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.

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