The History of the Fourteen
Epistles of St. Paul
In the Acts of the Apostles St. Luke describes the first growth of the Church in Jerusalem and throughout Palestine, and, outside of Palestine, in various countries of Western Asia and Eastern Europe. A society arises and rapidly increases around the teaching and ruling body of Apostles so carefully chosen, trained, and instructed by our Lord Himself. They and their successors after them to the end of time were to teach the nations of earth "to observe all things whatsoever" the Master had revealed as the law of life for mankind (St. Matt. xxviii. 19, 20). This immortal society thus springing into existence beneath the shadow of the Cross of Calvary, was not only to teach with the fullness of Christ's Own authority, but to Baptize and administer to the faithful all of Christ's saving and sanctifying ordinances; and on the human race who hear this preaching and this call to Baptism and newness of life is imposed the necessity of complying under pain of eternal loss. "He that believeth and is Baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not, shall be condemned" (St. Mark xvi. 16). Baptism is but the door by which one enters into this Society: it is the indispensable initiatory rite and new birth in which the children of the fallen Adam are born again of the blood of the Second-----the blood of God. Other Divine ordinances, Sacraments of heavenly origin, and pregnant with Divine virtue, are administered in due course, and according to the soul's needs, to maintain, renew, increase, and perfect the supernatural life bestowed in the new birth of Baptism. And so this Society Divinely commissioned to teach, to regenerate, and govern the race of man in all things pertaining to eternal salvation, stands forth in the full consciousness of its power, and speaks to Jerusalem and to the world by the mouth of Peter, its visible chief, on the day of the first Christian Pentecost. Three thousand men Baptized and admitted forthwith into fellowship with the preacher and his associates, attest the might of the Spirit Who moves both the speaker and his hearers. Thenceforward the mighty movement is propagated far and wide. They teach-----these fathers of the new moral world which Christ came down to create-----they Baptize, they govern their flocks, with unquestioned authority, both the rulers and the subjects in the infant Church appreciating sensibly and to the full the last utterance of Christ: "Behold, I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world" (St. ( Matt. xxviii. 20). In everyone of the following epistles or letters addressed by St. Paul to the churches which he had founded or visited, or to the bishops he had set over them, the consciousness of this Divinely-given authority is evident in the writer, and evidently supposed in the persons to whom they are written. He is in prison at Rome, and from there writes four of these touching letters, to Philemon, to the Colossians, the Philippians, and to the Ephesians. Just listen to some of the Divine lessons of the imprisoned Apostle.-----To the noble Philemon whose forgiveness and brotherly charity he bespeaks for the fugitive slave Onesimus: "Though I have much confidence in Christ Jesus, to command thee that which is to the purpose, for charity sake I rather beseech, whereas thou art such: an one, as Paul an old man, and now a prisoner also of Jesus Christ: I beseech thee for my son, whom I have begotten in my bands, Onesimus . . . Trusting in thy obedience, I have written to thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say." Thus does apostolic charity address itself to the work of abolishing the inveterate evil of slavery along with the manifold corruptions of the Pagan World.-----To the Colossians: "We (Timothy and Paul) . . . cease not to pray for you and to beg that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding . . . If so ye continue in the faith, grounded, and settled, and immovable from the hope of the Gospel which ye have heard, which is preached in all the creation that is under Heaven, whereof Paul am made a minister. Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh for His body, which is the Church . . . If you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God . . . Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth . . . uncleanness, lust, evil concupiscence, and covetousness . . . Stripping yourselves of the old man with his deeds, and putting on the new, him who is renewed unto knowledge, according to the image of Him that created him." This God-like virtue was the new wine which could not be held in old vessels: all had to be Divine in the Christian man. -----To the Philippians, who were especially dear to Paul: "My dearly beloved, my joy, and my crown: so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved! . . . Let your modesty be known to all men. . . .Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame-----if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline-----think on these things. The things which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, these do ye! and the God of peace shall be with you!"-----Finally, to the Ephesians: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings . . . in Christ, As He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in His sight in charity. ..I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . that He would grant you, . . . to be strengthened by His Spirit with might unto the inward man. That Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts: that being rooted and founded in charity, you may be able to comprehend with all the Saints what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth. To know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge, that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God."
"Anyone, in reading the Epistles of St. Paul," says Bergier, "must see that they were written on the spur of some particular occurrence, to clear up some question put to the writer, to correct some dangerous abuse, to inculcate some special duties; that his purpose, in no one of these letters, was to draw up for the faithful a profession of faith, or an exposition of all the doctrines of Christian belief, or of all its moral duties; that, while writing to one Church, he never prescribes that his letter shall be communicated to all the others. It is, therefore, perverse obstinacy in Protestants to maintain that whenever St. Paul preached or taught by word of mouth, he confined himself to repeating the instructions contained in someone of his letters; and that no truth which is not laid down in writing can belong to the Christian doctrine." On the contrary, it is evident from a cursory glance at the Epistles themselves, that St. Paul refers to a previous body of truths delivered by oral teaching, and to the acknowledged fact that the numbers of each church had been thoroughly grounded by such teaching in the great truths of the new Revelation.
THE EPISTLE TO THE members was, most probably, written from Corinth, in the 58th year after the birth of Christ, two years before St. Paul went to Rome, and twenty-four rears after his conversion. During this quarter of a century the Christian faith had grown wonderfully in the capital of the Roman empire. The church there, as in most other cities of the empire, was composed of Jewish and Gentile converts, among whom a discussion arose as to their relative claims to the esteem of the great body of believers throughout the world. The Jews prided themselves on their being the descendants of Abraham, on their ancestors having lived under a theocracy governed by a system of law and religion solemnly revealed to their own nation, while the rest of the human race remained in the darkness and horrid corruptions of idolatry. The converted Gentiles, on the other hand, nursed the belief that they had obtained the grace of conversion as a reward of their fidelity to the law of nature, and pointed out the many great and pure names of their philosophers, warriors, and statesmen. Thus the Jewish Christians seemed to think that their faith observance of the Mosaic law had deserved the grace of the Divine adoption and justification in Christ, while their Gentile brethren attributed their possessing a like privilege to their having allowed the guidance of the natural light of reason. St. Paul, who had been specially chosen to teach the Gentile world, wrote his Epistle to convince both these classes of converts of their serious error, by showing that the supernatural grace of our adoption as children of God, and the whole subsequent train of graces which lead the soul to believe and to be justified, are bestowed on us gratuitously, as the effect of God's pure mercy, without any previous merit of our own. To stop the vain boasting of both Jew and Gentile, St. Paul shows how both were the slaves of sin, and, therefore, unable to merit the gift of justification by their own good deeds. The condition of the people of God was, indeed, attended with many singular spiritual advantages and privileges, as compared with that of the pagan world. Nevertheless, neither Jew nor Pagan could by their own merits lift themselves up to the supernatural rank and regenerated condition of the Christian people. In order to convey a conviction of this truth to the minds of the faithful at Rome, St. Paul begins by exposing the horrible crimes committed among Pagans even by the most enlightened philosophers-----chap. i. In chap. ii. he enumerates the transgressions of the Jews; and concludes, in chap. iii., that in as much as both were thus subject to sin, so the justification vouchsafed them in Christ must be absolutely gratuitous, the effect of grace and not of legal justice or natural virtue, and therefore to be attributed to supernatural faith, which is a gift of God. This position is confirmed and illustrated by the example of Abraham's heroic faith and justification, chap. iv. In chap. v. is set forth the excellence of this grace of Christ; in chap. vi. the Christian soul is urged to preserve, cherish, and increase this priceless gift. In chap. vii. he teaches that even in the Christian, after Baptism and justification, the evil forces of nature still remain with the low animal appetites (concupiscence) that drag the soul down toward sensual gratification: this concupiscence is a force which rebels against the restraints of the Mosaic law or the law of nature, without being put down by them, the victory over it being reserved to the grace received through Christ. St. Paul then proceeds to enumerate the fruits of faith, chap. viii.; shows in chaps. ix., x., xi., that the grace of justification was bestowed on the Gentiles in preference to the Jews, because the former readily submitted to the preaching of the Gospel, while the latter rejected Christ; that, whereas the supernatural gift of faith was a thing not due to either Jews or Gentiles, the promises made to Abraham and his posterity do not therefore fail, nor can the Divine justice be impugned. In chaps. xii.---xvi., the Apostle inculcates the cardinal precepts of morality so necessary to all who believe in the Gospel (see Picquigny's Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans).
Vainly have those who reject the infallible authority of the Catholic Church endeavored to build on the words of St. Paul a system of blind and fatal predestination, alike injurious to the Divine goodness and destructive of man's free will under the action of Divine grace. From the passage, chap. ix. 13, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated," we must not conclude that our good God, without any regard to the merits of men and independently of His foreknowledge of their good and evil deeds, predestines some to be the objects of His hate and others to be the objects of His love. On the contrary, we are to believe that this predestination in its twofold aspect is based on the foreknowledge God must needs have of the good or evil deeds of every human being. Even so the words, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy," etc. (Ibid. 15), are not to be construed into an absolute election of a certain class of persons destined to everlasting happiness, independently of all prevision of their good or evil deeds. They simply imply that the almighty goodness is ever free to grant the grace of faith and justification to whomsoever it pleases. It is a supernatural gift, one not due to nature or natural merits. Hence St. Paul says (Ibid. 16): "So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy. . . . Therefore He hath mercy on whom He will; and, whom He will, He hardeneth;" that is, He allows the hard and rebellious heart to persist in its rejection of His graces, as He did in the case of Pharaoh and in that of the apostate Judas. So "to harden " is not to predestine to eternal damnation, any more than "to show mercy" or "to have mercy" is to predestine to eternal bliss.
Let us Catholics rest sweetly in the assurance that we have in the living voice of the Church an infallible interpreter of the dead letter of Scripture, whether it be the writings of St. Paul or any other book of the Old or New Testament.
I. AND II. TO THE CORINTHIANS.-----Corinth, situated on a narrow neck of land that separated the Ægean from the Mediterranean Sea, was thus the central point on the very highway of commerce between Italy and Asia. The city was rich and beautiful, and the climate lovely. When it first fell beneath the arms of the Roman Republic, the seduction of its evil arts on that hitherto austere commonwealth was such, that from that time dates the decline of Roman virtue and liberty. The city had been visited by St. Peter before St. Paul came there, and the Christian faith had made such rapid conquests, and operated so extraordinary a change in the manners of the local Christian society, that it was the wonder of all Greece. Still, both because of the great mental activity which prevailed among Corinthians of all classes, and because of the concourse of strangers from the East and the West who met here like two adverse tides, there was a great diversity of opinion and sentiment among the faithful. St. Peter had left there as elsewhere the impress of his authority and the memory of his virtues. After him St. Paul had come, and the eloquence of the Apostle of the Gentiles had, not improbably, cast into the shade the preaching of the poor fisherman of Galilee; then had come from Alexandria Apollos, more eloquent even than Paul, and one who had the secret of all the philosophies of Egypt, Asia, and Greece. And so, as was the wont in the East, these cultured Christians would discuss the respective merits of their teachers, as the university students in Athens and Alexandria criticised the eloquence and doctrines of their rhetoricians and philosophers. This was one source of contention. Another came from their very imperfect acquaintance with the moral law of the Gospel, the Jewish converts, probably, contending for the maintenance of Jewish customs, while the Gentile proselytes refused to be governed by the prescriptions of the Mosaic law. The Corinthians themselves had, besides, written to St. Paul, begging to be instructed on several matters of doctrine and discipline. This letter is an answer to this prayer, as well as a general admonition to the church of Corinth to discountenance unwise and uncharitable discussions, and to cherish, above all things, union of souls by firm faith and inviolable charity. "Everyone of you saith: I indeed am of Paul; and I am of Apollo; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul then crucified for you? Or were you Baptized in the name of Paul?" Such are the words of weighty remonstrance with which the Apostle begins his instruction, and they let us into the secret of these lamentable divisions. To the proud and vain Greeks, who sought and prized philosophical wisdom above all else, the Apostle declares that he knows but one wisdom: that by which God has redeemed and is converting the world through the mystery of the Cross, and the humiliations of the Crucified-----a means of all the most inadequate according to the judgment of the worldly-wise. "But we have the mind of Christ," he declares, as the sole rule and measure of our judgments in things spiritual.
Wherefore, as the merits of their teachers did not bring about the change of heart wrought in the converts, but the hidden virtue of the Cross and the grace of the Crucified, so the labors of Apostolic men had been barren of all heavenly fruit without that same grace. "Let no man therefore glory in men. For all things are yours . . . And you are Christ's: and Christ is God's." It is worse than folly, then, to dispute about the personal qualities or merits of the Apostle through whom one has received the word of salvation, seeing that the Church and the whole body of the Divine ordinances are God's gift to man in Christ, and that one ought to look to the Almighty Giver and the priceless gift rather than to the earthly channel through which it is communicated. Nevertheless, as the Apostles are the workmen and servants of the Master, to Him alone are they amenable in judgment. Hence, chap. iv., the severe reproof given to all who permit themselves to arraign the conduct of God's ministers.
To humble these vain-glorious and self-sufficient Corinthians, the Apostle, in chap. v., touches on the festering sore both of Pagan and Christian society in the beautiful city-----unbridled licentiousness. A Christian man had forgotten himself so far as to marry his own stepmother. Him the Apostle excommunicates, and then comes the solemn admonition to the young Church of the place: "Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump? Purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new paste . . . Put away the Evil One from among! yourselves!"
Then follow authoritative admonitions against the unbrotherly practice of bringing their wrongs for judgment before the Pagan tribunals, and against those sins of impurity that are so opposed to the ideal of Christian holiness, chap. vi.; lessons on marriage, virginity, and celibacy, chap. vii.; on abstinence from meats offered to idols, chap. viii.; on his own voluntary poverty, his working at a trade, and his bodily austerities, chap. ix.; on the abstinence from certain meats to be observed by the faithful, x.; on the dress and functions of women in the church services, and the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, xi.; on the Divine economy in the distribution of extraordinary gifts and graces, xii.; on the incomparable excellence of charity as the great central virtue to be sought and practiced by all, xiii.; on the preference to be given to the gift or talent of prophesying; that is, of understanding and expounding Divine things, xiv. In the xvth chapter he answers the last question put to him by the Corinthians on the final resurrection, concluding, in the last chapter, with directions about collecting alms for the needy churches, and various farewell words of admonition and blessing.
The Second Epistle, written a few months after the First, was a penned by the Apostle to relieve the excommunicated Corinthian of his heavy censure, and to encourage the prompt good will of all those who had profited by the reproofs and teachings detailed above. St. Paul once more reasserts his apostolic independence of all earthly praise and commendation. The Judaizing faction, instead of yielding to Paul's appeal in favor of union and charity, still persisted in accusing him of undue leaning to the Gentiles and of defaming Moses and the law. They evidently went so far as to deny him the rank and quality of a true Apostle, thereby belittling his ministry and destroying his influence with a great number of people. These factious intrigues had, perhaps, induced the Corinthians to draw up letters commendatory of Paul and his labors. At any rate, he declines any such commendation, affirms the independence of the ministers of the New Testament, exalts the mission entrusted to himself and his associates (chap. iv.); urges them to be liberal in their charity toward the needy sister churches; and exhorts them to make a good use of God's liberality toward themselves. From chapter x. to the end he nobly defends himself and his labors against the detractors who had been so busy among the Corinthians.
EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS.-----This Epistle was written from Ephesus, according to the opinion of the best biblical scholars. The Galatians were the Gauls or Celts of Western Asia; they had been instructed in the faith by St. Paul, but, in his absence, had been, like the Corinthians, sadly disturbed by Judaizing mischief-makers, who persuaded them of the necessity of conforming to the Law of circumcision and to other Jewish observances, depreciating at the same time the apostolic rank and services of Paul. He therefore writes to undo what these false teachers and pernicious zealots had been doing among the fervent, hot-headed, and impulsive Galatians. He establishes his own claim to the Apostolate by relating the fact of his miraculous conversion and his special mission to the Gentiles, a mission received, immediately from Christ, and expressly approved by the body of the Apostles and by Peter in particular. He shows, moreover, that Peter as well as his colleagues had sanctioned the stand that he (Paul) had taken on the questions arising about the Mosaic Law, and the free and sinless intercourse of converted Jews with their Gentile brethren and others. He solemnly rejects the obligation which Judaizing Christians sought to impose on the Church of submitting to the prescriptions of the ceremonial law of Moses; and asserts the freedom from that law of servitude as the spiritual birthright of Christians. He, therefore, exhorts them to free themselves from the bondage of sensual superstitions to which both the modern Jews and the Gentiles were slaves, and to serve Christ in that lofty freedom of soul into which the apostolic teaching and the infallible guidance of the Church were sure to lead them. "Stand fast, and be not held again under the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul tell you, that if you be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing . . . You are made void of Christ, you who are justified in the law: you are fallen from grace . . .You did run well: who hath hindered you, that you should not obey the truth? This persuasion is not from Him that, calleth you."
THE EPISTLE TO THE EPHESIANS.-----The city of Ephesus has many claims on our veneration. It became, after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, the chief residence of the Apostle St. John, and the residence as well to the end of her life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There, also, as tradition hath it, her blessed body vas buried during the brief interval between her death and her Assumption into Heaven. Ephesus, moreover, was at that time not only the great stronghold of Pagan superstition-----containing the incomparable Temple of Diana-----but the great intellectual centre of Western Asia. Its schools rivaled in influence those of Alexndria and Athens, while its philosophers boasted of possessing all the secrets of the most ancient philosophies of the East. During the first seven centuries of Christianity Ephesus held a commanding place among the Asiatic churches, and was the scene of events and discussions famous in ecclesiastical history. Even when it fell into the hands of the Mohammedans, its traditions and monuments secured to the remnants of its Catholic population unusual protection and privileges.
As St. Paul had repeatedly visited Ephesus and labored there with extraordinary zeal and success, he could not but feel a most fatherly interest in the prosperity of a church holding such a position, and destined to wield such a powerful influence on the sister-churches of Asia Minor. There is a most touching passage in Acts xx. 15-38, describing Paul's interview at Miletus with the clergy of the Church of Ephesus. The beautiful farewell discourse which the Apostle addresses to them ought to be read in conjunction with this Epistle, written during Paul's first imprisonment at Rome, in the year 62.
The Epistle itself is one of the most sublime productions of the Apostle of the Gentiles. To the infant and persecuted Church of Ephesus, surrounded by schools in which were taught all the systems of Grecian and Asiatic philosophy, all the seductive theories of Persian Gnosticism, St. Paul exposes in this letter the whole scheme of God's supernatural providence in the Incarnation, the Redemption, and the establishment of the Church, the great instrument by which the human race, through all succeeding generations, might become incorporated into one undying Society under Christ as Head, and thus be made sharers of all the temporal and eternal benefits of His redemption. The Christian family are thus "the adopted children of God," i. 5, under Christ, the God-Man, elevated in Heaven above all created beings, and being made "Head over all the Church, which is His body, and the fulness of Him, who is filled all in all," i. 20-23. In Him, in this blessed society which is His mystic Body, all the social barriers established by oriental castes and prejudices are broken down; there is neither Greek nor Barbarian, nor slave nor free, nor Jew nor Gentile: "the Gentiles " are "fellow-heirs and copartners of His promise in Christ Jesus by the Gospel," iii. 6; Paul hath been sent to preach "the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to enlighten all men," without distinction, on the merciful design of the eternal God, iii. 8-21. The remainder of the epistle is a most eloquent exhortation to the God-like virtues becoming such a Divine rank.
THE EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS.-----Of this sufficient mention was made in the section on the "Fourteen Epistles of St. Paul." It is the sweet and affectionate expression of the Apostle's gratitude and fatherly tenderness toward a church which sent him in his dire need substantial proofs of love, and which gave, amid continual persecutions, evidence of heroic constancy and piety.
THE EPISTLE TO THE COLOSSIANS.-----Colossæ was a beautiful and flourishing city, situated inland from Ephesus, on the head-waters of the Mæander and near the high-road from Ephesus to the Euphrates. Colossæ was thus exposed to the same dangerous influences against which St. Paul wished to guard the Ephesians in the Epistle addressed to them. There is a striking resemblance both in the doctrinal lessons he gives to the Colossians and in the practical virtues which he recommends to them, and the substance of his great Epistle to the Ephesians. The letter to the Church of Colossæ was also written by the Apostle from his prison in Rome, and sent by Tychicus, Epaphras, and Onesimus, the two latter being themselves Colossians by birth, and Epaphras having been, moreover, the first to preach the Gospel in his native city. In the first, or doctrinal portion, St. Paul clearly warns the Colossians against the Gnostic theories, as well as the narrow exclusiveness of the Judaizing preachers. We have been "translated (by God the Father) into the Kingdom of the Son of His love, . . . Who is the first-born of every creature: for in Him were all things created in Heaven and on earth, visible and invisible," i. 13.-16.
The whole "mystery" of the Christian dispensation, the whole purpose of Christ's work and government, is to present the Christian man "holy and unspotted and blameless before Him," i. 22. It is to attain this end that Paul labors and suffers: "We preach admonishing every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus," i. 28. They are to glory in Christ as being the infinite God and the infinite Wisdom. "As therefore you have received (been taught) Jesus Christ, walk ye in Him," ii. 6. They are not to go back to the imperfect and now empty forms and observances of Judaism, ii. 16-23. They are to shine forth in supernatural newness of life, iii., iv.
THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS.-----St. Paul had a special and well-merited affection for the churches of Thessalonica and Philippi. In both these cities the Gospel had been received willingly, and its professors there had shown themselves worthy followers of Paul and of his Master, Christ. There, however-----throughout all Greece, indeed, as well as in Asia Minor-----the Jews had shown themselves the bitter and unscrupulous opponents of the Apostles, and the unrelenting persecutors of all who embraced the Christian faith. Through their misrepresentations Paul had to fly from Philippi, and had been assailed in Thessalonica with still greater violence. Nevertheless, a flourishing church had sprung up there, composed principally of converts from Paganism. After St. Paul's departure, the Jewish Synagogue in Thessalonica-----powerful even then, and comprising at present fully one-third of the entire population-----employed its whole influence in shaking the fidelity of the new Christians, and in persecuting all those whose constancy remained proof against persecution. St. Timothy, Paul's indefatigable companion, had been sent to comfort the Thessalonians in their distress and to inquire carefully into their spiritual progress. On his return, he reported most favorably to his master. Thereupon St. Paul wrote to Thessalonica. It is the letter of a true fatherly, apostolic heart, written, most probably, from Corinth in the last months of the year 52. After expressing his devout gratitude for their progress and perseverance in virtue and piety, he replies to the personal abuse heaped on him by the Jews by recalling to the minds of his converts with what heroic zeal and disinterestedness he had labored among them, supporting himself the while by the work of his own hands. They have not, therefore, any cause to blush for their spiritual father. In the impossibility of returning to their city, he beseeches them to increase their fidelity and fervor; praises their extraordinary charity; urges them to attend, in all peacefulness and quietness, to their respective avocations, and to those steady habits of industry which secure independence. They are not to mourn hopelessly for their dead. They are destined to share in Christ's glorious Resurrection. Being certain that this Great Day of awakening shall come for all, "Let us not sleep as others do; but let us watch and be sober . . . And we beseech you, brethren, rebuke the unquiet, comfort the feeble, minded, support the weak be patient towards all men."
THE SECOND EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS.-----This was also written from Corinth very soon after the First, and for a like purpose. He particularly instructs them not to be alarmed by the predictions of some false teachers who went about announcing that the end of the world was near at hand. "Therefore, brethren, stand fast! and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle."
THE FIRST AND SECOND EPISTLE TO TIMOTHY.-----This faithful companion and fellow-laborer of St. Paul was a native of Derbe or Lystra in Lycaonia, the son of a Greek father, and of a Jewish mother, Eunice, to whose careful training as well as to that of his grandmother, Lois, he owed not only his knowledge of the Old Testament writings, but his conversion to Christianity. From his first meeting with Paul at Lystra, the Apostle's soul was drawn to the heroic youth in whom he discovered all the great qualities that go to make the apostolic missionary . . . Seven years afterward, during Paul's second tour, Timothy was set apart and ordained for the apostolic ministry. Thenceforward he became Paul's right hand in his gigantic labors, going whithersoever the latter would, to confirm and console the faithful of Europe or Asia, following his master to Rome and sharing, it is thought, his first imprisonment there. After their liberation, Paul and his companion revisited Asia together, Timothy being placed in charge of the Church of Ephesus, while St. Paul went over to Macedonia.
The First Epistle, written at some uncertain date after the separation, is, manifestly, an instruction on the duties of the pastoral office, every line of which has been for eighteen centuries the delightful spiritual food of bishops and priests all over the world. The Second Epistle was written from St. Paul's prison in Rome, and most probably a very short time before his death. "I have a remembrance of thee in my prayers, night and day, desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy; calling to mind that faith which is in thee unfeigned, which also dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and in thy mother Eunice, and I am certain that in thee also" (i. 3-5). Thus does the fatherly heart of the aged Apostle go out to the young bishop, touching and moving powerfully every heroic fibre in it, before he lays before him the details of the high and holy duties which are incumbent on him. It is like the eagle encouraging its young to try the loftiest flights.
"Only Luke is with me," the imprisoned Apostle says in concluding; "take Mark and bring him with thee . . . The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, especially the parchments." Such is the poverty of this glorious apostle of Jesus of Nazareth! Would you see a further resemblance of Paul with his Master, listen to what the Apostle says of his first appearance before the Roman magistrates, probably of his first trial by torture: "At my first answer no man stood with me, but all forsook me: may it not be laid to their charge! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me," 2 Tim. iv. 16, 17.
THE EPISTLE TO TITUS.-----Titus was the son of Greek parents, by birth a Gentile, consequently. He was a fellow-laborer of St. Paul and Barnabas at Antioch, and assisted with them at the Council of Jerusalem, in which it was decided that the Gentile converts should not be compelled to receive circumcision. He was employed by St. Paul on various missions to the churches, such as were intrusted to Timothy, and, like the latter; was appointed by the Apostle to discharge the episcopal functions. In the interval between St. Paul's first and second imprisonment at Rome, he visited Crete in company with Titus, and left the latter in the island after him to govern the church there. The Epistle addressed to Titus from Nicopolis (in Epirus, probably, where St. Paul was afterward arrested and carried a prisoner to Rome), after enumerating the chief virtues that should adorn a bishop, points out those which Titus is to insist on among the people he has to govern.
THE EPISTLE TO PHILEMON.-----This is a touching plea for a fugitive slave, Onesimus, whom St. Paul had converted in Rome, whom he found a useful auxiliary in his ministrations, and whom he sends back to his native city, Colossæ, where he expects Philemon to receive him as a brother.
THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS.-----The constant belief of the Catholic Church ascribes the authorship of this most beautiful epistle to St. Paul. The doubts which modern critics have endeavored to cast on its authenticity are of too evanescent a nature to cloud the faith of the true Christian scholar. It was probably written from Rome, and in the year 63. It was addressed, not so much to the Hebrew race in general, as to the Hebrew Christians of Palestine, and, particularly, those of Jerusalem. For many years before this Jerusalem had been held in terror by an organized band of assassins (the Sicarii), and in the year 62 the new High Priest Annas, or Ananus II, a rigid Sadducee, began a formidable persecution against the Christians, and summoned before the Sanhedrin St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem, and other leading Christians. The other James had, several years before, been put to death by order of Herod Agrippa, and since then, as if in atonement of this innocent blood, the Sicarii, with the connivance of Felix, the Roman Governor, had killed the High Priest Jonathan at the altar and in the very act of sacrificing. Everything in Judea portended the near accomplishment of our Lord's prediction-----the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the final dispersion of the Jewish nation. It was thus a period of terrible and manifold trial for the Christian Hebrews of Palestine. What was to compensate them for the loss of their nationality, the destruction of the Holy City, the blotting out of the national sanctuary, and the cessation of the worship of their forefathers?
No one better than St. Paul could lift up the soul of these suffering Christians, confirm their faith by showing how the ancient promises were all fulfilled in Christ, how the trials of the Hebrews of old should animate their descendants to heroic constancy, and sustain their hopes by laying before them in the glorious spectacle of Christ's universal Kingdom and everlasting priesthood-----the consummation of their most patriotic aspirations? To understand, therefore, both the purpose and the scope of this epistle, we must recall to mind the objections which non-believing Jews were continually making against the Christian religion and its Founder. Christ, they said, the author of this new faith, was a man put to the most shameful death by a solemn sentence of the magistrates and the people, whereas the Jewish religion could boast of a Law delivered to their nation by Angels acting in God's name, and promulgated by Moses, the holiest and most illustrious of men.
Moreover, the Christians, instead of the glorious Temple of Jerusalem, the splendid sacrificial ritual ordained by Moses, the uninterrupted succession of priests and Levites descended from Aaron, and the sacred and solemn yearly festivals which assembled the Hebrew people around the altars of the living God, had only obscure and mysterious rites celebrated in holes and corners, without any hereditary priesthood or recognized public temple. Where could the Hebrew people go, as of old, in their manifold needs, in their consciousness of sin, to find the Mercy Seat on which Jehovah dwelt, or the altar of holocausts on which to offer the atoning victims of their guilt?
St. Paul purposes to show that the Christian Religion is incomparably above the Jewish, in this, that its Author and Lawgiver is Christ, the Son of God and very God Himself, as superior to the Angels and to Moses as the Creator is to His creatures. Moses, who stood as mediator between God and His people, was but a mortal, whereas in our Mediator Christ, we have an infinite Person. The same transcendent excellence prevails in the rites and sacrifice of the New Law, an the spiritual and eternal goods it bestows on its subjects.
In order to follow without confusion the course of St. Paul's demonstration you have only to examine the natural divisions of this Epistle. I. From chap. i. to chap. iv., the Apostle shows the superiority of Christ's mediatorship above that intrusted either to the Angels or to Moses. He teaches (chap. i. 1-14 that Christ is above the Angels, although He has only spoken to us after the Prophets. For He is the Son of God, while they are only His messengers and ministers. Nor (ii. 6-8) does the fact of His being Man argue His inferiority to the Angels, since even as Man, Christ hath been placed over all things. Besides, it was a necessary part of the Divine plan of our redemption, that He should stoop to assume our human nature. "Because the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself in like manner hath been partaker of same, that through death He might destroy him who had the empire of death, that is to say, the Devil." Again (chaps. iii., iv.), Moses did not build the house in which he was a minister, whereas our Great High Priest is the builder and the master of God's House and Kingdom here below-----a house and kingdom indeed which are only the figure of the heavenly and eternal Moses, though faithful and true in his ministry, offended, and so did the people he guided, and they entered not into the rest of the Promised Land. Hence we Christians should take warning, and yearn for the eternal repose into which our Divine Leader hath already entered. "We have not a High Priest Who cannot have compassion on our infirmities; but one tempted in all things, like as we are, without sin. Let us go therefore with confidence to the throne of grace: that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid" (iv. 15, 16). In these two last chapters the Apostle, with the art of a true orator, presses upon his afflicted and wavering brethren the danger and fearful consequences of apostasy or falling away from the faith. Those who followed Moses out of Egypt, who heard the word of the Lord in the wilderness and beheld His wonderful ways, wavered and failed in their faith; therefore did they not enter into the promised rest. How many perished in the desert! Even under Josue (iv; 8) they did not, in the land of Chanaan, obtain that Divine and everlasting repose, which it belongs to the true Jesus, the only Saviour, to bestow. But firm faith in Him is already the beginning of possession, the anticipated enjoyment of that rest which gives God to the soul and the soul to God. Let us then give to Him through that living faith our whole heart and soul. "Having therefore a great High Priest that hath passed into the heavens, JESUS the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession."
II. St. Paul now proceeds to discuss the dignity and prerogatives of Christ's priesthood and the infinite virtue of His sacrifice, as the One Victim and oblation prefigured by the sacrificial offerings of the Old Law. In chap. v. 1-11, St. Paul proves that Christ performed the functions of the priestly office by offering up "gifts and sacrifices for sins." Moreover, He closed His earthly career by fulfilling in His Own Person and by His last acts the prophecy which likened Him to Melchisedech. "And being consummated, He became, to all that obey Him, the cause of eternal salvation, called by God a High Priest according to the order of Melchisedech."
As if the Reality prefigured in the sacrifice of Melchisedech, and consummated in the Bread and Wine offered up by Christ, recalled some formidable practical difficulties, the Apostle here turns aside (v. 11; vi. 20) to solve them for his readers. "Of whom (Melchisedech) we have much to say, and hard to be intelligibly uttered, because you are become weak to bear. . . . Strong meat is for the perfect, for them who by custom have their senses exercised to the discerning of good and evil." The Apostle is unwilling to rehearse for these vacillating Christians the elementary truths delivered to catechumens. And then comes the terrible warning to those who allow their first fervor to cool during a time of persecution and their faith to waver, who have abused the most precious: graces, arid by this abuse placed themselves on the road to apostasy.
"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!" . . . Woe to "the earth that drinketh in the rain which cometh often upon it . . . but . . . bringeth forth thorns and briars!" . . . "It is reprobate and very near to a curse . . ." Then come words of generous praise for their former noble deeds of piety and charity, and a most beautiful exhortation to constant and increasing carefulness under present trials. Theirs must be the invincible patience and living faith of Abraham, who was rewarded after so much suffering and waiting-----Even so must they anchor their faith and hope in Heaven, "Where the forerunner Jesus is entered for us."
Taking up the thread of his argument where he had left it at the mention of Christ's priesthood in connection with that of Melchisedech, the Apostle proceeds to show that even as the typical Melchisedech, the King-priest of Salem, was superior in dignity to Abraham, and to Levi descended from Abraham with his sacerdotal progeny, so and far more so He Who is "a Priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech," transcends both the priest-King of Salem and the Levitical priesthood. "By so much is Jesus made a surety of a better testament," vii. 22. "We have such an High Priest, Who is set on the right hand of the throne of majesty in the Heavens, a minister of the Holies and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord hath pitched, and not man," viii. 1, 2. This High Priest, this Priesthood, this Tabernacle, this sacrificial worship, are that most perfect and Divine exemplar which all preceding types and systems copied and foreshadowed.
The blood which flowed in the manifold Mosaic sacrifices was figurative of the blood of the One Infinite Victim; the sacrifices were many and daily renewed because of themselves inefficacious toward atonement or sanctification, ix. 1-10. "But Christ being come an High Priest of the good things to come, . . . by His Own blood entered once into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption, IX. 11, 12. The national Jewish religion with its gorgeous worship was thus only "a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things," x. 1-could "never make the comers thereunto perfect." Now we have in the Lamb of God the victim of infinite price and merit; and, therefore, "we are sanctified by the oblation of the body of Jesus Christ once," x. 10. So, :this [great High Priest] offering one sacrifice for sins, for ever sitteth at the right hand of God . . . By one oblation He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified," x. 12, 14. Thus by the application to us of the infinite atoning merits of this one bloody sacrifice of Calvary is the guilt of all sin remitted, and through that Blood applied to our souls in every Sacrament and every individual grace, are we enabled to go on from degree to degree of spiritual perfection and holiness. O Jews, wherefore, then, do ye weep over the prospect of the near destruction of your Temple and the coming ruin of your Sion? Wherefore refuse to be comforted because with the Temple shall cease forever the sacrificial worship of your forefathers? Look up to Jesus promised by Moses and the Prophets, prefigured by Melchisedech and his oblation. He, the Great High Priest of the perfect and everlasting Covenant, hath fulfilled both the unbloody oblation of the King-Priest of Salem and the bloody expiation foreshown by the Levitic sacrifices. Our Divine Melchisedech sits forever at the right hand of the Father, offering evermore for all succeeding generations His Body and Blood as the price of their ransom and the source of all saving and sanctifying graces. And on earth, even when your Temple disappears, and not one drop of blood shall redden the spot where it now stands, there shall continue all over the earth from the rising to the setting sun the Everlasting Commemoration of Christ's bloody sacrifice, the unbloody offering of Melchisedech. Thus Heaven and earth shall ever unite in the Divine and perfect offering of Him who is a Priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech.
Having thus established the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old, St. Paul once more appeals to his Hebrew coreligionists to continue steadfast in the faith, x. 19-30. "Let us consider one another to provoke unto charity and good works." The Christian Church may not punish with death apostates and transgressors, as was the wont of the Jewish (x. 28); but the spiritual and unseen punishment reserved to the apostate from Christianity is not the less terrible or uncertain, because unseen. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!" The bitter trials which the Church has to endure will soon be ended. Meanwhile her sons must arm themselves with faith and the heroic patience faith begets.
III. The three remaining chapters are taken up with a description of that living faith-----the mightiest of moral forces-----and its wonderful effects, as exemplified in their own illustrious ancestors (chap. xi.); with a stirring exhortation to his Christian brethren to emulate such glorious examples (chap. xii.), and to devote themselves to the practice of brotherly charity and its kindred active virtues-----the most efficacious preservative against human respect and loss of fervor (chap. xiii.)