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)?

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