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 Colossians Chapter 2

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 9, 2019

ANALYSIS OF COLOSSAINS CHAPTER 2
Scripture links are to the Douay Rheims translation

The Apostle commences this chapter by expressing his anxious solicitude for the Colossians, as also the object of this solicitude, which was to afford them the consolation that would result from their close union in the bonds of charity, and their perfect knowledge of the leading truths of Christian faith (Col 2:1-2).

He next cautions them against the deceitful wiles of the false teachers, both Gentiles and Judaizers. Against the former, he shows that Christ is the great fountain of all knowledge (Col 2:3.) He encourages the Colossians to guard against their false reasoning, and by closely adhering to Christ, to persevere in the faith and Christian life, which they had embraced (Col 2:4–8). He points out the means which the Gnostics would employ to seduce them from the faith, viz., false and erroneous philosophy, opposed to the true principles of Christian faith. These false principles of Pagan philosophy, they should reject, and have recourse to Christ, in whom, as God, was eminently contained all knowledge, who is also the ruler of all the hosts of angels, and, therefore, to be adored before them (Col 2:8–10). Against the Jewish zealots, who proclaimed the necessity of circumcision, and the legal ceremonies, he reminds the Colossians that the circumcision which they received in baptism as far surpassed that of the Jews, as the reality exceeds the sign (Col 2:11-12).

He ascends to the source of their spiritual blessings, viz., redemption through Christ, and graphically describes the mode in which redemption was accomplished, and the triumph which Christ achieved over the whole hosts of demons, driving them before his triumphal car, as so many trophies of victory (Col 2:13-15). From the foregoing he infers, that the Colossians should pay attention neither to the Judaizers, who endeavoured to turn them aside from these real blessings to vain, empty shadows (Col 2:16-17), nor to the Simonians or Gnostics, who encouraged the false worship of angels (Col 2:18)—and adhered not to Christ, the head of the Church, from whom she derived all graces (Col 2:19). He concludes the chapter, by mildly rebuking the Colossians for attending to the false teaching of either the Gnostics or Judaizers (Col 2:20-23).

COMMENTARY ON COLOSSIANS CHAPTER 2
Text in purple indicates Fr. MacEvilly’s paraphrase of the scripture he is commenting on

Col 2:1. For, I wish to make known to you my anxiety and solicitude for you and the people of Laodicea, and for all others, who, as well as you, have never seen me.

“For” is a connecting link between this and the last verse of the preceding chapter, as if he said: I have made mention of my labours and exertions, because I wish you to know the struggle I sustain for you.

“What manner of care.” In Greek, ἀγῶνα, what a struggle or contest. From this verse, it is commonly inferred that St. Paul, although he visited some part of Phrygia, had never been at Colossæ. Theodoret, however, comes to an opposite conclusion; but, his inference is very improbable.

Col 2:2. The object of my labours, and anxious solicitude both for you and them is, that your hearts may be filled with spiritual consolation, having been firmly united by the bond of charity, and furnished with the most perfect and valuable knowledge, and firm persuasion regarding those truths, that appertain to the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The end and object of his anxiety was, to procure for them true spiritual consolation, which is acquired by being united in charity (for “instructed in charity,” the Greek is, συνβιβασθεντων, united, compacted, as joints are in a body); and also, by being introduced to, or furnished with, “all riches of fulness of understanding,” i.e., the fullest and most perfect knowledge and persuasion. The words, furnished with, introduced to, or some such expression, must be understood, to make full and perfect sense; it is implied in the foregoing Greek participle. “Unto the knowledge of the mystery of God the Father,” who is the principle of the Godhead, one in nature, and three in persons; “and of Jesus Christ;” in other words, regarding the two grand, fundamental mysteries of the Trinity and Incarnation—the two great points in which the Gnostics wished to corrupt the faith of the Colossians. charity and perfect knowledge are means to obtain consolation. “Of God the Father,” &c. In Greek, of God and of the Father, and of Christ.

Col 2:3. In whom—the man God—are concealed, in such a way as never to be communicated to creatures, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

“In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” “In whom,” as God and man. As God, his knowledge is infinite; and as man, he has the most perfect finite knowledge. “Are hid;” hid (ἀπόκρυφοι), is an adjective. “All the treasures” express the great abundance of this knowledge, &c. Nothing can escape him. In him they are “hid.” No creature can fully know them. The finite share which we are capable of comprehending, is known to us from revelation. From Christ, then, is to be obtained all that knowledge of which the Gnostics boasted, as their name implies, and for which they wished that recourse should be had to other sources than Christ.

Col 2:4. Now, I make mention of this great wisdom and knowledge of Christ, as a caution to you not to be deceived by the false and persuasive reasonings of others, who affect wisdom and knowledge.

The Apostle now enters on the object of the Epistle, viz., to guard them against the imposing reasoning of the Gnostics. “Deceive,” in Greek, παραλονιζηται, means, to deceive by false reasoning, or sophistry. “Loftiness of words,” in Greek, πιθανολογια, plausible or smooth language.

Col 2:5. For, though personally absent, still, I am present with you in heart and soul, rejoicing, when I see your orderly conduct, and the firmness and constancy of your faith in Christ Jesus.

He is present in “spirit,” by his anxiety and Apostolic care in watching over their faith, and spiritual interests. “Absent in body,” &c. Similar is the form of words (1 Cor 5:3).

Col 2:6. As, then, you have been instructed in Christ Jesus; so persevere in his doctrine and in the observance of his precepts;

Jesus Christ the Lord.” In Greek, Christ Jesus the Lord. He tells them to persevere in the faith of Christ, taught them by Epaphras, at their conversion.

Col 2:7. Having been engrafted on him as the stock and root, and reared on him as the foundation, and confirmed in the faith which you have learned; nay, advancing in grace and faith, with thanksgiving for so many distinguished favours.

Under a twofold similitude of a tree, and of an edifree, the Apostle represents their close connexion with Christ. He is the foundation: they, the superstructure, He is the root, and the stock; they, the tree or branches. This verse is connected with the preceding, thus: persevere in his doctrine, &c., having been ingrafted on him, &c., so as to increase and advance in faith and grace with thanksgiving.

“Abounding in him.” In Greek, abounding in it. The Vulgate reading is found in some of the chief manuscripts.

Col 2:8. (Since, then, by ceasing to be in connexion with Christ, you would be as so many trees without roots, edifices without foundations); Take care, lest any person deceive you, and rob you of your faith, by the display of false philosophy, which is no better than empty fallacy, calculated to impose upon us; the teachings of which are not derived from the authority of God, but founded on the corrupt and false opinions of men, and grounded on elementary principles either false in themselves, or falsely applied, and altogether at variance with the doctrine of Christ, and, therefore, to be rejected.

The philosophy condemned here by the Apostle is not the science of philosophy, the knowledge of human things derived, by legitimate reasoning, from certain fixed principles; he only condemns the false and erroneous systems of Pagan philosophy, wherein were contained the most monstrous errors in matters appertaining to God and religion. It was a philosophy which, in reference to religion, was nothing but “vain deceit,” which inculcated systems of belief, founded only on the corrupt inventions of men, transmitted from generation to generation; founded on elementary axioms, either false or falsely applied, and outstripping the proper limits to which they could be applied. See, for example, the abuse which they made of the logical axiom, quæ sunt eadem uni tertio, sunt eadem inter se, in reference to the mystery of the Trinity. See, also, the moral axiom current with the philosophers, expedit populos decipi in negotio religionis. The “elements of the world,” may, according to some, refer to the carnal outward precepts of the ceremonial law of the Jews, in which sense, the word “elements” is employed, chapter in the Epistle to the Galatians 4:3; in this interpretation, he is here alluding, partly, to the errors of the Judaizantes.

“But not according to Christ.” In this, he condemns the system of religion introduced by the Gnostics and Judaizantes; because, they were opposed to the purity of the gospel.

“Beware lest any man cheat you.” The Greek for “cheat,” συλαγωγων, means, to despoil, or lead away captive.

Col 2:9. Let no one seduce you from Christ: for, in him, the entire plenitude of the Godhead dwells, really and substantially, or personally, in a manner somewhat resembling the dwelling of the soul in the body.

The Apostle assigns the reason, why they should follow Christ, as teacher, in preference to those opposed to him, viz., because he is God: and hence, in him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. He adds this rather than repeat the third verse, because it is the truth announced in this verse, viz., that Christ is God, which verifies verse 3. Hence, no other is to be heard before him. “Corporally,” i.e., personally. The divine Person has really assumed the human nature of Christ, so that the divine Person is alone the Person of this perfect humanity.

Col 2:10. And you are abundantly filled by him with all gifts and knowledge necessary for salvation without recurring to the law of Moses or the philosophy of the Gnostics. And he is the head, the ruler and master of all the angels, and hence, to be adored in preference to them.

“Who is the head of all principality and power.” He is the head of all the good angels, represented by the two orders referred to, inasmuch as he is their Lord, and rules them, to promote their happiness. This is added by the Apostle in opposition to the Gnostics, who inculcated the adoration of angels. This verse is more fully expressed (Ephesians, 1).

Col 2:11. In whom, also, you have received circumcision, not like the Jewish circumcision, made by hands consisting merely in taking away the foreskin from the body of the flesh, but a spiritual circumcision, consisting in the destruction of sin, and of sinful passions, of which the circumcision among the Jews was but a mere type or figure.

He cautions them against the Jewish zealots, who endeavoured to superadd the rite of circumcision to the Christian religion, and says, we have a circumcision which as far surpasses that in use among the Jews, as the reality, or thing signified, exceeds the sign and the figure. In the Greek, the particle, “but,” is omitted, and the word “sins,” added to the preceding clause, thus: in despoiling of the body (of the sins) of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ; a reading, according to which, the entire verse is understood without any antithesis of the circumcision of Christ, thus: by whom you were circumcised with a circumcision not made by hands, which consists in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, in other words, in entirely laying aside the old man of sin, which is the circumcision of Christ, and not of Moses. This is a very probable interpretation.

Col 2:12. You received this spiritual Christian circumcision, when in receiving baptism you were buried, and consequently dead to your sins, with Christ, in which baptism also, while emerging from its waters, you rose to a new spiritual life of grace, of which spiritual resurrection, faith in the omnipotence of him who raised Christ from the dead is required as a necessary condition.

He shows how this circumcision is effected by baptism. The immersion in baptism—the form, in which it was conferred in the time of the Apostle—is a type of our burial, and consequently of our death to sin, which death to sin it also operates as well as signifies; and the emersion from the waters of baptism is also a type of our spiritual resurrection to a life of grace, which resurrection it also effects, requiring as a condition, faith in the omnipotence of him who raised Christ from the dead.

Col 2:13. And you, when dead in your sins, both actual and original, together with the passions flowing from original sin, were raised by him to spiritual life, by an effort of the same power by which he raised Christ from the dead, pardoning all your sins, through his merits.

When they were dead in their actual and original sins as well as in all the evils flowing from original sin, he raised them spiritually, with Christ, and made them desert their former vicious ways, and live to God, “and the uncircumcision of your flesh,” the sign, for the thing signified, the foreskin, for original sin, and the evils following from it.

Col 2:14. Having first blotted out and abolished the sentence of eternal death, which had been recorded against us all, by the decree of God after the sin of Adam, and the same sentence he took out of the way and annulled, by nailing it to his cross, i.e., destroying it, by the atonement and satisfaction which he made on the cross.

In this verse, some Expositors say, there is reference to the abolition of the obligation which every Jew had contracted to observe the law of Moses. Hence, by “handwriting” they understood the liability to observe “the decree,” or Mosaic law. Others, following the Greek reading, which is, τοῖς δόγμασιν, by decrees, understood it to have the same meaning that it has in the passage to the Ephesians 2:15, “the law of commandments in decrees,” which refers to the abolition of the ceremonies of the Mosaic law, and the substituting of “the decrees,” or precepts of the Christian faith, in their stead. This interpretation, however, does not well accord with the next verse; for, how can it follow from his abolishing the Mosaic ceremonial law, that he was “despoiling principalities,” &c.? (Col 2:15). Besides, the Mosaic law is never called a “decree;” and if we desert the Vulgate reading, to which the Ethiopic version is conformable, and read, “by decrees,” we must confine it to the Jews; whereas, it is clear that the Apostle refers to all, by saying, “you,” Col 2:13, “us,” this verse. Hence, the common interpretation is far the more probable, which makes “handwriting” refer to the liability to eternal death pronounced against us by the “decree” of God after the sin of Adam, of which, by an unsearchable judgment of God, we were all made sharers; and this liability or sentence is called “a handwriting,” either because we ourselves, by actual sin, subscribed to the justice of this sentence of punishment, or probably, to signify that it is as certain against us as is the debt against the debtor, whose bond or note of hand is in the possession of the creditors. “Fastening it to the cross;” this refers to the ancient custom of annulling bonds or covenants, by driving a nail through them. Hence, the words may be translated, driving a nail through it by his cross, i.e., by the satisfaction made on the cross. All this, therefore, refers to the atonement which Christ made for the sins of all mankind, by his death on the cross.

Col 2:15. And stripping the entire host of infernal spirits, who were to be the executioners in carrying out this decree, of the dominion and power they had over man, he exposed them publicly to the gaze and derision of men and angels, triumphing over them thus prostrate and vanquished, by his own power.

These words are very expressive of Christ’s triumph over his prostrate enemies; he first stripped them of the power which they had over mankind, during the time that this sentence of death was hanging over their heads. He afterwards publicly exposed them to derision, dragging them after his triumphal car, or rather driving them before it, as so many trophies of victory. This public exposure of the devils is now made before angels and men, who see it by faith; but it will be evidently seen, on the great day of judgment. The two orders, of “principalities” and “powers,” are put for all the orders of demons. There is but one word in the Greek corresponding with the words “confidently” and “open show,” εν παρρησια. The word, however, bears both the significations, given to it in our English version, after the Vulgate.

Col 2:16. Such, therefore, being the blessings purchased for you by Christ, have no fears about being condemned by any one for neglecting the Mosaic ceremonies, either in matters appertaining to meat or drink, whether clean or unclean, or in reference to festival days, whether annual, monthly, or weekly.

Having shown the excellence of our baptism beyond circumcision, and having pointed out the cause of its efficacy, viz., the redemption of Christ, the Apostle resumes the subject of the Mosaic rites, and cautions the Colossians against practising them. “In respect of,” i.e., in reference to, or in the matter of, a “festival day,” &c., i.e., festival days observed among the Jews, in compliance with the ceremonial law of Moses.

Col 2:17. For, all these were but mere shadows of future things, and the reality, of which they were the figures, or rather, the body, of which they were the shadows, is Christ. Having, then, the reality, what need have we to preserve the shadows?

No commentary beyond the paraphrase is offered for this verse.

Col 2:18. Be not defrauded of the prize, for which you are striving, by any one wishing to inculcate prostrate humiliations before the angels and the religious adoration of them, intermeddling in things which he hath not seen, or pretending to visions and knowledge beyond his reach; inflated and puffed up without any cause or grounds for it, by his own carnal conceptions and ideas, as if they were revealed by God.

“Let no man seduce you.” In the Greek it is, καταβραβευέτω, let no man defraud you of the prize, or reward, for which you are striving. “Willing;” this word is connected, by some, with the foregoing word, “seduce,” thus: let no man seduce you, however anxiously and studiously he may exert himself for that purpose. Others more probably connect it with the following words, “humility and the religion of angels,” i.e., affecting humility, or, wishing to make it appear, that he is consulting for the dignity of Christ, by denying that redemption came through him; and, hence, wishing that you should adore, and have recourse to angels. This is the interpretation given of the passage by those who maintain that the error which St. Paul is combating in this Epistle, is the error of those heretics who asserted that it was beneath Christ to undertake the office of mediator and redeemer; and hence, they assigned this office to angels. It would not appear, however, that this opinion is borne out by the scope and context of the Apostle. On the contrary, it would seem from the Apostle’s proving in this, as well as in some of his other Epistles, the superior excellence of Christ, that his arguments are entirely directed against the class of heretics, who lowered the dignity of Christ too much, by placing the angels above him. It is, therefore, more likely, that the Apostle here refers to the errors of the Platonists, who extolled the angels above Christ. They believed in the existence of a sort of minor gods or angels, who, according to them, created the world, inspired the prophets of old, purified and redeemed the souls of men; one of these angels gave the law on Sinai, and was the God of the Hebrews. This latter error was maintained by Cerinthus; he also held, that at the time of the passion, the Son of God left the son of Mary and Joseph, and returned to heaven. Hence, they asserted that Christ was unworthy of being the mediator between God and man; and that this office, therefore, devolved on the angels, who should be adored by a more perfect and excellent rite than was due to Christ. [Ireneus, Theodoret, and Epiphanius record these errors of Cerinthus in their dissertations on Heresies.] That this was the class of heretics to whom the Apostle here refers, seems very likely, if it be borne in mind that at Laodicea, which was contiguous to Colossæ, there was a sect who propounded such doctrines, which were condemned, in the 35th canon of the Council of Laodicea. The words, then, mean, as in Paraphrase; inculcating humble prostrations before angels, and adoring them. “Walking in things,” &c., prying into and intermeddling in things which they could not know, and pretending to visions beyond their reach.

Objection.—How reconcile this with the Catholic practice of worshipping and invoking angels?

Resp.—There is no necessity for reconciling it, if we look to what the Catholic practice is. The worship paid by Catholics to angels is an inferior worship, cultus duliæ, which tends to the glory of God, in the same way, as the civil respect shown a viceroy tends to the honour of the sovereign, whom he represents. But, we never pay them the supreme worship, or, as it is termed, cultus latriæ, due to God alone. Now, in this passage, the Apostle manifestly contemplates the worship being paid to them which robs God of his glory, as appears from the entire context, and particularly from the words of the following verse—“not holding the head.”

Col 2:19. Not adhering to the head of the Church, Christ, from which the entire body of the Church, or of the faithful, supplied with life and animation, and compactly joined and fitted together, by the various joints, sinews, and arteries, grows with a divine increase.

“Not holding the head.” From this it appears clear that they rejected the true worship of God. From whom, as head, the entire body of the faithful were furnished with life and animation (of course, in the mystical body, he refers to the graces of Christ).—See Epistle to the Ephesians 4:14.

Col 2:20. If, then, by becoming Christians, you have altogether renounced all connexion whatever with the errors of Pagan philosophy, or, with the heavy and intolerable yoke of the Mosaic ceremonial precepts, why should you any longer submit to have these precepts taught you, and dictated to you, as if you were still to live up to such elementary principles?

“The elements of this world,” with which they now hold no more connexion than the living hold with the dead, are understood by some of the errors of Paganism; by others, of the precepts of the ceremonial law of the Jews. “Why do you decree,” may also mean, why are you decreed, i.e., why do you submit to be taught these precepts, as if you were to live according to them, and not according to the doctrine of Christ? The Greek word for “decree,” δογματιζεσθε, will admit of either an active or passive signification. It may mean either to dogmatize, or to be dogmatized.

Col 2:21. Such are, for instance, do not touch, or taste, certain meats or drinks, and have nothing to do with marriage.

He probably refers to the errors, of which he treats in his Epistle to Timothy, “forbidding to marry, to abstain from meats,” (1 Tim 4:3). We know, that some of the Gnostics held that certain meats were in se bad; also that marriage was in se evil.

Col 2:22. All such precepts as these serve only, in use, to the destruction of those who adopt them, having been enacted according to the doctrines and ordinances of men.

This refers to the precepts, verse 21. The Apostle is here condemning those ordinances in reference to religion, that have no authority from God, or from the rulers of his Church—that are purely human, and, as in the present case, opposed to the commands of God. He regards either the ceremonial law of the Jews or the errors of the Platonists; but he by no means condemns the salutary laws of God’s Church, of whose authority he is so jealous, “qui vos audit, me audit.”

Col 2:23. Such ordinances have, indeed, the appearance of true wisdom, as manifested in arbitrary, self-imposed practices of devotion—practices that have not the sanction of superior authority—in a spurious, false humility, which is but the sign of pride; in macerations of the flesh both unmeaning and excessive, and in the subtraction of the just refection and proper sustenance of the body.

The Apostle by no means condemns the fasting prescribed by the Church, and which Christ our Lord has sanctioned, “but you when you fast,” &c.—(Matt. 6:17). Our fasts are regulated by prudence; and instead of being commanded, fasting is prohibited, whenever it would interfere with our duties in life. It is a “reasonable service,” as enjoined by the Church. This very passage is an argument in favour of the Catholic practice; for, these practices must be true wisdom, the appearance of which the others affected. If they were not regarded as good and praiseworthy, even in the days of the Apostle, why should the heretics affect them, in order to appear more holy? And why should the Apostle say, that they had the appearance of wisdom? Was it not because their prudent and proper exercise was true and solid wisdom, perfectly in accordance with the Gospel?

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