Monday, 25 July 2016

Hebrews 11:13-19 - The heavenly country

Hebrews 13-19 provides a summation of the lessons to be learnt from the exemplars of the faith considered so far.

Hebrews 11:13 -
All these died according to faith, not having received the promises, but beholding them afar off, and saluting them, and confessing that they are pilgrims and strangers on the earth.
Juxta fidem defuncti sunt omnes isti, non acceptis repromissionibus, sed a longe eas aspicientes, et salutantes, et confitentes quia peregrini et hospites sunt super terram. 
Aquinas:

All these died in faith: He commends the faith of Abraham and of his children on its perseverance, because they preserved in the faith until death: ‘He that shall persevere until the end, he shall be saved’. Therefore, he says, These all died in faith, except Enoch. Or, these all, namely, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And this is better, because the promise was made only to them. Furthermore, he commends them on the long delay of the promise; hence, he says, not having received what was promised.

The promise: As if to say: Looking on with the vision of faith. Perhaps the response in the first Sunday of Advent is taken from this passage: ‘Behold from afar off, behold I see the power of God coming, and a cloud covering the whole earth;’ ‘Behold the name of the Lord comes from afar’.

Saluting means venerating: He speaks, according to Chrysostom, in the manner of sailors, who when they first see the port, break out in praise and salute the city they have reached. So the holy fathers, seeing by faith the Christ to come and the glory they were to obtain through Him, saluted, i.e., venerated Him: ‘Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord. He is God and has shone upon us’; ‘Abraham, your father, rejoiced that he might see my day: he saw it and was glad’.

The confession of faith leads to salvation:  He also commends their faith for its sincere confession, because, as it says in Romans: ‘With the heart we believe until justice; but with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation.’

Strangers, exiles and pilgrims: Hence, he says, having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth: for those three called themselves strangers and pilgrims, for in Genesis Abraham says: ‘I am a stranger and a sojourner among you.’ Furthermore, the Lord says to Isaac: ‘Stay in the land that I shall tell you, and sojourn in it’, and Jacob himself says: ‘The days of my pilgrimage’. Now a pilgrim is one who is en route to some place. But a sojourner is one who lives in a foreign land with no intention of going anywhere else. But they not only confessed themselves sojourners, but pilgrims as well. So, too, a holy person does not make his home in the world, but is always busy and tending toward heaven: ‘I am a stranger with you, and a sojourner as all my fathers were’.

Hebrews 11:14 -16
For they that say these things, do signify that they seek a country. And truly if they had been mindful of that from whence they came out, they had doubtless time to return.  But now they desire a better, that is to say, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city. 
Qui enim hæc dicunt, significant se patriam inquirere. Et si quidem ipsius meminissent de qua exierunt, habebant utique tempus revertendi: nunc autem meliorem appetunt, id est, cælestem. Ideo non confunditur Deus vocari Deus eorum: paravit enim illis civitatem.

We seek our native land, the heavenly Jerusalem: Then  he shows that this confession pertains to hope. For one is a guest and a stranger, unless he is outside his country and going to it. Therefore, since they confess themselves guests and strangers, they signify that they are heading toward their native land, i.e., the heavenly Jerusalem: ‘But that Jerusalem which is above is free’. And this is what he says, for people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.

No looking back: But because someone might say that it is true that they were pilgrims in the land of the Philistines and Canaanites, among whom they dwelt, but they intended to return to the land they had left; he rejected this when he says, If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had time to return, because it was nearby. But as it is, they desire a better country, i.e., heavenly; hence in Genesis ‘Abraham said to his servant: Beware you never bring back my sons again thither;’... In this is signified that those who go out from the world’s vanity, should not return to it mentally: ‘Forget your people and your father’s house’; ‘No man putting his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God’; ‘forgetting the things that are behind, and stretching forth myself to those that are before’..

‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob;...the highest honor, [is] when someone gets a name derived from a solemn office or from the service of a great and excellent lord or prince, as the Pope’s notary, or the king’s chancellor. But it is a greater honor, when that great lord wishes to be named after those who serve him. So it is with these three, namely, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whose Lord, the great King over all other gods, specifically calls Himself their God; hence...he says, ‘God is not ashamed to be called their God’.

First in faith: ...God is known by faith...they are recorded to have first separated themselves for unbelievers by a special cult; hence, too, Abraham was the first to receive the seal of faith to become the father of many nations . Therefore, they are proposed to us as an example, as the ones by whom God was first known, and by them God was named as an object of faith. Therefore, He willed to be named by them.

A mystery lies hidden in them: For in them we find a likeness to the generation by which god regenerated spiritual sons. But we observe in them a fourfold way of generating. The first way is of free children by free women, as Abraham by Sarah begot Isaac, who begot Jacob by Rebecca, and Jacob the eight patriarchs by Leah and Rachel. The second way was of free children through bondwomen, as Jacob begot Dan and Naphtali by Bilhah and Zilpah. The third way was to servants by free women, as Isaac begot Esau by Rebecca; of him it was said, ‘The elder shall serve the younger’. The fourth was of servants by bondwomen, as Abraham begot Ishmael by Hagar. In this the diverse ways in which the Lord begets spiritual children is designated, because sometimes the good by the good, as Timothy by Paul; sometimes the good by the wicked, and this is the generation of free men by bondwomen; sometimes the wicked by the good, as Simon Magus by Philip, and this is the generation of servants by free women. But the generation of the wicked by the wicked is accounted in the seed; hence ‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son’.

The King of...: ...it is customary for a king to be called by the chief city, or from the entire country, as King of Jerusalem, King of the Romans, King of France. Therefore, the Lord is properly called the King and God of those who specifically look at that city, the heavenly Jerusalem, whose architect and founder is God. And because they showed by word and deed that they belong to that city, He is called their God; hence he says, for he, the founder of that city, has prepared for them a city.

Hebrews 11:17
By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered Isaac: and he that had received the promises, offered up his only begotten son; To whom it was said: In Isaac shall thy seed be called. Accounting that God is able to raise up even from the dead. Whereupon also he received him for a parable.
 Fide obtulit Abraham Isaac, cum tentaretur, et unigenitum offerebat, qui susceperat repromissiones: ad quem dictum est: Quia in Isaac vocabitur tibi semen: arbitrans quia et a mortuis suscitare potens est Deus: unde eum et in parabolam accepit.

The testing of Abraham: ...to kill the innocent is against the law of nature and is, consequently, a sin, Therefore, in willing to offer him he sinned. I answer that a person who kills at the command of a superior lawfully commanding, lawfully obeys and can lawfully carry out his duty. But God has power over life and death: ‘The Lord kills and makes alive’. But God does no injury, when He takes the life even of the innocent. Hence, by God’s decree many wicked and many innocent people die every day. Therefore, it is lawful to carry out God’s commands.

God's testing vs man's: God tests no one, since to test implies ignorance...the devil tests in order to deceive: ‘Lest perhaps he that tempts should have tempted you’. This is clear in the temptation of Christ. But a man tests in order to learn. Thus, in 1 Kg.  it is recorded that the queen of Sheba went to Solomon to try him with questions. But God does not test in that way, for He knows all things; but He tests in order that the man himself learn how strong or how weak he is: ‘To afflict you and prove you, and that the things that were in your heart might be made known’; and tells of Hezekiah being tested that all things might be made known that were in his heart. Furthermore, in order that others know the one tested and take him as an example, as Abraham and Job.

Obedience pertains to faith: For, as has been stated above, Abraham in his old age believed God promising that in Isaac he would be blessed in his seed. He also believed that God could raise the dead. Therefore, when he was commanded to kill him...[he] considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead. This, therefore, was the greatest proof of his faith, because the article of the resurrection is one of the most important.

The ram as a figure of Christ to come: ...in place of his son, he immolated a ram sticking fast by the horns. But this was a parable, i.e., a figure of Christ to come. For the ram sticking fast by the horns among the briars is the humanity which suffered, fixed to the cross. And so it is clear that the figure was not at all equal to the one prefigured. Therefore, he received him back, i.e., Isaac, for a parable, i.e., for a figure of Christ to be crucified and immolated.

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