The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Callan’s Commentary on Hebrews 11:1-7

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 19, 2011

Introduction to Hebrews, Chapter 11:1-38. The close of the preceding Chapter has shown that faith is essential to salvation, and hence the author will now describe so important a virtue and illustrate its value and power by citing some of the religious heroes of the past. These examples of what faith has done for so many of those ancient saints whom Jewish history most revered will be especially consoling to the readers of this Epistle, for it will show them that their own Christian faith is not something new and distinct from the religious assurance and conviction

which sustained their ancestors, but rather a continuation of the same sustaining virtue, only on a much more elevated plain.

11:1 . Now faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.

1. We have not here a strict definition of the virtue of faith, but rather a description of some of the practical results which faith produces in those who possess it.

The word hypostasis, here translated “substance,” may be taken subjectively, for assurance or firm confidence; or objectively, for basis or foundation. The Greeks understood it in this latter sense, as that which gives substance and reality to the things hoped for. This sense would be presupposed to the former meaning any way; it is the firm foundation which produces the firm confidence and assurance, though assurance or firm confidence seems to be the more direct meaning of the term here.

The word translated “evidence” may also be taken objectively as proof, or subjectively as conviction, or the result of proof or demonstration. Perhaps the subjective meaning is the one intended here. Thus, by faith we are assured of the future things for which we hope, and convinced of the reality and certainty of the things we do not see.

11:2. For by this the ancients obtained a testimony.

2. Because of their faith God bore witness to the ancient saints of Israel, causing them to be praised in Sacred Scripture as holy and acceptable to Him.

11:8.  By faith he that is called Abraham, obeyed to go out into a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.

8. As Abraham was the supreme example of faith among the Jews, the writer now dwells at length on his faith. The great patriarch’s faith is illustrated: (a) by his obedience to the call of God to go forth from his own country in search of the Promised Land and his wanderings in that strange land (ver. 8-10); (b) by the confidence with which he and his wife Sara received God’s promise of offspring (ver. 11-12); (c) by his willingness to sacrifice Isaac (ver. 17-19).

The call of God came to Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees, and in obedience to it he left home and kindred, wandering and enduring privations and hardships in search of the land of Canaan which God had promised to give to him and his descendants (Gen 12:1ff.).

He that is called Abraham. Here the author alludes to the fact that God, as a mark of special favor, changed the patriarch’s original name Abram to Abraham (Gen17:5).

3. By faith we understand that the world was framed by the word of God; that from invisible things visible things might be made.

The Apostle will now give some examples of faith, beginning with the work of creation. We know through faith, he says, that the world was created by God’s fiat, for so it was revealed to the ancient patriarchs and has been handed down to us in the Sacred Scriptures (Gen 1:3, 6, 9, ff.).

The world. Literally, “the ages,” as in Heb 1:2.

That from invisible things, etc. The visible universe was created by God out of nothing, that is, from no pre-existing matter; all things visible have come from God, formed according to His invisible idea. Therefore, all materialistic explanations of the origin of the world are wrong.

4. By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained a testimony that he was just, God giving testimony to his gifts; and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

It was faith that directed Abel to offer God a more worthy sacrifice than his brother Cain (Gen 4:2 ff.), for by faith he was able to recognize more clearly the supreme excellence and the sovereign rights of God. Because of this faith God bore testimony to Abel that he was just, and that his gifts were acceptable to Him (Gen 4:4).

And by it, etc. The reference may be to the voice of Abel’s blood crying to heaven for vengeance (Gen 4:10), or to the fact that Abel, though dead, still speaks by his blood and example (Matt 23:35).

5. By faith Henoch was translated, that he should not see death ; and he was not found, because God had translated him : for before his translation he had testimony that he pleased God.

Henoch. See Gen 5:21-24. (Henoch is a reference to Enoch. Fr. Callan follows the anglicized spelling of names as the appear in the Septuagint).

Pleased God. The Hebrew has: “Walked with God.” It was Henoch’s faith that made him pleasing to God, and that enabled him to commune with God, as the following- verse shows.

6. But without faith it is impossible to please him. For he that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and is a rewarder to them that seek him.

The fact that we cannot please God without faith is a proof that Henoch had faith. The minimum required for salvation is to believe that God exists and that He rewards His servants. A mere scientific acceptance of God’s existence, which we can get by the due exercise of reason, is not sufficient for merit, since it is not free; whereas acceptance on faith is always free.

Deo of the Vulgate is not expressed in the Greek.

7. By faith Noe, having received an answer concerning those things which as yet were not seen, moved with fear, framed the ark for the saving of his house, by the which he condepined the world; and was instituted heir of the justice which is by faith.

Noe believed God’s revelation about a flood to come, and prepared an ark against it, thus manifesting his faith in God and at the same time condemning the unbelieving world around him (Matt 24:37 ff.). His faith saved him and made him “heir,” i.e., possessor, of the justification which is through faith.


One Response to “Father Callan’s Commentary on Hebrews 11:1-7”

  1. […] Father Callan on Today’s First Reading (Heb 11:1-7). 12:00 AM EST. […]

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