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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 addresses himself to the pastors of the Church, and points out the mode in which they should tend the flocks committed to their care, and acquit themselves of their pastoral functions. They should, in tending their flocks, shun three vices directly at variance with their exalted calling; these are, firstly, the performance of their functions not cheerfully, but with restraint arising from the necessity they were under of procuring thereby the necessary means of support, so opposed to the cheerfulness which springs from viewing their flocks, according to God; secondly, the base vice of sordid avarice, so opposed to liberal and generous disinterestedness (2); and thirdly, domincering pride, so opposed to the example of humility, which every pastor is bound to give (3). By avoiding these vices and practising the opposite virtues, the pastors will merit to obtain, on the day of judgment, from Jesus Christ, the unfading crown of eternal life (4).

He next points out the reciprocal duties of the laity towards their pastors. They should be subject and obedient to them.

All, both pastors and people, should clothe themselves with humility, as their chief ornament (5). He tells them to humble themselves before God, in order that he may exalt them, by the effusion of the heavenly graces which he has in store, only for the humble—and, this humility they should manifest, by laying aside all anxious cares, and casting themselves on the Fatherly Providence of God (6, 7). He, next, recommends them to practise the virtues of sobriety and vigilance—two virtues most necessary for a soldier on guard, in order to defeat the stratagems and assaults of a powerful and subtle foe, such as the devil, the sworn enemy of man, is. They should courageously resist him, by the unshaken firmness of their faith (8, 9). He next promises them the powerful protection of God to guard them, and bring them to a happy end (10).

He closes the Epistle with informing them, that Silas is the bearer of this Epistle to them; they will thus be secured against the imposition often practised by false teachers, in substituting counterfeit Epistles. He ends with the usual salutation.


1. Since, therefore, the just man will be saved only with great difficulty, and God’s judgment is to commence with his own house (4:17, 18), I, who am myself a fellow-bishop and pastor, a witness also of the sufferings of Christ, to be a sharer in that glory to be revealed at a future day, implore and exhort the bishops and pastors who preside over you:

2. Feed, with the wholesome pastures of spiritual knowledge, with the heavenly graces imparted through the sacraments, the flock of God, over whom you have charge, superintending and caring it, not from feelings of co-action, as if forced thereunto by the mercenary motive of securing the necessary means of support; but with cheerfulness, regarding it according to the will of God, which is, to promote its spiritual good, and in view of a spiritual reward—not with the sordid view of acquiring thereby wretched pelf, more enlarged incomes, but with feelings of generous and cheerful disinterestedness.

3. Neither acting as persons lording it over the flocks specially intrusted to each; but exhibiting yourselves as patterns and models to them in all sincerity and truth, and with a view of advancing their spiritual interests.

4. And when the prince of pastors, Jesus Christ, by whom both pastors and people were purchased, shall appear, to pass sentence on all mankind, you shall receive an unfading, ever-blooming crown of glory—or, the glorious crown of eternal life.

5. In like manner, do you, both inferior clergy and laity, fulfil the reciprocal duty of obedience and subjection to your bishops and pastors; and I enjoin you all, both pastors and people, to manifest feelings of humility towards one another, making this great fundamental virtue your chief exterior ornament; for, God resists the proud, but to the humble he giveth grace.

6. Be ye, therefore, humbled under the powerful hand of God, that he, who gives his grace to the humble, may, after having copiously showered down upon you his graces, exalt you in the day when he shall come to judge the world, to separate the sheep from the goats:

7. Casting aside all anxious care, and placing your trust in him; for, he has charge of you.

8. Be sober and temperate in the use of meat, drink, sleep, and the other comforts of life, and be also vigilant; for, the sworn enemy of your race, by whom sin was first introduced into this world, the devil, the calumniator of mankind, is always on the alert, going about, like a roaring, hungry lion, seeking for some object of prey.

9. Whom resist ye courageously, firmly grasping the shield of faith, bearing in mind that the same crosses that befall you are borne by your brethren all over the earth, who join you in filling up what is wanting in you to the sufferings of Christ.

10. But God, the source and author of every good gift, who, out of his pure and gratuitous mercy, has called us through the merits of Jesus Christ, to a participation in his eternal glory, and has given so many pledges thereof by his grace, will himself bring you to consummate and perfect glory, and confirm and establish you unalterably in its eternal enjoyment, after you shall have borne comparatively light and trivial crosses, for a short time here below.

11. To him is due all glory for his gifts, and all power over creatures, for ever and ever. Amen.

12. Sylvanus, a faithful brother, I have made the bearer of this Epistle, which I have written to you, I should think briefly, considering the interest and pleasure its perusal will afford you, imploring and exhorting you to perseverance, and bearing witness, that the grace of faith, in which you still have faithfully persevered, is the true grace of God leading to eternal life.

13. The assemblage of the faithful at Rome, elected to the same grace with you, salute you, and wish you the abundance of all temporal and spiritual blessings, and so does my son, Mark, whom I have spiritually begotten, or who serves me as a son.

14. Salute one another with a holy and chaste kiss. Grace and peace be to you all, who are incorporated with Christ Jesus, by your Christian profession.—Amen.


1. “The ancients, therefore, that are among you.” “Therefore,” is not in some Greek copies. It is found in the Alexandrian and Vatican MSS. It may be connected with the foregoing, as in Paraphrase:—therefore, since judgment commences first with God’s house (4:17), and in a special manner with the pastors of God’s people, it is meet, they should prepare for this responsibility. “The ancients.” The Greek word, πρεσβυτερους, viewed according to etymology, means elderly men, or men advanced in years but since the word is employed in Scripture to designate offices and dignity rather than age (the signification which the word bears here, as is clear from verses 2 and 4), the office has been expressed in the Paraphrase, bishops and pastors, or priests of the first order; for to them alone, strictly speaking, could be applied the words (verse 2), “feed the flock,” &c., in the fullest and most exalted sense. Of course, the admonition contained here applies also to the priests of the second order, charged with the care of souls. That the Greek word for “ancients,” includes not only priests of the second order, but of the first order, or bishops also, is clear from Epistle to Titus (chap 1:5, 7). “That are among you,” that is, that preside over you. “I beseech.” The Greek word, παρακαλῶ, means also, I exhort. “Who am myself also an ancient.” The Greek word, συμπρεσβυτερος, means, who am a co-presbyter, or, fellow-bishop; the word expresses the Episcopal office. Although, as Prince of the Apostles, he might call himself, chief of bishops; still, from a feeling of humility, he places himself on an equality with them. The same feeling of humility is observable in all the documents addressed by St. Peter’s successors, the Sovereign Pontiffs, to the other bishops, during the different ages of the Church: Servus Servorum Dei, they take as their ordinary title. “And a witness of the sufferings of Christ,” may mean (as in Paraphrase), that he witnessed all that Christ endured, both through life and in his sacred passion—or, a witness or martyr (by my sufferings), to the sufferings of Christ, and to the faith founded thereon. This latter interpretation is grounded on the signification of “witness,” in Greek, martyr. They were called martyrs, who, by their own sufferings, bore the sincerest testimony to the truth of the Christian faith. The antithesis which exists between this and the following member of the sentence, renders this latter interpretation very probable; the Apostle, by referring to his own sufferings, wishes to animate his brethren to the faithful discharge of their pastoral functions, notwithstanding the violence of persecution. “And also a partner of that glory,” &c. This may express merely a strong Christian hope, or it may be the result of some revelation with which God had favoured him.

2. “Feed the flock of God.” They are charged with the flock of another, to whom they shall render an account of their stewardship. “Feed,” ποιμανατε. This word is employed to signify, govern, direct, &c. It expresses a charge analogous to that which shepherds have over their flocks. “Which is among you,” or which is given in charge to you; each one is responsible for that portion of God’s flock, confided to his care. “Taking care of it.” The Greek word, επισκοπουντες, literally means, Episcopizing, or superintending it; it expresses the vigilant care, which a pastor of souls should use, in guarding and tending his flock. “Not by constraint,” from the necessity you are under of doing so in order to acquire a livelihood, while you would otherwise neglect them; “but willingly, according to God.” The words “according to God,” are not in the Greek. They are found in the Alexandrian MS. They explain more fully what the word, “willingly,” means, viz., with that cheerfulness which the consideration of the exalted nature of your functions, viewed according to God and his holy will—and that is, that we should advance the spiritual interests of souls, with a view to a spiritual reward—is apt to engender. “Not for filthy lucre sake,” that is, from motives of sordid avarice, a vice so disgraceful in a pastor of souls; the effect of which is to harden his heart, to inspire him with low, grovelling ideas, to make him prostitute the most exalted mysteries of his sacred calling to the gratification of this wretched and unmeaning passion, and even at the awful moment of death, to blind him against the terrors of approaching judgment. “But voluntarily,” from feelings of liberal and generous disinterestedness. Detachment from early treasures should be a distinguishing characteristic of him, who, at his first step into the sanctuary, takes God for his inheritance. “Dominus pars hereditatis meæ, et calicis mei, &c.,” are the words of the Cleric on his first entrance into the sanctuary.

3. “Neither as lording it over the clergy.” By “clergy,” are meant, according to some, the subordinate ministers of religion, subject to the bishop. The Greek word, however, των κληρων, lot or inheritance, renders the opinion which understands it of the particular congregations which fell to the lot of each pastor to superintend, by far the more probable interpretation. In it is contained an allusion to the usage observed among the Jews of old, of receiving by lot their different inheritances. Hence, the word, clergy, is generally applied to the sacred ministers who are especially the inheritance of the Lord. “A pattern” (in Greek τυποι, types or patterns) “of the flock;” these latter words show that it is to the flock, the word “clergy” refers here. “From the heart,” is not found in the Greek. It means, not by a false, hypocritical show of virtues; but by an exhibition of real, genuine virtues, or from a sincere regard for their spiritual welfare and the glory of God.

4. “And when the prince of pastors,” Jesus Christ, to whom belong pastors and people, purchased by his blood, “shall appear,” come in his glory to judge the world, to reward and punish, according to man’s deserts, “you shall receive a never-fading crown of glory.” “A crown,” the reward of merit, “never-fading,” αμαραντινον, the amaranth, a flower so called, because it never fades, is employed as an image of heavenly bliss, unlike the crown given to the victors in the Grecian games, made of bay, laurel, &c., this shall always remain the same, ever-blooming and unfading. Such is the reward which the Apostle wishes the ministers of the gospel ever to keep in view in the discharge of the arduous and exalted functions of their sacred office. It is disputed whether the “crown of glory” regards the essential happiness of the blessed, the “corona justitiæ,” which St. Paul expected (2 Tim. 4:8), or, the aureola, or accidental reward, which in heaven is reserved for the Doctors, who, after instructing many unto justice, “shall shine as stars for ever.”—(Daniel). In the preceding passage, can be seen how strongly the Apostle enjoins on pastors the avoidance of three vices, so much at variance with the pastoral state, viz., performing their spiritual functions solely with the view of avoiding poverty; avarice (verse 2), and pride (verse 3); or, it should rather have been said, that he points out the vicious ends and motives that destroy the good effects of the pastoral ministry.

5. He new points out the duty which the people reciprocally owe their pastors; and this is subjection and obedience. This is the peculiar virtue of persons placed under authority; the other virtues the people may learn from the lives and conduct of their pastors, who should be a “pattern to them from the heart” (verse 3). “Ye young men.” The laity, who are contrasted with the “ancients,” or pastors. He calls them “young men,” because generally younger in age than their pastors, who, in the time of St. Peter, were far advanced in life, when vested with the pastoral dignity. Others understand by “young men,” young persons in general, who ought to be reverential towards those, who are advanced in life. The former interpretation is more probable; for, all young men are not bound to be “subject” to the old, as is here required. By the “ancients,” are meant the pastors of the Church, especially the bishops, to whom both laity and inferior clergy should be subject and obedient. The word, viewed according to etymology, only means persons advanced in age; but in almost all languages, men vested with authority, whether in church or state, are designated by words expressive of age; because, those appointed to such offices were, generally speaking, far advanced in life. For instance, the terms, Senate, Patricians, &c., though according to etymology referring to age, are employed, according to present usage, to express office or dignities. In many instances, to adhere strictly to etymology would be silly in the extreme, as is apparent, for example, in the original etymological signification of the word, Pontiff, which means “a bridge-maker” (Pontifex), “Episcopus,” bishop, which meant originally, “an inspector.” “Deacon” originally meant, a “waiter;” “Apostle,” “one sent,” &c. “But, do ye all insinuate humility to one another.” The Greek is, “but do ye all (subordinate to one another) put on humility as an exterior garment.” The Greek word for “insinuate,” εγκομβωσασθε, means, put on as the exterior garment covering all the rest, or, as the fibula closely knotting together the other virtues; hence, it means to put on humility, as their chief habit or ornament. This applies to both pastors and people. The word, subordinate, or subject, is not found in either the Alexandrian or Vatican MS. “For God resisteth the proud,” &c. This sentence, quoted by St. James also (4:6), is taken, as to sense, from the Book of Proverbs (3:34). It is translated by St. Jerome from the Hebrew: “he shall scorn the scorners,” which is in substance the same as, “he shall resist the proud,” for, the “proud,” scorn and deride others, “and to the meek he will give grace,” in substance, the same as “he shall give grace to the humble;” for they are generally meek and forbearing.

6. With all humility, therefore, and fear, walk in the presence of God, whose powerful hand is raised to humble and depress the haughty. “That he may exalt you in the time of visitation;” that, after having bestowed on you here the gifts of grace in store for the humble, he may bestow on you hereafter the crown of everlasting glory, when he shall come to judge the world. The words, “of visitation,” are wanting in the Greek, which run thus: ἶνα ὑμας ὑψωση ἐν καιρῷ, that he may exalt you in the time, that is, in his own good time, or at a befitting opportunity. This entire passage is very like the passage of St. James (4:6 and 10).

7. These words express the humiliation of ourselves, which the Apostle inculcates (verse 6), “under the mighty hand of God.” They involve the full resignation of ourselves and all our concerns into his adorable hands. They are perfectly similar to the words, Psalm 54:23, “Cast thy care upon the Lord and he will sustain thee,” and most probably, the Apostle quotes the words of the Psalmist. Of course, in this the Apostle prohibits neither the exercise of prudent foresight nor the employment of our active faculties, to bring about our ends. He only prescribes to us, after having done according to the rules of human prudence what in us lies, to leave the result of our undertakings in the hands of God, and to conform ourselves to his adorable will; for, he will dispose of us better than we could ourselves either divine or anticipate; even the crosses, trials, and privations, so opposed to our natural inclinations, are, in the gracious designs of his Providence, so many visitations of his mercy, weaning us from things of earth, and fixing our desires on things heavenly and eternal. We should, therefore, cast aside all undue anxiety in the several concerns of life, placing all our undertakings in the hands of God. “Oculi mei semper ad Dominum, quoniam ipse evellet de laqueo pedes meos.”—(Psalm 25)

8. “Be sober.” The Greek word for this, νηψατε, is rendered watch (4:7); it means either “to be sober” or “vigilant,” but here it must be rendered “be sober,” because the following word signifies only “to watch,” or “be vigilant.” “Be sober,” that is, “temperate in the use of meat,” &c., “and watch.” Vigilance is an accompaniment of sobriety, as drowsiness and sleep are of intemperance. Similar is the precept given (Luke, 21:34):—“Take heed to yourselves lest, perhaps, your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and the cares of this life.” Sobriety and vigilance are most indispensable for a soldier, while engaged in warfare and on guard, against the attacks of a wily and dangerous enemy. Such is the state of every Christian, during the whole course of his life. “Because your adversary,” the sworn enemy of man, by whom sin and death were first introduced into this world (“Satan,” or “accuser,” is the Hebrew word for “adversary.”) “The devil,” which means, calumniator; hence called (Apocalypse, 12) “the accuser of our brethren,” for, he always endeavours to make men enemies to God and render them deserving of accusation before him. “As a roaring lion,” the strongest and most furious animal in nature, “goeth about,” seeking for some weak point of attack, in order to avail himself of the weakness of our nature and of that passion in particular, to the gratification of which we are most prone; hence, commonly termed, our predominant passion. “Seeking whom he may devour.” When drowsy and sluggish from the effects of intemperance, we are most exposed to the attacks of this powerful and subtle enemy. Hence, the Church commences the concluding hour of the divine office, Complin, with the words of this verse, in order to remind her ministers of the necessity of temperance and vigilance, at the close of the day, for resisting the temptation of the devil. From this passage we may clearly see the great power of the devil, this prince of the “principalities and powers and spirits of wickedness in high places,” with whom we are constantly engaged in deadly conflict.—(Ephes. 6) Job assures us there is no power on earth equal to the devil: “There is no power on earth that can be compared with him, that was made to fear no one.”—(Job. 12:24).

9. “Whom resist ye, strong in faith.” In the panoply or full suit of spiritual armour, which St. Paul wishes the Christian warrior to put on, “faith” is marked out as the shield for resisting “all the fiery darts of the most wicked enemy.”—(Ephesians, 6:16). Here, St. Peter wishes the Christian warrior first to “resist” the enemy, and to do so firmly and bravely. “Strong in faith,” the Greek word, στερεοι, means, solid and fixed in faith, it may be allusive to a fortification, wherein they are protected; or, more likely, the idea is the same as that conveyed by St. Paul—“taking the shield of faith”—by which is meant the consideration of the truths of faith, the menaces and hopes which they propose to us. Under “faith,” is included the great confidence in God, which the consideration of the principles of faith is so calculated to inspire, and which will secure us against all our enemies. “If God be with us, whom shall we fear?” “Knowing that the same affliction” (in Greek, τα αυτα των παθηματων, the same afflictions) “befalls your brethren,” &c. Deriving consolation from the consideration, that in suffering, you are only conforming to the decrees of God’s providence, wishing that all his elect should enter heaven by the road of suffering; and hence, nothing peculiarly difficult in their case, all “their brethren who are in the world” are treated similarly.

10. “But the God of all grace,” from whom proceed all gratuitous gifts, “who hath called us unto his eternal glory.” The Alexandrian and Vatican MSS. have, ὁ καλεσας ὑμας, called you. Among his gratuitous gifts is to be reckoned our call to a share in his eternal glory, of which he has given us an earnest in the manifold graces he bestows upon us, “in Christ Jesus.” This call, and the graces consequent on it, are all owing to the merits purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. “After you have suffered a little.” “A little,” probably refers both to the duration of their sufferings, “for that which is at present momentary and light,” &c. (2 Cor. 4:17), and the comparatively light nature of them. “The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come.”—(Rom. 8:18). “Will himself perfect, confirm, and establish you.” In some Greek copies the words are read optatively, thus: “may he perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you;” the sentence being thus composed of four members, instead of three, as in our version. But the Alexandrian and Vatican manuscripts, as also the Syriac version support the Vulgate reading. The words are nearly synonymous; and the idea derived from the material building is applied to the spiritual edifice of virtue and grace, which the Apostle here prays that God would perfect in them, unto the unchangeable state of glory.

11. “To him be glory and empire,” that is, all the glory of his gifts, and power over all his creatures, for ever and ever. Amen.

12. “By Sylvanus;” this is, most probably, Silas, the companion of St. Paul in preaching the gospel.—(Acts, 15:40). “A faithful brother unto you, as I think I have written briefly.” “Unto you,” according to the Greek, ὑμιν τον πιστον ἀδελφον, is joined with “faithful,” and means, who discharges a faithful ministry for you; but according to the Latin and Syriac copies, it is connected with “I have written.” Silas was the bearer of the Epistle from Rome to the East. “As I think,” i.e., faithful to you, as I think; or more probably, I have written to you this Epistle, I think, briefly, considering the matter so interesting to you, and your affectionate regard for myself. The Epistles of those we love are always considered brief, and never tiresome. “Beseeching;” the Greek word, παρακαλῶν, means also, exhorting you to perseverance in the faith, wherein you hold out, notwithstanding the pressure of persecution: and “testifying that this is the true grace of God.” As Apostle of God, I bear witness that the faith you received from us, and in which you still “stand,” is the true grace of God, which leads to eternal life.

13. “The Church that is in Babylon,” or the assemblage of the faithful, “elected together with you,” called to the same faith and hope in eternal glory, “saluteth you,” or wish you all blessings both temporal and spiritual. “In Babylon.” Meaning the City of Rome.—(Vide Introduction).

“And so doth my son, Mark.” He refers to St. Mark, the Evangelist, whom he afterwards sent to found the Church of Alexandria, A.D. 45. “My son;” either because he was spiritually begotten by him, and fully instructed in the faith (Baronius Annal. Anno Christi, 45); or because he served him in the work of the Gospel with the fidelity and affection of a son, as St. Paul says of Timothy (Philippians 2).

14. “With a holy kiss,” that is a chaste embrace. “Grace be to you all.” In Greek, ειρηνη, “peace be to you all.” There is scarcely any difference in sense. The Hebrews, by wishing a person peace, wished him all spiritual and temporal blessings, which we mean by “grace.” “Who are in Christ Jesus,” that is, Christians incorporated with him, and forming the body, of which he is the mystic head.

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