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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2

Introduction

THIS Epistle was, most likely, intended as a circular for all the converted Jews throughout the entire earth. But it was addressed specially to those of Palestine, to whom alone some passages in it could be strictly applicable.—Chap. 10:32, 33, 34; 13:19–23.

CANONICITY OF.—The Canonicity or Divine authority of this Epistle was never called in question in the Greek Church. The Arians were the first to contest its Divine authority in consequence of the strong arguments it contains in favour of the Divinity of Christ.

The belief of the Latin Church was not so constant from the beginning. Until undoubted evidence in its favour was adduced, the Latin Church was slow in admitting its Divine authority, in consequence of the perverse use made by the Novations of certain passages of it, particularly, chapter 6, in support of their erroneous teachings regarding the admission to penance of those who had fallen away from the faith. It was not read publicly in the Church in the days of St. Jerome. But, the earliest among the Latin Fathers, quote from it as inspired Scripture: St. Clement, of Rome, does so, in his Epistle to the Corinthians; the principal Latin Fathers, before St. Jerome, viz., Hilary, Optatus, Ambrose, as also his contemporaries, Augustine, &c., and those who came after him, quote from it, as Scripture. And St. Jerome himself, in his Epistle to Dardanus, speaking of this Epistle and of the Apocalypse of St. John, says:—“We, altogether dissenting from the usage of the present age, and supported by the authority of ancient writers, admit both.”

Besides the foregoing Fathers, we have the authority of Innocent I. (Epistola 3a ad Exuperium), St. Athanasius (in Synopsi), Gregory Nazianzen (in Carmine de SS. Scripturis), all of whom place it on their catalogue of inspired Scripture. We have, moreover, the authority of Councils, in which the catalogues of inspired books were framed, viz.: the Council of Laodicea (last Canon); the Third Council of Carthage (Canon 47), presided over by Aurelius, Primate of Africa, and subscribed to by St. Augustine; the Council of Rome, consisting of seventy Bishops, under Pope Gelasius I.; the Council of Florence, in the Decree for the instruction of the Armenians; and, finally, the Council of Trent, SS. the 4th. The Canonicity of this book is, therefore, now a point of Catholic faith, which no orthodox believer can question for a moment, without incurring the guilt of heresy.

Luther, and most of his followers, deny the Divine authority of this Epistle, while the Calvinists and the Church of England admit it.

In referring to the foregoing authorities, it should have been observed, that the authority of St. Athanasius is of great weight on this subject. For, it is asserted by many, among the rest by St. Jerome, in his Preface to the Books of Judith, that a Canon of SS. Scriptures was framed in the first General Council of Nice; and, as St. Athanasius assisted at this Council, it is to be fairly presumed, that in placing the “Epistles to the Hebrews,” on the Catalogue of inspired Scripture, which he afterwards framed, he had the authority of the great Council of Nice for so doing.

This Epistle was not universally admitted in the Latin Church before the fifth century; although it was quoted from by many of the Fathers of the preceding ages, as we have already seen. Hence, it is reckoned amongst those books of SS. Scripture which are termed, Deutero-Canonical. The books of this latter class are so called, because they were not, at first, admitted on the Canon of SS. Scripture, nor were they recognised for some time, as inspired, by the universal Church. Owing to the imperfect means of communication, and the distractions consequent on the terrors of persecution during the early ages, it became impossible to ascertain fully, the traditions of particular churches, regarding the Divine authority of these books. On peace, however, being restored to the Church, and the means of communication facilitated, and opportunities of comparing the traditions of the different churches afforded, these Books were found to form a portion of the deposit of faith; and, so, universally admitted. Their non-admission sooner is no argument against their inspired authority. On the contrary, the circumstance of their non-admission, for some time, on the Canon, shows the care and vigilance observed by the Church, in proposing them to the faithful.

AUTHENTICITY OF.—The authenticity or authorship of this Epistle had been disputed, even by many who admitted its claims to inspiration. By some, the authorship of it was ascribed to St. Clement of Rome. This opinion, however, is satisfactorily refuted from the Epistle itself; for, the writer of it supposes the Jewish sacrifices to be still offered; and Jerusalem, the destruction of which occurred before the time of St. Clement, still in being. Others, among them, Tertullian, ascribed the authorship of it to St. Barnabas; and others, to St. Luke. But all these hypotheses are refuted by the universal voice of tradition, attributing the authorship of it, to the Apostle. In favour of this opinion, which almost obtains the certainty of faith, we have the same authorities that have been adduced in proof of its canonicity. St. Peter, in his second Epistle directed to the converted Jews, tells them (chap 3, verse 16), that St. Paul has written to them an Epistle, which could have reference to no other than the present. The Lutherans, of course, deny the authenticity of this Epistle; for, as has been already remarked, they deny its canonicity. Luther, it should be observed, attributed the authorship of this Epistle to Apollo, on account of its superior eloquence. The Calvinists, who admit it to be inspired SS., assert that the author of it is uncertain. Erasmus and Cajetan deny that St. Paul is the author of it. The different objections proposed by them, derived from the Epistle itself, against our proposition, will be seen fully answered and refuted in the Commentary.

LANGUAGE OF.—This also has been a subject of much controversy. Most of the ancient Fathers, and almost all the early Commentators assert, that it was written in Hebrew; and they reply to the objection against its authenticity, grounded on the diversity of style, by saying: this (if there really be any such diversity) may be readily accounted for on the ground, that in his other Epistles, the Apostle wrote in Greek, of which he was not so perfect a master as he was of the Hebrew, the language employed by him, in this Epistle. The supporters of this opinion account for the fact of all the quotations from the Old Testament being taken from the Greek Septuagint version, by saying, that the Apostle did quote from the Hebrew; but that the translator, whom many assert to be St. Luke, or St. Clement, substituted for these, quotations from the Septuagint, for the sake of uniformity, and also because the Septuagint was then the version most in use. This solution is not quite satisfactory, if we bear in mind, that in some passages, the reasoning of the Apostle would appear by no means conclusive, in the use of any other, than the Septuagint version.—(See chap. 9, verse 16). Others maintain, that it was written in Greek; these deny that there is any diversity of style observable between this and his other Epistles, which one and the same author might not employ, when treating of different subjects. Such diversity, if it exist, is, according to them, wholly attributable to the nature and diversity of subject. Many even of these maintain, that the thoughts were St. Paul’s, and the language, that of his amanuensis, St. Luke, who being perfect master of the Greek language, clothed the thoughts dictated to him by the Apostle, in his own words. One of the strongest grounds in favour of this opinion is derived from the argument which the Apostle founds on the signification of certain words, in the Greek, which would not hold, had he written in Hebrew. They cite as an instance, the Greek word for testament διαθηκη (verse 9, 16), the Hebrew word for which, Berith, means any ordinary pact or covenant.

OBJECT AND OCCASION OF.—The object and design which the Apostle had in view in this Epistle was two-fold: first, to confirm the converted Jews in the faith; and secondly, to offer them consolation, under the persecutions and afflictions they were enduring. We learn from the Acts of the Apostles, that the converted Jews of Palestine were persecuted, in divers ways by their countrymen, who pertinaciously adhered to the religion of their fathers. These persecutions had the effect of weakening their faith; and served as so many temptations, to fall into the hateful crime of apostacy. They had, moreover, to encounter the false teachers, who taught the necessity and the sufficiency of the Law of Moses, particularly the portion of it, that regarded the Levitical sacrifices. The principal error refuted by the Apostle in this Epistle differs from those combated by him in his Epistles to the Romans and Galatians, in this respect: that, in his Epistle to the Romans, he refutes the error of those, who maintained the sufficiency of the moral portion of the Mosaic law; in the Epistle to the Galatians, of those who maintained the necessity for Christians of the ceremonial part: and in this Epistle, the errors regarding the sacrifices of the same law. These teachers also maintained that the Jewish religion was a sufficiently secure means, for attaining salvation. This latter assertion they founded on the excellence of the promulgators of the Mosaic Law—the Angels—“ordinata per Angelos” (Gal. 3); the authority of Moses; the Pontificate of Aaron; the perpetual succession of the Levitical Priesthood; the sanctity of the Tabernacle and its contents; the intrinsic dignity of the Law; but principally, the efficacy and perpetuity of the Sacrifices; the promises of the ancient Testament; the miracles, wrought in its favour.—(Vide Mauduit’s Preface to this Epistle). In reply to all these, the Apostle places Christ above the Angels; above Moses and Levi; his Priesthood according to the order of Melchisedech, above that of Aaron; his sacrifice, above the legal victims; the New Tabernacle, above the Old; the miracles of the New Law, above those of Moses. In fine, he establishes the necessity of faith; and consoles the Jews in their afflictions, by pointing out the advantages of suffering, even to the just of old.

WHEN AND WHERE WRITTEN.—It was written from Italy. According to some, towards the close of the Apostle’s first imprisonment at Rome. It is, however, generally supposed to have been written about the year 62 or 63 of our era.








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