Friday, 10 June 2016

Hebrews 3: 7-11 - Harden not your hearts

Today the first half of St Thomas' exposition of Psalm 94 in Hebrews 3:
7 Come, then, the Holy Spirit says, If you hear his voice speaking to you this day, do not harden your hearts, 
Quapropter sicut dicit Spiritus Sanctus: Hodie si vocem ejus audieritis, nolite obdurare corda vestra, 
Aquinas: The authority of the words consists in the fact that they were not uttered by human lips, but by the Holy Spirit; hence, he says, Wherefore, as the Holy Spirit says.

The time is today, i.e., day time. For the time of the Old Law was called night, because it was a time of shadows: ‘For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come’ (below 10:1). But the time of the New Testament, because it repels the shadow of the night of the Law, is called day: ‘The night is passed, the day is at hand’ (Rom. 13:12). That time is called day, because it witnessed the rising of the sun of justice: ‘But unto you that fear my name, the Sun of justice shall arise’ (Mal 4:2). This day is not succeeded by night, but by a clearer day, namely, when we shall see the Sun of justice with His face revealed, when we shall see Him by His essence.

And in this day a benefit will be given to us. For he continues, when you hear his voice, because we hear His voice, which was not true of the Old Testament, in which the words of the prophets were heard: ‘In times past God spoke to the Son’ (Heb. 1:1); ‘Therefore, my people shall know my name in that day, because it was I myself that spoke, behold, I am here’; ‘Let your voice sound on my ears’. For in this the benefit so long desired is shown to us: ‘If you had known and in this your day, the things that are to your peace’. is the admonition, harden not your hearts. For a hard heart smacks of evil. That is hard which does not yield, but resists and does not receive an impression. Therefore, man’s heart is hard, when it does not yield to God’s command nor easily receive divine impressions: ‘A hard heart shall fear evil at the last’ (Sir. 3:27); But according to your hardness and impenitent heart, you treasure up to yourself wrath against the day of wrath’ (Rom. 2:5). But this hardening is caused by two things: first, by God not offering grace: ‘He has mercy on whom he will, and whom he wills, he hardens’ (Rom. 9:18); secondly, by the sinner hardening himself by not obeying God and by not opening his heart to grace: ‘And they made their heart as the adamant stone, lest they should hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts sent in his spirit by the hand of the former prophets’ (Zech 7:12). Therefore, harden not your hearts i.e., do not close your hearts to the Holy Spirit: ‘You always resist the Holy Spirit’ (Ac. 7:51).
8 [do not harden your hearts], as they were hardened once when you provoked me, and put me to the test in the wilderness. Your fathers put me to the test, made trial of me, and saw what I could do, all those forty years. So I became the enemy of that generation; These, I said, are ever wayward hearts, these have never learned my lessons. And I took an oath in my anger, They shall never attain my rest.
8 [nolite obdurare corda vestra], sicut in exacerbatione secundum diem tentationis in deserto, ubi tentaverunt me patres vestri: probaverunt, et viderunt opera mea quadraginta annis: propter quod infensus fui generationi huic, et dixi: Semper errant corde. Ipsi autem non cognoverunt vias meas, sicut juravi in ira mea: Si introibunt in requiem meam.

Then he presents the resemblance when he says, as in the rebellion. This is a resemblance based on a past event: for the faithful are instructed about the things to be done in the New Testament from the things that occurred in the past, as Rom. (15:4) testifies: ‘What things soever were written, were written for our learning.’ In regard to this he does two things: first, he gives an example in general by citing their guilt; secondly, he gives specific examples (v. 9).

Thus we read that among others there were two sins committed by the Jews which were severely punished: one was the disobedience of the spies mentioned in Numbers (13&14), for which the Lord wished to wipe out the people. Hence, He swore that no one but Caleb and Joshua would enter the promised land. He calls this a rebellion, because, although they had offended God in other ways, this sin was particularly bitter; for just as bitter fruit, not being ripe, is not suitable for eating, so then God’s anger was inflexible: ‘How often did they provoke him in the desert, and move him to wrath in the place without water’ (Ps. 77:40)? ‘You have provoked him who made you’ (Bar. 4:7).

The other sin was that of tempting God. For they frequently tempted Him, sometimes for water, sometimes for meat, and sometimes for bread, so that they tempted Him ten times: ‘They have tempted me now ten times’ (Num. 14:22); ‘Behold, these ten times you confound me’ (Jb. 19:2). Hence he says, in the day of testing. But someone might suppose the signs of rebellion and testing are the same, and that the Apostle should say: ‘Harden not your hearts as in the rebellion, which occurred in the day of testing.’ But this does not agree with the Apostle’s explanation. Therefore, we should say, Harden not your hearts as in the rebellion, and again, as in the day of testing, so that there are two sins; hence, Ps. 77 (v. 41) says: ‘And they turned back and tempted God; and grieved the Holy One of Israel.’

Then he considers their specific sins. In regard to this he does two things: first, he mentions the sin of testing; secondly, the sin of rebellion...

The sin of testing: Here it should be noted that temptation is an act of testing about something one does not know. Hence, it is from unbelief that a person tempts God, yet it should be noted that sometimes one tempts God, not with the intention of trying and testing, although it is done after the manner of testing...if someone were to expose himself to danger, compelled by necessity in the hope of divine help, he would not be tempting God; but if without necessity, he would be tempting God; hence the Lord says in Mt. (4:7): ‘You shall not tempt the Lord, your God’, because there was not need to cast Himself down...

He says, therefore, ...They always go astray in heart: ‘You have always been rebellious against the Lord’ (Dt. 31:27); ‘If the Ethiopian can change his skin, or the leopard his spots: you also may do well, when you have learned evil’ (Jer. 13:23). Thus, therefore, a person provokes God in one way, when he obstinately clings to evil; in another way when he scorns the good. Hence, he says, They have not known my ways, i.e. not with simple ignorance, but affected. The sin, therefore, is this: they have not known, i.e., they refused to know: ‘We desire not the knowledge of your ways’ (Jb. 21:14); ‘He would not understand that he might do well’ (Ps. 34:4). Or, they have not known, i.e., they have not approved, as the Apostle says: ‘The Lord knows who are his’ (2 Tim. 2:19).

The gravity of the sin: ...For the greater the benefits one receives from God and the greater the certitude he has of God’s power, if he later doubts, he sins more gravely. But they had seen signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, the dividing of the sea, and other miracles, and yet they did not believe..

The punishment: ..For which cause, i.e., for which sin, I was provoked, i.e., outraged: not that there is anger in God except metaphorically, because He punishes as one in anger does. This punishment is frequently mentioned in Exodus and Numbers, for they were often prostrated. Hence in 1 Cor. (10:5) he speaks of the punishment of that sin. Or I was near, namely, by punishing them. For when the Lord helps the good and punishes the wicked, He is near them; but when He conceals men’s sins because they repent, and dissembles the affliction of the just in order that their merit may increase, then He seems to be far away: ‘The clouds are his covert, and he does not consider our things, and he walks about the poles of heaven’ (Jb. 22:14). Or, near, in regard to divine mercy, because the fact that he punishes them in this life is a sign of great mercy: ‘Here burn, here cut, but spare me in eternity’ (Augustine).

They shall never enter my rest: In these words he suggests immutability; for when God or an angel swears, it is a sign of the unchangeableness of that concerning which He swears: ‘The Lord has sworn and he will not repent’ (Ps. 110:4). Yet at times He swears only conditionally, because if He did not repent, these evils would come upon them. Then he suggests that that punishment is not given as a threat but is aimed at their destruction, because he says, in his wrath: ‘Lord, chastise me not in your wrath’ (Ps. 6:2). Therefore, He swore in His wrath, they shall never enter my rest. Now there is threefold rest: one is temporal: ‘You have much goods laid up for many years: take your rest; eat, drink, make good cheer’ (Lk. 12:19). The second is the rest of conscience: ‘I have labored a little and have found much rest to myself’ (Sir. 51:35). The third is the rest of eternal glory: ‘In peace in the self-same. I will sleep and I will rest’ (Ps. 4:9). Therefore, what is stated here can be explained in each of these ways, namely, they have not entered the rest of the promised land or the rest of conscience or the rest of eternal happiness.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Hebrews in its context/1: Forty years of penance in the wilderness

The next section of Hebrews (Hebrews 3:7-4:16) is essentially an exposition of Psalm 94.

This psalm is quoted in the Benedictine Rule, said each day in both the traditional forms of the Roman and Benedictine Offices at Matins, perhaps specifically because of its use here.  And St Thomas provides an extended commentary on it.  Accordingly, I want to linger over it a bit.

But this is one of those sections of Hebrews that really requires a quick refresher on the Old Testament context, so before we go on, a little interlude to allow you to read through Numbers 13&14, and then the full text of Psalm 94 which is a poetic version of the key points (and moral) of the story.

Numbers 13&14:

13:1 - It was after leaving Haseroth that the people encamped in the desert of Pharan; and here the Lord spoke to Moses,  bidding him send out men of mark, one from each tribe, to survey Israel’s promised inheritance, the land of Chanaan...18 And these were the directions Moses gave them for their survey of Chanaan: Make your way in by the south, and when you reach the hill country look well at the land about you. Are its inhabitants strong or weak, many in number or few? Is the land itself prosperous or starved, has it walled cities or unwalled, fertile soil or barren, is it well wooded or bare? Take heart for your enterprise, and bring back with you some sample of what the land yields. (It was the season, then, at which early grapes are already fit to eat.) So they surveyed the land...

26 Forty days had passed before they returned from their survey, after traversing the whole country, to find Moses and Aaron and all the people of Israel still in the desert of Pharan, by Cades. To these and to the whole multitude they made their report, and shewed them what fruit the land yielded.

And this was the story they told: When we reached the land where our errand lay, we found it indeed a land all milk and honey, as this fruit will prove to you; but it is a powerful race that dwells in it, with strong walled cities; such were the sons of Enac, whom we saw there. The south is occupied by Amelec, the mountain parts by Hethites, Jebusites and Amorrhites; by the sea, and round the Jordan river, the Chanaanites are in possession. And now, to still the rising outcry against Moses, Caleb spurred the people on to invade the land and conquer it; It is ready to fall into your hands, he said. But his companions told them, We cannot attack such a people as this; they are too strong for us. And they gave the Israelites an ill account of what they had seen in Chanaan; This country we surveyed, they told them, has too many inhabitants already. Tall of frame are the men we viewed there; nay, some we saw, the race of Enac, of monstrous size as if they were sprung from giants; we looked no bigger than locusts beside them.

14:1 - So, that night, the whole multitude of the Israelites fell to weeping, and were loud in their complaints against Moses and Aaron:  Better that we had died in Egypt, better we should meet our end in this waste desert, than march at the Lord’s bidding into such a land as that, where we shall fall at the sword’s point, and our wives and children be led off as captives! Were it not better to go back to Egypt? A leader, they said to one another, let us set up a leader who will take us back to Egypt! Moses and Aaron, on hearing it, cast themselves down to earth before the whole assembly of Israel; meanwhile Josue the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephone, who had taken their part in surveying the country, tore their garments in dissent.  Nay, men of Israel, they cried, it was a land of great plenty we passed through. The Lord, of his mercy, will find a way in for us, and it will be ours, a land that is all milk and honey! Would you defy the Lord’s will, daunted by the Chanaanites? Why, they are bread for our eating; they may not hope to defend themselves. The Lord is on our side; never be afraid of them! At this, all the people cried out, and were for stoning them.

But suddenly, over the tabernacle, the glory of the Lord’s presence made itself known to the whole of Israel. And the Lord said to Moses, Am I to be always slighted by this people of mine? Will they never learn to trust in me, for all the marvellous deeds of mine they have witnessed?  Enough; I will smite them with pestilence, and make an end of them; I will find a people greater and sturdier than this to march under thy leadership.

Good news, Lord, said Moses, for the Egyptians, from whose power thou didst once rescue thy people; good news, too, for the inhabitants of this land. They know how thou dwellest among thy people, letting thyself be seen face to face, sheltering us with cloud, going before us in a pillar of cloud by day, of fire by night. Are they to be told that thou hast annihilated, at a blow, all this host of thine? Ah, they will say, he could find no means to grant his people their promised home, so he was fain to destroy them in the wilderness!  Nay, Lord, vindicate thy power; hast thou not said, The Lord is slow to take vengeance, rich in kindness, pardoning the guilt of the wrong-doer? Though indeed thou holdest no man innocent, and wilt have the son make amends for the father’s guilt, to the third and fourth generation. Forgive, I implore thee, this people of thine, as thou art ever abundantly merciful, as thou hast ever shewn favour to us while we made our way from Egypt to this spot.

Then the Lord said, At thy request, I forgive. But as I am the living Lord, whose glory must spread wide as earth,  these men who have been witnesses of my greatness, of all the marvellous deeds I did, in Egypt and in the desert, yet must needs challenge my power half a score of times, and disobey my will, these shall never see the land I promised to their fathers; it shall never be enjoyed by those who slighted me. My servant Caleb was of another mind; he took my part, and I will allow him to enter the land which he surveyed, and leave his race an inheritance there. The sons of Amalec and Chanaan may rest secure in their mountain glens; to-morrow you must move camp, and go back to the desert by the Red Sea.

Such was the Lord’s message to Moses and Aaron:  Will this thankless multitude never cease complaining; must I hear nothing but lament from the sons of Israel?  Tell them this, As I am living God, the Lord says, the very words you have used in my hearing shall come true; your bones shall be left to lie in this desert. Of all you that were registered above the age of twenty years, you that have made complaint against me,  not a man shall enter the land in which I swore to make a home for you, except Caleb the son of Jephone and Josue the son of Nun.  These shall make their way in instead, these children of yours that were to be a prey, you thought, to the enemy; they shall have sight, instead, of the land their fathers belittled.  In the desert your bones shall lie; and until the desert has swallowed them up, these sons of yours shall wander to and fro in it for forty years, doing penance for your unfaithfulness.  For forty days you surveyed the land, and for each day you shall have a year of penance for your sins, and feel my vengeance. See if I do not make good the threats I have uttered against a thankless and rebellious people, leaving them to faint and die in the desert.

As for the men Moses had sent to survey the country, who returned to embitter the multitude against him by the ill report they brought with them, they died of plague, there in the Lord’s presence; of all that went on that errand, only Josue the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephone were left alive.

Meanwhile the people of Israel, upon hearing all this from Moses, were full of remorse; and at dawn of day they were all up on the mountain heights, crying, We confess our fault; now we are ready to attack the land which the Lord has promised us.  What, said Moses, Would you go beyond the Lord’s word? You will gain nothing by it. The Lord is not on your side; do not march to the attack, or you will be overthrown by your enemies. The Lord will not take part with men who have refused him obedience; you will be met by Amalecite and Chanaanite, and their swords will lay you low. Yet, in their blind confidence, they marched on into the hill country, though the ark of God, and Moses with it, remained there in the camp.  And the men who dwelt in the hill country, Amalecites and Chanaanites, fell on them from above, setting upon them and cutting them down till they had pursued them all the way to Horma.

Psalm 94

Here is the full psalm by way of context (note that the vetus Latin version is used in the Office).

Psalter (Vetus latina)
Laus cantici ipsi David.

Praise of a canticle for David himself.
1 Venite, exsultemus Domino; jubilemus Deo salutari nostro;
1. Veníte, exsultémus Dómino, jubilémus Deo, salutári nostro:
Come let us praise the Lord with joy: let us joyfully sing to God our saviour.
2 præoccupemus faciem ejus in confessione, et in psalmis jubilemus ei
præoccupémus fáciem ejus in confessióne, et in psalmis jubilémus ei.
2 Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; and make a joyful noise to him with psalms.
3 quoniam Deus magnus Dominus, et rex magnus super omnes deos.
2. Quóniam Deus magnus Dóminus, et Rex magnus super omnes deos
3 For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
4 Quia in manu ejus sunt omnes fines terræ, et altitudines montium ipsius sunt;
: quóniam non repéllet Dóminus plebem suam : quia in manu ejus sunt omnes fines terræ, et altitúdines móntium ipse cónspicit.
4 For in his hand are all the ends of the earth: and the heights of the mountains are his.

5 quoniam ipsius est mare, et ipse fecit illud, et siccam manus ejus formaverunt
3. Quóniam ipsíus est mare, et ipse fecit illud, et áridam fundavérunt manus ejus
5 For the sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land.
6  Venite, adoremus, et procidamus, et ploremus ante Dominum qui fecit nos:
Veníte, adorémus, et procidámus ante Deum : plorémus coram Dómino, qui fecit nos,
6 Come let us adore and fall down: and weep before the Lord that made us.
7  quia ipse est Dominus Deus noster, et nos populus pascuæ ejus, et oves manus ejus.
quia ipse est Dóminus Deus noster ; nos autem pópulus ejus, et oves páscuæ ejus.
7 For he is the Lord our God: and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.
8 Hodie si vocem ejus audieritis, nolite obdurare corda vestra
4. Hódie, si vocem ejus audiéritis, nolíte obduráre corda vestra,
8 Today if you shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts:
9 sicut in irritatione, secundum diem tentationis in deserto, ubi tentaverunt me patres vestri : probaverunt me, et viderunt opera mea.
sicut in exacerbatióne, secúndum diem tentatiónis in desérto : ubi tentavérunt me patres vestri, probavérunt et vidérunt ópera mea.
9 As in the provocation, according to the day of temptation in the wilderness: where your fathers tempted me, they proved me, and saw my works.
10 Quadraginta annis offensus fui generationi illi, et dixi : Semper hi errant corde.
5. Quadragínta annis próximus fui generatióni huic, et dixi : Semper hi errant corde ;
10 Forty years long was I offended with that generation, and I said: These always err in heart.
11 Et isti non cognoverunt vias meas : ut juravi in ira mea : Si introibunt in requiem meam.

ipsi vero non cognovérunt vias meas : quibus jurávi in ira mea : Si introíbunt in réquiem meam.
11 And these men have not known my ways: so I swore in my wrath that they shall not enter into my rest.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Hebrews 3:1-6 Aquinas on the house of God

Today's section of Hebrews takes us to an important concept, the 'house of God', which the text presents as consisting firstly of all of creation, and then as the Church:
Brethren and saints, you share a heavenly calling. Think, now, of Jesus as the apostle and the high priest of the faith which we profess, and how loyal he was to the God who had so appointed him; just as Moses was loyal in all the management of God’s house. In any household, the first honours are reserved for him who founded it; and in that degree, Jesus has a prouder title than Moses.Every household has its founder, and this household of creation was founded by God.Thus the loyalty of Moses in the management of all God’s house was the loyalty of a servant; he only bore witness to what was to be revealed later on; whereas Christ’s was the loyalty of a Son in a household which is his own. What is that household? We are, if only we will keep unshaken to the end our confidence, and the hope which is our pride.
Unde, fratres sancti, vocationis cælestis participes, considerate Apostolum, et pontificem confessionis nostræ Jesum: qui fidelis est ei, qui fecit illum, sicut et Moyses in omni domo ejus.  Amplioris enim gloriæ iste præ Moyse dignus est habitus, quanto ampliorem honorem habet domus, qui fabricavit illam. Omnis namque domus fabricatur ab aliquo: qui autem omnia creavit, Deus est.  Et Moyses quidem fidelis erat in tota domo ejus tamquam famulus, in testimonium eorum, quæ dicenda erant:  Christus vero tamquam filius in domo sua: quæ domus sumus nos, si fiduciam, et gloriam spei usque ad finem, firmam retineamus.
St Thomas summarises these verses as follows:
 the Old Law derived its authority from three sources, namely, from angels, from Moses, and from Aaron, the high priest. But the Apostle preferred Christ, the Author of the New Testament, to the angels through whom the Law was given. Here he intends to prefer Him to Moses, who was the promulgator and, as it were, the lawgiver of the Old Testament... Even though Moses deserves mention, Christ is more honorable, because He is the builder of the house and the chief lawgiver: ‘Behold, God is high in his strength, and none is like him among the lawgivers’ (Jb. 36:22). Therefore, if Moses is deserving of glory, Christ is more deserving: ‘For is the ministration of condemnation be in glory, much more the ministration of justice abounds in glory’ (2 Cor. 3:9).
Some of the key ideas he explores in relation to the text include:

Jesus as apostle and high priest:  For the Apostle prefers Christ to Moses and Aaron and, therefore, ascribes to Him the dignity of both: of Moses, because He was sent by God: ‘He sent Moses, his servant’ (Ps. 104:26); of Aaron, because he was a high priest: ‘Take unto you also Aaron, your brother with his sons from among the children of Israel, that they may minister to me in the priest’s office’ (Ex. 28:1). But Christ was sent in a more excellent manner than Moses: ‘I beseech the Lord, send whom you will send’ (Ex. 4:13). As if to say: You will send one more worthy. He will be a high priest and a prophet: ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedech’ (Ps. 104:4)...

Profession of faith as a spiritual sacrifice: For it is necessary to salvation to confess Him: ‘With the heart we believe unto justice; but with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation’ (Rom. 10:10). Or of confession, i.e., of the spiritual sacrifice. For every priest is ordained to offer sacrifice. But there are two kinds of sacrifice, namely, the corporal or temporal, for which Aaron was appointed; the other is spiritual, which consists in the confession of faith: ‘A sacrifice of praise will honor me’ (Ps. 49:25). For this sacrifice Christ was appointed: ‘I desire not holocausts of rams and fat of fatlings and blood of calves and lambs and buck goats’ (Is. 1:11). Then he continues: ‘Offer sacrifice no more in vain.’...

The faithfulness of Moses: What is common to Christ and Moses is fidelity to God; hence he says, He was faithful to him who appointed him. Here it should be noted that everything said here of Moses is based on the statement found in Num. (12:7), where the Lord shows the excellence of Moses, after Aaron and Miriam spoke against him. We find these words, which the Apostle cites here: ‘If there be among you a prophet of the Lord, I will appear to him in a vision or I will speak to him in a dream. But it is not so with my servant Moses, who is most faithful in all my house’ (Num. 12:7). Here we find Moses commended more highly than in any other place in the Bible.

Christ's faithfulness: But this can apply to Christ and to Moses...because as man He is faithful to Him Who appointed Him, namely, to God the Father,.. Secondly, He sought the Father’s glory and not His own...Thirdly, because He obeyed the Father perfectly: ‘He was made obedient unto death’ (Phil. 2:8).

God's house

What is God's house? ...this house being the totality of the faithful: ‘Holiness becomes your house, O Lord, unto length of days’ (Ps. 93:5). Or, in all of God’s house, i.e., in the whole world and not only in Judea, as Moses: ‘I have given you to be the light of the Gentiles, that you may be my salvation even to the farthest part of the earth’ (Is. 49:6)...

...more glory is due Him Who built the house, than to him that dwells in it. But Christ built the house: ‘You have made the morning light and the sun’ (Ps. 73:16); ‘Wisdom has built herself a house’, i.e., the Church (Pr. 9:1). For Christ by Whom grace and truth came, built the Church, as legislator; but Moses, as promulgator of the Law: therefore, it is only as promulgator that glory is due Moses. Hence, his face became bright: ‘So that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance’ (2 Cor. 3:7)...

Every house needs a builder: First, therefore, he proves that this house, as any other, needs a builder, because its various parts are put together by someone. This is obvious in a structure in which the wood and stones, of which it is composed, are united by someone. But the assembly of the faithful, which is the Church and the house of God, is composed of various elements, namely, Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free. Therefore, the church, as any other house, is put together by someone. He gives only the conclusion of this syllogism, supposing the truth of the premises as evident: ‘Be you also as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood’ (1 Pt. 2:5); ‘Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone’ (Eph. 2:20).

Christ  is the builder of that house:  for He is God, the builder of all things. And if this is understood of the whole world, it is plain: ‘He spoke and they were made; he commanded and they were created’ (Ps. 32:9) But there is another spiritual creation, which is made by the Spirit: ‘Send forth your spirit, and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth’ (Ps. 104:30). This is brought about by God through Christ: ‘Of his own will has he begotten us by the word of truth, that we might be some beginning of his creature’ (Jas. 1:18); ‘We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus in good works’ (Eph. 2:10). Therefore, God created that house, namely, the Church, from nothing, namely, from the state of sin to the state of grace. Therefore, Christ, by Whom He made all things, ‘by whom also he made the world’ (Heb. 1:2), is more excellent (since He has the power to make) than Moses, who was only the announcer.

Moses as a servant in the house of God: ...Here it should be noted how carefully the Apostle notes the words written of Moses, in which things are said of him: for he is called a servant and he is called faithful, not in his own house, but in the house of our Lord...He says, therefore, that Moses was faithful as a servant, i.e., as a faithful dispenser: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant: because you have been faithful over a few things, I will place you over many things’ (Mt. 25:21).

But Christ is a servant in a sense, namely, according to the flesh: ‘Taking the form of a servant’ (Phil. 2:7). But Moses was God’s servant in proposing God’s words to the children of Israel. From this it is clear that because he was a faithful servant, the things he said were ordained to another, namely, to Christ: to testify to the things which were to be spoken later: ‘If you did believe Moses, you would perhaps believe me also; for he wrote of me’ (Jn. 5:46). Therefore, because he was a servant, he was not in his own house but in another’s house, and because of the things he said were a testimony of those thing which were to be said of Christ, Moses was in respects lower than Christ.

Christ as a son in the house of God: But Christ was faithful over God’s house as a son, he shows what belongs to Christ, namely, that Christ is not as a servant but as a Son in His Father’s house and, consequently, in His own, because He is the natural heir: ‘Whom he has appointed heir of all things, by Whom also he made the world’ (Heb. 1:2). For the Church is Christ’s house: ‘A wise woman builds her house’ (Pr. 14:1); ‘The Lord has said to me: You are my son, this day have I begotten you’ (Ps. 2:7); ‘My beloved son in whom I am well pleased’ (Mt. 3:17). Therefore, He is not a servant but a Son, and in His own house, whereas Moses is a servant in another’s house: ‘The son abides forever’ (Jn. 8:55).

The house is the faithful: Then when he says, We are his house, he shows what that house is; for that house is the faithful, who are the house of Christ, because they believe in Christ: ‘In the house of God which is the Church’ (1 Tim. 3:15) and also because Christ dwells in them: ‘That Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts’ (Eph. 3:17). Therefore, this house is we, the faithful.

The criteria for membership of the household:  But in order that we be the house of God four things are required, which are necessary in a house and are not in a tent: first, that our hope and faith be firm and permanent; but a tent, even though it be form, can be quickly moved and signifies those who believe for a while, but in time of temptation fall away. But they are the house who retain the word of God. Therefore, he says, if we hold fast our confidence. For it has been stated above that confidence is hope with firm expectation and without fear: ‘And such confidence we have thorough Christ towards God’ (2 Cor. 3:4). Secondly, that it be properly ordained; therefore, he says, and pride in our hope, i.e., ordained to the glory of God, so that scorning all else, we may take pride in the hope of glory: ‘Let him who glories, glory in knowing and having known me’ (Jer. 9:14). Thirdly, that it be preserving; hence, he says, unto the end: ‘He that perseveres to the end, he shall be saved’ (Mt. 10:22). Fourthly, that it be firm and not dislodged by any adversity; hence, he says, hold fast: ‘Who have fled for refuge to hold fast the hope set before us, which we have as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm’ (Heb. 6:18).

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Hebrews 2:11-18 - Our participation in the divine nature

 St Thomas' exposition of Hebrews 2:11-18 focuses on the importance of Christ's humanity in effecting our salvation.

11 The Son who sanctifies and the sons who are sanctified have a common origin, all of them; he is not ashamed, then, to own them as his brethren. 
Qui enim sanctificat, et qui sanctificantur, ex uno omnes. Propter quam causam non confunditur fratres eos vocare, 

Christ is the mediator and author of salvation: He that sanctifies: he shows that we depend on Christ, for the one sanctified depends on the sanctifier: ‘Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people by his own blood, suffered without the gate’ (Heb. 13:12). Therefore, it has been well said that because He is the author and sanctifier, we depend on him...

Christ depends on the Father: He depends on the Father, from Whom He has power to sanctify...he shows that the Father is the finisher of Christ by the merit of the Passion, so that in this, Christ depends on the Father...

The Father brings us into glory: Heirs of God; co-heirs with Christ’ (Rom. 8:17)....which also shows that we depend on God...because He and we depend on the Father, he is not ashamed to call them brethren, because all are of the same Father...
12 I will proclaim thy renown, he says, to my brethren; with the church around me I will praise thee; and elsewhere he says, I will put my trust in him, and then, Here stand I, and the children God has given me. 
dicens: Nuntiabo nomen tuum fratribus meis: in medio ecclesiæ laudabo te. Et iterum: Ego ero fidens in eum. Et iterum: Ecce ego, et pueri mei, quos dedit mihi Deus.

In the midst of the Church: Then he shows the fruit of this manifestation when he says, in the midst of the congregation will I praise you. As if to say: This forms a great Church in the midst of which I will praise you. He says, in the midst, because just as a pillar in the midst of a house supports it and a lamp in the midst of a house gives light and the heart in the midst of the body gives life, so Christ is in the midst of the Church...

The priesthood of Christ: On this point it should be noted that before the Law it was the custom that all the firstborn were priests...[Note: ie from Adam up until the time of the institution of the levitical priesthood under Moses]

Christ's trust in the Father: ...hope is one thing and trust another: for hope is the expectation of future happiness; and this was not in Christ, because He was happy from the instant of His conception. But trust is the expectation of help, and in regard to this there was hope in Christ, inasmuch as He awaited help from the Father during His Passion. Therefore, whenever we read that Christ had hope, this is not to be understood as referring to its principal, which is happiness, but as referring to the glory of the resurrection and of the glory conferred on His body...But sometimes hope is firm and without fear; then it is called trust. This is the hope Christ had.
14 And since these children have a common inheritance of flesh and blood, he too shared that inheritance with them. By his death he would depose the prince of death, that is, the devil; he would deliver those multitudes who lived all the while as slaves, made over to the fear of death. After all, he does not make himself the angels’ champion, no sign of that; it is the sons of Abraham that he champions. And so he must needs become altogether like his brethren; he would be a high priest who could feel for us and be our true representative before God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. It is because he himself has been tried by suffering, that he has power to help us in the trials we undergo.

Our participation in the divine nature: He says, therefore, I have said that He and the children have all one origin and that He called them brethren. Consequently, it was fitting that He be like them, not only because He confers on them a participation in the divine nature, which is from grace, but also because He assumed their nature...By flesh and blood can also be understood the flesh and blood of Christ according to the statement: ‘He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood’ (Jn. 6:55), of which the children, i.e., the apostles, partook at the last supper and of which Christ partook: ‘He drank His own blood’, as Chrysostom says.

The prince of death: But how does the devil have the power of death? For this is God’s prerogative: ‘The Lord kills and makes alive’ (1 Sam. 2:6); ‘I will kill and I will make to live’ (Dt. 32:39). I answer that a judge has the power of death in one way, because he inflicts death, when he punishes with death; but a thief has it another way in the sense of deserving death because of demerit. God has the power of death in the first way: For in what day you shall eat of it, you shall die the death’ (Gen. 2:17). But the devil in the second way, because by persuading men to sin, he yielded him over to death: ‘by the envy of the devil, death came into the world’ (Wis. 2:24).

Christ as our mediator: has two functions: one sets Him over the whole human race as judge: ‘He gave him power to do judgment, because He is the Son of man’ (Jn. 5:27); the other is in relation to God, before Whom He intercedes for us as our advocate. In a judge mercy is desired particularly by the guilty; but in an advocate fidelity. Now both of these qualities were exhibited by Christ during His Passion. Hence, in regard to the first, he says that by His Passion He was made like unto his brethren, that he might become merciful.

Christ as high priest: ...In addition He is a faithful advocate; hence, he is called a faithful high priest. ‘But Christ, being come a high priest of the good things to come’ (Heb. 9:11); and it is required that He be faithful: ‘Here now it is required among the dispensers that a man be found faithful’ (1 Cor. 4:2): and all this that He might be a propitiation for the sins of the people, for whom He willed to die.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Hebrews 2:1-10: Christ died for all/for many

St Thomas sees today's verses as attesting to God's love for man, pointing to our creation in God's own image, placement in the Garden of Eden, the Incarnation, and the Passion as evidence.

The first section points to the New Testament being more important than the Old.

The second points deals with the idea that Christ as man is less than the angels (due to his mortality) and yet greater by virtue of his divinity and Passion.

The final section deals with that hopefully now resolved debate in the English Mass translation, namely the sense in which Christ died both for all, and for many.

New Testament greater than the Old


Verses 1-4: The New Testament deserves more obedience than the Old
Therefore ought we more diligently to observe the things which we have heard, lest perhaps we should let them slip.  For if the word, spoken by angels, became steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward:  How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation? which having begun to be declared by the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.  God also bearing them witness by signs, and wonders, and divers miracles, and distributions of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will. 
 Propterea abundantius oportet observare nos ea quæ audivimus, ne forte pereffluamus. Si enim qui per angelos dictus est sermo, factus est firmus, et omnis prævaricatio, et inobedientia accepit justam mercedis retributionem: quomodo nos effugiemus si tantam neglexerimus salutem? quæ cum initium accepisset enarrari per Dominum ab eis, qui audierunt, in nos confirmata est,  contestante Deo signis et portentis, et variis virtutibus, et Spiritus Sancti distributionibus secundum suam voluntatem.

Aquinas: After showing in a number of ways Christ’s superiority over the angels, the Apostle here concludes that Christ’s doctrine, namely, the New Testament, deserves more obedience than the Old Testament...

The Old Testament as the message of angels: ...after giving the judicial and moral precepts of the Law in Ex. (chap. 25), He continues in verse 20: ‘Behold, I shall send my angel, who shall go before you and shall bring you into the land;’ and then adds, ‘Take notice of him and hear his voice, and do not think him one to be condemned’ (Ex. 23:21). Therefore, if the commandment of an angel, through whom the Law was delivered, is obeyed, they will enter heaven. Hence, it says in Mt. (19:17): ‘If you will enter into life, keep the commandments.’ ...Therefore it is necessary to keep those commandments of the Law; but much more to obey the commandments of Him Who is higher than the angels, through whom the Law was delivered...

[Note: The idea that the Old Testament was delivered to man by angels is recorded in the non-canonical Old Testament literature such as The Book of Jubilees which has the angels relating the history of the world, starting from the days of creation, to Moses for him to write up.]

New greater than the Old: ...But God gave testimony with two sense-perceptible signs, namely, by miracles and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In regard to the first he says, while God bore witness by signs as to lesser miracles, such as healing a fever or curing a lame person (Ac. 3) and wonders, as to greater miracles, such as the raising of the dead: ‘Tabitha, arise’ (Ac. 9:40). But the greatest wonder was that God became man: ‘Behold, I and my children whom the Lord has given me for a sign’ (Is. 8:18), namely, that I who am a man and my children should believe this. For it was a marvel that the human heart should believe this.

Christ's power is greater than that of the angels


Verses 5-8:
For God hath not subjected unto angels the world to come, whereof we speak. But one in a certain place hath testified, saying: What is man, that thou art mindful of him: or the son of man, that thou visitest him?  Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels: thou hast crowned him with glory and honour, and hast set him over the works of thy hands: Thou hast subjected all things under his feet. For in that he hath subjected all things to him, he left nothing not subject to him. But now we see not as yet all things subject to him.
Non enim angelis subjecit Deus orbem terræ futurum, de quo loquimur. Testatus est autem in quodam loco quis, dicens: Quid est homo quod memor es ejus, aut filius hominis quoniam visitas eum? Minuisti eum paulo minus ab angelis: gloria et honore coronasti eum: et constituisti eum super opera manuum tuarum.  Omnia subjecisti sub pedibus ejus. In eo enim quod omnia ei subjecit, nihil dimisit non subjectum ei. Nunc autem necdum videmus omnia subjecta ei.

Aquinas: He says, therefore, that they will undergo severer punishments who act against Christ’s commandments than those who act against the commandments of angels, because Christ is Lord, and a person who offends his Lord is punished more than one who sins against a servant. That Christ is Lord is shown by the fact that God has not subjected the earth to angels but to Christ...

But the cause of the Incarnation is God’s care of man. Therefore, he says: What is man? as though in contempt. As if to say: Man is so unimportant when compared to God: ‘All nations are before him as if they had no being at all, and are counted to him as nothing and vanity’ (Is. 40:17). For if a person loves another and leaves him in wretchedness for a long time, he seems to have forgotten. But God loved the human race, both because He made it according to His own image and because He placed man in the midst of paradise. But after sin, because He did not come to his aid immediately, He seems to have forgotten. But later he seems to have become mindful of him, when He sends a Redeemer: ‘Remember us, O Lord, in the favor of your people; visit us with your salvation’ (Ps. 105:4). Therefore, he says, What is man that you are mindful of him?

As if to say: If we consider man’s vileness, it is strange that You should be mindful of him who is so vile and so small. I say vile and small in nature, especially in regard to his substance: ‘God formed man from the slime of the earth (Gen. 2:7); ‘And now, O Lord, you are our Father and we are clay’ (Is. 64:8). Vile in his sins; hence, Augustine says on John: ‘Men accomplish nothing when they sin;’ ‘Behold, I have made you small among the nations, you are exceedingly contemptible’ (Ob 1:2). Vile and weak in his punishment: ‘Man born of a woman, living for a time is filled with many miseries’ (Jb. 14:1); ‘Who shall raise up Jacob, for he is very little’ (Am 7:5)...

The controversy over the English (mis)translation of pro multis in the Mass has (hopefully) long been put to rest, but I thought nonetheless it was worth lingering over these key verses in explaining the distinction between Christ's opening the way to salvation for all, and the necessity of it being efficaciously applied to each.

St Thomas provides a very brief, but very clear explanation of the distinction, arguing that while Christ died for all, we have to respond, with the help of grace, by becoming the adopted sons of God in order to be saved.

Christ died for all/for many


Verses 9-10:
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour: that, through the grace of God, he might taste death for all. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, who had brought many children into glory, to perfect the author of their salvation, by his passion.
Eum autem, qui modico quam angeli minoratus est, videmus Jesum propter passionem mortis, gloria et honore coronatum: ut, gratia Dei, pro omnibus gustaret mortem.  Decebat enim eum, propter quem omnia, et per quem omnia, qui multos filios in gloriam adduxerat, auctorem salutis eorum per passionem consummare. 


The sense in which Christ was lower than the angels: .In body He is less than the angels, because He suffered in his body...Yet by reason of His excellent grace Christ in His human nature is greater than the angels...we can say that Christ was crowned with a triple glory, namely, with the glory of holiness, which He had in the first instant of His conception; secondly, with the glory of the beatific vision, because from the first instant of His conception He possessed it; thirdly, with the glory of incorruptibility, which He merited after the Passion.

For all: ...behold the usefulness. But for all can be understood in two ways: first, as applying to all the predestined, since it is only in the predestined that it is efficacious. Secondly, as applying absolutely to all so far as sufficiency is concerned; for of itself it is sufficient for all: ‘Who is the savior of all, but especially of the faithful’ (1 Tim. 4:10); ‘He died for all in general, because the price was sufficient for all. And if all do not believe, he nevertheless fulfilled His part’ (Chrysostom).

For many: ...But God from all eternity predestined those whom He would lead to glory, i.e., all those who are adopted sons of God, because ‘if sons, heirs also’ (Rom. 8:17). Therefore, he says, who had brought many sons to glory. As if to say: He has one perfect Son naturally: ‘Therefore, having yet one son most dear to him’ (Mk 12:6); but the others are adopted and, therefore, must be brought into glory. Hence, he says: who had brought, i.e., foreordained them to be brought...

...That they are sons they owe to the natural Son: ‘Whom he foreknew he also predestined to be made conformable to the image of his son’ (Rom. 8:29). But they obtain glory and the inheritance only through Him Whose inheritance it is by right and Who is the brightness of glory.

Perfected through suffering: Therefore it was fitting that the Father send the author of salvation, namely, His Son, Who had brought many sons into glory. To be perfected through suffering, i.e., by merit. For He, as the natural Son, is altogether perfect, but because He was lessened in the Passion He had to be made perfect by the merit of the Passion: ‘Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and so to enter into his glory’ (Lk. 24:26)?