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

[Acts 21–28]

WHEN Paul had returned to Jerusalem, he was seized by the Jews, and cast into prison. After two years’ imprisonment he was sent, at his own request, to Rome, to be judged by the emperor. On his way to the great city he was shipwrecked at Malta, but was saved in a miraculous manner. Arrived in Rome, he was kept two years more in prison, but was allowed the freedom of preaching the Gospel to those who came to see and hear him during this his first Roman captivity.

At the same time the other apostles were journeying in various countries, preaching as they went, and working all manner of signs and wonders. Peter, in his capacity of head of the Church, visited the various churches, confirming them in the faith. It was in this capacity that he had gone before Paul to the capital of the ancient world, and had there established his episcopal see; thither he returned after each of his apostolic journeys, or visitations; and in his last years he remained there permanently.

Peter and the other apostles everywhere established bishops as their successors. These bishops were to govern the faithful, and to teach them the same doctrine that they had learnt from the apostles. As to the Scriptures of the New Testament, we must bear in mind that they were written later, and collected later still. Hence the apostles and the first followers of the apostles had no written books wherewith to convert the world. It was all done by preaching. The apostles preached what they had seen and heard, and their successors preached what they had learnt from the apostles. Much of what the apostles preached was afterwards written down in the books of the New Testament, but not all. Yet even the unwritten teaching has come down to us, and is called tradition.

All the apostles, with one exception, sealed with their blood the Gospel which they announced to the world. In the year of our Lord 67, Paul returned to Rome, where he and Peter gloriously suffered martyrdom under Nero. Paul, being a Roman citizen, was beheaded; Peter died on a cross, with his head downwards. James the Greater suffered under Herod, about the year 42 of the Christian era.

John, the beloved disciple, who had been thrown into a caldron of boiling oil and been miraculously preserved, was the only one who died a natural death, which event took place about the year 100.

Mary, the Mother of our Lord, died at Jerusalem in the year 47, and was, according to ancient tradition, assumed into heaven with her body as well as her soul. The Church historian, Nicephorus, thus describes her Assumption: “When the time came for Mary to die, the apostles who were scattered in different lands came to Jerusalem. But her Divine Son came to the Blessed Virgin at her death, and took her soul to heaven. Her holy body was laid in a sepulchre near Gethsemane (Fig. 98, p. 802), amid the songs of angels and apostles. But when, on the third day, the grave was opened, they found that the sacred body was no longer there; only her grave-clothes were left, which emitted an indescribably sweet perfume. The apostles closed the sepulchre, knowing that the Lord had endowed the most pure and holy body of Mary with immortality, before the day of the general resurrection, and had sent His angels to carry it up to heaven.”

The Persecution of the Church. When our Blessed Lord first sent forth His apostles and disciples to preach, He said to them: “Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Beware of men, for they will hate you and persecute you for My name’s sake. The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.” That which our Lord foretold was completely verified in the case of the apostles, for they were all persecuted and martyred; and even now it is still being realised in the Church, for her faithful children and servants are continually hated, calumniated and persecuted by the world on account of their steadfast confession of their holy faith. This very fact that the Catholic Church and her bishops and priests are reviled and persecuted by the world, is a proof that she is the true Church of the persecuted Saviour; for she does but share the fate of her Divine Master. What Jesus prophesied of His own is fulfilled in her: “If the world hate you, know that it hath hated Me before it hated you. Because you are not of the world, the world hateth you” (John 15:18, 19). The Church of God is hated by the world because she is not of the world.

 

Fig. 98. Tomb of our Lady at Jerusalem. (Phot. Bonfils.)

The omniscience of our Lord. He foretold to Peter what death he should die (chapter LXXXII), and what He foretold came to pass.

The Feast of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul is kept on the 29th of June, because on that day both of them glorified God by their martyrdom, and won the crown of justice. Peter is the chief, and Paul is the greatest of the apostles. The former is the rock of the unity of the Church, the latter is the representative of her Catholicity. Their blood has consecrated Rome, the ancient capital of the pagan world, to be the capital of the Christian world, the mother and teacher of all churches.

 

Fig. 99 St. Peter’s Church at Rome. (Phot. Anderson, Rome.)

Steadfast faith. The holy apostles were steadfast in faith, preferring to suffer death, rather than deny their holy faith.

The witness borne by the Apostles and martyrs to the truth of the Christian faith. The holy apostles did not testify to the truth of Christianity by word only, that is, by preaching and writing, but also by their blood, for they joyfully gave their lives for the truth of what they taught, sealing their testimony with their blood. In like manner, many of their successors, Popes, bishops and priests, especially in the first three centuries, have died as witnesses for the faith. In the course of the centuries of the Christian era 13,000,000 martyrs have attested with their life-blood the truth of the Catholic faith. Could there exist a greater or more incontestable witness to the truth?

The red vestments used on the feasts of the apostles and martyrs ought to remind us how they gave their life and blood for love of Jesus.

The Growth of the Church. When the apostles died, a multitude of believers already existed in the various countries of the then known world, extending from India on the one side to the Atlantic Ocean on the other, and from the Upper Nile to the Danube.

Holy Scripture was written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, Who put into the minds of the apostles and their disciples that which they wrote down in the sacred books. When the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament were written, our Blessed Lord partly fulfilled His promise: “The Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you” (see chapter LXVIII).

The Holy Scriptures and the Teaching of the Church. 1. Before any of the New Testament Scriptures existed, there were a great many Christians in Judæa, Samaria and the pagan world, for the Christian faith was not spread by the reading of the Scriptures, but by the living word and teaching of the apostles and their disciples, or, in other words, by the Church as a teacher. 2. If the infallible Church were not at hand to enlighten us, we could not know for certain what books belong to the inspired Scriptures, nor could we be sure that the Bible, as we have it, is complete and unfalsified. S. Augustine says: “I would not believe the Gospel itself, were I not directed thereto by the authority of the Catholic Church.” 3. That Church alone in which the Holy Ghost dwells can interpret the true meaning of the Scriptures. 4. Holy Scripture contains only a portion of the Christian revelation, for we know that the apostles did not write down everything that they taught. Therefore, the Scriptures are not the only source of faith, for there exists another alongside of it, namely the Tradition of the Church. From these two sources, Scripture and Tradition, the Church draws the doctrines of Christianity, and delivers them to us for our acceptance.

APPLICATION. Let us admire and venerate the holy apostles, for they were the friends of God, the truest benefactors of mankind, and the greatest, noblest and most devoted men who have ever lived. They accomplished a gigantic work, since as God’s messengers they converted the world, and laid the foundation for the raising and renovating of mankind. In spite of danger, persecution, and suffering they accomplished the great work which their Master had given them to do, and remained true to their calling even unto death. Each one of them might have said with St. Paul: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord, the just Judge, will render to me in that day” (2 Tim. 4:7, 8). By means of their glorious martyrdom they entered into the joy of their Lord, and were crowned as princes of heaven with the crown of justice. Reverence them, therefore, and imitate their faithful love of Jesus, and thus you will obey the words of our Blessed Lord and obtain the promise they contain: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life!” (Apoc. 2:10.)








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