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HAYDOCK CATHOLIC BIBLE COMMENTARY ON THE NEW TESTAMENT
Ver. 1. A cohort, with the Romans, was a body of infantry 500 strong. There were ten cohorts in each legion. There were, generally speaking, two centurions appointed to the command of each cohort. V.
Ver. 2. A religious man, and one that feared God. He was not a Jew, yet believed in one God. — Always, that is, frequently praying, and giving alms. In the Rheims Testament we find this note: "Hereby it appeareth, that such works as are done before justification, though they suffice not to salvation, yet are acceptable preparatives for the grace of justification, and such as move God to mercy. . . . though all such preparative works come also of grace." These Douay divines did not hold with the Quenellists that a true faith, or the habit of faith, must needs be the first grace. Wi. — Cornelius religiously observed the law of nature, and the principal points of the Jewish moral law, though he did not profess Judaism. Calmet. — He was an admirable example of virtue before his knowledge of Christianity. He feared God, and brought up his family in the same holy fear. He was leader of the first band, and consequently had the eagle, the Roman ensign, carried before him. Four hundred men were under his command. Tirinus. — "His former goodness could no longer avail him, unless he were, by the bond of Christian society and peace, incorporated with the Church; he is therefore ordered to send unto Peter, that by him he may learn Christ, by him he may be baptized." S. Aug. l. i. de bap. c. 8. — Alms. Nothing is more efficacious than the alms of a man, whose hands have not been defiled by injustice. It is a clear stream, refreshing in the heat of day, and imparting verdure to every plant that is near it. It is a fountain springing to eternal life. It is a tree, whose branches reach even to heaven, and which produces its eternal fruit in abundance, when death has removed from you all that is temporal. Waste not, then, your treasures in selfish gratifications, the fruit of which is sorrow; but feed the poor, and the hungry. Plant and sow in their hands, and your produce will be great; no soil is more fertile. S. Chrys. hic. hom. xxii.
Ver. 3. He saw in a vision manifestly. An angel appearing visibly to him. Wi.
Ver. 9. Stated hours for prayer were appointed both in the old and new law. Of this S. Cyprian writes: "In celebrating their prayers, we find that the three children of Daniel observed the third, sixth, and ninth hour. Thus afterwards, at the third hour, the Holy Ghost descended upon the apostles, fulfilling the grace of our Lord's promise: at the sixth hour, Peter going up to the higher room of the house, was both by voice and sign from God instructed, that all nations should be admitted to the grace of salvation, of which he before doubted; and our Lord being crucified at the sixth hour, at the ninth washed away our sins by his blood. But to us, besides the seasons observed of old, the set times of praying are increased; for we must pray in the morning early, that the resurrection of our Lord may be celebrated by morning prayer; in the morning early will I stand before Thee, early in the morning wilt thou hear my voice. Ps. v. Towards the evening also, when the sun departeth, we must of necessity pray again." De Orat. Dom. No. 15. S. Jerom, writing to Eustochia, a virgin, and a religious, (ep. 22.) says, "though the apostle bid us to pray always, and, to holy persons, their very sleep is prayer; yet we must have distinct hours for prayer, that if perhaps we be otherwise occupied, the very time may admonish us of our duty. The third, sixth, ninth hour, morning early, and evening, no man can be ignorant of."
Ver. 10. There came upon him an ecstasy of mind. This is the true sense by the Greek. I have never yet eaten any unclean thing. This seems to have happened, an. 35. Till then the apostles followed the ceremonies of the law of Moses. It may seem strange that even S. Peter should not know that the ceremonial precepts of the law were to be abolished. It may be answered, that S. Peter and they, were only ignorant of the time, when they were to be laid aside; and so S. Chrysostom says, that the conversion of Cornelius, with all its circumstances, was to convince the Jews, rather than the apostles, that those ceremonies were no longer obligatory. Wi.
Ver. 15. God hath purified. Not that the Almighty had already sanctified the Gentiles; but he had called them, that they might become so. He had thrown down the wall of separation, which had stood between Jew and Gentile; he had made one fold to contain all the sheep under one shepherd. Jesus Christ, by his blood, had generally reconciled all mankind to his Father. In this sense all were pure; that is, all had a right, as all were called, to partake of the merits of the Son of God. All had a right to communicate in the truths of the gospel, and in the sacraments, which were the appointed channels, through which the graces and merits of Jesus Christ were applied. Calmet. — Here, then, God first announced to Peter, that the time was come to preach to the Gentiles unto salvation, no less than to the Jews; with full freedom to eat all meats, without respect to the prohibition of some made in the old law. B.
Ver. 25. Cornelius . . . worshipped. Some think Cornelius might look upon S. Peter as more than a man, and offer to him divine worship: but by prostrating, he might only intend to pay such honour to him, as is paid to persons eminent in dignity, especially according to the custom of the eastern people. Wi.
Ver. 26. S. Chrysostom (hom. xxi in Act.) thinketh Peter refused this homage through humility, because this falling down, proskunein, is frequently used in Scripture towards men. S. Jerom (adv. Vigil. c. ii.) holds the contrary sentiment.
Ver. 28. Abominable a thing. The Jews extended their aversion to the Gentiles to an unnatural length; hence the frequent accusations of the latter, that they were a nation the enemies of mankind. Josephus defends his nation against the imputation. He allows that Moses forbids them to admit strangers into their solemnities, and exercises of religion, but not to refuse any thing which common humanity demands of all. Jos. lib. ii. con. App.
Ver. 35. In every nation, &c. That is to say, not only Jews, but Gentiles also, of what nation soever, are acceptable to God, if they fear him, and work justice. But then true faith is always to be presupposed, without which, (saith S. Paul, Heb. xi. 6.) it is impossible to please God. Beware then of the error of those, who would infer from this passage, that men of all religions may be pleasing to God. For since none but the true religion can be from God, all other religions must be from the father of lies; and therefore highly displeasing to the God of truth. Ch. — He that feareth him, and worketh justice. So he calls the prayers, alms-deeds, and charitable works of this Gentile Cornelius. Wi.
Ver. 36. God sent the word. By this word, some understand the eternal Word, the Son of God; but by the next verse, we may rather expound it of the word of the gospel preached. Jesus Christ . . . he is Lord of all things. A proof of Christ's divinity. Wi.
Ver. 37. For it began, or its beginning was, &c.
Ver. 39. Whom they killed. At the very first, says S. Chrys. the apostles preached Christ crucified, and tell them they had put to death on a cross the Lord of all things, the judge of the living and the dead. Wi. — We may here admire how wonderfully Peter adapts his discourse to the capacity of his hearers. When speaking to the Jews, he proves Jesus to be their Messias, from the testimony of their prophets. On the present occasion, he only just alludes to the prophets, but confirms his discourse by the testimony of the miracles which Jesus had wrought in public, and were known to all the world. Calmet.
Ver. 40. Jesus Christ did not announce his resurrection, and other mysteries, to all at once, but to a chosen few, who were to be governors of the rest; teaching us thereby, that we have to learn our religion, and every thing necessary to salvation, from the Church of God, speaking to us by her ministers.
Ver. 42. The living and of the dead. This may be understood of the elect, who live by grace, and the reprobate, who are spiritually dead; or perhaps more literally, of those who shall be found living upon earth at the second coming of Christ, and of all who have died from the commencement of the world to the end of time. S. Aug. Enchirid.
Ver. 44. The Holy Ghost fell upon all them, and made his coming known in some visible manner and exterior signs, as on the day of Pentecost. The Christians who had come with S. Peter, who before had been Jews, were astonished to see that such extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were given to uncircumcised Gentiles. Wi.
Ver. 47. Can any man forbid water? &c. Or doubt that these, on whom the Holy Ghost hath descended, may be made members of the Christian Church, by baptism, as Christ ordained? Wi. — Such may be the grace of God occasionally towards men, and such their great charity and contrition, that they may have remission, justification, and sanctification, before the external sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and penance be received; as we see in this example: where, at Peter's preaching, they all received the Holy Ghost before any sacrament. But here we also learn one necessary lesson, that such, notwithstanding, must needs receive the sacraments appointed by Christ, which whosoever contemneth, can never be justified. S. Aug. sup. Levit. q. 84. T. 4.