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’.

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