Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Acts 2:42-47
Posted by Dim Bulb on April 24, 2014
Act 2:42 And they were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles and in the communication of the breaking of bread and in prayers.
“Doctrines,” &c., continually assisting at the teachings and instructions of the Apostles.
“And in the communication of the breaking,” &c. “By communication” is meant their mutual charitable intercourse with each other in their ordinary union, especially on the occasion of their meeting at the Agapes or feasts of love and charity, usually celebrated, after the example of the Apostles and of our Lord himself, before approaching the Holy Eucharist.
“And in the breaking of bread” is commonly understood of the Blessed Eucharist, which is termed “bread” by St. Paul (1 Cor. 10:15). That it could not refer to any common or profane partaking of food, seems most likely, independently of the fact, that the ordinary partaking of bread is spoken of, v. 46. From the whole context, there is clearly question of a religious act.
The article is placed before “bread and prayers, “the bread, the prayers.” The Syriac has, the breaking of the Eucharist. Some commentators on this passage remark, that here allusion is evidently made to the unbloody sacrifice of the mass. “Breaking of the bread,” no common bread. “The prayers,” fixed prayers usually said on occasion of this celebration.
Act 2:43 And fear came upon every soul. Many wonders also and signs were done by the apostles in Jerusalem: and there was great fervor in all.
A feeling of reverential awe, created by the wonders witnessed on Pentecost Sunday, succeeded the derision first manifested (v. 13).
“Many wonders,” &c. The Apostles confirmed their teaching, and especially their testimony regarding our Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven, whence, He sent down the Holy Ghost, by performing marvellous wonders in accordance with the powers promised them (Luke 16, &c.).
“In Jerusalem.” These words are rejected by some commentators, as they are wanting in several MSS. They are, however, found in several MSS. and versions, Coptic, Italic, Vulgate, and several old Greek MSS. Patrizzi regards them as genuine, and as meant to convey, that these marvellous occurrences were confined to Jerusalem.
“And there was great fear,” &c., are wanting in several MSS., and are regarded by some as not of the text; since, they would seem to be only a repetition of the idea conveyed in the preceding words, “and fear came,” &c.
Act 2:44 And all they that believed were together and had all things common.
Having spoken of the Apostles, he now describes the relations of the faithful with one another.
“Were together.” Not that they had the same lodging—a thing quite impossible, considering their numbers, even after the foreign Jews had left for their own homes.
It simply means that being entirely united, having but one heart and one soul, they exhibited great fraternal union and concord and frequently met, as members of one united family, especially in the Temple and place of Divine worship. Likely, in their social relations and gatherings, they formed a society distinct, as far as possible, from the unbelieving Jews, intercourse with whom might prove a source of danger to the newly converted.
“And had all things common,” so far as the relief of distress was concerned. In this respect, there was no such thing as mine and thine. The rich among them, voluntarily and of their own free accord sold their property, at least in part, in order to have at hand the means of relieving their indigent brethren; so that so far as the relief of distress was concerned, voluntary charity handed to the indigent the goods their richer neighbours possessed.
It does not appear that those blessed with earthly goods among the early Christians sold off all their property, and divested themselves of all right and title to them. The contrary may be inferred from c. 4:32–34. They sold off all that was necessary to relieve the destitute.
Act 2:45 Their possessions and goods they sold and divided them to all, according as every one had need.
“Possessions,” immovable property, lands, houses. “Goods,” moveable personal property. These they sold, and divided to all as each one needed.
The infant Church of Jerusalem was modeled on the life of our Lord and His Apostles. The same mode of life is still continued in religious communities whose members, for greater perfection sake, have everything in common, without any private property. This economy was confined to the Church of Jerusalem. The Apostles in preaching the Gospel did not think fit to establish it generally. Indeed the exhortations of St. Paul to have collections made for relieving the poor (2 Cor. 9., &c.) would show there was no such condition of things among the churches he founded. The condition of the Church of Jerusalem was peculiar. Owing to the confiscation of property, it was very poor (Heb. 10:34, 13:2–3, 16). St. John had property (John 19:27). Neither did our Lord nor His Apostles command the faithful to throw all their property into a common fund.
The condition of things among the first Christians of Jerusalem gives no sanction whatever to the wicked principles of modern communism, which are simply impracticable and absurd. Unlike the wicked principles or practice advocated by these disturbers of public order, the community of goods referred to here was:—1, perfectly free and spontaneous (Acts 5:4); 2, local and special, confined to the Church of Jerusalem, as appears from the collections set on foot by St. Paul in other churches, in which he supposed they retained their possessions, to relieve the necessities of the saints (1 Cor. 16; 2 Cor. 9); 3, transitory, even in the Church of Jerusalem itself; (this economy the Apostles did not think fit to establish in other churches); 4, not essential to the existence or well-being of the church or salvation of men; (St. Peter, on being asked what was necessary for salvation, only inculcated Baptism and Penance); 5, neither did our Lord or His Apostles insist upon it. On the contrary, St. Paul in several of his Epistles inculcates alms deeds, and speaks of them as free—by no means compulsory.
Act 2:46 And continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart:
He describes the life observed by the first Christians. “Continuing daily,” with persevering assiduity, they attended daily with one accord, at the usual hours of prayer, the public services in the Temple. At this time, “in order to bury the Synagogue with honor,” it was allowed the first Christians to join in Jewish rites and ceremonies. Most likely they celebrated their own Christian Liturgy and offered up the Christian sacrifice.
“Breaking bread.” Here we have not the article “the” prefixed—“the bread,” as in v. 42, where it is commonly understood of the Eucharist. “From house to house,” privately partaking of food in their own houses.
“They took their meat with gladness” is a fuller explanation of “breaking bread,” and shows that here there is not question, as in v. 42, of the Blessed Sacrament, but only of social intercourse. It refers to their ordinary meals, of which they partook in common, now in one house, now in another. Some say there is allusion to the Agapes.
“With gladness.” Overjoyed at the blessings of Christianity bestowed on them, ever rejoicing in the ordinary circumstances of life.
“Simplicity of heart.” With moderation; generous to all who needed it.
Act 2:47 Praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord increased daily together such as should be saved.
Constantly engaged in the Divine praises. “Having favour with the great body of the people, who admired their edifying, inoffensive manner of life, their benignity and accommodating charity. “And the Lord increased daily together.” The number of those who were associated with the Church assembled on Pentecost day at Jerusalem, and were thus placed in the way of salvation.
In the Greek we have for “increased daily together”—the usual rendering of in idipsum of the Vulgate—“added daily to the Church such as should be saved,” a paraphrase for “Christian believers.”
“Together” is the introduction to next chapter (3). In some ancient codices, “Peter and John went up together,” &c. (c. 3, v. 1).
Most likely the Vulgate is the correct reading, and the words mean he Lord added to the church and increased daily “together,” so as to live in each other’s company, and form a compact, united community, such as, listening to the words of Peter (v. 40), seceded from the Synagogue, and entered into the church, where they were placed in the way of salvation.