Thursday, 30 June 2016

Hebrews 7:1-10 - Between God and the people

Chapter 7 of Hebrews brings us to the heart of the argument about the superiority of Christ's priesthood.  St Thomas Aquinas summarises this section as follows:
"In Chapter 5 the Apostle proved that Christ is a priest, but in Chapter 6 he interposed certain considerations to prepare the minds of his hearers. Now he returns to his main theme: for he intends to prove the excellence of Christ’s priesthood over the Levitical priesthood. In regard to this he does two things: first, he shows the excellence of Christ’s priesthood as compared to the priesthood of the Old Testament; secondly, he shows that believers should subject themselves reverently to the priesthood of Christ."

Hebrews 7:1-2a:
It was this Melchisedech, king of Salem, and priest of the most high God, who met Abraham and blessed him on his way home, after the defeat of the kings; and to him Abraham gave a tenth of his spoils. 
Hic enim Melchisedech, rex Salem, sacerdos Dei summi, qui obviavit Abrahæ regresso a cæde regum, et benedixit ei: cui et decimas omnium divisit Abraham: 

Who was Melchizedek?: He describes Melchizedek, first of all, by his name when he says, For this Melchizedek. For so the Scripture names him in Genesis, where his history, which the Apostle supposes here, is recorded.

King of Salem: Some say that Salem is called Jerusalem. But Jerome denies this in a letter, because, as he says, he could not run into him from Jerusalem, which he proves from its location. Others say that Salem is the place where John baptized, and the walls of that place still existed in Jerome’s time.

Priest of God: ...lest anyone suppose that he was a priest of idols, he adds, of the Most High God, namely, God by essence not by participation or name. For God is the Creator of all who are gods either by participation or erroneously: ‘The Lord is a great king above all gods’; ‘You shall be called priests of the Lord: to you it shall be said: You ministers of our God’.

Functions of a priest: ...he describes him from his office: who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him. For a priest is midway between God and the people. Therefore, he should confer something on the people, namely, spiritual things, and receive something from them, namely, temporal things: ‘If we then have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great matter, if we reap your carnal things?’

Hebrews 2b-3
Observe, in the first place, that his name means, the king of justice; and further that he is king of Salem, that is, of peace. That is all; no name of father or mother, no pedigree, no date of birth or of death; there he stands, eternally, a priest, the true figure of the Son of God.
primum quidem qui interpretatur rex justitiæ: deinde autem et rex Salem, quod est, rex pacis, 3 sine patre, sine matre, sine genealogia, neque initium dierum, neque finem vitæ habens, assimilatus autem Filio Dei, manet sacerdos in perpetuum.

Christ's likeness to Melchizedek as king: ...Melchizedek, who is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and signifies Christ, Who was a king..:He is not only called righteous, but king of righteousness, because He was made wisdom and righteousness for us. Another thing said of him is his status; hence, he is called king of Salem, that is, king of peace. But this suits Christ: ‘For he is our peace’...He does well to join justice and peace, because no one can make peace who does not observe justice...

Melchizedek is not Christ: Then when he says, without father or mother or genealogy, he presents a likeness in regard to the things not mentioned about him, because in Scripture no mention is made of his father or mother or genealogy. Hence, some of the ancients made this matter of their error, saying that since God alone is without beginning and without end, Melchizedek was the Son of God. But this has been condemned as heretical.

No mother or father: Hence, it should be noted that the Old Testament, whenever mention is made of some important person, his father is named along with the time of his birth and death, as in the case of Isaac and many others....For inasmuch as it is said, without father, the birth of Christ from the Virgin is signified, for it occurred without a father: ‘That which is born in her is of the Holy Spirit’. Now that which is proper to God should not be attributed to a creature; but it is proper to God the Father to be the Father of Christ. Therefore, in the birth of the one who prefigured Him, no mention should be made of a carnal father.   Also in regard to His eternal birth he says, without mother, lest anyone suppose that birth to be material, as the mother gives the matter to her begotten; but it is spiritual, as brightness from the sun: ‘Who being the brightness of his glory and figure of his substance'

No pedigree: ...because the generation of Christ is ineffable: ‘Who shall declare his generation’; the other is because Christ, Who is introduced as a priest, does not pertain to the Levitical priesthood, nor to a genealogy of the Old Law. This is the Apostle’s intention; hence, he says, and has neither beginning of days nor end of life. But he says this, not because Christ was not born in time or did not die, but because of His eternal generation, in which He was born without the beginning of any time: ‘In the beginning was the Word’, i.e., no matter what time you mention, the Word was before it, as Basil explains. Also, no end of life: this is true in regard to His divinity, which is eternal. But in regard to His humanity, He no longer has an end of life, because ‘Christ rising again from the dead, dies now no more’; and below: ‘Jesus Christ, yesterday, and today; and the same forever.’

A priest forever: lest anyone suppose that Christ’s priesthood is later than that of Melchizedek, the Apostle dispels this, because, although Christ as man was born after him and existed in time, nevertheless, as God and as the Son of God, He exists from eternity. Therefore, Melchizedek was like Christ, the Son of God, in regard to all those features: and this inasmuch as He continues a priest forever, which can be explained in two ways: one way, because no mention is made of the end of his priesthood or of his successor: ‘I have used similitudes by the ministry of the prophets’. He also says, a priest forever, because that which is prefigured, namely, Christ’s priesthood, lasts forever. Hence, even in Scripture it is frequently referred to as perpetual: ‘It shall be a perpetual observance’: ‘By a perpetual service and rite’, because that which was symbolized by it is perpetual. In this matter the Apostle connects the following with the preceding.

Hebrews 7:4-10
4 Consider how great a man was this, to whom the patriarch Abraham himself gave a tenth part of his chosen spoil. The descendants of Levi, when the priesthood is conferred on them, are allowed by the provisions of the law to take tithes from God’s people, although these, like themselves, come from the privileged stock of Abraham; after all, they are their brothers; here is one who owns no common descent with them, taking tithes from Abraham himself. He blesses him, too, blesses the man to whom the promises have been made; and it is beyond all question that blessings are only given by what is greater in dignity to what is less. In the one case, the priests who receive tithe are only mortal men; in the other, it is a priest (so the record tells us) who lives on. And indeed, there is a sense in which we can say that Levi, who receives the tithe, paid tithe himself with Abraham; as the heir of Abraham’s body, he was present in the person of his ancestor, when he met Melchisedech.
Intuemini autem quantus sit hic, cui et decimas dedit de præcipuis Abraham patriarcha.  Et quidem de filiis Levi sacerdotium accipientes, mandatum habent decimas sumere a populo secundum legem, id est, a fratribus suis: quamquam et ipsi exierint de lumbis Abrahæ. Cujus autem generatio non annumeratur in eis, decimas sumpsit ab Abraham, et hunc, qui habebat repromissiones, benedixit. Sine ulla autem contradictione, quod minus est, a meliore benedicitur. Et hic quidem, decimas morientes homines accipiunt: ibi autem contestatur, quia vivit. Et (ut ita dictum sit) per Abraham, et Levi, qui decimas accepit, decimatus est: adhuc enim in lumbis patris erat, quando obviavit ei Melchisedech.

Abraham's tithing: hence, he says, see how great, i.e., of what great dignity, he is, to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tithe of the spoils...Abraham is called a patriarch, i.e., the chief of fathers, not because he had no father, but because the promise of being father of the Gentiles was made to him... the Levites themselves were of the seed of Abraham and, consequently were inferior to Abraham, who paid the tithes...But this man who has not the genealogy received tithes of Abraham, he shows how it was more fitting for Melchizedek to receive tithes, because he was not of the stock of Abraham; hence, he has not their genealogy, namely, of the Levites.

Above the law: Furthermore, according to a commandment of the Law it was lawful for him [Aaron] to take tithes; consequently, their priesthood was subject to the observance of the Law. But he [Melchizedek] took tithes not by reason of any law but of himself; therefore, his priesthood was a figure of Christ’s priesthood, which is not subject to the Law. Likewise, they received from a lowly people, namely, their brethren, but he from the highest, namely, from Abraham...

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