Ever wonder what one of St Thomas Aquinas’ Scripture Commentaries might read like? Here is your chance to find out. What follows is his commentary (it was a lecture, really) on chapter 1 of 1 Thessalonians. I doubt most people will find the 13th century format to their liking, however, as the late Scripture Scholar, Father Bruce Vawter once said, “Thomas’ commentaries have stood the test of time quite well.” I have searched in vain for a public domain text in English to post on my blog but have not been successful. Hopefully, this little tid-bit will lead you to access all the available Aquinas commentaries online. A while back I bought his commentary on Colossians published by Sapientia Press (Ave Maria University). Reading it was tough going, but well worth the effort.
Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
The Apostle wishes to strengthen the Church in the face of tribulations. First, in the face of present tribulations, and Paul does this in the first letter to the Thessalonians. Secondly, Paul warns against tribulations to come in the time of the Antichrist, and he does this in the second letter to the Thessalonians.
The first letter is divided into the greeting and the message, which begins at the words, we give thanks to God always for you all. First, Paul mentions the people who send the greeting; secondly, the Church which is greeted; thirdly, his hope for blessings. It should be noted that since we are all equal if we do not fail in our duties, the Apostle, in writing to these good people, does not mention his title, but supplies only his humble name which is Paul. He also adds the names of two persons who preached to them with him: Silvanus, who is Sylas, and Timothy, whom he circumcised, as is mentioned in Acts 16.
Paul greets the Church, which is the assembly of believers, in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, in the faith of the Trinity and of the divinity and humanity of Christ, because our beatitude will consist in knowing them. He mentions only the person of the Father and the incarnate Son, in which two is understood the Holy Spirit who is the bond between the Father and the Son.
The blessings he asks are grace, which is the source of all good things: “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (I Cor. 15: 10); and peace, which is our end: for there is peace when desire is totally at rest.
Then when Paul says, we give thanks, he begins the letter’s message: first, he commends them for their past perseverance; secondly, he urges them to act well even in the future (4:1). In addition, Paul first gives thanks in general for their blessings; secondly, he remarks upon their blessings in particular matters (1:4). In treating the first point he does two things. First, he offers thanksgiving; secondly, he indicates the reason for the thanksgiving (1:3). Again, Paul first gives thanks for them; secondly, Paul prays for them (1:26).
In treating the first point, Paul mentions three things that ought to be present in thanksgiving. First, thanksgiving should be directed to God: we give thanks to God. “He bestows favor and honor” (Ps. 84:11). “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (Jas. 1: 17). Thanksgiving should be unceasing; so Paul says, always. It should also be universal, so Paul says, for you all; and later Paul adds, give thanks in all circumstances (5:18).
Then he prays for them saying: constantly mentioning you in our prayers; as if saying: Whenever I pray I am mindful of you: “Without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers” (Rom. 1: 9).
Then when he says, remembering… your work of faith, Paul mentions the blessings for which he offers thanks, that is, faith, hope, and charity: “So faith, hope, love abide, these three” (1 Cor. 13:13). First, he mentions faith because it is an essential condition for obtaining the things to be hoped for, a means of revelation not based on appearances: “For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6). This, however, is not sufficient unless the person practices good works and makes an effort; so Paul says, your work of faith and labor. “Faith apart from works is dead” (Jas. 2:26). The person who gives up while laboring for Christ is worth nothing: “They believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away” (Lk. 8:13). Paul uses the words, work and labor, implying that he is mindful of their active and struggling faith.
Paul also gives thanks for the love in which they abounded. Later (4:9), he says: but concerning love of the brethren you have no need to have any one write to you.
Then he gives thanks for their hope, which enables them to endure sufferings patiently: “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation” (Rom. 12:12). In addition, Paul gives thanks for the steadfastness of their hope: “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job” (Jas. 5:11). Finally, Paul gives thanks for hope in our Lord, that is, the hope we have in Christ, or the hope Christ gave to us: “We have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Pet. 1:3). This hope is, before our God, not before the eyes of men; “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them” (Matt. 6:1). “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Heb. 6:19). For hope in the old dispensation did not lead to God.
Then when Paul says, For we know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you, he recalls their blessings in particular matters. First, he congratulates them for having received the gospel devoutly and willingly in spite of tribulations; secondly, Paul congratulates them because they did not fan away from the gospel in time of trial (2:1). Again, the first part is divided into two. First, Paul points out the kind of preaching that had been given to them; secondly, he points out how this preaching was received by them (1:6). In treating the first point Paul does three things. First, he tells what he knew about them; secondly, he indicates the manner of his preaching (1:5); thirdly, he remarks upon what they knew about the Apostle (1:5).
So Paul says, brethren, beloved by God, not only generally, insofar as God gives existence to all of nature, but specifically, insofar as you are each called to an eternal reward: “Yet I have loved Jacob” (Mal. 1:3). “All those consecrated to him were in his hand” (Deut. 33:3). He has chosen you, as if implying: I am certain that you are among the elect, although you did not merit this election; rather you are freely chosen by God. And I know this because God granted me abundant evidence of this in preaching, that is, that those to whom I preach are chosen by God, for God gives them the grace to listen profitably to the word preached to them; or else, God gives me the grace to preach rewardingly to them.
What is said in Ezekiel (3:26) would seem to contradict this: “And I will make your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be dumb. To counter this Paul first calls to mind how powerfully he preached to them; secondly, he calls upon their own witness with the words: you know… Powerfully, because he came not in loftiness of speech, but in power: “And my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power” (1 Cor. 2:4). “For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power” (1 Cor. 4:20). Now this may have reference either to the authentication of his preaching or to the manner of his preaching. If it is the first alternative, then Paul’s preaching to them was authenticated not by arguments but by the power of signs, and so it is said in Mark (16:20): “The Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it”; and by the giving of the Holy Spirit; so Paul says, and in the Holy Spirit. “While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” (Ac. 10:44). “While God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Heb. 2:4). And with full conviction. Paul adds this so that they would not believe that they received less than the Jews, indicating that the Holy Spirit does not discriminate among persons; but that the preaching was in the same fulness among them as among the Jews: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ac. 2:4).
But if it is the second alternative, then in power seems to mean “showing you a virtuous life.” “Jesus began to do and teach” (Ac. 1:1). And in the Holy Spirit who brings things to mind; “For it is not you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matt. 10:20). With full conviction, because I have instructed you in everything necessary for the faith. And he appeals to their testimony on this point when he says: You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake, that is, what kind of gifts and powers we have exhibited among you: “I hope it is known also to your conscience” (2 Cor. 5:11).
Then when he says, and you became imitators of us, he shows how creditably they received his preaching and did not fall away in time of trial. First, Paul shows their excellence in that they have imitated others; secondly, because they made themselves an example to others (1:7). In treating the first point Paul does two things. First, he shows whom they have imitated; secondly, he shows in what things they have imitated them ( 1: 6).
In treating the first point, Paul says that they have imitated the ones they should, namely, their prelates; so he says: You became imitators of us, “Brethren, join in imitating me” (Phil. 3:17); that is, you imitated me not in my human failings but in those points in which I have imitated Christ by patience in the midst of suffering: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (I Pet. 2:21). Therefore, Paul says, in much affliction, with joy, that is, although a considerable amount of tribulation threatened you because of the gospel, nevertheless you have accepted that with joy: “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (Jas. 1:2). “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus” (Ac. 5:41). With joy, Paul says, inspired by the Holy Spirit who is the love of God, and who imbues joy in those who suffer for Christ because they love Him: “If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned” (Cant. 8:7).
And you are our imitators to such an extent that you can be imitated by others; therefore he says: so that you become an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. In making this point, Paul does three things. First, he shows that they can be imitated; secondly, he shows how their fame has spread (1:8); thirdly, Paul shows how they were praised by all peoples (1:9).
So Paul says: you have imitated us so perfectly that you became an example, that is, an example of life not only in your own surroundings, but in other places as well: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). You became an example to all believers to whom your faith has become known. Your goodness was added to this, for the word of the Lord sounded forth from you, that is, the Lord has been preached; in other words, your fame was diffused not only in Macedonia and Achaia, who are your neighbors, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, that is, a faith which God accepts, which joins you to God, and which is edifying everywhere: “Your faith is proclaimed in all the world” (Rom. 1:8). And proof exists for all this, so that we need not say anything. It is the practice of a good preacher to use as an example the blessings coming to others: “Your zeal has stirred up most of them” (2 Cor. 9:2).
Then when Paul says: for they themselves report concerning us, he remarks on the praise which they had received from others, because, they themselves report concerning us what a welcome we had among you. A similar point is made in Prov. (31:31): “Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.” Those who commend you praise my preaching and your conversion. They themselves report concerning us what a welcome we had among you, since our entry was visited with great difficulty and genuine tribulations; but they also praise your conversion.
Finally, Paul makes known how, from whom, and to what they have been converted. In regard to the first point Paul says: and how you turned to God, that is, how readily and completely. “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). “Do not delay to turn to the Lord, nor postpone it from day to day (Sir. 5:7). In regard to the second point, Paul says, from idols, as is mentioned in 1 Cor. (12:2): “You know that when you were heathens, you were led astray to dumb idols.” In regard to the third point he says, to serve a living and true God by the practice of adoration, not of creatures, but of God, which is in contrast with what is stated in Romans (1:25): “They worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.” And Paul says, living, in order to exclude the cult of idolatry, because the idolators worshipped certain dead people whose souls they regarded as deified, such as Romulus and Hercules. And so Paul insists on living. “As I live forever” (Deut. 32:40). Also, since the Platonists considered some separate substances to be gods by participation, he says true, meaning, not by participation in the divine nature.
Since those who serve Him deserve a reward, and because this is the case with the Thessalonians, it remains for them to expect a reward; so Paul says to them, to wait for his Son, that is, God, descending from heaven. “Be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast” (Lk. 12:36). “Blessed are all those who wait for him” (Is. 30:18). These, however, are the men who girded their loins. We, however, are waiting for two things: first, for the resurrection, in order that we may clearly conform to Christ; hence Paul says: whom he raised from the dead. “He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies” (Rom. 8: 11). “Who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). Secondly, we are waiting to be freed from the punishment which awaits the guilty. For we shall be freed by Christ from sin, the cause of punishment. So Paul says: Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. “Hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16). No one can free us from this wrath but Christ: “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matt. 3:7) Source. I have no idea if the html text is copyrighted.