Bernardin de Piconio on Colossians 2:1-15
Posted by Dim Bulb on July 19, 2010
1. But I wish you to know what anxiety I have for you, and for those who are at Laodicea, and whoever have not seen my face in the flesh;
2. That their hearts may be consoled, instructed in charity, and to all riches of the plentitude of understanding, to recognition of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ Jesus;
3. In whom all the treasures of wisdom and science are hidden.
Chapter II. In this chapter the Apostle cautions the Christians of Colossas not to listen to teachers of heresy, particularly with regard to circumcision, the worship of certain angels, and other superstitious observances. Saint Paul was not personally acquainted with the Christians of Colossae and Laodicea, and was the more anxious on that account, for they were for that reason more exposed to the sinister influence of the heretical teachers, who unsettled their faith, told them they were not in the right way of salvation, and divided them into parties. He wishes their minds to be set at rest, and that they might live in quiet enjoyment of the heavenly hopes they had embraced, and in good understanding with one another. Consoled in heart, instructed in charity. The Syriac version reads: That their hearts may take comfort, and they with charity draw near to all the riches of persuasion, and intelligent recognition of the hidden God, both the Father and Christ. That is, that there may be no lingering doubt m your minds, but with perfect confidence, complete surrender of affection, and certitude of belief, you embrace the knowledge of the God now for the first time revealed to you, whom Christ has made known to man, his Father and ours. For the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, of which the followers of Simon profess to hold the key, as of a recondite mystery known only to themselves and those to whom they choose to reveal it—on which account they were called gnostici, or pretenders to true knowledge—these treasures of truth are in reality hidden in Christ. (Some ancient and medieval scholars held that Simon the Magician was the instigator of the errors at Colossae). Hidden and revealed. Revealed to all who seek him in faith, hidden from all the world beside. Wisdom, science, truth, are all hidden in Jesus Christ. Without him, all is vanity, error, and illusion. For the great central truth of all truths, on which all knowledge and all existence depends, is the relation which subsists from all eternity between the Father and the Son; the mystery of God, the eternal love that reigns between the Father and Christ Jesus; and how this led to his Incarnation. Unless you set out with this
knowledge, you can know nothing truly.
4. But I say this, that no one deceive you in sublimity of language.
5. For although in the body I am absent from you, yet in spirit I am with you, rejoicing and seeing your order, and the steadfastness of your faith which is in Christ.
6. For as you received Jesus Christ the Lord, in him walk,
7. Rooted and built up in him, and strengthened in faith, as also you have learned, abounding in him in thanksgiving.
8. See that none deceive 5’ou through philosophy and empty fallacy; according to the tradition of men, according to the elements of the world, and not according to Christ.
g. Because in him dwells all the plenitude of deity in the body.
10. And you are fulfilled in him, who is the head of all principality and power.
I say this, namely, that all wisdom and science (scientia=knowledge) dwells in Christ, because I know how greatly your faith is endangered by the teachers of error, who are endeavouring to deceive you with the pompous and imposing terms of their philosophy. The Greek has, with plausible or persuasive words. It is true that I am separated from you by long distance, but I am present by full cognizance, perhaps supernatural cognizance, of all the malice of these wicked men, and the arguments they employ, and could expose them if I chose. This, St. Chrysostom thinks, was what the Apostle was about to say, but considering the hint sufficient, he concludes the sentence
with an encomium of the Colossians. The enemy has not routed your ranks as yet. I rejoice to see you, being in spirit present among you, drawn up in unbroken phalanx against the enemy, and your faith still firm and unshaken. The creed you were taught by Epaphras, that Jesus Christ is your Creator, Redeemer, Meditator, in this walk, or persevere. Christ is the way; walk in this way, which leads to life. Christ is the root; adhere to him, and from him draw the life of your souls. Christ is the foundation; on this foundation build your faith and hope. What the tree is without root, the house without foundation, man is without Christ. Cling to the faith as you have been taught it, and abound in it, that is, make progress in Christian grace, and rejoice with thanksgiving for the privilege you have received, the hope to which you look forward. Then the Apostle repeats the caution already given in verse 4. See that none deceive you. The Greek has plunder you, the Syriac and Arabic, rob and spoil you ; Saint Chrysostom, rob you and steal your faith away. Through philosophy and empty fallacy, or deceit. The system taught by Simon appears to have contained many expressions borrowed or translated from the language of the magian philosophers of the east, which Saint Paul calls suhlimitate sevmonunt in verse 4, and legends and fables about angels and aeons, the object of which was to substitute the adoration of these imaginary powers for the worship of Christ. All this was human tradition. The traditions of paganism, however distorted, were at least derived originally from primaeval truth, known to man by revelation from God in the earliest ages of the world, but the magian philosophy was from its beginning human invention and nothing else, and founded in mere imposture. Such as it was, however, it had widely influenced the philosophies of western lands, and formed in Saint Paul’s says the elements of the instruction of the learned world. It was this system, reproduced by Simon under some new phrases, intended to pass it off as the religion of Christ, which Saint Paul speaks of in 1 Tim 6:20, as that which they falsely call their gnosis, or knowledge. It is not according to Christ, is radically opposed to all his teaching. For in Christ all the pleroma of Deity corporeally dwells. This word pleroma is a well-known term of the magian philosophy, and signifies the aggregate of all the great spiritual intelligences which govern the world, and of which they admitted Christ to be one. As in their system, the Supreme Being was non-existent, the pleroma, was the supreme object of their cultus and adoration. This is not the doctrine of Christ; for in Christ the whole pleroma, or fulness of Deity, dwells and is from eternity inherent corporeally. The word corporeally is not here opposed to spiritually, but to figuratively. Not in figure, as of old in the propitiatory, but truly, really, and substantially. Not by operation, but in substance. Not by grace only, as in holy angels and men, but by hypostatic union. Not in his soul only, but in his body also. The divine Person of the Word is united with the human nature by a double bond, one spiritual, which unites his human soul with the Word; the other corporeal, which to the same Divine Word unites his body. Therefore in Christ dwells, or eternally inheres, all wisdom, science, truth, because he is God. And with this wisdom, you, in your degree, as members depending on the Head, are also filled. He is not an angel or an aeon, but the Head of all the principalities and powers that reign in heaven. And since in Him dwells and remains all the plenitude of Deity, and the plenitude of wisdom, it is to Him that you should have recourse, not to angels, otherwise you will be forsaking the Lord and King for the ministers and servants.
11. In whom also you were circumcised with circumcision not done by hand, in the despoiling of the body of the flesh; but in the circumcision of Christ:
12. Buried together with him in Baptism, in which you also rose again through faith of the operation of God who raised him from the dead.
13. And you, when you were dead in sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he has with him quickened to life, forgiving you all sins.
14. Blotting out what was against us, the writing of the decree; which was contrary to us, and took it from the midst, affixing it to the cross.
15. And stripping the principalities and the powers paraded them boldly, leading them openly in triumph in himself.
The heretics, while rejecting the law of Moses, and the God who was its Author, affected to adhere to some of its ceremonies, and among them the rite of circumcision, chiefly out of opposition to the teaching of the Apostles, and were endeavouring to unsettle the minds of the Colossian Christians on this point, as well as on some others referred to below. In his reply. Saint Paul tells the Colossians that they have no need of external circumcision. You have already been circumcised, not by the rite done by human hands, the excision of a portion of the flesh of the material body, but with the circumcision of Christ, or which was instituted by Christ. And he goes on to explain in the next verse what this is. With Christ you have been buried in Baptism, the immersion in the water figuring the burial of Christ; with him you are risen again, which was signified by the immersion from it. And this through faith, the principal condition required; indeed the only condition absolutely and imperatively required for Baptism, being the profession of the faith of the Catholic Church. This profession had to be publicly made before the assembled congregation, and the symbol, or credo, differing slightly in its form in different countries, was expressly drawn up for this use and purpose. But the faith of the Church is substantially and by inference summed up and implied in one article of belief, faith in the operation of God in Christ’s resurrection from the dead. For if this is true, it puts the seal upon all Christ’s teaching when on earth, and all the teaching of the Apostles and the successors of their ministry, since his ascension into heaven. The reality of this resurrection is what the heretics deny; you are Christians because you believe it true. Pagans as you were, dead in sins, involved in the guilt of actual mortal sin, and helplessly enthralled to the concupiscence of the flesh, it is nevertheless perfectly true, and you are required to believe this, and entitled to rejoice in the certainty of the belief, that God has by your Baptism given you a new and real spiritual life, as real and true as the life to which Christ rose from the grave and lives for evermore, and all the sins of your former lives are in the waters of Baptism as completely and absolutely washed away as if they had never been, and you can be quite secure that they will not be brought up against you at the last great day. Saint Paul insists on this forgiveness of sins, because it is the central argument of this Epistle, which was mainly written to reassure the Colossian Christians, who had been rendered, or were in danger of being rendered, anxious and uneasy regarding it, by the cavils of the crafty opponents of the faith. You require no circumcision, and no initiation into any hidden system of philosophy. God has in truth raised you to life, donans vobis omnia delicta (forgiving you all offenses) All sin, actual and original. In the day thou eatest, thou shalt die death, was the terrible decree that sounded in the ears of our first father in Paradise, Gen 2:17. And to this decree we, each one of the human race, every child of Adam born into the world, have severally set our own sign-manual, the handwriting on the decree, by the actual sin which we have severally added to the guilt of the original transgression. But this damning bond, this recognition under our own hands of the awful debt we had incurred, and must have paid, Christ has cancelled, torn up, blotted out, taken out of the midst, conveyed out of court. It was against us, contrary to us, must have condemned us; he has taken it away by his death, and affixed it to the cross. Temporal death still remains, but is changed into a blessing, for it is the gate of salvation ; death eternal we have not to fear, for Christ has taken away the sentence, with our acceptance plainly written on it, and nailed it to his cross. Grotius says it was the custom to nail antiquated edicts to a cross, as a public notification that they were no longer in force; but undoubtedly the reference of the Apostle is to the cross on which Christ suffered, and by his death took away the sin of the world. And after the victory came the triumph. He carried with him into heaven, and will finally and fully do so at the last day, the spoils of the principalities and powers of darkness, (those very angels whom the heretics direct you to adore,) the souls of men redeemed from hell, their bodies raised from the grave. And in this continued procession of triumph, to the end of the world, the evil spirits, the tempters of mankind, are led captive, chained to the chariot wheel of their exulting conqueror, exhibited to God, to angels, and to men, openly baffled and defeated. Pagan worship and pagan vice gave way to the love and adoration of Christ. Triumphing over them in himself, for by his own power and merit alone the victory was won. There is another and more ordinary interpretation of this passage, which supposes the Apostle to refer to the law of Moses as the handwriting of the decree, which Christ removed and nailed to the cross. But the Colossian Christians, to whom this was addressed, were converts from Paganism, and never subject to the Mosaic ceremonial law, nor is there, in any other part of the Epistle, anything directly controverting the obligation of obedience to it. And in this sense it is difficult to assign an intelligible meaning to the words chirographum decreti (written ordinance) or as the Greek signifies, decretis. The explanation given above is in substance that of Saint Chrysostom, who says that the Apostle nowhere else uses language so sublime.