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

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St John Chrysostom’s Homily on Philemon 9-19

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 2, 2013

Ver. 9. “Yet for love’s sake, I rather beseech thee.”

As if he had said, I know indeed that I can effect it by commanding with much authority, from things which have already taken place. But because I am very solicitous about this matter, “I beseech thee.” He shows both these things at once; that he has confidence in him, for he commands him;1 and that he is exceedingly concerned about the matter, wherefore he beseeches him.

“Being such an one,” he says, “as Paul the aged.” Strange! how many things are here to shame him into compliance! Paul, from the quality of his person, from his age, because he was old, and from what was more just than all, because he was also “a prisoner of Jesus Christ.”

For who would not receive with open arms a combatant who had been crowned? Who seeing him bound for Christ’s sake, would not have granted him ten thousand favors? By so many considerations having previously soothed his mind, he has not immediately introduced the name, but defers making so great a request. For you know what are the minds of masters towards slaves that have run away; and particularly when they have done this with robbery, even if they have good masters, how their anger is increased. This anger then having taken all these pains to soothe, and having first persuaded him readily to serve him in anything whatever, and having prepared his soul to all obedience, then he introduces his request, and says, “I beseech thee,” and with the addition of praises, “for my son whom I have begotten in my bonds.”

Again the chains are mentioned to shame him into compliance, and then the name. For he has not only extinguished his anger, but has caused him to be delighted. For I would not have called him my son, he says, if he were not especially profitable. What I called Timothy, that I call him also. And repeatedly showing his affection, he urges him by the very period of his new birth, “I have begotten him in my bonds,” he says, so that on this account also he was worthy to obtain much honor, because he was begotten in his very conflicts, in his trials in the cause of Christ.

Ver. 11.  Onesimus “Which in time past was to thee unprofitable.”

See how great is his prudence, how he confesses the man’s faults, and thereby extinguishes his anger. I know, he says, that he was unprofitable.

“But now” he will be “profitable to thee and to me.”

He has not said he will be useful to thee, lest he should contradict it, but he has introduced his own person, that his hopes may seem worthy of credit, “But now,” he says, “profitable to thee and to me.” For if he was profitable to Paul, who required so great strictness, much more would he be so to his master.

Ver. 12. “Whom I have sent again to thee.”

By this also he has quenched his anger, by delivering him up. For masters are then most enraged, when they are entreated for the absent, so that by this very act he mollified him the more.

Ver. 12 cont. “Thou therefore receive him, that is mine own bowels.”

And again he has not given the bare name, but uses with it a word that might move him, which is more affectionate than son. He has said, “son,” he has said, “I have begotten” him,2 so that it was probable3 he would love him much, because he begot him in his trials. For it is manifest that we are most inflamed with affection for those children, who have been born to us in dangers which we have escaped, as when the Scripture saith, “Woe, Barochabel!”4 and again when Rachel names Benjamin, “the son of my sorrow.” (Gen. 35:18.)

“Thou therefore,” he says, “receive him, that is mine own bowels.” He shows the greatness of his affection. He has not said, Take him back,5 he has not said, Be not angry,6 but “receive him”; that is, he is worthy not only of pardon, but of honor. Why? Because he is become the son of Paul.

Ver. 13. “Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the Gospel.”

Dost thou see after how much previous preparation, he has at length brought him honorably before his master, and observe with how much wisdom he has done this. See for how much he makes him answerable, and how much he honors the other. Thou hast found, he says, a way by which thou mayest through him repay thy service to me. Here he shows that he has considered his advantage more than that of his slave, and that he respects him exceedingly.

Ver. 14. “But without thy mind,” he says, “would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be, as it were, of necessity, but willingly.”

This particularly flatters the person asked, when the thing being profitable in itself, it is brought out with his concurrence. For two good effects are produced thence, the one person gains, and the other is rendered more secure. And he has not said, That it should not be of necessity, but “as it were of necessity.” For I knew, he says, that not having learnt1 it, but coming to know it at once, thou wouldest not have been angry, but nevertheless out of an excess of consideration, that it should “not be as it were of necessity.”

Ver. 15, 16. “For perhaps he was therefore parted from thee for a season that thou shouldest have him for ever; no longer as a bond-servant.”

He has well said, “perhaps,” that the master may yield. For since the flight arose from perverseness, and a corrupt mind, and not from such intention, he has said, “perhaps.” And he has not said, therefore he fled, but, therefore he was “separated,”2 by a more fair sounding expression softening him the more. And he has not said, He separated himself, but, “he was separated.” For it was not his own arrangement that he should depart either for this purpose or for that. Which also Joseph says, in making excuse for his brethren, “For God did send me hither” (Gen. 45:5), that is, He made use of their wickedness for a good end. “Therefore,” he says, “he was parted for a season.”3 Thus he contracts the time, acknowledges the offense, and turns it all to a providence.4 “That thou shouldest receive him,” he says, “for ever,” not for the present season only, but even for the future, that thou mightest always have him, no longer a slave, but more honorable than a slave. For thou wilt have a slave abiding with thee, more well-disposed than a brother, so that thou hast gained both in time, and in the quality of thy slave. For hereafter he will not run away. “That thou shouldest receive him,” he says, “for ever,” that is, have him again.

“No longer as a bond-servant, but more than a bond-servant, a brother beloved, especially to me.”

Thou hast lost a slave for a short time, but thou wilt find a brother for ever, not only thy brother, but mine also. Here also there is much virtue. But if he is my brother, thou also wilt not be ashamed of him. By calling him his son, he hath shown his natural affection; and by calling him his brother, his great good will for him, and his equality in honor.

These things are not written without an object, but that we masters may not despair of our servants, nor press too hard on them, but may learn to pardon the offenses of such servants, that we may not be always severe, that we may not from their servitude be ashamed to make them partakers with us in all things when they are good. For if Paul was not ashamed to call one “his son, his own bowels, his brother, his beloved,” surely we ought not to be ashamed. And why do I say Paul? The Master of Paul is not ashamed to call our servants His own brethren; and are we ashamed? See how He honors us; He calls our servants His own brethren, friends, and fellow-heirs. See to what He has descended! What therefore having done, shall we have accomplished our whole duty? We shall never in any wise do it; but to whatever degree of humility we have come, the greater part of it is still left behind. For consider, whatever thou doest, thou doest to a fellow-servant, but thy Master hath done it to thy servants. Hear and shudder! Never be elated at thy humility!

Perhaps you laugh at the expression, as if humility could puff up. But be not surprised at it, it puffs up, when it is not genuine. How, and in what manner? When it is practiced to gain the favor of men, and not of God, that we may be praised, and be high-minded. For this also is diabolical. For as many are vainglorious on account of their not being vainglorious,5 so are they elated on account of their humbling themselves, by reason of their being high-minded. For instance, a brother has come, or even a servant thou hast received him, thou hast washed his feet; immediately thou thinkest highly of thyself. I have done, thou sayest, what no other has done. I have achieved humility. How then may any one continue in humility? If he remembers the command of Christ, which says, “When ye shall have done all things, say, We are unprofitable servants.” (Luke 17:10.) And again the Teacher of the world, saying, “I count not myself to have apprehended.” (Phil. 3:13.) He who has persuaded himself that he has done no great thing, however many things he may have done, he alone can be humble-minded, he who thinks that he has not reached perfection.

Many are elated on account of their humility; but let not us be so affected. Hast thou done any act of humility? be not proud of it, otherwise all the merit of it is lost. Such was the Pharisee, he was puffed up because he gave his tythes to the poor, and he lost all the merit of it. (Luke 18:12.) But not so the publican. Hear Paul again saying, “I know nothing by myself, yet am I not hereby justified.” (1 Cor. 4:4.) Seest thou that he does not exalt himself, but by every means abases and humbles himself, and that too when he had arrived at the very summit. And the Three Children were in the fire, and in the midst of the furnace, and what said they? “We have sinned and committed iniquity with our fathers.” (Song, 5:6, in Sept.; Dan. 3:29, 30; 5:16.) This it is to have a contrite heart; on this account they could say, “Nevertheless in a contrite heart and a humble spirit let us be accepted.” Thus even after they had fallen into the furnace they were exceedingly humbled, even more so than they were before. For when they saw the miracle that was wrought, thinking themselves unworthy of that deliverance, they were brought lower in humility. For when we are persuaded that we have received great benefits beyond our desert, then we are particularly grieved. And yet what benefit had they received beyond their desert? They had given themselves up to the furnace; they had been taken captive for the sins of others; for they were still young; and they murmured not, nor were indignant, nor did they say, What good is it to us that we serve God, or what advantage have we in worshiping Him? This man is impious, and is become our lord. We are punished with the idolatrous by an idolatrous king. We have been led into captivity. We are deprived of our country, our freedom, all our paternal goods, we are become prisoners and slaves, we are enslaved to a barbarous king. None of these things did they say. But what? “We have sinned and committed iniquity.” And not for themselves but for others they offer prayers. Because, say they, “Thou hast delivered us to a hateful and a wicked king.” Again, Daniel, being a second time cast into the pit, said, “For God hath remembered me.” Wherefore should He not remember1 thee, O Daniel, when thou didst glorify Him before the king, saying, “Not for any wisdom that I have”? (Dan. 2:30.) But when thou wast cast into the den of lions, because thou didst not obey that most wicked decree, wherefore should He not remember thee? For this very reason surely should He.2 Wast thou not cast into it on His account? “Yea truly,” he says, “but I am a debtor for many things.” And if he said such things after having displayed so great virtue, what should we say after this? But hear what David says, “If He thus say, I have no delight in thee, behold here am I, let Him do to me as seemeth good unto Him.” (2 Sam. 15:26.) And yet he had an infinite number of good things to speak of. And Eli also says, “It is the Lord: let Him do what seemeth Him good.” (1 Sam. 3:18.)

This is the part of well-disposed servants, not only in His mercies, but in His corrections, and in punishments wholly to submit to Him. For how is it not absurd,3 if we bear with masters beating their servants, knowing that they will spare them, because they are their own;4 and yet suppose that God in punishing will not spare? This also Paul has intimated, saying, “Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” (Rom. 14:8.) A man, we say, wishes not his property to be diminished, he knows how he punishes, he is punishing his own servants. But surely no one of us spares more than He Who brought us into being out of nothing, Who maketh the sun to rise, Who causeth rain; Who breathed our life into us, Who gave His own Son for us.

But as I said before, and on which account I have said all that I have said, let us be humble-minded as we ought, let us be moderate as we ought. Let it not be to us an occasion of being puffed up. Art thou humble, and humbler than all men? Be not high-minded on that account, neither reproach others, lest thou lose thy boast. For this very cause thou art humble, that thou mayest be delivered from the madness of pride; if therefore through thy humility thou fallest into that madness, it were better for thee not to be humble. For hear Paul saying, “Sin worketh death in me by that which is good, that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.” (Rom. 7:13.) When it enters into thy thought to admire thyself because thou art humble, consider thy Master, to what He descended, and thou wilt no longer admire thyself, nor praise thyself, but wilt deride thyself as having done nothing. Consider thyself altogether to be a debtor. Whatever thou hast done, remember that parable, “Which of you having a servant … will say unto him, when he is come in, Sit down to meat?… I say unto you, Nay … but stay and serve me.” (From Luke 17:7, 8.) Do we return thanks to our servants, for waiting upon us? By no means. Yet God is thankful to us, who serve not Him, but do that which is expedient for ourselves.

But let not us be so affected, as if He owed us thanks, that He may owe us the more, but as if we were discharging a debt. For the matter truly is a debt, and all that we do is of debt. For if when we purchase slaves with our money, we wish them to live altogether for us, and whatever they have to have it for ourselves, how much more must it be so with Him, who brought us out of nothing into being, who after this bought us with His precious Blood, who paid down such a price for us as no one would endure to pay for his own son, who shed His own Blood for us? If therefore we had ten thousand souls, and should lay them all down for Him, should we make Him an equal return? By no means. And why? Because He did this, owing us nothing, but the whole was a matter of grace. But we henceforth are debtors: and being God Himself, He became a servant, and not being subject to death, subjected Himself to death in the flesh. We, if we do not lay down our lives for Him, by the law of nature must certainly lay them down, and a little later shall be separated from it,1 however unwillingly. So also in the case of riches, if we do not bestow them for His sake, we shall render them up from necessity at our end. So it is also with humility. Although we are not humble for His sake, we shall be made humble by tribulations, by calamities, by over-ruling powers. Seest thou therefore how great is the grace! He hath not said, “What great things do the Martyrs do? Although they die not for Me, they certainly will die.” But He owns Himself much indebted to them, because they voluntarily resign that which in the course of nature they were about to resign shortly against their will. He hath not said, “What great thing do they, who give away their riches? Even against their will they will have to surrender them.” But He owns Himself much indebted to them too, and is not ashamed to confess before all that He, the Master, is nourished by His slaves.

For this also is the glory of a Master, to have grateful slaves. And this is the glory of a Master, that He should thus love His slaves. And this is the glory of a Master, to claim for His own what is theirs. And this is the glory of a Master, not to be ashamed to confess them before all. Let us therefore be stricken with awe at this so great love of Christ. Let us be inflamed with this love-potion. Though a man be low and mean, yet if we hear that he loves us, we are above all things warmed with love towards him, and honor him exceedingly. And do we then love? and when our Master loveth us so much, we are not excited? Let us not, I beseech you, let us not be so indifferent with regard to the salvation of our souls, but let us love Him according to our power, and let us spend all upon His love, our life, our riches, our glory, everything, with delight, with joy, with alacrity, not as rendering anything to Him, but to ourselves. For such is the law of those who love. They think that they are receiving favors, when they are suffering wrong for the sake of their beloved. Therefore let us be so affected towards our Lord, that we2 also may partake of the good things to come in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Ver. 17-19. “If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. If he hath wronged thee at all, or oweth thee aught, put that to mine account; I Paul write it with mine own hand, I will repay it: that I say not to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.”

NO procedure is so apt to gain a hearing,3 as not to ask for everything at once. For see after how many praises, after how much preparation he hath introduced this great matter. After having said that he is “my son,” that he is a partaker of the Gospel, that he is “my bowels,” that thou receivest him back “as a brother,” and “hold him as a brother,” then he has added “as myself.” And Paul was not ashamed to do this. For he who was not ashamed to be called the servant of the faithful, but confesses that he was such, much more would he not refuse this. But what he says is to this effect. If thou art of the same mind with me, if thou runnest upon the same terms,4 if thou considerest me a friend, receive him as myself.

“If he hath wronged thee at all.” See where and when he has introduced the mention of the injury; last, after having said so many things in his behalf. For since the loss of money is particularly apt to annoy men, that he might not accuse him of this, (for it was most likely that it was spent,) then he brings in this, and says, “If he hath wronged thee.” He does not say, If he has stolen anything; but what? “If he hath wronged thee.” At the same time he both confessed the offense, and not as if it were the offense of a servant, but of a friend against a friend, making use of the expression of “wrong” rather than of theft.

“Put that to mine account,” he says, that is, reckon the debt to me, “I will repay it.” Then also with that spiritual pleasantry,

“I Paul write1 it with mine own hand.” At once movingly and pleasantly; if when Paul did not refuse to execute a bond for him, he should refuse to receive him! This would both shame Philemon into compliance, and bring Onesimus out of trouble. “I write it,” he says, “with mine own hand.” Nothing is more affectionate than these “bowels,” nothing more earnest, nothing more zealous. See what2 great concern he bestows in behalf of one man. “Albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.” Then that it might not appear insulting to him, whom he requests, if he had not the confidence to ask and obtain in behalf of a theft, he in some measure relieves this, saying, “That I say not unto thee how thou owest to me even thine own self besides.” Not only thine own things, but thyself also. And this proceeded from love, and was according to the rule of friendship, and was a proof of his great confidence. See how he everywhere provides for both, that he may ask with great security, and that this may not seem a sign of too little3 confidence in him.

[NOTE.—The views of the Fathers on Slavery and Emancipation were very cautious, as slavery was interwoven with the whole structure of the Roman empire and could not be suddenly abolished without a radical social revolution. But the spirit of Christianity always suggested and encouraged individual emancipation and the ultimate abolition of the institution by teaching the universal love of God, the common redemption and brotherhood of men, and the sacredness of personality. Comp. Bishop Lightfoot’s Commentary on Colossians and Philemon, and Schaff’s Church History, I. 793–798; II. 347–354; III. 115–122. Möhler, in his Vermischte Schriften, II. 896 sqq., has collected the views of St. Chrysostom on slavery, and says that since the time of the Apostle Paul no one has done more valuable service to slaves than St. Chrysostom.—P. S.]


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Father MacEvilly’s Introduction and Commentary on Philemon

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 1, 2013

Text in purple indicates Fr. MacEvilly’s paraphrasing of the scripture he is commenting on.


PHILEMON, a native of Colossæ, in Phrygia, was converted to the faith, either by St. Paul himself, or by his disciple, Epaphras. He was of noble birth, and possessed of much riches. So great was the progress made by him in virtue, that, in a short time, his dwelling resembled a church, owing to the piety of his household, and the religious exercises unceasingly performed therein. He was distinguished for acts of generosity and charity towards the persecuted and distressed members of the Christian faith (Phm 5, 6, 7).

The occasion of this brief Epistle was the following:—Onesimus, one of Philemon’s slaves, after having robbed him, fled to Rome, where he found out St. Paul, then in his first imprisonment, about the year 62. The Apostle treated him with the utmost tenderness, proportioned to the magnitude of his guilt and the inveteracy of his disorders. And after having instructed him in the faith, converted and baptized him, sent him back to his master, with this commendatory Epistle, wherein he beseeches Philemon to receive him again into favour. This Epistle, though very brief, is regarded by Critics and Commentators, as a masterpiece of eloquence and pleading. In it, the Apostle brings forward, in the most engaging manner, all the motives which should induce Philemon to comply with his request. And, though he merely sought for the pardon of Onesimus; still, it is evident, that he expects from Philemon to grant him his liberty (Phm21); a request, however, which the Apostle forbears from making, lest it might appear to be asking too much. Moreover, it might seem opposed to his instructions to slaves (1 Cor. 7:21). The Epistle consists of an exordium, which, after the usual salutation, commences at Phm 4—of the proposition, Phm 8—and the conclusion, Phm 17.

It was written at Rome, at the same time, as the Epistle to the Colossians—viz, about the year 62.

Phm 1:1  Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy, a brother: to Philemon, our beloved and fellow labourer,

Paul, a prisoner in the cause of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother in Christ (write) to Philemon, our dearly beloved and our co-operator.

“A prisoner of Jesus Christ,” and, therefore, meriting that any request made by him should be attended to. It is remarked by Commentators, that from the beginning to the end of this Epistle, there is hardly a word which does not tend to enforce its object, viz., the pardon of Onesimus. For this end, the Apostle commences by referring to his chains, as if preparing Philemon to show mercy to his slave, in consideration of these chains. “And Timothy,” he adds him, in order that their joint intercession would prove more powerful. “And fellow-labourer.” In Greek, συνεργῷ, our co-operator; because, he contributed much both by his temporal wealth and example, to advance the cause of the Gospel.

Phm 1:2  And to Appia, our dearest sister, and to Archippus, our fellow soldier, and to the church which is in thy house.

And to Appia, our dearest sister in Christ, and to Archippus, our fellow-soldier in the struggles for the faith, and to the congregation of the faithful, which is in thy house.

“Appia;” most probably, the wife of Philemon. “Our dearest sister” “Sister,” is not in the Greek. “Archippus, our fellow-soldier,” in the Apostolic warfare. He was, according to some, a deacon; according to others, a priest or bishop—(Vide Colos. 4:17). “And the church which is in thy house,” i.e., his entire family, which was Christian. He enlists all these, so dear to Philemon, viz., his wife and entire family, in his cause. What an example is here given to those charged with the care of the poor and unfortunate! See, what exertions St. Paul, the Apostle of nations, makes in behalf of a fugitive slave, because he viewed him according to God, and in God!

Phm 1:3  Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

These verses include the salutation.

Phm 1:4  I give thanks to my God, always making a remembrance of thee in my prayers.

 Always mindful of thee in my prayers, I give thanks to God (for the blessings bestowed on thee).

In this verse, he commences the exordium, praising God for his gifts bestowed on Philemon, which is the same as tacitly praising Philemon himself for his good works, which must be the fruit of God’s grace. He also expresses his affection for him, which is best evinced by remembering him in his prayers.

Phm 1:5  Hearing of thy charity and faith, which thou hast in the Lord Jesus and towards all the saints:

Because I hear of thy faith in the Lord Jesus, and of thy charity to all Christians.

His “faith,” was in Christ Jesus, and his “charity” towards all Christians shown in deeds of beneficence. This is the clearest and most probable construction, connecting “faith” with the words “in the Lord Jesus,” and “charity” with the words “towards all the saints.” Similar is the expression in the Epistle to the Colossians, written at the same time (1:4). Before praising him for these acts, he refers the glory of these to God, in the preceding verse—“I give thanks to God, whose gifts they are.”

Phm 1:6  That the communication of thy faith may be made evident in the acknowledgment of every good work that is in you in Christ Jesus.

So that the beneficent results of thy faith are become evident to all, by the knowledge and rumour of the good works, performed by thee, through the grace of Christ Jesus.

“That the communication of thy faith,” i.e., the beneficent effects or fruits of your faith “is made evident to the acknowledgment of every good work,” in the public knowledge of the good works, which you and your entire family perform. For “evident,” SS. Jerome and Chrysostom, read, efficacious, the rendering of the Greek, ενεργης. According to this reading, the words of the Apostle contain an exhortation to Philemon, to render his faith an active, operative faith. The Vulgate is, however, more in accordance with the context; for, he had already praised his faith, as operative (5). The Vulgate interpreter probably read, εναργὴς. And the Greek word for “that,” ὅπως, means rather a consequence than a cause; hence, it means, “so that, the communication,” &c.

Phm 1:7  For I have had great joy and consolation in thy charity, because the bowels of the saints have been refreshed by thee, brother.

For, I have derived great joy and consolation from thy charity, my brother, because the Christians in distress have received the most cheering comfort and consolation at thy hands, (and hence my grounds for hoping for the pardon of thy Christian slave).

It is with reason he gives God thanks, because he felt great joy and consolation in hearing of the great comfort and refreshment which the Christians who were in want and distress received from Philemon. “The bowels of the saints,” express the great inward consolation they received; and if he was so good to all Christians, he will be equally kind to this Christian slave.

Phm 1:8  Wherefore, though I have much confidence in Christ Jesus to command thee that which is to the purpose:

Wherefore, although in quality of Apostle of Jesus Christ, I might use perfect freedom in commanding thee, in reference to a matter of duty;

Here the Apostle enters on the proposition. He might, as Apostle, use perfect liberty, in commanding Philemon in a matter of duty, without feeling any apprehension of meeting with any opposition.

Phm 1:9  For charity sake I rather beseech, whereas thou art such a one, as Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also of Jesus Christ.

Still, I prefer entreating it as a favour, to be conferred in consideration of friendship; since thou art an old man, like myself, who am now also in chains, for the cause of Jesus Christ.

Still, he preferred following another course, that of entreating him to do it in consideration of the friendship that subsisted between them, a course, which better suited Philemon, who was an old man, like the Apostle himself; and hence, issuing a command to him would be inconvenient. St. Chrysostom, St. Jerome, &c., make the words “an old man,” refer to St. Paul himself, and this is one of the reasons why his request should not be refused; the fact also of his being an Apostle (“Paul”), and being “a prisoner,” &c., should strengthen his request.

Phm 1:10  I beseech thee for my son, whom I have begotten in my bands, Onesimus,

I entreat thee, then, in behalf of my son, Onesimus, begotten by me in chains,

Before introducing the name of Onesimus, he expresses the most endearing relations. “In bands.” The Greek is, ἐν τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου, in my bands.

Phm 1:11  Who hath been heretofore unprofitable to thee but now is profitable both to me and thee:

 Who hath been heretofore unprofitable to thee, but now is profitable both to me and to thee,

While admitting his fault, he extenuates it by merely saying that he was “unprofitable,” although, in point of fact, injurious; for, he robbed his master, when leaving him. “But now he is profitable to me,” by the services which he has rendered me. “And to you,” by rendering the services you would have rendered, and he will be profitable to you, in future. In the word “profitable,” allusion is made to the etymology of “Onesimus,” as much as to say, he will be, in reality, what his name imports, viz., “profitable.” The Greek adjective, ὀνησιμος, signifies, advantageous. In this verse, is contained an additional reason for taking him back, grounded on his usefulness.

Phm 1:12  Whom I have sent back to thee. And do thou receive him as my own bowels.

Whom I have sent back to thee, do thou, therefore, receive him as my own bowels.

“Do thou receive him as my own bowels,” treat him with some degree of respect. What a reproach to many masters who treat their servants with more severity than they would treat the brute beasts! “I have sent back to thee.” The words “to thee” are not in the Greek. They are found in the copy used by St. Chrysostom.

Phm 1:13  Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered to me in the bands of the gospel.

I was desirous of retaining him with myself, in order that he might perform for me, who am in chains, for the cause of the Gospel, those services, which thou thyself wouldst cheerfully have performed wert thou here with me.

Another reason for treating him with indulgence, was the regard the Apostle had for him, and also the fact, that he has discharged those offices towards the Apostle, which his master would have discharged, had he been at Rome. The reference to his chains, and to the vicarious services of Onesimus, all tend to obtain pardon.

Phm 1:14  But without thy counsel I would do nothing: that thy good deed might not be as it were of necessity, but voluntary.

However, I was unwilling to do anything of the kind, without first consulting you, so that your benefit towards me would not appear the result of necessity, but perfectly voluntary.

The defence of the Apostle towards Philemon, tends to the same: he might retain this slave on account of the wants of the Church; but he would not, lest the kindness of his master would appear to be the result of compulsion, instead of seeming to be perfectly voluntary.

Phm 1:15  For perhaps he therefore departed for a season from thee that thou mightest receive him again for ever:

Perhaps also God permitted him to leave you for a time, in order that you would receive him back, never again to leave you

Another motive for pardoning him is, that his flight was, in the ways of God’s Providence, the occasion of his conversion. “That thou mightest receive him for ever,” may mean, that he would never again desert his service; or, “for ever” may mean, that as a Christian brother, he would never be separated from him, even in eternal glory. He uses the mildest terms to express the guilt of his flight, “departed for a season.” Then, as it was perhaps the will of God that he should depart; surely, Philemon would not oppose this will, nor refuse pardon to a man already reconciled and at peace with God.

Phm 1:16  Not now as a servant, but instead of a servant, a most dear brother, especially to me. But how much more to thee, both in the flesh and in the Lord?

And that you might receive him, not merely as a slave, but as a most beloved brother, particularly beloved by me; how much more beloved ought he be by you both on account of the bodily servitude he owes you, and on account of spiritual fraternity?

Again, can he refuse pardon to one who was most dear to St. Paul as his spiritual son, who was his own slave, over whose person he had perfect control? “Both in the flesh,” and who from a slave had become, a brother in Christ, a fellow-member of his mystical body. “And in the Lord.”

Phm 1:17  If therefore thou count me a partner, receive him as myself.

If, then, you regard me as partaker of the faith, and value my friendship in Christ, receive him as you would myself, i.e., I shall value the kindness shown him, as if paid to myself.

He recommences the conclusion. He then concludes by conjuring Philemon, if he regards himself as strictly united with him in faith, if he values his friendship, to treat this slave with kindness. “Receive him as myself;” not that he meant the same degree of respect to be shown Onesimus that was due to himself; but that any kindness shown, he might look on as shown to himself.

Phm 1:18  And if he hath wronged thee in any thing or is in thy debt, put that to my account.

But whatever loss he may have inflicted on you at his departure, or whatever he may owe you, charge to my account (I shall be answerable for it).

Lest his having robbed his master should cause any obstacle to his being received back without making reparation, the Apostle undertakes to make restitution himself to the necessary amount, if required.

Phm 1:19  I Paul have written it with my own hand: I will repay it: not to say to thee that thou owest me thy own self also.

And as security, that I will fully satisfy your claims, you have this Epistle, written and signed by my own hand. I shall make no mention of a debt of greater value, and of longer standing, which you owe me for your conversion to the faith—you owe me your entire person, your entire salvation.

And he gives as a security for the payment, this Epistle written with his own hand, promising it. Some say the entire Epistle was written by the Apostle himself; others say, only this verse. He, at the same time, reminds Philemon of a heavier debt due by the latter to himself—he owed him his conversion, his eternal salvation. He was either converted by St. Paul himself, some say, at Ephesus; or, by Epaphras, his disciple.

Phm 1:20  Yea, brother. May I enjoy thee in the Lord! Refresh my bowels in the Lord.

Come, therefore, brother, I shall obtain from you the joy in the Lord resulting from your kindness; by this act of kindness, refresh my heart in the Lord.

He, finally, resorts to the language of blandishment, to gain the same end. “Yea,” i.e., come on. “May I enjoy thee in the Lord,” i.e., obtain this favour from thee, which will be a source of real spiritual joy. “Refresh my bowels,” may refer to Onesimus, as if he said, refresh Onesimus, whom you should receive as my bowels; any injury shown him would be the same as if my entrails were torn, and the greatest torture inflicted on me.

Phm 1:21  Trusting in thy obedience, I have written to thee: knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.

I have thus written to you from the firmest reliance on your obedience, knowing well you will do more than I ask.

“Do more than I say.” In this is implied the giving him his freedom.

Phm 1:22  But withal prepare me also a lodging. For I hope that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.

 I also entreat of you to prepare for me a lodging; for, I hope through your prayers, to be delivered from prison and restored to you.

The very determination of St. Paul to lodge with him, tends to obtain this request. Philemon, on the recommendation of St. Paul, granted Onesimus his liberty, and sent him back to the Apostle to serve him at Rome; but the Apostle did not require his corporal services, and so he made him a fellow-labourer in the gospel. St. Jerome (Epistola 62, c. 2), and other Fathers say, he made him a Bishop. According to Baronius, he was made Bishop of Ephesus; but this is denied by many, who say, that the St. Onesimus, who was third Bishop of Ephesus, after Timothy, was quite a different person.

This Epistle, though very brief, contains, as St. Chrysostom remarks, most excellent lessons. Among the rest, that we should not despair of the salvation of any one, however abandoned. Again, the example of the Apostle, taking such interest in the concerns of a fugitive slave, who robbed his master, teaches us that every attention should be paid to the unfortunate; that servants should be treated with the utmost consideration, as being our brethren in Christ Jesus, as also destined for the same glory. “Masters do to your servants,” &c., “knowing that you too have a master in heaven.” (Colos. 4:1).

Phm 1:23  There salute thee Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus:
Epaphras, my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus, salutes you.
Phm 1:24  Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow labourers.
So do my fellow-labourers in the cause of the gospel, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke.
Phm 1:25  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

Fr. MacEvilly offers no commentary on these verses, but he does make the following remark on a dubious subscription: 

The Greek subscription has the following: “Written from Rome to Philemon by Onesimus, a servant.” The Codex Vaticanus merely has “To Philemon.”

It is needless to remark, that this subscription does not belong to the text, although it correctly states the fact, in the present instance: generally speaking, however, these subscriptions, as has been mentioned already, are of rather doubtful authority, and, in some instances, by no means correct.



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Father Callan on St Paul’s Letter to Philemon

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 11, 2010

1-7. Paul, a prisoner in Rome, addresses Philemon, a well-to-do Colossian, and his household, wishing them grace and peace, and thanking God for the charitable manifestation of Philemon’s faith in behalf of the poor Christians. May the Christians derive from their practical experience of the fruits of faith as produced by Philemon a fuller appreciation of the power of the Gospel ! The report of it all has rejoiced the Apostle.

1. Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy, a brother: to Philemon, our beloved and fellow-laborer;
2. And to Appia, our sister, and to Archippus, our fellow-soldier, and to the church which is in thy house:

Timothy. See Introduction to 1 Tim., No, 1. Here is what is written in the introduction: Timothy. Of St. Paul’s many faithful disciples Timothy seems to have been the one dearest to his heart and most according to his own mind. He wrote of him to the Philippians as follows: “I have no man so of the same mind, who with sincere affection is solicitous for you. For all seek the things that are their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ’s” (Phil 2:20, 21). Timothy was born at Lystra in Lycaonia of a Greek father and a Jewish mother, named Unice (Acts 16:1; 2 Tim 1:5). It seems that his father died young, and the child was reared and carefully trained in the Old Testament Scriptures by his devout mother and grandmother. It would appear also that these three embraced Christianity when St. Paul preached at Lystra on his first missionary journey (Acts 14:6 ff.). Timothy was about sixteen or seventeen years old at this time, and, when Paul revisited Lystra on his second journey, he chose the youthful and devoted convert as a special companion and helper in the work of the Gospel, having first circumcised him
to facilitate his work among the Jews, and ordained him by the laying on of hands (Acts 16:1-3; 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6, 7). Thereafter, from the frequent mention of his name in the Acts and in the Epistles, we see that he was almost constantly with the Apostle. Whether or not he was with his master during the latter’s imprisonment at Caesarea and on the voyage thence to Rome, we
do not know; but it is certain that he was in the Eternal City while St. Paul was imprisoned there the first time, because his name appears in the opening verses of the Captivity Epistles—Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. He was also with the Apostle during the interval between the two Roman imprisonments; for it was at this time that St. Paul appointed him Bishop of Ephesus (Eusebius, Hist. Ecci, III, iv, 6; Apost. Constit., vii, 46), and left him in charge of that important see. When the Apostle was nearing his end during his second captivity in Rome, he wrote to Timothy to make haste to come to him before winter (2 Tim 1:4, 4:8, 21). After this we know no more about him, save from tradition, according to which he was martyred at Ephesus in his old age for interfering with the celebration of a licentious heathen feast. St. Jerome tells us that his body was brought to Constantinople and buried there. His feast, as that of a Martyred Bishop, is celebrated in the Latin Church on January 24. He has been declared a Saint also by the Greek, Armenian, Coptic, and Maronite Churches.

We may get an idea of St. Timothy’s character from what is said of him in the Acts and especially in the Epistles, from the duties entrusted to him and the labors performed by him, and from the great love St. Paul bore him. He was intelligent, innocent, gentle, timid, and yet sufficiently strong, courageous, and fearless when virtue and religion were at stake. He could not so well brave the rough world and wicked opponents as did St. Paul, and yet by the grace of God, though trembling and naturally fearful, he could go when necessary into the thick of the battle. Paul could always depend upon him to do his best, in spite of his shrinking disposition and delicate health. He was ever the Apostle’s “beloved son,” tried and true, full of faith and hope and love. He had found the more excellent way, and by the grace of God he walked in it throughout his days. Cf. Heyes, Paul and His Epistles, pp. 465 ff.; Pope, Student’s “Aids” to the Study of the Bible, vol. Ill, pp. 235 ff.

Philemon . . . Appia . . . Archippus, etc. See Introduction to this letter, No. 1. Here is what is written in the introduction: Philemon. This correspondent of St. Paul’s, to whom the Apostle addressed the shortest but one of the most beautiful of his letters, was most probably a native of Colossae. It is very likely that he owed his conversion to St. Paul, some time during the latter’s long residence at Ephesus (Phlm. 19; Acts 19:26). The
Apostle speaks of him as his dear and intimate friend, and calls him his “fellow-laborer” (Phlm 1, 13, 17, 22). That he was a man of means appears from the facts that he owned slaves, that he was charitable and hospitable to his fellow-Christians (Phlm 2, 5-7), that he was able to give a part of his house for the use of the faithful (Phlm 2), and that St. Paul could feel free to ask him to prepare a lodging for him on his forthcoming visit to Colossae (Phlm 22).

3. Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord
Jesus Christ.

See on Eph 1:2. Here is what is written there: This is Paul’s usual salutation. Grace, God’s special help and favor, is the root and source of our supernatural union with Him and with Christ, and peace is the blessed fruit of that same union.

4. I give thanks to my God, always making a remembrance of thee in my prayers,

Thanksgiving and intercession were a part of the epistolary convention of St. Paul’s time, but they have a deeper meaning in his Epistles. See on Eph 1:15, 16.

5. Hearing of thy charity and faith, which thou hast in the Lord Jesus, and towards all the saints:

Philemon’s active faith in behalf of the Christians at Colossae explains St. Paul’s thanksgiving to God.

Charity and faith embrace the whole Christian life.

6. That the communication of thy faith may be made evident in the acknowledgment of every good work, that is in you in Christ.

The Apostle here explains what he asks in prayer for Philemon, namely, “that the communication, etc.,” i.e., that the fellowship or share the faithful have had in the charitable distribution of material and spiritual goods on the part of Philemon, may produce around him a true appreciation or recognition of the power of the Gospel in “every good work” (i.e., in practical results) “in Christ Jesus” (i.e., for the glory of Christ).

7. For I have had great joy and consolation in thy charity, because the bowels of the saints have been refreshed by thee, brother.

The report of Philemon’s charity was another reason for the Apostle’s prayers of thanksgiving.

The word “bowels” among the Hebrews represented the seat of tender feeling; hence “hearts” is a better translation of the sense here and in similar passages of Scripture.

BODY OF THE LETTER, 8-22~Paul pleads with his friend Philemon to receive back his runaway slave who has become a Christian while in Rome (ver. 8-21), and asks that a lodging be made ready for himself in preparation
for his forthcoming visit to Colossae (ver. 22).

In 8-12. St. Paul is commending the faith and charity of Philemon, which are well known and highly appreciated; and in view of so fine a reputation he makes his plea for the fugitive slave, Onesimus.

8. Wherefore though I have much confidence in Christ, to command thee that which is to the purpose,

Wherefore though I, etc. The Apostle means to say that, in virtue of his authority as an Apostle of Christ, he could command Philemon to do his Christian duty by Onesimus and pardon him, but, relying on the faithful charity of which Philemon has given so much proof, he prefers to exhort him to receive back the runaway, who now as a Christian is profitable, not only to his master, but to Paul also.

Confidence. Better, “boldness.”

To command. More literally, “to command in plain speech.” Which is to the purpose. Better, “what is fitting.”

9. For charity sake I rather beseech since I am such an one as Paul, an old man, and now a prisoner also of Christ Jesus.

Charity may refer to the deeds of charity which Philemon has been performing, or to the love of friendship existing between him and St. Paul.

Beseech. Better, “exhort.”

An old man. Paul’s age and afflictions will appeal to Philemon.

The Vulgate cum sis talis ought to be cum sim talis, as in the Greek, referring to Paul as “an old man,” or as “an ambassador” (R. V. Margin), i.e., an envoy of Christ in prison, which would mean that he is no ordinary man who is petitioning Philemon for mercy to Onesimus.

10. I beseech thee for my son, whom I have begotten in my bonds,

I have begotten, in Baptism.

11. Who hath been heretofore unprofitable to thee, but now is profitable both to me and thee,

Onesimus means “Useful” or “Helpful.” But when he deserted his master, and perhaps robbed him besides, Philemon considered him “unprofitable,” to say the least. Now, however, by his conversion he has greatly benefited St. Paul, and will be of great profit in his future faithfulness to Philemon.

12. Whom I have sent back to thee. And do thou receive him as my own heart:

I have sent back, an epistolary aorist, as also in ver. 19.

And do thou receive. These words are wanting in some of the best MSS.

My own heart. See above, on ver. 7.

13. Whom I would fain retain with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered to me in the bonds of the gospel:
14. But without thy counsel I would do nothing; that thy good deed might not be as it were of necessity, but voluntary.

St. Paul says Onesimus was so useful to him in Rome that he would have liked to retain him, but that he would not presume to do so without the free consent of Philemon.

Thy good deed. The reference may be to Philemon’s wellknown kindness, on which Paul could have presumed in retaining Onesimus; but more likely to the pardon which Paul hoped Philemon would freely grant Onesimus.

15. For perhaps he therefore departed for a season from thee, that thou mightest receive him again for ever:
16. Not now as a servant, but instead of a servant, a beloved brother, especially to me, but however much more to thee both in the flesh and in the Lord.

He departed. Better, “he was parted,” i.e., ran away.

For a reason. The Apostle suggests that perhaps it was providential that Onesimus left his master, since that was the occasion of his conversion to Christianity, and his consequent usefulness to St. Paul as a helper in the work of the faith, and his double usefulness to Philemon “in the flesh” (i.e., as a member of Philemon’s family) “and in the Lord” (i.e., as a Christian).

17. If therefore thou count me a partner, receive him as myself.

St. Paul now asks Philemon, in virtue of the faith and charity that are common between them, to take Onesimus back as if he were the Apostle himself.

A partner, i.e., a sharer in the same faith and charity.

18. And if he hath wronged thee in any thing, or is in thy debt, put that to my account.
19. I Paul have written it with my own hand: I will repay it: not to say to thee, that thou owest me thy own self also.

If he hath wronged thee, etc. This would seem to imply that Onesimus had in some way caused his master a loss, for which Paul is willing to compensate the latter.

I have written it, etc. St. Paul for the moment takes the pen into his own hand, as a sign of the earnestness of his promise to make up any loss sustained by Philemon on account of Onesimus; but in doing so he does not forget that he is the Apostle Paul to whom Philemon owes his conversion to Christianity—a debt which he can never pay.

Not to say to thee, etc. Better, “to say nothing of thine owing me thy very self.”

20. Yea, brother. May I enjoy thee in the Lord : refresh my heart in Christ.

May I enjoy thee in the Lord. Better, “let me have this profit from thee in the Lord.” There is a play on the words here, for Onesimus means profitable.

My heart. See above on verse 7.

The Vulgate in domino should be in Christo, as in the Greek.

21. Trusting in thy obedience, I have written to thee: knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.

St. Paul appeals to the Christian obedience of Philemon to grant his request in behalf of Onesimus, and “more”—hinting, perhaps at the latter’s liberation from the state of slavery.

22. But withal prepare me also a lodging. For I hope that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.

Philemon can hardly refuse what St. Paul asks, since their relations are so intimate, and to stress this intimacy at this psychological time, the Apostle asks Philemon to be ready to give him hospitality on his forthcoming visit to Colossae.

23. There salute thee Epaphras, my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus;
24. Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke my fellow-laborers.
25. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

CONCLUSION OF THE LETTER~23-25. St. Paul in closing includes the greetings of his companions in Rome, who are the same as those mentioned at the close of Colossians (4:10-14), with the exception of Jesus who was called Justus. The blessing is for Philemon and his household, as in verse 2.

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