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

Analysis

The Apostle commences this Epistle with the usual form of Apostolical salutation (1, 2). In the next place, he gives thanks to God for the gifts of grace and the divine virtues of faith, hope, and charity, bestowed on the Colossians (3–5). These gifts and virtues were to terminate in the enjoyment of the future blessings promised in the Gospel. From the mention of the Gospel, he takes occasion to confirm the doctrine preached to them by Epaphras, as a faithful minister of the Gospel. He prays that the Lord would grant, them a more perfect knowledge of his holy will, and strength and power to lead lives worthy of God, in the performance of good works, and the patient endurance of sufferings for his sake (6–12).

The Apostle then renders thanks to God for the grace of faith, and the other blessings of redemption bestowed on all Christians; and from this, takes occasion to point out the attributes of Christ, and his superior excellence over the angels. He claims for him in a special way, the prerogatives of Creator and Redeemer, of which the heretics wishes to deprive him, by transferring them to the angels. The apostle, therefore, asserts, that he is the image of the invisible God—the Creator of all things, the angels included—the preserver, by his Providence, of all things created—the Redeemer of all men, Jews and Gentiles—the head of the Church—the reconciler of offended heaven with sinful man—the very fulness of the Divinity (12–21).

He says that the Colossians will be partakers of the blessings of Redemption, provided they persevere in the faith announced to them, which is the same with that preached throughout the rest of the world. He declares himself to be appointed by the will of God a minister of the Gospel, in order to announce to the Gentiles a mystery hitherto concealed from them—a mystery for the fulfilment or accomplishment of which among the Gentiles, he cheerfully submits to suffering and privations of every kind.

Paraphrase

1. Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will and authority of God, and Timothy a brother:

2. (Salute) the Christians of Colossæ, who are sanctified in Christ Jesus: who believe in him and faithfully serve him.

3. May you enjoy the abundance of all spiritual gifts from their efficient cause, God the Father, and their meritorious cause, our Lord Jesus Christ. We always give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and always pray for you.

4. After we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the charity which you exercise towards all the faithful.

5. In the hope of securing these future blessings, treasured up for you in heaven; these blessings of the life to come, you have heard announced and promised to you, by the preaching of the gospel of truth.

6. Which gospel has come to you, as it was preached all over the earth, where it fructifies and is become extended, as it has fructified and become extended among you, from the first day you heard it, and knew the true doctrine regarding the gratuitous goodness of God, in reference to man’s redemption.

7. According as you learned it from Epaphras, my fellow-servant and co-operator in preaching the gospel, who is most dear to me, as he is also the faithful and sincere minister of Christ Jesus for our good.

8. Who has made known to us your spiritual and pure love, not only for us, but also for all the saints (4).

9. Therefore, as soon as we heard of your faith and charity, we ceased not praying to God for you, and supplicating him to fill you with a more perfect knowledge of his holy will, by bestowing upon you the gifts of all knowledge and spiritual understanding.

10. That you may live in a manner becoming sons of God and followers of Christ, so as to please God in all things, producing the fruit of every kind of good works, and advancing and progressing more and more in the knowledge of God.

11. That strengthened with perfect power, which came from the operation of his glorious omnipotence alone, you may endure all crosses with patience, with long-suffering, and with joy.

12. We give thanks to God the Father, who, of his pure mercy and grace, has vouchsafed to make us sharers by the light of faith in the inheritance of the saints, which consists in light, or the beatific vision of God.

13. Who has rescued us from the power of darkness, i.e., of demons and infidels, and translated us to the kingdom, i.e., the Church of his beloved Son here, which is the portal to the kingdom of heaven hereafter.

14. Through whom we have obtained redemption, which consists in the remission of our sins, and which he effected by giving his blood by way of ransom or price for us.

15. Who is the perfect image of the invisible God (having the same identical nature with Him), existing before any creature, having been begotten of the Father by an eternal generation.

16. For by him were all things created in heaven and earth, both visible and invisible, men and angels of every rank and order—whether thrones or dominations, or principalities or powers, all things were created by him and unto him, i.e., for his glory.

17. And he is before all creatures, and in him, and through him, all things subsist and are preserved.

18. And this same person of whom we are treating as God, is, as man, the head of the Church, which is his mystical body; he is the principle and author of the resurrection, and is himself the first born, or first fruits of the dead, consecrating the resurrection of all by raising himself from the grave. So that whether viewed as God, or as man, he holds pre-eminence over all things created.

19. For, it has pleased God the Father, that in Christ, all fulness, all perfection of power necessary for him as head, to govern, and of grace, to vivify his body, should permanently and inseparably dwell, and essentially reside.

20. And it hath pleased the Father, to reconcile all things to himself through him—making peace, by the blood which he shed on the cross, between the angels in heaven and men on earth, between whose union under one common head, sin stood as an obstacle.

21. And you, when you were alienated at one time from God—nay, enemies in your hearts and minds, offending him by your evil deeds, by your wicked and impious lives:

22. He has reconciled now by death, endured in his natural body of flesh, that he might exhibit you to his Father as holy and blameless, free from censure before men, and irreproachable before God himself.

23. You will be thus holy and irreproachable, provided, however, you remain firm and unshaken in your faith, and persevere unchangeably in the hope of the good things promised by the gospel, which you heard preached amongst you, the same that is preached to every creature under heaven, whether Jew or Gentile, of which gospel, I, Paul, am constitued by God the minister.

24. Who now rejoice in the sufferings, which I endure for your sake and for your good, because, by them I fill up and complete in the place of Christ these sufferings which he left to be endured for his mystical body, which is his Church.

25. Of which mystical body, or Church, I am made a member, according to the wise dispensation of God, by which I am constituted the Apostle of you, Gentiles, and fulfil the promise of God regarding your vocation to the faith.

26. Which vocation of the Gentiles is the mystery that has been hidden from all past ages and generations of men, but is now manifested to the Apostles and faithful of the new law.

27. To whom God wished to make known how vast are the riches and the glory of this great secret which is accomplished among the Gentiles, which has for object, Christ, who is the cause of your hope of eternal glory.

28. Whom we announce, rebuking every man living in ignorance and sin, and instructing every man in the perfect knowledge of God and of his mysteries, wherein consists true wisdom, so as to exhibit every man as possessing a perfect knowledge of the faith and gospel of Christ.

29. In discharging this duty I labour strenuously, exerting myself according to the strength which Christ powerfully exercises in me.

Commentary

1. “By the will of God.” At the very outset, the Apostle asserts his divine commission, in opposition to the false teachers, who usurped the office of preaching without any divine mission or warranty whatever from God.

“And Timothy.” He mentions him, because known to the Colossians and beloved by them.

2. The three words, “saints,” “faithful,” “brethren,” denote the same, viz., the Christians of Colossæ. They are termed “Saints,” because called to a state of sanctity, and also, because they were sanctified in baptism, having been incorporated with Christ and engrafted on him; “faithful,” true sons of the faithful Abraham, and heirs of his promises; “brethren,” both of Christ and of one another. Hence, the necessity of brotherly union. These three are distinctive epithets of all Christians. “In Christ Jesus.” The word “Jesus,” is not in the Greek, but it is found in several MSS.

3. “Grace,” &c., the ordinary Apostolic form of salutation. The words, “and the Lord Jesus Christ,” are wanting in many MSS. and rejected by modern critics. They are found in the Armenian and Coptic versions. “We give, thanks to God,” &c. The Apostle usually commences his Epistles with acts of thanksgiving and prayer. He gives thanks for past favours, and prays for their future continuance. “To God and the Father,” Τῷ Θεῷ καὶ πατρι. For this St. Chrysostom reads, To God the Father, &c.

4. “Hearing,” ἀκούσαιτες, i.e., having heard, or, after we heard of your faith, &c.

5. This love of their brethren they exercised in the hope of the future rewards, &c. “In the word of the truth of the gospel,” i.e., in the word of the most true gospel in which there is contained no falsehood. Hence, it is a laudable thing, to propose the rewards of the life to come, as the motive of our good works.

6. The words “and groweth,” are not in the Greek, Their genuineness is now admitted, being found in the ancient MSS., in that used by St. Chrysostom among the rest. “Knew the grace of God in truth,” may also mean, have known the grace of God truly and without any admixture of error. In this verse, the Apostle wishes to remove any erroneous impressions, which the false teachers might endeavour to create in their minds, regarding the imperfection of the gospel preached to them, compared with that preached by the Apostles, probably with the view of making their own erroneous doctrine, the complement of the gospel preached to the Colossians.

7. This gospel which has been preached by the Apostles throughout the earth, has been preached to you without any error by Epaphras. This the Apostle adds, to guard them against the wiles of the false teachers, who endeavoured to persuade them, that the gospel preached by Epaphras was defective, and that this defect could be supplied only by admitting the points of doctrine preached by themselves. From this it is commonly inferred, that St. Paul was never at Colossæ; otherwise, he should have referred to the doctrines which he himself preached. Hence, he advances the full weight of his Apostolic authority in support of the truth of the gospel preached to them by Epaphras. Epapnras is generally supposed to have been the first teacher of the Colossians; most probably sent to them by St. Paul while visiting the other cities of Phrygia; they, now, in turn, deputed him to visit the Apostle and minister to him in prison.

8. This Epaphras, who had been ministering to him in his chains, made known to him their love for him. “In the spirit,” means spiritual, unlike the carnal love of the Gnostics; or, it may mean, proceeding from the Holy Ghost.

9. “With the knowledge of his will,” may mean, the general will of God, regarding them, the great rule to which they should conform their lives; or “the will of God,” in reference to the mode in which he has been pleased to save man, viz., by the death of his Son, and not by angels. And this extended knowledge they will acquire more perfectly by “spiritual wisdom,” i.e., by knowing the mysteries of faith on principles of faith, and “understanding,” knowing them by human illustrations; or “wisdom,” may mean the speculative knowledge of the truths of faith, and “understanding,” the knowledge of applying these truths and principles to the practical detail of their lives.

10. “Worthy of God.” In Greek, worthy of the Lord. “In all things pleasing,” in Greek, unto all pleasing. He explains in the following words, how they will walk worthy of God and please him; it is by omitting no opportunity of performing good works, which he calls “fruitful,” because as the fruits of the earth preserve our temporal life, so do good works ensure our eternal life.

11. He also prays without ceasing, that fortified with perfect spiritual strength, through the glorious power of God, they would be patient and forbearing in adversity, and even receive it with joy, “according to the power of his glory,” i.e., his glorious power. God’s omnipotence is never so glorious as in rendering those omnipotent who hope in him, says St. Bernard. “Patience” is exercised in bearing those afflictions which we cannot revenge; “longanimity,” in bearing with those which we can punish. “With joy.” The patient endurance of crosses is more magnanimous than the performance of the most heroic actions. “Romanorum est fortia facere, Christianorum fortia pati,” out to bear severe trials, not only with patience but with joy, is peculiarly Christian,

12. “Giving thanks to God the Father.” The Greek omits, God. Some persons connects this verse with verse 9, thus: “we cease not praying God to grant you this grace also of thanking him for having called you,” &c. According to the connexion in the Paraphrase, a new sentence is commenced, and St. Paul having concluded his petitions in the preceding verse, now thanks God for the benefits here enumerated. “The lot of the saints,” τοῦ κληρου τῶν ἁγ ων. Eternal life is called a “lot,” to express its gratuitousness, and the absence of strict claim on our part signified by the absence of a claim on the part of those who gain a thing by casting lots. And though we merit eternal life; still, it is primarily founded on grace. In crowning our merits, he only crowns his own gifts.—St. Augustine. “In light.” The light of faith here, or the light of glory hereafter, by which we shall see God, face to face. “It may, however, denote both, as in Paraphrase.”

13. “Darkness,” taken in a moral sense in SS. Scripture, denotes evil; hence, it means here, the power of the devil, the prince of darkness. “The Son of his love,” a Hebraism, for his most beloved Son.

14. In the following verses the Apostle claims for Christ, the titles of Creator and Redeemer, the two grand prerogatives of which the Simonians attempted to deprive him, and which they wished to transfer to angels. In this verse, he claims for Him the title of Redeemer, upon which he dilates more fully at verse 20—after claiming for him the title of Creator in the intervening verses, 16, 17, 18, 19. The words “through his blood,” are not in the Rhemish Version, made from the Sixtine Edition of the Vulgate, nor in the Codex Vaticanus, nor in MSS. or Versions generally.

15. Before asserting that he is Creator, the Apostle first claims for Christ the supreme attribute of Divinity, and the eternal Sonship of God. Others say, that the object of the Apostle in this verse is, to show the great benefits of Redemption from the exalted nature of the person by whom it was effected. Christ is the perfect delineation of that invisible God whom no one ever saw, and exhibits the perfect image which the person possessing the nature of God could alone exhibit. He was begotten of God by an eternal generation; hence, as far anterior to the EONS of the Gnostics in time, as he is superior to them in causality, which latter is shown in the following verse.

16. In this verse is refuted the false doctrine of the Gnostics, who asserted that this material visible world was created by the ministry of angels. “Through him and in him.” In Greek, unto him, i.e., unto his glory.

17. In this verse, the Apostle refers to the Divine attribute of Providence, whereby all created things are preserved. From this and the preceding verses, it is clear, that the “image,” εἰκων, referred to in verse 15, must regard the substantial image of God, and the possession of the divine nature; since of God only could it be said that all things were created “by him,” and “in him,” or unto him, as in the Greek, i.e., for his glory, as also that by his providence all things subsist and are preserved. And it was this God—born of the Father before all ages, begotten by eternal generation—his substantial image, by whom all things were made and are still preserved—that submitted to the ignominious tortures of the cross, for what?—to make atonement for the sins of his own creatures—the sins by which he himself was offended. He, though God, submits to tortures, which he could not merit, to free us, worms of earth, from the eternal tortures of the damned which we justly deserved. What excessive love! Sic amantem quis non redamaret.

18. He now treats of him, as man; as such, he is the head of his mystical body, the Church—towards her, he exercises all the duties, which the relation of head imposes on him, governing and vivifying her by the continual influx of his graces. He is “the beginning,” which appears from the Greek, ὅς ἐστιν ἀρχὴ, to refer to the words immediately following, viz., “the first born from the dead.” Hence, it means, “he is the principle and author of the resurrection.”

19. “All fulness,” i.e., all perfection of wisdom, grace, power, befitting him, as head of the Church. He has the fulness, not only of grace, but of divinity. “Should dwell,” perpetually, inseparably, and essentially. All grace befitting him as head, dwelt in him in the sense already explained, in order that from the head it would descend to the members, and that each might derive from him, as source, the graces necessary for his state and place in the body. The Greek word for “fulness,” πληρωμα, had a special significance, in the false system of the Gnostics.

20. The Apostle again refers in this verse to the other great prerogative of Christ, viz., that of Redeemer, to which he alluded before (verse 14). “The things on earth, and the things in heaven.” He reconciled men and angels, and united them, hitherto so far dissevered from each other, under one common headship, having destroyed, by the blood which he shed on the cross, the chiefest obstacle to this union, viz., sin.

21. He now in a special manner applies to the Colossians what he had spoken generally in reference to all. They were aliens to the divine promises and benefits, and enemies to God in their minds, by their own wills, which was shown by their bad works, and their wicked lives.

22. “In the body of his flesh,” not in his mystical body. Hence, their reconciliation was not effected by angels, as the Gnostics affirmed; but by the death of Christ endured in his body of flesh; or, natural body. These words clearly refute the class of early heretics who asserted that Christ assumed not a real but a fantastical body.

23. He will exhibit them as holy and irreproachable, provided they hold to the faith, and persevere in the hope of heavenly blessings, promised to them by the gospel preached throughout the world. He adds this, probably, in order to disprove the calumnious charge which the false teachers made against Epaphras, whose gospel they asserted to be different from that preached by the Apostles. St. Paul, in character of Apostle, and with the full weight of Apostolic authority, asserts, in refutation of this calumny, that the gospel preached by Epaphras, and by the Apostles all over the earth, perfectly coincided.

24. “And fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ.” In this, it is by no means implied, that anything was wanting to the sufferings of Christ, as a sufficient atonement. This would be heretical; for, Christ made not only a sufficient, but also a superabundant atonement. But although Christ did this, and would even wish to submit to every kind of suffering, necessary for the formation and perfection of his Church; still, it was the will of God, that to his Apostles and the ministers of the gospel he would leave much to be endured for his Church, and that in his own place, as the Greek for “fulfil,” ανταναπληρω, implies. So that “wanting,” (ὐστερήματα, shortcomings), does not regard “the sufferings of Christ,” but wanting on the part of St. Paul to be endured for the Church. He, then, rejoices in having to undergo what was wanting to himself, or, on his own part, of the sufferings he was to have undergone for the Church, in quality of minister of Christ. Others, by “the sufferings of Christ,” understand the sufferings which St. Paul himself underwent. These he calls “the sufferings of Christ,” because Christ regards the sufferings of his members as his own, since they are parts of his mystical body. It was in this sense, he said to Saul, when persecuting his followers: “Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts, 11:24). Hence, as Christ, while here on earth, suffered in his natural body; so, now in heaven will he suffer in his mystical body, in order to apply to us the fruits of his passion. In this interpretation, “the sufferings of Christ,” mean the sufferings which Christ endures in the members of his mystical body. This latter is the common interpretation; the former, nevertheless, appears the more probable.

25. He is constituted a minister of the Church by the wise distribution of the great Father of the family, who has allotted to him the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, so as to fulfil the promise of God, &c.—See Paraphrase. Others, by “fulfilling the word of God,” πληρῶσαι τὸν λόγον τοῦ Θεοῦ, understand, that he was appointed to preach the word of God fully, so as that there would be no nation left, to which the gospel would not be preached. This interpretation accords well with what follows.

26. For the full meaning of this verse, see third chapter to the Ephesians.

27. “The riches of the glory of this mystery,” is fully expressed in the passage referred to, viz., that the Gentiles were to be made “fellow-heirs of the same body, and co-partners of his promise,” &c. (3:6), “which is Christ,” which mystery, or, great secret has for object, all the leading events of our Blessed Redeemer’s life, death, and resurrection. He is the cause and fountain of our hope.

28. “Admonishing every man,” &c., i.e., every man that we can admonish, excluding no man, so as to be able to have every man within our reach, perfectly instructed in the mysteries of God. Happy the pastor of souls, who at judgment can exhibit those committed to his charge instructed in the necessary truths of faith! But how few are there who can meet death with this confidence—how many are there whose little ones cry for bread, without one to break it for them!

29. “Which he worketh in me in power,” may mean, which he worketh, or which is worked in me, by the power of performing miraculous wonders, confirmatory of the doctrine preached, or, the strong internal virtue conferred on him by divine grace.








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