First Sunday of Advent – B

In the entire Old Testament, God is only addressed as “Father” about 20 times.[1] In the Gospels, Jesus freely speaks of God as “Father” about 170 times, whether simply as “Father” or “My Father” or as “your Father.”

In today’s second reading, First Corinthians 1:3-9, Paul witnesses to how readily the early Christians adopted Jesus’ practice of addressing God as “our Father”: “Grace and peace from God our Father” (1 Cor 1:3). Scholars estimate that Paul wrote the First Letter to the Corinthians about the year 57, twelve to thirteen years before Mark wrote the first Gospel.

St. Thomas Aquinas comments that the name “Father” excludes two possible errors about God: “Some men said that God does not care about human affairs … According to this error, it is vain that something be asked of God. Others said that God does not have providence but providence itself imposes necessity upon things” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew).

Pope John Paul reminds us that human names are not applied to God in a literal sense but in an analogous sense, so that there is a certain similarity to parents.[2] Thomas affirms the importance of this particular name for God: “By the fact that we say, ‘Father,’ we call ourselves His children…. He is called Father by relation to His children… For a son has a notion of liberty” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew).

Thomas affirms that “father” suggests “giving”: “For if He is a Father, then He wishes to give: ‘If you then being evil, know how to give good things to your children: how much more will your Father who is in heaven, give good things to those who ask Him’ (Mt 7:11)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew).

Thomas asserts that the name, ‘father,’ evokes charity, by which Thomas means our love for God: “It avails for stirring up charity. For it is natural that a father loves his son and vice versa: ‘Be you followers of God, as most dear children’ (Eph 5:1). By this word we are provoked to imitate him. For a son ought to imitate his father as much as he can: ‘You shall call Me father and not cease to walk after Me’ (Jer 3:19)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew).

The name also arouses in us love for others: “By this word our affections are directed to our neighbor, since if there is one Father of all, someone ought not to scorn his neighbor by reason of his race; ‘Have we not all one father? Has not God created us? Why then does every one of us despise his brother’ (Mal 2:10)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew).

Paul’s greeting brings out the close relationship of Jesus to the Father because he prays, “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Grace and peace come not only from the Father but from the Father and from Jesus. Because we are accustomed to the relation between the Father and the Son, this doesn’t startle us, yet we can see that this close relationship was also assumed within seventeen years of Jesus’ death. Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension and active presence with the Father are likewise assumed.

St. Thomas reflects: “The one who causes grace and peace is mentioned when he says: ‘from God our Father’: ‘Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down form the Father of lights’ (Jas 1:17). He adds: ‘and from the Lord Jesus Christ,’ ‘by Whom He has granted to us His precious and very great promises’ (2 Pt 1:4); “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17) (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians).

As Thomas has affirmed, a “father” suggests one who gives, Paul thanks God for the gifts He has given to the Christians at Corinth: “I continually thank my God for you because of the grace He has bestowed on you in Christ, in whom you have been richly endowed with every gift of speech and knowledge” (1 Cor 1:4-5)

Thomas recognizes that Paul rejoices in these gifts because of his love for the Christians: “He also mentions those for whom he gives thanks when he says: for you, in whose blessings he rejoiced as in his own because of the union of charity: ‘No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth’ (3 Jn. v. 4)” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians)..

Paul thanks God for the “grace” given them. Thomas notes that the grace has been given “in Christ Jesus”: “… the grace of God, which was given you in Christ Jesus, i.e., by Christ Jesus: “Of his fullness we have all received and grace for grace: (Jn. 1:16).”

Paul asserts that grace has been abundantly given: “Paul mentions the abundance of their grace, saying: because in every way, namely, which pertains to salvation, you were enriched, i.e., made to overflow in him, i.e., through Christ: “For your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you become rich (2 Cor 8:9).”

Thomas notices that Paul considers that the Corinthians have been given “every spiritual gift”: “He touches on the perfection of grace when he says: you are not wanting in any spiritual gift, namely, because various persons among them enjoyed all the Charismatic graces”

Paul encourages the Corinthians to have hope in the future coming of Christ:

“He mentions their expectation of a future blessing when he says: to you, who not only have grace at present but are waiting for the future revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, namely because He will be manifested to His saints not only in the glory of His humanity… but also in the glory of His divinity: ‘The glory of the Lord shall be revealed’ (Is 40:5). This is the revelation that makes men happy: ‘When He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2), and in which eternal life consists: ‘This eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent’ (Jn. 17:3) (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians).  

The happiness of the believers is based on hope: “Now just as those to whom Christ is revealed are happy in reality, so those who await this are happy in hope: ‘Blessed are all they that wait for him’ (Is 30:18). This is why he gives thanks for their expectations” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians).  

God will strengthen them: “He shows that this expectation is not vain because of the help of God’s grace: hence he adds: Who, i.e., Christ, Who gave them the hope of such a manifestation, will sustain you in the grace received: ‘After you have suffered a little while, He will restore, establish and strengthen you’ (1 Pt 5:10) to the end of your life: ‘He who endures to the end will be saved’ (Matt 10:22) (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians).

Paul declares: “God is faithful, and it was He who called you to fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor 1:9). Thomas considers this “fellowship” to be a type of “friendship”:

“Charity signifies not only the love of God, but also a certain friendship with Him; which implies, besides love, a certain mutual return of love, together with a mutual communion … That this belongs to charity is evident from 1 John 4:16: ‘He who abides in love, abides in God, and God in him’ and from 1 Cor 1:9, where it is written ‘God is faithful, by Whom you were called to fellowship with His Son” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, 65, 5).

Thomas explains that we already share in this fellowship in the present by grace: “This fellowship of a man with God, which consists in a certain familial colloquy with Him is begun here, in this life, by grace, but will be perfected in the future life, by glory; each of which things we hold by faith and hope” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, 65, 5).

Thomas emphasizes the importance of believing that God will be true to His promises: “Just as friendship with a person would be impossible, if one disbelieved in or despaired of the possibility of their fellowship or familial colloquy, so too friendship with God, which is charity, is impossible without faith, so as to believe in this friendship and colloquy with God, and to hope to attain to this fellowship” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, 65, 5).

Paul assures us that God will be true to His promise: “God is faithful” (1 Cor 1:9). Thomas reflects:

“Paul assigns the reason for his promise, saying that God will strengthen you, because God is faithful … By whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, i.e., to have fellowship with Christ, both in the present life through the likeness of grace: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (1 Jn. 1:7) and in the future by sharing in His glory: ‘Provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him’ (Rom 8:17). But God would not seem to be faithful, if He called us to the fellowship of His Son and then denied us on His part the things by which we could attain to Him. Hence Joshua (1:5) says: ‘I will not fail you or forsake you’ (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians may be found on the website, http//dhspriory.org/Thomas/.

 References to the Commentary on Matthew may be found in St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew, trans. Rev. Paul M. Kimball. Dolorosa Press, 2012, pages 243-244.

References to the Summa Theologiae, give the part of the Summa, in this case the first part of the second, the Prima Secundae, followed by the particular question, in this case, question 65, and then the article, in this case, article 5.

[1] Joachim Jeremias, The Central Message of the New Testament (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1965), 9-16.

[2] John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, 8.

Thirty Third Sunday – B

During the time of the Old Testament, a special sacrifice was offered once each year by the high priest on the Day of Atonement. In addition, each morning and evening, a lamb was daily sacrificed in the Temple (Num 28).

This Sunday’s second reading, Hebrews 10:11-14, 18, compares the daily sacrifices in the Temple with Jesus offering of Himself: “Every other priest stands ministering day by day and offering again and again those same sacrifices which can never take away sins” (Heb 10:11). God, through Jeremiah challenged the people not to think such sacrifices could save them: “Can vows and sacrificed flesh avert your doom” (Jer 11:15).

Thomas Aquinas believes that the sacrifices of the Old Law prepared for Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself: “The continual sacrifice prefigured Christ and the eternity of Him Who is the lamb without blemish” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter of St. Paul to the Hebrews, 495)

Hebrews declares: “Jesus offered one sacrifice for sins” (Heb 10:12). Thomas reflects: “This man, namely, Christ, offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins. But the Old Law offered many sacrifices without expiating for sins. This man, therefore, offered one sacrifice, because He offered Himself once for our sins” (Commentary on Hebrews, 497).

Hebrews asserts that after Jesus had offered the sacrifice, “He took His seat forever at the right hand of God” (Heb 10:12).

Thomas considers Jesus’ sitting at the right hand of God an indication that He is united with God. This is compared to the priests in the Temple who stood before the altar: “He sat down at the right hand of God, not as a minister always standing, as the priests of the Old Law, but as the Lord: ‘The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand’ (Ps. 109:1); ‘He sits on the right hand of God’ (Mk 16:19); at the right hand of God the Father with equal power in the divine nature, but with the more important goods in the human nature: ‘He sits on the right hand of the majesty on high’ (Heb. 1:3); and this forever, for He will not die again, because ‘Christ rising from the dead, dies now no more’ (Rom. 6:9); ‘His power is an everlasting power’ (Dan 7:14) (Commentary on Hebrews, 497).

Hebrews announces: “Now He waits until His enemies are placed beneath His feet” (Heb 10:13). Thomas thinks that Jesus waits not to have vengeance but to have mercy: “This expecting does not imply any anxiety in Christ, as it does in men, but it designates His will to have mercy: ‘The Lord waits that he may have mercy only’ (Is. 30:18)” (Commentary on Hebrews, 498).

According to Thomas, those who are under Jesus’ feet are under His humanity, which is the means of salvation: “Those who are willing are subjected under His feet, i.e., to His humanity; and in this their salvation consists, namely, in doing His will” (Commentary on Hebrews, 498).

Those who are unwilling to submit to Jesus will be under His justice: “But the wicked, who are unwilling submit to it because even though they do not accomplish His will in itself, yet it is fulfilled in their regard as a work of justice. Consequently, all things are subject in one of those ways: ‘You have subjected all things under His feet’ (Ps. 8:8)” (Commentary on Hebrews, 498).

Hebrews announces that Jesus one sacrifice takes away all sins: ‘Christ was offered once to exhaust the sins of many’ (Heb. 9:28).

Hebrews speaks of our being “perfected and sanctified” by Jesus’ sacrifice: “By one offering He has forever perfected those who are being sanctified” (Heb 10:14).

Thomas comments: “By one offering He has perfected for all time. This He did by reconciling us and uniting us to God as to our principle; those who are sanctified, because Christ’s sacrifice, since He is God and man, has power to sanctify for ever: ‘Jesus, that he might sanctify the people by His own blood, suffered (Heb. 13:12). For by Him we are sanctified and united to God: ‘By whom we have access to God’ (Rom. 5:12)” (Commentary on Hebrews, 499).

Hebrews proclaims: “Once sins have been forgiven, there is no further offering for sin” (Heb 10:18).

Thomas explains: “Sins are remitted in the New Testament by Christ’s sacrifice, because the blood of Christ was shed for the remission of sins; therefore, in the New Testament, in which sins and iniquities are forgiven, as the authority indicates, there is no offering to be repeated for sins: ‘They that are in health need not a physician, but they that are ill’ (Mt. 9:12). Therefore, where there is forgiveness of sins, there is no longer any offering for sin. For this would be to demean Christ’s sacrifice” (Commentary on Hebrews, 500).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Letter of Paul to the Hebrews may be found on the web page of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/

Thirty Second Sunday – B

Usually when we think of Jesus as our mediator, we think of Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the Cross. In today’s second reading (Hebrews 9:24-28), the Letter to the Hebrews focuses not only on Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself but also on Jesus entrance into heaven to appear before His Father for us. In his Commentary on the Letter of St. Paul to the Hebrews, Thomas Aquinas follows this approach.

The Letter to the Hebrews draws comparisons between the rituals of the Old Law and Jesus’ actions of our behalf. Thus the cleansing with the blood of animals, is contrasted with the cleansing accomplished with the blood of Christ (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter of St. Paul to the Hebrews, 462)

The Old Testament itself bears witness that animal sacrifices were not sufficient, as can be seen in the Psalms: “Burnt offerings and sin offerings You did not require” (Ps. 39:8); “With burnt offerings You will not be delighted” (Ps. 50:18).

Hebrews compares Jesus’ sacrifice to those of the Old Law: “Not that He might offer Himself there again and again, as the high priest enters year after year into the sanctuary with blood that is not is own” (Heb 9:25).

Thomas Aquinas picks up on the fact that Christ’s sacrifice was Himself not animals: “But Christ offered Himself for the sins of the whole world, because He was made the propitiation for our sins and for those of the whole world (1 Jn. 2:2)” (Commentary on Hebrews, 470).

According to Hebrews, Christ’s sacrifice comes at the final time: “Now He has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sins once for all by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb 9:26). The First Letter of Peter concurs: “Christ died once for our sins” (1 Pt 3:8). (Commentary on Hebrews, 472).

Christ offered Himself by His own will, as Thomas notes: “He underwent death by His own will: ‘No man takes it away from Me: but I lay it down of Myself’ (Jn. 10:18). Therefore, he says, that He was offered: ‘He was offered because it was His own will’ (Is. 53:7)” (Commentary on Hebrews, 477).

Unlike the sacrifices of the Old Law, Christ’s sacrifice has power over sin in those who come to Him: “But Christ’s death destroys sin; therefore, he says, to bear the sins of many, i.e., to remove them. He does not say ‘of all,’ because Christ’s death, even though it was enough for all, has no efficacy except in regard to those who are to be saved: for not all are subject to Him by faith and good works (Commentary on Hebrews, 477).

Each year, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice but Jesus, after He had been sacrificed and Resurrected, entered heaven: ‘But He entered into heaven itself: ‘And the Lord Jesus was taken up to heaven’ (Mk 16:19); ‘This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come’ (Ac. 1:11)” (Commentary on Hebrews, 465).

Thomas Aquinas emphasizes that Jesus appears before His Father in heaven for us: “[He ascended] now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Here the Apostle alludes to a rite of the Old Law according to which the high priest, who entered the holy of holies, stood before the mercy seat to pray for the people. Similarly, Christ entered into heaven to stand before God for our salvation” (Commentary on Hebrews, 466).

In heaven, Jesus prepares for us: “He entered the place where God is seen clearly; and this for us. For He entered heaven to prepare the way for us: ‘I go to prepare a place for you. But I will come again and will take you to myself’ (Jn. 14:3)” (Commentary on Hebrews, 467).

Hebrews looks to the time when Jesus will return: “He will appear a second time not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await Him” (Heb 9:28).

 Thomas reflects: “He shall appear a second time not to deal with sin. For even though He had no sin in the first coming, He came in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3). In the first coming He was also made a victim for sin: ‘Him who knew no sin, he has made sin for us’ (2 Cor. 5:21). He will appear not to be judged, but to judge and to reward according to merits (Commentary on Hebrews, 478).

Christ will appear in His flesh to those who did not accept Him but He will manifest His divinity: “And although He will appear to all in the flesh, even to those who wounded Him, He will appear according to His divinity to the elect that eagerly wait for Him by faith to save them: ‘Blessed are all they that wait for him’ (Is. 30:18); ‘We look for the Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who will reform the body of our lowliness, made like to the body of His glory’ (Phil 3:20) (Commentary on Hebrews, 478).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Letter of Paul to the Hebrews may be found on the web page of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/

Thirty First Sunday – B

Can we love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves, as this Sunday’s Gospel teaches (Mk 12:30-31)? St. Thomas Aquinas answers no and yes.

We love what we perceive to be good. Usually, our bodily senses draw us to certain perceived good through our senses and emotions (we are often mistaken). However, the goodness of God is perceived by our intellect not our senses. In describing love for God and our neighbor, Thomas uses the Latin word, caritas. Translators generally translate this as “charity,” to distinguish this type of love from emotional love. Thomas affirms:  “… charity is not in the senses, but in the intellective appetite, i.e. the will” (2a. 2ae. 24, 1).

Although God is supremely lovable, His goodness is not obvious to us because our attention is primarily on visible and material things. For this reason, we need the help of the Holy Spirit: “For us to love God above all things in this way, it is necessary that charity be infused into our hearts (2a. 2ae. 24, 2, ad 2).

Thomas explains, “Charity can be in us neither naturally, nor through acquisition by the natural powers, but by the infusion of the Holy Ghost, Who is the love of the Father and the Son, and the participation of Whom in us is created charity” (2a. 2ae. 24, 2). Charity is a gift.

Faith, hope and charity are called theological virtues because the object of each one of them is God: “Charity attains God, it unites us to God” (2a. 2ae. 23, 3). Thomas maintains that we are unable to love fully without this special gift from God, which is the theological virtue of charity, that inclines but does not force our will to act in a loving way (2a2ae. 23, 2).

Peter Lombard, the twelfth-century author of the standard text of Medieval theology, taught that the theological virtue of charity was actually the Holy Spirit Himself. Thomas differed because, while the Holy Spirit inclines a person to charity, the human mind is not passive but freely chooses to act or not act in the way that the Spirit moves us (2a2ae. 23, 2).

St. Paul stated: “The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, Who is given to us” (Rom 5:5). Thomas affirms: “Charity is a friendship of man for God, founded upon the fellowship of everlasting happiness. Now this fellowship is not of nature, but a gratuitous gift …” (2a. 2ae. 24, 2).

The Spirit does not give this gift depending “on the condition of nature nor on the capacity of natural virtue, but only on the will of the Holy Ghost” (2a. 2ae. 24, 3). Paul declared: “All these [gifts] are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who gives to each, as He wills” (1 Cor 12:11).  The Letter to the Ephesians states: “Grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph 4:7).

According to Thomas Aquinas, love of God is a type of friendship because, “A certain mutual love is requisite, since friendship is between friend and friend: and this well-wishing is founded on some kind of communication. (2a. 2ae. 23, 1).

God’s communication to us is His own happiness: “There is a communication between God and us, in as much as He communicates His happiness to us. Upon this communication friendship must be established: ‘God is faithful by Whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son’ (1 Cor 1:9). The love that is based on communication is charity so it is clear that charity is friendship of God and us (2a2ae. 23, 1).

Our fellowship with God does not take place in our exterior body and senses, but in “our spiritual life in respect of our minds, and with regard to this life there is fellowship between us and God…” (2a. 2ae. 23, 1, ad 1).

We can love a person for him or herself as a friend but we also love those whom our friend loves or who belong to him or her. Thomas affirms: “So much do we love our friends, that for their sake we love all who belong to them, even if they hurt or hate us; so that, in this way, the friendship of charity extends even to our enemies, whom we love out of charity in relation to God, to Whom the friendship of charity is chiefly directed” (2a. 2ae. 23, 1, ad 2).

Thomas explains that God’s essence is charity, even as it is goodness and wisdom. Our goodness is a participation in God’s goodness and our wisdom is a sharing in God’s wisdom. In a similar way, our loves of our neighbors is a participation in God’s charity for them (2a. 2ae. 23, 2, ad 1).

Thomas likes the description of Christians as “wayfarers,” those on the way: “We are called wayfarers by reason of our being on the way to God, Who is the last end of our happiness.” He refers to Augustine that we approach God on the way “not by steps of the body but by the affections of the soul” (St. Augustine, Tract. in Joan. Xxxii). Thomas adds, “This approach is the result of charity, since it unites man’s mind to God” (2a2ae. 24, 4).

Thomas concludes: “It is essential to the charity of a wayfarer that it can increase, for if it could not, all further advance along the way would cease. Hence the Apostle calls charity the way, when he says (1 Cor. 12:31): ‘I show unto you yet a more excellent way’” (2a2ae. 24, 4).

Thomas explains that “An essential increase of charity means nothing else but that it is yet more in its subject.” Virtues are dispositions to act. Thomas states: “Charity is essentially a virtue ordained to act, so that an essential increase of charity implies ability to produce an act of more fervent love. Hence charity increases essentially … by beginning to be more and more in its subject. (2a. 2ae. 24, 4, ad 3).

It is God who increases charity in us: “God increases charity, that is He makes it to have a greater hold on the soul, and the likeness of the Holy Ghost to be more perfectly participated by the soul” (2a. 2ae. 24, 5, ad 3).

Just as natural habits don’t grow with every use of the habit so Thomas explains, “Charity does not actually increase through every act of charity, but each act of charity disposes to an increase of charity, in so far as one act of charity makes man more ready to act again according to charity, and this readiness increasing, man breaks out into an act of more fervent love, and strives to advance in charity, and then his charity increases actually. (2a. 2ae. 24, 6).

The growth in charity has no limit: “For charity itself considered as such has no limit to its increase, since it is a participation of the infinite charity which is the Holy Ghost. In like manner the cause of the increase of charity, God, is possessed of infinite power. Furthermore, on the part of its subject, no limit to this increase can be determined, because whenever charity increases, there is a corresponding increased ability to receive a further increase. It is therefore evident that it is not possible to fix any limits to the increase of charity in this life. (2a. 2ae. 24, 7).

Even our capacity to charity increase: “The capacity of the rational creature is increased by charity, because the heart is enlarged thereby, according to 2 Cor. 6:11: ‘Our heart is enlarged”; so that it still remains capable of receiving a further increase. (2a. 2ae. 24, 7, ad 2).

Thomas asserts that what is important is that a person loves as much as he or she can: “On the part of the person who loves, charity is perfect, when he loves as much as he can. This happens in three ways. First, so that a man’s whole heart is always actually borne towards God: this is the perfection of the charity of heaven, and is not possible in this life, wherein, by reason of the weakness of human life, it is impossible to think always actually of God, and to be moved by love towards Him. Secondly, so that man makes an earnest endeavor to give his time to God and Divine things, while scorning other things except in so far as the needs of the present life demand. This is the perfection of charity that is possible to a wayfarer; but is not common to all who have charity. Thirdly, so that a man gives his whole heart to God habitually, viz. by neither thinking nor desiring anything contrary to the love of God; and this perfection is common to all who have charity” (2a2ae. 24, 8).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas give the part of the Summa, the question and the article. If the passage is found in a response to an objection that Thomas has introduced in the first part of the article, the Latin word “ad,” meaning “to,” is added with the number of the objection.

Thirtieth Sunday – B

The second reading for today, from the Letter to the Hebrews, Hebrews 5:1-6, describes the actions of the high priest. He is taken from the people and “made their representative before God to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin” (Heb 5:1). If we follow Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Letter of Paul o the Hebrews, we may recognize that Thomas is not only applying the figure of “high priest” to Jesus but also subtly reminding present day priests of their ministry.

We may often think of Christ in His divinity and overlook that His humanity allows us to draw near to Him. St. Thomas Aquinas comments: “We have a great high priest and He is Christ: For every high priest chosen from among men, ought to be a man. But God willed that man have someone like himself to whom he might run” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter to the Hebrews, 241).

Thomas emphasizes that Jesus is high priest for us: “The end and utility is that He is appointed to act on behalf of men, i.e., for their benefit.” Christ, as high priest, acts for our benefit.

Thomas is aware that some priests think their priesthood is for their own aggrandizement or glory: “He is not appointed for glory or for accumulating riches or for enriching his family … But if he seeks his own, he is not a shepherd, but a hireling” (Commentary on Hebrews, 242).

Paul described himself as a “servant: “And ourselves, your servants through Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:5). Paul used his authority to build up others not to diminish them: “According to the power which the Lord has given me unto edification and not unto destruction” (2 Cor. 13:10).

The high priest has dignity, as being set over the others … in the things that appertain to God, as the Book of Exodus affirms: “You shall be to him in things that pertain to God” (Ex. 4:16).

Because the high priest is set aside for the things of God he should not involve himself in secular business: “High priests should not entangle themselves with secular business and neglect the things that pertain to God: ‘No man being a soldier to Christ entangles himself with secular businesses’ (2 Tim. 2:4)” (Commentary on Hebrews, 243).

The priest offers sacrifices for sins: “The act of the high priest is to offer gifts, i.e., voluntary oblations … and sacrifices for sins, i.e., which are offered to him to satisfy for sins: ‘The priest shall pray for him and for his sin, and it shall be forgiven him’ (Lev 4:26)” (Commentary on Hebrews, 244). The priest prays for others as well as himself.

The priest acts as a mediator: “He must be in the things that appertain to God; yet he should be mediator between man and God, [as Moses said] ‘I was the mediator and stood between the Lord and you at that time’ (Dt. 5:5)” (Commentary on Hebrews, 246).

The high priest reaches between God and people: “Just as he should by the devotion of prayer reach God as one extreme, so by mercy and compassion he should reach man, the other extreme. Hence, he says: who can have compassion on the ignorant and wayward: ‘Who is weak and I am not weak?’ (2 Cor. 11:29)” (Commentary on Hebrews, 246). Priests should bring God’s mercy and compassion to the people.

The priest pleads for those who are ignorant and also for those who know but sin.

Thomas explains the priest has mercy because he also is sinful: “The motive for mercy is because he himself is beset with infirmity. That motive is infirmity, and those who are sometimes infirm: ‘But we have this treasure in earthen vessels’ (2 Cor. 4:7). The reason for this is that he may have compassion on the infirmities of others” (Commentary on Hebrews, 247).

Thomas affirms that Jesus let Peter fall in order that he might be compassionate: “This is the reason why the Lord permitted Peter to fall: ‘Judge of the disposition of your neighbor by yourself’ (Sir. 31:18). Therefore, he says, because he himself is beset with infirmity …” (Commentary on Hebrews, 247).

Thomas thinks of the Scriptures: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak” (Ps. 6:3) and “I am a weak man and of short time and falling short of the understanding of judgment and laws” (Wis. 9:5).

Thomas notes that humans, even if they don’t actually sin have within them the inclination to sin: “For carnal men have the weakness of sin within themselves, because they are not subject to sin; and they are also beset by the weakness of the flesh: ‘Therefore, I myself with the mind serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin’ (Rom. 7:25)” (Commentary on Hebrews, 247).

Thomas acknowledges that this inclination to sin was evident in the Old Testament priests but also in priests at present: “But the sign of this is that even in the Old Law (Lev 9), as well as now, as is clear from the canon of the Mass: ‘And to us sinners’, it has been decreed that the priest offer also for himself, which he would not do, unless he were oppressed by the weakness of sins, with which he is beset. Indeed, if he is in mortal sin, he should not celebrate. And therefore, he says: Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people” (Commentary on Hebrews, 248).

Priests shouldn’t seek the honor of the priesthood: “God’s discipline does not allow anyone to take the honor to himself, by favor, money, or power … but is called by God, as Aaron was. Hence, those should be accepted who do not impose themselves” (Commentary on Hebrews, 249).

The Letter to the Hebrews asserts that Christ did not exalt himself. Thomas reflects: “He did not exalt himself to be made a high priest. For there are some who exalt themselves to become a priest, as hypocrites who demonstrate certain qualities, in order to be chosen or to obtain offices” (Commentary on Hebrews, 251). The Priesthood is not for the priest but for the people.

Thomas comments: “Christ not only did not make Himself high priest, he did not exalt himself to be made high priest: ‘I seek not my own glory; there is one that seeks and judges’ (Jn. 8:50), and later: ‘It is my Father that glorifies me’ (Jn. 8:54). This is true, insofar as He is man, because as God He has the same glory as the Father” (Commentary on Hebrews, 251).

Christ’s glory was in His relationship to His Father: “He was glorified by the divine judgment, because the Lord spoke to Him in Ps. 2 (v. 7): ‘You are my son: This day I have begotten you’, and in Mt. (3:17): ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’ Therefore, when He shows Him begotten from eternity, He shows His glory: ‘Who, being the brightness of his glory and the figure of his substance’ (Hebrews 1:3). As man He also receives the high priesthood from God: as he says also in another place: ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedeck’“(Commentary on Hebrews, 252).

Christ is our priest, because He offered Himself to God the Father: ‘He loved us and gave himself for us an oblation and offering to God’ (Eph. 5:2).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Letter of Paul to the Hebrews may be found on the web page of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/