Friday, 17 June 2016

Hebrews in its context/3 - Melchizedek, priest and king

As foreshadowed yesterday, the second bit of context for the next section of Hebrews is the significance of the allusion to Christ being a priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews contains several references to the mysterious figure of Melchizedek, so I think it is worth having a look at the few sparse references to him elsewhere in Scripture and in the non-canonical Old Testament literature, and understand why Hebrews gives them so much weight.

Christ's superiority to David

Outside Hebrews, Melchizedek in mentioned just twice: in Psalm 109, a psalm Jesus explicitly quotes in Mark 12:
35 Then Jesus said openly, still teaching in the temple, What do the scribes mean by saying that Christ is to be the son of David? David himself was moved by the Holy Spirit to say, The Lord said to my Master, Sit on my right hand while I make thy enemies a footstool under thy feet. Thus David himself calls Christ his Master; how can he be also his son? 
And is quoted by St Peter in his sermon at Pentecost, in Acts 2:
33 And now, exalted at God’s right hand, he has claimed from his Father his promise to bestow the Holy Spirit; and he has poured out that Spirit, as you can see and hear for yourselves. David never went up to heaven, and yet David has told us, The Lord said to my Master, Sit on my right hand, while I make thy enemies a footstool under thy feet. 36 Let it be known, then, beyond doubt, to all the house of Israel, that God has made him Master and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.
 Here is the whole psalm:

Vulgate
Douay-Rheims
Psalmus David
A psalm for David.
1 Dixit Dóminus Dómino meo: * Sede a dextris meis:
The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand,
2  Donec ponam inimícos tuos, * scabéllum pedum tuórum.
until I make your enemies your footstool.
3  Virgam virtútis tuæ emíttet Dóminus ex Sion: * domináre in médio inimicórum tuórum.
2 The Lord will send forth the sceptre of your power out of Sion: rule in the midst of your enemies.
4  Tecum princípium in die virtútis tuæ in splendóribus sanctórum: * ex útero ante lucíferum génui te.
3 With you is the principality in the day of your strength: in the brightness of the saints: from the womb before the day star I begot you.
5 Jurávit Dóminus, et non pœnitébit eum: * Tu es sacérdos in ætérnum secúndum órdinem Melchísedech.
4 The Lord has sworn, and he will not repent: You are a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech.
6 Dóminus a dextris tuis, * confrégit in die iræ suæ reges.
5 The Lord at your right hand has broken kings in the day of his wrath.
7  Judicábit in natiónibus, implébit ruínas: * conquassábit cápita in terra multórum.
6 He shall judge among nations, he shall fill ruins: he shall crush the heads in the land of many.
8  De torrénte in via bibet: * proptérea exaltábit caput.
7 He shall drink of the torrent in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.

The priesthood of Melchizedek

By implication, then, the comment about being a priest in the order of Melchizedek also applies to Christ.  But what exactly is the reason for the link to Melchizedek's priesthood?

A few key points to note before looking at the description if his appearance in Genesis 14.  

First, Melchizedek is the first person explicitly referred to in Scripture as being a priest.  Before him a number of people (including Abraham) offer sacrifices to God, and can be seen as acting as high priests (including Adam), but the reference is implicit, not explicit. 

Secondly, beyond the description of him as king of Salem (Jerusalem?) there is no indication that he is somehow related to Aaron or the Levites.  

Thirdly, Abraham acknowledges the superiority of his priesthood by offering him a tithe.   

Genesis 14 (Brenton's Septuagint):
And it came to pass in the reign of Amarphal king of Sennaar, and Arioch king of Ellasar, that Chodollogomor king of Elam, and Thargal king of nations, made war with Balla king of Sodom, and with Barsa king of Gomorrha, and with Sennaar, king of Adama, and with Symobor king of Seboim and the king of Balac, this is Segor. All these met with one consent at the salt valley; this is now the sea of salt. Twelve years they served Chodollogomor, and the thirteenth year they revolted.  And in the fourteenth year came Chodollogomor, and the kings with him, and cut to pieces the giants in Astaroth, and Carnain, and strong nations with them, and the Ommaeans in the city Save. And the Chorrhaeans in the mountains of Seir, to the turpentine tree of Pharan, which is in the desert. And having turned back they came to the well of judgment; this is Cades, and they cut in pieces all the princes of Amalec, and the Amorites dwelling in Asasonthamar. 
And the king of Sodom went out, and the king of Gomorrha, and king of Adama, and king of Seboim, and king of Balac, this is Segor, and they set themselves in array against them for war in the salt valley, against Chodollogomor king of Elam, and Thargal king of nations, and Amarphal king of Sennaar, and Arioch king of Ellasar, the four kings against the five.  Now the salt valley consists of slime-pits. And the king of Sodom fled and the king of Gomorrha, and they fell in there: and they that were left fled to the mountain country.  And they took all the cavalry of Sodom and Gomorrha, and all their provisions, and departed. And they took also Lot the son of Abram’s brother, and his baggage, and departed, for he dwelt in Sodom.
 And one of them that had been rescued came and told Abram the Hebrew; and he dwelt by the oak of Mamre the Amorite the brother of Eschol, and the brother of Aunan, who were confederates with Abram. And Abram having heard that Lot his nephew had been taken captive, numbered his own home-born servants three hundred and eighteen, and pursued after them to Dan. And he came upon them by night, he and his servants, and he smote them and pursued them as far as Choba, which is on the left of Damascus. And he recovered all the cavalry of Sodom, and he recovered Lot his nephew, and all his possessions, and the women and the people. And the king of Sodom went out to meet him, after he returned from the slaughter of Chodollogomor, and the kings with him, to the valley of Saby; this was the plain of the kings.
And Melchisedec king of Salem brought forth loaves and wine, and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed Abram, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, who made heaven and earth, and blessed be the most high God who delivered thine enemies into thy power. And Abram gave him the tithe of all...
 Pre-Christian traditions on Melchizedek

This acknowledgement of a non-Levite priest tradition posed obvious problems for Jewish tradition, and there are a range of different solutions that have come down to us (some only recently recovered).

One solution to be found in the Jewish midrash tradition makes him Shem, son of Noah, and hence inheritor of the priestly mantle implicitly handed down through his father (who offers a sacrifice after existing the ark) and from Adam, maintaining the patrilineal priestly tradition.  There is however no Scriptural warrant for this.

Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls preserve a pre-Christian tradition identifying Melchizedek as the Messiah, so one theory is that he is in fact the pre-incarnate Christ, and that is a reading that can arguably be found to be consistent with tradition Hebrews draws on (though St Thomas rejects as we shall see).  You can read what survives of the relevant Scroll here.

A third tradition appears in the non-canonical 2 Enoch.  The date of it is disputed - it may be pre-Christian or first century - but it essentially describes a miraculous virgin birth for Melchizedek, and his preservation in the Garden of Eden in order to escape the Flood.  It might sound fanciful, but keep in mind the line of Hebrews we are yet to come to about Melchizedek being"Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life".. 

Tomorrow back to Hebrews! 

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Hebrews in its context/2 - The holy of holies and the nature of the priesthood

Model of the tabernacle tent, Israel

Before we go any further with Hebrews, I want to provide a little more context, as the next section takes up the theme of  Christ's priesthood, and I think requires a bit of less familiar Old Testament (and the tradition on interpreting it) to really understand what is being said.

The Old Testament provides us essentially with three key models of priesthood: the patrilinear tradition before Moses for example in the sacrifices offered by Abel, Noah after emerging from the Ark, and Abraham; the mysterious figure of Melchisedek, the first person explicitly referred to as a priest in Scripture; and the Aaronite priesthood, supported by the Levites.  All three figure in Hebrews' narrative, but I want to focus for the moment on the second, since a lot of Hebrews is devoted to just why this priesthood is now superseded.

Tomorrow, I'll look briefly at the alternative model of Old Testament priesthood in Melchizedek.

The sacrifice of Christ and the day of atonement

The key things we need to understand here by way of context for Hebrews is the importance of the Day of Atonement.

Verse 14 of Chapter Four of Hebrews mentions Christ as our High Priest who has passed into the heavens.  The idea that Christ has passed into heaven, or rather, as we shall see, the 'holy of holies', and intercedes there for us, is a key theme of Hebrews, but one it requires a bit of context to fully understand.

Most Catholics will be familiar with the Old Testament texts around the Passover lamb as a context for Easter.

 Hebrews, though, points us to another key Old Testament feast as key to Christ's saving sacrifice, namely the Day of Atonement, the one day of the year that the High Priest entered the holy of holies, or inner sanctum of the Temple (and tabernacle).

Temple as a microcosm of creation

The first key point is that Jewish tradition understood the Tabernacle, which housed the ark of the covenant while the people of Israel wandered about the desert for forty years,  and the First Temple (constructed by Solomon) as being a copy of heaven, and of the Garden of Eden in particular, and perhaps a microcosm of the universe.

Both tabernacle and temple were built according to blueprints set out by God and given to Moses and David respectively).  And there is a lot of symbolism in the description of their construction that leads to this interpretation.  First, there is some key number symbolism: the Exodus 25-31 and 35-40 explain that the construction was effected in seven days; similarly the Temple was constructed in seven years.  Secondly there are parallels that can be found in the tasks completed each day in that construction, and God's ornamentation of the universe in the days of creation as described in Genesis.  And thirdly there is some important symbolism associated with the furniture in the tabernacle, and in the vestments worn by the high priest, linking it to the garden of Eden (the original temple).

A number of modern theologians have recently advanced this interpretation as if they had discovered for themselves, but in reality it is not new: it is a tradition well attested to in the Old Testament non-canonical literature and utilised by the Fathers (St Bede provides the most extended commentaries on the subject in his On the Temple and On the Tabernacle)

The tabernale as the dwelling place of God, where man can meet God

Closely related to the ideas about the tabernacle noted above is the function of the tabernacle as the place where God came down and dwelt among his people through the medium of Moses, Aaron and the priests.   Just as Adam and Eve talked to God face to face in the Garden of Eden, so too Moses speaks to him in the tabernacle, as Exodus 33:7-11 describes:
Moses, too, removed his tent, and pitched it far off, away from the camp, calling it, The tent which bears witness to the covenant; to this, all who had disputes to settle must betake themselves, away from the camp. And when Moses repaired to this tent of his, all the people rose up and stood at the doors of their own tents, following Moses with their eyes till he went in. And, once he was within the tent that bore witness of the covenant, the pillar of cloud would come down and stand at the entrance of it, and there the Lord spoke with Moses, while all watched the pillar of cloud standing there, and rose up and worshipped, each at his own tent door.  Thus the Lord spoke with Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And when he returned to the camp, Josue, son of Nun, the young man who served him, never left the tent unguarded.
The tabernacle (and subsequent temple) each contained an inner sanctum which housed the Ark of the Covenant, which in turn was under the veil of the covering suspended by four pillars and an outer chamber (the "Holy Place").

Model of the holy of holies in the temple
The inner shrine, the Holy of Holies, housed the Ark of the Covenant, which in turn was under the veil of the covering suspended by four pillars and an outer chamber, with beaten gold made into  a lamp-stand  incorporating four almond-shaped bowls and six branches, each holding three bowls shaped like almonds and blossoms, in all. It was standing diagonally, partially covering a table for "showbread" and with its seven oil lamps over against it to give light along with the altar of incense.

The Aaronite priesthood

A key feature of both temple and tabernacle is that no-one but the priests were allowed to enter certain parts of the temple, and only the  High Priest was ever allowed to enter the inner sanctum, the holy of holies.

The institution of the Aaronite priesthood is set out in Exodus 28-29:
And now, that I may have priests to serve me among the sons of Israel, summon thy brother Aaron, with his sons, Nadab, Abiu, Eleazar and Ithamar, to thy presence. Thou shalt have sacred vestments made for thy brother Aaron, to his honour and adornment, bidding all those cunning workmen, whose art is the gift of my spirit, so clothe him as to set him apart for my service...Thither, too, thou shalt bring Aaron and his sons; and when thou hast washed them, father and sons in water, clothe Aaron in his vestments, the robe, the tunic, the mantle, and the burse made fast to his mantle’s band, and put the mitre on his head, and the holy plate over the mitre. And then anoint his head with oil; so shall he be consecrated. Then it is the turn of his sons to approach, and be clothed in their linen robes, and have their girdles tied and their mitres put on, like Aaron himself; so they shall be my priests, hallowed eternally.
When thou hast consecrated their hands, bring out the bullock in front of the tabernacle that bears record of me; there, when Aaron and his sons have laid their hands upon its head, thou shalt slay it in the Lord’s presence, at the tabernacle door.  Some of its blood thou shalt smear, with thy hand, upon the horns of the altar; the rest thou shalt pour out at the altar’s foot.  Then take all the fat about its entrails, the membrane of its liver, and the two kidneys with the fat on them and offer them as a burnt-sacrifice on the altar;  the flesh, skin and dung of the bullock thou shalt burn beyond the confines of the camp, as an offering for sin.... 
The sacred vestments which Aaron wore shall be worn by his sons after him when they are anointed and consecrated;  whatever son of his shall succeed him, entering the tabernacle that bears record of me and ministering before me in the sanctuary, shall wear them for seven days continuously...All this that I have told thee must be done to Aaron and his sons; thou art to spend seven days in consecrating their hands, and on each of those days a bullock must be sacrificed as a sin-offering to atone for them. So offering a victim to make atonement, thou wilt cleanse the altar, and sanctify it by anointing. Seven whole days thou must spend in winning favour for the altar and consecrating it; so it shall be all holiness, and whoever touches it shall become holy thereby.
The key task of this priesthood is to offer the daily sacrifices prescribed:
On this altar thou shalt sacrifice two lambs day by day, with no intermission; one is to be offered in the morning, the other in the evening. One lamb each morning, with a tenth of a bushel of flour, kneaded in three pints of pure oil, and as much wine for a libation;  and another offered in the evening with the same rite and all the additional offerings aforesaid, a fragrance acceptable to the Lord. 
This is his sacrifice, to be performed day after day, by one generation of you after another, in the Lord’s presence, there at the door of the tabernacle that bears record, the appointed place where I will give thee audience. There I will issue my commands to the sons of Israel; that altar shall be hallowed by my glorious presence. Hallowed it shall be, and hallowed the tabernacle that bears record of me; hallowed shall Aaron be and his sons, for their priestly office. And I will dwell in the midst of the Israelites, and be their God; and they shall know me for the Lord God that rescued them from the land of Egypt, so as to abide among them, their Lord and their God.
The Day of Atonement

Leviticus 16 explains that Aaron is never to enter the inner sanctum, the equivalent of the later holy of holies in the Temple, save for once a year, and then only after elaborate preparation:
After the death of Aaron’s two sons, that were punished for offering up unhallowed fire, the Lord spoke to Moses giving him a message for his brother Aaron: He must never present himself without due preparation within the sanctuary, behind the veil, where the throne stands above the ark. If he does so, the penalty is death; it is over this shrine that I mean to reveal myself in cloud. 
And this is the preparation he must make; he must offer a young bullock as a victim for his faults, and a ram by way of burnt-sacrifice. He must be clad in the linen robe, with linen breeches for decency, and must be girt with a linen girdle, and wear the linen mitre on his head; these are the sacred vestments he must put on, after washing himself. 
And the whole people of Israel must provide him with two goats as victims for their faults, and a ram for burnt-sacrifice.
He will offer the bullock to make intercession for himself and for his family. 
The two goats he will present before the Lord, at the door of the tabernacle that bears record of me, and will cast lots between them; one is to be the Lord’s due, the other is for discharge. The one chosen by lot to be the Lord’s due must be offered for their faults; the one chosen for their discharge must be presented before the Lord alive, to let intercession fall upon it, and then be turned loose in the desert.
  So, with due ceremony, he will offer the bullock, making intercession for himself and his family, and immolate it. And now, filling his censer with coals from the altar, and taking a handful of beaten spices for incense, he will pass beyond the veil into the inner sanctuary, putting incense on the coals, so that a cloud of smoke may hide that shrine over the ark, which none may see and live. He will take some of the bullock’s blood, too, and sprinkle it with his finger seven times over the eastern end of the sanctuary, opposite the throne. And afterwards, when he has immolated the goat for the faults of the people, he will carry some of its blood, too, within the veil, and sprinkle it there opposite the shrine, like the bullock’s blood. So he will purify the sanctuary from all the faults the sons of Israel have committed, their transgressions and their uncleanness. With the same ceremony he shall purify the tabernacle that bears the Lord’s record, pitched there amongst them, with all the defilement of their dwellings round about.
This ceremony you are to observe for all time. On the tenth day of the seventh month you will keep a fast; no work is to be done by citizen or by alien that day.  It is a day of atonement on your behalf, to cleanse you from all fault, and make you clean in the Lord’s sight;  it must be all repose; so that you can observe the fast, year after year.  He who then holds the office of high priest, duly anointed to serve in place of his father, will make atonement, clad in linen robe and sacred vestments; purify sanctuary, tabernacle, altar, priests and people. You will continue for all time to make intercession, once a year, for the children of Israel, and for all the faults they have committed.
And now back to Hebrews...

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Hebrews 4: 11-16 - God's word can pierce as a sword


Hebrews 4:11 summarises one of the themes St Benedict repeatedly stresses in his rule, namely the name to hurry to run towards salvation:

Let us hasten therefore to enter into that rest; lest any man fall into the same example of unbelief. 
 Festinemus ergo ingredi in illam requiem: ut ne in idipsum quis incidat incredulitatis exemplum.
St Thomas comments:

....we must hurry, because the time is very short: ‘The days of man are short’ (Jb. 14:5), and because that time, besides being short and brief, is uncertain: ‘Man knows not his own end’ (Ec. 9:12) and because the call is urgent: for an inner call drives us with the goad of charity: ‘When he shall come as violent stream, which the spirit of the Lord drives on’ (Is. 59:19); The charity of Christ presses us’ (2 Cor. 5:14); ‘I have run the way of your commandments’ (Ps. 118:32), and because there is a danger in delay, as is clear form the foolish virgins who arrived late and could not enter...

...there are two ways of hurrying: one is by being headlong and this I reprehensible; the other is by being energetic, and this is praiseworthy. For, as the Philosopher says: All men should take a long time to consider, but be quick to carry out their decisions. Therefore, when hurry destroys counsel, it is precipitate and vicious. In this sense the objection is valid; but hurry in executing one’s decision is virtuous and praiseworthy. This is the type of hurry to which the Apostle exhorts us here.

Hebrews 4:12
12 God’s word to us is something alive, full of energy; it can penetrate deeper than any two-edged sword, reaching the very division between soul and spirit, between joints and marrow, quick to distinguish every thought and design in our hearts. 
Vivus est enim sermo Dei, et efficax et penetrabilior omni gladio ancipiti: et pertingens usque ad divisionem animæ ac spiritus: compagum quoque ac medullarum, et discretor cogitationum et intentionum cordis.  
Aquinas: .

The Word: ..where we have sermo the Greek has logos, which is the same as verbum, ‘word’; hence a saying, i.e., a word. This is the way Augustine explains Johns’ statement: ‘The word that I have spoken’, i.e., I who am the Word: ‘Your almighty word leapt down from heaven from the royal throne’ (Wis. 18:15).   Similarly here, the word (sermo) of God is living, i.e., the living Word (Verbum) of God...

Piercing: For God’s action and knowledge reach into the inmost parts of a thing...And because the word of God is sharp in its action and its knowledge, it is compared to a two-edged sword: ‘And the sword of the spirit which is the word of God’ (Eph. 6:17); ‘In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword shall visit Leviathan’ (Is. 27:1). Or it is called two-edged in regard to its activity, because it is sharp enough to promote good and destroy evil: ‘From his mouth came out a sharp two-edged sword’ (Rev. 1:16)....

There are three things in man: body, soul, and spirit: ‘That you wholly spirit and soul and body may be preserved blameless in the coming of our Lord’ (1 Th. 5:23). For we know what the body is. But the soul is that which gives life to the body; whereas the spirit in bodily things is something subtle and signifies immaterial substance..the spirit in us is that by which we are akin to spiritual substances; but the soul is that through which we are akin to the brutes. Consequently, the spirit is the human mind, namely, the intellect and will...
13 From him, no creature can be hidden; everything lies bare, everything is brought face to face with him, this God to whom we must give our account.
Et non est ulla creatura invisibilis in conspectu ejus: omnia autem nuda et aperta sunt oculis ejus, ad quem nobis sermo.

Aquinas: To Him, therefore, is our speech, when we render an account of our works: ‘For we must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive the proper things of the body, according as he has done, whether it be good of evil’ (2 Cor. 5:10). Therefore, because He is so powerful, so knowing and so great, let us hasten to enter into that rest...
14 Let us hold fast, then, by the faith we profess. We can claim a great high priest, and one who has passed right up through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God. It is not as if our high priest was incapable of feeling for us in our humiliations; he has been through every trial, fashioned as we are, only sinless.  Let us come boldly, then, before the throne of grace, to meet with mercy, and win that grace which will help us in our needs.
14 Habentes ergo pontificem magnum qui penetravit cælos, Jesum Filium Dei, teneamus confessionem. Non enim habemus pontificem qui non possit compati infirmitatibus nostris: tentatum autem per omnia pro similitudine absque peccato. Adeamus ergo cum fiducia ad thronum gratiæ: ut misericordiam consequamur, et gratiam inveniamus in auxilio opportuno.
A great high priest: But He is called great, because He is not a high priest of temporal goods only, but of goods to come: ‘but Christ being come a high priest of the good things to come’ (below 9:11)...

Here it should be noted that Christ does not merely have the power, but is most ready to have compassion on our infirmities, because He has experienced our wretchedness, which, as God, He knew form all eternity by simple knowledge: ‘The Lord has compassion on them that fear him: for he knows our frame’ (Ps. 102:13)...

Then when he says, Let us go therefore with confidence to the throne of grace, he urges us to have confidence in him. As if to say: Since He can have compassion, let us go with confidence: ‘Behold, God is my savior; I will deal confidently and will not fear’ (Is. 12:2)...But this throne has a twofold state: one, of justice in the future: ‘You have sat on the throne, who judge justice’ (Ps. 9:5). This will occur in the future: ‘When I shall take a time, I will judge justice’ (Ps. 74:3).

The other throne is that of grace, which is meant here; hence, he adds, of his grace, namely, in the present, which is the time of mercy: ‘He shall give equal grace to the grace thereof’ (Zech 4:7). But by the grace of Christ we are freed of all misery, because we are freed from sin, which makes people wretched; hence, he says, that we may obtain mercy.

Furthermore, by the grace of Christ we are aided in doing good; hence he says, and find grace; ‘You have found grace with God’ (Lk. 1:30); and this to help in time of need, i.e., to do good: ‘My help is from the Lord’ (Ps. 120:2). But that help comes through grace: ‘I have labored more abundantly than all they’ (1 Cor. 15:10). But this should come at a seasonable time; hence, he says, in time of need: ‘There is a time and opportunity for every business’ (Ec. 8:6). This is the present time, which is the time of mercy.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Hebrews 4:1-10 - What is meant by attaining God's rest?

Hebrews 4 continues the discussion of Psalm 94.

Aquinas on why we should be anxious to 'attain God's rest'
Hebrews 4:1  -  Let us fear therefore lest the promise being left of entering into his rest, any of you should be thought to be wanting.
Timeamus ergo ne forte relicta pollicitatione introëundi in requiem ejus, existimetur aliquis ex vobis deesse.
Fear of the Lord: He was offended by those who would not believe, so that He swore that they will not enter into His rest. Therefore, let us fear, namely, with a chaste fear and with anxiety: ‘Blessed is the man that is always fearful’ (Pr. 28:14); ‘He that thinks himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall’ (1 Cor. 10:12). For such fear is a useful admonition to give, and it is the companion of three spiritual virtues, namely, of hope, faith, and charity: ‘I am the mother of fair love and of fear and of knowledge and of holy hope’ (Sir. 24:24).

Exclusion from seeing God While the promise of entering his rest remains, let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it. For happiness or felicity consists in a man’s entering it: ‘Happy shall I be if there shall remain of my seed to see the glory of Jerusalem’ (Tob. 13:20); ‘Looking diligently, lest any man be wanting to the grace of God’ (Heb. 12:15), because, as Chrysostom says: ‘The punishment of not seeing God is greater than other punishments inflicted on the damned.’

Specific punishment for mortal sin: And he says, lest any of you be judged according to God’s judgment: ‘Depart, you accursed, into everlasting fire’ (Mt. 25:41). Or be judged according to human opinion: ‘For know you this and understand that no fornicator or unclean or covetous person (which is a serving of idols) has inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God’ (Eph. 5:5)...One should fear, therefore, that on account of his own guilt, he fails to enter, because he abandoned the promise, which we abandon by deserting faith, hope, and charity, through which we can enter. And this is done by mortal sin.

Hearing is not enough, we have to respond
2 For unto us also it hath been declared, in like manner as unto them. But the word of hearing did not profit them, not being mixed with faith of those things they heard. For we, who have believed, shall enter into rest; as he said: As I have sworn in my wrath; If they shall enter into my rest
 2 Etenim et nobis nuntiatum est, quemadmodum et illis: sed non profuit illis sermo auditus, non admistus fidei ex iis quæ audierunt. 3 Ingrediemur enim in requiem, qui credidimus: quemadmodum dixit: Sicut juravi in ira mea: Si introibunt in requiem meam: 
Aquinas: Here it should be noted that the things promised in the Old Testament should be understood spiritually: ‘All things happened to them in a figure’ (1 Cor. 10:11); ‘What things soever were written, were written for our learning’ (Rom. 13:4).

Then when he says, but the message did not benefit them, he shows that the promise is not enough, but that we should be solicitous; hence, he says that the message, which was heard and not believed, profited them nothing: ‘For not the hearers but the doers of the law will be justified’ (Rom. 2:13).

And he says, not being met [mixed] with faith, because just as the union of intellect and thing understood make one thing, so the believer’s heart and formed faith make one thing: ‘He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit’ (1 Cor. 6:17). For the words of God are so efficacious that they should be believed as soon as they are heard: ‘your testimonies are become exceedingly credible’ (Ps. 92:5).

What does rest mean in this context? 
Hebrews 4:3b - For in a certain place he spoke of the seventh day thus: And God rested the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again: If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing then it remaineth that some are to enter into it, and they, to whom it was first preached, did not enter because of unbelief: Again he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, Today, after so long a time, as it is above said: Today if you shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts. and this indeed when the works from the foundation of the world were finished.
et quidem operibus ab institutione mundi perfectis. Dixit enim in quodam loco de die septima sic: Et requievit Deus die septima ab omnibus operibus suis. Et in isto rursum: Si introibunt in requiem meam. Quoniam ergo superest introire quosdam in illam, et ii, quibus prioribus annuntiatum est, non introierunt propter incredulitatem: iterum terminat diem quemdam, Hodie, in David dicendo, post tantum temporis, sicut supra dictum est: Hodie si vocem ejus audieritis, nolite obdurare corda vestra. 
Rest from labours:  He says, therefore: The word was spoken to us as it was to them that we shall enter into rest: ‘In peace in the selfsame, I will sleep and be at rest’ (Ps. 4:9); ‘You shall rest and there shall be none to make you afraid’ (Jb. 11:19)...[one rest is] in external goods, and a man passes to it from peace of mind...

For he has spoken somewhere of the seventh day. This can be read in two ways: in one way by omitting the for. Then the sense is this: they shall enter into the rest which was prefigured by the seventh day from the foundation of the world. And God rested the seventh day from all his works. Or the Holy Spirit spoke in a certain place of the seventh day. And he spoke after describing the works of the six days, when the works from the foundation of the world were finished. But he says, from the foundation of the world, because the world was first established, and after six days it was made perfect in all its parts...

...‘rest’ is not taken as the opposite of labor, but as the opposition of motion...And so, God made the seventh day as every other day, because something was added then, for that was the time when the state of purgation began...

It should be noted with Augustine that he does not say simply that He rested, but that he rested from his works. For He rested in Himself from all eternity, but when He rested, it was not in His works, but from His works. For God works in a different manner from other artisans: for an artisan acts because of a need, as a house builder makes a house to rest in it, and a cutlerer a knife for gain; hence, the desire of every artisan comes to rest in his work. But not so with God, because He does not act out of need but to communicate His goodness; hence, he does not rest in His work, but from producing a work; and He rests only in His goodness.

The Promised land: ...he extracts two things: one is well known, namely, that the ancestral fathers did not enter; the other is that during the time of David there remained another rest to be given. For although the promised rest was to be obtained in the promised land, yet by the fact David so long afterward says, Today, if you hear his voice, harden not your hearts, he shows that another rest remains...There is, therefore, a rest into which we are to enter, but which they did not enter because of unbelief. a temporal rest, which the children of Israel had in the promised land..

Eternal rest: the other is in spiritual good, which is within, and to it a man enters: ‘Enter into the joy of your lord’ (Mt. 25:21); ‘The kind has brought me into his storerooms’ (S of S 1:3)...God created man for eternal happiness, for he created him according to His own image and likeness, He prepared a rest for him. Therefore, although someone might be excluded because of his sin, God does not wish that preparation to have been made in vain. Therefore, some will enter, as is clear from those invited to the marriage feast: ‘The marriage, indeed, is ready, but they that were invited are not worthy. Go, therefore, into the highways and as many as you shall find, call to the marriage’ (Mt. 22:8).

The work of love and praise continues
8 For if Jesus had given them rest, he would never have afterwards spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a day of rest for the people of God.For he that is entered into his rest, the same also hath rested from his works, as God did from his. 
8 Nam si eis Jesus requiem præstitisset, numquam de alia loqueretur, posthac, die.  Itaque relinquitur sabbatismus populo Dei. Qui enim ingressus est in requiem ejus, etiam ipse requievit ab operibus suis, sicut a suis Deus.
Aquinas:  i.e., Joshua, had given the children of Israel final rest, God would never have spoken of another day, i.e., another rest would not remain for us, nor would David have spoken of another rest after that day. Hence, it is clear that that rest was a sign of spiritual rest.

...For whoever enters God’s rest also ceases from his works: because just as God worked six days and rested on the seventh, so by the six days the present time is signified, because it is a perfect number. Therefore, one who works perfectly, rests from his works on the seventh day, as God did from His.

But not from all works, because there are certain works, for example, to see, to love and to praise: ‘And they rested not day and night saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty’ (Rev. 4:8), but from laborious works: ‘But they who hope in the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall take wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall work and not faint’ (Is. 40:31).

Monday, 13 June 2016

Hebrews 3:12-19 - Partakers in Christ through faith and the sacraments

Today's text continues the discussion of Psalm 94:
12 Take care, brethren, that there is no heart among you so warped by unbelief as to desert the living God. Each day, while the word To-day has still a meaning, strengthen your own resolution, to make sure that none of you grows hardened; sin has such power to cheat us. 
Videte fratres, ne forte sit in aliquo vestrum cor malum incredulitatis, discedendi a Deo vivo: sed adhortamini vosmetipsos per singulos dies, donec hodie cognominatur, ut non obduretur quis ex vobis fallacia peccati. 
Aquinas:

The exhortation: He says, therefore, take care. For every man should consider the state in which he is: ‘Let everyone prove his own work’ (Gal. 6:4); ‘See your ways in the valley’ (Jer. 2:23). Take care therefore, brethren, each one to himself, because each is part of the assembly, and ‘to each one God gave commandment concerning his neighbor’ (Sir. 19:12): take care, i.e., let one prove the other, lest there be in any of you an evil unbelieving heart leading you to fall away form the living God.

As if to say: many of you are in a perfect state, yet because of weakness and free will, there could be evil in some of you: ‘Behold, they that serve him are not steadfast; and in his angels he found wickedness. How much more shall they that dwell in houses of clay, who have an earthly foundation’ (Jb. 4:18-19)? ‘Have I not chosen you twelve and one of you is a devil’ (Jn. 6:71). Therefore no one should be solicitous for himself only, but also for each member of his group. 

But why? Lest there be in any of you an evil unbelieving heart. This is the evil about which the Apostle speaks, namely, an unbelieving heart, i.e., not firm in faith. In this does wickedness consist, because just as the soul’s good consists in clinging to God, ‘It is good for me to adhere to my God’ (Ps. 72:27), through faith, so man’s evil consists in withdrawing from God: ‘Know and see that it is an evil and a bitter thing for you to have left the Lord, your God’ (Jer. 2:19). And again he says, of falling away, because one departs by unbelief, from the living God: ‘They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water’ (Jer. 2:15). But he says, from the living God, because He is life in Himself and is the life of the soul: ‘In him was life’ (Jn. 1:4). He says this to show that by withdrawing from God, man incurs spiritual death.

Mutual help: But if that evil should be found in anyone, should he despair? No; he should be admonished all the more. Therefore, he says, but exhort one another every day, i.e., continually, namely, by discussing your conscience and by exhorting to good, as long as it is called today, i.e., while the present time of grace lasts: ‘I must work the works of him that sent me, whilst it is day’ (Jn. 9:4). And this in order that none of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For, as has been stated above, the heart is hardened by persisting in evil. But a person clings to sin because he is deceived. Or, it is natural for the appetite to cling to the good; but it withdraws from good, because it is deceived: ‘They err who work evil’ (Pr. 14:22); ‘I have strayed form the path of truth’ (Wis. 5:6).
14 We have been given a share in Christ, but only on condition that we keep unshaken to the end the principle by which we are grounded in him.That is the meaning of the words, If you hear his voice speaking to you this day, do not harden your hearts, as they were hardened once when you provoked me;  those who provoked him were the people (some, though not all of them) whom Moses had rescued from Egypt. 
Participes enim Christi effecti sumus, si tamen initium substantiæ ejus usque ad finem firmum retineamus.  Dum dicitur: Hodie si vocem ejus audieritis, nolite obdurare corda vestra, quemadmodum in illa exacerbatione. Quidam enim audientes exacerbaverunt: sed non universi qui profecti sunt ex Ægypto per Moysen. 
Aquinas:

Faith and the sacraments: Then he explains their condition. As if to say: That condition is more powerful than the other, because they only hear, but we share in Christ. And he speaks properly, because in the Old Testament, there was only hearing, and grace was not conferred ex opere operato; but in the New Testament there are both the hearing of faith and the grace given to the very one acting. Hence, we are partakers of grace, first, by accepting the faith: ‘That Christ by faith may dwell in your hearts’ (Eph. 3:17); secondly, by the sacraments of faith: ‘As many of you as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ’ (Gal. 3:27); thirdly, by partaking of the body of Christ: ‘The bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of Christ’ (1 Cor. 10:16)?

But it should be noted that there are two ways of sharing in Christ: one is imperfect through the faith and the sacraments; the other is perfect through the presence and vision of the reality. But the first we already possess in reality; the second we possess in hope. But because hope has this condition, namely, that we persevere, he says, if only we hold our first confidence firm unto the end. For whoever is baptized in Christ receives a new nature and Christ is somehow formed in him: ‘My little children, of whom I am in labor again, until Christ be formed in you’ (Gal. 4:19). This will be truly completed in us in heaven, but here it is only the beginning; and this by formed faith, because unformed faith is dead: ‘Faith without works is dead’ (Jas. 2:26). Hence, unformed faith is not a beginning of partaking of Christ, but formed faith: ‘Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for’, i.e., the foundation and the beginning.

He says, therefore, we are partakers of Christ; yet so, if we hold our first confidence firm unto the end. But it seems that fear is the beginning, because it says in Ps. 110: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ I answer that faith is formed by charity; but charity does not exist without chaste fear. Therefore, formed faith always has charity annexed to it. Hence, faith and fear are the beginning.
17 Who was it, during all those forty years, that incurred his enmity? Those who sinned; it was their corpses that lay scattered in the wilderness. To whom did he swear that they should never attain his rest? Those who refused to believe in him. We see, then, the consequences of unbelief; this it was that denied them entrance.
Quibus autem infensus est quadraginta annis? nonne illis qui peccaverunt, quorum cadavera prostrata sunt in deserto? Quibus autem juravit non introire in requiem ipsius, nisi illis qui increduli fuerunt? Et videmus, quia non potuerunt introire propter incredulitatem.
Aquinas:

The faithful remnant: Then when he says, who were they that heard, he explains what he had said about their sin. As if to say: ‘You are made partakers of Christ, if you do not harden your hearts, as they who have heard and yet were rebellious. Was it not all? No, not all; for two, namely, Caleb and Joshua remained and consoled the others. And by this we are given to understand that, since not the whole Church falls but only some, the wicked are punished, but not the good, as in those two: ‘And I will leave me seven thousand men in Israel, whose knees have not been bowed before Baal’ (1 Kg 19:18); ‘There is a remnant saved according to the election of grace’ (Rom. 11:5).

The punishment:  With whom was he provoked forty years? Was it not with them that sinned? From this it is clear that forty years, refers to the statement, I was provoked. Hence, he says that he was offended through those forty years. Here it should be noted that all who left Egypt died in the desert, as it is stated in Jos. (5:4), but not all were laid low, but only some: either by God, as when the earth opened and swallowed Dathan and Abiram: (Ps. 77); but others were laid low by Moses, as in the construction of the golden calf (Ex. 32); still others were killed by enemies, and some died a natural death. Therefore, not all were laid low. Hence, it was not a general punishment, although it was general enough so that only two should enter the promised land.

And he says of that land, and to whom did he swear, i.e., firmly decree, that they should never enter into his rest, but to them that were incredulous. Hence, it is clear that they could not enter into His rest because of their unbelief. Therefore, he says, we see, because we have experienced that they could not enter because of their unbelief. Or we see by their punishment that they could not enter because of unbelief.