Jerome, Letter 120: To Hedibia (2009)
Jerome – Epistle 120 – To Hedibia
English translation by James Snapp, Jr. via Google™ Translate
This English translation is hereby released into the public domain.
July 20, 2009
Having found, side-by-side at http://remacle.org/bloodwolf/eglise/jerome/hedibia.htm , the Latin text of Jerome’s Epistle 120 – To Hedibia, I used the online Google™ Translate tool to render the French text into a mechanical sort of English. I then took my best guesses about what the text meant. In the Preface and in the first three questions, I consulted the English translation already made by Roger Pearse, and Burgon’s rendering of part of the text, found on pages 53-54 of his 1871 The Last Twelve Verses of Mark.
What you read here should not be considered completely reliable as far as details are concerned, and here and there I suspect that I completely obscured the actual meaning of Jerome’s statements. Nevertheless, this rough English text has some value because it is, as far as I know, currently the only complete English translation of Jerome’s Epistle 120. Also, by comparing this material to James Kelhoffer’s English translation of Ad Marinum, anyone can see that Jerome, as he dictated this letter, depended heavily and extensively upon Ad Marinum. For example, in the first paragraph of Jerome’s reply to Question #4; he seeks to resolve a perceived discrepancy by asserting that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew, and that an interpreter is responsible for changing a precise and harmonious Hebrew expression into a less appropriate term. This is exactly what Eusebius does in his reply to the second question of Marinus (cf. Kelhoffer, The Witness of Eusebius’ ad Marinum, p. 88).
Gratitude is expressed to the creators of the Remacle website, Roger Pearse for announcing the existence of this material at the Remacle website, and to Stephen Carlson, who told Roger about the site.
Yours in Christ,
James Snapp, Jr.
Although I have never had the honor of seeing your face, I know very well the reputation that you have gained in the world by your ardent faith. So, from far-off Gaul you have written to me, coming to seek me in my solitary repose in the wilderness near Bethlehem, so that I may respond to some little questions on Holy Scripture. And you come on the recommendation of the man of God, my son Apodemius, as if there was not anyone in your province suitably knowledgeable about God’s law who could instruct you to see the way through your doubts.
But perhaps, instead of seeking to be instructed yourself, you seek me in order to test my ability, and after having consulted others on the difficulties that have caused you to hesitate, you still want to know what I think. Your ancestors Paterus and Delphidus – the first of whom taught rhetoric at Rome before I was born, and the second of whom, during my youth, was illustrious among all the Gauls due to the power of his prose and poetry – both now dead, may not validly chasten me for the liberty I take by instructing a member of their family. They excelled, I admit, in eloquence and in the literature of the humanities, but I daresay, without fear of stealing their glory, that they were less knowledgeable about God’s law, in which no one can be instructed except by the Father of lights, who enlightens every man coming into this world, and who is found in the midst of the faithful who are gathered in his name.
So I declare, without fear of being accused of vanity, that in this letter I will not use any pompous words, which belong to the human wisdom that God must destroy one day, but instead the language of faith, treating spiritually spiritual things. Thus the deep of the Old Testament calls to the deep of the gospel with the noise of the waterfall, that is, the prophets and the apostles, and the truth of the Lord shall rise up to the clouds, which He has forbidden to shed rain upon the unbelieving Jews, but rather to water the lands of the Gentiles, and to soften the torrent of thorns, and to sooth the waters of the Dead Sea.
So pray that the true Elijah will invigorate the dead and sterile waters within me, and season the meats that I present to you with the salt of the apostles, to whom He said, “You are the salt of the earth.” For nothing can be offered to God that is not seasoned with salt. Do not look here for the thunder of that worldly eloquence that Jesus Christ saw fall from heaven like lightning; instead cast your eyes upon this man acquainted with sorrow, who had neither beauty nor attraction, who understands infirmity. And believe that as I respond to your questions, I do not depend on my own training and ability, but on the promise of Him who said, “Open your mouth and I will fill it.”
You ask me how a person can become perfect, and how a childless widow should manage her life.
Such a question was put to Jesus Christ by a doctor of the law: “Master,” he said to him, “what is it that I do to gain eternal life?” The Lord replied, “Do you know the commandments?” “Which commandments?” replied the doctor. Jesus said, “Do not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honor your father and your mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.” This doctor answered him, “I kept all these commandments since my youth.” Jesus Christ said, “You still lack one thing: if you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor; then come and follow me.”
So, madam, in response to the question you pose, I will employ the words of Jesus: if you want to be perfect, carry your cross, follow the Savior, emulating Saint Peter, who said, “You see, Lord, that we have left everything to follow you.” Go, sell everything you have, give to the poor and follow the Savior.
Christ does not say, “Give it to your children, your brothers, your parents,” for by this standard, even if you had such, the Lord must have first preference: “Give it to the poor,” or rather, to Christ, whom you assist in the person of the poor. He, being rich, became poor due to love of us – He who said in the thirty-ninth Psalm, “As for me, I was poor and needy, and the Lord took care of me.” And, at the beginning of the following psalm, “Blessed is he who is attentive to the needs of the poor and the needy.”
Indeed attentiveness is needed to discern the poor from the many people who live in their sins as much as in squalor and poverty; what is meant is those of the sort of whom the apostle Paul spoke when he says, “They only asked us not to forget the poor.” It was for the relief of these poor people that Paul and Barnabas carefully collected alms on the first day of the week in the congregations of the Gentile converts to the faith, and they disciplined themselves, not sending others, to bring it to those who had been stripped of their property for Jesus Christ – those who suffered persecution, and who told their father and their mother, their wives and their children, “We do not know you.” These are the authentic poor, who have performed the will of the heavenly Father, and of the Savior who said, “These are my mother and my brothers: those who carry out the will of My Father.”
In saying this, I do not mean that to prevent alms-giving to Jews, to Gentiles, and to all other poor people of any nation whatsoever. But we must always prefer the Christian to the unbeliever, and among the Christians themselves, we must make a great distinction between a poor man whose life is pure and innocent and one whose life is corrupt and disorderly. For this reason the Apostle Paul, who in many places in his epistles urges the faithful to exercise charity toward the poor, recommends that they do so primarily to fellow believers – to one with whom we are united in the same religion, and who is not separated from the brotherhood by disruptive and corruptive immorality. Inasmuch as Saint Paul commands us to give food to our enemies when they are hungry, and to give them something to drink when thirsty, and thereby to pour coals of fire upon their head, how much more ought we to do so for those who are not our enemies, and who profess a holy Christian life?
It is necessary to take in a beneficial way, and not in a bad sense, what is said by the apostle: “Thereby you pour coals of fire on his head.” He meant that in doing good to our enemies, we overcome their malice and hatred with our expressions of goodness, and thus we will soften their adamancy; we banish the bitterness and fury to make room for friendship and affection. Thus we pour upon their heads those coals about which it is written, “A mighty hand launches sharp arrows with devouring coals.” For, just as the seraph of whom Isaiah speaks purified the prophet’s lips with a fiery coal which he had taken from the altar, we shall purify the sins of our enemies, overcoming evil with good, blessing those who curse us, and imitating our Father in heaven, who “makes his sun rise on the good and the evil, and sends rain on the just and the sinners.”
Since you have no little children, “use the wealth from swindling to make more friends for yourself, that you may be received in the eternal dwelling-places.” It is not for no reason that the Gospel refers to the earthly riches of wealth as unjust, because they have no source other than the injustice of men, and one cannot gain unless someone else loses. So I consider the axiom to be true, that those with much property are either swindlers, or the heirs of swindlers.
This doctor of the law, being told by Jesus Christ that to be perfect we should renounce all the wealth we possess, could not resolve to do so, because he was rich. Then the Savior, turning to His disciples, said, “How difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven!” He does not say it is impossible, but it is difficult, although the example that He gives shows an absolute impossibility: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” But this is impossible rather than difficult, for it will never be possible for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle; therefore a rich man can never enter the kingdom of heaven. But the camel is a terribly hunchbacked animal, and it usually carries heavy burdens. And when we wander off the path that Jesus Christ blazed, and follow bad paths that lead to sin, we are loaded with the burden of riches or the weight of our sins, and it is impossible for us to enter the kingdom of God. But if we unload this oppressive weight, and put on the wings of a dove, then we will fly away ourselves; we will find rest, and we will say, “When you can sleep in the middle of the campfires, you will become like the dove, whose wings are silver, and whose back is as bright as gold.” With our back, which was deformed by the heavy burden that was crushing us, covered with this bright gold, representing the spiritual sense of the divine Scriptures, and with these “silver wings,” which signify the literal sense, we will be able to enter into the kingdom of God.
The apostles, saying that they had abandoned all their possessions, boldly sought from Jesus Christ a proper reward for this virtue, and the Lord replied, “Whoever, for My name, shall abandon his house, or his brothers, or his sisters, or his father or mother, or wife, or children, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” What blessedness to have Jesus Christ himself as your debtor, and to receive much in return for little things – the eternal in exchange for the temporary, and durable and strong goods in exchange for our fragile and perishable wealth.
So, if a widow has children, especially if her family is upper-class, she must not leave them in poverty. Let her love them equally, and have regard for her soul, treating it like one of her own children. She must apportion the property together with them, and not abandon everything to them; rather, she must make Christ a fellow-heir. You could perhaps say that this is difficult, and revolting, and that such treatment of children opposes your tender instincts. But you will hear the Lord reply: “The one who is able to perform such a thing, let him do so,” “If you want to be perfect, go, sell all that you possess,” etc. In saying, “If you want to be perfect,” He does not make this burden a requirement, but allows freedom to pursue either course regarding children. Do you want to be perfect and raise yourself to the highest level of virtue? Imitate the apostles, sell everything you have, give to the poor, and follow the Lord. Separated from all creatures and stripped of everything that you own in the world, follow Him bare, with only a cross. Or, are you content not to be perfect, and to remain in the second-highest level of virtue? Then abandon everything you have, and give it to your children and parents. No one will rebuke you, if you follow this lesser way, provided that you also agree that it is fair that you defer to one whose way tends toward perfection.
You will want to tell me that such sublime virtue is for the men and apostles, but it is impossible for a refined woman, who needs a thousand things to maintain her way of life. Hear therefore what the apostle Paul says: “I do not mean that others are helped and that you are overburdened, but that, to relieve inequality, your abundance compensates for their poverty, so that your poverty is also relieved by their abundance.” That is why the Lord says in the Gospel, “Whoever has two coats, let him give to him who has none.”
Now, if we lived among the ice of Scythia and the snow of the Alps, where not only two and three coats, but even the animal-skins are scarcely sufficient protection from the harsh cold climate, would we be obliged to strip ourselves to clothe others? We must understand “coat” to mean all that is necessary to clothe us and provide what is naturally required, since we are born naked. And by “the provisions of a single day” is meant, whatever is necessary to feed ourselves. In this sense we fathom the commandment in the Gospel, “Do not worry about tomorrow,” that is, about the future, and the apostle’s statement, “While we have food and covering, we must be content.”
If you have more than you need, give to the poor, and know that you are thus paying a debt. Ananias and Sapphira deserved to be condemned by the apostle Saint Peter, because they had quietly set aside part of their property. Is it a crime, you might ask, not to donate everything one has? No, but the apostle punished them with the death penalty because they had lied to the Holy Spirit, for while reserving for themselves what they needed to live, they pretended to surrender completely all earthly things – thus seeking, in vain, only the approval and esteem of men. Notwithstanding that we are free to give or not to give, he who renounces all his goods in order to be perfect must expect that one day in the future his poverty will be rewarded with property.
Regarding the life that a widow must lead, the apostle sets the rules in a few words, when he says, “The widow who lives in luxury is dead, although she seems alive.” I have dealt with this matter thoroughly in the two books that I have dedicated to Furia and Salvina.
How shall we understand what the Savior said in Saint Matthew: “And I tell you that henceforth I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink with you again in the kingdom of My Father”?
passage has caused some authors to invent a certain fable, claiming that Christ
will reign in the flesh for a thousand years, and will drink the wine which He
has not drunk from that time until the end of the world. But as for us, we
believe about the bread, which the Lord broke and gave to His disciples, is
nothing but the body of our Lord and Savior, as He Himself said to them, “Take,
eat, this is my body.” And the cup is the one about which He said, “Drink of
this, all of you, for this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for
many.” This is the cup of which we read in the prophet, “I take the cup of
salvation,” and elsewhere, “How admirable is your cup which overwhelms me!”
So, inasmuch as “the bread which came down from heaven” is the body of the Lord, and if the wine He gave to His disciples is his blood, “the blood of the new covenant, which was poured out for many for the remission of sins,” let us reject the Jewish fables, and assemble with the Lord in this great upper room, furnished and prepared, in which He kept the Passover with His apostles, and there, receiving from His hand the cup of the new covenant, and celebrating Easter with Him, let us become intoxicated with that wine of sobriety. For the kingdom of God is not drink and food, but justice, and joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit.
It was not Moses, but our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave us the true bread – He who is both the diner and the dinner, the eater and that which is to be eaten. It is His blood we drink, and we cannot drink it without Him. Every day in His sacrifices, we press the grapes of the true vine, and of the vine of Sorek, which means “Chosen,” and we drink in this wine of the kingdom of the Father, not according to the letter, but in the newness of the spirit, singing a new song which no one can sing except in the kingdom of the church, which is the kingdom of the Father. The patriarch Jacob desired to eat this bread, saying, “If the Lord God is with me, and gives me bread to eat and clothes to wear,” and so forth. “For when we are baptized into Jesus Christ, we are protected by Christ. We eat the bread of angels, and we heard the Lord telling us, “My food is to do the will of my Father who sent Me, and to accomplish His work.” Let us therefore also do the will of the Father who sent us, and carry out His work, and Christ will drink His blood in the kingdom of the church with us.
Why do the evangelists speak differently about the resurrection of our Lord, and how He appeared to His apostles?
Here you first ask why Matthew says that our Lord rose “on the evening of the Sabbath, when the first day of the following week was just beginning to shine,” and Saint Mark, on the contrary, said that He arose in the morning, “Jesus arising on the first day of the week in the morning appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had expelled seven demons. And she, departing, told those who were His companions, as they mourned and wept. And these, hearing that He was alive, and that she had seen Him, did not believe in Him.”
This problem has a twofold solution. Either we do not accept the testimony of Mark, because this final portion is not contained in most of the Gospels that bear his name – almost all the Greek codices lacking it – or else must affirm that Matthew and Mark have both told the truth, that our Lord rose on the evening of the Sabbath, and that He was seen by Mary Magdalene in the morning of the first day of the following week.
So this is how this passage of Saint Mark should be read: “Jesus arising,” place a little pause here, then add, “on the first day of the week in the morning appeared to Mary Magdalene,” so that, being raised, according to Saint Matthew, in the evening of the last day of the week, He appeared to Mary Magdalene, according to Saint Mark, “the morning of the first day of the week,” which is how John also represents the events, stating that He was seen on the morning of the next day.
[Hort, Notes, p. 32, describing the parallel to Question #4 in Eusebius’ Ad Marinum: “Strangely enough, the answer given by Eusebius to the next question, relating to a supposed contradiction between Mt xxviii 1 and Jo xx 1, is, taken by itself, inconsistent with his former answer: it implicitly excludes that interpretation of οψε σαββατου in Mt which had been there assumed as a standard for correcting the construction of Mc xvi 9. This second answer, evidently founded on the Epistle of Dionysius of Alexandria to Basilides, is however in effect, though not in form, a third alternative to the first difficulty. It thus merely affords an additional demonstration of the indecision often displayed by Eusebius, especially in presence of a conflict of traditional authorities.”]
How can what Saint Matthew says – that Mary Magdalene saw Jesus Christ “on the evening of the last day of the week” – agree with what John said, that “the morning of the first day of the week,” she wept at the tomb?
By “the first day of the week” is meant Sunday, because the Jews concluded the week on the Sabbath, and pagans marked the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth days of the week with the names of idols and planets. So the apostle Paul instructs the believers in Corinth to collect, on “the first day of the week,” the alms they designated for the relief of the poor. So do not imagine that Saint Matthew and Saint John do not agree together: they supply different names for only one hour, which is midnight and the singing of the rooster. For Saint Matthew said that our Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene “on the evening of the last day of the week,” that is, when it was already late and the night was not only underway, but even far advanced, almost gone. And he adds, in further explanation, that the first day of the week was already approaching. As for John, he does not only say, “The first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came early in the morning to the tomb,” but adds, “When it was still unclear.” So they both agree about the time, which is the rooster-song and midnight; one of which marked the beginning and the other marked the end. It seems to me that the text of Saint Matthew, who wrote his Gospel in Hebrew, is, “When it was already late,” and not “evening,” which the interpreter, who was not aware of the true meaning of this word, translated as “evening” instead of saying, “When it was already late.” In the ordinary use of the Latin language, the word means “elgonza,” late [sero], and we can use it when, for example, we say to someone, “You came too late,” meaning that a prearranged meeting-time has passed long ago.
Now we meet the objection, “How can Mary Magdalene, after seeing the risen Lord, come again to the tomb, as the Gospel says, weeping?” We must answer, according to a keen sense of perception, that in accordance with all the gifts that Christ had given, she ran several times to his tomb, either alone or in the company of other women, and that sometimes she gazed adoringly at what she saw, and sometimes she wept as she waited.
Some believe, however, that there were two Mary Magdalenes, both natives of the village of Magdelon, and the one who met the risen Christ, according to Saint Matthew, is different from the one which, according to Saint John, appeared so forlorn. What is certain is that the Gospel makes mention of four women called Mary: the first is the mother of our Lord, and the second is Mary, wife of Cleophas and aunt of Jesus Christ, being His mother’s sister, and the third is Mary, mother of James and Joses, and the fourth is Mary Magdalene. Some, however, confused the mother of James and Joses with the aunt of Jesus Christ.
Others, to get rid of this difficulty, say that the true reading speaks of Saint Mary, and that he did not include the name of Magdalene, but the scribes have added it inappropriately. As for me, it seems to me that we can meet this challenge in a simpler and less embarrassing way, by saying that these holy women, unable to bear the absence of Jesus Christ, were in transit all night, and went to observe His grave not only once and twice, but constantly, especially as their sleep was disturbed and interrupted by the earthquake, by the sound of splitting stones, by the eclipse of the sun, by all sorts of confusion and inconvenience, and especially by the desire they had to see the Savior.
How can we reconcile what Saint Matthew says, that on the evening of the last day of the week, Mary Magdalene, along with another Mary, bowed at the feet of the Savior, and what we read in John, that Jesus said, “Do not touch me, for I am not yet ascended to my Father?”
Mary Magdalene, with the other one, had already seen the risen Christ Jesus, and had fallen prostrate at His feet, but the concern that she felt due to the absence of the Savior did not permit her to remain quiet in her house. She returned to the tomb during the night and, seeing that the stone had been removed which was previously used to close the tomb, she ran to tell Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus dearly loved that they had taken the Lord’s body, and she did not know where he was laid. The woman was simultaneously subject to her piety and her error: her piety, as she sought with such eagerness to seek after the King, and her error, as she said that they had removed the Lord.
Saint Peter and Saint John then went into the tomb, and having seen on one side the body-wrappings, and the other on the shroud that had enveloped the head of the Savior, they were convinced of the resurrection of their divine master, whose body was no longer in the tomb. But Mary stood outside, near the tomb weeping, and bending down to look inside, she saw two angels dressed in white, seated in the place where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the feet, so that she might observe that it was impossible that men had been capable of removing a body that angels had been guarding, and thus she should have been overjoyed to see these famous and powerful protectors.
These angels, when she saw them, said, “Woman, why do you weep?”, as Jesus Christ had once said to his mother, “Woman, what is common between you and me? My time is not yet come.” They address her as “Woman,” and in saying, “Why do you weep?” they point out the uselessness of her tears. But the Magdalene was so beside herself, not knowing what to believe, and full of awe at the wonders she saw – wrapped in a cloud, as it were, which was so thick that without realizing that she was speaking to angels, she replied, “I weep because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they laid him.” O Mary, if you are convinced he is the Lord, and your Lord in particular, how can you believe they have removed Him? You do not know, you say, where they have gone? How can you ignore what you gaze at, this very moment? She sees angels without realizing it, caught up in fear and amazement, and occupied only by the desire to see the Lord; she turns her head and casts her eyes all around.
Finally, having looked behind her, she saw Jesus standing, without realizing, however, that it was Him. Not that Jesus Christ, as some claim – Manes and other heretics – had changed his figure so as to appear when he wanted in different forms, but rather, the Magdalene, surprised and amazed at all the wonders, thought she was seeing a gardener, such was her anxiety and eagerness. Jesus therefore said to her, as the angels had said, “Woman, why do you weep?” And He added, “Who are you looking for?” Mary replied, “Lord, if you have removed Him, tell me where you put Him and I will take Him thence.” It is an expression of a truly humble faith when she calls to the Savior, “Lord,” an address which would require a gardener to respond with respect and honesty.
But notice, please, the extent of her error and her blindness: she imagines that the gardener was able to remove only the body of Jesus Christ, which was guarded by a company of soldiers, whose tomb was under the protection of angels, and forgetting her inherent weakness, she is persuaded that, alone and frightened as she is, she nevertheless has enough strength to transport the body of a man of full age, and who, never mind the rest, had been embalmed with a hundred pounds of myrrh. Jesus having called by name, so that she knew at least the voice of Him whose face she did not perceive, the woman, still occupied her mistake, said not “Lord,” but “Rabboni,” that is to say, “Teacher.” What reversal of mind! What a way of thinking! She bestows upon a gardener the title of “Lord,” and calls Jesus Christ as “Teacher.”
had sought among the dead for a man full of life, and she and the other one had
run away, without her weakness, her wandering imagination guided her to seek
for the dead body of Him whom she had seen alive, whose feet she had fallen
before, worshiping Him. So the Lord said to her, “Do not touch me, because I
am not yet ascended to my Father.” That is, since you are seeking a dead man,
you do not deserve to touch my life. If you believe that I am not yet ascended
to my Father, and that men came stealthily to remove my body, you are unworthy
to touch me.” Jesus told her this, not to cool her zeal or to prevent the
confirmation which she sought, but to show her that this fragile and mortal
body which He had occupied was surrounded by all the glory and all the radiance
of divinity, and that she would not have wished to see the Lord in a tangible
and material body, if her faith had been better cultivated, and if she had
learned that He would now be with His Father. Indeed, the faith of the
apostles seems much more lively and more vibrant, because, unlike the
Magdalene, without having seen the angels or the Savior, they merely found the
contents of the tomb where His body had been, and they immediately thought that
he was truly resurrected.
Some believe that Mary Magdalene, as reported by Saint John, first came to the tomb and saw that the stone which had closed its entrance had been removed, and then, after going back to tell Saint Peter and Saint John, she remained alone, and they see this as a lack of faith, which justly attracted the Lord’s rebuke. After they had returned to their homes, she returned again to the tomb with the other Mary, with whom she met the angel who told her that Jesus had risen. Then she left the place of His burial, and bowed at His feet in adoration, as it says, “You will be given salvation.” “They came to the Savior,” says the Gospel, “and held His feet and worshiped Him.” At this time their faith became so strong and so ardent that they were considered worthy to go to the apostles and tell them this happy and pleasant news: Jesus said first, “Do not be afraid,” and then, “God tell my brethren that they are to go into Galilee, where they will see Me.”
Saint Peter and Saint John have so easily entered the tomb, which was guarded
by a company of soldiers, without any of these guards attempting to defend
against their entry?
Here is the reason that Saint Matthew gives us: “The Sabbath being past,” he says, “and the first day of the next week just beginning to shine, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, and an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came to turn the stone which closed the tomb, and sat on it. His face was shining like lightning and his clothing was white as snow, and the guards were so seized with fear that they turned dead-like.
Consider these soldiers, consumed by a fear so great that they seemed dead: we ought to believe that they left the tomb, or that they were so stunned and mortified that they did not dare to object. I do not say their non-objection was against men, but to the women who wanted to enter. For this very large stone that had been removed from the tomb’s entrance to the tomb, and the earthquake that seemed to threaten the universe with a general upheaval, and the angel who had descended from heaven, and whose face was so bright that it did not resemble the artificial torches that men are accustomed to turn to their uses, but was like a flash of light that spreads its brightness everywhere – with all these frightening objects, they could easily see through the night, and their souls had been thrown into fear and dread. Thus Saint Peter and Saint John came easily and without hindrance into the tomb.
Mary Magdalene, who had learned the news of the Savior’s resurrection, had
already noticed that His body was removed from the tomb, and that the stone
which had closed the entrance was removed. Moreover we must not imagine that
the angel descended from heaven expressly to remove the stone and open the tomb
for Jesus Christ, but the Lord had arisen when He wanted to, without any man
knowing, and this heavenly spirit came to teach the faithful what had happened,
and to show the evidence, the stone was overthrown; the body of Jesus was no
longer in the tomb, and this could be easily discovered through the bright
light coming out of his face, removing all the horror of the darkness of the
How should we understand what we read in Saint Matthew and Saint Mark, that the women who went to the tomb were ordered to tell the apostles that they had to go to Galilee, and there they saw the Lord, along with what is said by Saint Luke and Saint John, that He was seen in Jerusalem?
There are many differences in the ways in which the Savior appeared to the eleven apostles. When, out of fear of the Jews’ forcefulness, they remained in hiding, He entered the place where they were, the doors being closed, and “He showed them the wounds of his hands and his side” to convince them that it was not a spirit as they imagined, and besides, He showed Himself alive to them when He saw fit, as Luke said, “by overwhelming evidence that He was alive, being seen for forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God,” and, “Eating with them, He ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father.” For in this way, by appearing and conversing with His disciples and eating the same normal food that they ate, He was consoling His apostles and dispelling their fear, anticipating that He would shortly disappear suddenly from before their eyes. That is why the Apostle Paul says that Jesus Christ appeared at the same time to more than five hundred of His followers. We also read in John that as the apostles were fishing, He appeared on the shore and ate “a piece of roasted fish and a honeycomb,” so that He was seen by them to have truly risen in a physical form. And can we not see that He did something similar in Jerusalem?
[Latin text of the last two sentences: “And in Joanne legimus, quod piscantibus apostolis, in steterit littorea and assi partem pisces, favumque comederit resurrectionis indicia quae vera sunt. In Jerusalem autem nihil horum fecisse narratur.”]
How should we account for these words of Saint Matthew: “Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, yielded up His spirit, and at the same time the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, the earth shook, the rocks were split, the graves were opened, and many bodies of saints who were in the sleep of death revived, and exiting out of their tombs after His resurrection, they came to the holy city, and were seen by many people”?
I have already explained this passage in my comments on Saint Matthew. It should be noted first that God is the only one who can stop and start living a physical life as He pleases. For this reason the centurion, when he saw that Jesus, after saying, “Father, I commend my soul into Your hands,” had immediately given up the spirit, was touched by this great miracle, and he said, “This man was really the son of God.”
This phrase, “The veil of the temple was torn in two,”
verifies what was told to Joseph, that the angels guarding the temple said, “Go
out of here.” The Gospel that Saint Matthew wrote in Hebrew does not say that
the veil was torn, but that the top of the portal, which was of prodigious
size, was completely reversed. “The earth shook,” because it could not support
the weight attached to its God on the cross. “The stones split,” to see how
far was the hardness of the Jews who refused to recognize the Son of God they
saw with their eyes. “The tombs were opened,” to signify that we must be
resurrected one day. “And many bodies of saints out of their tombs, came to
the holy city, and were seen by several people.” By this “holy city” Jerusalem
is meant, and it must not be confused with all the other cities where people
adored idols, because in that city alone the people had a temple dedicated the
Lord, and where true religion was professed, in which God alone is worshipped.
These saints, who “came out of their tombs,” did not appear indiscriminately to
everyone, but only to numerous people who were committed to Jesus Christ.
Now to explain this place in a spiritual sense: “Jesus Christ died, with a loud cry, and at the same time the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” This was so that all nations could see uncovered all the mysteries of the law, before they were hidden. The veil is torn “in two,” to tell us that everything is bound up in the Old and New Testaments. It is torn “from the top down,” to make manifest what has happened since the beginning of the world and the creation of man, and the sacred history we reported, and all that will be until the consummation of the world.
But we must consider whether it is the first veil, on the outside, or the veil inside, that was torn at the death of the Savior.2 To me, it seems to me that whoever was within the temple at the entrance of the tabernacle, is at what is called the outer veil, because “now we can see and do things very imperfectly, but when we are in a perfect state,” then the outer veil tears, and all the mysteries of the house of God, which are now hidden, will be revealed to us. And we will know what is signified by these two cherubim, the oracle, and the golden vase that contained the manna. “We now see as though in a mirror, darkly.” Indeed, the veil there, which hid from us the stories of Scripture, is torn, and we can enter the courtyard of the tabernacle of the Lord. But all the secrets and mysteries of the heavenly Jerusalem are always veiled, and we cannot enter there.
The earth shook at the death of the Savior, and we saw the fulfillment of what the prophet Haggai: “A little time and I will shake heaven and earth, and all desired nations will come,” so that “many come from east and west and take their place in the kingdom of heaven with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” “The stones split,” that is, that the death of Jesus Christ for the Gentiles pierced and broke the hardness of their hearts. For these “stones” can still hear the prophets, which as well as the apostles carried this name in relation to Jesus Christ, who is the true “stone.” These stones are “split,” so that the saints may unlock, release, and discover all the prophecies that had been obscured from them by the thick veil of the law. These “tombs” are like those about which Jesus spoke in the Gospel, “You are like whitewashed tombs on the outside, but inside are full of dead bones.” “These graves,” I said, “opened,” so that those who had died earlier in their infidelity, “leaving their tombs,” and being given a new life with Christ, arise and enter into the heavenly Jerusalem, to be citizens of heaven rather than of earth, and thus the man who died in an earthly manner is raised in a heavenly manner.
Moreover, to return to the literal meaning of this passage, we must not be surprised that after the death of the Savior, Jerusalem is called “the holy city,” since, until its complete collapse, the apostles are shown to have had no apprehension about entering the temple, and even observe the ceremonies of the law for fear of scandalizing those of Jews who had embraced the faith of Jesus Christ. We even see that the Savior loved this city so much that the misfortunes which threatened it elicited tears from His eyes; when He was crucified, He said to His Father, “Forgive them, Father, because they do know what they do.” His prayer was answered, for shortly after His death the Jews believed in Him by thousands, and God gave to this unfortunate city forty-two years to do penance. But finally its citizens, having failed to benefit, and still persisting in their wickedness – Vespasian and Titus together formed an anti-type of what is mentioned in our Scriptures, when they came out of the woods and killed and mauled these “children,” because of their blasphemous insults to the real Elisha when ascending to the house of God (for that is what “Bethel” means in Hebrew).3
Since that time, Jerusalem has been called “the
holy city,” but having lost the holiness implied by the name she bore before,
it has been called in a spiritual sense “Egypt” and “Sodom,” and in its place
we have built a new city, “a river delighted by the abundance of its waters,”
and the center of which releases a spring that has purified the bitterness of
the waters of all the earth, so that the unfortunate Jews, stripped of their
former glories, are reduced to whining on the ruins of their temple, while
Christians have the pleasure of seeing new churches being built every day, and
they say to the people of Zion, “The place where I am is too narrow.” In this
we see the fulfillment of the prophecy of the prophet Isaiah: “His grave will
How is it that Saint John reports that the Savior gave that Holy Spirit to His apostles by blowing on them, which according to Luke, He promised to send to them after His ascension?
One can easily solve this problem if one considers, as Saint Paul says, that the Holy Spirit gives us many kinds of grace. “There are a variety of spiritual gifts,” says the apostle in his first epistle to the faithful of Corinth, “but they have the same Spirit. There are diversities of ministries, but there is a single Lord. There are diversities of supernatural works, but there is only one God who works all in all. But the gifts which testify to the Holy Spirit are given out to everyone for the profit of the Church. One receives from the Holy Spirit the gift of speaking with exalted wisdom; another, by the same Spirit, is given the gift of speaking with knowledge; another receives faith by the same Spirit; another, through the same Spirit, has the gift of healing disease, and another the gift of working miracles, another the gift of prophecy, another the discernment of spirits, and another the gift of speaking different languages, another the interpretation of languages. Yet it is one and the same Spirit at work in all these things, distributing these gifts to each individual as He pleases.”
For this reason the Lord, as reported in Luke’s Gospel, said to His apostles after His resurrection, “I will send you the promised gift from My Father, but continue living in the city until you are protected by the power from on high.” And in Acts of the Apostles, according to the same evangelist, “He ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to ‘Wait until the promise of the Father, which,’ He said, ‘you have heard of from My mouth. For John baptized in water, but in a few days you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit.’” Saint John also reported in the end of his Gospel, about the day when Jesus Christ rose, that is, on Sunday, He entered into the place where the apostles were, the doors being closed, and that they have it said to them for the second time, “Peace be with you.” He said, “As my Father sent me, so I send you also.” “After which He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit; the sins of those whom you forgive are forgiven, and they are retained of those whose you retain.’”
On the first day, therefore, when the Savior was resurrected, the apostles received the grace of the Holy Spirit to forgive sins, to baptize, to make men into children of God, and to share with the faithful the spirit of adoption, even as Jesus Christ himself had said, “The sins are forgiven to those whom you forgive, and the sins of those whose sins you retain, they shall be retained.” But on the day of Pentecost, the Savior promised more excellent gifts excellent, so that they would be baptized in the Holy Spirit and bear the power from above to preach the gospel to all nations, as we read at the sixty-seventh Psalm: “The Lord will give his heralds the floor of his glory so they will proclaim with great power.” Thus they would then receive the gift of healing diseases, performing miracles, and speaking different languages, for they were destined to preach the gospel to many nations, and in this way the people could listen to what each of the apostles was proclaiming about the truth of the gospel. Hence the Apostle Paul, who brought the Gospel in this vast tract of country which is from Jerusalem to Illyricum, and who was to go through Rome to go to Spain, thanked God because he had received the gift of tongues more than all the other apostles, because in order to preach the gospel to many nations, he should also speak multiple languages.
However, it was on the tenth day after His ascension, as Luke relates, that the Savior fulfilled the promise He made to His apostles to send them the Holy Spirit. “When the days of Pentecost were accomplished,” says the sacred historian, “the disciples were all together in one place, and we suddenly heard a loud noise like a violent and impetuous wind that came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. At the same time they saw what looked like divided tongues of fire, standing on each one. Immediately they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak different languages, as the Holy Spirit put words in their mouths.” And then we saw the fulfillment of what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “In the end-times,” says the Lord, “I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh: your son and your daughters shall prophesy; your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” This word, “I will pour out,” involves an abundance of graces, and goes back to what the Lord had promised His apostles: that in a few days they would be baptized in the Holy Spirit. Indeed this baptism was so abundant that it filled all the house where the disciples were sitting, and He provided the fire of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, in accordance with His designs, and sent them the gift of tongues, and their lips were purified to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in all its purity, as a seraph had purified those of Isaiah, who complained of having unclean and dirty lips.
We read in the prophet about the shouts of two seraphim who were around the throne of God, and about the posts of the temple door being shaken, “and the whole house was filled with smoke,” that is, with the error of darkness and ignorance. But at the beginning of the gospel, and therefore the birth of Christianity, the Holy Spirit fills the whole Church, to purify its fervor and by His grace to purge away all the sins of the faithful by fire, even by the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ had promised to His apostles, by whose lips His name has been carried and shared throughout the world.
Although John said that the Savior gave the Holy Spirit to His apostles on the first day of his resurrection, and Saint Luke said that He was sent to them fifty days later, we should not imagine that these two evangelists are at odds: they only desired to make distinctions between degrees of the grace that Jesus Christ communicated to His apostles, who, having first received the power to forgive sins, then received the power to perform miracles, and all other gifts detailed by Saint Paul, of which we spoke about above – but particularly to speak various languages, which was even more necessary than others so that, in the ministry which they were expected to announce the gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations of the earth, they would not need to use an interpreter. Because of this the Lycaonians, after hearing Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas speak their language, considered them gods bearing a human form.
With regard to this virtue from on high that Jesus Christ had promised to bestow upon His disciples, this is nothing more than the grace of the Holy Spirit, who, having taken possession of the hearts of the apostles, inspired both their strength and courage; they feared neither the courts, nor judges, nor the purple of kings. That is what the Savior had promised before his passion, saying, “When you are delivered into the hands of men, do not worry about how or what you shall say, because what you need to say will be given at that very time, for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of Your Father who speaks in you.” For me, I am not afraid to say that since the apostles had believed in Jesus Christ, they always had the Holy Spirit, for without this the gift they could never have done all the miracles they did; but those deeds were the expressions and results of this gift.
That is why Jesus Christ said aloud in the temple, “‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink, and if someone believes in me, rivers of living water will come out of his heart,’ as Scripture says. He meant by this the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were yet to receive,” and the evangelist adds in the same place, “For the Holy Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” This is not to say there was no Holy Spirit, for the Savior Himself said, “If I cast out demons by speaking through the Holy Spirit,” but what is meant is that this Holy Spirit who was in the Son of God had not yet entirely filled the hearts of the apostles. For from their hearts there came the fear with which they were seized at the Passion of the Savior, and on account of this was that renunciation with an oath against knowing Him at all. But after being baptized in the Holy Spirit, they were filled with grace that was prevalent in their hearts; they boldly tell the rulers of the Jews, “We must obey God rather than men.” So they can resurrect the dead, triumph in the midst of turmoil, spread their blood for Jesus Christ, and be crowned via their own torments.
So the apostles had the Holy Spirit; yet spiritual graces were not flowing from their heart, because the Lord was not yet glorified. And what is the glory that He expected? He explains himself in the Gospel, when He says, “My Father, glorify me with the glory I had with you before the world was.” The glory of the Savior is the cross where He triumphed; there He was crucified as a man, and is glorified as God. Do you want proof of His glory? Observe that there the sun disappears, the moon changes to blood, the earth is shaken by an extraordinary earthquake; the graves are opened, the dead walk; the rocks split. This glory of Jesus Christ is what was foretold through the mouth of the prophet-king when he says, “Arise, my glory; awaken, my lute and my harp,” and the glory, that is, the holy humanity, replied: “I will adjourn the morning,” to thus verify the title of the twenty-first Psalm, which reads, “For the relief of the morning.”
When I say this, I do not separate Jesus Christ into two different people, one divine and one human, as the new heretics falsely accuse us. There is in Jesus Christ one and the same person, who is both Son of God and Son of Man, but in all that has been said about the divine Savior, there are some who recorded His divine glory, and others who did not guard their own salvation. It is to us that it was written: “He did not believe it was for Him a theft be equal to God, but He has nevertheless humbled Himself, and taking up the form and nature of a servant, He became obedient, to the point of death, even the death of the cross,” and to us it is said that “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”
Therefore the Lord told his disciples, “I am departing, and I will send you another Comforter.” Luke also records that this assuring promise was given by Jesus Christ to the apostles. I am surprised that Montanus and the two crazy women4 accompanying his sect and his errors, who are only failed prophets, argue that this promise of the Savior was not fulfilled until them, long after it was given, because it was to the apostles that the Savior said, “I will send you the promised gift of my Father. But live in the city until you are clothed with the power from on high.” It was upon the apostles, not Montanus, Prisca, and Maxilla, that Jesus Christ has breathed, thus giving them the Holy Spirit. To the apostles it is said, “The sins of those whom you forgive are forgiven, and they will be retained of those whose you retain.” It is the apostles that He ordered not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of His Father, a promise that Luke allows us to see being fulfilled, when he said, “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak different languages, as the Holy Spirit put their words in their mouths,” because The Holy Spirit “blows where He wills.” When Jesus Christ promised His apostles that He would send to send them “another Comforter,” it was already satisfying to know that He was himself the consolation of his apostles, and to know the apostle Paul’s concept of God the Father, when he calls Him the “God of mercy and all comfort.” But if the Father is “Comforter,” if the Son is “Comforter,” if the Holy Spirit is “Comforter,” and if we baptize the faithful in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who are only one God, it follows that, having the same name of God, even “Consolation,” they also have a similar nature.
Besides, the prophets received the Holy Spirit as well as the apostles. This is why David said, “Do not remove me from your Holy Spirit.” We also read in Scripture that Daniel was animated by the Spirit of God, and that it was through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that David said, “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool.” Only by the illumination of the Holy Spirit could the prophets have predicted things to come. “By the word of the Lord,” said the Psalmist, “the heavens were consolidated, and by the breath of His mouth all their virtue was founded.” All the substance possessed by the Father and the Son is also the substance of the Holy Spirit. When He is sent, it is the Father and Son who send Him. The Scripture calls Him in a thousand places “the Spirit of God the Father” and “the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” Hence, as was reported in the Acts of the Apostles, that those who had received the baptism of John, and who believed in God the Father and Jesus Christ, but who did not even know there was a Holy Spirit, were baptized again, and we can say that this was the occasion when they truly baptized, because without the Holy Spirit the Trinity cannot exist. We read again in the same place, where Saint Peter said to Ananias and Sapphira, who had lied to the Holy Spirit, that it was to God and not to men that they had lied.
How do we understand what the Apostle Paul says to the Romans, from the place, “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid that we have this thought!” To the place, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us a seed, we would have become like Sodom and Gomorrah”?
The entire epistle to the Romans needs careful explanation, because it is full of obscure difficulties that cannot be understood without the help of the Holy Spirit who has Himself guided the mouth of the apostle. But the most difficult and most embarrassing passage is the one you have asked about. Some, to maintain whole the righteousness of God, claim that if Jacob was selected and Esau was rejected when they were still in the Rebecca’s womb, this could only be for reasons that have preceded their birth. Similarly He also chose Jeremiah and John the Baptist from the wombs of their mothers, and the Apostle Paul was chosen before he was born, to preach the Gospel.
For me, I can only agree with what is received by all the faithful, and what I teach, I can teach publicly without fear in the church, without fear of falling into the illusions and dreams of Pythagoras, Plato, and those disciples who wished to mold the opinions of the pagans into the dogmas of religion, saying that souls are fallen from heaven, and that their individual merits have been expressed together in their bodies so as to compensate for their past sins. I think it is much better to forthrightly admit our ignorance, and to categorize this passage of Saint Paul among the deep mysteries which we cannot fathom. This admission is preferable to the option, taken under the pretext of justifying the conduct of God, of embracing the heresy of Basilides and Manès, teaching monstrous opinions asserted by a certain Egyptian, and the chimerical visions with which he has misled the Spaniards. Therefore I shall explain this passage the best I can, and objectively follow Saint Paul’s footprints as far as I can, objectively.
This apostle, having taken even the Holy Spirit as a witness to the sincere pain which penetrated his heart, first lamented about the blindness of his brothers and his parents according to the flesh, that is, the Israelites who had failed and rejected the Son of God, to whom belonged the adoption, his glory, his covenant, his law, his worship, and his promises, and which Jesus Christ Himself received, coming forth in the flesh, being born of Mary. And the pressure of the pain he feels is so strong that he desired for himself to become anathema, and to be separated from Christ, that is, to die alone, if it would in any way prevent Israel from perishing. Here the objecting reader could not fail to tell him, “What is this? Are all the Israelites lost? Have not you yourself recognized Jesus Christ as the Son of God? Have not the other apostles and an infinite number of Jewish people also recognized this?” And here is his response to this objection. The Scripture depicts two different concepts of Israel, expressed under the figure of two children, one of which is in the flesh and the other in the spirit and promise. Abraham had two children, Ishmael and Isaac. The one who was born there according to the flesh did not share the legacy of his father, but the one who was born of Sarah, as promised, is the child called by God, according to what Scripture says: “This is Isaac, which will be called your son.” That is, those that are “children in the flesh” are not therefore God’s children, but those are the “children of promise” who are considered to be children of Abraham.
This truth seems to apply not only to Ishmael and Isaac, but also to the two children who were within Rebecca, Esau and Jacob: of whom God chose one, and rejected the other. Saint Paul claims to see than in the elder members of these pairs of brothers, Ishmael and Esau, is the representation of the reprobation of the Jewish people, and that in the younger of the pairs, Isaac and Jacob, we see a representation of the favorable choice that God has made, and those Jews who have believed in Jesus Christ. But in order to make his meaning clear, he used the example of two twin brothers, Esau and Jacob, of which it is written, “The older will be subject to the younger,” and taking what was said by the prophet Malachi, “Jacob have I loved, and Esau I hated,” he adapted it to counter the objection, and having addressed it in this way, he refuted it.
If it is true, says the apostle, that Jacob received election and Esau disapproval, “not yet being born, nor having done good nor evil,” and the reception of the kindnesss or the wrath of God is not an effect of their own merits, but it depends on the will of the One who chose one and rejected the other, “What shall we say then? Is it that God is unfair?” According to what He Himself said to Moses, “I will have upon whom I bestow mercy, and I will pity whoever it pleases Me to pity.” If we believe that God does whatever He wants, and chooses one and rejects the other without any regard to their merit and their works, “it is not of those who desire, or of those running, but of God who shows mercy,” as indeed appears to be the true sense of these words that the same God says, in Scripture, to Pharaoh: “For I have prepared you to display My power in you, and to make My name famous throughout the world.” But if this is so, and if God, as He pleases, shows mercy to Israel and hardens Pharaoh, is it not therefore wrong when, pointing out errors, He blames us for not doing well, of for doing evil? For without regard either to our good or our evil deeds, He can, when He pleases, choose one and condemn others, especially the man was too weak to oppose His will.
But this is what the apostle Paul responds to this argument, though it was intrinsically very strong and, being supported on the authority of Scripture, seemed almost invincible: “O man, who are you to challenge with God?” That is, since you do not agree with God, you rise up against Him, and consult the holy Scriptures to find authoritative evidence to condemn His conduct. But by acting on this sinful desire to accuse God, it is manifest that you have free will, and that you can do whatever you want, and it is in your power to keep silent or to talk when you please. If you are convinced that God has acted in the same way as a potter who makes a vase of clay, and you can not resist his will, reflect that a vase of clay does not tell the one who made it, “‘Why did you make me this way?’ because the potter has the power to make the same lump or mass of clay, into a clay vase for to honorable use, and another for uses vile and shameful.” But God made all men of the same nature and in the same condition: He gave them, via their training, the freedom to do what they please, and to freely take their stand for good or evil, and this freedom is so full and so complete that they are displaying their impiety by challenging their Creator and examining the reasons for His conduct.
“Who can complain,” continues the apostle, “if God, desiring to show His wrath and to make known His power, tolerated with extreme patience vessels of wrath destined for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy He has destined for His glory – on those whom He called, even us, not of Jews only but also of the Gentiles? As He Himself said through the mouth of the prophet Hosea, ‘I will call them My people who were not My people, “My beloved” one I had not loved, and the time shall come in the same place where I had once said, “You are not My people,” they shall be called children of the living God,”’” and so on. Inasmuch as the patience of God, says Saint Paul, served only to harden the heart of Pharaoh, and since the Lord delayed so long to punish the Israelites, you thus have a sound justification to conclude that His toleration of those impious people was not infinite; He tolerated their impiety, and in His extreme patience did not condemn those who were so condemnable, so that even those who were lost He might make use of to display His anointed kindness and His mercies.
Consider that the sun’s heat is always the same, but it produces different effects depending on the nature of different subjects upon which it acts: some are softened, others besides these are firmed up, being tightened; the wax is melted and the mud is hardened, although the heat never changes its nature. The same is true of God, for by His goodness and mercy He hardens vases of wrath, that is, those who are lost among the people of Israel, but concerning vessels of mercy, He has called us to His glory, that is, us, whom He called not only of Jews but also from the Gentiles. He does not save without reason and without equitable discernment; His reasons for acting this way consist of what has happened; some have rejected the Son of God and others were willing to receive Him.
However, by “these vessels of mercy” is meant not only the Gentiles but also those of Jews who wanted to believe in Jesus Christ, and being joined together with them, they are to be one faithful people, which shows that God does not choose nationalities, but according to the wills of men. And this was the essence of the performance of what the prophet Hosea said: “I will call them My people who were not My people,” namely, the Gentiles, “and those to whom I once said, ‘You are not My people,’ will now be called the children of the living God.” And we apprehend that this prediction does not apply exclusively to the Gentiles, for Saint Paul also called “vessels of election and mercy” those Jews who believed in Jesus Christ, because, “When it comes to Israel,” says the apostle, “Isaiah cries out, ‘Although the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, there will be a small remnant saved,’” that is, although all the children of Israel do not believe in Jesus Christ, there are yet a few, very few, who believe in Him, “For God in His justice will make an end and cut off His people,” having saved by the incarnation and humiliation of Jesus Christ those who wanted to believe in Him. That is why the prophet Isaiah says in another place: “If the Lord of hosts had not preserved a few of our race, we would have become like Sodom and Gomorrah.”
Saint Paul, continuing in this passage of Scripture which describes what the prophets have predicted about the dual vocation of the Gentiles and Jews, goes on to say that Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have nevertheless embraced it, because they believed in Jesus Christ without the vanity of their works, while, contrary to this, most Israelites were lost because they “stumbled at that stumbling-stone,” and, “Not knowing the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own justice, they have not submitted to the righteousness of God,” that is, Jesus Christ, who has been given to us by God to be our righteousness.
I have read the comments of a certain author who was claiming that he was rather embarrassed by Saint Paul’s response, because this issue was not explained, where, after having proposed the objection, “What shall we say then? Is there injustice in God?”, and after having said, “It does not depend on any who desire or upon those running, but of God who shows mercy,” and “God will have mercy upon him whom He favors, and He hardens whom he pleases,” and again, “Who can resist his will?”, “Here,” says the author, is what the apostle says: “O man, who are only earth and ash, how dare you question God? Do you want to rebel against that which you did, you who are also a fragile clay vase? Can a vase of earth say to those who made it, ‘Why did you do me this way?’ Does not the potter have the power to make of one part of the same mass of clay a vessel intended for honorable use, and another for uses vile and shameful?” Therefore remain in eternal silence; acknowledge your own weakness, and put an end to asking God to account for His actions, because by dealing mercifully with one and in severity with others, He did what He wanted to do.
What is the meaning of these words of the Apostle Paul, in his second epistle to the faithful of Corinth: “We are to the one, the smell of death that causes them to die, and to the other, the smell of life, which leads to life. And who is capable of these things”?
The full passage from which these words are taken should be cited here, so that by considering their context, and their relationship with what precedes and what follows, we can better understand what is the true meaning. “Being come to Troas,” says the Apostle, “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, although the Lord had given me great opportunities to successfully fulfill my ministry, I had no peace of mind, because I had not found my brother Titus, but having taken leave of them, I went into Macedonia. But I thank God that we always triumph in Christ, who through us spreads everywhere the aroma of the knowledge of His name. For we are before God the aroma of Jesus Christ, among those who are being saved, or to those who are lost: to some, the smell of death that causes them to die, and to the other, the smells of life that gives life. And who is capable of such things? For we are not as many which corrupt the word of God, but we preach with complete sincerity, as from God, in God’s presence, and in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Saint Paul instructed the faithful of Corinth about everything he did and everything he has suffered, and how he always gave thanks to God in any situation he found himself in, leading them by his ample resolve to contend for the interests of faith. “I came,” he says, “to Troas,” which previously was called Troy, “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in Asia, but although the Lord had given me great openings to fulfill my ministry successfully,” – that is, although many people were believing in miracles and wonders that God works by my administration, and had believed in Jesus Christ, and I had every reason to hope to see the faith of these people rise and increase by the grace of the Lord, nevertheless “I had no rest in my spirit,” that is, I could not enjoy the consolation that I hoped to find, because I did not meet my brother Titus, as I was expecting, having heard that he was there, or that he himself had promised to go and rendezvous there.
But what great consolation and rest of mind could Saint Paul receive from the presence of Titus, and why did his absence force him to depart from the inhabitants of Troas to go into Macedonia? I have noted on occasion that the apostle Paul was very wise, having been educated “at the feet of Gamaliel,” who, according to the Acts of the Apostles, said in the council of the Jews, “Why not keep away from these people? For if what they preach is the work of God, you cannot destroy it, and if it is the work of man, it will fall by itself.” Now, Saint Paul had a perfect knowledge of the holy Scriptures, he was naturally eloquent, and he possessed the gift of speaking in tongues, as he prides himself in the Lord, saying, “I praise my God that I speak through the gift of tongues more than all of you.” Nevertheless he could not speak Greek in a manner worthy of the majesty and grandeur of our mysteries. Therefore Titus served as an interpreter, as Saint Mark used to serve Saint Peter, with whom he wrote his Gospel. Also we see that the two epistles attributed to Saint Peter have different styles and turn phrases differently, by which it is discerned that it was sometimes necessary for him to use different interpreters.
Saint Paul, therefore, sorry that he had not met at Troas the one by whose mouth he was to preach the gospel, took the party to go to Macedonia, the place from which a Macedonian had appeared during the night, inviting him to go, saying, “Go to Macedonia and help us successfully.” He also hoped to find Titus, and indeed he had planned to visit the brethren or face the persecution of unbelievers, for that is what he means by these words: “But I thank God that we always triumph in Christ, who spreads by us everywhere the odor of the knowledge of His name.” “We always triumph,” that is, “He triumphs in us,” or, “He triumphs by us,” as the apostle says in another place, “God made us a spectacle to the world, to angels and men.” This is why he says the following: “Coming from Macedonia, we had no relief for our bodies, but we were constantly suffering, with conflicts on the outside and fears within. But God, who consoles the humble and the afflicted, consoled us by the arrival of Titus, and not only by his arrival, but by the consolation that he himself received from you.”
Having thus taken leave of the inhabitants of Troy or Troas, he went to Macedonia in the hope of finding Titus, and to use him in the functions of his ministry, but it is easy to discern that they did not meet there, and that Titus arrived there only after Saint Paul had suffered many punishments and persecution. And because he suffered so much before the arrival of Titus, he gives thanks to God in the name of Jesus Christ that he preached to the nations, because He desired to use him for the triumph of His Son.
Indeed, the martyrs’ endurance of torments, the blood that is spilt for the name of Jesus Christ, the joy that they display in the midst of the cruelest tortures – all this is a triumph for God. When the martyrs’ strength and consistency are seen, as they undergo the horror and cruelty of the most horrific torment, and express all their joy in light of the fact that that they are suffering under torment, the smell of the knowledge of God is spreading among the Gentiles, who feel persuaded by the testimony of their own conscience that if the gospel was not true, no one would desire to shed his blood for his defense. For it is not in the midst of the delights and pleasures of the world – including the concern to amass wealth – or in the midst of a soft and undisturbed life, that we confess the name of Jesus Christ; it is in prisons, in wounds, in persecutions, in nakedness, in hunger and thirst. That is the triumph of God and the victory of the apostles.
But one might post this objection to Saint Paul: How, with all that he had done, can there still be those who did not believe in Jesus Christ? The apostle, according to his custom, prevents disputes about this matter. It is true that we are, to God, the aroma of the name of Jesus Christ, and the gospel that we preach, like a pleasant scent, is spreading on all sides. But God has allowed men to use their free will so that, doing good voluntarily and not by necessity, He may reward the faithful and punish the unbelieving. Therefore sometimes the smell that we spread, though intrinsically good, provides either life or death, depending on the good or bad dispositions of those who receive or reject the gospel. Thus those who believe in Jesus Christ, He saves, and those who do not believe in Him will not ever come into contact with Him. Moreover it is not surprising that the preaching of the apostle Paul produced such diverse effects among the people, since the gospel says about Jesus Christ Himself, “This child shall be for the fall and resurrection of many in Israel, and shall be spoken against by men.”
Every location, whether clean or dirty, receives direct sunlight, and this star, without concern for the purity of its light, shines indiscriminately upon flowers and manure alike. The same is true of the aroma of Jesus Christ: it is not likely to change or to cease to be what it is; however, it becomes for the faithful a principle of life, and for the unbelievers a principle of death. This is not referring to the death of this physical body, which is common with the animals, but to spiritual death, about which it is written: “The soul who sins, it will die.” And when the faithful, who benefit from the aroma of Jesus Christ, hear this, they must not think of this physical breath that animates us, and which is the force behind all our actions and movements, but instead think of the life referred to by the prophet-king when he says, “I firmly believe that I shall behold the Lord in the land of the living,” (because God is the God of the living and not dead) and about which Saint Paul said, “Our life is hidden with God in Jesus Christ, but when Christ, who is our life, appears, then we will be partakers with Him in glory.”
The apostle instructs the Corinthians not to let it bother
them – for it is not our main concern – that some receive the truth that we
preach and others reject it; the many die a real death, and a few experience
the life of which it is said, “I am the life.” For if we did not announce the
gospel, the unbelievers would still die, and none would have the life of the
faithful. It is not easy to find a man worthy to proclaim the wonders of Jesus
Christ; yet, the minister’s glory does not emanate from the minister, but from
what he preaches. When Saint Paul said he does not conduct himself like so
many who peddle the word of God, it shows that there are many who imagine that
their godliness serves as a way to get gain; these individuals have a shameful
agenda in everything they do; they are those “who devour widows’ houses.” But
the one who preaches the gospel “with full sincerity, as from God,” and in the
presence of Him who sent him, not preaching this Jesus Christ and that Jesus
Christ, will exercise his ministry in order to overcome through Jesus Christ,
and to obtain his glory.
It should be noted that here we bring this chapter in the Apostle to a close, mentioning the mystery of the Holy Trinity and saying, “We preach the gospel from God, in the Holy Spirit, in the presence of God the Father, and in the name of Jesus Christ.”
We said that Saint Paul went to Macedonia from Troas; here is the evidence from the Acts of the Apostles: “Having passed by Mysia, they went down to Troas, where during the night Paul had this vision: a man of Macedonia appeared to him and told him this request: ‘Go to Macedonia and succeed in helping us.’ As soon as he had this vision, we sought to go to Macedonia, persuaded that God had indeed called us to preach the gospel.”
How should we understand these words of the apostle Paul in his first epistle to the Thessalonians: “May the God of peace Himself sanctify you in all ways, so that everything that is in you, the spirit, the soul and body, may be kept spotless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”?
Although this question is very famous, it must be explained in few words. Saint Paul said a little earlier: “Do not quench the spirit.” If we understand the true meaning of these words, we understand together the nature of the spirit that we must keep unsullied with the soul and body for the day of the Lord’s coming. For who would imagine that the Holy Spirit may be extinguished like a flame, which when extinguished ceases to be what it was? Who could imagine that someone would destroy the Holy Spirit – who in the old law, speaking by the mouth of Isaiah, Jeremiah and other prophets, “Here is what the Lord says,” and who said, in the new, by the prophet Agabus, “These things says the Holy Spirit.”
“There are many kinds of spiritual gifts, but there is only one Spirit; there are numerous kinds of ministries, but there is only one Lord; there are several kinds of supernatural acts, but there is only one God who works all in all. But the gifts which make the Holy Spirit manifest are distributed to everyone for the good of the Church: one receives the gift of speaking wisdom by the Holy Spirit, while another received, through the same Spirit, a gift of speaking with knowledge; another, by the same Spirit, receives faith; another, the gift of working miracles; another received, through the same Spirit, the gift of healing disease; another the gift of prophecy; another the discernment of spirits. Yet one and the same Spirit is producing all these things, distributing gifts to these people as He pleases.” In regard to this Spirit, David, when he realized his isolation, said to God, “Do not remove from me Your Holy Spirit.” When God withdraws the Spirit, He does not diminish His substance, but extinguishes Him for the souls that deprive themselves of His light. For me, I believe that by these words, “Do not quench the spirit,” the apostle means the same thing by these, “Keep yourselves in the fervor of the spirit” because the Spirit is never extinguished, except in a soul whose fervor has slowed to a stop by indulgence in crime, or in a love, once warm, which has grown cold and languid.
Now to this phrase, “May the God of peace sanctify you in all ways,” or “in all things,” or, if we flex the Greek text, “give you a full and perfect holiness;” He is called “God of peace,” because we were reconciled to him through Jesus Christ, “who is our peace, who has made the two peoples one,” and, as the apostle said in another place, is “the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension, that keeps the hearts and minds of the saints.” But he who was sanctified and is perfect in all things, “keeps his spirit, his soul, and his body without blemish for the day of the coming of the Lord,” and uses his bodily members for the purposes for which they exist: his hands to work, his feet to walk, his eyes to see, his ears to hear, his teeth to eat, his stomach to digest meat, his bowels to order to avoid what is naturally leftover. Thus it is when all members of one’s body are whole and perfect.
But is it credible that Paul, in making this blessing-vow to heaven, expects Jesus Christ, on judgment day, to find the faithful individual’s body entirely intact? Does not death reduce everything to dust? Or if there are still a few, as some authors claim, that are still alive and kicking, do they not invariably have some defect? Consider especially the bodies of martyrs, even those whose eyes, or nose, or hands have been torn or cut off, for the sake of Christ. Therefore what the apostle meant by a “whole body” is, as I have said elsewhere, that which remains attached to the head, verily, the leader from whom all parts of the body are united and bound together, according to the effective increase of the body of Jesus Christ. But this body is none other than the Church, and anyone who has a close union with the head of this body must also assist in the maintenance of all other members in the whole body, as far as human frailty can afford. And to do that, they must maintain the integrity of the soul, so as to say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, who heals all your infirmities,” and it is written, “He sent his word and He healed.” We also maintain the integrity of the mind when we live according to spiritual things; we live by the Spirit, and thus we follow with docility the guidance and impressions from the Spirit, so that we may mortify by the mind the works of the flesh, and so that we produce the fruits of the Spirit, by which I mean love, joy, peace, and so forth.
Here is another explanation that we can give to the words of the Apostle Paul. As Solomon set forth a proverb by describing things in three ways, so our teachings and applications, conducted thoughtfully and carefully, may be set forth to expound the truth for those who question us. We can describe the three ways by which the instructions and regulations of Scripture are set forth in our hearts. First there is the literal and historical sense. Second, there is the moral sense. And, finally, it may be taken in the spiritual sense. In the literal sense, we are dealing simply with the facts of the story as we follow a sequence of events being narrated. In the moral sense, we leave the literal meaning and consider larger and nobler ideas that are expressed for the regulation of our morals, and for our edification, though grounded in physical matters pertaining to the Jewish people. In the spiritual sense our objective is something even more sublime; we abandon all the earthly things, and simply look for what is said about the heavenly things, and the joy that is prepared for us; looking at all the good things in life is like a shadow in comparison to the adamantine happiness that is ours in that day. Jesus Christ, by His peace, will sanctify and perfect those who are happy in this situation, that is, those whose sole occupation is to take care to preserve the integrity of their body, their soul and their spirit, and to acquire a perfect knowledge of truth, and the triple-knowledge of which Solomon speaks.
Many, focusing simply on the letter, understand as
pertaining to the resurrection what the Apostle Paul says, that we must keep
our mind, our soul, and our body spotless for the day of the coming of the
Lord. Some of them have claimed that this passage proves that man is composed
of three kinds of substances: a spirit, which is the principle of their
feelings and their thoughts, a soul, which is the source of his life, and of a
body, which serves as an instrument for all external actions. There are others
who claim that man is composed of a core and a body, and that the “spirit” that
we add is not a substance but a principle which, according the different effects
it produces, is sometimes called spirit, or feeling, or thought, because there
is no man in so many different substances that give them different names. And
when they encounter the passage of Scripture, “Spirits and souls of the
righteous, bless the Lord,” they reject it by saying that these words are not
found in the Hebrew text. For me, as I said earlier, I think that the “spirit”
which remains blameless with soul and body, must not be interpreted by us to
mean the Holy Spirit, whose substance is imperishable, bur rather His gifts and
graces, which lights are capable of being extinguished in us, if we make a
poor, rather than good, use of them.
(1) The word “capitulum,” which is in the Latin text, we have translated by “portion.” This should not be understood to mean all of Mark chapter 16, but only the last twelve verses of the Gospel of Mark.
(2) One veil separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. The outer veil was outside, at the entrance of the tabernacle.
(3) Jerome here refers to what is written in II Kings 2:23-25, where as Elisha goes to Bethel, he is mocked by small children outside the city, who are saying, “Go up, baldy, go up, baldy,” and after the prophet declares a curse upon them, two bears came out of the woods and mauled 42 of these children.
(4) Prisca and Maxilla
(5) This means that some Marcionite heresies which had begun in Egyptian had spread to Spain and Portugal.
This text was translated and placed in the public domain by James Snapp, 2009. This file and all material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.
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