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 Philippians 2:1-11

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 5, 2017

This post opens with Fr. MacEvilly’s brief analysis of Philippians chapter 2, followed by his commentary on verses 1-11. Text in purple indicates his paraphrasing of the text he is commenting on.

In this chapter, the Apostle fervently exhorts the Philippians to the exercise of mutual concord, fraternal charity, and humility, both interior and exterior (1–4). And in order to urge them the more to practise both humility and charity, he proposes the example of Christ, who, although he was God, possessing the divine essence, still, for love of us, took upon himself the form of a slave; nay, humbled himself to the death of the cross; in reward of which humiliation, God exalted him in this assumed nature above all other creatures (4–11). He exhorts them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, and by the splendour of their virtues, to shine forth, as brilliant luminaries, in the midst of Pagan darkness and infidelity. Should the effusion of his blood be necessary to complete the sacrifice of their sanctification, which he began in their conversion, he is ready and willing to pour forth his blood, as a libation, on their sacrifice (12–18). He promises to send them Timothy and Epaphroditus, with whose praises and commendation the remainder of the chapter is almost taken up (19–30).

Php 2:1  If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of charity, if any society of the spirit, if any bowels of commiseration:

If, then, you wish to afford me, a prisoner for the faith, any spiritual consolation becoming a Christian; any solace dictated by charity; if you have any union of soul with me; any feeling of sincere, heartfelt compassion (as I am firmly persuaded you have):

“If,” far from expressing doubt, is here strongly affirmative. It is a form of obtestation not unusual with the most eminent classical writers, and means: if you wish to afford me any consolation, &c. (as I know you do). The words within the parenthesis affect each member of the sentence. The meaning of the entire verse comes to this: in the name of the duties of charity, which religion prescribes, and which I know you faithfully to discharge.

“If any society of the spirit.” In Greek, any communion of spirit, “any bowels of commiseration.” i.e., any tender feelings of interior and heartfelt compassion. “Any bowels of commiseration.” In Greek, any bowels and commiseration.

Php 2:2  Fulfil ye my joy, that you be of one mind, having the same charity, being of one accord, agreeing in sentiment.

I entreat you to complete the joy which your conversion and charitable contributions have afforded me, by agreeing in the same doctrine and feelings, by entertaining mutual charity for one another, by being of one mind and soul, having the same wishes and sentiments.

“Fulfil ye my joy,” &c. In the name of all the foregoing duties which you owe me, I entreat of you to complete my joy, by being “of one mind,” i.e., by holding the same faith, and entertaining the same feelings and wishes. This is more clearly expressed in the following—“agreeing in sentiment.” This member of the sentence differs from the first, “be of one mind,” in this respect only, that it is a stronger expression of concord and harmony, as appears from the Greek, το ἒν φρονουντες.

Php 2:3  Let nothing be done through contention: neither by vain glory. But in humility, let each esteem others better than themselves:

Do nothing from a spirit of contradiction, or of ambitious affectation of superiority; but through the spirit of humility, let each one esteem his neighbour better than himself.

“Let each esteem others better than themselves.” How can men do this, in all cases, consistently with truth? According to some, in this way; because no matter how grievous the crime of our neighbour, although you may be conscious to yourself of nothing, there may be still some unknown spiritual sin, which may render you more disagreeable in God’s sight than he is, and may be the source of your damnation. Again, we may say with truth, that if our neighbour, no matter how great a sinner, received the graces conferred on us, he might be better than we; and if we were in his circumstances, with only the same graces he had, we might have done worse. Again, St. Thomas and others say, we can regard our neighbour as better than ourselves, by looking to ourselves, without regarding the graces and gifts we have from God, and looking only to the gifts of others, in which sense, he explains the following verse. At all events, what is here inculcated is a practical exhibition of humility, by honouring all as our betters, which may be done in the exercise of true humility, although, in point of fact, we might chance to be better than they.

Php 2:4  Each one not considering the things that are his own, but those that are other men’s.

Let no one selfishly seek his own advantages merely; but let him rather consult for the interests of others.

According to the exposition in the Paraphrase, the Apostle censures that spirit of selfishness, which is the greatest obstacle to fraternal charity, and the source of dissensions. Others interpret the verse, thus—not looking to the gifts we have, but to those which others have, which is a great means of exercising true humility. Commentators here remark that St. Paul prescribes its proper remedy for each of the four causes of dissension. To an excessive desire of maintaining our own opinion, he opposes, submission of our own judgment, “agreeing in sentiment;” secondly, to vain glory—contempt for glory; to the third cause—a desire of domineering—humility of heart, “but in humility,” &c.; to the fourth source of discord, undue selfishness—a disregard for self interests, “but those that are of other men.”

Php 2:5  For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

Let the same feeling be cherished by you for one another that was entertained by Christ Jesus:

In order to excite them to the exercise of the last-mentioned dispositions of humility and disinterestedness, he adduces the example of Christ. Pride being the greatest obstacle to fraternal charity; he, therefore, inculcates humility, as the most efficacious means of promoting and preserving it.

Php 2:6  Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

Who, pre-existing in the form of God, possessing the divine nature, and essence, and attributes, did not still tenaciously retain this equality with God, as is done by those who unexpectedly obtain some booty or emolument.

Who being in form of God, i.e., having the real essence and nature of God”. The Greek word for “form,” μορφῆ, has been interpreted by the Holy Fathers to denote, the Divine Nature, the perfect equality of the Son with the Father, the Divine Majesty, the image of God the Father. “Thought is not robbery to be equal to God.” The interpretation of these words, found in the commentary of Theodore Beelen, seems the most probable, the only one which accords best with the context. According to him, the words convey a proverbial meaning, and have reference to those who tenaciously keep and grasp whatever emolument or prize they may unexpectedly fall in with. So, the words here mean, in regard to Christ, that he did not with eager tenacity retain the external form and equality with God the Father, which he possessed; but, by taking on himself human nature and the appearance of man, veiled his Divine glory and Majesty; thus humbling himself, which is a powerful motive for humiliation on our part. The Greek word “for robbery,” ἁρπαγμον, favours this interpretation. It means, not the act of rapine, but the thing itself eagerly seized on, and tenaciously retained. Nouns ending in, μος, sometimes bear this meaning. Independently of the context, inculcating humility, the antithesis “but debased himself,” shows this to be the true interpretation.

Php 2:7  But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.

But, far from this; by taking upon him the form of a slave, he voluntary debased himself, having become like a man, by becoming really and in nature such, and in external appearance and habits of life found as a man.

Christ debased himself, because, without undergoing any change whatever in his nature or attributes, which are immutable and essential, he put on externally human nature, which was to the eyes of men an annihilation of himself. The phrase, “and in habit found as a man,” by no means implies that he was not really a man; because, “as,” as it were, and other adverbs of similitude, are found to express reality, “as it were, of the only begotten of the Father.”—(Gospel St. John, 1:14). Christ was like a man. Who can be so like a man, as another man? “In habit,” in his external actions and manner of life he “was found” to act and live like other men. The example of Christ not greedily grasping and retaining his equality with God, which he had before the world began, but rather externally divesting himself of it, is a powerful motive for us to exercise humility. Hence, this interpretation accords best with the context.

Php 2:8  He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.

Nay, he humbled himself still more, having become obedient unto death—and that a death of no ordinary kind—but the ignominious death of the cross, the instrument of torture for malefactors and slaves.

What a prodigy of humility! A God, eternal and omnipotent, expiring on an ignominious gibbet! What intense charity, prodigious disinterestedness—the Creator submitting to death for the sake of the creature! From this example of Christ, concealing his divinity, a lesson of humility is inculcated not to glory in the gifts of nature, grace or fortune, the ordinary incentives to pride.

Php 2:9  For which cause, God also hath exalted him and hath given him a name which is above all names:

In reward for this humiliation God exalted him by raising him from the dead, and placing him at his right hand above all creatures, and gave him a name, which is above all names.

“Exalted.” In Greek, superexalted. The Apostle refers to this as an incentive to stimulate the Philippians to acts of humiliation in hopes of like exaltation with Christ. “And gave him a name.” By “name,” is understood the name of “God,” or “Son of God,” as made known after his Resurrection and Ascension, under which name and character God made his Son to be adored and acknowledged by all nations. This name is said to be given him after his death and humiliation; because, then it was that it was publicly made known regarding him. Others understood it of the fame of his Divinity, which comes to the same with the former interpretation. Others, again, understood it of the Adorable Name of Jesus, which although given from his conception, was still given in consideration of the future redemption effected by his passion and death.

Php 2:10  That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth:

So that the person expressed by the name of Jesus being recognised throughout creation as the Son of God, should receive the homage and adoration of creatures, whether in heaven, on earth, or under the earth, in hell, or purgatory.

“In the name of Jesus.” “Name,” is used for the person expressed by it. The words, “every knee would bend,” express adoration of the divine Person of Jesus. “And under the earth,” whether in purgatory or hell; the damned adoring him from co-action, and the others, voluntarily. The word “Jesus” is taken not for the sound expressed, but for the person whom it designates. The usage of the Church, as appears from the words of Gregory the Great, has sanctioned a relative worship to be paid to the very name of Jesus, ad nomen Jesu omnes flectent genua cordis sui, quod vel capitis inclinatione testentur. The Council of Lyons, as Navarre relates, commanded all to bow the head at the name of Jesus, and Catharinus cites a decree of a Roman Pontiff to the same effect. As to the etymology of the word “Jesus;” it is derived from the Hebrew root, jascha, i.e., he has saved. Hence the word Jeschua, Latin, “Jesus,” i.e., Saviour. It is the proper name of the Word Incarnate, and is said by many to be superior to the name of God, as superadding the idea of ransom and redemption, in which that of Creator is implied; whereas, the name of God conveys the idea of Creator alone, without that of Saviour.

Php 2:11  And that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father. 

And every tongue, whether in heaven, on earth, or under the earth, should confess, that the Lord Jesus Christ possesses glory equal to that of God the Father.

“And every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus,” &c., which some interpret thus, and every tongue should confess that our Lord Jesus Christ is unto the glory, &c., i.e., that Jesus Christ is supreme Lord unto the glory of God the Father; because, the exaltation of the Son confers glory on the Father. This interpretation is conformable to the Greek. St. Bernard found no pleasure in any writings that were not seasoned with this sweet name of Jesus. How often do we not hear this sacred name blasphemously invoked in the most shocking imprecations, without feeling the slightest emotion!


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