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

Analysis

It appears, that certain expressions employed by the Apostle in chapters 4, 5, of the preceding Epistle, as implying the near approach of the day of judgment, produced feelings of terror and alarm in the minds of the Thessalonians. They, in consequence, became indifferent about their temporal concerns and their duties to society. This state of feeling had been artfully employed by the false teachers, to confirm them in these erroneous impressions; these also alleged certain expressions and epistles as emanating from the Apostle, to the same effect. To remedy this state of things, the Apostle beseeches them to be no way affrighted, and to pay no attention to any assertion or epistle purporting to emanate from himself, on this subject (1, 2).

In the next place, he gives two precursory signs, that are to usher in the day of judgment viz., a general apostacy, and the coming of Antichrist (3). He describes the sacrilegious impiety and wicked morals of Antichrist, and reminds the Thessalonians of his oral instructions on the subject, when amongst them, and also of the cause which, he told them, was to retard the public appearance of this impious man, who, at present, works clandestinely and privately by means of his wicked precursors, until the obstacle to his public appearance is removed (4–8). But when this obstacle, whatever it be, is removed, then, this wicked impostor will appear, performing wonders and prodigies, and leading into error those who, in punishment of their resistance to God’s light, will be delivered over by him to the spirit of error (9–11).

He calms any apprehension which the character given of Antichrist might be apt to beget in the minds of the Thessalonians, by assuring them, that there is room for dread on the part of the incredulous, but none whatever as regards those, who are the first fruits of the faithful, or of God’s elect (12, 13). He exhorts them to persevere and firmly hold to the traditions which they have learned (14). He, finally, wishes them perseverance in grace and good works (15, 16).

Paraphrase

1. We earnestly beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (which you dread so much), and by our gathering together unto him;

2. Not to be easily moved from the settled faith and persuasion of your mind (and among other points, regarding the day of judgment), nor to be seized with terror or perturbation, either by any person pretending to a spirit of prophecy, or by any words or Epistle said to emanate from us to the effect, that the day of the Lord was at hand.

3. Let no person, then, succeed in deceiving you by these or any other means whatsoever; for, the day of the Lord will not come, until there first takes place a general defection and apostacy from the faith, and the unity of the Church; and until Antichrist, that most sinful of men, who, consequently, is deserving of eternal perdition, shall have, publicly and openly, made his appearance.

4. That most wicked of men, I say, who is the adversary of God, and shall be raised above all that is called God, or is worshipped as such (i.e., every God, whether true or false, and who will, consequently abolish every kind of divine religious worship, which he will have men pay to himself), so that he shall sit in the temple of God, showing himself as God, and claiming for himself divine honour.

5. (What cause of disturbance can you have?) Do you not recollect, that when I was amongst you, I told you all these things, and explained them to you?

6. And (from what you then heard) you know the cause why his coming is delayed, in order that he may openly and publicly appear in his own time.

7. I said openly appear; for as to the private and clandestine commission of iniquity, it is already accomplished by his precursors, who clandestinely carry out the iniquity, which he will publicly and openly profess at the end of the world, when the obstacle that now detains him shall have been entirely removed: in other words, he worketh iniquity privately in the persons of his precursors, until such time as he will appear himself, when the obstacle to his coming shall have been removed.

8. And then, after the removal of this obstacle shall be publicly revealed that wicked, lawless man, whom the Lord Jesus will kill by his sole command, and will destroy by some of these bright signs, which are to announce his coming.

9. This lawless man, on attaining power, will perform, by the operation of Satan, all sorts of false miracles, or manifestations of great power, signs, and wonders.

10. And not only will he have recourse to miracles, but he also will have recourse to all other means of seducing into iniquity, viz., riches, honours, pleasures, blandishments, &c., those who are to perish, through their own fault, because they did not receive and embrace the truth, which had a great claim on their love and affection, and by which they would be saved. In punishment of their sins and of their rejecting the truth which they should love, God will send them the operation of error and imposture, so that they may believe falsehood.

11. And thus they shall be all inexcusable and justly condemned, who have not believed the truth but have consented to error and iniquity.

12. (The impious have just grounds to be alarmed at such announcements), but as for us, we are bound to give God thanks always for you, brethren, beloved by God, because he has elected you, as first-fruits for salvation, sanctifying you by his Holy Spirit, and inspiring you with the faith of the truth.

13. To which faith and sanctification he has called you through our preaching of the Gospel, so that you may acquire the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

14. Wherefore, brethren, persevere steadfastly in the faith, to which God has called you, and faithfully observe and adhere to the traditions which you have been taught by us, whether orally, or by our Epistles.

15. But may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God the Father, who is our Father also, who hath loved us, and hath given us eternal consolation, by giving us his grace, through which we firmly hope to reap in the life to come these abundant blessings, of which grace is the seed;

16. May he, I say, increase your consolation and strengthen your hearts (amidst the persecutions you endure), and confirm you in the belief of sound doctrine, and in the practice of all sort of good works.

Commentary

1. “And of our gathering together,” &c.—(See First Epistle. 4:17). “We shall be taken up into the clouds to meet Christ.” To this, reference is made in the present verse.

2. “As if the day of the Lord.” In Greek, the day of Christ. The Vulgate is preferred by critics generally.

3. The Apostle gives two precursory signs, the revolt, and the coming of Anti christ. “For, unless there come,” &c., as if he said—“for (the day of judgment will not arrive) unless there come a revolt first.” The words in the parenthesis are understood to complete the sense, and they are clearly inferred from the concluding words of verse 2.

What is meant by this “revolt?” Some understand by it, a revolt and departure from subjection to the Roman empire, which shall, in consequence, suffer dismemberment; this, they say, the Apostle expresses, in an obscure manner, through dread of offending the Romans, who regarded the stability of their empire, as eternal. This opinion however, is quite improbable: for, the temporal empire of Rome has long since passed away, and Antichrist has not yet made his appearance. Besides, Christ has not annexed the flourishing condition of his Church to the flourishing temporal condition of the Roman empire. The far more probable opinion is that, which understands it of a departure from the unity of the Church and the centre of Catholic communion, in a general way, similar to the partial defections caused by Luther, Calvin, &c. The article in the Greek, which means, the revolt, or, apostacy, shows that it shall be a general apostacy. Some persons, with St. Augustine, read for revolt, or apostacy, the apostate, or, revolter, making it the same with “the man of sin,” &c.; but, our reading, according to which the apostacy is to precede and make way for the coming of Antichrist, is the more common. “The man of sin,” i.e., the most sinful man. “The son of perdition;” or, he that, in consequence of his sinfulness deserves, and is marked out for, eternal perdition. This man is commonly understood by the Holy Fathers and Commentators, to refer to Antichrist, whose reign is to precede the second coming of the Redeemer, and whose persecution shall be the most dreadful of those, which the Church had ever before to encounter. His morals are here described by the Apostle. Hence, he shall be a man, and not a demon, as some imagine. There is reference also to an individual, as appears clearly from the Greek article, “THE Man of Sin, THE Son,” &c., and not to a series of individuals, as is asserted by some crazed fanatics, who wish to affix this opprobrious epithet, on the sainted and glorious rulers of God’s Church, who sit in the chair of Peter.

4. His impiety and pride are here described—“Or that is worshipped,” includes everything to which religious or divine honour is paid; so that he shall be raised above every God, whether true or false, and will abolish all divine worship, which he shall have transferred to himself. By the “temple of God,” some understand the temple of Jerusalem, which he will rebuild; this is, however, an erroneous opinion, because such a temple would not be, “the temple of God.” Hence, it more probably refers to the Christian temples in being at his coming. “So that he sitteth in the temple,” &c. The Greek has, So that lie sitteth (as God) in the temple, &c. This reading is rejected by critics generally.

5. Hence, many things were left by the Apostles with the faithful, to be transmitted either by oral or written tradition; which, although forming a part of the deposit of faith, were never intended to be conveyed by the inspired writings of the SS. Scripture.

6. What this obstacle to the more speedy advent of Antichrist is, was known to the Thessalonians at the time; but, unknown to us: the more probable conjecture is, that it refers to the steady profession of the Catholic faith by individuals, and the reverence and submission of Catholic princes to the Apostolic See. If this be not it, we can only say, with St. Augustine, ego prorsus, quid dixerit, fateor me ignorare.—(De Civitate Dei, c. 29, Book 20).

7. The precursors of Antichrist are the heretics, the enemies of the faith and of obedience to lawful authority. In them is accomplished, clandestinely and privately (this is the meaning of “mystery,”) the iniquity which Antichrist will openly profess and confirm with false signs, at the end of the world. They carry out, in a concealed, private way, however, under the guise of truth, and with an affected zeal for religion, the impiety which he will openly profess. The word “worketh,” may also be taken in an active signification, thus: for he already worketh and carries out in the person of his precursors, privately, and under the appearance of truth, the same iniquity which he will publicly avow. “Only that he who now holdeth, do hold,” &c. The word “hold,” in the second place, is not found in the Greek; it is, however, understood. These words some understand thus: but whilst this iniquity is only privately carried on, let him who holds the faith, hold it firmly, until Antichrist is publicly segregated from the faithful, and raises his standard against the Church. The interpretation in the Paraphrase, referring “he who holdeth” to the obstacle by which Antichrist is detained, is the one that accords best with the following verse. The other interpretation, however, derives great probability, from the masculine article prefixed in the Greek to the words, he that now holdeth, ὁ κατέχων, as also, from the common acceptance of the words, “taken out of the way,” ἐκ μέσου γενηται, which mean, to be segregated, to go out from.

8. “And then,” i.e., after the removal of this obstacle, or after the great apostacy, “shall be revealed that wicked one,” or, as the Greek has it, ὁ ἅνομος, the lawless one.

The Greek article clearly shows, that here, as well as in verse 3, the Apostle refers to an individual. “The Lord Jesus.” “JESUS” is not in the Greek. “With the spirit of his mouth,” i.e., his sole word; or, as St. Thomas says, by his command; because, says the saint, by the command of our Lord, Michael will kill Antichrist on Mount Olivet. St. Thomas, with many other divines, states, that the army of Antichrist being destroyed by fire from heaven (Apocalypse, 20:9, 10), he will take to flight, and conceal himself in some solitary part of Mount Olivet, where he shall be discovered by Michael the Archangel, and slain, or, rather, precipitated from that spot into hell with his false prophet, in which descent, downwards, they shall both die. This perfectly accords with the text of the Apocalypse (19:20), wherein it is said, “they will be cast alive (i.e., but dead for a very short time) into the pool of fire.”

9. “And lying wonders.” The word “lying” is understood of his miracles, as regards their object and effect, which are, to lead men astray and confirm error. Because a miracle as such, or as viewed in the light of a testimony, is a seal of the truth of things, which it is adduced to confirm. Now, the miracles of Antichrist shall be adduced in confirmation of falsity and error; and hence, in a moral sense, may be termed “lying.” But whether the devil can operate miracles proprie dicta, or not, is another question, which cannot be decided one way or the other from this passage. For a truly admirable dissertation on the subject of miracles, see Murray’s (Very Rev. Dr.) Annual Miscellany, vol. ii.

10. Because they received not the love of the truth, i.e., they embraced not the truth of God, which had great claims on their love and affection. In punishment of their sins and of their rejection of the truth, God will send this impious man, who will perform deeds of deception, by which they shall be led astray, so as to embrace lying falsehoods.

“Therefore, God shall send them the operation of error.” When God is said to deceive men, to tempt them, to harden their hearts, we are not to understand this, as if he positively produced these sinful effects. He does so, negatively, by withdrawing his lights and graces from men in punishment of their sins; upon the withdrawal of which, men shall as infallibly be deceived, hardened, and tempted, as if God had done so in a positive way. So far as the effects of deception and obduration are concerned, God acts negatively; but, he, sometimes, acts positively, in a certain sense also, by throwing in their way, occasions not necessarily inducing to sin, but which will infallibly lead to sin in such as are bereft of God’s lights and graces.

“To believe lying.” The result of this operation of error shall be, that men will believe lying; or, the end of this seduction on the part of Antichrist is, to compel them to believe lies and falsehood.—(See Romans, 1:24, 9:18). The most fearful judgment of God is, when in punishment of sin he gives man over to a reprobate sense, to a blindness and insensibility of heart, the assured forerunner of final impenitence “God delivered them up to a reprobate sense.”—(Romans, 1:24).

11. They believed not in Christ the truth, operating true miracles; but adhered to Antichrist seducing them, and for this end performing lying wonders.

12. The vivid description given by St. Paul of Antichrist, and of the judgment of God on his followers, was calculated to create alarm. With a view of dispelling these vain fears from the minds of the Thessalonians, the Apostle says, that such apprehensions may concern the incredulous, but as for them, they are “the first-fruits,” whom God has marked out “for salvation.” “The first-fruits,” because they were among the first to whom the Apostle preached. While the infidels shall be condemned for not believing the truth and consenting to error, the Thessalonians are marked out for salvation, on account of the faith of truth and the practice of sanctity; and for those, as pure gifts of God, the Apostle gives thanks. “First-fruits,” in Greek, from the beginning. There is but very little difference in the sense supplied by both.

13. “Unto the purchasing of the glory,” &c., may also mean, in order that you may become the glorious purchaser; or, the glorious purchased people of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Whereunto,” for which the Vulgate reading is, wherein.

14. By “tradition,” he means doctrines and institutions of the Christian religion, whether appertaining to faith or discipline. Of the latter kind he spoke—chap. 11. Ep. 1 to Cor.—“Cetera, cum venero, disponam.” From this latter verse it is clear, that Tradition was intended to be a channel of divine revelation no less than the sacred Scriptures. Traditions may be committed to writing in after times; but still they are said to be the unwritten word of God, because, not written by the Apostles, like the SS. Scriptures, but merely delivered by the word of mouth. If the SS. Scriptures were the only channel intended by God to convey to us his divine revelations, why make the writing of these Scriptures dependent on the most casual circumstances? If the disputes, the ignorance, the abuses, the misconceptions, and efforts on the part of heretics to proselytize, &c., which elicited the several Epistles of St. Paul, did not exist; or, if the Apostle were himself on the spot, would we have the inspired doctrine, which they convey, committed by him to writing? What was the method of instructing men in the faith, for the first six years after the Ascension? What from the time of Adam to Moses? Surely, not the inspired Scriptures, but Tradition; and surely, no one will deny that the faith of men during this period was as strong as had been the faith of men in other ages. St. Iræneus tells us, that in his day, many tribes embraced the faith, who had neither ink nor paper. Hence, God wished that the great certain means of conveying his divine truth, independent of every species of casualty, was to be the tradition of his Church, which he has constituted the indefectible oracle of his heavenly truth, unto the end of time. On this account, it is, that the Gospel is called, a testimony, to be handed down by witnesses.

15. The Apostle concludes his exhortation by a prayer. God, “who loved them,” by electing them from eternity, and giving in time his grace, which is the seed of glory; “and hath given everlasting consolation,” by the hopes of future blessings, in giving them his grace in this life, which is an earnest or pledge of future glory.

16. May he “exhort your hearts.” The Greek word for “exhort” (ταρακαλέσαι), means also to console. Hence, it means, may he increase in your hearts that “eternal consolation,” which in the preceding verse he says, has been already imparted to them.

“In every good work and word.” The order is inverted in the common Greek, which runs thus: The Codex Vaticanus has the order of the Vulgate.








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