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HAYDOCK CATHOLIC BIBLE COMMENTARY ON THE NEW TESTAMENT
Ver. 1-6. Go now rich men, &c. In the first six verses, he gives admonitions to those among the Christians who were rich, not to rely on riches, nor value themselves on this account. You must look upon your riches and treasures as if they were already putrefied and corrupted, your gold and silver eaten and consumed with rust: and their rust shall rise in testimony and judgment against you, for not making better use of them. As your coin is eaten with rust, so shall your bodies be hereafter as it were eaten and consumed by fire. You heap up to yourselves a treasure in the day of wrath, while through covetousness, and hard heartedness, you defraud labourers of their hire, living at the same time in feasting and luxury, as in the day of slaughter. That is, feasting as men are accustomed to do, on the days when victims are slaughtered, offered, and eaten with great rejoicing. Others expound it, as if you were feeding, and making yourselves fit sacrifices and victims for God's anger and indignation. Wi. — You have feasted, &c. The Greek is, "you have lived in delicacies and debaucheries, and have feasted upon your hearts as for the day of sacrifice:" Etrufhsate, kai espatalhsate eJreyate taV kardiaV umwn wV en hmera sfaghV. That is, you have fattened yourselves with good cheer and sensual pleasures, like victims prepared for a solemn sacrifice. C. — Others among you have unjustly oppressed, accused, and brought to condemnation the just one, by which seems to be understood just and innocent men, who are divers times deprived of their fortunes, and even of their lives, by the unjust contrivances of powerful wicked men. Wi.
Ver. 7-11. Be patient, &c. He now in these five following verses turns his discourse from the rich to the poor, exhorting them to patience till the coming of the Lord to judgment, which draweth near; his coming to judge every one is at his death. Imitate the patience of the husbandman, waiting for fruit after that the earth hath received the timely and early rain soon after the corn is sown, and again more rain, that comes later to fill the grain before it comes to be ripe. This seems to be the sense by the Greek: others expound it, till he receive the early and latter fruits. Wi. — Behold the judge standeth before the door. This expression is synonymous with that in the foregoing verse. "The coming of the Lord is at hand." This way of speaking is not uncommon in Scripture. Thus God said to Cain: "If thou hast done evil, shall not sin forthwith be present at the door?" S. James is here speaking of the approaching ruin of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and the dispersion of the Jews by the Romans. C. — Call to mind for your encouragement the trials and constancy of the prophets: the patience of Job, after which God rewarded him with great blessings and property, and you have seen the end of the Lord; that is, what end the Lord was pleased to give to Job's sufferings. But S. Aug. Ven. Bede, &c. would have these words, the end of the Lord, to be understood of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, on the cross, for which God exalted him, &c. Wi.
Ver. 12. But above all things . . . swear not, &c. This earnest admonition is against all kind of oaths in common conversation, (not against oaths made on just and necessary occasions) and in the very same words, as our blessed Saviour warned all people against this sin of swearing. Mat. c. v. How unaccountably is this commandment of God contemned? And what a dreadful account will some day be exacted for so many oaths, curses, and blasphemies, which are now so common, that we may rather wonder at the patience of God and that already exemplary punishments have not fallen upon whole cities and kingdoms for this continued profanation of the holy name of God? Wi. — S. James here repeats the injunctions of our Saviour, not to swear at all. Mat. v. 34. See the annotations in that place.
Ver.14-15. Is any man sick among you? or in danger of death by sickness, let him call, or bring in the priests of the Church, &c. The apostle here enjoins the constant use of the sacrament, called extreme unction, or the last anointing with oil, instituted, (as were all the sacraments of the Church) by our Saviour Christ, and which is here fully and clearly delivered in plain words, expressing, 1. the persons to whom this sacrament is to be administered; 2. the minister; 3. the form; 4. the matter; 5. the effects. As to the first, is any man sick among you? This sacrament then is to be given to every believing Christian, who is in danger of death by sickness. 2. Bring in the priests, one or more, they are the ministers of this sacrament. The Protestant translation has the elders; yet in their book of common prayer, he who is called in to assist and pray with the sick, is called either the minister, the curate, or the priest, never the elder. Dr. Wells has not changed the word elders in his translation; but in his paraphrase he expounds it of those ministers of the church who are above deacons. 3. And let them pray over him. Besides other prayers, the form of this sacrament is by way of prayer, let the Lord forgive thee, &c. 4. Anointing him with oil. The oil with which he is anointed by the priest, is the outward visible sign, and the matter of this sacrament, as water is the matter of baptism. 5. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, &c. All the sacraments of the new law have their virtue from the merits of our Saviour, Christ, and therefore must be ministered and received with faith in our Redeemer. Wi. — Is any man sick? &c. The Greek expression in this place is equivalent to, "Is any one dangerously ill amongst you?" AsJenei tiV en umin. The primary intention of this sacrament of extreme unction, is to confer a special grace upon the dying Christian, to strengthen him in his last and dreadful conflict, when the prince of darkness will exert his utmost to ruin his poor soul. But besides this, it was also intended to free man from venial sin, and likewise from mortal, if guilty of any, provided he were contrite and not able to have recourse to the sacrament of penance. But the sacrament of penance being the only regular means of obtaining pardon for mortal sin committed after baptism, a person must first have recourse to this sacrament, if he be able, as a necessary preparation for the sacrament of extreme unction. Other effects of this sacrament are, that it lessens the temporal punishment due to sin, and restores health to the worthy receiver, if it be expedient for the good of his soul. S. Aug. serm. 215. C. Theol. Petav. Habert. Bailly, &c. de Extrem. Unct. — How great then is the folly of such persons as are afraid to receive this sacrament, imagining it to be the irrevocable sentence of impending dissolution? whereas one of the very effects of this sacrament is to restore health, if it be expedient for the soul; and who would wish for health upon any other conditions? A. — The anathemas pronounced by the council of Trent against those who deny the existence of this sacrament, are sufficient to establish the belief of it in the minds of Catholics. See sess. 14. can. 1. 2. and 3. of the council of Trent. It may be proper, however, to observe, in confirmation of our belief of this sacrament, that whenever the ancient Fathers have had occasion to speak of extreme unction, they have always attributed to it all the qualities of a sacrament, as S. Chrys. who proves from this text of S. James the power which the priest has to forgive sins; (lib. 3. de Sacerdotio. S. Aug. ser. 215) not to mention Origen, who wrote at the beginning of the third century, (hom. ii. in Levit.) enumerating the different ways by which sins are forgiven in the new law, says, "That they are remitted when the priests anoint the sick with oil, as is mentioned in S. James." When Decentius, bishop of Eugenium in Italy, in 416, wrote to Innocent I. upon this sacrament, he makes no question whether it was a sacrament, but only consults him concerning the manner of administering; whether a bishop could give it, or whether priests were the only administerers of this sacrament, as S. James says, "Let them call in the priests of the Church;" and whether it could be given to penitents before they had been reconciled by absolution. To the former question, the pope replied there could be no doubt, as S. James could never mean that bishops were excluded as being higher than priests; but that he supposed them to be taken up with other things. We might add to this, the word presbyter was then used indiscriminately for both bishops and priests. A. — As to the next question, whether penitents could receive this sacrament before absolution, he answered in the negative. "For," says he, "can it be thought that this one sacrament can be given to those who are declared unworthy of receiving the rest?" Innocent I. in epist. ad Decent. c. viii. Habert. de Extre. Unct. — If it be objected that mention is not more frequently made of this sacrament in the writings of the ancients, we will answer with Bellarmin, that the most evident things were not always written, but only as occasion offered, that many of the mysteries were kept secret, to preserve them from the ridicule of the infidels. That in the times of persecution it was more difficult to administer this sacrament and less necessary, as the greatest part of Christians died not by sickness but by martyrdom. Theol. Petav. de Extre. Unc. — Ven. Bede in Lu. ix. speaketh thus: "It is clear that this custom was delivered to the holy Church by the apostles themselves, that the sick should be anointed with oil consecrated by the bishop's blessing." — Let him bring in, &c. See here a plain warrant of Scripture for the sacrament of extreme unction, that any controversy against its institution would be against the express words of the sacred text in the plainest terms. Ch. — And the Lord, by virtue of this sacrament, or if you will, sacramental prayer, shall raise him up, shall give him spiritual strength and vigour to resist the temptations which at that hour are most dangerous. He shall also raise him up, by restoring him his corporal health, when God sees it more expedient for the sick man. — And if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him, not merely by prayer, but by this sacrament. Wi.
Ver. 16. Confess, therefore, your sins, &c. Divers interpreters expound this of sacramental confession, though, as the authors of the annotations on the Rheims Testament observe, this is not certain. The words one to another, may signify that it is not enough to confess to God, but that we must also confess to men, and not to every man, but to those whom God appointed, and to whom he hath given the power of remitting sins in his name. I cannot but observe that no mention at all is made, "in the visitation and communion of the sick," in the Prot. common prayer book, of this comfortable passage out of S. James, of calling in the priests of the Church, of their anointing him with oil . . . and that his sins shall be forgiven him. Perhaps having laid aside that sacrament, it seemed to them better to say nothing of those words. But such a confession as is practised by all Catholics, is at least there advised. "The sick person," saith the book of common prayer, "here shall be moved to make a special confession of his sins . . . After which confession, the priest shall absolve him after this sort. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left power to his Church to absolve all sinners, who truly repent, forgive thee . . . and by his authority committed to me, I absolve thee from all thy sins, in the name of the Father, " &c. Here is a special confession, or a confession of particular sins; here is a power of forgiving sins in God's name, acknowledged to be given to the Church, and to priests; here are the very same words used by every Catholic priest in the sacrament of penance. This is clearly ordained in their liturgy: how far it is complied with, I know not. Wi. — One to another. That is, to the priests of the Church, whom (v. 14.) he had ordered to be called for, and brought in to the sick: moreover, to confess to persons who had no power to forgive sins, would be useless. Hence the precept here means that we must confess to men whom God hath appointed, and who, by their ordination and jurisdiction, have received the power of remitting sins in his name. Ch. — Pray for one another. Here is recommended prayer in general, as a most necessary Christian duty. He encourages them to it by the example of Elias. Wi.
Ver. 20. He who causeth a sinner to be converted, &c. S. James concludes his epistle with a work of charity, one of the most acceptable to Almighty God, and most beneficial to our neighbour, when any one becomes instrumental in converting others from their errors, or from a wicked life; for it is only God that can convert the heart. But he who with a true and charitable zeal, animated with the love of God and of his neighbour, makes this the chief business of his life, has this comfort here given him, that this will cover in the sight of God a multitude of sins, which he may have contracted through human frailty. The Church of England, when they modelled the articles of their reformation, received this epistle of James as canonical. They profess to follow the holy Scriptures as the only rule of their belief: they find in the 14th and 15th verses of this chapter these words: "Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil . . . and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him." In these words they find all that they themselves require, to be a sacrament of the new law; to wit, a precept or injunction, clear and unlimited as to time, a visible sign, with a promise of invisible grace, in remitting of sins, the minister of it, and the persons specified who are to receive it. They also found this practised at the time of the reformation by the Universal Church, by all Catholics, both in the east and west, both by the Latin and by the Greek Churches; and that all Christian Churches received it as a sacrament; and yet they thought fit to lay it quite aside, as if it was neither a sacrament nor a holy ceremony, nor a pious custom fit to be retained. They must have judged that they had convincing proofs both to contradict in other things the judgment and belief of the Catholic Church, and also in this particular; as to which latter case, I shall examine the reasons which they bring. I presume it may be needless to insist upon the groundless imagination of Wycliff, and some heretics about that time, who denied this to be a sacrament, fancying it was prescribed by S. James, because the oil of Palestine was a sovereign remedy to cure diseases. If so, any physician, any old woman or nurse to the sick, might have applied oil full as well, if not better than the priests. Calvin, and the reformation writers, give us the following reasons or conjectures, that this anointing, as well as that, (Mark vi. 13.) was only to be used for a time, by those who had the gift of curing diseases miraculously; so that like other miraculous gifts, (as the speaking of tongues, prophesying, &c.) it was but to last during the first planting of the Christian faith. Dr. Fulk, against the Rheims Testament, and Mr. Baxter, &c. affirm boldly, that Christ "appointed his apostles to anoint those with oil whom they cured." And Dr. Hammond says, "that the anointing with oil, was a ceremony used by Christ and his apostles in their miraculous cures." They assert this, as if it was taught by Scripture itself. They are no less positive that this anointing soon ceased, and was laid aside with the gift of miraculous cures, given sometimes to the first Christians at their baptism, or when they received the Holy Ghost in the sacrament of confirmation. Dr. Fulk, besides this, is positive that "the Greek Church, never to this day received this anointing and praying over the sick as a sacrament." These are their arbitrary, groundless, and false expositions, which they bring against a clear text of the holy Scriptures. It might be sufficient to oppose the judgment and authority of the Church to their private judgment. But to answer in short each particular: we find by the evangelists, (Mat. x. 8. Mark vi. 13. Luke x. 9.) that Christ gave to his twelve apostles, and afterwards to his seventy-two disciples, in their first mission before his death, (which was only into the cities of Israel) a power of casting out devils, of raising the dead, of curing diseases in his name. And S. Mark tells us, that they cast out many devils, and anointed many sick with oil, and cured them. But when Dr. Fulk and others add, that our Saviour appointed, ordered, or commanded them to anoint with oil those whom they cured, no such thing is said, nor insinuated, neither by S. Mark nor by any of the evangelists, nor any where in the holy Scriptures. And how Dr. Hammond could tell us that this "anointing with oil was a ceremony used by Christ himself," I cannot imagine. As for the apostles and disciples, they might cure many, making use of oil, and many without it by laying hands upon them, by a prayer, or by calling upon the name of Jesus, as the seventy-two disciples returned to him with joy, (Luke x. 17.) saying, Lord, even the devils are subject to us in thy name. Neither is it judge probable by the interpreters that the apostles, in their miraculous cures, were tied up or confined to the use of oil: especially since we find that after Christ's resurrection, in their second mission to all nations, Christ foretells (Mat. xvi. 18.) that they who believe in him, shall have this miraculous gift of healing the sick, but mentions only the laying of hands upon them: they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall be well. Besides had Christ appointed or given orders to his disciples to make use of oil in such miraculous cures, it would scarce have happened but we should have some examples of it in the Acts of the Apostles, where so many miraculous cures are related to have been done by S. Peter, by S. Paul, and others, but no mention of this ceremony of oil. We agree with our adversaries that this gift of miraculous cures, of which S. Paul speaks, (1 Cor. xii.) was common only for a short time, like the other gifts of the Holy Ghost, which were only necessary, as S. Aug. takes notice, at the first planting of the Christian faith; and so that anointing with oil, merely as it was made use of in miraculous cures of the body, soon ceased, perhaps even before our Saviour's death; but we believe as our Saviour appointed water to be the matter of the sacrament of baptism, so he would have oil to be the matter of the sacrament of the sacrament of extreme unction, which he instituted to strengthen the souls of the sick, against the dangers and temptations at the approach of death, and of which S. James here speaks near upon thirty years after Christ's ascension. And the anointing in S. Mark, used in corporal diseases, may be looked upon as a figure of the sacrament of extreme unction in S. James, as the frequent washings or baptisms, as they are called, of the Jews, and especially the baptism of S. John, was a figure of the baptism of Christ. The miraculous gift of healing, as well as other gifts of the Holy Ghost, was often given with the sacraments, which were to be always continued, and not to cease, with those gifts. We may also take notice, that neither they who had this gift of healing, had any command or advice to make use of it to all that were sick, nor were all that were sick ordered to seek for a cure of those who had this gift; whereas here S. James orders every one to send for the priests of the Church to anoint him, and pray over him for spiritual relief. S. Timothy had frequent infirmities, as we read 1 Tim. v. 23. nor yet did S. Paul, who had that gift, cure him. The same S. Paul left Trophimus sick at Miletum. 2 Tim. iv. 20. Epaphroditus, S. Paul's companion in his labours, was sick, when he had S. Paul with him, even unto death; that is, so as to be at the point of death (Philip. ii. 27.); nor yet did S. Paul, but God, restore him to his health. And if S. James had spoken of a miraculous restoring of corporal health by that anointing, he should rather have said: bring in those who have the gift of healing; for we may reasonably suppose that many had this gift who were not priests, and we have no reason to suppose that all priests had this gift. Our adversaries tell us with great assurance, that this anointing mentioned by S. James was soon laid aside; which, say they, we may gather from the silence of the writers in the three following ages. To this merely negative argument the Catholics answer: 1. That it is enough we have the tradition and practise of the Church, witnessed by the writers in the ages immediately succeeding. 2. That the greatest part of the writings in those ages are not extant. 3. The writers of those times seldom mentioned those things which were sufficiently known among the Christians by daily use, especially what related to the sacraments and mysteries of the Christian religion, which (as it appears by the writings that they were able to preserve) they made it their particular endeavour to conceal from the heathens, who turned them to derision and contempt. In the mean time, had not this anointing been always retained and continued, the ages immediately following would not have conspired every where to practise it, and to look upon it as a sacrament. Not to insist on the authority of Origen, in the beginning of the third age, (hom. ii. in Levit.) who numbering up the different ways by which sins are forgiven in the new law, says, that they were remitted when priests anoint the sick with oil, as in the epistle of S. James; S. Chrys. in the end of the fourth age, (in his third book de Sacerdotio, tom. i. p. 384. Nov. Ed. Ben. written before the end of the fourth age, about the year 375) says, that priests (and his word expresseth sacrificing priests, not elders) have now a power to remit sins, which he proves from those words in S. James, Is any man sick among you? &c. This shews, as do also Origen's words, that this custom was then continued in the East, in the Greek Church, and that it was believed a sacrament, of which the priests only were the ministers. Innocent I. in his answers to Decentius, bishop of Eugenium, in Italy, at the beginning of the fifth age, an. 416, calls this anointing and prayer over the sick, set down in S. James' epistle, a sacrament in the same sense as other sacraments in the new law. See Labbe's Councils, tom. ii, p. 1248. And as to what Innocent I. and Ven. Bede relate of a custom by which lay persons, when a priest could not be had, anointed and prayed over a person in danger, it was only to testify their desire of having the sacrament: as it was likewise a pious custom in some places for sinners to make a confession to a layman, not that they them looked upon it as a sacrament, but only that they hoped God would accept of their private devotions and humiliation, when they could not have a priest to administer the sacraments to them. It is needless to mention authors in the following ages. S. Greg. (Sacramentarium. fer. 5. in Cœna Dni.) describes the ceremony of blessing oil to be used in the anointing of the sick. Theodore, made archbishop of Canterbury, an. 668, among other decrees, ordains that sick persons receive the holy unction, set down by S. James. The Capitularia of Charles the great, say that no one, when about to depart out of this world, ought to want the anointing of the sacrament of oil. The same is ordained in a council of Chalons, an. 813, can. 48; by a council at Aix la Chapelle, an. 830, can. 5; by the council of Mayence, an. 847, can. 26, &c. Now since we find this anointing made use of as a sacrament at least from the fourth age, let our adversaries tell us when this anointing prescribed by S. James was left off, and when and how it came to be taken up again. They have no manner of proofs for either; and yet we have a right, as the authors of the annotations on the Rhem. Testam. observe, to demand clear and convincing proofs in this case, when the Scripture seems so clear for us and against them. Dr. Fulk affirms boldly, that this anointing was never to this day received in the Greek Church as a sacrament. This only shews how little credit is to be given to him. He might have found great reason to doubt of his bold assertion, since neither Photius, in the ninth age, nor Michael Cerularius, in the eleventh, ever objected this difference betwixt their Greek and the Latin Church, at a time when they reckoned up even the most minute differences either in doctrine or discipline, so as to find fault with the Latins for shaving their beards. He might have found it by what happened at the time of the council of Lyons, in the thirteenth age, when the pope, in his letter to the emperor of Constantinople, wrote that the Latin Church, and all in communion with him, acknowledged seven sacraments, which the Greeks never blamed. He might have observed the same when the Greeks and Armenians came to an union in the council of Florence, in the fifteenth age. The same Dr. Fulk, who wrote about the year 1600, could scarce be ignorant of the ill success the Augsbourg confession met with among the Greeks, to whom, when the Lutherans had sent copies of their faith and of their reformation, Jeremy, the patriarch of Constantinople, with a synod of the Greeks, condemned their articles, and among other points, declared that they held "in the orthodox Catholic Church seven divine sacraments," the same as in the Latin Church, baptism . . . and the holy oil. Had Dr. Fulk lived a little longer, he must have been more and more ashamed to find other Greek synods condemning him and all the said reformers. For when Cyrillus Lucaris, advanced to the see of Constantinople by the interest of the French Calvinists, began to favour and support the doctrine of the Calvinists, the Greeks in several synods under their patriarchs, (an. 1639, 1642, 1671, and 1672) condemned Cyril and the new doctrine of the said reformers, and expressly declared that they held seven sacraments. See M. Arnauld, tom. iii. Perpetuitè de la Foy; and the dissertations of M. Le Brun, tom. iii. p. 34, and 572, disert. 12, where he shews that all the churches of the East, and all the Christian churches of the world, though separated from the communion and subordination to the Pope, agree with the Latin Church, as to the sacrifice of the Mass, as to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and as to the seven sacraments. Wi. — If, with holy Scripture, we must allow that charitable persons on earth may prove instrumental, under God, to their neighbour's salvation, why are we to deny this to the saints in heaven, whose charity for man is much greater?