Ist Period III
- IV to conclusion
2nd Period 2nd
|CHRONOLOGY OF THE ACTS||
|St_Paul_Pastoral_Letters||130 Introduction||131 selection of bishops & deacons||132 Timothys pastoral tasks||133 Widows In service of Church||134 Duties of presbyters|
|135 Duties of presbyters||136 Introduction||137 Tradition and Holy Scripture||138 Spiritual testament||139 Latest news||140 Prologue: Christ is the Son of God|
|141 Christ the High Priest||142 Christ Is the
mediator of the new covenant
|143 Suffering in
the life of the christian
|144 Various counsels||III. The other Apostles’ seven Letters, called Catholic||From St
From St Paul’s First Letter to Timothy
Macedonia and Ephesus.
The letters to Timothy and Titus, St Paul’s last writings, are called ‘Pastoral Letters’ because their chief content concerns the rules the two disciples must follow in the government of the Church entrusted to them by the Apostle for a period. In fact they seem to have been given full powers, as deputies or delegates of the Apostle, including the power of ordaining presbyters (that is, priests) and deacons, though they had not yet the authority of resident bishops, which they were to receive on the death of the Apostles.
The first of St Paul’s pastoral letters was addressed to Timothy, the devoted disciple who had been the Apostle’s constant companion since his second journey (see No. 45), and had also undertaken imlyortant and delicate missions (see Nos. 56, 63, 72 and 81).
Towards the end of 63 the trial of St Paul had ended in his acquittal. Freed from his Roman captivity, during which Timothy had lovingly assisted him, the Apostle was able to return with his disciple to visit his Christian communities.
It was probably at this time that Paul was also able to realize his desire to carry the Gospel into Spain (see No. 100) but he cannot have remained there long. During a visit to Ephesus he became aware of certain irregularities. He was particularly concerned that some people, posing as masters of the Jewish Law, were teaching new doctrines foreign to the Gospel.
Macedonian countryside. Macedonia was crossed by the Romaft-road called ‘Egnatia’
which joined the Bosphorus with the Adriatic at Durazzo opposite Brindisi,
so making an ideal connexion with the Appian Way and Rome.
It was from Macedonia that St Paul wrote the first Letter to his disciple, Timothy.
First Letter to Timothy
As he was unable to stay at Ephesus, before leaving for Macedonia he left Timothy with all the powers and authority of an apostle in the Asian capital. He wrote the first Letter from Macedonia in 65 or 66 in order to advise and support him in his difficult task.
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope.
2 To Timothy, my true child in the faith:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations rather than the divine training that is in faith; 5whereas the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith. 6 Certain persons by swerving from these have wandered awäy into vain dicussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions.
131. The selection of bishops and deacons
1 The saying is sure; If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. 2 Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, 3 no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; 5 for if man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil; 7 moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
First Letter to Timothy8 Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for gain; 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then if they prove themselves blameless let them serve as deacons. 11 The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons be the husband of one wife, and let them manage their children and their households well; 13 for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, 15if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels,
preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
The hierarchy of the several churches during the life of the Apostles was thus organized:
1) Supreme authority was held by the Apostle who had founded the local church, in this case at Ephesus, St Paul alone chose and appointed the presbyters and ruled the Church, even from a distance by means -of delegates or deputies, like Timothy and Titus. These delegates had full powers and they also chose and appointed presbyters and deacons. They were thus like those who were later called ‘bishops’ and who, after the Apostles died, were their successors in the government of local churches.
2) In every church there was a college of ‘presbyters’. This Greek word means ‘elders’ and from it is derived the English word ‘priest’.
Concerning the appointment of presbyters see No. 40; for the presbyters of Jerusalem see Nos. 41 and 101. The task of the presbyters was to govern the community in the absence of the Apostles and to preside over the celebration of the Eucharist in liturgical assemblies. The presbyters were also called ‘bishops’, that is ‘overseers’ or ‘supervisors’ (see No. 68), but were probably not bishops in the modern sense, (the word ‘bishop’ is derived from the Greek ‘episcopos’) but simply priests.
3) In every church there was also an adequate number of ‘deacons’, that is ‘ministers’ (see their institution at No. 16). They had liturgical functions and tasks of charitable relief: if they were specially gifted, they preached the word of God.
Presbyters and deacons were men of mature age, respected by the community, and had shown wisdom and the power to govern the Christian community by the way they ordered their own families. So as to guide his disciple in the exercise of his authority St Paul tells Timothy what their gifts must be.
At the end of this passage St Paul quotes a verse of an ancient hymn to Christ, ‘the mystery of our religion’, that is the object of faith and the reason and foundation of all religious practice.
First Letter to Timothy132 Timothys pastoral tasks
12Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13Till I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching. 14Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the elders laid their hands upon you. 15Practise these duties, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
This passage must be read in connection with the other passage in 2 Timothy 1, 6: ‘1 remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands’ (see No. 136).
St Paul encourages his disciple to undertake the heavy responsibilities of his pastoral office by reminding him of the grace, ‘gift’, which is his by the sacrament of Holy Order conferred through the laying on of the Apostle’s hands, joined with those of the college of presbyters. The ‘prophetic utterance’ to which St Paul refers, concerns the choice of the candidate: people endowed with the gift of prophecy (see No. 78) had certified that Timothy’s ordination was in accordance with God’s will. This too must have encouraged Timothy if his still youthful age (he was about thirty- five) and his timid and gentle character put him in difficulties in dealing with presbyters who were older and yet had less authority.
First Letter to Timothy133 Widows In the service of the Church
3 Honour widows who are real widows. 4If a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn their religious duty to their own family and make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. 5She who is a real widow, and is left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day; 6whereas She who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. 7Command this, so that they may be without reproach. 8If any one does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
9Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband; 10and she must be well attested for her good deeds, as one who has brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the feet of the saints, relieved the afflicted, and devoted herself to doing good in every way. 11But refuse to enrol younger widows; for when they grow wanton against Christ they desire to marry, 12and so they incur condemnation for having violated their first pledge.
13Besides that, they learn to be idlers, gadding about from house to house, and not only idlers but gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. 14So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, rule their households, and give the enemy no occasion to revile us. 15For some have already strayed after Satan. 16If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her assist them; let the church not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are real widows.
Widows who had no relatives who could take care of them were supported by the Church’s charity. Those who were suitable served as ‘deaconesses’ without however belonging to the hierarchy. They were of great service in approaching and instructing other women who, in a Greek milieu, were difficult of access to strangers. Their delicate mission required wisdom and prudence: hence the rules for their selection which St Paul gives.
From Saint Paul's Letter to TitusAfter his release from captivity in Rome (63 A.D.) St Paul again went to the island of Crete and organized a Christian community there. He left there his disciple Titus with full powers (like Timothy in Ephesus) to carry on the apostolic work. After a time he wrote this letter, probably from Macedonia, with valuable pastoral regulations about the
choice of the sacred ministers and the duties of various classes of person. Titus, a disciple from the very beginning, and a convert from paganism (see No. 87), had always been at St Paul’s side; he was energetic and prudent and had brought his mission to the unruly community at Corinth to a satisfactory conclusion (see page 217).
134 Duties of presbyters
5This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you, 6if any man is blameless, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of being profligate or insubordinate. 7For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick- tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; 9 He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.
135 Duties of presbyters
12 When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. 13Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. 14 And let our people learn to apply themselves to good deeds, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not to be unfruitful.
15 All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith.
Grace be with you all.
Artemas, of whom we know nothing, and Tychicus who had been bearer of the letters to the Colossians and Ephesians (see No. 123 and p. 315) would appear to have been replaced by Titus who must have joined St Paul in the city of Nicopolis in Epirus. Thence, before St Paul was imprisoned for the last time, he
left for Dalmatia (see No. 139); according to tradition he returned to Crete after St Paul’s death and became its first bishop. Zenas, who is unknown, and the famous Apollos, the great preacher at Corinth, (see Nos. 62, 70 and 81) were bearers of the letter to Titus, who must have provided for their return journey.
From St Paul’s Second Letter to TimothyThe Neronian persecution of the Christians was raging. Beginning in Rome in 64 it spread with varying degrees of speed and violence in the Eastern provinces of the Empire. St Paul had been arrested while he was at Troas, probably in the summer of the year 66. Taken to Rome by virtue of his status as a Roman citizen, he had the benefit of a regular trial which went on for a long time. But he had no illusions: this time he felt he was near the end. In these circumstances he wanted to have the company of Timothy, his faithful disciple from the first years of his apostleship, and wrote this letter in which he does not fail to include valualle advice but in which he frankly opens his heart in a retrospective survey of his long and arduous apostolic work.
Worthy of note is the exhortation at the end of the Introduction: ‘Guard the truth that has been entrusted to you’' now the apostolic teaching has been completed and constitutes a ‘deposit’, that is a treasure entrusted to the successors of the Apostles, which must be preserved by them and handed on to future generations. Revelation is thus not entrusted solely to the written word (Holy Scripture) but also to oral teaching (Tradition) handed on by the Apostles to those who carry on their work.
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life which is in Christ Jesus,
2 To Timothy, my beloved child:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
From St Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy3I thank God whom I serve with a clear conscience, as did my fathers, when I remember you constantly in my prayers. 4As I remember your tears, I long night and day to see you, that I may be filled with joy. 5I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you. 6Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self control.
8Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but take your share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God, 9who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago, 10and now has manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12and therefore I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. 13Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; 14guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.
137 Tradition and Holy Scripture
10 Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11my persecutions, my sufferings, what befell me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra, what persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived.
Second Letter to Timothy14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Timothy was the son of a Jewess who had become a Christian (see No. 45). In the previous section, 136, St Paul praises his mother, Eunice, and also his grandmother, Lois. From them Timothy had learnt from his earliest years the Sacred History of the Old Testament.
Here St Paul records the common teaching of all the Apostles, based on Jesus’ attitude to the Sacred Books of the Jews: they are ‘inspired’ by God and intended to lead men to salvation. St Peter too gives the same teaching (see No. 156). The ‘inspiration’ of the Sacred Books implies that their human writers (prophets, wise men, historians) were God’s instruments to make known to the religious community (Israel and later the Church) his will and his plans for salvation.
The sacred writers did not write in ecstasy or under divine dictation but were inspired by God in conceiving and writing their works. Therefore Holy Scripture is ‘veracious’, that is, it contains without error those truths which God wished to convey for the salvation of men.
Holy Scripture attains its maximum value when it is read in the milieu of the Church, in the light of the apostolic teaching handed on by the Tradition (see No. 137 above) to which St Paul refers in the words ‘continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you have learned it’.
Second Letter to Timothy138 Spiritual testament
1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching.
Second Letter to Timothy3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. 5As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.
6For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to men on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
As in the first letter so also in the last, the thought of Christ’s ‘glorious coming’ or ‘Parousia’ at the end of time, is present and paramount (see Nos. 55 and 58).
St Paul feels that death is near and thinks of it as the last act of a sacrifice. Libation consisted of pouring wine from a goblet on to the altar: similarly St Paul thinks of his life as being poured out in fighting and striving entirely and solely for the Lord. He fears neither death nor his meeting with Christ as Judge, for he looks for his reward as the ‘crown’ which is awarded to victors.
139 Latest news
9 Do your best to come to me soon. 10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you; for he is very useful in serving me. 12 Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will requite him for his deeds. 15 Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. 16At my first defence no one took my part; all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! 17But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength to proclaim the word fully, that all the Gentiles might hear it.
Second Letter to Timothy
So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
19 Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 20 Erastus remained at Corinth: Trophimus I left ill at Miletus.
21 Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brethren.
21 Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.
St Paul had been arrested at Troas; in his unforeseen forced departure he had not been able to take his few possessions with him. He wants his books and above all his precious ‘parchments’ on which the Bible was written: he also thinks of his cloak, for winter is approaching. The law suit against Paul has already begun; the people who
have not come forward to take his part are not his disciples, who indeed are all far away, but influential people, powerful friends who have feared to compromise themselves. St Paul knows that only the Lord can save him: yet he will not save him in this world, but rather ‘in his heavenly kingdom’.
II The Letter to the HebrewsThe beginning of the Letter to the Hebrews in the Vatican Codex (fourth century).
The Hebrews to whom this letter is addressed are Christians of Jewish origin probably belonging to the Palestinian communities. They have in fact suffered persecution from their fellow- citizens and are feeling the appeal of the old Jewish cult. This letter was therefore written before the Jewish War (66-70 A.D.) and probably after the murder of St James (62 AD.), which showed that it was becoming more and more difficult for Christians to co-exist in the midst of the Jewish national community.
Note that the letter begins abruptly like a theological treatise without the usual headings in which the names of Paul and the recipients appear in the other letters. The very elegant style of this letter also differs considerably from that of St Paul’s letters. For these reasons the question of the authorship of this letter has been raised from the earliest centuries. Since it was always copied as an appendix to St Paul’s thirteen letters, it could be said to belong to St Paul in some sense, in that he vouches for the writing and supports it with his own authority. It is thought that the author was a disciple of St Paul and his companion in the apostolate who, adding his own ref lexions to the teaching of the master, put together in agreement with him a truly original work. He did not dare to put it forward under his own name, or under that of the master who was particularly hated by the Jews and disliked by some Judaizing Christians. Thus, and although the iecipients knew whence the letter came and who supported it with his authority, these particulars were not included in the writing itself. The letter came from Italy, that is apparently from Rome, when St Paul was there in ó3-4 A.D.
The doctrinal points dealt with in this letter are those most useful for the purpose of detaching the Jewish Christians from the cult still en force in the Jerusalem Temple:
1) Christ is the Son of God, superior to the Angels, the guarantor of the prophets and so superior even to Moses. Consequently, the Christians have a greater responsibility and a more pressing duty to be faithful to God’s word.
2) Christ is the High Priest of the New Covenant. The New Covenant is superior to the old and Christ’s priesthood is far superior to that of Aaron and the Levites.
3) The worship introduced by Christ is the reality, of which the worship in the Old Testament is only a ‘shadow’ or illustration.
4) In particular, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the only sacrifice which can truly expiate for sins, once and for ever.
To this doctrinal exposition are added exhortations to the practice of the virtues, specially those of perseverance in the faith and fortitude under persecutions for the love of Christ.
Letter to the Hebrews140 Prologue: Christ is the Son of God
1 In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; 2but in these last days he has spoken to us
by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs.
141 Christ the High Priest
(4, 14-16; 5, 1-10; 7, 26-28)
4, 14 We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God; let us hold fast our confession.
Letter to the Hebrews15 For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning. 16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
5, 1 For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can deal gently with ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3 Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4And one does not take the honour upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was.
5So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee;”
6 6 As he says also in another place, “Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek.”
7In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 designated by God a high priest after the order of Meichizedek.
7, 26 For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 Indeed, the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect for ever.
In its relations with God, mankind always needs a mediator, the priest; this was specially true in the Old Testament. Christ has not abolished the priesthood, but has gathered together in himself all the positive aspects of the priesthood, while abolishing those that are negative.
In particular: 1) He is a man among men and therefore knows how to sympathize with human
Letter to the HebrewsThe present-day city of Nablus, near the ancient Shechem, is still the centre of the religious life of the Samaritans. Today they represent no more than a small ethnic group which is still inspired by the ancient Mosaic law. In the photograph is an old Samaritan priest reading Holy Scripture.
Letter to the Hebrewsweaknesses; 2) he was chosen by (;od; 3) he is the Mediator, interceding and pleading for us; 4) but, in contrast to the former priests, he is without personal sin; 5) therefore he has offered sacrifice for the sins of others and not for his own; 6) he was the Son of God (quotation from Psalm 2, 7); his sacrifice was quite sufficient to save men and has
no need to be repeated like the former sacrifices, which could only atone in a symbolic manner
The mention of Meichizedek (derived from Psalm 109, 4) recalls that the ancient priest-king of this name blessed Abraham (Genesis 14, 17-20) and so showed himself superior to Aaron and the Levites who were Abraham’s descendants
142 Christ Is the mediator of the new covenant
(9, 11-15 - 24, 2)
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgression under the first covenant.
24 Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Letter to the HebrewsSection, plan and reconstruction of Solomon’s Temple on the basis of Father de Vaux’s studies.
There can be seen:
(a) the Vestibule,
(b) the Holy Place, and
(c) the Holy of Holies.
The former sacrifice expressed the duty of giving worship to God, recognizing him as the sovereign creator and giver of all good. In particular the ‘sacrifice of atonement’ offered by the Jews specially on the Day of Atonement, to ask for pardon and purification for all the sins of the people committed during the year, expressed the need of reconciliation and the impossibility of entering into relationship with God so long as the state of sin remained.
The blood of the victim played an important part in atonement sacrifices; blood was the symbol of life: sprinkling with blood signified the return to life since sin, which alienates us from God, is death. Jesus Christ has offered his death on the cross as an atonement sacrifice, and as the only act capable of atoning for all the sins of the world. The High Priest first slew the victims, that is the expiatory bullock and goat, in the Temple Court, and then entered the Sanctuary (called also Tabernacle or Tent). He went through it and passed beyond the veil of the Holy of Holies carrying the blood of the victims in a basin. He sprinkled it in front of himself in the place which symbolized the mysterious presence of God. So Jesus was first slain on the cross, as Priest and Victim, then was raised from the dead, and passed through (the veil) to present himself to God, offering for us atonement and reconciliation, won by means of his blood, poured out for love of men and in obedience to the Father.
Christ’s sacrifice is unique, for all men of all times, and, unlike the former sacrifices, has no need of repetition. The Holy Mass is rightly called a sacrifice for it makes the Christian communities, of all ages and all places on earth, sharers in that unique sacrifice.
Letter to the Hebrews143 Suffering in the life of the christian
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the same, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation which addressed you as sons?—
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,7It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
nor lose courage when you are punished by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
The Christian life is a struggle, specialty in times of persecution; the author of the letter makes use of a sporting metaphor, of a race watched by thousands of ‘witnesses’, the spirits of the saints who have struggled before us. He quotes the example of Christ who has faced a most painful and humiliating death. Then, quoting a passage of the book of Proverbs (3, 11-12), he shows that suffering is a sign of God’s love towards us. He is like a father who, desirous of the true, wellbeing of his children, does not spare them hard but salutary lessons.
Letter to the Hebrews144 Various counsels
1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not negleet to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are illtreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said,
“I will never fail you nor forsake you.” 6 Hence we can confidently say,“The Lord is my helper,
I will not be afraid;
what can man do to me?”
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Letter to the Hebrews18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience; desiring to act honourably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.
20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything, good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Among the various counsels we note the exhortation to cease from taking part in the sacred banquets of the Jews, banquets which were a part of the peace offering (or communion). In these sacrifices only a small part of the victim was burnt on the altar, the rest was divided between the priest and the donor, with his family and friends.
The Letter to the Hebrews contrasts this sacrificial banquet with the Eucharist, at the aftar from which those who persist in the religion of the Old Testament may not eat. He also distinguishes between the ‘sacrifice of praise’, i.e. prayer offered through Christ, and works of charity which are like ‘sacrifices which are pleasing to God’.
One detail is worthy of notice: in the sacrifices of atonement for the sins of all the people and of the priests, the body of the victim could not be eaten, once the blood of the victim had been taken into the Sanctuary for the ritual sprinklings. It was taken ‘outside the camp’, that is outside the town, and there it was burnt.
The author of the letter sees in this ceremony of the ancient cult a figure of Christ who, as a victim for atonement, was crucified outside the city; and from this he proceeds to make a touching appeal to go ‘outside the camp’, that is away from the Jewish community, and for the love of Christ to face the contempt of their own fellow countrymen.
III. The other Apostles’ seven Letters, called Catholic
The seven Letters which were not written by St Paul but by other Apostles were called ‘Catholic’, i.e. ‘universal’ or ‘general’, because they seem to be addressed to the Church in general and not to one community or person in particular. To be sure, the two last Letters of St John have a particular destination but as they are so very short, they were considered appendices of his first Letter.
The first of the Catholic Letters was written by that James who is also called ‘the Lord’s brother’, that is Jesus’ cousin, who ruled the Christian community at Jerusalem for a long time (see Nos. 42, 86, 87, 101) after the departure of St Peter in 42 or 43 AD. (see No. 33). He is generally (but not by all) identified with James called the Less, one of the twelve Apostles. He had been granted a special appearance of the risen Jesus (see No. 80). He was a man considerably respected even by many Jews, but was murdered by certain fanatics in the year 62 when, on the death of the Procurator Festus (see Nos. 107 and 108) there supervened a short period of freedom from Roman control in Judea.