Bishop MacEvily’s Commentary on Acts 6:8-10, 7:54-59 (Feast of St Stephen, First Martyr of the Church)
Posted by Dim Bulb on December 25, 2011
Act 6:8 And Stephen, full of grace and fortitude, did great wonders and signs among the people.
By a sudden transition (from the account of the 7 deacons, vv. 1-7), St. Luke gives the history of Stephen, first on the list of those selected for Deaconship, and describes the events which led to his death, full of grace, the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and especially the gift of fortitude.
Act 6:9 Now there arose some, of that which is called the synagogue of the Libertines and of the Cyrenians and of the Alexandrians and of them that were of Cilicia and Asia, disputing with Stephen.
Now there arose, stood up to resist him.
Synagogues of the Libertines. (For the meaning of synagogue see Matt 4:23 and commentary).
Wherever a sufficient number of Jews could be found in the several Provinces to form a congregation they had their synagogue, and sometimes more than one in towns. Jerusalem alone, in the time of our Lord, is said to have 480 synagogues. The foreign Jews resorting to Jerusalem either for doctrine or business purposes, or for studying the Sacred and religious ordinances, had, each nation, their synagogues, to which they resorted for religious purposes.
Of Libetintes. By these are commonly understood manumitted slaves, or freedmen who were brought to Rome as prisoners of war, and thus reduced to a condition of slavery, particularly in the time of Pompey. Some of these slaves, on becoming freedmen and receiving their liberty, returned to their own country and formed a synagogue of their own, called of the Libertini or Freedmen, which their descendants frequented afterwards.
And of the Cyrenians. Jews from Cyrene in Africa, who had a synagogue of their own.
And of the Alexandrians. Jews from Alexandria.
Cilicia, its capital Tharsus (Tarsus), was the native city of St Paul. Hence, it is by no means unlikely, that this distinguished disciple of Gamaliel was among the disputants here referred to.
Asia. Pro-Consular Asia. Cicero pro Flacco says, Asia vertra, ut opinor, Constat ex Phyrygia, Myria, Caria, et Lydia.
Act 6:10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit that spoke.
Not able to resist, or advance any solid reply in refutation of his reasoning.
The wisdom and the spirit, the wisdom of the spirit, that spoke through him, as his organ.
For spirit that spoke, the Greek is, the spirit by which he spoke, under whose influence he spoke non vos estis qui loquimini, &c (Matt 10:20. For it is not you that speak, but the spirit of your Father that speaketh in you).
Act 7:54 Now hearing these things, they were cut to the heart: and they gnashed with their teeth at him.
Cut to the heart. Roused to the highest pitch of anger, which they could no longer restrain. This they gave expression to by gnashing their teeth, an indication of intense rage.
Act 7:55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looking up steadfastly to heaven, saw the glory of God and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.
Full of the Holy Ghost. Imbued with the spirit of fortitude,, which made him despise their sanguinary threatenings. Turning to prayer, he raised up his eyes, gazing intently on heaven. Elevated beyond himself, he saw, in a fit of ecstacy, the glory of God, the Majesty and Almighty Power of the Father, surrounded with heavenly glory, circumfused with fiery splendor. And Jesus standing, & c. He is generally represented as sitting. But while the word sitting indicates His posture as Judge, standing indicates the posture of one prepared to come to the relief of his struggling valiant soldier, and receive him on entering Heaven. This is conveyed by St Gregory (Hom. in Evang. xxix. 7). Sedere, judicantis est. Stare, vero pugnantis vel adjuvantis. Stephanus in labore certaminis, stantem, vidit quem adjutorem habuit.
Act 7:56 And he said: Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
Behold I see the Heavens opened. The Empyreal Heavens, the dwelling-place of the blessed. Stephen saw this Heaven flung open; his eye elevated by God’s supernatural concursus or power penetrated these patent Heavens as far as the Empyreal Heaven to behold God’s glory and Jesus standing at His right hand.
And the Son of Man. A designation often applied by our Lord to Himself, first used in Daniel 7:13-14 and but rarely applied by others to Him in the New Testament as here, and Apocalypse 1:13, 14:14). A similar phrase used by our Lord (Matthew 26:64) was considered, as here, to be blasphemous. St. Stephen, full of the Holy Ghost, with the spirit of intrepidity, fearlessly tells the Jews that He whom they persecuted and put to death was now in power and majesty, enjoying Heavenly glory.
Act 7:57 And they, crying out with a loud voice, stopped their ears and with one accord ran violently upon him.
They affecting to be shocked at the blasphemy uttered by Stephen stopped their ears so as not to hear further blasphemies and thus show their horror of what they heard. This is, probably, said of the people.
With one accord rushing tumultuously in a body.
Act 7:58 And casting him forth without the city. they stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man, whose name was Saul.
Casting him out, &c. In Leviticus (24:14-23) it was prescribed that the blasphemer should be stoned outside the camp, and afterwards it was enacted he should be stoned outside the cities (Deut 22:16).
They stoned him, the punishment allotted for blasphemy (Lev 22:16).
At the feet…Saul, the future Apostle of the Gentiles. He abetted and assented to the cruel act of murder (Acts 22:20).
A young man, about thirty years at the time. When in prison in Rome, addressing Philemon, he calls himself an old man (philemon 9).
Act 7:59 And they stoned Stephen, invoking and saying: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
Receive my spirit. Admit my soul into Thy Kingdom of eternal bliss.