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HAYDOCK CATHOLIC BIBLE COMMENTARY ON THE NEW TESTAMENT
Ver. 1. Unless you be circumcised. Many who had been converted from Judaism, held that none, not even converted from paganism, could be saved, unless they were circumcised, and observed the other ceremonies of the law of Moses. Wi. — See Gal. v. 2.
Ver. 2. To the apostles and priests, where we find again presbyters in Greek, meaning bishops and priests. Wi. — Paul . . . should go to . . . Jerusalem. We learn from Gal. ii. 2. 4. that S. Paul undertook this journey in consequence of a divine revelation, and was accompanied by Barnabas and Titus, the latter of whom he would not suffer to be circumcised. Such confidence had he in the rectitude of the opinion he defended. From the example of S. Paul and S. Barnabas, apostles, and men full of the Spirit of God, we learn, that as often as any contest arises about faith, recourse should be had to the supreme visible authority established by Jesus Christ, to have all differences adjusted. This is the order of divine Providence with regard to the Church; without it truth and unity could not be preserved; without it, the Church of God would be more defective and inefficient than any human government. Tell the Church: and if he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican. Matt. xviii. 17.
Ver. 7. Former days. Lit. in the days of old; that is, at the conversion of Cornelius, many years ago, about the year 35; and it was now 51. Wi. — S. Peter at the head of the Council, spoke first; S. James as Bishop of Jerusalem, spoke next, and all, as S. Jerom says, came into the sentence of Peter. Ep. lxxxix. ad S. Aug. c. 2.
Ver. 10. Why tempt you God, by calling in question what he hath sufficiently attested, and approved, and by being incredulous to his promises of giving salvation to the Gentiles, and to all nations. Wi.
Ver. 11. In the historical sense he is speaking of the prosperity of the house of Juda, in the reign of Ezechias, or their return from captivity. But in this respect, it is certain that the prophecy never had its entire accomplishment. The passage in the text is cited from the Septuagint. The Hebrew is, "I will raise up the house of David . . . that it may possess all the nations," &c. Now it is true that the nations never were subject to the house of David, or known by the name of the people of God; but by their vocation to the gospel, as S. James explains it. Calmet.
Ver. 18. To the Lord was known his own work. He bringeth it to pass, as he hath decreed, though his decrees are to us unknown. Wi.
Ver. 19. Wherefore I judge, and join my judgment with Peter. S. Chrys. thinks that James had a special authority in the Council, as bishop of Jerusalem, and because of the great veneration, which those zealous for the Jewish law had for him: but his power was certainly inferior to that of S. Peter, who was head of all, as S. Chrys. teacheth, hom. iii. on the Acts.
Ver. 20. Things strangled and from blood. In these prohibitions, the Church indulged the particular feelings of the Jews, that the bond of union between them and the Gentiles might be more closely united; the latter in these two instances giving way to the prejudices of the former, who in their turn gave up much, by submitting to the abolition of the ceremonial law of Moses. This prohibition was of course only temporary, and to cease with the reasons, which gave rise to it. Menochius. — The Jews had such a horror of blood, that they considered those who eat it as defiled, and violators of the law of nature. The Lord had in effect from the beginning forbidden the use of blood to Noe, (Gen. ix. 4.) which he likewise reported in the strongest terms in Leviticus viii. 26. By this we see the great authority of God's Church, and Councils which may make permanent or temporary decrees, such as are fitting for the state of the times or peoples, without any express Scripture at all, and by this authoritative exaction, things become of strict obligation, which previous to it, were in themselves indifferent. B.
Ver. 21. For Moses . . . hath in every city. Not only the Jews, but the Christians converted from Judaism, still followed the ceremonies of the law of Moses. Wi. — Let not the Jews complain, that we abandon Moses, and destroy the law by this regulation. No: it shall subsist for ever in a more perfect state, read in the synagogue, and revered by the Church. Calmet. — Others give a different explanation of this verse. Let the Jews, say they, follow Moses, and hear him in their assemblies; we have other laws, and enjoy other privileges. Tirinus.
Ver. 23. The brethren of the Gentiles. Hence we see, that the letter, with the decree of the Council, only regarded those converts, who had been Gentiles; neither are they forbidden to use the Jewish ceremonies, but a declaration is made, that they have no obligation to follow the said ceremonies and precepts, as it will appear by other places. Wi.
Ver. 24. Some who went out from us, from Jerusalem, and pretended to speak our mind, and in our name, but we gave them no such commission. Wi. — A proper description of heretics, schismatics, and seditious preachers, who go out from their own superiors, and pretend to teach and preach without any mission, et quomodo prædicabunt nisi mittantur; how can they preach, unless they are sent? Rom. x. 15.
Ver. 28. It hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us. To us in these matters, wherein by the promises of Christ, we are directed by the Holy Ghost, the spirit of truth, &c. — Than these necessary things. Necessary at this juncture, and always, if we except that order of abstaining from blood, and things strangled, which was not a perpetual, unchangeable precept, but to last only for a time, as S. Chrys. observes. Wi. — This is the first general council held in the Church, and the model of all succeeding ones. In it the apostles, in a commanding and authoritative manner, laid down the law, which was to be the guide of the faithful, knowing they had a right to impose any regulations in the Church, and that they could not employ this authority but to good purposes, directed as they were by the unerring spirit of truth, which Christ had promised (Matt. xxviii. 20.) should remain with his Church for ever. Hence it would appear that we have no more ground refusing obedience to the voice of the Church at present, than at her first establishment: and that those who will not hear the Church now, speaking in her Councils, would with as little ceremony have opposed the apostles on this occasion, had they lived at the time. By what spirit of seduction has been introduced, and spread, to such an alarming extent, the opinion, that Christianity (the very leading feature of which is to hear and to obey) authorizes unrestricted liberty? Is then authority an unmeaning word? A.
Ver. 29. From blood, and from things strangled. The use of these things, though of their own nature indifferent, were here prohibited, to bring the Jews more easily to admit of the society of the Gentiles; and to exercise the latter in obedience. But this prohibition was but temporary, and has long since ceased to oblige; more especially in the western churches. Ch. — See note on v. 20. supra.
Ver. 31. We may here briefly remark, that the controversy was finally adjusted by the decree of the Council. 2dly, That all, not only the Gentiles, but the abettors and masters of the former dissension, experienced great consolation in the promulgation of the decision, receiving it as the resolve not of mere mortal men, but of the Holy Ghost. It hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us.
Ver. 32. Judas and Silas, being prophets, that is, preachers, as the word prophet, is divers times taken. Wi. — Not only such were called prophets, as had the gift of predicting future events, but such moreover as had the gift of interpreting Scripture, and of speaking of the things of God. V.
Ver. 39. There was a dissension, or dispute, with reasoning, and arguing upon the matter. S. Paul represented to S. Barnabas, that he was not for having John Mark to be their companion, because he had before left them, but S. Barnabas was for having with them his kinsman Mark; and the dispute was such, that upon it S. Paul and Barnabas separated; which gave occasion to the preaching of the gospel in more places. See S. Chrys. hom. xxxiii. — The fault in this contention lay with S. Barnabas; o PauloV to dikaion, o BarnabaV to filanqrwpon: Paul sought what was just; Barnabas what was pleasing to nature. The Greeks, moreover, remark, that this severity of Paul was of service in strengthening the too pliant character of Mark, and as such he is saluted by Paul. Col. iv. 10. They separated, as formerly Abraham and Lot, without prejudice to their friendship. Gen. xiii. 9. Mat. Polus synop. criticorum, fol. 4. p. 1528.