christ, in his Divine Spirit, to have preached through Noe; now, this is clearly opposed to the general usage of sacred Scripture, designating men by the flesh—their visible part, rather than by the spirit, which is invisible. Besides, it might suit prophetic style, to call men, while in this life, “spirits in prison,” such a form of expression is, however, clearly unsuited to the plain, historical style here employed by the Apostle. In the next place, the form of expression used here, far from supposing the preaching attributed here to Christ, to have been the same with the preaching, for which the ministry of Noe was employed (as St. Augustine has it), supposes the very reverse; it supposes that the preaching made by Christ (verse 19), to which the antediluvians were incredulous (verse 20) was posterior to that made by Noe: τοῖς πνευμασιν εκηριξεν απειθησασιν ποτε. He preached, to those spirits which had been some time incredulous in the days of Noe. Is it not plain, then, that the preaching of Noe must have preceded his? His could be no other (since they all perished in the waters of the deluge) than that made to their departed souls, in the prison of Limbo. In truth, in order to be warranted in making the preaching of Christ referred to (verse 19) identical with that which, in the opinion of St. Augustine, he is supposed to have made (verse 20) by the ministry of Noe, we should change the entire structure of the sentence, and make it run thus: “In which coming formerly, in the days of Noe, when the patience of God was waiting for them, he preached to spirits that had been incredulous to himself;” but, this is, obviously, quite different from the real construction of the sacred text.

But what particularly militates against this opinion is the context of the Apostle. For, in the preceding passage (verse 18), he is encouraging the faithful to endure unjust persecutions, nay, even martyrdom, for the faith, by the example of the unjust sufferings of Christ; and, as a further inducement, he proposes the salutary effects of these unjust sufferings with regard to Christ himself, who “was enlivened in the spirit,” and underwent these sufferings “to offer us,” (or, to bring us nearer) “to God,” doubtless by our faith and belief in the gospel. He next adds (verse 19), that Christ went and preached to the incredulous men, who had been mocking the preaching of Noe; now, what connexion can there be between our reconciliation (verse 18), and the incredulity of the antediluvians, who perished in the waters of the deluge, and were eternally lost, according to the interpretation of St. Augustine? What object could the Apostle have in view, in introducing the example of the inefficacious preaching of Noe in a passage, where, from the context, it is evident, he is recommending the efficacy of the death and resurrection of Christ? Hence, it is, that the common interpretation seems by far the more probable, as being more in accordance with the obvious meaning of the words of the text, as also with the context. The Apostle is encouraging the faithful to endure persecution, nay, even death itself for the faith, and, as a most consoling motive, he adduces the example of Christ, who died for the unjust (verse 18), and for the purpose of bringing us nearer to God. (This is the Greek reading for, “that he might offer us to God.”) As a further motive, he proposes the efficacy of the death of Christ, both with reference to himself, who was raised to a glorious and immortal life, “enlivened in the spirit;” and with reference to his creatures, whether we regard those who in ages past, preceded him, to whom his future merits were applied; or, those of the present and future generations (verse 21). As an example of the efficacy of the merits of Christ, with reference to past ages, he adduces one of the most signal manifestations of his great mercy, in the salvation of those giant sinners who perished in the deluge, whose crimes are described (Genesis, chap. 5); and, in order to extol still more this great mercy of God, the Apostle mentions the aggravating circumstances of their obstinacy. God had through Noe, preached to them their coming destruction; they continued in their obstinate unbelief; and it was only when they saw the waters of the deluge overflow the earth, that touched with repentance amid the wreck of all nature, they felt concern for the salvation of their souls, while their bodies were submerged in the desolating waters. It was to announce to these souls confined in the Prison of Limbo, expiating the temporal punishment due to their sins, that the soul of Christ, after his death on the cross, descended, announcing the joyous tidings of their near deliverance, the termination of their pains, and the throwing open of the gates of heaven, for so many ages closed against them.

The chief difficulties against this opinion are:—First, What grounds are there for saying that the incredulous, to whom Noe preached, on seeing the waters of the deluge overflow the earth, were converted, and died in sentiments of penance? Secondly, why should St. Peter, in this passage, confine to those who perished in the flood, whose conversion and salvation is supposed in this opinion, the preaching which Christ addressed to all the souls of the just, detained in the prison of Limbo, including patriarchs and prophets?

In answer to the first difficulty, to which great weight has been attached by some writers, as being the chief reason, which induced St. Augustine to desert the common opinion, it is to be said, that the words, “some time incredulous,” would imply, that they did not always continue such; and, even though we should have no positive or demonstrative reasons, in favour of this supposition, there are none against it; the silence of sacred Scripture on this subject, is no more a reason against it, than it is against other points, on which it is equally silent, and which we still know to be incontrovertible facts. It is perfectly conformable to our ideas of the mercy and goodness of God to suppose that, while in his justice he submerged the bodies of those sinful men, in the waters of the deluge, in his mercy he poured into their souls a deluge of graces. And, it is not very likely, that those men, who mocked and derided Noe, as a senseless visionary, on witnessing this universal shipwreck, on seeing the waters rushing from the heavens, the earth, and the sea, and his predictions and menaces fully verified by the event, turned to God with their whole hearts (a thing not unusual in ordinary shipwrecks), and offered up that inevitable death which menaced them as a sacrifice of expiation for their crimes? At all events, this supposition enables us to interpret this difficult passage, which, in any other interpretation, would be open to insuperable difficulties. The probable opinion then is, that they were all saved; there is no reason for limiting the application of the words of the Apostle; on the contrary, the salvation of all would be a greater argument of the mercy of God, and of the retrospective efficacy of Christ’s merits, which the Apostle is commending in this passage.

In answer to the second point of objection it may be said, that although Christ had preached to all the souls shut up in the prison of Limbo, and while announcing to them their near deliverance, had, most probably, remitted what remained to be discharged of the temporal debt due to their sins, thereby consecrated, by being the first himself to exercise it, the power of granting indulgences, to be afterwards exercised by his Church; still, the Apostle specially refers to those, who were converted in the waters of the deluge, as the most signal instance he could adduce of the divine mercy, whether the number or the enormity of their crimes be considered, by which “all flesh corrupted its way on the earth,” and which provoked an immutable God to cry out, “it repenteth me that I have made them” (Genesis, chap. 6); and he, thereby supplies the firmest grounds of confidence in the merits of Christ, for such as died for righteousness sake; seeing that his future merits were so efficacious in saving the souls of those sinful men, whose crimes provoked the divine justice to sweep them off the face of the earth. Another reason why St. Peter particularizes those who perished in the deluge is, that the deluge, in which they were drowned, was typical of the baptismal waters, in which those whom he addresses received their spiritual regeneration, and the surest earnest of the efficacy of Christ’s merits with reference to themselves.

Who, after considering the consoling teaching of the Apostle in this passage, can, for an instant, distrust the boundless mercy of God? The salvation of those giant sinners of old, whose crimes drew down the deluge or universal shipwreck of the first creation, and provoked an immutable God to exclaim, that he was “sorry for creating man,” furnishes the most striking and the most consoling exemplification, that could be adduced, of his boundless mercies. Well therefore, may we all, whom God has spared in our sins, cry out with the Psalmist; “The mercies of the Lord I shall sing for ever.” “His mercy is above all his works.”

21. In this verse the Apostle points out the efficacy of Christ’s merits, in regard to the present and future generations, during the time of the New Law. “Whereunto, baptism being of the like form.” In our English version the Greek reading is followed, and the same has been adopted in the Paraphrase. The Vulgate reading runs thus: quod et vos nunc similis formæ salvos facit Baptisma; and this accords with the Vatican reading:—“Which (water), the antitype of that in the deluge, and which is Baptism, now saves you.” According to others, there is a Hebraism in the Vulgate readings wherein the relative precedes the antecedent, and is thus explained: “and now baptism, saves you, which baptism of like form,” &c. “Whereunto,” that is, to which water of the deluge, “baptism being of like form.” The Greek for “like form,” αντιτυπον, means, being the antitype, corresponding with it, as the antitype to the type, the truth to the shadow. “Now,” that is, in the New Law, “saveth you,” (in Greek, saveth us, the Codex Vaticanus, has ὑμας, you) from the death of the soul; as the waters, on which the ark was borne aloft, saved Noe and his family from temporal drowning. The points of correspondence between the diluvian water and baptism are many. In the former, while the inmates of the ark were saved, the wicked, were drowned and buried; in the latter, our sins are buried, and we are become dead to sin. In the former, the ark was borne aloft, and salvation secured to its inmates; in the latter, we are raised to a new life and saved from the consequences of our sins, viz., spiritual and eternal death. “Not the putting away of the filth of the flesh,” that is; it is not inasmuch as it is an external rite cleansing our bodies, that baptism produces these salutary effects of grace and spiritual regeneration; “but the examination of a good conscience;” but, inasmuch as this rite is accompanied by the internal conditions and dispositions (“a good conscience”) which the subject of baptism, when interrogated, sincerely, and in the presence of God, declares he possesses. There is allusion in this to the questions usually put to the person to be baptized, whether “he believes in God?” &c., “renounces Satan and all his pomps?” The word “examination,” or interrogation, is put for the aforesaid dispositions, regarding which the subject of baptism is usually interrogated before receiving the sacrament, and “a good conscience towards God,” regards the sincerity of his conviction that he possesses the necessary dispositions. These salutary effects are ascribed to baptism in consequence of “the resurrection of Jesus Christ;” either, because this resurrection is the exemplary cause or model of our spiritual resurrection and justification; “resurrexit propter justificationem nostram,” or its supplemental cause; since, “if Christ had not risen, our faith would be vain,” and proved to be unfounded, as resting on the promises of one who would have deceived us, and proved himself to be an impostor.

22. “Who is on the right hand of God;” this refers to his human nature, considered according to this nature, he holds the highest place in heaven next to the Divinity, and before all other creatures. In these words, the Apostle conveys a tacit exhortation to us to suffer with Christ for justice sake, in order to become partakers in his glory. “Swallowing down death, that we might be made heirs of life everlasting.” These words are not found in the Greek; they are, however, read in all Latin copies, and cited by the Latin Fathers. They contain an allusion to the words of the Prophet Osee (13, 14), “O death! I will be thy death; O hell! I will be thy bite.” This will be fully accomplished only on the final day, when the last enemy, death, shall be destroyed.—(1 Corinthians, chapter 15)

“Being gone into heaven,” whither he ascended by the power of his own divinity. These words are immediately connected with the words, “on the right hand of God.” “The angels,” viz: those belonging to a lower order of blessed spirits; “and powers and virtues,” refer to the higher ranks; under these are included all the the orders of heavenly spirits, and of all creatures that can be named, or that exist.—(Colos. 1:18, and 2:10; Ephes. 1:22); “being made subject to him,” as man; for, his heavenly Father “has subjected all things under his feet.”—(Psalm 8; 1 Cor., 15; Ephes. 1 &c.) As man, Christ is the head of the entire Church, militant and triumphant, comprising both angels and men

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