Ver 1. Of the Grecians against the Hebrews.† By the Grecians are many times understood the heathens or pagans, as Acts xiv. 1. xviii. 4., &c., but here by Grecians (which some translate Hellenists or Grecists) we may understand those new converted Christians, who had been Jews before, but who had been born in places where the Greek tongue was spoken; as by the Hebrews, we may understand those converted to the Christian faith, who were of the Jewish race, born, and bred in those places, where they spoke not Greek, but Syriac, which was then the language of the Jews. This difference is grounded on the Greek text.
--- Their widows were neglected; that is, they seemed less regarded, or less favoured in the daily distributions, than such as were of the Jewish race, and spoke the language of the Jews, as it was then spoken in Palestine. Wi.
--- They were most probably both of Jewish origin, and received their different appellations according to the language they spoke. The former were also frequently called Hellenists. Calmet.
--- It is not certain in what the Greek widows were despised. Some imagine, that a preference was given to their rivals, in the distribution of offices, that they were appointed to the meaner charges, and oppressed with too much labour. But it is most natural to suppose, that the complaints regarded the alms that were distributed, and that the necessities of both parties were not supplied, without the appearance of partiality. Menochius.
--- For c. iv. we read neither was there any one among them that wanted; and distribution was made to every man, according as he had need; and the multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul. But nothing in human institutions is so good, as not to require occasional reform, owing either to the wickedness or negligence of man. E. in dif. loc.
[†] V. 1. Græcorum, ellhnistwn, not ellhnwn. See also Acts ix. 29. and xi. v. 20. See Legh Critica Sacra.
Ver. 2. And serve tables. The apostles did not judge it proper for them to be so much employed in managing that common stock, out of which every one, as they stood in need, were supplied, as to meat, and all other necessities: this took up too much of their time, which might be better employed in preaching, &c. Wi.
--- Word of God. The most essential duty of an apostle and bishop, is to announce the word of God. S. Paul would not even baptize, lest it should be a prejudice to the performance of this great duty, for which he had been sent. Many think, that this ministry of the tables, here signifies, not only the distribution of corporal nourishment, but the dispensing of the holy Eucharist. As sacred and divine as was this latter duty, the apostles preferred before it, their obligation of preaching. Calmet.
Ver. 3. Look ye out among you seven men, and men of a good repute and character, full of the Holy Ghost. Wi.
--- Diverse circumstances prove, that they were chosen to be about the altar also. They were to be full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom: they received the imposition of the apostles' hands, and in them S. Paul requireth, in a manner, the same conditions as in bishops; all which would not have been necessary for any secular stewardship. See Acts xiii. 3. Immediately after their ordination, they preached, baptized, disputed, as we see in S. Stephen, &c. &c. Hence S. Ignatius: "it is ours to please by all means the deacons, who are for the ministry of Jesus Christ; for they are not servitors of meat and drink, but ministers of the Church of God. For what are deacons but imitators or followers of Christ, ministering to bishops, as Christ to his Father, and working unto him a clean and immaculate work, even as S. Stephen to S. James? Ep. ad Tral.
Ver. 5. By the names of these seven, it would appear, that they were all Greeks. The reason of this, most probably, is to silence more effectually all future murmurs, by giving to the aggrieved party protectors of their own nation. Tirinus.
--- The history of Stephen occurs hereafter. Philip, in the 8th chapter, is called an evangelist, that is, a preacher of the gospel. By Eusebius, Tertullian, and others, he is called an apostle, that is, an apostolic man. See Lives of the Saints, and Rom. Martyrology, June 6.
--- S. Jerom says, his tomb, and that of his four daughters, the prophetesses, were to be seen at Cæsarea, in Palestine. Ep. ad Eustoch.
--- Of the rest, except Nicolas, nothing certain is known: their acts have perished. Nicolas, as appears from the text, was a proselyte, first to Judaism, then to Christianity. S. Epiphanius, and many others, accuse him of being, by his incontinency, the author, or at least the occasion of the impure sects of Nicoalites and Gnostics. Clement of Alexandria, and S. Augustin, acquit him of this, and attribute the above heresies to an abuse of some expressions, which he uttered in his simplicity, and which were susceptible of a good and bad sense. See Baronius and Tillemont.
AntiochAntioch 1- Of Pisidia. 2- Of Syria.
Ver. 6. And they, that is, the apostles, laid, or imposed hands upon them. These deacons, therefore, were designed and ordained for a sacred ministry, and not only to manage the common stock, and temporals of the faithful. This is proved, 1. By the qualifications required in such men, who were to be full of the Holy Ghost. 2. This is evident from their ecclesiastical functions mentioned in this book of the Acts, and in the epistles of S. Paul, and by the ancient Fathers. S. Stephen and S. Philip immediately preached the gospel, as we find in this, and the 8th chapter; they baptized those that were converted. In the first ages they assisted the bishops and priests at their divine office, and distributed the sacred chalice, or cup of the holy Eucharist. They succeeded as it were, the Levites of the old law. And in the chief Churches, the deacons, or the archdeacons in the first ages, had the chief administration of the ecclesiastical revenues, as we read of S. Laurence, at Rome. Wi.
--- Imposed hands upon them. Notwithstanding the opinions of some, that these deacons were only the dispensers of corporal food, and therefore very different from the ministers of the altar, who now bear that name, it must nevertheless be observed, that the most ancient Fathers, SS. Justin, Irenæus, &c. have acknowledged in them the two-fold character, and always style them the ministers of the mysteries of God. At the commencement of Christianity, the faithful generally received the holy Eucharist after a repast, which they took together, in imitation of our Saviour, who instituted the Sacrament after supper. Now the deacons, who presided over the first tables, after having distributed the corporeal food to the assembly, ministered also the food of life, which they received from the hand of the bishop. Thus were they ministers of both the common and sacred tables. Afterwards, they had assistants called sub-deacons, and as among the Gentile converts, there did not exist that community of goods, as at Jerusalem, their chief employment became to serve the bishop in the oblation of the holy sacrifice. Calmet.
Ver. 9. Called of the Libertines.† That is, of the synagogue of those, whose fathers had been made slaves under Pompey, and the Romans, but who had again been restored to their liberty, and had been made free. There were other synagogues for the Jews of Cyrene, of Alexandria, &c. No doubt but S. Stephen had converted many of them; and the chiefs of the synagogues, not being able to dispute with him, or to answer the spirit of wisdom, which directed him, they suborned witnesses. Wi.
[†] V. 9. Libertinorum, Libertinwn, which Greek word is taken from the Latin. S. Chrys. hom. xv. says, apeleuqeroi outw kalountai, &c.
Ver. 11. Who should say, that they heard him speaking words of blasphemy against Moses, and against God, against the law and the temple: that Jesus would destroy the temple. These accusations were forged; for the apostles themselves still frequented the temple, and Jesus came to fulfil the law, as to its moral precepts. Wi.
Ver. 13. It was true that Jesus would destroy the place, and change their traditions, yet they were false witnesses, because they deposed, that Stephen had made these assertions, which he had not, purposely to excite the Jews to rise up against him, and put him to death. Besides, had Stephen spoken what was advanced against him, they still would have been false witnesses, for the words were in fact words of truth, which these suborned men called, words of blasphemy. See v. 11.
Ver. 15. Saw his face, as it were the face of an angel. All in the council, or sanhedrim, saw an extraordinary and charming brightness in the countenance of Stephen, which struck them with admiration and fear. Wi.
--- Angel. His face shone with a wonderful brightness, an emblem of his interior perfection. In this he was like Moses, whose countenance was so bright, that the Jews could not steadfastly behold it. By this the beholders had an opportunity of being converted, had they so wished, or were rendered inexcusable for their neglect. It is also a testimony of the great sanctity of the deacon. This same miracle is not recorded to have happened to any other but Moses, and our Lord at his transfiguration. D. Dion. Carthus.
--- Although this appearance, in an inferior degree, has been not unfrequently observed in the constant and cheerful countenance of the martyrs before their persecutors, and of privileged saints, whilst they were happily employed in their intimate communications with heaven.