Wednesday, 8 June 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

God's house

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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