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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Acts 4:23–5:11]

WHEN Peter and John were dismissed by the Council, they returned and related to the disciples all that the chief priests and ancients had said to them. The disciples saw and understood that they were not above the Master, and that the kings of the earth would ever stand up, and the princes assemble together against the Lord and against His Christ. And lifting up their voice to God they prayed: “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings and grant unto Thy servants that with all confidence they may speak Thy word, by stretching forth Thy hand to cures and signs and wonders to be done by the name of Thy Holy Son Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place was moved wherein they were assembled, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost; and they spoke the word of God with confidence.”

“And the multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul.” For they persevered in the doctrine of the apostles, in prayer, and in the breaking of bread; that is, the apostles celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and the faithful received Holy Communion. Thus they became so perfect that, of their own accord, they sold all they had, and brought the price thereof to the apostles to distribute among the poor.

But among the good seed sown, there was also some cockle. A certain man, named Ananias, with his wife Saphira, sold a piece of land, and brought a portion of the price to the apostles, pretending that they were giving the whole price, while they concealed a part for themselves.

But Peter said: “Ananias, why hath Satan tempted thy heart that thou shouldst lie to the Holy Ghost, and by fraud keep part of the price of the field? Whilst it remained, did it not remain to thee? And being sold, was it not in thy power? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thy heart? Thou hast not lied to men, but to God.” Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and expired. Great fear came upon all who heard it; and the young men, rising up, carried away the body.

About three hours after, Saphira, the wife of Ananias, came in, and Peter addressed her, saying: “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?” She answered: “Yea, for so much.” Then Peter rebuked her sharply: “Why have you agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried thy husband are at the door, and they shall carry thee out.”

Immediately she was struck dead at his feet, and the young men, coming in, carried her out also, and buried her with her husband. “And there came a great fear upon the whole Church”, because the faithful saw the justice of God in the sudden death of Ananias and Saphira.

The Worship of God consisted in the earliest days of the Church, as it does now, in the preaching of Christian doctrine, in prayer said in common, in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and in Holy Communion. The love and devotion of the first Christians to the Holy Eucharist was so great that, as a rule, they received Holy Communion at every Mass.

The Internal Unity of the Church. A common proverb says: “Many heads, many minds”; but the first Christians proved the fallacy of the saying. The Christian flock counted many thousand heads, but they were all of one mind, as if they had one heart and one soul. This wonderful unity was the work of the Holy Ghost, whose grace changed the hearts of the faithful, and made them all ready to obey the Apostolic teaching. Thus was granted the prayer of our great High Priest for His Church: “I pray that all may be one, that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me” (John 17:21).

The External Unity of the Church can equally be traced in the days of the first Christians. They all professed the same faith, had the same worship, and the same government. They all reverenced the apostles as the chosen servants of God and their spiritual fathers and superiors, and all acknowledged Peter as the chief pastor and visible head of the Church. We can see in what light the apostles were regarded, by the fact that the faithful reverently laid at their feet the price of the possessions which they had sold, to be distributed by them as they thought fit. The Church, to be the true Church of Christ, must be internally and externally one, as it was in the days of the apostles.

The Primacy of Peter. St. Peter shines forth unmistakably as the supreme pastor of the Church. He it was who interrogated Ananias and Saphira, and it was to him that the Holy Ghost revealed their deceit. He too exercised the supreme authority of the Church, in punishing the hypocrites with the penalty of death.

The love of God and the love of our neighbour. The first Christians observed in a sublime manner that first and greatest commandment which contains in itself all the other commandments, namely the love of God and of our neighbour. They proved their love for God by their constant prayer, by their delight in hearing the word of God, and by devoutly receiving Holy Communion. Their love for their neighbour was active and self-sacrificing. The rich willingly gave up all their fortune for the support of their poorer brethren in the faith. Selfishness, which is so deeply ingrained in the human heart, was driven out by Christian love.

Hypocrisy. The sin of Ananias and Saphira consisted in hypocrisy, or an assumption of piety which proceeded from pride and avarice. They wished to appear generous and charitable in the eyes of men, but were too avaricious to be so in reality. Therefore they kept back a part of the price of their field, and lied to the head of the Church. Their sin was all the greater, because no one compelled them either to sell the field or to give the price of it to the apostles; and since their lie was planned and premeditated, it contained a certain insolence towards those in authority in the Church. Had their sin remained unpunished, the pharisaical hypocrisy against which our Lord had so urgently warned His followers would have crept into the Church. Therefore Almighty God punished Ananias and his wife by a sudden death, in order that all Christians might see the sinfulness of lies and deceit, and of contempt for ecclesiastical superiors.

The Holy Ghost is the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. St. Peter said to Ananias: “Thou hast lied to the Holy Ghost.” Therefore the Holy Ghost is a Person, for you can lie only to a person. Then St. Peter continued: “Thou hast not lied to men, but to God.” Therefore the Holy Ghost, to whom Ananias lied, is God.

The Necessity of Grace. Holy Scripture (in the Acts of the Apostles) does not say that many Jews were converted to the Christian faith by the zealous preaching of the apostles, or by the holy lives of the Christians; but it says that “the Lord increased daily together such as should be saved”. The preaching of the apostles and the holy example of the Christians would have produced no result whatever, had not the Lord enlightened the understanding of the unbelievers and drawn their hearts to Him by His inward grace.

The Holiness of the Church. The lives of the first Christians show the ennobling and blessed influence of the Christian religion. Being penetrated by the leaven of Christianity (see chapter XXVIII), they loved God above all things, and their neighbour as themselves. They served God with zeal, and conscientiously observed all the commandments. Such things as injustice, theft, or enmities were unknown amongst them, and they all loved and supported one another, so that not one of them suffered want. Even the unbelievers were compelled to respect and honour the Christians on account of their fear of God, and the holiness of their lives. To-day human society would be far better off, and there would be less crime, less misery, less want, if all who call themselves Christians were more imbued with the spirit of Christianity. Moreover, unbelievers and heretics would have perforce to respect and honour the Catholic religion, if all Catholics would live up to their faith.

APPLICATION. Are you of one heart and one soul with your brothers, sisters and comrades? Or do you live at enmity with them and quarrel with them? If so, you have not the spirit of Christianity. You ought to observe the commandment to love your neighbour, especially your brothers, sisters and companions.

You can see by the punishment of Ananias and his wife how very much God hates lies and hypocrisy; and yet you make so little account of telling lies! It is especially sinful to tell lies to your parents, or others set in authority over you, for by so doing you show contempt for them. Have you ever acted thus? “Put away lying”, says St. Paul, “speak ye the truth every man with his neighbour” (Eph. 4:25).

It is a terrible sin to tell a lie or to conceal a sin in confession. St. Peter’s words: “You have not lied to men, but to God”, apply to such a one; for a priest, in the holy Sacrament of Penance, is the representative of God. To conceal a mortal sin in confession is a hateful act of hypocrisy, and a sign of great hardness of heart, and he who does so makes a useless, and, still worse, a sacrilegious confession, receives no absolution of his sins, and commits a fresh and most grievous sin. If any of you have been so blind as to make a bad confession, make a good confession as soon as possible, or else you cannot be a child of God nor have any peace of conscience.








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