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HAYDOCK CATHOLIC BIBLE COMMENTARY ON THE NEW TESTAMENT
Ver. 1. That have been accomplished. In the Prot. translation, of things most surely believed. They have followed Beza, and Erasmus: but other learned critics have shewn that the same Greek word often signifies to fulfil; and it is clearly proved by S. Chrysostom.
Ver. 3. Having diligently obtained. Here we see, that although the Holy Ghost regulated the pen of the holy writers, that they might not err; they still employed human means to search and find out the truth of things they mentioned. Even so do general councils, and the president thereof, the holy pontiff, discuss and examine all causes by human means, although they have the promise from Jesus Christ of the aid, assistance, and direction of his holy Spirit; (S. John xvi. 13,) as is manifest from the very first council of the apostles, held at Jerusalem. Acts xv. 7. and 28. — Most excellent Theophilus. This word, Theophilus, by its etymology, signifies a lover of God: but here we may rather understand some particular person, by the title given him of most excellent, or best: which, at that time, was given to persons in dignity; as to to Felix, Acts xxiii. 26. and to Festus, Acts xxvi. 25. Wi. — Kratiste, may signify most powerful from KratoV, strength, or Kratein, to conquer; or, as most generally given, from Kreittwn. — QeofiloV, may be interpreted either a lover of God, or one beloved of God. Whoever, therefore, loves God, and desires to be beloved by Him, should consider this gospel as penned for himself, and should preserve it as a pledge deposited in his hands. Ven. Bede.
Ver. 5. The Almighty appointed to Moses, that there should be but one high priest at a time, to whom, at his decease, a successor should be chosen. This rule obtained till the time of David, by whom, by the inspiration of God, many were appointed at once. 1 Paralip. c. xxiv. According to this regulation, Zachary is said to perform the office of priest, according to the order of his course. Ven. Bede. — Zachary seems here to be described as high priest, who once a year entered alone in the inward sanctuary with the blood of the victims, which he offered for himself and the sins of the people. S. Ambrose. — He was not chosen by a fresh lot to offer up incense, but by a previous lot, according to which the family of Abia succeeded to the office of high priest. The people waited without, according to Levit. xvi. 12.; whilst the high priest carried the incense into the holy of holies, on the 10th day of the 7th month. Ven. Bede. — Of the course of Abia. What we read in the Greek for course, is commonly put for the employment of one day, but here for the functions of a whole week. For by appointment of David, (1 Paral. xxiv,) the descendants from Aaron were divided into 24 families; of which the eighth was Abia, from whom descended this Zachary, who at this time was in the week of his priestly functions. Wi. — It is worthy of remark, that there were three Herods. The first was the one here spoken of, (surnamed Ascalonite, from his palace in the city of Ascalon, in Palestine) the same who murdered the Innocents. The second was the son of the first, (surnamed Antipas) who derided Christ at the time of his passion, the same who beheaded the Baptist. The third was Herod Agrippa, who beheaded S. James, imprisoned S. Peter, and who was afterwards, for his great pride, stricken by an angel, and devoured by worms. Our Saviour was born in the reign of the first Herod, by whom the prophecy of Jacob, related in the book of Genesis (c. xlix,) was fulfilled: The septre shall not be taken, &c. Herod was an Idumæan, and made king of the Jews by the Romans. The Jews, after they entered the land of promise, were first governed by judges, until Saul: then by kings, until the Babylonian captivity; after that by high priests, until the time of Hyrcanus, whom Herod having killed, succeeded. From that period to the present day, they have been governed by strangers. Ven. Bede, and D. Dion. Carth. — Elizabeth was of the race of Aaron, by her father; but her mother was probably of the race of David, from whom the blessed Virgin, cousin of Elizabeth, descended. See infra, v. 36.
Ver. 6. Both just, . . . walking . . . without blame. Not that in the sight of God they were exempt even from all lesser feelings, which are called venial faults; but only from such sins as might make them forfeit the grace and favour of God. Wi. — Three things are here to be noticed: 1. that good men do keep all God's commandments, which some moderns declare to be impossible; 2. that men are justified not by imputation only of Christ's justice, nor by faith alone, but by walking in the commandments; 3. that keeping and doing the commandments, is properly our justification through Jesus Christ. The Greek word dikaiwmata, is properly rendered by Catholics, justifications or commandments, because the keeping of them through Jesus Christ, is justification. But our separated brethren purposely avoid this word against the justification of the Catholics, as one of their leaders in innovation blushes not to advance. Hence Beza, in his annotations on the New Test. ann. 1556, uses the word constituta, which his scholars render into English by ordinances. B.
Ver. 9. It was his lot. The priests drew lots for the different functions to be performed in the same week; and now it fell by lot to Zachary, to burn or offer up incense, morning and evening, in that part of the temple called the holy, where was the altar of incense: Zachary was in this part of the tabernacle. Wi. — See Exod. xxx. 6, 8.
Ver. 10. And all the . . people were praying without: i.e. in that part of the temple called the court of the Israelites. For the Jews themselves were not permitted to enter into the first part of the tabernacle, called the holy, much less into the second part of it, called the holy of holies; the people then prayed, and performed their private devotions, in that division of the temple called the court of the Israelites, and were there waiting for the coming out of the priest Zachary. Wi. — We here see that the priest's functions profited the people, though they neither heard nor saw the priest, but only joined in intention with him; and so may the prayers of the priest in the Catholic Church, though offered up in an unknown tongue.
Ver. 12. The cause of this fear, was the general sentiment that obtained with the Jews, that they would die immediately on seeing an angel. V.
Ver. 13. Thy prayer is heard. We cannot suppose, as S. Aug. observes, (l. ii. QQ. Evang. c i, tom. 3, part 2, p. 249. Ed. Ben.) that he was praying to have children, when his wife was so advanced in years; that he did not think possible; but he was praying for the people, and for the coming of the Messias. See S. Chrys. hom. ii. de incomprehensibili, tom. 1, p. 454. Nov. Ed. Ben. Wi. — Zachary so far despaired of having any offspring, that he did not believe the angel, when he made him the promise. When therefore the angel says, thy prayer is heard, we must understand it of the prayer he offered in behalf of the people, to whom salvation and remission of sins were to be brought by Christ. The angel, moreover, told him of the birth of his son, who was to be the precursor of Christ. S. Austin. — The son that is to be born of thee, will shew that thy prayer is heard, when he cries out, behold the Lamb of God. S. Chrysos. — It is always a mark of singular merit, whenever the Almighty either appoints or changes the name of a man. Ven. Bede. — The name of John is derived from the Hebrew word, Jochanan, which frequently occurs in the Old Testament, as 1 Par. iii. 15. and vi. 9. and xii. 12. &c. and signifies, blessed with grace or divine favour; see also in Isai. xxx. 18, 19.
Ver. 14. This was fulfilled not only at his birth, but ever after by the Catholic Church, celebrating his nativity. A.
Ver. 15. After the angel had assured him of the joy this son should bring to many, he acquaints him of the excellency of his virtue. He shall be great before the Lord. He did not extend the boundaries of empire; he did not obtain the triumphs of war, and force captive and degraded kings to pay him homage: but, what is much greater, preaching in a desert, he renounced the pleasures of the world, and with the greatest fortitude repressed and subdued the concupiscence of the flesh. Therefore it is said, he shall drink no wine, nor strong drink. S. Ambrose. — And shall drink no wine, nor strong drink: lit. sicera, by which is signified any liquor that is apt to make a man drunk, according to S. Jerom. Wi. — This prohibition of the angel was a part of the consecration of the Nazarites. See Numb. vi. 3. The word sicera properly signifies wine of the palm-tree; and next to wine of the grape, there was no more common liquor, none more intoxicating. V. — And he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb; from which words some conjecture, that S. John the Baptist, though conceived in original sin, yet might have been freed from the guilt of it before he came into the world. Of this see S. Aug. Ep. lvii. now Ep. clxxxvii. ad Dardanum. t. ii, p. 685. Ed. Ben. Wi.
Ver. 17. Turn the hearts of the fathers, &c. The angel applies these words (Malach. iv. 6.) to S. John the Baptist; telling his father, that he shall convert many of the children of Israel, &c. by bringing them to the knowledge of Christ. Secondly, that he shall go before him, or be his precursor and forerunner. — In the spirit and power of Elias; i.e. S. John shall be the forerunner of Christ's first coming to redeem mankind, as Elias shall be the forerunner of Christ's second coming to judge the world. Thirdly, that S. John, by converting the Jews, shall also turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, &c. The meaning of which obscure words seems to be, that whereas Moses, Abraham, and the prophets, (whose souls were in a place of rest) knew by a revelation from God, that their children, the Jews, lived in sin and disobedience to the laws of God; and on this account were offended and displeased at them: now when they shall know that they have been converted by the preaching of S. John, they shall rejoice, and be reconciled to their children, the Jews: for as our Saviour tells us, (Luke xv. 7.) there is joy in heaven upon any one sinner that doth penance. The angel, to explain the foregoing words, adds, and the incredulous to the wisdom and prudence of the just; i.e. S. John's preaching shall make them truly wise and just. Wi. — With reason is he said to precede Christ, who was his forerunner both in his birth and in his death. In the spirit of prophecy, and in the power of abstinence, and patience, and zeal, they resembled each other; Elias was in the desert, S. John was in the desert also. The one sought not the favour of king Achab, the other despised the favour of Herod. The one divided the Jordan, the other changed it into a laver of salvation. The one is to be the forerunner of Jesus Christ's second coming, as the other was of his first. S. Ambrose.
Ver. 18. Whereby shall I know this? Zachary could not question the Divine Power, but he doubted of what the angel told him. Wi. — It was customary with the Jews, when they heard that any wonderful event was to take place, to inquire whether the Almighty had manifested his will by any supernatural sign. Zachary puts this question to the angel, not through any doubt concerning the omnipotence of God, but because what was promised could not be compassed in the natural order of things: for, I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years. D. Diony.
Ver. 19. The name Gabriel signifies, the strength of God; or, God is my strength. The angels are sometimes styled by proper names, in order to shew their respective duties; thus, no angel could better be appointed to declare the precursor, as also the Messias himself, than he who was styled the power of God: since he came to declare the coming of one who was to destroy the power of the devil, and overthrow his kingdom. Nic. de Lyra. See Tob. xii. 15. Apoc. i. 4. and viii. 2.
Ver. 20. On account of the many signs the angel had given, that what he said was true, the unbelief of Zachary seemed inexcusable; for the angel appeared in a holy place, in the temple, and during divine service: he, moreover, foretold what related to the redemption of all the people, and to the glory of God; from all which circumstances, Zachary ought to have concluded, that it was a good angel, and that what he said would eventually come to pass. Nic. de Lyra. — Shalt be dumb, &c. He seems to have been both dumb and deaf by the Greek text, and by what we may learn from v. 62; where we find, that those who were present did not speak, but rather made signs to him. Wi.
Ver. 23. After the days of his office were accomplished; i.e. the weekly ministry; for during that time, the priests lodged in buildings joining to the temple, separated from their wives. Wi. — When it fell to the lot of any of the priests to offer incense, they not only separated from their wives, but left their houses; wherefore it is said, as soon as the day, &c. As it was ordained that the priesthood should continue in the family of Aaron, it was necessary they should have wives. But, as we do not now so much seek after priests of the same family, as those who are virtuous, it has been decreed, that priests should observe perpetual continency, that they may be able to assist at all times at the altar. Ven. Bede. — For the law of perpetual celibacy of the clergy, See S. Jerom, l. i. c. ix. 19. advers Jovin. et. ep. 50; also S. Ambrose, in 1 Tim. iii.
Ver. 27. The word Miriam, or Mary, is expounded by S. Jerom from different etymologies, to signify in Hebrew, star of the sea, and in Chaldaic, lady. Both interpretations admirably well agree with her, who is the glorious Queen of heaven, our patroness and star, to direct us in the stormy ocean of this world. — "O you," cries out S. Bernard, "who find yourselves tossed to and fro in this tempestuous life, turn not your eyes away from the brightness of this star, if you would not be overwhelmed in these storms. If the winds of temptations arise; if you fall among the rocks of tribulation; look up to the star, call upon Mary. If you are agitated, and hard driven with the surges of pride, ambition, detraction, jealousy, or envy; look up to the star, call upon Mary. If anger, covetousness, or lust, beat furiously on the vessel of your soul; look up to the star, call upon Mary. If you are beginning to founder, and are just sinking into the gulph of melancholy and despair; think on Mary. In dangers, in distresses, in perplexities, think on Mary, call on Mary. Let her name be never absent from your mouth; from your mouth let it constantly descend into your heart; and, that you may obtain the suffrage of her prayers; both in life and death, never depart from the example of her pious conversation." S. Bernard, hom. ii. super Missus est.
Ver. 28. Hail, full of grace: by the greatest share of divine graces granted to any creature. This translation, approved by the ancient Fathers, agrees with the ancient Syriac and Arabic versions. There was no need therefore to change it into gracious, with Erasmus; into freely beloved, with Beza; into highly favoured, with the Prot. translators. For if seven deacons (Acts vi. 3.) are said to be full of the Holy Ghost, as it is again said of S. Stephen, (Acts vii. 55.) and also of the same S. Stephen, (Acts vi. v. 8.) that he was full of grace, (as the learned Dr. Wells translates it in his amendments made to the Prot. translation) why should any one be offended at this salutation given to the blessed mother of God; who would not have been raised to this highest dignity, had not her soul been first prepared for it by the greatest share of divine graces? — The Lord is with thee, by his interior graces; and now, at this moment, is about to confer upon thee the highest of all dignities, by making thee truly the mother of God. Wi. — The Catholic Church makes frequent use of these words which were brought by the archangel from heaven, as well to honour Jesus Christ and his virgin Mother, as because they were the first glad tidings of Christ's incarnation, and man's salvation; and are the very abridgment and sum of the whole gospel. In the Greek Church, they are used daily in the Mass. See the Liturgy of S. James, and that of S. Chrysos.
Ver. 29. When she had heard. In the Greek text, when she had seen; as if she also saw the angel, as S. Ambrose observed. Wi.
Ver. 31. It may perhaps in the first instance of reflection, appear shocking to our ideas, that a God should dwell in a human body; but does not the sun emit its rays into all kinds of places, without any detriment to its purity? How much more would the Sun of justice, assuming a most pure body, formed of the purest blood of the spotless Virgin, not only remain free from every the least stain himself, but even impart additional sanctity to his virgin Mother. S. Thos. Aquinas.
Ver. 32. He . . shall be called; i.e. according to the style of the Scriptures, he shall truly be the Son of God. Wi.
Ver. 33. Those are here called of the house of Jacob, who out of the multitude of the Jews believed in Christ. This is conformable to that text of S. Paul: All are not Israelites that are of Israel, but the children of the promise are accounted for the seed. Rom. ix. 6, 8. S. Chrysos. hom. vii. on S. Matt. — And of his kingdom there shall be no end: which clearly shews it was not to be a temporal, but a spiritual and an eternal kingdom. Wi.
Ver. 34. How shall this be done? She only asks about the manner. — Because I know not man. This answer, as S. Aug. takes notice, would have been to no purpose, had she not made a vow to God to live always a virgin. Wi. — Listen to the words of this pure Virgin. The angel tells her she shall conceive; but she insists upon her virginity, holding her purity in higher estimation than the promised dignity. S. Greg. of Nyssa. — She did not doubt the truth of what the angel said, (as Calvin impiously maintained) but she wished it might not happen to the prejudice of her vowed virginity. Ambrose, Austin, Bede, Theophylactus, &c. &c.
Ver. 35. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, &c. By the divine power thou shalt bring forth, and yet remain always a pure virgin. — And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee, shall be called (shall be) the Son of God. The second person of the ever blessed Trinity, being united to our human nature, remaining unchangeably the same God, and being born of the Virgin Mary; it must needs be true to say that God was born, that God suffered and died for us; and consequently that the blessed Virgin Mary was truly the mother of God, or of him that is truly God; though not the mother of the Godhead: as the Catholic Church declared in the council of Ephesus, (431) against the heretic Nestorius. Wi. — Seek not for natural order in things that transcend nature. You ask, how shall this be done, since you know not man? This, your ignorance of man, is the very reason why this will take place within you. For had you not been pure, you never would have been deemed worthy of so great a mystery. Not because marriage is bad, but because virginity is far more excellent. The common Lord of all ought in his birth to have something common with all mankind, and still something different. He was conceived and born in the womb like the rest of mankind, but he differed from them in being born of a virgin. S. Chry. xlix. in Genes.
Ver. 36. We find that Aaron, who was of the tribe of Levi, took a wife of the tribe of Juda, viz. Elizabeth, the sister of Naasson. In the successors of David we find that Joiada, the chief priest, took a wife of the family of David, viz. the daughter of Joram; from which it appears that both the royal and sacerdotal tribes were united, and that Mary and Elizabeth were relatives. It was certainly proper that Christ should be born of both these tribes, because he was in himself both king and priest. Ven. Bede.
Ver. 38. Behold the handmaid. With all modesty and humility of heart and mind, the blessed Virgin consented to the divine will: and from that moment in her was conceived the Saviour and Redeemer of the world. Wi. — Thus ought the virgin, who brought forth meekness and humility itself, to shew forth an example of the most profound humility. S. Amb.
Ver. 39. This city is generally supposed to be Hebron, a sacerdotal town, (Jos. xxi. 11.) situated in the mountains, to the south of Juda, and about 120 miles from Nazareth. V.
Ver. 41. The infant leaped in her womb. According to the general opinion of the interpreters, this motion of the child at the time was not natural: and some think that God gave to S. John, even in his mother's womb, a passing knowledge of the presence of his Redeemer. See S. Aug. in the above cited letter to Dardanus. Wi.
Ver. 42. In the same words she is pronounced blessed by Elizabeth, and by the angel Gabriel, both inspired by the Holy Ghost, and this not only to the praise of Jesus, but for his sake, to the praise of Mary, calling her blessed, and her fruit blessed; and thus, as Ven. Bede asserts, holding her up to the veneration of both men and angels.
Ver. 43. The mother of my Lord. A proof that Christ was truly God, and the blessed Virgin Mary truly the mother of God. Wi. — Elizabeth was a just and blessed woman; yet the excellency of the mother of God does so far surpass that of Elizabeth, and of every other woman, as the great luminary outshines the smaller stars. S. Jerom præf. in Sophon.
Ver. 47. In God my Saviour, as appears by the Greek text, though literally in Latin, in God my salvation. Wi.
Ver. 48. The humility of his handmaid, i.e. the humble, low, and abject condition; as perhaps might be translated both in this and in v. 52. For the blessed Virgin does not here commend and praise her own virtue of humility; as divers interpreters observe. See S. Francis of Sales, in his introduction to a devout life, part 3, c. vi. Wi. — As death entered into the world by the pride of our first parents, so was it proper that the path to life should be opened by the humility of Mary. Ven. Bede. — Not Elizabeth only, but all nations of believers are to call her blessed. Theophy.
Ver. 51. The wise men of the Gentiles, the Pharisees and Scribes, were powerful; but these the Almighty cast down, and exalted those, who humbled themselves under his powerful hand. 1 Peter v. The Jews were proud in their strength, but their incredulity brought on them their humiliation; whilst the low and mean among the Gentiles, have by faith ascended to the summit of perfection. S. Cyril Alex. in S. Thom. catenâ aureâ. Wi.
Ver. 53. The Jews were rich in the possession of the law, and the doctrines of the prophets; but, as they would not humbly unite themselves to the incarnate word, they were sent away empty, without faith, without knowledge, deprived of all hopes of temporal goods, excluded from the terrestrial Jerusalem, and also from that which is in heaven. But the Gentiles, oppressed with hunger and thirst, by adhering to their Lord, were filled with all spiritual gifts. S. Basil in Ps. xxxiii.
Ver. 63. As then in circumcision, so now in baptism, names are given. And as we see here, and is all the Old Testament, great respect was had of names, so must we be aware of profane and secular names, and rather, according to the catechism of the council of Trent, take names of saints and holy persons, which may put us in mind of their virtues. De Bap. in fine.
Ver. 69. As Christ was born of the race of David, he is here called the horn of salvation in the house of David. As Isaias says, a vineyard is planted in the horn, c. v. — A powerful salvation. According to the letter both of the Latin and Greek text, a horn of salvation. But as it is generally agreed, that by horn, in the phraseology of the Scriptures, is understood strength and power, and that horn sounds awkwardly in English, and other languages, I hope it may be literally enough translated, a powerful salvation. Wi.
Ver. 71. That he would save us, &c. Lit. salvation from our enemies. The construction and sense is, that God, as he had declared by his prophets, would grant us salvation, or would save us. Wi. — This is not to be understood of temporal, but of spiritual enemies. For the Lord Jesus, strong in battle, came to destroy all our enemies, and thus to deliver us from their snares and temptations. Origen, hom. xvi. — He is that King of Glory, the Lord strong and powerful, the Lord powerful in battle. Ps. xxiii.
Ver. 72. To remember his holy covenant, i.e. of his promise, or of the covenant made with Abraham, that he would bless all nations in his seed. Wi. — At the coming of Christ, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were made partakers of his mercy. For, we cannot suppose that they who saw his day, and were glad, should not participate in the fruit of his coming; since S. Paul says: he maketh peace through the blood of the cross, both to the things that are on earth, and the things that are in heaven. Col. i. 20. Origen, hom. x.
Ver. 73-4. According to the oath which he swore. The words according to, are no addition to the letter of the text: they only barely express what is here signified; to wit, that God swore to Abraham, that he would grant us, or make it come to pass, that being delivered from our enemies, sin and the devil, we should be in a condition to serve him without fear, in holiness, &c. Wi.
Ver. 75. It is possible, we here see, to have true justice, not only in the sight of man, or by the imputation of God, but in his sight; and the coming of Christ was to give men such justice.
Ver. 77. Jesus is our salvation, and S. John was sent to give to the people the knowledge of this salvation: he bore testimony of Christ; (Theophy.) by whom alone remission of sins can be obtained.
Ver. 78. The rising light, or the rising sun, hath visited us from on high. The Rheims translation hath the Orient, the Prot. the day-spring. Both seem more obscure than they need be. The Latin, as well as the Greek, hath a noun substantive, by which Christ himself is signified. Yet the same word, in both languages, is sometimes taken for a rising light, and sometimes for a bud, or branch; in which latter sense it is expounded by S. Jerom. Comment in Zachar. p. 1737, tom. 3, Ed. Ben. But in this place it is rather taken for a light that riseth, by the following words, to enlighten them that sit in darkness, &c. Wi. — The Orient. It is one of the titles of the Messias, the true light of the world, and the sun of justice. Ch. — By this he shews that God has forgiven us our sins, not through our merits, but through his own most tender mercy; (Theophy.) and that we are to solicit this forgiveness through the bowels of his most tender mercy.
Ver. 79. The Gentiles were in darkness, and given to the adoration of idols, till the light arose and dispelled the darkness, spreading on all sides the splendour of truth. S. Basil on Isai. — With reason it is said in this place, who sit in darkness; for we did not walk in darkness, but sat down, as if destitute of all hopes of being delivered. S. Chrys. hom. xiv. on S. Matt. . . . Then our steps are directed in the paths of peace, when in our every action we act conformably to the grace of the Almighty. S. Greg. hom. xxxii.
Ver. 80. S. John remained in the desert till the 30th year of his age. The reason why he concealed himself so long was because he feared the cruelty of Herod; for, though he was not under his jurisdiction, not being on the confines of Bethlehem, yet on account of the remarkable events that took place at his birth, by which he was declared the precursor of the Messias, he had reason to dread the cruelty of the jealous and suspicious Herod. Peter of Alexandria, Nicephorus, Baronius, and others, say, that when he was yet in his mother's arms, he was conveyed into the desert, and there concealed in the caves and fissures of the rocks, where people concealed themselves on the approach of their enemies. Cedrinus adds, that 40 days after their flight, the mother of S. John died; after which, an angel is said to have undertaken the care of the Baptist; but most probably this office was performed by some attendant on S. Elizabeth. Tirinus. — The Baptist remained in the desert till he began his public ministry, which by a law of the Jews could not be much before he had attained his 30th years. He is styled by antiquity the first hermit. See S. Jerom in Vita Pauli.