Friday, 24 June 2016

Hebrews 6:1-10 - Without a state of grace, good works are useless

Chapter 6 takes us through the path to perfection before finally returning to the theme of Christ's priesthood.

Hebrews 6:1:
Wherefore leaving the word of the beginning of Christ, let us go on to things more perfect, not laying again the foundation of penance from dead works, and of faith towards God, 
Quapropter intermittentes inchoationis Christi sermonem, ad perfectiora feramur, non rursum jacientes fundamentum pœnitentiæ ab operibus mortuis, et fidei ad Deum, 2 

Evangelical counsels: ...For perfection consists in the counsels: ‘If you would be perfect, go and sell what you have and give to the poor’ (Mt. 19:21). But not all are bound by the counsels. I answer that there are two kinds of perfection: one is external and consists in external acts, which are signs of what is internal, such as virginity and voluntary poverty. To this perfection not all are bound. The other is internal and consists in the love of God and neighbor: ‘Have charity which is the bond of perfection’ (Col. 3:14). Not all are bound to this perfection, but all are bound to tend toward it; because if a person no longer desired to love God more, he would not be doing what charity requires...

The foundations of penance: ...For it is by faith that a soul is built into a spiritual edifice. Therefore, just as in a material building the foundation is laid first, so here the first rudiments of Christ’s doctrine are, as it were, the foundation...because penance is a departure from sin and is, as it were, the foundation of that life. For, according to Augustine, no one who is master of his own will can begin a new life without repenting of the past. Hence, at the beginning of His preaching the Lord says: ‘Do penance’...

Dead works: For works are called dead either because they are dead in themselves, or because they become dead. A thing is said to be alive, when it functions on its own power, so that wherever it fails, it is said to be dead. For our works are ordained to happiness, which is man’s end; therefore, when they do not lead to happiness or cannot be ordained to happiness, they are said to be dead: and these are works performed in mortal sin...But works performed in charity are made dead by sin; hence, they do not have the power to merit eternal life: ‘All the justices which he has done will not be remembered’. But penance makes them revive; hence they are then once more counted for eternal life.

Faith is first: For it is proper to faith that man believe and assent to things unseen by him, on the authority of another...the assent is made to what God says: ‘You believe in God; believe also in me’.
2 Of the doctrine of baptisms, and imposition of hands, and of the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 
baptismatum doctrinæ, impositionis quoque manuum, ac resurrectionis mortuorum, et judicii æterni. 

The sacraments: The second thing in that process are the sacraments of faith. But these are two sacraments of those entering: for those are the only ones the Apostle is discussing here. The first is baptism, by which are reborn; the second is confirmation, by which we are strengthened.

Three types of baptism: ...there are three kinds of baptism, namely, of water, of desire, and of blood. But the last two have no force, unless they are referred to the first, because the first one must be intended, if it cannot be actually received by a person with the use of freedom. Hence, there are not three sacraments, but one sacrament, by which we are reborn unto salvation...

Penance as a form of baptism: Penance, however, does not produce as many of baptism’s effects, because it does not take away all punishment, although it takes away all guilt. But just as a martyr conforms himself to Christ’s Passion by external suffering, so a penitent by internal suffering: ‘They that are Christ’s have crucified their flesh with the vices and concupiscences’. Therefore, penance can be so great that it would remove all guilt and punishment, as happened to the good thief and to Magdalene. Hence, penance is called baptism, inasmuch as it performs the function of baptism. And because baptism cannot be repeated, penance was instituted...

Confirmation: The second sacrament of those who are entering is imposed by the laying on of hands; hence, he says, and laying on of hands...For in confirmation the Holy Spirit is given for strength to enable a man to boldly confess Christ’s name before men. For just as in the natural order a man is first born and then grows and becomes strong, so, too, in the order of grace.

Resurrection of bodies: the foundation of faith, because without it our faith is in vain. Therefore, he says, of the resurrection of the dead.

Judgment: Secondly, we expect a reward, which is conferred by the judge: ‘All things that are done, God will bring into judgement’...

[3] And this will we do, if God permit. For it is impossible for those who were once illuminated, have tasted also the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, Have moreover tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, And are fallen away: to be renewed again to penance, crucifying again to themselves the Son of God, and making him a mockery. 
Et hoc faciemus, si quidem permiserit Deus.  Impossibile est enim eos qui semel sunt illuminati, gustaverunt etiam donum cæleste, et participes facti sunt Spiritus Sancti, gustaverunt nihilominus bonum Dei verbum, virtutesque sæculi venturi, et prolapsi sunt; rursus renovari ad pœnitentiam, rursum crucifigentes sibimetipsis Filium Dei, et ostentui habentes.

The need for God's help: ...He says less than he means, for it is not only necessary that God permit, but He must do all things: ‘In his hand are both we and our words’. Therefore, he must place all things under the confidence of divine help: ‘Without me you can do nothing’; ‘For you should say: If the Lord will, and if we shall live, we do this or that’.

The problem of apostates: ...For just as in material things no state is so dangerous as that of the [apostate], so in spiritual things one who falls into sin after grace rises with more difficulty...he shows the difficulty in rising, after one has fallen. Here it should be noted that he does not say, ‘fallen’, but ‘fallen away’, i.e. completely fallen, because if they had merely fallen, it should not be difficult to rise: ‘A just man shall fall seven times, and shall rise again’. But if the Apostle had said it is impossible for those who have fallen away to rise again, then it might be said that in this he was signifying how extremely difficult it is to rise, both because of sin and because of pride, as in the devils.

There is no sin that cannot be repented of: But because he says that those who have once fallen away cannot be renewed unto penance, and there is no sin in this world that man cannot repent of, there must be another explanation.  Hence, it should be noted that a certain Novatian, who was a priest of the church in Rome, made this the occasion of his error. For he declared that no one could rise to penance after baptism. But this opinion is false, as Athanasius says in a letter to Serapion, because Paul himself received the incestuous Corinthians; and likewise in Galatians, because he says: ‘My little children, of whom I am in labor again, until Christ be formed in you.’

Baptism cannot be repeated: ...the Jews were baptized frequently, as is shown in Mark. Consequently, it was in order to remove that error that the Apostle says this...baptism is a configuration to Christ’s death, as is clear from Romans; ‘all we who are baptized in Christ, are baptized in his death.’ But this death is not repeated, because ‘Christ rising again from the dead, dies now no more’.

Sin crucifies Christ again: Therefore, when you sin after baptism, then as far as in you lies, you give occasion for Christ to be crucified again; and in this way hold him up to contempt and stain yourself, washed in His blood: ‘He loved us and washed us fro our sins in his blood’.

[7] For the earth that drinketh in the rain which cometh often upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is tilled, receiveth blessing from God. But that which bringeth forth thorns and briers, is reprobate, and very near unto a curse, whose end is to be burnt.
 7 Terra enim sæpe venientem super se bibens imbrem, et generans herbam opportunam illis, a quibus colitur, accipit benedictionem a Deo: proferens autem spinas ac tribulos, reproba est, et maledicto proxima: cujus consummatio in combustionem.

This life is our one chance: But it should be noted that according to one explanation the Apostle wished to show by the above that those who have been baptized once cannot be baptized again or be renewed again to penance in another life: ‘Whatsoever your hand is able to do, do it earnestly: for neither work nor reason nor wisdom nor knowledge shall be in hell, whither you are hastening’: ‘The night comes when no man can work’.

The good earth: ...the simile which is presented here about the earth can be connected to that which was stated above, let us go on to things more perfect, and then the sense will be: If we go on we will have a blessing like the good earth; or it can be connected with what was just said according to both explanations, either about baptism or about the other life. The one about baptism is more literal and then the sense is: Just as the cultivated earth, if it brings forth thorns again, is not cultivated but is burned, so a man who sins after baptism is not washed again...

This earth is the human heart: ‘But that on good ground are they who in a good and perfect heart, hearing the word, keep it and bring forth fruit in patience’. It is called earth, because just as earth needs rain, so a man needs God’s grace: ‘You have visited the earth and have plentifully watered it’. ‘And as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and return no more thither, but soak the earth and water it, and make it to spring, and give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater, so shall my word be which shall go forth from my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please, and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it’...But the benefit it receives and the doctrine of faith is as rain which falls on the hearts of those who hear the words of preachers and teacher...
But, my dearly beloved, we trust better things of you, and nearer to salvation; though we speak thus.  For God is not unjust, that he should forget your work, and the love which you have shewn in his name, you who have ministered, and do minister to the saints.
Confidimus autem de vobis dilectissimi meliora, et viciniora saluti: tametsi ita loquimur. Non enim injustus Deus, ut obliviscatur operis vestri, et dilectionis, quam ostendistis in nomine ipsius, qui ministrastis sanctis, et ministratis.
Aquinas: Because the Apostle had said many seemingly harsh things about their state, now to keep them from despair, he shows the intention he had in saying these things, namely, to snatch them from danger. Hence, he does two things: first, he shows the confidence he had in them; secondly, the reason for this confidence... Then he gives the reasons for the confidence: one is based on their past good works; the other on God’s promise.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist

The Matins readings for the feast are set out below.  Unfortunately the readings for the Second Nocturn in the Benedictine Office are no available online, but you could substitute the Roman Office readings from St Augustine if you wish, available from Divinum Officium.

Nocturn I (Jeremiah 1:1-10, 17-19)

Reading 1: These are the words of Jeremias, son of Helcias, one of the priests who dwelt at Anathoth, in the lands of Benjamin. The word of the Lord came to him during the reign of Josias, son of Amon, over Juda, in the thirteenth year of it; came to him during the reign of Josias’ son, Joachim, and did not cease till the men of Jerusalem went into exile, when Sedecias, that was also son to Josias, had been reigning eleven years and five months.

R. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.* The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
V. John was in the wilderness, preaching the baptism of repentance.
R. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Reading 2: The word of the Lord came to me, and his message was: I claimed thee for my own before ever I fashioned thee in thy mother’s womb; before ever thou camest to the birth, I set thee apart for myself; I have a prophet’s errand for thee among the nations. Alas, alas, Lord God (said I), I am but a child that has never learned to speak. A child, sayest thou? the Lord answered. Nay, I have a mission for thee to undertake, a message to entrust to thee.

R. Elizabeth, the wife of Zacharias, was the mother of a mighty man, even of John the Baptist, the Forerunner of the Lord,* who made straight in the desert an highway for the Lord.
V. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
R. Who made straight in the desert an highway for the Lord.

Reading 3:  Have no human fears; am I not at thy side, to protect thee from harm? the Lord says. And with that, the Lord put out his hand, and touched me on the mouth; See, he told me, I have inspired thy lips with utterance. Here and now I give thee authority over nations and kingdoms everywhere; with a word thou shalt root them up and pull them down, overthrow and lay them in ruins; with a word thou shalt build them up and plant them anew.

R. Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee;* And I ordained thee a Prophet unto the nations.
V. A man beloved of God and men, he was had in honour.
R. And I ordained thee a Prophet unto the nations.

Reading 4: Up, then, gird thee like a man, and speak out all the message I give thee. Meet them undaunted, and they shall have no power to daunt thee. Strong I mean to make thee this day as fortified city, or pillar of iron, or wall of bronze, to meet king, prince, priest of Juda, and common folk all the country through; impregnable thou shalt be to their attack; am I not at thy side, the Lord says, to deliver thee?

Nocturn II 

.[Sermon 67 of St Maximus of Turin is unfortunately not available online]

Nocturn III (St Ambrose on Luke 2:30-31)

Reading 9: From the Holy Gospel according to Luke: Elisabeth's fullness of time came that she should deliver, and she brought forth a son. And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had showed great mercy upon her, and they rejoiced with her. And so on.

Elizabeth's full time came that she should be delivered, and she brought forth a son. And her neighbours rejoiced with her. The birth of a Saint is a joy for many, for it is a good to all. Righteousness is an help to all, and therefore when a righteous man is born it is an heralding of his life, which is still to come, that the helpful excellency of his future should be hailed by the, as it were, prophetic joy of the neighbours. It is well that we should be told concerning the prophet, while he was yet in the womb, that we may know how that Mary was there; but we hear nothing of his childhood, because,we know that it was safe and strong through the nearness of the Lord, Himself then in that womb which was free from the sorrows of pregnancy.

R. The Fore-runner of the Lord cometh, to whom He Himself bare witness, saying:
* Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.
V. A Prophet? Yea, and much more than a Prophet. This is he of whom the Saviour saith:
R. Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.

Reading 10: And therefore we read in the Gospel nothing touching him save his coming, the annunciation thereof to his father, the leap which he gave in the womb, and his crying in the wilderness.It was not for him to feel childishness, who beyond all use of nature or of his age, when as yet he lay in his mother's womb, leapt at once unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. . It is strange how that the Holy Evangelist hath judged meet to tell us that they thought to call the child Zacharias, after the name of his father, that thou mayest notice that the mother would have none of the names whereby their kindred were called, but only that name which the Holy Ghost had dictated, and which the Angel had told before unto Zacharias.
R. The Angel Gabriel appeared unto Zacharias, and said thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John;
* And many shall rejoice at his birth.
V. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink.
R. And many shall rejoice at his birth.
Reading 11: The dumb man had certainly not been able to tell his wife by what name to call the child, and Elizabeth must needs have learnt by revelation what she could not have heard from her husband.His name is John; that is, it is not for us to choose a name now for him to whom God hath given a name already. He hath a name, which we know, but it is not one of our choosing.

Reading 12: To receive a name from God is one of the honours of the Saints. Thus was it that Jacob's name was no more called Jacob but Israel, because he saw God face to face. Thus was it that our Lord Jesus was named before He was born, with a name not given by an Angel, but by the Father. Thou seest that Angels tell that which they have been bidden to tell, not matters of their own choosing. Nor oughtest thou to wonder that Elizabeth named a name which she had not heard, since it had been revealed to her by the same Holy Ghost Who had commanded the Angel to tell it.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Vigil of the feast of St John the Baptist, Class II

The Vigil has three readings, from a homily by St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan.

Reading 1: Continuation of the Holy Gospel according to Luke: There was, in the days of Herod the King of Judaea, a certain Priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia; and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And so on.

The Divine Scriptures teach us that we are behoven to praise the lives, not only of those concerning whom we are to speak honourably, but the lives also of their fathers, so as to show that that which we will praise in our subjects was in them a gift inherited from the bright purity of the source from which they came. What other meaning can the holy Evangelist have had in this place but to glorify St. John the Baptist, as well for having been the offspring of such parents, as for his miracles, his life, his gifts, and his sufferings So likewise is praise ascribed to Hannah, the mother of Samuel so also did Isaac draw from his parents that noble godliness which he in his turn bequeathed to his children. Thus it is told not only that Zacharias was a Priest, but a Priest of the course of Abia, that is to say, of a family noble among the noblest.

R. Prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve Him Only* And He will deliver you out of the hand of your enemies.
V. Return unto Him with all your hearts, and put away the strange gods from among you.
R. And He will deliver you out of the hand of your enemies.

Reading 2: And his wife was of the daughters of Aaron. Thus we see that the noble blood of St. John was inherited not only from parents, but from an ancient ancestry, not illustrious indeed by worldly power, but worshipful for the tradition of a sacred succession. Such were the forefathers whom it well became the Fore-runner of the Christ to have, that it might manifestly fall to his lot, not as a sudden gift, but as an heir-loom, to preach belief in the coming of the Lord. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless. What do they make of this text who, to take them some consolation for their own sins, hold that man cannot exist without oftentimes sinning, and quote to that end that which is written in Job: Not one is clean, even though his life on the earth be but one day.

R. God, Which heareth all, even He sent His Angel, and took me from keeping my father's sheep, and
* Anointed me with the oil of His mercy.
V. The Lord That delivered me out of the mouth of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear
R. And anointed me with the oil of His mercy.

Reading 3: To such we must reply by asking them first to tell us what they mean by a man without sin whether it be one who hath never sinned, or one who hath ceased to sin. If they mean by a man without sin one who hath never sinned, I myself agree in their position, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. But if they mean to deny that he who hath reformed his old crooked ways, and changed his life for a new one, on purpose to avoid sin, cannot avoid sin, I am not able to subscribe to their opinion while I read that Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing but that it should be holy and without blemish.

R. The Lord That delivered me out of the mouth of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear* He will deliver me out of the hand of mine enemies.
V. God hath sent forth His mercy and His truth, and delivered my soul from among the lion's whelps.
R. He will deliver me out of the hand of mine enemies.
V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, * and to the Holy Ghost.
R. He will deliver me out of the hand of mine enemies.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Hebrews 5:8-14 - On the knowledge of Christ

The second half of Hebrews 5 takes us to the relevance of Melchizedek, but also reinforces some important doctrinal points relating to the knowledge of Christ (a key source of heresy in our day).

Hebrews 5:8-9
Son of God though he was, he learned obedience in the school of suffering,and now, his full achievement reached, he wins eternal salvation for all those who render obedience to him.
Et quidem cum esset Filius Dei, didicit ex iis, quæ passus est, obedientiam: et consummatus, factus est omnibus obtemperantibus sibi, causa salutis æternæ, 

Christ's compassion: He says, therefore: I have stated that a high priest should be such as to be able to have compassion. But Christ is such a high priest. For since He is the Son of God from all eternity, and, therefore, could not suffer or have compassion, He assumed a nature in which He would suffer and even have compassion.

Christ's knowledge: And this is what He says, namely, although he was a Son from all eternity, He learned obedience from time. But only the ignorant can learn; whereas Christ, being God from all eternity, had fullness of knowledge from the very instant of His conception as man. Therefore, He was not ignorant of anything; consequently, He could not learn. I answer that knowledge is of two sorts: the first is that of simple recognition, according to which the objection is valid, because He was not ignorant of anything. But there is also the knowledge gained by experience, according to which He learned obedience; hence, he says, He learned obedience through what he suffered, i.e., experienced.

The difficulty of learning obedience: ...Christ accepted our weakness voluntarily; consequently, he says that ‘he learned obedience’, i.e., how difficult it is to obey, because He obeyed in the most difficult matters, even to the death of the cross. This shows how difficult the good of obedience is, because those who have not experienced obedience and have not learned it in difficult matters, believe that obedience is very easy. But in order to know what obedience is, one must learn to obey in difficult matters, and one who has not learned to subject himself by obeying does not know how to rule others well. Therefore, although Christ knew by simple recognition what obedience is, He nevertheless learned obedience from the things He suffered, i.e., from difficult things, by suffering and dying: ‘By the obedience of one many shall be made just'.

Full achievement: ...In Christ the fruit was glorification; hence, he says, and being made perfect, for from the instant of His conception He was perfectly consummated as to the happiness of His soul, inasmuch as it was drawn to God; but he still had a nature that could suffer, although after His Passion He could not suffer. Therefore, because in this respect He was altogether perfect, He could perfect others. For it is the nature of a perfect thing to be able to engender its like.

Hebrews 5:10 -
A high priest in the line of Melchisedech, so God has called him.
appellatus a Deo pontifex juxta ordinem Melchisedech.

In the order of Melchisedek: As man He also receives the high priesthood from God: as he says also in another place: ‘You are a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek’. But the Apostle uses the authority of the Palms as being more famous and more often consulted. He says, priest, because He offered Himself to God the Father: ‘He loved us and gave himself for us an oblation and offering to God’. But lest anyone suppose the priesthood of Christ is that of the Old Law, he distinguishes the former on two points: first, its authority, because it is for ever, whereas the other was temporary and passed away with the coming of the One prefigured. Likewise, its victim has the power to bring one to eternal life, and it lasts for every. Secondly, its ritual, because animals were offered in the one, but bread and wine here; hence, he says, according to the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 5:11-12a -
Of Christ as priest we have much to say, and it is hard to make ourselves understood in the saying of it, now that you have grown so dull of hearing. You should, after all this time, have been teachers yourselves, and instead of that you need to be taught; taught even the first principles on which the oracles of God are based. 
 De quo nobis grandis sermo, et ininterpretabilis ad dicendum: quoniam imbecilles facti estis ad audiendum. Etenim cum deberetis magistri esse propter tempus, rursum indigetis ut vos doceamini quæ sint elementa exordii sermonum Dei: 

About this we have much to say: ‘Hear, for I will speak of great things’. They are great, because they deal with the salvation of souls..:it cannot be perfectly explained, for no words can express the things of Christ: ‘Glorify the Lord as much as you ever can, for he will yet far exceed, and his magnificence is wonderful. Blessing the Lord, exalt him as much as you can, for he is above all praise’...

Culpable slowness: For it is a sin, when a person has listened a long time, if he is still slow; but not if he is a recent hearer. For negligence is not without sin; hence, he says, for though by this time you ought to be teachers, namely, of others, for this time during which they had heard the law and the prophets: ‘Search the Scriptures, for you thing in them to have life everlasting’...

Teachers: need someone to teach you again the first principles of God’s word. For the principles are the first things taught in grammar, i.e., the letters themselves. Therefore, the beginnings of the words of God, the first principles and elements, are the articles of faith and the precepts of the Decalogue. If a person, therefore, had studied theology a long time and failed to learn these, time would be running against him.

Hebrews 12b-14:
You have gone back to needing milk, instead of solid food. Those who have milk for their diet can give no account of what holiness means; how should they? They are only infants. Solid food is for the full-grown; for those whose faculties are so trained by exercise that they can distinguish between good and evil.
et facti estis quibus lacte opus sit, non solido cibo. Omnis enim, qui lactis est particeps, expers est sermonis justitiæ: parvulus enim est. Perfectorum autem est solidus cibus: eorum, qui pro consuetudine exercitatos habent sensus ad discretionem boni ac mali.

Sacred doctrine is, as it were, the food of the soul: ‘With the bread of life and understanding she shall feed him’ and in: ‘They that eat me shall yet hunger, and they that drink me shall yet thirst.’ Sacred doctrine, therefore, is food and drink, because it nourishes the soul. For the other sciences only enlighten the soul, but this one enlighten...

Milk for children: But in bodily food there is a difference: for children make use of one food and the perfect of another. For children use milk as being thinner and more connatural and easily digestible; but adults use more solid food. So in Sacred Scripture, those who are beginners should listen to easy things, which are like milk; but the learned should hear more difficult things...And this is what follows, and not solid food, i.e., lofty doctrine, which is concerned with the mysteries and secrets of God, which strengthen and confirm.

Adult fodder: But the Apostle had delivered many difficult things to them, namely, the mystery of the Trinity and the sacrament of the Incarnation, and many other lofty things...For this is evident in bodily food: when a man reaches maturity, he uses stronger and nobler and more solid food. But a spiritual man, when he has reached spiritual perfection, should have a more solid doctrine proposed to him.

Types of perfection: But perfection is of two kinds: one is perfection of intellect, when a person has the wisdom to discern and judge correctly about matters proposed to him; the other is perfection of love, which charity produces, and it is present when a person adheres entirely to God. Hence, after laying down the precepts of charity, the Lord continues: ‘Be you, therefore, perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect’... And because the things taught in Sacred Scripture pertain to the will and not only to the intellect, a person must be perfect in both. Consequently, the Apostle, desiring to show who are the mature, to whom solid food should be given, says that they are the ones who have their faculties trained...

Monday, 20 June 2016

Hebrews 4:14 - 5:7 - The efficacy of prayer

Now that we have looked at some of the contextual material, on with the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Hebrews 4:14-16 -
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 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. 
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. 

Since we have a great high priest: ‘You are a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedech’. Nor is He just a high priest, but He is a great one:‘and the Lord showed me Jesus the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord’.  But He is called great, because He is not a high priest of temporal goods only, but of goods to come...:

Role of the high priest: Now two things pertained to a great high priest: one was his office, namely, to enter once a year with blood into the Holy of Holies. But this befits Christ in a special way: for the one enters with blood into a figurative Holy of Holies; but Christ through His own blood entered into the heavenly holy of holies. Hence, he says, ‘who has passed through the heavens’, i.e., He entered by His own power.

Lineage: The second thing is that he should be from a certain tribe, namely, from the stock of Aaron. But this belongs to Christ, Who is of nobler origin; hence, He is called the Son of God: ‘This is my beloved Son’; ‘You are my son; this day have I begotten you’.

Hebrews 5:1-3 -
The purpose for which any high priest is chosen from among his fellow men, and made a representative of men in their dealings with God, is to offer gifts and sacrifices in expiation of their sins. He is qualified for this by being able to feel for them when they are ignorant and make mistakes, since he, too, is all beset with humiliations, and, for that reason, must needs present sin-offerings for himself, just as he does for the people.
Omnis namque pontifex ex hominibus assumptus, pro hominibus constituitur in iis quæ sunt ad Deum, ut offerat dona, et sacrificia pro peccatis: qui condolere possit iis qui ignorant et errant: quoniam et ipse circumdatus est infirmitate: et propterea debet, quemadmodum pro populo, ita etiam et pro semetipso offerre pro peccatis.

The purpose of the priesthood: The end and utility is that he is appointed to act on behalf of men, i.e., for their benefit. He is not appointed for glory or for accumulating riches or for enriching his family: ‘And ourselves, your servants through Jesus’; ‘According to the power which the Lord has given me unto edification and not unto destruction’. But if he seeks his own, he is not a shepherd, but a hireling.

The nature of the dignity is that the high priest is set over the others. For just as a leader or ruler is set over a city, so the high priest in the things that appertain to God: ‘You shall be to him in things that pertain to God’; ‘for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty to God unto the pulling down of fortifications’.

The act of the high priest is to offer gifts, i.e., voluntary oblations, not extorted: ‘Of every man that offers of his own accord, you shall take them’ and sacrifices for sins, i.e., which are offered to him to satisfy for sins: ‘The priest shall pray for him and for his sin, and it shall be forgiven him’. This indicates that everything offered, whether voluntary of under vow or for satisfaction, shall be offered according to the disposition of the prelate.

Hebrews 5:4-7 -
His vocation comes from God, as Aaron’s did; nobody can take on himself such a privilege as this. So it is with Christ. He did not raise himself to the dignity of the high priesthood; it was God that raised him to it, when he said, Thou art my Son, I have begotten thee this day, and so, elsewhere, Thou art a priest for ever, in the line of Melchisedech. Christ, during his earthly life, offered prayer and entreaty to the God who could save him from death, not without a piercing cry, not without tears; yet with such piety as won him a hearing.
 4 Nec quisquam sumit sibi honorem, sed qui vocatur a Deo, tamquam Aaron. 5 Sic et Christus non semetipsum clarificavit ut pontifex fieret: sed qui locutus est ad eum: Filius meus es tu, ego hodie genui te. 6 Quemadmodum et in alio loco dicit: Tu es sacerdos in æternum, secundum ordinem Melchisedech. 7 Qui in diebus carnis suæ preces, supplicationesque ad eum qui possit illum salvum facere a morte cum clamore valido, et lacrimis offerens, exauditus est pro sua reverentia.
How one goes about attaining to the priesthood: And one does not take the honor upon himself. For it is contrary to nature for anything to raise itself to a higher state than its nature, as air does not make itself fire, but is made so by something higher. Hence, God’s discipline does not allow anyone to take the honor to himself, by favor, money, or power...but is called by God, as Aaron was. Therefore, the Lord confirmed his priesthood with a rod which flowered. Hence, those should be accepted who do not impose themselves. Hence, in olden times they were indicated by a visible sign, as was St. Nicholas and many others...

Christ did not make himself high priest: He says, therefore: so also Christ did not exalt himself...Christ not only did not make Himself high priest, he did not exalt himself to be made high priest: ‘I seek not my own glory; there is one that seeks and judges’, and later: ‘It is my Father that glorifies me’. This is true, insofar as He is man, because as God He has the same glory as the Father.

The spiritual sacrifice of prayer: His act was to offer prayers and supplications, which is the spiritual sacrifice Christ offered. But they are called prayers, i.e., petitions: ‘The continual prayer of a just man avails much’. They are also called supplications on account of the humility of the one praying: ‘He fell upon his face, praying'. To whom? To God the Father, who was able to save him from death. He was able to do this in two ways: in one way, by saving Him from death: ‘Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will’. In another way, by raising Him up: ‘Because you will not leave my soul in hell’; and again: ‘But you, O Lord, have mercy on me and raise me up again’. The priesthood of Christ is ordained to that spiritual sacrifice: hence, He was appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins: ‘The sacrifice of praise shall glorify me’; ‘We will render the calves of our lips’.

His efficacy is shown by the way He prays. But two things are necessary in one who prays, namely, fervent love along with pain and groans. These are mentioned in Ps.37: ‘Lord, all my desire is before you, as to the first, and my groaning is not hidden from you’, as to the second. But Christ had these two. Therefore, in regard to the first he says, with loud cries, i.e., with a most efficacious intention: ‘And being in an agony, he prayed the longer'.. Again, in Luke: ‘and crying with a loud voice, he said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Because of the second he says, and tears: for by tears the Apostle means the internal groans of the one praying. But this is not mentioned in the Gospel; but it is probably that just as He wept at the resurrection of Lazarus, so also during His Passion. For He did many things that are not written. But He did not weep for Himself, but for us whom the Passion was to benefit: although it did benefit Him, inasmuch as He merited exaltation by it: ‘For which cause God has exalted him and given Him a name which is above every name’. Therefore, he was heard for his godly fear, which He had toward God: ‘And he filled him with the spirit of the fear of the Lord’.