Friday, 22 July 2016

Hebrews 11: 8-12 - Abraham, Sarah and the City of God

Today's section of Hebrew's continues the look at Old Testament exemplars of faith.  In the previous section Hebrews 11 looked at figures from before the deluge - Abel, Enoch and Noah.  St Thomas Aquinas classifies the next group as those 'before the law', starting with Abraham.

Abraham: Hebrews 11:8-10
By faith he that is called Abraham, obeyed to go out into a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he abode in the land, dwelling in cottages, with Isaac and Jacob, the co-heirs of the same promise.  
Fide qui vocatur Abraham obedivit in locum exire, quem accepturus erat in hæreditatem: et exiit, nesciens quo iret. Fide demoratus est in terra repromissionis, tamquam in aliena, in casulis habitando cum Isaac et Jacob cohæredibus repromissionis ejusdem. 


Scripture on Abraham:  In order to show how great is the authority of his example of Abraham, he mentions the renown of his name, saying, he that is called Abraham, by God: ‘You shall be called Abraham’ (Gen. 17:5). He is also called by men: ‘Abraham was the great father of a multitude of nations’ (Sir. 44:20). Therefore, such a one called by God and preached by men is a worthy example. Secondly, he gives the example, saying, by faith Abraham obeyed. For by faith we are enabled to believe God concerning invisible things: ‘For obedience to the faith’ (Rom. 1:5); When he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance: ‘Go forth out of your country and from your kindred, and out of your father’s house, into the land which I shall show you’ (Gen. 12:1). But the Lord was to give him that land for an inheritance: ‘All the land which you see, I will give to you’ (Gen.13:15).

Abraham shows we should live in the world as foreigners and strangers: ...we sometimes notice a person leaving his native land and going elsewhere to make a lasting home. Not so Abraham, for he lived as a stranger in the land of Canaan and dwelt there as a stranger. This is obvious from the fact that he did not build a house there, but lived in huts and faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as is clear from Genesis (12 to 21), as in a foreign land...He says, heirs with him of the same promise, in which we are given to understand that we should live in the world as foreigners and strangers...

The City of God: Hebrews 11:10 -
For he looked for a city that hath foundations; whose builder and maker is God.
Exspectabat enim fundamenta habentem civitatem: cujus artifex et conditor Deus. 
Looking forward to the city: ...he shows why he lingered there as a stranger, namely, because he did not consider himself as having anything on earth, but was seeking a heavenly city as his inheritance: ‘Our feet were standing on your courts, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem, which is built as a city’ (Ps. 121:2); ‘your eyes which see Jerusalem, a rich habitation, a tabernacle that cannot be removed’ (Is. 33:20). It is called a city, first of all, because of the unity of the citizens, which unity is true peace...Secondly, it is ordered, because it exists for justice and not for doing evil...Thirdly, it was sufficient unto itself in all things that are necessary, for whatever is necessary will be there most perfectly, because it is a state made perfect by the assemblage of all good things: ‘Jerusalem, which is built as a city, which is compact together’ (Ps. 121:3).

Foundations indicate stability: ...the foundations are the first part of a building; hence, the angels are the foundations of a city: ‘The foundations therefore are in the holy mountains’ (Ps. 86:20); for men will be raised to the orders of angels.

The founder of this city is God, not the wisdom of human art: ‘We know, if our earthly house of this habitation be dissolved, that we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in heaven’ (2 Cor. 5:1). Now two things are required for the erection of a city: the first is the authority of the prince, by means of whom it is made firm and who is called its founder, and from whom it takes its name, as Rome from Romulus. And so God is called the founder of that city...The second is the way it is put together, which commends the wisdom of the artisan. And so God is called its artisan, because it was put together according to the disposition and wisdom of God...

Sarah: Hebrews 11: 11-12
By faith also Sara herself, being barren, received strength to conceive seed, even past the time of age; because she believed that he was faithful who had promised,  For which cause there sprung even from one (and him as good as dead) as the stars of heaven in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable
Fide et ipsa Sara sterilis virtutem in conceptionem seminis accepit, etiam præter tempus ætatis: quoniam fidelem credidit esse eum qui repromiserat. Propter quod et ab uno orti sunt (et hoc emortuo) tamquam sidera cæli in multitudinem, et sicut arena, quæ est ad oram maris, innumerabilis.
Sarah was able to conceive by the power of faith:  But there were two defects in his wife that made it seem almost impossible for her to be able to conceive: one was that she was sterile: ‘And Sarah was barren’. The other was that due to her age she was not naturally suited to bear children: ‘It had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women’... Yet in spite of all this, she received the power to conceive by faith, namely, her own or Abraham’s, because even though it was impossible according to nature that a woman of ninety conceive of a man of ninety, nevertheless, both believed God, for Whom nothing is difficult. Hence, he says, since she considered him faithful who had promised...

The miraculous conceptions in the Old Testament were as a figure of the Incarnation:...For it was necessary that His birth from the Virgin be prefigured by certain things, to prepare souls to believe. But it could not be prefigured by something equal, because a figure necessarily falls short of what is prefigured. Therefore, the Scripture shows the Virgin birth by the birth from sterile women, namely, Sarah, Anna, and Elizabeth. But there is a difference: because Sarah received the power to conceive from God miraculously, but from human seed; but in the Blessed Virgin He even prepared that most pure matter from her blood, and along with that, the power of the Holy Spirit was there in place of seed. For the Word was made flesh not from human seed but by a mystical spiration.

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