EPISTLE OF S. PAUL, THE APOSTLE,
TO THE HEBREWS.
The Catholic Church hath received and declared this Epistle to be part of the Canonical Scriptures of the New Testament, though some doubted of it in the first ages, especially in the Latin Church, witness S. Jerom on the 8th chap. of Isaias; Luther and most of his followers reject it, but the Calvinists and the Church of England have received it. Others, who received this Epistle in the first ages, doubted whether it was written by S. Paul, but thought it was written by S. Barnaby, or by S. Clement, or S. Luke, or at least that S. Paul only furnished the matter and the order of it, and that S. Luke wrote it, and S. Paul afterwards read it and approved it. It was doubted again, whether this Epistle was first written in Hebrew (that is, in Syro-Chaldaic, then spoken by the Jews) or in Greek, as Estius pretends. The ancient writers say it was written in Hebrew, but that it was very soon after translated into Greek either by S. Luke or S. Clement, pope and martyr. Cornelius a Lapide thinks the Syriac which we have in the Polyglot to have been the original; but this is commonly rejected. See Tillemont on S. Paul, Art. 46, and note 72; P. Alleman on the first to the Hebrews, &c. S. Paul wrote this letter about the year 63, and either at Rome or in Italy. See C. xii. 24. He wrote it to the Christians in Palestine, who had most of them been Jews before. This seems the reason why he puts not his name to it, nor calls himself their apostle, his name being rather odious to the Jews, and because he was chosen to be the apostle of the Gentiles. The main design is to shew that every one's justification and salvation is to be hoped for by the grace and merits of Christ, and not from the law of Moses, as he had shewn in his Epistles to the Galatians and the Romans, where we many observe this kind of difference: To the Galatians he shews, that true justice cannot be had from circumcision and the ceremonies of the law: to the Romans, that even the moral precepts and works of the law were insufficient without the grace of Christ: and in this to the Hebrews, he shews that our justice could not be had from the sacrifices of the old law. As to the chief contents: He exhorts them to the faith of Christ, by shewing his dignity and pre-eminence above the Angels, and above Moses, C. i, ii, iii.; that Christ's priesthood was above that of Aaron, from the 4th to the 8th chap. v. 6; that the new law and testament is preferable to the old, from thence to the middle of chap. x.; he commends faith by the example of the ancient Fathers, C. xi. and in the beginning of the twelfth; then he exhorts them to patience, constancy, brotherly love, &c. The like exhortations are mixed in other parts of this Epistle. Wi.
--- We must here remark, that our separated brethren, relying solely upon tradition, admit in general this Epistle into their canon of Scriptures, though they are necessitated to allow that for some centuries great doubts were entertained on the subject. According to Mr. Rogers, in his Defence of the Thirty-nine Articles, whilst several among the Protestants have rejected as apocryphal the Epistle to the Hebrews, that of James, the 2d and 3d of John, and Jude, others have as strenuously maintained that they ought to be admitted into the sacred canon. The Catholic Church admits them as deutero-canonical books, and of equal authority with the proto-canonical books. . . . After the arguments had been justly weighed on both sides, they seem to have been admitted by the general consent of the Latin Church, as they had all along been admitted by the Greek Church. The canon, as it now stands, both of the Old and New Testament, we find enumerated in Pope Innocent's letter to Exuperius, bishop of Toulouse, an. 405, in S. Austin, (l. ii. de doct. christ. c. viii.) and in the decrees of an African Council, an. 419, consisting of 217 bishops, who declare that in giving a catalogue of the Holy Scriptures, they only confirm and ratify what they have received from their Fathers. This canon is attributed to the third Council of Carthage, an. 397. Dr. Cosin, an eminent Protestant divine, tells us in his canon of Scripture, p. 4, "that to know the books of Scripture, there is no safer course to be taken than to follow the public voice and the universal testimony of the Church." The sixth of the thirty-nine articles gives a similar rule, which excludes private judgment. And "what is this," asks Hooker, "but to acknowledge ecclesiastical tradition?" The mind of man, naturally fickle and unsettled, stands in need of a guide in the road to eternal life. I shall never hesitate, says a spirited author, to take for my guide the Catholic Church, which contains in herself the authority of past and future ages. The Syriac version of the Old and New Testament, which is deservedly allowed to be of greatest antiquity and authority, comprises the same deutero-canonical books as the canon of the Council of Trent; a convincing proof that the Church of Syria, immediately after the times of the apostles, considered them as part of the sacred canon, no less than the Catholics of the present day. For a very satisfactory account respecting the authenticity and inspiration of this Epistle, as also for an excellent commentary with notes moral, doctrinal, and critical, see a late work entitled, An Explanation of S. Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews, by the Rev. Henry Rutter.
--- What can be the reason why Protestants admit the deutero-canonical books of the New and reject those of the Old Testament?
--- This Epistle merits the particular attention of Christians of every denomination, since it points out to them their various duties in respect to the necessity of faith and the practice of a holy life. In opposition to the Socinians, it tends to shew not only the divinity of Jesus Christ, but also that his death was a true and real sacrifice of atonement for the sins of mankind. See C. i, v. 5, &c. In opposition to other sectarists, it proves that the bloody sacrifice of Christ, once offered on the cross, though a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice of redemption, does not exclude the unbloody sacrifice of the Mass, by which he is a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech. See C. v, &c. It is no less applicable to Catholics, in order to confirm them in the faith once delivered to the saints, and to point out the dreadful consequences of abandoning that religion which Jesus Christ came to establish in the world. The just man lives by faith; but if he draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. Let us, therefore, hold fast the confession of our hope, without wavering, or forsaking our assembly, the Catholic Church, as many have done to follow Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and other separatists. But we, says the apostle, are not of them who draw back unto perdition, but of them who have faith unto the saving of the soul. Heb. x. 39.
Ver. 1. At different times,† and in many ways. The first word signifies that God revealed the incarnation of his Son, as it were, by parcels, and by degrees, at different times, and to different persons, to Adam, to Abraham, to Moses, to David, &c. The latter word expresseth the different ways and manners, as by angels, by immediate inspirations, and revelations, by types, figures, and ceremonies.††
--- Last of all, by his Son, this true, natural, eternal Son, of whom we must always take notice, that being both true God, and true man, by the union of the divine and human nature to one and the same divine person, S. Paul speaks of him sometimes as God, sometimes mentions what applies to him as man, sometimes as our Redeemer, both God and man. This must necessarily happen in speaking of Christ; but when we find things that cannot be understood of one that is a pure or mere man only, or that cannot be true but of him, who is truly God, these are undeniable proofs against the errors of the Arians and Socinians. Wi.
[†] V. 1. Multifariam, polumerwV; which signifies, that God revealed the coming of his Son as it were by parts and parcels, or by degrees, first revealing some things and then others.
[††] Ibid. Novissimè, ep ecatou, which reading Dr. Wells prefers before that in the ordinary Greek copies, which have ep ecatwn twn hmerwn, followed by the Prot. translation and Mr. N.
Ver. 2. Whom he hath appointed heir of all things. Heir is here not taken for one that succeeds another at his death, but for the same as Master or Lord. And though Christ be inseparably God and man, yet this applies to him, as man, because, as God, he was not constituted in time, but was always from eternity, Lord of all things, with the Father and the Holy Ghost: by whom also he made the world. That is, all created beings, and in such a manner, that all creatures were equally produced by the three divine persons. See Jo. i. 3. and the annotations on that place. Wi.
Ver. 3. Who being the spendour,† or brightness of his glory, not as beams or rays are derived from a lightsome body, but by a necessary and eternal communication of the same substance, and of the whole light; in which sense the council of Nice understood the eternal Son of God to be light of light. This partly helps us to conceive the eternal generation of the Son from the Father, because the brightness is at the same time with the sun, though all comparisons fall short of this mystery. Wi.
--- We may here observe the two natures of Christ. As God, he is the Creator of all things; as man, he is constituted heir of the goods of God. Not content to possess the inheritance of his Father in his own person, he will have us as coheirs to share it also with him. May we so live as to hear one day that happy sentence: Come, ye blessed of my Father, &c.
--- And the figure of his substance.†† In the Greek is the character of his substance; which might be translated, the express image. There are different ways by which a thing may be said to be a figure or image of another: here it is taken for such a representation of the substance of the Father, that though the Father and the Son be distinct persons, and the Son proceed from the Father, yet he is such a figure and image, as to have the same nature and substance with the Father, as the Catholic Church always believed and declared against the ancient heretics, and particularly against the Arians. Their words may be partly seen in Petavius, l. ii. de Trin. c. 11. l. iv. c. 6. l. vi. c. 6. being too prolix for these short notes. And this may be understood by the following words concerning the Son: and upholding or preserving all things by the word of his power. As he had said before, that all things were made by him, so all things are preserved by him, equally with the Father. See Col. i. 16, 17. See also v. 10. of this chapter, and the annot. Jo. i. 3. Wi.
--- Figure. This does not exclude the reality. So Christ's body in the eucharist, and his mystical death in the mass, though called a figure, image, or representation of Christ's visible body and sacrifice upon the cross, yet may be and is the self-same substance. B.
--- Sitteth on the right hand of the majesty on high. This also may be taken to express the equality of the Son with the Father, if considered as God; but this sitting on the right hand of God, both here, in S. Mark, c. xvi. and in the apostles' creed, express what agrees with Christ, as our Redeemer, God made man by his incarnation, and who as man is made the head of his Church, the judge of the living and of the dead; and so S. Stephen said, (Acts vii.) I see the heavens open, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God. Wi.
[†] V. 3. Splendor gloriæ, apaugasma, refulgentia, effulgentia, &c.
[††] Ibid. Figura substantiæ, carakthr thV upostasewV. Hypostasis signifies persona, subsistentia, and also substantia.
Ver. 4. Being made so much better, &c. The Arians pretended from hence that Christ was made, or created. But the apostle speaks of Christ as man, and tells us that Christ, even as man, by his ascension was exalted above the Angels.
--- As he hath inherited a more excellent name. That is, both the dignity and name of the Son of God, of his only Son, and of his true Son. See 1 Jo. v. 20. Wi.
Ver. 5. Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. These words, though commonly expounded of the eternal generation of the Son of God in the day or moment of eternity, yet may be truly applied either to Christ made man by his incarnation, or to Christ risen from the dead, as they are used by S. Paul, (Acts xiii. 33.) because the same Christ both these ways is the Son of God. It was the only true and natural Son of God, who was made flesh, who was made man, who rose from the dead; and the eternal Father manifested his eternal Son by his incarnation, and shewed him triumphing over death by his resurrection.
--- I will be to him a father, &c. Although these words might be literally spoken of Solomon, yet in the mystical sense (chiefly intended by the Holy Ghost) they are to be understood of Christ, who in a much more proper sense is the Son of God. Wi.
Ver. 6. Let all the Angels of God adore him. These words seem to be cited out of Ps. xcvi. 7. according to the Sept. And they seem to be an invitation, and a command to the Angels to adore Jesus Christ, when at the end of the world he shall come to judgment. This is one of the proofs which S. Paul here brings, to shew that the Angels are inferior to Christ, because they are commanded to adore him. Wi.
--- God shews the superiority of his divine Son over the Angels, in ordering the latter to adore him. Wherever the person of Christ is, there it ought to be adored by both men and Angels, therefore in the blessed sacrament.
Ver. 7. Maketh his Angels,† spirits: and his ministers, a flame of fire. S. Aug. on Ps. ciii., and S. Greg. hom. xxxiv. in Evang. would have the sense and construction of the words to be, who maketh the blessed spirits to be also his Angels, or messengers to announce and execute his will: (messengers and Angels signify the same in the Greek) Calvin and Beza by spirits, here understand the winds, as if the sense was only, who maketh the winds and flames of fire, that is, thunder and lightning, the messengers and instruments of his divine will, in regard of men, whom he punisheth. But this exposition agrees not with the rest of the text, nor with the design of S. Paul, which is to shew Christ above all the Angels, and above all creatures. S. Paul therefore is to be understood of Angels or angelic spirits: but then the sense may be, who maketh his Angels like the winds, or like a flame of fire, inasmuch as they execute his divine will with incredible swiftness, like the winds, and with a force and activity not unlike that of fire. Wi.
[†] V. 7. O poiwn touV AggelouV autou pneumata, not ta pneumata, the Greek article being put before Angels, and not before spirits, may seem to favour that exposition, which compares Angels to the winds and to a flame of fire.
Ver. 8-9. But to the Son. That is, to his Son Jesus Christ, he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever, and lasts for eternity.
--- A sceptre, or rod of equity, is the sceptre of thy kingdom. That is, O Christ, God and man, head of thy Church, judge of all mankind, thou shalt reward and punish all under thee with justice and equity, as thou hast loved justice, and hated iniquity: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee. Many here understand God first named, to be in the vocative case, and that the sense is: therefore thee, O God, thy God, hath anointed: thus Christ is called God. Others take God in both places to be in the nominative case, and to be only a repetition of God the Father; and the sense to be, thee Christ, God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above them that are partakers with thee: by which spiritual unction, some understand graces infused into Christ's soul at his incarnation, by a greater plenitude of graces than was ever given to any saints whom he made partakers of his glory in heaven; others expound it of an unction of greater glory given to Christ in heaven as man, because by his sufferings and merits he had destroyed and triumphed over sin. See Estius, A. Lapide, &c. Wi.
Ver. 10, &c. And again: thou in the beginning, O Lord, hast founded the earth, &c. The text, as well as the authority of interpreters, shew these words to be still spoken of the Son of God, of Christ, who was both true God and man. And though part of Ps. ci. from which these words are taken, contain a prayer to God for the restoring of the city of Jerusalem, yet in this psalm is chiefly signified the glory of Christ, and of his Church, which will be spread over all nations. See S. Chrys. Estius, A. Lapide, &c.
--- As a vesture shalt thou change them, &c. The apostle, in the second verse of this chapter, had said that the world was made by the Son of God: now he tells us that all created things shall wax old like a garment, shall decay and perish, (at least from their present state and condition) shall be changed; but thou, who art both God and man, art always the same, without decay or change. Wi.
--- The apostle here applies the work of the creation to the Son of God, and thus furnishes a clear and striking proof of his divinity, against the Unitarians. To elude this proof, some of them pretend that these verses have been fraudulently added; but they are found in all the Greek copies, and in all ancient versions of this epistle. Others try to give forced interpretations to these verses, but the words are convincingly clear to all who do not purposely shut their eyes.
Ver. 13-14. Sit on my right hand, &c. The ancient Jews themselves understood this 109th psalm of their Messias, nor could they answer Christ's words, (Matt. xxii. 45.) when he shewed them by these same words, that their Messias was not only the Son of David, but also the Lord of David, of whom it was said: the Lord said to my Lord, sit thou on my right hand, until I make thy enemies thy footstool. See also 1 Cor. xv. 25. and in this epistle, C. x. 13.
--- Are they not all ministering spirits? &c. The apostle, in this chapter, not only shews how much the dignity of Christ is superior to that of the highest Angels, but also his divinity; and that he is both true God and true man, as the ancient Fathers took notice against the Arians. Wi.
--- The holy Angels, says S. Austin, to whose society we aspire, help us without difficulty, because their notion is pure and free. De Civit. l. 11. c. xxxi. Having then Jesus Christ for our advocate and mediator at the right hand of God, and his Angels for our guardians, ministering spirits, what can we wish for more?