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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 fervently exhorts the Philippians to the exercise of mutual concord, fraternal charity, and humility, both interior and exterior (1–4). And in order to urge them the more to practise both humility and charity, he proposes the example of Christ, who, although he was God, possessing the divine essence, still, for love of us, took upon himself the form of a slave; nay, humbled himself to the death of the cross; in reward of which humiliation, God exalted him in this assumed nature above all other creatures (4–11). He exhorts them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, and by the splendour of their virtues, to shine forth, as brilliant luminaries, in the midst of Pagan darkness and infidelity. Should the effusion of his blood be necessary to complete the sacrifice of their sanctification, which he began in their conversion, he is ready and willing to pour forth his blood, as a libation, on their sacrifice (12–18). He promises to send them Timothy and Epaphroditus, with whose praises and commendation the remainder of the chapter is almost taken up (19–30).


1. If, then, you wish to afford me, a prisoner for the faith, any spiritual consolation becoming a Christian; any solace dictated by charity; if you have any union of soul with me; any feeling of sincere, heartfelt compassion (as I am firmly persuaded you have):

2. I entreat you to complete the joy which your conversion and charitable contributions have afforded me, by agreeing in the same doctrine and feelings, by entertaining mutual charity for one another, by being of one mind and soul, having the same wishes and sentiments.

3. Do nothing from a spirit of contradiction, or of ambitious affectation of superiority; but through the spirit of humility, let each one esteem his neighbour better than himself.

4. Let no one selfishly seek his own advantages merely; but let him rather consult for the interests of others.

5. Let the same feeling be cherished by you for one another that was entertained by Christ Jesus:

6. Who, pre-existing in the form of God, possessing the divine nature, and essence, and attributes, did not still tenaciously retain this equality with God, as is done by those who unexpectedly obtain some booty or emolument.

7. But, far from this; by taking upon him the form of a slave, he voluntary debased himself, having become like a man, by becoming really and in nature such, and in external appearance and habits of life found as a man.

8. Nay, he humbled himself still more, having become obedient unto death—and that a death of no ordinary kind—but the ignominious death of the cross, the instrument of torture for malefactors and slaves.

9. In reward for this humiliation God exalted him by raising him from the dead, and placing him at his right hand above all creatures, and gave him a name, which is above all names.

10. So that the person expressed by the name of Jesus being recognised throughout creation as the Son of God, should receive the homage and adoration of creatures, whether in heaven, on earth, or under the earth, in hell, or purgatory.

11. And every tongue, whether in heaven, on earth, or under the earth, should confess, that the Lord Jesus Christ possesses glory equal to that of God the Father.

12. Wherefore, my dearly beloved, as you have always obeyed since your conversion; so now obey, or, do now, as you have done since your conversion, work out your salvation with interior dread, and exterior lowliness and bodily uneasiness, not only in my presence, but also in my absence, in order to prove how purely you act for God’s sake only.

13. For it is God who worketh in us the good will, and the accomplishment of that good will, according to his good pleasure.

14. Do all things without murmuring against the mandates of your superiors, and without hesitation or reluctance, comply with their orders.

15. That you may be exempt from blame or reproach, free from all guile and deceit, and be immaculate sons of God, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation of unbelievers, who narrowly watch and scrutinize your actions, among whom you should shine as so many heavenly luminaries placed to enlighten the world;

16. Preserving and increasing in yourselves the light of vivifying faith, wherewith you may also enlighten and inflame others, so that I may have cause for glorying in you on the day of judgment, as not having laboured in vain, by preaching the gospel among you.

17. But should it be necessary that my blood be poured out as a libation over the acceptable sacrifice of your faith, which I have presented to God, I rejoice at the prospect of so great an advantage, and rejoice with you, who have been already offered up as an agreeable offering.

18. You also should rejoice on account of the advantage you already possess, and rejoice together with me on account of the hope I have of being offered up as a victim.

19. I hope in the Lord Jesus to be able to send Timothy to you, for your consolation, that I myself may also be consoled and cheered in my captivity, on learning the happy state of your affairs.

20. For, I have no one who is so much of one mind with me, so attached to me, or in whom I can repose such confidence as Timothy, or who will so heartily concern himself in regard to your interests.

21. For almost all seek their own interests, and prefer them to the glory of Jesus Christ. Hence, it is, that I could not find any one else, so disinterested as he, in undertaking a laborious journey, without some motive of personal advantage.

22. But if you wish for any proof of his worth, I can only adduce the fact, that a child could not manage the concerns of a parent, or serve him with greater fidelity and fondness than has been exhibited by him towards me in preaching the gospel.

23. Such, then, is the man whom I hope to send you, as soon as I see the result of my chains, and the events that await me.

24. I trust, however, in the Lord, that I myself will be soon able to see you personally

25. But in the mean time, I have judged it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, who is my Christian brother; my co-operator in preaching the gospel; my fellow-soldier in the war in which we are engaged for the gospel, under the banner of the cross; he is also your Apostle; and has likewise ministered to my wants and necessities.

26. For, indeed, he has been eagerly longing to see you all, and it was a source of much trouble to him to learn, that you heard of his sickness, which he knew would cause you pain and uneasiness.

27. For, in truth, he was sick to such a degree as to be on the very verge of dissolution; but God took pity on him, by rescuing him from the jaws of death, and on me also, lest to the affliction of my chains would be added the further affliction of being the occasion of the death of a friend who came to minister to my wants.

28. I have, therefore, dispatched him with all haste in order that you may rejoice at his return, and that my sorrow may be lessened and alleviated from knowing that you are in joy.

29. Receive him, therefore, with sincere Christian affection, and with great spiritual joy, and honour such persons, by contributing to their maintenance and support.

30. For, he was brought to the very brink of the grave, while engaged in the work of Christ (by administering to me during my incarceration, for the cause of Christ), exposing his life to imminent danger, in order that he might in person perform towards me, on your behalf, these kind services, which absence prevented yourselves from personally discharging.


1. “If,” far from expressing doubt, is here strongly affirmative. It is a form of obtestation not unusual with the most eminent classical writers, and means: if you wish to afford me any consolation, &c. (as I know you do). The words within the parenthesis affect each member of the sentence. The meaning of the entire verse comes to this: in the name of the duties of charity, which religion prescribes, and which I know you faithfully to discharge.

“If any society of the spirit.” In Greek, any communion of spirit, “any bowels of commiseration.” i.e., any tender feelings of interior and heartfelt compassion. “Any bowels of commiseration.” In Greek, any bowels and commiseration.

2. “Fulfil ye my joy,” &c. In the name of all the foregoing duties which you owe me, I entreat of you to complete my joy, by being “of one mind,” i.e., by holding the same faith, and entertaining the same feelings and wishes. This is more clearly expressed in the following—“agreeing in sentiment.” This member of the sentence differs from the first, “be of one mind,” in this respect only, that it is a stronger expression of concord and harmony, as appears from the Greek, το ἒν φρονουντες.

3. “Let each esteem others better than themselves.” How can men do this, in all cases, consistently with truth? According to some, in this way; because no matter how grievous the crime of our neighbour, although you may be conscious to yourself of nothing, there may be still some unknown spiritual sin, which may render you more disagreeable in God’s sight than he is, and may be the source of your damnation. Again, we may say with truth, that if our neighbour, no matter how great a sinner, received the graces conferred on us, he might be better than we; and if we were in his circumstances, with only the same graces he had, we might have done worse. Again, St. Thomas and others say, we can regard our neighbour as better than ourselves, by looking to ourselves, without regarding the graces and gifts we have from God, and looking only to the gifts of others, in which sense, he explains the following verse. At all events, what is here inculcated is a practical exhibition of humility, by honouring all as our betters, which may be done in the exercise of true humility, although, in point of fact, we might chance to be better than they.

4. According to the exposition in the Paraphrase, the Apostle censures that spirit of selfishness, which is the greatest obstacle to fraternal charity, and the source of dissensions. Others interpret the verse, thus—not looking to the gifts we have, but to those which others have, which is a great means of exercising true humility. Commentators here remark that St. Paul prescribes its proper remedy for each of the four causes of dissension. To an excessive desire of maintaining our own opinion, he opposes, submission of our own judgment, “agreeing in sentiment;” secondly, to vain glory—contempt for glory; to the third cause—a desire of domineering—humility of heart, “but in humility,” &c.; to the fourth source of discord, undue selfishness—a disregard for self interests, “but those that are of other men.”

5. In order to excite them to the exercise of the last-mentioned dispositions of humility and disinterestedness, he adduces the example of Christ. Pride being the greatest obstacle to fraternal charity; he, therefore, inculcates humility, as the most efficacious means of promoting and preserving it.

6. “Who being in form of God, i.e., having the real essence and nature of God”. The Greek word for “form,” μορφῆ, has been interpreted by the Holy Fathers to denote, the Divine Nature, the perfect equality of the Son with the Father, the Divine Majesty, the image of God the Father. “Thought is not robbery to be equal to God.” The interpretation of these words, found in the commentary of Theodore Beelen, seems the most probable, the only one which accords best with the context. According to him, the words convey a proverbial meaning, and have reference to those who tenaciously keep and grasp whatever emolument or prize they may unexpectedly fall in with. So, the words here mean, in regard to Christ, that he did not with eager tenacity retain the external form and equality with God the Father, which he possessed; but, by taking on himself human nature and the appearance of man, veiled his Divine glory and Majesty; thus humbling himself, which is a powerful motive for humiliation on our part. The Greek word “for robbery,” ἁρπαγμον, favours this interpretation. It means, not the act of rapine, but the thing itself eagerly seized on, and tenaciously retained. Nouns ending in, μος, sometimes bear this meaning. Independently of the context, inculcating humility, the antithesis “but debased himself,” shows this to be the true interpretation.

7. Christ debased himself, because, without undergoing any change whatever in his nature or attributes, which are immutable and essential, he put on externally human nature, which was to the eyes of men an annihilation of himself. The phrase, “and in habit found as a man,” by no means implies that he was not really a man; because, “as,” as it were, and other adverbs of similitude, are found to express reality, “as it were, of the only begotten of the Father.”—(Gospel St. John, 1:14). Christ was like a man. Who can be so like a man, as another man? “In habit,” in his external actions and manner of life he “was found” to act and live like other men. The example of Christ not greedily grasping and retaining his equality with God, which he had before the world began, but rather externally divesting himself of it, is a powerful motive for us to exercise humility. Hence, this interpretation accords best with the context.

8. What a prodigy of humility! A God, eternal and omnipotent, expiring on an ignominious gibbet! What intense charity, prodigious disinterestedness—the Creator submitting to death for the sake of the creature! From this example of Christ, concealing his divinity, a lesson of humility is inculcated not to glory in the gifts of nature, grace or fortune, the ordinary incentives to pride.

9. “Exalted.” In Greek, superexalted. The Apostle refers to this as an incentive to stimulate the Philippians to acts of humiliation in hopes of like exaltation with Christ. “And gave him a name.” By “name,” is understood the name of “God,” or “Son of God,” as made known after his Resurrection and Ascension, under which name and character God made his Son to be adored and acknowledged by all nations. This name is said to be given him after his death and humiliation; because, then it was that it was publicly made known regarding him. Others understood it of the fame of his Divinity, which comes to the same with the former interpretation. Others, again, understood it of the Adorable Name of Jesus, which although given from his conception, was still given in consideration of the future redemption effected by his passion and death.

10. “In the name of Jesus.” “Name,” is used for the person expressed by it. The words, “every knee would bend,” express adoration of the divine Person of Jesus. “And under the earth,” whether in purgatory or hell; the damned adoring him from co-action, and the others, voluntarily. The word “Jesus” is taken not for the sound expressed, but for the person whom it designates. The usage of the Church, as appears from the words of Gregory the Great, has sanctioned a relative worship to be paid to the very name of Jesus, ad nomen Jesu omnes flectent genua cordis sui, quod vel capitis inclinatione testentur. The Council of Lyons, as Navarre relates, commanded all to bow the head at the name of Jesus, and Catharinus cites a decree of a Roman Pontiff to the same effect. As to the etymology of the word “Jesus;” it is derived from the Hebrew root, jascha, i.e., he has saved. Hence the word Jeschua, Latin, “Jesus,” i.e., Saviour. It is the proper name of the Word Incarnate, and is said by many to be superior to the name of God, as superadding the idea of ransom and redemption, in which that of Creator is implied; whereas, the name of God conveys the idea of Creator alone, without that of Saviour.

11. “And every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus,” &c., which some interpret thus, and every tongue should confess that our Lord Jesus Christ is unto the glory, &c., i.e., that Jesus Christ is supreme Lord unto the glory of God the Father; because, the exaltation of the Son confers glory on the Father. This interpretation is conformable to the Greek. St. Bernard found no pleasure in any writings that were not seasoned with this sweet name of Jesus. How often do we not hear this sacred name blasphemously invoked in the most shocking imprecations, without feeling the slightest emotion!

13. In this verse is assigned a reason why they should tremble, &c. Because, as their salvation does not depend on themselves, but principally on God’s grace, they should tremble, lest God, in punishment of their sins, would withhold his grace, and leave them to their ruin. In this verse is contained a proof of the amissibility of grace. He says, “that it is God that worketh,” because the grace of God is the principal cause in the production of good works, although human liberty also has its share, and it is usual in Scriptures to ascribe an effect to the principal cause, although subordinate causes also may concur in its production. That human liberty is not here denied is clear from the exhortation of the Apostle in the preceding verse; for, why work out their salvation with fear and trembling, if in the work they had no free agency?

15. From the Greek it is quite clear that the words, “sincere” and “blameless,” are not to be joined to “children of God,” but the words, “without reproof,” should be joined thus: “children of God without reproof,” τεκνα Θεου αμωμητα, i.e., irreprehensible and immaculate sons of God.

16. “Holding forth,” &c., as men hold forth a lantern, or as the heavenly bodies display their light. The meaning in the Paraphrase is preferable.

17. The words may also mean: if I were to pour out my blood by martyrdom, to present your faith as an agreeable sacrifice, I rejoice, &c. The words, “made a victim,” mean “made a libation,” referring to the libation, which in the sacrificial act was poured on the victim. Their faith was the sacrifice, and his blood the libation used in perfecting the sacrifice. “And service” means the legitimate sacerdotal act of offering up sacrifice. In Greek, liturgv.

18. He assuages their sorrow in case he should be put to death by Nero, and says, that instead of mourning, both they and he ought to rejoice, should such an event take place.

19. The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus to relieve St. Paul; hence, he promises to send them in turn, for their consolation, Timothy, who was greatly beloved by them. Nothing should be omitted by a superior that can be legitimately employed to conciliate the good will and affection of those under him.

21. “For all seek their own,” &c. He speaks of those about him, whom he could think of sending to them. It means: almost all seek their own, &c. It is, however, true of all men, and at all times. Timothy, then, was the only person disinterested enough to undertake so perilous and laborious a journey, without any regard to his own private interests.

24. From this verse it appears St. Paul expected to be liberated from his present imprisonment. He was liberated from his first, but not from his second. The words “to you” are not in the Greek. They are, however, in the Alexandrian and Vatican manuscripts.

25. “Your Apostle.” Some say Epaphroditus was Bishop of Philippi.

29. “Receive him in the Lord,” i.e., with sincere Christian affection, “with all joy.” “In the Lord” is to be joined with the words, “receive him.” “And treat with honour.” “Honour” means support, sustenance, as in the passage, “Honour widows who are really widows” (1 Tim. verse 3); and also, “worthy of double honour” (1 Tim. verse 17); in both places, it means sustenance or support.

30. “Delivering his life.” Probably, he was attacked on the way with some malady, which he disregarded from anxiety to fill his commission; and this, it might be, that had nearly proved fatal to him at Rome.

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