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 MacEvilly’s Commentary on Acts 12:24-13:5

Posted by Dim Bulb on April 1, 2017

Acts 12:24 But the word of the Lord increased and multiplied.

“The word of the Lord.” The Church founded on God’s word “increased” in the multitudes that joined it. The death, by Divine judgment, of the chief persecutor, Herod, gave the preachers of the Gospel breathing time, of which they availed themselves. The liberation of Peter had a wonderful effect.

Acts 12:25 And Barnabas and Saul, returned from Jerusalem, having fulfilled their ministry, taking with them John who was surnamed Mark.

“After having deposited the alms in the hands of those to whom they were to distribute them, they returned from Jerusalem to Antioch.

Acts 13:1 Now there were in the church which was at Antioch prophets and doctors, among whom was Barnabas and Simon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene and Manahen who was the foster brother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

Prophets” (c. 11:27).

“Doctors.” These wise men endowed with the spiritual gift of teaching the truths of faith in a plain intelligible manner. In the catalogue of spiritual gifts enumerated by St. Paul (1 Cor 12:28), “Doctors” are placed third in order. As the “Prophets” explained the truths of faith under the influence of sudden inspiration for the moment; “So did Doctors” do, in a calm, intelligible manner.

“Lucius of Cyrene.” Whether it is to him St. Paul alludes (Rom. 16:21) is uncertain.

“Niger,” so called, probably, from his complexion.

“Foster-brother.” The word, probably, here means, the associate, playmate. It was usual with Princes to select children of the same age, as associates or playmates for their children. This was regarded as a high honour.

“Herod” (Antipas). The same who beheaded the Baptist; mocked our Lord. He was, at this time, after being deposed by Claudius, exiled at Lyons. “Tetrarch,” called by his former name, though no longer such.

Acts 13:2 And as they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Ghost said to them: Separate me Saul and Barnabas, for the work whereunto I have taken them.

“Ministering.” The Greek—λειτουργούντων—literally means engaged in a public work, which the words, “unto the Lord,” would point to a work in the service of God, or Divine worship, The words refer to the engagement in public Divine worship, and not merely in prayer or instruction. It would thus, by implication, if not directly, indicate the Sacrifice of the New Law, the chief part of the Liturgy, or of Divine worship. It reference were made merely to prayers, a different form would be used, thus, “while they were praying.” Nor could it refer to preaching, which is addressed to the people and not “to the Lord.”

“Fasting,” is also significant. For the ancient Fathers, Augustine, Basil, &c., tell us, fasting always preceded the offering of sacrifice; but, fasting was not necessarily connected with prayer in general (Beelen). Erasmus renders the Greek word, sacrificantibus. Kenrick prefers rendering it, officiating. Whatever may be the probability of this opinion, no Catholic could think of recurring to a text so dubious, in proof of the sacrifice of the New Law, when there are clear texts, plenty and to spare, from which the existence of the holy sacrifice is proved decretorially and satisfactorily.

“The Holy Ghost said to them,” either by internal inspiration, or possibly in an audible tone, to some of them, which they communicated to the others.

“Separate.” Set apart by some solemn act, as in next verse indicated by the imposition of hands. What this latter ceremony means is disputed. Some say as Saul was undoubtedly an Apostle called by our Lord Himself before this (Gal. 1:1–15; Acts 9:20, &c.) the ceremony here could not mean conferring the Episcopal office; that it was only meant to show the communion of pastors and the unity of ministry in the Church. Thus it was ratified by some exernal ceremony; the mission was already divinely confided to them.

Others (and this is more generally held) say that there is questions of Episcopal consecration. They may have been already priests. They had already exercised the functions of priests, and are numbered with those, who discharged sacred functions; or, it may be that Priesthood and Episcopacy were conferred at the same time, which Bellarmine holds to be possible (De Sac. Ord. c. 5) and Petavius (Dissert. Eccles., Lib. i., c. 2) says it was done at that age of the Church. The words of next verse regarding some imposition of hands, fasting, praying, would seem to be confirmatory of this view, although the difficulties and objections against are very great and hard to be answered.

“Saul and Barnabas.” The order is inverted in the Greek. However, the Vulgate reading is well sustained by versions; and especially the Syriac.

“For the work.” The conversion of the Gentile world “taken,” chosen them.

Acts 13:3 Then they fasting and praying and imposing their hands upon them, sent them away.

The Greek means “after having fasted and prayed” &c. This solemn mode of proceeding points to the great work before them, of deputing two men, to begin on an organized scale, the conversion of the heathen.

“Sent them away,” on their mission, guided and influenced by the Holy Ghost.

Acts 13:4 So they, being sent by the Holy Ghost, went to Seleucia: and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.

“By the Holy Ghost.” Under whose direction the preparatory ceremony was carried out. It was He who ordered them to be set apart and, as some understand it, ordained or consecrated for the purpose.

“Seleucia” on the Mediterranean, situated at the mouth of the Orontes. It was about sixteen miles from Antioch, situated inland, higher up the Orontes.

“Cyprus.” The well-known island on the Mediterranean not far from Seleucia. It was the birth-place of Barnabas. The Gospel had been preached there already by others (9:19).

Acts 13:5 And when they were come to Salamina, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John also in the ministry.

“Salamina.” The chief city of Cyprus, on its eastern shore, destroyed by an earthquake. It was rebuilt by Constantine. Hence, called Constantia.

“Synagogue of the Jews.” To the Jews they preached the word of God, in the first instance. “John” surnamed Mark (c. 12:12). He did not claim to be their equal, who were specially designated by the Holy Ghost to the high office of preaching the Gospel. He held an inferior position. He acted as their travelling companion; probably, making provision for their temporal necessities, so that they might attend uninterruptedly to the preaching of the Word. He may also have assisted them in their spiritual ministry, acting as catechist, &c.

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